Gotta give a plug to a new story on this site – Pandora by Dawn FD! Awesome, awesome story that grabs you around the throat from the very first paragraph and never lets go!! And if you think you 'know' what type of story it's going to be just from reading the first chapter, you have no idea how wrong you are!! If you are a Frank fan or a Frank/Nancy shipper you will loooooooooooooooooooooove this story!! Heck, I'm not a Nancy fan at all and I was enthralled with it from beginning to end!! Go read it –NOW!! You will NOT be disappointed! :-)

As for this story, we have reached the end. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read. Hope you enjoyed it. :-)


Chapter 21

Joe stood watching Callie and Vanessa from the kitchen window, resisting every urge he had to run out into the yard, grab Vanessa and flee. He could tell by her body language that Vanessa was upset but she actually seemed to be more angry than anything else. Joe hadn't wanted Vanessa to have to see Callie just yet. But now that she had, albeit accidentally, he realized maybe it would do her some good to say whatever it was she had to say to Callie and get it over with. Feeling his anger come boiling to the surface every time he looked at his sister-in-law, Joe turned away from the window and found himself face to face with his older brother.

"Hey," Joe smiled. "I didn't hear you come in."

Frank stood, staring at Joe as if he had seen a ghost.

"Joe. What-what are you doing here?" Frank asked, taken aback. He had been so sure Joe and Vanessa would go to the police station and then straight home, he never anticipated seeing them at his parent's house.

"Van wanted to see Mom," Joe replied. "Didn't expect to see her here though," he said disgustedly, jerking his head towards the window.

Frank glanced over Joe's shoulder out the window and saw Callie and Vanessa in a heated discussion.

"Are you sure Vanessa is ready for that?" Frank asked, concerned. He felt that he and Callie had already set Vanessa's recovery back quite a bit and didn't want to do any more damage.

"No, but apparently she does," Joe replied, his tone of voice indicating he did not agree at all with his fiancée.

"So…did you and Callie… talk?" Frank asked with trepidation.

"I yelled, she listened. End of discussion," Joe said, letting Frank know that was a topic he was not open to talking about.

'At least he didn't kill her,' Frank thought wryly. 'That's a good sign.'

"Good," Frank replied absently. "Listen, Joe, could we talk?" he asked nervously.

"Sure," Joe replied, immediately concerned. Even making exceptions for everything that had happened, Frank wasn't acting like himself. "Do you want to go into the living room?" Joe asked, sensing whatever Frank had to say was extremely important to him. Joe knew he would be distracted by Callie and Vanessa if they stayed in the kitchen and he wanted to give Frank his full attention.

"Yeah, that's a good idea." Frank turned and slowly led Joe into the living room, Frank taking a seat on the couch and Joe settling himself in the armchair next to it.

"So, what do you want to talk about?" Joe asked.

Frank gazed into his brothers piercing blue eyes intently, trying to decide how best to say what had been eating at him the past few days. 'Just say it. Get it out in the open.' Hands shaking and heart racing, Frank took a deep breath and blurted it out, fearing if he waited one second longer, he would lose his nerve.

"Joe…I have to know. Do you still trust me?"

"What? What kind of question is that?" Joe replied with questions of his own. He was getting a very bad feeling about what he knew was a potentially volatile issue.

"A valid question, I think. Considering everything that's just happened," Frank replied quietly. "So…do you? Still trust me?"

"Of course I trust you!" Joe replied hastily, telling himself it was the truth. He did trust Frank…up to a point. Praying Frank would be satisfied, Joe hoped he would just drop the subject. But he had a strong feeling he knew exactly where this conversation was headed and he was not ready for it. Not yet. Almost three months later, the wounds were still much too fresh.

"You trust me?" Frank pressed. "Totally? Completely? Like you did before?" He had seen Joe flinch and already knew the answer. Now he needed Joe to confirm it.

Joe held his brother's gaze for a second longer, then quickly looked away. This hadn't come up since the night Joe had forgiven Frank and that was just fine with Joe. In the weeks that followed, Joe had been very afraid Frank would bring it up again, for it was a subject Joe had not been ready to discuss. In fact he still wasn't ready to talk about it. Abruptly, Joe got up and walked to the window, staring out at the morning sky.

"I know you'll always be there for me, Frank. Always. Isn't that enough?" Joe asked quietly.

Frank felt as if a knife had just been plunged into his heart. "But you don't trust me anymore. Not like you used to." Frank said it as a statement; it was no longer an unanswered question.

'I can't do this,' Joe thought. The searing pain he'd kept repressed for the past several months was suddenly screaming to be acknowledged and dealt with. 'I'm not ready yet.'

"Please, Frank. I can't do this right now," Joe begged softly.

Frank was so stunned by this sudden reality he didn't even hear Joe's heartbreaking plea.

"Why didn't you say something, Joe?" Frank asked, his voice shaky. "When you never mentioned it again, I thought everything was fine between us. I thought it was forgotten."

"Forgotten?" Joe said in quiet disbelief. "Frank, you accused me of lying. You thought I was capable of murder. Even when I told you, over and over again, that I didn't do it, you still didn't believe me. Even though you couldn't really see what happened you wouldn't give me the benefit of the doubt." Joe's voice was so soft Frank had to strain to hear what he was saying. "I know I have a short fuse and a bad temper but I could never kill someone in cold blood. Never. I always thought you knew me better than anyone. Obviously, I was wrong. How am I supposed to just forget that?"

Frank stared at his brother's back, feeling sick to his stomach. "But you said you forgave me," Frank said, trying to keep himself from falling apart.

"I did forgive you," Joe replied in the same soft voice. "I just can't forget. There's a difference."

"Joe… I'm so sorry. I had no idea." Up until this moment, he honestly didn't know his betrayal had such a devastating effect on Joe. Frank walked over and stood behind his brother. "How come you never told me?"

Joe remained silent, trying to stay in control. All the pain he'd suppressed for so long came roaring to the surface, ripping open wounds that had barely begun to heal.

"Joe?" Frank laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Come on, talk to me. Please."

"I can't, Frank. I don't want to do this," Joe pleaded with him.

"Why not? Once you get it out in the open, you'll feel better and…" Frank stopped as Joe spun around to face him, obviously distressed.

"No, I won't feel better!" Joe cried out, his voice breaking. "You want to know why I never said anything? Because it hurts, Frank! It hurts like hell! Believe me, I know. And I love you too much to put you through that!" Joe felt himself shaking badly and knew it wouldn't take much to push him over the edge, back into that dark place in his mind that he was so afraid of. "Can we drop it now? Please?"

Joe was not ready for this conversation – mentally or emotionally – and he knew it. He had thought about confronting Frank once before, one day when the pain was so bad he honestly thought it would kill him. When Joe had discussed it with his therapist, Linda Gaines, he'd become such an emotional wreck she had seriously considered hospitalizing him. After she had gotten Joe calmed down, she strongly urged him to wait a while before talking to Frank. She feared that with everything else Joe was trying to work through at the moment, a confrontation with his brother, whom he still leaned so heavily on, would be devastating.

While she agreed that they would have to discuss it eventually, she suggested waiting until he had really been able to accept what had happened to him as a small child and started to move past it. By then, she told him, the wounds from Frank's betrayal would have started to heal. He would be able to talk to his brother more rationally and much less painfully.

Frank tried to speak again, but Joe cut him off.

"I thought about having this conversation with you a while ago. Linda told me it probably wasn't a good idea," Joe said, recalling how distraught he had become that day. "I'm sorry, Frank. I know you need to have this conversation now but I can't. I'm just not ready yet. It's more than I can handle." Joe's voice was shaking badly. "Please don't make me do this. Not now."

Frank swallowed hard, afraid he was about to see Joe fall apart before his eyes, and pushed his own feelings aside. "You're right. You don't need this now." He wanted to be the older brother Joe needed but there was one thing he had to know. "Can I just ask you one question?" Frank requested. "If it makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to answer it."

Joe nodded.

"Do you think you'll ever be able to trust me like that again? The way you used to?" he asked, knowing he might regret it once heard the answer.

"I hope so," Joe whispered. "I know I want to."

Looking his brother in the eyes, Frank hated himself knowing he was the cause of all the pain he saw reflected there. "The next time we have this conversation, it will be because you initiated it. But you were right about one thing. I will always be here for you. Always. Don't you ever forget that."

"I won't," Joe replied softly.

'I promise you, little brother, one day you will trust me again. Just the way you used to,' Frank thought, vowing to earn back his brother's trust no matter what the cost. 'The next time I ask you that question you'll say yes without hesitation.'

"Am I interrupting?" Frank heard Vanessa's soft voice.

Frank turned and smiled at Vanessa. "No, I think we're done." he replied. "Right?" he asked, looking back at Joe.

"Right." Joe gave him a tiny smile. Taking Vanessa's hand Joe led her to the front door but hesitated before opening it. "I'll be back in a second," he said and walked back to the living room.

Frank was seated on the couch, his head back against the cushion, eyes closed.


"Yeah?" He opened his eyes, startled to see Joe standing there.

"Thanks," Joe said, sincerely. Joe knew he and his brother still had things to work out, but he also knew if not for Frank, he never would have survived the past two days, let alone the past few months.

"For what?" Frank asked genuinely puzzled. The previous forty-eight hours had been a nightmare for Joe and Vanessa, and Frank couldn't shake the feeling it was all his fault. By all rights, Joe should hate him.

"Everything," Joe answered, knowing despite the lies and the betrayals, he had still been blessed with a brother he wasn't quite sure he deserved. "All things considered, I'm pretty lucky to have a brother like you."

As Frank watched his brother's retreating back, he shook his head. 'You're so wrong, little brother. I'm the lucky one.'

Looking down at his right index finger, he thought of a summer's day almost fifteen years ago and realized nothing, not even his own demons, could destroy the bond he shared with Joe.

The End

A big HUGE thank you to Cheryl, Polaris, TraSan, MissMe113, Miss Fenway, Helen, Alicia, dazzling vampire, Rini, josie, pally, ananya, sleuth girl, Mouse, fandemonium, franknjoe and Phx for taking the time to review! You always made me smile and your comments got me through more than one bad day. Thank you! :-)

For those who are interested, the next story in this series – Vanished – will start going up sometime over the weekend.