Chapter Seven: Mal
Fuck, that hurts!
He'd never sported anything like it before. Purples, blues and yellows all mixed together in a large mish-mash of colours from one side of his chest to the other, and down to his belly button. If he didn't know better he'd think he'd gotten new ink and not remembered. However, he'd never hurt like this after a tattoo.
Mal had been knocked out cold when that damn dragon had sent him flying. The large egg on the back of his head accounted for his lack of memory. The first thing Mal remembered was coming to in the medical bay of the Hangar, Hank sitting next to his bed.
"Good, you're not dead," Hank said as he smiled at Mal.
Mal blinked his eyes trying to get them to focus. When Hank finally came clear in his vision he scowled at the man. "Nice to know I'm loved."
Hank chuckled. "Don't go making rookie mistakes and I might have a little more sympathy for you."
Mal winced. He knew he'd fucked up. Hadn't been paying attention the way he should have been. You can never take your eyes off the prize when dealing with dragons. That shit'll get you killed. Hell, it nearly had. Mal was one lucky son of a bitch.
Hank sighed and ran his hand over his face, rubbing at his eyes. Mal didn't like that he'd caused his friend and teammate any additional worry.
"I think it might be best if you take some time off," Hank said solemnly.
"You're benching me?' Mal asked aghast then winced as pain shot through his chest.
"It's not something I want to do. Hell, you know as well as I do that the team needs all six of us for certain call outs." Mal opened his mouth to respond when Hank held his hand up, stilling him. "When one of the team isn't concentrating on the here and now, on the dragon right in front of them, then that becomes more a hindrance than a help." Mal cringed again, hating that he'd let the entire squad down.
"We understand shit is going on right now, we stand behind you a hundred percent, you know that. If there's anything you need, all you have to do is ask. We'll be there to help in any way we can." Mal nodded, he did know that. "But I think it would be best for everyone involved if you took a couple of weeks to sort things out, put your sister's death to bed once and for all."
"I don't want to leave you guys short," Mal tried to reason. It was a poor excuse and he knew it. If Mal had been up to his usual work standard then he wouldn't be lying in a hospital bed right then with a multi-coloured chest.
"I've already spoken to the admiral and he's put in a couple of calls to get us a replacement from one of the other bases for a few weeks. If you need longer, just let us know." The horror Mal felt at being so easily replaced must have shown on his face as Hank quickly reassured him. "This is just temporary, until you get your life sorted out. You are the sixth member of our Ranger team, and no one is taking that from you. You hear me?" Hank's tone brooked no argument.
Mal nodded slowly. "Thanks," he said quietly. Mal pressed his tongue into the roof of his mouth as hard as he could, trying to hold the tears that felt like spilling at bay. Everything he loved seemed like it was being taken from him all at once. Mal didn't want to lose the only family he had left as well.
As much as he hated to admit it though, Hank was right. He needed to get his head and heart sorted before he managed to get himself, or someone he cared about killed. The only way he could do that was to find out what happened to his sister.
"When can I blow this popsicle stand?" he asked, wanting to change the subject.
"Not until the morning I'm afraid, you took one hell of a whack to the back of the head, as well as your chest." Hank winced and Mal had to agree. He really did feel like shit. It was probably a good thing they weren't releasing him until tomorrow. He really didn't know if he could stand without falling flat on his face.
"So, tell me what happened after I put on my spectacular aerobatic display and went flying." He grinned at Hank and his friend couldn't help by smile as he recited the events that Mal missed. That had been nearly twenty-four hours ago.
Now Mal sat on an uncomfortable wooden stool at a bar in downtown Melbourne as he nursed a beer. The drive into the city had been uneventful, no cars following Mal, at least none that he'd seen. He'd taken the ride slow as he was still in a fair amount of pain. He should probably be back on base in his apartment, curled up in bed resting, like the doctor ordered that morning when he'd been released.
Mal had gone back there, for a few hours at least. Staring at those damn white walls though drove him crazy. He needed to do something, figure out his next move. That wasn't going to happen when he was sitting all alone feeling sore and sorry for himself.
Mal wasn't an idiot and knew beer wasn't on the prescribed list of medicines for his current condition. Not that he had anything other than pain killers on that list to begin with. The beer in his hand was the same one he'd been nursing for the last two hours. It was well past warm now, the music in the bar was loud, and his head now ached from the constant doof-doof beat. The place was starting to get crowded and the last thing Mal felt like doing was being here.
He swallowed down the last of the beer, grimacing as the warm liquid hit his tongue. Beer really did need to be drunk cold or not at all. Warm beer tasted like piss. Mal placed the now empty bottle back on the bar and picked up his helmet. He had to push his way through a few people before he finally made it out the front door.
His head immediately eased as the noise from inside lessened considerably as the doors closed behind him. He breathed in a deep lungful of the of night air, wincing as his chest ached. "Fuck," he swore as he gently rubbed at the injured area. He couldn't feel a great deal through the shirt and the jacket he currently wore, and Mal was fucked if he was going to apply pressure to the painful area.
Thankfully the holster he wore under the jacket and the guns tucked inside weren't causing him too much trouble.
He didn't usually carry weapons when he hit the bars, but with everything that had happened recently Mal wasn't leaving home without them. Not for any reason. His knives were also tucked securely inside his motorbike boots.
He nodded goodnight to the bouncer who stood out front as he passed and made his way out the back to where he'd parked his bike.
The cry of pain stopped Mal in his tracks for a moment before another one had him taking off in the direction the noise came from.