Sunday morning 11am
Frank discovered the flaw in his plan almost immediately. To fool a layman into believing he was in a coma, all he had to do was lie still with his eyes closed – the machinery Dr. Finley had just hooked him up to would reinforce the suggestion – so logically speaking the plan would be easy to execute. Between the strained muscles, the bruises, and the broken bones, there wasn't a single part of him that didn't hurt, and – if he wanted to be honest with himself – not moving was actually a relief.
The problem, he found after the first few minutes, was in having to keep his eyes closed. Not only could he not see anyone who might be coming in his room, whether it was a friend or someone possibly intent on doing him harm, the combination of pain medication, an aching head, and the rhythmic beeping of the monitors kept threatening to lull him into light doze which he knew would rapidly turn into a deep sleep. And I really don't want to get myself killed because I was napping on the job, he thought, as he fought against the heaviness weighing down his arms and legs. C'mon Hardy, focus. Images started flickering in his mind, memories struggling to come to the surface. As much as he wanted them returned, he knew he had to concentrate on what he was doing, or he was going to lose the battle. Focus, damn it. Just... His head listed to one side as sleep again overtook him.
Almost immediately, a flurry of images filled his dreams, flickering out of the dark like flames from a candle. He saw Anna on stage in her costume, then she appeared at a sink washing dishes and flicking suds at someone – was it him? – wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, her hair in braids, a smile lighting up her face. She turned away, and Joe appeared, standing in an empty office, gesticulating wildly as he pointed to various spots in the room, his face a study in concentration, his left foot tapping rhythmically on the floor. His brother's face gave way to an image of Phil Cohen who stared at him, confused and hurt, in a crowded hallway. His parents waited in one of many nondescript hospital rooms, their faces exhausted but relieved. Aunt Gertrude sat at the kitchen table, packing cookies into colorful tins. Kara stood opposite him, her gun drawn and pointed at him, her eyes glittering in anger.
"Explain to me again why I'm dressed like this?" Agent Malone's irritation radiated from her like an aura surrounding her body. Her eyes were granite and her shoulders so tight Frank could almost see the proverbial chip on them, both of which provided an interesting contrast to the purple-tipped ponytails hanging from either side of her head and the artfully torn, pink 'Hello Kitty' t-shirt she wore over a black tank top.
"It's a disguise," Frank said, making sure to keep his voice even. He was fairly sure her service revolver was hidden somewhere in the baggy camouflage pants she wore, and he didn't want to antagonize her. There was something about the operation that displeased her, and he hoped it wasn't him. After all, she had been the one to call him. He cleared his throat before continuing. "One that would be more effective if you didn't carry yourself like a federal agent."
"I am a federal agent," she snarled, glaring at him. "Or have you forgotten that fact?"
Frank pushed the bangs from his eyes. He hated when his hair was this long. Even though he knew it was necessary for the job, it made it hard to see everything he needed to. "Not now you're not. Now you're Carrie McAllister. You can keep the anger as part of your character – it fits the pseudo-goth look you've got going on – but you've got to loosen up your posture, or no one's going to buy that you're who you say you are. Watch." He took a breath, then relaxed his shoulders making his neck to droop slightly, the hair flopping back over his eyes, then forced his expression into one of annoyance. "Dad said I hafta look out for you, so you gotta come with me. Got it?" The words, spoken in a nasal Boston accent, sounded bored and resigned.
Malone stilled, her eyes widening. "How do you do that?"
"Practice," Frank said in the other voice. "A whole lotta practice." He straightened up, cleared his throat, and raised an eyebrow at her. "Your turn."
She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. As she exhaled, she slumped her shoulders down, tilted her head to the side, and shifted so most of her weight was on her right leg. When she opened her eyes, most of the anger was gone, replaced by a petulant sullenness. "This better?" Her native Boston accent had deepened, the 'r' at the end of the word disappearing.
"What's your name?" Frank straightened up, deliberately using his own voice.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Really? You can't keep track of your sister's name? Jerk."
"And who am I?"
"Zack McAllister," she said, a hint of loathing in her voice. "My wicked lame older brother. Loser who's never met a comic book or a computer he doesn't like better than a person."
Frank nodded. "Not bad. You're still a little stiff. And don't embellish too much. It's easier if you keep it simple."
Malone straightened, her expression changing to one of grudging respect. "It's not just computers you're good at, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"You make this look easy," she said, her hand making a sweeping motion. "I called you from out of nowhere to assist us, and not only are you not nervous, you're giving me advice on how to go undercover. How long have you been doing this anyway?"
"A long time." Frank pushed the hair out of his eyes again. "My brother and I have been solving mysteries for years. Sometimes with our dad, sometimes on our own."
"If he's anything like you, we could use you both at the FBI."
A chuckle escaped from Frank's lips. "Uh, no. Joe doesn't do real well with people telling him what to do. He'd spend more time in trouble than on the job." He shook his head. "Definitely not. Once he graduates we're opening our own agency..."
A sound from the other side of the room started him from sleep, his thought processes kicking in just quickly enough to keep from opening his eyes. His shoulders tensed slightly as footsteps moved closer to the bed.
"Frank?" His name was whispered into the air. The speaker was male, his voice tantalizingly familiar.
Frank lay still, waiting, unsure where he had heard it before. On the mountain? All he knew was that it had been recently.
There was the sound of a hand lightly slapping a forehead. "Right. What was it?" A pause. "Ave Maria... No, wait... Oh, yeah. Magdalene." A longer pause. "Frank?" This time there was a note of concern.
Heart pounding, Frank opened his eyes, trying to release the tension he felt. Magdalene was the code word that Kara had insisted on so he would know when it was safe to 'wake up'. A sigh of relief came from the side of the bed.
The man watching him was maybe two or so inches shorter than Frank – it was hard to tell from this angle – with short-cropped black hair and hazel eyes. His stocky build made Frank wonder if he had been a football player at some point in his life. "You scared me there for a moment," he said, a shaky grin covering his face. "Do you need a drink?"
Frank shook his head. "No. Thank you."
"You don't remember me, do you?" The man cocked his head to one side, the grin fading. He wiped a hand across his forehead, a nervous gesture. "Kara told me, but..." He straightened up, his expression troubled. "I'm Kara's partner. Travis."
A faint memory fluttered through Frank's brain. "Agent Welker. Dr. Finley mentioned your name." His brow creased as another memory surfaced and he struggled to hold on to it. "You were with Kara when she found me. I recognize your voice."
The agent's eyes brightened, and he nodded. "I've got to tell you, Frank, you were a real mess, and that's saying something. I mean, I'm the one who found you after Hansen..." Travis broke off, watching as the blood drained from Frank's face. "Are you all right?"
A tsunami of images flooded Frank's brain. An office with cubicles. Flickering screens full of computer code. A dark basement. Lying on a cot, chains around his ankles. He shuddered, fear suddenly making him cold, then closed his eyes and took a few gulps of air. Forcing his eyes back open, he turned to face Travis. "I'm fine. Just a few more memories returning." He took a deep breath, trying to slow his heart rate before one of the nurses rushed back in to see what was happening. "I'll take that drink now if the offer's still open."
Travis poured a glass of water and held it out, watching as Frank reached for it with a shaking hand. When he was satisfied Frank wasn't going to spill it all over himself, he let go of the cup, taking it back once Frank had drained it. "I just wanted to let you know I'm going to be staking out your bathroom for a while." He jerked his thumb towards the door on the other side of the room, a half-smile appearing on his face. "Your buddy Chet wasn't feeling sanguine about your ability to stay awake for however long this is going to take, and he put a bug in Kara's ear. The upshot is that we're going to take turns hiding out in there. Just so you'll have back up."
"Sounds good." Frank lay back against the pillows, the sudden rush of emotion leaving him drained. "Thank you."
"No problem. Get some rest." Travis headed for the bathroom, turning back for a moment before entering. "You don't snore, do you?"
Frank shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of." Not that it was going to be an issue. Despite his exhaustion, sleeping was the last thing he felt like doing right now. If he wanted to be honest, he was worried what his dreams might show him.
Travis nodded, then shrugged. "I'm sure Joe would have mentioned it over the years if you did. That's doesn't seem like the kind of thing your brother would keep to himself." He stepped in the small bathroom, then stepped out again almost immediately. "I need you to do me a favor, though." He paused. "If anyone does come in here, let me deal with him." Frank looked up at him, his eyes feeling anything but heavy, his heart still beating fast. "Because if you don't, Kara will kill me. Okay?"
"Sure." Frank forced a brief smile on his face, the memory of something Travis had once said to him surfacing from his mind. "Don't irritate the lady with the Glock, right?"
The agent's grin returned. "See, your memory's coming back already." The bathroom door swung nearly closed, and Frank settled back against the pillow, the smile fading from his lips as memories from the assignment Travis had alluded to started playing in his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on what he could remember of his time with Anna, hoping these thoughts would drown out the other ones now filling his head. Slowly, his breathing became more relaxed, more regular, and he settled down to wait.
Sunday afternoon 1pm
By the time they made it to the hospital, Joe was a tight as a taut wire.
What should have been a forty-five minute drive – thirty-five if you ignored the speed limit, which Joe had every intention of ordering Sarah to do – stretched out to over three hours, and was threatening to push him over the edge. Traffic on the only route leading to the highway had been whittled down to one lane due to combination of construction and a five-car pile up. As Sarah's Camry moved at a snail's pace past dozens of police cars and emergency vehicles, it was all Joe could do to just sit, his jaw clenched and his head down, and pretend to be asleep. Sunny and Benj followed his lead, pulling the hoods of their sweatshirts over their heads and leaning back against their seats.
When they finally passed over the bridge spanning the Connecticut River, away from the sirens and construction noise, voices emanating from the dashboard speakers caught his attention. "... school... under condition of anonymity..." From the corner of his eye, he saw Sunny's head snap up and knew she had also heard the words. His left hand flashed toward the volume control, turning it up a couple of notches.
"... says the two teachers hated each other, and intimated that the police should look more at Frank Tennison's background."
Joe growled. "Phillip," he said, his voice dripping venom, "that piece of..." A hand slapped him on the back of the head, and he turned to see an angry Sunny glaring at him, her index finger at her lips.
"L.. listen now. S.. swear afterwards." She turned her eyes to the radio.
"Right." Joe shifted back in his seat and put out his hand to raise the volume again. Frank first. Punching out loud-mouthed computer science teacher later.
"... primary goal is getting the children home safely," a male voice was saying. A familiar male voice. Joe let out a relieved breath, feeling a small amount of the tension in shoulders release.
Sarah noticed and gave him a brief sideways glance, her blue eyes alight with curiosity. "What? That's not a noise I've heard you make in the last forty-eight hours or so."
Sunny's head popped up over the edge of his seat. "H.. how d.. do you know?"
Joe turned toward the back seat so he could see both Sunny and Benj's faces. "That last voice? That was Travis."
/Travis who?/ Benj asked. /I don't understand./
"He's Kara's partner," Joe said, a small smile forming on his lips. "If he's making statements on the radio, she's around here somewhere." Despite his worry over his brother's condition, just knowing Kara was relatively close by made him feel lighter, as if he was no longer doing this alone. "Dollars to doughnuts, she's at the hospital keeping an eye on Frank." It wouldn't be the first time.
Getting into the hospital was easier than Joe had thought it would be. While a much smaller city than Manhattan, Springfield was still an urban center and its hospital reflected that both in the sheer number of people milling around the lobby and in the variety of ethnic groups those people represented. Finding out what room Frank was in also turned out to be surprisingly simple. They hung back, hiding in the crowd, as Sarah approached the information desk. Within seconds, she was back, her expression a carefully controlled blank.
Joe went still, coldness creeping into his veins. "What?"
"He's in room five-nineteen." She huddled in closer to them.
For a moment he let the relief flood through him – they wouldn't have given a room number if Frank was... Not going there, he thought – then his eyes narrowed into shards of blue ice. "Wait, they just told you? They didn't ask for ID? Or for your name?"
"No." She shook her head. "Nothing."
Benj tugged on his sleeve. /Is that bad?/ He kept his hands close to his body, shielding his words.
"It's not standard procedure," he said, shifting his weight, his ankle starting to twinge again. "He's a police witness. There should be a list of approved visitors."
"And instead they j.. just gave you his r.. room number." Sunny's voice was flat, suspicious. Three sets of eyes turned to Joe. "S.. so n.. now what do we d.. do?"
"Give me a second." Joe passed a hand over his eyes, his desire to find out what was going on with his brother warring with the need to keep them out of sight, to keep them safe from... Well, whoever it is that was chasing us. He let out a sigh, almost hearing Frank's voice in his head telling him not to be an idiot, that getting the kids to safety was more important than worrying about him. You're right, 'bro. As usual. "We find Kara." Sarah and Sunny's eyes darted away from his to share a quick glance. He waited a second, the looked from one to the other. "All right, what did I just miss?"
"We think you should go see Frank," Sarah blurted out. Sunny and Benj nodded in agreement. "You've done an impressive job of not freaking out," Sunny snorted, and Benj jabbed his elbow into her ribs, both actions earning a glare from Sarah, "but you need to make sure he's all right. That was the point of coming here, right? And think how much more focused you'll be once you've seen him."
"What do you mean 'more focused'?" Joe's voice rose, attracting the attention of a family standing nearby. Sarah raised an eyebrow at him. He ducked his head down, muttering "Point taken." Looking around, he found an unoccupied couch on the other side of the large room and started limping over to it, indicating they should follow.
/Are you all right?/ Benj sat next to him on the couch. The girls stood in front of them, shielding them from view. /Your ankle's bothering you again, isn't it?/
"Bandage is loose. I just have to rewrap it," Joe said, leaning over and taking off his sneaker. He removed the bandage and held it in his hand, thinking.
"Joe." Sarah placed a hand on his shoulder. "We'll head straight for the security office and tell them who we are. That Amber Alert's been all over the news. Even if they don't recognize Sunny and Benj from the pictures, they'll know who they are as soon as we say their names. You check on Frank and meet us there. We'll be apart for, what, five minutes? Maybe ten."
Benj waved his hands to get their attention. /I want to go with Joe./
"Can we hold on for a minute?" Joe put his hands up, stopping the conversation. "I haven't said yes to this. We don't even know where the security office is."
"We'll ask." Sunny leaned down, her hands on her thighs. "It's w.. worked for everything else s.. so far."
Joe put his head in his hands. He could feel a headache coming on and his unwrapped ankle was throbbing in time with his heartbeat. "I don't like this," he muttered.
"Our other option is to all go to security together," Sarah said. Joe looked up. "And as soon as we tell them who we are, what do you think the chances are that you'll get to see your brother any time soon?"
Sunny nodded in agreement. "You heard the n.. news stories. They m.. might think y.. you were the one who p.. put him here."
"Not once Kara..."
"If she's here," Sarah interrupted, "and not out looking for you."
A minute passed, then two, then three as Joe stared at them, different scenarios running through his head. Finally, his shoulders slumped forward. "Fine. I'm not happy about this, and I'm not saying that you're right, but fine. Keep your eyes open, and stay safe." He lifted his head, his expression hardening, steel in his eyes. "One warning. If I get to the security office, and you're not there, I'm having them lock down this entire facility. And when I find you, I'll..."
"You'll what. S.. spank us?" The argumentative tone was back in Sunny's voice.
Joe simply raised an eyebrow in answer. Sunny gulped, then turned to Sarah. The older girl locked eyes with him. "We'll be careful." Then they turned and blended into the crowd.
/Would you really do that?/ Joe caught Benj's words from the corner of his eye as he replaced the bandage on his foot.
"Let's hope we don't have to find out." He slid his foot back into his sneaker and stood, slowly shifting his weight, testing his ankle for pain, breathing a sigh of relief when all he felt was a slight twinge. "Good enough. Let's go."
"Shit." The muffled word roused Frank from the doze he'd finally fallen into after forcibly shoving aside his memories of his time in captivity. "C'mon, Kara, pick up. Shit." Frank cracked open one eye and caught a glimpse of Travis exiting the bathroom, cell phone in hand. "Frank, you up?" Slipping the phone back in his pocket, the agent looked up, his face a study in consternation. "There's a report that someone spotted one of your kids here at the hospital. They figure the other one must be here, too. They can't get Kara, and I'm the only other one here who can make a positive ID. They're heading for the Pediatric ICU. It's just one floor down. You be okay for a minute or two?"
"Sure." The word sounded slurred in Frank's ears. He shook his head, trying to clear out some of the fuzziness he felt, and winced at the stabbing pains that shot through his skull. A hissing noise escaped from his between his lips.
"Frank? Are you all right?"
Concern and command were evident in Travis's voice, and Frank immediately knew what that meant. He didn't trust Frank's ability to take care of himself. An irrational anger surged through his breast. "I'm fine," he snarled, ignoring the small, lucid part of his brain that disagreed with the statement.
Travis's expression hardened. "Forget it." He flipped his cell phone back open and started punching numbers.
Frank took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down, then pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Travis." The agent stared doggedly at his phone. "Travis." The man looked up. "I'm sorry. I'll be okay. Really." He could sense Travis's resolve wavering. "Go see if it's them." He swallowed hard, having to work around the lump that suddenly formed in his throat. "Maybe they'll know where Joe is."
Travis held his eyes for a long moment, trying to gauge Frank's mood, then nodded and rushed from the room.
Frank sat for a moment just looking at the door before slowly lowering himself back to the pillow, his head swimming. He'd been moving around too much, and now he was paying for it. Once down, he closed his eyes again gratefully, the physical exertion and the sudden shifts in emotion leaving him spent. He could feel sleep starting to overtake him again and struggled against it. Not now. Have to stay awake until...
The sound of the door opening barely registered in his ears. The voice did.
It was both familiar and rough with an emotion he couldn't quite put his finger on. Was it grief? Guilt, maybe? Neither seemed quite right.
Every instinct screamed at him to open his eyes, to move, to do something, but he couldn't. He'd pushed too hard over the course of the day, and his body was exhausted.
Something soft brushed his cheek, leaving the faint scent of bleach lingering in his nostrils. A lab coat? Something was placed on his forehead, then a feeling of something sliding over his eyes, his cheekbones, his mouth. Pressure followed, hands over his face, fingers digging into the bruises dotting the side of his face. His oxygen was being cut off, and this knowledge brought with it a moment of clarity.
Not grief, he thought, trying to force his weakened body to struggle. Not grief. Anger.
With a rush of desperate adrenaline, Frank managed to fling out his left arm, trying to make contact with the bedside table, straining to hear through whatever it was covering his head. A faint thudding sound came from the floor, a noise not loud enough to have been the table falling over, not loud enough to attract the attention of anyone walking by in the hall.
A roaring sound sound filled his ears, and his arm fell limply to his side.
/Someone's in there./
They had made it to Frank's room without incident. Lights flashing at the nurse's station and people in scrubs scurrying around with pieces of equipment had provided enough cover to get from the elevator to the room unnoticed. Joe had placed a hand on the door, steeling himself for what he might find when he entered, when Benj had stepped in front of him.
/I heard a noise. It sounded like a book falling./ Benj's dark eyes were wide and frightened. /If he's in a coma.../
The words cut off as Joe grabbed his arm. "Stay behind me."
Joe rushed into the room. In the dim light he could see someone lying prone on the bed covered by a blanket, one arm hanging over the bed rails. Standing by him, back to the door, was a figure in scrubs leaning over the b... – Not the body, he told himself, the patient – holding something near the patient's face. A pillow. Not near. Over... "Frank!"
Almost without looking, the figure leaned farther over the bed and kicked back with one leg. Joe leaned to the side, just managing to avoid getting a steel-toed boot in the ribs, and dived to the floor, wrapping his arms around the man's legs, forcing him to the ground. The attacker twisted in his grasp, and brought his arms down, grinding a fist into one of Joe's kidneys. As he let out a groan, he heard a sharp intake of breath from the doorway. A quick glance showed Benj backed up against the wall, shaking.
The attacker turned, showing Joe a flash of green eyes in a bearded face – Why does he look familiar? – before striking out again with his fists. Joe dodged one punch, sending his own fist flying toward the man's jawline. As the attacker stepped back to avoid the hit, Joe reached back with one hand and yanked the pillow off his brother. He couldn't tell if Frank was breathing or not, but couldn't stop to check. The man was coming toward him again. From the corner of his eye he saw Benj's hands moving, forming the same word over and over.
Joe felt his face burn. "This is your brother?" He lashed out again, this time connecting with the man's chin. He watched with satisfaction as the man stumbled back.
"Not everyone can have a perfect family, Joe," the attacker said, wiping at the trickle of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. "Some of us get stuck with unwanted baggage." He threw a hate-filled look at Benj.
"How do you know my name?" Joe's eyes narrowed. Something in the man's voice struck a chord in his memory, a picture Frank had hanging on his wall. Green eyes. Get rid of the beard. Cut the hair... He staggered back a step. "Roger?"
A fist flashed toward Joe's face. "Long time, no see." He stepped closer. "I'm sorry about your brother, but he got in my way."
A red haze clouded Joe's vision. "You're sorry? Frank was your friend! And you... And you..." Words failed him. He threw himself at Roger, no longer thinking about anything but hurting the man who had injured his brother.
The fight was short. At first, Joe's rage enabled him to corner Roger, kept him from hitting back, but he had forgotten about the steel-toed boots. A well-placed kick at his injured ankle, dropped him to the floor, the pain running up his leg like an electric shock. Before he could react, Roger had him pinned, one arm wrapped around his throat, cutting off his air supply. Black spots danced before his eyes, but he could see Benj, still standing against the wall, seemingly paralyzed.
"Go. Run." His mouth formed the words, but no sound came out. He could feel himself slumping forward, blacking out. I'm sorry. I tried...
"No!" The tone of the voice was uncertain, but the words were sure. "Let him go!" Benj launched himself across the room, lashing out at Roger with both hands. Surprised, Roger's grip loosened, and Joe gulped in a mouthful of air, his head clearing as the oxygen filled his lungs.
"Yes. Let him go." An audible click came from the doorway. Joe looked up to see Kara and Travis standing there, guns drawn.
The growl erupting from Roger's throat was cut off as Joe's head crashed into his nose. "This one's for Frank," he said. As the man's hands went protectively to his face, Joe shifted, smashing one of his fists into Roger's unprotected stomach, hearing the air rush from the man's lungs. As he fell to the floor, gasping and wheezing, Joe leaned toward him and whispered, "And that was for Benj." Travis came forward, gun still drawn, and dragged him from the room.
Within seconds the room was full of activity. Doctors and nurses with various pieces of medical equipment that Joe didn't recognize swarmed the bed where Frank still lay motionless. Joe struggled to get to his feet, his ankle not wanting to hold his weight, his eyes unable to look anywhere but at his brother. He sensed someone standing next to him and looked up. Kara stood there, dark circles under her eyes, one hand sliding her gun into its holster, the other held out to him.
"Come on. Let me help you." She hooked an arm under his shoulders and pulled him to his feet.
"No." He shook his head. "I have to stay. I have to be here..."
Kara placed her hands on either side of his face gently turned his head so he was looking away from the bed. "No. You have to let the doctors do their job."
Benj ducked under his other arm, letting Joe lean on him as Kara steered them into the hallway. "Are you okay?" His hands signed the words as he spoke. "Is she...?"
Joe nodded. "Kara."
Benj looked from Kara to Joe, then back again. /She's pretty./ He cleared his throat. "Where's Sunny?"
"She's fine," Kara said, pulling over a wheelchair so Joe could sit. He sank into the seat gratefully. "She and Sarah are with the police. They're the ones who told us where you were." She leaned down slightly, moving closer to Benj. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." The boy took a deep, shaky breath and turned to Joe. /Why was Roger here?/
Joe translated the question for Kara. "I'm not sure," she said. "There's a lot we don't know right now." Then she smiled at him. "I do know one thing, though. Two things. You were very brave in there." He gave her a shy smile, his hands forming the sign for 'thank you.' "And there are some people here to see you." She indicated the hallway behind him with her chin. Joe looked over Benj's head and saw two people – a man and a woman – their arms extended, relief written large on their faces.
One glance was all it took. Benj sprinted towards them. "Maman! Papa!" The woman's face dissolved into tears as she hugged her son. Joe sat and watched the reunion until he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Hardy?" Joe turned. This was a voice he had never expected to hear again.
"Dr. Finley?" The shock he felt came out in his voice. "What are you...? Is Frank...?"
The red-haired man smiled. "It's a long story. He's all right. You can go see him."
Kara squeezed Joe's hand and helped him up, wrapping an arm around his waist so he could lean on her as he limped back into the room.
Frank was still lying in the bed, but now his eyes were open, an oxygen mask over his face. He watched Joe's slow progress across the floor. "Should... get... that... looked... at." It took Joe a minute to figure out what he had said; the mask made him difficult to understand.
"So, you're not in a coma." Joe was pleased he managed to keep his voice level. Frank shook his head. "And this stunt was – what? – to get the kidnapper out in the open?" A nod. "Idiot." This brought a small smile. Joe could feel his anger rising. "You ever do anything this stupid again, and I'll personally put you in a coma. Got that?" Another nod. He watched as Frank's eyes started to droop closed. "Get some sleep. I'll wait 'til you're more awake so I can yell at you some more." As he turned, Kara tucked herself under his shoulder again, helping him walk back out of the room.
"Joe." The word was so soft, he had to turn back to look at his brother's face. "You... would've done... same... thing..."
There was a long pause, then Joe snorted and raised an eyebrow at his brother. "Doesn't make it any less stupid." His expression softened. "Rest up, 'bro. I'll be back in a bit."
Frank nodded and closed his eyes.
"Heard... that... little brother."
"You were meant to."
There was a brief chuckle, then silence. Joe let Kara lead him from the room.