Captain Ryan disliked paperwork. He especially disliked paperwork that he had to rewrite once Cutter had got his hands on it. He didn't care about the correct name for the dinosaurs he had to deal with, nor for that matter did he care about Connor's scribbled in the margins conspiracy theories. At least Stephen didn't write on his reports – not after the dung episode, anyway.
And yet paperwork kept on piling up. Ryan was beginning to think that Lester made these demands merely to piss him off.
Of course, the worst paperwork was that which involved a death. Reams and reams of paperwork was needed on those occasions. Not to mention letters to the relatives. The bereaved. Ryan hated that paperwork most of all. He hated it so much that whenever possible he went to see the relatives himself. He found the personal touch harrowing for himself, but believed it to be of some comfort to the parents, sisters, brothers.
But paperwork was supposed to be a distraction, it was supposed to be something he could concentrate on so that he wasn't thinking about Becker.
Only it wasn't working.
Not that Becker was dead. That wasn't what the paperwork said. What the paperwork said was Missing in Action. Not that he'd filed it yet. He'd not dotted any i's or crossed any t's, despite having told Lester that's what he had squirreled himself away for.
The fact that Lester hadn't been fooled, in fact had looked at Ryan with a disquieting amount of sympathy, didn’t really make Ryan feel any better.
There was a timid knock at his office door and Ryan was pulled back from his maudlin thoughts. He did consider pretending that he wasn't there, but since Jenny stuck her head around the door without waiting for an answer he had no option but to indicate with a nod of his head that he was far too busy to chat.
“Lester wants us all in the Conference Room in five minutes,” she told him. He sighed and stopped pretending he was filling in forms.
“No idea.” She stepped further into the room and closed the door. “He did take a call earlier, from the War Office, so it can't be good.” She moved over to his chair and put a hand on the back of it. “Are you all right?”
Jenny sighed. “Tom.”
Ryan gave up all pretence that he was actually going to achieve anything and threw his pen down onto his desk. “It should have been me.”
“You know that isn't true. Becker - “
“Shouldn't have been leading the team. I was going to - “
“You had to deal with Cutter. And Becker's perfectly capable.” She tentatively touched his arm. “I'm sure he's working his way back to us as we speak. You have men there waiting in case the anomaly opens, don't you?” Ryan nodded. “Well then, the minute he comes back, you'll know.”
Ryan stood up. “You said Lester wanted to see us?”
Jenny pulled back, recognising a dismissal when she saw one. “Yes, I expect he's getting inpatient.”
They walked to the Conference Room in silence, a thick tension around them that Jenny wasn't sure how to break. It was common knowledge – Ryan and Becker being more than colleagues – but since neither of them had made any public declaration, she wasn't entirely sure what was appropriate in these situations. And being common knowledge didn't mean that Lester knew anything about it, so she certainly didn’t want to land either of them in any trouble.
“What's going on?” Connor asked as she and Ryan stepped inside. Connor and Abby were already sitting around the table, Connor bouncing in his seat and Abby looking like she was considering pouring the jug of water over his head.
“I know as much as you do,” Jenny assured them. Cutter barrelled in seconds later and Jenny had the same conversation with him, finally telling him to just “sit down and behave” which made even Ryan smile. She should just be grateful that Stephen was on a mission elsewhere; the two of them could be insufferable when they got going.
“Ah, you’re here,” Lester said. He hesitated in the doorway, as if surprised by their presence.
“You were the one who called us, James,” Jenny reminded him. She gave him a cursory glance; he looked terrible, hair mussed as if he'd been pulling at it, tie askew – the last time she'd seen him, a scant fifteen minutes ago, he'd looked as pristine as ever. What on earth could have happened in the meantime?
Lester looked behind him and seemed to be considering speaking, before he just stepped aside and motioned for whoever was with him to come in.
It seemed like everyone was holding their breath, and then, impossible as it seemed, Captain Becker was standing in front of them.
“Becker!” “You're alive!” “When did you get back?” “Why wasn't I told?”
All their voices coalesced into a cacophony of sound that seemed to physically knock Becker backwards and it was only because Lester had blocked his exit that he managed not to move out of the room all together.
But as Ryan stood up he realised that the insignia on Becker's uniform was unfamiliar and this Becker held himself differently. Not to mention the beard. The room grew silent as the others also realised that something wasn't quite right.
“Lester?” Cutter asked. “What's going on?”
“I was rather hoping you'd be able to tell me.”
Lester pushed Becker into the room and he stood awkwardly about staring at them all.
“Where did he come from?” Cutter asked.
“Security found him hiding in the bushes outside.”
“I wasn't hiding!” Becker interrupted, scowling. “I was doing recon.”
Ryan moved closer to Becker. “What year do you come from?”
Becker eyed Ryan up and down before answering. “2022.”
Somewhere behind them Connor gasped and then started bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“I see,” Ryan replied. “And are you our Becker – or - another one?”
Becker stood up even straighter and his hand twitched, as if he were about to salute. “In my time line you died before I joined the Anomaly Project.”
* * * * *
Becker sat in the chair opposite Lester's desk and waited. The office was much the same as the one he was used to, only the pictures were different, and Lester seemed to be still married with four children instead of three. The walls were brightly coloured too, and reminded Becker a little of Jess and the multicoloured skirt she had been wearing when he'd last seen her – calling out his name as the creature had grabbed him around the waist and pulled him backwards through the anomaly that had opened without warning in the Atrium.
It was strange to see the others, all slightly different in dress but otherwise unaltered. He had read the reports from Cutter of course, about changes in the time line, and heard Connor and Sarah pick apart theories of multiple universes, but it was still odd to find himself in an alternate time line, no matter the oddness he dealt with on a daily basis.
He resisted the urge to sink his head into his hands; that would help nobody. Instead he thought about the look on Ryan's face when he pronounced him dead. It hadn't been shock, exactly, more like resignation. And then Connor couldn't help babbling away about how their Becker and their Ryan were more than friends and that their Becker was missing and the whole sorry tale had come spurting out in seconds.
He found himself smiling despite himself. Cutter had once said that there was always a constant in every universe, and theirs was Connor.
“Something amusing, Captain Becker?” Lester asked, stepping into his office. Becker lazily removed the smile from his face and stood up.
“Connor,” he said, with a shrug.
Lester visibly relaxed and motioned for Becker to sit down. “Captain Ryan will be joining us in a moment...” he began and then paused. Becker waited, but Lester didn’t continue. Instead he looked at his desk and started shuffling through papers that didn’t look in particular need of reorganisation.
“You could start by telling me exactly what happened to the other Becker,” Becker said.
Lester froze, but avoided looking at Becker.
“He went through an anomaly, and he didn’t come back,” Ryan said. Becker twisted in his chair and saw that Ryan was standing in the doorway, face a soldiery mask. “It opened in a school. Some children went through and Becker,” Ryan shook is hand fondly, “Becker bloody well went through after them. The kids came back. He didn't. So far they've not said a word, so we have no idea what happened on the other side.”
“He'll come back,” Becker said, certain. He didn't like the idea of his other self dying, and now regretted telling Ryan about his own death.
“He will,” Ryan agreed. Becker was pleased to hear how certain he sounded.
“And in the meantime...?” Becker asked.
“I'm sure we can find you something to do,” Lester said, when it became clear that Ryan wasn't going to say anything.
* * * * *
Ryan found solace in the armoury, stripping, cleaning and then reassembling as many guns as possible. No one disturbed him. Jenny peered in once, and his sergeant, Schulman, at one point, but they knew better than to talk to him. He needed this moment of calm to think.
He'd deliberately not thought about what it would be like to see Becker again so that finding himself face to face with his doppelgänger was beyond disconcerting. Much more so than finding out that in their world he was dead. He only hoped he'd died protecting his team, but he couldn't bring himself to talk to this Becker about it.
This Becker didn't have their shared history. Hadn't laughed at his jokes, got drunk with him, sucked his brain out through his cock. This Becker looked haunted in a way his Becker didn't. His Becker could be the soul of the party when he wanted to be; this Becker looked like he'd never cracked a smile in his life. This Becker might have been the one he would have fucked and left after a patrol and thought no more about it. His Becker was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, consequences be damned.
This Becker needed to find a way home, and find it soon.
* * * * * *
Becker stared around at the office the Anomaly Detector was kept in. He remembered the reports he'd read about the Anomaly Project starting off in the Home Office, about how this whole mess had started. It seemed more than a lifetime ago.
He'd been given the task of sorting through reports of the last few anomalies, trying to find any connections to his own time line. So far nothing had sparked a thought and he found his mind wandering. This was the kind of thing Cutter was better at.
The Others were keeping their distance, not treating him badly as such, just as if he were some scientific experiment stuck on a petri dish. It felt a little like his first six months at Sandhurst, until he'd proven himself; he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to go through all that again. For one thing it would mean that he didn't think he was going to get home, and that was unacceptable.
“Is it really that much different?”
Becker looked up from the papers he wasn't really looking at in his hand, and stared at Abby. Her hair was shorter than he'd seen it before, her jeans were more ripped and there was a gun stuck in the back of them. She looked like she was prepared for anything.
“It's – yes. Different, but not, just different enough.” He put the papers down and stood up. “But I need to be doing something. I can't just sit around here -”
His words were drowned out by the cry of the Anomaly Detector, and the hurried footsteps of the team running towards it.
“Where is it?” Ryan shouted as Connor planted himself in front of it and started furiously pressing keys.
“Um...” Connor didn't answer, pressing some more keys and moving his head side to side, glancing at each monitor like he was watching a tennis match.
“Connor?” Ryan asked, a clear threat in his voice.
“Where is it?” Becker asked, quietly, from the back. The hairs were standing up on the back of his neck and he didn't know which emotion was going to win – hope or fear.
“It's in the car park,” Connor managed to say.
* * * * *
The anomaly looked as beautiful, and deadly, as ever. Ryan even had a picture of one, blown up and framed on the wall of his office. A reminder of what they were up against, and that nothing could ever be trusted that came out of one.
So far there was no signs of tracks, for which Ryan was grateful, his weapon feeling heavier in his hands than normal. An anomaly had never appeared this close to where they worked before and he was damned if he was going to let anything take anyone else he cared about away from him again.
He was vaguely aware of Becker's presence behind him – and that he wasn't armed. But then he was vaguely aware of where his team were too, and that they were. And Becker was no civilian, even if he wasn't his.
“Something's coming through!” Connor shouted, as the anomaly pulsed and flickered red.
Becker took a few steps forward, only stopped by Abby's hand on his arm.
“Our anomalies don't do that,” he said to her, by way of explanation. “I've never seen that before.”
Abby just looked at him, and took out her gun, pointing it at the anomaly. “Don't get in the way,” she said, voice clipped and military.
Becker huffed incredulously. “You aren't serious?”
Abby merely pointed her gun at him and indicated that he should move back. Becker considered objecting but then passed on the idea. For the first time he wondered whether this team were the good guys after all.
There was a roar then that captured all of their attention, and some sort of Stegosaurus like creature ambled out of the anomaly. The ARC team fired on it immediately and Becker flinched – he'd grown so accustomed to Cutter's admonitions about returning the creatures back to their own time that such wanton violence turned his stomach. He took a step forward, not sure what he could do unarmed, but then another figure was coming out of the anomaly, and he was face to face with himself.
“Bloody hell,” Becker muttered under his breath. This other him looked like he had stepped out of a Terminator film, weapons everywhere, face scarred, and a definite shoot first ask questions later attitude.
“Double bloody hell,” Becker said, louder this time, as Ryan went straight up to him and pulled him into a filthy kiss.
Abby and the others ran towards this Becker and started pestering him with questions. Becker watched for a second and then began to slip away around them, approaching the anomaly from the other side. He didn't know where it might lead, but he was damned if he was going to stay there for much longer. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through.
* * * * *
Ryan pulled away from Becker and looked him up and down. “God, Becker, I thought I'd never see you again.”
Becker grinned. “As if I'd ever let my side of the bed get cold.”
He pulled Ryan into another furious kiss, and paid no heed as another dinosaur ambled out behind them and was dispatched by Abby and Connor. They became a tangle of limbs, propped up against the wall of the Home Office, caring about nothing but each other.
In the background, the anomaly winked closed.