Brothers By Choice

"Does the prosecution have any further witnesses?"

"At this time, the prosecution rests." Schiff said

"Here goes nothing." Jeff's lawyer said softly.

"Mr. Dupree? Is the defense ready to proceed?"

"Your Honor, at this time the defense moves to dismiss all charges on the grounds that the state has failed to prove its case." Dupree said

"I object, Your Honor." Schiff rose.

"Can you please send the jury out?"

"Follow me, ladies and gentlemen." The bailiff escorted the twelve men and women back to their chamber.

"The floor is yours, Mr. Dupree."

"Thank-you. The state has presented much evidence regarding the murder of John Morrison, yet they have not shown anything that concretely links my client to it..."

"That's for the jury to decide." Schiff interrupted angrily.

"Mr. Schiff, you're out of order. You will have an opportunity for rebuttal after Mr. Dupree is finished."

"The state's case, in it's entirety, amount to little more than 'he said, she said'. None of the state's witnesses have been able to say for sure that my client was even at the club that night, and not one of them was even taken to a line-up. While Mr. Schiff's motives might be honorable, this is a man's life we're talking about here. Can you really send what is basically a fishing expedition to the jury?"

"I am inclined to agree with the defense, Mr. Schiff. What does the state have to say?"

"Your honor, I feel that the state has proved its prima facia case. We have shown that the defendant had motive, means, and ample opportunity to commit the crime with which he is charged." Schiff responded

"But your lack of an eye-witness is most disturbing, considering."

"Your Honor, juries have convicted with less."

"And they have also acquitted with more." The judge looked pensive. "Bring the jury back in."

Once the jury was seated, the judge addressed them.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am going to dismiss you early for the weekend. There is a matter before the court that must be dealt with before we proceed. You are reminded of my admonitions not to discuss this with anyone."

The jury filed out.

"Court will adjourn until Monday morning at ten a.m. when I will make my ruling."

While the judge was speaking, Matt slipped into the courtroom. He'd been alternating his time between here and the hospital where Tom was still under guarded condition following his seventeen-hour surgery.

"Did I miss anything?" He asked

"We'll have an answer, one way or another, on Monday." Dupree stated

"Finally, some good news." Matt stated

"No change in your brother?" Dupree asked

"Nothing. I talked to his mother again this morning and she's not too optimistic about his chances." Matt stated

"But I thought the surgery went fine." Jeff looked at his brother suspiciously.

"Jeff, I told you the surgery was a success. They're just waiting for the swelling to go down. Once that happens, we'll know if the paralysis is permanent." Matt explained "It's gonna be a long weekend if you don't keep it together. Anyway, I gotta fly out in a couple hours for a show in Amarillo."

"I'm not going." Jeff sulked

"Didn't you hear me? I said I'm flying out... until this is resolved, your ass is staying here. I've already cleared it with the office." Matt answered

"But what if something happens before you get back?" The younger Hardy was visibly shaking.

"Then you call me." Matt answered sternly. "But I promise you nothing will happen. What could? Your case has been adjourned until Monday and..."

"You said his Mom wasn't real optimistic about his progress. What if she decides to..." The words got stuck in his throat, but Matt knew what was coming. He'd voiced a similar concern earlier to Tom's adoptive mother.

"She promised me that she wouldn't make any decision for a couple of days. The doctor was real helpful."

Matt's tone confused Jeff. Was his brother being sarcastic?

"Listen, man, I gotta go. You go back to the hotel and try to relax." Matt grabbed his shoulders and stared directly into Jeff's eyes. "You have nothing to worry about."

Despite Matt's assurances, that was about all Jeff did during the next two days, jumping every time his phone rang or there was an unexpected knock at the door. One phone call in particular really sent his emotions spiraling.

"Hello?" Jeff answered it, even though it was listed as an unknown name long distance call.

"This is Jeff, is it?"

"I'm sorry, but I..."

"This is Teresa Baker... Andy's mom."

Jeff gulped. "W-w-what...?"

"I've been talking to Matt and he said that I should probably talk to you before anything else happens."

"I don't understand, ma'am." Jeff said nervously.

"I just wanted to let you know that I know how close you three have become. I couldn't have been happier when I found out that he'd connected with his birth family, even though it was under tragic circumstances. But this is hard for me to say; my son trusted me enough to give me power of attorney in case something like this should happen, and I don't plan to allow him to suffer needlessly." Teresa replied

Jeff suddenly felt dizzy and collapsed on the bed.

"Are you gonna...?" He whispered

"That's why I'm talking to you. Matt said it would affect you more and from what Andy has also told me about you, I can tell just how much it already has. I don't want to lose my son any more than you want to lose your brother, but I will be at the hospital on Monday. If the doctor informs me that his condition hasn't or is not likely to change, I will be instructing them to disconnect him from the ventilator." The way Teresa discussed this scared Jeff. Not just because it was a person's life they were talking about, but the way she seemed so calm about it.

"W-W-When?" Jeff stuttered

"Nine o'clock in the morning." Teresa answered "I am aware of your pending trial outcome and I do want this settled beforehand."

Looking at his watch, Jeff realized how soon that was. Less than eighteen hours stood between Tom and his own death at the hands of an overprotective mother.

"And if you could make sure that my son's possessions are available for me to pick up as well, I would appreciate it. Until tomorrow."

Click! Just like that she hung up. Jeff stared at the phone in his hand, wondering what drugs he'd been on to have such a bad trip like that. When he realized that this wasn't a bad trip, he fell back on his bed and stared at the ceiling.

"Ow!" He grimaced when he landed on something. He pulled out his Bunny and gently smoothed her scrunched ear. "Bunny... I have to talk to you about uncle Tommy..."

As he talked to the rabbit, like he would a child, Jeff came to terms with his own feelings a little more.

"So, we both have to be strong no matter what happens, okay." Jeff hugged her tightly.

Despite all that, Jeff felt drowsy. He lay down with Bunny and they were both soon asleep.

The one thing about the dreams of one Jeff Hardy... they were as strange as he was. In this one he was in the middle of a corn field, like the ones back in Cameron, lying on his back staring at the clear blue sky. Unlike many of the dreams of home, Matt was not in this one. Tom was lying beside him, also staring at the sky.

"Y'know, Jeffro, I don't think what they say is true." Tom plucked a wisp of straw out of his teeth and used it to point at a cloud formation. "There's no way what a person sees in the clouds has anything to do with their mental state."

"I dunno, Tommy. People say it's all about the imagination." Jeff answered

"Horse crap, Jeff." Tom stuck the straw back in his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. "Okay, say you're right. What do you see in that one?"

"I see a dog." Jeff answered "What do you see?"

"I see a three-headed monster coming to eat me." Tom answered "But I'm the most unimaginative person on the planet, so that disproves the theory."

Jeff looked over at him, wondering where the other two heads were. Try as he could, he didn't see it.

"Nice day, though." As soon as Tom said it, the sky suddenly went black.

"What the hell...?" Both Tom and Jeff stood up.

"There's a storm coming!" Jeff shouted "We have to get inside."

"Inside... we're miles from home?" Tom suddenly grabbed Jeff and shook him. "Whatever happens, I don't wanna die. Please, don't let it get me! Please...."

Jeff blinked and the storm, the cornfield, and most of all Tom were gone, replaced by Matt who had been shaking Jeff violently.

"C'mon, dude, wake up!" Matt continued to shake Jeff, even after he was back from the land of the dreaming.

"I'm awake." Jeff complained "Matty! When did you get back?"

"About an hour ago. You were out like a light." Matt answered "Musta been tired."

Jeff rubbed the sleep from his eyes and was surprised to find they were wet.

"Musta."

"Didn't sound like you were having too much fun, either. You kept yelling I won't let you die..." A concerned look crossed Matt's face and he sat down on the edge of the bed. "Did something happen while I was gone?"

"Tommy's mommy called." Jeff realized that if Matt didn't know about Teresa's plans, it was probably a good idea to tell him.

"Oh she did, did she?" Matt replied "Is she still scared into thinking that Tom ain't gonna get better? I talked to her earlier and she said that she wasn't gonna wait forever..."

"Matt, she's coming up tomorrow to pull the plug if Tommy isn't better!" Jeff shouted "We have to stop her!"

"Oh my fuckin' God! That lying bitch!" Matt's concerned look was soon replaced by the Matt hardy death stare.

"We have to do something Matty... we hafta!" All Jeff's earlier control of the situation was gone now that Matt was with him.

"Jeffro, I don't know that we can." Matt reached to ruffle Jeff's hair. "She ultimately has the last word."

"Matty, we can't just let her kill him." Hoping for some solace, Jeff reached for Bunny yet again. "There must be something we can do."

"Pray?" Matt suggested "I know He's not one of your biggest fans, but maybe this time...?"

The second that visiting hours started, Matt and Jeff were standing on either side of their brother's bed. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the one that started this roller coaster ride, they held his hands gently, watching his chest rise and fall as the machine breathed for him.

"She said nine o'clock, Matty... what do we do if he's not better?" Jeff pleaded, staring at the clock with a horrified expression.

"Don't even think that." Matt tried to keep focused. He'd slept very little the night before, spending many hours in conversation with his Deity, pleading for the return of Tom. "Just remember what I told you. Think of it as walking down a long corridor. We're at one end, Tom is at the other. We have to get him and bring him back."

"Sounds easy enough." Jeff shrugged

"I know it does. No matter what happens, we have to stay focused." Matt stared into Jeff's eyes. "If it was anyone else, I wouldn't even try but the three of us have such a tight bond, we might be able to pull this off."

"I'm ready Matty."

"Concentrate on your breathing." They closed their eyes. Jeff had a harder time getting into what Matt had called "the zone" than his brother since Matt had been doing this sort of meditation for many years and Jeff was still a virgin.

Jeff closed his eyes and was taken immediately back to the cornfield where he last seen Tom. It was a lot larger than when he'd last been there and it seemed more alive as well. The stalks were larger, the ears of corn bigger and everything was just more there. Although it was familiar, Jeff was still feeling a little uneasy. He kept looking around, as if expecting someone or something to jump out at him. This was intensified when he actually heard the sounds of someone pushing his or her way through the corn.

"Who's there? Matty, is that you?" Jeff quavered

"Yeah, Jeffro, it's me." Matt's comforting voice sent relief through Jeff's entire frame. "Just stay where you are. I'll find you rather than the two of us trying to find each other. Just keep talking."

"Okay. About what?" Jeff asked

"Anything." Matt's voice sounded closer.

"How'd your show go." Jeff demanded

"It went fine. Orton got the title back finally." Matt said

"How'd he do that?" Jeff whirled, trying to determine where Matt was based on the swishing noises.

"Guess." Matt stepped into view.

"Oh." Jeff replied "So how do we find Tom and get him to come back with us?"

"Finding him is the easy part. We just have to find our way out of here. But getting him to come back is gonna be tough. He may not want to." Matt said

"Why wouldn't he?" Jeff's voice trembled, fearful of losing Tom for good.

"Just look at this place. Don't you feel happy here?" Matt gestured to the surroundings. Jeff thought back to what he'd felt when he first arrived... that was the feeling he'd been trying to put into words... he'd felt a sense of peace within himself that he hadn't felt for a long time.

"But Matty, it's home. Why wouldn't I?" Jeff replied

"It's home for Tom too, now. Wouldn't you rather stay here than go back to all the crap in our lives right now. Your trial, work, not knowing if you're ever gonna walk again?" Matt said "It'll be tough."

"We can do it, Matty. I know we can." Jeff's mouth was set in a determined look. "So how do we find him?"

"We both came in here, so I think we need to head that way." Matt pointed into the heart of the field. "He's probably waiting for us on the other side."

"Let's go!" Jeff took off excitedly, pushing the waves of corn aside as he past. Some of them bounced back to hit Matt as he followed.

"Slow down, Jeffro." Matt wiped a tear from his eye from one of the stalks striking him.

"Slow down?" Jeff repeated "We don't have much time to start with!" He took off at a faster pace. Matt folllowed, suffering even more abuse at the hands of the corn.

"Tommy?" He heard Jeff shout. "Where are you, bro? Tommy!" Even though there was no reply at all, Matt felt something drawing him toward one particular area of the field. Jeff must've felt it too because despite how must faster Jeff had been traveling, they both arrived at exactly the same time and pushed through the last few sheaves onto the grass.

"Where is he?" Jeff asked. He'd expected Tom to be waiting for them and actually, so had Matt.

"I don't know... I thought he might be..." Matt started to reply, but cut himself off.

"Hear somethin'?" Jeff asked

"Shhh!" Matt cupped his ear to listen harder. It sounded like a dog whistle that had just been lowered into the audible range.

"This way." Matt took off across the grass toward a nearby knoll. Jeff followed, their sneakers tearing up the sod, leaving a black path heading away from the corn which inexplicably shimmered, then vanished, leaving a void in their place.

At the top of the hill, they stopped. They could see for miles around in every direction except the one from where they came. It was gone, leaving nothing except a vast blackness that was swallowing everything in its path.

"Matty, look!" Jeff pointed behind him.

"I think we have a lot less time than even you thought." Matt stared, listening intently for the sound he'd heard earlier.

"What d'you hear?" Jeff strained his ears and could've sworn he heard a noise. It sounded like someone whistling far away.

"This way." Matt took of in the direction of the sound. Behind them, the blackness continued it's slow advance.

Over field, meadow, track, and trail the Hardys ran, always pursued by the mass, but always in pursuit of whatever the sound was that seemed to be drawing them. It was now loud enough that they could hear it without stopping to listen.

"I see someone!" Jeff pointed excitedly in the distance. At the top of the next hill was a lone figure.

"So do I!" Matt answered, feeling his own surge of excitement. "Let's go!"

"Don't have to tell me twice, bro." Jeff was already off.

They ran the last few hundred feet down the one hill and up the other. The man stood, still looking away from them, whistling snatches of a tune. It was this that Matt first heard and recognized it immediately.

Here we stand

World's apart, hearts broken in two

Sleepless nights

Losing ground

I'm reaching for you

Feelin' that it's gone

Can change your mind

If we can't go on

To survive the tide love divides

Someday love will find you

Break those chains that bind you

One night will remind you

How we touched and went our separate ways...

From his choice of song, it sounded like Tom had already made his decision.

"Tommy?"

"What are you doing here, Jeff?" Tom answered without turning around, yet from his tone he already knew the answer.

"We've come to take you back home." Jeff stated

"Oh. I was just getting used to this place. It's so peaceful." Tom looked around. He'd obviously not looked back. Maybe that was the whole point of this transitioning place. Once you started, you had the choice of either going forward into peace or going back into chaos.

"It's not your time Tom." Matt said. His prayers the night before had convinced him that Tom was meant to remain with them for a while longer.

"I know, but I'm just having a hard time deciding." Tom sighed. "There really isn't much back there for me, is there?"

"There's a lot more than you know, bro. Everyone wants you back and honestly, I am getting sick of telling people that there's no change." Matt clapped Tom's shoulder. He flinched.

"Please, Tommy?" Jeff whined "We don't have much time. Your Mom wants to take you off the ventilator."

"It's her choice." Tom said "I can't believe that she'd actually do it, though."

"That's why you have to come back with us." Matt said

"Even if I wanted to, how would I do that?" Tom asked, looking around the glade. "I don't see an express bus."

"Easy, bro. Just open your eyes."

"Open your eyes... open your eyes... c'mon Tommy, please open your eyes!"

Tom blinked twice. The pastoral scene disappeared, replaced by the grey impersonality of a crowded room. The glare from the light was too much and Tom quickly closed his eyes again.

"I saw it!" He heard Jeff shout. "He opened his eyes."

"Did he?" Tom's eyelids were raised, one at a time, and a light was shone into them. Tom glared back. It was the most he could do, since he couldn't say anything. "Are you in there, Mr. Hardy?"

Tom did what he could do. He gave the doctor the middle finger.

"Did you see that?" Now it was Matt's turn to get excited.

"I did." The doctor tisktisked. "A blink of the eyes would've sufficed."

"But he's back, right?" Jeff asked

"Well, he's awake, but that was never our concern. It just means the anaesthesia has worn off. We're still worried that he might not be able to breathe on his own."

Tom looked wordlessly at Matt. "Tell them to take this damn tube out." He thought

"Can't we see?" Matt voiced Tom's unspoken request.

"Would you like us to disconnect you from the ventilator?"

Tom nodded vehemently.

"Okay. Keep your fingers crossed." The doctor flipped the switch and quickly separated the machine from Tom, leaving only the tube in his throat. They waited, watching to see if Tom's lungs could handle it. Five seconds, ten seconds, then a breath... and another one... and another. Within a minute, Tom's respiration was at a normal rate, although he was still in discomfort trying to breath around the tube.

"Looks like that tube can come out. Tom I need you to take a breath, then blow out as hard as you can when I tell you."

Tom nodded.

"Now!"

The tube was pulled out of Tom and he started hacking furiously. The nurse quickly sprayed his throat with medicine to numb it.

"How are you feeling?" The doctor asked

Tom shrugged. He couldn't talk his throat hurt so much.

"It's good to have you back with us. Now the next thing is to determine if the surgery was successful. I am going to stimulate several pressure points. I need to let me know if your feel anything." The doctor pressed on Tom's right ulnar nerve. He yelped.

"I guess that's a yes. I'll try not to push as hard next time." The doctor worked his way up and down both of Tom's arms and legs.

"Well, doc?" Matt asked after he'd finished the assessment.

"It looks good. There is still some loss of sensation on his right side, but I am confident that will return with time. He will need rest for the next few days, followed by exercise. I can give you some stretches that should help the feeling return. Now we can do it here, but I have a feeling that you'd rather do it at home." This last comment was addressed directly to Tom, who nodded.

"Will be make a full recovery?" Matt asked

"I'm optimistic, but one never knows. He is going to need someone with him at all hours..."

"We can arrange that." Matt said

"Alright. We'll see what we can do about getting you out of here as soon as possible. I'll go talk to his mother. She was waiting for my final diagnosis."

"I guess she can keep that DNR for another time." Matt smirked

"I hope so. The patient does need his rest, so try to keep it short." The doctor and nurses emptied the room, leaving only the three of them.

"Good to have you back, bro." Matt said, gripping Tom's hand again. Jeff did the same on the other side of the bed.

Tom nodded, his dark eyes filling with tears. It wasn't long before all three of them were weeping. He smiled and brought both their hands to his mouth and kissed them gently. It was his way of thanking them.

"You're welcome." Jeff answered, his voice breaking. He lay his head on Tom's chest and listened to his heartbeat. It was the most beautiful sound in the world, made even more beautiful by the fact that the owner of it was back.

This moment was shattered by Jeff's phone ringing. He looked at Matt, who said "Answer it."

Jeff did. "It's my lawyer." He whispered "Why would he be calling right now? The judge doesn't rule for another hour."

"Well, answer it." Matt urged

Jeff did. He listened intently for several seconds, then simply said "Thank-you." And hung up.

"Well?" Matt asked

Jeff looked from Matt to Tom and then back to Matt.

"I'm a free man."

THE END

For those of you who stuck it out, I hope the ending was worth it.

"Separate Ways" by Journey copyright 1983 from the album "Frontiers" all rights reserved.