Pairing: A bit of Matt/Ethan at the end
Word Count: 2,940
Summary: Ethan and Lester have to learn to live with each other when an anomaly leaves them stranded.
The Odd Couple
Ethan watched in dismay as the anomaly blinked out of existence, leaving him stranded. No, he corrected himself. Them. Lester was glaring at him as though the anomaly closing was somehow his fault. When Ethan ignored him, Lester turned back to the now-empty air where the anomaly had been only moments earlier. He knew what Lester was thinking: Maybe it would come back. Connor had said that it appeared to be stable, showing no signs of closing anytime soon, and so maybe this was just a temporary glitch.
Hoping didn’t help, though. He’d discovered that the first time he had inadvertently stepped though an anomaly, back in that old house. He had spent weeks hoping but he had soon realised that once that gateway closed, he was on his own.
Lester hadn’t yet worked that out, however, and had sat down on a nearby rock to wait.
“We should move.”
Lester looked at him as though he were stupid. “What is the point of moving away from here? When it reappears, how will we know?”
Ethan considered arguing with him, pointing out just how useless it was to sit here, but he knew that Lester wouldn’t listen.
“Bugger this,” he muttered, looking at Lester. “Piece of advice: you might want to shift your arse before the local wildlife realises you’re here and adds you to the dinner menu.”
He could feel Lester’s glare on him as he walked away, heading for the trees he’d seen when they first arrived. At least there he would stand a better chance of defending himself than out here in the open. He also needed weapons, and wood would be sufficient until he could make something more effective.
Ethan had no idea why he went back, but he found Lester sitting on the same rock, his jacket pulled around himself to fight off the cooling air. He was glad to see that the other man had at least taken some of his warning to heart, and was now armed with a thick branch. Lester looked so out of place here, in his expensive suit and shiny shoes, now with the huge stick balanced across his lap, that Ethan smiled.
“I’ve found some caves not far from here. It’s not much, but it’ll provide some shelter.”
Lester glanced up at him, seeming as surprised as Ethan was that he’d returned. He looked ready to object, his gaze still going back to the anomaly site, but there wasn’t time.
“It’s going to get dark soon and you don’t want to be out in the open when you can’t see what’s hunting you,” Ethan told him. “Well? Are you coming or not?”
With a sigh, Lester stood up, primly dusting off the back of his trousers and straightening his jacket before following.
The walk didn’t take long, about ten minutes and they were safely inside the caves. Ethan had already dragged a pile of fallen branches around most of the entrance to help shield them from anything prowling around outside, and now he carefully blocked the way they’d just come in, too.
Once finished, Ethan found himself a comfortable spot at the side of the cave, where there weren’t too many sharp edges, and leaned back against the wall.
“What now?” Lester asked. “Should one of us keep watch or something?”
Ethan knew that if something decided to attack them, knowing that it was coming wasn’t going to make much difference. There wasn’t anywhere to hide in the cave that a predator couldn’t also get to, and if they left it to find a hiding place outside, they would be run down before they made it even a few feet.
So far he hadn’t seen or heard anything that looked remotely dangerous. Of course, something else could come out at night but he had to trust that their refuge was well enough hidden to prevent anything coming near to investigate. He’d spent enough time in places like this to know that he would wake if anything happened. Being able to sleep light and become fully awake a split second had kept him alive for a lot of years.
“Be my guest,” he told Lester, leaning back and closing his eyes.
Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to let Lester stay on watch all night, he thought the next morning. The older man was in a worse mood now than he had been when the anomaly left them here. Obviously a lack of sleep made him cranky, or he just wasn’t a morning person. Whatever the reason, Ethan was moments away from snapping back at him. He had gone out that morning to find some breakfast, catching a couple of reasonably sized fish in a stream he had noticed nearby last night. It also provided drinking water, but he had nothing to bring any back in.
The fish were prepared with the knife he kept in his pocket and skewered onto a long thin branch.
Lester, meanwhile, just stood and watched.
“You could help, if you wanted,” Ethan told him sarcastically. “Get the fire going.”
Lester frowned at him. “That will just fill up the cave with smoke.”
“No, it won’t.”
“If you light a fire in an enclosed space such as this, there is nowhere for the smoke to go, therefore it will remain in the cave,” Lester informed him in a tone that suggested he was speaking to a five year old.
Ethan took a deep breath and resisted the urge to throw the other man out of the cave and let him fend for himself, but he wouldn’t do that. Matt would never forgive him.
“Look up,” he said, through gritted teeth.
He could see the moment that Lester understood, though he never said anything by way of a ‘you were right’ or an apology. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and crouched down near to the pile of dry wood that Ethan had placed at the far side of the cave. That side had obviously had a rock-fall at some point and, while still sheltered from the wind, the gap in the roof left a space for the smoke to escape.
Five minutes later, he was still crouched there, trying in vain to get a spark from the flints. He huffed as Ethan pushed him aside and started the fire.
“I am quite capable of doing that,” he grumbled.
Ethan laughed. “Could have fooled me.”
Lester watched as he balanced the fish over the fire to cook, the look on his face told Ethan that he wasn’t keen on the idea.
“It’s this or you go get your own bloody breakfast,” he pointed out.
Lester didn’t say a word.
It was noon they made their regular trip back the anomaly site. Lester insisted on going back a couple of times a day to check for signs of it opening again, or anyone coming through looking for them. Each time over the past three days it was the same: Nothing.
“We’re going to be stuck here, aren’t we?”
Ethan looked over at him. “It’s not such a bad place,” he said. “We’ve got fresh water, food, shelter and, best of all, nothing’s tried to eat us yet.”
It occurred to him that he was saying ‘we’ rather a lot. He should just ditch Lester and head out on his own, just like he always had, but it was nice to have company. Sure, his company was an irritable middle-aged civil servant who would probably have arrested him given the chance, but it was better than nothing. Besides, the man was starting to grow on him.
So did a parasite, Ethan thought nastily, but that didn’t mean you kept it around and fed it.
He tolerated the others back at the ARC for Matt’s sake; after all, Matt had stuck up for him, kept him out of a prison cell, but he’d never had much time for Lester. The only time Lester spoke to him was to berate him about something, otherwise ignoring him. He had been there for a few months but Lester still had him watched at all times, as though expecting Ethan to try and kill him in his sleep. That pissed him off; he’d given his word that he wouldn’t cause trouble, wouldn’t annoy anyone, wouldn’t handle weapons, wouldn’t breathe without someone’s permission. So far he’d been a model citizen, no matter how much he hated it, but still Lester treated him like a naughty child.
“Is this what it was like when you came through?” Lester asked suddenly. “I understand from the file that you were only fourteen years old.”
Ethan let out a bitter laugh. “No. Compared to that hell-hole, this is paradise. I didn’t know where I was, how I’d got there or how to get back. I found a partly-ruined building to shelter in, and I’d spend every night listening to the creatures outside, just waiting for one of them to find me. I had no food, no water, and no-one came for me. I waited, but he never-”
He stopped, realising what he’d said, but Lester had already picked up on it.
“Who? Danny?” Lester asked. “He didn’t even know about the anomalies until we met him. He couldn’t have known where you had gone.”
Ethan stood up. “I’m hungry; I’m going fishing,” he said, effectively stopping the conversation and walking away.
After a few moments, he heard Lester following him.
“You know, it doesn’t make you weak to have wanted Danny to come for you,” he said, and Ethan sighed. He should have known that Lester wasn’t one to take a hint and drop a conversation. “In fact, you’re anything but weak. You were only a child, yet you survived all those years on your own. I honestly don’t think I would have fared so well, had our situations been reversed.”
“What?” Ethan stopped. Was that an actual compliment he’d just heard?
Lester continued, oblivious to Ethan’s surprise. “Of course, many of your actions of late have been appalling. I would like to think that, after everything, I would still have better judgement…”
Ethan smiled. Now there was the Lester he’d come to know.
The days passed into weeks and, to Ethan’s surprise, Lester turned out not to be as big a pillock as he’d first seemed. Maybe it had been the bone-deep fear when the anomaly closed, leaving them in a strange world, where it wasn’t clear where on the food chain they were going to find themselves. He remembered that feeling well, and suspected that he would have been in much the same mood as Lester had for the first few days. If anyone had been around when he first went through, he thought.
Lester had been trying to pull his weight after those first few days of sitting, staring out at the landscape with a metaphorical dark cloud hanging over him. Since then, he had started helping to collect more firewood or go out with Ethan to fish or hunt or collect berries for their meals.
“Can I ask you something?” Lester said that evening, as they cooked the large rodent-like creature they’d caught earlier, on a spit over the fire. It had resembled an oversized squirrel and, despite Lester’s appetite fading slightly as he’d watched Ethan prepare the creature to cook, he’d spent a good part of the afternoon chasing the damn thing and he wasn’t about to let that hard work go to waste. He was hungry and thoroughly tired of fish and berries.
“Depends what it is.”
Lester smiled as though he’d expected no less of an answer. “Why did you stay, knowing that you were likely to be arrested?”
“Matt.” Ethan told him quietly, not meeting his eyes. Even now, it seemed like a foolish thing to do, an overly-sentimental move that could have seen him locked away in a cell for the rest of his life. “He asked me to. He promised he wouldn’t let you lock me up.”
“That seems incredibly trusting for a man who professes to trust no one.”
Ethan glared at him, partly because he was right. “Well, maybe I’d had enough of living like this, spending every day looking over my shoulder.”
Lester looked around and nodded. “That would be a good enough reason for me,” he said, adding, “I think you’re the first person I’ve seen him take to since he arrived. Except for Becker. Put those two together and they turn into bickering children.”
“I’ve seen them,” Ethan told him. “It reminds me of when Danny and I were kids. We’d argue all the time, but we never meant it, you know? It used to drive mum crazy.”
He poked at the squirrel with a stick. It was rather charred on the outside but then it had to be to ensure it was cooked all the way through. “I think dinner is ready.”
Taking his knife, Ethan cut a few slices off the carcass and onto one of the flat pieces of bark they had been using as plates before handing the knife to Lester to do the same.
Both men chewed hard for a few minutes before Lester forced himself to swallow. “Well, it’s safe to say that we can remove prehistoric squirrel from the menu.”
Ethan wasn’t one to turn down food, no matter what it was, being so used to the uncertainty of where his next meal would come from, but he had to agree.
“Definitely. It’s like trying to eat a roasted boot. Tastes like it too,” he said. “Still, I’ve eaten worse.”
Lester smiled. “With Matt’s cooking skills, I expect you have.”
“Don’t you dare say anything about M-” Ethan snapped, stopping when he realised that Lester was just teasing.
They ate as much of the squirrel as they could stomach, not much in Lester’s case, before settling in for yet another night in the cave. As with every other night, they heard the sounds of various animals outside, passing by their hiding place without bothering them. Ethan only woke if the noise got too close, telling him that the creature was nearer than he was comfortable with, but each time he opened his eyes he saw Lester. The other man was sitting up, his eyes shining in the faint moonlight coming into the cave.
“Have you slept at all?”
Lester shook his head. “I can’t. I keep hearing them prowling around out there.”
Ethan sighed. Lester had been looking more and more exhausted as each day went by and it wasn’t good for him. He needed his strength if they were to survive here, and going without sleep would not aid that.
“I’ll stay awake and keep watch,” he offered. “You need to rest.”
Twenty-two days after watching the anomaly close before their eyes, leaving them trapped, Ethan heard something. Just a faint sound, distant, but one that didn’t fit in this world.
“Where are you going?” he heard Lester call out behind him as he dropped his makeshift fishing net onto the grass and set off at a run.
The sight that greeted him made him heave a sigh of relief. Becker’s security team had already taken up defensive positions around the anomaly site, Becker and Connor up on the rocks, scanning the area. Someone called out to him but he ignored them, other things on his mind.
He knew he should have been embarrassed, throwing himself at Matt as he did, but he honestly didn’t care as Matt hugged him tightly. Suddenly, Matt moved back.
Ethan frowned. “Seriously? That’s the first thing you ask me?” he asked, pushing roughly away from Matt and waving a hand in the direction he’d come from. “Lester was following me. It’s not my fault he’s so bloody slow.”
Matt caught his arm as he tried to walk away. “Ethan-”
“No, go see him since you’re more concerned with him than me.”
The feel of Matt’s hands on his face, holding him still as Matt kissed him, made him stop.
“Stop being such a pain in the arse! Did I say I was more concerned about him? No, I didn’t; I was just asking,” Matt told him before adding in a lower voice. “I’ve been worried about you.”
Ethan smiled. It was the first time in a long time that he’d had someone caring whether or not he even came back. No one except Danny, but that was different. He was family.
“Do you think that you two could possibly save this touching reunion for when we are back in our own time?” a snarky voice asked. “I, for one, would like to go home before the anomaly closes again.”
Ethan turned to see Lester walk past, fending off the medic and insisting that he was fine.
“You just don’t want to have to eat fish for tea,” he teased Lester, who retorted with a roll of his eyes.
“If I never see a fish again, I’ll be extremely happy,” Lester told him. “But at least it wasn’t as bad as the squirrel.”
Feeling his nose scrunch involuntarily with distaste, Ethan nodded. “Good point,” he agreed, following the others toward the anomaly.
“You two seem friendly,” Matt observed. “I was half expecting you to have killed each other.”
Ethan shrugged his shoulders. “He’s not so bad once he stops acting like such a dick,” he said, flashing Lester an innocent smile when it became clear he’d overheard.
Matt bit back his laughter at the offended look on his boss’s face.
“Come on; time to go home.”
* Yes, I know it's a stupid title but I got tired of trying to think of another one!