The First of Many

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Chapter 58

The Delta team found themselves in Kazakhstan, en-route to an insurgent stronghold in the middle of nowhere. As Hannah viewed the landscape through the green hue of her NODs, she shivered in the cold. They walked along the dark mountain, trying to reach their observation point.

“Viper Zero-One to Overlord,” Hannah said. “I pass checkpoint Reaper.”

“Roger Zero-One. Copy Reaper. Proceed to target along route seven-Lima-Six-Four.”

“Roger Overlord. Out,” Hannah said as she signed off. Hannah sighed as she glanced at Hunter. The man was clearly shaking as he walked. Not enough to alert any enemies. The team eventually reached their OP, setting up a defensive perimeter.

“Shadow and Blade, you guys get eyes on the target. Hunter, watch our six,” Hannah ordered. `The team moved to their positions as Hannah reported to Overlord.

“Overlord, this is Viper Zero-One, I pass checkpoint Grim.”

“Roger. Go radio silent for the night. The rest of you team shall act as a QRF if things go south,” Overlord said.

“Roger. Viper out,” Hannah said as she signed off. “Settle in, boys. Blade, take first watch.”

“Check,” Blade said as he set up his machine gun to cover his sleeping team.

The night was cold as Hannah and her team lay down to rest, unable to risk a fire for fear of discovery. Hannah forced herself to breathe slowly in and out, staring at the mist of her breath shining in the moonlight.

She shivered in the cold, curling her body into a tight, protective ball, the empty space at her back like a gaping void. She found herself wishing for a warm body at her back, broad arms wrapping around her and keeping her warm.

You mean Aedan's arms, specifically, her brain said snidely.

What? He's warm!

You miss him.

He's warm. Of course I do.

Well, he's not here, so get yourself together. Thinking won't keep you warm.

Hunter will.

Hunter's sleeping.

Hunter hasn't slept in three days, he's not about to start now.

Hannah uncurled herself and scooted over to where Hunter lay on his back, staring at the sky.

“I'm cold,” she said as only explanation. No other was needed as he opened his arms for her, pulling her into him and burying his face in the crook of her neck.

Hunter had changed drastically in the short month she'd spent away from him. Gone were his jokes and smiles, replaced by a sort of grim, mourning determination. His blue eyes were cold and hollow now, churning with indecision. Hannah lifted a hand to smooth away the creases in his brow.

“I wish you'd tell me what it was, Hunt,” she whispered. “We can't keep this from Overlord for long. We can help you. Finances? Family? Let us help, we know it's hard. There has to be something.”

“It's complicated,” he muttered.

"Hunter, what's going on? You've been distant for a long time, and we're all worried. Trust me, please. On our friendship."

“I can't explain,” he said again. “It's too dangerous.”

“It isn't,” she answered. “Hunter, it's never too dangerous. You're my brother. There is nothing so dangerous that I wouldn't do everything in my power to help you.”

“It's not that simple, Rosie,” he said.

“It can be, if you'll let it.” she sighed, wrapping her arms around him. She placed a hand gently at the back of his neck, cradling him in her arms as he shivered, drawing shuddering breaths in the crook of her neck. “Hunt, if it's put you in this kind of a state, there's a lot more to consider.”

“I just want it to be over,” he whispered against her skin.

“Just be careful,” she pleaded. “Promise me that as soon as we get back, we'll take this straight to Overlord.”

“No!” he whispered, flinching. “No, you can't do that. Please, Rosie, you don't know what I've done...”

Fear and doubt gnawed at Hannah's stomach, and she felt as though a stone had dropped down her throat, hit her heart, and shoved it down into her stomach. “No...” she whispered. “Hunter, please, tell me you didn't, tell me it isn't you...”

“I didn't want to,” he whispered. Hannah felt tears hot against her neck. “I didn't want to hurt anyone, I just want it to be over, I want this fighting to be gone...”

“It's okay,” she whispered, feeling her heart shatter. “Look, we'll take it to Overlord, explain everything. We'll find a way to get you out of this, I promise. Do they know we're coming?”

He nodded. “This is it,” he whispered. “After this, I get to leave. They promised I'd done enough...”

“You can come back with us,” she begged. “I won't let them hurt you, I promise.”

"You don't know that," Hunter answered.

“I will die before I see you hurt,” she said fiercely. “I protect my own.”

“You won't be able to protect me,” he said. “They'll kill me.”

“No,” she whispered. “We'll find a way, Hunter. I promise you, we'll find a way.”

Hunter shivered, his tears slowing as he clutched at her. She sighed, pulling him close and cradling him in her arms like a child. She crooned nonsense in his ear – Italian, Russian, French – Slowly, he fell asleep.

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