This little fic can stand alone, but it makes more sense as a continuation of 'Last Gift'. Please send me your thoughts and feelings, as its very helpful to know what people make of it.
Naturally, I own nothing but the order the words appear in.
Virgil Tracy was nine when his mother died.
It was a terrible age, he later thought, too young to understand life had a limit and could reach it before you were ready, and too old to disbelieve the finality of death. Oh, he knew the younger boys missed her just as much, but they reacted more on the atmosphere of the house, the absence of that comforting presence, rather than the understanding she would never return.
Only, Virgil sometimes still saw her.
If he moved his head too fast she stood by his easel, wearing the same expression of hopeful anticipation she had worn when she gifted the old paint box to him. Virgil didn't go into that corner of the room any longer. He'd ventured in only once, to drag a black soaked brush across her face in his favourite photograph. If she was gone, she could stay gone.
The other members of the family had continued to grin up at him and Virgil had scrubbed them out with the heavy acrylic too. What right did they have to be happy, when mom was so obviously not there?
A minute later and Virgil was in the bathroom, smearing the paint into his fingernails, the frame, his heart as he tried to wash it off again. He didn't want her to go, not really. The tears fell unchecked and Virgil sobbed with all the pain his child's soul felt. Scott had found him there, as always in the right place at the right time, and Virgil hadn't had to explain himself at all. Scott understood. Scott always understood Virgil, even though their thinking took wildly different routes. They always arrived at the same conclusion in the end and that was all that mattered.
Scott had rescued the photo from the back and Virgil had cried harder as he realised he hadn't destroyed her after all, that Scott had saved her, he could see her again. Scott had wordlessly taken him into the living room, found another frame and replaced the picture on the mantelpiece.
The boys had sat on the sofa and Scott had waited patiently for Virgil to calm down before attempting, little man that he was, to help Virgil through his grief. Virgil turned away, unwilling to talk, wanting to hold onto his pain as a way to keep back the anger. And he was angry. She shouldn't have left them. She shouldn't have left him.
His eyes, out of habit, strayed to the piano, his sanctuary in previous years, his long time comfort. But she was there too, sitting elegantly at the keys, her fingers dancing and the ghost of her music had Virgil turning to Scott after all, ready to tell him everything. Scott had heard no music, however, but a fight between John and Gordon and he was standing with a weary sigh too old for his eleven years, preparing to pull the boys apart and save their dad another endless task.
It was how Scott coped, Virgil knew. If he could take care of the others, he might be able to continue onwards. If his brother's were alright, maybe he could be alright someday too. Virgil knew it didn't work that way, but he was overcome with his own emotions and Scott would have to learn for himself, if ever he could. Virgil turned back to the piano. She had stopped playing, and beckoned to him, the way she always did when she wanted him to play. Virgil fled the room and didn't look at the piano again for weeks afterwards.
Alan wasn't so easy to escape.
Virgil understood the baby hadn't caused mom's death, rather he had arrived early as a result of it. He'd overheard dad say they were lucky he'd survived, that he'd been born at all was a cause to celebrate and Virgil delved into the baby books mom had brought him to satisfy his childish curiosity at how Alan could grow within her tummy. One had been more grown up than she'd expected and that was the one Virgil turned to. He'd learnt that Alan would have died right along with her if she hadn't spent her energy into bringing him into the world.
Scott knew this too, although he'd pointed out that he'd rather mom had chosen to save herself, instead of the baby none of them knew. Virgil couldn't help agreeing. The baby was nothing compared to her.
But Virgil had watched as Scott held Alan that first time and he'd seen the white lines of stress fade from his brother's face. He'd watched Scott's eyes soften, he'd seen a smile appear, dimples once more present in those now hollowed out cheeks and he'd wondered if babies had access to magic. It was as if Alan used himself as a band aid, drawing the hurt from Scott and covering the wounds.
Scott had melted under Alan's stare, had seemed almost frightened at the power of the child after he'd blurted out who he was and how Alan now belonged to them.
"I'm your big brother, Scott," he'd said and Virgil had touched his arm lightly.
"Can I hold him?"
Alan was in his arms swiftly, Scott almost dazed, and expectantly Virgil waited to be healed too. He allowed himself to smile, surprised at how strange it felt after such disuse, when Alan blew a bubble at him and he almost turned to mom to show her, just as he'd always shared with her anything he'd liked. But she wasn't there and while Virgil still felt the ache of her absence, his thoughts wandered beyond his own pain.
At least Virgil had shared nine years with her, it had to be worse not to have known her at all.
"He should get to know mom," he said softly.
"We can show him photo's," Scott suggested weakly.
"It's not enough," Virgil had replied and once more, he hadn't had to explain what he meant. Virgil stared down at the tiny boy he held, coming to a decision. "I'll paint him a picture. Everything mom means to us, I'll put in there."
He was aware of Scott looking at him, but didn't turn, not even when his big brother carefully asked if he wanted to paint. He nodded instead, and allowed John to take Alan from him while his mind's eye sorted through the colour's he would use, which size canvas and what brushes he'd need.
By the time Virgil returned to Earth, Scott was once more holding the baby, clutching him protectively close, eyes wide. Virgil looked to Alan in the hope of discovering what he'd missed, noticing the bow shaped lips puckering.
"Look!" Virgil exclaimed excitedly. "He's trying to whistle!"
To show his new brother how it was done, Virgil emitted a sharp sound, delighted when Alan's huge eyes swung towards him. He did it again, then dredged up a simple melody from the pieces stored within his mind. Alan's fingers reached, as if he too could see the colours in which Virgil painted the music and wanted to touch them.
Later that night, once the family had brought Alan home, Virgil went to the piano. His mother no longer occupied the seat and the next day, when Virgil went to his paint box, she was absent from his easel until he placed her there. While Virgil drew no face, though no eyes gazed back at him and no mouth threatened to curve into a smile, she shone throughout the painting and as he created her on the canvass in shapes and colours only, Virgil saw his brothers appear too.
Scott was in her fierce embrace, her desire to shelter, nurture and watch the family grow. John embodied her intelligence, her willingness to share and her excited quest for knowledge. She appeared in Gordon, and he in she, as enthusiasm, a bright cheerfulness no dark cloud could dim and a surprisingly solid shoulder to lean on.
Unbeknown to him, Virgil added himself to the portrait also. Later, Alan would identify him in the warmth he felt from the painting, as the steady rock to hold on to in the turbulent storms of his growing years and as simple, unadulterated generosity, willing to give back what had been so cruelly taken.
Virgil Tracy was nine when his mother died, but he guaranteed Alan knew her his whole life.