Thunderbirds is the brainchild of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Go worship at the altar of their brilliance. I hear a bottle of tequila and a dollar bill do wonders. This story is rated T/M for heavy swearing (including the F-word; I've been married to the military too long not to have a mouth) and implied but not explicit violence; Gen (because I don't do much else), but that's about it. Spoilers for this particular story are Movie-based because, like many, I was so very disappointed in the lack of family and brotherhood. (Hi, Tracys! We remember you, even if your own movie didn't!) This was my attempt to remedy that, along with reconciling some of the differences between the series and the film (like why they don't carry guns in the film, etc.). Others have done it and done it better, but I'd like to throw my hat in the ring.

What started out as a one shot distraction has turned into a full on, ten chapter fic that I never would have dreamed would be a part of my collection. It is my first foray into the world of Thunderbirds, brought to you by my children, a 20 hour drive with only a Busted CD in the cubby, and my husband, who will geek out with me over just about anything.

As always, thank you for taking the time, even if you're shy like me and don't comment. Your time alone is appreciated. Thanks for reading and enjoy! Six

He Is, They Are
by That Girl Six

I. Alan and Gordon

The thing about living the majority of his playground-aged life on an island? Eventually a guy will run out of places to hide. While Alan Tracy had more hidey-holes strewn about each and every square foot of the joint than the rest of the family (places none of them would dream because he was, after all, the youngest), it wasn't likely he would manage to find another one. Not now. Certainly not when he only had a few seconds to spare.

Alan was, in a word, screwed.

Feeling up the rock skimmer on his belt, he thought about sending out a warning shot to whichever one of them had the balls to track him down — Leave me the hell alone! — but the handkerchief knotted around the rock that parachuted out over the mouth of the footpath stuffed the words back in his mouth. All-out hostility would only make things worse and, he had to admit, whichever one of his brothers had gone to the trouble to white flag him deserved to cross enemy lines without being shot at. Yet.

"I come bearing gifts." Gordon's voice quivered melodramatically from behind the tree trunk. "Don't shoot."

"That depends on what you're here for."

"Food, dude. You ran out before breakfast."

Wow. Gordon and food. Talk about desperate. "And?"

Gordon stepped out from behind the tree, one hand up in surrender while the other held up a towel-covered plate. "No fight with Dad is worth missing these." He whipped the towel off, revealing a treasure trove of muffins surrounded by a moat of probably two large bananas' slices. He made a show of waving his hand over them, wafting the aroma over to Alan.

"Tease," Alan grumbled.

Gordon cocked his left eyebrow with a strangely predatory grin, leaving the look up to interpretation. Alan didn't want to know.

Onaha made his favorite. So this was how the Trojans felt. He briefly wondered whose idea it was but figured there was no point. It was too early for his father to be in a concession-friendly mood, and even if he was, Jeff Tracy didn't negotiate surrender until all his other options had been exhausted. So either Onaha was feeling sorry for him, or someone else had stepped in on his behalf to loosen their father's heartstrings. Great. Now he was a sympathy case on top of everything else. There were times he hated being the baby.

Gordon snagged a banana and popped it in his mouth, circling the plate around some more. "Going once, going twice."


They found a spot in the sun down closer to the water line, cuffed their pants, and planted their bare feet in the water and asses in the sand. Alan picked at the breakfast, not entirely sure even a bribe that good could make him feel better. He had barely slept the night before, his stomach churning with the waves he could hear below his window, a feeling that only grew as time went on. Dark hours were spent replaying the fight with his father, but no matter how he looked at it, it couldn't turn out any differently. He was still the baby, and Jeff was still unwilling to listen. No muffins, no matter how salivating, could make him not fourteen, not the youngest, not Dad's not-favorite. As the muffins progressively made the gnarling in his gut worse, he felt more and more alone.

Alan pretended not to notice Gordon and his bottomless pit pilfering more and more from the plate. By the time the sizeable bribe was gone, he was pretty sure Gordon had finished off at least three-quarters of it.

Side by side, they watched the brilliant blue waves come in for a while, soaking in the quiet, companionable whoosh of water meeting sand. The silence wasn't quite as comfortable as it used to be, not like it had been before Gordon was granted leave from the kids' table, but it was close enough. If Alan closed his eyes, he could almost believe they were still friends, still a team. The Terrible Two still breathed somewhere in the spaces between them. Somewhere.

Why he went and destroyed that, Alan didn't know, but he was mentally kicking himself before the words were even out of his mouth. "So you drew the short straw, huh?"

Gordon kept his backward-leaning position, supporting himself on his elbows. The eye contact was all too brief, strangely hesitant, before he said with his usual buoyancy, "I wanted to."

"You mean Scott's mad, Virg is still sleeping in, and John didn't want to get put in the middle."

It wasn't like it was some big mystery. Of course they would send Gordon. They were the Terrible Two, were they not? It was simply expected Gordon would know how to talk to Alan, especially when Alan was under the (correct) impression that none of them knew how to talk to him anymore. At least if it was Gordon, the conversation had the opportunity to not descend into total chaos. His brothers tended to forget he knew them as well as they thought they knew him.

Or rather, that was how it used to be.

Alan shrugged, struggling to match his brother's cheerfulness. "You didn't have to. I'm not in need of an intervention or anything."

"You would rather face the smother hen on an empty stomach?"

"You aren't denying it."

"Don't need to." There went the last of the banana slices. "I asked you a question."

In the awkwardness where Gordon waited far too patiently for Gordon — he was getting weird in his old age — Alan let his skimmer talk for him. He didn't aim at anything in particular, but he got some good distance on that one. Trouble was, he ran out of stones too quickly to keep the conversation at bay.

"We don't talk, Gords. We get in trouble. We goof off and make it our mission in life to make their lives interesting. Anything more serious than that leads to questions about our health and feeling us up for fevers." Alan slapped away the hand Gordon was already reaching toward his forehead. "I feel fine, by the way."

Gordon swatted the hand back, still smiling. "We used to talk."

"We used to do a lot of things."

Alan reached down between his legs to dig a finger into the sand. He traced it around in a circle, dragging around and around until his finger was buried to the first knuckle. He crooked it back and forth as much as he could until the wet sand gave and popped his finger out. He scraped the sand back into the hole, tapped it down firm, and started all over again. He wondered how long he could keep it up before his brother got too frustrated with him and left him to his own devices. It wasn't like Gordon to sit this quiet this long without good reason. He had too much energy coiling in him to do still. The others must have bribed and/or blackmailed him with something pretty damn good for him to keep at it.

Tenting his knees, Alan let his elbows limply rest on top, his fingers playing a rousing tune of nervousness, which only made him antsier. Still Gordon sat there waiting for him, soaking up the sounds of his beloved ocean, almost like he was deriving his newfound patience power from it. Escape-and-Evade would be a lot harder this round.

It was weird, not helping his stomach at all kind of weird. He couldn't remember a time when he couldn't talk to Gordon — not that he ever had anything all that serious to lay on his partner in all things crime — but he honestly didn't have a friggin' clue at all what he was supposed to say. It wasn't like Gordon didn't know what was wrong. He'd been ten feet outside the door. He heard. The whole house probably heard, one way or another. So it wasn't like they were hurting for topics or anything. And yet, he couldn't find a single word to say.

The sadness of that realization overwhelmed him, hunching his shoulders under the weight. So far? Spring break sucked.

"So no talking then, I take it?" Gordon sighed. "Good. Don't talk. Just listen. It'll be a lot less painful for both of us."

"Let's not and say we did."

"Sorry, kiddo, no can do. Direct orders. Besides — and, god help me, I'm gonna come off sounding like Scott here — he's right about some of this stuff. I know he's right about this."

Scott was clearly a bad influence.

"I know you think we don't have a clue what you're going through." Alan opened his mouth to argue, but Gordon cut him off with a jab to the ribs and a strict bark. "EH! Listen. You're ticked off at all of us, and that's okay. I get it. I mean, I don't get what it is I did. Neither do the rest of the guys, and we really wish you would tell us so we can fix it, but we get it. After Christmas, the message came through loud and clear."

Alan flinched. He didn't remember doing anything or saying anything to close himself off from them, but apparently something had happened he didn't even realize. He stole a glance at his brother, hoping for some sort of sign of what it could've been, but Gordon had his face turned up to the sun, keeping his eyes closed and hidden from interpretation.

Okay, so if one of the waves could randomly suck him in and take him out to sea right about now, that would be fabulous. Or his head, there was plenty of sand just lying around for the taking. A few hundred pounds of it would bury his head from all this, wouldn't it?

There was never an emergency rescue call to answer when he needed one.

It was entirely possible that there was no way for his day to get any worse — and it was only ten.

Contritely biting the bullet, Alan said, "You didn't do anything. And I'm not ticked. Not like that. It's just … I don't know. It's everything. Everybody. It's, like, I can't wait to get home, but once I'm here, I can't … " He ran a hand through his hair, only to grit his teeth. Stupid sand. "You guys were gone a lot last time I was home. Even if I wasn't grounded, I doubt you'll be around much now either. School sucks and all, but being home isn't exactly all that and a bowl of Cheetos these days."

"Hmm," Gordon agreed, thoughtful, but still with his eyes closed. "I'm not gonna say you didn't get off to a rocky start. That stunt in 'One wasn't exactly your most brilliant maneuver ever." Again Gordon cut Alan off without even seeing the open fish mouth about to interrupt him. (Seriously, Alan had to wonder if being an older brother meant receiving an extra pair of eyes in the back of your head at birth.) "But! I know you didn't hear because you were too busy storming off, but you missed out on John smoothing things over for you and then Scott and Dad getting into it. They both stuck up for you. Scott even told Dad to lay off for a while. I thought he'd completely blown a gasket, but he said some stuff, and, well … I guess we all forget sometimes what it's like to be fourteen. And being The Jeff Tracy's kid isn't exactly an easy job for any of us. I mean, c'mon, having him come in for parent career day is a pretty crazy thing when the other kids are bringing their accountants and doctors in, right? Then you have Scott and Johnny and Virg doing the out-overachieving the overachievers thing, and it all becomes a lot to live up to. Fourteen sucks enough as it is without that kind of pressure. We forget that sometimes. For my part in that, I'm sorry."

Alan gaped at his other overachieving brother, wondering briefly if his modesty was intentional to put at least someone only a few levels ahead in the playing field instead of entire stadiums. "Is this supposed to be a pep talk?"

For this, Gordon popped open one somehow comically grinning eye. "No."

"Good, because right now you pretty much suck at it."

"You want a pep talk, ask Scott." The eye closed again, slamming shut the opening they'd found. "I'm not Scott."

"But you took the job."

"You aren't a job, kiddo. A pain in my ass, yes, but not a job — even if we make it sound like it sometimes. The point is Scott's not mad about last night. He can't be. It isn't like he didn't take the keys to Dad's Mustang when he was fifteen, and if you had to avoid anyone's wrath, it would be his. So you don't have to hide out down here. No lectures. He just wanted you to know we know, okay? Don't be in such a rush to get in that plane."

"You were."

"You aren't me."

Alan rubbed at his heart through his t-shirt. Ouch. "Gee, thanks."

"That isn't how I meant it, and you know it. You have plenty of time to catch up with the rest of us, kiddo. Be a kid while you still can. IR'll still be there when Dad thinks you're ready."

The ensuing silence was filled with Alan's angry, unsaid But I am ready, and you know it. But Gordon couldn't read minds, and he wasn't particularly good at reading body language either. That was Scott's thing. Part of him couldn't help thinking Gordon should be able to read him anyway. They shouldn't even be having this discussion. His brothers should just know. They expected him to just know.

Damn it! When did family have to get so freaking complicated?

He stared at the water, wondering if, if it washed him out to sea, he would actually become part fish like Gordon. He didn't love the water nearly as much as the Aqua-Tracy, but he could learn to. Find himself a little mermaid to hang out with, one who would listen to him, only him, and understand. One who didn't have a dad who still thought she was a kid, too.

Out of the corner of his eye, he wondered if Gordon was thinking the same thing. Oh, god, they were probably after the same imaginary mermaid. And like with everything else, Alan would lose because how could he not when put up against the rest of the Tracys?

Why didn't they just know?

"I gotta tell you," Gordon said, taking him away from his mermaid and the safety of the watery world. "And if you tell the others I said any of this, I'll deny it, but … I wasn't ready. I thought I was, but the first year, man, I was not ready. There are things we've seen, things I wish I could un-see. So many things. Is it really so bad that we don't want that for you yet? Because, let me tell you, once you see those kinds of things, you can't … You're too young. You may not think so, but school is where you need to be right now."

"That's not how you made it sound last night. Or any other night. What happened to out of hand and awesome?"

"You aren't an idiot, Alan. I know you aren't. Do you listen to this house at all?"

Alan shrugged because, quite frankly, he was feeling like an idiot, or at least like his brother was talking to him like he was one. If this was how the lecture was sounding coming from Gordon, he could only imagine what it would sound like coming from Scott. "Can we just stop talking now? I get it. Okay? Just drop it."

"You haven't been home now for almost three months. You wanna know what it's been like the last two? Or did you not hear Dad get up and check Scott's door twice in the middle of the night? Because I gotta tell you, little brother, those nightmares are sounding pretty good compared to what they were there for a while. The only reason Virg slept through it last night was — "

"Don't." A particularly strong wave came in, drenching Alan to the knees. Oh, sure. Even the water was against him now.

"Don't what?"

"Yeah, I get it. Okay? It isn't all a cakewalk. It isn't all easy like yesterday. Next you'll start in like Dad on how I need to learn responsibility. I get it. No lecture needed. I just — I wish … Damn it!"

Alan fell back into the sand, arms flung over his eyes. None of this was going the way it was supposed to. Dad wanted him to show some responsibility? He couldn't even get through a conversation with the only brother close enough to his age to still get it without him losing his temper. How was he supposed to convince his father of anything when he didn't know how to talk to any of them anymore?

Gordon sat patiently waiting for him to say whatever it was he wanted to say, which only made Alan want to punch his lights out. The only thing worse would be if it were Scott sitting there. Whichever brother the pack sent, it didn't matter. They would sit there and listen and be so damn nice about it that the only possible outcome to it all would be Alan feeling like an ass for being, like Gordon had reminded him, fourteen. And yeah, he felt fourteen and miserable and sorry and, really, could this day possibly start off worse?

The thing was he knew he should be trying to fix this rift he didn't even know existed. He should be trying to find a way to make this next week something that Christmas hadn't been. He should be telling his brother he was proud of him. Anything but sitting here like a pouty kid.

It wouldn't just be blowing smoke up Gordon's ass if he were to only talk about it. How could he not want to be Gordon? Or Scott? Or any of them? And not just because of IR or the stuff he saw them do on TV all the time. No one had brothers like his. It was like something out of an old Western or something. They were the Earps, living legends, right there next to him. He should say that, not get into the same fight he'd been having with their father. He should say so many things. And yet.

It was impossible not to feel their shadows soaking him up, eating him up, devouring him until he disappeared. It was impossible to not feel a lot of things.

Gordon's voice was softly encouraging even as he threw a handful of sand too close to Alan's mouth. "I'm not a mind reader."

Alan didn't look up, keeping his arm draped over his eyes. He wasn't sure he wanted to see his brother's reaction to what he had to say. "How much of last night did you hear?"

"Mostly you screaming at Dad. You know him. He doesn't really yell. He just uses The Voice. Why? Did I miss something?"

"No," Alan lied.

No. He couldn't do this. He felt stupid for even starting down that road. Maybe if he let things go long enough, Gordon would change the subject. Something. Anything to get him out of this conversation with only the injuries already incurred.

"I could totally be a mind reader."

Okay, that wasn't quite the anything Alan was looking for, but if that was how Gordon wanted to play it? Let the man daydream away. He grinned up at the sun, mirroring his brother's posture of elbows in the sand, toes in the water. "Sure, Gords."

"I could."

"Fine. What am I thinking right now?" Pick a number. Any number. Three. Everything comes in threes.

"That you wish you'd eaten even half the muffins Onaha sent out."

"Not even close."

A finger poked at an Alan too slow to get out of the way. "Your stomach's growling different."

"I'll find something later."

"Not muffins."

"I'll find something."

"Gordon Tracy: Mind Reader. It has a ring to it."

Alan snorted. His brother was a lot of things, but a snake oil salesman would never be one of them. "Until you get sued for false advertising."

"I'll fit something into the fine print. But I could do it. Gordon Tracy: Mind Reader. I see potential."

"Yeah, well, Alan Tracy: Fortune Teller sees you dateless for all eternity if you try to use that in a bar some night."

"We should go into business together. We could have some sort of acronym or something. Oh! We could have cool aliases and work out of a back room in a greasy spoon diner or something. Brains could trick it out with hydraulics under the table and a light show." He raised his voice to a feminine tone, preened, and quoted, "'Orlando, do you like it? It's Autumn Sunrise.'" Back in his own voice, he sighed. "That'd be awesome."

Alan finally sat back up, took off his jacket, and fanned it in front of Gordon's face. "Wow. No more sun for you."

"Only if you tell me what you were thinking." Gordon lifted an eyebrow and one corner of his mouth to say See? I can be sneaky, too.

Caught. Damn.

"Nevermind," Alan said quietly. Well, if ignoring things didn't work, maybe a little (more) misdirection would. "Scott's having nightmares?"

"Hmm. There was this job in this little village outside Paris the end of January. We lost a couple and their two kids. We got almost a hundred other people out of there, but … The one kid looked a lot like John did at that age. A lot, a lot."

"Paris? That was the one with the hotel fire, right?"

Misdirection accomplished because Gordon's face fell hard and fast. "How did you know about that?"

It would've been easy to laugh if Alan didn't have a mental picture of his oldest brother screaming in his sheets at night over it. It physically made his heart ache for Scott, the idea of his nights so tortured.

Scotty needed a mermaid.

Still, for a guy who was down here thinking he had all the answers and could zip up this little family squabble with mind reading, Gordon was pretty damn clueless sometimes. "You're kidding, right?"

"We've been going out of our way to not talk about that one around Scott, let alone you. John's the only one who didn't have nightmares the first month. How did you … ?"

"TV, dude."

"They were there? I knew about last night and a few of the others, but Paris? Really?"

Alan shrugged. "IWN might as well rebrand itself 'Discovery: IR' or something."

"And you saw it?"

"You mean the part where 'Two took a fifteen foot flaming rebar through the cockpit windscreen? Yup. They hang back as much as they have to, but somehow they always manage to get somebody to the scene. How did Dad get her home, by the way? It looked … cold."

"And you saw last night?"

"Unless it happened after hours, I've probably seen it. You … " It was Alan's turn to be amazed. Gordon looked so strangely sincere, so oddly innocent of it all. Although, come to think of it, he couldn't think of the last time any of them were off the island unless it was an IR or Tracy Industries thing. "You really don't know, do you?"

"Know what?"

"What it's like out there. Away from here, away from Dad's office and the dinner table. What it's like to just listen to people talk about you."

"Weird, huh?"

"Sure. I don't know. I mean, it's cool. It can be cool, anyway. I mean, c'mon, there are only five guys in the whole world who do what you do. It's awesome that there isn't a guy in school who doesn't know the name 'Thunderbirds' or think of you guys instead of an old car. It doesn't get much cooler than knowing there isn't a single guy in school who doesn't want to be my dad and my brothers when he grows up. You can't imagine what it's like to have some peewee seventh grader running through the halls yammering about how the Thunderbirds are gonna be on TV. Trust me, someone always knows. Someone always makes sure we all know."


Alan caught the tone too late, the seemingly masterful change of conversational direction steering him back to his own issues instead of Scott's. Before he realized what he was saying, he admitted, "But the Thunderbirds are gonna be on TV."


"You guys sat there last night going on and on about Peru and how awesome it was. Sure, it was awesome — right up to the part when I watched you get knocked off the rescue platform and crushed between it and the cliffside."

Alan felt Gordon flinch, his back probably feeling the impact again simply from memory, stretching his barely healed body, but the look on Gordon's face only spurred him on. He had to get this out. Who knew when he would get this chance again? Maybe, if they understood …

"Have you ever seen thirty guys all look hurt at the same time just from watching somebody take a hit like that? Where you just know it hurts like hell, even though you aren't the one taking the hit? It was like they were sitting in a movie theater. They were watching The Thunderbirds. Every single guy in that common room was holding his breath. Me, all I knew for sure was that one of my brothers wasn't moving and the damn basket was moving up into 'Two without him. Fermat tried to talk to me, but I couldn't move. I couldn't turn off the TV and tell them all to shut the hell up, that it wasn't a movie. I couldn't tell them to just shut up so I could try to catch any sign at all that you were okay. I had to watch while the basket just sat there while that reporter woman babbled on about how brave it was and how she wasn't getting any word on the condition of the downed Thunderbird. Because obviously her getting news was so much more important than how you actually were."

The more he went on, the less he could stop it all from building up in his chest. All the heat, all the worry, all the humiliation of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing or of just not being one of them made his lungs tight with frustration. If he was going to make Gordon understand, he had to make his brother understand all of it. It wasn't that he was fourteen. It was that he was.

Angry now, though he wasn't entirely sure how he got there, Alan snapped, "And it sucks. Being there sucks. Being here sucks. But the waiting? The seeing it and knowing I'm going to come home to it all being shoved in my face like last night, so awesome, so … so … so yeah, it was awesome. Or what about Istanbul? You guys thought that one was so damn cool, too, right? Virg came home with a concussion on that one, right? Took a couple stitches in the back of his head, didn't he? Which none of you bothered to call me about, by the way. I got to watch it happen, but it wasn't important enough for me to know about from your own mouths."

Alan hauled himself to his feet then, too much energy thrumming through him. If he didn't get up, he was afraid he'd explode from the anger, or that it, too, would eat him alive. He had to … had to … damn. He just had to move.

He shook his hands out as he paced a line in front of Gordon's feet, unable to contain it. Where was a mermaid to kidnap him out to sea when he needed one? Where was their Gordon? Shouldn't he be making Alan laugh about now? Why wasn't he doing anything? Why wasn't he saying anything to make this exercise in torture end already?

That's it. Next time Scott got to draw the short straw.


"Don't. Don't 'Alan' me. You don't know. You have no freakin' clue what it's like to sit there and watch. At least John knows everything that's going on up there. I'm strapped with Reporter Barbie, who half the time doesn't even know what country she's in. At least Johnny knows."

"And gets to feel as helpless as you," Gordon said bluntly. "Have you even asked him what he thinks about that?"

"He gets to talk to you the entire time. He hears everything."

"Yeah, kiddo, he hears everything. You wanna know what it's like to listen to — you know what? I didn't come out here to argue."

"Then why did you?"

"Because we miss you, kid. We miss our kid brother. Our Alan hasn't exactly been around much lately."

Alan winced. There it was again. Kid. Not Dad's favorite. Not one of them. And yeah, he supposed he was being fourteen, as Gordon had so eloquently put it. Maybe laying any of this on Gordon (which meant it would be repeated and laid on everyone but Dad) was mean. Maybe it was unfair. But was it really such a bad thing to want a little attention? Was it such a bad thing to want to be with them? Maybe he hadn't gone about it the right way. Maybe he wasn't seeing things big picture. But still. It was kinda hard to see the big picture when his world was confined to a secluded island and a dormitory on the other side of the world, neither world having anything to do with the other. Just like him and IR. Always different, always separate. Never quite settled. Just like him.

"When was the last time you were in Dad's office — not Command and Control, his plain office?" he asked thoughtfully, balling and releasing his fists alternately to calm back down.

"Hello, non sequitur."

"When was the last time you really looked at it?" Gordon shrugged, still confused, so Alan went on. "Not that it would ever happen, but if a stranger sat in there, what do you think they would see?" Again Gordon waited — so damn nice — because it was probably obvious he wouldn't guess the right answer anyway, so he might as well wait for it. But Alan wasn't in the mood to let him sit this one out. He wanted an honest answer. "Nothing?"

"I don't think it matters what someone else would see. I think what matters right now is what you see."

He knew he was about to sound like the most bitter, fantastically spoiled rich kid in the world, but he couldn't stop the tone, not when it was right there in the back of his throat fighting to get out. "Me, I see Jeff Tracy and his four sons."

"It isn't like that, and you know it."

"Do I? You know, I get him wanting to flood the place with pictures from before, when Mom was still here and we were all together. I get those. I want those there as much as the rest of you do. But if you look around otherwise? After Mom, I'm gone. I'm not even close to there. Sure, they're just pictures. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't say he loves me less than anybody else, but it does. It's childish and immature, I guess, but it is what it is. Maybe if I wasn't already mad at him I wouldn't feel that way, but standing there last night, having him ream me out with the five of you staring at me … Anyone who isn't us would walk in that office and see him on that wall with his four kids. What's behind that mural, no problem. I get that part. But if there is supposed to be this line between IR and us as family? Where do I fit into that? It's kinda hard to say I'm part of the family but not part of the team, not when I've got reminders like that up on the wall."

"Allie, that picture doesn't mean — "

"You aren't the one left behind, Gords."

Alan turned away and walked further into the water, letting it cool him. He imagined steam coming out of his ears as blue rose up his neck, across his face, and up into his hairline, overtaking the burning red. He couldn't bring himself to look at his brother, not after letting that one out. He'd kept that one quiet for so long now. He wasn't even sure what made him admit it, but yeah, he hated that damn mural. It spoke to everything that was wrong about them right now. It was everything he wanted and everything he didn't.

Shaking with his inability to take back the embarrassment, he said without taking his eyes off the rocks protruding from the water, "Forget I said anything. Please? Can we let this go now?"

But it was too late to take things back. It was too late to simply come home and tell his brothers he was glad they made it home okay (because he was). It was too late to keep his mouth shut in his excitement to talk about anything at all with them (because, yeah, it wasn't Scott's first time, and he was an idiot for trying to work himself into the conversation). It was too late to take any of it back with Dad. Maybe all he could do was stay down here for the day, sneak in somehow, go to bed, and start over tomorrow. He'd be bright and cheerful, talk about whatever they wanted to talk about that had nothing to do with him, and get through the rest of break like he had Christmas. It had worked then. By the time he came home for the school summer, the humiliation and the anger and everything else would be forgotten.

Of course, he'd have to find a way to bribe Gordon to keep his mouth shut about this little Judy Blume moment they'd been having, but that could be arranged. He only had to get rid of the guy for the rest of the day. It could happen.

So much for Gordon being a mind reader. There he was, right next to him now, definitely not in on the plan. Alan willed his brother, telepathic wonder that he was, to read his mind now. Go away. Don't say whatever it is you're going to say. Go away.

But, no, Gordon had to bump his shoulder like they were friends and could talk like they used to.

"You know, Al, I get it. I do, but that doesn't mean I want to. You have to understand, as much as you wish you could be out there with us, I would give anything to keep you here forever. You're safe here. I get it. On top of the awesome — yeah, I'll say there's plenty awesome to go around — there's plenty to worry about. But the worry … Man, you with us, out there, may feel like one less thing for you to worry about, but it's one more thing for us. And honestly, I don't think I could handle having to worry about one more brother out there. I only have so many pairs of eyes, kid. And if you were to ask Scott or Virg, I bet they'd tell you the exact same thing. Don't even start me on Dad. He doesn't say it, not to us, but you better believe he doesn't breathe from the minute we leave until the minute he checks each of our beds when it's over."

Alan waited. No, the ground wasn't going to help him out, open up, and swallow him whole. He had no choice but to wait.

"You're gonna take this the wrong way — God, I know you are — but you need to hear it. Being out there, I can't tell you how many times we've all said how lucky we were you weren't with us. Peru scared the hell outta us, too, Al, more than you'll ever know. The only thing that got us through that flight home and Virg bleeding his damn brains out all over 'Two was knowing you were safe at school. You don't want to hear this, but right now, you'd be a liability. You're still due for at least one more growth spurt. Hell, your voice is still changing. You're not ready. We'd be spending all our time worrying about you, not about keeping our own asses out of the fire. Literally."

"Thanks, Dad. You know, you really shouldn't have let Scott send you to do his dirty work. Whatever he — "

"Scott's not here. I am. I'm the one talking to you."

"Enough already," Alan said, blowing off the unspoken plea to dial it down. "I get it."

"No, you don't. When you're ready, man, it's gonna be a great thing for us to see. It'll be so fucking awesome. You are gonna be awesome. But right now — "

"Thanks for the pep talk, really, but I think the liability needs to walk it off. I'll see you later."

"You didn't hear a single word I said, did you?"

Alan glanced down at the hand wrapped pleadingly, painfully tight around his wrist. "Go away, Gordon."

Uncharacteristically angry, Gordon snapped his hands up in a classic sign of I give up. He turned around and made to walk away, throwing his last bit of parting wisdom over his shoulder instead. "If you don't want Scott to hunt you down, you'd better find someplace better to hide. See you later."

Alan tried to make it look like he wasn't watching Gordon walk away. He couldn't give him the satisfaction, not now.

Yup. The world could do him a favor and swallow him whole now.

Any second now.

Any time.

Swallow him right up.

He waited.

(End Part One)