The mantle clock, an old family heirloom, was chiming half past as he navigated the obstacle course that was the lounge at night. Half-past. So that meant it was actually twenty past. The clock had never run on time. However much they adjusted the pendulum up or down it always seemed to run ten minutes fast.
Virgil made his way in silence past the piano, his fingers brushing against its polished surface as if to guide himself towards the patio doors outlined in moonlight. His hand, still trembling, reached and grasped the handle and he pulled, wincing a little as the frame clunked loudly into its groove before sliding across.
Fresh air. At last, fresh air. Breathable air. Clean, tasteless, pure.
He lowered himself onto the chill marble steps and, hands clasped around his knees, breathed. Breathed as if he could never get enough, as if he had never breathed before, dragging the air deep into his lungs and expelling it with great gasps that left him exhausted and drained.
Eventually his body relaxed and his long slender fingers loosened their desperate grip as his breathing calmed. His face wrinkled in weary disgust as he became aware of the sweat that soaked his pyjamas yet again. He stood and dragged the jacket off, its dampness clinging to his skin and opposing his efforts to remove it. He flung it away and then tore off the pyjama trousers and stood naked, his sweat-soaked body glistening in the moonlight like an alabaster statue. He remained there, motionless.
The clock chimed the hour. Ten to then. He had been out here for thirty minutes. It seemed longer somehow. But in the dark, after nightmares, time always seemed to move slowly.
It was quiet here in the solitude of night. No sounds, no movements to disturb the peace. But he knew that the peace would be broken. Knew without a shadow of a doubt that one day, soon, very soon, they would be called.
And so he was here, alone, only the Moon and stars and planets watching him as he stood, barefooted on the chill marble steps, cobalt shadows defining the powerful outline of his body, light etching him in silver.
The sweat had dried now on his skin but he waited, his eyes focussed on a point far away, his mind thinking about what was to come.
The nightmares had intensified over the last weeks. It was as if each night was a torment. He looked out over the vast empty sea. It would come from out there. And he would have to answer. If only it would happen, at least then he would know if he was good enough, good enough to be able to cope. To be able to deal with the horrors he knew that he would have to face, some day.
He knew it was only tension, only the uncertainty of everything that turned his nights into sweat-soaked terrors. But it still didn’t make it any easier.
He shivered a little as an intruding night breeze kissed his bare skin, and then he shuddered, knowing that he had to return to his bed and try to sleep.
Dear God, he thought, let it begin tomorrow. Let John get the first call tomorrow. The interminable wait for their first rescue mission was unendurable.
He bent to pick up his discarded clothes and then padded, surefooted and resigned, back through the lounge to his room, dropping the dishevelled pyjamas in the linen basket as he had done every night for the past weeks.
The mantle clock chimed the half-hour as the bedroom door closed behind him.
LtCdr March 2010