Part Three

Author's Note: Gentle Reader, I'm actually an avid Desmond/Penny shipper. Not only do I consider them the OTP of Lost, I consider them THE OTP of any fandom. However, I've chosen to write a Desmond/OFC here because of the inherent conflict such a pairing provides, plus I don't know enough about Penny at this point to feel comfortable writing her in a fic.

CIRCE sprang up as a friendly motivation technique and fic trade-off between me and the fanfic writer Pandora Nervosa. The Desmond Hume character, so beautifully realized and portrayed by the talented Henry Ian Cusick, represents one of my favorite heroic archetypes. That, combined with some brief commentary Mr. Cusick had in TV Guide about Hume's character on the island, has been my main inspiration for writing this fanfic. This is not an attempt to adhere to strict canon (obviously not since I have a pairing that doesn't exist in canon), though I'll work to keep it in line as much as possible. I hope you enjoy. On with the show.

CIRCE - Part Three

"For fleeting dreams have two gates; one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory." Homer – The Odyssey

Catherine stood outside Desmond's tent, admiring his handiwork. He'd settled slowly into their little community, welcomed by the survivors for his willingness to help and contribute to its daily survival. Still reserved and introspective, he'd moved his tent closer to the others and sometimes joined the group as they gathered in the kitchen for a cup of Hurley's bitter coffee.

The tent he rebuilt was much sturdier the second time around, poles lashed tightly together, the tarp stretched neatly over the top and down the sides so that it offered cooling shade in the midday heat and protected the interior from rain. Catherine stood at the entrance, clothes, soap and a small bottle of precious shampoo in her arms, as she watched him straighten his blankets on the soft sand and stuff his clothes into a backpack.

"Do you want to put your things in here? I've room."

That softly burred voice lapped against her senses. She suspected he could read the Wall Street Journal aloud and make it sound like poetry. His eyes, the color of aged whisky, regarded her with solemn intent.

"You don't mind carrying extra stuff?" She handed him her bundle.

"No. As long as you don't mind a few wrinkles later, yeah?"

A brief smile and flash of white teeth punctuated his warning. The smile, rarely seen and often tinged with sadness, charmed her as much as the Scots bur. "Hey, I'm all about wrinkles. I don't even own an iron back home."

The nervous jangle of anticipation danced through her insides. This was not a date, she admonished herself silently. Dates were things like dinners and movies, a meet-up at the nearby Starbucks, sometimes a party—usually with a guy dressed in business casual with stories to tell of his job, nasty divorce and weekends with his kids. Dates were not traipsing off into a jungle inhabited by creepy smoke creatures and people who kidnapped women and babies. And for the man she walked with toward the tree line, business casual was a dirty backpack, loosely buttoned and borrowed shirt and a loaded rifle slung across his back. He'd given her a pistol instead of roses for their first outing alone. Here, on this strange and dangerous island, romance was counted by bullets not flowers.

Since that first time, when he'd invited her to sit with him and eat, they met several times. She'd grown accustomed to seeing him in the makeshift kitchen, chatting with Hugo while he ate mango slices from the edge of a knife. She'd teased him that he'd cut off his tongue if he wasn't careful. The slow, confident smile curving his mouth instantly turned her legs to jelly. "I'm always careful, sister. I've good hands." Of that, she had no doubt.

They'd sat together on the beach, sometimes sharing a plate of food, sometimes just casual conversation. While curious, she'd been careful not to pry. Something about the Scotsman gave silent warning to others to keep their distance. He was a private man, and while he spoke easily with her on subjects of philosophy, sailing, the danger of the Others and a shared wish to get off the island, she still knew little about his personal life. Whatever tragedies or failures he'd experienced, they stayed locked behind those dark, amber eyes.

Desmond paused and gazed at her, puzzled when she halted at the tree line. "What's wrong? Did you forget something?"

"You said this pool wasn't too far. Are you talking about the one Sawyer and Kate swam in?"

He gave her a baffled look. "I don't know. Maybe. I've been there a few times when I've hunted but never saw those two. Why?"

She shuddered. "Not to put a damper on things, but if it's the pool I'm thinking of, there were a couple of dead bodies at the bottom. From the plane crash." Gooseflesh popped out on her arms. "I'm sorry, Desmond. Is there somewhere else we can go? I'd feel like I was swimming in someone's open grave."

He nodded and adjusted the rifle on his shoulder. The movement pulled his shirt to one side, widening the gap where he'd left it unbuttoned. Despite the creepy-crawlies lingering on her skin at the thought of swimming in the pool, Catherine couldn't help but admire Desmond's exposed chest with its brown skin and sprinkling of dark hair that dipped below the closed buttons.

"There's a stream further in, on the way to the Pearl. If you don't mind a few extra miles of walking. It's mostly shallow, but there are a few spots deep enough to submerge."

She breathed a sigh of relief. Shallow stream? Dead body pool? The choice was a no-brainer. "Lead the way. The walk will do me good."

The slash and snap of a machete blade against the undergrowth set a steady rhythm as Desmond hacked a path toward the stream. The hot sun gradually dimmed, and the heat eased as they passed beneath the shade of kiawe trees with their large fern-like leaves. Catherine followed silently behind her companion, careful to watch where she stepped in case she tripped on one of Rousseau's deadly traps. The sticky coating of salt and sand left on her skin from the kite run on the beach trickled off her in glistening streamers of sweat. Desmond looked as hot as she felt, the hair at his nape wet and black, a dark V of perspiration bisecting the middle of his back.

He crouched at the base of a gnarled hau tree and fished a water bottle out of the pack. "Drink?"

"Thanks." She took the bottle he offered. The tepid water tasted better than wine on her parched tongue. Desmond tipped his head and drank from his bottle, his mouth resting on the bottom edge of the opening so the water streamed into his mouth. Catherine watched as his throat flexed when he swallowed. The simple act bewitched her.

Good God, what the hell was the matter with her? She was acting like some kind of love-sick teen in the throes of a first crush. Catherine couldn't remember the last time she was infatuated with anyone or anything. Her son had been the main guy in her life since his birth.

The thought of Nicholas made her forget her admiration for Desmond's impressive physicality. She blinked away tears. No use in wailing about what she couldn't control at the moment, especially now in the middle of a jungle. The invisible steel band around her chest tightened, and she rubbed away the pain.

"You all right there, Catherine?" Dappled shade cast his bearded features in shadow.

Catherine wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. "I'm good. Just thinking. I miss ice, you know. I'd probably sell my soul right now for a tall glass of iced tea."

"Men have sold their souls for less." He screwed the cap back on his bottle and gestured to hers. "You done with that? We don't have much farther to go."

She took a last sip and handed her bottle back to him. He closed the pack, shouldered it across his back and adjusted the rifle.

They made it to the stream without incident, crossing over a clearing of tall grass that had Desmond motioning her to remain quiet and walk softly. His gaze shifted all around him, and Catherine followed his lead, peering into the tree line and nearby weeds for any untoward movement. She huffed and smiled when they again entered the shaded jungle and heard the welcoming bubble of the nearby stream.

"Can I talk now?" she whispered.

"Aye, though we've still some walking to do. The stream is deeper up the way. We'll stop there."

He took her hand, helping her navigate the slippery rocks lining the stream's edge. Catherine didn't truly need the help, but she kept her hand in his, enjoying the feel of his toughened palm against hers. They halted where the stream curved gently and forked at two places into deeper pools half hidden by fern fronds. A low ledge, its edges worn smooth by centuries of running water, stretched into the stream, offering a flat, wet seat.

In the semi-darkness of the trees' shade, Desmond was a lithe shadow as he crossed the stream to the ledge. Catherine gasped when she sank ankle-deep into the water. Shivers juddered up her calves and down her arms.

"Jesus, that's cold!" Her whisper slid into a loud exclamation but Desmond only laughed gently.

"This stream starts at those mountains behind us and runs to the sea. There's probably a bit of melted snow to cool us off in there."

Her frigid toes curled in her sodden tennis shoes. "What you heard me say about ice? I take it back. Every word."

Desmond shrugged off the rifle and slung the pack on a low hanging branch of a nearby tree. He kept the rifle close, slipping it back over his shoulder while he unpacked their supplies. Catherine followed his lead, keeping the pistol in easy reach while she stacked her towel, clean clothes and bath items on a nearby patch of dry ground.

"How modest are you, sister?"

That lyrical accent rolled across her shoulder blades and down her back. Catherine glanced over her shoulder and froze in the act of unwrapping soap from a wash cloth. Desmond perched on the edge of the flat rock. Nimble fingers worked swiftly at the three buttons holding the shirt closed. Fabric parted and fell away.

She'd admired him on the beach, when he'd emerged from the sea, streaming water and sunlight, his pants slung low on narrow hips, brown skin glistening. Catherine would never admit it to anyone, but her refusal to return his shirt had involved more than just the offer to do his laundry.

The sight of him now, painted in shade instead of sunlight, was no less impressive. She blinked, glanced at his amused features and promptly forgot his question.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Are you modest? I won't get very clean if I have to bathe in my clothes. Neither will you. We can take turns looking at the foliage while the other bathes." His mouth turned up at the corner in a rueful smile. "Or you can trust me to look discreetly away at the appropriate time."

Her cheeks heated. Why hadn't she thought of such an awkward moment? She wasn't a prude by any means, and what modesty she possessed had been thrown out the window when she gave birth to her son. Having her OB/GYN, a labor nurse and two medical students getting a thorough look at her tonsils from the opposite end of her body had obliterated any and all shyness about exposing herself. Catherine's hesitation came purely from vanity.

She was thirty-four and a mom. Pregnancy had left souvenirs, and age was adding its signature to her body. While in decent shape, especially now after months of surviving on the island, she was no hard body.

"This isn't a date, you idiot," she admonished silently. "Get over yourself."

"Catherine?"

She turned to fully face him and found refuge in teasing. "Can you trust me to look away discreetly?"

A faint sigh escaped her lips when the shirt slid off his shoulders. Desmond shrugged and carefully laid the shirt over a gardenia shrub. "I'm not much to look at, sister, unless you like scruffy and scratched." He touched the scrape on his nose gingerly. "But I won't blush if you take a peek or two."

He rose from the rock. "I'll give you some privacy, but stay close, and keep that pistol handy."

She watched as he strode a little farther downstream, rifle in one hand, bath paraphanelia and towel in another. He crouched at the water's edge, partially hidden by bushes and ferns growing along the stream bank. Catherine tried not to look too often to the spot from which the sounds of clothing being shed and water splashing emanated. She chuckled at the gasp of shock followed by a "Mother of God, that's cold!"

Her own bath was more strenuous than relaxing. Catherine stripped down to her underwear and waded slowly into the stream. Her exclamation was far less genteel than Desmond's but no less fervent.

Soft laughter drifted upstream. "A bit chilly, yeah?"

"If you tell me think of the Highlands, I'll throw a rock at you."

More laughter and splashing. "It's not so bad once you get used to it."

"I'll be a human popsicle before I ever got used to it," she muttered.

Sluicing icy water over her skin left her shivering. She dropped the soap twice from numb hands and seriously considered leaving shampoo in her hair to avoid dousing her head a second time. By the time she removed her underwear to bathe the rest of her body, her toes were turning blue, and her teeth snapped together from a persistent chatter.

She was reaching for her towel when a strange clanking noise, accompanied by a series of rapid clicks and a dull roar sounded to her left. A rushing tingle covered her scalp, and she promptly forgot the water's freezing temperatures.

Bodies in trees, Shannon beaten to death, Eko tossed around like a rag doll by a monstrously vicious, enraged child…dear God, the smoke thing!

For a split second, Catherine froze in a crouch, unable to speak or move. "Desmond," she squeaked on a faint rush of air and reached for her pistol. His name had barely left her lips when he suddenly burst through the concealing foliage at a dead run, fleet as a deer and naked as Adam before the fall. She barely registered his appearance before he reached down and yanked her into a standing position in one smooth motion. Spurred by an adrenaline rush of terror, Catherine kept her balance and raced after him, heedless of the whip-like branches that lashed her legs and torso as they tore through the bushes.

Behind them, the clicks and roars grew louder. Trees cracked and smashed to the ground in the wake of an unseen pursuer. Catherine gasped in surprise when Desmond came to a near stop, whirled and shoved her down into the concealed space of a giant hau tree trunk. It was a cramped hiding place, and he wedged himself in with her. Soft dirt cushioned her back, and her legs wrapped around his, making room so that he could hide them both in the tree's sanctuary.

A heartbeat thundered in her ears, beat against her bare breasts. Catherine couldn't tell if it was Desmond's or hers, but he breathed in tandem with her—frightened pants as they both watched from their meager shelter as a sinuous black cloud emerged from the jungle.

She'd never seen the creature first hand until now and understood why others feared it. Some in camp called it the smoke monster, but it was unlike any smoke she'd ever seen. More like a black wraith or living shadow. Purposeful. Stealthy. Alien. It swirled over the stream and paused before descending on her supplies. Shadowy tendrils stretched from the main body, touched her clothes and the pistol before rising to undulate midair as if searching the terrain for their owner.

Catherine's fingers dug into Desmond's arms. In the darkness, he was nothing more than a tense pressure of heat and stiff muscles as he pressed her into the soft ground. She didn't look at him, too afraid to make any untoward movement that might alert their hunter to their whereabouts.

Moments stretched into years as they watched the creature roil and twist in the air before drifting into the trees. The clicks faded, and soon Catherine heard the return of bird whistles and the rustle of small animals in jungle's lush understory.

Desmond's full weight collapsed on her. Catherine gasped, startled. The weight instantly shifted off her, leaving only the touch of skin on bare skin. She couldn't see his face, but his voice was contrite.

"My apologies, sister. Are you all right?"

"I think so, though I was sure I was going to pee on us both when that thing came out of the jungle."

Soft laughter rumbled in the confined shelter. Catherine felt it vibrate into her chest and ribs, made her achingly aware that she lay beneath Desmond without a stitch of clothing between them. She searched frantically for something to say to keep the moment from getting more awkward than it already was.

"Do you think it's gone?"

A whisper of warm breath skated across her hairline and down her right cheek. "We'll stay here a little longer just in case, but we can't stay under these tree roots forever." Again that apologetic timbre crept into his voice. "I'm sorry, Catherine."

Her hand followed the path of bicep, up to a firm shoulder. His hair was surprisingly soft and curled around her fingers as she followed the line of his neck to his jaw. His beard was coarser, and beneath the wiry hairs healing abrasions scraped against her questing fingertips.

"Why are you apologizing, Desmond? You saved us from that thing. Trust me; I'll lay in the dirt buck naked all day if that's what it takes to survive." She tried to instill humor in her statement, but it fell flat, bled away into an expectant silence.

So dark in this tree hollow, so warm. She shared the space with Desmond, yet he seemed to fill it with his presence, all heat and leanly muscled male tinged with the scent of fear and something new—an awareness that slowly replaced the fear.

He tensed anew, and Catherine felt every twitch in his body as he grew quiet, still. She wondered if he sensed those things she did—the smallest slide of flesh against perspiring flesh, his hip bones, sharp and angular pressing into her pelvis, the ripple of a thigh muscle as he shifted his weight once more. They both gasped when the movement pressed him closer to her instead, and her thighs closed instinctively to cradle his erection.

Just reaction, she reasoned. An instinctive response to a near-fatal moment. Her body blissfully disregarded her mind's logic as her hips rose to rub the stiff cock nestled against her. Her breasts tingled, her nipples stiffened to tight points as his chest hair rubbed along the sensitive surfaces. Trickles of sweat slipped between her fingers as she cupped Desmond's jaw. Her other hand traveled his back, coming to rest in the middle where the slope of muscle curved into the shallow chasm that marked his spine.

A breathless moan tickled her lower lip. "Catherine." And his voice hummed with need and a terrible anguish.

"It's alright, Desmond," she reassured him in the blind dark.