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A chance meeting in a hospital waiting room.

SPOILER: Leonard Betts
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

Notes: This is a birthday piece for pghfoxfan and gilliandavidlover. I know it's not quite what you wanted--there's no MT. In fact, there isn't even M. Or SVU. But it's what the muse demanded, so grin and bear it. It's short. And I included a gift receipt so you can take it back and exchange it for something else. :) It's kind of a melancholy little piece for a birthday, but it has a happy ending, I promise.

Thanks to Mims for the swift beta and helpful feedback.

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St. Francis Memorial Hospital
Pittsburgh, PA

From all appearances, it was a busy day in the oncology unit. Doctors and nurses rushed down the hallway at a pace he was more accustomed to in the emergency room. Short-staffed, he surmised. And overbooked. Just another sad testimony to the growing number of people in need of their services. Ironic, he mused, how just a cluster of cells could wreak so much havoc.

The small waiting room where he sat was amazingly quiet, a small oasis partitioned from the outer chaos by a wall of glass. The only other occupant was a young girl seated at a bright yellow, pint-sized table in a corner full of toys, studiously coloring a page in an activity book. He had assumed she was with the elderly man who was also in the room when he arrived, but that man had departed a moment ago without a word or a glance passing between the two. Surely her parent or guardian must be somewhere nearby. Maybe getting a treatment.

The door swung open and a nurse poked her head in, quickly scanning the room. "Sorry, I guess she's not in here." In the blink of an eye, she was gone again, having disappeared somewhere down the hall.

"It looks like they're up to their ass in alligators out there."

He was talking to himself as much as to his lone companion, but she apparently felt compelled to correct him.

"There aren't any alligators in Pennsylvania."

He barked out a laugh in spite of himself. "Well, I guess you got me there." He could only see the girl in profile from where he was sitting. He spent so little time around children that it was hard for him to tell if the tension in her arm pressing the crayon so hard into the paper was due to intense concentration or stress.

"Are you waiting for somebody?" he inquired.

She set down the red and started sifting through other colors in the tub of loose crayons. "I'm here for some tests. Is that why you're here?" She looked over at him for the first time as she finished the question.

"No, I'm waiting for my mother. She's getting radiation."

With her attention focused back on her work, the girl colored short, precise strokes in a shade of blue. "The radiation isn't as bad as the chemo."

Such mature words coming out of such a little person. How old was she--five, maybe six? Too young to know such things.

He leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees, his hands folded between them. "You sound like you've had experience."

The blue was set down in favor of the red again. "I had cancer. We got rid of it, but now my mom thinks it's back." She looked through the glass at a woman in the hallway, whose attention was divided between the waiting room and the doctor with whom she was conversing.

"It's not," he said with conviction.

The girl looked up at him then, her face riddled with skepticism.

He sat up straight and reassured her, "You don't have cancer."

She cocked her head, the doubt evident in her voice as she asked, "Are you a doctor?"

"No," he answered honestly.

"Then how do *you* know?" She challenged him with an imperious look.

He smiled. This one wouldn't let you get away with anything. "Let's just say I'm a guy who knows an awful lot about cancer."

She didn't appear convinced but returned to her coloring rather than continuing to interrogate him. He decided not to pursue it further. If she was here for tests, they would confirm his diagnosis soon enough.

The door pushed open again, this time admitting the woman who had been eying them through the transparent wall. She immediately crossed to the girl, who only casually glanced up to take note of the arrival.

"Olivia, honey, is this man bothering you?"

The girl just shrugged, threw a nonchalant glance in his direction, then returned to her coloring. "No."

He couldn't blame the woman for being concerned about a strange man striking up a conversation with her daughter. In this day and age, you could never be too careful.

The mother knelt down beside the girl and studied her face before speaking again. "Dr. Ryan says the nurse will come get us soon. It won't hurt this time, I promise."

"Okay." Olivia shrugged again but didn't look up from the page. He could tell she was a brave little girl who was probably better at dealing with this situation than the adults in her life.

Stroking her daughter's hair, the woman sighed and then stood. She looked up sharply and caught him watching them, suspicion immediately marking her eyes and tone. "Is there something you need?"

He got up to leave the small room, not wanting to make her any more uncomfortable.

"No. Not this time."

And for once, he was glad of that.

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