Chapter Three

The rest of Three's flight up, from the moment John's ashen, grey face had disappeared in a crackle of white noise and a glowing burst of interference, had been almost silent. Scott glances across at Alan next to him and finds his littlest brother pale and white-knuckled with his eyes never wavering from straight ahead; fixed on the looming carcass of Thunderbird Five that fills their view screen. The youngest Tracy is completely focused on flying. Focused, as they pass them in orbit, on evading the last of the rain of meteors that have claimed their brother's life and the huge, looming field of debris from Five; chunks of glass and twisted metal and meteor drifting away from her shell.

They'd had no success hailing John since he'd been cut off.

Both Three and the Island had tried, over and over, listening to half an hour's worth of empty, crackling static. Empty noise. The sound of a dead TV set. Jeff had eventually stopped, unable to bear the lack of response any longer, and had closed his line to Thunderbird Three in order to call Gordon and Virgil. To tell them what had happened and how, in the line of duty, their brother had been...

The occupants of Thunderbird Three had not heard back from their Father after that.

They're approaching Thunderbird Five now, cutting the main thrusters, and Scott's hands tighten on the steering column as Alan, his voice small and shaking, completes the docking procedure aloud. The airlock looms and Scott has to close his eyes as they bump gently into place. John had seemed so calm, so resigned at the end of the call, but Scott had seen his eyes and his eyes had been full of fear – big and blue and scared.

"We're docked." Alan chokes out and Scott finds his body rising on autopilot, out of his seat, one hand resting briefly on his youngest brother's trembling shoulder.

"Stay here, Sprout. John..." He has to take a breath to compose himself. "John didn't want you to see his body. I'll... I'll go and get it... him." His voice shakes, "I'll go and get him."

Scott has turned away, and doesn't catch Alan's face contort into a torn, horrible expression. The boy slams his face into his hands; trying, with little success, to stifle the wild, anguished howl that escapes his lips. As Scott suits up to leave the airlock, he can hear muffled, tormented sobbing from the cockpit as Alan tries his best to smother his hiccoughs with his hands and, had Scott gone back up to look, he would have seen the his littlest brother's body curling into itself; Alan's knees coming up and his shoulders hunching in, his whole frame rocking and shaking as he chokes on his tears, still attempting to cover his tortured cries by pressing both hands tightly over his mouth.

But the eldest brother only turns and steps through the airlock and into silence.

Five's interior is bathed in the ugly orange glow of the emergency lighting. Scott swallows tightly, letting the stale, compressed oxygen of his tank pass, cool and dry through his lips. The rasping of his own breath fills the small world inside his helmet. Scott's feet lift from the deck in the zero gravity, the system having been compromised in even the intact parts of the space station. The door that leads through into the main compartment is off to one side of the airlock chamber, and Scott has to pull out the small laser cutter he'd brought with him to break his way through the locking mechanism and force his way in.

The door gives silently, the cutter slicing, as it was designed to do, through the metal lock like it's made of butter. Engaging his specialist IR space suit's external thrusters, Scott boosts himself forward, slipping through the door. Then his knee smacks against something solid, and he looks down, startled.

It's a book. John's battered old copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The one Scott had bought him when John had been seven with a painful wobbly front tooth, big, watery blue eyes and a desperate need for distraction. It's well thumbed pages float, spread out like the white wings of an angel, never to be turned by their owner again and Scott has to try and to push down the painful sob that's rising in his throat. He presses forward, unable to look back.

Looking around, Scott is quick to realise John's body is not strapped into his command chair, where he'd last seen him over the radio linkup. He finds his little brother across the station, floating limply in the 0G, close to where the hull was breached and re-sealed by Five's shields. John's wrist is tangled in a matt of wiring, anchoring his body there and for one, long moment, Scott thinks that he's going to turn John's body over to see the young man grinning up at him, the victim of some kind of horrible, twisted practical joke.

But even as his hands catch on sleek spacesuit fabric, and the cold body of Thunderbird Five's young pilot rolls weightlessly with the momentum, his head lolling lifelessly, Scott knows that's not going to happen.

"Oh gods Johnny..." His hands come up to cradle either side of his brother's mask, gloved fingers pressed against cold plastic to gently hold his brother's head steady.

Scott stares through the clear perspex and glass at the pallid, grey face of his little brother. His eyes are dark rimmed and closed, his eyelashes light and long; casting shadows on his porcelain cheeks. A jagged cut that slices its way across John's cheekbone is still sluggishly leaking blood. His lips are slightly parted, ever so slightly, and his skin is paler, far paler, than Scott's ever seen it be; almost grey and translucent, bathed in the weak emergency orange of his satellite. Scott takes a shuddering breath, realising that somewhere in his mind he'd still been expecting to get there in time, to find Johnny smiling and waiting for pickup at his console, his thin, nimble fingers skating over his controls and his head off lost in space, even though Scott had known full well there was never a chance for them to ever get there in time.

"We we're too late... Far too late... I'm sorry Johnny." He finds himself apologising to the empty expression, "Oh, gods, I'm so, so sorry." And that's when the first sob chokes its way out of his throat. A half formed, piteous sound as his arms come up, looping around Johnny's back to pull his brother's chest to him, his fingers cupping the back of John's neck around the oxygen port that had failed to save his life. There's no steady rise and fall of John's chest as Scott holds them together, tucking Johnny to him like a child with an over-sized doll. And Johnny looks like a doll. Lifeless and porcelain.

Another sob and Scott's hands tighten around his brother, clutching at his limp, cold body as they float in the broken gravity. Clear perspex bumps clear perspex and he holds their heads together, desperate to get as close to what was once his brother as he can. A hardened ex-USAF pilot and the eldest live-field operative of International Rescue he may be, but to Scott, family is everything and his little brother is cold and dead in his arms. His crying pulls up from somewhere deep in his chest, sharp and painful and Scott cries like he's never done, not since he was a little boy and his mother had died; deep, painful sobs wringing with the guilt and pain that he just wasn't there in time. He should have been there in time. The mangled scar of the hull breach in his peripheral is like a mangled scar across Scott's own heart.

"Bring him in, Scott." Alan's voice crackles in over Scott's anguish, breaking through it and Scott feels like he's a twig, snapped under someone's giant boot. His littlest brother's voice sounds tired and far, far older, than he actually is, thick with pain and sorrow. "Bring our Starman home."

Gently, Scott untangles Johnny from the wiring he's all caught up in, his hands shaking in a way they've never done on a rescue. But this isn't a rescue. It was too late for a rescue because they were too late to save their own brother. With that thought, Scott abruptly finds he can't stand being aboard Five for a moment longer, the signs and detritus of his John's life floating aimlessly around him, rendered pointless and useless and unloved with the death of their owner. His little brother's workstation is flashing, displaying data and figures for a man who's never going to see them, readouts about a galaxy that had forever been John's very own. The stars go on glowing - space illuminated through the port window as it has always been. The pinpricks of light don't twinkle as they do on Earth, but gods they shine. John would have known why they do that. His stupid half human, half computer brain would have known. Kid knew everything like that.

This, Scott thinks absently, this is how John would have wanted to go. Up on his 'bird - in space - amongst the stars. This is what he loved more than anything.

Scott kicks off the ground, his arms looped carefully around his precious cargo, who floats limply along with him as they're projected towards the airlock. The book, The Hitchhikers Guide, is still floating forlornly by the 'lock, and Thunderbird One's pilot finds himself reaching down to scoop it up, pressing it against John's still chest and wrapping an arm around them both.

He's not sure why he does it, perhaps he's thinking somewhere in him that Allie might like to read the book; that it might help his youngest brother remember and stay close to the person John had been. But as much as he doesn't want Allie to forget their brother, the most likely reason is that Scott just wants keep a piece of their little Spaceman close. It's probably dumb and sentimental, but Scott can't bring himself to care.

The airlock closes behind them, and the return of gravity weighs far heavier on Scott's shoulders than it has ever done. He expects John's dead body to become heavy and unmanageable with the shift in G's, but he finds he can lift the thin, lanky young man with surprising ease, cradling his brother against his chest, his head tucked gently onto his shoulder. Scott steps into Thunderbird Three and the airlock seals behind him.

"I've got him, Alan. Take us home." He breathes into the microphone as it crackles with static. Alan's only reply is to fire up the nuclear engines, the whole ship springing to life and reverberating under his feet.

Johnny, in his arms, seems to weighs far less than he has any right to. He'd always been a slight young man, but Scott is left feeling unsure if the astronaut's lack of weight is due to the sheer adrenaline that's pumping through his own veins and leaving him feeling like Superman or if Johnny's diet of freeze-dried space packaged food had left their brother malnourished. That or perhaps it's the depressurisation's fault. But then again, maybe he just doesn't want to think about Johnny having gone hungry up here all alone.

Gently, oh so gently, Scott tries to set his brother's body down on the deck floor but he finds his knees giving from under him with the weight of the feeling that he just can't carry him anymore, and John takes a tumble onto the ground. He doesn't want to be relieved that John didn't feel that, but on some level he is. Greif has made Scott's hands shake and his shoulders tight.

First Mum, now Johnny.

John's body lolls there, unmoving where he was all but dropped, and Scott, his face contorted with agony reaches down and unclips the useless helmet from around the astronaut's neck, carefully lifting the mask over John's head, lightly tugging it off around his ears. As he does so his gloved fingers brush the thin, fine fibres of John's soft hair and Scott finds his digits winding themselves through it. His brother's face is surprisingly peaceful, tranquil, like he's just fallen asleep. Only he can't have because Johnny's slightly parted lips have taken on a bluish hue and his eyes are circled by dark bruising, the lids a purplish grey that spells out oxygen deprivation. Not a nice way to go; feeling your own lungs fail you. Scott hopes absently that it hadn't hurt too much, but he knows he's only trying to give himself false comfort. He'd done pressurisation training as much as the rest of them had; it was horrible.

Thunderbird One's pilot takes a moment to tug his own helmet roughly off over his head, followed by the hasty removal of his tank. Then he quickly strips his gloves from his fingers and then Scott can actually feel John's cold, clammy skin under his fingers, as he ghosts through the astronaut's hair. He can feel the soft strands giving under his palms as he cradles John's head and the rough ticklish prickle of his haircut, where the pale fibres are short behind the shells of his ears. His face looks like it's been drained of colour, with his light hair and his grey skin tone; Five's pilot looks almost monochrome in death.

"Oh John." It's the softest of sighs that escapes Scott's lips as he cradles his brother's head closely. He presses his own warm cheek to John's cold ashen one and blood smears between them from the astronauts gash. Scott's whole body curls around his lifeless brother's; all hunched over and tucked in small. He can feel Alan firing thrusters beneath him, and the ship rocks as Alan's hands shake on the controls. But the huge spacecraft feels almost like a mother's arms around them and Scott doesn't have the heart to rebuke Alan for it over the open line that's still crackling through the ship. Scott's hands slide round to cup the nape of Johnny's limp neck, marvelling at how delicate and fine the hairs there feel to his numb, clumsy fingers. He tucks his digits under John's jawline and curves them round to press softly into the dimple at the back of his cold neck. His thumbs ghost over John's cheeks, clutching his brother slack face tightly, and it's then, the ship rocking as they fire away from Five's empty hull that he feels it and freezes.

"No... There's no way..."

There's the thump of a slow, sluggish pulse under his fingers, where they're pressed to John's neck.

Scott is hit by disbelief. Sheer startling, breath-stealing, black out disbelief. His eyes go wide and he stumbles backwards, his hands flying up to his mouth. Because it's just not possible. John has been without oxygen for almost half an hour. Brain death should occur in fifteen minutes. He should be dead he should be...

But he's not.

It's then the panic grips him.

"He's alive!" Scott all but screams, clutching at that weak, struggling pulse point and Thunderbird Three lists suddenly and dangerously in space as Alan's hands jerk completely off the controls.

...

...

Author Notes: Not dead yet then... Did I have you worried?

Next chapter might be up this weekend, but I'm having a little bit of internet trouble, so Monday when I'm back at Uni is more likely. Might have a bit of bonus Scott!whump in if you're lucky. I'm evil, I know (and take great pride in it); blame my writing dragon (his name is Glaze; anyone else read The Last Dragon Chronicles? I recommend them if not). 3 :)

Thankyou for your reviews! You're all stars (And John would love you)! x