Ed was sat alone in the corridor, head in his hands, when a voice called his name. He straightened up slowly, and looked at the woman through tired, glazed eyes.
"Mr. Deline?" The attractive redhead was frowning ever so slightly, seeming to expect him to recognize her. "Mr. Deline, I'm–"
Ed jolted forward on his seat, suddenly remembering who the woman was. "Dr. Saunders!" He reached up to shake her hand. "Danny's doctor." He smiled politely, trying to hide his apprehension.
"That's right," Dr. Helen Saunders replied, giving him a warm smile and briefly shaking his hand. She glanced along the corridor. "You're alone? Have Mrs. Deline and Miss Connell left?"
"Jillian took Mary downstairs to the canteen to try to get some food into her," Ed explained.
"Oh, I see. Well, it's probably for the best," Dr. Saunders said. "Three visitors at once would be a little too overwhelming right now."
Ed's face stilled. "You mean…I can see him?"
"Yes." She smiled and nodded. "Mr. McCoy is doing well. He's awake and eager to see a familiar face."
Ed covered his mouth with a hand, taking a moment to let it sink into his overwrought mind.
"If you'd like to follow me," the doctor said, gesturing down the corridor.
He wordlessly followed Dr. Saunders a short way through the hospital until they arrived at a door, which she opened and then stood back to let him pass her into the room. Scarcely believing he was finally able to see Danny, half expecting to see the wrong patient in the bed, Ed entered the room with fists clenched to stop them shaking.
But there he was. Alive. Eyes open and staring back at him. A smile that was slightly embarrassed.
Every muscle in Ed's body relaxed, the fear finally gone. Knees weak, he took hold of the rail at the foot of Danny's bed.
Dr. Saunders said something about being outside and to call if needed, and Ed was vaguely aware of her and a nurse leaving the room. But his gaze never left the young man in the bed.
Danny McCoy was pale, though not as ghostly as when he'd been bleeding onto the Montecito's floor. He was in pain, too. Ed could see the lines on his face and the way he avoided movement. His eyes were shadowed with exhaustion and glassy with analgesics, but there was a spark there – a spark of life. Danny was going to be ok.
"Hey, Ed," Danny greeted, breaking the silence, as the elder man let go of the rail and made his way around to the side of the bed.
"Hey." Ed reached over and laid a gentle hand on the lad's shoulder. His tired eyes filled with tears as he looked down at the boy. "Why'd you… You damn…" Ed tore himself away, turning his back to the bed and covering his eyes with a hand.
Danny watched, trying to think of something to say, as tension built back up in Ed Deline's powerful shoulders. Then Ed turned back, a roughly wiped away tear streaked across his cheek. His expression was different, darker – angry.
"You do not risk your life for mine." The words came out a little too harshly, a little too sternly.
Ed immediately regretted them, as Danny blinked, taken aback. The kid looked so damn weak. Mentally kicking himself, Ed knew he should've at least first said something along the lines of, "I'm glad you're gonna be ok." But it was too late now and he was on a roll, so he continued, taking it down only a notch.
"Damn it, kid, you're not allowed to take a bullet for me. For Delinda, yes, if I'm not there to do it. For a top client, maybe. But not for me." He glared down at the young man. "I take my own hits, ok?"
Danny frowned. "Ed, I couldn't just –"
"Hell, son, I thought you were dead!" Ed cried, cutting him off. "They had you on that damn operating table for two hours. Two hours, two hours! I thought you were dead!"
"You scared the shit out of me, Danny. Don't you dare do that again."
Danny didn't know what else to say. He couldn't promise not to do the same again, though he severely hoped he wouldn't have to. He was tired and he hurt and everything was just a bit too much – too loud, too bright, too much to take in.
"Damn it! Stop apologizing!" Ed sank into a nearby chair. "I'm yelling and look at you," he mumbled dejectedly, "you nearly died."
"Ed, I…I'd rather you didn't keep saying that."
Ed looked over, not understanding what Danny meant. He stood up and walked back over to the bed. The boy looked so helpless, cradled in the arms of the hospital equipment. He took hold of Danny's hand, which clasped his in response.
"Saying what?" he asked, gently laying his other hand on the young man's arm.
"The almost dying thing."
"Ok," Ed agreed, "but on one condition."
"What?" Suspicious, Danny raised an eyebrow.
"Promise you won't scare me like that again."
"I'll try not to." Danny smiled.
"Ok, then." Ed patted Danny on the shoulder and then withdrew from the bed a step. "I suppose I should…well…" He glanced down at the floor.
His face blank and still, Ed's gaze lifted to appraise the young man. The brave, intelligent, compassionate, young man. His protégé. The boy he felt a father's pride for. Danny, who he loved like he was his own son.
"Thank you." The strength of Ed's emotion was shown by the softness of his words.
Danny smiled, quietly.
Ed glanced away, briefly clearing his throat, before turning back with a more animated air. "Oh, you'll be glad to hear that piece of crap is behind bars."
"Yeah, the nurse said." Danny winced, as anger towards the shooter made his chest tighten.
"Of course," Ed said, mildly, "if you hadn't been making such a mess of my casino floor, I would've killed him with my bare hands."
Danny frowned, teasingly reproachful, though knowing the serious truth of it.
Ed spread his hands and shrugged. "But, I suppose – as you would say – " he brought his hands together in a clap, "that was for the best."
Danny smiled back at Ed, mischievously adding, "Yeah, saving the life of a murderer wouldn't have such a heroic ring to it."
"You little…" Ed made a mock strangling action. "Hey! I thought we weren't mentioning the near death thing."
"Well, not mine, but I didn't say anything about yours." Danny was grinning.
"Kid, you'd better be taking this seriously." Ed gave him a solemn look.
Danny's grin slipped and he frowned in askance, as he grimly gestured towards his surroundings and current state.
Ed sighed. "Ok, I get it. But drop the flippancy for a moment, would you? I need to be sure you understand."
"I'm listening," Danny assured him.
Ed rested his hands on the bedrails, fixing his protégé with a stern look. "This is a little late in the game to be making ground rules, but to be clear: my life isn't worth more than yours. Not in the affairs of the gun or the Reaper. I won't have you leaping in front of any more bullets, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes." Danny nodded. "Crystal."
"Good." Ed's face broke out into a warm smile again. "Now, you get yourself better quick or you'll have another earful from me." He waggled a finger at him.
"Understood, boss." Danny grinned.
Ed rubbed his chin, stubble rough under his thumb, and studied the young man critically for a moment.
Danny shifted under the scrutiny. "What?" he asked, uneasily.
"How tired are you?" Ed asked. "You look exhausted. Are you up to seeing another visitor? As there's a young lady down in the canteen…"
"Who?" There was an excited, hopeful look on Danny's face.
"Mary's here?" Danny's face lit up in delight.
"I'll take that as a yes." Ed smiled. "I'll go get her."
"Thanks." Then Danny sobered as he added, "Ed…thanks for being here."
"All I could do. Take care, kid." Ed gently squeezed his arm, before turning to leave. "I'll see you later."
Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has reviewed! Your reviews really do spur me on, though you wouldn't think it by the slowness of my updates (lack of free time is to blame for that). Sorry for making you wait so much! I'd love to know what you think of the story overall now that it's finished. Did you have a favorite chapter? Was there anything you didn't like or that could've been improved? Thanks again!