Accepting the dare in the first place had probably not been an entirely smart decision; even at seven years old, Tommy understood that. Once he'd set his mind on it, though, it wasn't like he wasn't about to stop, especially when a startled expression finally appeared on Cian's face. (He had managed to sneak a peek at it while hoisting himself to the next branch, though in doing this he'd also accidentally dizzied himself for a moment by clocking exactly how far up he'd managed to get.)
But his bother's sudden reticence only fueled Tommy's determination to make it. After all, the hard part was over, wasn't it? All he had to do was concentrate on not looking down - he did only once more and felt his belly go watery with nervousness - and he'd be fine. He was nimble enough. In fact, he got so into the groove of it, the methodical placement of his hands and feet, the strangely nice scrape of bark against his knees and palms, that he didn't even realize Cian was shouting for him to come down until he'd nearly made it. Nearly being the operative word.
Just as he began to announce his victory, his ankle twisted the wrong way. Startled, his grip faltered, and then before he knew it he was lying on the ground, completely winded, seeing stars from the solid thump to his head.
"What the hell!" Cian, continuing to shout. "Jesus Christ. Let me see, let me see."
He knelt, which was rather a good thing considering that Tommy was still a bit dazed. "I'm fine," he insisted, and as he wiggled his fingers and toes he decided he was fine. No damage done aside from a few bumps and scrapes. Still, Cian continued inspecting him for a few more moments until he, too, was satisfied and sat back on his heels.
"You're a dummy. But a really lucky one." He shook his head, then hesitated. "Don't tell mam?" Secrets between brothers were no uncommon occurrence in the Cavanaugh family.
Dutifully, Tommy ignored the twinge in his arm, which he only noticed later that evening anyway, as he tried and failed to get comfortable in bed. When from the other side of the room Oisin eventually hissed at him to stop making such a racket already, Tommy let out a huffy breath and settled on his back, grimacing at the weird throbbing up his bicep. Probably a bruise or something. Only, it kept biting at him the next day, and the day after that, and it was only when he cried out during an adjustment at ballet class five days later that he caved - not that he had a choice.
"I fell out of the tree out back," Tommy admitted sheepishly when Dr. Collins pressed him for an explanation. "I was trying to make it to the top." He paused. "I basically did it, too!"
"And you've earned yourself a neat little fracture as a prize, love." She shook her head, but she looked fond, and she spared an exasperated but amused look with his mother. "Next time, just do yourself a favor and tell someone before you wind up with your whole bone poking through your arm."
When Tommy opened his eyes, he was already horizontal and dressed in a scratchy hospital gown. The moment of confusion passed quickly, though, and a second later he realized he did, in fact, groggily recall bits and pieces of the trip over. More came back to him as various visitors filtered in and out of the room - a doctor, some nurses, Ms. Clarke.
"What's the use in all this if you aren't even well enough to go up there in the first place?" (This from Dr. Ainsworth, whose name hovered above his face on an ID badge as he flashed a horrifically intrusive light into his eyes.)
"I already went up there, didn't I?" Tommy shied away from the light tetchily. The movement jostled at the IV stuck out of the back of his hand, and this only made him more irritated. He shifted, trying to sit up a bit more. "I'm fine," he insisted, this time directing his argument to Ms. Clarke, who had up until this point remained silent and watchful as trained medical professionals fussed over him. "I'm well enough. I can do it. I just didn't drink enough water, that's all."
Ainsworth snorted, incredulous. "Your temperature was 41 degrees when you were admitted!"
With the same maddening calm she always displayed in class, Ms. Clarke raised a graceful hand. Even Ainsworth apparently knew to shut his mouth. "We're told it's most likely pneumonia. A mild case, but all the same." She paused again, eyes boring into Tommy's until finally Tommy looked down to his lap. "Of course I appreciate your dedication, Mr. Cavanaugh, but you're hardly going to be any use to anyone on stage if you're collapsing in the middle of performances."
"I didn't - "
"Isaac will be filling in for you until you're well enough to return." She walked closer until she could lay a cool hand over his forehead. Miserably, he refused to look up. "And I do imagine you'll be back on your feet in no time. We'll ring your parents to notify them, and I'll send someone to collect you tomorrow morning." When she whirled out of the room, she left a faint whiff of fresh roses in her wake.
Ainsworth smiled ruefully over his clipboard. "Cheer up, lad. It's like she said - you'll be back in no time."
It was no small secret that dancing was a professional choice that brought with it no small amount of aches and pains. Ballet's brutality, covered as it was in the veneer of ease and effortlessness, had ruined more than its fair share of bodies in the name of art. Even during Tommy's short life he had already witnessed what happened to the unlucky. And yet, despite his intimate knowledge of what could go wrong, he'd never expected anything happening to him. Unfortunately, expectations didn't hold up; when his knee buckled during a pre-show run through and he couldn't get up again, even he couldn't deny reality.
Completely drenched in a cold sweat, face white, stomach roiling, jaw so tense he would have been worried he'd crack his teeth if he'd been able to think at all, he let himself be carefully laid out on the A&E table - mostly because he found that he could do nothing but let other people pilot his body for him. He was going to throw up; no, it passed; no, it was back.
His hands were clenched into fists, blunt nails digging little crescents into his palms. Although one arm was flung over his eyes, he nodded tightly to show that the was conscious and paying attention. The nurse asked him his level of pain, and, shakily, he mananged to hold up nine fingers.
Only days later did they tell him he would have certainly been hobbled for life if he'd danced one more night. As it was, substantial physical therapy would be required, not to mention surgery, in order to repair the torn hip ligament and spiral fracture to his femur.
"Why didn't you come in sooner?" the radiologist asked after his second scan. She glanced over the X-Ray and made a face as though experiencing the pain herself. "Christ, mate. You've been dancing on this mess for a month? What've you been taking for it?"
Doped up on morphine now, Tommy's expression had relaxed a little. He shrugged, one corner of his mouth tugging up into a lopsided smile. "Paracetamol?"
She shook her head, walking around to take the handles of his wheelchair. "Fucking madmen, you people."
Seeing his father cry had been, hands down, the worst part of it all, and there was no question about that. But this - having to sit there in yet another rough hospital gown while Dan stared at him, was certainly earning its place in his top five most hellish experiences.
He wanted to say that he'd had it under control, but even he, deeply buried in denial as he was, understood that voluntarily sticking a needle into his arm didn't really scream under control. What he wanted was to say sorry, but that, too, would have sounded laughable.
In the end, he said nothing. He turned over onto his side, back to Dan, careful of his aching body and all the tubes surrounding him, and closed his eyes. For a moment, nothing. When he finally heard the slight scuffing of the chair against the floor, he assumed that DAn was leaving, unable to bear the sight of him just like the others hadn't been able to.
The bed dipped, and, in measured movements, Dan pressed himself against his back.