Chapter Nine

The second time John wakes it's because his eyes are being gently pried open by firm, gloved fingers.

The light that assaults his pupils is so bright it feels like his retinas are burning and he can't stop the half-cry of pain from escaping his dry, cold lips as he slams his eyes closed again. He takes a moment to just try and remember how to breathe. In through his nose, out through his mouth. Regular rhythm. Calm. It's not really working very well. His eyes are sore and itchy and his whole body aches. After a few seconds John's first coherent thought begins to form and it solidifies as a vague; where the hell am I? Disorientation blurs his memory and he can't quite find all the pieces to put them together clearly enough; like a puzzle someone has lost half the pieces too. Or perhaps he has all the pieces, John muses, certain that everything is still there somewhere; he's just not got the box with the picture on, of what they all should look like assembled. He'd been aboard Five. Maybe. He's not sure. He vaguely recalls orange light and staring at mum's star but he's not really sure what that's got to do with anything at all; he stares at that star all the time. It doesn't explain why he's so bloody cold and why everything hurts. It's a dry, muted pain that buzzes in his skull in a way that suggests he's probably on the good drugs. Thing is, he doesn't remember why he's on the good drugs.

"Johnny?" There's a voice he really should recognise, rumbling softly somewhere above him and the person sounds concerned. "Are you awake?"

Obviously his harsh, hashed inhalation isn't exactly subtitle and someone has noticed his return to consciousness. John tries his eyes and almost cries out again, against the light, but after a few moments of blinking against the bitter, salty liquid that wells up over his stinging eyeballs and streams thickly down his cheeks, John just about makes out what looks like a ceiling above him, and monitors of some medical kind in his peripheral. He's too hazy to work out what's what. He's definitely in Med-bay though, which makes the blurry, dark figure looming over him Virgil and that explained why the voice had been familiar. He's on Tracy Island and feeling blearily confident about his powers of deduction.

John focuses on trying to blink more, attempting to get the world back into better focus as the colours of the things around him are still blurry and distorted. The steady, rapid bleep of what sounds recognisably like a heart monitor comes across muffled and strange to his ears and, as John swallows thickly a few times, his throat like sandpaper, the sound clears a little, but not much. His head feels like it's been stuffed with cotton wool.

He adds disorientation to his list of current troubles and John tries his level best to remember what exactly had happened. He's really very unsure how he'd gotten here.

But then it hits him. The puzzle connects. The pieces fall into place. Five. The hull breach. No oxygen.

He remembers being so sure he was going to die.

And that's when John finally realises that somehow, bizarrely and miraculously, he's not dead.

...

Virgil is just checking how John's pupils react to light when his brother's face twists, screwing up and John shudders. Virgil freezes, watching as John's eyes slam themselves closed again and his brother groans like a dying animal taking its last breaths. His eyelids flutter and his brows scrunch and his teeth clench; the muscles in his neck straining. John's breathing goes all tight and raspy, loud and fast until his brother appears to be choking, his whole body trembling, wracked with shudders as he coughs. The fingers on John's good hand spasm, grasping at nothing.

Doctor Caldwell has stepped out in search of lunch and Virgil is a little uncertain what to do or whether John is even conscious or not. He can't give him anything extra for another three hours, but it looks like John is in pain. His eyelids are trembling as his breathing evens into a ragged, quick tempo.

"Johnny?" He asks softy, "Are you awake?" and the response Virgil gets to that is John's eyes trying, valiantly, to peel themselves open as his brother fights his way to consciousness. Virgil's heart skips a beat. John moans again, his head thrashing weakly with his chest shuddering under the force of his breaths. Realising the harsh ceiling lights are probably painful, the second oldest of Jeff's boy's scrambles up to turn the dimmer down, darkening the room.

As he turns back, relief surges, hard in Virgil's throat. There'd been moments, over the past eight and a half days, when Virgil had thought that he'd never see that pair of blue eyes looking back at him again. But there John was; his eyes opening from thin, scrunched slits and his pupils growing larger as he tries to focus his vision, blinking blearily. Then, they begin to well up.

John's face contorts, screwing up as big, fat tears roll languidly down his cheeks in salty rivulets, dampening the pillow above his head. The noise that accompanies the tears is horrible; all short, choking sobs, little gasping breaths filled with pain. He seems to be struggling with the cannula though his nose. His breathing has rocketed until he's almost hyperventilating. There's a rapid, awful spike in his heart rate and his blood pressure drops off worryingly. His oxygen levels are, for the first time, high. A little too high. John's good hand comes up, trembling; his muscles weak as he reaches out, fingers hooking tightly into Virgil's sleeve with a grip like iron even though that must feel like hell with the trocar plunged deep into his biggest arterial vein.

Virgil panics first; thinking that Johnny must be in so much pain and that the drugs aren't doing their job, but then John is shuddering, his body trying to curl into itself, ribs be dammed, and his lips are forming rough, scratchy words and he's mumbling out "I'm alive. Oh gods I'm actually alive." over and over, John's shaking fist tightly wound in Virgil's sleeve and his body wracked by sobs. Something crumples within Virgil's chest, giving like rock to paper. John hasn't cried like this since he was a little boy with scraped knees and their mother's arms around him and the sound tugs painfully at Virgil's heart.

Gently, Virgil lets his weight down on the side of John's bed, and he reaches out; threading his fingers into his little brother's hair, just like he'd seen Scott doing regularly over the days that John had been unconscious. He strokes through the clean, fine strands, pressing close as he tries to shush his brother and John sags against him, hand fisting in his shirt and he trembles as he cries.

"It's alright Johnny." Virgil whispers into his little brothers hair, "Shhh, it's ok. It's going to be ok. You're alright. We got you back. We got you home." Slowly, the shuddering in John's body starts to even itself out. Virgil focuses on rubbing broad, comforting circles through his little brother's scalp. It's an awkward kind of half hug they're cradled in, careful not to put any kind of stress on John's healing injuries, and Virgil can't help but think that Scott would be much better at this than he was. Happy, warm bear hugs he can do. His brother shaking them both apart; not so much. "In out. In out. That's it Johnny, just like that." You're not dead yet. You're not dead yet. "Come on John." Virgil murmurs softly.

Eventually, as John's sobs even out, their spaceman turns his pale face, tilting his head up and back to meet Virgil's eyes. He can't seem to help the broken; "I'm alive?" that spills, rough and scratchy, past his lips before he can stop it; like paint leaking from a tube, or oxygen through a hull breach. The statement isn't a statement at all, but a question, and Virgil finds his own eyebrows scrunching in sorrow and he gently cradles John's head so that they meet eye-to-eye, brown and blue, without any effort on John's part.

"Of course you're alive, Johnny. We came for you. We're your brothers; we'll always come for you." John blinks languidly at that, and Virgil hopes he's not going to start crying again.

"I was dead." John mumbles blearily, his voice painfully raw with pain and emotion and the damage to his trachea. "There was no oxygen, I'd made it to get a second tank but that was running out too. Everything was broken. Five was falling apart... I could see mum's star. I couldn't breathe. I thought..."

"Oh Johnny." And then Virgil has his arms wrapped tightly around his brother, his face buried into the side of John's neck as he whispers just how sorry he was, they all were, that they didn't get there sooner.

"I was scared." Comes the soft admission from John and Virgil can only cling on all the stronger, "I thought there was no way for you to reach me in time. I'd... I told Scott to bring my body back I..."

Suddenly, there's a loud, awful crash accompanied by a sharp gasp and both John and Virgil jump at the noise. Virgil jolts upright and both of them look around sharply, just in time to see Scott, staring at them; his face bloodless and his mouth open in a little O and all the things he's just dropped out of numb hands are scattered across the floor around his feet. His eyes are blank and wide and his eyebrows seem to have almost disappeared into his hairline. He's frozen, staring at the open blue sliver of John's pale eyes.

"Oh gods," And that's when Scott's leg's try to take a wobbly step backwards, but they give out from underneath him, sending him crumpling down to the clean, clinical linoum floor instead. He hits it hard, slamming down onto his tailbone, but Scott doesn't appear to register any pain because he's just staring, his hands coming up to cover his mouth and gasping; "You're alive." And isn't that the stupidest thing to say because of course he'd known that, perfectly well and clearly, for eight whole goddam days of worry and fear, but this, seeing Johnny looking back at him, pale and swathed in tubes but awake and living hits him like drop from Two's pod.

"Scotty?" John rasps from his bed, his brows cinched in confusion and concern, and suddenly his older brother is up, off his backside; all over him and everywhere at once, Scott's arms strong and tight around his shoulders. John winces at the pressure.

"Oh my god..." Scott is mumbling, over and over, his breath hot against John's throat. "You had me terrified, Starman." Scott whispers harshly into his hair. "And if you weren't already hurt I'd slap you upside the head for it." He just knows he's going to be having nightmares of seeing John's floating, lifeless body for a good while yet, even now.

Scott pulls back, his hands gripping either side of John's face, as they'd done when he'd found that precious pulse up on Three, and he can feel it know, thrumming away under his fingers. John meets his eyes, and Scott can see they're full of confusion and he almost laughs, but it's a wet, cold, choked sound and his hands are shaking.

John's good hand comes up, weakly, and Scott closes his eyes as John's fingers trace themselves lightly along the jagged, red, half-healed cut across his forehead. It's a little bumpy ridge of puckered, red skin and crusty congealed blood, scabbed over but still raw and painful. But John's touch is gentle, and as Scott opens his eyes again, he finds his brother's eyes wide and concerned. He almost laughs again at that. He's the one who should be worried.

Virgil clears his throat behind them like he wasn't the one John had been sharing a little moment with just minutes ago, and Scott turns to see his brother holding out the things he'd dropped. The eldest boy's face colours with embarrassment and he takes the little pile, sliding it onto John's bedside table, next to a huge bunch of flowers with a little card that had been from Lady P.

John's head turns, weakly, and he seems to be trying to focus his eyes on the blooms. A small, fond smile plays across his lips. There are pearly bloomed chrysanthemums for long life, Gerberas for cheerfulness and nestled amongst them are small sprigs of Larkspur, which represent lightness of all things, and that, John muses distantly, seems to be some kind of playful joke about his return to gravity. John then tries to turn his attention to the pile Scott is rapidly re-stacking. There's a couple of books (including, John is confused to note, his battered old copy of Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), the holopad tablet from John's room and a white plastic tupperware.

"Grandma made get-well-soon cookies." Scott peels back the lid of the tupperware, exchanging an almost telepathic look with Virgil to check it was alright for John to have one this early in his recovery. "Looks like Grandma still knows your favourite, Johnny. They're apple and cinnamon and very soft, so you shouldn't have trouble." The smile that appears on John's face is almost haunting and Scott realises, in that moment, that his brother's cheekbones are more prominent than he's ever seen them. John's eyes have lit up, almost glowing, at the idea of a simple cookie. Stupid cardboard space food. Scott scowls. Supposedly nutritionally sound cardboard space food, but cardboard space food all the same and it's left John, as it always does, a little too eager for his Grandma's home cooking.

"I think we can probably stop feeding you though a tube now, Johnny." Virgil smiles lightly, as he slowly raises the head of the bed to boost John gently into a sitting position. "I'll check that with Doctor Caldwell first, but if you can keep that cookie down I don't see any reason for you not to begin eating proper foods."

John's hands are shaking and Scott has to help him get the cookie to his mouth, but the astronaut's expression as he takes a small, shuddery bite is worth it. John's got cookie crumbs stuck to the side of his mouth and his eyelids flutter closed and Scott would think he's taken a bite of the best cookie in the world with the way his throat trembles as the sugar hits him.

"Grandma's cookies are the best." John manages eventually, with a quaking smile. He's feeling sleepy again; lethargic, and perhaps it's the drugs or perhaps it's just his body trying to repair itself but his eyelids feel incredibly heavy and John is struggling to focus on his brothers.

"I'm going to call Alan and Gordon," one of them is saying, "I'll get them to bully Dad out of his office and to bring Doctor Caldwell, they'll want to know you're awake..." but John, exhausted feels like he's drifting away again.

He gets snapshots of activity, opening his eyes again despite not remembering ever closing them, to find his two littlest brothers curled up either side of him, babbling away. His Father's hand in his hair and the smell of his Grandmothers cooking, warm and wafting. Evidently she'd brought everyone down lunch. John manages to become half coherent enough to eat another cookie and let the kind, grey haired Doctor poke around at him with cold hands and a gentle tone, but it doesn't last long and pretty soon Virgil is ushering everyone out and dimming the lights, telling him to get some sleep.

After all, they'll all be there tomorrow.

...

Author notes: Annnnnnnd the next chapter is going to be the last chapter! We have reached the end almost already. Gonna wrap it all up with a little bit of the dorks being dorks 3

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You're all fantastic,

- Lenle G.