“Gordon darling, when I said let’s skip the ball and do something you would like, I was thinking something along the lines of snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef or surfing along the North Shore. Not this.” Penelope was standing in her warmest coat, hat, gloves, and faux fur lined boots—all newly purchased—in the middle of a lot of white nothingness.
Well, that maybe wasn’t entirely true. There was a house, and it looked quite warm and cozy, even the dark voids of the windows were more welcoming than the small little shed they were making their way towards.
A gust of wind whipped the loose strands of Penelope’s hair out from under her hood and across her face blocking her view—what little there was of it. She reached up and tried to pull the hair from her face, and tuck it back into the hood, but the strands refused to obey and instead more pulled free.
“You’re making it worse.” Gordon stopped in front of her and reached up with a bare hand and pushed her hair back under her hood.
“Well, if you hadn’t brought me to the ends of the earth, I wouldn’t be having this trouble.” Penelope was starting to get a little frustrated at this. It was cold and bleak and what in the world was here that this sea loving young man wanted to bring her to? “And put your glove back on, you’ll get frostbite.”
“No worries, m’lady.” Gordon gave her one of his best smiles as he turned to the small hut that sat in the middle of the iced over lake and opened the door.
Penelope had had a deep hope that the inside of the small square shed was something fantastical, like one of those old shows that Jeff Tracy used to watch, the one with that blue box that was bigger on the inside and such nonsense. However, the shack was just that, a shack.
The inside was just as bare as the outside, some insulation and two wooden benches was all that filled the space. There wasn’t even a proper floor, it just sat directly on the ice. However, it was good to be out of the wind and just the lack of that was enough to make it seem degrees warmer.
“So, what is it you dragged me all the way out here for?”
“Fishing.” Gordon beamed at her and opened up a small cabinet she hadn’t noticed before.
“Fishing?” She blinked owlishly at him. “You expect me to go fishing?”
“You’ve been fishing before. Remember when we went deep sea fishing?”
“Dear, I watched. I did not actually do it.”
“Still, you were there. Very similar idea.” He ignored her gaping mouth which was very unladylike for her, but she was cold and really wished he would forget the whole thing and just go up to the house and get nice and cozy in front of a fire.
No such luck though. Gordon handed her two fishing rods and a plastic cup from inside his coat that had holes in the top. “I’m afraid to ask what this is.”
“Bait.” Gordon replied offhandedly as he turned on what looked like a curling iron. It wasn’t of course, but it was about the same shape, only longer and not as shiny.
Gordon placed the end of the long rod on top of the ice and they watched as water started to pool around the heated piece of metal. Slowly Gordon lowered the rod into the ice creating a hole. Once he had reached the water, he moved the heater around widening the hole so it was big enough for the both of them to use.
“They used to saw through the ice, back when Dad was a boy. Problem was it caused micro fissures and a bigger risk of a crack opening up.”
“Yes, I am definitely not allowing you to take me for a swim just now. Like those silly people, what do they call themselves? Polar Bears?”
“Polar Bear Clubs. And it is such a rush! We should do it some time.”
“You’ve actually done it? Dove into freezing water?”
“Yeah, you don’t stay in the water, just dive in and jump right back out and get warm. But like I said, it is a rush you won’t forget. You should try it.” Gordon was shining in memory of the numerous times he had done such a feat and Penelope had to remind herself that that was exactly something that Gordon would do.
She sighed and shook her head. “Please, do not drag me along next time.”
“Even to watch?”
“Well, maybe watch.” She smiled a little. Watching Gordon jump around trying to warm up would be something to catch on camera and she wondered for a moment if it hadn’t already been.
“Here, I think the hole is big enough.” Gordon had put the heating rod away and took the cup he had handed her and pried off the top.
Penelope inspected the hole that now took up a good two-thirds of the small space. There was still some room in front of the door should they need to leave, but where she sat, her toes were just about to the edge.
“Hand me one of the poles, Pen.”
She snapped from her thoughts of how cold the water looked below them and handed over both of the fishing poles she held. She watched as he leaned one against the shack and then unhooked the hook from where it was tucked away on the pole. He then fished around the cup and pulled out a very long, very juicy worm. He stabbed the worm onto the hook and then handed the poll over to her.
Normally she probably would have grimaced at the site of the impaled worm on the hook, but like he said, she had been fishing before and even if she did not partake in the event herself she saw plenty of skewered worms and other random bits of bait on hooks.
“All you need to do is lower the hook into the water and wait.”
“I fail to see how this is entertaining. Especially since you’re hobbies are usually a little more active.” She frowned as he stabbed another worm on a hook and lowered his own line into the hole.
“It’s not so much the activity but the company. Dad used to bring us out here when we were younger. Well, Virgil and me at least. Scott and John were never really interested, usually stayed in the house, and Alan was too young—Dad was always afraid he would slip and fall into the hole. By the time he was old enough IR was up and running and well, there was no time then.” Gordon shrugged his shoulders and smiled over at her.
“So, until you get a bite, you would just sit and talk?”
“Yeah, we’d talk about sports, or what was going on in school. I’d regale them about my accomplishments in swimming—though Dad usually went to all my meets so it was nothing new, but he would sit and listen and smile as I told them about a close race or how I had beat my time again. Virgil would talk about music and art—as boring as that was, but since he sat through my rambling I tried to be good and sit through his.”
“I have a feeling he didn’t get near as much time to talk as you did.”
“Yeah, probably not. Never was much of a patient guy.”
“No, that you are not, Gordon Tracy.”
“You love it though, don’t you.”
“Not one of your best traits, but it is part of who you are. I cannot deny that.”
Gordon grinned at her as he pulled up on his pole a little. “Keep the line moving so that the fish think the worm is still alive. They’ll be more apt to bite it.”
Penelope did as she was told and pulled up on the line a little. “What did your father usually talk about when you were here?”
“Dad? Hmm… he never talked much, usually just listened. Though sometimes he did tell us about when his father used to bring him. Though there wasn’t a house at that time, just a very small cabin. His father had saved up for years to buy this land, ever since he was a boy. He had always dreamt of going to Alaska and ice fishing.”
“Was your grandfather good at this?” She pulled up on her line again.
“Okay, I guess. They would catch enough to survive on, but they didn’t get to come up here much. Maybe once every two years if that. Being a farmer didn’t allow them so much extra money to afford the trips.”
“That’s too bad.”
It got quiet for a moment, but Penelope could see that Gordon was just thinking back, possibly to the last time this hut had been full of testosterone. She couldn’t even imagine three people in here, let alone Jeff Tracy and two of his sons.
“You know, I’ve noticed something.”
“You never call your grandfather, well, grandfather. Nor does Alan now that I come to think about it. Scott, John, and Virgil all talk about Grandpa Tracy. You and Alan though, it’s always your father’s father.”
“Hmm… yeah, I guess we do, don’t we. Maybe it’s cause we never really knew him. I mean we obviously know who Grandpa Tracy is, but it just seems weird to call him that cause it wasn’t like he—”
“Oh!” Penelope gasped as her pole jerked in her hands.
“What?” Gordon was next to her in moments his hands next to hers on the pole.
“Something pulled on the line, and it sure wasn’t me.”
“That’s good, you caught something.”
“I did?” She was thoroughly surprised, she hadn’t done anything. Just sat there.
Gordon helped her to reel in the animal on the other end of the line, and slowly the gray scaly beast came into view. Gordon dashed to the small closet and pulled out a bucket with a small rope attached to the handle. He lowered the bucket down into the hole and then brought it up again filled with water. He emptied some of the water and then set it off to the side of the hole.
“There, set the fish in there.”
Penelope did as she was told, but tried to stay as far from the thing as she could. She didn’t mind eating fish, but being part of their death was never in the plans. Gordon went about his work, easily pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth with a wet pop that made Penelope cringe a little. She frowned at that. She should not be cringing at such a little thing. She has broken men’s arms before without a thought, a hook in a fish's mouth was nothing compared to that.
Gordon dropped the fish into the bucket and looked up at her smiling. “That’s a good catch there. Just one more and we’ll have dinner for tonight.”
“Well, I’m afraid that is entirely up to you.” Penelope handed him her pole and crossed her arms.
“Are you mad at me?” Gordon frowned, probably suddenly realizing that this may not have been a good idea.
“Gordon Tracy, I am cold and there is a half dead fish by my feet. Not exactly the evening I had imagined.”
“Yeah, I bet not.” Gordon gave her a sheepish smile and rubbed the back of his head. “There isn’t any food in the house, except maybe some old canned goods, but even those have to be at least five years old. Do you think this fish would be enough for both of us?”
“Have you ever been to a feed the hungry charity dinner?”
“Aren’t those things like super lavish? Scott’s told me stories about the caviar alone.”
“Yes, they are, but they also like to push the point. This one fish would serve ten of the guests. Of course they would probably have about ten sides per dish, but still, I’ve survived eating less. This will do.”
“As you wish.” Gordon swung his arms around him as he bowed clumsily.
“Oh, stop it.” She couldn’t help but smile as she stood and took the offered hand.
The shack they occupied had warmed as they had sat there, their own body heat contributing to the warmth, but the heating iron probably helped as well. It had also, allowed the very top of the ice to melt a little itself and thus was quite a bit slicker than when they had first entered.
Penelope took a step toward the door but her left foot slid right out from under her. She dropped harder than a girl of position should, her attempts to catch herself unproductive. Her foot however, in sliding back, happened to hit Gordon’s own foot, knocking him off balance as well. The unfortunate thing, however, was when Gordon fell he also could not catch himself on anything—there being nothing in the small shack to grab, and slid head first into the hole.
Penelope sat where she had fallen and stared at the hole where Gordon had been only a moment before. She forced herself to slide carefully toward it and look down into it. The ice was about a foot thick, but there was no sign of her companion.
“Gordon?” She was leaning over the hole, careful to keep one hand on the edge of her seat to keep herself from falling in. She had to remind herself that he was a swimmer and a diver. He would know what to do, she hoped he hadn’t hit his head or anything during his fall to render him unconscious.
She had just reached into her pocket, the one where she always kept her compact, when Gordon suddenly appeared—popping out of the hole like a jack in a box all a splutter with cold, very wet water.
She reached out and grabbed his arm, her foot against one of the benches and pulled as hard as she could to help him squirm out of the hole. He plopped on the ice much like the seals on those nature channels, only he wasn’t sunbathing in the slightest.
“P-Penelope.” He was gasping for air, his body already shivering from the cold. “Need to get—the house.”
“Yes, of course.” Penelope’s eyes were big, round. She struggled to stand and struggled even more to get Gordon to his feet. They slipped and slid across the ice as they struggled to make it back to land and to the large silent house in the distance.
Penelope was barely able to get Gordon through the front door. Every step across that god forsaken lake seemed to take more and more effort from both of them. Gordon was slowing down, and more of his weight seemed to rest on Penelope—and while she was quite strong for her stature, she wasn’t sure she could single handily carry him the rest of the way. As they neared the house he started to wander, wanting to go to a different door than the one that was right in front of them. Then there was the problem of the door being locked. She let go of Gordon to look for a key—under the doormat, over the door, in the light by the door, and finally under a rock next to the door—and when she turned to help Gordon through the door he was halfway around the side of the house!
When she finally got him into the house, he was shivering quite violently and his eyes were glazed over, and Penelope was truly starting to worry. She wanted to build a fire, start up the heat, but she didn’t know anything about the house, and Gordon was of no help at all.
“Penelope, get your act together. You went with John to that first-aid class for a reason. You are a member of International Rescue. Use your smarts.” She lightly thumped her own head. She needed blankets, yes, those she would need. She started to look through closets and found a handful that would do nicely. She made her way back to the living room where she had left Gordon only to find him gone and the door open. She dropped the blankets and ran out the door to find him on his way back to the lake.
“Gordon, what the hell are you doing?” It wasn’t polite language, but this was not a polite situation.
“Aren’t you hungry? We caught a fish.”
“I caught the fish, and no we are not hungry. Get your ever loving butt back inside now!” She was really starting to pick up some bad language from Gordon, but she really didn’t have the time to worry about it right now either.
She pulled him back into the house, closed and locked the door before forcing him down on the sofa. She pulled her compact out of her pocket and popped it open as she laid it down on the table.
“Penelope, I thought you were spending the evening with Gordon?” John’s mini hologram was floating in the compact looking up at her.
“I am, or rather we were, but Gordon fell in the water.” She knew her voice was trembling, she was starting to get really worried. Gordon wasn’t acting normal. Far from normal, and the shivering had almost stopped completely which she was sure was not a good thing.”
“Well, that’s normal. He’s always falling in water. Usually on purpose.” John smiled at her, but then frowned finally taking notice of Penelope’s own features.
“No—well, yes that is true, but no we’re in Alaska and he fell. In the water.” She was completely losing words and was struggling to express the worry she felt.
“Alaska? Where are you at?” John’s attention was all on Penelope now as she busied herself in unfolding the stack of blankets she had found, keeping one eye on her patient.
“Your house I believe. He took me ice fishing.”
“Not something I would have done, but this is Gordon we're talking about. Alright, are you trying to get him warmed up?”
“I have him on the couch and was just about to wrap him up in some blankets. He was shivering quite badly, but now he’s not and I have a bad feeling that is not a good—Gordon, where are you going?” Penelope dropped the blanket she was unfurling and grabbed Gordon’s arm to stop him from going outside yet again.
“Fishing. We still have worms.”
“Those worms can just freeze to death. I swear!” She pulled him once again to the couch passing in front of John.
“We’ll go hungry.”
“That we will not.”
“Penelope.” It was John was busy doing something else, but had his full attention to the figures just within his sight. “Did you take his clothes off?”
“Did I what?”
“His clothes. His body can’t maintain his core temperature. His wet clothes are not helping him at all. Sounds like he’s getting worse actually. You need to get his clothes off. Remember the class. What is the best way to warm up someone suffering from hyperthermia?”
“Skin on skin contact.” Her mind finally snapped into place. Putting a name to it helped wonders.
“I didn’t think I’d have to actually make you make that decision, but if you want to save Gordon...”
“I don’t think I could do that.” Penelope leaned over and whispered quietly while the instructor continued to talk.
She sighed, but was used to John not quite following her own train of thought. “Get undressed and curl up with some stranger.”
“You’d be saving someone’s life.”
“Still, the headlines.” She waved her hand in the air to emphasize the issue, but it didn't seem to work.
“You would be saving someone’s life?”
“Yes, the headlines would say Lady undresses to save life, but the people would not read the last bit, they would only see Lady undresses in public. It would be a huge debacle.”
John was not looking right at her, his brows furrowed. “Again, you’d be saving someone’s life.”
“Yes, I know and that is the most important thing, but I am not publicly about saving lives and in the circles I have to exist in—it would be such a huge thing I’m not sure I could live it down.”
“And what if there were no one else that could save the life? What if you were the only one?”
She blinked at this question, her mouth slightly open in mid reply. “I honestly don’t know.”
Of course she knew, but that still didn’t mean it wouldn’t rub her the wrong way. She was always taught as a lady of her status to be modest in dress and not to ever show too much skin to anyone. Not that Gordon would remember it, but… She sighed. “Come on Gordon, let’s get these nasty clothes off of you.”
“Virgil is on his way, fifteen minutes max. Make sure to keep yourself warm too, won’t do Gordon any good if you get too cold to warm him up.”
Penelope nodded unsure if John saw her, but couldn’t worry about it at the moment. She had already pulled his coat off, and was trying to get his sweater off, but he wasn’t moving freely and she did remember that she shouldn’t make him move about too much. She ran into the kitchen and grabbed the first sharp thing she could find, a butcher’s knife. She carefully cut at the fabric and pulled it away from his cold and clammy skin. Three layers top and bottom and he was finally free of the frozen garments.
She dropped his boxers on top of the wet pile and then threw a couple of blankets over him while she worked on disposing of her own clothing. She too had multiple layers but it only took a minute to rid herself of them and goose pimples popped up and made a shiver run all through her.
She shivered again as her skin made contact with his, but forced herself to curl up in his lap and pull his arms around her. She tugged three blankets around them so that you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended—only their heads showing, though she had covered Gordon’s with a towel to try and dry it.
She leaned her head on his chest and could hear his heartbeat and breathing in his chest, neither were very strong.
“John, how far out is Virgil?”
“Seven minutes. How’s Gordon doing?”
“I don’t know. He’s not shaking much, and his breathing is shallow.”
“How about his heart rate?”
“Steady, but not very strong.”
“Alright. Your doing all you can for him right now.” It was quiet for several long minutes before she could hear a growing roar somewhere nearby. “Virgil is landing, should be in there any minute.”
There were still some long minutes before Virgil burst into the door huffing, the wind on his heels. “Damn, cold.” He took a half dozen steps to get to them and was already scanning Gordon with his wrist controller by the time he reached him. “Sending preliminary scans to you John.”
“Receiving. Shallow breathing, heart rate steady. Core temp is still pretty low. You need to get him into a recovery pod ASAP.”
“F.A.B. Take a blanket and move over.” Virgil held a blanket up and averted his eyes allowing Penelope the moment to move so he could get to his brother. As soon as she was clear he leaned down and scooped Gordon up into his arms. “Help me cover him up.”
Penelope did as she was told, taking some of the blankets and doing her best to wrap them around the limp figure. As soon as he was cocooned up, they were both gone in a burst of freezing cold.
“Penny, once you get your clothes back on, make your way out to Thunderbird 2. She’s out back, can’t miss her. We’ll bring you back to the island and then someone can take you home.”
“I want to stay with him, until he wakes at least.”
Penelope took one last look at the room around them, the pile of clothes, and the remaining blankets. This could have been a very nice place to spend the evening. She sighed as she donned her coat and made her way to the green machine that cast its shadow over the house and lake beyond.
She found Virgil in the cockpit with Gordon on one of the fold out med pods. He was still covered by one of the blankets she had wrapped him up in and still unconscious.
“His core temperature is slowly rising. He should be okay.”
Penelope let out the breath she had been holding and walked over to the pod where Virgil stood. She took Virgil’s arm and held onto it tightly. She was not holding it together very well, this was against all she had trained for, but no matter how much she told herself that, the more she felt like she could just completely fall apart.
“He’ll be okay, Penelope.” Virgil had reached over and was patting her hand. “Let’s get him back to the island. By then he’ll be warmed up even more and we’ll just have to wait for him to wake up.”
She nodded, but was hesitant to let go. Virgil finally pulled her arm away and pulled out a seat from some hidden storage space so that she could sit near him. He strapped her in and she was able to reach out and at least touch his hand. She kept her eyes on him during the entire trip, even walking up with him as Virgil took him to the infirmary on the island.
His family was there waiting for him—even John’s hologram floated from the wall. They all had worried looks on their faces as Virgil and Scott lifted Gordon from the gurney to the bed.
“His core temp is still rising, doesn’t look like any frost bite to worry about. Just have to wait for him to wake up.” Virgil had his fingers on Gordon’s pulse looking up at the monitor that told him the same as what he felt.
“Thank you, Penelope.” Scott was next to her, a hand on her shoulder. She blinked away some tears, ready to put on a front and tell him there was absolutely nothing to thank her for, when suddenly he had her in a tight hug. Alan joined in from behind, then Virgil. Even Kayo who normally wasn’t into hugs like her adopted brothers were, laid a hand on Penelope’s shoulder.
Penelope relented. She relaxed and allowed the tears to fall. “I was so worried, and I should have done more. I should have known better.”
“Penelope. You’re not a first responder.” It was John from his perch on the wall. “You came to that class just to accompany me. You weren’t expected to pay attention.”
“No, but I should have. You never do know when you might be the only one there to help.” She sniffed and pushed the brothers away.
“Come on, Penelope. You should get some sleep. I called Parker and told him you were here. He’s going to come and pick you up in the morning.”
“No, I want to stay here. You lot have an organization to run. I’ll stay and keep a watch over him.”
“I think that is a good idea.” John cleared his throat. “Scott, we have a situation. We’re going to need all three of you on it.”
“F.A.B. John. Give us the details en route.” Scott had a hand on Alan’s shoulder as he ushered him out the room with Virgil following.
Penelope sat down in a chair next to the bed and reached up under the blankets to take a hold of Gordon’s hand. It was still frightfully cold, but she clung to it, and laid her head on the bed next to his legs, looking up at the monitor watching the numbers of his temperature as it slowly rose.
“Pen.” It was a whisper, and she wasn’t even sure she had heard it. “Pen.”
Penelope snapped her head up and looked at the weary face in the bed. “Gordon, darling!” She stood and leaned over, kissing him lightly on the forehead. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired.” He sighed. “Are you alright?”
“Am I alright? I’m not the one that fell into the hole now am I?”
“Did you at least save the fish?”
“The fish? The fish is what you are worried about? Are you sure you’re okay?” Her eyes were wide as she looked down at him, her hand still in his, squeezing tight.
“Well, I might lose some circulation to my fingers if you don’t loosen up, but yeah I’m fine. Still that was a damn nice fish you had caught.”
“Gordon Tracy! I about lost you and all you are worried about is a damn fish?” She was astounded at his list of priorities, but that really wasn’t anything new.
“Hey, hey. It’s alright.” He had leaned up on his elbow and pulled her closer to the bed, reaching up with his other hand and wiping away the tears that had started to fall down her cheeks. “I’m alright. I’m fine. Come on, hop up in bed with me.”
“I couldn’t possibly. The bed probably wouldn’t support both of us anyways.”
“Are you kidding, all five of us have been squeezed in one bed before. They’ll hold up to a ton easily.”
“I...I’d like to see a picture of that.”
“HA! Sorry, we were all to busy being worried about John.”
“John? What as wrong with him?”
“Bout of pneumonia. Kept denying it until he was unable to keep going.”
“When was this?” Gordon pulled on her hand and scooted over in the large bed. She couldn’t resist though and sat down next to him.
“Couple of years ago, you had just joined I think. Dad was still around. Actually he may have taken a picture. I could see him doing that. No clue where it could be though.”
“I’ll just have to rely on my imagination then.” She still had her hand in his as she curled up next to him, her head on his shoulder. “I was dreadfully worried about you though.”
“I imagine. Thank you, by the way.”
“Doing what you had to. I imagine it wasn’t easy, going against your formal upbringing and all.”
“I would do it again. You are worth it.”
“Absolutely. Now go to sleep. We both need it.”
“Yes, m’lady.” Gordon grinned as he leaned back in the bed and pulled Penelope in closer.
Penelope sighed, this was more like it, hospital bed notwithstanding. A quiet night with just the two of them. Maybe next time they could avoid the dramatics and just stay in.