When Hannah awoke, the first thing she noticed was that instead of being nestled in a hollow of sand with a half-dead Viper by her side, she was in a warm, comparatively soft bed with crisp white sheets and a particularly thick blanket. The hunger pains were gone, and her body was stiff, but pain-free.
“Hell isn't what it used to be,” she muttered drily.
A deep voice beside her chuckled. “You're not dead yet,” it said.
Hannah whirled around to face the stranger, let out a shout of fear, and leaped away – only to find her progress hindered by the IV drip in her arm.
“Rosie, it's me. Hunter,” the man said sadly, in Hunter's voice.
But it wasn't Hunter, she thought. Hunter wasn't like that. Hunter wasn't so thin, Hunter didn't have such dark, hollow eyes. Hunter had darker, shorter hair, a rounder face.
“Get away from me,” she snarled, tugging at the needle firmly planted in her arm. She had to get away, run, hide, stay hidden.
"Rosie, it's me. Calm down, you'll hurt yourself,” the man said.
She managed to pull the needle out, and let out a shriek of pain as it tugged at her flesh. She caught sight of a scalpel on the metal tray beside her and grabbed it, holding it up. “I'll kill you,” she threatened. Her vision was blurring; had they drugged her to keep her down? Who were they? Have to run, have to get out, where's Viper? Where's Mike? Do they have them too?
"Rosie, it’s me, Hunter. You're safe, just a little groggy,” the man said as her vision began to clear slightly, revealing that the person before her was indeed Hunter.
Hannah sat down on the bed. “Sorry,” she said. “I think it was the painkillers.”
“It's okay,” Hunter answered.
Hannah nodded. “How did we get here?”
“We had to stay put for a while,” he said. “We were fine, but you... You went to sleep, and you just didn't wake up. We were really worried about you, and we couldn't carry you both.”
Hannah frowned and lowered her voice until it was just loud enough for him to hear it. “Are we safe here?” she asked.
Hunter nodded. “Coalition base in Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “We were rescued by pure coincidence; we wandered long enough to be close to the border, so they found us.”
“Why didn't I wake up?”
“Hunger. Your body started shutting down. A few more days, you would have died. We're waiting here until the medics give us a clean bill of health,” he said.
“How did all of you do with me out of commission?”
“We stayed put, we were fine. Would've had some trouble if we'd moved around, though.”
Hannah nodded. “Viper? Is he alive?”
“Yes, he is,” said Viper's voice, as a wheelchair-bound man rolled into the room.
Where Hunter looked haggard and haunted, Viper had never looked better; his skin was flushed with new health, and he had filled out since the desert ordeal.
“You okay?” she asked him.
“Never better,” he promised. “I may never walk again, but...” he shrugged. “I'm alive, like you said.”
"I told you so."
"I'm being reassigned to intel, where I'll be working at a desk," Viper added. “I hate desk work, but it'll do.”
"Who will lead the team?" Hannah asked.
Viper grinned. “You have to ask? You, of course.”
Hannah stuttered for a moment. “Viper, what? I'm not... Viper, I'm not a leader!”
"You performed pretty well in the desert," he said.
“That wasn't leadership,” she argued.
"You kept the guys alive and on track. That's a lot better than my first time," Viper said.
“That wasn't leadership,” she said, “That was...” she trailed off, frowning. “I don't know what it was, but it wasn't leadership. I knew a girl, Roach, she was a leader. Could whip people into a frenzy with a few words. That girl was born to lead people. Me... I'm not a leader. I don't deal well with people, Viper, you know that.”
“That's what makes you a good leader, Rosie. That girl isn't a leader; she's a politician. Hunter, how far would you follow Rosie, if she asked you?”
“To Hell and back,” he said, without hesitation.
“See?” Viper told Hannah, “You're a leader because you're not afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty like the rest of us. I know for a fact you would die for all of us, and so we would die for you. Rosie, you promised you'd keep this team safe for me; do it.”
Hannah nodded shakily. “I promise,” she said.
Viper nodded. “Good,” he said. “I'm leaving my family in good hands, then. I trust you, Rosie.”
She stared at him in blank shock. “You’re a fucking nutjob, Viper,” she said.
“So’re you, so you can’t talk.”
“You should rest now,” Hunter added. “You're still weak.”
Hannah nodded slowly and slid back into the bed, curling up and feeling at her wrists. “My knives,” she said. “Where are they?”
“With the rest of your gear,” Hunter said, pulling out a knife of his own. “You can borrow this one, though. Sleep.”
Hannah smiled and curled up, closing her fist around the knife handle and sliding it under her pillow. “Night,” she said quietly.
The men chuckled drily and made their way out, leaving Hannah to her restless sleep.