Wednesday evening found Alan once more fidgeting impatiently in front of the vid-screen, waiting anxiously for his brother John to finish looking at the program he had just sent up to him. "Come on, Johnny! Don't do this to me!"
John smirked, not lifting his eyes from the screen as he carefully navigated the program his brother had created for Mr. Wallace's extra credit assignment. "Patience, Grasshopper. I'm almost done."
Alan rolled his eyes and glanced around his dorm room for something to hold his attention while he waited. Unerringly, his mind drifted to the events of the last few days.
Rather than dragging Alan into the conference room right away, Williams had summoned the school nurse to come and look over both him and Henry. Henry's nose, as expected, had been broken by Alan's punch. Alan, on the other hand, had suffered no ills by being grabbed and locked in the supply closet. If anything, he had been more injured by punching Henry than he had by being taped to the chair. Still, a popped knuckle was more than worth it.
To his great surprise, Ashton Hayes had come clean about the entire situation. With his disapproving father watching, Ashton had admitted to everything; to pushing Alan around and intimidating him, to pulling the fire alarm so they could switch his paper, and to stealing his homework assignment in an effort to get him into trouble. That last admission had surprised Alan; he'd had his own suspicions for the missing assignment, but hadn't realize the depths to which his former teammates had been willing to sink to get him off of the team.
Williams had told all five boys that, while the bullying was grounds for suspension, the rest of their actions, in particular trapping Alan in the closet, was more than enough to justify expulsion from Wharton Academy. George and Tristan argued at the decision, and Henry even tried to threaten an appeal with a lawyer, but their parents weighing in stopped them cold. While none of them wanted to believe that their sons were capable of such acts, the boys' admissions, along with Alan's account, had swayed them to the truth. Only Ashton seemed truly remorseful, and he'd accepted his punishment without a word. By Tuesday morning, all four boys had been packed and removed from campus.
"Hello? Ground control to Alan Tracy, come in!"
Alan shook himself out of his daze and raised an eyebrow at his brother. "Ground control? Really?"
John shrugged. "Just trying to see if you're paying attention. Where were you just now?"
"Just thinking," Alan replied.
John gave him a knowing look. "Thinking, huh? How does it feel to have those particular monkeys off your back?"
Alan smiled brightly. "Better than I could describe. It's like I can breathe again, you know?"
John leaned in closer to the screen. "Look, Alan, I know that it's hard for you, being the youngest with four overprotective older brothers. I know you feel like you want to make your own way, and you want to show to us that you can take care of yourself. Just promise me, brother to brother, that if anything like that ever happens again, you come to me, or Dad, or even Gordon."
"I promise, Johnny," Alan said quietly.
"Good," John replied, leaning back. "I mean, I'm good for more than a homework checker, you know."
Alan grinned mischievously. "Play to your strengths, John."
John raised his eyebrows. "You forget that I'll be home when you get there for the summer. Keep up with that smart mouth and I'll throw you in the pool."
"Gotta catch me first," Alan replied smugly. "Are you done with the program yet?"
"I am," John admitted.
Alan waited. "Well?"
John grinned. "It's brilliant, Sprout. Very interactive and user-friendly. Mr. Wallace is going to love it. It wouldn't surprise me if he took your program and incorporated it next year for his students to use to learn about the space program."
Pride gleamed in Alan's eyes. "You think so?"
John's smile grew fond at his brother's eagerness. "Of course I do. Let me know what he says, okay?"
"You bet." Alan thought for a moment. Coming to a decision, he asked, "John, have you heard about how the case with Coach Kerry is going?"
John nodded. "I just got off the phone with Dad before you called, actually. Kerry pled not guilty and is being held over for trial. It's not due to start for another six weeks or so, though. Chris told Dad that with the evidence he's gathered, plus your statement, he's not worried. You might have to testify, though. You feel up to that?"
Alan's initial reaction was to tell John that, yes, he wasn't afraid of Kerry. A moment's extra thought, however, convinced him that repeating his story in front of a group of strangers wasn't going to be as easy as he thought. Looking at the concern shining out of his brother's eyes, Alan knew that, with his family's support, he'd be okay.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," Alan told him. "Just . . . if I have to go, can you come with me? I'm afraid if Scott comes with me, he might try to attack Kerry again. Once was enough for me."
"Of course I'll come," John said. "I make no promises on not attacking him myself, though. Fair warning."
Alan chuckled. "Noted."
"Of course, making Scott stay on the island while you and I go to the courtroom will be a harder task," John continued. "How did you get Superman to go home Monday night before those kids left?"
Alan smirked. "After he saw me punch Henry, Scott wasn't all that worried about me defending myself anymore."
John laughed. "Wish I'd seen that myself. What did Dad say about that?"
Alan's smirk grew wider. "He took me aside later and showed me how to punch someone without popping a knuckle."
John opened his mouth to reply, but an alarm began to sound on Thunderbird Five. Glancing behind him briefly, John turned back to his brother.
"Duty calls, Sprout," he said. "I'll talk to you later."
"Good night, John," Alan replied. "Stay safe."
John winked just as his image switched off. Alan sat back in his chair, lost in thought.
The door to his dorm opening drew his attention. Fermat trudged in, wearing the familiar exasperated look that Alan had come to associate with an intense study session with Macken.
"Rough night?" he asked Fermat.
Fermat gave him a weak glare. "D-Don't ask."
Alan waited until Fermat flopped bonelessly onto his bed before speaking again. "The Thunderbirds just got a call. Want to go to the common room and watch?"
Fermat shot upright on his bed, giving Alan a wide-eyed look. "Wh-Why didn't you s-s-say so? L-Let's g-g-go!"
Laughing, Alan and Fermat jumped to their feet and raced out the door.
A/N: Finally! Thank you to all of you who reviewed as I wrote; you were the cheerleaders I needed to keep going.
Additionally, I would like to dedicate this story to Phx. I don't normally do that, but Phx's wonderful story Water Pressure inspired the 'protective Scott' idea, which blossomed into this story. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, I strongly suggest doing that.