Thanks to Becky Brock and Jenneib for their ideas. Keep it coming girls (and anyone else) and I'll try my hardest to make your wishes come true.
'Anyone seen Princess?' Jason asked into the deepening silence at the Snack J. It looked like the shop would be closed again today.
Ice blue eyes with the merest hint of grey glanced at the Eagle for a reaction. In the last two weeks the Thunderbird team had been allowed access to their vehicles to explore their new home. Their Swan spent every spare moment with Jesse Rigel. If they weren't watching old movies in the temporary theatre at Centre Neptune, they were taking one of the smaller TB or ISO craft to explore Terra. Princess appeared happier than the team had ever seen her.
As if he didn't know or care, Mark shrugged his shoulders. Turning on his stool, he placed an elbow on the counter. Only the way he wiped the condensation off the side of his juice gave away the tense muscles across his back.
'Out,' Keyop stated in his broken way, giving his leader a hard stare. 'Always out, with Jesse. Having good time. Smiling lots.'
'I kinda like the Thunderbird team,' Tiny said, 'even if they are a lot older than us. Listening to JJ, man some of the adventures they had rival ours!'
'They sure know how to have a fun,' Jason remarked, once again directing his gaze to Mark. Listening their leader didn't bother to join in the conversation, although the Condor noticed the tension in his muscles increase dramatically as they continued to talk about his competition.
'Hey,' Tiny lost his carefree pose, sitting up and becoming engaged in the conversation, 'did Jesse and JJ tell you about the day they spent in in the sand dunes on a turbo-buggy. Seems they always finished a mission and went out to unwind. Those boys are adrenalin junkies.'
'Kallan not invited,' Keyop frowned, 'and Dylan went without out her. Mistake!'
'There's a lesson to be learnt there,' Tiny chuckled, 'don't cross a woman you're attracted to, you'll be in the dog house.'
'Heard about the ear bashing Dylan got,' Jason allowed a cunning smile to cover his face. 'The next time the team went island hopping on a jet skis, they all made sure Kallan came along.'
'JJ told me,' Tiny grimaced playfully, 'it wasn't only Dylan who got scolded. Kallan's not a woman to be crossed. She's the one who keeps the team organised.'
'Like us,' Keyop chimed in, 'sick together. Good friends outside work.'
'Yah,' Jason agreed, 'but they don't spend every waking moment with each other, well except Kallan and Dylan. I guess that comes with marriage to the woman you love.'
The barb hit its intended target. Spinning on his stool, Mark faced his teammates. Glaring at Jason, he shoved his hands in his jean pockets and walked out of the Snack.
'Leaving,' Keyop asked as he reached the door. Rolling his eyes at Jason and Tiny suggested their plan hadn't worked.
'Yah,' Mark answered over his shoulder. 'The Cessna needs the engine overhauled.'
'Like ostrich,' Keyop commented loud enough for Mark to hear, 'keeping head in sand.'
'He took that well,' Jason exclaimed sarcastically, raising an eyebrow as the door slammed shut.
'Expected more?' Keyop questioned. They all knew what he meant. This sullen Eagle didn't have a chance of getting his girl back. They'd expected Mark to put up a fight.
'But did we get through his thick skull,' Tiny asked in an unusual display of temper. 'You know, maybe Prin's better off with Jesse. At least he's paying attention and showing her a good time.'
'Swan's and Eagle's mate for life,' Keyop stated, crossing his arms.
'You'd be the one to know, Squirt,' Jason ruffled the Swallow's hair. 'So I guess someone has to go and talk some sense into our illustrious leader.'
'Like Jesse,' Keyop mourned as the Snack's door closed for the second time. 'Just not with Princess.'
'I know what you mean,' Tiny returned to his drink, 'but in the end it's Prin's choice. If Mark doesn't make a play,' shrugging his shoulders, the Owl shook his head, 'he won't have a chance.'
'Hope Jason makes him see sense,' Keyop agreed. Walking over to the door, he made sure the sign said closed then locked the door. 'Wanta go fishing?'
While Mark could be clueless in matters of the heart, even he had eyes in his head. Not that it took much effort to see where Princess's attention lay these days. Between assignments, consisting of one Spectran incursion and two recognisance missions since the Thunderbird team entered Terran Federated space, His Swan spent every waking moment with either Kallan or Jesse.
'So,' Jason said, 'you going to let him walk in and steal your girl?'
The moment Mark heard G-2 turn off the main road onto the tract leading to his airfield he knew this confrontation would occur. 'Leave it alone, Jason,' the Commander growled.
'If I leave it alone any longer,' he retorted, 'they'll be engaged.'
'Princess's made her decision. Between the time she spends talking to Kallan and with Jesse, none of us see her anymore. So tell me, Jason,' Mark returned testily, a hurt expression covering his face, 'what choice do I have?'
'Plenty,' Jason returned, 'from where I stand.'
Finally allowing his anger to show, Mark threw down the wrench in his hand. Moving to stand nose to nose with his second, he ground out, 'did you know, after discussing it with her new mentor, Princess petitioned Chief Anderson to change her uniforms. Her arguments so compelling, he agreed. I was called to Centre Neptune to see the final draft of the new civilian and birdstyle before it goes to the tailors.'
'What?' Jason couldn't hold his surprised expression. The glimmer of a smile spoilt the moment. 'What did you expect? Princess is an eighteen year old who is forced to dress like a boy while in civilian uniform and goes unprotected in a micro-mini skirt while kicking Spectran butt. I'd say it's about time someone gave her the courage to speak up.'
'What other ideas is this Thunderbird team implanting,' Mark snarled. 'It's not just Princess. Grant is treating Keyop like a son.'
'He lost his children,' Jason found his anger building. 'Give the man a break. Samuel turned twelve the day before they left to test the X15. Keyop gives him something to hang onto. Besides, Keyop's enjoying the feeling of having parents. In case it's missed your notice, Dylan and Kallan have taken him under their wing as well.'
'That's exactly what I mean,' Mark's tone became deathly quiet.
'You're mad as hell because you think their taking away your team, your family,' Jason's expression changed suddenly. He found amusement in Mark's resentment. Throwing back his head he let out a laugh. 'I thought I was the one who didn't trust anyone but it turns out the mighty Eagle is jealous. Get over yourself, Mark or you will lose Princess to a better man.'
'In case it missed you notice,' the anger in Mark's voice bespoke his hurt and frustration, 'I've already lost her.'
Sobering, Jason rounded on his leader. 'You ever think Princess might be revelling in the attention a man is paying her? She's a girl in case it's missed your attention. For the first time she has a close female friend she can share her dreams and aspirations with. Kallan's showing her what it would be like to have a loving husband and normal relationships. We've all seen the way Dylan Beyda treats his wife. Jesse's thirty three years old, experienced,' the Condor saw the moment that hit the target, 'and treats our Swan with respect. It's no wonder Princess is revelling in the feelings of being "normal". Besides, don't you think he would be doing more than showing Princess a good time after two weeks?'
'Keyop will tell you,' Jason became relentless in making his point, 'Jesse makes sure Princess is delivered to her door every night. He gives her a forehead a kiss and makes a promise to see her again. He keeps every date or calls if he can't make it for some reason. Maybe you should take a leaf out of his book.'
About to walk away, he heard Mark's disgruntled sigh. 'What,' he growled, 'can I do about it.'
'Are you really that clueless,' Jason asked in astonishment. 'Don't answer that. I've seen the way you act around women. Have you ever actually closed the deal?'
'I'm not a virgin,' Mark seemed affronted.
Eyeing his leader, Jason wondered how much experience the Eagle gained. 'But not far off it, I suspect,' he teased. 'So you've done it once.' Before Mark could respond, the Condor held up a hand. 'We're not talking about sex that comes later. I'm talking about romance. Girls love that stuff, they eat it up. It's what Princess is reacting too with Jesse.'
'Women like long walks along the beach, holding hand and talking. Yah,' Jason met Mark's astonished eyes, 'you know conversation, where you open your mouth and tell them something about you! They also need to be listened too. More importantly you need to hear what they're saying.'
'How the hell do I do all that,' Mark appeared genuinely confused. 'Princess and I talk all the time.'
'About the latest intell or mission reports or training schedules,' Jason pointed out. 'What's her favourite colour?' The incredulous look gave the Condor the answer. 'I bet Jesse could tell you.'
Looking defeated, Mark bent down and retrieved his wrench. Returning his attention to the Cessna's engine he muttered, 'good for Jesse.'
'I give up,' Jason mumbled, stalking back to G2.
'G2 to Owl and Pussycat,' Jason ground out the moment his car's tyres hit the tarmac.
A smile covered his face. The confrontation with Mark had gone about as well as he suspected. Knowing his friend since childhood, the Eagle would quietly fume, realise his mistake and use his incredible investigative skills to supplement is almost non-existent knowledge of women. Able to turn theoretical knowledge into practice easily, the unique skill made Mark the Commander.
'Not Pussycat,' Keyop sounded angry over his communicator.
'Listen Squirt,' Jason's aggression came through, 'we got bigger problems than that. Send me a signal and I'll meet you. We need to talk.'
'Ah, Jason,' Tiny glanced to the man at his side trying to subtly warn Jason, 'turns out Grant likes fishing.'
'Big Ten Tiny,' Jason acknowledged. 'We might be able to use the Big Man's help on this one. Operation Clueless Eagle is a dismal failure. Condor out.'
'I gather,' Grant didn't blink an eyelid as a fish pulled on his line, 'Operation Clueless Eagle has to do with Mark and his jealousy over the amount of time one of my pilots is spending with a certain female?'
Tiny and Keyop looked at each other, before both boys nodded.
'You think I don't know the mind of my female team member?' Grant questioned with a grin lighting his face. Lifting his communicator to his mouth, he called, 'Dylan, respond.'
'Grant,' a sleepy man's voice answered. 'You sure know how to pick your moments.'
Letting out a hearty chuckle,
Tinkering with the engine didn't give Mark the satisfaction he craved. It didn't need overhauling but it gave his hands something to do. His mind, that constantly analysed. Lately it had been filled with Princess and Jesse. He'd noticed the moment she'd started, he refused to say dating, seeing each other.