Luckily for Alan he had done exactly what he'd been told and Jeff found him sitting on one of the office chairs, looking pale, worried and hugging his knees. "Alan," he said softly as he entered the room and sat down at his desk. "Alan, son, look at me."
Alan rested his chin on his knees and stared at his father. "What have I done?" he whispered. "…or what has Gordon said I've done 'cos you've sent him away and I honestly can't think of anything I've done that warrants the balling out that I'm obviously about to get."
Jeff groaned and scrubbed his hands across his face before sitting his elbows on the desktop and resting his eyes on his clenched fists. He remained this way for several minutes with Alan staring silently at him until the younger Tracy could stand it no longer. "Dad. Sir. Please. Tell me what's going on."
Jeff groaned again and sat back on his chair so he could see his youngest son. "Tin-Tin," he softly.
"Tin-Tin?" Alan frowned. "What about her?"
Alan watched as his father let out a deep sigh and began to absentmindedly fiddle with the wedding band which he still wore in memory of his late wife. "Dad? Tin-Tin? What about her?"
Jeff stretched his hands out in front of him and looked at them. "You gave Tin-Tin a ring," he murmured. "…and you told me that it was a promise ring."
Alan nodded. "Yes. It…it was a promise for the future. For…well, kind of…It was kind of supposed to be replaced with a better…more proper ring at some point. If you know what I mean?"
Jeff pursed his lips and nodded. "Yes, I understand that but I was also let to believe that it meant…that it meant you were intending to…um…behave yourself, at least where Tin-Tin was concerned."
Alan frowned. "Yes. That's exactly what it meant and I don't know what you mean by 'where Tin-Tin is concerned'. I'm not doing that with anyone other than Tin-Tin."
It was Jeff's turn to frown. "So you…um…are? With…er…her?"
"No!" Alan jumped to his feet and stared down at his father. "That's not what I meant. Stop twisting what I'm saying to make me sound bad."
"Alan," Jeff replied quietly. "Please sit down and stop shouting at me. I'm just trying to establish a few things, to get them clear in my head and your yelling isn't conducive to me being able to do so."
Alan threw himself back in the chair with a loud exhalation of breath. "Would you just come out and tell me what this is about. Then I can get back to doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. I can't get in trouble if I'm not doing anything, now can I?"
"Enough of your lip, young man," Jeff reproached him. "Now, I'd prefer to conduct this conversation like adults but if you're going to pitch a fit every time it doesn't go your way then I'd gladly reduce it to a whole other, much lower level for you. Which way do you want to play it?"
Alan gnawed on his thumb nail for a moment and then rolled his eyes. "I guess I'm big enough to do it the 'grown up' way but only if you promise not to start yelling at me again. You do that and I'm gonna opt for the kiddy version of whatever lecture's coming up."
Jeff ground his teeth together and refused to rise to the bait that his youngest son was dangling in front of him. "Okay. So. You bought Tin-Tin a ring."
Jeff nodded. "And you promised to behave?"
"And did you?" Jeff spoke softly but took care to watch Alan's body language for any sign that he might not be telling the truth.
"Yes." Alan frowned this time and pulled his legs back onto the chair so he could hug his knees again.
Jeff raised an eyebrow. He was certain he knew the truth, even if his son was saying otherwise. "No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did," Alan cried. "I did. We did. We…we both did. Dad, the only reason I don't have a ring of my own is because I'd have to leave it off most of the time. I wouldn't be able to wear it when we go out on the rescues and it'd either get damaged or would damage me if I was wearing it when I was working on the machines. We realised it would spend more time on the shelf in my bathroom than it would on my finger so we just got Tin-Tin one and she wears it all the time. You know she does. You've seen it."
A shadow of doubt flittered through Jeff's mind as he listened to Alan's impassioned words but then the bud of an idea began to form and he nodded. "I've seen it and I believe you, Alan but what about before?"
Alan frowned again. "Before what?"
"Before the ring. Did you do…anything before Tin-Tin put the ring on?"
"Are you sure?"
"No. I mean 'yes'. Yes, I'm sure."
The Tracy patriarch realised he was on the right track when he found that Alan was unable to meet his eyes. "You're lying, Alan and you know how I feel about people who lie to me. Now, I'll give you one last chance and I want the truth this time. Did you, or did you not, sleep with Tin-Tin before you gave her the ring."
Alan's bottom lip slid forward and Jeff wondered if he was about to cry as he nodded. "Yes." The reply was little more than a squeak but Jeff heard it clearly in the quiet office. "…but only once."
Alan finally raised his head and Jeff could see the shame in his eyes. "It wasn't planned. It…it just sort of happened and then afterwards…" Alan shrugged and his speech petered to a stop.
"Afterwards you discussed the ring and decided you wouldn't do it again until you were a lot older and properly ready?" Jeff finished his son's sentence when it seemed that Alan wasn't going to do so. "I have to admit that I see the logic behind your actions but I wish you'd said something, either to myself or to Kyrano or, if you felt that couldn't talk to either of us then maybe Scott, John or even Virgil."
Alan snorted softly. "There wasn't anyone I could talk to," he whispered. "…not really. Tin-Tin was upset and ashamed and knew that Kyrano would be disappointed with her. I was afraid that you'd blow up at me and that you'd insist on telling Kyrano, even if I asked you not to; and Scott? John? Virgil? No, Dad, just…no."
Jeff sighed loudly. "So you decided to act like nothing had happened and hope for the best?"
Alan nodded slowly and looked down at his knees for a moment before a frown formed on his forehead. "How…Why…How do you know now. Did Tin-Tin let something slip and if so does Kyrano know? Did he…"
"Alan," Jeff held up a hand to stop his son's ramblings. "Tin-Tin didn't say a word and apparently denied that anything had happened between the pair of you far more strenuously and for far longer than you did. In fact, if it wasn't for Kyrano's keen observational skills then we probably wouldn't have known that the two of you had been together in that way until it was far, far too late."
Alan frowned again. "What do you mean by that? Too late for what? Why wasn't Kyrano there at breakfast and what has all this got to do with Gordon? Nothing's making any sense and I don't understand what's going on."
Jeff raised his hand again but Alan chose to ignore him. "I have to go, Dad. I need to talk to Tin-Tin. She'll be upset if Kyrano's found out and I need to make sure she's okay."
"No." Jeff banged his hand loudly against the desk as he spoke.
Alan startled badly and looked up at his father in confusion. "What do you mean 'no'? Has Tin decided that she doesn't want anything to do with me now or something? If she has then she could have just spoken to me. I wouldn't have been happy and I'd probably have shouted but I'd never hurt her and I hope she knows that. I would never…"
"Alan," Jeff raised his voice this time. "Alan, stop. Tin-Tin's not here so you couldn't see her if you wanted to. Gordon has taken her and Kyrano to Kansas and that's where they're going to be staying for the foreseeable future. As to whether she wanted to see you before she left, well yes, she put up an almighty fight about not going but it was her father's wishes and mine that she left the island so she went. You are not to try and follow and as of this moment, young man, you can consider yourself grounded. You're free to leave the house, just don't try to leave the island. I've had your brothers lock down the hangar and also the boathouse in case you got some strange, convoluted idea in your head that you could paddle your way across to Kansas. I…"
Jeff stopped abruptly when Alan sprung to his feet and knocked his chair flying. A furious expression flowed across the face of the youngest Tracy boy and he gesticulated wildly in his father's direction. "Now just you wait one minute. You can't ground me. I'm not a child any more. It's difficult enough for me, living here while everyone treats me like some petulant teenager. No one ever gives me the chance to prove myself, it's always 'Oh, it's only Alan, just ignore him' or 'Don't mind him, he's just a kid and he doesn't know any better'. Well, how about this then? I may be the youngest but I'm the only one of us that is in anything like a stable relationship. I have a girlfriend, I take her out, buy her presents and yes, once I even slept with her. I'm not saying it's going to happen again and I can't even say that I remember all that much about it but it happened and we dealt with it and that…" Alan paused for a moment as a spiteful look crossed his face. "…is more action than anyone else on this island has seen recently. Present company most definitely included."
It was the turn of Jeff's chair to hit the floor as he jumped up, leant across the desk and slapped Alan as hard as he could. The moment his hand impacted with his son's cheek, however, the rage drained from the Tracy patriarch and a look of horror crossed his face. He brought his hands up to cover his mouth, stumbled backwards until he was resting on the far wall and then let out a choked sob.
Alan, who had remained in a stunned, motionless silence since being struck, watched his father in confusion. A tear ran down his abused cheek and he let out a quiet whimper as the salty water made the reddened area sting. "Wh…what just happened?" he whispered. "Dad? Do…do…do you hate me? 'Cos I know what I said was out of line and I'm sorry, really I am but I…I…I don't understand what's going on."
Alan's voice broke on the last word and he wrapped his arms around himself as if to protect himself from the goings-on in the office. Jeff sunk down the wall and wrapped his arms around his head as his son's quietly spoken works percolated through his mind. Alan had always been argumentative and objectionable but had never riled him to the point of physical violence before and the out of control feeling he'd just experienced was one that disturbed the Tracy patriarch greatly. "I don't hate you," he croaked. "Alan, I won't have you thinking that. It's just…it's…I don't know how to cope with this. I…it's…I…"
Several more times, Jeff struggled to speak and eventually stopped trying completely in order to try and calm himself down. Alan stood silently against the wall by the door and watched. "Dad?" he said eventually. "Please. Please, tell me what's going on and I'll go away and leave you alone. I'll leave you alone and I'll keep out of your way and you won't even see me for the rest of the day if you don't want to."
Jeff gave a broken chuckle and unwound one of his arms from around his head. He held it out to Alan and beckoned his son towards him. "Come here," he murmured and then sighed when Alan hesitated. "Alan, just…just come here."
Slowly and hesitantly, Alan made his way across the room. He picked his way past Jeff's upturned chair and eventually crouched on the floor beside his father.
Jeff reached out and hooked his arm around Alan. "Forgive me," he murmured as he pulled his son into an awkward, lop sided hug. "I lost myself for a moment there. You've always had a mouth on you, young man and I believe your grandmother's told you many-a-time that it'll get you in trouble one day."
Alan flushed red and looked down at the carpet as he scooted into a more comfortable position beside Jeff. "I…I'm not sure I ever truly understood what she meant until just now. It's just…It's…" He stopped shrugged and then sighed. "The others don't understand what it's like being smothered and coddled all the time. I know they mean well but it's frustrating. You know? I'm given things to do as an afterthought or if Gordon isn't able or available to do them. I…"
"Missions?" Jeff queried softly. "You mean who I send out when, where and why?"
Alan nodded. "Exactly. Scott and Virgil go out to all of them while Gordon and I have to play second fiddle to the big kids."
Jeff snorted inelegantly. "I can guarantee you've never spoken to Scott about this but I'm wondering if you've ever raised it with Gordon."
Alan frowned as he shook his head. "No. It wouldn't be worth my while asking Scott. It's you who decides who's going out each time. Why do you ask if I've spoken to Gordon? What good would it do?"
"Because," Jeff replied slowly. "I think you'll find that Gordon has more of an issue about it than you might think. He's 'coddled' as much as you are, if not more. He's just cosseted and overprotected in a different way. You have your rotations on Five, he has Four. Which of the two do you think get involved with more rescues on a month by month basis?" Jeff raised his eyebrows as Alan frowned in thought. "It's Five, Alan. Four barely gets used; you know that as well as I do and if Two goes out when you're on Five then John will usually go out with Virgil. If Two goes out when John's up on Five then Gordon usually gets left at home again unless Four is involved. Gordon can't handle Three, can barely tolerate Five and is a danger to himself and everyone around him if he's put in charge of Thunderbird 1. He can 'play second fiddle' to Virgil, as you so put it, if, and only if, I chose to send him. More often than not though, I'll pick either yourself or John, simply because I've come so close to losing Gordon in the past that I cannot, physically, bear to let him out of my sight. Gordon knows why he's made to stay at home so often, I'm certain he does. He rarely objects or speaks out of line about it but I see him watching Two flying out without him and I do, occasionally, wonder if I'm doing the right thing by trying to keep him safe and whole. If I'm doing the right thing by holding him back with me but then…then I think back to the moment I walked in on him lying in that hospital bed after his accident." Jeff shook his head and then reached up and scrubbed his eyes. "His face was so swollen that I could barely believe he was my Gordon…that he was my son. I…"
Alan wriggled around until he could wrap his arms around his father and then hugged him tightly. "I never thought about it like that before. I just…"
"…thought about yourself," Jeff finished softly. "That's partly our fault for the way we've treated you but, Alan, you've got to remember that no matter how old you are, no matter what you do, you will always be the youngest of your generation. That little scrap of life who barely made it out of the hospital alive and who did so without his mother. You've got to remember that you're Scott's baby, almost as much as you're mine and I'm sure that Grandma sees you as hers too. Nothing you can do will ever change that and as such you'll always be babied to some point. Is…is this making any sort of sense at all?"
"Sort of…in a way." Alan shrugged. "…but…but I don't get what it's got to do with whatever's going on this morning and I don't get why you hit me. Yes, I know I shouldn't have said what I did but…" Alan shrugged again and then sighed. "I still don't understand."
Jeff pressed his hand gently against Alan's cheek and winced at the heat glowing from it. "I shouldn't have hit you. It's something I vowed I would never do to any of you and I am sorry, truly, truly sorry. It's just you…you were belittling what happened between yourself and Tin-Tin. What...what you did should never be used as leverage in any argument like that, nor should it be done without thought of the repercussions that might follow. I know you said it just sort of happened but, Alan, the fact is that it did happen. Planned or not; once, twice or multiple times, it happened and both yourself and Tin-Tin are going to have to live with the consequences."
Alan frowned. "What consequences? That Kyrano is going to hate me for the rest of my life or that Tin-Tin's been banished to Kansas, specifically to keep us apart? I gave her the ring as a promise that nothing like that would happen again until we were properly ready… married, even. You don't need to keep us apart. There's no need and I…I don't know if I could bear it."
"Well you're going to have to bear it," Jeff replied softly. "Tin-Tin won't be back until Kyrano deems her ready to be. That could be when he's ready to come back, of course and I fear that might not be for some time yet. Tin-Tin's pregnant, Alan; pregnant, scared and in need of an obstetrician. Kyrano's upset and justifiably worried about everything that's going on and I…I…" Jeff paused and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't…I don't…" He stopped and coughed softly. "You know I have…issues, with…that…since you…since your mother…since…" Jeff shook his head and then dropped his chin against his chest with a thud. "I think I need to be alone for a while. Go, Alan. Take a walk, do some thinking. Think over what I've said, get your head on right. This is big, son. Monumentally big and I don't know if any of us are ready for it, least of all you."
Alan pursed his lips tightly together and nodded before clambering to his feet and looking down at his father. "Dad, am I…are you…?"
Jeff tilted his head to one side and peered upwards. "I'm sure, Alan. Now please, leave me be."
Alan nodded again. "I'll keep out of your way; like I promised. I…I…I don't think I'll be back for lunch. It's…it'd…" Alan huffed loudly. "I'll just keep myself out of everyone's way." He slunk unhappily towards the door and then turned back towards his father. "Um, Dad, am I…?"
"You're still grounded, Alan," Jeff answered the part-asked question. "That won't change for the immediate future; rescues notwithstanding, of course."
"Of course," Alan's voice became even softer as he turned and left the room. "I'm sorry."
Jeff barely heard the whispered apology as Alan disappeared through the doorway. He sighed loudly and then leant back and knocked his head, hard against the wall he was leaning on. "Oh, Luce, what did we do to deserve this? What did I do? I can't….I can't…We're not ready for this."