A/N: Am I alone in finding the whole of Series 10 absurd? Hard to believe? Rushed? Totally, totally out of character?– for Ruth as well as Harry. And I'm not even talking about Ruth's demise. I found the whole Gavrik storyline to be unnecessary, tedious, and …... well, ludicrous. The Gavriks were like they'd stepped out of a Chekov play ... no, scratch that, Chekov's characters were never that one-dimensional. The only explanation I can come up with is that the writers/producers were indulging in some rather mind-bending substances.
This fic focuses on one event only. I am not trying to rewrite the series, but just to use one decision of Ruth's to change outcomes for them both. This is a long way from being the best thing I've written. I have done it for the exercise of exorcising Series 10. I want to again be able to sleep at night.
Parts of this story are Kudos, but mostly it's mine, although I've borrowed Harry & Ruth for the duration.
An underground carpark in London – daytime:
He gazes ahead of him into the gloom of the carpark, the stark, grey concrete pillars reflected in the puddles left by a recent rain. Ruth sees in his face the toll taken by the years, more than eight since she'd first met him, and at least twenty before that in service to the nation. She silently wishes he'd pack it in while he still has his health, such as it is. It may take only one more death, and he'd fall apart, and she's not sure she'd be able to put Humpty together again. His jaw is tight, but his face puffy, the result of too many long days, late nights and too much whiskey. Were she to choose one word to describe him at this moment, in the cabin of his Range Rover, in this empty carpark, it would be `sad'. Harry looks deeply sad. She longs to touch him – to run a finger along his jaw, or across the line of his mouth – but they are meeting during the day, and so the reasons are professional, not personal. Is there still a personal between them? She is no longer sure, although she can detect there is still something between them. Less than a year earlier he'd almost lost his job for giving away a national secret in order to save her life. She knew he loved her then, and probably still does, but for over a year now, he's not acted on it, and she's given him no encouragement. She simply cannot see how it could ever work between them. Too much had happened, and now there is more.
There is Elena, his former lover from thirty years ago, who has emerged wraith-like, a spectre from his past. And her adult son, whom Harry has told her is his. It seems that fate has conspired to throw obstacle after obstacle in their path. Ruth is not sure about anything any more. She loves him, of course. Maybe it is written somewhere that she is destined to die alone, a tragic figure, brilliant of mind, but with a broken heart.
Now he's sharing with her his feelings about Elena. "Guilt can feel a lot like love," he's saying. And then he's trying to tell her why he'd never before told her about Elena and Sasha. Shame. Harry feels shamed as a result of the way he'd treated Elena and her son. Ruth then mentions how she understands guilt. She and Harry both recognise she is referring to a certain boy in Cyprus who is growing up without his father. Ruth also shares with him her sense of jealousy. He says nothing. Does he consider her deserving of the pain of jealousy? She wouldn't blame him if he did. They've never talked at any length about her time in Cyprus with George. Were Ruth in Harry's shoes, she wouldn't want to know. She'd consider it a slap in the face, a demonstration that what they'd shared before she'd gone into exile had been ephemeral, and of little consequence.
Now he's asking her to steal Jim Coaver's laptop form the basement of the American embassy. She's the only one with diplomatic clearance, the only person he's prepared to trust with the task. This tells her more than she'd like to know about his state of mind. If you want to do yourself some harm, she thinks, slam your hand in a car door. But for God's sake, Harry, don't piss off the CIA!
"No, I won't do it," is what she says aloud, surprising herself.
"Just this once."
"It's never just this once. There'll be other times. This is a slippery slope, Harry."
"If anything goes wrong, I'll take full responsibility. If anyone has to go to gaol, it will be me."
"And then what? To get you out of gaol, I step in and take the blame, and then to save my own skin, I fake my death, and …... oh, wait …... we've already been there."
"That's not fair, Ruth."
"No, Harry, what isn't fair is you asking me to risk my job, my livelihood, my reputation …..."
"This will definitely be the last time I ask you to do something like this. Please, Ruth. I need that laptop."
"And I need you to listen to me."
"I am listening."
"No ….. you're not. Even if I manage to steal this thing and get it to you, what then? Not only do I not want to be put in that kind of danger, I don't want you throwing your life away. More than anything, I don't want you throwing your life away. Avenging Tariq's death will not bring him back."
Harry's face registers surprise, and then shock, and he leans towards her, his face imploring her to change her mind. She has little idea how to get through to him.
"There'll be hell to pay for you kidnapping Jim Coaver, Harry. Now he's dead, the CIA will be after you."
"So stealing the laptop will make little difference."
"Perhaps not." She takes a deep breath, and takes her eyes from him, staring ahead through the windscreen. She can't think straight while he's looking at her in that way, willing her to go against her better judgement. She thinks quickly, devising a strategy which will ensure Harry Pearce sees sense.
"Harry," she begins, still looking straight ahead. For what she is about to say, she can't be looking into those sad eyes. "I'm trying to save you from yourself, and I'm running out of ideas. How much do you want to keep your job?"
"When the agreement is signed, I'm packing it in. I've had enough, Ruth. I'm tired of all this."
"Okay, so keep your nose clean until after the treaty is signed, and then resign. I assume you'd rather resign with your pension intact than without."
Harry sighs heavily, and sits back in his seat. "You're not going to do it, are you?"
At last …... he can hear her. "No, I'm not. I can't, Harry." She carefully weighs her words, measuring their probable impact. "One of the things I've always loved about you has been your adherence to a clear moral code. Since the Gavriks hit town, your moral compass has been ….. all over the place." She waits for him to reply, but all she hears is him coughing into his hand. She can feel his eyes on her, but she dares not look his way. "The CIA will be after you, Harry."
"I didn't kill Coaver."
"I believe you, but they won't. Towers can back you only so far. You kidnapped a CIA director, and then he died …... not at your hands, but that's a moot point."
Ruth can barely breathe. She's been holding herself together the whole time, and now her emotions begin to get the better of her. She can't work out whether she wants to cry, or shout at him, telling him what a fucking idiot he's been. Suddenly, it's all quite clear to her, and she can see his future, a future in which the CIA arrest him, extradite him to the US, and lock him away until he rots, or loses his mind, whichever comes first.
Suddenly, she can't stand being there, with him so resigned, so hopeless. She opens the car door and steps down. Leaving the door swinging open, she heads towards the edge of the carpark. She can barely run in her boots, so she walks quickly. She needs air and light, light and fresh air. She needs to feel free to breathe. She stands at the parapet, her hands resting on the concrete, and breathes deeply …... and then she coughs. Bloody London smog!
She feels him before she hears him. They each possess a radar, an invisible sensing system which can warn them of the close presence of the other. Harry stands behind her and waits. She doesn't turn to face him. She's angry and upset - with herself, but mostly with him.
"You just said that you loved me," he said, his voice quiet and deep, the voice which had always sent her pulse racing and her skin tingling.
"Yes, well, I did, didn't I? I guess it must be true, then."
"You're afraid for me. Is that what you're saying, Ruth?"
She turns then, and finds him standing so close to her. Were she to reach out her hand, she could easily rest her palm on his chest. She begins to fight the tears which threaten to spill from her eyes. She nods her answer. Suddenly, as if someone turned on a light, the solution seems so easy, even obvious. It is there, within their reach.
"Are you being followed?" she asks.
"Anyone at all. CIA, IA, goons with guns, anyone."
"Not as far as I know."
"Get in the car."
She steps closer to him and grabs his arm, just above the elbow. "Get in the car."
No-one is more surprised than Ruth when he does as she asks.
"Now, drive north, out of London."
"Just drive, Harry. We have to get out of London. If we don't, we'll die."
"I'm not sure I believe you, Ruth. This just isn't like you."
"No, it's not, and that is why you should listen to me."
"Where are we going? I need to have some idea."
"Get on to the A12. We're going to Suffolk."
"Ruth, we'll both lose our jobs."
"After the conversation we had back in that carpark, I hardly think that matters. I'm trying to save us both, Harry, and there's something I need to show you."
Ninety minutes later, Ruth instructs Harry to turn off the main road and down a lane which leads towards the sea. He'd stopped asking questions eighty minutes earlier when she stopped answering him. She can't explain even to herself what she is doing, so how can she possibly explain it to him? All she knows is she is trying to save them both, and this is the only way she knows how.
"Why are you following my orders, Harry? It's not like you."
"I think you'll find I generally trust your instincts, Ruth. As bizarre as this journey is turning out to be, I know you have your reasons."
"Turn left at the crossroads, and then right directly after the park."
She instructs him to pull up beside the cottage with a For Sale sign out the front.
"We're here," she says.
"Don't tell me you've bought this, Ruth."
"No, but on the weekend I submitted an offer. I should know within a fortnight if my offer has been accepted. Come on, let's have a look," she says, unbuckling her seat belt.
"Doesn't someone live here?"
"No, and I don't have a key, but we can look through the windows."
"You brought me all the way here to look through the windows of a cottage you don't yet own?"
"No, Harry. I brought you here to give you a glimpse of a dream, a dream which can also be yours should you want it."
He follows her through the gate. He finds her standing on the pathway staring at the front door, a small smile on her lips. He steps up behind her so that he is close enough to touch her.
"That door could do with a coat of paint," he says quietly.
"Oh, no …... I love the peeling green paint. It adds character."
Harry has not seen her like this in such a long time. She glows from the inside, and her face has relaxed into a smile. This is the Ruth he loves. This is the woman he first realised – so long ago – that he loved ….. for her sensitivity and compassion as much as her passion. Back then he'd wanted to possess her, but not in the way he'd once have wanted to possess an attractive woman he'd met in a bar, or at a dinner party. With Ruth his drives have always been different. Rather than dominate her and take her, he'd wanted to join with her, to make her part of him, and he part of her. She's showing him something she wants to share with him, and – like always – he's being a dick about it. As before, he's not listening to her.
He steps to her side, and they stand shoulder to shoulder. "It's lovely, Ruth. I hope your offer is accepted."
"Thank you," she says, still gazing at the cottage she hopes will soon be hers.
They stand together on the path, their shoulders almost touching, their faces lifted to the façade of the cottage.
"I needed to bring you here," she begins, her voice just loud enough for him to hear above the birdsong, "to show you where I want to live. I need to leave the service, Harry. I need to reclaim my life, and I need to be somewhere …... like this …... to be able to do that. You said …. back in London …... that you wanted to leave, too." And she turns to face him, her face lifting to look at him, this tired and worn man she has loved for as long as she can remember. She reaches out to grasp his hand, entwining her fingers in his. He smiles at her, his fingers hanging on to hers like they are his personal lifeline. "Leave with me, Harry. Live here. With me."
Still holding his hand, she turns again to face the house. "There are two bedrooms upstairs. I thought the smaller one could be your office. I can see you there, your head down over something you're reading …... The larger one can be …."
"Ours," he finishes for her. He turns his head in time to see her nod.
She smiles up at him. His face is relaxing by the minute. "Will you? Will you join me …... here?"
He nods his reply. Their words generally dry up when it comes to discussing the personal, when it comes to discussing them. He can see how simple it would be. They'd resign, move here together, make a life together, as he'd so often dreamed of doing, and they'd be happy. How could they not?
They walk around the outside of the cottage, holding hands, fingers entwined, shoulders touching. Unbeknown to them, a neighbour is weeding next to the boundary fence between the two properties. He is not close enough to hear what they are saying, but he observes them, and he is skilled at reading people. What he sees are a couple who are most likely married, but definitely lovers, so easily do they move together, aware of the person by their side, each stealing private glances at the other. They press their noses against windows, talk of the furniture and furnishings they'll need - a large rug for the living room floor, a table for beneath the dining room window - the wine they'll drink, the meals they'll prepare - together. They talk of a dream they have shared, but separately, a dream they'd feared they could never have.
They stand at the window to the living room, she with her face pressed against the glass, her hands blinkering her eyes to the daylight, his hand resting on her back, leaning across her shoulder to catch a glimpse of what she's describing. He sees the expanse of locally gathered stone surrounding the fireplace, the hearth where their animals will sleep, and where they, on cold nights, will curl up together, her back tucked against his chest, while they watch the fire flicker and flare.
They walk through the garden, their feet buried in the overgrown lawn, surrounded by shrubs in need of pruning, and sit at the outdoor setting. He shares with her what he might do to tidy it up for her, so that come summer, they can sit out here with their wine, some water crackers and cheese, and a continuing conversation, a conversation they can see will punctuate their days for the rest of their lives.
As light rain begins to fall, a smattering of raindrops on their shoulders, they climb back into the Range Rover and sit. Neither want to break the spell with words. Ruth looks across at him, this man she has asked to share her life. All she knows is that he is the right man, and bringing him here had been the right thing to do on this day. She reaches across the space between them and takes his hand in hers. He smiles at her, and this time his smile reaches his eyes. He leans towards her, and she reaches across to meet him. Their first kiss since she'd left London on that barge five years earlier is soft, gentle and warm, an exploratory hello. Neither want to pull away. She feels his hands grasp her face as he deepens the kiss. She rests her palms on his chest and feels his heart beating, rather rapidly too. As the kiss continues, her hands seek his shirt, inside his coat. Beneath her fingers she feels his body warmth, and longs for the day when they can lay together, his chest bare against her own. They pull out of the kiss and smile at one another.
"This will work, won't it?" he says, his voice rich and honeyed, and aroused from kissing her.
She nods, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. She barely dares speak her thoughts. "Yes, Harry, this will work." She sighs heavily. "But first …..."
"We have to …... back in London."
"It might not be pretty, Harry."
"I know." He reaches a hand across to her, and runs his fingertips down her cheek. She leans her cheek into his fingers and covers his hand with her own.
"We have each other now," she continues, "and that ….."
"It will make everything easier. Love will …..."
"It will comfort us when things get …... difficult," she says.
He takes his hand from her cheek – reluctantly it seems – and starts the engine. As they pull away from the kerb, they both glance back at the cottage where together they've planted the seeds of their dream. They will be back, but on their next visit they will bring a cat and a small dog, some rugs and an armchair or two. Their shared dream will be something worth waiting for.