Goodness gracious me! That's a lot of reviews! All I can say is...wow. And thanks! And keep 'em coming! *grins* I was truly flattered by the response, I wasn't expecting the story to become so popular that quickly. I'm just pleased to know that my humble fictional drabbles have entertained others besides myself.

Now please, read on and enjoy the chapter...


John ticked another row of boxes, his eyes skimming over the formal statements as he held back a frustrated sigh. This was the eighth form he'd completed within the last fifteen minutes, and the questions were become rather repetitive. Sure, he understood the importance of security in a school like Wharton's, where every student was a potential target from kidnappers who wanted to hold the son of a filthy-rich parent for ransom. It had happened before. Twice, in fact. John had researched Wharton's history back when he was still one of its students. Security was certainly crucial to the safety of those who resided in the school

But seriously, did there need to be so much paperwork?

Each lengthy legal form wanted him to say the same thing; that he wouldn't sue the school for anything that happened to Alan on the Wharton's campus once his brother had been released back into his care. It was just making him state it over and over and over again, and in the most roundabout ways possible.

Quickly scribbling his signature in the box at the bottom, he double checked the page to make sure he'd filled it out correctly. With a sigh of relief, he glanced across the desk at Ida Harding, the kindly grey-haired receptionist who had been patiently waiting for him to finish, and smiled.

"All done?" she asked cheerfully.

John nodded. "Thank God."

Ida laughed softly, taking the form from his outstretched hand and filing it away in a plastic wallet. Setting it aside for a moment, she reached for a large data-pad beside her keyboard and slid it across the top of the desk towards the handsome blond-haired male, holding out a stylus pen. John spun the data-pad around and looked at it with a slight grimace. The receptionist smiled sympathetically.

"This is the last one, Mr. Tracy," she assured him, placing the stylus down beside the pad. "I promise."

Letting out a sigh, John began to skim through the paragraphs of overly formal legal jargon, fully aware that none of it was of any interest to him. The content was almost identical to the other eight forms he'd filled in. Although he had to admit, this one at least seemed to summarise the self declaration statements a little more efficiently than the previous three.

After a few minutes of silent scrolling, he finally reached the bottom paragraph, below which an empty line sat awaiting his signature. Signing his name with a satisfied nod, he looked back towards the female receptionist.

"Finished."

Ida took the data-pad back off him and smiled. "Almost."

John had to try his very best not to groan aloud as the she walked away and slipped through the open door behind the reception desk, disappearing into a back room, clearly with the intention of retrieving something else for him to sign. Sighing, he glanced down at his hands and drummed his fingers absently against the smooth, polished wood of the desk.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the side door to the large reception area slide open and a familiar blond-haired figure stroll into view, a large rucksack hanging off one shoulder and a laptop bag slung over the other. The teenager smiled as he spotted the older Tracy, moving slowly towards him and pulling off his rucksack.

"You still signing papers?" Alan inquired, somewhat incredulously.

"Unfortunately," John sighed. "Don't worry, we'll be outta here in a sec." He eyed the rucksack that Alan had now let drop to the floor beside them. "You sure that's all you wanna take?"

The younger boy shrugged. "It's not like I can wear any of my winter clothes on the island," he pointed out. "Most of my stuff's still in my room at home. Besides, this is just a weekend visit. And I'm no Lady Penelope."

John snorted. "At last, you've seen the light."

Alan elbowed him playfully, smiling as he shook his head. It was good to fall back into the familiar pattern of harmless teasing. He already felt miles better than he had done earlier on that day. Sure, he was still tired and a little achy, but the headache and dizziness were gone. With sleep and food, he'd be fine. This weekend was going to be great.

"Mr. Tracy?"

The receptionist had returned with a laptop-sized black machine, which she set down on the top of the desk in front of John with a loud 'thunk'. Opening the back of the device to reveal a small data screen and keyboard, she began typing rapidly. She pressed the touch-screen a few times, the machine emitting several soft 'beeps' in response. Then, with a cheerful smile, she pressed a button on the side of the bulky object so that a tiny panel slid out at the front.

Realisation dawned upon the second-eldest Tracy son.

"Fingerprint recognition," he stated, pressing his index finger against the panel and watching as a green bar of light moved back and forth beneath his digit. Seeing Alan's surprised expression, he explained, "When you moved to Wharton's, Dad submitted our fingerprints into the system as your emergency contacts so that we could pick you up from school ahead of schedule if the need arose. I'd forgotten about it until now. It's a pretty neat security device, actually; it makes sure that-"

A high-pitched beeping cut him off mid-sentence, originating from the black object on the desk in front of them. A small light on top of the device began to flash an angry red. Withdrawing his finger from the scanner, he winced as the sound continued to blare out across the reception hall, attracting the attention of the teachers and students who, up until now, had been ignoring the blond pair at the front desk.

"What is that?" Alan asked loudly, grimacing as the painfully loud noise reignited the throbbing behind his eyes.

"It's the security alarm," Ida replied, looking a little distressed as she tried to switch off the device. "I don't understand, Mr. Tracy. It doesn't seem to believe that you are who you say you are."

As suddenly as the beeping had started, it stopped, leaving the reception hall in a deathly silence. Although Alan could swear that he could still hear the alarm ringing in his ears.

"Trust me," John reached into his pocket and retrieved a leather wallet, flipping it open to reveal his driving licence, complete with smiling photograph, "I'm John Tracy."

Ida nodded, still looking frazzled. "Don't worry, I believe you. But this contraption doesn't."

Alan, who had been leaning forwards over the top of the desk so that he could peer at the data screen, frowned at the name he saw listed directly beside the highlighted line of assorted letters and numbers - clearly a code of some sort. Glancing sideways at the receptionist, he raised an eyebrow.

"Who's Janice Sullivan?"

Ida blinked. "Sorry?"

"Janice Sullivan," Alan repeated, pointing at the screen. "The line that you've highlighted? That's Janice Sullivan's encryption code thingummy-whatsit. John's name is below hers."

Squinting at the screen, the receptionist sucked in a surprised breath. "Oh Ida, you've done it again," she scolded. Looking up at John, a somewhat mortified expression upon her face, she shook her head. "Mr. Tracy, I am so sorry. You see, I've misplaced my glasses and I really can't see a thing without them. I was sure that I'd clicked on your name. But deary me, I'm never going to get hang of this new system. If they listed the names alphabetically by last name instead of all grouped together like this, we wouldn't have this problem. Oh, I'm terribly sorry for all the fuss."

John smiled at the elderly receptionist kindly. "That's perfectly alright, Ma'am. No harm done."

Ida returned the smile, clearly relieved. It made Alan wonder what sort of response she had been expecting. Although, judging by the self-centered attitude of a number of students at Wharton's, there were a fair few parents who had used their money to by everything except good manners. Perhaps the receptionist had been on the receiving end of a disgruntled billionaire sometime in the past.

"Here." Alan leaned forwards over the desk again and clicked his brother's name, smiling as the line of code that accompanied it turned a highlighted blue colour. Glancing up at his brother, he nodded towards the scanner. "Go ahead, John."

Slipping his wallet back into the pocket of his jeans, his older brother pressed his index finger against the small panel, waiting patiently as the green bar of light moved up and down again. Then, after a long pause in which Ida seemed not to breathe at all, there was a softer, more cheerful 'beep', and the light atop the black device turned green. The receptionist smiled brightly.

"Well, that's better now." She patted her bun and sighed heavily. "I need to talk to management about this contraption, it's given us nothing but trouble." She looked up at John and shook her head. "Goodness me, I've held you back far too long. Again, my sincerest apologies. And thank you for your assistance."

"Our pleasure." John clapped his brother on the back, reaching down to grab the younger Tracy's rucksack off the floor. Pulling one of the straps over his shoulder, he gave Alan a gentle push towards the main entrance. "Have a nice day, Ma'am."

The moment the two siblings stepped outside into the cold February afternoon, Alan turned to grin at his older brother. John saw the look and smiled slightly, zipping up his Armani jacket to protect him against the chilling wind.

"What?"

Alan shrugged, beginning to walk away with his hands in his jacket pockets. "Nothing, nothing." Without stopping, he glanced back over his shoulder towards the taller blond. "Are you coming or not, Janice?"

His brow furrowing, John mouthed the word 'Janice', his eyes going wide as his brain made the connection. Glaring at the swiftly retreating form of his younger brother, he shook his head. He'd have to find a way to silence Alan - swear him to secrecy or something - before they arrived back on the island.

Because if Gordon ever finds out about this, I'm doomed.

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Alan dropped down into the co-pilot seat, letting out a sigh of relief as the weight was taken off his aching legs. Rolling his head to the side lazily, he stared at the familiar control panel, drumming his fingers against his knees. His body had returned to the frustrating state of fatigue it had been in during chemistry class, the noises around him seeming overly loud one minute and then strangely muffled the next. It was plain weird.

His brother stepped into the cabin, jacket slung over one arm and cell phone pressed against his ear as he leaned against the back of the pilot's chair. When Alan glanced at him curiously, he held up a finger as an indication to wait a moment.

"Dad? Yeah, it's John," the astronomer stated, draping his jacket over the back of the seat. "There was a minor delay at the school, but we're about to head off. I noticed the missed calls, were you trying to contact me earlier?...Yeah, I know, I'm sorry. I left my phone on the jet."

Jeff's voice was no more than a tinny murmur in the flight cabin, preventing Alan from making sense of what his father was saying. But hey, he could still hear John's half of the conversation, that was good enough. Keeping his hearing tuned in but allowing his gaze to wonder, he studied the smudges on the comm-screen between the two chairs, musing absently that Onaha would have a field day if she was allowed to clean vehicles herself. But his father had stated adamantly that the jets and 'birds weren't her responsibility, so it was usually Scott, Virgil or Gordon who cleaned up Tracy One.

No wonder the place wasn't spotless; Gordon's domestic talents were about as extensive as his vocal range.

"You serious?"

Alan looked back towards his brother as the tone of John's voice changed. The taller blond wore a slight frown as he gazed unseeingly at the control panel.

"No, I understand," John murmured, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and letting out a sigh. "We wouldn't wanna risk it in Tracy One. She's hardly a Thunderbird. Hmm? No, don't worry, we'll be fine. Sure...We'll call again when we reach Brookfield. What hotel did you say it was?...Right."

Alan frowned. This conversation was getting weirder by the second. What on earth did they need a hotel for?

"I know, I know." John let out a chuckle and shook his head, straightening up. "Tell Scott to quit worrying, we won't try to fly through it. We'll see you tomorrow. Okay. Take care."

Snapping the phone shut, John let out a heavy sigh and slipped the small device into his pocket. He gazed at Alan in silence for a long moment, his expression serious. The younger Tracy frowned impatiently.

"C'mon, John, I'm not telepathic. Spill."

John winced, rubbing the back of his neck. "There's been a slight change in plans," he began.

"What sorta change?" Alan asked slowly, almost suspiciously.

"There's a nasty looking storm front moving across the pacific," John explained, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the back of the pilot seat once again. "Originally, it was supposed to pass by a couple of hundred miles on the other side of the island. But it decided to change course earlier this afternoon. Five's weather surveillance system picked it up and sounded the alert. It'll have blown over in nine hours or so, but there's no way of telling how bad it'll affect our area. Dad doesn't want us to risk flying the stretch from the mainland to Tracy Island in winds that strong."

Alan was silent for a moment as he digested the information.

"So," the teenager said at last, the word exhaled in a short sigh, "what's the plan, then?"

"The plan," John continued, straightening his shirt absently, "is to fly to Brookfield, where we can store the jet at the airbase overnight. Scott's already booked us a room at that hotel down the road from the hospital. D'you remember that place?"

"Actually," Alan gave a dry laugh, "I was usually the one in hospital."

John grinned. "Well then, I guess this'll be a new experience." He sobered up a little, glancing across at his younger brother. "Look, I'm sorry about all this. We'll still be able to spend tomorrow with the rest of the guys; if we leave Brookfield at seven, we can arrive home into time for breakfast. It's only an hour from the airbase to the island. But we'll have to fend for ourselves tonight. You okay with that?"

Alan nodded. "Sounds good to me, space-case."

Rewarding his brother's cheeky remark with a light cuff to the back of the head, John sat down in the pilot's seat and powered up the jet's engines. Glancing sideways at the teen, he smiled knowingly.

"Hey Al, you wanna fly for a bit?"

Alan eyed the controls for a short moment, torn between his passion for flying and the urge to close his eyes and sleep for the duration of the journey. At last, his body won the argument and he shook his head, sitting up a little straighter and fastening the safety harness across his chest.

"Nah, I'm okay."

John sent him a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised to its usual height of ascension upon his forehead. "Who are you and what have you done with my younger brother?"

Lazily sweeping his arm to the side to lightly hit his brother's shoulder, Alan shook his head. "That joke's so beyond old, it should be made illegal," he complained half-heartedly, closing his eyes and leaning back into the seat with a weary sigh. "Whatever happened to originality, oh great and wondrous published author?"

"Probably ran away with whatever was left of my masculinity after the whole 'Janice' incident."

"Ya know," Alan mused, opening his eyes and smirking at his older sibling, "I actually think that name suits you better."

John laughed, sending his brother a mock-reproachful look. "Ouch."

Grinning, Alan allowed his gaze to drift over to the side, staring lazily at the tarmac runway that surrounded the jet. In the background, he could hear his brother checking the systems, the soft 'whir' of the engine increasing in volume and pitch as John vamped it up to full power.

"All systems are green," John reported cheerfully. "Blunderbirds are go."

Alan chuckled, shaking his head and watching as the runway began to move away beneath them. In the distance, on the other side of the lake and across the playing fields, he could see the long, uneven, sandy-coloured block of a building that was Wharton's school. He could even make out the grand marble pillars that marked the entrance to the main building. As Tracy One began to pick up speed, even the school began to move; slowly at first but gradually slipping further and further behind them.

Then the plane tilted steeply as they took off and Alan smiled at the familiar and welcoming sensation that momentarily wrapped itself around his stomach. He'd been experiencing the same feeling for as long as he could remember, and his mind always linked it with home. He didn't know why. But that was one of the reasons he enjoyed flying. It gave him a sense of peace that, try as he might, he was unable to replicate by any other means.

Several long minutes passed by in silence as Alan continued to gaze out of the window, allowing the gentle 'whir' of the engines to serenade him. As a young child, the sound had practically been his lullaby. One of his first memories was of his father flying him to the mainland for his Saturday Little League soccer practice. Afterwards, the two of them would grab dinner at a diner someplace before flying back to the island. It was never particularly late in the evening when they set off for home, but Alan had always been too exhausted to stay awake. And so, with the soothing murmur of the jet engines playing in the background, he would fall asleep curled up on a passenger chair in the main cabin, usually with his father's jacket draped comfortably over his torso.

In fact, the engines were beginning to have the same affect on him now. He was already so tired, he was finding it hard to fight it off. But he didn't want to sleep, not with John there. He hadn't seen his brother face-to-face since Halloween.

Scrubbing a hand over his eyes and blinking rapidly to wake himself up, he rolled his head to the side and exhaled heavily. John glanced over at him and smiled.

"The world giving you trouble, Sprout?"

Alan grinned. "No more than usual." He shifted in his seat so that he faced John and leaned his folded arms against the armrest. "So," he began.

"So," John repeated, his eyes focused on the clear sky in front of him.

"If you're down here, who's up on Five?"

John grinned. "Wow, kiddo, you managed to hold that in longer than I thought you could," he joked, reaching across to ruffle Alan's hair. The younger teen pushed his hand away with a mock glare and John returned his attention to the flight controls, clearing his throat as he continued, "I got home on Monday afternoon. That gave me time to unwind and readjust to normal gravity before I flew out to the Tracy Industries office in New York on Wednesday."

As his brother paused for a long moment, Alan grew impatient.

"John, c'mon, you know that's not what I asked," he complained, a hint of a whine in his voice. "Who replaced you? If you made Gordon go up ahead of schedule, you'd better watch yourself when you switch places again. He'll have booby-trapped the whole station."

"Nope, not Gordon." John released one hand from the controls and rubbed his chin absently. "He and Brains switched rotations so that we could both be here when you came home."

"Wait, what?" Alan's eyes searched John's face, a frown tugging at his brow as he realised that the older Tracy wasn't joking. "John, you didn't? You knew it was the state championships this weekend, Brains is supposed to be at the finals! It's all Fermat's been able to talk about for the past month!" He ran a hand through his hair in frustrated distress. "Man, he's gonna hate me for this."

To Alan's surprise, his brother began to laugh. As the younger blond shot his sibling a hurt and incredulous look, John sobered up a little and smiled over at him.

"Alan, this whole surprise was Fermat's idea."

The teenager blinked, mouth hanging open slightly and eyes wide.

"He specifically requested that Brains be the one on Five," John continued, "so that Gordon and I could both be here when you came home. He said it wasn't fair that there always had to be one of us missing when you two came home from school, so he arranged all this behind your back about a month ago. Pretty neat, huh?"

Alan shook his head. "Neat? Nuh-uh, neat doesn't cover it. This is freakin' awesome!"

John mirrored his brother's grin. "That's more like it."

Gazing back out of the window, fatigue replaced by a heart-warming happiness, Alan shook his head. He'd never perceived that Fermat was the calculating type, but clearly he'd been mistaken. The young genius had played his part perfectly, Alan had never suspected a thing. All those phone conversations he'd overheard as his best friend talked to his father over the comm-line in their dorm room must have been staged. Why, only last week the two Hackenbackers had been discussing hotel arrangements for Brains' trip over to New England to see Fermat participate in the state finals. Alan had been sitting on his bunk doing math homework at the time, he hadn't given the conversation a second thought. But it had all been part of his best friend's grand scheme.

Man, Fermat's awesome. I owe him one. More than one, actually. It's been way too long since I've been at home with all the guys. At Christmas, John was up on Five. And Gordon missed out on my Halloween weekend because John was still recovering from that sprained ankle. All in all, it must've been nearly seven months since we've all been at home together.

As he watched the tiny housing estates and postage-stamp fields roll by thousands of feet below them, Alan smiled. He'd been feeling pretty run down lately, and this weekend visit was a perfectly timed pick-me-up. He'd go back to school on Tuesday with a bounce in his step. He'd run rings – quite literally – around Jake out on track, proving to Coach Stevens that he was just as fast as John had been during his senior year. Everything would be great.

Settling back against the padded co-pilot's seat, the teenager exhaled a satisfied, albeit weary, sigh.

Life was good.

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The afternoon had been everything John had hoped it would be. The three-hour flight from Wharton's to Brookfield airbase had given the two Tracys plenty of time to catch up on all the news they'd forgotten to tell each other via the tele-comm. And John had to admit, although being at home with his whole crazy family was great, it was kinda nice to have some time alone with his younger brother.

They had dropped their belongings off at the hotel and gone out to an Italian restaurant for dinner; a nice, casual place that would serve them decent food without members of the papparazzi snapping pictures of them through the window. It was during dinner that John had first begun to sense that there was something out of place. Sure, Alan had smiled and laughed as much as he would any other day, but there was definitely something missing. The younger Tracy just seemed to...lack energy. It wasn't right.

And now, back in the privacy of their large hotel suite, the teenager's fatigue was glaringly obvious. John silently watched his brother out of the corner of his eye as Alan leaned back in the plush armchair to the left of the couch, rubbing the middle of his forehead with the tips of his fingers.

John's brow furrowed. You, little brother, have a headache.

Picking up the remote from the glass coffee table in front of the couch, John pointed it at the 72-inch, wall-mounted, plasma screen TV and turned down the volume considerably. Glancing back towards his brother, who hadn't moved from his previous position, the elder Tracy crossed one leg casually over the other and tried to keep his voice mildly inquisitive.

"You okay, Al?"

Alan gave a soft grunt of affirmation and dropped his hand, blinking owlishly in the dim light. Smiling at his older brother wearily, he gave a slight nod.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired, I guess." As if to prove his point, he let out a jaw-cracking yawn.

Still feeling the unpleasant tendrils of concern spiking up through his chest, John gazed at him steadily. "You sure that's all it is?" he pressed. "You've been uncharacteristically subdued ever since we touched down. You hardly ate anything at dinner-"

"They put anchovies on my pizza," Alan mumbled, bringing his knees up to his chest and running a hand through his hair sleepily. "You know I hate anchovies."

"-and it's pretty obvious that you have a headache," the older blond continued, leaning forwards on the couch to study Alan's features more intently.

The teenager straightened up. "I don't have a headache."

John frowned, reaching for the TV remote again. Turning up the volume on the wall-mounted device until the anchor woman was shouting her scripted news report, John looked back towards his brother in time to see Alan wince and shrink back against the armchair. Lowering the volume again and switching off the TV, John tapped the remote against the arm of the couch and raised an eyebrow.

"You wanna try that one again?"

Alan leaned his forehead against his arms - which, in turn, lay folded across the top of his bent knees - and groaned out a pathetic, "I hate you."

John pushed himself up off the couch, heading across the living room area of the hotel suite, brushing a hand over Alan's hair as he passed by. The lack of protest at the affectionate gesture was glaring proof that his little brother was as exhausted as he seemed.

Grabbing a bottle of water from the mini-bar, he walked over to where he'd dropped his duffel bag, near the entrance to the bedroom. He unzipped the side pocket and rooted around for a moment, casting a quick glance over his shoulder towards his younger sibling, who seemed to have practically fallen asleep where he sat. Locating the item he was looking for, he straightened up and pushed the bag aside with his foot, returning to the seating area.

"Here." He nudged his brother gently and held out the bottle of water, perching on the arm of the couch.

Alan raised his head and blinked up at him groggily, taking the proffered item. "What?"

John smiled, holding up the small, orange-tinted, cylindrical plastic bottle and shaking it slightly so that the pills rattled around inside.

"Tylenol," he stated simply, tipping out two of the white pellets and placing them in his brother's hand.

Alan unscrewed the cap of the water bottle and swallowed down both tablets in one gulp. Releasing a heavy sigh, he gazed at John with half-lidded eyes and offered the older blond a weary smile.

"Thanks."

"No problem." John accepted the bottle when his brother extended it back towards him, reaching out to set it down on the glass coffee table beside him. Turning to face the teenager once more, he cocked his head to the side, studying the boy's sleepy features.

Raising an eyebrow, Alan smirked. "Dude, I know I'm handsome and all, but you're starting to creep me out."

John punched his brother lightly on the arm and grinned, shaking his head. Then, with a sigh, he locked eyes with the younger boy and held Alan's gaze steadily. "You sure there's nothing else you wanna tell me?" he pressed, interlocking his fingers together and allowing his hands to hang down between his knees as he leaned forwards. "Nausea, dizziness, sore throat?"

Alan rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, enough with the Virgil act already," he grumbled in good humour. Seeing his brother's somber expression, he sighed. "Seriously, John, I'm fine. It's been a long week, that's all. I just need to sleep it off."

"Alright. You'd best get to bed, then." John clapped the teenager on the shoulder fondly and sat back against the couch. "I'll see you in the morning, kid. We need to be outta here at seven if we're gonna make it back to the island in time to see Virgil emerge for breakfast. You think you can wake up in time?"

Nodding, Alan stood up and stretched, several soft 'clicks' filling the brief silence as his stiff joints loosened up. "Sure thing."

As his brother moved across the room, scooping up his rucksack from the wooden table against the wall as he passed by, John gave a slight wave, reaching for the TV remote with his other hand. "G'night, Sprout."

Stopping in the doorway to the bedroom, Alan looked back at the taller blond and grinned in a way that only he and Gordon ever could.

"G'night...Janice."

Then, in a flash of blond hair, he was gone, leaving the echoed 'thunk' of the swiftly closed door in his wake. John smiled to himself, settling back against the couch with a satisfied nod. There couldn't be anything terribly wrong with his brother if the kid was maintaining his usual cheeky attitude. Alan was fine.

Although, the astronomer mused, if he keeps calling me Janice, he won't be 'fine' for long.


Many hugs to CC, who's going through a rough time at the mo. Hope this chapter brought a smile, honey.

Reviews are wonderful and very much appreciated. Now, I've been around on this site long enough to know that the second chapter very rarely gets as many reviews as the first, but could you give it a try? *grins* Review pour moi, s'il vous plait!

Have a great week.

xox