A/N: Just a lil something that came up whilst sitting in the waiting room at the hospital…

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He hated hospitals. With a passion. The white starkness of the halls, the church-like quietness of the hallways, the imminent weight of life and death dangling from the tiniest of threads… the ever present possibility of an unhappy ending.

He hated hospitals. The waiting period, with a permanent aftertaste of futility, seemed to stretch longer than a winter night on the beat, than the hours devoted to hunting down a killer, to the anguish search of a missing child. And nothing ever came out of it, save for another knot on a back already weighed down by too many hours of tension, the pangs of hunger reminding you just how long you've been sitting there, the pains and needles in your calves after you've found out, again, that hospital chairs are uncomfortable and not meant for people over six feet tall.

The doctors came out as the third eternity began stretching into the fourth hour. They mumbled the same jargon they used whenever an officer was down. He answered with the same questions and comments used in the same situation. He wondered if there was a whole chapter devoted to hospital behavior when injured in the line of duty somewhere in the Academy's book of regulations, but the idea was left discarded alongside the six paper cups of coffee standing guard, perfectly lined, next to chair he had been sitting in.

The doctor's spiel ended with the line he had been hoping to hear since the man had started talking. He assumed the question was entirely rhetorical; if he didn't want to see her, he wouldn't have waited around now, would he? And it wasn't a matter of wanting, either. It was more like needing. Desperate needing. A need greater than air itself, a need born of guilt that gnawed at his insides worse than the shrapnel that had once inhabited it, albeit momentarily. She was hurt, he wasn't, it was his fault. His argument defied logic, but his cold steel blue eyes defied anyone who wanted to make him see otherwise.

He hated hospitals. He hated the regulations that prevented him from sprinting through corridors and taking up stairs two at a time so he could rush to her side. He hated to prolong the agony of the waiting, the unmistakable dread adhering as he crossed each aisle in search of her. Atonement or perdition lay a few feet away, and he was forced to take his time to find it. Rushing towards salvation was frowned upon inside this crystal sphere he was stuck in until she got better. For she would get better. He'd see to that or they'd be hell to pay, and then, regulations or not, he'd make sure every single one responsible for it would hear his voice and he'd only state his case once, loud and clear, regulations be damned.

Finally it was just a door between him and her, between hope and despair, and he nervously looked around the hallway. Having made sure no one was around, he allowed his carefully constructed façade to slip and his humanity, all insecurities included, surfaced. With shaking hands he carefully pushed the door open, his heart breaking a bit upon seeing her fragile form on the bed, his confidence shrinking a bit upon entering unknown territories where he was a mere mortal and could not impose his will to right a wrong or have his way.

She looked so small and so peaceful and for a second his fears were replaced by relief, but it was only for a second, before guilt came crashing down, crushing him with the weight of wrong decisions taken that had lead to this, and he wished for the six hundredth time that day that it had been him and not her, as he relived over and over again what had happened earlier that morning and, over and over again, found there was not a single thing he could have done to prevent it, and yet he allowed the guilt to ride him for all he was worth. Atonement was not a word found in his own personal dictionary, for there was none for men like him.

Men like him bore the weight of the world in their shoulders, and then some. Men like him could run faster than a speeding bullet and leap higher than the highest of buildings and he'd do it in selfless silence, without a muscle moving in his face or a hair falling out of place. He was prince charming in shining armor embodied, and he'd play the part until his soul bled and his body perished and he was sure that even beyond the grave he'd attempt to uphold the oath he'd made to the city he loved more than life itself.

She had once told him jokingly that his second name ought to have been George and not Edmund, for he was indeed a slayer of dragons. He joked back that he'd take George over Buffy anytime, although most of the time it seemed he spent his days slaying vampires and not dragons. Dragons may burn down the city, but vampires slowly sucked the life out of it, and that was harder to fight. She laughed that wonderful laugh of hers, and his heart swelled inside his chest and he swore he'd forever be her knight in tarnished armor, if it meant he'd get to hear her laugh like that every day.

Her laughter, however, was painfully absent just then, and he'd give half his life and his entire soul just to hear it one more time, just to see her eyes shine when they stumbled upon him, just to feel himself blush when she looked at him in a certain way meant for him and him alone. But the only sound in the room was the deafening silence coming from her and the quiet whisper and beeping of the machines hooked to her.

He hated hospitals in the way that sound carried in them, just like right then, when the sound of footsteps in the corridor startled him and broke the spell that had fallen upon him the moment he's seen his sleeping beauty. The crazy notion that a kiss might actually wake her up filled his rationale and fueled his movements as he took the six steps necessary to reach her side.

But once there his reservations began screaming again. A kiss sounded good, in fact, it sounded great, but could he be blamed if he preferred their first kiss to take place while she was awake? For the time being, a kiss on her forehead would have to make do, as his fingers played with a lock of her hair and his hand gently fixed the barely crumpled bed sheets. Had anyone seen him just then and there they'd have had a hard time reconciling the tender image in front of them with the rough professional on the streets.

He allowed himself 6 more seconds of vulnerability, long enough to whisper sweet nothings in her ear and let a tear escape his eye. Long enough for another mere whisper of his lips on her forehead and a final caress on her hair. Long enough to last him another 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months… however long it took him to finally win her over and loose himself to her for good.

By the time he reached the doorway the mask was back on in place. He was once more the committed police officer, the daring detective, the unstoppable crime fighter… the slayer of dragons and vampires and all bad things in between. He was once more the bastard who hunted down predators and brought them to justice, and the son of bitches who had no mercy for those who had done wrong, who had harmed the innocent… who had hurt the one he loved.

His footsteps echoed in the hallway, and it took all of his will not to get involved in the microscopic dramas that unfolded as he moved towards the exit. Try as he might, he wasn't going to be able to save them all. He had barely managed to save her, and for today that would have to suffice in his mind and his soul. But the voices called to him, lured him, and no matter how much he told himself that it wasn't his number they were clamoring for, the siren call was there, persistent, unending, his very own personal Babel surrounding the shield he wore and swore to uphold and protect.

Movement to his right alerted him of a weeping mother and an enraged father, of an injured son… and a missing daughter. His steps took him to their side, his mind already working every angle, his soul already making a silent oath to bring the missing loved one back. His heart had stayed behind, though, 6 corridors away, standing next to her, invisible guardian, ever vigilant, on the lookout. And for a moment he wished it was him, all of him, by her side, and yet he knew he'd have to make do with the knowledge that his heart would stay with her no matter what.

He hated hospitals. With a passion.

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A/N: I know. The meaning of "drabble" totally eludes me. But that's a good thing, ne c'est pas?