by MCJ

Contrary to belief, life in the rescue business isn't always perfect. Sometimes there is a real need for reflection.



The balcony of the Tracy Villa had long been a useful haven of escape for those on Tracy Island. A secluded spot for an evening drink, a place of quiet solitude to reflect, or, in his case, on more occasions than he could count over the past few years, a private location to offer words of fatherly advice on just about every subject on the planet.

He liked standing out on the balcony.

Especially at the moment when he needed to simmer down.

They didn't disagree often; in fact, for a household of adult men, they hardly disagreed at all. It often crossed his mind sometimes that things were almost too good to be true. Five sons who loved and respected their Father; a Father who loved and respected each of them in return; five brothers who'd looked out and cared for each other ever since the day they'd been born.

Well, if that was the case, what in the hell had just gone wrong back there?

He'd never witnessed an argument between his sons quite as severe as this one. To say it had totally floored him was the understatement of the year. Sure, they all had their differences of opinion at times. They knew that. He knew that, too. Why else did he insist on a thorough debrief after each and every rescue? The answer was simple, in his thinking. He insisted on it because it was an avenue for his boys to get things off their chests and to appreciate each other's opinions and judgements. It had never been a forum for finger-pointing or accusation.

Until now.

Jeff Tracy suddenly found himself concentrating hard on the colours of the setting sun. The sky rewarded him with a vivid combination of oranges, pinks and reds. He tried to breathe deeply and admire its magnificence. Funny how he only ever tended to notice these things whenever there was argument.

It was then he also noticed the painful churning in his gut and realised, despite the distraction, it was going to be a long time yet before he began to simmer down.

He couldn't believe it. He simply couldn't. The whole thing had blown up like dynamite, and almost completely without warning.

Alan was the one who had started it. He'd been far too forthright about the delay in the actual handling of the rescue. Scott had taken offence at the inference immediately and had risen to his feet, threatening to knock some common sense into him. The delay had had nothing to with it, he'd barked, his eyes boring all the way through Alan's. Even if had, there was still no excuse for Alan to have barged in there half-informed, half-cocked and try to do the impossible. It was irresponsible. It was stupid. And it was about time he thought before he acted for a change. One of these days he was going to get himself killed.

The next thing he knew it was on. Everyone lost their cool. Even the easy-going Virgil and Gordon swung around and lost their tempers. John cut communications from the satellite in a rage.

Jeff pursed his lips together in grim recollection as his mind pored over each individual component of the rescue.

Granted, Scott had delayed going in because he and John had argued over what degree of stability was still left in the burning building. Granted, it was one of those rare occasions where both of them were probably wrong. Right or wrong, it hadn't affected the outcome of the rescue. The building hadn't completely fallen until after everyone was out.

Yes, Alan had taken a stupid, mindless risk which in the end had nearly cost Virgil his life. Yes; Virgil, in going in after him, had demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for his own. It was pointless continuing to dwell it. Virgil had managed to get Alan out just before the building fell.

And Gordon ... hell he didn't know how to explain what had gotten into Gordon. Gordon knew damn well it was dangerous to go back in and try to haul the last two victims out. Especially, as Scott had pointed out, when the building was almost a complete inferno when he decided to take the risk and do it. Scott was right of course, but the bottom line was that the Firefly had been able to withstand the temperature long enough for two more lives to be saved. What Gordon had done was a gamble and, fortunately, the gamble had paid off.

Jeff began to tap his fingers impatiently on the ornate iron railing.

What should have been said and would have been said if he'd been given half an opportunity; was that even though what had happened today was unacceptable, it also needed to be put in perspective. Despite the significant deviations from their usual procedures, International Rescue had still managed to wrench ten people from the jaws of certain death and somehow survive the experience to come home.

With that his brow furrowed and his eyebrows knitted tightly.

What also needed to be said, and he had no qualms whatsoever about saying it either; was, unless they tightened up those procedures, the next time they deviated, one of them might not be so lucky.

"Your drink, Mr Tracy."

The quiet, controlled voice of his long standing friend and confidante echoed from the doors behind him. Turning, he motioned Kyrano forward to join him at the railing.

"I trust things rest better with you now, Mr. Tracy," Kyrano continued, moving to place the tray on the nearby table. He paused for a few moments before offering Jeff the glass. "You appeared to be much concerned."

Instantly Jeff Tracy felt bad.

Much concerned.

Now there were two good words for his outburst of bad-mannered aggravation. He knew without anyone telling him he'd barked at Kyrano like a bear with a sore head after the volatile debriefing. The words "Kyrano get me a blasted drink and get the damn thing for me right now!" sounded ten times worse now he'd had fifteen minutes to think about them.

The words replayed again.

No, on second thoughts make that twenty times worse. There was no excuse for venting his frustration on Kyrano. Why he tended to be terse and overbearing when he was worried was something he still couldn't figure out. It wasn't as if he didn't realise he did it.

"Oh hell, Kyrano, I'll be OK when they all cool off." he finally growled in a tone of gruff dismissal. "And I'm sorry about the way I spoke to you earlier. You know what it's like when these things happen around here."

The face of the Malaysian retainer remained characteristically unmoved. Jeff Tracy had to admire his iron self-control. Always so calm, always so cool... nothing seemed to faze Kyrano. Sometimes he wondered if his old friend even felt the same worry he did when International Rescue left base on a mission. He supposed he did even if he didn't show it; especially when his precious daughter was on board.

The moment Tin-Tin became the centre of his thoughts, Jeff's mind filtered back to the near disaster of the Sun-Probe. Somehow at the last minute International Rescue had managed to pull that off, too. How they managed it, he still didn't know. He'd never forget how useless he had felt as two of his sons and Kyrano's only daughter drifted aimlessly toward the sun. It still tore him clean in half whenever he thought about how close he had come to losing them.

Jeff shrugged and allowed the mellow liquor to burn a welcome trail down the back of his throat. Probably better not to think about it. Thinking made a man uneasy.

The gentle silence of the dusk now completely surrounded the Tracy villa. He knew he was being optimistic, but maybe force of habit would be the catalyst for his sons to settle down. Maybe Scott, who enjoyed nothing more than a stiff drink in the evening, would join him on the balcony. Maybe Virgil would saunter down into the lounge and begin to tinker on the piano. Maybe Gordon would choose to start his evening ritual of training. Maybe the two shadows would walk side by side on the beach, carefully disguising their intertwined hands.

Suddenly he frowned at the noise emanating from the kitchen. Well, one thing was for sure. His mother hadn't settled down. He shook his head as the noise continued to escalate. Something told him rather clearly that preparing supper was the last thing on her mind.

"I fear there is still much tension within our walls, sir," Kyrano finally observed.

"And not all of it pent up inside my sons it seems." Jeff grimaced as another saucepan crashed down heavily on a bench.

"Mrs Tracy is most unhappy at what has occurred."

"Yeah well, she's not the only one around here, Kyrano." His voice trailed off into the breeze as his eyes met the horizon. "Believe me old friend ..." he sighed, "...she's not the only one."

The two men continued to stand side by side on the balcony. It was going to be another beautiful evening. Waves lapped the rapidly darkening shore; the breaking of water the only sound to be heard above the violent clanging and banging.

Kyrano remained intentionally silent.

Jeff Tracy sought refuge in his glass of saving grace.

"Hell, why aren't they down there yet, Kyrano?" he suddenly blurted out with a growl. "Since when haven't those two taken every opportunity to be together?"

Kyrano pondered for a few moments on the wisdom of revealing what he knew. "Those two" were down there all right but unless some sort of miracle had occurred in the last forty five minutes, he seriously doubted they were together.

Tin-Tin had been dismayed at Alan's outburst during the debriefing and had followed him in earnest after he stormed his way out of the lounge. She had finally managed to stall him halfway down the stairwell, urging him to turn around and face her with a gentle and persuasive hand. Had he given thought to the fact he might have been at fault, this time? Maybe it wasn't too late to go back and apologise to his brothers?

From what Kyrano saw, Alan had simply glared at her with smouldering eyes and warned her to keep out of it. For a start she hadn't been there, secondly she wouldn't know and thirdly, he was tired of being treated like a child when it came to International Rescue and that included by her.

Then he had turned away, cheeks red, striding angrily towards the beach. Moments before, she had walked away too ... in completely the opposite direction.

"I believe they may have quarrelled, sir," seemed the safest thing to say, rather than pass any judgement.

With that Jeff rolled his eyes and swallowed what little scotch he had left in the bottom of his glass. The last thing he needed around here was the boy upsetting young Tin-Tin too. He waited for Kyrano to elaborate so he could try to figure out the extent of the damage.

"Great," was all he managed to groan when Kyrano made very sure he didn't.

It didn't take too much imagination to conjure up the image of what would have happened, with his youngest firing on all cylinders and Tin-Tin standing firm trying to talk some much-needed sense into him.

A shadowed figure wandering aimlessly amongst the palm trees soon took his mind off Alan.

His face fell. It was obvious Scott didn't have any intention of joining him on the balcony soon. Jeff supposed he couldn't blame him. Scott hated making errors of judgement and no doubt needed to be alone for a couple of hours to figure out how the heck it had happened. That, or beat himself up for endangering the lives of his brothers.

The light burning in the suite above him indicated Virgil wasn't very happy either. When Virgil was unhappy he isolated himself from everything; his family, his beloved Thunderbird, and his precious grand piano. And it was fairly safe to say Virgil had been more than just a little unhappy when he'd left the lounge after the debriefing. Virgil rarely lost his temper over anything. Jeff knew he'd stew about his loss of self-control for hours.

A gigantic splash into the dark end of the pool instantly caused his spirits to lift. Thank God, he breathed, glancing gratefully up towards the heavens. At least one of them was letting it out.

He almost relaxed long enough to share his relief with Kyrano until he suddenly noticed the almost animal urgency with which his son's powerful shoulders ploughed his body through the water. Jeff knew right then his relief was destined to be short-lived.

Pushing his body past its capabilities was the only way Gordon knew to deal with anything, including anger.

Jeff looked down at his empty glass and contemplated the value of another drink. It mightn't help the situation, but the way he was feeling at the moment, it sure as hell wouldn't hurt.

"Son; I'd like a word with you in private if I may."

The voice was low and expectant and he'd been waiting for it ever since the banging and crashing had finally eased off in the kitchen. Without flinching, he acknowledged the presence of his elderly mother, who stood in the doorway; a scotch for herself in one hand and a larger one for him in the other.

"Sure, Mother. Come and sit down," he nodded, indicating the two empty seats nearby.

Almost immediately he shot a glance in the direction of Kyrano. Kyrano politely bowed his head and proceeded to excuse himself. Both of them knew while Josephine Tracy banged, crashed and otherwise expressed herself in the privacy of the kitchen there was nothing much to worry about. When she lowered her voice and placed herself in charge of the scotch bottle that was something else again.

As the balcony doors closed and Kyrano disappeared from view, Jeff moved to seat himself beside her. He reached over to relieve her of the larger glass. "I gather that's for me then." he said.

"You gather correctly," she replied, allowing him to take it. "I assume, like me, you still feel the need for something strong."

Josephine Tracy was never one to stand on ceremony. Before he could even answer she steeled herself, swallowed half the contents of her own glass and looked him squarely in the eyes.

"I don't know about you, Jeff, but I didn't like what just went on in this house ... "she announced in her usual no-nonsense tone, "...and I want whatever caused it sorted out well and truly before anyone thinks twice about laying their head on a pillow tonight."

The expectation in her eyes warned him he'd better be careful about what he chose to say next. She was bristling enough already without adding fuel to her fire. Of course she wouldn't have liked what went on. She lived for her family and had zero tolerance for anyone who upset the balance by engaging in unproductive arguments.

Nine times out of ten he would be the first to agree with her.

Not this time. This time the argument was about the rescue business and when it came to how he handled International Rescue, she was well outside her jurisdiction. Life in the rescue business was dangerous. Things tended to blow up under stress. When they did, she needed to understand it was necessary to give his boys the freedom to say exactly what they thought.

Hmmm...he mused, remembering the less than gentlemanly language his sons had exchanged with each other in the lounge ...maybe not with quite as much expression perhaps but on the whole still necessary.

"I know what you're saying, Mother. I'm sorry." He smiled, patting her hand in gentle reassurance. "I guess the boys tend to get a bit carried away in the face of a near miss."

That seemed enough to pacify her long enough that he could catch his breath. Unfortunately, the momentary reprieve didn't last for very long.

"Well, near miss or no near miss, son," she started on him firmly, "I know what I heard those boys say to each other in there and as their grandmother I know it wasn't healthy. You might not think I understand how this rescue business works but when it comes to how it makes them tick, I'm afraid you've got to accept I know more than you give me credit for. They're brothers first, no matter what, and a family never lets the sun go down on an argument without making amends. Your father would never have allowed it to happen and I'm exactly the same."

He started to dismiss the pointed reference to his father and all of a sudden thought better of it. No matter what he came up with his Mother would always champion his father's methods as the only way to head the family. Pity his father never had to deal with the highs and lows of a multi-billion dollar rescue organisation.

"Mother, let me assure you I don't intend to let the matter rest," he stressed, swirling the amber liquid in his glass. He knew he was about to displease her. "But the way I see it, a good night's sleep is what they need right now, not some long-winded family discussion."

"No..." he continued, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than his mother "...forcing the issue with any of them at the moment is only going to make the situation worse."

Josephine Tracy had no hesitation in throwing down the challenge. With the flick of an annoyed wrist she indicated Gordon in the swimming pool below.

"So what your son's doing to himself down there is making the situation better for him then, is it? "

Now it was Jeff Tracy's turn to feel displeased. It was hard not to feel annoyed when she refused to get the message. To make matters worse, she also knew exactly what jagged his nerves and any reference to Gordon's health was a sure fire way to do it. Gordon only had to grimace and he started panicking sideways.

"No, Mother, it isn't good for him. However, he is more than well aware of his physical limitations these days," he finally replied, and he was surprised at the tightness with which he said it. And the fact that he stood firm in his decision not to say anymore. She'd soon realise his lack of communication meant he was happy with the way he intended to handle things.

The silence between them magnified as the minutes ticked slowly by.

"Well, all I can say is I hope you know what you're doing, son." she eventually murmured, the discontent in her voice obvious. "...because I'm telling you right now I'm more than a little disappointed."

He bit his lip and remained steadfastly silent. He was sorry she didn't understand his decision but contrary to her belief, she wasn't the only one around here who knew how each of his boys ticked.

He was doing the right thing.

They needed the night to think things over and then he'd take control of the situation. He would order a second and thorough debrief. All communications would remain open. There would be no opportunities to argue or apportion blame. Only the mission would be discussed. Only critical errors would be identified. He would remind them what International Rescue stood for and what the outfit had been created to achieve. He would applaud them for their bravery and acknowledge a job well done.

Then he would deliver the message all of them needed to remember the next time he commissioned the Thunderbirds to fly.

All of them were to tighten up communications and watch each other's backs.

Because the message was clear that if they didn't ...

The next time they might not be so lucky.


He wished he'd thought about the fact night was falling before he'd gone overboard and blown his stack. He forgot how cold it could get down on the beach in the evening and to say it was cold out here at the moment was being pretty darned reserved.

Alan Tracy rolled down his shirt sleeves and pulled his knees in as close as he could to his chest. The sudden warmth to his body was welcome. Too bad it didn't make him feel any better.

The whole thing had sounded like it was his fault once the debriefing in the lounge got started. He was the one who'd made the first critical error of judgement. He was the one who had nearly cost Virgil his life. He should have known better than to go in there sight unseen, trying to pull a kid out of an inferno before he had the proper clearance from mobile control to do so. Scott had stood there and said it. John had looked at him through the screen and made a point of saying it, too.

He lifted his face to the darkness and felt his anger burn. Hell, for a while it had even looked like Father wanted to damn well say it. Father didn't frown and press a finger tent against his lips for nothing. He only resorted to the finger tent when he clearly wasn't pleased.

Alan raked up a handful of sand with his fingers and flung it towards the ocean as hard and as far as he could. They could all shove their opinions. This time he wasn't wrong. Going in to save the kid wasn't a crazy thing to do. John hadn't seen the terror on her face. Scott hadn't heard her scream.

This time the ball of sand disintegrated in a thousand directions after being aimed at the centre of a palm tree.

Why didn't everyone around here just get it? His reaction under pressure was instinctive. He'd never make any deliberate attempt to hurt or endanger Virgil. Virgil was his brother. But someone had to do something before the fire swallowed the kid up, didn't they? Couldn't they understand why he did what he did when he did it?

Scott said it wasn't about why he did it; it was the point that he'd miscalculated and she was too far out of his reach. He didn't agree. He'd reached the kid in less than three minutes and was on his way back out. There was even time to tell her not to panic ... time to ask her to trust him. The dull ache at the base of his skull reminded him she trusted him so much she'd damn near wrenched his neck.

Yeah, he'd heard Scott panic all right; yelling at him through the flames to get his ass back out of there on the double. What he didn't hear was the part about the change in the wind direction. When the entrance disappeared he didn't know which way to turn. He was trapped, surrounded by blistering heat. The kid started screaming again. Neither of them could breathe.

"Jesus, Alan."

That was the next thing he heard. That and the sound of a collapsing building. Less than twenty feet away the Firefly was rumbling into shutdown. The fresh air and a massive coughing fit told him he'd somehow managed to get the kid out. He wasn't sure exactly how until he'd looked to his left at a blackened Virgil lying face down in his smouldering uniform, hardly able to breathe.

The third fistful of sand travelled twice as hard and far as the first.

Virgil should have bawled him out on the way home, instead of waiting until they all stood in front of Father making it sound one hundred and fifty times worse. Yes, he did know there was a fine line between bravery and stupidity and no, he didn't need a lion's dose of expletives when he'd dared to suggest that the real problem had been the delay in taking command of mobile control. Hell, he wasn't criticising Scott or anyone else when he said what he said to Father. He was only saying what he thought. Wasn't that why Father made them endure the mandatory debrief the moment they'd set foot in the lounge?

Alan lifted his chin in defiance.

He didn't regret one single thing he'd done out there today, and he'd do it all again right now if he had to. If Scott had given the all clear the moment Gordon had the Firefly out of the pod, the evacuation would have been routine. He didn't understand why the information from Thunderbird Five needed to be checked, double checked and then rechecked. This was Johnny they were talking about. Johnny was so blasted particular about everything, it was sickening.

Alan's brow furrowed.

No; he was standing firm this time.

The evacuation should have happened immediately, and he'd said exactly those words to Father. How dare Scott stand there and threaten to knock some sense into him simply because he didn't like what he'd heard? His fist slammed downwards hard and fast into the sand. One of these days he swore Scott was going to learn the hard way he wasn't a kid anymore.

And then there was the argument with Tin-Tin...stalling him on the stairs like that ...trying to make him go back inside and apologise to his brothers for nothing...

Alan pursed his lips together and replayed the sequence of events which had resulted from her trying to calm him down on the stairs.

It didn't take long for the blond head to lower.

She was right. He had behaved badly. It wasn't her fault he couldn't cope with his pride being threatened and there was absolutely no excuse for losing his temper with anyone; and least of all with her.

He probably should have gone after her instead of hot headedly striding off in the opposite direction. But she didn't understand. She wouldn't understand. He was angry when he walked away from his brothers and he needed time to think. Why couldn't she have sensed his mood and left well enough alone?

Remorsefully he began to trace her name into the sand with the tips of his thumb and index finger.

What a mess he'd made of everything...the rescue...the debrief...the argument with Scott... and now her.

Her face mirrored up at him despite the darkened shore.

He wondered where she was right now.

He hoped she wasn't crying.

He winced as he laid the palm of his hand flat on the glass of the small round table. Carefully, he assessed his fingers. Fingers he'd kept well hidden from everyone until reaching the privacy of his room.

The glass was cool to the touch and at least decreased the burning sensation which continued to tear at his nerve ends. There was no doubt about it. The blistering was getting worse.

Thank goodness Father would be thinking anger was the reason he wasn't playing his favourite pieces tonight. The way things were shaping up, he wouldn't be able to play anything for at least the next couple of weeks. The burning in his fingers was really painful.

Virgil Tracy made a fumbled attempt to lift a glass of cognac with his less than unco-operative left hand. He didn't realise how useless he was without his right one, until now. Right hand. Left hand. Both hands usually co-ordinated perfectly; whether it was playing the piano, painting his latest canvas or flying Thunderbird Two like a maniac to get the right equipment to the danger zone.

Virgil allowed waves of mixed feelings to wash over him. How close had Father come to finding out that little chunk of information? The next time John mouthed off about unsafe practices he needed to think a bit more carefully about who he was dumping head first in front of the firing squad. Virgil was surprised he hadn't been summoned back to the balcony already. He knew Father didn't buy his story.

The cognac was rich and soothed the dryness in his throat. Normally, he didn't get a dry throat during the rescues. He preferred to leave the order-barking completely up to Scott. Scott was like Father. He liked being in command.

With the second mouthful, he systematically relived each and every order he was given. The third reminded him he'd chosen to ignore a few of the more vital ones. He shrugged and swallowed a fourth. Oh well; there was a first time for everything in his life, he supposed, even a little insubordination.

As the hour passed and a second glass emptied, Virgil closed his eyes and exhaled long and hard. He didn't think he could take the burning too much longer. It was time to give in; swallow his pride and seek some attention in sick bay. No amount of cognac was enough to numb the pain he was in orprotect him from the fuss he knew Grandma was going to make when she saw the extent of his injury.

Thoughts of his elderly grandmother mellowed into the shape and form of his brother.

Damn Alan. Why in the heck did he have to do that? The moment Scott had given Gordon the all clear; the Firefly had gone straight in. There had been no need for risk taking or heroics. When was Alan ever going to get it straight in his head that he couldn't take chances where the risks were that extreme?

Flashes of past victims only fuelled the anger inside of him; the charred figures, the burning flesh; Father's consolation that despite their best efforts sometimes it just wasn't possible to save everybody. Those bodies were the stark reality of what Alan didn't want to know. Those bodies were the stark reality that Alan didn't want to face. No matter how many times Father warned him, Alan just kept on pushing his luck. That kid deserved to have his butt kicked from one end of Tracy Island to the other. It was almost like he thought he was invincible or something. Didn't he understand how close he came had come to being one of the ones "they couldn't save?"

Then the dreaded debrief...

He'd tried to be as diplomatic as he could when Father asked for his version of what had happened. Angry as he was at Alan, he was very reluctant to make a scene. But when Scott swung around from the window and interrupted him in mid-sentence, he unexpectedly fired up. The pointed statement that Alan had gone in without orders, he agreed with, but he wasn't about to cop to what Scott went on to aim squarely in his direction. Going in against orders was not worse than going in without them and he didn't care if someone with his experience was expected to know better. What was he supposed to do when Alan and the kid didn't come out? Leave them in there to frickin' fry?

Scott had made no secret of the fact he was furious at the way the whole thing was handled, even before anything was said. He'd left the danger zone as soon as everyone was accounted for and made no contact with anyone during the flight. Usually when a rescue went according to plan, the journey back to base was a celebration. They would share a few laughs, mainly at Alan's expense, before settling down to what they'd fondly come to know as "the debrief before the debrief"; Scott's no holds barred assessment of their performance during the rescue. Scott would outline over the frequency what had and hadn't gone right and if any of them had screwed up, he'd say so, and in no uncertain terms.

But that was where it ended.

Scott rarely let Father in on the details of any screw-ups. He said what Father didn't know wouldn't hurt him, and besides he had enough to worry about with the rescue co-ordination without hearing about near-misses, too.

Virgil took a deep breath and held it to work through another debilitating crescendo of pain.

Well, Father had certainly gotten to hear about the screw-ups this time.

Scott had held nothing back.

Neither had Gordon, John or Alan.

Alan had even been prepared to stand his ground when Scott threatened to take him out for his show of blatant immaturity. Alan had never done anything like that before. He respected Scott almost as much as he respected Father.

And that was the moment Virgil knew he'd lost what little was left of his cool.

He could still see himself pushing in between them.

Why didn't the two of them do everyone a favour and just back the hell right off? Taking each other out wasn't going to change things or make anyone feel better about them not pulling together as team. What happened, happened. Yes, there had been communication problems. Yes, three of them had nearly died. Surely the most important thing to come out of all this was a warning that they needed to be more careful? International Rescue wasn't as sharp as it needed to be. Steps needed to taken to make certain the same thing didn't happen again.

Father had nodded and opened his mouth to agree with him, but Scott hadn't given him the chance to say a single, solitary thing.

OK then; maybe Scott was right. Maybe it had happened because no-one in this family was prepared to follow orders. Maybe the rap he was handing out in front of Father was very well deserved too. But one thing he didn't deserve was the guilt trip. Alan was their brother. There had been no option but to go in after him, and Scott was fooling himself big time if he believed he wouldn't have done the exact same thing himself.

Scott hadn't appreciated the challenge of being confronted with his own principles. The look he'd thrown from across the room at that moment was nothing but pure acid. At the time Virgil remembered thinking that for once in his life he didn't care less. Scott knew he was right, but he was so damn fired up about everything that he wasn't prepared to admit it.

Two hours later, Virgil wished he'd remained calm and kept his opinions to himself.

When Alan had stormed off towards the beach, Scott had bulldozed his way out too and this time there was more than just acid in the glare he'd directed over his right shoulder. Scott had expected his Virgil's support, particularly in front of Father. Most of the time he was happy to give it...choosing to express any difference of opinion when he and Scott were alone.

Today, he couldn't support Scott on principle.

He was sorry to say it, but today Scott needed a dose of his own hard-nosed directness. He needed to hear he was over-reacting and he needed to hear it in front of Father. There were times when his orders couldn't be followed and he had to trust them to do their best. The only regret he had about the reality check was the rare display of his Tracy temper.

Virgil's eyed gazed worriedly into the blackness.

Scott would still be peeved at him and it didn't take an engineering degree to know he'd be taking the whole thing hard. Despite the pain, despite the burning and despite the fact that Grandma would lecture him into the next century for failing to attend to his injury, perhaps it was time that he was out there too.

His chest continued to heave up and down despite the fact it had been almost ten minutes since he dragged his body out of the pool and promised himself a shower.

Scowling into his chest, he tried to contain his breathing.

Maybe his breathlessness was a signal his fitness in the water would soon be under scrutiny too. Why not? After all, it had just been made very clear that his fitness for anything else was under the microscope at the moment.

Just how many more times did Scott have to interrupt what he was saying to insist he was way out of line? It had been a split second decision to take the Firefly back in. All he was trying to do was explain his reasons to Father. He'd meant what he said when he warned Scott to shove a fist in it. Scott wasn't giving him the chance to say or explain anything.

He couldn't believe how little had been said about the extra lives he'd saved. Why wasn't Scott focussing on the positive? Why wasn't Father? Two extra people were still alive thanks to his quick thinking and all Father seemed willing to do was fold his arms against his chest and wait for Scott's bawling out to finish.

Gordon Tracy sat on the edge of the swimming pool; ignoring the chill of the breeze and how icy it felt against his crop of dripping red hair. One hundred laps of the pool since then and he was still sitting here all worked up. He didn't like it either. Life was too short to deal with this sort of crap, especially after what he'd already been through.

"Live each day as if it will be your last, dear," had been Grandma's bedside recommendation. "Remember, one of these days we will all have the misfortune to be right."

Grandma hadn't been kidding. After the hydrofoil accident, Gordon had woken up to the reality that he needed to make the most of every minute. He soaked up the billionaire lifestyle and treated International Rescue as a buzz. He enjoyed working with his brothers and made sure he did everything Father required him to do. When the rescue team was despatched, he played his part with enthusiasm. When Scott called the shots at the danger zone he followed the instructions to the letter. He saved lives. He felt good. He didn't have a problem with International Rescue. So why all of a sudden did International Rescue seem to have a great big problem with him?

Gordon hung his head, clenched his jaw and refused to acknowledge that he was shivering.

He didn't care how much Scott had to say about the importance of following procedure. He was not going to accept that he had acted irresponsibly in saving those people's lives. The building had looked stable enough to him before he'd gone for broke the second time and the Firefly had more than the required capacity to handle the expected increase in temperature. In his opinion, Scott simply liked to hear the sound of his own frickin' God-damn voice. How did he think a guy made first lieutenant in the WASP outfit if he didn't exercise good judgement?

Gordon shrugged and moved his feet absently through the water, wishing his thought process had kept a few seconds ahead of his tongue.

Maybe he shouldn't have overreacted to the inevitable silence that followed. Father had filled the void with, "that's a very good point, son," but he knew what the rest of them were thinking. First Lieutenant Tracy wasn't always renowned for his good judgement, now was he? Seven people would still be alive today if it wasn't for good old First Lieutenant Tracy.

Gordon's hands made savage swipes down and across the length and breadth of his face. The past was the past and he didn't want to think about the hydrofoil accident anymore. He'd saved ten times the number of lives lost in that accident since International Rescue began. He hoped he would get the chance to save a whole heap more.

Lives like the mother and the kid out there today.

The kid Alan had gone after.

The mother he had saved with his "act of irresponsibility."

"I'm not saying what you boys did wasn't worthwhile ..." had begun what Gordon knew was the lead up to one of Father's stern-faced warnings. He and Alan had received one too many of them over the years not to recognise the signs. The clearing of the throat, the slow focussing of the eyes; all of it a clear sign Father was about to deliver his parental address on where one or both of them had gone wrong.

Tonight he hadn't been in the mood to stomach it. He'd been dirty, tired and sore. He also hadn't eaten a damn thing since Grandma had forced two pieces of fruit into his hand on his way down to the hangar with Alan. The words had come out before he could contain them and definitely before he had had time to weigh up the consequences of challenging Father with his heart and not his head.

"It was worthwhile."

Even a hastily added "sir", hadn't made the interjection sound any better.

Father had stopped in mid-sentence; the expression on his face quickly reducing Gordon to a small boy about to be berated for his temper.

Blindly he'd stumbled on.

It wasn't like he was being disrespectful or questioning Father's better judgement. What he was trying to say, badly, was he took the rescue business seriously. To him, every life was worth saving and that was all he'd been trying to do.

"Well why the hell didn't you think more carefully before risking the loss of your own?"

His gut churned. His temper burned. A liquid fire rose inside him, threatening to consume his chest.

He would have hit him.

Should have hit him.

Still wanted to hit him.

The splash echoed into the stillness as Gordon Tracy forced his exhausted body to plough up and down the pool once more.

Johnny didn't know how lucky he was to be too many thousand miles away.

Father had made it very clear to him what the role involved long before International Rescue began.

One...the resident astronaut in Thunderbird Five was expected to complete a month on, month off stint in the satellite.

Two...during the period of duty in the satellite, the communications were to be monitored twenty four seven and potential rescue situations identified.

Three...if the services of International Rescue were required, it was essential to contact base without delay and provide the relevant details.

Four...the resident astronaut would stay in constant contact with the danger zone until Thunderbird One arrived and mobile control was in place.

Five...additional information was to be researched and made available to mobile control immediately.

Six...in short, he was expected to do everything he could, as quickly as he could and as thoroughly as he could to ensure the success of every rescue.

A big thing for a young man, Father had said in one of their initial conversations, and one he could guarantee would be very draining at times. He would need to adjust to broken sleep, nuking all his meals and be happy to live alone with nothing but the universe for at least five months every year.

"Come on, Dad, you know that's what we do."

His response back then had been a verbal acknowledgement of the special bond he was proud to share with Father. They were both astronauts. They knew the dangers, they loved the silence, and sleep was the last thing on their minds when it came to the rush of the rocket ships.

John Tracy paced the length of Thunderbird Five and reminded himself that chewing his nails when he was aggravated was a habit he needed to kick. He seemed to be doing a lot more of it, and noticeably too, at least according to Grandma. Only yesterday she'd tactfully suggested it might be a good idea to ask Father if he could take an extra couple of weeks off the next time he returned from rotation.

"You're looking tired, John," she'd observed, her blue eyes filled with concern. "You need to take some time away from all this. Your father will understand."

John sighed. No matter how hard he tried, he could never hide anything from Grandma. She knew when he was unhappy. She knew when he had something on his mind. She was also one hundred per cent right that he was well overdue for the opportunity to rest and recharge his batteries.

The outfit had been demanding lately. Sleep didn't come easily and was it fitful at best. The rescues were frequent and most of the time they were hectic. Scott pushed him to the limit for updated information. Alan's heroics scared him half to death. Father expected to be kept informed at all times.

The work was stressful and the work was tough and until today he'd been enjoying every single moment of it.

Today it had been different. Today he had nearly lost three of his brothers; the two who nearly drove him crazy with their antics and the one who still allowed him to see the face and smile of his mother.

Two rows of white teeth clamped down once again on agitated, restless fingers.

The misunderstanding should never have happened in the first place. It had been nothing more than a straightforward rescue when he'd patched through the distress call to base. Father had even toyed with the idea of not sending Gordon at all.

"I don't think we need..." he'd begun to say, until a last minute update from the danger zone indicated they were going to need the Firefly. Then, Father's whole demeanour changed. The Firefly meant everyone and when it came to fire-based rescues, Father always became uneasy.

"Tell them we're on our way, John," he'd directed with his usual controlled calm. "Scott will be in contact with you as soon as Thunderbird One is airborne to obtain the latest details."

"FAB, Dad."


John Tracy growled at the universe and wished he could give all four of his brothers a dose of good old FAB. One minute he was rolling his eyes at the verbal ping pong going on in the lounge; the next he was being implicated and Father was dragging him into the equation. Was it true what Scott was saying? Was there any valid reason why Mobile Control didn't have access to full and updated information?

"John?" Father had frowned at him through the screen when he'd been too speechless and shell-shocked to answer.

No access?

How could Scott stand there right in front of Father and say he had no access to the information? Scott knew he'd given him every piece of information he had. He'd made sure he ran the required data the moment Thunderbird One hit the dirt. He'd gotten it all...construction material, slab depth, wind direction, terrain. He'd even run a blasted profile on the structural Engineer. Jesus, what more did he want?

More to the point, what more did Scott expect? He'd done everything by the book. He'd stayed in contact and followed orders; right down to when Scott contested the information on the wind direction and expected him to run the whole damn thing again.

It had taken him a few minutes to find the right words, each minute feeling like an hour with Father's eyes fixed firmly on him.

"The information I had was accurate, sir," he'd heard himself growl quietly. "Unfortunately Scott still seems to be of the opinion that I should have been some sort of mind reader."

The words had come out calmly...too calmly...a combination of one too many sleepless nights and hours of constant drain.

He'd seen Virgil take a sharp intake of breath as Father turned back to Scott and looked at him for an explanation.

Then he'd felt his own breath falter as Scott denounced every word.

"I made it very clear to Thunderbird Five what I wanted, Father and until I received it, I was not prepared to take any risks."

The words had been slow, low and deliberate, and the inference behind them was clear. Scott was right. He was wrong. End of brotherly conversation.

The de-briefing had then blown sky-high.

Scott? Not prepared to take any risks? Surely that was a laugh and a half. The risks of entering a burning building were nothing compared to the risks he'd already expected Virgil to take getting the Firefly from base to the rescue zone. Pushing Thunderbird Two to deliver an earlier ETA was downright irresponsible.

All of a sudden the focus was on Virgil, who'd vehemently shaken his head. Everything Scott had asked him to do had been in order, he insisted. There hadn't been any risks involved. John must have somehow misheard.

Grandma probably would have intervened by now; telling him to calm down or that red didn't suit his blondness. Even as a child he'd coloured up the moment he was out of his depth or angry.

This time he was just plain angry.

Misheard? There was no way in hell he'd misheard. Scott had needed Virgil on site and he'd needed him on site damn fast. Virgil always cut heaven and earth to meet Scott's deadlines. The math was there for everyone to see. Eighty six minutes did not equate to two hours.

The words, "that's enough, John," failed to shut the floodgates. It all just poured out of him. Father could ignore the facts if he wanted to. He refused to bear the brunt because the rest of them didn't shine. No matter what information he'd provided or how fast, it still wouldn't have satisfied Scott. Scott had chewed out his ass every rescue for at least the past two weeks. Maybe Grandma should suggest to him he needed a little vacation. He wasn't sticking around to hear one more word of this crap.

"No, son...wait."

John Tracy resumed his pacing, satisfied that cutting all links with Tracy Island was the only way his voice would be heard.

"Well why the hell didn't you think more carefully before risking the loss of your own?"

He'd said it to Gordon and when he'd said it, he'd meant it. In hindsight, he should have said the exact same thing to Virgil and Alan too.

They had no right to play at being heroes and expect him to shoulder the blame.

"Oh, dear."

The beach.

The balcony.

The pool.

The satellite.

Lord only knew where the other one was. It was a wonder the house was still standing, he'd banged the door so hard.

Josephine Tracy sighed in frustration from the solitude of her personal balcony and reflected on the leaves in her tea cup.

He had told her this wasn't a family matter.

He'd warned her not to interfere.

And as much as she disagreed with him this time, she knew she would have to honour that.


The silent shadow slumped wearily, long and hard, against the trunk of a secluded palm tree. Arms folded, head bowed, he didn't know how long he'd been out here. Long enough for dusk and twilight to turn into the late evening, he supposed, and definitely long enough to replay what had happened in front of Father too many times over in his head.

The shoulders of the shadow slumped further.

He had never walked out on one of Father's debriefings before. There were times, of course, when he'd been tempted, especially when he didn't agree with some of the things Brains or Father recommended. Father tended to base too many of his decisions on what Brains had to think and say. In fact, Father usually asked Brains for his take on things before anyone else was invited to open their mouth. It could be tedious at times and very aggravating, particularly when Brains went nowhere near the danger zone and only had second-hand information about what had actually happened.

Scott Tracy shook his head; remembering the moments of irritation.

Not that Brains had had anything to do with this particular debacle. Brains didn't know how lucky he was to be safely out of the firing line at the aerospace conference in Houston. He was probably sitting across the table from some young and pretty brunette scientist right now, sipping an exotic cocktail and pretending to be engrossed in the world of nuclear physics. Come to think of it, knowing Brains, he probably wouldn't be pretending. Physics was the man's entire life.

Scott shrugged. Not that it mattered to him one way or the other. Whatever Brains was doing, whether it was business, pleasure or both; he had to be having a much better time in Houston than standing here under a palm tree for hours.

He sighed, rubbed his hand across his growing stubble, and glanced up towards the balcony of the villa.

No doubt Father would want a "quiet word" with him when he finally managed to calm down. He wasn't looking forward to that. Father didn't approve of raised voices at the best of times and no-one EVER walked out on a debriefing.

Memories of the glass door crashing closed behind him reminded him that he was guilty of more than simply walking out. The words self-control, self-discipline and restraint came to mind, together with the image of Father inviting him to join him at the railing to remind him they formed the basis of the Tracy family values. Values their father had single-handedly raised them to uphold; just as he had raised them to demonstrate leadership and take responsibility for their actions.

Yep, Father was going to have a lot to say tonight; their eyes level on the darkened balcony. That low commanding voice was no different now to what it used to be in the old days when he or his brothers stepped out of line.

There was an expectation in the Tracy family, he would say. The expectation that everyone showed respect, not only towards him but towards each other.

The palm trees rustled in the growing breeze; a sound he usually welcomed to temporarily block out some of the less appealing images of the rescue business. He liked the gentle noise. It allowed him to put things in perspective...to get a grip again... to relax and find the inner strength to lay his life on the line again tomorrow.

Tonight, even with the rustling, he couldn't put things in perspective.

He'd raised his voice at all of them; Alan, Johnny, Gordon... even Virgil, his closest friend. He'd allowed his iron control to snap trying not to express how scared he'd been. Scared not only for them, but for himself, when things had gone wrong in the danger zone.

The trouble was when Scott Tracy got scared, Scott Tracy exploded.

He never pulled any punches when it came down to the dangerous work he undertook with his brothers. Neither did he play the "what if" game when it came down to making decisions. He made the hard calls and he stuck to them. He focussed on being in command. It was one of the most important things he had learnt as a captain in the Air Force. Father agreed with him. Delay bred doubt and in the rescue business, the combination could be lethal.

"Always go with your gut instincts, son." Father told him. "A good commander can't afford to do anything else once he's decided to take a risk with his men."

So if Father was right and he was such a good commander, why was he standing out here questioning his own judgement and saying the words "what if?"

What if Virgil hadn't pulled Alan out? What if the Firefly hadn't held up for Gordon?

What if all three of them had burnt to death right in front of his very eyes? Virgil, Gordon and Alan weren't just his "men". They were three of his four little brothers. Brothers he'd promised to look out for ever since the day Father had broken the news they no longer had a mother. How could they expect him to forgive himself if any of them had died? How did they think he would have been able explain such a thing to Father? News like that would finish him. He was still retreating inside himself to find the answers about Mother twenty one years after she had died.

Resigned fingers dug into the corners of tired eyes, trying to rub out the exhaustion.

The whole thing had been destined for trouble from the moment Father took the distress call from Five. He, Virgil and Alan had only been back at base for seven hours after dealing with a routine operation in the Philippines.

Routine. That was the story they'd finally agreed to give Father.

The truth was, the operation had almost ended up as anything but routine. The delay in Johnny relaying the clearance requirements had nearly resulted in catastrophe when he had brought Thunderbird One in to land. Fortunately, his Air Force training had come in useful and he'd been able to perform one of his more spectacular landings.

"I'm not going to say this to you again, Johnny. You need to drop your ass into the cot the moment I get off this frequency or I swear I'll say something to Dad."

Yeah, it was fair to say he'd been pretty direct with John as the Thunderbirds headed for home. It was also fair to say that John hadn't liked it. Even Virgil hinted that he might have overreacted a bit when they downed a cognac together, later.

But he didn't agree.

Like he'd said to Johnny, it wasn't the apparent lack of focus that was starting to rub his edges raw. It was the fact that Johnny expected him to believe the problem was the result of too many back to back rescues.

Virgil's casual shrug of the shoulders was really annoying when Scott was trying to make a point. The simple gesture threw him into defensive mode each and every time he did it. It was even more annoying when coupled with Virgil's cool, relaxed exterior.

For goodness' sake, it wasn't like the new volume on astronomy John was writing was any kind of deep, dark, family secret. Father had told him only yesterday that John's latest book was three months ahead of schedule. Three whole months. There was only one way someone monitoring the safety of world 24/7 could get three months ahead of anything. Johnny's lack of sleep was detrimental to his performance and if he didn't start taking Scott seriously soon, his eldest brother was going to make damn sure the message would be handed down from the one person he wouldn't ignore.

"Ah, I see," Virgil had replied, after a few moments of contemplating his glass. Then the brown eyes had lifted and looked directly at him. "You need to justify your decision on what's the right time to rat out on Johnny to Dad."

Even with the sarcasm, Virgil had remained ridiculously composed. AND he knew Scott too well. It was more than simply annoying sometimes. It was as frustrating as all hell.

"Look, Johnny knows the deal, OK?" he'd heard himself snap before draining his own glass and muttering a curt good night. The amused observation that John wasn't the only one in need of sleep had followed him all the way out the door.

So; when the emergency call had come in the next morning, he had expected to see John rested and in complete control of the situation. It had been over eight hours since their terse exchange over the frequency and eight hours of continuous shut-eye should have been enough to pull almost anyone back together.

Provided they had actually slept.

Scott remembered clamping his lips together as he was faced with the sight of his bleary-eyed little brother. It wasn't that Johnny didn't look OK. Johnny always did. The blond hair was never out of place and the long lean body always stood straight and tall. John knew the way it was. He made very sure he was everything Father expected to see when Thunderbird Five radioed in a call, because he knew if he didn't, Father would be asking the reason why. The trouble was, when an emergency occurred, Father tended to forget about everything else. How else could he explain Father failing to notice the dark circles underneath Johnny's eyes?

Father failed to notice a couple of other things too; like Alan arriving shirtless from the direction of the Kyrano apartments and reeking of Tin-Tin's latest perfume. Alan's drowsy, red-rimmed eyes told a unique and sordid story of their own.

He hadn't had much sleep either.

Scott's suspicions were confirmed when Tin-Tin arrived a few moments later; her shapely body hastily covered by Alan's missing shirt.

She looked worse than he did.

Thank God Father had drawn him into a conversation about the danger zone before he'd said something he would probably regret.

"The area is right alongside the Monte Vista fault line, Scott," he was musing, pointing at the image on the map. "Mmm...here...here...and here. Those minor quakes sure are causing us some problems lately. How many did you say were trapped this time John? "

"Errr ..."

Father looked up, momentarily concerned at the delay in providing the information. John obviously realised it, because he cleared his throat, and then said confidently, "Ten, sir," without any reference to his notes.

Father nodded, gave John a brief smile of affirmation and returned his attention to the map.

"Right, ten it is. "

By now, both Virgil and Gordon were dressed and waiting in the middle of the lounge. Virgil leaned against the door jamb, listening attentively. When Father glanced over at him he nodded to indicate he understood. It was a sharp contrast to Gordon, who announced his presence with a cheery, "Land, space or sea, Dad?" and a wink in Alan's direction when he saw Miss Kyrano's apparel.

Father's preoccupied reply of "It's land, son, so it doesn't look like you'll be required..." soon wiped away his cheerfulness. Father was still being very careful with Gordon and unless Thunderbird Four was required or the rescue looked like it was major, he tended to leave Gordon at home. The lack of balance was an uncomfortable subject particularly where Gordon was concerned. He continued to stress to Father he was fully recovered from the accident. Father, like the rest of them, continued to observe otherwise.

"Do you need me to do anything, Mr. Tracy?" Tin-Tin enquired as Gordon flopped on the sofa in complete dejection. Father looked up from the map again to ask her if she'd mind bringing him some coffee; nearly choking on his simple request when he saw her hurried selection of attire.

The long hard glare in Alan's direction indicated he wasn't very impressed.

Alan's face didn't move. He was concentrating hard on what Johnny had to say about the rescue. John had just received further information that the authorities were trying to contain several small fires burning either side of the damaged building. The cause of the fires was unknown, he said. He was waiting to receive more information.

"Fires? How long have they known about that?"

"Unknown at this stage, Scott. All they said was there were two small fires burning in the neighbouring buildings. They didn't give me the impression there's any need for us to panic. The head guy said our main involvement is still only to get the people out."

"How close are the buildings together, son?"

"I'm not sure, Father."

"What do you mean you're not sure?"

"Sorry Scott, but the details coming in are still rather sketchy."

"Mmmm. I don't like this. Scott, I think you'd better get out there and check out the current situation. "

"FAB, Dad."

"John, tell the authorities we're on our way. Scott will be in contact with you as soon as Thunderbird One is airborne to obtain the latest details."

"FAB, Father."

"Gordon ..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Looks like you're going along with your brothers after all."

"All right! FAB, Dad."

"You want us to load the Firefly then, Dad?"

"Yes, Virgil. Hopefully we won't need it, but if we do, you know what's required."

"FAB, Dad."

Virgil's words were the last Scott heard before he rotated out of view to take up his position in Thunderbird One. Thunderbird Two would follow the moment the rescue equipment was on board. He heard the familiar clank to his left. Father wasn't wasting any time. Virgil had already begun his descent into the hangar of Thunderbird Two.

Destination: Los Altos Hills.

Once he'd managed to get airborne, Scott thought long and hard about his timing when it came down to the required contact with John. He was still feeling pretty cheesed off that his order to sleep had been ignored. John knew the consequences of sleep-deprivation, despite all the smart-assed argument. Sleeping eighteen hours at a stretch, then tossing and turning all night was no way for a guy to spend two weeks out of four when he came home from Five on rotation. No wonder Grandma said he looked like hell half the time. What he was doing to himself was ridiculous.

Then his thoughts turned to Alan. Alan ought to have more sense when it came to the sleep department too. He was going to have something to say about that to Father, the moment he got back to Base. Burying himself in Miss Kyrano's charms might be fine when there was temporary lull in operations. The rest of the time he had an obligation to the outfit to bury his head in a pillow.

As Thunderbird One headed at top speed towards the American coastline, Scott decided that if anything went wrong this time, he was going to involve Father to the max. The welfare of his brothers meant the world to him and things weren't going all that well lately when it came down to balancing ego with performance.

It was Virgil, not John, who made the first contact; forty minutes after Thunderbird One had headed away from base. Thunderbird Two was well on its way to the danger zone, Virgil reported. They had the Firefly on board. He'd also spent the last fifteen minutes sorting out the kindergarten squabble between the two kids over whose turn it was to operate the rescue equipment.

"Who won?" he'd found himself laughing.

Virgil relaxed and laughed, too. Well, Alan hadn't been very happy at first but he'd finally agreed that Gordon should be allowed to take his turn this time. Gordon would be operating the Firefly. He also had a couple of ideas on how they could get the ten people out fast.

"The unknown of the fires is probably going to complicate things, though..." Virgil trailed off, deep in thought.

"So does the fact that Johnny's still tired," he retorted back. "I don't want a repeat of what happened to us yesterday, Virgil. Let me make that extremely clear."

Virgil remained silent, no doubt deciding whether it was a good move or not to continue with his comments. When he did, it all came out with the same straight down the line candidness he'd displayed the night before.

"You know your problem, Scott?"

"Besides your ETA?"

"Yeah, besides my ETA."

"OK, what?"

"You place too much emphasis on assumption, big brother."

"Oh I do, do I? Well, Johnny's lack of sleep has nothing to do with assumption."

"You don't know how much sleep he had."

"No, I don't. I also don't know how much sleep Alan had and you saw the look Dad gave him."

Alan's voice cut in. "Hey! That's not fair. We...I mean...I...I mean me...err...I did go to sleep last night."

"Yeah and we all know who with, too."

"Don't you guys start all that stuff about me and Tin-Tin again," he protested. "I told you there's nothing going on between us."

"Sure, Al."

"We believe you."

"That's why she was wearing your shirt in front of Father this morning, right?"

"For your information Virgil, Tin-Tin was only wearing my shirt because it was an emergency and she had trouble finding her own."

"I'm not touching that one, kid."

"Me neither."

"Why don't you shut up, Gordon?"

"Hey I wasn't the one without the shirt, OK Al?"

Scott tried to keep a straight face and refrain from joining in the banter. At the moment Father had entrusted him with the role of Field Commander. He needed to concentrate on the job. He wanted to remind his brothers they needed to concentrate on the job, too. He'd do that just before they hit the danger zone.

And that included Johnny.

When the call finally came in from Thunderbird Five, Scott was ten minutes away from the town of Los Altos Hills. The rush of adrenalin had already begun to invade his body. As always, he was calm about the part he was about to play.

Virgil was about an hour behind him. The kids had it clear on who was to operate the equipment. He was ready to talk to John and receive the final updates. After that he would take control of the rescue and set up Mobile Control.

The protocol began the moment he flicked the switch on the frequency. No niceties. Just business. He was impressed. Johnny had really pulled his act together in the past one hundred minutes.

Confirming quake had been categorised as "strong" by the local authorities. Confirming no further seismic activity recorded on or near the site. Confirming building concerned was masonry B."

"Masonry B?" Scott interrupted with a frown. "I wonder exactly what they mean by that."

John didn't look like he knew, either.

"Dunno, Scott - Masonry B just comes up on the town plan as a reinforced building not designed to resist lateral forces. The building was designed by some local guy; a millionaire structural engineer by the name of Harvey T. Giles. You want me to check it out further?"

"Affirmative. What else have you got?"

"Well, as expected, some movement has been detected in the foundations. A couple of wall panels thrown out, too. We have ten... repeat...ten persons who still require our assistance."

"FAB, John. What's the latest on the fire situation?"

"The authorities keep saying they only need our involvement to get the ten people out of the building, Scott."

"Check it out again, John. I don't want any surprises."


"Oh - and while you're at it, try and get a handle on the whereabouts of the Harvey T Giles guy. He might be able to give us the proper low-down on the actual stability of the building."

Father was apprehensive when Scott radioed through the update. He frowned when the name of Harvey T. Giles was mentioned. He'd heard of the guy all right. He made his money by taking shortcuts. He certainly wasn't renowned in engineering circles for his expertise. The story was that one of his Los Altos Hills buildings had collapsed a few years back before the Richter scale hit four.

"Be careful, son. What's the latest update on the fires?"

"Nothing yet, Father. I've asked John to make further contact with the authorities to confirm the fire situation is under control. I'll be flying over the danger zone in just under four minutes so I'll be able to see things for myself. I'll request John to provide you with further information when he receives it from the authorities. "

"All right, son. Keep me informed...whatever you find out."

"Yes, sir. I will."

Four minutes seemed to take four hours when a man was feeling tense, particularly as he waited with impatience for his first glimpse of the unknown. That first glimpse coincided with a call from John in Thunderbird Five. The firm, steady voice from the previous communication was no longer firm or steady.

"Scott, I..."

"You don't have to tell me anything, Johnny. I can see the damn things for myself."

The fires below his Thunderbird craft blazed wildly into the sky. Black smoke billowed in thick clouds towards the height of the surrounding mountains. He swore and began his descent immediately, demanding on the way down that John patch him through to Thunderbird Two and do it on the double.

"Find out the rest of the information while I figure out how to reduce Thunderbird Two's ETA," he barked into the frequency. "I want to know everything there is to know about those fires, Johnny, the moment I hit the ground."

"FAB, Scott."

As he landed and cut the engines, Virgil's face appeared on the vid.

"Hey, Scott. What's up?"

"What's your ETA, Virgil?"

"ETA? Fifty-two minutes. Why?"

"I need you to halve it."

"Halve it? What for?"

"Buddy, I just need you to do it. We've got big trouble down here. I haven't got time for specifics. The two fires reported earlier look to me like there's no differentiation. Our building is smack bang the hell in the middle of it."

"But I thought John said we only..."

"I know what John SAID, Virgil. That's why I need to see you fly over that ridge in the next half an hour, OK? We both know we've got the capability to do it. "

"I know, Scott...but Brains said..."

"I don't care what Brains said. Tell the kids to get suited up. They'll need to work fast. I'm going to go over to set up Mobile Control and check out the situation further."

"FAB, Scott."

Scott closed his eyes and took a deep breath before returning to his communication with the satellite.

"This is Scott Tracy calling John Tracy in Thunderbird Five. I have landed at the danger zone. I repeat, I have landed at the danger zone. Do you have the required information?"


"John, I repeat...do you have the information?"

Nothing again.

Nothing as the fires combined and gained intensity, resistant to all the authorities' best efforts to contain them.

Nothing until twenty seven damn minutes later when Thunderbird Two soared over Los Altos Hills, twenty-five minutes ahead of schedule.

"Jesus, John. Where the hell have you been?"

John sounded surprised.

"What do you mean? I've been on the other frequency as instructed, trying to track down Harvey Giles."


"And all I can do is reconfirm the previous information. Sorry Scott, he wasn't very helpful."

"Damn... It doesn't matter. We're nearly ready to go down here."

"Virgil's there already?"

"Yes, John. Virgil's here. Please open all frequencies and reconfirm available information."

"How the hell did...?"

"Don't worry about it, John. Reconfirm information as requested."

"FAB. Thunderbird Five reconfirming all required information.

"Initial quake strong.

" No further seismic activity.

"Building containing ten trapped persons confirmed as standard Masonry B.

"Masonry B defined as building reinforced with good workmanship and mortar. It is not ...I repeat NOT designed to resist lateral forces in presence of violent activity.

"Foundations have moved.

"Several wall panels thrown out."

"What about the f..."

"Fire located in danger zone can no longer be contained. I repeat - can no longer be contained.

"Eight persons located in Zone 1.

"Zone 1 situated centre left on ground floor.

"Wind direction north west."

"North west? You sure about that John?"

"Re-confirming north west, Mobile Control."

"OK then listen up. John, do you also have the rundown on Masonry standards C & D?"

"Copy that to me again Mobile Control?"

"I said ..."

"Firefly will be in position within the next two minutes, Scott."

"FAB, Virg. Do not proceed until ordered."

"OK, Scott."

"Are you with me Johnny? I said I require basic information ... repeat ... basic information ...on Masonry standard C and D. C for Charlie ...D for Delta."

"C & D? Scott, I've already confirmed twice that the building is a category B."

"I know that. Forget that. Just get me the hell what I need!"

"Look Scott, I spoke to Giles myself. He guaranteed the building is a clear cut category B."

"I said get me the information, John and get it for me NOW."

"But why..."

"Just GET it John.""


"Firefly to Mobile Control. I'm ready and in position Scott."

"FAB, Gordon. Stand by pending re-confirmation of current building stability."

"Negative, Mobile Control. We need to enter the building immediately. Please give me the necessary clearance to proceed."

"Gordon! Do NOT...I repeat...DO NOT enter the building until given the order to do so."

"OK, Firefly standing by."

"Johnny, what the hell is the delay in getting that information?"

"Mobile Control, this building isn't going to hold out much longer."

"Stand by, Virgil."

"Sorry... we're not in a position to do that, Scott."

"Do as I say, Virgil."

"But Scott..."

"Don't argue with me Virgil."

"OK. Standing by."

"Thunderbird Five to Mobile Control. I have the requested information."

"OK...OK...give me D for Delta, first."

"Confirming Masonry D - weak materials, poor mortar, low standard of workmanship. Building...horizontally weak. Building not permitted in sphere of influence of Los Altos Hills town plan."

"So what the hell is C then?"

"Ummm...it says here no extreme weakness but building not reinforced. Not designed to withstand horizontal forces. Legal but ..."

"That's it. That's the lowest possible standard he can use."

"Who? What? "

"John, I don't have time to explain. Mobile Control to Gordon Tracy...Gordon, you have less than five minutes to get those people out. Clear the pathway as quick as you can and then get the hell right out of there. That building has no ability to withstand the upper floors crashing down on top of it."

"But ..."

"I said proceed, Gordon... NOW."

The waves broke nearby. Scott's body jerked. He lifted a shaking hand to his forehead to realise it was drenched in sweat. The five long minutes that followed were the longest five minutes of his life.

Gordon reacted immediately and feverishly began his work. Scott heard John on open frequency, providing an update to Father. Father began demanding to be patched through to Mobile Control. Scott didn't have time to talk to Father. He could only hope his assessment of the situation was right. If Giles was as crooked as Father said he was, the stability of that building would be barely enough to meet the legal requirements.

Then he saw Alan unexpectedly move towards another entrance to the burning building. He should have known what was coming next. The kid didn't wait or take the time to ask any questions. The kid just didn't think. He scooted inside the building without warning and disappeared into the flames.

The scream stuck in his throat as Virgil saw Alan, too, and headed in the same direction. He watched Virgil panicking when he realised the entrance was gone.

He yelled at Virgil to stay put and ran towards the building himself, screaming at the top of his voice that the wind must have changed direction. They needed to abandon the rescue. They needed to get out of there. The building was coming down.

He saw the Firefly. He saw Gordon. He thought he counted eight people staggering blindly out of the wreckage. But he still couldn't see Alan. Virgil was missing too. He saw the Firefly lurch forward.


Dear God...not Gordon too.

The building roared.

He completely froze.

He remembered his promise to Father.

Moments later, the building fell.


Her eyes stared into the fire as it flickered and danced against the shadows on the secluded island shore.

A small, sandy inlet; far removed from the villa. The place where he had first plucked up the courage to tell her how he felt about her. The place they came when they wanted to be alone.

No knowing looks. No rolling of eyes.

A private life away from their roles in International Rescue.

He'd built the fire for them yesterday, trying to appear casual at her suggestion that it would be nice for them to spend an evening together on the beach. Sure, why wouldn't he jump at another chance to look at nothing but stars, stars and more stars? It had been a whole two weeks since he'd been clammed up in Thunderbird Five. He was really starting to miss the interesting view.

"Sarcasm won't get you anywhere, Alan Tracy," she'd frowned at him, kicking at the carefully constructed pyramid and folding her arms in a huff.

"Hey! I just finished that!"

He'd scrambled to repair the damage, his frown now identical to hers. What had she gone and done that for? Couldn't a guy joke around with her a little, every now and then? She should know he didn't mean it.

Then he paused before he stood back up and winked at her, his face dissolving into its customary, mischievous grin. Besides, there was a lot to be said for exploring the universe with a girl late on a Saturday night. Why wouldn't he make the most of THAT sort of opportunity?

"Ow!" he howled in protest to the sting of the unexpected slap. "What was wrong with that?"

She ignored his look of feigned innocence and turned her back on him completely. If he didn't know what was wrong with a sexist statement like that, she wasn't about to explain it to him. Honestly, she didn't know why she bothered with him half the time. Sometimes, he was nothing more than a typical, chauvinistic male.

"Oh, come on Tin-Tin; give a guy a break ..." he'd laughed, pulling her squirming body towards his. "I can't help it if my idea of the universe has nothing to do with astronomy."

Then, of course, it had happened. Their playful charade had once again been interrupted by the urgent flashing of his wrist communicator.

"Sorry, honey. I've got to go," he'd blurted apologetically after a short exchange with his father.

He'd left the Island with two of his brothers soon after; instructed to assist Scott and Virgil with "a routine matter" in the Philippines. Nothing major, a relaxed Jeff Tracy had told her. In fact, he'd said, sipping coffee and making himself comfortable behind the massive leather desk; the boys would all be home in time to join them for one of her father's famous post rescue suppers.

"Then I think it would be wise for us all to take advantage of an early night," he'd added firmly, with no particular reference to her. "International Rescue has been in pretty high demand, lately. We could use some extra rest."

She had smiled and agreed with his statement despite the undercurrent of disappointment. Alan's father was astute when it came to the efficiency of the outfit and he knew exactly when it was the right time to make an appropriate point. They were all tired. Scott was functioning on nothing but pure adrenalin at the moment and with Brains away at the conference on the mainland, even she was starting to feel weary from the constant drain on their time and their resources.

But she had looked forward to the fire too, and being with Alan under the stars...

Midnight had come and gone before she was woken from a fitful sleep by the quiet hissing of her bedroom door.

"Alan?" she'd blinked at the shadow in the darkness. "Alan? Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me," he'd grumbled, flopping down on the edge of her bed. "I thought I should come and apologise in person for standing you up tonight. Things were a little more complicated in the danger zone than what we first thought."

She could tell from his disgruntled tone that something had gone wrong during the rescue. She braced herself and waited for him to confide in her, hoping it had nothing to do with him.

"Scott nearly went ballistic after the way he had to bring Thunderbird One in to land," he griped. "I swear John's going to be in it up to his eyeballs if Dad ever finds out what happened."

She pulled herself up on one elbow and flicked on the bedside light.

"Did Scott say he was going to tell him?" she quizzed him in a worried whisper.

He'd shrugged and subconsciously tugged open the last three buttons on his shirt.

"Who knows what Scott's gonna do, Tin-Tin. All I know is he didn't need to take it out on me before he gave John the earful. I had nothing to do with it and I told him so, too."

He threw his shirt to the floor and started on his shoes. "I mean...what gives with Scott and Johnny lately? Geez, working with the two of them today was like being in the centre of frickin' World War Three."

"Oh, Alan," she'd soothed him. "They're both tired. There's nothing more to it than that. Things will settle down once they get some decent rest. Here..." she pulled back the rumpled covers and invited him to join her in the bed. "... Why don't you go through and shower and then come and tell me all about it."

Tin-Tin Kyrano continued to gaze into the flames and re-live the hours which followed.

They'd spent the rest of the night talking about the rescue, her body pressed tight to his. He was clearly worried about the issues that seemed to exist between his brothers and before long began debating whether it was "a good idea to talk to Dad".

"Even Virgil's wound up tighter than I've ever seen him," he told her, his voice heavy with frustration. "Something's gonna blow around here soon, Tin-Tin and I'm not sure I want to be around to witness the explosion."

"Alan. You worry too much about nothing." She reassured him with a gentle stroke to his forehead. "Come ...we both need to get some sleep now. It's nearly dawn and you're exhausted."

He nodded and allowed his eyes to close to the softness of her touch.

"Yeah I know, Tin-Tin," he murmured from beside her. "Thank God you understand."

Thank God you understand...

When the door banged open during the rescue debriefing, she thought she was doing the right thing going after him. He'd only had an hour's sleep before his Father had summoned him back to the lounge before the rescue and he clearly wasn't thinking straight about what the outcome could have been.

She'd tried not to make it sound like she was siding with anyone when she finally managed to stop him on the stairs. Couldn't he understand why everyone was so upset? He should never have gone into the burning building without Scott's clearance. He'd risked not only his own life but Virgil's as well. That was the real issue, she'd stressed; not how Scott had handled things in the danger zone. He needed to go back inside and acknowledge that. He had to swallow his pride and apologise.

She could still hear the thunder in his voice. Still saw his eyes harden ... those normally warm blue oceans turning to razor sharp ice before he tore his arm away from her.

"Save it, Lady - the last thing I need around here is YOU telling me what to do, too!"



Their argument erupted like a wildfire and neither of them held back. He was being hot-headed and stubborn and she wasn't telling him what to do. She was a member of International Rescue too and she had every right to say what she thought.

"Is that so? And exactly what DO you think, then? Huh, Tin-Tin?"

The sting behind her eyes came back.

An offer to spend an evening together...a fire he'd built for her, himself...jokes, innuendo and teasing ...all of it forgotten as they headed towards a final, explosive crescendo...

"It's a bit late to be out on the beach alone, Tin-Tin," the voice behind her suddenly said. "I think you should go back inside the house now before Kyrano starts to worry something's happened."

She hesitated, blinking back the blur and trying to swallow the lump which had suddenly appeared in her throat.

"No, thank you," she finally murmured, without any attempt to acknowledge him. "I need to stay out here by the fire until I feel a little better."

The voice suddenly filled with concern.

"Tin-Tin? Tin-Tin, are you OK?"

The blur dissolved into an unfamiliar watery haze when she felt the brotherly arm wrap around her. No, she wasn't OK. She should never have told Alan that she thought he was wrong. She should have simply walked away to let him cool down and figure the whole thing out for himself.

"Hey...hey...don't cry..." Virgil's words of comfort were awkward. "For what it's worth, I don't feel so good about what just happened, either."

"You're hurt."

He may have thought she was still preoccupied over her argument with Alan but it was hard not to notice the roughly applied dressing which covered the whole of his wrist and right hand.

He appeared indifferent at the observation and folded his arms, trying unsuccessfully to hide the damage. It was nothing to worry about, he mumbled uncomfortably. He'd simply sustained a few burns when he hauled Alan and the kid through the flames.

"You know what's going to happen when Mrs Tracy finds out about it, don't you?" she warned, giving him a rueful smile. "She expects you to report all injuries to sick bay so she can give them the proper care and attention."

She watched him conjure up a weak smile and plead that by the time he went down to sick-bay, Grandma had gone to bed. The last thing she needed was to be woken and asked to take care of a few minor burns. It was no big deal. He'd managed to dress them himself and locate a couple of painkillers to take away the edge.

Yeah...OK...She didn't have to look at him like that.

Probably not the wisest thing to do after a glass or two of cognac but it was too late now to worry about the consequences of mixing painkillers with a little alcohol. The main thing on his mind right now was finding Scott to patch things up.

"When I saw the fire burning, I thought I might have been in luck."

With that, he focussed on the fire.

Not that he supposed Scott would be in the mood to listen to anything he had to say, anyway. Father was usually the only one who could settle Scott down when he was fired up and Father had gone to bed at least an hour and a half ago.

His facial expression hovered between resignation and worry.

Father going to bed so early only meant one thing, too. He was intending to order another debrief in the morning. Scott sure needed to get things in perspective before that one-sided conversation began.

Tin-Tin nodded and agreed. She could only recall one other instance where Jeff Tracy had ordered a second debriefing and one-sided was definitely the right choice of word. The whole thing had been run like a military style inquisition and had been so harrowing she was certain none of them would want to endure the same experience again.

Tentatively, she eyed Virgil's bandaged wrist and then turned her attention to her watch. Virgil had removed his in the fumbled attempt to attend to his injury. Was this the right thing to do, or not? She wasn't sure. Mr. Tracy had made it very clear to all of them they were only to use the specially concealed button on their wrist communicators in the case of a dire emergency.

Unpleasant memories of the past debriefing made the decision easy. She moved to disguise her hands. No, this wasn't the right thing to do and if Mr. Tracy ever found out, he was going to be absolutely furious with her.

But she couldn't think of any other option.

This was the only way to make them listen...all of them...as Virgil addressed the flames...

In his opinion, Scott's performance in the danger zone had taken a lot of guts, he began. Holding the Firefly back to the last five minutes wouldn't have been an easy thing to do knowing one wrong move might cost ten lives. Neither would watching vital minutes tick by without the required information. Having said all that, he also had to acknowledge it wasn't exactly Johnny's fault that he didn't have all the information.

He supposed it sounded like he was sticking up for Johnny and in a way, he guessed he was. Scott had to get his head around the fact that it was Father's knowledge of Giles' engineering standards which had caused the last minute panic over information, not John. Granted, John shouldn't have argued the point like he did; but then again, Scott could have at least filled him in on why he needed the extra information.

Virgil's shoulders heaved towards the stars.

Maybe it was the cognac starting to talk; or the painkillers...

He looked at her and smiled a little. No doubt it was probably both.

Being objective in the middle of an argument between Scott and Johnny wasn't an easy thing to do at the best of times. He ought to know. He was in the middle of them often enough. Both of them had issues with each other and had done since the day International Rescue began.

He'd spoken to Father about it, of course, but Father kept telling him there was absolutely nothing to worry about. The sharp exchanges between Scott and John only happened under pressure, Father said, and merely disguised a healthy respect for each other's skills and abilities.

It was a pity they didn't think to show the same sort of respect for him.

He couldn't believe Johnny dumped him straight in the deep end with Father when he only knew half the facts. For a start, it should be taken as a given that he would never compromise the safety of anyone, let alone risk damaging his craft.

Secondly, Brains had only told two people about the newly developed capability he was about to test in Thunderbird Two. Scott seemed really excited about it and so was he, when he was told. But Brains had made them both promise not to experiment with the enhancement until he returned to base from the mainland. Brains knew how adamant Father was about being briefed on the risks of trialling new equipment.

Thanks to Johnny, he was going to have to come clean tomorrow when Father demanded to know how Thunderbird Two got to the danger zone so fast. He could see the look on Father's face already. Boy, he was really going to get it.

And if that wasn't bad enough, he also had to put up with the fact that Scott refused to respect his decision to go into the fire after Alan.

That was where he drew the line.

He'd been Scott's back-up for a long time, not only in International Rescue but as the second eldest. He knew what made Scott tick, how he acted, thought and felt. He also knew how much Scott loved Alan and how seriously he took the promise he'd made to Father to take care of him, all those years ago.

"But you know Tin-Tin," he confided, turning his head to look at her, "when Alan didn't come out of that building today, Scott wasn't the only one whose heart stopped dead in his chest."

Alan could be a real pain in the ass at times. He could be direct, inconsiderate and selfish. Even so, the thought of never seeing him again was something he wasn't prepared to face. He'd never made the promises to Father that Scott had. The only promise he'd ever made was the one he made to himself. If Scott couldn't be there, he would be.

Today he had to honour that promise.

Swallowing, he squared his jaw and returned his attention to the fire.

"The decision I made to go in after Alan was no-one else's but my own. If it was wrong and Father wants to throw the book at me I'll have no option but to stand there and take it. The only thing I won't do is stand there and listen to Scott say he wouldn't have done the exact same thing himself."

"So why else do you think I was so jacked off at the kick in the ass he was giving me?"

The two of them turned as the voice cut through the darkness. Stubborn and fiercely resolute, Gordon Tracy left the security of the nearby shadows and limped in the direction of the fire.

"Don't start on me. I'm fine," he growled at the sight of their instantly worried expressions.

He warmed his hands and sat down with a grimace. It was five full minutes before he spoke again.

It was like this. It wasn't as if he couldn't take his fair share when it came to getting kicked in the ass. Hell, he'd be lying if he said he hadn't expected to get at least a double dose for the things he'd done out there. Hearing that he'd nearly been taken out by a falling building wasn't something Father wanted to hear when he'd been reluctant to let him go on the rescue in the first place.

But Scott had gone too far with the crack that he lacked responsibility, especially when it was common knowledge that Scott tended to ignore more of Father's orders than he followed.

Gordon paused momentarily to roll his eyes at Virgil's shocked expression.

Oh come on. He had to be kidding. Of course Scott disobeyed orders. He did a lot of other things too when it suited him. What Father didn't know wouldn't hurt him, right? It was Scott's favourite excuse for everything.

"What's the matter, Virg?" he went on, sarcastically. "Didn't think anyone else but you knew that, huh? Why else do you think it pisses me off so much when he won't cut his "poor little invalid brother" any slack for doing the exact same thing?"

The word "invalid" left his mouth with loathing.

It was a while before he composed himself.

Scott had no right to call him irresponsible and he was standing firm. Like he'd said earlier; he used to be a first lieutenant. He was more than capable of making a decision, any decision, under pressure. The hydrofoil accident had absolutely nothing to do with what had gone on out there today. The damn accident was in the past and it had cost him enough without making him doubt himself too.

"Gordon, it's not like we..."

Gordon stopped his brother in mid-sentence with a hand held up in warning. No, he wasn't finished yet and he was going to say this. He'd wanted to say it for months.

International Rescue was supposed to be the chance for him to forget about the accident and get on with his life again. How in the hell was he expected to do that if everyone, including Father, wouldn't lighten up? Constantly leaving him behind on the land rescues; only prepared to risk his involvement when there was no option but to deploy Thunderbird Four... Father's hang-up about him aggravating his injuries was driving him absolutely crazy.

With that, he glanced at Tin-Tin.

"And by the way...speaking of my Father and his hang-ups..."

It wasn't often he was deadly serious about anything, but she'd sure better hope that his Father was well and truly asleep before she hit that hostage button on her communicator. If not; she'd be needing a pretty good excuse and soon. Didn't she realise what she was doing?

Tin-Tin felt herself redden as Virgil remembered he wasn't wearing his wrist communicator and riveted his head in her direction. The hostage button? Why did she do that? Didn't she understand the hostage button automatically opened up communications right across the entire organisation?

"Relax, you guys. It's fine."

John Tracy's expressionless voice and tired image crackled to life on Gordon's communicator.

There was no need for anyone to panic or sweat the small stuff about what Father might have heard. Luckily, he'd managed to disable Father's communicator a few moments after it began to flash. Fast enough to convince Father he'd only been dreaming when he called.

"You know there's a lot to be said for the thirty second time delay I rigged up for communications passing through Thunderbird Five," he added.

Tin-Tin instantly looked relieved and said she owed him one.

"Yeah, but did Dad buy it?"

John shrugged at Virgil's impassive tone.

"I dunno. I think so. He said he was going back to bed, so that's a good sign. Told me I should think about getting a decent night's sleep too if I knew what was good for me. And get this one...sleep might make me a little less "disagreeable" around my brothers in the future."

"Hmpph...good advice...ought to take it, sometime," Gordon mumbled begrudgingly under his breath.

John sighed and resigned himself to making the inevitable apology.

"Look Gordo...about what I said ..."

He waited for some sort of wise-ass reply to come and when it did it was nothing less than he expected. Gordon could be as gruff as Father at times, particularly when he wasn't happy.

He wasn't in the mood for any sarcastic, Johnny-style apology, he snapped.

"Gordon, hear me out this time, OK? You have no idea what I had to go through up here."

"What you went through?"

"Yes Gordon; me."

"Pardon me Johnny but you didn't go through anything."

"Well, that's where I think you're wrong. "

He wasn't going to make any secret of the fact that he had been terrified when he heard Scott scream "NO!" over the com-link. He'd heard Scott lose his cool before but he'd never heard him sound so afraid. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't help from Five ...he didn't want to alarm Father. All he could do was stand there gripping the console...hoping...praying they were OK.

"Fifteen minutes. Fifteen damn minutes, you guys," he ground out as if he was actually re-living the agony all over again. "That's how long it took Scott to pull himself together and let me know that you weren't buried, hit or fried."

Maybe he should have stayed more in control of himself; but anger, not relief, had replaced the terror, the moment he heard Scott's voice. He swore if he would have been in punching distance of the danger zone at that point, he would have decked all four of them with one hit. They had no right to risk their lives like that. He didn't want to be the one left behind to help Father pick up the pieces.

"You guys know I was too young to remember what Dad was like when Mother died but I do remember how he was when he thought he was going to lose you, Gordon. Trying to hold him up and deal with things myself was the worst time in my whole life. I'm still not over seeing Dad like that. Why would you want to put me through that hell all over again?"

Gordon abruptly looked away from his communicator.

"I wouldn't." he murmured guiltily.

"Well that's my point, Gordo. You nearly did. And it pissed me off to hell."

Satisfied he'd made his point; John pulled himself together and moved on.

Look, it was getting late and like Father said, he really needed to get some sleep. There wasn't anything he could do about the things he'd said during the debriefing. He'd said them and that was that. All he could do is say that he was sorry. Things hadn't been going too well in Five lately and today had been the last straw. He was pissed off with Scott for continually chewing him out over information. He was pissed off with them for nearly losing their lives. He was pissed off that he'd been stuck in Thunderbird Five at a time when they really needed him.

Then he started to laugh.

He was so damned pissed off about everything at the moment he was starting to sound downright offensive.

"Disagreeable, I think Father said."

"Yeah, I'm probably that, too, at times, Virg..." John conceded, "...and I'm sorry you have to take the rap from Dad tomorrow for the things I let slip about Thunderbird Two."

"It's no big deal. I'll survive."

"I'm sure you will."

"I wouldn't push my luck if I were you."

Tin-Tin Kyrano found her eyes wandering, relieved at the growing reconciliation. She wondered when Alan and Scott would join them. They both still stood in the shadows nearby. They'd been there from the beginning...both as stubborn as each other when it came to apologising, and by the looks of things, both still waiting for the other one to make the first move.

"Why don't you two come out of hiding and join us?" she encouraged in her husky voice. "We know you're there and the fire's warm."

The conversation between John and Virgil stopped.

Gordon shifted his weight and frowned.

A flash of lightning in the distance gave warning of an impending summer storm.

He didn't disappoint her. He never did. She could read Alan Tracy like a book. She knew the only way he could keep his pride intact was to change the subject and accuse her of scaring him half to death.

"I've never run a beach so hard or so fast in my life, Tin-Tin," he grumbled, plonking himself down in front of the fire next to Gordon. "And then I find out that it was nothing but a false alarm and an intentional one at that."

She didn't smile.


He didn't smile either.

"You try telling that to my hamstring."

He said no more in front of his brothers. As always, he kept anything to do with their relationship private. No International Rescue, he'd stressed from the beginning. No International Rescue, she had agreed.

However, as their eyes briefly met through the flames of the fire, Tin-Tin could tell he was anxious about their argument. The usual bravado was gone. In its place was a kind of naked insecurity.

He looked away from her, cleared his throat and began to speak to his brothers.

OK, so he was here, all right? But he wasn't going to stay for long. Like John, he hadn't had much rest lately and he needed to get some sleep. Besides, he'd already opened his big mouth too many times for one day and it was time he put a clamp on it. He was sure Father would say that tomorrow.

They also needn't worry too much about what Father was going to say to them. By the time the old man was finished with him, anything they'd done would be completely off the radar.

He didn't understand what had come over him when they got to the danger zone. A kid trapped in a fire and a reckless head. It hadn't made for a good combination. Neither had making assumptions about the timing of Scott's decision-making. He didn't know the delay in going in was due to engineering deficiencies.

"I wish Scott would have said something earlier," he trailed off.

"Scott was too cheesed off to say anything to anyone," Gordon offered in support. "Don't worry about it, Al. You weren't to know."

But Alan Tracy wasn't so easily pacified.

"I realise that, Gordo." he faltered with real guilt. "Irrespective, I made a lot of accusations this afternoon and all of them were wrong."

Then he looked directly across at Virgil.

"And I deserved the rap you gave me too, Virg, even though I didn't appreciate the timing. I want you to know I owe you my life and I'm very grateful. I've always been grateful for what you do for me. "

Virgil gave him a silent acknowledgement with his head.

"Just do what we do safely, kid," he said and then more quietly, "And in future, when you're around me, I'd watch how you speak to your lady."

Alan opened his mouth to deny it. She wasn't his lady. They were only friends.

Then his eyes caught sight of her beautiful face in the firelight.

"I know that," was all he said.

The lightning appeared to be closer and the breeze on the beach had picked up. The flames of the fire were leaping in a multitude of different directions. The storm was moving nearer.

"We'd better put this out and get back to the house," Gordon observed with a worried glance at the sky.

"I'll help," Alan offered as Gordon struggled painfully to his feet.

"If that's the case, I'll say good night. We disagreeable types need to get our sleep."

"I don't think any of us will argue with you, Johnny."

"Guys...I'd like a word."

He stood on the beach to the left of them. What would have been moonlight was gone. The wind blew. The thunder rumbled. He was shivering but denied he was cold.

What he had to say wouldn't take very long but he wanted to say it before Father asked him for his version of things in the morning. If they didn't want to listen, he wouldn't push it. It was no skin off his nose.

Gordon was silent.

Alan said nothing.

John remained on the wrist communicator.

It was Virgil who offered the olive branch.

"Sure, Scott. Why don't you come and stand by the fire?" he invited.

"No, thanks. I'd rather stand over here," Scott replied.

"OK, suit yourself. The offer's there."

"Fine. So what's with the bandage?"

"Blisters. Grandma can look at them for me in the morning."

"Virgil, that's a burn..."

"Scott, I thought you said you had something to say to us."

The curtness in Virgil's tone seemed to rattle his confidence. Apprehension momentarily lined his face. He reluctantly moved towards the fire and stood amongst them. He cleared his throat. Yes, he did have something to say.

No one moved.

No one argued.

Scott took it as an uneasy invitation to proceed.

This second debriefing was going to be really serious shit, he stressed. Father wouldn't be asking for their opinions in the morning. He would stick to the facts and it wouldn't be pleasant. They needed to get that in their heads already.

Still, he figured things would be OK if they made sure the operational matters were kept separate from family business. Doing that wasn't going to be easy. Before they came together to form International Rescue the family factor had never been a part of the equation. Now the family factor was everything.

His advice was simple and if they were smart they would take it.

Facts only.

No crap.

They were only to focus on the job.

He'd listened to everything that had been said tonight. Some of it he agreed with. Some of it he didn't. He seriously doubted Father would agree with any of it. Thank God Johnny had had the sense to cut the com-link so he hadn't been able to hear.

"And while I'm on the subject of the com-link, Tin-Tin..." he said, turning to her, with authority, "...I'm sure you are more than aware of the protocol surrounding the use of your wrist communicator. What you did was out of line. You got that?"

Tin-Tin bit her lip and looked up to acknowledge him.

"Yes, Scott. I understand."

His face momentarily softened.

"And off the record...thanks."

As for the rescue; it wasn't hard for him to figure out what Father would consider had gone wrong. The first thing he'd address was the fact that John and Alan weren't at full capability when the rescue call came in.

"Neither of you had had much sleep..." he pointed out, "...and Father's not going to waste any time asking you the reason why you hadn't. You both know the deal. I know you do. You have the same responsibilities as me."

Alan nodded.

So did John.

The first rule of International Rescue broken: "Anyone involved in any rescue must be fit for duty and alert."

"So, I'm warning you to be prepared for Dad's lecture when it comes and if I were you guys, I wouldn't try to justify whatever it was you were doing."

He glanced at Alan. "Although I'm sure in your case it would be most interesting."

The next thing Father would want to know is how Thunderbird Two got to the danger zone so far ahead of schedule. They all knew there was only one answer to that question. It was innovation. Innovation Father didn't know about and hadn't approved.

The second rule of International Rescue broken: "New equipment was not to be trialled without their father's express permission."

He was prepared to take the rap for that one. He'd given the order. Virgil had obeyed it. The buck would stop with him.

"No, Scott," Virgil interjected. "I won't let you do that. Dad needs to know we were both equally to blame."

"Virgil, I said I gave the order. Humour me for once, OK? It was the only order you obeyed all day."

Then he looked down at his wrist communicator and spoke directly to John.

Now he wanted to discuss the matter of the information exchange. Whether he liked it or not, Father was going to be informed tomorrow that the whole thing should have been handled better.

"It's as simple as this, Johnny," he said frankly to the communicator. "When Dad told me about Giles' dodgy background, the information you'd already relayed about the building stability went from adequate to inadequate in my eyes. There was nothing personal in my decision to ask for more from you. I was doing what I was supposed to do. My job. I needed the information and you should know me well enough by now to know that I wouldn't proceed without it. Am I right?"

A reluctant "yes," broke through John Tracy's lips.

"Good, at least we agree so far. I know Father's going to tell me the delay wasn't your fault and that I should have taken the time to explain things properly. He's probably right but the fact is, John, there wasn't any time to do anything except get the information. You wasted vital seconds arguing. So it doesn't matter what I say tomorrow or what you say tomorrow. We'll both be wrong in Father's eyes."

The third rule of International Rescue broken: "You're there to save lives, not argue."

Scott took a deep breath and looked around at all of them. He didn't have any idea how Father was going to handle the rest of it. If past history was any sort of benchmark, he wouldn't be taking any prisoners.

Three of them had broken the primary rule of International Rescue and that was something Father was never prepared to take lightly.

"Never take unnecessary risks that could endanger your own life."

It was the first thing Father had said to all of them, the very first day the outfit was formed. Even though they were there to save lives, it was imperative they never put themselves in a situation where they might actually lose their own.

And that was where the "job" got confused with the love they had for each other as a family.

He'd taken on board the things he'd heard over the wrist com. Yes, he and Johnny did have differences of opinion at times. Yes, he did disobey Father's orders when he had to. And whether he wanted to admit it or not...yes, what they did to save lives today was exactly what he would have done.

"And you honestly think Father doesn't already know that, Scott?" Virgil queried.

Scott shrugged his shoulders and glanced towards the villa.

"Who knows what our father knows?"

He straightened his back. He looked at the sky. He had two final things to say and he was done. Not as field commander this time. This time he spoke as their brother.

Number one ... when it came to who respected who around here, they were wrong if they thought he didn't respect them. He respected all of them; not just for their skills and abilities but also for their tenacity, their professionalism and their bravery.

"I'm not all that impressed with the stubbornness factor, though," he frowned, indicating Virgil's bandaged hand. "I wouldn't like to be you when Grandma finds out you were injured and didn't tell her. Trust me; Dad's debriefing will be nothing in comparison with the blast you'll get from her."

They all smiled, including Virgil.

And number two ...nothing was more important than the bond they shared as a family. Father said it all the time. He did too. But it had taken today for him to fully appreciate just how strong that bond was.

Today he could have lost three brothers. Brothers he cared about more than his own life. To stand there feeling so completely hopeless was something he'd never had to deal with before. He couldn't help how he reacted.

"When Alan was born I made a promise to Dad that I'd take care of him, no matter what," he said, looking steadily around him. "Dad trusts me to take care of all of you and has done since I was nine. Don't any of you ever put me in the position of letting him down, again. I mean it."

With that he turned and strode back into the darkness.

"I'll see you in the lounge in the morning."


The deafening rumble from below the roundhouse...

Seagulls taking to the air in fright...

The lack of other rescue activity indicated the significance...

Thunderbird Three was ready for lift-off...

Destination: Thunderbird Five.

It hadn't come as any big surprise. Thunderbird Five was the ideal place for Alan to think long and hard about what could have happened to him if Virgil hadn't saved his butt. They'd all be thinking long and hard after what they'd just been through in the laboratory.

As expected, Father hadn't taken any prisoners.

Scott Tracy stood alone on the balcony of the Tracy Villa and waited unhappily for the launching. He could still picture the look on Alan's face when Father ordered the early rotation.

Six weeks, not four...and he'd better get his head together while he was up there. Bravery was one thing. Putting Virgil in a position where he had to risk his life was another. He didn't think and he could have lost his own life because of it.

"Do you understand what I'm saying to you, son?"

Scott swallowed hard and remembered the rest of it. Father sure knew how to make the best use of that particular line.

As expected, the second de-briefing had been ordered the moment they'd finished breakfast. They were all to report to the laboratory immediately, Father had said, before he left the table. Tin-Tin was given a brusque instruction to contact John and patch him through on channel five.

"Now, please Tin-Tin," he'd instructed bluntly when she threw a nervous glance in Alan's direction.

This was the Jeff Tracy who had no time for pleasantries.

This was going to be "serious shit" all right.

"Maybe he thinks it's non-confrontational."

"No, he doesn't want Grandma to hear."

"More like there are heaps of places to hide the bodies."

Scott had frowned at his brothers in disapproval as they all descended in the elevator. This was no time to try to figure out Father's logic for ordering them to the laboratory, he'd said. They'd be better off thinking about the way they were going to conduct themselves when they got there.

Father was waiting for them when they arrived. His features were solemn and his voice was stern.

"Close the door, boys."

John's image appeared soon after, courtesy of channel five.

It had all started exactly the way Scott had said it would. Father told them point blank he was no longer interested in their opinions or any arguments. After a night of tossing, turning and imaginary hostage signals, he was only prepared to deal with the facts.

"Yes, sir," they'd all replied.

Father didn't pull any punches. Alan and John were slam-dunked in the first five minutes for failing to ensure they had adequate rest. There were no excuses for the condition they were in and if they thought he was going to ask if there was some sort of explanation for it, they were very heavily mistaken. He already knew why they'd had insufficient sleep and an International Rescue debriefing was not the place to discuss any of it. There was a rule in place around here; an important rule.

"What is it?" he'd demanded, looking first at Alan and then at John.

"Anyone involved in any rescue must be fit for duty and alert, sir," they'd both mumbled in shamefaced unison.

"Indeed. You boys seem to have forgotten that."

Father shared his silent glare of disapproval with all of them.

Then he'd paced up and down the length of the laboratory, stopping periodically to inspect one of Brains' many experiments. It didn't take long for his philosophical monologue to unnerve everyone.

"Ah yes..."


"...brilliant man..."



"Constantly seeking to improve the performance of the equipment..."

He'd stopped to uncover some twisted metal parts that Brains was currently storing in the laboratory. He'd looked at them for a while, glanced deliberately in Virgil's direction, and then resumed his pacing.


"...where was he?"

"Ah yes..."

"...Thunderbird Two."

"Twenty six minutes early."

"Certainly an impressive performance..."

He stopped in front of the huge steel bench, leaned forward and fisted his hands together.

"...for a craft that already flies to danger zones at maximum speed."

The expected question was fired at Virgil. At what point had he been informed it was in order to trial any new enhancements in Thunderbird Two?

"Sir I..."

True to his word, Scott had stepped in.

"Dad, it was my fault. I ordered Virgil to do it."

Father's frown immediately became every bit as intimidating as his tone. His eyes moved from Virgil to Scott to Virgil and then back again.

"You ordered him, Scott?"

"Yes I did, sir."

"You ordered your brotherto double his speed with something Brains clearly told you not to trial?

"Yes, I did."

"Knowing full well there might be consequences?"


"I see."

"Well, there's no point me lying to you, Dad."

Scott should have known that his admission was never going to save either of them. Father's voice lowered by at least an octave. He'd heard enough. They would now listen to him.

He thought that he had made himself perfectly clear on this subject. No new innovation was to be trialled without his express permission. Brains knew it. They knew it. And not only that, they knew exactly why he'd made that decision. There were risks to consider; precautions to take. Did they need to be reminded about the close call they'd had trialling the recent "foolproof" improvements to the Mole? That useless pile of crap in the corner was all that was damn well left of it.

His fist slammed down on the bench.

If Thunderbird Two arrived at the danger zone twenty six minutes early, he considered both of them to be equally at fault.

"That order should never have been given in the first place, Scott..."

"Dad, that's why I said it was my..."

Father had no intention of being interrupted.

"...and, Virgil, let me tell you right now, the order should not have been obeyed!"

He paused for effect and effect he got. Neither of them moved or said anything.

"Alan and Gordon were aboard that craft," he rumbled dangerously, without taking his eyes off either of them. "If something had gone wrong up there Virgil, what the hell would you have done?"

"I don't know, Dad."

"No you don't know. Scott, what about you?"

"I don't know either, sir."

"Exactly the point."

More exposure to the Jeff Tracy glare had followed.


Scott felt his chest sink into his stomach at that point. He knew what was coming next.

Father had requested an accurate and clear summary of the effectiveness of the exchanges with Thunderbird Five.

"The whole thing could have been handled much better, sir," he'd replied, without making eye contact with John.

"So, why do you say that?"

The inquisition had begun.

"We were pushed for time, sir."

"Despite Thunderbird Two's early arrival?"

"Yes, sir. The fire was pretty much out of control when Virgil landed."


"And I needed more information about the building structure before I was prepared to risk the Firefly."

"So you asked John to get you the information that you required, is that right?"

"Yes I did, sir. Several times."


"And the two of us argued about it and wasted valuable time, sir."

"So did you think to explain to John why you needed the information?"

"Dad, I didn't have time."

"You found the time to argue though."

"I guess so, sir."

"There's no guessing about that, son."

The inquisition moved to where John waited silently on channel five.

"And what do you have to say for yourself, John?"

John looked like he was about to be sick.

"I know I shouldn't have argued with him, Dad."

The eyes of authority bore through him.

"That's right John. You are there to save lives, not argue. I placed Scott in command."

"I know you did, sir."

"I'm pleased that you know. You certainly didn't seem to know when I tried to debrief with you, yesterday."

A third sweeping glare.

More silence.

And then Father dealt with the rest of it.

He started with Gordon who, so far, had somehow managed to escape everything but the glares. In fact, Father began almost pleasantly. He commended him for saving nine out of the ten people involved. Saving lives was indeed worthwhile. It was the reason International Rescue had been formed in the first place. He never lost sight of that fact.


The blast came straight out of nowhere.

...Gordon had also completely overstepped the mark by taking risks that clearly endangered his own life. When it came to his life, there was no room for negotiation. Acting like a cat with nine lives was no way to live a long life in the rescue business. He'd already used up at least half of them. If he expected to be used on the land rescues more often, he'd be well served to think a little harder before he acted.

"That building could have come down on you, Gordon...straight down. No more nine lives. No more second chances."

The fist came down on the bench for a second time.

"Do you understand what I'm saying to you, son?"

A curt nod was Gordon's only reply.

Then it was Virgil's turn. Once again Father had started out calmly; enquiring after the burns to his hand and if Grandma had made her point yet about them not being given proper attention.

Virgil felt his way carefully.

"No sir, but I expect she'll find the appropriate moment."

The stern voice returned.

"I can guarantee you that and I don't blame her.'

The reprimand was coming. Everyone looked straight ahead.

"Virgil, I appreciate the fact that you only risked your life yesterday in order to save your brothers'. I'm sure that all of you boys would have done the exact same thing."

The punch line followed before Virgil had time to agree with him.

But his other behaviour in the danger zone had certainly left a lot to be desired.

"I rely on you to keep a level head on your shoulders, Virgil," Father berated him, without apology. "Putting pressure on Scott and disputing his decisions is not the way I expect you to conduct yourself in a danger zone. You rattled him at a time when he needed to make a critical decision; a decision that ten people's lives relied on, not to mention your own life and the lives of two of your brothers. It could have been catastrophic for everyone. Do you understand me?"

"Father I..."

The fist pounded.

"Do you understand what I'm saying to you to son?"

"Yes sir. Of course I do."

"Good; because I'll expect nothing less from you from now on."

Alan's prediction about what would happen to him ended up being accurate right down to Father's very last word. By the time the old man had finished with him, everything everyone else had done had completely fallen off the radar.

"Look at me, Alan."

It wasn't a request; it was a command.

Alan's eyes had slowly lifted to Father's.

How many times had he told him? He wasn't on the racing circuit, now. A danger zone simply wasn't the place for impulsive or reckless behaviour. This was International Rescue and he had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Responsibility did not take the form of running half-cocked into burning buildings. Neither did it give him the right to question his Field Commander's methods, make assumptions or throw accusations left, right and centre when he wasn't in possession of all the facts.

"You have no right to accuse anyone of anything, Alan. Your brother saved that child. And your brother had to save you. I suggest you take the time to appreciate that fact and try expressing some sort of gratitude."

Alan remained silent. It was obvious there was more to come.

"And if you haven't made the effort already; I expect you to apologise to Miss Kyrano for your uncivilised behaviour. Is that clear?"

A nod and the curling of Alan's lip wasn't enough to satisfy Father.

"I said, is that clear, Alan?" he repeated.

Alan dropped his eyes again.

"Yes sir...very clear."

The sentence came down. John was to return to base immediately. Alan was to be ready to leave for Thunderbird Five within the hour. Virgil was to go straight upstairs to sick bay and receive the well overdue "treatment" from their grandmother.


"I'll be ready to leave in an hour too, sir."

"No you won't. You have some serious thinking to do. Gordon, you are to go in Scott's place."

And then Father turned and walked out of the laboratory.

Scott returned to life as it was and watched Thunderbird Three roar into the sky.

Now he knew how Gordon felt.

And he didn't care that much for the feeling.

He guessed the kids would be OK without him. Johnny would soon be home again. They'd be shooting the breeze and waiting for action. It would be like this whole thing had never happened.

He smirked and glanced behind him in the direction of the lounge room.

If only Grandma would stop lecturing Virgil about not attending to his hand.

"I thought I'd find you out here."

He was no longer the International Rescue Commander they'd faced in the laboratory. Dad was back to being just plain old Dad. Two cups of coffee, a roast beef on rye...and an hour to kill before the rotation.

"I find I do my best thinking when I'm out on the balcony Father," Scott heard himself reply a little sharply.

Jeff Tracy nodded as he set down the tray.

"I know what you mean. Fresh air always has a tendency to put things in perspective."

He sat down and began to drink his coffee.

"And is it helping?" he enquired casually, after a while.

Scott turned his back on the ocean view and shrugged at him.

"To be honest I'm not sure this time, Father."

Jeff Tracy nodded his head again.

"Command never gets any easier, Scott."

"No it doesn't. But that's what I do."

Jeff invited him to sit with him and enjoy the sunshine for a while. He indicated the second cup of coffee and offered him half the sandwich. Roast beef on rye. No mustard. Not exactly his first choice but with their grandmother still in full flight and no sign of Kyrano, it was all he could manage to rustle up in the kitchen.

Scott waited for a while before he spoke.

"It's not all over for me yet, is it Dad?" he asked his father quietly.

"That depends on whether you want it to be, I suppose," Jeff replied.

Scott put down his cup.

"It's OK, Dad. You can give it to me straight. I know I let you down, yesterday."

"So is that what you think?"

"Isn't that what you think?"


The words of fatherly advice began.

Yesterday had nothing to do with letting him or International Rescue down. Making tough calls under pressure was always difficult. So was maintaining the respect and trust of his brothers when they got into such a tight and dangerous situation. He didn't need to say anything further about that.

Father was sure he'd learnt a valuable lesson. Scott would continue to learn and so would his brothers. They were a good team and he led them well.

"But there is one thing you still haven't learned about leading your brothers, son."

Scott looked at him.

"What's that, sir?"

Jeff reached out and squeezed his shoulder. It wasn't an easy lesson to learn, especially for someone like him.

Did he remember the night his mother died? The night he had promised to help him take care of Alan and to always look out for his brothers?

Scott tried not to allow his features to cloud.

"Yes, sir. I do."

Jeff squeezed his shoulder again and then continued on.

Scott had been only nine years old...the eldest of five in a darkened room, trying so hard to console his father. And his father had taken so much comfort in the promises his nine-year old had made to him that night. He'd watched his eldest son grow up constantly fulfilling all of those promises. Even in college and the Air Force, he'd been there to help out with his brothers. At thirty one years of age he was still trying to do it.

But it was time he gave himself a break.

His brothers weren't those frightened little boys left to grow up without their mother anymore. They were the men of International Rescue now. So he didn't have to be that nine year old anymore, either.

"There are no more promises you need to keep to me, son," Jeff assured him. Accept that your brothers are responsible for themselves. You've done everything you said you'd do for me since the night I lost your mother."

He smiled affectionately.

"You just remember that when you go out there next time."

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