Scarlett sighed and shifted a bit against Snake Eyes's side. He pulled her closer and looked down at her fondly.
"I love my job, honest," she said softly. "But…"
She turned her eyes to the sunset again – she'd happily sit here for hours looking at the Sierras bathed in gold, if only sunsets lasted that long.
Her contemplation was interrupted by his silent chuckle. She looked at him questioningly. He signed to remark that they were alone, watching a sunset together, miles away from civilization, and that she had just completed the phrase "I love" by "my job". He chuckled again and added that maybe he should be insulted.
She elbowed him in the ribs.
"You know what I mean. I wish we didn't have to head back tomorrow morning."
He nodded, serious again, and pulled her tighter against him, kissing the top of her head. She turned to face him, pulled him into a much less platonic kiss and dragged him down to the ground.
Things were really starting to get interesting when they heard a distinctly distressed howl, followed by high pitched whimpers.
Snake Eyes's head snapped up. Scarlett's eyes widened.
"Do you think…?"
He took off running towards the whimpers, which was answer enough: yes, he did think that was Timber. Scarlett scrambled up and followed.
She caught up with him just as he was lifting the injured wolf in his arms. Timber gave him a lick, but somehow managed to look highly embarrassed. She gave the animal a pat, looking him over, and quickly spotted the bloody and crushed paw. Her eyes widened before narrowing in a scowl.
"Leg-hold trap?" she asked.
Snake Eyes nodded, frowning, and pointed at the trap, which, judging by the size, was indeed meant for wolves or at least for wolf-sized animals.
"If I get my hands on the jerk that put that there…" Scarlett said, picking it up, "it's a cheap one, look: old style, no padding whatsoever. These things should be illegal everywhere. Poor thing, that's going to take weeks to heal… that's how you met him, too, isn't it?"
He nodded and started back towards the cabin, his upper lip curling up in a snarl as Timber tensed in pain from the movement imposed on his broken paw. It was at least lucky the wolf had stumbled on the cruel contraption while they were still here. Just one day later, and he would likely have bled to death – hunters hardly ever came around, and it was a near certainty that whoever had put this trap down had long since forgotten about it.
"I'll ask for extended leave," Scarlett said from behind him. "We both have months of unused leave; Hawk won't refuse to let us take a couple of extra weeks."
Snake Eyes shook his head, deposited Timber on the bed, and signed that either there was trouble and they should go back and help, or there wasn't and Tommy was liable to go crazy from boredom and start making some very soon.
She wrinkled her nose, but he missed it, his head being buried under the sink to fish out the first aid kit. She did it again when he surfaced.
"I can't believe you're worried about Tommy being bored when Timber's hurt."
He tossed her the kit and signed to argue Tommy being bored was a very good reason to be worried, but that jokes put aside, he didn't want to stay here only for some major disaster to happen while he was still away.
Scarlett bit the inside of her cheek, at a loss for what to do. She didn't like being away from her duties anymore than he did - which was why they both had unused leave - but she knew from past experience that Snake Eyes would not entertain the thought of leaving Timber with a veterinarian: wolves were considered wild life and it was therefore illegal to have one as a pet. The mild annoyance of having to go around that law put aside, it also meant that any veterinarian Timber was left with was likely to decide the easiest thing to do was to put him out of his misery, assuming that unlike a domesticated animal, he wouldn't be missed.
Confirming that thought, Snake Eyes signed that he still wasn't going to leave Timber.
She blinked at him before her eyes widened.
"You're bringing him?"
"Are you going to ask for permission? I don't think Hawk would be able to okay it. Not officially, anyway."
He shook his head – there was no way official policies would allow for a wild wolf to hang out inside the base for any length of time, and he wasn't about to put Hawk in the position of having to bend yet a few more regulations for him. Since someone had to break the rules for him to be able to care for Timber for a week or two, that someone was going to be him, not his Commanding Officer.
"We're still going to need extra vacation to bring him back here when he's better," she remarked.
He shrugged and signed that he might be able to get Tommy or Stalker to give Timber a ride and that the wolf could stay in the wooded area just outside the base for a few weeks if necessary.
Scarlett nodded and turned her attention to the injured animal. She took the bottle of disinfectant out of the kit, looked at it thoughtfully for a moment and tossed it at Snake Eyes, getting up and stepping away from the wolf.
"You do it, Mr. Wolf-Keeper ninja," she said, smirking. "He's less likely to bite you than me, and even if he tries, you can probably dodge it."
Snake Eyes chuckled, much too grateful for Scarlett's immediate acceptance of his intention to sneak Timber in the Pit to mind her not helping – besides, she was right about the biting and dodging odds. He pressed one of Timber's sleeping points and set to work.
Scarlett smacked her forehead – in hindsight, she should have known Snake Eyes would be able to find a sleeping point on the wolf. She was, after all, very personally acquainted with how good the Arashikage were at using those: Storm Shadow had taken all of one hundredth of a second to locate and use hers when he had kidnapped her. She frowned thoughtfully as her thoughts jumped to the fact Storm Shadow would likely hear the wolf in Snake Eyes' quarters within hours of their arrival at the Pit.
"I don't suppose Tommy will figure his oath to Hawk means he has to report us sneaking a wild animal into the Pit?" she asked.
Snake Eyes shook his head and finished cleaning and bandaging Timber's paw before turning his attention back to Scarlett and signing that Tommy would trust him to make sure Timber wasn't going to hurt anyone and would realize telling Hawk would only put the General in a bad position.
Scarlett looked doubtful, but didn't push the issue.
They left early the following morning to start the five days drive back to the Pit. They had thankfully planned to drive back all along, which at least eliminated the issue of trying to smuggle Timber on a plane.
Given that they had a wild wolf as a travel companion, and considering said wolf was injured and therefore ill-tempered, Scarlett felt the trip went relatively well. There were a few incidents, mostly when they stopped for meals or for the night, but nobody was seriously hurt and they didn't get arrested once - smooth sailing, in other words.
They were almost in view of the above ground portion of the Pit when Timber's instincts kicked in and he started howling at the nearly full moon. Snake Eyes pulled over, got out and let Timber out as well. He scratched the wolf's ears for a few seconds and then pressed his sleeping point. Timber instantly slumped in his arms and was deposited on the ground.
"That would come in real handy with kids, too," Scarlett commented.
Snake Eyes paused for a second before regaining his composure and walking to the trunk. He pulled out his empty duffel bag and placed Timber inside of it. The bag was made of a porous fabric that let the air through, but Snake Eyes had poked a few holes in it anyway for added comfort, precisely because the bag was meant for the wolf. He zipped it and deposited it back on the back seat before climbing in himself and positioning part of the bag across his lap, following the plan they had agreed upon on the way.
Scarlett took the driver's seat and started the car back on the final stretch to the Pit. When the guard's booth came into view, Snake Eyes stretched and slumped as much as the seat belt would allow, pretending to be asleep.
Scarlett stopped by the gate and smiled at the greenshirt on guard duty.
"Good evening, Sergeant," the soldier said. He peeked in the back window and smirked. "What do you know? Ninjas do sleep! How did the convention go?"
Scarlett widened her smile. Officially, the two of them had been on leave together because they were both attending a martial arts convention; in reality, they had spent a grand total of three hours there before pushing on to Snake Eyes' cabin.
"We had a great time," she answered. "Here, let me open the trunk for you."
She popped the trunk opened and leaned back into her seat. The greenshirt dutifully opened their two suitcases to check on the content, closed the trunk back up and walked back to her.
"Do you need to look at the bag too?" she asked him. "We can wake him up if we have to."
The greenshirt actually turned a bit white at the thought of forcibly waking up the deadly ninja to poke inside his personal belongings.
"Well… it's kind of like your purse. I… I assume you packed your personal bags yourselves and didn't leave them unattended?"
"Yep." She said, putting just enough relief in her voice to convey she was glad not to have to wake up her traveling companion.
"That's fine then," he said, visibly relaxing. "You go on in, Sergeant."
He went back to his cabin and opened the gate. Scarlett drove through, feeling both amused and exasperated – it was no wonder some of the Joes constantly managed to sneak in all kinds of supposedly forbidden merchandise. She'd have to have a word with Hawk on this… once Timber was back in the High Sierras.
Storm Shadow stopped and tilted his head, listening to the floor above him. Snake Eyes' room was right above, but it contained an unusual occupant – a dog, by the sounds of the whimpering. It wasn't Junkyard, either – Mutt was nowhere near, for one thing, and the canine's voice was all wrong, not to mention the pulse had a stronger quality to it.
He had already been heading to his brother's quarters to welcome him back, having been off base himself since Snake Eyes had returned the previous night, so curiosity merely made him walk faster. He knocked when he got there and a vicious howl answered. His eyes widened a bit and when Snake Eyes opened the door, he peered right around him to the animal lying on a makeshift dog bed, Scarlett at its side.
"Good to see you, brother… would you care to comment on your choice of souvenirs? Maybe it's just me, but a wolf really seems a bit impractical. I would have picked a t-shirt, personally."
Snake Eyes made a shushing motion, shooed him in and hurriedly closed the door. Scarlett rolled her eyes at him.
"Honestly, why don't you just broadcast it while you're at it?"
"Am I to conclude this animal is not actually allowed to be here?" Storm Shadow asked, smirking. "Brother, you always come up with the most unique ways to get into trouble… I assume you can guarantee he won't attack anyone?"
Snake Eyes nodded.
"What happened to him?" Storm Shadow asked.
"Leg-hold trap," Scarlett explained.
Snake Eyes sighed and signed the word 'again'.
Storm Shadow knelt by the animal and scratched his ear, casually but very quickly pulling his hand back when Timber tried to bite it off.
"You have a talent for finding traps, do you? Is that how you became friends with my brother? Did he get you out of one of them before?" he asked the wolf. "For shame, brother," he added, tilting his head to face Snake eyes and looking deadly serious again. "A ninja's wolf does not step on traps."
Snake Eyes tilted his head back in an exaggerated eye-rolling motion.
"Not funny, Storm Shadow," Scarlett snarled. "If you're going to hang around, how about making yourself useful? You COULD pick us up some lunch."
"With pleasure," Storm Shadow answered, getting up.
"Whatever the regular entree is today," Scarlett said sternly.
Snake Eyes nodded energetically, signing to request extra meat for Timber.
"Suit yourselves," Storm Shadow sighed. "Salt-drenched generic pseudo food it is for you both, rather than actual nutrients. Will our four legged lunch companion eat cooked meat? It would draw less attention."
Snake Eyes nodded and Storm Shadow left, coming back a bit later with two helpings of spaghetti and a generous mound of extra meatballs, along with two salads, three apples and what appeared to be tofu stir-fry.
"Thank goodness for the vegetarian option." He grumbled, handing the spaghetti and the unrequested salads to Scarlett and Snake Eyes, putting the bowl of meatballs in front of Timber and settling down with his own lunch.
"You don't usually have a problem with spaghetti," Scarlett remarked, "so what's the problem now? The pasta's not even reheated," she added after a taste.
Snake Eyes snickered silently and signed that the mighty Storm Shadow had a deathly fear of cholesterol.
Storm Shadow rolled his eyes at him.
"Last night was the third time we had red meat this week: having it for lunch now would make four. I'm not short on iron and I happen to LIKE my blood flowing freely through my arteries, so three is my absolute limit. It's not fear, it's simple common sense."
Snake Eyes snickered again and Scarlett shrugged, digging into her food and ignoring her salad.
"There must be some kind of psychic connection between you and him," Storm Shadow commented in a sage tone at the gym later that day. "It can't be a coincidence that your clumsiness was so precise."
Snake Eyes signed irritably to drop it before someone overheard them, passing by him to head for the infirmary, holding his left wrist. He turned around, however, and signed further that not knowing the parallel bar was loose was not his being clumsy, it was the equipment being poorly maintained. He gingerly grabbed his wrist again and scowled under his mask – he'd probably have to sign one-handed for the next little while.
Storm Shadow thought for a second. Snake Eyes had, in all fairness, been going too fast to completely stop before hitting the wall and the injured wrist was marginally better than the concussion he could have had if he hadn't manage a truly spectacular partial twist.
"You're right," he conceded, "this wasn't clumsiness: it was a frankly alarming lack of instinct. You should have avoided the bar. It wasn't even part of your actual routine, you just decided to embellish. Didn't you feel anything at all?"
Snake Eyes' fists clenched briefly. He had, as a matter of fact, felt the hair on the back of his neck bristle a tiny bit when he had first decided to jump for the bar and had ignored it. He shook his head in disgust, hoping Tommy would interpret it as complete disagreement, and left the gym.