It'd been a week since they'd last conversed through mail, and the part of Harry which wasn't numb from the cold wondered whether Ruth would actually show up for their arranged meeting. He huddled up in his coat and stared out over the river. It felt all wrong.
The sudden warmth at his side alerted him to her presence. He didn't need to turn to know it was her; he'd recognise her smell anywhere. It was so, well, Ruth. Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly. This is what he had been waiting for, right? The opportunity to bury the hatchet, to start afresh, to find happiness with the one woman who had stood by him for all these years.
"Ruth," his voice quivered. Harry thanked the stars that it was winter; he could blame his nerves on the cold.
Ruth wrung her hands together and turned to face the man next to her. She was hesitant, and Harry felt a wave of relief wash over him. He wasn't the only one. They sat in silence for a while, taking in their surroundings, battling the cold and adjusting to each other's company. The ice refused to thaw, and the weather was gradually working at Harry's patience.
"What are we doing here, Ruth?" He was staring ahead, emotionless. The game had begun.
Ruth pursed her lips and risked a glance at the man next to her. She couldn't help but notice how much younger he looked under the streetlight. The harsh lights on the grid had done nothing but highlight the lines and wrinkles on his worn features, and she allowed herself to smile at the fact that maybe leaving the service had done him some good.
"I don't know," Ruth mumbled nervously. "Maybe we're just so used to hurting each other we wanted one last stab at it."
Harry chuckled, and the tension lifted somewhat. He waited until she smiled back at him before tilting his head slightly so he could observe her features. She still looked beautiful, not that he would ever think otherwise. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and cup her cheek with his hand, but upon a second glance, figured his hands needed a little more reassurance. He couldn't blame his shakes on the cold for much longer.
"You look good, Ruth." It was the best he could mumble.
Ruth's features didn't light up at his compliment. Her gaze fell to her lap and she started mumbling to herself, no doubt trying to string together the perfect sentence. Harry sat and cursed himself mentally. The woman can't handle small talk.
"Look, Ruth." Harry sighed, rubbing his face with his hand. He was getting too old for this. He took a deep breath and tried again. "It's not very often I am left totally flabbergasted, but right now, I really don't know what you want me to say."
"Harry," Ruth finally found her voice. "Please, don't say anything."
Harry stared at her intently. He knew Ruth, and he hated to acknowledge the fact that he knew what she doing.
"Why not?" His voice was calm, his mind anything but.
She gave him a pleading look before closing her eyes. When they reopened, she looked on the verge of tears.
"I can't do this," she whispered brokenly, eyes focusing on anything but him.
Harry tilted his head back and stared at the sky. He couldn't do it. He couldn't accept the fact that after years of trying, of waiting for this woman that she was giving up. On paper, she promised love and adoration no matter the consequence. Here, in person, she could barely look him in the eye. His chance was slowly vanishing, and it hurt.
He let out an exasperated sigh and made to stand.
"Ruth," Harry growled. He looked at her broken form on the bench and his face softened. He was desperate to touch her, to try and convince her that those letters had meant something to him, that what he had written to her had been almost too true. He hated being vulnerable, but she needed to see that side of him. "I'd do anything."
Harry finally gave in to temptation and reached out to take her hands in his own. He watched her for a moment, clearly battling with her emotions, but when she didn't pull away he allowed himself to relax. He bent down at her feet, wincing in pain as his back cracked from the sudden movement.
"Harry, are you ok?"
Harry nodded slowly as he watched Ruth's eyes widen with worry and concern. "Really, I'm ok."
Ruth shook her head as the first tears started to fall.
"Look, Harry." Ruth removed her hands from his grasp and started to wipe her eyes furiously. "I know that we spoke truth in what we wrote..." Ruth paused for a moment to try and compose herself. Harry couldn't help but smile. "... But this, it's, it's just wrong."
Harry's smile faded just as quickly as it had arrived.
"Ruth," he growled quietly.
"No, listen..." Ruth interjected quickly, momentarily lapsing Harry into shock from her sudden bout of confidence. "I can't do this if you keep interrupting me."
Harry nodded slowly before adjusting his legs so he was kneeling more comfortably.
"God, why is this so hard with us?"
Harry placed his hand tenderly on Ruth's thigh and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"It wouldn't be use if it was easy."
Ruth smiled through her tears and let out a shaky breath.
"I just don't think I'm ready, for this." She gestured between the two of them. Harry's heart sank. "I mean, we both know how we feel but I just can't, not right now."
"I can't keep waiting for your heart to mend."
Ruth winced at the harshness of his words.
"I'm not asking you too," she whispered. "I just need closure."
Harry narrowed his eyes and pushed himself to his feet, once again groaning at the pain that shot up his spine.
"I'm fine," Harry hissed through gritted teeth as he sure Ruth open her mouth. Once he felt a little calmer he opened his mouth to speak once more.
"So this is why you wanted to see me?"
She nodded. He swore loudly and walked towards the railings, kicking them in frustration before recoiling at the sudden pain in his toes.
"Harry, please..." Ruth begged him to calm down, although she knew from experience that it was a pointless task.
"No, Ruth." Harry ground out. "It's freezing cold, I'm tired, I'm starving and let's face it, I'm too old to be playing stupid these 'will they, won't they' games with you all the time. You damn well tell me you love me, as do I to you and then you go and announce that this is for closure, not for the opportunity to experience something that it's bloody obvious you so clearly want!"
Ruth shuddered from the cold. She watched Harry for a few moments. He was leant against the railings, his chest rising and falling fast from where he'd just given her a fair bollocking. She had sensed the bitterness in his voice, the betrayal and rejection hidden badly as he tried to reflect his humiliation onto her. He'd once said he could see right through her, well she could safely say the same for him.
"Harry, I'm really sorry." She stood and approached him desperately, a pang of hurt spreading across her features as he intentionally pulled away from her touch.
"Don't, Ruth." He muttered. "I don't want to hear it."
"But Harry," she tried to touch him once more but he grabbed her hands and moved her backwards.
"No." He hissed, letting go of her hands and making his way back towards the bench. "I think it's best if you just leave." He sat down and folded his arms across his chest, staring intently at her face until she got the message that he wanted to be alone.
She went to open her mouth but went with her better judgement and slammed it shut again.
"I love you." She mumbled as she hesitantly made her way past the bench. "Don't you ever forget that."
He watched her leave and let his head fall into his hands. He knew he was never going to.