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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Supernatural · #2293259
Hanley's under pressure to be a Fire Warden.
Darren Hennessy was tall, handsome, easy going and approachable. And he controlled fire to pin-tip precision.

A perfect Fire Warden and heir to the Hennessy name and reputation.

Except, he was dead.

For the Hennessy's there was an added horror.

Hanley was now heir to name and reputation. He had the Hennessy good looks but a vine wasp sting when he was eleven nearly killed him. Although he'd survived, the poison limited his growth spurt to just five-three and curtailed his ability to call forth fire.

His father had always been disappointed, and that only grew after Darren died. In no shape or manner was Hanley worthy of being the heir.

The time he'd courageously stood up for himself about the situation became the only time. His back had hurt for days from the strap.

Aside from "heir lessons", Hanley also took daily classes to learn fire control basics.

At nineteen he was six years older than most of his classmates but they knew how to needle. Most had older siblings and everyone snickered at least once a class how the greatest family had been reduced to Hanley Hennessy and his inability to draw sparks, let alone flames.

At least Ezra treated him with respect. Despite being only twenty-four, the teacher was renowned for results, as well as patience and kindness.

Hanley had joined half way through a term and, after a few one-on-one catch-up lessons, he was treated like he'd always been there and expected to be at the same level as the other pupils.

Ezra had been friends with Darren, making Hanley hope he wasn't hiding bitter disappointment at how he'd turned out.

Today they had another test. He'd practiced at home but remained unable to bring forth fire.

Sometimes he could feel it in him, but just moving about inside didn't make him a Fire Warden. The test would end the same as the rest--failure, followed by more paternal disappointment and pressure.

Feeling less like a son and more like a product, he wondered if Darren had ever felt this sort of pressure.

When it was his turn to take the test, he appreciated Ezra's encouraging smile.

'Take a breath, Hanley, and let it out slowly. I know you've studied this.'

Hanley grimaced.

Closing his eyes helped draw his attention inward. Stop just running about, fire, and obey me instead.

He suddenly felt heat travelling towards his hands. As he whispered the words a second time he opened his eyes and saw small flames popping onto his fingers.

He jerked with surprise, and next thing the flames had transferred from him to the newspaper on Ezra's desk.

He got out an inarticulate sound, more so because once flames had left a warden's hands they were just flames--uncontrollable and free.

'Well,' Ezra said, unhurriedly picking up the paper and tapping at the flames, 'we can consider this a miracle. But we need to work on your focus, Hanley, I hadn't finished the crossword.'

Face as red as the flames, Hanley stammered an apology.

'It's okay. Just go sit down.'

He did, tuning out most of the students' amusement because he was thinking 'Did I pass or not?' and also 'Dad's not going to like this.'

He looked down at his fingers. A couple had residual heat, so what happened was real at least.

Needless to say, he was the only one to set fire to something during the test.

Over dinner, Mr Hennessy praised Hanley for passing the test then blasted him for setting fire to a newspaper. Then ranted about how long it had taken to even bring forth the flames.

'Ezra Sarafyn is touted as the best in the city, but even he can't bring you up to standard.'

'That's unfair, Dad,' Hanley said quickly. 'I'm not... not like the others. Even the best teachers aren't miracle workers.'

Mr Hennessy frowned. 'No, you're not like the others, that's for sure.'

'Malcolm,' his wife said, 'Hanley's under immense pressure but today he was able to conjure fire. Isn't that a great thing?'

After a sip of wine Mr Hennessy managed, 'The fire is good, yes.' Then added, 'But you are not Darren, Hanley. You must work harder.'

Hearing nothing unexpected Hanley just muttered he would.

That night, Hanley went along to Darren's room.

Lying back on the bed, his gaze slid over the extensive library Darren had collected over the years. He'd had been proud of them and hadn't minded Hanley looking them over, laughing when he'd found a risque one.

He'd been teased for ages.

His gaze stopped on a deep red book on the top shelf with no letting on the spine. Intrigued, he got up, shifted the stool and fetched the book.
No writing on the front or back either. But once opened he found pages of handwriting. Was this a diary?

Yes, and the first entry was nine years earlier--words of joy when Darren won his first competition and proven himself a Hennessy and a Fire Warden. He'd been sixteen then, Hanley ten.

But the entries after that got harder to read--the pressure Darren now felt from their father and others, plus the pain of training, fighting, failure.

Hanley swallowed. His brother also knew of the strap.

Several times Darren wrote 'I don't want Hanley to have to endure this' and then a terrible entry that made Hanley sick to his stomach. 'I caught a vine wasp. Told Hanley it was a honey bee so he wasn't afraid. It stung him. He's so sick. What if he dies? I didn't want that, I wanted...'

The sentence was unfinished.

Entries after that were guilt and grief but also a sense of hope. 'Hanley's really weak now.' 'Hanley can't conjure fire. Dad's angry but at least he's saved from this life.'

Hanley'd never thought that Darren hated being a Fire Warden, hated being the heir. He'd never known either that his own circumstances were because of his brother's attempt to shield him.

'Then you shouldn't have died!' Hanley croaked. 'You taught me things. Why, if you didn't want me involved?'

But the diary explained that too--their father was antsy about Hanley's inability and making sounds about sending him to a training school. So Darren had taught him a little to try to appease the man.

Near the end came an entry that made Hanley gape.

Ezra had been mentioned a couple of times, but this one--a month before Darren's death and one of the last--read, 'Ezra likes Hanley. Makes me smile. Promised to help if he promised he'd never teach him. Dad's been making enquiries.'

Ezra likes me?

Hanley thought over recent interactions. Ezra was always friendly toward him and he'd been nothing but the same when he'd become a student.

I had no idea. For some reason blushed at today's newspaper incident.

Well, maybe Ezra no longer liked him. After all, he was teaching him.

The other things Darren had written... should he tell his father? Should he confront him about Darren's distress and pain? Did Ezra know about it?

Hanley kinda thought so, given the promise he'd been asked to make.

He closed his eyes a moment. Wondering wouldn't do anything; he needed to speak to Ezra and then question his father.

Unexpectedly, he got the chance to talk to Ezra early. Just after dawn, Hanley went to see his brother and Ezra was sitting on the bench nearby.

He stepped back, cracking a twig underfoot, and Ezra looked over his shoulder. 'Good morning.'

'Why didn't you tell me?' Hanley responded, brandishing the red book.

'Pardon? That I... would be here?'

'No,' Hanley grumbled. He flipped the book open and held it out.

'What's this?' Ezra asked, but naturally took the item and glanced down. Then he started, and stepped back.

'Why didn't you tell me?'

'I--' The young teacher was lost for words, gaze not lifting from the page.

'I've liked you for ages,' Hanley said before courage could waver.

Ezra remained still and quiet.

Hanley walked up to Darren's memorial, kicked the step it sat on. 'You tried to keep me from this life but you had the gall to die and drop me in it anyway. And Ezra's involved. You coulda talked to me, Darren!'

Ezra murmured his name and he half turned. 'I do like you. A lot and for a long time but...'

'Don't confess with a but,' Hanley croaked. 'That's not fair! Darren's abandoned me, don't you do it too.'

Ezra closed the book. 'You know what he did, then?'

'The vine wasp? Yes. He hated his experience so he wanted to stop me sharing it it.' Hanley cocked his head. 'Darren was a perfect warden. How was he, if he hated it so much?'

'In recent years, he didn't. He was top of the game and he was proud of what he was.'

Hanley knew that at least. 'Did he regret what he did to me?'

Ezra cocked his head, seemed unsure about speaking.

'I think you owe me, Ezra,' Hanley murmured, moving to the bench.

Eventually Ezra sat beside him. 'He did and didn't, I think. The training was harsh for him and the pressure of being heir, of simply being in the family.'

Hanley knew all about that pressure but felt he couldn't blame Darren. 'But he still made you promise not to teach me.'

Ezra nodded. 'In the end he still didn't want you having to be a Fire Warden.'

Hanley pulled a face. 'You know he taught me things.'


'Guilt then?'

'Probably, and hope,' Ezra said. 'Since you could feel fire moving, I guess he hoped a few small pointers would give you enough to settle your father.'


Ezra sighed. 'I do like you, Hanley.'

'Good,' he responded before the "but" could air. 'I like you too and I know there can't be anything in class so don't worry.' He smiled faintly. 'Outside of class, though, maybe we can... grow?'

The touch of What? made him redden. He muttered he didn't have much experience and didn't know what words to use. 'Don't laugh.'

'I'm not. And I don't know the words either but I... agree.'


'That out of class we can grow.'

Neither knew what to do or say next about that.

Hanley plucked the book from Ezra's grasp. 'I want to talk to dad about some of this stuff, but I'm not sure how.'

'I'd counsel against it,' Ezra said. 'At least, until you're stronger.'

Hanley pulled a face. Did Ezra think a conversation would be that bad? 'Okay, well, that could take a while.'

'Practice here,' Ezra said.

When they stood opposite each other, Ezra said, 'Recall yesterday's test. Replicate it.'

'I'm afraid of setting fire to something.'

'Keep your eyes closed this time, until I say to open them.'

Hanley nodded, saw the other's smile, and closed his eyes. He followed the same path as yesterday and felt the fire tricking along quite quickly, but steadfastly kept his eyes closed until Ezra told him to open them.

In both palms flames flicked red on their tips. The right went out rather quickly but he maintained the left for at least five minutes.

He was grinning widely when he let the flames go and rubbed at his palm. Ezra came forward and checked his hand, running a finger over it. It was somewhat sore but there was no damage.

'How did that feel?'

Hanley had to think a moment before he could do so, fully aware his hand hadn't been let go.

At the end, Ezra released him and said, 'I expect the kids will finally stop their laughing today.'

'Doubt it.'

Spontaneously Hanley hugged Ezra. They both froze and then he just kept hugging and felt arms go around him.

In his ear he heard, 'I promised Darren something else, that I would protect you if he was unable to. That's why I agreed to teach you, not because your father asked.'

Hanley felt emotionally on fire with what he'd learned in the last twelve hours or so, and looked forward to learning more about Ezra on a personal level. And, first time, he looked forwarding to increasing his warden skills.

He'd never replace Darren but he still hoped to make him proud. And maybe even make his father proud.


Was written for Short Shots March 2023 - just couldn't cut word count in time. The image prompt was of a man holding a newspaper that was on fire.
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