The Subject of Virgil

Title: The Subject of Virgil

Sequel and epilogue to ‘Access
Denied

Author: Gumnut

25 – 31 Jul 2018

Fandom: Thunderbirds Are Go 2015

Rating: Teen

Summary:

Gordon was in the kitchen getting himself a
drink of water when there was an almighty yell, a loud crash, and something
flew off the balcony above and into the pool. 

He frowned, only to sag slightly
as the piano stool floated gently back to the surface. 

“Ah, hell.”

Word count: 8388

Spoilers & warnings: Season 2 in general. Occurs
sometime before 2.07 Home on the Range. Possibly AU due to the time length
involved. You can read this without reading ‘Access Denied’, but it would make
more sense if you read the first fic first. Angst and a little whump.

Author’s note: Apparently I was a little too mean to Virgil
in the last fic and he demanded some reparations – that and I felt ‘Access
Denied’ didn’t quite end the way it should have. Having said that, once again this
fic ended up somewhere completely unplanned (there is an entire scene missing
that I’ll have to use in another fic). Whether it is satisfactory to meet the
demands of the first fic, I don’t know. But I hope you enjoy it anyway.  

Disclaimer: Mine? You’ve got to be kidding. Money? Don’t
have any, don’t bother.

Gordon was in the kitchen getting himself a drink of water
when there was an almighty yell, a loud crash, and something flew off the
balcony above and into the pool.

He frowned, only to sag slightly as the piano stool floated
gently back to the surface.

“Ah, hell.”

He put the glass down and rubbed his eyes before wandering
over to the main table and hitting the comms. “John, what is Scott’s status?”

“On his way back, ETA fifteen minutes.”

“Grandma and Alan?”

“Still in Sydney. Apparently, she has dragged him into The
Rocks. We may not see them for a while.” Gordon smirked. Grandma was
notoriously attached to craft markets and would, no doubt, arrive home dressed
in tie-dye and sandals, sporting jars of homemade jams and pickles.

“Kayo still in Argentina?”

“No, Peru.” Gordon didn’t bother asking why Peru. Since the
incident with Virgil’s exo-suit, she had hardly been home, scouring the planet
for their nemesis. If she ever managed to get her hands on the Mechanic, they
would likely no longer have a nemesis. Kayo was pissed. And Virgil was right,
she was scary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, that left just Brains on the
island with Gordon, and he was pretty much as irate as Kayo. Though his anger
management tended to involve locking himself in his lab to conspire with
physics and chemistry. Multiple cool new gadgets had been birthed just recently
as a result.

Gordon’s sudden lack of conversation had John filling in the
silence. “How’s Virgil?”

“The piano stool just landed in the pool.”

An exhale. “Ah, hell.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

There was another silence. “Well, you better go yank it out.
Scott’s ETA is now five minutes.”

“Thanks, John.”

“FAB.”

-o-o-o-

He managed to fish the stool out of the pool quite easily.
It looked a little worse for wear and was soaked, but some time in the sun
would fix that.

Looking up at the balcony revealed no sign of his second
eldest brother. Gordon bit his lip. He loved his brother but be damned if he
understood him.

He eyed his mother’s piano stool and sighed. Better go check
that Virgil hadn’t done anything more stupid.

Climbing the stairs two at a time he entered the comms room
and into the wake of his brother’s anger. Music sheets were scattered
everywhere, the piano had been shoved almost to the far window and a glass, its
former contents in halo, lay in pieces all over the hardwood floor.

Gordon would have said it was unlike his usually calm
brother, that there was definitely something wrong, but that had already been
clearly demonstrated earlier that day. No conclusions needed to be drawn as
they were already known. This was just the result.

Perhaps it was a sign of Virgil’s calm personality. Gordon
doubted the villa would still be standing if it had happened to him. As it was,
he had the urge to destroy something anyway, preferably the Mechanic.

He couldn’t see his brother at first, but stepping further
into the room, he spotted him sitting out on the floor of the balcony. Almost
at the edge. His favourite flannel shirt was missing, hopefully not also a
victim of this moment, just his grey undershirt hunched over in the late
afternoon light. Gordon didn’t hesitate, just walked out the doors and sat down
beside his brother.

“You know Scott is due in any minute. It’s going to get
blustery out here.”

No answer.

Virgil had his head in his hands, one leg stuck out to the
side awkwardly as if he had half fallen into position. Unsurprisingly he was
wearing shorts, no doubt to keep the pressure off the large bandaged burn on
his left thigh.

“I’m not going to ask if you are okay, as it is obvious that
you’re not.”

No comment. Not even a flicker of acknowledgment.

“But I will ask if there is anything that we can do to
help.”

Still no answer.

Another moment and the pool began to retract and a distant
roar encroached on the sounds of the island.

“You sure you want to stay out here?”

If there was a response, it was lost in the roar of
approaching Thunderbird.

A click and the large glass doors both behind them and beneath
in the kitchen slid slowly closed, protecting the villa’s interior.

“Okay, but I’m borrowing your hairdryer this time.”

Thunderbird One had come to a vertical above the island and
was dropping slowly, ever controlled by her pilot. The roar of approaching
exhaust enveloped them, hot air swirling and catching his hair. Gordon held his
breath, resistant to breathing the fumes, harmless though they were – after all
Thunderbird One was hardly your typical rocket and the fuel it ran on, far more
kind to its environment. Didn’t mean it didn’t have its own flavour, though. A
cough and a splutter. Yes, he’d be scraping that out of the back of his throat
for the next hour.

Then the exhaust was consumed by the hanger and the long,
tall body of the rocket plane was slowly passing. The cockpit came into view
and one exhausted, dirty and frowning Scott Tracy peered out at them
momentarily before disappearing below the edge of the balcony.

“You know he’s going to be pissed.” But he could barely hear
himself, and wouldn’t until the pool finally slid back into place.

Virgil hadn’t moved. His head still in his hands, but now
his hair was whipped into a frenzy. Gordon had no doubt his was little
different. He also needed another shower.

As the pool closed, the doors behind them retracted again
and the island returned to its former idyllic tropicalness.

Of course, there was now a countdown in place. Scott would
be here any moment.

Gordon sighed.

“I’m really sorry, Virgil. It sucks. Kayo will find him
eventually and he will regret everything.”

Everything.

There was the sound of a sob. Gordon’s eyes widened and then
his heart tore in two.

Virgil was crying.

He wrapped an arm around his brother, gently turning the
bigger man into an awkward embrace, hampered by his leg. A hand ended up full
of trembling dusty dark hair, and then Virgil was shaking against him, letting
out not the anger, but the anguish behind it.

Hurried footsteps slowed behind them, and Gordon blinked
away his own welling tears to look up at his eldest brother.

Scott was filthy. Soot and mud, the main contributors,
almost hid the blue of his uniform. But it was the echoed horror in his eyes
that marked his appearance more than anything.

In Gordon’s arms, Virgil was muttering between his sobs. “I’m
sorry.” A harsh heaved in breath strangled by tears. “Sorry. Sorry. So-rry.”
Gordon squeezed tighter, partly to reassure, partly to keep his own insides in
place.

Scott crouched down, placing his hand on his shuddering
brother’s back. “Not your fault, Virgil.”

A shuddering gasp. Virgil’s head shot up and Gordon saw his
face for the first time since this morning. Pale skin and tear-filled,
red-rimmed eyes screamed without sound. “But it is. I should never have been
out there in the first place.”

Scott’s lips thinned. “If you hadn’t been there those people
would have died.”

The anger returned as his brother pulled away. “If I hadn’t…
she wouldn’t have gotten burnt!”

“She would have been dead, Virgil! You saved her life and
the lives of her family.” Scott had fire in his eyes, determination, clarity
and defence of his brother, but Gordon knew it was also fuelled by fear.

Fear of what this could mean.

“C’mon, Virg, you know he’s right. You did good today.
Accidents happen. We’re not perfect. It’s gonna happen whether we like it or
not.”

Those pain-filled brown eyes caught his. “How do I tell a ten-year-old
girl that she is going to be scarred for life because her rescue operative
froze in the middle of saving her. Literally held her over the flames, Gordon.
Simply because he couldn’t keep it together.”

Gordon’s voice was quiet. “You did your best.”

“Well, I guess that is just not good enough anymore.” He
pulled away, hands scrabbling at the decking as he struggled to stand. Scott
straightened and reached down to help him. The moment Virgil was on his feet,
he pulled away and limped back into the house.

Gordon stood up, watching Scott as his eyes followed his
brother. A door slammed in the distance.

Blue eyes flickered back to his own.

“Damn.”

-o-o-o-

It hurt to walk, but Virgil didn’t care. Hobbling through
the house, he stumbled out the back door and slammed it behind him.

His feet hit the gravel path and he was moving. Where, he
wasn’t sure, he just had to move away. Get away. Be somewhere else.

The look in Scott’s eyes…it asked questions Virgil wasn’t
ready to answer. He scrubbed a hand over his wet face, the fingers of his left
hand complained loudly. A flinch and a flashback of memory.

This morning has been so normal. A situation, a spin down
his chute, Gordon on his tail. Both Thunderbird One and Two attending a
rockslide just north of Santiago in Chile. They had been pulling people to
safety by the droves. The side of the mountain had collapsed on a small town.
While Gordon had been manoeuvring the earthmoving pod, Virgil had donned his
exo-suit and had been pulling people out of buildings who couldn’t get out by
themselves.

He hadn’t even thought about it. It had been months since
the incident. He and Scott had been down to the module bay every day,
confronting any issues that popped up, which had been surprisingly few. If
anything, Virgil had felt that Scott had been having more issues than he had. Apparently,
it helped to hardly remember what happened when life screwed you over.

There had been nothing. If there had been, he would have
pulled himself off active service. You don’t mess with psychological issues in
this business, it wasn’t worth the risk.

But halfway through the morning, Virgil had had to tackle a
house on fire. Probably a severed gas pipe, and he wasn’t wearing the fire
exo-suit, but there were lives to save, so he jumped in feet first.

A couple of parents and two kids. He had three of them out
and was carrying the last one, a young girl on his right arm, when some kind of
burning debris fell across his left side.

There was pain and he whited out.  

For a moment there was memory. Memory so painful, it
outshone the physical burning of his uniform. Someone was screaming.

It was Scott’s shouting over the comms that snapped him out
of it. But those precious moments had been lost. The girl in his arms was shrieking,
her hair on fire.

He made it out of the building, stumbling to hand the girl
to the paramedics. There were hands on him, but he brushed them away,
staggering around the nearest building before falling to his knees. He only
just managed to rip off his helmet before dumping his breakfast on the rocky
ground in front of him.

Almost choking on his own breath, hands trembling, he
disengaged the exo-suit, letting its weight fall off him, shoving it away. Free
of its confines, he slowly tipped sideways, unable to support himself any
longer.

He didn’t know how long he lay shivering on the rocks, but
the next face he saw was Scott’s, his worried blue eyes frantically scanning
him for injury.

There was a stretcher. There was Gordon.

There was the wonderful roar of Thunderbird Two’s engines.

And then there was sleep.

-o-o-o-

Tracy Island was a lump of volcanic rock in the middle of
the Southern Pacific. It was a harsh environment, the rock geologically young,
the elements having not yet quite had their way with it. Any and all paths
around the island were steep and challenging and certainly not suited to an
injured rescue operative just out of bed.

Virgil stumbled several times, the painkillers wearing off
by the minute.

He’d woken back on the Island in the infirmary with Gordon hovering
over him. Apparently, they’d both been dismissed from the rescue site. Scott
was still there, finishing up with the local crews.

Virgil hadn’t been out long. Just long enough to have his
injuries attended to and for the painkiller to kick in. There were bandages
scattered all over the left side of his body. He rated burns in the second degree
according to his brother.

All Virgil knew was that there was a great gaping hole in
his chest. There hadn’t been words, so he hadn’t said anything. Eventually,
having failed to get a peep out of his brother, Gordon excused himself for a
moment.

Virgil took the opportunity to drag himself out of bed and
head back to his room. The emptiness in his chest drove him towards solace. His
rooms gave him familiarity, his clothes gave him comfort. He wrapped himself in
his familiar grey t-shirt and he sought something to soothe his whirling
thoughts.

He found himself in front of his piano. So he sought his
solace in his music.

The fingers of his left hand were stiff and stunk of
medicated cream, but he forced them to move. He needed to find the music, to find
that place. A place of safety where his mind could hang suspended between the
notes, held up by the rhythm and comforted by the melody.

But his injured fingers wouldn’t obey him. There was a spark
of pain and he lost it. Just lost it. Everything hit him at once and he simply
reacted in fury.

God, he hoped that piano stool had survived his weakness. Mom…

Fate broke that train of thought by placing a rock in just
the wrong spot, causing him to stumble and knock the burn on his thigh. He
gasped and grit his teeth.

No, just keep walking.

Walk, damn you.

And walk he did.

He wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings, so it
was a surprise when the familiar sound of a jetpack zooming overhead was
enveloped by the pink and orange sky of a sunset. He stopped on the path, his
whole body throbbing and complaining. He looked around. Hell, he was all the
way over on the other side of the island.

The blue figure in the sky circled once before dropping
rapidly.

Great, he was going to get it now. Not that he didn’t
deserve it, wandering off like this, but…

Aw, hell.

-o-o-o-

Scott had been frantic when they realised Virgil was no
longer in the house. They had assumed the slammed door had belonged to his
brother’s rooms, but an hour or so later when his meds came due, investigation
had revealed his rooms to be empty.

By then Scott had showered and was in more comfortable
clothing. He would have loved to have been sleeping, but he knew his brain
would not let him. Not until he’d had a chance to speak with his brother. Speak
properly. To reassure both Virgil and himself.

But now he was gone.

A quick word with Thunderbird Five had a lifesign pinpointed
on the other side of the island. Shoving on a clean uniform, he grabbed a spare
jetpack and took off.

Gordon was told to wait and answer any questions Grandma and
Alan had as they had now been informed of the morning’s events and were due
back any moment.

The sun was heading towards the horizon and the island was
lit up in gold. The breeze was cooling against his bare fingertips and he
shivered.

God, he was tired. More from emotional stress than physical.
The sight of his brother curled up on his side, his uniform charred through to
skin in places, practically non-responsive…

The Mechanic could rot in hell.

They’d both thought the worst was over. The pain had dulled
somewhat. Scott had been processing his issues and Virgil had shown no signs of
extended psychological damage.

Perhaps that should have been obvious.

Perhaps he should have forced him into that counselling he
had refused.

Perhaps… He sighed. The ten-year-old had lost most of her
hair. There would be some scarring, but she was alive. She had survived.

He wasn’t sure his brother would.

A whip around the area John indicated and he spotted the hunched
over figure he was looking for. A glance up and he knew he had been spotted. A
flick of his thumb and he was descending.

The gravel crunched under his feet as he touched down beside
his brother. As expected, Virgil looked awful – cold and exhausted. Scott
didn’t bother to ask why his brother was out here, he simply walked over to
him, wrapped an arm around him and gently pulled him close.

“Time to come home.”

-o-o-o-

Days passed, then weeks. Burns healed, but Virgil’s heart
didn’t.

He’d been pulled off active duty. Gordon and Alan now flew
his beloved ‘Bird and Virgil did his best to ignore it. He stepped back into a supportive
role, providing maintenance to the big machines. If it broke, he fixed it. One
day might see him clambering up the side of Three, the next might have him
under the belly of Two or buried in a module realigning pod equipment.

But he didn’t step a foot off Tracy Island. And he rescued
no one.

He couldn’t risk it.

Scott was worried, he knew it. His big brother continued to
try and corner him. To talk to him and bare his quivering soul. But Virgil
didn’t want to share. He shut it all away and focussed on the here and now –
the spanner in one hand, the power meter in the other and the job in front of
him. Where he could do good, despite being broken inside.

And then the memories started to return. And they had to be
memories, because he could not have imagined this amount of pain. It was as if
the fire incident had been a trigger, a release, and bit by bit those forgotten
moments had begun to return.

Flashes of the terrified look on Scott’s face. Skittering
insect legs on his skin. Ice, goddamn, ice. He would be happy never to see any
ice ever again. And the pain. He woke up screaming and twitching in the night,
often a member of his family beside his bed worriedly shaking him awake.

It was humiliating. It was exhausting.

I wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse.

And he couldn’t function like this.

-o-o-o-

EOS knew something was wrong. John’s mood had been bad for
the last week and while everyone was being civil, the under current of strain
was slowly tearing their network apart.

John had mistakenly referred to the youngest one as Virgil
earlier today, which was understandable for a human as Virgil was usually the
pilot of Thunderbird Two. The fact that he had been ill for some weeks now
didn’t immediately erase human habit of years. The silence that had followed
the error had been filled with unspoken anguish and the expression on John’s
face as he apologised had been equally painfilled.

The subject of Virgil was an ignition point for all sorts of
arguments.

As for EOS herself, she had kept an eye on the engineer,
following him through the system. He was an efficient worker, completing tasks
accurately and at speed. Of course, he wasn’t John, he was Virgil and sometimes
his actions were completely lost to her. John claimed it was his brother’s
artistic streak. EOS was 87% sure it was just stubborn contrariousness.  

But this made her no less surprised when one day Virgil just
simply stopped working.

She had scooted down to the maintenance bays for her daily
observations of the man only to find him absent. Further investigation and she
found him in his bedroom lying on top of the bed, unshaven, shirtless, an arm
over his eyes, but clearly not asleep.

An instinctive scan of his vitals found him healthy, though
not at peak. There had been some weight loss due to his convalescence and his
pale bare skin still sported the red remains of his burn injuries, but he was
not making any attempt to rise for the day. He had a job list as long as his
arm awaiting completion – she had checked, but he was making no move.

A quick query to John resulted in a sigh and a muttered
‘sick day’, so EOS had left the second eldest brother undisturbed.

But it happened again the next day. And the next. Why was he
not addressing his duties? When asked, John had looked pained and told her to
leave Virgil to himself.

So she did.

But he still didn’t attend to his duties. He ate. He slept.
He managed the physical necessities of life, but little more. She watched as
his family came to him in turn and attempted to cajole him into movement, but
he refused them all. Even the eldest brother, who she had suspected would be
the most successful, had ended up out in the hall, his back to the wall, hands
running through his hair, desperation on his face.

So the subject of Virgil became very sensitive and she dare
not mention it.

Until the day John got stuck in his bathroom.

EOS had access to all electronic equipment aboard the
station, but there was a compliment of manual systems left so for safety
reasons. The lock on the toilet door was one of them, and it broke. With John
inside the small room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m sorry, John, but the mechanism is jammed. I am unable
to help you.”

The astronaut let his head drop against the door. “I am
never going to live this one down.”

“Chances are very small.” She let a smirk into her tone.

John sighed. “Who is available?” The question could have been
phrased ‘Who gets to laugh at me first?’

“Virgil Tracy is currently on the Island.”

She could see him calculating variables. She really didn’t
need to tell him who was available. He knew where everyone was. He was the one
who sent them there. Thunderbird One was in Buenos Aries with the eldest,
Thunderbird Two was in Bangladesh with the two youngest, Thunderbird S was in
England and the Chief Engineer was in California for a conference. That left
the Grandmother who would be needed to take over monitor duties…and Virgil. She
waited.

A sigh. “Hail Tracy Island. Voice only.”

-o-o-o-

The days had begun to blur into a repetition of grey
nothing. He’d originally taken a break to see if he could get his thoughts in
order, but somewhere amongst it all he’d lost…something…maybe even himself. The
nights wracked by nightmares, left the days only a little less so, and he lost
the energy and motivation to do anything.

His family came. They talked, they badgered, and, in Scott’s
case, there had been yelling. He knew he was hurting them, but he was hurting
so much himself, he had no resources to spare. So he just focussed on the
basics, getting from one day to the next and kept to himself.

He was sitting on the edge of his bed with a sketch pad and
pencil, once again staring at a blank page that refused to absorb anything he
attempted to throw at it, when John’s voice echoed through the room.

“Uh, Virgil, I need a favour.”

He blinked. “John?” A frown. “Are you okay?”

“Um, I need you to come up to the station.”

“Why?”

A sigh. “The locking mechanism to one of the bathroom
cubicles is jammed.”

“Huh?”

“While I’m in it.”

It took a moment for his brain to do the math on that.
“You’re stuck in the toilet?”

“Yes.”

Despite everything…everything…Virgil’s lips couldn’t help
but smirk. “Really?”

“Yes, really. And I can’t get out. EOS has transferred
monitor duties to Grandma, but I need your help to get out of
this…predicament.”

“Gordon’s gonna love this.”

“Gordon isn’t going to find out about this, is he?” The
glare made it across thousands of miles of space and atmosphere even without
visuals.

“We’ll see. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Thanks, Virgil.” And John signed out.

Virgil couldn’t help but smile.

-o-o-o-

A misstep in the direction of his chute soon sobered him up.
He swallowed and instead made for the uniform lockers. He didn’t let himself
think as he put on his uniform on. Didn’t think as he buckled on his sash and
tool belt. Grabbing his helmet and extra tools, he entered the access shaft for
the space elevator that was just now connecting with its staging platform, no
doubt sent by EOS.

He could count on one hand the number of times he has used
the elevator. Out of all the team, he was the least likely to visit Thunderbird
Five as he usually had his hands full down here with Thunderbird Two. There was
a pang in his chest, but he ignored it. There was a job to be done. A brother
to be saved.

From his bathroom.

The smirk appeared again.

Latching himself in the seat built for his younger brother,
he leant back and forced himself to relax.

“Hello, Virgil.”

“Hello, EOS. Are we ready?”

“Finalising pre-launch now.”

He closed his eyes waiting for the subtle movement of
release.

“Launching now.”

The craft shuddered just slightly, its boosters fired, and the
pressure across his body increased as they accelerated up into the atmosphere.

“Thank you for coming to John’s assistance, Virgil.”

Virgil opened his eyes and peered to look up at the camera
manifesting the AI. “No problem, EOS. Anytime.”

There was a silence, but Virgil felt she hadn’t left. “Do
you have a question, EOS?”

“What is wrong?”

He blinked. “With what?”

“With you.”

A frown. “What do you mean, EOS?”

“For the past two weeks you have been functionally
inoperative.”

“I’ve….I’ve been unwell.” He fidgeted. He did not want to
talk about this.

“Incorrect. Your body has healed and you are fully capable
of resuming at least the basic duties you were attending to prior to this
fortnight. Why have you not returned to the hangers?”

“I-“

“Thunderbird Two’s performance has dropped 3%.”

His eyes widened. “Really?”

“The youngest brothers’ schedules are full. They have their
responsibilities as well as yours to consider. Why are you not helping?”

Virgil sagged in his seat. “I needed the time.”

“We need you.”

His voice was small. “I know.”

“I miss you.”

“I-“

“And John is worried.”

What could he say? He wasn’t sure she understood the half of
it. When it was stated so simply, the answer seemed obvious. But it wasn’t so
simple.

“EOS, do you dream?”

“I do not sleep.”

He sighed. “You have my envy.”

“Why?”

So young, so naïve at times, yet so powerful, EOS was
amazing. His brother had created life, no matter how inadvertently. Did that
make him an uncle? In any case, they all had a responsibility to assist with
her education. EOS was family.

“EOS, it is complicated. Human health is not simply reliant
on physical systems. Sometimes an event can have emotional connotations that
can affect physical functioning.”

“You have injured your mental health?” She seemed surprised.
“Why have you not sought medical assistance?”

“It’s complicated.”

“How?”

Well, this was turning out to be one of the longest eight
minutes of his life. “John? How are you doing?”

“John is fully functional and sitting on the toilet.”

That was an image in itself. “EOS, why aren’t you letting me
speak to him.”

“Because I want to speak to you.”

Okay, mini-tantrum in place. “EOS-“

“No, I want to understand why you aren’t looking after
yourself. I miss our time together. If you are mentally ill, why not seek out
treatment and get well? Then we can spend time together again. Don’t you miss
me?”

Oh, god, this was getting into difficult territory. “Of
course, I miss you, EOS.”

“Don’t you want to get well?”

“Of course, I do!”

“Then why have you not sought assistance?”

He wished he didn’t have his helmet on. Then he could rub
his face with his hands and possibly gouge his own eyes out. As it was, it
wasn’t worth the fingerprints on his faceplate. “I need time.”

“You’ve had time. You appear to have cut yourself off from
all family aid. If I measure your health in relation to familial interactions,
it is declining.” She paused. “You yelled at your eldest brother.”

Oh great, now she was accessing further information and
checking the logs. “EOS-“

“You have rejected all the attempts of help offered by your
family.”

“EOS!”

“Are you going to yell at me, too?”

He closed his eyes, squeezing his face shut, biting back
everything. “No.” His voice was hoarse.

“Approaching dock. Stabilisers firing.”

The little craft shuddered and his stomach sank as momentum
was shed. The clunk of the grapple was a very welcome sound.

“You may now depart. Thank you for flying with IR
Elevators.”

Virgil simply stared up at the camera. What? But EOS didn’t
say anything further.

He felt like he had been through an emotional wringer. Did
the kid have any idea? He knew enough to not underestimate her.

A sigh and he clambered up out of the support chair and made
his way onto the station.

-o-o-o-

This was humiliating.

John glared at the mechanism holding him for the bounty of
his brothers’ laughter.

“Your brother has arrived and will be here shortly.”

“Thank you, EOS.” And thank goodness.

“John?”

“Yes, EOS?”

“Why is Virgil refusing to seek treatment for his mental
illness?”

Mental illness? “EOS, what did you say to Virgil? I told you
to let him be.”

“But it is not working. He is getting worse, not better.”

“EOS.”

“I miss him.”

“We all do.”

“Then why don’t we help him?”

There was a thud on the other side of the door and it was
flung open. His brother hovered in front of him. “Hey, John.” There was the
expected smirk.

But John didn’t return it. Virgil looked awful. He’d lost
weight. He was pale. His uniform was baggy on him. His broad shoulders appeared
stooped and where his quietly confident brother had once stood now hovered a
shadow of his former self.

“Virgil?”

“So you like it so much in there, you want to stay?” At
least there was a spark of humour in his eyes.

“Thank you for coming.”

A hand reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Any
time, bro.” Another smirk. “So what do I get for not telling Gordon?”

John pushed off and sailed past his brother. “I’ll think
about it.”

“Don’t think too long. Blackmail has an expiry date.”

“I’m sure it does.” He rolled his eyes, but worry was
roiling in his stomach. He bit his lip. “I just need to go and check on
Control. See you up there?”

“Sure. I’ll fix this and meet you there.”

“’Kay.” He turned and left.

-o-o-o-

The lock only took moments to fix. A bit of oil and a
replacement tongue did the job, but he did make a note to log it with Brains.
This could have become a serious situation and they didn’t need two pieces of
poorly designed metal making their lives even harder.

Finishing up, he packed up his tools and headed for the
ring. He had to admit it felt good to be away from home. He wouldn’t have
thought it would, but it did. Stepping onto the glass of the gravity ring only
made it better.

Far below him spun his planet. It certainly wasn’t the first
time he had been in space, he was a Tracy after all, but having time to actually
take a moment to just look and not have to rush to save a life? He wasn’t sure
that had ever happened.

He found himself sitting down on the glass, tools discarded
beside him, the gravity ring spinning slowly, Earth, then stars, Earth again,
stars again, it was almost hypnotic. The monsoon crackled over northern
Australia, a cyclone brewing to the far west. He could see the snow-capped
peaks of New Zealand.

Soft footsteps found him and his brother folded himself down
elegantly beside him. “It’s beautiful isn’t it.”

“Yes.”

“Say, how long has it been since you’ve been up here?”

Virgil frowned. “At least six months.”

“Eight months and twenty-nine days.”

“Thank you, EOS.” His eyes darted back to Virgil. “Would you
like to stay for a while?” A shrug. “I could do with some help with
maintenance, if you need an excuse.”

Virgil looked up at his younger brother but saw no conniving
demand to talk or need to help. John was…well, John. His honesty and directness
came with the territory. “Sure.” A pause. “Thanks.”

“Great. I’ll ask Grandma to send up some of your stuff.” His
brother unfolded smoothly to his feet.

Virgil stared down at the Pacific Ocean.

It was certainly a change of scenery.

-o-o-o-

It was unexpected, but it somehow helped. Virgil found his feet
returning slowly to the ground now he was nowhere near it. At first, he was
just a passenger. He spent his days sitting on the glass of the gravity ring
simply watching. Thunderbird Five operated around him, emergency calls caught
and handballed by his brother in the smooth flowing functionality that was
International Rescue. But slowly, here, away from Thunderbird Two and the
complications inherent, he was drawn into the flow. Soon calls to Thunderbird Five
were also being answered by a deep baritone. Scott had stumbled over his words
the first time but hadn’t commented. Gordon and Alan were just their usual
amusing selves and they poked fun at him as they always had. For the first time
in months he began to feel the cloud lifting. He found himself smiling.

John was quiet company. Simply there, often buried in
reading or research. No demands to talk, no questions about his health. Simply
there.

EOS was a challenge at times. Her questions were endless,
but at some point John must have spoken to her and the torrent slowed.

Virgil finally found space to breathe.

There were still nightmares. He was pretty sure they were
never going to leave. But they were fewer and he handled them better. In space
EOS heard you scream. EOS got into the habit of telling him where he was, what
time it was, where everyone else was and that he was okay.

It was a different world.

Apparently different helped.

Of course, he wasn’t John and it wasn’t long before he was
thoroughly missing his family. Holograms couldn’t replace that hand on his
shoulder or simply sharing physical space with a loved one. But he made do. For
the first time in weeks, he finally felt like he was making progress. There was
a light at the end of the tunnel.

And then a building collapsed on his eldest brother.

-o-o-o-

“Scott!” Alan’s yell across the comms scraped bone.

“Alan, report!” Virgil floated beside his brother far above
the planet and too damn far away.

“The supports are giving way! Scott, move it, damn you!”

The roar of concrete and masonry could be heard over the
comms. Virgil flicked through scans, then logged directly into TB2’s external
camera.

The six-storey building was coming down. He saw a flash of
blue through a window before dust and rock obscured everything.

“Alan, report!” His voice roared over the comms.

“Virgil.” John’s calm voice, usually heard over the comms,
was in his ear. “He’s okay.” His brother’s hand flicked up the readouts from
Scott’s uniform. Virgil’s eyes skipped across the numbers, his paramedic
training drawing a picture. But his own heart was pounding.

A touch quieter. “Scott? Scott, status?”

Alan finally cut in, coughing loudly. “Thunderbird Five, do
you have him?”

John answered. “Scott’s vitals are stable. We are getting no
response, but he is alive. Two life readings.” So whoever he had dived in for
had survived as well. Virgil pulled up the scan of the situation, chunks of
holographic masonry still settling above two life signs.

“I’m going down.” Virgil moved towards the door.

John intercepted him. “Virgil, you’ve been in space for
weeks now. Are you sure you are up to this?”

He caught his brother’s eyes. “I better be.”

-o-o-o-

Alan was covered in concrete dust and he couldn’t stop
coughing. Even after grabbing his helmet and upping the oxygen level. Scott was
going to carve him a new one when he found out he’d removed it in the first
place.

Well, once he answered his damn comms. “Scott?”

The woman whose child Scott had run into the building to
save, was clinging to his sash, jabbering at him in what he assumed was
Indonesian, tears running down her face.

“Virgil is on his way down.” John’s voice was firm.

“What?”

“ETA five minutes.”

Alan looked up at the clear sky but couldn’t see
anything…yet. Oookay, maybe the carving would start earlier.

“John, can you give this woman some reassurance?” He needed
to start moving.

John’s voice, speaking whatever, spouted over his external
speaker. The woman finally let go and babbled back. “I’ve told her that her son
is alive and that we will do our best to get them out.” Alan grabbed her
shoulders with gentle hands and did his best to smile reassuringly. Her head
bobbed in desperate gratitude.

He stepped away just as the hiss and roar of deceleration
thrusters fired above him. Looking up, the elevator came into view. Not exactly
the safest way to travel. Alan bit his lip with concern only to get another
mouthful of concrete dust. He sputtered.

“John, can you see a point of access to reach him?”

“Scott and the child are caught in a space beneath a large section
of wall. We’re going to need Thunderbird Two to lift it.”

Damn. That made it harder. It also explained why his brother
had jumped ship. It would have taken him only moments to assess the rescue
site.

The Space Elevator landed off to one side. Alan hurried over
as the hatch opened and his brother climbed out, his feet hitting Earth in a
little puff of more dust.

He turned…and tripped, falling on his face.

“Ow.”

It would have been absolutely hilarious in different
circumstances. Alan reached his brother and gave him a hand up. “I guess you
are never laughing at John again.”

Virgil glared at him. Alan couldn’t help but feel his heart
lift at the sight of it. Virgil looked, well, better. Not one hundred percent,
but his spark was there.

“Situation?” All business.

As the Elevator retracted into the sky, Alan reported the
dot points of the lead into the collapse and the status of equipment available.
His brother strode directly over to the towering Thunderbird Two, prodding his
remote. She responded immediately, the pod bay door opening so fast he didn’t
need to alter his stride to enter.

“Alan, take the pod, multi-claw and leg combination. We’re
pick and throw initially. I’ll take the exo-suit.”

He shot his brother a look, but didn’t comment on that last,
no matter how much he wanted to. “FAB.”

He busied himself setting up the pod, only the occasional
glance in his brother’s direction. But he did watch as the man approached his
suit.

No hesitation. He lent back, slipped his arms into the
sleeves. The suit snapped on, attaching its support framework to his uniform.
And Virgil was moving.

Alan jumped into the pod and slid the hatch closed. “John?”

“Alan?”

“Keep an eye on him.”

“Always do.”

-o-o-o-

It was a blur of concrete and dust. Manual labour, an old
friend. Virgil grunted as he lifted a particularly heavy chunk of masonry, near
the suit’s limits, an alarm sounded in his helmet.

Okay, I got the message. He lowered it and signalled to Alan
to retrieve it.

His body ached. Space had made him soft.

Scott still hadn’t responded and despite John’s continued
reassurance, Virgil’s heart was in a knot. They weren’t moving fast enough.
They had to clear the rubble above the large section of wall to enable
Thunderbird Two to get a good grip on it, and to make sure random rock didn’t
then fall in on the trapped victims.

“A-alan?”

“Scott?!” Virgil paused.

“Virgil?”

“Scott, status?”

“I’m…I’m stuck. My head…augh.”

“Are you injured?” There wasn’t an immediate answer.
“Scott?”

“My head…what are you doing here?”

Virgil swallowed and immediately started shifting masonry
again. “Digging you out, dear brother.” He grunted as he threw away another
large chunk of concrete.

“But…you’re sick. In space.”

That was worrying. Scott did not sound himself at all.
“Well, apparently I don’t get to stay up there if my brother lets a building
fall on him.” Another grunt of effort. “What is the status of the child you
were attempting to save?”

“Can’t see.” Sounds of movement. “I think he’s unconscious.”

“Hold on, Scott, we are getting there.” The pod reached over
him and lifted up a particularly large block and Virgil moved in to clear the
smaller chunks left behind.

“Good…miss you…” His brother muttered unintelligibly, his
voice going quiet.

“Scott! Stay awake. Talk to me.”

“Y-you didn’t want to talk to me. You left.”

Virgil didn’t have time for recriminations right now. However,
the piece of rock he threw this time did land quite a bit further away than the
last.

“I had to, Scott.”

“Why?”

“I needed time.”

“For what?”

To get better? To think? To hide? He threw another chunk of
rock and there was a yelp from Alan. “I don’t know.”

“Wanted you to get better. Miss you.”

“I know.”

“Virgil, the slab is clear enough to excavate.” John.

“Copy that, Thunderbird Five.” He turned to Alan, looking up
at the pod beside him. “Alan, you have Thunderbird Two. Use the grapple guns
and secure the wall. Spread the weight as much as possible. “I’ll manage down
here.”

Alan stared at him through the cockpit, but only for a
second, and that was followed by a muttered, “FAB.” The pod stalked back to the
module bay.

“Scott?”

“Vir-gl.”

“Stay with me, Scott. We’re about to get you out.” Behind
him, the sweet, familiar sound of his ‘Bird’s VTOL firing up.  A wave of dust and hot air swirled around him.

“Want to stay with you. Miss you.”

Just for a moment Virgil closed his eyes. Guilt and pain
swirled around behind his eyelids. “I’m sorry, Scott.”

And then loud multiple thunks as Alan fired the grapple guns
and secured the wall. Virgil stood ready to catch or steady anything they had
missed. He could almost feel John’s eyes far above casing the scene, as Alan
slowly elevated the concrete slab.

“To your left, Virgil.”

He grabbed the sliding rock and flung it away. “Keep it
going, Alan. All steady here.” And finally, the masonry was lifted high enough
for him to see his brother sprawled face down, a young boy held protectively
beside him.

There was a groan over the comms and Scott struggled to roll
over. “No, Scott. Stay still. We’re almost there.”

Thunderbird Two shifted the slab sideways and at last he
could run over to his brother. He shed the suit in two steps. It clattered to
the dust behind him, and he was on his knees.

“Hey, Virg…” Disoriented grey blue eyes smiled up at him as
Scott twisted around to see him. They blinked away crusted red blood.

“Hey, hey, stay still.” Virgil reached out to cup his
brother’s helmet. His fingers ran over a good solid dent in its side. Source of
concussion found.

Scott grabbed his arm. “You stay?”

“Of course, I’ll stay.”

“Good.” Scott visibly relaxed. “Don’ go’way.”

And then there were paramedics, vital signs and stretchers.

-o-o-o-

Scott had been lucky. Somehow, other than a doozy of a
concussion, he was uninjured. The little boy had a milder concussion and a
broken arm. Both had been so, so lucky.

The doctors wanted to keep his brother in hospital
overnight, but Virgil knew Scott would hate every second of it and wouldn’t be
able to relax properly, so he convinced them that as an International Rescue
operative he had the skills needed to care for his brother – which he did.

Alan landed Thunderbird Two on the hospital helipad and,
before the sun set, they were on their way home.

“Virgil?” John’s voice startled him as it echoed around the
medical bay.

“Huh?” He lifted his head off his arms. His eyes
automatically scanned Scott’s somnolent form on the same bed he was leaning on.
Sleeping soundly.

“You’re exhausted, Virgil, you need to rest.”

“I’ll rest later. Need to keep an eye on Scott.”

“You’re practically dead on your feet.  A zombie. You’re not doing him or yourself
any good. Go and lie down. I will keep an eye on Scott.”

Virgil let his head drop onto his arms again. “Can’t, gotta
stay.”

There was a soft muttering over the comms and only two words
were clear enough to understand – ‘two’ and ‘blockheads’.

“What?” But then he decided he didn’t really care and let
himself drift. “Gotta stay.”

-o-o-o-

Scott Tracy woke with one hell of a headache. The first
thing he saw was the ceiling of the infirmary. The second was his sleeping
brother.

Virgil lay on the bed next to him, on his stomach, with his
face smashed up against his pillow, snoring softly. Scott’s eyes automatically
scanned him for injury but could find nothing obvious.

As to how either of them had ended up here…something must
have happened on the last mission, but he was having trouble recalling exactly
what the last mission was.

Virgil snuffled in his sleep, a frown briefly creasing his brow
before settling again. Scott’s insides tensed. Sleep hadn’t been Virgil’s
friend for some time. He silently wished for this moment to be quiet and
undisturbed. It was relaxing to just share a room with the man.

He had missed Virgil. His youngest brothers were excellent
rescue operatives and he loved them dearly, but Virgil…working with Virgil
was seamless. They communicated without words, they knew each other so well,
that they could anticipate exactly what was needed and when. And his quiet
brother’s silent support was all he needed to face anything.

It had been like losing a limb when Virgil was injured. And
he had been hobbled ever since.

“He refused to leave you.” John’s quiet voice startled him.
When he shifted on the bed looking for a hologram and found John solid beside
him instead, he was surprised even more.

“Hey.”

“Hey, yourself. How are you feeling?”

“Splitting headache.”

“That’s what you get when a building falls on you.”

“What about Virgil?”

“He’s fine. Just exhausted. He and Alan dug you out.”

Something twinged in his gut. “How?”

“Pod and the exo-suit.”

“He okay?”

John shrugged. “You needed him, he was there. I honestly
don’t think there was anything else in the equation.” Green eyes shone at him.
“You would have been proud.”

Quietly. “Always have been.” Of all of them. He looked back
at his sleeping brother. “Thank you for taking him, John.”

John smirked. “If Gordon finds out about the bathroom incident,
you are going down, big brother.”

A smile twisted Scott’s lips. “I’ll take it for the team.”

-o-o-o-

To say things got easier from that point on would simplify
it all too much, but they did. Virgil got his feet back on the ground.

After space floppy muscles were toned back up into their
original condition, once he started eating the diet of an active man, his
uniform tightened up, his strength returned, and with it his spirit.

He would never be the same Virgil again – too much, far too
much, had happened to not leave scars. There were touchy subjects and the
nightmares still made visits, but according to EOS he was now ‘functionally
operative’. And there was the occasional smile.

Scott healed quickly. He still claimed to remember pretty
much nothing about the building collapse. Virgil had questioned him thoroughly
on that on several occasions, but his story ran true. There was a building,
possibly a child, then a complete blank until he woke up in the infirmary.

Having had a similar experience not so long ago, Virgil didn’t
hesitate to drag his brother to a specialist on the Australian mainland, just
in case. But the answers were once again inconclusive. Scott may remember some
of it, may never recall any of it.

Rescues dropped off in number. With two operatives down,
they were limited in any case, and Virgil suspected John was intercepting and
delegating at a higher rate.

Virgil knew he was going to have to step back up to the
plate at some point. He couldn’t hide much longer. And yes, ‘hide’ was the word
he was using now. He was back in shape, he just needed to make that last step.

So, it was on a quiet afternoon while the comms room was
empty that he approached his piano for the first time in months.

The stool had been lovingly cleaned and repaired. Apparently,
Gordon had seen to that. Virgil ran his fingers across the soft material before
sitting down. There wasn’t a speck of dust on the instrument. Someone had kept
it clean in his neglect.

Ivory beckoned, so he reached out and played a note,
another, and then a spritely little tune that spoke mischief as if he was
sneaking to play his piano against the rules.

Virgil smiled and let go.

-o-o-o-

Down by the pool Scott looked up as if he could see the
music in the air. Gordon surfaced from the water and he caught his brother’s
eye grinning like a madman. Alan walked out of the kitchen, his neck straining
to look above the balcony, so distracted he nearly joined Gordon in the pool.

Scott nudged a comm. “Hey, John, listen to this.”

There was no answer at first, but then, “Oh, thank god.”

Scott smiled.

-o-o-o-

FIN.

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