Pairing: James Lester / Hilary Becker
Word Count: This part 3,237 (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
For the next two days, Lester thought about it. He could go back, no longer relegated to a desk in some forgotten corner of an office, but did he want to? There had been so much loss and sadness; did he really want to be reminded of that every day?
One thing that he was certain of, however, was that if he chose to return, he would play this situation to his own advantage.
By the end of Thursday, he had reached a decision. If he didn’t take the job, instead leaving it to a complete stranger, would they care about Connor, Abby and Danny? He didn’t think that anyone else would even bother to keep looking, simply writing them off as presumed dead. He could continue the search, even if it had to be done off the Minister’s radar.
When he walked into that office on Friday morning, seeing the Minister and Peter Mackay sitting there already, he didn’t even bother to wait for them to speak. Sitting down, he nodded.
“I have three conditions that are non-negotiable.”
The Minister looked ready to object but Mackay shot him a look that kept him silent. Interesting, Lester thought with an inner smile. It was handy to know which of them held the power in this double-act.
“Provided that they are within reason, Mr Lester,” Mackay said.
Lester ignored the Minister after that; there was no point in talking to the monkey when he could deal with the organ grinder.
“First: I want final approval on the primary team members as they are recruited.”
“Second: There will be no interference from outside agencies, individuals, or government hatchet-men. The incident with Christine Johnson last year caused a great deal of upset and trouble and I will not have that happening again.”
Mackay nodded even as the Minister said, “Now wait a moment, James…”
“You have it, Mr Lester,” Mackay confirmed, cutting off the Minister’s protests. “You said three conditions.”
“I did.” This was going to be the decider, Lester knew. This was where he found out just how serious they were about wanting him back.
“Thirdly: Hilary Becker.” He could see from their expressions as they heard his name that they were up to date with Becker’s file, and his recent absence. “He is to return as my head of security if he so wishes. I can bring him in, but I will require your guarantee that his resignation from the military will be approved immediately with no adverse effects, and that his unauthorised absence and outstanding arrest warrant will be erased from all records.”
Mackay and the Minister exchanged a glance before both of them nodded.
“It may take a few days, James,” the Minister said.
Lester held back the sigh of relief, not wanting to show them what that last one had meant to him.
“Very well. When you have his discharge papers and other documentation, send them to me and I will ensure that he signs them.” He stood to leave. “I will bring him in as soon as everything is complete. Good day, gentlemen.”
As he left the office, he determinedly kept his expression neutral until he was outside of the building. Only then did he allow the smile to curve his lips.
Two days later, a courier rapped on Lester’s door. He smiled. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning; they must have really pushed for the paperwork, he thought as he opened it to find Becker’s discharge, as well as written confirmation that the absence and warrant had indeed been expunged.
He couldn’t wait to tell Becker.
He had already been removed from his desk job and given a week’s leave to get things in order before he took the job at the new ARC and so he didn’t have to worry about calling to let them know he wouldn’t be in. All he had to do was pack a bag and get in his car.
“James? I thought you weren’t coming this weekend,” Becker said as he opened the door to his flat, self-consciously trying to finger comb his hair now that he had a guest. It didn’t make him look much neater, Lester thought, given the scruffy t-shirt and jeans Becker was wearing.
“I have a present for you,” Lester told him as he followed Becker back to his flat.
He took the envelope out of his bag and passed it to Becker as soon as they were seated, watching the expressions on Becker’s face as he took out the contents, reading them.
“Honourable discharge… Is this for real?”
Lester smiled. “The papers are genuine, and all you have to do is sign them.”
Becker read through them all again. “How did you manage this?”
“There is a catch. Well, not really, as you are free to turn down the offer if you want to,” Lester told him. “They are reopening the ARC, and have asked me to return. I would like you there too, to head the security teams. As a civilian, of course.”
“James, while I’m grateful for the offer, I just don’t know if I want to.”
Lester smiled. “I wasn’t sure at first, either, but I can’t just walk away, not while our people are still missing. Think it over; those papers were part of my deal, not yours. If you say no, your military discharge won’t be revoked.”
Becker put the papers aside and crouched in front of Lester’s chair, hands resting on Lester’s knees.
“Thank you,” he said. “For getting me a second chance. Now, can you stay or do you have to go back home?”
Lester indicated to the holdall that he had dropped by the door. “I’m off desk duty and I don’t start at the ARC until next Monday, so I’m all yours.”
“In that case, I think you should let me thank you properly,” Becker said, standing and taking Lester’s hand to pull him toward the bedroom.
When he got Lester to his feet, Becker leaned in for a kiss, sliding his hands along Lester’s shoulders to push his jacket off. Catching it as it fell, Becker neatly hung it over the back of a chair before pulling Lester back into his arms again.
Then he paused.
“If I come back with you, what happens to us?”
“As long as we employ discretion whilst at work, I don’t see that it is anyone else’s business what we do in our own time.” He smiled. “I’m not about to give this up, Hilary; I would rather turn down the job.”
Becker stared at him for a moment. “You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Yes. Now, I believe you were thanking me…”
Hooking a finger into Lester’s belt, Becker led him into the bedroom and kicked the door shut.
Lester knew that Becker hadn’t slept much during the night between their enthusiastic celebration of Becker’s freedom and Becker’s tossing and turning, but he had finally fallen asleep an hour earlier. Sliding out of bed carefully so as not to wake him, Lester picked up the t-shirt that Becker had been wearing the previous day and pulled it over his head. Heading for the kitchen, he looked in the cupboards in dismay. No juice, barely any bread and no bacon or eggs- just a box of sugar puffs. There was no way he was eating those for breakfast; he’d tried them once when Connor was staying with him and that had been enough. Vile things, he thought, going to retrieve his trousers and shoes and picking up his car keys.
By the time Becker woke up two hours later, or rather, was woken accidentally-on-purpose when Lester grew impatient and hungry and wanted his breakfast, Lester was busy cooking. He had bacon, eggs, friend bread, tomatoes and sausage, along with orange juice and a kettle boiling for a cup of tea afterwards, all on the plates when Becker emerged from the bedroom. He was wearing his jeans and no shirt or socks, yawning, his hair sticking up rather adorably. When he saw Lester, he smiled.
“So that’s where my t-shirt went,” he said, moving in behind Lester to slide his arms around his waist and pressing a kiss to the side of his neck. “’Smells good.”
“Me or breakfast?”
“Of course I meant you,” Becker answered immediately, though he sniffed at the bacon and sausage discreetly.
Lester smiled, handing him a plate and a glass of orange juice.
“James, I’ve been thinking and I’m in. I’ll come back to the ARC,” Becker told him as they sat down.
“What made you decide to do it?”
Becker looked down at his plate, avoiding Lester’s gaze. “Because you asked me to,” he said simply, before adding, “Besides, I want to be there to make sure that nothing happens to you, too.”
“Oh, Hilary… nothing is going to happen to me. You don’t need to worry about that.”
Becker shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t help it. Everyone else I gave a damn about from that place is gone, and losing you would be twenty times worse.” His posture straightened then, and he picked up his knife and fork, cutting off a piece of bacon. “Better get eating before it goes cold.”
Lester still wasn’t sure if Becker’s words earlier were more to do with affection for him or a desire not to lose any more people who were under his protection. He hoped it was the former.
Three days later, Becker sat in the car beside Lester on the drive home. All of the paperwork had been finalised and submitted, meaning that when Becker returned he would be a free man. He had spent the entire journey in silence, staring out of the window, but Lester didn’t push him. They had already discussed this over breakfast, and Lester knew that he was worried about going back home. His father was going to be furious about his recent actions, being a military man himself he wasn’t going to understand why Becker had run, even now that everything had been sorted out. His mother and brother would probably sympathise, but he was expecting them to be angry as well, only they would be offended that he hadn’t called them.
His other problem was that seeing as he had been living in military housing whilst assigned to the ARC, he now didn’t have anywhere to go. Lester had arranged for his belongings to be stored but that didn’t solve his housing problem. When he had mentioned this a few days ago, Lester offered his spare room immediately, if Becker chose to use it, or his bed, but Becker still looked unsure.
“If you don’t want to, I won’t be offended,” Lester had assured him. “If you just want to use my spare room until you find something else, that’s fine.”
Becker smiled. “Thanks. I would love to stay, but maybe it would be moving a bit too fast. What if you get completely sick of living with me? And I’ve never lived with anyone else, not unless you count my family or my dorm mate at university. There were days when he drove me crazy- what if I do the same to you?”
“Hilary, I lived with Connor for almost a year,” Lester reminded him. “If I can put up with his mess and those bloody creatures he brought with him, I can put up with anything.”
“But that’s my point; if you have to put up with it, it’s going to start to annoy you eventually.”
Lester had to agree that made sense, but he was sure that Becker couldn’t have any habits that were anywhere close to as irritating as Connor’s had been.
“Then may I offer a third option? Come and stay, and we can look for something for you at the same time. Give it a few weeks and we’ll see how it goes; a trial run, if you like. When you find something else, you can take it if you still want to. Or you could turn it down if you decide to stay instead.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re going to use that time to convince me to stay permanently?” Becker asked.
“Who, me? As though I would attempt to influence your decision.”
Becker laughed. “Of course you would; I’m on to you, James Lester.”
Truth be told, Lester was intending to convince Becker to stay for as long as possible. He was looking forward to having someone in the flat again- whether he would admit it out loud or not, he missed Connor’s mess and his incessant chattering- and he was especially looking forward to that someone being Becker. Whatever their relationship had begun as, it had developed into something more and both of them knew it even though it was something that they had never really discussed. If he thought it wouldn’t scare Becker off completely, Lester would have said the L word a long time ago.
That was a talk for another day, though. First, they had a few other things to sort out.
For the first few weeks, Lester barely saw the new ARC building. He was kept in meetings to discuss budgets and how the new partnership with Prospero was going to work. He’d then had to have the Minister remind Philip Burton of the deal they had made in order to secure Lester’s involvement: No interference. Much to Philip’s irritation, that included his interference as well as any from Government departments. He wasn’t happy about it, but he reluctantly agreed. Then there were staff interviews and orientations, and signing off on the menagerie, finding keepers for the animals… it seemed to be an endless mountain of things that they wanted his signature on. Maybe he should have specified that the ‘no interference’ rule didn’t apply to paperwork.
Becker was already at the ARC along with two of the new recruits, Matt Anderson and Jess Parker, and a few assorted techs, getting things up and running for when the project officially re-opened at the end of the month. He seemed to be impressed with the new equipment and even more impressed with the new rules, especially the one that said that no one was to go through an anomaly for any reason. There would be no field trips, no exploring- they would be locked and that was it, leaving no risk of team members getting trapped. He seemed to have taken a shine to Matt and Jess, too, coming home each evening and telling Lester all about what the three of them had set up or something funny that one of them had said.
It was like watching the old Becker again, the one who laughed and joked and actually enjoyed his job, Lester thought. The new team would never be able to replace the old one, those members still missing or gone, but who said they had to? This was about starting again, creating something new.
“So, are you glad you came back?” Lester asked as he and Becker settled on the sofa in his flat one evening to watch an action film that Becker wanted to see. To Lester, they all looked the same but if it made Becker happy then he’d watch it.
Becker smiled. “I am. I like the new place, and the others. It’s good to be back there.”
Lester was still having problems with a few aspects of the project, namely Philip Burton and his desire to keep poking his nose into things that didn’t concern him. Just because the man had more money than he knew what to do with did not give him the right to keep trying to weasel his way into the day to day running of the ARC. Despite this, Lester knew what Becker meant. The ARC, even the new-fangled one with new staff and teams, still felt like home.
“It is,” he agreed.
Becker shuffled back until he was half-laid along the sofa, his back resting against Lester, and lifted Lester’s arm to rest across his shoulders. After he’d fidgeted a bit more, Lester laughed.
“Are you quite finished?” he teased. “Maybe you’d like me to move then you can have the whole sofa to yourself?”
“I only want to sit here because you’re here.” There was a moment’s hesitation before Becker spoke again. “James? I don’t want to move out. I like it here, with you.”
Lester pressed a kiss to the top of Becker’s head. “Good. That will save me from having to bar the doors if you tried to leave.”
Becker laughed at that. If only he knew that Lester hadn’t been entirely joking with that last comment.
“Can I borrow your car this weekend? Mum invited me to Sunday lunch and I think I’m going to go.”
“And talk to your dad?”
Becker nodded. He had called them shortly after getting back but while his mum and brother had quickly forgiven him, he still hadn’t spoken to his dad. Each time he got off the phone with his mum, and his dad hadn’t asked to say hello even though it was obvious that he was at home, Lester had seen the hurt expression on Becker’s face. He tried to tell him that it would work itself out, that his dad couldn’t stay angry for long, but it didn’t really help.
“Mum said you were welcome to come too,” Becker added, “but I’ll understand if you don’t want to. It’s not exactly going to be a pleasant atmosphere.”
“I’ll be there. If we’re lucky, having his son’s cradle-snatching boyfriend to disapprove of might distract him from being angry with you.”
“I am almost old enough to be your father.”
Becker pinched his leg. “No you’re not. Anyway, we’ve already been through this. You’re not old.”
He could still imagine Mr Becker having a problem with the age gap, though. Lester had spoken to Becker’s mum a couple of times, rather surprised when Becker had first held out the phone and said, “She wants to talk to you.” His brother, Piers, was equally friendly and they had met up with him for a drink the previous week. They seemed fine with it, but Becker’s mum and dad still hadn’t met him.
“Relax, mum’s going to love you,” Becker told him when he voiced his concerns.
“And how can you be so sure?”
“She will because I love you.”
Lester didn’t care that Becker had just got comfortable, or that he looked slightly embarrassed about his impromptu declaration, he pulled his lover around to face him and crushed their lips together.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?”
“That, Hilary, was for just being you. I love you too.”
Becker moved in for another kiss before turning and getting comfortable again.
As Becker’s attention focussed on the TV once more, Lester’s thoughts drifted. For the first time in months, it felt as though everything was falling into place. The ARC was back up and running, meaning they had a chance of finding their missing friends, and he and Becker were back where they belonged. What would happen in the long-run, or indeed at the weekend, he didn’t know, but right now he intended to just enjoy what he had.
Becker was staying, and he loved him. That was all that mattered.