Title: Going Soft
Length: 1,000 words
Spoilers: to the end of series two
Credits: With thanks to daisycm83 and jennukes for beta reading.
"Goodnight, Bruce. Goodnight, Angie." Frost smiled at the couple as they waved and headed for the door of the pub. She was surprised to find that she was truly happy for them. She didn't normally go in for all that happily ever after nonsense. She was getting soft in this cushy post.
Harriet took a final, long swallow of her drink. To her left, a set of keys jangled. "May I drive you back to base, Staff?"
She resisted the urge to imitate his posh tones in reply. With an officer like Vicary, she knew she could get away with winding him up a bit, but she had a suspicion that he was a little sensitive about that particular issue. "That would be kind of you, Sir." Harriet stood and Mr. Vicary – ever the gentleman – awkwardly helped her with her coat.
They walked to the car in silence. Mr. Vicary opened the passenger door for her before crossing to the driver's side and sliding in. The engine purred to life, and he cautiously pulled out of the lot and merged into traffic. Though he seemed quite content with it, Harriet disliked the silence. "Lovely about Staff Hornsby and Corporal Ogden, isn't it, Sir?"
"Yes. Quite." His smile flashed brightly in the dark – the sincere one, not the one he used when he was simply being polite. She'd noticed that he was 'polite' quite a lot.
"Awfully quick though, isn't it?"
He considered for a moment. "No, I don't think so. Corporal Ogden has known this was what she wanted for quite some time, I think. Years. It just took Bruce some time to suss it."
Harriet laughed and Mr. Vicary glanced at her in confusion. "He's a trained investigator!" she exclaimed. "He couldn't see what was right in front of him."
He smiled – politely this time – but she watched his hands tighten almost imperceptibly on the wheel. His eyes scanned his mirrors and he flicked on his turn signal as they reached the turn for the long, deserted road leading to the base. "Oftentimes, Staff," he said calmly, but with the subtlest hint of sadness, "what is right in front of us is easiest to miss."
Harriet sighed to herself. She hadn't missed anything. She could see… She could see how he felt about her. She would've had to have been a bloody idiot to miss it after what happened with the Sergeant Major a few weeks earlier, but she'd suspected even prior to that.
The reasons against it were manifold. Foremost, there was the risk to their careers, and Harriet had put everything into her career. She had worked hard to get where she was, and would work harder still to advance. And he – well, he had his family's expectations riding on his shoulders.
Even if they managed to keep it quiet and stay out of trouble, it would make working together difficult. More difficult, she admitted to herself, than it is already. He was too kind to her, and the worse she behaved, the more gently he responded. He treated her like he might treat a wounded animal that snapped at him, trying to soothe her and gain her trust.
That was, deep down, the thing that frightened her the most. She did trust him, and she was afraid he would trust her in return. She was very much afraid of breaking his heart.
"Mr. Vicary… Sir…" Harriet stumbled over her words. She didn't know what to say, but she felt the need to say something. It was pointless to recount the risks and the obstacles – he knew them all himself. But she couldn't let things go on the way they were – it wasn't fair to him.
"It's alright, Harriet," he said softly.
It was the compassion in his voice that was her undoing. She wanted to return his kindness, but she was well out of practice.
"Stop the car."
His eyes snapped to her instantly, clearly unprepared for her sharp demand. "What?"
"Stop the car, Sir. Now."
Wide-eyed, he complied, pulling the car onto the shoulder and turning off the engine. In the moonlight, his pale skin and large, dark eyes looked almost ghostly. His expression was like a child expecting to be scolded, but he turned in his seat to face her, a man prepared to be held accountable.
"Now you can turn around," Harriet said.
Mr. Vicary looked stricken and turned again to face front, his hands moving to grip the steering wheel.
"No," Harriet hurried to clarify, "I mean turn the car around."
He remained perfectly still for a moment, then turned his head to look at her. "Pardon me?"
"I don't think we'd better go back to the base," she said matter-of-factly. "Your flat will afford more privacy."
"Staff, no." He looked as though the words hurt to say; she supposed they did. "I was wrong just now. I won't let you risk your career, everything you've worked so hard for, because in an unguarded moment I– "
"We're not even properly together yet and you're already trying to make my decisions for me? Typical man." Harriet leaned closer. "Let's get one thing straight right now, Giles. I make my own choices, and I take full responsibility for them. Is that understood?"
Deciding to cut short any arguments he might have, Harriet took away his ability to speak with a kiss. After a moment of shocked stillness, he returned it with the gentle determination she'd come to expect from him. When she pulled away to draw a ragged breath, he kept on, pressing light kisses from her mouth to her throat, to the V of her blouse. Maybe, she thought, going soft isn't such a bad thing. She laughed breathlessly, but the sound was cut short when his dark, questioning eyes locked on hers. "Take me home, Giles."
With a silent nod, he released her and started the engine. After a quick u-turn, they were headed in the right direction.