Recently I read Chapter 7 of Lemur's excellent story "Thankless Tasks," and was stunned by how perfect her description of the relationship between Scott and Virgil was. One line in particular jumped out at me…"Virgil was Scott's emotional lifeline."
This story is about that.
It had been three days since they came back from the mudslide, and the tension was still so thick you could have cut it with a knife. The whole place seemed out of sorts, Jeff thought as he walked through the living room and disappeared toward his quarters. Somewhere in the depths of the villa, he could hear Gordon and Alan bickering. Tin-Tin had excused herself to her room earlier, complaining of a headache. And Scott and Virgil, who rarely fought at all, still weren't speaking after a nasty knock-down drag-out down in the hangar earlier that afternoon over some instruction of Scott's that Virgil had apparently ignored. After a few choice words had been exchanged, Virgil had thrown a crescent wrench at him, which had thankfully missed, and Scott had then charged over and tried to make his brother eat it. It had taken Gordon, Alan, Brains, Tin-Tin and a blast from the cold water hose to break them up.
Of course, he knew they were all still rattled from the rescue. It had been their first mudslide, a trip to hell they had unanimously voted as the worst experience of their first year of operations as International Rescue. After a week of nonstop rain, what seemed like half a South American mountain had collapsed. The resulting torrent of liquefied earth and stone had all but buried the two small towns in its path. Although they had found a few very lucky survivors, after that their job had mostly devolved into an endless nightmare of dragging dead bodies out of the filthy, stinking, garbage strewn mud. Men, women, and children. A lot of children. It had taken two days before enough relief had shown up from other organizations that International Rescue could take a break.
He remembered what they had been like when they came back, silent, exhausted and stunned by how thoroughly nature had beaten them. It was their first failure to save lives on this large a scale, and Scott, as the field commander, had taken it particularly hard. In typical fashion, he hadn't talked about it beyond the standard cut and dried debriefing report, but the shock and horror was written deeply in the lines of his pale, haggard face. Jeff hadn't been on site, he knew he couldn't possibly understand how devastating an experience it had been for them – but he also knew that when Scott paused on the way out of the room and said that he felt like no matter how many showers he took, he would never be clean again, his eldest son was talking about a lot more than just the mud.
Now, three days later, things didn't seem to have improved at all. Scott stood on the balcony, staring out at the ocean with blank eyes as he knocked back his fourth glass of Scotch. Virgil was at the piano, playing the same annoying melody over and over again. Scott's fingers tightened around the glass. As Virgil began the same thing yet again, he rounded on his brother. "Virgil, you play that one more time and I'm gonna ram that sheet music down your throat."
Virgil smiled sweetly at him. "I'd like to see you try."
Scott stared, furious. Virgil determinedly began to play it again, even slower, punching the keys hard for emphasis. Scott swore and charged toward him. Virgil was ready for him, standing up, dodging away from his brother's fists. Scott caught his shoulder and yanked him back around, slamming him up against the wall. Virgil came at him hard and they crashed to the floor, rolling around, grabbing and punching and struggling.
"Scott! Virgil! Stop that right now!" Jeff's voice thundered. "Take it outside!"
Breathing hard, Virgil looked at Scott. His brother's expression was livid, his eyes like blue fire. Virgil rolled away and got to his feet. Scott sprang up behind him and stalked out of the room.
Virgil went after him. "Hey, we're not done here!" he yelled.
Scott flipped his hand, not turning around. He disappeared into his quarters.
Virgil reached the door seconds later, hitting the com switch. "Scott! Open up!"
No response. Virgil pounded on the door with his fist. "Open the damn door!"
Still nothing. Virgil growled in frustration and keyed in the entry code. The door hissed open and he stepped inside.
Scott swung around, staring at him in surprise and anger. "We agreed never to abuse having those codes," he said in a dangerously level voice.
"I'm not abusing it, you idiot. I'm just not letting you run away."
"Run away?" Scott came stalking forward, incredulous. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Oh, get off it. I'm not insulting your precious honor here. Don't be such a freaking princess, Scott."
Scott hit him, hard. Virgil doubled over, crashing back against the wall, the breath knocked out of him. He gasped, trying to drag air back into his lungs.
Scott stood in front of him, shaking with fury. "Don't you ever speak to me like that again. Get out of my room, now!"
Scott stared at him. For a moment it looked as if he was going to do just that. But then he abruptly swung away and headed for the doorway instead.
"Scott!" Virgil called after him in frustration. "Come back here!"
But he wouldn't answer. The door hissed shut behind him.
Virgil cursed under his breath. He pushed himself away from the wall and followed his brother.
He took the stairs to the poolside two at a time, jumping down the last three and lunging forward to catch Scott's shoulder. "We're not finished yet."
Scott swung around. "You're really asking for it, Virgil. Leave me alone if you know what's good for you."
"Oh, please. Did you hear that dialog in a movie, or what?"
Scott went for him. Virgil ducked and came up swinging, sending his older brother reeling backwards. "You son of a…"
He came back hard, his next blow connecting squarely with Virgil's jaw. Virgil crashed backwards across one of the poolside tables, hitting the ground on the other side. He rolled quickly and dragged himself to his feet just in time to be knocked off them again by Scott's full weight. They rolled around on the ground, each scrabbling frantically for the advantage. Virgil scored a direct hit to the stomach and Scott doubled over, coughing. Virgil dragged himself free and crawled away, trying once again to get to his feet. Scott twisted and grabbed his ankle, yanking him back down, and then they were kicking and punching once more, rolling over and over beside the pool, scattering chairs left and right in their wake.
On the balcony above them, Tin-Tin came up beside Jeff and Grandma, who were both watching the fight in silence. "Shouldn't we break them up?" Tin-Tin asked, wincing at the crashing, banging and grunting drifting up from below.
"No, child," Ruth Tracy answered, shaking her head. "Boys have got to be allowed to be boys. And they won't really hurt each other, you know. Not those two."
She looked over at Jeff, who smiled ever so slightly. "That's right, mother. We've got to let them work this out, whatever it is."
Tin-Tin shook her head. "No wonder I have a permanent headache around here. It's from trying to understand all these men!"
Grandma smiled. "You wait until you have your own children, Tin-Tin. Then you'll figure it out real quick."
"Oh, no," Tin-Tin said hastily. "I've put my order in already. I'm only having girls."
Down by the pool, Scott and Virgil were steadily demolishing their way through the poolside furniture as they grappled and punched and wrestled. Panting, Scott held his brother off for a moment at arm's length. "Why…are you doing…this...?"
Scott stared at him. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You, you moron. You've been tearing us all new ones ever since we got back from that mudslide."
Virgil saw a flicker in his eyes, thought he was weakening. Scott saw him lower his guard and took advantage, landing a solid right cross that sent his brother crashing into the bushes on the other side of the walkway. Scott shook his hand, wincing at the pain. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Virgil picked himself up and brushed angrily at the sand and leaves that clung to his clothes. "Goddammit, that's it. You're going down."
"Yeah? And who's gonna make that happen?"
Virgil gave a sudden bloodcurdling war cry and launched himself flat out at his brother. Scott yelled out as he abruptly found himself flying through the air, the breath knocked out of him. They landed in the pool together with an enormous splash, sending a tidal wave of water in all directions.
Spluttering and coughing, the brothers surfaced. Scott turned away and started swimming for the side. He reached the shallow end and got his feet under him, wading towards the steps. Virgil went after him, catching him just as he got there. He grabbed his arm, hauling him back. "Oh, no you don't. You're going to talk about this if it kills me…"
"If it kills you..?" Something about the phrase made the corners of Scott's mouth twitch despite himself.
Virgil saw the opening, pressed his luck. "You couldn't have done anything for her, Scott. She'd been under too long already."
Scott grabbed him and swung him around, slamming him hard into the side of the pool. "You don't know that!" he shouted. "You shouldn't have pulled me off! If I'd kept trying, I could have…"
"Scott…Scott! You were doing CPR for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes!"
He braced himself, not knowing if his brother was going to swing at him again. But then Scott's shoulders sagged, the fight going out of him all at once. He stared at Virgil, his expression suddenly lost, blue eyes bright with unshed tears. "But she had a pulse, Virg… They were all so cold and dead, and she had a pulse…"
"You lost the pulse after the first two minutes, Scott. You know that. She went into full arrest. Then you just kept trying to bring her back, but you never felt that pulse again, did you?"
Scott didn't answer. He let go of Virgil's shoulders and tried to push past him toward the steps, but his brother held on to his arm. "Did you?" he asked, more softly now.
Scott lowered his head in defeat. "No," he whispered.
Virgil reached for him. Scott tried to resist, but Virgil ignored him, wrapping his arms around him. "She was so little, Virg," Scott said, voice muffled against his brother's shoulder. "She never had a chance. She was just so damned little."
"I know," Virgil said, letting him talk it out, knowing he needed to now.
"I couldn't stop thinking about us when we were kids. What if that had been Alan, or Gordon, or John? Or you?"
Virgil could smell the Scotch on his breath. When his brother got like this, even alcohol didn't really help. "I know, Scott. But there wasn't anything you could have done. There wasn't anything anyone could have done."
"Her father…" Scott's voice was beginning to break. "Her father came up to me…did I tell you that…he thanked me…God, Virgil, he thanked me for...for trying to…trying to…"
"We're gonna fail sometimes, Scott," Virgil said softly. "You've got to accept that. You did the very best you could. You always do. But sometimes it just isn't meant to be."
He felt Scott's body shudder as he lost it, giving in at last to the awful suffocating agony in his chest, letting out the grief and pain in great choking gasps. Virgil held him tight, hiding his brother's face against his shoulder, shielding him as always from the outside world as the tears ran down his own face in sympathy. "It's okay," he said, over and over again. "It's okay."
"They'll be okay now," Jeff said quietly on the balcony. "Come on inside. We don't want them to know we were watching them."
"But shouldn't we go down there and see if they're all right?" Tin-Tin asked.
Jeff shook his head. "No," he said gently. "They've been brothers a long time, Tin-Tin. They'll sort it out without any help from us."
Tin-Tin looked at him, new respect for him in her eyes. "Why, Mr. Tracy," she said, smiling back. "I didn't know you were such a psychologist."
"I raised five boys," he said, with a short laugh. "You don't do that without learning a thing or two about how their minds work."
"If I know those boys, they'll be up here looking for pie and ice cream next," Ruth said. "I'd better go see what I can rustle up in the kitchen."
"That sounds like a good idea, mother," Jeff grinned. "Save some for me."
Grandma winked at her son and moved away. "And what about us?" Tin-Tin asked. "What should we do?"
"Oh, I don't know about you," Jeff sighed. "But Penny's coming in a week, so I'd better go and order us some new poolside furniture."
Tin-Tin couldn't help it. She burst out laughing.
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me, alas. None of them do. And just the thought of that devastates me. (Weeps uncontrollably.)
Very Special Thanks in this case go to (in alphabetical order), Boomercat, NovaGirl and SkyyWench for your input and unfailing love and support, and Molly for your expert beta-ing and line by line edits that made this story so much better than it would otherwise have been. And thanks, as always, to the rest of my extended and fabulous group (also in alphabetical order!)…Ellie-Beth, Fran, Gilly Lee, Greenspider, Lady P, Nikita, Vinnie, Virgil4Ever, Ziggy…I don't know what I'd do without you all, and I hope I never have to find out!