A/N: I don't own Leverage or any of the characters contained therein. I write for fun and not for profit, and make no money off of any of this. Constructive comments are welcome, as I take writing seriously, and they help me improve. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it for you. Please read and review. I don't write slash. Thank you!

The night was dark and cold, and the distant lights that glinted around the perimeter of the camp did nothing to dispel the inky blackness. Fat, freezing raindrops fell steadily, making a tink, tink, tink sound as they hit first the trees and then the ground. A mass huddled, shivering, in the center of the ring of darkness where the pinpoints of light did not reach, and the only sounds were the steady cacophony of raindrops, the breathy squeak of chattering teeth, and the squishy, squelchy sound of mud-covered cloth as it tried to break free of the half-frozen mud that held it down. The last sounds were really the only definitive proof that the mass might be alive, and they were growing weaker with each moment that passed.

He didn't know how long he had been lying on this muddy patch of ground, only that the pain that had wracked his body, from the many hours of torture to which they had subjected him and from the multiple gunshots he had endured, was gone and a strange nothingness replaced it. He didn't seem to be fatally wounded, though he had been shot at least seven times, with two different caliber weapons, and he was sure he had lost a good bit of blood. It didn't matter, nor was he particularly bothered by the realization that he no longer felt the cold. He had no doubt that the rest of his senses would soon follow suit, dimming one by one, until the spark that marked him as a living person, unique unto himself, winked out. With luck, he would fall asleep and never wake up again. For people like him, that wasn't the worst way he could die. The only thing that mattered now was that he hadn't talked, he had refused them the information they were after, and therefore, had managed to keep one of his oldest friend, and his team, safe awhile longer. His death would have meaning. As the world slid sideways into nothingness, he struggled to hold on to that thought, but he was tired—so tired, and in the end, the exhaustion overwhelmed him. The last thing he felt, as the darkness reached out for him, was something solid on his chest. So this is what dying feels like, he thought, as he felt himself sliding into the abyss.

Later, it could have been minutes or hours, he had no way to tell, he became aware of liquid fire stabbing at every inch of his body, and for a moment, the part of him that had been raised a believer wondered if he had awakened in Hell. Though he understood none of it, the cadence that surrounded him spoke of an urgent, disciplined activity, undertaken with restlessness and military precision. Sensing that he was in a place of safety, though he couldn't marshal enough coherent thought to actually say why, he felt his body giving back in, and he once again slept the deep sleep of exhaustion.

Still later, he awoke again, to a different kind of fire. This time, it was dry, and more pleasantly warm than hot, but his nerve endings still screamed in remembered pain, and every muscle in his body ached. He felt something on his face that reminded him of the hot towels available before a straight-razor shave at an old fashioned barber shop, and struggled to open his eyes. They seemed to be glued shut.

"Just a minute," said a strong, feminine voice. He felt the hot towel swipe at his eyes, wiping the sleep away gently. Finally, the voice spoke again. "Now try to open them."

When he did what he was told, the scene was blurred, and he couldn't make out anything. He quickly closed them again, and the hand on his shoulder and the voice in his ear told him to relax and wait a moment longer before trying again. Again he felt the hot towel wiping at his eyes. When he finally opened them again, a woman with flaming red hair and eyes the color of emeralds looked back at him from a face he hadn't seen in over ten years. He felt the disorientation, like the world had turned upside down.

"Redheads burn the hottest," he said.

He heard refined laughter, which sounded like the tinkling of a dozen small bells, and she said, "Eliot Spencer, I'm going to pretend you didn't say that because you're injured, and may be sick, and also likely still a bit groggy from your ordeal."

Embarrassment crept up his face as he realized just where it was he knew this woman to whom he was speaking from.

"Sorry," he mumbled, and tried to sit up.

She put out a hand to stop him. "Don't. We're still getting you cleaned up, and you don't need to start bleeding again." Producing a hypo from somewhere, she injected him with a local anesthesia, and after giving it a few minutes to take effect, she started stitching up the gunshot wounds. He lay there, stoically silent, until she had to dig one bullet out from where it was lodged against the bone. In his condition, she couldn't give him anything stronger than the local he had already taken, and so she wouldn't have blamed him in the least had he felt the need to scream, but all he did was grunt as the bullet was removed. When she was finished, he held out his hand to her, and she helped him sit up, and propped some pillows behind him. When she finished, she went about the business of bandaging his wounds.

"Are you hungry?" she asked, pressing a bottle into his hand and helping him drink.

"No," he said.

She indicated the water bottle in his hand. "All right, then. This, plus the IV, will help to counter the blood loss, so I will expect you to drink it all."

"I was supposed to be rescuing you," he said, disbelief coloring his features as the thought occurred to him.

"Rescuing me? From what?"

Suddenly, he sat bolt upright, grimacing at the pain that movement caused, and said, "My team! Did you call them?"

"If you are meaning Nathan Ford and the rest of that team, then yes. They are camped out downstairs. Mr. Ford and Mr. Hardison helped me get you up here, but Nate told me that you might not want the rest of the team to see what cleaning you up looked like, so they agreed to wait until I got you cleaned up, bandaged, and dressed to come and see you." With those words, she handed him a button up shirt and a clean pair of jeans. "While you get dressed, I will go and deliver the news to your team that you'll live, and allow them a short visit. Then I want you to sleep and gain some strength. Tomorrow is soon enough to talk about the mission."

She helped him work his arms into the sleeves of the shirt, and then left him to himself while she went downstairs to report to the team.