Title: Skating on Thin Ice
Pairing/characters: Becker/Jess, Abby
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4290
Summary: It’s winter, and Jess really wants to go ice skating. Becker really... doesn’t.
AN: Becker fic for the primeval_denial July Team Fest.
AN2: Yes, I do realise it's gratuitous winter snow type fic in the middle of July!
They were curled up on the sofa together drinking tea and watching the TV when Jess casually dropped it into conversation.
“What?” Becker managed to avoid spluttering his mouthful of tea all over himself and Jess, but it was a close thing.
“Ice skating,” Jess repeated, giving him a slightly puzzled look. “They’ve turned the square into an ice rink, and I thought it might be fun to go one night this week.”
“Ice skating? As in the thing where you strap sharp metal blades to your feet and then fall over a lot?”
Jess giggled. “They’re not actually that sharp, you know. And I happen to be quite good at skating. I used to go nearly every weekend when I was a teenager.”
That really wasn’t helping Becker to feel any happier about the suggestion.
“It’s not really my thing,” he tried, knowing how rubbish an excuse that sounded even as he was saying it.
This time Jess pulled away out of his arms to sit back and look at him properly.
“Traipsing up to the top of Scafell Pike wasn’t really my thing, but I still went with you.”
Bugger. There really was no argument to that. The fact that she hadn’t even meant it to sound accusing, she was merely reminding him of the occasion, just made it worse.
“I’ve never done it before, I’ll probably be rubbish.”
“You don’t know until you try it.”
“It won’t be much fun for you if you have to spend half the time picking me up off the ice.” He was scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses now, and he knew it.
“Oh I don’t know, that could be a lot of fun,” Jess said with a wicked grin. “Besides, I’m sure you won’t be that bad.”
“Look, Jess, I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to go ice skating. Can we just drop it?”
Becker felt like a complete bastard the moment the words left his mouth. It wasn’t helped by the brief look of disappointment that flashed across Jess’s face before she turned back to her tea and resolutely didn’t look at him.
“Fine. Never mind. It was just a suggestion.”
Becker frantically searched his brain for something to say that wouldn’t a) make the situation worse, or b) end with him agreeing to go ice skating. He was still trying to find something when Jess settled back down on the sofa, leaving a large gap between them instead of snuggling back into his arms.
Well done, Becker, you really screwed that one up, was all he could think for the rest of the evening.
“Have you and Jess had an argument?”
Becker looked up to see Abby in the doorway of his office, looking pissed off. Actually, no, it was more protective than pissed off, although with Abby it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference.
Becker already didn’t want to be in this conversation. Best to keep the details to a minimum, he felt.
Abby closed the door behind her and waited, her arms folded.
Becker sat back in his chair was stared right back at her. Two could play at this game.
It was almost a minute before Becker finally gave in.
“It wasn’t an argument. It was more like a minor disagreement.”
“So that’s why Jess looks incredibly pissed off, and the two of you have barely spoken all day?”
“We’re not not talking,” Becker protested.
Abby took a few seconds to process that sentence, and then walked over and leaned against his desk, managing to loom over him surprisingly effectively.
“Becker, much as you might like to think you’re being subtle, we all know that on an average day you find any excuse you possibly can to wander into the ops room and chat to Jess, and I’m fairly certain you text each other at least ten times a day. And yet today you haven’t been near the ops room, Jess made a point of not going anywhere near the break room at your usual time for a coffee, and I haven’t heard a single text alert all day.”
“I’ll try to be less obvious next time,” Becker muttered.
“That’s not the point.” Abby’s expression softened a little. “Look, we’re your friends, we’re just worried, that’s all.”
“Well there’s nothing to be worried about.”
“Really?” Abby did not look convinced.
Nothing that can’t be solved by an apology and a lot of chocolate, Becker thought. Or rather, he hoped.
“Yes, really. Now haven’t you got someone else to go and annoy?”
Abby grinned. “Oh, plenty of people, but it’s far more fun annoying you.”
Becker rolled his eyes.
“Wonderful. You’d never know I was a highly trained Special Forces officer who knows at least twenty different ways to kill a man in less than ten seconds. Believe it or not, people used to respect me.” He absolutely did not intend that to sound at all petulant.
Abby giggled. “Aww, poor baby. It must be such a hardship being you.”
Becker attempted to look outraged, but to be honest his heart wasn’t in it.
“Look, Abby, you don’t need to worry. I’m going to talk to Jess tonight, and I’ve already bought the chocolate. We’ll be fine.”
“Good. Because if Jess isn’t her usual happy, bouncy self tomorrow, you know I’ll be back here harassing you again.”
“That’s okay, I’ll just make sure I’m somewhere else,” Becker said. He was at least 90% sure that was a joke. Maybe 85%.
“Highly respected officer? Yes, I can see why,” Abby said with a laugh. She pushed herself off his desk and headed to the door, but paused there and looked back at him. “Just how much chocolate are we talking about for this one?”
“With Jess, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality of the chocolate that makes the difference.” He grimaced. “Let’s just say this one isn’t the Tesco’s own brand.”
“Ouch!” Abby said, pulling a face. “Good luck.”
When she had gone, Becker sat back and pulled his desk drawer open, eying the extremely expensive slab of extra dark chocolate with a hint of strawberry that lay in there.
He couldn’t help thinking he was going to need all the luck he could get tonight.
Becker cornered her in the kitchen while they were cooking that evening.
“Look, Jess, I’m sorry about last night.”
Jess gave him a look that said he was going to have to try harder than that.
“I think you made your feelings quite clear last night.”
Okay, she was still pissed off with him.
He moved closer and gently took the bag of pasta out of her hands and put it down on the worktop.
“Would you believe me if I said it didn’t come out quite like I meant it? Can I explain?”
Jess eyed him for a moment, and then leaned against the worktop and folded her arms across her chest and waited expectantly.
“I’m sorry I was acting like an idiot, okay? It really wasn’t aimed at you, and you didn’t deserve it, and you know I’d never want to upset you, right? And is this enough grovelling yet?” He added the last question with a hopeful expression.
“Maybe. It depends on the explanation, which I’ve yet to hear.”
Ouch! Make that really pissed off.
“I’m no good at ice skating.”
“You said that last night.”
“And you just can’t be bothered to learn? Or maybe you think it’s too girly for a macho man like you, is that it?”
“No! That’s not it at all.”
“So what is it, then? Do you have some hideous childhood trauma to do with skating?” Jess’s expression suddenly morphed from angry to horrified. “Oh, god. Please tell me you don’t have a horrible childhood trauma about it.”
Becker couldn’t help laughing. “No, it’s okay, I don’t.”
“Good,” Jess breathed again. Then she fixed him with that expectant stare again. “So...?”
Becker scrubbed his hand over his face as he tried to work out the best, or possibly just the easiest way of saying this.
Oh, hell, just go for it. What was the worst she could do?
“Okay, for starters, it isn’t that I don’t want to do things with you. I do, I really do. But I can’t ice skate. I have no idea how to do it, and I don’t like doing things that I’m not good at.”
“What, you’re worried you’re going to fall over and look silly?”
“Essentially, yes.” Becker hesitated. “Look, I know how that sounds. Like I’m this stuck up, arrogant bloke who doesn’t like to be embarrassed. But that’s not it. Not really.”
“So what is it?”
Here we go, Becker thought.
“All my life I’ve had to be the best. There was so much expectation on me, at school, at Sandhurst. When I made Special Forces Captain at twenty-five there were a lot of people who resented it, who thought that I’d only got there because of my family connections, or that I didn’t deserve it. I spent most of my career with people like that watching my every move, just waiting for me to screw up.” Becker paused for breath. He had never, ever admitted any of that out loud to anyone else. Somehow it wasn’t quite as terrifying as he had expected it to be.
Jess was still watching him carefully.
“I get that,” she said. “But I’m still not entirely sure why that means you won’t go ice skating.”
Becker let a shaky laugh out.
“Because the need to be perfect at everything is so damned ingrained into my psyche that I daren’t let myself do anything unless I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make an idiot out of myself doing it. I know how stupid that sounds even as I’m saying it, but that’s how my brain works.”
Becker was feeling quite proud of himself for maintaining eye contact all the way through that.
Jess was still watching him, but her expression seemed to have softened a little. Maybe. He hoped.
“You know you have nothing to prove to me?”
“And I wasn’t planning on inviting anyone else, so it’s not like Matt would see you looking silly.”
Just the thought of Matt witnessing him trying to ice skate practically sent Becker into cold sweats. He was so distracted by that thought that he didn’t notice until she started speaking again that a smile was beginning to tug at the corners of Jess’s mouth.
“And really, doing something that you’re afraid of, taking a risk, is actually far braver than doing something that you already know you can do.”
Becker had the horrible feeling he was about to be well and truly cornered.
Jess came closer until she was standing only inches away.
“And you know how I think you’re incredibly hot when you’re brave.”
She ran her finger down the front of his t-shirt and traced along the edge of his jeans.
Becker sucked in a breath, and knew she had completely outmanoeuvred him.
“You always think I’m hot.” He aimed for casual, but missed it by some way. Probably because of where her finger was now exploring. Women definitely cheated.
“I’d think you were even hotter if I knew you’d done something really brave just for me.”
Jess broke out the big eyes, and what little was left of Becker’s defences threw down their weapons and surrendered.
He tentatively placed his hands on her hips, and said, “What night do you want to go, then?”
Jess smiled up at him. “Thursday?”
Becker swallowed, and nodded.
Jess stretched up on her toes and kissed him.
“Does that mean I’m forgiven?”
Jess stepped back and appeared to study him.
“You could have told me all that last night, instead of being mean to me.”
Becker decided if Jess was allowed to cheat, so was he. He ducked his head and peered at her from under his eyelashes, and nibbled his lip for good measure. Jess resisted for all of five seconds, which was an impressive three seconds longer than she normally lasted when he did that.
“Fine! Yes, you’re forgiven.”
Becker suddenly felt far more relieve about that fact than he had expected.
“Tell you what,” he said. “You go and sit down, and I’ll make dinner.”
Jess’s face lit up in grin that had had been absent for most of the last twenty four hours.
“I’m beginning to see definite advantages to you grovelling. You don’t have to, though. I did say you were forgiven.”
“I know. But let me do it anyway.”
Jess kissed him again, this time tugging him down to her level. Becker didn’t put up any resistance. Then she skipped off out of the kitchen.
Becker mentally counted the seconds, and at twelve he heard the loud squeal of delight. Jess had found the chocolate on the coffee table.
He smiled, and then made a start on dinner, trying not to think about what he’d agreed to do on Thursday.
Becker’s heart sank when he saw how many people there were on the skating rink in the square, and how many people were gathered around the edge watching. He had hoped that Thursday might be a relatively quiet day, at least compared with Friday or the weekend.
He glanced down at Jess, bundled up in her thick purple jacket with matching gloves and bright red woolly hat. She was grinning from ear to ear, and any thoughts Becker might have been entertaining about backing out disappeared. There was absolutely no way he could say no to Jess when she looked that happy.
God, he really was going soft.
“Look, there’s the boot hire stall. Come on, you need to get a pair.”
Jess grabbed his hand and practically dragged him through the crowd, and Becker found himself hiring a pair of skating boots while Jess sat down on one of the nearby benches and laced hers up. She still had her own boots from years ago. Becker wasn’t entirely surprised when they turned out to be lime green.
The hire boots were a sensible black and blue colour, for which Becker was profoundly grateful. Once they were on, he managed to stand up far more easily than he had expected, although there was a definite moment of wobbling at first. The fact that Jess was standing and watching him with an extremely amused expression wasn’t helping, but at least there was no sign of her camera. Yet.
“Just try to walk normally until we get to the ice,” Jess advised.
Becker decided he would be happy if he could make it to the side of the rink without a) falling over, or b) flailing his arms like a hyperactive windmill. Again, though, once he got going it wasn’t too bad, despite a little more undignified wobbling en-route. Nevertheless, he was glad to reach the barrier around the rink where there was something to hold onto.
“Okay, once you’re on the ice, don’t try to walk, you need to slide. One foot, then the other. Like this.”
Jess stepped out onto the ice and skated effortlessly for a few feet, and then turned around and came back.
Becker realised a little belatedly that he had been paying more attention to her cute smile than he had been to what she was doing with her feet.
Just do it, he told himself.
He stepped out onto the ice, and managed to slide all of a yard into Jess’s arms.
“Yey!” Jess squealed.
Becker grinned, and then his left foot carried on sliding when the right had stopped. He made a desperate grab for the barrier and caught it in time to prevent himself ending up in a thoroughly ungainly sprawl. It did still leave him with both feet trying to slide in almost opposite directions, and him clinging onto the barrier with both arms, but that was rectifiable.
Jess appeared at his side, still smiling.
“It was going well to start with,” she said encouragingly.
Becker got both feet under control and stood up again without letting go of the barrier.
He looked round at the other people on the ice. No one seemed to be paying much attention to them, and for all the people who were gliding confidently round on the ice, there was an equal number who were wobbling and falling and pissing themselves laughing at each other.
Oh, what the hell. Becker was already pretty much resigned to the fact that he was going to spend much of the next hour looking completely ridiculous. He may as well have some fun while he was doing it.
“Yeah, it was. Shall we try that again?” He caught Jess’s eye and smiled back at her.
The second attempt went rather better. Becker made it all of three yards before the wobbles started again, and he managed to right himself with one hand on the barrier and the other gripping Jess’s hand probably rather tighter than was comfortable for her, he realised a little too late. Jess continued to encourage him, although it was clear she was enjoying his ineptitude a great deal. Becker didn’t really blame her. In her place, he’d probably be doing a far worse job of not laughing.
By the time they had made it once round the rink Becker thought he was starting to get the hang of it. True, it wasn’t the fasted circuit round the rink. Okay, that was an understatement. An asthmatic snail could probably have lapped them without breaking a sweat, but that was beside the point. Plus, Becker was feeling quite pleased with himself for not falling on his arse.
“Do you want to go round again, or shall we stop for a bit?” Jess asked.
“Why don’t I stop for a bit, and you go round again at your own speed?” He gave her a self-deprecating grin. “Let me see the expert at work.”
Jess beamed at him, and stretched up to kiss him.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.”
She started round again, and Becker watched with undisguised admiration at how easy she made it look.
Soon, though, he lost sight of her amongst all the other skaters. Now that no one he knew could see him, Becker had a sudden urge to have another go by himself. It was true he didn’t like doing things he wasn’t good at, but if those things were necessary, his normal approach was to make sure he became good at them. Why should this be any different?
He gingerly let go of the barrier and slid one foot in front of the other as he had been doing with Jess. Okay, he was never going to win any speed skating medals, but it wasn’t too bad. He carried on, keeping an eye on the distance to the barrier just in case, concentrating on moving forwards as smoothly as possible. He had rapidly come to the conclusion that what he didn’t like about skating was the fact that the ground didn’t feel solid underneath him, and no amount of technique was going to change that.
A blur of purple and red and lime green slid past and stopped a little way in front of him.
“See, it’s not so bad,” Jess grinned. “You’re doing great.”
Becker gave her a confident smirk, and headed towards her.
Of course, that was the point when he did fall on his arse. The blade on his right boot snagged momentarily on the ice, and that was enough to throw his balance entirely. He tried to overcompensate, felt his feet going out from under him, and before he could even look round for the barrier he was sitting on the ice with a sore backside and an even more bruised pride.
Jess skated over to him, looking concerned when he didn’t immediately get up.
“Are you okay?”
Becker started to laugh. Really, there wasn’t much else he could do at that point. Jess giggled, and held a hand out to him.
“I’m pretty sure if you try to pull me up we’ll both just end up in a heap together.” Becker considered that briefly. “Which normally I wouldn’t object to, but possibly not in public.”
“Is that meant to be a deterrent or a promise?” Jess inquired with an altogether filthy smile that went straight to Becker’s groin. Or probably would have if the temperature wasn’t about two degrees and the sky wasn’t threatening snow.
Becker tried to pick himself up, with Jess attempting to help, but he didn’t get upright again until a helpful male skater stopped to give him a hand. Becker suspected he didn’t even have enough dignity left to feel embarrassed about that.
“Seriously, do you want to stop now?” Jess asked, back at the safety of the barrier.
Jess hesitated long enough to give Becker his answer.
“Okay,” Becker said. “We both know I’m crap at this, and I’m spoiling your fun. So why don’t I sit out for a while and you enjoy yourself?”
“I’m enjoying myself with you.”
“I know. Me too.” He caught Jess’s sceptical expression. “No really, I am.”
“It’s not exactly fun for you, sitting on the sidelines and watching.”
Actually, Becker couldn’t think of anything else he would rather do right then. Well, nothing that didn’t involve a truckload of heavy artillery, at any rate.
“Listen Jess, you came here to skate, and you’re not going to do that all the time you’re babysitting me. Seriously, Jess. Go on.”
Jess dithered for another moment, but her internal argument obviously didn’t last long.
“Have fun,” Becker called after her as she skated away.
He managed to get off the ice without further incident, and gratefully handed the skating boots over and got his own boots back. The solid ground felt odd for a while, but not enough to prevent his sigh of relief.
Becker made his way back to the safe side of the barrier, and leaned on it, scanning the crowds for Jess. She wasn’t difficult to spot, even amongst all the other colourful hats and scarves and coats.
Becker couldn’t help but admire the way she seemed to glide across the ice, spinning and turning gracefully, a gorgeous little smile on her face that told Becker she was away in her own happy world right then. She looked beautiful, and if he hadn’t already been in love with her, Becker suspected he would be after he’d seen this.
On her second lap round Jess spotted him and waved, and performed a rather fancy twisty manoeuvre as she skated past him. Becker adjusted his jeans and decided they definitely needed to explore Jess’s previously undisclosed agility when they got home that night.
He felt something cold land on his nose, and glanced up to see the first snowflakes meandering their way down out of the clouds. He hunched further into his jacket and stayed where he was.
Of course, now he was standing still, it was a lot colder than when he had actually been out on the ice, but he wasn’t enough of a masochist to attempt that again, no matter how cold it got. When he finally saw Jess heading for the exit, Becker had to admit he was faintly relieved. While he was waiting for her he had spotted a hot drinks van, probably strategically placed to catch all the ice skaters, but right then the thought of coffee was more than enough to make him pay the no doubt exorbitant prices.
“There you are!” Jess exclaimed when he came back to the bench where she was changing her shoes.
“Thought you might like something to warm you up.”
Jess’s eyes lit up and she practically squealed when he handed her the giant hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows and a flake. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent with a ‘died and gone to heaven’ expression. Her nose and cheeks were flushed pink from the cold, and Becker couldn’t help himself. He leaned down and kissed the end of Jess’s nose, prompting another squeal, and almost getting a face-full of cream from her hot chocolate. He was quite glad he avoided that, because it would have been a terrible waste considering how much it cost, plus he always gained a great deal of amusement from watching Jess with that kind of drink.
“So, did you have fun?” he inquired.
Jess beamed at him, licked the cream from the top of the hot chocolate, and nibbled on the end of the flake.
Becker groaned. “You’re doing that on purpose.”
She giggled. “Of course I am. And yes, I had a wonderful night, thank you. So, what about you?”
“It wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be,” he admitted grudgingly.
Jess thwapped his arm, and then went back to cuddling both hands around the cardboard cup.
“No, I did have fun really” Becker said.
“But I think we need to start heading home now. You look very cold.”
“The hot chocolate is doing a very good job of warming me up.”
“I can think of more interesting ways to warm both of us up,” Becker said with a suggestive smirk.
“That’s the worst line I’ve ever heard!” Nevertheless, Jess giggled and fished in her pocket. “But you’re right. And I’m worried about what might happen to you if we don’t get home soon.”
“What?” Becker was honestly confused.
Jess tugged her camera out and took a picture of him before he could get out of the way.
“You ought to see what the snow is doing to your hair.”