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"Get inside the car!"

I would've been happy if I never had to hear a stranger say this phrase to me ever again.



I can't even believe this…

I take deep breaths. I need to remain calm.

I'm more than slightly concerned about these roads. No one should be driving in this weather, or maybe I'm saying that because I'm not from Alaska anymore, haven't been for a while now. It takes more than a week-long visit to become acclimated to this amount of snow once more. I don't know, but a person feel the streets beneath them when they're sitting in a moving vehicle, and I am not getting good vibes from this. Still, there's little I can do.

I can feel one of the three kidnappers beside me. Logic dictates that the other two would be the driver and taking shotgun respectively, but a dog could be in control of this car for all I know. I'm completely blinded. I wonder what sort of drug they used. I didn't feel the needle enter my skin in the rush of adrenaline that followed the announcement of their intention to take us away. I was too busy staring down the barrel of a gun to notice we were about to be ambushed. I'd call it smart, but Val would probably call it tacky.


They admitted outright that they didn't need her, and yet, they couldn't eave her there to ruin their plans, either, so they took her, too. Why is it that I keep dragging the people I love into these situations…?

Elena is hopefully at the hotel right now, none the wiser. Well, maybe it'd be better if she did know. At least somebody would realize we're gone. At this rate, two days will have passed before anyone finds out. Who knows what could happen in that time? Maybe Elena will call and notice something's amiss, but I don't know how I feel about that, either. I put her through enough, don't I? I wonder how she keeps her head on straight, sometimes. She's so young.

Val was thrown into the trunk. I'm worried about her. They said they had no questions for her, and that she would cause too much trouble if she sat with me. Come to think of it, they're probably right, but that doesn't make it any easier. They only had the supplies for my abduction, they admitted, she was an addition no one had planned on, so they didn't have the blinding agent for her, just some bindings that had probably also been meant for me. I wish she'd stayed behind when I went for this walk, or at least I wish she'd escaped. She came close. I should've pushed her assailant harder, or perhaps grabbed his upper arm instead of his hand. Could I have tripped him? I should be used to acting quickly and efficiently under pressure, but the memory of what happened is mostly blank.

It's too late to change what I did now.

I'll have to live with the fact that it wasn't enough.

A sharp bump causes me to wince, and again, I think of Valerie. She must be taking the brunt of this, huh? I hope she's protecting her head. She doesn't need me to tell her that. She can be a bit forgetful, but she's not stupid. She's far from stupid. In fact, she probably has an actual chance of escaping. I hope that she can.

In contrast, there's practically no chance of me finding my way out in this state, but I have to make some sort of an effort, especially for Val's sake.

I feel quietly around the floor with my foot. I don't know what I'm hoping to find, if anything, and I ultimately only succeed in locating the foot of the guy next to me, as well as my scarf. Hm, I was wondering where they'd put that. He's unamused, and immediately I feel the gun in his hand press against my temple.

"Don't try anything funny, Dr. Vaughn."

"I don't plan to." I'm outnumbered and completely blind. I could take a shot in the dark (which I mean far more literally than I would like), but it's too risky. Besides, if I distract the driver, I could get us all killed. I don't even know where we are, though I will say, if I'm going to base some judgement on my past experience with cars, I'd guess the roads are winding right now, because I'm starting to feel motion sick. "I'm just stretching," I assure him.

His grunt tells me that he doesn't buy it for an instant, but he lowers the weapon after a moment of thought. "You're in no position to go anywhere," he says.

"Clearly," I answer.

He wraps an arm behind my shoulders carefully, with a pretty clear intent of intimidating me. I keep tight control over my breath as his other arm crosses in front of me, his fingers brushing against my neck. He's holding something, and I don't realize what it is until I hear a sharp, familiar click. I feel the cold edge of the knife lift up against my chin. I hadn't realized he had a switchblade on him, though I feel as though I should've guessed. There's too much that could go wrong if he tried firing a gun in the car. "Now that we have that out of the way…" He slowly snakes his hand beneath my jacket, clutching the weapon tightly. He seems pretty tense himself. I wonder why. "We have a few questions for you."

"I was wondering when you'd start asking," I admit. "You said upfront that there were things you wanted me to tell you. I can't promise that I have the information, but I'll try to answer to the best of my ability."

The tip of the blade presses to my collarbone, and a chill runs through me. I can hear his breathing - he's definitely agitated, more so than I am, for reasons I don't think I understand. "You're way too calm for someone who has no idea what's in store for you, Dr. Vaughn." And I don't think he's calm enough for being the one with the knife. It may be that I have some practice in maintaining a level head, but I don't say so, because I want to keep that level head on my shoulders, if I can. In fact, I have no idea what to say at all, and my lack of response must annoy him. He slowly adds pressure to his weapon until my skin breaks. A small bead of blood wells up against the steel and begins to trickle, but it's soaked up by my shirt before it even reaches my chest. The new cut stings. I try not to let that show, and his grip grows more and more tense. "Say something, damnit…!"

"What do you want to know?" I prompt, trying to mask unease. "You haven't asked me anything yet."

"You think you're so smart, don't you?" he hisses, yanking me towards him and pressing in alarmingly close. He's practically breathing in my ear, his opposite arm releasing my shoulder and curling around my neck for grip instead. I'm the type of guy who need to have a certain degree of space, so that motion is what finally causes me to flinch. My jawline tightens, and I concentrate once more on my breathing, as opposed to the touch. He notices and finally relaxes, quietly laughs. I guess all he wanted was for me to react. "Don't like that, huh?"

"Not particularly."

I really shouldn't answer stupid questions like that. He already doesn't like my attitude. His fingers press into my throat, the blade begins to sink into my skin. My muscles grow rigid, and I bite down panic as it flares. What do they want from me...?!

The moment is interrupted by a new voice. "There'll be plenty of other opportunities to use that knife later, Seth," one of the men in the front declares. "And maybe on the woman, as well, I'm sure that'd be a lot more fun. Let's get to the point, shall we? Don't kill him yet."

"His face pisses me off." The man next to me, Seth, apparently, growls. Everything about his body language indicates that he doesn't feel like backing out. If anything, his friend's statement makes him dig the knife deeper. I'm a little worried about the way the blade is curving in. He can't just cut anywhere and expect the bleeding to remain minimal. There are arteries to consider.

"Everyone's face pisses you off," his friend grumbles. "Remove the weapon, you shouldn't be cutting so close to his neck, anyway. The boss will murder us all if you slit his throat by accident when we make a turn."

"I know, I know," Seth mutters irritably to himself. He grudgingly pulls the blade away, and I let out a very quiet breath I didn't realize I was holding. He doesn't release me, though. Rather, he slowly shifts my jacket aside, pulling it until the sleeves are falling down my arms, the coat only narrowly staying on my back. With that out of the way, he quickly grabs the collar of my shirt and swiftly cuts through the fabric down the centre, exposing my chest. I have to resist the urge to ask him...well, to not do that. It's not like he would listen anyway. This is a severe invasion of my privacy, but if they realize I'm uncomfortable, they'll press further.

Remain calm. I don't want to give them the upper hand, if I can help it.

My main concern right now is that they might not let me put my jacket back on when I leave the vehicle. The car's heated, sure, but it's freezing out there. I'll see if I can negotiate it's return when we reach our destination.

"Dr. Vaughn." That would be one of the front-seat men again. I think it's the driver, but I can't see, so I'm not sure. I have no idea where to look to meet his gaze, so I nod to assure him he has my attention. "Tell us a little bit about Stigma."

That's what I figured this was about. Do these people have ties with the group that kidnapped Professor Wilkens? Do they want his data? If so, well, why didn't they just try to kidnap Professor Wilkens again? Not that I want them to, the man has been through enough, but logically speaking, it'd make more sense. Perhaps it's his high security these days. I release another slow, steady breath. "I'm afraid you'll have to be a little more specific," I say cautiously. "What do you want to know about Stigma? You should know that my knowledge of it mostly consists of its treatment."

"Is that really all?" It's a different voice this time, the third man. I believe his name is Cohen. I heard them address him as such when they were trying to split Val and I up. There's no guaranteeing it's not a fake name, though. "C'mon, do you expect us to buy that? You're Lloyd's pupil, aren't you?"

Does anyone actually call him Lloyd anymore?

"...I did work under Professor Wilkens for quite some time." No sense whatsoever in denying that. I'm even proud of it sometimes, on good days. "Upon Stigma's discovery, however, I left Concordia and started working at Montgomery Memorial. I did not study it with him." Even if I should've.

"But you came back, didn't you?" Cohen prompts. I don't know how he knows that, but it's none of my business (nor his, for that matter).

"Yes. I treated Cheir in the Professor just before he was kidnapped. All of his research was destroyed in that incident." Quickly, I add, "I never got to read any of it, he was very secretive. In the event that anything happened to him, he trusted me to destroy it personally." I can't see their faces, but I can feel the hostility my words are bringing. This isn't what they wanted to hear, I don't think, and that might be a reason for me to start worrying. I only know what I learned on my journey with Valerie and Elena. I created Stigma, but that doesn't help them. Do they even know that? I have nothing they would consider useful, I don't think. This is the truth of it; will it really be enough for them to release us? "I was against its study from the start. If you were hoping to know immunities, alternative methods of transmission, rare or mutated strains, Parnassus' test results, basically anything other than its treatment, I'm afraid I know little more than you do."

The silence my words bring is far more threatening than anything else has been so far on this trip.

There's no warning when the switchblade carves into my ribcage.

A short, strangled cry rips from my throat as he forces me to double over the weapon. It's angled in such a way that it's scraping against the bone more than it is reaching for any organs, but that doesn't make it easier. My next inhale hurts severely, and I desperately choke against my voice as I try to figure out how to comfortably breathe around it, so to speak. A groan escapes my next breath, and Seth pulls the blade out, leaving a shallow slit to trail the deeper wound. I immediately pull off the glove I'm wearing and press my hand against it. Blood coats my fingers instantly, running down my side and my stomach. If I could see it, I could make a better judgement call about how much blood I might lose to it. I don't think it's fatal, but it wasn't meant to be. I'm not sure if it's even necessarily deep. The blade is fairly long, just the feel of it before told me that. He could've done far more damage, he could easily kill me if that was his intent.

Are they planning to torture me? If so, that would make death the reward, right?

It looks like this might be far worse than Kidman's plans for us had been, then.

"See, here's the problem, Dr. Vaughn," Seth whispers. He's too close. I'm thoroughly unnerved by his breathing in my ear. I know that's the point, so I try to pretend I don't notice, but it's getting more and more difficult. "The problem is, we don't believe you. We know what Dr. Kerensky called you. The father of Stigma, right?"

I was never interested in hearing either of those two names come up again.

"Its creation was accidental. I called off the research immediately," I whisper. I've been working so hard to eliminate what I discovered. Why can't everyone else let it die, as well?

"You work for Caduceus, you specialize in Stigma operations there," Seth continues. "You work with the research department, assisting them in its study! Lloyd clearly has a lot of trust in you. We know what you do, doctor. We know you know more about this than you're letting on."

"All of the information I know is publicly available." Caduceus, after all, is a mostly public facility. "There's still so much research going into it, but I don't have any secrets about its existence. I don't work to improve Stigma. I'm working to destroy it. That's all." There's nothing more that I can tell them. But it seems they still don't believe me, and the blade traces slowly against my stomach. If they want me alive, it's far too risky to cut there, so their goal is likely to freak me out. It's working pretty well, I hate to admit, as the cold weapon causes my gut to churn instantly. I want to find my scarf and use it to apply pressure to my injured ribs, but any attempt I make to move will be met with another injury, I'm sure of that. He waits patiently for me to break, but I have no plans to do so. I can't create the precedent here that physical harm will make me speak.

"What about your lady friend in the back?" he suggests. "She got a name?"

My mind races. Should I lie? Should I diminish the truth? I can't let them rope her into this. I'll say anything I necessary to prevent her involvement, if I can. It sounds like they don't know her at all. Is that even possible, though? Miracle Surgery made us both pretty big names. Maybe their obliviousness is an act, to see what I'll say in her defence.

"It doesn't matter who she is," I say quietly. "She has no involvement with Stigma, aside from the occasional operation where she assisted in treating it."

"Didn't she cure Ops with you on national TV? Miracle Surgery, right?" Cohen asks. I sigh but say nothing. So they do know. No sense making up a name for her, then. Not unless I want another knife wound.

"Oh, is she Dr. Blaylock? I never watched the episode, but her name was going around at the time."

"What was it you were calling her? Val?" Seth laughs. "You pet named her, huh? She your girlfriend?"

"I fail to see how our relationship, romantic or otherwise, is relevant to Stigma," I retort. We're not dating, and I'd like to think it isn't complicated, but it's none of their business.


"I say you have no right to call us into question. Wouldn't you agree, smartass?" I'm slightly more prepared for the second cut into my chest. It's the opposite side of my ribcage this time, and I can feel straight away it's gone slightly deeper than the first. I squeeze my eyes closed and bite down on the sound that threatens to escape. I refuse to let them win this way. I need to remain calm. He leans in slightly to try and hear my shaken breath, to feel a flinch. He gets neither from me. When he removes the weapon, he doesn't make the extraction cut shallow, as he did last time. If anything, I'm alarmed by how deeply it digs into the muscle, how excruciating the flame that erupts from it is, and I twist desperately away from him and the weapon as I gasp in alarm. His other hand is there to stop this motion, and his fingers close in around my throat so that I'll yield. I would rather not suffocate myself, after all. "Stop lying to us and answer the questions, Dr. Vaughn!" Why are they so adamant about this?! I'm pretty sure there's nothing I know that they don't…! "We will go after your friend, if we think it might give us answers, you know. Don't you wish to make this easier for all of us?"


She'd yell at me if I broke under that threat. Besides, I don't think they're in a place where they can stop and retrieve her from the trunk, at least, not yet, not safely. I can't guarantee that, but the road makes it seem unlikely.

Though really, if the genius wants me to answer, then he needs to make sure I can catch my breath first.

His knife presses to my cheek and guides my face so, presumably, I'm looking at him directly. I guess he has forgotten the drug that they administered. "Now, are you going to cooperate or not?"

"I've told you what I know," I insist, my voice barely a hiss. I have nothing else helpful to tell them about Stigma. What do they want to hear about it, anyway!? If they want me to save patients, I'll do as I'm asked, but I refuse to help them advance what I'm trying to destroy…! I'm not even sure if I can!

"Do you expect us to believe you, doctor?"

I think I would laugh if I had enough air, but the desire to laugh might also come from oxygen deprivation unbalancing my thoughts. With what strength I can muster, I roll my eyes and say, "If I thought you'd believe me, I'd somehow have to be more blind than I already literally am." I force a pained smile and add, "The most I can do is make things up. I'm sorry." Because I will, if I think it might get me out of here.

The knife plunges into my upper leg, and he leaves it there, closing his now empty hand around my throat. When I make a move to pull the weapon free, his hands tighten, and he slams my head against the backrest. He does it a second time when I move my arms upwards to try and pry his fingers loose. I choke, and I writhe, to no avail. The disorientation leaves me unable to concentrate. I realize quickly that it's pointless. I'm already fading. There's nothing more I can do. I close my eyes and wait it out. He continues to apply pressure until my thoughts grow fuzzy and my limbs grow weak. In a last ditch attempt to do something, I lash out with my good leg. I think I kick the back of one of the seats, and a moment later, I hear muffled shouting. It doesn't reach my ears, but the next moment, air rushes into my lungs, and I slump forward. I'm narrowly caught and shoved onto my side. The knife is extracted from my leg so I can't use it against them.

I wrap my arms around my bloody torso and pull my leg in close. Damnit...

Breathe. Just...Just breathe. Focus…

Shit. I'm scared...

"-hell, Seth! You can't just kill the guy! He's might be the only one who can do this for us!" the nameless man is screaming. "Even if he doesn't tell us now, we'll find a way to get the info later. Do you want to lose our lead?!"

A lump in my throat begins to form in distress. I have nothing that could be considered a lead…!

"Why did you think it was a good idea to put the anger management guy in the back?" Cohen asks. He sounds stressed. "Those cuts look deeper than they should be. We don't want him losing consciousness, or worse, going into shock. Come on, man, you said you'd be careful."

"We can't let him fuck around with us," Seth snarls. "If we let him get away with it, we'll never get what we need out of 'im. Does he think we're some kind of a joke?"

I'm at a loss. What lead could I possibly provide them? The Healing Touch? That's not related to Stigma, not really. I don't have the knowledge that they're convinced I possess, but I have no way to convince them of that. So then, what am I supposed to do…?

I push my arms against the seat, all but forcing myself upright. I'm beginning to feel a little foggy, this time due to blood loss. It's difficult to inhale properly when it pushes outwards against the wounds. I'm in no place to be making requests, but their dialogue indicates I might be able to get away with one.

"Please…please hand me my scarf." When I'm met with silence, I make the decision to clarify. It's in both of our best interests, after all. "I don't want to lose consciousness, either. I was hoping to staunch the blood." It won't be enough, but it's better than nothing.

They don't answer for a little longer before Seth all but shoves the cloth into my stomach. "Asshole."

"...Thank you." I fumble with it for a moment, trying to ball it up without eyesight, before I gradually press it against my chest. While the wound in my leg is the one that is losing the most blood, I don't think the bleeding will stop if I apply pressure there, whereas the chest wounds might. At least one of these lacerations will probably need stitches, but I can't get those here. I'll have to tough it out.

Where the hell are we going…

It's so cold out here. I can feel it even through the heating.

I close my blind eyes and curl into myself, taking in the warmth of the quickly drenching scarf. I roll my shoulders slightly as well, to try and shrug my jacket back over my body without it being too obvious. I don't know if they're set on allowing me to freeze here or not, but if that's their intention, then they must not notice my movement, to my relief.

"Geez, can't this thing go any faster?" Seth asks boredly. I wonder if his knife is still within reach. 'Now I'm just getting desperate,' I sigh inwardly to myself. It'd be ridiculous for me to assume I could wrestle it from him. I need more information, but I'd rather not draw attention to myself again, now that it seems they have their minds on other things. I listen.

"Well excuse me for trying not to get us killed," the driver growls. "It's still gonna be a while, so why don't you shut up and let me concentrate."

I hear Seth sigh, and a moment later I feel him grab the back of my jacket. So much for that reprieve. He yanks it downwards as the knife presses between my shoulder blades. "I'm bored. Why don't you tell us something interesting, Mark?"

Lloyd, Mark. These guys are walking dictionaries of names nobody actually gets addressed by, aren't they?

I have nothing I wish to say, and not just because I doubt my ability to entertain them. It's far more than that. I hardly feel rooted to my location. The corners of my vision blur like static, the tip of the blade feels almost nonexistent. I won't be able to handle any more blood loss.

Maybe I can use that to my advantage, I realize suddenly.

I gradually, purposefully speed up my breathing. It genuinely makes me dizzy.

"I don't...I don't know…" Releasing control for only an instant, I loosen my muscles and slump forward slightly. Seth curses almost immediately as he catches me. I wonder why he stops me at all. Will I hit my head against something if I fall this way?

"Leave him for now, Seth," Cohen says. "We need him fully conscious by the time we get back. Seriously, he'll tell us what we want then, but he can't do that if he dies here."

Seth snorts with frustration and pushes me back into sitting. I adjust a little so I don't fall forward again. I'm not that close to passing out, nor am I that disoriented, I'm actually thinking quite coherently, but it seems I've bought myself some space by pretending. Good.

Within twenty, thirty minutes (roughly estimated, it's hard to say for sure) the blood flow in my chest slows significantly. In the meantime, I listen to them banter idly between themselves, but there isn't much to take from their discussion, other than there's a level of familiarity to it, as if they do this all the time. Well, 'this' as in bicker, not as in abduct people, I'd like to think this is a first. Everything remains black, even as time passes. There are no outlines, no signs of light to indicate anything as we drive. I was hoping something might happen to assist me in my situation here, but it seems I can't depend on that. I blink my eyes a few times, hoping to regain sight that way. Of course, that's not how being drugged works. When will this wear off, or…?

I'm abruptly struck by a thought, and my whole body tenses as alarm grips me. It had never even crossed my mind that...

I don't mean to speak, but it slips out before I realize it: "Is this permanent?"

There's a long silence as the words hang in the air.

"Is what permanent?" Cohen asks, surprised to hear me at all. I've been silent this whole time, so those alone words have snapped all of their focus onto me. "Your stay with us? Depends on your definition of 'permanent', doc-"

"I don't care about that!" One way or another, I'll find a way out of their hands, that much I'm sure of. I've done something like it once, and I'll do it again, especially if Valerie is on the line with me. We'll come up with something, so that's not it. I'm afraid of the answer, but they're all paying attention now anyway, so I continue to say, unable to hide my distress, "The blindness. Am I permanently blind?"

As realization dawns on them, Seth slowly begins to laugh. "Dunno. I didn't do the drugging," he says. I'm sure my sudden fear satisfies him, but I can't help it, I need my eyesight to do my job when I get back, there's no such thing as a blind surgeon! "Your blindness cohen-cides with Cohen's drugging, so why don't you ask him, is it permanent? That'd be fantastic."

"Cohen-cides? Are you fucking serious, man? Get out," Cohen growls.

Maybe they can just kill me now and spare me the torment.

But before any of us can say anything, the driver's voice breaks everyone's concentration. "SHIT!" I have no way of knowing what's going on as the vehicle abruptly turns, throwing me into Seth. There's a loud, ear-piercing screech from the wheels before something slams forcefully against us. This is not what I'd call a small car that we're in, but even blinded, I can also tell that what we've been hit by isn't small either, and due to the icy roads, I think they lose complete control. I have no idea what to reach out for or hold onto, and Seth doesn't even have time to shove me away before a second crash jars against us. My gut lurches as I lose all sense of locational awareness, and suddenly, I think we're falling. I'm thrown again, bemusing me even further. The voices around me are yelling in alarm, but their words don't reach my ears as I try desperately to figure out what the hell I should do, how I should be trying to defend myself, and whether or not I'm about to die.

There's the sound of shattering, of crunching, of cries cut short. Pain erupts through every nerve ending in my body as I'm jolted sharply, my consciousness flickers in and out as metal carves into me, as I'm hit by a blast of extreme heat and cold simultaneously, my mouth opens, my breath rushes forward in shock, but nothing comes out. The sounds reverberate as my mind tries desperately to process what has just happened to me, to the vehicle, to my captors. The intensity of it increases and explodes within my eardrums, leaving everything ringing. Sanity may not be the right word for what has been shaken to its core, but whatever it is, it's not holding up, it's cracking, splintering, desperately trying to stitch itself back together with a memory of something, anything, but it fails to even do that. The rush of everything continues, the walls close in around me, breaking through my skin, through bone, and my enforced silence ends, a scream of anguish tearing from my throat and echoing around me. The weight builds, it gets worse, and worse, and I fear that it'll never end, at least, not until it cuts me in half. Warmth is bubbling in my chest, my throat, it's cold out here, I have no idea what is going on.

The pressure, the piercing, the overwhelming sensation of motion I can't keep up with, slowly but surely subsides. The stillness doesn't help as much as I thought it would. It's still dark. I can't breathe, I'm afraid to move, I don't know what went down, I can't even tell if it's actually over, it all happened so quickly, I…


This needs to stop.

If I can quiet everything down in my mind, I can concentrate…

But I think I need to be able to concentrate before the noise in my head ends...

I feel blood as it rises within my lungs. I can feel snow against my torso, against my injured leg. The scarf protects the two knife lacerations in my ribcage, it's somewhat warm due to blood, but it's little comfort. My arm is pressed against skin that is quickly losing its heat.

While things are still, I...

I need to focus on something. Anything.

There's a dull throbbing pain in my chest. It's below either of the scars that Seth created; the rib is probably broken. It's an awful thing to hone in on, but it's the first thing that pushes its way to the forefront of my mind, so I lock onto it. It kicks against my chest slowly but consistently, growing within a focal point and then emanating out from the center to make way for the next pulse. It causes my muscles to spasm, but I can't escape it. I don't know if it's genuinely growing worse or if it's only my imagination, though it certainly feels like the former.

Wherever I am, whatever my condition, I can't stay here and let this fester.

Alright. Alright…Everything is slowly coming together.

There was an accident. That much is obvious, if I'm lying down in the snow. The rest of it is a bit of a haze. My neck is searing, my I have a concussion? Did I hit it against something? I can almost guarantee that...I don't remember anything past it, though. I don't really remember hitting the ground, either, just the results of the impact. Or perhaps that abrupt mental darkness was the impact.

God, it hurts…!

I'm halfway between my side and my stomach. I have no idea the state of the car, nor my position, but I can guess. I can feel glass around me. I twitch my fingers, just to make sure that I can, and I reach sideways. The motion is uncomfortable at best, but I try to ignore it. I need to be able to figure some things out from this - my vision won't help. The side of my hand brushes against the already cooling skin, reminding me of its existence. It doesn't take long for me to realize that it's splattered with large amounts of blood, certainly a fatal amount. Seth, I can assume this is. My mind reels, racing, made almost incoherent by the intensity of the damage in such a short amount of time. They were alive only moments before. Curiosity pushes me onward, despite myself. Further feeling around confirms that he has been heavily lacerated by glass shards. He might be impaled by a caved segment of the window, but it could be anything. I stop as I reach his abdomen and feel still flowing warmth. I could likely make assumptions about his ultimate cause of death if I keep feeling forward, but suddenly, I don't really want to know for sure.

There's no way for me to figure out the conditions of Cohen or the driver, or where the other car is. And there was another car, I'm confident in that. As I try to process the reactions of the other occupants, as they start to make more sense, I find I'd go as far as to say that the other vehicle was one that caused the accident. It's not like I'd shy away from calling our vehicle out if I thought my captors were at fault, but I don't think they were this time.

I tuck my arm back in, away from the body beside me, and after a few flexes of my trembling fingers, I reach forward, sinking them into the ground for traction. I try to pull myself free.

I should know better.

Something sears in my shoulders, attempts to create new gouges in my back, I feel as though I'm stuck beneath many jagged teeth, all determined to keep me where I lie. My left leg twitches, but the attempt to pull it towards me reveals that it's pinned, as well. The fact that I'm impaled might be the only thing that is saving me at this point; the fact that my new wounds are all being plugged. I can't imagine it will keep me alive for much longer, though. Or at least, it won't keep me alive if the world knows any mercy. My whole body feels as though it has burst and is spilling out on the ground beneath me, but who knows if that's enough to make this quick. People are resilient, the cold should slow down my internal functions. It might be enough to sustain me for a little longer, if that's what I want, but I'm not sure that it is. What do I want to do? I could tear myself open to end it quickly, if I think it might be more humane, but if there's any chance…

Is there any chance of getting out of this?

Nobody knows where I am.

I don't even know where I am.

Is it even possible to get help at this point? They confiscated my phone, not that I'd be able to reach it, I have no idea where I'd find Seth's, if it's even functional, the drivers are both out of my range, I don't hear them, either, and Val-

...Oh god.

"Val!" I can't help but call for her in desperation, but it may have been better if I hadn't. The cry causes my whole body to start convulsing, silently screaming against the edges keeping me bound to the spot. My lungs twinge and I cough violently, involuntarily, every inch of me protesting the movement. A wave of blood runs up my throat as I try desperately to control it. The liquid coats my tongue, drips through my gritted teeth, and I cannot hold back the whimpers that escape as I fight against the agony. I think this could drive me insane. I think this pain could drive me literally to insanity, and I don't know what to do about it…!




I need to break this down logically.

What comes next? Beyond my eroding tolerance, what lies at the end of this path?


I can't move, and I have no reason to believe that situation will change.

I have no reason to believe help is on its way.

I have no reason to believe Cohen or the driver made it, or that they'd even call for help if they did.

I have no reason to believe the passenger of the other vehicle made it.

...I have no reason…

I have no reason to believe that Valerie survived the accident.

In which case, I will die here. Either from blood loss or hypothermia.

It's inevitable, then.

...So be it.

I curl my head into my chest as far as my body will allow. I close my eyes. I try to breathe. Only shallow breaths don't make it worse. It never feels like enough, but it'll have to suffice.

The loss of blood combined with the cold temperatures aren't doing me any favours. I'm shivering, but it's only a matter of time before I stop, and that's when it's truly a problem. That's assuming my organs don't fail first. It's possible. I can hardly think clearly enough to consider which ones. It doesn't really matter, anyway. Any of them will kill me. I just hope it stops hurting soon.

I release a sigh I can almost describe as amused. I never really thought this was how I'd go: Trapped, crushed and blinded, under a truck meant to be used for my kidnapping. Wow. My luck has never been what I'd call 'good', so maybe I shouldn't be too surprised, but…

I never thought it would be this hopeless…

Tears sting my eyes as try to shift, at least, to whatever extent I can. I have to move very slowly to make any progress at all, but soon I manage to at least wrap my arms around myself. I don't know why I do it. Perhaps to try and regain some semblance of warmth. Or maybe I'm trying to comfort myself.

Either way, it's pretty pathetic, isn't it?

I don't...

I don't want to die like this...

I can't be lying there for long. It has to be only five minutes, maybe ten at most, and both numbers might be stretching it. Could be as little as two. It feels very long, though. It feels like hours, I feel like I'm falling apart, I feel that I'm learning what true despair is like, when I finally hear it.

"Oh God, what happened here…? I got lucky, didn't I..."


She made it after all, huh?

I'm glad that if anyone did…

It doesn't even sound like she took too much damage.

Oh, I'm sure she's a little beaten up, but if she's on her feet, if she's talking, then that's okay.

"...Markus…" Maybe I only imagine that whisper on her breath, or perhaps she only now remembers me, just as it took me a while to remember her. "...No...No, there's no way he…I...I need to find him…"

I don't want her to see me like this, but I can't dry the tears that have already spilled over. I'm too weak to move anymore.

"Valerie." I can't call for her. I can't raise my voice, not without causing myself near indescribable agony once more, but she has to be close, if I can hear her. If I can hear her, I have to be able to catch her attention as well. I have to…So I whisper her name again, and again, and again…

I physically can't handle much more of this. Without warning, my heart lurches, my body twitches, and I dig into the ground to keep from screaming.


Her footsteps stop.

"Markus? Markus, are you there!? Are you alive!? Answer me!"

Perhaps I can't mentally handle much more of this, either, because as blood continues to bubble to my throat, I can't help but wonder if she's even real, I can't force myself to relax or remain calm, I can't breathe, my head feels as though it's on fire while my body freezes. All I can manage is a strangled moan of, "Help me…"

She hears me. There's no doubt about that, and perhaps in the next moment, she sees me, as well.

"...Oh God...Oh God, Markus…! Markus!"

Her footsteps rush towards me, and a moment later, I hear the shift of the snow as she crouches down. I feel her hand against my face, and its warmth finally disperses the fear within me that I'm only imagining her voice. I feel a lump forming in my throat. Thank god. Thank god...Val...I lean into her touch just slightly, in part due to her body heat, but mostly, I'm grateful for her presence. I don't know if anything will change. I can't see myself surviving this. I don't see a future. I don't see anything, literally. But at least there's something worth holding onto in this mess. "Markus…!" I've never heard her sound so horrified. It's to be expected, but I wish there was something I could do to calm her down. I've always been able to provide her that in the past, but I don't think there is anything I can say that will make this better. If anything, maybe I'm the one who needs to be comforted.

We're usually not very physically affectionate people. We really aren't a couple, I'm more used to being shoved over by her than assured by her, but if there was ever a time for an exception, this is it. She gently brushes the tears from my eyes, not even bothering to hide her own rapid breath. Is she hurt, as well? She must be bruised, at the very least. "No, no, no, this is bad, this is really, really bad…"

I wonder what I look like. I wonder what the scene around me looks like. Must be a mess. I still don't know. "Val. I can't see anything...What happened? Please…"

She rests her hand against my upper arm. "It's going to be alright," she says quickly, her voice shaking in a panic, "Please, hang in there-"

I release a soft snort, struggling against tremors. I realize what I must have sounded like. I didn't mean to scare her. "Val, if I were losing consciousness, I'd choose better last words. I literally cannot see; they drugged me. What happened?"

She laughs, and it sounds borderline hysterical. "Damnit, Markus!" I manage a shaky grin back in return, but it hurts. It really, really hurts. She doesn't even pretend to be genuinely mad at me as she struggles to answer my question. "It's pretty gruesome. If you can't see it, consider yourself lucky." Her thumb strokes my cheek as she thinks, and I assume she touches my face because she knows she risks hurting me if she touches my back, or my arm. "You know what, I'll answer you later," she decides, "but we need to get you help, and we need to get it now, before it's too late." She whispers, more to herself than anything, "If this car had landed any differently, we wouldn't be talking right now…"

I have no idea how the vehicle landed...I remember the falling sensation vaguely. Did the car flip? The damage sounds and feels too severe for it to be as simple as that.

"...Seth…" She doesn't know who that is, I note after the name escapes me. "The man beside, he had a phone. They probably all had phones, if they still work, maybe you could call…" Talking is making this worse. The wound closest to my stomach twinges, and without thinking, I twist slightly, trying to make the stabbing pain stop, trying to escape, which, of course, only makes it worse. I gasp, and then violently choke against the blood in my throat. I want to swallow it as to not alarm Val any further, but it's hard…I'm losing control again, searching for a way out that does not exist, my movement is becoming involuntary once more, and each motion is ripping me open further, making the injuries wider, I'm only going to lose more and more blood this way, I'm already losing enough, but I can't make it stop…!

"Markus, calm down…!" Her voice is strained with alarm.

"I'm trying!" I hiss, blood staining my teeth red as I say it. "I can't...I can't…"

"Oh god…" She immediately takes my hand and lowers her head so it's close to mine. I'm on the border of sobbing, but any constant breath that deep is going to make this more unbearable. She presses close to my ear. "It's going to be okay, Markus. It's going to be okay. Control your breathing. I know you can do it, I know how strong you are." I don't feel strong, I don't feel like I can do this…! "It's not hopeless. It's never hopeless, you taught me that. Help is going to show up, we'll get you out from under there, I'll do whatever it takes to keep you alive in the meantime, you will live to tell this story, I promise…!"

"It hurts…" I admit softly, my voice shaking. Despite the freezing temperatures, I think I might be sweating, I can feel the blood trickling from the corner of my lip and onto the snow. "I'm trying, but I've never been in this much pain before…"

"I'd be surprised if you had!" she says, her voice teasing to mask her misery. She chokes on a sob of her own, and I feel a tear hit my face. "Don't you dare give up on me, Markus." She holds onto my hand tightly, allowing me to dig into her palm as flare after flare bursts through my wounds. She holds onto my shoulder, as well, doing what she can to help me keep still. I can feel the blood around me already, every twitch threatening a new wave. I'm desperate for something to bite down on, but I don't think there's anything like that around. Her hand on my arm will have to be more than enough.

Only once it has mostly settled does she finally speak up. "The man who was sitting beside you has been disembowelled. Think his cell might still work through all that blood?" Disembowelled, huh? That's what I'd been afraid of. It carries a distinct scent, almost, and it's quite terrible. I can't afford to throw up right now, even though I suddenly feel nauseous. I might end up disembowelling myself somehow.

"It's worth a shot," I say. If the phone had a decent case and his pelvic region isn't crushed, it's plausible to think the phone survived. You can call from literally anywhere nowadays. "What about the other two?"

She seems to contemplate the answer. "Well, we're in a ditch. I think we went over a railing, Markus. So did the second car. I-It landed on the driver's compartment. There's no way the other two kidnappers are alive under there, and there's no way I can reach their phones through the wreckage."

Is that so, huh? That's brutal. To be alive right now, I guess I got lucky, didn't I?

Or perhaps I got unlucky. At least it was over quickly for them.

I wonder how Valerie escaped her bindings. When did she? She can tell me later, I suppose, once we know for sure whether or not help will be on its way.

"Do what you have to. If Seth's is broken, then try the second driver's, wherever he might be."

"I think he was launched from the wind shield," she says. "I'm not about to leave you to check, though. Not unless I have to." The statement, perhaps selfishly, makes me feel relief. I don't want to be left here. I was so afraid that I was completely on my own to die out here... "Hold on, okay? I'm going to search this guy's pockets." She releases my hand carefully, and I can feel her reluctance as she pushes away. "...Don't talk unless you have to, alright, Markus? I'm almost certain your lung has collapsed or been punctured somehow." Call the blood from the mouth a tip off, I guess. I keep the statement to myself. She's right.

It seems she has to readjust the body next to me to check his pockets. The sounds it makes are gruesome. My gut churns and I bite my tongue. I hear Valerie choking back the urge to retch. We're surgeons, it's not like we're unfamiliar with this sort of trauma, but this feels a lot different. I can't even see it, and yet, I can't help but realize that it could've been me against that window.

I wonder what's on her mind.

It's so cold out here.

It's getting hard to think.

I don't think I'm shivering anymore…

"Markus…! His phone, it...It works…!"



That's the only good news I've heard all day.

At the very least, she'll make it out alive.

If there's anything I can be thankful for in all of this, it's that she has a chance. I'm almost positive she'd freeze out here if there was no way to contact anyone.

In the next moment, I feel her sit down beside me. Her hand quickly brushes against my neck, pressing carefully into my carotid artery for a pulse. "We don't have any time to waste…" I don't know what she does next, I only hear her swear under her breath about the temperature. A moment later, though, I find out why: I feel her slowly lift my head, and something slides beneath it. Her coat, I realize quickly.

I frown. "No. Val, it's freezing out here…" She can't wrap it around my body, which would be a reasonable thing to do. There's too much shrapnel in the way. It's little more than a comfort in this position, which I do appreciate, but what about her?

"I told you not to talk unless you had to." With a slightly wavering laugh, she promises, "I'll be fine." And I don't know how to argue with her. I don't have the mental capacity to do much more than focus on taking in a decent amount of air that won't send me into spasms. It's getting easier, I'm finding. I'm pretty sure that's a bad thing, but I don't want to think about it.

She rests her hand against my cheek once more, fingers dancing against the back of my neck. I'm pretty sure she does it because she can't think of the words to comfort me. I don't think words that powerful exist. Her touch works fine. It feels distant, but the key word there is 'feels' - I can feel it, for now.

I'm glad that she's here.

I know it's wrong, and I know that seeing me this way hurts her, but that doesn't change my relief. I always thought that if something terrible happened to me, if I was in a position like this, I'd want her to leave. I'd want to spare her. I guess you never know until you're there.

"I'm sorry…" I whisper.

Her breath catches. "For what?" Her hand tenses ever so slightly. "Don't apologize until we get out of here. You're not allowed to die, do you hear me?" She can't promise me anything, and I can't promise her that. I want to, I wish I could, but I...

Her hand moves again, this time to rest against the top of my head. As she quietly shakes from what I try to convince myself is the cold and not grief, as she continues to run her fingers through my hair in gentle strokes, I suddenly don't know who she's trying to console: Me or herself. It's okay, though. Either way, I don't mind it.

"Alright, I'm going to call. Easy breaths, this will be over soon." In one way or another, I think bitterly to myself. She doesn't remove her hand from my head, but moments later, I hear her talking. "Hello. My name is Valerie Blaylock. I'm afraid we have a serious situation here. There's been an accident, me and a few others were in a vehicle that went over a railing. I made it out alright, but my companion needs serious medical attention right away. He's crushed underneath the truck, and heavily wounded, I can almost guarantee there's internal damage, and I don't know how much longer he can hang on. I...I, um, I don't know where we are, sir. I'm afraid we were victims of an attempted abduction. I was in the trunk of the car. I have no idea how we got here. I know that's not helpful, but I...T-The kidnappers are all dead, sir. Died on impact. It smells really bad, honestly."

I almost laugh, though the pain it brings convinces me not to. "Your priorities are spectacular," I say teasingly.

"...I told you not to talk unless you had to," she repeats anxiously, her voice a whisper.

With a forced smile, I say, "I had to."

She releases an amused breath. I'm familiar with it. "Whose priorities are screwed up now?"

The smile isn't forced anymore. It feels almost normal for an instant.

It doesn't last.

My eyes drift shut as blood rises up in another wave, this time also burning the inside of my nose. The feeling of sharp bubbles within my throat is intense, suffocating, and I grimace. I hack against it, trying to remain still, but it doesn't help the feeling of needles shooting through the inside of my neck. I twist my head slightly, which only makes it worse. I shudder. My eyes feel so heavy. I'm so tired…it hurts...

She whispers my name softly, her head drooping close enough to mine that I can feel her breath. "I'm still on the line, sir...H-Hang on one second, sir. Y-Yes, I was listening. If you can do that, please, go right ahead, I don't care how you do it, how you get here, please, just find us. But for now, I need to help him." Once more, she checks my pulse. I don't know what she feels. I can hardly feel it. Her sigh tells me it isn't good. "You need to pay attention to yourself. You don't need to try and make me feel better, Markus. It's okay." Her voice cracks. She's falling apart. We both are.

We can't afford to here.

"Try and remain calm," I answer, my voice barely sounding like my own at this point. I don't even know how I say it. 'Stay calm' is the furthest thing from my mind. Maybe it's instinct at this point. She has always forced me to have to say it in the past. Damnit, Val.

"...I'm trying." I hear her take deep breaths before she continues. "They're going to trace the phone call, they'll be here soon. They'll help us both, you need to hang on." The back of her free hand wipes the blood from my lip, but another cough wracks my body, my lungs igniting, and it's nearly enough to make me scream. I gasp, I whimper, I dig my fingers into the snow and sob, I'm losing control, even if I could see, I don't think I could find the woman sitting right in front of me.

But with that ignition, everything else melts away. I can't feel it.

"I know it hurts," she continues. "I know..."

And it did. It really did. I can still sort of sense what should be there, but even the sparks in my chest are beginning to shrivel, twisting and vanishing into themselves. "…I think that was it," I admit softly. There's nothing... "It's...It's fading...


There's a long pause, and I hear her trying to soothe herself with more deep breathing. It's not working. That's how I settle myself, but it has never really worked for her. The 911 operator must speak up, because she eventually continues. "Of course I can tell you more about the injured party." Her voice struggles to maintain coherence. "My companion is Markus Vaughn. He's thirty five years old. His injuries are critical, and he'll need to be treated on the scene before we can move him. It's a little difficult to s-see, but...H-He's impaled by the vehicle in his abdomen and I think in his leg, but the shrapnel is plugging his injuries. He's bleeding from the mouth; his lung may have collapsed. He's having convulsions, they're causing him a lot of pain, there's a lot of blood, but at this rate it seems more likely that he'll succumb to hypothermia. Right now? He's losing consciousness. I'm a surgeon from Caduceus, I can assist in whatever procedure you may need to perform. If possible, I would like it if someone could contact Elena Salazar and let her know where we are…Please, I'm begging you to hurry…I can't lose him like this…!" She's sobbing, but it's distant. "Please, God, please…"

How could I do this to her?

"I'm...I'm sorry, sir. I've never been very good at staying calm. That was always what I had Markus for. I'm trying." Val… "Of course I'll stay on the line. Elena's number? It's..."

How long will it take for anyone to arrive? How far are we from civilization? I can't have that long left.

Within moments, I hear a quiet beep, and a small amount of movement. "The phone is on speaker. You can't see it, so I wanted you to know," Valerie tells me. I appreciate the thought, but why…? "We're on the line, I'll answer his questions, but I think I'm mostly done. You need my attention." Do I…? Maybe... "I'm here for you, Markus. I know you can't talk too much, but I need you to stay with me. Help is on the way, I promise."

I won't wake up if I fall asleep. We both know it. The risk of shock and the risk of freezing to death are both equally prevalent here. There's nothing I can do to prevent either. I don't know which is killing me. I don't know...I don't…

"It's cold out here, isn't it? I'll never understand why you wanted to come back to a place like this." Right, I have her jacket, don't I? She should take it back. she really should...She shouldn't freeze herself out here.


"...Markus." Her fingers are the only thing I can 'feel' at this point, and I'm stretching the definition of the word feel. It's all vanishing. I wonder how much time has truly passed. It feels like so long, but it can't be. If it had been any longer, wouldn't I be in shock, or unconscious? I can feel exactly how serious this is, so how is it so slow?

This is torture.

Is this really what I deserve…?

"...I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for," she says.

But I do. I have a pretty big thing to apologize for, and she's trying to close her eyes to it...

"...I'm dying." I know that. We both have to know that. I can feel it, I know that this is what it feels like, and though I don't know how I know, denial will not change the truth… "I'm dying, Val. I'm so sorry…Please, forgive me." What else is there to say? I don't really have the energy nor the mind to try and be clever about this. I don't have time...

And yet, this isn't about that. Not to me, anyway.

This is about leaving Val behind. I don't want to, but what can I do about it?


So then, what does she need to hear from me now?

There's so much I want to tell her, but I have to keep it simple. I wish I were better with words, but I'm not, so it'd be best to keep it short, as well. I'm in no condition to be making speeches, anyway. "I'm so glad you're alright. I'm so sorry I dragged you into this." And everything else I've ever dragged her into. I don't know how she stands it. "Thank you...Thank you for being my partner. Thank you for staying with me." A few more statements linger, my mind fighting about whether or not to speak them: 'I'm glad we met.' 'Take care of Elena.' 'There's nobody else in this world I'd have rather spent these years with.'

'I love you.'


But respectively, I decide: Valerie already knows that. She and Elena will need to help each other, so there's no need for anyone to take care of anyone. She doesn't know me for being sentimental.

'I love you' is an unfair declaration to make to a person before you abandon them, and besides, I've never quite figured out just what sort of love it might be, nor the extent of it. It doesn't matter anymore.

And 'goodbye' is too final. The thought that I may never see her again is too much for me to handle. So I won't say it.

She doesn't answer me. Not right away. For a moment, I think we both realize it's over. I think maybe I've gone deaf. The ringing in my ears has become some form of thickened static, there is no ground. Her fingers are merely a light pressure against my skin that I may as well be imagining to comfort myself before everything ends…

And then she speaks.

"No. I won't let you give up, and I won't give up on you," she whispers. Her voice begins to rise as she proceeds. "You taught me so much of what I know, and you taught me to never quit. You showed me the way." I don't feel her hand leave my face, but I do feel it with surprising clarity as she rests it at the base of my throat. "...I'm sorry, but I love you too much to let you go like this!"


"Spirit of life, guide my hands!"

I've never had the Healing Touch used on myself before.

It's a surreal, weightless experience, but surprisingly, it's not an out of body one. If anything, it's grounding. I feel rooted to what is left of my heartbeat, I'm very aware of the blood running through my veins, of the blood coating my body and pooling on the floor beneath me, rushing from my open wounds, but more than anything, I feel her energy, its focus, its confidence. Her palms radiate strength, she's present, I can practically feel myself reaching out and taking her hands to keep myself from from falling.

But there is nothing beyond that.

My pulse. My life, or whatever remains. It's weak. I'm weak. She may be keeping my vitals stable, but when she lets go, I will collapse. There's nothing within me to stand on, and the Healing Touch is so difficult to maintain. I know that almost better than anyone else. If my mouth could open, I would tell her to let me go. She may be buying me time, but I don't doubt it will take far longer for them to get here than it will take for her ability to fail.

I underestimated her.

It takes me longer than it should to realize that. Hell, I've always known how much she's capable of. My condition has been locked at a very uneven state, though. I'm only borderline lucid and we have no equipment to treat my injuries, so it took me a moment. Finally, though, I do come to realize that she really meant it: She's not going to give up on me.

She'll give out first.

I'm scared for her.

I don't know how long she holds me afloat with her ability. I occasionally feel it waver, only to refocus moments later. I'm almost entirely deafened by white noise, numbed and ravaged by the cold of snow and steel, but whenever it starts to finish, I hear her whisper again, "I'm the only one who can do this…" That seems to be the only sentence that keeps her going, and that determination is the only reason I will live, if I do.

She once told me that she would always be a doctor for the sake of the patients only she could save.

I never thought I'd be one of them.

During an ebb in her energy, I hear sounds. Sirens. A flurry of whirling wind I identify as a transport helicopter - not unusual here in Alaska when the roads are unsafe, but I never really thought I'd last long enough to hear it arrive.

And still, Valerie keeps going. The ebb ceases and she pushes forward again, not giving my body the chance to fail on itself.

It seems more like magic than reality, to me.

I'll never understand what she sees in me, when she carries such an amazing power of her own.

As everything closes in, I start to note the change in her ability's aura. Her strength is depleted, it has none of that power left, leaving sheer force of will to run it. How far will that take us?

A timid, horrified whisper comes from nearby. "D…Doctor Blaylock...Doctor...Doctor Vaughn…" I know the voice, but the face doesn't come to me. "Oh God…"

"...Elena." Valerie's voice is a mere husk of what it should be. "Bring the medical team here now. I can't hold him like this for much longer, and if I release him before they perform the procedure, he will die." There's a short pause. "Don't freeze up on me now, Elena. We need you…!"

"...Right...Right away, Doctor Blaylock…" The sight of the accident traumatizes her. It must. I have never heard her sound so devastated. I can't even begin to imagine what this must be like for her. It happened so suddenly. And yet, in the next moment, she finds her nerve. "...Right away, Doctor Blaylock!" she repeats, this time with force. "Over here! We need the emergency medical team immediately! Bring the equipment and be ready to operate!" Her footsteps approach, and she swiftly drops down beside us. "What's his condition?!"

"Did the officer tell you? If so, it hasn't changed since." Valerie sounds far, far gone.

"D-Doctor Blaylock, that was almost half an hour ago…! Have you been…!?" She stops. "The Healing Touch...No...No way…"

The Healing Touch is rarely, if ever, used for more than five to ten minutes at a time, and that can be enough to completely drain its user. The intense concentration required to maintain it can drive a person over the edge.

"I had to," Valerie murmurs simply. "Only I could."

Will this be enough?

"...Here, take my jacket. You need it, you're shivering. There's a backup medical team nearby, once the emergency crew has the situation under control here, you need to go over there and have your own injuries checked. Just because you're not trapped under the vehicle doesn't mean they're not potentially serious. You shouldn't even be moving around, let alone using your Healing Touch like this."

There's no response from Valerie, at least, not an audible one. She continues to desperately hold my condition steady. From what little I can tell, Elena makes no attempt to stop her. I won't make it on my own. I don't have the strength. Is it obvious? I've never been this powerless before...

The footsteps and the voices throw everything into a blur of sound that I can only just hear beyond the stillness. Movement I can barely comprehend must occur and people must pass me, but I don't feel it, even when I hear calls for medical equipment, I don't understand which ones, what technology they might be using is beyond me, there's nothing in that for me to catch.

All I have is Valerie's hand to hold onto.

If she lets go, I never feel it.

The anaesthesia puts me under before she ever releases me.

I lose consciousness knowing that, whether I live or die under the knife out here, I was never alone.