Saints and Angels

by ReaperWriter

Lili woke up again a few hours later, in pain. Her body ached intensely, and she was sick of having the tube down her throat. Looking around, she saw Vin and Ezra both asleep in their chairs, their grip on her hands loosened by sleep. She would have smiled if she weren’t obstructed by the intubations. She looked up to see Josiah sitting by the door, reading a book. She carefully eased a hand out of the Texan’s grip and picked up the pen and paper from the small table next to her. She began lightly tapping the pen on the pad of paper until Sanchez looked up.

The profiler walked quietly over. "Hello, Lili," he said softly. Pushing the call button, he smiled at her. "What do you need?"

I am hurting. Tylenol would be nice, she wrote. He nodded. And getting this tube out would be nice, too.

"We’ll see what Dr. Moreno says when she gets here," he replied. "You just rest easy for a minute." She nodded weakly and lay back watching the two younger men sleeping on either side of her. Josiah saw the direction of her gaze and chuckled. "You’ve been asleep about six hours. They held on for about two after you went out, but they were pretty drained. First really good sleep Ez’s gotten since this whole thing happened."

Lili thought back carefully reconstructing the events of the warehouse. She realized that she had no idea what had happened after she had been hit. Picking up the pen, she scrawled rapidly on her pad of paper. Anyone else hit? Shooter?

The profiler read the message. "No, no one else was hurt. Vin took the shooter out at almost the minute he got off that last shot at you," he said. "Poor boy’s been blaming himself for not getting the shot off faster."

Not his fault. Nobody’s fault. She let the pen fall as Dr. Moreno walked in.

"How’s the patient?" she asked, checking the readings on the machines.

"She’s wrote that she’s hurting," He said. "Asked for some Tylenol. And she wants the tube out."

"Well," Sam said, "her lung is back to normal capacity, so we can safely pull the tube here in a minute, if you’ll shoo these two out for a minute. And I think she can have something a little stronger then Tylenol, if she wants it."

No. Just Tylenol. Josiah and Sam Moreno both looked at her.

"Okay," Sam said.

"Ezra, Vin," Sanchez said. The two younger men stirred a little and looked up, blinking owlishly. "Doc wants to pull Lili’s tube, we need to give them a few minutes."

"Darlin’, are you sure you don’t want someone here for support?" Ezra asked. She shook her head. No way did she want someone to have to watch this.

Josiah herded his two charges out into the hall. All three men had been forced to endure a respirator tube at one point or another in their lives, and none of them envied Lili being awake for this. "That’s gotta hurt," Tanner said, voicing all their thoughts.

In the room, she had steeled herself for the pain the maneuver involved. Doctor Moreno was very competent, and the removal was swift, and no worse that expected. She coughed for a few moments, then settled down. Dr. Moreno let her slowly sip water from a cup and straw. "Alright, Agent McKenna, any numbness anywhere?"

"No," she said weakly. "But I really could use some Tylenol."

"We can give you something stronger," Sam said.

"I have a genetic history of addiction," Lili replied. "Tylenol is enough."

"Alright," Dr. Moreno said. "I’ll have Julie come give you some in your IV. And I’ll send Ezra back in."

"Thank you," she said softly.

Dr. Moreno opened the door, allowing Standish to step inside. He looked at her sitting on the bed, propped up on a mound of pillows.

"Hello, Ezra," she said, her voice weak and raspy. To the man, it was the most beautiful sound in the world.

"Welcome back, Lili," he said. "Welcome back."

"I am sorry about all of this," the lady said. "I should have waited before going into that warehouse."

"Stop it, Lili," he said. "It was supposed to be secured. This wasn’t your fault." He reached for her hand, taking it gently.

"Not yours either," she said. "I won’t have any of you feeling guilty. If you hadn’t been there at all, I would be dead." She squeezed his hand. "I feel like there was something I was supposed to tell everyone, but it's all fuzzy. I had the strangest dream."

The southerner sighed, thinking how mundane this all was, how close they had come to never sharing another of these moments. He unconsciously gripped her hand tighter, until she gasped slightly. "I’m sorry, darlin’," he said, loosening up. He found himself drawn to her deep brown eyes. "It’s just…I mean…"

"Why Ezra, I do believe you are at a loss for words," she said, trying to lighten the mood. Instead, his jade colored eyes dropped their shields, and glistened with unshed tears.

"I thought I lost you," he said, his voice soft with raw emotion. "I couldn’t have gone on, then Lili."

"We can always go on," she responded. "We may wish to have died, but in the end, living is the price we pay for having people we care about in our lives."

Ezra knew what he wanted to tell her, but just as he was about to, there was a knock and Josiah opened the door to reveal an older man, looking visibly relieved. He hurried to the side not currently occupied by the undercover agent and took the woman’s free hand.

"Thank God," he breathed, pressing a light, fatherly kiss to her forehead. "When the call came, Lilian, I think I aged ten years."

"Thomas," she said, surprised. "I am sorry you had to come all this way. I am fine, really."

"Fine?!" Thomas Lloyd said. "You’re in ICU, with four new bullet holes, and you have been in a coma for a day, and you’re fine?!"

"Thomas," she said, softly. "I am going to be okay. I didn’t intend for any of this to happen, but I learned an important lesson. Everything will be alright." She let a small yawn escape then, a sign that she needed rest. "Would you mind terribly sitting with me a while? I want my friends to get some rest."

"Lili," Ezra started to protest. He didn’t want to leave her, was too afraid she might not be there when he came back. Seeing the look in his eyes, she squeezed his hand.

"Please? I can’t let you help me if you get sick," she said softly, her fingers brushing his. "I promise not to go anywhere."

The soft pleading of her voice made him realize she was right. They all needed real rest. "I will come back in a while, Lili," he said, but looking down, saw her eyes had already drifted closed, and her breathing had evened out. Looking at the older man, he said simply, "Take care of her." Then he allowed Josiah to lead him out of the room.

+ + + + + + +

I love your imperfections
I love your everything
Your broken heart,

your broken wings

Lili was moved to a private room later that afternoon, before Ezra returned. She made sure the nurses called him to let him know. She didn’t want to imagine his reaction if he had walked in the room to find her gone. After another sleep, she had awoken to find Thomas staring at her.

"Hi," she said softly.

Her mentor looked at her carefully. "You scared a lot of people Lili Grace," he said. "Scared them good."

"Believe me, Thomas, getting shot was not in my game plan," she replied. The two of them laughed a little, clearing the tension in the air.

"I called the kids," he said. "They were relieved to hear you were all right. And Jake told me he made sure you got the necklace before you came home."

"Its beautiful, Thomas, but are you sure one of your family shouldn’t have it?" she asked.

"You are family, Lili," he replied. "Did Marian ever tell you the story behind that necklace?"

"Not that I remember," she replied.

"It was her grandmother Josephine’s," he said. "Josephine Standish Thompson."

"Standish?" Lili said, surprised. It was a rather unusual name. "What were her parents’ names?"

"That was part of the reason she wanted you to have the necklace," he replied. "Her parents were Lili and E.P. Standish."

The shock was written clearly on her face for a moment, and then she began to laugh. Thomas looked at her oddly. "What’s so funny?" he asked.

"Fate," she replied. "Just fate."

+ + + + + + +

I love you when you hold me
And when you turn away
I love you still and I'm not afraid
Cause I know you feel the same way
And you'll stay

The next week or so was a jumble of visits from well wishers, doctors, and physical therapists. She began working to repair the torn muscle in her leg, in order to prevent walking with a limp for the rest of her life. By the end of the week, when it was time for her to be released from the hospital, she was itching to be out. She was going to be homebound at least another few weeks, with in home therapy, before they would let her return to work, but she was so sick of the small sterile room she could scream.

She was sitting up and dressed when Ezra arrived to take her home around noon on Saturday. A copy of the paper sat in front of her, turned to the crossword page. She looked up as he came in, and smiled. "Good, just the man I wanted to see. What’s a nine letter word for stubborn?"

He sighed hard. "Obstinate?" he suggested.

"Thanks," she replied. "I’m ready whenever you are."

"Aren’t you supposed to be resting?" he asked, noticing her bag was neatly packed. "What time did you get up?"

She looked up and he noticed the slight look of pain and tiredness in her eyes. "I am going mad in this room, Ezra," she said softly. "I haven’t had a change of scenery, or fresh air, in almost a week. If I don’t go home soon, I will be out of my mind very shortly."

He nodded and picked up her bags. "I picked up your prescriptions on the way up," he said. "As soon as we get a wheelchair in here to get you downstairs, we’ll get going." As if on cue, the floor nurse came in, pushing a wheelchair. Lili moved slowly and painfully into the chair, gritting her teeth at the effort. The doctor had warned her that everything would tire her out for a while, at least until she was up to full speed again. She was exhausted simply by the trip downstairs and into the car, and was asleep almost before Ezra finished buckling her into the front seat of the Jag. He was glad, it would make his plan easier to execute. Smiling softly, he loaded her things into the trunk, then got in on his side and drove away.

+ + + + + + +

Light filtered in, coloring the room with the shades of a mountain sunset. Purples, pinks, golds, and reds all intermingled, giving the room a warm, airy feel. Lili smiled as she awoke to it, thinking for a few minutes that nature was truly amazing. Then the realization hit her: her bedroom window didn’t face west. It was a southeastern exposure, and had light gauzy curtains that didn’t allow for such vibrant displays of color. Looking around, she found herself in a room slightly smaller than her own, ensconced in a king sized bed with soft cotton sheets and a wonderful old quilted comforter in blues and greens. The furniture was a beautiful shade of cherry, and an antique silver reading lamp stood on the bedside table. There were no framed pictures of people, only a print of a seascape on one wall and a painting of a southern plantation on the other. She vaguely recognized the room, and shook her head ruefully. She was still dressed in her clothes from the hospital.

She made her way over to the door and down the hall, finding herself in Ezra’s living room. The undercover agent was standing at the window, looking out over the garden of his townhouse. She stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him standing there. It had been a long time since she just watched the man she loved. She had forgotten the way his hair could get a little unruly after a long day; the way his clothes always hung well on him, even if they were just an old university sweatshirt and khaki pants; the way his eyes lit up when he really laughed, the only thing she knew to crack his damned poker face. She could remember bits and pieces of the dream she had when she was unconscious; could remember her dead lover telling her to grab this chance and run with it. She shook her head; afraid to risk the relationship she had, for a dream she didn’t believe could be true.

He had heard her enter the room and knew she must be wondering why she was here and not at her own house. In fact, he was prepared for the argument she would make any moment. But for now, he enjoyed just knowing she was here, with him. He had lost her once, through his mother’s machinations when they were in college. He had nearly given up then, and followed his mother, but he believed too strongly that what she did to people was wrong. For the next ten years, he had struggled to keep the small measure of faith he had in doing the right thing, through the hell that was Atlanta and the early days of Denver, before his six friends broke through his defenses. Then, just this past early summer, she had come back into his life so unexpectedly. And just as quickly, she almost left again, due to his foolish pride. He still didn’t know why she hadn’t taken up Simon Berelli, the handsome US Attorney, on his offer, but he was so glad she hadn’t.

This time though, he was faced with a fear so shattering, he was sure of what he had said when she woke up in the ICU. Having her gone, but alive somewhere was one thing. Knowing she was really, truly gone forever would kill him. There was so much he had never said. He had never even told her he loved her, damn it. He sighed as he realized his shoulders had worked themselves into knots. Time to face the music. Turning, he smiled softly. "Good evenin’, Lili Grace."

"I think you might have misunderstood, Ezra," she said. "You were supposed to take me to my home."

The southerner had one moment of nerves before he caught the laughter in her eyes. "You live out in the middle of nowhere, Lili," he replied. "This is so much closer to the hospital, making it easier for your physical therapist. You’ll be in Denver proper, so it will be much easier for you to get around. And most importantly, you shan’t be alone. There is a friend of Nettie Wells’ named Gloria Potter, who will be here with you when I can’t be."

"And I suppose telling you that I am a horrible patient and will only be intruding on your life isn’t going to dissuade you, is it?" she asked, hobbling over to the couch. He immediately moved to help her, placing a pillow under her injured leg after propping it up on the coffee table.

"You could never be an intrusion, darlin’," the southerner said. He moved to sit beside her, taking her hand gently. "Lili, I don’t think you understand how serious this all was."

"Ezra," she said softly. "I know how serious it was. I understand I could have died, and I am sorry to have put you all through this, but I didn’t die." She pulled his hand up, so he could feel her heart beating at the pulse point in her neck. "You guys saved me one more time. YOU saved me one more time, and I promise, I’m not going anywhere too soon."

Allowing his hand to linger there for a moment, he chased away the mental demons that had been dogging him for almost a week. He had too often watched the pain in Chris Larabee’s eyes, brought on by the loss of someone loved to the extreme of human emotion. He could still see the same pain shadowed in the woman next to him. He had never truly understood, however, until he saw her lying in a pool of her own blood, on the floor of that warehouse. He shivered as the image that had been giving him nightmares rose unbidden one more time. This time, however, the warmth of human touch fought it back as Lili squeezed his hand. "How about dinner and a movie?"

She glanced at him like he was nuts. "I really don’t think I am up to a public outing," she replied.

The ATF agent chuckled. "Trust me, darlin’," he said. "Mary packed you a bag to tide you over until you could figure out what you needed from the ranch. Go put on something more comfortable, and get acquainted with the place. I will have dinner and a movie for the evening here in a little bit."

Thirty minutes later, Lili had cleaned up and changed into a pair of soft fleece pajama pants and a camisole top, readjusted her sling, ran a brush through her hair, and explored Ezra’s house. The guest room, next to the master suite, was done in the same simple style as it’s neighbor, with a deep red bed spread and oak furniture. A framed oil painting of a Civil War battle hung on one wall, a western landscape on another, offsetting the navy blue paint. A small bathroom adjoined it, with towels that matched the bedroom The bedroom also held a small desk, with a computer and printer. Various files covered the open spaces, neat in their own disjointed way. Lili guessed that this area served as Ezra’s home office.

Absently, she picked up a file and opened it, realizing these were cases from the very beginning of Ezra’s career in Denver. She closed it and set it back down, then headed back for the hall. She was making her way back to the living room when the doorbell rang. "I’ve got it," her friend called, and for just a moment, she was back in her apartment at Boston University, waiting for pizza to be delivered, while they studied late for some exam or other.

Walking into the room, she saw Ezra closing the door, carrying a big brown paper sack towards the living room table. She caught the scent of...fried rice on the air. "Chinese?" she asked, and moved over toward the comfortable couch.

"Broccoli beef with fried rice and Crab Rangoon, right?" he asked, setting the bag down next to two plates and silver wear, along with two bottles of water.

"Only if I get to steal some of your orange chicken and lo mein," she replied, getting comfortable. She watched as he dished out the food between them, then headed over to the entertainment center. He pulled out a DVD and inserted it into the player, then came back and settled in next to her. Pushing a button, the movie began to play, and he smiled as she gasped. "Still your favorite?" he asked.

Watching the opening scenes of Casablanca play, she smiled. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns," she said, then began eating. He smiled at her amusement and picked up his own plate, hoping this would be a quiet evening.

+ + + + + + +

The food was finished quickly and Ezra had paused the movie long enough to clear the table before he returned to sit beside her again. As the movie progressed, she used him to lean against, becoming tired as the doctor warned her she would. By the time Rick and Elsa were saying their good-byes on the tarmac of the Casablanca Airport, she was asleep, her head on a pillow in his lap, the rest of her stretched out on the sofa. He found his hand unconsciously stroking her hair, but since she didn’t seem to mind, he kept it up.

When the movie ended, he shut it off, and carefully got up. He heard Lili murmur at his absence as he cleared the table of the last of the remnants of dinner, then shut off the TV and moved the DVD back to its case. Finally, he moved over and picked Lili up, carefully avoiding her still healing injuries. He carried her carefully to the bedroom and tucked her into the king-sized bed. He was about to leave when he heard her voice. "Please," she said, her voice half-asleep. "Stay."

He debated for only a few moments before changing into a pair of pajama pants with no shirt and switching off the light. Gently, he crawled into the other side of the bed and lay just a little ways from her, one hand brushing her hair. "Good night, darlin’," he said softly. He drifted off to sleep quickly and completely missed her murmur in response.

"Goodnight, Ezra. Love you."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra awoke to the gentle weight of an arm across his chest and the scent of lavender and Ivory soap in his nostrils. He wanted to stay here, in what obviously was a dream, for as long as he could, but he knew there were things he needed to do. Opening his eyes, he was shocked to find himself in his own bed, rather than the one in the guestroom, with Lili curled up against him. He cringed slightly to see the sharp contrast of her light tan complexion to the dressings visible. She wasn’t really bleeding anymore, but one or two of the wounds still had some slight drainage. Just a week ago, he hadn’t believed he would ever get the chance to wake up next to her like this.

Very carefully, he got up and made use of the bathroom, then went to start some coffee. He expected Lili to sleep for a while longer, so he refrained from cooking anything just yet, instead he opened the paper. A brief story about Lili covered the local news page, written by Mary Travis, and he paused as he read it.

Special Agent Lili MacKenna of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was released from the hospital yesterday, a sign of marked recovery and good health, all things considered. MacKenna, head of the forensic science collection and processing unit, serving all Denver area law enforcement, was shot multiple times almost a week ago while retrieving evidence in a case against area gun runners. MacKenna’s doctor credited a combination of a bullet proof vest that slowed the armor piercing bullets that shot her and the actions of members of the ATF team present at the time of the shooting for saving the Agent’s life. MacKenna, who has been part of Denver’s law enforcement community for about six months, is expected to be on medical leave for a month before returning to light duty assignment. MacKenna is also the daughter of the late W.T. and Eleanor MacKenna, as well as heiress to the MacKenna International fortune.

Standish shook his head, wondering if Mary was writing an article or a personal ad. He looked up as a chuckle came from the door. "What are you reading?" the subject of the journalistic fanfare asked, her short hair bed tousled.

"The daring exploits of an intrepid Special Agent and her recovery from a dastardly injury," he replied. "There’s even a nice picture of you, prior to the incident, demonstrating, it looks like, self defense."

Lili moved over to the table, sitting down slowly at the other chair. "I was wondering when that was going to come out. Poor Mare, AD Travis and SAC Donaldson classified so much of it as a security matter, she didn’t have much to work with." She gratefully accepted the cup of coffee he offered and took the section of paper from him, scanning the article. "Man, she was really reaching with some of this."

The southerner laughed, and headed into the kitchen. "Do you still eat omelets?" he asked. When she nodded the affirmative, he began pulling the ingredients out of the refrigerator. "Before I forget, our friends requested to come over this evening and visit their favorite invalid."

"I may be on injured reserve, pal, but I can still shoot you," she said, her eyes dancing with merriment. The thought of their friends visiting for an evening delighted her, until she paused to consider the context. Their friends. When had she begun to think of the two of them as a unit? Still, waking up in the same house, having breakfast and sharing a paper with someone didn’t feel so completely foreign, especially since this was Ezra. For two people so obstinately independent, it seemed ludicrous. She glanced up to see him studying her and she mentally shrugged away the train of thought. "I’d like the company, though. As long as Josiah brings his chili."

+ + + + + + +

The doorbell rang at six, just before the Bronco’s game was supposed to come on. Though Lili wasn’t a football fan, she decided to do her best to get through the evening awake, despite how out of it her medications made her feel. She was enthroned comfortably on the leather recliner in the living room, a throw blanket over her legs. She wore one of her old Boston University sweatshirts to hide her bandages, and smiled as Ezra moved to let the rest of the Seven in. Josiah had the vat of his famous chili; JD was carrying bags of chips. Buck carried two cases of beer and Chris and Vin were maneuvering a six-foot sub sandwich. Nathan, ever trying to make healthy eating a priority, carried a vegetable tray.

"Hi guys," she said, sipping some water from the bottle at her side. "Did you get enough food?"

The six of them laughed as they set the food up on the counter of Ezra’s kitchen, grabbed themselves drinks, and settled in around the living room. Nathan took up a station close to Lili, just in case, and she caught Ezra smirking at the move. Shaking her head, she settled in to enjoy the evening. Tomorrow, Greta her therapist would be over to work with her.

+ + + + + + +

The next two weeks passed quickly, with Lili recovering enough to wean off the pain medication she was on, and be able to walk for increasing periods of time without her cane. Gloria Potter had become a fast friend and was actually much younger than she expected. She had two children, one in elementary and one in middle school. Her husband had been killed three years before when the small store they owned was held up. Mary Travis even knew her, having met her in a support group for spouses of murder victims. They had spent the time of her convalescence while Ezra was working making short trips out shopping, watching movies, and going out to the ranch for clean clothes. She decided she would definitely miss spending quite so much time with her when she was back on her own. And at night, she had Ezra. He had stayed with her every night she had asked, and when she woke gasping from the nightmares in her sleep, he would move next to her, and she would snuggle up against him and go back to sleep, feeling safe.

For his part, Standish didn’t want the time to end. The team was in between cases at the moment, so after daily doses of paperwork, testimony in court, or training sessions, he would come home and relieve Gloria. Then he and Lili would eat a quiet dinner and watch TV or talk. Sometimes, she would read a book while he worked on reports. At the end of the evening, he would usually end up carrying her to bed, and she almost always asked him to stay with her. In the morning, he would awake to find her curled against him and he would move carefully so as not to wake her. He wondered if she even knew he was there, that she asked him to stay. He had been trying for two weeks to come up with a way to tell her how he truly felt, but every time he came close, he stopped. What if she didn’t feel the same? Would it destroy their friendship? It just wasn’t a risk he could make himself take the chance.

+ + + + + + +

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.
These feet of clay

They will not stray

"When do ya think those two will get around to sayin’ it?" Vin asked his best friend as the two of them watched Ezra helping Lili from the Jag. Larabee was hosting a barbecue to celebrate her return to light duty, via the doctor’s decision earlier that afternoon. She would be moving home to her ranch sometime tomorrow, and be back to week on Wednesday. Both men had noticed their teammate was unusually quiet at work after the lady had called to give him the good news.

"Don’t know, cowboy," Chris replied. "You’d think almost losing her would kick his butt into gear. Hell, Josiah even said he told him straight out she loved him too."

"He’s scared," Tanner said softly. His black clad friend glanced over and quirked an eyebrow at that statement. The Texan smirked back. "She was all he knew for a while once, pard, but as a friend. Look how hard it was for him to trust us. He already trusts her that way, but what we’re talkin’ about is a whole ‘nother thing."

Larabee nodded. "I think she’s scared too," he said. "She has been on her own now for so long, I don’t know that she knew quite how to handle all this." He swept his arm back to encompass the rest of the team, and some of the extended ‘family’ that made up their world. "I was surprised she didn’t bolt when Simon offered her the chance."

"Nah," the sharpshooter replied. "She was too grounded by then. ‘Sides, she was needed here." Vin’s eyes seemed to darken as he said that, remembering a day not too long before when he thought he’d lost the man next to him, only to have him given back by the woman making her way toward the house. "We owe her a lot, pard."

The team leader nodded. "But they have to be ready to say it, Vin, we can’t push them," he said. "Besides, I think it will be soon. Something’s got to give."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had been quiet all evening, ever since he had picked her up at his town house to come to Chris’s. It wasn’t the usual casual silences they could slip into with each other, when the need to keep up their personal firewalls came down and they just were. There was a tension and difference tonight. She had been sure he would be ready to have his house back as soon as the doctor gave her the go ahead. They were both intensely private people, and while she had found the living situation oddly comforting, she expected him to be chaffing by now. Instead, he had sounded hurt when she had called, and she could almost hear the wall slamming down between them. It wasn’t what she wanted at all.

She glanced up now, as she talked to Josiah, watching her friend slip away toward Chris’s barn. She sighed and turned to find Sanchez giving her a knowing look. "What?" she said.

"I’m just wondering what it’s going to take," the profiler replied.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," she said, suddenly very uncomfortable. The older man seemed to be looking straight through her carefully placed defenses. How did Ezra deal with that on a daily basis?

Sanchez sighed. "We do dangerous work, Lili. Maybe not as dangerous as the movies make out. People may not die on the line every single day," he said. "But sooner or later, death comes to us all. And all the things left unsaid will die with us." With that, he patted her shoulder and headed in to find a cold beer. She sat shocked in his wake. It was a subtle way to make a blunt point. Something had to give. Carefully standing, she grabbed her cane and headed for the barn.

+ + + + + + +

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.
Saints and angels

Ezra had come into the barn to gather his thoughts and visit the two horses. Berowne had been unsure about his unplanned vacation at first, but soon he was content to keep company with the seven other horses in residence. He and Chaucer seemed to get along especially well, staying in stalls next to each other.

He grabbed a currycomb and began brushing his chestnut horse down. "Why did I ever start letting people in again?" he asked the animal. "It makes everything so complicated."

"Is that really what you think?" came the voice from the door. Lili stood, the soft light of dusk coming in from the loft widow making her look sort of ethereal. "If it is, I will walk out of your life tonight, Ezra. The last thing I ever wanted was to cause you pain."

Her voice held a slight tremor to it, and it was that sign of vulnerability that cinched it for him. He dropped the currycomb and stepped out of the stall. Closing the distance between them, he placed both hands on her shoulders. "Lili, if you walked out tonight, I wouldn’t have a life." Then he kissed her.

It was the last thing she had expected, and for a moment, she stood stock-still. Then her mind registered that this was not a dream and she let go of her cane, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him back for all he was worth. It was a kiss that held eleven years of lost chances and missed opportunities, broken hearts and shattered dreams. It held eleven years of crowning achievements and amazing moments. When they finally stopped to breathe, her knees were so weak; she would have fallen if he didn’t hold her up.

"I wanted to do that the first night I met you, under that tree on campus," he said, lowering them both to the hay-covered floor.

"I wish you would have," she said. "It would have saved us all the wasted time."

But then we wouldn’t be who we are now," he said. "All the time we lost, all the things we missed, brought us here and now. And here and now is looking pretty good."

"What are you trying to say?" she asked, holding her breath.

"I’m saying I love you, Lili Grace, and that I have for a long time, but I don’t want to rush things right now," he answer, taking her hand and kissing the tips of her fingers. "I want to do this right, to make sure we aren’t rushing headlong into something we won’t be able to go back from. I don’t want to lose you and me trying to be us."

"Sounds like a plan," she said. "Baby steps are good. But I want you to really listen when I say this Ezra. I love you. You are the best friend I have known, and that’s not going to change. I think it can only get better, because I believe in you, I trust you, and as long as I can, I will stand by you."

Gently, she kissed him, a light butterfly kiss that left him breathless. "That was a good baby step," he said.

"I thought so," she replied. "Now how about helping me up, so we can eat. I missed lunch today in favor of a doctor’s appointment and I am famished." Their laughter filled the space with sound and the horses eyed them curiously from their stalls. He gently helped her up, picking up her cane and handing it to her.

"You think they'll notice?" he asked as they made their way back toward the house.

"Do you care?" she asked, glancing at him.

"No," he answered immediately. "But they will. I have a feeling they’ll say...

+ + + + + + +

"It’s about time," Vin muttered, as he watched the pair walk across the yard, holding hands.

"Yup," Bucklin added, taking a sip of his beer.

JD watched with active interest. "Do you think it will change things?" he asked.

"Defintiely, brother Dunne," Josiah responded. "I think we can count on that."

"Hey, old wives club," Larabee growled. "Come help me with these steaks and quit gossiping like school girls, will you?"

The men of Team Seven moved around to help set out dinner as their friends made it to the porch. "I think they noticed," she whispered to Ezra as he helped her settle in a chair.

"They’ll get used to it," he said. "Change is good." Squeezing her hand, he started fixing their plates, and she smiled as Josiah caught her eye and winked. 'Thank you, Billy,' she thought. 'I think I finally got it.'

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
Is just the way that we are tied in
But there's no one home

I grieve for you
And you leave me

So hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
Say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks
Is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks
Its empty, empty cage
And I can't handle this

I grieve for you
You leave me

Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
Say life carries on
Say life carries on and on and on

Life carries on in the people I meet
In everyone that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
In the rod and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on
Just the car that we ride in
The home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
As life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

Did I dream this belief
Or did I believe this dream
Now I will find relief

I grieve

"I Grieve"
-Peter Gabriel

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