Sometimes, the pain becomes too much to bear. Sometimes, we have to withdraw, worrying those who love us. And sometimes, we get lost on the way.

Author's Notes: My first Thunderbirds fic ever. Thanks a bunch to quiller, for pointing out the various plot holes and proofreading this thing.

Chapter One: The Shock

In my life, I have seen many deaths. It comes with International Rescue; while we save many, we cannot save all. And thus, I have seen dying women, men, and children. I've seen their screaming faces, full of pain and exhaustion, and I've experienced – more often than I'd like – how the light slowly left their eyes.

It's always the worst when they are children. They are so young, their whole life lies ahead of them…so many experiences, so many memories…and they will never be able to live. And I can't do anything but watch how the life leaves their eyes, how the last flicker of innocence dies and leaves a hollow body behind.

They are strangers, but they are strangers with a face.

The child lying in my arms was a stranger with a name, a history and a personality. That makes it even harder.

I don't know how long we've been trapped here. I don't know how long the water has been dripping on me, mixing with the blood and sweat. I don't know where the others are. I don't know anything.

And I don't care. It's just not important anymore.

I really like kids. They are, in some ways, like me. They take life easier than adults do. It saddens me that I don't have any chance to play with children on Tracy Island. Maybe in the future, when one of my brothers marries and has children of his own. I would love to tease and hunt them, to teach them how to swim and fool around…be normal for a chance.

But right now, I can't see anyone doing that. We're far too busy with International Rescue. And who would want to burden a wife – a family – with the fact that we might die every time we leave for a rescue? It's difficult enough for us as it is.

Besides, we don't really meet many girls.

Oh god, he's so cold. His little fingers, still grasped in my hand, are stiff and numb.

He was warm a little while ago.

To be quite honest, I was surprised he even survived as long as he did. With his injuries, that was a miracle in itself. When I entered this part of the building, I didn't expect anyone to be alive. I basically waded through the dead bodies – all of them children, none older than eight. A school. A classroom.

This sight will haunt me for years. Why did it have to be a school? Why not some factory with only a couple of workers?

So many dead children, so many families broken up, so much despair.

I see their little faces, all around me, staring at me with sightless eyes - eyes that will never shine again. Broken limbs, torn bodies, blood, so much blood amidst the dirt…A sob rises in my throat. So many. And I couldn't save them. I was too late. When I reached them, they were already dead.

With the exception of him.

When I heard the coughing, I was sure I was dreaming. Surely nobody could be alive. Not in this mess. Not in this destruction. Not with the ceiling that had come down.

But he was. Against all odds, he had survived, and he looked at me with awareness in his gaze.

"…International…Rescue?" he had asked, his voice rough from the smoke and the dirt.

I could only nod. Relief seeped through my body – there was a survivor, and where there was one, more could be found!

Then I remembered the standard rescue protocol and quickly made my way over to him, through the debris, careful not to step on any corpses.

A voice floated through the room, coming from my watch, but I ignored it. I was focused solely on the boy.

"Hello there." I quickly examined him and felt my stomach drop as I realized the extent of his injuries. Several broken ribs, probably a pierced lung, judging from the sound of his breathing. Burn marks on both his arms. A cut on his head, bleeding severely. His right leg, smashed to pieces. Not only broken. Smashed. I looked at it once and knew it couldn't be saved.

It was a miracle that he was alive – and conscious as well. Pain burned in his eyes and I cringed inwardly. I couldn't do anything to help. My small first aid kit didn't have the necessary items to deal with this kind of injuries.

My watch screamed for attention - I dimly recognized Scott, shouting something. There was a touch of panic in his voice. I realized that I should probably answer, but I couldn't. My mind was filled with images of the dead children, and with the firm resolution that this one wouldn't die.

How stupid. I knew the risks. I knew his chances. And yet I put them in some faraway corner of my mind. I didn't think.

"What's your name?" I asked softly, gently stroking his forehead. A massive boulder lay over his midsection. Without the proper tools, I wouldn't be able to move it, and my heart sank even deeper.

"A-Alan." He replied. My hand stopped in mid-air and trembled. He was named after my younger brother – and that made it even more personal.

Come to think of it, he even looks a bit like Alan. His eyes have the same shade of blue and the wide-eyed innocent look my baby brother always wore as a child. Even nowadays, fully grown, he gets that look sometimes, and it makes me want to protect that expression at all cost. Even though he's hot-headed and stubborn, he's got an infectious smile, our Alan, and our lives would be much duller without him around.

Alan's hair – this Alan - is a bit darker, though, something I'm glad for. I think I would have broken down if it had been blond like Alan's.

"Hey, that's cool." I grinned at him, although he probably couldn't see it in the darkness. "My brother is called Alan, too!"

"Really?" His eyes tried to focus on me. "Is…he…with…IR…as…well?"

"Yep. He's our youngest member! Hey, maybe one day you can be a member as well!"

I don't know why I said that. Maybe to cheer him up? It seemed to work, his mouth curled upwards at the corners. But it broke my heart inside, because I knew…knew that this kid would never, ever be a member of International Rescue.

Scott tried to get my attention again. This time I held up the watch, only to get bits and pieces of a garbled message. "…get out…there…. yourself…answer…god dammit!"

I had about two seconds to realize what he meant when the ground began to shake. Everything turned and I saw the ceiling crumble. Afterquake? Collapse of the building?

Whatever it was, I reacted instinctively and threw my body over Alan. He screamed both in pain and fear. Boulders crashed on my back and I bit on my tongue to stop from crying out. It hurt, but I didn't move.

Then it stopped, and we were alone again. The little light that had shone through the opening had disappeared and it was totally dark.

Alan made little whimpering sounds and I sighed in relief. He was still alive.

"Shh, it's going to be okay." I tried to call him down and grabbed for my watch.


"Calling Base, can you hear me Scott?"


"Gordon to Thunderbird Five, are you there John?"

Only static.

That was the moment I realized that I probably should have told them where I was before communications broke down.

Alan was sniffling and my heart went out to him. I had to calm him down, somehow.

"Hey, my buddies are somewhere out there. They will rescue us!"

"…hurts…" he whimpered.

"I know. I wish I could help you…" Despair washed over my soul. I fumbled through my pockets until I found the small flashlight I always carry with me on rescues. I switched it on and immediately our surroundings were bathed in light.

The first thing I saw was the dead face of a girl laying a couple of feet away from me. Her reddish curls were tied back in two ribbon-decorated pigtails. She wore a yellow jumper with a big heart on its front. But her eyes stared into nothingness and blood had trickled out of her nose.

Bile rose in my throat when I saw her midsection. She had been nearly cut in half by a huge stone that must have crashed down on her in the first earthquake. Blood coloured the floor in an angry red.

Quickly I averted my gaze and focused on Alan. "Come on, kiddo. Tell me a bit about yourself." I urged, desperate to distract him from the depressing surroundings - and myself as well.

And that he did. In the hour that followed, he told me about his life, his dog Chester - who was smart enough for two - his two older sisters, who spent all their time giggling, his mother who worked in a big company and hated carrots, and his father who was a farmer and had built him a swing in the garden.

He told me that he hates math, but likes English, because he can invent stories and loves reading. He told me – full of pride – that he won the story contest and received a bag of sweets. Then he started to retell the story because I asked him to, but his voice became weaker and he had difficulty breathing.

So I started telling things, because I didn't want him to think about the pain and the fear. I told him about my brothers, and about Alan, whom he resembles so much, and how Alan used to tag behind me when we were little.

I told him about our island and the colourful birds near the pool. I described the Thunderbirds and what they could do.

He liked the Mole. And he loved Thunderbird Four. I promised him to take him on a tour under the sea, given we'd escape this alive.

He was elated. I felt like crying. I knew that this boy would never get the chance to see my ‘Bird.

All the time, I could sense the life fleeing from his body. I could see how he struggled to stay awake. I could hear the rasping sound in his chest, and when he finally started coughing up blood, I knew that there was no hope left.

He looked at me with his clear blue eyes, understanding dawning in them. "I'm…g'ing…to…die…not?" he asked.

Tears welled up in my eyes but I refused to let them fall. "I fear so, yes. I'm…sorry."

Gosh, what do you say to a kid that's lying in your arms and dying? There are no words to describe how I was feeling at that moment.

"I…don't…want…" he started and whimpered in fear.

"Shhh. It's okay." Carefully, I hugged him closer. "You see, it's not that bad. You will just close your eyes and drift away. Maybe you will meet some angels, who knows…they always say that good people become angels, and I certainly think you qualify for that."

"Really?" His eyes were half closed. "D'you…know…anyone?"

Pain flared up in my chest and I had to wet my lips. "I knew…a wonderful person. She died a long time ago…but if there are angels…if angels exist…then I'm sure that she's among them. Because she was gentle and kind and caring…"


I closed my eyes. "My mother."

"Maybe…I…will…say hello…to…her…."

"You do that, Alan." I smiled despite the fact that my heart was breaking to pieces. "You do that. And remember to visit me occasionally once you've got your wings."

"Then…I…can…see…your…'bird…" A smile flickered on his face and he shuddered. I felt his body tense up in my arms and then all energy seemed to drain away. His eyes glazed over and lost all life.

With a last shuddering breath, little Alan died in my arms.

I don't know how much time passed since then. I have been sitting here forever, cradling his cooling body in my arms. I'm surrounded by dead children and sometimes I imagine I can hear them whispering. They are telling me the stories of their lives, their dreams, their hopes. That little boy in the corner, he looks a lot like Virgil. Maybe he wants to be a musician once he grew up. And the girl with the curly hair? She wants to be a doctor and heal other people.

I know because she told me. She said that then she can heal all people and make them better, and then her mother doesn't have to cry anymore.

I'm going mad.

They whisper and giggle and stare at me out of their sightless eyes.

I know I'm losing it. It was too much, all at once. I can't deal with it. I didn't want Alan to die. He didn't deserve to die. Up until the last moment, he was fascinated by International Rescue, by me, and yet I couldn't do anything to help him. I failed, but he still admired me. Until the last second. Until his last breath.

It hurts.

I've long ago given up crying. I don't have any tears left. I just sit here and stare. Try to ignore the voices.

They are whispering around me. Whispering me to join them, calling for me, blaming me, screaming in pain, wanting their parents…

It hurts. So much.

I feel their pain, with a burning intensity I never though possible. I love children. They tell me of their games, of their pets, those jokes only children can laugh about, their favourite movies, their dreams. So many dreams.

One boy says that he wants to become an astronaut and walk on the moon. The next wants to climb on trees for the rest of his life. And the little boy there, yes, he wants to play the saxophone, because his grandfather played it and he wants to be as good as him.

So many dreams. So many broken pieces. And nobody there to pick them up.

I start drifting.

I have never been one for philosophy – that's more John's area – but now I find my thoughts flying away. I don't mind. As long as it distracts me from reality, I don't mind. I don't want to see the destruction around me. I don't want to hear their voices. I want them to be alive. I want little Alan to be alive and grow up like my brother. I want him to go home and quarrel with his sisters and play with his dog and sit on the swing on his dad's farm.

Somewhere out there is a family who will cry bitterly tonight, because there's nobody to fill the hole in their hearts.

Please, get me out of here.

I stare at Alan's face. Not even in death he looks peaceful. Lines of pain destroy the look of innocence, and I know that he didn't die an easy death.

I can't tear my gaze away, even when I hear noises behind me. Probably the other children, calling for me - again. Maybe their ghosts, maybe they came back to haunt me because I couldn't help them. Maybe they hate me. I wouldn't append them. I hate myself right now.

Alan. I wish I could give you your life back. I would gladly give mine. I can't stand to see your eyes like that. I can't stand the feeling of your dead body. Nonetheless I cradle you closer. Your soul has left, but your body is still there.

I wonder – are you flying away now? Did you get your wings? Are you in some wonderful place right now and talking with your mother?

I would love to think so. It somehow makes reality a bit nicer. You can keep my mother company and tell her your wonderful stories. And she can sing you her song, like she sang to us when we were little. I don't remember much of her, but I know that her voice was beautiful. I can almost imagine her singing…

The noise comes closer and I hear indeed a voice, but it doesn't belong to my mother. Someone is calling my name in a deep bass.


Where are you?

Who are you?

I don't understand. There's no one here beside me and the children. Just me, surrounded by ghosts.

Some part of my mind registers soft words spoken behind me.

"…oh my good, look at all this destruction…"

"This must be the most disturbing thing I've ever seen, so many corpses…"

"The classroom must have been full of kids! Jesus, the poor parents…"

"There's nobody alive in here…but…wait…look, over there!"

A beam of light sweeps through the darkness and finds me. I blink. The light of my torch had nearly died, so I'm not used to the sudden brightness. It hurts my eyes. Instinctively, I draw Alan's body closer to me. The ghosts won't get him. That I owe him at least.

"Gordon!" They call my name both in relief and concern. I ignore them. I don't want to hear anything. They are ghosts.

Someone places a hand on my shoulder. "Gordon…" He gasps when he sees the corpse I'm cradling. They whisper something I don't understand. I don't care. I can't leave Alan.

Gentle hands try to pry my fingers away. "Come on, he's dead, you can't help him anymore…" The words are meant to be helping, but instead they hurt like a knife. He's dead. I can't help him. I couldn't help him. How useless. But I cannot let him go.

A frustrated sigh escapes the person beside me as I cling to Alan with all the power I've left – which is not much.

Suddenly, there's a second person at my side who holds my arms. Many hands tug, until my fingers loosen and the body slips out of my arms. My arms fall down weakly, hanging leadingly down by sides. They can do what they want. I don't care anymore. It's too late. You can't save him. Nobody can save him. He's dead. Like all the others. Dead. Everybody. Even me.

At least it feels like it.

"He's injured." Somebody murmurs by my side, but I ignore him. "And in shock. Shit. How long has he been here?"

"Probably all the time we've been looking for him."

"Over five hours? Damn. It's like being imprisoned in a tomb! I can't stand being here, and it has only been a couple of minutes!"

"And judging from the temperature of the body, the boy must have been dead for some time. He…probably died in his arms."

The man beside me sucks in his breath and the grip on my arm intensifies. "Shit, Gordon…I'm so sorry"

Meaningless phrases. Of course you're sorry. We're always sorry.

I don't care. Just leave me in peace. I really, really don't care anymore. I just want to close my eyes and drift away.

"Come Gordon, let's get you out of here." The two ghosts lead me away and I follow numbly.

The big machine rumbles. Vibrations course through my body. There's a spot of dirt in the left corner, maybe an inch over the ground. Very interesting. Of the many spots in my life, this one must be the most…well…spottiest spot I've seen. I should know; after all, I've been watching it for the last twenty minutes or so.

It's a very good spot, you see. Excellent camouflage. At first I thought it was a spider. Really! But it gave itself away. It didn't move. Or maybe it's one, maybe a hibernating spider? Do spiders hibernate?

I realize that my mind is turning in circles and that, even worse, my head is filled with rubbish. Come on, which sensible person would think something like that?

Exactly. But then again, I've never been really sensible to begin with.

Of course I know why I keep concentrating on the spot. I don't want to remember, that's the brutal reality. I don't want to see the images, don't want to deal with them. Because it hurts.

Thinking silly thoughts doesn't hurt. My refuge. My rescue.

Somehow I'm glad that the others can't read my mind. They're still there. Well, at least I think so. I haven't really paid attention to them. I know that they are around, of course, but that's all. I can hear them shuffling and doing, well, whatever they're doing. Sometimes they're talking. Whispering. . But I don't listen. If I listen, then I remember. I don't want to remember…I don't want to see their faces…


Yes, that I did. I failed. They're all dead, because of me. I should have been faster, I should have done something, anything…if I at least could have saved Alan…

Nononono, now I can see them again, I don't want to see you, please go away…The faces. So many of them.

The little girl, nearly cut in half. The boy near the door with the horrible burns in his face. And Alan, dying right in my arms. All their dreams. All their hopes. Vanished.

Their ghosts, whispering and laughing in my ears. I squeeze my eyes shut. I don't want to hear them. Please, leave me in peace! Just…go away…

Something touches my arm and it stings. It tears me out of my reverie, something I'm grateful for. With blank eyes, I stare at my eyes and notice the blood. My blood? Alan's? I don't know…don't care. Let it be mine; I deserve to be hurt.

What are they doing? Oh yes, I remember. Standard procedure. They're cleaning the wounds with antiseptic.

Don't bother with me. Really. You don't need to.

"Gordon?" They are worried; I hear it in their voices. They are afraid – because of me. Suddenly, I feel bad, but I can't bring myself to speak. Maybe I should tell them about the spot in the corner; maybe that'll cheer them up. But no sound comes over my lips. Sorry, guys. No can do.

Somebody places a blanket around my shoulder and leads me to a different part of the plane. Gentle hands press me down in a seat and strap me in. "We're going home now, Gordy," a deep voice rumbles close to my ear. "Don't worry, everything will be fine."



Are you JOKING?

Goddammit, what are they thinking? Nothing is fine! Those kids are dead. DEAD, do you hear? You damn liar! They're never going to laugh again…their tears are dried forever, their dreams shattered! What does it matter that I'm alive? They're dead! Dead!

…and I'm losing it.

I want to scream, want to shout, want to run away, but everything stays inside and instead, I see their faces, hear the voices, giggling in my ears…whispering to me, telling their stories…

No! I don't want to hear you! Go away! Leave me in peace! I'm only imagining you! You're not REAL! You're dead, and nothing is ever going to be fine again.

Calm down, Gordon. You have to calm down.

This is only my imagination playing tricks on me. I've been on so many rescues, seen so many deaths, it shouldn't affect me that much. I should be used to it!

…But how can you be used to death?

I try to block them out, but they are still there, always, lingering at the edges of my awareness, just waiting for a weak moment. Haunting me.

The conversation around me continues and sometimes snippets enter my brain, but they don't really make sense.

"….really worried, that's not like him…"

"…in shock, you know…"

"…but Gordon usually…"

"…he's been trapped with all those kids for hours, anybody would…."

"…do you think he's going to be okay?"

"…not talking…"

"…he has to…"

They're talking about me again. Probably believing that everything is going to be fine. Hah. They don't know anything. What about Alan? And his dog, Chester, he's going to sleep alone tonight…and tomorrow…and the day after…

It hurts. I want to scream, I want to cry, but somehow, I'm like dead inside. As if a big black cloud has carried me away. I still feel the pain, but I can't…do anything about it. Everything is black. Hopeless. Drowning me, suffocating me.

I close my eyes, but their faces are there. Blood. Destruction. Soulless eyes. Broken bodies.

I want to scream, but no sound escapes my lips.

I want to cry, but my eyes stay dry.

I want to run away, but I'm frozen on the spot.

I'm like paralyzed, I'm numb.

Yeah, that's the word. Numb. I'm numb to the world around me. I'm drifting, and the only things I hear and see are the children, their ghosts walking through my soul and leaving their marks. Their whispers in my ears, their stories, their dreams, and Alan in front, his blue eyes shimmering with unshed tears.

So cold.

So dark.

Chapter Two: The Prison

When nobody is talking to me, I drift in silence. The darkness has enveloped me like a cloud and I feel almost content. As long as I don't have to remember, I'm fine. I just ignore their voices, then I don't have to feel anything. The numbness is still there, but I don't care. Nothing is really important anymore.

But they won't let me.

They talk to me, touch my arm; try to get me to look at them. Why can't they understand? I can't respond, can't talk to you. I don't care. Just leave me in peace, okay? Let me stare at my spot on the wall and drift. I like drifting.

The noise of the machine stops, and I know that we're there. Home. The word has a foul taste to it.

Alan will never see his home again.

They're coming back again and I squeeze my eyes shut, willing the images to disappear. Slowly, they crawl back into the depths of my mind and I sigh relieved. They can stay there forever for all I care. As long as I don't have to see them.

I want to cry but I can't.

"Come on, Gordon," somebody lifts me up until I'm standing. For the first time, I look at the other person.

It's Virgil. The Virgil who reminds me of the little boy in the corner. Or did the boy remind me of Virgil? Either way, it doesn't matter. I see his face, but at the same time, I see the blood, the dirt, the darkness. Things I don't want to see.

I look away.

"…Gordon…" he sounds so helpless and I know that it's my fault. "Please talk to me…you're making me worried."

Another voice floats through the air. I see a blonde head and blue orbs – Alan – and close my eyes. I don't want to see him. Memories of the rescue wash over me and I feel sick.

He touches my arm, but I flinch away. No! Don't touch me! The last person who touched me died in my arms…

What are they saying? They're talking about me, leading me out of Thunderbird Two, but their voices just drift past me. I don't want to concentrate. I don't want to listen. I just want to curl up in a dark corner and never come out again.

The others are there, waiting. My father is there, looking worried. When he sees me, he immediately engulfs me in a bear hug, but I don't respond. I don't want to be comforted; I don't deserve it. He lets go and says something, but my mind is far away. They are standing around me and I can sense their frustration, but…but it's not important.

Finally, someone takes my hand and leads me away.

I feel like a little kid again.

They brought me here after someone examined me and treated my wounds properly. I must have fallen asleep during the process, because I woke up here, all alone - something I'm glad for. It gives me time to think about everything. The darkness is still there, the numbness…I can't seem to focus, and every time I lose my concentration, I can hear the whispering…

I'm starting to realize that something is not right here. I shouldn't be feeling so detached. Maybe it's some form of shock. If yes, then it's a particular shock I've never experienced before.

I look at my hands. They are clean now, but still full of scratches and the fingernails are broken. My vision flashes and I see my hands tearing at the stones lying on Alan's body. A shiver runs through my body.

No. I don't want to remember.

The room around me is so cold. And dark. Reflecting what I'm feeling inside.

Their whispers, their voices - Alan's above all, telling me his story which won him the contest. An innocent story full of laughter and giggles, and I can understand why he won. In a world full of cruelty, it's nice to read a story with a happy end. Because real life is not like that.

/ So tell me," the fairy glowed a little brighter. "What is your deepest heart's desire?"

The little dog looked at her with mournful eyes. "It's a silly wish."

"No wishes are silly unless you think so. Now tell me. I'm not going to laugh, I promise."

There was a moment of silence. And then, a bark, almost as soft as the wind: "A family."/

The words run through my head like a mantra. Alan whispers and his voice is so close, I can almost imagine his body…feel his flesh in my hands, his blood on my skin…

But when I open my eyes, I'm alone again and my hands are empty. Alan is gone. The children are gone.

And I'm alone.

They want me to eat.

I stare at the full plate in front of me and a nauseous feeling rises in my stomach. I'm not hungry and the thought of food makes me sick. But they plead to me, ask me to, going as far as to try to force the food down my throat. I refuse and shake my head.

Their worried voices drift around me. Like yesterday, I can hear snatches of the conversation.

"…he has to eat, he didn't eat anything yesterday either…" Scott, always the mother-hen.

"But he obviously doesn't want to." Virgil, always rationally.

"Gordon? Come on, take a bite!" Alan, as always, trying to take the bull head on.

I don't even shake my head, hoping that they will leave me be if I ignore them long enough. Especially Alan. I can't look at him right now; he reminds me so much of the lost life in the debris.

I just want to be alone. Don't you realize this? You can't help me. Only I can hear the voices. Only I can hear the whispers.

/"You're just a dog," the man said and walked away. "Animals don't feel anything." The dog whined and didn't know what to do. Even though he was an animal, at this very moment, he felt as if his heart would break/

I can't get the words out of my head.

In my life, I have seen many dead people. Some of them horribly distorted; some of them haunt my dreams even now – but I dealt with it. I cried, I had nightmares, I swam, I ran – whatever I did, there was a way to live with it.

Why is it so difficult this time? Why do I keep seeing them?

I went in there, but I came too late. I couldn't protect them. They died.


Did I fail? When I came, they were already dead.

The others tell me that it wasn't my fault. Wasn't it? Could I have done something?

Why do I still feel guilty?

Why can't you stop talking to me? It's not going to be fine. Nothing is fine! Stop lying to me. Please! Nothing will change, even when I start talking. They are still dead – I'm not God, I can't say the magic word and they'll be alive again!

…leave me…

My family…they are so worried about me. One of them even mentioned getting professional help – apparently, there's a name for my kind of behaviour. Something-traumatic or another. Whatever. Do what you want. I don't care.

Father is against it. The risks are too high. Security, as always, is the deciding factor. Great. Security won't bring those kids back to life, either.

Besides, he argues, it's not even a day yet. Give him time, I heard him say, family might be all he needs.

Tschah. They don't know anything. They think it's easier for me when I talk about it. But they don't understand. They don't know that it's different from other times. In all my life, I've never felt such numbness, such devastating blackness and loss. It paralyzes every fibre of my being, freezes me in place and makes me unable to communicate.

Sometimes, I want to reach out, but there's a wall.

So I drift. It's odd; it's almost as if I'm watching myself from above. I can see my feet – they're walking – but I don't feel it. I can watch myself wander around the house, sit somewhere and stare, but, well, it's as if I'm outside my body.

It's the weirdest feeling I ever encountered.

And wherever I go, I'm always followed by their voices. It's like a nightmare; childish voices, distorted almost beyond recognition. I know that it's only in my mind, but that makes it even scarier. Am I mad? Because those voices can't be real, so I must be imagining them, and people who hear voices are usually stir crazy.

I try to ignore them, but they're always there. Whispering, taunting, pleading, and above all of them, Alan – telling his story for the umpteenth time.

/"Why is it that I, just because I'm an animal," thought the little dog sadly, "I'm not allowed to have feelings? Am I not as good as the others?" He laid his head on his paws and whined softly. Thick tears rolled down his furry cheeks. Just as he was about to cry himself to sleep, a little light appeared above him, shining gently.

"Hello," a voice chirped. "You look as if you might need some help." /

I wander away from the house, somewhere where I can find peace and solace. Their concerned gazes and whispers were starting to annoy me, so I fled.

The beach is the perfect place to be alone with my thoughts. Longingly, I stare at the waves. The sun is setting – already? Another day passed and I didn't even notice. It's as if I'm walking through a dream; time and place are not important. The sunlight glitters on the waves, panting bright patterns on the water that dissolve immediately. A soft wind tussles through my hair.

The whispers come closer.

And then something changes.

It starts with a tingling feeling all over my body. Deep inside, I've been waiting for this too happen, knowing that this numbness is too good to be true.

I'm not floating anymore; I can feel myself returning to my body. I flex my arms, stare at my hands. Are those really my hands? Full of cuts and bruises?

For the first time since the rescue I start to take in how I look. My clothes are messy, my hair unkempt and my whole body covered in bruises.

It's similar to waking up; I become more aware of my surroundings, like the singing of the birds and the hoarse cries of the gulls. The tingling creeps through my limbs, reaches my fingers and toes. I can almost feel the soot and the dirt of the rescue on me and I take a deep breath, trying to get the stench of death out of my nose.

But it doesn't leave. The noise in my ears becomes louder and it evolves from the sounds of the birds into words…words out of a childish mouth…

"When I'm big and strong, I want to fly a Thunderbird as well…"

The first tear trickles down my face, but I don't wipe it away. It's like a release, as the last bit of numbness leaves my body.

It feels like a slap in the face, hot and burning. The numbness, the drifting, it's all gone. All of sudden, reality slams back into me with such a smacking force that I forget to breathe.

I sink down on the sand and hug my knees, like I used to do when I was younger. I don't know what happened to me, but now the pain is there, raw and hot like a knife of burning steel. I curl up in a ball, but the pain doesn't go away.

I'm crying for you, Alan, and for those others kids. I'm crying because I couldn't help you, because I saw you die, because you'll never get the chance to fly a Thunderbird.

I'm crying because I loved your story.

I'm not drifting any longer. I can feel the time, ticking away, with every fibre of my body.

The sun sinks lower and lower, until finally darkness settles over the island, matching the darkness in my heart. Another day has ended.

I'm cold.

I wish I could have known him better. He sounded like a nice kid, and he was very brave.

Slowly, I start to walk back to the house. It's late and the others will be worried. Now, that I'm more in tune with my surroundings, I realize what I have been doing to them. I don't understand it, really. I kind of withdrew in my shell. I didn't want to deal with the pain…oh gosh, it still hurts, why does it hurt so much?

I've had physical wounds, but even after my hydrofoil accident, I never felt this bad. It's a pain that tears at your soul, and there are no medications against those.

What was wrong with me? I don't know. Even now, I don't feel compelled to talk. The pain, the despair, it's too intense to describe. I was just drifting, like…like an astronaut in space. Is that why John likes being an astronaut? Because nothing else matters when you're drifting outside of time and space?

"Gordon?" Suddenly, Scott appears in front of me, but I didn't even notice him. I gaze up, startled, and stay silent.

My eldest brother smiles shakily; he's unsure, doesn't know how I'm going to react. "Are you okay?"

I should say something – I know he's worried because I'm not talking – but I'm too tired. Speaking takes effort, energy I don't have. There's nothing to say, anything. Words are just empty when they are used to describe feelings. So I only nod, briskly.

"You should come back now," he says softly. "It's getting late."

Come back. To the house, my home, my family, my room - my sanctuary. I try to smile, but I fear I'm not making a good enough result – Scott doesn't even seem to notice. Instead, he starts walking back via the beach, looking over his shoulder to check if I‘m following.

"Still not talking, eh?" he already knows the answer, but he tries anyway. That's Scott for you; never give up, despite how bad the odds. "You know, you can't keep that up forever. It's not good, and we're worried about you."

His eyes – blue as well – seem to stare right through me. "We miss you, Gordon; and we want to help you, but you keep shoving us away. Please, don't do that."

Scott and pleading? That's a new one. I feel bad at the despair in his voice, but I can't talk – it's like my lips are sealed shut. And so we walk the rest of the way in silence.

/"Who are you?" the little dog asked in wonder and stared at the light.

"Me?" A giggle flew through the room. "Can't you see that, silly? I'm a fairy!" /

Dinner is a subdued affair. I'm eating, but I'm not really hungry. But I couldn't stand the fretful look on Grandma's face, so I took a couple of bites. Amazingly what it takes to make my family happy. As soon as they saw me eating, they started smiling. Gee. Normally they complain because I eat too much.

Earlier in the day, I never listened to their conversations, but now I find myself understanding what they say. They are talking – what else – about me.

"Look at him, Dad, we have to do something." Virgil argues, casting a worried glance at me. "That's not like Gordon. He never, ever behaved like that."

"That's true!" Alan adds, nodding empathically. "Usually, Scott and Virgil are the brooding ones, but never Gordon! When something bothers him, he swims his laps in the pool – but he hasn't even gone near the water since he got home!"

"I know." Father's face is taunt with worry. "I already asked Brains to research the phenomena; he says it's a traumatic disorder that can occur after a shocking and emotionally painful event. He's going to look for different methods of healing."

Alan turns to look at me. "Why aren't you talking to us, Gordon?" he asks, his eyes wide and blue. "You could at least nod and shake your head, try to communicate in some way! It's like a living corpse is sitting…"

"Alan!" Dad cuts in sharply.

I would have laughed if the situation wasn't that pitiful. Of course, that's so typical Alan. Open mouth, insert foot.

Once again, I try to say something, anything…but nothing happens. I'm really beginning to worry now. Before I didn't want to talk; but now, I want to, but I can't!

Oh well. Might as well follow Alan's advice. Communicate non-verbally, eh? Slowly, I stretch out my hand and touch Alan's elbow.

Immediately, his head darts around and he looks at me. "Gordon?" he asks, incredulously, with a touch of hope in his voice.

I would like to answer, to crack a joke, but I seem to be mute – so I settle for smiling at him and shaking my head. I hope he understands what I mean – I'm okay, and he doesn't need to worry. At least for now. I don't want them to worry; I need to deal with my own demons first.

The smile that lightens Alan's face is definitely worth it. Suddenly, he's beaming, and I'm reminded of the little kid he once was, so excitable, so cheerful and full of spirit. I'm glad that he hasn't lost those attributes; he can be a pain in the ass – I'm the first one to admit that – and sometimes he's just downright annoying, but he's still my little brother. And for that, I love him.

The heavy weight that was settling over the table seems to lift somewhat and I return happily to my dinner. I can even taste the food.

It's late.

The stars have come out, glittering in the dark blue night sky, so endless.

My family is sleeping, but I snuck out of my room. Nightmares wouldn't let me come to rest, the ghosts of the rescue haunting me every time I close my eyes. After a glance at my watch – two in the morning – I got up and, almost out of habit, grabbed my swimming trunks.

Now I'm standing in front of the pool, dressed in my Speedos, wondering what the hell I'm doing here. The water seems to be calling to me, luring me. Swimming has always been my refuge, my rescue.

Slowly, I glide into the water and welcome the cold, wet feeling on my skin. I need this. I start the first lap with breast stroke, and then I change to crawl. It's soothing and soon I find myself in the same trance that made me swim hundreds of laps for practise when I was in the Olympic team. While the body is working, my mind can float free and I feel totally at peace.

Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe…

The rhythm is calming. It's strange; all of sudden, I can think about what happens. I remember the rescue, I remember the little kids and it hurts.

I'm sorry. I wish I could have saved you. You deserved a better life, you deserved to be happy, but instead, you had to die…

I'm sorry, Alan, I listened to your story and yet I couldn't do anything to spare you the pain.

In my mind, they are talking to me. What did Alan say? Maybe he became an angel…I'm not a religious person, not at all. But somehow the idea that he might be somewhere else, with all the other kids, in some eternal, happy place, makes it a little bit easier.

Gosh. So much destruction. So much blood.

Suddenly, I feel something well up in my throat. I stop at the side of the pool. Waters splashes on the ground as I lean on the side and hide my head in my hands.


God, I'm so sorry, I didn't want you to die, I tried to save you, but I was too late, there was no chance left when I reached you…

…hello, little girl…

It was an earthquake, a frigging earthquake! Taking so many lives, so much destruction, and I in-between…

…when a fairy laughs it sounds like a bell…

Something wet is running down my cheek. I touch them gingerly. Tears? Am I crying? I didn't notice. But yes, I am crying, the sobs wracking my body. Gosh, I couldn't save them, and now their ghosts are haunting me.

I don't know how long I've been in the water and crying, but it seems endless. The water splashes softly against my skin, the only reminder that I'm still alive. I can't move, I'm caught in my memories, torn between seeing the images of the past and facing reality. I don't know what to do, I don't know what to feel…I thought I was okay, but obviously I aren't. The pain, the despair, the darkness, it all comes out, and I cry, cry and sob until my eyes are red and swollen.

Suddenly someone lays his hand on my shoulder and I'm caught totally unaware. I flinch away, for the touch brings back unpleasant memories and stare at the intruder. It's in the middle of the night – everybody should be sleeping.

But there he is, kneeling on the floor and looking at me with concern in his eyes. His hand on my shoulder is a warm and comforting presence on my cold body, the only link to reality that stops me from going stir crazy.

I open my mouth, but once again, no sound comes out.

He doesn't seem to mind. Instead, he pulls me closer and out of the water as if I wasn't a full grown man myself. I don't struggle; somehow, it feels good to be pulled up like this. As if a hand was guiding me.

"Didn't I tell you that it's no good to keep everything bottled up?" his deep voice rumbles and then he hugs me. I can't help it; I hug him back, trying to disappear in the huge arms like I used to do when I was little.

Amazing what kind of comforting influence my father has on me. Suddenly, I feel safe and warm. But to my horror, the tears start to surface again. I try to hold them back; I don't want to cry, it's pathetic, and besides, I need to deal with it on my own, like I always do…

"Cry if you have to," Dad whispers, as if he has read my thoughts. "Sometimes even the strongest of us have to break down. It's okay; you're not the first one and you certainly won't be the last."

Those words, gently spoken and full of caring, are like a release. I let everything go and drown myself in my sorrow, aware of the strong arms around me, keeping me safe.

/ "A fairy?" the dog asked in wonder. "But I thought fairies don't exist!"

"That's what everybody believes," she sang, her eyes sparkling. "But we are as real as you. The thing is, most people can't see us."

He tilted his head and frowned. "Why not?"

"Only the pure of heart can see magic." /

Once again, I don't know how long I've been crying. When I finally draw back, exhausted and ashamed, he just smiles at me. "Feeling better?"

I nod, still not trusting my voice to speak. There's a flicker of…something in his eyes, and I fear that I disappointed him again. Stupid me! Why am I not speaking? So I concentrate, commanding my tongue to obey my orders.

"…T-t…" I manage to stutter and feel utterly appalled at the fact that I can't even pronounce one word properly. "T-t-hank-k-s…"

"Now, that's better. You had me worried there – it's not like you to withdraw." He ruffles my hair.

"S-sorry…" It's hard to talk, but I manage. I realize that I'm getting cold. Even though we're on a tropical island, it can be quite chilly at night, and I've been in the water for hours.

Dad sees me shivering and pulls me up. "Come on, let's get you inside and warm."

There's no room for any argument as he pulls me into the living room, hands me a big towel and tells me to dry myself. Then he disappears in the kitchen and starts working – on what, I haven't got the slightest clue.

But I don't care. There's a warm, fuzzy feeling in my chest and I intend to keep it there. So I sink back on the couch and rub my freezing fingers and toes until they're finally warm again.

It doesn't take long and he comes back, holding two steaming mugs and a plate with…cookies?

I frown. Does he expect that everything better just because of some comfort food? That may have worked when I scraped a knee as a kid, but now…? They're dead, and even the best cookies in the world won't change that fact.

He sees my wary gaze and smiles. "I thought we might as well be comfortable," he explains and presses one of the mugs in my fingers. "Because you're going to tell me everything."

Oh. Now I understand. Tell him? About Alan? About the ghosts that are haunting me?

I've never spoken about my problems. I'm not like that; I find my escape in humour, in tricks and pranks. But my humour has died and left an empty shell behind. This time, my usual retreat doesn't work, for there is nothing humorous in this situation at all. I'm lost, I didn't know what to do, and that was why I was drifting.

Tell him? Remember all what happened, even the cruellest details? No. I don't want to do that. Their images are haunting me as it is, I don't want to add to that.

"Gordon." It's an order, plain and simple.

I stare at my hands, seeing the blood on them – Alan's blood, my blood – and close my eyes. "D-d-difficult…" I manage, my voice strangled.

His hand is on my shoulder again. "But you have to talk about it, son. It's destroying you from the inside, don't you see?"

I see it. I know it. But that doesn't make it any easier.

"His n-name…was…Alan…" I begin and remember his sad little face. "And he…loved writing…told me his story…"

Chapter Three: The Release

‘Only the pure of heart can see magic.'

I love this story. I love the story little Alan told me before his death. It holds a special place in my heart, and not only because I heard it under such dramatic circumstances. No, the story has its own appeal. It is…innocent. Untainted.

I've seen far too many tainted things in my life, and my innocence has long been lost. Maybe that's why I like the story so much. Maybe because it shows me some part of the world I no longer belong to – the world of innocent, child-like laughter, of dreams and laughing eyes, of wishes, magic and sparkles.

Whilst I don't lead a bad life, I have seen a lot of bad things, and those tend to leave scars. Every time a person dies in my arms, a little part of my soul dies with them. Dad always tells us not to attach ourselves, but he knows as well as the rest of us that this is impossible. In order to save life, you need to care; and if you care, you're going to get hurt. Way of life, and we've all come to grips with it, sooner or later.

But sometimes, sometimes something takes a big chunk out of your soul and then you're left to pick up the pieces.

I guess that's what happened to me. John told me it was because I bottle things up; I'm the prankster and therefore not prone to depression, but even I can't escape the despair that catches up with you after an especially bad rescue. I don't explode like Alan. I don't get into moods like Scott does. I don't play the piano over and over again, until the rest of the family is ready to kill me. And I don't hide behind my books.

I play pranks.

Funny, nasty, witty pranks on the (more or less) unsuspecting members of my family.

Talking is still a difficult thing. I don't know why, it's just that I don't see the need for it. Dad says it's alright; I should take my time, nobody is pressuring me.

But they're worrying, and now that I've come back from the mental plane I've been on over the last days, I notice the stares.

At first they were happy. I remember Sunday – the Sunday after my conversation with Dad. I slept late and when I came down to the kitchen, it was already time for lunch. I said ‘Good Morning' – imagine, something as simple as that – and I swear, my brothers jumped up and hugged me, smiling and laughing happily all the way. It was then when I realized how much they cared and how much my silence had bothered them. Of course, I felt guilty. Who wouldn't? I tried to explain, but I was lacking the words, so I gave up. They wouldn't understand anyway.

I think Dad understands, though. He watches me with this knowing look, and I can't help feeling that he knows what I'm feeling, because he felt it once himself, when Mom died.

Anyway, my brothers made a big deal of fussing over me – especially Scott, he's extremely bad that way, like a mother hen – and trying to get me to talk. I quickly got fed up by their attitude and disappeared to my room. Even though I'm talking doesn't mean that I'm completely back to normal. There are still things I have to deal with.

Like the ghosts, for example.

You see, I can still see them. The kids, I mean. Sometimes, when I'm lying awake at night, I can see them standing in my room, just looking at me.

I know that I'm just imagining them – I'm not stupid, after all – and I reckon that they'll disappear once I've managed to deal with it all. After all, their ‘visits' become less and less.

Like I told Dad, I need to deal this on my own. Use the old-fashioned Gordon method of rock-hard determination. Or, as Scott likes to call it, bloody damn stubbornness, excuse the swearing.

But I'm worrying them again, and I don't like that. I'm talking, but I'm not talking much, and I haven't cracked a single joke yet. So, of course, my stupid brothers are worried and they can't keep nagging me about it.

John is the worst, because he seems to be able to see right through me. When he came down from Thunderbird Five – saying he needed to see me for himself – he came to me immediately. I was shocked; Thunderbird Five on automatic? Just because of me? It showed me once again how much my family was worrying about me. I'm not talking, and it seems to be the end of the world, at least for them.

Like I said, John came down and we were lucky – no rescue calls during that time. But he walked into my room and fixed me with this intense gaze he sometimes gets, the one that seems to go straight through your soul.

"You're not okay." He then stated.

I bristled immediately. "I'm fine."

"No, you're not.", his handsome face was calm and he seemed to read me like an open book, whilst I was unable to detect what he was thinking. "It's still bothering you."

I just shrugged, not knowing what to reply. He was right after all; and I don't like to tell outright lies. Er, alright, let me correct that. I don't like to tell outright serious lies. I might be a prankster, but I'm not a fool.

Anyway, John did his mind-reading trick again and drove me right in the corner. Luckily, he seemed to realize that and smiled. "I'm not going to ask about it, because I know you – you've always handled your problems on your own, and that extremely well. But always keep in mind where you can find help once it gets too much."

He left, and I realized once again what a wonderful family I have. Really. They seem to know me better than I do – at least most of the time. There are things that I prefer to keep for myself, thank you very much.

Well, anyway, as wonderful as they might be, they can go on my nerves sometimes. Because they worry so much. Why can't they stop worrying? I mean, Scott even came to my room and wanted to talk to me! Can you imagine that? I just stared at him and threw him out again. He said he's worried, that I haven't been my usual self. Duh, as if I wouldn't know. Nobody would be his usual self when he's seeing dead kids all over in his mind.

They've been tip-toeing around me all the time and nobody dares to mention anything about the rescue.

I'm coming to terms with it. Really, I am. I couldn't save them, I realize that now. They were already dead when I came, and Alan…well, Alan was doomed from the start. That doesn't lessen the pain, but it lessens the guilt.

"Hey Gordon, what'cha doing?" It's Alan, sneaking up on me. Well, not really sneaking, I just haven't been paying attention.

"Thinking." I reply curtly. I know that I've been avoiding my younger brother like the plague. It's just that they look so similar, and it hurts…but if I ever want to get over it, I have to deal with that as well, so I smile shakily and force myself to look at him.

He frowns, concern shining in his eyes. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." My standard response over the last couple of days. I should tattoo it on my forehead, might stop them from asking.

"You don't seem fine to me, Gordo." He says honestly and plops down beside me. "I mean, you're so silent. It's weird."

"There's a lot on my mind."

"I bet." He's silent for a while, which is something new – my little brother is so full of energy that he rarely keeps still.

"You saw him die, didn't you?"

My eyes widen and I stare at him in shock. So much for my tip-toeing around theory. But I shouldn't be surprised; Alan has always been the brutally honest one in our family.

"You did, didn't you?" he presses on.

I nod. There's nothing else I can do, for my throat is suddenly burning.

"Was…was he awake?"

I close my eyes. I can clearly see his face…his eyes, staring at me with wonder and hope, a hope that wouldn't be fulfilled. I wonder what Chester is doing. Would the dog miss him? Certainly. "Yes." I finally croak. "He…talked to me."

I look at my hands, searching for the appropriate words. "His name was Alan."

Alan's lips form an ‘Oh'. "Is that why you've been avoiding me?"

"Yeah." I feel that he deserved more explanation. "He even looked like you. And then he died."

"Must have been hard."

"It was."

"You weren't talking."

"I know."

"I was really worried, you know."


He looks at me and gnaws his lower lip. His gaze is calculating and I can almost see the wheels turning in his mind. Then a tentative smile lights his face. "It's alright.", he says softly, and suddenly doesn't appear like the kid brother at all. "Everyone needs some time to hide. Even you."

Even I? What does he mean? I'm confused and I say so.

Alan searches for the right words. He's not a big talker, my little brother, and he finds it difficult to voice his thoughts. "You are strong, Gordon – have always been. We all have our ways of dealing with tragedies. Scott broods. Virgil paints or plays the piano. John gets all melancholy and hides in his room or on Thunderbird Five. I…get angry. And you…you play pranks. It's as if you decided to fight the pressure with laughter – your barrier against tragedy is humour. But sometimes, our methods to deal with tragedy aren't enough. Sometimes I'm so angry that I might burst, but it doesn't help at all. Then I need someone else to help me – Tin-Tin, or you, or even Scott in his mother-hen fashion."

"What are you trying to tell me?"

Alan sighs. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"

I shake my head, amused. It's heart-warming how my little brother, who despises emotional talks, is trying to help me by doing exactly that.

"It's just…it's alright to hide for a bit. It's okay to cry. It's alright to run away…if you come back, of course. And you decided to come back, so…so you shouldn't feel guilty. It's the way things are."

He looks at me sincerely, my partner-in-crime, and there's so much affection on his eyes, so much open love, that I can't help feeling humbled. Gordon Tracy and humbled…that's a day to mark in my calendar, mind you.

"Thank you." I whisper, and I mean it. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." This brother of mine smiles shakily, unaware of what he's just done to me. He lifted a weight off my shoulders, he and the rest of my family. Suddenly, I feel as if I can do this, and I know that things are going to improve from now on.

Yes, thank you, Alan.

It's late at night and I lie beside the pool, flat on my back, staring at the star-lit sky. Tracy Villa is peaceful and serene. I can hear the water of the pool, sloshing around my feet and moving gently with the wind. It's so nice and peaceful that the dangers of a rescue seem to come from a different planet. It's impossible to believe that somewhere on this planet, people are dying, children starving and catastrophes wreaking havoc. Yet I know it's true, and it makes me appreciate this simple beauty even more.

Well, well. Soon, I'm to return to duty again, and then this peace will be over, but for now I can….

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" The scream sounds almost girl-like and echoes through the whole house.

My eyes snap open and I turn around to see what's going on. Virgil has appeared on the veranda, but obviously he hasn't been the one screaming, since he's looking all confused. He hasn't seen me yet, and I don't announce my presence.

"Scott?" He calls, having identified the screaming voice. "What's wrong?"

"I'M GOING TO KILL HIM!" The voice shouts in reply and draws nearer.

"Why, what happened…." Virgil's voice trails off as he sees his brother and he starts snickering. "Oh my."

"This. Is. Not Funny." Scott grinds out between gritted teeth and finally steps into the light of the veranda.

Laughter bubbles inside me, when I see his face that doesn't have its usual, tanned colour, but is spotted instead…green and purple.

Virgil can't contain his laughter. "Scott, you should see your face…what the hell happened?"

"I have seen my face, thank you very much, and I don't KNOW what happened, because I simply washed my face…"

"It didn't wash off?"

"No, it didn't! I tried again and again, but it only got worse!"

"Did you look at the soap?"

"No, I didn't…" Understanding glimmers in his eyes and he grimaces. "That stupid brother of ours! He exchanged my soap for some stupid joke soap! I swear, I'm going to kill him!"

His face is getting all red, which makes it even funnier, since the colour clashes with the green and purple dots and smears.

He looks like a Martian and I say so.

They both whirl around, finally spotting me at the pool. I smirk, knowing that I've been caught. "The look suits you, dear brother of mine." I call, standing up, ready to run. "I'm sure it's going to be very impressive on the female population."

"Wait, you little…" He growls and runs down the steps of the veranda. "Of all the stupid things to do…" He rushes towards me, and I expect to be punched, thrown in the pool, attacked, anything – but instead, I find myself engulfed in a bear hug.

The expression on my face must have been hilarious, forcing Virgil to laugh even louder, as he follows his brother.

"I'm so glad to have you back, Gordon!" Scott whispers and draws back, looking at me fondly. "For a while, we thought we had lost you."

We share a moment of understanding. "Well, for a while I was lost," is my honest reply.

"We noticed." Pain flickers through Scott's eyes. He hates it when he can't help his brothers. It must have been hard on him, seeing me withdrawing from everyone.

Virgil nods seriously. "A Gordon with no sense of humour is no real Gordon. And – even though I know I'm going to regret it – I missed your jokes. As silly as they are."

A slow grin spreads over my face. "So that means that I can make up for the lost time?"

"No way, little brother. I missed you, but I didn't miss you that much."

"Besides, you have to survive your punishment first." Scott grins. "Or did you think we'd let you off the hook?"

I look at him and then at Virgil, both grinning madly. "Hey, two against one is unfair!" I back away, looking for an escape route, but they're crowding on me.

"Well, bad luck for you."

"There's no such thing as fairness between siblings.", Virgil adds for good measure.

I see the wicked gleam in their eyes. Before I even know what's happening, they've got me between them. I yelp as they drag me towards the pool, but against the two of them, I stand no chance at all. There's the rushing of the air, as I'm suddenly thrown backwards.


I guess the good thing about living on a tropical island is that the water is never cold. But I still don't like being thrown in the pool with my clothes on.

I sputter and glare at the two laughing idiots. "You're going to regret that!" I threaten.

"I don't think so," is Scott's amused reply.

He stretches out his hand to help me out of the water. He should know better than that, really. Before he knows what's happening, I've pulled him in the water as well.

"Serves you right!" I cry and splash some water at him.

He stares at me and then starts laughing. It's such a carefree laughter that I can't help joining in. Laughing frees your soul, they say, and I must admit, it is true. The worries, the concern, the nightmares, they haven't gone away, but the burden is a bit lighter to bear. And I know that, as long as I can still laugh, everything is going to be okay. Because I'm not alone, because I have my family, because life is good.

Yeah, everything's going to be okay.

"You're just a dog," the man said and walked away. "Animals don't feel anything." The dog whined and didn't know what to do. Even though he was an animal, right now, he felt as if his heart would break.

"Why is it that I'm not allowed to have feelings?" thought the little dog sadly, "Just because I'm an animal? Am I not as good as the others?" He laid his head on his paws and whined softly. Thick tears rolled down his furry cheeks. Just as he was about to cry himself to sleep, a little light appeared above him, shining gently.

"Hello," a voice chirped. "You look as if you might need some help."

"Who are you?" the little dog asked surprised and stared at the light.

"Me?" A giggle flew through the room. "Can't you see that, silly? I'm a fairy!"

"A fairy?" he couldn't believe his eyes. "But I thought fairies don't exist!"

"That's what everybody believes," she sang, her eyes sparkling. "But we are as real as you. The thing is, most people can't see us."

He tilted his head and frowned. "Why not?"

"Only the pure of heart can see magic."

"But I'm not pure." The dog replied confused. "I'm just a dog."

The fairy shook her head. "There's no such thing as ‘just' a dog, or ‘just' a human. Don't you know that everybody is special? I'm special. You're special. Even the cockroach over there is special! What other people say doesn't matter. You're special, and I'd say your heart is definitely pure, because you can see me."

He didn't really understand. The little dog had never been clever. He couldn't read. He couldn't add, or divide, or multiply. He didn't know any big words. But he was a gentle soul. He looked around the dark alley in which he was stranded, the cardboard box he was sleeping in.

"So tell me," the fairy glowed a little brighter. "What is your greatest wish?"

He looked at her with sad eyes. "It's silly."

"No wishes are silly unless you think so. Now tell me. I'm not going to laugh, I promise."

There was a moment of silence. And then, a bark, almost as soft as the wind: "A family."

"Really?" The fairy smiled mysteriously. "So, tell me, what is that, a family?"

Confused, the dog looked up. "You don't know?"

"Well, there are different types of families. I wanted to know which one you'd like."

He sniffed and shivered. It was freezing cold and his wet fur didn't keep him very warm. "A family is a place to belong. I'm not very clever, but a family…well, they're like friends, only closer. People who love you. People who share your pain, and your happiness. People you can turn to. It's just…a family…a family is home." His voice trailed off. "I'm sorry, I cannot explain."

"No, no, you explained it very nicely." She smiled and twinkled a little more. "Now, are you ready for your wish to be granted?"


"Well, I'm a fairy after all! It's our job!" She sparkled even brighter. "Be prepared!" With those words, she began to glow, bathing him in a warm, golden light. Fascinated, he couldn't tear his gaze away, until he had to close his eyes, because the light was too bright. When he opened them again, no one was there.

The fairy had disappeared.

The shadows crept back into the alley, leaving the little dog alone and shivering. He still didn't understand what had happened. Lying down again, he resigned himself to a long and cold night in the abandoned alley, when suddenly he heard footsteps.

"Dad, look! There's a dog!" A child shouted excitedly.

"Oh my," a deep, older voice answered. "He must have been abandoned. Look at the poor thing! I bet he's cold."

"Dad, can we keep him? Please? Please?"

"Well, now, don't be impatient. We have to take him to a vet first, and then we can see. We certainly can't leave him here like that."

Little hands slowly touched his fur and he closed his eyes, enjoying the brief warmth of the touch. "Look, he's not wild at all!" the child – a boy – said admiringly. "He seems nice."

"He certainly is." The deep voice chuckled. Someone wrapped him in a blanket and then two strong arms lifted him up.

"He needs a name, doesn't he, Dad?"

"Well, I suppose so."

"Then I shall call him Chester! And he's going to be my friend!"

The little dog smiled. He was home.

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