Author's preamble: I would like to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to send me their comments and suggestions after chapter 2. I had so many good ideas that it would not be possible to use all of them (Tin Tin isn't that kind of girl for a start!). Here is my version of what happens next, with an invitation at the end to you all.
One point: after I wrote 'Chance meeting' I was taken to task (though very nicely) for calling Jeff's father 'Harry'. I use the Bentley book as my authority (which is based on all the original 1960s material) and he doesn't give names for either of Jeff's parents. I have noticed that Grandma has at least 4 different names on this website, so I feel quite at liberty to choose my own names, Ruth and Harry.
But enough from me – on with the story…..
Later that same day Alan sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the now-blank viewscreen. John certainly hadn't minced his words – in fact he couldn't remember the last time he had seen his elder brother so angry. That was typical of John – he always played the protective big brother as far as Tin Tin was concerned. Alan shook his head, wondering - he had no idea Tin Tin was feeling like that – why couldn't she have said something to him? And what did John mean by saying he wasn't the only one interested in her? Who did he mean? Gordon? – he was always making comments whenever Tin Tin turned up in a new outfit, but with Gordon you were never quite sure if he meant it or was doing it to wind you up. Virgil? Alan recalled a scene last month when they had all been in the lounge, chatting. Virgil was resting his hands on the back of Tin Tin's chair, a fact to which they both seemed oblivious, though it was all Alan could do to keep his temper in check. Brains? She seemed to spend a lot of time with him down in the lab these days.
It was no use – he had another three weeks up here on the station, and at this rate he would be driving himself insane. He quickly pulled on a T-shirt and shorts and headed for the gym, where he could work off his aggression on the exercise machines.
An hour later, showered and changed into his pyjamas, he lay on the bed with his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling. It had been fine when they were children, growing up together, they had been the best of friends. Then when they reached their teens he first started to feel a bit awkward around her. There had been a few snatched kisses at High School dances, then they had both been away at college. There he had plenty of girls. Heck, in his last year, after winning his first motor racing championship, they were practically throwing themselves at him. A guy would have had to be made of stone to resist that. But his father's plans for International Rescue were nearing completion, so he had always made it clear that he was not interested in any long-term relationships. Even so, he suspected he had left a few young ladies disappointed. He knew that Tin Tin had had other men friends – with her looks and figure she could have turned the head of a monk. Some of them had been very keen – he still remembered the time that guy Eddie Houseman had turned up unexpectedly at the island, an incident which still made Alan's blood boil just to think about it. Steady on there, he told himself firmly – he didn't fancy spending another hour in the gym.
Once the rescue business had started and they were both back on the island he had tried to pick up where they had left off, but it wasn't easy. They never seemed to get any time to themselves. He smiled as he recalled that night in Paris after the business over the Anderbad tunnel, when Tin Tin had turned up out of the blue and they had spent the whole evening dancing together. Now he would be hard put to remember the last time he had touched her. It wasn't that he didn't want to – there were some occasions, especially if they were standing on the balcony together after supper, watching the moon rise over the bay, that he just ached to be able to put his arms around her and kiss her pretty lips. But he was always held back by the thought of the 'audience' just inside the room, and the knowing looks and smirks he would have to suffer.
That was the trouble with living on the island – you were under a microscope all the time. And when everyone was treating you as the baby of the family as well it made it doubly hard. Up here it was different, he was in control. He rather prided himself on the way he was able to respond when a call came through for International Rescue. For those people he was their last – sometimes their only – hope, and during the three years since they had started operations he had developed a skill for being able to calm and reassure callers, while at the same time extracting the information his brothers would need to perform a rescue. He toyed briefly with the idea of getting Tin Tin to come up here with him for his next tour of duty, but the thought of his father's reaction if he broached the idea – or Kyrano's for that matter – made it a non-starter. Yet somehow he had to be able to achieve the composure he had up here when he was down on the island. His gaze wandered around the room, and he caught sight of his trumpet. Now there was an idea …
The following month, as they changed shifts, John made no comments other than the normal routine debriefing. If he noticed Alan was carrying his trumpet case as well as his regular holdall he made no reference to the fact. Once back on Thunderbird 3, Alan quickly stowed his gear in a locker before joining Scott on the flight deck. On arriving home he behaved just as normal. It wasn't until a couple of days later that he felt ready to make his move.
After lunch he excused himself, saying there was something he needed to do on Thunderbird 3. He took the tunnel from the lounge to the big ship, then dropped down into the hangar again, but this time took the service lift that led, through a concealed door, into the Round House. This had been built ostensibly as guest quarters, but as guests were infrequent on Tracy island the boys had commandeered sections of it for their hobbies. John had blacked out one of the smaller rooms as a darkroom for his photography, while Virgil tended to store a lot of his painting equipment in another room, and often worked on his paintings in the lounge that comprised one third of the building's circumference.
Once in the lounge he lifted his hand and put a call through to John. When his brother answered he said, "John, I need a favour. Tin Tin was in the lounge a few minutes ago. Can you call down and make some excuse to get her to come over to the Round House? Don't tell her I'm here."
John looked somewhat puzzled, but said "Sure thing, Alan."
"Thanks, John, I owe you for this."
John closed the connection. "Yes", he said quietly to the darkened screen "and you'll never know how much," before pressing the button that would signal a non-emergency call.
"What's up John?" his father answered.
"Hi there, Dad." He looked past his father at the other figures in the room. "Nothing's up, I just wondered if Tin Tin could do me a favour."
Tin Tin looked up from the magazine she was reading. "Of course, John. What is it?"
"Could you go over to the Round House for me and see how much high-speed film I've got left? I forgot to check before I came up here, and if I need some I might as well order it now so it will be ready for the next time I'm home. You know where I keep it, don't you?"
"Yes, John. I'll do it now – I just fancy a walk anyway."
As Tin Tin entered the Round House she paused – she could hear music playing, and it seemed to be coming from the lounge. Quietly she pushed open the door to see Alan standing by the window, his trumpet to his lips. He was playing a piece of classical music that she couldn't identify, with high, fluting notes. When the music finished she came forward. "Alan, that was lovely! It's years since I've heard you play your trumpet – you've improved a lot since I last heard you."
He lowered the instrument and smiled at her. "I normally keep it on the station and play there – it's a bit loud to play at home, but there were some pieces I wanted to work on, so I decided to bring it down with me this time." He hesitated, "Would you like to hear some more?"
"Please, I'd love to."
He walked over to the backing machine and selected a track, "I think you'll like this one."
The music began with a theme played on the piano, slow and seductive. Then Alan raised his trumpet and took over the main theme, while the piano faded into the background. On the trumpet it sounded soulful, yearning. Tin Tin watched Alan as he played. His eyes were half-closed in concentration, and on the high notes he would raise the instrument, tipping back his head. There seemed to be something different about him. He seemed taller, for one thing, more mature.
As the music finished Tin Tin applauded softly. "That was so beautiful! What is the music?"
"It's a jazz piece from the middle of the last century called A child is waiting. It's one of my favourites."
"You know, you look different when you're playing."
He nodded, "I feel different. I think it's because this is something only I can do – I don't have to worry about my brothers muscling in on it." He looked at her. "Have you ever wondered what things would be like if Dad hadn't started International Rescue?"
She looked at him in surprise at the direction the conversation seemed to be taking, "Well, a lot of people who are alive today would be dead – including me."
"Yes, that's true, but I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have my own life, and not be cooped up here with all my family, or up on the station all by myself."
She looked at him, puzzled, "What are you trying to say, Alan?"
He moved towards her, taking her hands in his. "Tin Tin, there's so much I want to say to you. Every month when I'm on the station I think of all the things I want to say, but when I get back down here I never seem to manage to say them. I often wish it could be just you and me here on the island, nobody else. Then I could tell you how I feel. As it is, I feel like we're in a goldfish bowl, with all the family looking on – I don't think I can work with an audience."
Tin Tin felt herself start to flush. "Is that what all this has been about?"
"What do you mean?"
She pushed him away. "I've been going through hell all this time because you're worried about what your brothers might think? For heaven's sake, Alan, don't you ever stop to think that other people might have feelings too? I sit there day after day, waiting for you to make a move, knowing that any moment John might call down with another emergency and you'll be off. Do you have any idea what that's like? Watching you take off, wondering each time if this will be the time you don't come back?" Alan had never seen her like this. She was like a wildcat, her eyes flashing angrily. "I can't go on like this, Alan. Either we come to an understanding, or it's over."
He flushed "And what will you do then? Go back to your lover, Eddie?"
Her voice was icy calm. "Eddie never was my lover, Alan. Nor was anyone else. and not for any want of trying on their part either, but I was always waiting for you." Her voice rose. "Now I'm tired of waiting, tired of being treated like some spare part for one of your engines that you keep handy in case you might need it someday. Maybe I will go back to Eddie. At least he would consider my feelings, and there's a better chance he's going to come home each day." With those words she turned and ran from the room.
Alan watched in dismay as she stormed out, slamming the door. Damn! he'd done it again – why did he always manage to say the wrong thing?. "Tin Tin, stop! Come back!" He ran after her, reaching the main door just as she was heading down the first flight of stairs. "Please come back! I didn't mean it like that!"
She turned her head to look at him just as she started down the second flight. Her foot slipped on the step and as she felt her balance go she made a grab for the handrail..
"Tin Tin! No!" Alan watched in horror as she fell down the rest of the flight to the ground. He ran after her. "Please be alright, Tin Tin, please!" he sobbed, as he bent over her. She moaned softly. His professional training took over as he quickly checked her over, then lifted his wristcomm and pressed the emergency sequence. When his father's face appeared, Alan gave a quick summary of what had happened. Within minutes Scott and Virgil emerged through the door of the Round House, carrying a stretcher.
"What happened?" asked Scott.
"We were having a row. She ran off and fell down the stairs. I think her collarbone is broken."
Virgil grabbed Alan by the shoulders and shook him, hard. "What have you done to her?"
Alan pushed back, belligerently, "What's it to you anyway?"
Scott stepped between and separated them with a shove. "Leave off, you two – there's no time for that. Give me a hand to get her to sickbay."
John paced back and forth across the control room of Thunderbird 5, clenching and unclenching his fists. The beep from the communications console was a welcome interruption. He pressed the switch and saw Gordon's face appear, with the slightly distorted view that showed he was using his wristcomm.
"Hi there," said Gordon. "Dad said he'd told you the news when you made your check-in this evening. I thought you might like to have someone to talk to."
John leaned both hands on the console. "What's happening down there?"
"Brains reckons Tin Tin's got a mild concussion as well as the broken collarbone. Last time I looked in she was still unconscious. Both Alan and Kyrano were in there with her, sitting glaring at each other in total silence. Everybody's pretty tense – I even heard Dad and Grandma snapping at each other earlier."
John looked at his brother. "Well, you might not want to talk to me soon."
"Because all this is my fault." John resumed his pacing, "Alan wanted me to find out why Tin Tin was mad at him. I talked to her, then gave him a chewing out about the way he'd been treating her."
"When was this?"
"Last month when I was down there."
"So, excuse me for being thick here, but how is all this your fault? And for Pete's sake, will you stand still – you're making me sea-sick!"
John stopped and looked at him. "You're the aquanaut. You don't get sea-sick."
"Space-sick then – whatever – you're making me giddy."
John came and slumped in a chair in front of the console. "It's my fault because this afternoon Alan called me and got me to send Tin Tin over to the Round House. If I hadn't done that she wouldn't have had the fall!"
Gordon looked at the despair in his brother's face and realisation dawned. "You're in love with her too?" John nodded, mutely. "Are you going to tell her?"
"What good would it do? She's never going to look at anyone but Alan."
"Geez, bro', how can you stand it? Living that close with her and not saying anything?"
John shrugged. "I've managed this long. I'll just settle for seeing her happy."
Gordon, for once, was at a loss for words. "Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't want you saying anything to her, if that's what you mean. Not a word, OK?"
"OK, brothers' honour."
"And let me know when she wakes up."
"Sure thing, bro'. You take care now."
As Gordon's face disappeared from the screen, John went back to his pacing.
Scott had been looking for Virgil, and finally tracked him down in Thunderbird 2's hangar. He emerged from the elevator to see his brother high up on the mobile scaffolding under the big craft's empty pod bay.
"Virgil, what the heck are you doing?"
Virgil spoke without looking round. "These clamps are due for checking. I thought I'd make a start."
"At this hour?" Scott came nearer and noticed something that alarmed him. "Virgil! You're not wearing your safety harness! Come down off there!"
Virgil glared down at him. "Stop ordering me around. You're not my commander when we're at home."
"For heaven's sake, Virg," pleaded Scott, "haven't we had enough accidents today?" To his relief Scott saw his brother turn and press the controls to lower the platform. By the time it reached ground level, Virgil was sitting on the edge of the platform, his legs dangling. Scott climbed up and sat down beside him. "What's up, pal? I've never seen you fly off the handle the way you did this afternoon. You're usually the steady one."
"Sorry, Scott, but when I saw Tin Tin lying there like that, something inside me just snapped." He scowled. "It's not fair – why is Alan in there with her? He's the last person she wants to see – she was trying to get away from him!"
Scott put his arm round his brother's shoulders. "You've really got it bad, haven't you, little brother?"
Virgil glanced sideways at him. "Is it that obvious?"
"Only to me. I've seen the way you look at her. Well, maybe this will be your chance. If she doesn't want to see Alan any more, then you can make your move." He shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder what Dad was thinking of, bringing her back to live with us. When you've got five young men and one gorgeous girl cooped up together on an island like this, it's a wonder we're not awash with hormones."
Virgil gave his brother a gentle punch on the shoulder. "Sounds like you're due for some shore leave, big brother."
Scott grinned back. "I think we all are. Come on, let's stow this gear away and go back upstairs to see if there's any news."
Ruth Tracy entered the sickbay to see Alan slumped in one of the chairs, despair written across his face as he held Tin Tin's limp hand. As she came in, Kyrano rose and, with a quiet "Excuse me," left the room.
"Well, here's a turnaround" she said cheerfully.
Her youngest grandson looked up. "What do you mean, Grandma?" he asked.
She smiled. "Usually I come in here to find Tin Tin sitting next to you in that bed. I often have to chase her off to get some rest herself."
Alan looked at the figure in the bed. "I'm only here because she's still asleep. Once she's awake, I don't think she'll want to see me again."
His grandmother sat down on the other chair. "You two had a row, eh? Don't worry, it happens. When I think of all the rows I had with Harry when we were courting – and after we were married - but we had a long and happy time together, despite that." She looked at her grandson, smiling, "and don't look at me like that young Alan. Can't you imagine your grandmother as a young girl in love? The important thing after any argument is to pick yourself up, make up with each other and carry on from where you left off."
Alan looked at the figure in the bed. "Do you think she'll forgive me?"
"Of course she will – she loves you too much not to. She knows you love her too."
Ruth Tracy shook her head impatiently. "Alan, the fact that you love Tin Tin is the worst-kept secret on this island. I know it, so do your father and your brothers. I wouldn't be surprised if the man who pilots the mail-plane knows it too. But a girl still likes to hear it from the man she loves. You can never tell a girl too often that you love her." She paused, reflecting, "You know, I don't think a day of your parents' marriage went past without your father telling your mother how much he loved her."
Alan stroked Tin Tin's hand. "I've wanted to tell her for so long how I feel, but it's so hard when I know everyone is watching me."
"So what if they are? You and Tin Tin are both adults, you're free to do as you please."
Alan scowled. "The other boys don't seem to think I am. They're always treating me like a kid! Why did I have to be the youngest?"
"Alan, however big the family, someone has to be the youngest. The crucial point," and her she took her grandson's chin in her hand and turned his face towards her, "is that you don't have to act the youngest. This is your chance – you could try acting the protective big brother for a change."
"What do you mean?"
Ruth pointed to the figure in the bed. "She's going to need help for the next few weeks with that arm in a sling. You can be there to look after her – see how you like it." She stood up. "Right, now I've got things to do. Do you want me to bring you a snack as you missed your supper?"
An hour later, Alan was still sitting there holding Tin Tin's hand when he felt her begin to stir. She opened her eyes. "Alan? What are you doing here?"
"Taking care of you. I haven't been doing a very good job of it lately, but I'm going to do better from now on, I promise. How do you feel?"
"My head hurts, and my arm. Alan, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say those things to you."
"I'm sorry too. I didn't realise quite how I felt about you until I saw you lying at the bottom of those stairs. I think I know now how you've been feeling every time I go off on a rescue." He stroked her hair. "I love you Tin Tin."
She smiled. "I know that, silly." She paused. "Will you do something for me – well, two things, actually."
"Of course, what are they?"
"Will you play your trumpet for me again? – not now, but when my head's feeling a bit better. I like you when you play."
"Of course. And what's the other thing?"
She smiled. "Will you kiss me?"
He leant over the bed to kiss her cheek. "Not there, idiot" she said, turning her head and putting her hand round the back of his head so their lips touched.
Ruth Tracy, who had just been entering with a tray of food, backed out quietly and closed the door. They had taken a bit of nudging, but it looked like things were now heading in the right direction.
Is this the end of the story? Will Alan keep his promise, or will he slip back into his old ways? Will Virgil seize the chance to make a move, or will John finally declare his love? I don't know – yet.
But I would like to make all of you an offer. This story could go in several different directions, so I would like to declare it 'open' and give other authors the chance to finish it. Write your own story , carrying on either from here, or from the end of chapter 2 and post it for the rest of us to read. Use the summary line to make it clear that you are continuing this story (as I did with 'On the spot' as a continuation of BoomerCat's 'Aftermath') and let's see where it will take us.
Happy writing, friends!