Author's note: This is a missing scene from before the epilogue of "The Hand of Wrath" and is a shortened version. The extended version will be part of that story's upcoming deleted scenes series. Written for Caesar's Palace Shipping Week, free prompt day (prompt of choice is "nightmare"). Also written for the CP prompts knife, hammer (Weapons challenge), choking (Vivid challenge) and ghostly, hatred (Darkness challenge).

Thanks to: beta goddess Darkin for proofing services rendered. ;)


Finding Warmth

Cold blue eyes of hatred stripping her of her remaining vestiges of strength and defiance...

Frigid seawater closing over her head...

"How does it feel, Kristin?"

Struggling against lethargy, muscle spasms, and the icy grip of hypothermia, stumbling with every step, only held upright by the iron grasp of her captors...

"How does it feel to struggle for air, to feel the pressure crushing your lungs..."

The sloshing smack of quake-borne waves slapping artificially carved bedrock...

"...to know that every breath might be your last?!"

The desperate struggle to breathe, the futile flailing against the hand that pushed and held her under...

"You'll be taking one last swim..."

The knife-sharp pain of water burning her nose, her throat, her lungs...

"...but this time you won't be coming back up for air..."

And no matter how hard she kicked, she kept sinking, the last of her strength ebbing away as the darkness enveloped her...

With a choked scream, Kristin bolted upright, only to find herself falling again within seconds. She scrabbled at whatever she could reach as her hip connected painfully with a hard surface, knowing only she had to find some way to flee the frozen spectre that was relentless in its pursuit.

"Kristin..."

Her fingers found purchase in soft, dry fabric before rough hands grabbed her shoulders from behind. She cried out again, desperately fighting the grip that she knew would pull her right back under that dark water.

"Kristin!"

The familiar voice shocked her into full consciousness; her heart hammered at a frantic rate in her chest as she gasped for breath, exacerbating the agonizing ache gripping her lungs and the overall bitter chill that seemed to have her firmly wrapped in its stranglehold, despite the fact that she knew she was now truly awake. She blinked frantically in the shadowed dim to try to adjust her eyes, a streak of watery blue out of the corner of her eye sending another bolt of dread down her spine until she recognized it as the running lights inlaid in the floor. The hands holding her shoulders she now began to recognize as well, and she slowly turned to face Nathan's worried gaze.

His hands moved from her shoulders to take hold of her shaking ones, squeezing them in a light clasp. For several minutes, the only sounds in the cabin were her own ragged gasps and the muted thrum of seaQuest's engines. She forced herself to focus on the familiar faint vibrations beneath them, on the comforting sensation of Nathan's thumbs caressing the backs of her fingers and that the bluish light trails were indeed supposed to be there. The lights again finally caught her attention and it made her realize that they were both seated on the floor. "How did we get down here?"

"You fell."

Again, her mind added. And here she had thought that she would sleep better if she weren't alone. So much for thinking that Nathan's invitation to stay the night would help drive away the persistent demons left over from the PTSD caused by her recent abduction. "I don't know how much longer this can go on," she finally muttered.

"No one expects you to jump right back into the thick of things when you're still recovering from this level of trauma," he reminded her.

"I know," Kristin sighed. "And I appreciate everyone's support. But if I can't even get a good night's sleep, how am I supposed to function in the lab? There are times when—when I can't even go near Darwin because it's just another reminder…." She gestured helplessly and fought the lump rising in her throat, leaning into his offered embrace and giving vent to the tears she'd been trying to keep bottled in. Unlike previous nights, these tears fast graduated to heaving sobs that, once started, seemed unable to stop. When they finally faded several minutes later, she lay slumped against him for, trembling with exhaustion and relaxing into the gentle touch of his hand running up and down her back in slow motion.

"Sorry..."

"For what?" Nathan reached up and brushed his fingertips along her cheek to remove the last tear streaks.

"Keeping you up." She caught his hand in hers, leaning her cheek into his palm.

He tilted her face up so he could look into her eyes. "And you know I'll be here for you, whatever you need. That includes however many sleepless nights it takes for you to beat this."

She managed a wan smile and a whispered thank you. He smiled back and shifted to stand, offering her a hand up as well.

"Do you want the inside of the bunk instead? Might feel more secure."

Kristin shook her head. "I think it would feel claustrophobic."

He nodded and, after fixing the tangled covers, they both slid back into the bunk. She leaned her head against his chest, focusing on the steady rhythm of his heartbeat and breathing and letting it draw her back into sleep that was thankfully free of dreams.

*fin*