22/12/2011 – The sequel to this story, "Learning to Fly Again" is being posted in my profile.
Epilogue: The End of All Things
Jeff Tracy spun the business card between his fingers, his eyes tracing the embossed letters for the thousandth time. The number was burned into his mind, but it was one that he was reluctant to call. The Tracy family had always handled any problems on their own terms. Beyond medical attention on rescues, there had never been any need to get anyone else involved in the investigation. International Rescue looked after it's own.
Then there had been the accident. Then there had been what had happened to Alan.
Jeff loved all of his sons with an intensity that sometimes scared him. When he thought about how they spent their lives; the risks they took, the danger they stepped in to without blinking, he was torn between a mixture of burning pride and chilling fear. It was a delicate balance and Jeff had managed to maintain a clear perspective in his mind by telling himself that his sons might have been risking their lives, but they were doing so for the good of the world. They were making a difference, they were changing people's lives, they were doing what other people couldn't, or wouldn't. They were remarkable, each and every one of them.
Then there had been Alan's accident and suddenly all of that icy fear inside of him had risen to the fore. When he considered how close Alan had come to dying … it was enough to make him close International Rescue for good. What kind of a father was he that let his children go into such danger on a daily basis?
The card dropped through his fingers landed on his desk. Jeff linked his hands beneath his chin and stared at it. Dr Alyson Tomass, Clinical Psychologist it declared in bright gold lettering. There was a neatly printed address underneath – an area of downtown Auckland that he was unfamiliar with. A colleague of the inestimable Dr Makura, Alyson Tomass was said to be a world-class psychologist, who specialised in trauma resulting from accidental circumstances. Yet despite her credentials, Jeff was still reluctant to pick up the phone and call her. To do so would invite so many problems, threaten their security, cause unnecessary risk to their organisation … and those were only concerns in relation to International Rescue. What about Alan himself? Jeff's youngest child wasn't an unknown figure in the world and this was the kind of publicity that the Tracy family fought to avoid. The last thing they needed were the eyes of the world's media firmly fixed on them.
And yet … the necessity of dialling those small black numbers was growing stronger each day.
Alan's recovery was not going well. His progress was painfully slow and although he'd been doing them for several months now, his physiotherapy sessions weren't getting any easier. He still hadn't regained the days he'd lost before the accident, and to make things worse he'd been consistently losing time during his recovery as well. Virgil had tried to explain that this was characteristic of serious head injuries but Alan found it hard to accept that he kept forgetting things that people had said and done only days before. In reaction, the usually volatile and unpredictable young man had become withdrawn, moody and silent. Unless spoken to directly, he rarely spoke and, perhaps more alarmingly, he no longer argued the point over every little thing. Jeff's wild, short-tempered youngest child had become a pale shadow.
Jeff wasn't the only one who had noticed. At some time or other over the past week, he'd had each of Alan's brothers in his office, voicing their concerns. Gordon thought Alan's moodiness was down to being in pain and that if he was allowed to take more pain relief then he'd quickly bounce back. Scott thought Alan was sinking into self-pity and his silence was due to frustration at being unable to take part in rescues. John was forced to hear everything second hand and therefore his concern was tempered with a lack of comprehension. But of all his sons, Virgil had been the most vocal, worriedly insisting that Alan was showing all the symptoms of serious depression.
Jeff sighed and with a surge of energy, pushed his chair backwards and stood up. Turning towards the doors of his office he paused, and as an afterthought, picked up the card and slipped it into his pocket. Striding across the room, he pushed the door open and closed it softly behind him.
The villa seemed deserted as he made his way down the corridor towards the kitchen. Gordon's door was firmly shut which probably meant his second-youngest son was planning some kind of mischief at his brothers' expense. Either that or he was outside in the pool, threatening to set a new world record.
Scott's door was shut as well, but that didn't mean anything. His oldest was meticulous enough to make sure that his door was shut whether he was inside his room or not. Meticulous and wise to the ways of younger siblings with buckets of water and paint bombs.
The faint strains of music echoing through down the corridor told him where Virgil was. He followed the sounds of the piano into the lounge and watched for a moment as his chestnut haired son's fingers flew up and down the ivory keys. Virgil's eyes were partially closed and the music stand was empty. Once again Jeff marvelled at his son's talent. Yet as he stood in the doorway he also felt pang of regret. Virgil's music and art, Gordon's swimming, Scott's career in the Air Force, John's in NASA – his sons had given up so much to fulfil a dream that hadn't even been there's. What could their lives have been if International Rescue had remained a wild idea; a handful of sketches attached to a drawing board? Where would they be now? Virgil: a concert pianist? A world famous artist? Gordon: a multi-gold medal-winning swimmer? Scott: Commander of a squad of fighter pilots? John: the first man to set foot on Mars? Alan –
Of all his sons, International Rescue had affected Alan the most. It was unlikely that he remembered life before the concept of the Thunderbirds had started to become a reality. Throughout his childhood he'd watched his brothers join the team one by one. There had never been any question in Alan's mind what he would do when he finally finished school. It was just a question of being old enough.
But was anyone ever old enough to risk their life, even for the greater good of a world? As Jeff moved through the lounge and out onto the patio, the question preyed on his mind. What kind of existence had he introduced his son to? Alan could do anything with life – he should be using his time exploring his interests, looking ahead to university, making plans for the future. He shouldn't have to learn to walk again after a life threatening injury.
Jeff blinked and came back to himself to find that he was standing alongside the upper swimming pool. Gordon was peering up at him, treading water easily.
"Dad, are you okay?"
Jeff shrugged off the question. "Have you seen Alan today?"
A bead of water trickled down Gordon's face. He wrinkled his nose and wiped the offending droplet away. "He and Tin-Tin headed down to the beach earlier."
"The beach?" Jeff frowned, imagining his youngest struggling along the rough path.
Gordon waved a hand. "Scott drove them. He didn't want to, but Tin-Tin was the one who asked so …"
Jeff understood. Tin-Tin rarely asked for anything, and with things as they were … "How long have they been down there?"
"A couple of hours."
When Jeff reached the beach, Tin-Tin and Alan were sitting side by side on the stand. The crutches that Alan had been using for the last week or so lay beside them, an ever present reminder of their circumstances. They were talking quietly and as Jeff drew closer, Tin-Tin turned to his son and touched his cheek gently.
If there was some kind of redemption to come out of this whole horrific episode, then it had to be the growing relationship between Alan and the pretty young Malaysian girl. Though neither of them had actually come out and said anything, the fact that the 'just friends' stage of their relationship had ended was impossibly to miss. And while the implications of having his teenage son and his teenage son's girlfriend living under the same roof was cause for concern, Jeff welcomed the development. Tin-Tin was a kind, sensible girl with a very clever head on her shoulders. She was a good match for Alan's fiery temper and Jeff doubted she would put up with the immature and impetuous behaviour Alan often exhibited. Of course, what she would do with the sullen, silent Alan, Jeff wasn't so sure. His fingers tightened around the card inside his pocket. None of them knew what to do with Alan as he was now.
As Tin-Tin drew back from Alan, she glanced over her shoulder. Her serious dark eyes met Jeff's and held for a moment. Then she was rising to her feet, brushing the sand off her shorts. Alan looked up at her questioningly and she smiled.
"I'll see you later, okay?"
She gathered up her shoes and made her way up the beach. When she reached Jeff, she paused. "I think you should call her, Mr Tracy. He needs to talk to someone."
Before Jeff could formulate any kind of response, Tin-Tin slipped past him and disappeared up the beach. Leaving Jeff alone. With the complex, volatile situation that was his youngest son.
And yet … now that he was actually here, Jeff couldn't think of what to say – how to broach the delicate subject of Alan seeing a councillor. With his son in such a fragile emotional state there was no telling how he would react to the suggestion.
So instead of opening his mouth and inevitably putting his foot in it, Jeff simply settled down onto the sand beside his son. As the waves washed gently against the sand, Jeff wondered how long it had been since he had pushed work aside and taken the time to truly enjoy his home. When was the last time he'd sprawled on the beach and just watched the sun set? To his discomfort he found that he couldn't remember. It was another of the small sacrifices made, all in the name of International Rescue.
They sat in silence for a long time – father and son, both so different and yet so alike at the same time. Each with his strengths, each with his weaknesses, and each, ultimately, desperate for someone to bridge the gap between them.
Jeff trailed his fingers through the sand.
His son didn't respond.
Jeff tried again. "Alan …?"
He wasn't used to this. The Alan of old would bite back immediately; would argue incessantly even if he knew he was completely wrong. This silence was … unnerving.
And yet strangely, it gave Jeff the chance to think about what he really wanted to say. No more sharp words, no more lectures – just the truth.
"Alan … I'm sorry."
There was still no reaction but Jeff got the impression that his son was finally listening to what he was saying.
"I'm sorry about what's happened to you. I'm sorry that you were in the situation where such a thing could happen … and – and I'm sorry you feel you have to go through this alone. I know you don't wanna talk to any of us about it, and that's fine, but it's not – it's never – it's never good to keep these things bottled up inside. Because you have to deal with them so … so it's just better to – to deal with them …" Even to his own ears, his words sounded trite and formulaic. He might have been reading off a 'sorry about your accident and I'm always here for you' gift card.
Jeff sighed and decided to lay all of his cards on the table. "Here it is: I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. After losing your mother … it changed me and not for the better. Yes, I've been successful financially and yes, I've been able to provide for you boys and give you anything you could ever want … but as a father, I know I've made a hell of a lot of mistakes."
Alan was looking at him now, an unfathomable expression in his deep blue eyes. "Dad …"
"No, just listen. I know I was hard on you. I know I wasn't always there for you when you were growing up. And I know, above anything, how much you boys have had to give up to be part of something that was, first and foremost, my dream. International Rescue … no one's denying that it's a worthy cause. But when I think of the sacrifices that you and your brother's have made to be here, all the danger that you've faced, everything you've overcome … Alan …"
Jeff took a deep breath and pulled the small white card out of his pocket. It lay in his palm and he stared down at it. "On this card is a number. Whether you decide to ring it or not is your decision. We will support you either way. But if you can't talk to family … perhaps you can talk to a stranger. And remember … even the strongest man falls if there's no one beneath him to support him. There is no shame in asking for help."
Jeff placed the card on the sand beside his son.
"Think about it."