Zack only vaguely remembered anything after getting out of the plow when they arrived at the hospital. Diesel exhaust. Fuzzy snapshots of people dressed in blues and whites. Looking at one man's jacket and seeing a weird snake climbing up a flagpole on his shoulder. A water-spotted ceiling tile in a hallway. Someone smelling like burritos telling him to breathe deeply and relax. Then nothing.
He awoke some undetermined amount of time later and found himself laying in a hospital bed with partially drawn privacy curtains on both sides and a window with closed shades across the room in front of him. He furrowed his brows as he tried to recall exactly how he'd ended up here. Things were beginning to finally fall into place when he noticed his hand wasn't moving like it should. He lifted his arm and discovered a cast that spanned most of his arm. "What the?" he said as he moved it around. The tips and nails of his ring, middle, and index fingers were sticking out but that was the last bit of skin he saw until the cast ended just below his elbow.
He tapped the knuckles on his other hand against the cast and was tracing the patterns of the strips when Danny's face popped into his mind. He sat straight up in his bed and had nearly yelled the boy's name when he saw a pair of small feet in the next bed. "Danny?" he asked as he pulled the curtain back. "That you?" The smile on the boy's face when he saw Zack was up and around made the dull throb in Zack's hand momentarily disappear.
"Hey Zack! You're awake!" Danny gently closed the book he was holding and set it aside. He slid himself off the edge of the bed and landed on one foot on the tile floor. Zack watched as he hopped the few feet over to his bed and leaned against the rail. "How's your hand?"
"Still there, I guess." He wiggled his fingers as much as he could. "Bet I won't have any problem cracking nuts for a while, either." Zack lightly rapped his cast against the bed rail and smiled at the resulting thump. "Why don't you come on up here?" Zack told him after seeing Danny wince in the fraction of a second he put any weight on his other foot.
Danny slung a knee over the side of the bed and started to roll up on it. Zack helped him out by grabbing the back of the boy's pajama pants with his good hand and tugging. Danny eventually got comfortable and situated. "Thanks. It's hard when you can't jump."
"No problem, buddy. How come they didn't put your foot in a club like this?" Zack hit his cast on the rail again.
"The doctors said they're still looking at the x-rays. I might have a hair-something but they aren't sure."
"Gotcha." Danny scooted around and let his ankle fall off the bed. "So what were you reading over there?"
"Oh yeah? I loved him when I was like five years old. Green Eggs and Ham was my favorite," Zack told him and became puzzled when Danny frowned. "What's the matter?"
"I don't read so good. That's why I still read it," Danny explained.
Zack felt about two inches tall. Of course he didn't read that well. He was in what? First grade when Jerry kidnapped him? Maybe second? He had to resist the urge to hit himself in the face with his cast. "You know what, Danny? I don't read all that good either. I'd like to read Dr. Seuss all the time if I could." Danny smiled.
"Want me to read it to you?"
"Sure, Danny." Danny started to hop off the bed but Zack stopped him. "I'll get it." Zack pushed the blanket back and saw he was wearing the same hospital pajamas as Danny. "Hey, we're twins." Danny snickered. Zack retrieved the book and returned to his spot. He patted the bed beside him and Danny scooted into position and opened the book.
Carey, Kurt, and Cody all but fell out of the rental car in their haste to see Zack. Details of their son's escape and rescue were still sketchy but they knew he was alive and knew where he was and that was all that was important. Carey had her door open before Kurt had even killed the ignition and Cody was right behind her. They bundled up against the blowing snow and hurried to the doors. The stepped through and saw the reception desk at the junction of three hallways.
"I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over," the young woman behind the counter told her, barely looking up from her magazine. "If you come back tomorrow between the hours of -"
"Stop talking," Carey told her and the lady looked up. "My son is here and I will see him. Tonight." The threat was implied.
"Ma'am, you can't -"
"My son is Zack Martin," Carey said, sweetening her voice slightly after a look from Kurt reminded her that honey worked better than vinegar. "He was kidnapped and escaped and somehow ended up here."
The clerk looked like she was going to protest and cite the rules again but her humanity got in the way. "Hang on just a moment, please." Carey took a step back and put an arm around Cody's shoulder and waited as a doctor was paged. Less than two minutes later, a tall man in a white jacket strode to the counter.
"I'm Doctor Howard. You must be the Martins," he said as he shook their hands.
"How is Zack?"
"He's resting comfortably at the moment. Follow me and I'll tell you more along the way." The Martins fell in line behind him as the doctor lead them into an elevator. "I was just heading up to check on him when Michelle paged me." He flipped open a chart. "I'll give you the short version. Zack was brought in here about three hours or so ago and for the most part, he came through in remarkably good shape for all that he went through. We did the standard sexual assault kit and that came back as well as could be expected. We're waiting on the blood work to come back to make sure he didn't pick anything nasty up from his attacker." The doctor turned a page on the chart. "He somehow seems to have avoided any frostbite even after being outside in a blizzard for almost a full day. That's a big plus. He's suffering from a little dehydration but we had him on IVs for a while." The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open.
"So are there any minuses on that chart, Doctor?" Kurt asked as they started down a hallway.
"One. We had to put a couple of screws and a plate in one of his hands and then cast it."
"Oh. Oh my. What happened?" Carey asked.
"Crush trauma. From what we've been able to put together so far, it happened while they were trying to get away."
"Who's they?" Cody asked the doctor.
"Zack and the boy he escaped with. Danny Doe according to the file. That's not his last name," he added for Cody's benefit and received a scowl in reply.
"I know that," Cody said indignantly. "Doe is the last name that police and hospitals give-" Cody went silent as his mouth was covered by Kurt's hand.
"Not the time, kid."
"Right. Sorry, Doctor," Cody apologized.
"No harm done. Anyway, we're here." The doctor pulled the door open. "I'll give you guys some time," he told them as he stepped aside.
"Thanks, Dr. Howard."
"Would you eat green eggs and ham?" Zack asked as Danny turned the page of the book.
"Maybe. Do you think the ham is really green, too?"
"No idea. All I know is that it would probably be better than any food they have here."
"Probably. The last time I was in a hospital they tried to feed me stuff that looked like baby food and tasted like dirty underwear," Zack said, smiling before adding a bit more. "The Jell-o was good, though. I ate a bunch of that."
"Why were you in the hospital?"
"I fell out of a tree and knocked myself out. They thought I had..." Zack paused as the door opened and he saw his mother walk through. "Mom!" Carey flew across the room and Zack barely had time to call out "Dad!" and "Cody!" before they were all around him and drowning him in hugs.
"Oh Zack...I thought we'd lost you," Carey said.
"We were so worried," Kurt added.
"I didn't know if I'd ever see you again," Cody said with tears in his eyes.
"I'm fine, really," Zack told them when they final released their strangleholds. "I'm fine."
"Hey, Zack, I think I'm going to go back to my bed for a little while," Danny told him and started inching his way down past the rail.
"No way, Danny. Get back up here." He wrapped his bad hand over Danny's shoulder. "Guys, this is Danny. He helped me get away. Danny, this is my mom, my dad, and my brother Cody."
"Uh, hey," Danny said and waved shyly. "I didn't really do that much when we got away. Zack did all the work. He just carried me after I hurt my foot."
"Nope. You kept me going, Danny," Zack told him. "If you weren't with me I would have just given up after the first night and froze out there."
"Thank you, Danny," Carey said as she hugged him, too. Cody and Kurt quickly followed suit.
The door opened again and Dr. Howard came inside pushing a wheel chair. "I hate to break up the reunion, but we need to steal Danny for a while. They're going to put your foot in a cast after all, kiddo."
"I have a..whatever?"
"A hairline fracture? Yes you do. It's a little one but it will likely get worse if we don't fix it now."
"Can I have a red one like Zack?" Danny asked, tapping his hand against Zack's cast.
"I don't see why not," Dr. Howard told him as he rolled the chair to the edge of the bed. "Arms up." Danny raised his arms and was lifted from the bed and put down gently on the chair.
"See you in a little bit, Danny," Zack said to his friend as he was wheeled out of the room. Danny waved and disappeared behind the door.
"So what happened, Zack?" Cody asked once they were alone.
Zack didn't answer immediately. He leaned back against the pillows and the events of the last few days all flooded through his mind. "I know I'll have to tell you guys everything soon, but for now can we just let it go? I don't want to think about it right now. I just want to be with you all."
"That's perfectly okay with us, son, we're just glad to have you back," Kurt said as he patted Zack's leg. "The details can wait. You're back with us where you belong." That generated another group hug and more than a few tears of happiness.
"Mom? What's going to happen to Danny?" Zack asked once they'd all let go and wiped their eyes.
"They're going to put his ankle in a cast so it'll heal faster," she told him.
"No, I mean after all this."
"Oh. I...I don't know, Zack. I haven't thought about it."
"He can come stay with us, right?"
"Who's going to look out for him? Who's going to take care of him?"
"Someone that's qualified to do it, that's who, Zack," Kurt told his son.
"What if you're wrong, Dad? He's an orphan, you know. What if they just stick him back in another home?"
"Zack, come on now. Relax and think about it. Danny is going to need lots of help from people who have trained and studied for years to handle just this sort of thing. It'll take a long time before before all his scars heal."
"What about me?" Zack asked, raising his arms in emphasis.
"You'll get some help, too, Zack," Carey told him.
"No, that's not what I mean. What better a person to help him along than someone else who's been through the same thing?"
"Zack, you're not hearing me," Kurt told him, exasperation starting to build in his voice.
"Kurt, come out into the hallway with me for a minute," Carey said to him and pulled gently on his elbow. He looked between Carey and Zack before nodding and following her out, making sure the door was closed behind him.
"Now that Mom and Dad are gone," Cody said, "I really did miss you and really was worried, Zack." He climbed up on the bed and gave Zack a very strong hug.
"Don't get all mushy on me, Cody." He laughed and hugged his brother back just as hard. "But I know. I missed you guys, too. Really bad. I didn't know if I'd ever see you all again. I was scared the whole time."
"I'm just glad you got through it okay," Cody told him as he sat back.
"Huh? How'd I do anything?"
"It was really weird, Cody. I had just cried myself to sleep after...after some bad stuff happened...and you were in my dream. But it didn't feel like a dream."
"I was? What'd I say?"
"You set me straight on a few things," Zack told him and Cody waited for him to explain. "Basically you told me to quit being a little baby and to wise up and get my ass out of there. You said ass, too."
"That was a dream then," Cody snickered. "But while we're sharing strange things, Sasha told me that I spaced out or something a few times while you were missing. After I came back from wherever I was, I could always feel you a little."
"You think Mom would believe that?" Zack asked.
"She would. Dad on the other hand..."
"Not a chance." Both boys grinned and relaxed, enjoying each other's company. A minute or so passed before Zack broke the quiet. "What do you think they're talking about out there? Danny?"
"What do you think, Cody?"
"I don't know, Zack. He's not a puppy. He's probably going to need a lot of help to get through everything."
"But," Cody interrupted, "if it is that important to you, I'll do everything I can to help."
"Thanks, Cody. I mean it."
"I know, Zack." He leaned in and hugged Zack again. "I don't know what I can do but I'll try."
"Don't tell me you're even thinking about this, Carey."
"It might be. But you can't tell me you didn't see how close they were in there."
"I did. And I don't like it."
"What do you...that better not mean what I think it means." Carey's voice, soft up to then, became harsh.
"No, it's not." She gave him a supremely stern look. "Okay, maybe it bothers me a little like that but right now that's completely irrelevant." Kurt paused before starting over. "What I saw when I looked at the two of them was two boys that have obviously bonded through a terrible experience. Of course they're going to be close."
"So you're not with me on this at all, are you?"
"I can't be, Carey. Zack is my son. Maybe you're right, maybe them staying together might turn out for the best. But maybe it won't. What if, even after all the treatment and help we can get him, what if he's a little ticking time bomb that goes off one day?"
"What if it's Zack that turns out that way? What if after we get him all the help we can, it's Zack that turns into the time bomb, Kurt?" Carey retorted.
"Oh, that's low, Carey."
"Maybe it is but the point is that we don't know."
"He's known the boy for what? Three days?"
"So? I knew I was going to marry you after our first date, Kurt."
"Yeah, and look how that turned out," he mumbled.
"Nothing. I was just saying that it's not the same thing. Why are you so into this, Carey?"
"I don't know, Kurt. It just feels right. Like it's something that I need to do."
"Carey...I know it feels like the right thing to do. I don't want him to be pawned off on some foster family that doesn't care any more than you do but come on. Zack is our son. Danny is not. I don't want you doing this out of any sense of obligation."
"I'm not." Carey turned and leaned up against the far wall and crossed her arms.
"This is the part where you're going to tell me that you have full custody and what I say really doesn't matter, isn't it?"
"I wasn't, no. But I still want you behind me on this. I don't even know if it's possible to take Danny home with us. I just want you to think about it instead of dismissing it out of hand."
"Okay," Kurt said after a long silence. "On one condition. If it starts to look like this arrangement isn't going to work, for any reason, I want him gone."
"Deal," Carey said to him, crossing the space between them to give him a hug. "Thanks."
They opened the door and heard the twins' conversation abruptly dry up. Zack looked as anxious as Carey had ever seen him and even the stoic Cody seemed a bit on edge.
"So? Can he?" Zack asked before the door had even shut behind them.
Carey took a deep breath before answering. "I want you to hear me out completely before you say anything, okay, Zack?" he nodded. "I want to say he can right now but I can't." A frown started to cross Zack's face. "Wait, wait...I want him to but it's not that simple. I'm going to make some calls in the morning and see what we can do, okay?" Zack nodded and she could see his eyes getting a little moist.
"Thanks, Mom," he said softly. She went to him and wrapped him in a hug.
"You're welcome. Like I said, we can't promise anything but we'll do everything we can." Carey felt him nod his head against his chest. She rubbed his hair. "Don't say anything to Danny yet, please. Let me see what happens first." Zack nodded again.
Carey had barely released him from her embrace when Danny came through the door, quickly followed by the doctor. He rolled up to Zack's bed. "Check out my cast, Zack. Dr. Howard said you can sign it in the morning. If you want to."
"Of course I want to, Danny," Zack told him.
"I hate to be the bad guy, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, but it's getting late and we need to feed and water the animals before we close the zoo for the night," Dr. Howard told the group.
Zack looked sad again but Kurt stopped him. "We'll be back first thing in the morning, kid. You boys need to get some rest."
"I guess," Zack admitted and Danny nodded. Goodbyes were said and the Martins, minus Zack, left.
"I like your family, Zack," Danny told him.
"Yeah, they're pretty cool. Don't tell them I said that, though," Zack joked.
"Don't worry, I won't." Danny wheeled his chair around in a circle. "You don't think they'll feed us that stinky baby food for dinner, do they?"
Zack was about to answer but Dr. Howard beat him to it. "Nah, they only serve that in Boston hospitals. I bet I can round you guys up a burger or something. What do you say? I won't tell if you won't."
"My lips are sealed, Doctor," Zack told him and Danny quickly agreed. Dr. Howard smiled.
After a stop for some burgers and fries, the remaining Martins pulled into the parking lot of a little motel. A few minutes later they were collapsing on any soft surface, drained from a day of ups and downs.
"First thing in the morning I'm going to find out who I need to talk to about bringing Danny home with us," Carey said.
"Probably whatever New York calls their version of child protective services, I guess," Kurt told her as he toed his boots off.
"That sounds right." Carey took off her own shoes and tossed them in a corner. The three of them sat around and tried to watch television but Carey couldn't keep her mind on the show. "That's it. I'm calling Moseby now."
"Why would you call him?" Kurt asked.
"I want to get the ball rolling now."
"Do you think Mr. Tipton can pull any strings?" Cody asked as he rolled over to look at her.
"I don't really want to name drop like that but if it'll help, I'll find out. Hopefully Moseby can tell me who to call. I'll be back." Carey pulled the phone from her coat pocket and stepped out of the room. Cody noticed his father shake his head and sigh as she left.
"You're not happy about this are you, Dad?"
"Honestly? No, I'm not. But I'm going to side with your mom on this one."
"Long story short, I'm worried about the situation. Let's let it go for the night, huh, Cody?"
Five minutes later Carey returned to the room and tossed the phone on the bed. "Well, he said he'd call me back as soon as he finds anything out."
"How long, Mom?"
"He wasn't sure, Cody. I'd guess sometime tomorrow or the next day we'll hear from one of Mr. Tipton's lawyers."
The next morning had broken and Cody was just stepping out of their room's shower when he heard his mother's excited voice. He hurriedly wrapped a towel around himself and stepped out into the room. Carey was holding the phone out in front of her and smiling like it was made of diamonds. He looked around but didn't see his father.
"You're kidding me, right, Moseby?"
"No, Carey, I'm not," Moseby answered over speakerphone. "You've been granted temporary emergency custody of Danny." Cody could hear the smile in Moseby's voice.
"Incredible," Carey said. "I figured it would take at least a week before we even had a hearing."
"You'd be surprised how much faster the legal system can work when the name 'Tipton' is attached to a lawyer's firm."
"I guess so. I can't thank you enough, Moseby. I mean it from the bottom of my heart."
"Just get Zack and the rest of you, and Danny, too, of course, home as soon as possible and we'll call it even." What Cody heard in Moseby's voice this time was a blush. He grinned.
"Will do, Marion. See you soon." She closed the phone and fell back on the bed. "Wow."
"So it's done?" Cody asked.
"It is for now. There will be more legal hoops to jump through later but we've already cleared the biggest one."
"Wow is right," Cody echoed, a bit taken aback at the suddenness of it all. He'd come to collect one brother and was leaving with two.
"Tell me about it, kiddo. How about you dry off and put some clothes on? Your dad will back with coffee in a minute and we'll hit the road. Sooner we leave, sooner we get home." Cody grinned and grabbed a set of clean clothes and headed back to the bathroom.
Unlike the day before, they drove to the hospital at a much more leisurely pace and even waited until the car came to a complete stop to get out. They strode to the door and walked in, pausing only to sign in at the desk before heading to the elevator. The doors opened and they stepped in.
"Hold the door, please!" A familiar voice called and Kurt put his hand out. Dr. Howard quickly joined them.
"Good morning, Doctor," Kurt said as he shook the man's hand.
"It does seem to be a good morning. I saw discharge papers on both boys' charts when I checked on them earlier." He punched the button for the third floor.
"Thank you. Have you told them yet?"
"Oh no. I thought I'd save that for you." The elevator stopped and they stepped out. The Martins went towards Zack's room while the doctor headed the other way. "I think it's very noble what you're doing," he said as he ducked into another room.
They walked into the boys' room and found them sitting together eating cereal and watching cartoons on a little roll-away television. Zack put his bowl aside and greeted them while Danny waved with a mouthful.
"Morning boys. Sleep well?"
"Not too bad. No Cody snoring all night."
"Hey! You're the one that snores, Zack, not me!" Cody retorted.
"Trust me, Danny, it's him, not me."
"You woke me up, Zack. You do snore," Danny informed him.
"You traitor!" Zack laughed and stuck his spoon in Danny's side.
Carey let them settle down before slowly letting them in on the good news. "So...what do you two think about getting a real breakfast instead of some cereal? I was thinking eggs, bacon, maybe some toast to go with it. Pancakes, too, if you want."
"That sounds good, Mom," Zack said.
"I haven't had eggs in I don't know how long," Danny added. He couldn't put the bowl of cold cereal aside fast enough.
"It does sound good," Carey agreed. "And I was thinking that after we get done eating, we'll get on a plane and fly back to Boston. What do you think about that?"
"Mom! Are you serious? Really?" Zack exclaimed.
"Yes, Zack. I'm serious."
"Wow, cool, Zack! You get to fly in a plane!" Danny said, failing to hide the disappointment in his voice.
"Not so fast, Danny," Carey said. "Would you want to come with us? Maybe for good?"
Danny didn't know what to say. Calling him confused would be a huge understatement. "What?" was all he could manage and even that took effort.
Cody walked over to the bed. "She wants to know if you want to come live with Zack and me."
"Yes sir," Carey answered. "For keeps."
"So what do you think?" Cody asked, bending over a little and putting his hands on the boy's shoulders.
"Can I, Zack?"
Zack, who had until that point kept his emotions in check, couldn't any longer. He felt his lips quiver and his eyes leaked. "Of course you can, Danny." Zack wiped his face with the hem of his shirt. "Of course you can."
"I'd like that," Danny said and wrapped one arm around each twin.
Wow. It's over. Almost four years in the making and it's done. I honestly think I feel lighter inside, like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I know that sounds kind of dumb, but it's true. When I was off on my real-life sabbatical, I'd always think about this story and promise myself I'd come back and finish it. Well, it took a good 18 months or so for me to make good on that promise but I did. I'd like to thank everyone who's read this from the very beginning back in '07 as well as those of you who picked it up when I started it a second time. Thank you, guys (and gals!). Seriously.
I'm debating on writing a sequel to this story since I don't really think it can end here. Yes, Zack is home and everything, but I'm thinking I need to write about the aftermaths of everything that happened. I'm not sure yet though, but I'm wondering how many of you would be interested in reading it. If it happens, it won't be for a while since I need to relax from this story and write some lighter stuff. So yes? No?
And before I go, I feel like I should tell you that even though I think I'm a tough ol' guy, I got a little moisture around the eyes as I wrote the final few paragraphs. Of course, like Zack said, if you tell anyone I'll deny it.