A/N: Another Thomas & Friends fic – I really should grow up sometime soon XD - I received several reviews asking me to consider writing a sequel to "Crewe". Initially I wasn't going to as I couldn't think of a single thing to write or a reason to do so, but this little one-shot came into my head on the off-chance. Again I hope it's not drivel, but let me know if it is :)
I muttered almost inaudibly to myself as I tried to concentrate on the checks and tests that I was carrying out in the narrow cab of the steam engine. It was an almost impossible task as I couldn't help but listen to the argument currently going on between the two locomotives here at the works; they were both of considerable size and their voices were not exactly quiet.
"What are you here for this time, Henry? More trouble with your tubes, is it? Or did you decide to go for another swim with the 'Kipper' last night?"
"It's not my fault!" snorted the familiar voice of the large green engine. "Those trucks are always-"
"Excuses, excuses! No wonder the Fat Controller always has you on goods trains these days; if you can't control trucks then heaven knows how you'd be able to manage coaches!"
I thought that the large blue express engines comments were a bit below the belt, to be honest, but I've learnt from harsh experience to never, ever get involved in an argument between two steam engines – especially if one of them is Gordon – because you will be stuck there till death.
To be fair, I suppose Henry did seem to spend a lot of time at the Fat Controller's Works, but all of the fleet had their moments. It just seemed that Henry's problems happened in fits and starts; he'd go along merrily for months at a time without a single incident or cause for concern, then everything would happen in one go. Not all his problems were mechanical – some things just seemed to happen without reason – just like a human who's suffered bad health in the past, not everything can be fixed 100% forever.
Henry sighed, not bothering to argue anymore; it is a very tiring job to engage in verbal jousting with Gordon – he can go on for hours without rest, and when I first met him I didn't think it was possible for him to be outdone by anyone. That, of course, was before I came into contact with Spencer, who made Gordon look like a tame and quiet pussycat.
That is not to say that I don't like Gordon; I do, and when he's alone and there's no-one to show off in front of he can be quite personable and can even give decent advice on certain situations.
Gordon himself was only at the Works to have a new whistle valve fitted; it had just been tested by the workmen, and now that we were all suitably deafened he was practically ready for the off. I went over to the little group of workmen and we made the final checks; the entire time I could feel Gordon's eyes boring into my back as he scowled down at us from his great height (that was a nerve-wracking experience the first time I got up close to him, I'll tell you that much), it was obvious he was anxious to be back to work pulling the express – or so he hoped, I'd heard from his driver that James would be taking over his express duties for the day, which probably accounted for his temperamental mood. The larger engines on this strange and wonderful island are extremely competitive – even Henry – they're always having some sort of strongest/bravest/best-of-something challenge between them, as if their whole reputation and existence depends on it. They have no real reason to prove their worth – there's no way the Fat Controller would ever dispose of any of them in the dreadful way I saw many steam engines dealt with over the years – they've got a safe and happy haven here, a time capsule if you like, but they're not having any of it. In the cases of rivalry and competition they act like a load of ten year olds during a football match – their physical age doesn't seem to have much to do with the way they behave; though as a rule the larger engines seem to be the more 'mature' of the bunch, I suppose; Thomas and Percy the tank engines still retain many childish qualities despite being well into their sixties. The only 'adult' tank engine I've met is Duck; and I don't know him all that well, what with his own branch line to run and he's fairly lucky in the health department.
Back to the present and Gordon glaring at me while the workmen and I finished debriefing; we checked the final details and Gordon's crew returned to get their engine back to work.
"You need to have more authority, little Ellie," he said to me loftily, "Get the job done quicker and all that, eh?"
He is extremely bossy at times, though I don't feel I can just answer him back what with his being a good twenty-five or thirty years older than me; even though I'm in my forties these days and should be past feelings like that. I'll admit I felt a little strange being in a management position; I'm not head of the Fat Controller's Works by any means, I'm in charge of a small group of workmen and we carry out small but important (some may say boring) tasks, while the Foreman and his team concentrate on the bigger jobs and any major repair works that might come in. I was very nervous when I first started here, and even now I can get into a fluster – and Gordon knows it.
Eventually he was ready and he and his crew left with gush of steam and the resounding roar of his pistons, and I climbed back into Henry's cab and carried on checking over his controls and gauges, and reading over the debriefing I had been provided with by the workmen. He hadn't been in for any major repairs this time; apparently he'd been pushed off the line by his unruly goods train of trucks (yes, I'd soon discovered on arriving on Sodor that even the trucks were alive – good grief, just when you think you've seen it all) and now basically all that was left were the final checks just to make sure everything was running smoothly; the job had been carried out by the Foreman and his team; but they were extra busy today with one thing and another, so it was left to me and my little group to make sure every last detail was OK. Henry didn't need another breakdown as soon as he left the works due to us missing some silly little thing; I knew he worried endlessly every time he was sent to us. I could practically see him totting up the number of visits he'd made inside his mind, though as I pointed out before it wasn't really all that many more than the other engines; but sometimes he had a run of rotten luck, just like the rest of us, really – and the constant ribbing from Gordon made him all the more conscious of it.
I could hear him sighing now as I stood in his cab; it sounded like a strong wind rushing past a window on a stormy day.
"You'll blow the shed down in a minute," I said lightly from my place on the footplate. I heard him intake his breath sharply in surprise as if he'd forgotten I was there – then he exhaled heavily.
"Sorry." He sounded a bit defeated.
"I was joking." I got down from the cab and went to his front; I carried on glancing at my paperwork and list of jobs as I leaned against his buffer; it was a bit like old times. Back when Henry had been at Crewe I had spent many an evening either sitting on the edge of his frames or leaning against one of his buffers while we had long and involved conversations about many different things. He was smiling a little when I looked up at him; perhaps he was remembering old times too.
"Doesn't Gordon ever give you any peace?" I asked, our conversation more light-hearted now.
"Gordon never gives anyone any peace." He squinted over my shoulder and started muttering. I realized he was reading my task list – though I've no idea how, my handwriting must have been the size of a pinhead from his perspective.
"Urgh, you still have all that to do and it's already nearly five o'clock? Rather you than me, girl." He yawned and shut his eyes. I looked at the floor; I knew he was fine, I knew he was physically fit these days, but the mother hen in me still couldn't stop that nagging worry I always carried with me wherever Henry was concerned. I turned and put my hand on his buffer, though I kept my eyes carefully averted downwards.
"You're…you're not too tired, are you, Henry?"
The smooth metal of his buffer vibrated as he chuckled again.
"You're an old worry-guts, do you know that? I thought you'd have grown out of that by the time I next saw you. That's all you seemed to do when I was at Crewe – worry, worry, worry."
"Ha! Look who's talking!" I answered him with some spirit now. "Besides…I think I had fair reason to worry about you back then."
We were both silent for a minute; the long-ago visit to Crewe hadn't been all happy memories, after all – there'd been the early days when it had been suggested that Henry was scrapped instead of rebuilt; and the long process of the actual rebuild that followed; until they began to make some real progress there had been days he'd been in downright agony with all the 'injuries' he'd acquired during his accident with the Flying Kipper; I remembered how he'd bore it all and seldom complained.
The atmosphere of our conversation had become a bit too serious now with remembering the darker moments of our otherwise happy first meeting; we'd both become a bit lost in those sadder memories; so Henry changed the subject.
"I didn't think I'd see you again, though." The green engine was the first to break the silence.
"Hmm?" My brain was obviously still lost; it amazes me how I manage to do my job without my head drifting off somewhere.
"When I came left Crewe. I was so glad to be going home, but I'd made a lot of friends at the works. I felt so torn. I almost wished I hadn't made friends with so many of you there."
"OK," I said, wagging my finger at him, "I'll make sure that I treat you with the utmost contempt from now on. No more friendly chats."
Henry looked so wounded that I couldn't help laughing; most people think that because Sodor's engines are conscious personas that they immediately understand our ideas of what's funny; but that's not always true, especially when you're like me and have inherited a very deadpan sense of humour and make your jokes with a completely straight face.
"I'm joking, you daft banana…what were you saying before?"
"I was saying," he continued, "that I didn't think I would see you or any of the others from Crewe again when I left." He looked down at me with a rather disgruntled expression, not pleased I'd taken him for a ride with my joke. I hid my smile; it was always good to see him with such spirit!
"It was the same for both of us," I replied, "and it was such a long time before I did see you again that I thought maybe you'd have forgotten me – and forgotten my father."
"I couldn't have forgotten either of you…though I have to admit it was a surprise when you turned up that morning, after so long…"
It was still the small hours of the morning as I stood leaning against the rails on the ferry that was taking me to a new home, a new job, a completely new life. I had continued to work with my father at Crewe railway works until the 1980's, when much of the site was cleared for major redevelopment. It had been depressing to see the place which had been such a part of my life for so many years gradually breaking up and disappearing; but that's the way things go, isn't it – people and places come, they thrive, then they slowly go into decline – but it didn't make it any easier.
I couldn't bear to stay and watch as the place where I'd worked so long and so happily disappear altogether; although there were no current plans to close the works down completely, the staff who were left – a far cry from the thousands who'd worked there in the days when Henry had been rebuilt – had a pretty good idea that the day would come when the site wouldn't be a functioning railway works at all.
We'd been dealing almost exclusively with diesel locomotives since the late sixties – since the Modernisation Plan back in 1955, we'd known that steam locomotives would gradually be going into decline; and as the steam engines that came to us started to become fewer and fewer, many people started to lose interest in their work – particularly people like my father, who'd come into the job purely for his love of anything steam-related.
I shook myself mentally and went back to looking at the very pale streaks of dawn starting creep across the inky sky; I had been getting up at this hour for my whole working life, and just because I was off today and travelling on a night ferry didn't mean I could break the habit of a lifetime.
It was really my father's death that had sealed my decision to leave the works. I had continued working by his side loyally for the remainder of his life, but on his death I had immediately began applying for other jobs; I had a good idea of where I wanted to go; it was a chance in a million that I came across the position but it would be almost a miracle to actually be accepted.
Friends and acquaintances at Crewe were somewhat awestruck when I told them I was moving to Sodor. I was still pretty much in shock myself, but when I had gone for my interview with Sir Topham Hatt himself I had mentioned my (minor) long-ago connection with Henry – and this had seemed to seal the deal for me. I hoped I hadn't been pressing my advantage – but to be honest, deep down I didn't care. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity; a chance to get to do the job I loved most in a time where such positions were becoming scarce, and the chance to see an old friend again on a more permanent basis.
I hadn't realized – I know that sounds ridiculous – how much I had missed him. You know when you leave school or college and you're so busy caught up in the whirlwind of finding a new job or a flat or starting a family of your own? You don't realize until you actually stop to gather your thoughts just how much you've missed having a certain person in your life.
The shore was in full view now. The island – at least from this distance – looked fairly rural, a bit like much of Britain had looked before they plastered motorways all over it. The ferry came into port at Brendam Docks, and after collecting what luggage I had brought personally, I stood on the main deck to enjoy my first proper view of this revered Island from an elevated position. Looking at the dockyard was almost like stepping back twenty years; I could hear the whistle of a steam engine in the distance, and there was one simmering quietly on the rails just slightly to my right. My father and I should have tried our luck here before, I thought to myself; we could have moved here and lived the rest of our lives on this time capsule of an Island. I glanced down through the combination of sea-spray and early morning mist toward the dockyard again where the steam engine I had seen before sat. My eyes were adjusting to the light properly now and what I could now see made me blink in surprise.
The engine was staring up at me (such as his limited vision would let him) in disbelief. I stared back into those familiar dark eyes with equal amazement. The engine was coupled to a long line of closed vans – but even from here I could detect the unmistakable odour of fresh fish.
He was painted a very familiar apple green with red stripes.
"Ellie?!" It was more a question than anything else. I managed to wave at him.
He was smiling this time. I picked up my bags and started to make my way down the steps to the docks; towards my old friend, and into my new life.
A/N: I hope it wasn't too awful – thank you for taking the time to read this rubbish :D