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Not So Human - Chapter 10

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

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Chapter 10: As if they hadn’t gotten enough the night before, both she and Deanda slept the sleep of the dead that evening into the next afternoon. When their alarm went off at eleven thirty, that gave them exactly an hour and a half to get ready for their second trip to see Kenneth. The meeting was just supposed to be between Sabrina and her brother, but both Deanda and Alistair had promised to come along as well. Probably for less than altruistic reasons.

Kenneth had told her to dress for a stroll through the woods, so Sabrina threw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a plain black t-shirt. Unlike the night before, she wasn’t nearly so apprehensive about what to wear. Her brother had set her at ease enough during their first encounter that she could put the majority of her energy into teasing Deanda instead.

“So this date with your little boy-toy,” she called into the bedroom while brushing her hair in front of the large gold-plated mirror in the bathroom. The door leading out into the hallway was shut, so she figured she could say whatever she wanted to without her bodyguards hearing. “‘Little’ and ‘boy’ being the key words.”

“He is not my boy-toy,” Deanda called out in an irritated singsong.

“Maybe not quite yet,” Sabrina shot back, eying her appearance critically. “But you know with me gone for the better part of the afternoon, you could bring him back here and have your wicked way with him. I bet the wings add a hot addition to what you can accomplish in bed.”

“So I’ve been told,” Deanda replied, coming into the bathroom to grab her toothbrush. “And you’re an idiot. I haven’t actually seen the man in years. You think on our second meeting, I’m going to jump him?”

“Why not?” Sabrina pressed, shooting a smirk at her roommate. “If you’re looking for permission, you have Auntie Za’s full consent. So there. Problem solved.”

“Thanks,” was the dry response. “I feel every one of my inhibitions completely lifted.”

The limousine pulled up at one o’clock, or thirteen-hundred, just as scheduled. This time, it took her and Deanda to a completely different location than where they’d been the other day. As before, one of their security detail – Jon, she thought – sat up front with the chauffer while the other three took up the seat across from the women.

Kenneth and Alistair, along with a team of ten bodyguards, were already there by the time the limo pulled up to another scenic wooded spot. There were a few other parked cars, but nobody else in sight when Sabrina stepped out onto the dark brown earth.

A trail, worn down by many feet over some time, stretched away beyond her brother’s shoulders. And the slender trees all around reached far into the sky, shading some delicate lavender flowers that Sabrina couldn’t identify from where she stood. They were lovely regardless next to the warm greens around them.

Both men in her family were smiling, though Sabrina was quite positive that the younger of the two wasn’t nearly as excited about seeing his aunt as he was about hanging out with Deanda, who seemed to feel the same way about him.

Kenneth greeted them both with big hugs and a matching smile. “It was so nice of you to come along and keep Alistair company, Deanda. You really didn’t have to.”

Sabrina raised her eyebrows at the comment, which seemed so guileless, but she bit her tongue. For all she knew, the Scots were more innocent than Americans. So maybe he really didn’t have a clue.

“Oh, I know,” Deanda assured, avoiding Sabrina’s pointed look. “But I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to spend time with an old friend.”

Alistair, whose face had flushed a distinct shade of red, gave his father a weak smile and something of a grimace to Deanda. It was pretty apparent that Kenneth had embarrassed his son in similar ways before.

Sabrina considered the idea of rescuing her nephew. She knew that family was supposed to stick up for each other, but since she was new to the whole relative bit, she wasn’t sure what the proper way to handle the situation was. Ultimately, she decided to allow herself some grace on the subject. For a little while at least. There would be time enough for selflessness later, she was sure.

Deanda either wasn’t as egocentric as Sabrina or, more likely, had a personal angle for hurrying the process along. “Well, I’m sure you two have a dozen questions for each other, so go on. We’ll be fine here.”

Alistair shot her a thankful grin.

Kenneth chuckled. “You’re a sweet girl.”

Walking away with her brother, Sabrina looked back briefly. Alistair was saying something inaudible that made Deanda laugh and brush a strand of hair out of her face. They seemed perfectly at ease despite the four security agents surrounding them in a loose circle.

Kenneth glanced their way as well. “They’d make a good match, wouldn’t they?”

Sabrina did a small double take at the realization that he wasn’t as clueless as he’d seemed. She’d keep that in mind for the next time he put on an innocent routine around her.

Kenneth saw her expression and laughed. “Your older brother does have some brains left. I might be a decent bit older than you, but I’m not senile yet.”

Blushing, Sabrina hastened to explain herself. “You just seemed so –” She fished for a non-offensive word before settling on “unaware.”

“It’s all part of being a parent,” he told her knowingly. “A bit like playing cards. You never show your hand if you don’t want to lose all your money.”

The advice sounded even more sage and sound spoken with his lulling accent, and Sabrina found herself accepting it without question. It was difficult not to take the brogue at anything but face value.

“But enough about them for now,” Kenneth continued while they walked away, their own entourage of his six and her four shadows taking up positions around them. “They’re not what we’ve come here to discuss.”

Sabrina swallowed hard, wondering if she’d gotten in trouble already. For all she knew, she could have violated some rule. She was, after all, just becoming acquainted with both Scottish and faerie cultures. And while the one didn’t seem all that different from her American upbringing, who knew what crazy regulations winged creatures abided by.

“I’m sure you have several dozen questions for me at least,” he continued. “So ask away.”

Sabrina relaxed again despite a sudden itch on her left shoulder blade. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know where to start.”

“How much did Deanda tell you?”

She had to laugh. “I love that girl, but she makes a horrible informant. You should consider employing her as a spy. Even if she did get caught and talked, your enemies would end up even more confused than how they started.”

Kenneth let out a laugh. “You’re funny. The reports were detailed, but they never said you were funny.”

“Well, now you know,” Sabrina replied with mock gravity, though the compliment warmed her up inside. It was nice to know he approved so far.

A breeze picked up in the tree tops above them, gently shuffling leaves against each other. The wistful sound seemed to echo Kenneth’s changing mood. She watched his expression grow rueful.

“I want to apologize for my previous lack of direct involvement, Sabrina. I did it with the best intentions, but I’m sorry if it wasn’t the right choice to make.”

“Deanda did tell me that Mom and Dad” – the words felt so foreign to her, knowing that she was speaking about real people instead of mere ideas – “were killed just after I was born. So I’m sure it was a difficult decision.”

“It’s what my counselors told me was best,” he went on, dividing his attention between her and where they were stepping. “But looking back, I have to wonder.”

Sabrina felt genuinely sorry for him, so she shifted the subject. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did they die?”

A weary sort of anger passed over Kenneth’s features, as if he had long since grown tired of the subject but didn’t know how to let it go. “They were flying to London just for the day. But on their way to the airport, the limousine missed a bend and flew off the road into a small body of water.”

He moved on without explaining the exact cause of death, an omission she found she didn’t object to.

“It could have been an accident; but Martin, their driver, was an excellent chauffeur. He wasn’t prone to reckless behavior on his free days, much less when he was working. We still don’t know how the HPAC knew they were going to be there. Not really, anyway.”

“Oh,” was all Sabrina said on the subject, imagining her parents trapped in the car, trying to hold their breaths under water until they couldn’t last any longer.

Had they fought against the inevitable the whole time? Had they been knocked out on impact? She could only hope they weren’t conscious for their last few minutes alive.

The itch on her back grew more persistent, possibly in some miniscule show of sympathy.

“After their death, the royal counsel was paranoid, and with good reason. They wanted you protected at all costs in case something happened to me. So they convinced me to send you somewhere else while they continued investigating our parents’ deaths. We didn’t know if there was some inside informant, or whether they had found any of our openings. We really didn’t know anything; and though there was lead after lead and multiple suspicions, grounded and groundless, we never uncovered anything substantive. My advisers became so paranoid that, later on, they also convinced Kyla and I to separate for several years, with her and Alistair living elsewhere for security purposes.”

“That’s horrible!” Sabrina exclaimed, finding new levels of appreciation for her family members as she contemplated the split. It was obvious from the way Kenneth’s jaw was set that it had been a difficult time. “I’m so sorry.”

“You have no reason to be,” he said firmly, looking squarely down at her. “If anything, I should apologize to you if my decision was harmful in any way.”

Stepping away from her brother in order to avoid a muddy spot on the forest floor, Sabrina considered giving an easy answer just to make him feel better. He looked so grave and concerned, and she didn’t want to cause him any more pain than he’d already gone through.

Yet it somehow didn’t seem fair to either of them to shrug everything off.

“I’m not saying it was easy,” she started with slow precision. “But I think I understand that you acted the best you could in those circumstances. Besides, I’m here and alive now. Who knows what might have happened otherwise.”

She was relieved to see his solemnity lift a little, though they both remained quiet for a minute after that. The silence magnified the irritation on her back, and she tried to subtly scratch it, failing miserably in the attempt.

Her brother smiled in sympathy. “We might have some salve for that. They say emerging wings can get quite irritating, but I would imagine if we created something to retard wing growth…” He trailed off in thought before picking up again. “I’ll ask tonight.”

She hadn’t realized that the small discomfort had been due to anything other than dry skin. And the way her brother spoke, it sounded like it was going to become pretty problematic going forward. Sabrina winced in anticipation but otherwise forced the thought to the back of her mind. With a simple thank you, she picked up the previous conversation thread again.

“Like I said before, I really do understand being sent away. But wasn’t there some way I could have been told the truth?”

“About who you are?”

“Yeah.” Sabrina struggled a little to keep her voice calm when she said the simple word. Her question seemed to have tapped into some reserve of childlike confusion about her past. “Or that you existed. Or something.”

“That’s a fair question,” Kenneth admitted evenly, though there was a distinct sadness to his tone.

The regret he clearly felt helped her retain control of her own feelings. She gave him the moment he took to collect his thoughts.

“You were a faerie child living among humans. We were worried that you would tell someone, which could have been disastrous. There was the possibility that no one would believe you, and you’d be forced into therapy for years. Or the HPAC might have found you.”

Sabrina visibly tensed at hearing the acronym. “Yeah, I don’t think I would have liked that very much.”

“Yes, about that.” His eyes narrowed with controlled anger. At the HPAC, she hoped, and not at her. “Some of my officers are really very interested in sitting down with you to discuss recent events. I told Geoffrey he could meet with you tonight if you’re able.”

“Geoffrey?” The name sounded somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t put a face to it.

“Yes, my head of Intelligence. You met him the other night.” His mouth twisted upward a bit.

“He was the ‘rather intimidating one,’ I believe is how Kyla describes him.”

“Oh. Right. Of course,” she said as if she remembered him completely. “Geoffrey.”

Kenneth laughed. “I see you agree with my wife then. Geoffrey is a good man and excellent at what he does, but he sometimes gets overly focused.”

Sabrina couldn’t help but be a little nervous. She’d never been interrogated before and was having a hard time expecting anything less than full-out psychological torture. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t think of anything specific she’d done wrong. She’d be in the spotlight, and since she was far from angelic, something would come to light and then she’d be banned from all faerie playgrounds for forever.

Sabrina forced herself off the path of paranoia to pick up with her list of questions again. She was being absolutely ridiculous, she knew. And so she tried to shut down her irrational fear, telling herself that there was time enough for the melodrama later.

But as if to mock her assurances, she tripped over a root just enough to throw her balance off. It was hard not to take the simple misstep as a harbinger of doom, even though Kenneth reached out to steady her.

“So all of my foster parents,” she began after she thanked him. It was another attempt to distract herself. “Were they faeries or humans?”

“Except for the first couple, they were all unsuspecting humans,” he replied. “After our first disastrous attempt, we decided that the less contact you had with our world, the better.

Though we always had agents checking up on you.”

Sabrina was suddenly very happy she’d never had any serious romantic relationships growing up. It would be weird now knowing that people had been very close by and very aware when she was having more intimate moments. How closely had they been watching anyway?

She asked the rather pressing question and was assured that her privacy had been respected at all times. That was some small comfort, at least, but the larger acknowledgement raised more questions. And while she felt slightly guilty for pressing the issue, she still felt as if she had a right to know.

“If I was being watched so closely, how did they almost get me back in Pennsylvania?”

Kenneth nodded and held aside a low-hanging tree branch for her. “In short, we got careless. The HPAC hasn’t made any real moves in the past seven years. Either we did such a good job at hiding that they couldn’t find us, or they were trying to lure us into an extended sense of security. If the latter, then it came close to paying off. It won’t happen again regardless.”

She believed him. She did. But she didn’t know if that was just because she desperately wanted to think herself safe from sleazy men in black suits who liked terrorizing pixies half their size.

They walked for the space of about two hours, the trail sometimes taking them out into open fields before darting them back into the wood’s soft shade. At other points, it kept cheerful company with a running brook, or “burn,” as Kenneth called it.

Sabrina liked it when he pointed out those vocabulary differences, always with an undeniable grin she couldn’t help but respond to every time.

Perhaps influenced by the peaceful elements around them, their conversation slid into a comfortable pattern: a back and forth of questions and answers, jokes and a strong sense of being home. By the time they returned to the limousine, Deanda and Alistair were already there, chatting easily with their own security detail. And while Kenneth explained that he had a busy couple of days scheduled, his son had apparently freed up time for the week if they wanted him around.

Deanda accepted the offer with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.

Sabrina made a mental note to be unavailable a few times. She was sure her nephew was very nice, but she had no desire to be a third wheel. The looks he thought he was subtly sneaking at Deanda indicated she would be in the way to some degree or another.

Thinking about the whole thing made her snort with suppressed laughter when she climbed back into the limousine. The sound caused her already seated friend to shoot her a suspicious glare, though she waited until the car door was shut before asking what was going on.

“Want to share?”

Sabrina shook her head in amusement. “I was thinking about you being my niece.”

“What? I’m married all of a sudden?”

Trying to not be too cruel in front of mixed company, Sabrina still smirked, clamping down on about a dozen different things she wanted to say. “What did you two do that whole time, anyway?”

“You’re ridiculous,” Deanda informed her calmly. “Do you know that?”

Ridiculous or not, Sabrina was enjoying herself. A lot. Crossing her legs, she leaned back in the comfortable seat. “And you’re avoiding the question. Do you know that?”

Deanda snorted. “Like I told you before, I haven’t seen him since I was a kid.”

“You did see him yesterday,” Sabrina speculated with a wicked mixture of cluelessness and laughter. She felt more emboldened with each new protestation her friend made. “One more date to go, right?”

Michael coughed conspicuously into one hand, and she considered casting him a conspiratorial smile. But since that would have been crossing the line from teasing into ganging up, she restrained the urge. Even so, she could tell he was enjoying the exchange. She was pretty sure the other bodyguards were as well; they just did a better job at hiding it.

Deanda crossed her arms over her chest and regarded her with upturned eyebrows. “How did it go with your brother?” It was close to a dare to continue the needling.

Sabrina laughed but obediently followed the subject switch, filling her friend on the details for the rest of the time it took to reach one of Glasgow’s many pubs. There, the idea of seating was awkward at first, and she worried whether she was supposed to sit at the same table as her guards. But the men settled the matter simply enough by taking a nearby spot, leaving the two women to eat their meals alone.

Next on the day’s to-do list was shopping for a new wardrobe in what Jon called the “choicest city center mall.” The experience should have been more fun than it was.

Buying clothes when she actually needed them was a lot more stressful than mere aimless browsing. And figuring out the differences between United States and United Kingdom sizes made it that much more of a chore. Yet by the time seven thirty rolled around, both she and Deanda had accrued a number of bags stuffed with shoes, tops, bottoms and undergarments. Free of charge, Sabrina had also picked up a few more words to add to her slowly growing list of Scottish vernacular, thanks to some colorful language from her fellow shoppers.

Back at the safe house, after hanging her purchases in the bedroom closet, Sabrina tried to tidy the room for their appointment with Geoffrey. Not that he’d likely come upstairs, but she wanted to be prepared just in case. Someone had already made the beds and cleaned up the dirty towels they’d left on the floor that morning, but their luggage and various articles of clothing were still strewn about.

The mess gave her space to split her focus to some degree: a distraction from the upcoming interview. But as she hung up the last shirt on one of the last hangers, Sabrina found herself really beginning to worry.

“I don’t suppose you ever met him before yesterday,” she asked Deanda, ducking into the bathroom one last time to make sure she didn’t look as nervous as she felt.

“No.” Already out in the hallway, Deanda tapped an impatient foot against the back wall with just enough force for Sabrina to hear. “But I doubt he’s going to show up with thumbscrews and a rack.”

Sabrina opened the bathroom’s other door – the one leading straight out into the hallway – and grimaced. She hadn’t even thought of thumbscrews. One more thing to fret about while she followed Deanda down the stairs.

She was in the process of putting her right foot down on the third to last step when someone rapped sharply on the front door. The sound startled her enough that she botched her balance and went stumbling down a stair, flailing and squawking embarrassingly as she did.

Deanda reached out to steady her, but Sabrina had already done the inevitable damage. The back of her right heel protested from the beating it had just taken, and she could feel her entire face flaring up in what had to be an unbecoming shade of red.

Her four bodyguards were halfway to her by the time they realized she was fine. Their expressions changed from concern into sympathy, except for Michael’s, that was. He mashed his lips together in a poorly concealed attempt not to laugh while she finished walking down the stairs.

Trying to regain her composure, she was startled yet again by a small but gruff voice in her ear asking if she was okay.

Turning her head automatically, Sabrina shrieked at the sight of a very large bug hovering over her right shoulder. Backing away on an ankle that protested the added abuse, she realized the next second that it wasn’t a bug at all. It was a very small man beating his brick red wings slowly in place. And he was wearing a complete set of camouflage-colored sweats of all things.

“Are you alright?” The faerie-bug, which she had to assume was Geoffrey, asked again in a voice that had the affectations of a shout, though it came out as a loud whisper from his small vocal chords. Looking around the room, his tiny eyes gave off the distinct impression that no details were lost on him. “I heard you scream.”

Sabrina felt like a royal idiot, a title she supposed was more appropriate than she’d ever realized. To make matters worse, as relief flooded through her system and her body began relaxing, her back erupted into a sudden mass of itches so intense that her eyes watered. Not wanting to look even more foolish than she already did, she tried to ignore the unpleasant sensation, though with great difficulty.

“I’m sorry,” she managed to tell the faerie-bug. “It was an accident. I’m fine.”

“That’s right, sir,” Jon added earnestly, his blue eyes solemn. “No harm done whatsoever.”

The presumed Geoffrey regarded him for a second, then turned his tiny head back to Sabrina.

“In that case, Princess, if you would excuse me for a moment.”

She nodded awkwardly and watched him fly out of the room toward the downstairs bathroom. Without being told what to do, Richard crossed over to the front door, turning his head briefly to give Sabrina a sympathetic smile. He twisted the locks out of place and stooped down to grab a pile of discarded clothing: black suit pants and jacket, and a multicolored collared shirt.

Sabrina watched in utter confusion while he toted the whole pile back in front of her in the same direction the little faerie had flown off to. Meanwhile, the dark-haired Michael turned to her with another of the amused expressions he’d displayed in the limousine. It wasn’t demeaning, just teasing, so she didn’t take offense when he leaned in toward her conspiratorially.

“This isn’t the first time there’s been a false alarm.” Each word was touched with the essence of a laugh. “It’ll no be the last either.”

The flush that had barely started fading off Sabrina’s face flared up again, even though she knew he was just trying to put her at ease. “Thanks. I’ll try to make this the last time all the same.”

Straightening up, he shrugged. “No worries, Princess. That’s what we’re here for.”

“Oh, Michael?” She dared to ask.

He waited with an air of patient expectation.

“That was Geoffrey, right?”

He smiled again. “Aye. The one and only.”

Geoffrey emerged a minute or two later, wearing the previously discarded outfit. It looked no worse for wear, though the intense amounts of green in the shirt against his dark red wings did make him look something like a non-jolly elf. He wasn’t that much taller than Deanda, but he made up for his height with impressive bulk in his shoulders and torso, not to mention the commanding presence he exuded and the serious set of his jaw.

He motioned for Sabrina to take a seat on the couch, which she did as primly as possible. She folded her hands in her lap, set her back straight and crossed one ankle over the other, hoping she could redeem herself.

Deanda sat down next to her and Geoffrey took the opposing chair, reaching into his jacket for a rather large pad of paper. Richard, meanwhile, came striding back in to take up a position by the door, his own posture impeccable. For that matter, the same was true of his three comrade-in-arms. Even Michael looked serious.

“I’d like to apologize for my hasty entrance, Princess,” Geoffrey began. “I hope I didn’t startle you too much.”

“No, not at all,” Sabrina lied in all politeness.

What she really wanted to do was ask him how he had done what he’d done. She also couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever get used to her royal title.

“It’s just that, with recent events, we can’t be too careful.”

“Of course not,” she assured.

“In that case,” he flipped a few pages of his notebook and reached into his jacket again for a pen, which he clicked once, never taking his eyes off of her. “When did you first notice the HPAC’s presence?”

The two women looked at each other and then back at him. Typically, Deanda was fine taking the initiative; but this time it looked like it was up to Sabrina to answer. As princess, she supposed she should at least pretend to take charge.

So pretend she did. “I noticed them for the first time last week on my way home from work.”

“You’re referring to International Claims Services in New Holland, Pennsylvania?”

The way he rattled off the information took Sabrina a bit aback. But she supposed that, if he had all the power and responsibility she assumed he had, he’d memorized such details when she first started the job.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“And what was the exact date?”

She had to think about that for a good minute before replying. “Monday.” It was strange how it really only had been a week ago. So much had happened since then.

He scribbled something down in his notepad. “Can you walk me through that day’s events?”

Sabrina tried her best to think of every detail, but most of them were humdrum and routine. It left her uncertain about what to include and what not to, though she did her best to sort it all appropriately.

Looking grave the whole while, Geoffrey asked her to repeat several details a few times until she actually felt herself relaxing from sheer boredom. It took about an hour before he left, and when he did, she wasn’t unhappy to see him go. He gave her his business card, apologized again for barging in, offered both women his regards, and left in the normal manner by opening the door.

Sabrina glanced at her bodyguards, who were all taking noticeably deep breaths and relaxing their poses. She considered not exposing her ignorance in front of them, then figured it probably didn’t matter. She doubted she could hurt her image any worse than she already had.

“Well that was awkward.” She made sure to look just at Deanda when she spoke. “And how did he do that: the way he suddenly appeared in the room?”

“Oh, that’s easy.” Her friend shrugged some of her own tension away. “He size-changed and probably came in through a faerie entrance. Your brother has to have built in a few around here if this is an actual safe house.”

Sabrina remembered talk of size-changing from the previous day. But it was one thing to hear it and another to see it in action.

“You know, we could make a total fortune if we could isolate the chemicals responsible for that,” she mused.

“You don’t drop sizes or anything like that.” In true best friend fashion, Deanda didn’t need further insight to know what she was talking about, which was why her mouth quirked upward right away. “Proportionally, you stay the same. You just become smaller or bigger. It’s how we keep entrances to the faerie world so well hidden; they’re too small for a human to take any real notice of, much less fit through.”

“That’s kind of cool.” Sabrina tried to keep her opinion out of her voice, but she was sure she sounded way too impressed all the same.

“It takes a significant amount of energy though,” Deanda warned. “Faeries aren’t capable of size-changing until they hit puberty. Not on their own, anyway. Plus, if you wanted to go doing that on a regular basis, you’d have to carry a tiny outfit on you at all times.” She grinned. “I suppose Geoffrey does, which is a good thing, right?”

She cast that final comment at the guards. This time, Michael wasn’t alone in reacting. Charlie even flat-out snorted in amusement.

“Please tell me there’s some textbook on faerie life for me to study,” Sabrina groaned, leaning far back in her seat in a very unladylike slump.

The answer was a negative, which she had already known. But it was becoming more and more clear that she was well out of her league. She could only wonder what her next mistake was going to be.

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