"There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they are necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go."

Richard Bach - The Bridge Across Forever

No Mistakes

Prologue

Heat.

He felt heat, and blinding light.

Light, and heat, and searing pain.

And then suddenly, nothing more.

Silence.

Utter and complete.

For the longest time, he lay still. Feeling the echo of a pain that had hollowed him out, burnt him to a cinder, resounding through his chest, through his ribcage. Feeling the light that had curled the skin from his bones like parchment still beating down, scalding his shadow to the floor beneath him. His neck twisted, slow and painful, and his fingers flexed, their muscles like twigs; aching, brittle, and finally he let himself go, slumped to the ground.

He slept.

Or maybe he just fainted. Either way, it seemed no more than a few seconds had passed before he opened his eyes again, but already in that time the light had dimmed a little; now glowing through closed eyelids rather than corrosive. His lungs drew a little air in, slowly, as if they were charred from the inside, and with difficulty he took a small breath. Held it.

No pain.

Another.

Deeper. Even slower this time.

Still nothing. No ribs crushed, no agonising jar as ruined bones pierced flesh. He sucked in, filling his chest, wincing, ready for the agony.

Nothing.

His face felt hot, branded scarlet by fire, but with a supreme effort of will he forced his eyelids open, readying himself for the inevitable horror he knew he had to be about to face. Every inch of his body spoke of catastrophe, of an accident the like of which he had never faced before. He had to be dying. Had to be. The imprint of pain upon him was so deep, so great, that he knew he should already be dead. This had to be one of those frozen, twilight moments, the kind Vietnam Vets always spoke of; their blood leaking out of them, limbs blown to shreds, but pain gone as they suddenly noticed the path of a spider on it's web.

He opened his eyes, and saw his hand.

It had to be his hand, because look; and a slow slight crane of his neck to confirm this, it was attached to his arm. And it didn't seem to have been harmed. Pink healthy skin, with just the hint of tan, and when he asked it to move, it did so. Fingertips pressing downwards into sand. Soft sand. Hot, bright sand that felt like warm sugar.

Moving his head to the other side now his chin dragged through it, the hard grains coating his lips. His tongue came out, involuntarily, spitting them out of his mouth as he beheld his other hand; lying like a precious thing, half-buried in gold. He gasped his relief. Christ, both of them. Thank fuck. He had both arms at least. A moments pause and then, grimacing, he braced his shoulders. Pushing down and bringing his hands together under his chest, he slowly pulled himself upright onto his knees.

He blinked, reaching to shade his eyes even before he'd thought to test the muscles in that arm. The sunlight so dazzling him, blazing white and sulphur yellow from every surface. Licked his lips, moistening them before touching fingertips to his mouth.

Nothing burnt. Just normal skin.

Felt his cheeks, his brow, then his hair; curling and thick with dry desert sand. Rubbed it through, and felt the tiny shower of pebbles rustle off and dust him.

The black t-shirt he was wearing was clean, intact, no burns or tears. Just a soft dry coating of dust which fell away as he brushed a hand down his chest and, when he pulled the hem up tentatively, the flesh underneath was just as unscathed. He pressed a hand hard against his stomach muscles, then his chest and ribs. Felt for something, anything. Some sign of what had happened to his body, to his physical self, the something that had to have been galvanic, terrible, tremendous. But instead he found only warm creamy skin, skin that felt smooth and salt-dry under the blazing desert sun. His hands slid down to his thighs, sinew and bones also seemingly unharmed, and pressed palms against them, brushed the denim off until they looked semi-clean.

Digging his toes into sand, one hand steadied his weight as he rose slowly, stiffly, to his feet. For a moment he wavered, the blood rushing singing to his skull, sending his sense of balance all to cock. Closed his eyes and waited, waited for gravity to make him her willing slave once again.

O.K.

Standing now.

Standing....good.

Just gonna stand here, until it all stops whirling like a...big fucking black wheel.

And eventually it did just that, the sky ending up just where it should be, the ground where it belonged. He opened his eyes again, blinked. Shaded with a hand, blinked again.

White.

White-out.

And then sand.

Sand and cactuses.

As far as he could see; a shimmering heat haze that rose from the ground like gas - twisting and warping everything in it's iron grip - and above it, cobalt sky so damned blue that it hurt his bloody retinas. Bluer than bluer. Like the dictionary fucking definition of blue and frowning, he stared it down until the tears sprang out and he had to look away.

His feet seemed miles below him, like comedy feet, and he pushed one toe forward, burying it. Shook it free again and then stared quietly, curiously at his boot.

Big boot. Big leather boot.

Brought the other one forward; it's companion. Stared at that one too.

Big leather boots with these fuck-off big straps that secured them at the side, hugging in close to his calves. They felt wrong somehow, too close, too heavy, the sun superheating them and with them his feet and toes. He frowned at them, silently berating himself for wearing them today, for choosing such fucking impractical footwear for a bloody walk in the desert.

Paused. Blinked again.

And what the fuck...?

What the fuck was he doing walking in a bloody desert anyway?

He glanced up.

And at noon? With a fucking sun like a dinner plate, slamming down at him out of a sky the size of Nevada. He must be fucking nuts. Either that or totally suicidal. Reached into a back pocket before he'd even thought why he would; what he was going for. Realised, and this almost in the exact same second that he found absolutely nothing, that he was looking for his cigarettes.

He smoked.

Did he smoke?

Questioned himself, felt the hunger in his blood. The need for them more than mental. A chemical need, a chemical imbalance. Decided in the next second; fuck that's so fucking sad. He should really quit. Looked around for a stick of gum instead. Because he had to have gum on him if he was quitting. That's what they all did, didn't they? Chewed gum? Patted his sides, felt around for his wallet.

Nothing.

No scraps of paper. No ticket stubs, no receipts for gas. His fingertips dug into the fine silver grit at the very bottom of each pocket, sifting it, and came up empty. No wallet. No nothing.

He narrowed his eyes, looked down at the ground he had crawled from. Nothing but the dim outline of his torso, two twin hollows where his elbows had burrowed deep into the ground. He bent, pushing the soft dunes aside, probing with his fingers. Something, he had to have had something, and then cool flat metal closed between them and he drew the thing out, sand silking off it and onto the desert floor.

A blackened disc, charred beyond recognition. Deeply embedded stones that must have been fakery, melted and fused as they were to the surrounding metal. The remnants of a chain hung from the top, links dusting into black powder as he held it, turned it, frowning. Something pulling and nagging at him deep down. Deep, deep down. Knew this. He had to know this. It was important. Past tense, but still it had meaning, some feeling attached, because the emotions were still there. Clinging to the shape of it, like the fragile memory of a dream on waking. He shook his head, tried like hell to focus on them - make them sharp, and as he did so felt them slip away from him.

He shook his head in frustration, but accepting it in the same moment. It was gone. He would remember eventually he was sure, but for now it had gone. Stood again, and gently slid the object into his empty pocket. Brushed it's dust from the front of his shirt. Shaded his eyes once more, stared out across the desert.

Sand.

Sand and cactuses.

Cacti.

A light hot wind caught his hair, blowing a single blonde strand over his face, and he smoothed it back. Pushed fingers back through the rest. Frowned. Pushed a slowly hand down into one back pocket.

So....then.

Now what?