Thanks to everyone who reviewed, favourited or followed the last chapter, especially Whirlgirl (thanks for the Barclay story review too, by the way!) and Lilyzinha, who I couldn't reply to personally. The support means a lot. Bee
Tin-Tin started in surprise at Brains' call. Her hand jerked, knocking over a jar of screws which scattered across the floor and she knelt down to pick them up, muttering something Brains couldn't quite catch as she did so.
He joined her on the floor. "I-Is everything o-okay? Y-You haven't b-been yourself t-today."
She forced herself to smile. "I'm fine, Brains. Just tired. I didn't sleep too well last night."
She certainly hadn't. She'd been exhausted after the stresses of the day, but, as she'd suspected he would, Alan had turned up at her door just as she'd got into bed. She'd already locked it and disabled the emergency override, so he was reduced to whispering his apologies through the door, but Tin-Tin was having none of it. She was determined not to speak to him - not even to tell him to go away - so she simply pulled her pillow over her head and tried not to think about him. It hadn't worked. After all her initial panic at the thought of a baby, she'd taken comfort in the certainty that despite his faults, Alan wouldn't let her down, allowing herself to entertain daydreams of a domestic idyll that she was usually realistic enough to laugh off. She knew full well that Alan wasn't really ready for such a step, but for a while it had been a real possibility and she was possibly more angry with herself for getting caught up in the idea than with him for failing to jump at the chance. Even so, now the issue was out in the open between them she wasn't going to take him back without getting some kind of commitment from him. She didn't want anyone else, she knew that for certain, but she wasn't going to let things carry on as they had for the past couple of years, not any more.
"W-would you like t-to take a b-break?"
"No, thank you, Brains. I really need to keep working. It takes my mind off... things."
"If there's a-anything I c-can do..."
She smiled at him as she dropped the last screw into the jar and got to her feet. "Thank you, Brains. But you can't help with this."
Brains couldn't help feeling relieved. This kind of thing just made him nervous. That was why he liked machines - they didn't do anything you didn't want them to. Well, maybe that wasn't entirely true - they had the habit of breaking down at inopportune moments, but they rarely broke your heart. He'd listen to Tin-Tin and make all the appropriate noises of sympathy - he'd done it often enough over the past couple of years - but he'd never feel truly comfortable. And he'd certainly never be able to push aside the familiar feeling that Alan really didn't deserve a girl like Tin-Tin, not when he continually failed to do the one thing he knew would make her happy.
Alan arrived at that moment bearing a tray of coffee and cake. Brains immediately tried to sidle into his office but Tin-Tin reached out and pulled him back, returning to her work without another word.
"Er... I brought coffee," Alan finally said, when the silence and Brains' embarrassed twitching had become too much for him to bear.
"So you did," Tin-Tin said, not bothering to look at him. Even so, the fact that these were the first words she'd said to him in nearly twenty-four hours, led Alan to take them as a sign of encouragement. He took a couple of steps closer until he was hovering behind her.
"Go away, Alan," she said, without even looking around.
"We're busy. Your father wants this prototype working by the end of the week. He won't be happy if you're disturbing us."
"I said, we're busy. Go and find something to do, Alan. If you don't have work to do then go and play your video games or something."
Brains shot a desperate look at his office, wishing he was there now. The long silence had been bad enough, but the last thing he wanted was to be stuck in the middle of a fight. But with Tin-Tin still keeping hold of his sleeve, there was no escape. He was aware of Alan's furious gaze, but before he could find a way to tell him that it wasn't his choice to be there, Alan gave in.
"Okay... Sorry to have bothered you."
Tin-Tin said nothing as he left, just letting go of Brains' lab coat and focusing her attention fully on her work again.
After a miserable morning spent wandering aimlessly around the silos, Alan decided that he needed help. There was only one person who could solve this problem, the one person who'd always been able to make things right: Scott.
"I don't know, Alan," Scott said, once Alan had finished begging him to put a in good word with Tin-Tin. "Apart from the fact that I've got no experience in these matters..." He shot a withering glance at his youngest brother as he said this, gratified to see him blush. "It's really between the two of you. I don't think Tin-Tin's going to be persuaded by anything I've got to say. Not this time. Maybe Grandma?"
"Please, Scott... For me?" Alan knew his grandmother would be well and truly on Tin-Tin's side. She was the last person he wanted to discuss this with.
Scott sighed, his big-brother instincts taking over, even though he knew it was a bad idea. "Okay, I'll talk to her."
"Thanks, Scott. You're the best!"
"I hope so," Scott muttered to himself as he took himself off to Tin-Tin's room, hoping to catch her before she went down to lunch.
It didn't go well. Tin-Tin was furious that Alan, in what she saw as another sign that he'd yet to grow up, was relying on his big brother to solve his problems, but the fact that Scott of all people had the nerve to give her relationship advice just infuriated her even more. Virgil or John - even Gordon - would have got a polite but insistent refusal to discuss the matter. What Scott got was a ten-minute lecture on his own inadequacies when it came to understanding women. Poor Scott had no idea what she was talking about, though he couldn't get a word in edgeways to defend himself. In the end he allowed her to throw him out of her room, glad to get away but none the wiser as to what he'd done to upset her so much. Alan must have really hurt her this time, he decided, making a mental note to warn his other brothers to keep out of it unless they too wanted to face the wrath of Tin-Tin.
Lunch was a tense affair. Tin-Tin had taken Scott's usual seat next to Virgil, as far away from Alan as it was possible to get. Scott hadn't dared say anything, meekly making his way to the other end of the table. They'd all been relying on Lady Penelope's arrival to lighten the mood, but Jeff informed them that her flight had been delayed by mechanical problems and she wouldn't be arriving until the following day. Gordon had done his best to keep the conversation going, but his teasing of Scott over Penny had fallen flat. Tin-Tin had laughed so bitterly that they'd all felt uncomfortable and it was left to Jeff to fill the gap in the conversation with an account of Tracy Industries' latest financial reports. It was a relief to everyone when, just as Kyrano was about to serve dessert, John called in with details of a rescue.
It was a fairly straightforward matter, and, since it was in New Zealand, a relatively local one. A group of climbers had run into trouble on Mount Cook. As always, Jeff monitored the mission from his desk in the lounge. Grandma had Kyrano bring in coffee and asked Tin-Tin to sit with her for a while. The girl had been wary, expecting the old lady to try to defend her grandson, but Grandma had avoided all mention of Alan, instead seeking Tin-Tin's advice about a suitable gift for Kyrano's forthcoming birthday.
The women were still trying to come to a decision when the rescue began. Alan had volunteered to be the one winched down to pick up the climbers, retrieving the first four without incident. Tin-Tin had made sure to take a seat which faced away from the portraits behind Jeff's desk and she'd done her best to block out the sound of Alan's voice. But when Gordon suddenly yelled out Alan's name and the man himself announced with barely-controlled panic that the clip on his harness had failed and he was going to fall - this at a time when he was a hundred feet up in the air - she couldn't help but take notice, reaching out and gripping Grandma's hand tightly, barely daring to breathe as she waited to discover Alan's fate.
Scott and Virgil joined their father in demanding to know what was going on. There was a desperately tense silence for a moment before Alan's relieved voice announced that the rope had caught again and, despite a heart-stoppingly rapid drop of fifty feet or so, he was back in control. Gordon, his voice shaking, announced that he was winching him back in to change harnesses, informing the others once he'd broken off contact with his youngest brother that the incident had been one of the most terrifying things he'd ever witnessed, convinced as he was that Alan was about to fall to his death.
Tin-Tin realised she was staring at Alan's portrait. Aware that both Grandma and Jeff were watching her, she mumbled something about Brains needing her help before practically running out of the room. She didn't go to the lab though, instead heading for her room where she threw herself on the bed and tried to make sense of her conflicting emotions. Relief that Alan was safe and well overwhelmed her and for a while she wanted nothing more than to tell him that, but then she remembered how unhappy he'd made her with his lack of commitment and she knew that if she gave in now she'd never get what she wanted from him.
Alan had been hoping that Tin-Tin would be waiting for Two's arrival, ready to throw herself into his arms and beg him to take her back, but he was disappointed. Only his father was there, demanding to know what had gone wrong and insisting his sons check every harness before they shut down Thunderbird Two. Alan had left his brothers to it, intent on finding Tin-Tin, but he'd been caught by his father, who had stopped him, warning him to give the girl some space. After all, he pointed out, if she wanted to find him, she could. Alan had protested, but Jeff had stood his ground and sent his son back to Two to help his brothers. Alan hadn't been happy.
Tin-Tin had continued to avoid Alan, still unsure as to her best course of action. After dinner - another quiet meal - she made to leave the room but was cornered by Grandma.
"I wonder, dear, would you like to watch a movie with me tonight?"
Tin-Tin considered this for a moment, wondering if this was Grandma's way of getting her alone for a talk. But even as she started to shake her head, Grandma smiled at her.
"I mean a movie, Tin-Tin. No conversation. And no Alan, either - he's got some work to do on Thunderbird Three, I believe. I've got a box of those chocolates you like so much left over from my birthday..."
Tin-Tin gave in. At least it would take her mind off things for a while. "Very well, Mrs Tracy, I'd like that."
"Come along, then, dear." Taking Tin-Tin's arm she led the girl down to her room.
Tin-Tin couldn't deny that Grandma had been right when she'd said there'd be no conversation, but it was clear she'd thought this one through carefully. The movie she'd chosen was Love Story - the eighth remake, widely regarded as the best since the original. Tin-Tin would have preferred something with a little more action - the last thing she wanted right now was to watch other people fall in love, but the chocolates were a big temptation and Grandma had been so pleased to have some female company.
Two hours later, two tearful women made their way back to the lounge.
"That was mean, Mrs Tracy," Tin-Tin said. "And it's not going to work. If I didn't take Alan back after he nearly died, I'm hardly going to fall into his arms again just because of that film."
"I suppose not, dear. But I do want you two to be happy and life's too short to fight, you know."
"I know. But it's too short to waste time trying to work out if you want to be with someone. If he doesn't know how he feels by now then maybe he never will."
"He does want to be with you, dear."
"I know, but only on his terms. He- Oh..."
The lounge - lit only by candles - was full of flowers. Virgil, trying not to sneeze since the piano was covered with lilies, was playing some romantic melody.
Immediately seeing what was going on, Tin-Tin turned to leave, but Grandma, showing surprising strength for a woman of her age, caught her hand and held her in place.
"Yes you do," Grandma said. "You know you do."
Alan appeared at the door. "Tin-Tin? Can we talk?"
"Does my father know you decimated his flower garden?"
"The flowers were his idea."
"Do it for me, dear," Grandma whispered. "I'm an old lady. I could die in my sleep tonight without having the peace of mind of knowing that you two made up."
"That's not fair."
"I know. Now, go on, dear." Grandma pushed her towards Alan before nodding to Virgil who left the piano, pausing only to turn on a recording of Tin-Tin's favourite music which he'd made earlier, before joining his grandmother and the rest of his brothers on the balcony.
"Well?" Gordon asked.
"She's still there," Virgil said.
"Good," Scott announced. "Tin-Tin's been kind of weird today. I really hope they make it up."
"They better had," Gordon said. "After the stunt Alan pulled this afternoon I hate to think what he'll do if this doesn't work."
"What about this afternoon?" Scott and Virgil spoke in unison, identical looks of suspicion on their faces.
"Alan didn't have a problem with his harness," Gordon said slowly. "He let the rope out deliberately. He knew Tin-Tin was in the lounge and he had some crazy idea that if she thought he was about to die she'd forgive him and everything would work out."
As he'd expected, his brothers and grandmother were furious. He was quick to tell them that he'd known nothing about it until his brother had confessed everything when he'd been brought up to change harnesses. "Don't worry," Gordon told them. "I made sure he knew how stupid he'd been. If I hadn't been shaking so much I think I would have punched him."
"I might just do that," Scott growled. "Knock some sense into the little-"
"Sorry, Grandma, but what was he thinking? He must have known what he was putting us through."
"I know. But people do stupid things when they're in love. I'll talk to him."
"If Tin-Tin finds out she'll never forgive him," Virgil said.
"So we have to make sure she never finds out," Grandma told him. She looked sternly at each of her grandsons in turn, nodding in satisfaction as they promised not to say anything.
Gordon had moved back to the window. "They're still talking," he announced.
Five minutes later, Virgil went over to take a look. "They're holding hands," he told them, much to Grandma's delight.
When Gordon went to check on the pair a few minutes later he found that the lounge was empty. "Our work is done," he informed them.
"Well done, boys," Grandma said. "Now then, Scott, about Penny's visit..."
Alan led Tin-Tin back down the corridors to the living quarters. "This way," he told her as she went to take the stairs which led to her room.
"Your room?" she asked in some surprise. "What about Gordon?"
"What about him?"
Tin-Tin slipped her hand in Alan's as they headed to his room. Though once they were inside, she couldn't help wishing they'd gone to her quarters after all. Alan had clearly had help setting up the lounge, since his own room looked anything but romantic. Grandma might have cleaned it that morning, but Alan had still managed to turn it upside down when he'd changed for dinner.
Alan looked around in dismay. "I guess I should have tidied up but I was busy trying to work out how to get you to talk to me again. I'm sorry, Tin. Maybe we should go to your room instead?"
Tin-Tin plucked a discarded gym sock from the pillow, dropping it onto the floor as she turned to face him. "We're not going anywhere," she told him as she pulled him towards her.
The next day, after lunch - another awkward meal, though this time because Alan and Tin-Tin couldn't keep their hands off each other - Scott, Virgil and Gordon sat on the balcony and looked out at the beach where the reunited couple were walking hand-in-hand.
No one said anything. They didn't need to - they were all thinking the same thing.
As Tin-Tin and Alan stopped to kiss, Virgil sighed and got to his feet. "Guess I'll go and get that oil change on Firefly done. You guys want to give me a hand?"
"Sorry, Virg," Scott said, casting another glance out at the beach before getting up himself. "I'm flying out to pick Penny and Parker up later. Gords will help, though."
Gordon got up from his chair. "Maybe later." He yawned. "I'm going to take a nap first. Didn't get too much sleep last night..."
As their younger brother went back into the house, Virgil and Scott took one last look at Alan as he pulled Tin-Tin into the trees which lined the beach.
"I need to get off this island," Virgil muttered.
"You and me both."
"What about Penny?"
Scott sighed. "Will you stop going on about that. We're-"
"Just friends. So you keep saying."
"So take my word for it. Anyway, she's seeing someone."
"Yeah. Some lord or other. She didn't stop talking about him when she called with the new flight details."
"You okay with that?" Virgil asked, searching his brother's face intently. The two didn't keep many secrets from each other but Virgil had never been able to discover exactly what was going on between his brother and Lady Penelope.
"There's nothing to be okay about. We were never involved, Virg. It was fun to pretend to you guys that we were, but we really are just friends."
"Oh. Grandma's going to be disappointed."
"Yeah. But look on the bright side, maybe she'll get rid of that stupid wedding photo now."
"Maybe. Or maybe she'll see it as a challenge. I mean, she sorted Alan and Tin-Tin out. Good luck, Scott." With a final glance in the direction of the beach he took himself off towards Two's hangar. Scott wasn't long in following him off the balcony. Right now he envied Alan and Tin-Tin more than he could say.
Later that evening, Alan sought out his father in his office.
"Dad, I was wondering if Tin-Tin and I could have some time off."
Jeff looked up from his laptop and frowned at his son. "It's a busy time, son."
"Yeah, but you could spare us for a week or so, couldn't you?"
"Possibly. When were you planning on taking this vacation?"
"Next week..." Alan fixed his most winning smile in place and turned all his baby brother charm on his father. But the smile faltered as Jeff sat back, shaking his head.
"Not possible, I'm afraid. Virgil has already booked that week. He came to see me this afternoon."
"Oh. The week after, then."
"Sorry, that's Scott's. He turned up just after Virgil."
"Okay... How about-"
"Gordon. Then John."
"All of them? Why now? They never take any leave."
"I think that's part of the problem, Alan."
"Well, never mind, I'll just get one of them to swap with me. Scott will-"
"No, Alan. You won't do anything of the kind."
"I won't?" Alan looked at his father in surprise.
Jeff sighed, wondering why he had to spell it out. "Your brothers don't have the... distractions... here that you do. I wonder if you realise how lucky you are, sometimes. Given the events of the past few days I have to say that you probably don't."
"I didn't come for relationship advice, Dad." Alan was immediately on the defensive.
"And you're not going to get it. Whatever you do with Tin-Tin is your own business. But you leave your brothers alone. They deserve the chance to meet someone too."
"Of course they do, it's just..."
"Okay..." Alan turned sullenly and headed for the door.
"If you should manage to persuade any of your brothers to give up their leave for you then I'll cancel the entitlement for both of you."
Alan spun round. "That's not fair!"
"No. But it's about time you showed a little more consideration for the others. Enjoy yourself here with Tin-Tin. Most people can only dream of the lifestyle you have."
"I know, but-"
"Alan, enough! Go and find Tin-Tin. It's a beautiful evening, make the most of it."
Any further arguments Alan might have put up were lost as Scott called in to say he was five minutes away from the island with Penny and Parker. Jeff pushed his chair away and got to his feet.
"Come on, son. And don't sulk at the dinner table - we had enough of that last night."