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A Handful of Hope

Chapter Text

******************************************

Julia Richmond was suspended by her tied hands on an industrial loading hook. Her upper body was exposed, save for her bra and streaks of blood snaked down her injured arm. She was gasping for breath, trying to get some air after god knew how many blows the guards had landed on her stomach and sides. She was fairly sure she had a few cracked ribs.

“So, you’re an intelligence specialist with Section 20? In that case, you are just the right person to tell me what 20 know of our plans,” Mei stated, looking Richmond over in  interest.

Richmond glared at Mei from her position. “I know that you are crazy enough to kill your own generals and risk an international incident,” she spat, trying to hide the pain each breath caused.

“Do you know what this is?” Mei asked casually, showing an object that looked like a police baton. “It’s a stun baton, designed to deliver a shock upon contact. Our soldiers are rather skillful at using it to acquire information.” Mei handed the baton to one of her men and walked right up to Julia. “Surely, we don’t need to resort to such unpleasantries?”

“Julia Richmond, Sergeant…” she started reciting, looking defiantly at the other woman.

“Fine, have it your way,” Mei said with a tone that almost sounded like pity and turned away, nodding at the guard.

No longer able to mask her pain, Richmond screamed as the electric baton made contact with her skin for the first time.

******************************************

The interrogation had already lasted for hours. Mei knew they would have to move soon, Section 20 would surely be looking for them. Richmond howled in agony as two of her captors held her still in a kneeling position, while a third prodded the gunshot in her arm with a small knife.

With a nod from Mei, they stopped and hoisted Julia back up to hang by her arms.

“Be reasonable, Julia,”  Mei said in rebuke, walking up to the younger woman again. “You’re a soldier. There’s no reason for you to prolong your agony. Why should you subject yourself to this”?

Richmond’s head hung limply against her chest, every breath feeling like a stab. “Stop, please stop,” she begged weakly. She tried to focus her thoughts, knowing that Damien and the others would not abandon her.  But could they find her?  They had no way to track her.

Richmond let out a moan as Mei pulled her head up by her hair roughly. “Just tell me what Section 20 know and all of this will stop. It can all end right now,” Mei said with an almost menacing note to her voice.

Richmond said nothing, averting her eyes from the razor-sharp look Mei directed at her.

“My men are very good at what they do, Julia.  They can take you to the point where you wish you were dead, but you won’t die.  You’ll be begging for death eventually.”

“I don’t know… anything,” Richmond replied tiredly.

Mei let go of Richmond and nodded for the men to continue.

Richmond tried to steel herself against what was to come, but only screamed as the pain from a new torture implement hit her. She could only hope for unconsciousness or rescue.

******************************************

As they approached the site a couple of hundred yards away, they heard it. Screams of pain. It was Julia. Scott raised his fist in the air, stopping their movement. The screaming continued with intermittent pauses.

Stonebridge looked worriedly over at his partner. Scott had been on edge ever since they’d begun desperately searching for the the location where Julia had been taken. Now, Scott looked forward intensely, his head and rifle scanning his surroundings, but Michael could tell Julia's agonizing screams were affecting him. His breathing was rapid, his hands gripping his rifle harder than normal; subtle changes, but meaningful nonetheless. Despite the rough operator exterior, Scott had a softer side that he kept well hidden: only sometimes would you catch  glimpses of it. Michael had seen it with Esther, maybe with the Mossad agent, Rebecca Levi, and now definitely with Richmond. What Scott and Richmond had wasn't a relationship of friends with benefits, but something deeper.  Instant family, Scott himself had called it.

"Scott," Stonebridge whispered and reached out to squeeze his friend's shoulder.

"What?!" Scott growled, turning his head back angrily. Stonebridge could see the turmoil and pain on Scott's face.

"Hey, she's alive. And we'll get her back," he said, emphasizing his words, hoping his voice sounded steadier than he felt. At least now this was going to be a rescue, rather than the recovery mission he had been dreading. But time was still of the essence.

"Sorry, Mikey. Didn't mean to snap at you," Damien said, surprisingly subdued. There was no trace of the normal cockiness in his voice.

Stonebridge just gave a slight shake of his head, dismissing Scott's apology. "Let's move out. The sooner we get there, the sooner this ends. Let's go get our girl back, huh?" He gave Scott's shoulder another reassuring squeeze before lifting his rifle to the ready and taking the lead.

******************************************

Mei turned back from the door after speaking to one of her men. She looked at Richmond once again. The younger woman was still suspended by her arms, now barely conscious.

“It looks like we will have to leave. My contacts have informed me that your friends might be looking for you and besides, I have a flight to catch. You’re coming with us, I do not think you have told us everything you know,” Mei said to  Richmond before issuing orders to her men to take Richmond down.

“No, no…” Richmond begged as the men unceremoniously lowered the hook holding her up. She couldn’t suppress a moan of pain as they started half-dragging her towards the vehicle outside.

******************************************

Edging closer to the building, Scott and Stonebridge noticed movement on the yard and at the vehicles on the other side. Stonebridge gave the signal to halt and knelt. Scott slowly moved next to him to see what was happening.

“Some of them are leaving. I can’t see who is in the other vehicles, but the first one has some armed Koreans,” Stonebridge whispered.

“We have to move out. Julia might be in the building,” Scott replied tersely, observing the movement through his rifle scope.

“Let’s go.”

******************************************

Scott entered the large hangar-like room quickly, scanning his corners, knowing Stonebridge was behind him scanning his own sector. He didn’t see any hostiles, but the sight in front of him stopped him in his tracks. “ I’m going to fucking kill them!” Scott could feel the red-hot rage bubble inside him.

He saw a large hook and blood drops on the floor beneath it. Close by was a table. On it, he could see a bloody knife and a blowtorch. He took a deep breath, trying to beat back the information on various torture methods that flooded his thoughts. His heart ached at the thought that they had been used on Richmond. “Oh, Julia. Hold on, just hold on.”

“Clear,” Stonebridge called out.

“FUCK! She’s not here, they still have her, Michael! Why does everything have to be so fucked?!” Scott shouted angrily.

“They just left, we can still catch up. The Jeep is outside, come on!”

“You’re driving. Their asses are mine!” Scott said to him, already jogging out.

“You got it,” Michael replied, following close behind his friend. “ Zero, this is Bravo One, no sign of Bravo Three. A 3-vehicle convoy left the area 4 minutes ago, heading South. Bravo One and Two in pursuit.”

Roger, Bravo One. Go get her. Our ETA to you is approximately 20 minutes, ” came Locke’s calm reply over the comms.

Copy that, Zero .”

******************************************

Perched up on the passenger seat with his rifle resting on the windshield, Scott scanned the road. His trigger finger rested on the side of the rifle’s lower receiver, hoping they would catch a glimpse of the convoy soon. He was itching to put a bullet into whoever had Julia. He had seen the blood, he knew she was hurt. A small voice in his head kept telling him that at as long as she was with them, they would most likely keep her alive. Or so he hoped.  A faint cloud of dust still hung in the air, which meant they were catching up. Through the dust he spotted something in front of them on the side of the road. At first glance, he thought it was just a large rock in the shade, but looking through his rifle scope he made a sickening realization: it was a person.

“STOP! STOP! STOP!” he shouted at Stonebridge over the noise of the engine. Stonebridge slammed on the brakes, bringing the Jeep to a halt on the dirt road.

Scott looked at the sight in front of him. He took in the clothes, the blood on them. It was Richmond.

Momentarily frozen, Scott’s could only look at the her. She wasn’t moving. It was his undoing “Oh no, please no,” he prayed aloud. Please let her be alive.

Scott jumped out of the jeep and sprinted over to where she lay. Tactical caution be damned, Michael would cover them if anything presented a threat. Dropping to his knees beside her, he reached to touch her blood streaked cheek. His hand was trembling.

“Julia,” he whispered, fearing the worst.

"No more, please!" Richmond flinched as if trying to protect herself from blows she was expecting to fall. Scott touched her shoulder carefully.

“Julia, it’s me. It’s me.” Scott spoke quietly, his voice cracking. He carefully maneuvered Richmond onto her back so that he could see her. Tears came to his eyes.

”Damien?”  He heard her whimper in a pain-filled voice as she sought eye contact with him.

“Yeah, it’s me baby, shhh. We’re gonna get you out of here,” he reassured her and cupped her cheek.

Inside, he was a mess . Give him terrorists with nukes or bioweapons and he was fine. But he wasn’t prepared for this: seeing the woman he loved in pain.  He felt helpless, defenseless. She was hurting and he couldn’t take it away. He had never seen such naked fear in her eyes. Swallowing heavily, he blinked back the tears. This wasn’t the time or the place for him to break down. “Get a grip. Focus on the mission. She’s the mission. She needs you.”

“It hurts,” Richmond cried out weakly, her right arm clutching her middle.

“Shhh, it’s ok. Let me see. It’s ok. Just lie still,” he shushed her, caressing her forehead tenderly.

Oh god, what have they done to you,” Scott thought, as he let his eyes travel over her.

Richmond’s left arm was sticky with blood, from what Scott assumed was a gunshot wound. She had a cut on her cheek, electrical burn marks dotted her body and angry red burns crisscrossed her torso. Blood covered her abdomen, starting to pool beside her. He trailed his hands around her chest and back, desperately trying to find where the blood was coming from.

“Fuck!” Blood, too much blood.” “Mike, I need that medkit! She’s been hit!”  Scott bellowed over his shoulder as he lifted Richmond to cradle her in his arms.

“Sorry, baby. I’ve gotta do it, I ‘ve got to try to stop the bleeding,” he said apologetically, pressing one hand hard on the wound he had located.

Richmond moaned in pain and squeezed her eyes shut, burying her head against Scott’s chest. He felt her grip his tactical vest in a death grip with her uninjured hand, holding on for dear life. Scott murmured soft apologies, knowing the pressure only added to the pain she must already have felt. But she didn’t react to his voice, still trapped somewhere he could not reach. Listening, he could make out the words “please, no”.

Sensing her fear, Scott placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Shhh, I’m here. I’ve got you.” Trying to calm her, he leaned into her so that  only she could hear him and whispered softly, “Julia, open your eyes. Open your eyes.” The pained look he saw in them brought a lump to his throat. Sgt Julia Richmond, one of the most capable soldiers he knew, his tough-as-nails love, was broken. He didn’t want to think about what they had done to her to break her.

“I’ve got you, you’re safe. They won’t hurt you anymore, I promise.” he continued. She didn’t reply, only gave a faint nod and closed her eyes.

******************************************

Moments later Stonebridge dropped to his knees beside his teammates, placing a medical kit beside him. Richmond trembled in Scott’s arms, trying to move away from Stonebridge.

“Shh, It’s just Michael. It’s Michael,” Scott soothed her.

“Hey, Julia,” Stonebridge said, placing a hand carefully on her knee to show her he meant no harm. “It’s going to be OK, we’re going to get you out of here.”

Taking in her injuries, Stonebridge exchanged a worried look wordlessly with Scott as he opened the medkit and exchanged his tactical gloves for medical ones. He looked at Scott’s hand pressing down on Richmond’s abdomen, her blood still flowing through the fingers of Scott’s gloved hand. Looking into Scott’s eyes, he could see his friend’s fear over the woman in his arms.  “I didn’t find an exit wound,” Scott whispered urgently.

“Damien, I need you to ease her to the ground so I can dress the wound, but maintain the pressure,” Stonebridge said while getting an Israeli bandage from the medkit and tearing open the package. Scott nodded and gently lowered Richmond to the ground, her head resting on his thigh.

Turning to Richmond, Michael continued, “Julia, I’m going to put a dressing on the wound now, yeah. It will hurt, but we need to stop the bleeding. I’m sorry.” Richmond gave a small nod but didn’t say anything. That worried Michael: he could see she was barely conscious and losing blood.

A dark red rivulet flowed from the hole and made its way down her side as Scott removed his hand to let Stonebridge place the dressing on the wound. Scott took off his bloody gloves, throwing them angrily behind him and took Richmond’s hand, whispering something softly to her.

As Stonebridge put on the dressing and applied pressure, Julia gave an agonized cry before passing out from the pain. He knew unconsciousness wasn’t good since they needed to monitor her, but inside he was also relieved that hopefully she wouldn’t feel so much pain, since he still had to address the rest of her injuries.  He hoped the Colonel and Martinez would get there soon. They needed to get Richmond to a hospital, fast.

“Give her something for the pain, Mikey. Please. I can’t stand seeing her like this,” Scott pleaded with his partner, while looking at Richmond lying unconscious between them.

Stonebridge hated himself for what he was about to say, although he knew it was the right thing. “I can’t, I’m sorry.”

“What the fuck do you mean you can’t?!” Scott yelled. “The morphine is right there!” He nodded at the injector in the medkit. Michael suspected that if it hadn’t been for Julia’s head resting on Scott’s thigh, Scott probably would have decked him on the spot.

Stonebridge could see the anger and hurt in Scott’s eyes. “I hate seeing her in pain too, but we don’t know the extent of her injuries,” he reasoned empathetically with his friend. “Giving her the morphine might make the situation worse. And I know neither of us wants that,” Michael carefully made his point.

Scott didn’t say anything to that, his glare seemingly softening. Stonebridge could hear his shuddering intake of breath. Knowing he had gotten through to Scott, he went on to carefully bandage Richmond’s burns and dress the wound on her arm. Stonebridge could see how tormented Scott was. He was a professional, but there is only so much you can detach yourself. Michael knew that from personal experience, briefly thinking back to Kerry. Sometimes, emotions threatened to take over.

Having bandaged the worst of her injuries, Stonebridge got up to one knee and took another look at Richmond. “ She’s in risk of shock from the blood loss” he thought to himself, taking in her almost bare upper body. Michael got up and went to the jeep, trying to find something to cover Richmond with. Looking over the backseat of the Jeep he saw a denim shirt lying there. It would have to do.

He returned to Scott and Richmond and knelt down. “Here, wrap this around her,” he said to Scott, giving him the shirt. “We need to try and keep her warm.”

“Yeah” Scott replied and very gently covered Richmond’s upper body with the shirt, careful not to disturb her injuries.

“You stay here with Julia. I’ll go watch the perimeter and update Locke,” Stonebridge said while putting his tactical gloves back on and picking up his rifle. Scott nodded absentmindedly at him, his eyes clearly on Julia’s still form. Stonebridge walked away, observing the surroundings through his rifle scope. Next, he toggled on his comms:

Zero, this is Bravo One. What is your ETA? We found Bravo Three, but she needs immediate medical attention, over.”

“Bravo One, Zero. We’re about 10 minutes out. How is she ?” Locke asked, worry evident in his voice even over the comms.

“It’s bad, Boss. She has a gunshot wound to her abdomen and clear signs of torture,” Stonebridge replied solemnly, dropping normal signals protocol for a moment.

Roger that. Hang on, we’re almost there. Out.”

Having updated Locke, Stonebridge looked over at Scott and Richmond from his place by the Jeep. Scott was cradling Richmond again and occasionally leaned in to whisper to her.

Scott saw Stonebridge scanning the surroundings and he faintly heard Michael talk over the comms but he couldn’t make out the exact words. Not that it mattered, he knew the cavalry was on the way. He only hoped it wouldn’t take long. The only thing that mattered to him right now was Julia, who let out another quiet moan. She was conscious again but very quiet, apart from the occasional whimper.

“Shhh, I know it hurts, baby. I know, I’m sorry. Stay with me, OK? Help is on the way,” Scott spoke, rocking Richmond slightly in his arms, trying to reassure her and keep her awake. Her breathing seemed to be getting faster and her skin cooler. He knew the signs of shock. He had more personal experience with it than he wanted. That could only mean she was bleeding internally.  “I’m holding you to that dinner, remember? Just you and me, hmm?” he whispered, placing a kiss in her hair. Richmond said something faintly, what sounded like a small sound of affirmation.  Her hand sought out his shirt blindly and gripped it. He could make out his name that almost escaped like a plea from her lips. He tightened his arms protectively around her and hushed her softly “I’ve got you. Don’t try to talk. You’re going to be OK.” Whether he kept saying that more to her benefit or to his own, he couldn’t tell. “ Please get here fast, Colonel,” he prayed silently.

Chapter Text

They had gotten Richmond to the hospital and the doctors had taken her from Scott’s arms and into a treatment room. One of the English-speaking doctors briefly explained to them that they needed to assess Richmond’s injuries to get her to surgery and it was not allowed to have family or colleagues in the room.

Locke nodded at Stonebridge as he pulled Scott to the side to speak to him privately. ”Scott, you got to her in time. Richmond’s a fighter,” Locke said, his voice sympathetic. “I know you’re seeing each other and that you care for her, deeply,” he went on.  Scott stared at Locke with the look of a deer in the headlights and was about to protest, but swallowed his words as Locke brought his hand up in a placating gesture. “Don’t worry, I won’t force you to leave here. Your relationship hasn’t affected your work so far. You can stay here and wait with Michael, since Martinez and I need to head back to the crib to alert the Thai authorities about Mei.  She’s still out there. There’s a risk she might still come after us. But you update us if there’s any changes in Richmond’s condition. Am I clear?”

Somewhat dumbfounded that he didn’t need to argue with his commanding officer, Scott just nodded. “Yes, sir. And thank you.”

Locke gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and went to exchange a few words with Stonebridge before leaving.

Scott walked back to the hallway, looking into the treatment room. Stonebridge stepped in front of him, physically blocking Scott’s way to the room. “She’s in good hands, mate. Leave the medics to their work,” he said in a reassuring tone, placing his hand against Scott’s chest to keep him from going further.

Through the door’s window Scott could see the medical team trying to assess Richmond’s wounds, but she was trying to get away from the gurney, resisting the nurses and doctors who tried to help her. He heard her shouting at them and saw Richmond weakly try to take a swing at one of the nurses with her good arm, despite all of her injuries.

That was it. Scott knew he needed to get in there. “Fuck this,” he cursed under his breath and pushed his way past Stonebridge, already leaning on the door and about to enter the room when he felt Stonebridge restrain him with arms across his chest and neck in what was almost a bearhug.

“Don’t go in there! You’ll get in the way.” Scott heard Stonebridge’s voice next to his head, firmly stopping his movement with a hold. “Don’t,” Stonebridge repeated sharply.

“Fuck you, Michael! Let me go!” Scott shouted in a rage, struggling against Stonebridge’s hold.

“Don’t get in their way! Let’s just stay here.” Michael tried to reason with his partner and slightly loosened his grip.

“Fuck you! Can’t you see, she won’t let them help her!” Scott replied, anger but also anxiety clear in his voice.

“Let me go, Michael, before I fucking beat you to a pulp right here,” he continued and tore himself free of Stonebridge’s grip.

************************************************************

Pushing his way into the room, Scott made a beeline for the gurney Richmond was on. She was trying to keep the nurses and doctors away from her, struggling to sit up. Scott leaned in close to her.

“Hey. Julia… look at me,” he spoke softly into her ear and carefully brushed her hair away from her cheek.

“Damien...” She nearly sobbed , turning her head towards him.

“Yeah, I’m here,“ he went on quietly, wanting to ease the terror he saw in her eyes. Richmond let out a whimper, and squeezed her eyes shut briefly. Scott felt his heart shatter into pieces, seeing Julia like this. “ I’m going to kill Mei, or whatever her name is…very slowly. That bitch is going to pay,” he thought briefly, when Julia’s pleading words to the doctors not to touch her brought him back to reality. “Please, don’t let them…” Julia implored him. Scott glared at the medical staff to get them to back away for a moment.

“Shhh, listen to me…Listen to me,” Scott soothed Julia, tenderly caressing her cheek, feeling her lean into his touch and trying to move closer to him. “These people are trying to help you. They won’t hurt you…It’s going to be ok.” Scott looked at her face, lines of pain covering her pretty features. He felt he would do anything at that moment to ease her pain and reassure her. He would rob a bank, he’d kill someone, he’d die himself, if that’s what it took. As long as Julia stopped hurting.

He locked eyes with her and continued, his voice full of emotion, no sign of the bravado or assertiveness that was usually there. “You need to let them help you. Please…They’ll give you something for the pain soon. It’s going to be ok, baby.”  Scott could tell the blood loss was starting to take its toll. Richmond was only semi-conscious now, her skin was clammy under his touch and her pulse thready as he moved his hand to her neck. Still, he felt her relax as he kept talking to her. He caught the eye of one of the doctors, who nodded at him with what seemed like gratitude and relief. Scott knew they needed to prepare her for surgery, so he leaned close to her, their foreheads nearly touching, and whispered, “I need to give them some room, but I’ll be right outside, OK?”  He felt her squeeze his hand weakly. With one final look at Richmond, Scott left the room, letting the medical team do what they needed.

Once outside, Scott violently kicked one of the larger trash cans in the hallway, leaving a sizeable dent in it. “Fuck!”  He cursed angrily. Stonebridge took a step towards Scott, but he waved Stonebridge off, assuring Michael with a look that he wasn’t going to wreck the place.  He paced the corridor outside the treatment room, occasionally glancing at the door. He still remembered how Richmond had gripped his shirt, going in and out of consciousness and clinging to him as they got to the hospital, afraid of the strangers who surrounded them. He had murmured assurances of safety to her, intending to follow into the treatment room then but the doctors barred him entry and gave a long explanation in Thai that he barely understood. Having vented his anger for the moment, Scott slumped into one of the chairs in the waiting area and buried his head in his hands. “ You should’ve found her sooner. You didn’t get to her soon enough. You failed,” the voice inside his head berated him.   There was so much blood. She has to survive. Please, don’t let her die,” he prayed to whatever deity would listen.

That’s when the first sob escaped. Scott pressed his palms against his eyes, but they didn’t stop the tears. He cried for Julia and her pain that he had just seen. He cried for his own inability to ease that pain; his failure. Quiet sobs shook his shoulders. As Scott cried, he suddenly felt a familiar hand land on his shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. Stonebridge didn’t say anything; just stood there, covering his six and watched over him in his moment of weakness. That’s how it was. Despite the occasional bickering and arguments, they always had each other’s backs when things got tough.

************************************************************

The surgery had lasted for hours and the surgeon had come by an hour ago to tell them that Richmond had survived and was now in the recovery room. Scott was again sitting with his head in his hands, seemingly lost in his thoughts. Stonebridge could easily guess what thoughts occupied his mind at the moment. He had watched is partner alternatively pacing around the room, wondering aloud how long the surgery could last, and sitting in the chair, looking almost despondent as they waited. Michael walked over to Scott and spoke quietly, as not to startle him. “Damien, go to the hotel. Get cleaned up and get some sleep.”

“I can’t leave her, Mike,” Scott replied, looking up at Stonebridge, desperation and exhaustion creeping into his voice.

Michael looked at the man in front of him. Scott’s eyes were bloodshot from the lack of sleep. His face had grime and sand still sticking to his five o’clock shadow. There was a streak of blood visible on his  neck: Michael thought it to be Julia’s as she had had her hand around him when he had carried her. His shirt and tactical pants had large stains of blood on them, also Julia’s. He had tried to wash his hands, but there was still dirt and blood under his fingernails. Stonebridge knew Scott would collapse under the toll of the events soon if he couldn’t be convinced to go to the hotel for a while. They’d been through tough and long operations before but this was different. This was personal for Scott. And that changed things. Scott was tight as a tripwire.

With a sigh, Stonebridge sat down in a chair next to Scott and went on: “You heard the doctor, she’s out of surgery. They’ll keep her in recovery for hours still to monitor her. Go to the hotel and try to get some rest. You can update the Colonel on Richmond’s condition. I’ll keep watch here and let you know if anything changes,” he assured Scott, hoping that his offer to stay would convince Scott to go and try to rest. If only for a little while.

“I can’t….”

“Oi, listen to me,” Michael interrupted, perhaps a bit too forcefully. “She’s going to need you when she wakes up,” he went on in a softer tone, remembering the fear he saw in Scott’s eyes as he cradled Julia on the way to the hospital and the way she had clung to Scott, seeking safety in his arms. “You’re no use to her if you’re exhausted. Now, please go. Go take a shower, try to get some sleep,” he finished, giving Scott’s shoulder a small push with his hand to get him moving.

************************************************************

The bell of the elevator dinged, dragging Scott out of his thoughts. He felt odd when stepping through the elevator doors; almost dizzy. Luckily, he had sent Finn back to the States when they had begun their search of Julia, despite the boy’s protests. As much as he wanted to reconnect, this was no place for a teenager, especially now.

Maybe Michael was right, as he often was.  Maybe he should get a shower and try to get some rest. Still, the thought of leaving Julia in the hospital without seeing her was eating at him.

Scott wearily knocked on the door of the hotel room that he knew the crib was in. A moment later Martinez opened the door.

“Hey,” she greeted him softly and allowed him to pass her.

Scott mumbled a reply and walked a few steps into the hotel room before heavily plopping down on one of the chairs.

Locke looked at Scott over his glasses from the computer he was hunched over.

“Damien…” he said cautiously, his attention now clearly on the younger man.

It didn’t escape Scott’s attention that Locke had addressed him by his first name, something he rarely did with him. It was usually “Scott” or “Sergeant”. Scott could hear the worry in Locke’s voice, his whole countenance was different. The normally visible gleam of positivity in his commanding officer’s eyes wasn’t there. Scott had never seen Locke this serious.

“Richmond survived the surgery,” Scott blurted out. “Her condition is serious and they’ll keep her in recovery for some hours still. Stonebridge stayed at the hospital.”

“Thank God,” Scott heard Martinez from somewhere behind him.

Locke said nothing yet. He stood up and removed his glasses, twirling them between his fingers. He waited for Scott to continue.

Scott steeled himself. He had to tell his team, his friends, just what the doctor had told him a little over an hour ago. A list that had burned itself into his memory and tormented his mind since he’d heard it.  It had been on a continuous loop from the hospital all the way through the taxi ride to the hotel. Scott swallowed heavily and spoke. “It’s… It’s serious. She has multiple broken ribs, probably the result of beatings. She has second degree burns on her torso and the doctors said that based on some of the marks on her, she might have been electrocuted.” His shoulders were tense and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. He stared at the tips of his boots, trying to collect his thoughts before continuing “ You have blood on your boots. Her blood”, his mind supplied. Blinking heavily, he tried to cast the thoughts out. “They said she went into hypovolemic shock for a while, she’d lost so much blood...”

“Oh no…” Martinez uttered.

Scott fiddled with the paracord bracelet on his wrist, almost as if he were counting the knots like rosary beads.

“The worst injuries are the two gunshot wounds. She got shot once in the arm and once in the abdomen. The arm was a through and through, but the stomach… luckily the bullet missed the vital organs, but it hit her spleen and that caused massive bleeding. The doctors did all they could, but they. ..they had to remove her spleen.” By the last sentence, Scott’s voice hitched, the syllables stuck in his throat, as he struggled to voice the words.

Having finished recounting the details, Scott took a long breath, emptying his lungs. Feeling tears brimming his eyes, he looked up at Locke who had put his glasses on the table and was now observing Scott empathetically.

“The important thing is that she’s alive,” Locke said, emphasizing the last word. “And that is thanks to you, Scott. You found her in time. There might be some pressure on us because of Foster and the vanadium, but I’ll deal with Whitehall and see how we proceed next.”

“The doctors said they will need to monitor Julia still, to see if she starts bleeding again and needs to go back into surgery,” Scott added with a tint of fear in his voice.

“Alright. Michael is there and he’ll let us know if anything changes,” Locke assured Scott.

Locke walked up to his sergeant and took a seat in a chair opposite Scott. “Now, you go get cleaned up and get some sleep,” he said softly but firmly.

“Yeah,” Scott grunted humorlessly.

“I know sleep won’t come easy, but at least try to rest. I don’t want any more of my people in hospital as a result of this mission. You’ll be the first to know if there’s any changes with Richmond and you can head back after a bit of rest,” Locke said, his tone almost paternal.

“Thank you,” Scott replied wearily as he got up from the chair and headed for the door.

“Scott,” Martinez said quietly, as he reached the door.

“Yeah?” Scott asked, turning back to look at Kim.

“Julia’s gonna pull through. She’s tough.”

“Yeah, she is,” he replied solemnly and left for his room.

************************************************************

Scott walked a few doors down from the crib and inserted the keycard into the reader. Hearing the click of the lock, he pushed the door open and entered his hotel room. Not even bothering with the lights, he went straight for the writing desk in the room and grabbed the bottle of Laphroaig sitting on it. Skipping the niceties, like a glass or ice, Scott opened the bottle and took a long swig of whisky straight from it. “Fuck me,” he exclaimed quietly as the whisky burned on its way down to his stomach. As tempting as the thought of drinking the entire bottle was right now, he couldn’t. “ Need to get back to Julia. ” He put the bottle back on the desk and sat down on the bed and rubbed his hands over his head and face. “ It’s been one hell of a 36 hours. Meeting Finn, getting ambushed with him. I wonder if the kid will ever talk to me again.” Scott gave a snort as the next thought amused him “ Drug dealer, riiiigght…Not quite, kid. Just a soldier who manages to fuck things up for those close to him.”

He got up from the bed, twisting his shoulders. The adrenaline was long gone, but only now was the fatigue starting to set in. “ That shower sounds like a good idea.” He took off his hiking boots, noticing the stains of blood on the light canvas again.

Scott stepped into the bathroom and switched on the lights. Looking at his face staring back from the mirror he gave a long sigh. “ How long can you keep doing this? There’s already been too many close calls. Sooner or later your luck is going to run out. You were supposed to quit quite some time ago.”

Leaning into the shower stall, he turned on the shower and started to take his clothes off as he waited for the water to warm up. Unbuttoning his shirt, Scott noticed the large stains of blood that covered it. There was dried blood on the chest, even more so close to the bottom lapels of the shirt. As he took off his tactical pants he saw that some of the blood had soaked through the fabric and onto his skin. “ Julia’s blood,” his mind starkly reminded him again as he stepped under the warm spray of the shower. He could feel the stickiness of the blood on him. Staring at the faint pink swirls washing off his body triggered his photographic memory; memories he would much rather forget. The doctor’s words of hypovolemic shock jumped at him again. “She nearly bled out.” In his mind, he saw again the blood flowing from her stomach as Michael packed the wound with gauze when the dressing wasn’t enough. “ Thank god, she was unconscious. Small blessing . There was so much blood… she nearly died in your arms.” Scott couldn’t hold it in anymore. Somehow, the tears made their way down his cheeks, small whimpers of pain and sorrow turned into great heaving sobs. The pain, the fear of losing Julia and the knowledge that she had survived the surgery all hit him at once. He banged his fist against the ceramic tile of the shower out of anger at Mei, the entire fucked up world and himself; how he always ended up the getting those he loved either hurt or killed. When the tears finally ceased, he noticed the water in the shower had already turned cold. With a final shuddering breath, he turned off the shower and stepped out.

Scott felt utterly exhausted. Clad only in a towel, he got out of the bathroom and dug into his kit bag for a fresh set of clothes that he set on the chair. “ A few of hours of sleep. Then you can head back. Mike’s there, he’ll let you know if something happens,” he reasoned with himself. After taking another gulp of whisky and wolfing down a protein bar, he crawled into bed and fell into an uneasy sleep.

************************************************************

Scott was driving a motorbike along a dusty dirt road. The bike’s engine howled as he pushed it to the limit. The surroundings would have reminded him of a tropical paradise if not for what he was doing. He had to catch up to Mei and her men. You have to find them. You have to find Julia .

He spotted something in front of him on the road through the dust. As he neared the spot he realized it was a person. It was Julia. “ No, no. Please, God, no!”  He stopped the bike abruptly, almost ended up under it as he let go and stumbled off it in his haste. “No! No,no, no!”

Scott dropped to his knees beside Julia and reached out with a trembling hand to her neck to feel for a pulse. His eyes already told him the truth, as he registered the blood beneath her, but he refused to believe them, desperately searching for signs of life.

“Julia! Julia, no! NO!” he wailed as he lifted her lifeless body into his arms and cradled her against his chest. His vision blurred with tears and he felt the sobs rising in his throat as he rocked her in his arms and kissed her, hoping his agonized pleas would somehow bring her back to life.

“NO!!” Scott startled awake to the howl that escaped his lips. His heart was going a hundred miles a minute and his skin was sweaty. “Dream. It was just a dream. Julia’s OK. She’s alive ”   he tried to reassure himself as he wiped his hand across his face. He reached out to the nightstand in the dark, fumbling for his phone to look at the screen. “ You’ve slept for five hours.” As his racing heart returned to its normal rhythm, he sat up on the edge of the bed with a groan and leaned on his knees. “ Fuck! I hate nightmares like that.”

Unable to shake the disturbing, heavy feeling that seemed to have settled in his chest now, Scott got up and checked his phone again: “ No calls or messages from Mikey. I guess no news is good news,” he told himself as he headed into the bathroom for a shower, planning to head back to the hospital.  

Chapter Text

************************************************************************

A couple of hours later Scott stood in front of the door of Richmond’s room, Stonebridge right behind him. Scott stopped at the doorway and looked at her. She was still sleeping off the anesthesia and her face looked relaxed, but taking in everything made Scott realize again how close he’d come to losing her. He could see some of the bandages covering her upper left arm and chest and a drain the doctors had left in place after the surgery. She looked so vulnerable. ”You were almost too late,” the voice inside his head nagged at him again.

“Go on, mate. I’ll be out here if you need me,” he heard Stonebridge say behind him.

Scott walked slowly into the room and stepped next to Richmond’s bed. The heart monitor’s constant beeping felt reassuring to him. It meant that Julia was still here, still alive. Locke was right, of course. She was a fighter. Scott reached out with his hand and tenderly brushed an errant strand of Julia’s hair off her forehead.

“Hi, baby,” he whispered, his voice rough with emotion. “Whenever you decide to wake up, I’m here.” A single tear escaped his eye and rolled down his cheek before he managed to wipe it away.

He sat down in a chair next to her bed and took her hand into his, careful not to disturb the IV that was attached to the back of her hand. Finally, he was able to see her and touch her. There was hope again.

“I’m here,” he murmured and leaned in to press his lips to her hand. “I love you.”

************************************************************************

Julia felt like she was immersed in cotton as she slowly regained consciousness. Her throat was sore and her mouth tasted absolutely foul. She had hazy recollections of someone asking her name, and an occasional squeezing feeling on her arm. She remembered a continuous beeping somewhere in the distance.

“Where am I?” she thought hazily. She started trying to take stock of her surroundings in her muddled mind.  She was achy, but not in pain. Her eyelids felt like lead.  She didn’t want to open them, so she moved the fingers of her right hand slightly, trying to figure out where she was. It was something soft, not concrete.

“Julia…” she heard a familiar voice say somewhere close.

As a warm hand squeezed her fingers carefully, she opened her eyes a bit. It was him.

“Hey,” Scott murmured, leaning in close to her. She felt his breath against her cheek and relaxed a bit.

“Hi,” she croaked. Richmond started say something, as a coughing fit interrupted her. Instinctively, she went to wrap her arms around her middle and sit up as she felt Scott gently push her back down against the pillow.

“Easy, Julia. You’ll tear out your IV.”  He spoke to her softly, sitting down on the edge of her bed. She let out an involuntary moan as the cough jostled her ribs.

“Shh, don’t try to talk. Just lie still. You’ve just had surgery,” Scott soothed her.

“You had a tube down your throat. Hang on.”

She felt his arm slip around her shoulders, gently helping her to sit up slightly and then something cool against her lips.

“Here. It’s ice chips. It will make your throat feel better, trust me,” Scott explained as he gave her some of the chips with a spoon. “Being intubated is not the best feeling,” he said sympathetically.

Richmond gave a small, thankful sigh as the soreness in her throat eased and closed her eyes as Scott lowered her to rest against the pillow again. She was so tired. Still, she tried to fight the tiredness. She was afraid that if she gave in, she would wake up in the world of agony and torment again and this reprieve had only been a dream.

“Are you in pain? Do you want me to get the nurse?” he asked in worry-filled voice and caressed her cheek tenderly.

“No, please don’t go. Stay,” Julia whispered anxiously and reached for his other hand.

“OK. I’ll be right here,” Scott murmured and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. His stubble brushed against her skin when he leaned in. The familiar contact felt comforting, safe. “ He‘s here .“

She tried to concentrate on the feeling of his thumb drawing circles on the back of her hand, but found herself getting sleepier and sleepier.

“Don’t fight it. Just rest now, baby. Rest,” she heard him whisper right before sleep claimed her once more.

************************************************************************

Stonebridge could see Martinez walk towards him along the corridor and he sat down in one the chairs flanking the door to Richmond’s room. She’d come to relieve him from his sentry shift, to allow him to return to the hotel for some rest.

“Hey,” Martinez smiled at Stonebridge and took a seat in the chair next him.

“Hi.”

“How’s Julia?” Martinez asked in a hushed tone.

“The doctors said she’s stable, but it’s still serious. She was a bit more alert today when I spoke with her than a couple of days ago, but tires easily,” Stonebridge replied with a solemn look.

Thinking of his oldest friend in Section 20 and what had been done to her made Michael angry. Mei and her subordinates weren’t soldiers, they were fanatics. Committed to an ideology and willing to do whatever it took to achieve the goals. They had assumed that by attacking Section 20, they would get the upper hand. But they were wrong. Being a small unit, an attack only made Section 20 more determined to finish the mission. That’s how it always had been, and almost losing Julia was no different. On the contrary. Michael knew Scott wanted to kill Mei, wanted revenge. And to be fair, he wanted to make them pay, too. He and Locke both knew the rage Scott was dealing with right now, and understood that. He couldn’t shake his feeling of worry over Scott, that he would do something rash. Still, Damien had trusted him all those years ago when they had taken Knox down, even though Hanson was there. Michael felt he owed his friend the same courtesy .

“How’s Scott taking all this?” Martinez asked, almost as if reading Stonebridge’s mind.

“He hasn’t left her side for more than a few minutes since  he’s been here. He hardly eats and I doubt he sleeps much either. I’m worried,” Michael replied, his tone serious.

“Do you think he might be a risk to...”

“No! Scott’s a professional.” Stonebridge vehemently cut Martinez off before she could finish the question. “Everything has happened so fast, his mind’s on Richmond’s survival now,” he quickly continued by way of explanation. “ And revenge, ” his mind added, but he didn’t want to share that thought with Martinez.

“Alright. You know him better than I do. I trust you.” Martinez smiled at him. “Time for you to head back to the hotel to get some rest.”

“Yeah,” Stonebridge nodded. “But before that, I’ll see if I can get Scott out of there to go get something to eat.”

“OK, I’ll be here.”  

Stonebridge quietly opened the door into Richmond’s room and couldn’t help but to smile at the sight that greeted him. Richmond was resting peacefully, her hand enclosed in Scott’s larger one. Scott had folded his tall frame into the uncomfortable chair by the bed and was snoring softly.

Michael walked up to Scott’s chair and leaned in to shake his shoulder.

“Scott...”

Before he had the chance to say anything more, Scott’s elbow flew up, almost catching Stonebridge in the chest.

“Oi! What the hell, mate?” Stonebridge whispered with a slightly irritated voice as he blocked Scott’s strike.

“Oh, fuck! Sorry, Mikey. I s’pose I’m a bit jumpy,” Scott said with a sheepish look.

“Yeah, you are. Now, come on.” Stonebridge nodded with his head towards the door.

“Julia’s…”

“Keep your voice down!” Stonebridge interrupted Scott with a determined whisper. A ghost of a smile touched his lips as he glanced at Julia who was still asleep despite their loud whispers. He continued in a softer tone.  “She’s fine…let her rest. You need to get some air and something to eat.”

Scott didn’t say anything, just glared at Stonebridge and flipped him off.

“Nice to see your sense of humor is still there somewhere,” Michael thought wryly. Grabbing Scott by his free arm, he continued. “Come on. Out. Now. Kim’s outside, she’ll let us know if Julia wakes up and asks for you. You need a bite to eat, mate.”

Scott sighed, admitting defeat. He gave Richmond’s hand one more squeeze and followed Stonebridge out of the door.

************************************************************************

After a visit to the local market for a quick bite to eat, the two men found themselves heading down the empty hospital corridors again and back towards Richmond's room. The outing seemed to have been good for Scott, but he still looked like hell.

"So, how are you holding up?" Michael asked, fixing his friend with a piercing look. "And don't give me any lies about being fine. Your eyes are bloodshot and you look like you just got off a three-day field op."

Scott shook his head. “It’s nothing.”

“Bollocks!” Stonebridge’s retort echoed in the corridor. Grabbing Scott by the shoulders briefly, he looked into his partner’s tired eyes.

“You once warned me about going down the rabbit hole. You shouldn’t go down there either. You’ve got to sort things out, somehow.”

“I know, bud. It’s nothing…”

“It’s something if you’re not sleeping. You don’t normally have any problems sleeping after missions…unless you’re otherwise occupied,” Michael said knowingly. Scott’s jaw tightened with irritation and he glared at Stonebridge. Stonebridge could see the anger flare in his eyes.

“But, since you’re together with Richmond I’m guessing that’s not it, is it?”

With Stonebridge’s understanding tone, Damien’s anger deflated.

Scott leaned his back against the wall of the empty corridor, silent.

Crossing his arms, he let his gaze wander, focusing his attention somewhere on the floor, not wanting to meet Stonebridge’s eyes.

Michael said nothing, waiting for his friend to collect his thoughts.

Finally Scott spoke, his voice almost weary. “I’ve been having this dream… A nightmare. Over and over again.”

“About Richmond?” Stonebridge asked in a soft-spoken tone, although he almost certainly knew what the answer would be.

“Yeah. I’m alone on that road, trying to find her. But when I do, she’s already dead.” Scott’s voice faltered at the final words.   

“I should have been there, Mike,” Scott swallowed heavily before continuing. “I…I should’ve been there…I should’ve watched her back…” he choked out, looking up at the ceiling.

Stonebridge saw the tears glistening in Scott’s eyes, threatening to spill over. “Scott. This is not your fault. If anyone is to blame it’s Mei,” Stonebridge replied, his voice full of conviction.

“NO! We depend on each other on these ops. You, me, Martinez, Julia,” Scott replied, his shoulders squared and his jaw set. “My place was with you!”

“You had just escaped an ambush, barely with your lives. You can’t blame yourself for something you had no control over. We were there and still she was taken,” Michael said with a guilty tone.

Scott slid down along the wall into a crouch. “Yeah, but I came this fucking close to losing her!” He held his thumb and forefinger close to each other to make his point. Stonebridge could see the agony in his friend’s eyes.  His body was tense, just waiting for that killer blow that would bring everything crashing down. He knew how debilitating that pain could feel.

“I know. But she’s alive. And she’s going to be OK,” Michael reassured him as he knelt and looked Damien in the eye.

“I’m starting to think more and more that we should quit, Mikey. Our luck ain’t gonna last forever.” All they’d been through over the years was catching up to Scott and it wasn’t the first time they’d had this discussion, but Stonebridge was still surprised to see Scott being so somber.

“Yeah. But we need to see this through, for all of our sakes.”

“I’m gonna kill that lying bitch, Michael.” Scott spat out angrily.

“You’ll get your chance.” Scott had left Hanson to him, so Stonebridge would gladly repay the favor by letting Scott get even for Julia.

Scott only nodded slowly at him.

“Are you sure you won’t head back to the hotel? You look like shit,” Michael said with a lighter tone.

“Yeah, fuck you too,” Scott shot back with a small smile touching his lips briefly.  “But no, I need to stay with Julia. I’ll go back in a few hours, I promise.”

“Come on, let’s head back then. I’ll walk you there.” Stonebridge stood up and offered his hand to Scott to pull him to his feet.

************************************************************************

Richmond looked around, confused. She tried to move her arms, but couldn’t.  She was sitting in a chair, her hands tied behind her over the back of the chair. Then, she heard a chillingly familiar voice somewhere close to her.

“Ah, you’re awake again. Excellent. Then we can continue,” Mei said, as she stepped in front of Richmond and fixed her with a piercing stare. Richmond felt her heart rate increase when her eyes fell on Mei’s hands. She was holding a small blowtorch.

“I’m going to ask you again: what do you know of our plans?” Mei asked calmly, taking a step closer to Richmond and switching the blowtorch on. The small flame flickered innocently at its end.

“I’ve told you everything I know,” Richmond answered desperately, trying to shrink away from Mei but the chair prevented any movement.

“That’s what you say, but I’m sure you’ve had counter-interrogation training. I don’t think you’ve told me the truth. You always have some backstory prepared, and I believe that is all you’ve given me. Tell me the truth and we can end this,” Mei went on, bringing the flame closer to Richmond’s chest.

“I don’t know anything else!” Richmond pleaded, already starting to feel the heat closing in. “No, no. Please… Please don’t,” she in said a trembling voice that turned to agonized screams as the blowtorch’s flame made contact with her skin.

The contact didn’t last for more than perhaps a few seconds, but it felt like minutes to Richmond. She struggled futilely against her bonds and screamed, but to no avail. She was at her torturer’s mercy.

Richmond was gasping for air as the flame left her body, her lungs long since emptied by the screams.

“Please, no more…” she mumbled quietly, silent tears running down her cheeks. She chanced a glance at Mei, noticing the older woman had a satisfied look on her face. Richmond knew Mei could see the fear in her eyes. She couldn’t take this much longer.

“What do 20 know?” Mei asked again and grabbed Richmond’s wounded arm squeezing the wound. Richmond tried to suppress the cry of pain, not wanting to give her captor any more satisfaction, but the pain was firing up her nerves like an artillery barrage hitting its target and she could only cry out. A few hours ago she might have defiantly told Mei to go fuck herself, but that defiance had long since disappeared. Now, she just wanted for the pain to stop.

“You can make this stop, Julia. Just answer my question,” Mei replied as if reading Richmond’s mind, her voice sounding almost gentle. She sounded menacing one minute and nearly maternal the next. Somewhere in her pain-filled mind Richmond found that thought very terrifying.

“I’ve told you everything. I can’t tell you what I don’t know,” Richmond groaned in agony.

The only reply was her own hoarse screams as the flame touched her skin again.

“Julia! Julia, wake up. It’s okay.”

Richmond felt a touch on her shoulder and flinched, “No! Don’t!”

“It’s me. It’s me...Shhh, you’re safe.”

She recognized Damien’s voice and opened her eyes, fearfully scanning the room. It took a moment for the words to register. “ Safe. You’re not there anymore.” She turned her head and found him standing next to her bed, looking at her with great concern. He reached out carefully to touch her face and wipe the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. She could feel a cold sweat on her forehead and was unable to suppress a groan as the pain assaulted her senses. Her heart was racing and she was breathing like she’d just ran a marathon, which felt like fire in her broken ribs.

“Shh, you’re safe. It was just a dream,” he repeated soothingly as her breathing leveled again. “You were screaming and struggling in your sleep. I was afraid you were going to tear your stitches.”

Richmond said nothing, only moaned quietly as she brought her hands around her, trying to curl up, hoping that the pain would pass.

“Let me see,” Damien said softly as he went to  gently move her hands and lift the blanket.

“No,” Julia flinched and cried out, more out of the fear of pain rather than the sensation.

“I’ll be careful, I promise…but I need to look. Please?” he whispered, pressing his lips to her forehead briefly before trying again. She didn’t resist as he moved the blanket.  She felt his featherlight touch as his fingers travelled over the bandages on her abdomen. “There’s no new blood oozing out, I don’t think you tore anything,” Scott assured as he tenderly covered her again. Richmond could see the worry in his eyes as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

She tried to focus on his touch as he caressed her arm. When the pain just continued, she gave up and pressed the call button. As the nurse came and went to get her something for the pain, Richmond spoke quietly.

“It wasn’t…it wasn’t a dream. It was a memory. I was back there, with Mei. She was…interrogating me,” Richmond explained to Scott, seeing pain in his eyes for a fleeting moment as he caught on to her meaning. “She had a blowtorch…” she swallowed the sob that threatened to escape her throat. “She kept burning me again and again, asking what I knew…” No longer able to fight the tears, a sob escaped her and she turned her head away from him, trying to hide the tears, feeling ashamed for being so weak. She felt Scott gently take her into his arms, holding her close. She buried her head in the crook of his neck, her arm clawing at his back, gripping his shirt, her walls collapsing.

“I’m here. I’ve got you,” Damien whispered to her as her tears seeped through his shirt. Despite the intensifying pain she felt in her ribs, she couldn’t stop the sobs.  She’d reached her breaking point, she just couldn’t fight anymore.

‘I couldn’t… I..,” Julia whimpered into his neck. She felt his arms tighten around her and his lips on her temple.

“Shh…It’s over now,” he reassured her and kept murmuring sweet nothings to her as sobbed. The initial feeling of shame was replaced by that of comfort. She felt safe in Damien’s arms.  She felt the warmth of his body and smelled the familiar scent of his aftershave. And deep down, she knew he wouldn’t ever think any less of her even if she allowed herself a moment of vulnerability. She dropped her arm from his shoulder to his waist, pulling herself deeper into his embrace.

“Mei won’t get anywhere near you,” he told her resolutely, as her sobs and tears died down. “I’m right here and either Stonebridge or Martinez are outside. We won’t let anything happen to you.” Julia turned her head up to look at him. His jaw was set and he had the same focused look in his eyes as he did on mission. Behind that she also saw his love and affection.

“I know”, she whispered and gave a sad smile, knowing that her friends would do anything for her when she couldn’t fend for herself. She knew that because had the positions been reversed, she would have done the same for them. She trusted them implicitly.

Still, she saw the guilt reflected in Scott’s eyes as he looked at her.

“It’s not your fault,” she told him.

“Hmm?”

“What happened to me. I know you would have done anything to stop her from taking me,” Julia continued, bringing her hand up to his cheek and rubbing her palm against the stubble there. “We both know the risks of this job.”

“Yeah,” he grunted. ”But I should’ve been there,” he lamented as he looked away. “ I almost lost you...” his words drifted off so quietly she barely heard him.

“But you didn’t. You saved me. You can’t be everywhere. Please, don’t blame yourself. You and Finn had been ambushed, you had to get him to safety. For a while I was afraid I had lost you, too. When we found your Jeep and Locke called us back... ” she left the sentence unfinished and winced in pain again. Scott took her hand from his cheek and squeezed it.

Richmond knew what had probably brought on the flashback. Earlier that day the nurse had debrided the burns on her body. Despite the painkillers, she could only cry out in pain as the old dressings were removed and replaced. Scott had been there, reassuring her all through the procedure. After it, she had fallen asleep, exhausted from the ordeal.

She was taking shallow and quick breaths now, the pain getting even worse after the stress of crying. It felt like she could hardly breathe, every inhalation like a stab. Trying to focus on her breathing, Richmond closed her eyes. She felt nauseous, a cold sweat popping up on her forehead.

“Just hang on. The nurse will be back in a minute,” Scott spoke as he helped her lie back on the bed and gently brushed her hair off her face.

Luckily, the nurse returned soon and injected the drug into Richmond’s IV. She relaxed into the pillows as the pain started to fade away. The pain had left her exhausted again, but she tried to fight the exhaustion, trying to keep her eyes open.

Scott must have noticed it since he leaned in, his forehead touching hers: “Close your eyes. Go back to sleep”, he said tenderly, in a voice he used only with her.

“I can’t. When I close my eyes, all I see is Mei’s icy stare,” Julia confessed, her voice full of anguish.

She could see the pain flash in Damien’s eyes at her comment.

“Will you…will you hold me?” she asked quietly, knowing he could see the vulnerability in her eyes. Feeling so exposed terrified Julia, having always prided herself in being able to keep up with her male counterparts and pull her weight in what was very much a man’s world.

Damien didn’t speak as he heard her words, instead he smiled and stroked her cheek with his fingers. His eyes reflected such love and tenderness Julia wasn’t sure existed anywhere, much less in a man like Damien Scott, softer side or not.

He carefully maneuvered himself to lie on the bed. ”C’mere,” he whispered, pulling her gently to him and she felt his strong arms wrap her in a familiar, protective embrace. She lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes, listening to the reassuring sound of his heartbeat.

“Julia, you are the toughest, smartest woman I have ever known.” Scott’s voice rumbled from deep within his chest as he spoke.  “You’ve provided us with intel and gotten Mike and I out of some very tight situations with that intel. And you can also pick up a weapon when needed. Hell, you could kick both my ass and Michael’s if it came to that.” She could hear the roguish tone in his voice as he said the last sentence.

Julia said nothing, but nuzzled up closer against Damien.

His hand drew lazy, soothing patterns on her back, the tension and pain withdrawing. “I know you’re hurting right now and it’s probably going to take some time before things are back to normal. But they will be, and I have no doubt that you will come back even stronger from this. And I’ll be right here with you. You are an incredible woman, and nothing anyone can do to you will ever take that away from you,”he finished earnestly.

“Why, aren’t you articulate, sergeant?” Julia mumbled, smiling against his chest with his uncharacteristic soliloquy.

“What? I have my moments,” Damien grinned, looking down at her.

“Yes, you do,” Julia whispered, placing a kiss on his chest. “And that’s one of the reasons why I love you.”

“I love you, too. Go to sleep, baby. I’ve got you”, he murmured softly and pressed a kiss into her hair. “Everything’s going to be okay.”