When Virgil wakes to mist-shrouded confusion, he has no idea what's happened to him.
This is a work of fan fiction based on the television series 'Thunderbirds', created by Gerry Anderson for ITC Entertainment. Characters and situations are used without permission, but respectfully and without profit to the author.
My thanks, once again, to quiller for her proofreading and her helpful comments on this story. Any and all reviews or constructive criticisms, no matter how brief, would be most welcome.
The old-fashioned cobblestones were cold and rough under Virgil's cheek. There was no moment of blissful ignorance, no uncertainty. He knew the moment he came to consciousness that something had gone very wrong.
Aching all over, he pushed himself up from his prone position, concerned when his arms struggled to take his weight, elbows refusing to lock straight. Bleary-eyed and suffering through a headache that had settled at the base of his skull, Virgil managed to sit upright, legs extended in front of him. Automatically, he pressed fingertips to the face of his watch, unsurprised to find it dull and lifeless. If it had been working, he'd never have been left to wake alone like this. His brothers' voices would have dragged him back to consciousness whether he was ready for it or not. Given the intensity of his headache, he was almost grateful that the communicator was dead. Almost. He gave the device a rueful look, shaking his head, before looking up to get his bearings.
He'd been aware of the darkness since he first awakened, but the dense mist that swirled around him, almost hiding his own legs from view, was more of a surprise. It billowed and eddied, moved by currents in the air that Virgil couldn't feel. As best he could tell the atmosphere was still and stifling. There was a clammy feel to it, chilling him to the core. Goosebumps rose on his exposed skin, drawing his attention to the ragged state of his uniform. The tough fabric had clearly done its job, protecting the flesh beneath from more than minor abrasions, but the blue cloth was tattered down his left arm and across that side of his chest. The turbulent fog that surrounded Virgil leached the warmth from him even where the uniform was intact. It swirled through the tears and frayed edges, caressing his skin with an icy touch that left him shivering.
Coughing to clear the dank taste from the back of his nose and throat, Virgil struggled to his feet. The fog swirled thick at ground level, hiding the cobbled surface from view and rising in dense clouds almost to Virgil's waist. Above the opaque ground mist, wisps of vapour writhed. The air felt thick, almost solid, and Virgil coughed again, sharply, in a futile attempt to ease the tight feeling of discomfort in his lungs. A wall – a featureless cliff of dark stone and coarse mortar – loomed out of the darkness and he leaned against it, bracing himself with his right hand flat on its surface, while he took stock.
What little light there was seemed diffuse and pervasive. It highlighted the darkness rather than dispelling it, revealing a brief section of wall that faded into the gloom to either side, and another face of rough masonry paralleling it. Virgil stood in a narrow alley between old, solidly constructed buildings. There might be windows far above, lost in the low cloud that engulfed the upper storeys, but at street level the monotony of irregular stone blocks, laid in thick layers of mortar, was unbroken. Standing a little straighter, Virgil lifted his hand from the surface, rubbing his thumb over his fingers to test the gritty texture of the cement residue coating them. A wave of unsteadiness swept over him. Fighting for balance, he braced himself once more against the stonework, distantly aware of the icy chill under his already cold-deadened palm.
Shaking his head, bemused and confused, Virgil abandoned the survey of his surroundings for an inventory of his own condition. On the whole he felt better than he had expected, given the state of his uniform and the simple fact that he'd been unconscious on the ground. His body ached but it was an unfocused soreness, lacking an obvious origin. Even as he thought about it, he could feel the ache fading, as if it were the memory of pain rather than something he need worry about. If anything he felt numb, a disconnected feeling that started with a cool lack of sensation in his extremities and seemed to be spreading inwards. Perhaps that should worry him, but honestly, what he could he have expected after lying on fog-shrouded cobbles? He'd soon shake a little life into his body. The hole in his memories where an explanation – both of his location and condition – should have been was a far more immediate concern.
Dimly aware that every wasted second was costing him precious heat, Virgil picked a direction and began walking, trailing his fingertips along the rough surface of the wall he was following. The mist closed in behind him and obscured the path in front. He might have been walking from nowhere into nowhere, following an infinite road, for all he could see. He was too lost in thought to notice.
He could remember breakfast on the Island, and a shudder of sensory memory ran through him as his body relived the feel of warm sunlight on his skin. Okay, so that gave a starting point to the day, and a pretty promising one. Where had it gone wrong?
The wall fell away under his hand, the alleyway opening abruptly into a cobbled plaza. His thought processes mired in treacle, Virgil didn't react fast enough to turn and follow the front of the building. Instead he stumbled forward a few steps into open space, arms outstretched, and by the time his mind caught up he was already disoriented, lost in the fog. Forcing down an instinctive panic, Virgil stopped, swaying on the spot as he waited for an opportunity to regain his bearings. The mist eddied in intangible air currents, yielding glimpses of stonework and ornate, moulded-stucco facades, always too brief to be of any help. It felt like an eternity before the air cleared long enough for Virgil to make out the fountain that stood at the focus of this open square and get a feel for the elaborate, if somewhat time-worn, buildings that surrounded it.
To Virgil's left a flat, whitewashed wall had been used as a canvas, huge religious murals declaring the church's purpose as clearly as the cross-surmounted bell-tower that loomed above it. Virgil felt a shimmer of recognition, but he frowned even as he staggered towards the fountain, eager to make for the closest reference point before the mists closed. He glanced up again at the church to find its tower lost once more in the whiteness, drifts of mist almost hiding the crude but devout paintwork from sight. He'd seen that building before, he was sure, but why was some part of him surprised to see it whole and undamaged?
The low stone wall surrounding the fountain barked his shins. He threw his arms out, fighting for a few seconds to stop himself tumbling forward into the shallow pool beyond. The water looked cold, its surface disturbed by gentle ripples. On the very edge of hearing, Virgil could just make out a gurgle of water from the statue at its centre, the lively murmur muted and deadened by the fog. The moment it registered on his consciousness it seemed to become louder, the lone sound in an otherwise silent world.
Turning his back to the noise and looking around into the mist, he mentally overlaid it with the buildings he'd glimpsed. The coarse, dark stonework and narrow streets had already hinted that this place was old. The church, the fountain-centred plaza, confirmed that impression. Even without the swirling fog, Virgil would have felt chilled and out of place. These medieval European cities were a world away from the wide-open spaces of Virgil's Kansas childhood. The same densely-packed buildings and ornate architecture that made them vibrant tourist traps during the day turned them oppressively claustrophobic at night. He'd thought that as he brought Thunderbird Two low over the rooftops for a sighting sweep. John had pointed out the plazas scattered at random through the city – connected by twisting alleys and narrow roads, with nothing approaching a street grid or even a sign of logical planning – and tried to tell Virgil about seeing order within the chaos. Piloting, keeping half an ear open for Scott's instructions and an eye on the scanner as he looked for obvious signs of quake damage, Virgil had been more interested in simply finding somewhere open enough to set his bulky aircraft down.
Groping behind him to feel his way, Virgil sank down to sit on the fountain's two-foot-high wall, struggling to hold on to the memory and to process it.
A rescue then. Quake damage…? A slight frown creased Virgil's brow. Yes, one of those little Italian quakes that struck from time to time – often doing no more than rattling windows in their frames, but just occasionally causing more of a problem. This… this hadn't been a bad one in absolute terms – Virgil relaxed a little as the memories came into focus – the church had weathered a dozen just as strong over the centuries. Unfortunately, each of those had left its legacy in micro-fractures and faults in the stonework. This last had just been the straw that broke the camel's back. And the devotion of the priest who had rushed inside, determined to protect the church's sacred reliquary with his body if necessary…? Well, that had been an example of trust in God's mercy placed above any earthly danger.
Even as John held the most unstable of the walls in place with the Domo, and Virgil directed Scott in the placement of braces to make the ruined building a little less suicidal to enter, he'd pondered that. Did International Rescue's existence vindicate the priest's faith in his deity? Or was this was an object lesson in common sense from a God that Virgil considered the ultimate engineer, with a straight-forwardly no-nonsense approach to running the universe? Stabilising a path through the collapse for long enough to reach the trapped priest was a trying, dangerous job, made nerve-wracking by the prospect of an aftershock that might come any second. When they at last broke into an air pocket, only to find both priest and sacred relics waiting calmly for them, radiant in a shaft of moonlight filtering through the precarious rubble pile, Virgil wondered whether the lesson was intended for him and his brothers instead. Their success, bringing life to those on the brink of death, had made them confident – even arrogant. But they of all people knew just how often their success depended as much on luck as on their own skills. Perhaps someone was reminding them that luck and divine providence were two sides of the same coin.
Virgil's frown returned as the memories faded into confusion. He remembered his wry amusement at his own philosophical musing. He'd shaken it off, concentrating on extracting their equipment while Scott led the priest to safety. After that there was an urgent warning from Alan on Thunderbird Five, John's tight voice cutting through a rumble of sound as he called out something about the Domo, Scott's wordless cry of alarm…
The stone wall was leaching heat from Virgil through the seat of his pants and the palms of the hands steadying him against it. He pushed himself to his feet with an effort, his legs moving stiffly and seeming almost to belong to someone else. The chill had settled now at the base of his spine. He was shivering with the cold, but he shuddered too with sudden anxiety. Had Scott got clear of the building? Why couldn't he remember what happened next?
"Scott?" Staggering forward a step before reminding himself that he daren't lose touch with the fountain, Virgil stopped, rocking slightly. He peered into the billowing white cloud, trying to decide whether he'd heard his name called, or whether the whisper on the still air had been no more than a figment his imagination, born out of concern for his brother.
For a few seconds, intense anxiety burnt through the lethargy that increasingly seemed to be affecting his thoughts. As if in response, the mist around him thinned, revealing the buildings that surrounded the plaza, impossibly intact church amongst them, as dark shadows against the whiteness. Virgil stared at it. Perhaps he'd wandered into a neighbouring square? It made far more sense that this church was the twin of the one that had fallen rather than its unnatural spectre. Movement drew his eyes down from the painted façade, to a figure standing framed by the church's wide double doors.
Virgil took several unsteady steps forward before doubt flooded him. He squinted into the eddying fog, trying to make out the only other soul he'd seen since he'd awakened in this god-forsaken damp whiteness. The figure was tall, at least as tall as Virgil's eldest brother, but it lacked Scott's muscular build. The extended arm in which the figure held some kind of staff was thin, alarmingly so as far as Virgil could make out. Loose sleeves hung down from it. The wide swathes of fabric, and the cowled robe of which they formed part, billowed in a breeze Virgil still couldn't feel, adding bulk to the slender form. For a moment urgent need had written Scott's familiar outline over the dark silhouette, but familiarity was fading into unease with each step Virgil took.
His progress slowed.
"Hello?" he called, trying to remember the few words of Italian he'd picked up and finding nothing amidst the fog clouding his thoughts. The figure remained stationary, his clothes still drifting gently in the elusive wind. Virgil glanced from them to the church, reluctant neurons firing into life. A monk perhaps? Affiliated with the church at whose threshold he stood? "Hello? I think… I need help. Can you help me?"
Straining his ears for any hint of a reply, Virgil closed the gap by another few steps. The cold that was creeping through him had reached his chest now. The tightness across his diaphragm and ribs had developed into an ice-cold fire, burning in his lungs. It seemed to grow more intense with each step he took towards to his new acquaintance.
The figure raised a stick-thin arm, pointing directly at Virgil, and for the first time, the distressed rescuer felt a shiver of fear. Something about the situation, some instinct fighting against his emotional numbness, screamed out that this was wrong.
"Can you hear me?"
The fog seemed to swallow his words, making them fall flat and lifeless into the still air. Still the cowled figure made no response, still it reached out, skeletal fingers extended towards Virgil's heart. A path opened between them, eddies to either side dragging the mist out from between Virgil and the black-robed form. He felt himself drawn forward, as helpless to control his own destiny as the swirling mist. That thought froze him to the spot. A stubborn core drawn from the very depths of his genetic make-up refused to accept the concept of helplessness. He looked up, listening to the instinctive terror that defied logic and reason. There was barely a yard now between him and his silent companion. Pale fingers reached almost to Virgil's shoulder and he imagined he could feel the chill of them, the icy touch that would leach away what little heat he had left.
He backed up, his feet carrying him away as his body took over from his frozen mind. With each step he felt better, the cold a little less intense, reason returning. The all-pervading mist thickened, swirling up angrily between him and the church door, blurring the outline of that frightening form. A brief gap in the mist gave him one last glimpse of the silent monk, outstretched hand still pointing. Then the fog closed between them, and Virgil found himself sitting abruptly on the fountain's bounding wall as it struck the back of his knees. For a moment he sat still, listening to the sound of babbling water – the only sign of life in this whitewashed world.
He raised a hand in front of his face, startled by just how badly it was trembling. At some point in the last few minutes, the fire in his lungs had blended into a sharper pain that spread across his ribcage, making every movement, every tremor that shook his body, painful. His shivers were combining with the backwash of his blind panic, and as the adrenaline subsided and his thoughts once more began to slow, he couldn't help feeling a little foolish. He'd already worked out that the other man was a monk, and if a frugal life left him thin, emaciated even, was that really such a surprise? He hadn't answered Virgil's calls, but didn't some of these European orders still have a vow of silence? Maybe he'd been bound not to speak, and had been helping in the only way he could, extending a hand of friendship. Or perhaps…
Virgil twisted around, and gasped, raising his hand to his chest as he regretted the movement. The stab of pain from what felt like broken ribs cut through his cold numbness. Forcing himself to concentrate past it, he peered into the fog over his own shoulder. What if the monk hadn't been pointing at Virgil, but rather past him, towards someone or something that might help?
The eddying mist revealed occasional glimpses of the statue at the centre of the fountain, its white marble pocked with age and stained with lichen. Beyond it, Virgil could just make out the darker bulk of buildings, and… and light?
He squinted, then blinked and closed his eyes before looking again, sure now it wasn't a figment of his imagination. The fog was definitely brighter in that direction, a diffuse light that outshone the dim glow to which Virgil had become accustomed. Was that the city centre, perhaps? Or just some beacon for wanderers lost in this disorienting fog? Either way, it might mean people, contact with his brothers and the assistance that Virgil so desperately needed. The shadowy figure had been pointing the way after all, and Virgil was beginning to regret not going to him when he could, putting an end to this ordeal.
There was a murmur of sound in the air, perhaps distant thunder, perhaps the voice that Virgil so longed to hear. He twisted sharply back to face front, suffering for his speed, but there was no-one to be seen, nothing but that alluring glow. He stood, pushing painfully up from the wall with both hands flat against its surface. Bone-deep weariness blended with soreness and confusion as he edged his way around the fountain, reorienting himself on the brightest patch in the dense mist.
In some way that Virgil didn't understand and couldn't have described, it felt good to be heading towards the light. He raised his face towards it, straining to feel the warmth he knew had to be there, once again flashing back to the morning sunlight on Tracy Island. His home had never felt so far away, the memories becoming more distant by the second, and that bothered him… but there was a feeling of homecoming to this too. A comfort he craved. He stepped forward, slowly at first, but then faster as longing drew him onward.
He'd only taken half a dozen steps when an actinic brilliance flooded the world around him. The damp whiteness burned suddenly hot with a blue light that filled Virgil's eyes and seemed to spear into his brain. If the lightning bolt didn't strike Virgil himself, then it was certainly close, perhaps earthing itself through the fountain. Either way, the charge ran through him, convulsing his muscles and arching his spine. He found himself sprawled, his heartbeat thundering in his ears once, twice, so loud it almost drowned the echoes of the lightning crack. The sound faded, stillness returning, mists swirling in to regain lost ground.
For a few seconds, Virgil lay still, shocked and frightened, wondering just how much more he had to endure before he could rest. He staggered to his feet, hand pressed to his breastbone in an attempt to support his painful ribs. Aching, he stretched out each limb in turn, rolling his head to ease his strained neck muscles.
A sound floated on the still air behind him. The distinctive rhythm of approaching footsteps, marked out in a sharp rattle that might be wood, or something harder, striking the stone paving.
The shadowy, cowl-shrouded silhouette was no longer a surprise. The tall figure stopped just beyond the fountain, its shape almost obscured by the mist. This time Virgil didn't approach, memories of his irrational terror still too immediate even in this dire strait. Even so, he couldn't just walk away from his only companion in this bewildering world.
"Help me," Virgil pleaded again, more in desperation than any hope of a reply.
The pointing finger was raised once more. Too tired now to argue, Virgil turned and began to stumble forward, heading into the light.
…Virgil, please don't…
The words were clearer now, carried on a note of desperation that matched Virgil's own. They rocked him to his core, freezing his feet on the cold path, and cutting through the clouds that had settled over both eyes and mind. He looked up, sure for the first time who he was hearing, even if he had no idea how, or why Scott's voice rang with such rare passion. Ahead of him, the light spoke of comfort and peace, but there was no chance Virgil could rest until he knew his brother was safe, no way he could abandon him after so anguished a plea.
"Scott?" he strained his eyes on the mist, realising that he was once again lost in whiteness, no reference visible, nothing but the echoes of his brother's voice to pin him to reality. For long moments he stood, swaying slightly as weariness crept back, straining for some sight, some sound, to guide him.
Another few seconds and he'd be forced to look away, to continue reluctantly towards the light that seemed ever brighter through the mists ahead of him. He hesitated, lifting his eyes from the ground to the uniformly-clouded night sky, offering a last silent plea to the heavens and to his distant brother. And then it happened.
Did the sky really crack open? He had a brief split second to absorb the sight. Light stabbed down from above, electric blue fire engulfing Virgil and streaming through abused nerves to permeate every inch of his body. As he fell to his hands and knees, convulsing and writhing in agony, he heard the words carried on the lightning, feeling them speak to the depths of his soul.
…Please don't leave me!
For the first time since waking Virgil felt no hesitation, no uncertainty. Gritting his teeth, he summoned the last of his strength. He fought the pain and exhaustion, the whispers of surrender and rest, and pushed himself up to kneel, arms raised to the sky, embracing the lightning.
Soft warmth embraced Virgil, a world away from the damp and cold that had sunk into his bones. For a while he relaxed into it, but then weight settled over him, his body's aches and pains making themselves known in a chorus of discontent.
"Virgil? Come on, Virge – open your eyes for me."
John's persuasive voice, welcome though it was, wasn't the one Virgil expected – needed – to hear. Tensing, he screwed his eyes tight against the pounding in his skull, almost deafened by his own thudding pulse. Behind that steady rhythm, he could hear a familiar, deeper roar. He relaxed, mystery explained. Thunderbird Two's engine note held an urgency that only Scott and Virgil himself could coax from her. If his Thunderbird had been in anyone else's care, if his brother had been taken from Virgil's side by anything but his lady, he couldn't have settled. As it was, he drifted back into an exhausted sleep, satisfied that each would keep the other safe.
"Virgil?" Scott's voice drifted across his brother's consciousness. "John, how is he?"
"Doing okay, I think. His vitals are almost back to normal. I thought he was waking up a while ago, but…" John trailed off into an audible shrug. "We're there I take it?"
"Close as we can get. The hospital is sending an ambulance out to us. We'd better get him down to the hatch."
Scott's brisk, controlled tone penetrated a moment before his words. Virgil opened his eyes to see his brothers fussing around him, detaching the stretcher unit from its med-bay mount. A frown creased his brow. This was wrong. Sure he was a little beaten up, but there was nothing in his abused body's symphony of pain that screamed for urgent attention. International Rescue avoided hospitals if there was any choice at all in the matter, and Virgil didn't intend to let his family throw away their security on his account. Perhaps if his brothers realised he was awake…?
"Don't need a hospital." Virgil's lips and tongue felt awkward, as if he'd just woken from a deep sleep and parts of him had yet to catch up. They slurred his words, but the murmur was enough to bring both of his brothers to the head of his bed, dropping everything in their haste. Scott reached out, resting a gentle hand on Virgil's chest to keep him lying flat. Given the way his ribcage was throbbing even without the strain of movement, it was an unnecessary gesture. He turned his head a little, meeting his eldest brother's dark blue eyes.
Scott looked tired, fine lines around his eyes betraying a strain that didn't show in his neutral expression. For a moment he just stood there, as if soaking in the sight of his brother's brown irises. Then he shook his head, his expression becoming stern.
"You're going to hospital," he told Virgil firmly.
"No." Speech was easier now as alertness returned, but Virgil's rich voice was still cracked and hoarse.
Scott rolled his eyes. "Yes."
"I'm okay," Virgil insisted, his automatic protest far weaker than he would have liked.
A spark of amusement, almost as weak as Virgil's objection, glimmered in Scott's eyes.
"Sure you are," he smiled. "Just a major concussion, bruises and contusions…" The amusement faded, Scott's expression becoming unreadable. "A few cracked ribs."
John shifted, dragging Virgil's weary eyes around towards him. For a moment, Virgil's blond brother looked as if he wanted to say more, but then John and Scott exchanged a look over their patient's head and John thought better of speaking up. Too tired and confused to yield gracefully, Virgil shook his head.
"Can handle all that at home," he pointed out stubbornly, still looking at John because turning back to Scott would require too much effort.
John chuckled, the exasperated good humour in his expression at odds with the flush of emotion in his pale cheeks.
"Just humour us and let the doctors check you out, okay, Virgil? We'll take you home as soon as they give you the thumbs up."
"John, get down to the hatch and tell them we're on our way, will you?" Scott had apparently decided to abandon the argument and just assume he'd won. "Lie back, Virge. I don't want to have to strap you in."
He took the brake off the stretcher with a kick, edging in behind Virgil's head to take control of the main handle as the trolley came away from the wall. John gave a brisk nod, moving to the door and pausing there for a long second, his eyes lingering on his injured brother before he turned away with a smile. Virgil surrendered, relaxing into his pillow as the stretcher began to move, rolling his eyes up so he could watch his eldest brother's face rather than the walls sliding past.
Close up, the deeply hidden anxiety and tight control in Scott's expression was obvious to his closest brother. Even weary as he was, feeling sleep edging back over him, Virgil couldn't let it go.
A whisper of memory spoke to him in his brother's voice. Scott's desperate call echoed through his mind, the words steeped in a raw emotion his eldest brother rarely showed.
"Where was I?" Virgil waited until they were in the lift, Scott moving to stand beside his stretcher rather than behind him, before speaking. He saw his brother's confusion and concern at the question, and replaced it with a simpler one. "What happened?"
For a few heartbeats, Scott's breathing became ragged, his expression betraying a remembered fear so profound that Virgil's pulse jumped in sympathy. Then his brother took a deep breath, relief brightening his eyes as he looked down.
"It doesn't matter. You came back. That's all that's important."
Scott's attempt at a smile was more than a little forced. He looked away, drawing a line under his display of weakness, before turning back with a wry expression.
"Just brace yourself for Grandma's undivided attention when we get you home. It shouldn't be long, Virge. We just want the doctors here to look you over… to be sure."
Eyes drifting closed, Virgil sighed. He could put up with an hour or two of poking and prodding if it took some of the terror from Scott's eyes. He was almost asleep when he felt a hand once again resting gently above his heart, and heard his brother's whisper.
"You came back," Scott repeated, as if he still couldn't quite believe it.
Virgil opened hooded eyes for long enough to offer his brother a wan smile.
"Well," he murmured as he slipped back into warm dreams. "You did say 'please'."