John padded barefoot out to the pool, appreciatively taking a deep breath of the tropical scents that hung heavy in the humid island air. He wore a pair of swim trunks, and a bright, open Hawaiian shirt. His eyes were protected by sunglasses, and on his head he wore a straw fedora. He carried with him a paperback novel. Gordon waved to him from the pool.
"Coming in for a swim, John?" he called.
John shook his head. "Not yet, Gords. Maybe later. Right now I want to spend some time soaking up that sunshine."
"Okay, John. Have fun!"
John found himself a comfortable lounger and stretched out with a satisfied, "Aaah." He had just come home from the station the day before, and although he was eager to get into the action that International Rescue provided, he was also content to spend some time resting and getting acclimated once again to his family and his home. This last stint in Thunderbird Five had been two weeks too long, thanks to some damage sustained by Thunderbird Three during a tricky space rescue. It had been a near thing just to get the red rocket back down to earth and it had to land in the silo at Mateo Island because of the danger of imminent explosion.
Never had a landing been as tense as that one had been; Brains and Tin-Tin were along for the rescue and there was just no way to get them out of the spaceship, never mind pilots Alan and Scott. One of the first things that Brains did when they began repairs was design a method for jettisoning extra crew in a case like the one they had just encountered. It was the implementation of that design that made the repairs take as long as they did. John shuddered to think that in one blow he could have lost two brothers and two good friends and been stuck up in the space station for God knows how long.
But that was the past, and this was the present. John sat up a little to shuck his shirt, draping it over the arm of the lounger. The light colored hairs on his chest actually stood out against the paleness of his skin. He was acutely aware of exactly how white he was. Half a year or more spent in an orbiting space station was not conducive to a healthy color, and it had seemed lately that when he was down on earth, his hours had been filled with rescues or the weather had been uncooperative.
Maybe I should ask Dad to install a tanning bed in Thunderbird Five... he mused, then he shook his head with a smile. Nah! He'd never go for it.
He settled down and opened his book, the fedora shielding his eyes from glare of the sun. His legs began to feel comfortably warm; the day wasn't hot yet and the sun wasn't very high in the sky.
Virgil came from the Villa, wearing just his swim trunks and carrying a towel. John glanced over at him, suddenly envious of his chestnut-haired brother. Virgil's skin was tanned to perfection, even his face was a nearly flawless golden brown color. He glowed in the sun's rays like some idealized Roman god. He looked over at John, first smiling at his brother, then frowning.
"Hey, John! I hope you've got plenty of sunscreen on. The sun's going to be wicked today."
"I'll be okay, Virge. I've got that Norwegian type skin."
Virgil snorted. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, you know those Norwegians. They're just as fair-haired as I am, but they don't burn, they just tan."
"Riiiiight," Virgil drawled. "I hope Brains has lots and lots of sunburn soother. I have a feeling you... I mean, he... is going to need it."
John shook his head then turned back to his novel as Virgil climbed to the high board to make an easy dive into the pool. The exciting story sucked him in and he didn't put the novel down until someone's hand flashed across his face once then twice.
"Hey!" he cried, annoyed by the intrusion. Scott grinned down at him.
"Must be a good book. Let's see. Biker Babes on Mars. Yep. Really good. Intellectually stimulating," Scott said with a smirk. "Seriously, Johnny. Is this the sort of stuff you read in Thunderbird Five when you're not on duty?"
"No," John countered irritably. "This is what I read when I want to be interrupted and harassed by older brothers."
"Ooooh." Scott returned, grinning wickedly. "I should throw you and your book in the pool for that crack."
"But you won't," said John, looking past Scott towards the Villa.
"Here comes Dad."
Scott glanced over his shoulder. Indeed, the Tracy patriarch had made an appearance, dressed much as John had been when he came out with the exception of sandals on his feet and no hat to eclipse his bright salt-and-pepper hair. He approached the two younger men.
"Well, hello there, Scott, John. Getting in some sunshine, John?"
Jeff looked John up and down then compared him to Scott, whose skin bore evidence of his time outdoors. "I hope you've got plenty of sunscreen on, son. Wouldn't want you to burn. If you did, I couldn't send you out on a rescue until it faded."
John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm fine, Dad. I won't burn," he assured his father.
"Good," Jeff replied, taking this to mean that his son had plenty of protection. He sat down in a lounger two seats away from John, and Scott turned his attention back to his blond brother.
"You were saved by Dad this time, Johnny. But your time will come, mark my words. When you least expect it, expect it!" he murmured, grinning wickedly. John sighed a long-suffering sigh as Scott moved off to join his younger siblings in the pool.
He returned to his book, and was soon immersed in it again. The sun rose higher and higher into the sky, and his skin got warmer and warmer, glistening with sweat that beaded and ran slowly down his pecs and across his abs. Eventually, the glare of sunlight on the page began to bother him. He removed his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes, putting the book down beside his chair. He lowered the back of the lounger so that it was level with the rest of the chair, then he turned over onto his chest. Pillowing his head with his arms and covering his face with the hat, he succumbed to the sultry heat of the day and took a siesta.
It seemed like he'd been asleep mere moments when he was suddenly grabbed by three sets of cold, wet hands and thrown unceremoniously into the pool, fedora and all. The shock of the water woke him completely and he rose to the surface, sputtering and angry. He shook the water from his hair, scrubbed the moisture from his face, and glared at the three laughing figures that stood before him at the pool's edge.
"Oh, Johnny! You should have seen your face when you came up!" Gordon managed to gulp out between laughs. "Priceless!"
"Feeling cooler now, John?" Virgil asked once he caught his breath. "You looked like you were baking in that sun!"
"I warned you!" Scott crowed, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "When you least expect it..."
"Yeah, yeah, very funny," John groused, as he ducked his shoulders beneath the water. He had to admit that he did feel a lot cooler under the surface. When he stood up and his skin began to dry, it felt uncomfortably tight, but the pool's contents soothed that tightness immensely. He kept his body submerged and abandoned the revenge he had momentarily contemplated, that of pulling one or more brothers into the pool with him. It wouldn't have mattered anyway; Scott and Virgil jumped back in on either side of him, almost too close for comfort, while Gordon climbed to the high board and indulged in a splashy cannonball that swamped all three brothers.
Gordon came up for air and looked to see how John had coped with the second dousing. He glanced at John's face, then did a double-take and moved closer.
"Uh, John? Did you put on sunscreen today?" he asked seriously.
"No, I did not," John replied tartly. "Why does everyone always ask that? I told Virgil that I didn't need any. I'm like a Norwegian; I don't burn."
"Uh, sorry to disappoint you, Olaf, but yes, you do," Gordon replied. "Your face is burned all across your cheeks and chin and down your neck. You can see light stripes where your sunglasses rested on your temples, and there's a band of red across your forehead where your hat didn't cover."
Virgil came up and looked John's face over. "Ooh. Raccoon eyes!" He made his blond brother turn. "Ouch! Your back is even worse! And I think you burned the back of your knees and your... your..." Virgil began to laugh.
"My what?" John asked, concerned now.
"Your pits!" Virgil finally spit out.
"No! He didn't!" Scott cried, incredulous. "Put up your hands, John. I want to see..." Scott's speech devolved into a low whistle. "Damn it, Johnny. You are going to hurt." He frowned at the astronaut. "Who the hell told you that you looked Norwegian, anyway?"
John glanced upward as if praying for guidance, or for the ground to open up beneath him, and sighed heavily. "Do you remember Marit? That masseuse we met in Paris at the Follies?"
"You mean the blonde gal with the big..." Gordon began with a grin.
"Yeah," John cut in. "That's the one. Well, she was Norwegian and she told me that with my hair and brows, I probably had Norwegian blood in me, too. Then her friend, Bergitte..."
"I remember her!" Virgil interrupted. "She had this fascinating tattoo on her..."
"Yeah. Well, she told me that it was good to be Norwegian because if you were, you'd never get sunburned." John rubbed his forehead as if a headache were coming on. "Oh, God, what an idiot I was."
"What an idiot you are!" Gordon exclaimed. "C'mon. The sooner we get you in out of the sun and put some of Brains's burn gel on you, the better."
"And while your skin is being slathered with blue goo, you can think about what you want to say to Dad about the matter," Scott reminded him. "He's going to want to know how you got this way."
John groaned as he and Gordon swam for the pool steps. He knew trying to explain this to his father was going to result in...
"What the hell were you thinking?" Jeff bellowed.
John was covered nearly from head to foot with the cooling gel that Brains had invented to heal burns received during rescues. It was just as effective on sunburn and was used on that more often than not. The combination of the gel's blue color and John's now lobster-red sunburn gave his skin a purplish tone, one that Jeff could not miss when he joined his brothers in the lounge for an emergency call. He had taken one look at his primary space monitor and bit off his reaction until after his other sons had gone out on the rescue, dragging Brains along with them for back up.
"Uh... I guess I wasn't, sir," John replied with a gulp. He stood before his father, almost as miserable outside as he was inside, and waited for his sire's response.
"Norwegian! Hmph!" Jeff snorted. He shook his head as he looked John up and down. "You know damn well that if there is any Scandinavian blood at all in you, John Glenn Tracy, it came from the days of the Vikings! And Norwegians don't spend three quarters of their year in the tropical sunshine wearing next to nothing! You are the most fair-skinned of my sons, a trait you inherited from your late mother. It's the reason she always made you wear hats and covered you with sunscreen! And your time in space hasn't helped you any. So, from now on, when you are home, you will make sure you are fully protected from the sun! Is that understood?"
"Yessir!" John replied.
John's quick reply mollified Jeff, and he calmed, continuing in a softer tone. "Besides, John, I think you'll find that, in your case, a sunburn like this brings out more than just a tan. Your mother found this out and you were like this as a child, too. Instead of tanning, you'll find that you..."
"FRECKLE!" John shouted in disgust.
Most of the past month had been hard on John. The blue goo, though it cooled the burn and kept it from hurting too much, stuck to his sheets and made sleeping difficult. The majority of the reddened areas blistered, and the blisters popped easily when he took a shower. Then the peeling began, and with it the itching, and all the time he had to use Brains's burn gel to help his skin heal faster. But the greatest indignity of all was to find that, although his skin was darker now for the most part, he was covered with freckles. Lots and lots of freckles.
"Virgil tans. Scott tans. Even Alan tans. Gordon's a red-head. You'd expect him to have the freckles. But no, I'm the one who gets them!" John groused as he pulled on his uniform shirt. "Is there any possible way that all these freckles can come together and create a nice golden tan for me? No. I look like some sort of leopard. Good thing the uniform covers it up."
Now he was headed back into space after spending nearly an entire month without going out on rescues. Just two during his final week and that was all. I am never going out into the sun again! he decided.
He carried his bag up to the lounge and sat down on the couch that would take him and his brother Scott up to Thunderbird Five.
"Ready to go, son?" Jeff asked amiably.
"Yes, sir," John answered. Jeff smiled, and reached for the button to lower the sofa into the floor, then stopped.
"John, I have a surprise for you going up to Thunderbird Five in this trip. It's in Thunderbird Three's hold. You'll find it a bit bulky but you can move it into the workout room without any trouble, I think. I trust you to use it wisely and only when you're off duty. Scott and Alan can help you set it up before they go."
"Thank you, Dad," John replied, pleased and surprised. "I'll be careful with it."
"Oh, I know you will," Jeff said, grinning. "Now off you go!"
The couch disappeared from the lounge, and on the way down, John turned to Scott. "Do you know anything about this?"
Scott wouldn't meet John's eyes. "I know all about it, but I'm sworn to secrecy."
John shook his head. He knew that trying to get an answer out of this particular brother when he had been 'sworn to secrecy' was like trying to get blood out of a turnip. No one could keep a secret like Scott could! He decided to cool his curiosity until they got to the station.
Once they arrived and docked, John, Scott, and Alan began unloading the supplies that John would need for the next month. Sitting in the cargo bay with the boxes of necessities was a large packing crate. John couldn't wait to get his hands on it, but Scott wouldn't let him near it. Instead, the oldest Tracy son recruited the youngest to help him manhandle the crate into the workout room and sent John off to unload the supplies. "By the time you're finished unloading, we'll have Dad's surprise up and running for you," he promised. John swallowed his burning inquisitiveness and went off to do as he was told.
John hadn't quite finished restocking the lavatories with toilet paper when Scott called him on his telecomm.
"We're done down here, John, if you want to come see it."
"Sure, Scott. I'll be right there."
He finished with the bathroom that he was working in and took the lift to the habitat area on the lower floor. Taking a deep breath, John pushed the button that opened the door. A flash from Alan's digital camera caught the incredulous look on John's face as his mouth dropped open and his eyes bugged out. Scott grinned and stepped aside, motioning as if he were a showroom salesman to the newest addition to Thunderbird Five's equipment...
A tanning bed.