Thank you so much for the reviews. They are great, and so much fun. After I post, I find myself clicking the refresh button every 20 seconds, and revelling in the thrill of a review in my inbox.
I know my opinion on Tracy birth order is not everyone's. I hope it won't be too jarring for people who don't feel the same, and the reference is so small it could probably be ignored.
This is the final chapter, where we get some comfort to go with all the hurt we have had before (else it wouldn't be called hurt/comfort, would it?). Not so much action now as brotherly bonding...
Two days later it was Alan who mentioned the way Gordon was behaving. Scott was so busy worrying about one brother, he hadn't realised that something wasn't right.
"You know," Alan said as he made breakfast, "Gordon's been avoiding Virgil."
Scott responded with an automatic, "No."
"He is. You watch. He hasn't gone to the infirmary since Thursday night, and he didn't say anything then either."
"I hadn't noticed."
"He's doing it quietly," Alan said as he buttered a fourth slice of toast. "He thinks we haven't noticed."
"Has Virgil realised?"
"He's asleep a lot of the times I visit, so I guess he might just think he's missing him."
Scott sighed. "He'll figure it out."
"I know. I just wanted to let you know before he does."
"Did you speak to Gordon?"
Alan put down the toast. "I tried to, but he made some excuse about being tired. I'm no good at this kind of mediation."
"In normal circumstances, I would have asked Virgil to speak to him."
"Being youngest is crappy sometimes, but being in the middle has got to have its negatives too."
"Like being the one who understands all of us. I'll speak to Gordon."
"Good luck, big brother." Alan finished his toast.
Gordon was, of all things, tidying his room. That in itself would have made Scott suspicious, but the dark rings under his eyes were even more worrying.
"Gordon," Scott said.
The red-head looked up, almost guiltily, from the paperwork he was sorting.
"Are you alright? You're tidying your room."
Gordon shrugged. "It needed to be done."
"I don't doubt it." Gordon's room was notorious as a cesspit of mess.
"What are you looking through?"
Gordon shrugged again, but didn't answer.
"Alan said you're avoiding Virgil."
"Cut to the quick, eh?" Gordon said. Instead of shutting down, though, he almost smiled. "When you send Virgil to have this conversation he says something prickly and I think, how can he know that? But I like your way too."
"So?" Scott prompted.
Gordon picked up a sheet of paper and studied it as he talked. "I know I'm avoiding him, and I don't know why. Or rather I do know and I can't decide which reason it is. I'm angry at him, I think that's the biggest thing. He didn't tell me, or he didn't trust me, and he was hurt and we could have died."
Scott started to speak, but Gordon interrupted.
"I could have helped, and he didn't say. So I'm angry, but I've no reason because everything worked out. And I'm scared and I keep running it in my mind, and I can't sleep and if I do I dream about being in that cockpit." He put the paper down with too much restraint. "I don't know what I'd say to him, Scott."
Scott didn't know how to answer.
With finality, Gordon said, "I'll think about it."
Scott tried Virgil next.
He was still too pale, but Brains had removed the chest drain that morning and there was only one IV line. Definitely improving.
Scott was just trying to think of something to say, when Virgil said, "How is Gordon?"
Scott answered truthfully as he pulled up the easy chair. "He's been better."
"But is he okay? I haven't seen him since... you know."
"He came in before you woke up." Scott didn't say when 'we thought you might die.'
"But not since then," Virgil ran his good hand through his hair. "He's avoiding me. Why?"
"He doesn't know what to say."
Virgil nodded slowly. They he changed the subject. "When can I get up? I'm going crazy here. Brains keeps coming in and turning on the TV."
"I could bring you a book."
Virgil opened the bedside cabinet to a pile of novels. They had the slightly dog-eared appearance of Alan's books, cracks in the spines, and all. "That wasn't what I asked," Virgil said.
"I don't know. You should be resting. You'll have to ask Brains or Dad."
"They're just as slippery."
"Then perhaps they don't know yet." Scott said it so forcefully that Virgil turned to face him straight on. "You nearly died. So do as they say. No sneaking out."
Virgil smiled guiltily. "Yes, sir."
Virgil worried about Gordon all day and things were worse by evening. When there was someone with him he could push the thoughts away, but being on his own made him feel fretful. The pain from the chest drain site helped distract him, but even that wasn't enough.
He understood why Gordon wouldn't come. Especially as he had lied when he'd said he couldn't remember anything about the flight home. What he could recall was a muddle of pain and the strong feeling that he couldn't admit that there might be a problem.
His biggest concern was that Gordon was hurt. Perhaps he had been hurt in the same explosion and no one would tell him. Logically, he knew this was foolish. His father, Scott, John, Alan, Kyrano, Tin Tin and Grandma couldn't all be spinning a lie. But the thought stuck and he couldn't shake it free. He had even asked Alan straight out, and he was such a bad liar that he believed him.
But the worry for his brother was still there. Almost, Virgil thought to himself, because it was easier to believe that Gordon couldn't see him, than that he didn't want to. That was intolerable and it ate at him as well.
Brains had said goodnight and left the pills on the bedside cabinet. Virgil rooted through the small pile for the antibiotics and swallowed them dry.
He needed to see Gordon, and if he wouldn't come here, then he would go to him.
Gordon Tracy sat in his newly tidied bedroom with his knees drawn up. He thought about what Scott had said and what Alan had hinted at.
He had tried to tease the reasons for his reluctance and in the end they came to two things. He was angry and mixed up by the whole episode and hadn't got it straight in his mind yet. He worried that seeing Virgil might lead to a confrontation that wouldn't be good for either of them. The second reason was more pragmatic. Virgil was in the infirmary, and Gordon didn't like hospitals.
Nevertheless, he knew he needed to go and he had resolved to go tonight, while his brother would be sleeping. Just to start things off gently.
Virgil was starting to think this might not have been such a good idea. He had managed to make his way Brains' room, but he wasn't sure how much further he could walk.
He hurt like hell. His arm, his chest and the whole of his left side felt as though it were on fire, but that wasn't the worst of it. The pain was good because it meant he could be distracted from the fact that he couldn't breathe. He stumbled and landed on his knees.
He was torn between wishing Brains was away so he wouldn't be caught, but also hoping that someone would hear him and put him out of his misery. Who would have thought that climbing a little set of stairs would be as bad as this? He was starting to think about the thirty second walk to Gordon's room the same way he did complex rescue missions.
Getting out of bed and capping off the IV had been easy. Even walking through the infirmary was okay. The big mistake had been reaching out with his arm to open the door. It felt like something burst in his shoulder and he vomited the little he had eaten into the hand-washing sink at the door. Perhaps taking the painkillers would have been a good idea, but they would have made him drowsy and probably sent him straight to sleep.
The breathlessness started on the first stair and by the time he reached the top (after a pause in the middle) it was worse than the pain.
So this is what dying feels like, a small part of his brain said. If he could have, he would have knocked on Brain's door and gone back to the infirmary and let Gordon stew in his own juices.
Just when it seemed as if it could get no worse, it began to ease. His breath came back in hesitant gasps. Of course, once the breathing eased, the pain came back with a vengeance. He pulled himself up to his knees then to one foot. He paused there to collect himself and allow the nausea to settle.
And he had flown Thunderbird two in this state! Although it was probably worse then. At least now he didn't have the blackness around his vision.
One step at a time. It was easier now that he was on the level and he found he could almost manage without leaning on the wall. By the time he reached Gordon's room he was considering himself very fortunate.
The last thing he expected to find was Gordon's door open and his brother gone.
The last thing Gordon expected to find was Virgil's bed empty and his brother gone.
It was a bad moment. The hush of the infirmary, coupled with the smell of disinfectant made Gordon ready to panic. He didn't do hospitals and he was on edge enough without Virgil going missing.
He stood at the door and watched the computer flash as the IV fluids dripped onto the floor. The bag was almost empty. There were too many thoughts flying through his head to try and catch just one. Virgil had got sick, he'd run away, he'd died...
Deliberately, he slowed his breathing and tried to collect his wits. There was no reason to expect the worse. The bag wasn't empty, so Virgil couldn't have left long ago. There was also no way that Brains could have organised a medical evac. without waking someone. So that left sneaking out. Knowing Virgil, he would have crept to Scott's room if something was bothering him. Gordon knew the thing bothering Virgil would be him.
He turned off the drip and wiped the puddle of saline with hand towels. Satisfied that the room was returned to a normal state he slipped back up the stairs. He needed to speak to Virgil now, or he would never get over the scare of finding the infirmary empty.
He'd steeled himself and knocked Scott's door.
The face that answered was alone.
"Gordon," Scott said. He looked as alert as ever, but the hair and boxers gave away the fact that he had been asleep.
Gordon peered into the room past Scott's shoulder. It was dark, but as pristine as ever. Moonlight shone onto the chest of drawers with two photo frames. The bed covers were untidy, but that was the only thing. There was no sign of Virgil.
"Emm," Gordon mumbled.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Gordon lied. "I was..." he stumbled over the words, "going to see Virgil."
"He was asleep when I left the infirmary. Don't wake him up."
Scott smiled. "I'm glad you're going."
"Yeah." Gordon turned to leave.
"Why are you going that way?"
Scott thought that Gordon was going the infirmary, so he was facing the wrong direction. Years of thinking on his feet made him a practiced liar. "I left my slippers."
Scott glanced at the bare feet, seemed about to say something, then thought better of it.
"Goodnight Scott," Gordon said cheerfully.
Scott looked only slightly suspicious as Gordon walked down the corridor.
He decided to go back to his room anyway. The he would check at the piano and Thunderbird Two's hangar. Both would exert a pull on his elder brother and either would be enough to drag his sorry ass out of a sickbed without permission. If Gordon couldn't find him in either of those places he would raise the alarm. He didn't like to think that Virgil might be hurt somewhere.
He nearly didn't turn the lights on in his room. It was newly tidied and he could find his slippers tucked under the bed in the dark as well as illuminated. He couldn't explain what made him switch them on. Perhaps it was habit, or the fact that his heart rate still hadn't returned to normal after the scare in the infirmary.
The sleeping form on his bed was as much a surprise as finding the infirmary empty. For an instant all he saw was the still form hunched in on itself and he was back in Thunderbird Two. The helplessness flooded back and he was terrified.
Then Virgil opened his eyes and blinked. He smiled wanly, then shrugged. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
Gordon thought about raging, then reconsidered. "I looked for you," he said.
"I needed to talk."
"I thought you'd be talking to Scott."
"Oh, hell. You didn't tell him I wasn't in the infirmary." Virgil sounded worried, and Gordon couldn't help giving the feral grin that could mean 'yes' or 'no', to pay back for making him worry. Then he relented and pointed his finger at Virgil's knee. "He thought I was on my way to the infirmary, not coming back. Your secret is safe."
Virgil sighed in relief. "He threatened to double my stay if I tried any escapology."
Gordon grinned. He had expected to feel angry, but he knew Virgil had a right to feel the same. They sat in silence.
At last Gordon said. "Scott told us you don't remember what happened."
Virgil shrugged with his good arm. "I, I remember some."
Gordon turned and fixed his brother with a fierce stare. Gordon was the fabricator of the family. He was the only one of the five who could tell you that the sky was orange and that rain fell upwards without giving it away.
Virgil had never been a good liar, and he knew it. "I think I remember it all, but it's a bit of a muddle," he admitted. He stared at his hands. Outside a branch hit the window in the tail of the storm.
"The last thing I remember clearly is the explosion. I remember Scott yelling and you waking me up. It gets really fuzzy after we got to the ship." He paused and raised his hand to the bandages.
The silence deepened. Gordon examined his brother as his gaze was far away. He was pale in the moonlight, but the dark eyes were bright. He was frowning. Gordon was afraid to disturb the memories.
Eventually, Virgil said, "I'm sorry."
Gordon shouldn't have been surprised. Virgil always had had a way of knowing what needed to be said. Gordon could have acknowledged it. He should have refuted that it was necessary. Instead he stayed quiet.
"I should have said something," Virgil continued. He didn't seem to expect any response from Gordon. "I would have been frightened to death."
"I was. A bit." Gordon admitted. He knew he would never admit it to anyone again. He put a hand on Virgil's. "I guess you weren't thinking straight."
"And all you could think about was getting home."
"One more question," Gordon asked quietly. "When did you know you were hurt?"
Virgil took some time to answer. "I think I realised properly just before I passed out. I was trying so hard to ignore it. I just wanted to get home."
"I thought so."
"There was one more thing," Virgil said. He sounded tired again, which was no wonder after the exertions of the evening. "I'm glad it was you."
Gordon didn't understand.
"I mean, you. And not Scott, or John or Alan. You did good."
The pride that settled in Gordon washed away the guilt of the past few days. He felt the smile creep onto his face. "Thanks," he said. He felt tired too.
Virgil was even more exhausted. He tried to stand, but looked ready to collapse. Gordon bundled him back into the bed and covered him gently with the blanket. He was asleep before his head touched the pillow.
Gordon left the door ajar as he crept back to the infirmary. He left a note on the door telling Brains where to look in the morning.
When he came back to his own room, Virgil was still asleep. Gordon settled himself onto the comfy chair. For the first time in three nights he slept properly. The nightmares were chased away for good.