Becker practically threw his black box back into its cradle before stalking off to the locker room. Jess bit back a sigh as she watched him go. She finished a couple of little assignments, then grabbed her purse and jacket and headed to follow him.
As she’d expected at that time of the afternoon, the room was empty except for Becker, who was just closing his locker. “You’re taking me out for lunch,” Jess announced.
“Jess...” he started, but trailed off, sounding as worn as he looked.
She simply raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been promising me for weeks,” she added. “And now I’m collecting.”
“Fine,” he replied. He picked his wallet and keys up off the bench and tucked them in his pockets before shrugging on his jacket. “Where are we going?”
“There’s a nice little pub around the corner I keep hearing about,” Jess said with a little smile as they headed out.
“Is that so?” Becker asked, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. “And who might’ve told you about this place?”
“Oh, different people,” she teased, knowing full-well that Becker had been the first of them to discover the place, and over time everyone one else on the team had been at least once.
Once they were seated and had ordered, Jess said, “Still not sleeping?”
Becker shrugged. “I’ve been doing okay.”
“No, you’re not,” she chided gently. “Can’t one of the medics prescribe you something? Or how about your doctor?”
“I’d rather not take pills – they tend to make me fuzzy. And I can’t afford to be fuzzy when an anomaly can pop up at any time.”
After a careful pause, Jess asked, “How bad was it this morning?”
“The anomaly was easy. Just a couple of platypus-type things that were herded back through pretty quickly.” Becker took a sip of his beer. “The crowd that gathered on the other hand.... Most people are great when we tell them to stay back and stay put, but there’s always a couple that don’t listen and get in the way. So far we’ve been lucky, but one of these days we won’t be, and I –” He wiped a hand over his face. “I have a lot more respect now for what Jenny did with the public. She was great at handling people while we handled the anomaly.”
“Is that what you’re so worried about?” Jess asked lightly, catching his eyes. “That someone will get hurt? Or that one of us will get hurt?”
Becker looked away. “Both. Either. I don’t know. There’s just so many different ways this could go horribly wrong, Jess.”
Jess put a hand on top of Becker’s wrist and caught his eyes again.
“May I remind you of a few things?” She waited until he nodded the tiniest nod. “It was bound to happen that we’d end up having to go public one of these days. Granted, the way it happened wasn’t the best, but it could have been a whole lot worse. There’s always been and always will be a chance that one of the onlookers could get hurt, and we’ve been very lucky in that department so far, too. And if it does happen in the future, hopefully it’ll help the rest of them realize how serious we are. Finally, we all know what we’re getting into with the anomalies. And we’re all awesome at our jobs. At this point, I think we have a very good chance of dying in our beds of very old age.” She squeezed his wrist. “I know I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate how much you look out for us, but you don’t need to worry about us. At least not the way you’ve been – not at your own expense.”
Their food came, and Jess withdrew her hand.
“I’ll try,” Becker answered, “but I can’t guarantee I won’t worry.” He bit his lip before saying, “You lot are my family.”
“And you’re ours, which means we get to worry about you, too. If I don’t see you trying to do better, I’ll sic Connor on you.”
Becker’s eyes widened comically. “You wouldn’t dare!” They both knew Connor would be like a puppy with a new toy if he thought he could help Becker out with anything. And it would most likely mean Abby would also get involved as well and she was just as bad. Possibly even worse.
“Oh, I would,” Jess said seriously. “But you know I’d be willing to talk, if you need someone. Now eat your food.”
They ate in silence, and Jess was happy to see Becker finish all of his food. In the three weeks since everything with New Dawn had gone down, she knew that in addition to the sleeping problems, he hadn’t been eating very well and had lost some weight. And those were on top of being irritable and withdrawn from everyone. He’d also taken a few phone calls that left him angry. Jess was fairly certain most were from his family, but she hadn’t pried.
On the way back to the ARC, Jess threaded an arm through Becker’s, and he smiled down at her, his body a fraction more relaxed since they’d left.
At the end of her shift, Jess found Becker in the armory cleaning one of the guns. “Come on, then,” she said.
“For what?” Becker asked, not looking up.
“You’re coming home with me. You’re finished for the day, too, and I want to see if I can help you get at least one good night’s sleep.”
“Jess –” Becker had the same look on his face as earlier in the day.
“No arguing, Mister.” Jess sat down across from him. “I’m giving you enough time to finish this gun and put it away, and then we’re going.”
His mobile rang and Jess snatched it off the table before Becker had reached halfway for it. Answering the call, she said, “Captain Hilary Becker’s mobile. He is unavailable at the moment. May I take a message?”
Becker stared at her in amazement as she answered his mobile. Her eyes narrowed and she focused in on Becker, her lips pursing in a hard line.
“Thank you for the message, sir. I’ll be sure to relay it.” She disconnected the call and set the phone back down on the table. “Well?” she said to Becker. “I’m not telling you a thing until you finish that gun and get moving.”
Becker was pretty sure she would figure out a way to drag him out of the ARC if he didn’t comply. And he wasn’t sure if he wanted to comply or see her try. He was acutely aware of Jess watching him closely as he finished the rifle and set it lovingly back in its case.
“Just need to get my coat,” he said.
Jess followed him quietly, and they headed out with a quick stop at his office. She directed him to her car and when he raised an eyebrow, she simply raised one in response and he got into the car.
They were quiet on the drive to her flat. Jess led him upstairs and showed him where to drop his coat. Then she pushed him down into a chair by the counter before beginning to pull out food.
“There’s a flaw in your plan, you know,” Becker said, getting comfortable while Jess started cooking dinner. “I don’t have anything for staying the night.”
“You have an extra change of clothes at the ARC, and I promise to get you back in time so no one will be the wiser. And I’ve got an extra toothbrush you can use.”
After a few moments of not-exactly-uncomfortable silence, Becker finally broke and asked, “So who was on the phone?”
“Your old commanding officer,” Jess replied evenly. “Does he normally do random check-ups on men who used to be under his command?”
“Maybe,” Becker replied, not sure what had been said. “Maybe not.”
Jess’s expression softened as she looked at him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were having such a hard time.”
“It’s not your fault,” Becker replied. “Or that things turned out the way they did.”
“I know, but I can still be sad for you. What’s got him so worried that he’s calling you three years after you left the service?”
Becker shrugged and said, “Probably the same thing that happens to a lot of men in combat.”
Jess pointed a knife at Becker. “That worried phone call I was subjected to was not ‘probably the same thing that happens to a lot of men in combat’.”
Becker stared at her evenly and Jess stared right back. “My family and the military have long been entwined,” Becker finally admitted. “I guess you could say we are the military, and it was always expected, assumed really, that I would be following the ‘family tradition’ when I got old enough. But I never really wanted it. I really only did it to make my dad proud because, honestly, what kid doesn’t want to do that? But I figured I’d sign up, do my time, and get out. That way I could fulfill my ‘duty’ and not displease my father.”
Becker bit his lip before continuing. “But all the fighting and the wars and all have always seemed so senseless to me and never fixed anything. And the whole time I was growing up, my father continually drilled into me how important it was that I do this, and how the family’s honor was dependant on it. And I’ve often wondered if there was something he saw and was trying to correct in me because the moment I picked up my first gun, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.”
Jess put down the knife and came around the counter. She got into his personal space and took his face in her hands and made him look at her.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, Hilary Becker,” she said. “Your father’s inability to see that the military was not for you is not your fault.”
“I know,” he replied softly and looked away from her as he continued, “but what does it say about me that it was so easy for me to get into special forces? Or that I went back for more than one tour?”
“Look at me.” She waited a moment. “Look. At. Me.” Becker looked back up at her. “Despite your father’s attempts to do God-knows-what, you are one of the sweetest, strongest, bravest men I have the privilege of knowing. What you did while you were enlisted, and what you’ve done while at the ARC only proves that. And I hate knowing that you’ve had to put up with this.” She brushed her thumbs over his cheeks, and he wondered if she thought she was wiping away unshed tears. “New Dawn brought up a lot of stuff from your combat days, didn’t it?”
Becker nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“If your father’s not proud of you, he doesn’t deserve to have you as a son,” she said. “It is not a penance for the losses we’ve been dealt – which are not your fault. And at least your commanding officer is able to see it. You are a man worthy of love, Hilary Becker, and everyone on your team and all the men under your command, and even Lester would agree with me. Though he may hem and haw before admitting it.”
Becker couldn’t help but smile. Jess had always been a ray of light in his world, and he was sorry that she’d been dragged into his darkness.
“Oh, shit!” Jess quickly pulled away and headed to the stove where the vegetables she’d thrown into a pan had started to burn. “Sorry! Sorry! I think I can salvage them,” she said, becoming a flurry of activity and Becker watched her in amusement.
A few minutes later, she sighed and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it under control. Dinner will take just a little bit longer.”
“Thank you,” Becker said, even though the moment had been broken for quite a while.
“For what?” Jess asked, looking at him over her shoulder, still all adorableness and innocence.
“For everything,” he said. For understanding what he hadn’t said as much as what he had, and not treating him any differently after he’d told her.
“You’re welcome,” she replied with a smile, and he was sure she knew exactly what he’d meant.
Later, Jess smiled softly as she watched Becker sleep on the sofa. He looked as relaxed and in control as he always tried to convey in his waking life. And, scarily enough, did a good job at it.
She wished there was a way she could convince Becker to get real help, but she had a feeling he would dismiss it quickly – either too proud to think he needed help, or his father had drilled it too far into him that “real men” didn’t need help.
Not knowing the extent of his issues, she would just have to do her best to make sure he at least ate and slept and didn’t get too far into himself. And she could probably convince Connor and Matt to start doing a boys’ night and convince Becker to go along. Or maybe they could go out as a group, the six of them. That’s what she’d do, she thought, nodding to herself as she went back to bed. She’d make sure he knew that there were people in his life that genuinely cared for him and thought the world of him, and hopefully that would help him at least pull himself out of his slump. And then, maybe once he was on better footing, she’d casually mention the possibility of getting professional help.
Now that they were in the public eye, and Becker was definitely part of the public face of the ARC, she had a feeling it was only a matter of time before he’d be called upon to do interviews and such on how they dealt with the creatures. And he’d probably be the focus of various groups who though his methods weren’t humane enough. She didn’t even want to think about possible fangirls.
And God forbid it got out that Emily was from the past, and Matt was from the future. She sighed as she got comfortable. They were all going to have a long road ahead of them.
The next morning, Becker was up before Jess and looked more rested than he had in days. “Good morning,” he said as he handed her a steaming cup of tea.
She took a careful sip and smiled blissfully at the taste. “Perfect,” she said. “Apparently, nothing gets by you.”
“Not a thing – that’s what makes me such a good soldier.” They both winced slightly. “I shouldn’t –”
“You do or say whatever makes you feel comfortable,” Jess replied quickly, gently patting his arm. “I told you you’ll get no judgment from me, and I have no plans to change that policy.”
“How did I get so lucky to have someone like you in my life?” Becker asked before taking a sip of his own tea.
Jess just grinned and began making breakfast. When Becker tried to help, she teasingly prodded him out of the way. “I told you I was going to take care of you, and I am,” she said. “So if you want to help, go sit down and look pretty.”
Becker looked like he was going to take offense at that, but then laughed and did as he was told. “Pretty, is it? Is that what everyone’s calling me these days? I thought it was ‘ruggedly handsome.’”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself,” she giggled. “Either way, you’re quite the looker.”
“Is that your personal opinion, or is that just the general consensus of the ARC?”
“Both,” she admitted, figuring that was safe enough ground to concede. “Have you and Lester talked about how you’re going to handle the fact that we’re now public?”
Becker shrugged. “We will at some point. He’s been discussing it with the Minister a lot. Obviously, the fact that we’ve been hiding this project for the past five years is something that has to be taken into consideration, and how to make that public without making people even more upset.”
“Do you think it’s better, now that people know?” Jess asked as she dished up eggs and toast.
“I hope so. Maybe now the public will actually listen to us when we tell them to do something. And we won’t have to worry about finding plausible cover stories. But I’m sure it’ll be harder too – with people who are actually interested in dinosaurs wanting to see them and following us around like groupies. As well as archeologists and paleontologists who want to study the creatures. But as long as I can do my job, I’m not going to complain.”
“What does your family think?” Jess asked hesitantly.
“My mum’s proud of me – she always has been,” Becker replied with a bit of a blush creeping into his cheeks. “My dad doesn’t know what to think. Obviously, soldiers tend to be very logical and literal, so telling him I fight dinosaurs now has him a bit flabbergasted. He’s convinced I’m feeding him a story because I’m doing something ‘highly classified’ and I feel like I need to tell him something so he can live vicariously through me.”
“I’ll bet.” Jess giggled. “Maybe the next time you have to take one down to get it through the anomaly, we should take a picture and send it to your dad. Maybe that’ll help prove you’re telling the truth.”
Becker sputtered out a bit of his tea that turned into a fit of coughing. “That would only make him more confused, I think. He’d spend the next week or so trying to figure out how it was faked.”
“I could do that too, if you want,” Jess replied. “Something like that would be child’s play for a tech goddess like me.”
“I’m sure it would be,” Becker said. “And I bow to your ability to coordinate all of us in the field. I did thank you for what you did during the whole New Dawn fiasco, right?”
“You did, but I’m always open to more thanks. Or, you know – dinner, flowers, candy, assorted gifts.”
As Becker laughed, Jess though that maybe going forward wasn’t necessarily a bad option either. It was definitely a better option than the world ending.
As things returned to their semblance of normal over the next couple of weeks, Becker breathed a sigh of relief. His nightmares slowly abated, his appetite returned, and he felt better. While he was used to these “attacks,” he hated not knowing how long they would last.
And Jess had been a rock for him the whole time. He knew what she was doing, bringing him food and tea throughout the day, but he didn’t comment on it aside from a small smile and a quick thanks. He knew in the absence of a crisis, she needed something to do to feel like she was taking care of at least one other person.
And while he could technically write off getting together with everyone outside of work to blow off steam as team-building, he knew she was behind those as well. And it didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the time with his colleagues-slash-friends any less, especially when he realized how competitive Matt and Connor were at darts, Especially in front of Emily and Abby – who tended to roll their eyes, and then wipe the floor with the guys.
He tried to tell himself that Jess’s attention on him was no different from the time she helped Connor through his case of cold feet as he and Abby started planning their wedding, but he knew it was. And he was also thankful that it wasn’t done as a bid to have her affections returned – he wasn’t as blind as everyone thought he was when it came to Jess’s crush on him – but instead out of genuine caring for him.
And that was his downfall. He was almost certain of it.
Because knowing she genuinely cared made him want to care about her in return. He found himself more than once wondering what she would think of something he saw in a shop window or what she’d say about a late-night program on the telly, or any program on the telly really, or anything at all.
So it was no real surprise the, when he woke up in the middle of the night from a particularly bad nightmare, he was calling Jess before he was fully awake.
“Becker, what’s wrong?” she asked sleepily.
“I’m sorry, Jess,” he replied, feeling himself relax just from hearing her voice. “I had a bad dream and wasn’t thinking. I’m going to hang up now, and please try not to be too upset when you see me at work tomorrow.”
Jess laughed, and Becker smiled at the sound. “You know I wouldn’t be upset with you, and I’m glad you called me. Care to talk about it?”
“Not really. Just normal stuff – death, destruction, dismemberment.”
“You really should get help for that. Especially if it’s on a regular basis.”
“I know, but –” Becker winced to himself. “I just – I don’t know, Jess.”
“You know none of us will think any different of you for doing it. I’m sure the others would even chip in to help with the cost. I know I would.”
Becker knew they would too. Connor and Abby especially. Matt and Emily could go either way, but would probably be persuaded. “I’m not going, but thank you for the sentiment. How did I get so lucky to have friends like you lot?”
“Because you’re an awesome guy, as it’s been previously pointed out.”
They talked for a while longer about everything and nothing, and Becker found himself calming down and starting to nod off before being jerked awake by his alarm clock. He started to call Jess back, but decided against it, knowing he’d get an earful either way, and figured it would be, mostly, safer to do it at work.
“I guess I should be honored you fell asleep on me last night,” Jess said with a smile when he approached her station. “How do you feel?”
“Much better, thanks,” Becker replied sheepishly. “And I am sorry.”
“I know you are. And I’m also glad you called me.”
“You okay?” Connor asked later that afternoon, pausing in the doorway to Becker’s office.
“Yeah, why?” Becker responded, looking up from his paperwork.
“Just checking. You’ve seemed a bit off lately.” Connor came a little further into the room. “Also, I wanted to say that if you hurt Jess in any way, I will hurt you. Well, me and Abby will, because I don’t think I’d get very far on my own. But I just wanted to make sure you knew that.”
“Thank you,” Becker replied in amusement. “I appreciate it. And if I do ‘hurt Jess in any way,’ I’ll help you hurt me.” Taking a chance, he added, “She’s been helping me through a few things, and I can’t begin to describe how amazing she’s been.”
“Good!” Connor replied, brightening. “That’s great! I’m glad you’re doing better.” Connor’s mobile buzzed. He glanced at it and grinned as he moved towards the door. “It’s Abby. I’d better go before she hunts me down to look at more wedding stuff. How long do you think it would take her to find me in here?”
Becker laughed. “I’m not sure, but I don’t want to take that chance. You should definitely go.”
Connor waved as he left, and Becker shook his head in amusement as he got back to his paperwork. It was the first time he’d even obliquely mentioned his issues when asked in passing, and he figured he should count it as a win that he’d be even somewhat willing to talk about it.
After taking a moment to make sure his paperwork was organized, he left to find Jess. He figured this was worth celebrating. Jess was out of her chair and ready to go so fast, Becker first thought there was an emergency.
“Not that I’m saying that you should proclaim it to anyone and everyone,” she said as they left the ARC. “But being able to admit that even you have problems sometimes is a huge thing. Drinks are definitely in order.”
Jess was aware of Becker’s feelings changing towards her before he was. At first she chalked it up to reading too much into things and letting her crush cloud her judgment. But as the weeks wore on, she noticed the way he seemed to casually single her out when they were out in a group to pay a little more attention to, or to sit next to her when there was a meeting at work, and she wasn’t so sure it was all in her head any more. Since she didn’t want to freak him out by saying anything, she played it cool and enjoyed his attention, meanwhile hoping he’d get his act together sooner rather than later.
“I think he fancies you,” Abby said one afternoon when they were taking a break to look at wedding magazines.
“Who?” Jess asked.
“Who do you think?” Abby grinned. “Becker! He’s always paying you a lot of attention, and you seem to be the only one who he’s been willing to have around since New Dawn.”
“Any idea what happened there?” Emily asked, looking up from her magazine. “Also, some of the things in these magazines are dreadful.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” both Abby and Jess replied at the same time and the three of them giggled.
“I can’t say anything for sure about what happened the day of the convergence,” Jess replied. “All I know is somehow it ties into his time on active duty. And he doesn’t fancy me!”
“Come on, Jess,” Abby teased. “You finally have a chance for what you want and you’re not going to take it?”
Jess sighed and put her magazine down in her lap. “I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it. And if he doesn’t, I don’t want to scare him off.”
“I doubt it’ll take more than that for you to scare off the big, bad Becker. But it’s good to know I’m not the only one who was scared at the beginning.”
“You?” Jess replied, unable to believe it.
Abby nodded. “I know Connor had a crush on me for ages before I started feeling even an inkling towards him. But it’s still different when it’s that long, and you’re not sure if he still feels that way, or if he’s just acting that way so you don’t suspect anything, but he doesn’t feel the same way anymore.”
“Thankfully, Matt and I are at the same place at the same time,” Emily added. “But I’ve had similar situations before I married my husband.”
“So what should I do?” Jess asked.
“Make sure he knows you’re still interested,” Emily said.
“And make him chase you a bit. I hear it works great on guys,” Abby agreed.
“It certainly worked on Connor,” Emily told her.
“Abby only needs to bat her eyelashes, and Connor would do whatever she wants,” Jess said.
“I am not paying you ladies to form a coffee klatch,” Lester said, sticking his head in Abby’s lab.
Jess and Emily smiled and handed their magazines back to Abby and headed to their stations.
When Becker called her in the middle of the night a week later, Jess was genuinely happy he called her and told him as much. As they talked, she could hear him relaxing through the phone and enjoyed their weird, slightly disjointed, and still comfortable conversation. And when she was certain Becker had fallen back asleep, Jess smiled to herself and hung up her mobile and went back to sleep herself.
His sheepish apology the next morning more than made up for any hurt feelings she may have had for a lack of scintillating conversation.
That afternoon, Abby stuck her head around Jess’s computers and said, “Don’t be surprised if Becker’s confused the next time you talk to him. Connor’s decided to give him the ‘if you hurt her, I’ll hurt you’ speech.”
Jess blinked at Abby for a moment and they both dissolved into giggles. “That should be an interesting conversation,” Jess replied.
“I’d better rescue him from himself,” Abby said as she pulled out her mobile and called Connor.
When Becker came to get Jess at the end of their shift to celebrate, Jess was ready to go even before she realized she was ready.
“Not that I’m saying that you should proclaim it to anyone and everyone,” she said as they left the ARC. “But being able to admit that even you have problems sometimes is a huge thing. Drinks are definitely in order.”
Becker laughed and slung an arm around her shoulders.
Once they were at the pub, he asked, “So you think I’m turning into a real boy?”
“I don’t know. Do you feel like a real boy?”
“Not sure, that’s why I’m asking.”
“Well, if you’d like to try a few things to see, I’m more than willing to help out,” she replied lightly before taking a sip of her martini.
He blushed and looked away and Jess smiled to herself. “Maybe I don’t know how,” he said.
“I don’t believe that,” she replied. “I’m sure you know exactly how. I think you just need to know you’ve done your duty for your father and that if he isn’t proud of you, then he isn’t worth it and that now it’s your turn.”
“That’s part of the problem – my parents are coming to visit.”
“When?” Jess asked, taking the hand that was on the table in hers and ignoring the tight grip that immediately encased her fingers.
“Friday night and staying through Monday morning.”
“Need help cleaning or hiding porn?”
Becker blinked at her for a moment before laughing. “I think I’m good on both of those counts, but having someone else making sure I have everything I need to entertain them might be a good idea. It’s been a long time since it’s been more than just me in my flat.”
“So shall we do that now, then?” Jess asked, knocking back the rest of her drink. She was curious how the sudden turn of events would play out.
Becker looked like he was about to complain, but instead threw a few bills on the bar and stood. “Why the hell not?”
Friday evening came and Becker’s parents invaded his flat with a flurry of hugs and kisses from his mother, Elizabeth, and a firm handshake from his father, Thomas. Then his mother peppering him with questions until Becker senior had put their bags next to the couch. And Becker was glad Jess had helped him make sure every nook and cranny in his flat was clean and his pantry was sufficiently stocked, knowing it would be one less thing for his mother to unnecessarily worry over.
“If you let him get a word in, he could actually answer your questions,” his father told Elizabeth dryly.
Becker laughed as his mother stopped talking and sat down on the couch, patting the cushion next to her.
“Everything’s fine, Mom, really,” he said, trying to remember her long list of questions. “Yes, some of the creatures are dangerous. I have taken down a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but most of what we deal with are smaller. No, we don’t go out looking for the anomalies; we have a system set up to tell us when one pops up and where it is. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell us what comes through, though I think Connor’s working on that. Yes, we do everything we can to stay safe. Yes, I still work with Lester, Connor and Abby. Connor and Abby are planning on getting married next year. And, no, I don’t have a special someone yet.”
“Time’s wasting, son,” Thomas said from the chair he’d sat in across from the couch.
“I still have time,” Becker replied.
“Of course you do, Hilary,” Elizabeth placated with a small glare at Thomas. “Is there anyone even remotely special in your life? A mother worries about these things. And there’s always grandchildren to think about.”
She gasped. “There is! Tell me all about her!”
“Her name is Jess, and I work with her. She came on about two years ago, and she’s our field coordinator while we’re out dealing with an anomaly. She’s brilliant at her job, and she’s a large part of what we do and why we’re so successful.”
“What sort of weaponry are you using now?” Thomas asked, and Becker wasn’t sure if he appreciated the change in conversation or not.
“We’re using EMDs – it fires an electromagnetic pulse which stuns, and sometimes renders unconscious, the target. It’s safer than the old weapons because it won’t kill the target, unlike bullets.”
“But don’t you want to kill the animals?”
“That’s only a last resort option. We prefer to get them safely back to where they belong if at all possible. Besides, since the anomalies can pop up at any time and place, we’d rather have someone bitching at us because we stunned them, and not because we shot them in the leg.”
“And are you satisfied with this line of work you’re doing?”
“I am,” Becker replied with a nod. “I enjoy the people I work with and knowing that I’m able to keep people safe.”
“You could also do that by reenlisting.”
“Dear,” Elizabeth sighed, and Becker guessed this had been one of their travel discussions.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Becker told her. “Dad’s entitled to his opinion. How was the drive in?”
“It was good, dear. And you know we could have stayed at a hotel – especially if things with Jess are starting to get serious.” She giggled, and Becker smiled fondly at her.
“We’re nowhere near that stage, if we ever will be. Besides, you’re my parents, I want you here.”
“What’s wrong with reenlisting?” Thomas asked. Revise that – it had been their main travel discussion.
Becker sighed inwardly, knowing the testing had begun. “Nothing’s wrong with it. I think it’s a very noble thing to do – if you feel called to do it. But I don’t – I never did. I’m much happier with the job I have now.”
“You’re happier chasing dinosaurs with glorified stun guns than you were fighting terrorists for the British crown?”
“Yes, Dad, I am,” Becker replied firmly, lifting his chin ever so slightly. “Beyond that, I command a platoon of very professional ex-soldiers where every day is a different challenge, making me use the knowledge and experience I gained from my time in special forces. Further, I know the shape I keep them in would make you proud were you to meet them.” Becker and Thomas stared each other down for a long moment before Becker quietly said, “There are other, equally valid, ways to bring honor to this family than simply fighting in the armed forces. And just because we’ve always done it this way, it doesn’t mean we need to continue doing it the same way. I wish you could see that.”
“You’re not going to give me a speech about Columbus agreeing with everyone that the world was flat?”
“If I thought it would help, I would.”
Thomas sighed. “Your mother already tried it on the way here.”
“I did,” Elizabeth replied with a nod and Becker laughed. “A blind man could see you weren’t happy as a soldier, even if you were quite good at it.” Becker could see she was thinking of the numerous awards he’d received throughout training and the number of records he’d set. “So the two of you are going to have to agree to disagree on this point, and during this trip, I want you to figure out how to have a relationship in spite of that. And if you don’t, you’re walking home, Thomas.” She patted Becker’s knee. “Now, where can we get a bite to eat?”
“I could make something or we could go out.”
Elizabeth and Thomas stood. “Let’s go out. It’s been ages since we’ve been in the city, and I plan on making the most of this visit. And I’m sure there are some funny stories you can tell us that aren’t classified.”
“Oh, I have a few,” Becker replied, thinking of Connor and Rex, as they made their way out the door.
“So how did it go?” Jess asked Monday morning.
“Good,” Becker replied with a smile. “My father is also still completely intact. My mother, unbeknownst to either of us, had decided that we needed to agree to disagree and get along, so the whole weekend I was expecting her to spank both of us if we didn’t make an effort. And who knew my father and I share a love for dinosaurs? He still doesn’t understand my decision to get out of the army, but apparently ‘big game hunter’ is a sufficient answer he can give his friends when they ask after me.”
Jess giggled. “That’s good. I’m glad you two have found some common ground.”
“Me too. And it’s good to know he is proud of me. He just didn’t know how to express it outside of the military, considering he made a career out of it.”
“Shared experiences are a powerful thing,” Jess agreed.
Becker nodded. “I doubt anyone else would consider raspberry jam funny the same way we do.”
Jess made a face, remembering the unfortunate incident in a Tesco’s. “Ugh! I still can’t eat it.”
She watched him go, happy things were better with his dad.
“I still don’t understand how he can make that much black look so good,” Emily said that evening in the dance studio as she and Jess watched Becker change out of his boots and into a pair of dress shoes.
“I suspect it’s his superpower,” Jess replied, lacing up her own shoes. “And his coloring – he’s got good coloring for it.”
Emily looked at her in confusion as Jess stood before they both dissolved into giggles. “And is this a tradition now – that we go with the bride and groom to learn how to dance before their wedding?”
“No, this is Connor not wanting to make an ass of himself all by his lonesome for our first class,” Abby said fondly. “I tried explaining to him that the instructor’s seen it all before and we’d be fine on our own, but he’s convinced of safety in numbers.”
“He and Matt should be on the same level,” Emily commented. “Any clue about Becker?”
“None whatsoever,” Jess replied and Abby shook her head. “Though I suspect it might be his hidden talent.”
“At least he’s not wearing those heavy boots in case he steps on your toes.”
The instructor called them to order and had the three pairs meet in the middle of the room. The lesson went well, and Becker, while nowhere near good enough to win any competitions, was definitely the best of the three guys. Matt, much to his chagrin, was actually worse than Connor, though they both picked up the steps quickly.
Jess enjoyed the lesson immensely. It wasn’t every day, or hardly ever really, that she had a gorgeous guy holding her in his arms like she was a precious treasure and moving her around the dance floor like she was a princess.
“Ooh, maybe we could do a tango for our first dance,” Connor said as the group exited the studio and headed towards the pub.
“Complete with rose?” Matt teased.
“Why not? It’s romantic.”
“We’ll talk about it,” Abby said, giving away nothing on what she thought.
“Did you have a good time?” Jess asked Becker while the others debated the tango versus the waltz as a first dance.
“I did,” Becker replied with a smile. “My mother made me take some dance classes when I was little – figuring it would give me a bit of polish, I think. I remember enjoying it, but that’s about it. Did you enjoy it?”
“I did. I’ve always wished I could dance like you see on telly or in the movies. I doubt I ever will, but it’s still fun to do it and think that they all started at the same place I did.”
“Very true. We could do it again, if you want.”
“Maybe,” Jess replied. “Or we could do something you want to do.”
“Like what?” Becker asked. “Somehow I can’t see you playing paintball.”
“How do you know? I could be great at paintball.” Becker raised an eyebrow. “Okay, so I’ve never played, but it doesn’t mean I couldn’t have a good time.”
“I’m sure you have a good time with whatever you’re doing, because you’ve made up your mind you’re going to have a good time.”
“I do tend to, yes.”
Without missing a step, Becker threw his arm around Jess’s shoulders and pulled her to him to plant a kiss against her temple. “Thank you.”
“What for?” Jess asked.
“For everything. For pulling me out of my shell and not taking no for an answer.”
“You don’t need to thank me for that,” she said sincerely. “I would do that for any of you.”
“I know. It’s still appreciated.”
“How is it we always end up in a pub playing darts?” Connor asked as they secured a table near the dartboard.
“It’s so we can appease our competitive nature without intentional bloodshed,” Becker replied.
“And to convince our beautiful companions we’re the best and that they should stick with us,” Matt teased.
“In that case, we better have Abby on our team instead of Connor,” Becker said, “we’d have a better chance if we ever got challenged by another team.”
The girls laughed, and Connor had the decency to look affronted before going with Abby to get the first round of drinks. Matt and Emily went to get the darts, and he continued to teach her how to play.
“Have you ever thought about settling down, starting a family?” Jess asked.
Becker shrugged. “Maybe a bit. Usually after I talk to my mother, and she bemoans not having grandchildren to dote on like the rest of her friends.”
“It’ll definitely be easier now that the ARC is out in the open.”
“Maybe. But if you had the choice, would you rather know what I do or believe a lie?”
“It’d have to be an interesting lie with the amount of physical damage you tend to sustain.”
Their conversation was cut short by Abby and Connor bringing back their drinks, but Jess had to concede Becker had a point.
Coming back from dealing with an anomaly, it hit Becker. He was in love with Jess.
It wasn’t as earth-shattering as he’d expected, honestly. He’d enjoyed her company ever since she’d started working at the ARC and had thought her crush on him was adorable.
But now that things were getting better with his father, and he was getting the recognition he’d want for a job well done with the ARC, it was Jess’s smile when he returned his box at the end of a mission that made him feel like he was Superman on top of the world. And he wanted to see her smile that way every day and make sure she was always happy and safe.
“What?” Jess asked, and Becker snapped back to reality. “Do I have something on my face?” She quickly pulled out her compact to check.
“You look great, Jess,” Becker replied, putting a hand on her arm to stop her. “Sorry – I was just thinking about something.” He swallowed and, before completely thinking it through, he asked, “How about dinner tonight? Just you and me?”
“That would be great!” she replied with a huge smile. “Where?”
“Wherever you want.”
“Right after work?”
“If you want. Or I could pick you up from your place – make it a proper date.”
Her eyes got huge and her mouth made a small ‘o.’ “A date date?”
“If you want,” Becker replied indulgently. “It’s completely up to you.”
“Yes, please! Pick me up at seven.”
That would give Becker two hours to get ready, provided there were no work emergencies. Totally doable. “As you wish,” he said. Seeing Lester coming out of his office, he added, “And now I’d best go shower before Lester starts complaining about tracking dinosaur muck around the ARC.”
“It’s almost like you can read my mind, Becker,” Lester replied dryly, but Becker could hear the amusement in his voice. “And when you’re done, I’d like to see you in my office.”
“Good luck,” Jess said.
“Maybe I’m finally going to get my tank.” Becker winked and headed towards the showers.
Becker sighed in relief when he left the ARC promptly at five. Lester’s “I’d like to see you in my office” had turned into a long, boring meeting about weaponry requisitions and such. Becker had happily gotten about half of what he wanted, tank aside – which was still somehow a no-go – considering he’d inflated what he wanted in hopes of getting what he actually needed, which was what had happened.
He was also home, showered, and back out the door quicker than he’d expected. He stopped by a florist and took longer than he’d planned to pick out a bouquet of flowers for Jess. Between the two, Becker was knocking on Jess’s door promptly at seven.
Jess answered the door with a smile, and as Becker followed her inside, she finished putting on an earring. “I’ll be ready to go in a moment,” she said. “I just have to get my shoes.”
When she came out of her room a few minutes later with said shoes on, Becker handed her the bouquet. “These are for you,” he said.
Jess looked at them softly and then smiled at him. “They’re beautiful, thank you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Let me just put these in some water and then we can go.”
As she arranged them in a vase, Becker stole one of the buds and broke off most of the stem. Jess looked at him questioningly, but Becker simply stuck the bud in her hair with a smile.
Jess giggled when they were ensconced at a booth at a nearby Italian place. “This is much different than I’d ever expected,” she said, looking over the menu.
“How so?” Becker asked, looking over his menu at her.
“I never really thought through going out with someone from work.”
“Good point,” Becker replied. “You’ll have to let me know how it goes.”
Jess nodded as the waiter came to take their order. “And you’ll have to let me know too, so we’ll know if we should do it again in the future.”
“It must work at least some of the time. Look at Abby and Connor.”
“And Emily and Matt. I think we’re the last ones to get together. Not that we had to,” she quickly added. “Just, you know, if we were to...”
Becker laughed. “I know what you meant. Though, couldn’t it be considered a little clichéd – me falling for the beautiful voice in my ear that always brings me home safe?”
“Oh stop,” Jess replied, but she was blushing. As with everything else, Becker thought it was a good look on her. Sobering, she asked, “Why me?”
“Why not you?” Becker asked. “You’re a beautiful woman who’s smart, funny, caring, generous – everything a guy could ask for. The better question is why me? When it comes down to it, I’m basically a one-trick pony.”
“You forgot your dashing good looks and that you look great in black,” Jess teased.
“There is that,” Becker replied.
“You’re more than you give yourself credit for. Yes, you’re good at your job, but you genuinely care about the people around you. You’ve got a great sense of humor. And you’re great at darts.”
“Ah, yes. If this whole anomaly thing doesn’t work out, I could always be a darts hustler.”
Their food came with the break in conversation, and they used it to change the subject. While there was a lot Becker knew about Jess, he was always happy that there was more to learn and hoped it never stopped. As the night wore on, they began telling embarrassing childhood stories, and Becker was surprised and pleased when Jess started to make it a competition for who had the most embarrassing story.
“I can’t believe I just admitted that!” Jess said as they left the restaurant. “I’ve never told anyone that story before!”
“Maybe you were just waiting for the right person to tell,” Becker said, offering her his arm.
“Would you like to come up?” Jess asked at the door to her building.
“Are you sure?” Becker asked. “It is getting kind of late.”
“It’s also a Friday night, and we both have off tomorrow,” Jess replied with a smile.
“Are you going to offer me coffee? Or whatever it is they do in those romantic comedies you love?”
“If you want,” Jess replied. “Or I have tea. Or we could go for something stronger.”
Becker laughed. “Prepared for all eventualities, are we?”
“You have to be,” Jess replied. “Never know what will happen.”
Becker smiled down at her. “Okay, but just for a bit.”
Jess’s smile was dazzling. “Just for a bit,” she agreed, having no intention of letting him go that quickly.
On the way up, they continued their movie discussion, and Jess was surprised Becker had never seen any of the Bond movies. “How could you not?” she asked in surprise. “That’s, like, unpatriotic or something.”
Becker shrugged. “I never really cared.”
“We’ll have to fix that right away,” she replied. Inside, she kicked off her shoes before opening another bottle of wine and poured two glasses before pointing Becker to the couch and handing him one. She set the other on the coffee table and went to her DVD collection. “I think we’ll start with Casino Royale, then we can go back through the others,” she said, putting the movie in the DVD player and turning on the telly. “It’s more personal preference than anything else.”
“Personal preference for Daniel Craig, you mean,” Becker teased.
“Could be,” she said, joining him on the couch. “And at least you know a bit about Bond.”
“It’s hard not to when there’s posters and adverts everywhere every time a new one comes out.” Becker took a sip of his wine.
The movie came on and, aside from a few comments, they watched in silence. And by the end, Becker had to admit that he enjoyed the movie and told Jess as much.
“Good,” she replied with a smile. She turned the TV and DVD off with the remote, but made no other move to get up from where she was snuggled against Becker’s side.
Impulsively, she leaned up and kissed him softly. Becker tensed for a second, then relaxed and gently kissed her back, as if he was afraid she would break.
“I’m not going to break,” she teased when they pulled apart. “You can kiss me harder.”
“Is that an order or a request?” Becker asked lightly, though she could see a bit of worry in his eyes.
“It’s just a statement. Though you could take it as either if it means you’ll kiss me again,” she said with a smile.
Becker raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you’d like that, now would you?”
“Very much so,” she replied.
Becker shifted a bit in his seat so he was facing her more and leaned in to kiss her, this time cupping her chin and tilting it up. This time the kiss was still soft, but lacked the tentative reaction of the previous kiss and was full of promise and desire, and Jess felt herself getting lost in the kiss. When he finally pulled away, Becker leaned his forehead against hers.
“I don’t want to scare you off,” she said quietly, “but I have to admit that my crush for you never completely went away, and I don’t think it ever will.”
“I know,” Becker replied.
“You know?” she asked in surprise, pulling away to look at him and Becker nodded. “So what’s this then? Was it a play to get in my pants because you thought my crush would make it easier?”
“What?!” Becker asked, sounding genuinely surprised. “No! This was because I wanted to.” His voice softening, he asked, “Have I ever said or done anything that would make you think that?”
“No,” she said. “But this is rather sudden.”
“Or I could just be really slow,” he said. “And you could just be amazingly patient with me until I came around. I think I like that story better.”
“Me too,” Jess replied. “So all this tonight was real, then?”
“One hundred percent,” Becker replied. “Cross my heart.” He drew an X over his heart.
Jess kissed him quickly before grinning at him. “So this is really happening?”
“Yes, it’s really happening.” Becker smiled softly at her and Jess was certain she could see love in his eyes, whether or not he’d be willing to admit it.
“We’re really going to be boyfriend and girlfriend?” she asked, clarifying because she was sure this was a dream, and she pinched herself. It definitely wasn’t a dream.
“We really are – if you want to, that is.”
“Yes! I really want to! You are such an idiot sometimes,” she said.
“Well, I hope you’re willing to forgive me.”
“If you promise to try harder in the future.”
“Oh, I will.”
“And if you kiss me again.”
Becker laughed and leaned in to capture her mouth with his. This time the kiss was definitely all heat and desire and Jess loved it. And if this was how Becker kissed, she couldn’t wait to see what he would be like when they actually had sex. In fact, she was looking forward to it.
“I should go,” Becker said regretfully when he pulled away.
“You could stay the night,” Jess said.
“I’d like to have something to look forward to,” Becker said. “Shouldn’t do too much in one night. First date and first kiss sound about right.”
“Yeah, after knowing each other for two years,” Jess teased.
“But it was great, wasn’t it?”
Jess nodded, there was no way she could disagree with that statement.
“So just think about how great it’ll be when I do finally decide to ‘stay the night.’”
“Oh, I will,” Jess replied, standing. “Come on, off with you then, if you’re not staying.”
“So you’re going to kick me out just like that?” Becker replied, sounding appalled, but stood anyway.
“Yes, I am.”
Becker sighed dramatically, but stood and followed her to the door. Leaning down, he took another quick kiss and bade her good night before quickly heading out the door.
The month following their first date was one of the best of Becker’s life. The day after, it seemed like the rest of the team knew, but didn’t say much beyond “congratulations!” and “finally!” and he got some pats on the back from Matt and Connor.
“Don’t look at me,” Jess said when he stopped by her station. “I didn’t say anything to them.” She bit her lip. “Well, not much. After you asked me out, Emily stopped by and asked if I wanted to go out with her and Abby, and I told her I couldn’t.”
Becker laughed. “I’m not upset, Jess. I have a feeling that if you hadn’t said anything, they would’ve figured it out anyway.”
From there, it was... easy. That was the simplest way to explain it. They just worked well together as a couple. And whenever they did try to put too much effort into it was when they had problems. But dinners out – alone and with the others, dinners over at the other’s flat, going to the pub, or the movies, or wherever, or doing nothing at all – it all worked. And Jess’s blush when Becker’s mom happened to call and she picked up the phone was possibly the cutest thing Becker could say he’d ever seen. The look of relief when Becker could finally rescue her, was possibly the second cutest. Not that he would admit either to anyone.
For their first month anniversary, Becker took Jess out to the Italian restaurant they’d gone to for their first date. Afterwards, they went back to Jess’s flat to watch another James Bond movie, also reminiscent of their first date. As the movie finished, Jess looked up at Becker expectantly.
He leaned down and kissed her and next thing either of them knew, she was straddling his lap and they were kissing hungrily. And Becker knew he wanted this now more than ever.
Pulling back, he whispered, “I love you.”
Jess grinned. “I love you too.” She bit her lower lip, consternation clouding her expression. “Are we...? Can we...?”
“If you want,” Becker replied, wanting to put the decision in her hands.
“Yes,” she replied, brightening.
Becker carefully pushed her dress up and over her head, depositing it on the couch beside him and then leaned forward so she could take off his shirt and undershirt. He gently ran his hands over her sides as he looked her over.
“You are so beautiful,” he told her.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” she replied and leaned down to kiss him, her lace bra brushing against his chest.
“Mmm,” he said, pulling back. “How about we take this to the bedroom?”
“Yes, please,” she said, getting up and pulling him up with her.
Becker eagerly followed her, enjoying the view of her long legs and lace-clad ass. As soon as they were in the bedroom, Jess turned around and undid Becker’s belt and trousers and pushed his trousers down to pool around his ankles. Becker kicked his trousers out of the way, then knelt down to take off his socks. Before standing, he nuzzled at the elastic waistband of her panties, then kissed the skin just below her belly button. Jess’s hitched breath made Becker look up and he knew the look of hungry desire she was giving him was equal to what he felt for her.
He stood and pulled her to him for another kiss, feeling his erection rub gently against her stomach, and she pressed tighter against him as they kissed. As they kissed, Becker reached behind Jess and undid her bra, easing the straps off her shoulders and tossing the garment on top of his trousers. Jess pulled away and, with an impish grin, spread out on her side on the bed. Becker slowly looked her up and down, enjoying the view of her perky breasts, taut nipples, and curvy hips tapering into long legs.
“Are you going to join me or are you just going to stare?” Jess teased.
Becker grinned as he shucked off his pants and let her look her fill, and she definitely liked what she saw, before he joined her, his erection pressing against her as they kissed again. Then he kissed his way down her neck and chest, going first for one nipple to lick and suckle it for a while, loving the sound of her breathy moans, and then moving to the other and working until she was writhing against him.
Then Becker continued kissing down her stomach and teased her belly button with his tongue, earning him a giggle, and he looked up at Jess and smiled before pulling off her panties and continuing down. Jess opened her legs wide for him, and Becker happily settled between them. Before starting, he looked up questioningly and she nodded, stroking her hands through his hair. He took his time driving her wild, taking her close to orgasm a number of times and then pulling back, each time earning him a frustrated yank on his hair. It was worth it when he finally took her over the edge, and she cried out and came, her juices washing over his mouth and chin in a rush as he continued to lick her inner folds through the orgasm.
When she relaxed back against the bed, Becker moved up to join her, and Jess grinned up at him before kissing him deeply. Then she rolled away and pulled a condom out of her nightstand drawer and opened it. Becker moved to take it from her, but Jess held it out of his reach, and he finally conceded and let her put it on his straining erection. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, knowing otherwise he wouldn’t be able to last through her touching him.
Jess playfully bit Becker on the shoulder when she was done and grinned innocently at him when he cracked an eyelid at her. Becker moved back between her legs and pressed into her slowly, watching for any signs of discomfort, but aside from biting her lower lip and letting out a slow breath, Jess didn’t protest.
“It’s been a while,” she said when he was all the way inside.
“Me too,” he replied.
Becker started his thrusting off slow and gentle, letting them both acclimate to the position. He leaned down and kissed her hard, and she tightened her legs around him, her hands caressing his arms and chest. It was all Becker needed to start picking up the pace. He didn’t last as long as he would have liked, but he was happy that he was able to bring Jess off a second time before he came.
He carefully collapsed against her when he was done and after getting his breathing back to normal, pulled out of her and took care of the used condom. He was about to sit on the edge of the bed and ask if Jess wanted him to stay, when she held up the covers and Becker gladly joined her under them.
She turned over and he spooned against her back, wrapping an arm around her waist, and kissed her shoulder. “Love you,” he said.
“Love you back,” she replied.
Becker smiled as he tucked his nose against her neck and fell asleep, knowing this was just another first in a long line of many. And he couldn’t wait to get to the next one.