The First of Many

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Chapter 14

In Hannah’s opinion, joining the military meant spending an absolutely inordinate amount of time in bars with teammates.

Not one week after they’d graduated, Hannah found herself in yet another bar – pub, proclaimed the writing on the large window – with Hunter, Teddy, Shadow, and Blade.

It was a dark, muggy sort of place, with shaded lamps, dark wooden tables, and faint Irish music playing in the background. Hannah sat with Shadow, Blade, Teddy, and Hunter at the far end of the bar, chatting quietly as they ordered.

The men each ordered a beer, and looked on in surprise as Hannah calmly ordered a double Vodka.

“Rosie, isn’t it a bit early for Vodka?” Shadow asked.

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “It’s never too early for Vodka,” she answered. She picked up her glass as soon as it arrived. She lifted it with a smile at her teammates. “Tvoye zdorovye,” she said with a grin before draining the glass in one gulp. She grimaced at the taste, slamming the glass down. “Damn foreign stuff,” she muttered. “Where’s this from, France? It’s been impossible to get good vodka ever since the embargo.”

“What’s with the toast?” Blade asked.

“Only alcoholics don’t toast their drinks,” she answered knowledgeably.

“Not that,” Hunter said with a frown. “It was in Russian.”

Hannah blinked. “So?”

“So it’s Russian.”

“Get to the point, Hunter.”

Blade interrupted with a cough. “So you mean that jackass Michaels was right? You’re a Ruski?”

“Ruski is such an outdated term,” she answered. “Nobody’s used that since the Cold War. But yeah, I’m a Russian citizen.”

Their reaction was immediate; Blade stood slack jawed and Shadow flinched about five feet back.

"You're Russian?" he asked.

Hannah nodded, frowning in confusion.

Shadow's eyes darted to the bartender, who was cleaning cups at the far end of the bar. “You're not a...” he dropped his voice to a near-whisper. “A Leninist, are you?” he asked.

Hannah blinked a few times in surprise. “No,” she answered slowly, “Why do you ask?”

Teddy leaned forward, his voice softer. “Keep your voices down,” he muttered. “Look, Rosie, I don't think any of us have a real problem with whatever your passport says, but some of the other folks here might not think the same way. Best if we don't broadcast it too loud.”

Hannah cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

"Right now, we’re practically at war with Russia, so the American public isn't exactly so keen on Russians."

“The vast decrease in decent-tasting liquor has made me aware of that fact,” Hannah answered. “I still don't understand. What do you guys mean, exactly?”

“We mean,” Hunter growled exasperatedly, “That if the wrong people get wind of this, you have an actual chance of being lynched. Rose, you should know this. Where have you been since, I don't know, 2018? Come on, Leninist rise? Battle of Yekaterinburg? Assassination of Yuri Kalinovski? The time they fucking tried to bomb the Eiffel tower? Does none of this sound familiar?”

“Of course it does,” Hannah answered. “Look, just because I was raised under a fucking rock doesn't mean I don't know that my own country is being ripped to Hell.”

“And nobody's ever given you any trouble for being Russian?”

“I grew up in Russia, dumbass,” she answered. “Being Russian was pretty normal up there. I only came back to the States after they tried to bomb the Eiffel Tower, stayed pretty far away from people until I joined the Army. I heard Russia was nobody's favorite country, but never knew it was that bad.”

“That bad? It's the Red Scare all over again, Rose. Keep your head down or it might get chopped off.”

"I'll be fine. Don't worry about me."

"Sorry, you're our teammate, so we have to worry about you. So, you have any folks back home? Husband, boyfriend?”

Hannah snorted. “Guys, I'm flattered, but come on. I'm only eighteen.”

“Honest question,” Hunter answered with a shrug. “Family, or are they all in Russia?”

Hannah shook her head. “Dead when I was a kid. I grew up in a boarding school. How about the rest of you?”

Hunter grinned. “Well,” he said, “It may surprise you to hear that Shadow and Blade here are both MIT graduates.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “MIT? How old are the two of you?”

“Twenty,” Blade said.

Teddy groaned. “Am I the only one who’s actually legally drinking here?” he muttered.

“Nah, I’m twenty-three,” Hunter answered. “Cut them some slack, they’re playing with the big boys now.”

Hannah made short work of her second Vodka and ordered herself a brandy, and Teddy frowned at her. “Your alcohol tolerance worries me, Rose,” he said.

Hannah smirked. “Come on, Dedushka,” she teased, smirking as his face paled in panic for a moment. “Can’t keep up with the blood of the motherland?”

“Jesus, Rosie, don’t do that!” Teddy muttered. “It’s fucking creepy to hear you talk like that!”

Her teeth flashed in a grin that was a bit too much like a snarl. “I know it is,” she answered. “That’s why I’m doing it. You’re fun when you’re scared. No comments on my alcohol tolerance – I know my limits. How about you, Teddy, got much family? Old guy like you, you must at least have a girlfriend.”

“I’m thirty,” he answered. “That’s not old.”

“You’re eleven years older than I am, Ted. That makes you positively ancient. Now spill.”

Teddy chuckled, running a hand behind his neck. “Married my wife a month before I got to Ranger School,” he said. “Her name’s Abby.”

"She must be nice," Hunter said.

"She is," Teddy said. “She’s awfully excited about the whole thing, once we’re done moving into the new house, you all have to come to dinner or she’ll never forgive me.”

"So, you think we'll ever see each other again, once we deploy?" Blade asked.

Hannah shrugged. "There's bound to be at least a few of us together, right?"

"Odds are against it, but maybe. We made it through Ranger school together."

Hannah nodded. "Hope so," she said. "I like you sons of bitches."

"We like you too, Rosie," Hunter answered with a grin, reaching out to ruffle her hair. She dodged deftly.

"Even if the mere mention of Russia makes you wet yourselves," she teased.

"So, Rosie, I hear that you're going to Sniper School," Hunter said.

Hannah shrugged. "Figured I might as well," she answered.

"Shadow’s going in too. Good luck, I hear it’s pretty intense,” Blade commented.

Hannah grinned. "That's the plan," she said.

Teddy frowned. "You're a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"

"Hell yeah. I like being put through the ringer."

Hunter snorted. "Watch where you say that," he grinned, "some might think that's pretty kinky."

“Your face, Hunter," Hannah answered, waving her brandy in his general direction. "Shut it."

"Are you sure that she should be drinking?" Blade asked.

"You're not legal either, so you don't get to talk," she shot back.

"Well, I am, and I say that you’re done drinking," Teddy said

Hannah raised an eyebrow. "I'll have you know I'm perfectly sober," she answered.

"Well, I don't plan on you getting drunk."

Hannah rolled her eyes and drained the rest of her brandy. "Fine," she muttered. "Geez, if this is what having parents is like, I'm glad I don't have them. I handle myself, smartass." She turned to Blade. “Why aren’t you sticking with Shadow for Sniper school?”

He grimaced. “I’m holding down the fort on this end. Hoping to crank out a few more prototypes while he’s out. Besides, I couldn’t be a Sniper. Shadow’s much more patient than I am.”

Hannah frowned. “Prototypes?”

Blade sighed. “The reason we joined the military at all is because when we were doing our masters theses back at MIT, the army recruited us to work for them in R&D.”

“You develop?” Teddy asked, impressed. “What did you guys study in college?”

“I did a general major in Engineering, but I specialized in nuclear physics and some other stuff. Mostly munitions. That’s what the Army approached us for,” Shadow said. “Blade majored in biomechanical engineering. Original plan was to build better prosthetics, when we graduated. Anyway, we joined up for R&D, since they were paying us good money to do what we probably would have done anyway, and we ended up joining Rangers so that we could get a closer look at the kind of stuff that was actually needed by the people in the field.”

“So we have you to thank for our ammo?” Hunter asked with a grin.

Blade grinned back. “Yup,” he answered.

“Where do you folks live?” Hannah asked.

“Shadow and I live in South Florida,” Blade said. “Real warm, right on the beach. Great place. How about you guys?”

“Montana,” Hunter said.

“South Carolina,” Teddy answered. “Grew up in Colorado, though.”

“How about you, Rosie?” Shadow prompted after a moment’s silence.

Hannah tried for a nonchalant smile. “I’m kinda between houses at the moment,” she said breezily.

Silence.

“You mean you’re homeless?” Blade asked, floored.

Hannah winced. “No,” she said. “I’m not homeless. That’s a stupid question.”

“Then where do you live?” Teddy asked, looking every inch a concerned father.

Hannah shrugged. “So I happen not to have a place right now. Doesn’t mean I’m homeless.”

“Rose, that’s the definition of homeless,” Shadow said sternly.

“I’m not homeless,” she answered stubbornly.

“Then will you at least tell us what state you live in?”

"What if I don't want to tell you?"

"Why don't you want to tell us?" Blade asked.

“Look, Rosie,” Teddy said in a placating tone. “None of us are judging anything here. Just answer this: Do you know where you’re sleeping tonight?”

Hannah opened her mouth to answer, and stopped, racking her brain.

“No,” she admitted finally. “I guess I don’t.”

“Well, now you do,” Shadow said. “You’re coming with us.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “Shadow, I’m fine.”

“You’re not, so be quiet.”

“I’m not some puppy you can bring home and adopt,” she grumbled.

“Of course not. You’re a friend. This is what friends do.”

Hannah paused. “Friend?” she repeated dumbly.

"Yeah. You're our teammate, and our friend.”

Friend. That was a new word to add to her vocabulary.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I’m not exactly what you’d call easy to live with.”

“That’s fine,” Blade answered. “Neither are we. Hell, we live off of takeout most of the time. Like it or not, you're family to us. So no matter what happens, you always have a home with us."

Hannah nodded. “Okay,” she said finally. “Works for me.”

A searing warmth spread from her chest to her toes, and Hannah smiled.


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