A/N: So we come to the end. Shout out to all my readers, and my wonderful reviewers KennaC, Caranath (did you hack into my computer and read the end? Because you nailed it lol), mackie80, bhar, leyapearl, J, SC15, Stork Hardy, max2013, and SnowPrincess88! I loved reading every one of your comments. In fact, you all seem to know where I'm going with this; I must be getting predictable... ;)
Also shout out to Starsky & Hutch for the plot inspiration which I'm surprised nobody called me on. (You'd think there'd be a lot of overlap between Hardy Boys and S&H fans...?)
On with the last chapter. Hope you like!
Nancy got out of the car as it pulled to a stop and leaned down to the driver's window. "Thanks for the ride, Joseph, Abby. I appreciate everything you've done." The older couple had been kind enough to offer her a ride from the police station, even stopping at her hotel to give her the chance to change out of her stained, rumpled clothes.
"Don't be silly." said Joseph. "You probably saved all our lives last night. It's the least we could do."
"I couldn't have done it alone." Nancy said, honestly.
"With some help from your young man, of course." Abby said from the passenger seat. "When you see him, tell him we said thank you."
"I... I will." Nancy promised. She hadn't been able to see Frank for over eight hours now, since they'd wheeled him out of the ambulance and into surgery. He hadn't seen her in even longer, having passed out cold in her lap before the ambulance even got to the restaurant. She'd wondered, as he disappeared into the operating room, whether it was the last time she'd see him alive, had sat in the waiting room and tortured herself over the last thing she'd said to him before he'd lost consciousness (some stupid teasing comment meant to make him feel better, not send him off into eternity) and what she would change, if she had the night to do over (a lot).
Several grueling hours later he had been taken into recovery, and only then had she allowed herself to be taken down to the police station to help answer a few questions about just what had gone on that night. The hospital staff had told her that the operation had gone well and promised to call her if there were any complications, but still... who knew what she would find inside?
"He'll be alright." Abby said, as if she could read Nancy's mind. "He's not going anywhere without you."
Joseph reached over and squeezed his wife's hand before smiling at Nancy. "She's right. Now get in there."
Nancy gave them a last wave and turned toward her destination. The sun was just beginning to rise, but the predawn light was obscured by the bright lights and signs of the hospital entrance. The doors whooshed open to admit her, and Nancy walked straight to Frank's room, bypassing the doors to the OR where Frank had been operated on and the waiting room where she'd spent a good part of the night dozing uncomfortably, jerking awake every so often to find that she was still in the same nightmare she'd been dreaming about.
Visiting hours didn't technically start this early, but after the night she'd had, she wasn't going to let a little thing like that bother her. Since she didn't see Frank's parents in any of the waiting areas she'd passed, she guessed they took a similar view of hospital visitor policy. Tapping gently on the door, she let herself inside.
She couldn't help but smile as she was greeted by three happy faces and hushed voices. Frank's parents, Fenton and Laura, were sitting in chairs on the far side of their sleeping son's hospital bed. On the near side sat blond, handsome Joe Hardy, who immediately leaped out of his chair to give her a hug. "There's the woman of the hour!"
"Joe!" Like the rest of them, she kept her voice low to avoid disturbing Frank. "When did you get here?"
"'Bout two hours ago."
"I see how it is," Nancy teased. "When I ask you to have dinner with me it's sorry, Nan, I have a big exam tomorrow but when Frank takes a tiny little bullet to the back, you come running?"
Joe snorted. "I got the teacher to give me an extension. Dinner with you doesn't count as a family emergency... although apparently it should."
Nancy rolled her eyes as she pulled away from him to hug Fenton and Laura, but she was smiling. Jokes were good. Jokes meant the danger had passed. "How is he?" she asked anyway.
"The doctors say with some physical therapy he should make a full recovery," Fenton said, "And he was lucky the bullet didn't hit anything vital and that you were able to stem the bleeding."
Nancy sighed with relief. "Thank god."
"How are you?" Joe asked quietly, and Nancy frowned at the searching note in his voice.
"Okay," she said, "Tired. Why?"
"Frank was awake and talking to us for a little bit before you got here." Joe said. "He told us you stabbed one of the gunmen to death with a steak knife?" He reached out and wrapped a gentle arm around her shoulders, undercutting the bluntness of his phrasing.
"Joseph!" Laura reprimanded, but Nancy only shook her head, letting it rest against Joe's shoulder.
"They didn't arrest me or anything. The police said it looked like an open-and-shut case of self-defense, and all the witnesses corroborated my story." she told them. "I called my father; he'll take care of representation if I need it, but it shouldn't be a problem."
Laura reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder. "We're glad to hear that, honey, but how are you doing?"
The concern in her eyes almost did Nancy in, and she dropped her gaze to the ground. As much as she'd talked about the sequence of events at the police station, she hadn't really let herself think about how killing Buck had made her feel. "I didn't mean to kill him. But I didn't really... I had to do something or we all would have..." she trailed off helplessly.
Laura took both of Nancy's hands. "And we are so grateful that you did, Nancy. Thank you."
Gratitude burned in Nancy's heart as Laura squeezed her hands before letting them go. Joseph and Abby thanking her was one thing, but she hadn't expected anyone else, anyone who hadn't been there, to understand—let alone thank her!—for killing Buck.
"Frank told us there was nothing else you could have done." Fenton added. "He said it was your quick thinking and fast actions that saved everyone else in that restaurant. Including him."
Joe said nothing, but brought his other arm up around her and hugged her tightly. Nancy leaned into him and took a deep breath, shaking her head and forcing a smile. If there had been another way, she would have taken it, but the way things had worked out... for now, this was enough. "Thanks." she told the three of them softly, before adding, "...Although I doubt poor Frank even remembers half of what happened last night."
"I do too." Frank mumbled, stirring slightly in his bed before opening one brown eye. "I remember everything."
Nancy's heart gave a little flutter, whether from his words or simply hearing his voice she didn't know. She had to admit, she'd wondered if what had happened after he'd been shot—the kiss, it being a date—was real or just comfort in a desperate situation. She knew which one she wanted it to be. "Everything, huh?"
"Well, enough." Frank groaned. He blinked again and this time both eyes opened. "Hey Joe, get your hands off my girl. Took me forever to land a date with this one. Get your own."
"Oh, brother..." Joe released her, and Nancy couldn't help beaming as she took a step closer to Frank and sat down next to him on the bed, reaching out to cup his face. The head of the bed was raised to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on his wound, putting them almost at eye level.
She let her thumb skim over the bandage where he'd received four stitches dangerously close to his hairline. "Decided on that second date yet, Hardy?" she asked. "Let me guess: a romantic picnic in an active minefield?"
He turned his face into her palm and kissed it. "Sounds nice."
Joe made a disgusted sound. "Would you believe what passes for sweet talk with these two?" he asked his parents.
"Shut it, Joe." Frank said.
"Yeah," Nancy added, with a grin at Frank. "Or we'll just replace you. You think you're the only Joe in the world?"
"And that's another thing I can't believe." Joe complained. "I leave the two of you alone together for one night and all the sudden you're working a hostage situation with some other guy named Joe. That hardly seems fair."
"I think you're thinking this was more fun than it actually was." Nancy guessed.
"What happened to them anyway, Joseph and Theresa and the rest?" Frank asked.
"They're all fine." Nancy said. "In fact, Joseph and his wife Abby just gave me a ride from the police station. They said to tell you thank you."
"Thank me? You're the one who did all the heavy lifting. You've got more guts than anyone I know, Drew." Frank said fondly, running his thumb along her knee. He couldn't seem to stop touching her, which was good because that was the last thing she wanted him to do.
The danger was past, and Frank was going to recover, and she suddenly felt weak with relief. She shook her head. "You figured it out about Theresa and the hit, you provided the diversion. No one in your condition should have been able to—" Her breath hitched suddenly and she realized to her horror that she was about to cry, right here, in front of his whole family. She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them again, switching subjects abruptly even though she knew they'd all notice. "They—they were talking about bringing Theresa up on conspiracy charges, but given that she was being blackmailed, and that she ultimately helped us out, I think they'll go easy on her."
"And Sal?" Frank prompted, his voice light, easy.
She sent him a grateful look. "I don't know what all they ended up charging him with: attempted murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault, for starters. He was also wanted for a ton of priors. Of course, he wouldn't finger whoever hired him, but I don't think anyone really expected him to. I really don't know how he went so long without getting caught." She shrugged. "Guess all it took was one job paired up with a loose cannon like Buck."
"Talk about a lousy hitman." Frank said quietly, giving Nancy's hand a soft squeeze.
She squeezed back, mustering a smile. "Yeah, if that's the kind of help they're hiring for the job, Vic Leonetti is gonna live forever."
Joe yawned and stretched fakely. "We're going to forgive you the morbid jokes because we know you've had a long night, Nance. I'm gonna go grab a cup of coffee. Anyone want to come?"
Nancy blushed as a smiling Fenton and Laura took the less-than-subtle hint and followed their younger son out of the room.
"Finally." Frank said. "C'mere." He tugged on her hand and she leaned in, joining their lips briefly.
She pulled back quickly when she felt him tense. "Are you okay? I mean, should I call a nurse?"
"Don't. I'm okay." He closed his eyes for a second, riding out the pain.
"No you're not."
"I am," he insisted, opening them again to look her in the eyes. He relaxed a little, and so did she. "It hurts, but I'm still in one piece. Thanks to you." The look he gave her was so warm and full of gratitude and admiration that it made her own chest ache.
Thankfully, it seemed the urge to cry had passed. She glared at him instead. "Just do me a favor: next time you decide to defend my honor? Don't."
Knowing she wasn't really upset with him, he only shook his head. "I don't think I can make that promise."
She sighed. "What am I gonna do with you, Hardy?"
"Depends." he said. "How much longer are you in New York for?"
She winced at that. "Two days." This was the part where they usually came up with a dozen perfectly logical reasons to bury these feelings... was that what he wanted?
"Right." His expression shifted to match hers. "Then I guess we won't have time for a whole lot more than this." He kissed her again, deeper this time, and she allowed herself to be drawn in. "...I want a rain check on that second date, Nan." he said when they finally parted.
She tried not to show the way his kiss—and his declaration—made her head spin, but the breathlessness in her voice probably betrayed her. "I have some vacation time coming up."
He smiled, tugging almost shyly on a loose lock of her red-blonde hair. For the first time she realized that he had been nervous about this conversation. He knew as well as she did that they had separate lives, states apart, her job, his school, things they couldn't just pack up and leave behind, and yet, he also wanted it as much as she did. Their brush with death had left them both feeling bold, but they were still themselves underneath—thoughtful, cautious. "So we're going to make this work?"
But she wasn't scared anymore, and that made her feel free as a bird. "Hey, we've got a lot longer than thirteen minutes to plan this." she reminded him, and he grinned. "We'll make it work."