Tick Tock (complete)

Aaargh ::glares at fic:: Not my best, but I hope you enjoy it anyway ::hugs::

Title: Tick Tock

Author: Gumnut

21 – 30 Nov 2018

Fandom: Thunderbirds Are
Go 2015/ Thunderbirds TOS

Rating: Teen

Summary: And then he had
to take that one step further.

Word count: 6861

Spoilers & warnings: None.

Timeline: Standalone

Author’s note: This is for
@i-am-chidorixblossom She was having a bad time of it, but this fic got out of
control, did what it damn well pleased, and RL kicked my butt, so it is
delivered late ::headdesk:: I’ve been staring at it for far too long. It has
issues, but I’m not sure how to fix them. ::glares at it some more:: Also, I’m
a librarian and an artist/designer, not a medical professional, so please
suspend disbelief if I’ve completely blown it 😀 In any case, I hope you enjoy it
anyway and thank you to all for your continuing wonderful support. I couldn’t
do this without you ::biggest hugs with extra snuggles for Chiddi::

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

-o-o-o-

Virgil stared at the
piano.

The ivory stared back.

Reaching out a gloved hand
he touched the familiar keys, but as if in an echo of reality, his glove
prevented him from feeling their silky touch.

“Virgil, you coming?”

He looked up as Scott tore
into the room still in his uniform, as Virgil was, no time between rescues.

No time for anything.

“Yeah, give me a second.”

He rolled his shoulders,
willing the ache to just go away.

It didn’t.

“You okay?”

Virgil blinked. “Fine.”

“Great. Launch in five.”
And he spun into his chute. Idly, Virgil wondered if his brother had remembered
to disengage the uniform spinner.

With a sigh he followed
suit, throwing the broken piece of Thunderbird Two on the floor beside the
desk, and heading to his chute.

Another day, another
rescue.

It would have been nice to
have had the night in between.

-o-o-o-

Thunderbird Two landed
hard and Virgil swore. There went the damn landing gear alignment. Another
afternoon of repairs lined up and he hadn’t even gone through post flight
checks yet.

The hangar loomed and he
cut speed, the mountain’s shadow passing over him as it swallowed him whole.
The turntable caught his ‘bird and spun her ready again for the next rescue.

Which by all accounts
would be, five, four, three, two…”Virgil, we have a situation.”

Goddamnit!

-o-o-o-

He stunk.

There was no other way to
describe it.

Virgil walked up the
module and lay his head against the cold cahelium. God, that felt good.

But he stunk.

Five rescues in a row. All
undeniably urgent. Three involving children. Two with fatalities. And that was
only today.

He didn’t want to think
about yesterday.

He wanted to stay right
where he was, no going back out into that damn desert sun.

“Sir, are you with
International Rescue?”

No, I’m with the circus,
we just arrived in town. He swallowed a sigh, lifted his head and turned
around. “Yes, ma’am. Can I help you?”

She wrinkled her nose at
him, obviously having gotten a whiff.

“Do you think you could
move your equipment? We can’t get the tour bus out of the carpark.”

He stared at her.

The remains of a second
tour bus were still hanging off the cliff fifty metres away. Two people had
fallen to their deaths despite all his efforts.

Total blank.

“Sure.” Just let me wash
this blood off my hands first.

She smiled at him.
“Thanks.”

He resisted the urge to
connect his head with the cahelium with an audible thunk.

-o-o-o-

He staggered into the
comms room, there was no other word for it.

His head was pounding, his
shoulders aching and there was a stone in his right boot.

“Woah, eau de hard work
just walked into the room.”

“Shut up, Gordon.”

“I’m sorry, my mistake,
eau de bear.”

He ignored him. Sometimes
that was all you could do.

“Virg, how did it go?”

He stared up at his big
brother for a moment, briefly wondering what the hell he was talking about.
“Oh, the climbers. Caught both of them. One was okay, the other was a whining
cow.”

The room fell silent and
Virgil looked up from where he had been attempting to pull out a piece of grass
that had gotten stuck in his harness. “What?”

Scott was frowning at him.
“Are you okay?”

He flicked the grass onto
the floor. “Oh, I’m dandy. Haven’t slept for a while. Three people died in my
arms today. I ate food earlier, but it tasted like cardboard. Must have had
something to do with all the blood on my hands. How are you?”

And there was more grass!
How the hell did the damn stuff get through the neoprene and his undershirt to
scratch his skin? The material was space-rated, for crying out loud. He picked
at it.

A shadow passed over him
and he looked up to find a pair of worried blue eyes blocking out the setting
sun.

“Virg?”

“What?!”

Okay, so he yelled a
little. Didn’t realise he could make his brother flinch quite that way.

He scratched his head and
something fell out of his hair and on to the floor. Whatever it was, it
scuttled away behind one of the lounges.

Gordon yelped and backed
away.

Virgil really didn’t have
the energy to do anything much at all. “Sorry about that.”

“I think you should sit
down.” And his brother was trying to usher him in the direction of the lounge
without actually touching him.

“Why?”

There were calculations
going on behind those blue eyes, he could tell. “Are you tired?”

“What do you think? There
have been countdowns and fall downs and let downs, so why shouldn’t there be
sit downs as well.” He took a step towards the lounge, but apparently the day
hadn’t finished with its fall downs yet, because the floor suddenly flew at his
face.

“Woah!” And there were
hands on him, grabbing at his uniform, and then he truly was sitting down.

On the floor.

“I stink.”

An arm wrapped around his
shoulders, and there were words that didn’t really make sense. Then there were
more people than before.

Grandma was there.

“Hey, Grandma.”

“Hello, Virgil.” She
reached out and touched his face. He edged back a little and she dropped her
hand. “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit.”

She blinked at him. “Are
you hurting anywhere?”

“Everywhere.” And the
world started to slide to the left.

There were hands again.
Something soft. And he was finally resting. The floor was hard, but it was cool
and there was no energy required. “Oh, god, that is good.”

There were voices, lots of
them, but he understood none of them, and quite frankly, he didn’t care.

He could finally relax.

He drifted.

-o-o-o-

Someone was stroking his
hair.

“Mmm, tha’s good.”

“Virgil? Are you with us?”
Scott. But there was a fragrance.

“Grandma?”

“I’m here, honey.” The
fingers in his hair patted him gently.

“Not feel so good.”

A shadow fell across his
eyelids and a kiss brushed his forehead. “Don’t you worry, you’re safe.”

And it was only then he
realised that he was surrounded by the sound of his beloved ‘bird. “Wha-? Why?”
He tried to sit up and discovered blankets over him and a needle in his arm and
hands hurrying to hold him down. “Woah, Virg, you relax. We’re on our way to
the hospital.” Opening his eyes produced a blurry approximation of his big
brother.

“Who’s flying?”

“Gordon.”

He struggled to sit up,
attempting to throw his legs off the side of the bed. But something was wrong.

He stilled and the hands
holding him back steadied him. “What’s wrong with my legs?” He tried to move
them again. The left one shifted a little, but the right one might as well have
not been there. Panic hit. “What happened? What’s wrong?” He couldn’t remember.

“Virgil!” It was Scott’s
command voice, but something inside Virgil wasn’t right. His heart rate soared
and an alarm shrieked somewhere.

But then a pair of soft
hands cupped his face and he was turned to look into a pair of clear blue eyes.
“Virgil, it is going to be alright. Do you hear me?” One of those hands
returned to combing his hair.

A breath fell out of him
and he sagged, his body sliding forward before being caught by a familiar pair
of strong hands. He was lowered slowly back onto the bed.

Grandma didn’t let her
touch slip for a moment. He forced himself to take in breath, expel it, and
calm down. “What happened?” Why was he so breathless?

“You collapsed in the
comms room. Do you remember?” Scott’s voice was like a lifeline.

He thought back.
“Something…I smelled bad.”

“Yes, you did.” And there
was a touch of a smile in that voice. “That was thirty-six hours ago.”

“Thirty-six?”

“You were exhausted,
Virgil. And you have been asleep for most of it. Damnit, why do you do this?
There are rules for a reason.”

“I-I broke no rules,
Scott. There were people-…who needed hel-“ And he had to catch his breath.
His lungs just weren’t filling properly. “Wha’s wrong w’ me?”

Scott looked at his
grandmother a moment before turning back to Virgil. Quietly. “We don’t know
yet.”

Gordon’s voice suddenly
filled the room. “We are on final approach to Wellington. Please take your
seats for landing.”

“Wel-lington?”

“Hospital, Virgil.”
Grandma brushed his temple with her fingertips. “We will find out what’s wrong,
honey. You just rest.”

He leant into her touch.
“Sorry, Grand-ma.” His eyes drifted shut, his focus shifting to her gentle
touch, clinging to it. “Sor-ry.”

A breath that wouldn’t
come.

And he was forced to let
go.

-o-o-o-

Scott spun as both an
alarm started shrieking and his grandmother cried out. “Virgil?!”

His brother’s body
shuddered slightly and then stilled.

A pause, a moment, no
indrawn breath.

God, no.

“He’s not breathing.”

The ship around them
shuddered as if in sympathy and Scott moved. Don’t think, just do.

The roar of VTOL vibrated
through the hull as he reached for a bag ventilator and started breathing for
his brother. Grandma lowered the bed, helping to move her grandson into the
correct position.

Damn you, Virgil, don’t do
this. Scott scanned the readouts. If only he had realised what was happening
faster.

They had thought it was
simply exhaustion taking his brother down. The man had fallen asleep on the
floor, for goodness’ sake. Once he and Gordon had manhandled him into the
infirmary, everything had checked out. Virgil had just over done it, and not
for the first time. They had decided to let him sleep it off in the infirmary
where they could keep an eye on him.

Something had niggled at
Scott, something about how Virgil hadn’t seemed himself before his collapse. It
bugged him. But there were no indications that there was anything else wrong
with him.

Fourteen hours later and
he was still sleeping. Scott reassured himself that it was just Virgil, who
slept long periods normally anyway.

But still the niggle.

At sixteen hours, he
cracked enough to attempt to wake his brother.

Virgil responded by
swearing at him, rolling over and going back to sleep.

Okay, the bear was still
in residence.

But sixteen hours was a
ridiculous length of time to go without fluids, sustenance and a toilet break.

So he woke him again and
against Virgil’s protests, dragged him out of bed and into the infirmary’s
bathroom, before shoving a glass of water and a bagel in front of him.

The glare was epic,
particularly when Virgil realised exactly where he was.

“I’m not sick!”

“Eat your breakfast.”

But the moment his brother
set eyes on the bagel he paled to a ghastly shade of green. “Not hungry.”

“Drink, at least.”

Half the water made it
down his throat before Virgil’s eyes began to droop again. “‘M tired.”

“Drink the rest of the
water, or I’m calling Grandma up here.”

The rest of the water made
it past his lips, the glass hitting the bed table just that little harder than
intended as Virgil pushed the table away. “Wanna sleep.”

Scott sighed. “In a
moment. Just let me check you over first, okay?”

His brother rubbed his ear
as he lay back on the pillow. “O-kay.” But he was asleep again before Scott had
a chance to do anything.

Twelve hours later, Scott
was really beginning to worry.

“Something is not right,
Grandma.”

Gordon was examining his
prone brother, checking Scott’s assessment of his condition. “Bro, I can’t see
anything more than you. Virgil is just sleeping. No indications of anything
else.” A sigh. “He just pushed it too far. I’m going to give him a piece of my
mind once he is back on his feet.”

“Get in line.” Scott and
Grandma said at the exact same time.

Another sigh. “Let’s wake
him up. Time for some more fluid, in and out.”

The bear was still firmly
in residence upon being disturbed. “For god’s sake, leave me alone.”

“Virgil, toilet break,
then food.”

“Who died and made you
boss?”

Scott froze, just as
Virgil realised exactly what he had said. “Shit. Sorry, didn’t mean that.”
Sitting up, he dragged himself to the side of the bed, letting his feet hang
off the edge, and dropped his head into his hands. “Hell.”

Yet another sigh, and
Scott reached over to help his brother off the bed. “Apology accepted, if you
pee, drink and eat something.”

“‘M sorry.”

“I know.” And he did. This
was not the Virgil he knew and it was setting alarm bells screaming in his
head.

They started screaming
even louder once Virgil’s feet hit the floor. “Ooh, that’s weird.” And then his
brother was falling.

Scott only barely managed
to catch him, the larger man more difficult to manhandle than he appeared.
“Gordon!”

The aquanaut appeared in
the doorway, diving into help the moment he saw Scott stagger. “Virgil, whatcha
doing?”

“Feet feel weird. Numb.”
And as Scott watched, Virgil attempted to get those feet under him and failed.
“Don’t think I can…can’t…what the hell is going on?”

They managed to get him
back on the bed. A sensitivity assessment later and they realised that their
second oldest brother was suffering a creeping paralysis.

The anxiety level in the
room skyrocketed.

But Virgil didn’t know
because he had fallen asleep again.

Thunderbird Two was
prepped and they left the island within the next fifteen minutes.

But apparently they
weren’t fast enough.

-o-o-o-

They torched a park near
the Wellington Hospital, foregoing the airport the moment Virgil stopped
breathing. They could charge them for damages later. It wouldn’t be the first
time the Tracy’s had to pay for extra greenskeepers and it wouldn’t be the last.

An ambulance met them
there.

It was a huddle of the
three of them as they pushed the hover stretcher out of TB2. Scott at the head
of the stretcher was keeping his brother alive, pumping air into his failing
lungs. Grandma held his hand.

Gordon held them together.

A blur of paramedics,
vitals and his brother was rushed off to emergency. Scott going with him.

Gordon found his arms full
of his grandmother, quietly crying on his shoulder.

He bit his own lip. Now
Virgil was in other hands, he had no emergency to occupy him, nothing to
distract him from the fact that his brother may be dying this very moment.

And Grandma was crying.

He blinked and a tear ran
down his cheek. He cleared his throat. “C’mon. We need to get to Scott.” His
big brother was likely a mess. Try and help what he could.

And pray for what he
couldn’t.

-o-o-o-

The hiss of the ventilator
hurt.

It was a rhythmic sound,
something no doubt Virgil would be able to sense, perhaps even create some
music to, but to Scott, it just screamed pain.

Virgil couldn’t breathe on
his own. There was concern that he soon wouldn’t be able to do anything on his
own and he would die.

Why?

They didn’t know.

Scott had clung to the
hospital having the answers. He was only a paramedic, doctors knew so much
more.

But they didn’t know.

He had sent Gordon back to
TB2, to return her home and gather the rest of the family in Tracy Two. John
had declined to come down just yet. He wanted the power of Thunderbird Five to
support his sudden research into the causes of paralysis.

Grandma sat under his arm,
her head on his shoulder, her expression lost as she stared at her dying
grandson.

Yes, dying. There was no
denying it, just futile rage against it.

And the lack of reason was
pure torture.

His medical history had
been scoured. And what a history it was. The doctor had many questions.

What had his brother eaten
in the last week? Considering how busy they had been, Scott figured the better
question would have been ‘Has your brother eaten in the last week?’ Not that
Virgil ever had any trouble eating, he had a healthy appetite, but time, there
had been so little time.

Where has Virgil been in
the last week or so? Had he travelled internationally at all? Scott was so
tired he actually burst out laughing at that question. Grandma had wrapped her
arms around him as the laughter had nearly turned into tears.

In the last week, Virgil
had landed on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Though, he had
been there the week before to assist the US Airforce at McMurdo. As Scott
listed off the sites of the rescues his brother had attended, it sunk in
exactly how much work Virgil had been buried under. Sure, Scott had been alongside
him on many of them, as had their brothers, but Virgil was so integral to IR’s
operation that, bar a space exclusive rescue, he was on site for almost every
event. And if he wasn’t, it was because he was attending another site at the
time.

Scott ran his hands
through his hair. International Rescue was stretched thin, and this was the
result. What the hell had he done? What would Dad have done? Was this his
fault?

“It’s not your fault,
Scott.”

He dropped his elbows to
the side of the bed, his head into his hands. “How can you know that, Grandma?”

“Because it isn’t.” And
her arms were around him again, her head against his shoulder. As always, he
was a little stunned by how physically small his grandmother was. Her
personality was so strong, so vibrant, it out shone her size. He had shot up
above her at fourteen, but she still seemed larger than him.

He still looked up to her.

“Grandma, I…” And he
scrunched his eyes shut as his throat caught. “I can’t lose him.” The breath he
dragged in strangled him. “I can’t.”

The arms around him
tightened, but there were no words of reassurance.

There were none to be had.

-o-o-o-

Gordon was surrounded by
his brother.

That’s what it felt like,
anyway. Virgil was everywhere he looked. The sound of Thunderbird Two screamed
Virgil, the seat he was sitting in was Virgil’s pilot seat and the very green
of the cockpit was just simply his brother.

Gordon’s throat was tight
as he launched her into the air. He knew his brother would be protesting him
flying his ‘bird. He understood it was no reflection of his brother’s trust or
a lack of confidence in his piloting skills. Hell, it was more a running joke
than anything else. Just that this was Virgil’s Thunderbird. His. Just as TB4
was Gordon’s.

Gordon bit his lip,
blinking away the blur.

Damnit.

It was just so senseless.
The man worked his ass off to save the world and suddenly his body just stops
working.

The doctors had bandied
around possibilities, but none had been conclusive and most of them had come
with the words ‘no cure’. So symptoms were to be treated as they appeared.

Too bad if death was one
of them.

Gordon wiped his face with
the back of his hand.

Oh, goddamnit.

As TB2 hit cruise height,
he engaged the autopilot for the short journey home and took himself to the
little bathroom.

And wished he hadn’t.

Virgil was here, too.

A used uniform was shoved
in one corner, such a sign of how rushed the usually tidy man had been. Almost
in contrast, a handful of flowers had been shoved in a cup of water and jammed
up against the faucet to stop it from falling over. Pretty red, orange and
yellow tiny little flowers, now rather wilted, moved in rhythm with the
vibrations of the Thunderbird, trembling just enough to shiver.

Gordon reached out to
touch one. His brother had probably stashed them for photographing or painting
later, but in the rush had forgotten them. Even his eye could see the colours
were lovely.

Something tiny scurried
across his fingers. “Ah!” It was only little, but it set off an immediate
reaction. His skin tingled and red marks appeared where the creature had
touched him. “What the hell?!” He shook his hand and it was flung across the
room, landing in the shower recess. Damn fingerless gloves. Useful for
dexterity, but damn vulnerable when …touching flowers?

He stared at the flowers
for a moment, then back at the shower recess, suddenly reminded of the thing
with legs that had fallen out of Virgil’s hair shortly before he had collapsed.

He absently scratched his
damn itchy fingers, before picking up the flowers, eyeing them for any more
bugs and carried them into the cockpit. “Hey, John?”

“Gordon?” His holographic
brother was obviously distracted, his fingers flying over unseen data.

“Do you know what plant
these flowers belong to?”

Green eyes glanced up at
him for a moment. A blink. “Lantana of some kind. Why?”

“Virgil, had them in TB2’s
bathroom.” He shook his itchy hand again. Glancing at it he realised it had
become a little swollen. “Had some kind of bug on them.”

John frowned at him before
returning to his research. “Give me a moment.” Another blink. “Lantana can cause
internal paralysis if eaten.” An arched eyebrow.

“I can’t see him eating
the flowers, bro. I suspect he was going to paint them.”

“Then I don’t…” And John
paused staring at something Gordon couldn’t see.

“What?”

“You said there was a bug
on them. Describe it to me.”

“Tiny, with legs. Didn’t
see much, didn’t want to. Damn thing has made my hand itchy and now it is
swollen.”

“Show me.”

Gordon held it up.

“You’ve got to be kidding
me.” John’s voice was low and his eyes wide. “I need to speak to Scott.” And
the hologram vanished.

“What?! John!”

But his brother was gone.

He dumped the flowers on
the console, and tried not to gouge one set of fingers with the other.

-o-o-o-

“Scott!”

He jumped. He couldn’t
help it. John’s voice startled him out of memories and dark thoughts.

“What?” Oh, so
professional a response there, field commander. He rubbed his face with a hand.
“Yes, Thunderbird Five?”

“Was Virgil checked for
bites and stings?”

A blink. “Yes, it was one
of the first things they did.”

“Check again. This time,
focus on his hair and behind his ears.”

Scott rose to his feet,
throwing a questioning look at his grandmother. She shrugged and also stood up,
walking around the bed to Virgil’s other side.

Turning on the overhead
light brought out the stark paleness of his brother, his dark hair in such
contrast to his bloodless face enough to corpsify him.

Scott swallowed hard
before reaching to gently touch his hair. It was soft, but obviously in need of
a wash. He fingered through it, scouring his brother’s scalp for any
indications of injury.

At first he found nothing
and despair of an answer nagged him, but then…”What the hell is that?!”

A tiny swollen lump of a
creature was attached to his brother, deep in his hairline just behind his left
ear.

Then he found another one.

A gasp from his
grandmother produced a third.

“John, what the hell are
we looking at?”

“I suspect Virgil is a
victim of a paralytic tick.”

“Three so far.”

“Three?! Call in the
doctors now. Get them removed immediately.”

What followed was a blur
of action. He notified a nurse, the doctor was called, the ticks were removed,
five in total, and bagged for identification.

By the time Alan, Gordon,
Kayo and Brains arrived, they knew what had taken their brother down.

What they still didn’t
know was whether he would ever get up again.

-o-o-o-

“How the hell were they
missed in the first place?”

That was Scott. An angry
Scott.

Damn.

“This is a rare situation
that usually only presents in children and most certainly not in New Zealand.”
John’s calm and matter of fact voice was reassuring. “The ticks do not usually
go unnoticed for such a long period of time. Virgil’s exhaustion compounded the
situation.”

“So what you are saying is
that it is Virgil’s fault.”

“It is nobody’s fault,
Scott. Sometimes shit just happens.” And there went John’s calm.

Hell.

Virgil fought against
lethargy. He knew what would happen next if he didn’t intervene. An agitated
John was as dangerous as it was rare. Combine it with an angry Scott and the
explosion could take out a building.

Or any bystander brothers.

“He could have died!”

“Don’t you think we know
that?!” Oh great, Gordon was in the mix? Mount Vesuvius had competition.

“You’re not the only one
who cares about Virgil, you know.” And his littlest brother. The emotion in his
voice hurt. Goddamnit, wake up.

He tried to move his body,
but nothing responded.

Except his nose. It
wrinkled, tingled, and then he was sneezing.

Over the ringing in his
ears and the pain in his throat, there was the clatter of moving chairs and
shadows fell over his eyelids.

A tentative, “Virgil?”
Scott.

He moved the muscles in
his face, scrunching up his eyes and nose, attempting to move his eyelids.

Finally a crack, a dip,
another crack…and four brothers hovering around his bed. Blink.

“H-y.” And apparently he
could talk, but not quite. Another try. “You guys are loud.”

He didn’t miss the smiles
that spread over four faces, or the tears in several sets of eyes. His heart
softened. “You all okay?”

And the moment broke.
Gordon blinked away moisture, Scott looked like he wanted to thump him in the
arm, Alan had a stupid grin on his face, and John, John had that calm half smile
that said little yet everything at the same time.

Virgil tried to move his
hand, but it didn’t respond. “Wha’s wrong with my hands?”

Serious took over the room
once again. “There was some paralysis.” Scott held up his hands. “Doctor says
it should all come back, it just may take some time.”

Virgil stared at him.
“Paralysis?”

“You were bitten by a bug,
bro. Several bugs.” Gordon, as always, was so specific.

“A bug?” At least he could
turn his head.

“Remember the Fitzroy
River floods last week?”

Virgil’s blink was slow,
but he remembered. “The three little girls?”

“Uh, yeah.” Gordon ran his
fingers through his hair. Only two of the three had made it. “Remember the
flowers?”

Flowers? Oh, they had been
everywhere. “Wanted to paint some.” To remember little Lily. He closed his eyes
for a moment. But that had been a week ago. The flowers had been left on
Thunderbird Two. No time.

No time.

“Virg?” Scott’s voice was
quiet.

His eyelids were once
again heavy to lift. “Yeah?”

Gordon again. “You got
yourself infested with some ticks, bro. Nasty ones that can cause paralysis if
they are left unattended.”

“Oh.”

Scott spoke up. ”But we
found them in time. You’ve got Gordon and John to thank for this one.”

“Thank you.” His voice had
become a whisper and his eyelids fighting to droop.

“It will take a while, but
you’ll get better.”

“Okay.” And then it was
all too much energy and he let his eyelids drop closed.

And he let go.

-o-o-o-

Three weeks.

Three goddamned weeks.

Of embarrassment. Of being
unable to do the easiest tasks. Of frustration to the extreme.

Of four brothers, one
sister, and one grandmother being both the most wonderful family in existence
and the most annoying.

Of course, of all of them,
Gordon was the most understanding, as he had been through something similar and
could empathise.

Scott was willing to do
everything for him to the point that if he saw Virgil attempting it, he would
jump in immediately.

Virgil was both grateful
and ready to kill him.

John was ever the
practical one, providing technical assistance and a quiet presence.

Alan cared a lot, but had
no real idea what to do to help. Of course, Virgil the bear was often growling
at Scott, so Alan tended to keep near the doorway. But waking up one afternoon
to find his littlest brother flaked out in the chair beside his bed, his hand
centimetres from his own, did bring a fond smile to Virgil’s face.

But it was Grandma who
kept him sane. She kicked out Scott, reassured Alan, relieved Gordon and
stopped Kayo from killing nurses. But most of all she sat with him and ran her
fingers through his hair at those most frustrating and confronting moments.

And she brushed away his
tears when he couldn’t do it himself.

-o-o-o-

Gordon approached Virgil’s
room with a little apprehension. His brother had been taking it hard over the
last week. Recovery sucked and Gordon had to admit that he was having to face
his own paralysis fears as he watched his brother struggle through it all.
There had been a few nightmares to make it all the more enjoyable.

But the worst had to be
seeing his usually calm and kind brother so frustrated and helpless. Virgil was
the powerhouse of IR. He was the guy you went to for help. The rock. He wasn’t
used to asking for help. He wasn’t used to being so dependent. It was
confronting for all involved.

Gordon understood.

But it didn’t make it any
easier.

When he entered, Virgil
was on his side in the bed, facing away from him, staring at the window. His
family had done their best to brighten up the room for him. He had a digireader
at hand, basically a tablet with accessibility turned up to the max and
supported by an arm attached to the bed.

A pair of TB2 dice hung
from the bedhead. John had installed a holographic interface in the bedside
table and a huge communications screen hung from the ceiling, able to show all
the TV reruns anyone could ask for.

But Gordon knew it
wouldn’t be enough. He had been in the same position, with four similar walls
staring at him day in day out.

He so wished his brother
didn’t have to go through this.

Stepping into the room
quietly, he stood just inside the door, not knowing whether Virgil was awake or
asleep and not wanting to disturb if he was the latter. Scott was down in the
cafeteria with Grandma. She had dragged him there an hour ago to give Virgil a
break. Kayo was doing her rounds of the facility, while John had dragged Alan
back to the hotel for a shower.

This gave Gordon the
opportunity to spend a few moments with his brother alone.

While it could be said
that Scott and Virgil had the legendary relationship in this family, Gordon
liked to think that he and his second eldest brother had their own special thing,
too. After all, Gordon depended on Virgil for almost every rescue he
participated in. He was the voice above the waves, the one who dropped him off
and picked him up, and the one who disabled the shower controls just to stir
the pot.

A mental snort. Gordon may
be the prankster in this family, but he had learnt to never underestimate
Virgil. The man played his smarts close to home and could whip out a retort as
easily as breathing, if necessary.

And now he was just
procrastinating. A sigh.

“So are you going to come
in or are you going to just stand there?”

Okay, so he jumped, but he
wasn’t going to admit it. Walking around the bed, he found his brother wide
awake and watching him. “Hey, bro.”

“Hey, Gordon.”

He grabbed a chair and
brought it to the side of the bed, sitting to bring his eyeline a little closer
to that of his prone brother. “How was rehab today?”

“Sucked.”

“Usually does. Any
progress?”

In answer, Virgil lifted
an arm above the bedsheets and onto the edge of the bed. A frown of
concentration and his fingers moved as if he was playing the piano, the absence
of keys not enough to hide the slow precision of his brother’s artistic
reflexes. “Almost able to play again.” He let the hand drop onto the covers.
“If I could sit up.”

“It will come.”

“I know.”

A silence descended.

After a moment, the
expression of concentration returned to his brother’s face and he continued to
tap invisible keys on the side of the bed.

Impulsively, Gordon
reached out and placed his hand over Virgil’s stilling the rhythm.

Brown eyes met brown eyes.

“I love you, bro.”

Virgil’s eyes widened.

Gordon looked away for a
moment, but didn’t let go, his fingers squeezing his brother’s just gently.
“Please don’t do that again.” And he wasn’t referring to the piano playing.

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

A half smile. “Good.” And
the smile got wider. “Because next time there will be tarantulas involved.” And
he managed a laugh at his brother’s horrified expression. “Yes, tarantulas, at
least six, and in your bed. Gotta keep those bugs under control after all.”

And Virgil was smiling at
him, the sudden glisten of tears in his eyes.

God, the man was the
powerhouse, but he was also a damn big softie.

“Maybe even a scorpion.
They have enough attitude to kick your butt into gear.” Yep, that stopped the
tears and replaced them with fond exasperation.

“No scorpions, Gordon.”

“Why not? They are such
elegant creatures.” A pompous arm emphasised the statement. “Claws of such
grace, and that stinger, ooh, just hits the spot.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“One of five.”

“Not six?” And yes, that
was a smirk on his brother’s face.

“God, no, even I’m not
stupid enough to call Kayo names. I like living.”

A smile and the
conversation stopped.

Gordon still had his hand
on top of Virgil’s and his brother’s eyes were looking at it.

Another moment.

Quietly. “Thanks, Gordy.”

One last gentle squeeze
before he let go.

“Anytime.”

-o-o-o-

“We need to talk.”

It was inevitable. he knew
it had been coming and he guessed he was fortunate enough that his big brother
waited until he could at least sit up before lambasting him.

“About what, Scott?”

“About operational
procedures.”

“What?” Perhaps it wasn’t
what he expected. He fiddled with the blankets covering his legs. He was due to
leave the hospital tomorrow and he was so looking forward to seeing his own
bedroom, with or without the necessary hoverchair.

“Once you are back on
duty, you are not to attend more than three rescues in twenty-four hours and
for no more than twelve hours at a stretch.”

He stared at his brother.
“But what if I’m needed?”

“But that is just it,
Virgil, you are always needed.” The commander swallowed. “But I need you more,
and I need you alive.”

Virgil continued to stare.

Scott grabbed a seat and
sat down beside his bed, putting his arms down on the covers, not quite
reaching for his brother, but almost. Voice quiet. “Virg, we nearly lost you.
And for a stupid reason. If you hadn’t been so overworked, you would have
noticed the issue far earlier. Hell, it may never have become an issue. Those
damn ticks have to be attached for days before they become a problem.” His blue
eyes glazed over with guilt. “I have been asking too much of you, and it nearly
got you killed.”

Virgil reached out and
grabbed his brother’s arm, grateful he actually could now. “It was not your
fault, Scott. It was mine. I know my limits and I pushed them too far. It’s
just…” And he pressed his lips together. “They needed my help. All of them.
How can I not give it to them?”

Scott’s hand landed on top
of his. “You can only give so much, Virgil. You have to keep something for
yourself.”

“And let them die?”

Scott looked away. “We
can’t save them all.”

“But you are asking me to
turn my back on those I could.”

“You can’t save them if
you are dead.” And his brother’s tone was firm and final.

Virgil went back to
staring.

Scott pinned him with his
eyes. “Think about it. What if it was Alan in that bed? What about Gordon?
Apparently he is allergic to ticks. His hand swelled up because one walked
across it. What if he had been the one to encounter them at the Fitzroy Floods?
How would you feel to be sitting where I am?”

“I…” The words caught in
his throat. “Can’t let them die, Scott. Please.”

“I can’t let you die
either.” His brother’s lips thinned. “This isn’t about the world needing Virgil
Tracy. It is about your brothers, sister and grandmother needing you.” Scott
looked down at his hands for a moment. “I can’t lose you, Virg. I just can’t.”

And to Virgil’s horror,
his big brother was blinking away tears when he looked up. With a poorly
managed smile, Scott untangled himself from Virgil’s hand, stood up and left
the room.

His brother left to stare
at where he had been.

-o-o-o-

Virgil tentatively reached
out and touched the piano keys, his fingers automatically falling into his
usual warm up routine.

Notes bounced off the
comms room walls and danced out onto the balcony.

A moment devoted to
flexing long neglected muscles and he dropped into a simple tune, left hand
strumming the chords, right managing the tune.

Just.

He frowned and pushed it,
closing his eyes. The tune shifted playing to his emotion, frustration leaking
into the higher notes. He forced in determination, weaving a deeper purpose,
making his fingers work.

He missed a key and swore
under his breath, eyes shooting open and glaring at the keyboard.

Run the riff again.

His dexterity had taken a
hit in his illness. He needed to get it back. Practise.

Work damn you.

Repeat.

C’mon.

Concentrate. Calm. Draw in
a breath.

He closed his eyes once
again and let his fingers find their familiarity.

Play.

The frown came back, but
he ignored it, once again forcing it.

Music filled the room.

Until that same key, that
same stretch, stuttered.

Goddamnit!

A soft hand landed on his
right, drawing his fingers from the keyboard, stealing the music from the air
and startling him out of his frustration.

Grandma reached out her
other hand and wrapped it around his shoulders as she sat down beside him on
the stool. “You have always been such a stubborn boy. Quiet, polite and kind,
but as stubborn as a mule.”

“Grandma?”

“No, don’t deny it. And I
won’t necessarily say it is a bad thing, stubborn has its uses.” She squeezed his
hand again. “But honey, you need to give yourself time.”

“I’m just practising.”

“No, you’re not. You’re
forcing it, Virgil.” And she held his hand up gently in her own. It was
trembling just slightly.

He glared at it, forming
it into a fist to stop it from shaking.

And his grandmother
wrapped it in both of her hands. “You know, your father was just the same.
Always had to take it just that one step further. Caused no end of trouble for himself
and those around him.” She sighed. “Of course, it got him where he needed to
go. Five beautiful sons and a dream to save the world.”

She drew his hand to her
cheek, and caught his eyes with hers. “And then he had
to take that one step further.”

Virgil stared at her. “Grandma?”

“Please, honey, we don’t
want to lose you, too.”

His heart clenched, and
there must have been something in his reaction, because his grandmother once
again put her arm around him and drew him close, resting her head on his
shoulder. “Give yourself some time. You are just as valuable as all those
people out there. Look after yourself, so you can look after them.”

“Yes, Grandma.” Could he
say anything else?

Gently pulling his hand
from hers, he reached around and drew her in close. She was so small compared
to him. So fragile. He dropped his head to touch her hair.

“Promise me, Virgil.” He almost
didn’t hear her whisper.

“Promise, Grandma.” He never
could deny her anything.

“Good.”

-o-o-o-

Virgil flexed the muscles
in his shoulders, striding past the piano towards his chute. “John, any further
information?”

“No, I’ve lost
communications with the sub. Gordon is waiting in Thunderbird Four.”

“Well, he’ll just have to
wait a moment longer, Two needs to refuel. No fuel, no flight.”

“What about you? You okay?”

He stopped in his tracks. “Uh.”

“Virgil?”

He took a moment,
assessing himself. Sure, he was a little tired. A couple of aches were making
themselves known, but really nothing too bad. He rolled his shoulders again. “I’m
good. Got at least one more rescue in me.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m fine, John.”

“You better be.”

Neoprene creaked a little
as he resumed his stride towards his chute.

“Don’t worry, I am.”

-o-o-o-

FIN.

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