A/N: Wow, I can't believe it's been that long since I last updated this. I apologize, even though I know sorry's don't make up for the wait, so without further ado, the last chapter of Brother, Dear Brother sans an epilogue I will post soon.
Callie Shaw sat in the hospital's excuse for a cafeteria, her long fingers wrapped around a styrofoam cup of cold tea. She hadn't taken one sip yet.
"Hey." Callie jumped, nearly spilling her beverage. She closed her eyes, breathing roughly, annoyed with herself. Unclenching her eyes, she was met with Vanessa's pale features.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
Callie laughed dryly. "Don't apologize. I'm just...feeling paranoid right now, you know?"
Vanessa sat down across from her and nodded her head slowly. Callie's gaze wondered to her friend's hands laying flat against the white plastic table. Her wrists were raw and glowed an uncomfortable looking red.
"I should be the one apologizing," Callie whispered uneasily. "I'm acting like I was the one attacked and kidnapped."
Vanessa placed her hand comfortingly over Callie's, she could feel the tremble running through the petite girl's muscles. The ash blond frowned and furrowed her brows in concern. "Cal, you're shaking."
Callie recoiled, tucking her arms under the table, and stared slightly past Vanessa's confused features. "I'm fine."
"When you spoke to Frank...did he tell you anything?" The question was so out of the blue that Callie couldn't help the gasp from emanating past her thin lips.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she bit out, defending herself unnecessarily.
Vanessa gave her a pointed look. "I know you talked to him. I saw your face when you left his room. What did he tell you?"
"He didn't tell me anything." Callie's voice had grown anxious and uptight. "He asked where he was. He asked for a nurse."
"Callie," Vanessa said softly. "You know you can tell me. Please don't block me out."
Callie's already bloodshot eyes grew heavy and glistened with unshed tears of fear and tension. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it before the sob she felt rising in her throat could escape. Her breathing went from mellow to erratic and a small tear rolled from the corner of her eye. "I-I...can't."
Vanessa opened her mouth in rebuttal but didn't even get her first word out before Callie looked up through red rimmed eyes. "I can't tell anyone." Her voice was uncharacteristically steely.
Vanessa immediately backed down, shocked by Callie's intensity, but for some reason, intuition maybe, she seemed to understand. "I respect that. But, just know I'm here if you ever decide you want to talk. About anything."
Callie gave her a faint, apologetic smile, but when the lanky blond stood up to leave, Callie's hand shot out impulsively to catch her hand. "Wait."
Vanessa made eye contact hesitantly before sitting back down, cautious, not wanting to do anything to cause Callie to revert back to her harsh, introverted mood.
Callie choked back a sigh and started out quietly. "Van...if-if Joe were to tell you something-something he'd...done. Something that would cause him to...maybe...get into an inconvenient...mess...would you-would you tell anybody about it? Especially if he hadn't exactly been...very coherent at the time...or didn't explicitly tell you not to tell anyone."
For being in a state of troubling denial, Callie seemed to be giving away a lot more terrifying information in her hypothetical questioning than Vanessa was sure what to do with.
"Cal," Vanessa asked slowly, still trying not to jar the situation too abruptly. "What did Frank tell you?"
Callie wasn't sure if it was the pressure, lack of sleep or her meager energy levels that was getting to her, but she couldn't hold back any longer. "He-he..." The tears flowed readily down her stricken face now. "He told me that-that he...killed Isaac Randal."
Joe's bloodshot eyes stared pointedly ahead of him at nothing in particular, his breathing soft and low.
"Are you sure you're alright Joe? We can do this later if you want?" Con Riley's gaze was of a concerned friend rather than the ragged cop he had been portraying the last few hours.
"No." Joe's voice was hollow. "I want to do it now." There was a pause and he took in a deep, shaking breath. "While it's still...fresh."
Con cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I understand."
Although he didn't understand. Not in the slightest. Riley didn't understand how a man, maniac or not, could torment such innocent people as the Hardys. Joe hadn't done anything to warrant the current state he had been left in, nothing more than being a good brother and friend.
Con's fist tightened as his mind berated Isaac Randal's actions over and over again. He sighed hastily, trying to calm his nerves and tried to look into Joe's dead blue eyes. "Whenever you're ready."
In a hospital room identical to Joe's, the older Hardy was receiving very similar treatment from a haggard looking Ezra Collig.
"It's alright to be nervous, Frank," Collig said, acknowledging the shaky look adorning the brunette's usually calm features.
Frank nodded slowly, shifting his body weight anxiously, careful not to jar his injured arm. "I know." He blinked a few times. "I just want to get it out and be done with this."
Collig allowed his eyes to roam Frank's exhausted and ravaged looking body sympathetically. "I understand." He sighed, "Let's begin."
"...Isaac had a gun...duct tape...he got irritated easily...had a knife...worn down motel...something about his mother...threw Joe down...passed out..."
A seemingly permanent film of moisture made Frank's eyes glisten as Collig listened carefully, trying to keep his reactions as neutral as possible while Frank told him about the hellish events of the past few days.
"...It was horrible...then Isaac made it worse..."
"...He had Vanessa, a gun to her head...I thought I would die..."
Joe's eyes stared at the tape recorder Con was using to record his statement. His throat felt like it was on fire and his lips quivered.
"...We found the cell phone...called Phil...Randal was angry...Frank tried to stop him...held the knife to my throat...threatened Frank...his eyes full of psychotic passion...terrified...then Frank started to yell..."
"...I tried to intimidate Isaac, give him an ultimatum...I couldn't stop them...Joe kicked out at Isaac and made a grab for the knife...he tackled Joe..."
"...I was trying not to panic...Frank was still screaming...he told Randal that it was enough...then he did something I never expected..."
Frank had stopped, pausing to collect his thoughts, and looked Chief Collig straight in the eyes. "I did it to save him, save my brother...but, I-I hurt him...and once I started...I couldn't stop...I had to make Isaac believe me, I needed to show him I finally understood..."
There was no stopping the tears now. Con felt his heart lurch as Joe Hardy spoke through his emotions and shaking, sobbing breaths.
"...Frank said I was worthless...a worthless brother...he took Randal's side...he didn't love me...he didn't need me anymore...he had Isaac...he was going to let him kill me..."
Joe took a deep breath and went on more confidently. At least the worst of it's out, Con thought sadly.
"...it was awful...I knew it couldn't be true, what Frank was saying...but there was a piece of me...that believed him...I was worthless...It was all happening too fast...I couldn't keep my mind straight...
"...Randal and I were both fighting for control of the knife..." Joe sat up straighter in his hospital bed and held his hands in front of him, demonstrating to Con. "...but after Frank said those things...I lost my will...my strength...I stopped fighting back...I was...I was ready to die..."
"...I felt so guilty...I could see Joe backing down...losing because of me...and Isaac...Isaac was so happy with me that he was losing focus too...I pulled one last time at the cuff and felt the chain break...then my adrenaline took over..."
"...Frank grabbed the knife...I knew what was going to happen...I knew I was going to die...I closed my eyes...so I wouldn't have to see him do it..."
"...I had the knife...and for a second everything seemed to stop...Joe was still...Isaac seemed to be in unsure shock...I used the moment to my advantage..."
Frank's fists were buried deep in the sheets across his legs, clenching the stark fabric tightly.
"...I stabbed Isaac...hard and clean...he was dead instantly...I thought..."
Frank's breathing picked up and his heart monitor began beeping incessantly. Collig looked towards the machine worriedly. "Frank, we can stop-"
"No. I need to do this." Frank's eyes were determined. "I let my guard down. Isaac grabbed the knife out of my hand. Blood was everywhere. I thought I was going to die...worse, I thought Joe was going to die.
"Isaac didn't get far though. And I dodged his swing, but not quite enough." He gestured to the bandage on his arm painfully.
"God," Collig whispered moments later after all that had been said finally settled in. "Frank, I'm sorry-" he added, attempting sympathy before the older Hardy interrupted him again.
"It doesn't matter, it's over now. Isaac Randal is dead and he will never hurt me or my brother ever again."
By the time Frank actually got to see his brother the next day he'd been accosted by a teary eyed Callie in need of consoling and explanations, still frightened mothers, an answer seeking father, and a supportive set of friends.
But right then, all he wanted to do was see Joe, which, after everything, was the most terrifying thing he'd had to do over the past few days.
"Joe's tough." Phil had said. "From what you told Collig he took everything Randal gave him and still fought back. He'll be fine and he won't stop fighting until he is. He's too damn stubborn."
Frank had to admit that Phil was right. But what bothered him the most was that Joe had indeed fought back against everything Isaac dished out, but when Frank took over Joe gave up in a heartbeat.
Guilt washed over him as he placed his hand on Joe's door. It had taken him a while to get to the room, his wheelchair an added hindrance. But even after all that extra time to think he still was finding it hard to come up with something, anything, to say to his brother.
When he entered the room Joe was sitting up and awake, but didn't bother looking in his direction. However, Frank did notice his brother's body tense when he started rolling to the edge of his bed and his heart clenched painfully.
Frank racked his brain for something to say and after a long moment of silence could only come up with, "Hey Joe."
Joe did not reply at first, making Frank's nervousness elevate. When he finally did speak it was slow and soft. "I told Con the truth, Frank."
Frank smiled sadly up at the blond boy, his demeanor making him seem like a child once again, like the baby brother Frank remembered from years ago. But, when Joe finally looked at him, all innocence and carefree shine was gone from his eyes.
Frank's breath caught in his throat as Joe stared at him hollowly. Swallowing hard he replied, "So did I."
Joe nodded thoughtfully, averting his eyes again. "Okay. Then tell me something, Frank."
Frank answered immediately, "Anything." He waited with baited breath for Joe's question.
"What is the truth?"
Caught off guard Frank furrowed his brows confusedly. "Whatever you told the police, Joe, that's the truth-"
"No!" Joe raised his voice and twisted his body to face his brother more fully. His voice softened, "No. Please, tell me the real truth, Frank. Please."
Joe's eyes begged and Frank's chest throbbed as a sudden, anxious heat fell over his body. He reached out to put a reassuring hand on his brother's arm but Joe flinched away and Frank recoiled in sorrowful shock.
After a few painfully silent moments Frank spoke, not able to take his eyes off his clenched fists. "Isaac Randal kidnapped us and wanted to hurt you to get to me. He even brought Vanessa, but he didn't really hurt her, just threatened. We were both tied up and he was hurting you so much…and I couldn't stop him. I-I couldn't do anything, I couldn't move, but I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, Joe. So I did the only thing I could think of. I made Isaac believe I was his friend, to get him to stop hurting you. I said some horrible things to you Joe…"
Joe cringed and pulled back suddenly, as if this memory hurt more than that of Crane's fist. Frank's words floated through his head over and over, but he had hoped somehow it wasn't real, that it hadn't happened because that betrayal hurt so much more than any physical injury could.
"Those things you said…were real?" Joe asked with utter dejection and disbelief.
"No!" Frank said firmly, leaning closer to his brother. This time Joe didn't flinch away. "I said those things, but they weren't real. I didn't mean any of it Joe, but I needed to fool Isaac, and I had to make it believable enough that it would fool you too or Isaac wouldn't have believed it. The things I said were horrible, but none of it was true, none of it, I don't believe a word of what I said to you. You are my brother and my best friend and I love you, Joe. But most of all, I would never hurt you like that. I swear, I was trying to protect you. I'm sorry."
Joe responded faster than Frank assumed he would after his heartfelt speech. "And you killed him to protect me too, right?"
Joe's words hit Frank full force. Self defense or not, no matter what the circumstances, he had killed someone, permanently. Isaac Randal's blood would forever be on his hands and he was only now beginning to realize it.
Tears flowed with realization and Frank bowed his head as he formed the words in disbelief, "I killed a man, I killed him."
Joe's voice was unexpected and Frank's head shot up to meet his gaze. "You killed him for me. To protect me," Joe said again, partly to have Frank confirm it, and partly to make himself believe it, for it was almost unbelievable.
Frank brushed away the wetness from his face and nodded, unable to speak any more except for a weak, "Yeah."