Disclaimer: None of the characters, concepts or situations in this fic belong to the author, and the whole thing is entirely non-profit.
Warnings: Adult themes, death, gore, the supernatural, light bad language, complete plotlessness.
Authors Notes: Come on, now. You all knew this was going to happen sooner or later. This is a fusion between Thunderbirds and…well, I think most people will guess, and if not, it's still an interesting little AU. I had this scene in my head for a while now, and it turned into a short, go-nowhere, plotless, mostly unoriginal one shot. I wrote it in a day, and don't plan to continue with it, because 'In At The Death' is so much more interesting. But you might say this short story is it's proto-ancestor.
I wrote this purely for the exercise, because I like Alan pain (in small doses), hurt comfort, brotherly smarm and humour and because I felt like doing a couple of easy one shots. If you like, you can consider it an open AU – anyone who wants to run with it is free to do so, but I never saw much in it, really. If the fancy takes you, feel free to go nuts.
But before you do, please read, and review, a smirk quietly at the cheesiness of it all.
Roadtrips Along The Pentagram
- by Ryuuza Kochou
Alan huffed as he walked back through the empty corridors, annoyed with himself. He'd been in detention. Again. Grandma wasn't going to be happy – she would load him with extra stuff to do, just as a lesson. She would give her I know you're missing them but please try to grow up and look past the chip on your shoulder talks that always made Alan feel about five. She'd probably call Dad, and he'd get the pleasure of a long distance scolding, again. Why were they surprised when he got into trouble? He had a lot to be angry about the last few months.
"Miss Myson?" Alan came back into the detention room. There was the bag he'd left behind after he'd stormed out; he just wasn't in the mood for the try to behave speech. It had only been a minute ago, though. Where was the young and friendly teacher? She wasn't quite as patronising as the others…
Something warm dropped onto his cheek. Startled, he wiped his fingers across the wetness. They came back red.
Alan looked up.
"You're weird, John," Casan grinned at his squirming friend, his tan skin making him a shadow under the streetlamps. "What person hates Halloween? Parties, pranks, free candy, the chance to dress up in a costume that would make a comic hero puke – what's not to like?"
John grimaced. "No reason, really. Besides, you're from Morocco! Since when do you celebrate Halloween?"
"I did mention the free chocolate, didn't I?"
"You'd worship the devil and bring about the end of days if there was a Hershey bar in it for you, Cas," Rachel was laughing, arm-in-arm with her boyfriend Bryn.
"I'm not that bad! I wouldn't do it for anything less than block of caramel," Casan protested vigorously.
John chuckled softly to himself.
"Can we go inside now?" Bryn complained, shifting on his feet in the shiny surface of the pavement, swept clear of snow. "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves is all very well, but I've gotta tell ya, these green tights are doing nothing for any future progeny of mine." His feathered cap was slightly askew.
"Verily, mine swain's fragile pride is withered and shrunk," Rachel said cheerfully, a charming Maid Marion. "You do know what us psychology majors say about men who wear tights, right?"
"I dunno. Do they also say they've got pushy, domineering, overbearing, historical romantics for girlfriends?" Bryn shot back teasingly.
"You don't want to get to the romance part tonight?" Rachel said, sweet as poison.
"Stop!" Casan held up his skeleton hands. "Stop right there."
"Too much information," John muttered to himself, heading up the walk to his apartment. The icy wind blew into his jacket and went right through his jeans. He was the only odd man out. Story of my life, he thought.
He keyed the lock, and then scowled. Instead of turning the lock, he twisted the doorknob suspiciously. The door opened.
"Come on, what are we standing around for?" Bryn danced on the spot, kicking his booted feet. "I'm freezing!"
"Stay out here," John ordered sharply, taking a few steps to the left and reaching for a loose floorboard in the porch slats.
"What?" Casan was taken aback. "What is it?"
"I locked that door," John said grimly, ferreting in the darkness under the boards.
The other three looked dubiously at the open door. "Are you sure?" Rachel asked gently. "Maybe you just, you know, forgot to latch it. I do it all the time."
"No," John negated. He pulled out a slightly sinister looking baseball bat from it's place. "I know I did." He knew he did. It simply wasn't an option to leave locks unlocked in his family. Security as the first lesson you learned.
"Geez, what is that?" Bryn asked, staring at the thing. "What are those bands on it? Are those holes?"
The bands were welded around the bat, the holes were drilled into the crown and upper head. One twist of the handle, and the holes would open, and would allow a payload of packed salt. Silver for evil, salt for ghosts. For everything else, two pounds of aluminium swung at 60 mph would suffice. Gordon had called it the Holy Saltbreaker.
The memory made John smile to himself. "Stay here," he ordered again.
"I'll go in with you," Casan offered.
John shook his head. You're a business major with no combat experience; you don't know the layout and I don't know who or what is in there. "No. I know where everything is. Just stay here, and I'll take a look see. Call the police," he added, because it couldn't hurt.
He stepped into the house. Don't turn on the light. Never turn on the light – you need your night vision. Ah, the old lessons came back sharp in moments like these.
The other college students would have been startled by the transformation of John Tracy. He went from a quiet and studious, maybe slightly geeky student to a stealthy, shadowed figure that walked as silently as a cat. He went through the tiny living room and scanned the kitchenette, weapon discreetly tucked into his side. There was a quiet, almost innocent creaking from below. Basement, John thought.
He headed out of the side door, into the communal corridor. The apartments were just an old house, partitioned off into blocks with a few common walkways. He headed down the dank, slender corridor and narrowed his eyes at the open basement door.
He stopped to listen at the door. Yes, definitely movement – quiet and stealthy, but also unsure of itself. Whoever or whatever it was, it was groping in the dark. That was a good sign.
John crouched low and crept down the side of the rickety stairs, stepping gently, trying to avoid telltale creaks. His eyes adjusted to the tiny amount of light streaming in from the dim hallway light and the flickering indicator lights off the washing machines. There, a figure, over by the furnace.
John sidled forward, and gripped the Holy Saltbreaker tight. "Hey!" he yelled sharply.
The figure jerked in startlement, and stumbled in the dark, but managed to right itself and make a headlong dash for the exit. It ploughed into his legs in a tackle, knocking John down. The bat rang as it hit the concrete. John's hand shot out and snagged and ankle, dragging his assailant back, tripping him up. John got his feet under him enough to lunge for a hold, flipping the other guy and pinning him with a forearm. His free hand found the evil-slaying bat and he raised it.
"John?" the voice was familiar. "Geez, I thought you'd at least be out of practice!"
John froze. "Alan?" he dropped the bat from nerveless fingers. "Alan, what the hell…?"
"Always nice to see you too, John," Alan grunted, squirming.
"What the hell, Alan?" John got up off the floor.
Running footsteps echoed down into the basement. "John? Are you okay?" Bryn's voice came down from the top of the stairs.
"Yeah," John got himself up, and extended a hand to his little brother, whose fingers were ice cold. He frowned. "It's okay. It's just my brother. You scared the crap out of me, you little twerp." He steered Alan out into the light.
"Well I sorry," Alan huffed. "But it was either break in or freeze to death."
"Alan," John frowned again as they got back to his tiny apartment and got the lights on. "Where's your coat?"
Alan rubbed his hands together edgily. "Uh…no coat."
"You're been walking around in this weather without a coat?" Rachel gasped.
John shook his head. "Wait right here." He vanished into his bedroom.
"Alan, was it?" Casan looked over the teen curiously. "You look a lot like him."
"Yeah," Alan sighed. "But there are surgeons who can fix that now."
"I heard that!"
The others chuckled. "I think I like this kid," Bryn grinned.
John re-emerged from the bedroom with a blanket, which he chucked at Alan's head. "Brat. I should call the hotel and nark on you to Dad. What were you thinking? You could have been corpse on my doorstep!" He watched Alan suspiciously as he looked down at the floor. "The others are here aren't they?" he asked ominously. "You just took it upon yourself to come here tonight instead of tomorrow, right?"
"Uh…" Alan shifted uncomfortably.
"Uh oh," Casan raised a sympathetic eyebrow. "Not exactly, huh?"
"You ran away?" John hissed. "Jesus Alan, Dad must be having kittens!" He reached for the phone and paused. "You were staying with Grandma, weren't you?"
"Yeah, I was," Alan's face shut down alarmingly. "And Dad doesn't know. I can't find him John."
John really looked at Alan for the first time. Pale, skinny, and there were circles under his eyes. The eyes were glazed over with exhaustion and fear and stress. John nearly dropped the phone. "What do you mean, can't find him? Dad goes on business trips a lot but he always checks in."
"Not this time, John," Alan shook his head.
"Did you try the cell numbers?"
"Yes, John," Alan nearly yelled. "Do you think I bussed all the way from Kansas just because I missed a call once? I've been leaving messages for him for weeks, ever since…I even called Tracy Corp HQ – Dad took leave a month ago and no one has heard from him since."
Ever since what? John watched as Alan put his head in his hands. Something was very wrong here.
"Sorry guys," John told the others. "This might take a while."
"Are you sure you don't want us to stick around to help?" Rachel asked as they headed towards the door.
"Nah, it's okay," John waved a hand. "Dad's probably just one some big project out in the sticks. Alan worries, that's all."
He came back to Alan, who was perched on the kitchenette table and staring at the wall. "Alright, what happened?"
"The demon's back, John," Alan said flatly.
"Be specific," John replied, but he felt his stomach drop. "We know lots of demons."
"The demon, John," Alan snapped. "The first one. The one that started it all. It came back."
"What? When?" John really felt the coldness now. It filled his spine, crackled his bones, iced his mind.
"Four weeks ago," Alan said in the same void, leaden tone. "I stayed back in class, and I ran back to get something and there was this stuff dripping on me and I look up and there's Miss Myson on the ceiling and she's looking at me John and then there was the fire and I ran and kept running." It all came out in one long stream of poison.
"Oh my God, Alan," John stepped forward, horrified. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine," Alan said flatly. He drew away as John tried to hug him. "I just came to tell you, that's all. I couldn't find anyone else."
"What, no one?"
"No," Alan rubbed his forehead. "Scott's in the Air Force now, and he's on some sort of mission and they won't let me contact him. You already know about Dad. Virgil changed schools a few months ago, and I don't know which one he moved to."
"What about Gordon?" John asked, surprised. "He was staying with you, wasn't he?"
"No," Alan grunted. "He joined the WASP cadets in California three months ago. They're doing field stuff at the moment. I must have sent over a hundred messages a day to you guys since it happened, but no one's replied yet." Alan's voice took on an arctic bitterness. "I'll just stay here for a night, okay? I'll leave in the morning and you can go back to your normal life. I promise I won't embarrass you or anything."
"I was never embarrassed by my family, Alan," John said sharply. "Stop acting like an idiot. I never got any messages – I would have been there in a heart beat if I had, and you know it!"
"Well, you must have conveniently forgotten to tell me you're new number then!" Alan shouted angrily, knocking the salt shaker off the table in a sudden fit of rage. "Four weeks I've been trying to find at least one of you! Four weeks, John! In the end I had to come and find you in person! So excuse me if I get the funny notion that no one really cares!"
"Of course we care!" John drew his mobile out of his pocket. His new mobile. "I just got this a month ago. I told Dad and Scott and Gordon, and Gordon said he'd tell you. I didn't know he'd left Grandma's, okay? I thought you knew! Remember, I'm stationary now, so Dad said minimal contact to keep me off the radar as much as possible; I can't call very often. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you were all alone. I'd never want you to face that alone! Ever! I don't know how this happened, but the last thing we want is to cut you off! We wouldn't do that Alan, not on purpose. We love you."
Alan voice was still bitter, and he still didn't let John touch him. "Don't feel bad for leaving, John," he said, his voice soft and resigned. "You were just the first in a long line."
It was about five in the morning, and John lay with his eyes closed on the couch. He'd given Alan his bed, because he'd wager it was the first time in four weeks that Alan had slept in one. Or slept at all, for that matter. John wasn't fooled by the hard shell of angry independence that Alan projected. He was scared and tired and fragile and he needed to find somewhere where he knew he was safe, which is why he'd tracked down John, the only Tracy whose location hadn't changed in the last few months.
What a mess, thought John. It was all just a…culmination of circumstances, but it would be hard work convincing Alan of that. The last thing they would do was cut him off on purpose – or any other brother. They all watched out for each other, they always had. It was a duty that had become both a habit and a reflex.
It may have come to nothing if Dad wasn't also missing. That worried John. If they couldn't each other, Jeff Tracy had made sure they could always find him. He checked in regularly. He kept about four cell phones, and a slew of contacts. It would be hard for him to disappear.
He'd promised he wouldn't go hunting alone, or at all, when John was leaving for college. It hadn't been a fight, exactly. Jeff had been disappointed that John wanted to leave, and John had grown weary of the hunting lifestyle. But whatever had hung in the air between them had been resolved months ago. John knew Jeff was proud of him. Jeff knew John still loved and respected him, even missed him. But they didn't have much contact these days, either.
John was sure, as mildly obsessed as Dad was since their mother's horrific death at the hands of that demon, that he wouldn't break that promise – not willingly.
But now it's back, John felt sickened. Now it's back and it went after Alan, just like the last time.
And no one was there, whispered an accusing voice.
Well, he was here now.
John turned his head slightly at the sound of socked feet padding almost silently past. He carefully didn't open his eyes, but just listened.
The padding paused and then came closer to the couch where John stretched out silently.
"I'm glad you're happy here, John," a tiny voice whispered in the darkness. "Keep being happy. Goodbye."
"That's sweet, Sprout," John reached back and snagged Alan by the back of the shirt as he turned to go. There was a complicated moment of struggle before Alan was pinned neatly between John and the couch back. "But what'd really make me happy is you not walking out into the snow with no coat. Again. Stop squirming," he added. "I'm bigger and stronger and older than you and you are not going anywhere on your own."
Alan still struggled with him. "It's after me, John. You said you didn't want the family anyway!"
"I said I didn't like the family business," John corrected firmly. "I never said a damn thing about the family, Alan. And whether you want it or not, I am going to help you, because, whether you like it or not, you need it. And by the way, I wouldn't care if all the legions of hell were after you, and I wouldn't care if you framed me for murder, I would still stick with you. So stop this whole push-me-away bull, because it won't work. You can say whatever snarky thing you like about my faults. I'll still be here. I might kick your ass, though."
Alan went still, and tried to turn his face away from John. He ended up facing the couch back.
John put his arms around his little brother. "Do you still love us?"
"Yes," Alan whispered.
"But you're angry with us?"
"Yes. I don't know," Alan answered indecisively.
"That's okay," John ran his fingers through Alan's hair soothingly. "You're entitled to a little anger. You needed us, you had the right to expect us, and we weren't there. Anger is the least of what I'd feel."
Alan was silent.
"We won't go away just because you're angry with us," John continued.
Alan stayed silent.
"It'll be okay, Alan," John soothed gently, holding on. "Tomorrow we'll go find the others and it'll all be okay. The nightmares won't stay forever. It just feels like they will. I know. But they will go away." John sighed, and pressed his chin into Alan's hair, barely noting the tiny tremors that shook under his hands. "It'll be okay."
"What is this?"
"The only car I could afford, okay? Full ride does not include car privileges."
"Uh…are you sure it's going to make it?"
"Shut up and get in."
Virgil Tracy made his way, slightly suspicious, towards the reception area. But he was glad to get out of comparative philosophy.
He got to the desk and addressed the lady working there today. "Uh…there was an announcement…"
"Mr Tracy, you've got visitors," the lady jerked her head towards the waiting room.
Giving her an odd look, Virgil turned.
"My, my, little brother, aren't we looking spiffy."
"John!" Virgil grinned as he raced over and gave John a punch in the shoulder before giving him a hug. "No smart remarks, or I'll just remind everyone how you looked during your awkward years." Virgil looked around John and saw Alan huddled in a chair behind them, watching silently. "Alan! Good to see ya, kiddo," he gave Alan a hug, and realised how stiff it was.
"Hey Virgil," Alan said in voice that was slightly off kilter.
"What?" Virgil frowned, looking at Alan's pasty face. "What happened to you?" He looked up sharply "Has something happened?" he demanded of John.
"Yeah, kind of."
Virgil stayed bent over, looking at the remains of his lunch, although he thought to himself that it hadn't looked much better going down in any case. Both his hands were on the tree. John was behind him, holding his torso and forehead to steady him.
"Are you okay?" John asked softly. "And yes, I know that's a dumb question."
Virgil snorted and wiped his mouth, feeling bile burning at the back of his throat. "Yes. That is a dumb question. I'm fine. That's a dumb answer."
He staggered back to the park bench where Alan was half risen, looking worried and scared for Virgil. "Are you okay?" he asked in a small voice.
Virgil sighed and sat, head in his hands, trying to absorb the enormity of what he'd just been told. It's back. That bastard hellspawn is back again. He went after us again. So much for the safe life.
"I think, relatively speaking, that I'm probably a lot better than you are kiddo," Virgil said finally. He reached out to ruffle Alan's hair. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. Why didn't you call?"
Alan stiffened under Virgil's hand. "I tried Virgil. No one told me where you'd transferred to. No one bothered," he added, the bitterness back. "Why didn't you tell me Virgil?"
"Or me, for that matter?" John added.
"That's a two way street, John. I didn't see you picking up the phone either," Virgil replied irritably. "I mean, Dad never told you?" Virgil sounded sincere in his surprise. "He signed the transfer papers and arranged a 'clean' phone for me. You know how he feels about us staying in one place – he doesn't want anyone's supernatural radar to ping on us. I thought he told you all. He said he'd be the one checking in, most of the time."
"Dad said that?" John was surprised. "Have you heard from in lately?"
"Not for a few weeks now," Virgil shook his head. "I was getting kind of worried, to tell you the truth."
They told him what they knew.
Virgil handed in his papers that afternoon.
"What is this?"
"That's what I said!"
"Come on guys, lay off my car!"
"This hunk of junk? We'll never get to California in this thing!"
"What else have we got, Virgil?"
"Dad gave me a credit card, and you've got me, the universes most obsessed and addicted engine builder."
"Oh, I would say you're universally obsessed, Virg'. Maybe only globally."
"So, what kind of car can we get?"
"How do you feel about humvees, Sprout?"
Gordon Tracy now knew a fundamental rule of military life – never volunteer. There's always a catch. Field work in the submarine sector had sounded interesting and challenging – and it was, some of the time – but sitting in a bathyscaphe and cataloguing fish populations could be wearing after the second day. WASP had a long standing agreement with the World Marine Science Association to use their cadets as free labour.
It wasn't too bad, but Gordon only learned after he had signed on for the job that he would be incommunicado to anyone except the patrol sub that circled this area of sea. He'd told Alan he would ring every week when he left, and it looked like that promise had been broken. He knew the kid didn't appreciate being left behind again, but Gordon had grown tired of waiting for the others to come back and frustrated with how his life was turning out in small town Kansas. The WASP cadet school seemed an opportunity too good to pass up. He knew Alan would get his chance too, in a couple of years, and until then he was safe with Grandma.
Alan was probably mad at him, Gordon thought gloomily. They'd both been mad at the others for leaving, and then Gordon had left too. He'd have taken Alan with him if he could have. He just couldn't sit still any more.
Gordon jerked, startled, as the anchor dropped into his vision and hit the ocean floor in a cloud of silt. Gordon nearly swore. There were no shipping lanes near here and there weren't supposed to be any fishermen. This was an ocean reserve.
Gordon moved to note this in his log and to report to the patrol sub, when the silt cleared enough for him to make out the white square of plastic which had been tied to the anchor. His jaw dropped.
GORDON, GET YOUR FISH-LOVING BUTT UP HERE. DAD'S MISSING. FAMILY MEETING AT UPPER END OF CHAIN. WE'RE WAITING.
He saw three familiar signatures underneath, along with a little smiley face.
"You're kidding me," Gordon breathed. And then he started to laugh and drag out his diving gear. The waters weren't very deep here.
Remain at his assigned post or go AWOL for a family meeting? Not much of a choice at all.
"Are you sure we didn't drop it on top of him? It's a bloody heavy anchor," John asked worriedly.
"It's fine," Virgil assured airily from the bow of the boat. See, we're well away from the marker float. So we couldn't have hit him. Er…probably."
"Probably?" John asked incredulously.
"Well, you know, I'm pretty sure," Virgil said. "I'm not an expert on currents and stuff."
John rolled his eyes. He looked at Alan, who hadn't said a word since they'd rented the boat, and was staring into the water.
He exchanged a glance with Virgil, who gave a hopeless shrug. "He'll be fine," Virgil continued.
"He is fine," Alan spoke up for the first time.
"Oh yeah? You trust my calculations?"
"Well, the way he just surfaced was a hint," Alan said. They leaned over the side.
"I heard that Virgil, you moron! You nearly killed me!" Gordon yelled, spluttering water.
Gordon didn't feel quite so put upon ten minutes later. "Jesus Christ!"
"No, not really," Virgil replied grimly.
He scrubbed a hand through his wet hair and went to crouch near Alan's seat. "Are you okay, Sprout?"
Alan turned his head away. "I'm not hurt."
"Yeah, okay. But are you okay?"
There was an uncomfortable silence. Gordon tried to reach out to his brother, only to stop as Alan flinched away. It was hard to tell who was more stung.
"Where's Scott?" Gordon asked.
"On call somewhere," John sounded frustrated. "I've been arguing with the Air Force for the last week, trying to get a message to him. Alan's been trying before that too."
"Hmm," Gordon sat back on his heels. "Well, it is the war game season. He's probably on a carrier somewhere. And that means the Navy might be able to find him. Gimme your phone," Gordon held out a hand. "I know someone working in inter-communications who might be able to track him down."
In the end, they were able to send a message to a random carrier out in the Atlantic, which was currently housing Scott's squad for what Gordon called the 'all comers war game', a massive yearly event for the military. It was only a short telegram, they didn't give many words.
Dad missing. Old friend returns. Need assist. JVGA.
It only took a day for news to come back.
Dads last coordinates 111-65 42 min. Meet you there.
Alan stretched out in the back of the humvee, doing what he always did at nights; pretend to sleep. Sleep seemed to a luxury these days. He knew his brothers were watching him and he was pretty sure John had slipped something mild into his drink the night before last. He'd have complained, but frankly it was the best sleep he'd had in weeks. He'd felt a little better afterwards. About everything.
I know I can trust them. They're the only ones I do trust. So why was it so hard?
He felt a hand reach down to gently stroke his hair. "Alan? You awake kid?"
"Shhh, Gordon, don't wake him," John hissed. "Lord knows it's hard enough to get him to get some sleep on a good day. He needs rest."
"I've been meaning to ask you guys," Gordon said quietly, turning back to the front. "What is up with Alan? He's hardly said boo to me since this whole thing started. There was a time when he was nineteen words to the dozen, and now he's barely six words to the day. I know it was bad, but we always used to talk when it got bad." Gordon sounded hurt.
John sighed. "He's confused and scared, Gordon. He thinks we ditched him. And I'm having trouble coming up with a good argument against that conclusion. It took him four weeks to find help. Four weeks. If we'd all been communicating, we could have been there within the hour. We had a major breakdown. It was all just stupid coincidence, but Alan bore the brunt. He's angry. He's scared we don't want him, too."
"That's stupid!" Gordon protested vehemently. "We didn't ditch him!"
"Well, not intentionally," Virgil spoke up from the driver's seat. "But we kind of did it accidentally."
There was a silence.
"He does know we never meant to, right?"
"I've told him," John answered. "I think he understands it deep down. But he's still angry and trying not to be angry at the same time. It's pretty confusing."
"I wonder what Dad was thinking," Virgil mused. "It's like he wanted us apart for some reason. He knew where we all were, but he didn't pass along the info."
"Maybe Scott will know," John sighed. "I know Dad must have had a damn good reason. The first thing he taught us was safety in numbers. It must have been pretty big for him to scatter us like that."
Alan rolled over, and buried his head in the blankets. He didn't mean to hurt them. He didn't mean to hurt anyone. The knowledge that he always did sat on his chest, like a personal stone gargoyle.
The forest besieged little town had been graced with Jeff Tracy's presence just a week ago, according to the motel clerk. He'd paid with a corporate credit card, two months in advance. The room remained untouched at his request.
Virgil got his lock picks out, and they went to his room to have a look.
On the dusty floor, salt circles were laid. On the walls, articles with lots of faces were pinned up, staring into nothingness. Men had been disappearing on the road in this town.
"I think Dad thought this was a Woman in White," Virgil scoured the books and articles with practised eyes. "Definitely looks like the work of a violent spirit. Salt circles mean that it worried him."
"Where is he?" Alan asked, gently taking down a photo of all of them that had been propped up on the dresser, next to the old TV. He looked at it.
"No one's been here in a while," Gordon ran a finger along the dresser, coating it with dust.
John sat down on the bed. "He promised he wouldn't go hunting," he said looking bleakly around the chaotic surroundings.
"It must be draughty on that high horse, John," Gordon retorted. "He promised not to go looking, he didn't promise to turn his back. He could have just stumbled on to this by accident."
"Has…has something happened to him?" Alan asked. The question hung in the air.
"Well," Virgil took down a yellowed paper from the wall. "He left us with directions to the haunting ground. Let's go find out."
It turned out to be a disappointment. Just a dilapidated old house, half fallen in. No sign of the ghost, but on the upside, no sign of any corpses, or blood, or abandoned cars or anything of that rather worrying nature.
Bereft of anything further to do, and not having any weapons in any case, they headed back towards the town. They stopped in a quiet spot just near a bridge. Virgil shut off the engine.
"I think we need to talk," Virgil turned round in his seat, to address them all. "What are we going to do here?"
The brothers all looked at each other. "We came to find Dad, didn't we?" Alan offered uncomfortably.
"Yeah, but he's not here and it looks like he hasn't been for a while," Virgil shrugged.
"We need to find him, Virgil. Something's up. Something big," John answered.
"How? He didn't leave us any messages or anything. And in the meantime, what about the Woman in White? She's killing people. What are we supposed to do about her?" Gordon persisted.
"We need to stock up," Virgil replied. "All we've got is my tools and the Holy Saltbreaker. If we're going to stop her, that is."
"Are we sure we want to do this?" John suggested softly. They all looked at him. "We all walked away from this, one way or another. Even Dad. Do we really want to get back into it now?"
"Maybe," Alan cut in. "That's what Dad wants. Dad left us that stuff to find. He told Scott where he'd be. He needed us apart and now he needs us together. We all would have come looking sooner or later, wouldn't we, when he stopped checking in."
They considered this. "Maybe he's in trouble," Gordon mused.
"Maybe so are we," Virgil added.
They all looked at Alan. The demon was back. There was no denying it. Maybe Jeff Tracy was trying to tell them something. John shook his head in resignation. "We'll need a couple of guns to start with. And lots of salt. And an EMF meter to find her."
"Um…I don't think we'll need an EMF," Alan said weakly. He pointed towards the bridge. The Woman in White stared at them from her place, standing on the bridge edge, over the fetid water.
The Tracy's all got out of the car, and started to run. The fluttering white figure swan dived over the parapet and vanished.
"Okay," Gordon said, slowing down. "That was weird." They looked at each other.
Alan looked behind them, and was nearly blinded by the headlights. "Virgil? Who's driving your car?"
The looked back. The engine was definitely growling. Virgil wordlessly held up the keys in his hand.
They sprinted over the bridge, with nowhere to hide. Instinctively, they split up, making it harder to pick a target. They ran with their shadows ahead of them as the car raced down the planks, half a tonne of rolling death.
Gordon grabbed Alan on one side, and they both flung themselves over the parapet, much like the ghost had done, narrowly missing getting smeared across the boards by the machine, which scraped along their rail in a shower of sparks. The car swerved back toward the other two Tracy's, running on the other side.
John managed to clamber the rails and was bumped off as the huge engine slammed the rails and jolted him loose. He just managed to grab one of the bridge supports.
Virgil had tried to zigzag back toward the opposite rail, and was now a sitting duck in the centre.
The roar of the engine seemed to fill the world.
It was loud. It was, in fact, a Mark 56 Version 2 Harrier fighter jet that had just dropped from the sky and was hovering over the bridge. Lining up, it let loose a string of ammunition, which punched holes right through the car and the railing on the other side. Virgil dove to the side of the bridge and ducked as the crippled vehicle careened wildly, canted, then flipped and rolled, coming to rest in a ditch just off the end of the bridge.
In situations like this, the gratitude that you are indeed alive supersedes all else.
Unless you're a Tracy, in which case you get up and howl "My car! Scott, you bastard! You totalled my car!"
There as a lot of complicated things that happened to get Scott on the ground, Gordon and Alan out of the river, and Virgil's hands away from the rock he'd planned to use. Nevertheless, the jet was silenced and sat on the road like an extremely expensive road block, Gordon and Alan were fished out, and the Tracy's all gathered next to the wreck to keep warm, since it had exploded and was still smouldering.
"You stole a fighter jet?" John asked his older brother incredulously.
"Borrowed," Scott grinned. "Borrowed without permission. As long as I get it back to a secure base within the next twelve hours, the worst I'll get it a reprimand for taking it outside the set battle zone. I had to. When I heard Dad was missing, I knew something was up. Now can everyone fill me in, please?"
By the time they were finished, Scott was stone faced. "I don't know if I can add much more. About a week and a half ago, Dad called me, gave me the coordinates, and told me he was going to check something out. He told me he was close to something, but he wouldn't say what. He asked if you all were all right, and as far as I knew, you were," his eyes passed over Alan. "Dad cut me off before I could ask what he meant. I haven't heard since."
"Now what?" Gordon asked.
"Now we find him. We have to. No one else will know where to look," Scott replied decisively. "We always looked out for one another. Who else is going to do it?"
They all looked at one another. They all nodded.
"Alan…" Scott started.
"I'm not going back to Grandma's," Alan cut in flatly.
"This is not going to be a cakewalk Alan," Scott warned.
Gordon said later that he could see something snap inside of Alan right then.
"Not a cakewalk," Alan repeated. "Not a cakewalk? Do you think seeing my favourite teacher pinned to the ceiling and burned to death was a cakewalk Scott? Do you think hearing nothing but voice mail and dead lines a hundred times a day was a cakewalk? Do you think living out of bathrooms and scrounging trash for four weeks and across six states was a cakewalk? Or how about watching you all walk away from me in the first place? Do you think that was a cakewalk Scott? How about living with the fact that everything that happened to this family was my fault, a cakewalk? No wonder you all walked away! First John, then you Scott, then Virgil, then Dad, then Gordon! Do you think I didn't realise what you were trying to say? You always talked about how Mom's death was so hard, that you had it so hard! Since when was it easy for me! Maybe you'd be better off if the demon had got me! Maybe you'd all be better off if I were dead!"
It was a slap, not a punch, and it wasn't very hard, but it's echoes bounced around, chasing the echoes of Alan's bellowed tirade. "Don't you ever say that again!" Scott yelled back. "Ever!" the words rolled across the bridge. Ever ever ever…
The shock of the pain jolted something loose from the knot sitting in Alan's chest, and he started to cry. "I looked up and she was there Scott and she as looking at me like I could somehow explain it to her! And it was there too! There were these yellow eyes looking at me like I had a price…" Alan's voice dissolved in wracking sobs, most of which were suddenly muffled by Scott, who nearly curled up around him, to keep him warm, to keep him safe.
"It's alright Alan," he murmured hoarsely. "It's okay, it's okay, it'll all be okay…"
Alan felt a warm pressure at his back, and he knew Gordon was there too, holding on to him. They were all holding onto him. Whatever feeling of falling, of pressure, of diminishing Alan had felt spilled out, and washed away. The cold was fought away, and the warmth took it's place.
He didn't feel alone anymore.
By the time Scott returned the 'borrowed' fighter jet and discreetly misfiled his papers with the Air Force, the Tracy's had acquired a new car.
"A truck is good. A truck is practical," he'd said when Virgil proudly showed his new acquisition. But I don't know about the wheels." Mag wheels the size of a tractor's looked back at him.
"They have many excellent qualities," Virgil grinned. He added, slightly sourly. "For one thing, they're bulletproof."
"I think I got a lead on our Woman in White," John held up a thick sheaf of printouts. "One drowning suicide matches the right circumstances exactly."
"Perfect. Did you get the…" Scott raised his eyebrows.
Fourteen bags of salt hit the pavement. "Next time, you can do the shopping!" Gordon complained.
"Here, I got this, too," Alan held up a couple of mini bar bottles, filled with holy water. "I took it from the church, just in case."
Scott added a couple of shotguns and a handgun to the mix in the trunk, and looked at it critically. "Not much, but it's a start."
"Oh wait, don't forget this," John held out the Holy Saltbreaker. He dropped it into the trunk. They all looked at each other. Together again. Whither thou goest, I shall go.
Scott slammed the trunk. "We've got work to do."