“How?” Gordon was practically laughing now, although both Virgil and Scott knew that he was finding nothing funny, it was just the sheer absurdity of the situation. They had just spent however many hours thinking up ways to try and locate their sworn enemy believing that he was about to kill their brother. And yet, despite looking slightly worse for wear, here said brother was.
“Dad, five minutes until the hour is up!” Glancing away from John’s completely confused face, Virgil spun back around to face their father. “What are you going to do?”
The five sons of Jeff Tracy had always prided themselves on being able to get into complete mischief whilst growing up – although admittedly some more than others – and being able to get away with it. But never had they expected to see that same devious smirk slip onto their father’s face. Even as his eyes glinted somewhat dangerously, Jeff stood up, moving across so he was clearly going to be in position in front of the video-screen.
“Boys, original positions. John, stay out of sight.”
“Just do it!”
No sooner had John obeyed his father’s command and ducked out of the way than the screen flickered into life, a grey static dominating whilst the connection struggled to make itself known. For a split second, Jeff’s eyes flickered over to the side, taking in the sight of the bloody gash across his son’s head. His mother had moved in, wrapping her arm around her second oldest grandson, and it was a clear sign that John knew how troubled things were that he let her do it. Normally, the elder of the blonds would be the first to shy away from the contact. As Jeff watched, she ran her hand through his hair, and John sagged against the touch. Making a mental note to get him to the infirmary as soon as he could in order to make sure there was nothing else wrong besides than the visible injuries, Jeff turned his attention back to the screen.
He was just in time to see the Hood’s leering face flicker into view, and it took all of his self-control to not show they knew the truth straight away. But Jeff wanted to play the Hood at his own game, almost as if he was the same as any other business opponent he had come across. He had just never had the stakes so high.
When Jeff didn’t say anything, the Hood found himself forced to be the first to start speaking or there would have just been silence. He had the most to lose by delaying now that he knew they were trying to track him. The Hood may not have the same hold over them as he had originally thought, but the Tracys were still determined to do everything in their power to bring the criminal to justice.
“I trust you have the documents ready?”
“No? Perhaps you misunderstood me. I said an hour before I wanted evidence that you were submitting to my requests.”
Scott just about had the Hood in his eye-line – he didn’t dare sit any more in view for fear he would try to put his fist through the screen – but he did witness the momentary confusion flicker over the maniac’s face before he schooled his expression into neutrality once again.
“Tracy, let me make this perfectly clear. Show me that you are handing over the plans as I have demanded, or your precious son will suffer for it. You said you wouldn’t risk him, do not test me now.”
“See there is the problem.” If Jeff was aware of the identical grins splitting across Gordon and Virgil’s faces at his casual tone, he certainly didn’t react to it. “I don’t believe you.”
If anything, the Hood’s face got darker, a purely venomous look being shot at Jeff.
“Do not test me,” the Hood repeated, his voice dripping with hatred. Subconsciously, Gordon shuddered slightly, even though he was still smiling at his father’s approach. Typically, Scott picked up on the action and gripped his brother’s forearm momentarily across the table, receiving a grateful smile in response. Nothing more was said and no attention was drawn to the fact that Gordon was attempting to hide his fear of this man. All of them were feeling the same; he was just the one to have shown it slightly. Ironically, it was of no surprise that it was Gordon to have shown his emotion. Out of all of the family, he had always been the most expressive with showing his feelings, no matter what the situation.
“Then consider yourself tested,” Jeff immediately shot back, leaning back casually and folding his arms across his chest. It wasn’t just Gordon and Virgil who were smiling now. John also had a grin on his face and there was a look of respect shining out of Scott’s eyes. None of them had truly seen their father in a competitive business meeting, but watching him now, Scott knew it wasn’t chance why he was so successful. After all, if he could act like this in front of someone who was threatening to kill his own children, what would he have been like in front of someone who merely wanted an investment?
“Your son will pay for that remark, Tracy. This is your last warning, show me the evidence.”
“No.” Their father’s tone was taking on a firmer note now, anger mingled with hatred pouring out of every fibre of his being.
“Very well. I will make sure he knows his father failed him.”
“And remind me again which son this is?” Jeff’s voice had changed again, and although Scott couldn’t place a specific emotion in it, even he could understand the message. Jeff held all the cards now, and he was playing a hand the Hood couldn’t hope to win against. For a moment, Jeff held the Hood’s gaze challengingly, before he turned to one side. “Can’t be any of those three, they’ve been here the whole time. And the other one is far beyond even your reach.”
Jeff turned back to the screen, catching the madman’s eye once more, raising an eyebrow as he stared his enemy down. “You mean this son?”
Holding out his hand, he gestured for John to come closer. For a moment, the blond hesitated, his eyes slipping from his father to his only older brother to try and clarify precisely what he was in the middle of. When Scott nodded at him though, he moved forward, coming into the camera’s view. There was a deadly silence the other end, so intense that Gordon shivered slightly. The Hood’s face went completely neutral, but there was a look in his eye. A look that promised revenge for the Tracy’s being able to get one over him, and a look that was nothing short of murderous as he glared at Jeff.
Virgil frowned slightly at the way John seemed to be holding one hand behind his back as the blond moved past him. His brother couldn’t see anything there, but it was almost as if he was holding onto the bottom of his shirt. It looked like he was trying to stop something sliding out, but before Virgil could even shoot the older man a quizzical look, his father spoke again.
“In case this hasn’t been made clear, Hood. Or whoever the hell you are. No one messes with my family.” Jeff paused for a brief second, his gaze sliding past the camera and coming to a stop at the door. Penny was still hovering around and Brains was in the process of pushing his glasses up. The father hadn’t heard the genius’s arrival, but considering Gordon had summoned him up, Jeff wasn’t surprised to see him standing there. “And I don’t just mean those with the surname of Tracy.”
Any neutrality in the Hood’s face was gone now. He looked nothing short of murderous.
“I still have the plans you sent your son to collect. I can still bring you down.”
For the first time since the call had started, Jeff had a flicker of doubt lingering in his eyes. His sons were sure they were the only ones who could see it. If there was one thing Jeff Tracy was good at, it was hiding his emotions.
It wasn’t Jeff sounding cool and collected this time, but the son perching on the arm of his chair. With a slightly apologetic grin – although who it was directed at, no one could say – he reached behind him. Virgil was the only who saw John’s hand slip under his shirt, and so was the first to see the tell-tale colour of a folder sliding out.
“You mean these plans?” John brought the folder into view. For a long moment, there was a deadly silence.
“This isn’t over, Tracy. I will bring down International Rescue.”
“This is over.” Jeff’s tone was final, one his sons knew not to cross. Judging by the look on the Hood’s face, he wasn’t prepared to go against it either, not right now. It still didn’t stop him from making sure he had the last word in the confrontation. He reached behind him, his hand only just visible in the camera shot, and drew out a gun.
Jeff reached over and grasped John’s arm when he felt his son flinch, but didn’t take his own eyes off the screen.
“I will have my revenge.” Before anything else could be said, the Hood fired his gun directly at the screen, instantly causing the link to go dead. No one said anything; knowing they were all thinking the same thing. Eventually, Grandma moved across the room, flicking off the video screen to stop the sound of interference, and it was as if a great weight had been lifted from the room, Gordon even letting out a somewhat shaky laugh.
Another moment passed, relieved smiles splitting over their faces. Finally, Virgil moved in from behind his brother, holding his hands on either side of John’s neck as he came around to the side, clearly anxious to take a look at his brother’s head. All credit to John, he managed to submit to his younger brother’s probing for about thirty seconds before he jerked his head away, a smile playing across his lips to soften the action. Instead, he stood up, and quick as lightning, grasped Virgil by the upper arms – albeit somewhat gently – as he ran his eyes over the burns.
“What happened to you?” he all but demanded, the concern evident in his voice.
“What happened to you?” Virgil shot back, wriggling out of John’s grip.
“I think we would all like to know that,” Jeff interrupted, finally standing up himself. There was something in his voice that made Grandma frown at him. Before anyone else could answer, she cut in.
“First Brains needs to look at that head, and no doubt you boys are hungry. To the kitchen, all of you.” No one disobeyed.
As Jeff made to follow his boys, a hand reached out gently and stopped him.
“Not you, dear. You are going to tell me precisely what is on your mind.”
Jeff waited until the sound of his sons’ chatter had died away before he sat down heavily in John’s previous spot, balancing on the arm of the chair. It was a sign of how wrong things were that his mother didn’t immediately tell him off as though he was still a boy. Running a hand through his hair, Jeff found himself then dragging it down his face, blowing out a long breath. His mother didn’t say anything, instead sitting back down on her chair and fixing him with a look. He knew it was the look that meant he wouldn’t be leaving this room until he had confessed everything on his mind. Not to mention that she seemed to know exactly when he was holding back on something.
“Have I just made things ten times worse, Mom?” he eventually said softly, knowing that she would have heard every word. He hadn’t even thought about his responses to the Hood, they had just come automatically. There had been adrenaline pumping around him in a way he hadn’t experienced for years. Fifteen minutes ago, he had believed a son to be in his enemy’s hands. Then he had been given the chance to let said enemy know precisely what happened when his family were messed with. But he couldn’t help but think he had just challenged the Hood to try again. Then there was the matter of the Hood’s last words…
“You were a bit rash, dear,” his mother began, and Jeff dropped his head back into his hands. He’d known he was just making things worse, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself. This creep was threatening his boys, and Jeff wasn’t having it. He made to open his mouth to respond, but Grandma continued, her voice softer than before.
“But I saw the way you looked at those boys. You were just protecting your sons, Jeff. Any fool would have seen that look in your eye and run for the hills.” Jeff smiled slightly as she stood up, resting her hand on his shoulder. “You did what you thought was right, and he got the message.”
“But what if..?”
“What if the world stops turning tomorrow?” Grandma sighed heavily. “Jeff, you can’t think of `what if’s’. What’s done is done; we’ll just have to deal with any consequences as they come. Now, I would quite like a kitchen left standing, so I think it is about time we rescued Kyrano from my grandsons. Not to mention I know they will be anxious to know what happened to John, and the poor boy won’t say anything until you are there, so come along.”
In the way only Grandma could manage, she gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and strode for the door. Before she left however, she turned slightly, her voice soft.
“I’m proud of you, Jefferson. And your father would be too.” Then she was gone, leaving Jeff to blink at the space that had been his mother, a small smile on his face and tears lingering in his eyes. As per usual, he had hidden any trace of emotion whilst the boys had been in the room. But he had truly believed that he had been about to lose his second-born, and that there had been nothing he could do about it.
“But he’s back safe,” he whispered out loud, giving himself a mental shake and climbing to his feet. He took in a deep breath, squaring his shoulders as he did so. His mother was right, as usual. Not to mention he knew she had a point about John not saying anything until his father arrived, so making sure he had control of himself once more, Jeff strode from the lounge.
The comforting chatter of his boys led Jeff towards the kitchen. For a moment, he just stood outside the door, drinking in the sounds. They were all there. Apart from a few minor injuries, they were all completely safe. For now at least… But Jeff knew not to say anything to them. It was going to take a long time before Scott started relaxing, before any of them started letting their guard down. Injury-wise, they had all suffered worse on rescues. In fact, Jeff was sure they had probably suffered worse just from what they got up to on a day-to-day basis on the island. So he was going to let them have this time to heal mentally, no matter what he thought was coming next.
Eventually, he pushed open the door with one hand and silence fell. Not that it lasted long, as Gordon suddenly let out a whoop of approval. Jeff moved further in, sliding onto one of the stools and trying to ignore the smiles on his sons’ faces. When Gordon clapped him on the shoulder, still grinning, Jeff shook his head.
“What are you like?” he asked fondly, allowing the relief they were obviously feeling to wash over him.
“Dad, that was awesome!”
“Alright, Gordon, settle down, dear. Judging by the look Virgil is giving your brother, he is desperate to find out what happened. Alan, you are still receiving this, aren’t you dear?”
Jeff took one look at the slightly surprised expression on Virgil’s face, and knew that his mother had only picked him as an example. It was perfectly obvious they all wanted to know just as much as each other what had befallen their brother in order for the Hood to believe that he was holding one of the Tracy sons hostage. Considering that Alan had already patched himself through, Jeff knew they were indeed waiting on him. He nodded at John, a clear signal for his son to begin.
“First things first,” John said quietly, turning his attention to Brains. He still had the folder clenched in his hands, but as he caught the eye of the genius, he pushed it across the table towards him. “Think you might want these before they really do disappear.”
“T…thank you, um, John. I…I’ll s…set to w…work immediately.” True to his words, Brains swept from the kitchen instantly. He was never one for big family scenes.
“So?” Scott prompted, his leg bouncing where he sat. Jeff had a feeling he was going to have to hold his son back at points during John’s narration.
“Honestly? I have no idea,” John admitted, but luckily, it was clear he was going to continue. Jeff caught his mother’s eye and couldn’t help smiling. She had subtly moved in behind Virgil the same way Jeff had done for Scott, clearly mirroring his thoughts about having to hold back the young man.
“The collection went without any problem. I was coming back down the street when a car swerved in. To start with, I thought it was just a genuine accident. But then the driver looked at me. I mean, directly looked at me, and kept coming. I ended up down one of the alleyways – you know how many there are.”
Scott nodded, his face clouding over as he considered all the mishaps they had had down those alleyways over the years. Normally it had just been Gordon running off, but there had also been some darker moments.
“He crashed the car into the wall, meaning it completely blocked the entrance.” John paused for a moment, a frown on his face as he thought back to what had happened. “He killed himself doing it. Three others got out. The guns gave away that this was no accident.”
Jeff’s hand was on Scott’s shoulder within a split second, forcing him back down from where he had been trying to rise. He had been right in thinking that his eldest son was not going to like this story. Scott shot him a slightly hurt look, but stayed seated.
“You could say I didn’t stand much of a chance,” John muttered quietly, glancing down at his hands. His father sighed, taking in the defeated look in John’s posture and the dried blood on his head. He didn’t say anything though, knowing that now John had started speaking, it was easier just to let him carry on with it.
“They…” John swallowed hard, clearly steeling himself. “They dragged me into one of the garages and left me in there, tied up. They took my watch, said something about sending it ahead. Then they kind of moved away. They were talking, but I couldn’t work out what was being said, which I guess is what they wanted.”
After giving Scott a warning look to stay there, Jeff moved across the kitchen, dropping his hand lightly on his son’s shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“It’s okay, John. You don’t have to say this now if you don’t want to.”
“No, Dad, I’m fine. I can do this, it’s just…well, the one thing I did catch was I wasn’t the only one they had set a trap for.” He lifted his eyes, looking directly ahead. As he did so, he managed to get all three of his earth-bound brothers in his eye-line. “I couldn’t move, couldn’t even call out, and I knew that you guys were walking straight into a trap. So…”
A flicker of a smile crossed John’s face, and despite his father’s warning look, Scott stood up, moving closer. “What did you do, John?”
“Pulled a Houdini. The ropes weren’t as tight as they had hoped, and I managed to free my hands. I knew I couldn’t get out of the door though, they were standing in the way, and I still had to make sure I got the plans back. So I just sat there and waited for one of them to come back over. One eventually did, and to say he was surprised when he got a fist in the face was an understatement.”
Gordon laughed out loud at that, but Scott was still frowning.
“What about the others?” John looked almost ashamed.
“I grabbed his gun. One of the others came for me and I shot him.” Feeling his father’s hand tighten in horror on his shoulder, John quickly pushed on. “In the leg, I only got him in the leg. The other one didn’t seem to want to risk it and ran for it. I still don’t know where he went.”
John’s voice grew quiet as he relived his escape in his mind. “One of them was wearing a cap. I took it, put it on and went back into the alleyway. They had taken the plans into the garage, but the one who fled didn’t think about them when he ran, they were still just sitting there. I just picked them up and walked off. The police were on their way, I could hear them. I don’t know why it took them so long – do you think the Hood has connections in there? Either way, I just walked away from it, got back to the plane and came home. And here I am.”
“How did you land without us knowing you were back?” Virgil asked. It had been something that he had been thinking about almost since he had first seen his brother framed in the doorway. John always followed the rules, there was no way he would have landed without radioing in, yet none of them had cleared him. The island was so full of security measures to stop anyone from paying an unexpected visit, each of the family jets were equipped with a system that let them bypass security. It was possible to land without being cleared and without setting off every single alarm, it was just unlike John to do it.
“That’s a good point,” Alan suddenly cut in. He should have been able to pick up the signal of the plane coming in. But as John took a moment to answer, he knew that he hadn’t been following the readings as closely as he perhaps should have been. He had been too busy trying to trace the Hood to track anything else.
“Kyrano,” John said simply, and as one, all heads swivelled. To say the Malaysian was conspicuous by his absence would have been an understatement.
Silence fell across the room as each member of the family thought about what had happened. Penny excused herself. She had needed to be there to hear what had happened – she was now as much part of this as the rest of them – but seemed to understand that although this was about International Rescue, it was also about the family. Despite Jeff’s words, she knew that right now it only involved those with the surname of Tracy.
“What do we do now?” Virgil eventually muttered, resting his elbow on the counter and using it to cushion his head. His grandmother had moved away now John had finished speaking, something Scott watched happen with a smile playing across his mouth. “Dad?”
Before Jeff could answer, Gordon suddenly yawned. It seemed to take him by surprise as much as it did for the rest of the family, but his father moved away from his older brother, heading back towards his original stool, ruffling the aquanaut’s hair as he did so.
“Now, you are all going to get some sleep.”
“Dad, what are we, five?”
“No, Scott. But you are still my sons and….” Jeff’s voice dropped. “And you could have all been killed today. I just need you to get some rest. Please? You too, Alan.” If Jeff had ordered them to bed, his oldest son would have kicked up a fuss. Some things hadn’t changed over the years. But the fact the man had asked, with a sense of desperation in his voice, made Scott grab onto Gordon’s arm and begin to gently pull him from the room.
“F.A.B.” If Alan wasn’t happy about being sent to bed, he hid it well. “Night, guys.” As the chorus of responses floated back through space at the youngest member of the family, Alan signed off. They all knew he would spend a few minutes flicking the station onto automatic, but whether or not he followed the command and went to bed, no one could say.
Brains had seen to John’s head and checked Virgil’s burns whilst they were waiting for their father to arrive in the kitchen, so all that remained for the young men to do was climb the stairs. Virgil followed Scott and Gordon out, but John paused for a moment. He turned, meeting his father’s eyes. Jeff frowned slightly, almost seeming to examine John’s soul before he nodded, his eyes softening. John smiled gently back and turned to follow his brothers. It was a sign of how much the two of them had developed the ability to communicate without words, something that was sometimes necessary when John was on Five.
John was silent as he climbed the stairs. His mind was in something of a turmoil as he changed for bed, staring at himself for a long moment in the bathroom mirror. What the hell had happened out there today? But he couldn’t help but wonder whether the Hood had finally learnt his lesson. He had clearly been trying to play his whole hand by going after all four of them at once. Not for the first time was John thankful Alan was up on Five and beyond the madman’s reach. But the plan had backfired, and his father had made it quite clear that no one should go after their family again. But would it be enough to make the Hood finally back down?
As he crashed down on his bed, staring at the ceiling with unseeing eyes, John hoped so. Despite the fact they had all got away, both he and Virgil had been hurt. If the orders had been to kill rather than capture, John knew with spine-chilling certainty the family would be a lot smaller tonight.
Shuddering, the blond rolled off his bed again. Climbing to his feet, he padded down the corridor almost silently, pushing open another door. There was only one place he could go when feeling like this.
As he let himself into Scott’s room, it came as no surprise to find Virgil already in there. Nor was it any surprise to the three elder brothers when Gordon came bounding in not five minutes later, jumping straight onto Scott’s bed. The whole action clearly said he was staying there, but none of the others disagreed with him. They had no intention of leaving the sanctuary of their eldest brother’s room. And Scott had no intention of making them leave.
Virgil was lying on Scott’s bed. His hands were folded behind his head and his feet were perpendicular to his body where he was resting them against his brother’s wall. He didn’t particularly care that the neat-freak would have a fit when he saw the younger man – Virgil wasn’t budging. Scott had been avoiding him for the best part of a month now. That was how long it had been since the Hood had threatened to completely tear them apart. The middle son couldn’t help but wonder whether his father’s attitude had actually saved the day after all. There had been no mishaps, no threats, nothing since. Five rescues had gone without a hitch – apart from Gordon ending up in a river, but even Scott couldn’t blame that on a madman, not considering what the aquanaut had been doing at the time. There had even been one back in Canada. To say tensions had been high on that rescue would have been an understatement, but nothing had happened. It truly seemed as if the Hood had given up. Not that that had stopped Penny though, dragging Parker over to the mainland for as long as she possibly could whilst trying to find some lead regarding what had happened to John.
That didn’t mean Virgil had given up trying to pin down his brother, though. Since the night John had escaped, he knew Scott had been going out of his way to avoid being left alone with his closest sibling. It wasn’t Virgil’s fault that his brother had let something accidentally slip that night. He didn’t think the other two had picked up on it – they had never been able to read Scott as well as Virgil could. Judging by the way they had behaved the next day, Virgil knew he was the only one who had noticed Scott’s slip of the tongue.
But now he had had enough. Scott couldn’t avoid him forever, and even though his brother had taken refuge in One’s hanger, muttering something about repairs when Virgil had attempted to corner him in the kitchen that morning, Virgil was determined. So he decided to take up residence in the one place Scott couldn’t avoid. Being an artist had given him many talents, patience being one of them. A talent the rest of the family seemed to lack spectacularly. John could be patient when the mood took him, but Virgil knew his brother wouldn’t be able to simply lie on Scott’s bed for nearly two hours, just waiting for said brother to turn up again. He was hoping that Scott would be too surprised to see him there in order to be able to make his escape. Well, that was the plan…
Virgil was close to falling asleep when he finally heard the door open. He was lucky in the layout of Scott’s room. His brother had to actually come most of the way in before he caught sight of the bed, meaning there would be no quick getaway. To Virgil’s delight, Scott didn’t so much as glance that way, instead heading straight into his bathroom. Virgil was off the bed like a shot, almost stumbling as his legs protested at having spent so much time above his head, but he made it to the door before Scott heard him. Slamming it shut, he then proceeded to sit in front of it. Scott wasn’t going anywhere.
The second the door shut, the pilot reappeared, looking around in concern. When he caught sight of his brother sitting there grinning with success, he sighed somewhat irritably.
“Virgil, what the hell?” He had a towel slung over one shoulder and a frown on his face.
“You can’t avoid me, Scott, we live on an island,” Virgil responded smugly. After spending a month trying to chase the man, he was quite happy to have finally cornered him in his own room. He would thank Gordon later. Not that the redhead actually knew why Virgil was so adamant to talk to their brother, but he had just happily come out with ideas. Thinking back on some of them, Virgil smirked. He worried about his little brother sometimes.
Scott saw the smirk and rolled his eyes. “Who said anything about avoiding you? Get out the way, Virg, I’ve got stuff to do.”
Virgil raised an eyebrow. “And that’s not avoidance how? Give it up, Scott, I know why you’ve been doing it.”
“You know nothing. Virgil, move.” Scott’s voice was bordering along the lines of angry, but Virgil knew it was just his brother trying to scare him into moving. There were occasions where it worked, but not this time. This time, Virgil was having his say and he was going to make damned sure Scott listened to him.
For a moment, he just watched his brother. Scott’s jaw was set and Virgil could see the tension beginning to run down his arms as his shoulders lifted slightly. Scott knew precisely what Virgil was talking about, that much was obvious. Now what mattered was getting him to admit it out loud. Hit by a sudden idea, Virgil knew it was the only thing that would work. He would apologise later for lying outright to his brother, but only when Scott had come clean. Dropping his head in what looked like apparent defeat, he stared at his feet for a moment.
“Ever considered you’re not the only one?” he muttered quietly, not wanting to look up. Scott knew him as well as he knew Scott. He knew the older man would be able to see in his eyes that he wasn’t telling the truth and Scott couldn’t know that, not yet.
“Oh give it up, Scott, you know what I mean. Has it crossed your mind there might have been a reason I’ve wanted to talk to you for the last month other than annoying the hell out of you?” The annoyance present in his voice wasn’t an act. Virgil truly was irritated by how successfully Scott had managed to avoid him.
“Virgil, what is this?” Scott’s voice had softened though. He sounded genuinely confused, and Virgil couldn’t blame him. After all, he was clearly pretending there was a problem, and no matter how much Scott had been avoiding him, if something had been wrong, Virgil knew the oldest brother would have picked up on it. Sparing Scott a quick glance before lowering his eyes to the floor, he was glad to see the pilot’s tense stance seemed to have softened slightly. The time for subtlety was at an end.
“Is it worth it, Scott?” Hearing his brother’s sharp intake of breath, Virgil pushed on. “Come on, I know I’m not the only one thinking it. John, Gordon, Alan, you. All of us could be dead thanks to IR. Is it worth it?” If it had been any other occasion, Virgil knew his brother would be the first to defend their father’s dream, pointing out all the times they had defied the odds to save someone who certainly would not have survived without them. But this was not any other occasion. Instead, Virgil had just voiced the one thing he knew had been going through his brother’s mind for the last month at the very least, and sure enough, Scott sat down on the bed, sighing heavily.
“I wish I could say yes,” he admitted quietly, staring at his hands. Virgil dropped all pretences and faced his brother. He had to get through to the man.
It showed how uncertain Scott was that he didn’t pick up on the change in Virgil’s tone.
“But I can’t. Not with a clear conscience. You’re right, Virg, you are not the only one thinking it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Scott?” Virgil climbed up off the floor and pulled round Scott’s chair, sitting so he was facing his brother. “Why didn’t you tell Dad?”
“Tell Dad? Are you crazy? He thinks we’ve beaten the Hood, that everything is fine again. You saw his face when we returned from the last rescue. In his mind, his dream is being fulfilled once again.”
Virgil frowned at the bitterness in Scott’s voice. It seemed the problems were even deeper than he’d thought.
“And your dream isn’t?” he prompted. He knew full well that before all this nothing had given Scott more of a thrill than taking control of a successful rescue. His heart sank when Scott paused for a moment before shaking his head.
“It’s the way he passed them off as accidents that got me thinking.”
“But you know they weren’t accidents. Scott, John all but found proof it was that creep trying to kill us.”
“We didn’t know though, did we?” Scott said quietly, lifting his head and meeting Virgil’s gaze. For a moment, he frowned, something in him realising that Virgil was directing the whole conversation towards how he was feeling, despite him being the one to bring the topic up. He would deal with that in a moment. Now Virgil had made him start speaking, it was as if his tongue had a life of its own. Scott couldn’t have stopped it even if he’d wanted to. “It was only Gordon who realised something was wrong. He could have died, and we would have put it down to an accident.”
“Scott, I don’t understand,” Virgil cut in, confused. “It wasn’t an accident, so what’s your point?”
“An accident like that could have easily happened, Virgil.”
Suddenly, Virgil knew where this was going. Scott had had these same doubts when IR had originally been set up, when he realised what his father had been asking of them. Asking of Scott… Asking him to send his brothers into danger, co-ordinating their every move. Meaning that if something went wrong, Scott would have more than enough reason to blame himself. It had been John who had managed to get through to their eldest brother then, but Virgil knew it was up to him now. If he didn’t sort this out before he left this room, he had a horrible feeling it was never going to be sorted out.
“Stop,” Virgil said firmly, leaning forward so that he was looking Scott directly in the eye. “I know where you are going with this, and the answer is it isn’t your fault. We know accidents can happen, and apart from a few broken bones, name one that we haven’t been able to laugh about in one way or another afterwards? This was different, in the sense they weren’t accidents.”
“What difference does it make, Virg?”
Virgil found himself biting his lip. He should have found a way to corner Scott before this. He should have found some way of stopping things getting this bad. But he knew what the older man was like, and so knew that Scott would have done anything to make sure his younger brothers didn’t know what was troubling him. It might have worked if not for one thing: Virgil could almost read his mind.
“Gordon could have died and we would have put it down to an accident. Then Alan would have been killed because there was no Gordon there to save him.”
Virgil groaned. He knew that no matter what he said, Scott was going to keep bringing it back to the fact that they could have died. He knew that, despite his previous concerns, it wasn’t really the ‘accidents’ that had his brother so troubled. It was the knowledge that he had been helpless to stop them that had Scott so worked up. Virgil knew Scott had sworn to himself after their mother died that he would protect the family, and now he felt as if he was being forced to break that promise.
“Scott, stop,” Virgil moaned, resting his head in his hands. “If you are going to go down that route, you know what, give up.”
“I’m serious. If we’re going to have you out there second-guessing everything we are about to do, then accidents are going to happen. Or…” He lifted his head again, locking eyes with his big brother and trying to simply will the man to listen to him. If Scott didn’t accept this, Virgil had no idea what he was going to say. “Or you could snap out of it, become the Field Commander who has got us through every rescue and home again, regardless of what happened out there. The one who has never put us in a dangerous situation – we’ve managed to do that ourselves by not listening to your advice.”
Virgil paused again, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
“Scott, we need you out there. But if you are going to be thinking like this, then you are no good to us. You know the rest of us will carry on going out there without you…” Technically, Virgil wasn’t sure that was true, but he wasn’t going to tell Scott that. “So it’s your choice. You either come out there with us and make sure we aren’t idiots – well, no more than usual. Or you sit here and mope and then have a full-on panic attack when one of us gets hurt. Your choice, I’m done going around in circles.”
Virgil pushed his chair back and strode for the door. He knew his words were harsh, but he had truly had enough. He had spent a month trying to corner his brother, to force him to open up and admit what was going through his head. But now he wasn’t quite sure why. Scott clearly had his mind set on stopping the rescues –whether it be through him leaving or the operation shutting down – and Virgil knew when Scott had his mind set on something, there would be no changing it.
“You’re a liar you know.”
The soft and quiet voice made Virgil pause, his hand already on the door. Even so, he couldn’t resist twisting his neck to frown quizzically at his brother.
“You’re a liar.” Scott got slowly off the bed, taking a step towards his younger brother. If he saw Virgil’s fleeting look of nerves, he ignored it.
“And you came about this marvellous piece of information how?”
“You never had doubts, did you?”
Virgil grinned. He should have known Scott would see straight through his brother’s charade to make him talk. The artist just hoped it meant that Scott truly was beginning to see sense again. Meeting Scott’s gaze head on, Virgil shook his head, smile firmly in place.
“Worked, didn’t it?” With a cheeky grin that could rival Gordon’s, Virgil wrenched open the door and sped into the hallway beyond. He knew now that Scott was going to be okay. How, he couldn’t have said. But he could read the man, and knew the fact Scott was insulting him again meant they had got somewhere.
For once, Scott didn’t gave chase like he would normally do, and Virgil meandered down into the lounge, feeling more than satisfied with himself. If he knew Scott as well as he thought – and considering the conversation that had just taken place, he was sure he did – then the pilot would be doing some thinking.
“What are you looking so cheerful about?”
Virgil would deny it vehemently afterwards, but John made him jump. For a moment, he had to glance around the room trying to locate the voice, only to see his brother curled up in a chair, peering at his younger sibling over the top of his book. Virgil made to open his mouth, and John rolled his eyes.
“If you dare ask me if I’m alright, you’re going in the pool the way Gordon did.”
“You got Gordon in the pool?”
“Don’t sound so disbelieving, the tyke was annoying me.”
“What did he do?”
“Denied that he was following me.” John uncurled his legs slightly, marking his page and placing his book on the table next to him as he watched for Virgil’s reaction. “He’s been doing it ever since….well, you know. Seems to think that I’m suddenly going to drop dead or something.”
Virgil had to smirk at that, but John wasn’t finished.
“Only problem is, I believe him when he said someone put him up to it.”
Virgil shrugged. “You know what Scott is like.”
“True,” John mused, watching Virgil closely, a smirk playing across his lips. “Although I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed how distracted Scott has been. So it must have been someone else, don’t you agree, Virg?”
“Maybe so.” Virgil was fighting to keep the smile off his own face. “You know how Alan likes to still feel like he is part of everything when he is up on Five. He probably blackmailed Gordon into doing it for him.”
“True again. Only I’ve been talking to Alan nearly every day. He just asks.”
Virgil backed up a couple of steps, knowing the game was up. He couldn’t spend his time chasing down both Scott and John to make sure his brothers were okay. He just thought Gordon would have had more stealth than to let John know what he was up to. Then again, Gordon had to have learnt it from somewhere, and Virgil was sure there was a depth to John that he kept hidden from the rest of them.
“So that only leaves one person.”
“Oh I know, Dad’s very sneaky like that, using Gordon to spy on his own son.”
“Virgil…” John was standing up now, a playful glint in his eye. The fact that Virgil was backing up was enough to prove what he had suspected all along. Out of everyone, he should have known Virgil would be trying to make sure everyone was okay. Why not make Gordon feel like he was doing something useful whilst he tried to sort out the oldest brother?
Before Virgil could answer, John had gained on him, pulling the younger man into a headlock and rubbing his fist into Virgil’s hair.
“Admit it, little brother. You had Gordon follow me!”
“Did not!” Virgil was fully aware that John knew, but he wasn’t going to admit it out loud. If John had managed to dump Gordon in the pool just for doing what Virgil had told him to, the artist didn’t want to know what the star-lover had lined up for him.
“Didn’t!” Just as Virgil thought he was going to be in big trouble, the most welcome sound he had ever heard given his positioning sounded through the house as the klaxon went off.
“Saved by the bell,” Virgil muttered, a small grin on his face. John merely glared at him, but let go all the same, the two moving into position even as Jeff came through. He smiled at seeing two of them there, Scott’s thundering footfalls letting him know a third was on his way.
“Don’t think you are saved from anything, short-stuff.”
“Don’t call me..!”
“Boys!” There was no real heat in Jeff’s voice though. He was too relieved to have them acting as their old selves to bother telling them to stop. Instead, his eyes slid to the door and he traded an all-knowing smirk with his eldest son as Scott walked in. Simultaneously, Gordon slid through the doors at the far end, dripping wet. John smirked in a self-satisfied manner and shot Virgil what was supposed to be a warning look. Virgil, however, was too busy watching Scott. His older brother seemed to sense the penetrating gaze upon him and caught Virgil’s eye. An unspoken message seemed to shoot between them, the rest of the room almost fading away as Virgil tried to gauge Scott’s reaction. His brother dipped his head ever so slightly, an action Virgil knew would be lost on everyone else, and Virgil relaxed. Scott had accepted what he had said.
The link to Thunderbird Five was active and Alan immediately launched into his report. Strong gales in Malaysia were making things dangerous. Already there had been two major accidents and the area was in chaos.
“Boys?” For once, Jeff wasn’t about to immediately send his sons on this rescue, not considering the location. He knew they had got through the Canadian one, but the three of them who had gone had been on edge the whole time. This was really going into the lion’s den.
“Those people need help, I’m going.” Gordon’s answer couldn’t have come back quicker if he had tried, and his father smiled in pride at his second-youngest son.
“Likewise. Who lives there has nothing to do with it. We can’t let people down because of what else happened out there.” John sounded just as sure as his younger brother, but Virgil looked to Scott.
“Commander?” he said gently, wondering whether his big brother was going to step up to his role again or not. In a way, he both loved and hated where this rescue was. If Scott could handle one here, he could handle one anywhere. But at the same time, it would have been a lot easier to handle a small one on the other side of the world.
Scott locked eyes with Virgil for a long moment, before dropping his eyes again.
Virgil didn’t realise how much the room had been waiting for Scott’s decision on the matter, but it seemed to give a collective sigh at his words. Immediately, their father snapped into a purely professional mode.
“Scott, take One and launch now, I need a full report when you get there. Virgil, take both John and Gordon. This sounds like it is going to be an all hands on deck situation and John, you know the language. Alan, establish a firm line of communication with the locals and a chain of command if you can get through to them.”
A chorus of “F.A.B”’s answered Jeff’s commands, and his sons immediately whisked into action. Within ten minutes, there was no evidence that two of the world’s most advanced machines had taken off from the hidden base.
“Coffee, Mr Tracy?” Kyrano’s voice was ever the welcome one, and Jeff turned to see not only the man standing there, but his mother as well. As if sensing his train of thought, his mother crossed the room and sat in one of the chairs in front of him.
“Only one, Kyrano,” she told him, and Kyrano disappeared with a smile.
“I’ll make it none if you use that tone of voice, Jeff. You know he listens to me.”
For a moment, Jeff merely pouted at his mother, but as she smiled at him, eyebrows raised, he gave in. He never could defeat that woman.
“Doing the right thing? Who knows? Judging by that conversation, your boys made up their minds without you, Jeff. You gave them the choice, they chose. Now, are you going to keep Alan waiting any longer or are you actually going to do your job in the same professional way that your boys are?”
Even so, it was with a grin that Jeff reopened his communications with the boys, smiling at Kyrano as the man placed a steaming mug in front of him. His mother might have only allowed him to have one, but Kyrano had made sure it was the biggest mug they had. Judging by the small tut, his mother knew it.
“Alan, report. What’s the situation? Where are your brothers?” Aware that his every move was being followed by the woman sitting opposite him, Jeff let himself switch from father to commander. It was about time they got rid of all doubts, once and for all.
John jogged over to Mobile Control, seeing Scott approaching at the same speed from the opposite direction. Hit with the sudden need to do something spontaneous, he caught Scott’s eye, grinned, and then quickened his speed. Scott matched him until John sped up again.
They were both breathless with laughter by the time they reached the machinery. Scott clapped John on the shoulder in gratitude, knowing his brother was trying to take his mind off a certain hideout they knew to be not far from where they were working. They were on the edge of a small wood, the trees providing a nice contrast to the buildings they were attempting to keep secure whilst getting the people out.
“Where is everyone?”
“Virgil’s over at the accident, I’ve just come from there.” Scott’s tone slipped into a far more professional one as the smile slid off his face. John knew it was only because he was concentrating on the task at hand rather than going back to brooding over what could possibly happen whilst they were out here. It was nice to see a more normal side of Scott. Ever since Gordon’s rescue, there had been something off about the eldest brother. Now it seemed, with everything calming down, the Field Commander they knew and loved was returning to them.
“Is trying to help secure the scaffolding over that way. An old temple thing was being reconstructed, but the supports seem to have come loose in the chaos.” Scott’s vague arm gesture had John smirking. He was fully aware Scott would know Gordon’s precise location.
“Does he need a hand? I’m done here; they’ve got themselves sorted now. Weird local dialect though, I had no idea what one woman kept shouting. Think it was something about chickens. Or fish, couldn’t tell.”
Scott snorted in amusement, but shook his head fondly. “If you want to ask him, go ahead. He won’t talk to me.”
“What did you do?”
“You kept checking up on him, didn’t you?”
Scott made to protest, but took one look at John’s face and backed down. His brother was right, and judging by the look sparkling out of the astronaut’s eyes, he knew it as well. Sometimes John was just too smart for his own good, of that Scott was certain.
“I just wanted to know where he was!” Scott argued defensively, but John merely smirked.
“What did he say?”
“Something I’m definitely not repeating in front of Grandma,” Scott muttered with a rueful grin. So maybe he hadn’t needed to check five times in as many minutes, but he wanted to make sure they were safe. After the very verbal lecture Gordon had given him the last time, Scott thought it was best to wait at least half an hour, the scheduled time for a call-in. At least that way he could keep an eye on Gordon, but not feel like he was crowding the man. John laughed.
“I’ll head over there. He won’t say it to my face, of that I’m sure. And if he asks, I’ll say I haven’t seen you.” Waving at his brother as he strode away, John couldn’t help but grin. Why was he not surprised Scott had been checking in with Gordon more than usual? He too had had his watch vibrate more times than normal, but with his hands full of the locals, he had had a genuine excuse to ignore his older brother.
It didn’t take long until the scaffolding came into sight. Strangely, the area was deserted of all the others who were supposed to be helping Gordon, but John pushed that detail from his mind. He knew what his brother was like. If the job was nearly done, he would have sent the locals away to where their efforts were needed and finished the job himself.
Picking his way through the unstable structure, John smirked when he thought about what Scott would have to say about that.
The smirk immediately left his face when he saw what was waiting for him.
Gordon sighed, stretching out his back as the final pieces of metal were secured. Slipping into a different language, he managed to stutter out that the men helping him could do no more here, but if they still wanted to help, they should report to Mobile Control. He had no idea whether they understood him or not, but he didn’t particularly care as they all left. As soon as they were out of sight, Gordon winced slightly, placing his hands on his lower back and arching backwards. He was certainly feeling this rescue.
He was just preparing to put the finishing touches to the patch-up job of trying to support the structure when he heard quiet footsteps behind him. Thinking it was one of the men returning, Gordon tried to once again indicate that they were just getting in the way by staying here.
“I have no desire to help.”
Whilst the voice was heavily accented, it was speaking English. But that wasn’t what had Gordon whipping round on the spot, his hand immediately flying to his belt. Their father had always insisted all of the boys were armed on rescues and their latest brushes with death had certainly reinforced it. Gordon let his fingers close around the weapon, and only when he could feel its comforting weight did he glance up.
“You.” He wasn’t sure whether it was a question or a statement as he stared at the Hood. How could he be here? He knew it was a risk considering their location, but they had survived over a month with nothing happening. How could he be here now? Now, when they had finally managed to snap Scott out of his strange mood and life was returning to normal. Thinking about his older brother, Gordon glared. He was going to take care of this himself. There was no reason for the others to even know the creep had turned up again.
His hand jerked away from his belt, the gun resting comfortably in his hand. Out of all of them, even Scott, Gordon knew he was the best shot. His hand was steady as he aimed at the Hood, and fire mingled with defiance seemed to pour from his eyes.
“Leave us alone,” he said quietly, yet his voice didn’t waver. He didn’t want the Hood knowing how hard his heart was pounding at the expression of cool indifference on the man’s face, nor the way his legs were tensing, every instinct screaming at him to run.
“Or what?” the Hood responded silkily. Before Gordon had a chance to even think of a comeback, his gun ripped itself away from his hand, clattering noisily across the floor. For a moment, he merely stared at the man, wondering what on earth he had got himself into. But Gordon was not one to simply stand there, and unfreezing, he threw himself across the floor, diving after his gun.
He knew the second his stomach collided with the rough rocks that this had not been his best move. Not only had he just completely turned his back on the man he knew could destroy him with barely more than a thought, he had just put himself at a disadvantage mentally as well. Before, he had been eye level with the creep. Now if he wanted to look at him, Gordon was going to have to look up. He knew it was all psychological, but he hated being at any type of disadvantage.
Gordon was right in thinking it was a bad idea to leave himself sprawled out across the floor. His scrabbling fingers had just managed to close around the gun when a foot stepped down sharply on his wrist. His teeth gritting, Gordon attempted to pull it free, trying not to wince. For a split second, the foot did disappear. Then the pressure increased ten-fold as it was placed in the lower part of his back instead. Gordon had been halfway to raising himself to a crouch when the Hood pushed down and he was immediately sent crashing back to the floor, all the breath driven out of him.
Trying to force air back into his lungs, Gordon winced as the Hood leant over, the pressure on his back increasing as he did so. His hand closed roughly around Gordon’s wrist, and the aquanaut flinched at the touch. Before he could voice his protests – which he was sure would have been very vocal – the Hood’s finger slipped under his watch. Somehow, it only took him one flick, and Gordon’s back-up plan was also sent spinning out of his reach.
The Hood didn’t hesitate. He moved away from the redhead after delivering a fierce kick into his stomach, rolling Gordon over and once again driving the breath out of him. Whilst Gordon was still attempting to recover, he moved away before bringing his heel crashing down on the watch. Despite himself, Gordon had to smile slightly. If there was one way to immediately alert Mobile Control to the fact something was very wrong, it would be destroying the steady signal coming from the ingenious devices strapped around the brothers’ wrists. Everyone would now know something was wrong.
Gordon had once again made it to his knees when the Hood turned his attention back to the wheezing man. He watched Gordon for a moment, disgust etched into his face. Gordon turned to look at him, only to be met with flashing eyes once again.
“Oh, so not fair,” he managed to mutter, before a rush of pain slammed into the side of his head. Immediately, he rolled onto his side, attempting to crawl away from the monster, but he couldn’t move. He barely even felt the Hood return to his side, nor a strong grip on the back of his collar hauling him upright. It was as if his body didn’t belong to him. He didn’t even feel the Hood dragging him over to the structure he had been so desperate to secure, nor being thrown back to his knees again.
It took a good few moments before Gordon felt clarity return to him. He blinked, shaking his head as if trying to rid himself of an annoying noise. Finally, he took in his surroundings, and felt his heart sink straight to his feet, doing some kind of miserable flop through his stomach just for good measure.
The Hood was standing a little way off, his eyes finally having faded back to their normal colour. Gordon knew it was no coincidence that this timed with the relieving of the pressure in his head. He made to draw his feet under him, only to freeze, taking in his positioning properly. He was kneeling, something digging firmly into his back. It was only then he realised what it was. It was one of the metal poles, and rather than digging into him, it was more like Gordon was leaning back into it. As he moved forward, Gordon closed his eyes in resignation.
There was the fierce burn of rope around his wrists, lashing them behind not only his back, but the pole as well. He was stuck.
“The perfect bait,” the Hood murmured in something that could resemble delight, winding something around his hand as he watched Gordon struggle to free himself. Gordon swallowed hard. That one sentence gave it all away. The maniac knew full well what destroying the watch had done: he had not only expected the others to be alerted to the fact that something was wrong, he had wanted them to know.
“You’ll never get away with it,” Gordon snarled, tugging fruitlessly at his bonds as he did so. It was only now he noticed that it wasn’t only his hands that were tied behind the pole, but his ankles too. He had no choice but to remain in the kneeling position.
Before the Hood could answer, Gordon heard something that both filled him with a sense of relief and made him gasp in horror at the same time. Someone was coming. But somehow he knew it was more than that, and that it was one of his brothers. Glancing around frantically, he finally caught sight of the figure. Climbing through a gap over some rubble, John had his back to the scene.
One glance at the satisfied smile on the Hood’s face, and Gordon opened his mouth. Only to have another stab of pain render him speechless. By the time he could breathe properly again, the Hood had come to stand directly in front of him. It was as if time had slowed down. John was still backing his way towards them, and Gordon knew there was nothing he could do. The Hood revealed what he had been winding around his hand, and before Gordon could even wrinkle his nose in disgust, the man had forced the piece of material between his teeth, tying it off tightly behind his head. Gordon couldn’t warn his brother, no matter how much he wanted to.
He let out a muffled cry of frustration as the Hood disappeared from his eye-line at the same time as John turned. A look of complete horror shot across the older man’s face.
Gordon shook his head frantically as John made to hurry forward, his eyes scanning the area for where the Hood might have disappeared to. He seemed to know how the brothers would react, and Gordon was certain the maniac wanted John to come to him. Meaning he was about to do everything he could to force the astronaut away from the area.
It was a sign of just how much John trusted his brother that he stopped when Gordon shook his head, his eyes asking questions he didn’t know how to voice. Gordon was glancing around him, and realising what he was getting at, John followed his lead, looking around for whoever had attacked his brother. Very slowly, completely alert, he walked towards his little brother. Gordon might have stopped him from rushing straight in like his instincts had screamed at him to do, but John was not about to leave him tied there, vulnerable, waiting for whoever it was to turn back up again.
The trouble was, he had a horrible feeling he knew who it was. As he walked, his fingers toyed almost casually with his watch, sending warning messages to Scott, Virgil and Alan, knowing the latter would alert Base that something was wrong even if Scott didn’t. He had no idea they had already been alerted to the fact something was wrong when the Hood had destroyed the signal from Gordon’s watch, but all John was thinking of was getting Gordon out of there. He kept constant eye contact with his brother as he walked forward.
Despite his position, Gordon could see more of the area than John could, having a visual on the limited routes in and out. John knew full well that Gordon would alert him somehow if he caught sight of anything being wrong, so when his brother’s eyes widened in warning, John reacted instinctively.
He ducked, dropping to the floor and rolling away before rising to a tight crouch. His head immediately shot around to where Gordon had been looking and his eyes narrowed in anger at seeing the Hood standing there. Despite the attempt at looking indifferent, John saw the way his eyes widened slightly in surprise at John’s reactions, the piece of piping he held in his hand dropping back to his side instead of continuing with the blow he had been hoping for.
John’s hand closed around his weapon, mirroring Gordon’s previous thoughts exactly as he glared at the man who was so adamant about destroying their family. But unlike his younger brother, he didn’t make the mistake of pulling it out, instead just tensing in his position, eyes calculating as he waited for the Hood to make his move.
“Move over to the structure.” The Hood’s voice was low and cold and John shuddered. This was the man who had planned to use him against his family and John was not about to let him do it again.
“No. Back away. You won’t get away with this.”
“Do not try me. Move over to your brother.”
“Let him go!” John was beginning to rise now. Not because he was going to do what the man wanted, but because he wanted to be in a position where he would be able to protect Gordon. He wasn’t quick enough though.
From seemingly nowhere, the Hood drew a gun. It looked primitive on him, and it was clear by the look on his face that he found the weapon as distasteful as John did, although for a different reason. As soon as the Hood drew the gun, John drew his own.
“Don’t make me shoot you,” he said warningly, trying to get the man to back off.
“Do you think you can make the shot? Before I pull the trigger myself?”
John froze, glancing between the Hood and Gordon once again. The Hood’s weapon was lined up directly with his brother’s head, and John knew without being told the man would be a good shot. Considering the way his own hands shook slightly, John knew the man would be able to do far more damage than he could hope to.
“Now drop it.”
John locked eyes with Gordon, the latter shaking his head again, his eyes pleading with John not to disarm himself. John dropped his gaze apologetically, swallowed hard, and tossed the gun away from him.
“Sorry, kiddo,” he muttered, his eyes returning to Gordon’s. He knew the younger man could read the reasoning in his eyes. There was no way John was about to risk Gordon’s life just to hold onto a gun that he had never used other than in training scenarios. Whilst Gordon knew for sure who the best shot in the family was, John knew with the same certainty who was the worst.
“Turn around,” the Hood ordered, taking a few steps closer to the blond, but leaving his gun perfectly aimed at Gordon. John held onto his brother’s gaze, and when Gordon shook his head yet again, tears of frustrating pooling in his eyes, John sighed. Gordon wanted him to fight.
“No,” he responded simply, trying to smile reassuringly at the younger man. If Gordon wanted him to fight, then John could at least try. But his defiance didn’t last long as the Hood made a show of flicking the safety off the gun, levelling it with more precision at Gordon.
John bit his lip in indecision, staring at Gordon. What would his brother do if their positions were reversed? Part of John was sure his younger sibling would be able to fight his way out of the situation – he had heard about the outcome of the physical Scott had forced their brother through. Yet at the same time, Gordon had been the first to be disarmed. The Hood was obviously strong.
He sighed deeply and slowly began turning around, locking eyes with Gordon for as long as he could. His brother had gone back to pulling on his bindings frantically, his gaze desperate and – if John was not mistaken – terrified. Eventually, he turned his head away, fists clenched by his side as he braced himself for what he knew was about to come.
Gordon let out a muffled cry as the Hood swung and John dropped to the floor without a moment’s delay. The creep even had the nerve to shoot Gordon a satisfied glance as he began pulling John’s prone form over to the scaffolding. Staring frantically at his brother, Gordon had never felt a rush of relief so strong as he did right then when he saw John’s chest rising and falling slightly. The breaths were far too shallow for Gordon to be happy with, but at least it meant his brother was still alive.
The Hood dropped John a little way away from the younger man, smiling in satisfaction as John didn’t even stir on the impact. With one hand, he grabbed onto John’s wrist, pulling it up behind him and pulling out a set of handcuffs with the other. He latched one cuff around the scaffolding and the other around John’s wrist, leaving his arm suspended there.
“Two down,” he murmured. Although his voice was quiet, Gordon heard every word. That was why he had only made sure to knock John out rather than killing him as he could so easily have done. It was why he had tied Gordon up rather than simply shooting him. They were the guarantee that Scott and Virgil would arrive on the scene.
As he tried to ignore the way his feet tingled uncomfortably because of their position, Gordon realised only now just how well the Hood knew them. With both him and John at his mercy, the man would be able to get the others to do almost anything he wanted.
“Virgil! Report in, are you safe?”
“What the hell is going on?” Virgil’s voice, whilst sounding angry, had been one of the most welcoming sounds Scott had heard for a while now. He had ordered both John and Virgil back to Mobile Control as soon as Gordon’s watch had stopped being active. Virgil was still on his way over, but John had failed to respond. To start with, Scott thought it was because the man was busy, and knowing that he had been heading towards Gordon anyway, the Field Commander hadn’t pushed it, certain that John would soon be reporting in.
But there had still been nothing. Despite trying several times Scott was receiving nothing back from his immediate younger brother. He was running the systems to breaking point on Mobile Control, trying to analyse the area to find out what could have happened. Alan had been helping from Five, but Scott had cut him off when their father had also tried to get involved. He couldn’t deal with the voices floating around him, anxious and frightened. He needed to concentrate.
Glancing up, Scott’s shoulders sagged in relief when he saw Virgil running over.
“Have you heard from them?”
Scott had to smile. He should have known that Virgil would also have been trying to contact their missing siblings. Briefly stretching out his hand, he grasped Virgil’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort, seeing the same worry reflecting in the younger man’s eyes that he could feel himself.
“No. Gordon’s watch has been de-activated and John isn’t answering. Don’t suppose you’ve seen them, have you?” Scott was chewing on his bottom lip slightly now, a clear sign of how stressed he was feeling. Virgil had managed to persuade him to snap out of this mood, and now he couldn’t get a response from his brothers.
“No, I know Gordon was over by the scaffolding around that temple, he was securing it the last I heard. But I’ve seen a load of the people I know were helping him coming back, they’ve clearly finished. He would have checked it once more himself then headed back.”
“John was going over to help him,” Scott mused, more thinking out loud than addressing his brother. Coming to a decision, he hit a few switches on Mobile Control.
“Alan, patch me through Gordon’s last signal.”
To Scott’s mind, it just showed how worried they all were, for Alan said nothing else, no comment about him being sure they were both okay, no false attempt at reassurance. They were in the territory of someone they knew wanted them defeated and dead. It only took a few seconds before Mobile Control received the readings and Scott took a breath.
“Al, maintain contact with Base, I’m going over there. Monitor my positioning.”
“I’m coming too,” Virgil declared obstinately, moving forward at the same time as speaking. For a moment, Scott looked as if he was going to argue. Something was wrong; he didn’t want Virgil walking straight into the middle of it. But one look at his little brother’s face and he knew it was not a battle he could win. Virgil would simply follow him if Scott refused, and the older man would rather know where all of his siblings were than have one attempt to sneak around by himself.
“Keep in contact?” Alan’s voice finally gave away how he was feeling as it trembled slightly, and Scott smiled reassuringly, forgetting that his littlest brother couldn’t see him.
“F.A.B. Virg, let’s go.”
Silence fell between the brothers as they strode in the direction Scott had seen John disappear in. The pilot’s mind was racing. Surely nothing could have happened? Even if something had happened to Gordon, John should have made contact…
Just as he was thinking about the blond, his watch vibrated. Glancing down, Scott sighed in relief when he caught sight of Virgil also looking towards his watch out of the corner of his eye.
“John.” His relief was short lived as he began translating the urgent code John had just patched through. He stopped still in complete horror and shock, swallowing hard.
“Scott…” It was Virgil’s voice that made his brain start thinking again. His brother sounded so scared, and Scott couldn’t blame him. How could the Hood be here? How could he already be threatening Gordon? But judging by the silence, Scott knew it was more than that. He knew that John too was in trouble. Why else wouldn’t the blond have just got them out of there?
“Virgil, go back.”
“I’m not having you anywhere near him if I can help it.”
“You can’t help it,” Virgil argued just as stubbornly. “They are my brothers too. And if neither of them are answering their watches, you may need help getting them out. You may be awesome, Scott, but even you aren’t that good.”
Scott ignored the compliment Virgil had accidentally slipped in there and turned to face his younger sibling. He couldn’t have another brother in trouble, not again. The Hood certainly knew how to make Scott’s confidence crumble. Could he allow Virgil to accompany him knowing full well they were about to walk into danger? It went against everything he believed in as both Field Commander and big brother. But even he couldn’t deny that Virgil had a point.
“Keep close and keep alert.”
“I’m not ten,” Virgil shot back, and Scott had to smile. Virgil was right, he could handle himself. If they were going to go and help their brothers, he couldn’t be distracted with wondering what Virgil was doing. He knew the younger man would hate it if Scott doubted whether he could handle himself here, and so, pushing away what his heart was screaming at him, he nodded, forcing himself to trust his little brother.
It didn’t take them long to reach the structure, although Scott immediately stopped Virgil walking straight in. Instead, he motioned with rather grand hand gestures for his brother to go around the other side. There was no way he was about to let them both walk in through the obvious entrance, that was his Air Force training paying off. For a moment Virgil looked like he wanted to argue, but seemed to realise Scott was thinking in a military style rather than as a big brother this time.
“You get to John and Gordon, that’s your focus. I’ll deal with the Hood.” Scott’s voice was a fierce whisper, and if it wasn’t his brother talking, Virgil would have shuddered at the note in his voice. This was not a Scott he’d want to mess with. He trusted his brother’s judgement and with a quick grip of Scott’s arm, he moved away to the side.
Scott gave him time. Virgil had to be in position before either of them could walk in; it wouldn’t be any use otherwise. Finally though, he felt the signal vibrate through his watch, and sending a silent one to Alan to inform them they were going in, Scott sent the command to move in.
Immediately, he set off at a run. The debris John had so carefully clambered over was taken at a leap. Landing in a tight crouch, Scott raced into the area, pulling up short in horror at the scene that greeted him. Gordon was desperately struggling, fury pounding out of him and being felt even from where Scott was standing. He was trying to get to John, who was still out cold.
Gordon either heard or simply felt Scott’s presence, for he immediately turned, his eyes pleading for his big brother to do something. Scott smiled reassuringly, slipping his gun out and taking a few calculated steps forward, eyes darting everywhere as Virgil raced onto the scene from the opposite direction, swearing violently when he caught sight of his brother’s predicament.
Scott didn’t realise he was mirroring John’s earlier ideas as he sidestepped carefully towards his brother. His back was pressed against the structure, meaning nothing could come up behind him, but his eyes were locked on Gordon. He was getting ever closer when Gordon’s eyes suddenly widened in alarm and he pulled furiously at his bonds. Following his gaze, Scott felt his heart stop.
Virgil’s breath caught in his throat at Scott’s shout, and he knew without turning that he wasn’t going to be able to move in time, he could almost feel someone behind him. Knowing he had no time to run, he spun on the spot. His hand was out flat, and going by what he could remember of the Hood’s height from their previous encounter, he kept his arm level with where he believed the man’s throat to be.
His strike would have been perfect if the Hood hadn’t been expecting it. Instead of winding the man as he had hoped, Virgil gasped as a hand wrapped around his wrist in a strong grip. Before he had time to react, the arm was wrenched up behind his back as the Hood kicked out at his knees.
Immediately, Virgil dropped to the floor, hissing as his arm was bent up further behind his back and the cold muzzle of a gun was pressed under his chin. He froze, locking eyes with Scott across the clearing. Even Gordon had stilled, staring at the scene in horror.
“Drop it!” the Hood snarled, forcing the gun deeper into Virgil’s neck. Scott was rigid. “Do it or your brother dies. I might have been able to threaten from a distance with that one,” he nodded towards John, “But you are a military man, Scott. You know I can’t miss from here.”
Scott swallowed hard, anger pulsing through him and making the blood pound in his ears. Did this man know everything about them?
“Scott, don’t,” Virgil muttered quietly, but his voice travelled. He was rewarded by the Hood jamming the gun even further into his neck, making him flinch as swallowing was suddenly restricted. His arm was bent further around, pushing him forward and breaking his eye contact with Scott as he was forced to look at the floor.
“Scott, do,” the Hood mocked, echoing Virgil’s tone. Scott glared at him, his hand locked on his weapon. He could make the shot. He knew he was good enough to miss Virgil and take out the Hood. But would the man have time to pull the trigger? His eyes flickered towards the Hood’s hand. It was steady and ready, and as if sensing Scott’s gaze – if not his whole thought process – the Hood made a show of tightening his finger on the trigger slightly. The pilot felt his breath coming in short gasps, looking between Virgil, the Hood and Gordon. The latter was completely still in a way that was so uncharacteristic of Gordon that Scott felt something in him stir. This man was destroying his brothers.
With a curse, he tossed the gun away from him. Even from the angle he was at, he could see Virgil close his eyes in resignation.
“Now let them go.” There was a commanding tone in Scott’s voice, but to his dismay, the Hood merely laughed. He glanced between Scott and his discarded weapon, clearly calculating how long it would take him to reach it before coming to a decision and tucking his own back in his belt, although his grip on Virgil did not lessen in the slightest.
“That was never part of any agreement,” he responded smoothly, gripping Virgil’s hair with his now free hand and pulling him harshly backwards so that the artist was kneeling upright, his arm still locked behind his back. “I’ve got a bit of a dilemma here you know,” he continued conversationally, twisting Virgil’s arm just that little bit further and causing the man to gasp. “Which one do I kill first?”
“Let. Them. Go!” Scott snarled, taking a step forward. He only froze again when the Hood’s hand once again drifted towards his gun.
“Not part of the plan, boy.”
“If you want to kill someone, take me. But let them go.”
“Scott, no!” Virgil gasped, shaking his arm to try and throw off the Hood, but to no avail.
“Not happening. I’m going to kill them all. Maybe I’ll save you to last, make you watch. But either way, your brothers are dying.”
“Over my dead body,” Scott growled, taking another step forward. He barely saw the Hood’s hand flash before suddenly the gun was back in the man’s hand, aimed with deadly precision at the Field Commander.
“That can be arranged.”
No one had the time to even think of a response before the gun fired.
Jeff stared in complete incredulity at Alan’s portrait, finally causing his son to wince slightly and lower his gaze.
“They’ve done what?” he asked quietly, his voice betraying nothing of the turmoil racing through him. “How could Scott have allowed it?”
“They were just doing their job, Dad,” Alan argued, looking more and more uncomfortable as the conversation progressed. “And Scott didn’t allow anything. John went to help Gordon, they lost touch, Scott followed procedure and Virgil deemed it too dangerous without backup.” Alan wasn’t about to mention it was just Virgil’s stubbornness that had made him accompany their eldest brother. As Alan flinched slightly again under his father’s stare, Jeff sighed and glanced away, scrubbing his hand over his face.
“Have you heard anything since?” This time his tone was completely controlled as he struggled to keep hold of himself. It was no good lashing out at Alan – the youngest member of their team had no more control over the situation than Jeff did, and with him being situated hundreds of miles above the Earth, it certainly wasn’t going to make matters any easier.
“No, Sir,” Alan admitted softly, dropping his eyes and studying the control panel in front of him. Jeff opened his mouth again, but before he could say anything, a strong hand gripped his shoulder in warning. His mother was frowning, her expression making it clear that she wasn’t about to let her son upset her grandson any further.
“You did well, Alan,” Jeff eventually said, receiving a squeeze of the hand in response before it dropped again. His mother was standing directly behind him, having jumped to her feet with surprising agility when Alan had reported in John’s last communication about the Hood turning up again. Tin-Tin was perched on the edge of a chair, and Jeff knew her presence was the only reason why Alan was keeping any control; he didn’t want to embarrass himself. Her father was behind her, his hand resting on her shoulder, giving the same comfort Jeff was receiving himself. Brains had been present, but on hearing contact had been lost from Gordon’s watch had scurried back down to his lab, mumbling something about being able to trace the signal with some of his more advanced equipment. The others let him go, knowing he needed something to keep his mind occupied.
“They work well as a team, Jeff; they know what to do,” Grandma said softly, her voice calm and reassuring even if it was miles away from how she was feeling. She knew what was running through Jeff’s mind, for it was the same panic that was threatening to overwhelm her. She had seen the fights between the boys when she had arrived back on the island, knew just how successful the Hood had been before at driving wedges between the tight bonds in the family.
Kyrano, however, didn’t seem to be paying attention to what was going on around him. Instead, his eyes were shut and his brow furrowed, looking like he was concentrating hard on something. No one heard his small intake of breath even as his eyes opened once more, blinking a few times as he readjusted himself to his surroundings. It would have passed completely unnoticed if Tin-Tin hadn’t felt his grip slacken and then tighten suddenly.
“Father?” Despite her quiet tone, everyone in the room caught Tin-Tin’s words as she twisted in her seat, gazing at the man in concern. Alan sat forward slightly and Grandma moved past Jeff, taking a few steps towards the Malaysian.
“He’s planning something,” Kyrano muttered, shutting his eyes once more. He continued to address the people in the room though, clearly bringing to mind what he had felt before. “He wants to do something, try something new…” As the man’s voice trailed off, the room seemed to hold its breath. “He’s angry; something is in the way…”
“Scott,” Alan muttered drily, smirking humourlessly.
“…but he’s prepared to take that out. There is something else…” All of a sudden, Kyrano broke off with a gasp, one hand clutching at his head even as the other gripped tightly onto his daughter. Tin-Tin and Grandma both moved in, helping him into a chair before Grandma bustled off, muttering something about him needing a drink.
“I’m sorry, Mr Tracy. I can get no more from him.”
Kyrano looked so genuinely apologetic that Jeff moved out from behind his desk, walking over to his old friend and squeezing his shoulder reassuringly.
“You did all you could. You did more than you should, that was a great risk, my friend.” When Kyrano just sat there, rigid, Jeff knew what the problem was. There were some character traits that didn’t just run in his blood relations, but across his extended family as well. “This isn’t your fault, Kyrano.”
“He’s my brother.”
“Half-brother,” Alan cut in, eyes blazing in a fury that was rarely seen in the youngest. “And this has nothing to do with you. Does Dad blame me when Gordon pulls a prank?”
Jeff winced slightly. “Well…”
“Don’t answer that. My point still stands. This isn’t your fault.”
Jeff gazed at the screen in pride. When had his little boy grown up so much? He smiled gently, and Alan seemed to sense the gaze, blushing slightly and looking away, only managing to cause his father’s smile to widen. There were some things he hadn’t grown out of.
“Monitor all transmissions coming from the zone,” Jeff ordered, moving back towards his desk. “I want to know if anything happens, anything in the slightest, is that clear?”
Grandma chose that moment to come back in, passing a grateful Kyrano a cup of tea.
“They can take care of themselves. Believe in your boys, Jeff.”
“I do,” the father responded heavily, staring at the portraits lining the wall. “It’s the Hood I’m more worried about.”
A loud bang dragged John painfully back to consciousness, the noise resonating through his head time and time again as he tried to clear his vision. Finally, the world stopped spinning enough for him to push himself into an upright position, wincing as his arm suddenly bent behind him at the action. As soon as he was vaguely sitting, he let his eyes take in his surroundings, gasping as he did so.
The pain in his shoulder from its unnatural position was quickly explained when he caught sight of the handcuffs tying him to the scaffolding. His eyes found Gordon next and John felt a flicker of relief upon seeing that his little brother was no worse off than when he had last seen him. Until he looked into the redhead’s eyes, raging emotions that had even John flinching back slightly spiralling within. He followed his eye-line and felt his heart somersault.
“Scott!” What had been intended as a yell came out as nothing more than a feeble croak, but it did the job. His big brother turned towards him, his face white. John swallowed, his eyes drifting down. Scott’s left hand was clamped firmly over the upper part of his right arm, blood seeping through his fingers.
“Lucky shot,” he muttered, teeth gritted as he tried to stop the blood. He managed to offer his brother a weak smile before turning to face in a different direction. Once again, John followed him, and swallowed hard. No wonder Gordon was looking so murderous.
Virgil was in trouble. The second the gun had gone off, he had lashed out violently at the Hood, and for a moment he had managed to free himself from the grip the man had on him. But it hadn’t lasted long. Every time Virgil came close to getting the upper hand, the Hood would use his power once again and Virgil could do nothing but hit the floor. Scott wasn’t the only one who was bleeding; the maniac was taking great delight in personally dealing with one of the Tracys.
“Leave him alone!” John yelled, his voice gaining in strength slightly as he manoeuvred himself into a more comfortable position, relieving some of the strain on his shoulder. His other hand was flying across the ground as wide as he could reach, fingers scrabbling for something – anything – that would provide him with something to unlock the cuffs and enable him to be able to help his brothers. He hated feeling this helpless.
“Perhaps you would like a go?” the Hood asked, his voice sickeningly light as he delivered Virgil another blow that left him curled up on the floor, shaking slightly. Before John could respond he felt himself shooting back a pace, his back hitting the metal of the scaffolding behind him and making him wince, although he was proud that not a sound of pain escaped him. A thud signalled Gordon trying to throw himself forward, but the Hood merely raised his eyebrows. He didn’t have to do anything. Bound and gagged, there was nothing Gordon could do.
“Enough.” Scott’s voice was quiet, controlled to the point where even John shivered at just how unlike Scott it sounded. “Kill me if you must, but leave them alone.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Virgil rasped, wiping his hand across his chin and grimacing at the smear of blood that came away even as he pushed himself up into a kneeling position, arms trembling as he did so. He knew the Hood would have a few bruises of his own, but nothing could compete with the mental power this man held. Virgil had never felt anything like it.
“Shut up, Virgil,” Scott snapped, eyes locked on the Hood as he almost willed the man to take him up on his offer.
“You aren’t dying, Scott!” John yelled, the muffled sounds coming from Gordon showing he too agreed with his brothers.
“Neither are you,” the Field Commander shot back, his gaze still not wavering in the slightest. “What do you say to that, Hood? You can have me, no fights, no retribution. You just let them go.”
“Virgil, shut up!”
The Hood pulled back from the artist, his gaze flicking between Virgil and his oldest brother, occasionally darting over to where both John and Gordon were struggling against their bonds. Very slowly, to their horror, a slight smile twisted over his face and he bent down. Unnoticed by any of them, a small silver case had been resting on the ground. Picking it up, the Hood flicked it open casually before turning his attention back to Virgil.
He grabbed the man by his upper arm, pulling him backwards a few paces even as Scott took a frantic step forward.
“Stay there!” the Hood barked, and, hating himself for doing it, Scott obeyed. He knew full well it had not been a lucky shot just now, but one of complete control. The Hood hadn’t been trying to kill him. It just made the man even more dangerous, something that the pilot hadn’t even thought was possible.
“Get off me!” Virgil snarled, trying to free himself from the grip and only succeeding in getting smacked over the head in return. Scott growled, but stayed where he was, his eyes locked with a frantic intensity on the pair as the Hood plucked something from inside the case, allowing it to drop back to the ground again.
“How about a deal?” he asked silkily, tightening his grip on Virgil. The hand that was holding Virgil still had something else hidden in it, but no one could make out what. Even Gordon, however, from his awkward angle could see the gun was once again back in the Hood’s hand, pressed against Virgil’s throat.
“What do you mean?”
“A test of sorts,” the Hood continued, a manic delight springing into his eyes that made Scott want to throw up, something not helped by the fear pounding through his veins and the pain lancing through his arm. Knowing he had all four brothers’ attention, the Hood continued, pressing the gun closer to Virgil as if to prove his point.
“In here…” He finally brought the object out from behind Virgil, causing both Scott and John to take a sharp gasp of breath, “Is a substance not yet tested.”
John’s eyes were locked on the hypodermic needle, his wandering hand stilling as horror pulsed through him. Virgil had frozen for a moment at the man’s words, then had gone back to struggling furiously. Not that it did him any good. The Hood allowed his eyes to flash and the artist dropped with a strangled cry, fighting for breath as the gun was readjusted and aimed at the back of his head.
“It should kill – slowly and painfully. But it could also offer the chance of survival. It’s a game. It could do anything; it could be anything, possibly not what I say it is at all. That’s your call.”
“What’s the alternative?” Scott said hoarsely, knowing he was shaking, although it was not yet obvious enough for his younger brothers to notice it. They were relying on him to get them out, he couldn’t give into fear.
“Either you let Virgil here be my guinea pig and take the chance I’m bluffing…”
“Or?” Scott swallowed drily, seeing John freeze out of the corner of his eye.
“Or I shoot all four of you. Starting with the youngest.”
“No…” Virgil gasped, once again trying to push himself upright as the pressure on his skull finally eased away slightly. The Hood allowed him to sit up. He knew how to play this game. The stakes had been set, his cards dealt. Now it was just a matter of waiting to see what hand the Tracys decided to play.
“No, Virgil,” Scott said firmly, knowing precisely what was about to come out of his brother’s mouth.
“No.” It was John who answered this time, although his voice was not nearly as steady as his older brother’s. He glanced over at Virgil, tears swimming in his eyes through sheer helplessness at the situation. “Just… no.”
Gordon let out something muffled whilst Virgil’s attention was in that general direction and the artist turned to face his younger brother, smiling reassuringly to try and ease the pain in his little brother’s eyes. Sometimes he envied Alan. The youngest didn’t have to feel like it was his responsibility to make sure the younger ones were happy…and safe.
“It’s that or all of you.”
“It’s not your choice to make, Virg.” There was desperation in Scott’s voice now and he once again took a few steps forward. The Hood let him but Scott knew he couldn’t get close enough to do anything, for despite backing off a pace, the gun was still aimed at Virgil’s head with unwavering precision.
“It’s not yours either, Scott,” Virgil said quietly, locking eyes with his biggest brother, the man he had always looked up to, aspired to be like. It was as if everything else had zoned out, leaving just the two of them.
Scott shook his head.
“It’s my job to protect you.”
“It’s your job to protect us all. Gordon and John. Alan. They still need that protection. You can get them out of this.”
“I’m not l…losing you, Virgil.” Scott didn’t even try to cover up the fact that his voice cracked halfway through the sentence. This couldn’t be happening.
“You heard him, Scott, he could be bluffing. I could be fine.”
“Time’s running out, children.”
The rest of the area suddenly rushed back into focus as the Hood’s voice cut through the brothers. As Scott looked at him, he moved the gun away from Virgil, instead turning it onto Gordon. In that instant, Scott knew he was going to make good on his promise.
“The choice is yours. Virgil, or everyone.”
“Please, don’t do this.”
“I’m getting bored now.” The Hood made a show of flicking the safety off the weapon, moving a few steps to the side, putting himself directly in between Gordon and Virgil. “There is still time to save them, Virgil.”
“Don’t listen to him!” John yelled, his voice all but begging. Virgil twisted in his kneeling position, body facing Scott, but his head towards the Hood. He met the maniac’s gaze levelly.
“You swear you will let them go?”
“He’s lying! Don’t!”
For a long moment, Virgil could see the whole scene. John’s hand had closed around something, giving him a way to pick the lock. Gordon’s eyes were wide and scared, the bonds being the only thing keeping him upright as he strained forward, although whether it was to free himself or simply to get closer to his brothers was not clear. Scott had started running, a desperation that Virgil had never before seen on his brother etched deep within his face, his eyes panicked.
It was that which did it. Virgil had never seen Scott panic. His brother had always been the one in control, the one the rest of them turned to when things got too much. But in that split-second there was nothing short of sheer terror on his face. The artist knew why. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Hood’s finger tightening on the trigger, delight in his eyes as he prepared to take Gordon’s life.
Virgil knew what he had to do. John would be free in a matter of moments – Virgil knew his talent for picking locks. The Hood wouldn’t be able to stand against him and Scott; they would be able to get Gordon out of there. But they still needed those few moments to be able to spring into action to save one of Virgil’s little brothers.
Lunging forward, his hand scrabbled at the Hood’s.
It hadn’t been the gun he had been aiming for though, and the Hood seemed to realise this. He relinquished the grip on the needle almost with ease, the smile spreading once more over his face as Virgil backed away a couple of steps, holding it in a shaking hand.
Time froze. The Hood was watching him, but his aim was still steady. He wasn’t backing down on this until it was clear that Virgil wouldn’t either. As the artist hesitated for a split second longer than the Hood was happy with, the finger tightened again. Virgil could almost hear the cogs in the gun beginning to click into place.
“Stop!” he demanded; his voice low and full of authority. The Hood did indeed pause, but still would not lower the weapon.
“You haven’t saved them yet,” he remarked coolly. Virgil knew Scott was almost upon him, and shutting his eyes, he plunged the needle into his own arm.
Virgil didn’t know who the scream had come from. It was as if something had immediately muffled his senses, sending him stumbling back a pace, frowning as he shook his head as if to rid it of a troublesome noise. His legs no longer wanted to support his weight and as a blur shot past him, he found himself sitting on the floor.
“Virgil!” There were hands gripping his shoulders, forcing him to look up into a face lined with panic. John? But John was the other side of the clearing.
“Scott, come back!”
“Virgil, look at me!”
Voices were shouting everywhere, yet Virgil couldn’t make head nor tail of them. Everything was muffled, nothing was clear.
“I can’t find him!”
“Gordon, get back!”
“I’ve got Dad on the line, Kyrano knows what to do!”
Virgil blinked heavily, laying his cheek against the ground. When had he lain down? He didn’t remember doing that. But suddenly, it wasn’t the floor he was resting against, but something soft. Virgil got as far as deciding it was someone’s leg, but couldn’t put a name to its owner – that was far too much effort.
“John, Gordon, get into the forest now! Find whatever Kyrano is talking about!”
The leg moved, but something else soft replaced it as Virgil was rolled over, fingers running comfortingly through his hair. He knew that touch.
With a great deal of effort, he forced his eyes to look up. Scott. Scott was there, everything was going to be okay. He offered his brother a weak smile even as the world seemed to spin slightly alarmingly. Did Scott know he had two heads? Someone should really tell him…
“Virgil, stay with me.”
Something hit him hard on the cheek and Virgil blinked again. Scott swam into focus once more, thankfully only with one head this time. “You idiot, what have you done?”
“Saved you…” Virgil’s voice was nothing more than a croak and he coughed harshly. He did not sound like that! But once the coughs started, he couldn’t stop, and it was some time later that he finally managed to draw a shaky breath, tears running down his face even as Scott’s hand rubbed soothingly up and down between his shoulder blades.
“John, hurry up and find it! He’s burning up.”
Was he? That was odd; for Virgil was sure he was shivering somewhat violently. He should really tell Scott that, get him to turn up the heating. Why had he turned it down? He knew Virgil didn’t like the cold… maybe an extra blanket would do the trick, there was one in the cupboard… but not the blue one, Virgil didn’t like that one…
The artist opened his eyes again. Now this was just getting annoying, why was his body doing things he didn’t want them to? That was a bit like Gordon, always getting in the way. Honest, Virgil hadn’t meant to make him cry, he was just too young to understand. No, Daddy, please don’t shout…
“Virgil, don’t do this!” Now that cut through to him, for that was just completely wrong. Scott sounded like he was crying. But Scott didn’t cry, Scott never cried.
With a great deal of effort, Virgil forced his eyes to focus on his brother’s face, taking in the features he knew too well. He blinked slowly, wondering when he’d ended up underwater, for there were water trails down Scott’s face. Why would his brother be sad? It was calm here, a heaviness settling over him that made Virgil want to curl up and go to sleep. He would just have a little nap…
Something slapped him again.
“Don’t you dare! John, hurry up!”
All he wanted was to have a nap. But Johnny was shouting at Scotty and the baby was crying again and Virgil couldn’t shut it all out… and something had a painfully tight hold on his hand. For some reason, Virgil felt the need to return the grip, pouring everything he felt into it.
“Virgil, listen to me. You asked whether what we did was worth it? Why we did it? I did it for you, little brother. For you all. You make it worth it, the flushed look of pride you get when you know you have helped someone. You’ve helped someone again, Virg. C’mon, give me that look of pride. Virgil!” The hand gripping his own shook, and that just made Virgil even more confused.
“I do it for you. I can’t do it without you…”
Everything was suddenly clear and Virgil’s eyes opened again, focusing properly on Scott’s face.
“Don’t give up,” he rasped, his throat constricting as breathing became harder and harder.
“Virgil, fight, please, you have to fight it.”
“Promise me… Promise you won’t give up…”
“Scott, promise me.”
For a moment, there was silence. Then a small voice spoke.
“Stubborn idiot,” Virgil mumbled, a small smile slipping onto his face as he weakly squeezed Scott’s hand, his eyes closing once more.
“Virgil? Virg, look at me. Virgil!”
The hand fell from Scott’s grip.
“Virg? Virgil, please. Don’t…” There was movement around him as Virgil was lain flat, shaking hands resting his arms down by his side. Trembling fingers pressed against his neck for a moment before a man trapped in his worst nightmare tried to administer CPR.
“John…Gordon… Get back here! He’s not breathing.”
This was no nightmare.
Just the harshness of reality as the shadow of death stretched over one who had avoided its clutches for so long.