Not So Human - Chapter 9
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
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Chapter 9: She was in a bed.
She was in a very real bed with very real, non-airline issue pillows and a very real comforter. If heaven equated to anything like the relief and comfort she felt with so much soft fabric against her skin, she would promise to behave for the rest of her time on Earth.
Opening one eye to squint at Deanda, who was still very much asleep, Sabrina promptly burrowed back into the covers. There were few feelings more satisfying than waking up inside a chilly room beneath a thick blanket. Add to that how she was alive despite so many close calls with deranged lunatics, and she couldn’t help but be content.
Even though the Glasgow airport had proved to be much smaller than Heathrow, they’d been able to avoid the HPAC well enough thanks to a quick stop off in the women’s bathroom. That was where a wingless faerie was waiting to meet them.
Dressed in professional attire, with a large, fashionable bag carried high on her shoulder and a large suitcase beside her, the woman seemed intent on fixing her makeup when they first walked in. But the second she caught a glimpse of them, she’d handed the oversized purse over with a terse command to “make it quick.”
Her lovely Scottish accent made it sound a lot nicer than it otherwise might have.
They hadn’t dallied. Within five minutes, Deanda was a business woman with smoky blue eyes and a reddish brown bob that looked surprisingly hip on her. Sabrina, meanwhile, shaded her own face with a chic pair of glasses and disguised her hair underneath a short, dark brown wig. She also changed into a pair of professional black pants that would have dragged a few inches on the ground had it not been for the fashionable, red stilettos she was handed.
During that time, their Scottish friend unpacked their suitcases and repacked everything into hers, only saying a few words while she did. And those were mainly to explain that they’d have to catch a taxi outside on their own. It had been determined that any formal mode of transportation might catch the wrong people’s attention.
When Sabrina and Deanda were ready, she took their phones, gave them two new ones and wished them luck. Without another glance their way, she disappeared out the door like secret assignments were everyday common occurrences for her.
For all Sabrina knew, maybe they were.
Regardless, the disguises the agent provided worked well. With Deanda dragging their new suitcase, they ventured out, walking right by more than one HPAC goon along the way. The men stood out like sore thumbs with their black suits, earpieces and other accessories. Yet none of them seemed to recognize their prey passing right under their noses.
Once they were outside, with a misty rain whispering around them, Sabrina and Deanda hailed a cab at the nearby taxi rank. It was a new term she committed to memory during their thirty-minute drive to a house her brother owned in town. While Kenneth wasn’t there himself when they arrived, he had sent four impressive looking individuals in his place.
Those men, it turned out, were Sabrina’s bodyguards. A whole team of them. And if they were to believed, she had more than one set.
That revelation had been slightly overwhelming, but Sabrina did her best to smile courteously when they each introduced themselves in turn. There was Simon, Gerard, Reggie and Martin, all of whom appeared pleasantly serious. It was like they were prepared to be all business, but they did have a less somber side that came out when they weren’t babysitting princesses. She could imagine them going to a pub when their shift ended at “seventeen-hundred,” as they put it.
It was going to take some time for her to get used to military time rather than the twelve-hour system she was used to in America. Which was apparently called “the States” in the U.K. Or “the colonies,” as she’d heard a very nice, older English man say earlier.
Sabrina couldn’t see herself ever using that one, since the U.S. had long since shed its colonial status. If anyone should know that, it should be the British. But she rather liked how “the States” sounded out loud, particularly when pronounced with her guards’ Scottish accents. Listening to them, she couldn’t help but wonder if her other security personnel would sound so nice.
She thought they would. Sabrina hadn’t heard a single Scottish accent she didn’t like so far. Though she had to admit it took a little bit of additional concentration to understand at least one of her guards.
Two others – James and Jack – would be stepping in for the evening shift. They would then in turn be relieved by a Michael, Charlie, Jon and Richard in the morning. It was a lot of names to take in, especially when Sabrina was already exhausted. But it was also nice knowing that, should the HPAC show up at the door, she and Deanda wouldn’t have to take them on alone again.
That unspoken assurance meant a lot. So after a quick tour of the two-story row home, Sabrina had collapsed on her designated bed in her designated room. Knowing that she was finally safe, sleep came almost instantly.
Even now, after resting for fourteen hours straight, she had no real desire to get up. It was too comfortable, too perfect, to do more than yawn and shrug further into the soft blankets. That was until Deanda’s phone beeped gently from an incoming text. Sabrina heard her friend groan and roll over to check it, then toss the thing back onto the nightstand a minute later. It landed against the glass with something between a thud and a smacking sound.
Debating whether she should rest some more, Sabrina opted for conversation instead. Yet her lashes repeatedly fluttered closed with sleepy satisfaction. “So what’s the plan for today?”
Making a big show of stretching out her morning kinks beneath the dark green comforter, Deanda turned to face her. “Well, we have to meet your brother, but he won’t be back until the afternoon. So I think it should be safe to go sightseeing for a little while if you’d like.”
Sabrina sat up straight at that, squealing in excitement before reality settled in, along with some doubt. “What about the HPAC?”
Deanda didn’t look worried. “They’re cowards, which is why they always travel in groups of four. They’ll attack a lone faerie that way. And as they so bravely showed the other day, they’ll attack two practically human girls without any second thought. But there’s no way they’re going to go head to head with a bunch of buff, winged men.”
Her fears reasonably assuaged, Sabrina switched the subject back to tourism. Deanda didn’t think they had enough time to catch a coach into Edinburgh – not a bus in this instance, but a coach. She stressed that difference to herself, doing her best to memorize the local lingo – so they decided to check out Glasgow by double-decker instead. It gave them multiple chances to get off and explore their surroundings, including a few clothing stores along the way.
At first, it was off-putting to be trailed by the new round of bodyguards, whose names she was trying to remember. Michael was the one who seemed barely able to contain his wry amusement with the world, while Richard looked way too much a gentleman for his job. Then there was the blue-eyed and baby-faced Jon; and Charlie, who seemed to be the antithesis of Michael, with his firmly set jaw and serious face.
Sabrina decided that she’d prefer Charlie by her side should a fight break out. Then Michael next, though she had an idea he’d enjoy a brawl a bit too much.
Even feeling a little subdued by their presence, Sabrina still got quite the impression of the ins and outs of her new home: its architecture, its history and the nuances of Scottish life. Their pride in who and what they were was obvious, with Scottish flags displayed everywhere, and just a few grudging allowances for the Union Jack on public buildings. She could spot three of the former for every one of the latter, especially in the very center of the city, which one of her bodyguards described as “a grand Victorian square.”
It was more than obvious where the residents put their true loyalties.
Even without the tour, Sabrina thought she would have enjoyed herself just sitting on a curb watching life take place around her. It was a busy area, with tourists mingling freely among the locals. Yet despite those numerous people ambling about, there was something very welcoming and inviting about it all. Glasgow seemed to her to have the population of a city but the atmosphere of a town, and Sabrina was ready to give it her full approval well before they headed back to their rooms.
According to Deanda, her scheduled reunion with her brother was supposed to be a very informal meeting. But Sabrina still had to wonder what a girl was supposed to wear when meeting a faerie king who also happened to be a long-lost brother she had no recollection of. The entire situation was awkward, and she could only pray the get-together itself didn’t turn out the same.
Back at the house, she changed out of her jeans into the pair of black slacks she’d just purchased for the occasion. Deanda had told her the color of the court was green, so Sabrina had also bought a dark lime blouse with a plunging neckline and a cream tank top to go underneath. The resulting look was both casual and striking.
Brushing her hair into a bun, Sabrina sincerely hoped her personality would match her appearance for the night. If she and her newfound sibling were going to become close, he would find out her flaws at some point or another. Just hopefully not until she endeared herself to him at least a little.
At fourteen-hundred sharp, they received a call that their ride had arrived. Sabrina’s stomach immediately began to tighten. Following Deanda outside, a dozen concerns vied for attention. She couldn’t help but worry about whether he’d like her or not. And whether she’d like him. He could be an arrogant jerk, or she might make some horrible mistake that effectively estranged them from each other for forever.
The pristine stretch limo waiting for them did nothing to alleviate her fears. Nor did the minibar and flat-screen TV inside. Impressed with the display as she was, Sabrina felt more intimidated than anything else.
Deanda, on the other hand, seemed right at home when she slid in, followed by three out of the four bodyguards. Richard took the front seat with the driver.
Sabrina was a little annoyed at the arrangement, which gave her and Deanda no privacy at a time when she really wanted it. Being a princess obviously wasn’t all free flights and shopping sprees.
Deanda opened the fridge and picked up a bottle of whisky before the driver even finished shutting the door for them. “Want some?” She asked with a grin.
Sabrina declined with a grimace. “I think I can make a fool out of myself just fine without being inebriated.”
“What are you so nervous about? He’s a nice guy. At least, he was always nice to me.”
“You didn’t tell me you knew him!” Sabrina gasped, lowering her voice like that could somehow keep their conversation less conspicuous in such close quarters. “You withholding wench!”
Deanda looked largely unperturbed. “I didn’t? I could have sworn I did. Sorry about that.”
Sabrina didn’t absolve her. At all.
“He and my father went to school together,” Deanda continued, still rooting through the minibar. She didn’t seem interested in taking anything, just perusing what was there for curiosity’s sake. “And since my mom has been the top U.S. faerie representative for the last two decades, it gives him even more reason to stay in touch with them.”
At Sabrina’s confused look, she went on. “The U.S. doesn’t have monarchs since, really, there are less than a million faeries living there. That’s where my Mom comes in. We’re not indigenous to the U.S. any more than to the Middle East, Asia or Africa. Pretty much all faeries trace their roots to Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland or Germany.”
Sabrina tried digesting the information. “Why?”
Deanda shrugged. “Sorry. I’m sure someone has a good answer, but you’re not going to get one out of me.”
Sabrina made a mental note to do more research on faerie origins as soon as they got back to the hotel. Somehow, she was sure it was a little more complicated than the “when the first baby laughed” theory.
The car wound its way northward out of the city, with people staring curiously at them as they passed. Dense cityscape gave way to seedier neighborhoods, and then again to suburban high-rises until the last of even those buildings disappeared. Still the limousine kept rolling through “flyovers” – another new word for her – and farmland, and finally into a hilly scenery that was downright stunning.
Sabrina had heard people talk about the forty shades of green in Ireland, but she couldn’t imagine seeing more human versions of the color than what she saw on the thirty-minute ride. And when they drove into a brief rain shower, the following delicate light dancing off both watery leaves and roadway made the journey even more picturesque.
Staring out the tinted windows, Sabrina made an offhand comment about the strange weather, only to learn that it wasn’t strange at all. According to her driver, whose partition was down, the Scots had a saying: four seasons in one day. Which meant, she supposed, she was going to have to get used to unpredictability in just about every aspect of her life.
Despite the quiet beauty of her surroundings, Sabrina felt her anxiety grow when they pulled off the main road down some back, wooded lane. Her nerves intensified when she climbed out of the limousine, and she could only hope that her older, suited chauffer wouldn’t judge her trembling hand. He helped Deanda out next, than turned back to Sabrina with a small bottle.
She recognized the translucent liquid inside instantly, and a little smile crept up her lips. Knowing she’d see the endless palate of colors again was both an exciting and calming thought, since it distracted her from her concerns.
“If you’d put a wee bit of this on your eyes there, Princess.” He spoke with a distinct but understandable brogue. “It won’t hurt ya a bit.”
She thanked him, then unscrewed the tiny container to ease a few drops onto her fingertips. As soon as she applied the ointment to her eyelids, the artistic range exploded into existence with such energy that her body jumped in response. She let herself indulge in the sensation, keeping her eyes closed a few seconds longer than she really had to.
Yet opening them had its advantages too, she found. It meant she could see her bodyguards and chauffer in their complete forms, their wings stretching several feet above their heads. Completely featherless, they were gorgeous pieces of curvaceous symmetry sprouting from each man’s back in the basic shape of bay leaves, just wider at the base. The colors alone were exquisite. Among her bodyguards, she saw black, orange and red like a monarch butterfly; charcoal grey; solid bright blue; and several shades of purple that managed to come across as intensely masculine.
By that point, Sabrina had largely bought into the notion of faeries. But seeing actual proof threw her for a loop all the same. Any doubts left in her head fled away on the spot.
She was still in shock and awe when her security team led her and Deanda away from the limo, though she did her very best not to gape. Every few steps, however, she gave in to sneak what she hoped were covert peaks at the wings around her.
They were magnificent.
It was a mere short walk to the clearing, where some twenty people were gathered. Looking at them standing there, wings and all, nobody had to tell Sabrina who her brother was.
He had short, straight hair that just barely constituted as blond instead of yellow, familiar green eyes, and the proud carriage of someone who had not only been born into a position of authority, but also knew how to handle it. Well.
He was tall too, six-foot three at least, if she had to guess. It made her wonder how the gene had skipped her the way it had. And she could just hope her wings would look as spectacular as his bright green ones. They rose up over his shoulders into seemingly razor-sharp points that were nothing short of impressive.
“Sabrina!” Her brother laughed, trilling the R in her name while he strode over. “You’re all grown up!” He enveloped her in a surprising hug, then held her out at arms’ length to view her a second time.
“I’m glad you noticed,” she found herself saying with a cheeky grin. It was difficult not to respond in kind to such enthusiasm. “I’m going to take a wild guess that you’re my brother?”
“And she’s smart too!” He laughed again, turning to the people behind him. “She takes after her big brother, don’t you think?”
His voice was strong and deep, the kind she would have instantly been drawn to even without his charming Scottish brogue.
“Let’s just hope she has more manners than you seem to.” A striking woman of perhaps forty-five moved forward. Her reddish-brown braid swished slightly as she did. “My dear, I’m your sister-in-law, Kyla. We’ve heard so much about you down through the years.”
Sabrina took another instantaneous liking, this time to the delicately-wrought faerie with the soft brown eyes. Her brother appeared to have good taste.
She returned the offered hug, being careful about touching the much more femininely curved, seafoam-shaded wings that protruded from Kyla’s back. Having no experience to go by, she thought it prudent to assume they were as fragile as they looked.
To her side, she could see her brother giving Deanda a warm embrace.
“Did you have a good trip over, then?” Sabrina’s sister-in-law asked.
Overhearing the question, Deanda stopped her happy chatter short and looked first from Kyla and then back to the king. “You didn’t hear? The HPAC followed us to the Orlando airport.”
Sabrina had assumed that her brother always looked amiable. But when his facial expression turned to one of severe displeasure, she realized how wrong her first impression had been. She was suddenly very thankful that she was the man’s baby sister instead of his enemy.
“Are you two alright? They didn’t harm you, did they? And why wasn’t I informed of this before?” That last comment was shot in the general direction of one of the other male faeries, whom Sabrina assumed was supposed to keep him up to date on such things.
“They attacked us while we were at the pool,” Deanda responded quickly, realizing she’d broached a touchy subject. “But Za here saved the day. You should have seen her wield her chopsticks!”
Much as she would have liked to play it cool, Sabrina found herself blushing after everyone’s attention shifted directly to her.
“You mean my little sister took on the HPAC all by herself?” Kenneth said, beginning to grin again, though not quite as broadly as before.
“No, not at all,” Sabrina rushed to clarify. “I just fended off two of them. Dee took care of the other half.”
“She’s being way too modest,” Deanda disagreed with a shake of her head. She dropped her voice so that the other faeries took visible steps closer to hear, their wings casting fascinating shadows on the ground as they moved. “We were down by the hotel pool when I got a call from Edward telling me that the HPAC was on its way. But the call came way too late, and they came close to killing both of us, then forced us up to our hotel room.”
Sabrina rolled her eyes in embarrassment as Deanda continued on with the story, making her out to be a fearless hero when she’d been terrified out of her mind. Also, remembering the battle meant remembering the events leading up to it. And she was quite content to keep those memories at bay.
She might have “stomped them silly” as Deanda was saying, but they’d left their own lasting impression on her as well.
“Well, you’re alright in my book, Auntie Za,” a good-looking young man told her with an approving smile. “You don’t mind if I call you that, do you? I’m so used to Deanda using that name.”
Sabrina sized him up with a shrewd gaze. He looked a lot like his father with his blond hair, and the two had the same-shaped nose and mouth. But his eyes were an amber brown like his mother’s, and his wings were a darker green except at the very edges. Not to mention that, while Kenneth was obviously from solid stock with his wide shoulders and sturdy frame, his son had a leaner and almost bookish appeal.
She shot a glance at Deanda to indicate that they had another talk coming. She had to wonder how much else the girl had forgotten to disclose. Her eyes narrowed speculatively as she measured what seemed to be an unnecessary closeness between the two of them.
“You can call me Za,” she told him. “But don’t you dare call me ‘Auntie.’ You don’t look more than two years younger than me.”
“That’s about right,” he admitted.
“I don’t know where he got that name from,” Deanda protested sheepishly.
Kenneth saved her by starting the introductions before the silence could get awkward. There were more than enough of them for Sabrina to worry about all the names she’d have to remember. Except for her nephew, Alistair, that was. She locked that one away without any trouble to pester Deanda about.
But intimidating as it was, the meet and greet also served to illustrate the archaic government system her brother’s world worked off of. From what she could gather, he and Kyla were supreme rulers of their kingdom in old-fashioned monarch style. It rubbed her American-trained sensibilities a bit wrong, but she kept that to herself. Though they did appear to have enough advisers to lean on, starting with the Lord Douglas something or other, a Lady Grear and a third whose name escaped Sabrina altogether two seconds after he’d been introduced.
She also met the military commander, a surprisingly jovial man, who seemed to be in his late forties. And then there was the rather short but intimidating chief intelligence officer named Geoffrey, and the female head of the Human Knowledge Foundation. That group had apparently long-since merged with Intelligence, yet it somehow still retained its title.
The woman who was in charge of that organization looked delighted at the prospect of picking Sabrina’s brain about the human world, despite appearing very knowledgeable about it already. She was the one who explained how it should take another week or two for the girls to shed their physical limitations. Though they had already gone a couple days without their vitamins, their bodies would need at least a few more to return to their natural state.
According to what Sabrina could understand, since faerie lands were mostly underground where oxygen was much more scarce, neither she nor Deanda were physically capable of handling that kind of atmosphere. Nor, for that matter, could they reduce their size at will to fit in the faerie world.
As the little meeting drew to an end, Kenneth assured them they would be closely guarded against the HPAC while they remained up above with the humans. And he had already cleared his schedule to spend more time with her the following afternoon. Kyla would remain “downstairs” as usual, but she seemed to mean it when she said she couldn’t wait for Sabrina to join them in Faeriedom. So after more hugs and handshakes, the two humanized faeries were escorted back to the limousine, followed again by her personal protective team.
The small entourage had barely pulled away before Sabrina verbally pounced on the romantic relationship she’d noticed. “So you and Alistair?”
Deanda had the grace to blush. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“He’s two years younger,” she protested. “According to U.S. law, at least, he never would have been illegal for me.”
“Then you’ve considered doing grown-up things with him?”
“I am so not speaking to you right now.” But she did a very bad job of hiding her smile, which was just as telling as her stained cheeks.
Taking note of the subtle and not so subtle glances coming from her bodyguards, Sabrina took pity at that point. She did, however, give Deanda a sharp look to indicate that the subject wouldn’t be forgotten so easily.
For the meantime, she changed the conversation to less embarrassing topics. After all, it was easy to be gracious when she was still basking in the fact that she had a family to call her own.
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