Saints and Angels
"Shit," the head paramedic, a guy who introduced himself as Leo, said. "She crashing." Immediately, his assistant, Monica, grabbed the portable crash cart. Nathan stood back in horror. If Lili died, it would tear Ezra apart. Hell, it would tear the team apart. "Rico, whats our ETA?"
"Three minutes," the driver called back. Monica handed Nathan a tube of the gel used to place the paddles. He quickly cut open her shirt and bra, then placed the gel on her exposed chest, noticing older scars.
"Clear," Monica shouted, then hit the lady with a jolt from the paddles. Her body gave an eerie jerk, then went still. "Charging up. Clear!" This time, the monitor registered a faint but steady heart beat. "We have a rhythm."
"Lets keep her like that," Leo replied, and Nathan took a shaky breath. He remembered the old physicians adage about never working on family, and now understood why. "Rico!"
"Were there, boss, they got a trauma team right outside your door," the driver yelled back, breaking softly to avoid jarring the patient. Nathan and Monica opened the doors and were met by the staff of Four Corners Generals ER.
+ + + + + + +
She had no idea how she got here. She stood in a place as familiar as the back of her hand, a place that held so many dear, special memories from her childhood and of Billy. She was on the property of her family estate, in a wooded glen where she and her brother used to play. Looking down, she found herself in a light linen dress, the one she had worn for her pool party. It was too cold for this now, but it wasnt here. How had she gotten and then she looked up, and saw him standing there, and her mouth dropped. His light brown hair hanging a little longish, with some curl, and their fathers blue eyes but with his special sparkle. He looked as she had seen him last, the day after her sixteenth birthday. "Oh hell," she said.
"Hello Lili," Billy said. "Welcome home. Dont I get a hug?"
+ + + + + + +
We'll turn in circles, baby
We're never satisfied
We'll fall from grace
Forget we can fly
But through all the tears that we cried
Ezra and Chris made record time to the hospital, and entered through the emergency room street entrance. Nathan stood waiting for them as they entered. "Nathan," Larabee said. "Is she...?" He couldnt finish the sentence. The reality of that was too horrible to imagine.
"No, she made it in alive," Nathan said. "She crashed once, but the EMTs brought her back."
Standish grabbed hold of the edge of the nurse's station as the information sank in. He felt Nathan reach a hand out to him. Looking up, he saw concern in his eyes. "Why dont we sit down, Ezra?" Chris said, inclining his head toward the waiting area. He nodded, taking a shaky breath.
"That would probably be wise idea, Mr. Larabee," he said. He walked carefully over and sat down. Chris shot Nathan a look.
"Itll be a long wait, Chris," he said. "Im gonna go wash my hands, Ill be back in a minute."
"Shell make it, Nathan," Larabee replied, glancing over to where the undercover agent sat, head in his hands. "She has to."
+ + + + + + +
Lili stared hard at her brother. Billy had been dead almost fifteen years now. So, if she was seeing him, here at their childhood home, that could only mean one thing. "Im dead, arent I Billy?"
"You never did beat around the bush, Lady Bug," Billy laughed. "Come take a walk with me."
"Billy, am I dead?" she asked again. Death was a big thing, she wanted confirmation.
"No, you arent," Billy replied. "Come on, follow me." With that, he started walking toward the copse of trees that hid their secret play place. She stared after him dumbly for a moment. If she wasnt dead, what was she? She hurried to catch up.
"If Im not dead, then what is this? I am dreaming? Hallucinating?" she asked. "I dont understand this."
"Which is precisely why I am here," Billy said. They passed through the tree line and into a small clearing. In the center was a set of tree stumps that had served as a table and chairs for her tea parties and their card games they played as children. "I am your guide."
"Im so confused," she said, trying to wrap her mind around things. She looked at Billy, then reached out a tentative hand. It brushed solid body. "You feel so real, but youre dead. So, if I am not dead, how can you be here?"
"Where we are is a sort of limbo," Billy said. "You have to remain here until you make your choice."
"What choice?" she asked.
"Whether you want to go back," he said, taking her and pulling her into a hug.
"Whether you wish to live or die," Billy said.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had sat quietly in the parking lot with JD, while the boy composed himself. Poor kid apologized five or six times for losing it back at the warehouse. Wilmington sighed.
"JD, you dont have to apologize," he said. "You havent seen Lili hurt before, and believe me, you werent the only one who wanted to lose it."
"Yeah, Buck," Dunne said. "But nobody else did. I could have helped."
"Kid, we had everything that needed to be done covered. Now is when we are going to need help the most," the ladys man said. "Because I am sure Ezra is going outta his mind, and Chris is blaming himself and remembering Sarah and Adam. Vin is furious he didnt get the shot off faster. Nate is thinking he could of done more at the scene, and Josiah is blaming God. And there are people who need to be notified. You got the breaking down out of the way, and now you can do what we need you to do most. Just be there. Thats what makes you valuable kid, youre there when the chips are down."
The kid smiled back. "Thanks Buck."
"Anytime, kid, anytime," Buck replied.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Josiah had walked in to the emergency room to find three of the five other members of the team waiting. Sanchez nodded to Nathan as he walked in. Chris was sitting and flipping the pages of an out of date magazine agitatedly. He only looked up when he seemed to sense Tanner. The two men read the pain in each others eyes. "Any word?" the profiler asked. He glanced over to see Ezra, head in his hands, sitting in the corner, oblivious to his surroundings.
"She was alive when she was brought in," Nathan said. "Otherwise, no news is at least good news." The last statement brought a bitter laugh from the southerner. The others looked over.
"Do you have my clothes, Mr. Tanner?" he asked. Vin handed him a bag. "I need to go change...and think...beep me, please." With that, he hurried off down the hall toward the bathrooms. Chris started to go after him, but the Texan put a hand on his arm.
"Let him go, Cowboy," he said. "He needs a few minutes to himself."
Just then, the doors slid open, and Buck and JD walked in. "Hey pard," Buck said when he saw Larabee. "How..?"
"Shes alive, if barely, last we heard," the leader said. "Nathan said she crashed once on the way here." Tanner and Sanchez hadnt heard that part and looked up. "We arent sure when well hear."
"Chris," JD said softly. "Im sorry about losing it at the warehouse, but Im okay now. If you want to give me a list of people who need contacting, I can start on that."
Larabee looked up, surprised by the quiet maturity in the young man. "Thank you, JD," he said. He knew the youngest of his men was still feeling the hurt, Lili reminded both Dunne and Tanner of their mothers. "Call Travis, and SAC Donaldson. Call Steven at the lab. Have Donaldson call Lilis friend Thomas Lloyd."
Buck hated to bring it up. "Chris," he said. "Chris, Mary is probably at the news room."
"Shit," he said. "Let me call her."
"Ive got it covered," JD said. He pulled out his cell phone and walked outside to make the calls.
Just then, a doctor walked in. "Whos here for Lili MacKenna?"
"We are," Nathan said.
"Shes been rushed up to surgery, she was losing too much blood to keep her here," the doctor said. "You can wait up in the surgery waiting room."
"Doctor," Jackson said. "Is there anything else you can tell us? Is there anything else we can do?" The new resident, Derek Slade, stared at the men before him. He had heard the legends of Team Seven when he first signed on here, and he had to admit the legends seemed less intimidating than the real thing. However, there wasnt much he could tell them.
"You must be Agent Jackson," Slade said. "Im Dr. Slade. You did good with her. Look, I want to be honest. How the hell she survived the rig ride, I dont know. There was a hell of a lot of blood loss. Its bad. But you have all done pretty much everything you can. All thats left is pray."
The five men stood in stunned silence. "Thank you, Dr. Slade," Nate said. The young resident nodded solemnly, then headed back into the ER to begin working on the next case. Sometimes he really hated his job.
"Ill go get JD, meet you upstairs," Buck said. The mirth normally coloring his voice was gone, and there was no light in his eyes. He headed toward the exit with a heavy step.
"Im going to go find Ezra," Josiah said. "Well be up in a bit, brothers." Chris nodded at the profiler, knowing that anyone else would be cold comfort to the Southerner at the moment.
"Nate," Larabee said. The medic looked blankly at him, his mind still processing what Slade had said. "Nate, no one blames you. There was nothing you could do."
"Should have realized she was bleeding out of more than one place," the medic said.
"Hell, Nate," Vin said. "I shoulda got the shot off quicker. Shed be fine then."
"Stop it!" Chris ordered. Both men looked at him. "None of this bullshit is doing anyone any good. Now get your asses on the elevator." Both agents looked at Larabee, then headed for the bank of elevators to go up to the surgery ward waiting room.
Josiah headed in the direction of the mens room he knew to be this way. He was surprised to find it empty, but he knew Ezra had been there. Bloody clothes, stuffed in a bio-hazard bag, poked out of the trash can. He recognized the gray of the suit that the man had been wearing earlier. Sighing, he went back into the hall and started heading down it. It was the guest wing of the hospital, housing the cafeteria, gift shop, and chapel. He checked the gift shop first, not expecting much there, then headed down the hall. The cafeteria was at the end and he had to pass the chapel to reach the room, but he wasnt expecting anything there. However, when he passed the open door, a figure caught his eye.
Standish was on his knees in front of the alter, his hands balled into fists at his sides. Sanchez stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. The younger man seemed not to notice the intrusion; his focus was on the cross in front of him. He could see the inner struggle in the younger man, the torment and the grief, guilt and fear. His shoulders shook slightly, and the profiler waited, knowing what was coming. He had been there himself. He watched, knowing that the next minutes would be crucial.
"This is your way of punishing me, isnt it, you sad excuse for a poor mans source of hope? Because I never believed the cock and bull stories that every man of the cloth tried to jam down my gullet, that I didnt blindly believe that there was some higher being controlling my life?" the Southerner said. Josiah felt his heart break for the man he loved like a son and brother. "Well, I think this just goes further to disproving your benevolent nature than you could imagine. She always held faith in you, you son of a bitch. Even when you put her through hell on earth, she still believed there was some purpose to it all. She was the only reason I gave you a second thought, and you know what, she almost had me convinced. The fact she was still here was winning me over to this so-called faith. Well, you can rot in your own created hell."
Sanchez wasnt sure what to do. The level of emotional torment and pain the man was feeling were beyond even what he felt when he had found out what happened to his sister. It was like watching someone have his soul ripped out.
"Dont hurt her to hurt me," Ezra said, his voice breaking. "Shes everything good in this world, and if you take her out of it, youll just make it a little darker. If you want to make me suffer, take me. Throw me into some Dantean Inferno, but dont take her. Please, dont take her." The fight seemed to leave the younger man and he seemed to shrink as he sat back on his heels. Josiah moved forward and came to stand next to him. The younger man was crying silently now, the tears marking his normally fair cheeks.
"You didnt cause this, brother," Sanchez said, sinking down next to the man. He looked up at him, the pain in his eyes raw and evident.
"Really, Mr. Sanchez," the southerner replied. "I should have shot her myself. I was the one who got her interested in this kind of work, back in college. She remained in Denver partly because of me, and she went after this because she wanted to return the favor for us saving her from Graham. Please, explain how this isnt my fault."
"She loves you, idiot," the profiler said. That drew Ezra up short. "You are the reason she is here, but she is an adult, and she makes choices. If you want to blame someone or something, blame the bastard that shot her. But you destroy yourself, and she wont have anything to come back for."
"And if she doesnt come back, Josiah," the little boy next to him asked. He could imagine the former FBI agent at eight years old right now, so young was the voice. "What then?"
"We face that bridge when we come to it," he said. "They took her up to surgery, Ezra. Shes in a bad way, but I dont believe shell leave us if she has a choice. The lady is one hellcat of a fighter." He waited while Standish nodded. "Whats say you and I go get us seven cups of coffee and go join the guys. Theyre waiting on us."
"Thank you, Josiah," he said. He stood with the big mans help. The two of them walked to the door, when the profiler glanced back over his shoulder at the cross and the stained glass figure of Christ beyond. Help us, here, Lord. Please.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee sat, watching his men in various modes of waiting around the small room, done in shades of mint and pale pink. He wondered if all hospital waiting rooms were like this, the pastels intended to inspire some sort of calm and hope. It didnt seem to be working. JD had made his calls, and now sat fidgeting with a copy of Sports Illustrated. He flipped a page, then turned it back again realizing he hadnt read it. The boy, however, appeared to be the calmest of them all. Vin was pacing like a caged cat, back and forth between the door and the wall, then back again. Larabee actually thought he could see the beginnings of wear and tear on the carpet in that pattern. Nathan sat, starring at his hands, a pained expression in his eyes. Josiah had an old wooden string of bead with a rough carved cross on it out, working them through his hands as he prayed silently. Buck was reading the afternoon edition of the Denver Clarion, but he was holding it upside down. The most frightening thing, however, was Ezra. The man sat perfectly still. He hadnt moved or spoken since the profiler had brought him up here six hours ago. He just starred straight ahead. Larabee himself felt guilty. He had missed this guy somehow in the sweep, hadnt made it there fast enough to back a friend, and she was paying the price. How the hell did things get this fucked up?
+ + + + + + +
"What!?" Lili asked. "What do you mean, choose whether I live or die?"
"You have a choice," Billy said. Seeing the confusion on her face, Billy waved them over to a log. She sat down; afraid her legs wouldnt support her. Billy took the seat beside her, and took her hand. "Everyone, once in their life, gets a choice. They can leave early, move on to the next worl
, or they can stay, and live to their appointed time."
"And this is...my choice?" she replied. "When you...was that your...?"
"No," Billy replied firmly. "Mine was when you were a little, little girl and I was sick with measles. Youre too young to remember, but you are the reason I came back then."
The young woman felt tears in her eyes. "And what about Jesse, or Marian, or..."
"Lady bug, dont do this to yourself," he said, holding her close. "It was their time. Hardly anyone takes the early out."
"Ive missed you," she said. "If I stayed, would I be here, with you?"
"Yes," Billy said. He paused. "Lili, Im not supposed to influence you, but you need to go back."
"Dont you want me here?" she asked, shocked.
"There is nothing I want more than to have you with me," Billy said. "But kid, you dont understand the impact you have on people. Right now, there are seven men blaming themselves for you being hurt and many others scared witless you wont come back."
"But I am just their friend," she said. "Surely, they can get on without me."
"Lili, you know thats not true," Billy said. "I can watch you, and I know you dont think of Ezra Standish as just a friend."
"Ezra cares as a friend," the lady said. "Probably my best friend. He doesnt want me that way."
"I never thought youd be that blind, little sis," Billy said. "He thinks the sun and moon rise for you. Without you, hed be...well, lost."
"Im just so tired, Billy," she said.
"I know," he said. "But Lili, Ezra isnt the only one who needs you. I cant give you details, but there is someone who is really going to need you in a while." He watched as her mind processed all of this.
"Can I see them?" she asked.
"Baby, dont," he said. "Youll have pain enough when you're recovering."
"I need to know theyre okay, Billy," she said. "I need to see them."
Billy sighed hard. This would be gut wrenching. He had ached when he had watched her go through loss and pain. However, he also knew she wouldnt let this go until she had her way. She always was stubborn. "Close your eyes and think on them," he said.
She did as she was told, and the flood of emotions that overran her almost knocked her off the log. Guilt, grief, anger, self-doubt, and loss all struck her as she saw them all in turn. Ezra screaming at God, as Josiah stood by helplessly. JD was trying not to cry as he made calls; Buck starring out at the fall afternoon next to him; Chris, Vin, and Nate all standing in the elevator, silent in their own guilt.
"They all care so much, Lady Bug," he said. "Its just what happens when people get to know you."
"I really need to go back, dont I?" she said, wiping her eyes.
"Yeah, you do," her brother said. "Lili, I am so proud of you. You exceeded even my expectations for you. But you need to open your heart all the way and let these people in. It wont all be easy, between now and your time, but I know you will be loved."
"How long until I have to go back?" she asked, laying her head on her older brothers shoulder.
"In a while," Billy said. "The other thing you can do, if you choose, is take back some messages."
"From loved ones of your friends," Billy said. "Chriss wife and son, Nates parents, JD, Buck, and Vins mothers, Steven Travis. They wont really be verbal messages, just impressions youll remember."
"Ill do it," Lili said.
+ + + + + + +
They all looked up when the doctor entered. Dr. Samantha Moreno had patched these men up more times than she could count, she and was always amazed when they pulled through against unbelievable odds. Now, she had just operated on someone who was obviously important to all of them, and she didnt know for sure what the result would be.
"Doc," Vin said, as she walked in. "How is...is she...?"
"Shes still with us, for now," Sam said. "Why dont you guys sit?" She watched as all of them took seats, then took one herself. She had never bought into the whole doctor come down on high to help the little people persona. "It was a hard fight, I wont lie. She arrested two more times on the table, and we had to bring her back. The chest shot broke her rib, which punctured a lung. We have her on a respirator, while the lung re-inflates. She had to have some pretty major transfusions. Everything else missed the vital stuff, thanks to the vest."
"Thank God," Josiah said.
Sam nodded, exhausted. "What worries me is the head wound. She hit pretty damn hard, and the portable CT we did once she was stable showed some swelling. Normally, you wouldnt want to give someone with her injuries any kind of anesthesia or sedation, but we have to keep her from moving, or she could reopen the wounds."
"So, what are we talking about here?" Nate said.
"Basically, shes in a coma right now," Sam said. "And I cant guarantee shell pull out of it."
Ezra jerked physically like someone had hit him. No, no, no. For all his education and his vocabulary, that was the only thought his mind would form. Josiah immediately put a hand over on his shoulder.
"We should know in a day or two, when she should start coming out of the anesthesia," Sam said. "Well probably do a better CT at some point, double check for damage. In the meantime, you can sit with her. I arranged for one of the private ICU rooms for her, since we dont want all of you crowding the regular patients. You should be prepared, though. Shes got a lot of machines hooked up to her right now, and shes gonna look bad. Its normal."
"How soon can we see her?" JD asked softly. Sam smiled. The boy always got to the point, in the sweetest, most innocent way.
"About twenty minutes," she said. "We have to get her settled." Stopping, she looked at the seven men she had put so much work into saving in the past three years, and realized that if she didnt save this one woman that might not matter. "Shell be all right, guys. Just keep telling yourselves that."
"Thanks," Vin said softly, then returned to his pacing.
Just then, Mary Travis, followed by AD Travis and Evie walked in. "How is she?" Mary immediately asked.
"She survived surgery, but shes basically comatose," Nathan said. "Well know more in the next couple of days."
"What needs to be done?" Evie Travis said. The boys looked up at her blankly. "I understand that she has a horse and a cat. We can take the cat, and I am sure Orin can arrange for the horse to be taken to Chriss or have someone go by and feed it. I spoke with her assistant, and hes got everything covered. Hes going to try to be by later. SAC Donaldson called Agent Lloyd. Hell be here tomorrow night; Ive got Nettie and Casey picking him up."
The guys looked at her, mouths slightly agape. "Maam," Wilmington said. "Thank you."
"Well, someone had to do it," Evie said. "Now, I am going to take Mary and go get you boys sandwiches and coffee, 'cause Lord knows you probably havent eaten."
"Its going to be alright," Mary said, patting Chriss shoulder and then Ezras, before following her mother-in-law back out the door.
As soon as the ladies left, AD Orin Travis sank quietly into a chair. He hated to see this team, his team, really, hurting this way. It seemed only yesterday they were all in Lilis back yard, having that pool party, and now, suddenly, they sat before him, guilt and grief written on their faces. "What happened, Chris?"
Larabee shook his head. "I dont know. I got that phone call from her assistant that she had found something. We got to the warehouse, but she had already gone in. We walked in to see her walking towards us, then she just stopped and turned, and the shots rang out." He stopped, taking a deep breath. "She broke the case, Orin. She found a false wall. There were crates there, and the Denver PD secured them. But if it means she...well, I wonder if a bust is worth this."
"She knew the risks, Chris," Orin said, running a hand through his hair. "I know it sounds cold, but when ever you sign on for what we do, you know the risks up front, and Lili MacKenna is one hell of an agent, Chris. There is stuff she has done for the Bureau and the Justice Department that you cant even begin to know about."
"Write that on her tombstone," Larabee mumbled.
"Chris!" Tanner said. He glanced over to see if Ezra had heard, but the undercover agent seemed to have returned to the near catatonic state he was in before. "Damn, Cowboy, she aint gonna die."
"Im sorry Vin," Chris said softly. "Its just happening all over again. Someone I care about is hurting and I cant do anything about it."
"Chris," Travis said. "This is not your fault. Its not any of yours, or even hers, though going in solo was against protocol. It was the man Mr. Tanner left bleeding on the warehouse floor. Mr. Martinez wont be hurting anyone anymore."
"Can we stop talking about it, please?" the soft, southern voice said. They looked at Ezra, his eyes closed. His face had slid into its protective poker blank.
"Im sorry, Ez," the team leader. Travis nodded. He looked to be searching for something to say, but was saved when a nurse put her head in the room.
"Gentlemen, shes settled in," the nurse said. "If a couple of you want to follow me?"
"Josiah, why dont you, Ezra, and Vin go," Chris said softly, knowing that his undercover agent and his sharpshooter were closest to her, and that Sanchez could help them with the emotions involved. "Well come join you when Mary and Mrs. Travis get back."
The profiler nodded and keeping a hand on Standishs shoulder, they followed the nurse, with Tanner following behind them.
+ + + + + + +
Cause when we're torn apart
Shattered and scarred
Love has the grace to save us
We're just two tarnished hearts
When in each other's arms
We become saints and angels.
No amount of prior thought or mental preparations could have softened the blow for any of them. She lay, small and pale against the stark white hospital sheets, covered by wires and tubes leading to the machines that dwarfed her presence. The quiet cacophony of beeps and machine noises seemed almost deafening. Ezra immediately pulled away from Josiah and went to her side, taking Lilis hand in his own. The profiler turned to see whether Vin wanted to take the chair on the other side, but found the sharpshooter backing out of the room, a haunted look on is face.
"Vin?" he said softly. Tanner just shook his head and took off back down the hall toward the surgical waiting room. Sanchez was torn for a moment, but figured that Chris could take care of the young Texan. He took a seat across from Ezra, and listened as the southerner spoke softly to the woman.
"Im here, Lili," the southerner said softly. "Now, you know I absolutely detest hospitals, so you must speed yourself to recovery, because I shant leave until you are well." He reached out and brushed a strand of hair off her brow. Josiah sighed softly to himself and settled in for a long wait.
+ + + + + + +
Chris looked surprised to see Vin pass the surgery waiting room, with no sign of the other two men behind him. He quickly excused himself and followed his friend until they came to a stop at some windows over looking the city.
"Vin," Chris said. "What happened?"
"I cant do it, Cowboy," Tanner said. "I cant go in there."
"Why?" Larabee said. He could hear the anguish in the younger mans voice, almost feel the pain radiating off of him. He got no answer, and decided to press the point. "What is the matter, Vin? Why cant you go in there?"
"Chris," he said, taking a breath. "She looks like my ma, Chris. She looks just like my ma did before she died, all hooked up to machines and frail. I cant watch Lili die too, Cowboy, I cant."
Larabee felt like he was gut punched. He hadnt even thought about his friends mother and how she had died in the hospital when he was a young boy. "Vin, you said it yourself, she isnt going to die. If we have to fight with St. Peter himself, shes not going anywhere."
"I wish I could believe that, Cowboy," the Texan said, leaning his head against the cold glass of the window.
"I promise, Vin," the leader said, squeezing the younger mans shoulder. He knew it was a huge thing to promise something he had no control over, but he needed to believe just as much as his friend did. "Take some time, take a walk if you want. Im going to go send Nathan in with Josiah and Ez."
"Thanks, Chris," Tanner said.
"Just keep a little faith, Vin," he replied. "It will all be okay." It has too.
+ + + + + + +
Lili had met so many people it was mind blowing. The atmosphere was almost like a party, except she knew all these people were dead, and she to date, wasnt. She wished for a moment that she could stay here, in this place, safe and loved and protected. However, she knew she had to go back, if for no other reason then to tell her friends how much they were loved.
The people around her seemed to be drifting away, out of the clearing and away through the trees. She watched them and understood. "I have to go soon, dont I?" she said.
Billy hugged her from behind. "Soon, yes," he said. "Theres one more person who wants to see you."
"Who?" she asked. Looking up, she saw the one person she least expected. "Jesse," she breathed. Billy let go and gave her a gentle push. She didnt even register walking toward her dead lover. She only registered suddenly holding him so tight, she was irrationally afraid she might hurt him.
"God, I missed you, girl," Jesse said, burying his nose in her hair and breathing in her scent. His miraculously gray eyes and soft blond hair looked just the same as they had all those years ago. "Youve done good these past few years."
"I was so damn mad at you," she said. "I almost couldnt forgive you for leaving me. And then..."
"I know," he said. "And, God, I wish that hadnt happened, but I wasnt your end, Lili. And you didnt cause my death, it was my time. But darling, I died happy, just to have had you there those few precious years. Now, you need to get on with things. Stop mooning over me, and grab this chance. Love like this doesnt come around thrice in a lifetime."
"Thank you," she said softly. "For saving me all those years ago. And I dont mean from the bullet."
"I think we saved each other," Jesse said. He kissed her lightly on the lips. "Ive got to go. And soon, you do too. Good luck Lili."
"Goodbye," she said softly. She watched him walk away.
+ + + + + + +
The hours had gone by slowly. Josiah had been forced to practically shove food down Ezras throat to get him to eat. That done, he settled in again with the simple prayer beads he kept, rubbing them gently as his lips moved in silent pleas. Nathan was forever going in and out, talking to the nurses and doctors, and confirming what they already knew. She should have been dead the first time she crashed. The sheer blood loss was enough, but the multiple traumas should have finished her. The medic was angry that he couldnt have done more for her at the scene, and he had laughed bitterly when someone recommended he be commended for getting her here alive. JD had found a chair to drag into the room, which he handed over to Buck, and immediately sat on the floor with a magazine he had purchased in the hospital gift shop. The two were eerily quiet, taking turns sleeping. Chris was in and out of the room as well, giving updates to Vin, who was in the waiting area of the ICU. Tanner hadnt even been able to get close to the door yet, though he kept trying. Standish had kept up a quiet dialog for the first four hours, until his voice hurt. After that, he settled in and just held her hand like a lifeline. Jackson and Sanchez had both breathed a sigh when his head came to rest next to her arm and their friend fell into a light sleep. They were both afraid that this strain might be enough to break a man so used to keeping others away. They also feared he might push them all away, her included, if she came out of this, to avoid such pain in the future. Finally, it was just the two of them left awake. Tanner was dozing on the waiting room sofa, Larabee on yet another purloined chair, Wilmington in his chair and Dunne on the floor.
"Whats God saying, Josiah?" the medic asked, trying to rub a crick out of his neck.
"Not much at this point, brother," Sanchez replied. "Just that you did good, keeping her alive."
"Then why do I feel like an utter failure?" Nate asked.
"Probably the same reason we all do," he said softly. "We cant play God ourselves, much as we want to. If we could, well, Chris would have his family back, JD and Vins mothers would be here, and Lili would be smiling at us from across the table at the Saloon. We do the best we can, with what we have and leave the rest up to chance."
"I abhor gambling and as such, dont like leaving such weighty matters to chance," Ezra said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "How long have I been asleep?"
"A few hours," Nathan said softly. Noting the confusion on Standishs face, he added, "She hasnt come to yet."
He nodded silently and stretched his neck. He noticed the one unruly curl that had slipped onto her brow so often in college had fallen again. He reached out unconsciously and brushed it gently back from her face. His hand lingered there, noticing for the first time the tiny laugh lines that had formed around her eyes. They just made her more beautiful, really. God, hed give anything to see those eyes open and smiling at him. He noticed that they were both watching him. "I cant get over how small she is," he said.
The two men exchanged a look. She was average in height and weight, tended toward the curvy side. "How so, Ez?" Nate asked.
"I wish you could have known her in college," he said. "Lawd, she was larger than life. She carried herself with this aura of confidence and grace that very few people ever doubted her ability to do anything. She could make your day with a smile or cut you with a word, but when she laughed God, when she laughed, you swore youd never cry again. And she could dance like she had wings." His voice faded out and he squeezed his eyes against the memories assaulting him.
"Shes gonna wake up, Ezra," Sanchez said. "Have a little faith."
"That, Mr. Sanchez, is your department," he said, his green eyes focusing back on her pale lids, looking for signs of movement.
+ + + + + + +
Lili saw sadness in her brothers eyes as they stood on the edge of the clearing. "I am going to miss you, kid," he said softly. "But Ill be watching, and tweaking when they let me."
"I love you, Billy," she said. "Thank you. For everything."
"Youll see me again," he said then hugged her tight to him. "Now, remember, as soon as you are out of the trees, youll feel everything. I wont lie; its going to hurt. But youll probably be unconscious for a while, and walking up isnt going to be fun. Youre going to have to be strong."
"I know," she said. Looking at him on more time, she pulled out of the hug. "Good bye, Billy."
She began walking out of the trees, fighting the urge not to run back in. She hated to leave her brother again, and Jesse, and everyone, but she knew she had to go back. She couldnt let this haunt her friends and add more to the burden they each carried. She steeled her resolve and kept walking. She reached the edge of the trees and looked out over the meadow of her childhood home. Turning, she glimpsed Billy watching her. She raised her hand and waved once and watched him return the gesture. Then she turned and stepped out into the sun.
Immediately, the burning lances of pain that come with being shot hit her, and she cried out as her knees buckled under her. Her head felt like it was imploding, and tears sprang to her face. As she slipped bonelessly to the ground, blackness engulfed her.
Billy watched in agony as his sister took the pain coming to her. He only hoped that she and this Ezra figured it out after all of this. She deserved that kind of happiness. "Good luck, Lady Bug," he said softly, then turned and walked through the trees in the other direction, content to wait for the chance to see her again.
+ + + + + + +
Steven Masters was surprised to find Vin Tanner in the ICU waiting room, alone for the moment. The dejected slump of his shoulders was evident as the young man, only a few years older than Steven himself, stared at the floor. "Agent Tanner?" he said. He looked up. "Im Steven Masters, Lilis assistant."
The Texan sighed as recognition slowly dawned in his mind. "Agent Masters," he said, nodding. "Shes still unconscious."
"Can I see her?" Steven asked. He nodded but made no move. "Agent Tanner, I dont know which room..."
Vin looked up again. He didnt want to see Lili like she was, but this kid had a right to. Just last week...was it only last week? Just last week, she had been saying how proud she was of him. He sighed and stood up, inclining his head that Steven should follow him. The two made their way down the hall, coming to a stop at the door. Steven looked expectantly at him. The kid expected him to come in too. Tanner swallowed hard and stepped through the door. He had to fight the immediate urge to run. If anything, she looked paler than she had when he had seen her the night before. Her dark hair only served to accentuate the difference.
Steven stepped in behind the lithe sharpshooter and took in the sight of his boss. His heart hurt to see her, usually so strong, looking so fragile. He nodded toward the men around the room. "I would have been here sooner, but a bust came up from the FBI, and I had to go," he said. "Any change?"
Nathan shook his head. "Shes still stable, but she hasnt come out of the coma yet. Doctors said it could be a day or a week." Or never. The medic grimace slightly at the thought.
Meanwhile, Chris had stood and moved over to Vin. He carefully placed a hand on the younger mans shoulder and squeezed. He could feel the tension radiating off the younger man, but he knew something for sure. If his friend didnt at least see her up close, have a chance to say goodbye in his way; it would eat at his soul. "Vin, why dont you go and hold her hand for a minute?"
Tanner knew he needed to. He knew that if she slipped away without him at least holding her hand some, he wouldnt forgive himself. Josiah nodded at him and stood, offering him his place. The younger man walked over and carefully picked up her hand, trying not to disturb the needle feeding her IV. "Hey, Lil Bird," he said, softly. Her hand felt small and cool in his, and he looked across the bed at Ezras eyes, and saw the grief there. "Ya need ta hurry on, now. Were all sittin around twiddlin our thumbs here."
Steven smiled sadly. "Hey Lili, its Steven," he said. "You need to get well soon, Murphy is bugging the hell out of me." He smiled at the mention of the newest green kid assigned to their division. "Was I ever that bad?"
Nothing changed. She remained still on the bed, the quiet beep of the machines and the swish of the respirator seeming to eat the silence. Steven sighed. "I have to get back before the kids burn down the office. Can you tell her I stopped by when she wakes up?"
"Of course," Josiah said. "I am sure shell be grateful you came." He noticed Tanner seemed okay for the moment, so he walked out with Steven. Vin and Ezra broke eye contact and returned focus to Lilis face, looking for a sign of change. Silence again overtook them all.
+ + + + + + +
The first conscious thought she had was of pain. The worst physical pain she had ever felt. Her head pounded like a small herd of elephants was doing a tango in it. Her body felt like she had been body slammed by a sumo wrestler, and she could feel the familiar pull and burn of a gunshot wound, multiplied by four. Her second conscious thought was slow strangulation. She was trying to take a breath, but something wasnt letting her. Her deep-seated claustrophobia took hold quickly and she began to panic, struggling against whatever was choking her. Her eyes peeled open, but she couldnt focus on anything.
The sudden change in the machine noise scared the shit out of the seven men now sitting vigil in the little room. It had been two hours since Steven had left, and there was no obvious change or slow wakening when the alarms began to sound. Immediately, a nurse came in and read the feedback from the monitors. "Hell," she said, than ran into the hall. "Get Dr. Moreno, stat!"
"Whats happening?" Ezra asked. Suddenly, he saw her eyes open. "Lili?!" The eyes didnt focus however, just darted around wildly. Then he realized what was wrong when strangled sounds came from the bed. "Nathan, shes fighting the respirator."
"Shit, " Nathan said. Dr. Moreno came running in. "Doc, shes fighting the intubation."
"Damn it," Dr. Moreno said. "We need to get her calm. Now." Turning to the nurse, she ordered her to go get some drug. "I really dont want to have to drug her again."
"Come on, Lili," Vin said.
"Lili, look at me, come on, focus," Josiah said. Nathan watched; trying to get her to notice the small flashlight he carried on his keys.
Suddenly, a voice cut through the noise. The soft southern tenor was clear and clean.
My gift is my song and this one's for you
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they've got me quite cross
But the sun's been quite kind while I wrote this song
It's for people like you that keep it turned on.
Sam Moreno and the rest of the seven watched in awe as the southerner stroked a few fingers down Lilis face. His voice carried pure emotion, and they were shocked, as she seemed to hone in on it.
She was frightened. She could tell there were people around her, but the tears from her struggle obscured her vision. She was fighting so hard to breathe, but she wasnt winning. Then, suddenly, gentle fingers traced her cheek and a familiar, comforting voice broke through her clouded thoughts, forcing her to focus.
So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I've forgotten if they're brown or they're blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
As he finished, he watched as recognition dawned in her eyes. She was still fighting the machine, but the vehemence had ebbed. "Lili, darlin," he said softly. "You need to stop fighting. Youre on a respirator, let it breathe for you."
His face broke through the tears, his green eyes locking on hers. At his request, she stopped trying to fight. The machine took over, and she felt it breathing for her. She allowed herself to calm down, feeling him wipe the tears from her eyes. As she focused, she realized all seven of her friends surrounded her. A woman she didnt know stepped forward.
"Agent MacKenna," she said. "Im Dr. Moreno. Youre in Four Corners General. You were shot yesterday, but now that you are awake, you should be just fine."
She nodded, then remembered what she had seen when she was with Billy. Had it all been a dream? She used her free hand to pantomime a pen. The doctor looked surprised, but handed her a pad of paper and a pen. Concentrating hard, she wrote in block letters, None of your faults. Stop it
Seven men exchanged shocked expressions. "Lili, dont be concerned with that " Josiah started to say, but she shook her head and scrawled NO.
"I believe the lady knows best," Sam Moreno said. She smiled at the willful patient staring at her, trying to tell her something. "I think your friend wants you to all get some rest. A few of you can stay at a time, but if I catch more than three of you here at once, I will start enforcing visitation."
The men of Team Seven were prepared to argue, but she quickly scrawled, Get out of here. Im not going anywhere. The men took turns squeezing her hand, before leaving her with just Vin, Ezra, and Josiah. The two younger men both had tears in their eyes now that they knew everything would be all right. Dont go crying, now, she added on her pad. She could feel her fragile energy lagging. Gonna rest now. With that, her eyes slipped softly closed, and she gently squeezed both their hands again before drifting back into merciful sleep.
Ezra blinked at the tears, fighting the urge to pinch himself to make sure it was real. Thank you. He thought, directing the thought at whatever force had brought her back. His free hand lingered against her cheek, brushing it lightly. He was almost afraid to break contact with her; afraid to lose the fragile hold he had on her. He looked up to meet Vins eyes across the bed and saw a mixture of relief and affection their. He knew his friend saw her as a sort of reincarnation of the mother he had lost so young. He realized his own mother would abhor seeing this. She had disliked the girl from the start, seeing her as too straight-laced and not understanding Standishs refusal to try to scam the girl for her money. He had made up his mind tonight to take this third chance and not drop the ball. The fact that Maude was going to be pissed was just a perk.
Vin saw the mixed relief and joy in Ezras eyes, and he was glad. Maybe now, his two friends would figure out exactly what the two of them had nearly lost. He knew he hadnt thanked Lili for her friendship to them enough and planned to remedy that every chance he got.
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