So the saga continues! Only this time some of the subject material will be a little darker as the family recover - or not, as the case may be.
Oh, and the usual disclaimer.
It was early. Or was it late? Having been up all night and not closed his eyes for a second, it was hard to tell. Time had blended into a hazy image of something familiarly like morning and he was sat in the half-light of the office, way beyond tired and yet not quite awake.
A gentle bleeping then startled him, perhaps a little more than it ought to. The copious amounts of caffeine in his body had made him jittery and he had swung round to face the incoming transmission before his body had time to realise.
"Oh, Jeff!" Penny's smile of greeting fell away. "You look dreadful!"
"Thanks." Jeff husked.
"I thought Scott had this watch?" Penny continued.
Jeff's heart sank; was she not pleased to see him then?
"Have you been up all night?"
Jeff shrugged a reply.
Penny sighed loudly.
"Why the call?" Jeff gently reminded, wishing he were alert enough to sound more interested.
"Tune in to IWN." Penny answered carefully.
Jeff heaved his seemingly heavy form forward to reach out and focus in the comm. surveillance to the news channel. He frowned as he saw the assertive stance of Lisa Lowe, seated bravely before the infamously tough to interview Vice President of the World Gov.
"So, you would agree with the hostile actions of those who tried to bring International Rescue down?"
The VP gave a measured smile. "I'm not condoning what they allegedly attempted to do." He began, "But I can understand their concern."
Lisa frowned thoughtfully, "International Rescue is – for all intents and purposes – a charity organisation. You wouldn't bring down the Red Cross for flying in to help victims of natural disasters or refugees in foreign countries."
The VP's smile grew, carefully. "The Red Cross is transparent, Lisa. We know who they are. And they do not have weapons."
"Oh, Mr Vice President!" Lisa laughed suddenly, "You're not suggesting - "
"No, I'm not suggesting anything. Merely stating what we have all clearly seen. The machines of International Rescue – the 'Thunderbirds', if you will – are very powerful and more than capable of - "
Jeff flicked off the channel with a groan of dismay and disgust.
"They've been at it for twenty minutes already." Penny offered after a moment.
Jeff turned and regarded her concerned face for a moment. "So, we're the subjects of daytime TV, are we? The latest gossip."
Penny smiled, "You always have been. It's just that the focus has moved from 'who are the heroes of International Rescue?' into whether you can be trusted." She shrugged slightly, "The latest opinion polls on the radio give you 87 per cent of the public vote."
"Oh. Good." Jeff scowled.
"At least she's out there defending you."
"Oh, come on. In the face of all the possible danger from the people that could potentially silence her, you have to give her points for bravery. I mean, she could simply have taken the easier path and run with the 'Save Us From Being Rescued' angle."
Jeff's frown grew.
"Yeah." Penny sighed, "Honestly, the genius minds of the tabloid presses never fail to amaze me."
Jeff closed his eyes, "Why did this have to happen, Pen? I mean, what were they thinking … ?" He trailed off into his thoughts, sleep seeming to finally be almost catching up with him.
"They thought it was the best chance in a bad situation." Penny suggested, "And who else could they have turned to? I mean, you and I were all but incapacitated and Scott caught up with John and - " Penny stopped abruptly at Jeff's horrified gasp.
Jeff opened his eyes and turned towards the monitor, his mouth falling open and anger settling over his pale face.
"Oh god." Penny murmured. "Oh god, they haven't told you …"
Jeff remained silent, disbelief and fury fighting for dominancy beneath his rapidly reddening glare.
Jeff finally took a deep breath and shook his head slowly. "Please … don't tell me …" He sat upright and forward, letting his head sink into his hands with a low groan.
Penny was lost for words.
After a few minutes, Jeff looked back up at her, calm but suddenly so very tired. "Gordon and Virgil … ?"
Penny nodded, "And Alan."
"And - " Jeff halted, trying to keep his composure.
"If you ask me, I think it was a wise move."
"And did I ask?"
Penny gasped slightly.
"Sorry." Jeff offered quickly and then considered the revelation for a moment. "How did they …? I mean …?"
"Scott said they hot footed it over to LA while he and John were in London."
"Scott?" Jeff exclaimed, "Scott knows?"
Penny nodded, "He's been meaning to tell you at some point." She smiled nervously, "He's had other things on his mind."
Jeff dragged a hand over his close-cropped hair.
"It's given you a certain protection." Penny began again, "No one would dare make a move while there's so much attention."
Jeff mulled this over for a time. "Or perhaps those behind the conspiracy will simply go to ground, gather strength and become even more dangerous."
"Not with so many speaking publicly of their backing."
Jeff suddenly smiled, "Pen, with 87 per cent of the vote, all the public figures are bound to back us. And then stab us in the back as soon as the noise begins to fade away."
"Which it will."
Jeff's smile thinned a little. "God, I hope so." He shook his head sadly, "I wish …"
An uncomfortable silence fell over the comm.
"Don't be too hard on them." Penny suggested after a time.
Jeff watched her for a moment.
"I mean, I'm just as much to blame as any of them." She looked suddenly close to tears, "If I hadn't taken the two of them out there. If - "
"Oh, please, no more ifs or maybes." Jeff pleaded wearily, "It's too late for that. We've just got to deal with it. Somehow."
"And how are they dealing with it?"
Jeff's smile made a welcome return. "Quietly. Eerily quietly."
Penny nodded, "It's only been two days since you got back. They need more time."
Jeff laughed gently, "Now that is something our grounded status thankfully gives us plenty of."
Penny nodded in understanding and then groaned in disappointment. "Speaking of time … I've got a meeting to get to. We're going over more of the data and names, trying to piece this all together."
Jeff smiled warmly. "Go get 'em."
"Oh, don't you worry! I bloody intend to!" Penny chuckled. "In the meantime, if you need me - "
"Good." Penny paused, seemingly about to add something further and then having second thoughts. "Cheerio, for now."
Jeff closed the connection, leaned back into his chair with a loud yawn and decided he needed more coffee to get through the final few hours before the next shift change. They had transferred all of Five's software down here to continue to keep a close eye on the world during their 'downtime'. Quite why, he could not really explain – there was no way anyone was leaving the island until he felt it was safe – but it was a way of keeping tabs on the latest developments. And it made it feel like they weren't really hiding.
The sun was just beginning to work it's way up through the haze of morning but the lounge was still in relative darkness. Jeff padded down the ramp and into the small kitchenette to brew up some more stimulants.
Noise and movement from the lounge caught his attention and he frowned as he abandoned the heating water and investigated the sounds.
Alex. She seemed to be drifting back into deep sleep as he approached, her bare legs curled up behind her and John's dressing gown draped over her torso.
Jeff frowned in concern, wondering why she was out here on the sofa. A few possibilities jumped into his weary mind and all of them led to the conclusion that he needed to go check on his son.
He couldn't quite put his finger on it but it unnerved him that she had not left his side since they had arrived home – more from John's absolute insistence than anything else – and now she was sleeping on practically the other side of the house.
The bedrooms were quiet save for the low moan of gentle snoring, audible thanks to the open doors. And that was something he had noticed last night when he had done his lap of the complex; all of them had their doors slightly ajar. Out of insecurity, he was sure, a need to be able to hear anything unusual in the corridor and listen out for each other. Jeff smiled fondly, wondering if they would rather simply all bunk down together as they used to or whether this was the compromise that their now older minds would allow.
Reaching John's door, Jeff could hear someone talking. He paused for a moment to listen and tears stung his eyes.
In the dim blue glow of the nightlight he had not used since childhood, Jeff could see John clearly. And the companion nestled in the bed in front of him.
Alan murmured again and wriggled in John's grasp, evidently troubled by a bad dream. John appeared fast asleep but instinctively pulled his restless brother closer to him, wincing at the pain it caused. Alan calmed immediately and was soon snoring.
Jeff smiled and swallowed back the lump in his throat as he turned and headed back along the corridor. He then gasped as he heard the kettle begin it's shrill warning that his water was boiling and he broke into a quick jog out into the lounge.
Alex sat up slowly and frowned groggily, watching Jeff speed over to silence the kettle.
"Sorry!" Jeff offered in a whisper, smiling sheepishly.
Alex yawned and climbed from the sofa.
"I thought I'd be here to stop it doing that."
Alex rubbed at her neck and rolled her head from side to side. "Oh, no, it's okay. You saved me from waking up later to find my neck broken!"
Jeff poured the steaming water onto his coffee and offered her a cup.
"Have you any tea?"
Jeff laughed gently, "You ask that even though you've met Penny?"
Jeff opened one of the cupboards and scoured its contents. "Earl Grey?"
"Fine." Alex shrugged.
"So …" Jeff handed her the mug of tea. "Why are you on the sofa?"
Alex climbed onto one of the bar stools, pulling the dressing gown closer around her and sniffing approvingly at her tea. "Alan wanted company." She smiled up at him, "And John's bed is barely big enough for two …"
Jeff nodded thoughtfully, "Somehow, the thought of girlfriends never came into the design of this place."
Alex considered the notion for a moment, her smile growing.
"So, did he throw you out?" Jeff continued.
"No. I offered. And John's so out of it still that he probably didn't even notice!"
Jeff frowned slightly.
"He'll be okay." Alex offered carefully, "He didn't take enough to do any permanent damage." She shrugged slightly, "I really think it was a simple mistake; he forgot when he'd last taken them and … well … Ohana has them now, so …"
Jeff was lost in his thoughts for a long moment and then forced a smile to his lips. "I hope you're right."
Alex nodded sincerely.
And Jeff suddenly laughed. "Onaha." He corrected merrily.
"Onaha." Alex repeated, blushing. "Ah, no wonder she didn't answer me. You think Ohana is a swear word, or something."
Jeff laughed a little louder and shook his head. "No! And I'm sure Alan called her worse when he was little!" Jeff chuckled at the idea and sipped at his coffee, his demeanour then slowly darkening once more. "You really think he'll be okay?"
Alex was surprised by the question, having assumed that Jeff knew his son far better than she did. But something about his tone made it obvious that he in fact didn't.
Alex pondered the query for a time, her heart sinking. He'd been blown up, almost suffocated to death, kidnapped, beaten, possibly tortured. And then there were the odd deep sleep murmurs about having killed someone to add to the mix. 'Okay' just couldn't be further removed from the truth.
She looked up into Jeff's weary, pain-filled eyes and nodded firmly. "Yeah. He'll be fine."Tbc …