Title: Reflections
Author: N'kala
Disclaimer: The Hardy Boys and their friends do not belong to me. Unfortunately. :)
Summary: When Joe comes down with a serious case of pneumonia, his family and friends reflect on what they know about the youngest Hardy.
Author's Notes: My first foray into this fandom that actually ended up being completed. I twisted some of the characteristics a bit, taken some liberties. I don't like how some of the books portray Joe, so these differences are a little out of canon. Be warned!

By: N'kala

Chapter One

A sharp buzzing sound pierced the air, causing eighteen-year-old Frank Hardy to jerk in surprise and hit the snooze alarm more forcefully than he had intended. Moaning lightly, he threw aside his covers and stood.

It only took Frank twenty minutes to shower, dress, and collect his things for the day. It was Friday, and the last day of school before Christmas break. Frank was looking forward to two solid weeks free of studying and classes.

Moving into his younger brother's room, Frank grinned at the lump he saw on his brother's bed.

"C'mon, little brother," he called, gently shaking the lump. "Up and at 'em. You don't want to be late for school, do ya?"

The blankets fell away. Frank's smile fell when he saw Joe's blue eyes, made bright by what was undoubtedly a fever. Instantly his hand flew to Joe's forehead.

"You're burning up!" he exclaimed. "Hang on- let me get the thermometer."

As Frank hurried into the bathroom they shared, Joe fought with his blankets to sit up.

"Take it easy, Frank," he rasped, wincing as he spoke through a sore throat. "It's just a cold."

"Don't talk," Frank ordered as he popped a thermometer into Joe's mouth. He lifted Joe's wrist and stared at his watch. "Pulse is a little fast, and . . ." The thermometer beeped. Frank took it out and glanced at the LED display. "You've got a temperature of 101. Looks like you'll be missing school today."

Joe scowled. "I missed too much already this year. I hope I don't end up repeating my junior year."

"Don't worry, little brother," Frank told him. "I'll bring home some work for you."

Joe made a face. "Gee, thanks, Frank."

Frank laughed and ruffled Joe's blond hair. "I'll tell Mom and Dad what's going on. You try and go back to sleep."

After making sure Joe was comfortable, Frank grabbed his backpack and keys and headed for the kitchen.

Fenton Hardy was browning toast and sipping coffee while Laura stood at the stove, making scrambled eggs. Both looked up at Frank's entrance and exchanged warm greetings.

"Where's your brother?" Fenton asked.

"In bed with a fever," Frank replied. "I don't think he'll make it to school today."

"The poor dear," Laura commiserated. "I wonder if it's the flu? I hear it's going around. I should go check on him."

Fenton handed Frank a plate of food. "Allow me. I'll be back in a few."

Frank sat at the kitchen table and dug hungrily into his breakfast. Laura joined him, smiling fondly at her eldest son.

"Do you have any plans for your break?" she asked.

Frank shrugged. "Not really. Except for finishing our Christmas shopping, Joe and I thought it might be good to take it easy."

"Now that sounds like a good idea," Laura agreed. "What with you two boys and Fenton running off to the four corners of the globe, I've been waiting for signs of a burnout. Despite what you three may believe, you are still human."

Frank grinned as he finished his breakfast. "That may be true, but don't tell Joe that. You'll shatter his whole self-image."

Laura laughed as Frank cleaned his plate. The teen gathered his coat and backpack and, giving his mother a kiss, hurried out the door.

Frank was at his locker, hunting for the books he would need for the next two periods, when Callie Shaw and Vanessa Bender approached him.

Frank kissed Callie and smiled at Vanessa. "Hey, girls. Glad it's the last day?"

"Of course," Callie replied.

"Where's Joe?" Vanessa asked, her blue-gray eyes searching Frank's face. "He wasn't at his locker."

"He's home sick today," Frank told her.

Vanessa's brow wrinkled in concern. "I hope it's not the flu. Mom had that a couple weeks ago, and it was brutal."

Frank closed his locker and zipped up his backpack. "Yeah, I don't think Joe will be too happy if he misses half his break to this thing. Why don't you stop by later and see him? That'll cheer him up."

"I think I will," Vanessa replied. "Oh, I've got to run. I'll see you guys later."

Frank and Callie called farewells to her retreating back, then headed on to their first class of the day.

Fenton walked up behind his wife and wrapped her in his arms. Laura paused in stirring the soup she was making and smiled up at him.

"Smells good," Fenton commented, giving Laura a quick kiss. "How's Joe doing?"

"Still running a fever," Laura replied, doling some soup into a bowl she had set on a bed tray. "I'm hoping he'll have an appetite."

"I'm going to get ready for my meeting," Fenton told her. "It should only take an hour. You'll call me if you need me?"

"I always do." Laura kissed him again, then grabbed the tray and followed him upstairs. Fenton disappeared into their bedroom while Laura entered her youngest son's room.

Joe was asleep, wrapped tightly in blankets. Laura set the bed tray on Joe's cluttered desk, then sat on the bed beside him.

"Joe?" she called softly. "Sweetheart? Are you hungry? I made you some soup. Joe?"

Joe didn't respond. Laura frowned; something wasn't right. Her blue eyes took in Joe's flushed cheeks. "Joe? Joseph! Wake up!"

Laura reached up to touch Joe's cheek, but the heat leaping from his skin caused her to jerk her hand back sharply. Something was very wrong.

"Joe?" Laura shook Joe's shoulder. When he continued to lay silent, Lara's head whipped to the door. "Fenton! Fenton, get in here! Something's wrong with Joe!"

A door in the hall banged open, and Fenton rushed into the room. His dress shirt was unbuttoned over his jeans, and his tie hung loose around his neck. Laura stood and moved aside, allowing Fenton to take her place.

"Joe?" Fenton took Joe's face into his hands. "Joe, can you hear me?"

Laura seized Joe's phone. "I'm calling an ambulance."

Fenton nodded absently, his brown eyes focused intently on Joe. He took note of his child's short, gasping breaths and raging fever.

"Hang in there, Baby," he whispered. "Please be okay."

A cheer rose up at the final bell of the day. Frank grinned broadly and slapped a high-five with Phil Cohen in the seat beside him.

"Hallelujah, I thought Christmas break would never get here!" Tony Prito crowed, approaching them. "Who wants to go celebrate?"

"Can't," Frank declined. "I want to check up on Joe. And I gotta take him his work."

"So? We'll all go," Phil said. "We can all help cheer him up."

The boys chatted as they walked down the hall to their lockers. Chet Morton, Biff Hooper, Callie, and Vanessa soon joined them. Biff leaned against the locker beside Frank, a concerned frown on his face.

"Frank, how's Joe?" he asked.

Frank shrugged. "Fine, as far as I know. Just a cold."

Confusion flashed across Biff's face. "I just got off the phone with my mom to let her know I wasn't coming straight home. She said she saw an ambulance outside your house this afternoon."

A cold wind blew through Frank. "What?"

The other teens grew silent as they listened to Biff. "She was on her way home from the store, and she saw some medics go into your house. You didn't know?"

Frank's phone was already out, and he was punching in his home number with shaky fingers. He ran an impatient hand through his brown hair, his face ashen. When no one answered, he severed the connection savagely. "No one's there!"

"Try your voicemail," Callie suggested. "Maybe your parents left you a message."

Frank quickly complied, and was rewarded with the sound of his father's strained voice.

"Frank . . . it's your brother . . . his fever spiked this afternoon, and he wouldn't wake up . . . the doctor hasn't spoken to us yet, but . . . when you're done with school, come to Bayport Memorial, fourth floor."

Frank met his friends' worried gazes. "They took Joe to the hospital . . . oh God, it's worse than I thought! But it was just a fever!"

"Frank, get a hold of yourself!" Chet said forcefully. "It's not your fault! There's nothing you could have done!"

"Right now, let's just get over to the hospital and see how Joe's doing," Phil stated. "Who knows? Joe could've gotten better since this afternoon."

"Good idea," Biff said, plucking Frank's van keys from his hand. "I'll drive."

Frank was too distraught to argue. He allowed himself to be led from the school to his van, and he climbed into the passenger seat. Phil and Biff got in as well.

The trip to the hospital took only ten minutes, but to Frank it seemed like an eternity. Biff pulled into a parking spot and shut off the engine. Tony and Chet came to a stop on one side, and the girls on the other. As a group, they made their way into the building.

Laura Hardy was in the waiting room speaking with a nurse when the teens arrived. Frank immediately went to her and accepted her hug while his friends hung back anxiously.

"Mom?" Frank asked. "What's going on? How's Joe?"

"Oh, honey," Laura said, her eyes swimming with tears. "Your brother's in ICU. He has pneumonia. He had some trouble breathing, and his fever got so high that he went into seizures."

Several gasps filled the air.

"Can I see him?" Frank asked.

Laura nodded. "Your father's with him now. They're only allowing one person at a time. I'll take you there."

Frank turned back to his friends. "Guys, you should go home. There's nothing to do, really, but wait, and-."

Tony held up his hands. "I've got nowhere else to be."

"Neither do I," Chet agreed.

"I can't ask you guys to stay . . ." Frank tried.

"You don't have to," Biff told him. "Joe's our friend. He'd be here for any one of us."

Frank gave them all a grateful smile, then followed his mother down the hall.

The rest of the teens sank into chairs. "God, this seems so unreal," Phil commented.

"How do you mean?" Callie asked.

"Think about it," Phil said. "Frank and Joe go through so much. It's like the world's biggest irony that a simple virus is doing more than any criminal ever did."

"Joe's going to be fine," Vanessa insisted. "He has to be."

"Hey, remember the last time Joe got really sick?" Tony asked suddenly.

"Yeah, he was down for a week," Biff replied. "We were all worried he would end up here."

"I remember," Chet spoke up. "I stayed over at his place during the whole thing. There were some tense moments."

"What happened?" Vanessa asked.

"It was . . . it was a month after . . . after Iola died," Chet said. The room became very quiet; Chet rarely spoke of his younger sister. "I had seen Joe around, but he never looked at me. He was there for me and my parents, helping us, but he wouldn't let us help him. I think he felt responsible."

"He just withdrew from everyone," Biff recalled. "He was afraid of someone else getting hurt."

Chet nodded. "His dad was on a case, and Frank was supposed to meet him somewhere to give him some documents. That's when Joe got sick. At first, he refused to be helped by anyone. Mrs. Hardy was at her wit's end until I decided to move in and fill in for Frank. You should've seen Joe's reaction . . ."