Disclaimer: Spooks is owned by Kudos and the BBC. There is a further disclaimer at the end of the chapter.
A/N: Set shortly after 3.5. According to Harry's Diary and The Personnel Files, Harry held a disciplinary hearing with Ruth over her involvement with John Fortescue on 2 March, 2005, two months after the incident happened. For the purposes of this story, the hearing date has been made earlier.
This story took on a life of its own and is 14 chapters, including the epilogue. That seems crazy to me to even type that. Please take a moment and leave a review as they are greatly appreciated. Thank you to my fellow Spooks writers and readers who have become my friends. You, ladies, are the best.
Wednesday 19 January 2005
It had been nearly three weeks since "The Disaster," as she'd taken to calling the night at the Scratch Requiem. Since that time, Ruth kept to herself, working ridiculous hours in an effort to prove, once again, that she was worthy to work in Section D, or more precisely, for Harry.
Thankfully, terror seemed to be on holiday the first weeks of the New Year. Projects that fell to the wayside because there was always something more important to be done were slowly being completed. Ruth volunteered to help Colin with an audit of Registry, which kept her off the Grid for a large portion of the last week. When she finally did make it home each night, she would scrape something together for a late dinner before falling into bed, exhausted.
Shortly after settling at her desk that morning with a cup of tea, Ruth skimmed through her emails, deleting those that weren't pertinent and triaging the others. It was when she got to the last email from Harry, that she was caught off guard. He was ordering her to attend a disciplinary hearing this morning at nine. She had to read further into the message to see that it was a hearing related to her unauthorized meeting with Karl, aka John Fortescue.
Ruth glanced at the clock and saw that it was half seven. She then glanced in the other direction, towards Harry's office, and saw that it was still dark. She rested her elbows on the desk and placed her head in her hands.
"Ruth, are you all right?" Malcolm had stopped at her desk to greet her as was his routine. She looked up at him without her usual smile and he was taken aback, though he tried to hide it. "You seem concerned about something," Malcolm said.
It was early and the Grid still mostly deserted, something Ruth verified with a quick sweep of her eyes.
"I've been called to a disciplinary hearing with Harry at nine this morning about my actions relating to Karl, the man on the source tapes. Did he ask you about what happened that night?"
Malcolm nodded. "Well, yes, he asked me to write up a summary of what happened but it was very brief. We went, we sang, we chatted with the man briefly, and once you returned, I escorted you home. I heard what he said to you at your desk that next day; I thought that was the end of it." He crossed his arms and frowned. "A disciplinary hearing? Seems a bit odd."
"I've no idea what to expect. Is there a panel or is it just Harry? Do you know?" Ruth asked, desperate for any insight into the process, though she knew all too well that Malcolm himself had never been through one.
"I think it's just Harry. Where do you have to go?" he asked.
Ruth re-checked the email. "One of the civilian interview rooms on the main level. Doesn't mention whether I need to bring anything with me or who else might be there."
"Ruth, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If it was serious enough to suspend or even fire you over, it would have happened already. You know Harry, he probably doesn't want to do this any more than you do but HR is likely telling him this is something he has to do. Just go and say yes and no at the appropriate times and you'll be fine."
Ruth took a deep breath. Malcolm had a point and panicking over the issue wasn't going to help. "Of course you're right, Malcolm. I'll be fine. Just not how I expected to start my day," she said as she turned to her computer.
She tried to stay busy for the next hour to keep her mind off the hearing. A phone call from Special Branch that had her arguing about protocol for the sharing of information did the trick and soon it was time. Ruth intentionally arrived 10 minutes early; she didn't want to be accused of being late on top of everything else. She waited on a bench outside the room until 8:55 when Harry came around the corner and indicated she should join him in the interview room.
It was one of the smaller rooms, with just two chairs and a table, upon which sat an audio recorder. Ruth sat in the chair closest to the door but did not say anything. She watched as Harry sat opposite her and turned on the recorder, stating their names, the date, and the purpose of the recording.
"You know why we have to do this, Ruth, don't you?" Harry started.
"Of course. I have erred and now I must repent," she said. So much for sticking to yes or no answers, she thought to herself.
Harry continued. "What you did was a big breach of protocol. Possibly even illegal."
"I know, and I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Listening into phone taps is all very well – but engineering chance lunches on the table next to the person you're listening to? Going to Requiems so you can sing alongside them? Taking Malcolm along to pretend to be your brother? It's madness, Ruth. That's what it is."
Ruth sighed, already wishing this was over. "I know, and like I said, I am really sorry."
"You do understand why we can't let things like this happen, don't you?"
"Of course, I do. 'Our job is to protect. To serve. To maintain the status quo.' Isn't that what you always say?" Ruth asked.
"Yes, that is our job."
She noted that Harry's voice remained dispassionate and part of her wondered if she could say something to change that, without getting suspended or fired, of course. "And I was doing none of those things."
"You have to think about the moral implications of this. What would this man think if he knew you'd been eavesdropping on him in this way?"
"I don't know. I never saw him again."
"Well, I'll tell you what he'd think. He'd think it was downright creepy; that's what. Just how were you going to break the news to him? 'What do I do for a living? Well, funny you should ask, but actually I'm a spy and I listen to people's conversations. People like you, for example. And I liked the sound of your voice.' Pifft, whiz, Mr Random Man vanishes into the ether, calling the News of the World as he goes."
'He's moved from dispassionate to melodramatic,' she thought to herself. "It wasn't like that, Harry."
"Maybe it wasn't, but I don't really care what it was like. Actions have consequences, Ruth. I want you to think through the consequences of your actions. What if you had seen this man again? What if you'd let slip how you'd actually come across him? What if he told the press?"
"It doesn't bear thinking about," she replied, having decided that short answers were for the best.
"It doesn't. But let's think about it for a moment. The press would have crucified you. They would have crucified all of us. 'Lonely, single MI5 officer uses job as dating agency.' I can see the headlines now."
"That's a not a very good headline. They would have come up with something better than that," she retorted back, his words about her being a lonely, single MI5 officer reverberating in her mind.
Harry laughed. "That's not the point, Ruth. What I'm saying is that you would have been hung out to dry."
"It was a mistake. I'm sorry. A silly mistake. It hasn't happened before and it definitely won't happen again." She hoped she sounded sufficiently contrite so this experience would just end.
"But can you explain why? You seem so level-headed, normally."
"I am. I am level-headed. I was lonely, I suppose, as you say. And there was something different about this man. He was kind; he was fatherly. He was successful…" She trailed off, realizing that perhaps she'd said too much.
"That's okay, Ruth. There are worse crimes than being lonely, you know. All I ask is that you separate your life from your work like; your time from office time; your goals from our goals. Whatever you do in your time is your business, but you can't let it get in the way of work." Harry's voice had softened a touch, perhaps because he was trying to impart some advice for her.
"My work is my life. They're inextricably entwined," she replied, honestly.
"Well, un-entwine them, then," he said, the softened voice gone.
'Is he kidding? He, who is the only person on the Grid more than me and rarely mentions anything of a personal life, is lecturing me about separating the two? Well that's just rich,' she thought. "Oh, it's that simple, is it?"
"It's never simple. But we can make it simple. We have to make it simple."
Those words were her undoing. "Well, I think you're pretty damn simple, Harry. To put it like that. To reduce it to black and white lines. Why did you have to make such a game out of it? Why did you go through the elaborate charade of putting Sam onto me? Why did she keep track of our emails? Why have Malcolm play along too? Dammit, Harry, you can be a coward."
"Finished?" he asked, the dispassionate voice firmly in place.
"Yes." At least she'd stuck to her yes/no mantra for one answer, even if it was at the end. She stood and walked over to the door. She debated for a second before deciding to speak her mind and turned back to Harry.
"And this disciplinary process is a shambles. Slapped wrist, Harry. That's all it needed. Not this recording nonsense. Have you lost all sense of proportion? What's real for you anymore? What turned your heart to stone?" Without waiting for an answer she opened the door and walked through, allowing it to slam shut.
A/N: The conversation during the disciplinary hearing is taken from The Personnel Files. It was a transcript of their conversation, so Harry and Ruth's spoken words belong to Kudos and the BBC whereas Ruth's thoughts to herself, the descriptions of the mood, etc., are all mine.