Hey, lovelies!

This marks the end of 'When The Music Fades', so I hope you enjoy the chapter. Thanks for all the great reviews, and for your patience, I've really appreciated the encouraging feedback. For all those who asked, my gran has had her ups and downs this week, but I think she's doing okay at the moment. And my exams have all been good too, so things are looking up. I only have Biology left now, and I find that easy enough.

Again, big hugs go to 'criminally charmed', 'sammygirl1963' and all my other buddies; your support has been wonderful, and I couldn't have gotten through my exams and everything else without you. And a special thanks to 'Lissysue85' and 'sam1' for the awesome Thunderbirds story they posted - it really helped to cheer me up! And for everybody who hasn't read it, I recommend that you do. It's 'awesomeness' personified - like Thomas Palmar. Tee hee.

So this is for you guys. I hope you enjoy the final chapter.....

Alan gritted his teeth, tugging at the zipper of his duffel bag with all his might. He could feel the skin of his thumb and index finger begin to sting and burn in protest, but he refused to give in. He wasn't about to let a zipper get the better of him.

With a final yank, the victorious metallic 'whrrrp' resounded in the otherwise quiet bedroom, and Alan slumped back onto the floor, panting for breath. Wiping a hand across his sweaty brow, he leaned his head back against the edge of his mattress, closing his eyes and sighing deeply. He had finally finished packing. All he had to do now was load the bags into Tracy One, and he would be off for another term at Wharton's.

On one level, Alan was actually looking forward to going back to school. Having proven his true academic skills at the end of the previous semester, his teachers had persuaded him to take several advanced courses on top of the normal curriculum work. They had been both surprised and impressed at his final grades.

Before Spring Break, Alan had never really bothered to push himself into doing anything that involved school. The work had either seemed too boring or too easy, and he had never studied for tests or tried particularly hard to get his homework finished on time. He had once seen himself as being the 'rebel' of the family; the only Tracy who hadn't tried to slot into the expected category of 'spectacular'. Alan had found a sense of pride in the fact that he'd been brave enough to be different, brave enough to stand out against the rest of the Tracy clan – but looking back on how he'd once behaved, Alan could only see how immature and utterly selfish his actions had been. He'd been a foolish kid who, having been 'unfairly' denied the chance to follow his far-flung dreams of piloting rockets at the age of twelve, had decided to sulk for the next two and half years.

However, once he had actually tried to do well at school – mainly in an attempt to prove to his father that there was more to him than the ability to fly Thunderbird machines – he had discovered that education wasn't all that bad. In fact, he'd found an interest in several of his subjects; namely physics, math and English – all three being subjects that he had once loathed. But the results of his finals had been both unexpected and satisfactory. True, he had been forced to work his socks off and complete dozens of extra assignments to pull his grades up to the top, but it had been well worth the effort. He'd certainly shocked his family.

So, for academic reasons, Alan was quietly anticipating the challenges that the upcoming school term would bring. Also, he had signed up to join Wharton's motocross team. He was definitely looking forward to trying his hand at that. He had a feeling he was going to be rather good, considering he could always handle hover-sleds without any problems. However, there was a part of him that wished he could stay at home instead of going back to school; a part of him that desperately wanted to stay with his family, instead of being thousands of miles away from all of them.

It had been less than three weeks since the disastrous rescue mission, and things had pretty much returned to normal on Tracy island. John had gone up to Thunderbird 5 to relieve Brains, and both he and Scott had been deemed medically fit to resume their duty as members of International Rescue. Virgil, on the other hand, was still recovering from his own injuries. His arm had healed superbly, and he'd at last been allowed the freedom to play the piano as often as he wished. But his ribs still pained him on occasion, and Thomas had declared that he would have to remain out of action for at least another fortnight.

Beep - Beep - Beep....

Alan jumped, startled, as a quiet alarm sounded, shattering the peaceful silence of the bedroom. Sitting up straighter, Alan's head snapped round towards his desk, where a light on the underside of his computer screen was flashing yellow.

Pushing himself swiftly to his feet, the blond-haired teenager darted towards his desk, reaching out to flick on the monitor as he sat down in the chair. As an image popped up onto the screen, Alan grinned.

"Hey, John!" he greeted cheerfully.

The astronaut smiled, pulling off his gloves and dropping them down onto the console in front of him.

"Hey, Sprout. How goes the packing?"

Alan glanced over his shoulder and gave the pile of luggage a satisfied smirk. "Done," he announced.

"Did you remember to pack your teddy-bear, kiddo?" John asked innocently, grinning as he leaned back in his chair lazily, his blue eyes dancing in amusement.

Alan rolled his eyes as he turned to face the screen once more, pretending to look affronted. "Don't tempt me into doing something nasty to you," he warned playfully.

"Oh yeah?" John smiled. "Like what?"

Alan gave a nonchalant shrug, rotating from left to right on his wheeley chair as he gazed up at the ceiling absently.

"Oh, I dunno," he said softly. "Maybe I'll 'accidentally' let slip our little secret about who ate Scott's peanut butter cup?"

John frowned. "That was seven years ago!" he protested.

Alan smirked, nodding his head. "But it was his last peanut butter cup, John. Judging from the interrogation he subjected us all to afterwards, you'd have thought it was the crown jewels or something."

John chuckled, shaking his head. "He sure did kick up a fuss about it, huh?"

Alan grinned and nodded again. "That's Scott for you. So melodramatic."

A short-but-comfortable silence fell between them, and Alan let out a long sigh, pushing at a few sheets of scrap paper on his desk and debating over whether or not he should bother to go through them before he left for school. Before he could make up his mind, however, John spoke again.

"So, when are you heading off?" he inquired, leaning one elbow on the edge of the console and propping his head up against his hand.

Alan glanced down at his watch. "Not for another couple of hours," he replied. "Dad wants to get us there before dinner, but if he's too early he'll end up being dragged into another of their 'afternoon tours' of the school. And since you guys all went there before I did, I think he's had enough tours to last a lifetime."

John smiled, letting out a small sigh. "True," he agreed. "But you'd better warn him not to stick around too long after dinner. There's a nasty-looking gale heading towards New England, and unless he wants to be stuck at the airport for twenty-four hours he'll need to get his skates on and leave the school pretty pronto. Once he's back over the Pacific, he should be fine."

Alan nodded, storing the information away in his brain for later. John smiled at him again, leaning forward in his chair and gazing at Alan steadily. Alan raised an eyebrow.

"What?" he asked, a smile tugging at his lips.

John shook his head. "Nothing," he replied softly. "I'm just gonna miss you, that's all."

Alan blushed slightly, dropping his gaze and scuffing the toe of his sneaker along the floorboards. "It's not like I haven't been away before," he mumbled uncomfortably.

"And it's not like I haven't missed you before," John replied evenly, smirking at his brother's embarrassment. "But I'm gonna miss you as a part of the team, too. You and Gords certainly make the journey home more interesting. Now I'll just have to listen to Scott complaining about how slow Thunderbird 2 is, or how unfair it is that he's not allowed to push One to her full capacity unless it's an emergency. Seriously, he does my head in sometimes."

Alan grinned, all embarrassment forgotten as he spun a pencil between his fingers casually. "At least Virge is there, huh? He always makes Scott shut up after a while."

"True," John said again. "How's Virge doing, anyway? I haven't spoken to him for a couple of days now. How's he enjoying his freedom?"

Alan glanced towards the door, holding his breath for a moment as he listened. As expected, he could hear the faint melodious tunes drifting up from the living room on the other side of the villa. Turning back towards the screen, he smirked.

"He's still on the piano," he remarked. "You should've seen him, John, it was hilarious. He practically squealed when Tom told him he could take his arm out of the support sling and 'go play'. He had such a goofy grin on his face."

John raised an eyebrow. "Our Virgil?"

Alan grinned. "Yup."

"Squealed?" John stated incredulously. Alan let out an amused snort, setting the pencil back in the pen-tidy on his desk.

"You can watch it for yourself, if you like," he informed the older Tracy. "Gordon taped it."

Both of John's eyebrows shot up to immeasurable heights. "Seriously?"

Alan laughed. "Yeah. He and Andy wanted to savour his reaction. And trust me, it was well worth it. Gordo even found a way to play back in slow-motion. I must've watched it like fifty times, but it still cracks me up."

John grinned, his eyes dancing merrily. "I've gotta get Gords to send me the vid."

Another short silence fell between them, and John glanced down at his watch. "Gotta go, Sprout," he stated. "Need to go check on my baby. She's been through a rough time, you know."

Alan grinned. "Sure thing, space-face," he cooed. "Go knock yourself out."

John glanced up and gazed at Alan in mild amusement. "Didn't I just do that a few weeks ago? And nobody appreciated my efforts."

Alan rolled his eyes. "Hilarious, Johnny. You're a multi-talented guy, you know? Geeky and funny."

"Hey!" John protested. "Just 'cause I'm too far away to get you doesn't mean I can't bribe Scott into doing it for me."

Alan smirked. "Love ya really, Johnny. Besides, my best friend's a geek. Geeks are the best kinda freaks around."

"Gee thanks, Sprout, now I feel so much better about myself," John replied sarcastically, but the grin on his face belied his grumpy tone of voice. Letting out a small sigh, he fixed Alan with another stare. "Take care of yourself you hear?"

Alan smiled. "Yes, Johnny."

"And try to stay outta trouble for at least a little while, 'kay?" the older Tracy continued.

Alan sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, Johnny."

"And remember that you can call anytime you like, alright?" John added. "I'm only a few thousand miles away."

Alan grinned and nodded. "Will do."

"Good," John sighed, satisfied. "Now shoo; I have more important matters to deal with. I have a date with a circuitry panel that I can't miss. You're an awesome brother, Al, and usually you'd take preference, but my baby holds grudges."

Alan laughed, shaking his head. "I'll call you Friday, okay?" he stated.

John nodded. "It's a date."

Alan shook his head, pretending to look shocked. "You're cheating on her?" he demanded. "That's despicable, John."

And with that, Alan flicked the switch on the underside of his computer and terminated the call. Leaning back in his chair, he smiled to himself and gazed up at the ceiling, the silence of his bedroom echoing around him. The occasional hum of Virgil's music floated around him, and Alan felt a sudden urge to go and speak with his older brother. There was something he had to get off his chest, something that had been bugging him for over two weeks. And he needed to let it out before it drove him bonkers. His mind made up, Alan pushed himself to his feet and strode across the room, hopping over the pile of luggage as he headed towards the door.

He and Virgil needed to talk.

Virgil smiled as his fingers flew across the rectangular keys, filling the air with their gentle music. Through the open bay doors that lead onto the balcony, a warm breeze wafted towards him, blowing gently against his skin. He closed his eyes, sighing happily. This was the life.

Time didn't seem to exist as he sat upon the padded seat, his hands gliding fluidly out in front of him, barely seeming to touch the piano at all. Man, he loved music. It gave him a chance to feel, a chance to reflect, a chance to think. And, unbeknown to his brothers, he was actually at his most alert when he sat before his beloved baby grand. Every movement caught his eye, every sound – even the gentle whisper of the wind – seemed to intensify. He was aware of everything around him, even though the music had almost taken him to a different level of consciousness.

And that was why he knew that one of his brothers was standing in the doorway on the other side of the room. He couldn't see the figure, as he was facing the other way, but judging by the faint noises he could hear – the distinct rubbery sound of sneakered feet shuffling nervously against the floorboards - it was his youngest sibling. Grinning to himself, he continued to play smoothly, pretending he had hadn't noticed the teenager's arrival, allowing the music to fill the room. After a few moments, and without looking up from his piano, he decided to put his baby brother at ease.

"I don't bite, you know," Virgil stated softly, loud enough to be heard over the music.

There was a sharper rubbery 'squeak' as Alan clearly jumped out of his skin, and Virgil's grin widened. Chuckling softly, he glanced over his shoulder. Alan glared at him, that familiar hurt pout forming around his mouth.

"What's up, Sprout?" he inquired cheerfully.

Alan sighed, pushing himself away from the door-frame and coming to stand beside a few feet away from the piano bench, rubbing at the back of his neck absently. Virgil, who had returned his gaze to the keys in front of him, shuffled over to the left, dropping the sweet melody down by half an octave and leaving a sizable space for Alan on the right-hand side of the padded seat.

"You wanna talk about it?" he asked knowingly. He could already sense that Alan had something on his mind. And although the youngest Tracy wasn't always the most open about his emotions, he found that, given time and patience, Alan would often spill out the whole story. The teenager had never been able to keep anything from Virgil for any extended period of time.

Alan hesitated for only a fraction of a second, before moving forwards and sitting down upon the bench beside his older brother. He immediately felt more at ease, and for a few minutes was simply content to listen to the gentle music that emanated from deep within the belly of the black piano.

"You head off at two-thirty, right?" Virgil said suddenly, his voice as soft and fluid as the music.

Alan nodded his head, before he realised that perhaps Virgil hadn't been paying enough attention to notice his movement, and instead cleared his throat and smiled.

"Yeah, Dad wants to get me and Fermat there in time for dinner," he explained. Virgil turned to look at him, his honey-burnt eyes bright and warm.

"You ready to go back?" he inquired, glancing back down at his hands momentarily as he transacted a particularly complicated cross-over of notes. Alan could've sworn that he saw his brother using at least fifteen fingers at the same time.

Sighing, the teenager ran his index finger along the smooth, shiny underside of the piano, tracing the thin golden pattern that laced and looped fluidly, almost encompassing the music itself.

"Not really," he admitted softly.

Virgil's fingers faltered, although only for a moment, and then he was playing again, although this time much softer and slower than before.

"Really?" he asked. "I thought you were looking forward to the new semester?"

"I am," Alan murmured, staring unseeingly at his lap as he fumbled for the right words. "It's just – I can't -"

Virgil's fingers hardly seemed to move at all, the soft chords echoing for several seconds at a time as he focused on his fingers, giving Alan the chance he needed to find a way of expressing himself.

The youngest Tracy let out a frustrated puff of air, running his fingers through his blond hair before allowing his hand to drop back down into his lap. Inhaling deeply, he looked up at Virgil.

"Virge, what if something like this happens to you again?" he asked quietly.

Virgil's hands slowly slid from the white keys, and he turned to look at Alan, concern and curiosity shining in his eyes. "Something like what?"

Alan gnawed at his bottom lip, playing with the hem of his shorts. Virgil put a hand on his shoulder and gave him an ever-so-gentle shake, causing him to look up.

"Hey," he said softly. "What's the matter, kiddo? C'mon, you can tell me."

Alan's barriers melted under the steady gaze of those deep and penetrating eyes. Staring intently back at his older brother, he turned sideways a little more so that he faced him.

"Virge, what if something goes wrong on another away mission, and I'm stuck at school?" he asked, his voice gaining strength as finally admitted to the fear that had been stabbing at his mind ever since the eventful incident a few weeks ago. "You've no idea how helpless I feel when you guys go out on a rescue. And I've always known that something could happen, but – well-"

"But it's never actually happened before?" Virgil finished for him, his voice soft and understanding. He put an arm about Alan's shoulders, squeezing him gently. "Al, think about how many missions we've completed. Considering that this is the first time that one of us has sustained a life-threatening injury, I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. This isn't gonna happen every time, Sprout. It'll be okay, you'll see. You'll go back to school and, after a while, you won't even think about us anymore. Trust me, kiddo, once you've settled back down at Wharton's, you'll realise that you've been worrying over nothing."

Alan smiled up at him, feeling a good deal more at ease as he realised the truth behind his brother's words. His blue eyes sparkled mischievously as he shook his head.

"D'you seriously think I'm gonna be able forget you guys?" he asked lightly. "One, I'm gonna be back for a weekend in October, so I won't be gone for all that long; two, I'm still gonna think about you whenever the Thunderbirds is mentioned on the TV, or by somebody at school; and three, you and the others are gonna be calling me almost every evening to make sure that I haven't died yet. So all in all, I very much doubt that I'll be allowed to forget."

Laughing, Virgil nodded his head slightly. "You have a point there."

Alan smiled. "That's 'cause I'm totally awesome."

Virgil grinned, ruffling Alan's hair and gently pushing him away. "C'mon," he said, standing to his feet. "Let's go see how Tom's getting along with your health reports."

Alan stood up, raising an eyebrow as he followed his brother out of the room. "You made Tom write the reports?" he asked incredulously. "Virge, you're a cruel man."

Virgil just grinned smugly. "C'mon, I had to get even somehow. He and Andy have barely given me room to breathe over the past couple of weeks. Luckily, Scott and Andy went to go check on Tracy One straight after lunch, so I was allowed a break from the doc's watchful eye. Seriously, I think Scott's rubbing off on that guy. He's way too overprotective."

Alan laughed, shaking his head. "Look in the mirror, bro," he murmured. "Look in the mirror."

Jeff sighed, setting down a file of reports beside his computer and glancing down at his watch. Frowning, he leaned back in his chair. He hadn't realised how much time had passed. He only had twenty minutes left before he'd need to set off with Alan and Fermat.

He couldn't believe how swiftly the summer had flown by. What with Alan's illness and Virgil's injuries, it had hardly been a relaxing experience for any of them. But Alan seemed happy enough about going back to school, so everything would be fine. And as long as his energetic teenage son managed to avoid disaster - which, Jeff mused, was highly unlikely - he was sure that it wouldn't be long before Alan was heading home again for Christmas.

Leaning forward on the arm of his chair, Jeff smiled at the photographs that stood shining in their frames on the right-hand side of the desk. His favourite, the one of his wife and sons, stood in the middle; the heart and soul of his empire. Reaching out, he lovingly traced a finger over his late wife's face, before doing the same to the tiny grinning features of four-year-old Alan.

He's grown so much, Luce. I wish you could be here to help me raise him. To help me raise all of them. But I know you're watching over them. You're taking care of our boys. Our big, grown-up boys. Oh Lucy, I miss you so much. It's been nearly eleven years now since I lost you. And although the pain is no where near as intense as it once was, it's still there, festering away. But you always soothe it when it comes. You always find a way.

As though in response to his somber thoughts, there came a knock at the door. Jeff straightened up in his chair, reaching forward to straighten the pen-holder that always seemed to be falling over of its own accord.

"Come in!" he called cheerfully, glancing up as the door opened and his blond-haired son stepped into the room. Smiling warmly, Jeff pushed himself away from the desk, jumping to his feet and coming to stand beside his son.

"You all set?" he inquired, smiling warmly.

Alan nodded with an eagerness that Jeff had never seen before when it came to returning to school. He looked at his son for a long moment, drinking in the familiar features; the aqua-blue eyes that shone and laughed and danced as his mother's had always done; the spark of cunning and the glint of cheek that burned deep within the expressive orbs, reminding Jeff of the first time he met the love of his life. Yes, Alan was so much like is mother. Reaching out suddenly, Jeff pulled his youngest son into his chest, wrapping his arms about the shorter frame and sighing deeply.

"Things aren't gonna be the same around here once you're gone," he murmured, resting his chin atop his son's head.

Alan chuckled softly against his chest, his body relaxing into his father's. "Yeah, I know," he agreed tonelessly. "With Virgil getting better and John up in space, who are you gonna be able to fuss over when I'm gone?"

Jeff smiled, ruffling his son's hair playfully. "Exactly," he agreed. "Your old man's gonna miss you, sport."

Alan grinned, pulling away slightly and waggling his eyebrows. "Old man?" he repeated, his eyes sparkling cheekily.

At his father's frown, Alan grinned again and spun around on the spot. "Bye!"

Jeff smirked, aiming a playful swat at his retreating son's backside. Shaking his head he leaned against his desk and looked down at his hands. Years of working on cars, planes and circuitry panels had done surprisingly little to harden the skin. They still looked as young and fresh as ever.

"Old man?" he asked himself. "Yeah right."

Gordon hopped down from the luggage hatch in Tracy One, brushing his hands off on his shorts and stepping over to where Jeff, Alan and Fermat were saying their goodbyes. Usually, Brains would be going with them too, but a fault with one of the air units in Thunderbird 4's recycling systems had meant that he was needed at home. The problem had to be fixed as quickly as possible, just in case a call came in.

Alan, having said good by to Virgil and the Belegant family, was being hugged by Scott, who was trying and failing to make it look like a casual action. After a few moments, the eldest Tracy son stepped back and smiled, cuffing Alan around the head gently.

"Take care, Sprout," he said affectionately. "And call me once you've settled, okay?"

"Sure thing, commander," Alan replied, grinning cheekily. Then he turned to Andy, who gave him a warm one-armed hug, smiling kindly.

"Next time you decide to catch a life-threatening virus, please do yourself a favour and call me," he instructed. "I'm the best doctor around."

"Hey!" Thomas complained, poking Andy in the side as he came over to ruffle Alan's hair. "I think you'll find that I'm the winner of that particular competition."

Andy turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow. "Oh yeah?" he challenged. "Prove it."

Thomas smirked. "Listen carefully, junior," he stated. "There are three reasons why I'm the better doctor. One, I have more experience; two, I'm not a geek like you; and three, I'm just practically perfect in every way."

"Like a male version of Mary Poppins!" Jenny supplied cheerfully, pulling Alan towards her and giving him a motherly embrace. Tin-Tin giggled at the comment, and she and Jenny shared a triumphant look. Thomas pouted.

"I don't believe this," he muttered. "Everybody's ganging up on me! What did I do to deserve this?!"

"You're male," Tin-Tin elaborated.

Before Thomas could reply to the comment, Gordon stepped up and grabbed onto his brother's arm, yanking him away from the group.

"Guys, if you don't leave soon you might as well not leave at all," he stated, pointing at his watch. Jeff smiled at him.

"Gordon's right, we need to go," he agreed. "Fermat, Alan? You boys ready?"

Fermat hugged his father one last time, before jogging over to Alan's side and nodding his head. "Yup!"

Jeff grinned. "Alrighty, then. Let's go!"

As the Tracy patriarch climbed up the steps into the jet, Gordon gave Fermat a one-armed hug. "Take care, Einstein," he said fondly. "And make sure you keep Blondie here outta trouble."

Fermat nodded, giving Gordon a high-five, before turning around and following Jeff into Tracy One. Gordon sighed, turning at last to look at Alan. He smiled slightly, fully noticing for the first time how much taller Alan seemed. The kid had grown at least an inch over the course of the summer. This wasn't a good thing as far as Gordon was concerned. He was taller than Virgil, true, but Virgil was naturally a midget. He didn't want to have Alan towering above him. But at the rate the teenager was growing, Gordon was certain that he would be at least John's height by the end of the year. The two Tracy's were the same build, and anatomically identical in so many ways, that it was only natural Alan would soon fill out roughly the same body shape as his older sibling.

"Well, g'bye, squirt," he smiled, pulling Alan into a headlock and giving him a gentle noogie. "Stay outta trouble, you hear? If you go pulling any awesome pranks without me and get into trouble for it, I will personally fly over to Wharton's and kick your ass. We clear?"

Alan grinned, saluting stiffly. "Yes, sir!"

Gordon smirked, turning Alan around and pushing him in the direction of the place. "See ya soon, Alison."

Alan glanced over his shoulder and stuck his tongue out at his copper-haired sibling, before jumping up the steps and into the hatch. Minutes later, the family and selected friends watched as the jet began to make its way out of the hanger and down the runway, picking up speed as it went. Standing at the hanger opening, Gordon shielded his eyes from the harsh glare of the afternoon sun, following the shining white aircraft as it took off into the endless blue skies, growing smaller and smaller as it moved away from the island.

A hand came to rest on Gordon's shoulder, and he did not need to turn around to see who it was. The fact that the figure was so darn tall told him that it was Scott.

"Our little Thunderbird's growing up fast, huh?" Scott stated softly, watching the object in the distance as it grew fainter.

Gordon nodded his head in agreement, his gaze still fixed on the blue sky that stretched out before them.

"Yup, he sure is. We're monumentally screwed."

Leaning against the rail of the living-room balcony, Virgil stared out into the moonlit expanse of jungle that stretched out before him. The sound of nocturnal creatures and chattering insects filled the otherwise silent atmosphere with a never-ending chorus of gentle noises. Virgil smiled. Nature made the sweetest music.

He inhaled deeply, drinking in the rich, damp aromas of the tropical vegetation. The gentle wind blew against him, making the humid night deliciously cool and refreshing. Closing his eyes, he let out along sigh, running his fingers over the right-hand side of his ribcage. The bruises had all but faded now, and ever the puncture wounds were nothing more than red scabs on his skin. Plus, given another week or so, his cracked ribs would heal the rest of the way, and he would finally be reinstated as an active member of the team.

Man, I can't wait for that. It's not like the guys have actually been on any rescues since Callingiri, but I'd hate it if I was stuck at home when a call went out. Andy and Tom are perfectly capable of handling things, but - well - I guess this is how Alan feels, huh? I just want to be there in case something were to happen. I hate feeling useless.

Thinking of Alan brought another smile to his face. It had been hard to say goodbye to the kid earlier that day. Over the past few weeks, Alan's antics had been one of the only things keeping Virgil from going stir crazy. Well - a combination of Alan and Gordon, to be precise. Whereas the rest of the inhabitants of the island, especially Scott and Andy, had been constantly checking up on him and making sure he was alright, Alan and Gordon had done their utmost best to keep him entertained. And they had certainly been successful. Not to mention the fact that Jenny, who had soon caught onto the teenagers' schemes, had actually come up with a number of the more imaginative ideas herself. Especially when the prank had involved doing something to Thomas.

Virgil sighed again, leaning forward and resting his arms on the rail, staring up at the paper-pale moon. The sky was clear tonight. Not a single cloud blotted out the stars, which sparkled brightly in the thick pool of inky blackness above him. If John were home, he wouldn't have been getting much sleep on this particular night. He would've been staying up until the early hours of the morning, observing his beloved stars through the telescope that Jeff had bought him for his tenth birthday, all those years ago.

"There you are. I've been looking for you all over the place."

Virgil did not even jump at the voice. He had been expecting his brother to speak at some point. After all, Scott had been standing behind him for the last thirty seconds. He kept his gaze directed out in front of him, although he wasn't really looking at anything in particular. He sensed Scott move over to stand beside him, and saw his eldest brother lean forward against the railings out of the corner of his eye, adopting the same position as Virgil.

"It's late, Virge," he stated softly, standing close enough to his brother so that their elbows brushed against each other. "You okay?"

Virgil nodded, dropping his head to gaze at his arms in the moonlight. "I was just thinking," he replied quietly.

Scott grinned in the darkness. "Don't strain yourself," he deadpanned.

Virgil elbowed Scott in the arm playfully, returning the grin as he let out a long sigh. Scott's eyes sparkled in the dim light, and a comfortable silence fell between them. For a long while, both were content to merely gaze out into the night sky, admiring the star constellations which, after having lived with John for so many years, were all too familiar. Both Tracy's had spent many hours with the astronaut, indulging him in his passion and simply enjoying his cheerful company. For Virgil, John had always been the older brother in whom he could confide. There was something that John possessed that Scott did not, something that gave him the ability to be a counselor for the rest of his family. Virgil would never understand how his older brother's complex and unique mind functioned.

"You wanna talk about it?" Scott asked suddenly, his tone casual.

Virgil smiled. That was Scott for you, always hitting the nail right on the head. Whereas John somehow managed to get you to confess, seemingly without even talking about the subject itself, Scott preferred the more direct route. And to some extent, so did Virgil. It meant that he wouldn't accidentally let anything slip, as he often found himself doing when he was talking to John.

"It's nothing," he assured his older brother. "I was just thinking about Alan."

Scott looked sideways at him and smiled. "Missing the Sprout already?" he inquired. Then he sighed and dropped his head. "Yeah, me too."

Virgil let out a soft chuckle, closing his eyes again as the gentle wind blew against his face. "I was just thinking about something he said to me earlier," he stated.

"What?" Scott pressed, his curiosity peaking as the subject matter began to involve his youngest sibling.

"He was worried about being stuck at school when something like this happened to one of us again," Virgil said softly, wondering if perhaps it were wise to relay his baby brother's fears to his eldest sibling. After all, Scott had a bad habit of worrying excessively over Alan's welfare.

"Something like what?" Scott inquired, then paused. "Oh. Right."

"Don't worry, Scooter, he'll be fine," Virgil smiled, nudging his brother with his elbow again. "He felt that way after Spring break, remember? We all did, to a certain extent. But he was fine after a few days. He just needs a chance to settle back down into schoolwork."

Scott chewed his bottom lip, frowning slightly. Why hadn't he thought of this before? Of course Alan was going to have worries about going back to school after everything that had happened to both him and Virgil over the summer. He should have spoken to him before he left!

"Maybe I should call him," he stated thoughtfully, running a hand through his chocolate-brown hair.

Virgil rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, great idea, Mr. Subtlety," he stated sarcastically. As Scott sent him a questioning look, he smiled softly. "Just give the kid some space, Scott. He'll be fine. And besides, he'll personally fly back here and kill me if he ever finds out that I told you. He hates it when you smother him; which, by the way, you have a bad habit of doing almost constantly."

"I do not!" Scott protested, then, upon seeing Virgil's amused glance, amended his statement. "Much."

Virgil grinned, shaking his head. "Look, if you're that worried why don't you ask John to talk to him about it? He'll be able to tell whether or not the kid's alright. And besides, he won't be half as blunt as you."

"I'm not blunt!" Scott protested again, before looking back out into the night sky. "At least not all the time."

Virgil chuckled, and another short silence fell between them. Then Scott straightened up, reaching out to put a hand between Virgil's shoulder blades.

"C'mon, Virge, we should both be in bed. It's nearly three. Dad's gonna flip if we stay up much longer."

"Ooh, we can't have that," Virgil murmured, smiling as he pushed himself away from the railing and turned to face Scott.

Scott ruffled his hair, grinning as Virgil batted his hand away in mild annoyance. Then turning around, the eldest Tracy son looked up towards one of the brighter dots in the sky, lifting up an arm to wave half-heatedly at the focal point.

"G'night, Johnny!" he called.

Virgil laughed at his brother's antics, shaking his head. Scott could be as immature as Gordon on occasions.

"I don't think he quite heard you there, Scooter," he grinned. "Maybe you should shout a little louder."

Scott snorted in amusement, cuffing Virgil around the back of the head playfully. "What, and face Dad's wrath when I wake the whole house? No thanks, I think I'll pass on that one."

Virgil pouted in mock annoyance. "Spoil sport," he grumbled.

Scott grabbed him by the wrist, smiling, and began pulling him towards the open bay-window door.

"C'mon, Tinkerbell," he grinned. "Sleepy-time."

Virgil rolled his eyes again, pulling away from his brother's grasp. "In a sec," he assured the older Tracy. "I just wanna stay out here a little longer."

Scott sighed in resignation, holding up his hands in defeat. "Okay, have it your way," he stated. "But you'd better turn in soon, kiddo, or else there'll be hell to pay. I'll see you in the morning. 'Night!"

"G'night," Virgil replied, smiling as he turned around. Walking back over to the railing and leaning against it, he closed his eyes and listened to the soft footfalls as his brother walked back into the living room.

Then he was alone again, the chattering insects his only companions in the silence of the night. He closed his eyes once more, inhaling the aromas on the breeze as it wafted into his face. Happiness and content bubbled up inside of him, filling his chest with warmth. He stood like that for several minutes, basking in the feelings of total satisfaction. Oh yes, life was good.

At last, as he felt his eyelids begin to grow heavy, he rubbed a hand across his face and turned towards the house, stepping through the bay door and sliding it shut behind him. The living room was dimly lit, the moonlight from the bay windows and the yellow glow from the corridor illuminating the furniture to the extent that Virgil wouldn't have to worry about bumping into anything on his way out.

As he strode towards the door, past the raised platform where his piano was situated, he paused momentarily, turning to look at the object. The smooth black surface shone on the moonlight, the white keys standing out like a long row of glow-in-the-dark rectangles. Stepping up beside the instrument, he rested a hand atop the surface of the piano, leaning forwards to lower the black lid over the keys, being sure that it closed with nothing louder than a barely-audible 'thunk'.

He smiled, running a hand over the smooth object and sighing. His piano was the closest link he had to his mother - other than his family, of course. All his fondest memories involing her incorporated the object; the piano lessons she had given him, the duets they had played, the dares he had made for her to play classical pieces blindfolded. It was almost as if, as he played the piano, he was with her again, sitting beside her on the old piano bench as they played chopsticks together, his small fingers dancing happily as he and his mother laughed at their play. And even now, over ten years after her death, he could still hear the jingle of her bracelet as she reached behind him to wrap her arm about his shoulder. He could smell the plate of fresh cookies that she had left on the table to cool, he could fell the weight of her gentle hand on the back of his neck as he played for her, his fingers running over the keys as though they had a life of their own.

Virgil smiled, looking down at his hands. They were bigger than they had been back then, more tanned, too. But they would always be the little hands that had learned to play under his mother's gentle tuition. Sighing, he lovingly traced the swirling golden design on the rim of the piano, his fingers following the loops as arcs as they rose and fell fluidly.

"G'night, Mom," he whispered softly, before dropping his hand and smiling again, that warm feeling of complete content filling his chest as it had done before.

As he exited the room and pulled the door closed, he cut off the yellow glow that had been the room's main light source, plunging it into darkness and casting shadows over all the objects in the room. All objects but the piano. Upon its raised platform, the shining black object reflected the ethereal moonlight that streamed in through the bay window, illuminating the instrument and basking it in a pure, natural glow. And in the light of that pale orb situated so high up in the night sky, the piano almost seemed to smile; mirroring the mood of its owners, both past and present.

Everything was as it should be.



Thus ends my longest story so far (well, longest by one chapter). It has truly been a fun experience to write this story, and I've been both overwhelmed and overjoyed at the response it has received from its readers (love ya, guys!). Not only has it been worthwhile to have matured as an author since my first story ('Smothere By Your Brothers'), but it's also been great to have made so many wonderful friends along the way. And my friends know who they are, since they've gotten to know me on a more personal level, and they've each contributed towards the story in their own little ways (especially typo-pointers!).

Special thanks to....

My gran - Her constant assurance and support throughout my teenage years have helped to make me the person that I am today, and for that I will be forever grateful. This story is, in so many ways, eternally dedicated to her.

criminally charmed- for everything, particularly the conversations we've shared. It's been great to get to know you, and you truly are a wonderful person. Thanks for being my unofficial beta; for pointing out all my flaws and mistakes and making me feel miserable about myself - Lol! Just kidding. I love your feedback. So...one last typo pointer, or did I manage to get everything right this time?

McHammy - for the awesome feedback and encouragement. You're a great person.

Lissysue85 - for being a wonderful friend through these hard times. You rule, honey.

Anonymous Reviewers- although I haven;t been able to thank you personally, I've always appreciated all the feedback, and I thank you for your support and helpful concrit. 'Pickled Onions' - I always love reading your comments, and thanks for making me smile.

My Family - for being there, supportive and loving, through thick or thin.

Thanks again for all the encouragement! I'll see you in a couple of weeks with the first one-shot. But I warn you, it's truly bizarre!

Best wishes,

Little Miss Bump xoxoxoxox