This is TV-verse, but set prior to the TV series starting. I don't have the comics, and have made no attempt to conform to comic canon. It's intended to be canon with respect to the series, though.
All comments are always gladly received, even (especially) if you tell me what didn't work for you.
Thanks to Sam W for beta-reading, and for suggesting Boyd AFB. It doesn't exist, but maybe it will one day.
Edited for medical implausibility. (Thanks, quiller!)
It didn't surprise Scott that the only letter in the officers' pigeonholes that morning was for him. His grandmother was firmly of the opinion that a real letter was something you could hold, put aside, take out again, reread and keep. None of this electronic nonsense. Scott had to admit that there was something very personal about her letters. From the crisp, scallop-edged cream-coloured paper to the handwritten script (always blue ink) to the inevitable pressed flower folded in the central sheet (man, he'd taken some ribbing for that on his first posting) it was like a little piece of her Kansas farmhouse. You could smell the smoke from the open fire, maybe even her home cooking if you used a little imagination. There had been times on that first posting when he'd buried his face in a letter and done just that.
This letter wasn't from her.
Scott turned it over in his hands. Indecipherable postmark. Classic white. He didn't recognise the handwriting, but it certainly wasn't either of the two girlfriends he'd had who had indulged in written protestations of their undying affection for his inheritance. They hadn't exactly said that, of course, but it had been obvious, especially in retrospect.
Still, he took it back up to his quarters to open in private. He was as certain as he could be that he'd been careful, but he had no desire to pull out the legal notice of a paternity suit in front of an audience.
Only as the door of his quarters clicked shut did Scott retrieve his letter-opener from the pot on his desk (an antique miniature of a Spanish sword; unsurprisingly, a birthday present from Grandma) and carefully slit open the envelope.
Two sheets of paper fell into his waiting hand. The first was just like the letters he received from Grandma, except for the brownish-orange ink. The second was addressed to him, and now the handwriting was starting to ring bells, although it had greatly improved since the last time he'd seen it. Scott sat down heavily and started to read.
You're going to think I'm nuts. I'm not. This is really happening.
There's something going on here. Noises and vibrations, and things I can't see. People who don't live here. There's something big going on right under my feet, and Father point blank denies it.
He's doing something down in the caverns. I don't know what it is, and he's scaring me. I'm sure he'll monitor any transmissions, so I told him Grandma had sent me a page of your letter by mistake. Here's a page of mine. I'd like it back at some point. He might check roughly what I've put in here, but I don't think he'll read it. If he does - well, you won't be seeing this.
I don't know when you have leave, but please come home soon. I need to talk to someone I can trust. That would be you. Don't let me down.
Scott read it through a second time, then sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. The worst of it was, he'd been waiting for something like this to happen. Gordon had always been a man of action. Four months in a hospital bed and five more in a wheelchair, with an end so far in the future it was effectively out of sight, would have been tough on anyone. The whole family had been warned to expect personality changes. Paranoia was one of the more common symptoms. He'd just never expected it to be this blatant. He needed a second opinion, and luckily, being a civilian, the person he most wanted to ask carried a cellphone.
"It has been a while since you went home," Virgil said mildly. "You must have some leave due, don't you?"
"Well, yes." Scott frowned. "I was coming up to see you. Do you think indulging him's the way to go?"
"I think if anyone can make him see sense, you can. And if he has got a problem, you're more likely to pick it up than Dad is, since you've not seen him in a while." Virgil looked down, and swallowed. "And you should tell Dad, now."
"He'll be horrified."
Scott rubbed a hand across his eyes, sighed, considered dialling his father's number, and headed instead to his tiny kitchen for a cup of coffee. He knew Virgil was right. He also knew he had no idea how to broach the subject.
'Say, Dad, have you noticed Gordon acting a bit odd recently?'
'Do you remember what Dr Chung said about paranoia? I think it's happening.'
'Gordon thinks you have a secret installation under the house.'
All were horrible.
He almost jumped out of his skin when the phone rang. Thinking it was Virgil with another suggestion, he was momentarily confused to hear his father's voice.
"Scott? I'm glad to catch you. Do you have a minute?"
He glanced at his timetable for confirmation. "Several. What can I do for you, Dad?"
"I'd like you to take your next leave here on the island."
Scott frowned. "It's next week - I'm supposed to be going up to Denver to visit Virgil."
"I know. My next call's to him to apologise. Scott, I don't quite know how to say this, but I need your help with Gordon."
"What kind of help?" queried Scott, thinking frantically.
"He needs better treatment than he can get here. To be blunt, he needs to be back in hospital and he won't go. I thought a couple of weeks here would do him good, and it has, but he's been here for six now. He needs physiotherapy and specialist treatment on a daily basis, but he can't see it. He's got it into his head that I'm trying to get rid of him for some reason."
"Oh." Scott decided to come clean. "That would explain the letter, then."
"Gordon wrote to me saying, well, you were monitoring everything he did, and asking me to come home. I'll see if I can borrow a jet."
Heading out over the Pacific in the borrowed trainer, Scott kept wondering what he could do that his father couldn't. Probably not much - but Gordon had used to listen to him, sometimes. It was worth a try. And a week of peace and quiet on the island would be very welcome.
That's new, he thought as he touched down, whisper-light, on what had formerly been a bumpy packed-earth runway. It was still short and rather narrow, but there was plenty of room for a decent pilot to land a small plane. Now, however, it boasted a smooth new tarmac surface, and a set of landing lights. That would explain some of Gordon's comments about people on the island. Tarmac didn't lay itself.
Other families parked cars in front of their houses. Scott's plane joined his father's similar two-seater, as well as the ten-seater corporate jet, parked in a neat line at the end of the runway.
His father was waiting at the top of the steps, arms wide in welcome. "Scott! It's good to have you home, son. Good flight?"
"Just fine. It's good to be home." He waved a hand in the general direction of the planes. "Nice runway."
"I figured we should have something more permanent. That old strip wouldn't have stood up to heavy use, especially in bad weather."
Scott grinned. "What, Virgil wants to land that monster he's designing here? It won't fit between the trees. And even if you cut them down, he'd never get it off the ground in that length."
"With your brother's design skills? He could probably do it." Jeff put an arm round Scott's shoulders and walked him to the house. "Anyway, I'm glad to see you. I'm sure Gordon will be. He must know deep down he needs to go back, Scott. I hope he just needs someone who isn't me to tell him."
"I'll try to talk some sense into him." Scott looked around the living room as they went in. "So where is Gordon, anyway?"
"In his room, I think." Jeff dug in his pocket as his phone started to beep. "Sorry, Scott, I have to take this. Why don't you go find Gordon?"
His worst fears were confirmed by Gordon's nervous 'who's that?' at his tap on the door.
"Scott? It's not locked."
He pushed the door open, fixed a reassuring smile on his face, and walked in. "Who were you expecting? The Spanish Inquisition?"
The joke fell flat. Gordon was sitting in his wheelchair by the window, without a shadow of a smile on his face. "Father didn't say you were coming." The tone was accusatory.
"I expect he wanted to surprise you." Scott crossed to his brother's side and gave him as much of a hug as he could. "How's it going, Gordo? You've lost some fibreglass since I saw you last. Just the scaffolding to get rid of now."
His brother finally managed half a smile. "Man, was I glad to get out of that cast. That thing was hot."
"I'm sure it was. How's rehab?"
Gordon looked down, his hand tightening on the arm of his chair. "Ask a different question."
Oh, Lord. He'd thought that was a safe question, one that could lead nicely onto where his brother should be living. Scott cast his eyes round the room, desperately searching for something innocuous to say, and was saved by another tap at the door.
"Gordon? Scott?" His father's voice was clearly recognisable through the door, and Scott's heart sank as he saw his younger brother tense. "Kyrano's made some tea."
Scott made a face, glanced at Gordon's set expression again, and decided to risk the joke. "I liked it better before he went to England and decided tea was a good idea. Need a hand?"
"No," Gordon ground out, dropped his hands to the wheels of his chair, and pushed for the door hard enough to spin the wheels.
'Tea' might be what his father had called it, but Kyrano knew Scott far too well. The table held, not just a startlingly English china teapot, but something far more to Scott's liking. A large, fragrant pot of coffee, and a mug large enough to contain a decent quantity of it. Heaven.
Gordon, he noticed, wasn't asked what he wanted. Kyrano presented him with tea which was more green than brown, and Scott couldn't help but notice his wistful look towards the coffee pot. Gordon had always been a coffee man, from the moment he started drinking anything more grown-up than milk or juice. He guessed it reacted badly with one or more of the multitude of drugs Gordon still had lined up on his bedside table - everything from anti-rejection drugs for the total rebuild job on his right leg, to anti-coagulants to avoid blood clots caused by the best part of a year of immobilisation. And pain-killers. Lots and lots of pain-killers. Poor old Gordon. No wonder he was mixed up.
"So, Scott!" his father said cheerfully. "How's life as a flight instructor?"
"Interesting," he replied carefully.
Jeff's eyebrows went up. "Oh?"
"I'm applying for a transfer. Instructing's okay, but --"
And his father's phone rang again. A single hand raised in apology, and Jeff was gone. He didn't so much as speak into it until the office door was closed behind him.
"Well, at least it's not just me."
Scott pushed his own feelings of hurt rejection down as far as they would go. "Gordon, he runs one of the biggest group of companies on the planet. He gets a lot of calls."
"Yeah. And since I came home, every one is more important than talking to me, and so secret he won't take it if I'm in the room. And there are people here, Scott, on the island."
"About that." Scott turned on his best reassuring tone, the one he used on the pilot candidates he expected to fail. "He's been resurfacing the runway. That would have taken a fair bit of manpower."
"And that needed to be secret?"
"He probably just didn't want you worried."
Gordon snorted in derision. "Well, he failed." He took a sip of his tea, pulled a disgusted face and emptied it into the flowering orchid at his side.
Scott's chest tightened in sympathy. "What does coffee do?"
"It's less conducive to healing than Kyrano's herbal whatever-it-is."
Scott considered the unhappiness in Gordon's tone, weighed it against 'less conducive to healing' and came down firmly on the side of coffee.
Gordon didn't say a word. Didn't so much as reach out for the steaming mug he was offered. Just shut his eyes and shook his head.
"Hey - I won't tell him if you don't."
Gordon swallowed hard, and Scott realised to his horror that his brother was fighting tears.
"Okay, that's it." He flicked the brake off, spun his brother's chair around deftly with one hand, and wheeled him out of the lounge and along the corridor towards his living quarters. Gordon's insistence on being on the ground floor, close to the water, was certainly useful now. Scott pushed the chair straight through his living area and out onto the balcony, before shutting the door and putting the coffee mug into Gordon's hands. "Get that inside you. Then talk."
This time Gordon took it, and Scott wandered to the far end of the balcony and pretended to ignore the small sounds of unhappiness that Gordon was so obviously trying to hide. It was a good five minutes before he cleared his throat, and Scott took that as his cue to turn back.
"Thanks." Gordon held out the empty mug, and Scott took it and abandoned it on the windowsill. "Sorry."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Don't Gordo me! I'm not a kid!"
Scott sighed. "Okay then. Gordon. But I don't see how I can help if you won't tell me what's wrong."
Gordon's laugh was bitter. "Tell you what's wrong? Take a good look at me, Scott. If you can't figure out what's wrong, maybe you're not so bright after all. Oh, and by the way, the runway was already finished by the time I came home. If you want to help, use those legs you still have two of and go find out what's going on."
And that reaction, Scott thought as he sat on his own balcony and watched the waves, summed it up very nicely. It seemed entirely plausible that Gordon, limited to a single floor of the house and the terrace, would imagine something going on just out of his sight. His father being overwhelmed with work and continually called away couldn't have helped. Gordon might not want to talk about anything that mattered, but that didn't mean he wanted to be alone, and it certainly didn't mean he wanted to be out of the loop. For now, though, Scott felt he needed to be left to calm down.
He, meanwhile, was two timezones away from where he'd been that morning, and his stomach was saying it was well past suppertime. Scott headed for the kitchen to see what he could persuade out of Kyrano.
The timezone change, and being used to a military schedule, ensured that Scott was wide awake at a ridiculously early hour the next morning. Nobody else would be up yet, and he wasn't hungry enough to go and play hunt-the-cereal in Kyrano's kitchen. Scott considered the amount of bare sand on display, found himself a set of clothes suitable for running in, and headed down to the beach.
When the tide was this far out, you could get a surprisingly long way without having to go up onto the bands of rock running down the upper part of the beach. Below the high tide line the sand was flat and solid, and Scott set himself a challenging pace as he headed north.
He didn't stop all the way up to the far end of the beach, a point where the cliffs dropped straight into deep water and even spring tides couldn't expose the sand. Scott went into a flat-out sprint for the final two hundred yards, and then dropped his hands on his knees and gasped for air. He wasn't as fit as he had been, that was for certain. Far too much time spent sitting in offices and lecture rooms, grading papers, talking about flying instead of doing it. He needed to get fit again.
It wasn't until he turned to go back that he noticed the marks. Only visible over a very short distance, between high tide marks. Last night's high tide was two feet further down the sand than usual, and in the narrow strip of hard sand between the two lines there was a double set of tyre marks. Big tyres and wide apart.
And recent, too - if that high-tide mark was older than a couple of days, the sand would have dried out to the fine white powder of the beach just above it, and it was still solid and damp. They had to be less than a day old, and chances were that the lower than usual tide was associated with the unusual wind direction he'd landed into the previous afternoon.
Scott didn't have Virgil's engineering background, but basic physics told him that whatever had come up here had been large and heavy. He followed the tracks up onto the soft sand, but there was no sign of them. This deep powder didn't hold tracks well, but even so he thought there should have been some sign from a vehicle of that size and weight. There was nothing. The sand here was beautifully smooth. Maybe too smooth. Almost as if it had been swept, as if someone had hidden any marks in the dry sand, had expected last night's tide to be high enough to wash away the rest. Scott kept looking back to the marks he could see. They just stopped at the tideline. If Gordon wasn't patently incapable of getting anywhere near this location in his current state, he'd have thought it a practical joke. Right now he'd have given anything to have his little brother's infectious laughter ring out, challenging him to figure out how it had been done.
He sat down on a sun-warmed rock where sand met cliff and thought hard. Scott had already left home when his father had moved from Kansas to the island. He'd only ever come here on holidays, never lived here permanently, and didn't know it that well. Even so, this wasn't far from the house. He'd come up here on several occasions. Gordon had a diving platform up in the rocks somewhere. He'd no memory of this being a route that was used to bring in supplies, but he was fairly sure he remembered a cave in the cliff. It simply wasn't there any more. And then, six feet in front of him and right up against the cliff, he saw a single spot of black. Machine oil in the sand.
Something strange is going on here, he thought, and then, oh man, poor Gordon. His brother might well be paranoid, hallucinating, in need of psychiatric as well as physical help - but in this, at least, he was right. He was owed a report - and a huge apology. Just as soon as Scott had talked to his father and found out what all the confusion was about. There was still just enough sand to make it back along the beach if he hurried. A shower, some fresh clothes, and it would be a very respectable breakfast time.
"Your father is working," Kyrano told him. "I fear he is very busy at the moment. Gordon does not come in for breakfast. I have taken him a tray, but at this time each day he has to clean the frame on his leg. It takes him some while, I understand."
"Oh." Scott took another mouthful of what was truly heavenly coffee. He suspected Gordon would be making do with tea again. "Maybe you can help me then, Kyrano. What was delivered yesterday up near the north cliff?"
Was it Scott's imagination, or did Kyrano pause just a little longer than usual before responding? When he did, it was as calm and unruffled as ever. "Last night? I do not think we had any deliveries then, Scott. Are you expecting something?"
"No. I'm wondering why there are vehicle tracks on the beach, and what happened to the cave entrance which used to be there."
"I have no knowledge of these things. You must speak with your father."
Well, wouldn't that be nice, Scott thought, and forced a smile. "Of course, Kyrano. Sorry for bothering you. Oh, is there any more of that coffee? I thought I'd take some to Gordon."
"Of course there is. But it is not so good for him, Scott. The tea will help him to heal."
"I'm sure it will. But he likes coffee. And right now there's not a whole lot he can do that he does like. Being unhappy won't help him heal, surely?"
"Indeed not." Kyrano finally met his eyes. "Perhaps he will drink both?"
"I'll suggest it." Scott took the coffeepot and his own mug, and headed for Gordon's quarters. Rooms, he reminded himself, rooms. No need for military terminology here.
He found Gordon sitting on the bed with his back to the wall, bent double over the frame on his right leg. The table alongside held a wide range of bottles, and a whole pile of tiny sponges. And an untouched cup of tea.
"That looks awkward," he offered. "Can I help?"
Gordon barely glanced at him. "No. If it gets infected, it's going to be my own fault." His expression brightened somewhat. "Tell me you brought more coffee?"
Scott nodded, making a space for the pot on the table. "I talked to Kyrano. He says the tea's good for you."
"Does 'good for me' have to taste like sawdust?"
Scott smiled in relief at a flash of the old Gordon. "That's been my experience. Say, you drink that and I'll pour you some coffee to wash it down. It's not doing you any good in the mug - and I noticed how well-watered Father's orchid is."
Gordon straightened up with a groan, reached for the tea, and downed it in four swallows. "Eurch," he shuddered.
"Being cold doesn't improve it?"
"Well - it doesn't smell quite so much." He accepted the new mug and inhaled deeply. "Now that's more like it. Dammit, Scott, I'm sorry about yesterday. I'm a hell of a mess right now."
"Don't apologise," Scott said softly. "I went for a run out to the north cliff this morning. There were vehicle tracks in the sand, and - do you have a map of the island?"
"Map? Second shelf of the bookcase, in the red box file."
Two years as a submariner had done a lot for Gordon's organisation. Scott spread the map out on the free half of the bed, as his brother tucked his good leg up out of the way. 'Good' meaning it had been broken in a mere five places, and only been in a cast for six months.
"Here." Scott found where he'd been, and peered more closely at the details. "I thought so - do you remember the cave at the top of the beach?"
"Sure do. Alan and I went exploring in there last summer. I haven't seen Father so pissed off in years. He was convinced it's unstable."
"It's not there any more."
Gordon paled. "You mean he was right? It's fallen in?"
"I don't think so. There was no sign of rockfall. It looked like solid cliff."
"So there is something going on! Man, I wish I could come and see. Were the tracks standard amphibious?"
"I wouldn't know - and the sea will have washed them away by now."
"The tyres were about a foot wide, maybe a little more. Ten feet between them. I'd guess four pairs of wheels, but it was hard to tell."
"Tyres? Not tracks?"
"Sounds like a T-35." Gordon frowned. "That's a heavy carrier. We...WASP use them to load heavy equipment where there's no dock. Big generators, that sort of thing."
"Not furniture and groceries, then."
"Hell, no. I can't imagine what Father would use a T-35 for. If we had one, which we don't." Gordon slammed both hands down on the bed in frustration. "And caves don't vanish. Dammit, I want to come see for myself. I hate this thing!"
He twisted away from the map, returning to his job of painstakingly cleaning every wire and pin in his leg, and Scott watched him for a couple of minutes in silent sympathy. That had to be the most mindnumbingly awful job ever.
"Do you want me to go?"
"What?" Gordon looked up again. "No, I mostly swear at people when I want them to go. Unless you want to. I'm not much in the way of company."
"I'm just glad you're still here to be company." He paused. "Can I ask how rehab's going now?"
Gordon sighed. "Yeah, I guess - I'd do better with a physio to help me here, but Father won't have it. He insists I need to go back to the mainland for it. I shouldn't complain, he's one hell of a good pilot and he's taken me back every week, but dammit, Scott, that much vibration just hurts."
"How about staying on the mainland for a while?"
Gordon shook his head vehemently. "More hospital? No thanks."
"Well..." Scott had another idea, a compromise he hadn't heard either of the other two mention. "Can't you have a physio live in for a while? It's not like we can't afford it, or the equipment."
Gordon's attention was suddenly fixed on the next pin. "I suggested that. I got the standard lecture on not throwing money about and how I wouldn't even suggest it if I'd ever had to do without."
"Oh, man. Did you tell him how much you hate hospital routine?"
"Yeah, I started to. And then his phone rang." Gordon leant back with a sigh, finally finished. "He just wants rid of me, Scott. I don't know why, and I hate it."
"Let me talk to him, Gordo. Tell him how you feel. Find out what these deliveries are. I know it looks bad, but I'm sure there's some innocent explanation."
"If it's innocent, why won't he tell me? Why does he want me gone?" Gordon sighed again. "I know, I'm hurt, he doesn't want to worry me, and so on. I hope you're right, Scott. I hope he does tell you. I hope you can pin him down for long enough to ask."
"You just leave that to me." Gordon wasn't looking, but Scott smiled at him anyway. "I've got two good legs. He'll find it harder to walk away from me."
An hour later, Scott had to concede defeat. Not letting Jeff walk away from him was completely irrelevant if he couldn't find him in the first place. He wasn't in the house, on any of the terraces, on the beach, or on the nearby paths. All the planes were still in their positions, as was their ocean-going speedboat. He had to be elsewhere on the island, and Scott knew there was no point even trying to track down someone in the mixture of rock and tropical foliage covering the remainder of the island.
Or, indeed, wherever that vehicle had gone. Gordon must be realising that he wasn't going back to active military duty. Could his father be working with WASP for some reason, and unwilling to admit it to his son? If so, Jeff needed to know that his concern was doing more harm than good.
He awoke the following morning to the roar of his father's personal jet taking off, and an apologetic note under his door to the effect that Jeff had been called away urgently and would be back Sunday morning. Scott was initially upset, but rapidly decided it wasn't such a bad thing. This gave him plenty of time to figure out how to proceed. Sunday his father shouldn't be too busy, and he could relax for the next couple of days and have the vacation he so badly needed. If there was a silver lining to this whole mess, it was that he'd briefly managed to forget his own career issues.
Saturday night Scott was sitting alone in the lounge with a book, one of Virgil's jazz records playing softly. Gordon had, as usual, gone to his own room right after dinner, facing an hour or more cleaning the pin sites and then going straight to bed. It was a surprise, then, when he appeared a little after nine.
He pushed his chair next to the sofa, and Scott eventually realised that he was eyeing up the manoeuvres needed to get from one to the other.
"Want a hand?"
It was more awkward than he'd expected, but he did manage not to drop his brother on the floor, and Gordon didn't look too many shades paler as he adjusted his bad leg to lie along the sofa.
"Good to sit somewhere else for a change?" Scott queried.
"Yes." The word was bitten off, and Scott went back to his reading to let his brother get comfortable in his own time. Something was definitely up, but he knew better than to push.
He didn't have to wait long. It was barely two minutes before Gordon's shifting stopped, followed by a sharp intake of breath and a muttered curse.
This wasn't right. Scott stopped pretending to ignore his brother's misery and was at his side in time to take some of his weight as he shifted again. This time it was followed by a groan, and Gordon doubled forward, face twisted in a grimace, both hands on the left leg that was folded up under him.
"Just cramp," his brother groaned.
Scott hesitated. With anyone else he'd have been there, helping them to stretch out the affected limb, massaging the muscle into relaxation. But Gordon's leg was not that long out of a cast, still wasn't weight-bearing, and he found that almost as intimidating as the metal support structure on the other one. Gordon was still in the chair because even in his good leg the bone wasn't completely healed yet. What if, in trying to help, he did more damage?
"Can I get your medication?"
Gordon gave him the sort of look which confirmed that 'just cramp' was a major understatement. "I'm maxed out."
Scott shifted his own position to better support Gordon's awkward, doubled-over pose. "How long till it kicks in?"
"Kicks in? It's run out. Can't take any more for a couple of hours at least."
"I think this might be the time to lose the safety margin and take a double dose."
Gordon groaned again. "So far past that already, Scott. Please..."
"One moment." Scott eased his brother against the cushions, took two long strides to his father's desk, and hit the intercom. "Kyrano? Can you come to the lounge?"
If Kyrano hadn't heard him, it was too bad. Gordon was doubled over, shoulders shaking, obviously in the sort of pain Scott generally tried not to think about. If he could dig his own fingers into the muscle like that, Scott guessed someone else doing it wouldn't be any more damaging.
Gordon gasped and flinched away from his first touch, and Scott almost backed off, telling himself he was going to hurt his brother worse than doing nothing would. He knew it wasn't true. Gordon couldn't take two hours like this. Taking a deep breath, he locked down on his fears, and eased his own hand inside Gordon's desperate grip. "Easy there, bro. Just a bit of cramp. You've had worse in training. Just relax and let me fix it for you."
He'd once done so on a regular basis when Gordon, swimming against people years older than him and twice his bodyweight, had repeatedly pushed himself just that little bit harder than was sensible. For a while, it had been a family joke that should Scott fail on his chosen career path from Air Force through test pilot to NASA, he could always become a professional masseur. Not a good thought. Scott squashed it down hard, and concentrated on helping his brother. He'd been very, very good at it all those years ago, and Gordon had trusted him implicitly.
Something of that must have remained, because Gordon managed to ease his hands away just sufficiently for Scott to slide his own in underneath, wrap them round the tortured calf muscle, and then simply let his fingers remember how this worked.
Gordon had collapsed back against his shoulder, breathing still ragged but just starting to ease, when Kyrano came in.
"Scott- you wanted me?"
He turned to the door without stopping his work on Gordon's leg. "Gordon's got bad cramp, and he can't take any more drugs. Do you have anything that might help?"
Kyrano came over, his lined face full of sympathy. "Are your medications still the same, Gordon?"
"Then I do have something it is safe for you to take." He smiled. "I will try to make it taste better this time."
It was more than twenty minutes before Gordon finally sighed with relief. "Thanks, Scott. You haven't lost your touch."
Scott sat back up and stretched. "How often does it do that?"
"On and off," Gordon evaded. "Mostly the drugs keep it under control. The specialist said it was a good sign. Hurts like hell, though."
"I saw that. And I'm guessing you're pushing the rehab more than a little." He couldn't keep from glancing at the other leg, encased in its protective metal frame, and Gordon's knowing look gave him no real choice but to ask the question. "What about that one?"
"That one doesn't have enough muscle left in it to cramp." That was a rehearsed answer, no doubt about it. Gordon had wanted to tell someone for a while.
Tell, or ask? "Even so - could it use a massage?"
Right question this time. The remaining tension dissolved from Gordon's face. "I thought you'd never ask."
"I'm not so good at the mind-reading these days." Scott, you won't hurt him. It's held together with half the Eiffel Tower, for heaven's sake! You know the kid needs a real physio - well, he doesn't have one, and you're the best available. Scott eased one very gentle hand inside the frame on Gordon's leg and felt with a degree of horror for what had once been a muscle toned to Olympic champion-level strength. Poor old Gordo.
Cramp he could deal with, but this wasn't his forte, not at all. Gordon thanked him, politely but firmly, within a couple of minutes, and Scott could hear the disappointment in his tone. He knew his brother better than to point it out, but saying nothing about it for now, and then suggesting proper treatment later, had to be his best shot at getting Gordon to see sense.
"Does Kyrano's tea help?"
Gordon scowled at the mug he was sipping unenthusiastically from. "I think so. Tastes even worse than the other one, though."
He fell silent, steadily working his way though Kyrano's herbal remedy, and Scott went back to his chair and pretended to read his book, thinking hard. He had to go back tomorrow, that much was non-negotiable. And right now whether or not his father had some secret project going on in the caverns seemed entirely irrelevant. He needed to do what his father had asked him here for in the first place: get Gordon back where he could have the medical help he needed. And there was a possibility which might appeal to Gordon more than going back into hospital.
His chest tightened in sympathy. "Bad again?"
"No. I need to talk to you."
"Of course you can," he responded automatically, even as his mind panicked about what he'd actually do if Gordon asked him to stay.
"Did you ever get a job you didn't deserve? Because of who Dad is?"
Scott blinked, having not expected that at all. "I don't think so. Dad wouldn't, and I'd never ask. Why?"
"The accident was my fault."
"No! Gordon - no. You know it wasn't. It was a problem with the fuel intermix, remember. That was your co-pilot's responsibility, and in any case they couldn't tell whether it was human error or control failure. And you were piloting that hydrofoil because you were the best. Everyone said that. It's why they abandoned the program. If you couldn't prevent the crash, nobody could. You're surely not suggesting you were selected because of Dad?"
"No." Gordon managed half a smile. "No seas on the moon, not wet ones, and Dad's companies don't do marine. Tracy means nothing in WASP. Alcott, on the other hand..."
"Was the son of a WASP legend. And wasn't the best man for the job. And I kept my mouth shut." Gordon looked at the floor. "And he died."
"Oh, Gordo." Scott resisted the urge to go over and put an arm round him, as if he were seventeen again and Gordon ten. "Were you involved in choosing him?"
"No. But I didn't speak up. Jim Cunliffe deserved it, but his family run a café in Glasgow."
"You weren't worried about doing four hundred knots with an incompetent co-pilot?"
Gordon shook his head. "That was the problem. He wasn't incompetent, and he was a great guy. I've heard you and John talk about living up to Father's reputation. If I'd made a fuss and had him bumped, I'd have destroyed his career. He was next best after Jim in any case, and Jim was supposed to take the second trial run, he wouldn't have missed out totally...but now I wonder if Jim could have controlled it before we flipped."
"You'll never know that." Scott tried to sound reassuring. "And even if they'd been switched, what if Jim had been sick the morning of the test?"
"I'd have gone with Chris," Gordon said dully.
"Exactly. Hindsight's a bitch. This one wasn't your fault."
"Maybe not." He didn't sound convinced, but there was only so much you could expect from a five minute conversation.
The other issue still had to be raised, though.
"You know I have to leave tomorrow?"
"Already? That went quick."
"Yeah." Scott hesitated briefly, then ploughed on. It had to be said. "And I'm worried about leaving you here. I really think you should come back with me and spend some time in intensive rehab in San Diego."
Gordon stared at him, speechless.
"It would be hospital for a few days, I'm afraid. You've seen my quarters. I can pull strings, though. Get something larger and not up three flights of stairs."
"I..." Gordon looked down. "I don't know what to say. I appreciate the offer. Really I do. But I want to be here. All the time I was in hospital, all I wanted was to be home. I can't give up just because Father's acting odd."
"You're not giving up. You're getting the medical help you need. What if he goes off again? You'd have been in a state if I hadn't been here tonight. And don't tell me that right leg's anything other than downright uncomfortable."
"I'll cope." The slight edge between the matter-of-fact tone suggested that he had, in fact, done so before.
"But you shouldn't have to!" Scott snapped, before forcing himself back to calm. "Tell me you wouldn't feel better with daily physio, and if you weren't worrying about what's going on out of your sight?"
"I would. But hospital routine? Not good. Getting round San Diego in a wheelchair? Worse." He grinned, and the old Gordon was almost back. "Your cooking? Almost as painful as mine." But the attitude was just a little too casual, the voice slightly too high. Staying was indubitably what he wanted - but it was far from perfect. So Scott was back to his first plan. Talk to his father tomorrow morning, see if he'd change his mind on bringing the medical care out here.
Gordon shifted in his seat. "You can help me back into my chair, though. I'm ready to sleep like the dead."
Getting him back into the chair was, if anything, more awkward than getting him out of it had been. Scott sat in Gordon's place on the sofa and stretched until his joints popped.
"There has to be an easier way to do that."
Gordon grimaced. "It's called having at least one weightbearing leg."
"You'll get there, Gordo." Scott pulled himself to his full height and started to wheel his brother towards his room. "So how do you get into bed?"
The expression didn't change. "Carefully." His hands came down to the wheels of the chair, and Scott took the hint.
"Well, I'm off to bed. Shout if you need anything."
His brother snorted. "If you mean 'shout for help when you can't cope' you needn't worry. I'll be flat out for ten hours, easy. Maybe you can forget you've got a crippled brother who needs looking after for that long."
Scott wanted nothing more than to reassure him. To tell him that he would get better. Was already much, much better than he had been four months ago on his release from hospital, still in a powered chair and with his left leg in plaster from the hip down. Five months before that, it had been touch and go as to whether he'd keep either leg at all. Now the question was whether he could get out of the chair. Scott was quite sure that, however long it took, he would make it.
Gordon wasn't in the mood to hear that right now. There were times when absolutely anything anyone said to him would be taken the wrong way, and this was one of them. Much as Scott hated to admit it on his last evening at home, all he could do for now bid his brother goodnight and go his own way.
He jolted awake to the sound of a jet engine on final approach. Not just any jet engine - this one was unmistakably his father's private plane. Scott rolled over and squinted at the clock. Four-thirty. It wasn't just that his eyes never worked properly until he'd woken up. It really was barely dawn, and his initial plan: to speak to his father the moment he walked through the door, wasn't looking so good. Jeff would come in, go straight to bed, and wake up at the normal time as if he'd never been away. Jet-lag wasn't a word in Jeff Tracy's vocabulary. Scott often wished that was a trait he'd inherited.
No, a discussion with his father now, still groggy and half-asleep, with his father at the other end of his day and ready to go to bed, would be a recipe for disaster. It could wait four more hours. Scott rolled over, pulled the duvet up around his shoulders, and went back to sleep.
He strolled into the kitchen some three hours later, forcing a relaxation he didn't feel. Kyrano was presiding over the coffee machine, setting up a tray presumably for Gordon, and his father was sitting at the table. As expected, he looked as fresh as if he'd just had a full night's sleep, not spent most of it flying over the Pacific.
"Ah - Scott!" Jeff looked up with a smile. "Have you had a relaxing week? I'm sorry I had to go away. We haven't had much chance to talk."
"No. Can we?"
"Talk? Of course, son."
"It's about Gordon."
Jeff frowned. "You haven't been able to persuade him to go back for treatment?"
"No. Dad, he really wants to be here. More than anything. It's not even just the hospital thing, though he hates that too. I suggested he could come stay with me and get treatment in San Diego, not have to live in hospital. He doesn't want to."
"He needs to, though. You do agree with me there, don't you?"
"I do." Scott swallowed. "I know how you feel about spending money rashly - but I think it would make a huge difference to him to have a physio here for a while. He's been through so much. I don't think it's going to turn him into a spendthrift playboy."
"I disagree. It's a pointless self-indulgence. A couple of hours a day from a specialist in a facility with all the equipment, that's what he needs. And what's someone going to do out here? It's not as if Gordon needs full time care."
"Does that matter? Is there really something going on here that Gordon doesn't know about? Because it's starting to sound like that to me."
The frown stayed. "Of course there is. Scott, the last thing I want to do is burden your brother with business details. He needs to put all his energy into getting well."
"But it's not working! He's putting all his energy into worrying why you won't tell him what's going on!"
In the resulting silence, the bleep of Jeff's phone sounded very loud. He flipped it open, and raised apologetic eyes to Scott. "I have to take this."
Scott didn't even think about his reply. "No, you're talking to me. Family matters more than work, Father, you're the one who taught us that."
Jeff's eyes held his for what seemed like forever.
"We know about the deliveries up by the north cliff."
The phone went to his father's mouth. "I'll have to call you back." Eyes never leaving Scott's, he turned the phone off and returned it to his pocket. "Come into my office."
"Scott, do you trust me?"
He'd expected something of the sort. Some appeal to the unequal father-son nature of their relationship. Once he'd have backed down in confusion. Even now, the temptation to do so was almost overwhelming. However, these days he was an Air Force captain who had to play superior in this type of conversation on a daily basis. He knew how to stay in control and say what he wanted, not what his father wanted him to say.
"I do. You're approaching the point where Gordon doesn't."
"I see." Jeff steepled his fingers, every inch the patriarch in his leather office chair. "And what has Gordon told you?"
"That you're doing something down in the caves, and you have people working for you. Something involving large, heavy deliveries, up the beach by the north cliff."
"And you want me to tell you, a military officer, what my commercial company's latest R & D project is."
Scott's fists clenched. First the paternal appeal, now the suggestion of a conflict of interests.
"No, of course not."
"Then I'm sorry, Scott, but I don't understand your problem. I guess Gordon really does need to be back in hospital --"
"He does not!"
"Calm down, son."
He's right, Scott thought. Get a grip. "Dad, he's bored, and his imagination's working overtime. If you think I'm a confidentiality risk, so be it. But Gordon's bored out of his mind, we both know he'll never be fit enough for WASP again, you won't talk to him about this, and he's imagining the worst. Send him away now, and you're going to lose him for good. He wants to help you. Why do you think he wants to be here? It's not like he can go in the water. Please, tell him what you're doing, and figure out a way for him to stay. I don't need to be involved."
Jeff eyed him steadily, but then his shoulders dropped and he looked almost - old. "Maybe I can. Thank you, Scott. Now, if you don't mind, I think I'll take Gordon his breakfast this morning."
Scott smiled at his father, a huge weight at least temporarily lifted from his shoulders. "Take him some coffee too. That way he'll drink the tea first."
Scott couldn't have been more relieved, but even so his heart was pounding as if he'd faced down an angry lion. Actually, he'd have preferred the lion. He wouldn't have felt guilty about that. Scott had stood up and contradicted his father on a very few occasions in his life, and every time had left him feeling sick and shaky. Even though, like this time, he'd only ever done so after considerable thought, and when he was totally, unshakeably sure that Jeff had made a horrible mistake.
Out here the weather was blue sky, warm sunshine, a light breeze. San Diego, even in late winter, wasn't exactly unattractive - but right now it wouldn't have taken much persuasion at all for Scott to stay here. He clamped down hard on the traitorous thought. Scott Tracy, absent without leave? He'd never live it down. His father would be mortified. And flying was his life, and if he wanted to make it to test pilot and astronaut, the Air Force was where he had to be. Even if his current assignment was far from what he wanted. Why did he find teaching cadets so much more stressful than teaching his brothers? Jeff had taught Virgil and John to fly, but Scott had taught both of them aerobatics. He'd taught both Gordon and Alan from scratch. Alan had been easy, despite the arguments. Gordon was about as far from a natural pilot as it was possible to get, and had needed more patience than he'd thought he owned, but even so, he'd enjoyed every minute of it.
His current posting as a flight instructor at Boyd Air Force Base, though, all he wanted was for that to be over. His transfer requests were in, his commanding officer had approved them - disappointed though his father's old friend had professed himself to lose his best instructor - and he should be back to real flying in not too many weeks. Either test pilot at Edwards, or an active squadron in Arizona. He hoped that his reaction to his last promotion, taking the only position he'd been offered that still involved any degree of flying, had made his feelings on the matter very clear. Where he was now wasn't for him, though. Regardless of the prestige involved, instructing came a poor second to real flying. The alternatives had been much worse. He wasn't ready for a desk job yet. Commanding the next generation of fighter pilots was all very well, and the offers he'd been given were a huge compliment, but Scott still considered himself very much part of the current generation.
Things would soon be better for him. And since he didn't need to worry about it for another twelve hours, he wasn't going to. He'd sit out here on the beach and soak up enough of the feeling of sun and sand that it would stay with him through the weeks ahead. Things were looking up for Gordon, too. Coming here had been the correct decision.
It really, genuinely hadn't occurred to his father how much Gordon wanted to stay, he decided. There had been times like this when they were younger, when Jeff was so overwhelmed with the demands of his astonishingly successful company that they'd scarcely seen him for weeks at a time. But Grandma had been there then, they'd had each other, and eventually the pressure had eased and Jeff had slipped back into his place at the head of the family as easily as if he'd never gone away. That didn't work so well when there was nobody else to fill his role in the meantime. Gordon wouldn't need much - just to be trusted to be in the same room as the phonecalls would probably do it. Hopefully Jeff had seen that now.
The two still hadn't emerged by midday, and the longer they stayed together the happier Scott was about it. They were talking. When it came down to it, that was the most important thing Gordon needed.
He'd decided that lunch was going to be just him and Kyrano, when the kitchen door opened and Gordon wheeled his chair in, Jeff following close behind. "Hey, Scott, leave some for us!"
Scott considered asking how it had gone, and decided against it. That tone of voice from Gordon was the best thing he could have asked for. And, wonder of wonders, it stayed. Gordon spent the meal teasing Scott about building up his fat reserves ready for canteen food, while Jeff put in the occasional comment. His father was more engaged than Scott had seen him all week, and if he and Gordon were trying almost painfully hard to act normal and not mention their discussion of this morning, that was something Scott was prepared to ignore.
All too soon it was over. Scott pushed his chair back with a sigh. "Kyrano, that was great. I don't know how I'm going to survive without your cooking - but I have to go if I'm to get the plane back on time."
"You don't want to be late, son," Jeff told him, as if he was twenty-two and on his first posting again. "You need a perfect record to get the transfers you want."
Tell me something I don't know. Scott just smiled as he stood up. "I'll fetch my case, then I'll be going."
"I have to make a couple of calls." Jeff locked eyes with his oldest son. "I won't be more than ten minutes. I will be there to see you off." He left the kitchen at a jog.
"Gordon?" Scott queried the moment their father was out of earshot.
"It's going to be okay." His little brother's face held a look of pure determination. "Really, Scott."
"You're sure? You don't want to come with me?"
"I don't want to come with you." Gordon smiled. "Father's going to get a physio in, and he says he has something he could use my help with. He promises it isn't filing."
"Nobody in his right mind would put you on filing." Scott leant forward, trying to impress on his brother how serious he was. "I'll call on Wednesday. If you've changed your mind, you tell me, understand? I will make arrangements for you to come live with me and get treatment. Promise me."
Gordon nodded. "I promise. Thanks, Scott. But I don't think I'll need to."
"Let's hope not."
There was a brief, awkward pause, before Gordon cleared his throat. "You'd better go check your plane out. I'd come, but I'm not so good at steps yet."
"You'll get there." Scott pulled his brother into a brief hug, before heading to his room. Peace and quiet. Endless empty sky. Perfect weather. All could be his, if he stayed. He picked up his case and carried it out to the plane.
He'd almost have laid money that his father wouldn't re-emerge in time to say goodbye. He was wrong. Scott came round the nose of the plane at the end of his visual check to see Jeff standing at the top of the steps, one hand on Gordon's shoulder. The other gave Scott a cheery wave.
He could stay here and work for his father, help Gordon with his rehab. Fly all he wanted.
No. He was weeks away from transfer. Even though he suspected he wouldn't get the test pilot position this time, he'd be on an active squadron, flying something fast and agile. He could take it one step at a time, by the book. One rejection wasn't the end of the world. His dreams of following in his father's footsteps to NASA were still alive. They'd keep him going until the current crop of trainee pilots graduated. Then they'd be gone, and so would he. Six more weeks. He could do it. The test pilots would forget that Scott Tracy had had the temerity to apply direct to NASA without the usual seniority, and he'd go back to being judged on his flying ability. He was a good pilot. His superiors would realise that he wasn't ready to fly a desk yet, not even a coveted, high-ranking one. He wouldn't be the first of the family to follow in his father's footsteps to space. John would make it to flight crew before him, but that was inevitable now. And seemed a whole lot less important than it had six months earlier.
With one final regretful glance up the steps, he climbed into the plane. His father had taught him to always leave his emotional baggage outside the cockpit, and goodness, he needed to do that now. Gordon's injury, his father's secrets, his own career problems - all left behind. In here all that mattered were flight checks. Oil, fuel, instruments, controls. Scott forced himself into the mode where he could do that, and it wasn't long before he felt the welcome sensation of calm anticipation wash over him. Time to fly.
He made one single pass back low over the island after takeoff. Two figures were still visible on the terrace: one standing, one sitting. As Scott waggled his wings in farewell, he was reasonably sure that both waved.
(Three days later)
Scott was starting to worry as he dialled the island for the third time that evening. He'd had no answer on the previous two attempts, which was decidedly odd. It wasn't like Gordon could go anywhere, and even if he had, where was Kyrano?
This time, however, it was picked up after the sixth ring.
"Hey, Scott! How's San Diego?"
"Grey. Wherever have you been? I've been trying to get you for hours!"
"Oh - sorry about that." On the tiny screen, Gordon looked almost shifty. Not unhappy, though. "I was busy. Helping Father."
"So it's working out, then?"
"It's great. And the physio gets here tomorrow, and you should just see her picture!"
Scott's laugh was pure relief. "She's probably cruel and heartless, and engaged to a...a movie star." He'd been going to say 'superstar athlete', but just barely caught himself in time. "Anyway, any problems, you let me know, okay? I meant what I said. I'll be back to get you."
"I know you would. Thanks for everything, Scott. It's fixed." He looked sideways, out of range of the screen. "Yeah, I'm coming. Sorry, Scott, I have to go. I'll call you again." And the screen went blank.
Scott stood there for some while, watching the drips run down the window. The island never had rain like this. Nor did Arizona, though - and he'd be there in six weeks, if all went to plan. For now, he'd just hang on. Three trainees to check out on the new twin-engined jet, as soon as the rain stopped. He told himself it would be fun, slipped on his uniform jacket, and headed across to the flight school.