by Rach L.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Just having some fun with the show after TPTB cancelled it. No harm, no foul.
Note: It's a story I've written a long time ago after watching "The Cage" episode. It's one of the mushiest stories I've ever written. You've been warned. ;)
Tully was frightened.
He had wanted to go with Conor and others on the journey to destroy Longinus once and for all. However, the people of the Sanctuary needed a leader while Conor was absent, so Tully had stayed, waiting and spending every passing second with worry. And now his friends had come back, alive and well. This was the day of celebration. They had finally reached their goal, just a blink away from unification. The world was less of one true evil, Longinus--he'd be rotting under the sea.
Yet Tully shivered as he watched Catlin silently working on her bow, sitting as far as possible from the partying crowd of the Sanctuary. He knew Catlin well enough to know that very few things could upset his otherwise always calm and serene friend. Well, she was *extremely* angry now, and that was just plain terrifying.
And there was this other fact that Fergus was avoiding even glancing at Catlin's way and she was acting like as if Fergus didn't exist at all.
This, again, was another reason for Tully to be truly frightened.
"There he is!" A man shouted with joy as Conor and Molly together approached the celebrating crowd of the Sanctuary.
Tully nudged Catlin and spoke excitedly, knowing that seeing Conor should make her feel much better, "Catlin, here comes our prince."
But he got no answer from her. Instead, she just stood up as if she didn't hear him, and made a silent retreat to the woods with her bow at her side. He thought he heard her mutter, "Hero my arse..."
Tully turned to the bald warrior sitting beside him. "Fergus, what kind of method did you guys use to draw Longinus out? And what's wrong with Catlin?" They hadn't told him just how exactly they had achieved their goal. Before they had left to meet the people of Don, Conor and Fergus had said something about a plan and taken Molly into it while Catlin had been busy taking care of children.
Fergus only shook his head. "Maybe if Conor dies, then she'll love him."
"What?!" Tully chocked, but Fergus only smiled faintly.
As if on a cue, Conor came to their side with Molly, and asked nervously, "Tully, Fergus, have you seen Catlin?"
"Well..." Tully hesitated. Catlin had the phrase 'back-off' written all over her today and even though Tully wanted to tell Conor her whereabouts, he was extremely afraid for the prince's safety.
However, Fergus had no problem saying it, "She went into the woods."
"Alone?" Conor frowned. "It's dark already. She shouldn't be out there alone."
"Relax," Molly said casually, taking her seat beside her father, "We don't have to hide anymore. There are no Roman soldiers after us now. It's over, remember?"
Conor grabbed his sword tightly as if someone was about to attack them. "There might be some Longinus' men out there, seeking revenge of sorts. Maybe beasts..."
Fergus retorted, grinning slightly, "Oh, don't worry. By the looks of it, no men would be foolish enough to anger the lass at this stage. As for wild beasts, well, guess we'll be having feast tomorrow then."
Conor groaned. "Is she still..."
Still grinning, Fergus took a bite of the bread he'd been holding. "Oh, very. Very still."
Conor begged desperately, "You have to talk to her, Fergus. You have to, and make her understand!"
"Make her understand what?" At this stage, Tully was beyond confused.
Fergus just answered Conor, "Boy, I died once. Don't think I'm eager to repeat that experience."
"What?!" Tully exclaimed, but was ignored by everyone.
Conor groaned again and faced Molly. "Molly, please talk to Catlin. Convince her it was necessary."
Molly shook her head. "No way. I like my head just where it is now."
Conor sighed and took a deep breath. "Fine. I'll just have to face her myself. I can handle this like a...leader." He straightened up himself and grabbed his sword even more tightly--if it was possible--then headed toward the woods.
As the shadow of Conor disappeared into the dark, Tully turned to Fergus, frustrated. "What exactly happened? Why is Catlin so, so, so--"
Molly supplemented, "Mad?"
"That's one way of putting it," Tully said, still puzzled.
Fergus took another bite of his bread and commented, "You just watch, boy. It's not everyday we get to see our prince getting his arse kicked."
Somehow, that didn't make Tully feel any better.
Conor was nervous.
He repeatedly told himself he could do this. He really could do this. He was the leader of the Confederation, and he just defeated Longinus. Of course he would survive talking to Catlin who was kind and compassionate, who *always* understood him, right?
Oh, he was a dead man.
As he approached the river close to the Sanctuary, he could hear a voice yelling loudly.
"He brings flowers all right. With all the nice, sincere words..."
There was a loud crack and Conor heard a thick branch falling off from a tree. He sneaked to get closer to the source of the voice he knew so well.
"'Whatever is inside you, there's no need to keep it from me.' Hah!"
Conor took his position behind a bush and watched with a fright as Catlin used her hatchet to 'kill' the tree, gathering branches. Obviously she was pretending that the tree was him.
Oh, he was a dead man.
She continued hitting the tree with her hatchet, but soon she threw it away and punched the tree with her small fist, hard. Then she crumbled, falling on the ground. Stunned, Conor tried to make his way to her, but stopped on his track when he heard her quiet murmur, "Stupid."
He couldn't see her expression as her face fell between her knees, but he caught her soft whisper to herself, "Stupid. What made you think he'd..."
He felt a sharp needle jabbing his heart as he noticed the sadness seeping from her voice. He could take her blazing eyes or hit on his arm, but he couldn't see her like this. Hadn't he promised to himself that he would never let anyone hurt her again? That he would never let anything to bring out unbearable amount of sorrow that was buried in her eyes?
He had failed miserably, it seemed.
"Who's there?" He heard her alarmed voice.
Startled, he stood up. "Uh, Cat, hi." Flushed and embarrassed, he made his way to her. "It's just...um, me."
"Go away, Conor." She whirled around quickly, turning her back on him. He thought he saw her wiping away something on her cheek with the back of her hand.
"Cat," he took cautious steps toward her, "It's getting cold. Let's go home."
There was a soft sigh. "I'm not in the mood to talk to you."
"It's really late, Catlin," he persisted, not about to let her stay in the dark, "And it's dangerous. There might be Longinus' men around--"
She turned to him angrily and cut him off, "I can take care of myself, Conor. I don't need your protection or your boyish chivalry."
He realized he was slowly taking steps backward. Catlin was *very* angry now and he had every reason to be retreating this way. "I'm only worried, Catlin."
Her expression softened, and he found himself staring at the eyes that contained palpable grief he couldn't begin to fathom. "Please," her word was almost inaudible, "Just...leave me alone. Please, Conor."
"Catlin," he took a deep breath, "I swear I didn't mean to lie to you. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you the plan, but..."
"No," she looked away, stubbornly refusing to meet his gaze, "I'm sorry that you didn't trust me enough to let me on your plan."
He quietly pulled her close, putting his hands around her shoulders. The faint moonlight accentuated her pale face and her shimmering blue eyes, and for some reason, Conor's heart started to pound hard. "It was never about trust, Cat."
She took a step away from him angrily, leaving him desolated without the feeling of her warm skin in his palms. "Then what *was* it about?"
"You're good at so many other things, but you can't lie well." And that still amazed Conor. Even with all the pains and agonies she had endured, her heart was still innocent, full of compassion, faith, and love for others.
Abruptly, she froze, her eyes fixated on his face. "What do you...What do you mean, Conor?"
"If we told you me being in...love with Molly was just an act, you wouldn't have been able to pull it off," he grinned slightly at her, "Your expression just gives it away. Or haven't you noticed that?"
But her face was frozen. Her eyes were supposed to be like the blue sky, clear and tranquil, but now they were storming with white rage. "What difference would it have made if you've told me? I tried my best to get Fergus off your back--Fergus who, by the way, has been pretending to have the urge to kill you. You think I'd have to be pretending to be your supportive friend? If you've told me about this, I'd still have been the same, supporting you and Molly. What did you think I'd do?"
Good question. What had he thought she'd do? He'd expected a different reaction from her. Catlin couldn't pretend something that was not, but she'd looked genuinely happy for him and Molly. What did that mean to him? Truth to be told, he'd been rather...disappointed at the fact she'd encouraged him to be with Molly.
But he'd never admit that to anyone, not even to himself. This was a dangerous area he didn't wish to explore. Occasional flirtation and infatuation were safe and exciting (Oh, Fergus would kill him), but to actually attach yourself to someone...
Catlin's almost inaudible sigh brought him out of his musings. "All right, Conor. You win. I'm going home." Her words were spoken with such strong disappointment and resignation, he could feel her resentment toward him. The thought made his heart ache.
She turned away and walked away from him, and he wished nothing more than to grab her and tell her to stay with him, to look into her eyes and make her smile again. She was always so close to him, always there for him, always embracing him and protecting him from the hard times with her beautiful smile. Yet, he wasn't supposed to reach out to her. He could tell her his true feelings when she most needed to be reminded of her importance in his life, yes, save her from harm's way, yes, protect her with all his life, yes, but reaching out to her, burden her with his pains...it wasn't right.
He wouldn't lose another in this life. And to do that, he just needed to play safe. Safe.
He only watched as her slender form disappeared into the direction of the Sanctuary. He leaned on the butchered tree, exhaling softly, and waited for that explainable ache in his chest to disappear.
He just waited.
It didn't look good, Fergus noted.
Not only Catlin came back alone, heading straight to her shelter and politely declining to join the celebration, but also Conor was no where in sight.
It didn't look good at all.
"You think Catlin really killed him?" Tully commented with a playful smile.
"She wouldn't have killed him, you know," Molly answered, "Sure, she'd hurt him a little, but kill him? She's too nice for that."
Fergus shook his head at his daughter. Just thinking about Molly's mother reminded him yet again that no matter how gentle and nice some women seemed to be, they could turn out to be the most fearsome ones. Longinus didn't even compare.
"So, to summarize," Tully snatched an apple from a basket, "Conor and Molly pretended to be in love, so Fergus could pretend to be angry at Conor, then Conor could pretend to have killed Fergus in fight, then Molly could pretend to have betrayed Conor in anger, giving his location to Longinus, then..." He looked at Fergus to continue.
Fergus answered quickly, "We made Longinus believe this was not a set up, then we got him. End of the story."
"But why is Catlin so, so, so..."
"Mad," Molly supplemented again.
"Exactly." Tully took a bite of the apple.
"Well," Fergus started out uneasily, looking out for the sign of Conor coming back, "We sort of...didn't tell her that we were all pretending. So, well, Catlin thought it was all...real."
"Oh geez," Tully exclaimed, "We'll never find Conor's body."
Fergus nodded. "I agree."
"Boys! Relax. Catlin's always so...nice to Conor. She'll forgive him in an instant." Molly made a dismissive hand gesture.
Then Conor appeared from the wood, his face marked with exhaustion. He seemed to be almost dragging himself to them, painfully and slowly.
"On the other hand," Molly casually sipped her drink from the cup she'd been holding, "I could be wrong."
"Hey, Conor," Fergus waved him to come close, getting this strange feeling at seeing Conor's dark expression. Trying not to sound worried, Fergus commented lightly, "You look terrible, lad. Did she really whip you?"
The boy only sat down and poked the branches into the fire, mindlessly playing with it.
"She'll come around, Conor," Molly piped in, grinning, "You know, she really does have a soft spot for..."
"Molly," he stepped in, giving her a look.
"Huh?" She looked up at him, not moving.
Was his daughter *this* dense? Fergus spoke with a strained smile, "Molly, you look tired. Why don't you go and get some rest?"
"I'm not really tir--" She looked at him, Tully, then at Conor who was still hovering over the fire. "Ohhhhh. Well, actually, sleep sounds good now. Goodnight, Da. Conor. " She walked away with Tully, giving Fergus a 'I-wish-you-good-luck-da' look.
Conor nodded slightly, but Fergus didn't think he'd heard a word of what Molly just had said.
As the two disappeared into their shelters, Fergus casually threw more wood branches into the fire. "What's on your mind, Conor?"
The prince didn't speak for a while, but Fergus patiently waited for an answer. When finally Conor broke the suffocating silence, it was with the one word Fergus dreaded so much, "Longinus."
Sweet Brigid. Fergus frowned.
Conor muttered, his eyes not leaving the fire, "The cage won't hold forever. He'll come back."
It was true, Fergus knew. This was only temporary solution to stop Longinus from hurting others again. "Boy, must you ruin the party with that kind of thoughts?"
Fergus cut him off and gave him his confident smile, "When that thing comes back, we'll be ready for him, won't we, Conor?"
And when it came back, Fergus himself would personally send him to hell. It didn't matter that Longinus couldn't die. Fergus knew for certain that they would find a way.
The young prince met his gaze for a while, and nodded. "Aye, we will be ready for him."
Good, Fergus thought. Then now he could get into the heart of the problem that was bothering the prince. Throwing yet another branch into the fire, he asked, "So! What did she say?"
"Huh?" Conor didn't look up.
Fergus knew that Conor understood perfectly well what--or who, rather--he was talking about. "Don't 'huh' me, boy. What did she say?"
After a huge sigh, the prince spoke, "I think she's...disappointed--" he flinched at the word, "--that I didn't trust her enough."
"Ah-ha." Fergus smiled as he watched Conor squirm. "And it doesn't help that you almost killed her because you were so into giving *my* daughter that smitten look of yours," he glared at Conor, "That was completely unnecessary--"
Conor cut him off, incredulous, "It was *you* who insisted to pretend like it was real!"
"I didn't tell you to be *that* good. And don't you dare thinking I'd let you near my daughter!"
"Fergus!" Conor groaned, "You know that I don't think of Molly that way!"
"Oh?" Fergus feigned an angry look, enjoying the annoyed look on Conor's face, "And what's wrong with my daughter?"
"Nothing!" the young man yelled, frustrated, "She's beautiful, attractive, smart..."
"One more word, boy, and you're going to get it," the older warrior warned.
Conor snorted, an impish smile on his face. "And what will you do? Whip me?"
Fergus only grinned. "I'll just tell Catlin that it was you who insisted on not telling her."
Conor instantly froze at that, and Fergus knew he won. The blond prince's voice was now low and threatening, "Fergus..."
Fergus attempted not to smile too broadly. "Ah, Conor. Just go and tell her you'll never disappoint her again."
"Wish it was that simple." There was a ghost of a bitter smile on Conor's face.
"It *is* that simple."
"No, Fergus. It's not." Conor buried his face between his hands. He whispered quietly, "I can't lose another in my life, Fergus. I just...can't."
The red flames of the fire shadowed the handsome features of the blond prince. The young boy who'd once confidently told Fergus that he'd become the bravest warrior was now the fearless leader of the Confederation. But at what cost? Fergus wondered as he watched Conor's anguished look. The boy had lost so much and he was afraid to lose again.
Fergus was Conor's champion in battles, but he loved the boy like his own son. He wanted the boy to be the leader and unite the people of this land, but he also wanted him to be the joyous troublemaker he used to be. Fergus wanted Conor to be happy.
Making a decision, he stood up and thundered at the boy, "You whine like a girl. Stop acting like a coward and make your stand!"
"What?" Conor's head snapped up.
"What's the matter, boy? Not ready to face her like a man? If she's disappointed, then prove it to her that you'll never disappoint her again!"
Clenching his teeth, Conor growled in a low voice, "Fergus, you don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, yes I do. Are you not man enough to make such a promise?"
"Don't!" Conor stood up angrily, "Don't you dare, Fergus. You don't know anything."
Fergus met the boy's glare with calm eyes. "Conor," he spoke quietly, "It takes sweat and blood to become a warrior, but it takes a heart of a man to really care for someone."
Conor stared him back with a slightly shocked expression, no doubt thinking about Molly's mother who Fergus had lost.
Fergus continued, "I became a warrior, but I failed to give my heart. But are you ready to give yours?"
"Fergus...I..." The blond prince looked stunned for a moment, but then gave him an appreciative nod. "You're right."
Fergus just sat down and spoke, not looking at the blonde prince, "Now, go. Talk to her."
"Thank you," the prince whispered, "Thank you, Fergus."
Fergus looked up from the fire and watched Conor heading toward Catlin's chamber. He bided his prince good luck.
I'm too old for this, Fergus thought.
Catlin couldn't sleep.
She needed to sleep. She longed to sleep. The day had been long and exhausting. And tomorrow, with the new alliance with Diana, they had much to do.
But still, she couldn't sleep.
'Since when are you so happy to see him falling into the arms of another?' Fergus' angry voice lingered in her mind. Damn Fergus for this fine act, she thought.
It had taken her every bit of strength to keep *her* act that day. It'd taken her every bit of self-control to look straight at Conor and tell him she had no problem with him and Molly together.
'You're good at many other things, but you can't lie well.' he'd said. That almost froze her heart. Had her expressions betrayed her emotion even a little? Had she acted jealously? What? She thought back to everything she'd said and done, and examined what had gone on that day. She concluded that she'd done just fine, not revealing her heart to anyone.
But apparently, Fergus saw through her.
'Don't leave us, Catlin. We love you. ...I love you.'
She could hear his words as if he was saying them to her right at this moment. It was her most cherished moment, as well as the most tormenting one. Conor, her blonde savior, her brave leader, her world, her everything... And his smile...
She sighed. His youthful smile was her bliss, but she could never make him smile like that. She would never be the reason for his smile, his true happiness. If Claire --and maybe Molly, she added, ignoring the pang of pain rising in her chest-- was the only reason for his delighted smile, then so be it, she thought. Her heart was not important. Had she not decided on that long ago, to conceal what her greedy heart had wished? She was blessed as she was now, and she wished nothing more than to be with them to achieve their goal together. She'd never let her treacherous emotion to betray her loyalty.
Enough, she told herself, enough of this.
Maybe tomorrow she would give him a kick (Prince or no prince, she still could give him a good kick!) and forgive him. Catlin buried herself deeply into the soft fur of the blanket, trying to invite the sleep that didn't come.
Then she heard a soft yet familiar voice calling her name, "Cat?"
"Conor?" Startled, Catlin sat up. Was she hearing things?
"Did I wake you?" No, she wasn't hearing things. It was most definitely his voice.
"No," she tried to stand up and watched the prince coming into her shelter, "What's wrong, Conor? Is something..."
He approached to her bed, his gesture almost uncertain, and motioned her to stay on bed. Then he sat down on the bed beside her, just like the times he came to sooth her from the terror of her countless nightmares. "Nothing. I just want to...apologize."
Ah, so, an apology. Catlin shook her head slightly. "Conor," she sighed. Although she enjoyed seeing him squirm (how evil of her), she shouldn't burden the prince with this. "It's all right. You have done no wrong. You didn't think I could pull it off and...maybe you were right."
His expression was sincere and his eyes were fixated on hers. "No," Conor shook his head, "I thought about it, Catlin. It wasn't the reason I didn't tell you."
"Then why?" She couldn't understand.
Conor inhaled, then choked out the words, "I wanted to know if you...um, how you'd take...it."
She blinked. "What?"
"I, um," the blond prince was blushing now, "wanted to know how you'd take it."
She blinked again, more than just puzzled. "Why?"
He touched her hand, entwining their fingers. "Because I'm a fool."
The knot in her heart was instantly dissolved at that. Slowly, she flashed him a mischievous smile. "Well, there's some truth in that."
"What?" feigning a hurt look, he leaned closer, "You dare to insult the prince?"
"What if I do?" In childlike frivolity, she held her chin high, trying to repress the laughter threatened to come out.
"Well, then," Conor was so close to her, his nose almost touched hers, "Punishment is in order."
All of sudden, she realized she was now lying on the bed, tackled by the prince. With a huge smile on his face, Conor started to tickle her mercilessly.
"Conor!" She rolled over, unable to control the laughter. "It's unfair! Conor!"
"Why? You started it!" He smiled playfully, obviously not planning on stopping any time soon.
"Alright, alright! I yield!" Tickling soon stopped and she looked up, meeting his gaze. He was above her, looking back at her as if he was memorizing every line of her face. In the dark, his eyes glistened like North Star of the night sky.
They were beautiful.
He murmured, "Forgive me."
She stopped breathing long ago. "There's nothing to forgive, Conor."
He brushed her cheek slightly with his finger, and she thought his touch almost burned her skin. She was surprised to find that something else was clouding his eyes now. Was it...panic? "I was afraid I've lost you. Tell me I haven't lost you."
Catlin looked straight to his eyes and told him the truth with all of her heart, "You haven't lost me. You'll never lose me. No matter what."
His expression gradually turned into one of his rare joyful expressions. "Fergus said it takes a heart of a man to really care for someone. Catlin, I..." Slowly, ever so slowly, he brushed away a strain of her hair from her forehead and smiled. "You have mine."
So this was it. This was how it felt like.
His smile. This was the smile that she had once saw in him, when he talked about his Claire. The smile that intoxicated her and captured her heart. This time, though, his smile was only meant for her. Only meant for her to see.
She let out the breath she was holding.
"And you, Conor, have mine."
And she smiled, knowing now that she was the reason for his blissful smile.