Hiya!

Wow, thanks for all the fantastic reviews! I was truly flattered by the response, and reading all your comments certainly brightened up my otherwise dull week. College work is fun from time to time, but endless past exam papers for homework can drive a girl barmy! But I'm glad to see that people are enjoying the story so far.

I hope everyone had a great weekend (I sure did, we had glorious sunshine non-stop for the first time since October!). And now, as promised, I have the next chapter ready and posted for your reading pleasures!

Enjoy!


Alan winced as he walked down the corridor towards the infirmary, holding his right side tenderly as the muscles throbbed painfully. He was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. He felt weak and lost, like he just wanted to sit down right there in the corridor and cry. And the fact that his ribs burned with every step didn't exactly help matters, either. Damn, this hurts.

"Alan!"

At the sound of his best friend's call, the blond teenager came to a halt, turning around slightly and looking over his shoulder. Fermat came jogging up to his side, a worried expression upon his young face.

"Are you al-alright?" he demanded, pushing his thick-lensed glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose, noticing with concern the way that Alan held onto his side carefully.

Alan nodded, beginning to walk down the corridor once more. "Virgil says I've bruised a few ribs," he stated quietly as Fermat matched his slow pace. "But I'm alright. What about you?"

"I'm g-g-gr-f-f-" the boys stuttered hurriedly, before sighing and dropping his gaze to the floor, shaking his head slowly. "I dunno, Al. I - I guess I'll be okay."

Alan came to a halt again, turning to regard his best friend with concerned eyes. Fermat looked truly exhausted. His normally bright eyes were dulled, his energetic posture more slumped and weary than normal. In short, the smaller teenager looked like crap.

Slinging an arm around Fermat's shoulders casually, Alan pushed his own turmoil of emotions to the side, momentarily forcing a smile onto his face.

"Cheer up, Ferm. The Hood's going to jail and we managed to save our families. Everything's cool now, right?" he stated, even as his own heart laughed bitterly at the obvious lie. "Hey, you look beat. I know it's not even eight o'clock yet, but why don't you go to bed? I think we both need some rest. It's kinda been a long day."

Fermat shook his head. "Nah, I p-probably won't be able to sleep," he sighed. "I - I think-" he paused, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand and shrugging his shoulders slightly. "I'm gonna go find my dad. I'll see ya later, okay?

Alan forced another smile onto his face, nodding tightly. "Yeah, sure," he replied, hating how falsely cheerful he sounded. As Fermat turned and began to walk back the other way, the older teenager massaged his sore ribs once more and shook his head sadly, the smile vanishing in an instant.

Even Fermat's messed up. That's probably my fault, too. If I hadn't been such as asshole, he and Tin wouldn't have been caught so soon. Huh, some best friend I am. I can't believe I made fun of his stutter, what sort of pathetic loser am I? He was the one who swiped the guidance processor, he was the one who contacted Thunderbird 5 via the satellite, he was the one who helped Brains hack into the system and bring the station back online. And what did I do? I just screwed everything up...big time. If it wasn't for Fermat, my family would be dead! Oh God, they - they'd be dead. All of them.

Feeling his throat tighten once again as tears blurred his vision, Alan reached up and angrily wiped a hand over his eyes. This shouldn't have happened to his family, it wasn't fair! All they ever did was save lives, putting their own at risk every single time they went out on a rescue mission. And this was what it got them. Alan wished his dad had never built the Thunderbirds in the first place, he wished that they'd just been allowed to lead normal lives like the rest of mankind.

Suddenly, being a Thunderbird just wasn't as appealing as it had once been.

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The weary semi-consciousness of his aching mind latched onto the presence of a new entity. Sounds babbled around him, churning within his sluggish brain, prodding and poking and pulling him towards the land of the living, away from the pain-free comfort of nothingness that had once surrounded him.

"...concussion...damage...superficial...treated his burns, but...rest...time."

John frowned slightly - or at least tried to - as he heard the muffled voices begin to invade the peaceful darkness of his mind. It sounded as though he was underwater, the noises around him dulled and smothered by the strange rushing of blood in his ears. And boy, did his head hurt. What on earth had happened?

Curiosity spiking, John fought his way through the thick fog that seemed to surround his mind and latched onto the voice that was coming from somewhere nearby, getting louder with each passing second as he approached consciousness. The words were clearer now, becoming distinguishable above the dull 'thud' of John's heartbeat.

"I dunno, Scott...I guess it depends how badly this whole thing affects him," the speaker was saying, their tone steady and somber. "I won't know for sure until he regains consciousness again. The concussion wasn't serious, but all of his combined injuries have taken their toll on his body."

Virgil? John inwardly frowned again at the familiar voice. What's he on about? Is he talking about me? What happened, did I get hurt on a rescue or-

Then, like a slap in the face, the memories came flooding back to him. The missile, the explosion, the Hood, Thunderbird 5 slowly losing orbit and spinning towards the atmosphere, the feeling of grim acceptance as the oxygen meter went down to zero - it had all been real. It hadn't been a nightmare after all.

Wrenching his eyes open, he sucked in a sharp breath as the light burned at his stinging eyes, trying to focus through the pain in his head on some sort of identifiable object. The first thing he noticed was that he wasn't on his back, as he had first assumed. He was lying on his left side, pillows pressed against his chest and behind his shoulders. And his right arm felt trapped, as though it were stuck in one position, unable to move. He couldn't even see it, such was the angle he was lying at.

"John?"

A blur of colour appeared in front of him, before his vision was suddenly filled with the wobbling image of his younger brother's face. Virgil's eyes shone with worry and concern, pain scorching through right to the depths of the honey-burnt orbs. Even with his own body throbbing with pain, John felt the familiar brotherly concern begin to bubble up inside of him. Something's wrong. What happened? What's wrong with me? What am I doing here?

"Hey," John croaked, blinking heavily and taking in a shaky breath as he tried to control his emotions. "How long have I been out?"

Virgil's face relaxed a little, and he momentarily looked over John's head, nodding slightly. Returning his attention to his patient, the doctor reached out to lay a gentle hand upon John's shoulder.

"A couple of hours," he stated. "You passed out in Thunderbird 3 just after we left the station. We didn't even realise you were unconscious until we'd begun our final approach to London."

John frowned again. London? Why were we in London? The last thing I remember was leaving the station. I felt so dizzy, like I couldn't breathe, and nothing was making sense. There was too much light and sound and noise, and then - well, I guess that must've been when I passed out. What's happened since I lost consciousness?

"Do you remember any of it, John?" a new voice inquired softly.

John started, wincing as his body protested the movement. When did Scott get here? The older Tracy had bent down level with Virgil, the two brunettes momentarily confusing John as he blinked rapidly, thinking that his vision was beginning to double. Focusing on Scott's features, he swallowed forcefully as he was hit with a flash of memory - he could see Scott's soot-smeared face leaning over him, encouraging him gently to keep awake as Thunderbird 5 smoked and sizzled around them, the smell of acrid smoke burning the back of John's throat.

"Johnny?" Virgil murmured, leaning in closer, a worried frown tugging at his brow. "How much do you remember?"

Shaking his head to rid himself of the sudden memories that had invaded his mind, John closed his eyes. "Pretty much all of it."

"John!"

Wrenching his heavy eyelids open again, John felt an almost child-like relief flooding through him as his father's face appeared above Scott and Virgil's heads. Jeff reached out to smooth his hair back, the familiar gesture soothing the astronaut's nerves as he allowed himself to relax. He was safe. He was home. They'd made it. But what had happened since he'd passed out?

Hating himself for ruining the moment, he blinked heavily and locked eyes with his father. He simply had to know the truth.

"The Hood?" he inquired softly.

Jeff's face clouded over immediately, and John wished that he hadn't asked. However, the expression lasted for only a few seconds, before a shaky smile graced the Tracy patriarch's tired facial features.

"He's being taken to a secure prison facility," Jeff replied, his voice slow and gentle, almost as though he were talking to John as a young child. "He won't be able to hurt anybody else."

John closed his eyes, feeling his rapid heartbeat beginning to lessen.

"You look like crap, d'you know that?"

Cracking his eyelids open, John focused his gaze on his copper-haired younger sibling, who had appeared magically out of nowhere in typical Gordon fashion. Managing a small smirk of his own, John cocked an eyebrow wearily at the playful insult, refraining from comment. His heart grew lighter as Gordon's manic grin widened to infinite proportions. At least some things hadn't been affected by the day's events. But one small thing kept prodding at the back of his mind. He had a bad feeling - a feeling that something was wrong, something exceedingly important.

"Where's Alan?" he asked suddenly.

Jeff, Gordon, Scott and Virgil exchanged brief glances, and John immediately felt himself waking up, all traces of exhaustion vanishing in a single instant as fear settled into the pit of his stomach. Trying to push himself up on one arm, he frowned worriedly.

"What's wrong with Alan?" he demanded.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Virgil soothed, reaching out to hold him down, even as John's head began to ache. "Easy, Johnny. Don't move, just lie still a minute, okay? The Sprout's pretty shaken up, but he's gonna be alright. He bruised a few ribs, that's all. It's nothing serious. He left a little while ago to grab a shower, but he should be back in a few minutes. It looks like you're gonna have some company in here over the next couple of days."

John didn't like that answer one bit. It wasn't the content that had worried him, it was the flash of pain in Virgil's eyes as he'd said 'pretty shaken up' that had implied the real message. Oh yes, something was definitely wrong with his youngest brother.

John tried to push himself upright once more, but stopped as a sharp, burning pain seared across his back, forcing a gasp to make its way past his lips and echo in the silence of the room. Jeff immediately reached out to steady him, his large, warm hands carefully pushing him back down against the pillows, one coming up to rest against the side of his neck.

"John, you need to lie still," he said soothingly, his tone gentle but firm. "I know you want to help your brother, but you're in no condition to do anything right now. The best way to help us is by helping yourself, alright? Just concentrate on getting yourself better, we'll take care of everything else."

John nodded, gritting his teeth against the pain and shifting uncomfortably as his back throbbed again. I've always managed to avoid injury before, but - well - I guess I wasn't so lucky this time. Man, this hurts.

"John, I'm gonna give you a shot of morphine, okay?" Virgil stated, pushing back the sleeve of John's right arm - which, the astronaut noticed, was held in a support sling, explaining the odd, trapped sensation he'd been experiencing. However, that wasn't what was bothering him right now. It was one specific part of his brother's statement that had struck fear into his heart. The word 'shot' carried the greatest threat known to John-kind. John had a major phobia of needles.

"Virge, I'm fine," he said hurriedly, cursing himself for not being able to keep the pain out of his voice.

Virgil gently wiped the area of skin with disinfectant. "It'll be quick, man," he soothed. "Just count to five."

John held his breath and closed his eyes, already feeling the bile begin to rise as the room became uncomfortably hot and cramped. The tips of his fingers grew cold and began to tingle, his head spinning alarmingly. Dammit, he hated feeling so weak and pathetic. He knew that his fear was irrational, he'd always known that. His body, however, seriously disagreed with him. The sudden, sharp prick in his arm made his blood run cold, and he felt an icy, sickening knot begin to work its way up his chest.

'Just count to five', he says. 'It'll be quick', he says. Damn needles. Man, this sucks...

"See? That wasn't so bad," Virgil murmured gently, having noticed the sudden pallor of John's skin. He dropped the needle back onto the metal trolley at the bedside and pulled off his gloves, reaching out to lay a hand on John's shoulder. John looked up at him through blurry aqua-blue eyes, and Virgil smiled softly.

"The meds are gonna kick in pretty fast," he stated quietly. "So don't worry if you start feeling a little disorientated. Just close your eyes and get some sleep, Johnny. I'll be here when you wake up if you need anything."

John nodded, feeling his eyes already beginning to drift closed. He wanted to see Alan, he wanted to speak to him, to make sure the kid was alright. But, in truth, what help would he be right now? He was far too exhausted to think straight. He'd probably only make matters worse. No, Virgil was right, he needed to sleep. But come morning, he'd set things straight with Alan. Dammit, when was the last time he'd even spoken to the kid? Apart from the occasional call he'd received when Alan was in a particularly cheerful mood at school, he hadn't really spoken to the teenager in months. Alan's holidays never seemed to coincide with John's time on earth. It had been far too long, he realised, since he'd ruffled the younger Tracy's hair. That was going to be the first thing he would do when he saw his younger brother. After, of course, he'd hugged the life out of the kid.

Well - that might not be physically possible right now, since I'm kinda...stuck.

"Relax, son. Just rest now."

His Dad reached out and gently ran his fingers through John's hair, and the astronaut allowed his eyes to slide shut completely, feeling the powerful pull of sleep on his body. Images flashed before his mind's eye again, and he roughly shoved them to the side, scrabbling to grab hold of something less daunting, something to keep him focused on the present. I'm here. The guys are alright. We survived. The Hood's gone, we're safe. And I'm home - home at last.

And with those comforting thoughts, the second-eldest Tracy son drifted off into a dreamless, drug-induced slumber.

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Gordon sighed deeply as he saw John's breathing beginning to even out. Virgil picked up a hand-held scanner and began to run it over John's body, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on his work. His posture appeared lighter, less tense than it had been earlier that evening. The medic was clearly pleased about John's level of response. And, in all honesty, Gordon was equally as happy about it. At least now he knew that John was on the road to recovery. That was one weight off his mind.

But still, he couldn't help but worry about the rest of his siblings. Sure, Scott and Virgil seemed to be coping well enough, but still...after what they'd been through...he just didn't know anymore. He himself was trying his best to push the memories to the side, focusing instead on cheering up the rest of his brothers. That's how he usually got through stuff like this. He just had to focus on everybody else instead of on himself.

It was like being - how could he put it? Like being selfishly unselfish, if that made any sense.

Who cares if it makes sense? If it works, it's good for me.

His main concern at the moment was his younger brother. Alan had barely spoken a word to him - or, in fact, to anyone - since they'd arrived home, and even the smile he'd managed to give Gordon earlier on that evening had been small and rather forced. The light and energy was gone from his usually bright and expressive blue eyes. They seemed glassy and distant, almost lifeless. And that just wasn't Alan. Gordon had never seen the kid like this before, not even after his hydrofoil accident.

What the hell happened to him while we were stuck up in space on that damn station? The kid looks like he's been to hell and back again. What did that - that psychopath do to him? Dad seems to know more about it than we do. Maybe something happened at the bank that we don't know about. Right, I'm gonna have to talk to Dad about that later on. I need to know what's up with the Sprout. I need to make things right with him.

Gordon frowned to himself, scrubbing a hand through his short copper hair and sighing deeply. I've been such a jerk lately. I can't believe I brought up the thing about the chemistry lab - and on his first day back home, too. I was just being stupid, still running on adrenaline after the rescue, I - I just didn't think! Dammit, what if we'd all died up there? Alan would've been left with the memory of me being a complete asshole! I should never have said that to him. But I'll make it up to the kid. I don't know how, but I'll make it up to him. Where'd he go, anyways?

As though in answer to his thoughts, the doors to the infirmary suddenly 'hissed' open, and Alan walked slowly into the room. Dressed in pyjama shorts and a long blue T-shirt, the teenager looked completely exhausted. Gordon saw for the first time just how small his younger brother seemed at present. And he had that look in his eyes. That frightened, lost expression that Gordon hadn't seen in years. And this worried the copper-haired aquanaut more than anything.

He really isn't coping with this, is he? Well why should he? He's just a kid. He's not supposed to face this kinda stuff, not at his age. What the heck am I supposed to do? Somehow, I don't think pulling a prank is gonna help him right now. This is way beyond my control. I don't know how to help him, I just feel so - so totally useless!

Jeff looked up as he heard the doors opening. Spotting his youngest son, he immediately straightened up, the relief at having seen John awake vanishing in an instant as he beheld the weary and pale features of the blond-haired teenager.

"Alan," he said softly, moving away from John's bed and approaching the smaller Tracy. Wrapping an arm about Alan's shoulders, he peered down at his boy and smiled warmly. Alan tried to return the smile, but ended up failing miserably. Instead, his blue eyes flickered over to John's snoozing form, pain and worry gathering in the aqua-blue depths as he beheld the older Tracy.

"Is John gonna be okay?" he asked timidly, his voice barely above a murmur.

Jeff felt his throat tighten at how vulnerable and small Alan seemed against him. What had happened to the head-strong, rebellious teenager who had blown up in his face only the day before? The fight and energy was gone, replaced instead by something that Jeff wished with all his heart he could eradicate. Fear.

"He's gonna be just fine, Sprout," Virgil replied gently, pausing momentarily to look over towards the teenager. "He sustained a nasty burn on his back and a mild concussion, but they'll heal with time. And the hairline fracture along his humerus won't even require a cast, as long as he's careful and wears the support sling for a few weeks. But he'll be back to his usual self in no time."

Alan nodded mutely, indicating that he'd heard the information. But the pain, sadness and fear did not fade from his eyes. Jeff regarded him worriedly, his gaze jumping between Virgil and his youngest as the medic nodded his head towards the bed on the other side of the infirmary. Jeff tightened his hold around Alan's shoulders and carefully guided him over to the empty bed.

Once seated, Alan seemed to snap out of his dazed state, blinking heavily as he gazed at his surroundings, almost as though he were noticing his location for the first time. His gaze flickered up to look at his father, and Jeff held it steadily, reaching out a hand to rub Alan's shoulder. Staring into Alan's eyes, he felt something connect between them, his fatherly instincts drawing him closer to his child. He needed to do something, say something, to keep that link strong.

"You alright, son?" he asked softly, searching Alan's face keenly, trying to determine how best to get through to his boy.

Alan opened his mouth and took in a shaky breath, seemingly wanting to say something. Pain and sadness flashed across his eyes, before the teenager shrugged, dropping his gaze and breaking the fragile connection completely. "Yeah," he murmured. "I'm fine."

Jeff worried his bottom lip with his teeth, his eyes scanning Alan's downcast face worriedly. He wished he could say something - do something - to make things better. He wished he could brighten up Alan's world with a hug and a smile, just as he had done countless times throughout the boy's childhood. But this was different. This - this was way beyond his control. He could do nothing but offer his support, and pray fervently that something would bring his Alan back to them.

Glancing over his shoulder, the Tracy patriarch spotted his first-born son silently communicating with Virgil, their expressions clearly getting the message across to each other. Virgil's gaze flickered over to him, locking with his own steadily, before returning to Scott's face. Scott crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow, his posture screaming that all-too-familiar 'make me' line that his eldest son had been using since the age of three.

"I think I'm gonna go check on Fermat," Gordon said suddenly, breaking the silence. As Jeff watched, the redhead latched onto the back of Scott's shirt, yanking him over towards the infirmary doors forcefully. "C'mon, Sally, let's go."

Virgil shared a smirk with his younger sibling, and Jeff felt a small smile of his own tug at the corners of his mouth. Trust Gordon to keep up the moral. He was glad to see that his second-youngest hadn't lost his sense of humour. It was something that had only happened a few times before, and for differing reasons, but it was never an enjoyable experience. Not to mention the fact that the rest of the family seemed to lose their energy whenever Gordon stopped cracking jokes. He supplied the humour for all of them.

"Right," Virgil sighed cheerfully, swiftly pushing a second trolley over to Alan's bedside and snapping Jeff out of his own thoughts. "Let's get those ribs of yours wrapped up, shall we?"

At Alan's small nod, Jeff reached out to help his son remove his T-shirt. Carefully pulling the garment up, he had to force himself to keep his face neutral as the large blue-black bruise came into view. It was a sizable mark, covering a large proportion of Alan's right side and curving half way around his back. Man, that looks painful. I can't believe I let that - that monster hurt my son! If I ever get my hands on that son of a-

"Ah!" Alan hissed suddenly, the sound echoing in the silence of the room even though was barely above a whisper. The teenager sucked in a breath, stiffening and clutching at his side as a pained grimace formed on his face. The T-shirt hung off one shoulder, momentarily forgotten as Jeff put a hand between Alan's shoulder blades, rubbing soothingly.

"Just breathe slowly, Al," Virgil advised gently, resting a hand on Alan's arm. "I think you tried to take your shirt off a little too fast, huh? Your ribs are pretty bruised there, kiddo. You're gonna have to take things easy for a few days, alright?"

Alan nodded again, his jaw set as he exhaled slowly through his nose, straightening up gradually and removing his hand from his side. His eyes still bore that distant, haunted look; the one that tore at Jeff's heart as he beheld it. Were things ever going to be the same for his teenage boy? In one day, Alan's life had been turned completely upside-down. Jeff only hoped that he had the means to put things right between them, to bridge the gap that had formed in their relationship.

"Does this hurt, Sprout?" Virgil inquired tenderly as he began to wrap the elasticated bandages around Alan's midriff. Alan shook his head, his jaw set firmly as he refused to meet Virgil's gaze. The medic shared a glace with his father, his hands pausing in their task as he regarded his younger brother keenly. "You sure?"

Alan nodded his head mutely, and Jeff caught a glimpse of a turmoil of emotions as they flitted across the downcast eyes, before the glassy appearance returned once more. Jeff sighed inwardly. He didn't know what to do. Alan was clearly trying to shut out the rest of the world, but why? Probably post-traumatic stress. Dammit, this shouldn't be happening to him, it just isn't fair. Lucy, please - tell me how I'm supposed to make this right. Everything seems so daunting and out of control right now. How am I supposed to pull us outta this? And as for the Thunderbirds-

Jeff stopped, mentally slapping himself as his heart lurched within him. Darn! International Rescue! I forgot to tell Lisa to announce that we're going offline. Dammit, I'd better do that before I make any more calls. I've already spoken with the UN secretary, and she's leaking the news to the people who need to know the truth, so the worst part's been taken care of, I hope. But the press are gonna want an explanation, too. And it'll have to be soon, we can't have people speculating over whether or not the members of International Rescue have turned into criminals overnight. Lisa's always put in a good word for us before, I know we can count on her to do it again. I'll get Penny to speak to her later.

Jeff glanced over at John, his eyes taking in the battered appearance guiltily. We're in no condition to go out on a rescue right now, anyway. And even if the machines hadn't been damaged and the boys hadn't been hurt, I wouldn't have the heart to put them through that again. We're gonna need time to think things through. And maybe - I don't know - maybe International Rescue should stay offline permanently. I can't force my sons to continue if they don't want to. And honestly, after what happened today - after what happened to my boys - I'm not sure if I want to, either.

Jeff stood at Alan's bedside, thoughts and feelings tumbling erratically though his mind as he watched Virgil tenderly wrap the bandages about Alan's bruised ribs, talking to the teenager constantly as he worked. It wasn't until the young doctor finally dropped the spare materials down onto the trolley that Jeff snapped back into the present.

"There you go, kiddo," Virgil smiled, picking up Alan's T-shirt and helping his younger brother to carefully put the garment back on again. Alan avoided eye contact the whole time, his gaze drifting down to his lap or across the room as he slowly maneuvered his arms into the sleeves. Once done, the smaller Tracy scrubbed a hand wearily over his face and let out a soft sigh.

Jeff saw the exhausted expression and rested a hand on the back of Alan's neck as before. "You feeling tired, son?"

At Alan's nod, Virgil pushed the trolley to the side and leaned over to pick up a glass of water that was waiting on the bedside table.

"Drink these down first, and then you can go to sleep," he instructed, opening his hand and revealing two small, white pills. Alan raised his eyes to meet Virgil's at last, gazing at him suspiciously. Virgil had to smile at that. "They're just to help with the pain, Sprout. I'd give you a shot, but I figured that you might as well take it by mouth, since you need the fluids in you anyway. I don't want you getting dehydrated."

Alan sighed again, slipping the medication into his mouth and downing the water swiftly, before reaching out and handing the glass back to his older brother. Gordon suddenly appeared at Virgil's side, having reentered the room unnoticed, and grinned at Alan cheerfully. He leaned against the side of the bed, eyebrow raised as he glanced down at his watch.

"It's not even eight yet, Sprout," he grinned. "This has gotta be the earliest you've gone to bed in years. But hey, a little extra beauty sleep might be beneficial. Might help you attract more of the opposite sex, ya know what I mean?"

Jeff shot his copper-haired son a look, and Gordon shrugged innocently in response. However, the look turned into a grateful grin as Alan cracked a weak smile, shaking his head at Gordon's light-hearted teasing. Jeff felt his heart soar once more, just as it had done with John earlier that evening. So maybe things would be alright after all. The boys fed off each other's energy, that much was obvious. Jeff just hoped that Gordon didn't burn himself out trying to cheer up his siblings.

"Alright, son," Jeff smiled, helping Alan to lie down on the bed and pulling the blankets over him. "Get some sleep. I'm gonna need to slip out for a little while, but I'll be back to check on you later, alright? I just need to make a few calls, clear up a few things. And Tom's already messaged me demanding to know what the hell's going on."

Jeff had to smile as he said that. His closest friend, Dr. Thomas Palmar, had always considered the Tracys to be his family. Having worked with Jeff on-board the NASA space station during their earlier years together, he viewed the father of five as being his brother, and the Tracy sons as being his adopted 'nephews'. So naturally, having heard the news reports about the Thunderbirds knocking down the monorail, digging a massive hole in Jubilee gardens and trying to break into the Bank of London, the doctor had been rather...curious...as to why the heck his best friend seemed to have totally lost his mind. And boy, Jeff sure wasn't looking forward to explaining this one. It would probably take him all night.

As Virgil dimmed the lights above Alan's bed, Jeff perched on the side of the mattress and ran a hand through his youngest son's hair, feeling guilt bubble up within him once more. He wished he could do something to change the past, wished he could reverse time and somehow prevent the Hood from hurting his children. But there was nothing he could do now. He just had to be there for his sons as they came to terms with what had happened. And Jeff prayed that it would happen soon; he couldn't bare to see Alan acting so withdrawn, so distant.

Although, come to think of it, he and Alan hadn't exactly been close over the past year or so - as much as Jeff hated to admit to it, it was true. Teenage stubbornness and Tracy hard-headedness had caused Alan to challenge him constantly, creating a massive chasm in their relationship; a chasm that Jeff had been unable to cross in recent months. He'd had more aguments with his youngest son over the last nine months than he'd had throughout the rest of Alan's life put together. And it killed him now to feel so pathetic - so utterly useless - as he watched Alan slipping further and further away from him. He just hoped that he could mend their relationship somehow.

"Go to sleep," he whispered softly, feeling Alan's body relax beneath his touch as he smoothed the blond locks down flat, brushing a few stray strands off the cool forehead. Alan was still there. He was still alive. Jeff hadn't lost him - yet.

And I won't lose him. If it's the last thing I'll do, I'll make this right. For both his sake and for mine, I'll set things straight. I promise you, Luce, I'm not gonna let him go.

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Tin-Tin Belegant sat on the end of her bed, gazing steadily across the room at her reflection in the full-length mirror on the door of her closet. Her pyjama-clad image seemed almost alien to her, her own body a total stranger as she continued to stare at the mirror in silence. She locked eyes with herself, the fingers of her right hand reaching up to grip onto her necklace tightly as she studied her features, flashes of memory protruding through the chaos of her mind.

Her uncle - the Hood was her uncle. His powers were identical to hers - admittedly, they were a good deal stronger and more developed than her own, but they were still the same. She'd sensed that from the very first moment. And he'd wanted her. He'd envied her powers, envied how even her young mind was strong enough to use and control the so-called 'gift' that ran through her veins. Her powers, he'd wanted them for his own. Because she was so very much like him. She and the Hood shared a certain something - something inhuman. He'd seen that, and she'd felt it too. She'd felt his power, read his mind - just as he had hers.

It wasn't right. She'd never been able to do that before. She'd never felt such power within her, consuming her mind and body and threatening to take control.

I'm a monster.

Anger and frustration bubbled up within her, pulsing through her veins like fire. Standing up, she yanked the necklace over her head roughly and drew her arm back, throwing it across the room at her reflection with an agonised cry. She watched it's progression groggily, hearing the loud 'thunk' as it connected solidly with the mirror. It landed on the floor, unharmed and uncharged, smirking at her in a sinister fashion. She stumbled backwards, feeling sick to her stomach, the back of her legs hitting the bed suddenly and making her jump.

Sitting down again, Tin-Tin tried taking steadying breaths - in through her nose and out through her mouth, just as her father had taught her to do. She tried to push away the thoughts and feelings and memories that swirled around within her. But she couldn't. She wasn't strong enough to fight the tears that stung behind her eyes, and they began to pool, spilling over the edge and cascading down her cheek, the hot liquid seeming to burn against her flesh. Leaning forwards, she buried her face in her hands, no longer holding back as she allowed the grief and pain to consume her.

She didn't know how long she sat there, sobbing into her hands - it could have been hours, minutes, or perhaps even seconds - but the next thing she knew, the mattress was dipping beside her and a familiar perfume was overwhelming her confused senses.

"Oh, sweetheart."

Then the comforting arms enveloped her, and the Malaysian girl turned sideways to lean into the embrace, burying her head into her mother's shoulder as she sobbed. She wanted to hold on to the older woman and never let go, to be held protectively in the haven of her embrace forever. Here, she was safe. Here, no monsters could get to her.

"What is it?" Onaha inquired softly, her hand smoothing down her daughter's soft, black her. "What is wrong, sweetheart?"

Tin-Tin let out another sob, pushing herself deeper inside her mother's field of protection. "I don't want it anymore," she croaked tearfully. "I don't want to be like him."

Onaha closed her eyes, realising what her child was referring to. "It will be alright, little one," she murmured, trying to keep her own tears at bay as she held her only daughter close to her chest. "Everything will be alright."

"But I'm a monster!" came the tear-filled reply, filled with despair and sadness. Onaha gripped onto her child even tighter, resting her chin atop the soft hair and swallowing to ease the ache in her throat.

"Listen to me, Tin-Tin," she said, gently but firmly. "You are nothing like the Hood, do you hear me? Nothing. He is not part of our family. We have each other, he has no-one. And what you did today showed your true heart. You are good, my child. Good and courageous. His heart is black. His soul turned to stone through greed and hate long, long ago. He ceased to be your uncle the moment he turned against your father."

Tin-Tin sniffed, turning her head to look up into her mother's eyes. "I could read his mind," she whispered fearfully. "He wanted - he wanted my powers, Mom. He wanted me."

"Then he is a fool," Onaha replied instantly, her voice strong and determined. "Because I would not have let him take you. No power can come between us, sweetheart, not unless you wish it to. And the bond between a mother and her child can never be broken, remember that. You are mine, as I am yours."

Tin-Tin smiled at the familiar phrase. "You are mine, as I am yours," she murmured in reply, feeling her stinging eyes begin to grow heavy.

Onaha kissed her daughter's forehead gently, humming a lullaby as she rhythmically rubbed Tin-Tin's back. The teenage girl relaxed fully into her embrace, allowing the song to wash over her as the emotions from the day took their toll on her body. As she began to drift off, her mind wondered sluggishly over what had happened in the Bank of London. The desperation she had felt when Alan had been hanging by one hand from the platform still echoed in her soul, the fear and protectiveness surprising her once more. Her views about Alan had changed that day. She'd seen past the moody teenager, past the false bravado. She'd glimpsed at who Alan Tracy really was beneath the surface, sensed his emotions in a way that she'd never done before.

He had been nothing more than a boy. A lost boy who'd wanted more than anything to save his family, to set things straight, to make things right for everybody. The cover of his book was certainly very different than its contents.

Carefully, Onaha stood up and guided Tin-Tin towards the top end of the bed, pulling back the light covers and helping her daughter settle down beneath them. Leaving the bedside for a moment, she walked over to the opposite end of the room and bent down to retrieve her child's necklace. Holding it carefully in her hand, she returned to Tin-Tin's side. Taking a seat on the edge of the mattress, Onaha gently pressed the object into the teenager's palm, closing the fingers over it and squeezing lightly.

"You are not a monster merely because you posses these powers, dear one," she said softly. "Your father has gifts like yours, but he is no monster, is he?"

Tin-Tin shook her head, fingering her necklace carefully. Onaha smiled and continued.

"You should not fear it, sweetheart. It is a part of you. Long ago, your father learned to embrace that. And he is a good man. The power itself does not affect the person you are. It is what you choose to do with it that will define you. The Hood used his powers for great evil, but you have only ever used yours to help others. And, one day, you may be forced to use them again. But do not fear, my child. You will never be like him. Never."

Tin-Tin blinked through her tears, glancing across at the object in her hand and regarding it in a new light. Although the crystal itself contained no power, it had always been the focus with which she could control her gifts. Without it, she wouldn't need to worry about using her powers ever again. But her mother was right, she had used her powers to help others that day. Alan would surely have died if she hadn't-

Closing her eyes, Tin-Tin slipped her hand beneath her pillow, releasing her tight hold on the necklace before withdrawing her arm and sighing, feeling the slight pressure against the side of her head as the object rested beneath her cheek.

Onaha smiled softly, feeling a sense of pride at her daughter's actions. Reaching out, the mother resumed her lullaby, gently tucking the blankets around her child's body and running a hand over Tin-Tin's hair. The teenager opened her eyes again, gazing up at her protector steadily.

"Mom?" she asked softly. Onaha stopped humming momentarily, glancing down into her daughter's hazel eyes.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

Tin-Tin swallowed heavily. "D'you think Alan's gonna be alright?"

"Scott says that his injuries are not serious," her mother replied, her bracelets jangling softly as she reached up to brush a strand of hair behind her ear. "He said that Alan just needs time to heal."

Tin-Tin bit her lip. That hadn't exactly been the answer she was looking for.

"But you speak of his emotional state?" Onaha guessed, sensing the true depth of the question. "That, my child, is something I cannot tell you. This day will have affected him, of that we can be certain. But to heal, he must first allow himself to be healed. Until, like you, he comes to terms with what has happened, I fear that he will only draw further into himself."

Tin-Tin looked up at her mother, worry shining in her eyes. "And what about the other guys? And Mr. Tracy? Won't they be angry with us, because-" she paused, swallowing again. "Because the Hood's Dad's brother?"

"Half-brother," Onaha corrected softly, before shaking her head and smiling. "No, my dear. Mr. Tracy loves us as part of his own family, he has said so on countless occasions. And he has such a kind and caring heart. He is worried about your father, I can see that." The older woman averted her gaze and glanced towards the window. "I worry for him, too."

Then the Malaysian woman cleared her throat and smiled again, cupping Tin-Tin's cheek and brushing her thumb over the olive skin gently. "But for now, do not worry," she stated. "For our family is safe, and we are together once more. And now sleep, my little one. The sun will shine brighter in the morning. You will see."

Tin-Tin nodded, closing her eyes and feeling the pull of sleep on her body. Onaha watched her for several minutes, humming softly until Tin-Tin's breathing had evened out, before standing to her feet and heading silently from the room. Stopping in the doorway, she turned and regarded her sleeping child for a long moment, feeling her heart ache. She had almost lost her daughter that day. She had almost lost her five boys, too. But her daughter had taken the first step on the long and hard road to recovery. The healing process had begun.

But for Onaha's boys, it was a different matter. She prayed that they would soon join Tin-Tin on her journey, or else she feared that the family would never fully recover from the ordeal they had endured that day.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Alan rolled over onto his unbruised side, hissing through his teeth. He stilled his movements, facing the door as he opened his eyes and gazed about the room. With both Scott and Virgil absent, he no longer needed to feign sleep. He had no idea how long he'd been lying there, pretending to snooze as emotions and memories tumbled around in his mind - but in truth, it felt like an eternity. His body was utterly exhausted, but his mind was still far too alert, keeping him awake against his will. Oh, how he wished he could just slip into the land of dreams and forget about everything that had happened that day.

His father had left hours ago - or at least he guessed that it was hours ago. He honestly couldn't say for certain. He's probably still talking to Tom. Maybe that's a good thing, Tom always manages to keep Dad calm. And after everything that's happened to us today, Dad probably needs it. I mean c'mon, he and the others nearly died!

Alan closed his eyes, hating the way that his stomach clenched uncomfortably. He wanted to puke. The cold, hard facts kept prodding at him, making his chest tighten and his head spin. It still seemed too terrible to be true. He'd almost lost everyone, his whole family. He'd almost lost his best friend, the one person who'd kept him grounded and sane throughout his time at school. And his brothers...what would he have done if he'd lost them? They were such a central part of his life, he simply couldn't imagine life without them there, teasing him and caring for him in the way that only brothers could.

But, had things happened just a little differently that day, Alan would never have seen any of them again. Ever.

Tears came to the teenager's eyes once more, and he turned his face into the pillow, blinking them away furiously. Stop it, stop doing this! That isn't what happened, dammit, stop thinking about what might have been! I'm just being stupid. The guys are still here, they made it. Why the hell do I keep thinking about something that didn't even happen?!

Clenching the covers tightly in his right hand, he slipped his left arm beneath the pillow, clutching it firmly and pressing it closer to his face. Moving it to the right to find a cool spot on the soft fabric, he sighed deeply, gazing across the room at his older brother in the dim light. John looked peaceful as he slept soundly (just as Alan was supposed to be doing), his chest rising and falling steadily as he lay on his side, propped up by pillows on either side of his body. Above him, the diagnostic scanner flashed rhythmically, recording John's heartbeat. Each flash was a reassurance, a sign that Alan's brother was still alive, that he was going to be okay.

But Alan just couldn't persuade himself to see things that way. All that he could focus on was the flashes of memories that tore painfully through his consciousness, burning behind his eyes and filling his mind with dread and fear and self-hatred. He remembered so vividly where it had all started, he could see it as though watching it on a screen in slow motion - the wind blowing the kicked-up sand as Fermat came sprinting down the beach towards him, panic written across his face.

"Alan! Tin-Tin! Th-thunderbird 5 has been hit! Thunderbird 5 has been hit!"

That's when things had started to go so terribly wrong. The fear that had slammed into Alan's gut with those words was truly indescribable, even worse than the dread he had felt when he had first been told about Gordon's hydrofoil accident. Alan had known, he'd known right then that something was wrong - that something terrible was about to happen. He'd felt it. And then, when the Hood's submarine had surfaced near the beach-

Near the beach...the sub...

Alan's blood suddenly ran cold, his stomach seizing up as he sucked in a sharp breath. The world seemed to freeze around him as an icy-cold horror crept up through his chest and spread out to the tips of his fingers. His heart thudded within him, threatening to shatter his ribcage as it beat with an incredible strength and ferocity, fear pumping through his veins at full force.

Oh God, no. How the hell could I have forgotten?! The sub, it - no, no this can't be happening!

It was still there. It had to be.

They were all in serious danger.


Dun-dun-duh!

In the next chapter, will Alan's fears be well founded, or is he panicking needlessly? Will the brothers be able to calm the youngest Tracy down after the most recent fright? And will Alan, emotionally and physically exhausted, finally be able to open up to his family? Find out next time!

Yup, the Queen of 'nasty-cliffies-that-really-get-on-your-nerves' is back! Get over it. Lol.

Thanks for reading. Please make my week a little more lively and REVIEW! I love to hear from you, and I promise I won't bite. All concrit and advice is very much appreciated, and a big thanks to all those who pointed out typos and grammatical errors in the previous chapter. I owe ya one!

See ya next week! (Or maybe this Saturday, depending on how busy I am.)

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