Adoration

Act Four, Scene Two

The impact of hitting the wall knocked the breath from Frank's lungs. Spots of light floated in front of his eyes brightening the darkness threatening to engulf him; he managed to stay conscious only by force of will. Gasping for air, he watched in horror as Joe's body jerked once, then twice, blood staining his shirt where the bullets pierced his skin. Time froze as he lay there, unable to move, and watched his younger brother slowly – almost gracefully – fall to the floor. Agents stationed at the party as staff converged around Brian, guns out, as the man howled in despair.

"No! Those were meant for you! No matter. You'll never find her." Brian swung the gun wildly towards Frank as Travis tackled him from behind, employing a move similar to the one Joe had just used. Brian's head hit the floor with a loud crack, his eyes glazed over then closed. The gun fell out of his limp hand.

Travis pushed the weapon out of the way and handcuffed the unconscious man's hands behind his back with one hand while the other grabbed a microphone inside his shirt. He leaned over, yelling into his lapel, "Man down! I repeat, man down!"

Time started moving for Frank at a normal speed again. Still wheezing, he crawled across the floor to his brother only to find Kara already there applying pressure to Joe's wounds. A dispassionate part of his mind noted clinically – gratefully – that Joe was breathing. He could see Kara's lips moving and shook his head, at first not hearing, then not believing the words coming from her mouth.

"You have to go find her."

He shook his head. "One of your guys needs do it. I have to stay with Joe." He could hear the panic in his voice, spurred on by the frantic beating of his heart.

"Frank, you and Joe are the only ones she trusts. She doesn't know my team. If she's hiding she won't come out for one of us. If he's got her somewhere..." Her eyes bore into his, though her hands stayed steady. "I'll keep him alive. I promise." Frank couldn't make himself move. He couldn't leave Joe. Not now. "Frank!" Kara was yelling. "Montvale was terrified for her safety. If one of Jackson's guys gets her first, how safe do you think she'll be? I'll take care of Joe. You need to find her."

It went against every fiber of his being to leave his brother injured like this, but Kara was right. Both he and Joe had promised Anna they would keep her safe, and he knew Joe would be furious with him if he let something happen to her. He also knew he would never be able to forgive himself if she had been hurt as well as Joe. Any guilt he felt now would be nothing compared to what he'd feel then. He had promised to protect her. He nodded once to Kara, his expression set, his eyes brimming. "Right," he said, his voice wavering. He reached out to touch his brother's face. "I'll be back as soon as I can, little brother. Hold on."

The agents stood aside as he rose to his feet. Frank pushed through the crowd of frightened and confused party guests, any pretense of being John now gone. The glasses were dropped to the floor, the red fringe of hair swept off his forehead, the retiring manner completely abandoned. Actors and other theater people drew back, whispering and commenting to each other, but he couldn't make out what they said. Joe's words – "Why do I feel like I'm being forced into this?" and "Brian Jackson... just a feeling." – echoed in his ears, the image of his brother lying still and pale, blood pooling on the floor around him, etched in his brain.

He stumbled from the room, then stopped and shook his head hard one time. "Focus, damn it. Focus," he growled. Putting his hands to his forehead, he squeezed his eyes shut, sifting through his memory for details of the events prior to the shoot... – he couldn't finish the word – to Brian returning to the party, gun in hand. Anna had left the room. Why? "Shawl," he murmured. "Her room. He must have caught her there." He turned down the corridor to the guest rooms.

Once at the room, Frank stopped in the doorway, surveying the area. He had been there only briefly the day before, bringing in the pieces of Anna's luggage deemed necessary before carrying the remaining suitcases to his room in the pool house. As far as he could tell nothing was out of place. Suitcases had been opened and closed, but not moved too far from where he had originally placed them. He walked to the top suitcase and opened it. Anna's shawl sat on top of the folded clothes. He turned his gaze to the floor, thinking. A splash of red on the floor caught his attention, and he felt his heart stop. Blood? He moved closer, eyes trained on the patch of color, relief flooding through him as he realized what he saw were flower petals. Roses? he wondered. He knelt down, scooped them into his hand, and smelled their faint fragrance, confirming his assessment.

A memory pricked in Frank's mind. The Blake poem. Because of the flowers in Anna's apartment, they had focused on the lines about lilies, but there had been something about roses in the poem as well. He closed his eyes, trying to visualize the other two poems in his head. The sonnet had talked about roses in a woman's cheeks, and the last poem had specifically spoken of roses representing different types of love. Frank's eyes flew open. He ran to the window, scanning the extensive grounds until he found what he was seeking. A greenhouse. He started running.


Sharp pressure clamped down on Joe's shoulder and chest, reaching through the darkness enveloping him, making him gasp for breath. Faint words became discernible in his ear. "Damn it, Hardy. Don't even think about bleeding out on me." The sound of cloth being torn broke through the haze of pain blanketing his body. "Where's the damn ambulance?"

Cotton threads landed on Joe's nose, and, as he flinched to stop himself from sneezing, the pain twisted down his left side like a knife cutting through his flesh. His eyes cracked open, and he struggled to focus through the dark curtain hanging over his face. As it brushed his cheek, he realized it wasn't solid; it was individual strands of something – hair – hanging only inches from his face. His nostrils filled with a familiar floral scent. "Kara," he breathed. His head was spinning, and waves of pain crashed over him, trying to pull him back down into the darkness.

Kara's face turned towards him when she heard his voice. "Joe? Thank G-d."

Through barely focused eyes Joe could see blood smeared on Kara's forehead. Not hers, he thought. Please, not hers. "Are... you... hurt?" Speaking took a great deal of effort. He could take only shallow breaths. Each time he tried to fill his lungs, it felt as if someone had stuck a twenty-pound weight on his chest that was twisting a burning poker through him. He tried to lift a hand to wipe the blood from her face but couldn't summon the energy. The slight movement exhausted him, and he felt his eyes starting to close again. The blackness was calling him, offering him a place to rest. He wanted to sink down into it and make the pain go away.

"No." A sharp slap stung his cheek, startling him and making his eyelids spring back up. "You stay with me. Keep those eyes open." Her voice sounded wrong – tinny, too far away.

"Yes... ma'am." He tried to look past her for Frank but couldn't make his eyes focus that far. He would have thought Frank would be yelling at him already, then his breath hitched as he realized the one possible reason why he wasn't. No. He tried taking another deep breath. "Kara... Frank... okay?" As hard as it was to talk, he had to know. He struggled to maintain his focus.

"He's okay. You got him out of the way. He's looking for Anna."

"Good." Relieved, Joe half-nodded, moving his eyes back up to her face.

Kara grimaced, worry creasing her forehead. "You need to stop playing hero like that. Travis had a clear shot."

Joe felt a smile trying to form. If... can scold... she's okay, he thought. Don't know... what I'd do if... No. Can't... think that. He cleared his throat, the action making his chest hurt even more. "Couldn't... let him... hurt Frank... Had to... to get," he stopped, working desperately to get the words out, "his... attention." There was other activity going on around them, but Joe didn't have enough energy to ask about it.

Kara snorted. "You certainly did that. Now just lie still and keep looking at me. The ambulance is on its way."

Joe could hear Kara's instructions, but now that he knew she and Frank were all right the darkness started pressing down on him again. While he knew it would dull the pain, there was one more thing he had to get out. It was difficult; he could almost hear the darkness calling to him, telling him if he just gave in, the pain would stop. Less pain... would be good. His eyes started to close again. He could feel Kara's breath on his cheek as she continued applying pressure to chest and shoulder, could just make out her eyes on the blood-soaked pieces of cloth.

"Joe, stay with me," she commanded.

Joe blinked, forcing open his recalcitrant eyelids, and – with a monumental effort – managed to lift his head slightly. He raised his right hand up to her face. "Trying... Hurts." He took another shallow breath. "Kara." For a moment his voice sounded stronger. Her gaze flickered from his wounds to his face. His blue eyes locked onto her brown ones and softened, the pain momentarily disappearing. "I'm... an idiot... So... sorry." He smiled faintly. "Love... you." He stroked her cheek once with his thumb then his hand dropped to his chest. All expression drained from his face, and his head fell back against the floor, eyes closed.

Tears spilled from Kara's eyes onto Joe's shirt. "No," she said, her voice fierce and angry. "No. You can't die. Not now. I can't lose you, too." She lifted her head. "Where the hell is that ambulance?"


The greenhouse was one of the old-fashioned kinds – actually made of glass and steel, rather than polycarbonate and aluminum. The door was locked; Frank channeled some of his frustration and anger into kicking out enough glass to access the inside door handle. He scanned the interior of the darkened room. It was warm, probably around the mid- to high-seventies.

Several deep troughs sat against the glass walls, each holding two or three rose bushes. Frank walked over the packed dirt to one container. The roses in it matched the petals he had found on the floor of Anna's room. He examined the floor in hopes of finding any indication someone had been there recently – footprints or drag marks – but was stymied by a lack of light coming through the whitewashed walls. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, he noticed a door at the back of the room which sported a large yellow sign labeled 'Danger: Pesticides' in English and Spanish. A padlock hung loose on a metal loop, its shackle not hooked into the lock's case. In three steps, Frank was at the door, the lock thrown on the floor. He inhaled sharply at what he saw inside.

Anna lay on the floor on a blanket, her eyes closed, skin pale, arms crossed over her stomach. For one brief moment, he feared she was dead, then he saw the slight rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. He fell to his knees, dizzy with relief. Thank G-d, he thought. He crept closer, heard a crack, and felt something sharp cut through his pants and dig into his right knee. The plastic end of a syringe.

"Anna, can you hear me?" He checked her pulse and found it erratic, and faint. Her breathing was shallow – consistent with having been drugged – but steady. He lightly slapped her cheeks, hoping to see her open her eyes. No response. He picked up the broken tube, closing it in his hand, then reached out to Anna.

Gently, he gathered her in his arms, cradled her against his chest, and rose, doing his best not to jostle or drop her. Once standing, his eyes were caught by images on the walls around him – pictures from teen magazines of a younger Anna on the sets of her movies, photos taken from a cell phone of Anna around New York and at rehearsal, and finally, the missing mock-up of her Mary Magdalene costume from the play. He choked, swallowing back the bile that had risen in his throat. That sick bastard, he thought. If he's touched her, I'll kill him myself. The rest of his thought was cut off as the sound of sirens blared nearby. He turned back to the main house, holding Anna to him as if he never intended to let her go.


The hospital waiting room felt like purgatory. Frank had no idea how long he had been there. Time had stopped moving properly the moment the ambulance door had shut on Joe and Anna. The drive to the hospital went by in an instant, whereas every second waiting for an update on Joe's condition felt like several hours. He was only marginally aware of Kara's silent presence. She alternately stood at the window, staring blankly at the parking lot, or sat perched on the edge of a chair, hands wrapped around her waist, rocking back and forth. She hadn't spoken since a nurse had offered to bring her a pair of scrubs to replace her torn and bloodied shirt; the poor man had left with her curse words still ringing in the room.

Chet's hand on his shoulder made him look up, his eyes asking the question he couldn't voice. "Travis called," Chet said. "Tony's on his way. I got Phil's voice mail." He paused. "Marisol's calling the cruise line. She's going to give them my cell number then be here as soon as she gets off the phone." He looked around the room. "I'm surprised Biff didn't beat me here. He was in the car when I got him."

Frank blanched. His parents. What would he say when they called back? How could he tell them that Joe was hurt, and it was his fault? The train of thought was stopped by Biff's arrival.

Their friend walked in looking pale and worried. "Frank, I'm so sorry," he said, his voice sounding strained. "I should have been there. I could have gotten someone else..."

Frank forced himself to speak for the first time in... how long was it? "It wouldn't have made any difference. It wasn't your fault," he rasped, his throat dry. He closed his eyes. "This one's on me. He told me to watch out for Brian. I just didn't think..."

"Frank," Chet's voice rang out across the waiting room where he stood, his hands on Kara's shoulders. "Stop it. It's not your fault, either."

"Right." Frank clenched his teeth together and took a deep breath, trying to get himself under control. Finally, he nodded at Chet. "Right." He just wished he believed it.

Marisol arrived a few moments later. She hugged Frank before going to Chet and kissing him on the cheek. With one arm around Chet's waist, she turned back to Frank. "The cruise line is contacting the ship. When they get your parents, they're going to call. Is there any news yet?"

From the doorway, they heard the noise of a throat clearing. "Mr. Hardy? I'm Doctor Levin, one of the surgical residents here." Frank looked at the young, dark-skinned man in the white coat and felt his knees go weak. It hadn't been long enough for the surgery to be completed.

The doctor saw the look on Frank's face and hurried to reassure him. "Your brother's still in surgery. The bullets are out. Now they're working on repairing the damage. Dr. Mueller is leading the team working on him. She's one of our best." He took a breath. "Mr. Hardy, your brother's lost a lot of blood." From the corner of his eye, Frank saw Marisol leave Chet's side and move toward Kara, catching one of Kara's hands in her own. "We had a multi-car accident here earlier today that used up a good chunk of our blood supplies. Are you a match for your brother?"

Frank shook his head, feeling as if his air supply had just been cut off. "No," he choked out.

Biff walked towards the doctor, rolling up his sleeve as he spoke. "Type O. Universal donor. Take whatever you need."

The doctor smiled crookedly. "We usually only take a pint per person, Mr...?"

"Hooper. Take two. You can put the plasma back." As the doctor shook his head, he continued. "Look, Doc, I'm not going anywhere. Any problems come up? I'm already at the hospital."

Chet walked forward, his sleeve rolled up as well. "You can take a pint from each of us. I'm O as well." He poked Biff gently in the ribs. "I already have the two of them to look after. I don't need to add you to the list. I'm busy enough as it is."

"That will help." The doctor handed the men over to one of the nurses, then turned back to Frank. "Someone from Dr. Mueller's team will send word as soon as they know anything definite."

"Dr. Levin, is there any word on the woman who came in with my brother? Anna Gold?" Frank held his breath as the man checked his tablet computer.

"They've finished running her tox screens. She was given a fairly strong sedative. We think she'll be fine. We're waiting for her to come to so we can check her out."

"Can I see her?"

The doctor glanced at the screen again. "She's in room 530. There's an agent stationed at her door. You're on the allowed visitor list." His pager went off. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hardy, I'm needed with a patient."

Frank swallowed. "Thank you for the information. All of it." He turned to look at Kara, who had stood at the window again, her back towards him.

"You go, Frank," Marisol said. She indicated Kara with a gesture that said 'I'll keep an eye on her.' "Chet said Tony was on his way," she continued. "I can wait here for him." Her face was calm. "We'll find you if we need to."

Frank nodded. "If my parents call..."

"I'll ask one of the nurses to get you," she said. "I promise."

"Thank you." He let out a deep breath and left the room.

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