The journey back was a quiet one. For some unknown reason, Gordon didn’t voice his suspicions to his brother regarding the accident. His fingers were closed around the rough end of the object sitting in his pocket, yet Gordon stayed quiet. He was sure Virgil wouldn’t believe him. After all, it wasn’t as if either he or Scott had seen anything, and Gordon was already ashamed of how he had reacted after the crate had fallen. He had faced death more times than he would like to remember and yet had still found himself somewhat hysterical this time. Maybe it was just how surreal the whole thing had been – the ducks, the crate, Scott ending up in the river, Virgil’s impeccable timing…
As if sensing Gordon’s uncharacteristically reserved mood, Virgil too stayed quiet, his own mind going over the accident. He had decided that he would double back and join his brothers after not being able to catch sight of them when he had stored the Firefly. With the pod locked up and ready to go, he had set off at a casual stroll towards where he had last seen them, convinced that Gordon would not yet have finished checking the crates and he would have time to meet them before all three headed back to the ‘birds. He couldn’t say why, but something had given him the sudden urge to run, and before he knew it, he was hearing Scott yell at their younger brother to duck. Sprinting into the area, Virgil had taken in the sight for only a split second before instinct took over and he had flung himself at Gordon. Shuddering slightly as he glanced over at the redhead, Virgil grimaced at the faraway look in his little brother’s eyes. No matter what Gordon said, this latest accident had shaken him.
Before barely any time had passed, Virgil was radioing through for permission to land, Gordon finally snapping himself out of the circles his mind had been travelling in and helping his brother run through the post-flight checks. With years of practice at working together behind them, the pair were done in only a matter of moments, yet the silence stretched on between them as they journeyed upstairs.
Stepping through to the lounge, Virgil winced at the look his father immediately shot him. Scott was already there, and judging by the shorts and open shirt he was now wearing, not to mention the telltale signs of a towel having been dragged somewhat ferociously through his hair, Virgil knew that his brother had been back for long enough to get changed. That was the one thing he envied about Scott getting the faster ‘bird. It might mean that he had to be at the rescue zones for longer, but it also meant that he was able to get home and changed before his brothers. Not that Virgil would ever tell him that, however, his brother’s head was inflated enough when it came to One’s capabilities.
“We’ll leave the debriefing until after you two have got cleaned up then, shall we?” Jeff asked casually, sitting back in his chair as he took in the sight of his two mud-splattered sons, a smile crossing his mouth as he did so. Why was he not surprised to see that the pair of them had come back filthy? The day Virgil returned clean would be the day Jeff wondered about the existence of IR. Glancing down at himself, Virgil grimaced before shooting his father a sheepish grin. Grabbing Gordon – who had yet to say anything – by the arm, he pulled his brother from the room.
“I see what you mean, Scott,” Jeff said as he watched his sons disappear, returning to the conversation he had been having with his eldest before his younger brothers had arrived home. “Definitely quiet.”
Scott had had long enough between drying off and waiting for Thunderbird Two to land to give his father a quick summary of the situation. Considering he had arrived home still practically dripping water he hadn’t been able to get away with saying nothing, since Jeff had immediately wanted to know what had happened to warrant the state of his son. He was sure he had sent them to tackle fires, not a flood. Due to the communication channels being open between the ‘birds on the way home, Scott too had taken note of Gordon’s silence. Normally when they were returning home, Virgil was doing all he could to shut the redhead up, but this time, barely a word had passed between them.
“Do you think it is because he was sure he checked them? It’s just unnerved him that he made a mistake?”
Catching the note in Scott’s voice, Jeff turned towards his oldest son.
“Don’t you dare pull him up on it, Scott Carpenter Tracy. If he is this quiet, it means he knows the consequences of what could have happened as a result of him making a mistake, especially as he was nearly the one to experience those consequences. You pulling him rank on him isn’t going to help.”
“Dad, I wasn’t going to!” Scott protested, shifting uncomfortably at how easily his father had been able to read him. He wasn’t going to deliberately do it, that was for sure, but Scott was almost certain that something would have slipped out of his mouth during debriefing, and considering the mood Gordon was in, it could have been dangerous. Whilst generally being the most laidback of the Tracys, when Gordon snapped, his brothers were surprised the entire world didn’t feel his fury. He took after John in that sense – it took a lot to get them worked up, but when their storm hit, it lasted a lot longer and with a much greater intensity than any of their siblings’.
“Mm hmm,” Jeff responded, sounding more than disbelieving as he took in Scott’s shifting stance with amusement. How the Field Commander thought he could persuade his father otherwise was beyond Jeff; he had sat through enough debriefings to be able to tell how the boys would react just by the way they asked for permission to land. Not that they realised that, however, they all thought they were able to hide their emotions whilst still being in rescue mode. From the rest of the world, maybe, but from their father? Never.
Glancing up, Scott relaxed from his awkward position as he caught sight of Alan standing in the doorway, leaning casually against the frame as he watched his older brother, almost as if he was trying to get the measure of Scott’s reaction to the rescue. The youngest Tracy had not been in the room when Scott had reported the accident, and his oldest brother had no intention of telling him just how close it had been for Gordon.
“Hey, Sprout. You okay?”
“How’d it go?” Alan asked, moving further into the room and once more resuming his position on the couch, leaning back comfortably with one arm slung over the back as he waited for Scott’s response. Knowing that Alan was hoping he hadn’t missed out on a good one, Scott grinned.
“Nothing special. Numerous fires needed putting out. We did so. End of story really.”
“What force was needed from the Firefly?” Alan pressed, ever the quizzical one for details on the rescues. Before Scott could answer him, however, their father cut in, standing up from his desk as his eyes twinkled over to his youngest son.
“Wait until debriefing, Alan. I’m sure Scott doesn’t want to have to run through the same information twice. Where have your brothers got to?” Just as he made to stride over to the door in order to inform the two missing sons that they needed to hurry up before they forgot the details of the rescue – something that had been known to happen in the past – Virgil reappeared. Striding into the room, he moved straight past Scott and collapsed onto the sofa next to Alan, causing the younger man to have to remove his arm fairly quickly in order to avoid being squashed.
“Gordon not back yet?” he eventually asked, finally having realised who was still missing. Jeff wouldn’t connect through to Five until all were present, knowing that John hated having to just sit there and watch whilst keeping an ear out for any potential rescues at the same time.
“I’ll go find him,” Alan volunteered, attempting to navigate his way around Virgil and climb off the couch, not made easy by the fact that the more artistic of his brothers was practically sitting on top of him. Watching Alan’s struggle, Scott grinned.
“I’ll go.” And so saying, the Field Commander strode from the room, pausing at the foot of the stairs for a moment in order to collect his thoughts. It wasn’t just the fact that Alan was having trouble moving that had Scott wanting to go. Gordon was the quickest of them all when it came to scrubbing down after the rescue, and thinking back on his brother’s quietness on the way home, Scott knew immediately that there was something else going on. They had all messed up at some point on a rescue; there was always so much going on that it was almost inevitable for something to go wrong. But never before had Gordon taken it so personally, that was more Alan’s normal route than his immediate older brother’s.
In a way, it was his supposed mistake that had Gordon hesitating from going down the stairs in order to join the rest of the family for the debriefing session. He knew that he would have to move soon, his father didn’t like having to wait for too long, but instead, Gordon found himself perched on the edge of his bed, the end of the rope in his hands. It didn’t matter how much he stared at it, no obvious answer revealed itself other than the fact that it had clearly been cut. Gordon couldn’t say what with – something sharp if it could glide through this thickness of rope so easily – but he found that he had a more worrying thought on his mind. He knew that he had checked the crates securely; there was no way that this rope was the slightest bit frayed when he had looked at it. Despite what Scott said, he would have noticed. And yet someone had clearly cut it after Gordon had been up there. Shuddering slightly, Gordon suddenly threw the rope across the room, his burning glare following it. As soon as he had returned to ground level, he had stayed in the same position until Virgil pushed him out of the way. Meaning that whoever cut the rope must have known he was standing directly underneath. This was no mistake on his behalf; someone had attempted to kill him. The big question was: who?
“Gordon? You coming down?”
Hearing Scott directly outside of his door, Gordon jumped to his feet, fixing a smile back on his face and bounding across the room. Pulling it open, he quickly moved past his brother, taking the stairs two at a time and skidding to a halt at the lounge door. Pausing, he twisted back to regard his brother’s much slower descent.
“Come on, Scott, we’re all waiting. I know you’re getting old and all that, but whilst some of us are still young? Please?”
Darting through the door with a laugh the instant he heard Scott pick up his pace, Gordon practically slipped across the floor on his knees, coming to a smooth stop in front of Alan and Virgil. If there was a manoeuvre he had practised more than once, it was this one. Kneeling upright, he proceeded to grab Alan’s ankle, yanking his younger brother off the seat and onto the floor, before springing up and claiming the seat for himself. As Alan turned around with an indignant expression, Gordon found himself gripping on tighter to the cushions as Virgil too turned towards him, eyebrows raised.
“What’s up, Allie? You like it down there, don’t you?”
“I’m going to kill you, Gordon,” Alan responded threateningly, standing back upright before grabbing his brother by the legs. No matter how much Alan pulled, Gordon merely tightened his grip, making adamantly sure that the younger man would not be able to succeed in budging him from his now comfortable seat. Out of the corner of his eye, he was vaguely aware of Scott entering the room, a grin splitting over his face at the fact that Alan was getting Gordon back for him. Trading amused glances with his father, Scott simply stepped back in order to see what was going to happen.
“You aren’t moving me!”
“Oh yes I am!” Alan yelled back, pulling harder against Gordon’s legs, determined that he was going to get his seat back. Glancing over his shoulder, he couldn’t help but grin at the look Virgil shot him over Gordon’s head, the latter having slipped down somewhat in his seat despite desperately still holding on. Before Gordon knew what was happening, Virgil grabbed his brother by the shoulders, pushing him forcibly forward at the same time as Alan gave another tug. Unable to go against the pair of them, Gordon slipped somewhat gracefully from the seat, landing in a heap on the floor. Before he could move, Alan had darted past, jumping back on the furniture with a shout of victory.
“Are we ready now, boys?” Jeff finally broke in, the amusement in his tone reflected by the smile dancing across his face, eyes sparkling as he watched his sons’ antics. It was nice to see them this relaxed, especially after a rescue. As Virgil swung his legs up, resting his feet on Gordon’s shoulders and forcing the younger man to stay on the floor, Jeff patched them through to Thunderbird Five.
The debriefing only took half an hour, all three boys reporting on their role in the rescue, Alan finally getting the information he had been desperate for. John chipped in the few bits he knew with regard to how the fires had started, having kept communications open with the local services, but the teams had no new information for them. For all International Rescue knew, it had been an accident, nothing more.
Gordon, however, kept quiet from his position on the floor. Until he had any further proof – especially since he knew Scott’s ideas regarding how the accident had happened – the redhead had no desire to voice his suspicions. How was he supposed to say that he believed the fires were deliberate and that the whole rescue had been some sort of set-up in order to hurt them? He didn’t even know whether the person had been after him, the Tracys or International Rescue. Or was the aquanaut really just seeing things when all it had been was his own mistake, and simply didn’t want to acknowledge that? There was nothing he could say that would not immediately cause panic, something he was not prepared to do until he had further proof that there was something to panic about.
“Oi, fish feet.” Giving his brother a nudge in the shoulder with his heel, Virgil brought his brother back to reality just as Scott strode from the room. The redhead hadn’t been listening to the idle chatter being passed between the rest of the family for a while now, knowing that the debriefing had finished so he wasn’t needed in terms of International Rescue. The rest of the family had, of course, noticed his silence, but knowing that something was troubling his brother, Virgil had sent round a look that clearly told the rest of the family to not push the water-loving Tracy.
“Hmm?” Gordon responded, blinking as he suddenly became aware of the fact that the rest of the family were watching him, curious and slightly concerned expressions etched into their faces. Twisting around, he finally dislodged his brother’s feet from his shoulder even as Alan stood up, making to follow Scott from the room.
“You coming? We’re going to the pool.”
“I’ll be there in a sec. John? You busy? I need a favour.”
“You okay, Gords?” John voiced not only what was going through his mind, but that of his younger brothers’ and his father’s at the same time. It was most unlike Gordon to not butt in as much as he could in a debriefing, but this time he had barely uttered a word. John knew how Scott felt about the accident – he had voiced his concerns on his journey home – and that was why he had left the room now. A glance between him and his brothers had given away the fact he wanted them to press the younger man about what was wrong, but hadn’t wanted to say the wrong thing. Despite not uttering a word, the rest of the family had agreed on the fact that they would be more likely to get an answer out of Gordon if he was in the water. At least that way, any sign he was getting stressed would be immediately vented through a couple of furious laps, rather than exploding in a rarely seen temper.
“Yeah, I’m good, just need to check something.”
“We’ll meet you out there then, squirt.” Grabbing onto Alan’s arm, Virgil proceeded to drag him out of the lounge, only vaguely aware that he was mirroring the exact way he had removed Gordon from the room barely an hour ago. Realising that his fourth-born wanted some time alone with John, Jeff also stood up, muttering something about needing a coffee and striding from the room, telling Gordon that he could use his desk.
Waiting until Gordon had picked himself up off the floor and settled down in their father’s big chair, propping his feet up on the desk as he did so, John fixed his brother with the look that made the redhead feel like the older man could see straight through him.
“So what’s wrong?” John asked somewhat bluntly, knowing that tact never worked with Gordon. Besides, the fact that he had waited until the rest of the family had gone until he voiced whatever it was that was troubling him told John that his brother was unsure about something. When Gordon was certain, John had never met anyone with more confidence in voicing that opinion. But when he wasn’t so sure, however, Gordon could be as quiet as his older blond brother.
“What makes you think that anything is wrong?” Gordon asked, leaning back in the chair and swivelling it from side to side slightly, doing anything to avoid John’s piercing gaze. “Maybe I just wanted to talk to my awesome big brother?”
“Now I know something is wrong,” John responded with a laugh. Gordon suddenly sat up straight, placing his feet back on the floor as he leant forward. Locking his fingers together, Gordon rested his chin atop of them, not realising how much like his father he looked as he in turn fixed John with a stare.
“You keep the readouts from a rescue, don’t you, Johnny?”
“You know I do, for a while, anyway. It makes debriefing easier when things aren’t certain. Why?”
“Do you have the heat sensor one?”
“I do, but…”
“John, did you notice anything? Anyone that shouldn’t have been there, going in the wrong direction to be helping with the rescues?”
Frowning at the almost desperate tone in Gordon’s voice, John sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair as he did so.
“Gordy, I can’t help you. You know what it is like with fires, the readings are all over the place. I don’t recall noticing anyone else, but I was too busy monitoring the rescue teams when it happened.”
“When what happened?”
“Come on, Gordon, I know why you are doing this. Everyone screws up occasionally, we’re only human, even Scott despite what you and Alan may think.” His attempt to cheer Gordon up almost fell on deaf ears, however, as Gordon continued to frown in contemplation, clearly wanting to trust John, but unable to shake from his mind’s eye what he had seen at the accident zone.
“I checked those ropes, John, they were secure.”
“And I believe you, squirt. But you were up a crane; that thing has metal poking out all over it. All it would have taken was a slight gust of wind and it would have sliced straight through one of those ropes.”
Biting his lip, Gordon had to admit that John’s explanation made sense. But it didn’t explain the footprints. But now he was thinking about it, Gordon suddenly found that he was no longer certain of what he had seen. Did someone smudge his footprints, or did he smudge someone else’s? After all, he’d seen no one around, and when he was in his rescue mode, not a lot could get past the redhead. Was he just being paranoid?
“Gordon?” Waiting until Gordon had turned his attention back to his space-bound brother, John smiled gently. “It was an accident, kid. They happen. All that matters is that you are okay.”
“I am so not a kid, space-face,” Gordon moaned good-naturedly, smiling his first genuine smile since the incident. John was right, accidents did happen. Who would be trying to kill him, anyway?
“You okay?” John asked, watching his little brother closely. He could almost see the raging thoughts going on behind Gordon’s eyes, but on seeing the smile, felt himself relax somewhat. If Gordon could accept that things did sometimes go wrong, it would certainly make things a lot easier between the redhead and his oldest brother. John knew that Scott had already run his mind over the chances that someone had been trying to hurt his little brother, it was what made Scott, Scott. But after running various scenarios past John on the way home, even the Field Commander had to admit he didn’t see how someone could have done it without being seen. Accepting that it was an accident, however, only meant that Scott knew Gordon might have messed up.
“Yeah, sorry, John. Just been watching too many movies, I guess. Stupid, isn’t it?”
“Hey,” John butted in, hearing in Gordon’s voice how upset the young man was. John wasn’t surprised; after all the guy had almost been crushed on a rescue that should have barely caused them any trouble. “It’s never stupid, Gordy. Not to me. If you believed someone was there, you had every right to be suspicious.”
“Thanks, John. I better go and stop Alan kicking Virg’s butt.”
“Good luck,” John responded in mock sincerity, the pair of them trading knowing grins. If Virgil still believed that Alan knew about Gordon’s wake-up call that morning, the youngest Tracy wouldn’t stand a chance. Just as Gordon reached out a hand to disconnect himself from Thunderbird Five, John spoke again.
“Oh, and Gordon? Tell Scott to give me a call, won’t you, kid?”
“F.A.B., Johnny. Talk to you later.” And with that, Gordon signed off, wondering what John needed to talk to Scott about. Whatever it was, Gordon wasn’t going to complain; he had a new desire to put as much distance between him and his oldest brother as possible. As Field Commander, Scott didn’t like it when any of them made a mistake on a rescue that could potentially endanger lives.
Wandering out of the room, his mind full of different ways the rope could have been cut without anyone being there, Gordon found his new desire didn’t last very long as he practically crashed headlong into Scott. Stumbling backwards, he glanced up, startled, as a pair of hands grasped onto his shoulders, steadying him.
“Steady on.” Scott said lightly, his eyes searching his little brother’s face for some indication of how the talk with John had gone. If there was anyone who would be able to get through to the water-loving Tracy, it was John. The two of them had always been close, despite the bond between Gordon and Alan, and if John was on the case, it was the one time Scott was prepared to step back and let his younger brother take over.
“John wants to talk to you,” Gordon mumbled, suddenly becoming very interested in his feet as he refused to meet Scott’s eye. His big brother, however, knew immediately what the redhead was doing – not to mention feeling. Capturing Gordon’s chin in his hand, he tilted the aquanaut’s face towards him.
“You did good out there, Gords. You did good.” And so saying, he let go again, moving past Gordon and reaching out a hand to ruffle his kid brother’s hair on the way past, laughing out loud at the response he received for his actions. He knew by the complaint that came out of Gordon’s mouth that he was going to be okay, that he had accepted that Scott didn’t blame him for the accident. As if he would, however. Scott had honestly thought that his heart was going to stop when he realised that he wasn’t going to reach his brother in time and that Gordon seemed incapable of moving. One thing the dip in the river had done, however, was help him snap back into reality.
Glancing over his shoulder as Scott disappeared into the lounge, Gordon grinned, feeling a sudden weight being lifted from him. Navigating his way through the hallways and out through the kitchen to double back around to the pool, he found himself pausing, grin still firmly in place as he took in the sight before him. Virgil had Alan swung over his shoulder, but was still struggling to hold onto his younger sibling as he pulled the blond over to the pool. Making to dump him in, Virgil certainly wasn’t expecting Alan to react in the way he did.
As soon as he had left the safety of his brother’s shoulder, Alan reached out a hand, latching onto Virgil’s wrist even as he fell. With an almighty splash, both brothers hit the water at the same time, Gordon diving in straight after them. As he pushed Alan under the water before darting out of his brother’s reach, Gordon found himself floating lazily on his back as he gazed up at the sky for a few moments. Life here was everything he could ever ask for. Who would want to take that away from them, especially considering how much good they did the world on a day-to-day basis? No, he was definitely being paranoid thinking that someone was after them.
As Virgil grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and dragged him under, Gordon pushed the thoughts of the cut rope firmly from his mind.