The First of Many

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Chapter 43

Hannah generally ran longer than Aedan – she would come back dead tired, eyes rolling in her head and unable to stand up on her own. After she'd nearly broken his arm for trying to stop her, Aedan settled for having food, water, and a cold shower ready when she returned.

He was in the middle of making a sandwich when his phone rang. He picked it up and propped it on his shoulder.

"Hello?"

“Hey, Aedan,” his mother answered cheerily. “Jen has been telling me some very interesting news. What’s this I hear about you having a girlfriend?”

Aedan blanched. "Jen said what?"

"That you're dating some blonde girl from the Army."

Aedan groaned. "We weren't..."

"Really, Aedan, I don't mind that she found out before me. But your father isn't too happy you're with an Army girl. He's been muttering about mud girls for hours."

"Well, I simply don't care about that. She's really fun to be with."

"So you are dating her?" She asked smugly.

"No," Aedan answered. "She's in Delta, a teammate of mine. We're doing joint ops. She doesn't have a place to stay, so after Snake's funeral, I said she could stay with me. We're not dating, Jen just assumed."

"Well, then just be careful. I don't want you to get hurt."

Aedan rolled his eyes. "Ma, I know what I'm doing. Jesus."

"Have you gone out with her yet?"

Aedan sighed. "Yeah," he muttered. "We went to a club. Danced a bit. Went home. Kissed. Went to bed."

"Whose bed was she in?"

Aedan snorted. "Ma, it's not like that. She took the couch, I swear. We're not... Doing that. Promise."

"Ok then. Again, be careful. But if she really makes you happy, then you have my blessing."

Aedan chucked. "Didn't say I was planning on marrying her, either. I'd just like to see where this goes. Hey, is dad here?"

"Of course. Take care, Aedan. Be good to that girl, and make sure she's good to you. You’re too nice for your own good."

"Take care, Ma," he answered. "Love you."

There was a brief shuffle as the phone was passed to his father, who answered with a gruff "what's this about you dating an army girl?"

"We're not dating. She's just staying with me."

"From what I heard from you sister, you spent all day under the peach tree talking to her."

"Yeah, but just as friends. That’s all."

"Sure," he said, sounding unconvinced. "But really, Aedan. Army?"

"Hey, what can I say? She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

He snorted. "That's what you said about Nicole, and we all know how well that turned out."

"She's different. She actually cares."

"How do you know?"

"She's..." Aedan put the completed sandwich on a plate and made his way to the couch. "She's just... Incredible. First time I saw her - I don't think I ever mentioned this, actually - she was in Rangers. We got sent to save her team, they'd gotten pinned down by a tank. We got pinned right along with them, and this girl just appears and fucking blows it with a grenade from the inside. Almost died doing it, too."

"You sure she's not in the Navy?" His father asked.

"Yeah. I just don't know how to ask her to make this official."

"What makes you think she won't?"

"She's not a very... Relationship kind of person."

"Ask her. It worked with your mother."

"True. I will try."

"Where is she now? Not with you?"

"Out running."

"Why aren't you with her?"

"I was tired."

"More tired than a mud girl?"

"Yeah, I had a busy day settling in."

His father snorted. "Sure," he said. "I'll leave you to your Army girl."

"You know, the team made her a frogwoman. Gave her Snake's trident."

"They what?"

"They gave her Snake's trident, so technically, she's a team woman."

He groaned. "See, this kind of shit would never have happened back when I was a SEAL," he muttered. "They gave her a trident? What the fuck is this?"

"It’s called respect."

"It's called blasphemy," he answered. "I still think all of you are crazy. I gotta go. Good luck, kid."

"See you, dad."

Moments after Aedan had hung up, He heard the heavy, wheezing breaths outside the door that meant Hannah had returned.

He brought her onto the couch and sat her down. "Ok, breathe, just breathe."

She gasped, eyes half-lidded. She flinched from his touch, moaning out an incoherent 'please'.

"Shh," Aedan murmured, gently rubbing her back. "Breathe with me, Darlin. You're gonna be fine." She was gasping for breath, her skin making a slow but terrifying transition from red towards blue.

"Breathe, you’re going to be ok. I’m here."

It took nearly half an hour for her breathing to return to something that didn't have Aedan wanting to call an ambulance, and longer for her to lean against him without a whimper or a flinch, but eventually, she breathed in slowly through a dry, rasping throat and leaned into his touch.

"You're ok. I've got you. How do you feel?"

She took a deep breath, reaching for the lukewarm water he gave her. "I'm okay," she said after she'd drained it. "This was good. This helped."

"Helped what?" He asked, then mentally slapped himself for asking.

"I don't know," she murmured. "But it helps."

"The neighbors are starting to worry," he commented. "You sure you have to push yourself this hard?"

"I’m sure, I have to be the best I can be."

"Any more of this and you'll kill yourself," he said futilely, handing her the sandwich. "Eat, then take a shower. After that, come into my room, and sleep. I won't take no for an answer. You need a good bed."

"It's only noon."

"You almost killed yourself," he snapped. "Do as you're told."

"You don't outrank me and besides, we're home."

"Rose, please," he pleaded. "Don't do this to yourself. I don't know what it is you're punishing yourself for - don't look at me like that, I know what you're doing - but it's not worth this. I'm not going to sit here and watch you tear yourself apart. Now, shut your mouth and do as I say. I'm not giving you a choice here."

"Why do you care so much about what happens to me?"

"Because you're my teammate. You don't get answers until you've eaten, showered, and slept. Do it. Now."

Hannah's face went blank for a single, terrifying moment. "Yes, s-" she shook her head, suddenly confused. "What?"

"What are you talking about, what?" he asked.

"N-nothing," she said, looking frightened. She took a bite of her sandwich, but didn't taste it. "I thought I heard someone else for a second."

Aedan froze. “Oh, God, Hannah, I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean – Shit, I’m sorry.”

She smiled weakly, taking another bite. "It's okay," she said. "Sometimes I need that. So, food, shower, sleep, then you tell me why you care if I run too much?"

"Deal, now git," he said in his southern drawl.

She smiled weakly and polished off her sandwich on the way to the shower.

When she came out, she approached Aedan. "Now, tell me why you care about me so much."

"Look, I don't know what you thought of last night. But I enjoyed myself, and I'd like for it to happen again. Now, sleep."

"It's lunchtime, Aedan."

"I don't care. Come on, I'll stay with you if it helps."

"That sounds great," she said as she fell fast asleep. "And Aedan, I'd like for it to happen again too."

By the time he'd wiped the dumb grin off his face, she was curled up into his side, fast asleep.


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