At the end of every rescue, when thoughts of home were just beginning to surface, Scott allowed himself a moment of reprieve. It took any number of forms: an exhale, a pause, a shared glance between brothers—each bound together in their similarity only by the way they were filled with relief that lifted all pressure from his shoulders, even if only for a few seconds.
It was supposed to have happened by now. Relief that the rescue was almost over, that he and his brothers were okay, that they managed to pull every child—injured but alive—from the cages of ruin. Perhaps there would be a hint of fulfillment mixed in, maybe a glimmer of pride for what they achieved. There shouldn't have been anger or heartache.
But walls cracked, ground trembled, and rubble fell on unsuspecting innocence. From then on, it was a given that Scott wouldn't earn his moment.
Especially not here. He stood in the doorway to an office—the vice principle's, he thought—blocked off from any sight of the destruction but filled with an anxious energy that decided to infect him too. It was where the parents were supposed to wait for International Rescue to do their job.
With arms folded tight across his chest to match a set jaw, Scott watched as children fell into the open arms of their parents. Their faces lit up when they saw each other despite the tears glistening in their eyes. Scott had rescued them all without a hitch in his stride. He should be happy right now for the lives he saved. But the warmth in the room, generated by anxious bodies, didn't register any deeper than his skin.
Scott couldn't focus on their relief.
Not when there was a small group of parents standing in the corner, tucked up against the mahogany desk. There were seven of them, shepherded together by a policeman, but they stood out from the rest. Surrounded by people but achingly alone, lost and empty, with wandering gazes the rest of the room's occupants tried to avoid.
They waited for an answer to a question that would never be forgotten.
Scott had to give them that answer. He would enter their individual worlds for a fleeting second, and from there his face would be imprinted on the worst day of these people's lives.
Acid bubbled in his chest as he looked between the two sets of parents. He doubted an onlooker would have noticed, but Scott saw the invisible line in the room with painful clarity. It was a division between the whole and the soon to be broken, between those that would laud International Rescue as heroes and those who forever be failed by them.
The word failure sizzled on Scott's tongue, vitriolic, corroding its way up into his mind. He jammed his fingers through his hair, knocking loose dust and chips of drywall. There was nothing to be done about the tears in his uniform. After a strenuous moment of watching false hope play out on the parents' faces, he activated his comm, words gravelly in his throat. "John, has Gordon confirmed?"
John answered quickly—well, Scott assumed that was John. The voice on the other end sounded nothing like his brother; it came from something brittle, shaky, filled with words that would shatter if Scott ever got a chance to hold them. "Yes... Gordon just scanned the area and... he... I..." There was an audible exhale, and then the fragility vanished. John sounded more like John but less like a human, his words lowering the temperature in Scott's body. "They're dead."
Two words, along with John's unnatural bluntness, looped a coarse noose around Scott's throat.
He had been on the ground. Even as an experienced rescuer, he knew how rough that last aftershock was. But there was nothing like hearing the word dead in reference to children they were charged with saving. The chill brought on by John's words rushed out of Scott, replaced by a burning rage as vicious as a cancer threatening to eat its host.
How could John miss six children?
No. Scott flexed his fingers. How could all of them miss that? It shouldn't have been possible, not with their technology. Irreverent relief leaked into his bloodstream that it wasn't Virgil or Gordon as it might well have been.
Scott locked his molars together. What did those parents care that his brothers survived? What did it mean to them? Nothing, not one bit. His worst nightmare was about to be inflicted on other people and he had the nerve to think about himself.
Scott's festering irritation was not easily hidden, no matter how hard he tried. "All right, John." It came out harsh to his own ears, probably harsher to his brother's. "I'll inform the officer in charge, and then I'll talk to the parents—"
"You don't have to do that." It was the way John sounded so robotic that sent Scott's rage spiraling. Whatever detachment game he was playing this time, it had gone too far. There was no trace of warmth or life in his tone, nothing that resembled John.
"Oh, but I do, John," Scott replied, words dropping off his tongue to contort into something terrible and mocking. "I always do. They deserve that much. So you just keep an eye on Virgil. Get him and the rest of those kids out. Alive."
There was a significant pause before John's voice, barely a whisper in his ear, returned to its fragmented state. "I... they... FAB."
Scott snapped the connection shut and blocked all thoughts of his brothers from his mind. These people deserved his full attention—a level of focus he should have given their children if he had been allowed the chance.
With purpose in his stride, Scott walked over the invisible line and crossed into the territory of sorrow. He gestured the officer toward him. A brief word in his ear was all he needed; the outcome was dreaded but expected by all emergency personnel.
"Tragic," the man offered, not insincerely. Scott didn't begrudge the moment of relief that crossed the officer's face when he declined the man's offer to tell the parents. It was a job they all hated. To Scott, it was more than just a job—it was a reminder of the consequences. The real, human consequences lying behind every choice they made.
So the officer walked away and Scott stepped into his place, the new focus of seven pairs of eyes. It struck him then that perhaps these people were lucky they were at least here. Other parents, those stuck in traffic, cut off without phone lines, ones who might not even know what was going on—surely they were worse off.
But what would these parents care of others' sorrow? Scott had to keep reminding himself this was individual grief, nothing he should generalize, even if that came far too easily for him. John once called generalizing Scott's coping mechanism. The words cut deep enough that he never forgot them.
Scott stood firm before them, legs planted straight under squared off shoulders. Stable. "I'm the leader of International Rescue. We were called here today to attend this situation—"
Maybe there was something written in his expression, or it might have been the silent understanding that hung in the air, but before Scott could say more, a lady with chestnut curls burst into tears. She opened her heart with a body-wracking moan before turning to her partner and disappearing into his shoulder. "I can't do this."
Her partner offered no comfort; he just stared at Scott, begging for an answer with resolve in his gaze. Scott's words died on his tongue. Whatever it was pulsing through his veins was making him increasingly aware of the present. These were separate people with separate lives, separate homes to go back to. One man didn't look old enough to be a father, one woman had earrings in the shape of watermelon slices, another looked as though she had just come from a business meeting.
Individual people, but they all had one common factor. They'd bee plucked from their everyday lives, never to return to them again. How was Scott supposed to tell them that?
He exhaled and relaxed his stance, meeting them all with a more genuine gaze. "Before the last aftershock, we were only just notified of your children's presence in the school. We did everything..." Scott's wording faltered. Or would have done everything had we been there. "Everything we could to try and get them out, but we were unable to—"
Chestnut curls started to wail into a tremoring shoulder; this time, tears filled her partner's eyes too. Scott didn't want to match any of their gazes, but it was cowardice not to, so his eyes met those of cool gray. He cleared his throat. "We were unable to get to them before the aftershock. The impact of the collapsing gym was fatal for all. I and all of International Rescue are... deeply sorry for your loss. If you wish to speak—"
He had to stop, because no one was listening anymore. He wasn't sure how long he could suffer through spouting the same old lines either.
Someone was sinking to their knees, barely held by another's supportive arm. The lady with fruit earrings clasped her hands to her chest, mouth falling open in a silent scream. Or perhaps it was a prayer. The only man that Scott found he could stare at had an expression that was suddenly all too familiar.
Gray eyes stood alone, arms folded tightly across his chest, hair pulled back into a bun that only accentuated his new expression of quiet anguish.
It threw Scott back in time, to another universe where he and his father were once sitting across from a surgeon and told that Gordon wouldn't last the night. Scott had been the loud griever, the angry griever, the denier. But on this man's face now was the same manifestation of repressed agony that had once pushed and shoved its way to the forefront of Dad's.
It wasn't a noisy anguish but something subdued. It was, in its simplest form, a father's grief. One Scott hoped to never understand.
He tore his eyes away and took a step back, unwilling to intrude any longer in other people's heartache.
It took far longer for him to get that expression out of his mind. Stepping away from the grief didn't solve anything; it was still there, looming in the background. Scott waited for news of Gordon and Virgil, and thought of Alan back home, but nothing would rid him of the memory of that man and every line of grief etched into his expression.
Scott thought his face would be imprinted on their minds, but never did he expected he'd have cause to remember theirs.
When he was little, Scott was afraid of falling.
Sometimes he'd dream of toppling off a cliff and wake with a sudden start just before hitting the ground. Then little brothers started having nightmares too and Scott didn't have time for his own. It was childish for him to have fears anyway, so he fought them every single day. He learned how to fly—in more ways than one—and slowly but surely, heights were no longer something to dread.
Occasionally, Scott still has that same dream, still wakes up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. So something still scares him, wandering in his subconscious with the rest of the things he tells himself he's no longer afraid of.
It is only now, watching his brother plummet twenty feet to what could be his death, that he realizes it's not himself falling that frightens him.
"John!" Scott's yell is a roar of the beast he's been holding back for his brother's sake. Now that the forced civility has shattered alongside the glass, it unleashed itself and fills every last inch of his skin.
Scott's feet slam against the springy gym floor, propelling him forward with speed an Olympic runner would envy. It's no use—he's stuck, too distanced to be of use. The time it takes him to shout John's name is the time it takes for John to hit the ground.
There's a hollow crack as John's back arches on impact before it falls flat, followed by a sharp intake of breath that never expels. An enraged yell from Gordon ricochets off the walls of the gym, and Scott's attention flickers up to see him and Virgil leaping toward Mills.
An oddly peaceful sound follows, reminiscent of wind chimes, as twinkling shards of glass fall around John. Scott is, rather inappropriately, reminded of a snow globe.
The most resounding noise is the lack of one. No one is yelling. John is torpid, noiseless, and Scott is suddenly blind and deaf to all else.
An asphyxiating terror grabs him with icy fingers around his throat, restricting any form of calm breathing. He reaches John's side and skids to his knees. Bits of glass like scattered diamonds try to cut through his uniform, but he ignores the discomfort, because the diamonds are turning to rubies, stained red by blood seeping from... from somewhere. Scott is numb to all but his brother's pain. "John?"
John's eyes are open. As transparent as the glittering bed he's lying on, green-gray irises surround dilated pupils that are staring at something Scott can't see. All color has drained from his face, lips moving in a silent expression of agony.
Scott's heart aches. "Hey, John, no, don't try to talk, it's all ri—"
He recoils, swallowing hard to keep the revolting contents of his stomach where they belong. Horror shivers through him like a sudden gust from an unknown sea, and he finds himself helpless once more. As helpless as he was moments ago. As helpless as he has been all day.
John's chest is rising and falling sharply, and with each ragged breath that rasps horribly around the edges, the shard of glass protruding from the front of his chest moves. It's cut straight through his body, as sharp as any blade. Around its jagged edges pools a vicious stain across his uniform. The blood is spreading, and it's spreading fast, just like the fire moved between buildings.
"Virgil! Virg!" Scott's yell is no less desperate or fierce than before, and he cranes his head up. Virgil. He needs Virgil. John needs Virgil. "Get down here now!"
It's a high, tight angle from where Scott's kneeling to the mezzanine, but John landed far enough away that Scott's able to see the way Virgil's head snaps toward him and he relinquishes his hold on Mills's arm to Gordon. For a moment, Scott catches Mills's gaze, and the anger and hate that surge through him are paralyzing forces, threatening to steal every ounce of his energy.
But he can't afford anger or hate, so for John's sake he looks away, makes himself find Virgil. The eyes that stare back don't look like Virgil's. They're hollow, dull, the same eyes he was subjected to a year ago.
They don't have time for this.
"Virgil, now!" Scott doesn't care that his brother flinches, because there's a flicker of gold.
Gordon's still clutching Mills, pulling his arms tight behind his back. "Go, Virg—I've got this."
Virgil doesn't stop to make sure. "Pressure, Scott," he barks, and without another word—at least not one Scott can hear—he vanishes beyond sight.
Scott's hands tremble like they never should while in the danger zone as they find their way to his brother's palpitating chest. He swallows against a desert throat, careful not to actually touch the glass or shift it in any way as he presses down, but John's breathing still lurches.
"W-what... is..." His words are ragged and strained, each one a torment to Scott's ears. Blood bubbles onto his lips. "Is it... b-bad?"
"No, hey, hey, it's okay," Scott snaps with more force than intended. Whatever shock John is in right now is vital to keeping him from panicking. If he learns the severity...
He shoves the thought aside. "Just keep looking at me, John, all right? You're fine. Don't take your eyes off me."
John's eyes narrow a fraction. His chest heaves; Scott feels his uneven breath catch beneath his hands. There's a shout from above them, and John does exactly what Scott doesn't want him to: he looks upward.
Scott follows his line of sight to see Gordon shoving Mills's back against the unbroken railing, the knife a dark blur as it spins through Gordon's fingers.
"Gordon, stop." John's call is not as weak as it should be. It takes Scott by surprise, and he can see his confusion is reflected in Gordon's features. John gasps, shudders convulsing through his chest, but he pushes through them. "Be... gentle, okay? D-don't... don't hurt him..."
"All right, Johnny." Gordon's easy tone does not match his posture, all lethal aggression aimed at Mills. "I won't—don't worry about it. You just relax, okay?"
"G-Gords... promise me that you... won't let—"
Scott doesn't have time to be horrified by his brother's request—not when John moves.
He tries to crane his body to look around Scott by pushing himself up with one elbow. Scott's attempt to push him back down is quick but futile, and he makes the mistake of removing his hands from around the wound to grab John's shoulders to keep him still.
John pales at the contact, a listless gray overtaking his skin as his head drops back to thunk dully on the floor tiles. It takes a few seconds of awful silence before the pain seems to register, and when it does, it cuts the invisible ropes that have been keeping him tied down.
A scream unlike anything Scott has ever heard from his least emotive brother rips from John's throat, labored and harsh. His arms jerk as he tries to reach for the wound. Scott moves to intercept, leans over his waist to grab both wrists and pin them to the floor so John can't jostle the glass, notes at the same time that his brother's left shoulder is clearly dislocated, but it suddenly doesn't matter, because John's whole body spasms beneath him, thrashing as though his very soul is trying to escape.
The agonized cries turn Scott inside out. He wants to use his weight to smother out his brother's struggles, but that's probably the most dangerous thing he can do, so he resigns himself to keeping John's hands away from his chest. His voice cracks. "John, hey, John—stop, look at me—"
But it's no use. John's eyes roll back under their lids. The desperate howling subsides and is replaced by a hoarse moan, a clogged gasp, then spluttering as blood leaks from his lips, burgundy-black. Whether John's bitten his tongue or he's internally bleeding, Scott's terror could be no less.
"Virgil? Virg?" Still hunched over his brother's quivering abdomen, Scott doesn't dare release John's wrists, even though they've gone slack and heavy under his hands, as he looks frantically around in time to see Virgil appear from behind a set of bleachers that sit beneath the overhang of the mezzanine.
Heat spikes through Scott as he realizes he could have gone up there and torn Mills away from John with his bare hands. Maybe then he wouldn't have had to suffer John screaming beneath them.
Virgil's face darkens as he runs forward, medical kit tucked tight beneath his arm. For once, his presence does nothing to calm Scott's nerves, because Virgil only wears that expression when the situation is dire. "Get away, Scott."
He releases John's far wrist, sits back on his heels, and then looks down as liquid squelches between his fingers. Turns John's right hand over to find his glove and sleeve are saturated with blood from fingertips to elbow. "Virg—"
"Is it arterial?" Virgil snaps, dropping to his knees on John's other side.
Scott checks. "No." Long and ugly, but weeping blood instead of squirting.
"Then leave it." He's quick to get to work, and John's struggles grow smaller beneath hands that know what they're doing. "Call the paramedics now—tell them it's an emergency."
Scott nods, not trusting himself to speak. It's an effort to push himself to his feet, and he stumbles back, more eager to get away from his brother's broken body than he thought. He's barely able to keep his own chest from shuddering.
"Scott Tracy, emergency services have already been contacted." It's EOS's voice where John's should have been, but the update is welcome nevertheless. "John's vitals dropped dangerously low, so I thought it best to intervene. Police have also been notified. They are on their way to your location."
"Thank you, EOS." It comes out as a whisper.
The gym plunges into silence. John's lack of noise is equally as unnerving as the yells, and Scott's left to wallow in helplessness. There's nothing more he can do for John, he'd just get in the way, but every part of him wants to do something.
So his eyes travel upward again, and it's as bad for him as it was for John. He spots Mills leaning over the glass railing, arms pinned behind him by Gordon. Mills stares down with an expression carved from wax as he observes what he's caused.
This is no longer the man Scott sympathized with one year ago.
The depth of grief in those gray eyes lingered in Scott's mind for days after he broke the news. But now all familiarity is gone, and Scott refuses to feel sorry for this man. Not with the way Mills manipulated him into the position of powerlessness he dreads. Not with the threats against Alan. Not with John bleeding out on the floor behind him.
Whatever void was growing in Scott's chest is refilled, ignited hot and fast with pure loathing. Feet decide of their own volition that he's going to move, taking him toward the bleachers Virgil emerged from behind. Fury pulses through his bloodstream as he mindlessly thunders up the stairwell, fists clenched, breathing harsh as it rebounds off the enclosed walls, doubling back harder and louder until it's a roar inside his head. Red and black sparks pinwheel across his vision.
The upper level that was taunting him moments ago is now under Scott's feet. Gordon is planted near the splintering gap so he can watch both John and Mills without turning his head. The knife spins with perfect balance between his fingers. Scott's stomach flips at the sight of Gordon within touching distance of where John fell—
No. He didn't fall. He was pushed. By the man slumped against the railing, shorter and smaller now that they're on equal footing.
Scott's vision darkens with a rage that's thick and choking like the smoke from the fires.
"You bastard." Scott's hiss is raw and wild.
Both men turn, Gordon on light feet, Mills with a slow expression of disbelief. His blinks are sluggish, long hair loose and framing a face that can't quite seem to comprehend what's transpired.
Scott doesn't care—Mills still did this, intentionally planned to get them all here like the maniac he is. "This is your damn fault, everything!"
"Uh, Scott, hey—"
Scott finds himself shoving Gordon aside. He grabs Mills by the shoulders and wrenches his unresisting body around so he's facing the court. "Do you see what you've done? Look at him!"
"I... I'm..." Mills stammers, but words appear to fail him, disappearing into a strangled moan.
From up here, the spreading blood is more noticeable, a halo around John's chest that Virgil is now kneeling in.
"You deserve to be there, not him. We did nothing to you, nothing!" Scott tears Mills away from the glass and throws him, hard, watches with burning satisfaction as he skids onto his back. Scott moves to stand above him, fists clenched so tight that nails threaten to pierce through reinforced material. "We didn't kill your son—we tried our hardest to save him, all of them, we always do. And this is how we're repaid? What's to stop me from throwing you off this damn edge right now so you'll know what—"
"I'll stop you."
Hands latch onto Scott's uniform, pull him away, and it's only out of surprise that Scott gives in. Gordon slides himself between them and stares him down with an expression that isn't to be argued with. "Back off, Scott, you need to calm down. John doesn't need you like this, he said to—"
"Get out of the way, Gordon," Scott snarls, raising his arm to push him aside. He can use height to his advantage against the shortest member of the family; he towers over Gordon, savage temper only making him feel taller. "He's not getting away with this."
"No." Gordon doesn't shrink back, lifting both hands to brace against Scott's chest. His blond hair glints with red-hot embers that dance whenever Scott blinks. "He won't get away with it. The police will get here soon, and I'd rather they don't find him torn to pieces by International Rescue's leader. So take a damn breath—"
"I said move, Gordon—"
"And I said no. You heard what John said!"
"Dammit, I don't care what he said—"
"Clearly not, but I do!" Gordon thrusts a hand out, redirecting Scott's gaze down below. "Look—Virgil's got John, okay? He'll be all right." His arm lifts, points further. "But Alan needs you right now. So will you please go to him, because I... I can't."
Scott falters and a harsh reply dies on his lips. Hatred flutters in his chest, but it comes and goes like fireflies in the dusk upon seeing his baby brother. Alan stands alone, forgotten, rooted to the same spot as when he first arrived, arms wrapped tight around his lanky form. He's the picture of helplessness, not Scott.
"Oh no... Al." Scott exhales, and it's like the rigid framework in his chest collapses, allowing his shoulders to slump as his attention is redirected toward the youngest of them.
Gordon releases his hold on his arm. "Yes, Al."
"Okay." Scott's gaze wavers toward a fallen Mills, who looks too dazed to push himself back up. Then it traces Gordon cautiously, finds his younger brother's eyes are too hard, his gaze too strong. "Are you—"
"Fine," Gordon snaps and spins on his heel, turning his back on Scott. "Just go."
Scott goes. Mostly because Alan needs him, but also because the horrid concoction of guilt and rage won't let him stay any longer. What if Gordon weren't there? What would he have done?
He makes himself not look back at Mills. He can't afford to—even a brother in the way won't stop the onslaught of fire and wrath a second time. So he descends the stairs with a roiling heart, barely able to hold it together as he approaches Virgil and John. Virgil doesn't ask for his assistance, so he must have everything in hand, although Scott doesn't stop to check.
Alan is shaking when he reaches him. Too large blue eyes stare without blinking at the spot where John fell and is now lying limp and still as though he'll never move again.
Scott approaches with tentative steps, not wanting to spark an explosive reaction by startling the shock away. He can't bear a repeat of what happened with John. "Al? Alan?"
When he doesn't get a reaction, Scott raises a comforting hand to Alan's shoulder, only to stop short. The sharp movement is enough to catch Alan's attention, and his head snaps around. Bile rises in Scott's throat as he realizes his gloves and exposed fingers are stained with a brother's blood.
He stares at Alan, who stares at his hovering hand.
Scott wants to throw up. Alan whimpers and raises a hand to his mouth like he's trying to stop all of his words from falling out. "Scott, is that... is he... What happened? I just... there was... I didn't mean for... this isn't..." His words are fragile whispers, dissolving complete when lips quiver. "Scott, he just f-fell..."
"Shh—hey." Scott wastes no time pulling Alan into him, wrapping arms that give the impression of strength around his shoulders and spinning him around so he's the one facing John and Virgil. "It's okay, he's going to be okay, I swear." But Scott has no idea if he'll be okay; it's only hope, dangerous hope, that sways his words.
Alan sniffs and pulls back, studying Scott with a gaze that wants answers, even if they aren't truthful. Scott gives him neither, and eventually Alan drops his head onto his shoulder, pressing his body against him so that his shaking feels like his own. Maybe it is.
To think Mills had threatened his little brother, this little brother, innocent yet brave as he is—it makes Scott's anger surge all over again. But right now Alan is his anchor. They stand there, Alan trembling in his arms, Scott muttering assurances into his hair, until police and paramedics barge through the door.
That's when Scott's moment of relief comes.
It's not an exhale or a pause—it's a flurry of movement as other people take charge.
With Alan attached to his side, Scott can only offer the barest of details to the police. A full inquiry will come later on, outside of Alan's hearing. The police take International Rescue's word as law and march up the stairs to apprehend Mills, leaving Gordon hovering without the distraction of whatever noble and useless duty he thought he was fulfilling. Paramedics take over from Virgil, and Scott watches as he becomes the stranded one, left to observe but unable to help.
Scott wants to be with them all, but he doesn't dare move from his spot with Alan. Perhaps he doesn't want to upset him, or perhaps he's too afraid that if he does, there'll be nothing to keep him from breaking down.
It's only when Virgil joins them that he snaps back into the present. "Scott." Virgil's got blood on his hands too, but he doesn't seem to notice like Scott does. "They're taking John to the hospital—"
Scott shoots Virgil a look and unlatches his arm from Alan's shoulders. "Al, I need you to check on Gords for a bit, can you do that?"
He's treated to the flat stare of a sibling who knows they're being maneuvered out of the way. The fact that all of them know Gordon doesn't need checking up on isn't helping Scott's case. Except Gordon is still hiding out on the mezzanine, watching them all from a distance like he never does, and that doesn't slip Scott's notice. He gives Alan a nudge. "Just get him down from there, would you?"
Alan frowns, but he nods, wiping a sleeve across his nose. Virgil gives him a reassuring nod as he passes; then he waits until Alan's out of hearing range before he turns back to Scott. "They think the glass is near his lungs, and he's already lost a lot of blood. His shoulder's badly dislocated, which is going to be..." He swallows and has to look away. "Ah. Tricky. Not much else is known yet, other than the fact they have to get him to a hospital. Fast."
Too late Scott realizes he's just sent his anchor away, any sense of regulation leaving with Alan.
Cursing loudly, Scott runs a hand through his hair, frustration swirling dangerously close to the surface. "His lungs? Shit."
"I know." Virgil goes to place his hand on Scott's arm but finally seems to notice he's bloody from fingertips to wrists, so he rests his forearm on his shoulder instead. "That's why they need to take him now. I'll ride with him if you're not up to it—"
"What makes you think I'm not up to it?" Scott snaps, shoving Virgil's arm off. "Of course I'll go—"
"I'm not deaf—I didn't miss the scene on the mezz."
"And?" Scott's heart stops as he watches four paramedics hoist John onto a stretcher, and it doesn't restart until he's secured and on the move. "He just tried to murder our brother—"
"I know, I'm just—" Virgil exhales what sounds like the entire volume of his lungs. He wipes the back of one hand across his forehead, leaving a smear of blood an inch above his brows. "I'm trying to make sure you're okay."
Deep inside, something dark and ugly cracks open. "Virgil, I just had my screaming brother's body bleeding out under my hands. Do you think I'm okay?"
He expects Virgil to square up him, to meet him toe to toe, to throw his own words back in his face—"you're not the one who had to ensure he lived until the paramedics arrived." He doesn't expect Virgil to duck his head, to cross his arms, to remain silent.
"You three travel behind us. Make sure Alan's all right. And keep an eye out for Mills's accomplices—they might try to finish the job. I'll see you there." Scott's reply is a growl, and he hates himself for it. He hates that he has to stride away from Virgil with growing resentment about how calm he is, that he can't look back at Gordon because of how he got in the way. Scott hates that he can't control the beast rearing up inside him: an anger that doesn't just stem from today.
Scott follows the paramedics and climbs into the ambulance with John. Seeing him still, unconscious, attached to tubes and wires and machines does not comfort Scott. To know Mills is sitting in some police car, unhurt, while John lies here dying strikes Scott as profoundly unfair.
He can't do anything. He can't even hold John's hand—the right is one long, raw wound and the left is attached to a swollen, still-dislocated shoulder. He has to satisfy himself with running fingers cleaned via antiseptic wipes through John's hair, combing it back from clammy, anemic skin. Two paramedics bustle around them, running saline and blood into an IV. John's still breathing and his pulse is slow but steady. The glass shard continues to protrude like a blood-coated mountain from John's chest, stabilized with sterile bandages swiftly turning crimson.
Scott tries to focus on what the medics are doing, but Mills's words play through his mind, the blame, the single-minded hatred, the vendetta all a destructive butterfly effect since last year. Mills was wrong to say they forgot. They never would—Scott just thought they had all moved on. Yet John's self-deprecating words circle his brain, louder than Mills's, and Scott comes to the agonizing conclusion that they never got past it. None of them did.
Scott believed he had buried the memories, and he had, but it was in the box of things he thought he was no longer afraid of.
The ambulance lurches to a halt, and it isn't until Scott climbs out after the gurney that startling recognition dawns. Cream walls and a red cross are bright next to the blackened crust of a building that Virgil spent his early afternoon hours battling. This hospital is another place that would have turned to ash if Mills had his way.
Scott has suffered personal loss, even those of his own blood, but he will never understand why one man's grief could drive him to seek the ruination of so many other lives. Heartache for one should not inspire him to create heartache for others.
Scott forces weary muscles to follow the gurney, but his brother is whisked through double doors with fast-paced medical jargon instead of a goodbye. Scott pushes after them—their faces cannot be the last John sees, that's unacceptable—but an officer stands in his way. "Sir, you can't go in there. No, don't try to—"
"John! Hey, let me through, I need to be with him!"
"Sir, please, you can't go with him into the operating theater. We've got a waiting room where you and your people will be safe."
"But I—" Scott's people. They aren't his people—they're his brothers. And he couldn't keep any of them safe, not today, not here.
A large but gentle hand—like Virgil's, only not really—grabs his arm, and he's steered away through a side door. The officer talks to him, probably reassurances and condolences, maybe parts of the speech Scott gave a year ago. He only tunes back in upon hearing the words, "—trying to apprehend the others."
"The others?" Scott stops in the middle of a pristine hallway, boots squeaking against polished lino. Nurses and doctors pass with perplexed looks, but Scott's words are stone, gaze steel.
"Yes..." The officer hesitates, perhaps not expecting a response from what he probably thought was a shell-shocked victim he was escorting. "Your operative is giving a description of the people he saw in one of the buildings. We expect at least a team of six must have been involved to pull this off..." He trails off, expression tightening into something cautious. "It's incomprehensible to think these attacks were all planned. At least now that he's... now you've... well, there will be no more explosions, not with the leader in custody."
"Of course." Scott's reply is laced with bitterness; he hears the silent "now that he's had his revenge, the explosions will stop." It's a quiet blame, a because of you the attacks started, because of you this city was plunged again into darkness. Even just in thought, the blame will soon sneak into the minds of everyone that resides here. No matter how many lives they saved today, or a year ago, this city will only remember the losses, the damages, the graves that have been dug.
Scott says no more and is led to a private waiting room with plenty of dull assurances someone will be here soon to take his statement. It's the last thing Scott wants to do, especially in a room that has overly white walls dotted with overly happy paintings. Dying yellow flowers sit in a vase on the coffee table, and they remind him of Gordon. Not because they're dying, but the color and how Grandma used to bring him a bouquet of sunflowers every week.
The Gordon flowers sit next to a tray with overturned glasses, a pitcher of water, and a pile of magazines, all untouched. There's a wide window that looks out over the city. Scott doesn't go near it. He'd prefer not to look at it ever again.
Two taupe couches sit adjacent, with a clock above them ticking a fateful time. The seating faces the only door, and Scott wonders how many times surgeons have walked through it with either good news or bad. There are only two outcomes: whole and soon to be broken.
He shudders and sinks down onto the closest couch. His fingers tap on worn microfiber, moving in time with the tick-tock, tick-tock.
It's a numbing repetition. Scott tears his hand away and lurches to his feet, begins to pace around the small room, grinding ashy streaks into the gray carpet. Now the officer's words are added to the tumult of voices in his mind. At least six people. Did Mills have friends? How were they convinced to join something so horrible if they didn't share his grief, his drive? To hate International Rescue, a benevolent organization, seems wrong and heartless.
But Alan said he saw them, the extra people. He said they were targeting the youngest and the member with dark hair...
Scott stops walking. The thought bites at his flesh like an icy wind, allowing guilt to worm its way into his system.
John wasn't here last year. He was part of the rescue, but he wasn't here on the ground, he wasn't seen. Mills wanted a dark-haired member to be informed of the kids at the school, which means... he remembered Scott from that day.
Scott squeezes his eyes shut. Why did he let John go? It should have been him to return to the school, should have been him threatened, should have been him pushed from that mezzanine—it should have been him. Not John.
A strangled noise escapes his throat, and he has to thrust a hand out, brace himself on the wall to stay upright. He should have seen this coming. If he had recognized Mills earlier, things might have been different. If he had trusted his instincts all along, they would be back on the island by now, safe. But instead he dragged his brothers, all four of them, into the hands of a madman.
The door creaks open, yanking Scott's attention toward it. He half dreads it to be a doctor with an update, half expects it to be an officer here to pester him into providing a statement, but it's neither.
Three tired younger brothers with uniforms more black than blue squeeze through the doorway. Scott's attention is drawn to Virgil's hands, first how they're washed clean of blood, and second how they're draped over each of the youngest two's shoulders in a strangely protective manner. Gold-flecked eyes study him warily over two tawny heads.
Scott lifts one brow. What?
Alan breaks free and gravitates toward Scott, big eyes searching for answers once more. "Scott, is he okay? Is he in surgery?"
Scott's knees threaten to drop him onto the nearest sofa at the sight of three out of four brothers safe, but he makes himself stand taller. "Emergency surgery," he says gruffly to hide the tremor that wants to escape. "So no, he's not okay."
Alan's gaze drops to his hands, one of which is massaging the other.
"But surgery is good, right, Al?" Gordon steps forward and wraps a lazy arm around his younger brother's shoulders. Scott has no idea how Gordon's able to force a smile, but he does, even though it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "He'll probably wake up halfway through to tell them they're doing their job wrong."
Virgil makes a noise that might be laughter, except it's too dry and too sharp. Alan gives a vague smile and sinks onto one of the couches, clasping his fingers together and tucking them between his knees.
"John's a fighter, like me. Not like you lot," Gordon continues, but it's the way his hand strays to his wrist and rubs where his leather bands sit beneath his uniform sleeve that gives away the game of confidence. Everyone knows Gordon has an incessant need for talking things through when he's nervous, which currently grates against Scott's already-raw nerves. "It's just proved by what he said to Orson, right? He knew what to say. Well, John always knows what to say, but this time it was an actual life-and-death situation, so we can't exactly fault him for being—"
"Gordon." Scott flings a hand up between them, blood pounding hot in his ears. He can see Virgil tense where he stands, dark eyes issuing a silent warning behind Gordon's head. "Just... don't."
Because he doesn't want to talk about it. Just thinking about it forces him toward the edge of a personal precipice—even thought he's only realizing right now that he has one.
This is not the time to lose control.
Gordon stops, but only for a moment, probably assuming that don't gives him leeway to change topics. "Yeah, well, I'm glad the fires are all under control now. I can't believe that people would go to such lengths to get us here, right? I suppose it was stupid to think it was all a coincidence..." He digs his thumb into his temple like he's trying to organize his thoughts. "To think I could have walked past them, that I left Al with them..."
"I was the one that sent you both off," Virgil mutters, words thrumming with a deep ache that resonates in Scott's very core.
Gordon doesn't appear to hear, or he ignores Virgil in favor of a different conversation. "How did you manage to get away from them, Al?"
Upon hearing his name, Alan jolts, but it takes him increasingly longer seconds to lift his head. Scott locks his arms over his chest and has to look at Virgil—silent and watchful in the corner of the room—to make sure he doesn't snap.
"I just... ran and hid," Alan whispers, his gaze darting in Scott's direction before seeking Gordon out again instead. "I don't think anyone was after me anyway, they already had all of you—"
"But Orson said he had eyes on you," Gordon interrupted.
"Yeah... I think I saw him early this afternoon, too. I dunno, Gords. I guess I must have avoided them. I just... I had to come after you, I couldn't stand by and do nothing."
The reason for Alan's nervousness is now clear—and fully justified.
Scott's lips curl, and suddenly he is blind.
Alan's entrance, Mills's shocked face, John falling, all those grieving parents—it's all back at the forefront of Scott's mind, and before he knows what's happening, the floodgates have opened.
Searing heat scorches through him, electrifying his bones and numbing his skin as he fails to hold back the surging rage. "You had to?" he spits, whirling on his youngest brother. "No, you didn't have to, Alan, you never have to do anything. If you'd listened to orders just this once, if you'd put your own safety first, things might have turned out different."
Alan's mouth is hanging open. He leans back, blinking and looking around as though somebody else is supposed to be sitting in his spot.
"Scott, hey." Virgil moves forward. "Take a breath, this isn't Alan's fault—"
"No, Virgil, no," Scott snaps without removing his gaze from Alan. Losing those kids, coming back here, John dying under his hands, the anger, the guilt, the sorrow—it all rears up into an untamable beast that decides to attack him where he's weakest. "I told you to go back to Two, Alan, but you didn't listen, did you?"
Alan shuffles deeper into the cushions. "I... I thought you needed—"
"No, you didn't think at all. Mills wanted to kill you, Alan."
"He was threatening to kill you just to keep us in line!"
Alan's freckles stand out dark against his pale skin. "W-what?"
"You heard those people with your own ears. You knew they were after you, yet you still risked your own life by coming after us."
"Scott, I... I'm fine... they didn't—"
Scott's hand trembles as he jabs a finger at Alan. "But you might not have been! You're not invincible, Alan, none of us are—"
Alan's curling up now, trying to make himself smaller, voice slipping into something vulnerable. "I-I know that. I was being careful—"
"I don't care about that, I care that you came after us!" Scott yells, and it's a yell that commands silence and stillness. "Don't you see that's the reason John fell? We were getting through to Mills. He had lowered the knife, John had talked him down. And then you had to walk in and set it all off again."
"No," Alan whispers. "No... what—what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that maybe if you'd followed orders, John wouldn't be in emergency surgery because he has a damn piece of glass stuck through his chest!"
There's a heavy, stagnant pause, broken only by the ticking of the clock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Virgil growls, something low and deep. Gordon's turned toward the window so he doesn't have to meet anyone's eyes.
Alan's are wide and blank, his bottom lip trembling, skin nearly as translucent as John's was. Some instinct forged deep into the core of Scott urges him to take a breath, settle down, apologize, figure out how to erase the terror from his baby brother's face—but it's overruled by a maelstrom of anger that leaves him incapable of regret.
Alan should have known better and that's all there is to it.
Gordon doesn't hate things very often, but he hates hospitals.
It goes without saying that spending two months in the ICU will do that to a person. When Gordon sees white walls, he remembers the arguments that filled them more than the pain; recalls the grief on other people's faces more than his own. John was absent, Virgil was quiet, Alan cried a lot, and Scott yelled.
Apparently nothing has changed.
Now, as Alan jumps to his feet, fighting back tears, it doesn't exactly add to the list of good times Gordon's had in hospitals. His little brother bolts, doesn't run, to the door as though trying to escape his very skin. The door smashes against the wall on his way out, and Scott doesn't even flinch.
Virgil sends Scott a murderous glare but does nothing with it. Instead, he—and the whatever calming influence his presence was projecting—charges out of the room to hunt down their wayward brother.
He clearly doesn't think of Gordon and how, maybe, leaving him with an enraged Scott is a bad idea.
Gordon watches Scott's brow furrow, eyes darkening at what he likely perceives as Virgil's betrayal for leaving him. Heat throbs through Gordon's sore chest. They don't have sides here, at least none that he can see. Considering John is now fighting for his life, Gordon would like to think this is the best time to band together.
Clearly that isn't the case.
And it seems Gordon's the one who's just drawn the short straw. As usual.
"Well." He breaks the tense silence with a cheery tone, one that doesn't belong anywhere near what just happened. It doesn't belong in a hospital either, and it's more disconcerting to him than it is to Scott if he's reading the tension in Scott's shoulders correctly. "You handled that to perfection."
Scott turns his glare on him. "Don't start." Stormy blue eyes with flashes of lighting try to force Gordon to look away, but he holds the gaze as long as he can, because he thinks he hates Scott a little bit too right now.
"You shouldn't have said that." Gordon's tone twists, and the liveliness perishes, replaced by something that does belong here, something dark and foul. He's a chameleon to emotions, he knows he is, and whatever Scott's feeling is leaking under his own skin. "Al only just arrived, Scott! He stepped into that gym and watched John fall—that's all he saw and heard. He didn't know they were after him like... like that, or how serious it was."
Scott's voice shows no signs of cracking. "I know."
Gordon's words rise, but they are more like mournful bells than anything steady, ringing loud in his ears. "Then why did you say that at all? He wasn't even here last year—"
"This has nothing to do with last year! I'm talking about today."
"Which still has everything to do with last year!"
"Just be quiet, would you?" Scott snaps, and not for the first time today he steps toward Gordon. Gordon clamps his jaw shut, equally as frustrated at Scott as he is scared the eldest's anger will turn on him. Scott breathes through his teeth, forehead creased. "I can't... think."
There is an indeterminable point in those words where something changes.
Gordon sees beneath the angry turmoil to the frightened older brother, afraid of losing what he's almost lost too many times before. Gordon sees through the hard shell, the cultivated sculpture of authority and stoicism to the brother beneath that hates hospitals just as much as Gordon does.
"Scott... he's going to be fine—"
"You don't know that, Gordon," he hisses, and the glimpse of what's beneath disappears with a swing of heavy words.
They lock gazes: molten sunstones battle thunderous blue. Gordon wants to say something, but he doesn't know what. He's been told to shut up too many times today, sent away to run between buildings, shoved aside like an unwanted problem, and he's tired. He's tired of not talking.
There's a knock on the door, which is the only reason Scott looks away first. Gordon's disgusted with himself for being relieved that Scott's attention is directed elsewhere, but he can't help the way his shoulders slump, and he exhales a shudder when their stares tear apart.
It's not Virgil or Alan returning, which might be for the best. Instead, an officer peers into the room, ever so tentative in the presence of International Rescue. When Scott draws himself up to full height, energy crackling off his body like he's a billowing thunderhead, Gordon doesn't blame the guy for appearing hesitant. "What is it?"
The officer clears his throat and regards Scott with a wary expression. "Sir, we have apprehended three more members of this group and are taking them into custody—"
"Good," Scott barks. When the officer doesn't leave, Scott shifts his weight from one foot to the other and raises an eyebrow. "Anything else? What's the status on Mills, has he been charged?"
The officer steps beyond the threshold, seemingly unaware that Gordon is also there. He's used to it—everyone else vanishes within Scott's domineering presence. "He's going to be charged, but he's here in the hospital being treated for shock—"
Gordon's relief at extra company is short-lived. A shiver crawls down his spine, triggering a sudden ache in his lower back that almost makes him stagger. Phantom pain always seems to accompany sudden bouts of stress, and today it's almost unbearable.
"He's in shock?" Scott lets out a laugh that is the furthest thing from humor Gordon's ever heard. It vanishes when the words sink in. "Wait... he's here?"
"That's just it, sir. There has been a request from the... perpetrator. He's insisting he must speak to you—he's quite adamant about it, actually. He's vowing to apologize, saying he didn't mean what he did. Of course, we've told him seeing you is impossible, I just wanted to let you know—"
"It's not impossible." Scott's tone is as sharp as a blade, and immediately he's still, poised, the picture of carefully refined authority. "I'll see him."
"Sir, I'm not sure that's a good idea—"
"I'll see him," Scott repeats, this time with no hint of aggression. It's the sudden composure—and the way Scott's dimples have darkened to black—that sets off a klaxon in Gordon's head. He knows the flatness of emotion is nothing but a veil—the calm before a storm that's brewing inside his brother, and has been, he suspects, for the last year.
"All right..." The officer studies Scott but seems appeased by the show of leadership and forgiveness playing out in front of him. "I'll get two officers to bring him in—"
"No need." Scott raises a solitary hand. Only because he's looking for it does Gordon see the way the tips of his fingers tremble. "It's only talking."
"But protocol states we—"
"You can wait outside. We are International Rescue, after all. We know how to handle ourselves." Scott uses his no-argument tone, one that Gordon's been subjected to so many times that it's basically lost its effect. But to a stranger, like this officer, he has no choice but to obey. He dips his head and backs out the door, shutting it with a gentle click behind him.
"What are you doing?" Gordon hisses. "This is crazy! You don't need to talk to him."
Scott walks over to a set of glasses sitting on the table and pours himself a drink, balancing it carefully in one hand as he watches the light from the window refract through the water and scatter across the ceiling.
The calm is terrifying in its unnaturalness, and Gordon doesn't know what to do. "Scott, you need to stop this, it isn't right."
He wants Virgil. Virgil always brings sense to situations, but he can't leave Scott alone with Orson. He promised John they wouldn't hurt him. So as much as it fights against his very nature, Gordon remains, standing, in a sense, as a shield against more ruination.
Before he can muster any sort of convincing words, the door opens again, and Orson steps through, hands cuffed behind him. The officer calls something to them, but it lands on deaf ears.
Orson's hair has fallen loose, but it's not as untamed as Gordon would like it to be. He wants it to be wild rather than trimmed, just as he'd prefer his beard to be overgrown instead of groomed. If Orson looked crazed, then maybe Gordon could respond in kind. But when he looks human, when he bears resemblance to normality, it forces Gordon to treat him as such.
Scott is deadly still, eyes scouring Orson, searching for the humanity that Gordon can see only too well. "How dare you," Scott says, any sense of civility vanishing to dust. "You have the nerve to apologize just to appease your sake of mind? After what you did?"
"No... I'm sorry you didn't save my son. Every day, I'm sorry."
Scott's jaw shifts side to side, and his hands clutch the glass tighter. "Well, I told you, so am I—we all are."
Gordon nods like it will make a difference. He, at least, truly is sorry, since he was the one who had to confirm those children's deaths.
"But that doesn't mean we'll forgive you."
"I know..." Orson's hair falls around his cheeks as he nods. "I just... I needed to tell you that's not what I wanted to happen... that's not how things were supposed to turn out—"
"Don't give me that," Scott growls. "You planned this from the start—it was all calculated against us."
"You misunderstand me." Orson's head snaps up, his gray eyes anything but remorseful, filled with the same fire that seems to be fueling Scott.
Gordon's breath catches; what was pitiable about Orson is now gone.
"It was supposed to be you," Orson tells Scott. "I wanted you, with your false sympathy, to be up there with a knife at your throat."
Gordon's back flares again as he looks at Scott, but this isn't news to his brother. Scott's eyes darken, allowing no light to enter. "And it should have been me. I'd go back and let it be me if I could," he spits, taking a step closer to Orson. "But it's too late, it's done. So what the hell do you want if not to apologize? Do you just want to boast?"
"It was supposed to be him too." Orson nods in Gordon's direction, and he finds himself switching from invisible to painfully noticed by both his brother and their tormentor. "He was there last year, I remember him—"
"Don't you dare." Scott's arm launches forward, and Gordon has terrible visions of their reputation damaged forever, but instead of punching him, Scott squeezes his hand into a fist in front of Orson's face, as though he can physically snatch the words out of the air.
Gordon swallows and takes a step back. What was supposed to be him?
"Don't talk about him." Scott bares his teeth, his visage warping into something feral. "Don't even look at him unless you want to end up—"
"But then," Orson interrupts, "I saw the other one, the youngest one, and he fit far better for what I planned. If only that part had worked out—"
"Don't say another word!"
"Your ginger came instead of you," Orson continues. "And you know what, it worked out much better. I had the person responsible for what happened at my fingertips—"
"He wasn't responsible!"
"It all just clicked into place. International Rescue needed to be taken down—"
"If we weren't there, all of those kids would have died, not just those few children—"
"And then maybe everyone would have understood!" Now Orson's the one taking steps forward. The words, fusing together by the heat they're spoken with, now combine to find the heart of the matter. Gordon can only stare. "You all would have understood if I did this the way I was supposed to. The right way."
"Right? Right?" Scott snorts and tosses his empty hand up. "Nothing about this is right!"
"No, it isn't. You all should have died last year, crushed to death instead of Reed, instead of all those children. If it were up to me, your team would've been buried beneath the rubble while you watched, helpless, like I did." It's the way Orson's eyes slide toward Gordon that makes his legs quiver, a flicker of agony sparking through his back.
"Shut up!" Scott lunges, fist raised once more.
"No!" Gordon dives forward. Virgil would have grabbed Scott from behind, but Gordon leaps in front, because that's just what he does. If Scott hits him instead, so be it—it won't be the first time he's on the receiving end of a brother's fist.
Scott's eyes are almost black as Gordon, once again, gets in the way, but at least he arrests his swing. What Gordon knows Scott doesn't understand is that this time it's not to protect Orson—it's to protect Scott. To protect him from whatever cruel headlines will be printed, whatever inquiry might be started, to protect him from having more blood on his hands. Goodness knows they're stained enough.
Gordon raises both hands, palms turns outward, and shakes his head. "Scott, don't, please."
He wants to believe his words alone are enough to make Scott lower his fist, but he never gets the chance to find out when they happen to coincide with the arrival of Virgil and Alan as they barge back into the room.
Scott can't remember the day he discovered anger was easier to handle than grief.
Maybe because it's always been like that. There's always been yelling when there should be tears, revenge when things should be forgotten. It's only now that Scott realizes his anger is his grief. Some part of him understands it's the same for Mills—but Scott doesn't want to be anything like him, so it just makes him angrier.
He honestly doesn't know if he would have hit Gordon. He'd like to think he wouldn't have, that he wasn't so far gone he'd have taken his own brother out just to get to Mills, but he doesn't know.
He doesn't know.
All he knows is that when his brothers appear through the door, steps dogged by the officer, the red lines crackling and smearing across the black hole in his vision dull until he can focus beyond them. Maybe it's Alan's tear-stained face, eyes ringed with red. Maybe it's the way Virgil refuses to meet his gaze, shoulders angled instead toward Alan. Maybe it's the muscle jumping along Gordon's jaw, tight like it is only when he's masking fear.
Nothing changes the fact that he caused this.
It's a blow he cannot escape. His lungs constrict as he allows his arm to fall to his side and makes himself take three measured steps back. Gordon stumbles sideways, toward Virgil and into Alan, who clutches his brother's elbow, burying his nose in Gordon's shoulder like he used to when he was little. His vision lightens and broadens further when he realizes Alan's trying to hide—whether from Mills or him, he can't tell.
"Scott, what are you doing?" Virgil barks, even though he's no doubt already absorbed the situation.
"Talking," Scott says, and raises the glass to his lips, even though he isn't thirsty.
Mills is still, silent, and at first Scott thinks he doesn't like the extra attention—or he's aware of the officer's presence in the room.
But no, Mills is staring at Alan.
Gray eyes shimmer mournfully, drinking in the sight of Scott's youngest brother. There's a strange intermingled hope that dances across his face, and it turns vacant, transporting him to another time. Scott watches him, wary and uncomfortable at the unexpected mood swing. He's aware of the officer's gaze on him, waiting for orders, but he wants to figure this out first.
There's something about the attention Gordon must not like, because he shifts himself in front of the youngest. Mills blinks and growls as the movement disrupts whatever fantasy he slipped away to, his face twisting into something that looks less human and more savage. "You look like him," he snarls, low and fierce.
"What?" Alan whispers, peeking around Gordon's shoulder.
This shatters Mills's fantasy completely, and he lunges forward with a wild shout. The officer and Virgil are quick to get in the way. Virgil grabs one of his shoulders and yanks him back, but not before Mills gets a closer look.
Alan clutches tight to Gordon, who responds by shifting himself in front of him fully. A sharp beam of guilt fires through Scott as Gordon is once again forced into the in-between. Alan still looks back at Scott, even after everything he said, with an expression of painfully innocent confusion.
"You were supposed to die," Mills roars, and now he's struggling viciously against his two captors, who are attempting to push him out the door and away from Alan. "The plan was to bring the young blond in, and I thought I wanted the other one. But then I saw you in that building." Mills jerks his head toward the window, hair flying over his face.
"Stop," Alan whispers into Gordon's shoulder.
Mills lashes out at Virgil with his leg, and Scott leaps forward to throw himself in front of Alan and Gordon.
"My people were supposed to bring you in, and you were going to die before everyone. They would all see, all lose you just like I lost Reed! It was never supposed to be the ginger one. That was just to get everyone else there and hold them—it was supposed to be you."
"Get him out!" Scott yells. He can hear the blame in his previous words echo in Mills's, and it's more than sickening. "Lock him in hell where he belongs—"
"What are you afraid of? That I'll come back and try again? The world needs more people like me who know what a danger you are." Mills bucks and writhes, barely restrained by handcuffs and grown men. "You'll kill more kids one day. Maybe next time the world will be lucky and they'll be your own!"
The officer hurls Mills through the doorway with an extra push from Virgil, and the door snaps shut, writing his words into the walls. His crazed cries echo from the corridor, but it's the last comment that embeds itself into Scott's mind.
Because that comment plays on every foundation of fear, every sleepless night he's ever had. It is hospitals and broken bones, close calls, anxious hours, and the overpowering realization that Scott's grief has only ever manifested as anger because he hasn't experienced it fully. He hasn't lost what's most precious to him, not yet, even though he's been close.
Today it's been too close.
A yell pent up for too many years rips from his lungs, and as red erupts in the center of his vision, the glass in his hand goes flying with all the power he can muster. It explodes against the door, in the space that seconds ago was occupied by Mills's head—in the space Scott realizes too late is terrifyingly close to Virgil's head now.
Virgil throws an arm over his face and staggers back, bent over at the waist. Gordon's all muscle memory and reflex, twisting so he's between Alan and the ricocheting shrapnel. Alan has disappeared completely into his brother's chest, sobs wracking his form.
Virgil straightens, slow, stiff. Fragments of glass trickle like water off his clothing and hair as he lowers his arm to stare at Scott.
He stares back, chest heaving, unable to tear his gaze away from the tidy lines of blood etched around his brother's glazed gold eye.
Then the thick shock stiffening Virgil's face, the horrible despondency—it all dissolves into something unexpected: pity. Virgil, who was broken after last year, who should be broken now, is staring at him like he's the one that needs fixing.
Maybe he is.
"Virg... I—" Scott's breathing stutters in the silence, a sharp counterpoint to Alan's muffled whimpering. Every scrap of anger within Scott smashed with the glass that's now glittering on the floor like dust beneath their feet. Virgil moves forward, and in three strides he's by Scott's side, wrapping a strong arm around his shoulders.
"It's all right, Scott," he whispers, and Scott's not sure what he means. All right that he's angry? All right that he's broken? All right that he's hurt his brothers, all right that John fell, all right that they lost those kids? No. Nothing's all right.
But it doesn't matter right now. Scott performs a careful inspection of Virgil's face, using his thumb to wipe away blood before it can trickle into his eye. Virgil stands quiet, unflinching, his patience an endless well he can tap as Scott reassures himself he hasn't blinded his brother. Mercifully, both eyelids and eyes appear undamaged, although Scott finds he can't stare into their warm depths for more than a few moments at a time. He can't bear their open willingness to understand, not right now.
Suddenly drained, Scott deflates into his brother, a quiet anguish washing through him, too hot but pure and cleansing. With it comes revelation: even though he understood Mills's grief a year ago, perhaps more than he thought, he certainly doesn't understand the monster it mutated into.
Scott lifts his head off Virgil's shoulder. "Alan..." he whispers, reaching a hand toward him. But he's interrupted by another knock on the door, and it's enough to hollow the center of Scott's bones out. A nurse pushes her way into their little room, and the floor drops out from under Scott's feet, plunging him into free fall.
His hand scrabbles against Virgil's arm, desperate for a grounding point, because he knows that expression. Knows how it feels stretched across his face. He wore it one year ago in this very city.
He can't do this. He doesn't want to hear what she has to say. Hearing the words marching in his head spoken by another voice will surely break him.
The nurse hesitates as four pairs of desperate eyes round on her. Then she squares her shoulders. "I have news about John."