I want to thank all the amazing people, who sent me wonderful reviews and private messages! I am really grateful for your warm, kind words and support. Also to all the guest reviewers, thank you.
Trish, my personal writing star ;) thank you for all the insight, guidance and shamelessly announcing yourself my number one fan :)) Couldn't do that without you.
AN: This short story is a small, dark glimpse into Steve's mind during episode 2.10. It is not to say that Steve thought only about Catherine, because he definitely wasn't, but she is very important to him, she's in his heart and mind. And as someone faces such situation, when death is a real threat, it's only natural to think of the person you love, wondering if you ever see her again.
Catherine does not appear here, but I tagged her as it concerns Steve's feelings and worry for her.
The cold echo resounds in his ears, a drilling dull sound that strikes like a blow to the head, stirring him from unconsciousness. But he's too weak to fully awaken, the pain and fatigue clouding his brain, casting a shadow which is hard to break through. His eyelids are too heavy and he doesn't have the strength to force them open. The loud sound repeats, the vibrancy of it finished with a tinkle, reminding him of raindrops splashing on the lanai behind his house.
A memory of green and blue embroidered into the scenery of the small backyard and ocean waves gently washing over the shore suddenly comes back to him, cutting through the thick, dark haze that fills his head. The soft warm breeze, which so often lulls him to sleep, is nowhere to be found now, only coldness and humidity that usually don't come in pairs.
It alerts him, tugging at his inner instincts, but they're not strong enough to reach beyond the physical blockade of his body simply shutting down his consciousness.
Whether it's to cut out the pain or regain strength to face the next encounter, his brain is stubbornly refusing to wake the rest of his body. Steve's about to succumb into unconsciousness again, ignoring the regularly repeated echo, when suddenly it resounds with a force that gets not only to his mind, but pierces through every fiber of his being.
Steve, a soft voice, barely above a whisper, but he recognizes it immediately.
And it's enough to instantly mobilize his body. He opens his eyes, tilting his head back with difficulty as it hangs low on his chest. Sight adjusting to the semi darkness, searching for that familiar silhouette.
His eyelids are heavy and something thick seems to have glued some of his eyelashes, dried lips crack painfully, when he gasps at the overwhelming pain that shoots through his body as he moves just a little. The metallic taste of blood fills his mouth from where his lips cracked and as he licks them slowly, a stinging ache slowly brings back the realization of the cause of such pain.
The darkness surrounding him slowly disperses, the speckles of light getting through dirty, half-painted windows, lightening the small, industrial space.
Frantically looking around, he searches for the source of soft voice that pierced through his unconsciousness. His heart taking on a rapid, panicked pace as his hazy mind produces chaotic, mixed ideas of what might be going on.
Steve's fear heightens, when he can't locate her. Hissing in pain, he tries to slightly move around, but it's impossible to do so, while being hung from the ceiling. His body is in agonizing pain, muscles strained to the brim, both from exhaustion and the tormenting position he's in. With his arms above his head, painfully cuffed to the hook, his bare feet barely reaching the floor. It sends not only jolts of pain through his spine, but strains his skin, opening all the small and bigger wounds, blood slowly trickling, soaking his clothes.
"Cath?" his voice is hoarse and it actually hurts to call out her name, with his dried throat, blood filling his mouth, but her life is worth more than any of his discomfort, so he calls out again, "Catherine?"
He has no doubt it was her voice he had heard, he would recognize it anywhere. The sound of it came back to him when he was stranded in God forsaken places, lulling him to sleep more effectively than tiredness itself. The way she says his name always tugs on his heart, whether she says it while making fun of him, scolding him, or moaning. It brings a sense of peacefulness, calming him down, minimizing the pain.
But right now he'd give up everything, he would take any and every level of pain, just to get her out of here. Get her safe.
The awareness of his situation doesn't fully sink in, his mind is still confused, blurred by the physical pain and subconscious defense mechanism, so he's not sure how she got there. "Catherine?", once again he calls out, desperately, coughing abruptly while swallowing some of his blood. He scans the space, dark corners, dirt-covered palettes, rusty table, but not even a shadow that would suggest her fragile body being curled somewhere there. Clenching his teeth, stopping himself from groaning loudly at the sharp pain, he musters all his strength and yanks at the chains. The swaying motion is hurtful, his toes barely touching the cold floor, blood flowing from one the wounds on his torso, but he needs to make sure she's not behind him either.
A sigh of relief escapes his lips, his head tilting to the side before hanging down low. Steve blinks a few times, sweat and blood sticking his eyelashes together. The sight of his dirty, bloodied feet helplessly trying to find the support on the concrete, makes him wince. It's useless, he knows, yet his body reacts on its own volition and it takes a few long minutes before he manages to get control back, just how he has been taught.
He remembers now, not every detail, but it comes back. The pain actually helps with recreating the beating they served him not more than a few hours ago. Thinking about the electrocution makes him whimper.
It's good, really good, that Catherine's not here. Not only for her own safety, but also for the sake of his mind. There's a fine line between acknowledgement of her strength and abilities, and the shattering perspective of her being hurt. Experiencing the cruel welcome on his own skin, he does not want to even think about Cath being tortured. Her bright face embroidered into his mind is glowing with a smile and that's how he wants to remember it.
Be safe, sailor, the last words she spoke to him resound momentarily in his head, but they don't bring a smile to his face like they did when he heard her voice two weeks ago.
His heart clenches and guilt spreads through his veins as he realizes it might actually been the last time he heard her. During his active duty as a SEAL, there were a few times, when he was scared of not seeing her again. Not making it back to her... Back then, even if it was a black op, someone would eventually contact her, respectfully give her the news and offer condolences. Thinking about Danny having to make a call and tell her via phone about it, without even the perspective of bringing his body back home.
A bitter chuckle escapes Steve's lips, because as he knows Catherine, she would trespass into North Korea on her own if needed and drag his corpse back home. But he quickly shakes his head, which evokes another pang of ache, he can't be thinking about that scenario right now.
It is hard enough to think of her worried, teared up face, once she learns about all of it, or sees his bruises. Her fingers always shake, her touch becoming more delicate and tender than ever, whenever he sustains any injury. Focusing on her closeness always helps him and God only knows how many times in the past he has reminisced about the tiniest detail of it. Catherine's face, her laughter, her scent, her habit of mumbling in her sleep. How she touched his wounds, reading his face like an open book even if he managed to keep still. She always kissed each of them, the most gentle of pecks making his body respond eagerly to her presence.
And she always knows. Steve is not good with words, with expressing feelings or blurting out whatever sticks in his head, yet Cath always knows.
Sometimes it's not easy being with her, when he wants to keep something hidden, when he tries not to fall apart in her arms with the intensity of hurt and anger that accumulated after some events.
His stubbornness tempting him to retreat, but he's drawn to her, a force which keeps pulling him back to her awaiting arms.
As he fights with himself, trying to bottle it all up - often not really knowing why, if it's to spare her the burden, or he shields himself from dwelling on it. Yet as soon as her warmth seeps through his skin, her voice whispering his name so softly, he falls apart, helplessly letting her take care of him.
He wonders, often, how someone so petite and innocent can carry all of this baggage that their relationship holds. Never backing up, never complaining, not even a slight hint that it might be too much for her.
Steve curses himself for not appreciating her enough, for missing all those opportunities to repay not only those stupid favors, but for the fact that she always stands by his side. And always waits for him. Suddenly a memory of one of their short leaves, which they had spent in Belgium, though completely skipping the touristic part of their week, comes back to him. The image of Cath's smile, that was only a tiny bit taunting, as he traced his fingertips over the star tattoo on the nape of her neck and said she's his guiding star. They actually laughed at that together, the level of corniness making Steve blush. But he meant that with all his heart.
Whenever he's lost in the darkness, she guides him back home.
And that's enough even now, when his body is strained and broken, the situation so helpless that thinking of an escape seems to be a crazy man's wish. If the opportunity comes, he's ready to push his body over the limits and go for it. Just to make it back to Catherine...
Steve's head snaps up as the door open and a bruised, crying Jenna Kaye is being pushed inside. Taking a deep breath, Steve prepares himself for another round of pain, which will surely come, but he can take it, he can last, just a little bit more. Promise me you'll come back, Steve, he can almost feel her fingers on his cheek, the soft dance of her lips on his. "I will," he whispers quietly, before turning his full attention to the woman that betrayed him.