If you do not know the Tigger Song, after reading this chapter, please watch MonkeyFCoconut's youtube video of it. It will give you a GREAT mental image for the story!

Chapter 14: Epilogue part III-

Scott held out his hands in a calming gesture. "I'm fine."

It was amazing- we knew each other so well we didn't even have to use words. Virgil's worried eyes met mine and I held out the cotton swab for him to see. Gords tossed him the light. He panted as he inspected the swab. After scrutinizing it for at least a minute, he returned the items. Then he examined Scott.

Knowing Virg as he does, Scott just stood there, and allowed him to feel around the wound, studying it for any traces of a toxin. After a full minute had passed, Scott finally intervened. He put his hands on Virg's arms, gently pushing them away from his neck. "Virg," They looked at each other. "I'm okay."

They stared at each other for a few seconds and then, Virgil embraced Scott in a full hug. I watched both squint their eyes closed in relief, although for different reasons. I smiled. The issues between them were over- forgotten.

Next to me, Gordon tipped his head to the right saying, "Awwww..."

Without looking, I threw out my hand and pushed him over. With an "oofff," he fell to the ground.

Seeing Gords hit the floor had my older brothers chuckling. They pulled apart, though not entirely, and looked down at him.

From his place in the dirt, a glare was sent my way. I snickered.

Nodding, my brother picked himself up. "That's nice. I spend the past hour keeping you alive and what do I get in return? Shoved to the floor."

I gestured to our brothers. "Let them have their moment-"

"I was just vocalizing my support for their making up." He said as he brushed dead leaves from his shirt.

Virgil finally separated fully from Scott, but I didn't miss the squeeze he gave Scott's shoulder before they parted.

With his eyes narrowing, my temperamental brother stepped forward. "Okay." He pointed at us. "Which one of you decided to take me out in the first ten minutes?"

Scott sighed. "You need to ask that question?"

Virgil's eyes locked on Gordon, who smirked in return. "Could be worse, Virg... you could be Alan."

The annoyance left his eyes and Virgil laughed. "You guys are so dead. Alan is pissed."

Gordon shrugged. "He should've been better. He had a partner with specialized skills, which were not utilized, he knows my style unbelievably well, and didn't use that... he needs to up his game. If this were real life, he would have been dead in the first 10 minutes. That's why we have these practices to learn how to survive."

I nodded. "Yes, and I think Alan and you too Virg, should adopt my new-found method of survival."

Scott raised a brow. "What's that? Staying by Gordon?"

Yep. That was exactly what it was. I nodded. "You think I'm kidding? I'm not. If we're ever being hunted in a jungle, I want to be right next to him."

Gordon turned to me. "And John, if we're ever... doing anything in space," I waited... "I want you to knock me out."

I laughed. "I'll take that under advisement."

Virgil shook his head at us and then held out his hand. "Congratulations on your victory, John."

I couldn't help the smile on my face. I had won! Yeah! Ha! No losing in the first 3 minutes for me. I won! Woohoo!

Maintaining a dignified facade, I calmly shook his hand. "Thanks, Virg. And good game."

He snorted. "Yeah not really." Then he shook Gordon's hand. "Congratulations."

Gords grinned back. "Thanks!"

Chuckling to himself, Virgil walked back to Scott. Well that was suspicious.

Gords caught it as well. "What?"

He was barely containing his laughter as explained. "Alan is so mad. You have no idea. TinTin outlived him."

I tried to smother my own laugh as Scott snorted. Gordon shrugged. "She played the game better. He'll have to deal."

I added. "I'm telling you guys, go with my plan."

Suddenly serious, Gordon pointed at me. "Actually, John... You know, we should go with your plan."

I had told Scott that Gords didn't need to be modest- and he didn't- but the brazen cockiness was a bit off-putting.

Seeming to read my mind, he shook his head. "No. I don't mean stay with me..." He turned to Scott. "This set up- two on two on two on two- when are we ever going to see that? Really? It's far more likely to be a group versus five of us or at least three of us. Or even one versus five of us."

"The Hood." Scott questioned.

Gordon nodded.

Virgil disagreed with Gord's planning. "Yeah, but one versus everybody? Come on. Whoever that is would be outnumbered seven to one. There's no way they'd win."

After today, I wasn't too sure about that. "If the one is Gordon, I wouldn't be positive of that."

Scott threw in his two cents. "For training purposes, Gordon should be on the team with everyone else because in real-life, he and I would be organizing the strategy. We should practice that."

"So, what? You want all five of us versus dad, TinTin, and Brains?" Virg asked.

I answered. "No, TinTin should be with us too because she would be in the field."

Virg scoffed. "Dad and Brains wouldn't stand a chance of winning-"

"You guys don't get it!" Gordon was yelling- and he looked upset. "It's not about winning. Yeah, of course if there's five of us and one of them we're more likely to win. We've got higher numbers. But that just means we'd have someone left in the end. That's crap! If we're up against the Hood, and it's the five of us, and we manage to take him out, but he takes one of us out first... yeah, okay, we win. But I'm sorry- that would be one of the worst days of my life. I won't give a fuck about the fact that we killed the Hood. The only thing I'll be thinking about is the fact that one of us didn't come home. That our family will never be the same." He paused, composing himself.

We waited, knowing he needed the time. After a few seconds, he continued, calmer now. "Today, John and I won. And John did a great job- he took out TinTin and Scott. But," He looked at me. "Don't take this as an offense, John, but I need to be honest..."

I could feel my face turning red. There were so many things he could say here and whatever he was about to say, it wasn't going to be good.

He looked back at Virg and Scott. "I spent so much energy focusing on keeping John alive. I knew how bad he was at this and I used this for myself as a challenge. Can I defeat everyone and keep John safe? But it was hard. It was. I had to listen for where everyone was, watch where he was, plan out where to run to, I had to tell him where to run to, I had to plan my shots to make sure John would be covered when we ran. I had to check out where he stood, who was nearby, could they get a shot off?" He looked at me again. "I don't mean to make you sound incompetent; you have some skills, you're a decent shot, but like I told you, I didn't treat this as a game- my mistakes excluded. I made believe this was real life and if it was, I couldn't risk you getting hit."

He turned back to my brothers. "To a certain extent, I do the same with Alan and I'd probably do it to a similar degree except that Alan and I have been paired together for so long, I know by now what I need to look out for. Look, my point is, this was harder because I'm not ever paired with John. Normally, I watch out for Alan; if this was real life, I'd be with everyone. Virg, you got killed within 10 minutes. That means, I'd be hunting the enemy and positioning and covering the three of you at the same time. And if I'm going to lead, or help Scott lead, or whatever, nobody's dying on my watch. We need to practice. All five of us, and possibly TinTin, versus whoever, whatever, I don't care. But in the end all five of us have to be alive because any other option is a complete failure as far as I'm concerned."

We were all silent in the wake of Gordon's speech. He was right, of course, and as embarrassing as it was to know that he didn't hold much confidence in my ability to survive on my own, I could acknowledge the fact that without Gordon, I would've been dead in three minutes. And...I did take some solace in that he also felt a need to protect Virgil and Alan as well.

"You're right, Gordon." Scott's words drew my attention. "We need to talk to Father about reworking the teams...again. But I also think, we should practice not only with you, but against you as well. If you're the best at this, which I don't think anyone would argue, and we can beat you without you..."

Gordon nodded. "...then when we're together, we can beat anyone up to my level."

A thought occurred to me. "What about the Hood's mind control? We should throw that into our sessions too."

My comment did not seem to make anyone very happy.

Scott heaved a heavy sigh. "Let's just try to have everyone live through a five-on-one game first. Then we can worry about mind control."

Snapping his fingers Virgil added. "For the mind control, we can have a pre-arranged victim. No one will know who, but the selected bad guy will tell one of the good guys the night before, 'on this signal, switch teams'. Then, we need to eliminate that threat without hurting that person."

That was an excellent idea. "You're a genius, Virg."

"Ow." I looked over at Gordon who was massaging his head.

Scott walked over to him. "Still have the headache?"

Gords nodded. "Yeah. And I'm with you. Let's just try to survive without the mind control and see how that goes. I don't even want to think about one of the team turning on us in the middle of a fight."

My oldest brother squeezed Gordon's shoulder. "Let's start making our way back. We'll talk more about this at the house."

Virgil smiled at him. "With everyone there?"

With a knowing grin, Scott agreed. "You know how I like a good team discussion."

Rolling his eyes, Virg laughed. "Yeah, I do..." Then he made his way over to Scott, throwing an arm over his shoulders. "I'm really glad you're okay, Scott."

"Yeah?" My oldest brother questioned. "Me too."

And with that, we began our trek back to the beach, where the rest of the paintball participants would be waiting. As we walked back, I had this pit in my stomach. Yeah, Scott was fine and yeah, I was never exceptionally worried about the bite, but it still was a close call. I knew you had to take these moments to tell people how you felt while they were still around. Especially in our job. Like Gordon had said, there could- and probably would- be a time when one of us didn't return home.

Both of my brothers had told Scott how they felt. Hell, Gordon flat out said he loved him. Virg didn't use those words, but the hug, the looks, the, 'I'm really glad you're okay'- the message was clear. What had I done? What had I said? 'Man up' and 'You're clear,' that's what I had said. And as I watched Scott and Virg walking in front of me, I couldn't help but think I'd missed an opportunity.

This was why Gordon thought I was a cold person. Scott almost died and I didn't say anything to him. Why couldn't I hug him? Why couldn't I just say, 'Scott, I love you. I'm glad you're okay.' Another snake could jump out at any minute; we could get a call and he could die today. I should take the opportunity while I had it.

Just tell him.

I watched his back as he walked. The green uniform with my white paint splattered across it. Okay, just say the words. Say them. 'Scott, I love you.' Okay, good, but now aloud this time.

The feeling of adrenaline rocked in my stomach and I took a deep breath. This was it. I opened my mouth...

And I shut it. I would be mocked forever. But still, he could die. What if I didn't get another chance? The mocking would be worth it.

Just do it, John. Just say the words. Say it!

Damn it!

"Hey," Gordon nudged me. "You mad about what I said? You look upset. I didn't mean it condescendingly. You know I totally admire you, John, just not in combat skills. But like you said, everybody's an expert in something and everybody's got stuff they're not good at. Hey, at least you can do the combat. I can't even run the training mission in space."

I sighed. "I'm not upset about what you said. You were correct and you were talking about surviving a life or death situation, sparing my feelings shouldn't be a concern. It's all for the greater good."

He raised a brow. "Oookay. I don't know what that means. Does that mean I did hurt your feelings or I didn't?"

"It means it doesn't matter."

"Of course it does. I don't want you to feel hu-"

"I'm not mad about what you said, Gords. I wasn't even thinking about that."

"Oh." He stopped talking and I focused on calming thoughts in the silence. "But you looked upset..."

Well, now I was getting upset with him. Seriously, I said I wasn't mad. And he was playing a snap, snap, fist clap tune with his hands as he walked. Could he not be quiet for two minutes? It was probably all that built up energy that he was unable expel when he was stalking our enemies in complete silence.

"Were you upset? You still look upset. Are you upset?"

Grr! What about my lack of eye contact and response indicated that I wanted to talk about this? Although... I could talk to him about it. He knew I wasn't happy and I knew he still felt indebted to me. He probably wouldn't mock me about it. And Virg, well, Virg knew I was worried that people didn't know me. So he probably wouldn't mock me. Plus, teasing people really wasn't his thing.

Okay, so, Gordon's walking next to you; he wants to help; just tell him. Say, 'Gords, I'm upset because I never got to tell Scott that I was...' What? Happy he was alive? Too blasé. I'm happy a lot of people are alive. I'm relieved that he wasn't going to die? Still not strong enough. That I love him. Okay, aaand we're over the top. I do love him, but I can't say it. Have I ever said it?

Seriously, have I ever said it to anyone in my family? I mean, I know I'm a guy and I'm not thinking I should be saying all the time or anything, but when something bad happens- like Scott almost dying- I should be able to let that person know that I care.

I couldn't remember a time that I ever said it.

Okay, now I was freaked out. Would I at least say it in response to someone else saying it? This was making me start to panic.


He added a hop to his step. "What?"

"Tell me you love me."

He stopped short. I hadn't really thought out the wording on that, had I? The look on his face was absolutely hilarious, except that I was serious... and he knew it, which only seemed to add to the look of stupefaction on his face. My older brothers were still walking. Thank God they hadn't heard that.


I crossed my arms, still determined to get to my goal of expressing my feelings to someone. "Just say it."

He looked frightened, but complied. "I love you?"

I turned away from him. "I love you too." Relief flowed through me and I resumed walking, leaving my confused brother in my wake.

Okay. So I could say it in response to someone else saying it- without eye contact. But still, that didn't help me with the whole Scott thing. Especially since I couldn't ever remember Scott initiating an, 'I love you' either. Gordon, well, if you included all the physicality, he practically said it daily. To a degree, I envied him. Nobody ever teased him about it. And me... I pushed him off. All the time. Did I ever even say it back to him before now? I couldn't remember.

He had caught up to me again and was eying me cautiously, like I was a mental patient. I stopped and spoke to him again. "I've said that to you before, right?"

I saw his breathing pick up... and now I was actually scaring him. Not just weirding him out. I had to explain myself- embarrassing though it may be. "Scott almost died and I didn't say it to him and I wanted to but then I couldn't say it. So then I was wondering if I could say it in response to someone else saying it. And then I wasn't sure if I'd ever said it period." He seemed frozen and I pointed my finger at him. "Don't make fun of me."

"I love you too, John."

Scott was still walking, but his voice didn't seem to have any trouble traveling behind him.

I went still, my entire face turning red. Across from me, Gordon was sucking in his lips to keep his laughter below the surface. I covered my face with my hands. I was mortified. I needed to hide. I unhooked my helmet from my belt, threw it onto my head, and resumed walking with my head down in shame.

Gordon cracked up laughing and quickly caught up. I didn't look, but in front of me I heard another chuckle followed by Virgil speaking softly. "He put his helmet over his head."

And now Scott was laughing. Fantastic. Well, at least I told him... had I? No, seriously now, had I actually said it? Nope. Okay, goal not accomplished. Complete the mission now, get it out of the way, and further humiliate myself? Or just accept that I couldn't say it, but Scott knows how I feel? Right. The latter. I would work on it.

Next to me, Gords cleared his throat. "You know, we're on our victory walk... We should be singing loudly."

I appreciated the change of subject. And yeah, that was tradition. Gords and Alan always sang 'We are the Champions' by Queen. You could hear them coming from about a mile away. Scott and Virgil preferred to come up with a new song for each win, but they were equally as loud. Truth be told though, I wasn't really in the mood to sing. I had already humiliated myself enough. Besides, it was obnoxious- and not at all classy.

"Come on, John. What should we sing?"

I shook my head. "We already had our victory song."

"Uh, when was that exactly?"

"On the beach." I never realized that my voice echoed with this helmet on.

"That wasn't a victory song. That was a 'cheer Gordon up' song."

I smiled despite myself. He was right. It was. I kept my head down as he went on.

"Come on." He hopped in front of me and began walking backwards. With my head down, I couldn't see above his chest and he couldn't see my face.

He snapped. "I got it! You need a cheering up song!"

Oh this should be good...

"Maybe we could sing a cheer up/victory combo song..."

I was not responding to this.

"Umm... Ooo! I know: 'A Space Oddity'!"

A Space Oddity? Really? I believed Major Tom died in that little tale. Actually, thinking about it, I believe it was implied that he went floating off into space. Ironic that Gordon chose that one. I looked up just long enough to shoot him a look of disbelief.

Apparently he took that as an invitation. "Ground control to Major Tom... Ground control to Major Tom..." He included great drama in his voice and hand movements as he serenaded me.

"Take your protein pills and put your helmet on..." He slapped the top of my helmet.

"Ground control to Major Tom... Ground control to Major Tom..."

My face began to crack. The way he was overexaggerating the end of each phrase... it was getting to me. I could feel the damn smile breaking through.

"Commencing countdown, engines-" He bent his head down in front of my face shield with an overly earnest expression. "...on."

That did it. The laugh escaped me. He got out of my face and I brought my head up to see him looking very proud of himself. Bastard. "You know how that song ends, right?"

He shrugged. "Not sure I ever made it to the end. It's kind of a slow one."

Naturally. I briefly questioned if I should mention it, but it had been a few weeks now. Gordon was doing better. "The spaceship goes dead and he ends up floating off into space."

My brother stopped short and went pale. I shouldn't have told him. But then, with a disconcerted look, he added, "Well that's ironic, isn't it?"

I chuckled. "Yeah. I'd say so. Good song choice there, Gords."

He made a face. "I don't like that song anymore."

I rolled my eyes at him and rubbed his head. "Well thanks for-"

I stopped. Hang on. What was this? His head wasn't smooth. No, it felt kind of like a two o'clock shadow...

He was staring at me as though I was crazy again. Well, I was feeling his head... I smiled. "Hey Scott!"

They were about twenty feet ahead of us now, but both my brothers stopped and turned. Scott nodded at me and yelled, "You still have the helmet on?"

With a huff, I kept one hand on my brother's head and took my helmet off with the other. "Come here!"


Why was Virgil questioning me? "Just come here!"

They jogged over. Gords seemed a bit nervous. I just smirked at him. It's not often that I can get him in this sort of position- where I'm in the know and he's not. Finally, they arrived. "What, John?"

I grabbed Scott's hand and plopped it on Gordon's head. "Rub it."

One eyebrow went up in response.

I rolled my eyes. "Just do it."

He did. Understanding dawned immediately and Scott smiled at me.

Gordon flicked his eyes back and forth between us. "What?"

Ignoring him, Scott turned to Virg. "Virg?"

Curious, my other brother also put a hand on Gordon's head. He felt around and a genuine grin adorned his face. Then, he dropped the hand and squinting, he moved in towards Gordon's nose.

Uncomfortable with how close Virgil was getting, my younger brother tried to back up. However, with two hands on his head, he wasn't going anywhere. "What? What is it?"

Virgil straightened. "Guys, I believe our little brother's growing up. If you look real close, I think he's getting a mustache."

Gordon's eyes went wide. "Do not tease me."

Scott and I both removed our hands from his head and smiled at him.

Clearly unsure if we were messing with him, Gordon just stood for a moment, trying to read us. We remained quiet with our knowing smiles. Unable to determine our sincerity, my younger brother slowly brought his hand up and felt the top of his own head. The look of suspicion faded almost immediately, replaced by one of hope. Then, as he felt around more, his eyes lifted to all three of us, looking for reassurance that this was real.

I answered his eyes. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Gordon."

Scott nodded and put an arm around Gords' shoulders. "I am too. Although, I'm a little insulted that my being bitten wasn't all that traumatic for you."

With a smile, my younger brother pushed Scott off and shook his head, pointing at him. "Don't even joke about that."

Virgil tapped Gordon's cheek and tsked. "You're gonna need to do something about all that stubble."

The grin was slowly extending across my brother's face. "Do something about the stubble? Virg, I'm not shaving for at least a month. I'm reveling in this. I'm growing a full-on beard."

Well that was something I'd never seen. Actually, other than Scott, I'd never seen any of my brothers with full facial hair. Not shaving for a few days, sure, but a full beard... Hopefully Gords would look better than I did when I grew a gotee for Ashlynn Roberts. I looked ridiculous, but she was worth it. She could do amazing things with her-

"A beard? That should be interesting." Scott's comments shook me from my thoughts. I really needed to go see Eliska.

Virg scoffed. "Bet it slows his swim times down by five seconds a lap."

"I don't care." You could almost see the joy building up in my brother's core. His whole body began to vibrate with excitement. He beamed at us. "I have hair!"

I couldn't help but grin back. I noticed my brothers doing the same.

Gordon began jumping up and down, pumping his fists into the air, screaming at the top of his lungs. "I HAVE HAIR! I HAVE HAIR! Who has hair?" He paused in the bouncing to answer himself. "Oh, that's right. I do!" Then he started moon walking across the wooded path. He sang, "I have hair. Uh huh. I have hair. That's right."

I looked on with amusement.

"I'm gonna have eyebrows again! I'm gonna have eyelashes! No more looking like a freak!" He stopped again to question us. "This is real, right?"

We all nodded as Virgil answered. "Yeah it is. Big day for you, shot down your family, and grew some hair."

"Woohoo!" And the bouncing resumed. "I got hair! I got hair!"

Scott leaned over to Virgil. "Who does he remind me of?"

Crossing his arms, Virg replied. "Tigger."

Scott nodded in accord. "Ohh. Yep, that's right."

A thought popped into my head. I shouted out and interrupted the 'I got hair' mantra. "Hey Gordon! Cheer me up. Sing the Tigger song while you're bouncing!"

He stopped and looked at me. But I knew from his expression that he was way too happy not to do what I asked. Sure enough, the hopping resumed along with a serenade, "OH! The wonderful thing about tiggers are tiggers are wonderful things! Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs. Their bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, but the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one!"

I was cracking up! He was literally springing in time with the song.

Scott was trying very hard not join me. "You know, he really is a twelve year old."

I agreed. "Yep. A twelve year old with the knowledge of an assassin."

Virgil shook his head and resumed walking. "I think you two are giving him way too much credit. That song's from Winnie the Pooh. He's a four year old."

Scott furrowed his brow and nodded. "You're right, I stand corrected."

"Tiggers are cuddly fellows, tiggers are awfully sweet, everyone el-us is jealous, that's why I repeat and repeat! OH..."


Five minutes later, the beach was in view. Scott, Virgil, and I were still walking on the path with Gordon literally twirling and hopping around us- still singing the song.

"John..." I peered at Scott. "I just might have to kill you."

I smirked. "Good luck. I'm under Gordon's protection."

"Uh, your protector is currently swinging from a tree branch."

I looked up and to the right. Virgil was correct. There Gordon was, hanging on a low branch and moving back and forth. At least he'd stopped singing...

At full swing, he let go and landed on his feet in a mixture of sand and dirt. He smiled at me. "John! What's our song?"

Virgil cut me off before I could answer. "Oh no. No more singing for you. And no more bouncing either."

"But I've got hair!" Arms wide to the sky, he went running for the beach. Giving each other a look and an eye roll, we trotted off after him. We arrived just in time for Gordon to announce his discovery to the casualties. "I got hair!"

My father, Brains, and TinTin smiled. Alan, sent him a death glare from his seat on the bench.

"That's wonderful news, Gordon. Let me see and how's the headache?"

"What- oh right. No more headache. I have hair!" Gordon jumped over to my father as we finally caught up to the group. As my dad inspected my brother's head, Alan went over to Scott. "You really okay?"

Smirking, Scott shook his head. "You're not flying One."

Al's eyes narrowed. "I am genuinely concerned."

My brother hit his shoulder. "I'm fine. It was a venom-free bite."

"Scott. I want to look at you." Finished with Gordon, my father called Scott over to where he was standing with Brains and TinTin.

Panting and sweaty from his excitement-based workout, Gordon came over to myself, Virgil, and Alan- still beaming. "Hey Al. Wanna feel the hair?"

Alan crossed his arms and stared Gords down. "No. Not really."

"It feels priiiicklyyyy..."

Arms still folded, Alan worked his jaw.

Gordon's hand shot out and grabbed Al's wrist. "Feel it."

"No!" My youngest brother tried to keep his arms to his chest as he turned away.

With his hand clamped down, Gordon followed. "Feel it!"

"No! Let..." They were twirling in a circle now with Gordon practically on top of Alan's back, "...go of me."

"Feel my hair!"

"No! I don't give a damn about your stupid hair."

Immediately, Gords let go and stood back looking hurt. I couldn't tell if it was real or not. This was one of the few times I wished I was Virgil. Okay, no. Maybe I'd just wish to have Virgil's ability to readpeople- I couldn't handle having Virg's PMS.

My younger brothers stared off. Alan glaring and Gordon pouting. It was Al who broke first. Rolling his eyes, he reached up and rubbed Gord's head. "Congratulations on your stubble."

An eyebrow went up and Gord crossed his arms. "You don't sound very enthusiastic for me."

Alan match the position almost exactly. "Well, you'll have to excuse me. I was shot down today by my former partner... within the first ten minutes- the first one out."

Gordon nodded. "Well, as I've heard it, all's fair in love and war. And to be honest..." Gordon pointed at Alan, up and down, "...this whole sore-loser thing really does not become you."

The eyes narrowed to slits.

A crooked grin appeared on Gord's face. "Come on, Al. Be happy for my hair."

Now that expression was honest. Gordon meant it this time- he really wanted Alan to be happy for him.

Giving up the evil eye, my youngest brother rolled his eyes and allowed a small smile to grace his lips. He sighed. "A full beard, huh?"

So I guessed Gordon had already discussed his grooming plans with Alan then...

The full-tooth grin was back as Gordon nodded excitedly.

With a slight chuckle, Alan's body relaxed. "You're gonna look so weird." He turned to me. "Congratulations on the win, John."


Then Alan pointed at me. "But just so you know, I'm calling dibs on Gordon for next time."

"Dibs? What am I? The front seat of a car?"

"That's shotgun." Alan whispered to him.

"Oh right."

"Uh, I hate to break up the cat fight you two have going on over Gordon here-"

I looked offended at Virgil. "I didn't say anything!"

He ignored me. "But Gordon made some good points about how we can train better for this type of activity."

"Yep," Scott chimed in from where he stood with Father, "and I think we should all discuss it."

My father nodded. "All right then, let's debrief."

We all began to make our way back to the house. This had been a rather eventful day for me. I won paintball for the first time, almost lost Scott, made some headway in letting people know how I felt. Not too bad-

I looked up. How had I ended up in this position? In the front of the group were Father, Brains, and TinTin. Behind them, walking in a line of four, and taking up the entire trail from the beach were my brothers. And then of course, behind them, was me. Great.

I quickened my pace and caught up to them, coming up directly behind Virgil and Alan. Gordon was to the right of Alan and Scott to the right of Virg. I was on their heels, but they didn't seem to notice. They were engrossed in a discussion of the paintball events. After two minutes of no one making room for me, I eased back and resumed my solitary walk.

This was ridiculous. I wanted to be part of the group. Not all the time, but right now, I did. Determined, I narrowed my eyes at their backs. My heart began to thump in my chest. It was ludicrous that I'd be nervous about speaking to my brothers, but there it was. The hell with this. I needed to learn how to open my mouth.

Marching my way back to the center of the group, I put a hand on both Alan and Virgil's shoulders. They looked back at me. "Let me in."

Virgil smiled and Al was blinked like I was crazy, but they made room. In doing so, however, Gords got knocked off the path and into the brush.

Hopping his way out the bramble, my formerly hairless brother began walking backwards in front of all four of us. Easy going and resourceful. He didn't complain about being knocked out of the line, just found a different way to fit in. But that was Gordon, trying to belong, despite his differences.

"Oh John, Scott!" Alan looked down the line as he spoke. "Brains and I were talking before and we think their might be a way to fortify One's exterior to allow her to fly at top altitude."

Scott looked interested. "It'd reduce the radiation exposure?"

Now that would be interesting. One had already broken the record for highest altitude of a non-rocket based aircraft, but she was still restricted to a certain height due to the galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) in the atmosphere that would penetrate the ship.

Virgil answered Scott. "NASA apparently came out with a new light-weight alloy that could be applied over One's fuselage."

"What about her windows?" I questioned.

Alan responded. "Not sure, but the capability for speed if she can go up even another 10 meters..."

I suddenly noticed that Gordon was no longer facing us. He was walking forward now, his hands thrust into his pockets. Of course. The four of us were together, so we were talking about planes and flight. I noticed that when filling us in on the conversation with Brains, Alan had started with 'John, Scott,' not 'John, Scott, Gordon'. Wow, we really did talk about air and space constantly...

I could fix this. "Did Brains mention updates to Four?"

Gordon didn't even break his stride as he spun around on one foot and resumed his backwalk. The spark interest in his eyes was almost funny.

Alan looked confused. "No... Why would Four-"

"Because Four hasn't been updated in two years. All the other ships have been."

Scott shook his head. "But John, if we can increase One's altitude, the effects for IR are-"

I felt a shift to my left and Scott abruptly stopped talking. Virgil had done something.

"Actually, John, I had wanted to see about getting her battery tank replaced. WASP just developed these new ones that are much safer if there's overheating. Plus, they're a lot more efficient."

"Oh! That reminds me!" Alan looked down the line. "Tonight at 7 there's this new documentary airing on solar-powered, battery run, gas-less planes."

"Seriously?" Scott asked, "We need to watch. If we could use it, the expenses would be significantly-"

Oh you had got to be kidding me!

This time, Virgil intervened first. "Scott, Alan, focus. Gordon was telling us what updates he wanted to make to Four. As members of IR who may need to operate Four at some point, you should pay attention."

My brothers ceased their discussion and turned their attention back to Gords. He looked shocked. "Uh, wow, really? Uh, okay... Well, the current battery tank holds..."

As my brother began an incredibly boring, yet animated, lesson on the energy systems of submarines, I couldn't help but smile. Yes, we were all very different, with divergent interests and skill sets, but that was what made us great. That was why we could be a team. Gordon didn't need to be able to be in space, because Alan and I could handle that. And I didn't need to be great at combat, because Gordon and Scott would cover that. Together, we were a complete package. And although we didn't always get along, the bonds were solid and there were no gaps. If we frayed apart, it wouldn't be long before we twisted back together- stronger than before.

It's finally finished! Thank goodness! Thank you all so much for sticking with this story despite it's long hiatuses toward the end. I really, really appreciated you all coming back. This story was very special to me- and I hope my brother would've enjoyed it. We're a few days shy on the one year anniversary of his death, so maybe it was appropriate that I finished it today...

If you get the chance, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story, this chapter, any other feedback...