Disclaimer: see chapter one
He was blindfolded, so he had to rely on his other senses to tell him what Scott was doing to him. The air was salty, he could taste it on his tongue, and cooler too.
Must be near the ocean.
"Scott, what are you doing?"
"Patience, young Padawan, all will be revealed in a second. I just need to get myself ready."
And it was true. Scott had led a blindfolded John to the water's edge, and with the intention of walking into the water, the Tracy heir was pulling his runners and socks off, while pulling out all his electronic devices from his shorts pockets. After all, if he electrocuted himself, there would be no way to conduct his experiment.
"Okay, John, lift your right leg up in the air."
"Well, unless you want soggy shoes, I'd do it."
"Can I take off the blindfold?"
"No. Just trust me."
From where he teetered precariously on one foot, John could feel Scott fiddling around with his jeans leg, pulling a sock and a shoe off.
"Please tell me you're not cutting the legs of my pants off."
"No, nothing of the sort. Besides, I don't have any scissors with me. Now the other leg."
John duly obeyed, curiosity piqued by the millisecond.
"Okay," Scott said after what seemed like an eternity. "Grab my hand."
Without his sight, John had no idea where he was aiming, and he groped the air for a bit before he came into contact with Scott. "Couldn't have told me to just reach out to my right, could you, Scott?"
"No, I couldn't. That would defeat the purpose of this exercise."
As they stepped out into the water, Scott flinched. It had been a long time since he'd done something like this, and he had forgotten how cold the water could get at night. John tugged impatiently on his arm, willing him to turn around and go back, but Scott's will was stronger. They were staying in the water until the time was right. They waded into the waves, going further and further. John could feel the water saturate his jeans, but that didn't seem to stop Scott. Finally, they came to a standstill. The water was up to John's waist, the tails of his t-shirt were in the drink too.
"Scott? What are you doing?"
There was no response. The only thing John could hear was the waves crashing in on each other, crashing over them.
Absolute silence. John tried, and failed, to quash the panic that was rising up his throat like bile. John thought about ripping the blindfold off, but he knew that if he did, Scott would not be impressed; after all, when they were younger, the way Scott taught John life lessons was through demonstrations.
"Don't be an ass; tell me where you are!"
With still no answer, the peroxide Tracy decided that it was time for action. He spun around wildly on the spot, trying to figure out which way would take him back to shore. What if he swam to his right, and ended up being slammed into the jagged edges of the cliff face? He had no idea where on the island Scott had taken him, so that was a consideration John needed to account for. What if he swam to his left, and ended up in the water where the Box Jellyfish were? Gordon had told him a day or so ago that they had seemed to have made a home in the crevices between rocks, and that it was unwise for anyone to disturb them, unless they enjoyed succumbing to the effects of having their central nervous system shut down slowly. Gordon had marked the area with an electronic tag to warn anyone when they swam too close to it, but it was a system that was based on flashing lights, something John couldn't see.
There was no choice for him but to wait. "C'mon," John muttered under his breath, feeling incredibly vulnerable at the scenario he was in. "Give me a sign."
It seemed to be an eternity before John heard Scott calling his name. John flailed his arms wildly, but he did not contact Scott at all.
"John, I'm here."
"Where's here?!" There was a serrated edge to John's tone, one that held the promise of John's proverbial tongue lashing when provoked, unless Scott explained all quickly.
But Scott had never paid attention to the subtle signs in the past, had never done things the easy way; why would he start now? He was going to make John work to find him.
John snarled, choking on salt water as a wave crashed over them, wincing as the material of his t-shirt clung to his torso annoyingly.
"Do you trust me, Johnny?"
"I'm starting not to," John snarked, stumbling towards the sound of Scott's voice. Now that he knew that Scott was still there with him, John felt calmer. Even though he had not seen Scott, so to speak, knowing that someone was there with him was reassuring.
"I'm not there."
"Well, where are you?"
"Yeah, I got that much. You're a wealth of information, you are."
"Listen, John, don't panic. Nothing's going to happen to you."
And despite his doubts, John believed him. There was something in the tone of his voice that put him at ease.
"If you want to find me, you need to turn 108 degrees to the left."
John swivelled on the spot.
"Your other left."
"Oh." John corrected his bearing.
"Okay, now just wade until you come into contact with me. I'm not moving."
Tentative steps. Even though he had a voice guiding him, even though he could rely on all his other senses, John still could not see where he was going; he could not navigate around potential hazards.
"That's it. You're doing good, John."
And finally, finally, John snagged the soft, yet soggy cotton of his brother's t-shirt.
"Well done, John."
One hand gripping onto the material of Scott's shirt, John ripped the blindfold off. "How far away were you?"
"Less than three feet."
John opened his mouth, had nothing to say, and closed it again. For Scott to have been so close when he felt so isolated, was astounding to him.
"C'mon, let's get out of the water and dry off a bit while we talk," Scott suggested, heading back to the shoreline. Nodding in agreement, John followed suit.
"Okay," John said as soon as they had sat down on a piece of driftwood, coated in granules of sand that was superglued onto their skin. "What was that about?"
"When you were out there, how did you feel?"
That threw John for a bit of a loop. Of all the things he was expecting, that was not it.
"I don't know. I was okay until you didn't respond."
"And what happened after that?"
John glanced down, almost ashamed at his reaction now that he knew how close Scott was to him. "I panicked. I was alone. Lost. Isolated."
"There's no shame in that reaction," Scott pointed out, intuitively knowing the way John was analysing his reaction.
"Yes, there is, Scott! I freaked out! I'm a Tracy! That's like being Superman! Superman doesn't freak out!"
Scott's lips twitched, almost like he was trying to suppress a small smile. "Supermen have their kryptonite too, y'know."
Once again, John opened his mouth, had nothing to say, and closed it again. How Scott had managed to peg his thoughts would remain a mystery to the younger brother, but he would always be grateful Scott had that unnerving ability, and knew just what to say and do to make things better again.
"What happened when I started talking to you, John?" Scott slung an arm easily over John's shoulders, hand clamping down on his shoulder. Although he wasn't tactile by nature, Scott knew that John needed something to ground him in this debrief, especially after John freaked out about freaking out.
John squirmed against the arm, edging closer to his brother. "I calmed down. I knew that you were there. I knew that you wouldn't let anything bad happen to me. I could keep on going because I knew that someone was listening to me, supporting me, encouraging me. I was safe."
A moment of considered silence.
"John, you've done all of this, answered all my questions, and that's great. I just have one more question for you, and then we can go shower and hit the hay."
"What makes you think that the people we rescue don't react the same way you did?"
"John," Scott laughed, raking a hand through his hair exasperatedly. "The people we save react the same way you did. The same way I did when Dad did this with me. The same way Virgil did when I did this with him. The same way Gordon did when Virg did it to him. The same way Alan did when Gordon subjected him to this. Virg, Gords, Alan and I, we may pull them physically out of wreckage and confusion, but you," Scott emphasised the word with a jab of a finger into John's ribs. "You rescue them mentally. You keep them calm, collected, reassured. You make them feel safe. You let them know help is on the way. You are their link to the outside world, John, and no one, absolutely no one does a better job than you."
Scott paused, letting the praise sink in. John squirmed again, this time uncomfortable at so much adulation, but Scott didn't let John escape from his grip.
"You're the voice, John. You're the voice of International Rescue. That's the most important role in the organisation. You link us to those that need us; without you, we'd never leave the base."
John nodded as the point hit home, a small smile breaking out as realisation dawned on him. Deep down, he already knew that; it was why he wouldn't kick up a fuss at covering Alan's shift, but when someone else voiced an acknowledgement towards it, the logic behind it had more weighting, more purpose. He just needed a little reminder of the facts.
"Point received and understood." Standing up and stretching, John gathered his shoes and socks in his hand and began to walk back to the villa. "Scott?"