He had decided that it was a combination of exhaustion and lack of food that caused him to now be trembling unsteadily beside the airlock door. It wasn't fear because there was nothing to be afraid of. The figure that stood behind him was not there.
John closed his eyes and tried to rid the image from his mind. She is not here, he chided himself and took a deep breath before then opening his eyes again. He glanced behind him and sighed with relief. Gone. Not that she ever was there to begin with, of course.
A gentle tremor ran through the station and John's trembling faded a little, leaving only the butterflies that flitted wildly inside his stomach. He turned and watched the bright red craft gliding effortlessly beside one of the view ports and saw again the brief smoke-like pulse from the retros as they guided the approach to the station.
Perhaps he ought not to be waiting eagerly by the door, bag packed and ready. Maybe he should be finishing up a last few tasks, nonchalant of their arrival. They would worry if they thought he had been pacing near the door, watching the minutes of their ETA pass by tauntingly slowly. Which he had. But they didn't need to know that.
John moved his holdall away from the door. Ready to leave but not desperate to do so. That is what they would be expecting. He sat down at the central console and flicked up a world weather map, tapping his fingers impatiently on the workstation as he tried to force an image of calm.
"Thunderbird 3 to Captain Peroxide. Permission to come aboard?"
John smiled happily as he heard Gordon chuckling in delight at his own joke and then opened the channel. "Permission granted." He wanted to jump up from the console and run to greet them but that was not what he did. They would know if he wasn't just his usual self.
The airlock door swung open and after a moment Gordon appeared, still grinning at his own oh so hilariousness.
"Hey, Gord." John waved briefly, his attention then returning to the map above him. The map that he was not really reading.
Gordon wandered along the small corridor and frowned slightly. "What's that smell?" He sniffed the air in exaggeration, his grin lingering at the edges of his mouth still. "You turn off the recyclers again?"
"No." John defended in annoyance, smelling nothing unusual in the air around them.
"Or you trying an experiment in propulsion and forgot that you're supposed to aim it out the airlock?"
"Nice." John sighed. "You been thinking that one up for a while?
Gordon laughed loudly, "Only the whole trip!" He looked around them and groaned slightly, "Honestly, you could at least do something with the place. Every time I come up here it's the same old grey and yellow. And to think you spend all this time up here doing sweet F A!"
John stood quickly from his chair and was about to begin in his defence when he then saw the fond warmth in Gordon's smile and suddenly he wanted to cry. He stepped forward and threw his arms around his brother's shoulders.
Gordon flinched, ready for the inevitable thump in return for his teasing. When John then gathered him up in a tight hug he was unsure what to do. Never the most affectionate of his brothers, the occasional nudge or smile was the most John ever gave. This was unusual. "What's wrong?" Gordon asked carefully, letting his arms slip round John's waist to return the hug.
"Nothing." John managed after a moment and stood back from him. "Just glad to see you." He stepped past him and headed towards the airlock.
"Ah, I get it!" Gordon declared merrily, "This is your new tactic, huh? If I take the piss, you're gonna be all nice and hope I'll feel guilty." He jogged after John and chuckled in amusement. "Well it won't work, bro'!"
John picked up his bag and shrugged a reply.
"It won't!" Gordon urged, suddenly wondering if the more he tried to convince John that it wouldn't work, then that meant he was worried and therefore it was working. "Dude!" He sighed in exasperation and shook his head. "You're too good at this."
"Good at what?" John frowned.
"You know." Gordon moaned and headed past him into the airlock. "Why can't you be like the rest of us? I hate having a genius for an older brother, it's no fun."
John listened to Gordon continuing to complain as he disappeared from sight and he laughed softly, realising how much he really had missed him. He turned back to look at the station and made a quick mental list to ensure that he had done all he needed to do.
"Have you got everything?"
John spun back and gasped slightly.
"It's a long way to pop back if you've forgotten anything." Scott offered lightly and continued through the airlock corridor towards him.
John managed a smile in reply and nodded down at his bag.
"Okay." Scott rubbed his hands together eagerly, "Put that down for a second, though, you just need to run through a few systems to remind me what I need to do."
"Don't worry." Virgil piped up from behind Scott. "John always leaves a list of instructions a mile long." He edged past Scott and patted John's shoulder as he stepped out into the station. "Where's the puzzle, then?"
John frowned slightly and stepped back from the airlock, watching Virgil head straight for the bedroom.
"Come on, bro'!" Virgil urged merrily, "Show me the proof!"
"Well … I took it apart again." John shrugged.
"Ha!" Virgil declared in amusement, "A likely story!"
"I showed Alan that I finished it." John offered, "He saw it over the comm. link."
"Yeah, right!" Virgil scoffed. "He's bound to back you up, whatever you say!"
"It's a blond thing." Scott agreed.
"Hey?" John frowned, "But you guys are - "
"Mousy brown with natural sun-kissed highlights." Virgil stated matter-of-factly.
John couldn't help the laugh of disbelief that erupted from his mouth but it faded as he saw them both regarding him in absolute sincerity. He shook his head and followed Virgil towards the bedroom. "Well, if you want me to complete it again, I'm sure it won't take a second."
"Ooh, get you!" Virgil teased, "I'll just have to make sure it's absolutely impossible next time, huh?"
John smiled cheekily, "That would be more of a challenge, yeah."
"You didn't get to number 5, then." Scott asked carefully.
John turned to him and could read in his concerned expression that Scott would actually know all too well if he had opened his offering. "What the hell is it?" He frowned in intrigue, "Why are you so concerned?"
Scott shrugged slightly, "It was just a bit of fun but then I suddenly thought that you might not be amused."
John's frown deepened, "Oh now I have to open it!"
"No!" Scott hurried forward and took John's arm. "No, don't." He smiled in reassurance and shrugged his shoulders. "Obviously, you didn't need to open it and Alan's instructions were absolutely clear."
"Absolutely." Virgil agreed.
John looked from Scott to Virgil and his smile grew. "You know what it is?"
"Would I like it?"
"Erm … in a word … no." Virgil grinned.
"Hello?" Gordon's voice rang through the station, "Are we leaving any time this century?"
John laughed and rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Little brothers, huh?"
"Hey!" Virgil defended.
"Come on. Run through the essentials." Scott urged merrily, "I can always call you if I get stuck."
"Yeah!" Virgil laughed, "Don't expect to get any sleep!" He dodged the punch Scott threw at him and jogged back towards the airlock. "I'll go keep Gordon quiet."
John watched Virgil's disappearing form and then slowly turned to Scott. "You sure about this?"
Scott nodded, "I said I would."
John watched the sincere affection in his brother's eyes and wanted to say so much more. "Thanks." It was all he could manage without bursting into blubbering platitudes.
Scott shrugged slightly.
"But …" John paused for a moment. "Will you be okay … I mean, on your own, after all that happened …?"
Scott laughed softly, "Dude, it'll be a relief!" He shook his head and began towards the central console. "What with everyone asking for the gory details, Brains wanting to study my wave-patterns and Alan asking if I'm really me all the time …" He stopped and turned back to John. "I know they're just concerned but it's driving me crazy!"
John flinched slightly at his brother's choice of phrase.
Scott seemed to notice John's reaction but made no comment. "I'll be fine." He said after a moment. "I could do with some time alone."
"Only if you're sure." John urged gently.
"Yeah. I need some space." Scott laughed and pointed out beyond the view port. "Which I appear to have plenty of! And besides," He added, "I know what's in present 5."
"Hmm." John smiled sceptically, "Okay. Later, then." He turned and began towards the airlock.
John stopped before stepping up through the open door and looked back at his brother. "Scott … if you should notice anything weird, it's only - " John stopped himself and shook his head slowly. He wanted to tell him that she might be up here. He wanted to warn him. But he did not sense that whatever it was that he had seen was in any way hostile and it might even look after Scott. Then he remembered that he was not supposed to have believed that he had seen it at all.
"What?" Scott asked cautiously, watching the concern growing on his brother's face.
"Hmm?" John was torn from his thoughts and shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Oh, nothing. It's nothing."
Scott nodded slightly and sat down at the central console to familiarise himself with the controls. "Have a safe flight."
He was avoiding him. It was the only explanation.
Gordon and Virgil had chatted animatedly throughout the entire flight home. It was their way of coping, he knew that. Alan was off exploring the island with TinTin, probably getting up to all sorts of things that a fourteen year old should not be doing and that John did not want to contemplate. Brains had wandered upstairs from the lab to ask John about the newly refitted Thunderbird 5, which John knew was scientist speak for 'glad you're home'.
His father was in his office. And as much as John wanted to go up to him, he thought perhaps he ought to wait for him to approach first.
No one had spoken of father and John had guessed that this meant he was not doing so well. The Thunderbirds were grounded for the foreseeable future, the risk of a repeat of yesterday's incident too great to take whilst the Hood was out there somewhere. John knew how much the decision to suspend all planet side operations must have hurt his father and could well imagine the mood he must be in.
John sat on the side of the pool and dangled his bare feet into the cool water. He leaned back on his arms and turned his face skyward, the warm morning sunshine tingling on his skin. This was bliss. Compared to the cool monotony of the station, to be exposed to such colour, warmth and light was amazing. A gentle breeze picked up and ruffled the edges of his thin cotton shirt and he sighed contentedly.
Footsteps gently tapping through the lounge and out onto the patio brought John out of the peaceful meditation he had been savouring and he opened his eyes, trying to identify the footfalls on the stairs.
"How are you?"
John lowered his head and turned to look behind him. "Fine, Dad. You?"
Jeff nodded a reply and reached the bottom of the steps, slowing his pace a little as he neared John. He shrugged his shoulders and perched on the edge of the sun lounger beside John. "Well … truth is I'm still a little shaken."
John watched the gentle frown that settled over his father's tired eyes and he felt his heart sink.
"I really wasn't prepared for any of that yesterday."
"How could you have been?" John urged gently.
Jeff shrugged again, "I guess."
"You couldn't have known, Dad."
Jeff smiled thinly and looked down at his hands. "Anyway … I'm more worried about you."
"I'll be fine." John countered lightly, "I just needed some air."
"It didn't seem that way the other day."
John turned away and closed his eyes, remembering his breakdown and how he had shouted at his father over the comm. "I'm sorry. That was just a bad day."
"Don't lie to me, John." Jeff argued gently. "How can I help you if you won't let me in?"
John held his breath and could feel sudden tears building behind his still closed eyes. He shook his head slowly, hoping that his father would get the hint and leave him alone. He wasn't ready for this conversation yet; he couldn't explain any of it to himself, let alone anyone else.
Jeff slid down onto the patio and edged closer to John. He crossed his legs beneath him and rested his arms in his lap. Gazing out at the view beyond the pool, he took a deep breath and hoped that John would sense that he could – and would – wait all day for him to talk to him.
It was a stalemate. John let his breath out in a steady sigh and wondered which of them would eventually make a move. He then felt the gentle warmth of a hand on his shoulder and he had his answer. With a slight sob, he shrugged off his father's affection and stood quickly to walk away.
"Oh, John …" Jeff groaned softly, "You need to talk to someone about all this."
John spun back and watched his father getting to his feet. "Why?" He asked quietly, "What good will it do? It won't change anything. Everything that has happened will still be there."
Jeff nodded and shoved his hands into the pockets of his light cotton trousers. "But you might be able to deal with things a little better."
John frowned in thought and considered this for a moment. He then shook his head and turned back towards the house.
"Please, John. You need help." It wasn't what he had meant to say and Jeff regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth but it was too late. He saw the anger in John's eyes as he glared at him and Jeff sighed in dismay. "God, I'm sorry."
"You think I'm losing it, don't you?"
"No … well … oh, I don't know what to think." Jeff shrugged, "But it's not just me, son. Everyone has noticed that you're not yourself of late."
John nodded thoughtfully.
"We're worried about you." Jeff concluded softly.
"So am I." John agreed quietly, seeing the concern grow on his father's face. "I'm scared, Dad." There. He had done it. There was no going back now.
Jeff stepped closer to John and decided to make the most of this moment, despite the warning at the back of his mind that he may not like what John might say. "Of what?" It was a stupid question after all that had happened but he didn't know what else to say.
"Of me." John husked and folded his arms across his chest, suddenly cold despite the warmth of the pleasant spring morning. "Of how I've not been coping." He looked down at his arms and shrugged his shoulders. "Of what people will say if I tell them what has been going on in my mind."
"Oh, John … we'd understand – anyone would. After what you've been through lately … no one would judge you. It's just better to get it out there." Jeff moved even closer and took a deep breath. "You've always been more quiet, more private … which is fine but … but perhaps, in times like these, that's not a good thing." He sighed and glanced back towards the house. "Listen, Penny's calling me soon to give me another update on the repercussions from yesterday. Why don't I ask her to contact her friend in London? He comes highly recommended."
John turned back to his father and could feel panic rising within him. "But what if it's more, Dad … what if he says I really am crazy?"
"Then we'll deal with it." Jeff replied sincerely, "John, there was a time when I felt just the same about seeing a shrink but it really helped me and - "
"I saw Mom."
John may as well have punched his father; his words hit him hard and Jeff took a step backwards, one hand moving up to his stomach.
"She was there on the station. I talked to her." John continued, looking away from the pain that crossed his father's face.
Jeff had lost all words. He stared at John in stunned silence. Suddenly very worried for his son and also strangely jealous that he had not felt her presence. Not for a long while. Not since he had finally found the courage to say goodbye.
"Hallucinations can't be a good thing." John offered quietly.
Jeff covered his mouth with his hand and fought against the tears that began to gather. Penny and Scott were right; there was so much more underneath John's calm exterior, so much more that he had never before been able to see.
"But … even though I was scared," John slowly looked back at his father and managed a thin smile. "It felt good to have her near. She was there because I needed her to be." His smile faded and he frowned in concern. "What if they give me medication? What if they take her away from me again?"
"Oh, son!" Jeff sobbed suddenly and hurried forward, gathering John in his arms to hug him against him tightly.
John resisted the embrace for a moment and began to gently push his father away but then suddenly he recalled wanting this so badly and he slipped his arms around his father to pull him closer.
It was late morning in London. John still found it strange that they had left the island at 3am and now arrived eight hours later after a 90-minute journey. He knew very well all the science behind it but it was still odd and he was deep in thought about the weirdness of crossing time zones when they finally arrived in the city.
"How are you feeling?"
John was pulled from his musing and turned from the window to see Penelope watching him in concern.
"You've got time to have a little rest first, if you like?"
John shook his head in reply and offered her a thin smile. When his father had talked to Penelope yesterday, she had contacted her friend immediately and arranged today's appointment. She had apparently already spoken to the doctor about John and ensured that he could be seen at short notice. John was flattered by everyone's concern but wondered if it was actually more for their benefit that he had agreed to come along today.
"When did you last get any sleep?" Penelope asked in concern.
John shrugged his shoulders slightly, "I don't remember." Not that sleep was the answer anyhow; sleep brought nightmares and didn't solve anything as his worries were still there when he woke up. He turned to look out of the car window and frowned as he saw that they had turned into a residential area, not the city offices he had been expecting. Perhaps they were going to this guy's home and not the clinic in Harley Street that Penelope had mentioned.
The car pulled to a halt and John peered out at the row of three-story terraced houses. He waited patiently for Parker to climb out and open the door for him and then frowned as the chauffeur remained seated in front of him.
"This was Scott's idea." Penelope began carefully.
John turned to her, his frown deepening. "What was?"
"He called me just after your father did. He thought this might help."
"What?" John urged cautiously.
Penelope nodded towards the houses beside him and smiled thinly. "This is where Alex lives."
John froze. He stared at Penelope in horror, his head spinning. This was unbelievably cruel. She didn't want him. She had told him to stay away.
"I talked to her on Sunday." Penelope continued softly, "It was I who convinced her to change her statement."
John finally took a breath and suddenly understood. He knew now why Scott had been so eager to relieve him and why being a few thousand miles away, safe from John's wrath, must have seemed a good idea.
"I'm sure she didn't mean those things she said." Penelope offered, "I think she was just scared."
John nodded slowly and swallowed hard, his dry tongue catching against the roof of his mouth. "But you don't know that for sure."
Penelope shook her head. "Neither will you unless you go up there."
She had a point. John turned and looked out at the houses. Perhaps it would be better to go and see her now. One last time before he was committed and all crazy thought electrocuted from his brain.
"She's home. I checked."
"Couldn't you have also found out what sort of reception I will get?" John smiled suddenly.
"A good one." Penelope returned his smile. "Trust me."
John sighed and shrugged his shoulders slightly, "If you say so." He watched Parker assume that this was an affirmative and climbed from the car to open the door for John.
"Here." Parker gave John his mobile phone and smiled thinly. "Call when you need picking up."
John frowned and leaned down to peer into the car. "What about my appointment?"
"I haven't made a definite time. Stephen can fit you in whenever."
"Does Dad know about this?"
"I didn't think he needed to, no." Penelope smiled warmly, "He thinks I'm taking you to someone that can help you. And I have."
"Hmm." John sighed and turned back towards the houses.
"Number 16." Parker offered helpfully and pointed towards the top storey of the house in front of them. "With the blue door."
John frowned in intrigue.
"We brought her home from the hospital the other night." Parker explained and tried to hide his smile as he climbed back into the car. "See you later."
"Or in a few minutes." John laughed.
"Oh, I doubt that sir." Parker grinned.
John peered inside the car and watched Penelope nodding in encouragement and reassurance. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to head up the narrow concrete staircase towards the blue front door.
He heard FAB 1 pull away and his heart sank. Suddenly he was terrified. He tried not to look behind him, somehow thinking that if he didn't actually watch the pink limousine leave then he could contain the panic that threatened to bubble over.
There was no choice now. His hand was trembling as he reached up and rang the doorbell.
The few moments before the sound of footsteps heralded a reply seemed like an age. John took a deep breath and tried to force his racing heart to calm.
It wasn't Alex. Oh god, he had the wrong house! He would have to call Parker back. This was a bad idea anyway. John could feel bile building in his throat. He forced a smile to his face and was about to apologise to the middle-aged woman that was regarding him in slight concern. It was then that he noticed something familiar about her face and he suddenly knew who she was.
"Is Alex home?" His voice was dry and not his own somehow but at least he had been able to speak.
The woman frowned ever so slightly and seemed unsure how to respond.
"My name is John. I'm a friend." John explained, "From work." He added quickly.
"Oh. Okay." The woman smiled slightly, "Wait here just one moment."
John watched her retreat back along the narrow hallway and she disappeared through a door at the far end. He waited politely on the doorstep and tried to make out the hushed voices from somewhere within the house.
What was she going to say? John sighed and gripped the phone in his hand, knowing he could just turn and run. Parker was probably waiting just around the corner. He hoped.
"Okay." The woman wandered back into the hallway and smiled in greeting. "Come on in."
John stepped into the warm house and moved aside so the woman could ease past him and close the front door. He looked down and saw the shoes neatly lined up beside him. Should he be polite and take his off? Was that presuming that he was staying long?
"Alex isn't feeling very well."
John turned to look down at the small woman's kind face and nodded in understanding.
"I suppose you must know what happened the other day?"
"Yeah." He had watched it all happen and could not rid it from his mind.
The woman nodded and sighed in dismay. "I was so very worried." She was lost in thought for a moment and then smiled up at John. "I'm Jacqueline, by the way. Alex's mother."
John smiled warmly and shook the hand she offered him. "I thought so. You are very similar."
"In appearance, perhaps." Jacqueline agreed with a chuckle and then seemed to decide that they had lingered in the corridor for long enough. She shrugged and led John along the hallway.
The lounge was somewhat sparse and John approved of the simplicity at first but then felt suddenly sad that Alex had apparently not made this place homely. He then remembered that Alex had not been in the city for long and began to wonder what her plans for settling might be.
"I'm sure she won't be long." Jacqueline shrugged slightly, "Can I get you a drink?"
"No. But thank you." John replied. His mouth was dry but he really wasn't sure if he was welcome yet and didn't want to get too comfortable.
Jacqueline nodded and gave another smile of greeting before then wandering back out of the lounge.
He stood in the centre of the lounge and waited. After a moment he then suddenly knew that she was there. His heart began to pound in his ears and he turned slowly.
She was looking down, still pulling on the jumper she had evidently grabbed in order to make herself a little more presentable and she looked up as she slowly neared the lounge door.
Her mother had not told her it was him. John watched the shock flash across her face as she looked up at him. Amid the pattern of small cuts on her face that made his heart sink he could then see the hurt that settled there.
This was a mistake. John clenched his teeth and waited for her inevitable request for him to leave.
"Hello." Alex offered quietly, politely.
John managed a smile and took a deep breath. "I was in the area." He began carefully, for want of something more original. It had, after all, taken him a rocket flight and then a journey across the ocean in a secret flying car to get into the area. "I wanted to make sure you were all right."
Alex folded her arms and leaned against the lounge doorframe. "I'm fine."
John nodded slowly. "Good." He watched her regarding him in uncertainty and he frowned as he took in the extent of the damage to her gentle face. He should have warned her. He should have called her and told her not to join the convoy.
"Why have you come here?"
Her voice was even, her expression now suddenly unreadable. John sighed and shook his head. "I don't know."
"Did you think that I might change my mind?"
John shook his head and groaned slightly, remembering all too clearly how she had told him to leave her alone. It might not have been her exact words but the message had been clear. Why had he let Penny persuade him otherwise?
"Thank you for your concern." Alex stood up straight and shrugged her shoulders. "But I'm fine."
John could suddenly feel tears building. He was tired and confused. There was no way he could cope with any of this right now. He should go. It was what she wanted. It didn't matter what he wanted. She didn't care.
"I'm sorry." John offered quietly, "I don't know what I was thinking." He stepped forward and eased past her, heading back along the hallway.
Call me back. Please, Alex, don't let me walk away. John grasped the handle of the front door and his heart was racing. Was she seriously going to let him leave? Did she really feel nothing of the need that was tearing through him right now?
John paused for a moment, his fingers lingering on the handle. He paused long enough for it to be suddenly too late. Before he knew what he was doing, he took a deep breath and felt adrenaline surge through him.
"I don't know what you think it is that I want from you." John turned and watched her regarding him in uncertainty. "But it was never anything more sinister than friendship." Tears stung in his eyes but somehow his voice was remaining even and calm. "I thought that we had something … a connection. I really felt that you understood me."
Alex made no reply. She watched him in emotionless interest.
John sighed and shook his head in dismay. Turning back towards the door, he opened it and swallowed back the lump in his throat.
"Oh god, I can't do this!" Alex suddenly exclaimed.
John spun back and watched in concern as her legs gave out from underneath her and she sank down the doorframe to the floor. He closed the front door and hurried back along the hallway, frowning worriedly as he knelt down beside her.
"I can't deal with it all!" Alex continued pitifully, sobs making her weary body shudder violently. "I just can't!"
John reached out cautiously, placing his hand on her shoulder. He felt her lean into his touch and he edged closer, sliding his legs out from underneath him and moving against her.
"Please hold me." Alex whimpered between the sobs that were calming now.
John slipped his arm behind her and pulled her against him. He closed his eyes as she fell against him gratefully and groaned into his chest.
Movement behind John made him look behind them and he saw Jacqueline peering at them from the end of the hallway concern. He smiled in reassurance and shook his head. She nodded in understanding and retreated back into the kitchen.
"It was all too much." Alex began softly, her voice dry and weary. "The move up here, the stabbing and meeting you. I just couldn't deal with it all. I couldn't change what had happened to me but it was easy to push you away."
John smiled thinly and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "I can understand that."
"It was too much emotion all at once." Alex sighed, "You've no idea how much I wanted you in my life … how much I needed our friendship … but it also scared me." She slipped an arm around his waist and hugged him tightly. "It never crossed my mind that you might need me. I was so selfish."
John shook his head slightly, "No … it's hard to see anything past the confusion in your mind … I know that."
Alex sniffed back her tears and sighed again. "You never really talked about what happened to you … maybe if I had known then …"
John laughed softly, "And that would have piled even more worries into your head!" He squeezed her softly and shook his head again. "Then you would have been nice to me out of pity. I didn't want that."
"We are such similar creatures, you and I." Alex observed.
"We both have dangerous jobs that have very nearly killed us and we're both too stubborn to give in to what we know we need."
John smiled fondly, "You sound like a friend of mine."
"Penny." Alex agreed, "She talks a lot of sense."
John closed his eyes and felt the tears that gathered there. He would have to thank Penny for this moment, despite this also meaning that he had to concede that she did indeed know best.
"She said we're silly." Alex continued.
Alex sat back up and carefully dabbed the back of her hand against her eyes. She looked up at John and smiled thinly. "She said that once we found each other, we should have clung to what we had. She said a connection like ours is a rare thing."
John nodded slowly. "And she's right."
"But how can this work?" Alex frowned suddenly, "You live on practically the other side of the world! And anything horrible might happen to either of us."
John took a deep breath and cleared his tight throat. "I think we should leave the ifs the buts and the maybes for someone else to worry about. We've got enough on our minds."
John nuzzled his face into her hair and pressed a gentle kiss onto her head. Slowly the noise in his mind faded and all thoughts of anything other than her closeness ebbed away.
It was no surprise that Penny was so right. She spent so much time with them that she knew them by heart. She was family. She knew when his father needed company, she knew when TinTin needed an older sister's advice, she knew when his brothers needed mothering and she knew when he was worrying too much about a problem to see the solution.
"I can't believe I almost let you go." Alex whispered softly.
"I know." John sighed, "But that doesn't matter any more. None of it does."
"What do you mean?"
John leaned back and looked into her weary face. Suddenly he could think of nothing better than to lie down beside her, curl up in her embrace and fall asleep. "We need each other." He began carefully, "Whether close by or at the end of a comm. link, we need each other to get through all that has happened to us."
Alex let his words linger for a moment and then slowly smiled, a gentle nod of agreement conveying that she understood him. A frown then began to form over her eyes and she swallowed hard. "What do we do now? Where do we go from here?"
"I don't know." John replied quietly, honestly. "All I know is that I've tasted what it's like to have you in my life and I don't ever want to let that go."