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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 24[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Out on the Town[]

October 3029

Hap and Anastasia met Joker and Mags outside the barracks. Anastasia, Hap, and Joker were still wearing their coveralls. Mags was wearing tight fitting maroon pants and a tan cropped shirt. The pants had strategic rips that exposed some of her tattoos. Mag's also wore a leather jacket, and ankle boots.

"You all are just going to wear your coveralls into town?" Mags asked as they started walking.

"It's all we have." Hap explained, "So first order of business is to get some new clothes, at least for me and Anastasia. What were you hoping to do?"

"I want to check out the tattoo parlors, see who does the best work." Mags said.

"I thought you were still working on your coyote design." Anastasia said.

"I am. I just want to find a good artist, so when I'm ready I know where to go. I also want a good restaurant that has fresh salsa. I don't need clothes though, maybe I'll go on my own."

"Hap, I think I'm going to help Mags find a new tattoo guy and some food, but if I give you money can you grab me a pair of blue jeans and a couple t-shirts?" Joker asked.

Hap started to reach for the money, but Anastasia gently pushed Hap's hand down, "We won't be shopping at a place where you just purchase clothes on the rack."

"Oh." Joker said as he put the money back in his pocket, "Mags, I think I need to stop by a W-mart or some other place that's open twenty-four seven where I can get new clothes."

Mags shrugged, "We'll find something, I guess."

"You know you don't need designer or name brand everything." Hap said to Anastasia, "Maybe we can pick up a few essentials with Joker and Mags."

Anastasia gave a noncommittal sound as they walked past the ops building and headed toward the access control point that separated the high security portion of the star port from the civilian side. They showed their security badges to the contracted security guard. Hap was about to ask them if they could borrow their phone to call a taxi just as one pulled up.

Fletch, Tatyana, and their young daughter, Sophia, emerged from the taxi. Fletch and Hap exchanged greetings, and Anastasia and Mags waved to Sophia who adorably waved back. The Coyotes loaded up into taxi and asked the driver to take them to the shopping district.

A few minutes later the taxi stopped in a busy metropolitan area. The sun had fully set but bright street lights were coming on, and business signs helped illuminate the area. Crowds of people hurried along on their own errands and activities. Hap paid the taxi and Joker agreed to pay for the next one.

As they got their bearings Anastasia saw a promising department store and grabbed Hap's hand. Before he knew what was happening they were in the men's department and Anastasia was pointing out what she thought would look good on him. A young salesman approached and Anastasia explained what Hap needed and the styles and colors she preferred as she pushed Hap toward the changing area.

A few hours later Anastasia came to collect Hap. She was wearing a wine colored silk blouse, with a thin black skirt. She carried a brown suede jacket trimmed with silver fox fur draped over her arm. She found Hap dressed in khaki's with a blue button up shirt and trying on brown leather shoes. She looked him over and smoothed out his collar, and rested her hands on his shoulders. "Harold, I like this look."

Hap put on his shoe and looked up at her. He had never seen Anastasia like this. Her hair was down and had been styled in large curls, with have of it over one shoulder. Her fitted blouse suggestively hugged her curves and the skirt had a graceful sweep as she walked. It gave her an attractive feminine aura that her coveralls had concealed. It was hard to imagine Anastasia piloting a 30 ton war machine.

Hap stood up. "You look gorgeous. I mean you were gorgeous before, but now, you're even more…" Hap stopped himself, he wasn't sure why she still had this effect on him. "You look amazing."

She smiled and whatever mind bending power she had was amplified, "Thank you, Harold. Ready to go?"

Hap decided just to nod as he walked over to the counter. He got his wits about him again, "I think I got everything I need, but I'm not sure how we're going to get it back to the barracks."

Anastasia waived dismissively, "That's simple enough, they'll deliver." She approached the counter, and smiled at Hap's salesman. He immediately stood up straighter and looked attentive at both of them.

"Yes Madame, what else can I do for you?" The young salesman asked.

"I believe we've gotten everything I need." Hap laid the shoe box on the counter.

"Did you get a coat?" Anastasia asked

"Perhaps you would like a leather jacket, sir. We have several styles ideal for a MechWarrior-"

"He'll take a woolen pea coat. Let's try one of those." Anastasia pointed to a display of jackets.

"The lady has good taste." The salesmen walked over to the display and looked for the right size.

Hap gave Anastasia an irritated look, "You know I wanted a new leather jacket."

"Yes, but there is an AFFS Military Clothing Sales store over near the LCG's compound. We'll get you a standard issue leather jacket and you can have all your patches and badges sewn and pinned on it and you'll be much happier with that than an expensive name brand jacket that isn't exactly standard issue."

Hap nodded, she was correct. He did want a jacket like his old one. He tried on the charcoal colored woolen jacket, it felt heavy and bulky but once he got it on it seemed lighter. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked like a different man, he could also see Anastasia's reflection in the mirror. For most of this shopping trip Hap had felt that Anastasia was pushing him around, but all her choices did look good on him, and the look she was giving him now made his annoyance evaporate.

As Hap and his salesman started to work through Hap's bill, a young woman carrying a large paper bag with the store's logo emblazoned on it approached Anastasia, "Madame Vallois, you forgot your old clothes or were you hoping I'd burn them?"

Anastasia smiled, "No, Portia, sadly. I'll need those tomorrow, but it's generous of you to offer."

Hap glanced over, "Can I get one of those bags? I'll need one for my boots and coveralls."

"I'll attend to it, sir. Are your clothes in the changing room?" Portia walked toward the changing rooms.

"Yes, Thank you." Hap glanced at the total bill. It was more than he had wanted to spend, but he could afford it. He reminded himself he needed new clothes, and these were quality.

"Sir, the additional tailoring and hemming will not be done tonight. Where shall I have your clothes delivered?" The salesman asked as he typed on his terminal.

"Same address as mine. The address should be under Vallois." Anastasia replied.

The salesman nodded. "Mr. Vallois, you and your wife's clothes will arrive tomorrow afternoon."

Hap almost corrected the salesman when Portia returned, "Here Mr. Vallois, it all fit in one bag."

Hap looked over to Anastasia. With a smile and a shrug she suggested he just let play along.

"Thank you both." Hap looked over at Anastasia, "My wife and I appreciate your help." Hap buttoned his coat, took the bag of their old clothes, and escorted Anastasia out the exit. She put her arm through the crook of his. As they walked it began to snow. Hap glanced at her and she was still smiling.

"You didn't tell your sales woman we were married did you?" Hap asked

"Certainly not Harold. I think it's obvious to any casual observer the chemistry and affection we have for each other, though. Also I would have ensured she somehow implied that I was your 'better' wife."

"More like they saw how you completely ran that operation and I was letting you push me around and they thought 'these two have to be married, otherwise why would he let her to do that?'"

"I wasn't domineering, I was helping you with direction. Besides you look good. You should thank me."

Hap glanced at their reflection in a dark store window. She certainly wasn't wrong. "Thanks."

"You're quite welcome." Anastasia said magnanimously. "Now let's find somewhere to eat."

They walked aimlessly for a few minutes, the wind picked up and the gentle snow became blinding. Anastasia spied a warm looking café and pulled Hap to it. As Hap reached for the door they could see "Le Petit Café" painted in gold on the frosted glass. "Do you think it's a French cafe?" Anastasia asked.

Hap closed the door behind them and looked around. It was a small café with an assortment of random chairs and tables a few booths with an eclectic mix of pillows and cushions. On the walls were stylized illustrations of women wearing high fashion, and a few sketches of the Eiffel tower, and Parisian streets. There was a door leading to the kitchen in the rear. Anastasia smiled as she looked around. A young man with a white shirt, black slacks and a stained apron stood near a counter looking at them expectantly.

"Bonjour" Anastasia said, and followed up with a string of something Hap couldn't follow but he was certain had to be French. The waiter looked at them confused and motioned around the café.

"I guess we can sit where we like." Hap said quietly to Anastia. "Would you like a booth?"

Anastasia nodded as she led him to the booth in the corner. Hap helped her remove her jacket as the waiter offered them menus. Without thinking Hap asked, "Can we get two Cappuccinos?"

"Deux Cappuccinos s'il vous plait" Anastasia told the waiter as she adjusted pillows.

The waiter nodded before Anastasia was done speaking and disappeared into the kitchen.

Hap hung up their jackets on a hook near their booth. "Are you sure you speak good French?"

Anastasia's eyes flashed, "My French is flawless."

Hap sat down, "I only ask because the waiter seems a little confused when you speak."

"He's probably surprised at how well I speak it." Anastasia said, "Harold, French is the language of the Vallois household. One of my maternal grandmothers nearly made it the official language of Hazelhurst. At NAIS I tested out of French and received enough credits for both my language and humanity requirements. My officer record brief lists my French proficiency as 'native speaker'."

Hap reached across the table and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. "I apologize. I'm not sure what's going on with our waiter."

As if on cue, the waiter returned from the kitchen holding two saucers each with small mugs, spoons and sugar packets. Hap sat up and moved his hands so the waiter could set the drinks in front of the couple. The waiter retreated to the counter near the kitchen.

"Do you know what you want?" Anastasia looked over her cup as she sipped her cappuccino.

Hap poured sugar into his drink, "I chose the drinks, I'll let you choose the meal."

"Okay, but you can't accuse me of 'pushing you around' when you let me order."

Hap looked sheepish, "That's fair, and maybe I was being a little over sensitive at the store."

Anastasia started to reach for the menu, then smiled, "Actually I know what is perfect on a cold evening like this, and a good French cafe must have it." She waived to the waiter and he hesitantly approached.

"Serveur, deux soupes a l'oignon, et deux croques madame s'il vous plait." Anastasia told the waiter

Hap glanced up to see the waiter's confused look. Hap held up his hand, "Wait, what are we having?"

"Onion soup, and Croque madame, my favorite sandwich. I wanted you to try it."

Hap nodded, "That sounds good, I'd love to try your favorite sandwich, and hot soup sounds perfect."

The waiter nodded and looked relieved as he again disappeared into the kitchen.

Hap watched Anastasia elegantly sip her cappuccino as she observed the blizzard outside. There was a comfortable silence between them, and a sense of intimate familiarity that required nothing from either of them, but just being together. She set down her mug and caught him looking at him. She smiled like she was thinking the same thing. Hap asked, "Are you having a good evening?"

Anastasia looked around, "I really am. I got new clothes, we've found this lovely café. We're together and alone. Tomorrow we'll send a message to mother. I don't know if I could be much happier."

The waiter returned with the soup. It was a viscous brown beef broth with thin slices of onions and topped with a thick layer of bread and broiled cheese. As Anastasia predicted, the soup was comforting and delicious after walking in a blizzard. As they ate they watched a man outside struggle against the wind and wet snow. "I think we might have to call for a cab to get back the star port." Hap said.

"Agreed." Anastasia said as waiter set down plates with a fat toasted sandwich that a poached egg on top. "Merci beaucoup." Anastasia told the waiter as he took the empty soup bowls.

Hap eyed the egg on top of his sandwich suspiciously, "I'm guessing you don't pick this up to eat it."

"No Mon cher, you should use a knife and fork like a civilized person." Anastasia gracefully cut into her egg and bread and let the runny egg yoke spill out over the sandwich.

Hap used his fork to cut off a corner. The sandwich had a gooey center of cheese and warm ham, and the bread had a sauce that had been fried in. It was rich and buttery. After a few bites Hap looked up at her, "This is really good. When I saw a French café I was worried we'd be eating snails."

"Escargo depends on the snails and how the chef prepares them. Sometimes it can taste like buttered dirt, and sometimes it's too much garlic. It's one of those dishes that gets too much attention, and you never know what you'll get. Croque Madaam is a consistent pleasure. Much like French wine."

"You want a glass of wine?"

Anastasia nodded, as Hap replied, "Let me try." He caught the waiters eye and held up two fingers as he said, "Two, pardon, deux Cabernet Sauvignon." The waiter nodded and opened the cabinet beneath the counter revealing wine shelves with dozens of bottles. He selected a bottle and poured two glasses.

Anastasia took her glass and gave it a gentle swirl. She sniffed it and smiled, "Good choice, Harold. I would have gone with a white, since we're eating ham, but I do like a good Cabernet." She lifted her glass, "To more evenings like this."

The glasses clinked as Hap returned her gesture and sipped the wine. The food was good, and he couldn't think of better company. They finished their meal and Anastasia excused herself to the ladies room as Hap approached the waiter. Hap pulled out his money clip, "You don't speak French do you?"

"No man, your wife was killing me. I've gotten in trouble for being a little sarcastic with the guests, so I didn't want to show any disrespect, but I was really struggling. Thanks for figuring it out."

"She's not my-" To Hap's surprise the bill was significantly less than he thought it would be. He gave the waiter a few extra c-bills for a tip. "Thanks for being a good sport. Can you call us a cab?"

The waiter nodded as he looked at his tip. When Anastasia returned Hap helped her put on her coat and explained how money was a universal language and he was able to pay without speaking French.

As they started to leave Hap looked around. He was walking out of a quaint café where he had enjoyed a gourmet meal and wine with the most attractive woman he knew, and he was wearing designer clothes. If it wasn't for Anastasia he would have been at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant or dive bar with Joker and Mags drinking beer and wearing whatever he found at the twenty-four hour super store that specialized in affordable goods. He had been annoyed a few times tonight with Anastasia, but he still considered it a good evening. He saw how this relationship would change him, and he wasn't sure how to feel about it.

Anastasia gave Hap a look similar to the one she had given him at the department store, "Harold, what are you thinking about?" Hap still couldn't tell what that look meant, but he liked it.

He considered telling her the waiter couldn't speak French, or that he was worried he was going to lose himself. The cab pulled up as he led her out. "I was thinking how different things would be without you."

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