Disclaimers: Sue me and get pocket lint, lol. I also have zilch for medical training, and most of this comes from research on the web. Any and all inaccuracies are mine.

Written for my cybersib pj, who seems to have disappeared from cyberspace *sniff...WAAAHHHH!* I hope you're out there somewhere my SFAM, and if you read this, send me a shout! Otherwise I'mna have ta send a certain retrieval expert to find ya!

And a thank you to my beta, Irish, to whom I refer when I'm stuck in the middle of a plot with no way out. Thanks for the pushes and nudges!

Angels Bending Near

"We're here, Eliot," Nate said, reaching out to touch his right forearm, about the only place that didn't have some tubes, wires or bandages covering it. "We're all here, you'll be okay," he said, hoping, like Tenny, that he hadn't just lied to him.


Eliot heard voices around him, chattering and talking about something that he couldn't decipher. Finally he managed to pick out individual tones, a low baritone that sounded like Hardison, a British accent.

Peeling his eyes open, he looked to the side and saw the team sitting beside his bed, discussing something.

"...truck. The whole thing is smashed. It wouldn't be worth much."

"We can always have it repaired..?"

"Naw, man, not worth it. Just junk the piece of crap."

"He's not going to need it anyway."

A pause.

"Hey look, he's awake."

" 'bout damn time. Lazy ass."

Heads turned to him, looking at him with exasperation. Nate had a drink in his hand and he knocked it back before leaning back in his chair. Parker was curled up on hers, legs hanging off one side, a lock in one hand and picks in the other. She didn't even glance in his direction. Sophie turned back to her magazine, brows arching as she read whatever article had her so entranced. Hardison was intent on his laptop, mouth twisting as he tried to beat his game.

"Finally decided to get with the program, huh, Eliot?" Nate's dry voice asked, his brow arching. "I have to tell you, this is getting old. Finding you broken on the side of the highway, pulling your ass out of the fire again and again..." His voice trailed off and he shook his head.

"Can we go now?" a disinterested whine asked. Parker kicked her shoes against the chair and tilted her head at Nate.

"Yes, yes, go ahead." he waved them off, and the three jumped up and walked out the door, as if released from some onerous duty.

"Well, I guess we'll see you later then." Nate turned without a goodbye and followed the rest of the team out the door.


Eliot was taken into surgery late the following day so that the orthopedic surgeon could insert the titanium rod into his femur, and while they did that, his shoulder was also grafted, the artificially grown skin laid over the open wound. Five hours after that, he was returned to his room, the monitors and machines returned to his body, the beeping and whirring continuing.

He was unaware of the company sitting vigil beside him, watching every breath he took and making sure he took another. Instead, his mind played tricks on him, scenarios very different than reality playing out in his head.


"Nate..."

"No, Eliot, we won't discuss it further. You're a liability." The words sucker punched him in the gut. "We can't trust you to keep us safe if you're always getting hurt.

"But it's my job! It's..."

"It's what you do, yes, yes, we know already! But you can't do your job when you're always busted up and covered with icepacks!"

"Nate, please, don't..."

"There's nothing more to say, Eliot," the crisp words cut him off. "You said it yourself: One show only, no encores. Well, this show has been going on for years, Eliot. Years! It's over. Done. We've had enough."

Eliot watched in disbelief as Nate turned away, walking through the doors and leaving him alone, in the hospital bed, unable to follow.


"Eliot, Eliot, it's okay. Easy there, hun, it's okay." Sophie put her hand on his forehead, her thumb smoothing his brow as he moved his head back and forth, distressed sounds whispering from his throat. His eyes tracked restlessly behind fluttering lids and his breathing was labored.

The doctors had just extubated him a little while ago, his coughing and gagging making the team wince in sympathy and worry as they heard him moan, even while unconscious. While it was a relief that he could finally breathe on his own, the sounds of pain that he made were stressful to those who only wanted him well and whole.

"Easy, Eliot," she repeated, her brown eyes watching him as his hands moved, sliding across the blanket. She captured one in hers, her fingers tightening around his.

Hands appeared on the railing opposite her and she looked up, seeing Nate's worried eyes lock onto hers.

"He'll be alright," Nate said, his hands tensing on the rail with a white knuckled grip. Sophie nodded.

Eliot's punctured lung had been repaired and he was breathing well, with no indications of bleeding in his lungs although he was being monitored closely. Pneumonia was a danger with lungs as damaged as his were, and each time he wheezed or coughed the team worried that he'd developed it, only to be assured by the next nurse that he was still clear of that danger.

Day followed night but the cast was the same: Nate had bullied the ICU staff into letting them all stay in Eliot's room. Every once in a while Parker would disappear somewhere, into a vent, out a window, they never knew where. Sometimes they heard her behind the grate above Eliot's bed, but they didn't acknowledge it. It was her way of coping with the stress of Eliot's injuries while still staying near him.

Hardison brought boxes and boxes of donuts for everyone, effectively keeping the entire staff on a sugar high, which made them more welcome guests. He implanted himself beside the window with at least two computers running at all times, lodging himself in the chair with an endless supply of donuts and orange soda.

"Is he dreaming again?" The voice floated down from the air vent.

"Yes, Parker," Sophie said without looking up. "I don't know what he's been dreaming about, but it's disturbing him."

"You can make him better," Parker's voice had more confidence in Sophie than she herself did. The grifter continued to stroke Eliot's forehead, murmuring into his ear while he twitched, his eyes flickering madly.


"Well, Eliot, you don't need to worry anymore, we have your replacement."

Nate stood at the foot of the hitter's bed with someone he didn't know, didn't recognize. The man was easily 6 foot, his muscle-corded arms held behind him as he stood in a relaxed military pose. His blond hair was shaven close to his skull, and his eyes were cold.

"This...? He's...?" Eliot couldn't believe that Nate had chosen this man, so obviously the opposite of the dark-haired hitter.

"What," a lazy voice drawled as Hardison stepped into the room. He and the new man bumped fists and shoulders with a grin. "You think we'd pick a cookie cutter copy of ya'll? Naw, man, we upgraded. This is model 2.0, better known as Rocky."

Eliot's eyebrows went up and he made a face.

"Don't laugh, man, he let me pick the nickname," Hardison said in defense. The blond man smiled as the hacker spoke, then turned his cold eyes back to the hitter and frowned.

"We done, boss?" his gravely voice asked, looking at Nate. Getting an absent nod from Nate the two other men exited the room, talking animatedly. An excited squeal sounded as Parker saw them, and her voice happily joined theirs.

Eliot turned back to Nate, his mouth open to say something.

"Don't look so shocked," the mastermind said. "You had to know that this was coming, or are you really as stupid as you 'pretend' to be?"

Eliot didn't know what to say to that, and Nate shrugged as he left, the door swinging shut behind him.


It was dark outside when Eliot finally opened his eyes, struggling to see in the dim light of the room. The light was on above his head, though dimmed, and the sound of the monitors coalesced into something more meaningful as he listened to the rhythms.

Looking around, he was startled to see the others in the room with him, Hardison, Nate and Sophie slumped in the chairs beside his bed, Parker curled up on the windowsill. He wondered why they were there, why they bothered to stay where it was obviously so uncomfortable for them. Did they want to gloat some more? He looked around, but didn't see 'Rocky' anywhere.

Closing his eyes again, he drifted back to darkness.

A moment later, Hardison stirred, his back twinging. He stretched, one hand going to the small of his back as he arched, yawning.

The hacker leaned forward on his elbows, his eyes watching the unconscious hitter. The monitors beeped steadily, showing that Eliot's heartbeat and blood pressure were consistent, but the sounds did nothing to reassure the hacker as he looked at the lax face of his friend.

"Come on, Eliot, man," he said softly, searching for any signs of awareness. "Come back to us. Please." His soft words were heard only by Parker, who had been listening for any changes in the room. Hardison's voice was the first she'd heard for hours, long after Nate and Sophie had nodded off.

She slipped off of the sill and padded around to the foot of Eliot's bed. Hardison didn't even flinch when she crawled onto the chair with him, perching on the arm and leaning her body across his back, her whole attention on the figure in the bed.

"Is he okay?"

"I don't know, mama," he said, his hand covering hers on his shoulder. "I hope so."


The next afternoon Nate heard a soft knock on the door of Eliot's room and he scrubbed a hand over his face. The others sat up straighter in their chairs, and he assumed Parker was watching closely from her vantage point, whichever vent she had chosen to hide herself in today.

He stood and walked over to the door, pulling it open. There was a couple standing outside the room, the woman's hand holding that of a young girl. He recognized the girl from the TV; she had been the one holding Eliot's hand in the wreck.

"Is Mister Eliot here?" she asked immediately, almost before his brain had processed her connection to the hitter.

"I'm sorry," said the man. "I'm Pat Quinn, and this is my wife, Jackie, and our daughter, Megan."

"Hi," the girl piped up. "Is Mister Eliot here?" she asked again, her mind obviously on one track.

"Yes, he is, but he's sleeping." Nate looked back at Pat, the expression on his face torn.

"Meg, honey, we can't go in now...Megan!" he called, but the girl had already pulled out of her mother's grasp and ducked around Nate's legs, hurdling into Eliot's room.

Sophie's light gasp at the tiny intruder and Hardison's "What the..." were heard as Nate turned around, and he saw that the girl had pushed his chair closer to Eliot's bed and was now standing in it, leaning over the railing and close to the hitter, but not touching his body. Her little hands gripped the pillow beside his head, and she was whispering into his ear.

"Mister Eliot? You gotta wake up now, okay? It's Megan." Her words were as tiny as she was, and she stretched for him to hear. "I came back, I told you I would. But you were telling me a story. The one with the horses? You didn't finish it. I wanna hear about the horses."

"Megan!" her mother admonished, and Nate backed up to let them in so they could gather the girl.

Eliot's head moved, and they all froze.

All but one. "Mister Eliot!" she said happily as his eyes fluttered open. "You can tell me the story now!"

Nate and the rest watched closely, seeing the hitter's glazed eyes moving around the room, not seeing much. A small hand touched the side of his face and he turned slightly, cloudy blue eyes meeting bright smiling green.

"The horses?" she prompted again.

Eliot frowned, not remembering what she was talking about.

"Oh, you're still sick," her face fell, but was quickly reanimated. "Okay, I'll tell you one then," she said, and launched into a story about a wolf and a mouse with one shoe who went to market, only to be met in the forest by a red-cloaked bear and three blond pigs who wanted their basket of breadcrumbs to take to the fancy ball.

Nate smiled indulgently as the girl mixed up at least four fairy tales and he heard her parents chuckling softly. She didn't seem to be bothering the hitter with her chatter, so they let her continue. Eliot's eyelids slowly grew heavier and they watched as he finally slipped back into sleep.

Jackie went forward then and tugged on the girl's ear gently, tousling her hair. "What did we say sweetie?" she asked.

Megan looked up at her mother and frowned. "Just another minute?" she pleaded, but her mother shook her head.

"Okay," she sighed, turning back to the hitter once more. "Momma says we have to go now, Mister Eliot. But I wanna come back and hear the ending to your story. I'll bet it's even better than mine was." She waited for a response but she received nothing but slow, even breaths.

Hopping off of the chair, she grabbed her mother's hand again and pulled her over to Nate.

"Can we come back?" she was practically bouncing on her toes, reminding him of a diminutive Parker.

"Of course," he said, and the grin that lit her face brightened the entire room.

"Thank you for coming," Sophie called to the Quinns, and Megan darted back to give the startled grifter a hug before running back out the door. Her father smiled indulgently at Sophie, who returned it, and the door was closed again.

"Wow, whatta fan club you got goin' on there, man," Hardison said, smiling in the wake of the tiny whirlwind. "You jest gotta go and get all the women, even the miniature ones, don'tcha?"

They looked to the bed, hoping for a snarky comeback, but Eliot's eyes were still closed, his breathing slow and deep.

Hearing a sigh from one of the vents, Nate pulled the chair back and sat down again, steepling his fingers under his chin.

Sophie settled back in her chair and Hardison mumbled softly as he pulled one of his laptops back onto his lap, fingers tapping the keyboard as he ran his codes and programs once more.


The next time Eliot woke it was still daytime, and the sun was trying to shine through the thin curtains on the window. He saw a shadow outside but his vision of the window was quickly blocked by a body that came up to his bedside. Looking up, he saw that it was Nate.

He heard banging on the window and then felt a cool breeze, seeing the curtains blowing gently into the room.

"He's awake, mama," he heard Hardison say, just as Nate asked, "Eliot, how are you feeling?"

Confused, he looked around the room, seeing Sophie there as well, their faces creased with worry.

"Eliot?" Sophie said when he didn't respond. "Are you okay, sweetheart?" She moved closer and put a hand on his forehead and then his cheeks. "You're not feverish. What's wrong?"

"What..." his voice was scratchy with disuse. "What are you doing here?"

They looked at each other, confusion written on their faces then, as well.

"You were in an accident, Eliot," Nate explained gravely. "You're hurt. But you'll be okay."

"I know..." his voice was hesitant. "But, what about...what about Rocky?"

Nate looked back at the others, frowning. "Who's Rocky, Eliot?" he asked. "One of the kids on the bus?"

"No...the guy...the guy you hired...my replacement..."

They all looked shocked then, their mouths opening in little 'O's. Hardison gaped like a fish, "Naw, man, naw that ain't right, we'd never...!"

"Rocky? That's a name for a dog. Or a fish. Not a hitter," Parker scoffed as she finished unbuckling her harness. "Rocky. What a dumb name. Now that you're awake, will you tell me the story about the horses so I can tell Megan the next time she comes? 'Cause you fell asleep in the middle of hers. I'm still not sure why the bear was wearing a cloak. Her story was confusing. Yours isn't, is it?" she asked, the words tumbling out of her mouth.

"Parker, stop, hold on," Nate tried to regain control of the conversation, seeing that Eliot was only getting more and more confused with each question.

"Eliot," he waited until the man's eyes were focused on him. "There is no Rocky; there is no replacement for you. There never was. You were dreaming."

"Dream...?" he asked softly. "Then...you didn't..."

"What, Eliot?" Sophie's hand was gentle on his. "We didn't what?"

"You didn't...leave me? You didn't walk away?" He remembered the sharp click of her heels, the smart tapping of Nate's as they left him bleeding on the concrete.

"Of course not!"

"No!"

"We'd never do that!"

The chorus of negatives filled the room, their distress palpable. He relaxed fractionally as Sophie's fingers gripped his hand, her other hand on his temple, brushing his hair away from his face. Parker came up to his other side, her fingers weaving into the hair at his neck.

"Silly. Who else would let me braid his hair?" she asked as she separated the strands, intent on creating yet another tiny braid behind his ear.

"There will never be a replacement for you, Eliot," Nate said, and he could see Hardison furiously shaking his head, agreeing with the man. "Never. We're a team, and you're part of it. Of us."

"Yeah, bro," Hardison said, coming up behind Parker. "So relax, man, we got your back on this one."

Eliot felt a hand gently clasping his shoulder and another one on his uninjured thigh, and with the four of them touching him, centering him, grounding him, he finally drifted into a gentle darkness that held none of the dreams of abandonment that he'd experienced before. Instead, he dreamed of the team. His team.


fin.

Apparently, I have to beg for reviews, which I hate doing, but otherwise I get two. Or less. So please, feed my muse so I feel like writing more stories...please? That's the button, riiiiiight here-