The 35 Ways Jess and Becker got together... I've got all of the ways planned but, as I'm trying to motivate myself to write the next of my original novels, I'm limiting myself to one of these per chapter I write of that - so don't be surprised if there's a delay of a couple of weeks or so between parts as I'm struggling a little..! Without further ado, I give you the first in the series...
The One with the Self-Defence Lessons (version 1)
It wasn't unusual for Becker to get to the gym at the ARC early on a morning to find it was occupied. The gym – really the training rooms with some gym equipment strategically placed around the sparring mats and punching bags – was open to all ARC employees, a perk of the job some took advantage of.
Most of the time, it was the military personnel who used the facilities to their full advantage. Occasionally, someone else – Abby, or Matt, or once a group of scientists who treated getting fit as an experiment that needed further research before they could continue it – would be there as well.
The person Becker found using the treadmill on this particular morning wasn't a regular visitor to the ARC gym – he knew for a fact that Jess was a member of a private gym a few blocks away from her flat and that she regularly attended it with friends she knew from outside of the ARC and went for regular runs in the local park.
(He knew because he'd overheard her talking about it with Emily, not because he'd been keeping tabs on her. And he hadn't, of course, thought it was endearing how enthusiastic she'd been about the socialising aspect of keeping fit because she rarely got to see her non-work colleague friends due to the long hours she put in. And he certainly hadn't been amused at the story she'd told of how her and one of those friends had been banned from attending a particular instructor's yoga class because they'd proved too much of a distraction with their whispered conversations and not-so-quiet giggles.)
Becker could count on one hand the times he'd personally seen Jess use the ARC facilities – and both of those times had been because it was horrendously could outside and she had wanted to run without slipping on the ice outside. Since Spring had arrived and there'd been no snow or ice for weeks – finally – he knew that wasn't the reason this time.
After realising that he'd been watching her from just inside the doorway for a few minutes, Becker pulled himself together and made his way to the punching bags. He ignored the heat in his cheeks and tried to ignore the sound of her feet hitting the treadmill in an even rhythm, concentrating instead on wrapping his hands in preparation for his morning workout.
In no time at all, he was fully engrossed in the task. Settling into a rhythm of his own that was both soothing and familiar, the burn in his arms and shoulders as he struck the heavy bag was a welcome sensation. So caught up in it, it took him several minutes to realise the gym had fallen silent around him and Jess was no longer working at the treadmill but was instead watching him, waiting patiently for him to finish.
Catching the bag and steadying it, Becker turned to her after a moment. He arched an eyebrow but took the towel she silently handed him, using it to wipe his face before slinging it over his shoulder. He waited for her to speak, feeling his discomfort and concern grow the longer she was silent.
Jess Parker was rarely silent, or at least so still with it. Just as she rarely looked at him – looked past him – with such a conflicted expression on her face.
"Everything okay, Jess?" Try as he might to sound casual, Becker knew the concern growing inside him was audible in his voice.
She bit her lip and then shook her head, unable to fully meet his gaze. "I know you're really busy and everything so I'm not expecting it to be you but do you know of anyone who'd be able to spend some time teaching me self-defence? I've had some basic lessons so I'm not a complete novice, and ordinarily I'd ask Abby but she's busy with the wedding plans when she's not working so I—"
"Jess. Stop. Breathe." Interrupting her was as much for his benefit as it was to actually make her pause and draw in a breath. It'd been a long time since he'd been subjected to a nervous, never-ending stream of babble from the Field Co-ordinator and Becker found he needed a minute to digest it. When he had, his eyes narrowed and he took a step towards her. "Self-defence lessons?" Why would she need... "Has someone been bothering you, Jess?"
"No. Well, yes. Kind of. But that's not why... I was having lessons before and now I'm not and I really want to continue." She sounded unsure and flustered, and still couldn't meet his gaze. Her shoulders slumped and she stared at the punching bag, a suspicious sheen to her eyes.
Making a decision and not giving himself time to consider whether he'd regret it later, Becker closed the gap between them and put his hand on her arm. "Come on. It'll start getting busy in here soon."
Twenty minutes later, both showered and changed ready for their shifts, which weren't due to start for another half an hour, Becker ushered Jess into his rarely used office attached to the armoury. He made her a cup of coffee just the way she liked it and pulled his chair around the desk so he could sit beside her.
"Tell me what happened." His voice was soft but there was an edge of authority in it.
Falteringly, Jess did. The gym she went to had been taken over by new managers. Things had been fine at first – yes, they'd upped the prices but that'd been okay. Then the old instructors had left, one by one, and new staff – mostly men – had been brought in.
"And these blokes are harassing you?" Becker prompted when she lapsed into silence. "Jessica?"
"They were," Jess admitted quietly. "They were a bit... sleazy. They're not anymore. We – my friends and I – we've all cancelled our membership now, hence why I'm here. Katie and Lou cancelled a few weeks ago, but Debbie and me decided to keep going until last week. We were at one of the classes – self-defence – and the new instructor decided that instead of actually teaching anything, he'd use it as an excuse to grope us. He regretted it." A small, humourless smile tugged at the corners of her mouth but didn't reach her eyes. "I'm pretty sure he was walking funny for a few days but it was the final straw and now..." She shrugged her shoulders. "The others have decided to take a break for a while, anyway, so it's just me and I can use the equipment here and go for my runs but I still need a replacement for the classes..."
"And you really want to continue the self-defence lessons?" He was watching her closely, which was why he caught sight of the shame that flittered across her face. "You know it wasn't your fault. Whatever that idiot did... You couldn't have done anything to stop him."
"I know." Even as she tried to smile, her eyes filled with tears again. "And I fought him off – he was surprised about that. But it got me thinking... I go running by myself a couple of times a week. I like to think I can look after myself but can I really? For a second in the gym, I froze. I was expecting him to attack me and I still froze up. What would I do if I wasn't expecting it? I need to know how to defend myself if I need to and I'm not confident that I know enough yet."
"Anyone would freeze in that situation. You were expecting him to attack you or show you how to fight off an attack, not for him to... do what he did." Becker resisted the urge to clench his fists, knowing his anger wasn't what Jess needed. "I'd be happy to give you some pointers. When do you want to start?"
"You personally?" She bit her lip but looked up at him, her gaze finally meeting his. "I wasn't expecting... You don't need to give up your time, Becker, I just thought there might be someone you could recommend or –"
"Jessica." Like hell was he letting anyone else teach her. As much as he trusted the capabilities of the men and women under his command, he took a personal interest in the safety and well-being of the people at the ARC and Jess... Well, Jess was at the top of that list. "When do you want to start?"
A smile finally lit up her face, relieved and shy all at the same time. "As soon as possible! Thank you, Becker. Really!"
They started the lessons within the week. Deciding to take advantage of the quiet times – and of Becker's management of the training schedules for his soldiers – they ended up staying after hours two nights a week.
Becker was impressed by what she was already capable of and told her so, earning a pretty blush and a pleased smile. She was a good student, enthusiastic and eager to learn. She listened intently to his instructions and the reasoning behind them, asked questions and even started making suggestions of her own once she got more confident in her abilities.
Before too long, they were able to spar – not quite as equals but not quite as trainer and trainee. Jess got the better of him sometimes and was evidently thrilled about it. And while Becker found himself enjoying the challenge, it was clear to him that she'd done some extra research in addition to their sessions – something she vehemently denied even after he caught her hurriedly closing down a YouTube video demonstration on more than one occasion.
It wasn't just the training that they both enjoyed; it was the company. Before, it'd been rare for them to spend much time together without the rest of the team around as unlikely chaperones. During their lessons, Jess and Becker got to talk about things they wouldn't ordinarily talk about in front of the others – including but not limited to their childhoods and families.
They looked forward to the time they got to spend together and it didn't take long before they ended up spending time together outside of the gym, too. It started with Becker joining Jess on a run once a week, on whichever day they got off, and that then turned into them having a coffee afterwards, which turned into brunch, which turned into spending most of the morning together and then they found themselves making regular plans to meet up and do something together on their day off. Whether it was a museum or gallery Jess had wanted to visit, or a long walk Becker had wanted to do, they found themselves enjoying each other's company more and more.
"You're cheating," Becker managed after Jess managed to kick his feet out from under him, sending him to the floor before following to pin him down. He let his head fall back against the mat with a thud, closing his eyes against the triumphant smile on her face as he willed other parts of his body not to respond to the weight of her on top of him. "I don't know how, but you're definitely cheating."
Jess's laugh was delighted, and a sound he had grown very fond of. She moved off him but didn't go very far, lying on the mat beside him as she tried to catch her breath. "I'm not cheating, Captain. You're just getting rusty in your old age."
"Old...?" He cracked one eye open and turned his head to look at her. Sure enough, she was facing him, a bright, blinding smile on her face. "I'm not old."
"Then what's your excuse?" She teased, turning on her side and propping herself up with an elbow. "Action Man taken down by a girl. What would your men say?"
"My men would probably laugh until I sic you on them and they realise you've had a brilliant teacher," Becker countered, rolling on his side to face her. "As for my excuse... Well, I've taught you everything I know. Almost everything."
"Just almost?" Jess arched an eyebrow and tried to look serious. Unfortunately for her, she failed to keep her lips from twitching. "Are you holding out on me?"
"Nope," he said, popping the 'p' before smirking at her.
She shook her head and tried to scowl but her laughter broke free instead. Settling on her back again, she sighed contentedly. "Thank you for doing this."
"For teaching you how to best me?" Becker grinned wryly. "I'd say you're welcome but I'm not sure that's true."
"No. Well, yes." She smiled at the ceiling. "This is fun."
"I'm glad you enjoy kicking my arse."
Jess laughed outright. "That's part of the fun, yes, but it's not just that." She turned her head again to look at him, seeing him propped up on his elbow beside her. "You know you don't have to do this anymore, right? If you've got other things you'd rather be doing, or people you'd rather be seeing instead of spending your evenings with me... It's okay for you to say so."
"Jessica." Feeling bold, he reached out and touched her cheek under the guise of pushing a strand of hair back from her face. "If I didn't want to spend time with you, I wouldn't. It's not like you need the lessons any more anyway."
"If I don't need the lessons, why are we still doing this? Other than the fact I get a kick out of it," she added with a small, almost shy smile that faded under the intensity of his gaze. "Becker?"
Closing the gap between them slowly, giving her plenty of time to pull back, he let his lips brush against hers lightly. When she made no attempt at pushing him away and instead sighed against his lips, her eyes closing, Becker took it as his cue to continue and increased the pressure. Lifting her hand, Jess let her fingers tangle with the hair at the nape of his neck and kissed him back.
After a long moment, the pair pulled away, panting slightly once again but for an entirely different reason.
"Well." Jess smiled up at him, her cheeks flushed. "So that's what you've been holding back."
"That's part of it." Grinning right back at her and feeling like a fool but not caring about it, Becker pushed himself up and got to his feet. He held out a hand for her, tugging her up with him when she took it willingly. "What do you say to getting out of here and having dinner tonight? Chinese?"
Jess's smile grew wider. "I'd say that sounds like a very good idea. Your place or mine?" At the look on his face, she dissolved into laughter. "Sorry, sorry. I've always wanted to say that."
He rolled his eyes at her but couldn't help but return her smile with a grin of his own.