Updated: Jul 20, 2020
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Chapter 25: Coming to her senses the next morning wasn’t an experience Sabrina enjoyed all that much. She didn’t have a fuzzy interlude where she thought the events of the previous day had all been a bad dream. Unlike in the stories she read, where people woke up disoriented and confused after traumatizing events, she knew everything well before she opened her eyes.
She scrunched her lids closed more tightly, like that could help somehow. And even though it didn’t, she stayed that way for a while. The sleep hadn’t helped a single bit. She was still emotionally exhausted, her head still ached, and the film of Martin’s arm snapping still played in her head.
Without opening her eyes, Sabrina fumbled for a pillow and clutched it to her face to scream as loud as she could. She hadn’t come close to letting it all out when she felt someone’s hand on her arm. The touch startled her badly, and she turned to face her assailant, her fingers already curling into claws before she realized it was just Alex.
“Sabrina, are you okay?”
The ridiculous question was, she was sure, supposed to be helpful. Her heart still racing, she turned away from the comforting arms that reached for her.
“Please just go away,” she moaned.
“What can I do?”
When he didn’t leave her side, she sat up, absently taking in the light grey walls of the large room. The enormous, polished four-poster bed she had slept in; the brilliant blue comforter still piled around her lap; the matching door on the other side of the room that she assumed was a closet: Everything about the space said it had been designed to be cheerful.
Several yards from the edge of her plush mattress was a full, yellow couch with grey pillows and a rumpled yellow comforter. Sabrina assumed that Alex had slept there, judging by how it was the one other object in the room that wasn’t one-hundred percent tidy. Even the full-sized entertainment set facing her bed appeared dust free and organized.
It all stood out in stark contrast to the two messed up humanoids in the room. Alex could focus on her needs all he wanted, but the fact was that he was traumatized too. Probably not as much as her, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t suffered. So when he went to give her a comforting hug, she let him. But for his sake. It wasn’t going to solve anything for her.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Sabrina drew away from him at that, her altruism only going so far, especially in light of such a ridiculous relationship twist. For once, Alex was asking her to open up and discuss her feelings, while she wanted nothing more than to shut down.
She shook her head and watched his eyes narrow seriously.
“You can’t do this, Sabrina.”
“Do what?” She snapped.
“Shut down like this.”
“Like what?” She protested. “It’s been less than one day, Alex. I think I’m allowed to shut down for one day.”
“Maybe. But as I remember,” he pointed out with the start of something insufferable to his tone, “you like to talk. It’s not like you not to want to talk about stuff.”
“Well.” She stared icily at him. “You knew me a long time ago. I’ve changed.”
“It was a few months ago.”
“It was long enough.”
They glared at each other for a heavy minute, both refusing to back down on their equally valid points. For Sabrina’s part, she knew she was being defensive. But she also knew that, in her avoidance, she’d hit a nerve and raised another subject that needed to be taken care of. It didn’t need to be taken care of right that moment, but she’d much rather discuss it than other topics.
Alex broke first. “I already apologized about that, and I’ll apologize again if it’ll make any difference. But it won’t change the fact that –”
“That I almost killed someone?” She interrupted dully, her anger evaporating, her hands twisting in the covers around her without much intention or even thought. “I know I did. And I know I’m going to have to talk about it. And I will. Just not right now. I need time.”
She could feel his gaze on her while he considered her exact words. When he finally nodded in acquiescence, he didn’t look happy. Then again, neither was she. She would much rather forget the entire thing happened, if only that was an option.
“And you’re not allowed to push.” It sounded like a demand, but it was much more of a plea.
Looking appropriately solemn and serious, he nodded again. “Okay.”
The truth was that she didn’t know what to say about her newest reality. She wanted to come to grips with it but she didn’t know how. Anger, bitterness, frustration: She tried to rein them all in, tying them up tightly somewhere behind her vocal chords. Yet in doing so, she let loose a single desperate question.
Sabrina really wanted to know when she would start feeling better. She knew it couldn’t be right away. Logic said that she would move past the trauma in time. But right then, her head hurt and her soul hurt and her mind hurt like she had suffered a hundred years long and would suffer the space of a thousand more. She didn’t know if she could come to grips with what she’d done and what she’d gone through. It seemed like a much more appropriate solution for someone to go and lock her into another padded white room.
If they did, she was sure everyone would benefit to some degree or another.
“So where are we anyway?” She finally asked to distract herself.
“We’re in a safe place.” He shrugged. “They won’t tell me much more than that, and I gave up trying since they were pretty clear on their opinion of me. It’s a shocker they let me stay with you.”
Not that she cared, but there was nothing in her that remembered Alex staying in her room the night before. What she could recall was Kenneth leading the way inside the enormous house, which had its own lobby, much like a ritzy resort. The one difference was that there wasn’t any receptionist area, just a large space the size of three standard living rooms. It was filled with four sets of plush, deep green couches, each grouping centered around a dark-stained coffee table. Then at the back of the room was a deep fireplace, complete with partially burned logs. And the walls on both the right and left when she first entered featured elongated, artificial waterfalls that glided downward into goldfish-filled ponds below.
Under any other circumstances, Sabrina would have been delighted with the scene. But all she had wanted then was the bed Aileen promised. So when Kenneth said goodnight and headed in the opposite direction, she followed her cousin without protest through the giant room and down the hallway on the right. They had to go past ten closed doors and around a corner before they reached the room she was now apparently calling her own.
Everything else escaped her memory.
When Alex responded to her previous question, his smile was weary. “They seem to think you’re something pretty special, Sabrina.”
On any old normal day, she would have tossed back something coquettish. But on any old normal day, she didn’t feel irrevocably unappealing.
“What did you tell them that made them listen?”
“I didn’t say anything. I left and then that woman, Aileen, came to get me a few hours later. Said you kept waking up and screaming my name. I guess she thought it best to placate you however she could.”
It was the matter-of-fact way he told her those details that really scared her, especially since she couldn’t recall any of it.
“I was screaming?” She asked in tentative dismay, not wanting Alex to repeat himself but needing it confirmed anyway.
“I don’t remember at all,” she said bleakly. “Is that a bad thing?”
“You were pretty tired last night,” he tried to console her. “I wouldn’t be too worried.”
“Why not add it to the list,” she muttered under her breath but refused to repeat herself or elaborate when he cocked an eyebrow. Changing the subject seemed like an appropriate escape tactic, and she employed it without any hesitation. “So what now?”
He shrugged. “I suppose we could go find someone.”
She wrinkled her nose to fend off a sneeze, and then sneezed anyway. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s go.”
Alex must have been feeling especially antsy because he jumped up right away.
Sabrina was a little slower since she couldn’t bring herself to care. But to keep Alex off her back, she bucked up as much as she could, running a tired and distracted hand through her hair. She doubted she looked like princess material, but her faerie minions would have to survive without any rallying effort on her part. They’d lasted this long without her making any effort, so she was sure they’d be fine staying that way a little longer.
Feeling like an errant child and thinking that both she and Alex probably looked it too, they opened the door with perhaps a touch too much caution to peer outside. Seeing a tall and muscular faerie right there didn’t help her feel any less small. Even though she realized in the next moment that it was just her bodyguard, Michael, he still looked like an alpha male if she’d ever seen one. Sabrina instinctively shrank back.
“Can I help you, Princess?”
The question seemed genuine, though he turned an overtly distrustful eye toward Alex. It was obvious he didn’t like her ex and wasn’t trying to hide his distaste.
Sabrina felt a rush of defensiveness, even though she understood Michael’s automatic prejudice. Alex was a human, and it had been humans who’d kidnapped her. Not to mention how he had been involved in the plot in the first place. Kenneth might or might not know that for sure just yet, but he must have made sure her entire security detail was well-informed of his suspicions.
“I was wondering where we were, actually.” Sabrina tried to sound polite since she couldn’t muster more than that. When all she felt was dead, it was hard to portray anything else.
“We’re at a special fortress your brother keeps for emergencies. You’re safe though,” Richard, who was standing across the hallway, assured. “Don’t worry.”
“Where is Kenneth?”
“He’s here. I can bring you to him if you’d like.”
Richard looked his normal gentlemanly self, his brow creased a bit in concern. That in and of itself didn’t say much when she’d already established him to be a sweet guy. But even Michael seemed somber and worried. It gave her a good idea of what a mess she looked and what a worse situation she was in.
She nodded at the offer since she didn’t trust herself to speak. So she was quite happy when her team of two didn’t need any verbal cues, but just started walking.
Sabrina stared blankly at the walls, which weren’t stark white. That was one detail she had noticed even last night. They were cream with light brown trimmings and multiple shades of green accents. Yet despite the obvious differences, they still reminded her too much of the labyrinth she’d been imprisoned in just the other day.
Alex took her hand. She accepted the touch for the sole reason that it would have been too much work to push him away. But her grip wasn’t firm, and she didn’t take any comfort from his touch.
After a few twists and turns, they reached a door that her bodyguards came to a halt in front of. Michael opened it but didn’t step through, explaining that her brother was inside and not to worry about interrupting. Apparently, he’d been awake and waiting for her for hours.
Sabrina had just assumed that Alex would follow her. Yet when he tried, her guards stopped him. From the looks on their faces and their aggressive stances, it was obvious they meant business too. Even their wings were arched warily.
Alex looked like he wanted to protest, so she told him to wait for her. The truth was that she didn’t care if he did, but she recognized how it would make him feel better if he had some purpose.
He gave in with a grim frown and Sabrina stepped forward, leaving him alone with her two wary escorts. They shut the door behind her as soon as she’d stepped into what appeared to be an executive office of sorts judging in part by the executive-sized desk it featured. Professionally cream-colored walls met a deep green carpet, continuing the theme she’d noticed elsewhere in the building. The shades contrasted surprisingly well with the light blue couches situated off in one corner around an ornate, glass coffee table. The latter held tissues, a pitcher of water and several glasses.
Kenneth was already on his feet. “Sabrina!”
Moving around his desk, which was angled caddy corner across from the couch set, the hug he gave was overly gentle. It conveyed both complete enthusiasm and masculine concern for damaging a delicate female.
“Are you okay? Did they hurt you? How many people do I need to kill?”
Each question was asked with utmost sincerity, so she knew he really meant the last one as much as the first two. She loosened her own grasp on him and he stepped back, looking at her with apprehension.
“What did they do to you?”
Yet the first words out of her mouth were of what she had done to them. “I almost killed someone.”
“It was in self-defense,” he immediately excused her.
She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t. He was taunting me, but he never touched me. I goaded him into a fight, and then I broke his arm. I’m pretty sure I snapped both of the bones, and one of them was sticking out of his skin. And I could have done worse.”
Kenneth went silent while he digested that data. She figured the mutilation of one HPAC member wasn’t going to make him lose any sleep. But he was a man of thought, not just of action. So she waited for him to speak, hoping beyond hope that whatever words did come out of his mouth made her feel even slightly better.
“What was he saying?”
She could feel her skin burning. This was not the conversation she wanted to have with her newly-met big brother.
“You said he was taunting you,” he prompted again. “So what was he saying?”
“He was being a jerk. Just saying –” She couldn’t make herself explain, so she ended with “stuff.”
“I need you to start from the beginning,” he told her solemnly, leading her toward the couches.
Sabrina took a seat, noticing vaguely how he didn’t sit down until after she had. “They took my blood, and ran some tests on me to see how fast and strong I was, and punished me when I failed. They psyched me out and made me take an IQ test and grilled me on my childhood and treated me like their guinea pig.”
Put like that, the whole ordeal didn’t sound so bad, but that was because it was such a sterile recounting. She’d left out the terror she’d felt every second she was there, the agonizing volts of electricity they’d shot through her, the mental and emotional pressure they’d applied, and the constant fear that what they were planning next would end up being worse.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Sabrina stared at him, all but daring him to dig deeper. Yet she couldn’t hold the challenge for long. He was her brother, a person she didn’t know all that well, and yet someone she wanted to impress. She was already ashamed of herself; there was nothing in her that wanted to share that shame with him.
Sabrina knew very well that, as king, he was going to learn the details eventually. Somehow. Someway. At the least, she was going to have to give a detailed report to someone, and Kenneth would have to read it. She’d much rather be the one to tell him, and she would. Just later.
He looked thoughtful again. “Would you consider the man you hurt a good person?”
“No. But,” she started, unable to believe he was going to try such an ethically murky argument on her.
“Just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ works for now.” He gave a reassuring smile.
It was a nice gesture, but she’d thought better of him than that. Tensing in disbelief and disappointment, she fluttered her wings nervously to express her agitation. He was a smart man, and the argument he’d just started was a poor one.
“No,” she repeated anyway.
“Did you mean to hurt him?” He continued.
Now that, she acknowledged, was an exceptionally good question. In a court of law, it would be the issue up for debate.
Sabrina remembered the way her emotions had easily surrendered to bloodlust. How in the back of her head she’d recognized her new super strengths. And the absolute craving for him to die.
Worrying her lower lip, she looked down at the table and then back up at her brother. She nodded, knowing from the lump in her throat that any attempt at verbal communication would end badly.
“Did he pose a real threat to you?” Kenneth asked, pushing over the tissue box. He poured two glasses of ice water from the pretty metal decanter on the table, handing her one.
She thought about that question too, taking the time to gulp down the entire contents of the glass. It gave her a few seconds to compose herself, and she used them as best as she could.
“I think he would have hurt me if he could have,” she responded when she felt capable of doing so. “I’d say he even planned on it. And he definitely liked talking about it. But he was under orders not to do anything without permission.” Sabrina shook her head. “So right at that moment? No. He wasn’t a real threat.”
Kenneth nodded in thought. “I’m not going to tell you that you were completely justified in your actions then, but I’m also not going to say you weren’t.” He leaned forward, his green eyes filled with an intensity she wished she could match. “The HPAC intentionally put you under severe stressors with the full awareness that any healthy faerie in her prime could take on a normal human adult without much problem. They’re not stupid, just wholly and purposely ignorant.”
His eyes blazed with emotions even he must have thought were too hot to handle, because he made an obvious effort to calm down. “You say the man you hurt was under orders not to do anything to you, yes?”
She nodded again.
“That means he not only disobeyed orders, but also went out of his way to put himself in danger. What he did was arrogant.”
She dared to argue. “That doesn’t mean I should have done what I did.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he acknowledged with a grave nod. “But that doesn’t make him an innocent bystander. I’m sure you’ve heard about tourists who step past ‘do not cross’ signs to get closer to caged animals in the zoo?”
She nodded, the gesture filled with a whole lot of caution since she was pretty sure she knew where he was going with the analogy.
“They don’t want to be mauled by the polar bear or bitten by the tiger. Yet they do anyway because their arrogant curiosity leads them to ignore the obvious: that the animal they’re approaching is kept away from them for a reason. The warning signs are there for a reason.”
Sabrina wasn’t convinced. “Yeah, but the polar bear doesn’t know any better than to attack.”
Kenneth shook his head. “I know you had control over yourself, but so did he. I’m not saying you’re the animal so much as he was the tourist.”
He grabbed her cup to pour another glass, and she took the refill gratefully, this time taking a more ladylike sip. As she was more or less preoccupied with the liquid, Kenneth smoothly changed the subject to ask whether he should kill her ex.
Taken aback, Sabrina collected herself as much as she could to dissuade him of that notion.
“He helped me escape,” she pointed out, not letting go of the glass. It was her security blanket for the time being: something to provide a tactile distraction, small though it might be.
“He also helped them capture you in the first place,” her brother countered. One way or the other, he had clearly come to a final conclusion on the subject. “How do you know he’s not a double agent?”
“Alex is a really bad liar,” she asserted. “And he told me himself that he was responsible for setting me up. It was all a really stupid mistake on his part.”
Steepling his fingers together and leaning back in his chair a little, Kenneth looked anything but convinced. “Yet he’s apparently been in the employ of the HPAC for months.”
Her shoulders slumped in defeat. “He’s one of the good guys now, I swear.”
His disapproving expression didn’t change. “I know you care for him, Sabrina, but that’s not enough. I need to protect you.”
“Kenneth, please,” she begged, unsure what he meant to do.
What was much clearer was that he’d made up his mind well before she ever entered the room. Sabrina still tried explaining that she never would have escaped the HPAC labyrinth if it weren’t for Alex. But it was all for nothing, and she knew that from the start. He had that look: the one determined adults got when they weren’t willing to vacillate. The one that squelched little kid’s hopes and shattered their dreams.
When Kenneth told her she could leave if she wanted to, she was well aware he meant it as a politely couched order. But she ignored it, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back enough in her seat to give every indication that she wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’ll stay, thanks.”
“I think it would be best if you were elsewhere for this,” he pressed. “You’re already emotional, and I don’t think it would be a wise –”
Sabrina glowered, the savage expression cutting him off. Realizing his classic male blunder, he looked slightly panicked for one small second. No politician’s finesse could save him now, and she was fairly certain he knew that.
His wings didn’t quite slump when he nodded his assent. “Okay. But I don’t want you interrupting. If you create a disturbance, Sabrina, I swear I will have you removed.”
“I won’t create drama if you don’t,” she assured with an angry calm, her posture still radiating defensiveness.
Kenneth sighed. “Sabrina, I understand that you care about Alex, but he’s already proven to be dangerous, and I don’t want him hurting you again. Intentionally or not. We’ve already made great allowances in bringing him here, and I can’t take any more risks.”
When she didn’t reply, he pulled out his phone, looking both sad and frustrated.
It made her feel guilty. She didn’t want to be mad at her big brother. When it came down to it, she felt pretty horrible about staking a claim on a side he didn’t support. But no matter the noble reasons he had to stay away from her for so long, the result was that he hadn’t been as large a part of her life as Alex.
Based on quality time spent, she couldn’t shrug her original loyalties off so easily.
When the all-but-condemned was brought in, Michael and Richard weren’t with him. He was flanked instead by two new faeries who Sabrina didn’t recognize at all. They didn’t look mean per se, but they didn’t look nice either.
That worried her.
It clearly worried Alex too, though he looked like he was trying hard not to convey that. He cast a glance over at Sabrina, and whatever emotions he saw on her face must not have reassured him. His own expression grew grimmer.
“Mr. Brower.” Kenneth didn’t stand. It wasn’t flat-out rude, more like an intentional indication of what kind of relationship they were going to have.
Alex seemed to understand that, because he inclined his head respectfully. “Yes, sir.”
“Please have a seat.”
Alex chose a spot on Sabrina’s love seat. Still, he made a point to sit as far away from her as possible, one hand at his side and the other on the armrest, which he gripped a little too tightly.
“I don’t like mincing words, so let’s be blunt,” the king began, his tone almost neutral. “I don’t trust you. You’ve already endangered Sabrina once, and I don’t know whether that was due to poor judgment or intentional malice.”
“I can assure you it was the former, sir.” Alex’s tone sounded just as stiff as his words. “I would never hurt her on purpose.”
“So you say,” Kenneth acknowledged with clear but otherwise polite skepticism. “But it’s your word against the facts. And frankly, the facts are ambiguous. What’s very obvious, however, is that my sister was kidnapped because of help you provided.”
Glancing downward for several seconds, Alex didn’t say anything.
“Knowing that,” her brother pressed, “I don’t feel comfortable letting you run freely. I’m going to have to keep you here under guard until I can decide what action would be best to take. In the meantime, I expect you to cooperate, for your sake as well as ours. The sooner we find out what’s going on, the sooner you can go back home.”
His delivery was clipped and pointed. His expression, his tone, his posture: Everything about him radiated a determined authority demanding respect.
For her part, Sabrina felt properly cowed.
Somewhat surprisingly, Alex took the chastisement and accompanying warning like a man, with a steady voice and practical solemnity. “I’ll do my best to help out how I can. But won’t this create some international or –” he grimaced while trying to pick the right word ”– interspecies conflict if you keep me here indefinitely?”
“Because you’re American and human?” Kenneth was the epitome of calm.
Alex nodded, and Sabrina flexed her fingers a few times just to ease her own tension. Her ex had a point there, but Kenneth didn’t seem perturbed in the least, like he was three steps ahead already.
“They brought you over, what? A week ago? A little less than that?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “When is your plane ticket back home?”
Alex blanched, like it was an unexpected question on a test he hadn’t studied enough for.
Kenneth smiled knowingly. There wasn’t anything spiteful in the expression. But it indicated how he knew he’d won all the same.
Sabrina had no idea what was going on. “When were you supposed to go back?”
It was obvious the question was directed to Alex, but her brother was the one to answer. “The HPAC brought him over on its own. He doesn’t have any expiration to his holiday because he didn’t come here legally in the first place.”
She looked at her ex, whose expression of chagrin didn’t need any translation. Her heart sank; though why, she wasn’t sure. It might have been because that latest revelation indicated just how committed to the cause he’d been and therefore how little he had thought of her in the end.
In that moment, Sabrina didn’t bother to be rational. She stood up to get away from both of them. Let her brother scare Alex, and let Alex cooperate or not. She didn’t care.
“I’ll see myself out,” she said, following through on the statement by striding away.
Neither man attempted to stop her. The same went for Michael and Richard, who fell into step right behind her without saying a word. Her bodyguards’ silence might have had something to do with the scowl she wore so prominently and, perhaps, illogically.
Retracing her steps to the room she’d slept in, Sabrina climbed onto the bed, which someone had made since she left. Without bothering to wonder who, she flopped down on her stomach, crossing her arms beneath her head for a pillow. Staring blankly at the wall, she flexed her wings, her mind fixated on how complicated her life had become.
She was at an utter loss about how to fix any of it. The when and who, however, were a lot easier to determine. So she was still busy blaming Alex for being such a moron when someone knocked on her door sometime later.
“Sabrina?” Kenneth’s voice filtered through.
Her first inclination, which she followed, was to droop further into the comforter beneath her and ignore his presence. But what her older brother said next had her startling to attention.
“Would you like to learn how to fly?”
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