Frank slowly walked downstairs. He hadn't wanted to leave Joe, his brother needed him, but he didn't want to argue with his father either. Expecting to see Sam in the living room it took Frank a few seconds to realize the room was empty. About to turn towards the hall leading to Sam's office he reversed course upon hearing voices coming from the kitchen. Stepping into the bright room he nearly left again when he spotted his mother sitting at the small table with Sam and Ethel.
"Frank, come in and sit down," Ethel called. "Are you hungry?" Seeing the teen standing in the doorway Ethel had glanced uncertainly at Laura. Knowing of the tension between mother and son Ethel quickly decided it would be best if she behaved normally.
"No thanks," Frank replied. "I just came down to talk to Sam," he explained, "I didn't mean to interrupt." As he spoke his eyes were focused on the older man. He knew he might be treating his mother unfairly but he just couldn't stand to look at her right now.
"It's alright Frank," Sam said as he stood up. "We can talk in the living room or my office if you like," he offered.
Frank shrugged, "Office I guess."
No words were spoken between them as they walked from the kitchen. In the office Frank sank into one of the comfortable chairs Sam kept in the small room. "Dad said you found something," the teen stated as the detective took his own seat.
"I did," Sam confirmed. "I'm surprised he didn't tell you himself."
"He wanted to spend some time with Joe," Frank explained. "He said you could tell me," he added.
"It's not pretty," Sam warned.
Frank barked a short laugh. "I…we lived through a nightmare yesterday Sam, if you know why; I want to know. I need to know why my brother was tortured."
Sam nodded. He couldn't argue with that. "What did you dad tell you?"
"Nothing, he just asked if I was okay and then tried to convince me I shouldn't be blaming Mom for what happened to Joe."
"If you listen to what I tell you, one detective to another, I think you'll end up agreeing."
Frank wasn't convinced but pushing his emotions to the side he asked Sam to continue. He listened in growing horror to the story Sam told. "Oh god," he gasped, his face draining of color. Desperately he grabbed the small wastebasket as what little he had eaten made a return appearance.
Sam hurried around the desk to the teen's side, gently rubbing his back as he lost control of his stomach. "Better?" he quietly asked when it seemed the boy was finished.
Sam handed him a handful of tissues. As Frank cleaned himself up Sam moved to the small refrigerator he kept in the office and pulled out a container of bottled water. Handing the water to the teen he sat back down, waiting for the boy to regain his composure.
"That's why you think Mom didn't spike their food, isn't it?" Frank asked. Sam quickly confirmed his reasoning. "Did the same thing happen with the other families?"
"No," Sam admitted. He had actually been surprised when he looked over the information. "But in every case there came a point in which Red was able to get the child alone."
"Which only proves he was an opportunist," Frank pointed out. Once more pushing his emotions to the side the teen was able to look at the information logically.
"You make a good point Frank, but it's also possible that he manufactured the opportunities. Don't forget he was the one who carried out the rapes. Tomlinson doesn't seem to have had any interest in the victims in that respect." Sam wearily massaged his forehead. He didn't know how to make Frank see that his mother was as much a victim as the rest of them.
"Dad reminded me that Mom has never lied to us. He doesn't think she's lying now."
Frank wasn't so much speaking to Sam as he was working things out in his own mind. Familiar with the teen Sam didn't say anything.
"It does make more sense that Red put something in his partner's drink." Frank looked up to see Sam watching him. "Guess I should talk to my mom?"
"Nobody is going to force you Frank," Sam replied.
Frank nodded. Standing up he moved to the door. As he put his hand on the knob he glanced back at Sam. "Do you think we'll ever know why?"
"We're going to do our best to answer that question Frank."
Without another word Frank left the small office. He wandered back to the kitchen but his mother was no longer there. Learning from Ethel that she had retired to the den he retraced his steps, passing Sam's office he came to a stop in front of the door behind which his mother rested. Knocking softly he waited for permission to enter.
"Frank," Laura cried in surprise. She had thought it would be Ethel offering more tea or maybe Fenton come to tell her that the boys were still angry and blaming her.
"I talked to Sam," Frank said. He could see the hope come to life in her eyes, the same blue eyes as his brother possessed. Like Joe, his mother's emotional state could be clearly read within the sapphire depths. It hurt to see the same dull pain his brother suffered reflected within his mother's eyes. "You didn't spike their food or drinks, did you?"
"No," Laura quickly answered. "I wouldn't have taken that risk Frank, not after what they had already done to Joe. I don't know what made that man sick but it wasn't anything I did, I swear it."
Frank wanted to believe her.
"You don't believe me," Laura sighed, the light of hope fading.
"I want to," Frank quietly responded.
"Why can't you?"
"I…it feels like it'd be a betrayal."
"Of Joe?" Laura wasn't surprised when he nodded. She had always been proud and happy to see her children share such a close relationship. It had never occurred to Laura that the day might come when that closeness would be a thing to hate. "Alright then, think about it logically," she challenged, knowing the way her son's mind worked.
"Logically you had every reason to spike their food. Red didn't need to do anything since he knew he'd have the chance to do what he wanted when they left with Joe."
Laura wanted to scream. He was right, she had more reason than Red to spike the food but she knew she hadn't. How was she going to convince Frank? "Where would I get the substance to poison their food?"
Frank thought it over, reviewing the contents of the kitchen. There were no pesticides kept there, they were all in the garden shed. It would have to be something else, medication of some sort, but those were in the upstairs bathrooms. "The first aid kit," he replied a moment later.
"No," Laura said. "The only thing in the first aid kit that would make a person sick would be the ipecac syrup. But think Frank, ipecac would have made both of them sick and it would have happened fast, not an hour after eating."
"You really didn't do it, did you?"
"No honey, I didn't," Laura confirmed.
Frank closed the distance between them, drawing his mother into a tight hug. "I'm sorry Mom, I never should have doubted you."
Laura drew back, wiping the tears from her eyes. "You had reason to doubt Frank."
Frank shook his head. "I shouldn't have let them manipulate me like that." She was so quick to forgive, just like Joe, but he knew he didn't deserve his mother's forgiveness.
Laura caressed his cheek. "Oh honey you didn't know." She could see he wasn't going to accept her forgiveness so easily. "Listen to me Frank Hardy," she spoke with a firmness that wouldn't be argued with. "Those men have had years to practice their manipulations."
"But I'm a detective I should have known," Frank protested.
"Yes, a detective and a sixteen year old boy. A boy who had just spent the day held prisoner by a couple of psychopaths, watching his brother enduring horrible beatings. You're not psychic honey, there was no way you could have known that the whole thing was some sort of sick game. Please don't beat yourself up for your doubts."
"I'll try not to." It was the best he could offer.
"Good enough," Laura said a small, sad smile on her face.
Joe blinked, wondering if he was seeing things. Slowly he reached out, finally taking his father's hand in his own. "You're really here," he whispered.
"I'm here son," Fenton confirmed, giving the smaller hand a gentle squeeze. "I only wished I had been here sooner"
"Maybe it's better you weren't," Joe said. He thought his father would have probably tried to fight Red and Alex too. He wasn't sure he could have stood both parents being responsible for the punishments.
"Why do you say that?"
Joe only shrugged.
"Joe, when you woke up you were calling for Alex…"
Joe knew what his father was asking. "He brushed my hair with his fingers," he explained. "I thought I had only dreamed the rescue." Joe didn't think his father would like to know what else he had thought.
"I see," Fenton couldn't keep the relief from his voice. When Joe had called that man's name he'd almost sounded happy, or maybe content would be a better word. He was relieved to know it had only been confusion. "How did you know his name?" It had suddenly occurred to him that Joe shouldn't have known.
"He told me," Joe quietly admitted.
"He told you?" Fenton echoed. "More manipulation," he mumbled.
Fenton sighed. Joe needed to know the truth, but how much of the truth? He was, after all, only fourteen and unlike the other victims his innocence hadn't been ripped from him. "There are some things you need to know son."
"The truth of what happened…"
"I know what happened, I was there," Joe cut him off. "I lived through it." He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "You don't care about me," he accused.
"Joe, how can you say that?" Fenton asked, his son's words cut him deeply. "I love you son, how could you think otherwise?"
"It's true," Joe insisted. "You're just here to defend Mom. You want to convince me that she was right to do what she did."
"There are things you don't know son, please listen," Fenton pleaded.
"Get out!" Joe snapped.
Fenton sighed. He wanted to hit something. He wondered if he could convince Ezra to give him a few minutes alone with Tomlinson? He could force his son to listen but he couldn't force him to hear. "I didn't come in here just to defend your mother," Fenton said.
"Maybe not but you are going to defend her, aren't you?" How could his father defend her, he wondered, forgetting his own defense of her before Red took him into the kitchen. If it hadn't been for Alex…Joe shuddered in remembered terror. "I'm tired Dad," he sighed, closing his eyes.
"Alright son," Fenton quietly responded, resigned for now. "I'll let you sleep." Leaning down he brushed a kiss against Joe's temple. Standing up he moved away from the bed. At the door he took one more looked at his youngest, his face awash with sadness. I won't let those monsters destroy this family, they won't win, he silently promised as he reluctantly left the room.
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