Oh no. Nonononono. No!
The word circled around and around his head, seemingly bouncing off of the inside of his skull; back and forth, back and forth. Eyes wide, hands shaking, Virgil could physically feel the muscles of his throat starting to constrict; a sure sign of panic taking hold.
Breath coming fast, he clenched his fists. This was supposed to be the easiest of missions, a simple test run. How could things have gone so downhill so quickly?
Just a few short hours ago, everything had seemed so right with the world.
It was mid-morning by the time he had answered his father’s summons, meandering his way slowly through the house towards the spacious office. He really had no reason to rush after all; Dad had stressed over the intercom that it wasn’t an urgent call and, besides, it was shaping up to be a supremely glorious day on Tracy Island. Streams of golden sunlight poured through every window, and every breath he took was laced with the heady scents of the innumerable exotic flowers that Kyrano lovingly cultivated, both inside and outside the house. Somewhere, someone was singing, and even the persistent shrieking of the Island’s resident seagulls sounded sweeter somehow. To not take the time to appreciate such a beautiful morning would have been bordering on criminal, he felt. By the time he had settled himself onto the surprisingly comfy green settee opposite his father’s desk - its seat cushions carefully moulded by a succession of Tracy buttocks - Virgil was feeling pretty damn mellow. Somewhere, deep down in his core, he knew this was going to be a good day.
“ Ah, there you are, Virgil... ” Jeff Tracy smiled warmly at his son across the desk, the broad sheets of the newspaper he had been reading rustling loudly as he folded it up. Suddenly, his dark eyes flicked upwards, his attention drawn away from Virgil. “ And here’s Alan and Tin-Tin too. Take a seat you two," he drawled, gesturing at the array of plush furniture encircling his desk.
Virgil’s heart skipped a beat, as it always did when she was close. He mentally kicked himself, as he always did when this happened. Not that that did any good. Obviously. He tried to keep his neck rigid, his head still, to focus his attention on his father sitting across from him. He managed to last all of three seconds before the pull overcame him, as it always did, his eye drawn to her like the proverbial moth to the proverbial flame. Good lord, she was beautiful, though... Tin-Tin must have felt his gaze because, as she sat down, her head lifted, those wonderful deep green eyes of hers turning in his direction. A gentle smile played across her lips - a smile just for him - and suddenly the room was hot, insufferably hot. She must know, he thought. She must, how could she not, she must -
The deep growl of his father's voice cut across his frantic musing. "Virgil? Did you not hear me? What do you think of the plan?"
Shit. What plan?!
Thick brows furrowed in a desperate attempt to keep his face straight, Virgil looked up. " Oh, it seems pretty straightforward to me, Father... " he answered back, maybe a beat too fast. It was to his credit that he'd managed to keep his voice level at all.
" Straightforward. Uh-huh. " Jeff fixed him with an icy stare, one eyebrow arched cooly upwards. Obviously, he didn't believe a word of it since, despite Virgil’s protestations, he launched into a detailed recital of the outline of the day's mission. This time Virgil did listen. The aim was to test out a new winch system, designed and installed aboard Thunderbird 2 by Tin-Tin herself. By all accounts, it was a revolutionary design and, as Brains had spluttered excitedly on an earlier occasion, it would be an invaluable addition to International Rescue's already impressive arsenal. Today, the plan was for Thunderbird 2 to jet on over to the nearest uninhabited archipelago to test the equipment out.
" Now, under normal circumstances, I'd send Gordon with you, " Jeff rumbled, " but since he's not currently on the Island... " Virgil nodded as his father trailed off. Gordon had set off for his WASP reunion the night before armed only with an alarmingly large, alarmingly pink inflatable dolphin. He had assured them, with his signature wicked grin, that it was better not to ask what it was for. As if he had just read his son’s thoughts, Jeff grimaced theatrically before he forged on. “ So, in this instance, Alan is coming along as co-pilot. ”
Virgil leaned back in his chair so he could look across at his little brother, and smiled broadly. Alan returned the grin ten-fold, adding an enthusiastic thumbs up for good measure. “ Hey, who needs Aquaman anyways? ” the youngest Tracy burbled, in his best attempt at flippant bravado. “ We all know I’m the fastest and, besides, I’m better looking too!”
“Ahhh... And there’s that modesty you’re so famous for too, Al ," Virgil shot back, eyes rolling skywards.
“Hey!” came the indignant squawk in return. “I was only kidding, y’know!”
“Boys! Settle down! ” barked Jeff, his jaw set taut in annoyance. “ I don’t expect any of this sort of behaviour this afternoon, do you hear me? ” He jabbed his finger at them, violently punctuating every syllable. “ This may only be a test run, but I want you to act as if this was a bona fide mission. That means uniforms on, full contact with me back at base, and none of this childish nonsense. Is that understood?”
His expression softened as his shame-faced sons - heads hanging, shoulders slack in an almost identical show of remorse - droned back an affirmative answer. “ Thank you, boys. Now, Tin-Tin...” Jeff smiled at the young woman sat across from him with genuine affection. As always, he found himself taken aback at just how grown-up she was now. “ You make sure that these two hot heads stay in line. I won’t have my boys giving you any grief after all your hard work!”
Tin-Tin nodded curtly, her voice all business. “Of course, Mr Tracy. Besides, they know better than to give me any trouble." The barest hint of a smile was just about visible, tugging at the corners of her lips.
Mere moments later, Virgil was hurtling down the metal chute that connected his father’s office with Thunderbird 2. Despite Brains’ best efforts, the ride wasn’t exactly what you’d call comfortable. On this particular afternoon however, Virgil did not feel a single bump. He was light as a feather, floating on air, deliriously happy. A whole afternoon with Tin-Tin . A whole afternoon.
He knew it was stupid. She was his brother’s girlfriend, for crying out loud, but he just couldn’t help himself. Tin-Tin was achingly beautiful, of course, but she was also kind, gregarious, beyond intelligent, and utterly unpretentious. She always had a warm smile for him. She could discuss the New York art scene with him for over three hours at a time. She knew who Chet Baker was. How could he not fall hook, line, and sinker for her? He was only human after all.
All of a sudden, he dropped into the pilot’s chair with a hard thump, forcing him to plummet back down to earth. He huffed through his nose angrily. Get your head in the game, Tracy , he thought, the tone of his internal voice firm. You heard what Dad said. Treat this like a real mission. That means you get your uniform on, and you wipe that stupid grin off your face. He rose from his chair, furiously pinching his cheeks in an effort to make good on his last thought.
Large feet scuffing lightly against the cockpit’s steel flooring, Virgil made his way towards his uniform which had just risen from the floor; another of the ingenious little features that made Thunderbird 2 so special. Languidly, he stripped off his clothes, trying desperately to keep his mind from wandering by focusing on what he was doing. Fold shirt. Check. Oh, no creases either... That’s good! Then fold those pants... In half, and then in half again. Nice... Now, grab that uniform and...
Oh no. Nonononono. No!
Virgil froze in place, hands gripping tightly onto his uniform, his knuckles white. There was no doubt about it. He’d heard someone gasp, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out just who that someone was. Tin-Tin Kyrano - the girl of his dreams - had caught him with his pants down. Literally. To add insult to injury, he wasn’t even wearing his nice underwear. Throat tight, face red hot, hoping against hope that she hadn’t noticed the small tear in the fabric above his left butt cheek, Virgil turned woodenly to face the passenger elevator.
It was hard to read Tin-Tin’s face. Sure, she was obviously embarrassed; her hands pressed to her mouth, a pretty blush spread across her cheeks. But there was something else there too, he thought. Some glint in her eyes. Something. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking on his part.
Alan, on the other hand, was an open book. “Oh my god, Virgil! " he all but shrieked, his voice eerily reminiscent of Grandma Tracy in full flow. “ You are such an embarrassment! What do you think you’re doing, hey? Flashing your ass at my girlfriend?! ” Even through the tumult of emotions, it would have been hard for Virgil to miss the exceedingly strong levels of emphasis that Alan had reserved for that last word. The verbal assault was far from over, however.
“ How do you think that makes Tin-Tin feel? How d’ya that makes me feel? God, you’re just... ” Alan paused, his shoulders slumped, his voice trailing off as his eyes flicked towards Tin-Tin. Virgil wasn’t sure just what his brother saw in her expression but, whatever it was, it was enough to send him over the edge. Face red, fists balled at his side, Alan let rip. “ JUST PUT SOME DAMN PANTS ON, YOU GIANT, HAIRY MAN COW!”
Before Virgil had time to react, Tin-Tin all but flew at Alan. Hands firmly planted on her hips, she launched into a tirade that dwarfed Alan’s outburst in both force and volume. “ALAN TRACY! ” she roared, lip curled, shoulders shaking. “ HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO YOUR BROTHER THAT WAY! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!”
Alan at least had the good grace to look utterly petrified, slinking into the corner of the elevator’s platform in an attempt distance himself from Tin-Tin and her fury. Sadly for him, however, he didn’t have the sense to keep his mouth shut. “But… but, Tin-Tin! Look at him! ” he all but squeaked, gesturing lamely at Virgil who was stood in the middle of the floor, jaw slack, still practically naked. “ He’s… Like, his butt’s hanging out the back of his pants and everything!”
As Virgil moved lightning quick to cover his backside with his hands, Tin-Tin rounded on Alan once more. “I don’t care, Alan! I don’t want to hear it! That’s no excuse for your behaviour! Besides, we intruded on him! If anyone has the right to be angry, it’s Virgil!”
All of a sudden, the volume of her voice dropped. Somehow, it was far more threatening than the screaming. “Oh, good lord. This isn’t some weird outburst of body hair envy, is it, Alan?” she growled, eyes narrowed dangerously. Virgil hadn’t realised that it was possible for a human being to actually turn as white as a freshly bleached sheet, but Alan managed it. The youngest Tracy tried valiantly to argue back but, as many times as he opened his mouth, no real sound came out bar a faint wheeze.
Tutting loudly, Tin-Tin wheeled away from Alan, her hair whipping out behind her in a dark stream, her arms folded angrily across her chest. “Just because you’re as smooth as a freshly waxed surfboard, Alan, doesn’t mean you have the right to take it out on those who are more… endowed…”
Wow . Something in the way she said that last word, a certain inflection... Whatever it was, Virgil was beet red from his head to his toes as Tin-Tin stalked out of the cockpit, shouting over her shoulder to tell Alan to “ Grow up! ”
As Alan ran after her, spewing forth all sorts of calming nonsense, Virgil plonked himself down in the pilot’s chair. He sat still for several heartbeats, simply processing what had just happened. Before long, he could not help but chuckle softly to himself. Maybe the day hadn’t turned out as perfectly as he had thought it would when he sat down in his father’s office this morning, but he guessed it wasn’t all bad.