With much thanks to Sineater and MariaShadow
'I like Aunty Val.'
'You do, Squid?'
'Yeah! She always brings me sweets!'
Scott laughed as Gordon lived up to his name and climbed all over him until he was sitting firmly on his oldest brother's back, legs tucked under Scott's armpits and arms clasped loosely around his neck. Gordon's damp hair was pressed against his ear as he lent forward to continue his conversation as they walked home to join the others.
'Do you think Daddy's thinking of making Aunty Val our new Mommy?'
Scott stopped dead. He was sure the thundering in his heart was audible to all. His tongue was stuck and for a wild moment he thought he couldn't breathe.
Gordon, completely oblivious to the turmoil he'd caused his oldest brother, carried on chatting, his chin now resting on Scott's shoulder.
'I wouldn't mind if Aunty Val was to move in with us. Daddy seems to be happier when she's around and recently he hasn't been in the office so much. I don't want another Mommy but I don't mind if Daddy marries her but I think that I shall keep calling her Aunty Val.'
Thankful that his little brother didn't seem to want an actual conversation, Scott let Gordon chatter on while he tried to get his head around what Gordon had extrapolated and if – or *how* – he needed to deal with this.
Dad and Aunt Val and whatever that was. Or was not.
Scott had thought that he was the only one who had noticed, but the Squid was very perceptive, more than his brothers gave him credit for sometimes. Scott sighed. If Gordon had noticed it was a certainty that John had too – if he thought about anything outside of Space and their Mom.
Sighing again, Scott made his mind up. He needed to talk with his father. That was for later, though. Right now he needed a change in direction, and he looked to the side as Gordon looked at him. The six-year-old was frowning at the sudden silence.
'Are you gonna tell me how fast you swam today, Fish?
'I was really fast!'
'Really fast? How fast was that?'
'Coach said I swam like a rocket!'
'Oh, like one of the rocket fireworks?'
'No! Like Dad's rocket to the moon!'
Gordon added emphasis to his words by gesturing wildly, and although Scott couldn't see what he was doing he had a fair idea and the image caused him to laugh. In turn Gordon, pleased to have caused his oldest brother to laugh, joined in.
All thoughts of their Dad and Aunt Val were put out of both their minds.
That Friday Jeff returned home from an extended trip. He had been away for a little over a week while his Ma looked after the boys. He had plans afoot, plans that would still take at least a decade to materialise in full. But this week he'd started with the most expensive and biggest purchase so far.
He'd bought the island that NASA had marooned him on all those years ago. He had always intended it to be a summer getaway but Lucy's premature death had put that on hold. Now it served to be the perfect base for his new dream.
Val was coming over tomorrow and he couldn't wait to share this news with her. She was going to be one of the founding members when he finally got things off the ground. Hell, it had always been the five of them planning this right after Gordon had been born.
The five of them were gonna change the world, were going to save it. But then Tim had gone, and later Lucy. It was her death, and his Pa's, under such circumstances that had cemented the idea in Jeff's mind, and Val and Lee had agreed.
The world needed him. Needed them.
Jeff chuckled at himself. He was letting his ambition get ahead of him again. There was still so much to do, and the first step was to talk about this with his eldest children. Scott, John and Virgil, at 14, 12 and 11 respectively, would absolutely jump at the chance to be part of his vision, but with the timespan he knew it would take they would have the opportunity to fulfil their own dreams first.
As he walked up to the front door he thought about his oldest two. Both desperate to follow in his footsteps and those paths would give them both the skills they needed to participate in the roles he thought they would like. Virgil too, whichever specialism he chose to pursue, would love it. He wasn't sure about the youngest two, but then they really were too young right now. By the time plans were ready they would be too, ready to decide.
But first he needed to talk to Val.
Greetings were as exuberant as ever, and the night passed in catching up with his children and mother. All discussions about where he had been and what he had been doing were deftly turned aside as a discussion for tomorrow.
Val Casey was in a bit of a tizzy.
Jeff had gone hunting for that island. He'd called her on the plane home and told her everything. The man was all excited, and it was lovely to hear the old Jeff back.
And now she wasn't sure what to feel.
Jeff and Lucy. Lucy had been her bestest, *bestest* friend. And Jeff had been Tim's. The four of them, along with Lee – who had grown up with Jeff – had great plans. Plans to change the world.
But then Tim had died after only a couple of years marriage. Lucy had been her mainstay during those dark times. Lucy had kept her sane. Until suddenly Lucy had gone too.
Jeff had said the same thing to her. That she had been his mainstay during those darkest of days. Her and his boys.
Neither one had been quite sure how or when it had started. Sometime after the first anniversary of Lucy's death, when the loss had been too much to bear after a particularly trying day…
They had both felt guilty afterwards and she'd avoided both Jeff and the boys for a while until Lee had come visiting and mentioned how miserable everyone was. Even little Alan had mentioned that he missed her.
Now, with the idea of the rescue service the five of them had originally dreamed up together taking the first steps to realisation, Val wondered what that would mean.
For them both.
For them all.
Still, Jeff had called, all excited and needing to talk, and she had agreed to drop everything and fly over straight away.
Darkness chased her plane as her jet flew over the patchwork of farmland below, and Val couldn't quite supress the butterflies she always got when she knew she was going to see Jeff. What did he have to say to her that he wanted her to come over immediately?
The beginnings of hope bubbled up, and for once Val allowed herself to dwell on that hope. The what-if's that she'd been ruthlessly quashed for months.
She would arrive at the airport around 11pm. It would take almost an hour to reach the farmhouse. Part of her itched to drive straight there, but arriving at the homestead at midnight might make more than a few eyebrows raise. She was the boys Godmother and she didn't want to give them something more to worry about. They were all super intelligent and very capable of reading between the lines. Well, the eldest three could.
Contenting herself with a quick text to tell Jeff she had arrived, Val booked herself into the small bed and breakfast she'd stayed in before, thankful that she'd reserved a room on impulse the minute she'd agreed to fly over.
Her comms buzzed. Jeff's message was a simple smile and a plate of waffles. Val grinned as she settled for the night.
Jeff Tracy's breakfast waffles were a treat she wouldn't miss for anything. She messaged back a row of coffee cups and Jeff sent back a laughing face. Jeff couldn't make coffee for all the money in the world and Val would make sure she brought it with her.
Val slept short but soundly and by six she was already on the road, three steaming coffees and a crate of soda for the boys and singing from the top of her lungs whatever came on the radio.
Jeff wasn't there waiting for her, though. It was Scott, who had probably been woken up by the sound of her car. The fourteen-year-old looked tired but happy, giving her a side hug and helping to carry the drinks into the kitchen. Her eldest godson watched her, looking as if he had a question on the tip of his tongue but was too afraid to ask it, and Val found herself self-conscious in a way she'd never been before around him.
The smell of coffee drew Jeff downstairs quickly, and with a grin he ruffled Scott's hair as he reached for the coffee, ignoring the grumbling from his oldest as he bumped shoulders with Val.
Scott watched for a few minutes as his Dad and his Godmother fell into an easy working pattern as breakfast was made, but he soon left them to it as the smell of waffles began to fill the house. He had brothers to get up.
Gordon and Alan were already up, the four- and-six-year-olds quietly playing rockets and dinosaurs in their shared bedroom. Scott grinned as the two shot forward and grabbed hold, one on each leg, and looking up at him with mischievous eyes.
If Scott was honest, he'd been a little shaken by seeing the two adults in the kitchen working around each other like they had done it before. Of course, they were old friends and Scott had vague memories of Dad, Mom, Aunt Val and Uncle Lee doing this on the odd Saturday morning, but nothing like that since Mom had gone. He blinked at the sudden pain that evoked and concentrated on the now.
Putting his thoughts aside for the 'think about later' box, Scott helped his youngest brothers get dressed and shooed them downstairs while he had the difficult task of waking up Virgil. John came out of his loft room with an embarrassed smile, and the eldest made another mental note to make sure their resident Starman slept in his own bed tonight rather than the futon in the attic.
It took longer to get up eleven-year-old Virgil than usual, probably due to the slightly late night they had had, but the promise of Dad's waffles eventually did the trick and they made their way downstairs carefully – it wouldn't be the first time that a just-woken-up Virgil had fallen down the stairs.
No one mentioned the sudden appearance of their Godmother. Alan had immediately climbed onto her lap and demanded hugs, which Val had happily supplied, and breakfast was its' usual noisy affair. Sally watched the scene indulgently, happy at the noise and buzz around the table. It had been a long, long time since she'd heard her family like this.
After everything had been cleared away they all rushed upstairs to get ready for the morning activities. Saturday mornings were always busy. Scott had Rescue Scouts with Virgil, John had his Math club today and Sally would be taking Gordon and Alan swimming.
It would free Jeff up to talk to Val. He would usually work the morning then the afternoon was all for the boys. He stood in the doorway and watched them go – his Ma taking three of his boys in her car while Scott and Virgil walked – before turning back to Val.
She was sitting in the kitchen, a fresh cup of coffee in hand and one stood ready on the table for him. Now was the time to discuss their future, and he said as much as he took a long sip of the hot drink.
'What future are you referring to, Jeff?'
'Do you remember how the five of us planned to rescue the world, Val?'
'I do. Five friends with five incredible ships to save people that couldn't be saved by any other means. We'd spend whole days discussing that.'
'I never forgot it. Especially after Lucy and Pa dying like they did. If we had been operational we might have been able to save them.'
She placed a hand over his free one and squeezed. Jeff smiled at her. It didn't quite reach his eyes, and Val couldn't blame him for that. The avalanche had been a completely avoidable accident, and one that Jeff would forever blame himself for, despite there being no way he could have foreseen it.
'Well, I have taken the first steps in bringing that dream into reality.'
'You have bought the island?'
'Yep. They drove a hard bargain, but really that small chain of islands off the Kermadec ridge was just an albatross around NASA's neck. They couldn't make money of a decommissioned missile base without spending a ton on it first.'
'Did they ask you why?'
'Of course! I told them how they had marooned me there for my survival training and I had fallen in love with it. How I had promised Lucy we'd have it as a second home.'
'And they fell for that?'
'Why wouldn't they? What other possible use could I have for it?'
Jeff winked at her and Val laughed. He could be very persuasive, as his blooming business attested to.
'So. Are you on board, Val?'
'Wait. You're really going to do this?'
'I am. It was Lucy's dream too, and if we can prevent something similar happening to just one family I would see that as successful.'
'Do you have someone in mind for building the ships?'
'Not quite yet. It will take a long time to be able to get everything together. I estimate ten-fifteen years once I have my engineer. But first I want to get the island ready for habitation. That is going to take two-three years. Then I'll move us over.'
'Me and the boys.'
He cleared his throat and put his cup to one side. Jeff took both Val's hands in his.
'Val, I want you to move with us. I could use your help and expertise overseeing the project.'
'You – you want me to move with you? Move in with you?'
'Well, yes. I want you there, Val. I'll need you there.'
'Jeff. I – I don't know what to say.'
Val smiled brightly at him, fighting back tears. She stood up suddenly and threw her arms around his neck.
'I love you, Jeff! Of course it's a yes!'
But at her words Jeff had frozen. Val felt it and she realised a second too late. Jeff hadn't meant it like that. Now different tears threatened to fall as she also froze in place.
Ever so gently Jeff pulled Val's arms down and stepped back so that he could see her better. A stray tear was making its way down her cheek and he wiped it away with his thumb. The smile he got was barely there.
'Val, honey. I want you and I need you, I really do. But I'm never going to love you. Lucy – Lucy was the love of my life. My soulmate. I'm never going to love anyone else. I'm not going to lie to you about that. I want and need you to be with me in this – it is as much your dream as it is mine, but Val – that's all I'm offering.'
He wiped another tear away before gently lifting her head up and meeting her eyes. Jeff sighed at the pain he could see there. He'd never meant for this to happen. He watched as Val visibly pulled herself together. And away from him.
'No, no. You're right. I knew that. Umm…I'll need some time to think. The idea is great. The plan is great. I can't believe you're actually doing it.'
She was babbling now. Great. "Get a grip, Val!" she berated herself.
'Val. Val. Valentina Georgia Casey.'
That pulled her up short, the use of her full name. Startled, she looked at Jeff.
'Val. I'm sorry. I never meant to lead you to this. The offer still stands. I do need you. And I want you there, by my side. But if you need more time, if you need to take a break from us, I'll understand.'
'Jeff, you are such a good man. And I loved Lucy too. I didn't plan this either, but it is what it is. I think I should go and sort myself out.'
Jeff nodded sadly and watched as she gathered her few bits together and walked her to her car. She kissed his cheek and left without saying goodbye.
He sighed. What a mess.