The First of Many

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Chapter 17

Several days later, Hannah was walking the compound. She had been warned in no uncertain terms that she was not to exert herself, lest she burst the stitches in her side. She would have burst them on purpose, just to spite the medic, if the man weren't so terrifying. She'd seen him get on the case of several people that hadn't followed his instructions, and the fallout tended to be deadly. In her personal opinion, one ought never to spite a man armed with a scalpel.

She made her way down to the mess hall, intent on grabbing a quick meal and going to bed. As she entered, however, she was greeted by a cacophonous shouting of “SURPRISE!” called by all of her teammates.

Hannah blinked. “What's going on here?” she asked.

Shadow grinned at her. “Happy birthday, Rosie!” he called.

Hannah stopped short. “It's not my birthday!” she declared. “What are you talking about?”

“It's May fifth,” Shadow said. “Didn't you know?”

She blinked. “It is?” she asked.

Teddy snorted. “Come on, Rosie,” he said. “It's your birthday. Loosen up, already! You're not twenty-one every day!”

“I will be for the next three hundred sixty five days,” she said, “You'd think that would be long enough.”

Hunter grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her towards a table. “Come on,” he said. “You're legal and everything. Have a beer.”

“It's not the first time I've had alcohol, you know,” she muttered.

“Yeah, but it's the first time you're actually supposed to.”

Hannah rolled her eyes and grabbed a beer, taking a small sip. She grimaced, sticking out her tongue as though to wipe the taste off. “How the Hell do you guys drink this crap?” she asked.

“It is disgusting, isn't it?” Shadow said cheerily, already drinking his second.

“Then why do you drink it?” she asked.

Blade shrugged. “Because we can?” he asked.

Hannah groaned and put the beer down. “This stuff is awful,” she decided. “I don't think I'll ever drink again.”

Sean grinned. “Get that beer, Rosie,” he said. “It's tradition to chug your first beer when you turn twenty one.”

“Out of the question,” she retorted, not even looking at him.

“Rosie, do you really want to break tradition?” he answered.

“If tradition involves finishing that godforsaken drink, then yes. Is it too much to ask for some good Vodka?”

“Come on,” he said. “Or are you scared?”

“You can't bait me, Sean,” she said shortly. “I'm not chugging this beer.” She stopped short, frowning. “Wait a minute,” she said, “I've never told any of you when my birthday was. How do you know it?”

There was silence, and the men grinned sheepishly as several people pointed at Shadow.

“I 'borrowed' the roster of the people who were in our Ranger class,” he said, completely unapologetic.

Hannah's jaw dropped. “You what?” she hissed, her voice dangerously low.

“I stole the roster of our Ranger class last month,” he said slowly, as though speaking to a small child.

“You stole the roster,” she said flatly, and started pacing, as she often did when worried. “No,” she said. “No, this is not happening to me. Jesus Christ, Shadow, what were you even thinking?”

“We wanted to know when your birthday was,” Shadow said.

“So you decided that invading my privacy would be a better way to do it than just asking me?” she groaned and sat. “Who else knows?” she demanded.

“Knows what?”

“My name, idiot,” she snapped. “How many people in this room know my name?”

Shadow snorted. “You think I'm that suicidal? Nobody, smart one. I don't like the idea of getting murdered in my sleep.”

Hannah stared at him for a long moment, trying to see if he was lying. She decided, eventually, that he wasn't. She sighed and nodded slowly. “Fine,” she decided. “But if I ever find out you have, I'll rip that lying tongue out of your mouth and shove it up your ass.”

There were a few sounds of shock at that statement, and Shadow paled dramatically; after Blade had woken up one morning dangling by his feet from a ceiling fan, all of the men had learned to take Hannah's threats seriously. Shadow blinked a few times and nodded slowly.

Teddy saved the hour by bringing forth a box. "This is from all of us," he said.

Hannah opened it to find a hard gun case, jaw dropping again as she opened it. “I don't believe it,” she muttered. “What is this?”

Blade grinned. “It's an R9, Rosie. Relax.”

“No,” she answered. “I know what an R9 is, and it doesn't look like that.”

“Hunt and I tricked it out for you. Undercounted grenade launcher, Holo sight with magnifier, laser, the works.”

Etched into the barrel was the name 'Rosie'.

Hannah grinned. “You guys are the best,” she said. “Whose idea was this?”

“Teddy's,” Blade said.

She stepped forwards, grabbed Ted firmly by the shoulders, and pressed a heated kiss to his lips.

“You,” she said as she pulled away, “Are terrific.”

Teddy blushed furiously. “Hey! A simple thank you is all that's necessary. It's just a present. You know, from a brother to a sister?”

His protests were drowned out by the raucous whooping that ensued from the kiss.

Hannah grinned. “Don't read into it,” she answered. “Just a brother, trust me.” She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “Damn, that felt so much like incest. Let's never do that again.”

“Agreed,” Teddy said. “Not to mention the fact that you're too young for me.”

“Dude, say that and she's likely to wind up with a squid,” Blade grinned.

Hannah rolled her eyes. “A squid?” she snorted. “Not a chance. I like my men to be, you know, men. Squids are such boys.”

Ted chuckled and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. “Thanks,” he said, “But I'm married. Sorry.”

"The good ones are always taken," she grumbled good-naturedly.

Teddy grinned. “I'd been planning on waiting, but... I have excellent news.” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wallet-sized photo. “My wife, Abby, just had her baby.” He grinned. “I have a son,” he said, sounding as though he still couldn't believe it. “He's a few weeks old now. His name is William Jacob Kincaid.”

Shadow grinned, whacking Teddy on the shoulder in celebration. “Congrats, brother,” he said.

Hannah craned her neck to look over the dozen heads at the photo, smiling at the round-faced, blotchy-skinned newborn. “He'll be a looker,” she said, “Take it from me.”

Teddy puffed up with pride. “Just like his father,” he declared.

“Ass,” Hannah muttered cheerily. “Your wife didn't marry you for your humility, at least.”

Teddy grinned. “Anyway, today's about you. Enough about my dashing good looks and winning personality. Hunt! Haul it in!”

Hunter moved to the table, carrying a cake in his hands.

Hannah's jaw dropped. “A cake?” she asked. “But... It's... I mean, you're...”

“Relax,” he said. “It's just something nice for a friend.”

“But... I've never...” she sat down suddenly on a conveniently placed chair. “You got me a cake?”

"Of course, everyone gets a cake on their birthday," Hunter said.

Hannah snorted. “Hunter, I know for a fact you didn't get one for your birthday. Neither did Shadow and Blade, and there's two of them.”

“Well, you're special. Rosie gets a cake. Stop complaining, or you won't get any.”

Hannah blinked a few times, staring at the cake again. “But... Teddy... It's so... pink.”

It was; the cake was iced white with pink trim and large roses about the edges. Hannah took a closer look and stopped short.

“Hunter,” she said sweetly, “do I have you to thank for this absolutely lovely Disney Princess cake?”

Hunter groaned quietly. “You're not going to kiss me for my trouble, then, are you?”

Hannah grinned, baring her teeth in a snarl. “You want cake?” she asked. “Then eat it.” She hit the bottom of the dish and sent the cake flying into Hunter's face.

Hunter grinned and licked his lips. “Thanks, Rosie,” he said, letting it drop back onto the plate and licking frosting off his lips.

The mildly crushed cake was eaten in general good spirits, and the festivities continued until around midnight. Hannah, however, turned in early, leaving without a word around eleven, her face unusually tense.

Teddy noticed her leaving first, and turned to the men in surprise. “Anybody know what's wrong with Rosie?” he asked.

“She's alone,” Sean pointed out. “I wish we could help her out.”

Blade frowned. “Hey, Shadow, when you got her name, did you do any research?”

“Of course,” Shadow said, looking offended.

“What did you find?”

Shadow sighed. “That's the weird part,” he said. “I found nothing.”

“Nothing?” Blade asked. “That's not possible. Nobody has nothing.”

“Nothing,” Shadow answered. “If she hadn't gone to school, there would be literally no proof of her existence after the age of seven.”

“What about before then?”

Shadow sighed. “She fits the perfect profile for a sociopath,” he said. “Raised normally, but very mature. Her IQ was literally off the charts. I've never done this much research into a person before,” he chuckled. “I hope the FBI doesn't get on my case.”

“Stalker,” his brother accused.

“I'm not a stalker!” Shadow answered hotly. “I'm an unpaid private investigator with a high level of clearance. That's completely different! Anyway, no friends, no nothing.”

“That explains a lot,” Teddy muttered. “What happened then?”

“Her parents died in a house fire when she was seven,” he said. “She was brought to a foster home in Chicago. She and her social worker dropped off the face of the earth, and she hasn't been heard from since. She vanished entirely. Didn't go to school, was never seen or heard from again. She literally dropped off the face of the earth. Then, suddenly, she enlists, for no reason whatsoever.”

“Well, we don't all have to tell our reasons for enlisting, either,” Sean said. “I didn't really have a reason.”

Shadow shook his head. “Rosie doesn't do things without a reason. But even if we ignore that part...” he sighed. “She was two questions away from acing her ASVAB, Sean. Two questions. That's not supposed to be possible. Her physical examinations? Inhuman. She shouldn't be biologically possible, Sean. Power like hers should literally overload her body. The MEPS guys were inches away from refusing her application, because she's missing a rib. And her explanation...”

“What happened?” Teddy asked.

Shadow looked down. “The reason why she's missing a rib is because somebody shattered it, while he was beating her with a metal pipe.”

Silence.

“No mentions of it in her record. She's never even been to a hospital. She's clean, Blade. You don't start doing work like this if you don't have at least something in your past. She doesn't go home, ever. I'd be surprised if she had a home to go to. We are literally the only people that even know she exists. That's why she's alone.”

Hunter frowned. “That's no way to live,” he muttered.

“She will,” Teddy said confidently. “We've got her back, and she knows that.”

Shadow looked at the door through which Hannah had left. “I hope you're right, Ted,” he muttered quietly.


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