The pain has gone.
Even in my confused and disorientated state, I know that this is not a good thing. The pain was real. There was still a chance while the hot agony that coursed through me filled my mind. Now my body is numb. There is nothing but blackness. Only the steady thudding of my own heartbeat disturbs the stillness. It should be racing, compensating, but the slow rhythm confirms what I already know; it won't be long now.
Even the slim chance that had guided me into this situation has gone. The reason I hurried into the building, the possibility that I could have reached them before the roof collapsed has been taken from me. Now my being here is pointless, without reason. There will be nothing good to be gained from my passing.
My friends, my family, they will have nothing to cling to after I have gone. The harsh reality jolts me from my musing and suddenly there is a new pain. Not a physical sensation, for they have long since deserted me. No, this is deeper; an aching in my chest that seems hollow and endless. And suddenly I'm filled with regret, wishing that the warning voice that still rings in my ears had been enough to stop me entering the remains of the building.
He is going to be so mad at me. But he'll never have the chance to shout at me. Suddenly I'm wishing he could. I want to hear the fury in his voice, the heat of his breath on my face as he leans in close for his reprimand. Now I'm filled with sorrow for the anger that he will never be able to release and I try to struggle. I have to give him that chance.
The weight on my chest is almost suffocating me. Slowly. Menacingly. If only the rubble had been that little bit heavier, it would have been over in an instant and would not have left me here, lingering on the edge of inevitability. At first it seemed like a saving grace but then reality began to sink in. As I heard the pieces of brick and tangled metal grind to a halt around me, I knew that I was lost.
For the same reason I should never have entered the damaged building, the others will not risk stepping amid the unstable wreckage. They will find me eventually. They will bring out the equipment to move the rubble aside but the shifting masonry will tumble further and they will find not me but something, enough to put in a waxed oak coffin.
My right hand can move.
The sudden shift in tempo of my weak pulse sends pain shooting through my arm but it's real and it pulls me a step away from the abyss. I clench my fist, my fingers combing through dust and grit. The sensation is so strong that it is almost too much for my suffocating mind to bear but it feels wonderful.
Slowly I lift my hand, bend my arm. There is a hollow beside me; enough room to swing my arm around wildly, trying to find something to hold on to. My gloved fingers find something new, not the rough edge of a piece of rubble but something smoother. I tap it and can hear the echo around my ears. My helmet. Suddenly hope is flooding through me and I begin to imagine being dragged free of the collapsed building. I search around my helmet, in front of my face. My breathing apparatus is still working and I am suddenly aware of the gentle flow of oxygen against my mouth.
Now I'm smiling. I try to laugh but the weight on my chest prevents the movement. Shallow breathing is all that the rubble will allow but with the flow of oxygen it might be enough. Maybe there is hope after all.
I wonder for a moment if the helmet is damaged; my numb fingers cannot really tell through the thick gloves but I stroke the surface of the front visor nonetheless. I can hear the faint sound caused by the friction of material against plastic and it's then that I realise; it's all I can hear. No static, no hiss of an open channel, no reassuring words from somewhere beyond the rubble. My comm. link must be broken. Which means I have no way to tell them I'm here. I'm alive. Just.
My hand moves again and searches the cleft beside me. Amid the gravel I touch something soft and somehow familiar. My fingers slide into the shape and suddenly a cold chill runs through the few parts of my body I can still feel. It's a hand. There's no doubting it. I squeeze the limp fingers and wait for a response. Nothing.
So. I did make it to them. A vague memory then appears in my mind and I can recall running towards them. She was trapped under some fallen masonry and he was trying to get her loose. The boy they had gone inside to rescue was clinging to the hem of his thick jacket and sobbing bitterly.
Horrible. Worse than any of the pain is the knowledge that the child is under here somewhere. His frightened whimpers heard no longer.
I pull my hand free from the lifeless other and search the crevice again. My wrist knocks against something hard and I feel it move. For a moment I can't distinguish the object but I manage to slide my fingers along its length and there is another smile. His pickaxe. He was using it to try and lever the masonry off of his colleague. With all the strength that I can muster, I pull at the axe with my free arm and suddenly it slides loose. They'll be listening, waiting. As the dust settles they'll be still. I grab the axe and hit it against the rubble beside me. The shock travels down my arm and throbs in my shoulder but I am beyond caring. They have to hear me.
Time has no meaning in the darkness and I have no idea how long I have been hitting the axe against the stone but my arm is tiring. The clanging of metal against stone seems loud beside me and I pray that it is noise enough to reach the people that must be listening. I keep going for as long as I can but my arm is numb and my breathing hard. I stop for a moment, suddenly realising that I must be using up my oxygen supply. I want to keep going but my arm will no longer respond and the burning in my throat from the effort of forcing air into my crushed lungs is too much to battle against.
My heart is racing now and the noise pounds in my dizzy head. I listen to the sound and hear the pulse slowing as I lie there. The rhythm of the beats begins to tease me; the rate is impossibly sluggish and I begin to wonder which thud will be the last one. And then there is a new sensation. My face is hot from the effort of banging the axe and it feels good but my flushed cheeks now feel wet.
I am crying.
No sobs can escape my trapped chest and my body lays there still amid the rubble but the tears flow down my face and pool along the edges of my collar. The coolness is somehow refreshing but then the tears begin to dry and my skin itches. I want to scratch at my face but can't reach and it annoys me. My anger grows and suddenly I'm furious; angry at whoever it was that had lured me inside, angry at myself for climbing into the damaged building, angry at the building for collapsing, angry at the world for taking me from the people I love.
Shouldn't have come in here. Shouldn't have come in here. My conscience is nagging at me and I try to block out the voice in my mind. Shouldn't have come in here.
I was the closest! Suddenly I'm arguing with myself and I can feel the angry burn of adrenaline gathering once again. It was sheer chance that I was already in the air when the call came in; I got here first not only because of the immense speed of the rocket but also simply because I was nearer.
Should have waited. Should have stayed outside. Scott wouldn't have come in here.
My anger slowly ebbs away and I am again left with the bitter taste of regret. My first official solo flight and this is what happens. It took almost two years to build up enough training and ability to convince Scott to relinquish the controls and, even then, the initial runs were always under his close scrutiny. And finally this morning, Scott's faith – and a broken collarbone – had allowed me at last to go out alone.
Just once across the ocean and back. The rocket might be needed and there was a limit to Scott's patience. But it was enough. And it was wonderful.
If there had been time, I would have flown back to the island and collected a co-pilot but John had said the situation was urgent and Dad had told me to just get to the site. They would meet me there.
They probably still would. They could not be more than twenty minutes behind me. They should be there. They will find me.
My heart skips a beat as suddenly she is there beside me. Her image fills my mind, her smile so clear amid the haze of the claustrophobia. I open my eyes and she is there in the nothingness amid the rubble. Suddenly I feel guilty for not having thought of her before and fresh tears begin to fall.
The longing for her is powerful and for a moment it feels as though sensation has returned to my broken body as every inch of me yearns to be held by her. I want her to be there, to take me in her arms and tell me not to worry.
I wonder if she knows yet.
She will have been busy this morning. Mondays are always busy. I begin to imagine how she will be told, who will go to the college. I hope it's Penny; I don't know if she's good at that sort of thing but she would perhaps be kinder, calmer, softer to fall against.
But I don't want her to be told, I don't want her to hear those words; the empty, meaningless 'line of duty' explanation for her grief. Suddenly I have gripped the axe and am banging with a new strength. She is not going to hear those words!
It lasts for what can only be a few minutes before I am exhausted once more and new tears fall again. I shouldn't cry; I need all the fluids I can retain. Suddenly I'm mulling over in my mind the various injuries that I might have sustained. Lying there on my back I begin to imagine what my crushed body might look like and as gruesome as it seems, it helps. My mind is slowing and I am desperate for anything to keep me conscious. As tired as I am, if I let myself fall asleep now then that will be the end.
Oh, but to be asleep. To be wrapped up in her arms, content in the knowledge that I am adored, and let myself fall into happy dream-filled sleep. My mind begins to toy with me and soon the rubble is the pressure of her strong arms around me, the gentle weight of her body on mine as she lies across me. I close my eyes and I'm there, enclosed in all of her. I'm still banging the axe and my arm is again tiring but I am determined. I have to be found. I have to survive. For her.
Why aren't you here? You would be able to sense me somehow. You would be able to tell them that I'm here and they have to hurry. Again, my whole body wants to cry out but I am pinned, trapped. Unable to do anything but lie here, helpless. My banging has now stopped, my weakened arm lying in the dirt beside me. I closed my eyes from the blackness around me and concentrated on her face. Maybe, if I think hard enough, she might hear me.
Oh god, I must have fallen asleep. I wake with a jolt and my heart is racing. Can't chance it. Must stay awake. I try to struggle out of semi-consciousness and lift my hand to tap on my mask. Stay awake!
Breathing is becoming difficult and spots of light are dancing before my eyes. It is either massive blood loss or my oxygen supply is running out. Panic erupts from deep within me and I want to scream. How could life be so cruel? How can I finally get the keys to Thunderbird 1 and never fly her again? How could I be shown something so wonderful as the love of such a precious soul and then never be able to hold her again.
Suddenly the rage returns and my mind is loud with the sound of my own angry voice. I clench my teeth and once more grip the handle of the axe. I hurl the axe with all my strength and hear the loud clang echo through the rubble. The handle then slips from my fingers and my heart sinks as the axe tumbles from my grasp and is gone.
With what I can manage of a sigh, I close my eyes and let myself drift into the tempting dream-like state that lingers on the edge of the blackness.
The last time we had seen each other, it had happened. We had slept in the same bed together before and had fumbled with each other, finding each other, searching each other's bodies. But it had never been like this. It had taken so long; months of tentative conversation and uncomfortable silences. We knew we wanted to be together but just couldn't find the right route. It was hard to simply flick over a new page and be more than just good friends. And somehow that night it had all simply just fallen into place.
Oh to be with her now. If only the weight on my chest was her and we were together like that night. I had spent most of the next day in a trance; the teasing of my brothers running off me unheeded. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered as it once had. I was loved.
Maybe that's it. Perhaps I reached the ultimate point of existence and there is nothing more. It could be that the meaning of life is to feel as I did that night and once you reach that place …
No. It can't be true. That's stupid! Now that I know I am loved and I love someone as much as I do know, it gives me strength and power. I can do anything. Whatever it is that you want me to do, I can do it! Please! Suddenly I'm praying. The anger has faded and I'm sorry for the things I said about You. Oh God. Please. Let me live.
The beating in my head is irregular now. There's no rhythm to the pulse and no longer can I lift my free arm. It won't be long. My breaths are shallow and difficult. Is my body trying to compensate, keep the reserves lasting or is this it? Is this what dying feels like? I just want you to know, God, that this is a terrible waste. I could do so much. Give so much. Dad once said the world needs people like me – were you not listening that day?
Suddenly there is a noise somewhere in the distance. Voices.
I open my eyes but there is still nothing before me but blackness and those little lights that dance on the edge of my vision. Are they angels? Have I been seeing angels? Is that what I can hear now?
So far away. I can't make out what they're saying. Are they talking to me?
That was louder. Clearer.
Even closer now. I want to wave but the angels should know where I am. Wait. Maybe I have to go to them? Don't they know I'm trapped?
"Alan! Oh no!"
Suddenly there's light poking through the rubble and it blinds me for a moment before I close my eyes. The stones beside me scrape against each other as they move and I can hear a different voice shouting a warning. Maybe someone is doing what I did. No! Don't! Don't get trapped in here like me!
The rubble beside me moves again and the pile above me that was balanced on it shifts slightly. Suddenly there is pain in my hip and the sensation drags me back to reality. My ears are humming and there again is the dizziness. The pain dissipates and I sink back into my world of blackness. Suddenly it feels so easy to just let go.
The light from above has grown brighter and I open one eye, squinting in the sunlight. A large amount of rubble has gone and now I think I can see someone beside me. The light is then blocked and I can feel something on my arm. A hand.
My glove is pulled off and fingers are pressing into my wrist. They wait there for a moment, counting, discovering the weak beating that I've been hearing slowing for some time.
I know that voice. The fingers slip round mine and I squeeze them as hard as I can, which is probably nothing.
"Alan! Oh God, please!"
I tried asking Him, too, but I don't think he's listening.
The hand has gone and I realise how cold my fingers are. Suddenly more rubble moves and again the gentle slide of the pile above me. The pressure on my chest is worse now and the pain in my side has increased. Then the pressure lifts a little and I can breathe deeply. Big mistake. Fluid in my throat makes me want to cough; only I can't and now I'm gasping, drowning.
The pressure then lifts even further and suddenly I can cough. It hurts more than anything I've ever known but it clears my throat and I can breathe again. I can hear my noisy breaths inside my helmet and I can taste blood in my mouth. This can't be good.
Much closer now. I open my eyes and there he is, smiling down at me. This is cruel. Don't make me see this now.
"Hey, son." He reaches between the rubble and grabs my hand. "Hang on, son. I'm here."
I look up into his smiling face and my heart picks up in speed. I must be frowning because he nods and confirms that he is really there.
Dad. My mouth forms his name but I can't speak. Dizziness.
He knows. No piecing together the shattered remains, no wondering how, he has seen what happened and he'll understand. I close my eyes and let the blackness enfold me again.
Suddenly someone is pulling at my helmet and I feel the hiss of pressure releasing as the seal is broken. A hand slides inside and supports the back of my head as the helmet is pulled free. Air. Clear, fresh air pours over my skin and I take a deep gulp. Again the coughing, or attempt to under the pressure of my chest.
"It's okay, it's okay. I'm here, Alan, I'm here."
His hand is on my face and I open my eyes. He's now just an arm's length away and I can see him clearly now. I lift my arm to touch his face and he leans in closer, pressing the back of my fingers against his cheek.
"Hey, son." His smile grows and I realise I'm smiling back at him. "You hang on in there. We'll get you out."
Doesn't he know how long I've been hanging on already? I can't go on much longer than this.
A gentle tap on my face and I realise I'd closed my eyes. I look back up at him and there is that smile. Then he looks away and seems to be talking to someone. I can hear other voices and the gentle rumbling of rubble moving above me. Again the pile shifts and a dry groan leaves my throat.
"Stop!" He shouts to the people around him and raises his hand. He peers into the pile of rubble that covers me and a frown creases his brow. A new plan is made and he shouts orders before turning back to me with a reassuring smile. "It's okay. You'll be okay."
I lay there beside her, spent, panting in weariness. My hair was clinging to my sweaty forehead and my body was exhausted but I felt wonderful.
TinTin was grinning at me happily and stroked my cheek as I nestled there against her shoulder. "You're gorgeous." she husked.
I smiled back at her, my body tingling from all that we had shared. Her hand moved from my face and stroked down my arm, her fingers sending tiny shockwaves through my skin.
"I think I've died and gone to heaven." I mumbled contentedly.
TinTin laughed softly and shook her head. "I don't think what we just did is allowed in heaven!"
She slid her arm from under me and stood from the bed to wander into the bathroom. I snuggled down against the coverless bed and buried my face into the soft pillow.
It smelled of her; the musky smell of sweat combined with the sweet scent of coconut oil and a subtle hint of perfume. I took a deep lungful of the scent, sure that I had never smelled something so wonderful.
After a moment I sat up and peered in the direction of the bathroom. I thought of following her in there and attempting a repeat of what we had just done, regardless of the consequences if one of my brothers discovered us. My gaze then fell to the bed beside me and I gasped in horror.
She must have heard the panic in my voice and I lifted my head to see her speeding back into the room and she stopped at the foot of the bed, frowning in confusion. I nodded towards the small dark blood stain that had been smeared across the linen.
"It's okay." She knelt onto the bed and crawled up closer to wrap her arms around my shoulders.
"But -" I couldn't bear the remorse and turned my face from her gentle eyes.
"Hey! It's okay!" She reached up to turn my face towards her and smiled up at me. "It's okay. You haven't hurt me." She laughed gently, "Just the opposite in fact!"
My shoulders sank and I sighed loudly as I lowered my head and rested my forehead against hers. "Oh god, Tin."
"It's okay." She kissed my nose, my cheeks, my mouth and then hugged me tightly. "I love you."
"I love you, too." My voice was tight as I buried my face into her shoulder and groaned softly. "You are so precious. I can't bear the thought of anything ever happening to you."
"Nothing's going to happen. Ever." She kissed my shoulder and hugged me tighter. "Not now I've found you."
She shouldn't have said that. Looking back now, I can see that to be so happy was tempting whatever demons were listening that night. They lured me in here. Happiness that powerful isn't permitted in this world.
"Alan! Alan, open your eyes! Please, son! Open your eyes!"
I must have drifted off for a moment because he's even closer now and there is less rubble around my head. I look up and watch as he clambers between the stone and twisted metal to reach me.
He's wearing his green flight suit and now I can hear the gentle rumble of Thunderbird 2 somewhere above us. He must have demanded to be set down when enough access had been created.
"Hey, Alan." Suddenly he's kneeling beside me, clasping my free hand in both of his. "Hey, son. Stay with me. We'll get you out."
I manage a smile and can see it reflected in the relief on his face.
"What were you thinking? Huh?" His smile fades a little and then his frown disappears as he realises this is not the time or place for blame.
"Sorry." My voice is more of a gurgle than anything but he understands me nonetheless.
I see the pain that flashes across his face and he leans forward to brush my hair back from my face and kiss my damp skin. As he leans back, I notice something in his eyes that I have never seen before. Tears.
"It's okay." His hand is stroking my cheek again and he nods in reassurance. "You'll be fine."
I love him. More than he will ever understand. But I wish he would stop lying. I've been crushed by a ton or more of rubble and I can't feel my legs. I'm a long way from okay.
"Stay with me, baby. Please."
Baby? No one calls me baby except Mom. Mom. Suddenly the thought that I might see her again soon brings me a strange comfort but I can hear the anguish in Dad's voice and suddenly I'm torn as to which way to run.
"Stay with me, Alan."
I'm trying. I squeeze his fingers in reply but the dizziness is worsening and breathing is hard once again. Suddenly there's a loud groan above me and I close my eyes as I hear the rubble shifting. I hear the impact of the stone but can't feel it against me. That must be it then. There is an awful silence and I'm sure that it's over but then I hear him groan and I open my eyes.
He's so close to me that I can hear the worried shout that blasts from his earpiece.
"I'm okay, Virgil." He manages and smiles down at me.
"Dad?" I croak and look up at him in wonder. He must have thrown himself over me as the rubble fell and is now shielding me from the pile above him. His smile is unwavering but his eyes betray the pain he is in. I reach up and touch his face.
The stone that had smashed into his back then miraculously lifts from him and I catch a glimpse of the yellow pincers as the rubble floats out of sight. They soon return to continue working the way through to me and I can feel the weight on my chest getting less. Suddenly the force on my abdomen lessens and blood flows down into my legs. As warmth and sensation return, so does a blinding pain and the gurgle in my throat soon becomes a scream.
"Hey! Alan!" Dad can slip his arm under my neck now and he cradles my head against his chest. "Oh, baby. Hold on."
"It … hurts …!" At last I've found my voice but it doesn't sound like me and I can see the concern in Dad's face.
There are new voices now. Unfamiliar but filled with a concern that I recognise. The same concern that drew me in here.
"Down here!" Dad calls out to them.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the bright flash of a reflective jacket and the paramedics scrambling down into the crater beside me.
"Virgil, Gordon, stop!" Dad shouts suddenly and turns to the two paramedics that have begun to pull emergency equipment from their bags. "Can we get him something for the pain?"
The dizziness is returning and the pain is so intense that I want to throw up. Not a good plan right now and I swallow back the bile in my throat. "Please! I can't … can't take this!"
"Please?!" Dad sounds worried, something that doesn't happen often.
"Okay, it's coming!" One of the paramedics calls back and I can hear her talking with her partner.
"Hold on, son." Dad is kissing my cheek and I can feel his lips trembling. "Stay with me. Please." His fingers are gently stroking through my hair as he clutches me against him. "Don't leave me, Alan. Stay."
"I'm trying." I manage a reply and then close my eyes as the pain worsens. I can hear the quick thumping of his heart against my ear and it mingles with my gentle whimpering into his flight suit.
Movement beside us then causes Dad to gently lay my head back down and I can see one of the paramedics crouching beside him. She places a reassuring hand on his arm and smiles down at me. "I need to see what's going on under here." She begins.
I nod in understanding; she wants to assess the damage before giving me morphine. I might need a big dose if she has to fix some of the damage right here but too much and I'll stop breathing. She is quiet as she peers under the rubble. Too quiet.
"Well?" I can see her thoughts clearly on her pale face as she turns back to me. I can understand how she must be feeling; the yearning to just shoot in a little too much morphine and end the suffering right then and there.
"No!" Dad can see the look in her eyes, too, and he falls forward to gently rest his forehead against mine. "No."
His tears fall onto my cheek and I reach up with my free hand to stroke my fingers through his hair. "It's okay, Dad."
"No!" Suddenly he is sitting upright again, shaking his head in defiance. "Let's get him out of here! He'll be fine!"
"Sir -" The paramedic begins to argue but she can see the anger in his flushed face.
"Just do it!" Dad demands gruffly. "Virgil?"
I hear the growl of the approaching craft and see the claws dangling from the open underbelly as Thunderbird 2 rumbles past overhead. The pile shifts again. The pain is way beyond anything I can cope with and I cry out to them. I can feel something ripping at the arm of my uniform and then a sharp stab as the morphine is quickly dispensed. The hands linger there for a moment and there is another, longer stab and then an odd sensation of cold rushing up my arm that is strangely comforting but then I wonder if this is standard practice and not a sign that I am worth saving.
"It's okay, Alan. I'm here."
Dad is leaning close to me again and I try to focus on his smiling face. I can feel the darkness beckoning and the morphine is lowering my defences.
"No! Alan! No! Stay with me. Please!"
Now there is a sound that I don't recognise and I realise with dismay that Dad is crying. Softly and desperately. It breaks my heart and suddenly I am fighting again. I can't bear to hear such sorrow from my brave, infallible father. "I'm trying." I manage once again.
"Alan?" Dad smiles down at me through his tears and presses my hand against his cheek. "That's it, baby. Stay with me." He looks up for a moment and I can hear someone climbing down to me on the other side.
"Hey there, sprout."
Scott. His arm still strapped to his chest and his casual clothes covered in dust from his clamber through to me. He steps closer and smiles thinly. He hasn't seen the damage yet so he still sounds believably optimistic as he reassures me. I'm sure there is a flash of anger in Dad's eyes for a moment and I can well imagine the fight he must have had in trying to make Scott stay at home.
I watch Scott talking with my father, my father communicating with the craft above us and the paramedics adding their thoughts. No mention has been made of exactly how bad a shape I am in and I get the impression that the 'no news is good news' rule does not apply here.
I turn my head to look around me and my heart sinks as I see a barely recognisable form amid the rubble across from me. The dark material is coated in dust and I slowly recognise the shape of a hand at one end. The hand I must have found earlier. One of the fire fighters.
I look back up and see Scott's gentle smile of reassurance. It waivers for only a split second as he glances at what had caught my eye.
"Now, the last load's gonna be lifted and we'll pull you out from under it." Scott explains and walks round to kneel down on the other side of me, glancing briefly at Dad. "You'll be fine, Alan." Scott sounds like the elder brother he is and keeps his focus on me. I know he's trying not to glance at my body beneath the stones and I love him for that.
"We'll be as fast as we can but …" He reaches out and places his free hand on my forehead. "It's gonna hurt like a son-of-a-bitch."
Sure. I nod in understanding and can feel both him and Dad sliding their hands underneath my shoulders to grip my uniform.
Scott's gentle question is close to my face and I can now see the concern that is creasing his brow above the gentle brown eyes. I nod again and he looks up at Dad.
I can hear the gentle groaning of the masonry as Virgil and Gordon lift up the main bulk of the remaining rubble and suddenly all the weight is gone.
For a moment there is a welcome relief and then I am pulled from the wreckage, both men grunting with the effort as they heave me free. Some of the looser chunks of rubble come crashing down from the pile and there is an eerie silence as the dust settles.
"Everyone okay?" Scott asks hurriedly.
I hear everyone answer to the affirmative and I am lying between Dad and Scott, considering an appropriate reply. I'm not actually sure. There is no pain. Nothing.
It must be shock. I look around me and realise that Scott is closer to me. He is watching me in concern and smiles warmly as I turn to him. I watch as his gaze then moves down me and I hear the gasp that escapes his lips.
"Oh god!" Scott covers his mouth with his hand and the colour has drained from his cheeks. He turns his face from the sight before him and I have my answer.
I lift my head to try and look at my body but Dad has scrambled down to gather my shoulders into his arms and he has blocked my view.
"Don't look." Dad whispers and buries his face into my hair. "It's okay, Alan … I'm here."
I'm aware of hands touching my chest, my abdomen, my hips and I can hear the gentle sighing of the paramedics as they examine the broken remains of me. "It … it doesn't hurt." I manage hoarsely. "Is it bad?" Now I can hear Scott retching as he makes his way across the rubble and away from me. "Oh."
"It's okay, Alan."
"I'm sorry, Dad." It seems empty and pointless but I need to say it.
Dad leans back from me a little and manages a thin smile through his tears. He wants to say something; I see his mouth move but his voice is caught in his throat and he cannot stop the sob that escapes his tight lips.
I turn my head away from the sorrow in his eyes, unable to fathom the pain that I have caused him. Somewhere in the midst of the rubble around us are the bodies of the boy and the fire fighters that tried to save him. Thunderbird 2 drifts past over us again and I watch as the search begins for the other personnel. "The others?"
"We found no trace of them on the infrared imager." Dad offers quietly.
I turn back to his concerned face and nod slowly.
"It was a very brave thing that you did." Dad continues quietly.
"Stupid." I husk in retort.
"No!" Dad urges firmly, "No. It was courageous and selfless."
"Scott would have stayed outside."
Pain crosses Dad's face and he shakes his head determinedly. "You are not Scott."
"I wanted to be."
"I know." Dad's sorrow has been replaced with a warm smile and it pulls at the soft lines beside his eyes. "Who wouldn't?" He laughs gently and then the smile slowly fades. "But you are you …" He leans his head down and rest his forehead against mine. "My sweet, sweet child."
I'm not a child. I grew up a long time ago. The other night is proof of that. But right now it feels right to sink into the memory of seeking shelter in his arms. When thunderstorms rocked the island, when painful dreams of Mom gathered and when my brother's playful joking managed to slip beneath my tough exterior.
"TinTin." I husk.
"I know." Dad replies in a whisper. "I sent Penny."
I smile in relief and nod in gratitude.
The new, louder voice startles us both and I look up to see the worried face of the male paramedic.
"We should go, sir."
Dad nods in understanding and turns back to look at me. "They want to take you to the hospital."
I frown in confusion and shake my head slowly. I don't want to move from here; I don't want to leave the safety and warmth of my father's arms. I don't want to die in the back of an ambulance.
"I'll be right there with you." Dad urges gently.
"No." I reply, my weak voice suddenly firm.
Dad frowns slightly and then suddenly his face softens, understanding bringing fresh tears to his eyes.
"Sir?" The paramedic urges, "We should go, sir."
I don't want tubes and anaesthetic and heroic attempts to salvage what might be left of me. I don't want a futile last cling to life, wired up to a life support machine. I don't want to go like that. Like Mom.
Dad gasps and closes his eyes, fighting back further tears. And it was all I needed to say. I listen as he asks the paramedics to leave us alone for a moment.
"Dad?" Scott has hurried over to us and I can hear the horror in his wavering voice. I hope he never blames himself for this. I hope he never sees the stupid diving accident as the reason why his brother was killed here today.
"It's okay, son." Dad soothes.
I look up at my brother and see the anguish on his tanned face. He eventually turns his gaze from Dad to me and tears spill down his cheeks. Falling to his knees, he hangs his head and sobs bitterly.
I don't know how to say goodbye. Somehow I want to. I want to give something of myself to my brothers, to ease their pain somehow. I wasn't old enough to share in, or even understand, their grief after Mom's death but they have occasionally talked about it with me over the years. It seems unfair that they will now have to endure this.
"Oh please, no!" Dad husks suddenly, pulling me closer to him and choking on the lump in his throat. "Please! Don't take him!"
I wonder who he's talking to. He hasn't talked to God since Mom died. And besides, I've already pleaded with the big man upstairs. I don't think He's home.
"Please, not him. Take me, if you must have anyone. Don't take my son. Not my baby."
I don't want to hear this. I need to know that Dad is going to be strong. I need to believe that he will look after TinTin. I need him to tell me that they will all somehow survive.
"It'll be okay," I urge gently. "Tell him, Mom."
Dad grows suddenly quiet. He lifts his head and follows my gaze, searching the crater for her.
"Mom's here." I confirm softly.
A groan catches in Dad's throat and his shoulders sink a little.
I suddenly realise that the low roar of Thunderbird 2 has ceased and I can imagine Gordon and Virgil urgently scrambling their way up to us. I don't want them to see me like this. Or is it better that they do; is it easier to understand if you have seen the damage with your own eyes?
Dad has slid closer to me and lifts me up a little more, his knee slipping behind my back as he cradles me against him, rocking me gently. The motion is soothing and soon I have to fight hard against the weariness but I can hear in his voice that it would be okay to give in now.
"I'm here. I love you, son."
"I love you, too, Daddy." The voice sounds distant, not mine and I can hear him crying again, harder this time. He is shaking with the effort to hold back the sobs that I can feel within him and I can feel his tears dripping onto my face. It was Mom. He knows that if she is here then I will be taken care of. It's over.
But I can still feel the fight within me and I struggle free of the blackness that was gathering. "Dad?" I husk in panic.
Dad leans back a little and looks down at me. Tears still tumble down his ashen face but he manages a smile and lowers his head to kiss my forehead.
He knows. He knows I love him more than even I could ever explain. He knows that the darkness is closing in now and he tells me again that he loves me.
"It's okay, sprout."
Scott. My eyes are too heavy to look up at him but I can feel his fingers closing around mine.
"It's okay, son. You can let go now." Dad whispers.
Scott gives my fingers a reassuring tug. Not to cling to me, not to somehow try and tether me, but to tell me that he'll be there. He'll be there for Dad in the difficult days ahead. He'll tell Gordon and Virgil how it was. He'll hold John when he cries. I wonder if he will ever know how much I so wanted to be him.
"I love you, you little shit." Scott husks.