Professor Nick Cutter sat in his office staring at the phone for a long time. This was a call that he never wanted to make and had in fact promised never to call on business. The person on the other end of the phone would welcome friendship, but wanted nothing more to do with the Anomaly Research Center and the work they did there. Nick had promised that he would keep a strong division between business and their personal friendship.
And now Nick was about to break that promise.
He had no doubts that once he explained the reason for the request he'd be forgiven, but it was getting to that part of the conversation that would be tough.
He sighed, running a hand over his face. It had been a long week. The mapping of the anomalies located at the junction they had discovered had been going well for the past two months. They had sent teams through and they reported back without fail. They were beginning to gather up enough information to create a 3D model of each place in time that they traveled. It had been an unmitigated success.
Until last week.
Until Abby Maitland and her team didn't return.
The rest of the teams had been frantic when Abby never showed up and there was no response to their radio calls. Captain Becker had been forcibly restrained by his men when the decision was made that no one was going after her until they had a way to track her. It was too dangerous.
For now, at least, Abby was considered lost.
Danny, Sarah, Becker and Connor had all been very vocal with their opinions on that ruling from the Minister. Jenny had also had some colorful things to say. The Minister had ordered that one anomaly be locked down and no further expeditions were to go into it. Lester had taken their anger and accusations of betrayal with his usual unflappable demeanor. When the rest of the core team had left his office, he had stopped Cutter.
"Do you know someone that could go in and find her?"
"I do, but you won't like who I call."
"I'm not in the business of making friends, Cutter."
In the last few years, Cutter had learned better. Lester may not show it, but these people here mattered to him and when Abby didn't check in, he had seen worry in the other man's eyes.
This brought him back to the phone he had been staring at for the last half an hour.
There was only one person he knew had the skills to work with Captain Becker. There was only one person he knew he could trust to go in and do whatever needed to be done. If Abby was alive, those two would be able to bring her back home. If she was dead, well, he'd find proof and deal with whatever had killed her.
He supposed that he could call him from his cell, but that would be too much like lying. He wouldn't do that, not when he was already breaking his promise by getting him involved with the ARC again.
It was looking out his office window to see the rest of the team that spurred him to make his final decision. Captain Becker was sitting on the bench with his head in his hands. Connor had his arms wrapped around Sarah, and Danny was talking quietly to Jenny. He didn't think any of them had slept much since Abby's disappearance.
Especially Becker. Abby and Captain Becker thought that they had kept their relationship secret from everyone at work, but those that worked closely with them knew all about it. Of course, Becker losing his control at the anomaly site hadn’t helped to keep the feelings he had for the scientist under wraps. It was now well known that they were involved, but Cutter wouldn’t want to be the person to give either of them grief.
If they got Abby back.
When they got Abby back. Because one way or another, they would get Abby back.
Cutter had vowed a long time ago that he wouldn’t let anyone else lose someone that they loved – and that vow was what was warring with his promise to the person on the other end of the phone line. He remembered feeling what he now saw in the younger man’s eyes. Like it or not, there was only one person that could guarantee them a fighting chance at finding their missing colleague and friend.
There were good and bad reasons to break promises, and he figured that saving someone’s life was a good reason to do so. He hoped that the other man would agree.
Taking a deep breath, he lifted the receiver of his phone and slowly dialed the number.
The ringing went on just long enough to make someone think it wasn't going to be answered before it was, with a breathless, "Hello?"
"Hello, Stephen." Nick's voice was tired. "Is this a bad time?"
"No, not at all," Stephen assured him. "Just walked in the door. What's up, Nick?"
"I need your help."
"With what?" he asked cautiously, warily, praying it wasn't work-related. Well, to Nick's work. It wasn't Stephen's work anymore. And never would be again, if he had his way.
"I hate to ask, Stephen, because I know I promised." He sighed. "I need your help at the ARC."
"No, Nick. I said I was never coming back and I meant it."
"Stephen... it's Abby."
"What about her? If she needs something, she knows she can always call me."
Stephen went cold at that. "What? When? What was she doing that got her in that situation?" He was already grabbing the keys he'd just dropped on the table.
"Last week," Nick said quietly, running a hand through his hair. "She went through an anomaly a week ago on a routine mapping mission like we've been doing and she never came back. No one has been able to find her or her security team and there's nothing coming through on the radio. The Minister has ordered that one anomaly locked down and no one is allowed to go in after her." He ran a hand through his hair. "I know I promised never to ask you to come back near the place, but the fact of that matter is... you're the best and I don't know how much time she may have left if she's still alive somewhere."
"A week ago? A week ago?" Stephen had bypassed upset and gone straight to angry. "Why didn't you call me a week ago when I would've had an infinitely better chance of finding her? Trails go cold, you sodding idiot!"
"Because I thought we could find her and I wouldn't have to ask you to come here! I led a team and so did my head of security, but we weren't able to turn up anything."
"Damn it, Nick, it's Abby we're talking about," Stephen said as he headed for the front door. "I'd face anything for Abby and you know it. There's no excuse for not calling me sooner."
"I didn't want to have to tell you that we'd lost her." There was sorrow in Nick's voice as he looked out the office window at what was left of his team. "I thought we could find her and you wouldn't even have to know there was trouble."
"It's Abby, you bastard. There are two people in this world that I would want to know if they were in trouble, no matter what. Abby's one of them."
"What do you want me to say, Stephen? I was foolish? I was wrong?"
"If we don't find her, I'm putting blame largely on you. Just so you know." And with that, Stephen hung up and slammed the phone down.
Nick winced at the phone and then settled it back into the cradle. He couldn't blame the other man for being angry at him. He rubbed his eyes.
Stephen was coming.
That was the important thing. Stephen would go through the anomaly and he would find out what happened to Abby -- and hopefully bring her home.
It was also highly unlikely he was getting out of this mess and Stephen's first trip to the ARC in two years without getting punched.
He got up from the desk and walked over to lean against the door frame. Lester had stepped out of his office and he raised an eyebrow.
"He's coming," Nick said quietly.
Lester nodded and then went back into his own office.
"Who's coming?" Danny asked him.
Cutter didn't say anything, but looked at Connor instead.
"You really got him to come back?" Connor asked. "From what he said the last time he was here, I kind of thought it was nigh on impossible for anyone to get him back here."
"It's for Abby, not for me." He sighed. "I'm probably going to get hit for waiting a week to tell him she was missing."
"Yeah, probably," Connor agreed cheerfully -- or at least, as cheerfully as any of them could manage right then.
"Connor? Don't poke at him. I know you've visited with him since he left, but being back here won't be easy for him."
"Who, me?" Connor made an attempt at innocence. "Yeah, not feeling the poking, mate. Got more important things to be worried about."
Cutter nodded. "Becker? If I trust anyone to go with you, it's this guy. He'll watch your back as you'd watch his."
Becker nodded slightly. "Right now, we need all the help we can get if we're going to get her back." And the rest of her team, yes, but he was focused on Abby at the moment.
"Stephen is the best tracker I've ever known -- and I've known a lot of people." Cutter was focused on Abby, too. Mainly because he couldn't bear it if he had to tell anyone that Abby was gone. She had become like a daughter to him and he didn't want to admit that the Minister could be right and that she was lost. "Wherever she is, he'll help you find her."
Because he knew better than to try to keep Becker from going on another search.
"Good." Becker swallowed past the pain in his throat from suppressing tears. "When's he going to be here?"
"Knowing Stephen? Within a half an hour. He and Abby were close friends so he's a bit angry at me right now."
"Good," Becker said again, nodding. "The sooner he gets here, the sooner we can start trying to find her."
And maybe the sooner he'd be holding her in his arms again.
Stephen was refusing to give into the sense of nerves he was feeling as he walked into the building. He hadn't been here in two years, and it still felt like only yesterday in a lot of ways. Only not all of those ways were good ones.
As soon as he'd passed through the entrance, he went in search of Nick. He had a lot of questions and he needed them answered before he was going to be able to find Abby. And he refused to think of it as trying to find her, only actually finding her. Because the alternative was too damn bleak.
He found everyone congregated outside Nick's office, familiar faces and a few not so familiar ones. Nick and Connor, he knew. The worried-looking man and woman, he didn't know. And the last person...
The last person was someone he hadn't seen in two years and had privately suspected he would never see again.
Nick heard Stephen's familiar tread and came around the table that everyone was gather at making plans. He didn't even try to smile at his friend because he was just too tired and worried.
"Stephen," he said, reaching out to hug him. "Thank you for coming. I appreciate it more than you know." He gestured at the rest of the group. "Connor and Jenny, you know. This is Dr. Sarah Page and Danny Quinn. And this is your partner, Captain Becker, head of our security team."
He was going to get hit, wasn't he?
No, but only because Stephen was too busy trying not to stare at Becker. "Captain," he greeted with a slight nod of his head, not wanting to let on to the others that he already knew the man.
"You can trust him, Stephen. He's Abby's bloke." Connor was oh so helpful. Connor also remembered how Abby's heart had been broken by Stephen. "He knows the anomalies."
Oh, this was all some cruel cosmic joke, wasn't it? The man he'd loved was dating the woman he'd never had the courage to truly approach.
"Then I'll do my best to get her back to you," he said to Becker, searching the man's face for any hint of reaction to him.
"Your one good deed every couple of years?" Becker said in a completely even tone of voice.
"I like to think it's a little more often than that," Stephen said, fighting the urge to smile at Becker. The younger man had always been able to make him smile so damn easily.
"Not how I remember it. Let me tell you how it's going to be. Four of my men went with Abby through that anomaly. They had high tech weapons and high tech radios. They were supposed to report back through to the main junction a half an hour after they went in. The last radio transmission was of screams, guns firing and then nothing. That was a week ago. She's been missing since -- as well as four highly trained men that were her security team and back up."
Stephen knew Becker, could see the fear in his eyes that he was trying so hard to mask. He doubted any of the others could see it at the moment. They'd only see the stark professionalism. "So you're saying you're in control, then."
A flash of memory, then -- tangled up in the sheets with Becker, fighting him playfully as the other man pinned him down -- and Stephen was hating his choice of words.
"I'm in control. That's my girl in there and I'm leading the rescue." Becker looked him in the eyes where no one else could see. "If you don't like my orders, you can leave." Oh, Becker had a reaction to him. It just wasn't very friendly.
"If I don't like your orders, I'll say so. Because if you want me to get your girl back, you'll let me do what I've been brought on to do. I won't be difficult about it, and I'll challenge you as civilly as possible, but I will voice my objections if I have them."
Pity this argument wouldn't end like all their others had.
No, no it wouldn't. Becker had a large chip on his shoulder where Stephen was concerned.
"You're the tracker, I'm the heavy guns and know how to track for the military. Don't be a raging jackass and we'll get along just fine." Until they were on the other side of the anomaly.
"I want to get her back just as badly as you do, Captain." And God, did it feel weird to be calling him that. Because he'd always been Hilary to Stephen, never Becker and certainly never his rank.
"Then there will be no problems," Becker said in his best commanding officer voice.
"I'll be good."
Becker muttered something under his breath that no one but Stephen would hear. "I doubt that." He straightened and turned to Danny. "Quinn, you got the plans laid out?"
Danny gave a simple nod. "Everything's ready to go."
"Care to explain to Tracker boy here what all of this entails?"
"Yeah. One team will stay on the outside to guard the anomaly Abby disappeared in. Connor will be there so he can open and close the anomaly down at an exact time and for an exact time. Sarah will be out at the junction, moving amongst them so that she can open and close the decoy anomalies in order to give Stephen and Becker as much time as possible inside the suspect anomaly." Danny frowned. "We can only keep the anomaly open for five minutes at a time, but we will keep opening it every half hour in an attempt to make sure you have a way back out of it."
Stephen frowned thoughtfully as he listened. It didn't sound like a perfect plan, but it was what they had. And contrary to what Becker thought of him, he wasn't going to cause any trouble. He wanted Abby back, too. He'd do whatever it took, even if that meant working with his ex.
"When do we go?"
"Two hours," Cutter said. " Long enough for both of you to grab a quick sleep because you're going to need it."
Stephen just nodded. "Two hours it is, then."
"Two hours of rest, Captain Becker."
"Fine. Two hours."
Stephen looked at Becker a moment before looking at Cutter. "Just point me somewhere I can crash and I'm good to go."
"I have the couch in my office. You can crash there." Cutter waited until everyone else had wandered away to do what they were supposed to do. When they were alone, he looked at Stephen. "I know that Becker is being a hard ass right now, but try to give him some slack. He loves Abby just as much as you do. He hand picked those men to go with her."
How could he explain to Nick that that wasn't what was weighing on him? At least, not entirely. He couldn't. So he just sighed and nodded. "He's a good man. I know."
"He is a good man. Unfortunately, he was also the first man on the scene when Abby didn't return, so he's a little abrasive with people not on the main team right now." He gave Stephen a curious look. "You know him?"
Stephen laughed bitterly. "Oh, yeah, I know him."
It didn't take Cutter long to put two and two together. After all, he had known Stephen for a good many years. "Hell. Captain Becker was the one when Helen showed back up... the one you were with when you started noticing Abby."
"Yeah." Stephen nodded. "And the one I left without so much as a goodbye."
"Damn it, Stephen, I'm sorry. I wouldn't have called you if I had realized. It was just that it's Abby and I know how you feel about her." He shook his head. "I would never have put you in this situation."
"It's all right," Stephen said with a casual shrug he didn't at all feel. "Abby's more important. But don't expect me to stick around once we get her back here."
"I wouldn't ask that of you," Cutter said with sorrow in his eyes. "I shouldn't have called you."
"It's all right, Nick," Stephen said gently. "I meant it. Abby's more important than the fact that my ex is involved with her. I want her back just as much as anybody."
"What a mess," Nick murmured, sitting at his desk. "Well, at least I can be assured that the two of you won't kill each other until you get back. You have a common goal right now. Unlike when Danny and another man went on a different mapping mission."
"Kill each other, no. Spend the entire time digging at each other's hurts and pains, yes."
"I wouldn't expect anything less. You're men," Cutter said dryly. "According to the girls, we're predisposed to that sort of behavior."
"And he has reason to dig at me," Stephen said with a shrug and a sad smile. "I didn't handle things well at all, especially with him. Left him without a goodbye... in the middle of the night, no less." Not that Nick needed details about his sex life, but still.
Cutter winced. "Ouch."
"I walked away from it all, Nick. I walked away from it all and went right to him. Because he always knew how to make everything in my life make sense. But I couldn't stay. So in the middle of the night, I slipped out of his flat and out of his life."
"Not that it's any of my business, but why couldn't you stay?" Cutter let out a breath. "That couldn't have been easy for you, but it does explain a few things about him and Abby."
"I was scared," Stephen admitted. "And I didn't want to put him at risk, either. If Helen could hurt you guys, she could find out about him and hurt him. I wasn't going to do that to him. I loved him too much for that."
"Helen was very good at finding the weak spot and then attacking it like a bloody raptor." He looked at Stephen seriously. "And you never spoke to him again after that?"
Stephen shook his head. "I didn't," he said. "I wanted to, so many times, but I didn't."
"When Lester first hired him, he was very stiff and no nonsense about his work and keeping the team safe. He knew there was danger and he was determined to keep all of us in one piece. Then Abby scared the hell out of him."
"What'd she do?" he asked curiously.
"You mean besides being Abby and taking risks for the creatures?" Cutter said, shaking his head. "There was an incident with a Dracorex -- who is now in the menagerie. She came through an anomaly with a lance in her side. The knight who injured her also followed. Abby wouldn't let the knight hurt the Dracorex and was willing to die to protect the damn thing. The knight held a sword on Abby's throat and she still refused to get out of the way. Becker wasn't sure if he could risk shooting the man because Sarah said it could mess up time lines."
"That... is so very Abby," Stephen said after a moment. "God, I've missed her." He hadn't talked to many of the team since he'd left.
"She's missed you, too, Stephen. She talks about you sometimes and there's a look in her eyes when she does. She asks about you." He held up a hand. "I know that she can call you at anytime, but I think she took that to mean if she was in trouble or needed help. She didn't want to be a bad memory of the life you were trying to get away from."
"Oh, God." Stephen groaned. "When we get her back, I'll have to make sure she knows that's not the case." Of course, when they got her back, he was damn well going to make sure she knew how he felt, Becker be damned.
Cutter had no doubts there was going to end up being a fist fight between Stephen and Becker over Abby and he was staying out of that one. He knew how his friend had felt about Abby before he walked away and it was obvious that those feelings had only become stronger in the time he had been separated from her. He also knew how Becker felt about Abby. If you add the fact that Becker was Stephen's ex...
"Stephen, I want you to be careful. Everyone keeps telling us that there is no way Abby could still be alive out there after what we heard on the radio transmission."
"Abby's stubborn," Stephen said. "She's a fighter. And if she loves Becker, then she would fight like bloody hell to survive so she could get back to him. I'll find her."
"I have no doubt that she would fight. She's become more of a fighter in the last two years and has even insisted on teaching Connor. What I'm saying is that if she hasn't come back by now, then that means she's injured." Because right now that was the only explanation he was accepting in his mind. "We don't know what might have injured her so you need to keep your eyes on everything."
"I know how to do my job, Nick."
"I'm not implying anything different," Nick sighed. "I just don't want to lose you both."
"You're not going to lose me," Stephen promised. "And I"m going to do my damn best to make sure we don't lose Abby, either."
"I would never have let her go through if I thought something like this could happen. We've been mapping the junction for a couple of months and nothing ever went wrong besides some minor issues." He rubbed his face. "But this was a new one and all of the other teams were already busy. Abby was adamant. She had some of the best trained men on her team and she said that there was nothing about the readings from this anomaly that said it would be any dangerous than the others."
"Don't blame yourself," Stephen said gently. "It could've been any of the teams. Yes, it was Abby's, and that's horrible luck. But it could have been any of the teams that went missing. Focusing on the worry will get you nowhere, Nick. You have to just trust that Becker and I will be able to bring her home."
"I shouldn't have let her go, though. I knew that she and Becker had a fight that morning and she wasn't as calm as she usually was on a site. But it was Abby and how could I say no?" Because god knew he had often used work as a way to deal with being upset.
"They fought?" And that would be Stephen growling.
"They did. I heard them, but I don't know what it was about. I didn't ask." He sighed. "Maybe I should have. But he went off to lead his team and Abby was wanting to take her team in, as well."
"Oh, he is damn well going to explain that to me," Stephen grumbled under his breath.
Cutter knew better than to comment on that.
"You should get some rest. You don't know how long this rescue mission might take." Not that he thought Stephen would sleep, not when it was Abby missing, but he could at least make the pretense.
"I'll try, at least," Stephen said with a sad smile.
"I know." Cutter smiled faintly and turned the lights down before he left Stephen alone in his office.
Two years ago, Stephen walked away from the Anomaly Research Project and vowed never to set foot near an anomaly again. However, when Nick Cutter calls him for help, he can't say no. Abby Maitland is lost on the other side of an anomaly and her time is running out. Stephen agrees immediately, because he's still in love with Abby. He wants to get her back and let her know how he feels. However, there's a complication that he hadn't expected. Captain Becker -- Abby's boyfriend and Stephen's ex...
Written for Casestory Big Bang 2011 at LiveJournal. We want to thank our wonderful artists for this: weaselett, sexycazzy, and pink_flame_87. Thank you guys so very much for the gorgeous art you made for us!
Becker had forgone any actual comfort and was stretched out on a bench in the locker room, one arm up over his eyes to shut out the faint light. How could this have happened? Why did his ex have to be the one person possibly capable of getting Abby back? Cutter didn't realize what he was asking by expecting Becker to put any kind of trust in Stephen. Because the last time Becker had trusted Stephen, it had been to not break his heart.
It'd taken him months before he'd been able to open his heart again, much less to take an interest in someone. And for Abby to have wanted him in return had been more than he'd dared to hope for. But she had, and they'd been happy together, and life had been something resembling perfect. Not completely perfect, but damn near it. He'd fallen for her harder and faster than he'd thought possible, and it'd been terrifying to realize that his heart had healed from the wounds Stephen had inflicted on it.
Wounds that weren't nearly as healed as he'd thought, judging by the way he'd reacted when he saw Stephen earlier. All the old memories had come rushing back, all the old feelings. All the old hurts.
The way he'd felt when he realized Stephen was never coming back had hit him all over again, along with the guilt over how stupid he'd been not to realize it until a day later.
"Sodding idiot," he grumbled aloud. "Just push it aside and deal with it later. You've got an Abby to worry about finding."
Except that was easier said than done -- the pushing it aside part. Because when you were in love with Stephen Hart, it was impossible to push him aside in your head. He had a way of crawling inside it and never leaving.
Stifling a groan, he let his arm fall and sat up. Sleep clearly wasn't going to happen right now. And, he noted as he glanced at his watch, he'd be running on adrenaline in twenty minutes anyway.
He just hoped it was enough.
Stephen was trying to just stay out of the way as Becker and his men assembled. Well, trying to stay out of the way and trying to stop watching Becker. The last thing he needed was anybody figuring out there was something more there. That was the last thing Becker needed, too, and he wasn't about to make the other man's life difficult. Not when he'd already done a bang-up job of it.
Becker was pretending to ignore Stephen as he double-checked weapons and went over plans with his men. In reality, he was aware of every move that the other man made. He made sure that the backpacks were packed with adequate supplies and that there was a full medical kit with each pack.
He moved with confident efficiency as he passed out radios to everyone involved in what they were about to do.
"When we go through the anomaly, we'll split up in four directions. We don't know what condition we might find Abby or the others in, so we will each carry a medical kit. If anything goes wrong, you radio and then you get your asses back to the anomaly. It will open once every half hour, so if it's not open when you get there, you wait in a safe place and then you go through. If you find Abby or one of the other men, you radio me immediately." He paused and looked around the room. "Any questions?"
Stephen shook his head. Despite what he'd said, he wasn't going to argue with Becker. Not when the other man obviously knew what he was doing. Not unless he had a real problem with it, at least.
One of the soldiers looked at him. "What if we don't find her? Or we don't find her alive?"
Stephen spun on the man, eyes blazing. "Let's get one thing clear," he said, his voice deadly calm. "You are not to presume her dead unless you are looking down at her lifeless body, and hell, not even then. Do you understand me?"
Becker frowned and started to say something, but Danny cut in.
"Hart's right," he said, his hand tightening around his sidearm. "We all know Abby and we know that anything that got a hold of her would have one hell of a fight. I know that you're Captain Becker's men, but if I hear any of you saying she's dead again, I'll shoot you myself. She's alive and she's god damn well going to stay that way."
Becker's eyes had hardened as Danny spoke. "If there are any of you who don't believe she's alive, then lay your weapons down right now and go home. I don't want anyone on this mission who doesn't know she's alive. Abby Maitland is not a quitter in anything and I won't have any of you just writing her off because you don't want to risk your lives to find her -- or the men that disappeared with her." That last was added just to say it because everyone knew that Becker was risking his life to find Abby first and foremost.
"I'll find them, Captain," Stephen promised. "All of them." Because Abby was the most important, yes, but Becker's men were still important to him, too. And he wanted to do something for Becker, anything at all, to even remotely begin making up for the pain he'd caused.
Maybe finding everybody would be a start.
The skin around Becker's eyes tightened, but he nodded at Stephen anyway. "Hart, you're with me." His eyes slid away from Stephen as he broke the rest of the men into groups. "Quinn and Connor will have three men with them, and so will Dr. Page and Professor Cutter. You will do everything in your power to protect these people, understood?"
"I don't need protecting."
"Shut up, Quinn."
Becker grabbed a backpack and tossed one to Stephen.
Stephen caught the backpack and put it on. If he was with Becker, this... was not going to go well. It was not going to go well at all.
Becker didn't trust him in the least and if he was going to be forced to work with him then he wanted him where he could keep an eye on him.
"We'll bring her back," Becker quietly promised the team that had gathered. He looked up to where Lester was standing with Jenny and nodded at the other man. Lester nodded back and lifted an eyebrow at Stephen.
Stephen just gave a slight nod of his own.
It didn't take their caravan of trucks long to get to the stadium where the original anomaly was located. Becker always hated coming here because he knew what had almost happened to Abby here. Of course, with Stephen being along, he kept his face neutral, not wanting the other man to see any emotion in his face.
When they got to the freezer, two of his men pulled open the door and Connor pointed a small black box into the emptiness. In a few moments, an anomaly flared to life.
Stephen closed his eyes for a second, taking a deep breath before opening them again. He'd sworn never to deal with another anomaly ever again, and here he was.
Nick was next to him and murmured quietly. "You don't have to do this, Stephen."
"Yes, I do," Stephen said, just as quietly. "Because I want her back."
It was probably because he had known Stephen for so long that Cutter heard the double meaning within Stephen's words. He squeezed his shoulder before nodding, then walking through the anomaly to wait for the rest of the team.
Stephen just looked to Becker.
Stephen wanted to say something, couldn't find the words, so settled for simply getting moving.
After Stephen went throught, Becker nodded at his men that were standing guard and then followed him through.
When they stepped through the anomaly, they found themselves in a field that had different anomalies for as far as the eye could see.
"Welcome to Spaghetti Junction," Connor said, falling into step with Stephen. "We've been mapping these for the last six months and have only managed to cover about an eighth as many as there are."
Stephen just nodded, distantly, his mind already focused on finding Abby.
Connor nodded towards an anomaly that had a pole with a red flag on it set up in front. "That's the one she went into. We think it led to the Cretaceous or the Pleistocene era. We're not sure which because after she disappeared we weren't able to stay in there long enough for any of us to get an exact date in place."
"So that's as narrow as we've got it, then," Stephen murmured thoughtfully. "Each brings different complications, but... I can make it work. I can do this."
"I know that after what Helen did you said you'd never come back around these things again," Connor said carefully. "But thank you. For coming, I mean. With both you and Becker here, I know that she has a better chance. Because, I know she's alive, but I think she's hurt and that's why she hasn't come back."
"That's pretty likely," Stephen said. "And it's not a good alternative, but it's better than her being dead. Hurt means alive and means we can do something. And it means Becker won't have to bury the woman he loves."
He couldn't keep the bitter out of his voice, no matter how hard he tried.
"You're going to do something stupid, aren't you?" Because Connor knew the emotions that were between Stephen and Abby before he left.
"Not stupid. Just fixing what's wrong."
"Uh huh." He looked at him sideways for a moment. "Don't get hurt. It'd kill her."
Stephen just made a skeptical noise.
"I could say don't be an idiot, but I think that I've decided all of you action men don't have enough brains to balance out your muscles." He shrugged. "I don't care what else you think you have to do. Just bring my best friend back home." He swallowed, looking at Stephen. "Please."
"I will, Connor," Stephen promised solemnly. "You have my word."
Connor nodded. "You should probably go. Becker looks impatient."
"He always looks like that."
"Yeah, but he seems pretty bent on making you his target for all of his fear and anger right now. I don't think you should push him. I think even our good Captain has a breaking point."
"I think I've pushed him enough already," Stephen agreed, not entirely speaking about the past few hours.
"Good luck, Stephen," Connor said quietly. "I mean that." He gave the other man a wobbly smile and then went to set up his equipment.
Stephen just sighed and went over to Becker.
Becker gave his men last minute instructions before looking at Stephen and the others going through with him. "Let's go get Abby."
Stephen couldn't argue with that. "The sooner we find her, the sooner we can get her home. And back to you." And God, that hurt to say.
Becker gave Stephen a sharp nod. When the rest of his men had gone through the anomaly, he gestured at Stephen so they could both go in at the same time. It didn't matter what Cutter believed, Becker didn't trust Stephen enough even to watch his back right now.
When she opened her eyes, she was greeted by darkness. Trying to move sent pain screaming through her body. After she was done gasping for breath, she tried to remember what had happened.
They had only been on this side of the new anomaly they were mapping for about twenty minutes, if that. It was routine. They were collecting soil samples and she had deduced that they were somewhere in the Pleistocene era. Everything was coming along as it had normally on every other expedition she had been on or led.
The attack had come out of nowhere.
She had barely got sight of the creature before it charged her.
The quick glance of the woolly rhinoceros was all she had needed to know that she was in trouble. As the animal bared down on her, she had heard one of the radios crackle to life. She assumed one of her men were calling for back up or to let the others know where they were.
Then all hell had broken loose.
The creature's horn had hooked her in the side and sent her flying. As she went into the air she heard herself scream and then heard rapid gunfire. She came down hard onto a a cluster of rocks and then had tumbled into a crevice or cave. All she knew was that her body had been on fire and she blacked out.
The first time she had regained consciousness, she hadn't been sure where she was, only that she was alone. She hadn't been able to see anything, but at the time she had figured it was because the cave she had fallen into was too deep for light to find her. She tried several times to call for help, but even to her, her voice sounded weak.
It was when she tried to get to her feet that she realized she was badly hurt. Her left leg wouldn't support her, moving her head made her want to throw up, and she could only draw shallow breaths. She was pretty sure that she had some cracked ribs. However, it was when she had moved her hand in front of her face the second time she had regained consciousness that she realized she had an even bigger problem.
She couldn't see.
She couldn't see anything, not even the barest outlines that the human eye would usually be able to see even in total darkness.
The shock from that realization had caused her to black out again.
Now, she was once more conscious and trying to take a better inventory of her injuries. Even as she did that, she wasn't sure how she was going to find her way out of the cave and back to the anomaly when she couldn't see. She didn't know what happened to her men. For the longest time she had only heard silence and that didn't bode well for her.
In her current condition even if she managed to move enough to get out of her rock prison, she would be picked off by a predator before she could get far. This time period had bears, wolves, and large cats -- among other things.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but she knew it had been more than a day. She was beginning to be able to tell the differences in temperature when the sun was up and when it had set.
Abby Maitland didn't get scared easily, but right now she was terrified.
She closed her eyes even as the tears started trickling down her cheeks.
"Becker." Her whispered voice echoed back at her and it only made her feel worse. "I'm so sorry."
The last conversation they had had been a fight and she was regretting the fact that they parted in anger. She wasn't convinced that she would get the chance to apologize to him for the words said in hurt and anger.
She swallowed hard. She had to hold on and she couldn't give up, no matter how much pain she was in. Becker would find her. He wouldn't stop until she was back home where she belonged. She needed to focus on that and believe in him and the rest of her family at the ARC. They would find her.
He would find her.
Stephen hated the tension that hung in the air between himself and Becker, but now was hardly the time to address it. They had something far more important to do, which was why he was focused on their surroundings and looking for any sign of Abby or any of the men that'd been with her.
"Always did say guns were a good look for you."
He was clearly insane to have said it.
Hoping Becker would just let it pass, Stephen focused on a clump of trees.
Becker was examining a gathering of bushes a few feet away.
"Guns don't screw with your head," Becker said harshly. "You always know where you stand with weapons."
He squatted for a second, examining a dark patch on the spindly leaves of the bushes. He bit the inside of his cheek and took a deep breath before he stood back up.
"There's blood over here. A scrap of material, too. The scrap looks like something from one of the standard issue jackets."
Which meant it wasn't from Abby and he was hoping the blood wasn't from her, either.
"So... blood and material here... where would the next spot likeliest be..." Stephen muttered under his breath before catching sight of something a few feet over. He moved towards it quickly. "More blood. Not much, just a few more drops, so whoever it belongs to stopped most of the bleeding between there and here, at least temporarily."
"Which means that they were at least conscious when whatever happened was over. Or at least mostly over." He frowned as he continued walking in the direction that Stephen had moved in. "There's a great deal of vegetation flattened here. It looks like something was dragged or... or there was something very big here."
"And either of those isn't good."
Becker didn't answer, but his face whitened a little before he continued in the direction that the trail of damaged greenery and turf seemed to be taking. He wasn't going to tell Stephen what he was thinking happened or what he was worried about.
"I think I know what era we're in," he finally said without looking at the other man.
"Oh?" Stephen was moving slightly ahead of Becker now as they followed the trail. "Which is what?"
"Pleistocene. The vegetation is right for that era." He swallowed, looking away. "Abby taught me about them."
"She'll be able to teach you a lot more, Hil..." Stephen trailed off, looking away for a second. "Sorry. Captain Becker."
He nodded sharply. "She's the only one..." That gets to call me that, now. "We need to go down that hill. It would have been where they would have considered setting up a base camp to take samples and readings."
Stephen nodded slightly. "Who leads the way?" Because he was tracking, but they didn't know what they might be walking into despite knowing that there might be a base camp.
"Better if we go down at the same time with weapons ready," Becker finally admitted. "We don't know what we might find or what might be around. This era had a lot of predators."
"Same time it is, then," Stephen said with a nod, readying his weapon.
Becker readied his own weapon and then he started picking his way carefully down the hill. Once they reached the bottom, his face grayed as he almost literally stumbled over a body.
Stephen reached out impulsively, grabbing Becker's arm to keep him steady when he found the body and reeled backwards.
Becker quickly regained his control and knelt down. "It's not her," he said quietly. There wasn't much of the body left, but there was a part of the uniform and the name tag. "It was her communications man. Jamison."
"Sorry," Stephen said, not quite sure what else to say. Besides, he didn't think 'Glad it's not Abby' would go over well, even if the sentiment was appropriate.
"He was a good man," he said sorrowfully, getting to his feet. "What the hell happened here?"
And where was Abby?
"I don't know yet," Stephen said, scanning the area. "But we'll figure this out. We'll find the survivors."
Becker nodded, looking around. "It's going to start getting dark soon." His voice was grim.
"Then we'd better get moving," was all Stephen said.
"We need to find a safe place to camp for the night. It will be harder to find anyone in the darkness."
Stephen wanted to protest, wanted to keep looking, but he knew Becker had a valid point. "All right."
"If this era is the same that Abby showed me in a research lab, there should be caves not too far from the river. The river is about two miles south."
"Then we'd better get walking if we want to get there before complete darkness hits."
Becker nodded and after doing another swift check of the camp, he gathered weapons and an undamaged back pack that Becker slid over his shoulder." Another dead and half eaten body. We have to get out of this area."
"Lead the way." Because in this area, he would defer to the other man.
Becker started walking towards the river. "Watch out for woolly rhinoceroses. They go on the immediate attack if the see you."
"Pleasant," Stephen said dryly.
"Bears, dire wolves, things that are like hyenadons, not to mention giant cats."
"If I get eaten alive, I'm coming back to haunt you."
"It was your choice to come here." Becker reminded him. "I didn't call you and force you to be here."
"Abby's missing, Becker. There was no other choice I could make."
"They said that you vowed never to go near another anomaly."
"I did. But for her, I would do anything."
Becker stiffened. "Why?"
"I love her, Becker. I didn't know how to show it before, but I do now."
Becker stopped and turned to look at him. "And how do you intend to show her this wonderful love of yours?"
"I'm going to tell her," Stephen said with a shrug.
Becker's mouth tightened and before he could stop himself, his fist was flying towards Stephen's face.
Two years ago, Stephen walked away from the Anomaly Research Project and vowed never to set foot near an anomaly again. However, when Nick Cutter calls him for help, he can't say no. Abby Maitland is lost on the other side of an anomaly and her time is running out. Stephen agrees immediately, because he's still in love with Abby. He wants to get her back and let her know how he feels. However, there's a complication that he hadn't expected. Captain Becker -- Abby's boyfriend and Stephen's ex...
Written for Casestory Big Bang 2011 at LiveJournal. We want to thank our wonderful artists for this: weaselett, sexycazzy, and pink_flame_87. Thank you guys so very much for the gorgeous art you made for us!
Stephen hadn't been expecting that. He probably should've, but he hadn't. "Hilary, what the hell?"
"You are not telling my girlfriend that you love her," he growled. "And the name is Becker!"
"Funny, you used to like it when I called you Hilary," Stephen said with a smirk. "And you bloody loved it when I moaned your name."
Becker's fist came up again. "You lost that right when you were a bastard and walked out without even a goodbye."
Stephen managed to dodge another blow. "You deserved better, but I had to do it."
"Fuck you," Becker said, the epithet surprising him even as he said it. "I don't care what stories you come up with to make yourself feel better. I don't believe them and I don't need you here to mess up things again." His eyes were hard. "You stay the hell away from Abby."
"It's not a story," Stephen said. "It's the truth. I was doing it for you." He arched an eyebrow. "And why the telling me to stay away? Afraid I really could take her from you?"
Becker's eyes were hard. "Shut up, Stephen. Don't you dare say what I can tell you're thinking."
"Afraid she doesn't love you enough?"
Hi, Stephen, just hit a nerve or two while you're at it.
"I have no doubts about Abby's feelings for me." Becker was proud of himself that his voice didn't waver at all -- even if he was still thinking about the fight they'd had before she disappeared. "Abby loves me and I love her. She's my life and nothing will change that."
"She's your life, but are you hers? Can you really say I don't stand a chance at getting her?"
"She loves me," Becker repeated. "She loves me and you can just forget anything you might be thinking about trying."
"I don't give up easily, Becker. You know that. You used to like that about me, after all."
"You've made a horrible habit of ruining people's lives, Hart, and that's just not attractive at all. It just took me awhile to realize that."
"I made your life pretty damn good for years."
"And then one day you decided to destroy it, so I wouldn't sound so cocky if I were you."
"You wouldn't say that if you knew."
"I do know. She's mine and I'm hers."
"Not that. You wouldn't say I decided to destroy it if you knew why I left."
"I know all I need to know about you, Hart. I let you into my life where no one else had ever been, and you threw all of that care and trust back in my face. I don't need to hear any more of your excuses or your lies. You're here to help me find Abby, and that's all."
"No, I"m here to find Abby and get a chance to tell her what I have to tell her. What she does with that is up to her."
"Damn you," Becker hissed. "For just once in your life, do the right thing and keep your mouth shut. She's happy and I'm happy and we don't need you trying to make waves."
"Why are you so worried about me just telling her?" Stephen asked. "Because really, if you two are in love as much as you say you are, me telling her I love her won't do a thing."
"Because she doesn't need that dropped on her! Not when she cared about you and you walked away from her the same way you did from me. Just leave her alone, Hart. I'm warning you."
"She and I didn't have anything for me to ruin by walking away."
"She gave you her heart and you threw it back at her," Becker seethed. He shook his head and picked up the pace. "Blind and stupid git."
"I never intended to hurt her, which is something else I plan on telling her."
"Far kinder if you just keep your mouth shut, let her thank you for helping to find her and then just leave."
"I don't want to just leave, Becker. I want her to be a part of my life."
"No," Becker roared, turning to face him. "Damn you, no! You gave up any chance of having that. This is my life now and you need to get that through your thick head and leave us alone. The only reason you're here is because Cutter thought to call you and tell you that she was in trouble!"
"She may not even want me," Stephen said with a shrug. "Probably won't, if you're right about things. And she may not even want me in her life in any way. So why don't you give her a choice instead of deciding for her that she can't have me around?"
"Because it's my job to protect her and keep her safe!"
"In the field, Captain. Not everywhere."
"That's where you're wrong, Hart. I don't keep her safe and protect her as part of the job. I do that because I love her and I promised her that I would."
"How do you know I'd hurt her?" Stephen asked as they walked. "Maybe she'd take it as a chance to punch my lights out and tell me to sod off."
"Because you already did," the other man snarled as they reached the river and then climbed up to the caves that were there. Just like Abby had said they would be when she was studying other eras. "It's my place to make sure you don't get a chance to again." He shrugged out of one of the backpacks. "I'll take first watch."
Stephen didn't argue, just found himself a place to sit down and sat.
Night fell just as quickly as Becker had expected it to. They couldn't light a campfire yet because it might attract predators. However, each of the packs had a suitable amount of rations. They weren't the best things in the world, but they were full of energy. No matter how he might feel about Stephen personally, this was the man that was working to help him find Abby. Wordlessly, he handed him one of the meals and then went to stand in the mouth of the cave. He was looking out over the landscape, thinking about the last time he had seen Abby.
And pretty much kicking himself over letting the conversation build into the fight that it had.
"Damn it, Abby my girl, where are you?"
Stephen watched Becker as he ate. There was so little of the man he'd known in the man before him. It was unsettling, really. The man he was looking at was snarky, sarcastic, fiercely overprotective. His Hilary had been like that, to a degree, but there was still something so different about him now.
"I don't know you, Becker." The words were out before he could stop them. "I knew Hilary, but I don't know you." And God, in some part of him deep inside, that hurt to admit.
"You're not going to know Becker, either. We're going to find my Abby and then you're going to leave again. After all, you're really good at that." Becker wouldn't even look at him right now.
"Becker, please. Hate me if you want, but please, believe me when I say there was an actual reason for my leaving."
Becker's voice was cold when he responded. "I don't care enough about you to hate you."
Stephen didn't say anything to that, he just went pale.
Becker still didn't look at him. "I'm going to check a perimeter. You should get some rest. There could be trouble tomorrow."
"Okay," Stephen said quietly. It wasn't that he still wanted Becker, necessarily, because he wanted Abby. It was just that it hurt deeply to know that the man he'd left to protect no longer even cared enough to hate him.
Becker left the cave with a flashlight and his gun. He was thorough as he searched around the cave to make sure that there was no immediate danger to them. He may not be happy about Stephen being here, but he would keep him alive to get back home.
No matter how much he would really like to just beat the other man within an inch of his life. It was bad enough that Stephen had walked out on him without a word and now wanted to explain himself. But, he also wanted to tear his life apart again by trying to take Abby from him. What kind of man told another man's girl that he was in love with her?
He wasn't in any better of a mood when he made his way back to the mouth of the cave. He sat right inside, with his back against the cave wall. From this position, he could watch outside and anything that happened inside the cave as well.
Stephen had finished eating and had curled up to sleep. He wasn't managing terribly well at it, since every few minutes he'd just end up watching Becker for a minute before trying to sleep for a few minutes and starting the cycle all over again.
Becker was also grabbing only minutes of rest at a time. Every time he got himself to sleep, he either saw better times with Stephen in his mind -- or he saw Abby laying somewhere hurt. Neither image was conducive to getting any kind of rest.
When dawn finally started to break, Becker got up and walked around, getting his muscles warmed up. The radio crackled to life as his teams started checking in with him. After going over their orders, Becker then set about taking care of setting up breakfast for him and Stephen.
Such as it was.
"We have to find her today," he finally said into the silence. "It's been over a week. She probably hasn't had food or any water. She's in trouble."
"We'll find her," Stephen said. "Like you said, we have to. So we're going to." He didn't want to admit it, but he was every bit as terrified of losing Abby as Becker was, just for entirely different reasons.
"If anything goes wrong, you get your ass back to the anomaly site and wait for it to open," he said firmly as he stood up. "I'm not losing any one else out here and until Abby is found, your safety is my responsibility. If we get attacked, you get the hell out of here as fast as you can."
"I will," Stephen said with a nod. He didn't like what was going on, not by any means, and he certainly didn't like having this tension between himself and his ex, but he wasn't going to deal with it now. Not when they needed to get moving.
"Good. Because I'm not going to have to face Professor Cutter and tell a good man that I lost his best friend." He swung up a newly packed backpack on his shoulder and grabbed his gun. "Let's get started. We have a few hours before it decides if it's going to get really hot or not."
"Then let's make the most of those hours," Stephen said, wisely choosing not to make any of the half a dozen smart-ass jokes that'd gone through his head.
Becker hated everything about this. Hated that his girlfriend was lost and hurt. Hated that his ex was apparently their only halfway decent chance at finding Abby. Hated that he kept watching Stephen at random moments. Just... everything about it.
He didn't know what he was going to do about Stephen, he honestly didn't. Because he was pretty sure that Abby was going to want to thank Stephen for finding her, which meant there would be talking which in turn meant Stephen would have the perfect opportunity to tell Abby how he felt.
That filled Becker with far more fear than he wanted to admit to. Because no matter how much he protested, how confident he pretended to be, Stephen had managed to undermine him. Had managed to start driving a wedge in. Had managed to make him start doubting.
Oh, he didn't doubt that Abby loved him. Or that she would choose him. But he was starting to worry that maybe she'd still want Stephen, anyway.
He hated the worry. Hated that Stephen had put it in his head.
Just one more way Stephen had ruined his life and screwed with his head. Hart was pretty damn good at doing that.
And yet he couldn't bring himself to wish he'd never met the other man. Because there'd been good times. A lot of them. Until Stephen had walked out on him, there'd been nothing but good times.
But then had come the one emotionally catastrophic bad time and there you had it.
He looked over at Stephen, watching the other man for a moment as he scanned the ground for any signs of Abby's having been in the area. He hated being so dependent on him, and at that moment he hated Cutter for bringing Stephen into things.
But if Stephen could find Abby, this would all be worth it.
Abby knew she was in serious trouble.
She didn't know for sure how long she had been down here, but it was perfectly clear that no one was going to find her if she stayed in one place. Something had happened to her men and not a one of them had responded to her cries for help.
She had no water and no food and she was blind. This was not the ingredients for a very optimistic ending for her. Anyone else would be dead now, but Abby Maitland wasn't anyone else.
She managed to drag her body away from where she had fallen. Carefully, she had found the direction the opening of this rock prison was. She had waited until she could feel where the heat was coming from during the day and had dragged herself to that spot. The opening of the cave was far above her head, but now she knew where to direct her cries for help.
The problem with this was the strain of moving her body caused her to lose consciousness again. The last thought she had before she passed out was of Becker.
Stephen was starting to get discouraged, not that he was going to admit that to Becker. Or to himself. Because getting discouraged meant maybe missing something important, the last thing he wanted to happen. So he was pushing aside all the worries in favor of focusing on searching.
There were a few things that could have been traces of Abby but also could have been wishful thinking; despite that, he pointed them out anyway. The last thing either of them needed was for him to dismiss something only to have it turn out to be a clue.
So he pointed them out, kept searching, and started praying.
He was starting to think all the praying in the word wouldn't help, though.
"Damn it," Becker cursed as they came across the fourth body. This body seemed to be completely crushed before something fed on it. "This is the last man that was on Abby's team." The tears caught in his throat.
He had given these guys the most rigorous training possible and then had picked them to be Abby's security team.
He went to the edge of the cliff. It looked like there had been a stampede here... and then Becker caught sight of something that made his heart clench.
He took off, sliding down the hill near the cliff. He could hear Stephen following down behind him. He didn't care. He got down to where he saw the item that had reflected the sun back up the hill. They were covered in blood and Becker tried not to panic.
"What is it, Becker?"
"Dog tags," he forced out through stiff lips. "A special set that got put together. One tag has all of my information from my military service. The other tag has Abby's information on it. I wear a set like it."
"Abby was never in the military. She wouldn't have dog tags."
"She had them and there is blood all over them." He pulled the tags over his head and they lay perfectly against the set he was already wearing. He cupped his hands around his mouth.
"ABBY!" He yelled. "ABBY!"
Stephen picked up the shout, yelling Abby's name and praying they'd hear a response. Because with the dog tags having been found... she had to be close. She had to be close, but they couldn't see her.
"Abby! Abby, my girl, where are you?!"
Stephen tilted his head, listening. "Yell again," he said. "I can't tell if I heard something or not."
"Damn it," Stephen swore quietly. "I hear something and I can't tell if it's her or just ambient noise!"
Becker yelled again, but all he heard coming back was the echoes of his own calls.
"We're making camp near here," he decided. "She has to be somewhere around here. She has to be."
"I'll take first watch in a bit," Stephen said. "Keep listening, see if I can figure out what I'm hearing."
Part of Becker wanted to argue at that, but right now he was trying not to show that he was even more frantic than he had been originally. The last thing he was going to was fall apart in front of bloody Stephen Hart.
"That's fine. I'll radio our location and let them contact Professor Cutter with what we've found so far."
Stephen just nodded slightly and tilted his head, listening for the sounds he'd heard. He'd heard something, he knew it.
When Abby regained consciousness again, it took her a few moments to orient herself with what she needed to do. Obviously she couldn't stand. Every single time she tried, her legs crumpled out from under her. She propped herself up on her side, but she would only be able to hold that position for a short amount of time before she collapsed flat again.
By now, she was almost sobbing, but there was a lack of moisture in her body that could be spared to make tears. If she didn't get someone to hear her soon, she was going to die down here. She knew that it was only by some miracle that she had lasted so long -- and that a predator hadn't found her and made a meal out of her yet.
The cool air coming from above meant that the sun had already set, and that meant that the chances of her being heard were a lot smaller. She didn't doubt that there would be people out looking for her even after dark, but it being dark would make finding the opening to this place a lot more difficult.
She rolled over onto her uninjured side and propped herself up with her arm. She could feel her muscles trembling and bit her lip. This had to work. She had to keep herself conscious long enough to direct the searchers to her location. It had become important that she make her mind and determination overcome the fact that her body was shutting down on her.
Taking a deep breath, Abby started screaming. "HELP! Someone, help me!"
She kept this up for a few moments before her arm gave out and she fell back onto the cold dirt. She gasped, coughing from the pain and from the dirt she had unintentionally inhaled. She cried silently, her entire body shuddering from the exertion she was forcing from it.
She dropped her head on her arm, trying to get her breath back. She had to keep trying. She had to do her best to make sure she would be heard.
"HELP! I need help!"
Her voice was starting to fade too quickly for her liking. Already her shouts were sounding no louder than whispers.
"Please," she whimpered into her arm. "Please god, don't let me die down here."
Two years ago, Stephen walked away from the Anomaly Research Project and vowed never to set foot near an anomaly again. However, when Nick Cutter calls him for help, he can't say no. Abby Maitland is lost on the other side of an anomaly and her time is running out. Stephen agrees immediately, because he's still in love with Abby. He wants to get her back and let her know how he feels. However, there's a complication that he hadn't expected. Captain Becker -- Abby's boyfriend and Stephen's ex...
Written for Casestory Big Bang 2011 at LiveJournal. We want to thank our wonderful artists for this: weaselett, sexycazzy, and pink_flame_87. Thank you guys so very much for the gorgeous art you made for us!
Stephen had been just about to shake Becker awake for his watch when he heard something, the same something he'd heard before. He bolted to Becker's side, shaking him awake. "Becker, wake up! I know what direction she's in!"
Becker was awake in an instant. "Let's go, then!"
Stephen nodded, grabbing his backpack and shrugging it on. There was no telling what kind of condition Abby was going to be in, aside from most likely not very good. She'd at the very least need the first aid kit.
Becker followed as Stephen led.
"Don't do it," Becker said as they walked. "Don't tell her how you feel. I'm begging you, Stephen, and I've never begged you for anything."
An uncomfortable pause as they both remembered certain times probably best left in the past and unremembered.
"In this context," he clarified. "You know I don't like begging."
"I'm not doing it to hurt you," Stephen said, half listening for any other yells or screams as they walked. "I'm doing it because I love her."
"You wouldn't know love if it bit you on the arse," Becker said lowly.
"Funny, your sister said that to me right before she introduced us. She was thrilled to be proved wrong. How is she, by the way?"
"Still single, and if you go near her, there's a whole other level of getting your arse kicked that you'll be experiencing."
"Relax, Becker. I have no interest in your sister, not even as a random shag. Not anymore."
"Do me a favor and don't ever mention shagging Anne again, please." The expression on Becker's face would've been comical in less horrifying situations. "It hurt enough knowing you'd just been working your way through the Becker siblings. Good thing we don't have any others or God only knows which one of us you'd be with now."
The two of them were quickly discovering previously unknown skill at taking the cheapest shots possible to inflict the maximum emotional hurt, apparently.
Before Stephen could make a retort, though, they heard one last shriek. "This way," he said, pointing and heading off, not even paying attention to see if Becker was following because of course he would be.
Hopefully, they were just about to find their Abby.
Abby made her voice work one more time to call for help. She was getting discouraged though as she realized how weak she was sounding. If no one heard her before too much time passed, she wasn't going to make it out of this. She had been here for awhile and from the sound and feel of things, she wasn't going to last very long past this night.
Becker and Stephen dropped down by the hole she'd fallen through, the hole that seemed to be actually a small cave entrance of some sort. "Abby?" Becker called, shining his flashlight down into the darkness.
She lifted her head when she heard him turning her face towards where she thought that she was hearing him. "Becker?" Her voice was almost gone from screaming and dehydration, but it was loud enough to carry up to him as she lifted herself back up on one arm. "Becker, is that really you?"
"It's me, Abby my girl," he said, forcing himself to stay calm. "It's really me. I'm here. We're here for you."
He was going to owe Stephen for this.
If she had the energy, she probably would have sobbed from relief. She wasn't going to die down here.
"We were attacked by a rhinoceros," she rasped. "I don't know what happened to my men, but they haven't been here."
"They didn't make it," Becker replied. "I'm sorry, Abby."
That was a new kind of pain that went through her. Those were Becker's men that he had trained and sent with her. "I'm sorry, too," she said, ducking her head.
"We need to get her out of there," Stephen murmured, being careful not to let Abby hear him. "If she's been down there this whole time, her body is shutting down, Captain."
"How do we get her out, though?"
"Drop a rope down to her and have her tie it around her waist. We'll pull her up that way."
"Becker!?" Abby's voice was panicked. "Becker, are you still there?"
Becker just frowned. "I'm right here, Abby." Shit. She couldn't see him. Well, that put a whole new wrinkle or two in things.
Stephen frowned, sucking a breath in through his teeth. "Aren't you shining your light down into that cave?" He whispered.
"Yeah," Becker whispered back. "I am."
"Oh fuck," Stephen whispered, his face turning white. "She must have a bad head injury. One of us is going to have to go down there and get her."
"I'll go," Becker said. "You being down there with her would freak her out right now, I think."
Stephen looked like he would argue the point, but then he heard Abby's frightened voice coming back up through the opening of the cave. "Fine."
"Hang in there, Abby," Becker called. "I'm coming down for you."
Abby nodded and then had to fight not to let her body make herself lose consciousness again. She couldn't, not when she was so close to getting out of here. "Be careful, Becker. It's dark down here and I haven't really been able to deduce if there's anything dangerous beyond the rocks and dirt."
"Got it," he called to her. "Don't you worry, Abby, I'm on my way down and I'm gonna get you out of here."
Stephen was very focused as he set up the harness and held it out for Becker to strap himself into. Him doing it was not even an option. While Becker was doing that, he dug out a blanket.
"Wrap her up in this before you strap her to you," he instructed. "Her body is probably in shock and we need to get her warm."
Becker only nodded before making one last check of things and heading down to get Abby.
Abby was laying back down on the cave floor, trying to relax now that she knew Becker was here. She listened as he was making his way down from the surface. It didn't surprise her one bit that he was coming down himself. After however much time she had been missing, she knew that he wouldn't have let someone else be the first one to get to her.
Professional appearances or not.
Becker had thrown professional appearances out the window ages ago. And if Abby made it through this, he'd never give a damn about them ever again.
"It's all right, love," he said as he touched down on the floor of the cave. "It's all right. I'm right here and I'm going to get you out of here."
She heard him and she turned towards his voice as best as she could. "I'm in pretty bad shape, love," she said softly, her voice starting to fade. "I don't know how long I've been down here. Can't put my weight on my left leg and my right arm seems hurt. Ribs, too. The creature apparently thought I needed a flying lesson."
She wasn't too keen on mentioning how much pain was in her head and she hoped that he wouldn't ask or notice. If she had been bleeding, she was pretty sure it was too dark down here for him to see it.
"I knew you'd come for me."
"Of course I would," he said as he worked to wrap her up in the blanket. "Even if we did have to call in a tracker for me to be able to find you."
"I knew you would," she murmured. "I knew that I just had to hold on long enough for you to get to me. It doesn't matter that you had help from a tracker. Just matters that you came and I could tell you I was sorry."
"That doesn't matter," he said, getting her hooked to him. "None of that matters. All that matters is that you're going to be okay."
"It does to me," she countered. "I didn't want the last words between us to be a fight."
"But they weren't," he pointed out. "I love you, Abby my girl, and that's the important thing."
"I love you, too, Hilary," she whispered quietly. "I always will no matter what." She swallowed, her voice fading for a moment. "And I'm so sorry about your men. We had no warning, the attack came out of nowhere."
"At least you made it," Becker said. "I think my men would agree that as long as someone survived, they didn't die in vain."
"I had to hold on until I could see you again and make sure you knew that I loved you and that our fight should never have happened."
"I know you love me, Abby. I'll never not know that."
When Abby felt herself secured to Becker, she let her head drop to rest against his chest. "Thank god for that."
"Just relax," he said softly. "You'll be out of here in a minute and then we can get you home."
Stephen wrapped the end of the rope several times around a tree and then a boulder before he leaned back and started slowly pulling the two people out of the underground cave. He had been shining a light down in an attempt to see Abby, so when he saw that Becker had her securely attached to him, he worked to bring them to the surface. He was relieved that they had found her, and even more determined that she know how he felt. If she was with him and away from anything having to do with the ARC, she would never be in danger like this again.
Becker was only dimly aware of Stephen's presence, so focused was he on Abby at the moment. "We're out, love. Now we'll get you home and checked out and then you and I are ignoring the world for a week. How's that sound?"
"That sounds like a wonderful plan, love," Abby murmured. There was so much more that she wanted to say. "Think Lester will give us the time off?"
"I'm sure we can convince him."
Abby didn't hear his response as at that moment, she finally lost the battle to stay conscious. Once she knew that Becker was there and that he had forgiven her for the fight, the last of the strength had drained out of her. Her head hit his chest at about the same time that they were standing on solid ground and away from the mouth of the cave.
He took a step back at the impact. "Let's get her home," he said to Stephen. "Now."
Stephen's mouth tightened while he listened to Becker talking to Abby as he was undoing the harness straps. When he saw her collapse against the other man, he reached out to touch her. "Abby!"
"She's unconscious," Becker said caustically. "Guess you won't be professing your love for her until later."
"Shut up, you bloody idiot," Stephen snapped. "We have to get her stabilized and radio for assistance. It's dark and we can't risk trying to carry her up the cliff and all of the way to the anomaly site with nothing but flashlights."
"So stop hovering and start radioing."
Stephen glared at him, but grabbed his radio. In quick fashion he told the teams that they had found Abby. He then told them that they were camping for the night and would be bringing her to the anomaly site the next morning. "Get out the next time it opens and let Professor Cutter know that she's been found."
Becker was doing his damnedest to not focus on Abby as much as he wanted to, but it was difficult.
Stephen took a second blanket out of the packs and spread it out on the ground.
"Lay her on this and we can use it as a stretcher to get her up the cliff and back to the caves we were in earlier. It will be easier than you trying to get up the cliff face with her in your arms."
Becker knelt slowly, laying Abby down on the blanket carefully.
Stephen watched, trying not to be impatient. As much as he wanted to grab Abby and run, he knew that putting her on the blanket like this would be much easier on whatever injuries she might have. When they got to the cave, he could do an inventory of what had been hurt and try to stabilize her condition until they could get her home.
Becker hated feeling like he didn't know what to do, hated feeling like he was out of his element, but Abby had always had a way of completely unnerving him in all the best ways. Only this wasn't all the best ways, it was one of the worst.
"Becker," Stephen snapped. "Pull yourself together and help me get her to the caves. If we don't get her there so I can check her out this whole thing is going to have to have been for nothing." He hated thinking like that, but snapping at Becker kept him from losing his grip at seeing how battered Abby looked.
Part of him wanted to snap right back, but part of him was grateful for the shock to get him going again. "Right," he said with a sharp nod. "Let's go, then."
"Did she have the chance to tell you what happened?" He asked as they started up the cliff, being careful to try to find a path that would jostle their patient the least amount.
"She said they were attacked by a rhinoceros. It sent her flying, apparently."
"Oh god. If she hit her head, that could account for the blindness." Stephen was trying not to let himself start shaking. If she had gone flying and landed in the cave, there could be internal damage and bleeding. "Not to mention dehydration for being down there for a little more than a week."
"Stop thinking about it," Becker said. "Until we can get her to camp and work on getting her stabilized, stop thinking about it. The important thing is that we have her and that we can focus on getting her the help she needs."
"Part of my job is wilderness triage, Becker. This definitely falls under that heading."
Becker didn't say anything else; trying to help just wasn't working. And trying to encourage Stephen certainly wasn't working, either. Why did he keep trying?
They finally managed to get up the cliff with their precious patient and when they got to the caves, Stephen moved them further into the back than they had been before.
"She'll be less likely to attract predators from back here -- especially if we're between her and the opening of the cave." He explained. "We need to make her a pallet of some kind. Something with a little more comfort and that will protect her from the coldness of the ground."
"So what can we use?" Becker asked.
"Are there any other blankets in the other packs or any cloth at all? Leaves could also be used with the blankets between them and her body."
Becker made a swift check of the other packs. "Two more blankets," he reported after a moment.
"Good. Fold them in half and then half again. That should help her body be comfortable while we work on... oh shit." Stephen shook his head. "I think her leg is broken and her knee out of joint. We'll need some splints."
It just kept getting worse and worse. Becker folded the blankets to give himself something to worry about for a second besides Abby's physical condition.
After Becker had folded the blankets, Stephen carefully lifted Abby up. He held her close to him for a few moments more than necessary and then lay her down on the makeshift pallet. He smoothed her hair back from her face gently. "You're going to be all right, Abs. I promise. You're going to be all right."
Becker wanted to snarl, to snap at the other man to leave Abby alone, but Stephen hadn't actually said anything wrong. He was being gentle and tender and concerned, and how could Becker argue with that?
The look in Stephen's eyes said he had a pretty good idea what the other man was thinking and he didn't give a damn. He straightened Abby's leg gently, glad that she was unconscious as he tore her pant leg open to examine the injury.
Becker moved closer, still staying well out of the way but being close enough at hand that he could help if Stephen needed it.
"Yeah, her knee is messed up. It's too swollen for it to have just been hit. You're going to have to help me put it back into place and then help me split her leg." He shook his head. "What in the hell did she hit for all of this damage to occur?"
"She said the rhinoceros sent her flying," Becker said. "Could she have smacked it against something and done it that way?" He leaned closer and peered at her shoulder. "Can we shift her a little? Something looks off about her shoulder here."
He was fully expecting Stephen to give him trouble about that, for listening to some instinct.
Stephen didn't argue with him, just did what Becker required.
Becker swore immediately. "Gored in the shoulder," he said, pointing to one wound. "And then those two wounds, that I'm not sure what they are yet. The one on her back looks like it could be a gore wound, but I'm not sure. I don't think so. I think it's probably where it caught her when it sent her flying -- which would explain the knee, if she smashed into something."
Stephen muttered something. "I hate creatures who gore you. The pain goes right through you in a never ending loop."
Becker looked at Stephen in concern at that, before he could stop himself. He shouldn't care about Stephen's pain anymore, but that had caught him by surprise.
"Check her head," Stephen said, not bothering to look at Becker. He was completely focused on assessing Abby's injuries and deciding how to best help her until they could get her to a hospital.
Becker didn't say anything, just did what Stephen said. Concern for Stephen wasn't getting him anywhere, so he'd just focus on his concern for Abby. "Damn it," he said when he drew his hand away from her head. "She's hurt here, too."
"She's so beat up. What the hell happened when that creature gored her," Stephen muttered. "Get bandages out of the med kits. I assume you know how to treat head wounds, Captain?"
"You don't need to treat me like I'm a complete idiot," Becker said as he went for one of the med kits. "And even if my military training had somehow managed to gloss over that fact... you taught me." Because their relationship hadn't been based solely on sex.
"With the way you were just staring at everything, I wasn't sure if you had left your common sense in your other jacket or not," Stephen snapped. He looked back down to where he was moving his hands along Abby's leg. "This is going to hurt, baby, and I'm so sorry for that."
Becker wanted to snap at Stephen for that, probably should have, but he just held it in. Saying anything to Stephen wasn't helping, so he did the only thing he could do. He focused on worrying about Abby.
"Hold her upper arms, Becker. I need to pull her leg to put her knee back into place."
Becker nodded and moved to hold Abby's arms. "I'm so sorry, Abby my girl," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Taking a deep breath, Stephen pulled hard on her leg and there was a soft popping noise as the knee was forced back into place.
Becker winced slightly at the sound.
Stephen didn't even look at him as he started wrapping her knee. "I'm never letting this happen to you again, love," he said as he wrapped the knee. He looked around for branches so that he could splint her leg and her arm.
"It's a risk we all run with our job," Becker said as he looked around for branches, finding a couple.
"Which is why I plan to convince her to get away from the ARC with me. All being there does is cause pain. She deserves better."
"Take her away from me and I will ruin you, Hart."
Oh, look. Someone was tired of not fighting back.
Stephen merely raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm not military, so I highly doubt you can do anything ot ruin me, Captain Becker. I'm not an employee of the ARC, so nothing can be done to me there, either."
Becker just smiled slowly. "You forget what my sister does for a living," he said. "Anne could find all sorts of highly inventive ways to make your life a living hell and if you hurt me again, she would gladly do so."
"Oh that's very brave, hiding behind your baby sister," Stephen mocked as he splinted Abby's broken leg.
"Baby sister who's very, very good at exploiting weaknesses," Becker said mildly, actually relaxing now that he was finally speaking his mind.
"I'm sure that it will impress Abby a great deal," Stephen countered as she made sure the splint on her leg was secured.
"About as much as stealing her away from someone she loves will impress her."
"You're just in a panic because you know that you don't stand a chance and I can take her."
"You'd have been in a panic over losing someone you loved, too, if you'd ever run the risk of losing me. Or if you'd ever actually cared."
"We are not talking about our past," Stephen snapped. "We're discussing Abby and her future. With me."
"And her present. With me."
"We need to take off her shirt so I can bandage these wounds from being gored. She could have already started developing an infection in them." Stephen had decided to be dismissive of Becker's comment about the present.
Becker just nodded. "Help me? I can't manage it on my own, not without hurting her."
"She's not going to feel it, Becker, she's unconscious." But he knew where Becker was coming from, so he helped the other man carefully remove the shirt she was wearing. "I have an extra shirt in my bag that we can put on her after we get everything cleaned up. She can't put this back on." Probably because Stephen had pulled a knife and carefully cut away the material that had been forced into the worst of the wounds. His face whitened a little as it caused fresh bleeding. "I'm so sorry about this, baby, I am."
"She can't hear it, she's unconscious." But there was a note of not quite humor in it as he returned the vague dig in what was going to have to pass for a friendly manner.
Between the two of them, they managed to get Abby's shirt off.
"Shut up," he muttered as he started wiping blood away from her shoulder. "God, this one is deep. No wonder she can't use her arm."
"Tell me how I can help." Because if Stephen knew what he was doing, Becker wasn't going to get in the way.
Stephen was focused on taking care of Abby and so he nodded. "I need water so we can rinse this out and I can see how deep the blasted thing gored her. If there's any kind of ointment in the kits, we'll need that, too." He cursed. "Her side is bruised badly, so there could be cracked or broken ribs. Between all of this and her head wound, I'm surprised that she managed to stay conscious for so damn long."
"Because she had hope," was all Becker said before moving off to gather water and search the kits for any kind of ointments that'd help.
And once she knew Becker had found her she had let herself pass out. But Stephen wasn't going to voice that thought.
"If we can make sure gets stabilized and then we get to the anomaly site, we should be able to get her to the hospital before it's too late."
"God, I hope we can," Becker said as he came back with water and ointment. "Thankfully the kit had something. Not sure how good it'll be, but it's something."
Stephen was carefully applying ointment to worst of the wounds when the sky opened up outside the cave.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me!" He cursed. He shook his head. "We can't take her out in that. She's already in danger of infection."
"So we wait it out in hopes that it isn't going to last long and make an alternate plan."
Except the only alternate he could think of was staying there until it ended. Damn it.
"Well, there's nothing to do about it right now. We'll get her taken care of as best as we can and then decide from there."
Becker nodded. As much as he didn't like it, Stephen had a point.
"Did you get me an extra shirt to put on her after she's bandaged up? She has to be kept warm."
"Got it right here."
Stephen nodded and didn't say anything for a few moments as he took care of the most of her wounds. Afetr they were bandaged as best as they could be, Stephen carefully pulled the extra shirt over her head. The shirt wasn't his, but he decided not to poke Becker about it.
"If I hold her, can you clean out the head wounds?"
"Of course." It was said matter-of-factly.
Stephen nodded and cradled Abby's limp body against his, making sure Becker had a clear view of the deep wounds that needed tending.
"It's going to be all right, sweetheart," he murmured. "You're going to be just fine."
Becker was tense as he worked, forcing himself to keep his touch gentle as he cleaned.
Stephen did his best not to hold Abby too close and make Becker even angrier at him, but it was hard not to. She looked so frail.
Becker could understand the need to protect Abby from everything, which was why he did actually force himself to relax during this. He had enough to be tense about without adding that to the mix.
"Okay, there we go," he said as he finished.
Stephen kept himself from double-checking Becker's work by sheer willpower alone and moved so that he could lay Abby gently on the pallet. His fingers brushed her cheek and then he covered her up with the extra blanket.
Becker appreciated the not double-checking his work, even if Stephen didn't realize it.
"So now what?" Becker looked at Stephen. Yes, Becker was in charge, but Stephen was the tracker. Stephen knew this kind of thing.
"We have to wait out this rain. It doesn't look like anything punctured a lung, but I'd rather not have her get pneumonia and then find out that a rib did slice into her like that."
Becker didn't like the thought of that, either.
"Take turns sitting with her, then?"
"Yeah." He took a deep breath and forced the words out. "Why don't you stay with her first."
Becker smiled at that, an actual real smile. "I will. Thank you."
Stephen shrugged and headed to the mouth of the cave with a gun. The last thing he needed to see was Becker holding Abby close to him. He couldn't fault the other man for being worried, but he was the one who she should be being held by.
Becker sat next to Abby, watching her intently. "Hang in there, Abby my girl," he said, touching her face gently. "Just hang in there."
Stephen was very deliberately keeping his back to them and staring into the rain.
After a while, Becker started watching Stephen. As much as he hated the man for leaving him and as much as he hated him for wanting to take Abby away... he couldn't truly hate him. He was trying, though, because hating him was better than the alternative.
"How is she doing?" Stephen called over his shoulder.
"The same, far as I can tell," Becker replied. That wasn't exactly a good thing, but at least she hadn't gotten any worse.
"So the wounds aren't bleeding more? That's a good thing."
"No bleeding," Becker confirmed.
"Thank god. That means we shouldn't attract predators."
Becker just nodded slightly. "So she'll be safe for a while. Well, safe as we can make her."
"No one will get past me to get to her."
"No one will get past either of us," Becker corrected. Because whatever their problems with each other, they knew the other would die for Abby.
"We'll keep her safe and alive."
"Damn right we will."
On that much, they could agree.
"And I tell her that the fight was a misunderstanding."
"What did the two of you fight about, anyway?" Stephen asked, turning slightly to finally look at Becker.
"I'm not even sure how it became a fight," Becker admitted, running a hand over Abby's hair. "I was talking about one thing and she apparently thought I meant something else."
"And it went from there and you couldn't figure out how to fix it without your words making it even worse."
"Pretty much," he agreed, hating that he was talking this out with Stephen of all people. "I wanted to make the relationship more serious because I love her and I worry about her... she somehow got the idea that I wanted to pull away."
"You're good at serious relationships," Stephen said after a moment. "You'd have made it work if you had a chance."
"I still will make it work, Stephen," Becker all but growled. "She's mine and you're not taking her from me."
"Maybe not, but I'm damn well going to try."
Becker stiffened. "You were not just stupid enough to say that to me."
"I don't think of it as being stupid, I think of it as being honest with you."
"I guess that it's a good thing that you're so honest about your plans so I can laugh when Abby turns you down."
"You never know."
"I do know. Unlike some people, Abby is loyal."
"I'm loyal, too. When people deserve it."
"I didn't do a damn thing to deserve what you did, Stephen," Becker bit out. "Not a thing and I'm not about to let you break Abby's heart again. Just leave us alone."
"Goddamn it, Hilary, I left to keep you safe," Stephen snapped. "I left so you wouldn't get killed by someone who wanted to hurt me."
Becker's look was full of disbelief. "Whatever," he said quietly. "I'm not arguing with you, it might upset Abby right now if she hears people fighting."
Stephen decided not to point out that Abby was unconscious. He'd finally gotten to say what he should've said a while ago. He'd take that as enough of a victory for the moment.
Becker was completely focused on Abby right now. The multitude of injuries that she had scared him, as did the fact that she hadn't been able to see anything when he first saw her. "Abby my girl, you have to be okay," he said quietly to her as he stroked her hair. "You just have to."
"She will be," Stephen said quietly. "She's a fighter. She won't let this beat her."
"I've never seen her like this, not my Abby," Becker said, continuing to run his hand through part of Abby's hair that was away from her head wounds.
"That's an understatement. I don't think I've ever seen her get hurt except for a few bruises... and the one time that arsehole from the past held her at the end of a sword."
"There was a man that came through an anomaly from the past and had Abby held at sword point. The sword was against her throat."
Stephen had to fight to suppress a growl.
"She was protecting a Dracorex from him, just like she alwasy would protect the creatures. He wanted to kill the beast and Abby wouldn't let him, so he held a sword on her, wanting to know if she was willing to die for the creature. Of course, she said she was." Becker sighed, shifting so he was more comfortable next to Abby. "I wanted to shoot him, Stephen. I was ready to because he was going to hurt my girl. But Sarah said it would disrupt the timelines if I did. Apparently something about Sarah and about the way Abby was willing to let him kill her for the Dracorex cause something to break in the man. He stabbed a barrel of oil and collapsed." Becker sighed. "I might have felt bad for him if he hadn't been planning to kill Abby. We got him back through to his time as a hero and dragon slayer."
"If he had hurt Abby, you'd have killed him in a heartbeat, timelines be damned." Stephen knew Becker, knew how he would've reacted. If Abby had been hurt, Becker would have snapped.
"Oh hell yes. If he had even scratched Abby with that sword I would have shot him faster than anything. That was when --" He suddenly remembered who he was talking to and shook his head.
Stephen tilted his head curiously. "That was when what?" he prompted.
"That was when I knew without a doubt I had fallen hard for her," he admitted, embarrassed that he was talking to Stephen of all people about this. "As soon as I realized I would kill the man if she got hurt."
"It's easy to fall hard for her," Stephen said softly. "She's easy to fall in love with."
He would poke at Becker about some things without a second thought, but some things were off limits. That was one of them.
"I had fought it up until then. Did my best to keep things professional."
"But she'd gotten under your skin. You couldn't keep it professional."
"Exactly. The more I saw her, the more I wanted her."
"I know the feeling."
"I hadn't planned to fall for anyone again, and especially not someone I work with or who could get hurt every day."
"Your heart's never listened to what you want, though."
"The amazing thing was that she wanted me as much as I wanted her."
"How could someone not want you? You're amazing."
Becker shook his head, running his fingers along Abby's cheek. "I don't know how I did it, but I won her love."
"She's lucky to have had you in her life."
"I'll always be there for her," he said evenly. "I promised her that."
"And that's a good thing. She'll need friends like you."
"I'm her boyfriend as well as her best friend."
Stephen said nothing, just looked at him.
Becker's look was challenging, before he turned once more to Abby.
Stephen wanted to reach out, to touch Abby's face, but he was smart enough not to.
Becker probably would have punched him again if he did that.
Stephen settled for reaching out to lightly touch Abby's arm for a moment. He couldn't help it. He needed to touch her, to feel her there.
"You're going to be all right, Abby my girl," Becker whispered. "I promise you. Everything is going to be all right."
Stephen hated hearing Becker say those words. It should be him saying them. But at the same time, he couldn't argue with them.
There was nothing that Becker wanted to do more than sit and hold Abby in his lap, but at the same time he didn't want Stephen to see him feeling that vulnerable. He didn't know what he would do without Abby in his life, and he wasn't about to let some creature attack take her from him. Or his ex, for that matter.
Unfortunately, his ex was a ridiculously determined man. However, Stephen knew when to back away and when to move in, and this was the time to back away.
"I'll go sit watch for a while."
Becker nodded, shifting to a more comfortable position where he could shelter Abby.
Stephen watched them a moment before silently moving towards the mouth of the cave.
Once Stephen was far enough away, Becker decided the hell with what the other man might think and stretched out next to Abby. Part of it was to keep her warm and part of it was because he needed to feel her breathing.
Stephen glanced back at one point and saw Becker stretched out with Abby, and was surprised to find himself struck by an utterly ridiculous sense of missing Becker being next to him like that. He shook his head sharply to clear it. How he felt about Becker didn't matter.
He was here for Abby.
Becker wrapped his arms gently around Abby, murmuring anything he could think of to make sure she held on. The fact that she was unconscious meant she wasn't in pain, but it scared the hell out of him.
"Any change?" Stephen called over after a while, about half an hour.
"No," Becker tried to keep the tremor out of his voice, but it was hard when the love of his life was laying so still.
"She's going to be fine, Hilary." He winced. "Damn it. Sorry. Slipped out."
"I can't lose her like this," he responded. "Not to a brainless creature from the past."
"You're not going to lose her." Except there was fear in his voice, even as he tried pushing it aside to comfort Becker.
Becker pulled himself up and came to the mouth of the cave. It was still bloody raining. "You're scared we're going to lose her, too."
"Yeah," Stephen replied, nodding slightly. "I am."
"Those wounds look bad, Stephen. Especially that deeper head wound."
"Part of me wants to risk it and take her out in the rain anyway," Stephen admitted. "Just to get her to help. I know we can't, but..."
"I know. But we can't risk her any more than we already have by moving her, and there would be no way to keep her dry." He sighed. "We have to wait it out."
"I hate this," Stephen said quietly. "I hate not being able to help her."
"You and me both." Becker said, looking out into the rain. "I would also love to get a hold of the creature that did this to her -- even though I know that's irrational."
"Rationality doesn't always have a place in things when it comes to love."
"I tend to have this reaction to anything that hurts her or upsets her. She's had enough of that in her life."
"She deserves a perfect life."
"She does. She refuses to talk much about her past, but I've gotten the indications that it wasn't a very happy period of time for her."
"I just want to make life good for her again," Stephen said, but it was said simply, quietly, without any challenge.
"That's always been my intention, too."
"So we both want the same thing."
"Just have different ways of achieving that, it seems."
That would be when there was an inarticulate cry from behind them.
Becker spun and was at Abby's side instantly, lifting her up gently in his arms and comforting her hoarse cries.
"Easy, Abby my girl, easy. You're safe. I've got you, I'm here. You're going to be all right. Hush, love, hush."
Stephen looked away. He couldn't watch another man comfort his girl, no matter who that other man was.
Abby was making pathetic little noises of fear and pain. Becker said fuck it and pulled her into his lap so she didn't mess up the work Stephen had done to stabilize her.
"Becker," she whimpered. "It hurts. Everything is black."
"It's ok my love. I'm here and I'm going to make sure you get taken care of."
Stephen's hands were clenching into fists at the frustration he felt. There was nothing he could do for Abby, not now. And he hated it.
Becker ran soothing hands over her face and the parts of her hair not matted into the wounds. Soon, she had fallen into unconsciousness again.
"It has to stop raining again," Stephen said. "It just has to. We have to get her help."
"She's getting worse."
"Do you want me to sit with her a while?" Stephen offered. "So you can actually get some sleep, I mean. She's... she's going to need you at your best when we manage to get her out of here."
Becker wanted to refuse, because he knew what Stephen's ultimate plan was when they got back home. However, he couldn't argue with the fact that he needed at least some rest if he was going to be of any good to Abby. Sighing, he nodded.
"I promise I'll play nice," was all Stephen said as he stood, moving to sit next to Abby. "And Becker? You look wiped. Actually get some sleep. Don't just lay there."
Becker nodded and gently moved Abby off of his lap and onto the pallet they had made her. Kissing her cheek gently, he moved a few feet away so that he could stretch out and try to get some rest.
Stephen sat next to Abby, reaching out to take her hand in his. "You have to stay with us," he said softly. "We need you. Both of us."
Abby didn't respond, but Becker was watching him silently.
"He loves you, and I love you, and we... we just need you."
Becker winced and closed his eyes. Damn it, he should not be feeling bad for Stephen. The other man had been very clear in that he planned to wreck his world. However, he understood very well the fear that Abby wouldn't make it.
"And you have to pull through, just so you can hear me apologize. Because how often do I do that?"
Not all that often, Becker thought as he turned his head away from the scene to stare at the cave wall.
Stephen went quiet after a moment, just watching Abby. She was going to pull through this. She had to.
He didn't dare believe otherwise.
Abby whimpered faintly before trying to turn over on the pallet.
"Don't move," he said softly, gently keeping her from actually turning over.
"Help," she whimpered. "Someone help me. I'm down here."
"We're here, Abby," he said, keeping his voice gentle. "We're right here."
Abby whispered a few more things that were too quiet to make out exactly. However, it was evident that she was scared and in pain.
Stephen didn't know what to do for her, but he wasn't going to drag Becker into this to comfort her. No, this was his chance. So he settled for whispering reassuring words and lightly stroking her cheek with one hand.
Abby finally stilled again, his reassurance seeming to soothe her enough that she lapsed back into silence.
He smiled at that. Not because he was trying to one-up Becker or anything like that, not at the moment. No, this time he simply smiled out of sheer relief that he'd been able to do something for her, however small.
Becker lost track of how long he had laid there, drifting in and out of a light sleep. He couldn't sleep very much because he was so worried about Abby. He kept seeing how she looked when he got to her -- and how she had collapsed against him.
It was Stephen's turn to be tired now, but he was ignoring that so Becker could get whatever bits of sleep he could. Besides, Becker was the one who'd been running on adrenaline for days, not Stephen. Stephen could handle a little lack of sleep.
Becker caught a few more snatches of sleep and then sighed. He wasn't going to sleep any more right now, so he got to his feet. He stretched out cold muscles for a moment before he returned to Abby's side.
"You managed almost three hours, off and on," Stephen said. "So... two hours of actual sleep in there somewhere."
Yes, he realized that knowing this implied he'd been watching Becker.
"I kept seeing her," he admitted quietly, reaching out to reassure himself that she really was still breathing and therefore alive.
"Our nerves are going to be shot by the time the rain ends, aren't they?"
Their nerves were already shot and had been even before they'd found Abby, if they were going to be perfectly honest.
"I won't have a breakdown until we get her home safe," Becker said quietly. "She can't afford that." He reached out to touch her face and frowned. "No. This isn't good and she doesn't need this."
"I'll go keep watch for a while," Stephen offered. "So you can sit with her in private."
He wasn't sure when exactly he'd started being less militant about his plan. Oh, he was still firmly intending on taking Abby, but that didn't mean he had to make this entire thing any more miserable than it already was.
"She's running a fever," Becker said quietly.
Well, that changed things a little more.
"We need to figure out a way to bring it down, if we even can," Stephen said, glancing towards the mouth of the cave. "That and pray the rain stops. Because I think that's the only way it's going to any time soon."
"Yeah, because there is no way we can take her out in that and not risk her getting worse." Becker was quiet for a moment. "I need rags and some heated water. The water needs to be warm, but not hot and definitely not cold. If I keep bathing her head and face we might be able to keep the fever from becoming worse. We'll also have to change her bandages."
Becker taking charge for the moment left Stephen to get everything together, something he didn't mind doing. And he had enough tact to bite back the handful of snide comments he was thinking. There was a time and a place for that, and this was neither of those.
When they had a small campfire going, Becker took something out of one of the packs. It was a cooking pot, but for now, it would work as what he needed it for. While Stephen was gathering things to change the worst of Abby's bandages, Becker was wiping her face and forehead with a damp rag and talking to her in whispered phrases.
Stephen was back a couple minutes later with everything he could gather. "How's she doing?"
"The fever is high," Becker said grimly, focused completely on Abby. "I'm trying to get her cooled down as best as we can."
Stephen just knelt next to Becker, waiting for whatever the man told him to do next. There were times to make another move for Abby; this was not one of those times. When she was out of danger, oh yes. But not now.
"The bandages on her head and shoulder should be changed. Those are the ones that the infection can get into easiest, besides her lungs right now."
Stephen just nodded and set about changing the bandage on Abby's head first, since it was the easiest to get to and wouldn't require any actual help from Becker.
Becker just continued with what he was doing, and that included undoing the shirt the had put on Abby so that he could cool odd her chest and throat.
"Okay, that one's good to go," Stephen said as he finished replacing the bandage on the head wound. "I'll need your help with the rest."
Becker nodded. Having battles with Stephen had been pushed to the back of his mind as he focused on Abby. Right now, she was the only thing that mattered.
And they worked well when they weren't fighting each other, as shown by the way they quickly and efficiently got the rest of Abby's wounds rebandaged.
After she was laying back down, covered with the blanket, Becker went back to wiping her head and face. "Come on, Abby my girl," he murmured. "You're not letting something like this beat you. Not when you were going to take on a man armed with a sword with your bare hands."
Stephen retreated once they were done. There was only so much he could take of watching Becker's tenderness.
If only Stephen knew how much Becker was struggling to keep his voice tender like this and not break down. "Please, love," he whispered. "You have to hang on until we can get you out of here. I can't lose you, you know that."
Stephen moved to the mouth of the cave again, staring out at the rain. If only he could make it stop just by wanting it to.
If he could do that, Becker might stop growling at him every time he looked his way.
Unfortunately, he couldn't. So Stephen could only sit and watch the rain and pray with a ferocity he didn't realize he had in him.
Becker kept up murmuring to Abby -- at times begging and at times ordering -- as he continued to wipe her down. Finally, he sat back, shaking his head. He got all of the covering tucked back around her and just sat, watching her face.
Stephen turned, looking at Becker. The misery was evident on the younger man's face; Stephen wanted to say something, anything at all, to make it better.
Becker wasn't aware that Stephen was looking at him. All he could focus on right now was the too pale face of the woman he loved.
Stephen made a frustrated sound low in his throat.
"The rain doesn't show any sign of letting up?"
"No, unfortunately." The words were distinctly cranky.
Becker sighed. "At least we found her and got her out of that damn hole."
Stephen nodded. "That's something. And for now, it'll have to be enough." Only it wouldn't be, not for either of them.
"It is something and something that I hope we never have to experience again." Because seeing Abby broken and trapped like that had scared him in ways he hadn't thought possible.
"I'm glad I found her," Stephen said quietly. "That we found her."
"Thank you for coming along," Becker's eyes didn't leave Abby.
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything. They're not going to love me at work for a while, but oh well." Stephen shrugged. "She's more important."
"Where do you work now? I'm sure Lester can pull some string and smooth things over for you."
"I work for an animal conservation group. I mostly do tracking. My being gone means they had to put someone else on an assignment I was supposed to be starting all of an hour after Nick called me."
He didn't care. Whatever happened, whether Lester fixed things for him or he got in some sort of trouble for it, it would all be worth it if Abby survived.
"Lester will take care of it," Becker murmured. "You came to help him find one of his people that was missing. Lester is fiercely protective of his people. He wasn't about to leave Abby in here no matter what the Minister's orders were."
"Even if he doesn't... I can live with the consequences. Abby's more important than whether or not I get in trouble."
Becker made a noise that might have been a laugh if the circumstances hadn't been so serious. "It's a good thing that Abby can't hear you say that."
"My friends will always come first."
"She'd still try to argue with you over it," Becker said faintly. "She could be in mortal danger and she would still say that you needed to look after yourself and your security."
"I can be just as stubborn as she can. It's a fight she'd lose." Stephen shrugged one shoulder. "Besides, I'm a damn good tracker. Wouldn't be hard to find work."
"I would almost pay to see the two of you try to battle that out," Becker said, looking at Abby. "Because she would give you one look with those blue eyes of hers and you would cave."
"I would not," Stephen protested. "It'd be two looks, at least."
Becker laughed and shook his head. "She got Lester to cave in three looks, Stephen. You wouldn't last past one."
"My determination would have to count for something."
"Lester thought he was going to leave the ARC and take a higher position with the Minister's office."
"... if she used that look of hers for evil, we'd all be screwed."
"Luckily, there's not an evil damn bone in Abby's body."
"No, there's not," Stephen agreed.
"That's one of the things I love about her. She thinks of everyone else first most of the time." He swallowed back the tears that were threatening. "Even if it was tearing her heart out to do it, she'd take care of someone else's wants instead of hers."
"She's an amazing, special woman," Stephen said gently.
"She is. I've never known anyone like her and now I'm worried I'm going to lose her in some prehistoric hunting ground."
"You're not going to," Stephen said. "I refuse to let that happen."
Yeah, by taking her away from me, Becker thought as he wiped Abby's face again.
Stephen realized he'd said too much and went silent.
"Abby, come on girl, you need to wake up."
Stephen bit the inside of his cheek hard.
"Please wake up," he whispered softly. "You need to wake up because I need to know you're going to be all right and I can't do that if you don't open your eyes for me."
Stephen winced, tasting blood. And yet he bit his cheek again anyway to keep from reacting.
Becker wiped Abby's forehead with the damp cloth again. "Besides, who is going to yell at me when I try to get in the way of a creature you're determined to take care of no matter how big the teeth are? Connor knows better than to try. And the Dracorex doesn't react well to anyone but you, you know that, Abby my girl. You don't want her to decide to get attached to Lester like that mammoth has. We'll never hear the end of it from him."
Stephen laughed at that. "He'd have this little menagerie trying to follow him around. It'd be hilarious. Ill-advised but hilarious."
Becker did manage a weak laugh. "The mammoth is completely devoted to Lester. It's pretty funny to see his reaction every time Lester walks by the pens."
"And Lester just has that quiet, long-suffering look on his face."
"When we're not looking, yes. But Connor showed Abby and I some of the security feeds that showed Lester going down and giving the mammoth treats."
Stephen couldn't help snickering. "Oh, that is adorable."
"Abby loves it."
"Lester would kill Connor if he knew anybody had actually seen that."
"We all pretend that Lester has no heart and he pretends that we believe that," Becker said quietly as he wiped down Abby's face.
"He's not so bad, though. I suppose."
"He cares deeply about his people," Becker said, and there might have been a hint of a warning there. "He won't let most people see it, but he's the reason that Cutter called you in for help. He refused to leave Abby lost out here."
"In that case, I think I need to thank him."
"Possibly." He didn't look up from what he was doing. "He might pretend he has no idea what you're talking about, too."
"That sounds like him."
"He thinks that if he gives the impression that we're just employees it keeps the Minister from interfering in operations. At least that's Abby's theory."
"Makes sense, anyway."
"We all think so," Becker said softly. "She has a lot of good theories and I wish I listened more too them... or asked about them when we're not in the middle of a call or an incursion."
"You'll get the chance to."
"I'd better because if she dies from this I am so going to kick her ass." It was a special kind of logic, really. But he was too worried to try to make sense right now. "That and I'll be the first person that has a rug made from a woolly rhinoceros."
The logic made perfect sense to Stephen. "She dies, I'll be right there helping with that rug."
Becker nodded. "I know." That much he did know. If Abby died there would be a lot of creature corpses -- even if she would have hated that kind of vengeance.
Because if she died, they'd be long on anger and short on rationality.
"Blasted rain," Becker muttered, brushing back a strand of Abby's hair from her face.
Stephen nodded slightly and went back to staring out at the rain.
"I suppose that it was too much to ask that the rescue go smoothly once we got her out of that hole."
"Our lives have never been smooth."
"That's true. Sometimes I've wished it were, but then I wouldn't have what I do if it had been easy."
"Same here, pretty much."
"An easy road wouldn't have brought me to the ARC -- or to Abby."
"Or to me." And there he went with that remarkable knack for ruining a good moment.
He seemed to love doing that.
"I did say it hadn't been an easy road."
Stephen sighed, leaning his head back against the cave wall.
Really, Stephen should have expected that response. Becker shifted his stance and settled next to Abby again.
Stephen had been lulled again by the fact that they'd had most of a conversation in complete civility. He should have been more careful about that.
Becker was wiping Abby's forehead when her eyes opened. "Becker? Becker?"
"Easy, Abby my girl, I'm right here." He brushed his fingers against her face.
"I can't see you," she whimpered. "Why can't I see you?"
"You've been hurt pretty badly, love, but after this rain lets up, we're going to get you to a hospital and they'll fix you up."
"I know, love. I wish I could make the pain go away."
Stephen wished the same, wished it with everything in him. He wanted to go to Abby's side, but he couldn't. He never could, as long as Becker was there.
"Don't leave me, love," she whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Hush. There's nothing for you to be sorry about and I'm not going anywhere without you."
When she didn't respond, Becker closed his eyes. She was unconscious again.
Stephen could practically feel Becker's pain in the air. He wanted to say something, but really, what did he say?
There wasn't really anything he could say. Becker sighed quietly and brushed Abby's cheek with his hand. "Please hold on."
Stephen just looked out at the rain and offered up silent prayers for Abby to get better.
It was the second straight day of rain and Becker was getting more and more antsy with every minute that passed.
The one good thing for Stephen was that Becker's being antsy made the man pace, which meant Stephen got to sit with Abby. But in her condition, all he could think about was praying that she got better.
"This needs to stop," he growled, pacing at the opening. "She can't stay here much longer."
"This cannot happen," Stephen said quietly. "This cannot happen this way. It just can't."
"Stuck in a goddamn cave. Abby deserves better than this. She deserves more than possible death in some miserable cave." And God, did it hurt to even think about Abby dying.
"She's not going to die on us, Stephen. We won't let that happen."
"No, we won't," Stephen agreed, trying to keep the desperation out of his eyes as he looked at Becker.
"If it doesn't let up by tomorrow, we're taking a chance. We're wrapping her up as warmly as we can and we are getting her to that damn anomaly and getting her to help. I know it's risky, but so is keeping her in a cold cave without better medical attention than we can give her." Which had gotten scarier to him since she hadn't regained consciousness since early the previous day.
"We're going to get her home, Becker. Either way, we're getting her home and getting her the attention she needs."
"We have to," Becker nodded. "She hasn't woken up once since yesterday and we both that doesn't mean anything good."
Stephen could only nod and look at Abby; if she didn't wake up soon, the odds were against her. Even more than they already were.
"If she's slipped into a coma, Stephen, she's in trouble."
"I know," Stephen said quietly. "I know."
Becker ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "I won't lose her. Not after all of this. I'm not going to let this damn place take her."
"We're not going to let it," Stephen corrected... but without any of the heat of the past couple days.
Becker was too worried about Abby to even think about trying to start an argument with Stephen. "We won't," he amended. "Somehow, we'll get her the hell out of here and home no matter what the weather does."
"Because there's no damn way we're going to let this damn place win," Stephen said. "Abby deserves better than that."
"She does. We won't let her lose her life in a place like this with us standing here bloody helpless to save her."
"And if, God forbid, the worst happens... it's going to be back home, with her friends and loved ones around her." Because while Stephen didn't know if that was what she'd want, he was pretty damn sure she wouldn't want to die alone.
Becker agreed with him. "But it won't be here."
"No, it won't."
They needed to say this, and they needed to say it to each other. Because it was something hard to say and to hear, but there was the very real danger that Abby might die. It was something they needed to face, because if they didn't, they couldn't focus on getting her to safety and help.
Becker was trying not to let himself shake as he paced back and forth at the front of the cave. Abby had already been too long without medical treatment and the longer they stayed her, the worse her chances at recovery were getting.
Stephen had been sitting with Abby; now he stood and made his way to the front of the cave to look out at the rain. "It looks like it's letting up a little," he said.
Unfortunately, "a little" wasn't nearly enough.
"Hopefully it will let up more or stop completely."
"Hopefully." He fell silent, yet again not sure what to say. It was a familiar feeling, the past few days.
Becker understood that all too well. He didn't know what to say to Stephen and being trapped in a cave with him and his girlfriend who was slipping away from him more and more each moment wasn't helping matters.
"I'm sorry," Stephen said quietly. This wasn't the time to talk about themselves, no, but what else was there to talk about? It was actually a better alternative than talking about what Abby might be facing.
"Don't say that," Becker's voice was quiet. "There's nothing to be sorry for because we are not losing her to this place. I'm not letting some insane past history era of creatures take her away from me like this."
"Not for that. For us. For what I did to you."
"Stephen," Becker shook his head. "I can't do this right now."
"Neither can I, but it's a more appealing alternative than being terrified that Abby's going to die."
"I'm not taking the chance that she comes out of it temporarily only to hear us fighting. She won't be able to see us and that will scare her."
"Not fighting with you," Stephen said with a sigh. "Just saying I'm sorry."
"I would like it very much if I could believe that." His voice was tired. "But right now, I just don't have the energy."
"Then we'll talk about something else." This was something he'd done myriad times during their relationship, distracted Becker from the events of his day just by talking to him.
"Your job," Becker suggested quietly. "What do you do, how long have you done it?"
"Well, like I said, I work for a wildlife conservation group. I'm the resident tracker; the animals we're trying to help are often wounded or skittish. That's where I come in."
"Because you have a better chance of getting them to come closer to you so they can be sedated and examined." Becker nodded. "You'd be good at that. Abby --" His voice broke. "Abby's been training to do some of that." He sighed. "I track people. She tracks the creatures."
"She'll be good at it," Stephen said reassuringly.
"She wasn't to be as good of as you," There was no bite in Becker's words. "She thought about calling you to ask for training in it, but thought that would just be a reminder of a world you were trying to escape and that she should only call you if she was in trouble." He sighed. "I encouraged her to do this, but I don't know if I would have if I knew that you were the one she was wanting to emulate so strongly."
"I wish she'd called me," Stephen said quietly. "When we get home and things are back to normal, I'll see if she still wants to train with me."
"She probably will and..." Becker sighed. "You are the best at that."
Stephen acknowledged the statement with a slight nod. "She'll be damn good, too, if I have anything to say about it."
"You'll make her the best and it's what she's been working towards for the last two years."
"I will," Stephen said with a nod. "And... two years? That's about how long I've been at my job. I pretty much went right from the ARC to my current employment."
"Sounds like what happened with me. I was hired on as soon as you were gone to protect the team and keep them safe."
"I'm glad they had you," Stephen said. "They needed someone like you."
"Not everyone thought so at first. Abby was the last hold out, although she was nice enough about it."
"That's Abby for you, not a mean bone in her body."
"She was trying to stay loyal to you and saw me as trying to replace you."
"You weren't, though."
"No, I wasn't even going to try. I just wanted to do the job I was hired to do, maybe make friends with the team." He shook his head. "I certainly hadn't planned on falling in love again."
"I'm... I'm glad you did," Stephen said quietly. "I never wanted you to be alone."
Becker sighed quietly. "I was trying really hard to be. I didn't want to go through getting hurt again." He looked back at Abby. "Then this tiny pixie turned everything upside down for me."
"She's got a way of doing that," he agreed.
"Yeah, she does," he said quietly. "For the first time in awhile, I talked about you."
"I did. I think it was because she was so gentle and loving, and she had been hurt, too. Only, unlike me, she was pretty sure that the guy who hurt her was never even aware that he was breaking her heart."
Stephen tilted his head, looking at Becker thoughtfully. "Me, right?"
Becker nodded. "I didn't know that my Stephen and her Stephen were the same one until you showed up here after Cutter's call."
"I didn't know I'd broken her heart," Stephen said. "She never gave me any indication. If I'd known, I... I don't know what I would've done, but I would've tried to stop hurting her."
"You asked her out and to stay the night with you... but you were poisoned and thought you were dying. You forgot about it when you were healed," He said softly. "Not your fault, but it hurt her that she was that forgettable. There were times after that that she said sometimes she thought you fancied her like she did you... and then you'd put up this distance between the two of you for some reason." He shrugged and looked out into the rain. "She said that she knew she was probably being an idiot to love you when you were so clearly not interested, but she couldn't help it. And then you were gone."
"I put up that distance because I was with you. I wasn't supposed to be interested in her when I already had someone. But I was, and I didn't know how to deal with it. I didn't think I could tell her, because what girl would want to know the guy she loves has a boyfriend but still wants her?"
"It's Abby," Becker pointed out. "She's more understanding than most. You should have been honest with her that you already had someone instead of making her feel that there was something wrong with her when it came to you. It would have been easier for her to be close friends with you and not be tearing her heart out at the same time." Becker's voice was gentle. "She thought that she had done something or wasn't girl enough or tough enough." He let out a breath. "Because she thought she couldn't ever compete with Helen."
"Oh, God." Stephen let out a heavy sigh. "I never wanted Abby to be anyone other than herself. Her beautiful, fierce self."
"She is beautiful and fierce, but sometimes her confidence in herself falters and she does..." He shook his head. "But yes, she thought you were still holding a torch for Helen and that she was the reason you kept letting her get close to you, and then putting up a distance."
"I'm going to make sure she knows that wasn't why. Really knows it, I mean."
Becker shrugged. "I told her about us, too. Talking to her was just... it was easy when we were together."
"What did you tell her about us?" Stephen asked curiously.
"That I had loved with a wonderful, but complicated man and that I thought everything was good between us until the night I realized it wasn't."
"I'm sorry," Stephen said quietly. "I'm sorry. I have reasons for it, and someday maybe you'll listen to them. And no, that's not me starting a fight, I promise."
"Yeah, this is not the time for doing that. Not here and not now. I'm sorry, I'm sure you have reasons, but "right now all I can think about is Abby."
"I'm sorry," Stephen said again. "No, not for that this time. For my apparent knack at ruining an otherwise peaceful moment between us the past couple days."
"I'm not sure anything in the last few days could be thought of as peaceful, Stephen," Becker said, shaking his head. At least he was using his first name now?
"In terms of us and fighting, not the situation as a whole."
Becker sighed. "I don't think I know how not to fight with you right now. I know that you have your reasons for what you did, but I was the one that was hurt by it. Then, you storm in here intending to take my world away from me. How do you expect me to react?"
"Exactly like this," Stephen said, surprising himself. "Because you wouldn't be you if you didn't."
"You don't know me as well as you think," Becker said quietly, looking back out into the rain. "A lot of things have changed. In fact, best civilian tracker or not, if it hadn't been Abby we needed to find I would have sent you packing when you arrived at the ARC."
"If I didn't want Abby, I'd offer to leave as soon as we get her home." He was trying to apologize, in a twisted sort of way. Because he hadn't stopped to think that trying to take Abby would hurt anybody else.
Becker's laugh was humorless. "But you're not going to do that."
"No. I'm not. The only way I leave is if she tells me to."
Becker sighed. "I can't let you take her, Stephen. She's my entire world."
"And I can't not try."
"So this leaves us at an impasse because I will fight you with everything I am."
"And I'll do my damnedest to win."
"You sound like you're determined to declare a war when we get back."
"That's one way of putting it."
Becker shrugged. "Military."
"It's also an appropriate one. You may be the military man, but I've got my own strengths here."
"Which is why I said you were declaring war," he said quietly. "Because I'll fight you with my last breath to keep you from stealing her from me."
"I'll fight similarly to get her," Stephen said. "I'm not doing this on a lark, Becker."
He turned to look at him. "Why now? The least you can do is tell me why you decided to come for her now?"
"Knowing she's missing was what made me realize I couldn't wait any longer to tell her. It's what made me realize that I had to do something about it."
"And you didn't take the time to think that maybe telling her after you had been gone for two years might be a little cruel... or that she wouldn't have a life?"
"No, I didn't," Stephen said quietly, looking down.
"And yet, you're still going to tell her."
"I'm going to find a gentle way to tell her. A way that won't hurt so badly."
"Why? Just give me a good reason why you would do that to her? She's happy, Stephen. She's really happy."
"Because I want to be happy, too. I haven't been happy since before I left you."
"So your way of doing this is trying to ruin my life?"
"I hadn't thought that far, okay?"
"I don't want to hurt you, Becker. I really don't. I just can't figure out how to get what I want without hurting you."
"So there's a simple solution. Don't do it."
"Then you're happy and Abby's happy but I'm left out in the cold entirely." This was not an appealing idea.
"Then how about going and finding yourself someone who isn't already in love with someone else," Becker muttered. "Keep an eye on Abby, I need some air." He swept a slicker over him and went out into the rain.
Stephen looked at Abby, watching her for a moment. Still completely out of it. He hated that, hated how helpless he felt to do anything.
And he hated the way he'd just hurt Becker again.
He hadn't meant to, he really hadn't. He was just being honest with the man, figuring he at least owed Becker that much. But he'd said too much, said it in the wrong way, and now Becker was out there in the rain and the danger. Out there to potentially get hurt by something.
It was scary how much the idea of Becker getting hurt scared him. Now he understood why ARC personnel couldn't tell their significant others what they really did. The worrying would be too much for some.
Except Becker wasn't Stephen's significant other, not anymore. He didn't have the right to worry about him anymore, much less feel a sudden bolt of fear over potential danger to the man.
He shook his head and looked back at Abby, carefully stroking a finger down her cheek. "Come on, Abby, stay with us," he whispered. "I have to get the chance to tell you I love you."
And that was the biggest fear of all, that he would never get the chance to admit his feelings.
It was day four and Becker shook his head. "She's burning up and hasn't responded to anything for the last two days. We are bundling her up as best as we can and getting her the hell out of here."
Stephen nodded. "Let's get this done," he said, looking around for anything and everything they could bundle her up in.
They had three blankets plus the one Abby had been wrapped in. Becker had an extra rain slicker that he wrapped around her head and upper arms. "She may get an infection but we have no other choice. She's dying on us."
"Infection is preferable to staying here and doing nothing," Stephen agreed as he gathered the rest of the blankets. "Because an infection we can get rid of."
Becker radioed to the team by the anomaly. "Let Cutter know. We're bring Abby in, she won't last much longer in these conditions no matter what we do, so we're risking the rain. ETA is about two hours."
"Hang in there, Abby," Stephen whispered. "We're getting you out of here now."
After she was securely wrapped up as much as they could, Becker lifted her up into his arms and held her firmly against his chest. "You have point, Stephen. I'll follow you."
Stephen just nodded and moved out of the cave, looking around for a second to get his bearings before starting to walk.
Becker was more relieved than he let on that Stephen hadn't tried to argue with him about who was carrying Abby. "You hold on, you hear me, Abby my girl. We're almost out of here and you just have to hold on for a little bit longer until our doctors can fix you up."
Stephen hadn't argued, but that didn't mean he hadn't wanted to. But he knew it was more important for them to get going and get Abby to safety.
Becker was getting soaked to the skin because he had wrapped his own jacket around Abby at the last minute. He could afford to catch a cold, she couldn't. After awhile of traveling he yelled at to Stephen.
"The site should be over the next hill."
Stephen didn't say anything, just climbed up the hill.
Thankfully, Becker had been right and their timing was such that they only had to wait five minutes before the anomaly sprang to life and opened. He didn't waste anytime running through the anomaly and barking orders at the men who had been waiting on the other side.
"Head trauma, gored in the shoulder and along her ribs. Broken wrist, broken leg, Hart had to push her knee back into place. She's been unconscious two days. We found her in an underground cave that she was probably in for a week with no food or water, and then we were trapped with the rain for the last three."
The men were quick as the peeled the wet blankets away from their patient and set her down on the gurney that had been waiting for her. They started hooking up IVs to her and putting an oxygen mask over her face as they hustled her back through the anomaly that would take them out of the Junction and back to their world.
Becker ran with his men answering questions and issuing orders.
Cutter walked over to Stephen and wrapped a dry blanket around the other man's shoulders. "You found her."
"I did," Stephen said with a nod. "We did."
"I didn't hear all of it, but it sounds like she's in pretty bad shape."
"She is, Nick." Stephen was solemn. "She's so badly injured... and she can't see. Or she couldn't the last time she was awake."
"Oh hell." He squeezed Stephen's shoulder, hearing the pain and worry in his old friend's voice. "Hopefully it's just a temporary thing. The doctors will take care of her, Stephen."
"I can't stand it," Stephen said, finally allowing his voice to crack. "I can't stand the fear that I might lose her."
"She's going to pull through this, Stephen," Cutter said with as much confidence as he could muster. It had been a long two weeks. "You're not going to lose her, not like this. Abby is a fighter and always has been."
"I know," Stephen said quietly. "I know."
Cutter tugged at his shoulder. "Come on. I'll get you to the hospital. We'll follow the ambulance."
Both men had lost track of how long they'd been sitting by Abby's bedside; all they knew was that it'd been a while. Longer than a while, really. The others had tried getting them to leave, but neither man would budge.
Stephen wasn't leaving because he had something to say to Abby once she woke up, but Becker wasn't leaving for the simple reason that he just hoped to be able to keep Stephen from making his admission.
Because if Stephen said it, Becker knew his life with Abby was pretty much over and he didn't know if he could take that.
Cutter and the rest of the team stopped by often to check on Abby and the two men. It had been three days since they finally returned from the Pleistocene and Cutter was trying his best to get the two men to take a break.
"One of us will sit with her while you two go get cleaned up and get something to eat."
"No," Becker said simply. "Thank you, but no." He wasn't giving Stephen a chance to end up alone with Abby and say anything to her.
"I want to stick around and see her wake up," was Stephen's answer.
Becker just glared at Stephen. Or tried to; there was too much uncertainty and fear in the expression for it to be a real glare.
"Is there going to be a problem between you?" Jenny demanded crisply. "Because if there is, I will get the doctors to ban you from her room and security to keep you out."
"No problem," Becker said, looking back at Abby. "As long as he keeps his mouth shut when she wakes up."
Jenny looked at Cutter and looked back at the two men. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"I have something to tell her and he's convinced it's going to take her away from him." Which, if it went the way he wanted, it would. But if it didn't, Becker was safe.
"Oh for pity's sake, you two! Abby has just gone through hell and she's so hurt that she's been unconscious ever since you brought her back. Trying to have a neanderthal showdown at her bedside is in remarkably poor taste."
"Why do you think we're both staying?" Stephen said. "It's the only way we have to make sure this stays fair."
Becker was too busy looking mildly afraid to say anything; he just nodded.
"Because doing something like this right when she wakes up after what she has just been through is self-centered and cruel." She looked at Becker. "I thought better of you, Captain."
"I don't have much of a choice," Becker said quietly. "I don't trust him to not say something if I leave. I don't trust him not to hurt her. I don't trust him not to hurt me. Again."
Jenny's jaw clenched. "The main concern should be Abby's well-being," she said tightly. "Both of you get out. You can wait in the hall." She looked at Becker and then at Stephen. "Do it on your own power and don't make me call security in here to eject you."
"Jenny," Cutter started.
"No. In fact, you can stay outside to make sure they behave themselves. Sarah and I will take turns watching over her until she wakes up."
Becker just touched Abby's arm one last time before quietly slinking out of the room.
"You, too," Jenny snapped at Stephen. "Now."
Stephen just looked at her a moment before leaving.
Jenny collapsed in one of the vacant chairs and reached for Abby's hand. "Your men are dumber than a box of rocks, Abby."
Becker wasn't aware of either Stephen or Cutter joining him in the hall. All he was aware of was that he'd been forced out.
"Jenny really is angry at the both of you." Cutter finally said quietly.
"I figured as much," Becker said. "She's usually much less... overtly fierce."
"Yeah, well, her friend has been missing for over a week and she finds you two at her hospital bed acting like cavemen."
"This arse pretty much said he was going to take her away from me," Becker said. "I'm pretty sure that means I'm allowed to react."
Cutter gave Becker a startled look and then looked at Stephen. "Stephen?"
Stephen just shrugged. "I loved her first."
Cutter was sorely tempted to grab both men and knock their heads together. "And you think that telling her something like that as soon as she is waking up after surgery is the right time?"
"I should wait a few hours and let her reunite with him first?" Stephen snorted. "He's part of the reason she's hurt so badly."
Cutter looked confused at that statement. "Becker wasn't even a part of that team. How can you hold him responsible for what happened to Abby?"
"She stays with the ARC because of him."
"She stayed with the ARC after you left and before she even met Becker." Cutter shook his head. "She loves the work she does here. Hell, if you're going to blame him, you might as well blame the rest of her family here, too. That makes about as much sense as blaming Becker for her getting hurt."
"If I don't say something, she'll stay with the ARC and with him because she's too afraid to admit she wants to leave." Because he didn't see how she could want to stay after this.
"You bastard. Abby knows that she can tell me anything and I'll always support her." It was only because they were in a hospital that Becker didn't hit him.
"Oh, really?" Stephen arched an eyebrow. "Even if she tells you she wants to be with me? Will you really support her in that, too?"
Becker took a deep breath and another. Could he just stand quietly by and let Abby walk out of his life with the person who had hurt them both? Could he just let her go, no matter who it was.
"I'll always do what's best for Abby and what makes Abby happy." His voice was surprisingly even for all that his chest hurt when he said the words.
That made Stephen look at Becker in surprise.
"Some of us care about other people," he snapped in annoyance.
"You've been fighting me for her and now you say you're willing to give her up." Stephen shook his head. "I don't get you, Becker."
"I want Abby to be happy. She's the most important thing in my life."
"Good." Stephen was quiet a moment. "I don't want to hurt you," he said suddenly.
"Yet you're so damn good at it."
"I'm sorry, you know. For when I left. I meant it when I said I had a reason. But I'm not sorry for now. Because this is a second chance for me that I'm damn determined to take."
"I don't want to hear your apologies, Stephen," Becker said tiredly, his eyes fixed on Abby's door. "I'm glad you were around to help me find her, but now I wish you'd just leave again."
Stephen looked down for a second before looking at Cutter, who'd been standing there and just listening to the two of them.
Cutter shook his head. "Jenny told me to keep an eye on the two of you and I'm not about to risk her wrath. I'd like to not sleep alone the next time I go home."
Stephen laughed softly, because it was either laugh or cry. "At least one of us has company at night."
"And whose fault is that," Becker muttered, looking back towards the door and trying to figure out just how serious Jenny was about calling security to keep them out of the room.
"I know it's mine," Stephen said quietly. "I keep trying to tell him that there's a reason I left him. I'd tell him what the reason was, but he won't give me a chance to."
"Don't get me in the middle of this," Cutter said firmly.
"I'm not trying to."
"Might I suggest that you guys work things out between you some place other than outside Abby's room? Because if she wakes up and you're still arguing, there is no telling what kind of damage my occur from her or Jenny throwing something at your heads."
"We're not going to be able to work things out," Stephen said quietly. "Not in a short amount of time. And since he won't listen to me... there's really not much point in trying."
"I was wondering when you were going to get tired of hearing yourself talk." Becker's voice was cold as he kept his eyes on the door.
"Shut up and keep waiting." Stephen sighed and looked at Nick. "To think I used to love that man once."
Becker got up from his chair and started pacing. If he sat any longer he was going to be too tempted to hit Stephen, and that would guarantee he got to talk to Abby alone.
Stephen watched Becker pace. If the other man thought he was going to get to talk to Abby alone, he had another thing coming.
Realistically, Becker just wanted Abby to wake up and be all right. Wishfully, he wanted Stephen to either disappear before then or have Abby tell him to leave. He'd take either one.
Stephen wasn't going anywhere, though. At the very least, he was staying until Abby was awake. Ideally, he'd get to tell her how he felt and they'd be starting something together. Realistically, he knew it'd be a little more complicated than that. Because he knew Abby would want to let Becker down easily.
Two of the doctors that had worked on Abby when she was brought in came down the hall and then went into Abby's room. Twenty minutes passed and they still hadn't left the room.
Becker was starting to get worried and he paused in his pacing to stare at the door with concern written all over his face.
"Will you see what's going on?" Stephen asked Cutter. "I think they'd rather you poke your head in and look than one of us. We do it, Jenny's going to hurt us and get us banned from hospital grounds."
That was when Jenny and the two doctors came out.
"Miss Maitland is awake," one of the doctors said, looking at the three men.
"Thank God," Becker said, slumping against the wall in relief.
"She is still very weak and tires easily, but you can see her for a few minutes. Her head injury doesn't seem to have caused any lasting damage."
"Do we have to see her separately or can we see her at the same time?" Stephen asked. "As long as we keep it quick, I mean."
Jenny's eyes were hard, but the doctor nodded. "You can see her at the same time, but just keep it short. She's still a little incoherent, but with the seriousness of her injuries and the medications she's on, that is to be expected."
Becker nodded and headed into the room, followed by Stephen. He went right to Abby's side. "Hey, Abby my girl," he said, sitting in the chair he'd vacated and taking her hand in his.
Her eyes lit up. "Becker!" Her voice was hoarse, but that was normal for what she had been through. When she saw Stephen, her eyes widened. "Stephen?"
"Hello, love," Stephen said, a small smile playing across his lips.
She looked from him to Becker and back again. Then she smiled slightly "You came to help Becker find me."
"I did," he said with a nod.
She reached to hold Becker's hand. "Thank you. I guess I owe you both my life."
Stephen flinched inwardly when she reached for Becker. She should be reaching for him. "You're welcome. I wouldn't have wanted them to call in anybody else."
"You came for me and that's important. I know you said you would never come back here."
"For you, I'd do anything."
She blinked at that. "You would?"
"Of course I would. I -- "
"Damn it, Stephen, don't you dare," Becker hissed.
"Back off, Hilary. I need to say this and you know it."
"What's going on? Hilary? Stephen?"
Becker just went blank-faced, even as he kept holding her hand. He wasn't going to make this easy for Stephen.
"I love you, Abby. I've been in love with you since well before I left," Stephen said simply.
Abby blinked and then stared. "You what?"
"I love you, Abby. And I want to take you away from all this. I want to give you a safe life. A life where you don't run the risk of being killed."
Becker closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the look on Abby's face -- and so she wouldn't see the tears threatening to well.
"But I love life here, Stephen. I have a family and a man I love who loves me." She gave Becker a worried look. "Don't you?"
"Of course I do!" he said, his eyes snapping open.
"And what happened to me could have happened to anyone. I was just the unfortunate one who met the woolly rhino."
"You shouldn't have had to be in that situation," Stephen said. "You deserve to be safe. You deserve someone who can keep you safe."
"Becker keeps me plenty safe when I'm on site with him, Stephen," Abby was confused by all of this, but she wasn't confused about her safety where Becker was concerned. "I love working for the ARC. Where else would I get the chance to deal with so many creatures?"
This wasn't going at all the way Stephen had expected it to. "So you'd rather run the risk of getting hurt? Of nearly dying?"
"Every site visit isn't the same," she said quietly. "This was something that was a rare occurrence. And I'm glad Becker wasn't with me because it would have killed me to lose him like I lost the rest of my men."
And that was when he stopped to look at them, truly look at them. Saw the fear still in Becker's eyes. The relief in Abby's. And the adoration in both.
"So you don't want someone to take you away from all of this."
God, he'd been such an idiot.
She shook her head. "I love my life, Stephen. I am glad you came to help find me, and I do love you, still. But I love Becker, too, and I'm not going anywhere without him."
Becker looked hopeful; Stephen just looked numb. "I... Well, then."
Abby looked at him for a long moment. "What did you expect, Stephen? Did you really think so little of me that because you finally tell me the words I had wanted to hear for so long that I would drop everything and follow you? I have a life, just like you do."
"No, of course not. I'd... hoped, is all." For two years.
"Stephen... I love you and I've never stopped loving you. But I also love Becker now and I want to be wherever he is."
"So... you're saying there's no place for me, then." He needed to hear it, as much as it'd hurt.
Becker just gave him a look. But he couldn't find it in himself to be smug just then, not with that look on Stephen's face. Maybe later.
Abby took a breath. "You could stay with us."
Stephen just looked at her quizzically.
She looked from him to Becker and then back at him. "I've missed you and I don't want you to leave again."
"I've missed you, too." He smiled faintly. "Thought about you a lot."
Becker winced slightly at that, pulling away from Abby and already withdrawing into himself. He didn't like where this conversation was going.
Too bad she wasn't letting go of his hand.
"There's something going on between the two of you, too," Abby said. "I heard you when we were in that cave. I only heard a few parts, but enough to know that you guys know each other from before me."
"He... you know how I told you I was with someone before you?" Becker said quietly. "Well, it was him."
"Oh." Abby was quiet for a moment. "I... when I told you that I hated the person who hurt you so much, I didn't expect it to be the guy I had been in love with before."
Stephen couldn't help laughing a little. "You're allowed to hate me, Abby. Really. It hurts, but I get it."
"I could never hate you, Stephen ."
"If you hate the person who hurt him, then yeah. You do hate me. A little, at least."
"She can hate you for what you did to me but still love you," Becker said quietly.
Abby nodded in agreement.
"But I don't want her to hate me." He also didn't want her to be making her invitation, whatever it meant, out of pity.
"I hate the hurt that was caused, but I don't hate you, Stephen. I could never hate you when I love you."
"So... what, then? What exactly did you mean when you said I could stay with you?"
She looked at Becker for a long moment, doing her best to convey how much she loved him before looking back at Stephen. "You both love me, and I love both of you. You also love each other. Why should you leave?"
"Because this isn't the three of us, it's the two of you with me intruding," Stephen said. But he saw what Abby was getting at, and if it was what it took to have her in his life... then he'd do it.
"If you're being asked to stay, you're not intruding," she said carefully as she looked at him for a long moment. Then she looked at Becker. "It would also give you a chance to work out the pain that is still lingering between the two of you."
"I don't want to hate you," Becker said, looking at Stephen. "I want to be able to think about you and feel the way I used to feel."
"And if you stay with us, that would be able to gradually happen," Abby said. "I won't lose Becker, but I'd be able to love you, too."
"So I'd be involved with you both, sort of," Stephen said, trying to make sure he had this right.
Abby looked at Becker, waiting for him to say anything before she said yes.
"No sort of," Becker said, swallowing. "There wouldn't have to be as much involvement between us as between you and Abby, though. But yes."
Abby squeezed his hand, and if she could have, she would have leaned over to kiss him.
Stephen looked at them uncertainly. "What if I want an involvement with you? Or what if I don't want any?" He just wanted everything out on the table before they all committed.
Becker tensed, misunderstanding where Stephen had been going with the questions. "That's up to Abby."
"I'm not leaving," Abby said softly. "Whatever involvement the two of you decide to have is up to you. But I made a promise that only death was going to take me away from Becker." She looked up at Stephen. "But I can't lie and say that I don't love you, too."
"I don't want you to lie," Stephen said. "I want you to have whatever feelings you have for me. Just like I don't want you to pretend you don't love him."
Becker started in surprise at that, because he'd been thinking that was exactly what Stephen wanted.
"That's good to know," she murmured. "It makes me feel better."
"Despite what I've said, I don't want her to stop loving you," Stephen told Becker. "If she loves you, then she loves you. She just happens to love me, too."
That was probably the smartest thing he had said recently. Abby looked between them. "What did you say?"
"I told him I was going to take you away from him. That maybe it'd be easier than he thought it'd be for me to do so. And I may have said some disparaging things about his sister while I was at it." Because if he was going to admit to being a jackass, he might as well get it all out there.
"You told him that you were going to take me away from him," Abby said with shock icing her words. "You told my Becker that you were just going to take me?" She looked at Becker. "And what did you say?"
"Pretty much told him no way in hell was that going to happen," Becker said, looking back at her.
"Because you know that the only way I'd leave is by death or you telling me you didn't love me." She smiled. "It makes our fight seem silly, now."
"And he'd never tell you he doesn't love you," Stephen said. He hesitated. "What was your fight about, anyway?"
Abby looked embarrassed. "I thought he was telling me that he needed some space and that I was too..."
"Too attached," she mumbled, looking down.
"That's ridiculous," Stephen and Becker said at the same time; it broke the tension a little, and both men laughed slightly.
She shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I said it was silly."
"Don't worry," Becker assured her. "He and I had our share of fights that seemed silly, too. We'll tell you all about some of them one of these days."
"So, does that mean he's not leaving?" She asked the question of both men.
"I can't say I'm happy about any of this, really," Becker said honestly. "But a lot of that is being afraid of a whole lot of things about this. So I'm not going to want him to leave until or unless we figure out that this isn't working. And I know I'm never leaving."
Abby nodded at Becker. She squeezed his hand. "I love you, you know." She then turned to look at Stephen. "What do you say?"
"I say that I was wrong to think I could take you away and even more wrong to act like I did to him, and that I'd understand if you did want me to leave. Either of you."
"But we don't want you to leave," she pointed out quietly. "Didn't you hear Becker? He doesn't want you to leave at all."
"I know," Stephen said, smiling cautiously. "I'm just saying that if he's only saying that to make you happy... he doesn't have to."
Abby looked at Becker, her eyes full of worries and questions.
"I'm saying it because I want her to be happy, yes," Becker said. "But also because I still feel something for you and I can't find out what that is if I make you leave just because I'm not entirely thrilled right now."
Abby turned back to Stephen. "He has a point. The two of you will never know what may or may not be there if you just disappear on us again."
"I've hurt him, though. I never wanted to do that again. But I did it. I wasn't meaning to, but... it happened." Stephen was starting to realize exactly how much of an ass he'd been.
"He's giving you a chance to make explanations and make amends," Abby said softly.
"I never thought I'd get that."
"So what are you going to do about it? If the two people who loved you and were hurt by you -- me nowhere nearly as badly as Becker was -- are asking you to stay..."
"Then I'm going to stay," Stephen said, barely even having to think about it. "It might not always be easy, though. Hilary can tell you I'm difficult at the best of times."
"I think we can agree I've seen you be difficult," Abby said warmly.
"I just want to be sure you both know what you're getting into." Why was he doing this? Why was he pulling away when they wanted him? When he was getting what he'd wanted?
"I think that we're very much aware of that, Stephen, or we wouldn't be asking."
"Then... I'm staying."
Abby gave him a soft smile and then squeezed Becker's hand again. "It will take time, but everything will work out and we'll be all right."
Becker took a shaky breath before holding his free hand out to Stephen. "Come here."
Stephen looked at that hand for a long moment before he stepped forward and took it.
Becker smiled cautiously. "I've never forgotten your touch," he admitted quietly.
Abby relaxed a bit on her bed now that she knew that they weren't going to come to blows.
Stephen relaxed, too, lacing his fingers with Becker's. "I haven't forgotten yours, either."
Abby was content, for right now, any way, to just watch them.
Becker was the only one who wasn't relaxing, but he was at least a little less scared. He'd take it for now. And he had to admit that it just felt right having Stephen there, to be touching Stephen again. He'd missed that.
Abby had never had the chance to do anything with Stephen, but she wasn't in a hurry to bother either of the boys. As long as they understood that there was no way in hell she was leaving Becker, she figured that they could work things out into something wonderful between the three of them.
Becker was still scared that she would leave him, even if he didn't actually believe she would. But he figured he'd get over that, with the two of them there to help him.
Abby was still holding onto his hand. She was fighting off the grogginess from when she first woke up, so they could all talk and went so far as to glare at the nurse that came in to put something in her IV tube.
"Be nice," Stephen chided. "Stop trying to scare the medical professionals."
"I don't want to back to sleep," she argued.
"You need a great deal of rest, Miss Maitland," the nurse said firmly. "You're dehydrated, malnourished. You have two broken ribs, a broken leg, a swollen knee and a broken wrist. You have two serious head wounds. Your shoulder was dislocated with a deep gouge wound, not to mention the numerous lacerations and bruises. What on earth hit you?"
Damn it, she hadn't wanted to answer this around the boys. "A woolly rhino attacked me," she said quietly. "His horn went through my shoulder and he tossed me into the air over the cliff. I hit an arrangement of stones before bouncing off of them and landing in a hole that I think was an underground cave."
And that? Would be Stephen and Becker simultaneously going pale because yes, they'd figured as much, but hearing her actually say it was something entirely different.
"What do you remember after that?"
Abby made a growling noise at the nurse. "The first time I regained consciousness, the pain was so bad that I couldn't move with throwing up. I tried to get to my feet, but my legs wouldn't support me. Only one arm would bear any weight, so I used that arm to pull me forward so I could try to find where I was and how to get out. Unfortunately, it was too dark in there and I couldn't see the way out. I passed out again after that."
Becker was even more pale at that; Stephen pulled his hand away but only to wrap an arm around the younger man and hug him against his side. "She's okay now, love," he said softly. "She's safe now."
"You were blind, Miss Maitland. It says so in the charts that the medic on the scene filled in. That was caused by a head injury." The nurse shook her head. "Now while you seem to have your vision back for now, there is no guarantee that it won't fade out on you again. Until your head injuries heal, that it a genuine worry."
Becker made a scared little whimper that he didn't realize anybody had actually heard.
Stephen, however, had heard it and was busy joining Abby in glaring at the nurse. Bedside manner much?
"Don't give me that look, either of you. She's liable to have issues with her head pain and vision for months while she heals."
"We were there," Stephen said lowly. "We know what issues she might have because we saw firsthand what the injuries looked like when they were still relatively fresh. And this right here? Is Miss Maitland's boyfriend. Who spent three days utterly terrified that she was going to die in his arms because we couldn't get out of that fucking cave until it stopped raining. So kindly think before you open your mouth for your next words or I promise you, you will regret it."
Someone had apparently been channeling Lester's imperiousness.
That was just fine with Abby, who had gone pale herself and fear had washed through her at the thought that she could lose her vision again because the head injuries. She blinked back tears as best as she could, hoping the guys didn't see them. She was thrilled that Stephen had stepped up to speak for Becker because Abby was having a hard time keeping herself firmly under control and not giving in to the fear she had felt while she was trapped.
Stephen hadn't seen the tears, but he had seen Abby go pale. "And now you've scared your patient," he said to the nurse. "So you know what? Unless you have something important to tell us, just get out of here. Now."
"I only told her what she needed to know," the nurse said firmly. "If she doesn't rest and allow her body to heal and she fights us on giving her the medications she needs for that, anything could go wrong. Another hit to her head at the wrong time and she could lose her sight permanently."
Abby whimpered faintly, her hands fisting in the blanket that was over her while a few tears managed to escape before she could stop them.
"There is telling the patient what she needs to know and there is telling the patient what she needs to know in a way that makes you come off as a heartless bitch." Stephen smiled slowly, almost dangerously. "Now, am I going to have to speak with James Lester on this or are you going to find a bit more gentle way to tell her these things?"
He already had every intention of getting this woman taken off Abby's case.
The nurse glared at Stephen for a long moment before she sniffed. "I wasn't trying to be heartless or scare her."
"Well, you were and you did." Stephen's voice had gone calm and ice-cold. When you made him that mad, there was no bailing yourself out.
"Go," Abby whispered, tears sliding down her face. "Just go."
"I'm not finished taking care of your vital signs."
"Get out," Stephen snarled, putting himself quite neatly between Abby and the nurse. "Now."
Faced with having to go through an angry man to get to her patient, the nurse took the path of least resistance and left the room.
Stephen was shaking slightly as she left.
Abby dropped her head back against her pillows and closed her eyes. She hadn't been scared or worried before, because Becker -- and Stephen -- had brought her home. However, right now she couldn't stop the fear sweeping through her.
"How dare she," Stephen said, still in full on protective mode. "How dare she scare you. Both of you."
"Stephen." Becker's voice was quiet. While he enjoyed seeing Stephen get protective, there was now the problem of the frightened girlfriend in the hospital bed.
"How dare she?" he repeated, but the anger had gone out of his voice, which was now quiet. "She scared Abby."
"Who needs us right now."
It took a moment before Stephen had pulled himself together enough to be any use to Abby. He moved to her side, taking one hand gently in his. "It's all right, love," he soothed. "It's all right."
Becker was still holding onto her other hand. "That's not going to happen to you, Abby my girl, I promise. You're going to be fine."
"You're going to do what you have to do and you'll heal and everything will be just fine," Stephen said, using his free hand to reach out and touch Abby's cheek lightly.
"She said I could lose my sight permanently," she whispered.
"If you take another blow to the head while you're healing," Becker corrected. "Which will not happen."
"We're going to do everything we can to make sure you have a restful healing period," Stephen said, fighting back the awkward feeling. He could be awkward later.
"You will rest and let your body heal, Abby my girl," Becker said firmly. "We're not letting you do anything else."
Stephen just nodded agreement.
"I don't like her," she murmured, tears still on her cheeks. "I don't want her to come back into my room."
"She's not going to," Stephen promised. "I'll make sure she doesn't."
"She had no right," Abby insisted. "No right upsetting the two of you."
"She had no right to upset you," Stephen countered. "That alone is why I'm getting her banned from your room."
Well, all right, he'd get Lester to do it. Close enough.
She could tell that Stephen was not in the mood to argue over who shouldn't have been upset. "I will hit her if she comes near me or you guys again."
Yeah, in that state you're in?
"She's not coming near any of us," Stephen promised. "You two are mine and I take care of what's mine."
The sudden territorial behavior that Stephen was exhibiting surprised Abby, but she kind of liked it. She turned her head slight to see what Becker's reaction was.
Becker was just smiling at it. Knowing that Stephen was as worried about him as he was about Abby was going a long way towards making Becker feel better about this situation. He still wasn't happy, exactly, but knowing that Stephen considered them both his made things a little easier.
It did make things easier and she squeezed both of their hands. She was feeling weak, so she was glad that they were there with her.
"Love you," Becker said softly, looking at Abby and smiling gently. "I love you so much, Abby my girl."
"Love you, too," she whispered. "Very much."
Stephen was surprised by just how little he wanted to come between the two of them at the moment. And it wasn't just knowing they needed to say the words, though that was a part of it.
Abby had been terrified when she was at the bottom of that cave and her body was breaking down on her. However, one of the things that had given her a little strength to hang on was the belief in Becker. The belief that he would come for her. He had worked with Stephen -- who loved her and who threatened to take her away from him -- but they worked together and they found her before it was too late.
"We're going to make this work," Stephen said confidently, now that he'd had time to warm to the idea. "It's not going to be easy, but really, when has any of us ever done anything the easy way?"
That got a snort from Becker. "When he's right, he's right."
"I don't think any of us would know how to do something the easy way," Abby admitted tiredly.
Stephen caught the tired look on Abby's face. "We should go," he said. "Let you get some proper rest."
"No." That was fear in her eyes. "I don't want to be alone."
"Okay," he soothed quickly. "Okay. We won't go. I'm going to go talk to the others for a couple minutes, let them know how you're doing, and then I'll be back. Okay?"
She nodded. "All right." If she was left alone, then was right back down in the bottom of that hole again.
Stephen took a deep breath and gave her a smile before heading back into the hallway, where Cutter and Jenny still were.
When he left, Abby tugged Becker closer to her so she knew he was there and not leaving.
Jenny was the first one to her feet when Stephen came out of the room.
"She's doing all right," Stephen said. "Not out of the woods yet, but she's still doing all right."
"Did the two of you upset her?"
"No, but that nurse did. I want you to find some way to get that nurse off Abby's case and kept off Abby's case. Because not only did she upset Abby, she upset Becker." There was no mistaking the protective glint in his eyes.
Jenny eyed him for a long moment and then nodded at him. "We'll see that she doesn't go near Abby again."
"Good. Because Abby was in tears. Nobody makes my Abby cry."
Cutter ducked his head, not about to let either one see his smile.
"Are there any other requests since you seem to be in charge of what comes into her room right now and doesn't?" She gave him a sharp smile. "When I'm not around, that is."
"If you can get them to let us stay, that would be amazing," Stephen said. "She... doesn't want us to leave."
"Too much time spent trapped alone," Cutter nodded. "That's understandable."
"I'll tall to the doctors," Jenny agreed.
"Could you do that now?" Stephen asked. "I need to talk to Nick for a moment... and where's Connor wandered off to, anyway?" Connor had been lurking with the others periodically.
"I can do that and I believe that Connor wandered off with Danny and Sarah to see if there was anything to drink in this place besides watered down coffee." Jenny got to her feet. "Don't upset him, either," she said as she started down the hall to find the doctors.
"I won't," Stephen promised.
Cutter watched her walk away and then looked back at Stephen.
"I just got myself into the most surreal situation I have ever been in, Nick."
Cutter raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What's happened?"
"Them and me... in a relationship."
Cutter didn't even blink as he looked at his friend. "That's different, but you get both of the people you want, right? And you don't have the rest of the team trying to kill you for hurting Becker by trying to steal Abby away."
"I didn't realize I still wanted him." But oh God, did he.
"We never do realize things like that until we're face to face with them."
"I came into this wanting to take her away from him," Stephen said. "But being stuck in that cave with him for those couple days... it made me remember everything I loved about him that I'd tried to forget."
"And how does Abby feel about all of this?"
"It was her idea. She gets to have the two men she loves and the two men she loves get to have her."
"And each other," Cutter pointed out. "Abby's not blind." He winced at that. "Poor choice of words, what I mean is she couldn't have failed to notice the tension between you and Becker."
"He wasn't too happy about the whole idea at first," Stephen said. "But after I got snarly at the nurse... he didn't seem to mind it as much."
Cutter couldn't help smiling and shaking his head. "Only with my team or group of friends would snarly be defined as a turn-on."
"I don't think it was the snarly, exactly," Stephen said. "I think it's more what the snarly represented."
"That you'd step in and defend him while he was tending to Abby?" Cutter guessed.
"That I wanted to defend him. That I wanted to protect him. To be fair, the past few days haven't given him the best impression of me, so I really can't blame him for being surprised."
"So, it wasn't just at her bedside while she was unconscious that the two of you acted like sods?"
"Oh, no, it was pretty much the entire four days we were looking for her and waiting in the cave."
Cutter would have liked to have said that he couldn't believe they had done that, but he knew both men. "Idiot."
"Yeah, I was."
Cutter sighed. "I wish I could say that I'm the worst you're going to end up dealing with, but that would be lying to you."
"I wouldn't want to be lied to, anyway." Stephen sighed. "Jenny seems at least marginally less inclined to beat my head in with her stilettos."
"Quinn is your worst enemy, then Connor, then Sarah. Jenny would find better ways to make sure you behaved yourself. Connor..." Cutter sighed. "Connor didn't like seeing Abby get her heart broken by you."
"I'm going to spend the rest of my life making it up to her for that."
"So, you've decided to be in this for the long term, then?"
"I have," Stephen said with a nod. "I wasn't going to hurt either of them by just using them for a while."
"Good, because pretty sure that Quinn would have shot you."
"I'd like to not get shot." Stephen quirked a smile.
"I'd be fond of that not happening myself." He looked at Stephen. "What did they say about her condition?"
"She... could lose her sight again, if she were to hit her head again while she's recovering."
Cutter winced noticeably. "Ouch."
"And that bitch of a nurse scared the shit out of her when informing her of this."
"No wonder you got so angry at her."
"She scared Abby and she scared Becker, and you just don't do those things."
Cutter bit back a smile. "Forming battle lines already, are you?"
"They're mine, Nick. You don't hurt what's mine."
Now Cutter did grin at him. "I haven't heard you that passionate about something in about two years."
"I can't help it. I love Abby and I never stopped loving him. Which possibly says things about the kind of person I am, but whatever."
"It doesn't make you any kind of person but someone who is love with two people that love him back and if anyone says anything different, I'll just have to shoot them."
Stephen smiled at that. "I like the way you think."
"It's a change from telling people that if they want to stop me from doing something they're going to have to shoot me. I think Jenny will be relieved at the change for awhile."
"I just hope you don't actually have to shoot anybody for it. I'm fully expecting Danny not to be too thrilled with me when he realizes that the entire time I was falling for Abby, I was already with someone."
"Oh. Well, Danny is... Danny is Danny. He considers Abby and Becker family so..."
"We'll just pray he doesn't shoot me anywhere vital."
"He won't want to deal with Abby if he does shoot you. So he might just hit you."
"I can live with that."
Cutter nodded. "Is there anything you need me to do?"
"Not right now, no."
Cutter nodded. "I'll do my best to keep the others from being too overwhelming and defensive, but it's Abby. They've been worried sick about her."
"Just try, that's all I ask." He grinned. "Well, that and give me a heads up if they form a lynch mob."
"If that happens, I'll do my best," Cutter said solemnly, but his eyes were full of mirth. "But you see, Jenny would probably be at the head of it and she is a dangerous woman to cross."
"I said heads up, I didn't tell you to stop it," Stephen retorted, managing a quiet laugh.
Cutter nodded. "A very fine distinction. Her couch isn't that comfortable."
"Couches never are."
"I like mine better," Cutter said inanely. "Much more firm. Not so many tiny bloody pillows."
Stephen just snickered. "I should get back in there. Abby's probably going crazy."
Cutter nodded. "I'll be in to talk to her a little bit later."
"Okay." Stephen nodded before heading into the room again.
Abby looked up when the door opened, and so did Becker who had been laying with his head next to hers.
"Told you I'd be back."
"I know," Abby responded. Becker also nodded.
He smiled and took a seat on the other side of the bed. "Wild horses couldn't drag me away right now."
"Or a woolly rhinoceros?" Abby quipped.
"That's not funny, Abby," Becker chastised her softly, his eyes dark. "I thought that I was going to lose you because of one of those blasted things."
Stephen just reached out to take Abby's hand in his.
Abby nudged Becker's head with her own gently as she squeezed Stephen's hand.
"I'm sorry, love. I know that you were just as scared as I was."
Stephen hadn't thought it was terribly funny, either.
"It's just that if I don't try to joke about it, I might fall apart."
Stephen could understand that. "Try for a funnier joke next time?" Okay, look, nobody said his joking was going to be any better at the moment.
She wrinkled her nose at him.
"Don't make that face at me, missy."
She stuck her tongue out at him instead.
"If he wasn't using your shoulder as a pillow right now, I would so be leaning in and kissing you," Stephen warned. "Don't stick your tongue out unless you want me to react."
Abby had her arm sort of wrapped around Becker's neck, so he wasn't going to be moving right now. "So kiss us both," she challenged.
Stephen froze for a second, looking at her. "You mean it?"
"I rarely say things that I don't mean," she said quietly. "But you can only kiss him if he says it's all right with him."
"It's... it's all right with me," Becker said after only a second of hesitation. "I promise."
Stephen smiled at that before leaning in to brush his lips gently against Abby's. He lingered like that a moment before deepening it slightly.
Abby's hand flexed around Becker's neck as Stephen kissed her. Since she had never kissed him before, this was a new experience. One that she liked.
He deepened the kiss even further for a moment before pulling back slightly, smiling almost shyly.
Abby's cheeks were slightly flushed and her smile in return was a little shy, as well.
Before Stephen could over-think things and talk himself out of it, he turned slightly to kiss Becker exactly the way he remembered the other man liking to be kissed. Not at all the kind of kiss appropriate to the situation, but damn it, it was how he'd wanted to kiss the other man.
Abby was watching this with a rapt fascination. She had never seen anyone else kiss Becker the way that she liked to, so she was intrigued.
Becker moaned softly into the kiss, whimpering as Stephen nipped at his lower lip. "You remembered," he mumbled in surprise when Stephen pulled away.
"Of course I did," Stephen said. "I remember everything you like." He gave the other man a dark look. "Everything."
"Apparently I need to take notes," Abby said with a bemused smile.
"We'll have to give you a little demonstration when you get out of here." Stephen smirked.
That caused her to blush more, but she gave them both a very interested look. "Can I go home now?" Nice try, Abby.
Stephen laughed a little despite himself. "I'm afraid not," he said. "But I promise, that first night you're home... oh, it'll happen."
And then he realized that maybe Becker wouldn't want it to. Becker was the reluctant one in this, after all.
Abby looked at him for a moment, before leaning her head back against Becker's.
"Yes, please," was Becker's slightly breathless response.
Abby relaxed. "This is definitely going to be an interesting experience," she said, her voice sounding tired.
"You need to get some sleep, love," Stephen said gently. "Don't stay awake just because we're here."
"I don't want to go to sleep," she protested stubbornly.
"You have to, though. You need it." Stephen grinned mischievously at her. "If I snog him again, will you be a good girl?"
He was not afraid to play dirty.
"That's not fair," she said softly, shaking her head and then wincing at the movement.
"Who said I play fair?" Stephen said as he sat back. "You do need the rest, though, love."
Becker shook his head at Stephen. They weren't going to play dirty like that with Abby -- not when he could see the fear that was in her eyes.
"You can't come home until the doctors say you're out of danger, love. You won't be out of danger unless you do what they say and rest so that you can heal."
And there went Stephen feeling bad.
"We just want you to get better so you can come home with us where you belong," he said as he stood, ready to put some space between them.
"Don't go!" She was holding onto Becker and trying to sit up when Stephen stood up.
"I probably should," Stephen said. "The two of you need some alone time."
Really he was just trying to apologize for teasing Abby... except he wasn't sure which of them he was apologizing to.
It was Becker who pinned him with his eyes. "Are you coming back?" The voice was quiet, but there was the hint of something in it that night have sounded like fear.
"Of course I am," Stephen said. And then, before he could stop himself: "I don't want to leave, honestly."
"Then don't," Becker responded. "Abby doesn't want to be left alone right now." He looked down at her, smiling gently. "You don't have to be scared to rest, love. We'll be here when you wake up."
Looking wary, Stephen took his seat again. "I won't leave, Abby," he said softly. "I promise."
Abby looked between the two of them and then nodded, looking at Becker. "I keep thinking I'm dreaming and when I open my eyes again, I'll be back in that hole and no one will know where I am."
"That's not going to happen," Stephen said, reaching out to stroke a finger down the side of her face. "We'll be right here. I may poke my head out into the hall to get someone to do a coffee run for me and Becker, but I won't leave."
Abby swallowed, looking at both of them for a moment and then lay her head back down in a better position on the pillows. Before she could say anything, a nurse came in and put a syringe full of something into her IV. The nurse patted her hand gently and murmured something soothing before she left the room.
Stephen liked that nurse much, much better than the other one.
He sat there, holding one of Abby's hands and watching her as she started to doze.
"Stay," was the last thing she murmured before the drugs had her sleeping deeply.
Stephen let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Should I stay?" he asked Becker.
Becker looked at Abby for a long moment and then nodded, turning to look at Stephen. "Yes."
"I know I said something stupid just now, and I know you didn't like it, and I'm afraid that I'm going to just keep doing that."
"We're probably both going to be doing that until we figure out how things are going to go between all of us."
"And it wasn't enough to make you throw me out, so in the grand scheme of things... not all that bad," Stephen reasoned.
Becker laughed quietly. "Well, that's a very good point."
"As far as mistakes go, there are worse ones I could've made." He looked down a moment before looking back up. "But I don't want to make mistakes. I made enough of them with you."
"Then don't run away when things look like they might get tough or dangerous or whatever."
"I won't. Not again."
"Good. Because if you hurt her like you hurt me before, I can't promise that I won't try to kill you and dump your body through an anomaly somewhere."
"You wouldn't try it, you'd do it." There was a note of affection in his voice, oddly enough, like he wouldn't have his guy any other way.
"Well, yes. That's true. I was trying to be polite."
"I'm never going to hurt her." Stephen looked at Becker solemnly. "And I'm never going to hurt you again."
"I really would like to believe that. You have no idea how much."
"I'm going to spend the rest of my life proving it," Stephen said quietly.
"Well, I'm giving you the chance to do so. So is she." He look at him seriously. "But I'll be honest as hell with you. Abby's happiness matters first to me. If you and I being together starts causing her pain... we'll have a problem."
"I understand," Stephen said, looking down before looking at Abby. "I don't want to hurt her, Hilary. I know you think I like hurting the people I love, but I don't."
"Then you'll just have to use this chance as a way to prove me wrong."
"Believe me, I plan to." Stephen smiled sheepishly. "And, uh, that whole giving her a demonstration thing... sorry about that."
He shrugged. "I figure there will be several demonstrations between all three of us."
"Because I do need to learn what she enjoys," Stephen said with a nod.
Oh, Stephen. Way to miss the other half of that.
"And how things have changed with me, and what I am and the things that Abby and I like together."
"I like the sound of that." Stephen smiled, and it was an almost shy smile. "Because I'm sure you've changed. I'm sure you like new things and don't like some things you used to."
"You wouldn't be able to test those theories out until Abby can come home. Because I won't have her feeling left out."
"Doesn't mean I can't think about it a lot, though," Stephen said, grinning this time. "And as I recall, you used to like knowing I was thinking about you at odd times of the day."
"That probably won't change." Becker said quietly. "I just don't want her to have second thoughts or feel left out because there so much in the air between us."
"She's never going to have cause to feel that way," Stephen said. "We'll always include her."
"That's good, because as much as there still is between you and, Stephen, I love her with everything I am. I don't want her to feel hurt in anyway."
"I remember when you loved me like that." It was said with a nostalgic smile, though. "I don't want her to feel hurt, either."
"I don't know, Stephen. I don't know how this is supposed to work out -- especially between you and I." He looked up at him with a sad smile. "But Abby seems to think that things could work out nicely."
"And I'll do my best to make it happen."
Becker nodded slowly. "I know you will. I know."
Stephen tilted his head slightly. "Something's still on your mind, though."
"It's not important right now."
"It's important to me, Hilary," he said quietly. "If it's bothering you, then it's important to me."
"I'm worried about this blowing up in our faces and someone getting hurt," he said honestly. "I've never seen or heard of a situation like ours, so I don't know what to expect. I would like to think that we can repair the damage that has been done between you and I... and that you and Abby can make repairs to things that you didn't even know were wounded."
"We'll just have to take it carefully," Stephen said. "Take it slowly and pay attention to making sure nobody gets hurt. Because the last thing I want to do is hurt either of you." He took a breath. "And if either of you wants me to leave... I will. If me staying at any point would cause more hurt, I'll leave."
"When you say things like that, it makes me think that you're expecting to have to leave." There was no anger in Becker's voice, just a deep weariness.
"I don't mean it to sound like that," Stephen said. "I'm just saying that if it doesn't work, if I end up causing pain for you and Abby... I'd rather be without you than be with you two and just make you hurt."
Becker nodded. "I wish... I wish I could say I would do the same thing, but I don't know if I could."
"I'm not saying it'd be easy for me to leave," Stephen said. "Because it wouldn't. Everything in me would be screaming to stay. But if I was hurting you and I had to leave... damn it, I'd leave." He reached across Abby to touch Becker's hand. "But please, don't take this for me saying I'm going to leave anyway. Because I'm not. The last thing I want is to leave."
"That's good to know, because I think it would kill something inside her if you were to leave -- or if I were." He sighed. "I want to believe in you, Stephen, I do. But..."
Stephen pulled back. "I deserve it," he said quietly, hurt. Not by Becker's words, but by the reality of the situation and the fact that the pain was his fault to begin with. "Your doubts, I mean."
"But I'm willing to try. I wasn't just saying that for Abby's benefit, or so that she would rest."
"And if you're willing to try, then so am I."
"I am willing."
Stephen looked at Becker a moment before holding a hand out to him.
Becker searched his face for a long moment, but finally took his hand and squeezed it gently.
Stephen just smiled.
Becker gave him a faint smile in return.
"Want me to see if I can get one of the others to make a coffee run for us so we don't have to leave her?" Stephen offered.
"That would be good," Becker accepted. "I'm not leaving her."
Stephen squeezed Becker's hand once before standing and heading for the hallway.
Jenny was sitting in one of the chairs out in the waiting area and when she saw him, she raised an eyebrow.
"Coffee run," Stephen explained. "Any chance I could convince you to go for us so we don't have to leave Abby?"
"I'll get one of the boys to go for it," Jenny said evenly. "I'm on guard duty."
"Thanks, Jenny." Stephen gave her a hesitant smile.
"You're welcome." She wasn't exactly feeling friendly towards either man right now.
Stephen looked at her for a moment before nodding and heading back into the room. "Jenny's going to send one of the guys on a run for us."
"Ahh. She's appointed herself as guard duty for this shift?"
Stephen nodded as he sat back down. "Yeah."
"She's still mad as hell, then."
"Oh, yeah. But she at least agreed to send someone on the run for us instead of telling me to go myself."
Becker winced. "We're going to be on her list for awhile."
"As long as Abby doesn't hate us, I can live with it." Because Abby and Becker were the only two whose opinions he cared about at the moment.
"She's not capable of hating anyone."
"Then the others can hate us for a while, as far as I'm concerned."
"That's because they're not your team," he pointed out. "They're also Abby's family and can make our lives a living hell if they choose to."
"They'll hate me longer anyway," Stephen said. "You they'll begrudgingly forgive in a while."
Becker sighed. "The last time they were all united against something... I was with them. Being on the opposite side is going to be so strange."
"But you're united with me and Abby," Stephen pointed out. "That has to count for something."
He looked at where Abby was sleeping. "You would think so, but when Jenny is angry at you? The days get very, very long."
"It's easier for me because I don't work at the ARC any longer, I suppose," Stephen mused.
"You could always come back," Becker said with a small grin.
"I... not even to save you misery," Stephen said apologetically.
Becker laughed hoarsely. "Yeah, thought so. This part of your life is over."
"Not right now, anyway," Stephen said. "Maybe in the future. Who knows?"
He nodded. "I can't imagine not working for the ARC. Not now."
"I can't imagine you not working there, either," Stephen said. "From what I've seen the past few days, it's a perfect fit for you."
"I love my job... when I'm not searching for my friends and loved ones."
"That part can't be good," Stephen said dryly. "I wonder what it would've been like to actually work with you."
"I'm tough on my men," he said simply. "I have to be. What we have to face when an anomaly opens? You have to be prepared for every nuance of an event." He sighed. "And prepared to deal when Abby wants to protect something from others or from your own men."
"She's... relentless." Said with much affection, though.
"Her pets usually include sharp teeth." He shook his head. "If it's not trying to eat Connor, she's trying to adopt it.
"She has a collection, doesn't she?"
"Yeah. Thankfully the Dracorex is too big for our flats or else that thing would be living with me."
"No, she cannot keep it at my flat," Stephen said instantly.
Becker laughed softly. "She had to promise Lester she wouldn't try to sneak it out of the ARC."
"And she's actually kept that promise?"
"Yes, thank god." He looked at Stephen. "I think he was surprised as the rest of us. We never know what she might bring back when she's on a mapping team."
"Collects strays, does she?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes she's on hand when they get locked out on the wrong side."
"Lucky for them." Stephen frowned thoughtfully. "You sure I'm not one of her strays?"
"Don't be an arsehole or I swear I will punch you."
"I had to ask it," Stephen said. "It would've gnawed at me. Because depending on how you look at it..."
"No. That's not how she sees you and she would be hurt and insulted if she heard you ask me that."
"I know. It's just... I'm so scared," he admitted. "Part of me can't believe she really loves me, or at least cares strongly for me. That she asked me to stay. There's a part of me that's terrified she only asked me to stay because she felt sorry for me. Never mind that I know she wants me to stay."
"She doesn't feel sorry and she loves you." He cleared his throat. "It was in her eyes, you idiot."
"I know it was. I saw it. But that doesn't stop me from being scared."
"If she didn't love you and didn't want you, she wouldn't have said anything."
"I know," Stephen said. "I do. I was just more scared than I realized about starting something with her. Add you to the equation and I'm even more scared because now I have twice the incentive not to make a mess of things."
"So don't over-think it right now or you will make a mess of it."
"When did you become the logical one?" Stephen asked, trying to give Becker a cross look but completely and utterly failing at it.
"One of us has to be."
"If you're the logical one, what does that make me?"
"I have no idea," Becker said honestly. "I'm still trying to figure out how this all works."
"I'd say I'm the pretty one, but that's Abby."
"She's definitely the pretty one. You're the stubborn one."
"I am not." But he was actually grinning as he said it, really and truly grinning.
Becker laughed softly. "You so are."
"And you love me for it." It was an automatic response, from their playful squabbles before he'd left.
Becker couldn't respond the way he used to, not right now. This was too soon and too new and he still wasn't sure how he felt about Stephen aside from still being attracted to him. "It's part of who you are. You wouldn't be you without it."
"No, I wouldn't." He smiled a little at Becker's reply, because the fact that he'd replied to it at all meant a lot.
That was the one thing that Becker knew for sure, that he had to be honest with himself as well as with Abby and Stephen if this was even going to have the slightest chance of working.
And Stephen didn't want Becker to lie, to them or to himself. If this didn't work out for some reason, he would deal. But the one thing he couldn't deal with, wouldn't deal with, would be it ending because Becker had self-destructed. He wasn't going to let that happen.
Becker leaned forward, resting his forehead on Abby's hand that he was holding. There were a lot of things in his mind right now, but all that there was room for was that if everything went right, Abby would be all right.
Stephen hesitated only slightly before reaching out to run his hand over Becker's hair. "It's going to be okay," he whispered. "I promise."
"I hope so," he whispered. "I really hope so."