Gordon's experiences in the aftermath of a life-changing accident.

Authorís Notes: Many thanks to the TIWF for their encouragement, and to LMB for once again being my literary crash dummy and helping me out with this right from the beginning. Big thank you for the title as well!

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Chapter One

There is a woman.

She has curly red hair and green eyes. A light shines just above her head and it makes her look like an angel. Thatís funny, and normally Iíd make a joke; but Iím too tired.

Thereís a lot of noise. People are talking, and moving, and saying lots of important things, but the woman is silent.

Sheís staring down at me, and holding a bag next to my face which she squeezes every few seconds.

The bag is yellow, and hisses whenever she squeezes it.

The room is getting blurry.

Sheís talking to me now.

She keeps telling me to stay awake.

I donít listen.

Iím not sure how much time has passed.

I vividly remember that woman with the red hair, and then an odd sinking feeling that seemed to last forever, but after that there is an indeterminate gap where I can remember nothing at all. Only darkness.

Iím not sure when I arrive at the path, yet I find myself walking along it now as though itís the most natural thing in the world.

The path is an old dirt road, with hayfields on either side. Thereís no noise here, just the soft occasional breeze that sweeps past me and moves the grass gently. The sky is blue and clear, and the sunlight is so warm and hazy it seems to have a physical presence. Itís just like where we grew up, only better - heightened somehow - with all the best bits and none of the bad.

I walk down the road and Iím filled with the same sense of confidence I get when I play a practical joke on my brothers.

Iím being bad by following this lovely path. But not bad in a terrible way, just like Iím being cheeky and mischievous, like a naughty schoolboy disobeying the teachers. That sounds just like me.

For a long time the mood is calm and indulgent, and I can just enjoy my journey in relative peace. Iím happy here, and I donít want to give in to the people who are a bit cross about my journey.

I still have no idea what Iím walking towards, but I know that with every step, I become more and more relaxed. I keep thinking about how mad my brothers will be when they find out what Iím doing, and I feel like laughingÖbut that feeling doesnít last long.

As I continue to walk down the path, I begin to realise that Iím really upsetting people.

At first, thatís fine; I donít really care what anyone else thinks. Iím tired, and itís nice here. Itís a nice, easy route and I can just drift away if I want to.

Thatís what Iíve decided to do.

Itís my path and I decide the rules. Iím too tired, so Iím going to enjoy myself, and drift off to the comfy place.

I walk on, at peace with myself and my surroundings. And yet something is starting to change. I can feel the humour slowly draining away. The mood, which had been so loving and tolerant before, is now angry and scolding.

I immediately stop walking and try to listen. Itís a strange sensation. I canít hear anything, but somehow I know that Dad is mad at me. I donít want him to be. He doesnít get cross unless Iíve done something really bad.

As soon as I realise this, I come to my senses a little. I look ahead to the horizon - my goal - and somewhere deep down, I register that this is really wrong.

I shouldnít be joking about this, and I definitely shouldnít be on this path.

Iím in serious trouble, and I need to listen to Dad.

So, I stop messing about and do as Iím told.

I turn around.

Going back is incredibly difficult, for some reason. Itís agonisingly hard to pull myself away from that comfortable place, but I force myself to continue.

It feels like Iím hauling myself, flat on the ground, with only my fingernails able to propel me forwards.

After a lot of time passes, the path slowly disappears and dissolves into darkness and I feel like I've achieved something.

Now, there are brief periods of awareness, where voices filter into the inky blackness. I canít hear what theyíre saying; just the sound of their voices. Sometimes theyíre familiar, and that brings me some comfort, but Iím far too weary to respond.

Most of the time it just sounds like a low echoing murmur, a wonderfully familiar hum that sounds exactly like being underwater. I donít think I am underwater though. Because, as good as those periods of wakefulness are, I always return to a numb and silent sense of drifting.

The whole thing is very confusing.

I try to understand why Iím feeling like this, and I come up with nothing.

I eventually recall the woman with the red hair, and someone else talking urgently to me. There was a helicopter, and waterÖbut then there are lots of pictures that donít seem to make sense.

When I think about it, nothing really makes sense at the moment. I know I need to return to somewhereÖbut for the life of me I have no idea how to do that. As I become gradually more aware of my state of mind, I get more concerned. Iím not frightened, as such, thereís just a nagging sense of doubt at the back of my mindÖI shouldnít be like this. Things shouldnít be this confusing.

Something bad has happened.

I try to think: to understand how I got to this point.

It takes a long time, but distantly, a picture forms in my head and I begin to remember.

The hydrofoil had crashed.

I had been fighting to save it. Something had gone wrong, and there hadnít been time to figure out how to fix it. I could feel the adrenaline surge as I desperately tried to correct the problem, and then I remembered that sense that I was losing the fight - and I had to give up trying to stop it happening.

I was going to die.

I didnít panic, and I didnít pray. I wasnít even scaredÖjust sad. All my choices were taken away, and there was nothing more I could do but die.

I thought my life would flash before my eyes, or Iíd see Mom waiting for me, but nothing like that happened. I just remember feeling sad, and closing my eyes.

Thatís the last thing I can clearly recall. After that it gets hazy

ÖIs this death?

Iíve never tried to define death before, but Iíve always assumed it was a stop; a definitive, and conclusive cutting off of life.

This canít possibly be death.

Things are different now, but Iím fairly sure I havenít stopped. Iím still me, I thinkÖSo whatís happening to me?

Iím in a strange kind of stasis where Iím aware, but at the same time completely oblivious. Part of me knows that I have to return to the place where my family are, but another, stronger part of me just wants to drift in this void and mend.

Thereís no pain here, and I know enough to realise that that is a very good thing. I can dimly recall screaming, and blood, and agonising convulsionsÖ but that's all gone now. Here I can just relax.

I feel weak. And I need strength for thisÖso I sleep.

Chapter Two

I donít like this feeling.

Itís exhaustion like Iíve never felt before. A bone weary, enervated sensation that I canít escape from no matter how hard I try. Facts, ideas and meanings slip from my grasp despite my best efforts to think normally.

Stringing together even the simplest of thoughts is almost impossible.

I feel a strange sense of detachment about everything Iím experiencing. If I had the energy, I think I would be in a state of frantic terror over my situation, but as it is, Iím too tired to indulge in wild emotions like that.

Time passes.

Time doesnít really mean much to me at this point, but Iím aware of it. Thatís whatís so easy about this place. No specifics. Nothing as complicated as facts or emotions. Just a vague sense of things.

I like the periods when I can hear the voices - even if I canít understand what theyíre saying; their presence brings a vague sense of relief that is quite soothing. The voices remind me that Iím still alive, and I try to hear them more often, but that is a monumental struggle. For some reason pushing myself to do anything other than drift takes a great deal of concentration and effort, so I do nothing for a long time, enjoying the stillness.

I could happily stay this way forever.

After some time passes, a voice permeates the darkness. Its quiet and sombre tone holds my attention; though Iím not sure why. I canít recall the name of the person talking - or even his connection to me - but I know I donít like hearing him cry. Heís speaking softly, his deep voice intimately familiar even in the confused state I find myself in.

I havenít really tried to do anything for a long time, but for some reason hearing that voice galvanises me into action. That voice is important to me, and I want to hear it more clearly. I want to talk to him.

I decide to fight a little harder, and sacrifice a little of the numbness Iím feeling. I devote all my energy to fighting to pull myself closer to the voice. Itís draining, but I feel that if I relax for even a moment, then Iíll sink further into the darkness. Sometimes, I think back to the path and how relaxing it had been, and the idea of just letting go is so inviting; but I know I have to continue on. I donít have a choice.

Eventually all the struggling pays off, and there is a small success: I become aware of a new sensation.

There is a heaviness that wasnít there before. Itís difficult to describe the sensation, as itís something I always took for granted before; the feeling of being present in oneís own body. I focus on that indistinct sense of weight for a long time, trying to remember how to use it to my advantage. Nothing happens, but there is a familiarity to the sensation that is comforting, and it means that Iím a little closer to coming back.

When I begin to hear that deep voice again, I find it clearer and sharper than before. I still canít really understand what the person is saying, but I donít think itís because I canít hear him; I think itís because I canít focus enough to listen to the words. Does that make sense?

This is my first real achievement since the hydrofoil, and I feel like I should celebrateÖbut Iím tired.

Time passes.

I only begin to listen again when I realise that the voice has changed. This new voice is quite soft and quiet, and I find myself connecting it to all sorts of strange things in my head. The voice reminds me of the smell of oil paints, for some reason, and music. Calming music.

In a flash, I am taken back to my childhood. Iím ten, and the owner of the voice is picking me up and throwing me into a pool. The memory comes back so strong and immediate that I can almost taste the chlorine. I remember the splash as the person jumps in after me, laughing along with me as I surface and splash him in retaliation.

Itís a tiny, insignificant memory, that has now become more important to me than anything else in the world. I cling onto that memory for a long time, remembering that sensation of happiness as different voices fade in and out.

Itís a little easier to focus now.

That fuzziness that made thinking impossible is now gone, and I can concentrate on hearing. Iím quite content as I listen, but one thing I begin to notice is that these voices never sound happy, and I never hear laughing. Thatís strange. Iím used to laughter.

Thatís who I am - I think - Iím the guy that makes people laugh.

Maybe thatís why the voices are unhappy, because Iím too tired to tell jokes at the moment. I donít mind that theyíre sad though, because any noise is nice - or at least it would be nice, were it not for the regular interruptions.

I donít know how long itís been going on - maybe I just wasnít aware of it before - but the strange woman turns up pretty regularly now. She asks me to do things; little things, like squeezing her finger, or opening my eyes. Even if I were able to do what she asks, itís impossible to fathom why sheís asking me to do something so stupid and trivial; so I donít respond.

She doesnít like that.

Whenever I donít respond thereís a sharp pain from somewhere, and I can feel myself jerk in response. I think sheís doing that to me to punish me for not responding the first time. What kind of a cruel woman would do that? And why are the other voices letting her do it?

See, itís things like that which make my existence at the moment incredibly confusing. I donít like feeling confused.

I really feel like I should be making a joke about this. If my brain would work properly, Iím sure Iíd come up with something genius.

I think that itís time to wake up.

Iíve never been a patient person, and Iím sick of things not making sense. I donít want to just hear the voices, no matter how clear they are. It isnít enough any more. I want to feel everything. There are people who are waiting for me, and I want to see them.

My thoughts spur me into action, and I once again struggle to claw my way back. Itís draining. I canít describe the mental strength it takes to return. Small flashes of consciousness and memory begin to merge together out of time and sequence, and soon I start to feel a little more like myself. I find myself focussing on the most trivial of recollections, simply to give me the will I need to continue on.

As time passes, I begin to feel myself recover.

I remember my brothersí faces, and my gold medal hanging on the wall, and dozens of little moments in my life that Iíd almost forgotten about, but I first notice something is different when I think about my father. Up until now that word has just been a vague term that I didnĎt really associate with myself, but now I can picture him. My Dad. He has blue eyes and a quiet, chuckling laugh that sounds exactly like mine. He always listens to me, even when Iím being an idiot, and he ruffles my hair when heís proud of me.

I donít know how, but somehow I know heís sitting right next to me, willing me on and supporting me, just like he always has. Heís waiting for me to come back.

It gives me renewed strength, and I take comfort in Dadís unwavering faith in me.

I sleep intermittently, and each time I awaken, I feel a little more like myself.

Thereís still a comforting sense of numbness, but now I can feel the important things.

Thereís a whole world that Iím now aware of. I can not only hear new sounds and noises - but I can also connect those sounds to tangible things; to facts.

Thereís the billowing sound of a curtain blowing in the wind to the left of me, and a steady beeping noise from a machine beside me. Thereís the hum of a computer, and something that sounds a bit like bellows. And then thereís a voice. I can understand them now, and it was worth the effort.

Iím filled with a delirious sense of euphoria that my fight is nearly over: I can finally hear my brother.

Itís Alan. Alan is speaking to me. I feel like jumping for joy at the sound of my little brotherís voice, and allow myself a moment just to relish in my own achievement. I want to hear him talk about that ridiculous red sports car, and all those little mechanical details that he rambles on about. I want to know how his last race went. Did he win? I must have missed so much.

Iím so happy and excited that it takes a moment for me to realise that something isnít quite right. I pause, listening to him as best I can.

Alan sounds exhausted.

That elated sense of triumph slowly fades as I concentrate on my brotherís hollow voice. Iíve never heard him sound like that before. He sounds as tired as I feel, and his voice is almost completely devoid of feeling. Why is he talking like that? I try to focus on what heís saying, instead of just the sound of his voice.

ď ÖHe wasnít happy about us making him leave, Gordo, you should have seen his face.Ē

He sounds like heís smiling, but thereís no humour in his voice.

ďHe needed the sleep, though,Ē he continues numbly. ďWeíve all been a little off the past few weeksÖif I were you, I wouldnít want to wake up to the atmosphere round hereÖĒ

He tails off into silence. I wish I could see him. Knowing Alan, heíll be fidgeting and trying not to look at me. He was never good with heart to hearts. I want to tell him a joke to cheer him up, but thereís nothing funny about this.

ďHeíll be ringing soon to check in with the doctors,Ē he continues, his voice still in that quiet dull tone that sounds so unlike him. ďWould you like to talk to him on the phone? Heíd love to talk to you again. Imagine if you woke up at the one time he leaves you. Thatíd be some practical joke. Your best everÖall you have to do is open your eyes.Ē

I think about that. He wants me to open my eyes. It doesnít seem like something Iím capable of. I try a littleÖI canít do it. I can almost feel Alanís eye boring into mine as he wills me to respond, and I so want to do what he asks, but I canít.

There is a long silence.

ďÖPlease open your eyes, Gordon.Ē

Alanís plea is whispered so quietly itís almost inaudible. Thereís a desperation in those words that shocks me to the core. I try. I really try to force my eyes open, but I canít. Itís like I canít connect my thoughts to my body; the numbness is still stopping me.

There is silence in the room, and I can sense Alan is waiting for a response that will not come. I hear him sigh quietly, and he doesnít speak for a long time.

I donít like this.

I donít like making my brother sad.

Why canít I move?

I listen to the silence, straining to hear Alan say something else, but he doesnít. I can hear a hitch in his breathing, and then a sniff; then thereís a quiet breathy noise as my little brother cries beside me. The sound is muffled slightly. I think his hand is over his mouth to remain as quiet as possible. He doesnít want me to hear.

I donít like this.

I thought I wanted to hear the voices, but this hurts. I want to talk to Al and I canít. Why canít I do it? Whatís happened to me?

I start to panic.

I want to see Al and I canít.

Whatís happened to me?

I try to take a deep breath but I canít do that either. Something is in my throat. I canít breathe. A machine starts beeping loudly next to me, and I can hear Al shouting something.

Iím upset.

I canít breathe.

I want to wake up.

Why canít I wake up?

Chapter Three

When I come back to myself, the first thing on my mind is Alan. I hope heís okay. I donít mean to make him upset like that, but I canít help it.

I donít know how much time has passed since he spoke to me and, for the first time, I find that alarming. How long have I been putting him through this? Alan never cries, and that emotional outpouring must have been building up since this first happened.

Guilt weighs heavily on me now. Alan is upset, which means the whole family must be upset too. Without realising it, Iíve been making them all miserable.

Iím so caught up in considering the events of earlier, that I almost donít notice the change in sensation that has occurred.

The darkness is gone and soft light penetrates my eyelids. Itís strange to see light after so long in the dark, and it takes a little while for me to adjust. I want to open my eyes so desperately, but I still find myself unable to do so.

I listen out for any familiar voices around me, for some indication of where I am, but I find myself in a silent room; well, not completely silent. There is still the sound of a computer, and that beeping noise, but if anyone is sitting with me then they arenít in a talkative mood. I can hear movement though; Iím sure someone is standing right beside me. I gradually become aware of the scratch of a pen on paper, and then a rustling sound as the person moves around me. A womanís voice breaks the silence and I listen closely.

ďMr Tracy, itís Doctor Bradley. Itís time for your GCS tests again.Ē

She has that same dull tone that Alan had before, only sheís a little better at hiding it than Alan. Sheís not fooling me: she doesnít want to be here any more than I do. Itís strange how I can hear little things like that in a personís voice now. I donít think Iíve ever been so perceptive: maybe itís a superpower? I feel like laughing at the thought as the doctor moves around me, and eventually stops, sighing wearily.

ďOkay, letís get this underway. Can you feel my fingers on your hands?Ē

I canít feel my own fingers, let alone hers. What a ridiculous question. And why is she calling me Mr Tracy? Thatís my father. Iím Officer TracyÖor Gordo, if you like. She sounds quite pretty actually. I wonder what she looks like?

Iím thinking about a tall blonde woman with blue eyes when thereís a sharp pain from somewhere. Without thinking, I yank my arm away from the pain. That hurt! Suddenly Doctor Bradley isnít sounding all that hot, why did she do that?!

ďVery good, Gordon,Ē she commented brightly. ďYour father will be pleased with that. Youíre up to a four now.Ē

A four in what? What am I a four in? I wish she would stop talking in riddles. First sheís causing me injuries, and now sheís confusing me with random numbers. Iím starting to feel tired again, and she is not improving my mood in the slightest.

ďNext one is a little trickier, Gordon. Can you open your eyes for me?Ē

I pause and think carefully about what sheís asking. Sheís not the first person to ask me to do this recently. I really want to open my eyes, if only to prove to Alan that Iím still in hereÖbut with every passing moment Iím growing gradually more weary. Even if I werenít so tired, I donít think I could bring myself to do it.

Thereís a loaded pause, until the woman moves again beside me.

ďGuess not, huh? Donít worry, youíll get there eventually. How about speaking? Do you think we can get some noise out of you today? Can you say your name?Ē

Gordon. My name is Gordon. I say it over and over again but the numbness prevents me from making a sound. Itís frustrating to the point of madness. I canít help but think that if I could just keep myself awake then I could do as she asks, but that's proving difficult.

ďIf you can hear me make a soundÖjust a little sound, thatís all I want.Ē

Iím screaming, desperate for her to hear me, but she remains completely oblivious.

I hate this.

I donít like this Doctor Bradley, and I donít like having my limitations laid out so bare in front of me. All these questions have exhausted me. I donĎt want to think anymore. This is a miserable state of affairs, and I want to sleep again.

If Doctor Bradley asks anything more of me, I donít hear it. Iím completely drained and, for once, I welcome the darkness as it sweeps over me once again.

Time passes

When I wake again, the first thing I am aware of is a familiar voice talking in a monotone. It is muffled at first, but becomes gradually more audible as I return to this peculiar state of consciousness. I can hear him clearly now, and I realise that I haven't heard his voice in a long while. Itís a similar feeling to when I first heard Dad; hearing my big brotherís voice is incredibly comforting in a way it has never been before.

I listen to him speak for a while, and feel a little like when I used to wake up after a training session in the pool. I ache, but not to the point of agony. Itís just a sense that Iíve been working hard, and my body is letting me know that it disapproves. I used to love that feeling, but now it seems out of place. I havenít done anything to warrant feeling like this.

Slowly, I stop listening to Scott and turn my attention inwards. It takes me long moments to realise why I ache like this.

Suddenly, I want to cry in relief.

I ache all over, and I canít move, but for the first time since this happened, the numbness is gone, and I can feel again. Iím lying on something soft, and I can feel my chest gently rise and fall as I breathe. There is a dry sensation at the back of my throat, and someone has taken my hand and is running their thumb up and down it. Itís not just that, though. Something else feels different. Something in my head. Iím not just stringing together facts anymore. Instead, I can connect those facts to memories and sensations. For the first time in a long time, I feel like Gordon Tracy.

Iím elated, and desperate to share my happiness with the people around me. I want to jump for joy! Thatís probably pushing it a bit, though. I think Iíll wake up before attempting any complicated acrobatics like that.

Scott is reading from a book about marine life. I can hear him turning the page as he talks about deep sea exploration. He sounds incredibly bored, and I really want to laugh at him. Thatís one good thing about being sick, I can get my brothers to do things theyíd never normally do.

Iím tempted to torture him for a little while longer, and let him read right to the end of the book, but I think the poor guyís been through enough.

No excuses now. Itís time to respond.

Iím not going to be beaten by a silly little carbon fibre boat that didnít even work properly in the first place.

Iím a Tracy. And Iím not going down that easily.

My first step is something simple. Iím going to move my hand. Moving is almost impossibly difficult, but itís not painful; Iíve just forgotten how to do it. I think for a long time about it, trying to familiarise myself with my own body again. That sounds strange, doesnít it? But itís true. Iím just not sure what muscles I need to move anymore. After long minutes of being unable to move, I begin to think about the injuries Iíve sustained...what if Iím paralysed?

I banish that thought from my mind as quickly as it appears, and focus all my attention on my right hand: I need to move my fingers. I try to picture myself moving through water, trying to mimic the movement, but that doesnít work. That hand just doesnít want to respond. The person holding it is oblivious to my struggle. He is gripping it softly, moving his thumb steadily up and down. Somehow I know itís Dad. He hasnít said a word but I know itís him.

This is my final struggle.

I steel myself, and summon all I have left, channelling all the energy I can muster into forcing my fingers to move. Success! I can feel my index finger jerk in response at first, then my hand slowly curls around Dadís. I feel him jump, and the room goes quiet.

ďWhat is it?Ē

Dad is silent, gripping my hand experimentally.

ďDad, what is it?Ē Scott repeats.

Come on, Dad, tell them. Tell them Iím here.

Dad is apparently ignoring all the questions, and heís leant closer to me, whispering my name hesitantly.

ďÖGordon?ÖCan you hear me, son?Ē

I can. I can hear you. Why canít I talk? Iím so tired after that effort. I want to drift again, just for a little while, but Dad is still talking to me.

ďSon, come on now. I know I didnít imagine that.Ē

ďImagine what, Dad? We- ď

ďHold on, Alan,Ē John interrupts. Thatís not like him at all.

Dadís voice is quiet and determined as he continues, ďGordon, I know youíre tired, butÖyou can hear me. I know you canÖSqueeze my hand again, son. You can do it.Ē

He wants me to do it again? It was difficult enough the first time, but my fatherís unwavering faith in me makes me steel myself to try again. Now I know the parts that need to move, I remember a little better.

I try for several moments with no response, and I can sense my brothers sitting back in their seats, clearly thinking their father is going insane. Dad is silent, and I know why; heís waiting for me to act.

That spurs me on and, drawing from reserves of energy I didnít know I had, I curl my fingers slowly over. I hear a choked gasp from someone, and a beep as someone else presses a button by my head. The boys are all moving around me again.

ďThatís good, Gordon,Ē Dad continues, his voice still lovely and calm. He sounds like heís smiling. ďThatís really good. Can you open your eyes for us?Ē

Eyes. Right. This time Iíll do it. I try, but my eyelids feel incredibly heavy. I donít succeed, but there is an audible reaction from the people around me. Clearly I did something.

ďCome on, Gordon, keep trying. You can do it.Ē Thatís Virgil! Are they all here? I try again, and manage to open them just a crack, the blurry lights flickering in my sight for only a moment. The light is painful, so I shut them again almost immediately, but the reaction from everyone is amazing. They cheer, whoop and laugh loudly, and the noise is completely overwhelming, until Dad hushes them.

When the room is once again silent, I open my heavy eyelids slowly, blinking as I get used to the new sensation. The room is blurry, but becoming clearer with every passing moment.

There are people standing around my bed. They slowly come into focus. Dad is there, and all my brothers. Theyíre all looking at me with tears in their eyes. Thereís another man, too. Heís wearing a white coat.

ďHi, Gordo,Ē Alan says. He looks nervous. I try to smile at him, but thatís difficult. Now Iím awake the tiredness has hit me like a freight train. I breathe in, and feel something in my nose thatís supplying me with oxygen.

I try to respond to Alan, but my voice so cracked and hoarse itís barely audible, even to me. I feel like thereís barely enough strength in me to even stir the air. Dad turns to the doctor, still holding my hand gently.

ďCan I give him some water?Ē

The doctor nods and Dad turns away from me, only to return a moment later with a glass of water.

ďSip it slowly,Ē he gently instructs, putting a straw at my lips as dad works his hand under my neck and gently lifts my head.

I do as he says, and sip the liquid slowly. The cold water is heavenly but, as I swallow, I feel how dry my throat is and I canít help but cough weakly. I am reminded of the aching sensation throughout my entire body, but I am somewhat removed from it now; I don't know whether that's tiredness, or if it's due to whatever medication they have put in the IVÖor it could be a sign of something worse. Before I can even begin to dwell on that, Dad takes the drink away and lowers me gently back onto the pillows. He quickly resumes his position in the chair beside me, taking my hand between his.

ďBetter?Ē he asks. I try to nod, but canít find the energy. I try to say Ďthank youí but it just comes out as a murmur. Everyone smiles, though. I think they understood.

I look at Dad wearily as the doctor steps forward and starts to examine me. Dad looks tired and worn, and since the last time I saw him it would seem heís lost weight. The lines on his face are etched deeper than normal. I look at him and try to speak, but again, it seems to be quite difficult. I wonder why? Dad notices the movement, and smiles, looking as though heís about to cry. I just watch him as he gets his emotions back under control.

ďYouíve done so well,Ē he says gently, brushing a strand of hair from my face. ďIím so proud of you.Ē

I shut my eyes, just focussing on the feeling of his hand in mine as the doctor checks the many monitors around me. I curl my fingers around his again gently, and he squeezes back. Itís strange how that little action takes so much energy.

I know that Iíll sleep soon, but thereís one thing I need to do first, if only for myself.

I slowly open my eyes again and look over to my brothers, all of whom look as though theyíre torn between bursting into tears and exploding with excitement. I smile without even thinking about it, a lopsided, weary smile that sums up how the entire room is feeling.

The boys all grin back at me, though itís apparently too much for Scott, who quickly turns his back to me. Virgil laughs and puts a hand on his shoulder sympathetically. Scottís never been big on public displays of emotion. John has tears running down his cheeks, but I donít think heís noticed, and Alan is just grinning from ear to ear; I canít help but respond in kind.

ďWelcome back, bro," Alan says, still grinning. I slowly inhale the cool oxygen, and sigh.

ďThanks,Ē I breathe. My voice is slurred and cracked from lack of use, but it doesnít matter: Iím back with my brothers. Thereís a choked noise from Scott as I speak, and Virgil nudges him in a half affectionate, half joking manner. I laugh breathily at that.

Thereís so much I want to say, but the effort of waking has finally caught up with me.

I know that, now Iím awake, the real recovery begins; but I donít worry about any of that. I close my eyes and drift into a calm and contented sleep.

I know that my family will be here when I wake up.

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