A/N: This fic was always going to be a one-shot, but a few reviewers suggested there be a follow-up chapter, so here it is.
Ruth's and Harry's wedding day -16 days later:
He feels overdressed, and has removed his tie, but he is still a stand-out in the group of men dressed in casual slacks and open-necked shirts. He had wanted to dress well for this day. He is showing respect, something he lacks, or so he's been told often enough. He is demonstrating that he is a man, a grown-up, and that he can be trusted. He'd bought his suit – and shirt and tie and shoes – with money he has earned honestly. Nothing on his person has been acquired illegally; he hasn't done that for a while now, but he's not sure that a certain person would believe him. All in all, he can't blame Harry for being disappointed in him. Were he in his shoes, he'd no doubt feel the same way.
Now, the happy couple is bearing down on him, and Catherine is nowhere to be seen. He looks around the room – a private room in the Roebuck in Hampstead – and all he sees is a collection of random spooks, their hands curled around their drinks, their conversation hushed and serious, like they're in the business of saving the world or something. Aside from Ruth, only one stands out, a young blond woman with feline eyes and a rowdy laugh. He suspects her of having had one drink too many. He'd met Ruth two nights earlier, and had fallen for her instantly, but he and his father are still only on little more than grunting terms. Harry is trying, but despite his softness towards Ruth, he is still the same supercilious git he's always been.
"Graham," Ruth says, reaching out to him with both hands, "I'm so glad you came, and you look so handsome, too. Doesn't he look wonderful, Harry?"
Graham allows Ruth to grab his hands and kiss his cheek, and he breathes in the sweet scent of her. If his father hadn't found her first, he'd have grabbed her for himself. Ruth may be more than a decade older than he is, but cougar courting is assigned extra cred within his small social circle. As Ruth pulls away from him to look adoringly up at Harry, he feels a moment of resentment that despite being a hard bastard, his father is with the best girl in the room, probably in the whole pub.
"Graham," his father says, reaching out to shake his hand.
"Dad. Congratulations, you two. It was a really nice ceremony. I'm glad you didn't go overboard with it." At your age, is left unspoken.
"You look very smart," Harry continues, obviously stuck for anything else to say. He grasps Ruth's hand tightly, hoping to convey to her his discomfort.
"Thanks. No-one told me it was a casual wedding. You look …... a bit under-dressed, to be honest."
"Oh no," exclaims Ruth. "I think your father looks very handsome. Blue has always suited him."
"His shirt matches your eyes," Graham observes, noticing for the first time how close the colour of Harry's shirt is to the blue of Ruth's eyes. Ruth's dress is a deep and dark scarlet – unusual, he knows – and she stands out in the crowd, the most striking woman in the room.
"There you are!" comes a cry from Catherine, as she joins them in the corner where Graham has been hiding, people-watching. She stands between her father and new step-mother, an arm around the waist of each of them. "What do you think of little brother?" she asks Harry. "Rather smashing, wot?" Catherine adds, aping a posh accent.
"I think he looks handsome, but he looks a lot like Harry, so I'm biased."
"Dad?" prompts Catherine.
"I've already told him he looks good. It's good to see him in a suit." Anything is an improvement on the ripped jeans and dope leaf t shirt he was wearing when last I saw him, is left unsaid.
"He's going back to university," Catherine continues, "in September."
"That's wonderful, Graham," says Ruth.
"What course?" asks his father.
"What happened to your geography course?" Harry barrels through.
"I wasn't interested in it. I now know what interests me, and it's computer science."
"He did really well to be accepted," says Catherine. "It's a tough course to get into."
"Good," says Harry. "I'm pleased that you're using your brains." And that you haven't managed to fry every functioning brain cell with your drug-taking, goes unsaid.
"I think I'll go and have a chat to your techie, Dad," Graham says, making his way out of the family group, and heading over to where Tariq and Malcolm are deep in conversation. Ruth watches him walk away, and she swears she sees his body sag with relief.
Catherine's face takes on a frustrated expression as she glares at Harry. "You two are bloody hard work, you know that?"
"What?" Harry says, lifting his shoulders and holding out his hands, palms upwards, like he's a member of the New Jersey mafia. "I'm trying."
Ruth steps between her husband of less than an hour and his daughter, and looks at Catherine. "Could you give us a moment, Catherine? Harry and I need to talk."
Catherine wanders off in search of Graham, who has cloistered himself, along with Malcolm and Tariq, behind a large palm in an equally large pot on the other side of the room.
"Darling," Ruth says, looking Harry in the eye, "you know how much I love you, and that my love for you is unconditional, right?" He nods, smiling. "But for the love of the English cricket team, what are you doing to your son?"
"It's hard," he says, shifting uncomfortably under her scrutiny.
"No-one says it's easy, but you're meant to be the parent here, and Graham is screaming – I'll repeat that – he is screaming for you to love him. Look at how he dressed up for our wedding. He's trying to tell you something, Harry."
"What is he trying to tell me, because I can never figure it out."
"He dressed in his best suit for your – no, our – wedding so that you would look at him and feel proud. He wants you to love him – no matter what he does – and he wants you to be proud of the man he is – no matter whether in your eyes he is a success or a failure. That's it. Is that too much to ask of you?"
Harry is looking at her with love for her in his eyes. He wonders what he has done to have deserved being loved by her. "You're amazing, do you know that?" he says, his voice husky with emotion.
"You have told me that once or twice, Harry. Now, show me that you can be the man I know you are. Swallow your pride, and show your son how much you love him."
"Here's what I suggest," Ruth says, taking his hand, and drawing him close to her, so that he is the only one who hears her.
Ruth watches Harry as he walks to the group of three men behind the palm. He speaks to Graham quietly, and Graham, face suspicious, pulls back and shakes his head. Harry then smiles at him, and indicates with a tip of his head that they should go into another room together. Ruth holds her breath and prays silently. She prays that Harry has said the right thing, and that Graham will trust him. She lets out her breath when the two men – her husband and his adult son – leave the room together. Now it will be up to Harry.
Twenty minutes later, Ruth is talking with Tariq, Malcolm and Beth, all the time keeping an eye on the door. Harry comes back into the room alone. There is no sign of Graham. Ruth's shoulders slump slightly. Her husband looks around the room for her, and when their eyes meet, he smiles and nods his head. Ruth's plan just may have worked.
Royale Hotel, Paris – two days later - 7.17 am:
They lay in sweat-bathed satisfaction, both smiling, both too exhausted to speak. At last they are on the Grand Tour, and they have a whole month in which to indulge in walking, talking, sight-seeing, eye-gazing, eating, and of course, love-making, the latter of which has so far taken precedence.
"Do you think we did the right thing?" he asks after some time.
"Getting married, or making love again?"
He leans across and gently nips her earlobe with his teeth. "You know very well what I mean."
"You mean home, don't you? You mean Graham. You have to give him enough rope to hang himself, then trust that he'll choose the right path."
"I suspect that's a mixed metaphor."
"It probably is …... but I mean it, Harry. You can't spend the rest of your life waiting for him to mess up again, because if you do -"
"He'll ultimately give me what I expect."
Harry turns from her to grab his phone from the bedside table.
"Darling, if Graham sets fire to the house, or opens a crack den in your office, I'm sure someone will tell us. And we're insured, so you don't have to keep checking that -" Ruth leans across him to take the phone from his fingers before he's had a chance to open it. "Now, where were we?"
Harry's and Ruth's house, London – same day – 9.55 am:
Graham Pearce is still wearing only his boxers, having stumbled out of bed a half hour earlier. There is plenty of food to eat, but he settles on a cup of coffee and a slice of toast, before he lets Scarlet into the back yard for her morning wee. He stands barefoot on the patio, coffee in one hand, and the toast in the other. He can't believe that Harry gave him the keys to their house, and asked him to stay here for a whole 30 days. He senses Ruth's involvement, but it was the old man who made the offer. He almost said no, but then realised that would be stupid. He is being handed a peace offering, and he's smart enough to know he'd better not screw up.
Later the same day:
He has spent most of the day – Saturday - wandering through the rooms of the house, trying to find out what makes Harry tick. There are many indications of Ruth's presence in the house – her books on every available surface, notes she has written and pinned to a noticeboard in the kitchen, her slippers stuffed under the sofa in the living room, a jacket of hers slipped over the back of a chair, lots of happy snaps of her and Harry on shelves and tables throughout the house. On the other hand, Harry's footprint is hard to find.
He'd opened the door to their bedroom, feeling guilty about it, but not retreating. He'd stepped into this room where his father had (probably) slept alone until Ruth had joined him. Their bed is large and comfortable, and he feels a pang of jealousy that a man as old and flawed as Harry has managed to hook up with a woman like Ruth. Images of them having sex in that bed are quickly quashed, and he shudders. Looking around the room he sees two large photographs. One is of his father with Ruth, and they appear to be on a boat, with the wind blowing her hair across her face, they are smiling at one another, and his arm is around her shoulders. He has to admit that it is a beautiful photo, and the lens has captured the two of them perfectly; Ruth's face is open with laughter, while his father's is a portrait of love and adoration. The other photograph surprises him. He has seen it before, but not for a long time, not since his mother had stuffed it in a drawer under the photo albums of their life as a family after Harry had left. Harry, Catherine and he are at the beach, and they are building a sand castle on Harry's stomach. He and Catherine were three and six. He's not sure whether he remembers the day, or if he remembers it through seeing this photo so much in his early childhood. His three-year-old self is pouring a bucketful of sand on to Harry's stomach, and his father is laughing, his face turned to his small son with surprise and open enjoyment.
Graham had left the bedroom quickly, tears pricking his eyes. He had closed the door quietly behind him, and walked down the hallway to Harry's office.
He is surprised that the office is not locked. He's not sure what he's looking for, but perhaps he's trying to find evidence that his father has a heart, and that he loves him. The room is small and ordered, but he'd expected that. There is little on the desk other than a small photo of Ruth in a silver frame, a pen holder containing two pens and three pencils, and a leather bound appointment diary. The latter holds little interest for him. He tries each of the drawers, but they are locked. Then he notices a smaller table under the window, a chair pulled up to it. On the table is a laptop. He knows Harry is a technophobe, but with his job, he has to have embraced at least something of the world of technology.
His heart thudding, Graham sits on the chair, opens the laptop, and turns it on. He is immediately shocked to see that the desktop wallpaper is a childhood photo of he and Catherine, each in school uniform, both smiling at the camera. He can remember it being taken one Friday afternoon after his parents had divorced, and Harry had picked them up from school to spend the weekend with him. It had been a good time back then, even with everything that had happened. The laptop has finished loading, and his eyes are immediately drawn to a folder on the desktop marked `Graham'. He opens it to find at least fifty photographs of himself while growing up – from he as a baby, being held by a youthful Harry, to he as an angry teenager, deliberately denying the camera his eye contact. Harry had taken most of the photographs in that folder. Graham had had no idea that Harry had kept any of them. The last item in the folder is a text file. He clicks it, and it opens in Notepad.
Graham, I thought you might like to see these. You can copy any you want for yourself. Spare USB flash drives are on the shelf behind you.
Graham's first reaction is outrage and anger. He closes the laptop with force, standing up so quickly that he knocks over the chair. He feels manipulated. How could Harry love him, if he expects him to go snooping through his laptop?
Downstairs, he grabs Scarlet's lead, whistles to her, and takes her for a long walk. He walks her until she is so exhausted he has to carry her the rest of the way home. He is still fuming at dinner time, and he goes to bed angry.
Two days later, he is at work, and one of his workmates is bitching about his father, and Graham listens, but doesn't comment. That night on his way to bed, he again opens Harry's laptop, and opens the `Graham' folder. This time he takes his time browsing through the photos, remembering where and when each had been taken. Before he closes the laptop, he sends a text to Harry.
Royale Hotel, Paris – same night – 11.34 pm:
Harry and Ruth are wrapped around each other, both almost asleep, when Harry's mobile phone chirrups with a text message notification. He groans, reluctant to remove himself from the warm and comforting arms of his wife.
"You can read it, Harry. You know you want to."
"It's from Graham," he says after he's opened his phone. "He probably wants to know where I keep Scarlet's shampoo."
"At this time of night?"
"You have a point there." He reads the text, and then shows it to Ruth.
"Thanks," she reads aloud. "Just the one word?" She looks across at Harry to see him smiling, and she notes the sheen of tears in his eyes. "Darling, what is it? What does he mean?"
"I'll tell you in the morning, Ruth. Right now, I need to hold you. I feel like such a lucky man."
Harry puts the phone back on the bedside table, and then turns to her and wraps his arms around her, resting his head on the pillow beside hers. He falls asleep easily, his heart full.
Fin (definitely, this time.)
A/N: Thank you, NatesDatefor the prompt/idea, and also to theoofoof, HR always lives on, and Sparky75 for suggesting I write a follow-up.