Disclaimer: They're not mine.
Summary: Alan's brothers are always picking on him, but what happens when he begins to drift away? Will they realize it and be able to save him in time?
Author's Notes: Thank you all so much for the wonderful reviews on my other stories! I have so much fun writing about the Tracy boys that I decided to give it another go. I realize this is a bit outside of canon, but I wanted to explore a different side of Alan. I wanted to try my hand at a serious side of the youngest Tracy, and I really liked writing this conflict. Please bear this in mind as you read. Enjoy!
The halls of Wharton Academy were festively adorned with student work and decorative banners welcoming the families of the boys attending the school. A countless number of men, women, and children of all ages milled about the school, walking around and chatting amicably. Alan Tracy bobbed up on the balls of his feet, straining to see over the heads of the people surrounding him. He searched around for some sight of his father, or one of his brothers. Beside him, Fermat adjusted his glasses.
"Any sign?" he asked Alan.
Alan sighed and sank back to the ground, a frown marring his face. "I can't see anything over these people. They could be two feet away and we'd never know it."
"Let's go wait outside," Fermat suggested. "M-M-Maybe they're w-waiting for us there."
Alan nodded and began to push his way past the throngs, ignoring the dirty looks he was receiving. Fermat stayed close behind, knowing that if he became separated from Alan, he would never find him again.
The sun shone brightly in the flawless blue sky overhead, causing Alan to squint. An impossibly larger number of people were walking around outside, but at least there was more elbow room. Alan glanced back to make sure Fermat had made it outside with him, then continued his search for familiar faces.
The boys' heads whipped around as Brains hurried up to them. He looked strange out of his usual lab coat, choosing instead to don a simple leisure suit for the special occasion. He ran up to Fermat and drew his son into a warm hug, then looked at Alan.
"Y-Y-Y-Your dad w-w-was called away on b-business, and your b-b-brothers went with him," Brains told the boy. "H-He said he w-w-was sorry he couldn't make it."
Alan felt a wave of crushing disappointment at the news. He didn't know why he was surprised; his family had yet to make it to a Family Day at his school. Their duties as Thunderbirds always kept them busy. Alan quickly schooled his face into one of understanding.
"That's okay," he told Brains. "New mission?"
Brains quickly looked around, but no one was paying them any attention. "I-I-I really can't say here."
Alan nodded. "Right, sure. Look, I gotta go do some things. Catch you guys later."
"W-W-W-Hold up, Alan," Brains said. "W-Why don't y-y-you and Fermat show me around?"
"Yeah!" Fermat agreed, nodding enthusiastically.
Alan plastered a smile on his face. "That's okay. You two have fun."
He turned and ran through a passing family before either could object. He didn't stop until he had reached the lake on the far side of the campus. It was nearly deserted, which suited Alan just fine. Sighing heavily, he walked out onto the pier and sat on the end, staring into the water.
Usually, Alan would have run to the nearest television to see what his family was up to, but for some reason, this time felt different. He had actually been looking forward to seeing his family here at his school. Sure, his grades weren't outstanding, and he wasn't exactly the favorite student, but since becoming a member of International Rescue over spring break a month before, he had really been trying to turn his behavior around. Several of his teachers had even commented on the change, telling him that he was doing well. Alan had been hoping that his family would come out and see that for themselves, and maybe even be proud of him for it.
"Some day, huh?"
Alan turned sharply, staring hard at the person who had just spoken. A tall and thin young man with dark hair and eyes stood behind him. He didn't look much older than Scott, really. Alan frowned at him.
"Sorry," the young man said, smiling slightly. "Didn't mean to startle you. I just wanted to get away from that crowd over there."
Alan's frown softened, but didn't entirely vanish. "Yeah, me too."
"I'm Josh," the young man introduced himself. "I'm here with a friend, visiting his kid brother. Mind if I sit down?"
Alan shrugged and turned his gaze back out over the water.
Josh sank onto the pier beside Alan. "Thanks. I don't do crowds too well; I call it claustrophobia. My buddy calls it something else."
"What's that?" Alan asked, curious despite himself.
"Being a wuss."
Alan let out a laugh. "Sounds like something one of my brothers would say."
Josh joined in the laughter. "One of? How many do you have?"
"Four," Alan replied. "All older."
Josh winced sympathetically. "I only have one. I couldn't imagine what life would be like if there were three more of him. Must be tough sometimes."
"Yeah." Alan kicked his feet, watching his reflection in the water below.
"So, where are they?" Josh asked.
"They got caught up in something," Alan replied cryptically. "They couldn't make it today."
"That sucks," Josh commiserated. He glanced sideways at Alan. "I wish there was something I could do to help."
Alan shrugged again.
They sat in companionable silence for a while longer. Finally, Josh spoke again.
"I have an idea," he said. "I know a place where we can rent go carts, way cheap. Wanna go check it out?"
Alan stared at Josh dubiously. "Why would you want to do something like that? You don't even know me."
Josh shrugged. "I'm bored, and I'm looking for someone to help liven things up with. You interested?"
Alan studied Josh. He knew he had just met the young man, but something deep inside of him craving for attention told him to go for it. Grinning, he nodded.
Josh stood. "So, are you going to tell me your name, or do I get to make one up?"
Alan rolled his eyes. "Alan."
"Well, Alan, let's blow this joint."
Fermat paced impatiently around the dorm room he shared with Alan, waiting for the youngest Tracy to return from wherever he'd run off to. He had spent a very pleasant visit with his father, attending most of the planned functions for the day, but both knew that it was somewhat tainted by Alan's obvious disappointment. Neither Brains nor Fermat had spoken of it, but both knew that the older Tracys had made a mistake today.
The door opened, and Alan all but bounced inside. His face was flushed with excitement, a huge grin on his face. Fermat stared dumbly at Alan before realizing he had questions.
"A-Alan, what happened to you?" he asked. "Dad and I looked all o-over for you. Where did you go?"
Alan flopped onto his bed. "I met this guy named Josh down at the lake. He and I went to race go carts, then we went to an arcade, then we went and played some basketball with some other kids we just met. It was great."
"Y-You left the campus?" Fermat was stunned. Had Alan really broken the rules to hang out with some kid he had just met?
Reality check: this was Alan. Of course he had.
Alan nodded. "Yeah, and we're meeting up again this weekend to catch a movie."
Fermat frowned, concerned. "Alan . . . are you sure you should be hanging out with this guy? You barely know him."
"He's friends with some brother of a guy who goes here," Alan said dismissively. "I mean, why would someone go out of their way to come all the way out here just to make trouble? It's cool, Fermat."
Fermat didn't have a good argument for Alan's point, so he remained silent as Alan prepared for bed. As they switched off the lights and crawled into their respective beds, Fermat couldn't help but wonder about this stranger who had made such a strong impact on his best friend so quickly.
Jeff, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon all looked up from their meal as Brains entered the kitchen, having just returned from Wharton Academy. Brains hesitated briefly, then nodded in greeting to the Tracy family.
"Brains," Jeff called welcomingly. "How was Family Day?"
"I-I-It was fun," Brains answered. "F-Fermat and I had a nice time."
Jeff nodded. "Was Alan disappointed?"
Brains' mouth opened and closed several times before he found his voice. "H-He seemed to understand," he said diplomatically.
Jeff steepled his fingers over his plate. "In other words, yes."
Brains nodded. "Y-Y-Yes, sir, M-Mr. Tracy."
Jeff sighed. "I should stop by this weekend. Take him out or something. Make it up to him."
"Come on, Dad, Alan doesn't care," Virgil spoke up. "I mean, Family Day? We haven't been to one yet and he's never made a fuss."
"Besides, what would he have to show us?" Gordon chimed in. "The detention room?"
Jeff gave his boys a stern look, but didn't offer a comment. "I'll give him a call tomorrow. See how he's doing."
Brains nodded his agreement.
Fermat looked up from his science book as the gentle tone of the videophone filled the silence. Standing from his desk, he moved over and answered. The familiar face of Jeff Tracy filled the screen.
"Hey there, Fermat," Jeff greeted warmly. "Is Alan in?"
"H-H-Hi, Mr. Tracy," Fermat replied. "No, Alan's still with his study group. He should be back in about fifteen minutes, though."
"Study group?" Jeff echoed, confused. "Alan? My Alan?"
Fermat nodded. "He didn't tell you?"
"No, but I haven't really spoken much to Alan this past month," Jeff admitted. "How on earth did Alan decide to join a study group?"
Fermat shrugged. He knew the answer, but he didn't feel comfortable sharing it with his best friend's father.
"Okay, well, tell Alan I called, will you?" Jeff asked.
"Sure thing, Mr. Tracy." He bid the ex-astronaut farewell and severed the connection, then returned to his own studying. He was just getting his deep concentration back when the door burst open, and Alan bounded into the room. He dropped his books onto his bed.
"Hey, Alan," Fermat said. "You're back early."
"Tim and Juan had to leave for another group, and we all decided to quit early," Alan replied, digging through his backpack.
"You just missed your dad," Fermat told him.
Alan paused and looked at his friend, his expression a mixture of confusion and hope. "I did? He was here?"
Fermat nodded at the videophone. "I just hung up five minutes ago. You could call him back."
Alan's expression suddenly became closed off. "He's probably busy right now," he muttered, resuming his search. Finally, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open. Dialing a number, he held it up to his ear.
For a minute, Fermat thought Alan had changed his mind, but then Alan grinned brightly and said, "Josh? It's me. What's up?"
Fermat turned his gaze back to his book, but he continued to eavesdrop on Alan's conversation. He was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about Alan's new friendship with Josh. He was proud of his friend's sharp improvement at school, and he hoped that Josh wouldn't ruin that progress.
Somehow, though, Fermat had suspicions that something else entirely was at stake.