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Title: Small Comfort
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Peach 20 (the least I can do); Sangria 22 (time will rust the sharpest sword); White Chocolate 20 (arrogance)
Toppings/Extras: None.
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1117
Notes: 1963; Julia Graves, Caroline Sheldon. Takes place some time after Splinters.
Summary: Julia wishes help had come from any other quarter but this.

***

It was very unfair, Julia decided. Of all the people she could have hallucinated, why must it be Caroline?

“Julia,” Caroline was saying. “Julia.” She was a persistent hallucination, it had to be said.

Julia buried herself further into her bunk, trying to ignore her. If she must imagine people into her cell with her, then she wanted it to be Edward, as it had in her first feverish days or weeks in here.

“Julia, I am sorry, but –” Caroline reached out and gave her a small shake, and then again, less gently – not very Caroline-like.

Julia raised her head slowly and looked at Caroline, beginning to register that, perhaps, it was not an hallucination and that, truth being stranger than fiction, Caroline was truly here. She tried to speak, but she was out of practice and too puzzled by the visit to articulate her questions.

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Caroline at finally getting a reaction. “Poor Julia. I am sorry. I can’t stay long, but I’ve brought you some things. I spoke to some of Jack’s people – one of them got me in.” She leant forward, lowering her voice. “I will try to get you out by the same means, although that may be asking too much. But don’t give up hope.”

Julia only shook her head. That kind of talk was impossible to take in. She had given up all idea of anything other than wasting away here. It was better that way.

“Yes,” said Caroline, surveying her closely. “Oh, dear. Well, do look at what I’ve brought you.” She had a large shopping basket with her, out of which she pulled a blanket, some clothes, soap, toothpaste, and a flask with some soup inside it. “I’ll come back as soon as I can with more. I realise this isn’t a great deal, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Promise me you’ll use them all. Julia,” she said, more sharply, causing Julia to blink and look at her again. “Promise me.”

Julia turned away again, putting a hand to her head. She had been locked away in here for too long, without much in the way of human company or anything other than her dull routine and ongoing grief to cling to. She simply couldn’t seem to focus on Caroline. It all felt like too much effort. And why must Caroline be here? Julia had never liked Caroline. She might even have despised her, and that made it all the more unreal. But, she made herself admit, Caroline always had been nice, after all. It was the most annoying thing about her.

“Why?” said Julia, finally getting at least one word out. She blinked again, beginning to shake, and grow close to tears. It was cold, she thought. She hadn’t taken much notice of it till now.

Caroline put the blanket around Julia’s shoulders. “If you could see yourself, you wouldn’t ask. It’s an errand of mercy, that’s all. I’m not involved in the fighting, but I thought I could do this. Besides, I’ve always felt that I owed Edward for what happened. It’s a little late, of course, but perhaps I can finally repay him.”

Julia had to nod, not able to speak again. She was moved, but it also woke some of her old possessiveness. She hugged the blanket in against herself, reminding herself that Jack Sheldon had also been killed before her arrest. And even if she had always liked to believe she was better than Caroline, that wasn’t really true. That had been the very worst thing about Edward: he had such insultingly good taste in these matters. Julia could dislike Caroline, but she knew deep down it was unfair, and she hadn’t even been able to manage even that towards Marie. She shook herself and tried to make an effort.

“I’m very sorry,” she said. “About Jack, I mean.”

Caroline merely nodded. “Thank you. But let’s not talk about that. Please, you must have some of this soup. I shall sit here until you do.”

Julia took a cautious sip: it was an unidentified vegetable soup of some kind, but warming and good. She tried to laugh and found that brought her perilously near tears again. “That isn’t as much of a threat these days.”

“Good,” said Caroline. “Because I will come to visit you again. As I said, if it can be arranged – I might even be able to get you out. Things are in such disarray with all the fighting. No one is fully in charge of the country, and you’re certainly not anyone’s priority now. And there are still a few of Jack’s colleagues in the police I can count on. But, there, I mustn’t give you false hope.”

Julia wasn’t sure if she was feeling better, or if she was merely remembering how conversations worked. “Don’t worry. The soup is more than enough.”

She continued to drink it while Caroline looked around the cell, wrinkling her brow in distaste at what she saw.

“I’m not sure if I should say thank you or sorry,” Julia said. The soup must be helping, she realised. She might almost have sounded normal. “You must have noticed that I didn’t precisely like you, no matter how polite we were.”

Caroline turned, and was surprised into a laugh. “I thought as much,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like you, dear. After all, I don’t think I’m especially vain, but there was only one reason for you to dislike me, and I was glad for that. I may not have been in love with Edward, but I always liked him. That was the trouble – if I had hated him, I would never have married him and caused all that fuss.”

“It would have been better if I hadn’t,” said Julia. “He might still be here – we might not be in this mess!”

Caroline crossed back to the bunk, taking Julia’s hand. “Julia, dear, you know that’s not what happened. Besides, I doubt Edward could have averted this crisis. I think it’s all a little beyond any one person.”

“Yes, yes,” said Julia, remembering convention and conversation and other people again and didn’t say that it was what had happened, or that she was past hope and only serving a well-deserved sentence. “Of course it isn’t. I get morbid alone in here, that’s all – I expect the soup will help.”

When Caroline had gone, Julia discovered, somewhat painfully, that she had brought hope regardless. Julia couldn’t help it still; she found herself thinking: if she comes again, perhaps… and then of getting out, and feeling the sun on her face, at least for a moment. Perhaps.

***

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