Work Header

Divided, United

Work Text:

Scott's eyes snapped open. It was dark, the sort of gloom in a house after sundown when no-one bothered to turn the lights on. Nothing moved, a stillness in the air unnatural to a man who had grown up with someone else always nearby – brothers, roommates, squadmates – telling him that he was alone. Completely and utterly alone, the only sound his own breathing – bordering on ragged, a panic stirring in the back of his mind from a source beyond his grasp.

He was lying on his side, crumpled as though he'd fallen, but when he tried to move he found that assessment to be inaccurate. A loud clang reverberated through the space – must be quite small, to echo that loudly – and his leg stopped short as something yanked on his ankle. Cautiously sitting up, he found that his arms were wrapped around behind him, something that wasn't coarse like rope or metal like handcuffs binding his wrists together. Some sort of plastic, zip ties, maybe, although if that was the case there were a lot of them.

A chain on his ankle and wrists bound. Scott shuddered, nightmares rearing their ugly, monstrous heads, but this wasn't the same. Not quite, and he focused on the differences to drive the nightmares back down into the box he tried to keep them locked up in. He wasn't in uniform – in any uniform, he was alone, and he wasn't… wasn't there. He'd never been there since, the one country Thunderbird One never attended.

Slowly, he wrestled the box shut again, nightmares lashing out at the draw of the familiar even as Scott convinced himself it was different. It was different, he'd been in New York, catching some fresh air after a meeting with stuffy investors who were trying to claim that as they were investors in Tracy Industries, and the Tracy family were International Rescue, surely that meant they were investors in International Rescue, too? That wasn't how it worked, International Rescue weren't funded by Tracy Industries but rather out of their own pockets, but some investors were greedy and wanted their fingers in that pie, too, never mind that International Rescue was non-profit.

He'd been in New York but this wasn't New York – or at least, wasn't any part of New York near the offices. Too quiet, no traffic to be heard, and the city never slept.

Masked men, outnumbered, and-

Scott surged to his feet, bound hands be damned, only to crash back down as the chain on his ankle pulled taut. He landed painfully on his shoulder, a cry forcing its way out past clenched teeth, but that didn't stop him and he pulled himself up again, this time managing to keep his balance.

He was alone, and while that had been a comfort, a defence against the rising nightmares moments earlier now it was a source of a whole new terror, because in New York he hadn't been alone. Virgil had been with him, snatching some downtime and some time with just the two of them, but Scott was alone now and where was Virgil?

His eyes had adjusted to the gloom enough to find the door and he lunged for it, clattering to the floor just short when the damn chain pulled taut again. He tugged at it, jarring his leg again and again, but the metal wouldn't give.

The door opened suddenly, bright white light streaming in and leaving him blinking furiously, blinded. A silhouette stood there, tall and muscular. No defining features were visible, and Scott snarled at them.

"I see our sleeping beauty's awake at last." It was a modulated voice, cobbled together from various electrical sounds. Scott couldn't even tell if they were male or female. "You'll only hurt yourself if you keep that up; the chain won't break." Even with the electronic edge to the voice, the contempt was clear in their tone. "Be a good little detainee and you'll leave here in one piece."

Defiant, Scott tugged at the chain again. "Where is he?" he demanded. "What did you do with him?"

They laughed and turned away, pulling the door closed. Scott let out a strangled yell and launched himself forwards again, feeling something give in his ankle before he crashed to the ground again, landing on his chest and getting a mouthful of dust. In front of him, the bright light had narrowed to a sliver as the door almost closed, hovering in that liminal state between open and closed for just a moment.

"We only needed one."

The door shut, a click loud in the sudden silence – soundproofing, he noted absently, but that didn't matter because we only needed one and there had been a gunshot, a yell of pain, a body hitting the floor.

Virgil had gone to get a drink, no point both brothers going inside the coffee shop just down the road to pick up some to-gos and out of the two of them Scott was more recognisable so he'd stayed outside, lurking behind the offices on private, Tracy-owned land while Virgil made the run. Virgil was also only there to kill some time, dressed in his favourite flannel and jeans combination, while Scott was in full CEO regalia of several-thousand-dollar suit and sharply styled hair. Virgil had refused to give him some solidarity by wearing his own suit, because all of his little brothers were a pain like that, not that Scott didn't understand. He wouldn't wear it if given the choice, either.

How they'd got past security, he didn't know, but one minute he'd been alone and admiring what little he could see of the sky in the middle of the city, and the next there had been five assailants grasping at him, creasing his pressed suit and brandishing guns in a way that screamed untrained. Untrained gunmen were dangerous, trigger-happy and not quite in control. As far as kidnapping attempts went, it was pretty rubbish. Scott should have been able to drive them off long enough for security to appear, and after a little bit of excitement it would all be over. It was hardly the first time someone had tried to jump him in the middle of a city – it was an occupational hazard of being rich.

Security hadn't arrived, but Virgil had, dropping two coffees and a paper bag of baked goods that had smelt heavenly at the scene before making a move towards the nearest assailant. He wasn't military trained, but he was Kayo-trained and there shouldn't have been any issues.

Except these people weren't trained gunmen, and in the chaos a shot had gone off before either of them could relieve that particular person of their gun.


He hadn't been in a position to see the gun in question, see where it had been pointing, but a flannelled shoulder had barged him, knocking him off balance, and a moment later they'd both been on the floor and Virgil's red flannel was the wrong shade of red, a frayed hole in the fabric. It had been in the back, somewhere shoulder-ish. Bad, Scott's mind had supplied, breaking through the sudden numbness and compelling him into action.

Too slow. The numbness had frozen him in place a split-second too long and he'd been dogpiled, muzzle of a gun digging painfully into his shoulder – metal warm and the smoky scent of gunpowder trailing it – and a prick in his neck.

Now he was in a room – small, featureless except for the chain linking his ankle to the wall and a thick, soundproofed door – and Virgil wasn't. Virgil, who had taken a bullet pushing him out of the way, who wasn't needed, who had probably been left to bleed out in that small area behind the offices where no-one went because it was private, Tracy-owned. Virgil, who would not have been left if they'd thought he could talk, maybe even shot again after Scott was down to make sure he couldn't.

Scott shuddered again and changed tactics, heaving at his wrists, rubbing them together for friction and ignoring the burn of his skin. He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious, how long the drug had kept him down for, but Virgil needed him – if he was still alive, the voice that said all the things Scott tried to ignore muttered in the back of his mind – and he had to get out.

Warm liquid trickled down his hands, and idly he noted that his suit was probably past all repair, but he kept pulling, grit his teeth through the pain he ignored because he had to.

There was no give in the bonds at all. Not zip ties, then, because Scott had been trained to break free of those years ago. Something stronger, more durable, more than a match even for a frantic man whose mind was clouded by fear for his brother.

That wasn't working. There had to be something, anything, he could do. He was still in his suit-

His suit. A plain business man's suit that wasn't as plain as it looked because Brains never let any of them go anywhere without at least some inventions shoved up their sleeves – literally. The laser cufflinks wouldn't be any use – he couldn't reach them, and even if he could, without being able to see where they were aiming there was a high chance he'd laser himself. Scott wasn't that desperate. Not yet.

The comm unit in his lapel, however…

It took some contortionism, his shoulders and wrists screaming out in pain as he was forced to hold them in an awkward position until his chin could just about reach far enough to depress the patch.

"Scott!" John responded immediately, before Scott could even get a word out. He sounded panicked, harried in a way John rarely was. "Scott, are you okay?"

"Virgil," he grunted, wheezing as his muscles trembled. "Is he-"

"We've got him," John cut him off. "He was lucky – a clean shot that missed anything fatal. Hospitalised, but he'll be fine. Kayo's with him." Scott sighed in relief. Kayo wouldn't let anything else happen. Virgil was safe, alive, and their assailants were fools. If, he thought with some irritation, fools with access to a dark room with an embedded chain in the wall. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Scott lied, feeling the warm liquid seeping from his wrists and the throbbing of his ankle. "They haven't touched me." That was the truth, at least. "Where am I?"

"Downtown. I've got someone working on extraction now. Do you know their motive?"

Someone? That was ambiguous.

"They haven't been particularly chatty," he shrugged, trying for a nonchalance he didn't really feel. "There hasn't been a ransom?"

"Nothing so far," John confirmed, and Scott could hear that he shared his unease. No ransom meant they weren't after anything from the family – no money, nothing IR. The statistics of recovered kidnap victims were low – alive, at any rate – and without even a ransom to imply they were considering it, Scott's future was looking bleak.

"How long until your someone's getting me out of here?" he asked, and there was a bit of fear in there, now, because Scott knew he was valuable for more than just money. Information was a popular currency, and he knew a lot of classified information. Unfortunately, the fact that he knew some wasn't so classified.

"Working on it," John repeated. "Hang tight, and don't cut the line. I'll mute my end if you get company."

"F.A.B," Scott agreed, more than a little relieved, although he did his best to hide it. He wasn't alone, but John was untouchable, up in Five. They couldn't use him against him.

"Do me a favour and don't do anything that'll get you injured," John continued. "You might need to run for it." Scott glanced down at the chain bolted to the wall, and the ankle that wasn't going to want to bear his weight for very long.

"I'll do my best," he replied. "But if you want me running, your extraction's going to need some chain cutters. I'm bolted to a wall."

There was silence for a moment. "Noted," John eventually said. "What else?"

"Hands are tied, some sort of strong plastic, I think," he reported. "A knife should handle that."

There was another silence and this time Scott could feel John judging him, putting two and two together in that way he had. "Help is on the way. Stop trying to escape and wait for it." Busted. "We don't know what they want with you so don't give them a reason to hurt you."

Now that he knew Virgil was going to be okay, and that someone – 'someone', probably Penelope, if Kayo was on guard duty with Virgil – was working on getting him out, Scott could manage a little patience. Probably. He still wouldn't be happy until he'd seen Virgil for himself. John had an annoying habit of understating things if he thought they'd be a distraction.

"I'll see what I can do," he allowed. Depending on what they wanted, that might not be avoidable. He shifted to get a little more comfortable, swallowing the hiss as his ankle protested. "The sooner your extraction gets here, the better."

"They'll be there as soon as they can. Just hold on."

Still no clues who he was waiting for, but Scott didn't get a chance to ask. The door slammed open, blinding him with bright light again and he hissed involuntarily, fighting the instinct to turn away.

John, thankfully, had the sense to not comment, and Scott hoped he'd muted comms as he'd said he would.

The silhouette was different to the last one – a little shorter and wider – but the voice was the same, electronic not-voice. "Good morning." Morning? It had been mid-afternoon when he'd been attacked; how long had he been unconscious for? "I hope you enjoyed your nap."

Okay, that was cliché, although still annoying. Scott glared at him. "What do you want?"

They advanced, carefully measured steps, but Scott refused to scramble back, keeping his gaze steady even as his heartrate jumped. Fingers, nondescript and gloved, cupped around his throat, pressure barely-there but still setting his nerves alight.

"I have what I want." The electronic voice purred, and more fingers spidered their way up his face, trailing along the line of his jaw in a touch that should have been tender but did nothing except alarm Scott. His alarm only grew when it stopped, relocating to cup his cheek in a mockery of Grandma's caring touch, and a thumb tugged at his lower lip.

He snapped at it, jerking his head to dislodge the touch, but the hand on his throat tightened, fingertips pressing uncomfortably on his jugular.

"Feisty," they observed, although they didn't pull back. Scott tried to yank back, escape the hand, but the grip was too tight. "You'll make a wonderful addition to my collection."

"What collection?" he demanded, voice coming out strangled by the grip on his throat. The hand returned to his cheek, thumb once again tugging at his lip, and he let out another strangled snarl.

"You'll see," they sing-songed. "There's a lot of use for a man like you." The pressure on his lip disappeared and the fingers glided along the line of the jaw again. Light, barely there, but sending spikes of alarm all through Scott. "Oh, that's a nice look," they commented and he realised something must be showing on his face. "I like it. But there's something that would make it better."

They clicked their fingers, the noise sharp and unexpected enough to make Scott flinch, and then there were more footsteps. The silhouette this time, from what little he could see past the one still gripping his throat, was larger than even the first person, probably around about his own height.

"The spider ring would look best, I think," they said. Before Scott could work out what that meant, there were fingers gripping his hair, tilting his head back so far it was painful, fingers in his mouth yanking his lower jaw down with more strength than he could fight. Something with the cool, sharp taste of metal was forced into his mouth, and with both assailants holding him still he couldn't dislodge it as a strap went around his head, pulling tight and catching some strands of hair painfully.

By the time they released him, his mouth couldn't close and he glared balefully at them, trying not to panic about what was happening or the implications behind it.

"Oh yes, that looks very good," they mused, and there was a flash and click of a camera. "Enjoy."

Scott tried to snarl at them but the noise came out slightly dampened. Both assailants – captors – ignored him and left the room, leaving Scott with a rising sense of dread and panic.

"John?" he tried to call as soon as the door slammed shut, but the damn gag got in the way, leaving a muffled mmmn? the only thing to escape.

"Scott?" Thank goodness John was smart, but Scott had much more on his mind than his brother's intelligence now. Being kidnapped for ransom was one thing, information another, but this… whatever this 'collection' was, it put a chill all along his spine.

Get me out of here now, he tried to say, but all he managed was a fresh chorus of mmphs. John was a genius, but even he wasn't going to be able to translate that. Scott cast around for something else he could use to communicate, beyond thankful that he still had his comm. The chain caught his eye, and he shuffled awkwardly, trying to reach it with his bound hands.

"Scott, ETA for extraction is fifteen minutes," John told him. Either he understood gagged-speech after all, or he just knew what Scott needed to hear. He made grunts that hopefully got the F.A.B. across. "Stay calm. Breathe through your nose." Scott knew that, but it was easier with his brother's steady voice in his ear. "For clarification, it's eighteen hundred hours local time. You've been missing for less than two hours and it most certainly is not morning."

He reached the chain and gripped it with fingers slippery with blood. Breathing as deeply as he could, he tapped out F-A-B on it in morse, followed by P-L-A-N?

"Nothing subtle," John told him. "I've got the building schematics and approximate life sign locations, so they're going to blast their way in. If the door is north, which wall are you against?"

Scott squinted at the door through the darkness. C-O-R-N-E-R, he corrected. S-E.

"Can you leave the corner and head further up the East wall?" John asked. Scott started to shuffle, reluctant to part his fingers from the chain and his only way of communicating with John, before realising the chain was embedded in the so-called South wall.

N-O, he tapped out. C-H-A-I-N-S.

"Understood." John fell silent for a moment, and Scott hoped – trusted – that he was relaying that information to the mysterious 'someone'. "Move as far into the corner as you can. They're approaching from the South-West direction."

A time and location. Scott steeled himself and began the shuffle to wedge himself into the corner, chain clinking and ankle protesting the whole time. Part of him felt uneasy – into the corner meant nowhere to escape if his captors came back first, but with the chain on his ankle he couldn't move away fast enough anyway.

He stopped only when he felt the cool masonry hemming him in on both sides, and reached for the chains again. H-E-R-E.

"Twelve minutes," John told him. "Try not to leave that corner if you can."

F-A-B. Scott curled up as best he could with the chain still beneath his fingers. The gag was gathering saliva in his mouth, drool starting to run unpleasantly down from the corners of his lips, but he couldn't lick it away or swallow, despite his body's reflexes. He kept breathing through his nose and did his best to ignore it. Twelve minutes. He could do that.

John kept talking to him, for the most part not about anything important – the stars he could see, theories he was working on, distractions from his current situation – but updating him on the extraction whenever something happened he thought he should hear about. It wasn't the first time Scott had admired his brother's ability to do multiple things at once, but that didn't lessen his gratitude for the skill at all. Holding a conversation was limited when one party was limited to morse tapping, so he let John carry it, only responding to a direct question with simple Y-E-SN-O, or F-A-B.

"Thirty seconds," came the warning. "Scott, curl up as much as you can and protect your head."

He didn't waste time tapping out an acknowledgement. With his hands bound behind him, there was little he could do to shield his head except turning his back on the South-West corner and hunching over as much as his bonds allowed.

"Ten seconds." He closed his eyes and focused on keeping his breathing even and not choking on the saliva that trickled back towards his throat in the change of position. "Five… four… three… two… one."

The explosion was loud, hunched shoulders doing little to protect Scott's ears from the blast, but the ringing in his ears was nothing compared to the sight of two of his siblings scrambling through the hole in the wall.

His eyes widened.

"Target located," Kayo said sharply, fingers pressing down on the iR of her baldric, but Scott only had eyes for his brother, one arm in a rough sling.

So much for being hospitalised, he thought as Virgil knelt down by his leg and produced one of Alan's so-called tin openers, the laser making short work of a link in the chain.

"No time for the rest," his brother said apologetically, grasping him by the bicep and hauling him to his feet with his one good arm. "We've got to move." Scott didn't miss the worried glance at his ankle, but there was muffled shouting from outside and the priority was getting out. He could run on it, and did, Virgil's hand still firm on his bicep. Kayo brought up the rear.

No-one ever mentioned how difficult running with a gag was. Every instinct Scott had was screaming for him to breathe through his mouth, but the saliva pooling made him choke every time he mistakenly took a breath. Between him and Virgil, he was by far the better runner, but even with one arm in a sling, it was Virgil pulling him along, keeping him upright as he stumbled.

Behind him came louder shouts of alarm, all still through electronic voice modulators, but it wasn't until Virgil skidding to a halt that Scott realised one of them had got round in front of them and cut them off. The gun was pointed straight at Scott's chest, wavering slightly.

"I won't let you go!" they declared. It was the smallest one, the one that had mentioned a collection and decided to gag him. "You're mineMine!" The gun trembled wildly, and Scott glanced around, trying to find a way out without any more injuries. He couldn't talk, the gag still there, digging in painfully after his dash for freedom, but he couldn't let that stop him. There had to be something he could do.

He took a step forwards, towards them, slow – unthreatening.

It was the wrong call.

They screamed.

The gun went off.

Virgil shoved him sideways, knocking him over and forcing a cry of pain as he landed badly on his ankle as well as the same shoulder he'd knocked painfully in the little room.

More gunfire, and his captor – his tormentor, the sensation of the gag still in his mouth, chipping his teeth, corrected – fell. Scott didn't care about that, more interested in his brother. Virgil was down, one hand clutching at his hip, where his jeans – he wasn't even in IR uniform? – were quickly becoming red with blood.

Scott's hands were still behind his back, but with no chain tying his ankle to the wall he could pull his legs up and rotate his shoulders enough to hook his bound hands past his feet so they were in front of him. His wrists looked terrible, and it seemed like some sort of electrical cord had been used, but that wasn't important. Not with Virgil bleeding from a gunshot wound for the second time that day – both wounds that should have been his instead.

His suit was expensive, but it was already ruined so he grabbed for the shirt and tore it, bundling it up into a wad of fabric before leaning over Virgil and pressing it over the bleeding area. Virgil let out a groan of pain but Scott couldn't reassure him, couldn't do anything except keep pressing, keeping the pressure on as the once-blue fabric darkened. His fingers were already slippery from his own blood, but even if he couldn't feel it, he could see Virgil's own blood joining the red concoction on his fingers.

A glance at Virgil's face saw his eyes drifting shut, clouded with pain, and Scott let out a scream of frustration as he pressed down with all his weight. His arms were trembling – pain, exhaustion, maybe something else entirely, he didn't know – but he kept holding on, because it was Virgil and he couldn't lose him. Couldn't lose anyone else, and definitely not when it was all his fault, when those bullets should have hit him.

Hands covered his – calm, steady hands – and he looked up to see Kayo, eyes grim.

"The GDF are on their way," she told him. Her eyes drifted to his mouth before looking down at Virgil – white-skinned, blood staining both their hands. There was a silent apology in them, an acknowledgement of the gag but an inability to do anything about it when Virgil needed them more. Scott focused on his brother's face, watching as Kayo snapped at him to stay awake, tapping his cheek with one bloodstained hand as the other pressed down with Scott's.

"'mwake," Virgil slurred, although his eyes barely opened a sliver. "Sc't?"

Worry about yourself, Scott tried to say, but it came out a mixture of mmphs and hacking coughs as more saliva ended up back in his throat.

"You're worse," Kayo said firmly. "Scott will be okay. John, where's the GDF?"

"Two minutes out," Scott's lapel said, echoed by Kayo's own comm. "What happened?"

"Virgil's collecting bullets today," Kayo told him. "Right hip, this time. No exit wound."

"I'll tell them to hurry up," John said bluntly. "Hostiles?"

"Neutralised." Kayo's voice was grim, leaving Scott to translate that to dead. Normally he'd be upset about that, lethal force never the answer, but they'd shot Virgil twice, who knew what they'd been planning to do with him, and he was so tired even though he'd spent a large chunk of the past two and a half hours unconscious.

Scott just wanted to go home.

It was Colonel Casey herself who led the troops out of the GDF flyer two minutes later as they touched down, running over to them almost unprofessionally as she directed her soldiers to clean-up, aside from the medics who made a beeline straight for them. It was also the Colonel who pulled Scott back gently, out of the way of the medics, and brandished a small knife to cut the straps of the gag.

He coughed as she eased the metal out of his mouth, batting his hands away lightly when he tried to do it himself, hacking up all of the saliva that had been pooling and overflowing before swallowing painfully.

"Virg-" he started, but his voice broke and the Colonel hushed him, clearly more in godmother mode than military.

"My people are dealing with him," she assured him. "He'll get the best care; John's already alerted the local hospital." Scott lunged forwards anyway as his brother was loaded onto a stretcher and hurried away, almost falling over until his godmother caught him. The knife flashed again and the cables wrapped around his wrists fell away, revealing just how raw and bloody the skin was. "They're waiting for you as well, Scott. Can you walk?"

Could he walk? He'd just run out of the building with who knew how many pursuers on his tail. He could hobble over to the flyer.

He dragged his way to his feet, only for his ankle – still with a metal cuff around it, even if it wasn't linked to a chain anymore – to buckle. Colonel Casey caught him and tugged his arm around her shoulder. She didn't insist he wait for a stretcher, however, but patiently helped him limp forwards, a supporting arm around his waist. The woman was much shorter than him, but showed no signs of struggling as she guided him up the ramp and got him settled in a jump seat by Virgil's stretcher, foil blanket around his shoulders.

His brother was unconscious, but that didn't stop Scott from reaching for him, trembling hand probing the arm in a sling. His hip had been bandaged, field treatment that would hold until he got into surgery, but it was the earlier wound that Scott wanted to see.

It was Kayo who caught his hand and gently tugged it away, pressing a clean cloth to his bloody fingers despite his protests.

"Kay-" he protested, but she was firm.

"Drink." A lidded cup with a straw was presented to him, straw prodding at his lips. "It's just water."

"Bu-" The straw slipped past his lips.

"Drink. You're a mess, Scott." Kayo's voice was soft but unyielding and he reluctantly obeyed. A gentle finger touched the corner of his mouth and he flinched away. "Hold still; it's raw." He'd barely registered that pain when there was his wrists, ankle, and Virgil, but it was noticeably soothed by the gel Kayo applied. "Can you hold the cup?" she asked, guiding both of his hands to it, and he grasped it. "Just while I get this off your ankle."

She had another of Alan's tin openers, and he sat still as she lasered through the metal, scant millimetres from his skin. Only when it landed on the floor of the flyer with a clatter did he move, putting the cup down on the seat next to him and returning his attention to Virgil. Kayo didn't stop him from looking, but she caught hold of his hand again and continued to wipe away the blood from around his wrists, rolling up the sleeves of his ruined, bloodstained jacket to chase the blood where it had trailed in both directions.

"It's going to be okay, Scott," she promised, but he barely heard her.

Their arrival at the hospital had Virgil whisked away from him before he could even stand on his feet, and his attempts to follow were thwarted by Colonel Casey, who forced him back into the seat while Kayo vanished.

"You can barely walk," she scolded, and two men appeared behind her, a stretcher between them. "You will be entering that hospital on the stretcher." He protested, but she stood firm. "The longer you argue about this, the longer it will be until you see Virgil again. Stretcher, Scott."

Scott glared at her, but there was no way he could get past her and her men on a dodgy ankle and they both knew it. At a gesture, the two men with the stretcher approached and, defeated, Scott had no choice but to let his godmother help him onto it. Firm arms made him lay down before they finally left the flyer. Colonel Casey accompanied him the whole way, probably to make sure he didn't try and make a run for it, until he was delivered directly to the doctors waiting.

It was several hours before he saw Virgil again. The hospital room he had ended up in, one shoulder in a sling of its own, wrists bandaged and ankle set from where it had apparently been broken, had a second bed, which they had promised would be Virgil's once he was out of surgery. It was that promise, and Kayo's reappearance, that kept him in the room rather than attempting to escape. Mainly Kayo's sudden presence on his bed, not quite sitting on him but close enough that it didn't really make a difference.

"It's not your fault," she told him, hand on his shoulder – the one not in a sling, apparently dislocated.

"He got shot twice today, and both times were because of me," he protested.

"And if the situations were reversed, he'd be the one sat here feeling guilty and you'd be the one in surgery for your second bullet of the day," Kayo pointed out. "It wouldn't have been his fault, and it's not your fault."

She was talking sense, but that wasn't enough to calm him down, not when it had been his inattention, his misjudgement. Nothing would, and definitely not until he saw Virgil again. Not even John, flickering into view from her comm, or his other two brothers, roaring in from the other side of the world in Thunderbird Two and piling onto his bed for frantic hugs and assurances that he was okay, could get the image of Virgil, white and bleeding, out of his head, or the manta my fault, all my fault.

At one point, Kayo slipped away, taking John with her. Gordon and Alan kept him forcibly pinned to the bed in her absence, to Scott's frustration, but when she returned there was a satisfied air to her, shared by John's hologram.

"The organisation's been shut down," she informed them. "The GDF tracked down all the surviving members with John and Lady Penelope's help" – otherwise translated as John and Lady P tracked them down and sic'd the GDF on them – "and all of their bases have been seized."

"It was an organisation?" Gordon asked, eyes narrowed. Alan just curled up under Scott's good arm and hugged him tightly.

"A sloppy one," John said. "They only got away with it as long as they did because they never targeted a high-profile individual until Scott." His disgust at that was clear, and Scott could well imagine that somewhere, heads were rolling.

"What were they even after?" Alan asked. "It can't have been money or there would have been a ransom."

"They had ties to the black market," Kayo replied, a little too quickly. "Slavery." She spat the word. "The GDF are now working to find all the victims and their buyers."

That didn't make sense, not from what his captors had told him, but Scott sensed the lie was for his brothers' benefit. He'd get the truth out of them later, especially as that was the moment the doctors appeared, transporting a sleeping post-op Virgil into the other bed.

His siblings physically restrained him as he tried to get out of bed, at least until the doctors reminded him to stay in bed, promised that Virgil was fine and would make a full recovery, and left. As soon as they were gone, it was a different story.

"You should stay in bed," John sighed, but it was a lost cause and they all knew it. Gordon was the one to help him up, the aquanaut as ever stronger than he looked, while Kayo guarded the door and Alan hovered on his other side, poised to move in if necessary.

Deposited into the chair by his brother's bed, Scott reached out tentatively to look at the wound – both wounds. They were freshly dressed, no sign of blood, and Virgil's skin was no longer white but somewhere closer to his regular colour.

He was going to be okay. Scott knew he wouldn't fully believe it until Virgil opened his eyes, but his pulse was strong and even, and unfortunately Scott had seen his brother in a similar state enough times to know it meant he was on the mend.

Recovery would take a while for both of them, and despite Kayo's words and attempted use of logic, the gnawing guilt was still there, would join the brewing cauldron in his mind where all the my fault thoughts churned away, from minor things like the time John broke his arm on a dare Scott had made him to world-shattering things like I couldn't save Dad.

But for the moment, Virgil was alive under his hands, sleeping deeply almost as though it was any old night home in bed, and Scott could at least let go of the what ifs, if not the what happened. He hadn't lost a brother. Not today.