22/12/2011:The sequel to this story, "Learning to Fly Again", is now being posted in my profile
Chapter One: Lost in Thought
The day was one of peace on the island.
The waves of the Pacific Ocean lapped gently against the golden sand of the beaches. Tropical birds of varying sizes and colours called liltingly to one another from atop tall-stemmed trees. A light breeze teased at the fronds of the jungle vegetation, sending the small creatures that lived beneath them scurrying for cover. Faint piano music drifted out from the central building; a calming, soothing melody that instilled a great sense of peace in all that heard it. It washed over the island and out to sea where the swell of the ocean moved in time with it, beating rhythmically against the earth.
Then suddenly, startling, a blood-curdling yell shattered the liquid tranquillity.
The birds in the trees squawked in fright and launched themselves away from the foreign noise. The piano music ended abruptly in a jarring clash of notes. Even the motion of the sea seemed to pause, listening intently.
"Gordon, I am going to kill you!"
Footsteps accompanied the furious voice: the heavy, clumping tread of someone in the depths of anger and the lighter, more rapid steps of the apparent subject of ire. Above all of that could be heard the sound of helpless laughter, so strong that it bordered on hysterical; a sound that grew louder as a door slid open and a young man dashed out of the central building.
His auburn hair captured the sunlight, lending him golden streaks to his otherwise reddish locks. It was he who was laughing uncontrollably, his sides gasping for air as he staggered around to the other side of the swimming pool.
He was followed out of the villa by a second man, this one slightly taller and with much darker hair. The thunderous expression on his face matched the tension in his body and he lunged towards the red-haired man, narrowly avoiding slipping into the pool.
The first man let out a loud snort of laughter at the near miss. "Stop laughing!" the dark haired man snarled. "It's not funny."
"Seems pretty funny for over here, Scotty." The auburn haired man laughed again. "Man, you should have seen your face!"
Scott's expression darkened even further. "I need those files for work!"
"You still have them."
Gordon held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Hey – the files are fine. Honestly. I just gave them a bit of a face-lift. The original material's all intact."
"It had better be," Scott threatened.
"Of course, it has been subjected to my creative fine-tuning impulses –"
With a snarl, Scott launched himself around the edge of the pool towards his younger brother. Sniggering like a maniac, Gordon matched him pace for pace, careful to keep the calm, azure waters of the pool between him and his increasingly irate brother.
They were so intent upon each other that neither brother noticed when a third figure appeared in the doorway. Virgil Tracy watched in exasperation as his supposedly mature, adult siblings continued to circle the swimming pool like piranhas – Gordon clutching at his aching sides and Scott looking on the verge of an aneurysm.
Virgil had woken especially early that morning so that he could have some time alone to concentrate on his music. In a house with four brothers, his father, the Kyrano's, Brains and Fermat it was difficult to find a period in the day when he could put in some real practice time. There was a new piece he had been wanting to try for months now – a classic by twentieth century composer Ludovico Einaudi – and the morning's serenity had presented him with an unprecedented opportunity. Or it would had, had his older brother Scott not woken up so early and discovered he'd been the victim of yet another of Gordon's practical jokes.
"Has he been giving out your mobile phone number again?" Virgil asked as he leaned against the doorframe. He was referring to the time, fairly recently, when Gordon had decided it would be 'hilarious' to post Scott's private phone number on the Internet and 'see what happened'. Suffice to say neither Scott, nor their father had been particularly impressed.
"Pulling the same trick twice?" Gordon mock-glared at his brother. "Please, I have more class than that." He turned his attention back to Scott who was still trying – unsuccessfully – to reach him. "And besides, old Scotty might be a bit slow on the uptake but even he's not stupid enough to fall for it a second time."
"He got into my computer," Scott answered through gritted teeth. "And changed everything."
"Not everything!" Gordon defended himself, backing away from the furious Scott as his older brother advanced upon him. "Just cosmetic stuff. I was lying about tampering with your files!"
Virgil raised his eyebrows. "Then what's the problem?"
Scott took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. "It's pink, Virgil," he replied in a deathly quiet voice. "Everything … is pink."
Virgil couldn't help himself – he burst out laughing. Scott shot him a wounded look but it only served to make him laugh even harder. Gordon grinned, thinking he'd finally found an ally. With John up on Thunderbird 5 and Alan probably still in bed, two against one was the best he could hope for and while Virgil wasn't normally as interested in the prank-wars that he and Alan led against their older brothers, he had been known to contribute every now and then.
"I don't know why you're so bothered, Scott. Pink goes so well with your complex – woah!"
So much for Virgil being on his side. While Gordon had been focusing on Scott and backing up towards the villa, Virgil had sauntered out onto the patio and given Gordon a hefty shove between his shoulder blades. The result of which was a tremendous splash as Gordon fell face-first into the swimming pool.
He surfaced, spluttering, to see Scott standing above him with his hands on his hips and behind Scott was Virgil. They both looked insufferably smug.
"Where's Alan when I need him?" Gordon complained, suddenly feeling very outnumbered.
Scott stepped closer, his expression still angry but the mirth in his eyes giving away his true emotions. "What's the matter, Gordon? You scared?"
Gordon grinned as a bead of water slid down the side of his face. "Nah – I just have a healthy sense of self-preservation. And Alan makes a good shield. But seeing as he's not here …" He trailed off and made a pretence of looking thoughtful. Before Scott or Virgil could ask what he was up to, Gordon had pushed away from the edge of the pool and was treading water directly in the centre, revelling in his favourite environment.
"I'll just have to make do with what's at hand, won't I?" He flashed an insolent grin at his brothers, obviously under the illusion that he had outsmarted them.
Scott cocked his head towards Virgil. "Do you want to go first?"
Virgil smiled genially. "Oh no, after you."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah – you're our leader after all."
"As leader I could order you to go first."
"Or you could lead by example," Virgil countered, earning a hard look from Scott.
In the pool Gordon looked from one to the other with a sudden sense of impending doom. "Uh, guys …"
Scott ignored him. "We're not going to agree on this, are we?"
"Probably not," Virgil agreed pleasantly.
Scott sighed. "Together then?"
"Now that I can do."
"Guys, what are you –?"
The rest of Gordon's words were lost in a tide of water as Scott and Virgil ran forward and jumped simultaneously into the pool, headless of their clothes, soaking the nearby sun loungers, not to mention their younger brother.
Panicking, Gordon tried to swim backwards, only to find himself surrounded on all sides by his wet and grinning brothers.
He smiled weakly. "Now guys, you know I was just joking … right?"
Scott smiled evilly but it was Virgil's serene expression that was the most worrying of all. They both swam closer to him and Gordon knew that even his superior skills in the swimming pool weren't going to get him out of this one. Still, maybe his tongue would. "Come on guys - all's fair in love and war!"
His brother's locked gazes over his head. "Exactly."
Gordon's protests were lost in a barrage of water.
While his brothers continued to wage war on one another back at the villa, eighteen-year-old Alan Tracy stepped out of the jungle and onto the island's southern beach.
The youngest member of the redoubtable Tracy family was in an unusually reflective mood. He'd chosen to seek the solitude of the beach rather than join Gordon in his latest scheme to drive their older brothers mad but as he walked across the soft sand his mind was anywhere but on the beautiful scenery around him.
Instead, it was fixed on the subject of girls. Or to be more exact, one girl in particular.
The pretty Malaysian girl was occupying his thoughts a lot recently. He knew he should be concentrating on other things – International Rescue for one – yet somehow, whatever he was doing, his thoughts always managed to make their way back to Tin-Tin.
Maybe it was because things had been kind of weird between them recently. Ever since … well, Alan could no longer keep up the 'we're just friends' pretence that had served him well for so long. Not after he'd taken leave of his senses … and kissed her.
It was at that point that everything had started to go wrong. He and Tin-Tin had been friends forever. It was one of those comfortable friendships that came from knowing the other person almost as well as you know yourself – where you can say pretty much anything and the other person will understand. Heck, Tin-Tin was practically part of the Tracy family … which added a whole new level of freakiness to the current situation.
I shouldn't have kissed her, Alan thought moodily, poking at the loose sand with his foot. I don't even know why I did it. It's not as if I like her or anything; she was just standing there, in the moonlight, in that dress, and she looked so pretty…
No, he definitely shouldn't have kissed her. Things were so, well, awkward between them now. Every time he looked at Tin-Tin he got a confusing flash of guilt and uncertaintyand every time she looked at him she turned bright red and ran off. The fleeing part Alan found particularly annoying. How on earth was he supposed to sort this out with Tin-Tin if she was never around to talk to?
To make things even worse, everyone else was starting to notice that something was wrong. His dad has asked him if Tin-Tin was upset about something the previous morning, Brains had commented that she seemed distracted when she was working and his brothers … his brothers had immediately decided that he had something to do with it.
They didn't know how right they were.
Sighing, Alan drew a line in the sand with the toe of one boot. He had denied the accusations vehemently of course; the last thing he and Tin-Tin needed were his brothers knowing the truth of what had happened. That hadn't stopped Gordon though – in fact it had only served to convince him that Alan and Tin-Tin were no longer 'just good friends'.
God, Gordon's just made this whole mess even worse. Why can't he just keep his mouth shut? Aren't I allowed to have a private life? And as for Tin-Tin … Alan groaned. After what Gordon said last night I'll be lucky if she ever speaks to me again.
A wave lapped over his feet, breaking Alan out of his reverie. Cursing, he sprang backwards, flicking the excess water from his feet and wincing as his socks became increasingly damper.
Great, another pair of shoes ruined. Alan untied the boots swiftly and pulled them off. His wet socks followed until he was standing bare-foot upon the warm sand. This day just keeps getting better and better. All I need now is to be stung by a damn scorpion and my misery will be complete.
As soon as that thought had entered his mind, Alan was forcibly reminded of the time two years ago when he nearly had been stung by a scorpion. He shivered, glancing around uneasily and checking his shoulders for any unwelcome visitors.
Tin-Tin had saved him that day, using that freaky power of hers. Alan had been fascinated by it in the months after the incident with the Hood but to this day she refused to use it again. They'd argued about it once, Alan remembered. She'd shouted at him, her dark eyes flashing and her black hair dancing around her face, its wild movement reflecting the passion of her emotions …
The passion of her emotions? Alan pulled a face, disgusted by his dreamy Tin-Tin-related thoughts. What was wrong with him? He was mooning over Tin-Tin like one of those love-sick heroes from the trashy American soaps his Grandmother liked to watch. No wonder Tin-Tin wanted to keep as far away from him as possible.
God, he was pathetic.
Tin-Tin Kyrano wrapped her arms around her bent knees and continued to watch Alan Tracy from her vantage point on the cliff-side.
She hadn't followed him; she'd come out some hours earlier, seeking a refuge from the chaotic Tracy household. The spot was a favourite of hers because the views were truly spectacular – even by Tracy Island standards. It was the perfect place to come when she wanted some solitude; she could just stare out across the island and forget about everything that had been troubling her.
She'd been doing that a lot recently. In fact, Tin-Tin had been spending several hours each day in this very spot, attempting to sift her way through the confusing cocktail of emotions that was threatening to overwhelm her. And, if she was being honest, it was far easier to sit here and marvel at nature's beauty than it was to deal with everything that had recently happened between her and Alan.
Tin-Tin bit her lip as she watched him move along the beach below her. What was she going to do about Alan?
She had spent so long analysing her emotions that she was beginning to lose sight of what she truly felt. Part of her was furious with him. How dare he screw up their friendship like this? It had been a completely stupid – not to mention senseless – thing to do … and he hadn't even asked her permission! He was lucky she hadn't slapped him for taking such liberties with her!
And yet the confusing thing was … another part of her had enjoyed it. It hadn't been the first time Tin-Tin had been kissed – it hadn't even been the best kiss she'd ever shared – but something about it haunted her thoughts, refusing to let her rest. She thought about it all the time and had even found herself reliving it on more than one occasion, which had left her wracked with guilt, anger and longing.
She couldn't deny that some small part of her had revelled in the feeling of his arms wrapping around her, of his soft lips against hers. And she also couldn't deny that what had started out as purely Alan's actions and developed into something a great deal more mutual, something that had left her tingling with pleasure and longing for more. In fact, as she stared down at the tall figure on the beach, it was all she could do not to run down there this very moment, throw her arms around him and –
Logic won over passion and Tin-Tin remained where she was, her fingernails digging into the soft skin of her knees. No, she couldn't face Alan yet, no matter what her inner voice was telling her to do. It was too soon – she hadn't worked things out yet. Things were just so – so … so complicated.
Tin-Tin wasn't blind. She knew Alan Tracy was an attractive prospect. Smart, rich and handsome, he was like the poster-boy for the ideal man – as long as you could get passed his annoying tendency to act like a spoiled brat.
But the problem was, she also knew that if he didn't live on an undisclosed island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, then he'd have girls falling at his feet – and not just because of his father's money. Things would be so different.
Here on Tracy Island, there was just her. There had always been just her. What if that explained it? What if Alan had only kissed her because she was there, and not because he actually liked her? Because it was convenient and safe?
Her rational side calmly pointed out that she'd grown up with all of the Tracy boys and none of Alan's brothers had felt the need to kiss her, despite the lack of girls on the island.
But Alan's younger than they are, the insidious little voice in her head whispered. They've all been to the mainland far more than him – they've had the chance to meet loads of different girls. Alan hasn't. He's just using you …
Tin-Tin rested her chin on her knees, feeling even more upset and confused than she had when she'd awoken that morning.
Talk to him, her rational side urged. Then you'll have the answer to your question.
It was a simple solution and yet, Tin-Tin just couldn't accept it. The thought of talking to Alan about the kiss scared her more than she could have imagined; she didn't want to know his answer in case it turned out to be exactly what she feared.
No, it was far better for both of them if she just continued to give him a wide berth. Maybe if she gave the situation some time then they could both forget it had ever happened and things could go back to the way they had been before – with Alan as her safe, comfortable best friend.
Down on the beach, the subject of her jumbled thoughts had stopped his meandering and appeared to be looking intently at something out of Tin-Tin's view. A few moments later her watch began vibrating and she realised what had snared Alan's attention.
Schooling her expression into one of practiced serenity, Tin-Tin touched a button on the right hand side of her watch and an image began to coalesce on the previously blank display.
"Tin-Tin." The familiar face of Scott Tracy, the oldest of Alan's brothers, filled the watch-screen. His blue eyes were serious; this was not a pleasure call. Tin-Tin knew what he was going to say before he'd even opened his mouth.
"We need you back at the house. A call's just come in from a place called Cilybebyll, in Wales. There's been an explosion in their coalmine. It's set the whole place on fire and there're still eleven men trapped inside."
"FAB, Scott," Tin-Tin affirmed. "I'm on my way."
Scott nodded sharply and then his image vanished.
Tin-Tin stood up quickly, brushing specks of dirt from her bare legs and straightening her clothes. Tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear she turned to leave and then paused, glancing back over her shoulder.
The beach was empty.
Shaking her head at her own foolishness, Tin-Tin hurried off back to the house.