Warnings: Language, angst

When Fenton makes a bad judgment call his family will never be the same again.

The boys are younger in this story. Frank is 7 and Joe is 6

Little Boy Lost

Chapter 1

Six year old Joe Hardy opened his eyes and frowned. Was it time to get up already?

It couldn't be. It was still dark.

The frown on his young face grew. Then why was he awake?

A nightlight kept the room from complete darkness, and Joe glanced around wondering what had awakened him. But not seeing anything of interest, he closed his eyes and sighed. He really hoped he had plenty of time before he had to get up for school because he was still so tired.

This year a 'bedroom clock' was definitely going on his Santa Claus list. That and learning to tell time…

The child had almost nodded off again when he heard something. Immediately he sat up and glanced towards his brother's room. Whatever that noise was, it had come from there.

Listening intently, Joe waited another moment. There it was again.

Hmm…that was strange. It sounded like someone was…crying?

Why would Frank be crying? Frank didn't cry. Joe was the family crier. In fact the only time that the six year old had seen his older sibling shed tears was a couple of months ago when Frank had fallen off his bike and broken his arm.

Alarmed by the thought and no little afraid, the child pushed the blankets off his legs and climbed out of bed, cringing when his feet hit the cold hardwood floor. His slippers were supposed to be by his bed – 'supposed to' being the key words.

The last time Joe had seen them they were…actually Joe had no idea, as he hadn't seen his slippers in a long time – at least a day or more.

Silently the child padded across his room and into the small bathroom that the brothers not only shared, but that acted as a buffer between the two rooms. Each boy's bedroom had its own entrance but Joe knew Frank's door would be unlocked. It always was. Just like his.

It was house rules.

A safety issue, their father, Fenton, had tried to explain to them once over breakfast. Joe remembered chewing loudly on his cereal and nodding that he understood, all the while more interested in reading the back of the cereal box than anything else. For Joe it was just common sense. Why would he want to keep his brother out? He liked Frank.

In fact, Frank was more than his brother. Frank was his best friend. And he was pretty sure that the older boy felt the same way even if he never said so. After all, why would he? That was mushy stuff. And they were men. Men didn't talk mushy stuff…well, only with their mom. But that was okay because with Mommy, 'men' could be little boys….

Joe stood in the doorway and looked into his brother's room. Now he could hear sniffling. Frank was definitely crying.

"Frank?" the blond boy whispered, his voice soft and uncertain. "Is that you?" His seven-year-old sibling's room didn't have a nightlight so he couldn't really see his brother, though Joe was sure he'd be in his bed. Or at least he hoped so. And he really hoped it was Frank too, because if it were some monster –

"Joey?" A voice moaned and the child exhaled in relief, it was his brother.

Needing no further invitation, Joe flipped on the bathroom light and then moved towards his brother's bed. "You okay?" he asked, better able to see the older boy now that the bathroom light flooded the room. The seven year old was curled up on his bed, his covers strewn across the floor.

"Joey…" Frank's voice was more a whimper this time. "Sick…" he didn't need to say anything else.

Joe's eyes widened and he was out of Frank's room and running down the hallway like a shot, already shouting, "Mommy! Daddy! Help!"

It really shouldn't have been a surprise when the bedroom door to his parents' room was flung open even before he had a chance to open it – his father was an ex-cop turned investigator with superhero-fast reflexes – but it did. Startled, Joe yelped and stumbled back before he recognized the figure that loomed in the doorway as his father.

His father reached out to steady him. "Easy, tiger."

"Daddy!" Joe frantically twisted out of his grip, urgent to get 'help' for his brother. "Frank's sick!"

His mother gently pushed her way past his father as she wrapped a housecoat around her petite frame. "Okay, sweetie, okay." Joe grabbed her hand and began pulling her towards his brother's bedroom.

Only once she was in the room, did he let go.

"See," he said, as Laura Hardy turned on the bedroom light and they all saw the miserable, curled up figure of his older brother. Frank looked absolutely dreadful in full light and Joe felt his heart just about pound out of his chest. He lowered his voice and his bottom lip trembled. "I think he's dying!"

Just then Frank moaned something and Joe watched as their mother quickly grabbed a wastepaper basket.

A hand on the back of his neck had him turning and burying his face into his father's chest as Fenton crouched down to his level. "I don't want Frank to die!" he wailed, feeling absolutely miserable and terrified. He'd never seen his brother like this before.

"Shhh…" his father tried to console him, "It's okay, Joey. Frank's just a little sick – " The sound of painful retching had Joe trying to turn around but his father stood, picking him up as he did so.

"Daddy," Joe gasped, his own body starting to heave in sympathy as Fenton quickly moved them out of Frank's room. He could still hear his brother throwing up. "I'm scared."

"It's okay, Joey," the man repeated. "I know it's scary watching someone we love being sick. But everyone gets sick sometimes – and Frank will be just fine. You'll see." His brown eyes were dark with sincerity and he gave Joe a comforting smile.

"Frank never gets sick," Joe whispered, laying his cheek tiredly against his father's muscular shoulder. Tears stung his face as the man walked them down the hallway and towards the master bedroom.

"That's not true," Fenton corrected softly. He reached up and wiped away the tears on the boy's cheek. "He just hasn't been this sick in a long time." Joe felt himself being lowered onto the softness of his parents' bed. "Now, what say you stay here and keep me company for a bit? Frank doesn't need all of us hovering over him."

Joe felt his eyes closing even as he tried to protest. His words slurred, "'M not tired…wan' help Fr'nk."

"Shhh…baby," his father's words were soft on the back of his neck as he lay down behind Joe and pulled the child close. "You are helping…"

He wanted to protest – he wanted to be angry at himself for falling asleep but he was only six and he was really tired….

Fenton Hardy waited until the child was sound asleep before moving. He carefully slid out on the other side of the bed, repositioned the blankets over the little boy and then silently left the room.

Further down the hall, he heard another bout of painful vomiting and his heart went out to his ill son. Unfortunately a nasty case of the stomach flu had hit the boys' school so they weren't completely caught off-guard. Well, except for Joe's 'wake-up' call, that is…

That child certainly had a flare for the dramatic, and the man couldn't help but chuckle fondly. Joe had literally taken years off Fenton's life tonight, and the investigator could never remember moving so fast before. He had had no idea what was going on, only that something was threatening his children. And that had been enough.

However, those were a few brief seconds he hoped to never experience again.

Instead of going to Frank's room, Fenton went downstairs and headed towards the kitchen. He made a pot of coffee for himself and Laura and then prepared a tray with crackers and juice for Frank. He could already tell this was going to be a very long night.

A few minutes later as he hurried back upstairs with the tray, he wondered what it was about 2 AM…and sick kids….