Notes: pink_flame_87's piece for write for relief. Thanks to bailey1ak for looking over this.
A/N: Sorry this took so very long to post. Thanks you for all of your reviews and comments. I'm a Southern American writing British English, so please pardon my errors in that regard.
. . . . .
Take out boxes were strewn across the coffee table. Jess had not eaten anything since breakfast, so she may have gone overboard with ordering the takeout. Becker insisted on paying for it all anyway. She put down the prawn cracker she'd been nibbling and regarded him for a moment.
Eventually he noticed her attention and raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"What was Sara like?"
She felt Becker tense beside her and then quickly relax. Jess chewed the inside of her lip and tried to change the subject.
"If you don't want to talk about he it's fine. It's just...you said I could ask you anything about the old team, and I've never heard you talk about her..."
"She was...brilliant," Becker answered finally, cutting off Jess' blabbering.
"You liked her," Jess stated. During their time together, working at the ARC, she had been able to observe Becker's reaction whenever the late Dr. Page was brought up. There were references made to the work she had done with Cutter in deciphering the true nature of the artifact that Helen Cutter had discovered in the future and brought back to the present.
She turned to look at Becker, to gauge his reaction at her words.
He spoke in such a low tone that she barely heard his response. "It doesn't matter. She's gone."
"What happened to her isn't your fault."
"Seeing as it was my job to keep the team alive, yeah, I'd say it was." There was little bitterness in his tone, not anymore. It was as if he had repeated the words so many times that he was no long able to say them with any discernible feeling.
Becker stared straight ahead, his eyes not focused on anything particular. As Jess studied the stubbled line of his jaw, she wondered if he was thinking on some unspoken memory of Sarah. She chewed the inside of her bottom lip, debating on whether or not to ask. When she finally decided to go ahead, Becker spoke. "She was a lot like you, you know."
Jess looked at him inquisitively. "How so?"
"She liked to run ahead, trying to save the day without any regard for her own safety."
"I'm hardly that fearless," Jess told him.
"Diffusing a bomb counts, I think. The next time I tell you to get out of there Jess, I hope you'll listen to me."
"And have you be blown to bits when I could have done something for that not to happen? I don't think so."
"That's just the thing, isn't it. It's my job to protect you, and I can't do that when you people won't listen to me half—no—most of the time.
"I've gotten a second chance with Connor and Abby. Look, I know that they've got enough experience to handle themselves and have a pretty good idea of what they're dealing with when they go through an anomaly or face a creature. But you—" Becker paused abruptly.
"Yeah?" Jess urged him to go on.
They were shoulder to shoulder on the couch. Becker remained silent. After a while, Jess turned to look at him. She opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it, not wanting to risk cutting him off. Eventually, he inclined his head toward her and began speaking in a low voice.
"You've read all our files, including the old mission reports, right?"
"Yes. I mean, except for the personal bits," she added, hoping she didn't sound too lame.
"Well, then you have a pretty good idea of how dangerous this work is, how many good people have been lost. People with a lot more years and experience than you have."
Jess rolled her eyes, but bit the inside of her cheek to keep from talking. She hated when people brought up her age. Yes, she was technically still a teenager, but she felt that by now she should have proven her maturity so as to allay any doubt that she was capable of understanding the gravity of exactly what one was risking each time they faced a new anomaly.
"You're . . . beyond brilliant and a great field coordinator," Becker continued. Jess felt her heart flutter at the compliment, still, she wondered how this related to his comparing her to Sarah.
"Alright," Jess' brow furrowed as she tried to figure out what he was trying to say. When he didn't explain any further, she finally just asked. "What does any of this have to do with me being like Sarah?"
"I don't want you to end up like her." He finally looked at her. There was an intense pain behind his eyes, and Jess thought back to the days when he had first returned to the ARC. No one had told her anything directly, but she was a good listener, and as such, she was able to deduce that it had taken a great deal of persuasion to get Becker to return to his position at the Center.
And yes, she had read Sarah's file, including the report on the young Egyptologist's death. Becker had been there, but from the details provided, Jess was convinced that he did everything in his power to save her, yet failed. Things had gone very bad, very quickly. And now, she realised, he most likely still blamed himself for what had happened.
"She was a scientist, a researcher, and I never should have let her go out in the field on those missions. I'm not going to make that mistake again."
"Connor and Abby go out on missions all the time, Becker."
Becker rolled his eyes. "You're honestly not using them as an example—"
Jess raised her hand, signaling him to let her finish. "I'm just saying that we're all adults. Everyone is very much aware of the risks of this job. Yes, I might be mad to have taken this job after seeing a stampede run through Parliament, but was a brilliant opportunity, and I feel like I'm actually making a difference in the world. How many people my age can say that, honestly?" She was waving her hands around a little wildly and Becker grabbed her wrists, trying to calm her down but Jess ignored him.
"And yeah, if I'm the only thing standing between enjoying one more night of prawn crackers with you as opposed to choking out a few kind words over your grave, well, I'll always choose option A, thank you very much, Captain."
By the time she finished her little tirade, she was a little out of breath and she felt her cheeks growing red. She had not meant to sound that dramatic, but she really cared about Becker.
She wished he would say something. He continued to stare at her, very intently, but with an unreadable expression.
She glanced down, saw that his large hands were still wrapped loosely around her wrists; she must have looked so delicate to him. He lifted his right hand and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, his fingers brushing lightly over the shell of her ear. Her eyes fluttered closed and she swallowed, trying to remain still. This seemed like one of those moments that discourages any sudden movements, and Jess usually followed her instincts about such things.
His hand came to rest on the side of her neck, his thumb lightly caressing her jaw. Jess slowly opened her eyes just in time to see his face very close, and then his lips were pressed against the corner of her mouth.
He pulled away, but jess leaned forward, kissed him on the mouth, catching his top lip. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and Becker wasn't shoving her away in disgust, so she had a few seconds to consider things, just enough to have serious doubts about how she was going play this afterward.
She had not thought this through at all, as he had probably kissed her on the cheek for a very good reason. But if he had been trying to be completely chaste, he should not have kissed her that close to the mouth. What if he really didn't mean to, and his aim was just off because of the concussion? Might as well end this so he could get on with patting her head and letting her down easy.
He kissed her back—he was so kissing her back, readjusting his mouth against hers, parting his lips just enough to deepen the kiss, his fingers of one hand pressing at the back of her neck while the other caressed her wrist and palm.
It was over as abruptly as it had started. Jess opened her eyes, trying to gauge Becker's reaction. His hazel eyes stared into her blue ones, his expression was less than inscrutable. She cleared her throat and licked her lips and looked away. She refused to put her foot in her mouth in this situation.
Her eyes snapped back to his face. "Yeah?"
"I'm...not good at this."
"How do you mean?"
Becker sighed. His hand finally dropped from around her wrist, and his posture became less relaxed, guarded even. "I didn't even have the stones to kiss you properly the first time, and I really like...having prawn crackers with you."
Jess finally spoke. "Why do I feel a 'but' coming?" And if he mentioned something about her age, she might scream, which, granted, was not the most mature argument for her case. However, he very well knew how old she was when he was buying her chocolate with no orange and letting her fall asleep in his shoulder, hanging around the ADD when he didn't have enough security stuff to keep himself occupied...
"Jessica." He had her attention. She braced herself for whatever he was about to say to mollify her anxiety and dread of rejection.
"Hilary." His eyes widened at her uttering his first name. She had never done it before, but she had learned it when reading his personnel file, and she felt like if there were any time she would reveal her knowledge of it, this was it.
There was a miniscule twitch in his jaw, but for the most part he ignored her bait. "There's no 'but.' There's no point in denying that I fancy you. I've fancied you for a while."
"You don't want to break my heart, right?" Jess cut to the chase. It was cliché, but that didn't make it any less true. She had watched enough romantic comedies to know that.
Becker sighed. "Well, that's an oversimplification really." He did not deny her assertion.
"Is it? Look, I'm a big girl. Bad choice of words maybe, but the point applies. This is just, like, really sucky timing. You could have died today, and it makes you start to think about things. Even though you're drugged and brain-damaged, I'm really glad that I get to spend this time with you. I was really scared for you back there."
Becker put his hand on her cheek. "I'm sorry."
The way he was looking at her now and the heavy way in which he spoke the apology made Jess wonder if he was just apologising for scaring her or...something else, something that his years of military discipline would not let him put into words. She shrugged and he took his hand away. "It's fine. So...shall we get on with the rest of the night, not talking about prawn crackers?"
"Prawn crackers, eh?" Becker gave her a tired smile as he leaned back against the couch.
'Seems appropriate." Jess leaned back as well, once again touching her shoulder to his. She tucked her feet under herself, and Becker draped his arm across the back of the couch, behind Jess.
She felt him leaning toward her and she turned her head slightly to see what he was doing. He pressed a soft kiss against her temple. "You're brilliant," he told her.
"I know." She pursed her lips to stifle the smile that teased the corners of her mouth.
. . . . .
A/N: I feel like this story could use an epilogue. however, I've no idea when I will be able to complete it, so for now, the story is "complete." Feedback is lovely.