Thanks for the awesome reviews, guys, you really made my week! My social life is going kersplat, what with exams and revision and all, so fan fiction seems to have been my sole source of amusement recently. Plus I've been ill the past couple of days (*pouts*) which totally sucked. Big hugs to DD (sorry, I mean CC) for keeping me amused. She may be cruel, but without her to bug me, fan fiction just wouldn't be the same. Love ya!

Lissysue85 is still feeling poorly, so my love and best wishes go to her again with this chapter. Feel better soon, honey!

And ast, thanks for the typo pointers. They're always appreciated. *hugs*

Okay, on with the show!

Jeff leaned his elbow against the table top, pinching the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes, slowly counting backwards from ten - in Chinese. He found that this often helped to calm him down when his fuse was particularly short - as it was at this particular point in time.

"Why?" he asked, his voice slightly strained.

Smiling, Thomas Palmar patted his best friend on the arm sympathetically as he sat down in the chair beside him. Reaching across the table, he accepted the glass of orange juice from Onaha with a knowing look, before turning back towards Jeff and setting the beverage down in front of him.

"Because I care about you, that's why," he answered cheerfully.

Jeff opened his eyes to glare at the doctor. "If you really cared about me, you wouldn't be doing this," he complained, ignoring the muffled snorts that came from the rest of the table's occupants.

Thomas took a sip of his orange juice and shrugged. "I did warn you."

John grinned as his father let out an unintelligible mumble, the eldest Tracy taking a sip of his juice and using a fork to poke at his breakfast dully. Despite his age, the Tracy father was still able to pull off a convincingly stubborn and moody pout. Shaking his head and smiling at his dad's behaviour, John shifted forward in his seat so that the chair wasn't in contact with the still-healing burn in the centre of his back.

As Thomas shot him an amused look from across the table, he muffled another snort, trying not to choke on his scrambled eggs as he covered his mouth with the back of his hand. Life hadn't felt this good in a long while. It had been over a week since the Hood's attack and, on the whole, his body was feeling a good deal better. His burns were healing, the hairline fracture he had sustained no longer ached and throbbed as it had once done, and the headaches from his minor concussion had all but disappeared. He and his brothers were doing just fine.

His father, on the other hand, wasn't such a happy clam. The previous day, Jeff had gone against Thomas' clear instructions and had consumed an additional two cups of coffee behind Onaha's back whilst the housekeeper had been busy sweeping the pool decking - something she always did each and every morning at precisely 11:45am, come rain or shine. Now, John had never perceived his father to be the calculating type, but clearly he had been wrong in his assumption. The extent to which the Tracy patriarch had gone in order to sneak the extra caffeine boost had been truly remarkable. Even Thomas had been impressed, once he'd uncovered the evidence.

That was before, of course, the doctor had put his foot down and banned Jeff from the coffee pot altogether. And with Brains still up on the NASA repair shuttle, Jeff hadn't been able to recruit the younger man in taking sides against Thomas. Of course, John mused, although Brains was a father and therefore understood the importance of caffeine as one of life's necessities, the scientist would probably have agreed with the doctor when it came to health issues. And coffee was a major issue for the Tracy patriarch.

"Tom, this is stupid," Jeff sighed, setting his fork down with a clatter and sitting up a little straighter in his chair. "We're adults. Can't we go about this rationally?"

Thomas leaned back in his chair, smiling gratefully at Onaha as she offered him another muffin.

"Rationally?" he repeated, glancing towards the other man with a raised eyebrow as he set the breakfast item down on his plate. "Jeff, buddy, this is as rational as life gets."

"Look, I just don't see the harm in having one cup of coffee, that's all." Jeff was getting agitated.

Thomas shrugged again, swallowing his mouthful of food. "Oh, there's no harm in it," he agreed lightly.

Jeff raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Then why can't I have one?"

"I warned you what would happen, and now you're being punished," the doctor replied flatly, taking another gulp of juice.

On the other side of the table, Gordon seemed to spontaneously combust, exploding into a shaking pile of snorting limbs as he clutched onto the table, his face going as red as his hair. Beside him, Alan covered his mouth with the back of his hand, his eyes watering as he turned slightly pink with the effort it took to remain quiet. Virgil, Scott, Tin-Tin and Fermat looked down simultaneously in an attempt hide their smiles, their shoulders shaking with their forcefully contained amusement. Even Onaha made a swift exit into the kitchen with an empty plate, and soft laughter could be heard floating back into the dining room through the open doorway.

Only John, having perfected his talent through years of practice, was able to keep his composure. Leaning across to where his father sat at the head of the table beside him, he gave the older Tracy a consoling pat on the shoulder.

"Don't worry, Dad," he soothed. "Tom's gonna forget all about babysitting you when Jenny arrives."

Thomas' face seemed to melt into happy and dazed expression, his eyes sparkling as he glanced down at his watch. "Seven hours and fourteen minutes," the doctor reported, sighing in content as he leaned back in his chair, his eyes glazing over dreamily. "Ah, life is good."

A short silence fell as the Tracy boys grinned indulgently at the man they viewed as their 'uncle'. John looked down at his plate and smiled. After everything that Thomas had done for his family - both in recent times and way back when he and his brothers had still been kids - it pleased him to see the doctor so happy. Although, in truth, John had never really seen Thomas less than thrilled about any aspect of his life. And after his marriage? Well, to put it simply, Jenny had added that little extra something to Thomas' personality. The two medics were as alike in character as two peas in a pod - but, in many ways, they were also as different as chalk and cheese. However, John could think of no other woman who would have suited the name 'Palmar' like Jennifer had.

Plus she made an awesome 'aunt', and she baked the best chocolate-fudge muffins John had ever tasted.

Jeff glanced sideways at the doctor, noticing that Thomas appeared to have returned to the dreamy and romantic realms of 'La La land'. Smirking, he leaned across the table and cleared his throat.

"Can I have a cup of coffee now?"

Thomas' eyes remained glazed over, but his voice was firm. "Never."

John grinned at his father's deflated expression, draining the last dregs of milk from his glass. 'Seven hours and fourteen minutes of this?' he mused. 'Huh. It's gonna be a long day."

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Alan smirked at his best friend's moody pout, shaking his head.

"You can keep trying as long as you like, Ferm," he chuckled, as the smaller teenager pressed 'Try Again'. "But you ain't ever gonna beat my score."

Fermat frowned up at him from where he sat on the couch facing the giant TV screen on the wall, his eyes glinting in good humour as a smile tugged at his lips. "Just you w-watch," he mumbled, picking up the remote steering wheel again and glaring at the game's menu options in silent determination. "It just requires a l-lot of accurate timing and precise movement."

"No," Alan argued, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. "It requires an insane obsession with speed and the ability to make really crazy decisions at the last second. You have to bethe bike, Ferm."

Fermat snorted. "You should get Tom to play it. He'd be g-g-awesome."

Alan glanced down at the empty 'Extreme Desert Racers 3' case in his hand, smiling at the picture of the enlarged graphic dirt bike on the front of the box.

"Actually," he said, smiling. "Tom was the one who bought me this. For my eleventh birthday, I think."

As Fermat began to load up the location he wanted for his next race, Alan glanced sideways at him, gnawing on his bottom lip hesitantly. There was something he'd been meaning to ask his friend for days now - something that, no matter how much he tried, he seemed unable to bring up in a casual way.

At last, hating the silence, he turned to face the younger teenager.

"Hey Ferm?" he began lightly, swinging his leg from where he sat perched on the edge of the couch.

Fermat, engrossed in selecting the style of vehicle he wanted, merely acknowledged the mention of his name with a soft, "Mmm-hmm?"

"Are you...are you okay?" the youngest Tracy inquired, mentally slapping himself at the vagueness of his question.

Fermat frowned. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"

Alan squirmed uncomfortably. God, he hated bringing up subjects like this.

"No, I mean about - about-" Dammit, just spit it out! "About, you know...stuff."

Well that was specific.

Fermat lowered the steering wheel so that it rested against his knees, looking up at his best friend curiously. Upon seeing Alan's expression, something hardened in his green eyes and he dropped his gaze again, swallowing visibly as he shifted uncomfortably.

"Do we have t-talk about it?" he asked, his voice a little more constricted this time.

Alan puffed out an exasperated breath. "Look, I'm not really into giving the emotional peptalks," he sighed. "That's Scott's job. But you haven't been yourself all week. Something's definitely up with you. Now c'mon, spill. I'm your best friend, so you should already know that I intend to bully you until you tell me what's going on. Roger that?"

Fermat rolled his eyes, giving a mock salute as he dropped the remote steering wheel down onto the couch beside him, slumping back against the cushions with a heavy sigh. Alan turned around slightly so as to regard him at a better angle, the corner of the arm of the couch digging into his thigh as he continued to swing his leg absently.

"I have ways of making you talk," Alan warned, his voice comically sinister as he let out an evil chuckle.

Fermat laughed. "Look, it's n-nothing, really," the younger boy promised, holding up his hands in a placating gesture as Alan made as though to grab him. "I've just been thinking about s-s-stuff over the past few days, that's all."

"Fermat, you always think about stuff," Alan replied, smirking softly. Then he sobered up a little. "Thinking about what happened last week?"

Fermat shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. I just can't help but th-th-wander if I could've done things a little differently. You know, s-stopped the Hood somehow. " He glanced up at Alan, something akin to guilt passing across his face. "Stopped you from getting hurt."

Alan frowned. "Dude, you did stop the Hood. And how were you supposed to-"

"I don't know," Fermat mumbled, cutting him off.

Reaching over to squeeze his friend's shoulder, Alan gazed at the younger boy seriously. "You've gotta stop thinking about what might've happened," he said softly. "It'll drive you crazy. Besides, the 'what-ifs' don't matter. You helped stop the Hood, you rescued those people from the monorail and you saved my family. That's all there is to it. You couldn't have done much more than that. Don't have such a downer on yourself, okay?"

Fermat looked up at him, an eyebrow raised. "Who are you, and w-what have you done with the real Alan Tracy?"

Alan laughed, punching the young genius on the arm in good humour. "Shut it, geek. I'm trying to do a deep 'Scott' thing here, you're cramping my style."

"Jerk," Fermat muttered, but he was smiling. He turned back towards the screen, picking up the remote steering wheel again. However, he made no move to continue playing. Instead, he let out a long sigh and stared down, unseeingly, at the object in his hands.

"I just wanna do something, ya know?" he murmured, almost to himself. "Like help with some of the m-m-bigger repair jobs or something. I hate just st-st-sitting around and feeling so useless, when all the other guys are working their butts off to get the Thunderbirds back online."

"Yeah," Alan sighed, dropping his gaze to look at the case in his hands. "Me too, Ferm. But my Dad wants us to take it easy. And besides," he sat up a little straighter, smiling as he gave Fermat a playful push. "Dad un-grounded me, so it's not like I have nothing to do. Heck, I hadn't even remembered that he had grounded me in the first place - well, until Dad mentioned it, of course."

"Duh!" Fermat rolled his eyes as Alan stated the obvious - again.

A short silence fell between them, and Alan nodded to himself, satisfied that Fermat was indeed okay. Well - no, actually, the young teenager wasn't even near being okay, but then again none of them were. However, slowly but surely, they were getting there. Is was going to take time, and a heck of a lot of chocolate - especially for John - but they'd be back into the safe realms of 'okay' soon enough. It just required patience.

"Hey, I've found the munchkins!"

Alan, startled from his daze, nearly fell off the arm of the couch in surprise. Righting himself, he glanced upwards towards the doorway, feeling a wide grin break out across his face as he spotted the tall figure on the other side of the room.

"Andy!" he beamed, standing to his feet as the older man strode across to the couch, slinging an arm about the young Tracy's shoulders and squeezing him into a one-armed hug. Smiling down at him, Dr. Andrew Myers raised an amused eyebrow.

"You've grown," he stated, his tone lightly accusing. "You're not allowed to do that, small-fry."

As Alan opened his mouth to protest, Andy glanced over his head towards Fermat, reaching out to ruffle the boy's dark brown hair fondly. "Hey there, Specs," he grinned, his eyes dancing merrily. "You alright?"

"Yup," came the cheerful reply.

At Fermat's smile, the Air Force medic nodded in approval. "Good. Now," he turned back towards Alan, fixing the small blond with a gentle yet firm stare. "What's all this I hear about you managing to get yourself hurt, again?" he asked, his voice lightly teasing. Then his expression became a little more serious. "I'm gonna want to take a look at those ribs of yours later, okay? Just to make sure."

Alan rolled his eyes, shooting a despairing glance towards his eldest brother, who stood smirking in the doorway, looking at least ten years younger than he had before. Alan sighed. Andy had been on the island for less than five minutes, and already the doctor was fussing over his injuries.

'Ah well,' Alan mused as Andy ruffled his hair playfully, 'It's not like the rest of my family don't do it too. I'm kinda used to it by now.'

"Damn, it's good to see ya, kid," the older man sighed.

"Good to see you too, Mandy," Alan grinned, purposefully adopting the nickname Gordon had given to the young doctor almost five years ago.

Andy gaped at him, before looking back towards Scott with a horrified expression. "Did you hear what he just called me?!" he exclaimed, pointing a finger towards the blond teenager he now held in a gentle headlock. At Scott's laugh, he turned back to look at Alan with an evil grin upon his face. "You're in for it now, Sprout."

"Save some for me!"

Andy's head snapped up towards the door, where John stood leaning against the wooden frame, his arms crossed over his chest casually - well, as casually as they could be, what with his right arm in a sling and all - as he smirked at the scene before him. At his comment, Scott gave him a playful shove, chuckling softly.

"Would ya look at that," Andy grinned, releasing Alan and heading across the room to greet the younger man. "Space-case has decided to interact with us lesser beings. I'm flattered, your Highness, truly I am."

As they embraced, Alan noticed that Andy was carefully avoiding touching the burnt area on John's back. Smiling, he shook his head. Trust the medic to have already ascertained information on the finer details regarding their injuries.

"Say, where's Tom?" Andy said suddenly, moving further into the room with the older Tracy sons and leaning against the wall, looking inquisitively towards his best friend. "I haven't seen him around yet."

Scott grinned. "He's waiting on the east runway."

Andy frowned. "Uh...why?"

"Because he's a sad, love-sick elephant, that's why," John stated lightly, glancing down at his watch as he spoke.

"A sad lovesick...elephant?" Andy repeated slowly, eyeing John critically as though trying to decide whether or not the man before him was indeed the calm, collected, logical person he'd grown to know and love as a younger brother.

John smirked at him, shaking his head. "You missed the whole elephants/peanuts conversation he and I had the other day," he explained. "You wouldn't get it. But the basic description is accurate - he's waiting on the runway for Jenny."

"Jen- what, she's coming today?" Andy asked, surprised and pleased by the revelation.

"Yup," John confirmed. "But not for another couple of hours."

Andy let out a snort of amusement. "But Tommy-boy's already waiting on the runway for her?" he inquired. At the four simultaneous nods he received from the junior Hackenbacker and the three Tracy sons, he smiled. "Fair enough, Space-case; love-sick elephant is probably as accurate a description as you can get."

"Why are we talking about elephants?"

Gordon and Virgil had arrived in the doorway, looking towards the assembled group in amusement. Alan grinned, shaking his head at the randomness of their conversation, and at how perfectly normal it felt to be discussing the subject in such a serious manner. But he felt blessed because of it.

Only in my family.

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Lady Penelope Creighton Ward tucked her electronic data-pad into her purse, snapping the clasp shut before leaning back against the soft leather of FAB 1's plush seats. Peering down at her silver watch, she smiled.

"Well done, Parker. We're right on schedule."

"Thank you, m'lady," her manservant replied, and Penelope could hear the pride in his voice. "We are now beginning our final approach to Tracy island."

The blond nodded. "Very good, Parker."

Penelope sighed softly, peering forward through the bullet-proof windscreen towards where she could see the large brown and green mass that was Tracy island in the distance. Surrounded by miles upon miles of blue ocean, it was hard to miss. Smoothing down her casual summer dress, the British aristocrat glanced sideways at her fellow passenger out of the corner of her eye. The brown-haired woman was fixing her hair into a messy bun, her whole being vibrating a cheerful energy that almost seemed to brighten the creams and pinks of the vehicle's interior.

Smiling fondly, Penelope leaned across towards the other woman. "Everything alright, darling?"

Jennifer Palmar turned to look at the younger female, her eyes sparkling merrily as a wide smile broke out across her face.

"Alright?" she repeated. "Penny, my husband - who I haven't kissed in nearly five weeks, you may recall - is going to be waiting for me on that runway." Grinning, she clasped her hands together and let out a rather childish squeal of excitement. "I'm ecstatic!"

Penelope laughed. "That much is obvious."

Jenny giggled, a becoming blush appearing on her cheeks as she looked out of the window at the blue ocean below them. Then she let out a long sigh, reaching up to pat her hair down, tucking a stray lock into the bun and brushing her fringe behind her ears.

"How do I look?" she asked finally, sitting up a little straighter and turning her head to the side, posing comically.

Penelope smiled, running her eyes over the pink and white blouse that she had picked out for her companion earlier that day, nodding in approval as she noted how well it suited the other woman's figure.

"Gorgeous, darling," she stated. "Just as I said you would."

Jenny grinned, glancing down at her top. "I have to admit, it does look rather good on me. I almost feel seventeen again!"

As they laughed together, Penelope felt the car begin to lose height as they made their descent towards Tracy island. Reaching down for her purse, she unsnapped the clasp again and felt around for her pocket mirror. Once the object had been located, she straightened up, sitting back against her seat and scrutinizing her reflection for a long moment. She was pleased to note that a careful application of makeup had successfully hidden the large bags beneath her eyes.

Having spent most of the week dealing with legal issues and hopping between different countries in order to brief government officials, she hadn't exactly been maintaining regular sleeping hours. But all that was going to change once she arrived on the island. Jeff had invited her to stay for a week in order to relax, and she was thoroughly looking forward to taking a well earned break.

Beside her, Jenny leaned forwards in her seat, peering out through he windscreen eagerly. Then as quickly as she had moved forwards, she sat back again, a slightly concerned expression appearing on her face.

"Jenny?" Penelope inquired, lowering her compact mirror as she spoke. "Is something the matter?"

The female medic glanced up, the fingers of her right hand running lightly over the bandage on her left forearm. "I just realised something."

Raising an eyebrow, the International Rescue agent tilted her head to the side. "And that is?"

Jenny chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. "That I completely forgot to tell Tommy about this." She pointed towards her injured limb.

"Ah," Penelope hid a smile. "And he's going to find the revelation a little concerning, no doubt?"

Turning towards her friend incredulously, Jenny stuttered out, "Concerning? Penny, he definesoverprotective! Why d'you think he and Jeff get along so well?"

Penelope laughed softly. "You do have a point," she agreed.

Sighing, Jenny sat back in her seat, her gaze returning to the window. Well, she couldn't go back and change the past now. She'd just have to face the music - or, rather, her overly paranoid husband. But everything would work out her way in the end. After all, she was a woman - she had ways of making her husband take her side.

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Jeff grinned, sharing an amused look with his youngest son as Alan came to stand beside him.

"He does know that he's acting like a kid, right?" the teenager asked lightly.

"Probably not," Jeff replied, slinging an arm around Alan's shoulders. "But I'm not about stop him. I've been looking forward to this all day."

The object of their speculation stood a few metres away from them, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet energetically as he gazed up into the sky, towards where a fast-moving object was steadily approaching the island, dipping lower and lower as it began its descent towards the runway. Jeff frowned, suddenly realising that the doctor was standing directly in the centre of the runway - like a very happy sitting duck.

"Tom!" Jeff called, trying to get his friend's attention. "I'd move outta the way of I were you."

When Thomas didn't give any indication that he had heard the Tracy patriarch, Virgil and Gordon - who had been standing at the side of the runway with John, Fermat and Tin-Tin - jogged over to the doctor, grabbing him by the arms and pulling him back to a safe distance, chuckling in amusement as Thomas' gaze remained fixed on the flying car.

The assembled family members remained at the side of the runway as FAB 1 touched down, the shining pink exterior glinting in the light of the afternoon sun as the car moved towards them slowly. Time seemed to drag by endlessly for Thomas Palmar, who was - with a great deal of effort - resisting the urge to sprint onto the runway and open the car door before the vehicle had even stopped moving. It seemed like minutes before the Rolls finally came to a halt a few metres away from the group, the gentle rumble of the engine dying down, leaving the runway in relatively peaceful silence.

Then the driver's door opened, and Parker stepped out onto the tarmac, looking as formal as ever in his light grey suit, carefully adjusting his hat as he closed the door behind him with one hand.

"Hey, Parker," Jeff greeted, stepping out onto the runway and smiling at the family friend.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Tracy," the manservant replied, returning the smile as he moved further down the car towards the passenger door. Reaching out, he made to open the door. However he stopped when, all of a sudden, the door on the opposite side of the car swung open. Suddenly, a brown-haired figure leaped out, spinning around to face the assembled welcoming comitee with a bright smile upon her face.

"Jen!" Thomas was sliding across the front bonnet of FAB 1 before the word had fully escaped his lips, oblivious to the disaproving frown that Parker was sending his way as the metalic cover squeaked under his weight.

Thomas' heart soared as he swooped his wife up in a tight embrace, spinning her around as she laughed gaily. His cheeks hurt from grinning so widely, but he didn't care. Right now, life was perfect. Jennifer returned the embrace around his neck, and Thomas couldn't wait a moment longer. Setting her down on her own two feet, he cupped her face tenderly and attacked her lips with a passionate, hungry kiss.

The intimate moment was interrupted by a chorus of wolf-whistles that came from the Tracy sons, and Thomas felt Jennifer laugh against his mouth.

Breaking away, the doctor smirked at the group, happiness overflowing. "Ah, shut up."

Glancing back towards his wife, he ran his eyes over her body, noting how well the jeans and fitted blouse complemented her curvy figure. Letting out a contented sigh, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, swooping her up into his arms and carrying her bridle-style towards the rest of the group.

"You," he murmured into her ear. "Are perfect."

"I know," she giggled back. "Now put me down, you silly lump."

Grinning, the doctor set his wife back on the ground again, watching as she began to greet the rest of their crazy 'family'. Turning towards the pink Rolls, he raised an eyebrow as a slim figure stepped out of the car, her high-heeled shoes tapping softly on the tarmac as she smiled her thanks at Parker. Then taking a step forward, she stopped, her lips forming what could only be described as an elegant grin.

"Hello boys," she greeted, her eyes sparkling as she looked at Fermat and the assembled Tracys. "Lady Penelope Creighton Ward, at your service."

Thomas let out an long moan. "Do you always have to say that?"

"Of course," the British aristocrat replied lightly, before moving over towards Jeff and grasping the man's hands in her own, giving him a light peck on the cheek. Then she frowned slightly, regarding the Tracy patriarch critically. "Goodness, you look terrible."

Gordon let out a barely contained snort of amusement, and Thomas did his best to hide his grin as Jeff sent a disapproving frown in his direction.

"I'm fine, Penny," Jeff replied, returning his attention to the female secret agent and smiling warmly. "I'm just-"

"Going cold-turkey," Thomas interjected, unable to hide the smirk this time.

Penelope let out a soft laugh. "Ah, I take it Dr. Palmar has restricted your caffeine intake?"

Thomas pouted. "Don't call me 'Dr. Palmar'," he grumbled.

"Tommy," Jennifer scolded jokingly, pulling away from the double-hug she'd been giving Alan and Gordon, placing her hands on her hips as she raised an eyebrow at her husband's behaviour. "That is no way to speak to a woman."

Thomas put his hand to his chest, feigning shock. "Baby, you are so right." He turned towards Penelope and cleared his throat. "Don't call me 'Dr. Palmar', your Ladyship."

This was too much for Gordon and Alan, who immediately collapsed against each other in hysterics, Alan clutching at his side in an attempt to keep from overstraining the still-healing muscles. The rest of the group weren't much better off, each of them trying in some way to hide their amusement.

Thomas grinned. I rule.

His eyes flickered back over towards his wife, who was currently inspecting the half-healed cut on the back of the John's head, her arm outstretched towards the injury as her lips moved, indicating that she was speaking to the blond astronaut. But Thomas wasn't bothered about what she was currently saying - she could be speaking in Japanese for all he cared - but instead his attention was focused on his wife's outstretched arm. Or, more specifically, the bandage that was wrapped around the area between wrist and elbow.

Jenny stepped back, patting John on his uninjured arm soothingly. "Well, at least those brains of yours are still intact,"she commented, smiling fondly. "We wouldn't want you to-!"

She broke of with a surprised squeak as somebody suddenly spun her around. Thomas stood in front of her, concern radiating off him in waves as he reached out towards her, grabbing onto her wrist gently. The rest of the group turned to face the couple, eyebrows raised.

"Honey, what happened?" Thomas asked as he ran his fingers over the bandage.

Jenny let out a resigned sighed, tucking her fringe behind her ears. She had known this would be coming. Well, he lasted longer than I thought he would. Almost two full minutes. I'm not sure whether I should be impressed or offended by that, to be honest. Ah well, time to face the music.

"I had a slight argument with a backup generator when the hospital had another power cut," she replied, submitting to the inspection dutifully, frowning at Jeff as he smirked at her in amusement. "I don't think it wanted me to leave, so it decided to set me on fire."

Thomas' eyes burned with something akin to panic, and she patted him on the arm soothingly. "It's okay, love. Only a minor burn."

"Minor?" Thomas questioned, fixing his wife with a suspicious gaze. "How minor?"

Jenny shot Penelope and Tin-Tin despairing glances, and the two females smiled back at her sympathetically from where they stood beside Fab 1, Penny's arm wrapped casually about the young teenager's shoulders in a friendly and almost protective manner. Jenny winked at them, before returning her attention to her uncharacteristically frumpled husband. Recalling his question, she shrugged dismissively, tugging away slightly in an attempt to remove her arm from his grasp.

"Tommy, dearest, it's fine. Don't fuss." She knew it was cruel to tease him, but hey - a married girl had to find amusement someplace.

"Jennifer Susan Palmar," Thomas warned, and the rest of the group made choked sounds as they tried to muffle their laughter.

Jenny rolled her eyes, slapping her husband's chest gently. "Don't call me that."

"Jen, baby," Thomas amended. "How bad is it?"

The brown-haired woman glanced down, clearing her throat. "Second degree," she mumbled.

"And when were you planning on telling me about this?" Thomas asked, a note of chastisement in his voice as he frowned at her.

Jenny shrugged. "When you asked, which you did, so now I have."

Thomas looked vaguely confused. Deciding that it was another argument she had successfully won, Jenny turned to look at the group, running her eyes over the tall (and short) figures before her. Then she frowned suddenly.

"Hey, where's Scott?" she asked, looking towards Jeff. The Tracy patriarch glanced about, seeming equally as surprised at his eldest's absence, before giving her a 'who knows?' shrug.

"Andy and Scott went down to the beach about an hour ago," John, ever the observant one, stated casually. "They said they'd try and be back for your arrival, but they must've lost track of time. I can call them if you like."

Jenny smiled, shaking her head. "No, no, let them have some time together. They're no doubt discussing planes or cars or something of similar unimportance."

"Unimportance?" Jeff repeated, looking mildly offended. "C'mon, Jenny, that was a little harsh."

The brown-haired woman shrugged. "Perhaps," she agreed. "But anyway, enough about that. I need tea."

"Can't I look at your arm first?" Thomas asked, with an almost-whine lacing his voice.

"You should already know the answer to that," Penelope interjected, beginning to walk away arm-in-arm with Tin-Tin. "Tea always comes first, dear."

Jenny grinned up at her husband. "She's right, you know."

Thomas still looked a little hurt. "You should've told me," he complained softly.

Sighing, Jenny reached up to give him a quick peck on the cheek, sliding her hand down his arm and interlocking their fingers together. Fluttering her eyelids, she tilted her head to the side and smiled hopefully.

"Forgive me?"

Thomas groaned, looking up towards the sky. "Not the eyes," he begged. "Anything but the eyes."

"Pleeease?" Jenny pressed, tugging on his hand to get him moving.

"Gah, I suppose I'll have to," the male doctor sighed, stumbling along behind her dramatically. "This time.

Jeff watched them go, his sons laughing as they followed at a slight distance, giving the couple a little privacy. He was glad that Thomas had his wife back again. Although the doctor kept it hidden well, Jeff knew that his old friend missed her dearly when she was away in Dhaka - sometimes for periods of over eight weeks.

Jeff could understand how Thomas felt. Before Virgil had been born, he had worked 40-day rotations aboard the station with the NASA frontier space project. And, although he would always half a month off in between his rotations, it had still been hard to be away from his family for so long. Especially when John and Scott had been newborn babies. He would come back after a rotation to discover that they had learned how to say 'Mamma' - or, even worse, they had discovered the talent of walking on their own. Sure, he had always used the vid-comm to communicate back to earth at least once a day, but it hadn't been the same.

"Ya need some help back there, old man?" Gordon yelled, from where he and his brothers stood a good distance down the runway, and Jeff could hear the smirk in his voice. He raised an eyebrow. Old man, eh?

"You're grounded!" the Tracy patriarch called in playful retaliation, grinning as he heard John and Virgil's laughter floating back towards him.

Nodding in satisfaction, Jeff began walking in the direction of his sons. Yup. I've still got it.

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

Andrew Myers sat on a small boulder, watching his best friend as the tall brown-haired male paced back and forth in front of him. Considering the colourful array of expletives coming out of the - usually - emotionally stable Tracy, Andy was quite impressed with himself for having been able to keep his face neutral. The last thing he wanted to do right now was antagonise the ex-Air Force pilot. Scott was already mad enough.

"I mean how could I have been to stupid?!" the younger man was yelling. "I just let Dad and the kids run off to the bank, without backup, without weapons, without outside help of any kind! What the hell was I thinking?! Dammit, Andy, Alan nearly died! I just can't believe we came to close to - to - ugh!"

Andy winced as Scott kicked one of the boulders, hard. As expected, the eldest Tracy then let out a pained yelp, followed by a stream of curses, hopping up and down on one foot in a way that, had the situation been less serious, would have been highly comical.

"Scott-" he began, consolingly, thinking that his friend had reached the end of his rant. He was wrong.

"The Hood's gonna pay for this," Scott growled, beginning his frantic pacing again, his shoes scuffing up wet sand every time he turned to face the other way. "Somehow, I'm gonna make him pay. Nobody does this to my family and gets away with it, d'you hear me?!"

Andy held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Whoa, okay, I hear you," he soothed, standing up and approaching the fellow pilot. Scott was practically shaking with anger, the fury smouldering in his eyes, his hands clenched into fists at his sides as he continued to pace.

"Scott, sit down," he instructed softly.

"No, I won't frigging sit down!" Scott spat back, kicking at another rock. "I wanna beat that frigging monster into a pulp, that's what I wanna do!"

Andy grabbed Scott by the shoulder and spun him around, before taking a step back and adopting a firm stance, feet shoulder-width apart with muscles poised and ready. Scott frowned at him and Andy held up both hands, signalling a 'give it to me' message and spreading his arms.

"Hit me."

Scott blinked, the fire immediately dying from his eyes. "What?"

"Hit me," Andy repeated. "Pretend I'm the Hood and beat the crap outta me."

Scott frowned, shaking his head. "I'm not gonna hit you, Andy."

"Ah c'mon, hit me!" the medic pressed, spreading his arms in an 'I'm open' gesture.

"Dammit, Andy, I'm not gonna hit you!" Scott exclaimed.

Andy dropped his arms, his stance relaxing as he regarded his friend steadily. "Why not?"

"Because." Scott dropped down onto a boulder, his anger spent. Andy sat down beside him, leaning forwards with his elbows resting against his knees and his hands hanging limply between his legs.

"'Because' isn't an answer, bro," he smiled.

Scott gave him a sideways look, the corners of his mouth turning up slightly as his stiff posture sagged. Andy reached out and gave the younger man's shoulder a squeeze, feeling the tension flow out of the strong muscles like the retreat of a tide. Scott exhaled slowly, his gaze dropping to the sand as the gentle sounds of the ocean filled out the silence between them. For a long moment, neither man spoke, merely content to sit and contemplate their differing emotions.

"So," Andy finally said, breaking the silence. "How long has that little temper tantrum been brewing for?"

Scott smiled, almost apologetically. "Guess."

Andy nodded. "Ah. That long."

Sighing, Scott put his head in his hands. "Look, I'm sorry, man," he mumbled. "I didn't mean to blow up in your face like that."

"Dude, that was the whole point of coming out here," Andy sighed, clearly assuming that this had been the most obvious thing in the world. Scott shot him an incredulous look and he grinned, shrugging. "What? I had to get you away from the family so that you could let it all out. Better you yelling at me than losing it in front one of the guys - or, even worse, your Dad."

Scott grimaced at the thought. "You have a point," he agreed, his voice lined with guilt. "But still, you should've stopped me before I got so riled up."

"Why?" Andy asked, nudging at a dead crab with the toe of his boot in mild curiosity. "You needed to throw that tantrum, Scooter."

"Stop calling it that," Scott grumbled, good-naturedly.

Another short silence fell between them, before Andy let out a long sigh, turning to face the eldest Tracy son with a calm and serious expression upon his face. Scott remained unmoving, his gaze fixed on the sand beneath his feet as he stared down at his sneakers glumly. Andy inhaled deeply, readying himself for the task ahead.

"Alright, Scott. Peptalk time," he stated.

Scott put his head in his hands again. "Oh God, anything but this."

Andy pretended that he hadn't heard him and continued, "Look, I know you wanna crush this 'Hood' guy and, quite frankly, so do I. But the bottom line is - you can't, so get over it. Hell, Scotty, that outburst was the anger that had accumulated after eight days. What d'you think it's gonna be like if you keep this up for weeks, months, even years? You can't do that to yourself. I'm not gonna let you."

Scott smiled, despite the seriousness of the conversation. "Oh yeah?" he challenged playfully. "How you gonna stop me?"

"I'm your big brother," Andy grinned, slinging his arm about Scott's neck and giving the twenty-five-year-old a painful noogie. "I have my methods."

"Okay, okay!" Scott laughed, trying to sound affronted as he pushed his friend away. "I get the message."

Andy smiled, releasing his hold and sitting back again. Then he gazed at Scott seriously. "I mean what I said, you know," he murmured. "You shouldn't be thinking about revenge, justice, getting even - all that jazz. The Hood's gone, he's taken care of and he's never gonna bug your family again. Seriously, you know that prison facility he's been sent to? That ain't a normal security centre. Only the worst of the worst go there - and by that I mean the traitors and government spies who've threatened whole countries at some point. He's not getting out of there unless he suddenly learns the art of translocation. And even if he does, they'll no doubt be able to stop him somehow. He might as well be dead, Scotty, because that's how he is to the world from now on."

Scott sighed, feeling a little of the anger within his heart seep away. He wasn't ready to forgive the Hood - dammit, he wasn't ever going to be able to do that with the ease that Alan had done in the Bank of London - but he no longer felt the desire within every fibre of his being to kill the psychopath who had tried to destroy his family. Sure, give him a gun and put the Hood against a wall in front of him, and he'd probably have a hard time keeping his finger off the trigger - but his happiness wasn't going to be marred by the Hood's existence.

Andy's right. The bastard's locked away for life, without trial and without mercy. He's never coming out. He tried to ruin our lives by destroying my family, but he failed. I'm certainly not gonna let him destroy me from behind bars. Huh, I hope the prison food sucks.

"That's more like it!" Andy grinned, watching the genuine smile that broke out on Scott's face. "Nice to have you back with us, Chuckles. So, you're gonna try and forget about his existence, right? No more temper tantrums? A guy can't live his life with that kinda anger, little dude. After all: 'fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate...leads to suffering'."

Scott shook his head, massaging his temples as he let out a long-suffering groan. "You did not just quote Star Wars."

Andy grinned. "Suck it up, Flyboy."

"Dude, you totally did a 'Gordon' just then," the Tracy son complained, but he was smiling. "D'you realise how bad that is?"

Andy chuckled, leaning back with his hand pressed against the cool surface of the rock as he gazed up at the bright blue sky, squinting against the glare of the afternoon sun. He inhaled deeply, breathing in the salty air and smiling in content. A short silence fell between the two pilots for a third time, more comfortable and relaxed than the previous two had been.

Scott rubbed a hand over his face, glancing towards his 'older brother' once again as another smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"That was a trick, right?" he questioned, interrupting the silence again. "The whole 'hit me' thing? You've done it before, I remember. That time when Mike and Greg had that major dispute over baseball teams back in our first summer at the base together."

Andy groaned, shaking his head. "Man, that argument got so outta hand."

Scott grinned. "We were on a three-day shore leave, away from the base, and they'd both had a few too many beers. But who could blame them? Anyway, the whole 'hit me' thing worked that time, too. They were best buddies five minutes later."

Andy pouted, rubbing his chin. "I wasn't actually expecting them to hit me."

"Well, it diffused the situation," Scott reasoned lightly, elbowing the older man in the side playfully.

"Yeah, it nearly broke my jaw, too," he grumbled. Scott laughed and Andy stretched his arms out to the side, standing up and looking back towards the path to the house. "So," he sighed. "You wanna head back? We're actually running late, ya know. That mutant pink car arrived a while back, but you were yelling too loud to notice."

Scott grinned sheepishly, jumping to his feet. "Sorry."

"Ah, don't sweat it," Andy replied casually, beginning to walk back up the beach. Then he paused, looking thoughtful, and glanced sideways towards his best friend.

Scott frowned. He'd seen that expression before. "What?" he asked suspiciously.

"Race ya!" the older man cried, and was off across the sand in the blink of an eye.

Scott stared after him, momentarily stunned, before a grin began to spread across his face. Why not? Sure, they were technically supposed to be adults. And sure, Andy was almost old enough to be Alan's father. But who cared about that?

Right now, Scott had a race to win.

There ya go folks! Next chapter is gonna be the last, and it's the party scene that I referred to briefly in my previous story - 'When The Music Fades'. It'll have a few similaritues to the movie, but not all that many. For starters, Fermat's gonna be able to swim already. Having lived with the Tracy family for over six years (at least in my universe) I found it highly unlikely that Gordon wouldn't have forced him into the water at some point.

Well, I'm waffling again. Do that a lot. Sorry.

Hope you enjoyed the chapter! Everybody REVIEW please and make me a happy bunny! The next, and last, installment of this story will be posted some time later this week. Maybe Friday, we'll have to see.

Toodles! xoxoxoxoxoxoxox