Entertaining Angels

by Firefox

Disclaimer: Not mine - what a surprise! No infringement intended and no money made - another shock! My car is dead, my bills are unpaid and my cats are demented, so litigation won't get you a whole lot, either…

Pairing: Perhaps you all better sit down… C/V! But it's a slush-fic rather than a slash-fic…

Author’s Notes: Please note that I have based my descriptions on the UK version of these places, in the hope that they aren't too dissimilar from the US... apologies if I've got it entirely wrong! My sincere thanks to Judy for the beta and Sue for keeping my 'Americanisms' on track!

Feedback: Please do - all comments and suggestions welcome.


Always here, always waiting.

One day, he was going to work out just what proportion of his life had been spent here, in this very room, waiting. He didn't even want to think about how many years he had worried off his life sitting here, though there would probably be some correlation with the time spent. Four hours waiting equals 1 year worried off your life, or something similar. In which case the final result didn't bear thinking about. At that rate he probably wouldn't make it through to morning.

He sighed.

He was really getting to hate this place.

Anxiety was apricot coloured, he decided. The walls in this place were apricot, and the anxiety expended by the unfortunate occupants of this room seemed to have been sucked into the brickwork until it was saturated, and now seeped out of every stone. Almost every anxious moment of the last year had been spent within these apricot walls.

He hated the goddamn colour.

He sighed again, running a hand through his blond hair, shifting his weight a little on the blue upholstered chair. He knew every single chair in this room, and they were all uncomfortable. At one time or another he had sat in every one of them, he knew every lump, every creak, every muscle-aching inch of them. Just like he knew every scuff mark on the blue linoleum that ran around the edge of the room, every scratch and dent that marred its buffed surface, every threadbare patch on the square of blue carpet in the centre of the floor. Hell, he was responsible for some of the threadbare areas, from hours spent pacing up and down, up and down, staring at the apricot walls, his mind a whirl of worry and fear. It was seven of his long strides from one end of the carpet to the other, he knew that.

Seven strides.


If you were the superstitious type you could probably make a great deal out of that tiny piece of coincidence, but he had never put too much store in the ethereal - he was too much of a down-to-earth type - Hell, for all he knew, every carpet in every room of this type was the same size. Then he thought about how many silent prayers he'd offered up in this room and realised that perhaps he was more in awe of the ethereal than he cared to admit.

His head ached.

He debated getting a cup of coffee from the vending machine - temperamental beast that it was, you had to give it two hard thumps on the right hand side of the cabinet otherwise the cups didn't drop into place and you lost half of your coffee - then thought better of it. He even hated the coffee here. Gritty, mud-coloured, weak and tasteless.

His green eyes swept around the room again. The plants in the blue tubs - big foliage plants, with large green leaves, yet they never looked lush or healthy, just tired and rather neglected, as if they had picked up on the negative emotions that permeated the very air in this place - everything from dread down to boredom, and not a positive vibe among them. Poor plants, struggling to bring some sense of something living trapped here in this apricot hell.

The dog-eared magazines on the low table in the centre of the room - always at least two years' old, donated by kindly people whose reading tastes never seemed to match anyone who ever sat in here, placed there in an attempt to distract those already distracted beyond anything a magazine could hope to soothe.

The irony of it. Read an article on fishing or cookery or Egyptian pottery while you wait to see whether your life will go on as before or whether everything will change. You walked into this room feeling one way, and always, always, walked out feeling another - sometimes hugely relieved and thankful, sometimes more worried than when you came in, and sometimes utterly devastated and changed forever. Thus far, he had only experienced the first two, but that meant that the chances of the third option were increasing all the time, if you were the superstitious type - which he wasn't, of course.

He looked at the clock, the second hand sweeping around the white dial, carelessly casting yet more of his life away in this soulless, God forsaken place. He rubbed a hand across his face and grimaced as his shoulder muscles protested. There was nothing you could do here except wait, fidget or pace. He had paced - back and forth, back and forth, seven strides one way, then seven strides back - and he had fidgeted in at least three of the chairs in the last couple of hours - which only left waiting. So he waited.

He hated this place.

He hated the colour of the walls, the plants, the carpet, the chairs - but most of all he hated the fear. The fear that permeated every pore of his being when he sat, fidgeted or paced in here. The fear that seemed to share this space, hovering over him, pacing alongside him, gnawing away at his nerves and rolling around in his stomach. Because in here that fear was almost all there was to think about. It dominated everything, crowding in on you from all sides, suffocating and claustrophobic, stretching the time out into an eternity of seconds, minutes, hours.

God, he hated this place.

It felt worse this time than usual. He knew why. Every other time, he had had company - someone - in fact usually some two or some three, to share the anguish with. Not this time. This time fate and circumstance had conspired and he was here alone.

Fate and circumstance. Those two contrary forces that so often threw horrible surprises at you individually, but if they should ever collide and collude then you ended up the innocent victim in a fight you had no hope of winning. Which was exactly what they had done tonight. Dealt a savage blow when he had been least prepared for it; set a chain of events in motion which, yet again, had resulted in him being here.

It had seemed all the more savage because it had been so utterly unexpected. Not a bust gone sour, not a bunch of bad guys with only his team between them and chaos - no, this time it had been something far more prosaic. A stupid teenager, his hormones running riot after an argument with his girlfriend, had shot a red light and hit the vehicle coming across the intersection.

The vehicle that contained the person who meant more to him than he could find words for. His team's sharpshooter, his friend, his companion, someone who could read his emotions with more ease than anyone else had ever been able to. The person who was always there for him, watching his back, challenging his motives - making him think, making him appreciate his life again, hell, making him feel.


Fate and circumstance.

Vin had stopped off to pick up Chinese take-out for dinner, which had made him a few minutes later than he would have been. One more person waiting for food in front of him, and he would have been a few moments later at the intersection. One less, and he would have been a few moments earlier. Fate and circumstance. Joining forces to deal him another blow - right between the eyes.

The phone call had come from the hospital - a calm, steady female voice with a soft southern accent had spoken to him and in the space of a few moments, had thrown his life into turmoil.

"Mr Larabee?"


"Mr Christopher Larabee?"

"Yes, I'm Chris Larabee… who is this?"

"My name is Annie, Mr Larabee, I’m a nurse at Sunset Ridge Memorial Hospital…"

The rest of her words had become muffled, indistinct, as the surge of adrenaline had begun pounding through his body, his nerves suddenly raw, his stomach clenching with dread.

His first thought had been to contact the others, draw together the individual strands of the human bond that was Team 7, but he was thwarted in that, too. Buck was on a third date with his latest conquest, his cell phone had been diverted straight to his message saver, just as Chris had known it would. Never interrupt Wilmington when he was intent on romance. Nathan's cell phone had also diverted, Chris's grimace of annoyance softening as he remembered that tonight was Nathan and Rain's anniversary and they were going out for dinner. The same thing happened when he dialled Josiah, until he remembered that the psychologist was going to visit an old army pal in another hospital. JD had taken Casey to the movies, so no joy there, either. Ezra's cell phone had rung a few times before diverting Chris's call to his home number, where Chris had left a message. He knew where Standish was, though. Working undercover in a distribution warehouse on the evening shift, trying to piece together information on their latest case.

No-one home.

Fate and circumstance.

By the time he had arrived at the hospital Vin had been taken into emergency surgery, and a young nurse with earnest brown eyes and a gentle smile had suggested that he 'might like to wait until one of the medical team was free to talk to him'.

So he waited. Again.

It was unbearably quiet in here tonight. Normally, the background hum of noise would be audible, even in here - footsteps squeaking or tapping along the tiled corridors, muted voices, the p.a. system, the twitter of trolley wheels on the linoleum, doors opening and closing, the rustle of papers, the swish of people moving. Not tonight. Tonight this place was silent as the eye of a hurricane - still and unmoving whilst the whirl of life and death wheeled around outside these four walls. These four apricot walls.

He hated that goddamn colour.

He shifted in the chair again, repositioning his long body for the hundredth time. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing the sides of his face with both hands. His head felt heavy, his eyelids gritty and irritating. He couldn't sit still - the tension in his mind translated itself into restless, nervous energy that skittered along his nerves and set his muscles into continuous, futile fidgeting. A human watch spring, wound tighter and tighter, until something threatened to snap.

He didn't even know how badly Vin had been injured. He had spent a terrifying few minutes imagining the very worst possible scenario, then deluding himself for another few minutes with imagining a couple of stitches and a band-aid. How would he cope if…?

Vin was his rock. His anchor. A calm, steady presence who had asked for nothing save a chance to prove his abilities to the team, and had given so much in return. Loyalty, trust, an ability with a rifle that still left Chris disbelieving at times, but more than that - much more. He had become someone Chris relied on, someone he valued as a friend - and that was a mighty rare animal. Chris wasn't even sure when it had happened. Somewhere along the line, the expressive blue eyes and the smoky voice had worked their magic and gained Larabee's trust. The Texan was now such an integral part of the team, of each and all of them, that Chris couldn't contemplate how he would feel if…?

Don't go there. Not here. Not in this room, where the apricot walls sucked the reason out of you and made you an emotional, irrational, twitching excuse for a man.

God, he needed to do something!

He stood up, thrust his hands in his pockets and paced across the carpet.

Why was it so goddamn quiet in here?

Why did he feel as if he were being held in some ghastly suspended animation, everything around him frozen, inanimate, while he waited for fate to plot the next chapter of his life?

He felt as if he were holding his breath - as if someone had pushed the 'pause' button of his life, and trapped him here, waiting.

Suddenly, the door creaked open. He was startled by the noise, unnaturally loud after what felt like years of silence. His head wheeled around, expecting to see a familiar face or a uniformed member of the medical staff. He inhaled deeply, ready to speak. As the door opened fully, a figure appeared - not a doctor or nurse, and not one of Team Seven.

The figure was that of a short, squat woman, who walked with a distinct waddle, breathing heavily. She was swathed in so many layers of clothing it was almost impossible to judge her size or age, and her head was swaddled in several ancient, threadbare scarves of indeterminate shade and shape. She wore an ill-fitting pair of ancient men's boots, the lace holes threaded with mis-matched pieces of string, and a heavy, moth-eaten cloth coat, with several buttons missing, but, Chris noticed with a pang of poignancy, several birds' feathers poked through the material in place of a brooch. The little bunch of feathers, including several striking black and white ones, made a bright splash of contrast to her bedraggled and squalid clothing.

Chris watched, slightly stunned by her appearance, as she made her way to the vending machine, one hand ferreting in the pocket of the coat. She stood, apparently completely unaware of his presence, regarding the coins in her hand, before shaking her head and retreating from the machine to the nearest chair, which she sank into heavily, with a deep sigh.

She showed no signs of being aware of him. Chris stood for a few moments, watching her. Everything about her screamed 'bag lady' at him, a shambling, grubby bundle of rags without enough for even a cup of coffee. Instead of the faint disgust he had almost been expecting to feel, a wave of sympathy washed over him. If she was here, he reasoned, she was here for the same reason he was. Waiting. Waiting because someone she knew, perhaps someone she cared about, was here. That made them the same.

Chris retrieved a handful of coins from his pocket and walked across the room to the vending machine. As he got closer to her, he realised she smelled as bad as she looked, and he had to work hard to keep the distaste from registering on his face. She didn't look up - she didn't do anything. It was as if she couldn't see or hear him.

He pushed the coins into the slot and pressed the button for coffee with milk and sugar, just guessing that when you had nothing, the prospect of sweetness was probably very inviting. He bent down to retrieve the cup from the tray and realised, with slight surprise, that he hadn't needed to thump the cabinet this time.

"Can I get you one?" he said with a smile, sympathy welling up in him for this poor, bedraggled, dispossessed old woman, anxiously counting her pennies for a hot drink.

"That's very kind of you," a cracked, bronchial voice answered from the depths of the bundle.

The woman held out her hand and Chris could see a few coins nestling in the dirty palm. "It's not quite enough," she said sadly.

Chris shook his head. "No, it's okay - here." He handed her the cup and she looked up at him. From somewhere in the depths of a dirty, bloated face a pair of very dark eyes twinkled. For just a second, he had a glimpse of someone else, perhaps a much younger woman, from somewhere else, perhaps a long time ago. When she spoke again, her voice was husky, but polite.

"Thank you sir, I appreciate it." She sipped her hot coffee noisily, but with obvious gratefulness.

There was a silence, broken only by the slurping noises the woman made as she drank. Resisting the temptation to stare, but feeling that to walk away would appear rude, Chris sat down in the chair opposite her and studied the carpet.

"You waitin' on someone?" she said at last, her voice still rough and rasping, but surprisingly mellow.

He nodded.

"Who?" she asked, her bright eyes scrutinising Chris with an intelligent sparkle.

"A friend," Chris said softly, "he's in surgery." He flinched momentarily at the thought, his imagination recoiling from the prospect. He raised green eyes to her face. "You?"

She gave a small, non-committal shrug. "Just a fella I keep an eye out for…"

A smile almost surfaced on Chris's face as he realised she was slightly embarrassed. "Someone you care about, then?" he said gently, feeling strangely touched at the prospect of this grubby old woman harbouring affection for a man, somewhere. Another derelict - another shuffling bundle of rags she had run into, somewhere, somehow, who had struck a chord of tenderness inside her.

Ignored or shunned by the 'civilised' world, it was easy to forget that these were human beings, possessed of a mind, soul, and, as Larabee could plainly see in front of him, a heart. He was momentarily shocked when he realised that he hadn't ever given these people even a passing thought. He had seen them of course, pushing their shopping carts full of Lord-alone-knew-what, gathered in little groups under the freeway bridges, or standing around fires made in trash cans. Sometimes he passed them in the street, their faint, incoherent mumblings and outwardly disgusting appearance usually warranting a low-wattage version of the Larabee 'glare' as he strode by, but forgotten almost instantly.

He felt a strong pulse of sympathy for her. She was waiting, just like he was, for news of someone she cared about; but she wouldn't have the escape of a warm home, a hot meal, the strength and support of friends to help her through the crisis. As soon as the other members of Team Seven heard about Vin, Chris knew, they would be here - a solid wall of empathy, loyalty and strength for him to lean on. Who would be here for her? Who would she lean on if the unthinkable happened to her 'fella'?

"Is he badly hurt?" Larabee asked the question gently, finding himself strangely moved by her plight.

She shrugged again. "Worse than he's letting on…" She regarded Chris with eyes that radiated intelligence, despite the ravaged face. "He's a real stubborn cuss at times…" She smiled swiftly, showing a mouth devoid of anything recognisable as teeth, save a couple of yellowed stumps at the front. "But he ain't anywhere near as good at foolin' people as he thinks he is… I can see straight through him…"

Chris smiled at her words, the affection in them unmistakable. She must have been quite a woman…once.

"What happened?" He asked, not wanting to pry, but still curious.

She shook her head. "Accident," she said simply. "I didn't want him to be here on his own… he hates hospitals. They scare him… Not that he'd ever admit that, of course!" She raised her eyebrows in a gesture that clearly showed what she thought of such machismo, and Chris had to fight hard not to laugh out loud. He had a sudden vivid mental picture of some dishevelled, confused old man, regaining consciousness in the emergency room, and looking up to find this old bag lady hovering over him like some nightmarish mother-hen.

"I can always see straight through him… it's all in the eyes, always. Mirrors of the soul, eyes are…" She was half-talking to herself, her voice little more than a whisper.

"I know," Chris said with a flash of pain, thinking of a pair of blue eyes that were the epitome of those words.

Vin's eyes could register an astonishing array of emotions with a clarity that had stunned Larabee from the very first time he had laid eyes on the young Texan. They were disquieting, disturbing, fascinating eyes, and they had connected with Chris from that very first second. It was as if Vin could see through him - no, not through him, inside him. As if those eyes had connected with him at a level no-one else had ever found. More than once he had found himself unable to tear his gaze away from those astounding blue eyes, and the famed Larabee 'glare' was simply swallowed up and absorbed by them, usually sparking a small, lop-sided smile on Vin's face, as if he found Chris's attempts to glare him into line faintly amusing.

Those eyes could speak to him without words, could explain in a single look ideas that a thousand words couldn't express. But, at the same time, they could hide that same soul with ease. If Vin didn't want Chris to know what he was thinking, those same eyes would glitter, or become subdued, and Chris simply could not get past their defences. They guarded that proud, stubborn soul superbly.

"It's the same for everyone," the words intruded on Chris's musing, and he suddenly realised the old woman was talking to him again.

"What is?"

"The eyes… they give the heart away… everyone's … that's how I know…," she said softly.

"How you know what?" Chris said. She was beginning to ramble, he thought, retreating back into that twilight world she normally inhabited, probably fuelled by cheap drink or mental deficiency.

"That's how I know how afraid he is."

His heart gave a lurch at the uncharitable thought that had passed through his mind. Her anxiety for her friend was obvious and no less sincere than his. He felt guilty.

"I'm sure he'll be happy to see you - to know you're here for him…" It sounded trite, even to his ears, and Chris almost winced.

She gave a small, harsh little laugh. "I doubt it! He works real hard at fighting the rest of the world… he's set on the idea that life ain't been very kind to him, so he spends most of his time trying to pay life back. He hasn't realised yet how futile that is… All he needs to do is stop fighting long enough to look, and the stupid cuss might actually see what he's got…"

The 'life ain't been kind to him' was a telling remark, Chris thought. Probably the explanation for choosing life on the streets, or perhaps it hadn't been a choice? Perhaps fate and circumstance had conspired and dealt him an unexpected blow that had irrefutably changed the course of his life.

"What about your friend?" she asked, tilting her head to one side, studying him intently. "Where's his family?"

Chris shook his head. "He doesn't have any…"

She shrugged. "You're here."

"I'm not family… I'm his boss…"

A slightly incredulous expression crossed her features. "His boss? There aren't many bosses I've come across who'd sit in this God-forsaken heap of bricks half the night… what kind of work does he do?"

"He's… we are Federal Agents," Chris explained, "I'm his Team Leader… he's one of my team."

She let the words sink in for a moment, regarding Chris carefully. "You feel responsible for him?" she asked at last, "you think it's your fault he's hurt?"

"No!" Chris said quickly. "No… no, it was a stupid accident… and I'm not responsible for him…"

"But you're here," she said again, "and if you’re his boss, but you don't feel responsible, then why? Unless you feel sorry for him… perhaps you're here out of pity…"

Chris's green eyes flared angrily at her - was she trying to bait him on purpose? He saw no malice in her expression, just a faint curiosity, her brows knitted together as if she were trying to understand his motives.

"Of course not! Hell - I don't pity him - I wouldn't dare! He don't need anyone's pity, I promise you. He's the strongest, most stubborn, most mule-headed…" he sighed, seeing Vin as clearly as if he were standing in the room, blue eyes spitting fire, lips set in a firm line, daring Larabee to argue with him. The mental picture was so vivid, his heart leapt in his ribs. Suppose he never saw Vin like that again? Suppose he never got the opportunity to say all the things he had somehow never gotten around to saying? Suppose…?

He closed his eyes, trying to blot out the image, but it only made it worse.

Vin - sitting around the table they always shared at Inez's bar, long fingers idly drawing lines through the condensation around his beer bottle, blue eyes shifting from one face to another. Saying little, but hearing everything, that small, quirky smile just lifting his mouth so you never quite knew what he was thinking.

Vin - a soft silhouette on a rooftop or high above them on a warehouse catwalk, crouched like a panther hiding in the jungle, rifle held rock steady in those long fingered hands. Never visible, but always there. A solid wall of dependable skill and complete loyalty at the team's back.

Vin - riding Peso at full gallop across the fields, so completely in tune with his surroundings that it was as if rider and horse melded together - flowing through the meadow grass like a fish through water - a picture of easy grace and effortless harmony.

Vin - caught in a millisecond of unguarded thought - those blue eyes looking so deep into Chris's that Larabee could see his own soul reflected in that impossible blueness, could almost feel what Tanner was thinking. A sensation that made him feel so alive, so close to the young Texan, it felt exactly the same as the way he used to look at Sarah when they had first become lovers.

What? Jesus Larabee, get a grip!

His eyes snapped open, a rush of panic and embarrassment flaring across his face.

The old woman was smiling at him. "It's the same for everyone," she said again, her words a little more than a soft croak, "the eyes speak for the heart."

Chris stared at her, mentally scolding himself for allowing his alarm at his own thoughts to register so clearly on his face. She was obviously no fool, this old woman - she was sharp enough to see that he had shocked himself by comparing Vin to Sarah, in a way that Tanner would surely shoot him for if he ever found out.

"Most people just don't see, that's the trouble… the heart speaks quietly, and sometimes you have to look carefully to hear it." Her dark eyes were boring into Chris's, holding his attention, riveting him to her stare. He felt exposed under her scrutiny, as if she were seeing something he didn't want her to see, something he couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't, see for himself.

Chris shook his head. He was too emotional - too strung out to be rational. Sitting here, waiting for news of Vin, listening to this addle-brained old bag lady, was playing tricks on his overwrought nerves. He hated hospitals - always had - ever since that night his life had been thrown into perpetual darkness when he had stared down at the dead bodies of his wife and son and felt his heart shatter into a million pieces inside him, felt the cold shadow crawl into his soul and block the light. He had cursed fate with such vehemence it threatened to overwhelm him - cursed his own sorry life and prayed fervently to die, but fate had denied him even that release, leaving him alone in the darkness.

He had worked damned hard at clawing back some sort of life for himself. Throwing himself into his work with a ferocious sense of purpose - pushing himself ever harder, uncaring of the risks. Living on a knife edge, trying, ineffectually, to feel something again - fear, rage, pain - anything. Zealously searching for something to blame for his predicament, riding roughshod over anyone or anything that got in his way. Unconsciously building walls so high that no-one would ever be able to breach them.

He had gone through so many team members he couldn't even begin to remember their names. Skilled, trained agents who simply couldn't cope with his methods, couldn't handle his self-destructive streak. Only a very few stayed, and only one had been there since the beginning.


Only the big guy's constant presence, like some stray hound who had adopted him and then refused to leave the front porch, had saved him from himself. No amount of abuse, rage, cruelty - nothing would shift the big man from Chris's side. Buck had saved him - saved him so that he could continue to live in his world of uncaring, unfeeling darkness.

A darkness that Chris had become so used to, so accustomed to functioning in, it had become normal. Living in the world of the seeing, but blinkered.

Until he had opened his office door one morning, looked up, and found himself staring straight into a pair of impossibly blue eyes. The light in his soul had burst into life again, and Larabee found himself reeling from the glaring brightness of it.

Blue eyes that had illuminated his life ever since - given him a purpose, a reason to keep going. Blue eyes that spoke to him, that showed him a heart so full of emotion, so full of…


"… the heart speaks quietly, and sometimes you have to look carefully to hear it."


The sudden realisation of what he had actually been seeing in Vin's eyes all these months drove the air from his lungs in a painful rush, constricting his chest and making his heart pound.

How could he have been so incredibly stupid? So blind?

It was so obvious!

No wonder! No wonder his life had purpose, meaning, direction again! No wonder he felt different - happier, stronger, more positive than he had for so long…

Vin loved him!

And all this time, all this time, the blue eyes had been telling him and waiting - waiting for Chris to realise what they were saying, waiting to hear the answer. The answer that was now shouting so loud in Larabee's head it was deafening him.

Chris's stunned expression elicited another broad smile from the old woman. He stared at her, completely dumbfounded.

She cocked her head to one side, as if calculating the effect of her words, then heaved herself out of the chair with much wheezing and gasping.

Shocked out of his reverie, Chris almost jumped out of the chair, his thoughts tumbling over themselves in his head, a riot of confusion and distraction. All he could focus on at that second was that the old woman was leaving - and he didn't want her to go - not for a moment. He wanted to ask her some questions, talk to her some more - carry on the bizarre conversation that seemed to have shed so much light in his heart he could scarcely believe it. She had made him realise, made him see…

No, not see, she had made him able to hear. Hear what Vin had being saying to him all this time, and hear his own answer.

He had to talk to her some more - find out more about her - he couldn't just let her walk away! She was gathering her ragged coat around her, ready to leave, a small smile still firmly planted on her face.

"Wait! Please! Wait a moment…" Reaching into his jacket pocket, Chris retrieved a small business card and a pen, and hastily scrawled Josiah's name and cell phone number on the back. For a moment, he considered giving her every dollar he had in his pocket, but something told him that was unnecessary, and that she would only refuse it if he did. He hated to think of her walking out into the cold night, still worried about her friend, with nowhere to go and no-one to talk to.

"Look," he said quickly, "I don't know who you are, or…."

She grinned at him again, seemingly enjoying his discomfort. He thrust the card at her. "If you ever need a place to stay, or… or… anything… Mr Sanchez helps run a mission downtown… you can always reach me through him… or…or…" The words petered out.

She took the card from Chris's outstretched hand and placed it in one of her tattered pockets. Carefully, with grubby fingers, she withdrew a pristine black and white magpie feather from the little collection on her coat, and handed it to Chris, her eyes meeting his with such depth of understanding he held his breath.

Her voice was a soft, cracked rasp. "He'll be okay … just be sure to tell him that you can hear how much he loves you." A big smile lit her features. "And make sure he can hear your answer…"

He stared at her. "How…?"

She winked at him.

Realising she was going to leave no matter what he said, Chris took a breath. "I hope your 'fella' will be okay," he said earnestly.

Deep brown eyes twinkled at him. "Oh, I think he will… now," she replied, then turned and waddled towards the door, leaving a totally astounded ATF Team Leader standing open-mouthed in the centre of a hospital waiting room.

The door hadn't quite closed behind her when he heard a commotion in the hallway, and the next thing he knew Buck, JD and Josiah all but ran into the room, concern and anxiety clear on all their faces.

"Chris! Any word? How's Junior?" Wilmington's deep blue eyes searched Chris's face, worry etched clearly at their corners. A large hand grasped Larabee's shoulder in an unconscious gesture of support and understanding.

"Chris. I came as soon as I got your message brother - sorry you've been here alone…" The deep rumble of the velvet-voiced psychologist washed over Chris like a warm wave, reassuring and comforting.

"Chris? You okay? You need anything?" JD's eager face, his guileless hazel eyes, the honesty written in every expression, elicited a smile from the Team Leader.

They were closely followed by a doctor in surgical scrubs.

"Mr Larabee?" The doctor looked around the assembled group. Chris stepped forward, strangely unafraid now.

"I'm Chris Larabee." Blind, deaf, stupid idiot, he added mentally.

He could almost feel the tension of the others behind him, but somewhere inside, he knew the news was going to be good. He could feel it. He looked into the doctor's clear grey eyes and suddenly realised he could hear it, too.

The doctor smiled. "You'll be pleased to know Mr Tanner is going to be okay. He's got some broken ribs, one of which punctured his lung, so we've had to re-inflate it, but the procedure went very well. He's cracked his tibia, and has some torn ligaments and a broken left wrist. A mild concussion and some contusions and lacerations, but basically he was very lucky. He looks like Hell, but he'll heal…"

"Thank God," Josiah's fervent whisper reached Chris's ears.

The door opened again and Ezra and Nathan appeared. "Chris! How's Vin?" Nathan caught sight of the doctor. "Doctor? What's the prognosis? I'm Nathan Jackson…" Chris almost smiled.

"Mr Larabee? What's the news on Mr Tanner? I apologise for my delayed arrival, but I thought it prudent to collect Mr Jackson on my way here…"

Chris touched the doctor on the shoulder. "Can I see him?"

The doctor smiled, then nodded. "He's still out of it, I'm afraid - but you can look in on him," he looked around at the others, "just Mr Larabee for now, you can all see him later when he comes around."

"That's okay doc - we'll just wait here," Buck said, settling himself in the nearest chair, "c'mon Ezra! Deal us in - looks like we're gonna be here a while…"

Ezra withdrew his ever-present pack of cards from his pocket, and seated himself next to Buck, the others quickly drawing up chairs to the table. A familiar, well-rehearsed scene that caused a swell of comfort to rise in Chris's chest.

The doctor smiled at Chris. "Turn right out of here - up the corridor - Room R204 - on the left."

Chris nodded his thanks. As he reached the door, he turned to Josiah. "Did you pass on old woman on your way in?"

Josiah looked mystified, shaking his head. "An old woman?"

"Yeah - a bag lady - she left the room just as you came in - you must have seen her!" Chris said sharply, as if they were all being intentionally dim-witted.

"Sorry Chris," Buck said, looking up, "we was more concerned with getting news of Vin - I guess none of us was really paying much attention."

Chris sighed, shook his head, and left the room, heading up the corridor to Vin's room. He looked up and down the corridor, but there was no sign of the old woman, just a couple of orderlies, one pushing a squeaky-wheeled trolley on the linoleum. A nurse appeared, her soft shoes making almost no noise on the polished floor. She pushed open a door and disappeared through it. The p.a. system was asking for a doctor to report to O.R. 3. All normal. All as it should be. The 'pause' button had been released. His life was running again.

Vin lay in the high hospital bed, face relaxed, still unconscious. His eyes were closed, but he looked almost peaceful. A stark bruise stood out on the left side of his temple, and there were three neat stitches just under the left side of his jawbone. His left wrist was firmly bandaged, and a drip and vitals monitor were hooked up to the slumbering form.

Chris's throat constricted as he stared, trying to ward off the uncharacteristic tears he could feel stinging the backs of his eyelids. Taking a deep, shaky breath, he walked forward and leaned close over the unconscious sharpshooter, very gently stroking the tangled curls that surrounded the peaceful face.

"Hi Vin," he said softly, though he knew Vin couldn't hear him. "I'm here pard… I'm right here."

He blinked as the stinging in his eyes grew worse. "I'm just going to sit here and wait for you to wake up. Don't take too long you stubborn, ornery Texan, because I've got something real important to tell you, and I'm fit to burst with it… I love you Vin Tanner, and I'm going to wait right here so as I can be sure that those are the first words you hear when you come around. I'm sorry it's took me so damn long to hear what you've been saying, but I can hear it now pard, loud and clear, and I want to say it back to you, just as loud… I love you, Vin."

The hand stroking the curls stilled and Chris took a step back, ready to settle in the chair beside the bed.

Then he saw it.

Just beside Vin's head, resting on the pillow, was a small, black and white feather. Chris's eyes widened, and he reached into the pocket of his jeans. His fingers withdrew the feather that the bag lady had given him - it was almost identical. He picked up the feather from the pillow and placed them both carefully back in his pocket, before taking up his position at Vin's bedside.

He was still staring at Vin's sleeping face an hour later, when Josiah appeared around the door, carrying a cup of coffee, which he placed silently on the table beside Chris.

"You okay?" the big psychologist asked softly. Chris nodded. Josiah patted him on the shoulder, then turned to leave the room.

"Josiah?" Chris said quietly.

The big man turned around. "Yes?"

"You sure you didn't see the old lady?"

Sanchez walked back up to the bed, his pale eyes regarding Chris intently. "No, I didn't see her…why? Who was she?"

Chris shrugged. "I've no idea… a complete stranger, but she said some things…" His voice was a whisper. "I… I felt sorry for her I guess - she said she was here looking out for 'some fella' who was afraid of hospitals…someone she didn't want to be here on his own… I bought her a cup of coffee, I gave her your number… I don't know Josiah… she was…" Chris shrugged again, unable to express what he thought with any degree of coherence, "she was… heck, it doesn't matter… she was just a stranger I bought a cup of coffee for."

Josiah put his head on one side, a knowing glint sparking in his eyes. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares," he quoted quietly, noting his Team Leader's perplexed expression.

It was only when he got out into the corridor he allowed a huge smile free rein on his handsome features, looked up, and winked broadly.


Note: The quote is from Hebrews XIII v.2

Comments to: firefoxm7@hotmail.com