The day faded into a red sunset as Hank clutched his ship's helm. It was with a heavy heart that he prepared the ship to leave port. In his mind, he felt as if he should stay, as if there was some lingering business to be taken care of. But there wasn't. There was nothing left to do. The streets were cleaned, the wounded tended to, the enemy gone, and the ship was ready to make for Boston. That didn't stop Hank from running through the mental checklist over and over again. That feeling of absence, of forgetfulness, would not leave. But Hank knew doubtlessly that he was not forgetting anything, that everything was set, and that it was time to go, time to move on.
He looked at his hands as they gripped the ship's wheel. Scars jagged the aging flesh, each one representing either a present or faded memory. They were old, distant, and integrated into normalcy. But on this bloody sunset, each scar stood out, each one reminded Hank of old pains. That hurt reminded him of the world in which he lived. Memories of life thirty years ago flashed through his mind. He remembered a beautiful girl named Allison Felix, at the time the prettiest he had ever seen. Her bright hair, deep, dark eyes, and glittering personality captivated his being. They used to sit underneath an old oak tree and tell stories, name the clouds, and snuggle close together. Never before in his life had Hank Mitchell been so happy.
It was under that same tree that Hank asked Allison to marry him. Under that tree, she said, “Yes!” Some would call it strange, but they had waited until that moment to share their first kiss. Then again, many don't share kisses during the first two months. It was only in their fourth month of seeing one another that Hank and Allison wed. They loved one another and that's all that mattered.
Only two months later, Hank's father, a lifelong US Army officer, passed away. Upon hearing this news, Hank's life fractured. On impulse, he went down the recruiting office and signed the papers. To himself, Hank could not explain why did it. Something in his being felt obligated to follow in his father's footsteps, but there were not words to express this need. Coming home that afternoon, Hank had to explain it all to Allison. Needless to say, the news infuriated her. He made a massive commitment, one that would spit the newlyweds for God-knows-how-long, without saying a word to his wife. When Hank offered to go back down and try to explain the situation to the recruiting office, Allison wouldn't hear it. She forced her husband to honor his commitment despite its folly.
From that point, their relationship fell apart.
After basic training, Hank was immediately assigned to a tour of duty in Iraq. Allison seemed supportive, and maybe she tried to be, but what Hank did not know was that she had already sought a divorce attorney. Hank found Iraq to be difficult but not unbearable. He served as an infantryman, doing little more than routine patrols. Only twice in his first tour did he ever see action. The first time was little more than a few dissidents executed a poorly-planned ambush. The only losses taken: the ammunition necessary to quell the violence and the time to file the reports.
The second time, which occurred in the third month of Hank's deployment, resulted in the loss of two fine soldiers, one of which was Hank's best friend in the Army, Private Lionel Stephens. The other was their squad leader, Sergeant Chad Franklin. With the sergeant down, Hank took command of the squad, later earning him an Army Distinguished Service Medal. It was a shallow victory. When Hank returned to his base that night, he found a divorce letter signed by Allison. There was a note included, which explained to Hank a smattering of reasons, none of which made sense to him; at least at the time. She explained that they had rushed into it and that Hank's joining the Army was too much for her to bear. That was that. Before leaving his first tour, Hank was promoted to corporal.
After his tour, Hank had nowhere to go except the home he and Allison shared. Hank was given the option of not going back to the Army, thanks to his exceptional service. Determined to mend his relationship with his ex-wife, his plan was not to go back, but instead stay and reattach himself to normal life. Allison would hear none of it. She tried her best to treat her former husband as a housemate, but that wasn't enough for the soldier. The atmosphere was friendly as Hank worked his hardest to win her back, but it slowly drifted to a stage of awkward and then to passive-aggressive bickering. Finally, everything snapped. As they ate, Hank's rage took over and he threw the table across the room. He gathered his things and went right back down to the recruiting office.
This time, Hank avoided the infantry and instead opted for a more administrative position. Somehow, he found himself working in the liaison office between Steelewood Industries and the Army in Iraq. Within a few months, Hank was promoted to sergeant and given a squad. His squad's duty was to oversee Steelewood's operations to ensure they remained within their boundaries. They took on a few missions, but excitement was seldom. Until one day....
Because of nothing less than sheer idiocy from Steelewood, Hank's squad was killed in action. Before anything could be done about it, all US Army troops were recalled to stateside to deal with the outbreak of Serum-349: the beginning of the end. Hank found Allison in their home, dead. From there, he vowed revenge. At that point, underneath his bitter anger, he still felt a spark of love for her.
On this quest for vengeance, he met Lena Sandburg, truly the most beautiful woman he had ever met. When their mission was finished, just before the adventure on the SS Holdsworth began, Hank and Lena married. This time, the marriage was for good. As Hank ran his fingers over the wheel, no life seemed possible without Lena. Or even the rest of his family.
No other life seemed possible at all. A realization hit Hank that life was actually better after the end of the world. His stomach churned at that thought. Less than one percent of population of the world remained, yet Henry Mitchell was better off for it. Or maybe he wasn't. Maybe he had simply made the best of it. What if the “apocalypse” had never happened? What if he and Allison had somehow mended their relationship and had kids of their own? Life could have been better. It would at least have been different. If life had been that way, if Hank had a daughter in that other life, then she wouldn't have been lying in the hospital from two gunshot wounds. It was by miracle she was still alive. And that simply should not be. No father should have to worry about his daughter that way.
The worst part is that this is all Hank's fault. It was his decision to get married and his decision further to have children at all. It was his decision to train his children in combat and leave them to do the dirty work. Sure, Emma and Liam were good at it, but Hank always knew that they were risking their lives. Casualties and maybe even fatalities were always inevitable. How could any parent live with that?
Hank would not allow himself to make the mistake of thinking this wasn't his fault. It was.
Oftentimes, Hank believed that he should have died during the outbreak along with the overwhelming majority of the world. He did not fool himself into believing that somehow the zombie horde was still in any way human or even alive. They were dead and should be killed again. Hank sometimes believed that should have been his fate. Probability would agree with him, no doubt. But Hank survived in a world where he should not live. No one should have to live in a world where everyone is trapped in the confines of small cities or villages and where leaving meant almost certain death. No one should have to live in this world.
Hank was forced to ask himself why he brought children into this world. He asked himself why he would wish this living on anyone, especially his own blood. And they all payed for it. Every mistake, every mishap, every injury, every broken bone, every scrape, every loss, and every death ultimately fell on Hank. The responsibility felt as if it crushed him slowly. Hank wondered how long he could bear it.
His hands drifted away from the helm as he took a step back. He turned and said to the regular helmsman, “Bernard, I'm going to sit this one out. You take it from here.”
“Aye,” Bernard, a stout man, replied as he took Hank's place.
Hank exhaled sharply as he buried his face in his palms, “Man, oh, man.”
“Everything okay?” A pleasantly familiar southern accent asked from behind.
Hank turned around and found his wife waiting. “Oh, I didn't hear you come in.” He put his arms around her and they shared a brief, but well-needed embrace. “You good?”
“Yeah,” Lena nodded. “I've, uh, well, I'm a surgeon now.”
“You are,” Hank brushed her fall-red hair out of her face. “I'm sure you did great.”
“Is something wrong?” Lena asked as she examined her husband's eyes. She could always tell. Always.
Hank sighed, “I don't know what isn't, Lena. We lost LeFleur, members of my crew are injured, and our daughter is the worst off of 'em all. And now we're just leaving. Just like that.”
“It's what we do, Hank.”
“Yeah, and that's bothering me. Part of wishes- part of me wishes things could be the way they were. You know before-”
“The apocalypse?” Lena put her hand on his arm. “I wish that sometimes too. A lot of times our lives are centered around nothin' but tryin' to get that back. But that just ain't gonna happen. The world's never gonna be the way it was. Sometimes I think that ain't so bad. Maybe it's a good thing we get a fresh start on the world, y'know?”
“Yeah, but all those people-”
“Hank, we've talked about this, you remember? You told me right when this was startin', right here on this bridge. You told me, 'Lena, ya can't dwell on the dead. Ya gotta think about the people who are alive and thank God you get to be one of 'em.' That's what keeps me goin', Hank. That.”
“That,” she smiled. “And you. Mostly you.”
“Lena, sometimes I wonder how long I can keep this up. Maybe it's getting to be about time we retired. We're old.”
“Where do you wanna retire to? Fiji? Florida?”
Hank chuckled, “I dunno. Does it matter? I don't think we could retire if we tried.”
“You're right. This is what we were made for, you and me. Why should we stop?”
“I love you,” said Hank without reservation whatsoever to his sincerity.
“A'ight, skipper, ya ready to get us underway?”
Hank grinned as he turned back to his crew, “All stations prepare to leave port and bid Lisbon goodbye!”
Lena kissed her husband gently on the cheek, “Ya do good, cap'n. Love you.”