Alista wearily walked into the side entrance to the lodge. She was dirty. She smelled. She itched. Around her the little group of vacation survivalists chatted happily even though they were more worn out, dirty and smelly than she was. A week of teaching urbanites how to live not only without air conditioning and Starbucks, but without tents and packaged food had left her wore out.
She rubbed her palm against her hip as she automatically answered the questions they asked her. Questions she heard from almost every group for the past six years. Questions pinning down little bits of information they were afraid they remembered wrong; questions on where to find certain things; questions about more advanced classes. A new question, prompted by her rubbing her hip - how was her hip? She smiled in gratitude at the energetic, tiny man who'd asked. "A deep bruise. It'll be fine. Thank you." Actually, the hip was already fine, but she couldn't admit to that.
Inside the lodge, she stopped the group and raised her hand for silence. When the group was silent, she grinned. "You all did great." She saw doubt on some faces. "No, really, you did. I've been doing this for over six years so don't compare yourselves to me. I have every confidence that if, somehow, you end up lost in the woods without camp gear that you'll be able to survive until rescue shows up. If it shows up quick. Now, if you'll drop the gear over there," she indicated some huge laundry bins, "you can go shower and collapse in your beds. Enjoy the rest of the day and all your laundry should be cleaned and ready to go in the morning. If you are interested in another course, Andi, in the lobby, can give you information and sign you up."
She turned and headed down the hall toward her room eagerly looking forward to her own shower and bed. She loved her job, but some of these groups were more challenging than others. Some people just weren't the outdoor type, but being frequent flyers they worried about crashing and so they came out here to try and learn enough to have a fighting chance at survival. Some learned; some, she decided, would just die given that they survived the crash in the first place.
"Hey, Lista," Paul shouted behind her.
With a sigh, she turned around. Her weariness obvious in the slight droop of her shoulders and the slower than usual movements. "Yes, Paul?"
"There are some people here wanting to talk to you." Paul made it sound ominous.
Lista shifted slightly. Her body reacting to the threat of danger. "Who are they?"
"Two men and a woman. Two look official and one of the men just looks nervous. Won't say what about, but they were willing to wait for you to get back."
"Wait? Have they been here long?"
"Showed up yesterday morning. Booked rooms. They're waiting in the small conference room."
"I haven't even showered yet. Whoever they are they can wait a little longer." She turned and headed for her room. Who would be needing to talk to her specifically bad enough to wait a day and a half for her to get back. Surely any of the guides could answer their questions? Ah well, some people were just that particular. Official, though… Corporate types perhaps having heard of her from someone who had been through the program with her. Maybe, but Paul apparently thought it was something odd or he wouldn't have warned her the way he had. He had a bad feeling about them and Paul's intution about people and situations were worth listening to, but what could she do except go see who they were and what they wanted.
She entered her rooms and stripped the filthy clothes off, dropping them into a laundry basket next to the bathroom. Exhaution beat down on her as she turned on the shower and adjusted the water. She stood under the steaming hot shower letting it pound out the kinks in her muscles. A week of teaching folks that barely knew how to set up a camp how to survive with hardly any gear. One woman had almost chopped her leg instead of the tree limb and another hadn't remembered to check the underside of the mushrooms to see if they were poisonous or not and had thrown up for six hours. The tumble down the hillside by the young man had caused an impromptu class on how to spot hand and foot holds or how to create them if nonexistent in order to get back up the hill.
Finally, clean and somewhat re-energized she headed toward the small conference room. Hopefully this wouldn't take long and she could get a decent meal before her stomach ate her spine. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
"Okay, what's so important I can't eat and sleep first."
She stopped stunned as they turned to face her. Blue eyes. Wide, nervous blue eyes. Sky blue eyes twinkling with laughter, midnight blue with desire…Rodney. She felt his gaze like a punch in her gut. He wasn't lanky anymore; he had filled out, broad shoulders making him look solid, dependable which she knew was a lie. Eyes filled with regret which she did not believe to be sincere.
She didn't realize she'd spoken his name aloud until he lifted a nervous hand. "Hey."
Hurt slammed into her, blurring her vision. She blinked the room back into focus. The hurt was followed by defensive fury. "Hey," she hissed. "Hey? Fourteen years and you show up with 'hey'?" Her eyes narrowed. Her whole body trembled. "Get out."
She turned to leave. Her hand closed over the door knob. Twisted. The door began to open.
"Alista, stop." He sounded anxious. "Please."
She paused, but didn't turn around. "I'm not interested in anything you have to say Rodney McKay. Just…leave."
She pulled the door further open.
"It's not that simple."
At that she half turned giving a short, bitter bark of laughter. "Sure it is." She snapped as her heart crumbled around old fracture lines. "You just walk out the door and don't come back. You remember how to do that, right?"
He flushed at the inference. "Just listen to us for a second."
"Just listen. Let me explain. Try to understand." She flung the words like acid at him. The memory of standing in their living room, begging him to stay burned within her. She felt tears welling up and angrily turned back toward the door. "Go away!"
"This isn't about you and me." He snapped.
"No," she replied bitterly. Her head bowed slightly under the weight of pain this man brought with him. "We didn't qualify for a discussion, did we?"
He flinched like she had slapped him and looked at his bemused companions. "I told you me coming was a terrible idea."
The woman frowned. "Ms. Steward, I'm Colonel Samantha Carter and if you could give us just a few minutes of your time. We need…" Sam began in a rush as Alista stepped into the doorway.
"Colonel?" Alista swung her gaze to Rodney. "The military?"
"We need your help." The other man interjected.
"You need people trained in wilderness survival? I thought the military did that?"
"No," Carter grinned slightly at her sarcasm. "We need your…unique type of help."
Alista paled. "You told them?" She gasped, staring at Rodney like he had betrayed her a second time. "Get. Out." She left slamming the door shut behind her.
On the other side, she leaned against the door and started shaking. Rodney. Fourteen years and the sight of him hurt like it had been yesterday. If she didn't know that she couldn't have a heart attack, she would have sworn the pain she felt was one. She thought she had finally started getting over him. Apparently, she had lied to herself very well. And he had told the military about her!
She heard the other man say, "That went well."