Disguise

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Well Groomed Woman

Flora’s POV

“-I hope so. Otherwise we have no leads left.” I heard Grey reply to his mate.

“What are you guys talking about?” I asked them, as the doors opened into the room. There were several people in B2, but they’d set up what looked like a command center. On my entrance, everyone stopped their work and gave me a swift bow Startled, I immediately raised my hand and mumbled a quick, “You don’t have to do that!” Everyone still held their bow and I looked at Dani and Grey for some help.

Daniella gave me a shake of her head and announced to everyone else, “That’s fine get back to your work everyone.” Without another hesitation everyone was back into their seats. The entire hall had multiple computers and screens set up. When did we have the time to set this all up? It looked like an entirely different place.

“We generally use B3 for these operations but you both are staying there so.” Grey told me and I barely registered what he said. Who cared what room they generally used?

“What are all of them doing?” I asked, overlooking the sea of screens in front of me. They looked like video recordings of different places. “They’re looking for Deta. He came up in a hit at a nearby location. We’re trying to figure out where he is, because he is the one person who can help us tie heads or tails in all this.”

“Not the only one – where’s Xena?” I remembered why I was here!

“She’s downstairs in B3 with Nate and Noori.” Grey answered for me and I nodded, spinning around to make my way back into the elevator that brought me here.

“Wait, what do you mean not the only one?” Daniella asked me, grabbing me by my elbow and I shook my head, pressing the elevator button. “I’ll tell you when I have something concrete. Right now, it’s just a hunch.” Daniella looked like she wanted to push it, but she didn’t. Something about them both was wrong. Like a dark cloud had settled in them, some secret they wouldn’t tell me.

“Hey, you okay?” I asked her gently and her eyes met mine. I saw something close to guilt swirl in them for a second before it disappeared. What was that all about? Behind her, I could feel Grey watching us closely, but he didn’t say anything. The elevator doors opened but I stayed right where I was.

“Daniella, we will catch these people you know that, right?” I thought she was just stressed about the whole scenario. “I know it’s serious and all but you can’t be tensed or else you won’t be able to do your best.” I added, placing my hand around her shoulder. She still didn’t say anything. Her eyes were now glistening, and I looked over her shoulder at Grey. He had a similar look on his face – guilt and sadness.

Just past Grey, on one of the screens I saw Reece, Hank and Sienna on the screen, next to a sobbing Brianna. She was being handed tissues by Sienna. But I could tell from the way her lips curled that she was smiling. She hugged Hank, she hugged Reece and cried, but it didn’t look like a sad cry. I turned Daniella to the screen and said, “Look, it looks like they got through to her!” I spoke excitedly. Daniella looked away from the screen at Grey and he walked closer to us.

“I’m serious Dani. She’s smiling and everything. She’s talking too! Hey! Do we have audio on this thing?” I asked one of the people sitting right below that screen. His eyes widened as he realized that I was talking to him and it took him a second to do what I’d asked him to do.

Geez, it was like I was a celebrity of some kind.

The audio rose a little, coming through the sound system in the room and we could hear partial words. “Flora, no-“

“Just relax! We’ll figure it out with her help.” I shushed her and Grey put his arms around her. It looked like an internal struggle between the two of them to stop me, but they didn’t. “Hey, sir?” The same brown-haired boy looked at me as if I’d grown two heads and he stuttered, “Yes, Queen?” I frowned at the title but decided to ignore correcting him this time. He was a young man, his formal attire and serious looking face told me he took this job importantly. His hair was curly but kept neatly cut and he had no beard. I walked a little further to him. I noticed other people around him start to look at me too, but I chose to ignore them. They were acting so starstruck.

“Do you think you could drown out the background noise?” I asked and he immediately looked to his right. Another woman got up. An elder, spectacle wearing woman with a muscular body. Her hair was tied back neatly in a bun and she was fidgeting with a pen in her hands. “I can do that, Queen.” She told me, heading over to the brown-haired man and bending over the keyboard.

Behind me Grey and Dani were a lot more composed now. They both still had the haunted look but whatever they were trying to stop me from doing had ceased. I was sure that once they heard the conversation, they’d be a lot more at ease. They were huddled together like they were supporting each other for some unknown impact and I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes at them. Why were they acting so delicate? We needed to be strong in order to catch these guys and we needed to be able to face things bravely. Moving behind, I gripped Dani’s elbow and pulled her back upfront with me. Grey moved ahead with us too, seeing as he wouldn’t leave her hand, or her shoulder.

Maybe this wasn’t really nervousness jitter. Maybe they weren’t delicate but whatever was haunting them was too much for them to handle. Maybe something was really, really, wrong.

“Okay, really. What is going on? Just tell me and we can try to go from there” I tried again. Grey looked like he was about to say something but just then the audio came back up, blasting out much more clearly and I could finally hear what they were saying.

Sienna was still offering the poor girl tissues as she spoke through her tears, but they seemed to have nearly stopped now.

“-they told me that if I ever tried to contact anyone they’d know. I had to do what they told me or else they would kill you all. My childhood friends. I couldn’t let that happen!” She sniffled into the tissue and it went to the trash bin on the other side of her bed. Hank and Reece had pulled up chairs and were listening intently to what she had to say. Sienna was sitting on her bed, a box of tissues in her hand. It then occurred to me that Brianna was so proper. She had probably been groomed like that for three years – to fit the role of a Queen. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used a tissue.

She did look like a mess though. Her hair was in disarray and the screen wasn’t that clear, but I could make out multiple rips in her clothing. “They taught me everything, how to eat, how to sit, how to talk – everything that would make a fine Queen,” she continued, and I shook my head, my own feelings of empathy swallowing me. “I never wanted to harm you, or Flora! You guys were so in love! I wanted that for you! I wanted that for myself too – the hope that I would find someone who looked at me the way you did at Flora.” She continued and placed her hand on Reece’s shoulder. He smiled at her, a warm smile of comfort letting her know that all was forgiven. Hank leaned in closer, his hand was a closed fist, “Who did this to you? Tell us so we can bring them to justice!” He swore and she shook her head.

“I don’t know. I only know that she wasn’t the one who did her dirty work. They just followed her like a deity, calling her the Dark Queen. I haven’t even seen her, ever.” She said and I sighed – another dead end.

“But I know that she lives somewhere on the official kingdom lands. The people who held my mother captive once told me that she was closer to the King than any of us could imagine. But I think they were lying – they kept saying Queen, Queen as though it was drilled into their heads. I don’t think it is a woman at all.” She continued.

“Why do you think that?” Hank asked her.

“It’s just a gut feeling. Everything felt too rehearsed whenever it came to questions related to her. Like she was a well repeated lie.” Brianna coughed a little and Sienna got up to pour her some water.

“What can you tell us about the drug?” Reece asked her and she nodded, taking the cup from Sienna and gulping it all down in one swift motion. “It was potent, I only had to put a pea sized pill in the food. Red in color, looked like a small bead. They called it ‘M’ for the 1000 tries that they had taken to make it get so far. And inside joke, they said.” Her voice broke for a second as she coughed again. Sienna poured her more water.

“How long had you been...?”

About three years. But I know that they kept making changes to it. They assured me that it wouldn’t kill you! I’d have never given it to you otherwise!” She said immediately and then took a deep breath to calm herself down.

“I had no idea they were going to make me, make me...mate you. When I found out I immediately decided to come clean about everything but then they-they took my mother!” She exclaimed. I caught Dani and Grey exchange a look but decided to question them later.

“That explains why we haven’t seen your mother only since last year.” Hank said.

“When I found out that you had met Flora, I immediately flew down here to see what I could do. Damage control, you know?” she spoke hesitantly and Reece nodded. “But I knew it was too late. If I did manage to win you back, I was sure they would hurt Flora and I couldn’t have that.” She confessed. My heart got heavier with each word that she spoke. How horrible must it have been to have to lie to your closest ones? To hurt them so that you could save your own mother? Brianna had been through so much and nobody knew anything about it! All we had done was put blame and point fingers at her. She had probably been the bravest of us all, silently taking everything that was thrown at her just so she could protect everyone around her. I felt my own eyes tearing up, just as Daniella’s had and suddenly, I felt like I could understand her feelings. And they had known Brianna a lot longer and deeper than I had. Just thinking about all the mental torture was so painful. How did she have the courage to go through with this? She was truly, loyal to her friends.

“They’d constantly keep drugging me too, with silver. Especially when I was alone with one of them. I think they thought that if it was one on one, I would transform and take them down. Some of those men where human you know – they had no idea what was going on but they looked crazy, brainwashed. They couldn’t have me transform in front of them if I lost my anger.” Her voice weakened as she relived the horrors of her trauma and Hank reached out and held her hand. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.” He told her and she nodded. “And everyone you love is safe as well.” Sienna added.

“They all have a tattoo! It’s a tattoo that’s made on their head, and then the hair is grown back to cover it up. I figured this out when one of them was beating me- bastards liked to do it for fun. I managed to scratch his head and make a deep gash. He’d then yelled about his tattoo and everyone had to shush him up. I-I don’t know what it looks like but for sure it’s how they identify their own.” She spoke in a hurried pace and ended up coughing again.

“This helps – anything you can say will help.” Reece told her and she nodded. There was some silence as she drank a little sip from the cup.

“So, when I went back from here, I pretended that we were still mates. You guys hadn’t told anyone about Flora yet, and I figured that I had that much time to find my mom. I abandoned all their plans and set out to find my mother before they figured it out. It was scary but for the first time in a long while it felt good to be myself - to throw away the disguise. Anyway, I managed to track down the hiding place by following a paper trail one of the men had left behind – it was dumb – they’d gotten food delivered and it had an address. I figured why not? It was the best lead I had. The guy who’s head I’d scratched had been shifted from keeping me in check to keeping my mom imprisoned – he always ordered dim sums and that’s what the order was for, it couldn’t be a coincidence.” She paused to take a breath.

“It’s okay, take it easy.” Hank told her as she sped through her words.

“I almost got there. My mom wasn’t there anymore but one of the last men had stayed behind to burn everything in the place and make sure there was no evidence. I tried to get him to tell me where they took her, but he didn’t give it up. That’s when you guys came in and he took his own life.” Her voice wavered but was otherwise continuous.

“Our men are tearing the place down looking for more hints and connections to the mastermind behind all this.” Reece informed her and she nodded.

“I’d almost lost hope of saving my mom but you - you my friends, you’ll saved her and I’m so thankful for that!” Now her voice broke again and the three heads in the screen all exchanged glances. My blood stilled. I spun around and narrowed my eyes at the couple that was huddled behind me. Dani’s eyes were squeezed shut while Grey was looking anywhere but me or the screen. His hand was holding Dani’s in a tight grip.

“We found her mother?” I asked, but nobody replied to me. I felt something close to fury enter my veins.

“-I cannot thank you enough, and after everything that I put you guys through!” She sobbed on the audio in the room and realization crept up on me. “You never had to worry about that! We love you and we take care of our own!” Reece’s voice assured her. Each word broke my heart into a million pieces as I looked them and spoke my next words slowly, like threat.

“Did we just lie to the tortured, abused, young girl that her mother is safe just so she would give us details?”

My words were harsh and cruel, and I couldn’t believe them as I said it. I just couldn’t accept that my friends would do something so cruel. “Tell me!” I asked again but my question just hung in the air. Both of them were staring at me, helpless and I felt tears fall down my face.

“She was one of your closest friends. She risked so much so that you guys could live! She played with her life everyday for her mother! SHE HAS GONE THROUGH SO MUCH!” I couldn’t stop the rage that was building up inside me. How could they sit there and lie to her face? How could Reece? Sienna? Hank? Lying to his own sister?

“Flora it’s not- “Dani tried but I was having none of it. Insane! This was all insane! This was dirty!

“What are you going to do when she finds out, huh!?” I demanded, gesturing with my hands. “When she asks to see her?” The whole room had gone quiet at my outburst, but I couldn’t stop from making a scene. Someone had turned the audio down.

“She’d never find out, Flora!” Grey spoke this time and I raised an aggravated eyebrow at him. “Are you that confident that we will get her back? For all we know her mother’s already dead!” I tasted my own bitter words as I said them, but I knew it wasn’t right. “You can’t promise her something like that!”

How could they play with someone’s feelings like that?!

“Flora, listen.” Daniella whispered and I gestured for her to continue. “When Noori did her initial exam, she found that there was too much internal damage. Her lungs…they can’t function very long with that amount of damage and they aren’t healing at all.”

“Huh?”

“They’d been injecting silver for so long; her body has lost the healing ability. Her lungs can’t repair themselves and the internal injuries are worsening rapidly. There wasn’t much Noori could do.”

I swayed on my feet. “What do you mean?”

“She has an hour or two at max.” Dani whispered out and I stopped breathing. Denial set in.

“B-but she looks fine. She isn’t in any pain – “

“They’re giving her pain killers in the IV.” Grey grit out, his own eyes tearing up as he looked once more at the screen.

“But- “

“Sienna’s been diluting medicine that will help her sleep. It will get too painful.” He added. I spun around on my weak knees and looked at the screen again, through blurry eyes. As if sensing my need, the audio was turned up and I could see what was going on.

“-I see her?”

“She is being brought in, but it might be a couple hours. You should rest. I’ll come wake you up when she arrives.” Hank said softly and I let out a choked sob.

Brianna looked at Hank with a wide smile. In that moment I could see her as a young girl again. Happy and carefree, her brother her idol. I felt hands on my shoulder and Dani’s now dry eyes gave me a supportive look. Grey just swore behind us, his way of dealing with what was going to happen.

“-you promise?”

“I promise, Bri. Just get some rest. You need it after everything.” He told her affectionately. Sienna and Reece were at the door now, watching Hank and Brianna as he gave her his last goodbye. Cousins watching cousins.

“Okay then. I’m anyway drowsy. Those pain meds Noori gave me sure are heavy.” She said and Hank smiled at her. I raised my hand to cover my mouth as I whimpered.

Hank was at the door as well now. Brianna lied down and shut her eyes. “And can you tell Flora that I’m really sorry? I never did think she was a leech.” She spoke, without opening her eyes.

“I will.” Hank told her.

They shut the door. She fell asleep with a contented face.

Grey wiped his tears and took a deep, controlled breath while Daniella left the room. I stood there, frozen. My hand was glued to my mouth as I watched the scene in front of me. She looked so peaceful.

“It was Reece’s idea. He thought she could at least sleep in peace if she thought her mother was safe.” I heard Grey mumble from behind me, but I barely registered his words.

We stood that way for a while, watching her sleep on the screen. In the distance, a painful howl resounded all around the area.

Oh, Hank.

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