Jeff entered the two storey Tracy home with a heavy heart. It was hard for him to believe that Lucy had been gone for over three years. It had been hard and if it weren't for people like Andrew, Trish, and even Kathryn, he was sure he would've fallen apart within that first year after Lucille had died. And it had taken the actions of his brave, intelligent daughter to snap him back to reality.
At least, now after three years and four months without his beloved wife beside him, Jeff could admit that.
"Dad! Dad!" Gordon called out. The second red-headed child of his came dashing through the back door of the house and ran behind the protection of his father's legs. "Save me!"
"I am going to thump you copper…" began the angry retort of Jeff's second offspring before John skidded to a stop in the hallway a few feet from Jeff. Crossing his arms, Jeff shot John a disapproving stare. Then Jeff turned his attention down at his second youngest child.
"Gordon?" So much was wrapped up in that one simple question and command. It also helped that Jeff was sending a pointed glare at the red-headed hellion.
"Uh, Dad. Would you believe that it had nothing to do with me?" Gordon asked, putting his best innocent expression on his face. When Jeff started tapping his left bicep, the young eleven-year-old swallowed. "I, uh, I accidently coated his telescope with blue nail polish." Gordon took another look up at his father and guiltily looked back down at his feet. "It wasn't an accident. I'll fix it. Sorry Dad." With an indication of his head, Jeff directed Gordon's attention to an upset John. Biting his lower lip in a very Kathryn-like move, Gordon apologised to his brother.
John accepted and then apologised for his language. "I'm sorry dad, and Gordon. Love you."
Jeff shook his head and smiled slightly. Some things never changed, and for that, he was eternally grateful. Gordon would forever be his prankster child, and for once, the father was glad at least one of his children had inherited Lucy's humour. It made for an interesting life and with Gordon (or any one of his children), there will never be a dull moment in his life. Moving into the lounge area, Jeff found Scott, Virgil and Alan sitting at the dining room table, working on homework.
The three of them looked up and Alan ran over to him. Picking up the nearly seven-year-old, Jeff swung the boy around before putting the boy down again. "You're getting too big for me to do that anymore, son." Alan pouted, reminding Jeff so much of Lucy that he had to blink a few times to make sure his gaze wasn't clouding up. "How was school today?"
"It was great! I wrote a story about how it is your birthday on Saturday and I get to make waffles with Scotty."
Jeff knelt down to his youngest son's level. "Really? Did you write anything in your story about what you were getting for your dad?" he asked hopefully.
Alan laughed – a sweet sound to Jeff that also reminded him of Lucy – and pushed his father away. "It's a surprise, Dad."
Jeff laughed and stood up again, ruffling Alan's hair. Walking over to the table, he looked down at the work that his eldest and middle sons were doing. Mentally sighing, Jeff couldn't believe it was April already. Two weeks earlier, the family had celebrated Scott's 15th birthday and as Alan had said, his fortieth was fast approaching. And in another two weeks, they would celebrate John's 14th birthday. "So how were your days, boys?"
Scott shrugged. "Same as always, Dad. Nothing interesting to report. I didn't realise how hard freshman year would be."
"From what your teachers have been telling me, Scooter, you've been doing really well."
"Yeah, I guess."
Jeff looked over to his other son that took after him in looks. "What about you Virgil?"
"It was alright. I have a recital next week for piano. Was practicing for that today. And Miss Wilson let me finish my landscape at morning break."
The father congratulated his sons for their hard work. "So what do you say about ordering some pizza in? It's been a long day and from what you've told me, I think someone needs to be some cheering up."
Three boys looked up at their father in surprise and joy. "Really dad? Can I have Hawaiian?" Alan asked.
"You always want Hawaiian, Sprout," Scott said affectionately to his baby brother. "Oh, Dad. A package came for you today from Katie. I left it on the kitchen bench."
"Thanks son. I'll get it in a moment."
It was later that night, after Jeff had put his sons to bed that he went back to open up the package from Kathryn. Normally, the young woman (Jeff couldn't really think of Kathryn as his little girl anymore) didn't send packages back to the family, unless it was for somebody's birthday. Yet, he didn't think that the current package he held was a gift for his birthday. If he could recall correctly, Kathryn had included his present in with the package she had sent home for Scott's fifteenth birthday.
Jeff sat on the edge of his bed and turned the package over. He carefully opened the parcel and smiled at the wrapped gift inside. Pulling it out, he saw a card on the outside. With John's name on it. He laughed at that. So the parcel wasn't exactly for him, but for him to put into safekeeping. Taking one last look in the box, Jeff noticed that there was a note at the bottom of it. He placed John's parcel on the bed and reached in to retrieve the note.
"Dad, I was going to send this next week but I've been given orders. I'm shipping to Serbia on the 16th. The Terror Wars are getting worse and they need additional 68W's over there. It doesn't matter to command that I haven't finished my EMT-P course yet, but they'll make sure that I complete it in time. Sorry this is such short notice. I'll try keep safe. I thought I wouldn't get my next orders until after Independence Day. Have a great birthday. Tell my brothers that I love them. Kathryn.
"PS. I've been meaning to say, Dad. I love you too."
The note slipped from Jeff's hand. The 16th was only two days away. And the following day was his birthday. He felt his heart constrict. How was he going to be able to enjoy his birthday now with the knowledge that his only little girl was in some war zone with every possibility that she could be injured?
It was safe to say, he didn't get much sleep that night.
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With Kathryn being stationed overseas, Jeff found himself really working hard to get things sorted out at Tracy Enterprises and on the Island. Having decided that it would make more sense to build the main headquarters for Tracy Enterprises in Manhattan (while still working out of the Olathe or Kansas City offices), Jeff found it was a distraction he could work on that took his mind of endless worrying.
It was a week or two after John's birthday that Andrew realised something was off. Andrew made sure that he touched base with the family once a week to see how everyone was doing. On the second Saturday after the family had celebrated John turning fourteen, Jeff had been caught a few times not paying attention to the boys. When Andrew took a closer look, the 38-year-old could spot new worry lines forming around Jeff's eyes.
"Scott, your dad and I are just going for a walk. Could you watch your brothers?"
Both John and Scott (who also had picked up something wasn't right with their father) nodded. "We'll watch them," John replied for the two of them.
The two adults left the house and Andrew pulled Jeff along the street for a few minutes before asking, "What is it?"
It took Jeff several attempts to reply, and when he did eventually voice the problem, Andrew had trouble hearing him. "Andy, Kate's in Serbia."
"She's an army medic, Jeff," Andrew returned once he'd deciphered what his brother-in-law was saying. "Do you expect her to always be stationed at Fort Sam Houston?"
"On the front like. That's where the Terror Wars are being fought."
"Hate to ruin your parade, but I checked what orders our Katie could get. She won't be on the front line. The army decided that the front line wasn't for the fairer sex if they were medics."
Jeff stopped walking beside his brother-in-law and stared at him. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because we've got to have faith in that girl and in the system. She's been training to go into dangerous situations for the last two years." Andrew sighed and asked, "Have you told the boys where she is?"
Jeff shook his head. "I haven't had the heart to let them know she's gone overseas. Scott and John have enough on their plates and the younger ones won't really understand what's going on."
Andrew refrained from rolling his eyes. "They know and understand more than they let on. You and Luce have some bright young boys there." He continued walking with Jeff for another half a block before he commented. "I've only been in and out occasionally during the week and I picked up that something was wrong. What makes you think that the boys haven't picked up something is wrong? Especially the older two. Scott's worried about you."
Jeff glowered at the younger man. "You think you've got all the answers, don't you?"
Andrew stopped suddenly and balled up his fist. "We both know I don't Jeff. If I had my way, I would have taken those kids and moved to California. Then, I would have proceeded to have lost it and the boys would've ended up in the system and then where would we be?"
The billionaire rolled his eyes. "You would never have done that. Kathryn wouldn't have gone along with you."
"No, she wouldn't have."
"Are you this much of an annoyance all the time?"
The 38-year-old smirked. "Why do you think I never got married? Or why Susan and Ryan haven't moved back to Shawnee or Olathe?"
Jeff laughed slightly, but he couldn't fully appreciate the moment. "You used to drive Lucy up the wall."
Andrew nodded slightly. "I did. Though I loved her, I wasn't all that nice or supportive of her. Back in the day." Jeff had heard about what the man had done. Andrew had been very fortunate to come out of an argument with Lucy and her fiery temper with all his parts intact. "Doesn't mean I can't try make it up to her now. I swear, Jeff. If you harm any one of those precious children she left you again, there will be hell to pay."
"I'm well aware of that. Susan threatened the same thing." The father looked along the street, back toward the home he shared with his sons. "You're right, though. Scott and John can probably understand where Kathryn is and why. I'm going to let the older boys know what's going on."
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Kathryn ducked slightly as a bomber raced overhead. In the past two months she'd been stationed in Zajecar District in Serbia, she'd seen more death and injured than all her time in the States watching TV. A bomb blasted a few hundred meters from her position and she ducked for cover again, pulling a fellow soldier down with her. There were two other explosions in quick succession further off from her point than the first one.
"MEDIC!" a voice called out a few seconds later. It came from closer to the blast site and Kathryn stuck her head out. There were still a few bits of falling debris around, but she could protect herself if she stuck close to the remaining buildings.
Looking over at the other soldier with her, Kathryn gave a brief nod. Jared Carter returned Kathryn's brief nod.
"Don't worry Red. I've got your back."
Kathryn ducked along to the next building and dryly asked, "And why do you have my back, Carter? I thought you special op guys didn't get involved with conflict the same way as the rest of us do."
"Oh, you know me," Carter returned, "I couldn't keep out of the action even if I tried. Neither could the rest of my unit." They drew level to the wounded soldier and Kathryn dropped her weapon and pack and began to pull out items as she assessed the damage.
Looking up briefly from her work, she asked, "Was anyone else wounded?" Carter moved off to check the other personal caught in the blast. Kathryn returned her attention to her patient. "Stay with me Corporal. Can you tell me where it hurts the most?"
The corporal moaned slightly and tried to focus on the young private. "My legs…" he whimpered. "I can't feel my legs."
"Okay, could you tell me your name?"
"Jenson. William Jenson."
Kathryn tried to recall what was in Corporal William Jenson's file as she said, "Okay, Corporal Jenson. We can get you out of here, but I need to know where it hurts."
"Chest," Corporal Jenson croaked. "Everywhere."
Kathryn turned to her pack and pulled it closer to her. Digging through it, she pulled out a morphine shot, a Phenergan shot and some gloves. Pulling on the gloves, she began talking to Jenson. "I've got a morphine shot here, Corporal. It should help with the pain." She ripped the package open and prepped the corporal's shoulder for the morphine shot before giving it to him. "Is there anywhere else that hurts? Can you see me?"
"Just. What happened? Why is it so cold?"
"You're going into shock, Corporal." Looking around, Kathryn grabbed the blanket she'd pulled out from her pack first. She wrapped this around her patient. "We're going to get you out of here, don't worry. I'm going to give you a Phenergan shot so we can get you back to base." Looking back up at the two other soldiers that she knew were in the area, she pursed her lips. Damn it, why did the bombs have to go off so close to their home base and nowhere close to the front lines? Pulling off her gloves, she reached into her back once more and pulled out her lightweight emergency stretcher. "Corporal, we're going to get you on this stretcher as safely as we can. I don't want to damage your back or neck any more than what's already been done. Once we get you inside, I'll get your treatment started." She looked up just as Carter and the other soldier were returning to her side.
"He's the only one alive. The rest are dead."
Kathryn didn't want to ask how many 'rest' meant. "Shit. Why?" she asked again. Carter thought those two simple words summed up the situation well. "Okay. Let's get the corporal back to the med centre. Corporal, there is no way I'm going to let you die on me."
Both soldiers with her admired the teen's fire and felt her sentiments.
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Scott and John, who had been told that their sister was stationed in Serbia, felt that they needed the move to their Pacific getaway to get their minds off Kathryn's situation. Jeff tended to agree with them. Kathryn rarely had time to send them updates, but when she did, all the family were thankful to hear any news. And the times between updates, Jeff told the boys, "No news is good news."
The end of school came in June, and with it, Alan's seventh birthday. And a week later, when the family would have celebrated Kathryn's twentieth birthday, Jeff was loading the last of their things into the aircraft that would take them to their new home. Over the two months since the billionaire had admitted to his oldest two sons where Kathryn had been stationed, he had taken a few trips back to the island and with it, a far bit of their gear as well.
"Dad," Gordon asked ask Jeff entered the aircraft.
"Yes son?" Jeff asked as he pulled close the aircraft door.
"Will we come back to Kansas?"
Jeff turned and looked over to his second youngest child and was reminded sharply of Kathryn. There was so much trust and love in Gordon's eyes that the father knew he couldn't lie to his son. "Of course we will. I'm not selling the house. And remember, I still own the farm that belonged to your grandparents."
Gordon was satisfied with that answer. "So when are we getting to the Island?"
"It's about a five hour flight. Go strap yourselves in. And could you ask Scott if he wants to be co-pilot."
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Hiram Hackenbacker and his son, Fermat, had been living on Tracy Island for nearly a month when they met the five sons of Jefferson Tracy for the first time. It didn't take the boys long to include Fermat in their activities and seeing how the boys got along, Hiram was not as nervous about letting his son go off to boarding school in the fall. Jeff also noticed and was pleased with his sons. He thought he'd found the perfect friend in the older Hackenbacker, and it looked like his youngest son would also gain a good friend in Fermat. By the time the summer was out (Jeff had mentioned he'd found a school for all six boys to attend together), Alan had nicknamed Hiram "Brains."
As the seven-year-old had explained it to him, "Well, you're brainy and you're not afraid to use it. And your mouth can't keep up with how fast you think, and I think that's why you stutter. Same is true of Fermat. But there can only be one Brains at a time, right?"
Hiram had blushed at the praise of the seven-year-old and had allowed the boy to call him 'Brains'. The rest of the family soon followed. By the time the end of summer came, Jeff could hardly recall calling Brains anything else. The nickname was so fitting that he hadn't questioned where it had come from. But it wasn't names that had kept Jeff awake that last summer night before taking his boys and Fermat to their new boarding school the next day.
It was a question from John. "Dad, you're not sending us to boarding school because you don't want us right?"
When Jeff had heard that question, his heart almost broke. He was transported back to the previous year and the big argument he'd had with Andrew. "No, John. I love you too much to ever give you away. I just want you to have a normal life and best education you can have. I can't give you that on an island."
"So you'll come and get us for Thanksgiving?"
"I promise, starman." Jeff had stayed with John until the boy had fallen asleep before he returned to his own suite. It wasn't until three am that he had fallen asleep. He really didn't want to send his boys away, but he knew he couldn't give them the best education he wanted for them and also start building his dream with Brains.
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No matter how hard Kathryn tried, there were times when life really sucked. Corporal Jenson was shipped back the States after Kathryn had gotten him stabilized. The young woman was glad she was there to be able to save the man, but she shuddered when she thought if no one had gotten to him just twenty minutes later, Jenson wouldn't be around. Without even being asked, Kathryn had thrown herself deep into her work and strived to provide the best possible care for her patients. Those around her knew it was gruelling, and could see her suffering. Since the successful save of Jenson, Kathryn had worked on four other critically wounded soldiers. She saved three of them. The fourth one suffered from wounds too fatal for her to fix completely and had died on the way to Craiova in Romania.
Six months after being stationed in Serbia, Kathryn returned to Fort Sam Houston. The Second of the Terror Wars was over with a lot of fatalities on both sides. More on the other side than on the US and United Nations side.
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Once the boys had been dropped off at school, Jeff and Brains began constructing what would become Thunderbird 2. Both men lived off frozen meals (bought on weekly supply runs as there is only so many frozen meals one can eat). Jeff had decided to spend two and a half days working from his office in Manhattan and the rest of the time working on the island. Those two and a half days he offered to fly Brains back and forth. The two of them reached a compromise that the younger man would only join Jeff every second week and use that time to go down and visit his son. On occasion, Jeff would join Brains in seeing his boys.
In the last week of October, Jeff flew up to England for an international engineering conference. As he was walking out of one seminar, he ran into Aloysius Parker and a lady dressed in pink. Jeff had to do a double take when he apologised for nearly knocking over a high society lady.
"Excuse me. I'm so sorry."
Lady Penelope brushed off her suit and looked up into Jeff's eyes. "That's perfectly fine." She paused for a moment, trying to place him. "Yes. You must be Jefferson Tracy of Tracy Enterprises."
"That's right," Jeff said.
"Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward at your service."
The billionaire had heard of the Creighton-Wards before. He smiled and extended his hand. "It's very nice to meet you. I've heard so much about your family." Not to mention, he had seen the young lady on the cover of a few of the more prestigious London magazines.
"This is my butler, Aloysius Parker. He answers to Parker."
"Nice to meet you, Parker."
"Well," the 21-year-old aristocrat gave Jeff a brief nod. "It was lovely meeting you. I hope our paths will cross in the future."
Jeff smiled in return. "I'm sure they will. Tracy Enterprises is expanding internationally and London will be one of those sites."
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Kathryn hadn't spoken to anyone of her plans to visit Shawnee again. Having returned to the States toward the end of October, she was given six weeks leave and was told not to report for duty until the third week of December. When she had tried ringing the family home in Olathe, she had gotten a message saying the number she'd dialled was no longer in operation. So without Jeff's knowledge, she had made her way up to her biological father's business the first week she had on leave.
One of the men working for Tony Quinn noticed her standing out on the footpath outside the automobile workshop. He called out to her. "Excuse me, miss. Can I help you?"
Kathryn was startled out of her thoughts. She shifted her purse and answered, "Uh, yeah. I'm just looking for Anthony Quinn. He was an old friend of my mother's."
Picking up a rag, the man wiped his hands and moved out of the workshop so he was closer to the young woman. "That would be Lucille Keith, right? Used to live with, what were their names? The Grahams, right?"
"Yes, that's right. How do you know them?"
"The name's Tony Quinn." Tony reached out his hand for a handshake.
Kathryn took the proffered hand and gave it a firm handshake. "Kathryn," she got out, looking her biological father over. From what she could see, he was nothing like what everyone had been telling her.
"You've got a firm grip there, Kathryn," he said with a smile. Looking down at his greased stained hand, he added, "And it seems like you're not afraid of a little dirt." The 20-year-old wasn't sure how much of her past she should reveal to a near stranger, so she just shrugged and said that life could do that. Tony agreed, but hadn't really expected a daughter of a billionaire would have had much contact with dirt. "So what brings a young lady like you out to these parts? Last I heard Lucille Keith had married Jefferson Tracy."
"Yeah, she did. How did you know I was her daughter?"
"You look like her." Tony pursed his lips. "Tell me, does your father know you've come to see me?" Kathryn frowned, and shook her head negatively. The man smiled, and that sent shivers down her spine. "I wonder what he'd say when he finds out you've come digging into the past… Tell me, why did you come visiting?" The man's smile became feral, and she tried to back away. He caught her arm. "Shall we take this into my office?"
For a moment, Kathryn froze, before allowing her army training to take over. She had him flat on his back within a few seconds, winded. "Don't touch me," she hissed.
Tony picked himself up off the ground and asked, "Why not? You're such a pretty little thing."
"And would you say that to your own daughter?" Kathryn returned, disgusted. Now, she was beginning to see what Jeff and Andrew were saying about the man who'd given her life. His intent toward her had been clear: he would probably try and screw her over like he had done to Lucy back in high school.
He brushed himself off and looked Kathryn over again. "If I knew I could get away with it." And then, he began to piece together who exactly Kathryn was. He'd broken off his relationship with Lucy because of two things: he didn't need her to be in the 'in' crowd any longer and she told him that she was pregnant. As if the 'it' she carried was his. The young woman in front of him would be around the right age, he imagined. "So you're the little bastard that made that Drew jerk give me the beating my senior year. You know, I still owe him for that."
One of Tony's workers came over to the pair and tried getting them off the street. The younger man could see they were causing a scene and he didn't want to lose money or customers because of a damned argument the manager had with some girl. "Boss, why don't you take this into your office? We're going to lose customers if this is going to go on for much longer."
"I would love to, but the little lady doesn't agree." Again, Tony gave Kathryn a smile that didn't match what his eyes were saying. By the look of it, Kathryn would have sworn Tony would've really enjoyed overpowering her behind closed doors. "What would the world say if they found out that Jefferson Tracy's much loved daughter is the bastard child of another man?" He laughed. The laugh reminded the 20-year-old of Curella De Vil or the Wicked Witch of the West. She shivered again and backed away from both Tony and his subordinate.
"It would end a lot worse off for you if you even breathe one word to sully Jeff Tracy's name," Kathryn snapped. "He's a far better man than you will ever be. Tell me, do you treat your wife the same way you've just treated me? Or my sister?"
"You have no claim on my family," Tony declared, stepping into Kathryn's personal space. Kathryn didn't back down, but she knew that he spoke the truth. The two Quinn women had thrown her out of their home when she had explained who she was and why she was looking for Tony. He hissed, "Don't ever come near me or my family again."
It seemed like Kathryn's whole world shattered at that single sentence. Biting the inner side of her lip, she stared down Tony Quinn before turning her back on the man she'd wanted so many answers from for so many years. She walked with a calm dignity back to her rental car and drove off. It was just a block away that she started to let her tears fall.