The First of Many

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Chapter 36

One evening three days later, Hannah, Snake, and Aedan were walking around the exterior of the base together, enjoying the cool of the night.

“So, what’s going to happen to Tex?” Hannah asked, stumbling over the name.

“Dishonorable discharge. He’s going home in two days.” He grimaced. “Wish I could have roughed him up a bit first. Woulda liked to murder the jackass.”

Hannah’s response was cut off by the sound of a shot echoing in the darkness. The world slowed down, and Hannah could almost see the bullet heading for her chest and tried to dodge, but it was too late and – something heavy hit her in the legs, sending her sprawling on the ground. She looked down and saw Snake, collapsed like a rag doll in the dust. He let out a scream of pain and curled in on himself.

Aedan immediately looked in the direction of the shot, and saw Tex, standing at a distance, holding a smoking gun in his hand.

“TIME'S UP, MOTHERFUCKER!” Aedan roared in fury, drawing his tomahawk and throwing it before his mind could catch up to his body. The weapon impacted into Tex's forehead.

Hannah was already by Snake's side by the time Tex's body hit the ground. She lay him out and placed his head in her lap, putting pressure on the wound.

"Snake, I'm here, boss," Aedan said, kneeling beside him.

"Aedan, I'm not going to make it."

"Don't say that. Who's going to lead the team?"

Snake coughed. “I can't,” he gurgled out. “Bastard shot me... in the stomach. Too late. Aedan, you're in charge, got it?”

"Me?"

"Affirmative, Kronos.”

“Kronos?”

“Time's up,” he said. “You lead, now.”

“But... I don't know how.”

“I know that,” he answered. “That's what'll make you good at it.”

“Don't you die on me,” Hannah said desperately. “Dragon, you are not allowed to die.”

“I don't have much of a choice, do I?” Snake's face flashed with pain and he grit his teeth. “Fuck, this hurts,” he snarled.

“Let's get him inside, to a medic,” Aedan said.

“No,” Snake gasped out. “I'm not dying in some hospital bed.”

“You're not dying at all.”

"Listen to me, Kronos. You're the best of us, always were. You're what all of us should be.” He turned his head towards Hannah. "Girl, you take care of him. You promise me that?"

“I promise,” she whispered, holding back her tears as she slowly eased the pressure off his wound. She gently stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. He leaned into her touch like a child.

“I need a favor from each of you. Right now,” he said.

“Of course,” Aedan answered immediately.

“Aedan, leave now. Get Tex's body and... I don't know, but get out. Girl...”

“No,” Hannah said immediately. “No, Snake, I won't.”

"Do it. Please."

“No!” she said. “Snake, stop! Here, let’s get you to a medic-” she made to pick him up and he hissed in pain as he was moved.

“Don’t be stupid, you know it’s too late,” he said. “Please Gir- Rose. Rose, if you’re my sister, you’ll do this for me.”

“I can’t,” she whispered, hand tracing his chin lightly. “Please, don’t ask me to do this…”

“Do it.”

Hannah closed her eyes. “Aedan,” she said, voice wavering, “Get out of here. Please, I need you to leave.”

“Rosie, what’s going on?” Aedan asked cautiously. “What are you going to do?”

“Please leave,” she said again. “I don’t want you to see this. Get Tex’s body and get out of here.”

Aedan stood, looking down at his teammate. “You’re going to be all right, okay, Snake?” he said throatily. “Rosie’s going to take good care of you.”

Snake managed a painful-looking smile. “Sure thing, New Guy,” he said.

Moments after he’d turned around, Aedan heard an anguished scream and whirled around, in time to see a flash of Hannah's knife slit Snake's throat.

Aedan came back and stared down at Hannah and her bloody knife.

"Why?" he asked, his voice even and faint.

“He begged me to,” she whispered, still cradling his face in her lap as his blood drained out onto her pants. She closed his eyes with gentle fingers. “He said if I really was his sister, I’d do it. I promised.”

Suddenly, Shadow came running up to them. “What happened?” he demanded. I heard screaming – who's that? Is it... Snake?” he blinked at Hannah. “Is he dead?”

Hannah nodded slowly. “Tex shot him,” she murmured.

“And you killed Tex?”

“Aedan did,” Hannah answered.

Shadow raised an eyebrow. “If Tex killed him via gunshot, why's his throat slit?”

Hannah looked away. “It was faster,” she said. “He didn't want to suffer.”

Shadow stopped for a moment, then nodded. “Let's get them inside,” he said quietly.

The team gathered in the morgue in confusion, but realization set in when they saw Snake's face.

"What happened?" Blackburn asked, dumbstruck.

"Tex shot Snake in the stomach, but Aedan ended him. Snake was in pain and knew he wouldn’t make it. He asked me to kill him and I did," Hannah said. Calm. Collected. Matter-of-fact. It’s like a briefing, Solomon. Nothing else.

Wraith turned a glare to Hannah. "You killed him," he said in a hard tone.

"I didn't have a choice," she defended.

"There's always a choice," he growled.

"Hey," Aedan said. "He begged her to. I was there, I saw it."

"Then she killed him and you let him," he snapped back.

"Wraith, shut the fuck up and calm down. He begged her to kill him, so how about you guys back the fuck off."

"All I know is our leader is dead because of one of you two," he snarled.

"Our leader is dead because Tex shot him in the stomach," Aedan answered.

"Guys, calm down. Snake wouldn't want us to kill each other,"

Blackburn said as he stood between them.

"Wraith, you would have done the same if you were there," Aedan said.

"But I wasn't," he answered.

Hannah sighed. "I know we're all shocked by what happened," she said. "I didn't know him as well as you did, but I loved him just the same as all of you. He wouldn't have wanted this."

"Look, Hannah, you did what you could, okay?" Aedan asked.

"God, Aedan, stop trying to make the killer happy so that she'll sleep with you," Wrath said.

Aedan snarled and took a step forward, but Blackburn grabbed him and held him back. “Say that again, Jackass,” Aedan snarled. “I swear to God I’ll fucking murder you.”

“Aedan, stop,” Hannah ordered. “He’s right. I know what I did. I am aware that I killed Snake, and he has every right to hate me for it. I am willing to live with that guilt for him. Let him do what he likes.”

Hannah rose and left the room, and Aedan followed her. "You okay?" he asked, sitting next to her against the hallway wall.

She nodded. “I’m fine,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow. “You’re really trying to convince me about that?”

"Not working, huh?"

"Not at all. Look, I'm here if you need someone."

She shrugged. “Wraith is right,” she said. “I know what I’ve done. Did you tell the team he made you leader?”

Aedan shook his head. “They got it on their own, I think. I don’t want to tell them just yet. Let them get through what happened to Snake first.”

She nodded. “You’ll make a good leader,” she said.

"What if I can't lead? I'm the youngest guy on the team. The one with the least experience."

“But you're also the strongest,” she said. “I believe in you, Aedan. Your team believes in you.” She chuckled. “You're so naïve,” she said. “You believe in all those values that you hear about in the speeches; the bravery and the sacrifice and all that shit. You believe in it so much that when you talk to people, they believe in it too.”

"Do yourself a favor and don't believe in me. I'm not your guy."

“You are,” she said. “And don't you let anyone tell you any different. You have all the values I wish I had when I led. I know it's hard, Aedan. I know it feels like you can never live up to the kind of leader Snake was. He just died – you're in shock, you're cold, you're tired, you feel hopeless and messed up and you're scared of me because I haven't even washed your mentor's blood off my hands yet. But tell me, do you think Snake was a smart man?”

"Yeah, I do."

“Then trust his judgment. He could have chosen any one of your teammates, Aedan, but he chose you. Whether he was right or wrong in doing so isn't important. All you can do now is try to make him proud.”

"Why do you have so much faith in me?"

She smiled enigmatically. “I’ve seen a lot of people placed in positions of power,” she said. “Sometimes it works. Most of the time, it doesn’t. I’ve never seen someone like you before. I’m confident that you’re different enough. The less you think you have the answers, the more you’ll take advice from your team. You’ll have all their support, and that’s the most important part of leadership.”

"What if I can't do it?"

“Then you have a whole team to catch you and help you get up.”

"What about you? Will you be there?" he asked.

She smiled at him. “I’ll be there whenever you need,” she said, taking his hand. “I promised Snake I would take care of you, and I meant it.”
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