A/N: I have tried, for three years in fact, to get myself to write this story, and it was always thwarted by the fact that I couldn't figure out how to do it without making it ridiculously long. But on a recent road trip, the answer finally came to me. Unfortunately, it involves me removing Jeff as narrator which means he cannot stand up for himself. I want to make it clear that I in no way think Jeff is a bad person at all. Simply a human being who made mistakes raising his sons, just like anyone else.
I also want to be clear that my evidence for this is zero. I just always felt that John got left out when they were making the list of accomplishments for the Tracy brothers. So, I decided to hand him the things I consider the biggest accomplishments in the world—and then take them away like the terrible person I am. But, at any rate, I hope you enjoy this little tapeworm of a story idea.
Title comes from the song "Dizzy" by Jimmy Eat World. Because it's a great song for this story.
Half a Chance
September 2nd, 2064
Half blinded by freezing rain and swirling dust kicked up by the landing of his jet, Scott struggled to reach the door of the bar on the outskirts of a small town in Montana. The young man, twenty-five-years old with dark hair, striking blue eyes, dressed in a leather jacket, button down white shirt, and black slacks didn't look like he belonged in this town, despite the definite purpose in his step. The red neon light of the 'Mo's Bar' sign illuminated his flashing eyes and the layer of water that coated Scott's skin. He'd searched every other place in this town that he could think of, and if his objective was not here then the young Tracy man was a little wary of contemplating his remaining options.
Pushing open the large oak door, Scott was immediately overwhelmed with the smell of cheap alcohol and cigarette smoke. Turning his head to cover the automatic cough, Scott searched the dim room as best he could. A sea of cowboy hats and grizzled faces met his eyes, and though Scott wasn't sure of much he did know that John wouldn't look like that.
'Even if John was up here a hundred years he wouldn't wear an outfit like that,' Scott thought to himself grimly. He tried to picture his brother, telescope in hand, dressed in a cowboy hat, boots, and chaps but found he couldn't. All he could see was John the last time he'd talked to his brother. Was it really seven years ago?
Yes, seven that December. Back then John had been seventeen, scrawny and delicate looking with arms that were slightly too long for his body and a face that seemed so open and frightened. Standing in his pajamas in ankle deep snow, fading from sight in the rear view mirror of Scott's beloved El Camino, he had seemed so young and vulnerable. Almost, he had turned back. Almost given into his brother's begging.
"Please, Scott, don't leave again. We're falling apart without you here. I'm falling apart. I know all that stuff is important to you, but…"
"You'll be fine, Johnny. I promise. You're stronger than you think. I have to go now, I'm sorry. Chin up, John, it'll all be fine. I promise."
How young, cocky, and sure he had been then. So positive that his promise would prove to be true. To this day, it was the only promise that Scott was aware of ever having broken.
John had to be there, though. According to the information he'd gotten from Gordon, the small two bedroom blue house just outside of town had been empty. Checking everywhere that the John he had grown up with would go at a time like this—every hilltop, tree, and rooftop of every dimly lit building—had been searched thoroughly without a trace of his brother. It was just possible that he'd missed John, but Scott was certain that it didn't matter how much time had passed, he would still recognize his brother. They weren't passing acquaintances, but brothers. Comrades, partners in crime. Or, at least, they had been.
The phone call from Gordon only hours before had been unexpected, but Scott never minded talking to any of his brothers. He was taken off guard by his red-headed brother completely ignoring his cheerful greeting, and instead simply stated one thing.
"I'm going to tell you where John is. I just talked to him. Scott, he needs you right now."
He'd already been moving before Gordon had finished the second sentence. It wasn't a surprise that Gordon had talked to John, as he and Virgil had kept in regular contact with their wayward brother, but never had Gordon offered to tell him where John was. As he continued to speak, Gordon only confirmed the sinking feeling in Scott's stomach that something was desperately wrong.
Something gold caught Scott's attention and he turned his head towards it with a grim smile on his face. Maybe, his luck in finding his brother was finally going to change.
It hurt, finally seeing that if he'd passed John on the street it would have taken him a second glance to recognize his face. His face had thinned out, the gentleness that had been uniquely John faded, his skin more lined and care-worn. He had also filled out slightly, grown taller, and while still thinner than Scott or any of their brothers, he certainly wasn't a child any more either. Even so, even if it took a heartbeat too long, Scott was certain that this man was his brother. There was the same far away feeling about him. The same feeling that, if you didn't hold onto him tight enough, John would simply disappear. He'd already proven that.
Last time they had seen each other, John's cheeks had been tinged pink with the cold only New York state could have in early January. This time, too, his cheeks were pink, but it probably had more to do with the bottle of beer in his hand, and the several in front of him on the table, than with any chill in the room.
A second realization clenched Scott's throat with an unfamiliar choking sensation of helplessness. He had no idea what to say. It had never been this hard to talk to any of his brothers. Even Gordon right after his accident, Scott had found the words needed to get even a half-smile from his injured brother. But seven years apart, and he couldn't find a single thing to say to John? Even hello didn't feel right as he tried to force it from his mouth. What was he supposed to say after all this time? After the events of the day that had brought him here? He could start with I'm sorry, but for which? For the loss, the anguish, the hurt Scott couldn't even begin to comprehend that John was no doubt feeling? Or was he sorry for not understanding and abandoning his brother all those years ago? For both, perhaps, but that didn't seem a good response to either.
John needed him, damn it, there had to be something to say. "I was going to offer to buy your next round, but it looks like you've had enough already." Far from eloquent, but there was no taking it back now.
A dull recognition sparked in John's eyes, but none of the relief that had been there when they were children and Scott had been able to make everything right for his little brother. Even though Gordon had insisted that John needed him, Scott knew there was no way to make things right.
Sparing his elder brother not a glance, John continued to stare down the neck of his half finished beer, and addressed the amber liquid as he spoke. "Gordon called you. Should have guessed he would. You would have had to find out eventually, anyway. Probably be in the paper tomorrow."
Not at all sure what to do with any of that statement, Scott decided to tread cautiously. The last thing he wanted was to drive John further away. "Not mad at him are you?"
Blue eyes flickered up briefly at that, not quite managing to meet Scott's own. "He was only doing what he thought was best. Can't really hold that against him, can I?"
"Mind if I join you?" Not that it mattered, he wasn't going to be leaving John alone any time soon, but Scott felt he had to say something, anything, to fill the dead air between them.
John simply shrugged, taking a long draught from his drink before verbally responding. "Do whatever you want. You always do."
Dropping down into the beige booth seat, Scott bit back his automatic response to defend himself. Arguing with John wasn't going to get either of them anywhere. But what would?
Growing up there had never been this unease between them. He couldn't remember a time without John as his constant companion; his back up against their younger brothers. John had been the one he'd counted on to understand Gordon's incessant baby talk, to help Virgil with his homework, and get Alan to stop crying in the middle of the night for a mother the boy couldn't remember. John that he'd depended on to know when his eldest brother needed a break, and to help him cover anything they didn't want their father to discover. John, who had always had his back in every situation, a silent but constant source of strength for his older brother.
That's why he'd been so sure that John would be alright when he drove away that night. That it was just a rough patch that his younger brother would silently but diligently work his way through like he did every other challenge. Sure, their father had been putting long hours in at the office for a while now, and yes he'd known that John had been getting steadily more resentful about being second place to Jeff's business. But he'd been so certain that John would manage. Would learn to see as Scott did that their father was still grieving, and all they could really do was muddle through and wait for him to work through those things on his own. So sure that the other boys had grown up enough to look after themselves, allowing John the freedom and solitude he craved, and the time for the quietest Tracy brother to see that he was stronger than he thought.
How could he, could anyone, have possibly guessed the fight John and his father would have the night before John's graduation? Scott still didn't know all the details, what had started it, but from what Virgil had told him the next morning, all the anger and resentment John had been holding onto finally exploded. All three of his younger brothers agreed that the fighting was not fair, on either side, and both had been wounded by it.
But it was their father who had lashed out the hardest. That was just how Jeff Tracy dealt with things, Scott knew that, but even now he wondered why his father had made the choice he had. Why, when John had stormed towards the door, to cool off in the solace he always found in the outdoors, his father had thought that saying what he did was in anyway a good idea.
"If you walk out that door, John Glenn Tracy, don't you expect it to be open when you want to come home."
How he'd expected that to help, Scott still couldn't be sure, unless he'd been hoping it would scare John into staying and dealing with the problem. But that wasn't how John worked, and apparently at the end of his patience, John had simply continued walking.
Of course the door would have still been open to him, but to Scott's knowledge John had never tried it. His brother had tried precisely once to call him since then, and it had been that night when Scott, miles away, was in the middle of a late night final and hadn't been able to answer. That must have been the last chance for Scott, too, though he didn't know it. He would have taken the call if he'd had any idea at all, but he didn't. Not for two days when Virgil finally called to ask if he'd heard from John at all. For years, none of them knew where John was, although he would respond to a text from the younger three if sent his way. It wasn't until Gordon's accident, four months ago now, that John had told anyone where he'd been; and then only Gordon, when John, Gordon said, snuck into the hospital late at night to see him without visiting anyone else.
Before this moment, Scott had always just thought that when John came back it would be just like before. That John would have forgiven him and they would go back to being the best of friends. He hadn't realized how far the gulf had stretched between them.
A clank that echoed dully as John put his bottle down aggressively. "I suppose you think you can help, huh, Scotty?"
"No." And that was true, although Scott hating having to admit it. "I just didn't think you should be alone tonight."
A harsh, cold laugh that Scott would never have expected to hear from John's mouth. "You might be right. I mean I'm sure it's a rule somewhere." And, just as suddenly as it had started, John's laugh turned into something like a sob.
Everything in Scott's body scream for him to run around the table and pull his little brother into a hug, but he stayed exactly where he was. John had never been one that was eager to touch, and unless asked any physical contact his brother offered would only serve to drive John further away.
God, why had he let it get this far?
"It was my idea, Scotty." John was almost panting, obviously trying and failing to regain control of his breathing and stop the sobs that were attempting to break through. "She wanted to leave tomorrow, but I told her to come back tonight. I begged her."
Almost certainly it was the large amount of alcohol John had no doubt consumed that was having him talk, but Scott wasn't about to look that gift horse in the mouth. Because if John was talking, his older brother could actually do something to help him.
There was no need for John to explain who he was talking about. Gordon had fed Scott the details through his head set as he screamed from Tracy Island to the middle of nowhere Montana. Sometime while John was studying in the astronaut program, he'd met a girl. Aislin, was her name, an exchange student from Ireland working on an internship as a controller for NASA.
Scott could remember getting the announcement for their wedding, three years ago. Not an invitation, but a simple card informing him that his younger brother had gotten married, and not a single one of his brothers had been asked to be there. He had never seen his brother's wife, nor the baby girl they had had the next year, Lucy. Only once had he seen a picture, the one that John had left with Gordon, of a little girl with curly strawberry blond hair and his brother's big dreamy blue eyes.
And John had lost them both that day. According to Gordon, the girls had been driving along the slick roads from another town, and John had gone to meet them halfway. A semi-truck, coming down the hill, had lost control. John had managed to pull over. The girls had not, and been pushed through the guard rail and down into the canyon. From the report, John had tried to get to them, but like the rescuers who arrived a half hour later, couldn't safely get down before the river was flooded and pulled the car down.
It was a grossly unfair accident, and so eerily similar to the death of their mother that Scott couldn't stop his heart breaking just a little more for John. Even though John was like their father in ways that neither would ever admit, he had been their Mother's pet. Her death had been particularly hard on John, who had taken the blame on himself. Just as Scott was certain he was doing now. And, just like then, Scott was powerless to stop it.
That wasn't going to stop him from trying. "Johnny, you had no way of knowing. You couldn't…"
"Like hell I couldn't!" John slammed both his hands on the table, half rising before sinking in on himself almost immediately. "I could hear her crying. My baby girl. She was crying for me, Scotty, and there was nothing…"
At this point John broke down completely, his breath coming in a hitching sob. A few of the men around them glanced over, but it seemed they either knew what was going on or they were too drunk to care, as they immediately continued their conversations. And Scott didn't care, as he jumped around the table to pull John to his side.
His brother was shaking, each sob wracking his thin frame. He knew that John would be mortified by such a public show of emotion, but this was something he could not control. Anyone that blamed him for this would have Scott to answer to.
John shrugged off the first hand laid on his shoulder, but Scott tried again and this time John allowed himself to be pulled against his older brother's side and head placed on his shoulder. They sat like that for a long time, Scott's hand resting on John's head and idly playing with his hair until John's sobs had turned to the occasional shaky hiccup.
"I can't do this anymore," John whispered, not moving from his current position. That, if nothing else, was a good sign for Scott. For now, at least, his brother didn't seem so far away.
"I know, Johnny." And even though they both knew he would have to, Scott didn't say so. That wasn't what John needed to here right now, and Scott didn't say it would be okay because that didn't help him feel better either. What John needed, always needed, was someone to sit with him and hang on until John himself had worked through the problem.
Now John sounded seventeen again, frightened and alone. "I want to go home. I don't want to be here anymore."
On instinct, Scott held onto John just a little tighter. He probably shouldn't support John running away from this, but he wanted his brother back. And if he was going where there was support, it couldn't really be wrong, could it? "You can. We've kept your room open for you. I'll take you home right now, if you want."
Silence for several minutes, John's shoulders still shaking occasionally, before another hoarse whisper. "Dad will want me to join that project of his. International Rescue."
To this, Scott only nodded. Once more he had only heard that Jeff had tracked John down to recruit him to work on his space station. And John had flat out refused. Now, with nothing left for him here on earth, Scott wondered if that refusal would still stand. "Don't worry about that right now, Johnny. I'm going to look after you now, alright?"
No response from John, but he didn't resist as Scott pulled him to his feet. The eldest Tracy left a handful of bills on the table, certain it was more than enough to cover John's tab, before guiding his brother out towards his jet. John stumbled a few times, certainly a combination of the alcohol in his system and the exhaustion of what was no doubt the worst day in John's life.
Settling his brother into the copilot seat, Scott covered him with a blanket and slid a pillow under his head. Before the pre-flight check was completed, John was fast asleep. A soft brushing of fingers along his brother's forehead, just to reassure the eldest Tracy that this was real, before he started the engines and began the climb. Then, he flipped the switch, sending in a call to Tracy Island.
"Hey, Dad. Tell Grandma to make a fresh batch of beef stew. John's coming home."