The First of Many

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Chapter 70

Two weeks passed with Hannah still in the hospital bed. She got brief visits from her teammates, save for Aedan who never showed his face. She was never allowed to see more than one person at a time, for no longer than half an hour each, but she made do with what she could. Her only respite from boredom was her CO's constant returns with questions that she answered again and again. She didn't know if they would believe her, but decided she didn't care.

So long as her team was safe, she would survive.

The first time it happened, she was sleeping: a sudden memory assailed her, bits and pieces cutting through the slowly thinning mist at the back of her head.

Sao Paolo.

Vatican City.

Romania.

Caracas.

Bangkok.

Mumbai.

Broken Hill.

Zenith.

Names and places flashed in her mind as orders and fears and pain cut through her sleep constantly, and she had no way to fight it.

But the worst was the memories of the experiments, the procedures and training. She would wake screaming and retching, scratching at her skin to try to remove the ghosts of Nine’s hands on her skin.

It never worked.

It was after three weeks of endless nightmares that Hannah’s door creaked open with the sound of a shy, sheepish “Hey.”

Aedan stood silently in the doorway, a look of abject guilt on his face. The fear was still there, and Hannah's heart shattered at the sight of it.

“You scared the shit out of me,” he said, trying and failing to sound casual. “I thought you were going to die.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, instantly reminded of the last time she'd said those words; she'd been apologizing to Nine for leaving, for betraying him. She'd wanted to please him, as she always had. She looked down at her hands, suddenly ashamed again. “I'm so sorry.”

“Hannah,” Aedan murmured as he sat down in the chair beside her.

“I'm sorry,” she repeated. She had a brief flashback to Petrov punching Aedan, the sound of Aedan's nose breaking echoing through the room. "I nearly killed you. I don't know how I can… how I can ever make it up to you. There are no excuses."

“Hannah,” Aedan said again. “You saved me.”

She quickly shook her head. “No. You saved me.”

“You took a goddamn bullet for me.”

“I didn't know that asshole was going to shoot me. I just...” Hannah's voice trailed off, and she looked back down at the covers. “I'm sorry.”

“Stop saying that. There's nothing to apologize for.”

“There is,” she insisted. “I should never have let it go that far. I should have been stronger, I should have fought him. I'm older now, I know better. My programming was never finished, but I still wanted to obey him.”

"Hannah, it's okay. I'm the one who needs forgiveness for not being by your side when you need me. I'm sorry."

“How can you say that?” she asked, starting to get angry. “Aedan, I was going to kill you!”

“You didn't know what you were doing,” he argued.

“That's a lie,” she answered sharply. “I knew exactly what I was doing, and you know that. You don't understand, Aedan. I wanted you dead. I wanted to make you suffer and die, because Nine wanted it, and that's what I'm programmed to do.”

"I know, but I forgive you. We've all done things we regret. Let's just move past it. I got this for you," he said as he pulled a rectangular box from his pocket.

Hannah took it warily, opening the box cautiously.

“I saw it in Moscow,” he explained awkwardly. “Took some time off to get it, but then the op happened. Figured you should have it.”

Inside the box lay a necklace, a pendant on a nearly impossibly fine gold thread: it was a shard of onyx, finely polished into the smooth outline of a knife, a thread of gold wrapped around it. The pendant was tiny, barely longer than her fingernail, just enough to fit into the hollow of her throat.

“It's beautiful,” she whispered, guilt clenching at her stomach again.

"Just like you. I love you, Angel. I'm here if you'll still have me."

“Of course,” she said, the words stumbling out of her before she could call them back, before she could tell him that he was stupid to want her, that she'd proven already how unworthy she was of all he gave her. “Of course, Aedan. I'll always want you. Always.” Always was a word she hadn't used before, she realized. Always was permanent, a promise of a forever that she wanted and couldn't have. She instantly hated herself.

Aedan leaned down and kissed her. It was gentle and heartbreakingly slow, two things Hannah hated when kissing. But not this time. She wasn't all that surprised, since Aedan was constantly doing things that she hated except for when he did them, but on some level, she was. His mouth was soft and warm, his lips slightly parted. She wanted to place her hands on the back of his head and tighten her fingers around the soft, short tufts of his hair, but she kept her hands down by her sides. When Aedan pulled back, he stared at her, and she stared at him. Quickly, she swallowed.

“I love you so much,” he whispered, one hand gently tracing her cheek. “Do you believe me?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I do. But Aedan, how can you still trust me?" she asked.

"Because I know you. I've seen you, felt you. I know you're not a traitor. I know you, not the machine they tried to make you.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I know, Aedan.”

Aedan's phone pinged, and he pulled it out, sighing as he saw the message.

“Visiting time is over,” he muttered. “I have to go. I'll be back tomorrow, I promise,” he said.

Hannah smiled as he kissed her briefly and made his way out of the windowless room.

She slept without nightmares that night.


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