Well, this is it; we've reached the final chapter. Hope everyone who invested time in reading this story enjoyed it. :-)
Thank you SO, SO MUCH to Calathiel, TraSan, Polaris, Helen, Alicia, josie, pally, MissMe113, Miss Fenway (I cannot believe you schlepped your little self to the parade! LOL! :D Even I didn't go and I only live 20 minutes south of Philly! :p) , No1butjoe, Iola Hardy (I LOVE Independence Day, too!! :D And you're right, Joe would never miss a Laura/Gertrude barbecue! :p) for your wonderful comments on the last chapter! And thanks to everyone who has commented throughout the story.
Later that morning Frank and Joe sat playing cards, with Joe frequently asking Frank what time it was. Visiting hours would soon be starting and Joe was anxious to see Vanessa, realizing how much he had missed her being there during the night.
As Frank discarded with a scowl, Joe picked up a card from the deck. Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Joe discarded one card and laid the rest down on the table with an audible 'snap'.
"I win! Again!" he crowed.
"What?!" Frank cried out looking closely at the cards his brother had laid down.
"See, right there." Joe pointed to the offending cards, grinning happily. "Say it. Go ahead and say it," he gloated.
Frank threw his brother a dirty look and mumbled something under his breath.
"What was that?" Joe asked, leaning forward and cupping his ear. "I couldn't hear you."
"I said you win!" Frank yelled in exasperation.
"As usual," Joe replied with a satisfied smile.
"And he's so modest about it too," a familiar voice called out from the doorway.
"Hey, Babe!" Joe looked up. "C'mere! I missed you!" He held out his right arm invitingly.
Vanessa rushed to his side, gently sitting on the bed and greeted him with a hug and a lingering kiss.
"So how much did he take you for?" Fenton chuckled as he followed Callie and Laura into the room.
"Ten dollars," Frank replied rolling his eyes, perking up when Callie slipped into his warm embrace.
"And ten cents!" Joe reminded him. "Don't forget the ten cents."
"Ten dollars and ten cents," Frank corrected himself. "God forbid I forget the ten cents."
"Trust me," Fenton laughed as he took a seat. "You got off easy."
"You're looking pretty happy this morning," Laura remarked, giving Joe a warm hug and a kiss, as well as a once over with the practiced eye of a mother.
"I'm ten dollars and ten cents richer than I was yesterday. And Dr. Marston was here earlier. He examined me – again – and said he'd let me know today when I can get out of this place." Joe said the last part eyeing the room disdainfully.
"Ah, that's why my ears were burning." Dr. Marston entered the room in time to hear Joe's reference to him.
"Well?" Joe said expectantly, sitting up a little straighter in the bed, barely able to contain his excitement. "When can I go home?"
Dr. Marston studied Joe carefully before announcing his decision. "I'll release you tomorrow..."
"Yes!" Joe cried out triumphantly, pumping his one good arm in the air. "I'm going home!"
"…to go to the hotel - with restrictions," the doctor corrected him sternly, bringing a quick halt to Joe's celebration. "Number one – complete bed rest for the next seven days. Then I'll decide whether you're ready to fly home."
"But…" Joe began to protest, much to the amusement of Vanessa and his family.
"Number two," the doctor continued. "Once you do get home, other than seeing your family physician and therapy for your arm, home confinement for at least three more weeks after that."
"What?!" Joe cried out incredulous. "You want me to lay around and do nothing for over a month?"
Frank unsuccessfully tried to stifle a laugh as Joe glared at him.
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," Dr. Marston began firmly, and then softened. "I know you feel much better than you did a few days ago but you're far from being completely recovered, Joe. You have to give your body enough time to heal or you'll wind up right back in the hospital. You had several traumatic injuries. By all rights, you should be dead."
"You can't get rid of me that easily," Joe replied, breezily.
"Don't worry." Vanessa looked at Joe pointedly. "He's going to be my captive audience for the next month. I don't intend to let him out of my sight for a minute."
Joe groaned and leaned back against the pillows. Seconds later the familiar mischievous twinkle suddenly appeared in his blue eyes and a playful smile made its way to his lips.
"I can see it now… death by bridal magazines," he intoned, looking at his fiancée. "Can you save me from this one, big brother?" he asked Frank.
Frank shook his head firmly. "Sorry, pal. You're on your own. I know better than to come between a woman and her wedding plans."
Vanessa blushed furiously as the room erupted in laughter.
"Just ignore them, Van." Callie smacked Frank on the arm.
Winking at Vanessa, Joe pulled her in close with his good arm. "You can hold me captive anytime, Baby," he whispered huskily. Not caring that they had an audience, Joe kissed her pulling back only when he heard someone clearing their throat.
Looking up he smiled devilishly at the nurse who had entered the room. "Hey, I haven't seen her since last night."
Shaking her head, the nurse walked towards the bed. "You know it's a good thing you happen to be our favorite patient or you wouldn't be able to get away with that." She smiled at him holding up a blood pressure cuff.
Joe sighed, giving Vanessa another quick kiss before releasing her. The room was quiet as the nurse listened to his blood pressure and then recorded the information on Joe's chart. Taking his right wrist and holding it gently, she checked his heart rate. As she finished, she noticed the small scar on his index finger. Peering closer, she started to chuckle.
"My brother has a scar almost exactly like that. Let me guess – you're blood brothers with someone, right? A childhood friend?" she speculated.
Joe looked at his older brother and smiled. "Right," he replied. "As a matter of fact, he's my best friend. Always has been; always will be."
"It's always nice to hear of childhood friendships that still survive. It's so rare these days," she commented. "I hope yours lasts well into adulthood."
"This one will last forever," Joe said confidently, his eyes locked on Frank.
"Can I ask you a question?" Frank said seriously as the nurse turned to leave.
"How did my annoying little brother make it to the top of your favorite patient list?"
"Hey!" Joe protested. "What's that supposed to mean? I'm everybody's favorite!"
"Yeah, but favorite what is the question," Frank grinned.
The rest of the day was spent planning and making arrangements for Joe's release the following day. Callie and Frank had managed to sneak in a 'contraband dinner' for Joe to enjoy on his last night in the hospital and before they knew it, visiting hours were coming to an end.
As everyone bid Joe goodnight, he requested that Frank stay behind for a moment. Vanessa discreetly slipped out of the room, knowing Joe wanted a few moments alone with his brother.
"I don't think I ever thanked you," Joe said seriously.
"You don't need to thank me," Frank replied.
"Maybe…but I wanted to say thanks anyway."
"You're welcome." Frank stood up and stretched. "I'll be back tomorrow to spring you from this place," he finished and waved as he headed out the door.
One week later, Joe sat fidgeting in the lounge area of O'Hare airport, fighting off the unnerving reminders that this was where his nightmare had begun.
"Where's Dad?" he asked Frank, looking around nervously. "They're going to start boarding soon."
"Don't worry, he'll be here. He just wanted to see George before he left and thank him again for all his help," Frank answered calmly, seeing how agitated Joe was getting, knowing Joe wouldn't relax until he was finally on the plane.
"But we have to get on first. Before everyone else." Joe eyed the wheelchair with utter contempt. "Don't know why I have to use that to get on the plane. I can walk you know."
"You can limp," Vanessa reminded him. "Very painfully."
Joe looked at his fiancée, but knew better than to verbalize the sarcastic reply that had popped into his head.
"Here he comes now." Frank pointed towards Fenton who was threading his way through the crowd.
Fenton went to the counter and spoke to the agents for a moment before rejoining his family who were seated in an out of the way corner.
"Is there a problem with the seating?" Laura asked, noting the concerned look on her husband's face.
To make sure Joe was as comfortable as possible, and wouldn't be jostled by other passengers during the two-hour flight home, Fenton had purchased enough extra seats to ensure all those around Joe would be empty. Frank had flown the private plane back to Bayport earlier in the week and returned to Chicago two days later to make the return trip with Joe.
"No, everything's fine with that," Fenton said, making it obvious there was something else bothering him. Taking a seat across from Joe, he leaned forward and looked at his younger son earnestly.
"While I was talking to George, I got a call from Carlos." He reached out and rested a hand on Joe's right arm, making Joe even more nervous. He glanced at Frank, who was seated next to his brother, in a silent warning that the news wasn't good.
"Barning, the defense attorney, filed a motion requesting separate trials for Rashman and Malick. It was granted this morning."
"What?!" Joe paled considerably at the news, not even hearing the gasps from his mother and Vanessa. "You mean I have to testify twice?"
"Why?" Vanessa asked, just as upset by this disturbing turn of events as Joe was. She knew how difficult it was going to be for Joe to get through one trial, let alone two.
"Their plea was not guilty by reason of insanity. No jury is going to believe that both of them were insane, especially if they are tried together. They might buy that Rashman was insane, but they would have expected Malick to stop him. In order to get both of them off, Barning knows he needs to have them tried separately," Fenton explained, before looking back at Joe. "I'm sorry, Joe," he said, angry that the criminal justice system he believed in so deeply seemed to be favoring the men who had almost killed his son while doing nothing for Joe but adding to his torment. "The D.A. did his best to get it denied, but Barning somehow got the judge to see things his way."
"They weren't crazy," Joe said quietly, sitting back in the chair, defeated. "They knew exactly what they were doing." He looked at his father, distressed. "Rashman had everything he needed in the trunk of his car. He was completely prepared. And Malick willingly helped him. He wasn't forced into it."
"And all of that will work against them, whether they are tried together or separately," Fenton tried to reassure his son.
"Besides, it's going to be months before either of them is brought to trial," Frank added. "A lot can happen between now and then. You may not have to testify at all." He knew the chances of that happening were very slim, but all he cared about at the moment was getting Joe calmed down.
Just then one of the gate agents, approached the Hardys. "We're ready to start boarding," she said pleasantly, smiling at Joe.
"Thank you," Fenton replied standing up. "Why don't you get on the plane," he said to Laura, Vanessa and Callie. "We'll bring Joe right behind you."
He watched as the agent went to retrieve the wheelchair before turning back to Joe. "I know you weren't expecting this, Joe, but remember Frank and I will be right there with you. We'll be testifying about everything we heard and saw."
"He's right, Joe," Frank concurred, unaware of the rage that had crept into his voice. "You won't be alone. Rashman will not get away with this. I promise you."
Joe looked at his brother shocked at the unabashed hatred in his eyes and the tone in his voice. He suddenly recalled Frank's comment that he wished he had killed Keith Rashman when he had the chance and shivered, afraid for a moment that Frank might actually act on his threat.
Seeing the agent approach with the wheelchair Joe stood, a little unsteadily, grateful when Frank imperceptibly offered his arm for support. Stealing another glance at his brother, Joe saw the look was gone. Frank was now smiling at him and Joe wondered if he might have imagined it.
"Right. We're in this together," Joe said, settling himself in the wheelchair.
As his father steered the wheelchair towards the doorway, Joe couldn't help but look back over his shoulder and stare at his brother, who was gathering up his carry on bag and laptop. "Dad, is Frank okay?"
"He'll be fine once we all get home," Fenton replied, hoping he was right.
Lagging behind as Fenton wheeled Joe down jet way, Frank tried to fight back the anger that still threatened to consume him every minute of every day, vowing the next time he returned to Chicago, he would get even with Keith Rashman one way or another.
A/N: Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who reviewed during the course of this story! And I hope anyone who invested their time in reading, enjoyed it. As a lot of you know, I do write in a 'series' so even though it may seem as if certain things weren't completely resolved in this story doesn't mean you won't see those issues pop up again somewhere down the line. And Rashman and Malick DO have to go to trial eventually… ;-).
THANK YOU!! :-)