This is just a little tag for the end of 8.3, the episode in which Jo is killed. The characters are slightly AU in comparison to how I normally write them and there is not really a plot - this is fluff, mostly H/R, with a little Ros thrown in for good measure. Enjoy - and reviews are always welcomed!


Ruth

He could hear her sobbing in the hallway just outside his office door, and it made him shudder. The plaintive sobs that rolled from her in wave after wave, twisted his stomach into knots making him nauseous. He couldn't bear to listen to her heart breaking anymore than he could stand coping with his own pain. He could well picture how she would reject his comfort, although he wanted nothing more than to go to her and take her in his arms. But Harry knew well that he had to put such a thought aside.

He closed his eyes as her sobs had become so deeply overwhelming that he could hear her gasping for air in between them; and he couldn't take it any longer. Harry walked out into the hallway to find her leaning against the outer wall of his office, sobbing into the hard concrete. He took a long steadying breath, closing his eyes momentarily, preparing himself to absorb her emotions in addition to fending off the anger he was certain his reassurance would stir in her. He stepped up behind her, reaching gently for her arms, yet stopping himself before he touched her.

"Ruth," his soft voice intoned. When she didn't respond to him, he moved right up behind her and whispered into her ear, "Ruth…"

He was so close behind, she could feel his body heat yet he didn't touch her; and for that she was thankful. She couldn't bear to see the pain in his eyes anymore than she could stand to feel the anguish she knew would be communicated through his touch no matter how well-meaning it might be.

She started when his hands lightly touched her shoulders. "Ruth, come on…"

She shrugged free of his hands, pushing him away. "No…"

He gently took her by the arms and turned her around to face him. "You don't have to go through this alone."

The anguish she could see in his golden-bronze eyes stabbed her already wounded heart, and she snapped, slapping at his chest and arms as he tried to pull her close to him. "Leave me alone, Harry! Don't touch me!"

The pain of all of the colleagues they had lost over the years came bubbling to the surface and Ruth lost control. Screaming at him, she struck out blindly, sobbing all the while. Harry put his arms up to protect his face from her flailing arms.

"Ruth, stop! Ruth!"

Harry had never seen Ruth emotionally out of control and it frightened him. After a moment of indecision, he reached out and grabbed her by the wrists, pulling her arms down, stopping her from striking out. She writhed in anger against his grip, and he pulled her arms across her body, turning her away from him, crushing her back into his chest. He held tightly as she sobbed hysterically against him, and as she began to wind down, he leaned into her ear, allowing his head to press against hers.

"Shhh…Ruth, I'm here."

He felt her press more heavily against him and realized that her legs were giving out. As she started to slide to the floor, Harry pulled her into his arms in one smooth motion, allowing her to curl her head into the crook of his neck, her arms wrapping tightly around his shoulders. Harry held her close to him for a moment before he headed toward the pods.

"I'm taking you home," he whispered quietly to her.

Ruth just softly cried into him, saying nothing, but allowing him to carry her off of the Grid.


Ruth had said not a word in the car, nor when they arrived at her house, but had simply allowed Harry to hold her close and guide her into her flat. He steered her into her living room and gently onto the sofa.

"Lie down, Ruth," he ordered softly.

Without a word, she obeyed, and pulling the throw blanket from the back of the sofa, Harry used it to cover her. He knelt down next to her face, his hand brushing softly through her hair as he spoke.

"I'm going to make you some sweet tea, Ruth. I just want you to lie here and relax and I'll bring it to you, all right?"

She nodded silently as fresh tears fell from her eyes, splashing onto his hand. He gently wiped the back of his hand over her cheeks, brushing away her tears. He leaned over and kissed her softly on the forehead before he left the room to make the tea.

His heart ached for her grief, much less his own. It was going to be a long night.


Ruth snuggled further into the warmth of the soft cotton under her head, rubbing her cheek lazily into the cushiony pillow beneath. She pushed further into the cozy pillow under her arm, and as she became more awake, she realized that the pillow was steadily breathing. Her head snapped up, her eyes meeting the sleepy golden-bronze ones staring intently down at her.

"You all right, Ruth?" His voice was sluggish with sleep still, but Ruth recognized the husky tone that was reserved for her; and some part of her hoped for her alone.

"Yes." She pushed slightly away from him, sitting up, allowing him to reclaim the arm that had been holding her to him through the night. He rolled his head to loosen the muscles in his neck that felt frozen from the long vigil on the couch. "Sorry, Harry…"

"What?"

She nodded toward him. "Sorry for the inconvenience of ….erm, well, spending the night here." Her eyes flicked down toward the floor, "And for the crick in your neck. Sorry…"

"It's all right," he winced as he stood up from the sofa, his hand instinctively reaching for the sore muscles in his back, "although if we're going to make any kind of habit of it, you might think about a couch with more back support…" She stared at him, his attempt at humor falling flat. He cleared his throat and muttered, "I'll just go make the coffee then."

"Harry…thank you."

"Of course."

He walked toward the door. "Harry," her voice held a slight twinge of unease in it, "don't take too long. Please."

He looked at her, and smiled sweetly. "You just relax; it won't take me long."


After making her breakfast and keeping an eye on her for awhile, Harry looked at his watch and knew it was long past time that he be on his way back to the Grid. He glanced over at her; she was curled up on the couch, staring out the window, a cat cuddled in her lap. His lips pursed in worry as he approached her, putting his overcoat on.

He pitched his voice soft and low, "Ruth? I've got to go now. Are you going to be all right?"

She started at the sound of his voice, and the sight of her unrest made him nauseous.

"Ruth?"

"S-sorry, Harry."

He sat down next to her, lightly touching her forearm. "Will you be all right?"

She nodded. "Y-yes, of course."

He frowned, feeling her turmoil and fear, staring into her haunted eyes. "Why is it I'm having a hard time believing you, Ruth?"

She forced herself to smile at him. "Don't know," she said with a false air of confidence, "I'll be all right, Harry. I don't need a babysitter you know."

He held her eyes with his for a moment more, then stood. "If you need anything," he swallowed trying to clear the lump in his throat, his voice turning husky, "if you need me, Ruth, I want you to call me, eh?"

She smiled again, the false bravada coloring her slightly shaky voice, "Go, Harry, I'm fine, really."

"Right, then," he said as he stood. "I'll call you in a few hours. I want you to take the day off and rest, Ruth."

"I-I will."

"I mean it, Ruth."

"I know, Harry."

He leaned over and placed a light kiss on her forehead. She watched him as he headed toward the door.

"Harry?"

"Yes?"

"Are you all right?"

"Me?" His voice took on a tone of incredulity. "Of course, Ruth."

She could feel the lie as clearly as her own heartbeat. "You don't have to pretend that you're not hurting, Harry, not on my account."

She saw the pain flicker briefly in his eyes as she referenced Jo's death, before he quickly shut it down. "I'll check in with you later," he growled.

Not wanting to face his own feelings regarding his young officer's death, Harry quickly left, got in his car and headed for Thames House. About half way there, his phone rang.

"Yes?"

"Harry," Lucas said evenly, "It's probably nothing, but no one's heard from or seen Ros since …well, you know."

Harry sighed heavily.

Lucas continued, unaware of the emotion playing across Harry's tired face. "I'm about to head over to her flat and—"

"—No."

"No?"

"No, Lucas, I'll do it."

"But—"

"—Lucas, it's all right. I'll take care of it."

"If you say so, Harry."

"I do, yes." Harry swallowed hard at the thought of coping with another of his officer's raw emotions, but the two having the toughest time seemed to be the two who were closest to him. And somehow Harry turned that into his responsibility to be sure they were okay. "I'll check on her and then be in."

Harry disconnected the call and heaved another long, burdened sigh, but turned the car in the direction of Ros.


Ros

He knocked on the door for the third time, and there was still no answer.

"Ros? Ros, are you in there?" He growled, "Damn it, Ros, open the door."

He shook his head, irritated beyond reason. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small lock pick, fit it in the lock, wiggled it a little and opened the door. He stepped into the darkened flat, and walked right into the coffee table.

"Ow, shit!" Harry groaned in pain and rubbed his shin. "Damn… Ros—"

He barely got her name out when he was hit in the dark from the side and tackled to the floor, his ribs cracking against the hardwood coffee table on the way down. Harry fought off the flailing arms trying to hit him until he was able to grab his assailant by the wrists, subduing the attack. Harry moved on top of the attacker, and could smell the alcohol.

And then it dawned on him.

"Ros? Ros, stop fighting, it's me, it's Harry."

Momentarily the fight stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and her voice slurred as she said, "Harry?"

"Yeah," he said grimacing as he moved off of her. Holding his battered ribs, Harry struggled to stand, and he leaned against the wall for support as he held onto his side. After a moment, Ros scrambled to her feet and stumbled over to turn a light on. She looked over at her boss then and concern colored her inebriated features. She staggered over to him, putting a shaking hand on his shoulder.

"Harry? You all right there?"

Pearce remained bent over against the wall, his right hand on his knee and his left holding his side. He nodded at her question, but she could see even in her drunken stupor that he was in pain.

"Aw, Harry, I didn't mean to hurt you. It seems I'm always hurting my colleagues, or worse…"

He painfully straightened up, his left hand still holding on tightly to his side. "Ros, I'm fine." He looked into her dilated eyes. "But you're quite drunk."

"A drink," Ros slurred, "yes, that's a good idea, Harry old chum…"

He stared at her, gobbsmacked. "Old. Chum?" He watched as she poured herself a drink from an almost empty bottle of single malt. "Oh dear."

He slowly and carefully pushed himself away from the wall and walked unsteadily over to the couch where she was sitting, downing the glass of scotch she had poured. Grimacing he lowered himself to sit next to her.

"Ros, I know how hard this is on—"

"—Don't, Harry," she turned toward him, glaring, the glass of amber liquid forgotten in her hand. "Don't you dare try to comfort me. I did it, Harry. I killed her. I killed Jo."

"You didn't have a choice. A lot more people would be dead now if he hadn't."

"People I don't know. And instead—"

Harry grabbed her arms, knocking the glass of scotch in her hand to the floor. "—Stop it, Ros. Stop it now. This was not your fault, and it couldn't be helped. There are risks to this job, and we all understand them. Jo understood them. She did…"

Ros jerked out of his grip, pulling on his left side, causing a yelp to escape Harry's lips. Remorse filled her: remorse over killing Jo and now remorse over hurting Harry. What had she turned into that she could kill one colleague and hurt another without so much as a fleeting thought? It was all split second decision making to her. It was all nerve endings and instinctual reactions. That was all. She killed Jo on instinct and she attacked Harry on instinct; conscious thought never entered into it. Kill now, remorse later. That was all it had become.

And the pain, remorse and horror of what she had become came rushing at her. Ros ran for the toilet, violently losing everything in her stomach. Shaking his head, Harry slowly made his way into the bathroom, and seeing her kneeling in front of the porcelain bowl, closed in eyes in sympathy. How many times had he been in that exact position feeling a remorse that no mortal should ever have to experience? Empathy filled him as he watched an officer who was so dear to him struggle, coughing up her regrets, sorrows, failures, disappointments, and guilt, trying to expunge her very life.

Leaning his hand on the sink, Harry carefully knelt next to her, wrapping an arm around her waist, pressing his palm against her stomach, and his other gently supporting her forehead. Ros wretched until there was nothing left but dry heaves. And slowly, Harry pulled her from her position over the toilet into his arms. Ros wrapped her arms around his neck, clutching him tightly as though her life depended upon it. Harry winced from the pain in his side, but ignored it the best he could, and held her close to him. He rubbed a hand soothingly up and down her back.

"Shh… Ros, it's going to be okay."

She shuddered against him, sobbing into his shoulder, and he tightened his arms around her. "I can't live with this, Harry," Ros stuttered, "I can't."

Harry pulled slightly away, framing her face with his hands. "Yes you can Ros. And you will. You will live with it, Ros. Do you hear me?" Ros shook her head against his hands. "Damn it, Ros. Stop this." He could feel tears stinging his eyes, but none dared to fall. "Would you do that to me, Ros? Would you?"

"W-what?"

"Would you put me through your death too?"

"Harry…"

"I want to know," he pushed her away from him then, his voice turning harsh and edgy, "tell me now, Ros. Am I going to have to go through the pain of losing you?" She swallowed hard watching him fight the battle against his own tears as he continued, "I don't think I can go through any more deaths, you see. Especially not yours."

After a long moment, she put her hands on his shoulders. "All right, Harry, you win. I'm sorry. I just…" She looked away, and gently he guided her chin back toward him so that her eyes met his. "It just hurts so much."

He nodded. "I know." He put his arms around her waist pulling her into him, hugging her. "You need to sleep now, Ros. Come on."

Ros let him lead her into her bedroom, where he tucked her into her bed as if she were a young child. He then sat on the edge of the bed, smiling gently at her.

"Please tell me you're not contemplating a bedtime story."

His heart relaxed at the barb and he grinned at her. "Yes. I think Taming of the Shrew would be rather apropos, don't you?"

"What, with you in the Richard Burton role?"

"Oh bloody hell," he muttered smiling at her, "Go to sleep."

She nodded, and grabbed his hand, surprising him. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Harry."

"It's nothing, I'll be fine." He squeezed the hand in his before letting go. "Just promise me no more malt, and no more talk about not living through it, or I really will read you a bedtime story. Do we have a deal?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, sir," she said, smiling at him.

He stood, and kissed the side of her head. "Cheeky little girl, aren't you…"

"Maybe."

He walked to the door, slowly, and Ros could see how much he was hurting from her earlier attack.

"Have someone look at those ribs, Harry."

"Yeah."

A moment later she heard the front door close, and within moments, Ros was asleep.


Harry

Harry walked stiffly and carefully onto the Grid, and made his way to his office, slowly. Lucas and Tariq were at their desks, working. Fortunately, neither of them seemed to notice him or the fact that he was a little worse for wear courtesy of Ros. He tried to concentrate on the files in front of him, but found he couldn't. His head ached, his ribs ached and worst of all, his heart ached. And his mind turned to Jo and the grief he had shoved aside because his team had needed him to be strong; it was the most thankless part of being a leader, needing to be the backbone for everyone around you when all you wanted to do was curl up into a ball and scream at the unfairness of death. Sweet, sincere and loving Jo; she was gone. In a split second, she was gone. That's all it ever took, he reckoned, a split second. And it was then he felt the grief sting his eyes, and glanced quickly toward the Grid, but no one was looking in his direction. There had been so many over the years, and he had been powerless to prevent the losses they had suffered; he had been unable to save any of them. His heart was heavy with sadness and grief, and above all, guilt.

And in the quiet obscurity of his office, Harry Pearce turned his chair away from the windows of the Grid, and he cried.


He had no idea how late it was when he left the Grid; he only knew that he couldn't go home and face the desolate loneliness that awaited him. Not now. Not tonight. He turned his car in a different direction and parked down the road a ways from her flat. He slowly made his way toward her door, realizing from the walk how much his side was beginning to hurt. He stood in front of the door for longer than he realized, until the chill had set in and he began to shiver, but he couldn't bring himself to ring the bell. Instead he sat down on the steps, leaning his elbow on his knee and his head into his hand.

Ruth's phone rang. "Hello?"

"It's Mrs. Crabtree from next door, dear…"

It was her nosy neighbor, the one who always asked the annoying questions that Ruth couldn't answer about her line of work.

Ruth sighed. "Yes Mrs. Crabtree, what can I do for you at this somewhat late hour?"

"There's a man outside your door, dear. He's been there for quite some time."

"A man outside my door?"

"Yes dear, sitting on your stoop. He's been there for the better part of an hour."

Ruth's heart began to race. "A-all right, Mrs. Crabtree, thank you for calling, I'll check into it."

"I'd just call the police, dear."

"Erm, yes, yes, thank you."

Ruth hung up the phone and went to her front door. She could see through the side window that there was indeed a man sitting on her stoop, and it looked like Harry. She opened the door, wrapping her sweater tighter against herself, bracing for the cold, and she stepped outside.

"Harry?" There was no response, and she leaned down, touching his shoulder, causing him to start. "Harry, are you all right?"

He fought his emotions down, but couldn't speak. He simply shook his head. Concern filling her, she sat next to him on the steps.

"How long have you been out here?"

"Don't know," he whispered, and she could hear the grief in his voice.

She put an arm around him and could feel how chilled he was, and concern washed through her again. "Come on, Harry, get out of the cold." She stood and pulled on his arm causing him to grimace, and Ruth stopped short. "Are you hurt?"

"Not really."

She wrapped a protective arm around his waist and guided him into the house. "Come on, you'll freeze out here."

He allowed her to guide him into the entryway where he stopped, staring at the floor. She stood in front of him, frowning.

"Harry, what happened to yout?"

"Ros thought I was an intruder."

"Ros?"

"Went to check on her; I surprised her and she tackled me."

"Tackled you?"

"I'm just sore, it'll be fine."

She looked at him in the light; he looked drawn and exhausted, anything but fine. He shivered, still trying to shake off the cold.

"How long were you outside?" He shrugged as she touched one of his hands. "You're hands are like ice." She gently led him toward the kitchen. "A cup of hot tea, that's what you need. Come on…"

Ruth sat Harry in a chair at the kitchen table and went about making tea, which she placed in front of him when it was ready. He sat, unmoving, like a man shell-shocked. Ruth knelt next to his chair, her hands on his forearm.

"Harry, you haven't said more than ten words since you got here. Please talk to me."

"I'm sorry, Ruth," he said as he stood, "I shouldn't have come here."

She restrained him gently. "Harry, sit back down. If you don't want to talk, you don't have to, it's all right. Just warm up a little."

Slowly he sat back down, and leaned his head into his hands, his elbows on the table. Ruth felt such sympathy for him; sympathy and something much deeper, but she didn't want to think on that. Gently she peeled his coat off of him, hitching it inside out on the back of the chair in which he was sitting; he said nothing, his arms hanging where she left them, at his sides, his head down, staring at the edge of the table. Shaking her head, she took his jacket off, and then loosened his tie, which elicited a small but sad smile from him as he met her eyes.

She stroked the side of his cold face with her hand. "It wasn't your fault, Harry."

His only response was a sigh, but she could see the shine in his eyes from unshed tears. Ruth moved behind his chair and tentatively placed her hands on his shoulders. When he didn't shrug her off, she began squeezing the muscles under her hands, gently at first, and after a small moan from him, with increasing pressure.

"You're so tense, Harry," she said softly as she dug her fingers into his shoulder muscles, "try and relax. If you don't you'll wind up with a massive headache."

"Already have one," his voice, low and husky, replied.

Her hands stopped for a moment. "Do you want something for it?"

He shook his head. "Don't stop, Ruth. Please."

She smiled slightly and her hands resumed massaging him, moving up to his neck beginning gently down the large muscles on either side of his spine, pressing into them, stroking down and up, and back again, feeling the tension releasing slowly under her hands. He moaned softly as she pressed into the vertebrae at the base of his neck, moving slowly up toward the base of his head, working all the muscles between. She could sense him relaxing finally.

"Why don't you lean your head on the table, Harry, and I'll work on your back a bit." She could feel his hesitation and said, "Go on, it's all right."

He did as he was told, leaning his arms on the table, and his head down onto his arms. Ruth moved down his back, massaging the large muscle groups on first one side of his spine, then the other. A groan filled with a mixture of pain and pleasure escaped him as Ruth continued rubbing away the exhaustion and tension. She let her hands turn with her fingers pointing down toward his belt as she rubbed his lower back, the stroking of his muscles becoming more aggressive as she felt him letting go little by little. She caressed his sides, her fingers spread wide, gently gliding up and down the soft cotton of his shirt, once again eliciting a moan from him, the sleep creeping into him, obvious in its tone.

His breathing had slowed and become more even, and Ruth rubbed a hand over his shoulders as she knelt next to his chair. Her hand stroked the back of his head, her fingers tugging gently at the curls she found there.

"Harry," she said softly, "you need to rest properly. Come on," she said as she pulled gently on his arm, moving him begrudgingly from the chair. "Let's get you sorted."

Exhausted to the core, Harry simply followed Ruth through the flat and into a bedroom. And he halted just inside the doorway when he realized it was her bedroom. She turned back to him, and color flushed her cheeks as it dawned on her why he appeared to be frozen in place.

"H-harry, this isn't w-what it l-looks like, I-I just thought you'd be m-more comfortable in b-bed—" She swallowed seeing the panic in his eyes, and she looked away, "t-that isn't what I mean, I mean m-more comfortable than on the c-couch."

"This is such an inconvenience to you, Ruth," he said wearily, "I should just go…"

"Harry," her voice had taken on a more commanding tone, "it's all right, really." The exhaustion on his face concerned her anew, and she didn't wait for him to argue. She stepped forward and taking him by the arm, pulled him further into the room. "Sit down," she gestured to the bed, "let's get your shoes off." When he hesitated she moved him along, "Come on, Harry, sit."

He sat down with a heavy sigh, and kicked his shoes off. Wearily he covered his injured side with his hand.

"I'm going to go pour you a drink, Harry, whilst you get comfortable and crawl into bed." He looked at her, still unsure. She shook her head at him. "It's all right, Harry. I can't let you go home in your state. Now, get into bed, I'll be right back."

Wishing he were lying in Ruth's bed under different circumstances, Harry stripped down to his undershirt and shorts and carefully avoiding the pull he could feel in his left side, he stretched out in her bed pulling the covers up to his waist. When Ruth came back a few moments later carrying a tumbler of whiskey, he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. She set the whiskey on the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Stop fighting it, Harry."

His voice was laden with sleep, "Where are you going to sleep if I'm in here, Ruth?"

"The couch is comfortable, Harry."

"No it isn't, Ruth," he corrected. "It about did my back in last night."

She nodded at the glass of whiskey. "Take a little whiskey and sleep, Harry. You'll feel better in the morning."

He looked at the glass then back at her. Sensing the hesitation, she smiled, "What, Harry?"

"You know what I'd prefer to the whiskey?" Ruth's heart skipped a beat; she wasn't sure she really wanted to know, but he continued anyway, "I'd sleep much better if you'd finish the massage you started in the kitchen…"

"Hmmm, and here I thought I had finished it."

"It was your couch that did in my back in the first place," his husky voice rumbled.

His sleepy eyes and smile melted her, and she sighed. "Roll over."

Holding his left side, Harry carefully rolled onto his stomach, his arms folding under his pillow. Ruth's hands tenderly worked on the muscles in his upper back and shoulders, pressing into the knots that had taken up semi-permanent residence in the deep tissue. Harry groaned deeply as she moved to the middle of his back, working out the kinks around his spine, gently manipulating the vertebrae, which readjusted with a slight crack as the muscles around them relaxed, releasing their tense hold on them. She moved down to his lower back, her hands dipping under the duvet to rub the lowest part of his spine, and she couldn't keep the smile from playing across her lips as a low, satisfied moan resonated from Harry's lips.

She flattened her palms out and rubbed up and down his back slowly, decreasing the pressure gradually, finally just rubbing soft circles with one hand between his shoulder blades until she heard the heavy and steady breathing of someone in a deep sleep. She pulled the duvet up to cover him, and taking the tumbler of whiskey, switched out the light and walked out of the room.

Sometime later, after spending a few hours on the couch, Ruth awoke and wandered into the bedroom, and stood quietly by the bed, watching the gentle rise and fall of his back. He hadn't moved an inch from where she had left him, and judging from the heaviness of his breathing, Ruth knew he had to have been completely exhausted. Softly she sat on the other side of the bed, leaning her back up against the headboard; and still she continued to watch him sleep, an air of relief filling her to know that he was safe and at rest. As sleep began to overtake her, Ruth slid down onto the bed, and snuggled up against Harry's side, a protective arm sliding around his back.

And together they slept a calm and dreamless sleep.

###