When Alan awoke the next morning he was alone. He rolled onto his back, stared at the ceiling for several minutes and then gasped, sat bolt upright in the bed and patted down the bedcovers in a clearly futile attempt to locate his bed-mate. "Tin," he whispered softly. "Oh god, Tin."
Alan pulled his undershirt off and threw it into the corner of the room before winding the sheet tightly around his waist and hurrying into the bathroom. He had a quick shower, washed his hair and then dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of lightweight running shorts. That done he wandered out of his room, down the corridor and out into the house.
Scott, Virgil and Gordon were engrossed in a particularly noisy debate in the centre of the lounge when Alan walked into the room. The discussion had clearly been going on for some time and involved a large number of paper planes, several citrus fruit and Gordon being pinned to the floor by his shoulders. "Ah ha," Gordon called triumphantly. "Now you've had it. My backup has arrived. Al, this isn't a fair fight. Help save me from the oldies so we can reclaim the lounge in the name of youth and vitality."
Alan stopped dead in the middle of the room and took in the tableau. He looked down at Gordon, then at Scott and finally at Virgil who was the one who was holding Gordon down. "Nah," he said softly. "Sorry Gords, you'll have to fight your own battles today. I've got to find Tin-Tin. Have any of you seen her this morning?"
Scott shook his head and then chuckled as Virgil started a vicious tickle-attack just below Gordon's ribs. The aquanaut squealed loudly and curled into a ball, trying to get away from his brother as much as his pinned shoulders would allow. "Beach," he yelled. "She's on the beeeaargh, nooo fair. Two 'gainst one. Virg, get off me."
Alan smiled and nodded gently at Scott who sat himself atop the coffee table to watch Gordon's counter-attack. "Don't forget that Dad still needs to talk to you," he murmured. "I'd imagine that he'll wait a while longer though, if you want to find Tin-Tin first." Scott nodded towards the door as if giving his little brother permission to leave. "Go and find her. I'll keep these two out of your way for a bit but please, Al, don't forget to go and see Dad at some point this morning."
Alan wandered down the poolside stairs, across the patio and stepped onto the soft warm sand at the top of the beach. He immediately spotted Tin-Tin sitting a fair distance away and headed towards her. He was concerned when she didn't move as he approached and paused uncertainly. He took in her hunched posture and the fact that she was hugging her knees and called out softly so as not to scare her when he suddenly appeared beside her.
He walked the last few yards to where she was sitting, lowered himself to the sand beside her and rested his head gently on her shoulder. "Hey," he murmured. "You okay?"
Tin-Tin shook her head and reached up to wipe her eyes with the handkerchief that was clasped tightly in her right hand. She blew her nose, screwed up the handkerchief and then looked at Alan with red rimmed eyes. His heart cracked a little at the devastation on her face and he pulled her into a hug and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Tin, I'm sorry. I wasn't myself yesterday and I wasn't thinking properly. Don't hate me. Please don't hate me."
Tin-Tin snuggled deeply against his chest and sighed loudly. "I don't hate you, Alan," she murmured. "I could never hate you but we can't let that happen again. Not until after…not until…well…not for a long time."
Alan kissed the top of Tin-Tin's hair and stroked her back. "Not until after we're married. That's what you're trying not to say, isn't it?"
Tin-Tin let out a brief giggle and nodded against him. "I always imagined we would get round to it at some point. The marriage that is, not the…um…other thing."
"Me too," Alan replied. "But the marriage and the…er…the other thing. Look, Tin, I know it's a little late but would you let me buy you a ring on the promise that I won't make you do it again? At least not until the ring is changed for another, more significant one?"
Tin-Tin froze and then peeled herself away from Alan's chest and surprised him by kissing him soundly. "You didn't 'make' me do anything last night, Alan. There were two of us there and while it wasn't my idea I did eventually agree to it. You asked, I replied and the rest, as they say, is history."
"So what are you saying?" Alan frowned slightly and a look of confusion crossed his face. "That you wouldn't wear my ring? I…I kind of liked the idea. Even if it didn't mean…well, that it didn't mean anything official but more like…I don't know, like a promise for the future."
Tin-Tin smiled sweetly and kissed him again. "I like the idea a lot, Alan and I'd be honoured to wear your ring. I think both our fathers would approve of us making a promise to one another, don't you?"
Alan nodded. "I do, although I might not survive long enough to even buy the ring if your father finds out what we did last night."
Tin-Tin squealed loudly, pushed Alan down onto the sand and then sat on his chest with her hands over his mouth. "Don't even joke about that. Father must never find out about last night. He'd be so disappointed in me. At least with the ring I can show him that we mean to behave, even if I omit to tell him about the one time that we didn't."
Alan peered up at Tin-Tin and gently nipped her hand when she failed to remove it quickly enough. Tin-Tin pulled her hand away from his mouth and ran her fingernails gently down the side of his face. Alan rested his hands on her thighs and lay placidly as she moved from his face and started fiddling with his hair. "Tin," he asked softly. "What are you doing?"
Tin-Tin smiled and ran a nail across his forehead, down his nose and gently pulled at his bottom lip. "Playing," she replied vaguely. "...and exploring. You had your turn at exploring last night, so be quiet and let me have a chance."
"That's a fair point, I suppose." Alan smiled devilishly and squeezed each of Tin-Tin's legs before removing his hands and lying back with them beneath his head. "I am at your mercy, fair maiden. Do with me what you will."
Tin-Tin kept her 'playing' well above the level of Alan's chest and eventually tired of the game. She kissed him, slid down onto the sand and rested her head against his shoulder with a soft sigh. "We should go back to the house," she said sadly. "People will be starting to wonder where we are."
Alan lifted his left arm into his line of vision and peered at his watch. "Nah," he replied. "We're good for another hour or so. It'll be fine just as long as I speak to Dad before midday." His forehead crumpled slightly. "I have to go through what happened yesterday but I'm not sure I can. I know it's only Dad and Scott and Virgil and Gords but I don't want them to think any less of me. I don't want them looking down on me and I don't want Scott's lecture about following orders or Virgil's speech about putting myself in harm's way without good reason. I know that I shouldn't have gone in there when I did. Honestly, I know I shouldn't have done but I couldn't…and I mean I really couldn't not go in. I couldn't leave you…I mean her…I couldn't leave her to burn to death behind those bars."
Tin-Tin gently patted his chest. "I know," she murmured. "And I'm sure the others understand. If they lecture you about walking into danger then you're just going to have to remember that they're be doing it purely because they were worried about you and that they're scared you'll do something like it again in the future. Imagine it from their point of view, Alan; you run straight into a burning building without a word to anyone of where you were going or why. No-one can follow you due to the flames and they're all terrified that they'll never see you again. Minutes pass and they don't know whether you're alive or dead and only after what must have felt like forever, you reappear and collapse into Virgil's arms. How do you think something like that would have felt from their point of view?"
"Bad," Alan replied. "Scott has enough on his plate without me adding to his problems out in the field. Gordon wouldn't have known what was going on from where he was sitting but I'm sure Virgil would have wanted to follow me. Scott would have had to order him not to which would have strained tensions between the pair of them and then, as you said, I reappeared and just kind of fell out of the door with her…um…with her in my arms."
Tin-Tin patted him again. "You'll be fine," she said slowly. "…if you tell the others exactly what you just told me. It's obvious that you understand why they were upset with you. You know that what you did wasn't particularly advisable but it was done for a good and perfectly valid reason."
Alan nodded, sighed loudly and tipped his head to one side until his chin was resting on Tin-Tin's hair. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you for being here and for listening to me. Will you come with me when I go in and see Dad? Will you come and stay with me?"
Tin-Tin smiled and reached up to kiss Alan's cheek. "I will. Your father will understand, Alan so you don't really need my backup but, yes, I will come with you."
Alan set the alarm on his watch so that he wouldn't forget to go inside and the pair remained on the beach, side by side, until it went off. They walked, hand in hand, up into the house and separated only when Tin-Tin reached the door to one of the bathrooms. Alan slunk through the villa to his own room, washed his face, patted the last of the sand off his clothes and then went to collect Tin-Tin on his way to Jeff's office.