Eye of the Storm
Disclaimer - Neither the Thunderbirds or the Brothers Eppes of Numb3rs belongs to me...but my birthday is coming up on Wednesday, so if you check my amazon dot com wish list, you will see both there...
Jeff, Don and Charlie continued to drive up the highway, relieved to be back on their way. When the car was rocked by another rain soaked gust of wind, Charlie sighed from the back seat.
"Guys, I know you are worried about your babies – but seriously, this could be risky."
"I won't become a stranger again to Alan," Jeff said softly. "I can't abandon him again. I came too close to losing him through my own stupidity."
Don gripped the wheel as some idiot in an eighteen wheeler decided to blast past them. "Scott mentioned that before the wedding. That Alan had drifted away from all of you but some stuff happened, including the hit and run, that made Scott realize that."
"The hit and -" Jeff's voice drifted off. "Oh, yes. Well, Alan was older then. And that was the whole family who let Alan drift away. No, I mean when Alan was younger. A lot younger."
Charlie looked thoughtful. "Was this after your wife died? I remember speaking to Ann-Marie at Kate's wedding and she was smiling saying something about you not forgetting your priorities to your treasures. I take it those are the boys?"
Jeff smiled slightly, looking out the window but clearly not seeing the rain soaked road. "My true treasures – that's what I call my boys. Not a lot of people know that. Lucy and I may not have planned all of them but each one was exciting and special. After Lucy died – well, it took me some time before I saw how much I was losing the best part of her that I still had."
"Is this why you don't drink?" Don questioned, sparing Jeff a quick glance.
Charlie looked startled for a moment but recovered as he recalled something. "At the reception, you gave a toast, acknowledged other toasts but didn't drink the champagne. And you drank water or coffee otherwise."
Jeff sighed. "I mainly became a work-a-holic, you know. I would head to the office before the boys got up and came home after they were asleep. That is when I came home at all. I mainly stayed at the office. Ann-Marie found me asleep at my desk plenty of times."
"But that wasn't all?" Don asked.
"There were nights I couldn't focus on work, nights that the memories choked me – I started to have a drink to help me get some sleep on the couch. Then I was having a couple. And I was smart enough not to try and drive home then. Once Ann-Marie figured out what was going on, she cornered me. Told me that had to stop."
Jeff ran a hand absently through his hair. "I don't know if I would have. But then my dad died. Lucy had been gone two years by then. Mom started to spend the occasional nights at my house and made it clear she expected me to be in my bed."
"And you did what you mother said?" Don smirked.
Charlie snorted. "Like you and I didn't do what Dad said. Let the man finish."
Jeff smiled at the brotherly by-play.
"So, I did stop drinking. But the work? I was still at my desk before anyone else and even if Ann-Marie dragged me out of the office before nine I would often stop at Millie's diner. Millie Bates and I have been friends since our mothers put us into a kiddie pool together as babies. Millie's husband was a cop who was killed in the line of duty and understood how hard it was to sleep in that empty bed."
"So you and she -" Don began before Jeff chuckled with no real humor.
"No, but you aren't the first person to think so. Millie has always been the sister I never had."
"What happened to change your other bad habit?" Charlie asked.
"Mom insisted that I attend one of Gordon's swim meets. With Scott and John both looking into colleges, she knew that the younger boys would need me more at home and hoped that this would help. It did, but not the way she intended."
Jeff remained silent for a minute before he could recall what happened without his voice cracking as he related what happened that day.
Turning as he made his way down the benches set up for the audience, Jeff looked up and smiled as he waved at his mother. Five year old Alan sat next to Ruth Tracy, his focus on a hand held game. While Alan had recovered well from both Lucy Tracy's death and his own injuries, the recent death of his grandfather, Grant Tracy, seemed to have made the little boy withdraw again.
Looking around as he sat next to Ruth, Jeff asked on the rest of the family.
Ruth pursed her lips…the idea that he didn't know really bothered her more than she could say.
"Sarah Jane and Virgil are preparing the music for the follies at school, they will try and join us soon. Scott has the interview with the Air Force Reserves and John is due to take that test at school – the one where he could get early admission to Harvard. They'll meet us at home for dinner – I have some stew in the slow-cooker that should be finished when we get there."
"Sounds good," Jeff allowed, surprised at how quiet Alan was. He remembered the little guy as always running around the house, always wanting to be held. Ann-Marie had even mentioned that when she stopped by with a birthday present for the boy that the five year old had run up and hugged her fiercely. But Alan, after an initial glance at Jeff, had continued to play his game.
Ruth had begun to dig through her bag for her knitting when she groaned. "Oh, my stars – Gordon's favorite goggles. I have to run these to him."
"I can do it, Mom," Jeff offered only for Ruth to shake her head.
"No, you aren't listed as authorized to go in the locker room, only parents and guardians of the swimmers can." At her son's offended look, Ruth sighed. "Well, Jefferson – I could only list two people and I put down myself and Scott. We're more likely to be here, aren't we?"
Jeff looked guilty at those words but Ruth refused to apologize before heading off. Seeing that his youngest was still focused on his game, Jeff pulled out his I-Pad and began to work on a prospective that he wanted to present at the next staff meeting. The idea of moving the company headquarters to New York City would be intimidating but if they were to truly become a global corporation, Jeff felt it necessary.
Alan glanced at the man sitting next to his grandmother and became nervous when she left him alone with him. Technically, he supposed he understood that this was his father, but Alan had no real memories of Jeff Tracy acting like a father to him. Heck, if it hadn't been for his grandfather's recent funeral, Alan might not have even understood that. Alan had Scott and Grandma for parents…and that was all he needed.
Keeping his attention on the game in his hands, Alan reached down to the soft-sided cooler Grandma kept with water bottles and healthy snacks for them. Alan was getting thirsty –
"Ouch!" Alan cried out as he fell off the bench, landing hard on the unforgiving metal. Feeling the radiating pain from his left elbow, Alan looked only to see why it hurt. The scrape ran along his arm, and had begun to bleed. His lower lip began to tremble and soon the tiny blonde boy began to cry.
Jeff set down his I-Pad and reached for Alan to comfort the crying boy but Alan flinched back and cried even louder.
"Alan!" Sarah Jane cried out as she and Virgil made their way down the aisle. The red head picked up the five year old and cuddled him as Virgil pulled out some other supplies from Grandma's bag and cleaned his brother's injury with an air of experience.
Jeff looked puzzled and slightly hurt, a feeling made worse when an older woman patted his arm in comfort.
"Don't be insulted, dear. At his age, children really don't like strangers much."
Jeff wanted to argue with the woman's assumption but realized he couldn't. He had become a stranger to his own child. He had to make this better. He just had to.
Don and Charlie nodded in understanding at the end of the story. Charlie glanced at the map.
"Take this exit, Don. Barring any more sheds in the road, we should gain thirty to forty minutes."
Jeff smiled in appreciation and anticipation. Appreciation that the men understood and anticipation that he would soon be seeing his baby – and wish him a happy birthday.
"MMMM," John whispered in his wife's ear.
Emily curled up next to him and looked up at the sky. While the houses of the three married Tracy sons were all basically the same pre-fab design, Jeff had given each one a personal touch. In the case of John and Emily's house, a large skylight gave a clear view of the night sky.
"Elizabeth give you any trouble?" Emily whispered as she laid her head on John's shoulder.
Kissing his sleeping daughter's golden hair, John shook his head. "Nope. She fell asleep right after she finished her bottle."
"You're supposed to put her in the crib once she falls asleep," Emily softly chided.
Stroking Elizabeth's back in a calming motion (hey, it had always worked with Alan), John shrugged. "I know, Em. It's just – well - "
"It's just that you don't often get to hold your daughter as often as you like, you can't wake up in the middle of the night just to watch her sleep, you can't help but see how much she has changed since the last time you held her and worry that Elizabeth will some day sense and maybe even resent how much time you've missed," Emily surmised, smiling when her husband looked at her in surprise.
"If I asked Dad, I could quit International Rescue," John said quietly. "Or we could run the communications from Earth."
"How many times has weather interfered with the base communications?" Emily asked. "And I know how much you love the stars."
"Not as much as I love my angels," John smiled as he kissed Emily and Elizabeth each in turn.
"And we love you, and we understand," Emily said. "John Tracy without his stars isn't the man we love. And the world needs the Thunderbirds. Just – Just always come home to us."
"I will," John whispered as he kissed her again.
"Good," Emily said before frowning. "Now wake up."
"Emmy?" John questioned.
John shook himself from the voice in his ear, glaring at face that came with the offending voice.
Josiah Walsh sighed in relief. "Thank God. You were out of it for a moment there." He turned to his left and looked out the now open door. "Hey, Richie – ya didn't kill John here."
"Excuse me?" John squeaked.
Josiah grinned at the other man as he climbed out of the tilted truck. "Well, we couldn't keep calling you "hey you". So Richie here said to call you John. Like John Smith?"
"Actually," Chief Sanderson said from the ground as he helped the other two men out. "I was thinking more along the lines of John Doe."
"You sound like a cop," Josiah razzed as he turned to help John down.
"Dang – and being a cop, son of a cop and grandson of a cop couldn't do that," Sanderson snarked.
John grinned as he listened to the two men, shaking his head for a minute before wincing.
"You ok?" Sanderson asked John.
"Yeah," John said. "Between the helmet and a hereditary hard head, I'll be fine."
"Good," Sanderson said firmly. "We have to right the truck. I figure if we rock it a bit, get some debris under the one tire that went into the mud there and we can get out ok."
John looked over the scene and nodded, concurring with the sheriff's assessment and said so.
"What makes you think that will work?" Josiah scoffed.
"Because my dad and my brother are both engineers and I have been in the rescue business for a while now," John said with the calmness required to coordinate rescues and referee brothers for years.
"And because we did the same thing coming home after we dropped off our dates from Senior Prom," Sanderson said cheerfully as he began to pick up debris to start the process.
"We did?" Josiah said, his face wrinkled in confusion.
"Joe got really drunk that night," Sanderson stage whispered, making John chuckle a bit. "Luckily, he can still work well even when he's soused."
Seeing the looks passing between the two men, somewhere between affection and annoyance, reminded John too much of his own brothers and he began to work harder to get the truck out of the ditch.
Otherwise, he would start laughing. These two really did remind him of his brothers.
Glancing at the International Rescue man as he began to work, the sheriff and the farmer shook their heads. This "John" was a strange duck, but he was better than no help.
Virgil felt himself falling forward, knowing there was no chance of catching himself and that he would soon be hitting the hard ground and...
"Gotcha!" Violet Gardner crowed as she hauled Virgil back by his uniform collar with a speed and strength that belied her age.
The older woman pulled at Virgil, bringing him in to rest beside her on the rough benches that were set in the truck's sides.
"Now I don't know about where you are from young man," Mrs. Gardner said with a twinkle in her faded blue eyes. "But here in Georgia you don't leave a job half done."
"We never do, Ma'am," Virgil promised her.
"No more of that Ma'am," Violet Gardner waggled her finger at Virgil that reminded him even more of his late grandmother. "It's Violet or Mrs. Gardner, you hear me?"
"Yes, Ma – Mrs. Gardner," Virgil said with a chuckle as he double checked his data pad, making sure it hadn't been damaged in his near miss.
"And your name is?"
Shaking his head, Virgil answered kindly, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Gardner. We can't give out our names. We act under complete anonymity."
"Well," Violet said calmly. "I wouldn't let any of my students use anything but their real names, but I suppose we can make something up." Patting his arm, Violet just smiled. "I know. You are smart and sweet just like my boy was. So – Virgil it is." At Virgil's startled sound, the older woman just shushed him. "Well, you won't say your name and the name I gave my boy was a good one. Virgil, I will have you know, was a very famous Roman poet. His greatest works were the Eclogues, the Georgics and - "
"The epic Aeneid," Virgil finished. "One of my favorites."
"Yes," Violet sighed as she leaned back against the bench, her eyes closed for a moment as she squeezed Virgil's arm. "A good boy, like my Virgil."
Virgil put his arm around Mrs. Gardner and gave her a quick hug. "With a mother like you, he had to be," Virgil said kindly.
Opening her eyes, now filled with tears she smiled again. "Yes, a very good boy."
Scott was pacing impatiently. Most of the people from the outlying areas were either retrieved or on their way. Gordon and Sarah Jane had called in to say they were still missing three scouts who had wandered off, but that the Air National Guard truck had caught up with them and they were sending the other children and the troop leaders back, remaining with just one deputy sheriff, the chopper pilot and his brother and sister-in-law to find the three last children.
The first truck rumbled into the area, Virgil gingerly climbing out and waving half-heartedly at his brother.
As a few of the older people exited, choosing to wait for family coming in from the outlaying farms, several of the children climbed up, welcomed eagerly by grandparents who would watch over them for the families.
An older lady leaned out of the truck, waving Scott over.
"Yes, Ma'am?" Scott asked politely.
She sighed. "It's – oh, never mind," Mrs. Gardiner muttered before straightening. "Now, are you in charge of these young people?" she asked, gesturing towards Virgil.
"Well, this young man nearly fell from the truck; have someone check him over, will you?"
"When our other medic gets back, I'll see that happens," Scott assured her.
"If your other medic is gone, where is your first one?" Mrs. Gardiner asked. "Proper language indicates that if you are saying the other medic, you should have two. Where is your first one?"
"Um, that would be me, Mrs. Gardiner," Virgil offered as he tried to avoid Scott's scrutiny.
Mrs. Gardiner beamed at him. "I should have known such a sweet boy would be a caretaker. You take care of yourself, Virgil."
As the truck rumbled off, Scott finally regained his power of speech. "Virgil?" Scott growled at his brother.
"It was her son's name," Virgil said quietly. "He was killed in the Terrorist War."
Scott was silenced at that. The oldest Tracy son was a veteran of that brief but deadly conflict, winning a Medal of Honor for something that even if it hadn't been classified, the family doubted Scott would ever talk about it.
"Virgil's a good name," Scott said finally as the other two trucks rolled in.
Virgil and Scott headed towards the trucks, Scott explaining where Gordon and Sarah Jane still were.
Looking into the trucks as the last of the families were reunited and ready to head out of town, Virgil finally approached the driver of one of the trucks.
"The International Rescue man and the Sheriff – where are they?"
The driver looked anxiously over his shoulder. He was a long-distance truck usually, but having all these folks depending on him to get to safety had him stressed.
"Oh, they should be along soon – they were in a truck right behind us."
As the two loaded trucks rumbled out of the now virtually deserted town, Tin-Tin joined Scott and Virgil as they looked down the empty road, as if they could will the vehicle containing their brother could be willed into existence.
Alan ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He was glad he was in good shape but he was still breathless when he got to the back bedroom.
"Kate?" Alan gasped as he bounded into the room.
Kate was leaning against the dresser, one hand grasping the edge, the other her stomach. She looked up at Alan with terror in her dark brown eyes.
"Um, remember when I said I couldn't be in labor?" When Alan nodded, she continued.
"Seems I forgot to tell the baby that – my water just broke."
"OK," Alan said calmly as he grabbed a small bag from the closet. "Let's grab you a bag, you get changed, and we'll head over to New York Presbyterian. We'll call Emily on the way and get her to contact someone there. You'll be in a suite and delivering my nephew in no time soon."
Leaning on Alan as they made their way down the hallway, Kate grumbled, "How can you be so calm?"
"Well," Alan mused, "my grandmother used to tell us only one of us could be upset at a time. She didn't have the energy for more than that."
They were almost to the room Kate was in when she clutched his arm again. Before Alan could say anything, the lights went out. Alan waited silently, rubbing a hand over Kate's back to try and calm her. The lights came back on, allowing Alan to lead his sister-in-law to her room.
"I'll have to tell Dad the emergency back-up worked perfectly," Alan said calmly as he directed Kate to get changed in the bathroom while he packed a bag for her.
Once the door shut, Alan leaned against the wall. "PLEASE – let her wait until we get to the hospital. I so don't want to deliver my own nephew."
The curses dripping from MJ's mouth were drowned out by the howling wind. This was taking much longer than she had thought it would, the Tracys having put multiple security and safety features on the control panels for the generators. At one point MJ thought she had it only to find that the circuitry had a backup system that had to be accessed separately.
Now she was almost there.
A bright flash of light was almost immediately followed by a deafening roll of thunder that shook the equipment around MJ, making her drop her tools. As she scrambled for the tools, MJ saw the security lights go out and wondered if it had been enough. But just as she finished picking up what she had dropped, the sound of the generators coming to life became deafening and the lights flickered back on.
"Think you are so smart," MJ muttered. "Well, I'm going to have the last laugh." With that MJ dug into her work with even more gusto, determined to cause whatever discomfort she could for the Tracys.
Gordon lagged behind, helping one of the scouts. The boy, eight years old, had been dared by his older brother and cousin – both eleven – to try and cross a small gorge on a moss coated log. Not surprisingly, the boy had fallen, badly twisting his ankle. When the Sarah had found them, she had called Gordon to assist, deducing he was the closest.
"Now, the deputy – his name was Oscar Lagruex – said he would wait for us at the chopper, right?" Gordon called out.
Sarah paused in her lecturing to the two older boys to look over her shoulder at Gordon.
"For the fifth time, YES!" Sarah snapped.
"Lovers' quarrel?" the older boy, Troy sniggered.
"Ooh, gross," Gordon groaned before shaking his head. "Uh, no – Op Six and I don't have that kind of relationship. She's kinda married to Op Three."
"And now I remember why the Commander usually assigns me to work with anyone but you," Sarah snarked.
Gordon shook his head again and muttered to the eight year old, Bryce, "Women!"
Bryce nodded, sure that the Thunderbird must know everything.
Troy and Bryce's cousin, Aaron glared at Sarah. "I don't know what the fuss is about. We're gonna be fine."
"Base to Op Four and Six, do you copy?"
"Op Six here, Base," Sarah calmly replied.
"Status?" Tin-Tin responded with equal calm.
"We are in sight of the chopper and have all three boys. The eight year old victim has a sprained ankle that I have secured and the two eleven year olds are unharmed, although I can't guarantee anything for when their parents find out what they did."
Aaron glared again while Troy looked like he wanted to faint.
"Op Six, we need you two to move now – the dam in about to give and it looks like the stress fracture will be-"
A horrible groan followed by a snap that reminded Sarah of a branch cracking in an ice storm could be heard echoing throughout the area. All five of their heads swirled over to the area where the dam could be seen in the distance. Before their horrified eyes parts of the dam gave way, making water and cement begin a rolling threat coming straight at them.
Gordon picked up Bryce and shoved him into Sarah's arms. "RUN!" he yelled.
Sarah, with her long strides of a marathon runner, easily made it safely to the chopper, handing Bryce to the deputy. Without even thinking, she snagged a safety harness and secured it to her uniform before reaching out to grab Troy. Tossing him into the chopper Sarah yelled at the pilot to start take off.
Twenty feet away, Aaron stumbled and fell. Gordon was past him before he even realized it. Running back, Gordon grabbed him and helped him up. "Come on, kid!" Gordon yelled.
The chopper had begun to lift off the ground, with Sarah remaining on the runner. Reaching out, she grabbed at Troy but missed when the chopper shifted slightly.
Hearing the rumbling noise draw closer, Gordon looked up to see the wall of water coming ever near. The water was almost upon them.
Seeing the water was almost there, Sarah leaned down, glad she had put on the safety harness as she stretched to her limit and grabbed Aaron. Pulling him up, Sarah handed off to Deputy LaGruex before she turned to grab at Gordon.
"Fish face!" she screamed against the sound of the approaching wave. "Grab my hand!"
Gordon leaped towards the chopper and Sarah's outstretched hand just as the water hit them, forcing the pilot, Jacob, to jerk the machine upwards. Sarah's and Gordon's hands just missed and Gordon went down, only to be swept up by the swirling waters…
A/N - Well, I did save John and Virgil, brought back MJ (Who'da thunk anyone would miss HER?), and yes, Kate is in labor with only her seventeen year old brother-in-law in attendance. But now we have Gordon...And yes, I know, Jeff having a problem drinking isn't canon. SO? To be military and a man who completely abstained? I just gave him a reason. No mid-week update this week, spending time with family. Take care - CC