Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue, no money is being making
Cinn: Final chapter, I feel bad for leaving this unfinished for so long. Next time I will definitely plan rather than just write whatever random nonsense is in my head at the time. I also suck at endings.
It was amazing how long time could appear to stretch almost indefinitely when the situation became more complicated. Cutter and Gibbs were warily watching the litter of four cubs that they'd found in a munitions store. Jenny, Connor and McGee were making their way to Becker's location to help identify and remove one of the stunned adults. Abby, Tony and Ziva were a few decks above Cutter and Gibbs and nearer the stern, they had been tracking their own
creature before Becker had shot his.
"Cutter, I've loaded the tranquillisers too strong for use on cubs." Abby warned, clearly worried about the cubs well-being if anyone tried to dose one with a dart, even if was done by hand not gun.
"And we can't risk moving them in case they call for their parents." Cutter agreed. "Unless..." He trailed off looking up at Gibbs.
"No." Becker interrupted firmly. "Don't even think about it."
"Too late." Cutter retorted. "Who is nearby? I don't want to risk carrying more than one each."
The radio went silent again as people tried to determine their relative positions, only Gibbs seemed entirely at home with the landscape, even Tony was struggling to remember the exact routes despite his time afloat. "We can be with you quite quickly." He reckoned after a few moments.
"Seeing as I can't talk you out of this, can I at least get you to hold off until we've finished moving this one?" Becker asked, a combination of tired, frustrated and exasperated.
"Maybe." Cutter replied.
Becker knew that was as much as an affirmative as he was ever going to get. He reorganised his men to shift this creature as fast as they could, the longer they took the longer the rest of the team had to do something dangerous, and often stupid, sometimes genius But he was never going to let on about that last part, they didn't need to be encouraged to make his job more difficult. Though, if he were honest, the problem wasn't that they made his job more difficult, but their blatant disregard for their own lives when they were his friends. "Just don't blow the ship up." He decided.
"Yeah, even Jenny won't be able to cover that up!" Connor interjected, then remembered that Jenny was stood behind him as Becker just raised a bemused eyebrow at him. "I didn't mean-"
"I don't need the challenge, Connor." Jenny assured him. "So, please don't." She warned Cutter.
Cutter was about to reply that he hadn't, then remembered that he had, and then remembered that Jenny hadn't been there, she hadn't existed there. Did that anomaly even happen in this time line? He wondered, insisting that his brain ponder on that question rather than fondly remembering Claudia Brown.
They all continued with their tasks whilst the first of the adult cats was transported out, Connor had identified it as a sabre toothed tiger; smilodon. Becker had asked if they still doubted that, and had inadvertently prompted a full on explanation that there were creatures that looked like sabre toothed tigers but weren't even cats technically. The solider almost regretted asking, before Cutter gently reminded Connor that he really should keep the radio waves clear unless it was important. Jenny had to hide her smile as Connor continued on where he left off now that he'd 'remembered' to turn his radio off as was protocol, Becker almost looked like he needed saving, but she figured this was good for him. She wasn't sure how if she ever had to justify it, but surely she could work something out about knowledge benefiting all? McGee looked hooked on all the information.
"You talk about this as if it's normal." He stated, clearly still not quite believing he wasn't dreaming.
"Well, it is." Connor replied honestly. "This is us."
"This isn't normal."
"You know, it's been so long I've forgotten what normal is supposed to be." Connor admitted.
No one had a chance to reply as they heard a shout over the radio, followed by a thud and a frustrated noise. "Guys, we've got another adult, grazed with a tranquilliser, but I think the dart fell out before it got enough of a dose." Abby reported in, as both she and Ziva hurried towards where Tony had been knocked into the wall and had subsequently fallen to the floor. Ziva nodded with her pistol raised, twisting to check both directions, and Abby ducked down to check Tony's pulse. He came too moments later, clearly just stunned rather than worse.
"Am I seeing double or are there really two beautiful girls here?" He joked.
Abby frowned as she tried not to laugh. "We should get you checked for injuries."
"He's fine." Ziva assured her, if Tony was making jokes that terrible, he was fine.
"DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked over the radio.
"Good, boss. Just bruised." Tony confirmed, as he hauled himself up, wincing. Abby raised an eyebrow. "You try being thrown into a wall." He muttered.
"It's easier to duck." Abby retorted. "You'll have to help me in the menagerie one day, then you'll learn what being knocked on your arse really feels like."
"You volunteering to go first then?"
Abby just silently moved forward to take point, reloading her tranquilliser pistol as she did, and they resumed their journey towards where Gibbs and Cutter were, the sooner they could all get out of this mess the better. However, the further they went, the more Abby felt like she was being stalked. They had light now, but she could swear she could hear a light padding sound that wasn't being caused by their footsteps, but every time she stopped to try and locate the sound it disappeared. If she hadn't been doing this as long as she had she would have thought she was going crazy.
"Take a left." Tony stated as they approached a junction in the corridor, and Abby and Ziva shared a look before the blonde stepped to check to the left, and Ziva stepped after her to cover the right. Both girls found it clear, and they turned back to Tony.
"Duck!" Ziva shouted as both girls saw the smilodon pounce towards him, Tony did as he was told and Abby raised her pistol to shoot. She got it in the side as it landed, and it managed to snarl at them before the tranquilliser knocked it out. After a second during which they rechecked their perimeter Abby hurried towards the tiger she'd just stunned, carefully stroking it's fur as she checked it's breathing, she didn't think the dose she'd given it was too much for it to handle, but it was always best to check as every creature reacted in it's own way, even after they had a lot of experience with certain types. This one appeared to be snoozing quite happily.
"Cutter, we've stunned another one." She reported in as Ziva joined her opposite the creature, looking fascinated and awed by the creature between them. As Abby grinned, Ziva reached out a tentative hand to stroke along the tiger's fur, feeling the raw power relaxed by tranquilliser Ziva found herself respecting the ARCs decision to not kill these creatures unless it was absolutely necessary, even though her instinct was to kill or be killed.
"Make that two." Tony added, causing both women to look up sharply, to see another tiger slowly prowling towards them, as if it were weighing up whether or not to pounce at them or if they were too dangerous.
Abby raised her pistol, before the redundant click almost made her heart stop, she'd forgotten to reload when she checked on the creature. She scrabbled to find another dart to load, attracting the attention of the creature with the movement and alerting Tony and Ziva to the predicament. Abby focused on reloading whilst Ziva counted heartbeats so she knew when to shoot, when she knew Abby couldn't shoot in time. Tony decided thinking wasn't in their best interests, and so shouted, quickly attracting the creatures attention.
"Tony, either shoot or run." Ziva hissed.
Tony chose the latter, turning to run back towards the exit of the ship. "I'll lead it out!" He shouted, as the smilodon leapt to chase after him.
"Out?" Abby mouthed in horror as she finished reloading. She waited until Tony and the creature were out of earshot. "Becker, get your men ready, Tony's leading the creature off the ship, stun it the moment they see it. Stun, not kill!" She added quickly. "Is there anyone spare to remove the one we've stunned?"
"Really, no back up?" Tony called over the comm.
"You said you were leading it out." Abby pointed out.
"This place is a maze!"
"We'll aim to meet up with him, we're half way out now, so it should time well." Becker came over the comm, sounding remarkably calm considering that everyone else was trying to get themselves killed. He'd definitely been working at the ARC too long. He indicated to his men that he was going to go ahead to try and catch up with Tony. "Do Cutter and Gibbs still need back up?"
"It would be nice." Cutter chipped in. "But don't leave any creature unattended."
Otherwise it's more likely we'll get company in here." Gibbs added quietly.
Abby and Ziva shared a look. "I've got this, you go and help them." Abby decided, and Ziva nodded, hurrying to go and find Cutter and Gibbs. That left Abby looking at a fully grown stunned smilodon, and she sighed again. "All right big boy, lets get you home." She looked around, before holstering her tranquilliser pistol with a sigh. "Somehow." She muttered to herself.
Becker had made it clear - though he hadn't had to - that as he and his men carted the stunned smilodon, Jenny needed to take the others and find Cutter and Gibbs to help them out. "At least we've found all three now." Connor tried, growing tired of the silence, and it slightly unnerved him.
Jenny tried not to look too despairing as she kept her guard and gun up. "How long have you been doing this, Connor?" She asked.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Connor asked, completely oblivious.
"Just because the crew only thing they saw three..." Jenny started, chancing a glance over her shoulder as McGee indicated that the corner was clear. "Doesn't mean there is only three." Connor realised she had a very good point.
"Let's just hope they don't want their cubs back before we get them away from the munition bay." McGee added.
"It's never that easy." Jenny warned him, though she suspected McGee wasn't quite as optimistic as Connor.
It was a thought that Becker shared, as he paused with Abby to check she was okay before hurrying to go and catch up with Tony and Ziva, things were never easy in this line of work. If having creatures on the loose wasn't bad enough, and having non ARC members know about it, and having to play cat and mouse then it was definitely topped by having to do it on a navy ship. He had no idea why navies insisted on designing ships that couldn't be easily traversed in logical ways, but it was infuriating.
He found his way onto the deck, and saw no sign of Tony or Ziva, he called in for a sit rep. He got a half breathless reply from Tony who reckoned he was approaching the deck. Becker knew there were a few different options, but quickly spied a walkway just above him that would give him a viewpoint on most of them, and quickly climbed his way up there.
Tony would never admit it when Ziva could hear him, but he was getting tired, but there was no way he dared to slow. Even if he knew that Ziva was following him ready to step in if needed, always his wildcat when he needed her. Suddenly he was all but blinded as the door he opened by half falling through led onto the deck, steeping him in forgotten sunlight. He glanced around to try and find any of the soldiers, but didn't see them so didn't change his plan of running away from the smilodon, which - based on the crash he heard behind him as it hit the wall on the corner he'd just turned before the door - was still too close behind him.
He had barely gone twenty paces onto the deck when he heard a single word. "Duck." Becker stated simply, and given Tony's experience of military men, he obeyed, and flung himself to the floor, seconds later hearing the 'swoosh' of a projectile before the dull thunk of the impact. He rolled enough to look at the creature that had been chasing him and saw it stumble, still looking intently at him, before it wobbled and it's eyes lost focus before it fell to the floor, made a feeble attempt to take another step, before loosing consciousness.
Ziva appeared from the door a second later, looking concerned that Tony was on the floor, before she saw Becker drop to the deck a few paces away from him and offer him a hand up. "Is that three stunned?" She asked instead, knowing that Tony would make it well known if he wasn't okay. Becker nodded as he radioed it in.
In the time it took for Jenny's team to approach the munitions area - they might have made a few wrong turns - Abby had finished supervising everyone prepare and lock down the creatures for transport back to the ARC. That meant that they were then free to head back into the ship to lend a hand. "Copy that." Cutter confirmed they'd heard. "So far there's been no unusual movement in here." Though he did almost smile at the look on Gibbs face as if to refute that any of this didn't count as 'unusual'.
They had been lucky so far in that the cubs had been snoozing and therefore had only required an eye keeping on them, but as Cutter expected - and Gibbs was not surprised - their luck ran out when one of the cubs sat up with a massive yawn, before stretching itself out inadvertently head butting one of it's siblings as it did. The other sleepy cub rolled and playfully batted at the thing that had woken it, which prompted the slightly more awake cub to pounce onto it to play fight.
Cutter and Gibbs shared a look, before both men turned back to the cubs, who were mewling in what they supposed must sound aggressive to young cubs, before they rolled out of the makeshift den. Cutter moved to pick them back up and gently put them back in the bed that their mother had made for them out of a tarpaulin of some kind and a discarded jacket. Once the cubs realised they weren't alone, they both started howling for help. Cutter had not entirely written off such an occurrence, but he was more concerned about the cubs escaping into the munitions than their cries for help, hoping they were lucky enough to have caught all their parents.
"How far out is everyone?" Gibbs quietly asked his radio.
"We're only a minute or so away, boss, I think." McGee replied.
"We're only just returning to the ship." Tony added. "We'll be a bit longer, but less than ten minutes."
"What's happened?" Abby asked.
"The cubs have woken up, and they want their mum." Cutter explained, over his futile effort to calm down the cubs.
"How many ways into the store are there?" Jenny asked as everyone picked up their pace.
"Two, I think." McGee replied.
"How long will it take you to circle to the other one?" Jenny followed up as they slowed down at the last junction between them and their bosses.
"A minute or so." McGee replied, and Jenny nodded. "Through that door and then it's the first on the left." He instructed, and Jenny reminded him not to shoot it unless he didn't have a choice. McGee nodded to indicate he understood before reaffirming the grip on his gun as he left Jenny and Connor to go and check on the other doorway, explaining to Gibbs what he was doing.
Jenny led the way she and Connor had to meet up with the others again, as he backed her up, neither felt reassured until she placed her hand on the door. "We're at the store, there's nothing here." She reported in as they finished sweeping the corridor.
"We're a couple of minutes out." Becker confirmed.
"Approaching the western door now." McGee added, before seeing a large shadow moving in the doorway as he approached. "Boss, lookout, you might have company."
Gibbs turned sharply with his weapon raised, Cutter stood back up as well, looking around the entire room whereas Gibbs was focused on the area McGee was coming from. "What did you see?" Cutter asked.
"Not sure, a shadow, but it was moving." McGee explained, feeling a little foolish for being so jumpy when it could have been anything. But that was the point, wasn't it? That it could have been anything, including another sabre-tooth.
Gibbs certainly didn't dismiss it as foolishness, as he carefully edged towards that door. His hearing was just sharp enough to hear the creature before he was able to see it as it dove towards him, giving him just enough time to duck away from it's outstretched claws. He landed on the floor nearby, spinning with his gun still raised as it turned away from him to where Cutter was still stood between it and it's babies. Before Gibbs had even brought his other hand to steady his shot so that he didn't accidentally hit the professor or any munitions the smilodon stumbled as if it had been shot, and he saw the bright plume of a tranquilliser dart sticking out of it's side, just before the creature keeled over at Cutter's feet.
Both men turned to the walkway above them to see Jenny with her wrists propped on the railing, Connor stood behind her. "Nice shot!" He decided enthusiastically.
"Thanks." Cutter added.
Jenny nodded a little unsurely, not entirely sure she believed she'd really just made that shot without hitting anything else. Normally she wouldn't be quite so unsure of her aim, but she was surrounded by explosives, so the risk was higher if she missed. She had a little internal laugh at the realisation that it could be riskier than normal.
Somehow things were easier after that, they had enough of them to carry the cubs, and Becker took his men to sweep the rest of the ship, along with Gibbs, Tony and Ziva - they had better knowledge of the ship layout than he did. Abby soon had the cubs and their mother secured in the truck with the rest of their visitors, that made four adults and four cubs. They only found one other creature, another adult, but it was barely alive when they found it. It had taken a blow to the head, which they supposed had been delivered by one of the crew members trying to defend themselves before they were able to hunker down in the mess. Abby was soon dealing with it and took the truck back to the ARC before the rest of them so that she had all of her kit and give it the best chance of survival.
Once they confirmed that the ship was clear of all creatures, Jenny offered the ARC building as a location to interview and debrief the crew on what had happened. With no obvious alternative Gibbs agreed, and as the rest of the team escorted the crew to the ARC, Jenny hung back long enough to make arrangements to have the ship fixed. Lester might not thank her for the few favours she had to use or offer to make that happen, but it was better than the alternative. When she was finished she returned to the cars to find only Becker and a couple of soldiers, who had just confirmed their original assessment that the ship was clear of creatures. "Do you want to go back and triple check, or can we head back?" Jenny teased. Becker barely reacted, but a quirk of his eyebrow and the corner of his mouth told Jenny that he'd got the joke, instead he told her to get in the car.
Given that they'd never gone public with any story they had some leeway with what to tell the sailors, no on at the ARC thought they'd heard the phrase 'extraordinary circumstances' so much in such a short space of time as the NCIS team explained that a smuggling operation for exotic pets had gone awry and the cargo - a pack of cougars - had escaped.
By evening they'd finished debriefing, and found temporary accommodation for the crew until the navy decided on their next assignment, but it was no longer anything to do with the ARC, and everyone had been escorted off the premises. Gibbs headed down to their make-shift autopsy room to find Ducky, who was helping Abby patch up the most injured smilodon. "Ah, Jethro, this is extraordinary" Ducky stated as he noticed Gibbs enter the room. "A real live, breathing sabre-tooth tiger. A smilodon."
Abby grinned as she heard the excitement about the discovery in Ducky's voice, she had mostly stabilised the creature, and was now patching it up before taking it to a pen for observation. It had been nice to have his help, even if his anatomy knowledge was human not animal, it was better than she often had helping her when they were out in the field. "Do we know if any killed our guy?" Gibbs asked.
"The wounds certainly match the teeth and claws of these creatures." Ducky explained. "I've taken measurements - don't worry, I didn't write smilodon on them - to send to our Abby for confirmation." He added. "And this Abby took swabs from all the creatures claws and teeth to run for DNA, but given the length of time we might not get anything."
"We have the capability to run them here if required, but I'm not sure whether or not Connor and McGee were able to sort out the connection to your databases." Abby admitted.
Gibbs hated leaving things uncertain, but they'd found nothing, no bullet, no knife blade or anything to suggest foul play. No sign the body had been moved or tampered with, and his team had been unable to find an obvious reason for anyone wanting this guy dead. As part of the debrief they had interviewed the crew about their dead comrade, but none of them had flashed up on his radar. However, they had access to the ship now that the ARC had cleared the area, so he would take his team back to check Miller's bunk and locker before they headed home, because if that didn't turn anything up they had no other leads to run down, and would be forced to rule it accidental death. Even Gibbs had to admit, that it was the most likely scenario, but rule number 3 existed for a reason. "Abs can run them when we get back." He decided.
"I must admit I'm surprised, Jethro, I expected you to keep us here until your gut was satisfied." Ducky half joked.
Back in the ops area Tony was trying to organise them some flights for the following night - Gibbs' orders, and not having much luck with it. "I just know we're going to be on another priority military class flight." He grumbled.
"Chin up, Tony, at least we'll be heading towards home." McGee attempted to cheer the other man up. "And you won't be being chased by any 'escaped cougars'."
"I thought Tony liked cougars?" Ziva asked.
"He prefers them younger." McGee corrected, and Ziva nodded in exaggerated understanding.
"I don't have to find seats for you." Tony scolded. "Yes, I'm still here!" He added sharply as he was taken off hold again, only to be told, yet again that there were no seats available. That was before he had even gotten onto their particularly unique type of cargo. "I have one airline left to try, otherwise we're military cargo again."
"You'd think by now we'd have learnt to sleep on them, like Gibbs." McGee observed, they'd done this too many times. "And Ziva." He added, their friendly Mossad agent had also never had trouble kipping on the cargo jets they flew.
"You should try his driving." Sarah teased as she, Becker and Connor joined the NCIS team, indicating to the soldier. "I swear he views the city as a rally course."
Becker just shrugged. "It's better than the professor's." Connor added.
"Better than the professor's what?" Cutter asked, as he and Jenny left Lester's office after their own 'debrief', walking down the ramp.
Connor looked like a rabbit caught in the headlamps, Sarah giggled, and he turned to Becker as if seeking help, but the soldier just returned the gaze with a blank one. "Uh, is there any way I can get out of the trouble I am probably, definitely in?" Connor asked.
"Not really." Cutter confirmed, he wasn't really mad or annoyed with Connor for this, but it was far more fun to let the younger man think he was.
No one felt the need to help him out either. "So, what do you do after dealing with prehistoric creatures?" McGee asked.
The members of the ARC team shared a look as if to ask each other if that was a real question. "Go home, eat and sleep usually." Cutter replied. "Same as any day."
The NCIS team shared a look themselves. "This really has become normal to you, hasn't it?" Ziva realised.
"Well dealing with bodies has become normal to us." Tony interjected. "Look at little Timothy McGee over there, one day he was almost puking when visiting Ducky, now he's comfortable as the rest of us in autopsy."
"Yeah, you get used to that here too." Sarah admitted, with a concerned look on her face. "But the advice I was given on my first day, was a bottle of beer."
"Literally." Connor added. "Like no words, just the bottle."
"I'm starting to feel left out." Becker joked. "I started on the same day and I didn't get a friendly drink."
Everyone else shared a look, clearly not used to the solider making jokes. "I think we can all agree that that isn't part of a normal day." Sarah decided.
Cinn: I think this might actually be the longest I've ever taken to finish a fic - at seven years -, if we don't count the ones that haven't been finished, and probably never will. Maybe one day I'll make it a point to ensure that everything I have posted on Fanfiction is finished, but that's a long way off.