It was well past the end of normal business hours. Sarah poked at her ARC issued laptop and then glanced up at the clock again.
An anomaly alert had come through today in the mid-afternoon. The honking cacophony of the alarm had drawn everyone to the central atrium, where Connor's quick and clever fingers narrowed down the location to an old estate in Hertfordshire. It wasn't terribly far, and the speed with which the team got themselves ready impressed her.
Right up until Cutter turned to her and ordered, "You stay here."
In shock, Sarah had watched as Cutter, Stephen, Abby, Connor – with a sheepish wave –, and Becker all hurried out of the atrium to the motor pool and off, leaving her behind with nothing more to do than continue her rough outlining of mythological sources.
She hadn't realized until that moment that she wasn't on the field team. For the last few days she'd been working in the ARC, giving Cutter information that allowed him to generate 'coordinates' for anomalies. He, Sarah, Stephen, and sometimes Connor, had built an elaborate model of the anomaly system. She and Connor made sure that all the data was loaded into the computer modeling program, but Cutter liked to work with his hands. He liked a tangible map. No-one argued with the mercurial Team Leader about his methods, but like good scientists, the rest of the team made sure all knowledge was backed up in secondary systems.
She'd also enjoyed one evening of drinks out with Cutter, Stephen, Connor and Abby. Why Captain Becker hadn't joined in, she wasn't sure. She sensed a slight tension between the military man and Cutter, probably because Cutter was a "loose cannon" personified, and Becker had a professionally fine-tuned sense of caution.
The sudden plunge from valuable new team-member to suzy-stay-at-home stung.
Sarah poked at her keyboard. They'd gotten Egypt covered very quickly, easily dismissing the obvious figures, like Sobek and Sekhmet and Bast. They'd had a bit of a tussle over Anubis, but either interpretation – hound or jackal – was appropriate to the time period, and not some anachronistic creature. Had Sarah not seen an anomaly in the Sun Cage produce a prehistoric monster so exactly like Egyptian representations of Ammut, she might have dismissed the idea, laying the inspiration for Ammut at the feet of the Nile crocodile as others in her field did.
They'd then come to the conclusion that any mythology surrounding easily identifiable creatures was dismissible. They needed truly fantastic creatures: dragons, unicorns, chimeras. Connor had offered to help Sarah cross-reference the standard characteristics of these beasts to the known fossil record, but Cutter insisted Connor's time be spent on magnetite and electricity. Sarah wondered why they didn't find a physicist to handle this, and let Connor get back to his paleontology, but then she imagined it would be hard to bring in someone new without the kind of experience she had endured. And it seemed the brilliant young man could handle it. Cutter seemed to have quiet but complete faith in Connor's abilities.
Sarah glanced up at the clock again. Now it was nearing eight in the evening. She wasn't alone in her vigil; she had heard Lester loudly ranting about the inability of freelance scientists to keep one reasonably informed about forty-five minutes ago. No doubt the prim and proper administrator was pacing in his office even now. He was probably more worried than she about the team.
Allowing her mind to drift again, Sarah found herself contemplating Stephen Hart. The zoologist had flirted with her over drinks when the team had gone out. Sure, he had all the right lines and all the good looks, but Sarah couldn't help but be a little wary of a man who was so glib with the fairer sex. When he turned his attention on Abby, his comments were more teasing, brotherly, and the young behaviorist gave as good as she got, even though she'd sat slightly closer to Connor than appropriate. It had been something of a clue for the others – when Abby had gone to fetch a round, and Connor stared after her, Cutter and Stephen had exchanged knowing looks and small smiles. Sarah found their affection for their younger colleagues reassuring, but she still struggled somewhat with her place in the dynamic. She could, no doubt, let herself fall for Hart's blandishments, and it might make for a fun diversion, but she wondered if the man was ever serious about women.
At the other end of the spectrum, Captain Becker was quietly making himself indispensable to the Egyptologist. Whether it was an offer of a ride home, or simply holding doors for her, his ultra-correct gentlemanly ways charmed Sarah more than he might realize. And if in her head, she found herself labeling him 'Brandon' instead of Becker… well, she was an Austen fan from way back, and he was a career military man, after all….
The sudden noise of slamming doors and raised voices shook her out of her reverie, and Sarah hurried down to the main floor. The team had returned.
"What happened?" she asked Connor breathlessly.
"Coryphodons in the carp pond," Connor told her, as if she'd know what that meant. At her expression of confusion he continued. "Like a hippo, not as big, just as cranky."
"Oh dear," Sarah muttered. She'd seen the damage an annoyed hippo could do in Upper Egypt once. "Anyone hurt?"
"Stephen got bowled over, maybe a cracked rib. Becker got a tongue-lashing from Abby for using live rounds to scare them back through the anomaly." Connor's sly smile suggested the full story might be entertaining.
Sarah ignored the temptation of his tale to head for the clinic instead. There, a military medic was taping Stephen's ribs.
"You should probably have an x-ray," the soldier told the shirtless zoologist, who grunted as his ribs were stabilized.
"I'll go tomorrow. Right now, I just want a draught and a break."
From the opposite side, Cutter let out an amused snort. "Perhaps waving the lilac about to entice them wasn't so smart. Clearly, they found it too appealing."
Stephen rolled his eyes before noticing Sarah in the doorway. He gave her a tight smile.
"Are you alright?" Sarah couldn't help asking. From what she could see, he'd be sporting fairly substantial bruises up and down his body for days.
"Concerned for me, Doctor Page?" Stephen asked cheerfully, a note of amusement in his voice.
"Only if it knocked out what little sense you may have," Sarah replied pertly. Cutter snickered.
"Where's Abby?" Cutter asked, changing the subject.
"Either still yelling at Becker in the armory," Connor told him from behind Sarah, "Or showering off the muck."
"Muck?" Sarah asked.
"She dodged the wrong way. Ended up in the pond," Stephen explained.
"At least for once, none of this was my fault," Connor muttered. Sarah turned to give him a grin.
"Then you should be properly sympathetic," she informed him. Her grin and a quirk of the eye conveyed her suggestion clearly enough, and with a smile, Connor went to find his girlfriend.
"I appreciate you hanging around to make sure we're all in one piece, Doctor Page," Cutter said, "But thankfully we're all done for the day." He glanced at Stephen, who was attempting to pull on his vest without groaning. "If we're lucky, we can get out of writing the reports tonight." He patted Stephen gently on the shoulder, then left the clinic.
Once disentangled from the cotton, Stephen smiled at Sarah, a more genuine one than his earlier flirtatious smirk. "It's alright, really," he told her. "I'm fine, and all the creatures got back to their own time."
"I can see that," Sarah said, then moderated her sharp tone guiltily. "It's just, I thought…"
"You thought you'd be off adventuring with us?" Stephen asked. When she nodded sheepishly, he smiled. "Really, be glad you're not. If we run into a situation when we need you, believe me, Cutter will call you in. Let yourself ease into this. It's a crazy job, and you're the first one who hasn't had to dive into the deep end all at once." His tone was reassuring and kind, and Sarah found herself smiling at him, pleasantly surprised to see the nice guy hiding behind the hot-shot persona.
"Are you going to need a hand with anything?" She offered, waving a bit to indicate his injuries.
A sly spark flashed in his eyes, but he just smiled. "Nah, I'll be fine. Thanks for the offer, though."
A showered and chagrinned looking Abby waved goodnight to Sarah as she and Connor headed out. For once apparently, Connor came out of an adventure unscathed and unembarrassed. He looked pretty happy about it.
Cutter was manfully taking whatever tongue-lashing Lester was bestowing up in the administrator's office. He gave her a subtle nod as she passed through the atrium.
Just by the security checkpoint, Sarah quite literally ran into Captain Becker.
"Doctor Page," he greeted her politely, a hand on her elbow to steady her. He frowned slightly. "May I give you a ride home? It's late to be riding the Underground alone."
Given that it was barely past nine o'clock, the reasoning was specious, but Sarah accepted anyway.
Once in the Hilux, the silence was nearly deafening. Becker kept strict attention to the road. Sarah thought about trying to start a conversation, but gave it up as a bad idea.
Outside her flat, Becker pulled the car over neatly. Before she could even sort out her purse and bag, he'd sprung from his seat and come around the car to open the door for her.
"Thanks," she said with a smile. The light was dim, but she fancied a bit of color came to his cheeks.
"Dr. Page," he started, then stopped abruptly.
"I was wondering… that is, if you weren't… I… nevermind."
"What is it, Becker?"
He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, it was inappropriate."
Sarah laughed. "Oh for god's sake please don't 'ma'am' me! We're colleagues!" She thought a moment as she fished her keys out of her purse. "Is what you were thinking inappropriate because we're colleagues?"
"Um. Yes. Rather."
"Oh." Sarah felt heat in her cheeks now. "Well, let me ask you this – is it inappropriate in general, or inappropriate because of the work we do?" Now she could clearly see she had him. "Is it …. Cutter-level inappropriate, or, maybe, Connor-and-Abby-level inappropriate?" The younger team members' relationship was something of an open secret by now. They'd never declared anything public, nor had they been caught doing anything best kept for non-work-hours, but still everyone knew they were a couple.
When Becker didn't answer, Sarah smirked. "Ah. Connor-and-Abby-level, I see. Well, first of all, you'd better stop calling me Doctor Page. My name is Sarah. And secondly…" She stepped closer and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. "When you do manage to ask me, the answer is yes."
She swiftly unlocked her door and went inside, leaving the terminally flustered Captain alone on the pavement.
To be continued in the next tale, "Dodging Danny"