Disclaimer: Spooks belongs to Kudos/the BBC/people who are not in any way, shape or form, me. I'm just having some vaguely festive fun with it.
A/N: This was supposed to be a fluffy Christmas oneshot. As it turns out, it's now three chapters long, is not entirely fluffy and the fact it's set at Christmas is mainly just a vehicle for me to get some present-giving in there. I also overshot my self-imposed deadline for finishing it, so if you could all just pretend that it's last week while you're reading it, that would be lovely. It's set after the end of S9, so there are some spoilers, but not many.
I apologise for all the classical music geekery that abounds within this fic. It just sort of… happened. I hope you enjoy.
"Composers combine notes, that's all. The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time." – Stravinsky.
"I thought you were going to the opera tonight." Beth's voice cut into Ruth's very important task of standing next to the kitchen table and trying to decide what to do to pass the hours until she could sleep.
She looked up as Beth came in and dumped her stuff on the table. "Why? Were you hoping to engage in some questionable shenanigans in my flat while I'm out?"
"Perhaps. No. I just thought you wanted to go."
"I was thinking about it."
"Didn't really fancy going alone." She was surprised at her own honesty. She hated that doing things alone still bothered her as much as it did. She should be used to it by now, surely.
"I would've gone with you."
Ruth was pleased at the offer but slightly sceptical at Beth's response. "To a four-hour Monteverdi opera?"
Beth shrugged. "I could've taken some vodka and practiced a little espionage." She went over to the fridge and opened it, taking out a chilled bottle before moving to the cupboard by the sink and getting out a couple of glasses. "Speaking of alcohol, have some wine. I could drink alone, but I'd rather not. People might judge."
Ruth decided it was best not to question it. She didn't much like to drink on work nights, but sometimes these things just had to be done. 'These things' had been done on a fairly regular basis in the aftermath of the mess with Lucas and were happening ever more frequently in the run up to Christmas. "Okay."
Ruth watched while Beth poured the drinks and then took the offered glass, raising it in thanks. They wandered in the direction of the living room and Ruth was just making herself comfortable on the sofa when Beth spoke again, glass of wine in one hand, the rest of the bottle in the other.
"You know you could've persuaded Dimitri to go to the opera with you. Just turn his puppy dog eyes back on him for a change and I bet he'd be golden. Or Harry. Harry would've gladly gone with you." Her tone was soft, gently probing, encouraging. Beth had been trying to push her in his direction ever since the whole debacle with Albany and Lucas, and her attempts were getting ever less subtle the more Ruth pretended not to know what her flatmate was doing.
What Beth didn't know was that it was taking all of Ruth's willpower not to give in, and she was fast running out of excuses to avoid him.
"Harry offered." She didn't know why she'd told Beth that. Must have been the wine. Ruth drank some more to drown out the feeling of growing mortification, ignoring Beth's little smile of victory.
She remembered sitting at her desk on the Grid, looking at the leaflet advertising the performance of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, Harry catching her at it as he'd unexpectedly appeared at her side.
'Are you going to see it?' he'd asked her, not bothering with a greeting.
'I haven't decided,' she'd replied. 'Probably not.' She didn't know why she'd said that. She really wanted to go.
'You should,' he'd said. 'Isn't it the one with that beautiful aria near the end?'
She'd known instantly the one he meant. 'Pur ti miro?'
'Yes. It is. It's beautiful. Better than words can say.'
He'd nodded in agreement and smiled at her hopefully. 'If you don't want to go alone, you know you don't have to.'
He'd been sitting on the edge of her desk, looking down at her intently and it had been all she could do to keep her seat, when all she really wanted was to stand and wrap her arms around him, apologise and thank him for all kinds of things and tell him she wanted to marry him and that those horrible moments when she thought Lucas had killed him were some of the worst of her life. Luckily (or not), she was well practiced in the art of self-restraint.
Beth didn't seem bothered by the revelation that Harry had offered to go with her, instead casually refilling both of their glasses. She put down the empty wine bottle and headed off to get another. "But..?" she called from the kitchen.
"I turned him down," Ruth said, just loud enough to be heard.
"It's complicated." So complicated, just thinking about it necessitated the sinking of half her glass of wine in one go. And that was just the opera. She hated to think how much wine she'd need to deal with the complexity of turning down his marriage proposal all those months ago, or to make sense of him giving up a state secret for her, or to understand why she still insisted on keeping him at arms' length given all that had happened when she had told herself it was finally time to stop and just let him in. There probably wasn't enough Sauvignon Blanc in the entire world to deal with that.
Beth appeared back in the living room, holding a fresh bottle of wine and a corkscrew. "It doesn't have to be. It could've just been the opera."
"I only wanted to go for one aria, anyway. I can listen to it at home." She would, as well. Sometimes, she'd put that one aria on repeat and listen to it over and over, losing herself in the perfection of the timing and the counterpoint that went together so perfectly and the emotion that reflected everything she wanted to say to Harry but could never find the right words to explain in English.
She found that once she started talking, she couldn't stop. "Plus it wouldn't have been 'just the opera'. It couldn't be." Nothing with her and Harry was ever 'just' anything; it was always something more, laden with things that couldn't be properly put into words. Sometimes Ruth thought that was a wonderful thing. Other times, she hated the lack of clarity and coherence, especially as she knew she was mostly to blame for the obfuscation. She just didn't know how to move away from it, as much as she wanted to.
"So why not let it be more?"
"It's complicated," she said again, not knowing how else to explain it without it taking all night. "And messy. And doing anything outside work with Harry would be liable to make things even more nonsensical than they currently are."
"Things are only ever what you make of them. It could have been a great opportunity." Beth's wine was going down with impressive speed.
Ruth sighed in defeat and regret. "Yes. It could've been. Instead, I just made things even worse when I was trying to make them simpler. That's all I ever do. I wish I could stop thinking."
"The day you stop thinking is the day the terrorists win."
"But that's work. Work is simple. I go to the office, I do my job, I do it well, then I come home again. I have no idea how to do the same for my personal life. I just keep confusing things and then feeling guilty for making a mess I can't see a way out of."
"Maybe that's the point, though," Beth said, words ever so slightly starting to slur. "It's not about sense, it's about getting through from one day to the next as simply as you can. Making yourself happy in any way you can until one day, it drowns out the guilt and you wonder why you ever found it complicated."
"Are you drunk, Beth, or wise?"
"I'd love to say the latter, but judging from the two bottles of wine we've just demolished, I fear it may well be the former. Either way…"
Ruth nodded. "Yes."
"The conclusion is that you should tell Harry that you love him." Beth may have been tipsy, but she was still clearly impressively savvy. She could also be relied upon to keep the conversation to herself. Luckily.
Ruth said, very quietly, "I'm not sure I know how."
"It's only three words. Four if you use his name. At most five, but only if he says it to you first and you have to say 'too' and you use his name. As in, I love you too, Harry. Except I don't love him, of course. But you do. I was doing you there."
"Beth, you're drunk."
"I'm still right. Three words, Ruth. Simple. Not at all complicated, really. Three words."
"But what if they're not enough?"
Beth shrugged. "They have to be." She leaned back against the arm of the sofa, eyes suddenly starting to close in the drunk's sleep. Her body was already relaxing as she slipped out of consciousness. The last thing she said was, "They're all we have."
A/N: Thanks for reading. More Harry in the next chapter, I promise. Maybe review if you have time? I'd love to know if this actually works somewhere other than in my head… :)