That afternoon John wandered into the lounge. He saw Elizabeth sitting on a lounger out on the balcony and went out to her. "Where is everybody?" he asked.
She looked up from the magazine she was reading. "Your father's gone down to feed his koi, Brains and Tin Tin are in the lab, your grandmother's in the kitchen, and I saw Scott heading for Thunderbird 1 about half an hour ago – I think he must still be there."
John nodded, yes, that was just the place Scott would hole up if he wanted to be by himself. He turned towards the wall panel that concealed the entrance to TB1, then hesitated. If he was going to brave the lion in his den, then he wasn't going empty handed. He turned and headed for the kitchen, returning a few moments later with a tray.
As he crossed the walkway to the great silver craft he could see light streaming from the open hatchway, and when he looked in his brother was sitting in the pilot's seat, staring into nothingness. John rapped on the hull, "Permission to come aboard?" he called, causing Scott to jump. He entered the ship and perched precariously on the edge of one of the control panels. TB1 wasn't really built to carry passengers, especially when it was in its vertical mode. "I'm not going to do any damage here, am I?" he queried, wishing Scott had chosen somewhere a bit more roomy to mope. "I'd hate to start the ignition sequence with my butt!"
Scott grinned and flipped a switch. "It's safe now – I've turned off that console."
"That's a relief." He held out the tray towards Scott. "I thought you might like a coffee and some of Grandma's fresh cookies. She's just finished baking a batch to replace those she sent off with Virgil." He grinned. "Do you think someone should tell her food isn't rationed in England any more?"
Scott looked at his brother with admiration. "How come you managed to snitch some fresh cookies? Grandma never lets me in the kitchen when she's baking."
"I didn't snitch them – she gave them to me." John gave a knowing smile as he passed the plate over. "There are some advantages to being the skinny one of the family – especially when I've just got back from a month on the station and Grandma seems to think I need feeding up. She doesn't believe I can cook for myself when I'm up there, even though I make a better job of it than Alan does!"
"You'd have to try hard to do worse" replied Scott with a grin, thinking of some of his youngest brother's culinary efforts on the occasions when the boys were left to fend for themselves. He finished his cookie and glanced at his watch. "Guess Virgil and Gordon will be nearly at England by now". The pair had set off after lunch in Thunderbird 2. Jeff did not normally sanction the use of IR craft for non-emergency purposes, but he thought the run would be good practice for Gordon, and the craft had the advantage of being able to land in the grounds of Lady Penelope's mansion. The journey had been timed so they would land in the middle of the English night, and thus avoid unwanted attention.
John noticed the change in his brother's expression as he mentioned Virgil's name. "Scott," he began gently, "when are you going to stop blaming yourself for what happened?"
Scott stared down at his coffee. "How can I stop? It was my fault – and look at the effect it's had on him."
"I had a long chat with Virgil this morning" said John in his quiet voice. "You know what's been eating him up these past few weeks? It's not what happened to him, it's what nearly happened to you."
John nodded, "He's worried sick about you. Kept going on about how he needed to be there to keep an eye on you – how you take risks that you would never let the rest of us get away with." He paused. "He's right, you know – would you have let one of us check out that debris pile without that wall behind it being supported?"
"So now you're saying it was my fault, too?"
"Scott, it was an accident. It was nobody's fault – just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that tremor had come a minute later you'd all have been in the truck and the worst that could have happened was spilling your coffee." He took a breath, considering, "and if it had come a minute earlier, I'd be having this conversation with Virgil, instead of you. He made me promise to look after you while he's away – he's probably bending Gordon's ear about the same thing right now – in between criticising his flying." He smiled to himself – although they could all fly each other's machines when necessary, all the brothers tended to be protective about 'their' Thunderbird.
Scott looked up at his brother. "I can't help thinking that I failed." He paused, then said in a small voice, "We made a promise, Johnny."
From Scott's tone, and the use of his childhood nickname, John knew what he was referring to. It had been almost a ritual. Every time their father was due to go away on a business trip, the two oldest boys would wait until their younger brothers had gone to bed, then John would get out his school atlas and they would look to see where their father was headed. They had already learnt the locations of New York, Seattle, London and Tokyo. This time it was their mother who was going away for the weekend, to a friend's wedding, but John saw no reason the change the routine. Blond and dark heads bent together over the book, finding Buenos Aires and measuring how far it was from Kansas.
"That's an awful long way" observed young John to his mother. "What happens if you get lost?"
Their mother smiled. "I won't get lost. One of Daddy's pilots will be taking me there, and another will be bringing me home, so I'll be quite safe."
"Are you sure you don't want one of us to come along and look after you?" Scott had asked.
Lucille took each of her eldest sons by the hand. "No, I've got a very important job for you two. I need you to help your father to look after the little ones. Will you promise to do that for me, until I get back?"
Both boys had nodded, solemnly.
"No, Scott," said John, his voice soft, "I hadn't forgotten.
But Mom didn't mean to hold us to that promise for more than twenty years.
We're all grown men now – we all look after each other. How many times have you
saved Virgil's neck since we started International Rescue? Five times? Ten?
Twenty? So look at this as his way of evening out the scales." John paused,
then went on. "There's another promise you made more recently that you ought to
be thinking about as well."
"What do you mean?"
"When you married Elizabeth you promised to share everything with her – and that didn't just mean your bank account and Thunderbird 1."
Scott looked at him. "Elizabeth's been talking to you?" Scott didn't like the sound of this. There were some things you didn't share, even with a brother.
"No, but I can see things aren't right between you." John didn't see the need to mention that in fact Elizabeth had been talking to Tin Tin, and Tin Tin had been talking to him. "Elizabeth's not used to these moods of yours the way the rest of us are. You've been cutting her out, haven't you?. She made a promise to you, too – to be there for you through the bad times as well as the good She can see that you're hurting, and if you won't let her help, then that hurts her too."
Scott shook his head. "I hadn't realised." He looked at his brother. "What should I do?"
"Go to her, Scott - she wants to help you. She needs to feel needed. Let her help you"
Scott stood up, at last having something that he could do. As he went past he paused and gripped his brother's shoulder. "Thanks, John" then left TB1 looking more positive than he had for a long time..
A couple of hours later Gordon called in, requesting clearance to land. As John went out onto the balcony to watch the great green craft coming over he looked down. He could see Scott and Elizabeth walking back along the beach towards the house, their arms around each other and their heads bent close together. John smiled to himself. It looked like one half of the problem seemed to be sorting itself out. He only hoped that Virgil could find similar healing during his stay in England.