Christmas Memories, Old and New

Disclaimer: I volunteered to take Spooks off their hands, but apparently handing over the rights to the show is something they're not interested in doing. So, Spooks still belongs to Kudos and the BBC.

A/N: Set shortly after 4.6. Because I want it to be a happy fic, let's pretend 4.7 isn't going to happen, even though it has no bearing on this story.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Ruth entered the Briefing Room and took the open seat to the left of Harry's still empty chair. He was on his way back from a meeting at Whitehall regarding the fallout of the Nazim Malik case, despite there being the best possible outcome, given the circumstances. As she settled in the seat, she heard Fiona say her name.

"Yes?" she replied.

"Any plans for Christmas?" Fiona asked. "You're welcome to join us otherwise. Wes would love to see you again," she said with a smile.

"I do have plans this year," she replied. She heard the door open as she continued, "I'm singing with my choir before Midnight Mass and then driving down to my mother's place in Cheltenham. Thank you for the invitation, though. Tell Wes that I'll see him soon."

The conversation died down as Harry had finally returned from his meeting, just in time for the briefing. "Let's get started," he said.

It was later that afternoon that Ruth found herself on the roof, feeling the need for a few minutes of fresh air, no matter how cold it may be. She'd been staring at her computer screen for the past few hours and her eyes were having difficulty focusing. It was quite noticeable this time of year how early the sun set. Across the Thames she could see the twinkle lights in the trees, adding a festive touch to the Embankment. Hearing the door open, she turned to see Harry backing through the door with two steaming mugs in his hands.

"I hope I'm not intruding but I thought you might need something warm to drink," he said, his hand outstretched with a mug for her.

"Thank you, Harry. That's very thoughtful of you," she said before she sipped the warm liquid.

"Anything wrong?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No. Just too much time spent staring at my computer screen. I needed a change of scenery for a few minutes."

He smiled in acknowledgement, understanding the feeling well.

A few moments passed as they enjoyed the view and sipped their tea. It was Harry that spoke again.

"Did I hear you say you were going to your mother's for Christmas?"

Ruth dropped her eyes to her mug and bit her lip.

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop on you. I heard you mention it when Fiona asked about your plans," he said.

Ruth smiled. "About that, yeah. I'm not going to my mother's for Christmas. Adam mentioned it a few weeks ago, that I was welcome to join them for the day. As much as I like them, I don't want to intrude and I'd feel uncomfortable being there. I figured I'd simply say I was going to my mother's and no one would question it." She looked at Harry with a slightly alarmed look. "You won't tell them, will you?"

Harry smiled in response to her concern. "Of course not, Ruth. What you choose to do or who you choose to spend Christmas with is your business and no one else's. Your secret is safe with me."

There was another moment of silence before he asked, "Are you singing with your choir or was that part of your grand plan to avoid Christmas with the Carters?"

Ruth smiled at the teasing tone in his voice. "No, that part is true. We're singing traditional carols before Midnight Mass at St. Dunstan's." She shivered in the cold.

"I'm sorry. You must be freezing. I shouldn't be making chit chat when it's so cold out here," Harry said, holding his hand toward the door.

"It was refreshing at first but yes, it's gotten cold. Thank you," she said as Harry opened the door for her. They didn't attempt conversation over the sound of walking down the stairs.

"I'll take that mug for you and wash it up," she said holding her hand out. "It's the least I can do."

Harry opened his mouth to say that she didn't need to clean up his mess when he heard Malcolm calling his name from across the room, so he settled on "Thank you, Ruth," and a smile.

Saturday, 24 December, 2005

The choir was about halfway through their performance when a movement at the rear of the church caught Ruth's eye. People had been quietly filing in during their concert but for some reason she noticed this particular movement. As the song ended she took the opportunity to glance at the back corner of the sanctuary and realized that Harry was seated there. He was looking at her and graced her with a slight smile and a tilt of his head. She nearly smiled in return until she realized the choir was about to start the next song. Thankfully the songs the choir was performing were traditional carols that Ruth didn't need to think about, which allowed her mind to wander to the man in the back row.

It wasn't a coincidence that he was there. She'd told him where her choir was singing and as his home was in opposite direction of Thames House from hers, this wasn't a church he was likely to just wander into. As she thought about the reasons why he might be here, the familiar flutters started up in her stomach. She would never admit this to anyone, but she had a crush on her boss. She, a 35 year old woman, had a crush. She thought it absolutely ridiculous and yet, she knew exactly what this was.

When they were at work, there were moments when she caught him watching her or when he shared a smile with her and no one else, and it was in these moments that she wondered. She considered them to be friends and they had an excellent working relationship, but Ruth was terrified to contemplate anything more. In moments of weakness she allowed herself to wonder what it might be like to be romantically involved with Harry, to kiss him and to be held by him.

And then the voice of reality would remind her that Harry Pearce would never be interested in a woman like her. She knew that there had been something between he and Juliet Shaw at some point, though Harry didn't seem to have any interest in her currently. Ruth knew the type of woman Juliet was; confident, powerful, and of course beautiful and it seemed perfectly logical that Harry would be attracted to those qualities. She was certain that a plain-looking woman who often spoke before she finished thinking and was happy to spend her nights reading books and watching films wasn't Harry's type.

The last song was completed and as the audience clapped in appreciation of the performance, the choir filed away through a side door into the choir room. Ruth quickly removed her gown before grabbing her coat and handbag. Peeking through the door she noted that Harry was still in his seat, so she walked around to the rear of the church and came up behind him.

"Fancy meeting you here," she said.

He looked up at her with a smile. "Yes well, I heard that a wonderful choir would be performing and I simply had to hear it for myself. It was certainly worth the trip," he added. He slid over in his seat and asked her to join him, which she gladly accepted.

"I don't know if you were planning to stay for Midnight Mass," said Harry, "so you shouldn't feel like you have to stay on my account."

Ruth glanced at her watch. There were 25 minutes before the service began, so they had time to chat. "I do usually stay. I don't attend church on a regular basis but there's something about the Christmas Mass that speaks to me."

Harry nodded in reply but was taking his time to look around the church. About half of the normal lights were on and extra candles were scattered around the sanctuary. The stained glass windows that lined the sides of the church were dark due to the late hour but Harry knew they would be works of art on a sunny day. The pews in which they sat were wood and worn from the years of use.

"My mother loved to attend Christmas Mass as well. She was a regular churchgoer, though I think that was more because we lived in a small town and there would have been talk if we weren't there, but the Christmas service was easily her favorite. She loved to sing all those traditional carols and for her it was better than any concert because she could sing as well, she didn't just have to listen."

Ruth took the opportunity to watch Harry as he spoke about his mother. Never one to share more information than absolutely necessary, this story was a chance to learn more about the man than she'd learned in two years of working on the Grid.

"Toward the end of the service, the stewards would go around and light the little candles that everyone picked up when they arrived. They lit the candles of the people at the end of the pews and they would light the candle of the person next to them and so on and so forth until everyone, even the children, had a candle. As we sang "Silent Night," the lights would go out one by one, until we got to the last verse and the candles were the only light. The woman playing the piano, it was Mrs Polta for as long as I could remember, would play along until that last verse, and then there was no music, just voices. I can still picture the candle glow and my mother's voice as she stood next to me singing."

Harry's voice trailed off and Ruth could see that his eyes were bright with unshed tears. She didn't want to embarrass him so she leaned to her left and rested her arm against his in a show of support.

"It sounds like a beautiful service and a wonderful memory of your mum," she said, her eyes looking straight ahead. She saw him nod in her peripheral vision and she gave him time to gather himself.

It was a few minutes later when Harry spoke. "How about you, Ruth? Any special memories of Christmas from when you were young?"

"Yes, but for a very different reason. One year the church decided to do a live nativity as a part of the service. My father played Joseph, though I don't know if he volunteered or had to be talked into the role. Another woman from our church who had a young baby volunteered to play Mary. I remember my father coming home after a rehearsal and he was quite happy about it all, which made me excited to go and see it.

"Christmas Eve arrived and my father had to be at the church early so it was just my mum and me. I had a new dress for the occasion and I think I dragged my mum to church that afternoon, I was so excited. We sat near the front so I could see it all and… well, whatever could go wrong, did. They brought in sheep and goats and before the end of the service the sheep were trying to chase the goats. One of the goats urinated on my father's foot – he was barefoot in sandals at the time – and the baby playing Jesus had a cold and cried through nearly the entire service."

Ruth felt movement against her arm and turned her head towards Harry, who was trying valiantly to hold in his laughter. She smiled and let out a small laugh of her own.

"By the end of the service, everyone was laughing, even the vicar. It was talked about for years afterwards but I don't think they ever tried for a live nativity again," she said.

"How old were you, Ruth? Obviously old enough to remember quite a lot of the service," Harry noted.

"I was 10. It was my last Christmas with my dad, though. He died in a car accident the next summer," she added quietly.

"I'm sorry, Ruth, I didn't mean to bring up bad memories as well." He reached over and wrapped his hand around hers and gently squeezed.

Ruth watched this movement and tried not to read too much into it, deciding to just enjoy the opportunity to hold Harry's hand.

"It's okay, Harry. I do think of my dad more often this time of year and it feels good to be able to talk about him."

"At the risk of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, why aren't you going to your mother's tomorrow?"

"Oh, my mum and step-dad have gone on a cruise this year. They wanted to do something different for the holidays and I suggested they travel. They are somewhere in the Mediterranean right now and I hope they are enjoying themselves."

The church had filled over the past 20 minutes as more and more people arrived for Midnight Mass. Ruth found herself sitting very close to Harry as they'd had to move over and make room for more people. Ruth enjoyed the closeness, with not just her arm but the length of her leg pressed against Harry's leg.

An hour later they made their way out of the church into cool clear night.

"Thank you for letting me crash your Christmas Eve, Ruth. It's been a long time since I've attended services but this was nice," he said as they stood just outside the church. "Can I give you a ride home? I know you live nearby but it will make me feel better if I know you're home safe."

Ruth had been watching Harry's face as he spoke and for once he wasn't guarding his emotions.

"Thank you for the offer, Harry. I'd love a ride home," she said.

Harry's face broke into a small smile. "My car is this way, on the next block over," he indicated with a nod of his head. He offered his arm to Ruth and she accepted the gesture, tucking her arm around his.

Fifteen minutes later Harry pulled up outside Ruth's home and put his car into park. "Again, Ruth, thank you for letting me be a part of this evening," he said as he turned towards her.

"I'm glad you decided to come out for the concert, Harry, and that you joined me for the service. It was nice to share the experience with someone," she added quietly. After a moment's hesitation, she decided to take a leap.

"Do you have plans for tomorrow?" she asked and she saw the flash of surprise in his eyes.

He shook his head. "No, just Scarlet and I enjoying a quiet day at home in front of the fire. I'll probably do some reading, watch the Queen's speech, and enjoy some whisky or wine, or both." Catching her eye, he returned the question.

"And you? You haven't changed your mind about joining the Carter's?"

She shook her head as well. "No, I was just planning a quiet day at home as well and I thought, well maybe… would you like to come back here for Christmas Day? You could bring Scarlet if you like so she's not home alone and when I've bored you to tears you can leave and probably still have plenty of time to read, drink, and relax in front of the fire." Her heart was beating rapidly as she waited to hear his response and she was sure he could hear her heart as well.

Harry knew that being this forward was not easy for Ruth, so it made her offer all the more special. "I'd like that, Ruth, but I warn you, I may be the one you find boring and then you'll be stuck with me at your house."

She laughed softly. "I guess I'll take my chances."

They worked out the details of what time Harry would arrive and what he would bring before a yawn escaped from Ruth. "Oh, pardon me. I promise it's not you, Harry. It's just been a long day."

"I'm not offended but I will let you go. I'll see you in the morning," he said.

Ruth reached over and opened the door but before climbing out of the car she leaned over and kissed Harry on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Harry," she whispered before pulling away and getting out of his car and closing the door.

As she opened her front door she turned around to see that Harry was still watching her from his car. She lifted her hand and waved to him before entering her house and locking the front door. Leaning against the closed door, she smiled at the events of the evening and was very much looking forward to Christmas Day.

Thank you all for reading and if you've taken a few moments to leave a review, thank you for that as well. I wish you all a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or Happy Wednesday!