The First of Many

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Chapter 57

A few days after the rest of the team was considered fit to start moving around again, Hannah found herself being marched at gunpoint towards Overlord’s office, by the guard who had been at her door for the past four hours. Overlord was there, at his desk, and the rest of the team was sitting or standing around the office, clearly waiting for her arrival.

“We’re all here to try to figure out what caused your desertion, and how to deal with it. Now, normally, you would just be discharged – I don’t fuck around with these sorts of things. However, without your help, I would have lost my best team.”

Hannah sighed heavily, leaning back. “What do you want to know?” she asked.

"Why did you leave?"

“My sister alerted me that certain people were after me,” she said. “I thought that if I left, they’d leave the team alone. I miscalculated.”

"So you did it to protect your team?"

“I did it because I was likely to die anyway, and there was no sense dragging other people into it. It had nothing to do with the team. I would have done it for anyone.”

"Well, regardless, you left without telling anyone."

“The plan was to throw them off my trail and come back in time for deployment. I was held back.”

"Well, your team was captured because they were down an operator."

“My team was captured because someone knew they were coming. If I were you, I’d spend more time worrying about where the intel leak is.”

"We don’t have any intel leaks."

“Then explain how they knew we were coming, Sherlock.”

“Solomon, show some respect.”

“I said give me a damn answer, sir,” she hissed.

"I've launched a full investigation into the incident."

“Sure,” she said skeptically. “I presume that we’re being pulled out of active operation until such time as it’s resolved?”

“Of course not. That would be a waste of assets.”

“So you’re going to keep letting operations fail? How long? Until one of us dies?”

"You knew what you signed up for when you joined."

“This is bullshit.”

“Let’s get back to the topic of your desertion.”

“Look, what do you want me to tell you?” Hannah asked.

“Why did you need to run in the first place?”

Hannah sighed. “You are aware of where I grew up?” she asked.

“Say it, for the record.”

“A prison camp in Russia, where I was used as a mercenary and medical experiment. When I was seventeen, the drugs wore off. I ran away, but before doing so, I stole a data chip containing my file, to make sure they couldn’t do that to anybody else. The information in that file is extremely valuable. They want it back.”

“Where is it, then?”

“Like I’d tell you,” she sneered.

"Who exactly is your sister?" he asked, changing the subject quickly. “How would she know who is or isn’t trying to kill you?”

“The daughter of the man who took me in from the foster system, then promptly shipped me off to Russia. Roach taught me a lot. She helped me run away, and spent the last five years keeping them from finding me. The head of my program defected, so she can’t stop him from finding out. So she warned me, and I ran.”

"What exactly is this program you ran away from?"

“A Leninist-allied program that specializes in kidnapping children, brainwashing them, drugging them, and turning them into mercenaries by the time they hit nine years old.”

"How do I know that you're not a spy for them?"

“You don’t,” she said simply. “But I did just murder my own brother, so there’s always that.”

"Why did you murder your brother, and why would that help?"

“Aleski. The man who was holding my team captive. We grew up together. I was the one who did the surveillance, to make sure he was fit for the program. We fought and starved together. I shot him to get this team back home. Don’t you tell me that I can still go back to the Leninists. I killed one of their best assets. That makes me Kill-on-sight.”

"Well, seeing as though you have provided evidence to suggest that this absence wasn't entirely voluntary, I'm going to suspend your pay for six weeks."

Hannah nodded once. "Yes, sir," she said evenly, gritting her teeth in anger.

As for now, you are dismissed. All of you are on a three week leave, to complete your recovery.”

“Yessir,” they chorused as they left. Without speaking, they made their way to the rec room, grim-faced. The men were still too thin, but they were a commanding presence as they stood there, contemplating what had happened in the past weeks.

“Overlord won’t pull us off ops,” Wraith said confusedly. “Why? That doesn’t make sense.”

"A lot of what he does doesn't make sense," Aedan said.

“It’s like he’s purposely putting this team at risk.”

“If you ask me, he’s our leak. He has access to all our intel even before we do. It does make sense,” Hannah said.

"I'm with Hannah on this one. It's the only reason he’d still send us out," Aedan said.

“But what are we supposed to do about it?” Shadow asked.

"We wait until it's not our word against his. We wait until we have hard evidence to implicate him."

“And how are we supposed to get hard evidence?”

“We wait. He’s bound to slip eventually.”

Hannah sighed heavily. “So we wait, and hope we don’t get killed,” she said.

"Yeah. It's the only way we can do this."

Hannah sighed, looking out at her team. “I’m sorry,” she said again, throat tight. “I’m so sorry for what happened to all of you. I… I should have known they’d go for you, I should have gotten you out of there. I really thought I was keeping you safe.” She looked down, fighting the urge to present herself to their mercies – like a good asset should, her mind supplied – she clamped down on the instinct, but didn’t quite manage to wipe the downcast, frightened look off her face. “There are no excuses. I failed, and that is unacceptable.”

“It’s okay,” Wraith said, unexpectedly. “I had my doubts about you, Rosie, but you’ve proven me wrong. I trust you.”

"Thank you. I didn't know that they would still target you."

Aedan sighed heavily. “Hey, Rose, can I have a moment?”

Hannah nodded once, following Aedan out of the room, waving a quick goodbye to her teammates.

He led her out of the base and into the cool evening air, and didn’t stop until he’d found a good place to lean against the hood of a truck. Hannah sat next to him, comfortably silent.

“Are you okay?” Aedan asked eventually.

“Yeah,” she said automatically, then stopped. “Well, no, not really. I’m in pretty shitty shape, actually. But you’re in shittier shape, so that’s okay.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then explain.”

“You killed Aleski. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but I know that look. You regretted it. How are you holding up?”

"He was my brother. I just wish I didn't have to kill him."

Aedan nodded. “Hey, I probably don’t want to know, but… when he kept telling me that you called him lover. Was he telling the truth?” He backtracked quickly when Hannah stiffened. “I mean, it’s a personal question, you don’t have to answer-”

Hannah shook her head. “It’s okay,” she said. “Yeah, I did. I… We just wanted to be normal, just for a moment. This was our only shot. So yeah, we had sex a couple of times. Nine – our department head – he found out, punished us. It didn’t happen again.”

“Did you love him?”

“No,” Hannah answered. “It was convenient to fool ourselves into thinking we could have some kind of happiness. We were wrong, we were punished.”

"What about what we have? What is that to you?"

“Well, it’s very inconvenient, for starters,” she said. “It’s… different. I don’t know how to describe it. But I like it. And I hope it lasts.”

“It will,” he promised. “Since we’re on leave, what would you say to going out to Moscow for a few days? Just the two of us, to relax a bit.”

"I'd like that," she said as she leaned up. Taking his cue from her, Aedan leaned down and kissed her, lips sliding gently against hers. He reached up, to twine his fingers in her hair as he usually did, but a sharp stab of pain in his wrist had him stifling a grunt of pain. Hannah stopped, eyes searching his face for a moment before reaching down to take his hand, running feather-light touches over the white bandages.

"That feels real nice," he said as he kissed her forehead. "I don't know what I'd do without my beautiful girl."

She smiled, pressing a kiss to the palm of his hand. “Probably die,” she teased. “Lucky for you, I’m a weak little thing who can’t stop herself from saving your sorry ass.”

“Oh come on, there’s gotta be a reason you like me.”

“Well, I have to save your ass,” she answered. “I like your ass, I’d rather it remained attached to the rest of you.”

"I love you," he said as he pulled her into a gentle hug.

She chuckled, burrowing her head into the crook of his neck. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured.

“Stop blaming yourself, Kitten,” he answered. “You couldn’t have known. Nobody blames you for this.”

Hannah nodded once, breathing heavily.

"I'm really glad you came back. I knew you would," Aedan said as he sat back against the hood of the truck, wrapping his arms around her.

“I should have been faster,” she said softly. “This should never have happened. Nobody but me was supposed to get hurt, especially not you guys.”

"Hey, it's okay. Just forget about it. The important thing is that no one was hurt. Let's just enjoy our time together."

“But how can you say nobody got hurt? Aedan, I know what Aleski is capable of. Hell, I’m the one that brought him into the program in the first place. There is literally no reason for you to be alive now. Any normal guy would have been dead by the first wrist. He hit a vein, Aedan. You shouldn’t be able to survive that. And let’s not even mention the drugs or the starvation. Three weeks? The average person can’t manage two and a half.”

"I don't know how I was able to survive what I did, but I don't care why. I'm just glad to be here with you."

“How are you okay with this?” she asked, suddenly looking angry. “Aedan, you should be dead! How are you okay with the fact that I fucking signed your death warrant when I left that shithole?”

"Hannah, why are you getting so upset? I'm just happy to be alive. Just don't get so upset."

She let out a roar of anger, her fist landing uselessly on his chest as she hit him in desperation. “BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE DEAD!” she screamed. “YOU WOULD HAVE DIED, WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKING TOLD THEM ANYTHING, BECAUSE YOU THINK I’M MORE IMPORTANT, BECAUSE YOU’RE A FUCKING MORON, AEDAN!”

"Hannah, I care about you more because I love you."

“You can’t,” she said. “You need to promise this won’t happen again. If someone asks you something like that, you tell them everything. You tell them everything, and if I can’t handle them, that’s my problem, not yours.”

"I'm not going to sell you out. I'm going to protect you because you're the only thing I care about. Like it or not, I love you."

“Then stop,” she growled. “I will not let you die for me.”

"Why? Why are you telling me how to die?"

“You can die however the fuck you want,” she answered. “But not for me.”

"Why?"

“You have a family to go home to,” she answered. “I can’t let you just throw that away because you’re compromised.”

"Looks like I'm not the only one who's compromised," he said.

“Don’t talk about things you don’t know about,” she snapped.

"Don't try to control people. I can die for whoever I want. Hannah, like it or not, I would die for you. So get the hell over it."

She froze for a moment, then shook her head. “Then I can’t do this,” she said softly, voice breaking.

"Wait. Are you breaking up with me?" He asked.

“I can’t be responsible for your death,” she said simply. “I don’t want to go, I don’t,” she clutched at his shirt, face buried in the crook of his neck, “but I can’t let you die for me. It would kill me, Aedan, I know it.”

“Your life isn’t any less important than mine, Hannah.”

“Yeah, it is,” she answered. “Because you have a family. I have a few memories of torture and starvation, where you have a life. That’s so much more important.”

"You also have a family. Our team is our family. And you have me to come home to."

“Aedan, I’m not a family person. I’m not like the rest of you, can’t you see that? I don’t do things like love and care. I’m not a person, I’m a machine, and no amount of wishing is going to take the strings off this puppet. This isn’t a fairy tale.”

"Hannah, you are a beautiful person. The people who you ran from want you to believe that you're not human. You can prove them wrong."

She shook her head. “I’m not arguing with you anymore,” she said with a deep breath. “Just, please promise that if it comes down to a choice between your life and mine, you’ll make the smart choice. I’ve already lived as much of a life as I have a right to. You’ve only started yours.”

“I’ll make the right choice,” he murmured into her hair, “Whether you like it or not.”

She sighed heavily, leaning into his chest.

It was late night when Hannah was returned to her cell that night.
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