A/N: I will be consolidating my stories in one place as time allows - most of you will already have read this on the Spooks Forum. Written and first posted before season 9 aired.

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15 November 2010
JIC Meeting, London

"Right, final item. I have decided that the scheduled Northern Ireland talks will take place in Belfast."
Harry knows, the moment the statement is made, that this is the real reason why the Home Secretary chose to attend and chair today's meeting. He clears his throat.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Home Secretary. There have been increased unrest and bomb attacks from the Republican splinter groups over the last five months and…"
The Home Secretary overrides him.
"That is exactly why we need to show faith in our partners in Northern Ireland, which holding the talks in Belfast will do!"
"No, what we need to do is not provide the growing militant ranks with a tempting target, which is precisely what this conference will be," Harry states firmly, trying to remain calm.
The Home Secretary glares at him.
"I'm not debating this with you, Sir Harry. The talks will take place in Belfast next week, and since there will be high ranking officials from this government attending, MI5 will oversee the security and make sure that the Republicans do not get a chance to do anything…"
Harry's patience snaps.
"This is a huge mistake. More than that, it's bloody irresponsible! There is nowhere near enough intelligence available on all the Republican splinter groups to know the extent of the problem we're dealing with. We can't go in there blind and expect to pull off a miracle!"
"Not enough intelligence? Well, Sir Harry, you have a whole week before it starts. Why don't you show me why all my predecessors sing your praises so highly, and get the intelligence you'll need. I am committed to this decision, so make it happen. That's an order!" With that, he gathers up his papers and storms off, leaving an uncomfortable silence in his wake.

"Right," Richard Dolby pipes up after a few beats, "that's settled then."
Harry rounds on him.
"Is it." He bites off the words, and Dolby shrinks back in his seat a little bit. Ever since the 'unfortunate Connie James incident', as Dolby is now referring to it, he has been wary of Harry Pearce.
"Come now, Harry, I would've thought you'd like the idea of going back to where your legend was born…"
Luckily for Dolby, there are no wine glasses near to hand, but the look on Harry's face is enough to silence him.

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Beth, Lucas and Ruth are gathered around Ruth's computer as she explains the latest information she's unearthed on a terror suspect, when Harry comes back onto the Grid. As he stomps over to his office, he yanks off his leather gloves with more force than necessary, a scowl firmly fixed on his face.
"Oh dear," remarks Ruth.
Beth, who has already learnt that Harry has a fierce temper even though she has only been on the team for a few months, looks a little apprehensive as she cracks a joke.
"If we were in a cartoon, Harry'd have a dark cloud with little thunderbolts drawn above his head." She demonstrates 'z' shaped figures in the air.
Lucas smirks, but his reply is cut off when Harry storms back out of his office sans coat and scarf, and barks across the Grid: "Everyone in the meeting room now." He stalks off without waiting to see if they're following. Lucas and Ruth share a quick, resigned look, before following.

Harry looks over his team as they file in and take their seats. Lucas, now his Section Chief, has shown good leadership qualities in the few months he's been in the job, but Harry still has some reservations about him. He has shown a tendency to ignore orders and go off on his own tangents, something which Harry tolerates when it's to the benefit of the operation, but he's getting the feeling that Lucas is embroiled in some personal issue at the moment, and he worries about the impact this is having on Lucas' operational decision making. But, he is the only experienced field officer Harry has left, so he has no option but to put his faith in Lucas at the moment.

The two latest recruits, Dimitri and Beth, have done well so far and Harry is pleased with them. They seem to have brought back some youthful enthusiasm to the Grid, something which has been lacking since they lost Zaf. And Danny and Zoe, he thinks. Along with Tariq, Harry feels he can mould them into a formidable team in the near future.

And then of course there's Ruth. Dear, wonderful, beautiful Ruth. Harry simply doesn't know what he would do without her. Not only is she the best intelligence analyst he has ever known, but she has the knack of calming him when things are going badly, and he knows the others see her as a shoulder to cry on and someone to confide in. She is the heart of the Grid, the moral guardian, the one who makes him think carefully about his decisions and orders. Ruth also holds Harry's heart firmly in her hands, as he does hers. She has become his trusted and cherished partner in recent weeks; he loves her, and knows that her love for him is making him strive to be a better person.

As they all settle around the table, Harry worries whether he has enough resources, whether his people are experienced enough to handle what he is about to ask of them. Not for the first time, he wishes for a moment that he still had Adam, Ros and Malcolm to call on, but he banishes the thought quickly, before he has a chance to become maudlin.

As soon as they're settled around the table, Harry starts the briefing without preamble.
"Next week's Northern Ireland talks are going to be held in Belfast."
His opening statement is met with a chorus of disbelief.
"That's insane…"
"Surely not…"
"What idiot thought that was a good idea…"
Harry cuts through the hubbub.
"The Home Secretary has made up his mind. He is committed…"
Ruth interrupts, "Or he should be…"
Harry stifles a smile, knowing that he should be annoyed at the interruption, but he can tell from Ruth's face that she hadn't intended to say that out loud. So he lets it slide.
"Quite. But no matter what our thoughts are on the sanity of our esteemed political leader, we have no option but to follow orders on this one. So. We have one week to ensure that none of the many Republican lunatic splinter groups use the conference in Belfast as target practice. Lucas, Ruth, Beth; you're joining me in Belfast. Tariq, Dimitri, you'll have to hold the fort here…"
"You're going to Belfast?" Ruth can't quite hide her surprise. This time Harry can't keep the annoyance over the interruption out of his voice.
"Yes, Ruth. As are you, Lucas, and Beth." His tone of voice tells her that there will be no further discussion on this, at least not in public. She glances around the table quickly, noticing that Beth and Lucas are looking at her with interest, probably wondering why she has a problem with Harry going to Belfast. She dips her head and stares at the table as Harry continues.

"Lucas, you need to start liaising with CO19 – although the PSNI will be in charge of security, I want a CO19 team there as well."
"Perhaps we should also have another team on standby at the nearest base in England, so that they can chopper in at the first sign of trouble," Lucas suggests.
"Yes, good. Also liaise with the PSNI, make sure their security arrangements are up to scratch. They need to share anything that causes them concern with you promptly. Beth, you're going to use your charm to get the cooperation of our Irish Military Intelligence, or G2, counterparts - make sure they're not hiding anything from us. Get them to share whatever they have on the Republican splinter groups. Ruth, you need to go through everything we have on Northern Ireland since the troubles have started up again; see if you can identify possible persons of interest. Have a close look at Republican Sinn Fein, the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, as well as Oghlaigh na hEireann. If there's going to be trouble, it'll be from one of those groups. Tariq, you'll need to go over to the conference facility beforehand to install everything we'll need to track the movements of everyone there, and specifically to allow us to listen to whatever the Northern Ireland delegation, and my old friends Gerry Adams and Bobby Storey in particular, is saying in the privacy of their rooms. Also make sure we have the necessary equipment to prevent them from doing the same to us, if you please. Dimitri, you'll have to handle our ongoing operation here on your own, but for God's sake, check with me first before you do anything rash. Oh, and drop by your Customs & Excise contacts, see if there are any whispers about arms and explosives shipments to Northern Ireland recently. All right? Let's get to it, then." He gets up, indicating that the meeting is over.

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It is two hours later when Ruth finds a moment to herself. She glances over at Harry's office; he is seated behind his desk, forehead held in one hand as he reads a report. She heads over and knocks before entering for a change.
"Do you have a moment?"
He looks up, and registers the slight look of concern in her eyes.
"Yes." He motions to the chairs across from his desk. When she sits down, but doesn't say anything immediately, Harry waits patiently, even though he has a good idea what this is about.

He still gets nightmares about the murder of his best friend, Bill Crombie, when they were both stationed in Belfast in 1978. Bill was snatched and tortured severely by the PIRA Nutting Squad, and when they found his body nine days later, he was almost unrecognisable after being burnt with a blowtorch. Harry continues to feel enormous guilt over Bill's death. He was there when Bill had been snatched, but did nothing, in order to protect a valuable source's identity. At least, that is how he feels most of the time, but there are days, when he's emotionally low, when he still wonders whether it was cowardice, rather than the desire to protect their operation, that made him do nothing. So the nightmares continue to plague him. In fact, he had one a few nights ago, when he was staying over at Ruth's. He woke her with his thrashing around, and as she soothed him and held him close, he told her about Bill, about his guilt, and about the hatred he still feels toward those responsible for Bill's torture and death.

Ruth's voice breaks through his thoughts.
"Are you sure it's a good idea - for you to go to Belfast?"
Her concern is written clearly across her face, causing a little frown to settle between her eyes. Harry suppresses the urge to get up and smooth it away with his thumb. It is such an alien thing for him, to have someone worry about him like this, that he's not always sure how to handle it. He's trying, very hard, to be more open with her, but there are times, like now, when he wishes not to examine his own motives too closely, and is tempted to hide behind the excuse of 'operational necessity'. He frames his answer carefully: "The Home Secretary expects me to be there…"
He can tell immediately that she is not impressed with his answer. He sighs, and tries again: "I still have some contacts there that can be useful to us, and God knows, we're going to need all the help we can get."
"Harry." There is mild reproach in her tone, as though she is disappointed in him, rather than upset about his evasion. His default defence mechanism is to get annoyed.
"What exactly are you afraid of? It's been more than thirty years, I'm sure most of those with a grudge against me is long dead, or too old to stalk me and bump me off in the dead of night. I do know how to take care of myself, Ruth!"

She knows him too well to get drawn into an argument, knows that it is an attempt to deflect her attention away from the real issue. So she stays calm.
"That's not what I'm worried about, and you know it."
Ruth holds his angry stare, and her soft gaze deflates his anger. His shoulders sag a little.
"No." It is more an exhalation than a word. "You think I'm going to do something reckless – seek revenge for Bill's death."
"Am I wrong?"
"I honestly don't know…"
She believes him. Harry looks at her, and still, after all these years, she can see the sadness for his friend in his eyes.
"All I know is that I need some form of closure, Ruth. I have to go. I don't have any plans for revenge, and I won't go looking for trouble. That's the best I can do." He smiles a little. "Besides, you'll be there to keep an eye on me, won't you?"
She tilts her head at him. "Is that the reason why you're dragging me along on this operation?"
"I'm 'dragging you along' because I need you."
She remembers another conference, in another life. "Right. You need my organisational skills again, do you?"
Harry smiles softly. He remembers too.
"…That too."

tbc