A/N – This little fic should be a collection of behind-the-scenes pieces, from Ruth's POV, centring around her character development and her canon relationship with Harry. First chapter set in season 4 between episode 2 and 3 and the rest follow chronologically on from there, right through to season 10. I've rated this T for language and subject matter in later chapters but rating may change as I go along. I have not decided yet.
All comments/criticisms welcome.
It was the first time she laughed, after Danny died, that caused Ruth to break.
One minute, everything was fine. They were all on the Grid, in the calm after the storm. Another plot had been foiled, another terrorist put away and the team were celebrating. Gathered around Adam Carter's station, they were watching their Section Chief miming a slow-dance with the newest recruit, Zafar Younis. Everyone was laughing. Adam's Fiona had tears streaming down her face, her shoulders shaking with the force of her mirth. Presumably, the story her husband was telling was one she had already heard before, because she began laughing before Adam even hit the punch-lines.
Sitting next to Fiona, Malcolm was trying his very best not to look too tickled by the scene. He was always the voice of reason, the calming influence. Whenever Colin was on leave, Ruth noted, he grew a little more sombre. It was nice to see his mouth twitching into a smile again. There were a few more staff members hanging around too. A new junior analyst who Ruth barely knew, a young officer from another of the Section D teams and the girl who fetched their files from records; all were smiling and listening raptly. Adam was a good story teller.
As the analyst asked what happened next, Adam seized Zaf by the shoulders, transforming him (in his role of visual aide) from a beautiful Russian counterpart, to the pillar of the Syrian embassy. The mixture of confusion and acceptance on the younger man's face drew the chuckle from Ruth's throat. As she heard herself laugh, however, and think that Danny would appreciate the joke, the guilt came flooding in.
It was awful. The second she remembered that he was dead and would never laugh again seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Ruth froze, the smile fading from her lips, a sudden cold spreading through her chest. It was like panic, but laced with a strange hopelessness. Her heart beat faster, her chest felt tight and her throat suddenly dry. She swallowed, repeatedly, but it did nothing to quell the feeling and suddenly she was desperate to escape. She should not be here, she should not be laughing and celebrating a mission well done, not when Danny could not laugh again. Not when Danny was dead.
Sweet, sensitive Danny. Ruth had known him better than she knew any of her other colleagues. After Zoe had left, he had sought her company more often. She had grown very fond of him, over the last few months. He was a good boy, but still a boy in many ways. He was secretive and sarcastic, but underneath there was a solid strength about him. He was loyal and good – unendingly good. The way he had died told her that. Protecting. Defending. On her first day back on the Grid, Ruth had read Fiona Carter's first hand report of the incident. He had died a hero and so bravely, far braver than Ruth could ever be.
Turning from the others, Ruth had walked surreptitiously away, disguising her movements as making for the water cooler. She did not want to draw attention to the fact that her eyes were suddenly over-bright, or that her breathing was a little quickened. They were laughing, celebrating their victory today, and she did not want to be the one to ruin it. She did not want to be the one to bring back the bad memories, in a moment where her colleagues were revelling in the good.
The truth was, her reaction had caught her rather by surprise. After Danny's death, they had precious little time to grieve. His funeral had been interrupted by terror and the team and had been plunged immediately into battle. They had no choice, at the time. The job was what it was and it stopped for no man – good spook or not. Harry had sat beside her and told her that there would be a time to grieve, that it was not this time, and so Ruth had gone back to work. After one more threat had been buried, however, they had all gone back to their homes and mourned privately. Ruth had mourned. for the most part, without tears.
Try as she might, she could not work up a single one. Her chest tightened, her soul ached, but she had not cried since seeing Danny's young body laid out on that ambulance gurney. She felt numb and was so terrified of becoming number. Maybe that was all of their fates, she thought, leaning against the wall, fingers digging into the unyielding plaster. Maybe after a couple more years here, she would be numb too and she would stop believing in miracles and the inherent good of humanity. Maybe, in a few years, she would be dead like the others. They lost a few people a year here, after all. Maybe she was next. Numb then dead – the spook way.
Concentrating on trying to control her quickening breaths, Ruth did not notice her boss's soft footfalls until he was nearly beside her.
His voice caught her, though.
Startled, she turned on the spot, swaying slightly as she let go of the wall's support. Harry Pearce was standing just a foot or two away, presumably having just emerged from his office. Shirt sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, he looked like he might be about to head home for the night. He was very quiet, Ruth mused to herself, as she appraised him from her distance. Usually his footfalls were more of an announcement. Then again, she supposed she probably shouldn't be surprised that he could be quiet when he wanted to be. A spook of Harry's calibre, who had been doing it since she was a silly teenage girl, was bound to be able to sneak around when it suited him. No doubt his quietness it had saved him countless times in the past. Or been the downfall of others, she added, to herself.
Fighting the urge to make some excuse for her being separate from the mirthful team, with her eyes bloodshot and teary, Ruth mumbled his name in greeting.
Her boss watched her stoically for a few seconds then, catching her again by surprise, leant against the table beside her, heaving a little sigh.
"I see Mr Younis is settling in," he said, nodding towards the team.
Ruth felt a rush of gratitude. He wasn't going to call her on her tears or her strange behaviour. He wasn't going to ask if she was fine. Glad that he had provided a subject to talk about, rather than her rather woeful appearance, Ruth nodded, turning to mirror his position and watch the others, too.
"I think it helps, him knowing Adam from Six," she said, sniffing and clearing her throat softly. Her heart rate was still thudding in her ears but at least, now, her breaths were not coming so fast. Just calm down, be professional, Ruth chided herself. "The environment can be quite intimidating, to a complete newcomer," she added, speaking from personal experience.
Her boss's eyes flickered over to her then away, very quickly.
Ruth got the vague impression that dealing with slightly over-emotional female employees might not be one of the great Harry Pearce's strongest suites.
"I think you're right," he eventually spoke, thankfully still on the topic of work. "Apparently we are a close-knit and exclusive unit, somewhat dismissive to outside influence." He sounded like he was quoting that last part.
"Our illustrious service psychologist?" Ruth asked.
A small smile curled his lips.
They continued to stand and lean, respectively, watching as Adam reached the crux of his tale. Ruth could not hear all of it but, from the sound effects and bad miming – it was something to do with automatic weaponry. As they watched, her breathing slowly returned to normal. The tightness in her chest began to slacken, slightly, letting more air in. Perhaps because there was more oxygen reaching her brain, Ruth felt able to think more clearly. When her mind fell back to Danny, this time, it was not to the terrible panic which had filled her before. Instead, it was to dull regret and terrible sadness. And, strangely enough, though she felt better, one or two hot tears suddenly slid from her eyes, down her cheeks.
To her side, Harry shifted, slightly. It was not until Ruth glanced back at him that she realised it was to reach for a tissue, from the box near the cooler. Half humiliated, half grateful, she accepted as he held it out to her – still not saying a word. They stood together for a little while longer, until Ruth's tears slowly stopped and she could breathe through the strange calm that they left. Across the room, Adam Carter persisted in his tale, Zaf now taking part fully, Fiona heckling from the side. Another young officer had paused, in his journey across the Grid, to watch. There was a draw to a gathering, Ruth mused, watching the assembled were laughing and chipping in with comments of their own, from the side.
She gave a soft sniff.
"You know," Harry said softly, at Ruth's side, "I'm almost certain that Mr Carter did not take down that FSB hit squad single handedly." His voice was purposefully shrewd. When Ruth turned her face to him, she saw he was watching the scene with a furrowed brow, arms crossed over his chest. "In fact, I believe a great deal of this story has been subject to poetic licence."
A soft rush of laughter escaped Ruth's chest, her lips quickly forming a smile to match. It was relief, strange relief, to smile after crying. It felt like renewal, in some small way. Though she still felt just a little bit guilty. As she laughed, Harry turned his attention to her properly, taking in her reddened eyes and tearful expression for the first time.
"Not such a terrible charade that it should send you over here, however," he prodded the subject delicately, with all the reserve that Ruth had come to expect.
There was something almost outdated about Harry Pearce. Ruth often thought that he had been born a few centuries too late. He belonged in a time where wars were fought across battlefields by men who were there to fight them. He belonged in a time where there was chivalry and honour. Yet here he was, doing not too terrible a job at surviving the twenty-first century. The thought almost drew another laugh to her lips, but she held herself back. He had asked – in his own polite, delicate way – what was wrong. He deserved an answer.
"I was thirsty," she tried, first, but Harry just glanced at the water cooler and answered shrewdly,
"Then why haven't you had a drink?"
The first impulse Ruth felt was annoyance at his perceptiveness, but it was quickly replaced by a grudging pleasure that he was choosing to perceive at all. She had so few people to talk to, about this. And she needed to talk. She really did. Even if he was her boss and this was bound to be awkward, afterwards.
"It just felt strange, to be laughing," she admitted, with a sigh. A frown tightened her forehead momentarily. "After... everything."
"Danny?" Harry asked, acutely insightful again.
There was a strange edge to his gaze, though, this time – one Ruth had not seen before. It was something cautious, yet gentle, which she could not entirely place. Could it possibly be empathy? No, certainly not. Not from a man such as Harry Pearce.
Ruth turned her eyes quickly back ahead.
Harry had been a fixture in Section D since before they moved to Thames House as their headquarters. He was infamous, throughout security circles, as being hot-headed, mildly disestablishmentarian, and a cold hearted bastard. He was not cold hearted, of course. Ruth had learned that within a few weeks of knowing him. The facade of cool indifference he usually wore was a good one, however. She had only seen it slip once or twice before and never for her. They had become friendlier since he had asked her to help him prepare for that job interview – (the one she was fairly sure he threw, so he could remain in his current position in Section D) – but they had never really been ones for just talking. Probably, because Ruth did not give them the chance. At the back of her mind, she was always aware that there was something about Harry that she liked a little too much and, if she was to let herself get carried away with this, the slight crush she was harbouring for him might develop into something infinitely more dangerous.
"Danny," Ruth confirmed, softly, keeping her eyes straight ahead, trying to ignore the fact that Harry Pearce was looking at her with what appeared to be genuine concern. He probably just doesn't want this to turn into a messy public breakdown, she told herself, stop being such an idiot and focus. This was not about her, or her charismatic boss. It was about Danny. "I miss him," she admitted, softly, not quite meeting his hazel eyes. And they were hazel, she noticed, with a soft sigh. Before, she had always assumed they were a mid-brown but, up close, they were definitely a dark hazel.
"He should be missed," Harry replied, softly, lowering his gaze to his hands. "He was a good officer."
"And a good man," Ruth added, a little forcefully. She was not letting her boss relegate this to the strictly professional, in that way he did so well.
"And a good man," Harry conceded, adding, after a short pause, "far too young to die."
Ruth's chest felt momentarily constricted again.
"I felt so guilty," she admitted, biting at the inside of her lower lip.
Harry's eyes swept over her intently.
"We should never feel guilty for surviving, Ruth."
"No," she shook her head, "not for surviving. Danny wouldn't have wanted that. You know what he did, to save Fiona." Swallowing back a lump in her throat, Ruth pushed on. "I just... I feel like I should be taking the time to grieve for him properly, yet here I am, laughing with the rest of them. You know, I-," She paused again, realising she was about to divulge something quite intimate to Harry Pearce – head of Section D, product of MI5's darkest training programs, killer, liar, spy. This was a stupid idea, she pointed out to herself, unnecessarily. She continued, anyway. "I still haven't cried for him properly, since he was buried."
Harry frowned a little, clearing his throat – a nervous habit of his own, that Ruth had noticed from her increasingly frequent staring sessions.
"Grieving does not necessarily have to mean tears," he eventually stated, somewhat carefully. His gaze was thoughtful, eyes very light as he looked up at her. "It is a process, not a state of being, and it's complicated. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance... some days you cry, some days you remember."
Spoken like a man who had had ample practice, Ruth thought, to herself. But who did the great and fearsome Harry Pearce grieve for? His lost colleagues, his lost friends, his long-ruined family and wife? Her cheeks flushed a little and she reprimanded herself for thinking that. Whatever Harry had lost was his personal business, not hers. She might watch him in a somewhat creepy manner, across the Grid, but that did not give her rights to speculate about him. He was not hers, in any way. He belonged to the service. As did she. That was all the link they had. That and a flicker of empathy in his eyes.
"I feel guilty for celebrating, after what happened," she admitted.
"You have to celebrate."
Ruth frowned, raising an eyebrow as she glanced over at Adam then back to Harry.
"All right, in your own way," her boss conceded, with the nod of his head. "Maybe not prancing around, telling hyperbolic stories to your junior officers, like Mr Carter, but you have to find some way to celebrate the victories. Otherwise, the defeats will eat you alive."
He had ample practice in that department, too, Ruth expected. The insight he was hand-feeding her was borne from the age between them as much as the gap in experience. He had been a spook for a very long time, she thought. How many colleagues and friends had he buried?
Very cautiously, she asked him.
Harry replied "eighteen" without hesitation.
A high cost, Ruth noted, dropping her eyes to the tissue she was folding, in her hands. Her boss shifted beside her, pushing off the table, stepping a little over until he was standing between her and the scene across the Grid, to where Adam was still holding court.
"And I still feel guilty, for every single one," he told her, with terrifying sincerity, "but there are too many bad days not to celebrate the good. Today, the thing we were fighting was defeated and we saved hundreds of lives. Nobody died. Today, we are the lucky ones. We won't always be. So many days, the bad will outweigh the good, so we have to make the most of these. Celebrate," he urged her, softly, slipping his hands into his pockets. His hazel eyes were so very hazel. Ruth could not believe she ever thought they were plain brown. Up close, they glimmered with light. "Find redemption in the good, when it comes your way," he told her.
Ruth looked back over at Adam and the team. Harry's words had felt like permission and her shoulders felt lighter, for hearing them. Suddenly, she wanted to be surrounded by them again. Maybe just for a short time, then she would go home. Curl up in bed and not push away the memories. Think of Danny and Zoe and the others and let them fill her mind, before letting them go. Maybe they would not haunt her nightmares if she let them roam while she was awake. If they threatened, she could think of the living instead; Adam and his laughter, Malcolm and his serious eyes, Fiona and her easy confidence, the flirty new boy, Zaf, all of the others she saw every day... and Harry.
He looked so serious, watching her from a few feet away – so strong behind the wash of weariness that he wore, this late in the evening. He had been here for years, Ruth reminded herself, and she could not imagine him ever not being. He was Harry Pearce, defender, protector, leader, the centre of their confusing and constantly shifting world.
"You won't come over, will you?" she asked, motioning over at the team.
Harry shook his head.
"That's not my place."
No. Of course not, Ruth reminded herself. He was the boss.
Her eyes flicked over to the glass wall of his office. "I suppose that means your place is in there."
"Yes," Harry nodded then added, with a wry smile, "with all my paperwork."
"So where do you find your redemption?"
The question sort of spilled out before Ruth could stop herself. It was only in retrospect that she realised it was actually quite personal.
For a second, once she had realised, she considered covering it up, apologising and excusing him from having to answer. The flash in Harry's eyes, however, rooted her to the spot. His eyes grew suddenly dark, his pupils wide. There was something else different in them, too, thought Ruth. Or maybe that was just a change in his face. At first, Ruth thought it was anger but, reading deeper – into the lines along his brow, in the tightness in his upper face – she found something else instead. Heat, loneliness and hunger. It was longing, Ruth realised, with a strange turn of her stomach. His expression was one of longing. As suddenly as it had flickered over him, however, it was gone, replaced by calm serenity.
"Where I can," he answered, softly.
Ruth felt her cheeks heat.
They stood, staring at each other, Ruth strangely aware of the fact that – underneath what they were at work, underneath the titles that bound them – they were both just human beings. His heart beat like hers. He was filled with the same needs, the same desires. She had to stop this, she told herself forcefully. She would never be able to work at full capacity if she started hopelessly crushing on her boss. It was not seemly, anyway. She should have more self-respect than lusting after a man who would never look at her twice.
But he had looked twice, the little voice in the back of her head spoke up. Just there, watching her from a few feet away, he had definitely been looking twice. Longing. Lonely. This was a redemption day, maybe she should celebrate. Ask him for a drink, Ruth dared herself, swallowing hard. Ask him for more, she suggested, shifting from foot to foot, pretending that her mind was not loitering on what it was loitering on. When the silence between them grew too loaded, she forced herself to speak again.
"Well," she mumbled, her eyes flickering up to Harry's again, then down, "if you ever need to talk..." she let the invitation drift off, immensely glad when Harry answered it with a simple nod, not meeting her eyes for too long. It gave her space to breathe.
It was the first time Ruth had known her strange attraction was reciprocal. Before now, she had watched him across the Grid and Harry had rather kindly ignored it, except for once or twice.
'I didn't know I paced, Ruth'; that comment still made her flush. At the time, Ruth had been rooted to the ground with nerves because she thought his gentle joke had unintentionally hit too close to the bone. In retrospect, however, she realised it might not have been so unintentional. Harry's eyes had darkened, then, just as they had darkened now. It was so subtle Ruth couldn't call it a flirt, but there was something there. So, perhaps she was not so far from his taste after all... Not that it mattered, she reminded herself forcefully. He was her boss. They couldn't. Ever. Besides, Harry had a reputation. He would probably flirt with anything within a twenty-year age range, with two legs and a beating pulse. She shouldn't take it too personally. However much she wanted to.
Oh, this was ridiculous, Ruth told herself, forcing herself to stand up a little straighter and pull on a semi-competent expression. This was just a minor infatuation, on her part – nothing serious. She spent most of her time, these days, at work. It was only logical, therefore, that she formed attachments with her colleagues. This was just a passing fancy, she told herself, something she would get over and grow out of like all of her previous crushes. She respected and trusted Harry. This new obsession she had built, around him, was just the product of that and adrenaline. That, and a little sexual attraction. Just a little, though. She would get over it soon. Hopefully before his stares actually succeeded in turning her insides to molten goo.
"I should, um," she started, trying to think up some excuse or another, but Harry just nodded curtly.
"Don't work too late," he warned her, amiably. The heat in his eyes had faded back, his pupils returning to a natural state. He looked a little tired.
A little rush of disappointment thrilled through Ruth's belly, but she forced herself to reply.
"And celebrate. I remember," she assured him.
Harry gave her a brief smile, the sort Ruth had seen him occasionally bestow on Adam, the only member of the team he was really friendly with.
"Pearls of wisdom," he joked, lightly.
"Part of being the boss," she offered, back.
"I'm a bit of a terrible boss, at the moment," he admitted, nodding backwards towards his office. "That paperwork is to do with staff holiday requests. I'm afraid I've not figured out any of it, yet."
Typical, thought Ruth, but couldn't resist offering to help.
"If you need someone to help go through it, I'm free," she told him.
Harry shook his head. "No. Go home, or go for a drink with the rest of them. Get some rest."
"Are you sure? I don't mind hanging on for a while longer."
"I'm sure. Besides," Harry lifted his eyes to hers, just a little warmth there, again, "I can't risk management finding out there are personnel, down here, more efficient at my position than I am. I have too many enemies to survive that – I would be out of a job by morning."
Ruth smiled, properly this time.
"Oh, I don't know. I think you've got a few fans, too."
Electricity fizzled, briefly, again, hanging in the air. Ruth's stomach both sank with nerves and twisted with pleasure at what she had inadvertently implied. Harry was watching her, thoughtfully. Both of them seemed to realise, however, that her words had taken them into territory that was a little too warm for the professional. Leaning against the foot furthest away from her, then, Harry shifted his weight back, signifying the end of the conversation. Ruth bit at her lip again, looking away.
"Right, well, I'd better..." he began.
"And I should..." Ruth nodded, towards the team.
"Yes. Of course."
They faltered for another second or two then Harry stepped off first, making his way back the way he had come, towards his office. They did not say goodbye because they never did. They never went more than a day or two without seeing one another. Usually, it was not more than ten hours or so and, during those, they were asleep. Their waking hours were spent together. Or close by, at least.
Ruth knew she would be in bright and early tomorrow morning. And she knew that Harry would be there around the same time, if not before. She prized those early and late moments, when it was just the pair of them on the Grid. It was harder to watch him without him noticing, of course, but it was more rewarding. With less staff on, he was more off-guard. He let slip all the little things; the way he rubbed the bridge of his nose, when he was stressed, the way he muttered notes aloud as he read them off the reports, the way he jiggled his foot when he typed. She liked the little things. She liked Harry, too... Quite a bit more than she should...
Harry glanced back, giving her another half-smile before disappearing into his office.
Ruth swallowed hard. She liked him a lot, she realised, with a nervous twist of her stomach. What was once a spark was now heat, burning low in her belly, and the change was a recent development. Somehow, in the last ten minutes or so, her girlish crush on her boss had developed into full-blown infatuation. Perhaps it was because she had seen a little more emotion, simmering in his eyes, Ruth thought. Or, perhaps, it was simply because he had offered his hand in comfort. For whatever reason, Ruth knew that it was seriously more than she should feel for him. This was not professional. This was going to be a problem.
No, Ruth corrected herself, this would only be a problem if Harry found out. If he didn't, then things would not get awkward. If she just kept this to herself, revelled in it only when she was off the clock, then it could not possibly be a problem. Harry probably had no idea. She had been ditsy and silly since she arrived here, Ruth reasoned, he could not possibly know that things had changed. For once, being characteristically awkward was going to be a benefit to her.
Turning from the water cooler, she made her way back over to the team. Adam had finished his story and was being gently berated by Fiona. Zaf was chatting to the two younger officers and Malcolm was talking shop with the admin girl. Ruth chose to make her way over to her oldest colleague – not quite feeling ready for the younger ones' exuberance.
"Hello," she greeted him, softly, moving to sit against the edge of the desk they were standing around. "Adam won the day, then?"
Malcolm glanced over at their Section Chief.
"Of course." He signed a form, handing it over to the admin girl, who thanked him and padded away, then turned to Ruth. The pair smiled. "How's Harry?" he asked, catching Ruth by surprise. She had not known he was watching them.
Her cheeks flushed very slightly, heating across her nose, down the nape of her neck, across her chest. Hoping that Malcolm would not notice, or not attribute it to what she was thinking, she cleared her throat and answered quickly.
"He seems fine," she gave a little shrug. "I think he's very busy at the moment."
Malcolm looked over to the office.
"He can't be that busy," he told her. "I don't think I've seen him leave his office, barring national emergency, before every last shred of paperwork is off his desk. And I've been here for five years," he added.
Ruth felt a strange rush of emotions. Harry wasn't finished with his paperwork, tonight, but he had come out to see if she was okay. This wasn't completely one-sided then. He must like her too, just a little.
Determined not to show her secret joy, to Malcolm, Ruth forced conversation on wards to the subject of work.
"How is your task coming along?" she asked.
"Sound and audio on one of Moran's meeting houses done. We have a man on the inside, but he's far from the action, I'm afraid." Malcolm sighed. "I think Harry's talking to Adam about a possible op, to increase our inside influence, tomorrow. This is all going to heat up, if they do as well as they say they are going to, in the latest polls."
"Lets hope that they don't, then," Ruth suggested, with a wry smile. Hope was a luxury they could not afford, in this job. They had to know. Harry had to know. He was accountable for what happened when it all went wrong. "Anything new?"
"No," Malcolm sighed.
They both looked back over at Adam, Zaf and Fiona, who were discussing the relative comforts of Five compared to Six's London headquarters. As two officers who had been recruited directly for the domestic security service, neither Malcolm nor Ruth had ever been inside the SIS's headquarters (though both had been inside their mainframe). It all sounded rather dire and modern, in Ruth's opinion. There was something to be said about their poky, cut-off technology suite, their box-like records department and their coffee room. It was nice. Compartmentalised. Old fashioned. Then again, she had not been to many other departments. Section C was a little different. Maybe they were just old fashioned because Harry was in charge. He had been in charge for about seven years, she thought. The decor had probably not changed since then. A fond smile tugged at her lips and Ruth had to concentrate very hard on not letting her eyes fall over to the glass wall of Harry's office. He didn't like change, their boss.
She and Malcolm stood a little while longer, watching their colleagues. Conversation had slowed to a stand-still, but no awkwardness hung in the air. They were both quiet people, both content to speak only when they had something to say. He might be shy and a little reticent about forming bonds with new officers, but Ruth liked the technical officer. Maybe she would try to bring them closer, over the next few months. She could do with another friend, in the service.
"I suppose I'll head home, for the night," Malcolm told her, softly.
Ruth nodded. "Me too."
"I'll walk you down?" the older man suggested.
Ruth smiled. "That would be nice."
They gathered their things and bid goodbye to their younger colleagues, who were sharing raunchy stories about their time overseas. Ruth held her tongue on asking whether this much sharing was strictly legal, in their line of work. She was sure they would be careful. They were all good spooks, after all.
As they left, she could not help but let her eyes fall over to the wall of Harry's office. Behind glass, he was still sitting behind his desk, head in his hand, the tension of his frown throwing lines across his forehead. His lips moved very slightly as he toiled through what looked like two feet of paperwork. Ruth both wished she could help and was infinitely glad that she did not have to. It looked like a rather hard lot, being the boss. Still, he was good at it. Trying to banish inappropriate thoughts, of how soft Harry's lips might feel against hers, Ruth turned back to Malcolm.
Her colleague gave her a smile and a nod and together they exited the pods. They walked together to the ground floor then on, to the nearest bus stop. Along the way, they chatted amiably about life and work and everything in between. This had been a good idea, Ruth thought, reaching out to her colleague. Harry had been right. They needed to grasp the good while they could, laugh and celebrate when they found their victories. These were their redemption days and they made the bad seem just a little more bearable.
As her and Malcolm parted ways and Ruth boarded her bus, she glanced back down the street, to where the top floors of Thames House were still visible. She hoped Harry found his own salvation, wherever he sought it. He deserved it every bit as much, if not more, than the rest of them. He was a good boss. A good man. She didn't have to be infatuated with him to see that. Perhaps it was a good thing she was infatuated, though, Ruth thought with a smile. Perhaps that emotion was all that would stop her from going completely numb with the terror of it all. Perhaps Harry was her redemption.
Slipping into a seat, halfway down the top floor of the double-decker, Ruth sighed and dug around in her bag for a book. Who knew what could happen, in the future? Perhaps things would change. Perhaps there was just the tiniest chance that Harry would come to think of her as something more than an analyst and she could be his redemption too. She knew it was silly and, in reality, they never could be anything, but it was nice to dream. Harry always felt wonderful in her dreams.