A/N: This chapter is better if read while listening to Nickleback's "I'd Come For You". Just saying.
I'm glad that those of you that read my first chapter enjoyed it. There was a lot of love and effort in there that I hope carries over to everything I write later. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them. I'd like to know if I'm missing some key details for you to get the whole picture of the characters/circumstances.
Yes, I could have written John's Japanese dialogue in Japanese (my sister's major, she could have translated it for me). No, I won't do that, as it is a pain for everyone. Use your imaginations.
I…hate this chapter. Just saying. I was trying to kind of hurry through it, and as such it is full of holes and weak. Ugh. We're moving on swiftly.
August 24th, 2066
Tuesday, 7:30 AM Tracy Island Time
It wasn't easy watching something fade from sight on Thunderbird One. Scott simply didn't have to worry about going backwards all that often—John wasn't entirely sure his older brother could in this thing, even if he wanted to—so thought of a rear facing anything wasn't exactly in the design plans. Still, by undoing his safety restraint and turning around, John could watch the last of the palm trees fade over the horizon as they flew over the ocean at an astonishing speed.
It wasn't until that last splash of green had faded from sight that John felt he could breathe again. It was always like that. He was never comfortable on that island, despite the fact that he was the one Tracy brother who actually liked to be away from other people. His father had purchased the island after their mother's death as a refuge; a place she had never been and her ghost could not be.
While he understood only too well that desire now, growing up he had hated it. He thought Jeff had been trying to forget her, and the island was someplace he could ship the boys off to and ignore them. The three summers he had spent there before International Rescue had been miserable angry ones, and it never felt like home.
Maybe it was because he spent so little time there, even now, but he still felt as though he were in intruder in someone else's house. He hoped that would change someday, but for now it was what it was, and he was much happier every time that little spec of land faded from sight.
John was turned back around and had his restraint on again before Scott spoke. He was honestly surprised he'd waited that long.
"You're nowhere near off the hook, you know."
Had it not been a ridiculously childish thing for a twenty-six-year-old man to do, John would have sulked. Instead, he went with his usual Scott defense tactic. "What hook?"
This went about as well as it usually did, with Scott glancing over at him with one eyebrow raised. "I know you don't want to talk about it; no one every does with this sort of thing. But you know you need to. You can't hold on to the hurt like that, it will destroy you. And I, for one, like you at least mostly intact even if you don't."
"I'm doing alright." And really, he was. Sure, not a day went by where he didn't miss his girls, and every so often he'd think about how much Scott would have liked his baby niece, but most days it was just a dull ache. Something he could deal with, acknowledge, and then push aside. If he wasn't doing great this week that was something his family was just going to have to understand.
"You're also being deliberately frustrating."
This was probably accurate, though the blond hated to admit it. At this point, it was almost habit. His high school years had been mostly spent causing as much trouble as he could manage just to annoy his father. The unintended consequence was he'd butted heads with Scott quite often.
John had never intended for this wedge that had come between them to get there. Growing up he had held Scott's opinion in the highest regard. In truth, the main reason he hadn't even tried coming home for so long was because he didn't think he could stand to see the disappointment on Scott's face. It killed him a little inside to know he'd let his big brother down, and like the coward he was he had chosen to remain hidden instead of come out and face it.
He owed it to Scott to at least attempt to be cooperative, though. Not just for letting him go on the rescue, or for the hell he'd put his big brother through growing up, but for being there when John had needed him most.
The night of his girls' funeral, John had called Gordon and given him the brief version of what happened. He hadn't known what else to do. Until then he'd been in shock, but after watching Linny's family drive away and leave him alone in the house that suddenly seemed so empty he just couldn't stand to be alone anymore.
At that point in time, Gordon was the only one talking to him, as even Virgil had had enough of his foolishness. Naturally, John had expected his laughing eyed, ginger haired brother that Linny had been so much like, to be the only one willing to come to Florida and drink with him until it didn't hurt anymore.
Gordon, perceptive as he always was when it was really important, had instead sent the person John needed most right then. He had wanted a drinking buddy. Instead he got an older brother who wasn't going anywhere without him.
There had been no condemnation or disappointment in Scott's eyes, and there wasn't now. Only the same compassion and understanding as there had been that night when he'd found John already drunk and shattered, and taken him home.
He needed to at least attempt to be civil, to repay Scott for all of that. "After the rescue, okay, Fearless?"
John watched his older brother try, and fail, to stop a grin from spreading across his face at the nickname. It was one Gordon had given him when they were children, spending carefree summers that had seemed endless then on their grandparent's farm. For a while Scott's code name had been Fearless Leader, but when that proved too long for Alan to remember Gordon had shortened it to only the first word.
"I'll hold you to that."
"I'm counting on it."
At that point the silence became more companionable, and they didn't speak at all for the few minutes that it took for them to get to Japan.
It was never good, John decided, when you can see the smoke from a rescue long before you reach the actual disaster zone. Judging from the way that Scott's hands tightened on the controls of his bird, his older brother didn't think so either.
Where exactly in Japan they were, John couldn't say for sure, as he'd been changing into his uniform when Brains had given Scott his directions and cities had long ago become mostly irrelevant to the astronaut who was used to looking at land masses as wholes. What he did know was that seeing the column of smoke curling around some very tall buildings and heading skyward made his stomach lurch. A fire that big wasn't a good thing.
Scott circled around several of the buildings, dodging through a few until the high rise was in view. It was one of the tallest buildings John had ever seen, all metal and glass, but the only thing he could think once it came in to view was 'that is coming down soon.'
"Damn." Scott's face looked grim, and he punched several buttons to get his Thunderbird to hover where it was. "Why'd they wait so long to call us?" He flipped a switch. "Virgil, what's your e.t.a?"
"I'm about ten minutes behind you."
"Is that the best you can do?"
A snort from the other end of the radio, "when have I given you any less?" A pause, followed by Virgil's voice sounding more concerned, "what's wrong?"
Scott flipped the switch again, obviously not wanting to give Virgil an answer for reasons that were entirely his own. "This building probably won't stay up another ten minutes. We don't have time for him to get here, never mind get set up." Scott's frown deepened and his eyes darkened before he unclipped his safety harness and jumped to his feet. "Take the controls, John."
"Me?" He knew the theory of flying Thunderbird One, knew it for all the birds, but theory and actual flight were quite different. "Want to clue me in on what the plan is here?"
"Simple." His older brother didn't pause in his task of pulling the flame retardant suit he had with him on over his uniform. "You're going to fly close enough that I can jump on to the roof, and I'm going to set up a safety line to one of the neighboring buildings. While I'm doing that, you land and get the location of the people trapped up here from the Firefighter's main control and radio it to me. Don't take any longer than a couple of minutes, though, or we're all dead."
"This is your worst plan ever, including the one where we tried to run away on our bikes." A sound plan in theory, until it was taken in to account that they wanted to run away to New York from Kansas. "You aren't seriously planning on jumping out of this thing and on to a burning building, are you?"
"Air Force, Johnny. I've jumped out of planes a hundred times."
"This isn't a plane; it's a Thunderbird that you're asking me to fly. We didn't exactly build in a hatch for this." An over sight they were going to have to fix, come to think of it. An alternate door for exits simply would not be a bad thing.
To John's surprise, Scott pulled a pair of goggles from somewhere and snapped them on to his forehead. He winced, to surprised to make a noise at the stinging sensation that caused.
"You're a great pilot, John. I have faith in you. Just get me close enough and trust me."
"If you think I'm going to FAB that, you're crazy." As unhappy as he was with this idea, though, John knew that every moment he spent arguing with Scott was another moment they lost from trying to rescue people. He didn't like it, but he also had no choice. John dropped into the pilot seat, immediately reengaging the engines to his command. Thunderbird One was much more sensitive to his commands than Three was, and within seconds they'd almost crashed sideways into another high rise before John got them facing the right direction.
Scott leaned over John's shoulder, a comforting hand placed there as he watched the building come into view of the front windshield. "That's it, Johnny, hold her nice and steady. Perfect."
"Try not to die, alright?" John watched, a little disturbed but not surprised, as Scott flipped open the side of the windshield closest to the building and climbed out. His older brother gave him a grin that was a little too close to the one Gordon always got on his face before he did something incredibly stupid, gave John a one handed salute, and then simply dropped from view.
It took a couple of seconds for John to get his heart started again, but he didn't dare look to see if Scott had made it safely to his target. Instead he started scanning for some place to land Thunderbird One and flipped the switch to let Virgil talk that had been beeping at him the whole time. "Come in Thunderbird Two."
"John? Where's Scott, what's going on? Why is he always a jerk when he's around you?"
"What can I say, I'm contagious." The helicopter pad a couple of buildings over looked perfect, and while normally he'd send a transmission for permission, there wasn't time. "Scott's already inside trying to locate people. I need to get to the firefighters to coordinate. Things here aren't looking great, Virgil, and the sooner you can get here the better."
"I'm doing my best, Johnny." Virgil sounded tense, and John could almost hear the engines of Thunderbird Two straining through the com as he landed.
"I know. We'll see you in a couple of minutes, alright?" He clicked off the com unit as well, pausing only long enough on his way out to grab a mask from the rack and drop the goggles on Scott's seat. There was no special suit in for him, but that was fine.
Once he was sure the Thunderbird was secure, John dashed out the exit, dropping to the pad and making a dash for the only door in sight. Fortunately for him, the helicopter pad was a lower tier of the building, putting only around twelve flights of stairs between him and the ground. Another surprisingly easy dash across the road that wasn't as full of spectators as he had been expecting. Finding the ring of local rescue officers by the trucks was easy, and John raced to join them.
This is where being who he was came in handy. True, most people in the world spoke English and Scott had never had a problem, but being able to communicate with these men in their native language would make things infinitely easier. And, it just so happened, that Japanese was one of those languages John had learned from a native speaker and spoke very well.
He bowed low as the men all glanced his direction, obviously surprised to see him. "Pardon me for interrupting. I'm from International Rescue. We already have one of our men in the building, but I will need exact locations of the people that need rescuing."
"We thank you for your prompt response," the one who looked like a fire chief said, returning John's bow with a look of confusion on his face. "However, we did not call you. All those inside managed to get out safely. We could use help with putting out the fire, though."
"You…you didn't call?" Now John was completely stumped. Someone had to have called; International Rescue didn't just run around willy-nilly and the information Brains had given them made it sound specifically like those in charge had asked for them. Somebody, somewhere, was being severely misled. "And you say no one is up there?"
"Not that we are aware of."
John flipped on his watch. "Scott, this is John. There's no one up there, so get yourself out."
Nothing. Not even static. Frowning, John adjusted some of the dials, and gave his wrist a good shake just to be safe. "Scott? Come in, Scott, can you hear me?"
When once again there was no response, John cursed under his breath, put on his mask, and broke out at a dead run toward the building. The shouts after him were ignored, and he stepped into the smoke filled corridor with ease. If the people had gotten down, there had to be a way up. He flipped his communicator on again. "Virgil? Brains? Anybody getting any of this?"
No, it was completely dead, and he didn't have the information or the time to find out why or fix it. Scott had said he might only have minutes. Glancing around the tiled entrance way, John located the stair well and started towards it. Five floors flew by easily as he raced, heart pounding. Ten floors. Fifteen. The heat increased with each step he climbed, taking him to the inferno that was the middle floors of the building. Where was Scott? He had to find him? Had to warn him that there wasn't anyone there. Let him know that this might even be a set…
John's foot slipped, sending him crashing face first onto the stairs before he rolled down the seven stairs he'd managed to climb, crashing onto the landing for the twenty-seventh floor in a disorienting thud. Groaning, John opened his eyes to find himself staring at the ceiling. Perfect. Nobody was going to allow him on another rescue ever again. He sat up as quickly as vertigo would let him, and glanced toward the door to that floor. It was open, although John was certain he hadn't been that way just moments ago when he'd rushed past. It wasn't possible for Scott to be that far down already, was it? Well, he'd gone up and down several flights of stairs himself, and Scott was in far better shape, so he it was plausible. Glancing down the spiraling stair case, John saw no one, and he instead turned to push open the door further. "Scott?"
No sign of anything but smoke in the hallway, and John started to turn away when a shadow caught his attention. Just in the corner of his vision, something was moving further down the corridor, and it was either Scott or someone that needed his help. It vanished as soon as he turned to look at it fully, but John was certain it had been there. He started to run again, racing toward it at full speed. "Hey, wait, come back. Scott?"
Just as John reached the spot where the shadow had been, he caught a second glimpse of it, just further down the hall. There was still no response when he called out to it, although it was possible his voice was being muffled by his mask and couldn't be heard over the flames roaring above their heads. At least, that's what he told himself. Coughing as he ran the few more feet, he nearly tripped over the little boy lying face down on the floor. He was clearly unconscious, his black hair coated in ash.
Bending down, John could see he was a little thing, probably no older than six or seven, and he appeared to be unconscious but was still breathing. More than likely, the poor thing had panicked and hyperventilated himself into this state. It was odd that no one had reported the child missing to the fire fighters, but then perhaps he'd been alone while his parents were at work and no one even knew. The boy couldn't have been the shadow, but for now whoever that was just had to wait. John only had two arms, and unlike his more athletic brothers he couldn't carry more than one person at a time.
Scooping the kid up gently, John stood and turned back toward the stairs. Only to find himself face to face with a woman. Her long black hair was somehow floating around her head, her face painted in the traditional white style of a geisha, her long white and red kimono also floating in a peculiar manner around her body. Eyes so dark they were almost black seemed to be staring right through John, who'd almost dropped the child in surprise.
"If one sows goodness, one will reap the same." She said slowly, those eerie eyes blinking with an equal lack of haste.
"For services performed, there must be rewards. Lives saved can be returned in kind."
She was making no sense at all. Maybe she was delusional from lack of oxygen. Or, maybe, just a crazy person that lived here. Either way, she needed to get out just as much as he, the kid, and Scott did. John reached for her hand, or where he thought it was under the long sleeves of her kimono. "We need to leave. Come on, I'll show you the way out."
The moment his fingers brushed the fabric, there was a flash of light so bright he had to duck his head as sparks rained down on them from the ceiling. When blue eyes blinked again, the woman had simply vanished. John could only stare at where she had been, mouth hanging open slightly. Who was that woman, and where on earth had she gone? "Now I'm the one that's going crazy…"
"J…John? John, can you hear me?"
Surprised once again, John glanced down at his wrist to find his communicator was back online. "Scott, is that you?"
"When I get my hands on you, you are in so much trouble." And from the tone in his older brother's voice, Scott meant it. "The firemen managed to get a hold of Thunderbird Five to tell them they didn't call, and they told Thunderbird Two who THEN called me. Why didn't you just radio me, John?"
"I tried, but it didn't," John was cut off as he started to cough. Smoke was coming in pretty thick through the hallway now, and he couldn't see more than a couple of inches in front of him. Besides, what could he say? He didn't really have an explanation to give other than, for whatever reason, his wrist radio hadn't been working at all until that flash of light. "I've got a kid here, Scott, and he's in rough shape. I'm heading out now."
"What floor are you on?"
"Twenty-seven. I'm heading for the south stairwell."
"FAB. I'm on the thirtieth. I'll head your way. Virgil will be here in a few moments, but you better hurry up."
John didn't dignify that with a response. He was already moving, unsurprised when more sparks fell around his head, as well as a couple of pieces of ceiling. It felt like the building was starting to sway, and it wouldn't be long before some of it…
He barely had time to step back as, with a groan, a large pile of ceiling and flame fell down where he had been standing moments before. What was this building made of? It certainly wasn't up to current fire code, of that John was certain.
Now what was he going to do? That crash had filled the hallway with flaming debris, and the ceiling over his head was now creaking ominously. In moments it was going to collapse as well, and then what?
The child in his arms coughed weakly, and John did the only thing he could think of by taking off his own mask and tightening it around the boy's mouth. This little guy had to belong to someone, and John wasn't about to let them down by letting the child die of smoke inhalation. It wouldn't help much, but it had to be better than nothing, which was all John could offer him at the moment. Why did he always fail in fires?
With the call of his name, he glanced up through the distortion caused by the heat now searing his skin to see Scott standing on the other side of the fire, his wide blue eyes behind the helmet no doubt noting John's lack of any kind of protective gear. His older brother stepped as close to the flames as the suit would allow—it wasn't fire proof and wouldn't do him any good if he tried to walk right through the flames. "Can you jump it?"
John shook his head, the coughing much worse now without any kind of filter between him at the smoke. His voice was little more than a croak as he tried to yell out. "I don't want to…try it…with the kid…"
"Come on over to the wall. It's thinner down this way."
The ceiling over head gave a large crack, and John scurried to do as instructed. Scott met him there, reaching out his arms for the boy. Holding him as high above the flames as he could manage, praying that any burns the child did receive wouldn't be too bad, they managed to work him across to Scott's waiting arms.
"Alright, John, you're turn. You can make this jump."
Another nod, though it was getting difficult to focus. John took a couple of steps back, wanting a small running start, when it happened. The ceiling gave one final loud snap, and another rain of sparks fell on his head as the only warning. There was no time to move, barely time for him to duck and cover his head.
"John," Scott's cry sounded horrified, but was quickly drowned out by the whooshing noise of crashing metal and flame. The heat was engulfing him, a heavy weight on his back and chest; he was drowning in heat and couldn't breathe.
He…was surprised when something hit his head that had some definite force behind it but was light enough not to hurt.
"John," a female voice this time, her accent thick and distinctly Irish. "I know it's yer day off an all, but if ya don't get that AC fixed I'm gonna melt for sure, an' Lucy won't stop cryin' because she's too hot. Now, get outta bed an earn your keep."
Grey-blue eyes snapped open with a speed John didn't previously know they possessed. He wasn't in a burning building in Japan, but instead a small bedroom with faded green wallpaper and second-hand dresser. Not being crushed and burnt alive in a hallway, just in his pajamas tangled up in a queen sized bed with no frame and cheap cream sheets.
The object that had hit his head? A pillow, now lying beside him harmlessly.
And there, seated on the edge of the bed—John couldn't believe it. She was dressed in one of his old shirts that was too small across her chest, the torn collar revealing one peaches and cream freckled shoulder and an old faded hickey at the spot where shoulder met freckle-covered neck. Green eyes like summer-time leaves with a hint of amusement buried deep under exhaustion, and red hair that was frizzing from the damp heat that made the air of the small room heavy. His girl, just like he remembered her.
It wasn't possible. She was dead; he'd seen her burned corpse. She'd been dead for two years now, but here she was breathing, and beautiful, and whole. He couldn't stop gaping at her, blinking stupidly. This was the worst kind of déjà vu, he knew it couldn't be real, but he couldn't make himself want to doubt it either. She was here. She was whole. This was their room, in their house, in Florida, and if he reached out he knew he could touch her. His darling girl. His…"L-Linny?"