The First of Many

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Chapter 73

When Aedan made his way down to the base’s chapel on a foggy Wednesday, he stopped in the doorway and stared in shock at the sight of Hannah sitting in a pew, head bowed in what seemed like prayer.

He sat next to her in silence, and she turned her head to look at him.

“I thought you weren’t religious,” Aedan said softly.

“I’m not,” she answered. “But… I don’t know.” She sighed heavily. “It’s stupid, never mind. I should go.”

She stood to leave, but Aedan caught her by the arm and pulled her back. “No,” he said. “Stay. What’s going on? Is everything all right?”

She sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder. “I don’t know much about religion,” she said. “But, if there is a loving God like the one you believe in…” she sighed. "You think he can forgive me for everything I've done?" she asked. "All the death, betrayal, everything?"

Aedan sighed, wrapping his arms around her. “That’s what I’ve been taught,” he said. “God forgives those who repent.”

“I don’t think he can,” she said. “Not all of this.”

Aedan rocked her gently, pulling her into his chest. “Then maybe you should go to confession,” he said. “It helps.”

"I can't tell anyone the things I've done. I won't endanger someone like that."

"Then tell me," Aedan said.

"What?" she asked.

"Tell me everything."

She shook her head. “You don’t want to know,” she said.

"Yes I do. I want to know everything that you haven't told me. It won't change anything between us, but it'll be good for you to tell someone."

“Aedan…” She sighed. “The things I’ve done… it’s not like black ops. It’s murder, plain and simple.”

“I know,” he promised. “And I won’t judge you for it. But you need to get it off your chest. Let me share it.”

Hannah sighed. “I was seventeen,” she said. “It’s the last job I ever did. I was sent to get close to Arnim Stahlbaum, a single father who had lost his wife to cancer. I was everything he needed. I made him fall in love with me. It was just a few months after I had Aquilah.”

“You were seventeen,” Aedan said, suddenly confused. “What was he, thirty?”

“He thought I was twenty four. I’m twenty three now and I look about the same. It’s not hard to believe. He had a daughter. Her name was Marie, and she was beautiful.” She lowered her head, pressing her cheek against his chest so that she could hear his heartbeat. “She had the prettiest auburn hair you’ve ever seen, and it would turn red in the sun. And brown eyes like a horse. I became a mother to her, because those were the mission parameters. Arnim needed a mother for his daughter. So that’s what I became.”

“What happened?”

“I loved Marie,” she said softly, a tremor running through her. “She taught me lullabies and children’s stories, the things I wasn’t allowed when I was a child. She called me Mamma and said that she loved me best. And I told her I loved her too, and I wasn’t lying.” She sighed. “I got what I needed six months later, the names of several of his associates. He was going to ask me to marry him. Marie was so excited.” She broke off, trembling like a leaf.

“Shh,” Aedan said softly, pulling her into his lap and pressing a gentle kiss to the top of her head. “You made them happy. That’s what matters.”

“Mission parameters said that I couldn’t get attached,” she said hollowly. “I made a mistake. I loved Marie. And I killed her anyway.” She let out a strangled sob. “I killed Arnim first, in our bed. I put a pill in the drink I gave him before bed, and he died in a few minutes. But then I had to take care of Marie.” She began to cry in earnest, heaving bitter sobs into Aedan’s chest.

“She was so confused,” she whimpered. “She kept saying ‘Mamma, Mamma, what’s happening? What are you doing, where’s Papa?’” She swallowed back another sob, taking a deep breath.

“It was quick,” she said softly. “I was kind. I snapped her neck while I was singing her a lullaby. She didn’t feel a thing. It was all I could do. I killed a child, Aedan. Can your God forgive that? I murdered an innocent man – and trust me, he was innocent – and his seven year old daughter. Can I redeem that?”

Aedan sighed, trying to push away the cold fear in his chest, pulling Hannah closer and rocking her gently. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m not a priest, Hannah. I don’t have the answer to that.”

She sighed. “I know,” she murmured. “But then… I was thinking about the girl.”

“Which- oh,” Aedan realized suddenly who she meant. “Who… do you want to talk about it?”

Hannah took a deep breath, shaking her head. “It wasn’t… I never knew she was alive.”

“She’s your daughter, then?”

Hannah nodded once. “It was an experiment,” she said. “Kidnapping children takes a lot of time and resources, it would have been so much simpler to take them younger. Nine wanted to know if maybe some of my enhancements might be passed on to my offspring.”

“So he made you have a kid?”

She nodded.

“Who’s… I mean, this is a personal question. But, the father?”

Hannah shrugged. “I don’t remember,” she said. “It’s still hazy. It was probably Petrov – Aleski was too close to me, and Nine wouldn’t have wanted to be so attached to a subject. It would have made sense to choose him. And she had his hair.”

“What happened?”

“I was too young,” she answered. “I’ve always been small, wasn’t any better on that cocktail of drugs and the torture. I went into labor three months early, and it was ugly. Eventually, they drugged me down to be able to cut her out. When I woke up, they told me she was stillborn.”

Aedan closed his eyes. “Why would they do that?” he asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

Hannah shrugged. “I was weak,” she said simply. “I wasn’t supposed to have an emotional attachment to the child.”

“She was your kid. How could you not?”

“She wasn’t a child to me,” she answered. “It wasn’t a pregnancy, it was an experiment like any other. I was just a test tube that happened to be alive, that’s all. If I’d kept thinking that, I would have raised her. But I guess I couldn’t. I got attached. I remember speaking to her, sometimes, when I thought they weren’t watching. I remember I liked feeling her kick. That must have been when they decided to keep us apart.”

"Hey, you know if you want a child..." Aedan began.

Hannah shook her head. “I couldn’t,” she said. “Not again. It nearly killed me the first time, and God knows what they’ve done to me since then. I’d die for sure.”

Aedan sighed heavily, pulling Hannah closer and hooking his chin over her head. “Why are you here?” he asked quietly.

“You’re always so happy when you come back from mass,” she said. “I don’t really get it. But I thought… maybe it would be the same for me. If I prayed. But I don’t know how to pray, it all comes out wrong. I guess I’m just not made for it.”

Aedan squeezed Hannah’s shoulder. “Do you want to say a prayer for her with me?” he asked.

Hannah looked up and nodded. “I’d like that,” she said.

“She wasn’t baptized, of course?”

Hannah snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“We don’t know if unbaptized children go to heaven,” he said with a shrug. “All we can do is pray for His mercy on her soul.”

“You think she’s still there?”

“I think she’s looking down at us and she wishes she’d known her mother better.”

He took her hands, bowing his head as she followed his example.

“To you, O lord,” Aedan said softly, “We humbly entrust the soul of the child Aquilah, so precious in Your sight. Take her into Your arms and welcome her into paradise, where there will be no sorrow, no weeping of pain, but the fullness of peace and joy, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.”

They sat in silence for a while, and it took Aedan a moment to realize that she was crying.

“Hey,” he said softly, wiping the tears from her cheekbones. “Don’t cry, kitten. I got you.”

She curled close into his chest, crying silently, and Aedan held her close, crooning softly into her ear.

When the tears wouldn’t fall anymore, she sat up, looking red-eyed at Aedan. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“There’s nothing to thank,” he promised. “Not for this.”

She sighed, curling back into him. “I love you,” she said softly.

Aedan froze for a second, wondering if he’d heard right, but he just pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Hannah’s head. “I love you too, Darlin,” he promised.

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