Characters/Pairing: Captain Becker, Lester, OC, ensemble.
Summary: One day, they're not going to be surprised at what Helen pulls out of her hat. One day, they're going to be prepared.
Beta'ing by the totally awesome lukadreaming .
Author's Note: The story is currently untitled. This is due in part to the fact that I'm really not sure where this is going, and I tend to title my works after they are written (keeping in mind this is going to be one of the longest fics I've ever done). I'm struggling a bit with chapter two now, and I would have waited, but I'm hoping the act of posting will give me the impetus to get off my keister with the next chapter.
“Captain Becker, sir!”
Becker looked up from his new desk and took in the young soldier standing nervously in the doorway. He was one of the new recruits, had started at the same time as Becker, but he was also new to the military as well. Green in every sense of the word, he was just one of the many representations of how this new posting was shaping up.
“What is it, Wilson?”
“It's Corporal White, sir, she said there was something curious on the security feed.”
If the young man stood to attention any straighter they could use him as a level, Becker mused, as he locked his computer and pushed away from his desk. He hoped this wouldn't be a wild goose chase, three days into his new assignment and he was still sorting out the paperwork for Lester. In triplicate.
“Well, if Corporal White found something curious, we'd better check it out then.” He gestured for Wilson to get out of the doorway and proceed him down the hall. White was a good soldier, from all accounts. One of the first on the ARC project with Captain Ryan and a whizkid with electronics. Not as good as Connor Temple, but if it could be used to survey a target, she could operate it.
When they arrived at the security room Wilson escorted him as far as the large bank of monitors against the far wall before heading back to his own station to the right. Corporal White looked up at him with a grin. She was old enough to be his mother yet she hadn't slowed down at all and her eyes were sharper then many half her age. She was the permanent day-shift surveillance officer for the ARC and the security room was her realm, despite it being under the captain's purview.
“What have you got, Corporal?”
“In the first quadrant, there,” she pointed to the appropriate screen on the monitor bank, “a little girl has been sitting and staring at the ARC.”
As stated, on the screen situated to show the front entrance to the ARC, sat a young girl, perhaps six or seven, with wavy, light coloured hair. She was wearing a dress with a bow on the front, but further details were impossible on the black and white image. Becker was slightly nonplussed. “So, if she's lost call the police to come and deal with it.”
“See, that's the thing. She keeps staring at the front doors to the building, then down at something in her hand. The resolution isn't good enough to make out details, but it looks like a photograph.” Before Becker could interrupt she continued. “So, I thought, perhaps she's waiting for one of the civilians, a parent or something.”
Corporal White was really warming up to her story now, and he couldn't help but wonder if this was the most interesting thing she had seen on the monitors all week.
“However, I know she isn't any of the soldiers' kids, and I've already sent out an email to any ARC employees with children on file. No one seems to recognise her!”
Becker gave the situation due consideration. Part of him, a large part, actually, wondered if this was some practical joke for the new captain. Still, joke or not, he couldn't ignore a potential threat to the building or its occupants. “Have you tried talking to her?”
When he didn't receive a response he pulled his gaze from the monitors and looked down at the surveillance expert. She looked back at him with raised eyebrows. Wilson wandered back over and cleared his throat. In what he probably thought was a helpful whisper he advised, “Ol' Eagle-eyes doesn't actually leave the security room, sir. Some rumours have it that once she's in the security room she doesn't leave until her shift is over. For anything.”
The woman in question rolled her eyes and rapped the younger soldier on the knuckles where he leaned them against her desk. “You're supposed to be manning that desk, Wilson! Not gossiping. Badly I might add.”
There was no heat in their exchange and the younger soldier moved back to his desk with a small smile on his face, obviously enough at ease with his superior officer to share a joke. Becker pushed down an unworthy twinge of jealousy. His relationship with his own team could do with a lot of work still. But, no rest for the wicked, as they the saying went.
“I take it that this why you sent Wilson to fetch me? So I can go and talk to our 'lost lamb'?” He even made air quotes to underscore how ridiculous he felt. What was he going to say to a child anyway? The other soldier just smiled serenely, confident in her domain and not about to be swayed by some new, young captain coming on the scene.
“Fine,” he said, trying not too sound grudging; she was just doing her job after all. “Wilson! You're with me. If this is a cunningly disguised plan to lure someone out of the ARC you get to watch my back.”
Wilson gulped, eyes wide, and nodded his head.
Outside the large, imposing building it was cool and dry. Clouds obscured the sun, but it was midday so there was plenty of light to see by. Across the road, on a metal bench, the young girl swung her legs unevenly while she watched them. The two men watched as she scrutinized one, then the other, before consulting the scrap of paper in her hand. She checked their features one last time, then apparently deciding that they weren't who she was waiting for she turned her attention to the doors behind them.
“Well,” murmured Becker, “cunningly disguised plan or not, she is most certainly waiting for someone specific.”
“Sir, what do we do if this is a trap?”
“Your responsibility will be the girl. If it's a trap then she's being used, she's still innocent and deserves to be protected.”
They crossed the street, two wary sets of eyes roaming, never setting on one place for long, yet missing no details. By the time they had reached the girl nobody had jumped out to attack them. There was nothing suspicious at all, if one didn't count the girl. It was a normal street with people heading to and from lunch.
Becker crouched down next to her, noting details that the CCTV could not pick up on. Her eyes were brilliantly blue and her hair a was a dark chestnut reaching midway down her back. She wore a blue dress with white polka-dots and the bow on the front was white. She had a blue band keeping her hair out of her face and white stockings and shoes. She was a pretty little thing, Becker supposed, though he was certainly no judge.
“Hello, can you tell me your name?”
She looked uncertain for a moment. “Amara,” she said eventually. She looked both he and Wilson over carefully, yet again. It was clear the younger man was starting to get unnerved as he moved a few steps away and commenced scanning the area for any possible hostilities.
“Well. Hello, Amara. My name is Becker, and my friend here is Wilson. Are you lost? Is there someone I can call for you?”
She looked uncertain again, small white teeth biting her lower lip in thought. He hoped she wasn't going to decide now to exercise 'stranger danger' and clam up. If he could just get her to tell him where her parents were then he could reunite them. If he had to call the police in to handle this there was going to be more paperwork to add to his already mountainous pile.
“I'm waiting for my daddy. Aunty Pam said that if my mummy didn't call her for one full month then she was supposed to bring me here and I could wait for daddy.” She spoke softly, and slowly, almost like the words were hard for her to say. She didn't sound mentally slow, but like she hadn't said anything for a long time and was just trying her voice on for size.
“And they just left you here?” Wilson broke in indignantly.
Becker waved him back to his position and turned back to the little girl. “Can you tell me who your daddy is, and I will see if we can't get him out to you?”
Instead of speaking she handed him over the photograph in her hands. It was clearly an older photo, the edges worn down by constant handling. A small tear was inexpertly taped in the lower left corner. None of that, however, marred the face that stared up out of the centre. It was a candid shot, showing a slightly smiling face and bright blue eyes. Someone Becker had not actually met, but recognised from all of the files he'd read.
Standing in front of Lester with a small child clutching his hand and what looked to be at least half of the ARC personnel standing outside rubbernecking, Becker had never felt so awkward. This far superseded any perceived awkwardness in front of his instructors at Sandhurst. Not a one of them had had a patch on Lester's disdainful sneer. The hand that wasn't being held prisoner by Amara was pressed tightly to the small of his back and he stood at parade rest with his gaze somewhere above and to the right of Lester's shoulder.
When Lester made no move to speak, apparently trying to suss out the presence of the girl, Becker cleared his throat. “Perhaps we could close the blinds, sir? She's a little girl, not a spectacle.”
“Do so, captain, and perhaps while you are doing so you would be kind enough to inform me why there is a little girl in my office? In the ARC at all, as a matter of fact?”
Becker did as he was advised, neatly summarizing the day's events while closing the blinds and shutting the door to the office. A chorus of “awww's” were heard from the other side of the barrier and Becker would stake his reputation that it was not limited to the female population. All the while his little shadow stayed tight to his side.
“So,” Lester's voice was as dry as a desert, “you and Private Wilson found her sitting on the bench, clutching a photograph of an employee, and in your infinite wisdom you brought her inside, instead of calling the police.”
Becker refrained from pointing out that he had initially suggested that and instead situated Amara on one of the seats in Lester's well appointed office. It hadn't been a question, anyway.
After several moments of Becker again standing at parade rest – this time behind Amara's chair – and the girl in question staring at her folded hands, Lester burst out: “Does she never say anything?”
“She has, yes. It appears that she isn't very forthcoming.” He did find it strange that she was so quiet, but really, at 26 he really hadn't had much interaction with children. “I've sent for Professor Cutter and Captain Ryan. Hopefully the professor can shed some light on this.”
The other man heaved a much put-upon sigh before hitting his intercom button. “Lorraine, please bring in some coffee, and see if you can't find something child friendly for our guest.” Without waiting for a reply he cut the connection. He waved Becker to a seat and then sat himself, elbows on the desk and chin on his steepled hands. His sharp eyes took in every detail of the girl in front of him.
Her eyes tracking Becker's every move from under a fringe of dark hair, Amara completely ignored Lester. By the time the captain was sitting Lorraine bustled in with the requested coffee, milk for Amara, and a small plate of sliced bananas and apples. She took them with a quiet “thank you.”
“Ah, so she can talk. Yes, thank you, Lorraine, that will be all.” He waved her out without giving her time to get a good look at the girl.
“Explain to me, please, why you thought this was our responsibility?”
“Oh, I don't know, sir. It could have been the fact that she was carrying a photo of Stephen Hart, or that apparently her guardians saw fit to just abandon her outside a government project with no explanation! I'm flying blind here. I never knew Hart, I don't know if he had any illegitimate children, but the one person who does is in this building.” He immediately felt guilty for raising his voice in front of Amara, but she just continued to contentedly nibble on a slice of apple.
The arrival of Captain Ryan and Cutter saved him from having to further justify his actions. Scrambling in behind them were Abby Maitland and Connor Temple. Connor stood out of the way, quiet for once, and Abby headed right for Amara. She crouched down and tried to strike up a conversation.
Near the door Nick had gone pale and his eyes were wide. “She can't be... I would know...” His accent was thick with grief-born tension.
Hearing his words Amara's head whipped up to stare at the professor and the plate of fruit tumbled from her grasp. With a heart-rending cry she clambered over the arms of her chair and into Becker's lap. Abby caught the plate with her fast reflexes, but was unable to save the carpet from the fruit. A small part of Becker's mind considered if it was difficult to get squashed banana out of carpet. Or, he winced as Amara grasped the front of his t-shirt, out of uniforms. Still, the larger part of his mind was trying to process how the quiet, reserved girl he had been dealing with for the last hour had turned into a quivering, sobbing wreck in his arms. He put his arms around her and clumsily patted her back.
Everyone was talking at once: Abby was demanding to know what was going on, Connor gabbing at Abby, Ryan was trying to talk Cutter into leaving and Cutter was muttering obscenities under his breath. With Amara crying like someone had just killed her puppy, Becker could barely hear himself think. Rescue came from an unlikely source (although self-preservation likely played a large part).
Through force of will Becker and Ryan didn't jump as Lester cracked his hands down on the desktop. The same could not be said for the civilians. All the same, all eyes turned to the man in charge and the noise ceased. Even Amara was startled out of her crying jag and was twisted awkwardly around on Becker's lap to see him.
Taking advantage of the situation Becker stood, plopped Amara down on his chair, and turned to face the room. “Abby, Connor – out. You too, professor. I don't know why yet, but you've managed to scare her. We've had a hard enough time as it is trying to get information, and having you here will just make things worse.” He turned to the other captain. Although they were the same rank Ryan held seniority both in the military and at the ARC. Becker was reluctant to get on his bad side in his first week. “Sir?”
Ryan just nodded and grabbed Cutter by the arm. “Now, wait just a minute. If this is Stephen's daughter then I have a right...”
The rest of his sentence was cut off by the door shutting behind them. Connor and Abby left, although Becker didn't think he was imagining the faint resentment in their eyes at being ordered about by the new guy. Frankly, he didn't care. He was here to do his job, and at the moment that duty entailed looking after Amara until Lester decided what to do about her.
With another sigh, Lester sat and pinched the bridge of his nose. Without looking he grabbed a box of tissues, and in a rare fit of humanity, passed them over to Amara. “And I dared hope for a quiet week.”
“Is it always like this around here?” Becker hadn't been on any call-outs so far, though he had met their resident creatures.
“I would love to reassure you that things around here are boring, nondescript, and quiet. However, in good conscience I cannot. If you live to the end of your posting you will be beating the odds.”
“You're a cheery guy, aren't you?”
When Lester looked up at him it wasn't with the usual snark and sarcasm that he had come to expect in such a short time. He looked tired and Becker realised that no matter what he said about the people he worked with, the recent death of Stephen Hart had shaken him. Then, in the next moment it was gone and the older man was back to studying Amara.
“I think it's time we got some answers.”