Title: Fires of Adversity
Author: N'kala
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Not everyone is supportive of Alan's new and improved attitude towards school.
Author's Notes: I'm back! For now. Now that summer is here once more, I want to try and get some more stories written that have been sitting on my shelf for the last couple years. This story is Movieverse, and I don't write any 'ships. FYI.

Fires of Adversity

Chapter One

Alan Tracy fidgeted impatiently, blue eyes focused on his second-eldest brother's face on his vid-screen as John scanned the data file in front of him. "Well?"

John's lighter blue eyes flickered up to Alan, then back to the file. A small smile curled the corners of his mouth. "Well what, Sprout?"

Alan rolled his eyes, barely biting back a groan of annoyance. "Come on, Johnny! I still have to finish the rewrites before I study for my math test! Is it okay?"

John looked up at his brother again, tempted to string him along a little more. Seeing the poorly concealed anxiety in his brother's expression, the astronaut finally took pity on the teenager.

"It's really good, Alan," John assured him, straightening in his seat. He swiped his hand across the screen of his computer and entered some information. "There's just a few grammatical things I'd clean up before turning it in, but I'd say you've got yourself an excellent term paper here. Solid research supported by plenty of evidence. Mrs. Callahan is going to be impressed."

Alan beamed over the video connection. "Great! Thanks for the help, John. I really appreciate it."

"Anytime, Sprout," John replied, finishing his edits and sending it back to Alan. "I'm happy to help you with school. Besides; you did all of the work. You should be proud of yourself."

Alan shrugged, uncharacteristically bashful. "It's just a paper."

John cocked an eyebrow. "I think we both know it's more than that. You've really done a great job since Spring Break, Sprout. Joining those study groups, bringing your grades up . . . does Dad know about the soccer tryouts?"

Alan shook his head. "It's not a big deal. Coach Harris wants me to try and broaden my horizons a little."

John nodded. He remembered Coach Harris from his own time at Wharton Academy. The track and field coach was a good man, always looking to help his students achieve their highest potential. If Harris believed Alan would do well with soccer, then John had no doubt that Alan would be Wharton's next star athlete.

"Still, Sprout, I expect a call as soon as tryouts are over," the older man told Alan. "Don't forget about me, or I'll call you at two in the morning to find out!"

Alan let out a snort of laughter. "Got it, John. Thanks again, and I'll talk to you soon."

"All right." John flashed Alan a bright smile. "Good luck on your math test tomorrow, Sprout. Don't stay up too late."

"Night, John." Alan ended the call and leaned back in his chair, letting the glow of his brother's praise sink in a little longer. It had been so long since he'd last felt support from one of his brothers that he had forgotten how it felt.

The door to his dorm room opening brought Alan swiftly back to the present. He turned in his chair to face Fermat, who shut the door behind him and immediately flopped face-down onto his bed, backpack and all.

"Long night, Fermat?" Alan asked, smirking at his friend.

"W-Why did I agree to t-t-t- help the lacrosse team in m-m-math?" Fermat groaned, his voice muffled. He lifted his head off of his pillow and glared sourly at Alan's wide smile. "L-L-Laugh all you want, Alan. Your ch-ch-ch-science group meets tomorrow night!"

The smile was immediately wiped off of Alan's face. "Not cool, Fermat. Besides, you're doing great with them. I've heard Macken talk about how much easier algebra has gotten for him. Something you're doing must be working."

Fermat buried his face in his pillow again, groaning as if in pain. "Macken tried to make me t-t-t-show him how to f-factor quadrilaterals t-tonight. I-I-I'm afraid to hear wh-what he's saying."

Alan grinned faintly, opening the notated paper his brother had emailed back to him and making the corrections indicated. "Well, that math test is tomorrow. You're going to find out pretty soon if the tutoring is working."

Fermat sighed heavily and flopped over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling for a moment before looking back at his friend. "D-Do you w-w-want to go over your notes for the t-t-t-t-exam tomorrow?"

Alan looked up, surprise clear on his face. "Yeah, as soon as I'm done with my paper, I'm planning on doing that. Are you sure you're up to dealing with another hopeless meathead?"

Fermat screwed up his face in distaste. "N-N-No way. Let's just k-keep it to y-y-you and me, okay?"

Alan gave a slight start in surprise, feeling a small warmth at Fermat's unexpected compliment. "Uh, okay. Give me ten minutes to make these corrections, and then we'll get started. Hey, why don't we bust out some snacks to fuel our brains?"

Fermat finally sat up, shoving his backpack aside. "S-Sounds great, Alan. I'll g-g-get things set up."

Alan turned back to his computer, scanning his paper for a final check in case he missed any of John's notes. He was surprised to see that John had written very little; while his brother had been instrumental in developing the outline and helping to provide sources, he hadn't actually seen the rough draft or first edit of the paper. Alan had been certain that John would have had more revisions for Alan than a few typos.

The teen had just saved his paper and emailed it to his professor when his vid-screen signaled an incoming call. Alan answered quickly, curious as to the identity of the late-night caller.

Jim Connelly grinned up at Alan from his screen. "Hey, Al, sorry for the late call. I just got in from practice."

"Now?" Alan glanced at his watch. "Jim, it's past eight!"

Jim shrugged. "Coach Kerry is a taskmaster; what can I say? You'll find out soon enough; word in the locker room is that you're planning on trying out for the team. Is that true?"

Alan nodded. "Harris thinks it'll be good for me. I figured I might as well give it a try."

Jim smirked. "Well, fair warning: he'll run you hard. Actually, I called to see if you were finished with that program for me yet."

"There's a couple bugs I still have to get rid of, but the program is all but finished," Alan assured the upperclassman. "I'll have it for you by Friday; promise."

"Cool," Jim replied. "Talk to you then. Thanks, man!"

Alan ended the call and turned to find Fermat watching him with a curious look on his face. "What?"

"I didn't know you w-were working on something for J-Jim Connelly," Fermat stated.

Alan waved a hand dismissively, standing from his desk to retrieve his math notes. "Yeah, nothing big. He wanted a program where he could video conference with a group of people. You know, have multiple connections open at once. Kind of like a study group, but everyone in their own rooms. The programs available can only hold connections with four people before the signal integrity begins to degrade and the connectivity speed slows down. I worked out a system that can hold steady with a maximum of seven connections."

Fermat raised his eyebrows. "H-How did y-y-you account for d-d-file size streaming-?"

Alan shook his head, cutting Fermat's question off. "Later, Fermat. It's not a big deal. I'm more worried about our math test tomorrow. It's supposed to be worth twenty-five percent of our final grade!"

Fermat stared dumbly at Alan for a moment before allowing the topic to be shelved. He knew Alan still felt touchy about his own skills, despite his marked improvement over the last month since spring break. Fermat wondered what it would take to make Alan realize just how talented he was with computer programming.

"Fermat? Are you listening?"

The young genius mentally shook himself back into the present. Talented or not, Alan wasn't going to listen to anything other than the quadratic formula at the moment.

End Chapter One