Alec Hardison was usually a patient man.

He had to be. You have to sort through hundreds of megabytes worth of cyber-junk before you get to the good information, sometimes. Really, Hardison's team didn't know all the stuff he had to sort through and put up with and find a way around just to get to a simple surveillance video! Plus, each hack required writing a special program, or at least modifying the code he'd already written, which was a timely thing. Hardison's focus issues really only came up during a job, when the adrenaline was flowing and his fingers were flying over the keyboard. Most of the time, Alec Hardison was a very patient man.

This, however, was torture.

Hardison studied the pale blue walls of the room for the dozenth time, as though somewhere on the bland paint he could read the answers the nurses were denying them. Seriously, Hardison thought. They could at least put up some paintings, or even one of them boring-ass hospital TVs that only airs CSPAN and news reruns. Hardison sighed. Anything would be better for a concerned friend or family member than just staring at the empty walls, trying to ignore the other people in the room. Trying to ignore their pain, their fear, because yours was already more than you could handle.

Waiting rooms weren't a new concept to Hardison. He'd had several foster brothers and sisters, and putting a bunch of barely supervised, rowdy kids in a cramped household often led to Emergency Room visits. Hardison had visited hospitals more times than he could remember. Most of the time he hardly knew the kid who got hurt, but a few of those visits were highlighted by the same symptoms Hardison was feeling now: a tight gut, unconsciously clenching hands, and trying to swallow with a mouth that felt drier the more coffee you poured into it. Already Hardison was feeling a headache building from his attempts to keep the tears from leaking out of his eyes. Surprising himself, he'd been successful. It was hard to cry when your mind was spinning with facts, images, sounds and fear.

The coffee he'd been drinking for the last few hours in this empty waiting room wasn't helping to keep him awake. The caffeine withdrawal from the three liters of orange soda from the job wasn't helping either. The energy they'd provided had sunk into Hardison's bones, then faded away, leaving him more desperately tired than before. Despite this, Hardison kept his eyes open, focusing on the pale blue walls. There was no way he could fall asleep before he knew his teammate was safe, but he couldn't stay awake either. He was dozing with his eyes open, and the dreams that came in that state were remarkably vivid, because they weren't dreams: they were memories.

Hardison was in the van with Nate, slurping his soda and typing casually on his laptop. He didn't have much to do right now besides monitor the coms: it was Sophie and Eliot's turn to work. The grifter was playing a business liaison between an executive who was siphoning money from government grants and a fake investment firm Hardison had created. Eliot was playing her personal assistant, just in case the three bodyguards the executive had brought to the meeting decided to try something. Parker was sneaking around outside the building, putting a tracker on the mark's car for the next part of the con. Hardison had just finished off his third bottle of soda when the sounds of a fight erupted over the headsets.

Nate was calling into the coms for information and Parker had rushed into the building. Hardison could only sit helplessly and listen to the grunts of pain and the sounds of flesh hitting flesh that filtered through the earwigs. Sophie was talking hysterically, letting out a screech every once in a while. From what they could decipher, one of the bodyguards had tried to attack Sophie and was now fighting Eliot. The hitter had dispatched two of the guards and was turning to the third when a shot rang out, jolting Hardison and Nate into grabbing at their ears. Sophie screamed, and there were more fighting sounds when another shot was heard, and another. Hardison and Nate were staring into each other's wide eyes, just for something to hold on to, and they both flinched when they heard another violent sound and a crunch, before a fourth gunshot cracked the air.

There were a few seconds where nobody talked, only breathed. Parker was breathing hard from running, Hardison and Nate were breathing as quietly as they could so they could hear all the details of the fight, and Sophie was making choked gasping sounds every few seconds. But Eliot wasn't making any noise at all. Nate calmly asked Sophie what was going on, but the brunette's breath was shaky and she didn't answer. Hardison could tell that Nate was about to lose the tiny bit of patience he still possessed and shout at the grifter, but Parker reached the room just then and quickly relayed what she saw through the coms. The thief slapped Sophie lightly across the face, to everyone's surprise, but the action woke the grifter from her state of shock. The two women gathered Eliot into a standing position and walked him outside to the van.

Nate threw open the doors to the van and began clearing away a space in the back while Hardison stared numbly. The hacker had no knowledge on how to treat gunshot wounds, nor did he have any experience whatsoever with situations like this. He was stunned into silence for once, and could only watch as Parker, holding up a barely conscious Eliot, stumbled out of the building. Sophie held open the door, but was too shocked to help Parker support Eliot. Luckily, the thief was surprisingly strong and managed to keep Eliot standing until Nate rushed over to help them the rest of the way. Hardison, finally woken from his daze, slid into the front of the van and turned it on, ready to drive away. He was already plotting the route to the nearest hospital and planning a cover story in his mind. The hacker didn't allow himself to think that he was concentrating on these actions, which he could normally perform on autopilot, in order to distract himself from the ragged breathing in the back of the van. Nate shouted 'Go!' and Hardison pealed out of the lot, breaking the speed limit within seconds.

"Conner Elliot?"

A sharp poke on the side of his face brought Hardison out of his trance. He looked wildly toward the source of the jab and saw Parker pointing at a blonde woman in green scrubs who was standing at the entrance to the room. She looked down at her clipboard, then called out again. "Conner Elliot?"

Hardison recognized the alias he'd made for Eliot months previously and stood up. The nurse motioned for him to follow her into the hallway, and Hardison glanced at his team. Parker was bouncing in her seat, her casual shirt and pants still stained with Eliot's blood. Sophie was staring at the walls, eyes glazed over the same way Hardison's had been. Nate was hyperventilating, staring into his lukewarm cup of coffee with an intensity that told the hacker he was trying not to run. Hardison caught Parker's eye and motioned toward the older man. She cocked her head and stared at him confusedly, and he rolled his eyes. Hardison mimed a hug, then followed the nurse through the swinging door of the waiting room.

[*]

This is a whole new type of story for me! A chapter for each character's perspective and thoughts. I think I'm going to write the next one in first person, but I don't know where the story's going just yet. So if anybody has a suggestion I could probably work it in! I love it when readers give me ideas, and reviews make me write faster.

After reading that entire chapter, it would practically be a waste of time to NOT write a review. Think about it, then push that button! Even a few words let me know there's somebody reading, and thus a reason to continue.