"He's breathing," Elizabeth said, staring at Lorne's chest, willing the movement she saw not to be a trick of the shadows. "Right? He's breathing."
Radek pulled his hand away from Lorne's face. "Yes, but he is very cold. I'm afraid he might be hypothermic."
"Oh, God." She took a deep breath and tried to assess the situation. The ceiling collapse had cut them off, not only from the rest of the expedition, but also from the rest of their supplies. They had air, thanks to the thin crack in the rock exposed when the ice fell, but no way out. And no way to warm up.
At least Lorne had been hit by the loosely packed stuff that had come down from the edges, rather than the solid ice that had torn free from the center.
"He pushed me out of the way," she said. Radek looked up, one eyebrow drawn down, the other questioningly up. Of course, he knew that. Radek had been the one to shout the warning, had been staring right at them when it happened. Elizabeth rubbed at her hands; they were still numb from digging Lorne out of the icy snow, even though her gloves were so thick she could barely move her fingers.
She took another deep breath. "We need to get out of here. How much fell, do you think? Will they be able to dig through it?"
Radek shrugged. "It's impossible to say for certain. But they won't want to risk dislodging any more of the ceiling, so it could take hours for them to get through to us."
Elizabeth looked up, uneasy at the reminder. They had managed to drag Lorne back to the area where Radek had been working, the small Ancient-built platform resistant to the thick layers that covered the rest of the cave. But that didn't mean that they were completely out of the path of danger if anything else came down. "Are you sure we can't help from our end?"
Radek shook his head. "Not with just our hands. We should concentrate on warming Major Lorne."
Elizabeth blanched, appalled that she'd just been standing there, blathering out useless ideas while Lorne--Evan, she knew his name was Evan--lost even more precious warmth. Radek, at least, had cleared off the tarp he'd been working on earlier.
"Take off his vest," he said. "We'll lay it underneath him, help to block out the cold."
She nodded, then began by unclipping the machine gun and setting it carefully off to the side. He also had a handgun in the holster on the side of his thigh, and after quick consideration, she tugged that free, as well. Anything that got in the way would impede the transfer of heat. And frankly, she didn't relish the idea of cuddling up with a loaded weapon. She started opening the bulky pockets on the front of his vest; Evan didn't really have time to spare, but if he had something that could help, it would be stupid not to take the time. And sure enough, perfectly folded in the second pocket from the bottom on his left, was a silver foil thermal blanket.
"Thank God," she muttered, then hurriedly unzipped the vest and started tugging it off Lorne. He was a dead weight, spookily so, and she had to roll him back and forth to pull it free. She handed it to Radek, and he quickly settled it on the ground and spread the tarp over it.
"Get his feet again," Radek said. He had his coat off already, and as he stooped to get his hands under Lorne's shoulders, she could see he was sweating a little. Elizabeth wished she'd warmed up from the exertion. Or even the fear. But she felt as icy cold as she had a minute ago. It was hard to make herself unzip her coat. But she did it, and together she and Radek got themselves wrapped around Lorne and the coats and blanket tucked around them.
And then there was nothing to do but lie there. She had her front to his front, to share as much warmth as possible, and this close she could feel him breathe. His face was still deathly pale, though, and she could feel how cold his hands were through the fabric of her shirt. She gathered them up in her own and pressed them to her chest. It'd be better if she could get them against her own skin, under her arms or against her belly, but she'd have to move away to do so. And then the rest of him would just get colder.
"Are you all right?" Radek asked. She couldn't see his face, but he reached across Lorne and cupped her shoulder. "I should have made sure you were not injured before we laid down."
She shook her head. "I'm fine. I just..."
"What? Tell me, Elizabeth."
"I should have helped him more quickly," she confessed in a rush. "I just stood there, and he's so cold now, and I should have--"
Radek's hand fumbled downwards until he could awkwardly shush her lips. She almost bit him for doing it, but he turned the gesture into a caress, cupping her cheek before he pulled away again. "I don't know what else you could have done," he said. "If you hadn't acted so quickly when he was buried, perhaps he wouldn't be with us, now."
"You don't remember? You started digging immediately. You were the one who got his face out of the snow." Radek's hand came back, searched for her neck, then her pulse. "I think you might have a little shock."
"No, I'm fine," she said again, but it bothered her that she couldn't remember. She remembered Radek shouting, remembered the fear spiking in her gut, not for herself but for him, because he had sounded so terrified. And she remembered Lorne shoving her, the stunning impact of his hands on her back, hitting the floor hard, the tremendous noise as ice rained down around her. But she couldn't remember getting up, or moving to help. Not anything until Radek's hands were beside hers, frantically scooping two feet of ice chunks and powder off of Lorne's chest.
She was starting to warm up, though, so she was sure she would be okay. She forgot lots of things every day; it was the nature of the mind. That one little memory wouldn't be missed in the grand scheme of things.
"I think he's getting warmer," Radek said. "How does he look to you?"
"Better, I think," she said, squinting against the shadows. "I think he has some color in his cheeks now."
"Good." Radek moved his hand down her arm until he found her hand--and Lorne's. He squeezed her fingers, but then he moved on, obviously checking for warmth in Lorne's hands. "I should be jealous," he said, and Elizabeth had to snicker at the way he said it. Only Radek could make it sound like they really were up to something mischievous, but still be so unconcerned about his own role.
"Yes," she said dryly. "I'm sure the major is having the time of his life feeling me up right now."
"If you say so, ma'am."
Elizabeth jerked. Lorne had opened his eyes, if only a slit, and he was smirking at her like he was partying at a frat house rather than barely conscious in an icy cave.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, ignoring the blush racing up her skin.
"Good," he said, and then his smirk faded away. "Except my head is screaming, and I think everything below my neck is one big bruise. What the hell happened?"
"You got in the way of the roof when it decided to come down," Radek said. "Do they teach that technique in your officer training school?"
Lorne chuckled, then groaned. He tugged his left hand out of Elizabeth's grasp, like he was going to reach for his head, but he gave up before he wriggled it completely free of the press of their bodies.
"You might have a concussion," Elizabeth said. "Just take it easy."
"We're not going anywhere for a while," Radek added. "The collapse trapped us in here. It's going to take them a while to dig us out."
Lorne nodded, slowly and carefully. His eyes were closed again, probably to ease his headache. She hoped he wasn't injured too seriously.
"Sheppard is going to chew my ass out for a month," he said. "He was really looking forward to this trip."
"It isn't the colonel you should be worried about," Radek said. "McKay is the one you are pulling away from hot toddies and the buffet."
Lorne snorted. "As long as they hadn't made it to the hot tub, I think I'll be okay."
Elizabeth's eyebrows shot up, even as Lorne's forehead started to wrinkle.
"I wasn't supposed to say that, was I?"
"Ah, no," Radek said, recovering before Elizabeth did. "But it was a badly kept secret, anyway."
"Just don't talk to anyone else before we get you to the infirmary," she teased, covering her worry. She scooted back a little, enough that she could bring her hand up. She coaxed Lorne's right eyelid open wide.
"So how do they look?" he asked, working to keep both eyes open for her. "I've been told I have very pretty eyes."
"That you do," she agreed. "But there's not enough light for me to see them very well."
"Mood lighting," he said, smiling cheekily, but his lids slid closed again as soon as she took her hand away. Behind them, Radek coughed meaningfully.
"Sorry, doc," Lorne said. "Can't help myself when I'm lying next to a beautiful woman."
So she and Radek were a badly kept secret as well. Or maybe Lorne was simply that observant.
"She does make one's head spin, doesn't she?" Radek said, finding her hand again.
"Not quite this badly, usually," Lorne said, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He was starting to shiver now, which was a good sign, she thought. His body was remembering to take care of itself, working to get his temperature back up. But his concussion worried her. "Just... Keep hanging onto me, doc. It helps."
"That, I can do," Radek said. He moved his arm up, tightening his grip around Lorne's shoulders with a kind of possessiveness that surprised her. She stared at that connection, ghosts of thought in the back of her head trying to gain substance. Trying to solidify into something that she shouldn't let herself think at all.
"You're going to be fine," she said, for the lack of anything better to say. They needed to keep him awake, aware, but she didn't know what to talk about. Which shouldn't matter; she'd certainly had enough practice at talking about nothing when necessary.
"You were telling me earlier about your ideas on the shield for the jumper," Radek said quietly, doing what he did best--taking up the slack when others fell short.
Lorne's eyebrows drew down, pulling his forehead into a tight V that didn't completely fade away when they rose again. "Was I?"
"Something to do with matching the energy signature to the specific ionosphere encountered, I think?"
"Right. To conserve energy from planet to planet." Lorne opened his eyes, giving her a funny look before he glanced downwards, towards their hands. Elizabeth realized she'd been stroking her thumb over the back of his hand. She started to pull away, but he tightened his grip. "I know it might be a little more work at first, but making it adaptable for multiple bodies would be worth it. Am I right, doc?"
Elizabeth caught her breath. Evan never looked away from her eyes, though she could feel the tension in his hand while they waited for Radek to say something.
"Possibly," Radek said at last. "We would have to go careful with the changes, take things slow at first to see if the results are in line with what we hoped for."
Evan grinned. "Whatever you say, doc. It's all up to you."
Before she could say anything, could question if what she'd just heard meant what she thought it meant, static popped in her ear.
"Major Lorne, report," John said. "Elizabeth, Radek, you guys okay?"
"Radek and I are fine," she said once she'd managed to get her hand to her earpiece. "Major Lorne is conscious, but I believe he has a concussion. Perhaps other injuries."
"Well, tell him to sit tight," John said. "We're almost through. Should only be a few more minutes."
"I"ll do that," she said, then signed off. Radek had risen up on his elbow while she was talking, so that she could see his face above Evan's. Both of them looked at her expectantly.
"We're going to be fine," she said, and grinned at both of them.