The First of Many

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Chapter 72

Over the past few days, the team began to act as if the incident in Kiev hadn't happened. Hannah's scars, both mental and physical, began to heal as well, and she was enjoying it. But Aedan was different. He wasn't sleeping well, he continually saw images of the girl shooting herself, he saw the blood spatter, the bullet entering her head, the smile on her face as she did it.

She had wanted it – expected the bullet, been happy to take her own life for someone who had destroyed her so completely that she didn’t even have a life left to live. He tried his best to keep Hannah from worrying: she'd been through enough, she deserved all the time she could get to recover.

One day, the team gathered around a table for some poker in an attempt to forget the past op.

As per usual, Blade was winning, although he never did quite manage to see through Hannah’s poker face.

“Raise,” Blade said with a faint smirk.

Wraith groaned. “Oh, not again,” he muttered. “You’re cheating, I’m sure of it. I fold, you wiped me out.”

"Blade, how the hell do you always win?" Aedan asked.

"I have a good poker face. You, on the other hand, do not."

“Bullshit,” Aedan answered. “I have a perfectly good poker face. What, are you counting cards?”

“MIT does wonders for your gaming skills,” he said with a grin.

“This is poker, not Dungeons and Dragons, nerd,” Hannah answered with a roll of her eyes.

“I didn’t play D&D in MIT,” Blade said touchily.

“Not for lack of trying. I’ve seen the pictures, Blade. Don’t you lie to me.”

“What pictures?” Blackburn asked with a grin.

"He has pictures of himself at an anime convention, dressed as an elf.”

Wraith let out a low whistle. “Wow,” he said. “Nerdiness is an art, man. I’m impressed.”

"Don't start. We all know you hoard trading cards in your footlocker."

“Hey! Those are vintage!”

“Just because you have some pokemon card from the nineteen hundreds, doesn’t mean you’re any better than me.”

“Yeah, but do you have any idea how much that card’s worth now?”

"Yeah. Like two bucks. This is 2025, dude."

"You don't know that. There are some people who like cards."

"Name on person who didn't think you collection is nerdy," Aedan said.

“Someone offered to buy that card for four hundred bucks,” he answered. “I never said it wasn’t nerdy. Doesn’t make it less awesome.”

Aedan frowned, suddenly unable to join the conversation. His chest felt tight, as though he were breathing through smoke. His head pounded with just how loud his team could be, and he grimaced, rubbing his temples. He stood, wincing as his chair scraped back loudly. “Hey, guys, I must have eaten something weird. I’m not feeling so hot. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

Nobody answered, too drawn into the debate, and he turned and left, legs feeling suddenly weak. He kept a heavy hand on the wall as he walked, unable to shake the pounding in his head or the sudden lack of air.

I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe? Aedan clenched his fists, focusing on trying to take deep breaths as he stopped and leaned against the wall, but the more he breathed, the tighter his chest got, the more the walls seemed to close in and suffocate him.

He wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but when he resumed coherent though, it was to an overwhelming feeling of panic and the sudden realization that he was on his knees and he didn’t remember falling. He couldn’t breathe, or move, or call for help.

“Aedan?” asked a voice, faint and distant. “Holy – Aedan, what happened?”

Hannah was by his side all of a sudden, but her presence only made Aedan flinch away because too close, too loud, why can’t I breathe, but she put her hands on his shoulders anyway.

“Hey, what’s going on?” she asked, gentler.

Can’t breathe, he mouthed at her, eyes wide with confusion. Can’t – can’t

“You can,” she answered firmly. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you’re getting air, I promise. Now come on, sit up for me. In through your nose, out through your mouth.”

A few minutes later, Aedan was calm enough to stand, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry,” he muttered sheepishly.

“Don’t be,” she answered. “It was just a panic attack. I have them, sometimes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

"This is completely backwards. Normally I'm the one doing the comforting,” he said as he leaned against her.

She smiled gently, kissing him on the cheek. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s find somewhere quiet, where we can talk about this.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“What caused this, and how to deal with it if it happens again.”

Aedan nodded and she led him to her room, making sure no one was following them. She closed the door and sat on the floor with him as he began to talk.

"Ever since Kiev, I've been having these nightmares. A lot of them, about Aquillah eating that bullet.”

“And you didn’t tell me.”

“You have enough going on in your own head right now without worrying about mine.”

Hannah sighed. “You should let us worry about you,” she said. “All of us. We do it because we care.”

“There’s just been a lot going on.”

She nodded. “I know,” she promised. “I’m glad I didn’t see her die.”

Aedan nodded. “No mother should ever have to see her own child die,” he said. “If she’d lived… we would have taken her back, yeah? Figured something out?”

Hannah shrugged. “Some things can’t be repaired,” she said. “But I would have tried. I wish I had that choice. But even if she’d lived, we wouldn’t have managed anything. The drugs were too far in by that point.”

"How were you able to fight the drug and shoot Nine?" he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I wasn’t even trying, I think. I couldn’t try. I was going to shoot, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t you at the end of the barrel. I can’t explain it.”

"I have one more question. Knowing that you would end up here, with me, would you have lived your life the same way you have? In other words, would you change anything, knowing that this is where you'd be at the end?"

She shrugged. “There’s a saying Red used to tell me,” she said. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. This hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, but at least I know I live through it. If I hadn’t… who knows, maybe I would have died in a car crash at ten. There’s no sense wanting things that you can’t have.”

"I'll take it, Thank you, for being here. It means a lot knowing that no matter what happens, I'll always have you with me. I'm happy to have you."

She smiled. “I have your six,” she promised. “You know that.”

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