Episode 7 - Frozen
"A bit... a bit… more..." she demanded in an imperative voice.
"How much longer do you think I can last?"
It was all her fault. Had she listened and tried it an hour earlier, they might have even gotten somewhere.
"Well... you can't leave me hanging half-way!"
"I'd've been done by now!" he complained.
"I bet you would."
"Maybe if I push a little..."
"Ouch! Not there!"
"You're heavier than you think," he said in a strained voice. The woman was draining him.
"It didn't stop you last time," she bit.
"That was different!"
"Sure it was. I didn't ask you to do it."
"So this is my fault now?"
"It always is! And how many times do I have to tell you? Not there! "
" Fine !" His hands moved lower on her bottom. "Better now?"
"If you have suicidal tendencies, yes!"
He moved his hands into a better position and pushed again, harder.
"How about now?"
"That's it! Almost there..."
He gave another thrust, fighting against the trembling growing in his body.
Catherine could feel him shivering and she knew they were probably setting a rhythm. The tips of her fingers touched the rim and excitement welled up within her. It was always best to do it yourself and this proved it again. It was incredibly slippery and, a few tries later, she decided to take off the gloves and try again.
"Hey!" John protested when the aforementioned gloves hit his face. "What was that for?"
"Earlier," she said simply.
He looked up at her. "What earlier?"
"My... Just earlier ! Okay? If you can't remember it, why bother?" she answered with mounting annoyance.
Even without the gloves, she found her effort just as pointless. The slippery edges were too much of a challenge for her already numb fingers. It was times like these she pondered on the advantages of long nails, but she was never a fan of those and, aside from digging them in when in tight spots, she couldn't really see their appeal. It was amazing how her mind wondered when she needed to focus most.
"Try not to shift so much," he warned. "It's hard enough to hold you as it is.”
Her fingers slipped again and she felt him tightening his grip on her thigh. Despite their grim situation, she could swear he liked their position.
“Earlier…” he repeated in a knowing tone.
"Grow up!" she hissed, reaching out for the edge of the pit again. If she could get a grip this time, they would be out and she wouldn't have to deal with this anymore.
"I'm sorry," he said with amusement. "I didn't think you'd take offence at my trying not to let you drop on your head."
She could hear the smirk in his voice. And she knew where his eyes were resting. Oh, yes. She hadn't thought about it before, because she was too busy trying to get a grip on the edge of the damn hole, but she knew he was probably enjoying the view down there a bit more than he should. With a furious hiss, she swung around, abandoning her hunt for an elusive ledge in favour of swatting him over his presumptuous head.
Taken by surprise, John lost his grip on her and, before she could land her blow, they both toppled over. With a muffled thud, his head hit the frozen floor at an unreasonable speed, almost rendering him unconscious. It didn't help that Catherine landed on him, knocking the air out of his lungs. The world started spinning and multiplying until it became painful to keep his eyes open. He could feel being shook and hear the panic rise in an indistinguishable female voice, but it took him a few good moments to recognize it as Catherine's.
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the sight of three Catherines somehow perched on his chest, melting into one as the mist cleared from his vision. Now that there was only one of her to deal with, a second problem popped up and he could almost kick himself for the lame pun. It was a bit hard not to, considering her position. She was currently more or less straddling his chest, her feet sprawled on either side of him and her face too close to his for such things to be thought of in safety. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried pointing out this situation in the most polite, eloquent way he could muster. All he managed to say was "Um..."
"Thank God you're alright!" she squeed with relief. "My kit is still up there," she offered by way of explanation, almost hugging him in the process.
Her innocence was disarming. It was almost enough to forgive her for earlier. Earlier was beginning to take on dangerous connotations in their interactions. He needed to remember not to bring up earlier in future conversations.
It was this innocence that prompted him to make the next great mistake that would prove another entry in the category of earlier . He felt it necessary to point out their situation before he got the chance to enjoy it too much.
So, he cleared his throat and spoke. "Not that I don't like a woman on top..." Already he could see anger seeping back into her eyes. "...nor that I wouldn't be enjoying the view..." and another nail was placed in his coffin, "...but this wouldn't be my first choice if it were my fantasy," he finished.
Here, he finally made it clear he wasn't hitting on her. Not under these circumstances. He wasn't the kind of guy to take advantage of her concern.
Maybe it was the headache, but it seemed his message didn't quite get across the way he'd wished it. First of all, there was a distinct lack of banter. Secondly, the way Catherine looked at him before carefully climbing off of him was colder than the snow. Thirdly, the only comment she made was an awkward "Oh, I see..." He tried thinking back to exactly what it was that he said, or how he said it, but the headache was making it impossible, so he had no idea how he had hurt her this time.
"What did I say?" he tried, miserably.
She didn't even look at him and started searching for her discarded gloves. She was so busy ignoring him, that she didn't even notice the one lying by his side.
"Here," he said, offering the ignored glove to her. She took it wordlessly and went to sit across from him.
Again, back to square one.
Ten hours earlier
"Wait here for me," Teyla instructed the restless Halling and entered Elizabeth's office. The tall Athosian man had urgent news for the leader of the expedition, so Teyla wasted no time in getting him there.
"Teyla, come in," Elizabeth greeted with a smile. "Is anything wrong?"
The Athosian hesitated. "Actually, it's Halling. He has news I think you should hear."
Elizabeth set aside the laptop and rose to her feet. "Invite him in, then."
"P3X - G24? Wasn't it that planet with the farming villages?" John asked. Most of the planets they encountered fit that description, but it was one of the few worlds with a population larger than 10,000.
"It's the one with the incredibly harsh winters, short summers and incredibly productive green houses, actually," Elizabeth corrected him. "But it is one of the few densely populated planets that aren't trying to destroy us and they are relying on our support," she added, looking more worried than usual. She wasn't advertising her listlessness, but it was there, under the weary calm she displayed ostensibly.
"And you're sure it might be the same virus-bacteria-whatever that we caught the last time?" he insisted incredulous. Halling may be a reliable witness, but he wasn't an expert and the symptoms were too common and varied to tell them from other afflictions without proper tests.
"He didn't know what had caused the outbreak, but Dr. Spencer seems to believe the symptoms match those caused by our little 'friend'," Elizabeth explained.
"You mean 'everything but the kitchen sink'?"
Elizabeth cocked an eyebrow. "Pretty much so. She has put Halling under medical supervision and administered him another dose of the serum. She isn't sure if the effects were permanent or not. She has also asked me to tell you no one is to set foot through the Gate without going to the Infirmary for a new dose," she finished.
"Is it just me, or is she enjoying her power over me a bit too much?"
Elizabeth gave him a questioning look, which he answered with a shrug. His relationship with the dear doctor was too confusing for words.
The Infirmary was rather crowded when John finally made his way there. He had hoped to postpone a confrontation with his own, personal pest until he returned from the mission, but there was nothing he could do about it. True, he didn't much care to go through the whole near-death experience again, so he was awaiting his turn to get injected.
He stood in line for someone to become available, when he noticed Catherine was free. Sure, she wasn't really supposed to handle the inoculating process and she was fussing around her computer, but she probably wouldn't mind sticking a needle into his arm with that sadistic glee he knew she felt whenever she inflicted the least amount of pain on him. There was a word for what he was about to do and that word was "masochism." Nonetheless, he turned away from the blonde nurse that had just finished with Teyla and was now giving him sweet looks, and headed for the heavy-handed, ruthless head of the medical staff and offered her his hand... his arm, really, but it would hurt just as much regardless where she stuck him.
"Already done?" she asked cheerily as soon as she noticed him approach.
The dimples in her cheeks and the innocent look in her blue eyes could trick anyone into a false sense of security, but John knew better. Rolling up his sleeve, he gave her the half-smile he had learned she hated so much
"Actually, I was thinking to brighten your day. I've noticed you have a thing for sticking me with needles every chance you get." He was about to make a tasteless joke, but her raised eyebrow warned him against it.
As expected, she wasn't one to miss such a chance. "Back for more already?" she asked, promptly preparing the injection. John could swear the needle was twice the size of the other ones, but bravely stuck out his arm and clenched his teeth in anticipation. It was as much satisfaction as he was going to offer.
When she stuck the needle into his arm, her eyes fixed on his face, daring him to show the slightest sign of weakness. No one believed him when he complained about her heavy-hand, but there was a good reason he never willingly submitted himself to her ministrations. Never willingly, but he always seemed to end up in her care.
He kept eye contact long after the needle was pulled out, the ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Someone who didn't know them better might have mistaken their behaviour for flirting.
P3X - G24 was one of the few planets in the Pegasus Galaxy with winter conditions nearly all year round. Surprisingly enough, it was also one of the more densely populated planets, its inhabitants taking great pride in their ability to brave the elements rather than moving to a more hospitable planet.
Catherine was hurrying down the hallways, on her way to the science lab, after failing to find anyone remotely close to her size to borrow a winter coat from. Who would have thought after reading the reports, that there would be winter in Pegasus? At most, she could remember someone mentioning something close to autumn, but never winter, never snow, and never to the extent of a whole planet in the middle of an ice age. What was worse, Teyla, the one person that was nearest to her size, was nowhere to be found. This left the petite, thick-rimmed glasses wearing Japanese woman from Rodney's department as the only alternative. All of her nurses seemed at least three sizes larger than herself and she had little to do with anyone else on the base.
She walked into the lab with a twinge of guilt in her heart. She had avoided Rodney and all involved in the body-switch incident except for Elizabeth, who had had it as bad as her, and hadn't replied to a couple of his messages yet. It was ironic how they ended up communicating by email when they were working a stone-throw away from each other. Then again, Rodney was the kind that would use instant messaging with someone in the same room.
"Hi," she said awkwardly to the room in general, disappointed that Miko wasn't there.
Rodney stopped whatever it was he had been doing and raised his eyes from the computer to look at her. "Hi," he answered in the same awkward tone, looking surprised to see her.
Catherine walked over to his desk. "I was looking for Miko," she explained. "I was wondering if she could let me borrow some winter clothes..."
Rodney raised his eyebrows. "I didn't know you were going to P3X - G24. Elizabeth told me you were busy."
"I was, but this looks too serious not to go there myself."
"Well... I could... I could have... if you had told me, I mean..." he stammered.
Catherine watched him intently, waiting for the conclusion. Before she could learn what sacrifices he would have been willing to make, however, the door opened to let in Miko and a tray of coffee mugs. The woman was beaming, much too cheerful for someone with a Ph D that had been mistaken for a secretary.
And the nurses dared to call her a slave driver!
"Catherine!" the woman called, setting the tray down. "I didn't get you a coffee, but you can have mine," she offered. "I already had five."
"It's barely 10 in the morning."
"Oh, we've been working since last night," the other woman explained cheerfully.
"Actually, I've been up for two nights now," Rodney chimed in. "Have you seen Zelenka, yet? I think he overslept."
Miko pursed her lips and handed him his coffee. "He left an hour ago. He'd been up since Tuesday and he can't make any progress unless you tell him what exactly you're trying to do."
"That's not much of a surprise, is it?" Rodney scoffed, already forgetting about Catherine's presence.
Miko ignored the question and turned to her. "You're not here for the technical stuff, anyway. I hear they're doing the blue jelly for desert today," she hinted.
Behind her, Rodney set his coffee down, suddenly interested. "Then I should go get some. The stress is working hell on my blood sugar," he explained, completely oblivious to Miko's attempts to play Cupid, much to Catherine’s amusement.
On his way out, he stopped and turned to her. "...take care out there," he said, sounding worried and exhausted.
By the time she reached the control room, dressed in Miko's winter gear, the rest of the medical team was in front of the Gate, ready for departure. She scanned the room for John, who was standing by the Gate and had yet to notice her. With a mischievous smile, she headed toward him, zipping the coat up with force. Why did the only woman she could borrow a coat from have to be flat-chested?
She managed to reach John without him noticing her. She tapped him lightly on the shoulder and enjoyed the look of shock in his eyes as he turned and recognized her.
"What are you doing here?" he asked abruptly.
"What do you think?"
"But I thought your nurses would take care of it.” He actually managed to sound disappointed.
“I thought you could use a hand, anyway,” she said, feeling her cheeks flush as soon as the words left her mouth.
That came out wrong, all right. John was bound to pick on it, and sure enough, he didn’t miss a beat.
“Well, I can’t refuse it when it’s offered so nicely, can I?”
Catherine fought the urge to look at him. She lost. He was grinning in that cocky way he did when he wanted to challenge her.
She felt a childish impulse to stick out her tongue at him and stopped at the last moment.
The smart ass!
He’d only wanted to tease her, but there was something about seeing her flustered like that that made him want to get her even more flustered. It had been a long time since they had done that. Flirted like that. It felt damn good.
Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more that needed to be said before stepping through the Gate. The last nurse stepped through, followed by Lorne and Catherine was heading off after them when it hit him.
Holding his hand out, he told her "Hand it over!"
She looked confused as she turned back to face him. "What?"
"You know what. The penknife, hand it over!"
"You're a danger to yourself with that thing. Hand it over, least you try stabbing a Wraith with it again," he explained, determined not to let her dig herself into another corner by foolishly using that thing for self defence.
"I think that, as a doctor, I have more experience wielding sharp objects than you give me credit for," she cut.
"I give you credit, believe me. That tongue of yours is probably the sharpest thing in your arsenal."
"Oh, you wouldn't want to put that to the test," she warned.
If he didn't know she was doing it just to get away with keeping the damn thing, he would’ve thought she was still flirting with him.
On the corner of his eye, he noticed Elizabeth watching from the balcony.
"Oh, you know me. I’m always up for a challenge,” he quipped.
She looked away as color flooded her cheeks. She was so lovely he almost let her get away with it when a sudden image of her pinned to the floor by a hungry Wraith flashed through his mind.
This was not about the two of them. This was about her safety.
“Look, you don't need that thing where we’re going. You can have it back when we return. I give you my word I’ll personally teach you how to use it. For now, hand it over.”
“Is this an order, Colonel?”
Her barely contained anger crossed over to him. “If you insist, then yes, it’s an order.”
As their eyes met the air between them grew thick with a familiar tension, one he wanted to believe was purely physical attraction. It took all his willpower to keep his eyes from traveling down her body.
Around them, everyone seemed to have found a number of interesting things to do, purposefully avoiding to look at them. The tension was reaching boiling point when Elizabeth decided it was about time to cut it, much to his relief.
"Is anything wrong?" she asked, climbing down the stairs.
"Catherine?" John asked, wiggling his outstretched fingers for emphasis.
Making no effort to hide her frustration, Catherine dug into her pocket for the infamous penknife and almost threw it into his hand.
He shoved the knife into one of his pockets, ignoring her childish outburst.
"Now we're ready to go," he assured Elizabeth and offered Catherine the chance to go first through the Gate, like a gentleman should.
The last villager made her way into the improvised Infirmary, marking the end of a long, tiring day's work. With a bit of planning and the help of the village leaders, they had managed to get almost everyone injected and out of harm's way in under a day. Maj. Lorne’s team had only just reported their return from the farthest village and Maj. Cobourn was expected to do the same. As luck would have it, the village Catherine was in was heavily populated, which made it impossible for her to finish before nightfall.
Visibly tired, she had lost track of all the people sitting before her that day. She barely took notice of the one sitting in front of her now, only vaguely noting it was a woman when she had to roll her sleeve up. Truth be told, with the perpetual cold on the planet, they were all dressed the same - thick, woollen clothes and even thicker furs on top, keeping their wearers warm and the air thick with a heavy, musky smell. She had slowly grown accustomed to the smell, the same way she had grown accustomed to the villagers, blending shapelessly into one another in her mind, addled with lack of sleep and food.
She thought she remembered someone saying something about food, but it had been hours since and she couldn't be sure what it was or if she had eaten it. It might have been lunch or breakfast. They might have been asking her to cook for all she cared. It was easier to wait in the Infirmary, with a cosy fire, for her patients to come to her, than drag her medical kit from house to house if she waited for them to be bed ridden. Besides, the last thing she wished for was to go through her first encounter with the pathogen from Hell all over again.
Throwing the used needle in the box, she turned to her patient. "How many are there still waiting?"
The woman smiled awkwardly and shrugged. "I was the last one. You seem tired, Doctor. Come with me, the Elders have prepared a house for you to spend the night in."
"Thank you," Catherine answered absently.
From what she could see around here, a "house" was barely larger than her room in Atlantis, with a massive stove taking up a quarter of the space. Well, that would make heating easier and she'd feel almost at home in the crammed space. The one thought that took over once that Math was done was to bury herself under warm blankets, next to the stove and sleep the night away.
"I gather the Colonel has been given one as well..." she not quite asked with forced indifference.
The woman looked at her as if she had grown another head. "I meant for the two of you," she said hesitantly.
Catherine’s head jerked in her direction. What did she just say?
“But we’re… we’re not together,” she protested.
The idea of spending the night in the same room with him sent her heart into overdrive. This was not good.
"I do not see what this has to do with anything. You have a whole house at your disposal," the woman explained in obvious disbelief. “I share a house with my husband, two children, my first husband's second cousin, and his wife. It gets really cold at night. Sharing our body heat is the best way to warm us up!”
Sharing body heat. With John. It wasn’t like she didn’t trust him - she didn’t quite trust herself with him. The things she imagined doing to him or, better say, having him do to her, made her quiver inside... and in quite a lot of other places as well. Heat coiled in her belly and her cheeks warmed at the thought.
There was no way she could spend her night in the same bed with him.
"Where I come from... the customs... it's just not right for..." she muttered while gathering her equipment. "Can't I talk to the Elders? I'm sure they'll understand my situation."
She shut her kit with a loud clank and hurriedly put on her jacket. It seemed to have grown tighter since the morning and the worst part - hurrying out the door, she had gotten the zipper stuck and now felt the freezing air hitting her lungs. The more she struggled to unzip it, the more she managed to make it worse. Besides, she could swear it was a hundred bellow, this was friggin' Antarctica. John could argue until Hell caught up with this place!
The woman followed her outside, pulling the furs tighter around her. Catherine wished she’d have asked for one of those. "Your companion is waiting in the tavern over there," the woman pointed, "and I believe the Elders are still there with him. You can make your... objection there.”
Taking in a deep breath, which she instantly regretted, Catherine headed for the house the woman had pointed out.
The only experience she had with John and alcohol was with him in her skin, ridiculously drunk after a few pulls of beer (a sight that she would never admit in public to finding ridiculously cute). Still, she went in fearing she would find him embarrass himself before the aforementioned Elders, with a stiff drink by his side to fight off the cold. It was a bad idea, but increasingly tempting as the winds bit at her cheeks.
The heavy smell of furs hit her with the warm air inside when she opened the doors, making her happy she hadn't yet eaten. Once her eyes cleared, she was relieved to see John was not accompanied by a stiff drink and, as far as she knew, wasn't acting particularly drunk. She was even more surprised to see no one in the room actually fit her idea of "Elder", but they could have already left.
John was talking quietly with a woman, about the same age as Elizabeth and possibly attractive under all those furs. She couldn’t help noticing that he seemed a bit too absorbed in the conversation. So absorbed, in fact, that he didn't even notice her walk up behind him until she was one step behind him and cleared her throat.
He was smiling and laughing when he turned. As his eyes fell on her face, his smile faded and was replaced by a small frown.
"I take it you heard about our accommodations," he said.
To this day, John had managed to keep his thoughts of Catherine mostly platonic, scolding himself any time a dirty stray thought escaped. Having to share the bed with her was sure to test his willpower to breaking point, but he was fairly convinced he could do it. It’d be difficult, painfully so, but he hadn’t made it to military leader of Atlantis without having control over his impulses.
He could only hope she wouldn’t make it even… harder for him. Because he knew she wanted him, too. There was no denying it. He could see it in her eyes, in the way her breath hitched when they brushed against each other.
He could see it in her now, as she stood there, the look on her face a mix of panic and excitement.
She glared down at him and he swallowed his next witty comment.
"Don't get too cosy with the idea,” she blurted out, the slight tremor in her voice betraying her conflicting emotions. "I have no intention to share a bed with you any time soon and I certainly don't intend to have a heart to heart conversation. I need to sleep!"
Did she really see him as a boy who couldn’t keep his pants on? John knew he had a reputation for having two girls in the morning and three in the evening, but it was all talk. Not that he could complain, not really. He had his fair share of women and probably could have more, but he was not a player. One would’ve thought she knew that by now. It stung to realize that she didn’t.
“Why not? We can each have our own side if you want,” he said, doing his best to hide his disappointment behind his usual smile. "It wouldn't even be the first time. After all, we know each other inside and out."
The suspicious look the woman next to him gave them made Catherine blush furiously and John stuttered as he tried to back out of the corner he had painted himself into. "Not... not like that. Oh! You know what I meant, Catherine."
Of course she knew what he meant. It was hard to erase the memory of the night they had spent together in each other's body in the most disturbing sense possible. He still had nightmares about it. He wasn't going to debate it before an audience.
"I need to talk to the Elders," Catherine changed the topic swiftly.
John pointed to the not-so-old Elder he’d been talking to. "You're in luck. Madranne here is one of them.”
"And you've explained our... customs?" Catherine insisted, one eyebrow raised.
“The Colonel has told us you might object," Madranne said amiably. "If your customs don't allow this, may I invite you, John, to be a guest in my house? It's just me and my sisters, I'm afraid, since our brother..."
John moved his eyes from Catherine to Madranne. "Sisters?" he asked, doing his best to keep a straight face as he pretended to weigh her offer. Considering the customs around these parts, five wouldn't have surprised him and an elderly aunt that snored like a hippo.
"My two younger sisters," Madranne explained. "I'm sure they'll welcome the company."
From the corner of his eye, he noticed Catherine freeze, hurt flickering across her face.
So, she didn’t just care, she cared a lot.
John was fairly sure Madranne’s offer included nothing but sleeping, but Catherine obviously thought otherwise. He should go ahead and accept it. It would serve her right, for pushing him into someone else’s bed without first thinking that maybe - just maybe - she might not want him there in the first place.
He saw no reason to turn down the offer, and yet he was preparing to do just that when Catherine turned to Madranne, her eyes suddenly worried and intent.
“And your brother? What happened to him?” she asked.