His whole family was relaxing in his private garden. Scott and Virgil sat beside him at the table, a pack of old playing cards between them with a game of rummy pretty much abandoned. It was a good thing they weren't keeping score as almost all their attention was on Alan. It was Alan's turn to share what had happened over the past eight years and he was currently standing before them, full of enthusiasm, as he recounted his mission to Europa. Gordon was perched on a cushion with his legs crossed, occasionally butting in with his own comments. His youngest still radiated energy, just as he'd done as a child, and Jeff could see the joy in Gordon's eyes when talking about the Pendergasts. He was going to have to look them up later to see what all the fuss was about, just as he'd done with Cavern Quest. Alan started to build up as he reached the climax of the rescue. Jeff had yet read the report for this rescue so wasn't sure how much was being exaggerated, and although he knew they would be okay, his heart still raced at the drama. The sense of relief that washed over him when Alan informed them of their safe landing was immense. Alan really did remind him of himself, and brought back the memories and thrill of his own first trips into space. It hadn't helped that Alan threw his arm into the air to show off their trajectory as they'd burst through the ice, face full of excitement. He'd hoped the young man would go to college, but with his eyes set on space and with access to a rocket, it might be hard to convince the boy otherwise. There was a round of applause and a bow at the end of the story, before Alan settled into the floor next to Gordon.
"So, Gordon, did you ever get to join WASP or did you go straight into the family business?"
Gordon had once had his eyes set on WASP after finishing his Olympic career. Jeff regretted that he wasn't there to see Gordon take gold, but they had shown him the footage. Gordon had been pulled into a hug as tears of pride fell from Jeff's eyes. He'd re-watched the footage multiple times since, as well as the other home footage they had supplied over and over when he felt alone in his room. The boys had been his motivation to survive and they were still his biggest motivation now. They had all turned into respectable men despite his disappearance and he was so proud of them all.
"Actually, I did. Only for the training year though. They did say they would welcome me back if I ever got bored of International Rescue. It was definitely the right thing to do. WASP taught me so much when it came to the sea, currents and challenges of being in an underwater craft. That training set me right up for piloting Thunderbird Four, helping me work as a team and focus on learning the best ways to rescue people. They're a really cool bunch of people and I'm still in contact with them."
"That's good to hear, son."
Jeff wanted to place a hand on Gordon's shoulder, but he was on the wrong side of the table. He'd always worried about Gordon, who'd struggled with paying attention at school. Jeff had spent hours trying to convince him to study and do homework. If it didn't line up with his interests, Gordon never wanted to do it. The school teachers always compared him to his brothers, who had all been good studiers and never needed prompting, yet Gordon would always surprise them when given free rein on the topic. If he could make it about the sea, he would, and that was when Gordon would shine. The diorama of the coral reef and pollution levels had surprised his teachers, especially when Jeff had confirmed that Virgil had only helped by giving Gordon verbal painting suggestions. Knowing Gordon had still pursued WASP meant everything to Jeff. He'd only wanted the boys involved with International Rescue out of their own desire, and not pressured by a feeling of duty. Gordon had joined WASP, seen what it would have been like to work for the organisation and decided he wanted to be part of the family business. The man had still stayed true to his own hopes and dreams.
"Hey, Dad, I was…" Scott started before a beep came from John's wrist, who was sitting quietly on the bench in the shade next to their grandmother. The familiar voice of EOS filled the garden.
"Sorry to interrupt, John, but there is an emergency that requires International Rescue for the greatest chance of success."
"What's the situation?"
"A building site explosion has caused some steel framework to collapse against the skyscraper across the road. There is a high probability people are trapped and there is a risk of further explosions as the cause of the first is currently unknown. Further explosions could lead to more damage to the surrounding buildings. I believe Thunderbird One and Two are both required."
"FAB, EOS." John turned to the group, determination on his face. "Ready to go?"
"What are we waiting for?" Alan jumped to his feet, fist in the air. "Thunderbirds are go!"
The scraping of chair legs filled the air and Scott placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Duty calls, Dad. See you soon."
Jeff's boys were running back into the facility with a wave goodbye over their shoulders. The pounding of their feet slipped away leaving the air still and the garden eerily quiet. Neither occupant spoke, waiting for the rumble that they knew would follow. It did just that. The roar of those great engines had faded in Jeff's memory over the years, just as various other sounds of Earth had slipped from his mind. They were things he was experiencing again. This was Jeff's chance to live again. Yet his boys couldn't stand down International Rescue when they visited as a family, so they always landed the craft in the field beside the facility. The downdrafts created by Thunderbird Two swept over the facility and his wind chimes clattered as the ship came into view. The quieter Thunderbird One was beside the green giant. Thunderbird Two picked up speed while Thunderbird One turned and sped away with a bang in the opposite direction. The green craft was soon out of sight, her roar fading away to nothing, and the slowing chimes and empty chairs the only evidence that they had ever been there. The rough scratching of a chair moving closer to him made him turn away from the sky before the space elevator came into view.
"They'll be back, don't you worry."
The smile on his mother's face was warm, familiar and filled him with comfort, even if it didn't chase away his worries. His boys were gone again, barely recovered from their last rescue. They had all been here. It still felt like such a rare treat, just as it had ever since Scott had left for the Air Force.
"It was never meant to be this way." Jeff sighed. His mother placed her hand on his and her cool blue eyes met his.
"This is your dream. Your boys are flying the Thunderbirds and saving people."
"Not like this though. I never planned for International Rescue to be needed as much as it is."
"Well, you couldn't have predicted just how successful and necessary International Rescue would be. They've risen to the challenge amazingly, Jeff."
"I know, Mum, but at what cost?"
Jeff ran his hand through his hair as he leant back and gazed at the sky. There was a small black dot that he believed was the elevator whisking John away. That's what the world did now. They called on International Rescue and snatched his boys away. Before, the rescues had been a few a month, leaving them plenty of time for relaxing and being together, especially when Alan and Gordon were home from school. He could see the exhaustion in his sons, the fact that there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for them to sleep. Alan seemed the least affected and appeared to have the most spare time, but Jeff had heard the yawns when they played Cavern Quest together.
"A cost they are willing to pay. Now, let's see if you've still got it in you to beat the master at Blackjack."
A bag of tokens landed on the table as his mother slid the discarded cards into a pile up and started to shuffle. Jeff smiled, though not entirely happy at the obvious distraction tactics, as he tipped the familiar coloured tokens on the table.
"If I remember correctly, you're in my debt at the moment, sure you want to deepen it further?"
There was a glint in his mother's eye as she met his own and her lip curled up.
"Just put the usual million on the table and we'll end the day with you owing me."
Jeff started stacking the counters into the required piles, happy to accept the challenge though he did wish his mother would let him listen in on the rescue. Hearing their voices would settle him a little, though Mum probably thought their daredevil antics would be too much for his old ticker. His heart worked fine. He'd just wanted his boys.