A/N: I think I have a disease, because I am way too addicted to these stupid Hardy boy books. It's not healthy, but it does fuel my writing. Here's another story, a little shorter than the one that's almost finished (unabashed plug here --- real Life as We Knew It. It has Hardys…) So here we go. Enjoy the ride. I don't own the Hardy's.
Dedication: To my brother and my cat, without either of whom I wouldn't be able to write. And once again to the characters, who put up with everything I do to them and still land on their feet.
"There are some things we don't want to admit, even to ourselves. Truth: We all die. Question: What are you going to do about that?" Alex Conaway
"Yo, Frank, wait up!"
Frank turned around and grinned, slowing his pace so seventeen-year-old Biff Hooper could catch up. Biff's blond hair was sticky with sweat and matted to his forward, but he wore a huge, genuine smile. "Hey, Frank, that was an awesome game. Sorry your team sucked."
Sticking out his tongue was not something the normally reserved, mature Hardy did, which is why Biff let out a whooping laugh. "Ah, it probably wouldn't have been so bad if your no-good brother had been there. When's he due back, anyway?" Only Frank could have detected the pleading quality of the last sentance. Biff and Joe had been best friends since pre-kindergarten. This was Biff's way of asking if Joe was ready to come out and play.
"Today, I think. Actually, he might already be home." In his head, Frank calculated the distance between Vermont, where Joe had gone to visit an old friend for the weekend, and Bayport. Assuming his brother had actually gotten out of bed by nine – a stretch for the sleep-loving teen – he should be arriving in the town soon.
Biff nodded slowly, "Yeah. Hey, tell him to call me or I'll call him. We're going out tonight, and you're not invited, 'kay?" Biff was two inches taller than Frank and maybe twenty pounds of muscle heavier, but he still managed to act and look like a seven year old when he felt like it.
"Fine, fine, have you BFF time." It was only around Biff that Frank acted like a twelve-year-old girl, since he would never normally be caught dead saying 'BFF'. "But bring him back by midnight. In one piece, this time. With no bruises. Preferably sober. And breathing."
"Dude, that was only one time." Biff grinned happily as the pair reached the parking lot. Frank threw his bag into the back of the van – he and Joe had flipped for cars before the younger boy left. Frank got to keep the van while Joe was stuck driving their aunt's old Volkswagon Beetle, something their father hadn't been able to give up after her death. Frank grinned at the mental image of Joe I n the small, bright yellow car.
Frank waved as Biff backed out of the parking lot and got into the van. The movement must have given him a headrush, for he was suddenly very cold and intensely aware of the sudden silence. He punched the button for the radio, hastily lowering it as a U2 CD came blaring out of the speakers at high volume.
Rolling his eyes at Joe's favorite band, which the older Hardy would always claim was a girl band, Frank backed out of the parking lot and headed towards home and a cold shower.
Bayport in summer was filled with tourists. The small town had the advantage of being close to the ocean and sporting it's own rather large lake where the brothers kept their boat, The Sleuth. Frank drove through the crowded streets in a half-daze, absentmindedly humming to "With or Without You" as he dreamed of getting out of the sweaty uniform.
Pulling into the driveway, Frank noticed that he had beat Joe home, which meant he'd have to field a half-serious call from Biff about the different ways Joe would die if he didn't get home soon. He left the keys in the van, a bad habit the brothers had when they arrived home and expected to leave again soon. In this case, Frank was looking forward to a night with his friends at Mr. Pizza, where Tony worked. It was often the place of choice for the Senior's nights out while Joe, Biff, and Iola, the Juniors in their group of friends, preferred the movies and the Dinner on the other side of town.
He picked his way over the many beds of flowers planted by the Hardy's mother's green thumb and shouldered open the door to the house, still humming the stupid song.
The first thing he noticed was the cold. He dropped his baseball bag by the door and closed it. The inside of the Hardy's small house was at least thirty degrees colder than the outdoors, and Frank started to involuntarily shiver.
Something wasn't right.
All his detective instincts flared to life, rejecting this scene. Something was out of place. Something was terribly wrong. Cautiously, Frank moved into the living room, tense, ready to fight. He wasn't expecting to find both his mother and father at the kitchen table, just sitting there.
The relief he felt didn't last long, though. In an instant, Frank took in his mother's face, buried in her hands, her shoulders that shook with each sob. He saw his father, an arm around his mother, though Fenton himself seemed to be working not to cry. Both looked up when Frank walked in.
Something clicked in Frank's head, and he drew parallels between this scene and the one he and Joe had walked into when their Aunt Gertrude had died, just five months ago. "Who is it?" He breathed, his mind racing through a catalogue of friends and relatives who could evoke this emotion from his parents. One of the cops from Bayport, maybe? The Chief, or Con Riley? Or…no. No.
"Frank." Fenton stood up, and Frank noticed that there were tears in his father's eyes. He'd never seen the oldest Hardy look this way before…older, somehow, and defeated, and lost. "Frank, maybe you should sit down."
"No." The word pushed itself out of Frank's throat. He wouldn't believe it, he couldn't. He looked his father in the eye, "Dad, please…no."
"Frank." When Fenton's voice cracked on the word, when the man looked away, Frank knew. A wail came from his mother, forgotten at the table, experiencing the grief of a mother losing her youngest son.
Fenton seemed to be stealing himself to say it. "There was a car accident, Frank. A…fire. Your brother…Joe…didn't make it."
"No!" A shout this time, though Frank didn't know who, if anyone, he was angry at. He swayed on his feet, unable to take it in. So this is what it felt like when your heart broke. Suddenly, he couldn't feel anything. He didn't feel any pain.
He looked at his father, and wondered why his own cheeks felt wet. He didn't know he was crying. He didn't know anything anymore. There would be time for questions later. Because there were questions, too many to make their way out of Frank's head in anything resembling a coherent sentence. Only one read thought drifted in an endless circle, never going anywhere, never leaving.
I should have been there. I should have protected him. We've been on a hundred cases. A car accident. Finally, at the end, he reached a conclusion, why he felt this way, why he felt nothing. I thought I would know.
That's when he collapsed on the floor. He could vaguely hear his mother start crying even harder, his father calling his name. One thought stayed with him as the world went dark…It wasn't supposed to be you, Joe. It was supposed to be me.
Wait a chapter before yelling at me for killing Joe, 'kay? I have a plan.
But…what do you think? Review. Please?