A/N: Italicized words are from the episodes.
"It's a stinking job."
"Who told you it was anything else?"
"He was just a boy, Steve, a boy. Probably never even had to shave."
"You think it's any easier to kill a grown man? You think the next one will be easier than this one? God help you if you do. It better hurt every time. It better tear your guts out every time you pull that gun whether you use it or not. You learn to live with it, but don't get used to it."
Ironic, he was in an emergency room, bleeding to death with a bullet in his gut, and no help around. In the room with him a man who thought he was saving his life. In reality this soldier was keeping him from the help he so desperately needed. There was no reasoning with the man. He truly believed that he was holding onto a hill in the jungles of Vietnam. A baseball bat to the head could do that to you.
"We'll get you to that hospital you've been dreaming about" Auston reassured Danny, easing him back to lie on the cold floor. Auston scooted across the floor, behind the cover of the gurney. Danny had heard Steve calling him minutes before, and had even caught a brief glimpse of him coming door the corridor. But Auston had fired several shots as the detective had attempted to reach them and Danny's worry mounted that Steve had been hit since he had heard nothing more from them.
Auston inspected his mini armory. "Forty rounds," he said, pleased with the arsenal. "Ought to be enough to hold off until command gets off their fat duff."
Danny's heart sunk, forty rounds would hold off HPD for a long time. His nerve endings screamed as fresh rivulets of blood streamed from the wound. Maybe hold them off too long to get help for him. Danny listened absently to Aston's triad about the commanding officers. He watched the man carefully. Slowly he managed to pull his off duty .22 from its holster. Each second seemed an eternity. He pulled his shaking arm forward and raised the gun. His senses were alive in ways he had never experienced. He could feel his blood covered fingers sticking to the metal. His body trembled, his mouth was dry, and his gun pointed directly at Auston. It would be so easy, and help would be there in seconds. Suddenly images flashed through his memory, images of a young boy begging for Danny not to shoot as he died on the floor. A kid that was barely old enough to shave. Who was not much younger than Cpl. Auston. There were more vivid memories to follow. A late night, standing in the doorway of Steve's office, his emotions running wildly. It wasn't fair, but who had told him it would be. A kid was dead because of him, just a kid, but could he kill a grown man? At the time he had thought so, but in this moment Steve's words rang true. It didn't matter whose life, a boy or a man.
"It better hurt every time." Steve warned his protégé. "It had better tear your guts out every time." Steve hadn't meant that statement in the literal sense, but here Danny lay, bleeding out of a hole in his gut. It might kill him if he didn't pull the trigger, but in just as real a way, it would kill him if he did. He might be giving up his one chance, but in that moment he made a decision. He couldn't do it. Danny released his vice like grip on the gun, and it fell to the floor. Danny dropped his head to his hand, pain ripped through his body, sending him into violent muscle spasms. He vaguely heard Auston's excited exclamation of the additional rounds, but he didn't care anymore. There was nothing left for him to do but wait, and hope that the cavalry made it in time.
Was that a chopper? Could it be he was the delusional one the whole time? That the hospital room he saw was all in his mind, and the corporal was really saving his life, and holding the hill in Vietnam. A corpsman climbed through, well, what Danny saw was a window. He heard a familiar voice but couldn't make out the words. Steve, it was Steve. Danny tried to call out for help, but his friend went right past him to Auston.
Me, Steve, help me, Danny tried to form words but his mouth was dry. He tried to reach out for his friend but he could barely raise his hand from the ground. The movement exhausted him. Maybe he really was crazy. Danny's eyes closed, as he slipped into unconscious. Just before darkness claimed him however Danny felt a familiar hand on his shoulder, and a voice calling him name.
"We're here Danno, we made it."
He wasn't nearly as cold as he remembered being. Danny pried his eyes open to see a hospital room, but his hard floor had been replaced with a soft, warm hospital bed.
"Danno," Steve's questioning voice came from his bedside.
Danny turned his head to see Steve. Relief flooded his being, at least Steve was vertical. That should mean that if Auston had hit him it wasn't too badly. A weak croak escaped Danny's throat in place of words.
Steve lifted a cup from the bedside table. "Here, the doctor said you could have a few ice chips when you woke up." Steve carefully spooned the solid water from the Styrofoam cup and onto Danny's parched tongue. Danny sucked on the ice gratefully.
"Are you okay, Steve" Danny asked concerned when his throat was moistened enough to allow words to come forth.
"Yeah, Danno, I'm okay," Steve reassured the young man.
"He shot at you."
"And missed," Steve said placing a gentle hand on Danny's shoulder.
"I wish he had missed me," Danny groaned eliciting at chuckle from Steve. "You were right." Danny continued.
"About what?" Steve asked wondering what was going on in his friend's brain.
"It doesn't get any easier the next time. And it doesn't matter if you use it or not, pulling a gun hurts every time." Danny closed his eyes; the pain medicine he was on was wrecking havoc with his emotions.
Steve paused in a long silence. He remembered that conversation well; it was hard to believe that it wasn't that long ago. It also explained why Auston had Danny's .22. Danny looked at his friend and Steve chose his words carefully. "No, pulling a gun never gets easier. You did the right thing Danno. You didn't want to take a life, so you waited and trusted us. You judged the situation carefully, fighting just as hard to save Auston as you did to save yourself, and that's what makes you a good cop, Danno," Steve said, his voice thick, but he didn't have the pain meds to blame it on.
Danny watched his friend for a moment longer, and then slowly, he lost the battle with his medicine and slipped into a deep healing sleep.