I'm still on my fic roll. Seriously, I haven't written this much this quickly since the first series of new DW.
Title: Losing Ground - Part 1
Characters: Nick, Claudia, Helen, Connor, Abby, Stephen, Ryan
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, one sided Helen/Nick
Length/Word Count: 6175
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger...
Short Summary: One of Connor’s genius plans goes a little awry. Meanwhile Helen begins to realise that perhaps she is finally losing Nick.
I've had to put this in two posts because it's too large for just one. The second part is here.
“You’ve got to admit,” Connor said with a nod, “life’s pretty ironic sometimes.”
“I’d call it more like a bloody good stroke of fortune,” Nick countered his eyes fixed on their latest guest, observing once more what should be impossible.
The large prehistoric cat appeared to be a male but unlike modern day lions many of their ancestors didn’t sport a mane and what with longer, bushier fur making it difficult to see the telltale anatomy he just had to guess based upon approximate size and weight. His conclusion was that this was likely a full grown male at about eleven feet long and around three hundred kilos who, from his dangerous growls and snarls, was apparently very unhappy at having found himself in modern London. Fortunately for both the team and the general populous the anomaly had plonked the cat right inside a disused penguin enclosure at the zoo in an area currently not open to the public. Its high, slippery sides had prevented the angry and obviously panicked animal from escaping elsewhere and undoubtedly causing chaos.
Nick smiled when he thought what the reactions of the zoo staff must have been like upon finding their unexpected visitor that morning. So far the cover story that this was a hybrid breed that had escaped from a private collection seemed to be holding. He was sure some of the staff here must have at very least a passable knowledge of evolution and late ice age mammals but since they also obviously knew that the existence of one was impossible they were quite willing to accept any reasonable explanation given to them.
Although he was quite surprised that none of them were more curious about the glittering, distorting anomaly that was quite evident in one of the walls of the enclosure. Or maybe they were but they’d already been sworn to silence about it.
“I don’t like cats,” Abby said, grimacing slightly as she looked over the railing at the pacing animal, “When I was a kid my aunt had this crazy one who used to attack me for no reason.”
“Well,” Nick said with a slight smile, “Let’s hope this one is a little more docile.”
He turned and left them to keep an eye on it as he heard and then caught glance of Claudia’s car pulling up. It was unlike her to be the last one to turn up to an incident. She was in fact usually one of the to arrive; ordering the soldiers around, ensuring that the area was secure and that no one was in immediate danger.
He wouldn’t admit it but there was something more than a little attractive about a woman so confident and in charge. It was likely why she had so immediately sparked his interest when he’d met her in the hotel bar. Not many women would have had the gall to come up and kiss him like that, no matter what the reason.
He hesitated just for moment when he saw her step out of her car, dressed not in one of her usual sharp business suits or even her slightly more casual running around gear but rather a summery, strappy white dress complete with delicate looking sandals and long hair set free over her shoulders. As out of place as she seemed surrounded by soldiers in combat gear, she looked quite beautiful nonetheless and he allowed himself just a moment to appreciate that as she briefly spoke with Captain Ryan.
“Cutter,” she greeted as she walked up to him, all official business which seemed so much in contrast with her appearance.
“Not that you don’t look lovely,” he noted with a smile, knowing she wanted to get on with things yet unable to resist comment, “but you’re a bit over dressed for the situation, don’t you think?”
She gave him a dry look.
“I was at a birthday party at a friend’s house if you must know,” she replied a little wearily, “And at this very moment there’s a bottle of white wine with my name on it just waiting there so if you don’t mind I’d like to sort this out and try to get back to enjoying my weekend off.”
He grinned a little but decided to grant her request, indicating for her to lead the way to where the others were.
Connor was the first to look up and, a little predictably, he engaged his mouth before his brain.
“Blimey you look tasty.”
Abby elbowed him in the ribs sharply and Claudia gave him a rather stern look but declined to comment further, instead deciding to continue with business without further compounding his obvious embarrassment.
Glancing over the railing she took just a short moment to study the sight she was greeted with before turning back to address Nick.
“What is it?”
“Panthera leo spelaea.”
“European Cave Lion,” Connor added eagerly, keen to make up for his previous minor faux pas, “Lived sometime between three hundred thousand and ten thousand years ago, so mid to late Pleistocene. It’s a direct ancestor to the modern lion but about twenty five percent larger and therefore about twenty five percent meaner.”
Despite his tendency to sometimes over dramatise things, Nick had to give the lad credit. He certainly knew his stuff. His knowledge of the creatures they encountered was encyclopaedic and chances were anything that he didn’t instantly know about was in his database anyway.
“The question is...” Claudia began, nodding in thanks for Connor’s input but as usually wanting to get down to the practicalities of the matter.
“How do we get it back through the anomaly,” Nick surmised.
True, the anomaly was right there and readily available for the animal to walk through if it so wished, but so far it seemed to have no inclination to want to do that of its own accord. Problem was that they could hardly just wait around on the off chance that it did decide to wander back before the anomaly closed again. Besides, with its thick ice age fur it wasn’t well suited for a hot summers’ day and it already appeared to be suffering a little in the heat. The quicker they got it back, the better.
“Tranquilizer?” Captain Ryan suggested, having joined them after executing Claudia’s order to post a slightly wider cordon around the area, absolutely ensuring it was secure. They didn’t want an errant member of the public getting hurt after all. Nor, Nick suspected, did they want any pictures of this turning up in the papers or on the internet.
Nick frowned a little at the soldier’s suggestion and shook his head. Good proposal in principle but it definitely had its own problems.
“I’d rather not unless absolutely necessary,” he said, making his concerns quite clear, “We don’t know precisely how much of the drug we’d need to administer in order to safely knock it out. We’d have to guess based upon its weight and likely metabolism but there’s no guarantee. Chances are we wouldn’t get it right first time and it’d either be not fully unconscious or we’d kill it. I don’t think we particularly want to do that. Besides, do you want to be the one to go down there and prod it to see if it’s awake?”
Ryan nodded, seeing his point.
“Well what do we do then?” Claudia asked, not adverse to Nick’s doubts but at a loss to see what other options they had, “I mean we can hardly go in there and tell it to ‘shoo’ now, can we?”
Nick was about to say that he needed a little time to think about it when Connor interrupted.
“I have an idea,” the young man said with a broad smile, looking very pleased with himself indeed.
For some reason that worried Nick slightly.
“So,” Claudia said, stepping up beside Nick to join him in watching Connor and Stephen preparing with the help of half a dozen soldiers, “Is this going to work?”
“I hope so,” Nick replied said with utter honesty. He really didn’t know for certain due to the unpredictability of how the animal would react, but he definitely wanted it to. If it didn’t they would likely have no choice but to tranquilise it and that was risky enough with modern day creatures that they knew a lot about, let alone a supposedly extinct one.
“That’s encouraging,” Claudia said with a hint of sarcasm, clearly not very encouraged at all by his lack of conviction.
Nick smiled a little.
“Many cats do have a natural dislike for water,” he pointed out in defence of Connor’s plan, trying to reassure her that it wasn’t as daft as it sounded, “Hopefully it will decide it’d rather go home than face a drenching.”
When Connor had first suggested using water jets or hoses to guide the animal back towards the portal, Ryan had scoffed and Claudia had looked a little perplexed. It was Stephen who had come to the rescue though, pointing out that today’s lions weren’t overly keen on water, an instinct that was likely bred into them from their ancestors. He had suggested that two hoses could be used in a cross stream to basically herd it back through the anomaly. It didn’t take much persuasion on Nick’s part for Claudia to agree to let them try and then Ryan and his men had quickly set about acquiring two fire service standard hoses from other areas of the zoo and were now just finishing connecting them up.
“And if it doesn’t work?” Claudia asked, still looking at the preparations rather than at him.
Nick shrugged, “It’s worth a shot.”
“Unless it does nothing but make it angrier.”
He smiled a little, giving her a curious look.
“You’re very cynical today,” he pointed out, an observation rather than a criticism. She always was very practical and it was her job to ensure all avenues were covered, but he thought that she trusted him and his team by now; enough at least to give their ideas a go as long as a backup plan was in place.
A slightly wry smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“Yes well what exactly are the odds of an anomaly turning up on my first day off in months? I swear someone’s got it in for me.”
Now that he could understand. She certainly wasn’t the only one who sometimes got a little weary and frustrated with this job and wished for an easier life. Any kind of life at all would be nice actually. Since they’d first discovered the anomalies it felt as if all they did was eat, sleep and breathe this project. They were all tired (well apart from Connor whose enthusiasm seemed boundless) and even the most dedicated of people on the most important of tasks had off days so he could forgive her slightly pessimistic mood.
“Did I tell you that you look lovely?” he asked with a grin, knowing full well the answer but wanting to cheer her up a bit.
She paused just for a moment, before finally turning her head to look at him.
“You did actually, yes.”
Her manner was a little playful but her deeper emotions were carefully guarded under a layer of light banter. She had teased him a little about the kiss they’d shared not so long ago when, in the heat of a desperate moment, he had given in to a weakness and had done something he’d been secretly wanting to do for quite a while. She seemed not unwelcome to any advances he might make but was certainly playing her cards close to her chest. Was this just a bit of flirting for her or was there more there? He was convinced it was the latter but it seemed she was going to make him work if he wanted to find out. He rather liked that and the better he got to know her, the more he wanted to try.
“Good”, he said with a firm, almost business like nod, “just checking.
Without further comment he walked over towards Stephen and the others, glad he had his back to her so she couldn’t see the grin on his face. She wasn’t the only one who could leave teasing hints and play secretive games.
“Are we ready?” he asked the other man.
“Almost,” he said, ensuring the nozzle of each hose was screwed on tight and that they were primed and ready to go, “We need one team down each side of the enclosure then we should be able to create a good enough cross stream to box it in and guide it back.”
“Ah but didn’t you say we should never cross the streams?” Connor said with a huge, highly amused grin.
All he received back were blank looks.
“You know?” he said, explaining it as though they had missed the most obvious thing in the world and he couldn’t believe that they had no idea what he was talking about, “’Ghostbusters’? ‘Don’t cross the streams’...”
Some of the looks continued to be blank. A couple were disinterested.
“Never mind,” Connor said with a roll of his eyes, secretly thinking ‘philistines!’
Abby frowned as a thought struck her.
“Should we really be getting it soaked?” she asked, clearly concerned, “I mean, we’re sending it back to an ice age, right? We don’t want it to get hypothermia and keel over or anything.”
“Many ice age mammals had thick enough fur and a coat that repelled water like polar bears do today,” Nick explained, although he was pleased by her concern for the creature’s welfare since that was part of the reason he had wanted her to join this team in the first place. The rest of them were scientists and perhaps it would be too easy for them to concentrate on that to the exclusion of anything else. Abby, with her background in animal welfare made sure that they never forget that it was real creatures they were dealing with here and that they had a responsibility of care. He didn’t think the animal was in any particular danger from their plan but that was no reason to be careless.
He looked pointedly at Stephen.
“Just to be on the safe side, try not to drench it, okay?”
Stephen nodded, picking up one hose. Ryan went to take the other.
“Hang on,” Connor protested, obviously a bit put out, “This was my idea. Shouldn’t I be doing that?”
“Why?” Ryan asked bluntly, frowning at him. He obviously knew that the kid was smart but when it came to the more physically demanding aspects of the job or anything that required some kind of practical skill he always thought that it was best left to him and his men.
“Well,” Connor stammered a little, stalling whilst he thought of an adequate reason, “Well...I...I know all about animal behaviour and stuff so I can predict what it’s going to do and get the jump on it if it does something it’s not supposed to. And I know Stephen better than you so we’ll have that natural spidey sense team work thing going on.”
Stephen raised a curious eyebrow but a smile and a nudge from Abby made him decline comment.
“And,” Connor concluded, “Well it was my idea...”
Ryan didn’t look impressed.
“Oh go on, let him,” Nick said with sigh, taking pity on his student whose face immediately lit up with a smile.
A little reluctantly Ryan relinquished his hold on the hose to Connor and instead nodded to four of his men, ensuring that they took charge of the bulk of the heavy lines so that Connor and Stephen could get them into position and have more freedom to manoeuvre.
“Shall we try it then?” Claudia asked as she joined them, snapping her phone shut. No doubt the call had been from Lester, wondering about their progress but clearly not deeming this matter important enough to get himself out in the field for once.
Nick had to give it to Connor – it turned out it was a bloody good plan after all. It took near ten minutes of careful aiming and much sniping between Stephen and Connor as neither seemed to do what the other wanted, but slowly and surely they guided the reluctant creature back towards the anomaly. Too soon though the readings taken from the magnetic field present began to show that the phenomena was fading and, in order to speed things up, Claudia and Abby went to Connor’s side to help guide him whilst Nick and Ryan did the same for Stephen.
Eventually, with nothing more than damp paws and one last defiant and grumpy roar, the cave lion dived back through to its own time.
“See?” Connor said delighted, “Told you it would wor-“
He turned towards Abby, almost as if he wanted to show off to her, to help bury any doubts she may have about him. He forgot just one thing.
The hose was still on.
Joint squeals emanated sharply from both Abby and Claudia as the jet of ice cold water hit them full force, both ineffectually putting their hands up as some kind of pointless defence whilst both too stunned to move. For his part, Connor stood there dumbstruck, apparently as much unable to believe what he’d done as to do anything about it. Fortunately one of the soldiers reacted far quicker, running up and relieving Connor of the hose, turning it off.
Far too late for both women though who were completely and utterly drenched from head to toe. After a few moments of standing there in stunned disbelief and gasping shocked breaths with Claudia scraping her plastered hair from her face, they both slowly turned and glared furiously at Connor.
Finally he seemed to recover, his open mouthed wordless gawping at last turning into something coherent.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” he said, part mortified and part worried as both women stalked towards him.
Fortunately for him it seemed that they didn’t intend upon stopping.
“Abby,” he pleaded as she walked past.
“Don’t!” she snapped sharply, walking a few paces before returning to punch him hard in the arm and then storming off again.
“Claudia, I-“ he tried as she moved past him too, clutching at his dead arm whilst trying to make his apology.
She held her hand up to stop him and he was immediately silenced as she walked away, him staring helplessly after them both.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman with ruined shoes,” Stephen said with a nod as he walked up to Nick.
They shared a look and then laughed.