Summary: Episode tag to "Cody's Taken Hostage."
Author's note: This story was posted to the High Mountain Rangers Yahoo group in October 2009. Thanks to that awesome group for the feedback and constructive criticism, some of which was incorporated into this version of the story. (Also, I wasted way too much time trying to figure out the geography in this story. I still couldn't tell you what town the bank was supposed to have been in (somewhere online I saw someone call it Sutter, but that would be impossible based on the other locations mentioned in the episode). And I have no clue where Eagle Park is supposed to be. But I think I got it close enough.)
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After everything that had happened, what struck Matt first was the quiet. Standing there with Cody and Jesse, the back doors of the armored truck hanging open, the bad guys sprawled out on the ground, mostly unconscious, he couldn't help but notice the near-silence of the surrounding forest. Ordinarily he'd find it peaceful, but with his head and body still buzzing with adrenalin, it felt almost oppressive. Matt could hear a breeze brushing through the pines and the soft rustle of what sounded like a river, probably hidden behind the trees. Faintly, he could hear Cody breathing.
Cody was staring at his feet. Matt wanted to ask him again if he was all right, but Cody hadn't answered the first time and anyway, it was a dumb question. He'd been held hostage for hours, and the left side of his face was swollen and bruised. Of course he wasn't all right. Matt lifted his arm and reached out to squeeze Cody's shoulder but just as his fingers brushed Cody's denim jacket a loud groan interrupted the quiet. It was the man Cody had dumped down the embankment. Cody jerked away from Matt and turned to look over his shoulder.
"We should get these guys tied up," Jesse said.
"I've got one pair of cuffs," Matt said, jangling the handcuffs attached to the utility belt on his uniform.
Cody nodded toward the back of the truck. "There's some twine in there. Probably used for bundling money."
"Good," Jesse said, and without a word they all went to work.
Cody climbed into the truck and Matt went up front to collect the two men he and Jesse had taken care of. As he walked toward the front of the truck, he heard a soft sound and instantly went on alert, prepared to fight again if the men were back on their feet. But a quick glance ahead and he saw them still on the ground, moving a little but still pretty out of it.
The sound, a quiet snuffling, was coming from his right – a woman, one hand over her mouth, tears on her face. He recognized her after a moment as the woman from the fast car, the one he'd walked into the bank with. He hadn't even realized she'd been in the truck, but the robbers must have taken her too; he didn't think she'd come along willingly.
"You okay?" he said softly to avoid scaring her, but she jumped anyway, then quickly wiped at her eyes.
She nodded and smiled, or tried to, anyway. "You're Cody's brother?"
"Yeah," he said.
"He's pretty incredible," she said, and then she was crying again, and kind of laughing at the same time, and Matt was afraid she was having a nervous breakdown or something.
She turned to him and gave him a watery smile and waved him away. "I'm okay, really," she said, her voice steady. "Do what you need to do."
Matt took another moment to watch her, but she wasn't bleeding or falling down or sobbing, so he decided she probably was okay. He went to the two men on the ground and forced them both to their feet. Neither put up any fight and he led them stumbling toward the back of the truck. The woman didn't say a word.
Jesse was having a tougher time pulling the third man up the embankment – whether by choice or not, the guy looked like he was all dead weight. Matt glanced at Cody, wondering why his brother wasn't helping. Cody, a knot of twine bunched in his fist, had moved a few steps back from the embankment.
It was weird to see Cody standing there, not jumping forward to help their dad, but he seemed rooted to the spot. Matt realized he couldn't leave his two men with Cody, not right now, so he pushed them both to their knees and then just stood there with Cody, watching Jesse tug and shove the third guy up the mountainside. They were both panting and sweating by the time they reached the top.
Jesse glanced at his sons and looked about as angry as Matt ever saw him, but when his gaze fell on Cody the anger slipped away and instead he pushed the man toward his two buddies.
"Cuffs," he said, and Matt unclipped and tossed the handcuffs to his dad. Jesse snapped them on the guy Cody had taken down.
Matt walked over to Cody and tapped his shoulder. "Hey, Toad. Want to give me that twine?"
Cody nodded slightly but didn't move otherwise. Matt reached for the twine and realized Cody was clutching it so tightly that his knuckles were white. For a second Matt wondered if he was going to have to peel Cody's fingers from it, then he abruptly let go. The string was damp with sweat.
Matt glanced up and saw Cody staring at his hand. Then he blinked and looked at Matt like he was surprised to find him standing there.
"Hey," Matt said, gripping Cody's arm. "You okay?"
Cody nodded vaguely and Matt briefly considered pulling him in for a hug – wanted nothing more than that, actually, to feel his brother alive and safe – but Jesse called out and Matt pulled away. He was a ranger first, in spirit if not in name, and they still had a job to do.
He joined Jesse and the two of them made quick work of the would-be robbers, maybe tying the twine around their wrists a little tighter than necessary. Not that it mattered, since barely a minute passed before sirens broke the silence of the woods. The cavalry had finally arrived.
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Apparently a new deputy had been assigned the case, because the cowboy who'd taken over the hostage negotiations after the sheriff was killed wasn't among the cops piling out of the three patrol cars that pulled up to the truck. A younger man, maybe in his late 20s, marched up to where the Hawkes were standing and for a second Matt thought they were going to be in trouble, but instead the deputy walked straight up to Cody and grabbed his hand, pumping it enthusiastically. The deputy's face split into a wide grin at the stunned look on Cody's face.
"I hear you're some kind of hero," the deputy said.
Cody shook his head and tried to pull his hand away. "No, I-"
But the deputy wouldn't hear it. "My wife says you tried to get her out of there. Says you asked them to take you and let the others go. That sounds pretty dang heroic to me."
Matt realized the deputy was probably married to the pregnant lady. It didn't surprise him at all to hear that his brother had offered himself in exchange for the rest of the hostages, but it was still disturbing to think about. Not for the first time, Matt considered how badly things could have turned out.
"And you must be his father," the deputy said. He let go of Cody's hand and reached out to shake Jesse's. "I'm Deputy Felder. I can't thank you enough for your help today."
Jesse nodded. "I'm Jesse Hawkes. This is my son Matt."
Felder shook Matt's hand, then turned back to Jesse and let the grin slide off his face. "I'm sorry about what happened with Deputy Kyle. He put your son's life at risk, and that's unacceptable."
"He put a lot of people's lives at risk," Jesse said.
"Kyle is a good man, but he's got a short temper," Felder said. "Anyway, it's my case now."
Another deputy came up then to ask Felder about transporting the prisoners, and all of them glanced at the back of the truck, where two paramedics were crouched down beside the robbers, looking for injuries. The woman had been brought to the back too, although she'd moved as far away from the robbers as she could get. A frown creased Felder's forehead.
"Put them in separate patrol cars," Felder said. "And get one of those medics over here to check out this kid."
"I'm fine," Cody said.
Jesse gave him a hard look, but Felder just laughed. "I'm sure you are, kid, but it's my job to get that confirmed by a professional. What'd they hit you with, anyway? Looks like it hurt."
Cody shrugged and didn't say anything. Jesse frowned at him, but before he could force an answer one of the paramedics came jogging over. He took one look at Cody's bruised face and ushered him to the ambulance. Matt and Jesse followed.
It turned out Cody had been hit in the head with the butt of a shotgun – Matt winced just thinking about it. Cody told the paramedic that he was pretty sure he hadn't blacked out. No dizziness, he said, no nausea, no blurred vision, no memory loss, just a headache.
"I've had worse," Cody said, and Matt believed him. He'd once seen Cody tossed from a horse and knocked unconscious. Cody had been only 10 or 11 at the time, and Matt could still hear the crack of his head hitting the tree stump.
The paramedic took his time but in the end said that everything looked fine. His blood pressure was a little high, but that was to be expected. His head seemed okay, but you never knew with head injuries, he told them.
"We know," Jesse said. "We'll keep an eye on him."
The paramedic let them go with an ice pack and a few Tylenol for the road.
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They got a lift back to town in a patrol car. Deputy Felder had said all three of them would need to stick around and make a formal statement. But since everyone in the sheriff's office would be tied up at the armored truck or in the bank for a while, the Hawkes men had a few hours to kill.
They didn't talk much – or, actually, at all – on the ride back to town. Jesse sat in the front, mostly staring out the window but Matt caught his gaze in the rearview mirror a few times. Cody was slumped in the corner, his head resting on the window, eyes closed, ice pack in his lap. Matt didn't think he was asleep.
The deputy driving their car dropped them off at their truck, and for a second Matt felt an intense rush of déjà vu that was almost dizzying. He must not have been alone, because for a few moments the three of them just stood there on the corner like they didn't know what to do next.
Jesse broke the silence with a clap of his hands. "I don't know about you boys, but I'm starving," he said.
Matt realized they'd never gotten around to breakfast and his stomach rumbled suddenly, obviously on board with the whole eating thing. But Cody glanced at the truck.
"I should take Dingy for a walk," he said.
It was true, the poor dog had been kept in the truck for far too long, and it was a pretty hot day. Jesse unlocked the truck and Cody had barely opened the door when his arms were full of dog. He stumbled back a few steps, clutching Dingy to his chest. The dog licked Cody's face, something Cody didn't usually tolerate but for now, he just held tight and rubbed his head against Dingy's.
Matt glanced at Jesse, who was watching their reunion with a thoughtful look on his face. "Someone's happy to see you," Jesse said. "Come on, let's get some food. We can tie up Ding outside."
That turned out to be unnecessary, though, because just as Cody kneeled down to attach Dingy's leash to a pole outside the restaurant a woman in an apron came outside and waved to them.
"What are you boys doing, get in here," she said. "Come on, the dog can come too."
Cody glanced at Jesse, who shrugged and smiled. Cody wrapped Dingy's leash around his hand and they all stepped into the restaurant, where they were greeted by a rowdy round of applause from the staff and customers.
"You three are celebrities 'round here now," said the woman, who led them to a booth toward the back of the restaurant. Customers grinned up at them as they walked by.
They slid into the booth, Jesse and Matt on one side, Cody and Dingy on the other, and the woman handed them menus but immediately told them they'd be wanting buttermilk pancakes – yes, for lunch – because that was the house special.
"On the house, of course," she said. "I'm Trixie, by the way. My family's owned this place for 20 years."
"Thank you, Trixie," Jesse said, "but we can pay for our own meal."
"I wouldn't hear of it," Trixie said. And with that, she walked away.
A girl appeared a few seconds later and poured them all cups of coffee. She didn't say a word, but she blushed furiously when Cody glanced up while she was filling his mug. Jesse winked at Cody when she'd walked away.
"What was that you were asking about girls, son?" Jesse said to Matt.
Matt said, "Sure, if all it takes to bring around the cute girls is a bank robbery and getting taken hostage, count me in."
Jesse and Matt laughed. A smile twitched at Cody's lips – it wasn't big, but Matt found he was relieved to see it. Cody seemed to be waking up a little, coming out of the shock of everything that had happened. Jesse smiled too and leaned back in the booth. The waitress came back then, arms loaded with three plates of pancakes, just as Trixie had promised. They were giant stacks – Matt counted four pancakes on his plate, each one a good half inch thick – swimming in butter. The waitress also put down pitchers of what looked like real maple syrup and some sort of fruit-based syrup, probably blueberry. But Matt reached for the fake syrup at the end of the table, his hand grabbing the jug at the same time as Cody's. They both looked up with narrowed eyes, neither one willing to budge, and Matt felt the grin creeping over his own face. He'd let Cody win, of course, but not without a fight.
Then Cody abruptly let go of the jug. Matt was so surprised that he dropped it too and it hit the table on its side with a thud. Jesse picked it up before any syrup could spill on the table.
"Stop playing with your food, boys," he said.
"Sorry, Dad," Matt said. Cody just stared at his plate.
Matt waited a minute, then picked up the fake syrup, poured it over his pancakes and passed it to Cody, who did the same. It was all weirdly polite and the strain that had been tugging at Matt before settled over the table again. They ate in silence for several minutes – Matt and Jesse digging in like starved men who were barely clinging to their humanity, Cody doing a better job of pushing his food around on the plate than eating.
Jesse stuffed a bite in his mouth and leaned back again, eying Cody.
"So, boys, I was thinking," he said.
"Uh oh, Cody, better get ready to run, Dad's been thinking," Matt said, laughing even as Jesse slapped him on the back of the head.
Cody didn't laugh, but he set down his fork and sat up straighter in the booth. Matt saw one hand reach under the table to pet Dingy, who was curled up at Cody's side like a cat.
"I know you said you wanted to go home," Jesse said. "But it might be good to stay out of the city for a while, especially after what happened today. A few days in the mountains, lots of fresh air, food cooked over the fire, and plenty of sleep. It'd be good for all of us."
No, Matt thought, it'd be good for you. He felt a sudden rush of anger at Jesse, for putting his own wants ahead of Cody's, yet again. Matt knew that wasn't quite fair – he was sure Jesse had Cody's best interest in mind – but still, Cody didn't want to go fishing, he wanted to go home. And now that their dad had laid it on the table, what he really wanted, there was no way Cody was going to say no. Cody so rarely asked for anything he really wanted, and he almost never said no to their dad.
Sure enough, Cody said, "Yeah, okay," mumbling it more to his plate than to his father. He rubbed Dingy's neck and the dog shuffled over and laid his head down on Cody's thigh.
"You sure, son?" Jesse said.
Matt couldn't resist trying to help. "Guys, I'm pretty beat. I wouldn't mind sleeping in my own bed tonight."
Cody glanced up at him and Matt knew immediately that he'd been caught. On a better day Cody might have appreciated the effort – sometimes the two of them really needed to be a united force against the stubborn mountain of Jesse Hawkes – but now he seemed annoyed.
"I want to go fishing," Cody said, glancing between his dad and brother.
"All right then, I guess that's settled," Jesse said, and dug into this pancakes again.
Matt wasn't hungry anymore. As he watched his dad eat and his brother shove his pancakes around the plate some more, he thought they were lucky this meal was free – they'd never gotten the cash this morning, after all.
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They headed over to the sheriff's office after eating. Trixie had stopped by one more time and clucked at how much Cody had left on his plate; Matt wasn't positive Cody had eaten even a single bite. But when Cody apologized and said he hadn't been very hungry, Trixie melted and insisted they return on their way back through town.
Matt was relieved to see Felder as soon as they walked into the office. He'd worried that the deputy would still be out in the field and they'd have to wait some more before giving their statements, and frankly, Matt just wanted to get the hell out of the town. The bank seemed to be the center of town, and it felt like wherever he looked he saw something that reminded him of the morning – broken glass on the sidewalk, a swatch of yellow police tape, people huddled on every corner, pointing at the bank.
The robbery was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to this town in a generation. Matt couldn't blame the locals for their excitement. He understood the thrill of adventure, the rush of adrenalin from real-life drama. In all honesty, he was surprised by his own reaction to the morning's events. He'd been in worse situations, and it wasn't like Cody had never been in danger before. But when he let his mind return to the morning, it went straight to the same thing – Cody, panic on his face, yelling for Matt to get out of the bank. There'd been real fear on his face then and Matt didn't think he'd ever seen that before. Sure, he'd seen Cody upset and worried over their father. When Matt had found Cody at the bottom of Dead Drop Wall, nearly delirious with dehydration and fatigue, Cody had been barely coherent through his concern for their father. But that was different. The danger had been pressing then, urgent even, but not immediate.
Things could have so easily turned out differently this morning. The robbers had killed two men. It was a miracle – and Matt didn't throw words like that around easily – that none of them had shot Cody on the spot for saving his brother.
Jesse went with Cody to give Felder their statements. Ordinarily they would have done it separately, but Cody was still a minor, technically, and Felder seemed happy to oblige when Jesse suggested he sit in on his son's interview. Matt was taken to a room that looked more like a storage closet than an office – a mop and bucket were in one corner, and Matt and his interviewer sat perched on filing cabinets instead of chairs. But it took only 20 minutes for Matt to give his statement. When he was brought back out to the main lobby area he found Dingy tied to the leg of a coffee table.
"Felder's allergic," said the deputy behind the counter. "Nice dog, though. What is he?"
"Dingo," Matt said.
"Oh yeah?" the deputy said, arching an eyebrow. "Aren't they dangerous?"
"Not this one."
The deputy said, "He sure seems to like your brother. He whined when we had to take him out of the office, but Felder was sneezing so hard he couldn't hold a pen."
Matt reached down to rub Dingy's head. The dog didn't usually mind being separated from Cody or any of the Hawkes – he must have caught on to the fact that something was off with Cody.
Jesse and Cody came out after another 30 minutes or so, and Matt saw right away the strain on Cody's face, the way his shoulders were bunched under his jacket. Matt stood up but Jesse put up a hand to keep him from marching right over. Dingy strained at his leash and Matt leaned over to set him free. He ran straight to Cody, who crouched down to pet his head.
"You got everything you need, Deputy?" Jesse said to Felder.
The deputy nodded and reached out to shake Jesse's hand. "We can't thank you and your boys enough for your help today. I don't think we'll need you three to come up here for the trial, but we'll keep in touch. Let me know if you move, or your phone number changes."
"Will do," Jesse said.
He set a hand on Cody's shoulder and they headed toward the door, Dingy following so close behind that Matt worried he'd trip Cody up.
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Matt was surprised to find himself unwinding as they drove further and further out of town. They stuck to Highway 5 for a while, then veered west on a two-lane road. The low scrub brush of the foothills gave way first to oak trees and dogwood, and then, finally, the thick pines and redwoods of the mountains. Sometimes, he had to admit, his father was right – it was a good idea, to go fishing after all. This was home, not their warehouse in San Francisco. Matt lowered his window to let in the fresh air, and Jesse did the same. Cody was asleep in the back – Matt had offered, for once, to let him take shotgun, but Cody had quietly declined. Matt wondered if Cody wanted to avoid conversation, or if he just felt safer, better protected, in the back of the truck. Or maybe he just wanted to keep Dingy close by. The dog was snoring, its head in Cody's lap, Cody's hand clutching its fur even as they both slept.
"So, Dad," Matt said, keeping his voice soft and even. He was sure Cody wasn't faking sleep – his head was smashed against the side of the truck at an angle that couldn't be comfortable for someone awake – but he didn't want to risk disturbing him.
Jesse didn't say anything, just glanced at Matt, waiting for him to go on.
"Back at the sheriff's office, Cody looked pretty upset."
Jesse nodded but didn't offer anything more. Matt hadn't been expecting him to elaborate.
"How'd the interview go?" he said.
"About as well as you'd think," Jesse said tightly.
"What happened in there, Dad? During the robbery?"
It'd been driving him crazy all day, wondering what Cody was going through, what he had been through. The wait outside the bank had been among the most excruciating hours of his life. The job of a ranger was often risky, but when the situation got especially tense he could almost always work out his stress in the field – he was on the front lines, right in the mix of the operation. He wasn't used to waiting on the sidelines, certainly not when his brother's life was in danger.
"That's not really my story to tell, son," Jesse said.
But Matt wouldn't have it. It wasn't fair, to Matt or Cody, to leave him in the dark like this. Matt needed to know what had happened, and it was cruel to expect Cody to be the one to tell him.
"Come on, Dad," he said softly. "I'm his brother. I have a right to know."
Matt was surprised when Jesse didn't scold him, and outright shocked when, instead, Jesse took a deep breath, then launched into the story. He told Matt everything, and while it was awful to know that Cody had been beaten for protecting him, Matt was actually relieved that the experience hadn't been as terrible as he'd feared. Of course, he hadn't been the one inside, wondering for hours on end if he'd be shot at any moment, or if someone else would be executed in front of him.
"It could have been a lot worse," Jesse said, echoing Matt's thoughts.
"It was still pretty bad," Jesse said. Matt nodded.
"He'll be okay, Dad."
"Of course he will," Jesse said. But Matt saw him glance in the rearview mirror, a frown lining his forehead.
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They pulled into the town outside Eagle Park about an hour after the sun set, when the sky was still more gray than black. Jesse had declared that they would pick up dinner in town before driving to the river – it was late, and they were all hungry and tired, and Matt had to agree that the idea of having to set up camp and cook a meal was exhausting.
Matt never saw a sign naming the town, but it was tiny – just a two-lane strip of road, maybe three blocks long, with a gas station anchoring one end and a restaurant on the other. They stopped at the restaurant, despite the unappealing signage: the place was called "Salmon River Pizza" but most of the neon "river" was dark.
"How does salmon pizza sound, Toad?" Matt said, turning in his seat to watch Cody's reaction.
Cody had woken up a couple of hours before but hadn't said much on the drive. He met Matt's eyes briefly and scowled.
"Sounds like the only kind of pizza for me," Jesse said, and led them all up to the front doors.
"Uh, Dad?" Cody said. "How are we going to pay for dinner?"
Matt could hear something like shame in Cody's voice, and he wondered if his brother was still upset about the morning, and being blamed for leaving the pack with all their money behind.
If Jesse noticed something was wrong, he ignored it, and instead patted his back pocket. "That's what credit cards are for, son."
Matt and Cody were sufficiently stunned that they stopped in their tracks and exchanged wide-eyed looks. Jesse never used credit cards – he had a very strict rule about always paying with "real" money. They only had one for emergencies, and as far as Matt knew, there had never been an emergency serious enough to merit a credit card.
"You sure about that?" Cody said.
If Jesse was the eye-rolling type, Matt guessed he'd be doing it now. He didn't answer the question, just waved Matt and Cody toward the front door. He bopped Matt on the head as he walked by.
"Hey, what was that for?"
"Because I couldn't do it to your brother," Jesse said. Even Cody laughed.
The place was dark but surprisingly busy. Jesse asked if they could get the pizza to go and the waiter handed them some menus. Jesse just smiled and asked for the salmon pizza.
"Yeah, we get that joke a lot," the waiter said without a trace of humor. "I'll come back for your order when you've had a chance to look at the menu."
"Nice one, Dad," Matt said, and Jesse shrugged.
After a minute of silence spent reading the menu – which was kind of dumb, Matt thought, since all pizza menus were pretty much the same – Jesse put his down and suggested they just order the usual, which was sausage and mushrooms. Matt was kind of in the mood for something different, and he considered bringing up the Hawaiian-style option, but he decided he wasn't in the mood for a fight.
Cody said, "Actually, do you mind if we just get cheese?"
Jesse stared him down for a moment. "You're still not feeling well," he said.
"I'm fine," Cody said, his voice a little sharp. "I just don't want sausage and mushrooms for once. It's no big deal."
"Okay. How about pepperoni and black olives?" Jesse said.
Cody knew he was being tested. "I don't like black olives."
"Since when?" Jesse said.
"Since forever. Look, forget it. Order whatever you want." Cody handed his menu to Matt – more like slapped it against Matt's chest – and stormed out the door.
Matt whistled under his breath. Like his father and brother, Cody could be a little short-tempered at times, but Matt rarely saw anything like that outburst, and definitely not over something so dumb as a pizza.
"What was that all about?" Matt said.
But Jesse didn't answer. He was staring at the door, like he expected Cody to come back in and apologize. He didn't say anything until the waiter came back, and then he ordered a large cheese pizza.
Cody still hadn't come back by the time their pizza was ready 15 minutes later. Outside, they found him sitting in the front of the truck, huddled into his jacket with Dingy at his side. Matt handed him the pizza box and Cody shifted forward to let Matt crawl into the backseat.
"Sorry," Cody said under his breath, after Jesse had started the engine.
"What was that?" Jesse said.
"I'm sorry," Cody said again, clearly this time, but also clearly annoyed.
Jesse looked at him, and Matt wondered if he was going to give him a hard time for the insincere apology. But he just sighed and pulled onto the road. They drove in silence the rest of the way to Eagle Park.
It was pitch black when they finally got to the Salmon River and their campsite. The pizza was getting cold but Jesse wanted to get the basics set up first, so he sent Matt to collect firewood while he unloaded the truck. Matt glanced at Cody, who was blinking owlishly looked like he was ready to drop.
"You, sit," Jesse said to Cody, and pushed him gently to sit on a log.
Matt grabbed a flashlight and headed into the woods. He didn't have to search long before he found a convenient pile of firewood someone had left in another campsite a couple hundred feet away. He loaded his arms with enough wood for a decent fire that would last through the night and headed back to their camp. Jesse had already unrolled a sleeping bag and Cody was sitting cross-legged on it; in the ambient glow from their flashlights, Cody's eyes looked heavy and a little vacant. Concerned, Matt looked at Jesse, who just shook his head slightly – give him some space.
The fire came to life two minutes later – Matt thought it might be a new record for him – and they all finally sat down to their pizza dinner. Matt felt a little ridiculous eating pizza in the wilderness. It wasn't anything like their usual camping meals of grilled fresh fish and homemade bread, but the pizza was pretty good, and Matt was starving.
He was so focused on his meal that he didn't think about Cody again until Jesse spoke up.
"Son, you need to eat something," Jesse said.
Matt glanced over the fire. Cody had a limp piece of pizza in his hand and it looked like he'd only taken one or two bites.
"I'm not hungry," Cody said irritably – whether he was annoyed with his father or himself, Matt couldn't tell.
"Are you feeling okay?" Matt asked.
"Fine," Cody said.
"Then eat," Jesse said.
Cody glared at him. "I feel fine now, but who knows how I feel if I force this crap down."
Matt raised his eyebrows in surprise. Cody never swore, not ever, and certainly not in front of their father. Jesse looked pretty shocked too, but he let the language go for now.
"The pizza tastes fine to me," he said instead.
"C'mon, Code, just eat a couple of bites," Matt said.
He could tell by the way Cody switched his glare from Jesse to Matt that he'd probably used the patronizing tone Cody was always complaining about. But Cody didn't complain now; in fact, he didn't say anything, just put down his slice of pizza and stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets.
Jesse didn't push any further, which was a relief. It was getting late, and Cody was acting like an overly tired child – Matt didn't see the point of forcing him to eat. But the argument had killed his appetite, and it seemed Jesse's too. They only ate half the pizza.
Matt sealed the remaining slices in a plastic container and stuffed it into a sack with the rest of their food. He filled a second bag with their trash and got up from the fire. Holding a flashlight in his teeth, he found a tree a few yards from their camp and hung the bags, where they'd be out of the reach of hungry bears.
By the time he returned to the fire, Cody was lying down on top of his sleeping bag, his back to the flames. His knees were drawn up toward his chest and he looked like he was freezing, Matt thought, even though it was a relatively warm night for this time of year.
"I've got it," Jesse said quietly from behind him, and stepped past Matt toward Cody. He spoke quietly, coaxing Cody to sit up and taking off his boots before helping him into the sleeping bag. Cody seemed to fall back asleep immediately.
Jesse came around to the other side of the campfire and poured two cups of coffee, handing one to Matt before he took a seat on the log. They sat quietly, shoulders touching, sipping their drinks and watching Cody through the flames.
When his face started feeling hot Matt arched his neck and looked up at the sky and couldn't help the small gasp at the stars. He hadn't forgotten how beautiful the night sky was in the mountains, but he was still surprised at how truly breathtaking a sight it was. As he blinked his eyes to wipe away the bright glow of the fire, the stars took on sharper focus, so many of them, millions of glittering gems on black velvet. A sky like this, you could understand how early humans thought the sky was a dark blanket, with holes poked through to let in pinpricks of sunlight.
He felt Jesse shift against him, and when he turned to look his father was smiling into his coffee.
"What?" Matt said. He whispered, partly to keep from waking Cody, and partly because it just felt right to talk low in the mountains on a starry night.
"I miss this," Jesse said.
Matt didn't need him to define "this" – he missed it too. They both glanced at Cody.
"I'm worried about him," Matt said.
He felt Jesse nod next to him.
"Maybe we should go back tomorrow," Matt said.
"We'll see how he's feeling in the morning," Jesse said.
Matt felt a rush of anger and frustration – just for once, why couldn't his father put Cody's needs ahead of his own. That wasn't fair, of course. Jesse always had his sons' best interests at heart, even if his plans were sometimes misguided. He loved Cody, would do anything for him, and he probably honestly believed that coming here was the best thing for him right now. But that didn't make him right.
Still, there wasn't much point to arguing it now. Despite the coffee, Matt found himself getting sleepy. Cody wasn't the only one who'd had an adrenalin-filled day.
"I'm hitting the sack," Matt said.
Jesse nodded and took the cup from his hand. As Matt crawled into his sleeping bag, he heard Jesse toss the rest of their drinks behind a tree, and as he fell to sleep, he hoped that the bears in this part of the state didn't like coffee.
XXX XXX XXX
Matt woke up feeling surprisingly well rested. By the light of the sky he thought it was probably a little before 6 a.m. The second surprise was that Jesse was still asleep; he was lying flat on his back in his sleeping bag, his hat pulled over his face, his chest rising and falling evenly. Cody seemed to be out too, although it was hard to tell – he was just a lump of sleeping bag on the other side of the fire pit.
Once he was awake, the first growling of hunger, and the need to pee, made it impossible to fall back asleep so he got up after just a few minutes, careful not to disturb his father and brother. But by the time he returned to their campsite Jesse was already up and on his first cup of coffee, a second tin of water set to boil over the reinvigorated fire.
Matt took the coffee Jesse offered and moved over to the hanging bear bags. "Oatmeal?" he said.
It was tradition, sort of, to eat oatmeal on their first morning camping out. Jesse made his own just-add-water version, a recipe he got from his grandmother. Matt liked his with raisins, Cody with lots of brown sugar. Jesse, hardened mountain man that he was, ate his plain. Matt liked to tease him about being a cliché.
The bags were a lot easier coming down than going up, and they were sitting down to breakfast in just a few minutes. An hour later the sun was winking through the trees; Matt had plowed through two bowls of oatmeal and he was pretty sure Jesse was on his third cup of coffee and Cody was still just a lump on the forest floor.
"I know he needs his beauty rest, but this is getting a little ridiculous," Matt said, but even he could hear the forced lightness in his voice.
Jesse just frowned at him and walked over to crouch next to Cody. He nudged Cody through the bag, just a little poke at first and then a pretty rough shake. Cody groaned softly but didn't move. Jesse pealed back the top of his sleeping bag and leaned in close to talk to him. Matt couldn't hear what he was saying, but after a minute Cody threw an arm over his eyes and groaned again. Jesse sat back on his heels and laughed.
"What'd you tell him?" Matt said, watching as Cody sat up in his sleeping bag. His hair was sticking up all over the place and he squinted in the bright light. If Matt didn't know any better, he'd assume his brother was nursing one hell of a hangover.
"I told him another five minutes and he'd be on gutting duty," Jesse said.
"He's on gutting duty anyway," Matt said. "That's the rule – last one up cleans the fish."
"We might be able to make an exception today," Jesse said.
As Cody climbed unsteadily to his feet, Matt decided he'd allow an exception, just this once. The wound on Cody's forehead had blossomed into a pretty spectacular bruise overnight, and his eye looked puffy and painful.
By the time Cody managed to force down a few bites of oatmeal it was well after 8 a.m., and typically they'd be wrapping up the fishing at this hour, not just starting out. But Matt kept reminding himself this trip was supposed to be relaxing, and if that meant they didn't actually catch anything, so be it. Late as it was, Cody still seemed to be a little cobwebby. He was moving pretty slow, like he was sore or sick. He'd already downed four Tylenol – the first two at Jesse's insistence, the second two at Cody's – and judging by the lines around his eyes and mouth it looked like he still had a pretty decent headache.
"You sure you're up to this, Toad?" Matt said softly, as they stuffed gear into their daypacks. Jesse was on the other side of the campsite, hanging the food bags again.
"Yeah," Cody said, but the lack of conviction in his voice – and more importantly, that he'd even answered the question at all, without getting annoyed and defensive – bothered Matt.
"Look, Code, I know Dad really wants us to go fishing, but if you're not feeling well you should say something. You can stay back here and sleep some more, or we can just go back home."
"I know," Cody said sharply. He clipped his fishing pole to the back of his pack and hefted it onto his shoulders with a wince. "You about done playing with the bears, Dad?"
Jesse laughed and jogged over to Matt and Cody, picking up his own backpack along the way. "You boys finally ready?"
Matt nodded and Cody called for Dingy, and the three of them set off, Jesse in the lead, Matt settling himself at the back. Cody said he was fine, but Matt thought he still needed someone on his six.
XXX XXX XXX
It was a short hike to the river and Matt was starting to feel better about Cody, who'd managed the walk just fine and who finally seemed to have a little color in his face. When he thought about it, Matt figured Cody probably had woken up feeling something like hung over – the rush of adrenalin followed by the crash, and not nearly enough food and water along the way, would easily drain the body's reserves of energy and leave anyone feeling exhausted and even a little sick. But the walk seemed to have done him some good. He still wasn't particularly chatty, but then again, none of the Hawkes men were exactly known for their wagging tongues.
The sun was almost fully in the sky by the time they reached the river and Matt doubted the fish would be biting much but he had to admit that the scene was beautiful, and standing knee deep in the cool water, rhythmically tossing his pole, sounded very relaxing. The river was mostly shaded by tall trees, but in a few spots where the sun poked through, the water was dazzling, like sparks were dancing on the surface.
"Nice spot," Matt said as he shouldered off his backpack.
Jesse answered with a simple, "told you," but his chest swelled with a touch of pride and Matt grinned.
They all put their poles together with easy efficiency and Jesse suggested they try the nymph flies that he'd made himself over the winter. Tying flies had always been one of those hobbies of his dad's that Matt just didn't understand. All those hours, getting the twine just right, all for a lure that he'd probably end up losing anyway, and that could be bought for a few bucks.
Jesse pointed out the best spots for fishing and they each set off – Matt upstream, Jesse downstream, Cody in the middle. They were far enough apart that they'd have to yell to hear one another, but Matt could see his father and brother just fine. Dingy had found a nice patch of sunlight on the shore and was lying on his belly, his eyes following Cody's movements.
Matt had never been all that good at fly fishing – actually, he was probably fine, but not nearly as good as Jesse and Cody – and it had been a while, at least a few months, since he'd last gone out. But after a few minutes of fumbling and feeling awkward and glad that his dad and brother probably weren't paying attention to him, Matt found his rhythm. Before long he was lost in the easy movements, the small pull of rarely used muscles in his chest and shoulder, the flick of his wrist, the almost dance-like movement of his hips. His fly kept sinking a little too much, but nymphs were supposed to sink a little, and anyway, it was too late in the morning to catch anything.
Matt was jolted out of his haze by a splash and a yelp. It took him a moment to collect his wits – he'd been drifting, his mind blank – and then he glanced downstream. Cody was on his knees, one hand gripping a boulder next to him, the other clutching his head. His pole was gone. Dingy started barking madly.
Jesse yelled "Cody!" and started wading upstream as fast as he could. Matt tossed his pole on the bank behind him and ran in the shallower water near the riverbank. He got to Cody's side first and fell to his knees. Cody was pale and shaking and he was gripping the boulder tightly, as though he was afraid of falling face first into the water. Matt grabbed his shoulder to help support him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, trying to get a look at Cody's face. His eyes were screwed tight and his face was wet, although it was impossible to tell if it was water or sweat or tears.
"Dizzy," Cody said through his teeth. "Head hurts."
Jesse splashed up to them and kneeled in front of Cody. He grabbed Cody's face in his hands, forcing his head up, and swept his wet hair out of his eyes.
"Son, can you open your eyes?"
Cody shook his head but opened them anyway, just a crack. His eyes were flooded with tears, from pain or from the glare of the sun, and they slipped down his cheeks. He blinked furiously but managed to mostly keep them open. The pupils were dark and wide. Matt exchanged a look with his father.
"Let's get you out of the water," Jesse said.
He took Cody's left side – the side still clutching at the boulder – and Matt took the right, and together they hefted him slowly to his feet. Cody's knees buckled as soon as he was upright and Matt quickly pulled Cody's arm over his shoulders to get a better grip on him and keep him from falling back in the water. Cody was mostly dead weight as they maneuvered him away from the river, but after a few paces he seemed to get his footing again and he was able to walk more than be dragged.
But they weren't far from the river's edge when he moaned and pulled away from them, and before Matt could grab him Cody had fallen to his knees again, only this time he was throwing up. Jesse crouched at his side and laid a hand on his back, but he looked up at Matt.
"Get back to camp," he said. "Pack us up. I'll help Cody. We leave as soon as I get him to the truck."
Matt took off without so much as a nod of confirmation, his ranger instincts kicking in without thought. It was probably a mile back to the campsite and he ran it dangerously fast, knowing he should slow down to watch for roots and rocks but unable to hold back the rush of panic that propelled him forward.
Cody was in trouble. Matt was furious with himself for missing it – the fatigue and sleepiness, the irritability, the lingering headache. He'd been hit in the head yesterday, hard, and Matt had been stupid enough to let their father take him into the woods, when he should have been resting at home, or better yet, under observation in a hospital. Sure, he'd seemed fine afterwards, but head injuries had a nasty habit of sneaking up on people and Matt knew that better than most. Now Cody could have a skull fracture, he could be bleeding into his brain. He could be dying.
And Matt and his father had taken him hours away from doctors and modern medicine.
Matt tore into the campsite and started stuffing their gear into the truck without thought for organization, throwing in unrolled sleeping bags and half-empty backpacks. He didn't bother untying the food and trash bags, just cut the ropes so they'd drop to the ground, and he tossed those into the truck too. It was good that they packed so light, because he was just making room for someone to sit in the backseat when Jesse arrived with Cody, Dingy close on their heels.
"How is he?" Matt asked, taking Cody's other side and helping him to the truck.
"Not good," Jesse said. "He threw up two more times, and he still can't walk on his own."
That much was obvious, Matt thought as he helped Cody into the front of the truck and fastened his seatbelt. He pulled out a blanket from the mess in the back and wrapped it over Cody's legs; his pants were drenched from the river water and he was pale and shaking. Matt doubted it was from the cold, but Cody seemed to appreciate it because he pulled the blanket up to his shoulders.
"We ready to go?" Jesse asked. Matt took one last look at their campsite and nodded. "Get in."
Matt had to climb into the backseat from the driver's side. Dingy followed him into the truck and whined, clearly wanting to sit in front with Cody. Matt held him by the collar until he settled down and finally rested his head on Matt's thigh.
Jesse had to drive slowly away from the campsite – the road was dirt, and pockmarked with roots and rocks and fallen branches. Cody moaned once and leaned his head back against the seat. Matt reached out and grasped his shoulder. He wished like crazy there was something he could do for Cody, but he knew Tylenol wasn't going to help the pain at this point, and they didn't have anything else to give him.
"Hang in there, Toad," he said.
XXX XXX XXX
The drive back to civilization was torture. It took nearly two hours to get to the nearest hospital – they had to stop to ask for directions in the town outside Eagle Park – and most of that was on winding roads that forced Jesse to slow down when all Matt wanted was speed. If they were still in the High Sierra, if he was still a ranger, he would have called for an airlift in a second, but down here there was no one to turn to, no resources he could magically call upon to carry his brother to safety.
Cody made them pull over three times to puke on the side of the road. Each time Matt would climb out after him, standing guard while he retched pathetically and handing him a canteen of water when he was done. They never said anything, even as Matt helped Cody back into the car, pulling the blanket up around his shoulders and wiping his damp hair out of his face.
After an hour or so Cody seemed to drop off, and while Matt wanted desperately to wake him – to make him talk, or at least keep his eyes open – he knew that was cruel to Cody, and it wouldn't do anything to help him. Jesse seemed to think the same thing because Matt saw him reach over several times, presumably to pull up the blanket or adjust his seatbelt, but Matt thought he was just checking. Making sure Cody was still there.
When they finally hit the highway Jesse leaned hard on the gas pedal and suddenly they were flying by at 90, the truck darting between semis and old pickups, station wagons hauling families and camping gear. Matt felt his heart beating faster with the increased speed and he leaned forward between the two front seats, eyes searching for the exit they needed. Dingy jumped up at his side and barked once.
"Cut it out, Ding," Matt said, resting a palm on the back of the dog's neck.
"We're looking for Arcata," Jesse said, unnecessarily.
They drove on for several more minutes, then Matt pointed out the front window. "There, Arcata. Three miles."
Jesse took the exit way too fast and screeched on the brakes as they neared the bottom of the onramp, throwing out his arm to hold Cody in place. He didn't come close to stopping at the stop sign and made a quick right then followed the signs to the hospital. Cody didn't stir, even as the tires squealed at every turn and Dingy started barking madly. Matt saw the hospital up ahead and even as Jesse was pulling up to the main entrance Matt reached forward and started to shake Cody, desperate to see his brother awake.
For a long moment Cody didn't respond at all, and Matt said his name, and shook him again, harder. Jesse climbed out of the driver's seat and came to Cody's side of the truck, pulling open the door.
"Son, time to get up," Jesse said, his tone stern and a little scary, like a warning. He laid a hand on the back of Cody's neck and squeezed.
That seemed to get through, and Cody finally blinked his eyes open. Jesse smiled gently at him and moved his hand to the top of Cody's head, smoothing down his hair.
"We're at the hospital," he said. "Think you can walk inside?"
Cody nodded slowly. He slid off of his seat and when he was on his feet he held on to Jesse on one side and the open door on the other, swaying a little.
"You okay?" Jesse said.
Cody nodded again. "Gimme a minute," he said, words slurred.
Matt crawled out the driver's side and closed the door behind him. When he joined his father and brother, Cody's eyes were open but he looked confused and a little scared, and he was blinking in the sunlight.
"Let's get you inside," Jesse said, nodding at Matt to take his other arm. Matt kicked the passenger door shut behind them as they guided Cody toward the hospital entrance.
"Where are we?" Cody asked.
Matt's heart caught in his throat – they'd just told him.
"The hospital, son," Jesse said calmly, patiently.
"Why?" Cody said.
"You hit your head, Toad," Matt said.
"Don' call me Toad."
"Okay, Ace," Matt said.
The hospital was cool and quiet. An information desk was in the middle of the lobby, and an elderly volunteer pointed them left, toward the emergency room, which was thankfully just a short walk away. She offered to get them a wheelchair, frowning like a concerned grandmother at Cody propped up between them, but Jesse said they'd be faster just walking him there.
They went straight to the nurse behind the main counter in the emergency room, and Jesse said simply, "My son needs a doctor."
The nurse grabbed a clipboard and a stack of forms and asked them what the problem was.
"He hit his head yesterday and now he's showing signs of a severe injury," Jesse said. He rattled off the symptoms, which Matt thought might be unnecessary considering Cody was practically unconscious, hanging between them, his arms slung over their shoulders.
"Take a seat," the nurse said. "Someone will be right with you."
"He needs a doctor right now," Jesse said.
"I can see that. I'll get a doctor right away, but you need to sit that boy down before he falls down," she said. And without checking to make sure they followed orders, she walked away from the desk.
They'd just deposited Cody in a plastic chair when the nurse returned, followed by a doctor and an orderly pushing a wheelchair. When Jesse and Matt moved to follow Cody back into the emergency room the nurse put up a hand.
"Patients only," she said.
"He's my son," Jesse said.
"And my brother."
The nurse opened her mouth to reply but the doctor said, "It's okay, Jessica. I'll need some information from them anyway."
Matt didn't bother looking smug at the nurse – she'd helped them, after all, and he didn't have energy to waste on her.
The orderly managed to get Cody onto a bed and the doctor immediately began to examine him, first checking his eyes and studying the wound on his head. He talked to Jesse and Matt at the same time, not bothering to look at them.
"How'd he hit his head?"
"He got caught in a bank robbery yesterday and one of the robbers hit him with the butt of a rifle," Jesse said.
That caught the doctor's attention and he looked up at them in alarm.
"Yesterday? Did he get checked out by a doctor?"
"A paramedic," Jesse said. "Cody seemed fine, and the medic said it was probably nothing to worry about."
"Head injuries are always something to worry about. You should have brought him straight to a hospital," the doctor said, turning back to Cody.
The anger hit Matt fully again – at himself, his father, even Cody, for not telling them he was in bad shape. They all knew better. They all knew just how serious these things could be. He wanted to tell the doctor that, but defending himself just wasn't important right now, and anyway, he was ready to take all the blame.
The doctor leaned over Cody and said, "Hey, can you open your eyes for me?"
Cody obliged, reluctantly, and the doctor smiled.
"I'm Dr. Leeks," he said. "You're at the hospital in Arcata. Do you know why you're here?"
Cody licked his lips and nodded slightly. "Hit my head," he said.
"Good. Now can you tell me your name?"
"And how old are you, Cody?"
"Seventeen," Cody said, and Dr. Leeks looked at Jesse for confirmation. He asked Cody several more questions, which he more or less got right. Matt was relieved, but he knew that didn't really prove much of anything, and Cody was clearly fading fast, struggling to keep his eyes open and answer the questions.
Finally Dr. Leeks said, "Okay, just lie back and relax now. I know your head hurts a lot, but we have to wait to give you something for it. We're going to run a few tests and get a better look at that bump on your head."
He stepped away from the bed and gestured for Jesse and Matt to follow him into the main area of the emergency room, beyond the curtained beds.
"He's definitely got a pretty serious concussion," Dr. Leeks said. "We're going to take him for a CAT scan now and that'll tell us what else is going on. You're lucky you brought him in today."
"Why's that?" Matt said.
"It's Tuesday. We only get the portable CAT scan one day a week."
Matt closed his eyes, feeling a mixture of horror and relief. Working in Tahoe, he never thought of a CAT scan as a luxury item – they had so many head injuries from ski accidents that they couldn't afford to not have that kind of equipment. It had never occurred to him that a rural hospital might not have the same facilities.
When he opened his eyes Jesse was running a hand through his hair, a sure sign that he was feeling frustrated and angry too.
"When can you tell us what's going on?" Jesse said.
"Give us an hour," Dr. Leeks said. "That'll give you guys time to fill out the registration forms. Even if his scans are clean we'll want to keep him at least overnight for observation."
"Of course," Jesse said. He and Matt went back to Cody's bed to tell him where they were going, but he was already asleep again.
XXX XXX XXX
When they returned to the lobby, the same nurse was standing there, a clipboard in one hand and car keys in the other. She thrust them toward Matt and Jesse.
"Fill these out," she said, handing the clipboard to Jesse, "and move that dang truck. It's blocking our handicap drop off."
Matt winced. He'd forgotten all about leaving the truck sitting in front of the hospital – and with the keys in the ignition and Dingy probably going nuts. He took the keys and left Jesse to fill out the hospital forms while he found a place to park the truck.
Dingy was leaning out the passenger side window when Matt walked up, and he reached through to scratch him behind the ears. "Sorry, buddy," Matt said. He found a parking spot a few rows back and opened all the windows to give Dingy lots of fresh air – he knew the dog would stay put, and he'd just have to hope that no one would try to get in and steal their supplies. Matt figured he should take Dingy for a walk, but he was desperate to get back inside the hospital, so he filled one bowl with water from a canteen and another with dog food, and muttered an apology as he locked up.
When he got back to the waiting area Jesse was still making his way through the forms, so he took a seat and picked up a magazine, idly flipping through the pages. It was a women's magazine – he flipped back to the cover, Cosmopolitan – and the articles were all about dieting and getting a bikini body for the summer. When Jesse got up to return the forms to the nurse he tossed the magazine aside and leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. The plastic chairs were uncomfortable and he wanted to get up and pace, but he suddenly felt exhausted.
Jesse sat next to him again and Matt, still staring at the floor, said, "We should have just taken him home."
"Don't start," Jesse said.
"Come on, Dad, we never should have gone fishing. We both know better. Hell, Cody knows better."
"You're right," Jesse said quietly. "But now's not the time to talk about it. When the tests are done, when we know your brother's okay, then we'll talk about whose fault this is. Right now, we're a family. Cody's going to need us both on his side, not yelling and blaming each other."
It was a low blow, Matt thought, but there was truth to what Jesse said. Matt sighed and sat up, running a hand through his hair.
"I wasn't going to yell," he said.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jesse smile a little.
"Me neither," he said.
They sat there for more than an hour, until the chair became so uncomfortable that Matt had to get up, if only to stretch out the kink in his bad knee. He tried not to pace because he knew that would just annoy Jesse, who had picked up the discarded Cosmopolitan and seemed to be reading the bikini body article, or at least looking at the pictures. Matt finally went to find coffee for them both, and when he got back to the waiting area Dr. Leeks was just coming out of the ER.
"Good news," he said, and Matt felt a huge weight lift off his shoulders. "The scans were all negative. He's definitely got some swelling, but that's to be expected. There was no skull fracture and no sign of bleeding. It looks like he's going to be just fine."
"Thank God," Jesse said. He bowed his head, and Matt saw him repeat the thanks, his lips moving silently.
Matt sat next to him and handed him the coffee.
"So what happened? Why'd he suddenly have the headache and dizziness and everything else?" Matt said. He knew a lot about basic first aid, but this experience was beyond his training.
The doctor shrugged and slipped his hands into his coat pockets. "It's hard to say," he said. "But it's not unusual for someone to suffer a head injury and feel fine for a little while before the major symptoms show up. You were right to bring him straight here."
Matt nodded, but the words were hardly reassuring.
"Look, I'm sorry about giving you guys a hard time before," Dr. Leeks said. "I can't blame you for thinking everything was okay."
"Maybe not, but we can blame ourselves plenty," Jesse said.
The doctor sighed but didn't argue the point. Instead, he said, "So this bank robbery. It was the one over near Red Bluff, right? The guys took over a bank but they were caught trying to get away with a hostage?"
Jesse nodded. "Cody was the hostage," he said.
"That's what I figured," Dr. Leeks said. "Word is he was a hero. And the news said a couple other guys helped him take down those robbers. I don't suppose you two were involved in that."
"We might've helped a little," Matt said.
Dr. Leeks smiled. "Frankly, after the day you three had, I'm not a bit surprised you decided to get out of town for some rest and relaxation. You certainly earned it."
Matt couldn't figure out why the doctor was telling them this – trying to let them off the hook or something. They'd screwed up, badly.
"What I'm trying to say," Dr. Leeks said, "is that from the sound of it, all three of you had a pretty traumatic experience. I don't think Cody was the only one in shock yesterday. Something like that happens, you can't expect to just bounce back and think clearly. You did the best you could, and you did right by Cody when he needed you."
Matt glanced at Jesse, but he didn't look any more convinced by the doctor than Matt felt. Still, Matt appreciated the effort, and he mumbled a thank you.
"When can we see him?" Jesse said.
"They're setting him up in a room right now," Dr. Leeks said. "Usually we put kids his age on a regular floor, but if we put him in pediatrics one of you can stay the night."
He glanced at Matt and winked.
"And I'm pretty sure we can sneak another person past the night nurse, if we need to," he added. "I'm not sure you'll even find a motel tonight, what with the rodeo in town this week. But I heard you guys have got a truck, so you can sleep out there if you prefer."
Matt actually laughed a little. "I think a hospital room floor sounds perfect."
XXX XXX XXX
As it turned out, there was plenty of space for all three of them to sleep in Cody's room – it was a double room but the hospital wasn't close to capacity so the nurses said one of them was free to sleep on the spare bed, plus a chair in the corner unfolded into a kind of cot. But it was still only mid-afternoon by the time Cody was situated in his room and Matt had drank so much coffee that he wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep ever again.
Cody was still out of it, and sound asleep when they got to his room. A bandage had been taped over his head wound, which Matt thought was strange since it had never really bled much. He'd been put in a hospital gown and the smudges of dirt on his hands and face from when he'd fallen near the river had been cleaned.
"What's the IV for?" Matt said to Dr. Leeks, who had taken them to Cody's room and now was studying the chart attached to the end of the bed.
"He was a little dehydrated," Dr. Leeks said. "Probably from the vomiting, and I'm guessing he didn't eat or drink much yesterday."
Matt shook his head, even though Dr. Leeks was still reading the chart and hadn't bothered to look up.
"It's nothing to be worried about. But the dehydration wasn't helping his headache so he should be more comfortable now," Dr. Leeks said.
Matt rubbed his own hand absently – he hated IVs, especially the way they limited his movements and made his skin itch. He couldn't remember if Cody had ever had an IV before.
"How long will he be staying here?" Jesse said.
"At least overnight," Dr. Leeks said. "We'll see how he's doing tomorrow."
Dr. Leeks put the chart back on Cody's bed and told them he had to finish his shift in the ER and then he'd be going home for the day, but he'd try to stop by one more time to check in on "the hero." A nurse would be by regularly to wake Cody up and monitor his symptoms, but otherwise they should let him sleep as much as he liked.
"Thank you, doctor," Jesse said, and shook his hand.
As soon as the doctor was gone Jesse dropped into the chair closest to Cody's side and sat back, just watching his son. Matt sighed and hoisted himself onto the extra bed, letting his legs dangle until his bad knee started to ache. A small stack of magazines was on the bedside table and he picked up the top one, which happened to be an issue of Sport Fishing. Saltwater fishing had never been Matt's thing, but he flipped through the pages anyway and lounged back on the bed to take some pressure off his knee.
After a while his stomach started hurting and he realized none of them had eaten since that morning.
"I'm going to look for some food," Matt announced. Jesse just grunted and Cody didn't move. "Should I get something for Code?"
"Maybe some crackers or something, in case he wakes up hungry," Jesse said. "I'll take a sandwich, if you can find one."
The hospital cafeteria, it turned out, was little more than a large break room filled mostly with vending machines. But a man was standing behind a small cart in the corner, selling pre-wrapped sandwiches and fruit. Matt picked up two turkey sandwiches, an apple and a banana, plus a bag of pretzels for Cody.
When he got back to the room the nurse was standing over Cody's bed, talking softly to him. Matt dumped the food on the spare bed and moved to stand behind the nurse. Jesse was still sitting on the other side of the bed, but he was leaning forward now and studying Cody's face.
Cody passed the neurological check just fine and asked when the IV could come out, which made the nurse smile and tap his chest affectionately. "In a few hours, if you're a good boy," she said. Cody groaned.
When the nurse was gone Matt passed around the food. Cody opened the bag of pretzels and started nibbling on one, which was reassuring. But he only ate two pretzels before setting the bag on his bedside table.
"So how long am I stuck here?" he said.
"Just until tomorrow," Jesse said. "So you'd better get on it if you're going to charm one of those nurses into a date."
He grinned and Cody gave him a tired smile back, but Matt couldn't share their humor.
"The doctor said maybe tomorrow, Cody," Matt said, shooting a hard glance at Jesse. "They need to make sure your brain is still inside your head before they let you go."
"He'll be fine tomorrow," Jesse said with a wink at Cody, like Cody had some kind of control over this, like he could just cure himself of a brain injury overnight.
"We don't know that, Dad," Matt said.
"He's fine right now," Jesse said. "They're just keeping him here as a precaution."
"He's not fine," Matt said. "But you probably want to go back and finish the fishing trip that Cody ruined by getting taken hostage."
"That's enough, Matt," Jesse said.
"No, it's not," Matt said. "You already risked Cody's life by forcing him to go on that damn fishing trip when he obviously should have been in the hospital. Now you want to check him out early, for what? Because staying in the hospital and following doctor's orders makes him weak?"
Jesse stood up and leaned over the bed, and said, "I didn't force him to go anywhere, and I don't think your brother's weak because he's in the hospital."
"You did too force him," Matt said.
"He's a big boy, he can make his own decisions," Jesse said.
"Not when it comes to what you want," Matt said. "He's never been able to stand up to you."
"Maybe he doesn't need to because he knows I'm right!"
Cody's voice was stronger than Matt would have expected. He glanced down and saw that Cody had pushed himself up in the bed, supporting himself on his elbows. His face was flushed and the lines around his eyes and mouth probably meant he was in pain. Matt wondered how long Cody had been trying to interrupt them. He looked quickly at Jesse then lowered his gaze to Cody's bed.
"Son, look, we're-"
"No," Cody said. "You guys listen. First, stop yelling, it's making my head hurt."
"We weren't yell-" Jesse started.
"Yeah, you were," Cody said, then turned his gaze to Matt. "Second, I'm 17, not 7, and I can make my own decisions."
Matt couldn't help but shift his gaze to Cody's hospital gown, which was covered with pictures of bears dancing and riding unicycles.
Cody followed Matt's gaze and looked down, then said, "And third, why the hell am I wearing kiddy pajamas?"
Matt laughed, and was relieved when Jesse joined him with a low chuckle.
"You're in the pediatric ward, son," Jesse said.
"Because you're such a little brat, and you whined all morning until they let you have a lollipop," Matt said.
Cody's forehead wrinkled in confusion and for a moment Matt felt guilty, then Cody seemed to figure out he was kidding and glared at him.
"They let family stay overnight in the pediatric ward," Jesse said. "They put you here as a favor to us."
Cody nodded but finished off his glare at Matt.
"Look, about what we said," Jesse said, but Cody held up a hand.
"Like I haven't heard the same argument between you guys a thousand times," Cody said. He sighed and shifted in the bed, trying to get more comfortable. Matt pushed the pillows behind his back, and Jesse moved the IV line out of the way while Cody untangled the blankets in his lap.
When he was settled, Cody said, "You're both right. Dad, I didn't really want to go fishing, but he didn't make me do anything, Matt."
"You should have just said you didn't want to go," Jesse said gently.
"He did," Matt said. "He told us he wanted to go home."
"I did, but that wasn't what I meant," Cody said.
Jesse ran a hand through his hair with the weariness of a parent whose patience has been pushed to its limit. But he lowered himself to the chair at Cody's bedside and gave him an encouraging smile. Matt followed his lead and swung himself up onto Cody's bed so he was sitting near his feat.
"Tell us what you did mean," Jesse said.
"I want to go home," Cody said.
Jesse closed his eyes briefly. "Son-"
"Not San Francisco," Cody said. "Home."
Matt opened his mouth but couldn't think of anything to say other than, "Oh."
Jesse seemed equally surprised. He leaned forward in his chair and studied Cody carefully.
"Are you sure about that?" he said. "I thought you were enjoying city life."
"I was. I am," Cody said.
Before he could continue a nurse appeared in the doorway, a frown on her face. "What's all the racket in here?" she said.
"Sorry, ma'am, we were just having a conversation," Jesse said, sitting up straight in his chair.
"A very loud conversation," the nurse said, and walked toward Cody's bed. "You're disturbing the other patients, and probably this patient, too."
"I'm fine," Cody said.
But the nurse ignored him and picked up his hand to check his pulse. With her other hand she motioned for Matt to get off the bed.
"Well, that's enough talking for now, I think," she said, and dropped Cody's hand. "This boy needs some sleep."
"I'm not a boy," Cody said petulantly.
Jesse laughed a little. "She's right, son, you need some rest. We can talk about this later."
Cody narrowed his eyes at Jesse, and Matt understood what he was thinking – Jesse wanted time to come up with arguments, to try to convince Cody to change his mind.
Truth be told, Matt wasn't sure who he wanted to win this argument. He felt pretty sure that Jesse wanted to stay in San Francisco – he'd seemed more alive, more vibrant in the past few months than Matt had seen him in years, maybe since before he'd left the rangers. But Matt wasn't sure what he wanted, or what would be best for Cody. He hadn't let himself think much about returning to Tahoe and maybe rejoining the rangers. While he was recovering it wasn't an option, and for so long it had seemed like he would never be fit enough to return to his old job.
In the meantime he'd come to love San Francisco and everything that was there for him. He liked the bounty hunting work – he liked the investigations, and the peace that came from solving a case that everyone else had given up on. And he liked living with his dad and his brother. Especially his brother. They'd never been particularly close, growing up in different homes, living different lives. Spending so much time with Cody, really learning who his brother was, had made him realize just what he'd been missing, without even knowing he'd been missing it.
But he was healthy now. He could be a ranger again, if he wanted to. And Cody was old enough to decide for himself what he wanted. Matt had been saying that for years, which he now realized was ironic, considering he'd long been arguing that Cody was too young to take the risks that came with living in the mountains – the emotional risks like the isolation, but also the physical risks that Jesse seemed so oblivious to.
He studied Cody carefully, wondering when his brother had become this person, this man – someone he could absolutely trust, and who really did seem to know what he wanted.
Cody yawned, and the nurse smiled smugly.
"That's it," she said. "Time for a nap."
Cody groaned, but he didn't argue as the nurse helped him lie back in his bed and moved the pillows under his head. He grumbled under his breath as the IV line tangled with his blankets. Jesse leaned forward to help him, then pulled the blankets up to his chest. He raised a careful hand to Cody's head and brushed the hair off his forehead. Jesse wasn't a particularly touchy-feely person, and Cody watched him for a few seconds before he sighed and closed his eyes.
"Go to sleep, son," he said. "We'll be here when you wake up."
XXX XXX XXX
Cody slept most of the rest of the day. The nurses swore they weren't giving him anything stronger than Tylenol, but every time Cody woke up he was groggy and disoriented. He didn't even stir when a nurse came by to remove the IV.
When it was time for dinner Cody managed to stay awake long enough to get down a few bites of pasta and make a half-hearted – but ultimately failed – attempt to get Jesse to talk about going home. But he ended up falling asleep with his fork in his hand, and Matt barely managed to save him from an embarrassing face-plant into his Jell-O.
By 9 Matt was feeling pretty rundown himself and he finally gave in to his exhaustion and crashed on the spare bed. He'd offered it to Jesse first – "you're the old man, it's only polite" had been met with a gruff and unintelligible answer that sounded suspiciously like "get your ass in bed" – but Jesse had insisted on staying in the chair by Cody's side. Matt had fallen asleep to the soft hum of a fluorescent light outside Cody's room, and the occasional whispers of nurses working the night shift.
He woke hours later, confused and blinking in the night. The whispers were closer now and for a second he thought a nurse was in the room, probably doing a neurological check on Cody. But then he realized one of the voices belonged to Jesse.
Matt rolled over a little, partly to find out if Jesse and Cody were paying any attention to him, and partly so he could get a better angle to hear what they were saying. Neither of them gave him any notice.
"I just don't want you to make any rash decisions," Jesse said quietly. He was leaning forward in his chair, his face close to Cody's bed.
"I'm not, Dad," Cody said.
"You were held hostage and beat up. Your life was threatened, you saw two good men killed. I don't blame you for being scared right now, son."
"I'm not scared," Cody said. "That's not what this is about."
"Of course you're scared," Jesse said. "Hell, I'm scared. I was terrified of something happening to you. But I hate to see you running back to the mountains because of this. We've made a good life in San Francisco. You're happy, aren't you?"
Matt could hear Cody sigh from across the room. His face was lit up in the moonlight, making him look pale and tired, and damned frustrated.
"Yeah, I'm happy, mostly," Cody said. "But I'm ready to go home. I have been for a long time."
Jesse shook his head. "If you wanted to go home, why didn't you say anything until now?"
"Because you and Matt wanted to stay," Cody said simply, and Matt realized it probably was just that simple for Cody.
If Matt really thought about it, Cody hadn't been himself for several months. He hadn't seemed unhappy, exactly – he was game enough when it came to work and fixing up the warehouse, and it wasn't like he'd been acting withdrawn or depressed. But he wasn't as spirited as he'd been in the mountains. He didn't talk as much, or laugh or smile. Matt had attributed the change to Cody maturing, maybe being a little intimidated by the city and the new environment. But he thought now that there was probably more to it.
"Son, I want you to think about this some more. Now's not the time for major life changes," Jesse said.
"How many times do I have to tell you, it has nothing to do with what happened," Cody said angrily. He shoved himself up in the bed. Matt marveled at his strength, given how out of it Cody had been a few hours ago.
"Cody," Jesse said, an edge of warning in his voice.
"No, it's your turn to listen," Cody said, and to Matt's surprise, Jesse leaned back and nodded slightly. "Yeah, sure, I was scared. But it's not like this was the first bad experience I've had. Or even the first time I was held at gunpoint, or afraid I was going to get hurt, or even killed. And the worst stuff happened in the mountains, not in the city. Hell, Dad, this time it happened in some small town in the middle of nowhere. I think I've figured out by now that you can't run away from bad luck."
Jesse actually laughed a little at that, a low chuckle that Matt barely heard.
"You've got a point there," he said softly.
Jesse seemed to study Cody carefully in the dim light, and an uneasy tension settled over the room. Cody let his head fall back onto his pillows and stared at the ceiling.
"I hear what you're saying, son," Jesse said slowly. "But I still think there's something else on your mind. Something's bothering you about what happened yesterday, and it's made you speak up about going home. What's going on?"
Cody sighed heavily and closed his eyes, but after a minute he pushed himself back up in the bed and pulled his knees toward his chest, wrapping his arms loosely around his legs.
"When I was in the bank," Cody said, "I kept thinking that I had to do something. That it was up to me to get the hostages out of there and make sure no one got hurt."
Jesse opened his mouth but Cody held up a hand before he could interrupt.
"I knew you and Matt were there, and I knew you were doing everything you could do get me out, but I still felt like those people were my responsibility." He smiled wryly. "I'm pretty sure I got that from you."
Jesse nodded appreciatively but didn't say anything.
"When I offered to be their only hostage if they let everyone else go, the robbers thought I was being brave or something. But I wasn't brave, I was just desperate. It was the only thing I could think to do. And when that didn't work, that was when I pretty much realized I was stuck. I felt like I'd failed, like I'd let everyone down"
"There wasn't anything anyone could do," Jesse said. "You have to realize that."
Cody ran a hand through his hair, and Matt wasn't convinced that Cody believed him. Cody knew Jesse wouldn't lie – Jesse never did – but knowing the truth and believing it were often two different things.
"Yeah," Cody said. "I guess. But the thing is, I've gotten used to that feeling the past few months. Like there's nothing I can really do. You and Matt always handle all the tough cases and I get left behind."
"No, it's okay, I get it. I'm still young, and you and Matt have the training and the experience." Cody smiled tightly. "I really do understand. It's frustrating, but I understand. But it's also made me realize that I can't just spend my life waiting to get old enough. At some point I've got to do my own thing – get my own experience."
Jesse nodded. "And you think returning to the cabin will do that?"
"No," Cody said. "But I think going back to the mountains will."
"I don't understand," Jesse said.
"I was thinking about going to school," Cody said. "I've got my GED. I could move back to Tahoe and go to the community college for a year or two, then figure out what comes next."
"What about going to school in San Francisco?" Jesse said.
"San Francisco isn't home," Cody said. "I don't think it ever will be. Maybe it's home for you and Matt, but not me."
"You haven't really given it a chance," Jesse said.
Cody shrugged. "Maybe not. But at some point I've got to do what feels right for me, and going back to the mountains feels right."
Jesse sighed, and he looked like he wanted to argue some more, but Matt thought he saw a shadow of pride on his face – like his mouth wanted to smile but he was too stubborn to let it happen. Matt laughed to himself and sat up in the bed.
"So I guess you'll be looking for a place to stay in Tahoe," he said.
Cody jolted up in the bed, obviously not expecting to hear from Matt, but Jesse just beamed at him and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands over his chest.
"Don't do that," Cody said, falling back against his pillows. "Guy with a head injury here."
Matt grinned at him and walked over to the bed. "Sorry. I guess if you're going to be a college student we need to do a better job protecting that brain."
Cody grabbed a pillow from behind him and smacked it into Matt's stomach.
"Hey, what was that for?" Matt said. "I'm on your side!"
"That was for eavesdropping," Cody said. "And the answer is yes."
"Yes, I'll be looking for a place to stay in Tahoe."
Matt nodded and glanced carefully at Jesse, who was doing a pretty good job keeping his face neutral. "I may have some ideas. We'll talk about it later, Toad."
"Ace," Cody said, and smacked him with the pillow again.
XXX XXX XXX
Shortly after their midnight talk, Matt convinced Jesse to take the bed and get some real sleep, and Matt made himself comfortable in the recliner in the corner. It took him a while to fall asleep – their conversation circled around his head, reawakening ideas he hadn't dared to consider for months and raising questions he just couldn't answer. He wasn't sure if he could go back to the rangers. He wasn't sure if that's what he even wanted anymore. And Jesse – it was impossible to say what his father would do. He obviously liked the life he'd created in San Francisco, but Matt didn't know if he'd choose the city over Cody. It wasn't that simple anymore. Cody, for all that he was still young and needed his family, was ready to strike out on his own. Matt could see that, and maybe Jesse could too. But that didn't mean either one of them was willing to let him go just yet.
In the morning, when the nurse came by to bring Cody breakfast, they all got permission to use the shower in the room, and Matt went out to the truck to pick up clean clothes for everyone. Dingy was thrilled to see him and sprinted around the parking lot when Matt let him out to stretch his legs. He briefly considered bringing the dog into the hospital for a visit that would do him and Cody a lot of good, but he figured the nurses had been kind enough already. A dog would definitely be pushing it.
When he got back to the hospital room, Jesse was in the shower. Matt quickly opened the bathroom door and set the duffel bag inside so he would have clean clothes, then he headed over to Cody's bed. Cody was digging into a plate of breakfast that had been set on a tray in front of him.
"Looks like you got your appetite back," Matt said. He reached over to grab a piece of toast, careful of the fork that Cody was wielding like a weapon, stabbing at his scrambled eggs.
"Hands off," Cody said, jabbing his fork at Matt's fingers. "I feel like I haven't eaten in a week."
Matt stuffed the toast in his mouth, swallowed hugely, and grinned. Cody just rolled his eyes and went back to eating. While Cody was focused on his breakfast Matt took the opportunity to get a good look at him. Almost a full day of sleep seemed to have done him a lot of good – it was only now, seeing Cody relaxed and well rested, that Matt realized how pale and drawn his brother had looked after the bank robbery. A small cup with two pills in it sat next to Cody's plate, and Matt was pleased to see that Cody apparently wasn't in enough pain to take them.
Without thought, he reached out and clasped Cody's shoulder. Cody looked up through his bangs and for a second his face was bemused and curious, then he just smiled slightly and ducked his head.
Matt glanced back at the bathroom – the shower was still running – and walked around the bed to sit in the chair.
"So about last night," Matt said.
"I'm not changing my mind," Cody said. Matt wondered if Jesse had brought the topic up already this morning, while he'd been out at the truck.
"Good," Matt said, and meant it. Cody looked surprised, but also pleased. He put down his fork – the plate was clean – and sat back in the bed.
"You think I hurt Dad's feelings?" Cody said. He, too, glanced at the bathroom.
The thought hadn't occurred to Matt, and he gave it serious consideration before shaking his head. "Dad likes to get his way, but he knows you wanting to go back doesn't mean you want to leave him. And for the record, I know you don't want to leave me, either."
"Actually…" Cody said.
Matt punched him gently in the thigh.
"Seriously, Code, Dad understands why you want to go. He might just need some time to get used to it and it figure out what he's going to do now."
Cody nodded slowly. "I didn't say anything before because I knew you guys would probably want to stay. I didn't want to make you choose."
"It's not your job to make things easy for us," Matt said. "Besides, it might be time for us to make some tough choices. It's time for me, anyway."
"What kind of choices?" Cody said. He narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.
Matt had to laugh. "Don't look so uptight," he said. "I'm thinking about returning to the rangers."
"And that's a tough choice?"
Matt thought carefully about how to answer that, not sure if he wanted to admit his darkest fears to his little brother – or even to say them out loud. Finally he leaned forward in the chair, hands clasped between his legs.
"After I was hurt, when I thought I might never walk again, going back to the rangers wasn't something I even let myself think about," he said. "It was too painful."
"But you got better," Cody said. "You're okay now."
"Mostly," Matt said, and he rubbed his knee a little. "But yeah, I'm better. That almost made it worse, though. For a long time being a ranger wasn't an option. Now it is, but what if I'm not cut out for it anymore?"
Cody shook his head. "That's impossible."
"Is it?" Matt said. "I don't know if I can trust myself anymore, physically or mentally, after everything that happened. And what if the other rangers can't trust me either?"
"That's crazy. You know they'd have you back in a second," Cody said.
Matt figured Cody was probably right about that. But Cody had skipped straight to the easy answer, and now he paused, clearly gathering his thoughts to say more. Cody turned his head and stared out the window. There wasn't much to look at, Matt knew – he'd done a lot of staring out that window the day before.
Cody took a deep breath and said, "I know what it's like, you know. When you think you can't trust yourself."
Matt frowned and thought for a second. "You mean Dead Drop Wall?" he finally said. "I know you were scared, Toad, but only an idiot would trust himself climbing that mountain."
Cody smiled briefly, but shook his head. "Dad trusted me to make it down Dead Drop, and that helped a lot," he said.
"So what are we talking about?" Matt said.
Cody paused and licked his lips. "After the robbery, after you and Dad got to the truck, I ended up holding one of the guys at gunpoint."
Matt nodded. He remembered Jesse repeating that part of the story. Cody glanced at him quickly then looked back out the window.
"What I didn't tell the cops, or Dad, was that the guy was heckling me, telling me I didn't have the guts to shoot him," Cody said. "And he was right. I was shaking all over and I couldn't even fake it. I actually started to lower the gun, and I had these images flash in my head, like the guy just running away, or grabbing the gun from me and shooting someone."
Matt wanted to interrupt, reassure Cody, tell him that there was no shame in not being able to shoot a man. But he could tell Cody wasn't done yet. Cody cleared his throat and finally met Matt's eyes.
"I beat the crap out of him with that gun. I couldn't shoot him, but I could hurt him," Cody said, and he smiled a little too himself, but it wasn't a happy smile and it fell off his face in a second. "My point is, sometimes you just have to have faith, that your body or your mind or whatever knows how to do the right thing when the time comes. I guess that's all we can really expect from ourselves."
For a second Matt was nearly overwhelmed by a surge of pride in his brother – both for his actions during and after the robbery, and for the wisdom in his words now – and he didn't say anything. Cody broke eye contact and stared into his lap.
"I know, kind of stupid, right?"
"Not stupid at all. You're right, it's all about faith," Matt said, and he grinned. "In fact, that's why I've decided to go back to Tahoe with you."
Cody sat up straight in the bed and Matt was caught off guard by the surprise and the joy and relief in his eyes – Cody had really thought he might be going home alone.
"That's great," Cody said brightly. Then he seemed to realize how enthusiastic he sounded and he added, "I mean, now I won't have to break in a new roommate."
"What makes you think I want to live with you?" Matt said, but he was grinning so widely that the effect was ruined.
They smiled stupidly at each other for a few moments, then Cody laughed softly and glanced at the bathroom.
"He's been in there a long time," he said.
Matt realized he couldn't hear the shower anymore. "Think he's been listening to us all this time?"
"Probably," Cody said. "What should we do?"
"Nothing," Matt said with a shrug.
Jesse conveniently appeared a minute later. He was wearing fresh clothes and had clearly just shaved, and he swept a hand over his wet hair.
"You boys done talking about me?" he said. There was a glint in his eye that Matt couldn't quite figure out.
"Not really. Can you lock yourself in there for another hour?" Cody said.
"Make it two hours," Matt said.
Jesse offered them a fake grin and tossed the duffel bag on the extra bed. "I don't know about you two, but I'm about ready to break out of this joint," Jesse said.
"Then it's your lucky day."
Matt looked up – Dr. Leeks was standing in the doorway, hands in his coat pockets and a smirk on his face. He walked into the room and headed straight for the chart at the end of Cody's bed.
"It looks like you've bounced back pretty well, young man," he said, flipping through the pages. Cody frowned at the "young man" but didn't say anything – Matt guessed he wasn't going to give the guy a hard time when he was about to be set free.
"He's always had a hard head," Matt said, and the doctor grinned.
"Let's just hope he doesn't have to test it again any time soon," Dr. Leeks said. "I don't want to see you here again."
And it was as simple as that. Cody took a shower in record-breaking time and changed clothes. He'd stripped the bandage off his forehead, revealing an angry bruise that even his floppy hair couldn't cover.
The nurses insisted that Cody leave the hospital in a wheelchair, which even Matt thought was overkill since Cody was obviously steady on his feet now. He said his head still hurt a little, but the nausea and dizziness had gone away. As soon as Jesse had pushed the wheelchair out the front doors of the hospital Cody planted his feet on the pavement and stood up. He stretched slowly, like he was sore, and blinked in the bright sunlight. But he was smiling wide when he glanced at Jesse and Matt.
"I feel like a new man," he said.
"Man? Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Matt said, and neatly stepped away when Cody tried to punch him in the arm.
"Excuse me, Cody Hawkes?"
Matt looked up and saw a woman standing at the end of the walkway leading to the hospital entrance. Behind her was a man with a camera around his neck, and Matt had a bad feeling he knew what they were there for.
Jesse stepped in front of Cody. "Who's asking?" he said.
"I'm Rebecca Carson, with the Eureka Daily Light," the woman said, walking toward them. "We're doing a story on the bank robbery over near Red Bluff. Are you the Hawkes family?"
Jesse stared at the reporter for a moment, then laid a hand on Cody's back and pushed him toward the parking lot.
"Sorry, ma'am, you must be mistaken. Let's go, boys," he said. Cody ducked his head, a blush creeping up his cheeks, and Matt followed behind as they set off toward the truck.
They'd walked a few steps when the reporter called after them. "Cody?"
Cody stopped and glanced back at her, then realized his mistake and shot an apologetic look at Jesse. The reporter smiled sheepishly at him.
"I'm sorry, I know this is probably a bad time, but I understand you played a pretty big part in stopping that robbery," Ms. Carson said. "I'd really like to ask you a few questions, just to tell people about what happened there. It wouldn't take very long."
Cody glanced uncertainly at Jesse, whose face was stony. Matt figured the reporter was one question away from getting a good taste of the wrath of Jesse Hawkes. He kind of felt sorry for her.
"You were a hero, Cody. That's what people are saying," Ms. Carson said.
"They're wrong," Cody said, and started off toward the truck.
But Jesse grabbed his arm and turned back to the reporter. "It's true," he said to her, obvious pride in his voice. "My son is a hero."
Matt could have laughed at the shock on Cody's face. Jesse wasn't one to withhold praise, but he didn't lend it easily or carelessly, either. As far as Matt knew, Jesse hadn't bought into the whole "hero" thing from the bank. Matt knew Jesse was proud of Cody, but for doing the right thing, for keeping his head in a nightmarish situation and trying to protect the others. To label him a hero, that was different.
"From what I heard, it sure sounds that way," Ms. Carson said. "Please, let me ask you guys some questions. There's a café across the street. We can get some coffee and talk."
Jesse studied the woman – what he was looking for, Matt didn't know, but she seemed to measure up because he turned to Cody and raised an eyebrow at him. They wouldn't do this if Cody didn't want to. Cody shrugged at first, then nodded carefully.
"Okay then," Jesse said.
He wrapped an arm around Cody's shoulders and guided him back toward the reporter.
"But just a few minutes," he said, and winked at Cody. "Then we're going home."