The First of Many

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Chapter 33

Aedan entered the base's rec room to find Shadow, Blade, and Hunter all together at the table, playing cards. On one of the couches, Snake sat in front of Hannah, who was fastidiously rubbing the knots out of his back. He stopped in shock and stared.

Clearly, neither had any impression they were being watched. Aedan felt like an intruder simply by looking at them. Her eyes were tender and soft as she looked at him, and Snake's half-lidded eyes were a clear testament to Hannah's abilities.

Aedan knew that his mentor's back had been giving him trouble lately. That didn't, however, stop the burn of jealousy that crackled in his chest.

Finally, Shadow noticed him. “Hey, Aedan,” he said casually, although he could hear the underlying tension in his voice. “We were wondering when you'd show up.”

“You've been expecting me?”

“We all need to talk,” Hunter said.

Hannah shot him a faint smile and leaned down, pressing a gentle kiss to the back of Snake's neck.

The fire flared momentarily, but Aedan shoved it down.

Rimetta presto, Papa,” she said quietly. “Ti amo.” Immediately, she sprang back, both hands on her mouth as though she could take back her words. “Sorry!” she exclaimed. “That just... happened. I don't know...”

“What did it mean?” Snake asked with a chuckle, standing up and stretching languorously, clearly feeling much better.

Hannah smiled fondly. “I used to say it to my father when his back got out of joint,” she said. “It's just a habit.”

“What's it mean?”

The faintest hint of a blush spread across Hannah's cheeks as she ducked her head. “It means 'feel better soon, Papa. I love you.'”

Snake chuckled. “Well, thanks,” he said. “I do feel much better, daughter mine.”

“Shut it, Dragon,” she answered. “You can't be more than five years older than me.”

“You said it, not me.”

“Enough,” Blade said sharply, glaring at Snake. “We have stuff to talk about.”

“What's going on?” Aedan asked.

“We have a traitor,” Blade said lowly. “And we need to know how to handle it.”

"So, we can't have ourselves at each other’s throats. It’s bad for our job," Hannah said, glad to draw the spotlight away from herself.

“But what the Hell else can we do?” Shadow asked. “Any one of us could be the traitor.”

"Would you rather wind up killing the wrong person?"

“I'm not saying lynch the first person we suspect,” Blade snarled, “Or else you'd be hanging from this ceiling right now. All I'm saying is that we have to be careful.”

"Wait, why are you guys suspecting us first?"

“First op you deploy with us on, this happens. We've had plenty of perfectly good ops with this team, but when you get thrown into the mix, we end up with a traitor.”

"Hey, we didn't do this. Why would we? We have nothing to gain."

“There's always something to gain,” Hunter pointed out neutrally.

"Shut up, asshole," Aedan said as he walked up defensively, hand on his pistol. “'Cause as far as I see it, you seem mighty inclined to lay blame.”

“Hey, stop, both of you!” Hannah called. “Everybody, remove all weapons from your person and put them in that corner.”

“What?” all the men chorused. “Hell no!”

“I don't want to be hiding any bodies tonight, people. Since we can't trust ourselves to be rational, we need to make sure the weapons are away.”

There was general grumbling at her statement, but the men obliged and removed their weapons, building an impressive pile of lethal implements in the far corner of the room.

Hannah pursed her lips. “Now, are we going to talk about this like adults, or do we all have to go back to third grade and learn now to let other people talk?”

"Fine. We'll do it your way," Snake said, clearly realizing that disagreeing with her would drastically diminish the chances of any future back-rubs.

“Good,” she answered. “Now, as much as it sucks that we have a traitor here, it's more important that we continue functioning like a normal team. We have no secrets here – that shouldn't change.”

“And when the next op goes bad?”

“We deal with it.”

"I'm with Rosie," Aedan said.

"Me too," said Hunter.

"Us too," said Shadow and Blade simultaneously.

“Look,” Hannah said, “all I'm saying is that we need to keep ourselves together. We can't let this jeopardize our team.” She sighed. “I think our best option is to pretend that never happened.”

“Yeah,” Hunter echoed hollowly. “That'll work.”

The evening was spent in an awkward, consuming silence until the group went to bed.

None of them said the one thing that tugged at all their minds; ignoring the problem would only get more people hurt.

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