Disguise

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Succulents

Xena’s POV

With shaky fingers, I dialed the number that I had memorized in the first week I got them. The line rang once, rang twice, but nobody picked up. I cut the call before the beep. At least it wasn’t switched off, thank God for that.

“Come on, Xen.” I whispered to myself, gathering up the fragments of my mind that lay scattered with all the new information I had received in the past three days. It had been a whirlwind. Channeling all my anxiousness, I hit redial again, hoping that this would go smoothly.

The line rang again and went unanswered again. I waited uneasily, for the beep.

At the sound of the tone, I spoke,” Bro? I-I need you. Where are you? Why won’t you pick up my call-“ My voice broke and I took a moment to steady my breath. “Can you please just call me back? I think Flora and I are in something very deep and sinister. Please. I need your help to get out of here.” I hung up after that and let out a deep breath.

“Do you think he’ll go for it?” Nate asked me, and I shrugged, unsure. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“He already knows that Flora was marked, I’m sure everyone will, because of the new bond that they feel with their Queen, but if he’s not a werewolf, then someone must have informed him. We can only hope to spin this as a forceful marking.” Nate continued, and I nodded, completely normal now. I was going to catch this son of a bitch.

“Now, can we get some rest? You’ve been dead on your feet all evening.” Nate cooed, patting the spot on the bed besides him. I gave him a small smile, not really feeling the vibe but slid under the covers anyway. His warm body next to mine was certainly a comfortable position, and I soon found myself drowsy.

“Nate?”

“Hmm?”

“You said that they don’t generally leave loose ends.”

“That’s right.”

“Did he kill my real step-brother? The one I never met?” I had to know. I felt his arms tighten around me and feared the worst.

“No, he didn’t. But your step-brother died a couple years ago, in a skiing accident. It was the perfect set-up for Jeff.”

I willed myself to feel something, but my heart was numb. “And my mother?”

“He seemed to have worked for your mother for a while, which is how he knew so much about her life, but he hasn’t hurt her.” He told me softly, gripping my arms and then spinning me around to face him.

“Can we-can we send protection for my father?” I asked him and his eyes widened for a second before he smiled. “We already have, my love. And we are watching your mother from afar too, don’t want to spook them in case they are being watched by Jeff and his men.” He assured me and I nodded. I suppose it made sense. “Don’t worry, being in this world, I will never let you or the people you love feel unsafe.” He promised me, and then moved forward to make our lips meet. I kissed him back with the same gentleness that he had.

He was truly a sweetheart. “Thank-.” I muttered between the kisses but he shushed my words with another round.

Reece’s POV

This was a disaster. Why was everything spinning out of control? My Flora, the one I was sworn to protect seemed to be doing all the heavy lifting and was hurting and me? I seemed to be the one hurting her. I wish I could just transfer her cuts on myself, both inside and on the outside, but there was nothing I could do. There was honestly nothing worse than being helpless and it frustrated me to the core. I was going to kill them for suggesting this. Of course, Flora would volunteer for such a thing. Someone needed to show her what was good for her mental health. My mate, the giver.

“Aaaaah!” I threw another chair in the office and it smashed to pieces against the wall. I knew it was well past 2am, and if this was any other day Sienna would come down to shush me so that I didn’t disturb the hotel guests. But right now, she was sitting next to me calmly, on the one chair I hadn’t broken yet and just watching me have my breakdown.

I stomped around a little more, continuing my fit. Flora hadn’t come to the office and I knew it was because Daniella was prepping her for what was to come. Well that’s too bad because I wasn’t going to do it! “Why would she do this to herself?! It’s almost as if she wants to get hurt!” I snarled, unable to stay any longer without turning something to dust. A paperweight on the desk caught my eye and I reached for it.

“She’s doing it for Xena, Reece.” Sienna answered, unnaturally calm. My frustrations rose with my sister’s nature. The glass paperweight was now nothing but powder in my palm. The small cuts from the shards healed instantly. “But there are so many leads that we are chasing! Why should we subject her to this? Our Queen!” I yelled, glaring at her openly. It didn’t affect Sienna the way it should – maybe because she was used to my tantrums.

“But this might be a big break, it can happen immediately, and I think she deserves to know what exactly happened that night.” Sienna supplied and those last words caught my attention.

“What do you mean what happened?”

“Come on, Reece. He was alone with her, and on top of her. Nobody can truly rest without knowing a hundred percent that nothing happened. Till she didn’t remember any of it, she could go about her life normally, but now that she knows half of it, you can obviously see why this is important to her!” Why was Sienna making so much sense?!

I fumed, pacing once again. She had all the valid points, her arguments made sense as well, so what was it that really bothered me? I didn’t want to hurt her! And…

“You’re scared of what you’ll find out.” Sienna finished my inner monologue. I looked away; my jaw clenched. “It’s understandable, Reece. You don’t want her to know, especially if something did happen. You just want to protect her, but she’s a grown woman. And a bitter truth is better than not knowing.”

I groaned in frustration once again, eyeing the printer in the office. I was not willing to listen to any reasoning right now, but Sienna was adamant. “We all know this might hurt her, but it’s necessary, not because it might give us a break with this problem, but because she deserves to know what happened, and Xena deserves to know why it happened.”

The printer crashed the floor with more fury than the chair had, the white bits of plastic sprayed around. The cartridges full of ink burst open and stained the floor. Sienna sighed, looking at me in resignation. “You know, you can have your pity party, but the fact that you haven’t said anything to counter my argument means that you know I’m right.” She said, getting up. The chair was now open game.

As she moved to the door, she threw me one last look. “Also, Reece, it’s two in the morning and the hotel guests are sleeping.”

I sat down on the chair, looking around the room and surveying the destruction I’d created. I knew I had to do this. I knew that this was important to them and therefore it was important for me. And yet, I just couldn’t think of using the command on her. It would be painful to watch her relive those memories. Gaaah! Life seemed so unfair to my mate, to those around her and I just wanted to protect everyone I knew! I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe...everyone I loved. I wished I could take all their problems and make them mine, all their pain and make it mine.

A sharp knock on the door broke me out of my pity party. The face in the doorway had me standing up immediately. My worries flew out as a more fresh, raw round of pain waved back in again.

“Okay?” I asked, trying my best to not look sympathetic – that wouldn’t be received very well. All I got was a stiff nod. So, not okay, I surmised.

“I’d like to bury her.” Hank told me and I nodded immediately. “Yes, of course. We’ll help you-”

“I’d like to do it alone.” He interrupted and I paused. This was going to be painful for him to do all alone.

“Hank, are you sure?”

“Yes, I need to do this.” He told me, and I nodded after a moment. He was strong, he would get through this.

“Of course, whatever you need.” I told him, and he gave me a short nod.

“And what about whatever Flora needs?” He asked surveying the damage behind me. His words hit me hard, and I staggered away from him.

“I am trying to protect her!” I defended against my third in command, but he just scoffed. “Call it a hunch but she’s a lot stronger than she looks. And she needs this. Who are you to protect her from what she needs to know?”

“I’m her mate!” I spoke, putting some authority behind my words but it didn’t have any effect on him either. Was I losing my touch? “Reece, the King isn’t always supposed to protect the Queen. He’s supposed to empower her, just as she empowers him. It’s an equal fight and you know it. Don’t be like our forefathers!” He reprimanded, and suddenly I felt like a small boy again. When did Hank get so wise?

“I know that! But everything in me is screaming to not do this to her.” I whispered, pinching the bridge of my nose again. Hank stepped into the room from the doorway and assessed my face. “That’s too bad, I thought that the King would be stronger than this.” He matched my whispering tone. My eyes widened in authority, but I knew his words rang true.

“It takes more strength to hurt your own for their benefit than to hurt anybody else.”

I saw a single tear roll down his face, never in my life had I seen my third in command cry. My initial instinct was to give him a hug, but something told me that he wouldn’t like it. I felt so stupid for not realizing this before. Wasn’t that what he did when he lied to his dying sister? The guilt of that must consume him, but it was necessary. We all must do things that are necessary if they’re for the better of other people.

“Hank…”

“I am going to go now, dig a grave. I’ll link you when it’s done and we can have a funeral.” He told me and I nodded.

“We’ll be there.” I promised and he nodded.

“You’re a good King, Reece. You’re allowed to have moments of weakness.” He told me, as he spun around and walked out the door. His sunken features and dark eyes were etched into my brain. He was right of course. They all were. I couldn’t protect everyone, but I could make sure that I made them strong enough to survive whatever hurt them.

With renewed determination, I walked out of the office to where I knew they all would be, waiting for me. I passed the reception and told Roran, the night time receptionist, to get someone to clear the mess in the office. I shouldn’t have broken that printer; the ink would take forever to get off the floor.

The elevator doors split apart, and I was about to make an announced entrance when I saw Dani put a finger to her lips and then point the same finger at the two people huddled on the couch. Flora was sleeping cuddled into a corner while Sienna took the other couch and had stretched out. They looked so peaceful, worry-free.

I went and sat next to Daniella, on one of the dining table chairs. “I linked you, but you’d blocked everyone out.” She informed me and I nodded. I didn’t want anyone to accidentally witness my inner turmoil.

“I keep forgetting that she’s still human. She needs to sleep a lot more than us.” Dani added, glancing fondly at my mate.

“She wants to start training with April.” I told her and she laughed softly. “Of course, she does. Has her strength started showing yet?”

“She nearly bit Nate’s head off after he marked Xena.” I chuckled, laughing fondly at this evening’s memory. “That’s fast. Soon she won’t need to sleep as much either.” She said, surprised.

“How long have they been asleep?”

“Flora about an hour and a half and Sienna maybe twenty minutes? Time seems to be flying.” She told me, looking at the clock that said 2:29 a.m.

“I’ve been gone that long?”

“Well, you had stuff to figure out and make peace with.” She spoke with understanding and I nodded.

“So, when are we going to do this?” She asked me and I sighed. “Tomorrow morning.”

“Alright. I filled her in on most of the basics, how to navigate her mind under the command and to stick to the right memories and to be able to get out from under the command whenever she wanted.” I nodded.

“She’ll be fine, Reece. She’s rather strong.”

“I know.” I said with conviction.

We sat that way, watching them sleeping in silence. It was good to not do anything for a short while, before the hassle of reality brought us back on our toes. I felt myself calm down as Zuka settled himself with happy thoughts when all this was over.

I’d take my mate for a romantic getaway, God knows that she needed it, we all did. Maybe we could all take a vacation, one that didn’t end up like this vacation. Hank could mourn his loss and take some time off, Grey and Dani could finally focus on starting a family (they wanted to do this since a while), Sienna could go off with Cole when the investigation was over and he was free; and Flora and I could focus on the first part of starting a family. I could almost imagine how shy she’d be, when we finally did it. My wolf was clawing at my insides everyday to mate her. Soon, very soon.

A phone rang in the hall, and we all saw the screen of Flora’s cell light up. She stirred in her sleep and I wanted to kiss that cute sleepy look on her face. With half cracked eyes and a frown, she reached for her phone and picked it up without even glancing at the screen.

“Hello?” her voice croaked as she cleared her throat and straightened slightly, moving her body to ease out her muscles. Sleeping that way would have given her a few sores.

“Flora? Oh, Did I wake you up sweetie?” a voice I recognized was on the other end.

“Mom?” she whispered, finally gathering her bearings and looking around. She spotted Dani and me sitting on the chair and Sienna on the couch across from her. She immediately lowered her voice, so she didn’t wake her up.

“I’m so sorry! I always get this time difference wrong.” Her mother chuckled on the other end and it made Flora smile. It occurred to me that my mate hadn’t smiled in a while.

“That’s okay, mom.” She assured lovingly.

I remembered Flora’s mother as though it was yesterday. She was a lovely woman who had raised Flo all on her own. Her father had died at a young age and although Flora remembered him, it didn’t hurt her anymore. Mrs. Lori was as cool as you could get. She raised Flora to be a strong independent woman just as herself. The few times we’d met, I had won her heart by showing my commitment to flora. I wondered what she thought of me now. I knew that Grey had probably already sent the local packs to watch over her mother, but I guess I had only been thinking of Flora and not those around her. I’d seen her texting a bunch of people, there were some even on her snapchat, there was a whole new life she had (or has?) right now.

“I can call again tomorrow, why don’t you go to sleep?”

“No, no. It’s actually nice to hear your voice.” She admitted almost freely. Her eyes went over us again and I gave her a small smile, hopefully it was enough for her to understand that I was sorry about my fits of rage earlier on. She smiled back and my heart melted.

“How have you been?”

“I’ve been okay, mom. You?”

“I’ve been good, too. I started gardening again.” Her mom’s voice spoke merrily, and Flora laughed, completely awake now.

“I hope that they’re succulents.” She poked and her mother’s indignation could be heard over the phone. “Hey, I remember to water them every day!” but she cracked up at the end of that sentence as well.

“I’ll visit soon.” Flora told her suddenly and her mom squealed. “Yes! Come soon, things get lonely here, even with full blooming gardenias.”

“I will. As soon as I wrap up some work.”

“How’s everything else going? Any boys I should know about?” Her mother joked but Flora froze.

“Umm, nobody new.” She said carefully, so that she wasn’t completely lying. Her mother caught on. “Someone old then?”

“I suppose you could say that.”

“Does he treat you nice?”

“Yes.”

“Do I know him?”

“Yes.”

“Get him when you come visit too?” It was an open-ended question and Flora’s eyes reached for mine. I gave her a nod. This was going to be some explanation.

“Yes, yes I will.”

“Now go back to sleep. And learn to call me too! I’m sick of being the clingy one.” Her mother joked and Flora laughed a genuine laugh.

“But then I lose all the power!” She joked. They wished their goodbyes and she cut the call. Dani and I watched her with smiles. “We should take the time to know more about her new friends from her new life, you know.” Dani whispered to me and I nodded. We should.

I felt an incoming mindlink and let the person in.

I’m in the forest east of the hotel, about two miles in.

We’re on our way.

I woke up Sienna and told Dani to wake up Nate as well.

“What is it?” Sienna asked, rubbing her eyes.

“Are we doing this now?” Flora asked me and I shook my head.

“Tomorrow. Right now, we have to say goodbye to Bri.”

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