Ruth Tracy sat comfortably back in her armchair, a nice cup of tea next to her as she waited for her old friend to come back through from the kitchen. Despite adoring every moment she spent on the island, the old woman had to admit she enjoyed being back in Kansas. She wouldn’t swap her family for the world, but living on an island with her son and five grandsons was enough to make any woman want to leave for the seclusion of an old farm now and again. How the boys would manage without her, she had no idea, but when Jeff had all but pleaded with her to take a vacation, well, she couldn’t refuse. Not to mention that the look he had given her was the same one that always had her crumbling, and she knew that he knew it.
“Oh Ruth, do come and see this.”
Hearing the excited note in her friend’s voice, Grandma pulled herself to her feet, pausing for long enough to set her cup down. She thought that she seemed to spend most of her time running around after someone – normally her own son – but there had been a note in the other woman’s voice that had caught her attention.
“What is it, Evelyn dear?”
“Do come and see. It’s those fine International Rescue boys on the television.”
Immediately feeling her pulse begin to quicken, Grandma hurried her way into the kitchen, attempting to keep her face neutral as Evelyn motioned for her to pull up a seat. Lowering herself almost shakily into said seat, Grandma steeled herself before looking up. She knew the boys hated being filmed out on a rescue, but it wasn’t often that the reporters managed to get away without the boys noticing.
“…and as you can see, one member seems to be on the floor, whilst the others are trying to make the assailant back away. No, wait…” As the reporter turned away to mutter something to her cameraman, her hurried tones making him zoom in on the image he was capturing, Grandma felt her heart catch in her throat. Even from the distance they were at, she could make out her boys. There could be no doubt that it was Gordon on the floor – his sash colour was clearly visible to his grandmother. How many times had she had to wash that damn thing? As she watched, whoever had dared to hurt her boys suddenly turned, and the old woman could not cover up her cry of alarm as Virgil went flying through the air, landing with a thud next to his brother. Luckily, Evelyn looked just as horrified as she did.
“Who would want to hurt those nice young men, after all the good they do? They remind me of your boys, Ruth, dear. The elder two always came to help my Kevin out on the farm in the summer… Ruth? Is everything alright, dear?”
Grandma, however, was incapable of answering. The man who had dared attack her grandsons had run for it, the emergency services in hot pursuit. The camera remained firmly on the Tracys, though. Despite being grateful that their faces weren’t being broadcast everywhere, Grandma couldn’t help but curse under her breath in a way she knew she had picked up from the boys as she realised she had no way of making sure the boys were okay. Virgil had sat back up, and as she watched, she caught sight of Alan throwing himself forward. To the rest of the world, Grandma knew it wouldn’t be clear what was happening, but knowing those boys the way she did, she knew without a doubt that the youngest Tracy would be reassuring himself with a hug. He had always been the same, ever since he was a young child.
“Ruth?” Evelyn prompted, a frown lining her face as she took in her friend’s look of horror. She knew it was horrific to think that anyone would dare hurt the members of International Rescue, but her old neighbour looked nothing short of scared. Luckily, her questioning timed exactly with Virgil helping Gordon to his feet, and as the camera turned away Grandma let out a sharp breath, facing her friend once more.
“Sorry, dear. If you’ll excuse me for a moment…?” As Evelyn nodded, confusion spiralling in her eyes, Grandma made her way out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Entering the room where she was staying, she made sure to shut the door firmly behind her before turning her attention to the phone sitting by her bedside. Without hesitating, she snatched up the receiver before dialling a well-known number.
“Kyrano? Yes, it’s Ruth, dear. I need you to get my son for me.” Finding she was almost clucking her tongue in impatience as the loyal manservant jumped to do her bidding, Grandma glanced down at the hand resting in her lap, frowning in annoyance when she noticed that it was trembling slightly. She had seen the boys walk away, knew that they were going to be alright. But it didn’t stop the anxiety from rushing through her as the image of Virgil flying through the air replayed itself over and over again in her mind’s eye. Eventually though, a soft voice on the other end signalled Jeff’s arrival even before he had turned his attention to the receiver.
“Jefferson? It’s your mother.”
The flight back to Tracy Island had never seemed to take as long as it did right now. Virgil had kept communications open in the sickbay, making sure that he would hear the second anything changed with his brother, but Gordon slept on. Gordon wasn’t the normal brother to suffer from migraines, and Virgil could only hope that he would be up and about in no time. Sighing wearily, Virgil couldn’t help but groan as he realised this would be the second physical he would have to put his brother through in almost as many days. Gordon was going to love that.
“Base to Thunderbird Two.”
“What’s up, Dad?” Concern immediately back in his voice as he connected through to his father, Virgil had to frown at the stressed-out features of the man. Jeff hadn’t looked that bad when he had first made contact, and that was without knowing how Gordon was. Wondering what on earth could have happened in that short space of time to warrant the new look, Virgil felt the panic begin to rise in him again.
“Can you call your grandmother when you get back?”
Whatever Virgil was expecting, it wasn’t that. Almost jolting his ‘bird as his hand slipped momentarily from the controls, Virgil took a moment to regain his composure before turning back to his father, his face incredulous.
“What?” he gaped, not actually being sure whether he had heard the man correctly. To start with, he had no idea how his grandmother would even know something was wrong, but even if she had just called for a routine check-up of her boys, Virgil knew that his father wouldn’t have contacted him now in order to tell him that. Something bigger was going on.
“Virgil, the news teams caught the event. Everyone saw what was going on, her included.”
Swearing violently, Virgil realised just how bad things must have been considering his father hadn’t picked him up on his language throughout the whole of the rescue. Normally, despite the situations they were in, Jeff managed to balance his father and commander’s duties. To his middle son, however, the fact that his father hadn’t reacted just showed how very wrong things were within the household. Not to mention that when Scott was around, there was not a lot the younger brothers could get away with. Scott didn’t seem to know how to switch off his big brother mode, and, frowning at the uncharacteristic silence from his oldest brother which had been maintained throughout the whole of the rescue, Virgil glanced back at his father.
“Where’s Scott? Does he know? I haven’t heard from him the whole time we’ve been out here; I thought he would be making contact as soon as he found out about Gords. Hell, I thought he would be making contact as soon as he found out the other times weren’t accidents.”
When Jeff refused to answer, instead sighing deeply and studying his hands folded in his lap, Virgil felt that familiar stab of concern jab at him again.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
Without saying a word, Jeff stood up. As Virgil watched, his father made a show of turning his watch, letting the image pick up the rest of the room. Virgil caught sight of his older brother spread across the couch.
“What happened?” he all but yelled, his heart pounding uncomfortably hard at seeing the position his brother was in. “Did he collapse again? I knew he wouldn’t have stayed in the infirmary…”
“Virgil, he didn’t collapse.”
“Then what?” Virgil responded bluntly, not being sure why else Scott would be simply lying there, not with everything else that had been going on. Even on a good day it was almost impossible to get the pilot to stay still.
“He overheard John reporting that the rest of the accidents were deliberate,” Jeff muttered, sitting back down again, but finding that his eyes were locked on his oldest son. Now that it came to admitting out loud that he had had Scott sedated, he felt a dull flush begin to work its way up his neck. John’s earlier words came floating back to him and Jeff couldn’t help but wonder whether his actions had been a little extreme. “He wanted to get out there, no matter what.”
“Dad, did you do what I think you did?”
“Brains did,” Jeff admitted. He knew that Virgil would be instantly aware that their resident genius had only done so on his father’s orders, but it would set the more medically-minded of his sons at ease knowing that it was an experienced hand which had administered the drug.
“He’s gonna love that,” Virgil muttered, turning his attention from the screen and back onto the controls in front of him. “Dad, I’m coming into land. Can you clear me?”
“Cleared, son. See you in a moment.” And with that, Jeff once more disconnected, letting Virgil focus all his attention on steering the giant of a ship back into her secret station. He knew that his son would be able to do it with his eyes shut, it was a manoeuvre that he had had more than enough practice in, after all. Jeff just wanted a moment to compose himself. He hadn’t admitted to Alan why Scott was asleep on the couch, but the youngest member of the family had been so distracted when he arrived home, Jeff wasn’t completely sure whether he had noticed his brother or not. Confessing it to Virgil made him realise just how jumpy the news of the ‘accidents’ had made him. He thought he had reacted pretty well, keeping calm in order to reassure his sons. The fact that he had been so desperate to stop another one potentially putting himself in harm’s way showed that was obviously not the case.
“Base to Thunderbird Five.” Knowing that Alan was still showering – the young man tended to completely lose himself in the rushing water when something was bothering him – and that Virgil still needed to run through the post-flight checks before waking Gordon up, Jeff wanted to get the opinion of his calmest son.
“Dad?” John’s response came through almost immediately and Jeff couldn’t help but wonder whether his son had been as anxious as he had about the rest of the family. “How are they? Five’s sensors picked up the news report. I saw what happened. Virg and Gords? I was going to contact Virg, but thought he might disconnect; you know how he can be…”
“Are just fine, son,” Jeff quickly interrupted, causing John to sit back with a sigh of relief. His father couldn’t help but notice the way the astronaut’s eyes flickered over to the corner of the screen, however, clearly checking on his oldest brother.
“He’s not going to be happy,” John muttered softly, knowing that he wouldn’t have to explain to his father who he meant. Despite three of his brothers having been hurt and threatened, they were not the ones John was most worried about. He couldn’t pretend that his heart wasn’t still racing with the adrenaline rush of horror that had shot through him at seeing the news report, but something told him that the real battle was yet to come. To find out that three of them could have so easily been killed whilst he had basically been sleeping was not going to sit well with Scott, that was for sure.
“He’ll just have to deal with it,” Jeff responded firmly, locking eyes with his second-born pointedly. He knew that if John thought he was going to stay firm with Scott, he would be able to get through to his big brother, possibly even making him back down. Inside, however, Jeff was wincing. He was not looking forward to his eldest child waking up again, especially considering his reaction before.
“Dad? Are they back yet?” Alan’s silent arrival practically made Jeff jump before he turned to face his youngest. His wet hair was still sticking up at awkward angles, and there was a look in his eye that made Jeff want to pound his fist into whoever had done this. Alan was the youngest, the most protected. And yet this maniac could have still easily killed the young man. And judging by the look on his face, Alan knew it as well.
“They’re just landing now.”
“Dad, what happened to-?”
The question hanging in mid-air, Jeff followed Alan’s gaze only to find himself looking at Scott again. Sighing deeply, the father had a feeling it was going to be a very long day.
“I’ll explain later,” he muttered, standing up as he did so. “Alan, I’m going down to the silos. Virgil might need some help with your brother. Can you stay here and keep communications open? I don’t know whether we’ll need Brains or not.”
“F.A.B.” Alan responded, sounding somewhat miserable as he perched on the edge of the couch, only just missing Scott’s feet.
No sooner had Jeff disappeared through one of the concealed entrances when he felt his watch vibrate.
“John?” he sighed, knowing immediately why his older blond had contacted him straight away. John had always been the most observant of his sons, and it came as no surprise that Jeff’s excuses had been as transparent as glass to the space monitor.
“Was that the best excuse you could come up with, Dad?” John asked, sounding a mixture of amused and exasperated. “You might need Brains? You left him in a room with a sedated Scott by using that excuse?”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Jeff responded, slightly sharply. He could tell by John’s sigh that his son knew that he was beginning to overstep the line, especially considering how stressed his father already was. He knew what John was getting at though. Alan had been through too much on the rescue already, and not knowing how they were going to find his brothers, Jeff had no desire for him to be faced with anything else. He turned to Gordon more than Scott for reassurance, especially if he was trying to avoid bringing the smother hens down on him. With Gordon out of action, things were about to become a lot more stressful for the youngest son. As John disconnected – although not before his father caught the signs of another coughing fit – Jeff sighed heavily. He had been looking forward to the rota change over, determined to get John down to Earth and rid him of the cough. But now, he wasn’t so sure about how he felt about Alan being up there alone.
He didn’t have time to dwell on it any longer, however, as he soon found himself face to face with the looming giant machine. Punching in the access codes, he quickly followed the sounds of movement and found himself in the sick bay.
Trying to ignore the bile rising up with worry over what he was about to find, Jeff stepped forward quietly. It came as no surprise to realise that Virgil knew he was there, his son sparing him a quick glance over his shoulder before turning his attention back to what he was doing. Watching his middle child fiddle with some of the equipment, Jeff found his frown deepening.
“Virgil, what’s going on? What’s wrong with your brother? Tell me!” As Jeff ‘s voice rose with worry, Virgil finally put down the piece of machinery in his hand and sat down heavily on the end of Gordon’s bed, not seeming to realise he was mirroring Alan’s positioning with Scott upstairs. Running a hand through his hair, Virgil sighed heavily, making his father immediately regret his choice of words. He could see how worried his son was, and raising his voice wasn’t going to help matters. Crossing the sick bay, he rested his hand lightly on Virgil’s shoulder. Giving it a comforting squeeze, he repeated his questions in a softer voice.
“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Virgil muttered, glancing over at his sleeping brother. “I just thought it would be easier to do some of the tests before he woke up, especially if we have to deal with Scott as well.”
“Don’t worry about Scott, son. I’ll deal with your brother, he won’t get in your way.”
“Good luck with that,” Virgil mumbled, sounding exhausted. Crouching down in front of him, Jeff knew what was going through his son’s head.
“You did all you could, Virgil. From what Alan has told me, you saved their lives.”
“Dad, Gordon jumped off the platform. He was lucky the fall alone didn’t kill him. And when I saw him on the floor like that…I just froze. I couldn’t get Two close enough, I didn’t think I would be able to land her in time.”
“But you did, Virgil.”
“Son, stop it,” Jeff interrupted gently, knowing that if he didn’t distract Virgil now, his boy would get more and more worked up about what could have happened. All the boys were the same, especially the older three, although the Terrible Two could have their moments.
“Dad, someone is trying to kill us, and judging by what has happened so far, they are getting very close to succeeding.” The helplessness in Virgil’s voice immediately got through to Jeff, but this time his father had no words of comfort to offer him. Jeff knew that Virgil was right, and he could still hear John’s cry of alarm when he picked up the news feed from the rescue, the panic that Jeff himself was feeling reflected in his son’s voice. It was only chance that Gordon had managed to get to Alan in time, and that Virgil had then been able to get to them both. Rubbing a hand over his eyes wearily, Jeff knew that it had only been luck that had kept his boys alive this long. Virgil’s quick reactions at pulling Gordon out of the way… John boosting the technology to find Scott… and now today… They couldn’t rely on chance any longer.
“Come on, Virgil, let’s get Gordon upstairs.”
Nodding his understanding, Virgil rolled his neck as he climbed to his feet, desperately trying to alleviate some of the tension. Wondering whether his father meant to awaken his brother or carry him up like that, Virgil turned towards the man, meaning to voice his question. Before he could do so, however, both of their watches vibrated. Glancing down at his own, Virgil didn’t move as Jeff connected them through.
“What’s wrong, John?”
“Um, Dad…” The mixture of amusement, worry and uncertainty over what he was about to say had Virgil rolling his eyes. He had a very good idea of what John wanted to tell them.
“Get the hell out of my way, Brains!”
As the loud shout came bouncing through the silos, Virgil had to smirk. He had been right.
“Incoming?” John offered sheepishly as his father raised his eyebrows. Scott had obviously begun the descent to the silos at the very least, for otherwise even his angry voice wouldn’t have been heard. It was just a matter of how far he had got.
“Here we go,” Jeff muttered, rolling his own eyes. With a last, longing look at Gordon, he walked out of the sick bay, knowing that his oldest son was only going to do more harm than good if he continued to be so stubborn. Glancing down at Gordon, Virgil sighed.
“And I thought you were the troublemaker, Squirt.”
“Scott Carpenter Tracy, don’t you dare use that tone of voice!” Hearing his father’s equally loud shout, Virgil found a chuckle was forcing its way out. They had been joking on the rescue that Alan was the last person who would be able to calm Jeff down, but Virgil wasn’t so sure. A protective big brother was more than a match for their father.
“Virg?” Hearing a slightly slurred voice, Virgil jumped a mile in surprise, before looking down and smiling gently.
“Hey, kid. How you doing?”
“Hurts,” Gordon admitted; his voice barely audible. One look at his face and Virgil knew that it was taking all of his brother’s efforts to stay awake.
“Scale of one to ten?” Virgil asked, his voice immediately lowering in volume. He knew himself that head injuries left the victim sensitive for a while, and whatever the creep had done to his little brother, it was clearly still having some effect.
“Four,” Gordon responded slowly, his eyes beginning to close again.
“Take that as an eight,” Virgil muttered to himself as he stood back up again. “Gords, I’m going to give you something for the pain, you okay with that?”
“Doesn’t hurt that much,” Gordon argued weakly, causing his older brother to shake his head fondly. It was amazing how all of his brothers thought they could get away with lying to him like that. Besides, he could quite clearly see the pain reflected in the younger man’s eyes, not to mention the way he was struggling to stay awake. A bit of relief would work wonders.
“Sure, and Johnny doesn’t like chocolate,” Virgil responded with a smirk, placing the tablets in his brother’s hand and helping the younger man swallow them, deliberately ignoring the feeble protests he received for his actions. As Gordon winced again, Virgil gently lowered him back down onto the pillows. Almost immediately, the redhead’s eyes flickered shut as he exhaled sharply.
“What did he do to you, Gordy?” Virgil whispered, running his hand through his brother’s hair. Sighing, the artist made to stand up, only to spin sharply when he heard a colourful curse coming from the door. Leaning slightly on the frame in order to keep himself upright, Scott only had eyes for his second-youngest brother.
“Gordy!” Alan materialised behind Scott, his face slightly flushed from where he had obviously been chasing after his big brother. Motioning for them to stay quiet, Virgil had to smile as Alan immediately shot across the sick bay, perching on his brother’s bed and staring at the older man intently. Glancing over at Scott, Virgil immediately frowned when he took in the expression on his biggest brother’s face. The concern and worry that he had been expecting was indeed shining like a beacon out of his eyes as he gazed at their little brother. But his jaw was set, a frown crumpling his brow in a show of anger.
“Scott?” Virgil asked gently, moving across the room, a frown of his own emerging as he stepped closer to his brother.
“He shouldn’t have stopped me coming after you.”
Inwardly groaning, Virgil stayed quiet, not knowing what he could say that wouldn’t make his brother worse.
“Someone tried to kill my brothers and I wasn’t there to stop him. It will not happen again.”
And so saying, Scott turned on his heel. Knowing precisely where his brother was going – or more specifically, who he was going to find, since Virgil couldn’t help but notice their father was conspicuous by his absence – the younger brother shot after him. One glance over his shoulder reassured him that Alan would be able to get anything Gordon needed, but Virgil knew that it was Scott who needed him now.
He caught up with his brother just as the older man was waiting for the door to open. Signalling John on his watch with the hope that his other older brother would realise what was going on and so keep Jeff away, Virgil latched his hand around Scott’s arm.
“What are you doing?” Scott all but snarled, the anger still burning brightly out of him. Rolling his eyes, Virgil didn’t say anything. Instead, he just dug his heels in and began pulling Scott towards the cockpit. Scott’s anger may have been lending him strength, but it was no match for the determination burning in his artistic brother. Someone was already trying to pull their family apart, why make his job easier?
Not relinquishing his hold on his brother until he had forced Scott into his own command seat, Virgil finally turned to face the man properly.
“Calm down, Scott,” he said quietly, moving to stand in front of the door. He knew that if Scott had a true desire to leave, he would not be able to stop him. It was just a matter of testing how angry Scott was. Virgil was hoping that Scott wouldn’t risk hurting him just to be able to get to their father.
“Calm down?” Scott was on his feet again now, immediately beginning to pace the cockpit. To Virgil’s utmost relief, he made no effort to head towards the door. “Virgil, you’ve seen Gordon. Some creep just tried to kill our little brothers.”
“And blaming Dad isn’t going to help.”
“I should have been on that rescue. Alan wouldn’t have been at Mobile Control, and none of this would have happened.”
“Scott…” Pausing momentarily, Virgil ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “Scott, things wouldn’t have been any different if you had been there. So you might have been able to disarm the man in a way Alan couldn’t have. He still would have taken you out.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Damn it, Scott, have you seen what he did to Gordon? That kid can match you in a fight; you know that as well as I do. And yet this creep took him down with a mere flash of his eyes. Jeez, he sent me flying easily enough, and that was with a gun at his head. Things wouldn’t have been any different. In fact, he might have just taken you down quicker, and then you wouldn’t be here yelling at me.”
“I’m not yelling at you, Virg.”
“Really?” Virgil shot back, his voice dripping in sarcasm. He couldn’t help it, he just felt so frustrated with everything. In the past week, he could have lost Alan, Scott and now Gordon twice. Despite the rescue being on the other side of the world, this man had still been able to take them out. It was clear that he had connections or people working for him, possibly even both. Where could they go that would be safe?
“You okay, Virg?” His anger finally beginning to dissipate at the bitterness in his little brother’s voice, Scott stopped his pacing in order to turn to look at Virgil.
“Someone is trying to kill my family, Scott. No, I’m not okay. But neither are you. Nor are John or Alan. Gordon’s certainly not. And neither is Dad, Scott.”
“Was trying to protect you, you dork. You had just collapsed, whether you admit it or not. There is no way in hell I would have left you manning Mobile Control in that state, so it wouldn’t have made any difference whether you were there or not.”
“Virg, he sedated me.”
“That’s what you get for being such a stubborn ass,” Virgil muttered, too tired to take the argument any further. Sliding down the door until he was sitting on the floor, he let his head rest back. Sighing deeply, the artist found his fingers were playing with the cuff of his uniform. Seeing his position, Scott shook his head, coming to sit next to his brother.
“I’m not that stubborn,” he muttered playfully, giving Virgil a gentle nudge in the ribs with his elbow, determined that he was going to make the younger man smile again.
“Now who’s being stubborn?” As Virgil chuckled, nudging his brother back at the same time, Scott felt the last of his anger disappear. He couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t annoyed about his father’s actions, but he had to admit that Virgil had a point. Things might not have been any different if he had been out there, and despite sedation being slightly extreme, Scott knew that Jeff had only been trying to keep him safe. Sometimes the Field Commander forgot that he was a son as well as a big brother. To him, the others always came first, but he knew that Jeff wanted to protect them all.
“Come on, Alan might need a hand with Gordon,” Scott eventually muttered, climbing to his feet and offering Virgil his hand. Allowing himself to be pulled upright, the younger brother suddenly groaned, his father’s earlier words coming into his mind.
“I’m staying here.”
“Why?” Unable to hide his confusion, Scott felt his eyebrows rising at the look on his brother’s face. If he didn’t know any better, he would say that Virgil looked nervous.
“I’ve got to call Grandma – apparently she saw it.”
“Ouch,” Scott winced, feeling a rush of sympathy towards the younger man. “Nice knowing you.”
Shaking his head fondly as Virgil seemed to back away from the door, almost as if he was truly going to make good on his words and not leave the safety of his ‘bird, Scott grinned. Slinging his arm around his younger brother, he forced Virgil forwards and out of the cockpit. The sounds that immediately greeted them indicated that Jeff had reappeared and was in the process of helping Alan move Gordon. Feeling Scott tense, Virgil shot him a warning look, but he knew by the way Scott took a deep breath that he was going to let it go. For now at least.
Considering everything else that was going on in their family, Virgil could ask for no more.
Keeping a closer eye on his brother than he would ever admit to, Virgil led the way out of the silos, judging by the distant sound of voices that the rest of the family had managed to get Gordon as far as the elevators. Even as the voices faded away upstairs, Virgil spared Scott another glance.
“What are you going to do?”
“No, about the midgets that are taking over your room. Of course about Dad.”
Rolling his eyes, Scott gave his brother a slight shove. He could tell just how stressed-out his younger sibling was, for sarcasm wasn’t normally Virgil’s strong point.
“I don’t know, Virg. He stopped me from going after you and look what happened.”
Knowing that his brother wasn’t referring to the fact that there wasn’t anything he could have actually done, but that it was the principal of the matter, Virgil frowned.
“Scott, he’s our father.”
“He’s also our commander. But I’m not sure what role he was in when he reacted. We’ve always tried to keep a line between the family and International Rescue, but when something like this happens… Well, you know as well as I do that it can be hard to stay objective.”
“Wait a minute.” Coming to a stop, Virgil stuck out his arm, bringing his big brother to a halt as well. There was something about the way the older man had worded that last statement which, Virgil had to admit, worried him. “You’re not thinking about stopping rescues, are you?”
“I honestly don’t know, Virg. Maybe it is safer until we at least know who this creep was? You were on the other side of the world this time. How the hell has he caused the accidents – or attacks in today’s case – in both places?”
“Oi, slow coaches, are you coming?”
Hearing Alan’s yell, Virgil gave Scott a deep, searching look, worry coursing through him. He couldn’t help but think that he’d preferred it when his brother had been angry; at least he knew how to react to that side of the Field Commander.
“Promise you won’t say anything until we know how Gordon is?”
The anxiety must have been written all over Virgil’s face, for Scott sighed, but nodded. Once more leading the way, Virgil couldn’t quite believe he had even had that conversation with Scott. He had a strong feeling it was the fact that the Field Commander hadn’t been out there on the rescue that was making him talk like this, but the younger brother had certainly never heard the older man sound so concerned about the future of International Rescue. He was normally the one reassuring the rest of the family that what they were doing was the right thing. This was certainly something new.
Nothing more was said until they reached the lounge. Gordon was awake again, leaning back in exactly the same position Scott himself had recently been in. His eyes were closed, but as the two missing brothers appeared, he managed to crack one open, smiling feebly. Immediately crossing the room, Scott crouched down in front of the aquanaut.
“How you doing, kiddo?” he asked gently, his eyes flickering in concern as Gordon winced as he tried to shift position.
“Like I’ve run into a wall. Repeatedly,” Gordon muttered. Before Scott could say anything else, however, the redhead spoke again. Reaching out and grasping Scott’s wrist somewhat weakly compared to what he was normally capable of, he frowned at his brother.
“What about you?”
“Me?” Scott exclaimed, sounding incredulous as he glanced over his shoulder at his two other earthbound younger brothers. Virgil merely rolled his eyes, but Alan couldn’t help it and burst out laughing. Gordon had no idea that Scott had been sedated, Alan himself only finding out when Jeff had reappeared in Thunderbird Two, but the prankster knew his brother well enough to know that Scott was not going to be taking it well that he hadn’t been there when everything had gone wrong.
“That is a good question, son. How are you?”
Jumping violently, Scott had to admit he hadn’t even noticed Jeff appear, but as he turned, he caught the warning look that Virgil was trying to shoot him. Sighing, he knew that he hadn’t been quick enough to mask the annoyance on his face, but glancing back over his shoulder at Gordon, he knew now was not the time.
“Traumatised. Virgil called me a dork,” he whined pathetically, causing said brother to raise his eyebrows in disbelief. As Scott followed up his announcement with an impressive pout, Alan once more found himself laughing. He knew full well that was not what the issue with his oldest brother was, but he was just grateful that Scott wasn’t trying to take it further. The accidents had been winding his brother up enough; the argument earlier that day between Scott and Virgil had proven that. The youngest Tracy couldn’t help but think that should Scott raise the issue of precisely how Jeff had stopped his son going after the rest of his brothers, a full scale row of the kind not seen for a long time would emerge.
“You…” Unable to finish his sentence, Virgil just shook his head. “Moron.”
Gasping dramatically, Scott found his eyes were twinkling as he glanced over at Alan. Their little game was certainly working enough to relax their youngest brother, and letting his gaze shift onto John’s active portrait, Scott grinned. John was shaking his head at his brother, a smirk accompanying the action. He too knew precisely what Scott was doing, and, like Alan, was grateful to his brother for defusing the situation.
“Da-ad,” Scott whined, dragging the name out into two syllables the way Alan had been notorious for doing when he was young. “Virgil’s calling me names.”
“And what do you want me to do about it, Scott?” Jeff asked, amusement lacing his tone as he sat down in his chair, an unspoken message shooting between him and his oldest son. He wasn’t fooled for an instant, he knew precisely the true meaning behind the annoyance in Scott’s expression, and knew that it was nothing to do with what Virgil might have called him. The pilot had been called worse, after all. But Scott was equally aware that Jeff’s question was meant on more than one level. His father wanted to know what his son expected him to do to sort out the chaos the family was in. Scott had always had faith in Jeff, perhaps more so than the rest of his brothers. They had all looked up to Scott, but he had turned to Jeff. The father knew it was going to be important to make sure he had got his oldest son back on side. The rest of the boys followed their brother; Jeff was more than aware of that.
“Um…” Scott muttered, his grin turning more genuine when he realised he hadn’t thought this far. Dropping the pretences, he finally managed to extract his wrist from Gordon’s grip and crossed the room, ruffling Virgil’s hair as he did so and getting his hand batted away for his efforts. Shaking his head fondly, Jeff climbed to his feet, his eyes also fixed on Virgil. Crossing the room, he gently placed his hands on his son’s shoulders, visibly checking him over.
“Dad, I’m fine,” Virgil mumbled, trying to push his father away whilst avoiding eye contact.
“I want Brains to check you over properly. Who knows what that fall did – you didn’t look well at all in Two.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Almost immediately, Scott was back in front of him as well. Groaning, Virgil knew if there was going to be anything that would reunite his father and oldest brother, it would be them thinking something was wrong with him.
“A few bruises, maybe. I’m fine.”
“Give your old man peace of mind, Virg. Let Brains check you over,” Jeff said quietly, and meeting the man’s gaze, Virgil swallowed before nodding gently. There was almost a haunted look in Jeff’s eyes, something that clearly showed how much stress he was under. The last thing Virgil wanted to do was to make matters worse.
“Good man. I would have ordered you to submit, but I’m glad to see that you have more sense than your brother.”
As Scott’s face clouded over, Virgil quickly took the pilot by the arm and pushed him into a nearby seat. He had no desire to restart the debate between father and son about Jeff’s preventative measures.
“Debrief, boys. We need to know what happened out there.” As Jeff’s tone turning far more professional, Virgil caught Scott’s eye as he sat up straighter, seeing him turning slightly pale as he did so. Shaking his head, the medic knew that he was going to have his work cut out keeping both him and Gordon in check.
For the next hour, voices filled the lounge. To start with, the brothers went through the actual rescue, knowing that they couldn’t afford to leave anything out. Despite someone clearly trying to kill them, they were all aware that the rest of the world was relying on them. Trying to get that point across more adamantly than he normally did, Virgil found himself watching Scott. He had to know whether his brother had seriously been thinking about questioning their operation, or whether it had just been the frustration talking. Listening to him praise Alan for his work on Mobile Control and watching the way the youngest seemed to light up from inside with the praise, Virgil knew his answer. Scott would never give up on what they were doing, no matter how bad things got.
Eventually though, Alan knew the time had come to recount precisely what had happened. Starting off hesitantly, his voice slowly gained more confidence as he spoke about how the man had come up behind him, forcing him away from Mobile Control with the gun. Finally, Alan got to the point where he had run out of words, still slightly stunned about the way Gordon had just fallen from the sky and saved his life. Sensing the younger man was having trouble getting the words out; Virgil took over, one glance at Gordon showing that the younger man had fallen asleep once again. Speaking slowly, he began going through what had happened at their end of things. Starting with the reports that Gordon knew something was wrong by Alan’s use of code-names, he worked all the way through to finding out about the accidents and then the race to reach their younger brother in time. Finally, Virgil quietly recounted the final fight, how the man had just sent Virgil flying despite the fact that the young man had a gun aimed at his head.
“So we have no idea where he went?” Jeff asked hesitantly, turning to face John. His son immediately caught onto the man’s meaning and quickly began to bring up the read-outs from the rescue. He had already started looking through them as soon as he had found out what had happened, but for the life of him, he couldn’t get a trace on the man. If this was indeed the same man who had been responsible for the other two rescues, then this would have been the third time he had nearly bested International Rescue’s technology. For the Space Monitor, it was as good as declaring war.
“Or who he is,” Virgil muttered, sitting down himself having been pacing throughout his account. He hadn’t quite considered just how close he had been to losing both of his brothers, but reliving the moment, it had certainly shaken him.
“He knew who I was though,” Alan said quietly, seeking out Jeff’s reassurance in the silence that had fallen over the room. “Even before Gordon said my name, he knew precisely who I was.”
“This is just getting more and more dangerous,” Scott muttered, standing up himself and copying Virgil by beginning to pace. “How did he know about the rescue?”
“Scott, anyone within a fifty mile radius knew about that rescue. Even the news teams were there,” John responded quietly, trying to keep his only older brother calm.
“Fine. So what about the other two?”
“Sabotage,” a quiet voice stated, making the entire family jump. Turning, Scott found Gordon watching him. Attempting to push himself further upright, the redhead turned towards John. “You know I’m right, Johnny, I know you do.”
“You agreed that it could have been cut. And now you know there was someone else there,” Gordon pressed, determined that at least one of the brothers was going to admit that he could be right about this. They had been so quick to shoot him down previously, but now they had no choice but to see that he had a point.
“They never did find out what caused the sudden flood,” Alan cut in, thinking back on Scott’s almost disastrous rescue.
“Nor the fires,” Virgil added. Immediately, a deadly silence fell across the room, each member of both the family and the organisation thinking the same thing. Someone had set up those rescues to try and put an end to International Rescue. And now it appeared they knew they would be putting an end to the Tracy family as well.
“So who the hell is it?”’
“Dad, Penny’s trying to make contact,” John suddenly said, finally glancing back up from his readings. Nodding his understanding, Jeff flicked a switch. The most rarely used of the portraits immediately merged into the real thing.
“Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, at your service.”
“You don’t say,” Gordon muttered, receiving a warning look from his father and a nudge from Virgil at the same time. Although there was also a smile playing across Virgil’s mouth, for Penny’s need to introduce herself every time never ceased to amuse him.
“Good morning, Jeff, darling.”
“Says who?” Scott practically growled, shooting Alan a murderous look as the younger man yanked him back into his seat, just to stop his pacing.
“Enough, boys,” Jeff scolded, turning his attention back to the aristocrat as he spoke. “You have news, Penny?”
“I finally have a lead on the man caught photographing the Thunderbirds.”
Blinking, it took Jeff a few moments to catch up. He had completely forgotten about that incident. It seemed so insignificant now, compared to the idea that someone was trying to kill his sons. Even so, he knew that Penny had spent a lot of time and effort tracking down this man, and any potential threat to International Rescue was also a threat to his family.
“You have a name?”
“Not as such,” Penny admitted, glancing down as she spoke. “But we have a picture. I thought perhaps you might be able to do something with it?”
“I might be able to get a name,” the blond confirmed, although Jeff could see that his son’s mind wasn’t really on the matter. Not that Jeff could blame him; they had someone else who needed to be found long before this man.
“Alright, Penny, send it through.”
As Penny turned away, clearly intending to carry out Jeff’s instructions, the father turned back to his sons. Without saying anything, an unspoken message was sent flying around the room, a clear indication that they were going to get to the bottom of this, no matter what.
By the time he had turned back to the screen, Penny had sent through the picture. Almost immediately, a loud crash resonated through the room, causing all the boys to jump and turn simultaneously towards the door. They hadn’t even heard Kyrano come in, but the tray that was now laying on the floor clearly showed that he’d been bringing them refreshments. Virgil and Scott instantly leapt to their feet and hurried over, the latter pausing long enough to push Gordon back down as he tried to rise. As Scott quickly set about clearing up the mess, Virgil helped a slightly shaky Kyrano lower himself into the nearest chair.
“I thought you might recognise him, Kyrano, dear,” Penny said softly, her eyes fixed on the Malaysian.
“What is it? Who is it?” Scott cried, his desperate need to regain control of the situation more than evident in his voice.
“Father!” Before anyone could even contemplate beginning to answer him, Tin-Tin came hurrying into the room, her concerned eyes immediately seeking out her father. Crouching next to him with one hand resting lightly on his knee, she seemed to be searching his face intently. Knowing what the pair of them were like in being able to read each other, Jeff motioned for Scott to step back, trying to keep his son calm. Unaware that he was mirroring John’s earlier thoughts, Jeff couldn’t help but wonder whether all he had been doing for the past day or so was keeping control of his eldest son. The family couldn’t say whether Tin-Tin had managed to glean anything from her father, but eventually, she turned back to face the rest of the room. Almost immediately, her attention was drawn by the image of the man, and, letting out an audible gasp, she looked towards Jeff.
“Mr Tracy, it’s him! The one who attacked Brains and me in the desert last year!”
His face immediately clouding over as he thought back on the race against time to save their lives, Jeff frowned.
“Looks like we have ourselves two potential killers to catch,” the Tracy patriarch muttered darkly, ignoring the quizzical frown his top agent was sending him. “Boys, any…”
“Wait a second,” Gordon interrupted, sitting up properly again as he narrowed his eyes at the image. “Virgil, can you work some magic with it?”
“What’s wrong, Gords?”
“Give him a big walrus moustache,” the redhead said quietly, and knew immediately by the way Virgil’s face took on a slightly thunderous expression that his immediate older brother knew precisely what he was implying. The looks that went shooting around the rest of the family showed that they too were beginning to realise what their aquanaut was getting at, and a stony silence fell across the room. Taking control of the equipment, Virgil set about following Gordon’s instructions, wincing when he caught sight of how it was coming out. He hated having to do anything artistic on a machine, much preferring the feel of brush in his hand, but he knew that was the last thing on anyone’s mind right now. Eventually, he completed his task, and, feeling his breath catch in his throat, he turned back to face Gordon.
“Recognise him, Alan?” Gordon said quietly, his tone anything but its normal light-hearted self. His voice actually sent shivers down Jeff’s spine, for his prankster of a son sounded nothing short of deadly. Swallowing hard, Alan moved across the room to get a better look, only to stumble back slightly when he took a proper look.
“Dad, that’s him! That’s the man…”
As a rush of noise exploded in the room as each person expressed their outrage, Jeff shut his eyes. So not only had this man attempted to kill two of their members in the past, he was now back to try and destroy the family. Considering it had been a reasonable time since Penny had first been given her mission of trying to locate the man, he had obviously been monitoring their actions for some time. And if he had indeed known precisely who Alan was, he could potentially know everything about them.
“Kyrano?” Moving through the chaos that was his lounge, Jeff avoided Scott as he resumed pacing, registering Virgil’s attempts to keep Gordon sitting down before placing his hand on his old friend’s shoulder. “What is it?”
“Mr Tracy, I think I know who he is,” Kyrano whispered almost silently, swallowing hard whilst avoiding Jeff’s gaze.
“Who?” Jeff pressed, a certain sense of urgency infiltrating his voice. Kyrano might have the answers about the man who was threatening his sons; he didn’t have the time to be patient, not any more.
“He’s known as the Hood.”
It was not Kyrano who answered the concerned father, however, but Penny, speaking amazingly clearly through the noise. Despite her clipped tones, Jeff still found he had to strain his ears over the noise that was emerging from his sons. Virgil was trying to calm his older brother down, but his own posture was showing that he was just as furious as Scott, and given the chance, the two of them would have been back in their ‘birds and after this Hood character like a shot. John was shouting to make himself heard over the rest of the noise, trying to tell Virgil something, but it was clear from the look on his face that his younger brother couldn’t hear him any better than Jeff could. Alan was, as expected, talking to Gordon, but the brothers seemed to be gripping each other’s arms. It was harder to say who was trying to stop who though, Alan stopping Gordon from rising or Gordon stopping Alan from mirroring his older brothers’ actions and trying to leave. As Penny made to say something else, Jeff had had enough.
“Quiet!” he bellowed and silence immediately fell across the lounge, even Penny closing her mouth with an audible snap. She was the only one who looked surprise by his outburst, however. Even Tin-Tin merely gave him a long look before turning her attention back to her father.
“That’s better.” Jeff was barely aware of how heavily he was breathing, not realising that his eyes were reflecting the same fury that was more than obvious in his three eldest sons. “Penny, send through any information you have on this man. Boys…”
“On our way, Father,” Scott interrupted as both he and Virgil began to walk across the room.
“You’re not going after him, Scott,” Jeff said quickly, stepping into Scott’s path. Luckily for him, Virgil also paused, looking over his shoulder at his father and brother.
“We’re not going through this again, Scott.” Jeff responded, his voice much quieter this time as he locked eyes pointedly with his firstborn.
“Dad, he almost killed Alan and Gordon. Not to mention he could have seriously hurt Virgil.”
“Exactly. If he can take out three of your brothers that easily, what chance do you think you have on your own?”
“He won’t be on his own,” Virgil cut in, moving across the lounge to come and stand next to his brother, lifting his chin defiantly.
“The answer is no. Scott, don’t make me stop you again.”
“You wouldn’t,” Scott challenged, although his voice wavered with uncertainty as he glanced towards Virgil, clearly trying to find out whether Jeff could get away with sedating him again without causing more harm. As Virgil shook his head ever so slightly, Scott turned his gaze back onto Jeff. To his concern, his father just met his look steadily.
“Who says I meant you? I still need to get Virgil checked over.”
As Virgil caught onto his meaning and stumbled back a few paces, shaking his head frantically, Scott swallowed hard. Raising his eyebrows, Jeff let his hand wander slowly towards his watch.
“Stand down, Scott.”
“You wouldn’t risk it…”
“Scott, please,” Virgil practically begged, continuing to back away from his father. In normal circumstances he knew that the thought wouldn’t have even crossed Jeff’s mind. But he himself could feel that sense of desperation, the need to do something to protect the rest of the family. And whilst he would never admit it to his oldest brother, he wasn’t sure what they would actually be able to do. He had witnessed firsthand exactly how powerful the man was. Not to mention that he had disappeared without a trace. Virgil didn’t even know where to suggest they began to look for their mysterious attacker. But at the same time, he wouldn’t let his brother go out there alone. He knew it was because he would follow Scott into a situation they wouldn’t be able to walk out of that Jeff was even contemplating what was running through his head.
“Don’t make me tell you again, son.”
The three of them were barely aware that the rest of the lounge had remained silent, all watching the confrontation with bated breath. Alan had half-stepped away from Gordon, but the older brother had yet to relinquish his grip, reinforcing Jeff’s ideas about his youngest son being just as bad as his oldest. Even so, the redhead was half off the couch himself, clearly intending to involve himself one way or another.
For a long moment, nothing was said. Jeff and Scott had locked eyes, both determined that they were not going to back down; both adamant that their way was the right one. As Jeff’s hand began to stray towards his watch once more, Virgil lost patience. He had no idea whether his father would make good on his threat and sedate him just to make Scott back down, but remembering how determined Jeff had been to get his artistic son checked over, Virgil was leaving nothing to chance.
“For God’s sake, Scott, stop it.”
“He’s not going to get away with this.”
“No, he’s not. But until we have more than a name, we can’t do anything,” Jeff responded carefully. To his utmost relief, Scott finally exhaled sharply, nodding as he stepped away from his lamps and sat back down again. Making to step up behind his brother to make sure Scott wasn’t going to try anything else, Virgil jumped when his father stuck out a hand, grasping his arm lightly. Nothing was said, but an unspoken apology shot from father to son, causing Virgil to nod softly with a small smile. Message received and understood.
“Dad, what do we do?”
It had been many years since Jeff had heard Alan sound that vulnerable, and, rubbing his hand across his face wearily, the father sat down heavily at his desk. “Penny, you’re coming over to the island. We need all the hands we can get, especially if Scott and Gordon are both out of action.”
Ignoring the immediate protests he got for his words, Jeff kept his eyes locked on the aristocrat as she nodded her consent, signing off with a flourish, no doubt informing Parker that they were leaving immediately.
“John, I need you to get in touch with the emergency services in the area. We need to know what they found.”
“F.A.B.” John responded, turning in his chair as he did so, clearly intending to make good on his father’s instructions and set to work straight away. He might not be able to threaten to go straight after this guy in the way his brothers could, but at least there was something he could do to help.
“Shouldn’t John be packing?” Alan suddenly said, standing up and bouncing his gaze between his blond brother and his father. John had paused mid-action, also turning to face Jeff.
“Alan… Are you sure you still want to go?” It was Scott who spoke this time, but to Jeff’s relief, his previous anger seemed to have melted away as he traded concerned looks with Virgil.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Alan responded, looking completely blank.
“Kiddo, you were almost killed.”
“So were Gordon and Virgil, doesn’t stop them,” Alan argued, turning his attention away from Scott and back to their father. “Besides, Johnny’s sick. He needs air, you know that. I’m absolutely fine; Gordon and Virgil were the ones who were hurt.”
“We’re not necessarily talking about your physical state, Alan,” Jeff said gently, watching his son closely. He was glad he had not been the only one reconsidering letting Alan take his shift in Five, but as John turned away to hide another coughing fit, he knew that the youngest member of their team had a point. Jeff knew the only reason why John hadn’t managed to shake himself free of the virus was the lack of fresh air. A few days on the island would do him the world of good.
“I’m fine, Dad. If you want to worry about anyone’s mental state, then you can start by explaining what the hell is going on between you and Scott.”
Blinking in surprise at Alan’s slightly forceful tone, Jeff started, for it was not one he was used to hearing from the youngest Tracy. What unnerved him more, however, was how much like Scott he sounded.
“Nothing,” Scott muttered, not particularly wanting another little brother to know that Kyrano had managed to get the better of him.
“So why were you…ooh. You sedated him?” Finally, the pieces all fell into place and Alan found himself gaping at his father, unable to believe that Jeff had gone to such extremes. One glance at Gordon – once again resting back on the cushions because sitting up was too much effort – and Alan knew that whatever game this creep was playing with them, he was winning. He hadn’t seen the family in this much turmoil since Gordon’s hydrofoil accident.
“Are you sure you want to come up, kiddo?” John broke through the conversation on the island, determined that they were going to make it through at least five minutes without his only older brother and his father shooting daggers at each other.
“Johnny, you need to be at home, man. Besides, technically I should then be in the safest place, so I don’t know what everyone’s problem is.” Feeling satisfied that this argument would at least stop the rest of the family from worrying about him, Alan found his attention caught by a movement from behind him. Tin-Tin had helped her father out of the chair, and, with a glance at Jeff – who immediately nodded his understanding – began to lead him from the room. At Alan’s words, however, she paused, giving the young man a long, searching look. Smiling gently at her, Alan attempted to reassure her that he was indeed fine, though he couldn’t help but feel a rush of gratitude shoot through him when she turned back again.
“In that case, Alan, John, start packing. The boys will come and get you as soon as Penny arrives, John. I want this figured out quickly. Continue making contact with the emergency teams at the accident zone until then.”
“F.A.B.” Turning away again, John disconnected himself from the island, knowing that if he didn’t, he would never get anything done. Despite the worry coursing through him about his brothers’ safety and the fact that someone was trying to kill them, the blond couldn’t stop a slight rush of excitement from spiralling down his spine. He was going home.
The room was dark and murky, a swirling mist hovering eerily above the floor and shielding anything on the floor. Not that the man noticed, however, pacing angrily back and forth, muttering restlessly under his breath as he did so. Clouds of dust were shot into the air with every step he took, but the Hood didn’t notice. His eyes were closed in concentration, yet his feet knew the path well, for never once did he falter. Lining the walls, a group of men stood in silence, watching their master’s pacing with bated breath. Whenever he was in a mood like this, one of them nearly always lost their life. It was just a matter of seeing who would be the unfortunate victim this time.
“How are they still alive?” the Hood suddenly barked, but no one dared answer him as he refused to even slow down in his pacing. Everything had been set up perfectly. The two accidents in Canada should have killed the two rescuers involved. Hell, the first rescue alone should have done the job for him. Whilst not there himself, the Hood now just cursed his foolishness at thinking his man would be able to complete the task. He was below him, nothing more than primitives, but even the Hood had to admit they had come close. His man had filmed the whole thing before running, showing how only the actions of the third member of the team had stopped the others from being crushed. Believing it had just been misfortune, the Hood had given the man one last chance, sending someone to help him who he knew the members of International Rescue wouldn’t be able to resist. But even that had failed, despite the spark of delight he had felt in hearing that the man had been unconscious when he was pulled from the freezer.
He should have known that his minions wouldn’t be good enough for the job. This was International Rescue they were talking about. The Hood had been outwitted by them more times than he would like to recall, something made even worse by the fact that his own half-brother was in their midst, and yet was too resistant to the man’s control to finish them off for him. When he had heard about the landslide in Malaysia, he thought his dream had just been handed to him on a plate. The location was practically on his doorstep and, armed and ready, he had been more than prepared to bring down International Rescue once and for all. And yet they had still thwarted him, with nothing more than sheer dumb luck.
Lashing out in frustration, the Hood plunged his fist into the wall, the crumbling plaster giving way under his knuckles. Here he was, in a temple that was falling down around him, and yet they were still out there, living in luxury and bathing in the love of the entire world.
“They will not escape me again,” he whispered quietly, his threatening tone causing the men to shiver. They wouldn’t have heard him any better had he shouted the words, for even the atmosphere surrounding them seemed to hold its breath as it waited for the Hood to speak again.
“They are getting too alert on their feeble rescue attempts.”
“Master?” one of the men said tentatively, taking a small step out of the shadows. He knew that the Hood rewarded loyalty and devotion. If he could see that this man was prepared to die for him, then the solider knew he would be well rewarded. Providing, of course, he hadn’t just set himself up as the next victim of the Hood’s anger.
“We’re having a change of plan. We’re not going for International Rescue anymore.” The Hood smirked as he spoke, pieces falling to place in his mind as he began a new plan.
“We’re not?” It was a different man who spoke this time, unable to hide the relief in his voice. He could cope with his master wanting jewels and riches, maybe even the odd murder here and there. But this constant obsession to bring down International Rescue was beginning to irritate him, especially considering the organisation stopped them at every turn. Fixing him with a cold gaze, the Hood let his power build up inside him before his eyes flashed yellow and the man dropped to his knees with a cry.
“No, we’re not. Instead, we are going to bring down the Tracy family.”
Virgil stared with unseeing eyes at his ceiling from where he was sprawled across his bed. His father had finally got his way and made the young man submit to an examination, but apart from the few cuts and bruises that Virgil himself had reported, Brains had found nothing else, finally allowing Virgil to escape into the solitude of his room. He was glad to be able to get away, if he was honest. He had already had to recount more than once what had happened out there, having to explain his own injuries and then all he knew about Gordon’s. Alan had been able to help with that, something his big brother was more than grateful for, but there was no way Virgil could put up with having to talk about it again. He just wanted some space, some time to figure things out. He knew how the rest of the family were reacting, especially Scott, but for now, Virgil needed time to work out how he was feeling. Everything had happened so quickly that he wasn’t sure whether he had really processed what was going on.
Moving his arm from behind his head before he completely lost feeling in it, Virgil felt a frown appear as his thoughts flickered onto his younger brothers. Or, more specifically, onto Alan. He wasn’t happy about the kid taking his stint on Five, not with what had just happened. Not only with this accident, but with everything that had taken place over the last few weeks. He knew that the argument between him and Gordon was all but forgotten – being forced to work together had put aside those differences, as the rest of the family had known it would. It was impossible for those two to stay mad at each other for long. Even so, Virgil would much rather that everything was put to rest before he let the kid off the planet, and he knew by the way Scott had disappeared into their littlest brother’s room that he was not the only one thinking it. But he couldn’t help but be torn. John’s cough had gone on for too long. Who knew what the consequences would be if they made the astronaut undertake a double shift? Besides, who was to say that John hadn’t been suffering as much as Alan with everything that was going on? He was the one to have realised that someone was out to kill them, after all. The pair could easily be evenly matched when it came to suffering mentally. However, Alan had claimed that he was fine in the lounge – and if the way Scott had left his room just as suddenly as he had entered it was anything to go by – he was still sticking to that, meaning Virgil didn’t have a good enough argument to persuade his father to change his mind. It was something of a second nature to the oldest members of the family not to believe the younger ones in anything they said when it was their health in question.
Thoughts of his youngest brother filling his mind, Virgil sat up, gritting his teeth slightly as he leant his weight on his right arm. A nasty bruise covered his elbow, and whilst Brains had claimed that there was no more damage than that, it was still causing the artist trouble. Swinging his legs around, Virgil finally stood up, determined to make sure for himself that Alan was as okay as he was ever going to be. Not that the older brother believed he would be welcome in the youngest Tracy’s room. He had heard Tin-Tin enter about half an hour ago, and knowing what those two were like whenever Alan was about to spend a month on Five, had no desire to walk in. How on earth they thought anyone believed she was helping him pack, Virgil had no idea.
Just as he had walked out of his room, however, Virgil caught sight of another brother slipping down the corridor. With a fond shake of his head, the artistic brother followed silently, knowing precisely where Scott was heading. Jeff had practically thrown his eldest son out of the infirmary once Brains had given the boys the all-clear, knowing that Scott still needed to rest himself and that, given half the chance, he would deny it furiously in order to be by Gordon’s side. Whilst the artist had already given Scott the slip the second they had left the infirmary, he knew that he was going to have to confront him again now. He hadn’t wanted to face the constant questioning as to whether he was okay or not, something he was sure would be the only thing his oldest brother would be able to say. This was different, however. Virgil couldn’t help but feel that if it was left to Jeff to remind Scott he shouldn’t be in there, another argument would spring up. There was enough chaos surrounding the family as it was, they didn’t need it from within as well.
Knowing that Alan would be fine waiting for a couple of hours, Virgil took off after Scott, his footsteps light and quiet. He caught up with his brother just as Scott was about to enter the infirmary and, slamming his hand onto the controls, Virgil caused the door to shut with an angry hiss and his brother to turn towards him with a similar noise.
“What are you doing?” Scott asked quietly, not wanting to admit how much Virgil had made him jump. Ironically, his thoughts had been on his younger brother, but Scott was not expecting Virgil to be wandering around the villa. The younger man had escaped so quickly into his room earlier that evening that Scott knew his brother needed some time alone with his thoughts.
“Dad told you to get some sleep,” Virgil panted, keeping his hand firmly over the controls even as he struggled to regain control over his breathing. He certainly hadn’t been prepared for the sudden mad sprint, that was for sure.
“Dude, what am I? Twelve?” Scott scoffed, turning his attention back to the door. He didn’t want to admit to Virgil that he had actually tried to do what their father had suggested, still feeling the effects of the sedative coursing through his system, but every time he closed his eyes, he could just see Gordon on the floor in agony. There would be no sleep for the oldest Tracy brother today.
“He’s sleeping, Scott, leave him be,” Virgil pushed, still refusing to move his hand even though he could practically feel Scott’s burning gaze on it. If Scott didn’t back down, Virgil had a feeling he himself would, his biggest brother could be rather determined when he wanted to be.
“I’m not going to disturb him,” Scott argued, reaching out his own hand and attempting to prise Virgil’s away. His little brother, however, merely gritted his teeth, a clear sign that he was not going to move willingly on this.
“Come on, Virg, I just want to sit with him for a bit. I wasn’t out there like I should have been; I’m not leaving him again.”
“Scott, he isn’t even going to know you are there,” Virgil responded, suddenly feeling utterly drained. Was it only that day Scott himself had collapsed, only that morning they had put Gordon through his paces? The redhead was supposed to be running around gloating, not lying in the infirmary. Scrubbing his free hand across his face, Virgil sighed deeply. The sooner this was over, the better.
Scott was making good use of his brother’s moment of distraction, however. As soon as Virgil had covered his eyes, he pulled more fiercely at Virgil’s hand. Their father might have stopped him from going after the boys but he wasn’t about to let his younger brother prevent him from being by Gordon’s side once again.
Dropping his hand sharply, Virgil glared at the older man.
“Virg, back away,” Scott said quietly, an almost threatening tone entering his voice. Virgil knew that this was the military Scott, the one who could get his own way, no matter what – or who – was standing in his way. The one who managed to drive Virgil absolutely insane every time he emerged, meaning the younger brother had no intention of making this easy. Scott wasn’t the only one wanting to protect the family.
“Or what?” Sick of Scott’s attitude and the expectation that his brothers were just going to jump to do his bidding, Virgil did indeed move the hand covering the controls for the door. But before Scott could move, he had stepped forward, physically blocking the door. Folding his arms across his chest, he raised one eyebrow, a clear challenge being sent. If Scott wanted to get to Gordon, he would first have to go through Virgil.
“Don’t make me tell you again.”
“You aren’t my boss, commander,” Virgil spat, his exhaustion making his temper shorter than normal. Some lunatic was trying to tear their family apart, had attempted to kill two of his little brothers on Virgil’s watch, and now Scott was trying to do more harm than good by getting in to see Gordon. The only thing that would help the pilot was the rest his body desperately needed, but Virgil knew by the stubborn set of Scott’s jaw that he was not going to get it willingly. Sick of feeling like he had let his brothers down today, Virgil found that his determination was rivalling Scott’s. There was still one brother he could help, and the fact that it was his older one rather than the younger was just an inconvenience.
“Fine.” With a shrug, Scott strode forward. Grabbing his younger brother by the shoulders, he gritted his teeth as he attempted to force Virgil to move out of the way, but to his surprise, Virgil dug his heels in, refusing to budge.
“Damn it, Virg, get out of the way!” Scott yelled, still desperately trying to move his brother.
Reaching the end of his patience, Virgil suddenly snapped. Swinging his arm forward, he caught Scott in the stomach, causing the older man to let go and stumble back a pace, more in surprise than anything else.
“Don’t tell me what to do!” Virgil shouted back, breathing heavily as anger pumped through him. If he was honest, he knew that it wasn’t Scott he was angry at, but the situation they were in. They risked their lives almost daily to save complete strangers and this was how the world thanked them? By letting some maniac try and kill his brothers.
“Someone has to,” Scott shot back, moving forward once again. To his shame, any thoughts of trying to reach Gordon had been pushed from his mind. Like Virgil, he had to find some way of releasing the anger and his younger brother just happened to be there, feeling the same way.
Neither of the brothers would have been able to say precisely what happened next. One moment, they were glaring at each other from opposites sides of the hallway, the next, they were both on the floor. Wrestling furiously with each other as both of them tried to gain the upper hand, the men found that it was definitely providing the release they both needed. Even when they managed to regain their footing, neither of them was prepared to see sense. As Virgil kicked out at Scott’s knees, his older brother immediately responded by swinging his fist forward, causing Virgil to lean back, wobbling slightly as he struggled to regain his balance.
Scott didn’t need telling twice. Rushing forward, he shoved Virgil with his shoulder, causing the younger man to fall back with a crash. But with instincts that years of working in the rescue business had honed, Virgil somehow managed to bring Scott down with him. As the pair once again scrambled to their feet, they didn’t hear the infirmary door finally open.
“S…s…stop!” Brains attempted to try to get through to the fighting brothers, but they were both too caught up in their anger to hear him. Swaying slightly, Gordon leant on the doorframe next to Brains, the noise having woken him. Whilst it was something of a shock to see his brothers fighting in the middle of the hallway, Gordon wasn’t really surprised. He had seen the look on his older brothers’ faces during the whole of the debriefing and then during Virgil’s examination. There was an anger there that had been brewing, possibly for longer than the pair of them realised it, and without having to be told, Gordon had known what had sparked the pair of them off the moment he had opened his eyes. After all, Scott never liked to leave the infirmary if one of them was in it, yet Virgil would know that it would do their big brother no good to stay.
Normally, Gordon would have been the first to throw himself into the mix, although whether to break them up or just release his own frustration, the aquanaut could not say. But considering he was having trouble keeping his eyes open as it was, he knew that was out of the question. Fingering his watch, he quickly summoned his father. Whilst Brains was good at most things – more than good as the case often was – there was no way he had the physical strength to stop Scott and Virgil.
It was still a tense few moments before Jeff came sprinting onto the scene. Neither Scott nor Virgil heard Brains and Gordon’s attempts to break them up, instead continuing to take out on each other the annoyance of not being able to help the family. Brains slowly became more and more panicked as he realised that nothing was getting through to the men he considered to be his closest friends, but Gordon almost seemed resigned. Shaking his head slightly, he allowed the door to take his weight even more as he watched his brothers with saddened eyes. If he was honest, he’d known something like this was coming, he just didn’t know who’d crack first. After all, there had been lies and accusations flying around the house for a while now, ever since the first accident. Wishing John was here, for no one could break up a fight like his genius of a brother, Gordon knew the only way they were going to calm down again was when all the anger had been released.
Even the thundering voice of their father wasn’t enough to break through the blood pounding in their ears, and both sons simply carried on. Looking slightly stunned at how caught up in the fight they were, Jeff attempted to get closer, but Virgil’s flailing arm drove him back soon enough.
“Scott! Virgil! Stop!” Jeff had no time to see whether his words had the desired effect, however, for another figure calmly strode past him. Somehow seeming to melt past the limbs that were swinging wildly, Kyrano approached the fighting Tracys. With quick, calculating eyes, he suddenly moved in, grabbing Virgil by the arm and bodily pulling him away from his brother, breaking the vice-like grip Virgil had established on Scott’s arm. Letting the momentum carry them both, Kyrano pushed him towards his father. No sooner had Virgil regained his footing, he made to throw himself forward again, but Jeff quickly grabbed onto his son’s arms, pulling him further back.
Knowing that removing one brother wasn’t going to be enough, Kyrano then somehow managed to get behind Scott, looping his arm across the older brother’s chest and holding him fast as Scott struggled to go for Virgil again.
Finally, now that they were unable to reach each other, the two brothers heard their father’s words. Scott quickly shrugged off Kyrano’s grip, leaning somewhat shakily against the wall. Lifting his hand, he gingerly felt his stinging nose, wincing when his hand came away with a red smear across it. Seeing the movement, Brains moved forward, but Scott deliberately turned away from him before the genius was able to take a look. Virgil didn’t look much better, a bright red stripe down his lip from where his brother’s fist had connected. He took half a step forward, but as his father yanked him back again with a warning that could resemble a growl, he finally backed down.
“Now, do either of you care to explain what that was about?” Jeff’s voice was low and dangerous, a sign his sons knew too well meant they had more than crossed the line – they had taken a running jump and bounded over it. Neither of his sons answered him, however. Not that Jeff had been expecting them to; he was more than aware of what had caused it. Like Gordon, he too had sensed the underlying anger in his boys, something the day’s events had only heightened.
“Scott started it,” Virgil eventually muttered, pulling himself free of his father’s grip and mirroring Scott’s actions as he leant against the wall. Shutting his eyes, Jeff looked skyward the moment he opened them again.
“Don’t even go there, Virgil,” he said warningly, not in the mood to take any childishness from any of his sons. After all, it wasn’t only his boys who were angry. Someone was trying to kill his children, and that was not something Jeff Tracy was about to let anyone get away with even thinking about, let alone acting upon.
Watching his father, Gordon could almost see the man’s thought processes, for his emotions were as visible on his face as Scott’s were. His fingers subconsciously dancing across his watch, Gordon barely noticed that he had connected himself through to the brother he needed the most until the sudden vibration told him that John had received his call. Ducking back into the room, Gordon hitched himself back onto his bed in order to be able to talk to John. If anyone would know how to defuse the family, it would be the star-lover.
“You do realise that we have a lunatic trying to kill us, don’t you?” Jeff continued, a frown flickering onto his face momentarily as he watched Gordon disappear back into the infirmary. He would check on his redhead after he had sorted out the aquanaut’s squabbling brothers. This wasn’t the first time Jeff wished he could simply split himself into more than one person. “The last thing we need is for you two to try and do his job for him.”
“Dad, it wasn’t…”
“Wasn’t meant like that, Scott?” Jeff finished his son’s sentence for him, albeit a little coldly as he stared at his first-born. He would have expected Scott to know better, especially considering the pilot’s earlier desire to make sure his little brothers were okay. But even so, his son’s behaviour over the last few days had been slightly erratic at the best of times; maybe this was what he needed to ground him again. With any luck, Virgil might have knocked some sense into the older man.
Scott lifted his head again, meeting his father’s gaze head-on with indignation burning brightly in his eyes, but before he could say anything, Gordon appeared again.
“Dad?” Waiting until he had his father’s attention, Gordon did his utmost not to catch the eye of either of his brothers. He had no desire, for once, for them to turn their anger on him.
“John says Penny has just made contact, they are in the final stages of approach to the island now.”
“I’m going for a run,” Scott muttered, pushing himself away from the wall. He didn’t want to have to go and greet the aristocrat as he knew his father was about to ask him to. He needed space, time to clear his head. It was only now that he fully realised what he had just done, and looking at the smear of blood on Virgil’s lip, he knew that he had to get away.
“You are doing no such thing. You will accompany me to meet our guests and have a civil tongue in your head, boy,” Jeff snapped, completely running out of patience. Whilst he knew Penny was here to help, having her on the island at this moment in time was not what he needed right now. What he could really do with was a strong whisky, but he knew that he would have to battle Kyrano for that one. And judging by the quiet strength the man possessed lately, the father knew he wouldn’t have a chance. The Malaysian seemed to be under strict instructions from his boss’s mother, and Jeff knew too well himself the consequences of going against that woman.
With his back to his father, Scott shut his eyes momentarily, trying to regain control of his temper once again. He knew that if his answer was the wrong one here, they were going to have bigger problems to worry about, but he couldn’t stop the frustration building. Everything he had tried to do lately, his father had been there to stop him. He’d thrown him out of the infirmary when all Scott wanted to do was be by Gordon, he’d sedated him to stop him going out after his brothers… The pilot couldn’t help but feel that if he was denied this run, Jeff was going to know precisely what was going through his eldest son’s head. Scott had no doubts about whether his father would like it or not.
“Dad, please. Let me go for a run.”
Jeff frowned at the tone in Scott’s voice. It almost sounded desperate, as if the young man needed to get away. Opening his mouth again, the father visibly jumped when Virgil’s hand closed gently around his arm. Turning towards the younger brother, Jeff tilted his head quizzically, but Virgil merely responded by shaking his. Finally understanding the message, Jeff sighed.
“Don’t be late for dinner,” he muttered, almost seeing the tension leave Scott’s shoulders as the young man bounded away. Turning back to Virgil, Jeff scrubbed a hand wearily across his face at the look on the artist’s face. He looked almost as bad as Scott in terms of getting close to reaching breaking point, and Jeff knew that something had to be done – and fast. If they carried on like this – not just Scott and Virgil, but the whole family – then they were indeed going to be doing the Hood’s work for him. The attacks were weighing down on them more than anyone would admit, and Jeff realised he should have known that he was going to walk into a scene such as the one he had just been summoned to.
“Gordon?” Turning his attention back to the youngest member of the family present, Jeff wasn’t fooled at all by the casual grin his son tried to plaster on his face. “Come on, Gords, back to bed with you.”
Crossing the hallway, Jeff gently took Gordon by his upper arm and steered the young man back into the infirmary, not letting go until he had pushed him down on the bed.
“Get some more rest, Gordon, you look ready to drop.”
“I’ve already done that,” Gordon muttered, the slight slur to his voice showing he was as exhausted as he looked, although he would never have admitted it to anyone. “Right out of Two, thought Virg was going to have a heart attack…” Almost before he had finished his sentence, sleep had once again overtaken the light-hearted Tracy. Combing his fingers gently through his son’s hair, Jeff sighed before heading back out.
“He wasn’t the only one who thought that,” Virgil murmured, watching the steady rising and falling of Gordon’s chest as his breathing evened out. “He just completely threw himself off the platform. One minute he was there, and the next…”
“He’s fine, son,” Jeff interrupted gently, reaching out a hand and giving Virgil’s shoulder a soft squeeze. “Come on, let’s go and see Penny. Unless, of course, you are planning to run off as well?”
Smiling in relief as Virgil smirked; Jeff led the way back down to the hanger. Despite the split lip and the few bruises already beginning to emerge, there could be no denying the artist looked more relaxed. Whilst he was already beginning to feel more than guilty about the way he had goaded Scott, wanting the fight, Virgil knew it had needed to be done. He’d had to let everything go, and who better to land it on than his biggest brother? He knew that Scott could take it physically, but also knew the pilot was the only one who could take it emotionally as well. He couldn’t deny how much better it had made him feel.
Jeff threw a comforting arm around his son’s shoulders as they watched the plane roll into the hanger, Parker no doubt flying his mistress over as soon she could physically take off. The news reports had made it worldwide by now, and the sooner they found and apprehended their potential killer, the better.
The less attention that was drawn to what was going on, the better.
Virgil moved forward when Parker appeared, clearly intending to help the man with the numerous bags he was sure Penny would have with her. The aristocrat never travelled lightly and Virgil knew that she saw no reason to either. With his arms already loaded just from what the man had thrown down from the cockpit, Virgil staggered back to join his father as the door to the plane slowly began to open. Parker disappeared inside as soon as he could, but the woman he had on his arm when he emerged again caused Jeff to stumble backwards a pace in surprise.