The hours between the crash and waking up are ones that will be lost to Ben Perkins.
His mouth is a dirt kissed ball of fire that makes him think of Miranda.
Makes him think of their last morning together, sat in a few snatched minutes in the sun dappled silence of the garden at Birchwood Cottage.
Antonia had hovered at the front door, all of 12 years old and yet looking so young with her blonde cloud of curls tumbling against her face.
His knapsack had been packed and rested at his feet and her eyes- those beautiful, liquid eyes that he loves with all his heart had looked everywhere but at it.
They hadn’t talked much.
There had been so much to say, but no words to say it with and so they had sat, their fingers lacing and tangling and falling apart in the soft, green silence.
The light had played in shadows against her skin, catching flickers of dark fire in loose tendrils of hair that had fallen against her face.
Will he ever see her again?
A dry, choked sob catches in his throat, pain searing itself through his lower abdomen.
From somewhere he feels the worn pressure of hands reaching for his, calloused fingers reaching for his own, squeezing gently. Hears a female voice from somewhere, shudders against cool pressure feeling for his pulse.
‘It’s all right, lad. You’re- You’re safe now.’
He doesn’t feel safe.
He can still smell the burning diesel as the truck had swerved wildly over the road.
Can still feel the heat of the flames licking against the glass, feel the truck pitch and tip as he scrambled desperately over the seats to try and reach his Major.
Can still hear Harper and Hagman’s orders to get out ringing in his ears, a hand reaching out of nowhere and yanking him back….
His eyes burn at the memory, shards of salt stabbing against his pupils.
‘Hey now lad. It’s all right.’
Blinking stupidly, Hagman’s creased face come slowly into view, exhaustion clouding his eyes.
From somewhere in the unknown space, he hears the whir of an oxygen monitor.
Feels the pull of IV lines that snake gently towards his upturned wrist.
Harris is standing with his back to the window, his fingers mechanically clenching behind his back.
He starts at the sound of Dan’s voice, and turns sharply to face the room, a sobbing breath breaking through his lips as he crosses the room.
Dan’s eyes are shining; and Harris has to remove his spectacles, blinking rapidly.
‘You had us worried there for a moment Ben.’
Hagman reaches over the bed to brush a sweaty lock out of his eyes, the weight of his fingers a light comfort for a battered, bleeding soul.
It is a long moment before Ben finds the strength to speak, the words squeaking so much that he has to swallow before trying again reaching desperately for Dan’s hand.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a young nurse with her dirty blonde hair cut short against her cheeks, wearing stained scrubs over her kit, cast them a worried look.
Despite the pain, Ben tries to smile for her.
‘I- I thought-‘
He stops and swallows, tries again.
‘I thought I- I thought I would never see you again. Any of you! And- Mum- Antonia- Miranda- Dad- I- I mean-‘
He breaks off, the words, the unspoken questions choking into a sob as he ducks his head away, suddenly ashamed of his tears.
‘There’s now’t to be ashamed of lad. We’d never leave ye behind. Not now. Not ever.’
Harris nods silently and Ben feels a sudden rush of love for both of them, almost painful in its intensity.
‘It’s good to have to ye back, lad,’ Hagman murmurs after a while, the breath of a smile creasing his lips.
Ben can only nod, unable to put into words how much having them near means to him.
Later the words will come, but for now all he can do is rest in the knowledge that he is safe and amongst two of the best men that he has ever known.