A/N: It's been a very long time since I wrote any kind of fanfiction – in fact when I looked it up, it's been nearly five years since I last wrote one, so I'm obviously going to be rusty. But this has been tearing round my brain since early December, so I decided I'd jot it down. First time ever writing any kind of Thomas & Friends fic – I can't believe I've even got the gall to post it :p

Additional Notes: I'm leaning towards TV series verse here – CGI or models, you choose – as I'm not well revised on RWS continuity; it's been a long time since I read those books :D Also, I'm going with the dateline of the book Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, placing Henry's rebuild in 1951. No weird stuff, romance or pairings etc. here either. Hope this isn't too ridiculous – please forgive me if it is. It's only a fiction. Let me know if it sucks. - Suzi.R

Part One: The Island Of…Where?

It was still very early in the morning; and, as it was already mid-December, daylight had still not shown it's face.

Sometimes I felt like I lived in a world of constant darkness, particularly in the winter months. It was dark when I left home and it was dark when I returned.

My name is Ellie Briggs, and I didn't really have a proper job at the works; it was my father who had been working there ever since his early years as an apprentice. It was his love of steam that had driven him to take a job there, and it must have been in our blood because I loved it too, and my father did everything he could to encourage this, despite my being very young and a girl to boot.

I tagged along to work with him more often than not; and although I felt shy and nervous in a huge, loud, bustling railway works, I gradually began to gather the courage to ask questions about what was happening around me, with the usual favourite childhood word being "Why?"

As I got older I was given odd jobs and miscellaneous tasks that no-one else had time to do – nothing major or important, just things that were far too tedious for the main staff to handle; delivering messages (hopefully I didn't get too many wrong), going in search of various tools and apparatus, and making what felt like vats of tea and coffee. The staff were always pleased to see me coming with the hot drinks; I don't think some of them even noticed who I was – they just saw a walking teapot.

Not that I minded any of this in the least; I far preferred being at the works, even if all I performed were unimportant odd jobs, to being at home alone or at school.

On this particularly dark, wintery morning near Christmas when I was almost sixteen, nothing seemed particularly different about the day. It was the first day of the school holidays and I was raring to go to work; I hadn't been for a while due to the upcoming exams and I'd missed the hustle and buzz of my dad's workplace.

There were always lots of locomotives at the works; those being repaired, restored and even new ones being built. Recently there'd been a lot of talks about a certain engine coming to Crewe for a major rebuild – I hadn't heard the whole story, just different bits and pieces on the grapevine, which was never very reliable, and so I hadn't really thought much of it. Different rumours I'd picked up on were that the engine was a strange hybrid of a Greasley Class A1 and a GNR C1 Atlantic, built from stolen plans and therefore completely riddled with technical faults. The only other bit of information I'd gleaned was that the engine was coming from Sodor, a little island just off the British coastline, a bit like the Isle of Wight. People talked about this as if it was something special, but up till then I had never heard of the place, and took little interest in the location.

I was interested, however, to see this strange mix-up of a steam engine, a cross-breed if you like. It was on this December morning it was due to arrive, and myself and my father were both anxious to get a look – so much so, that we set off extra early that morning. I was still in a fuggy world of sleep, but within minutes of arriving I was wide awake.

The engine was there; painted NWR green with red stripes, at first glance looking like an A1 as the rumours had suggested. From the angle I stood at, I couldn't see the condition of the engine, but as I came round from the back of the tender to the side, where my father had headed before going off to prepare for work, I could see the extent of the damage. The buffers were twisted and bent; there were various dents and exterior damage to the boiler from what was visible, the side-rods were almost indistinguishable, and some of the wheels were battered and probably hanging off. I looked up into the once-shining green paint on the tender. A distorted, opaque reflection stared back at me. I reached up and ran my fingertips along the deep lacerations, feeling every dent and blemish under the paint.

"I-Is it badly scratched?"

A hoarse voice spoke from somewhere towards the front of the locomotive; I whipped my hand away like a child who'd been sneaking chocolate from the pantry. At this point I had no idea who had spoken – we'd been so early that only a few of the many staff had been in attendance – the few who'd been here to receive this engine, no doubt.

I looked around to see where the voice had come from. Weirdly enough, there wasn't another soul near me; it seemed I was alone. I moved cautiously along the side of the engine; although it wasn't a living creature, I felt sad to see it in such a sorry state. There was already some apparatus set up to begin work on this new project; I climbed up a set of steps to the running board to get a closer look at the damaged boiler.

The boiler was cold – the locomotive was in too bad a condition to travel under it's own steam – and, again feeling full of sympathy, I very softly laid a hand against the crippled boiler plates, wishing I had more experience with steam engines so I could help to repair this poor, battered machine.

"It's badly scratched there, also?"

The same quiet voice spoke. It was male, though quite soft and gentle sounding. I didn't remove my hand this time, though momentarily I froze to the spot. I suddenly had a very good idea as to why everyone was so excited about this engine, and why Sodor had been talked about so reverently.

I wandered along to the front of the engine. I was surprised at myself, even – if I'd imagined myself in a scenario like this (which would be impossible as frankly I have no imagination) my imagined reaction would have involved retreating as quickly as possible, and possibly booking myself in with some kind of psychiatrist, because there was no way that steam locomotives could talk. I worked alongside them (although not actually with them) for most afternoons of the week, and since childhood they'd been a huge part of my life; but not once had I ever seen one that had any kind of consciousness.

I reached the edge of the running board, just above the twisted, buckled buffer beam, wondering what on earth I would find waiting for me. I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable; I hadn't even bothered to answer this poor creature yet (if, indeed it was 'he' who had spoken in the first place) and I felt a bit like a little girl who'd cheeked her grandfather.

I had half-expected to see one of the staff members I knew – perhaps even my own father, he was a terrible one for practical jokes – lurking on the ground by the buffers, but as I peered from the side of the smokebox I could see there wasn't another human soul anywhere.

I was almost afraid, daft as it sounds, to glance to my left and actually look at the front of the engine. Eventually, very slowly, I looked across.

Big, dark eyes met mine. Dark eyes set in an ashen face that looked exhausted and troubled, like those of someone who had been seriously ill for a considerable amount of time, and who just wanted to rest.

I looked at that face for a moment; and it suddenly didn't matter at all that this creature was a 'machine' that was built to do hard work, not for people to look on with affection – I felt so sorry and full of compassion that I reached out and gently touched his pale cheek with my still-cold hand. The engine closed his eyes and gave a very slight smile at whatever small comfort this instinctive gesture of mine had given him.

I felt almost angry on his behalf. Who on earth had decided to invent living metal? To invent breathing, conscious machinery, who now - due to some unknown thief who stole incorrect plans – had to suffer illness and misery for the rest of his life? What kind of selfish act was that? It was well-known amongst us staff that even engines who had entire rebuilds still suffered life-long technical problems – they never ran as well as those which had been originally well-built or as well as they had before the crash or whatever problems had sent them to us in the first place.1

I sank into a sitting position at the edge of the running board, my feet only just touching the bufferbeam below where the lamp iron should have been, and turned to face this living, breathing steam engine. His eyes were half-shut; but the dark pupils were watching me as I turned to look up at him and managed to finally ask him the question burning in my mind.

"What happened to you?"

A/N: 1: I know this is rubbish – I just couldn't resist a bit of the ole angst ;p Should I even bother to post any more?