A Hard Place – Epilogue.
by Angel Mouse
Four Months Later.
John watched as Thunderbird Three pulled away from the station and headed back towards Earth. He stood there watching it until he could see it no longer and heaving a soft sigh; he headed towards his quarters to finish his unpacking. He paused as he passed through the passageway that led to his and Alan's quarters, smiling at the new painting that now graced the previously featureless walls.
It was one of Virgil's finest John privately thought and it was beautiful. It showed John perched at his telescope on the veranda outside his room, staring at the stars on a beautiful clear night. John was touched by the efforts that Virgil had gone to with this painting. He'd stayed up for almost a month while John completed some observations for his new book.
He would sit in the corner quietly with his easel and paints and paint away while John took images and made copious notes on his observations. They sometimes would talk softly, and occasionally Scott or their Father joined them, but most of the time it was just the two of them and John enjoyed it.
He continued into his room and opening the duffel on the bed he began unpacking it. First his clothes and then right at the bottom was a small parcel. It was wrapped in a bright blue ribbon and gold paper. John held it up; inspecting it to see if that would give any clues to its contents. He could see none and he took out the card, opening it. It only had a few words on it and it was written in Scott's distinctive handwriting. John couldn't help but laugh at what it said.
I know you'll get lonely, so here's a hug in a box. Use it wisely! ;)
John just laughed and sat it on his bedside table. Trust Scott to think of something to cheer him when he's feeling a little lonely or down. John put away his duffel and went out into the kitchen. Alan and Scott had been busy in here packing away fresh food and supplies, while John had helped Virgil hang the painting. So he had no idea exactly what Grandma had sent up – she wouldn't let him see when she was baking away.
He opened the small compact fridge and gave a soft whistle. There was a whole apple pie! All to himself! That was unheard of in the Tracy clan. He smiled at her thoughtfulness. She was always complaining that she didn't get to see him enough and he was always too pale and too skinny. So she took every excuse she could to try and 'fatten him up' as she liked to put it. Deciding that he couldn't wait until lunch – a good two hours away and a light snack would go down well right now John reached in and grabbed the pie and a carton of fresh cream and sat them on the small bench where he prepared his meals.
Most of the time he usually ate pre-prepared frozen meals that he just re-heated. But the first few days of each tour he usually ate fresh food and cooked for himself. Space was at a premium on Thunderbird Five, so they didn't bring a lot of fresh stuff up with them. Cutting himself a reasonable piece of pie, he poured some cream over the top of it, and returned the pie and cream to the fridge. Taking the pie out into the control room, he sat down at his post, looking around, getting used to the feeling of solitude and quiet.
He smiled softly to himself as he picked up the spoon as he recalled some of the rather intense conversations he'd had with Scott over the last few months. His big brother hadn't wanted him coming back here so soon after his ordeal, but John had been insistent. He took a bite of pie and his mind flashed to a conversation he had with Scott late one night that first week he was back home. His nightmares had kept coming and Scott came to his side every night to calm him down and stayed with him until the morning. After the fifth time it had happened and John had calmed down, they had spoken frankly about what was going to happen.
Almost four months previously.
Scott held John close, letting the sobs and tremors die down before speaking. The last week had been like this every night. John would wake up screaming from the nightmares that just didn't want to seem to leave him alone. Scott was frankly worried out of his mind for his brother. He'd spoken with his Father after that first night and Jeff was worried as well.
John was normally the more resilient of the five boys and for him to be having nightmares like this was frightening. Scott kept rubbing John's back, soothing away his fear and after a long time John's body stilled, his breathing slowly down and loosing the hitch in it. John's head rested against Scott's chest, like it did every night, and Scott had thought John had gone back to sleep when he spoke softly.
"Scott, I don't think I can keep doing this." Scott frowned slightly, worry eating at him immediately but he tried to keep his tone soft and warm.
"Keep doing what John?" John didn't shift from his position against Scott's chest.
"The nightmares followed by the waking up screaming. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to the others." Scott's frown turned into a soft smile. Trust John to be more worried about how this was affecting Scott than himself.
"John, this isn't about what's fair to us. It's what's going on with you. We're more worried about helping you through this ordeal." Scott smiled and it was reflected in his tone. "You don't worry about us Johnny, we're hardy folk here. And it's not like your keeping me up till all hours drinking and talking now is it?" That got a soft snort of laughter from John but he still didn't move from his position.
"Wish I was." John's soft words took Scott back to a time not long after John had turned 21 and had come and visited him while on a break from his studies at Scott's air base. He and his squadron mates had taken the shy Tracy brother out on the town and they had a terrific night. It had ended up with Scott and John, both more than slightly inebriated, having a long, meaningful conversation in the wee small hours of the morning.
"At least there are no hangovers with this." This got another soft laugh from John and he sighed. John pushed himself off Scott's chest and looked his brother in the eye, his demeanour serious now.
"Look Scott, you need a good nights sleep. I'll go back to Thunderbird Five tomorrow and give the kid a break. You get a good night sleep and it works out well for everyone." Scott was shocked to the core at John's words. John still hadn't told Scott everything that had happened to him while he was kidnapped and Scott wasn't prepared to let his brother leave the island until he was okay. Scott stared into John's eyes and could see the fear that was in them, but also determination. Scott shook his head and pushed the sweat soaked hair off John's forehead.
"John, I'm not letting you do that." John just raised an eyebrow but Scott held up a hand. "Let me finish." John nodded, and Scott took a moment to marshal his thoughts. "John, you've been through a tremendous ordeal." John opened his mouth to protest but closed it again at Scott's raised eyebrow at him. "It is not something that you have to deal with on your own. We won't let you." John blinked and Scott plunged on, knowing he had to get this out in the open between them or John would never heal properly. He ticked each point off on his fingers.
"You participated in a particularly hairy rescue, almost getting yourself impaled. You then witnessed the cold-blooded murder of six men. You were drugged, kidnapped, dragged off to some South American Island. You were held captive, told that you were going to be used as bait in some sadistic hunt and end up dead. You were beaten by aforementioned sadistic guy because you got a radio message to us. And then shot during that said hunt. So don't tell me your fine and you're fit for duty John, that's utter bullshit and we both know it." Scott stared John hard in the eyes. "Now, are you going to tell me exactly what happened to you or do we having to keep playing this guessing game?" John just stared at him in shock.
Scott had gotten to the core of everything that had happened to him and it was shocking to hear it put so bluntly. But as John thought about it, he realised Scott was right. He had been through a lot, and each night he kept replaying it over and over again in his mind. It wasn't helping with his healing at all. Sure, physically he was healing reasonable well, but not mentally. His father had cornered him yesterday and had asked bluntly what had happened and John had found himself unable to speak and he had left the room without saying a thing.
He apologised to his Father later on naturally, but he still couldn't bring himself to talk about it to his Father. He found himself looking into Scott's eyes and Scott smiled gently at him as he brushed an errant lock of hair out of John's eyes. "John, you need to talk to me about it. Talk around it at first, talk behind, sideways, upside down about it. Anyway you want to. But please, just start to talk about it." It was the pleading tone in Scott's voice that got to John. He'd never been able to say no to Scott, especially when Scott used that tone. And on some level, he knew Scott was right. He needed to talk about it. It just wasn't going to be easy. John sighed and looked at his brother, a small wry smile on his face.
"You've got to stop using that on me." Scott looked at him, all innocent like.
"Use what?" John just laughed, scooting up the bed and leaning against the head board, moments later Scott leaning against it with him, next to him if he needed it.
"That tone of yours. The one you know I can't resist" Scott flashed him and grin and John sighed. It was time, high time, for him to get on with the business of living in the present. And to do that, he needed to confront the past. Leaning instinctively against Scott, John began speaking. Slowly, softly, falteringly at first, he began talking.
The next morning Jeff had found the two boys like he had every morning for the past week. He hated waking them up, as he knew that this past week had been a trail for them both but he was under orders from his mother to bring them out for breakfast. He walked in and gently shook Scott on the shoulder.
"Scott, come on son, wake up." Scott groaned slightly and opened his eyes, being careful not to move.
"Morning Dad, what time is it?" Jeff smiled at his eldest son.
"Breakfast time. Grandma sent me." Scott gentle disentangled himself from John's still form and got off the bed. He got a blanket and pulled it over John's form. Jeff looked at John and then at Scott, a question on his face. Scott shook his head and gestured for Jeff to leave the room. They left the room, leaving John sleeping and Jeff looked at Scott.
"Alright, why aren't we waking John?" Scott began to walk to his room, running a hand through his hair.
"We had a bit of a very long talk last night. Things have finally taken a turn for the better I think. He finally managed to tell me most of what happened to him while he was gone." Scott opened his bedroom door and walked into it. He went over to his wardrobe and draws, taking out clean clothes. "I think that he'll be okay now Dad." He picked up the clothes he'd taken out and smiled at his father. "I'm going to grab a quick shower, tell Grandma I'll be down soon."
Jeff nodded and left, pleased that Scott had finally gotten through to John. Scott headed into the shower, whistling softly. John was going to be alright and that's all that mattered. What was a little lost sleep compared to his brother's mental wellbeing?
Four months later
John smiled in memory as he finished up his apple pie. He took his plate out into the kitchen and rinsed it out, putting it away. He got himself a drink of coffee, making it the way he liked and not the way his Grandmother thought he should drink it. She tended to frown on her boys as she put it, drinking coffee.
But that still didn't stop John drinking his strong, hot, and black with two sugars. He grinned as he stirred the sugar in and then moved back out into the main room. With his sweet tooth, it was just as well he had a quick metabolism. Hence his slim form. He went over and sat down in his chair, watching the monitors but everything was quiet and for that he was relieved. He sipped his coffee as his mind went back over the last four months of healing.
The physical healing had only taken a few weeks and the physical therapy had taken a few more weeks, but it had all been worth it when he'd been able to use his arm properly again. He remembered with a chuckle and a grin the game of doubles volleyball the four brothers had played once the doctor had cleared both he and Scott to use their arms again.
Three months previously
The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Three very determined brothers were dragging their fourth brother with them outside. The fourth brother was protesting but not very strongly, there was a lot of laughing and half hearted giggling as well as shoving. The four brothers jostled, pushed, shoved and laughed their way to the volleyball court. Virgil and Gordon took one side while Scott and John took the other. John had been dragged out to play with his brothers, having been given the all clear finally. Scott tossed the ball to John and grinned.
"All right star boy, you serve." John grabbed the ball out of the air and grinned at Scott.
"Star boy huh? Alright Flight boy, your wish is my command." It heartened all the brothers to hear the joy and humour in John's tone after such a long time. It had taken a few weeks after that first tumultuous week home for John to finally relax and be himself again. It felt right for the brothers finally. Alan had told John in no uncertain terms that he was going to stay on Thunderbird Five for a few extra weeks to give John a break.
John had protested, saying he was fine and ready to go back to duty but none of his brother's would hear of it. Scott had agreed to go up to Thunderbird Five next week for a few days to give Alan a break, but John was to stay on the ground for a few months. Brother's orders. John had given in gracefully, eventually, knowing when he was out matched and out numbered. Even their Father had agreed in the end, John was to stay on the ground for a few extra months.
Jeff had suddenly realised that John had never ever spent more than a fortnight to three weeks on the ground since they began operations, so he had readily gone along with the plan – suggested by Alan of all people – that John have an extended break on the ground. And that's what led to this impromptu game of volleyball.
John tossed the ball up into the air a few times before slamming it hard to Virgil. Virgil slammed it back and thus began an intense hour long game of volleyball. In the end it had ended up being a draw. The four brothers had all became hot and sweaty during the game and now headed towards the pool. They were still laughing and carrying on like teenagers, not the grown men that they were.
A few minutes later found all four of them in the pool, horsing around, having fun like they used to when they were kids. A very active game of water polo then ensued between the four brothers, this time Gordon and John versus Scott and Virgil. After another hour or so they gave up when their Grandmother came out of the kitchen and stood at the railing over looking the pool.
"Alright you scallywags, get yourselves inside, dry and ready for lunch." The four brothers all looked at each other and then chorused as one.
"Yes Grandma." The four of them made their way out of the pool and headed inside ready for lunch.
Three months later
John finished his coffee and put the mug back in the kitchen. It was getting late and it was time for him to go up to the observatory and finish the last of his observations for his latest book. His brothers for the last four months had all spent time with him, alone or together like the volleyball match or other things. John had found it touching and had made them closer as a family than he had felt for a long time.
He hadn't realised how isolated he was in Thunderbird Five from his brothers until he had been forcibly taken from his brothers. Family was everything to John and his time with his brothers had been the happiest in a very long time. He climbed up into the observatory and settled himself in, taking out his notebook and beginning to make notes. He was thinking of dedicating his book to his brothers this time, as a way to say thanks to them. He settled himself and began working, but his mind went back to some conversations he'd had with his brothers over the last three months.
Three months previously
Five weeks had passed since John had been returned home and he had put his experiences behind him. With Scott's help the nightmares had finally stopped and his statement had been given to the police and the trial of those caught on the island had proceeded speedily.
International Rescue's security and privacy had been assured and that had been a relief for all of them. Virgil had been painting him non stop now for almost a week and it was time for him to go view the stars and Virgil to join him. John was in the kitchen, making them both a coffee, while Virgil got his easel and paints set up. John placed a few snacks on the tray and walked through the lounge towards his bedroom. His father looked up and smiled.
"Off for another night staring at the stars?"
"Good. Have fun. Just don't keep your brother up too late." John laughed and moved along the passageway to his room. He pushed open the door with his back and walked in. Virgil was in the corner all ready and John placed the tray on the small table between them.
"Here we go. Enough coffee and sugar to keep us both going all night." Virgil watched him for a few minutes and John looked up, catching his eye.
"What is it Virgil?" Virgil looked at him and then nodded to himself as if deciding something. Virgil gestured to the telescope.
"Every night you were gone, Scott would come into here and stand there, staring at the stars and wishing you were back home." John nodded and sighed, resting his arms on the telescope as he looked at his younger brother.
"I figured he'd do something like that." John smiled gently as his eyes looked into Virgil's dark brown. "I expect you all did something like that. You would have played the piano like no one's business. Gordon would have swam so many laps in the pool he would have set a new Olympic record. Alan would have been fusing around on my Bird and Scott would be worrying himself into a state. Father would have tried to throw himself into examining the reports of all our agents. And Grandma," here the two brothers shared a grin, "Grandma would have cooked, cleaned and reorganised her heart out. That sound about right?" Virgil blushed; his brother knew them all so well.
"Got it in one." John laughed softly and smiled at Virgil.
"Don't worry Virgil. I was worried myself and wishing I was back home as well." John's tone was strong and didn't have that underlying stress from when he had first come home and that had worried them all so much. "There's no place like it and this little adventure of mine has certainly reinforced that for me. But there is one thing that it has taught me," and here John's tone turned slightly hard. "And that is that I'm never taking any for granted ever again." John sighed and moved away from his telescope and grabbed one of the mugs of coffee.
He walked over to the railing and leaned against it, watching how the moon was reflecting off the still ocean. Moments later Virgil came and stood next to him, a mug of coffee in his hand as well. The two brothers stood there, watching the small waves breaking against the beach below them. The silence between them wasn't oppressive, it was nice and comfortable and John found himself enjoying it. Ever since he had gotten home his brothers, his father, his grandmother, and his friends had surrounded him. He'd barely had time to himself.
For some reason, they didn't want to leave him alone. John gave a tiny smile; it was his own fault really. He'd confided to Scott that what he hadn't enjoyed about his confinement was that he was always alone and he didn't like that feeling. Even though he was alone on Thunderbird Five, his family was always a call away.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Because Virgil's tone was light and slightly curious, John didn't even hesitate to answer them.
"Just thinking that it's nice to have some peace and quiet, and spend time with my brothers." John's smile widened. "I like the peace and quiet, but I also like the fact that when I'm alone on Thunderbird Five, I know I can always make a call and talk to someone."
"We're always happy to help." John laughed softly, glancing at his brother and meeting his brown eyes with his own blue ones.
"I know. And I treasure that like you will never know." John looked back out over the ocean and spoke softly. "I like my solitude, you know that, but I like knowing that my brothers are here for me when I need them." Virgil just smiled, looking out over the ocean, knowing that John was opening up to him slightly, something he rarely did. John was everyone's sounding board, but used Scott for his own. Virgil was enormously honoured that John was talking to him like this.
"Even if we are pulling horrendous pranks on you like Gordon does all the time." John laughed along with Virgil.
"Even when Gordon's pulling pranks with Alan." The two brothers shared a grin at the shared experience of being at the receiving end of one of their brothers infamous pranks. John sighed softly and looked back out at the ocean.
"I miss this Virgil, even more than I tell Scott. I know what we do is important, extremely so, but sometimes I wonder why does it have to be us? Why can't someone else take up our burden? But then I realised I wouldn't trust anyone else to do what we do. And that makes it all worth while. But it doesn't stop me worrying about my little brothers, and my big brother. But I know that my job is important, just as every single one of yours. But as I said, I miss being home." Virgil nodded, knowing that even though John was used to being on Thunderbird Five, sometimes it would get to be hard. So, there was nothing for him to say really, except stand there and be there for his brother.
Two months previously
Gordon finished adjusting the straps on John's tank and then turned so John could check his straps.
"Good to go Gordon." Gordon smiled at his brother and grabbed his flippers and began to walk to the edge of the lagoon.
"Great. I've been looking forward to this. It's a pity that the other's begged out." John smiled as he stood next to Gordon, putting his flippers on his feet. He blushed slightly. "Ah that would be my doing. I wanted to spend some time with you, by myself, and asked the guys to let us go alone." Gordon paused and looked at John, a surprised smile on his face. John laughed at how eager Gordon's eyes looked.
"You did? Seriously?" John nodded.
"Yeah, I did. Even though each one of you guys has been spending time with me, making me feel used to being home again, I just haven't had a chance to spend some time with you alone. We've always been playing games with the other guys, or hanging out or on the odd rescue." John shrugged. "I just wanted to spend some time with my favourite little brother." John winked at Gordon. "Just don't tell Virgil and Alan that okay?" Gordon laughed and returned John's wink. He knew that John loved them all equally, but these two had always shared a special bond.
"Okay, but it'll cost you." John grinned.
"Wouldn't expect anything else Gordon." Laughing the two brothers headed into the water to have some fun.
About two hours later they were sitting on the edge of the reef, out by the edge of the lagoon. They had been exploring and swimming, just enjoying the freedom of underwater. But they had surfaced to get some sun and enjoy the day. Gordon looked at John, watching him as he leaned back and raised his face to the sun. Gordon smiled gently, pleased to see his brother so relaxed. Suddenly he realised John was staring him in the eyes.
"What Gordon?" Gordon blushed slightly, making his freckles stand out more.
"Just thinking that it's nice to see you so relaxed." John smiled.
"It's nice to be able to relax Gordon. Things were looking bad for a little while but then, being home and Father insisting that I spend quite a bit of time on the ground to get myself back into the swing of things. The odd rescue that I've been allowed to go on," and here the two brothers shared rueful glances, "and then just spending time with you all. It's been great to just have some time to be with you guys." Gordon smiled and winked at John.
"And we've enjoyed having you home with us for such a long time. It's been great. I miss you too much when you're stuck up on Thunderbird Five."
"Hence our long, late night chats."
"Exactly and when you go back up there, we will keep talking, won't we?" Gordon's voice sounded a little unsure and John instinctively reassured his younger brother. He threw his arm around Gordon's shoulder and gave his brother a hug around the scuba gear.
"Always Gordon, we'll always talk. And I'll always be here for you." Gordon smiled, knowing that John always would be. Gordon grinned at John.
"Come on then, let's head back for lunch." John let his arm drop and grabbed his face mask.
"Race you back." Gordon laughed and pulled his face mask on and chased after John in the water, mucking around and having fun with him in the water, just enjoying being able to spend time with his big brother.
Later that night
John grabbed his mug of cocoa and headed into the lounge. He settled himself down at his Father's desk and hit the button to call Alan. He'd been unable to have a chance to have a quiet chat with his baby brother ever since he'd come home. Even when Scott had taken Alan's place in Thunderbird Five for a few days every month to give his baby brother a break John hadn't had a chance to spend some time alone with Alan.
They'd spent most of there time playing or mucking around or on rescues. But his little chat with Gordon today made him realise he'd have to thank his baby brother for spending so much time up on Thunderbird Five to let him have an extended holiday. Alan's portrait suddenly changed to show his baby brother rubbing sleepily at his eyes.
"John? What's going on? What's wrong?" John smiled.
"Nothing important Alan. I just wanted to have a chat for a little bit. We didn't get a chance to catch up when Scott relieved you for a few days ago." John sipped his cocoa. "And I wanted to talk to you."
"About what John?" Alan's voice was curious and his eyes were as well. His blonde hair was dishevelled, he'd been asleep.
"I just wanted to say thank you." Alan looked at him curiously.
"For what John?" John smiled and gestured at Alan's location.
"For staying up in Thunderbird Five for so long so I can have a break Alan. I wanted to come back last month but Scott and Father won't let me. They want me to have an extended break." Alan grinned suddenly, knowing what John meant. He shook his head and waggled his finger at his big brother.
"Actually, this was mostly my idea. I told Father I'd be happy to stay up here for an extended length of time. You are always doing it for me, so it's about time I returned the favour." John shook his head.
"Yeah but I don't want you to spend so much time up there without a break." Alan smiled.
"I'm getting the odd break John. But it's nothing that you haven't done for me in the past John. Don't think I don't know that I've pushed you sometimes to extend your tours or finish your breaks early so I could get out of my duty. But this whole mess has made me realise that I've taken advantage of you a few too many times." John frowned slightly.
"Alan, I've never minded doing you a favour, you know that."
"Yes, but I've taken advantage of you heaps John and you know that, don't deny it." John opened his mouth to protest but Alan held up his hand and continued. "And don't tell me that you're only doing it because you want Tin-Tin and I to spend time together, most of the time we do but occasionally I do take advantage." John sighed, knowing Alan was right but he really hadn't expected his brother to come out and say it.
"Well Alan, yeah, sometimes I do feel a bit abused." John smiled ruefully. "But this wasn't what I wanted to talk about with you. I wanted to chat like two brothers and enjoy some time with you." Alan laughed and grinned at him.
"Yeah I know John. But I wanted to tell you that I love you and I'm sorry for taking advantage of you all this time. And this was the only way I knew how to." John was touched to the core that his brother was going to these lengths for him. Selfishly he was glad he was able to spend some time on the ground, longer than two or three weeks he normally did. He knew that he shouldn't feel that way, but he did. John took a deep breath and smiled at Alan.
"Thank you Alan. That means more than you can know. It's nice to have a bit of a break and spend some time with the guys and everyone." Alan grinned.
"Hey, anything for you John, you know that." John smiled.
"Right back at you baby brother."
John finished his notations and closed up his notebook. He climbed down from the telescope and headed back into the main room. It was lunch time and he was feeling hungry. He put his notebook down and went into the kitchenette, opening the fridge when suddenly the alarm went off. He closed the door and turned, racing out into the main room.
"Calling International Rescue, please, come in." John smiled as he opened the channel. Time to get back to work and back to his life, and it was a good feeling.