Disguise

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Earplugs

Flora’s POV

The funeral was a peaceful one. Everyone was quiet. April stayed behind to watch over a sleeping Xena while the rest of us came out here, two miles east of the resort to a grave that had been dug carefully. Hank had taken the time to find flowers around the forest and lay them all around, on the ground.

Werewolves weren’t put in wooden boxes. They were left as it is, earth touching the body to allow them to connect with nature. It was brutal; they didn’t cover her up, and they didn’t change anything about her. Brianna was lowered into the ground and everyone poured some mud over her. With their strength, the dug grave would be filled again within fifteen minutes. The forest was cold but not windy, and there was barely any light from the moon that got through the leaves, but I could see everything crystal clear. I knew it was my werewolf abilities coming to the forefront, taking over my body.

For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t feel like talking. I didn’t feel like saying something to make everyone feel better. The grieving was important. I knew that and so did everyone else. They were regal creatures, the werewolves. They honored their own but there was a simplicity to it. No words were exchanged but plenty was being said by their eyes, by their body language, by their rituals. I felt like an outsider, not being able to wallow in their guilt or empathy, all I could offer was pity. I knew what they had lost, and I knew how it weighed them down. But I also knew that it was important to let them feel. They had to deal with this on their own and there wasn’t much that would help in this case.

So, I watched them, everyone’s head cast down as they quietly filled the cuboidal space with the earth. No tools were allowed, I was told. Everything had to be done by hand, and hand alone. I could only imagine Hank out here, when he first dug the whole thing out by hand and paw. He seemed like a ghost of himself, this had hit him the hardest, and understandably so. She was their childhood friend, most of theirs’ but circumstances had changed a lot of things.

I thought back to the day when I had met her. Reece, Grey and Dani had always described her as a happy-go lucky girl. I had been so excited to meet her, but things had turned sour pretty quickly when she saw the way Reece looked at me. I wondered now, if things were different, would we have become good friends? I could imagine it; the happy, extroverted personality adopting me, the introvert as her close friend and confidant.

I tuned in to the other’s thoughts, Reece had told me that during the entire funeral no one would utter a word – that was the tradition. Unsurprisingly, everyone was playing back memories of a little Brianna. I watched their thoughts in fascination, their minds weaving together to piece the entire movie of her life. This was how wolves honored their dead.

The first one was Sienna’s. It was a very hazy memory; she was still a child and was trying to get Reece and Hank’s attention as they played games in the middle of a grassy patch somewhere. Sienna was watching Bri looking at the boys, lugging around a football, like she longed to join them. The scene changed and it was now Dani’s mind. She was walking along a corridor, maybe from her school when she saw the four of them in front of her. Her eyes immediately went to Grey and they both had the biggest smiles on their faces. From the corner of her sight, she could see Bri rolling her eyes but smiling, “Well, there go your days of being a player, Grey.” She told him, but his smile only widened…

The next was Reece’s. They were sitting together looking over some papers as they worked, when she suddenly gave him a huge smile. “I wonder if we will get to see our mates soon.” She told him, turning one of the papers in her hand. It was a birthday party invitation for her sweet sixteen. “I’m sure mine will be amazing.” Reece replied, his face already beaming with pride and excitement…

Then…it was Hank’s. It went back to when they were children. He was crying and she put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry Hank, you will find her, and everything will be perfect.” “What if I don’t?” “Well, till you don’t you have all of us – your friends and me! We will never let you feel alone.” Her smiley face blurred once again…

Grey’s memory was a frantic one. Sienna was packing in a hurry and Bri just burst through the door, tears streaming down her face. “What is going on? Sienna? Why are you packing?” She asked but Sienna didn’t even look her way. Grey looked between the two of them and spoke up, “Sienna running away is not the solution! Let me just get Reece...”

The memories weren’t chronological, but it wasn’t very hard to place them. It was a surreal experience, everyone sharing their memories of her, and in a way their versions of her as well. Most of them were happy memories, she was supportive and fun and relaxed and kind. I didn’t get to see the change in her, the withdrawal from all her friends and what they remembered of her then. It was for the best, the initial Brianna was the one that they wanted to remember, to celebrate.

When the last few bits of earth finally sealed the grave, everyone stopped the collective link and all the minds grew blank. Everyone circled the grave and held hands precisely for one minute, and then just like that we were on our way back again. Reece didn’t let go off my hand the entire time we walked back. Everyone was forlorn and tired, but nobody would admit it. By the time we got back home, it was four in the morning, but I was dead on my feet.

“Get some rest, we will meet at ten.” Reece instructed everyone. Nobody said anything else and we all split up.

April was standing at the doors as they opened. Nate stepped into B2 while she nodded at him and stepped into the elevator with us.

“Queen, King.” She acknowledged us both as we moved down to B3. “You really need to stop calling me that.” I piped up, rolling my eyes at her. Reece gave a blank stare as if to say, ‘are we still on this?’ While April gave me a small smile. “Take the day off tomorrow.” Reece told her as we entered our apartment and she gave him a low bow. “And then we can start training!” I called out to her just as the doors shut. I heard Reece groan at my statement but otherwise not argue. “I’m going to take a shower,” he told me, and I nodded. He was covered in mud and it would help him relax if he did.

We lay in bed, twenty minutes later, freshly showered and under the blankets. His head was on my chest and I was gently stroking his hair. We fell asleep like that.

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“Can we at least start it on Friday? That’s two days away!” I bargained, trying not to get distracted by the perfect flip he just did with the omelet. “Finee.” He said, stretching out the word as if it wasn’t really fine. “But the second you want to stop, you tell me, okay?” I nodded; there was no way I would ever quit training. “But don’t you dare tell April to go easy on me,” I warned him. “Fine.” His tone was reluctant, but I knew he would follow through.

“Now eat up, you’ll need your strength,” he said as he placed the omelet in front of me. I began eating without a word. His mood was better today, he was back to his usual self. Or maybe he was just good at compartmentalizing. Either way, today felt more normal than yesterday and that I was thankful for.

“Why do you know how to cook so well?” I groaned, resisting the urge to lick the plate clean off. Reece gave me one of his rare smiles that melted my heart. Instinctively, I got up from my chair and moved around the kitchen counter. My sudden kiss caught him by surprise, but he reacted instantly. His hands went around my waist to grip it, and he pulled me flush against his chest. It was then that I realized how much he had wanted to do this, through his fervent kisses. I stood up on my tippy toes to get to him more easily and he seemed to realize the problem. He hoisted me up and placed me on the kitchen counter, prying my legs apart and standing between them as he continued the assault on my lips. We continued making out for a while before I had to break apart for some air. He didn’t see any reason to stop though and continued the attack with his lips on my neck, eliciting certain embarrassing sounds from me as he did. I arched my neck to give him more access and one of his hands came up to grip my throat, tilting it to the side.

The kisses on my neck were melting me to a puddle right there. It was like fire and ice had mixed together to mold into this feeling that was attacking every single nerve ending in my body and I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t even try, and I didn’t want to either. My hands were weaving into his hair on their own accord, pulling his head closer to my neck. My legs wrapped around his behind and pulled him closer, flush against me. He moved his mouth back to mine and we continued our endeavor without any hints of stopping. His one hand – the one at the throat decided to move slightly down, just below my collar bone and my breath hitched. His other hand was at the small of my back and remained there, supporting me and pulling me close to him.

We were at it as though our life depended on it. It was our own personal oxygen and separating us was unthinkable. And then his hand moved further down – lightly grazing my chest before going down to grip my waist again. I knew he was testing me, teasing me but at the same time trying to determine what my limits were. I didn’t mind the exploration, to be honest.

And then it was over. A mindlink to the both of us broke the tension in the room and we split apart to gulp large amounts of air. They were ready for us in B2. I watched in fascination as Reece’s eyes changed back to their regular color. Zuka was close to the surface.

Reece moved closer to me again, and placed a gentle kiss on my forehead, as I sat there, dazed. “You have no idea how much I wanted to do that.” He told me and I gave him a shy smile, “why didn’t you?”

“You said you wanted to take things slow…I was just waiting. Especially after you found out about the Jeff thing.”

In that moment, my respect for him grew. I jumped off the counter and took his hand in mine. “Let’s head upstairs, we need to do this.” I told him, but my gentle squeeze of his palm told him how much more I loved him.

“Are you sure about this?” He asked me for the millionth time that morning and I nodded patiently. There was no other way but to keep assuring him that I was. “Yes, Reece. It needs to be done.” I told him clearly and he shook his head. “I wish we didn’t.” He muttered as he raised my hand and kissed it like a gentleman. “I know.” I said, trying to give him a genuine smile but it didn’t brighten his mood much.

“Zuka thinks that we should just abandon this whole plan.” He told me and I laughed.

“Well, Zuka and you are the same person.” I joked, trying to keep the atmosphere light but he could obviously see right through me. “I can see that you don’t want to do this, mate.” He told me, looking at me like he could reach into my soul. I held his gaze as I answered, choosing my words very carefully.

“I don’t want to, that’s right. But I want to know what happened even more.” There, that was true. He couldn’t argue with that, so he just sighed.

“Will you please not push yourself? Promise me.”

“I promise, Reece…Zuka.” I told them both, feeling their emotions of protectiveness all around me.

“And you will tell me to stop when you think you can’t take it anymore?”

“I promise.” I repeated.

We entered the hall of B2 and Sienna, Grey and Dani were already waiting for us. “The second in command and his mate are the second strongest after the two of us.” Reece told me as I looked around for the others. And Sienna wouldn’t be affected by the command since she was his blood. I remembered.

“We figured you’d want privacy but it’s also unsafe if it’s not supervised.” Dani told me, walking forward and putting an arm around my shoulder.

Did they think I would spin out of control or Reece?

“Oh, no definitely Reece. He might find something out and go berserk and the only one who can calm him down – you – might be subdued by the command.” Grey told me and I nodded warily at him. This is why Xena couldn’t be here – she hadn’t gotten her strength yet.

“Do your best to keep him calm.” I instructed the beta and he smiled at me. “Yes, Queen.”

“I’m right here, you know?” Reece grumbled from besides me and I let out a short laugh.

We sat down on the two chairs that were facing each other. Daniella got out a small strip of cloth and held it out in front of me, “It will help you concentrate to get to the right memory.” She told me and I nodded. She’d already filled me in on the specifics of this procedure last night. She and Grey would wear tight earplugs to reduce the effect of the command.

“Last chance to back out, Flo.” Reece tried once more and shook my head; I was scared, but I was ready. Dani tied the strip across my eyes, and everything went dark. I focused my other senses – I could hear Reece pull his chair closer to mine. Sienna shuffled behind me while Grey and Daniella stood between the two of us, watching over the whole thing.

I felt Reece’s fingers go to my temples on either side of my head. He paused for one long moment, then he finally breathed out and I heard it.

“Hello, Flora.” Zuka’s voice hit me like a tidal wave, laced with the Alpha Command and the control on my mind vanished.

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