Back with a new story! Plenty of trouble ahead for all the characters - I can't really single one out, though I suspect poor Virgil will come in for more than his fair share of angst and misery... Two chapters to start with - I really hope you like them (posting a new story still terrifies me!). Bee

Prologue

He'd never been a vain man, but over the past six months not a day had gone by without Jeff Tracy spending several minutes gazing critically into the mirror, taking in every tiny detail of his constantly changing appearance. Today was no different and as usual he frowned as he contemplated what he saw. Even though he no longer had the gaunt look of a few months earlier, he was still a lot thinner than he had been and the lines on his face were deeper now, a clear indication of the stress he'd been under. His hair was considerably greyer these days, though at least he still had his hair, something for which he was profoundly grateful. Turning away from the mirror with an irritated shake of his head, he focused his thoughts on the day ahead. A few hours at the office, then a quiet evening in New York with John, who was spending the week with him at Tracy Industries. He was looking forward to it. In fact, he thought, these past few days had been heaven. It had been a long time since he'd spent any substantial length of time in the office, able to give his business his full attention. It was just like the old days. He appreciated it a lot more now too.

It had been a bad year for the Tracys. First Alan, then Virgil, had been hurt whilst out on rescues. Then, just as it seemed things were getting back to normal there had been that routine medical examination, the shocking discovery of something sinister lurking in his lung and the sudden shift in priorities. Twenty-four hours later Jeff had found himself sitting in a doctor's office, Brains next to him – he hadn't wanted to worry his sons when it was bound to be a false alarm – listening to an apologetic doctor outlining drastic treatments and possible outcomes, not all of which were positive. He thought he might have gone into shock, because the next few days were a bit of a blur. The only thing he did remember clearly - and he would rather have forgotten it - was the devastated reaction of his sons and his mother when he'd broken the news. Suddenly Jeff had found himself having to quickly delegate his business and International Rescue responsibilities, exchanging them for the more pressing concerns of surgery and radiation treatment. Even now he couldn't bring himself to think about the terrible weeks which had followed.

Still, he'd been lucky. Six months down the line his doctors were cautiously optimistic, though it would be a while yet before he could expect to be given the all clear. But those six months had taken their toll. He'd neglected his business and International Rescue for quite some time and it had come as something of a shock to see that they'd continued to thrive without him at the helm. Scott, John and Virgil had shared command of IR - though Virgil had been glad to get back out into the field once he was fully recovered - and his TI executives, again with the help of his sons, had kept things ticking over nicely. It was unsettling to realise that life could go on without him. He should have been relieved, instead he felt rejected. Despite his family's insistence that he take things easy, he craved a return to normality, to a time where he could put his illness firmly behind him and take full control of both his organisations once again.

He was glad to finally be back at work at Tracy Industries, though there would be no more fourteen hour days. Instead he just made token appearances at his office. This was actually the first full week he'd put in since his diagnosis. Of course, the real reason for his absence had never been made public. He'd always done much of his work at home on Tracy Island and most people believed that he'd continued to do so. Only a few trusted confidants knew that he'd been occupied elsewhere. There had been rumours of course, but no proof. To the world at large he was still the old Jeff Tracy, strong, reliable and totally in control.

The brush with mortality had changed him, though. It wasn't that he was unfamiliar with death: he and his sons dealt with it on a regular basis and he was always painfully aware as he watched his boys head off on a rescue that they might not return safely - or at all. But that was down to natural or man-made disasters or even mechanical problems, things he personally had no control over. When his own body had turned against him he'd been shattered. Naturally, he'd refused to give in and now things seemed under control once more. But his whole outlook on life had changed and although he tried valiantly to project the old image of tough, no-nonsense Jeff Tracy, inside he was far more insecure than he'd ever been before. He didn't like it. And he certainly didn't like the way everyone who knew what he'd been through watched him and worried about him as if they feared he'd lost his edge, lost his ability to manage both his business and International Rescue. He was determined to take back control, but he'd been given a whole new insight into things and it was bound to make a man think, to reassess what was important. Of course, he could see why some of his recent decisions had raised a few eyebrows, but, stubborn to the end, he'd refused to justify those decisions and there had been several confrontations, mainly with his sons, as he fought to reconcile his old life with his new priorities.