Pairing: James Lester / Hilary Becker
Word Count: This part 3,847 (7,065 in total)
Summary: After the disastrous end to the ARC project, Lester found that returning to his life wasn’t as easy as he first thought. He wasn’t the only one.
SPOILERS: End of series 3, webisodes, start of series 4
If I should fall
James Lester sat behind his desk in the Home Office and half-heartedly poked at a pile of paperwork with the end of his pen. It had been two months since the ARC had been closed down, the project coming to an abrupt end following what his superiors called ‘one too many errors in judgement’. Errors in judgement, that was what they’d said, though he wondered how they could call the loss of three members of his team and the death of another an error.
Sarah Page’s death had taken a toll on all of them. At least they could still believe that Danny, Connor and Abby were still alive, wherever they were, but when Becker had returned carrying Sarah’s body, bloodied from the creature attack, it had hit them hard. And she was just the latest casualty of Becker’s relentless search for his missing team mates. Two of his men had returned with serious injuries from the previous trip, just as he himself was sporting a line of stitches and a bandage on a particularly nasty gash to his forearm.
When word had reached them of the decision to discontinue the project, Lester’s first thought was of those still missing. What if they returned and found no one here? He couldn’t bear them thinking that they had been abandoned. There was still a chance for them, he knew; there was a small contingent remaining on alert for anomalies but they were merely a clean-up crew. There would be no studying of the creatures, no investigating the anomalies or trying to predict them. They would merely go in with guns blazing, lock the anomaly and kill anything that had come through.
Those overseeing the ARC no longer saw Lester as fit to run it, his record with the project had too many deaths and losses to be left in charge. Dr Page had been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, one too many incidents that they saw as a lack of control over the project.
Becker and the military team had all been recalled, their orders coming through the same day as the ARC was closed, while the civilians scientists and techs’ contracts were terminated. And him? He had been brought back here and assigned to a desk in a dark corner of the Home Office, where his superiors and colleagues barely spoke to him, seeing the ARC project and its leader as a failure to be ignored at all costs.
Lester missed the others from the ARC, though he would likely deny it should he be asked. He missed having them around, missed having someone to talk to, and it was for this reason that he had sought out Becker. He had grown increasingly fond of Becker, a little more fond than had been acceptable when he had been Becker’s superior at the ARC. There, his interest had mostly been limited to watching from afar whilst enjoying the younger man’s friendship. Sometimes he had thought that Becker returned his interest, but it was only in those last few weeks that he had been sure of it. By that point, Lester didn’t give a damn about etiquette, about relationships between a superior and his employee being frowned upon. With what they were going through every day, they deserved any bit of happiness they could find and it was nobody’s business but theirs. When it was just the two of them, the only ones left from the team, they had become closer, spending their evenings at one or the other’s home or in a quiet pub, trying to drown out the failures of their latest rescue attempt.
After he’d lost Sarah, Becker hadn’t handled it well at all. Lester remembered the day he’d gone to Becker’s house, looking for the man when he didn’t turn up for work or answer the numerous phone calls. He’d found Becker passed out on his sofa, an empty Jack Daniels bottle dropped onto the floor beside him. He was glad that he knew where Becker kept his spare key, he thought as he let himself in, trying to rouse the other man. Eventually, he had dragged Becker upstairs, still unconscious and held him, fully dressed, under a cold shower. Becker came around a short time later, swearing at Lester and looking embarrassed at being found this way in equal measures.
That had been the turning point, the drinks after work becoming dinner or a film, anything that would prevent them both using alcohol to wipe out their day. It seemed that event had brought a new level of trust between them too, something closer than friendship, something that had stopped before it really began as the ARC was closed and both of them reassigned.
Lester had no expectations of picking up where they had left off in their potential relationship; he would be happy just to have Becker’s friendship back.
Tracking down a special forces Captain wasn’t an easy task, even when he could use Home Office clearance to bully people into giving him information, but what he found was a shock.
Becker had gone AWOL almost immediately after being recalled. That had been two months ago.
It took Lester a while, but eventually he found Becker. Or at least he thought he had. It seemed that Hilary Becker had dropped off the face of the planet since they had last spoken: no credit card transactions, no bills, no calls made from his phone… no trace of him at all. But Lester was not without connections, and determination went a long way.
Which was why, three weeks later, he found himself standing in the middle of Bradford city centre at eleven o’clock at night, feeling distinctly out of place as the masses of twenty-somethings passed him by. He was right where he needed to be, though.
He waited until the latest group of partygoers went into the nightclub, keeping out of sight as he watched, hoping that this was the right place.
Eventually, the taller of the two doormen turned, and Lester felt a sigh of relief escape his lips. It was definitely Becker, though his hair was cut shorter and he had a couple of days growth of stubble. He’d also lost weight, Lester noted; he obviously hadn’t been looking after himself.
Lester waited until there was a lull in activity and the other doorman had moved away slightly before approaching, still unsure of what Becker’s reaction would be. He didn’t want to cause a scene and make Becker run again or, worse, get him sent back to the Army to face charges of being absent without leave.
The moment that Becker saw him, his eyes widened in alarm and he looked ready to bolt, only Lester’s hand on his arm stopping him.
“I’m here alone; no one else knows where you are.”
Becker appeared to relax a little, but the nervous looks he kept shooting toward the other doorman didn’t stop.
“It’s ‘Alex’,” Becker cut him off in a low voice.
Lester nodded. “I wanted to see you. What happened?”
“Not here, please, James.”
“What time do you finish? My car is nearby; I can sit and wait, if you like.”
“I’m off at 2 am.” After a moment’s hesitation, Becker took a set of keys out of his pocket and handed them over, borrowing a pen from Lester to write down an address on the back of a bus ticket he found in his pocket. “So you don’t have to sit in your car. This is my place. I don’t think there’s much food in, and I don’t have a TV, but you can make yourself a cup of tea while you wait.”
Lester accepted the keys and the address, looking up when the other doorman came across.
“Alex, the boss wants a word.”
Becker nodded and turned away and, as Lester left, he heard the other man ask,
“Who was that?”
“Old friend,” Becker replied, the rest of his words drowned out by the music as he opened the door to go inside.
Lester checked the address three times to make sure he’d read it right. This place was a dump; he didn’t even want to leave his car outside, fearing that the wheels, or possibly the whole car, would be gone by the time he came back to it. The buildings were run down, a few of them abandoned, with their windows smashed and boarded over. It was definitely correct, he discovered as he tested the key that Becker had given him in the lock.
Upstairs, he used the second key to let himself into flat 1b. Inside was an improvement on the outside, but that wasn’t to say it made him feel any better about the fact that Becker was living here. Flicking on the light he saw that the tiny flat was barely more than three rooms, just a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/living area, the furniture old and shabby as though it had either come with the flat or had been a handout from someone looking to throw it away. From outside, the flickering of a streetlight made shadows dance on the wall and Lester pulled the curtain across the window to stop it before heading for the kitchen. Becker had said to make himself a cup of tea, and that was what he needed right about now.
Three hours later, Becker came home looking weary and still suspicious of Lester’s sudden appearance.
“Would you care for some tea?” Lester offered as Becker dumped his coat in the corner of the living area. “Or something to eat? I took the liberty of restocking your refrigerator, seeing as you didn’t have any food.”
Becker frowned at him. “Why?”
“As you said, you don’t have a TV and I got bored,” Lester told him with a smile. “Turns out there is a 24 hour supermarket not far from here. Now, you must be hungry if you’ve just got home from the club.”
“I usually don’t bother about having anything when I get home, just go to bed.”
Lester cast a critical look over Becker. “No wonder you look so thin if you’re not eating properly.”
“Well the majority of what I earn from the club goes toward bus fares to get me there and paying rent on this shit-hole. Food, I can do without if I have to,” Becker replied defensively, turning on his heel and heading for his bedroom, leaving Lester regretting that last comment.
He reappeared ten minutes later in a pair of jogging trousers and a t-shirt with a hoodie hanging open over it. By which time, Lester had a cup of tea waiting for him, as well as a plate of scrambled eggs on toast with a side of bacon. He wasn’t sure if it would be welcome or not, but he hated seeing Becker like this. Telling him to sit down, Lester passed him a tray with his plate of food, utensils and tea, waiting until Becker began before sitting down with his own mug of tea.
“Why are you here, James?” Becker asked when he’d finished and set his tray aside.
“I tried to get in contact with you and they told me what you’d done. I was worried about you.”
“You thought maybe I’d done something stupid?”
Lester smiled. “Well I was the one who found you unconscious the last time,” he said, only half joking. The thought that Becker could have had another bad day and drunk himself into coma had crossed his mind briefly. “You went missing, Hilary. What was I supposed to think? There is an arrest warrant out for you, for goodness sake.” He saw Becker tense and reassured him. “I meant what I said earlier. No one knows where you are but me.”
“Before you even suggest it, I won’t go back. I can’t.”
“I’m not going to make you. What happened?”
Becker looked down at his hands then, avoiding Lester’s eyes as he spoke.
“I thought I could just pick up where I left off but I couldn’t. I submitted my resignation but when I petitioned to be allowed to leave immediately, they refused it. Said I’d have to wait the required twelve months. So, I left. I didn’t really think it through at the time, but I just knew I couldn’t go back.” He glanced up, the expression on his face telling Lester that he was expecting to see disappointment there. “I couldn’t go back into combat; I couldn’t handle losing anyone else. Danny was my best mate, Connor and Abby, and Cutter. Then Sarah. I’m a soldier and I’ve lost people before but that’s war, you know what you’re fighting for. Watching that creature kill Sarah for no reason other than because it wanted to, and not being able to do anything to save her...”
“So, I got away before they could put me back on rotation and ship me out to fuck knows where, and ended up here. A mate of mine owns the club and he’s been paying me cash in hand.”
“Why didn’t you call me? I might have been able to help.”
Becker smiled sympathetically at Lester. “Forgive me for saying, James, but I doubt that you’re looked upon any more favourably than I am at present.”
Lester thought back to his desk at the Home Office, the corner they’d tucked him away in so that they wouldn’t have to acknowledge the spectacular disaster that the ARC project had become. After the final few months of the project, and the losses suffered whilst on his watch, Becker would not have returned to the army as a hero, rather as the man who had lost five of the people in his primary care.
“I could at least have been a friend,” Lester told him. “Or I could have helped financially, if you needed money.”
“I didn’t want to get you involved. I knew the risks of walking away; I wasn’t willing to let anyone else, especially you, get caught up in it.”
Standing, Lester tidied away their cups and plates before returning to Becker.
“Now, you should get some sleep,” he said. “We can talk again when you wake up.”
Becker looked surprised. “You’ll still be here?”
“I shall,” Lester informed him. He had already called the office and told them that he had a family emergency and that he wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. He wanted time to talk to Becker properly, to try and help him, and he wasn’t going anywhere until he knew that Becker was okay.
Lester returned home two days later, still thinking about Becker. He hated to leave him in that horrid little flat, barely having enough money to pay his rent, let alone feed himself properly, but he wasn’t sure what else to do. He could offer to let Becker stay with him, but he knew that the minute Becker came back he would be arrested. No, first Lester had to think of a way of getting him out of trouble with the military. Unfortunately, Becker was right. At present, Lester had very little standing or authority. He had been able to find Becker only because of his personal contacts, but they wouldn’t be able to do much in this case.
Becker did keep in touch, though, using the mobile phone that Lester had paid for and set up in his own name in order to keep Becker’s details off the records. It was sad to say that, at present, Becker’s brief calls were the highlight of his day.
He barely had contact with anyone outside of the office, spending his evenings alone. Now, he found himself looking forward to talking to Becker and going to visit him on weekends. As Becker didn’t work at the club on Sundays or Mondays, Lester had taken to working Tuesday to Saturday and then driving down to see him.
Sunday came and Lester began the now-familiar drive. It took him a couple of hours but eventually he arrived at in Becker’s neighbourhood and parked his car in the street just outside the flat, under the streetlight, so that he could keep an eye on it. They went for a meal and a few drinks, making their way back to the flat when he noticed Becker looking uncomfortable about being out for so long. With the exception of the club, where he’d said that none of the patrons would be sober enough to remember him, Becker preferred to remain in his flat. Lester saw him tense each time he saw a policeman, as though he expected someone to be looking for him. They were looking for him but, at the moment, one absent captain was hardly their top priority.
So, they went back to Becker’s flat and Lester made a mental note to bring him the portable television out of his spare room at home. He couldn’t watch TV as he didn’t have a TV license, but it had a built in DVD player. Lester could bring him some DVD’s as well.
When it got late and they were both ready to turn in, Lester went to the cupboard where the spare blankets and pillow were kept. When he visited, he slept on Becker’s uncomfortably short sofa, but this time Becker took the blanket himself.
“You should take the bed,” Becker told him “I’ll take the floor. I’ve slept on worse,” he added when Lester protested.
“The bed has enough room for us both,” Lester pointed out. “We’re adults; we can share.”
Becker stared at him for a moment and Lester could almost see the thoughts whirring though his brain.
“At your flat before I left, I thought that we…” He paused.
“Hilary, I remember, and I wished that we’d had more time to see where that could lead us before we were both sent away,” Lester told him.
Becker nodded briefly. “Wished. I suppose you’ve got someone else by now.”
“No. No one since you.”
There was silence for a moment, before, “I get it, you know, why you wouldn’t want me any more-”
Lester frowned. That was what he really thought? Lester had thought that Becker had enough to worry about at present, not wanting to add to that by making advances that he wasn’t sure would still be welcomed.
Striding over to where Becker stood, he cupped Becker’s face with his hands and kissed him softly. “Hilary, get into bed.”
Becker smiled, quickly shedding his clothes and sliding in between the covers. As Lester climbed in beside him, getting comfortable, he kissed him once more. He’d missed this; it felt so good to just be close to Becker again. That night, he slept curled around Becker, thinking how much harder it would be when he had to return home tomorrow.
Nearly three months after he found Becker, Lester was summoned to the minister’s office. It was the first time that they had bothered to even acknowledge him outside of a passing ‘good morning’ or handing some paperwork off to him, and that made him suspicious. When he went in, he found that he wasn’t alone in this meeting. Across from the minister’s desk, a beady-eyed man in a wrinkled suit was idly flicking through a file. As Lester entered, he looked up and offered what he obviously thought was a welcoming smile. It reminded Lester of a raptor right before it pounced on its lunch.
“Ah, James. Please come in. Take a seat.”
Now he was even more suspicious. They wanted something, he just didn’t know what.
“Would you like something to drink? Tea, perhaps?”
Lester shook his head.
“I expect that you are wondering what this is all about,” the minister began. He saw Lester glance at the stranger again and smiled. “Forgive my manners; James, this is Peter Mackay. He works in scientific research.”
Now it was starting to make sense, but he was left wondering what exactly they had left to blame him for regarding the ARC project that they hadn’t already dropped at his feet. He remained silent, waiting for them to get to the point.
Peter Mackay cleared his throat and consulted his file once more.
“You were the senior team member of the ARC project for three years, correct?”
Lester nodded. “Yes.”
“And as the rest of your team is currently either missing or deceased, it would be fair to say that your experience is rather unique.”
Again, he nodded. He could have pointed out that Becker was still alive and well, but he didn’t. Before he drew their attention to Becker, he wanted to know what he was dealing with. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem likely that they were going to get around to that in the next few hours.
“Sir, if I may ask,” he began, ignoring Mackay to speak directly to the Minister. “Where is this leading? I have already given a full account of the ARC situation and of the tragedy and loss of each member of my team. There is nothing new that I can tell you.”
The two men frowned at each other, confused for a moment, before Mackay spoke.
“Mr Lester, you misunderstand me. The ARC project is to be reopened, this time as a joint Public/Private partnership. I presume that you have heard of Philip Burton? He has agreed to back the project, to provide the ARC with monetary, technologic and scientific support. What we need is someone to co-ordinate the project and we feel that you would be the best person for that job. Your experience will prove invaluable when creating a new team.”
Well, he wasn’t expecting that. Lester looked between them, waiting for one of them to spring the real charges on him, but they both looked serious.
“Why now?” he had to ask. “You closed us down, leaving three of my team trapped in some unknown era, forbade us from continuing the rescue missions and effectively condemned them to death. You scattered what was left of my team and dumped me in a corner where you have continued to treat me like an embarrassment that is to be ignored. And now you just ask me to return?”
The Minister looked slightly shocked at his tone but Lester really didn’t care. They had essentially blamed the disasters that had befallen the team on his management; they at least owed him an apology.
Mackay seemed to understand this a little better than the Minister, if the sympathetic look on his face was anything to go by.
“Mr Lester, I understand that some things were handled badly before, but I stand by what I said. Your experience could be the difference between this project’s failure or success.”
They offered to let him think it over, saying that they required his answer by the end of the week, and told him that he was excused.
[On to part 2]
Title borrowed from Black Lab 'Learning to crawl'-
Can you teach me how to fly?
See I’m scared to die
And we’ve only just begun to learn to crawl
Can you teach me how to fight?
Would you keep me up all night?
Would you be there on the ground if I should fall?
Fall for you