There are reasons this has taken so long to get back to – very painful and very personal reasons. I'm happy to explain myself in PM's but I would rather not bare all here. Suffice to say; this story is back, and is now officially up and running again.
It's weird; when I started this story the Taliban were the predominant power and the inspiration for Virgil's captors. Only three years on and things have changed so much. I severely doubt he would have made it out alive at all had IS got their mitts on him.
Thank you to everyone who has kept the faith and is still reading – I won't do this to you again, I promise.
A big big thanks to a certain reviewer who helped tremendously with all of the medical side of things here. Apparently I'd pretty much killed Virgil off but they talked me through how to save him. They asked to remain anonymous but should know who they are Many thanks, my friend.
It was…well, it wasn't the welcome home they had all been dreaming of.
There had been two eventualities in people's minds; they were going to get a coffin back, or they were going to get Virgil back and everything would snap back to normal and it would all be just a bad dream. Reality was…
It was like being stuck in limbo. They had him back, he was there on the island and home, yet in a way they also didn't have him back in the least. Virgil most likely didn't even know he was home.
International Rescue's medical facilities were top notch – even if they were Spartan. Technically they weren't equipped to deal with serious injuries, but Brains had spoken in depth with the medics before they left the army base and was confident that now the surgery was out of the way he could oversee the long recovery process. Obviously should any serious complications occur he would have to call out for external help, or fly Virgil out to a proper hospital, but that was hopefully a situation they wouldn't encounter.
He had to heal. Now that he was back they couldn't imagine what would happen if things went wrong.
Sand, blood, guns.
The flash of sun off metal as the bullet flew through the air. A thick spray of arterial blood and then Virgil was falling and he was so far away and no-one could never hope to get there in time…
Scott woke with a gasp, shooting upright and looking around wildly. Bedcovers, desk, lamp, crappy posters. The images slowly brought back reality as Afghanistan melted away and the young man slumped back against the pillows.
Or nightmare, take your pick.
It was hardly the first, but it had certainly had a new twist. Scott had grown uncomfortably used to the various vague dreams that tried to predict what was happening to his brother – but this new one had been developing over the intervening days since finding Virgil and had become extremely specific. And each time he was too late.
No matter how much he tried to tell himself that Virgil was home, and safe in the medical bay, his brain kept on insisting otherwise and when asleep he was being plagued with all the scenarios that could have happened.
Determining that sleep wasn't going to happen – or at least he didn't want it to happen – Scott left his bed and dragged the covers with him to go and slump in his chair at the desk. The laptop had been left on so he opened it up and pulled up a game of solitaire. It wasn't actually a game he was particularly good at, but any sort of distraction technique was welcome.
About half an hour later, and a considerable number of lost games, the little Skype button began to flash and the bubbling dial tone quietly broke his wavering concentration. Opening up the program Scott managed a small smile to see the little avatar of the Death Star and accepted the call.
"Saw you were online. It's, what? Three in the morning?"
"Eh, something along those lines."
John smiled sympathetically. "Yeah, I haven't been sleeping either. How is he?"
"Stable. Same as when you last asked."
The space monitor sighed. "Well, I guess that's good, isn't it? No news is good news and all that." He ferretted around in a drawer out of Scott's line of sight and reappeared with a chocolate bar. "What's Brains said about recovery time?"
"You're kidding, right?" Scott's laugh was bitter. "It's going to be at least a fortnight before he can start waking up. I don't even know if…" He cut himself off and shook his head. "But we have to think positive, right?"
"Has Virgil ever let us down before?" John smiled grimly. "You wait; he'll be up and sorting out the mess you make on rescues in no time."
"Since when do I make a mess on rescues?!"
"Oh come on, Scott, everyone knows you're the one that charges in head first, and Virgil's the one that actually goes in and gets the job done."
It was only his brother's light, teasing tone that stopped Scott from snapping back an angry reply. He knew John was only joking, and usually he would have played along, but his current mood wasn't exactly playful. John saw the expression and rolled his eyes.
"Fine, sorry." He began ripping the wrapper away from the chocolate bar he'd retrieved.
"That's a lot of chocolate you're eating, you know."
The subject change merely made the astronaut shrug and take another bite out of the Hershey bar. "Yeah, and? I don't know if you noticed but whilst you can all go and sit with Virgil and talk to him and be able to see that he's really there and really home, I'm stuck up here in orbit. And that's not fun." He indicated over his shoulder. "And besides, there's a gym here, I can work it off."
"True. Have you asked Dad about coming home?"
"I raised the subject briefly but it would mean swapping with Alan and out of the two of us Dad seems to think I'm going to cope better than the sprout with being alone during all of this."
Scott nodded slightly. "Hate to say it, but he's probably right."
"Thanks for that." The sarcasm was palpable, but John knew what his brother meant. Alan was always going to be the youngest and as much as he may be an adult he was still used to having his brothers around to support him. John was used to getting through the tough moments alone. "To be honest, I quite like the peace and quiet up here. It helps me think."
"You can think? Who knew."
"Funny, Scott. So funny. Have we heard anything about the guy who was with Virgil? The Brit?"
Scott shrugged. "Stable but lost his leg. He kept the knee joint though, which will make rehabilitation somewhat easier. I did offer to help fund his recovery but apparently it doesn't work like that in the UK."
"Yeah, state-funded healthcare. I can never decide if it's a good thing or not. We could always contribute to his prosthesis – assuming he's going to go down that route of course. We could get Brains to improve the current designs out there at the moment."
"Yeah, that's a plan."
"Do you think Brains would mind if I hacked into the cameras in the med-bay?"
"I think he'd prefer it if you asked for access codes instead."
"Yeah, but it's three AM and I want to do it now."
Scott knew the tone of voice, and that it meant his younger brother was going to go ahead with his plan no matter the objections, and waved a hand tiredly. "Whatever, I suppose as long as you don't interfere with the coding it should be fine." He smiled slightly. "Should I be worried that our security systems are that easy to get into?"
"Who said anything about easy?" John was already typing something, his hands out of Scott's sight. "I have a head start since I know what the security camera programs look like, and even then it's tricky."
"Seriously; you could just ask for access, Brains would be more than happy to let you keep an eye on Virge too."
"But this way keeps my mind off of things. It's a problem to solve." He glanced up from the off-screen keyboard. "You said a few days ago that you ran the rescue through Brains' simulation, what happened to that?"
"Don't know. I set it going when we were still in Afghan and haven't looked at it since." Scott split the screen so that he could find the program they were talking about and opened it up. There was a stream of numbers and data scrolling across the bottom of the user interface, but also a flashing message. "It's found at least three other possible scenarios; I'll look through them."
"Don't get too bogged down in details. What happened, happened. We can't change it now and over-thinking it will send you mad."
John smiled sadly before his attention was grabbed by a soft beep from one of his machines. "Oh, that was quick – I'm in."
"Jesus, should we be worried you can hack something that quickly?"
"How else do you suppose I get hold of films and box sets? I can get into most satellites."
Scott smiled tightly, but his attention was on the computer program he was running. "This isn't giving me much by way of answers. It mostly thinks the situation should have ended with everyone dead."
"That's heartening, isn't it? You got Virgil and his friend out alive."
"But not in one piece."
"That's better than dead. It sucks, it sucks like hell, but they aren't dead."
"Others are though." Scott closed the program down with an angry sigh. "Johnny, I killed people. Sure they were evil bastards, but I still killed them. I don't…" He looked down at his hands. "I've never used a gun against someone like that. I've never shot to kill and I did it without even thinking and I can't get that out of my head."
"Have you spoken to Dad about it?"
"Yeah yeah. He keeps talking about counselling."
"Probably a good idea. Maybe we need to bring someone into the fold – Virgil's going to need one, and the rest of us could do with someone to talk to who knows not to let us bottle up like we usually do."
It was a sobering thought. To be honest, it was a miracle that none of the boys had ever needed a counsellor before, given their jobs. John especially would have been prime material given the amount of time he spent without human contact. When Scott mentioned that fact the space monitor smiled.
"I was replaced by an alien years ago and none of you noticed. I've been reporting back to my over-lords about humans ever since."
The oldest Tracy brother allowed the attempt at humour this time. "So are we all going to be subject to an alien invasion at some point then?"
"Nah, you're all too precious. This is the only planet with chocolate and Netflix." John was looking to the side, focussing on his own computer screen, and Scott saw his brother's face suddenly fall.
"I've got into the cameras." The blond slumped down in his chair, resting his chin on is folded arms and staring miserably at a screen Scott couldn't see. "Oh Scotty, he's not looking good, is he?"
John's signal was excellent, and meant that he was receiving the live feed in good quality. This didn't mean that he was able to work out what he was seeing though – given that beyond First Responder training he was not very medically competent.
Virgil was lying in one of the med-bay beds, deathly pale and with more tubes snaking around him than John knew how to describe. Everything within a two metre radius of the bed seemed to have some sort of readout flashing – although most were green which the astronaut could only assume was a good sign. The army had shaved off the scruffy beard he had been sporting and his hair was back to a more conventional length but he still looked like death.
"What is all of that? How bad is it?"
Scott laughed softly. Mirthlessly. "Horrendous? Brains said that he was in quite a bad state anyway – lack of food and hygiene and all that – but the bullet wound…" His voice choked for a moment and he glanced away to wipe a hand across his face.
"No, I'm fine, just give me a moment." The older Tracy took a deep breath and turned back, trying to look more composed. His wet eyes were a complete give-away.
"Oh Scotty, you don't need to pretend!" John looked absolutely devastated; if he could have jumped through the computer screen he obviously would have done.
Scott chuckled, sniffing. "Don't; that's just what Mum would say, and I refuse to deal with those emotions on top of everything else!"
It was a frequent complaint, one that John knew not to take personally. With his striking resemblance to their mother some of the things he would say – that would be ignored from anyone else – would take on a slightly different angle.
"Sorry. But don't feel like you need to hide how you feel about all of this."
"I feel guilty! I should have got there quicker, I should have shot sooner, I shouldn't have lost him in the first place."
"As opposed to what?!" John had sat back up again. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty but it's also an absolute bitch. There was nothing in our protocols for being chased down a mountain by AK47's, and nothing about what to do if hit by a concussion grenade. Virgil was as prepared, or unprepared, as any of us. And to be honest, could you imagine Alan or Gordon coping in the same situation?"
If nothing else, that hit home and Scott grimaced.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess."
"And you wouldn't have lasted two minutes either."
"You would have lost your temper, punched someone and been shot dead before they had even filmed the first video."
"That's…probably quite accurate." Scott glared at his younger brother. "But what about you?! How well would you have done, Spaceboy?!"
"You forget I'm an alien; I'd have teleported." John smiled again, tired and strained. "You've neatly side-stepped my original question though; how bad is Virgil, and what is all that-" He waved a hand vaguely. "All the tubes and stuff."
"You expect me to know? He's stable, Brains thinks his chances are fair and that's what we're dealing with right now."
"I'll hack the records, at least Brains writes semi-comprehensible notes when he needs to."
"Can you send them to me too? The more we know the more we can help and all that."
"Few moments." John was already typing again, evidently riffling through the online databases Brains had created. It wasn't difficult for him to find and the two brothers settled into silence as they perused the files. Whilst they couldn't necessarily name all of the devices and machines keeping Virgil alive, their jobs meant that they were at least familiar with most of the terminology used.
Stable was a…complicated term. Dead was technically stable. The bullet had been removed by the army medics during the initial emergency surgery but the resulting injuries were the real problem. Liver, lung, diaphragm, ribs. Again, the surgeons had sorted out his diaphragm, had had to put in titanium replacements for a number of shattered ribs and put in a chest tube.
Virgil was a mess.
And his brothers were scared.
Time crawled by. Hours were measured by Brains' meticulous analysis and tests – the scientist finding rest only in the form of power naps with every system primed to wake him at the slightest change in Virgil's condition. It wasn't silent, at any rate. Over the beeps and hisses of the many machines gentle piano music was playing continuously. As John had pointed out, the chances that Virgil had heard any music of any sort for the past months was slim to nil, and Virgil thrived off of music.
So Bach, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Mozart and all the others the Space Monitor had been able to think up at short notice were now a constant background in the med-bay, occasionally keeping time with the machines, sometimes playing their own beat.
Brains wasn't leaving anything to chance, which meant he had waited at least a couple of days before removing the chest tube, although continued the intubation. The great many tubes and wires John had first asked about grew very familiar with the Tracy's very quickly given how much time they all spent either in the room with Virgil, or watching the med-bay cams to make sure they weren't still dreaming his rescue. Within a day even Gordon could name everything, even if he didn't quite know what they all did. Arterial line, central venous line, abdominal drain, nasogastric tube and so very many IV lines to make sure the middle brother was receiving all the medication and nutrition he required.
The family all recognised the damage that the bullet wound had done, but weren't prepared for the non-injury related medical aid Virgil needed. Nearly four months of being locked in a small damp cell underground had taken their toll. He had been tortured, barely fed and hadn't seen natural light since being taken. They couldn't expect him to simply bounce back from that.
Missions still happened, of course. International Rescue were nothing if not professional and had managed to stay focussed through all of those horrendous weeks; they weren't going to let that composure slip now. An earthquake in Tokyo, a large office fire in Ireland, a coal mine collapse in China, there was more than enough to keep the 'Birds in the air. Usually Tintin would stay behind to sit with Virgil, talking the unconscious man through the rescue as if he could actually hear her. If the rescue demanded her presence too, Grandma would take up the station with her middle grandson, quietly explaining to him what his family were up to. Jeff himself would have been there every second that he could, but since he often flew Thunderbird Two in these all-hands-on-deck missions that wasn't necessarily an option.
The wall was slowly decorated with chest X-rays which Brains took daily. The scientist was also having to turn his patient every few hours, running twice daily blood tests and blood gas analysis every four hours. Tintin was able to run some of the analysis, which gave Brains a little time to shower or eat, but the scientist was mostly by Virgil's side without a break.
A week passed, achingly slowly despite the missions that interspersed it. They'd had an update from England; Robbie was stable and looked like he was going to recover, which was heartening to hear – it meant they would have good news for Virgil when he finally woke up.
Brains had chosen to wean Virgil off the ventilation before taking him off the sedatives. The pilot was going to have enough to deal with when waking up without having a tube down his throat preventing him from speaking. That and given what they knew had happened to him, Brains didn't want to risk any flashbacks to waterboarding and the inability to breathe. It was a week and a half when he finally called Jeff down with the news they'd been waiting for.
"Not qu-quite, but in a f-f-few minutes I th-think."
The naso-gastric feeding tube was still in place, as were a considerable number of IV lines but the intubation tube had gone, a mask in its place over Virgil's nose and mouth. The room seemed different without the harsh hiss of the ventilator, the other beeping machines suddenly louder. Virgil's eyes were moving under the lids, the first movement they'd seen since he had partially woken on the flight home in Thunderbird Two.
Jeff sank into the chair next to the bed – which was rarely empty – staring searchingly at his son's face.
"What can we expect?" He asked quietly. Brains shrugged hopelessly.
"It-it's hard to s-s-say. Confusion. A l-lot of p-p-pain. He will pro-probably be sc-sc-sc-frightened."
"Frightened? But he's home now!"
"Does he kn-know that? He will b-b-be in pain and that m-m-may well sc-scare him."
"Isn't he on pain meds?"
"O-of course! But th-there is only s-s-so much I c-can give him. H-he's been sh-shot; the res-resulting injuries are g-g-going to hurt like h-hell no m-matter what w-we do."
Jeff nodded. He couldn't realistically ask for anything else but what father would want their child to be in pain? He knew enough about analgesics to know that they didn't want Virgil on anything for too long – the dependency was too big a risk.
"D-do the boys kn-know?"
"I've told them he might be coming round, but also asked them to just give us some space." The Tracy patriarch smiled up at his friend. "I don't want to keep them away, but he's going to be overwhelmed as it is and the whole group of us at once…"
Brains nodded understandingly. He was well aware what an overdose of Tracy's could be like.
A low groan drew them both from their conversation and all attention focussed on the man in the bed. Virgil's expression had scrunched up into a frown, his breathing becoming more laboured.
"Virgil?" Jeff was there; his son's hand in his own – mindful of the cannula – and brushing back wayward brown hair. "Hey son, are you with us?"
"H-he may take a m-m-moment to recognise you…" Brains said quietly.
"I know. Virge? Can you hear me?"
Virgil's eyes flickered – he was obviously struggling to open them – but he managed to return the grip Jeff had on his hand. He swallowed hard, which immediately had Brains fluttering around, and it seemed that he was aware of the tube down his throat.
"H-his heart r-rate is el-el-elevated, I th-think he's conscious."
"He's gripping my hand." Jeff leant forwards, searching for any sign of awareness in his son. "Virgil? Come on kiddo, open your eyes, look at me…"
Maybe it was the unintentional 'kiddo' that had been thrown in – the middle Tracy had always detested that name and as a child had attempted to bestow it on Alan and Gordon as soon as possible – but Virgil's frown deepened for a moment before he slowly managed to half open his eyes. His gaze slid towards his father, but he had to blink multiple times before he could actually focus.
The young man's expression scrunched up in confusion and hazy disbelief; as if he was aware that he was barely awake, and so assumed that he was still dreaming. Jeff smiled gently, brushing back Virgil's wayward hair again.
"Hi there son, good to see you again."
Large brown eyes moved slowly, scanning across Jeff's face with dawning realisation.
"…Dad…?" His voice was hoarse and dry with disuse, and he sounded so lost. "Where…?"
"You're home. You're in the med-bay at home. Your brothers found you."
Virgil mouthed the word home; as if that wasn't a concept he could quite understand. His eyes slid closed again with a grimace of pain.
"You're safe son, it's going to be okay."
The words fell on deaf ears; he had already slipped back into unconsciousness. Jeff was smiling though, tearful but happier than he had been for months.
Virgil had woken up. Maybe only briefly, but he had woken up.
The news that their brother hadn't stayed awake long enough to see them would have annoyed the other boys had they not been so relieved he'd woken at all. Jeff came in later that evening only to find all four of his Earth bound sons in the small medical room, and an iPad hooked up to Skype so that John was there in spirit too.
Scott had commandeered the usual chair, but Alan and Gordon had evidently nicked a couple from the kitchen and dragged them up to the bed too. They were talking quietly, a silly conversation about some old TV show they had watched as children. Alan had slumped down to rest his folded arms on the mattress, his chin pillowed on them and Gordon was partially leaning on him in turn. Both were looking forlorn and tired, so very very tired and Jeff knew they hadn't really slept since getting their older brother home. Scott and John looked little better, although John especially was adept at hiding how tired he was feeling from years of pulling all nighters.
"Hi Dad." Scott said quietly.
"Hello boys, any change?"
Gordon shrugged a little. "He sort of opened his eyes, said something that sounded like 'cave' and then went under again."
"Incomprehensible as usual then." John's tone was brighter, but he could always be more optimistic than the others in a crisis. Jeff frowned when he saw that his second eldest was floating.
"John, have you turned the gravity off?"
The on-screen image looked sheepish. "I find it more relaxing." Something started beeping behind the space monitor and he glanced over his shoulder. "Hang on; I've got a call coming in." He pushed off from the console and left the view of the iPad screen. They could still hear him talking quietly in the background.
"Why can't we ever just take a day off?" Alan said miserably. "Can't the rest of the world understand that we've got our own problems too?!"
"No they can't." John's voice floated in from the empty screen. "There's an office block fire in Budapest; the ground floor is an inferno and the workers are trapped above it."
"How many people?" Scott was already on his feet, even though his hand was still on Virgil's shoulder.
"A hundred or so."
Alan's scowl said it all as he levered himself up as well. There was no way the youngest Tracy would even consider not rescuing someone, but that didn't mean he was happy about leaving his brother. "Fires suck."
"Most things suck. Come on." Gordon tugged Alan's arm. "You can fly Two."
They all glanced at Virgil to see if there would be any reaction to that, but the man lay silent.
"I'll stay with him; you boys do what you do best." Grandma stood in the doorway, having obviously heard most of the exchange. She smiled as her grandsons quickly left for their craft. Jeff hung back and his mother glared at him sternly. "You too Jefferson. I'm here; you need to be leading the boys."
Leader of International Rescue or not, Jeff went. Grandma smirked and sat down in the vacated chair. John had left too – the Skype call ended so he could concentrate on the rescue at hand, so she leant over and picked up the iPad.
"Oh I don't know Virgil, this family is certainly not one to allow boredom." She opened up Candy Crush and began to idly switch sweets. "You know, I think since you went missing I worry more about the location than the rescue itself these days. In times gone by an inferno would have me terrified for you boys, but now I'm simply relieved it's in a relatively safe country and no-one's likely to run into terrorists." She glanced down at her grandson. "Although I can't imagine that would stop any of you if it meant saving someone in trouble."
There was a sudden but familiar rumble and the woman glanced out of the window to see Thunderbird One taking off.
"There goes Scott. I presume that means Alan and Gordon won't be far be- ah, there they go."
Another rumble – louder since they were nearer Two's launch pad than the pool – and then a roar and a flash of green as she lumbered off. Grandma was about to comment on it, but when she glanced down the words caught in her throat as Virgil stirred.
"Oh trust you to wake up because you've heard your 'Bird!" She gently rested her hand on his shoulder as his expression scrunched into a frown. She had been there before when the young man had woken, but he had barely been able to focus on her at the time and lost consciousness again within moments. This time, however, his gaze slowly moved over to her, and he actually seemed to be seeing her.
"Hello love, how are you feeling?"
Virgil didn't seem to hear the question, his bleary gaze moving away to try and take in the room before coming back to rest on his grandmother again. "Home…I'm home…" Despite the rough quality to his voice he sounded coherent if not disbelieving.
"Of course you're home, you didn't think your family would leave you in that awful place, did you?"
"Family…" Virgil blinked hard, as if trying to clear his gaze. "I'm home…" And suddenly tears were spilling over and Grandma could physically see that moment the realisation hit; the moment he realised he was actually safe. "Oh God…" He raised a hand up – which must have hurt like hell given the chest injury – to grasp his grandmother's where it rested on his shoulder.
"Oh Virgil!" Grandma leant over him, pulling him into as much of a hug as she could, given all of the medical apparatus. He was shaking, falling apart in a way that she hadn't seen since Lucille had died. "It's okay, love, it's alright, I've got you."
He was so thin – Grandma couldn't remember when he had last been that fragile in her arms, although his tight grip on her jumper held a memory of his usual strength. Virgil was clinging to her like a drowning man to a life-line, as if expecting that at any moment she was going to vanish.
As if this was only a dream and he was going to wake up back in hell.
It was agony to move his arms, and each sobbing breath shifted broken ribs and settling replacements but Virgil didn't care. Pain was real, pain meant that what was happening was true and he could hardly comprehend the idea. His last memory was clear enough – he remembered the bullet ripping through his back like hell fire – and he knew he should be dead. Every part of him knew that there was no way he should have survived that.
And yet here he was. There was the vague feeling at the back of his mind that maybe he had woken before but this was the first real moment of clarity.
He was home.
Grandma was talking again, just the same simple reassurances over and over, but that was exactly what he needed to hear. The soft wool of her jumper was exactly the same as he remembered, warm and smelling of cookie dough and perfume. Grandma meant safety, always had. Whenever something went wrong on a rescue she was waiting at home with an understanding ear, if someone was ill she would have a pot of chicken soup on the boil for as long as necessary. Grandma meant home.
"...I thought…I was dead…" He whispered. "…I thought...that was…it."
"It takes a lot more than some silly bullet to kill a Tracy, kiddo."
Virgil nodded, and his death grip on her sleeves loosened enough for grandma to pull back and make eye contact again. "…Robbie…?"
"Your British friend? He's alright. Well, mostly." She brushed his hair out of the way in a fond gesture. "He's in hospital in England; they had to amputate his foot, but he's apparently responding well to treatment."
From Virgil's hazy recollections of what had happened that wasn't all too surprising, but was distressing none the less.
"Now, you never did answer my question; how are you feeling?"
The young man smiled tearfully. "…happy." He managed a silent laugh that turned into a grimace. "And ….lot of pain…my chest…talking is…hard…" As evidenced from how his voice – weak and hoarse anyway – was fading.
"Tiring too, by the looks of it." It was obvious Virgil was struggling to stay awake, but Grandma wasn't going to mind. He had managed a coherent conversation and that was more than any of them could have hoped for. "You rest up, young man. I'm going to go and tell your father you've been awake."
She hadn't even reached the doorway before Virgil drifted off again.
Jeff was surprised to see his mother at the entrance to the living room given she had said she'd stay with Virgil. The boys had reached the rescue site and he was so busy with coordinating what was happening that he almost missed the tears on the old lady's cheeks.
"Mum?! What's wrong? What's happened?!"
It took Grandma a moment to realise why her son was sounding terrified until it hit her that he must have assumed the worst had happened to Virgil. She quickly pulled a tissue out of her sleeve to dab her eyes dry.
"No, no it's okay, nothing's wrong. Sorry Jeff, nothing's wrong at all." She smiled, albeit tearfully. "Virgil woke up, and was awake enough to talk to me."
"What?" Jeff had risen to his feet, but slumped back down into his chair at that news. "How awake? What did he say? Is he still awake now?" He was already reaching for the radio, no doubt to tell John to take over from him whilst he rushed off to the med-bay.
"No, he fell asleep before I'd even left the room so don't go running off." Grandma pulled a chair up to sit by the desk.
"And he was…okay?"
"In a lot of pain, and struggling to accept that he really is safe now. When was the last time you saw that boy cry, Jeff?"
"Lucy's funeral, I guess; Virgil hides these things." Jeff looked heartbroken. "Did he cry then?"
"Wouldn't you? If you thought you were going to end your days in that sort of hell-hole, watched your friend be shot and then took a bullet yourself, how would you feel to wake up and find you're back home amongst family?"
The Tracy patriarch nodded forlornly. "It was probably better that you were with him then; he would have hated me to see that, and I would have just broken down with him."
"And then I would have had to sort both of you out." Grandma glanced at the portraits on the wall. "I suggest you don't tell the boys he woke up until they're at least safe on their way home."
Jeff sighed but nodded. "Yes, that's probably for the best. Are you going to go back to him?"
"Of course, I just wanted you to know." Grandma stood up, then reached out and ruffled her son's hair. "You concentrate on getting the others home safe; leave our musician to me."
The single shot, so loud and so harsh as to be deafening.
For a moment he didn't know were it had ended up; if he had been hit or Robbie. And then the Brit screamed, deep and agonised and there was blood everywhere.
More shots, left, right, until he felt the grip holding him loosen and he fell free, scrambling across the blood soaked sand to where his friend lay.
Scott. Running towards him, frantic, a look of panic on his face.
And then pain, pain, pain. His back ripping apart, the bullet tearing through vital organs like a searing comet through the atmosphere. Blood in his mouth, pain everywhere else, and Scott impossibly begging him to hang on when he knew he couldn't.
He could taste death, blinding and muting everything.
He couldn't hang on…
The tube down his throat, however thin, was extremely uncomfortable. In the grand scheme of things it was hardly the worst he was dealing with, but it was the thing that drew his immediate attention as he grudgingly regained consciousness. His eyes felt like someone had dusted them with powdered glass as he tried to pry them open.
He tried to take a deeper breath to reply and white-hot bands of pain wrapped themselves around his chest, strangling the attempt. Okay, the naso-gastric tube was definitely the least of his worries.
"Is he awake?"
"I don't know; he's moving."
"He could just be dreaming, though."
Three voices; it didn't take a genius to work out who it was. With what seemed to be a herculean effort Virgil managed to open his eyes a crack.
"Virgil!" His hazy vision was filled with a smear of copper hair, and bright worried eyes. "Virgil, oh my God! You're awake! You're actually awake!"
"Gordon, don't yell at him!" Gordon was replaced with Scott, looking like he had aged twenty years but taking care to keep his voice down. "Virge?"
Virgil didn't feel like he had the energy to give a comprehensive reply, but his small nod was enough for his older brother.
Scott was not by nature the most emotional of the Tracy's – that dubious honour was left to Alan – so it said a lot when he did grow emotional. Virgil may not have been entirely awake enough to process every little thing going on around him but he knew his oldest brother almost better than he knew himself and heard the painful hitch in Scott's voice.
Scott didn't cry. Virgil might have been seen as the strong one of the family, but Scott really didn't cry. Not even at their Mum's funeral. He kept his tears to himself, and at a real push shared them with his middle brother when it was just the two of them. Scott never cried in front of anyone else.
At least never had before.
"Scott…" Virgil managed the single word, his breath misting in the oxygen mask as he did so.
"I'm sorry." The oldest Tracy brother slumped down to sit on the edge of the bed, trying to surreptitiously wipe his eyes in the same movement. "Oh Virge, I am so so sorry."
The comment didn't really make sense to Virgil. He was in too much pain and swamped in too much of his own emotion to try and work out what was going through his brother's head, but Scott thankfully elaborated for him.
"I couldn't find you! All this technology, all our machines and connections and agents and I couldn't find you. I couldn't get you out of there and I'm so sorry!" Scott looked away, scrubbing his hand across his eyes again and not fooling anyone. "The one person I should be able to rescue and I couldn't find you!"
Virgil managed to move his hand far enough to lightly grasp his brother's sleeve. Scott let out a broken and angry little noise, curling over to gently knock their foreheads together. His eyes were squeezed closed, but hot tears were still leaking down his cheeks.
"I'm so sorry Virge; I should have got you out of there! I should have been able to find you, I should have shot quicker, I should have protected you better and I'm so sor-" He was abruptly cut off.
With an immense effort and no small amount of pain, Virgil had succeeded in raising his arm up enough to thump Scott across the back of the head.
"…dumbass…You are…a complete…dumbass…" It had hurt to move in such a way, and that showed on his face, but Virgil obviously deemed it worth it. There was more he wanted to add, so much more. All that emotion and feeling from the imprisonment, the rescue, the realisation of safety and he just didn't have the strength to say it.
There was a tearful laugh from Gordon, and corresponding sniffle from Alan. Scott just looked dumbfounded – which was probably apt given what he had just been called. Virgil smiled. Small, pained and wobbly but it was a real smile as he watched his eldest brother try to comprehend the insult – Scott never reacted well to antagonism.
"But I couldn't get you out!"
Scott sat back up properly, seemingly intent on explaining how everything had to be his fault so that he could then apologise for it all. However, his attempt was halted when he realised his injured brother was giving him that look that meant he was really being an idiot. The effort of staying awake was taking its toll, but Virgil managed to grab hold of Scott's sleeve again.
"Team…" His explanation was met with a blank gaze and he had to take a moment before he could find the energy to try again. "Not…your…fault, we're…a team." He rolled his head enough to be able to see Gordon and Alan too. "Takes all…of us…not just…you…" The effort to say all that had hurt and it showed, but Scott knew what he meant.
Scott always knew what Virgil meant and vice versa.
It wasn't Scott's fault, of course it wasn't. It had been shear bad luck that Virgil had been captured – it could have been any of them that had been knocked down by the concussion blast, no blame could be laid for that. Scott evidently felt that he should have somehow – impossibly – done more to rescue his younger brother and Virgil was trying to let him know that that was absolute madness. They were a team, the five of them, and Scott couldn't take the blame of failure onto his shoulders when it wasn't his fault. He alone couldn't have done anything, but as the five of them they had succeeded.
Virgil had got the radio, John had located him, Scott had shot down the men holding him, Gordon had flown him home and Alan had kept him stable during that journey. Team effort, all five had been necessary.
"You scared us." Scott said again, smiling tightly. "I thought I was going to be stuck with Gordon trying to fly Two forever!"
Virgil couldn't laugh, but he obviously wanted to. He glanced back over at Gordon and Alan and managed to move his hand again enough to include them in the conversation.
"I still can't believe of all of us you're the one who gets shot first. You're the only one of us to have not been in anything vaguely military and you still get shot." Gordon always tried to find a light side to a situation, even if his definition of 'military' was extremely loose by including NASA training. Although God knows what John got up to in space – for all they knew he was Earth's only line of defence in the daily war against aliens. The aquanaut sat down on the opposite side of the bed to Scott, careful of the many lines and wires as he reached out to hold Virgil's hand. "You look like hell, big bro."
"You always look like hell, at least this is a new look for Virge." Alan was there with a reply before Virgil could process what had been said.
Unconsciousness was beginning to tug at the middle Tracy again. He had expended a lot of energy trying to talk and it was taking its toll. There was so much he wanted to so, and was completely unable to say it. All that fear and hurt and pain and darkness and he couldn't say any of it. Even had he been able to speak properly it would have been difficult to articulate how it felt to have been rescued from the torture. He had expected to die there. First in that cold dark cell and later on with the gun pressed against his head he had fully expected to die and all he had been able to do was pray that his family wouldn't have to see it; either on video or in the flesh.
But he hadn't died, and his family had saved him and that was everything.
"…thank you…" The words were faint but he'd never meant something so much before in his life. Tears took energy he didn't have, but his eyes were wet as he drifted back into unconsciousness, Scott's sleeve in his left hand, Gordon claiming his right and Alan using his legs as a pillow. It wasn't complete – there was a John-shaped hole in the little scene – but it was as near as could be at that point in time.
It was enough to feel safe again.