The sound of coughing woke Frank up the next morning. He'd heard the younger boy off and on during the night, but there was nothing he could do except offer his sympathy, which he did.
"How you feeling?" he asked when Joe stopped, and he heard him give a little groan.
"Marvelous," came the sardonic reply, and then he heard Joe sigh, "My nose is stuffed; my head hurts; I got this horrible gunk running down the back of my throat, making me cough…remind me to send a thank-you card to Erik when we get back!"
Frank turned on his side so he could see his brother's face. Even in the gloom he could see how pale he was. "How's the shoulder?'"
"Oh it's loving it…especially when I cough," came a miserable reply.
"Poor kiddo," Frank said sympathetically, "why don't you stay put for a while and I'll get us something to eat." He sat up as he spoke.
It was early, but he was hoping to get down to the pond as soon as possible with the hopes of catching something more appetizing than the protein bar, ketchup soup and piece of chocolate Joe had made them last night!
The younger boy admitted he'd been tempted to open Sam's salmon, but decided to hold off. They might need it more, later on. And unfortunately, Frank had to agree.
But Joe shook his head. "Actually bro, I'm not feeling very hungry."
"You have to eat something, Joe," Frank said.
"I know," Joe admitted, "but I don't feel like eating anything."
Frank regarded the younger boy for a moment and then offered, "Why don't I boil a couple of those chocolates in the water and you can have a hot chocolate? It will at least be something."
Joe thought about that for a moment and then nodded. "Okay. Maybe it'll help clear my nose, if nothing else."
Getting up, Frank patted his brother's leg and then crawled out of the burrow.
Standing up when he got outside, he stretched and yawned. Another morning, just like the one yesterday….
After taking care of his own immediate needs, Frank set about making his brother a 'hot chocolate,' pausing briefly before lifting the lid off the box of chocolates. They really needed to use them sparingly but he wasn't sure if Joe would have tried anything else, and neither one of them could afford to miss a 'meal.'
The older boy had bought the chocolates for Callie while they were at the airport. It was a last minute spontaneous gift, but as soon as he saw the little seal shapes, he was sold. Callie had a soft spot for baby seals….
"No choice Cal," he said softly, knowing his girlfriend would be furious with him if she found out that they didn't eat the chocolates, because of some misguided sense of sentiment. Survival was survival!
And he had already bought her a nice hand-knit red cardigan that he knew she'd love. It, along with the earrings Joe had bought for Vanessa, had been placed somewhere special, so they'd still have them to give the girls when they got home.
Frank was just lifting the pot of thin brown liquid from the fire when his keen hearing picked up a sound. He froze, straining his hearing as far as he could.
And then dropped the pot and was scrambling back into the burrow!
He would recognize that sound anywhere – it was a helicopter!
"JOE!" he shouted, startling the younger boy, "Where's the flare gun?"
Stunned, Joe just looked at him for a moment, and then Frank's words sunk in and he was rushing to get out of the 'bed'. "Bottom of the orange knapsack! There!"
Frank's hands were shaking as he tried to rip open the knapsack, and he could hear his heart pounding so loudly he was half expecting Joe to say something.
"HERE!" Joe said, pushing Frank out of the way as he deftly opened the knapsack and pulled out the gun. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he used both hands to quickly load the gun, and then Frank was hurrying back out of the burrow with it, as Joe followed close behind!
"HURRY FRANK, HURRY!" Joe yelled as his brother started running towards a small rise – the closest thing to 'high ground' anywhere near them. The younger boy scrambled after him, tripped and fell hard, crying out in pain as he landed on his injured side.
Hearing the sharp cry, Frank turned back, but Joe waved him on. "GO! GO!"
The older boy paused for a half a moment and then continued his mad race!
Cresting the incline, he raised the flare gun high over his head and squeezed the trigger! Immediately a smoky red signal streaked into the sky as, at the same time, Frank got his first glimpse of the helicopter.
"Please see it…please see it," he chanted, even as he jammed a second flare into the gun, pointed it up and fired again!
His heart stopped, each second drawn out an eternity as he watched and waited for some sign that the pilot had seen.
Please see it…please see…
And then the helicopter made a strange dip and was coming directly towards him! They'd been seen!
"THEY SEE IT! THEY SEE IT!" and then just to remove all trace of doubt, Frank fired the third flare….
Joe lay on his back and watched the smoking streak of the flare. He heard his brother shouting, picked out what he was saying, and let out a relieved sigh.
Tears of relief burned his face – they'd been found.
Moments later he heard the sound of pounding feet, before his brother crouched down beside him, his exuberant face marred by concern, as he was breathing hard from the exertion of the mad race and ensuing excitement of being found.
"You okay?" Frank asked as he helped Joe sit up, and the younger boy grinned – no pain in his shoulder could come close to damping how good he felt right now!
"We're going home!" was all Joe said. Frank pulled him to his feet and then gave him a big hug; his face lit up, all trace of weariness erased.
"That we are, kid brother…that we are!"
The brothers stood side by side and watched the helicopter as it started to land. It reminded them more of a big yellow school bus with tandem rotors – one forward and one aft with each rotor having three blades – and a large bright red fuel tank on either side of the aircraft.
Very distinctly a Labrador helicopter!
Joe closed his eyes and repressed a shudder as he felt the air on his face from the swirling blades. His brother's grip on his shoulder tightened for just a moment, as Frank knew what he was thinking…and worrying about.
"It's okay, little brother," he said, making his voice heard above the sound of the landing helicopter. "Just remember…we're in this together!"
And then the helicopter touched down, and moments later a door on the side opened and three men jumped out. Two were SAR TECHS (Search and Rescue technicians) but they weren't the ones the boys were paying attention to…it was the third man.
Joe beamed up at his brother for a moment and Frank just shook his head….They'd know that man anywhere!
Tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, it was Fenton Hardy who reached the boys first and he never said anything. Just grabbed them both in a bear hug and refused to let go.
The older boy wasn't sure, but he thought his father was crying….
Frank kept a tight grip on his brother's hand as the helicopter lifted off. He could feel the trembling and knew Joe was finding this very hard, but even so he didn't say anything.
Their father was sitting between them, with one arm wrapped protectively around each of his sons, so Frank had to lean forward to actually see his brother's face. And just as he thought, Joe had his eyes squeezed shut and his breathing was quick and nervous.
But as if sensing his brother was watching him, Joe managed to open his eyes long enough to give him a weak smile, and Frank squeezed his hand, wordlessly offering his support and felt a thankful little squeeze back.
Then Joe closed his eyes again and nestled in closer against his father, seeking reassurance from the contact. Wordlessly, Fenton tightened his grip, and Frank smiled – Joe'd be okay, they both would….
Letting out a weary sigh, Frank glanced out one of the windows and watched as the endless miles of tundra stretched beneath them. He was awestruck at its size and desolation and realized just how lucky they were to have been found.
A flash of movement caught his attention, and he saw a small pack of wolves running full out across the barrens beneath him. The older teen gave a fond smile as he recognized the large silvery wolf in the forefront – it was Joe's wolf. His Pup….
He started to point it out to Joe, but then stopped when the relaxed grip on his hand told him his brother had fallen asleep, and he was reluctant to take that peace from him. So he didn't.
Instead, he would tell him about it when they got home….
When they got home. No longer 'if' but 'when,'
Closing his eyes, Frank finally gave in to the tug of exhaustion as the steady hum of the engine lulled the boy to sleep.
It was finally over.
After fourteen days and thirteen nights, the Hardy brothers were going home.
I want to say Thank you to everyone for reading, and I know that many of you wanted to see the actual reunion between the brothers and their friends, however this story was about them - and just them. I wanted to give the reader the feeling of just how isolated they were and so I chose to do it this way. You can all use your imaginations about what might have happened when they did finally get back to Bayport. I gave you their reunion with Fenton... anything else would have just been overwriting it :).