This story is a one shot (although it has opened up literary possibilities which might lead to a second chapter, I'm not sure yet). The idea came from the controversy surrounding the eldest Tracys' order of birth. I couldn't help playing with the background to Scott and Virgil's friendship and John's aloofness. This is the result. I hope you enjoy it.

They still don't belong to me.

Summary: A fight at school demonstrates that Scott isn't the only one to understand why you have to protect your brothers.

Jeff Tracy looked at his middle son. The boy's arms were crossed over his chest and his expression was set into a scowl. He had pulled himself up to his full height, which was, admittedly, shorter than his brothers had been at age ten. The black eye and the scuffed knuckles completed the look of child in disgrace.

"So," Jeff said when the silence had stretched far enough. "Would you like to explain?"

"No, Sir."

Jeff leaned over his desk. "I think you ought to, Virgil Tracy."

The boy sighed and let his shoulders slump. The school Principal had told Jeff about the events outside the school, and by her account, the boy would be sore at the moment.

"I was fighting," he said quietly.

"It looks like you were losing."

"There were six of them."

"Why did you choose to fight six people?"

"Actually, there were more when I started fighting, but some of them ran away. I think Gordon's friend Archie went to get a teacher, and some of the other kids were just watching."

"Young man, I asked you why you were fighting. You are avoiding my question."

A look of such conflicted loyalties passed over the boy's face that Jeff had to hide his smile. It was obvious he was trying to protect his brother. The instinct to do so was strong, even if it was protection from their father.

"Virgil," he said severely.

"It was John."

"John was fighting?"

"No. John wouldn't fight. A group of guys in Scott's year were asking him to do his number tricks, and someone shouted at him about being put in the gifted classes. I was walking behind and I heard them saying it. I thought they might have been his friends at first, but then one of them pushed him and..." He paused to take a breath. "And they never do this stuff when Scott's around! I got really angry, because he's my brother too. I told them to stop, and I told John to go home, but he was getting upset and, well, you know how he is."

"Go on," Jeff prompted.

Virgil shrugged as if the rest was self-explanatory. "One of the bigger boys started playing the fool, and the other kids started laughing. So I... I punched him."


"It gets a bit muddled."

Seeing the bruises, Jeff could well imagine why.

"One of the boys said that Scott wasn't around to fight John's battles and did they think I could stand up for him on my own." The boy hung his head. "I lost control, father. I know I shouldn't have, but they were saying such horrible things, and Scott normally gets them all to leave him alone abut he wasn't there and, and..." Tears ran down his face as words failed him.

Jeff stood and moved to front of the desk. He carefully lifted Virgil under the shoulders and sat him on the desk beside him. He tried to be as gentle as he could, but the boy still gasped at the fresh bruises. Jeff made a mental note to check under the shirt for other injuries later.

He leaned back on the desk. "I understand," he said in a gentle voice. "But I am disappointed that you lost control in such a way, and that you would use your fists rather than your brain to get you out of trouble."

"Yes Sir."

"Now that you have had due time to consider your actions and their consequences, do you have any thoughts on how the incident could have been better managed."

"Scott would have..."

"I am not asking what Scott would have done, I am asking about you, Virgil."

The boy wrinkled his nose in thought. "I should have got John out of there, even if I had to drag him away. There was no way I could ever have taken on all of them.

Jeff couldn't help smiling. "The Principal says you made a good effort. She says that the sports master wants to sign you up for the boxing club."

"But it shouldn't have happened. I should have kept my cool and got us both out before anyone got hurt. I bet Scott would have..."

Again, Jeff interrupted. "Scott wasn't there, Virgil. He would have reacted differently, and it's because he's a different person, not because he is always right." He turned to face his son, and met the dark eyes squarely. "Make no mistake, I am proud of your instinct to protect your brother today. I don't know if he knows how much you risked on his behalf, and I am not just referring to the bruises. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for the ones you love, especially those who struggle to show it sometimes."

"Yes father."

"Right. Now go and find your grandmother and tell her that I think those bruises are punishment enough for fighting."

"Yes, Sir."

Jeff helped him down from the desk again, and ruffled the dark hair. He was obviously still sore, but managed out of the office with his head high.

Now that he was alone, Jeff had a chance to consider the discussion with the boys' Principal earlier in the day. Virgil's account had matched her's, and her opinion of the gang who had started the incident was scathing. She was clear that there would be no reprisals against the two Tracy boys involved, and that the older children could expect severe punishments when their parents were informed.

She was still concerned though, but it wasn't for Virgil. "That lad will be a hero for standing up to Thomson and his posse," she had said. She couldn't keep the respect out of her tone as she continued, "Mr Tracy, all of those boys had at least a foot on him in height, but he gave the biggest a broken nose so he'll remember not to pick on a Tracy, whether Scott is around or not. I might have wondered how to keep Virgil grounded after an episode like this, but he's a sensible boy." She had then paused, and said gravely, "I do worry about John, though."

As did Jeff. He frowned to himself and tried to decide what to do with his second son.

This wasn't the first time that John had been at the victim of playground bullies. Scott seemed to contain the worst of the transgressions by diverting the other children away from their target. He was also effortlessly popular, so John was afforded protection by association.

But as Virgil had proved today, that protection wasn't always going to be available. Perhaps it was time to think again about the 'supported environment' that the education officer kept trying to suggest.

Jeff stuffed his hands into his pockets and went looking for John. He shouldn't be too hard to find. Virgil had said he was upset, so that meant the planetarium.

It was too grand a title for a darkened room with a light box, but the name had stuck when seven year old John had declared it such. It had been meant to be Virgil's bedroom, but he had told Jeff that he preferred bunkbeds with Scott anyway. The elder boy had agreed, and the planetarium remained. In troubled times, it was John's sanctuary.

Jeff cracked the door a little and poked his head in. At least John didn't freak out the way he might have done when he was younger. He seemed calmer than might have been expected, but Jeff still proceeded with caution. Without speaking, he sat beside John under the spinning stars. The only sound was the projector's fan gently whirring.

Eventually Jeff said, "Virgil is alright."

"I know. He said he was fine while we waited for you."

Jeff could imagine what kind of 'I'm fine' Virgil had really meant, but it was a social nuance that John was never going to understand without explanation.

"So what happened?"

"The same stuff as usual."

"Why was there a fight?"

John watched the stars. "Scott wasn't there and Virgil got really..." he screwed up his face into a mimic of a furious expression. "He got really angry. I didn't do what he told me."

"Virgil wasn't angry at you."

"He said that. I wanted to help, but..." he shrugged.

"You thought he was angry at you."

"He was so cross, and he shouted and then everyone started hitting, and I said that you shouldn't hit. No-one was listening."

Jeff resisted the urge to put a comforting hand on his son's shoulder. He had learned long ago that the physical contact made the boy shrink into himself.

It was hard not to compare the two conversations with his sons. Virgil had shown maturity beyond his years, and his understanding of the need to protect John was like his eldest brother's. John, who tested as genius on every academic scale, was like a toddler baffled by the intricacies of older children.


"Yes, John."

"I'm sorry I got Virgil into a fight. I didn't mean to."

"I know. And Virgil knows too."

They sat in silence for a moment, before John said angrily, "Why can't I get this? Even Alan understands it. He's got friends that make him laugh, and he doesn't cause fights. I do try, but it doesn't make sense."

There was anguish in his tone, and again Jeff resisted the urge to pull the boy into a tight embrace the way he would have done with any of the other boys.

"We could talk about the other school again."

"No. I want to know how to do this. I'll not learn it at that kind of school."

"They have a gifted program."

"With computers and astronomy and physics on the curriculum. The education woman showed me the portfolio. I don't need school to teach me that stuff. I know more than the teachers anyway. I've thought about it, and what I need to learn is how to stop this stuff from happening again."

Two years ago, Jeff would have doubted that John could ever have had such insight into his own difficulties. "How will you do that?"

"Scott says it's like looking at the stars. When you guys look at the sky you see all these constellations. I see lots of individual stars. Scott says I miss the patterns because I see things in too much detail. But the patterns are how you lot know what people are thinking and what they're going to do. Today I didn't have time to get to the patterns." He smiled slightly. "Of course, Scott could be making this up, but it sort of helps."

"It sounds like something worthy of practice."

"They haven't invented something that I can't learn." The self-assured tone was back in John's voice. "It's just like quantum theory, only more tricky. I'll ask Virgil for help."

"You do that."

More reassured than Jeff would have thought possible before coming into this room, he stood. He didn't say anything as he left. He knew John would be using the familiar motions of the heavens to ground himself so he could start dealing with earthly problems again.

There was one other son that Jeff needed to find, but the object of his search found him. In fact it was more like a collision with an express train.

"What happened Dad? Is John alright? They said that Virgil tried to fight twenty boys. Is he hurt?"

Jeff held out a placating hand to his son. He was breathing hard, which wasn't surprising given the likelihood that he'd run the mile from home to school.

"Virgil is fine. He's bruised, but Grandma is seeing to him. And John is... John is John."

Some of the tension left Scott's shoulders. "I should have been there. John can't..."

"Scott," Jeff said. "John is going to have to learn to look after himself. And from what I heard he's finally making some sense of the complicated world of school. When Virgil learns to pick his fights with more care, he'll be well able to protect his big brother."

"He shouldn't have to. John is Virgil's big brother. John's meant to look after him."

"I doubt that Virgil sees it that way. The boy idolises you, and he'll follow your example. You look after John, so it's natural that Virgil will do the same. There will come a time when it won't matter who is the eldest. It doesn't matter to John and Virgil now." Jeff paused to consider. "In the future, people will probably think that Virgil is closer to your age than John anyway."

"They can't think that now. John's a genius, Dad."

"And the most clueless individual when it comes to human beings. I'm thinking about sending him into space half the year just to keep him out of trouble."

"I think he'd like that."

Scott trotted off to look for his brothers, almost smiling. Jeff followed cautiously.

The boys were all in the living space as usual. Gordon and Alan were arguing over a toy castle adorned with soldiers and a couple of Barbies that looked like they had been rescued from next door's garbage.

Scott glanced at them, then concentrated his gaze on the sofa. Virgil was curled onto one end in what must be the only comfortable position he could find. He was dazedly watching some old movie on television. John sat at the other end with a dog-eared encyclopedia of facts on his knee. As Scott and Jeff watched, the blond boy reached out a tentative hand and brushed it lightly against Virgil's sock. Virgil seemed to be too exhausted to notice, but both brother and father standing at the doorway did.

Then Scott couldn't contain himself any longer.

"Gordon, Alan, stop arguing."

They did with sheepish looks.

"And what on earth were you thinking?" Scott demanded of Virgil.

The younger boy shrugged, but tried to pull himself up straighter. "I don't think I was really thinking anything. It was more a sort of instinct thing..."

Scott didn't wait for any more of a reply. He rounded on John. "And you! I've told you that Thomson is a bad person. If Virgil tells you to get out of a bad situation, you do it."

"Okay, Scott."

"Right. What are you watching?" Scott asked as he collapsed into the easy chair.

John gave him a very thorough synopsis of the plot so far; something about a robot car and a talking fish. Scott nodded in all the right places. Virgil finally let his eyes close and dozed as John explained the minutiae.

Jeff joined his mother in the kitchen part of the room. She handed him a coffee. "The boys are alright," she said.

Looking at the scene in front of him, Jeff smiled and couldn't help but agree.