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June 1984

   The first thing Vyvyan was properly made aware of were the flames licking at the backs of his legs, chewing through denim and skin at an alarming rate. It didn’t hurt - not exactly. No more than losing his head had hurt his neck, or eating the telly had hurt his bottom when it came out the other side. But he was smart enough to know that it could hurt if he kept lying in the thick of it, and that there was a chance it could hurt him much more deeply and permanently than anything he’d ever experienced, including a pickaxe through the head.
He got to his feet a bit more shakily than he would have liked, swatting at the backs of his legs with one hand and steadying himself on a bit of rubble with the other. A few feet to his left, he could make out the frayed bottoms of Neil’s flared jeans, sticking straight out of the dirt like a bloody flagpole. Vyvyan took a hesitant step towards the hippie, but was immediately placated when Neil started speaking through mouthfuls if charred soil.
   “Oh wow. My entire life like, flashed before my eyes, man. This is really very heavy.”
   Vyvyan didn’t bother validating Neil with a response, but even he had to admit that the stupid hippie was onto something. This was indeed, really very heavy. He grabbed Neil by the ankles and yanked him out of the dirt, mostly to stop his bloody whining, then kicked at a bit of shrapnel with the toe of his boot and tried to get his bearings.
   “Mike?” He called. And then, when he got no response, he yelled as loud as his smoke-filled lungs would allow.
   “MICHAEL?”
   From the very top of the cliff, a small figure emerged, loaded down with several enormous sacks of money.
   “Alright Vyv? Things are starting to get a bit heated down there, and I don’t just mean my jockeys!”
   Vyvyan breathed a small sigh of relief, still struggling to stand upright, and wiped a layer of soot from the studs on his forehead.
   “Is Rick up there with you?” He yelled. If he was, Vyv could start to relax. There was a prickly little chill forming at the back of his neck - a persistent feeling of dread. He’d have died before he admitted it, and if either Mike or Neil had so much as suggested it, he would have gladly kicked their teeth in, (Yes, even Mike - although he might’ve been a bit gentler about it) but if anything had happened to the spotty little poof, he wasn’t quite sure how he’d cope.
   “Who?” Mike asked. His voice was a little hard to make out from such a distance, especially over the persistent sounds of the bus going up in flames, but Vyvyan managed to make it out.
   “Rick!” Vyv cupped his hands around his mouth to try and make his voice carry that little bit further, then turned his head to one side and hacked up another bit of shrapnel.
   “Can’t say that he is, Vyv.” Mike replied, “Why? Does it matter?”
   “Of course it bloody matters!” Vyv snapped, forgetting - just for a moment - that he was supposed to want the spotty prick dead.
   “Hey um, Vyv?” Neil said. Vyvyan dismissed him - not entirely on purpose, but mostly because dismissing Neil had become has natural and as normal as breathing.
   “Well if he’s not up there with you, and he’s not down here with us, then where the bloody hell is he?! Rick! Speak up, you bloody poof!”
   “Vyv, look.” Neil put his hand on Vyvyan’s shoulder (an act that would have earned him a boot in the head at any other time) and gently turned him towards the burning remains of the bus. It was a little difficult to make out from this distance, but...yes. If he squinted, tilted his head to one side, he could just see a figure lying in a heap, buried almost entirely under soot and rubble and smoke.
   The thought that entered Vyvyan’s mind at that moment was neither rational or particularly logical (nor, for that matter, were the reckless actions that followed it) but instead fuelled by all the other bizarre and nonsensical thoughts about Rick he’d been trying to beat out of his head for over part of a year.


‘Not him. Please, not him. Take anybody else. Bloody hell, take me for all I care. But please, please, not him.'


   He took off towards the bus like a shot, heart pounding so hard and so fast he thought it might just smash through his ribcage entirely (and that was something he’d liked to have seen, even despite the pressing circumstances) and tried maintain some glimmer of sanity by telling himself that there was a chance it was maybe, possibly, not Rick at all trapped inside the bloody bus. Perhaps they’d taken out a pedestrian on the way through, or perhaps someone had been in the bus the whole time - some unfortunate stowaway that Rick had neglected when he stole their new getaway vehicle in the first place.
   But by the time he’d sprinted through the shrapnel, smoke, sacks of burning money, and vaulted through one of the broken windows onto the bus’s hot, melting floor, there wasn’t any room for doubt. Yes, it was Rick. He could tell by the horrifically charred blazer, the bagged pigtails (now singed) and the stupid bloody hat. He was breathing - just - but one of the bus seats had crushed both his legs, and the flames had done a number on his entire left side. Vyv lifted the seat and tossed it to one side without any real awareness of how badly the hot metal had burned the palms of his hands, then grabbed Rick under the right arm and hauled him back open through the broken window.

'Yes, as a matter of fact I do Rick. I really, really fancy you. And I want to give you a big girly kiss on the bottom. So wake up and say something, or I’ll bloody kill you.'

   But Rick was a stubborn bastard at the best of times. He didn’t so much as open an eye as Vyvyan dragged him a good distance away from the sight of the explosion, and then rolled him onto his side. Neil shuffled over, looking equal parts conflicted and terrified, and Mike seemed to have buggered off somewhere else, because he was no longer loitering at the top of the cliff. Vyv was surprised to discover that he didn’t really care. That he didn’t particularly care about anything, apart from the charred and mutilated body sprawled out in front of him. He didn’t even care when he heard the distant sound of sirens, and when he realised there was every chance it was the pigs and not the paramedics, he found he didn’t much care about that, either.