Christmas presents

Christmas morning came, and as promised, Bekkah was there with her children. Thunderbird 5 was put on automatic relay and Alan fetched his brother John, so the whole Tracy clan could be together. Breakfast was long over and gift giving was in full swing.

"Mommy! Thank you! I wanted a new microscope!" Terry gushed. He got up from where he was sitting on the floor in the lounge and gave his mother a huge, squeezing hug around the ribs. He was careful not to hug her around the neck, where fading bruises were still in evidence.

"I'm so glad you like it, Terry. Now you have to take care of it...." Anything else Bekkah might have said to her oldest son was drowned out by the squeal from her daughter.

"Mom! Look at what Uncle Virgil gave me!" Chell held up two books, one on sketching, and one on watercolor painting, and the basic tools to use with them. Virgil grinned at Bekkah, who returned the grin and gave him a thumbs- up.

"Over here, Joey." Jeff beckoned to the newly made eight-year-old. They had celebrated his birthday with a party the day before. Joey climbed over the people sitting on the floor to where Jeff sat in an easy chair, for once abandoning his desk. The older man pointed out the window to the balcony. "You see that? That's for you. Merry Christmas!"

Joey's eyes lit up and he ran out to the balcony to bring in the new, larger bicycle. It came complete with a matching helmet hanging from the handlebars. Everyone oohed and ahhed when they saw it, even though most of them had seen it already. Jeff and his boys were up most of the night trying to put it together from the ill-written and nearly illegible instructions included with the bike parts. It took the team of Tin-Tin and Kyrano to make sense of the mess and get the bicycle ready for the day.

Joey jumped into Jeff's lap and grabbed him around the neck for a hug. A surprised Jeff returned the embrace with a gentle squeeze around the skinny torso. Then his fingers sought out Joey's sides and began to tickle, leaving the boy helpless with peals of laughter.

Bekkah and Gordon sat on the floor next to each other, but not too close. Bekkah was still dealing with the aftermath of the flashback, and would let no one sit close except for her children. Brains sat on a couch perpendicular to the pair. He had recently been discharged from the sick room to join the family for the holiday. He watched the couple as they talked together in low voices, laughing at times, their heads inclined toward one another. He felt sad and angry at seeing the pair, and yet hopeful, too. I hope what I have in my hand will change things, he thought. I know I didn't imagine what she said to me. With this little gift, she'll have to make a choice. The little box wrapped in plain red paper and with a gold bow on it, rested in his arm sling. He pulled it out, cupping it under his hand until the right moment arrived.

Gordon fished around on the floor next to him and brought out a tiny box, wrapped in Christmas paper and with a red ribbon and bow decorating it. A box very much like the one Brains now held. Brains saw the gift, and paled. Wait and see what he does, wait and see what is in the box, he cautioned himself.

Gordon offered the box to Bekkah. He looked up just in time to catch Brains putting a similar box into his sling. What did he buy for her that would fit in a box that size? Gordon wondered. He couldn't have bought... no. Not that. Just not possible.

Bekkah looked at the box with a serious face, and then studied the face of the man who gave it to her. There was no indication that this was anything more than a piece of jewelry. He was making no move to explain it to her or ask any questions that might go with the box. So she slowly opened it. Her eyes opened wide and her face took on a look of pure delight.

"A mother's ring!" she squealed, gazing at the silvery thing in the box. "I've always wanted one! How did you know?" Gordon saw Brains, dejected a moment before, come to life as she showed everyone the trinket.

"It has the names, birthdates, and birthstones of my children on it! How beautiful! White gold, too. I've never seen one in white gold before. Thank you so much!" She turned and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Gordon modestly hung his head. "It wasn't my idea. I took the kids with me to New Zealand to shop and they were the ones who helped me pick it out."

The import of that last statement was not lost on Bekkah. She turned to him and looked at him askance. "You mean you took my three kids to New Zealand and you didn't tell me?

Gordon suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable. "Well, yes, I did. I didn't think it would be a big deal."

Bekkah had put the ring on her right ring finger. She leaned over to him and said softly, "We can discuss that later." Gordon's face took on a very apprehensive look.

"Hey, Gords. You look as if you're going to your doom." Scott chortled. Gordon scowled at his older sibling.

At this point, Kyrano came in and told the assembly that their Christmas feast was ready and that it was time to eat. Virgil gave Gordon a hand up off the floor as he still had a cast on his arm. Tin-Tin lent a hand to Brains. My opportunity is gone for now, he thought to himself, but there will be others.

"Oh, wait! There's one more present!" Bekkah got up and made it through the press to the Christmas tree. She fished around in the branches and pulled out a small, flat package. She handed it to Jeff.

"To International Rescue. Happy Holidays from your Engineering Staff," Jeff read the tag. Everyone's attention focused on him as he opened the package. The wrappings revealed a mini-CD in its case. He looked up at Bekkah with a puzzled look on his face.

"Let me explain what that is. Heimana, the woman who was scanning the brains of the Space Shield engineers, managed to put the parts she had retrieved onto one disk. With Hiram's help, I pulled his part from the recording she had made and added it to the others. Then I just sat and looked at it for a couple of days." Actually she had spent three whole days in the lab, hardly sleeping, going over every specification and making notes.

"I saw what you had said about it being a possible weapon of mass destruction. You tweak it one way, and that's what you would get. But I also began to see that if you tweaked the plans another way, you had something totally different. Something that International Rescue can really use." She looked at Jeff and gave him a mischievous grin. "Jeff, you have in your hands the plans for a cloaking device."

The general reaction was all that she had hoped for. Jeff's jaw dropped. There was excited talk around her about the possibilities of the device. Jeff looked down at the disk in his hand, and back at her, at Brains, and at Tin-Tin.

"Is it really feasible?" he asked. All three scientists nodded.

"The power consumption curve is enormous in this first version." Tin-Tin explained. "Hopefully, we'll find a way to lower that and make it more fuel efficient. Even if we can't, both Thunderbird 3 and Thunderbird 5 can use it as it is. Their engines put out power to spare."

"Thunderbirds 1 and 2 may be able to use it for short bursts, maybe 5 or 10 minutes at a time. It's not much, but it would be enough to hide the direction the vessel is going." Bekkah turned to Gordon. "Sorry, Gordon, but Thunderbird 4 can't use it at all. It deflects light and sound, but can't deflect matter."

"This is a wonderful gift!" Jeff exclaimed. "It looks like that affair with the brain scanner turned up some good after all."

"Y-yes, Mr. Tracy," Brains spoke up. "And the scanner will, uh, never b-be used again. B-bekkah has s-seen to that."

Bekkah smiled slightly. It had been truly satisfying to take the sledgehammer to the scanner and its component parts, and to rip the upholstery and stuffing out of the chair itself. She had mailed the recorded CDs to the surviving engineers so they would have the opportunity to destroy them privately. The others she smashed herself. It was quite a catharsis, and it had brought her some peace from her nightmares about the machine.

The Christmas feast was over and everyone was comfortably full. Bekkah had placed herself in the midst of her children, eschewing the company of both Gordon and Brains. She disappeared after the meal, leaving word that she wanted to rest.

Gordon tracked Brains down. He really wanted to know what the engineer intended to do that morning with the little box he had kept in his sling. He thought he knew, and it angered him that Brains would be so presumptive. Jeff saw the angry flush on his son's face, and decided to follow him.

Brains was in his quarters, sitting in a chair, contemplating the box, which sat unwrapped in his lap. He looked up when Gordon barged in, slamming the bedroom door open. Gordon saw the box, and went over to pick it up. He opened it briefly, and then sharply snapped the velvet-covered lid shut and dropped it back in Brains's lap.

"What were you going to do with that?" he asked Brains, his ire barely concealed.

"What do you think? I was going to propose marriage," Brains answered wearily.

"Look. I know you are in love with her. But there's no way that she feels the same for you. She told me that before she left for London. She told me that she loved me and that nothing would change that!" Gordon paced up and down as he shouted, his amber eyes darkened in fury.

Unafraid of Gordon's heated words, Brains caught the aquanaut's eye and looked at him squarely. "She told me in London that she trusted me. And that she loved me," he said simply.

Gordon stopped his pacing to stare at Brains. "When did she tell you this?"

"Just as I was leaving the apartment to fly back to the Island."

Gordon irritably waved a dismissive hand. "She could have told you that to make you feel better. To help you recover."

"Actually, son, she told me the same thing she told Brains. That she loved him." Both men looked over at Jeff, who was standing in the doorway. "She told me she loved you, too, Gordon."

Hearing his father's words, Gordon's anger suddenly cooled and he visibly deflated. "She loves both of us?" he asked, not wanting to believe. He sat down heavily on Brains's bed.

"Yes, son, she does. She loves you both," Jeff affirmed. "But her heart is torn. She can't yet choose between you."

"I was going to try and force her to make a choice today," Brains said, looking down at the box in his lap. "But the right opportunity never came up. Perhaps that's for the best."

"Gordon, Brains, eventually she will make a choice. It could be one or the other of you, or even no one." Jeff turned his attention to Brains. "Right now, she needs some more time to think and to recover. You know what she has been through recently. Don't make this any harder for her than it already is." His words now included his copper-haired son. "Just be there for her like you've always been. And be patient."

Gordon looked down, and then nodded. "I guess I've been thinking of myself, and not of her." He looked at Brains, who also nodded.

"Yes. We can be patient," Brains answered. He got up and put the little box in the top drawer of his dresser.

Gordon wandered out to the twin palms. He half hoped that Bekkah would be there so they could talk, but instead, he found his brother, John. He plunked himself down on the sand unceremoniously. John looked at him for a moment, and then looked out to sea again. Gordon settled down into a comfortable position, and the two shared a companionable silence.

After a while, John asked, "How are things with Bekkah?"

Gordon snorted. John looked at him in surprise." That good, huh?"

Gordon sat up straight, turning toward his brother. "I just found out that Bekkah loves Brains, too."

John whistled. They sat in silence again. "So, what are you going to do about it?"

Gordon shrugged. "I don't know what to do. Wait patiently, I guess. The next move is up to her."

More silence. Then John sighed. "I'm sure I'll get lambasted from you for this, but I think you need to take a good look at your relationship with Bekkah."

"Why?" Gordon asked, annoyed.

"Because it may affect her decision." John turned to Gordon to look him in the eyes. "Look. Your relationship with Bekkah has been a very physical one. Lots of touchy-feely stuff. I seem to remember you even saying you made love together. And the fact that she would go that far surprised you."

"That's true. She had been sticking to her guns on that promise of hers, and then all of a sudden, she gave in and we made love." Gordon remembered again the sweetness of Bekkah's touch, and the way she had aroused him, and how he had passionately done the same for her.

"Then along comes Virenov and his... violation of her, and all of a sudden she can't enjoy the touchy-feely stuff anymore." John remembered vividly the day he flew Bekkah to meet her children for Thanksgiving. She was sitting in Gordon's lap and they had started kissing and petting when she abruptly pushed herself away from him and hid behind her seat on the plane, whimpering. It took a good half hour for Gordon to coax her out from behind the seat and get her settled in another some distance from him. Gordon had such a hurt look on his face, while Bekkah's was filled with terror.

"Yeah. Anything more than a kiss or holding hands and she freezes up. I can't even hug her without feeling her go stiff in my arms. And since that flashback, it's gotten worse." Gordon shook his head sadly, leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Then there's Brains, who she's known for years," John continued. "She likes him as a friend, they share the same interest in science, they start working together, they enjoy each other's company. Suddenly they have to share an apartment and live at close quarters. And during that time, she sees a whole new side of him. He's sweet, considerate, he doesn't push her, treats her like a queen. And they are thrown into a dangerous situation and he puts her safety before his own. Did you know he got up into that chair voluntarily to try and buy time for Penelope to show up and save them? To keep Bekkah from harm? That the bullet he took was meant for her?"

Gordon looked at John sharply. "How do you know all this? About what went on in London?"

"Bekkah called me in Thunderbird 5 a couple of times while she was alone in London. I heard all about Brains, the way he treated her, the little things he did to please her. The only time he used the bed was after he was shot. He never laid a hand on her in a sexual way. She trusted him, Gordon, and he never betrayed that trust. He was a friend, a gentleman, even a hero! How can a woman not love a man like that?"

Gordon was silent. He could see now how Bekkah's friendship with Brains could deepen into love. She had told him once that when she married her late husband, it was because their friendship had become so deep that they didn't want to part at the day's end. They were best friends first. And although he and Bekkah had become good friends, John was right. Much of their relationship was physical. They had lots of fun together, but was there that deep friendship? The more he looked at it, the less he could see it. And there was the promise. He had always felt bad, felt guilty that she had broken her promise to herself for him, even though he knew it had been her decision to 'seize the day' and not require the commitment of marriage from him. Brains was ready to make that commitment to Bekkah. Was he? He shook his head.

"Penny for them?" John offered as he saw his brother shaking his head.

"I just realized that I'm not ready for a marriage commitment. But it seems that Brains is," Gordon answered. "I think Bekkah needs to know that." He began to try and get on his feet, but John stopped him.

"Not today, bro. It's Christmas, for crying out loud! Give her the time she wants to rest today. Go over in your head what you want to say. Then tell her tomorrow."

Gordon sat back down. He gave John a playful nudge with his cast. "For an older brother, you're pretty smart. And sometimes you even give good advice," he quipped, grinning. John reached out, put an arm around Gordon's neck, and pulled his head over so he could rub his knuckles on the ginger- topped scalp.

"Hey! No noogies! Watch the hair!" John released Gordon and they both sat back against the palm trees, laughing.

The next day, Jeff and Bekkah were closeted in the lounge for several hours. Gordon kept checking to see if they had concluded whatever business they had together. Bored, he walked out to the play area, which his brothers had finally finished. He found Terry and Joey there, excitedly using the swings and the tubular corkscrew slide that were part of the playground equipment.

"Why didn't they have these things when we were growing up?" he muttered to himself.

"They did." Bekkah suddenly stood beside him, watching her boys play. "It's just that you had to go to a fast food restaurant to find one." She looked around for her daughter. When she couldn't find her, she called Terry to her.

"Terry, where's Chell?" she asked. Terry pointed down the beach. Chell sat in the sand, sketchpad in hand, trying to capture the view that she saw before her. Bekkah smiled fondly at her daughter, then gave her son a quick hug. "Thanks, bud." Terry ran back to the play area.

"Walk with me?" Gordon asked. Bekkah nodded and they strolled down the beach together. They stopped by Chell to admire her handiwork, but the girl covered up her sketches as soon as they came along.

"I'm not finished," Chell explained. "You can see them when I'm done."

Bekkah leaned over and gave her daughter a kiss. "Okay. We'll wait. But don't forget to show us!" Chell nodded, and then went back to her sketching.

"Terrence always showed me what he was working on. He liked to get my feedback." Bekkah reminisced.

Gordon kept pace with Bekkah as they walked. "You and Dad were pretty busy today." he remarked. "Anything you can talk about?"

Bekkah sighed and lowered her head. "I guess so." She looked at him soberly. "The kids and I are going back to the States. Back to Greenville."

Gordon was shocked by the news. "Why?" he asked, a puzzled look on his face.

"Because of all the trouble I've been in since I got here," she answered, looking ahead of her. "It seems like there's never been a dull moment. I've been hurt and kidnapped more than once. I wasn't expecting stuff like that to happen when I took on the challenge of designing for IR. I don't want to orphan my children. And I'm afraid that if I continue here, I just might." She took a deep breath. "So, your father is going to set me up in an office and in my own home with plenty of security and a direct link to the Island. I'll still be working with Brains and Tin-Tin, just not as hands-on as before."

"Will you come back at all?" he asked, growing alarmed.

She smiled at him to allay his fears. "Yes, I will. I'll probably want to spend the children's summer vacations here, and I'll come out when there's a need for me to do so. Like when we start beta-testing that new cloaking device. I wouldn't miss that for the world!"

"You were in Greenville wearing your IR coverall. Don't you think people will know who you are and who you work for?"

She shrugged. "Greenville's a large enough place to get lost in. Besides, I thought I might start wearing a disguise. You know, a pair of glasses with windowpanes for lenses. Something like that."

He snickered. "Glasses? You think that will do the trick?"

"Works for Superman, doesn't it?" she said with a laugh. By now they had reached the twin palms. Bekkah helped Gordon lower himself onto the sand, and then she sat down beside him. They sat quietly together for a few minutes, enjoying the sun and each other's presence. Gordon closed his eyes and screwed up his courage to say what he wanted to say. He had been thinking about it all night, and felt it was the right thing to do.

"Bekkah, I wanted to talk about our... relationship," he began. She turned to him with a questioning look. He swallowed and continued. "I know that we've had a good time together. We've become close friends. But I was talking with John, and he made me realize that a lot of our relationship has been physical. Kissing, petting, and even making love." She kept looking at him, wondering where this conversation was leading. "Since Abidjan, you've not been able to enjoy that part of what we have together. And I don't think I've tried hard enough to make you comfortable with me or to advance our friendship without the physical part."

Bekkah started to speak but Gordon put up a hand. "Please let me finish. I know you love me. But I also know that you love Brains. And that you feel you have to choose between us. Brains has done everything he can to develop a relationship with you without the physical aspect. You've known him for a long time, and frankly, you have more in common with him than you do with me. And you trust him, you are comfortable with him. I heard how well he treated you in London. And where I feel I'm not ready for a marriage commitment, it seems Brains is." He lowered his head. "He was ready to propose to you yesterday morning. In front of everyone."

This last bit of information took Bekkah's breath away. "H-how do you know that?" she finally gasped out.

"I saw him with a jewelers' box tucked away in his sling. A box the same size as the one I gave you. I confronted him about it later on and he admitted to me what he was going to do."

"So, what are you trying to tell me, Gordon?" Bekkah asked, tears forming in her eyes.

Gordon looked away; he couldn't stay strong if he looked at her now. "I'm trying to tell you that if Brains asks you to marry him, carpe diem. Seize the day. You deserve someone who will commit himself fully to you and the kids. And that someone isn't me." He struggled to his feet, and walked away, turning a deaf ear to her sobs.

He remained dry-eyed all the way back to the villa, where he looked for Brains. He found his rival in the lab, dictating notes into the lab microcomp. Gordon entered the room and closed the door behind him.

"Brains?" he called, voice thick with emotion. The engineer looked over at him coolly.

"I'm stepping aside. I won't stand in your way with Bekkah. Just take good care of her. She deserves the best."

Brains's mouth opened and closed as he looked at Gordon in surprise. Finally, he spoke. "Thank you, Gordon."

Gordon nodded, then turned and left the lab. He made his way down to Thunderbird 2's huge hangar, down to Pod 4, and into his little submarine. There and only there, in the privacy of his Thunderbird, did he break down and give vent to his feelings.