Wrench was looking forward to a well-deserved nap once she had finished checking over her second patient, who was currently out cold in her bed. She had just spent four whole hours tackling the repairs the electric engine had required, and before that, she had spent a further four hours tending to the injured caboose, who now lay next door in the official repair room.
While the small brake car had clearly needed more immediate attention, it had been a fairly easy job to sort him out. In contrast, it had surprised even Wrench to discover just how much work it had taken to fix her electric. There had been a gash between his shoulder blades where the lightning had struck him, allowing excessive amounts of water into his systems and further damaging his already frazzled circuits, and it had taken a lot of time and patience to dry them out and restore or replace them. His main computer had gone on the fritz – most likely due to all the extra electricity running through his system – and then there had been all the external damage from the fall.
All in all, it was little wonder he had passed out, and no small miracle that he had made it home on his own, while carrying another train no less.
Finally satisfied by her ministrations, Wrench straightened up and had just started to scoot across to the other side of the room, when she was startled by a voice from behind her.
The repair truck looked up at the soft call, annoyed that she had been taken unawares, to see Gremlin standing sheepishly in the doorway, twiddling her thumbs. Wrench, who heartily disliked being disturbed while she was working and especially not by a non-electric, found it very difficult to keep the displeasure out of her voice when she responded.
"Yes? What is it?"
If Gremlin noticed the clipped tone, she didn't show it, instead letting her eyes stray to the still figure in the bed.
"Is he ok?"
Wrench regarded the child for a moment, noting her uncertain expression; one quite unusual for the normally spirited youngster. She then looked back down at her master, also taking note of just how vulnerable and innocent he currently appeared, devoid of his usual swagger and smirk. He looked...lost, almost, and if Wrench didn't know him better, she'd probably have concluded that the confidence that he normally exuded was just a front to hide his insecurities. That certainly wasn't the case, of course – Wrench didn't think that Electra even knew what 'insecure' meant – but seeing him here, injured and ill, completely unaware of her presence and, for once, not trying to dazzle anyone, almost brought tears to her eyes.
It took her a few seconds to remember about the other person in the room, and she lifted her head to see Gremlin watching her with an expression that the repair truck couldn't quite gauge. She quickly set her own face back into an unreadable mask, and for a moment, the steamer's blue eyes held onto her own brown ones, neither side flinching. Then the girl dropped her gaze back to the bed, looking suddenly embarrassed, and Wrench was mildly alarmed to feel a pang of guilt within her conscience. She sighed, relenting, deciding that it wouldn't hurt to indulge the child this once.
"He will be fine," she said softly, turning away from Gremlin so that she wouldn't see the fond expression on her sharp features. She gently laid a hand on Electra's shoulder as she looked down at him, allowing herself a moment of pride that this was her engine, that it was her job to keep him safe. (Well, Krupp was his bodyguard, sure, but it was she who was responsible for caring for him and keeping him alive.)
"Can I sit with him?"
This one surprised Wrench and she froze, her hand now resting on the side of Electra's face. She knew that the young steamer had self-professed to being Electra's "biggest fan", but she had thought that this was just something that Gremlin said to keep herself amused. And yet here she was, hovering in the doorway of Wrench's personal shed, watching Wrench with that unreadable expression again, her eyes shining with something that Wrench didn't understand but which made her suspicious.
"I'd have thought you'd rather be spending the time with CB?" she said cautiously as she turned round, frowning slightly.
"I've already been to see him," Gremlin responded, seeming a bit uncomfortable, "but he's still out too, and besides, he has Dinah and Rusty and all the others to keep him company..."
"And Electra has Purse and Krupp and Joule and Volta and myself!" Wrench nearly retorted, momentarily insulted by what the child seemed to be insinuating. But she stopped herself when she realised what Gremlin actually meant. Yes, the flashy electric had his entourage, of course he did. They were a unit; they couldn't manage without him, he couldn't manage without them. But what Electra didn't have so many of were friends. CB, in comparison, had quite a few friends, all of whom had flocked to his bedside as soon as Wrench had allowed them to.
Had Gremlin come to try and be a friend to the electric engine? She was a fan, certainly; that much was obvious – but a friend? Could it really be that she had (temporarily) put aside her own family to come and offer some kindness to the unfortunate racer? Had he really made that much of an impact on her?
The corners of Wrench's mouth twitched as she once again gave the girl an appraising look. Gremlin was actively avoiding her gaze now, whilst simultaneously affecting a convincing rabbit-in-the-headlights expression, and Wrench couldn't help but be just a little amused by her discomfort.
And then, at last, she made her decision.
"If he moves or shows any signs of waking, you come and fetch me at once, is that understood?" she said in a brisk and authoritative tone, uncrossing her arms and rolling across to the nearby table to gather up her things. Gremlin looked up at her in surprise.
"Yes, Gremlin, I do mean," Wrench confirmed, keeping herself professional even as a happy smile grew across the youngster's face. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from the girl's shoulders once she was given permission to be there, and all the nervousness melted away into barely suppressed excitement. Wrench continued to look at her sternly, refusing to let the steamer's infectious joy get to her. "Did you hear what I just said?"
"Call you if he moves or starts to wake up, yes ma'am!" Gremlin repeated softly, as if she was afraid this would turn out to be a dream if she spoke too loudly. Wrench looked into her eyes for a moment longer, as if reassuring herself of the girl's sincerity, before finally giving her a curt nod.
"Go on then."
At once, Gremlin crossed swiftly to the bed, climbing into the chair by the side of it and settling down. For a moment, she just sat there quietly, seeming a little awkward all of a sudden, as if she hadn't thought this far ahead and now wasn't quite sure what to do next. And then she started talking.
"Hey Electra..." she blurted out in a semi-quiet whisper. "I just thought you might like some company..."
Wrench left her to it.
Electra gave a deep sigh of satisfaction as he stepped out of Wrench's shed and into the morning sunlight for the first time in days. It had taken him a while to recover from the aftermath of the strike, which on its own wouldn't have bothered him much, but which had become quite bad coupled with the sickness he had caught, along with all the water damage.
Now, as he stood stretching his limbs and basking in the heat, he felt like a caged bird that had finally been released to fly free. He turned to check his appearance one last time in one of the immaculately clean windows of Wrench's shed, pausing to smirk cheekily at the repair truck who was glaring at him, unimpressed, from within. He saluted at her, then straightened up and turned his back, taking in a refreshing breath of air and exhaling slowly. He had hated being cooped up in bed for so long, even though it had meant extra attention from his components. He looked around him, deciding which direction to go, and then he headed towards the centre of the yard.
When he got there, he was rather surprised to find most of the trucks and carriages engaged in a spirited game of Tag. He felt a flush of smugness when he spotted CB in the middle, easily identifiable with his bright red panelling. Even from here, Electra could see that the caboose had had a fresh coat of paint, and there was no sign of the split on his chest, leaving him looking as good as new. His arms were wrapped up to the elbows in some sort of strange black gauze, as was his right knee, but this didn't seem to be bothering him as he ducked under a swipe from Flat-Top and came up laughing, his loud giggling ringing through the air.
He thought he spotted Gremlin too, chasing enthusiastically after a fleeing Rusty, but both trains were going too fast for him to be sure.
He stood there for a while, trying to decide the best way to make his presence known. Before he could actually do anything, however, there was a loud squeal followed by someone excitedly screeching his name, and he looked up to see Gremlin rocketing towards him as fast as her skates would carry her. Electra panicked, wanting nothing more than to get out of her path lest she dent his dazzling plating, but found himself unable to move – a deer in the headlights – as the steamer advanced, a look of absolute delight on her painted face. And then she connected, wrapping her arms around his middle and gazing up at him in cheeky admiration. Electra was too shocked to react and just stared back at her, completely at a loss as to what he was supposed to do now. Gremlin didn't seem to mind his lack of reaction, though, and just deepened the hug for a little longer, before letting him go and scooting a few steps away to accost the suitably distracted Rusty instead. He watched her go, utterly floored.
But before he could process what had just happened, he felt someone else throw their arms around him with much enthusiasm, and he looked down to see that Gremlin had been replaced by a grinning CB. He was sporting almost exactly the same expression of admiration that Gremlin had worn, but Electra could clearly see the spark of mischief in the caboose's blue eyes, and his shock turned into a look of disdain.
"CB, I swear, if you do not let go of me right now, I will shock you into next week," he said calmly, fixing the caboose with a warning stare. But CB, being CB, was completely unperturbed and tightened his grip instead, somehow managing to look both angelic and like the very spawn of the devil at the same time with his wide, innocent eyes and his stretched, red smile.
Electra's face sank into a mildly bemused frown at CB's determination to hold on, and from there into a fierce scowl when he heard at least three people starting to laugh. Feeling more than a little flustered but desperately trying to hide it, he glared down at CB with a look that would have killed him if looks could, and started trying to shove him away. Still the caboose clung, and Electra started to growl with frustration. He knew CB was just doing this to irritate him, as was his way, but he couldn't believe it was actually working!
He was just beginning to wonder if it would be possible to shock the smaller car into letting go without the other trains knowing, when he felt a tug, and he looked over CB's head to see a thoroughly amused Gremlin pulling on CB's couplers.
"Come on CB!" she giggled merrily, putting all her weight behind the action. Electra scowled at her as he continued to push against the red fiend still wrapped around him, but this just made Gremlin laugh more. CB resisted their efforts just a little longer, but he did eventually let go, grinning all the while and throwing his head back in triumph as he suddenly turned on the slightly larger steamer behind him, causing her to shriek with glee and go zooming back across the yard with him hot on her tail.
Electra glowered after them, dramatically adjusting himself in an attempt to hide his bruised pride. He huffed and turned back to the other trains, only to see that they were beginning to disperse now that the drama was over.
For the third time that morning, he once again found himself frozen in shock. He had planned to come down here and make a big entrance, maybe do a few light tricks for his captive audience, and then sweep gracefully away with the morning sun reflecting off his dazzling body. And instead, he was stood here, with no idea what to do as he lost his audience before he'd even begun.
Gremlin and the four coaches waved to him as they passed by, on their way to work on the mainline. Ashley even tipped him a cheeky wink just before she disappeared around the corner, but Electra didn't respond. Even Greaseball paused to give him an amiable clap on the shoulder as he headed towards the nearby quarry, where he worked when the humans didn't need him.
"Better luck next time, Sparkplug!" he said cheerfully, in a voice somewhere between mocking and genuinely friendly. (Electra winced at the nickname. He hated being called Sparkplug, and Greaseball knew it, but since Electra also used insulting nicknames for the diesel, he knew that he couldn't really complain.) Then the diesel skated away, tugging the freight trucks behind him. Electra noticed that CB was not part of Greaseball's team today, which was a little odd, but he didn't really care either way.
He still didn't move when Poppa rolled up behind him, an amused chuckle on his lips. "They're all very pleased to see you back on your feet, you know," he said softly, his eyes twinkling. He chuckled again when he didn't get any response from the seemingly dazed electric, and reached up to put a hand on his shoulder. "It's good to have you back, son," he said fondly as he skated away.
Electra did react to this, surprised, bending his head to look at the spot where Poppa's hand had been moments before. It was common knowledge that Poppa didn't think much of engines not powered by steam – after all, the elderly steamer frequently proclaimed that steam power was superior. And he had also been a little disappointed that neither Greaseball nor Electra had taken him up on his offer to convert them – and so to hear him essentially admit that Electra had been missed, was not something that Electra had been expecting. He turned to look in the direction that Poppa had taken, but the other engine had long gone, leaving Electra alone with his thoughts.
It was only when he sensed the arrival of his components via his mental link, that Electra finally pulled himself together with a sigh and recovered his composure. He would throttle the caboose later, he decided, but right now, it was time to go to work on the passenger line. He waited for his components to hitch up behind him, gave a haughty shake of his head, and sped away.
The last thing Electra expected to see as he rolled back into the yard after a hard day's work, was the small figure of CB sitting atop a barrel outside his shed, swinging his legs and humming cheerfully to himself. He looked up as Electra approached, and called out a greeting, pulling off a neat salute as he did. He smiled widely, putting Electra in mind of a sweet but demonic cherub, and sending a shiver through his circuits. The engine narrowed his eyes wearily, wondering if he should follow up his promise to strangle the little creature now or whether to wait and do it in the morning when he'd have more strength. In the end, he decided that it probably wasn't worth it at all, since the irritating little truck would most likely come back to torment him for all eternity if he did.
"What do you want?" he asked flatly, not even deigning to look at him anymore.
"What, am I not allowed to come say hi to my favourite electric engine?" said CB innocently, not even trying to hide the enormous smirk he was now sporting. Electra fixed him with an unimpressed stare which didn't faze the caboose in the slightest, although he was the first to look away.
Electra sighed, wishing the caboose would just go away so that he could go to bed. He still wasn't used to working on the passenger line – he had been built for racing, after all – and in spite of all the awe his beautiful form attracted, he had actually found all the attention quite exhausting after a while.
CB, having realised that he wasn't currently the centre of attention, had resumed his humming, and Electra only just managed to resist the temptation to throw out his hand and knock him off the barrel on which he sat. He wondered, not for the first time, how much of the caboose's irritating behaviour was deliberate and how much was just personality, and quickly decided that he really didn't care. CB annoyed him, whether he meant to or not.
"CB," he said, making no attempt to keep the tired growl out of his voice, "why are you here?"
"Well, apparently I owe you my life after the storm, so I figured I'd better come over here and say thanks!" the boy replied brightly, if a little too quickly, shrugging as if it wasn't a big deal.
Electra froze, eyes widening. He had not been expecting to hear that, especially not from CB. He turned to stare at the brake truck who, while still smiling, was resolutely refusing to look in his direction and was instead scratching furiously at the edge of the black stuff adorning his arms. He was definitely uncomfortable and was doing a bad job of hiding it, and if Electra had been any more awake, he'd have enjoyed every second. But he was tired and really not in the mood.
"I could hardly have just left you lying there," he said, matter-of-factly. "Besides, the rest of the yard wouldn't have been happy."
"Why did you come, anyway? You didn't have to."
CB shrugged again. "I could tell something was up with you. So I came to keep an eye. You know Gremlin would've been very upset if something had happened to you."
Electra didn't know how to respond. It was true, he knew how fond Gremlin was of him. He was quite fond of her too, though he'd rather lose a hundred consecutive races than admit it. But he also had the strangest suspicion that CB hadn't told him the whole truth. The small truck had become very protective of his yard mates after the events of the crash and his subsequent reformation, and Electra was suddenly left wondering if maybe that applied to himself too. After all, he was a member of this yard now...
He frowned, opening and closing his mouth a few times as he tried to find some words, not sure how to react to the possibility that CB considered him part of the team, but he was saved from having to choose any when the caboose spoke up again, completely distracting him.
"Speaking of Gremlin, did you know she's got your hat again?"
And just like that, the uncertainty disappeared.
"It's a helmet, not a hat!" Electra retorted, bristling, before calming down again. "Yes, I am aware. I saw her prancing through the yard with it when I got back. It would seem that when it comes to my ceremonial headgear, she is worse than even you." He looked pointedly at CB who immediately pulled his best puppy-dog face and mimed "Who, me?", acting offended.
Electra ignored him and turned back to his door, hoping the caboose would take the hint and leave, but the smaller vehicle showed no such signs. He was looking off into the distance, still scratching at his elbows, absently swinging his legs again and for once, genuinely appearing as innocent as he had pretended to be for so long.
Electra watched him for a moment, quickly finding himself staring at the strange material around CB's arms. He'd never seen anything like it before, and he'd known Wrench all his life. It had a weird dull sheen to it, and the way it both did and didn't catch the light was almost hypnotising... He quickly shook his head. He was too tired for this. But now he was curious.
"What is that stuff?" he asked, instantly cursing himself inwardly when he realised that he could have just asked Wrench later. But it was too late now. He had asked and CB had heard him.
"What, this?" He held up his arms for the electric to see, taking immediate advantage of this new distraction. "It's waterproofing."
"Yeah, to keep the glue and varnish protected until it dries properly."
"Glue?" Electra echoed, feeling very confused. He couldn't figure out how glue could factor into train repairs. When Wrench had to fix him, she usually used a welding gun, not glue. So why would she...? "Varnish?"
"Electra. I'm made mostly of wood. That lightning strike messed up my arms and Wrench had to use glue to fix them up. My knee too. Then she had to put all the varnish back on. Without varnish, I'm not waterproof."
Oh. Now Electra felt stupid. Of course his repair truck would have used glue and varnish to mend a wooden truck. Welding didn't work on wood, and although CB did have metal in him, it made sense that glue would be used as well.
But he was not prepared to admit to his ignorance, and so he simply scowled at the grinning boy instead.
"Well, excuse me for being constructed of a far superior material," he sneered defensively, earning a snort of laughter from the smaller vehicle. He crossed his arms and continued to glare, but CB had turned away and was looking down at his hands.
"I'm not allowed to work until Wrench says it can come off," he said suddenly, in little more than a somewhat forlorn whisper. Despite everything, Electra felt a twinge of sympathy for the youngster, as he too knew what it was to be unable to do what one was built for, even if it was only temporary.
"That would explain why you weren't on Greaseball's team this morning," he said as he examined his nails, trying to communicate a little understanding without actually saying it. It seemed to work, because the caboose responded with a small "yeah".
Silence continued for maybe three seconds longer, and then the humming started again. Electra looked up again to find CB staring at the sky, legs jiggling as they dangled.
And at last, Electra could take no more.
"Are you going to sit there all night?" he snapped, trying so hard to keep his temper as his patience ran out. Oh, how he wanted to pick him up and throw him–
"Nah, I'm going in a minute. I have some things to do."
"Good. Then go."
"Awww Electra, you mean you don't want me around?" the caboose teased, fixing the electric with a wicked grin.
That did it. Electra saw red. Figuratively and literally. He was going to strangle that little wretch if it was the last thing he did, and he lunged. Quick as a flash, CB leapt down from the barrel and bolted, laughing gleefully as he went. Electra watched him go, feeling more relieved than anything else. Now, at last, he could go to bed and have his much-needed beauty sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day, back to normal in the yard, and he would get the attention he deserved. And so he turned and walked through his door with as much haughtiness as he could muster, slamming the door firmly shut behind him.