The First of Many

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Chapter 41

The first order of business, the next morning, was to go grocery shopping in order to re-stock the completely empty kitchen. Hannah was surprised to note that Aedan, despite being a farm-raised country kid, was well educated in terms of exotic foods, and was always ready for a new challenge.

For Hannah, grocery shopping was an adventure. Every time she and Aedan went out, she discovered more and more foods that she’d only heard of – or seen on her trainers’ tables. She decided she loved all spices, and curry became a regular favorite. Aedan’s favorite moment was Hannah’s face when she saw the spice aisle.

“You mean all this stuff is edible?” she asked, frowning. “They’re ground up leaves.”

“So? It’s good anyway. Seriously, you’ve never had any of this stuff?”

“I’ve gone undercover and such at a few fancy dinners, but we just boiled everything, in Kiev. No need to waste money on making things taste good. So long as we had food, we were grateful.”

“There must be some good Russian recipes you know,” he said. “That school of yours must have given you real food sometimes. I know how much of a wine snob you are. You picked that up somewhere.”

Hannah smiled. “I was taught diplomacy, and that includes sitting through fancy dinners. I don’t know much about cooking, but I did learn a few things.”

“Then you cook tonight. I’m fresh out of ideas.”

She grinned. “We’re going to need beets, eggs, and a shit ton of potatoes.”

“Potatoes?”

“Potatoes are the most useful thing in the world,” she said knowledgeably.

“What do you mean?”

“There are over five hundred recorded ways to cook a potato, not including brewing it into vodka. And as if that weren’t awesome enough, they double as suppressors if you don’t have one.”

"Only you would us a potato as a suppressor," he said with a grin.

"Don't pretend you haven’t tried it.”

"You have me there," Aedan said. “Potatoes it is.”

He followed along as Hannah picked up ingredients that Aedan generally ignored – beets, zucchini, potatoes (and who needed a dozen potatoes for one dish, anyway), and a few other foods that Aedan’s only word for was ‘dry and tasteless’. Still, He grinned as Hannah made her way back to the spice aisle and picked up two different kinds of curry, some cinnamon, and several others. “Let’s see what this tastes like when I’m done with it,” she said.

"I’m sure it'll taste good," he said, almost dreading his words.

She shrugged - she didn't look convinced either.

Hannah and Aedan returned to the apartment with a plethora of food, ready for a feast.

Hannah cooked for several hours, working on a strangely-colored soup with indeterminate chunks of god-knows-what, but she looked proud as she ladled it into her and Aedan’s bowls, so he forced himself to not wrinkle his nose at the prospect of what looked a lot like pureed cat food.

Aedan dug in obligingly, and was shocked to find that the mysterious lumpy mush actually tasted very good.

“Shit, Hannah, this stuff is fucking delicious, what is it?”

“It was supposed to be Borscht,” she said, “But then I got a bit carried away. I don’t know what it is now, but I like it.”

"I like it too. So, you're a great shot and a great cook. That's a great combination."

She smiled. “I like your cooking better,” she said.

He chuckled. “I’m showing you how to make a peach cobbler tomorrow,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”

She smiled. “All-American indeed,” she said. “You know, I’m surprised there aren’t more people I’ve met in spec. Ops that are foreign-born. There should be a few, right?”

“Well, ever since the nationalist movement got started, it’s been harder on them,” Aedan explained with an apologetic shrug. “Any foreigners probably know to keep it on the down-low. They don’t want to be dealing with any trouble.”

Hannah frowned. “I haven’t gotten any trouble for being Russian since Ranger School,” she said. “And shouldn’t that make me public enemy number one?”

“Only reason they don’t say anything is because you scare the shit out of them,” he answered with a chuckle. “That’s different. I know a few team guys who are foreign-born, they don’t treat it like a big deal or anything. It just usually never comes up.”

She nodded, frowning. “Do they have a problem with me being Russian?” she asked. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter if they do, but I’d like to know.”

“They’d have a problem with it if you were more like them, I think,” he said. “But you’re so different anyway, the Russian thing isn’t huge. They’re more worried about the scars and – have you seen yourself train, Rosie? It’s fucking terrifying.”

“What do you mean?”

“First time we met, I was walking around base and I saw you. There was this punching bag, and you were just destroying it. Why don’t you tape your knuckles?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Because your hands were bleeding,” he said. “There was this green beret who walked up to me, I asked him a few questions. When was the last time you were stateside, by the way?”

Hannah frowned. “Not since I joined Delta,” she admitted. “What is it, going on three years now?”

“And command lets you do tours that long?”

“Not really. Every time they tried sending me home, I told them where to shove it. Eventually they got the message. I don’t really need to be sent home, that’s all. They’d send me in for training every once in a while, but after that I just hitched a ride back.”

“That’s one of the things he told me.”

“What’s the rumor on my life?” she asked, picking up the empty plates and carrying them to the sink. “I knew there was one, but I never knew how bad it was.”

“Well, ever since they saw the number on your neck – that’s how they do it in the prison camps, apparently. They figure you were either born there or sent there very young, and you grew up there. They’re pretty sure you were a prisoner there, at any rate, but one of the Leninists probably tried the whole brainwashing thing when they realized you had potential. It didn’t work, and you managed to get away and join the Army to stay under the radar.”

Hannah blinked. “Wow, that’s not too bad,” she said, impressed. “Not quite right, but it works.”

“If it’s not right, why not correct them? I don’t need to know the real thing, it’s your life and none of my business, but why would you let them spread rumors about you like that?”

“The more they think they know, the less they’ll dig around for things that they shouldn’t be seeing,” she answered. “Their story is close enough that they’ll understand.”

Aedan shrugged, helping her wash the dishes in silence before they got ready for bed.

“Hey, Rosie?” he asked before he went into his room to sleep.

“What?”

“Think about how much you want to lie to your brothers,” he said. “Things like this don’t last very long, and I don’t think they’ll appreciate it.”

Hannah nodded. “I know,” she said. “But I’m not a child. I won’t cry if my friends abandon me. If they find out the truth and decide to leave – or to kill me, for that matter – it’s their decision, and I’m in no position to control it.”

Aedan nodded once, going to bed and settling in for an uneasy sleep.

His last conscious thought was what on earth in her past could be so much worse than a Leninist prison camp – and why her team might want to kill her for it.


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