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storypaint ([personal profile] storypaint) wrote2015-07-28 07:52 pm

[Thrilling Adventure Hour] with roots on both ends (Red/Croach)

Title: with roots on both ends
Fandom: Thrilling Adventure Hour
Length: 1644 words
Prompt: This post by [tumblr.com profile] dog-face-painting.
Pairing: Red/Croach
Other: Also at Tumblr.

Excerpt: She kept looking at everything she saw with Martian eyes. She was sure Croach would find it fascinating. When she went out into the wilderness alone, she sometimes found herself talking to him like he was really here with her, tracking that rabbit through the treefall or poking pine needles to see how pointy they actually were.

When Red stepped out of the portal she froze, barely even noticing when it closed behind her. She'd never realized just how blue the Earth sky could be. It was beautiful. The Martian sky tended to shades of gray due to her colorblindness, although Croach had once assured her that that was rarely the case. When she'd been on Earth before, for Jim's campaign, she'd rarely had a moment even to see the sun, shuttled in-between galas and speeches, playing wife.

She took a step forward, her boots crunching on the dry soil, and a man was coming around the rise of the land, waving at her and then slowing in surprise.

"What happened to Jim?" he asked, and Red grinned at him, shifting forward and back on her heels.

"Reckon he isn't coming," she said. "What do you need me to shoot?"

The man coughed. "It's not that kind of problem," he said.

"Robot outlaws are always that kind of problem, in my experience," Red said, offering him a hand in greeting. After a moment, he took it.

"I'm Mitch," he said.

*

It really wasn't that kind of problem, but fortunately Red's substitute progenitor had been a great negotiator, and Red had learned at her knee. She built a strange kind of bond with each side of the conflict. The humans respected her because she'd been with Jim and had knowledge of their futures. The robots respected her pistol and her utter honesty. Her experience with the future's sentient robots and vague recollections of history class helped her knit out a future that both kinds of beings might be satisfied with.

It was long hours and lonely work, and Red's head usually hurt at the end of the day. The robots would speak long into the night, if she let them, and the humans, invested in a future where robots didn't attempt to kill them on sight, were highly motivated to a punishing schedule. She didn't have much time off.

She insisted on weekends. She hiked deep into the woods, looking at every new tree and enjoying the novelty of evergreen-scented air. The squirrels came up to her, no fear showing in their beady eyes, to beg for scraps. The fish were flashes of light in the streams that crisscrossed the area. It was the largest park remaining in this country, Mitch told her.

It was kind of funny, Red thought, that she was such a stranger to the world that some of her ancestors came from. She still considered herself a Martian, through and through, but there were humans here everywhere and there was no denying that she was one, even if her loyalty didn't tend toward them automatically. She kept looking at everything she saw with Martian eyes. She was sure Croach would find it fascinating. When she went out into the wilderness alone, she sometimes found herself talking to him like he was really here with her, tracking that rabbit through the treefall or poking pine needles to see how pointy they actually were. Surprisingly, they were pretty sharp.

She missed him. His presence, if not his tendency to digression, would have steadied her at her work. Seeing Jim again had stirred up old feelings, but they weren't romantic feelings, something that Croach seemed to have missed. He was still learning about human emotions; she supposed she could give him a break. There was an ache in having a relationship undone so quickly, especially under the circumstances. She'd fled in the night, with the court of public opinion against her, and Jim had condemned her on the holos, Chicky's words springing forth in Jim's drawl, each of them poisoned arrows in her heart.

And not only that, but Jim had returned with Jib Janeen, that baby-stealing Jupiter spy who'd taken her own child from her because she couldn't care for it. For a week afterwards, until her milk dried up, Red's chest had ached, a fitting physical manifestation of her hurt. She'd bound her breasts tightly to prevent the leaking and when she saw Jib she felt that tightness on her skin again, the roughness of the bandage.

She liked the wilderness. There weren't any space cowboys out there or shapeshifting aliens. She stared up at unfamiliar stars at night and tried to pick out Mars.

Croach wouldn't be born for five hundred years, and neither would she. She wondered if she'd be able to find her way back.

*

The day that the final agreements were signed, the humans invited Red out for victory milkshakes. Red would have rather had space rotgut but she didn't want to deactivate her Nah Nohtek, so she stirred the straw around in her drink and smiled when anyone was looking her way. She was glad that the conflict had been avoided, and proud of herself for working out the way to do it. But all she could think of was getting back out into the forest and disappearing. She couldn't live in this civilization; it wasn't hers. She needed space, and that was the only way to get it.

Cynthia tucked herself onto the bar stool next to Red, smoothing her skirt down carefully. She'd taken it very well when Red had let slip that she'd been married to Jim as well ("Seems like we ought to start a club," she'd said, making Red laugh), and they'd become friends over the past few months. Red hung up her hat in a boarding house near Cynthia and Mitch's place during the week, and Cynthia invited her over for dinner a lot. Owen, her son, was a little charmer, even as a preteen.

"You look like you're a million miles away," Cynthia said.

"140 million, more like," Red admitted. Croach would have loved the victory milkshake.

Cynthia whistled. "Mars," she said; she and Red had had enough conversations about their lives to make the connection. "What's it like?"

Red wasn't sure how to answer that. Cynthia had asked before, and she could always think of a new story to share, but she'd never been able to get it quite right to herself. She took a sip of her shake, feeling the cold burn against her teeth.

"It's home," she said, finally, still looking for the words. "Some parts, you can see for miles and miles, can catch someone approaching by the dust rising on the horizon. When you finally arrive, everyone is waiting to welcome you back. Or sometimes to shoot you, but I'm a quick draw."

Cynthia shook her head. "You miss it," she said, and it wasn't a question.

"Every day," Red said. "I'm glad I could be of help here, don't get me wrong. I've ridden the plains for a long time, trying to do good, and I can do that just as well here as I can on Mars. This planet is nice, but it's not where I belong."

"Well, Mitch promises me he's nearly got the thing fixed, so how about you come by for lunch tomorrow and we'll give you the transporter to get back?" Cynthia suggested, and it was like a shock down Red's spine.

"What?" she squeaked out.

"Well, how did you think that Jim got the message that we might need him here? We've talked to him before. I didn't honestly expect him to come this time, or anyone at all, but we thought that we should at least try to contact him and let him know what was going on. He had a life here, once," Cynthia said, and her eyes were far away for a moment, but then she smiled a little.

"I'm glad you came," she said.

"Me too," Red said.

*

Red hiked deep into the woods after saying goodbye to Cynthia and Owen and Mitch, and all the other people Cynthia had wrangled into a surprise going-away party. The little house was full, guests spilling onto the lawn, and Red appreciated the sentiment, but left at the earliest opportunity, the time-travel device cuffed to her wrist, pack on her back.

She traveled hard in silence for a couple of hours until she was sure there weren't any humans around. She had a GPS tracker in her backpack that Mitch had promised not to query until tomorrow. He'd follow the signal out and pick up the gear and the powerful little device, just in case they needed it in their future. Red was already thinking of it as her past again. When she found a good clearing, she unpacked the bag, changing into her normal clothes and replacing her guns at her hips. She tucked her braids up into her hat and took a deep breath.

She didn't quite know when she'd arrive back. Mitch had promised accuracy to within about a year, and she'd definitely arrive after she'd left, if nothing else. But a lot could happen in a year -- she knew that for sure. Would Croach still be there waiting for her, or would he assume that she had pulled away the sporting ball for the last time?

Maybe it shouldn't have taken going away for so long to solidify the way she felt, to pare down the sadness and file away the history, but Croach had always been patient with her. They'd both given each other a lot of chances. No matter what, they'd always come back together. Even death hadn't lasted. Time could try, but she'd beaten it before. Let it flow on.

Red repacked her gear neatly and shimmied up a nearby tree to hang it from a branch and protect it from any passing animal. She'd brought some food in case she'd decided to hike out further, and she didn't want the bag to be shredded. She fastened the time travel device to the bag and pushed the button, pointing it toward the ground. The portal opened a hole into darkness.

Red jumped through to face her future, smiling.

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