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.
She hadn’t meant to ask that. She didn’t even want to know the answer. She should be heading to bed. Alone. The way she had intended. If John wanted to spend the night with the Elder and her younger sisters, so be it. It didn't affect her directly. Not really. Not at all. He certainly seemed eager enough to do it. Whatever “it” meant.
"My brother took his wife and daughters away to the caves when the sickness began," she heard the woman explain.
"What caves?" Catherine asked automatically, her brain starting to process the new information. She knew the answer even before she heard it.
"A few families made off to the caves when the first symptoms appeared. They wanted to keep their children safe."
The sudden feeling of dread washed away her tiredness like a cold shower.
"And no one thought to tell me?" she asked, not bothering to mask the anger in her voice.
John turned to the Elder.
"How many people left the village?" he joined the questioning.
Madranne shrugged. "Seven adults and thirteen children or so. But they're safe! They left before they caught the sickness."
"The sickness is contagious before you develop the symptoms! You'd have found them dead in those caves come spring!"
Catherine ran a hand through her hair, her patience withering away by the second.
"How far are these caves?" John cut in. "We'll go there in the morning, after we report back." He gave her a questioning look.
Catherine shook her head.
“I’m afraid we can’t wait till morning.” She sighed. “Some of the people I’ve seen today were already showing symptoms. Their condition may become life-threatening in a matter of hours. We need to get there tonight!”
"We need directions first and we need to get there in one piece. I suggest we go to sleep now and set out for the caves in the morning. Preferably, with a guide,” he said.
She threw him an incredulous look. Since when spending the night with three women had become a priority over saving some people’s lives?
“You can honour your invitation, Colonel,” she said coldly. “Please understand, though, that I have to go. I have an excellent sense of direction. It’s enough to point me the right way and I'll get there in no time.”
She hoped her voice sounded a lot more convincing than she felt and that her chin pointed out at the right angle to prove her certainty. She also hoped he couldn't tell how disappointed she was that he wasn't coming with her.
His eyes narrowed and something dark flashed across his face. Anger, maybe?
"Are you telling me that my brother and his family, along with all the children with them, are in as much danger as if they stayed?" Madranne broke the silence, her voice laced with worry.
Catherine turned to her, praying for patience.
These people had a pre-industrial civilization, with medicine closer to the late 19th century. Madranne had no way of knowing how lethal the pathogen was. She shouldn’t be as annoyed as she was, yet the intense dislike she felt for the woman made it hard for her not to roll her eyes.
She clenched her fists.
"No. I say they're in worse danger,” she said, emphasizing each word like she was talking to a 5-year old. She was terribly rude, but it was all she could do to vent her anger without losing her dignity.
If her tone had offended her, Madranne showed nothing of it, her face holding nothing but worry. John cocked an eyebrow in surprise, but remained quiet. Wisely so.
“Children are the most vulnerable. Who knows what state they're in out there?” she added, a bit more softly. “At least here they wouldn't have been so exposed to the elements and we would have gotten word in time if any had developed symptoms."
"My people are used to the cold,” Madranne said, but the look on her face told Catherine she knew she was grasping at straws. She sighed.
"It's not the cold I'm worried about. Not if they weren't infected."
The thought of having to explain how the virus worked while there were people out there that probably needed her help was sickening her. "Where were those caves?" she cut to what she considered the point.
"I thought we agreed to wait until morning," John tried to dissuade her.
"We only agreed you could stay. Where are those caves?" Catherine insisted.
"About five miles towards the mountains," Madranne explained, now obviously concerned for her brother. "I’ll come with you,” she offered.
“No, you won’t. You were one of the first to show symptoms, am I right?”
The woman opened her mouth to protest, but then she thought better of it.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t risk it. And trust me, you don’t want to, either.”
Madranne nodded in grim acceptance.
“You can at least wait until we can find a guide for you,” she said without conviction. “Besides, you need to put on another coat. The nights here are quite cold."
"Thanks, but I don't think I can spare the time to wait for a guide. It's caves, how hard to find can they be?"
John rolled his eyes. "Harder than you'd think."
She decided to ignore him and accepted the coat with a nod. The strong smell of fur suddenly assaulted her nostrils and she swallowed hard against nausea. Oh, great. A smelly coat was exactly what she needed at the moment. If the cold didn't get to her before she reached the caves, the smell certainly would.
She was already half-way to the door before he could say anything else. "Have fun!" he quipped.
“Not as much as you,” she couldn’t help saying before shutting the door behind her.
"She really did walk out in a huff, without a guide and no clue where she's going, didn’t she?" he asked bewildered, turning to Madranne.
“Are you sure you aren’t together? She surely seemed jealous," the Elder said, shaking her head.
"It’s… complicated," he said absently, still hoping Catherine would change her mind once the cold bit at her skin again.
“Tell me, John. Is the danger as great as she said?”
He didn’t reply immediately. The endless hours spent with Catherine in her small lab, fighting to find a cure, flashed through his mind. He shuddered.
“Yes. It is,” he admitted. As much as he wanted to sound encouraging, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to sweeten the truth.
"Shouldn't we send someone with her? I feel better already and I can’t let my brother and the children-”
"She's coming back. Then we’ll see. She didn't even zip her coat up properly."
He could already feel a pang of guilt for letting her walk out into the frozen night like that and, deep down, he knew she was too stubborn to come back.
"I think I'll have one of those coats," he said, keeping an eye on the door. "It would be boring to spend the night alone in the house and, as grateful as I am for your hospitality," he said, putting on a thick fur coat Madranne offered him, "I need to make sure she doesn't kill herself by accident tonight."
"Take care out there!" the woman called as he ran out the door after Catherine.
The snow-fall had turned into a full blown blizzard before she made it out of the village, but Catherine kept stubbornly heading towards to mountains and those... villagers that had the poor inspiration to hide away during an epidemic. Just like the feudal lords in the Dark Ages, hiding from the plague only to help it spread further.
At least John didn't let her down. He stayed behind with his host, adding another conquest - or conquests! - to his long-standing list. He was supposed to be watching over her , but it wasn't the first time he left her on her own.
She tried to gather the sides of the fur to her chest in a futile attempt to hold off the cold, but to no avail. Her fingers were growing numb inside her gloves and she was starting to think the smell wasn’t that bad. Considering her nose was close to dropping off her face in a frozen icicle, the smell was the last of her problems anyway.
“It's all your fault, John Sheppard!" she muttered, venting her anger at the one person she knew probably deserved it regardless of what he did. He should have stopped her before she got out that door, yell a bit of sense into her the way he usually did, but he didn't even move a muscle! He was better entertained by the not so old Elder! "You wouldn't even care if I froze to death out here!" she continued, just to hear her own voice. Thinking about him sharing… body heat with Madranne and her sisters hurt so much it felt like an open wound. It shouldn’t, but it did anyway, so she pushed the thought to the back of her mind for the moment. Dwelling on it now, while struggling through the snow, was more than she could handle.
The wind was blowing harder, the snow blinding her. She wanted to turn back, but there was something more important than her pride urging her on. She was responsible for the lives of those people. She couldn't let them die because some of them had been foolish enough to think the sickness didn't spread until the symptoms appeared. She had no way of knowing if they could still be saved until she actually saw them, but she could still hope.
She knew it was foolish to hope, especially with the memories of those first victims still haunting her, but if she didn't she could as well pack her bags and leave back for Earth. It would have been so easy to run away before she got hurt again. She had become so good at that over the years. Run before she got too involved. Run before she could feel responsible. Run before she could get attached. She didn't belong anywhere, come to think of it. She had managed to drive herself away from everywhere. And now? Now she got herself lost!
She looked around startled. She could barely see a few feet in front of her and all she could see was snow. Snow, snow, and more snow. No mountains, no village, definitely no caves, and a huge, hairy thing heading right for her. It was already too close for her to run from it, but she still tried. Her heart was racing as she sprinted a couple of paces and tumbled into the thick snow. Keeping her eyes on the figure now towering above her, she frantically searched her pockets for the knife she too late remembered had been taken away.
John had almost caught up with her just outside the village, but he decided to stay a short distance behind her in case she came to her senses. She didn't. As he followed her for what seemed like a few miles, he mentally went through the lecture he was going to give her. She really needed to get her priorities straight. She couldn’t help anyone by getting herself killed. And walking out into a snow storm alone definitely counted as suicide.
Before he could reach her, she spotted him and tried to run, only to fall down a couple of paces later. He hurried toward her to check if she was fine, but she just stared at him in utter horror, frantically searching her pockets, probably for that damn knife.
"It's alright. It's me, Catherine," he said soothingly, holding out a hand for her to pull her out of the snow. "Are you-?"
Before he could finish, Catherine had her arms around his neck in a tight embrace. He stared down at her for a moment, completely forgetting the lecture he was going to give her, and eventually returned the embrace.
"You're freezing!" he finally noticed the obvious.
Before she could react, he released her from his arms and wrapped her better in the fur.
"Thank you," she muttered, leaning into him to steady herself.
"Are you sure you don't want to wait till morning?" he asked her and she nodded.
"I wasn't being unreasonable, John. They really are in danger."
John sighed and pointed her in the right direction, walking at her side, matching her silence. A few steps later, he felt her hand searching for his and he took it. She wasn't looking at him. A few more steps and he could feel her holding on tighter. She was still silent, so he didn't say anything.
They walked on in silence for a little while, but it was a comfortable silence as they were both immersed in thoughts of the situation and of each other. They managed to hold on to this state for about a mile before Catherine stopped, pulling John to a halt as well.
"What is it?" he asked when she eventually pulled her hand out of his.
"Nothing. This damn zipper's still stuck and I'm freezing," she said, taking off the fur to move with more ease.
She tugged furiously on the zipper again without any progress.
"Let me help," he offered, expecting her to refuse.
"If you think you'll have better luck, be my guest," she said, lifting her arms in mock surrender.
He tried unzipping and pulling it back up, but it still didn't work. It was caught on the inner lining.
"If you could hold this for me..." he said, giving her the flashlight. It was easier to work with his hands free and a bit of light would be welcomed.
He needed to get the lining out of the way first, so he pushed it back with his index finger and held it in place. It then occurred to him just how tight the coat was. He could barely keep a tight grip on the fabric without touching her chest. His fingers were already too numb for this to mean much for him, but he felt the danger lingering there like that would bring. She seemed to be too busy shivering to notice, but he doubted he could get away with this when he'd start tugging the zipper up.
It took a bit of force to get past the snag and his hand nearly got caught on the inside. He pulled it out before zipping her all the way up and merely earned himself a passing scowl. The action, however, made him lose his footing and he staggered a step back, accidentally pulling her forward with him. He managed to regain balance before they could topple over, but a loud, wooden creek cut his apology short.
The ground gave way beneath them.
Back to the present
So here they were. Trapped in a cold cellar, freezing their souls off in the middle of Nowhere. To top it off, the main person responsible for their predicament was also the most offended, she only knew why.
John couldn't shake the feeling that it was somehow his fault, though, and that it was somehow tied in to that increasingly dangerous earlier that kept creeping up between them.
Catherine had curled up in a corner so she could mope better - at least that was how John preferred to view it as he continued to sweep his flashlight over the edge on the hole in search of a way out. Every now and then, he passed the beam over Catherine's form to check she was still awake. He was afraid to let her sleep in this cold.
"Could you please stop shining that thing in my eyes every ten seconds?" she growled. "I'm trying to think!"
"How worried should I be?" he asked, sitting down next to her. There didn't seem to be much they could do to get out before morning. By then, the others would probably start a search to discover their dead, frozen bodies. Still, as long as they were still alive, there was no use to give up hope.
"Considering we're well on our way to hypothermia and we're in fucking Antarctica? I'd say you should be worried enough."
"I've been to Antarctica. It's nothing like this. They have penguins," he tried to lighten the mood. He wondered how much danger he'd be in if he asked her to cuddle for warmth. Throwing her a quick glance, he decided against that solution. The air around them was slightly warmer than her attitude. It was unnerving how distant she could seem when she was sitting right next to him.
"Of course penguins could be the answer here!"
"Is this about earlier?" he asked gingerly.
"Earlier?" she snapped. "Do you think everything revolves around your fantasies?"
This time, she turned to face him and outstretched her arm. Even in the dim glow of the flashlight he could see it shivering.
“See this? Our bodies are losing heat fast - about 2-3 degrees already. Soon, we'll stop feeling the cold altogether. Our brains will shut down. We'll probably fall asleep and never wake up. All they'll find in the morning will be two human popsicles."
"I know how hypothermia works," he said once she finished her tirade. His own thoughts had wandered along the same lines just moments earlier, after all. But it felt wrong to hear her talk like that about their imminent deaths like she had given up hope.
"And it's not just us. If we die, we won't get to those people on time."
He could tell she was furious, but somehow she managed to keep her voice low. He would have preferred to hear her shouting.
"Maybe if you waited for a guide, neither of us would be stuck in this hole in the first place. We might have even made it to the cave by now!" he hissed, barely holding on to his calm. He knew as well as her what fate lay in wait for them, but he was going to worry about that when they got there. It still came as a surprise how easily she had overlooked essential details and went off into danger.
"Oh, forgive me!” she hissed. “I'm really sorry I took you away from your hot date with Madranne and her sisters. You’re right, I should have waited for that guide and not ruin your night!"
It finally clicked. "You’re jealous ?!" he asked incredulously.
Surprisingly, she said nothing, so he turned to get a better look at her. She looked like a small, furry ball of stubborn silence next to him, making him wonder if he should hug her or slap some sense back into her.
She had stormed out into the night, without a guide, on a suicidal mission, because she was jealous at the prospect he might be spending the night with three beautiful women into whose arms she had pushed him in the first place?
"Should I remind you you're the one who pushed the sisters my way? If you were so jealous of letting me go, why didn't you take their first offer and spent the night with me? We'd've fought through the night in a cosy little room, next to a warm fire and you could have blamed me for whatever you like without getting us killed by frostbite!”
To his own surprise, he sounded calm and she still ignored him.
“And if you really didn't want to talk, there were other things we could have done tonight,” he pushed his luck.
This time, he got her attention. Her calm finally shattered and she slapped him.
Before she could pull back, he caught her wrists, pinning them to her sides.
“What is it that you really want, Catherine?” he hissed, trying to keep her from hitting him again. “I’m not a mind reader. You have to actually talk to people. You can’t just expect me to-”
“I just want you to leave me alone!” she cut. “I didn’t ask you to come along! You were willing to let them die for a stupid one night stand!”
“Oh, thank you for having that high of an opinion of me!” he said, not even trying to hide the sarcasm. “Mind telling me what I did to deserve it?”
In response, she jerked her arms again. He let go of her wrists and drew in a deep breath, trying to calm himself enough to explain, though, for the life of him, he didn’t know why he wanted to do it. “Look, I’ve spent a lot of my life learning how to survive. Part of my training is knowing when to move and when to stay put, especially when I’m with someone I’m supposed to protect.” He paused. The cold made it harder for him to gather his thoughts. “In case you didn’t notice, we’re on a planet we know nothing about, in the middle of the fucking Ice Age. Waiting for a guide was the least we could do, and what did I do? I let you go out and ran into the storm after you! All my instincts were screaming at me to stay put, and I went ahead because it was so important to you! What else do you want from me, Catherine?”
“Too much, I’m afraid,” she said quietly. “You should have left Lorne come with me on this mission. It would have been easier on everyone."
Having Lorne brought into their fight felt like being slapped across the face and punched in the gut all at once. It took him a few seconds to figure out why.
“Is that your way of saying you'd have rather shared with Lorne? That you wouldn't have given a damn about customs ?"
"Shared what with Lorne?"
"The house... the bed…" He couldn't believe what he was going on about, but the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"What?!" she asked indignantly. "Have you lost your mind somewhere in the past half hour?"
"Or maybe it would've just been easier letting him go with Madranne?" he goaded.
Catherine took a sharp breath and lowered her head.
"I really don't give a damn what you do and who with. If we survive the night, go ahead, have an orgy if you like. Invite the fan club while you're at it, I'm sure they'd love it. I don't care. Stop thinking I do."
She was trying to sound calm, but the coarseness at the end of her voice betrayed her.
“You are my team leader, John. That’s all there is.”
He couldn’t see her face in the dark, but he could tell she was crying.
“Is that so?” he asked, a hint of danger creeping into his voice.
Before she could answer, he clasped the back of her head to hold her still and then his mouth was on hers, hard and unyielding, his tongue moving aggressively past her lips in a frantic search for answers.
There was nothing gentle about the way he pulled her against him and forced her lips apart. Nothing kind or soft about his kiss, fuelled by months of frustration and God knows what else.
A small voice in his head demanded him to slow down before he ended up hurting her, but he was well beyond caring. He needed answers and he needed them now.
Though she didn't fight him, Catherine seemed frozen with shock and didn't respond immediately. Then, her arms circled his neck and her lips, cracked from the cold, moulded softly to his.
She wasn’t going to deny him this time, he realized. Responding to the change of rhythm, he softened the pressure and played across her lips, teasing and tasting her lightly until he had her gasping for breath. He pulled back just a little, drawing away from her with a tug of her bottom lip.
Trembling slightly in his arms, Catherine reached up to kiss him, her lips light as a feather against his. Breathing out her name in one shuddering breath, he cupped her face between his palms and trailed kisses up her cheek until he reached her eyelids, still wet from the tears. Still careful of her reactions, he kissed her tears away, savouring their salty taste as he searched for her lips again.
She moaned against his mouth and dug her fingers into his hair, running her tongue against his lower lip in a silent plea for him to deepen the kiss.
A jolt of heat shot right through him.
Eyes closed, he pushed his tongue past her lips and stroke slowly across the roof of her mouth, making her whimper as he took her tongue deeper into his mouth.
She tugged his hair almost painfully as her tongue brushed tentatively against his. John sensed her inexperience and slowed down, the almost innocent way she responded to him making him weak in the knees… and pretty damn hard in some other places.
She moaned helplessly against his mouth and leaned heavily against him. Oh, he could tell she needed this as much as he did. And he wanted to give her as much pleasure as he could. Steer her mind from their dangerous situation. Make her feel safe for a while longer.
Possessively, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer and, in a moment of absolute clarity, he knew what he felt for her.
His kiss, shockingly demanding in its intensity, froze her in place as quick, unexpected ripples of pleasure shot through her.
She had often wondered how it would feel to actually have his lips on hers. Fantasized about it, though in her fantasies he was always gentle and kind.
He wasn’t gentle now. He wasn’t kind either. But he was John - her John - and he was frantic and raw, and more vulnerable than she had ever seen him before. This John wasn't lying and wasn’t trying to hide from her.
She could tell herself he was an experienced playboy. She could tell herself she meant nothing to him. She could tell herself all that and much more. Deep down she would always know better. John wanted her. He... loved her. She could feel it with every fiber of her being. She didn’t need him to spell it out for her. This was no lie and there was no deception. There was no going back after this.
Staying away from him had been hard enough when she thought him a Casanova with an entire Harem after his ass. How was she supposed to stay away now? How, when her mind and her body called out to him?
She had never experienced something like that. Felt something like that. Not even for Daniel.
For a few blissful seconds, she abandoned herself to him and kept telling herself nothing else mattered. They weren’t going to make it through the night anyway.
And what if they did?
Loving him would consume her until only ashes remained. Opening herself to him, holding him in her arms only to mourn him later like she’d mourn everyone else, would be her undoing. It would tear her apart like nothing else had. She knew it, felt it, and feared it with every molecule in her body.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she inhaled his smell for the last time before she caught his lower lip between her teeth and bit him hard. He jerked back with a yelp of pain.
Pressing a hand to her mouth, she retreated to the other end of the room, guilt and self-loathing roiling in her gut like a nest of poisonous snakes.
It hurt. It hurt so much.
"You bit me!" he said, sounding more shocked than angry.
"Because you were taking advantage of me to prove a point," she retorted, knowing she was being unfair and hating herself for it. Still, she somehow managed to keep her voice even, knowing it was the only thing that could give her away in the darkness.
"Not the best of plans," he admitted with regret, even if he hadn’t planned it at all.
It had worked nonetheless, he told himself. Not only did he know what he felt, but for a short moment, he had caught a glimpse of what she was so desperately trying to hide. He felt absurdly proud of himself for that.
Still, now she was hurting - which was never his intention - and he needed to do something about that.
"You give yourself too much credit, you know? Your point was made, we can move on the same way we always had. Anything else?"
John could kick himself. He really should have seen it coming. She wasn't even giving him time to process his feelings before jumping to the wrong conclusions.
He had never been good with words, yet he needed to explain. He needed to let her know this wasn't a game and he wasn't taking advantage. Sure, his mind wasn't firing at full capacity and he was still having trouble figuring out how to explain himself without losing even more of her trust, but even he had to admit he wasn't shining in the best light at that moment.
So, he went for the basics. "Can you calm down a minute?"
"So now I'm being hysterical?" she asked in a doubtful tone. "I'm as calm as I can possibly be." And she was. At least, she sounded calm. She was so good at that. Too good. Had she sounded hurt or, at least, annoyed, he would have gone over, hugged her and explained as much as he could. He felt the need to feel her warmth next to him. He wanted to give her comfort and, though he wouldn't admit it aloud, he wanted some for himself in this cold desert. But this was Catherine with her defences back up. She had walled herself back inside and it was impossible for him to reach her. It was driving him crazy.
"Since whatever I can say won't make any difference, you're right. You're always right. I have much too high an opinion of myself to be worth anything in your eyes. I'm a loathsome specimen of the male species, while you are the great, misunderstood genius towering over us, poor mortals, from your ivory tower. I will never reach you. You felt nothing during that kiss. It was all one-sided. My sick and twisted imagination combined with the effects of onsetting hypothermia. You want to go on as before? I'm sick of before. I'm done trying to get through. So here's my proposal. I'll find someone else to accompany you on missions. Maj. Lorne, perhaps? I'll never talk to you again, I won't even look your way, if that's how you prefer it. You can stop worrying. I'll never bother you again. You can stay up in your tower. I hope you have a nice view."
The monologue sounded tired and pathetic even to him and he couldn't believe he actually said something so... melodramatic. The only thing that could have made things worse would have been a confession of love, but even he knew better than that. He could only hope it was as embarrassing for her as it felt for him and she would never bring it up if they ever made it back to safety.
Still, knowing her, she had probably missed the whole point and, if she hadn't, she was completely unimpressed by the entire thing.
There was one little thought that kept nagging at him throughout his tirade, and he finally remembered where exactly they were.
He didn't want to die from embarrassment, but he definitely wasn't going to die from the cold! That, at least, was one thing he could do something about. There were some broken barrels around - some had broken when they first fell in and the others had probably crumbled with time and humidity. They could at least check if they could be used to build a fire. Besides, a bit of physical work couldn't hurt and it would steer his mind from dangerous territory.
"We can ignore each other when we get out of here, though. Right now, you can come and help me build a fire, if that's not asking too much. We need warmth and light to make it to the morning," he called, annoyed he couldn't see her face. "I've learned my lesson about making tasteless jokes around you. I promise not to offer to share body heat if we can get the fire going."
He raised his hands in surrender and went off to find what could be used to light a fire. Most of the stuff down there was either frozen or damp and he had no intention to die suffocated by smoke.
The anger in his voice cut through her like a knife.
She had to do it, she kept telling herself. Had to let him go. Drive him away, if needed. She couldn’t - wouldn’t - go through all that pain again. She had already lost Daniel once, but at least he seemed to have acquired a taste for coming back from the dead. Catherine doubted that would be the case with John.
Her knees were still quivering and her mind kept going back to the kiss with unnerving stubbornness. Part of her still wanted to apologize for her rash behaviour, even to go ahead and confess what she felt for him.
The other, more rational part kept repeating that it was impossible for anything to develop between them. She was too vulnerable and too broken for him to fix. No man should fall for someone as broken as her. John Sheppard, with his stupid penchant for self-sacrifice, even less than others. They couldn’t be more wrong for each other if they tried.
She closed her eyes while tears pooled under her eyelids.
‘Oh, dad… Would this be any different if I’d have found a way to save you?’
Old grief, as familiar as a pair of well-worn shoes, welled up in her, threatening to chew her and swallow her whole. She swallowed, trying to control the clench in her stomach. She couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t go there again. Not here, not now, not ever.
Burying grief wasn’t making wonders for her mental state - she knew it too well! - but it helped her get through the day. It had to.
Clenching her fists, she forced herself to listen to John’s voice, using it to anchor herself into the present.
Silently, she watched as he went around checking the scraps of barrels, the beam from his flashlight making the shadows around them dance as he trailed it around, seemingly unable to decide where to even start the fire. He hadn't once turned the beam towards her and she was almost hoping he would. It felt increasingly lonely in the small space, the silence pulling them apart the way physical distance never could.
But that was what she wanted. Wasn’t it?
‘You felt nothing during that kiss. It was all one-sided.’
His words echoed in her mind, over and over again.
She hadn’t seen that coming, all right. She had either missed all the signs, or had been too silly to take them for what they were.
She took a deep, stinging breath.
And that wasn’t even the only elephant in the room. She wasn’t going to lose him sometime in the future. She was losing him now, to hypothermia. And if this was going to be their last day on Earth (technically on P3X - G24, same difference), he would never know what she felt for him.
The thought chilled her more than the cold, bringing everything into sharp focus.
She could worry about their future tomorrow, if they survived long enough to see another day. In the meantime, she should offer the man she loved all the comfort she possibly could.
"I'm sorry," Catherine murmured apologetically, abandoning her wall and walking toward him. She cleared her throat.
"It wasn't... one-sided,” she said, forcing the words past the lump in her throat.
He didn’t say anything and she wondered if her voice carried over to him. She hoped it did. She couldn’t make herself say it again.
Trembling with tension and cold, she started gathering the debris on the floor in two piles - one for stuff that might burn, the other for damp or frozen stuff and she wasn't quite sure about the first one.
John, while still keeping his eyes on his work, had heard her perfectly and considered for a second telling her he'd already gone over that side of the pit. He had made enough mistakes for one night and he wasn't sure what else he could say. Keeping busy was usually a good strategy during tense times.
The pit, however, wasn't big enough or well supplied with wooden debris enough to keep them very busy for long. Eventually, what could be salvaged was salvaged and most of what couldn't was set aside. John walked over to the pile of what Catherine had deemed appropriate fuel with the intention of inspecting it, still trying not to engage in conversation.
She took a step back, still waiting for him to acknowledge her.
His attention seemed entirely absorbed by the pile of wood.
"I'm really sorry," she whispered, almost breaking the silence.
"I don't want you to stop talking to me," she continued, before his hesitation could grow into more silence. "Or get teamed up with somebody else."
"Okay," he said, knowing he should give her more than that, but too worried she might take it the wrong way. One thing he had certainly learned about her was that you should let her open up on her own, without any kind of pressure. If anything, the past few hours had demonstrated what happened if she felt cornered.
"Weren't we supposed to be building a fire?" she suddenly asked, bringing him back to the problem at hand.
It took a couple of seconds for John to register what she meant. It worried him - he had nearly embraced the numbness and, for a moment, forgot about the cold. "I was getting to that," he lied, searching his pockets for a lighter.
He struggled unsuccessfully with the lighter a while, his fingers too numb to respond to his intentions, before he managed to get a small fire going. They couldn't afford using up all their resources at once, so they had to do with a fairly small fire, barely enough to defrost their fingers. Partly out of precaution, partly out of desperate hope, he strewn some of the damp wood around the fire, hoping it would eventually dry enough to be usable.
In the faint light of the fire, Catherine examined her un-gloved hands. Her fingers were still trembling and she could still feel some pain but they were slowly turning blue and she was well aware where that led.
She closed her hands into fists and relished in the pain this simple gesture still caused. It meant she wasn't yet going to lose them. Just to make sure, she repeated the motion a couple more times, then stretched them over the flame, careful not to get too close. The only thing worse than freezing alive was living without her fingers - the thought made its insidious way into her mind and settled there comfortably, chasing away all her minor worries. This might even be her last day as a medic any way she looked at it. She wondered if it was a good time to share this with John, but he probably had enough worries of his own to bother with hers at the moment.
Trying to get closer to the warmth of the fire, she drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, shivering all the way.
The movement caught John's attention and he hesitated a moment before throwing another piece of wood on the fire. It wouldn't last long, even if the damp pieces dried enough to be of use, and the longer they intended to keep it going, the weaker the flame was going to be. He wondered if it wouldn't be better if they fed it properly and got decently warm for a little while, enough to brace against the cold that would await them for the rest of the night. It was a risk he wasn't sure would be worth taking.
There was a detail he had the feeling he'd forgotten. A very fuzzy detail... It hit him that they had completely ignored the one thing that would have actually helped them against the cold. The fur coat Madranne had given him when he went off after Catherine was still lying on the ground where it had landed when they fell through. He picked it up and stared at it for a moment, then shook the snow out of it, the current nearly putting out their meagre flame. This brought his attention back to Catherine, who had curled up as close as she could to the fire.
Without a word, he walked over to her and placed the fur over her shoulders.
Her reaction was slow. She raised her face to him and shook her head. "No, thanks. I'm fine," she reassured him in a weak tone, trying to shake off the fur. "You should put it on. You definitely look worse than I do."
He gave her a half-smile. She'd probably still make the comment even if she could see herself in a mirror right about then, probably thinking she was doing her duty of saving him. "Yeah... but you really don't want to end up looking like me, do you?" he tried to counter. "Besides, I'm not really that cold," he reassured her.
He didn't expect his efforts to backfire so soon.
"What do you mean, you're not that cold?" she jumped, putting all her energy into standing. "I thought you weren't going to give in!"
Staring at her dumbly, it finally struck him why she had reacted so suddenly. "I didn't me-"
"We need to get warmer. You need to... put some more wood on this fire. Now.”
Before he could move, she threw him the fur and grabbed some more wood from the dry pile. "You're already hypothermic," she said, frantically trying to get the fire to swell. "If you lose more heat, you might as well be dead."
He didn't have the energy to contradict her, so he just wrapped the fur around her shoulders again and sat down next to her.
She took it off again.
“John, I’m fine. I grew up in Nebraska. I’m used to the cold,” she said.
“And I’ve flown choppers in Antarctica.”
Catherine didn’t reply immediately. Instead, she wrapped the fur around him and silently cuddled in his arms so they could both fit into it. Slowly, she lifted her head to look at him. Her eyes were dark in the shifting light.
“I hate it when you do this,” she finally said, resting her head on his chest.
“Hey, I’m not trying to be a hero here!” he protested. “I’m only trying to make an impression and get to cuddle with the girl. Looks like it works, too,” he tried to lighten the mood.
She snorted and wrapped her arms around him. After a moment’s hesitation, John hugged her back.
"You've stopped shivering," he noticed after a while.
He wasn't sure how long it had been since they last spoke, but they were almost out of wood and the fire wouldn't last long after that. Not that it was of great help, but it kept them on the safe side of freezing while it lasted. All they could do once it went out was hope the dawn wasn't far and that someone had figured out where they might be.
He squeezed her tighter into his arms, as if to make sure she was still there.
"I'm fine," she answered absently. "You?"
"A bit sleepy."
They were quiet a little longer, each wondering how to tell the other they had to fight off sleep for as long as they could.
Catherine was the first to break the silence. "Before I left the SGC... There was someone I couldn't save," she confessed.
He wasn't sure why she was bringing up that subject, but it had to be important. Her effort to keep her thoughts on track was evident so he did his best to listen.
“The day Janet Fraiser died? It was supposed to be me. I was on duty... but I had a terrible migraine and I called in sick. Janet covered for me, so she died in my place. I might’ve saved her if I was there when they brought her in, but I had taken enough sleeping pills to put a horse to sleep, so I slept right through it. She was my friend. Saving her was my duty. And I didn’t. Couldn’t.”
She pressed tighter to him and he rested his cheek on the top of her head.
Even thinking about it hurt, but he said it anyway. “I know exactly how it feels.”
John nodded. “Holland… Lyle was injured. I had the watch and I… I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I had to sleep, even for a few minutes. I dozed off, and…” His voice broke.
“And when you woke up, he was already dead,” she said softly.
He nodded. “Yes. He was.”
A small, very cold hand touched his cheek.
“You weren’t a doctor, John. You couldn’t save him. But you already know that and you’re still blaming yourself. And I know Janet’s injuries were fatal, yet there isn’t a night that goes by where I don’t blame myself for her death. Where I don’t think about her daughter growing up without her mother, just like I did. Because of me.”
She fell quiet again and he was about to check if she wasn't asleep when she stirred.
“It doesn’t matter what we do. How many we save. It's always the ones we couldn't save that stay with us.”
She lifted her head to look at him. Even in the dim light, her eyes gleamed with intent.
“Let’s not add someone else to that list tonight,” she said. “Promise me you’ll keep me awake. I promise I’ll do the same.”
"I was planning to do just that. Still working on the how, though," he eventually said once the last bit of wood was thrown on the fire.
"We could talk..." He could almost feel her jaw moving as she spoke, her head leaning against his chest.
He grinned. “So, it wasn’t one-sided.”
“...else. Anything else.”
His grin widened. It was the expected reaction.
“Okay. Which one of us is the best kisser? Me, Rodney, or Ronon? I could understand Ronon, but I’d definitely feel-”
“You just can’t help it, can you? Fine. I’ll go first.” She was probably aiming for angry, but he could tell she was smiling.
Good. Smiling was good.
He shrugged. “Sure. Ladies first.”
He made it sound like this had been his intention all along.
She wondered what to ask him. It was surprisingly hard to think of anything. A sudden flash of memory, not entirely her own, brought back images only glimpsed while in his body and, before her brain could tell her it was too personal, she asked, "Your dad... did you... make up?"
“Wow, not much for the small talk, are you? Who told you?"
"I saw it," she said, lifting a hand from under the fur to tap at the side of his head. "I've been in there, remember?"
She had intended to playfully knock on his head with her fist, but her fingers were too numb to squeeze and she wasn't going to bring that up.
He sighed. "Well, he's got Dave."
"That's not an answer."
The part of her mind still working pointed out that she wasn't the best to bring this up. She couldn't even go to her father's funeral, let alone 'make up', but that was a different story.
“It’s the only one I can come up with,” he said.
“I had a fight with my dad the day he went missing. I don't even remember what it was all about. Probably about my step mother. We fought a lot about her.” She had eventually discovered what a great woman she was, but it had been too little, too late.
“Your father was Maj. Henry Boyd,” he said.
She wasn’t surprised that he knew. It was all in her file, but even if it wasn’t, the man had become a legend after he and his team got caught in the event horizon of a black hole.
“Yes,” she said softly. “He’s the main reason Jack’s so protective of me. They were friends.” She snorted. “Everybody loved dad. I loved him too, but I was so young and so angry! I blamed him for mom, and I resented him when he tried to move on.”
He had nothing to do with her mother’s death, but that hadn’t mattered to her younger self. She needed someone to blame, so she blamed him.
“I never got the chance to tell him how sorry I was. And people like me, like Rodney… we’re arrogant. We refuse to accept we’re just like everyone else. We pull a few tricks, save a few people and soon we start seeing ourselves as Gods. There’s no problem we cannot solve. No person we cannot save. Of course, we hate nothing more than being reminded we’re humans.” She paused. “I was so sure I could save him, John! I spent years reading. Studying. Talking to people. Testing theories. If not for Daniel, I’d still be doing that.”
Talking about it still hurt. Realizing that a part of her still wanted to throw all her resources into that hopeless crusade. Find the small detail everyone else overlooked and come up with a solution that would bring SG-10 home.
But she had been down that path once and it almost cost her everything. It was madness to try it again.
“So, you can actually understand technobabble?”
She shook her head no. “No, not as such. I’m not Rodney, if that’s what you’re asking. I know nothing about engines, and hyperdrives, and all that. But black holes? I know every theory ever concocted, and then some.”
Her hand searched for his until their hands met and their fingers intertwined under the fur.
“Make peace with your dad, John. Life is too short to wait.” she said.
He squeezed her hand in response. “I’ll… think about it.”
It would have been lovely to catch a nap. It was nice and warm there, snuggled in John's arms. But she had to keep him awake. Sure, she had asked the same thing of him, but she needed to make sure he was able to keep his side of the bargain.
"Your turn," she prompted, forcing her eyes open.
"Food," he said after a long moment of staring at the dying fire. It was barely a flicker, but they didn't seem to need it anymore. She had long stopped shivering and he was beginning to feel smothered by the thick fur so he shook her. He felt sleepy, and a quiet Catherine meant she was probably feeling the same.
"What?" she asked in a bleary voice.
"Food," he repeated.
"No, thanks," she shook her head. "I'll... wait 'til breakfast..." she mumbled and buried her face back in his shoulder.
He nudged her. "Wasn't offering." He hesitated a second, waiting for her to look up at him. "I'm asking," he eventually continued. "What's your favourite?"
Another pause followed. She sighed.
"Strawberry ice-cream. Until tonight, that is."
Neither talked before the fire died, leaving them in the faint light of the flashlight.
"Well?" he insisted, staring at the top of her head and wondering if she had fallen asleep or not.
She didn’t answer immediately and he was about to check if she was still awake when she finally spoke.
“Just out of curiosity. How many women in Atlantis have you… I mean, you know… dated?”
She was trying to hide the interest in her voice, but it was still there, all right. He couldn’t help but smirk.
“That’s easy. None.”
She turned and shot him an incredulous look.
He shrugged and threw the last stick into the fire.
“It’s no less true. I never dated someone from the city.”
It hit him that Catherine's questions were aimed with military precision. And there was no pause between them. She was either really curious or really jealous. Or both.
“I haven’t found anyone that piqued my interest. Until now.”
He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought her shoulders stiffened at his last words.
“My turn,” he said, without giving her time for another question. “Are you in love with McKay?”
At once, her entire body tensed against his.
“What kind of question is that?!”
“One that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” he said. He wasn’t even pretending he wasn’t interested. He way too tired and it was way too late to play hide and seek.
“I… care for him. I care a lot. He’s so much like me.”
It was a better answer than he had hoped. He wondered absently is she even realised what she had just admitted to. A few more questions and he could have her right where he wanted.
He opened his mouth to speak when a deafening sound shattered the air. It could have been a clap of thunder, except it wasn't the season for it and they never came this close together, not even on alien planets. Several loud bangs followed, each more distant than the first and he suddenly recognized them for what they were. His heart clenched in his chest and instinctively pulled her tighter against him.
"What the hell was that?" she asked, raising her head to look him in the face.
The memory of her fretting over the loss of another patient or worrying about not being able to perform her duty was still fresh in his memory, persisting despite the cold, and he couldn't find the heart to admit to his own worries.
"Thunder," he lied.
"It sounded like an explosion to me," she insisted.
"Or an avalanche... Madranne told me they’re quite common this time of the year." He tried to shrug, but he felt the lie too heavy to make light of.
"I wonder if the villagers at the caves are alright," she said, leaning her head against his chest again.
He fell quiet, content that she didn't press the matter further. If he was right in his suspicions, she'd eventually find out what happened, but it didn't have to be now. He hugged her tightly, wondering if she'll be cross with him once she knew the truth. It was even possible that her stubbornness had saved their lives.
When Coburn had left that morning with Stephanie on the mission, he had pitied Sheppard for having to accompany an obviously gloomy Catherine. She wasn’t much of a joy to be around when she was in one of those moods. Over the course of the day, he had learned in the most painful way possible that there were worse dangers among their medical staff. From the look of it, the nurse had a crush on Zelenka and the two were now on more than friendly terms. That last part he had deduced from the painful amount of details he never wanted to know about the Czech, but to which he was subjected regardless.
Eventually, she had run out of Zelenka-related excitement and there weren't enough words to explain how relieved he felt when she had finally fallen silent.
It didn't last.
After a short pause, the woman had started going on about Lorne in a wistful way that made him wonder about her intentions. She'd randomly switched to Sheppard and McKay, and there was a great deal more details in there that he wished he hadn't heard. There was also Ronon and, by the end of the day, he knew more about every male member of the expedition than he thought would be possible and, more important, than he ever wished to. At least none of them were medical.
On top of everything, she had refused the villagers' invitation to spend the night there in favour of returning to Atlantis. Apparently, she had a date with Zelenka and wasn't about to miss it for anything in the world.
He had tried contacting the Colonel to tell him they were going back, but there was no answer. He had contacted other teams and everything seemed to be fine with the communications. No one, however, had managed to reach Sheppard for several hours now. It might have been nothing. It was late, after all, and they were probably sleeping. It didn't explain why the radio was dead, though. Another team had agreed to check in on them first thing in the morning and he was going to come right back after dropping off Stephanie in Atlantis.
The incident had helped him tune out the nurse's prattle. She had finished giving her opinion on the men of Atlantis and had since moved on to matchmaking or shipping or whatever she chose to call it. He wasn't sure what she meant by canon couple, but he was relieved not to find himself on that list.
They were almost at the Gate when the sky suddenly caught fire. The blast of the explosion threw them to the ground, from where they could see the other explosions -- each marking another village.
There was no time to wait for the outcome. Dragging a bewildered Stephanie towards the Gate, he dialled the address.
John jerked awake and opened his eyes to the darkness, his head pounding, his thoughts muddled by the mind-numbing cold. He looked around disoriented, with no idea how long he’d been sleeping. It felt like forever.
The fire had long since burned itself out and the air was so cold it hurt to breathe. He tried to move and felt an unexpected weight on his chest.
Forcing himself to move, he reached for her hand. It was cold and limp, just like…
Heart thundering in his throat, he grabbed her hand and shook it, crushing it in his grip.
He had fallen asleep and now she was dead. Just like Holland. It was happening again.
Shivers ran down his spine and his heart kicked into overdrive as panic soared through his body.
Trembling with effort, John tried to pull air into his lungs and felt them tightening in his chest. He choked and struggled against the pain. Every breath hurt, every heartbeat was agony.
Breathe, John. Breathe.
“Catherine!” he managed to call between chattering teeth. “Please, please be alive. Please.”
“D-don’t sh-shout. I’m he-here.”
Her voice sounded weak and shivery. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. Slowly, he loosened the grip on her hand and kissed the top of her head. She kept quiet as he gulped short gasps of freezing air into his protesting lungs.
Then, he felt her hand closing in his and squeezing back and he knew she understood.
“Y-you didn’t a-a-answer,” she said.
“Who i-is ho-hotter? Tey-Teylah or-or… Eli-Elizabe-beth?”
He dropped his face against her head, tremendously grateful for the distraction. It took his mind away from death. From Holland.
“You,” he said softly in her hair. “Always you.”
It was very quiet down in their little hole. It had been so for a while and Catherine wasn't sure if she had spent that time asleep, unconscious or bored. There was something she was supposed to be doing, but she couldn't quite remember what. It had something to do with John, so she raised her face to his to ask.
"Jo-John, wh-what were we do-doing?"
There was no answer and his eyes were closed. There was something about that, she realized, but she couldn’t remember what it was.
At once, the medic in her recognized her condition. Lethargy. Confusion. Dowsiness. Stage two of hypothermia. As their core temperature would continue to drop at an accelerated rate, they’d soon find themselves in the middle of stage three. Their lung and heart rate would slow down. Their blood pressure would drop. They would lose consciousness and never wake up.
No. Not gonna happen.
Now she remembered. She had to keep him awake.
"A-are y-you all-right?" she asked, the words coming out more muddled than they had sounded in her head.
She could feel panic set in, but she had to hold on. Now she knew what was going on. She tried shouting to wake him, but her bruised throat could barely muster a less muddled whisper.
Great. Her turn for a bit of panic. Nothing else. He was alive. Had to. She hadn’t fallen asleep, had she? No. She hadn’t. She couldn’t have.
There was pain in her chest, her heart beating out of sync. Despite her denial, the thought that he might be dead was pushing its way into her mind and settling there in all its weight.
"You-you can’t be-be asleep!” she hissed, shifting into his arms. “Yo-you can’t! Da-damn you, John! You pro-promised you'd ke-keep me awake!"
With great difficulty, she turned and pressed her ear to his chest in search of a heartbeat. It was nearly impossible to hear anything through all the layers of clothing and she clung on to that thought when she was met with more silence.
Light was starting to filter in from outside, marking the end of a long night of waiting. Someone was bound to come looking for them, she kept reminding herself. They were probably going to be too late, whenever they came. It was already too late for John and it didn't matter anymore if they found her on time. She had failed. Again.
The fur had fallen off her shoulders, but she didn’t bother putting it on again. It was too heavy for her numb fingers and there was no sense to stay awake, not anymore. Her eyelids were heavy, the need to close her eyes overwhelming. Sleep called to her with the force of a thousand suns. Bittersweet. Painless. Forever peaceful.
Before she let sleep engulf her, she pressed her cheek to his. "Good morning, my love," she whispered, unable to say goodbye.
She didn't expect him to stir.
"The… fu-fur..." he mumbled.
Before he could finish whatever he was trying to say, Catherine tightened her embrace and pressed her mouth against his frozen lips.
"You sca-scaled me!" she complained, unable to put enough annoyance into her voice.
"Yo-you too. Ear-earli-el. Put... fu-fur back," he insisted, stumbling over the words. "You'll... fleesse..."
"Al-al-already theee," she assured him with a weak attempt at a smile.
"Did you..." he hesitated, looking rather confused, "...ju-just ki-kiss me?"
She looked at him stunned and forced herself to laugh. "You di-did. Ho-hours ago."
"But... just now..."
"Hypothemia cau-causes confffuson," she assured him.
They stared at each other in silence before John spoke again.
"No, I... ha-have some-something to tell'yo," she whispered.
"N-no, lisen !" he insisted.
Something was going on above them. There were footsteps, crunching snow, and voices.
Catherine listened and her face lit up.
The voices were getting closer and louder and the two could make out their names being shouted.
"Ovel heee!" John cried, his voice to weak to carry over the top of the hole.
A few minutes later, a head popped into view and vanished just as fast. "They're down here!" Rodney cried. "Get Dr. Meyer!"
Hearing Coburn's news, Elizabeth didn't waste any time sending reinforcements. Three military teams, along with as many doctors and Rodney, Ronon and Teyla were dispatched to evacuate the survivors. It was all she could do for now and Elizabeth couldn't stop worrying for the people she had sent there.
It had taken the teams less than an hour to reach the first village, but there was nothing left in its place but burning ruins. It was the same pattern they saw with other villages. Once the villagers were infected, the Wraith swooped in to neutralize the threat by bombing the area.
"Are you sure this is where John and Catherine were?" Rodney asked, desperately checking his scanners for life forms. Except for their own team members, nothing else registered. He wanted to stop Ronon from searching among the ruins, but Teyla placed a hand on his shoulder, preventing him.
"This is where they were supposed to be," Coburn confirmed a bit late. "They hadn't been in contact with anyone since night-fall."
Deciding to hold on to whatever hope he could get, Rodney took this as excellent news. "Maybe they left the village," he suggested. "You know how Catherine is. She probably finished ahead of time and they were on their way home, like you guys, when the attack came."
No one had the heart to point out that they would have returned to Atlantis already if that were the case, or they would have already ran into them, dead or alive, on their way to the village.
"I'll increase the radius of the scan," Rodney offered. "It won't be as accurate, but it's better than nothing." He looked to the others for encouragement, but none kept his gaze for long.
Coburn's radio came to life, breaking Rodney's concentration along with the uncomfortable silence and offering the scientist the opportunity to snap.
"Do you mind? I'm trying to work here!" He kept his eyes on the Major as he retreated a few steps away to talk to Lorne. The news from the other village wasn't any more encouraging, but there were still settlements to check for survivors and someone from yesterday's expedition had to have escaped the attack somewhere.
Still fidgeting with his scanner, Rodney diverted his anxiety to Ronon who was still searching among the rubble for who knew what. "You won't find them behind the sofa, if that's what you're thinking," he snapped again, more frightened that they would find their carbonized bodies along with the natives than that they might not find them at all.
"Do you have any better ideas?" Ronon asked, abandoning his search and approaching the Canadian menacingly.
"They might have gone to another village..." he suggested, aware of how far fetched his idea sounded.
"So you're suggesting we should go on a wild goose hunt rather than accept the facts?" Ronon growled.
"It has been known to work in the past," Teyla intervened to calm the spirits.
Rodney opened his mouth to argue with Ronon again, but was distracted by the two dots blinking on the edge of the scanner. He stared at them, mouth agape, then looked back at the others. "I keep telling you I'm a genius and you still doubt me," he bragged, grinning.
It was their turn to look incredulously at him. The change in mood came as a surprise even from Rodney, under the circumstances.
"Don't you see?" he insisted. "I've increased the scan radius. They're not in the village, but they're still alive, if barely."
"Unless this thing gives you name-tags as well, it could be anybody," Ronon huffed, turning away in disgust.
"Even if it weren't them, we're supposed to be looking for survivors. It is them, though," he insisted.
Half an hour later, he was proven right by a deep hole, housing two nearly frozen people they had almost given up on finding.
Reality had been fading in and out for a while now. She couldn't be sure how long it's been since Rodney found them. Their rescue, the trip back through the Gate and subsequent stay in the Infirmary were a blur. She wasn't even sure if any of them had really happened or if she was lying frozen and unconscious in that derelict shed.
She wasn't cold, her mind concluded. She couldn't move, but it was because of a heavy blanket covering her, not because she was numb or frozen. Once the realization sank in, her first thought was to check her hands. They were still red and sore, but the frostbite hadn't reached deep enough to do any permanent damage. She wriggled her fingers and they tingled a bit. It made her ridiculously happy.
There was something else worrying her, but, for the moment, it was buried under the bubbling joy of the knowledge that she still had use of her hands. She could still work as a surgeon.
The nagging feeling eventually clawed its way to the surface.
"John?" she asked softly, receiving no response. She turned on her side, looking for the man she knew was supposed to be there, but wasn't. "John?" she called a little louder, panic rising in her hoarse voice. Her attempt at sitting up resulted in aches in her back and all through her body. "John?" she asked again, in a softer voice, as she sank back under the blankets, defeated.
"You'll hurt yourself if you keep that up," she heard him answer and turned on her other side, following his voice. There he was, feeling much better than she did, judging by his grin. The relief she felt drowned the desire for an acid comeback.
"And you couldn't answer the first time because?" she mumbled.
His grin widened. "Third time's the charm. And I was actually enjoying the sound of your dulcet voice.”
His voice was teasing, but his hazel eyes were not. At once, the memory of their kiss shot front and center in her mind. She felt her cheeks heat and laid her head back, her eyes on the ceiling.
Not only he had kissed her. She had kissed him as well. Okay, maybe she thought he was dying, but still, she wasn't sure how she was supposed to deal with it.
God, she was so screwed.
She threw him a quick glance, trying to remember the details, but he looked as oblivious as before.
Maybe it was a good thing, but she still had to check.
What the heck.
Gathering her courage, Catherine cleared her throat.
"You're making a habit out of not answering the first time," she commented with what she thought of as diplomacy.
"What do you mean?" he asked, genuinely confused.
"Back in the... hole..."
"It was a cellar," he corrected her.
"Whatever. I actually thought you were dead at one point." That was it, if he remembered that, he probably remembered his wakeup.
"I was awake all the time," he protested. "I was supposed to keep you awake, after all."
For the second time that day she felt extremely relieved and couldn't help giving him a sweet smile, dimples forming in her cheeks.
John was surprised to see that she could actually be, well, cute . It was such an unusual sight, he couldn't help tease her. And he did remember last night. Okay, maybe not in detail, but enough of it to know why she was beaming like that.
"I've been meaning to ask you something since I woke up."
"Sure, go ahead."
"There's something about last night that keeps bugging me." He could see her face grow darker, so he continued, barely holding back his grin. "You wanted to tell me something, in case we didn't make it." Not only was her face darker, but it was also becoming tinted in a shade of pink that suited her particularly well. "Before Rodney came along... Right after you-"
With a thump, the pillow, aimed with surprising accuracy at his face, prevented him from finishing his comment.
"You dreamt that part," she hissed, turning her back to him and pulling the cover over her head.
Holding back his laughter, John threw the pillow back at her, enjoying the sight of a light-hearted Catherine again. It wasn't bound to last, but it was a good respite for now.
"Right after you took the fur off you like an idiot," he finished, grinning. "What did you think I was going to say?"
"Nothing," she mumbled, pulling the pillow over her head.
"Catherine?" John called, trying not to look too amused.
From under the cover, she huffed, sounding petulant. "What?"
"I really don't remember the-"
"You're awake. Good," said Rodney, walking into the Infirmary, tablet in hand and his eyes glued to it. "About the survivors..." he began.
John waved him to shut up, but Rodney missed it completely.
"Is she okay?" he asked, not quite looking at Catherine.
"Good. We managed to find the people in the caves. They're fine. Dr. Meyer got them all injected and checked. With you two, this makes 24 survivors in total."
John fought back the urge to slap himself in the face for letting her find out this way. Or Rodney, for failing to notice his signs.
He gave Catherine a concerned glance, but she was curled up in a motionless ball under the covers.
He was about to walk over to her when he realized it wasn't his place to comfort her.
Unsurprisingly, the man who could offer her comfort was standing in front of his bed, still tinkering with his tablet and completely oblivious of the whole thing.
In her cocoon, Catherine went perfectly still as the thunder clicked in her head as what it truly was. Her heart began to race and her mind focused on a single thought.
Out of all the people she had met that day, she had only truly seen two. The last woman she injected and Madranne. She had completely ignored the first, while the second had been the target of her childish jealousy. She didn't even try to make a connection with them, entirely focused on the task at hand, and now they were all dead ?
Slowly coming out from under the cover, she gave Rodney a steady look.
"Is Madranne alright?"
Although her voice didn't quiver and her expression was as composed as ever, inside she was crumbling to pieces.
Silently, Rodney shook his head.
Oh, how she wished she could cry in moments like this!