Disclaimer: I don't own Spooks. I don't own Saturday Kitchen, either. That gets a mention in here, too.
Author's Note: I was in dire need of fluff, so I wrote a story that's largely about algebra. I'm not quite sure how this happened. Hopefully it works! Oh, and it's set after 9.3 (or thereabouts) and ignores the rest of the series, mainly because to incorporate all the on-screen angsting would ruin the fluff. But fluff doesn't need to make that much sense, right? Hope you enjoy!
It was funny, Ruth thought, how a person could go for years and years without thinking about something or someone at all and then abruptly have a dream about them out of the blue, seemingly for no good reason. As it was, thanks to a dream, she was now unable to stop thinking about algebra, of all things.
In particular, she couldn't stop thinking about the algebra she'd done at boarding school under the instruction of Mr Jennings, who had given her work meant for students four years older than she was because she found her own work too easy. She hadn't thought about the man in 25 years – if she had walked past him in the street every day she couldn't honestly say that she would've taken much notice – but had last night dreamed he was looming over her on the Grid, sitting on her desk and watching as she tried to solve impossibly long and complicated algebra problems.
The dream had bought back shuddering memories of her time at school, doing similar sums while sitting at the back of a chilly classroom on Saturday mornings. She'd always been able to get the answers easily – that wasn't the problem. Her problem had been proving how she arrived at the answer, her brain working too quickly for her reasoning to catch up with the result. It had been the cause of much consternation for Mr Jennings, who had had the arduous task of helping her unpick it all.
He'd frequently look at her work and tell her she had all of the answers right but only half the marks. "What's 'x'?" he'd ask her.
"X is 7," she'd answer with absolute certainty.
An ill-controlled sigh would often escape him at that point. "You and I both know that. But why is it 7? You can't have all the marks if you don't show how you worked it out. Otherwise it might as well just be a guess."
It had been a slow process, teaching herself to take a step back and look at things rationally instead of racing ahead – a slow process, but a worthwhile one that had ultimately played a massive part in her career.
But not such a massive part in her personal life, which had always been chaotic despite her best efforts and only seemed to get worse with age. Which was why, following her dream, Ruth found herself in the shower on Saturday morning, wondering whether it would be possible to apply the logic of algebra to the most complicated personal problem she had ever faced.
Harry had asked her to marry him. He'd asked her to marry him and she'd wanted to say yes; was more than convinced that yes was the right answer to his question. But she'd said no, because she hadn't been able to untangle the web of everything that had happened to them over the years. Now she was mentally kicking herself. She was tempted to actually kick herself, but she imagined that doing so while in the shower would prove to be something of a health and safety risk.
It was a few weeks since he'd popped the question, such as it had been (not a question, really; he'd made it more of a demand, as though he knew that blatantly offering her a yes/no choice was too risky). She'd tried to leave the whole matter well alone and had done so with some success, but… then he'd said what he did and now she was majorly doubting herself.
Sometimes you have to give a man a chance to show you who he really is.
That had been niggling away at her ever since he'd uttered it and she wondered now if it had been that line that prompted her dream about Mr Jennings. Not that she wanted Mr Jennings to show her who he really was, of course, because that would be weird and all kinds of wrong, but… he'd taught her a lot about process, about breaking things down to the lowest common denominator and starting from there, discovering the components of things so they could be put back together and make more sense when they were. Maybe that was the solution, or at least the start of it.
Harry + marriage proposal = yes, please. It was a simple equation on the face of it. She just didn't know why it should have the answer that it did. There was too much extraneous matter and unnecessary information surrounding it for her to work out her reasoning.
She could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she and Harry had done something together that hadn't been about work. That wasn't enough to base a marriage on, no matter how certain she was that 'yes' was the right answer. She needed to see the reasoning behind it. She needed to see the evidence, just like she did for everything else in her life. There was only one way she could think of to get it and… well, she thought that now was as good a time to start as any. Neither of them was getting any younger.
Ruth stepped out of the shower, dried herself and dressed hastily, suddenly on a very important mission. She clattered through her bedroom and into the hallway, dragging her handbag along the floor behind her as she tried to shove her arms into a cardigan and stamp her boots on at the same time. She had somewhere to be.
"Ruth?" Beth appeared from the living room, hair a fright and still wearing her pyjamas. The frantic sounds of something going wrong on Saturday Kitchen could be heard emanating from the television behind her.
Somehow, she'd momentarily forgotten about Beth, used as she was to living alone. "Sorry. Just going out."
Her recently acquired flatmate was looking at her strangely. "You okay?"
"Yes, just… er. I might be about to do something stupid."
Now Beth looked worried. "Do you need help with something?"
Patience, said Mr Jennings inside her head. Take your time and be patient. I'm here if you need help. "I'm fine," she said to Beth, then promptly tottered into the wall as she still couldn't get her boot on properly.
Beth took her arm and steadied her while she sorted herself out.
"Wish me luck," Ruth said.
"Okay." Beth clearly wasn't convinced but wisely didn't try and press her further.
Ruth nodded and then left, turning right out of the house and following a familiar route to the bus stop. She took a bus halfway into the centre of London, then a tube to Charing Cross, then walked the remaining distance to Harry's house.
She was so busy working out exactly what she was going to say to him to justify her presence that she rang the doorbell before she could collect herself. What if he wasn't in? Or worse, what if she just blurted everything out without thinking and made absolutely no sense? Both options were definitely within the realms of the possible.
The sound of a dog's paws thudding on the floor inside suggested Harry probably was in, especially when the scatty sounds of claws on wood were followed by the heavier gait of Harry striding towards the door. He opened the door and looked surprised to see her.
"Hello," she said, a little pathetically.
"Hi," he replied, recovering himself quickly. He stepped back to invite her in as though this was a perfectly ordinary occurrence.
Ruth stepped past him and then stopped by the foot of the stairs. Judging by the muffled sounds coming from the front room, James Martin was apparently cooking up a storm on Harry's TV, too.
"What's the matter?" He closed the door behind her.
She realised he thought she was here because of a problem – specifically, a work problem. She turned to find him already reaching for the phone that sat on his hall table, probably intending to ring the Grid to enquire about the current state of emergency. "Nothing," she said. "Well. Nothing work related."
"Ah." He put the phone down and took a step back, folding his arms across his chest.
It hurt to see him pull back from her so quickly, but then she supposed she'd hardly done anything to encourage him otherwise.
"Harry," she began. It seemed as good a start as any. Mr Jennings nudged her. What are the key components of the problem, Ruth? "I've been thinking about what you said."
He shuffled on the spot and regarded her a little warily, but didn't say anything.
Break it down to its constituent parts. "About giving you a chance," she clarified. "And… the other thing. At the funeral." She looked down at the floor, because it was easier not to look at him when she thought she might cry at any moment. She decided to just spit it out as quickly as she could. At least then it would be out there and he could do with it what he would. Don't guess at an answer until you've worked it out. "When you… proposed… All I wanted to do was agree to marry you. But…"
She wasn't sure how to explain it to him without sounding either insane or mean.
"But what?" he eventually prompted, his tone sceptical, after a long pause of silence.
She blinked rapidly to try and clear the tears and then forced her head up. She looked over his shoulder. It was, at least, an improvement on the floor. If you're having trouble working it out, stop and look back to see where you started going wrong. "I just couldn't work out why. Why you wanted to, I mean. We've hardly seen each other outside of work and that doesn't seem like something you can base a marriage on. I mean… You might decide that you don't actually like me, after all."
That thought alone terrified her more than she had ever thought possible.
Harry softened slightly, dropping his arms to his sides and losing the suspicion from his gaze. "Do you really think that's what would happen?"
She shrugged. Facts, Ruth. The facts. "I don't know. All I know is that you asked me to marry you and I wanted to say yes, but… where's the reasoning behind it? Where's the proof? We've not spent much time together away from the Grid. I've never even seen the upstairs of your house."
His eyebrows shot up his forehead and a little smirk fixed itself to his lips.
"No! I didn't mean…" Ruth grimaced at her accidental implication. "I just meant – "
He saved her from herself. "I know what you meant."
"The thing is, we've never had that chance, have we? I've never given it to you. To show me who you are… who I am. And it just seems to me that it should probably come before a marriage."
"The reasoning behind the answer you want to give," he said, seeming to catch on to her train of thought.
"Yes. To prove it's what we both want."
"To prove that I actually do like you and that my upstairs décor finds approval with your keen eye for interior design," he teased, smiling openly now.
She took a chance and smiled back, aware that she sounded a little bit ridiculous. But that was okay. She could cope with ridiculous, after everything. Ridiculous was a big step up from being closed off and unavailable. "Yes. So… what do you think? About this chance, will you..?" It occurred to her that he might have had enough of her, despite the affection his face currently held. She bit at the inside of her cheek to distract herself from the possibility he might tell her to bugger off and leave him alone so he could go back to Saturday Kitchen and the three-egg omelette challenge.
"Where do you want to start?"
Thanks for reading!
There will be a second part to this, just as soon as I decide what to do with it and finish writing it. Hopefully soon… :)