Abby was sure that her face had gone pale as she stared at the new security leader Cutter was introducing to them. She knew him. In fact, she knew parts of him very well. Oh god, what was he doing here? How could this be happening right now?
She watched his face as recognition filled his eyes and then his jaw clenched tightly. It made her feel even worse about the situation.
She tried her best not to let her eyes wander over him, but she couldn't help just one look. He was a lot different when he was wearing all black and a gun. The memory she had of him was different. A lot different.
And with a lot less clothing on, too.
She knew that she was staring at him and swallowed hard as she forced herself to look away, towards Cutter as they were getting briefed on the anomaly at the museum and what they were looking for.
God, he looked good.
Abby shook her head, turning on her heel to go do what she was needed to do -- track the creature and try to keep it from killing anyone. That would probably be easier than anything else that was going to happen tonight.
Becker had only been paying the vaguest bit of attention to the actual introductions, his attention having been focused on the blonde woman. He knew her. He couldn't tell you a damn thing about her at the moment other than what her body felt like beneath his. He tensed, taking a few deep breaths as he watched her. Still every bit as beautiful as she'd been that night months earlier... and still every bit as sad, too.
He was about to speak up when she pivoted and moved off in another direction. That sent a jolt of alarm through him that he forced himself not to think about. He delivered orders to his men sharply before following Abby. She wasn't doing this alone.
He was sure she'd know someone was following her, despite how quietly he was moving. Hopefully she'd assume it was one of the others and not him. He had a feeling she wouldn't take too well to that.
But too bad.
Abby heard someone following her but assumed it was Connor. That was a good thing. If it was Connor, she wouldn't have to answer any hard questions. He already knew everything that happened that night when she had been grieving and drank a little too much. She rather hoped it wasn't Cutter who had followed her. Cutter would ask and he would be sad and concerned about what was bothering her.
And then he would feel even more guilty than he already did over what had happened to Stephen.
"What kind of creature do you think we're chasing?" she asked out loud as they moved through the shadows. "I mean, do you think it's one that will try to take a bite out of me if we get too close to it? Because really, I don't fancy becoming a meal for a raptor or anything like -- " She turned to smile at Connor and stumbled. "Oh. You.... you're not Connor."
Oh no. He definitely wasn't Connor as she had never had these kinds of thoughts about Connor.
"No, not Connor," he said, voice quiet. He didn't say anything else because he didn't know what else to say. Any of the thousand questions on his mind were questions not at all appropriate for what they were in the middle of.
He couldn't help looking at her again, in the relative privacy of the shadows. And he couldn't help remembering what she'd felt like under his hands. Couldn't help remembering the cries she'd made as...
He shook his head once, sharply, forcing his attention back to the task at hand.
She took a deep breath, trying to force back the images that seeing him again was causing to rise up in her mind.
"Captain Becker." Her voice was quiet as she spoke his name. "I didn't know you were military."
No, that was one of about a million things she didn't know about him. And one of a million things she had wanted to know -- and still did.
"I knew that Lester was looking for us some more security but..." She swallowed. What was the right conversation to have with the man you had slept with one night and then snuck out long before he woke up -- never to try to contact him again.
"I have the qualifications," he said with a casualness he didn't quite feel. "I'm... sorry, Abby. If I'd known you were here, I..."
He couldn't say he wouldn't have taken the job, because that wasn't true. She would have been more of an incentive to take the job. Because he hadn't been able to get her out of his head.
"... I would've let you know I'd been hired," he finished quietly.
"It's not like I gave you much in the way of reaching me," she said, fighting to hide the regret she felt over that.
Of course, she was glad to see him, glad to know that he was well. And gorgeous, and... She bit down on the inside of her cheek. He must think very badly of her after what she had done. Then another thought crowded in on her. He was there to protect them and keep them safe.
Stephen had died because he was trying to keep Cutter safe. It was a fate that she did not want to see happen to Becker.
"Has Lester told you about the things that happen in this job? About the creatures?"
Becker nodded slightly. "He has," he replied. "It's one of the things that most interested me about the job." Because really, who could pass up an opportunity like this?
He cocked his head to the side and looked at her. "How long have you been working for the ARC?" he asked curiously. He knew this was hardly the time to start asking questions, but he couldn't help it. He had to know something about her. Had to have some fact about her to remember that wasn't what her body felt like or what sounds she made or what things she liked doing and having done to her.
"So you know to be careful and don't shoot anything unless there's no choice?" Okay, that wasn't regulations. That was all Abby.
"A little more than two years," she said easily, as they searched for whatever had come out of the anomaly. "Two years and a few months." It sometimes seemed so much longer than that. "Which I guess is good as I was sacked from the job I had before this one."
"How could anybody want to fire you?" he asked, sounding like the idea was completely incomprehensible to him -- and it was. Somehow, in the space of a single night, she'd managed to capture his loyalty on a personal level. Something that hadn't changed even when he'd woken up the next morning to find her gone.
She shrugged. "They were slimming down the department and the weird lizard girl wasn't integral enough. Even when I started taking care of the large predators and the elephants, it still didn't make me irreplaceable." She frowned, tilting her head to listen for a long moment. "Then I met Cutter and that wasn't all that important any longer. I made friends with him and the others and Lester and the Minister started paying us more than the zoo was offering me at the time."
"I'm glad you have a job you love," he said, looking around, focusing on the shadows as they walked. He had to help Abby keep an eye out, plus he was doing his damnedest to make sure this thing didn't get the jump on them. He already cared more than he should considering she was one of his coworkers.
He reached out to grab her arm. "Hold on," he said. "Think I heard something."
When he touched her, it took all of Abby's self-control not to lean into that touch. She knew that he was just doing his job, keeping her safe, and that made it all the more painful. Then there was that whole thing where he had to seriously dislike her after what she had done. She was silent, listening to hear something moving up ahead.
His fingers curled around her wrist for a moment, not wanting to lose the contact. "It's up there," he said quietly. "Be careful, Abby." There was a note of not quite pleading in his voice that he was entirely too aware of and was hoping she wouldn't pick up on. She'd left in the middle of the night; she wouldn't care if he had feelings for her.
He'd be relieved to know that she had never stopped feeling guilty for that night and for leaving him. The reasons had made sense at the time, but she had regretted it. When she heard the request, she heard it as the man hired to keep her safe, and she fought the flare of pain it brought forth.
She brought up her gun and loaded a tranquilizer dart into it. Then she turned and started tracking the creature on soundless feet.
He had his gun at the ready as well; he fully understood that he wasn't to shoot unless necessary, but if that thing, whatever it was, came at them... it was going down. Their safety -- her safety -- came before the creatures, no matter what she might feel.
And then, before he could shout a warning, the creature was there.
Abby froze when she saw all of those teeth. "It's a bloody ancient crocodile from hell!"
It was at that precise moment that her walkie-talkie went off. "Abby! Be careful. The creature is coming your way." The creature focused on Abby and let out the loudest growl she had ever heard from a crocodile. He looked like he was about to charge her and she fired her gun. The creature took another step towards her, and turned escape the other way.
"That? Was too close," she whispered, forgetting Becker was there.
Shifting his gun to the other hand, Becker reached out to grab her hand, squeezing quickly before realizing it wasn't welcome and pulling away. He was pretty sure the universe was toying with him by putting them on the same team, but it was a bittersweet torture he'd endure just for the time around her.
Actually seeing the creature had hammered home just what kind of job he'd taken; he admired the team for being able to do it. Admired her for being able to do it.
Abby suddenly straightened, pulling out her two way radio. "Connor! The river! He's heading outside. I have to stop him before he reaches the water."
And that would be Abby running in the direction that the creature had disappeared.
Followed immediately by Becker swearing and taking off after her. In one way or another, this woman was going to be the death of him.
They made it outside in good time, but already heard the splash as the creature went into the water. "Connor," Abby yelled through the two way. "He's in the water. I'm grabbing a ride on a bo--"
"Don't you dare! You are not getting on a boat again and getting taken. This creature would make a meal out of you a lot sooner than that mercreature tried to."
Now it was Becker's turn to go for the two way. "I'm with her, Connor. I'll go with her, she'll be fine." He didn't like the idea of Abby going into danger, but this was what he'd been hired for -- to protect her and the others.
"Captain Becker, they kidnapped Abby off a boat while both Cutter and I were there! Water creatures seem to like kidnapping her and saving her for dinner!"
Abby had run further down to the water while Connor and Becker were talking. She had to get in and track the creature. She followed the wet footprints until she found exactly where he got into the river. There was a small boat tied to the side. It wasn't a very big boat and it probably wouldn't hold her weight for longer than a minute.
"She's not going to be dinner for anything, Connor, I promise," Becker said as he followed after Abby. It was obvious that Connor cared deeply for Abby; somehow, that hurt. But it made sense. Maybe there'd been something developing months earlier that she'd gone back to.
Abby was beyond frustrated. There was no way for her to follow the creature in the water so she was trying to think about where it could be going. If it was hungry it would go right for... the Centre.
"Connor, tell Cutter that the creature is in the water and headed for the Hotel Centre!"
Oh, that wasn't good, Becker knew already. But there was nothing he and Abby could do at the moment. Or was there? His mind was racing, trying to think of some kind of alternative. But no, nothing, except try to get to the Centre to help Connor and the others.
After the crisis was over and the creature sent back to where it belonged, the team -- with new recruit Sarah -- headed back to the ARC.
Abby wanted a shower and to just sleep for several hours. There had been a few terror-filled moments when it looked like her tranquilizer wasn't going to do anything and the creature had kept coming at her. Finally, even though it wobbled, it had gone back into the river and then returned to the museum. When the creature went through the anomaly and Connor locked it down, she could hear the relief being expressed around her. It had been a trying day both physically and emotionally.
Abby wasn't the only exhausted one; Becker was finally coming down off the adrenaline rush of being out in the field and was at the point where he either wanted coffee or to sleep for a week. He'd settle for the coffee, though. Sleep was going to be in short supply in this job, he had a feeling.
But he couldn't go home without checking on Abby first. It was probably just his previously-undiscovered masochistic tendencies, but he just couldn't. So he went looking for her. And when he found her, he just stood there awkwardly, hands shoved into his pockets, as he watched her.
Abby was leaning against the lockers, with her back to the door. Her head was bowed and she was staring at the floor. She brought her hand up every few seconds to rub at her face or run a hand through her hair. She was relieved that everyone had made it through safely -- even with the close call in the conference room.
When she heard him approach, this time she knew it was him. His walk was so different than Connor's or Cutter's. She swallowed, making sure to keep her expression calm and turned to face him.
"You look a lot less shell-shocked than most of the guys have been known to look on their first day out there with us. Are you alright?" She heard her voice quaver just a little and she hoped he didn't hear it.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "I'm more concerned with how you're doing right now." Because despite the calm look on her face, there was something in her eyes that he couldn't quite read, and that worried him.
Abby managed a ghost of a smile. "It's just always a relief when we all get back from dealing with an incursion." It was mostly true. "I think we're all overly aware of how close it can come to our own deaths every time the alarm goes off. We don't want to lose anyone else."
Becker nodded slightly. "Stephen was important to you, wasn't he?" Because Lester had filled him in about everything, including that unfortunate incident, and he'd done the math. Stephen had died right before that night he'd spent with Abby.
Abby looked down, letting out a breath. "He was. He was very important to me, but I'm aware that he probably never saw me like that. Nothing happened between us. Someone else was there, but it didn't make the hurt any easier to deal with. When he died, I think all of us were a bit messed up." She scuffed her shoe on the floor. God, he must think that she was the lowest form of life now that he knew what had caused her to be out that night.
"I've lost people, too. I know how it is." He smiled sympathetically at her. It still hurt that she'd used him and left, but he supposed he could understand it. Grief made people do strange things, sometimes. "I... I hope I helped you that night."
"You did." Her voice was a very soft whisper. "I don't usually do things like that. I'm not... I don't go hunting for a guy when I've been drinking that much. That's not who I am." She shook her head. There was much more that she wanted to say. She hadn't meant for it to happen that way? She hadn't meant to leave him feeling used? She only left because she was ashamed of herself for using him?
She hadn't gone a night without thinking about him in the months that had passed.
"It's all right," he said, reaching out to touch her arm. "You needed someone and that someone just happened to be me. I'm just glad it was me and not someone who would've taken advantage of you." Because he'd been more than a little drunk himself by the end of the bar part of the evening, truth be told.
"I wasn't thinking," she admitted. "I just wanted so badly to forget." Once the words were out loud, she realized how bad that they sounded. Until later, she hadn't realized how lucky she had been to end up back at Becker's flat and not in an alley or something. But the last thing she wanted to do was forget about him. Being with him had left an impression for much longer than that night. "You didn't deserve to be used like that," she finally said quietly. "I'm sorry."
He winced slightly. "It's all right," he said. "I'm glad I could help you forget things for a while. And hopefully make you feel good for a while, too." He gave her a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I know this is the world's most awkward situation ever, but... I'm willing to start over and try being friends if you are."
Even though all he wanted to do was push her up against the lockers and kiss her breathless.
Abby saw the wince and it made her feel like the lowest person in creation. And there was no way she could respond to that last part without sounding horrible because he had made her feel incredible that night and for days afterward.
"Friends," she repeated, then nodded. "Yeah, I think I'd like for us to try to be friends. There's no reason we should let our own awkwardness over the past interfere with our jobs."
She wasn't about to let him know that she was thinking about him in a very unprofessional way.
"Friends it is, then," he said with a decisive nod. "And since we're friends... you look like you could use a hug."
That was a perfectly acceptable thing for a friend to do, right? Even if he did want it to be more?
Abby was torn. Part of her knew that she should refuse and turn around to walk away. The problem was, she really didn't want to walk away. She wanted to feel his arms around her again, even if that was a very bad idea. She didn't want him to think any worse of her than he already did.
"Yeah," she nodded, stepping close to him. "Friends hug all of the time."
He smiled at that, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close. "Been a long day, huh?" he asked conversationally, resisting the urge to kiss the top of her head. Doing that would lead to him tipping her head up and kissing her, something he couldn't do.
Friends, after all.
"You could say that. When Cutter and I were in that conference room, we had a scare. The creature started coming at me and nothing I shot him with looked to be working." God, he felt just as good as she remembered.
He tensed slightly at that. "But it went down and you're okay. Both of you." Though selfishly, at the moment, all he cared about was Abby.
She nodded. "It didn't bite me and we got it to go back through the anomaly where it belonged. Thank god it went back through and Connor locked it down before any more of them could come back. That would have been a new kind of nightmare."
"Yeah, it would have been," he agreed. He knew he should step back, end the hug, but it felt so good to hold her again. He'd thought about it for months. Of course, his thoughts had involved a whole lot more than that, but he'd take what he could get.
It probably didn't help that she hadn't moved away from hugging him, did it? She hadn't been able to stop thinking about him for months and now that he was here, she didn't want to let go of him. Oh, she knew she'd have to soon enough, but she wanted to make this last as long as she could.
"But thankfully, Connor and Sarah were able to prevent that from happening."
As far as Becker was concerned, they could stay like this all night. It felt nice holding her. Comfortable. And far more right than it should've. He made a content little noise that he wasn't even aware of making.
It was hard for Abby not to just close her and eyes nuzzle into his chest. He made her feel like she was so loved and safe when he was holding her. A feeling she wasn't supposed to be getting too attached to.
Finally, reluctantly, Becker stepped back. "I should be going," he said softly. "You have a good night, Abby."
And with that, he'd turned and was heading out.
Abby watched him go. "Good night, Becker," she said quietly.
Before she could say anything that would make this situation more awkward, she moved away to finish storing her gear in her locker. It had been a long day and it looked like she was going to have a long night.