Jeff could do nothing but stand there blinking as his mother leant gratefully on Parker’s arm as the faithful servant helped her down from the plane. Luckily, his son had slightly more of his wits about him, and, dropping the bags he had been given, Virgil hurried forward. Taking his grandmother’s arm, he carefully steered the old lady across the hanger and back towards his father. No sooner had they reached the man when she removed her hand. Spinning Virgil around to face her, Grandma cupped his face gently.
“In a moment, Jeff,” Grandma responded, cutting Jeff off mid-flow and continuing to gaze at her grandson. As Virgil eventually began to squirm under the penetrating gaze, she sighed deeply, brushing her thumb across his cheek.
“What did he do to you, Virgil?” she murmured softly. Thinking back on their earlier phone call, Virgil dropped his gaze, not wanting to go through things again. He had explained everything then, so he knew that his grandmother was more than aware of what was going on.
“Mom, what are you..?”
“I said in a moment, Jefferson!” Grandma practically snapped, all without looking away from Virgil, causing her grandson to smirk slightly. The look on his father’s face almost resembled a pout. Unfortunately for him, the movement caused his split lip to reopen, a bright red trickle making its way down his chin until he brushed it away.
“Virgil, why has that not closed yet? The attack was hours ago,” his grandmother said slowly, a warning note that only her family knew how to pick up infiltrating her voice. Lost for words – for he had no desire to tell the old woman that he had been fighting with his brother – Virgil instead glanced towards his father, hoping that the man would be able to help him out.
“Interrupt me again, boy, and you’ll feel my spoon.”
As Jeff looked at his mother in shock, Virgil couldn’t help but burst out laughing, causing the woman to shake her head in bemusement, finally relinquishing her hold on him.
“Watch it, you.” Jeff turned his attention to his son now, ruffling Virgil’s hair fondly. Already his mother was making the atmosphere more bearable, for Jeff couldn’t recall the last time he had heard his boy laugh that freely. “You’re not too old for a tickling.”
“You’ll have to catch me first,” Virgil responded, smiling as he ducked his father’s cuff at his head.
“Virgil, go and fetch your brother.”
“Which one, Grandma?” Virgil asked, his smile not fading in the slightest as he jogged across the hanger to fall into step with her, wondering how she had managed to suddenly move so quickly. “I do have several, not all of them even on the planet.”
“Sometimes too many, I’m sure,” Grandma tutted, sparing him a fond glance out of the corner of her eye as she marched along. Jeff was hanging back, clearly waiting to greet the guest they had actually been expecting, but Grandma was glad that Virgil had decided to accompany her. It had been too long since she had seen her boys.
“You’ll have to blame Dad for that one,” Virgil responded with a cheeky smile, glancing over his shoulder to where Jeff was helping Penny out of the plane, Parker struggling under the sheer number of bags he was juggling. Wondering whether he should go back to help him, Virgil was glad when his grandmother took his arm again.
“I meant Scott. I need to see his bruises.”
“Scott’s bruises?” Virgil asked, stopping dead even as the old woman continued forward. “But Grandma, Scott wasn’t even on the rescue. And he didn’t suffer any bruises from his own accident, just cold feet.”
“Don’t try and fool me, boy. Those bruises are too fresh to be from the accident. And I know what you Tracys are like, I’ve been one for long enough. You fought with your brother, didn’t you?”
“The truth now, Virgil.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Virgil muttered, staring at the floor as he felt the tips of his ears begin to burn. His grandmother was the only person who had the power to make him feel about ten-years-old again. Even his own father couldn’t reduce him to that with the one look that she seemed to have mastered.
“I just… I have to do something, Grandma! One moment Gordon was joking about something, the next we are rushing to try and stop some creep shooting our little brother through the head! The fall from Two alone could have killed Gords, let alone what happened after that. I hate it! I have to do something! Anything!”
Lashing out at the wall, Virgil froze with his fist still connected to the plaster, suddenly aware of what he had done. Instead of the scolding he was expecting to come from the woman, however, Grandma merely closed her own hand gently around his, leading him to the sofa and sitting him down on it.
“And do you think fighting with your brother is going to achieve anything?” Grandma asked quietly, using her fingers to work into Virgil’s hand, slowly forcing him to relax.
“Scott was being too stubborn to see what was good for him,” Virgil muttered, suddenly feeling more than exhausted. One glance at the clock resting on his father’s desk and he wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. His father’s comment to Scott about not being late for dinner had been nothing more than an attempt to lighten the situation, for that time had long since gone. No wonder he was tired, having been up since before dawn for Gordon’s test. Then his brother’s collapse and the rescue had both taken place in such a short space of time. It had certainly been a long day.
“You could have let him sit with Gordon. He would have lasted about half an hour before falling asleep content with the knowledge his little brother was safe and you could have moved him then.”
Staring at her in disbelief as she continued to work on his hand, Virgil felt his mouth drop open. Everything she said was the truth; there was no way Scott would have been able to physically stay awake once he had relaxed slightly, not with the sedative still in his system. He would be fine whilst he was out running, the adrenaline keeping him going, but as soon as he stopped again, Virgil knew that would be it for his brother.
“Lie back, Virgil,” Grandma muttered, pushing gently against Virgil’s shoulder. As the young man complied with her instructions without a fight for once, she pulled herself onto the couch next to him, running her hand through his hair gently.
“All will be well, baby,” she whispered soothingly, letting the methodical movement of her hand lull Virgil into relaxing properly. Hearing voices, she quickly glanced over her shoulder, not once pausing in the movement of her hand. Luckily, Jeff seemed to notice her position the moment his mother came into sight and gestured for Penny to be quiet. By the time he had crossed the room and was gazing down at Virgil with a soft smile, his son had fallen asleep.
“Jefferson, get the blanket, and don’t you dare wake him up. I need to see Gordon.”
“He’s asleep, Mom,” Jeff murmured, making sure to keep his voice down even as he grabbed the blanket that had been earlier used for Scott.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Grandma responded curtly, taking the blanket from her son and draping it over her grandson lovingly. Nodding at Penny as she strode from the room, Grandma smiled softly to herself. One boy sorted, just a few more to go. Something told her Alan would be holding up well, judging from what she had heard from the rest of the boys. He hadn’t been hurt physically and she knew the young man’s older brothers would make sure his emotional state was as well as it could be. But she knew she still had her work cut out for her, for she had seen the look in Jeff’s eyes even as he had tried to brush everything off in the silos. Something told her that the boys’ father would be the worst of them all.
Sure enough, once she had calmed Brains down after the surprise of having her walk through the infirmary doors, Grandma found her attention drawn by her redheaded grandson. Despite Jeff’s beliefs that he had left his boy asleep, there certainly was no way Gordon was asleep now. Instead, he was standing by the window, his eyes gazing into the darkness.
“Hey, Grandma,” he murmured, not turning from where he was standing. Stepping across next to him, Grandma mirrored her earlier actions with his brother and turned his face towards her. Unlike Virgil, however, Gordon’s eyes were filled with pain, the same desperation that had caused Virgil to lash out spiralling within.
“You can let it all go, sweetheart,” she said softly, gazing intently at him, knowing precisely what was going through his mind. Despite their individual personalities, all five of her grandsons could be scarily similar when it suited them.
“I can’t,” Gordon muttered, wriggling out of her grip and returning his attention to the window. Following his gaze, Grandma sighed when she caught sight of the figure down on the beach, his movements showing just how much Scott was struggling to hold it together for the rest of this family. One grandson at a time, however…
“Why not?” Taking his hand, Grandma led him back to his bed, the pointed look making him sit down without argument.
“Dunno,” Gordon responded with a non-committal shrug of his shoulders before flashing his usual disarming grin at his grandmother with the hope of making her change the subject. “So, how was the old place then?”
“Gordon,” Grandma said warningly, knowing precisely what the young man was up to. Most people believed that he didn’t react to anything, but his grandmother knew better. They just didn’t usually see his reaction, for Gordon pretended to shrug everything off as if it didn’t matter.
“Yes, Grandma?” Gordon responded innocently, knowing precisely what the old woman was up to, but refusing to play along. He knew his grandmother would win in the end, she always did. But the more he resisted her, the more of a point he was able to make.
“Let it go.”
“No,” Gordon responded, turning away from her. Swinging his legs up onto the bed, he turned his gaze onto the ceiling but found that he really wasn’t seeing anything. He could feel the bed dip as his grandmother perched on the edge and gently took his hand.
“Why, Gordon?” she asked gently, and this time, the redhead was ready to give her some answers. He knew that she would figure it all out anyway; the woman was scary like that.
“He was standing there with a gun, ready to pull the trigger. I’ve never seen such panic on Allie’s face.”
“But you dealt with it, baby,” Grandma said, moving her hand from where it had been clasping Gordon’s in order to brush a stray lock of hair back from his forehead. “You saved your brother.”
“And then needed saving myself.”
Just like that, Grandma knew where the root of Gordon’s problem was. He had done all he could to try and save his little brother, but knew full well that if it hadn’t been for Virgil’s timely arrival, it would have all been for nothing. Whilst for most people, nearly getting killed would have been a good enough reason to not be able to save someone, Gordon was a Tracy. Injury and near-death experiences were nothing more than an inconvenience, certainly not a good enough excuse if another sibling was hurt in the process.
“Gordon, look at me. If you hadn’t done what you did, Alan would have been killed. You saved him. So what if you needed Virgil’s help afterwards? You did not let your brother down, you hear me?”
“Not sure that is going to help Scott,” Gordon muttered, anxious to try and deflect the conversation away from himself.
“But has it helped you?” Grandma pressed, knowing precisely what her second youngest grandson was doing. It was a trick he had been playing his whole life. Whilst being the most expressive of the brothers, Gordon certainly knew how to keep things hidden. He took after John in a sense, being able to just read a situation without drawing attention to himself. From what she had heard from her son and, then her grandson when Virgil had called her back earlier that evening, Grandma was sure that was how Gordon had figured things out regarding Scott’s accident.
“I don’t know,” Gordon muttered wearily, suddenly feeling the exhaustion come crashing back down on him in full force. “I just feel like…”
“You should be doing something? Anything?” Grandma finished the sentence for him, a wry smile appearing as Gordon nodded, staring down at his hands. By the time he looked up again, Grandma was shocked to see tears swimming in his eyes. Immediately pulling herself up the bed, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him in close.
“Let it go, baby.”
“I thought I was being paranoid,” Gordon whispered, trying to brush the tears away again as his face flushed in humiliation. Grandma allowed him to do no such thing, however, instead capturing his hands in her own. With that one sentence, she knew why Gordon was suffering so much more than Virgil seemed to be. This had been going on longer for the young man than for any of his brothers, yet he’d had to deal with it on his own.
“I thought everything had got too much and I was seeing things that weren’t there. I was so determined to think that someone had cut that rope, even with all the other explanations everyone else had put forward.”
“Gordon, when was the last time you slept, baby?” Grandma asked quietly, knowing immediately what had brought on this sudden emotional state. If any of them were going to show their emotions in such an obvious way, it would be Gordon. But still, his grandmother knew that for this reaction to have emerged, the young man must have been struggling for a while.
“Before the first accident. I mean, I’ve been getting sleep, but only a few hours at the most,” Gordon admitted, not looking his grandmother in the eye as she slid from the bed again. Hitting a button, she slowly lowered the upper part until Gordon was lying flat out, and as soon as he struggled to sit back up again, her hands were on his shoulders, holding him still.
“You need rest, sweetheart. Things will be better once you’ve had a proper night’s sleep.”
“What if I don’t get there in time?” Gordon asked, an almost pleading note in his voice as he finally looked his grandmother in the eye. Smiling gently, the old lady knew precisely why her grandson was scared of relaxing properly. After his hydrofoil accident, Gordon had been so plagued by nightmares he had barely slept for a month. Even now, whenever anything went wrong, the redhead would be the brother most likely to replay the events out in his mind as he slept.
“Gordon, you will get there, no matter what.” A firm note entering her voice, Grandma smiled down at her grandson, locking eyes with the young man until he eventually nodded, seeming to accept her words. Knowing her job was done Grandma sat on the edge of his bed in silence for a few moments. Mirroring her earlier actions with Virgil, she found her hand combing itself methodically through his hair. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes Gordon’s eyes had shut and his breathing had evened out. Another one sorted.
“Brains?” Moving across the room, Grandma found herself drawn to the window again, the moon now bathing the beach in its glow. But there was no figure pounding out furious laps down there now. Rather than feeling relieved by the hope that Scott had calmed down, Grandma instead felt the worry awakening in her once again. Just because he had stopped moving didn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that Scott had been able to outrun his demons.
“Y…yes, Mrs T…Tracy?”
“Inform me immediately if he awakens again.” Her orders given, Grandma swept gracefully from the room. She knew that if Gordon was to wake up, it would be because of the nightmares. Knowing that Brains would have no intention of leaving the infirmary until another member of the family had arrived – the genius had developed the same kind of protectiveness over the boys as they had over each other – she knew there was nothing more she could do for that particular grandson.
Armed with the knowledge that Scott was no longer on the beach, Grandma only had one destination in mind. A quick glance into the lounge on her way past, however, made her pause momentarily. Lady Penelope and Parker had disappeared, no doubt retiring to their rooms. It had been a long day for the pair, not only flying out from London themselves, but making a detour to Kansas to allow her to accompany them back to the island. But her son still remained in the room. He had adopted her original position on the couch, perched next to his still-sleeping son. One hand resting atop Virgil’s head, Jeff was staring off into space. It was only the small smile on his face that stopped Grandma from worrying that he was brooding over what had happened. Whatever her son was thinking about, it was clearly a happy memory.
“All will be well,” Grandma whispered again, moving past the room without waiting to see if Jeff had heard her words or not. It took her only a matter of seconds to come across the closed door. The light spilling out from under the cracks was a clear indication that someone was still present in the kitchen, however, and with the strong feeling that she knew precisely who, Grandma silently pushed open the door.
“Scott Carpenter Tracy, just what do you think you are doing with that bottle, young man?”
Despite his normally sharp reactions, Scott certainly hadn’t been expecting anyone to walk in. Especially not the person in question and, letting out a slightly undignified yelp as his leg gave way from where it had been supporting him against the wall, Scott spun around with wide eyes. The bottle of whisky was clutched firmly in his hand, but Grandma didn’t know whether to be pleased or worried by the fact that the glass sitting next to him was empty. She had either stopped him in time; or was too late.
“What are you doing, Scott?” Grandma repeated, striding across the kitchen and firmly taking the bottle in question from his hand, moving it just beyond his reach as she set it down again on the table. For a moment, Scott looked like he was going to argue, before sighing deeply as he ran a hand through his hair distractedly.
“No idea,” he responded, sighing as he rebalanced himself against the wall, ignoring his grandmother’s pointed look.
“How many have you had?” Grandma asked bluntly, needing to know what sort of situation she was dealing with. There would be no point in trying to get through to him if he had already had a few drinks, Scott tended not to listen on the best of days, let alone after drinking.
“None,” Scott answered with a bitter laugh, staring almost accusingly at the bottle. “I thought it would be such a good idea. I was all ready to make myself forget everything. And then… and then I couldn’t even bring myself to open it.”
“You know it would never have helped, don’t you, Scotty?” Grandma asked, moving across the kitchen as she spoke. Reaching into the nearest cupboard, she barely heard Scott agreeing as she set about making him a drink that would do him far more good than the whisky. Within a matter of moments, Scott was sitting on one of the chairs, a steaming mug of hot chocolate clutched in his hand and a far happier look sparkling out of his eyes. Regarding him thoughtfully as he tentatively sipped the scalding liquid, Grandma found herself shaking her head as she took in the sight of the bruised nose.
“Your brother has quite a swing on him, doesn’t he?”
“Virgil. That’s quite an impressive bruise he has given you.” Her voice light and casual, Grandma watched her eldest grandson over the top of her own mug, just waiting to see how he was going to react. One thing she was sure of, however, was that he wasn’t about to try and land his little brother in trouble.
“That wasn’t Virg. I just…”
“Scott, I know what happened.”
“Oh.” Unable to think of anything else to say now that he had already been caught out, Scott just grinned ruefully over the top of his mug at his grandmother, his mind still trying to work out how she had got here. He had a feeling that it was no good asking her, not yet anyway. Until Grandma had said whatever it was she had sought him out to say, anything else would simply be dismissed as him trying to change the subject.
“Why did you react to it, Scott?” Grandma asked, watching him critically. Whilst John was more commonly known as the peacemaker of the brothers, it wasn’t often Scott would react physically. He knew he could hurt the younger ones – it was something that had been drilled into him his whole life – and yet judging by the ugly splashes of colour on both him and Virgil, that was precisely what had happened.
“Virgil needed it,” Scott responded with another grin. He knew his brother too well at times. He had seen the look in Virgil’s eyes, could almost sense his brother’s desperation. And in order for Virgil to be able to relax properly, Scott knew exactly what it was that his little brother needed. He was more than aware that Virgil knew he could take whatever the slighter man threw at him; it was why the artist had snapped at Scott and no one else.
Shaking her head fondly, Grandma decided that she didn’t particularly want to know.
“And what is it you need, Scotty?” she pressed gently. She had seen the way his brothers had reacted, seen the frustration spiralling out of them both. But Scott almost seemed calm in comparison. She wasn’t fooled though. Rather than frustration, she could sense the anger in him and knew her grandson well enough to know that a few reassurances were not going to calm him down in the way they had his brothers.
“For this bast…um, creep to be caught.” Scott responded. Catching himself halfway through the sentence, Scott found that it wasn’t only his words that had changed, but his tone as well. He had started off angrily, but then, suddenly realising who he was addressing, had felt the anger drain away as he corrected himself. Grandma, however, couldn’t help but smile. Scott and Virgil had always been alike, but it was nice to know that things hadn’t changed as they had grown. She hadn’t even been back on the island for more than a couple of hours, and yet both had done something they knew she wouldn’t approve of, and both had immediately tried to correct themselves.
“He will be, baby.”
“Before or after he kills one of my brothers?”
“Scott!” Grandma exclaimed, lowering her cup as she stared at Scott in shock. She knew that he was angry, but the coldness in his tone made her wonder just how far he would go to protect his younger siblings. From what she had picked up on the flight over, Jeff was changing the rota on Five according to the schedule, something that Grandma was now even more thankful for. If anyone would be able to get Scott to calm down, it would be his immediate little brother. For now, however, she knew that she just had to try and get him to sleep first. One day at a time…
“Come on, Scotty, to the infirmary with you.” Knowing that she needed to stop him thinking so darkly, Grandma decided it was about time she sorted out her eldest grandson. As expected, Scott looked nothing short of confused.
“Why? Grandma, I’m fine.”
“But Gordon is not. And don’t think you can fool me into saying that you will go to bed whilst your little brother is in there. Now come on, along with you.”
Ushering him out of the kitchen, Grandma allowed him to pause long enough to drop a peck onto her cheek and whisper a heartfelt ‘thank you’ into her ear before she drove him out completely. Shutting the door behind him, Grandma sat back down at the table, nursing the mug in her hands and a small smile on her face. She knew there was a reason why she had decided to come back to the island early.
For his part, Scott was slightly stunned. Not only had he not been expecting his grandmother to even be in this part of the world, he certainly hadn’t been expecting her to allow him back into the infirmary. She had always insisted that a night in their own beds was the best medicine for anything for as long as he could remember. Pausing momentarily as he glanced into the lounge and saw his younger brother stretched out peacefully, Scott couldn’t help but grin. No wonder she wouldn’t send him to bed, not when Virgil was the opposite end of the house to his bed.
Slipping into the infirmary, Scott nodded at Brains as he pulled up a chair. Swinging his feet up onto the end of Gordon’s bed, he sighed deeply as he took in his sleeping brother’s complexion.
“H..he’ll be j..j..just fine, uh, Scott,” Brains muttered from somewhere behind him, but the pilot barely heard his words. Gordon would only be fine in Scott’s mind when he could hold the man who had done this responsible for his actions. Scott knew that Gordon had been putting on act ever since the first accident. His carefree brother was too talented at lying for his own good when the mood took him.
The night drew on, and yet still Scott found that he couldn’t face having to get up and go to bed. Sleep was eluding him more than he could say, especially considering that the after-effects of the sedation should have made it a struggle to keep his eyes open. He barely noticed Brains disappear almost an hour after he arrived, didn’t see his father poke his head around the door only to shake it with a long-suffering sigh as he left Scott to it. The pilot wasn’t even sure what he was thinking about, instead just letting his mind dwell on all the ways he could have lost his brothers today. He knew full well that had he been there, things would have been no different, but it didn’t stop him thinking it.
Trying to stop himself from letting his mind contemplate what had happened, Scott stood up and was soon pacing the infirmary. He knew he had to let the anger go, but considering the room he was in, was finding it increasingly difficult to do so. No sooner had his hands slowly begun to bunch themselves into tight fists again when the door burst open violently. Immediately tensing, Scott was more than surprised for Virgil to throw himself through it, his eyes wide and terrified as he glanced frantically towards the bed. On seeing Gordon stir slightly at the noise, Virgil merely blinked a few times, almost as if he wasn’t sure of what he was seeing.
“Oh,” he eventually stated simply, his eyes automatically seeking out Scott. As soon as they fell on his big brother, all the colour seemed to drain from the artist’s face. “He’s okay.”
Scott could see what was about to happen almost before Virgil realised himself. Just about having enough time to race across the floor, he somehow managed to catch his little brother, even as Virgil’s eyes rolled up into his head and he pitched forward. Sinking to his knees as he tried to support his brother’s dead weight, Scott was only vaguely registering the thoughts that this would have been how he looked to Virgil only that morning when he was the one passing out.
Finally in a more secure position, Scott sighed heavily as he brushed Virgil’s hair back from his forehead. He could automatically feel his hand beginning to slide towards his watch in order to summon Brains, but on feeling Virgil beginning to stir again, he froze. The last thing Virgil would want was for everyone else to be fussing around. As the man’s eyes flickered open again, confusion spiralling deep within, Scott smiled gently. He knew what had caused Virgil to simply give up. After everything that had been going on, the artist just couldn’t take it any more.
“It’s okay, little brother. Everything is going to be okay.”
It wasn’t the morning sun or the dawn chorus of birds that pulled Jeff Tracy from his sleep the next morning, but his own pounding heart as his eyes shot open, his breathing somewhat frantic. After a few moments, the man’s senses returned to reality for long enough for him to realise it had been nothing more than a dream, but still Jeff couldn’t stop the shivers from making their way down his spine as he swung his legs off the bed. Glancing down at himself, the father of five found himself grimacing, knowing precisely what his mother would have to say about him falling asleep in his clothes again. He had been so exhausted when he had left Virgil’s side the night before that by the time he had checked in on Gordon and Scott – the latter by default more than anything else – he hadn’t been able to stop himself doing anything more than crashing down on his bed, sleep overtaking him before any rational thoughts had time to emerge.
Yawning widely as he scrubbed his hand over his face, Jeff winced once again as he felt the rough stubble underneath his fingers. Finally hauling himself from the bed, he stumbled into the bathroom, flicking on the light switch as he passed it and coming to a stop in front of the mirror. Staring at himself, the father barely recognised the man who was looking back at him. But what concerned him more was the sudden realisation that he had seen this figure once before. The dark bags under his eyes, the constant worry lines on his face, the desperate need of a shave… This was the Jeff who had emerged when he had lost Lucille, and the father knew it was only a matter of time before the elder boys at least began to recognise this haunted figure. Despite his words to his sons, Jeff knew they were no closer to sorting this out than they were after Gordon’s accident, and it would only be a matter of time before they started to believe that for themselves. His mind firmly made up, Jeff knew that was something that could not be allowed to happen, and so, snapping on the shower, he quickly set about trying to make himself look in control of a situation that he had lost a grip on before it had even begun.
Barely half an hour later, a completely different person was stepping through the door. Refreshed and ready to go, Jeff knew that it was about time he sorted out his family once and for all. Until he could stop them lying and fighting amongst themselves, he knew they would have no chance of being able to stop the Hood, especially as he couldn’t help but feel they would all have completely different methods for going about it. Having seen Scott in the infirmary before he came up to bed, Jeff had a strong feeling that his son would still be down there, meaning that Alan would be the only one in his own room. That suited Jeff, for it was his youngest son he wanted to speak to first. He knew Alan had insisted that he was fit and ready to take his rotation on Five, and Jeff was the first to admit that John really did need to be able to get away from his beloved Space Station for a while if he ever wanted to rid himself of that cough. But what the youngest declared in front of all four of his brothers as well as his father, Kyrano and Tin-Tin was one thing. What he was truly feeling could be something quite the opposite.
Tapping his knuckles softly on the closed door, Jeff waited a moment before pushing it open. Just as he had expected, Alan was sprawled out across the bed, still asleep. Various stages of packing littered the room, clearly a sign that he intended to go back to Five, regardless of anything anyone said. In a way, Jeff was proud of him, so determined to put aside whatever he was feeling in order to do his duty. But he also knew that that same determination could be all but lethal, especially when he was confined to the isolation of Five. He had learnt the hard way what the loneliness of the Space Station could do to the Monitors, and had no desire for a repeat performance. John had been bad enough, but Jeff couldn’t help but feel Alan would be even worse.
“Allie?” Stepping over the mess, Jeff perched on the edge of the bed, reaching out a hand as he did so. Gently resting it on top of his son’s head, the father couldn’t help but smile as Alan automatically leaned into the contact as he shifted position slightly.
“Alan, wake up, son.” His voice slightly firmer, Jeff knew by the sharp intake of breath that his words had got through to the youngest member of the family.
“Dad?” To start with, Alan merely blinked up at his father with sleep-heavy eyes, then Jeff could visibly see the memory of the events of the day before come crashing back over him, making him sit up sharply.
“What is it? Is it the guys, are they hurt?”
“Alan, relax, everyone is fine. Your grandmother saw to that.”
“Grandma?” Alan asked, frowning in confusion even as he pulled himself into a more upright position and rested himself against the wall, his eyes surveying the mess that was his room as he did so.
“Penny had a stowaway last night,” Jeff responded with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Judging by the way his mother had got both Virgil and Gordon to sleep and then forced Scott to relax, Jeff couldn’t have been more grateful. There had been plenty of occasions since they had moved to the island when he had been more than thankful for her constant presence. If anyone could keep his sons in control, it was his mother.
“Good on Grandma,” Alan murmured with a heartfelt smile. Mirroring his father’s thoughts, Alan knew that if there was one person who could put things into perspective, it would be his grandmother. If only they could set her on this Hood character, Alan knew the potential murderer wouldn’t stand a chance. Especially not if she was armed with her infamous wooden spoon. “So what are you..?”
His question didn’t need finishing, however, for Jeff knew precisely what his son was going to ask.
“She never got the chance to talk to you. Alan, tell me the truth, are you going to be okay with going back to Five? We can put her on automatic, or even send Brains up for a short stint. There are other ways of allowing John to come home without you having to leave the island. I mean, after what happened yesterday, no one will think any less of you if you would rather stay.”
“No way, Dad. I’m going up.” Alan was sitting almost bolt upright now, looking his father straight in the eye as he voiced his opinion. In a way, Jeff had hit the nail right on the head. Scott had been shut in a freezer, but had then been so adamant to go and do his duty that their father had been forced to sedate him in order to stop him. Gordon had realised all along that someone was out to kill them, but that hadn’t stopped him from immediately taking the rescue in hand and doing what he did best. Virgil had been forced to come to their rescue – all three of them – yet Alan knew he certainly wouldn’t be shying away from the next call out. All the creep had done to him was hold a gun to his head, and besides, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been through worse. There was no way he was going to stop an incident like that from letting him take his rotation. He had meant what he had said the day before about it meaning he would technically be in the safest place, for who could hurt him onboard a secret station that only a handful of people knew even existed?
“Alan, are you-?”
“Sure? Yeah, Dad, I’m sure. Johnny needs to come home and to be honest with you…” Breaking off, Alan bit his lip slightly as he contemplated how to say what was going through his mind. If it had been any of his brothers he was speaking to, he wouldn’t have even considered saying it, but because it was his father, he knew that the man would understand.
“What, son?” Jeff pushed gently, knowing by the expression on Alan’s face he was about to say something that he wasn’t sure about. Ever since he had been a small child, Alan was always very expressive when he wanted to be.
“I need to get away from here,” he gabbled in a bit of a rush, staring down at the floor as he spoke so that he didn’t have to meet Jeff’s gaze. “The fights, the tension, not to mention everything else that’s going on… I know Scott’s going to try and look out for us all, but who do you think is going to bear the brunt of it, Dad? In all honesty? Gordy’s only got one little brother and when something goes wrong…”
Breaking off once more, Alan took a deep breath before finally lifting his gaze. “When something goes wrong, he doesn’t let me forget it. Escaping for a few weeks is a blessing, meant in the nicest possible way.”
“You know he’ll never forgive you for this as it means the others will all turn their attention onto him instead?” Jeff said with a smile, reaching out and ruffling his son’s hair, causing Alan to visibly relax. The young man’s explanation had reassured Jeff far more than a simple insistence would ever have been able to do. He hadn’t denied the fact that he wasn’t completely alright, but Jeff could understand his reasoning. And if he was honest, was glad for it. If Alan was feeling like this and they made him stay, it would only be a matter of time before there was a repeat performance of a few days ago when he had found out about Gordon’s accident.
“As long as you are sure?” he continued, standing up from the bed and making his way towards the door as he spoke. Even if Alan was content enough, it didn’t mean he didn’t have four other sons to sort out.
“I’m sure. Oh, and Dad?” Waiting until he had his father’s attention, Alan grinned ruefully. “Don’t tell the others?”
Nodding his understanding, Jeff left his youngest son’s room, the smells wafting up from the kitchen drawing him down. Knowing that it wouldn’t be long before utter chaos once again broke loose as the boys battled over the last pancake, Jeff picked up his pace.
Just as he had reached the bottom of the stairs and turned towards the infirmary, he caught sight of Penny coming out from the lounge, Parker trailing behind her. A cup was balanced delicately in one hand as she made her way out of the room, clearly heading towards the tantalising smells coming from the kitchen.
“How did you sleep, Penny?”
“Good morning, Jeff. Marvellously, thank you, dear man. I seem to be able to sense that your mother is battling against Kyrano and preparing a feast fit for who knows what this morning.”
“Ah, well, the boys deserve it,” Jeff responded with a smile. Thinking about his boys, he spoke again. “Is Virgil still asleep in there?”
“Virgil?” Penny asked, glancing back over her shoulder in confusion. On only seeing Parker standing there dutifully, she shook her head, blonde curls bouncing all over the place as she did so. “He hasn’t been in here any time this morning, Jeff.” So saying, the aristocrat moved away, clearly intending to make it to her destination with no more interruptions.
A frown flickering momentarily onto his face, Jeff found that he had to check in the lounge himself, just to confirm that Penny had been right. Sure enough, the couch where he had left his son sleeping peacefully the night before was empty, the blanket in a tangled mess on the floor from where it had obviously been kicked off in a hurry. Backing back out of the room, Jeff paused, biting his lip as he wondered where his son could be. He knew that Virgil wasn’t in his own room – the artist’s door had been open when Jeff had passed, something that never happened if Virgil was within. He was also pretty sure that the young man wasn’t in the kitchen, for Jeff was sure he would have heard Virgil’s voice if that had been the case. Only one other place sprang to mind, and so, heading towards his original destination, Jeff turned on his heel and walked towards the infirmary.
As the doors swished open, granting him access to the state-of-the-art room within, the father found himself stopping still, a smile immediately blossoming across his face. Gordon was awake again, sitting sideways on the bed as his legs swung freely, too engaged in the quiet conversation he was having with his oldest brother to notice his father’s arrival. Scott too failed to hear the door opening, his mind preoccupied with both of his younger brothers. Virgil was sitting on the chair next to Scott, but was fast asleep, his head hanging over to one side and resting on his big brother’s shoulder. Whether it was just an automatic reaction or whether Scott had realised the somewhat precarious position Virgil was balanced in, the older man had awkwardly looped his arm around his brother’s chest, keeping him securely on the seat even as he carried on talking in a quiet undertone with Gordon.
“Boys?” His voice quiet and soft, Jeff smiled gently as Gordon and Scott’s heads both swivelled simultaneously. Whatever they were talking about was certainly doing them both good, for Scott especially was looking far more relaxed than when his father had last seen him. Even Gordon looked far more content. Of course, the fact that he was sitting up, his legs swinging with greater speed as he gestured something to his brother, rather than lying down barely conscious, made a big difference in Jeff’s mind.
“Penny’s having breakfast. I thought perhaps we might be able to get some more information out of her.” Despite not wanting to spoil the relaxed atmosphere his sons had managed to create for themselves, Jeff knew that he couldn’t simply let matters lie. The longer this went on, the harder it would be for them to be able to find some sort of peace.
“We’ll be there,” Gordon promised, jumping down from the bed as he spoke. With a grin at Scott, he followed his father out of the door when his brother jerked his head in that direction.
With Gordon out of the way, Scott slowly shifted position, twisting around in his seat until he was supporting Virgil better. There was a reason why he didn’t want their younger brother around for this moment, and, reaching around with his free hand, he gently shook Virgil by the shoulder.
“Virg? Virgil, it’s time to wake up.”
“Don’t wanna…” Virgil slurred, shifting position slightly. Having anticipated the movement, Scott automatically braced the arm holding his brother on the seat as Virgil moved, and sure enough, found himself having to take more of the artist’s weight. Luckily for Scott’s arm, his brother realised almost immediately and his eyes shot open. For a moment, they just darted around the infirmary in something that could resemble panic, before he caught sight of the slightly strained expression on his big brother’s face.
“Couldn’t sit back, could you, Virg?” Scott muttered through gritted teeth, exhaling sharply in relief as Virgil caught on to what he was talking about and wriggled backwards. Satisfied that his brother was securely on the seat, Scott drew his arms back into him. Turning once again in his own seat so that he was facing his brother, Scott shifted into a more comfortable position, folding one leg up under him as he moved.
“How are you feeling?” His duties as a big brother coming to him almost as naturally as breathing, Scott barely thought about what he was doing as he scrutinised the young man closely, looking for any sign that Virgil might not be telling the truth when he answered the question. Luckily for him, Virgil had no such qualms.
“Like crap. You?”
“I’ve been better,” Scott responded, glad Virgil was prepared to voice how he was truly feeling. There had been enough lies bouncing around the house lately; it wouldn’t do any of them any good if they were to be continued now.
“Did you get any sleep?” Stretching his arms above his head with a sigh, Virgil was soon rolling his neck, trying to do anything that would relieve the sensation of having spent the night sleeping in an awkward position. If he was honest, the events of the night before were a little hazy to him. He remembered falling asleep on the couch, although whether his grandmother had truly been there or not, he couldn’t say. There was also a vague recollection of something awakening him again and feeling the sudden need to check on Gordon. But after that, he had no idea what had happened, exhaustion blurring everything together into one jumbled mass, not allowing him to distinguish what had happened from what was all in his mind.
“A little,” Scott admitted, climbing off his seat as he spoke, a clear sign he wasn’t happy with the direction the conversation was taking. “Come on, Dad’s drilling Penny on what she knows.”
Taking the offered hand with a smile of appreciation, Virgil allowed his brother to pull him to his feet. He wasn’t fooled by Scott’s act for a moment, but with John coming home the next day, was prepared to let it go for now. If anyone would be able to get their oldest brother to lower the barriers that had sprung up around him, it would be the star-lover. He could do it with any of them, but Virgil knew that John had a particular way of getting through to Scott. What he would give to know how the man did it, for the artist wasn’t sure whether he had ever met anyone as stubborn as his oldest brother.
The two brothers walked companionably out of the infirmary and towards the kitchen, neither admitting to watching the other out of the corner of their eye, but both doing it regardless. By the time they reached the kitchen, the rest of the island was present, Alan looking up to catch Virgil’s eye as they walked in. On seeing that his brother seemed relatively well apart from the dark circles under his eyes, the youngest went back to his food. Nothing needed to be said, for they were all feeling the same way.
Their father managed to wait until the two elder sons present had sat down and accepted Kyrano’s laden plates with heartfelt thanks before turning his attention to Lady Penelope.
“Well?” he almost demanded, immediately earning himself a withering look from his mother, causing him to back down. “I’m sorry, Penny. Please, can you tell us what you know about this Hood character? Who is it that is trying to kill my family?”
“Well,” Penny began, her lips pursued thoughtfully as she took a tentative sip of her drink before lowering the cup, making the action seem to stretch for an eternity. “I don’t know much. He seems to have his fingers in all the pies, connections across the criminal world throughout Malaysia, although I think it stretches further. He’s been lurking around a lot of the rescue zones, well, the ones I can pull up footage for, anyway. You remember the Fireflash incident?”
“The boys’ first rescue,” Jeff mused with a slight smile, glancing towards Scott and Virgil as he did so. The younger had turned an interesting shade of red as Scott reached out and ruffled his little brother’s hair, a fond grin teasing the corner of his lips. Jeff knew Virgil had never forgotten the fact he had ended upside down due to faulty machinery on their first ever rescue.
“Scott, you reported someone was photographing Thunderbird One?” The smile was gone from Scott’s face the second Penny began to mention someone gaining access to his beloved ‘bird without permission. The pilot’s face instead clouded over, causing Virgil to be the one to stretch across the table this time, grasping Scott’s forearm in reassurance.
“Looking at the footage we managed to acquire when we were trying to apprehend the fellow, I believe now that it was the same person.”
“He did want to know when International Rescue was going to be operational,” another voice muttered, causing a heavy silence to fall across the table.
“You can feel him, can’t you?” Ignoring Jeff’s question, Penny instead locked eyes with the faithful manservant, her expression curious, but to Kyrano’s relief, not judgmental. He had been so concerned about what would happen when the people he considered to be his real family found out his connection with the criminal, but for it to happen in circumstances like this? When said person was trying to kill the boys? This was certainly not how he had imagined it.
Clasping Tin-Tin’s hand in his own, Kyrano turned to face the rest of the family.
“The Hood is my half-brother. The seizure the doctor couldn’t explain around the same time as the Fireflash incident? It was him. He’s been attempting to follow the rescues since the beginning.”
“What does he want?” Scott’s voice was cold and hard now, anger spiralling brightly out of his eyes as he looked at no one in particular. Kyrano knew that the young man’s anger wasn’t directed at him, however, but at the fact that the man who was trying to destroy them now had actually been doing so for a considerable length of time.
“I don’t know,” Kyrano admitted, causing Scott to sigh, running his hand through his hair. Pushing his chair away, Scott rose.
“I’m going for a run,” he told the room in general, walking away as he did so without a backwards glance. Silence fell as he left, all eyes fixed on his retreating back.
“He’s barely touched his food,” Grandma eventually muttered, frowning in concern at Scott’s silhouette as he let himself outside. She knew how angry he had been the night before, but she had seen the way he was still automatically comforting his brothers, still being the one they turned to. She had hoped that would do something to ground him, but now she wasn’t so sure.
“Leave him be, Mom.” Jeff too felt his eyes flicker between his fast-disappearing son and the almost fully-laden plate left on the table. He couldn’t remember the last time Scott had refused a meal, but at the same time, the father wasn’t too concerned. He had barely eaten anything either. Whilst he would normally push the young man to get some food inside him – rescues were dangerous enough as it was without ending up lightheaded from lack of food – he also knew that Scott wasn’t in the mood to be lectured.
“He’ll be fine, Grandma.” Gordon knew precisely what his father was thinking, and echoing the man’s thoughts, knew that there was nothing any of them could say to Scott without riling him up further.
“How can you say that?”
It was Alan who answered this time, part of him aware that he would be mirroring the rest of his brothers’ thoughts.
“John’s coming home.”
Grandma had nothing to say to that, seeing the sense in what the boy was saying. The rest of the island’s occupants finished eating as quickly as they could, all disappearing in various directions until it was just the Tracys left around the table.
“How are you?” Jeff asked no one in particular, not being completely sure if he wanted to know the answer.
“I’ll be all the better once I can hit something,” Gordon muttered, also rising to his feet. “Virg, I need a sparring partner. You up to getting your ass kicked?”
“Keep dreaming,” Virgil responded, moving to follow his brother out of the room. Jeff watched them go, satisfied the pair was finding some sort of outlet for the frustration he knew would be building – he could feel it himself.
“I need to get stuff sorted.” Alan also followed his brothers out of the room, determined to get himself ready for his rotation before catching up with Gordon and Virgil. They were always an interesting fight to watch, and he could use the entertainment.
Finally it was just mother and son left in the kitchen.
“How are you holding up, Jefferson?” Grandma asked gently, leaning forward as she did so. They had both been so focused on helping the boys that she had never gotten around to asking the question. Part of it had been deliberate, knowing that if Jeff could see the boys were as happy as they could be considering the circumstances, then he would be a lot more relaxed himself. But she wasn’t fooled. She could see through his attempts to make himself look more in control, could see the image of the almost broken man peeking through.
“Someone is trying to kill my children, Mom. How do you think I’m holding up?”
“You forget one thing, baby,” Grandma said, a strange light coming into her eyes as she stood up. Whilst her height meant it didn’t have the same impact as when her grandsons rose to their feet, Jeff had to smile at the fierceness being emitted.
“No one messes with a Tracy.”
Letting his hands dance almost automatically through the checks, John was vaguely aware of Brains mimicking him on the other side of Three’s cockpit. The changeover had been as smooth as the astronaut could have hoped for, despite him being more reluctant than usual to leave his ‘bird with his little brother. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t trust Alan – those days were long gone – it was more concern over whether the kid could handle the isolation of the space station considering what he had just gone through. Only Alan’s insistence and Brains’ pleading had finally got the elder of the blonds off the station and into Three, where Brains had detached so quickly John was sure the genius thought he might change his mind again.
The journey had passed in no time, John taking the chance to catch a bit of sleep before heading towards what he was sure was going to be chaos. He may have been worried about leaving Alan up there, but for once there was no way John was about to offer to double shift. He needed to see the rest of the guys in person, not just through a video-screen. He needed to know they were going to be okay – the footage of the attack was playing around and around in his mind like he was stuck on a constant loop.
“S…systems c…checked, engines s…secure.”
“F.A.B. Brains. Come on, I’ve had enough of being in here.” Unfastening his harness, John quickly stood up, stretching his arms above his head as he did so. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Brains also standing up, although his movements were a lot more controlled than John’s.
“W…welcome p…party arriving.”
A grin immediately jumping onto his face, John was out of the cockpit almost before Brains could blink. As soon as the doors opened, he caught sight of his two remaining younger brothers and his father standing there.
“Welcome home, John,” Jeff said with a smile, stepping forward and briefly embracing his son. As he pulled away, the father found himself rolling his eyes at the slight flush in John’s skin. A flush, he couldn’t help but realise, the video-screens had successfully covered up and which the astronaut had failed to mention. However, he knew that nothing he said would come anywhere close to what Virgil would come out with when he noticed, especially given how worried he had been about his brother. Stepping out of the way, Jeff found himself engaged in a quiet conversation with Brains, the pair walking slowly back towards the villa.
“Hey, guys.” John couldn’t help but grin, the relief of seeing them standing there in front of him lifting a great weight from his shoulders. There was, however, one brother still missing. Before he could voice his concerns over Scott’s whereabouts, he suddenly caught sight of the look Virgil was giving him.
“Bronchitis.” Gordon disguised his word in the middle of a fake cough, but both brothers looked towards him, Virgil exasperated, John grateful for the warning.
“I’m fine, Virg. Listen, no coughing or anything.” Spreading his arms wide in a gesture that showed he had nothing to hide, John winced as he felt the tickle once more building in his throat, almost as if to mock the young man. Swallowing hard, he was sure he had managed to get away with it before glancing over at Gordon and finding his younger brother watching him with an amused expression.
“Shouldn’t you be in the infirmary, squirt?” he asked, causing Gordon’s face to darken as his expression slipped into a glare. Before Gordon had a chance to respond, John turned his attention back to Virgil.
“Where is he?”
“That bad?” Sighing, John ran a hand through his hair in distraction. Virgil’s words had confirmed what he had been thinking the whole journey home: Scott was struggling to hold it together, but in true big brother fashion, had chosen to shut himself away rather than letting any of the younger ones see his vulnerable side. That didn’t mean, however, that John didn’t know precisely how to get through to the older man.
“He’s waiting for you, Johnny,” Virgil muttered, almost as if he could read what was going through John’s head. They had been looking forward to having the space monitor home anyway, but the artist knew this couldn’t have come at a better time. He could usually force Scott to let him in, whether the pilot wanted to or not. But there were occasions when even Virgil couldn’t get close, and that was when he knew John was needed. Unfortunately, now was one of those occasions.
“Come on, Gords, Brains wants to know what the Hood feels like.”
“Come again?” Despite Virgil tugging on his arm, Gordon refused to move, looking at his brother in astonishment.
“Don’t ask me to determine how Brains’ mind works. He wants a word.”
“Creepy genius,” Gordon muttered darkly under his breath, but let Virgil pull him away nonetheless. Watching them go, John knew exactly what Virgil was playing at, getting Gordon out of the way so that the younger brother wouldn’t be asking any awkward questions. Knowing what Gordon was like, he would have picked up precisely what their brief conversation had been about, but even so… If Scott was trying to hide himself away, there was no point in broadcasting it to the entire island.
Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, John was soon heading down towards the more isolated of the beaches scattered across the island. It wasn’t Scott’s usual beach, but John knew it was where his brother went whenever he didn’t want to be found. John was sure Scott must have realised his younger brothers had caught on to that fact, but if he was honest, it wouldn’t surprise him if that was not the case. Whenever Scott sought out this stretch of land, his mind was often not working properly.
Sure enough, the form of his only big brother was soon coming into focus. Standing on the edge of the beach, Scott had his arm drawn back, and as John watched, threw a rock out to sea as hard as he could. Almost gracefully, he stooped down, clearly plucking another from the ground before repeating his actions. As he bent down a third time, John knew it was time to make his presence known.
“And what did the sea ever do to you?”
If Scott was the slightest bit surprised at John’s arrival, he hid it well. Instead, he turned towards his brother, locking eyes long enough to acknowledge his presence before turning his attention back to the sea. Not before John had caught sight of the tears of frustration lingering in his brother’s eyes, however. Now knowing precisely why Scott had sought the seclusion of the beach, John didn’t go any closer, but instead sat down.
“This again?” he said softly, having seen that expression more than once on his brother’s face. The last time was after Virgil had been shot down by the Navy. Scott had admitted to John then he wasn’t sure whether rescues should continue or not if they couldn’t even guarantee they could fly home in safety, but when the issue had been resolved, he had reassured his younger brother it had only been a fleeting thought. Now, however, John wasn’t so sure.
“They could have died, John.”
“They could die every time they get up in the morning, Scott. Loose banana peel, unsecured railing… You can’t honestly think you can protect them from all of that? Thinking about what could have happened will get you nowhere; you have to focus on what did happen.”
“Fine. Some lunatic attacked them.”
“Try and work with me here,” John sighed, pulling himself to his feet again and approaching his brother. It looked like he was going to have to take a more forceful approach. Something told him that it wasn’t so much what had happened that had Scott as tense as a coiled spring, but the fact he hadn’t been there to stop it. As Scott turned away, John latched his hand around his brother’s arm, spinning him back again.
“Not this time, Johnny. This wasn’t some random attack, or some unfortunate accident. The creep has been following us for months. He wants you all dead.”
“He wants you dead too, Scott,” John muttered, knowing that Scott wasn’t even thinking about what could have happened to him during the accidents. That in itself concerned John, for if his brother was not thinking about himself, he was more likely to do something rash that would end up with him being hurt – if not worse.
“Oh that makes me feel loads better!” Scott snapped, pulling his arm away from his brother and beginning to stalk up the beach, not wanting to face the ever-patient look in John’s eyes. He knew the younger man would simply stay there, having an answer to everything Scott said until the pilot was forced to admit that his brother was talking sense.
“Race you to the next boulder!” John suddenly called, an idea springing into his head. Sure enough, Scott stopped and faced him again, incredulity etched into his face.
“Have you gone mad?”
“Why did you react to Virgil?” John knew he was getting somewhere now; the flicker of understanding in Scott’s eyes showed he was on the right track.
“He needed to hit something. Well, better me than the wall – you know he broke his hand doing that once. And Virgil not being able to play… We’d all be screwed.”
Smirking, John walked closer to his brother, finally glad to see the Scott he knew beginning to fight back.
“But you didn’t need the fight?”
“No, it didn’t help,” Scott admitted, dragging his hand through his hair as he glanced out to sea, momentarily losing himself in the calming motion of the waves. No wonder Gordon could so effectively take out any frustration on the water, it simply took it all.
“But this will. So, come on, race ya!” Wondering if he was going to regret this, John jogged past his brother before stopping. Turning to face him once more, he grinned challengingly. “Unless, of course, you can’t beat your little brother?”
As Scott finally smiled, John took off down the beach, hearing the sound of pursuit from behind him. He knew the only way Scott was going to let go of his frustration was to run, but the man had been so caught up in his thoughts, John knew he wasn’t about to do it himself. Whilst it wasn’t exactly the approach he was most comfortable with – John would much rather work through a problem than simply lash out – if it was what Scott needed, then that worked well with him. The pilot might not have realised what it was he needed himself, but all it took was a slight prompt before he was reacting the way John wanted.
Hearing the footsteps gain on him, John couldn’t help but grin as he attempted to put on an extra burst of speed, only to find that his fitness levels were not as high as he had hoped. Normally on the station, John would keep himself on top form, but lately the lingering cough had made any serious exercise a much harder feat than it should have been. No matter how fast he ran, Scott was still gaining on him. Waiting for the moment his brother sprinted past, John was not expecting a hand to suddenly grab the back of his top, dragging him to the floor.
As John attempted to spit out a mouthful of sand, he glanced up in time to see Scott leaping over him. Grinning to himself at the more genuine smile that had finally emerged on Scott’s face, John stuck out a hand. Latching onto his brother’s ankle, he scrambled to his feet even as Scott fell.
He made it no further than three paces past his brother, however, before Scott was up again. Within a matter of seconds, he had slammed into John’s back, sending them both flying forwards and landing in a tangled heap. As John tried to find out which foot was actually attached to his leg, the sound he had been waiting for since Gordon’s first accident was finally ringing through the air as Scott laughed.
“You’re a freak, space-man,” he chortled, knowing precisely what John had done and being more grateful than he could express to his younger sibling.
“It’s my hidden talent,” John responded cheerfully, a grin firmly on his face. Even if he hadn’t exactly wanted the spontaneous sprint, John couldn’t deny it had done him good even as he tried to bring his breathing back under control. The grin on Scott’s face made it worth it. His big brother had come back to him.
“Thanks, John.” The serious undertone in Scott’s voice had John dipping his head in acknowledgement, knowing precisely what his brother was getting at.
“What the heck was all of that?”
Craning his neck around awkwardly as he unhooked his foot from Scott’s knee, John smirked to see Gordon standing at the edge of the beach. Even from this distance, the disbelief could be read on his face, and without thinking, John knew he had witnessed the mad dash across the beach.
“John just failed his physical,” Scott commented lightly, climbing to his feet and offering his brother a hand.
“I did what?” John yelped, but accepted the hand all the same, allowing Scott to pull him to his feet. With a rather firm swipe across the younger man’s back, Scott successfully managed to dislodge most of the sand plastered to John, but found he was forced to grab his brother by the arm at the same time to stop him from flying forwards. Finally breaking free of his brother’s hold, John turned to face Scott, hands on his hips and an indignant expression on his face.
“You failed. You’re getting slow there, Johnny. Not to mention out of breath.” Adding the last part in an undertone to make sure the rapidly-approaching Gordon wouldn’t hear, Scott couldn’t help but chuckle at the look on his brother’s face.
“Dude, you suck,” John muttered. There was nothing he could really say, however, for the same thoughts had been crossing his mind during the race. Before Gordon could latch onto this new development, however, Scott did the one thing he was the best at in his role of big brother. He changed the subject.
“What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be in the infirmary?”
“No!” Gordon responded, but it was a little too quick and caused his older brothers to exchange amused looks.
“Maybe… But I’m not going to be stuck in there whilst you guys are out here.”
“Where’s Virg?” John asked, glancing around him as he did so and looking for any sign that their final Earthbound brother was going to be joining them.
“Looking for me,” Gordon responded with a grin.
“Gordon…” Scott began warningly, but his brother merely cut him off, instead turning his attention to John.
“So, glad to be dirt-side again, Johnny-boy?”
“What are you doing out here, Gordon?” Unfortunately for the aquanaut, Scott had decided the power of changing the subject lay with him alone, and he was not going to let the matter drop. Especially not with Gordon’s scream still replaying in his ears. Despite his father’s objections, Scott had got hold of the news feed, determined to see for himself what had happened. Or, as John suspected, to try and work out what he would have done differently to save them before everything got that bad.
“I thought you might need some help,” Gordon said with a shrug, catching Scott’s eye as he spoke. To John’s discomfort, Scott seemed to know precisely what the younger man was getting at and dipped his head in acknowledgment, a small smile playing across his lips.
“Your expertise will come in handy.”
“Expertise? What are you two talking about? If you mean Gordon’s expertise at acing physicals rather than failing them, then great. If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, no way. Drop it now or I tell Dad.”
“Back on the planet for ten minutes and already turning traitor.”
Ignoring Gordon’s words, John instead found himself locked in what felt like a staring contest with his only older brother. Looking away would mean backing down, something neither man was prepared to do.
“Scott, you can’t,” John all but pleaded, unable to believe his big brother would even contemplate putting the others back in harm’s way deliberately. “You said he could have killed them. You go through with this and you’ll be lucky if any of you walk away from it.”
“They aren’t coming with me,” Scott muttered, finally glancing away. His eyes flickered momentarily towards Gordon, but he couldn’t hold the younger man’s gaze, not with the look of outrage on the redhead’s face.
“You are not going after him without us, Scott. That’s twice he has nearly killed me. I’m coming too.”
“Too dangerous? Of course it is, that’s why you need someone to watch your back and stop him from kicking your ass.” Crossing his arms across his chest, Gordon practically glared at his oldest brother, almost daring Scott to challenge him again. Wanting someone to tell him that he wasn’t being unreasonable in not wanting his brothers to deliberately track down the Hood, John raised his watch.
“Virgil, come in.”
“John?” The slightly annoyed note in his immediate younger brother’s voice caused John to glance towards Gordon, who in turn grinned sheepishly. It sounded as if the young man had been telling the truth when he said Virgil was looking for him.
“I have something you’re looking for,” John said simply, quirking an eyebrow at Gordon at the same time. Not knowing where Virgil was, he didn’t want to risk saying anything else in case their father should overhear. Despite his threat, John had no intention of letting the man know.
“Don’t let him go anywhere,” Virgil responded, and John could hear his speeding footfalls just before his brother cut the line. With Virgil having known where Scott was, and the fact John had gone to find him, the star-lover knew that his brother would know where to find them. Sure enough, after an uncomfortable few moments in which all three of them refused to meet each other’s eyes, Virgil appeared at the top of the hill. The anger was visible on his face even from the distance they were at, and despite his flippant reply of earlier, Gordon looked worried, taking a step back so Scott was in-between him and the rapidly-approaching Virgil.
“What do you think you are doing? Brains has no idea if there is any lasting damage yet. You can’t just go wandering off!”
“You can’t babysit me, Virgil!” Gordon yelled back, matching his brother’s annoyance. Sighing, John knew he had been expecting this from the moment he had arrived home. If the issue of Gordon’s health had been able to make Scott and Virgil argue, then John was not the slightest bit surprised that Gordon himself was clashing with at least one of them. As Virgil opened his mouth to respond, John cut in.
“Don’t!” Luckily, whilst it wasn’t often John raised his voice, when he did, the others heeded his words, and Virgil shut his mouth again. “Scott wants to track down the guy trying to kill us all and you two are arguing like an old married couple.”
“Scott wants to what?” Virgil asked, glancing towards his oldest brother as he spoke. The disbelief in Virgil’s voice made John sag in relief, glad that he finally had some support in the matter.
“I’m not waiting for him to hurt one of you guys again, Virg. We stop him, now.”
“I’m in,” Virgil said simply, causing John to freeze.
“You’re in? Virgil, this is madness. You are playing right into his hands! The guy wants you dead, or have you forgotten that? You go looking for him and it is as good as suicide!”
“We’re not just going to walk in blindly,” Scott cut in, having seemed to have accepted that he wouldn’t be able to stop his two younger brothers from coming with him.
“You can’t take justice into your own hands, Scott,” John said quietly, ignoring the younger two as he locked eyes with his big brother once again. He knew how much this was hurting the older man; he himself was feeling that same helplessness about not being able to protect their younger siblings. That didn’t mean he was about to risk putting them in danger just to be able to feel like he was doing something.
“Who says anything about that? I just want to find the guy.”
“And then what? You’ll just wait for the cops to turn up whilst he tries to kill you all?”
“I don’t remember having to ask for your permission, John,” Scott said coldly, part of him realising where his brother was coming from. It was dangerous, and if he had a choice, he certainly wouldn’t be taking Virgil and Gordon with him. But they were right, he couldn’t do this on his own, and Scott knew they could both look after themselves. After all they had both met the man, which was more than Scott had done. He couldn’t exactly deny them the right of helping bring him down. “Besides, I’m not asking you to come.”
“No course not, because I’m always the one that just has to watch from the side,” John muttered under his breath, turning away from his brothers and looking out to sea, hoping the calming motion of the waves would provide him with a way of being able to get through to his brothers. “If you are going, I’m coming too. But I don’t like it.”
“Johnny, you have to want to do this,” Gordon said quietly, glancing towards Virgil for support as he spoke. He knew why John hadn’t accompanied them up to the house, knew that his eldest brother was relying on John to calm him down again. To see them at loggerheads already was definitely something new. “It’s going to be dangerous. If you are going to be questioning everything, it could be fatal.”
“Are you saying I’m not up to it, Gordon?” John demanded, hands on his hips as he turned to face the younger man. He couldn’t help but feel that now he had voiced his opinion on the matter they weren’t going to want him along.
“No, I’m not-”
“Maybe,” Scott cut in, stopping Gordon’s mumbling with one word. “You did just fail that physical.”
“Fine! Fine, if you don’t want me there, just say. It’s not like that is anything new.” So saying, John strode away down the beach, not noticing Scott close his eyes and take a deep breath in exasperation. He didn’t even hear Virgil say something softly before the artist came running after him. They had needed him home to sort out Scott, and now that was done, the astronaut wondered if that was his purpose served.
“Johnny! John, wait!” Finally managing to catch up with his brother’s wide strides, Virgil grabbed him by the arm, pulling John to a stop. “What’s wrong?”
“Come on, Virg, you know how dangerous this is,” John muttered, refusing to meet his brother’s eye. It didn’t fool Virgil for a second though.
“Try again. This isn’t anything to do with Scott’s latest master-plan, is it? You knew he would come up with something like this, it is Scott we are talking about after all. Nope, whatever this it, that isn’t it. So?”
“You could have all been dead before I got back to the planet,” John finally admitted. Virgil always had a way of making him say what was on his mind, very much in the same way John could get through to Scott. His brother was right, he had expected their field commander to do something like this. Scott was never one for sitting back and waiting for events to unfold. John had refused to let himself think along those lines whilst he was still up on Five, but now that he was hearing Scott talk so casually about hunting down the man who had caused them so much trouble, John had suddenly realised just what the family had gone through. In three rescues, he could have lost four brothers, one of them potentially twice. And he had just been sitting around on a space station, listening to it all happen.
“But we’re not. Come on, John, you can’t beat yourself up over this. Scott’s already bad enough about that last rescue. You know better than the rest of us the lengths Dad went to so he didn’t come after us. Things happen.”
“But nothing. Come on, space-man, Grandma wants to see you. And if my nose wasn’t deceiving me, there is a certain chocolate cake waiting for you.”
Finally relaxing, John grinned. Virgil was right, as usual. His father would at least know how he was feeling about having to listen to the rest of the family in danger and not being able to do anything about it. He would talk to the man later, but for now, he needed his grandmother’s cooking, a coffee and some sleep. Then he would be able to tackle Scott’s crazy plans.
Setting off towards the house, John paused long enough for Virgil to yell back to the others that they were heading home before falling into step with the younger man. Sensing Virgil watch him uncertainly out of the corner of his eye – although it was more than obvious he didn’t want John to notice – the older brother slung his arm around the younger’s shoulders.
“We’ll get through this, won’t we, John?” Virgil asked hesitantly, causing John to glance over at him. Having seen both Scott and Gordon begin to lose control slightly at the events that were unfolding beyond their control, whether it be hunting down a madman or going on another rescue, Virgil found that he was no longer sure about what they should be doing.
“Course we will, Virg. We’re a family; he can’t tear that apart no matter how much he tries.” John was quick to reassure his little brother, as always, but he couldn’t help but finally begin to believe his own words. What power on earth would be able to match the bonds between the Tracy brothers?
“It’s good to have you home, John.”
“It’s good to be home,” the astronaut said with a genuine smile, relishing the feeling of the wind blowing in his hair and the sun on his skin. Nothing was going to tear them down, not if John could help it.