This story is a prequel, of sorts, to Protective Instincts. You may recognise some of the characterisations and themes in that story, but it is not necessary to have read that one to appreciate this. They are both stand alone fics.
Quiller checked this fic for me and caught the errors that the spellchecker missed. All the other mistakes are my own. I don't own Thunderbirds, because if I did I would be making new episodes!
Finally, please let me know what you think of this. Even "I read this" is appreciated more than you can know!
The Hardest Thing
Summary: How do you manage a billion dollar business and parent four growing boys at the same time? It takes something serious to make Jeff realise that he isn't managing as well as he thought.
As soon as Scott woke up, he rolled out of bed to look for his father. He had set his alarm clock for six because he wanted to catch Jeff before he left for work.
The house was empty, and the only sound was of quiet breathing as his four brothers slept. Obviously Jeff had already left. Scott padded to the telephone and checked the letters he had left for his father's attention. They were undisturbed. The consent form for Alan's library trip was unsigned, as were the two notice of detention slips that Gordon had brought home three days ago.
Scott sighed, and forged Jeff's scrawl on each of them. It wasn't the first time he had done so, but it still made him feel dirty.
Normally the time before he woke his brothers was his favourite part of the day. It was the only occasion that the house was truly quiet. He loved being able to use the bathroom without a queue and snatch a look at the newspaper before the comics were stolen. But he didn't feel like that today. He felt as if he was only half-awake, but he hoped a cool shower would help.
It didn't. If anything, he felt groggier than before. His eyes were gritty and he tried to rub the sleep out of them as he towelled himself. This was what happened when you tried to do your homework after you put all your brothers to bed. The stupid assignment was already late; it was due last week, but he'd promised the teacher that he'd get it done for today to avoid a letter to the principal.
He made himself a coffee and drank it black. The bitter liquid hit his stomach and made him feel sick, but at least he could rely on the caffeine. Hopefully it would wake him properly. He needed his wits about him in the morning.
John wandered into the kitchen. He had his nose in a book and a pencil behind his ear that he used to annotate as he read. Scott pushed a bowl of cereal between his nose and the page. It was the only way to get him to eat in the morning. Dutifully, John sat at the table and spooned up the cereal, never once taking his eyes off the text.
Scott had to wake the other boys himself. Virgil resisted, as usual, but Scott wasn't in the mood for games so soaked him with water. The younger boy grumbled, but pulled himself out of bed. As he said, it was difficult to sleep when the pillow was all wet. Alan bounced out of bed cheerfully, chattering almost from the moment he opened his eyes.
Gordon said good morning and then excused himself. He had to do something for the nanny, he explained, and then he'd be done for breakfast.
His tone of voice was pleasant enough, but Gordon's hatred of the nannies was legendary. There was no way that the 'something' would be pleasant, but Scott didn't have the energy today to try and find out what. If the woman was sensible, she'd stay out of the way until they were all at school.
Even still, it felt like the calm before the storm. A feeling of apprehension settled in Scott's stomach. He felt sick and washed out, and as if that wasn't enough something odd appeared in the periphery of his vision. He noticed it when he glanced at the clock and he couldn't see it. In its place was a burst of jagged lines like frozen lightening. When he moved his head it stayed at the same point in his field of view. It would have been kind of cool if it wasn't so annoying. He resolved to ignore it and his queasy stomach. Which would have been easier if everyone could have been a little quieter.
"Scott, I can't find my shoes!" Virgil yelled.
"I want peanut sandwiches for lunch," Alan shouted, then began roaring around the table pretending to be a racing car. He drove around table faster. John tapped his pencil on the table top with an obsessive rat-tat-tat.
"Your shoes are under your bed Virgil, and your lunch is already made, Alan. Cheese sandwiches."
"Oh, that's cool. I like cheese. Did you know that cheese comes from milk, Scott? Real milk from cows, and it gets made into cheese and yoghurt and petrol. I'm not so sure if does get made into petrol, but Gordon says it does. He says if you put milk in a car then it'll still go."
Scott sighed. "Don't believe everything Gordon says, Alan."
"I don't Scott," Alan said, crestfallen. "Do cars not really run on milk? Oh..."
John stopped tapping his pencil. "You put milk in a car?"
"Not really. Sort of. Not much."
John looked about to say something more, when the storm broke upstairs.
The nanny was screaming. "Oh my God, Gordon Tracy! What the hell have you done?"
"What you deserved!" Gordon yelled back. There were sounds of scuffling, then; "Get your hands off me. You're not my mother!"
"Thank the Lord."
A door slammed with reverberations that shook the whole house.
Scott closed his eyes and put his head in his hands. He wanted to sleep for a hundred years. He counted to fifty under his breath, and when he opened them again, he was relieved that the odd light was gone. He could see the furious face of Gordon panting in front of him.
"I hate her," the boy whispered furiously.
"I think she got that," Scott replied.
"Was it enough?" Virgil asked. "Do you think she'll leave now?"
"She'd better," Gordon said. "If she doesn't, I'll do something worse to her, and she'll wish she never took any of Dad's money."
"Alan sort of liked this one, didn't you?"
Alan shook his head quickly before saying, "I never did."
"But you said..."
Scott raised his hand to stop an argument. Virgil got the hint and said "Sorry Alan. My mistake."
She thumped down the stairs with her face set into murderous fury a few minutes later. She carried a hastily packed suitcase and a couple of coats slung over her arm. She stalked into the kitchen and addressed Scott in a voice that grated on his already torn nerves.
"Tell Mr Tracy," she hissed, then started again, "Tell Mr Tracy that I will not work here a moment longer. This family is full of barbarians and animals. I cannot stay under this roof with you devils." She glared at Gordon, who stared back. "He will have to find another nanny, although how he expects anyone to put up with this I have no idea."
Without a goodbye, she stalked out the door.
"Wow," Virgil said into the silence after the door slammed. "What did you do this time Gordon?"
Gordon was concentrating on his cereal, but couldn't hide his triumphant expression. "You know the dog next door, well I collected some of its..." he started to say, but Scott raised a hand again.
"I do not want to know. Just make sure it's cleaned up before Dad gets home."
"Dad will just get another one," John said absently. He was the least bothered by the constant cycle of nannies and au pairs.
"I don't want another one. I don't want any at all. Why doesn't Dad just get Grandma to come? It would be different if she was here." Gordon muttered.
With a sigh, Scott repeated one of Jeff's favourite mantras since their mother died. "Because we don't need anyone's help."
Gordon muttered a curse word that he had learned from one of the teenagers down the street.
Scott understood Gordon's frustration. His campaign against the nannies was unremitting. The pranks started innocently enough, and then became cruder and more vicious. Abby, the recently departed, had lasted two weeks. The record was two in one day.
Despite this, Jeff kept employing more so Gordon stepped up his game. His school work suffered, and he was getting into trouble with the teachers. Scott had tried discussing it with their father, but it hadn't made any difference.
"We don't need a nanny anyway," Virgil said confidently. "We've got Scott."
Scott wanted to put his head back in his hands. He thought he was getting a headache.
By the time they boarded the school bus he was sure. It built up behind his eyes and across the whole of his head like a tightening vice. He pushed against his eyes to relieve some of the pressure, but it only helped for a second, and it didn't seem to stop it building up to a crescendo. Every movement of the bus hurt. It was only a short journey to school, but it felt like an eternity.
He looked out the window to avoid attention from the other kids, but he could almost feel Virgil's eyes boring into him. The others ignored him; John was oblivious to everything except the textbook on his knee, and the two younger boys were involved with their own peers, but Virgil was a problem. He moved into the empty seat beside his big brother.
Even thinking hurt. Scott rested his forehead on the cool of the glass.
"Are you okay?" Virgil asked.
Scott ignored him.
The bus stopped and Scott pushed past him and down the stairs. He needed off the bus and away from the questions. It would worry his brothers, but right now he didn't care. He thought he heard Virgil's voice shout after him, but he ignored it and stumbled through the gate and the crowd of pupils gathered there. He would have moved faster, but his legs felt full of jelly. Someone else shouted his name, but he ignored them all.
He reached the right classroom almost by accident, and was glad to find it empty. He sunk into one of the chairs and let his head rest on his arms. Then he closed his eyes and let the quiet wash over him in the darkness.
The relief only lasted until the shrieking of the bell and the clattering arrival of the rest of the kids and the teacher. He couldn't bring himself to open his eyes so hearing someone hiss his name was unexpected. Why couldn't they all just leave him alone?
He was surprised to recognise John's voice.
There was a note of panic in John's voice that made Scott pry his eyes open. The lights were too bright and he had to squint to focus on John's frightened face. If there was one thing he did not need was a full blown John-panic.
The teacher seemed to sense the same possibility. She came to stand beside John, and then crouched down to look Scott in the eye. She was a dark shadow in the glare and moved too much for him to properly focus on her face. Whatever she saw seemed to be enough though, because she stood back up and spoke to John.
"Do you think you can take him to the nurse, John?"
Even in the pain-filled muddle, Scott was thankful to her. John had just started to flap his hands and that was a sign that he was upset and building up for a big one.
"I can manage," Scott said, but the teacher had to help him stand.
"Sure you can," she said. "And you lot get back in your seats and stop gawking."
If he felt bad before, it was worse now. The whole class was watching his humiliation.
Once in the corridor, the teacher said to John, "Straight to the nurse, now. Don't dawdle." She left them and went back to the classroom to calm the excitement.
Scott put his hand onto the cool wall to help himself stay upright. After only a moment's hesitation, John held his other arm awkwardly. The simple gesture gave Scott the strength to stumble along, although he could only follow John's direction.
A blurred shape collided with them around the corner. Scott couldn't make out the features, but he recognised the frantic voice. "What happened? What's wrong? I tried to find you," Virgil said, almost as panicky as John had been.
Scott let his legs fold so he could at sit on the floor. He rested his aching head on his knees and felt rather than saw Virgil and John kneel beside him. The wall at his back and the chance to catch his breath allowed him to think.
"Nothing. It's alright. It's just a headache."
"Miss Cupar says I have to take him to the nurse," John said.
"I don't need the nurse," Scott said as clearly as he could manage. "I just need to go home and sleep a bit."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"It's just a headache from too much noise this morning. It'll be gone by lunchtime."
"It looks sore."
Scott snapped. "It is damn sore. That's why I want to go home. We don't need anyone's help." He kept his eyes closed, so he could only imagine the glances his brothers shared.
Eventually Virgil said, "Alright Scott. But we're coming too."
"Whatever you want."
"Can you walk home?"
Scott looked at his brothers and couldn't help a small smile. "I'm not sure I could manage across the corridor right now."
Opening his eyes hadn't been such a good idea, because a wave of nausea hit so hard that he had to close them again. He filtered out the rapid conversation between his brothers as he concentrated on not vomiting all over the corridor. Hopefully none of the teachers would come past. He wanted to go home badly, but that didn't mean he wanted anyone to see him like this. Like a jolt, he wondered who would look after his brothers if he was sick.
Virgil interrupted his misery. He and John had obviously decided something between them. "Can you get up now?"
Scott struggled to his feet with Virgil's help. The world span around him.
"Do you have your phone?"
Virgil, or maybe John, lifted the phone out of his pocket and flipped it open.
"Are you sure you know the number?" Virgil asked.
"Dad called it once while I was listening. I remember the tune." John mimicked the musical tones of the keys being pressed.
"Cool," Virgil said, then addressed Scott, "We're phoning Dad's office and ordering a car."
"Dad won't answer."
"Yeah, but I'll talk to the secretary."
Virgil punched the number into the phone. Through the haze, Scott heard the one sided conversation.
"Hello, is that Mr Tracy's secretary? It's his son here. I'm Virgil... Virgil. No, I'm not the computer genius, that's John. I'm... yeah, the piano. Look, Dad was supposed to be arranging a car to take me to the dentist, but it hasn't come. He said if there was a problem I should just phone you and you'd fix it. The appointment is in five minutes and I really can't be late... There's no point in bothering him about it, you know how he gets... Yeah, that's good. I'll be at the front gate to meet the driver... Oh, don't worry about that, I'll tell him where to take me. Thanks a lot. I'll tell my Dad you've been really helpful. Bye."
Scott concentrated hard to look at his brothers. Virgil was flushed but grinning widely. "I see why Gordon likes breaking rules."
John looked anxious rather than excited. He rubbed his hands together and said, "We should go and see the nurse."
"No," Scott said with as much force as he could manage. "They'll make a fuss, and it's just a headache." He couldn't explain the dread in his stomach. He couldn't let the teachers see that he might not manage to look after his brothers. "I'm going home."
John started muttering, "Headache, differential diagnosis includes subarachnoid haemorrhage, brain tumour, meningitis, subdural haematoma..."
Virgil slapped him and told him to shut up.
They managed to the school gate without meeting anyone in the corridors. The sun was bright and it made the pounding in Scott's head worse. The two younger boys hovered and tried to help, but mostly just got in each other's way. Scott sank to the pavement as soon as they were out of sight of the windows. His muscles ached almost as much as his head, and he had to squint in the sunlight.
Virgil and John sat beside him. Virgil was as close as he could manage without climbing onto Scott's lap. The warmth of his arm next to Scott's was reassuring. John didn't touch Scott, but he fidgeted constantly with his keys.
The car arrived, and if the driver was surprised when all three boys filed in he didn't show it. He also didn't comment with the youngest started giving him directions.
Scott had worried about the drive home, but the movement was soothing. When he leaned against the window, he closed his eyes and drifted to sleep.