Acknowledgment: Thank you to Samantha Winchester for helping me through this one.
He looked down at his hands. Noted how they resembled one of Virgil's palettes, mottled with mustard yellows, drab greens, dubious shades of browns, inky blacks and the dark carmine of drying blood that was starting to make his skin itch.
In that moment of scrutiny, eyes riveted to his hands as though doing so had suddenly become a mandatory requirement for passing the Test of Life, he noticed things that had never crossed paths with his thought processes before. How there were wrinkles around the bottoms of his thumbs, and in between his thumbs and forefingers. How the lines marking all of his knuckles looked deeper than they'd been in his youth. Precisely how it was Jeff recalled their years-ago appearance with such clarity he couldn't be certain, but the thought stuck all the same.
How strange that among the remnants of mechanical and bodily fluids there should be oddly placed globs of grease and shining smears of oil in, on and between the lines and the wrinkles and the barely-noticeable tiny silver-gray hairs.
In one of those odd places you go in your mind even when you haven't actually traveled anywhere, Jeff Tracy watched a younger version of himself with detachment. Never mind that his favorite red tractor towered over the seven-year-old him-of-the-past in the foreground; it was his boyhood self's blackened hands that caught his attention. He remembered that day when he'd lugged an enormous toolbox to the outer wheat field, taking the better part of two hours to make the journey. The tractor being used for plowing that field had sputtered and breathed its last, or so Jeff had overheard a farmhand report to Grant.
He supposed it probably hadn't as much to do with wanting to help his dad out as it had with proving himself to a father who'd pushed his boy toward greatness just as hard as he'd loved him. He recalled the process his mother had used that afternoon to remove the oil stains from his hands, arms and face as being tedious and slightly painful. It also, if memory served, had left him smelling more like the Kendrick girl at school, than a young man meant to take over the family farm one day.
The image of his filthy hands remained even as the scene faded away. Next a vision filled his mind that showed him as a twelve-year old in one of their many barns. He knew as soon as the movie began to play, right in the middle like it'd simply been paused for the past fifty years, exactly what was happening. One of their cows had gone into great distress when its calf became stuck as it tried to be born. Grant had been miles away at the regional granary with two of the farmhands, leaving Jeff in the all-important role of Head of the Farm until his return.
And all Jeff noticed, in a memory that had popped out of the box he'd locked it into without so much as a by-your-leave, were his blood-covered hands. Trying to right the calf's position, trying to help the newborn fight its way into the world without killing the mother…warm, sticky blood covering every inch of skin clear up to his shirt sleeves and beyond.
Crimson red. Dark. Sticky.
As though a gigantic vacuum cleaner had just been pointed in his direction, Jeff Tracy felt himself being sucked back to the present, where he was still staring down at his hands. Hands soaked with dark, sticky, crimson red blood.
Jeff blinked and looked up. The quick movement caused his vision to swim in undulations that made him nauseous. Or maybe his churning stomach was due to the fact that the blood on his hands belonged to one of his sons. He blinked away the swirling vision and the question about what was making his stomach twist into knots, all of which finally brought the owner of the voice into focus.
He felt the hand of his eldest son squeeze his right shoulder. He turned to look at it. This hand was clean. Unlined. Unwrinkled. One small brown freckle on the outer edge of it, halfway between Scott's pinky knuckle and his wrist, fascinated Jeff for the blink of an eye. The smattering of tiny dark hairs here and there on the lower parts of each of Scott's fingers. Young. Virile. Unstained.
Though he dreaded to discover the look on Scott's face – for that would tell him the truth of the situation with much more finality than any words his son might utter – Jeff made himself look up. He felt like he'd been sucker-punched by the expression he saw there, but in a good way as though such a thing were possible. Relief coursing through his body, Jeff fell forward, his mottled hands slamming palm-flat onto the rain-slick stone slab he'd been kneeling on for the better part of twenty minutes. Twenty minutes that'd seemed like twenty hours.
"Brains says he's going to be okay, Dad."
Jeff looked back up at his son, as Scott held out his clean hand. Jeff took that hand and allowed himself to be pulled unsteadily to his feet.
"Virgil's gonna be okay," Scott repeated. Maybe he was trying to convince Jeff. Maybe he was trying to convince himself.
A deep, shaky breath entered Jeff's lungs, exiting just as carefully, as though afraid if it lingered too long it would be the final straw that blew Jeff Tracy's heart to pieces under the strain of having held his second son's life in his hands…blood-stained…discolored…for twenty long, terrifying minutes.
Scott patted his father's shoulder once, then turned to head back down the path toward the spot where Thunderbird Two sat in silent contrast to the turmoil in Jeff's soul. He watched his son's retreating form, and then heard a sound that reminded him of the way that cow had sounded fifty years ago as it'd died. Just before Jeff himself had finally pulled its calf into the world, saving its life even as its mother lost hers, that terrible gut-wrenching...
It took several seconds for Jeff to realize that the sound, just now, had come from his own mouth. His left forearm clapped over his lips of its own volition. Only then did Jeff notice that his chest was heaving. Only then did he see how he was trembling. He looked up again to find that Scott was trotting toward Thunderbird Two's open pod door. Inside which, Jeff knew, Brains, Alan and John were doing whatever was necessary to fix what had started right here, atop this very foothill.
The foothill where, during nothing more than a simple International Rescue training exercise, Virgil Tracy had very nearly lost his life.
Jeff looked down at his hands as yet another bout of rain began. Drops of it splashed onto his skin, pocking the colors as though Virgil's paintbrush, freshly dipped in water, was coming in to dab bits of brightly-colored oils onto its tip.
The actions these hands had performed in the sixty-two years Jefferson Grant Tracy had been alive, ranged from grasping his mother's pinky finger at a mere six hours old, to caressing the body of his beautiful Lucille, to putting bandages on scraped elbows, to signing contracts worth millions of dollars.
But the actions these hands had performed today, when they'd kept Virgil from bleeding out after being sideswiped by a new piece of equipment that'd malfunctioned…they were the deeds for which Jeff was most grateful. Because it meant he wouldn't then be using these very hands…dirty, discolored, blood-stained…life-saving…to bury one of his boys.