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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
In this standalone, set some time after Miranda,Hank is Mal's new pilot, and Freya is Mal's lover. Feedback would be good, and I might publish some of the backstory ...
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2354 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
Hank watched the flames of the fire consume the piece of gnarled timber he had placed on it, sparks flying when it got to the knothole. Not that he really saw it. He was too busy thinking.
“Penny for them?” Freya asked, coming up behind him and sitting down, warming her hands.
“I’d be overcharging you,” Hank said, looking up at her and breaking into the ghost of a smile.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Doesn’t look like it.”
He took a deep breath. “No, seriously. I'm fine.” He managed to make the smile seem more real. “Just thinking, is all.”
“What about? And if I had a penny, I really would give it to you.”
He shook his head. “Things. Nothing important. Just …”
“Things?” Freya supplied.
“Right.” He stared back into the fire.
“I don’t suppose stripping off naked would get you to tell me?” Freya asked, leaning back onto one elbow.
He jumped, staring at her. “Well, I … it might help.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Mal said from the darkness. He walked into the light of the fire, pulling his coat a little more firmly around him. “You ain't that good a pilot.”
“Yes I am,” Hank said.
“Well … maybe …” Mal back-pedalled. “But not so good that I’d let you see Frey without her clothes on.”
“Besides, it is a little chilly.” Freya added.
Mal sat down. “It is that. Don’t think I’ll be sleeping out here tonight.” He nodded towards the sound of the cattle they’d recently unloaded. “Jayne’s volunteered to keep watch. I think he’s been feeling a little bit of cabin fever, truth be told.”
“More likely he knows otherwise you’d have told him to sluice out the cargo bay,” Freya said.
“Yeah, you could be right.” Mal laughed. “I knew I should never have said yes. Last time we had cows on board, couldn’t get rid of the smell for weeks. Kept finding things, too.”
“Best you don’t ask.” He smiled knowingly and patted her on the shoulder.
“Then I won’t.”
“So what were you all talking about before I got here? That got Freya to offer to get all naked for you?”
“Please, don’t,” Hank implored. “Just the mental image …” He crossed his legs, and Mal dropped his head, not wanting his pilot to know just how much that amused him.
“Is it Zoe?” Freya asked.
“Funnily enough, no,” Hank said, shaking his head. “I’m kinda resigned to that. Besides, she does talk to me once in a while. Mostly to tell me to go take a long walk out an airlock, but at least it’s words.”
“Then what is it?” Mal peered at the other man in the light of the fire, realising, as Freya had, that there was something seriously eating at him. “You need to get laid?” he joked, trying to make light of it. “‘Cause if that’s the case I'm sure Jayne can recommend more than a few –“
“I don’t need sex,” Hank interrupted, reddening slightly. “It’s … it’s …”
“Hank.” Freya leaned over and put her hand on his leg. “You know you can tell us. Well, tell me, anyway. I'm sure if it’s personal Mal won’t listen.”
“Hey!” the captain next to her complained.
“It’s not like that.” Hank appeared to be trying to come to a decision. “It’s … this place. This planet. I come from here.”
“Really?” Freya said.
“This is your home?” Mal asked. “Why didn’t you say? We coulda –“
“No, it’s not my home,” Hank interrupted again, something he was beginning to form into a habit with Mal. “It ain't been for a long damn while. But it’s where I was born.”
“But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” Freya suggested. “More than just coming back.”
“Well, I ain't been back since …” Hank stopped.
Mal rested his arms on his bent knees, staring out into the darkness. “Something happened here?” he asked, knowing that Hank needed to talk, and being prepared, as captain, to listen, something he had had to do on more than one occasion.
“I …lost someone. Someone very special to me,” Hank finally admitted.
“Lost?” Freya asked gently.
“Died. She died.” Hank poked the fire with a stick, watching the end catch. “‘Cause of me.”
Hank looked out at the pouring rain and sighed.
“What’s up?” Risa asked, putting a hand on his shoulder as she passed by with an armful of washing.
“No-one’s gonna be flying in this,” he moaned. “And I was gonna go solo. First time.”
“Officially.” Risa smiled. “So you do it tomorrow,” she added. “Believe me, no-one is going to even think of stopping you. You’re the best pilot they’ve ever had in that school.”
Hank shook his head at her, his lips lifting just a little. “Honey, you have to say that. You’re married to me.”
“I’d say it anyway. And I'm gonna let you fly me to see my parents, aren’t I? Soon as you’ve got that certificate.”
Hank looked back at the rain. “At this rate it’ll be years before that’s hanging on my wall.”
Risa laughed. “Just so long as you earn it right. I know you’re good, but it’s best to be taught the right way to fly, isn’t it? Then you can figure out a better way. After.”
Hank flashed another grin, this time with a lot more warmth. “I will that,” he promised.
“Hi,” said the man in the suit, his friend standing a little way off.
Hank looked up from his flight manual. “Hi. If you’re looking for Danny, he’s –“
“No, we’re looking for you. Long as you’re Hanks Mills.”
“That’s me. And you would be …”
“Interested in your flying skills.” The man smiled and sat down at the next desk.
“Really.” Hank closed the manual. “Well, I haven’t graduated yet.”
“But you will. Soon. And I've heard tell you’ll be head of your class. Best pilot they’ve seen in a long time.”
“And just who did you hear this from?” Hank asked.
“People. People who keep an eye out for us. For good men. For pilots.”
Hank shook his head. “Sorry. Not interested.”
“You don’t know what it is yet.”
“I don’t work for crooks.” He stood up. “And all this sounds mighty fishy to me. So thanks for the fine compliments, but no thanks.” He started to leave but the other man barred his way.
“Mr Mills, I think you’re labouring under a misapprehension,” the first man said. “We’re not here to try and buy your services for anything illegal. In fact, just the opposite.”
Hank glared at the man standing in his way then turned. “Who the hell are you?” he asked finally.
The first man reached into his pocket, pulling an ID from it. “We’re recruiters, Mr Mills. For the Alliance.”
“Alliance?” Hank was sceptical. He’d never heard of the mighty Alliance actively searching for men: he always assumed there were enough idiots around to volunteer. He took the ID and peered at it. The moving script informed him that the holder, one John Marridine, was indeed a member of the Alliance Recruitment Patrol, whatever the hell that was. He handed it back. “No. Still not interested.”
“Why would that be, Mr Mills?”
“Because I don’t fancy having my tail shot off, that’s why!” Hank almost laughed. “I got a wife, and we’re trying for a baby. How’d you think she’d react if I told her I was gonna be an Alliance pilot?”
“I’d hope she’d be proud.”
“She’d say I was a fool,” Hank corrected him. “Look, this war ain't any of my business. I don’t hold any particular affection for either side, but I do know the Alliance is getting hit pretty hard, particularly in the air. Signing up with you’d be like signing my own death warrant.”
“Not for a good pilot like yourself.”
“Doesn’t matter how good the pilot is if the enemy are better.” Hank shook his head again. “No, I mean it. I ain’t interested.”
Marridine stood up. “We will be back, Mr Mills. To see if you change your mind.”
“I won’t.” Hank promised.
“You might.” He turned to the door. “We need pilots, good ones or – God forbid – bad ones, and you seem to be pretty exceptional. And we want you in the Alliance.”
“Want all you like, gentlemen. I've got my whole future planned out, and it don’t include getting blown out of the sky by some trigger-happy Browncoat revolutionary.”
“Trigger happy?” Mal said. “Since when was I trigger happy?”
“He didn’t mean you,” Freya said. “And I brought down my share of skiffs during the war.” She smiled. “Now let him go on.”
“I'm glad you did.” Risa said. “I couldn’t bear to think of you risking your life every day.”
“Thought you might have fancied the cash,” Hank said, looking down into her grey eyes. “Alliance is pretty generous with their pay.”
Risa stepped closer to him. “We have enough. And soon as you qualify, that job’s waiting for you with Armand. You don’t need any Alliance hand-outs.”
Hank smiled, putting his arms around her and holding her close. “Yeah, we can get by. And I can pick up a few extra credits down at Mahoney’s –“
She looked up at him. “You be careful down there. I know you’re good, but that sometimes makes people fretful. They think you have to be cheating.”
“I don’t cheat,” he protested. “I don’t have to.”
“I know it, honey.” She squeezed him a little tighter. “But other people ain’t quite so believing.”
“Does that mean I can’t go and play a few hands tonight?” Hank asked, putting just a little pleading into his voice.
“Well …” Risa pretended to consider. “Okay. Just a few hands. I don’t want you still gone at midnight. You got a big day tomorrow. You pass this test, and you’re a pilot.”
“I'm already a pilot,” Hank pointed out.
“Yes, but this time officially.” She lifted her head so he could kiss her. “Besides, I don’t like to go to sleep ‘til you’re next to me.”
The game was going well, at least for Hank. His pile of coins had increased, to the detriment of all the other players, and he now laid down another full trick. “Looks like I win again,” he said, grinning. He reached out to the bets in the centre of the table, pulling them towards him.
“I don’t think so,” said the ugly man across from him. He pulled his gun from its holster and laid it on the table. “You want to explain how you can win like that?”
“Because I’m good.” Hank laughed. “Look, ask the others. They know me. Which is more than I can say for you. But I am good.”
“I don’t think you are. In fact, I don’t think anyone can be that good without cheating.” The man was more than halfway drunk, and all the way belligerent. “I think maybe I should take my losses out of your hide.”
The other men at the table pushed their chairs back, not wanting to be caught in any crossfire.
“Look, friend, I ain't armed.” Hank smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes now. “I won, you lost. Just be graceful over it.”
“And I say I lost ‘cause you were cheating.”
Hank sighed. There was little chance he was going to get out of this without some form of violence, but he tried again. “I don’t cheat. I don’t need to. Just have natural talent. And, let’s face it, you’ve had quite a bit to drink.”
“You saying I’m drunk?” the other man asked, leaning forward.
Hank could smell a lot of beer on his breath. “Ain't saying that at all. Just thought you might like to have another.”
“You think I’d drink with scum like you?” The man stood up suddenly, putting his hands under the table and turning it upside down. Everything went flying.
“You really want a fight, don’t you?” Hank said.
“No. Want I want to do is shoot you.” The man grabbed for his gun, then realised he’d forgotten he’d put it on the table, and it had been thrown to the floor with the rest of the cards and money. “But I’ll settle for ripping your head off.” He launched himself at Hank, who had the speed to duck away, punching his opponent deeply into his stomach. The man’s breath whooshed out and he doubled over, but he was too drunk to feel the pain and succeeded in pulling Hank to the ground with him, his fists pummelling at Hank’s belly. Hank tried to roll away, but the man punched him on the cheek, splitting the skin, then grabbed at his head to beat it into the floor. Hank used both arms to break the man’s grip, then brought his knee up sharply into his groin. His adversary may have been drunk, but this he felt. He rolled into a ball and moaned loudly.
Hank staggered to his feet. “I think it’s time I left,” he said to himself, looking across at the barkeep. “Mike, you get my money and keep it for me, okay?”
“Sure thing, Hank,” Mike said. “And you’d better scurry on home before he gets up.”
“Already gone.” Hank nodded and hurried out of the bar.
Outside, in the cold air, he walked fast until he was out of sight of Mahoney’s, then ducked into a doorway and sank to the ground. Tzao gao, but that hurt. He wrapped his arms around his belly, trying to get his lungs to work properly. If the guy had been sober, he probably wouldn’t have walked out of there in one piece. Not that the one piece he was in was in all that good a shape. He felt his cheek and winced. Risa wasn't going to be that pleased – she always did like his good looks. Still, better to be bruised than dead.
He sat for another ten minutes, listening all the time to make sure he hadn’t been followed, then he pushed himself to his feet. He was going to be black and blue by morning, he considered. Good job the flight suit covered all of that, but there was little he could do about his face. Probably have a shiner to end them all. He grinned, then decided that probably wasn't a good thing to do – it hurt too much. Instead he decided to go home and face Risa’s wrath.
It took him some thirty minutes, staggering a little and having to pause once in a while, but as he neared his house, though, he began to get a bad feeling. Not just the aches from the fight, but ice water running down his spine. Something was wrong – badly wrong. He started to hurry.
Turning the corner he could see his home, but it was dark, no light on at all. And the front door stood wide open, the ground outside all churned up by fresh hoofprints.
“Risa,” he murmured, then shouted, “Risa!”
The living room was empty, but there had been a struggle. All of his wife’s precious ornaments from the mantle were shattered on the floor, and the furniture overturned. Hank glanced into the kitchen, but that was empty too. He felt his heart thudding in his chest as he turned towards the bedroom. “Risa?” he called, licking suddenly dry lips.
Slowly, as if he were walking through tar, he approached the room that was theirs, where they made love, where they planned their lives together. He reached the doorway. “Wuh de tyen, ah,” he whispered, falling to his knees.
She lay on the bed, on her back, her arms outstretched, staring into the ceiling. But she could see nothing, and never would again. Her face was battered, bruised, and blood had run from her eyebrow down her cheek, looking like red tears. Her dress was torn, wrapped around her, but he couldn’t look, couldn’t see if … if she’d been … all he knew was that she was dead.
He didn’t know how long he knelt there, but eventually he managed to get to his feet, walking like a zombie outside to the public vid, calling the local Federal station. Then he sat down on the ground and waited.
The Federal Officer stared at him over the top of the report he was perusing. “This does not make good reading,” he said.
“No.” Hank hadn’t felt anything, nothing since he had left his house. The Federals had come quickly, and had arrested him on suspicion of murdering his wife. He couldn’t blame them – he had cuts and bruises from a fight, and they couldn’t just take his word for it that it wasn't with her. Not that he cared. They could string him up right now for all he was bothered. Still he tried, for Risa’s sake. “I didn’t do it.”
“Well, that’s to be decided.” The Fed put the folder down. “You say you got those cuts after a card game?”
“Yes. At Mahoney’s. Some guy … not seen him before. Didn’t like losing. Easy for you to check. Lots of people in the bar.”
“And we are checking, Mr Mills.” He tapped the report. “Maybe you didn’t like how the game ended yourself, and when you got home your wife wasn’t happy either, and you took it out on her.”
“I love my wife. Loved,” he corrected himself. “More than anything else in the world.”
“You’d be amazed at the number of wife killers who say that.” The Fed sat back in his chair, gazing at Hank. “You don’t seem overly upset. Why is that?”
Hank stared back. “My wife is dead. I don’t know what they did to her … and I don’t want to know,” he added hurriedly. “She was my life. Now she’s gone. So my life is over. Do you think I care what you do to me? Lock me up and throw away the key. Go on. I don’t give a fay-fay duh pee-yen what you do.”
There was a knock on the door and another Federal walked in. He stepped up to the Officer and whispered in his ear for some time.
“Are you sure?” the Officer asked, glancing at Hank.
“Very well. You can go.” When they were alone again in the room, the Officer shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll be locking you up this time, Mr Mills. It seems there is corroboration in your story from the men in Mahoney’s, as well as the physical evidence we gathered from your house. Your wife was killed by another man.”
“Seems it was probably the man you had the fight with. He made one of the other patrons tell him where you lived then left in a very angry state.”
The Officer stared at him then leaned forward, gathering up the files on the desk. “No charges will be brought in this instance. You’re free to go.”
Hank sat for a moment longer, then got wearily to his feet. He turned and headed for the door, feeling the same numbness as before. He should be pleased, he told himself, when all he felt was … nothing.
As he reached the door, the Federal Officer said, almost as an afterthought. “I'm sorry for your loss.”
“So am I.”
He couldn’t go home. There was nothing left to go home to, nothing to make it home anyway. He wandered the streets for a while until he saw the sign for a funeral parlour. Something to be done, in any event. They at least were sympathetic.
The call to Risa’s parents went worse. Her mother broke down, and her father wouldn’t accept it. It was only when he told them that the funeral had been arranged for two days time that they agreed to come, stopped blaming him. And still he felt as if none of this was real, that it was a dream, and he’d soon wake up next to Risa, and she’d laugh when he told her about it.
He spent that night at Mahoney’s, just sitting in the corner of the bar, not drinking, just sitting. A lot of the regulars tried to come over and talk to him, to tell him how sorry they were, but he ignored them.
“Should he be like that?” one of them asked the barkeep.
“Probably not. Don’t know any way of breaking him out of it though.”
“They find the feller that did it?”
“Not so far. And I ain't inclined to think they’ll be looking that hard. Murder ain’t exactly uncommon out here.”
“Nope. But to do that to her …”
Hank heard the conversation, but couldn’t find the energy to agree. As the sun came up, shining in the windows of the bar and making the dust dance like bits of gold, he finally got to his feet, heading stiffly out of the door.
“Hank?” the barkeep called, but he didn’t stop.
He walked a trifle unsteadily down to the docks, finding what he wanted without much effort. As he signed on the dotted line, the recruiting officer smiled, patting him on the back.
“You’ll find it a good life in the Alliance army,” he said. “Don’t believe all you read about the trouble those Independents are giving us. It’s not all bad.” He laughed. “Three squares a day, uniform, gun … what more could a man ask for?”
“What more …” Hank repeated softly.
“And you’re in luck. Transport leaving today, take you to training camp. See just what your aptitudes are. You fly at all?”
“Fly?” Hank looked up into his eyes, not unkind, just unknowing. “No. I don’t fly.”
“Pity. Looking for pilots. Still, be just as useful on the ground.”
“Good. Want to be useful.” Hank said.
As he settled back in his seat amongst the other dozen or so new recruits to the almighty Alliance army, Hank let himself smile, just a little. There’d been no point in telling that recruiting sergeant the real reason he wanted to go and fight. It wasn’t for honour or glory. Or even for the chance at three squares a day. No, it was much more primal than that. He wanted to die.
“You didn’t go to her funeral?” Freya asked gently.
“I couldn’t,” Hank said. “See her laid into the cold earth … and her momma all grief stricken … I just couldn’t.”
“Didn’t manage to get yourself killed, either,” Mal pointed out.
“Nope. Not sure how. I volunteered for everything going, the more risky the better. But I still kept coming back. In the end my platoon kinda looked on me as their good luck mascot. If I got back, so’d they.” Hank poked the fire again.
“I can’t say I'm too all-fired happy finding out you were on the other side,” Mal said.
“Hey, I don’t think I killed anybody,” Hank said quickly. “Too busy trying to my own head blown clean off my shoulders to be drawing a bead on any Independent stupid enough to raise his. Guess that’s why things changed.”
“Time still goes on, even when you’re trying to get somebody to kill you. And I’ll admit it was the coward’s way out, too. Not brave enough to commit suicide, so let somebody else murder me.”
“It was war, son,” Mal said quietly. “It wasn't murder. Not then.”
“Well, I didn’t get to Serenity Valley either. Pretty sure my wish would have come true there if I had," Hank said. "Long before that I … well, like I said, time passes. And I began to … not heal, not that. Don’t think I ever will, not completely.” Mal nodded, understanding totally, as Hank went on, ”But I began to see more to life than dying. If I could have done anything to bring Risa back, I would. I’d have stripped naked and climbed to the top of the bunker, daubed a target on my skinny ass and done a moondance if it’d brought her home. But she wasn’t coming home, and I realised she’d have hated what I was doing. So I stopped doing it.”
“Do you mean stopped trying to get someone to kill you, or you stopped being Alliance?” Freya asked.
“Both. Soon as I realised I actually wanted to go on living, my luck deserted me entirely – well, my fellow soldiers’ luck. My platoon was sent on patrol, and we took a direct hit from a Browncoat battery no-one knew about. Wiped everyone out. Except me. I was tossed some thirty feet, but somehow got barely a scratch. The rest … well, there wasn't enough to put in a letter home, let alone a casket. I stood looking at this damned awful crater for ages, then pulled off my dogtags and dropped them in. Even if they counted body parts, which they wouldn’t, they’d never know if anyone was missing or not.” Hank looked at Mal. “Stowed on a freighter leaving that world, and tried to forget. Got me a job as a co-pilot, and the rest …”
“Is history,” Freya completed. “You know, you don’t look like a Hank Mills.”
“No more’n you look like an Elena Rostov,” Hank retorted. “But then we’re none of us quite who we seem to be.”
“That’s a lot truer than I’d have thought just a short while ago,” Mal agreed.
“So,” Hank said, tossing the stick into the fire. “You want me off your boat?”
“Don’t think so,” Mal admitted. “But I’ll have to be thinking on that. But I also think you’ve still got some unfinished business.”
“Unfinished … I don’t know what you mean.”
“You need to make a visit. To a grave.”
“No, Mal, I can’t –“
“Yes you can. You have to say goodbye.” Mal made it an order just by the tone of his voice.
“And tell Zoe,” Freya added. “She’ll understand.”
“How can she? I sure as hell don’t.”
“And tomorrow, after the trade’s done, we go visiting.” Mal looked at his pilot. “And don’t worry none – you won’t be alone. You’ll have your family with you.”
Friday, August 25, 2006 2:06 AM
Friday, August 25, 2006 2:42 AM
Friday, August 25, 2006 11:44 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007 6:44 AM
Tuesday, March 25, 2008 5:03 PM
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