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The Protege

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Chapter I

How I was another serial number

 

Season after season, in the end it was the same. Year after year, day after day, and every second summed up to be an agony. Behind a cell for a few days, free in others, punished in many, and awarded in few. Behind and in front of her teammates was nobody, she was just another face of another country, another type of body with different proportions, another subject of experimentation, and in the eyes of the government and Vishkar, she was another convict. Fareeha Amari didn’t exist inside that building, only a serial number that was associated with her body.

The truth is that the Egyptian government managed to capture her after ten years of escaping her fate, but what they didn’t know was that Fareeha had an ace up her sleeve all the time, and having served in the army gave her certain advantages over her sentence. For this reason, the government decided to pardon her and instead of sending her to prison to life imprisonment, they preferred to send her to Vishkar to help them with a new corrective therapy in development. Just another big lie.

Being out in the desert wearing black armor proved it, proving that correctional therapy was just a basic method to keep their soldiers aligned. An error, a wrong move, a word wrongly said, then therapy was always the solution, and Fareeha was the one who regularly took the worst punishments for refusing to kill civilians. Vishkar called it collateral damage, but it wasn’t if they were forced to do so if they were in their way.

Another undercover mission, several other obligations, more casualties, more guilt added to the toll. In the distance and inside the military vehicle that was carrying her team, she could see Vishkar's huge facilities. The building stretched three floors up with a huge field around and impeccable gardens, but that was just the facade. Inside and down in the basement, they found themselves and the heart of the corporation. Fareeha always refused to take off her helmet before entering the building again, because she didn't want to associate her face as one of them.

Yet, that accessory was one of the worst things, as the helmet was specially designed so that whoever wore it wouldn’t recognize anyone, only those who had a Vishkar identification. Otherwise, and she had to shoot, kill, and complete the untold mission.

The tile felt cold under her bare feet, despite being summer and being in the middle of the Thar Desert in India. Inside those huge white walls the cold seeped through every part of her body, something that totally displeased Fareeha. Twenty-eight years, and that's what her life had become, a miserable slave and a laboratory rat to be tested on. And to be walking naked and handcuffed from their wrists parading like animals in a circus in front of a narrow aisle, showed how much Vishkar cared for their humanity and their million dollar research. Even the shock necklace and the dog tag with her serial number showed how much restricted they were in the corporation.

Actually Fareeha never minded being humiliated, she was used to it since a young age. However, seeing her other teammates -those with whom she came to form a close friendship- being tortured was another story, that made her beyond angry, and that was one of the main reasons why she became violent and merited more than one or two punishments a week. The worst part was that some of them were barely past twenty years old, still tender in age and quite naïve for being trapped inside such a place.

Hana Song was the youngest of them, member of the Korean group known as Meka, along with four more members and a captain to keep them at bay and guide them in every step as to make them the best they could offer. They weren’t criminals, let alone murderers, but just mere children who made bad decisions at the wrong time in the wrong place. When Fareeha found out, she couldn’t sit idly by and immediately took Hana under her protection, she being the weakest one of the entire facility.

One of the guards was escorting the line of eleven women to an isolated room, on one side of the wall there was a large rectangular window that stretched from side to side, several scientists observed from the other side of the glass between monitors, tablets and other electronic devices. Friday, the day that Fareeha hated most, the day they should be checked to verify the progress their bodies have had to endure under the stress of the treatment to which they have been obligatorily taken.

“MKSH082.”

Fareeha heard Hana’s codename being called, and the smallest of them all immediately squealed and trembled with fear. That could only meant one thing. Hana took a few steps forward as one of Vishkar's female scientific members appeared through a door with a tablet in her hand, wearing their signature white and blue uniform and checking every part of her body, grimacing in displeasure when she saw that Hana hadn’t improved in the least to the treatment. Fareeha didn’t know specifically what Vishkar wanted to achieve, but it wasn’t good, and definitely whatever they were telling the audience, it was a big lie. With a shook of her head, Fareeha knew what was coming next.

“Repeat the treatment, increase the dose of the experimental secondary steroids, and initiate electroshock therapy once the indicated doses are given.”

One of the guards took Hana roughly by the arm, and the girl began to cry, to try to break free and scream. Fareeha's eyes widened, and her teeth tightened from the helplessness of seeing her friend being dragged to be genuinely tortured. Quickly and without thinking twice, Fareeha managed to get her hands in front of her -even with the handcuffs- and tackled the guard, making him to let go of Hana.

“Leave her alone! She’s fine!”

The guard grunted on the floor, only to stand up and hit Fareeha with a stun baton, making her now fall on the cold tiles and manage to drown a scream. Within Vishkar she had to be invincible, to never show weakness, she wasn’t going to be tamed and she was not going to let anyone else do it. All she wanted to do was serve her sentence and get out of there. That only if she was still alive by the time the promised five more years of such a treatment elapsed.

“Take MKSH082 to the electroshock chamber and send RMAF008 to corrective therapy and isolation afterwards for three hours.”

That voice Fareeha recognized on the other side of the crystal and through the speakers on the ceiling. An outstanding, meditative, clever, cold and calculating woman amongst the several members of Vishkar: Satya Vaswani. Her tan skin was covered in a black and purple uniform, standing from her comrades as a member of a higher position. Her black hair was fixed in a braid, and not a single hair stood out. She was after all a perfectionist with herself and her job, and if she shouldn’t smile not even once so as not to show her arm to twist, that's the way it was going to be.

“Let's see if she continues with such anarchist behavior after twenty minutes of meditation.”

Fareeha snarled, ready to revert the roles, but a throat clearing and subtle whispering made her leave her plans, and surrendered. This woman was another person who didn’t deserve to be here like Hana, but in the same way, being a nuisance and a hindrance to the government, she ended up as Vishkar's pawn. To be a big, muscular woman with intimidating voice and impressive strength, Aleksandra was just the opposite, just an avid activist that the government saw as a threat and ended up in the Russian group of Svyatogors, and all for fighting for what was fair. Most of the corporation's captives were innocent, and only a few -like Fareeha- really deserved to be treated like the scum they were, that she thought.

Except that most subjects inside treated her completely the opposite.

Fareeha still didn’t know how she achieved that status of a beacon of hope within, of strength and admiration, but if it helped the weakest to move forward and have a purpose, she would be more than willing to continue doing whatever it would take. It's the least she owed to everyone. After being forced and dragged into a special chamber, Fareeha stood on with her front facing the cold tile wall of the room. The place was quite familiar to her, more than she would like.

The pressure of the ice water on her back ripped a tearing scream momentarily from her, straining immediately to feel how her body was numb and lacked response. The process never lasted more than twenty minutes, but the pressure of the hose always managed to bruise her back and legs, and the cold didn’t help in the least. She hated it, she despised the icy water, and for some reason, the frigid sensation not only tensed her physically, but twisted something in her head. An annoying noise that pierced her temple, making her dizzy, numbing her body, and making her to fall to the floor at the end.

This was common. The correctional therapy they used in her had a horrendous side effect. Memory loss and fogged cognizance was far more common than she liked. Fragments, but treasured memories however, was a loss. The lack of answers and blank spaces in her mind made her constantly have nightmares: that was the worst punishment of all. Dreaming of a city that she didn’t recall ever visiting, remember only faces, smells, voices. Her childhood, her work, her family.

She remembered Jesse, her almost brother. She remembered Brigitte, a childhood friend and engineering sister. She remembered Jack, but only slightly, his blonde hair standing overall. She remembered Lucio, a young man with exquisite taste in music and a great waiter. She remembered many other from Helix, from the city, from her real family. And in spite of it all, she had this constant sense of emptiness, as if something –if someone- far more important than anything was lost, but she couldn’t remembered anything else from that parting point.

Except for a figure with a particular essence, a mixture of roses and a touch of wine, and with a melodious, almost angelic voice. Sometimes she dreamed of her face, sometimes she forgot it, but for some strange reason when she managed to sleep without having nightmares, that woman appeared as a flare of hope, radiant and wholesome. There was no name in her face, no form to relate to her, and sometimes, when walking in the desert, she saw her. Fareeha saw her standing somewhere between the dunes, somewhere atop a hill, sometimes just in front of her. They were so sporadic that sometimes they came to bother. That afternoon wasn't one of those whatsoever.


The western desert of Egypt had no mercy in summer. The burning sun and the scorching sand were a decisive factor in dying of dehydration in less than an hour. And yet, Fareeha was running. Running, dashing, sprinting as fast as her small and weak legs gave, for just at eight years old, she began to prepare for what would be one of the most intense and determining years of her childhood and her future as an adult member of the Amari family, a clan, a whole society in the ever thriving society of Egypt.

“Run. Run faster. Faster! Run faster, for fucks sake, Fareeha!”

“I-I can’t…!”

“If you don’t run faster than that, you are going to be killed! Do you want that?!”

“No! But uncle, I’m tired-”

“No one gives a damn if you’re tired!”

“My legs…”

“What? Are you seriously fatigued?! For the Gods… Fine! Then go to the slopes of the temple and grab a rifle.”

“W-what?

“You heard me! If you want to be someone within the clan and the family, you must prove that you are like your mother and any other Amari. So go, take a gun, and start practicing along with the others.”

“But there’s only adults and-!”

“And nothing!”

“…Why do I have to start practicing now and not wait to start practicing with my cousins?”

“That happens to you for being a bastard. It’s a shame that your mother has reached such a point of begetting you. You have no real Amari blood. You’re like a dog, you are a mixture of good and bad genes, so you better start working now or you’ll never be up to name yourself an Amari.”


Fareeha opened her eyes, her heart was pounding fast and there was a thin layer of sweat in her brow, the knock on her bedroom door woke her after she fainted in the hydraulic correction room. It was the stupidest name she had ever heard for a torture chamber with water methods of pain infliction, but it didn’t make it any less painful. At least the room she shared with the other members of the Egyptian group that the government put together was comfortable. It had five separate beds aligned to a wall, a small lounge room and a modest bathroom. That was one of the few points in Vishkar's favor: they spared no expense with their hosts, after all, their program was worth millions, so much closer to a sum of ten figures.

She sat on the bed, the headache was always the starting point, and next to her in the bedside table was a glass of water and a paper pill cup with three white tablets inside. Fareeha for some reason recognized them, and they always helped her, so she swallowed them and took a sip of water. Thankfully she was fully dressed again in the uniform Vishkar provided: black pants and black long-sleeve shirt with her serial number embroidered in white letters. She heard the knock again, and with a grunt, she reached for her black combat boots, slightly combing her tangled hair with her hands to open the door.

“It’s dinner time, Amari.”

“I’m not hungry, Zaryanova.” The tall woman smiled, leaning against the doorframe just to shake her head with amusement. Fareeha smiled equally.

“I told you to call me Aleks.”

“And I told you to call me Fareeha, Reeha, asshole or whatever but Amari. And yet, here we are discussing the same thing after two years.” Aleks laughed, patting her friend in the shoulder. And it was the truth, Aleksandra happened to be one of the close –if not the closest- friend she made in that camp, ever so sincere and supportive.

“It’s a bad habit from the army but very good, then. It’s dinner time, Fareeha. The little bunny is startled, she needs your help.” Fareeha sighed, she knew very well she meant Hana.

“…But I’m tired.”

“Nonsense! Come on!”

Aleks stepped forward and lifted Fareeha, carrying her over one shoulder and walking down the wide corridors of the facility to the cafeteria. Fareeha laughed, letting the Russian take her for a good nutritious dinner. That was the best part of finishing the day, the moment when everyone could be themselves without fear of reprisals from Vishkar. Of course, with the exception of not breaking the rules. Aleks kicked the doors open and let Fareeha on the floor, standing up only to be tackled by a thin girl hanging from her hips.

“Reeha!”

“Hey, Hana.” Fareeha hugged her back and walked to grab a tray to be filled with food she barely digested. It lacked many things, and it was bland as an unsweetened oatmeal, but it filled her stomach at least. Fareeha sat next to Hana and Aleks in a more secluded table. There was another girl from the Korean group, Yuna, and she was Hana’s best friend. “How are you feeling, baby bunny?” The girl shrugged as she dug the spoon on her yogurt.

“It wasn’t as bad as the previous times, so yeah, I’m okay.”

“I told you to sleep at night, that's why you almost don’t train in the mornings.” Yuna scolded her, earning a death glare from Hana.

“Hey! I do train! …Only in the afternoons.”

“That’s like the sightless of the trainings, Hana!”

“Hey, you two, stop.” Aleks pointed at both. “Are we really going to deal with this daily?”

“Aleks is right, girls. And Hana, do your trainings.” The girl was visibly deflating, her shoulders slouched down. “You cannot keep neglecting yourself. Maybe this time it wasn’t as intense as the other sessions but believe me, the electroshock therapy isn’t the worst here.”

“Will you ever tell us what’s worst, Fareeha?” The Egyptian rolled her eyes and smiled.

“The less you know, the better.” She took the last bite of her kulcha, perhaps the only thing that was savory in tonight’s menu that they provided. She adored the food that reminded her of home, and that bread was close enough. “Damn… I want one more of this.”

“Fareeha!” The four girls turned to the source of the shout, specifically to a table with several men. Fareeha recognized her four roommates eating together with the Moroccan group, both groups congenial because of their similarity of customs and same language. Standing up was a man with short brown hair, his skin fairer than some of them and he had an overall aura of serenity around him. “Catch!” He yelled in Arabic and tossed Fareeha another piece of bread.

Thanks, Tariq! I still owe you nothing!” She yelled back in the same language, taking the bread with ease as it was hurled towards her. Fareeha took a bite and hummed in delight as she sat back, munching the bread and treasuring it. “This is the good stuff tonight.”

“Heeey! Your boyfriend’s taking good care of you, huh?” Hana teased, and Fareeha rolled her eyes. “He even sacrificed his kulcha to give you back a moment of happiness! Aww!”

“I might not remember some things from the past five years, but believe me, breaking up with him it’s definitely one of the things I remember.”

“And he’s trying real hard to win your heart back!”

“Meh.” Fareeha took another bite, and Hana’s eyes widened. Aleks and Yuna limited themselves to listen and say nothing, only when asked.

“Meh? Are you ‘mehying’ him?”

“That’s not a word-”

“Fareeha, are you crazy? Look at him! He’s concerned about you, he’s dedicated, he’s so cute! Come on! Why do you keep ditching him?!”

“He’s here.”

“We’re all here! But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people, we were just…”

“People who made bad decisions at the wrong time and place.” Aleks complimented Hana’s statement and the smaller girl clapped her hands once.

“That. Look at Aleks! She’s a freakin’ activist and she’s here!”

“Still, meh.”

“I can’t believe you… Then why do you keep accept his offerings of food and bread?”

“Because I’m not stupid?” She shook the last piece of bread and tossed it to her mouth. “I mean, it’s free kulcha.” Hana huffed and moved a strand of hair in front of her face in an exasperated motion.

“Fine, whatever.”

“Why don’t you get yourself a boyfriend if you’re so interested in relationships? There’s Jae-Eun, Seung-Hwa and…” She snapped her fingers, trying to remember the name. “…Why do I keep forgetting the other one?” Hana made a disgusted face.

“Ew.”

“She has a boyfriend back at Busan.” Yuna said while peeling an orange, her face was far from interested in the conversation, yet she joined when given the opportunity. “Get over him, Hana. You might get to never see him again.”

“Yuna, shut up.”

“Then stop bothering Fareeha. She might have someone as well and you’re annoying her.”

“I don’t have anyone, but I appreciate that you leave the subject right here. I got free bread, he’s got the satisfaction of making me happy for two minutes. Everybody wins.”

Everyone decided to leave it there, maybe one day it would be debatable, but not now. Fareeha just wanted to enjoy that last moment of peace with her friends before they all retired to their chambers. And so it was. Despite having been bathed by force, Fareeha urgently needed a hot shower. Fast, effective, efficient, whatever works to relax her body after a day of intense work and a frigid punishment.

She stood up in front of the bathroom mirror naked and looked at her reflection for a heartbeat, she was always curious about her arm and left side, now covered in tattoos with references to Egypt and other things that she was sure must have a deep meaning. She remember most of them, but maybe one day she would remember them all. At least it looked good and complimented her body. Already changed into a set of loose pants and a T-shirt, she left the bathroom drying her hair with a towel, sitting on the edge of her bed until her hair was slightly damp.

“How are you?” Fareeha stopped, and peeked through her hair for the source of the voice.

“I’ve been better. And thanks for the bread again.” Tariq smiled at her.

“No problem.”

“Why don’t you two kiss?!” Saleh, another member of her team and the Raptora’s yelled at them. He was a goofball, the funniest of them in the group, and not serious at all. However, inside the battlefield he was a good companion and a reliable teammate. Another good friend of Fareeha.

“Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” He earned a smack in the face with a wet towel ball Fareeha hurled from her bed.

“Guys, I’m trying to read.” Mahmud, another member, and he was calmer than anyone.

“Sorry.” Fareeha got up and walked out the door. “I’m out.”

“Again?”

“I need a walk to dry my hair ‘and clear my mind’.”

She closed the door and walked down the halls. It was a weekend, and that meant tranquility. But tonight was quieter than usual, something was definitely out of place, but serenity was always appreciated. Every night and especially after a mission, Fareeha went to the gardens and to a warehouse near the perimeter of Vishkar. As she sat there she could see the dunes of the desert, mounds of sand kissed by the moonlight. They reminded her of Egypt, of Giza, her home. They reminded her of her mother. She heard footsteps, already knowing who it was, for it was usual to meet her there.

“Fareeha.”

“Mirembe.”

An outstanding doctor, member of the medical research team, and an excellent friend despite being part of Vishkar Corporation. Her skin was darker than Fareeha’s or anyone around and her curly hair was tinted blonde, so she stood up pretty easily from everyone. She was perhaps one of the few people with common sense inside, but like Fareeha and many others, she was there with no other option, so the Egyptian didn’t take long to develop a close friendship with her. And her unique personality made her laugh for so long, the two just fit together. Also, having a friend inside Vishkar had its own benefits.

"How was the cold shower?”

“Like shit.” Mirembe laughed and stood next to her, taking a small box from her lab coat and a lighter.

“Want some?” Fareeha’s eyes lit.

“What? Are you serious?”

“I sure am. Here.” The doctor gave her a cigarette, helping her by lighting it, and Fareeha took a long drag, savoring the tobacco. “Merry Christmas.”

“Holy shit… I’m going to cry.”

“Girl, calm down. It’s not a blunt.”

“It’s been like six months since my last one. I think my lungs are having an orgasm… Let’em have this, please. They’re almost virgins again.” They both shared a giggle, and Mirembe sat down next to her.

“It’s a beautiful night for sneaking around, huh?”

“Every night after a mission, it is.” She took another drag, releasing the smoke slowly above her head. “By the way, where’s Fio?”

“Taking Vaswani across the sea.”

“That explains everything. So this is a celebration smoke.”

“Call it whatever, ain’t no one here to scold you.” A brief shared silence.

“What’s Vaswani doing out of town, by the way?”

“What do you think? Closing a deal.” Fareeha rolled her eyes.

“Oh great, another babysitter.”

“You’ve scared eight already. Satya ain’t happy. And stop calling the babysitters, they’re your guardians.”

“It’s the same shit. I used to do that seven years ago.”

“And here you are.”

“And here I am.” They shared the silence for a little longer, enjoying the quiet of the night and the fresh air amidst the heat of the afternoon. In the daylight’s summer the desert was quite hot, but the night was always fresh, sometimes even cold. “And here I am…” Fareeha repeated, finishing the last of her cigarette.

“I must admit I am a little worried, Vaswani wants to close a deal with one of the best doctors in the field. If you don’t correct that shit you call a path, it’s very likely that you will be assigned that doctor, and we don’t know how dangerous or greedy it must be. You know, since they see you as a new toy.”

“It’s just that… It isn’t fair. They can do anything they want with me, I don’t give a fuck about my body and sanity anymore. But what about the others? Look at Hana, at Yuna, at the whole Meka group. They’re children.”

“And the Korean government doesn’t give a damn about them. They just want their soldiers ready as soon as possible.”

“They’re good… Hana is good, she has the best scores here, and she’s only nineteen. She kinda reminds me of-”

“What? You?”

“…Yes.” Mirembe looked at her, finishing her own cigarette and tossing the butt to the sand.

“Having the same nightmares?”

“Yeah…” The older woman stood up, grunting and stretching her back in one swift motion. She dusted her pants and looked at Fareeha, then towards the desert ahead.

“I honestly don’t know what else can help you. Every medication I have given you has very mild effects, they are temporary or they don’t work at all. Maybe it's good that this doctor comes and helps you.”

“I don’t need-”

“Fareeha!” She closed her eyes with a tad of irritation, already knowing who it was.

“Or perhaps you just need company.” Mirembe whispered. “Good night, babies. Use protection.”

“Shut up, Mirembe.” Fareeha glared, earning a laugh from the scientist as she left the place, only to be replaced with Tariq, who stood beside her.

“Hey. You okay?”

Tariq asked her earnestly. Usually his company was upset by the fact of having history together. Of course, she came to appreciate his presence at times like these, where after a strenuous day of being in the desert or small towns under the hot sun, and after being humiliated for defending her friend, she needed someone to vent with. What she didn’t appreciate at all -and Fareeha admitted her mistake- was telling Hana that Tariq used to be her boyfriend, and the girl, like any teenager, was quick to gossip about it.

He was a good man, there was nothing bad to say about him. He was dedicated, strong, handsome, sensitive, a good match in general and longed for by many. Fareeha met him in the Egyptian army, and she had to admit that at first she felt the same attraction as several of her comrades, except that for some strange reason, he decided to stay with her. And until this very moment. What Fareeha however saw in him and didn’t appealed her was the lack of vision, the conformism, and Fareeha always wanted more, she craved feeling more than most. But now he felt more like a friend, maybe a cousin, but never like a romantic relationship.

“I’ll be fine.” Still, Fareeha decided to be honest with him.

“You sure?”

“Sure. In the end I always am, right?” He took a deep breath and leaned on the wall of the empty warehouse, crossing his arms and looking at her with a hint of reprimand.

“You always say that, that you're fine or you'll be. You need to start being honest with yourself.” Fareeha shook her head slowly, frowning a bit while doing so. She clicked her tongue before speaking, a habit she developed overtime.

“Remind me again, why are you here?”

“Because I’m concerned about you?” He cocked his head when Fareeha looked back at him.

“No. Why are you here, in Vishkar?”

“The same answer applies, I think.”

“Well, you’re stupid.” He chuckled. “Why are you laughing? I’m not kidding.”

“You may have lost part of your memory, but you are not blind, Fareeha.”

“No, but you are.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t give up. Ain’t it fun?” He crouched and ruffled her hair with one hand, Fareeha immediately slapping his hand away.

“In the slightest.” The man laughed softly before parting.

“Well, just wanted to make sure you’re okay here.”

Tariq said goodbye to her, leaving her alone again in the darkness of the desert. The stars shone like the lights of the city that once welcomed her, but these were more beautiful, natural and unique, and the crescent moon high in the sky was the only lantern she needed. An hour later and when the temperature was dropping further, Fareeha decided to return to her own bed.

Now it was just the worst of the moments, the one she always feared and prayed for a safe trip: sleeping without having nightmares. Tariq was the one who regularly woke her up when things got out of control, when in reality she became physically violent or started screaming, waking up several times with nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and even sudden fainting. As she lay in her bed, she only wished that night was quiet, that the nightmares weren’t so rough on her and gave her enough time to maybe sleep three or four hours. And taking the blanket, she covered up to her chest and closed her eyes, drifting away in a blink due to her tiredness.


She opened her eyes.

She was in the middle of an apartment big and opulent enough to house a celebrity. She did not recognized the place, but it felt warm despite the luxury of everything surrounding her, as if she was there previously. Every detail, every piece of furniture, every painting, everything had an aspect of richness that Fareeha would never have imagined of even entering such an apartment. Was it a client of hers? And if it was, who of the high society would be crazy enough to hire her? No matter where she looked, that cozy feeling didn’t vanished.

It felt like home.

However, Fareeha was more than sure that she would never get an apartment of that caliber herself, and judging by the view outside the windows, much less in that sector. Dismissing that thought, she took one step forward, then another, and her footsteps didn’t make a sound at all, they didn’t feel the carpet underneath, as if she was floating mid-air. Her legs led her to a sliding glass door that led to a terrace, but before she slid it, the sound of an opening door stopped her in her tracks.

A woman. Blonde golden hair, piercing blue eyes, porcelain skin, tall and thin –but not as tall as Fareeha- and she was as beautiful as anyone she has ever seen, perhaps a model of some sort. That could explain the apartment and the overall sense of deluxe and extravagance. She was wearing only her underwear and an oversized gray shirt, but what caught Fareeha’s attention besides the woman, was the shirt itself: a Helix Security International shirt just so similar to one she owned.

The blonde hummed as she walked to the kitchen, not noticing Fareeha was there. Her stroll was almost like a catwalk; provocative, alluring, sultry, seductive. She stopped in front of the coffee maker, pressing a few buttons on the appliance as it began to brew the dark beverage. The woman seemed happy, content, so joyful she drummed her fingers on the kitchen countertop, smirking as she kept humming a song Fareeha had heard before but she didn’t recognized yet.

Once the coffee finished sneaking in, she poured herself a cup, leaning on the counter and drinking quietly. It was a common scene of perhaps a Sunday morning, a day of relaxation, and Fareeha hadn’t the faintest idea why she dreamed of her. And not only this time, but several actually. She regularly saw her in more public situations, like sitting in a cafe, behind a desk, being escorted in a car, but nothing as intimate as this. This was weird, but it used to happen, and more than usual as of lately. That was when Fareeha realized that the corrective therapy -especially the stronger treatment that was given to her- had quite the strong side effects.

This sort of angelic woman moved again, walking with the cup of coffee in her hand towards the door through which she showed up, but before disappearing behind it, the blonde turned around, looked at Fareeha in the eyes, and smiled. A smile so tender, so perfect, that it could illuminate the darkest night like a million flaring stars. It was a dream, Fareeha knew it was a dream, but why did she felt that her body was burning? That her legs were shaking, that her breathing stopped and her heart was beating so fast it was about to jump from her chest?

Fareeha took a step towards her, then another, and before reaching her, everything turned bright white.


“…Fareeha? Hey, Fareeha… Fareeha, wake up.” Her shoulder was shaken gently as was the voice that called her name. Fareeha opened her eyes in panic, her forehead was drenched in sweat and her heart was beating as fast as her breathing. “Are you okay?” Tariq asked her. He was sitting in her bed and his hand stayed in her shoulder, reassuring her. Fareeha, trying to recover her calm, just nodded. “…Do you want a hug?” For a beat she hesitated, and nodded again, feeling the embrace of her friend encasing her body and lulling her back to tranquility as she needed in such a dark times.

Fareeha was sure of one thing: that was no nightmare, but that felt too real to be a dream.

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter II

Then I accepted an offer

 

*Beep*

That was how it began, with a bothersome, irritating noise every morning, enough to wake her up and make her growl on the pillow. The blinds of the bedroom were closed, denying any sunray to filter through the window due the thickness of the material. The air conditioner softly hummed, creating a mild gale of refreshing air. The most comfortable item were the soft sheets surrounding her body, sheltering everything and protecting her from whatever it was that threatened her this very morning. Everything except the alarm clock on her bedside table.

*Beep*

Angela Ziegler, the ever loving and genius woman, doctor, scientist and philanthropist everyone got to admire, stirred under the covers whimpering about the fact that it’s not fair that she has to wake up so early. It didn’t bother her to go to work and start her day, she loved her job, but to do it just when the sun dared to appear on the horizon and without her dose of morning caffeine, it was a crime itself. And it’s that her bed was so comfortable in the darkness of her bedroom that she just wanted to sleep with no end.

*Beep*

A pale hand crawled from under the sheets, touching and trying to reach the annoying device beeping like every morning. “Shut up, for God’s sake… Shut uuup…” Stomping its way, she finally touched the white box, feeling the slightly highlighted button to finally shut off the alarm. And from below the sheets, a blonde mess of a woman truly woke up. Angela rose and rubbed her eyes, dissipating the sleep from her eyes and the numbing from her brain. Blessed be the poor clueless soul who could bear her in the morning.

Now, that’s how the day truly began.

Waking up, taking a quick shower, sitting in front of her vanity as her hair dried slightly and she fixed her makeup on a quick, practiced motion. Foundation, powder, eyeliner, mascara, and just a dab of lip gloss. Her lips moved at the rhythm of the music played on the background as she fixed her now long golden locks up in a ponytail. Taking a dress from the rack of her walk-in closet, she stood in front of the full length mirror, pleasantly observing that the set she choose met her expectations. High heels, pearl necklace, rose quartz earrings, and an accessory that never matched entirely but that she never stopped wearing: An iron ring on her index finger.

The ring of someone who she got to respect, to admire, to look forward for she never stopped protecting her, being the ever dedicated and concerned girl who caught her eye among a sea of people. A woman who trapped her blindly and fancied unconditionally in heart, mind and soul. That was the ring of someone she used to love with all their being, until she was forgotten. Still, it was the evidence of a promise. Angela wondered if Fareeha even remembered her overtime, but now, after five years, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Still, and as she said, she would be fine and life was still moving with or without her.

The doors of the hospital opened wide when the sensors felt their footsteps on the floor, and the renowned doctor, leader of the medical research area and head of the hospital, entered with unparalleled confidence with a coffee in hand and her purse hanging from a shoulder. And she smiled when some gazes fixed on her. The truth was that, even when it shouldn’t matter at all, she was vain and enjoyed the attention here and there. It made her feel young when, despise having only thirty-three years, she felt old sometimes. Watching a few residents in the hospital definitely fed that thought.

Angela loved to flaunt herself in the morning around the halls of the hospital, it made her feel important and acknowledged. She missed something –or rather someone- and her work proved to fill that void most of the time, but only partly. Nonetheless, admiration was always welcomed. Taking a sip of her coffee, she looked for the keys of her office inside her purse, fumbling between the messes the bag had in the interior. After a minute of trying her best, she found them, and opened her office, taking a deep breath and smelling the blending aroma of disinfectant and wild berries.

“Good morning, Angela!”

Her always faithful partner and coworker, her assistant for three years and friend for about five. Emily proved to excel in the nursing field inside the hospital, so Angela decided to adopt her as her apprentice and later as her assistant. Sometimes she felt that she kept a hold of the redhead's dream of becoming a full-time nurse, but Emily always reminded her that this was much better, and she was always grateful with the doctor for handing her such wonderful opportunity.

“Good morning, Em.” She left her purse on the desk and from the rack she took her lab coat, wearing it with pride.

“Did you had a good night?”

“My nights are not a problem, my mornings however…” She rolled her eyes and smiled.

“You have your coffee, you should just wake up now.” And indeed, she took a sip, reminding herself she must be awake by now.

“You are right in that matter.” Angela sat down on her desk and turned on her computer, Emily sitting across her. “How was your weekend?”

“It was pretty good. Lena and I went to this restaurant called Bell not far from the Alderworth Hotel, we ate fish and chips, it was delicious. You should try it! I definitely recommend it.”

“Perhaps next weekend I’ll should try.” Angela smiled at her and started typing in her keyboard, starting to work on the unfinished reports from last week.

“How about yours?”

“I went to train, then to the gym, I had tea with Hanzo and that was it. I locked myself in my apartment, I didn’t want to leave. Why is it so hot?”

“It’s summer.”

“Yes, but why?” Emily laughed.

“The wonders of seasons and nature and all.”

“Well, I hate this damn heat.” Emily rolled her eyes, already knowing the doctor had a resentment towards hot weather. “Do we have some work to do now? Aside from the tests in the lab.”

“Let me see.” Emily took an agenda from a nearby table and flipped the pages. “Well, you have an interview in two hours, two appointments with two doctors and... Uhm, a meeting with Vishkar.” Angela’s eyes focused on nothing, recalling on why Vishkar was there.

“Right. Vaswani…Wait. Two years have passed already? I feel like it was a couple of months ago when they came back.”

“Two years already. She called last week to confirm, although I think she was announcing her presence more than anything.”

“She is that confident, isn’t she? Perhaps she’s thinking I’ll accept her offer out of the blue.”

“Having a stick stuck up her bum has definitely some effects.” They both shared a laugh, eventually settling down.

“Well, we must definitely start now or my energies will run out by the time I have the meeting with Vishkar.”

Soon enough, Emily and Angela went back to work. Two interviews later and an appointment with a doctor later, they finished the tasks they had. The morning rolled pretty quickly and easy, and soon, the not-so wanted meeting with Vishkar and Satya Vaswani was just around the corner. It took Angela all the patience and will to open the doors of the briefing room. A deep breath, then two, and she put her hands on the knobs to enter. True to her word, Satya returned in two years at the exact same time she proposed.

However, she wasn’t alone like last time. Next to Satya were four more people, presumably a pilot from the uniform she was wearing, and the other three wore a white military uniform. Two women and a man. The five of them were sitting across the table, Satya in the middle as always and with a tablet in front of her. This time, Angela was alone. Whatever Vishkar was going to propose to her this time, it was definitely addressed only to her.

“Good morning to you all.” Angela spoke first as she took a seat on a chair across the briefing table. “It's good to see that you arrived safely.” Satya nodded as serious as ever. “Both our time is valuable and I don’t want to delay you anymore, so why don’t we start?”

Focused, direct, quick, as Vaswani liked it, and only a small smile of pleasure showed on her face. The girl got up from her seat and the lights of the room went out, only the projector on a wall was the only source of lighting in the place. Satya took a little remote and walked to the front of the images projected, indicating that she would lead to a presentation.

“Two years ago we talked about the importance of Vishkar and its current alliance with Lumerico. Two years ago I promised to bring results of our behavioral correction system, and here is the fruit of our work.” With a press of a button, the slide changed to several charts and statistic tables. “Treatments, pills, serums, all of them have had positive results, but nothing like the combination of Vishkar and Lumerico’s patented energy system.” Angela analyzed every single one of them, comparing with detail so nothing would escape from her.

“I see.” She simply stated. “Then you are ready to test the… How do you call it again?”

“Hard-light technology. And as a matter of fact, the test are already running swiftly.” Angela nodded, and then stopped when she realized something.

“Wait a moment. Are you telling me that you already began human testing?”

“Yes.”

“On people. Humans.”

“Am I not clear enough?”

“You don’t have approval from the United Nations and the Food and Drug Administration yet. Who in their right mind would let them use their body to test on it?” Angela’s accent was beginning to switch to a strong Swiss one due to her rage, although she was doing a mighty job to contain it when Satya spoke next.

“We don’t need their approval. The government of several countries across the globe were more than cooperative in giving us convicts and criminals to achieve a common good. It has been gratifying.” The doctor shook her head in disapproval, barely believing such words coming out of the Indian woman in front of her.

“…How long has this been going on?”

“Twenty days before our last visit here.”

“Twenty days before- two years…? Two years already and no one knew? Are you insane?!”

“I don’t follow.”

“You’re testing in humans against their will!”

“Some of them are volunteers.”

Some. Some it’s not enough, Vaswani.”

“They are convicts, Dr. Ziegler. Protestants, thieves, rapists, murderers. Their damaged bodies and minds deserve better use than rotting in a cell, and some countries agree. I don’t see why you are upset.”

“Because it’s unethical, unconstitutional and violates every single human right.”

“It’s a sacrifice. Are you defending the life of a murderer? You, as a scientist, prefer to protect the life of this guilty, anarchist human rather than to use it for a greater good?”

“First and foremost, I’m a doctor, then I’m a scientist. So yes, I believe that every life deserves more than a second chance. Neither Vishkar, nor you, nor even I are fit to decide the future and fate of a person.”

“I strongly disagree. But we are not here to discuss such trivialities, but to propose you an offer.” Angela scoffed, crossing her arms and smiling with sarcasm.

“Oh, I do apologize then. What is that offer?”

“That you become temporarily part of the medical research team back at out Vishkar Headquarters in India and help us create a more stable treatment, in addition to helping us to counteract certain side effects that treatment has had on some of our patients. As a reward, Vishkar is willing to triple your salary amount for the six months this contract lasts, in addition to supporting you in other aspects. Tell me, how is your Photochemotherapy going on since the Dr. O’Deorain fiasco?” Angela said nothing, as it bothered her more on the inside than the outside. Although Satya seemed to see that. “I see. But there is nothing to worry, as stated before, Vishkar is more than willing to provide you with every aid necessary to continue with said research of yours.”

The silence stretched for longer than she wanted. Of course Angela was upset by the inhumane treatment that was being given to these patients with experimental drugs, and even more so without knowing exactly what they needed to create that treatment for. On the other hand, it was a tempting offer. Angela had high hopes in the treatment of Photochemotherapy and since the incident with Moira, all funds were withdrawn and the project was postponed until further notice. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to dig a little deeper into the offer, because as Satya said, it was a sacrifice.

“…Tell me about the patients.” Satya gave her a side smile and then looked at the people who came with her, specifically the three in military uniforms.

“We currently have a military program for each country that requested it, in which three groups with five members each have been assigned for different purposes. Captain Myung is in charge of the Meka team; the Korean government requested young soldiers who could pilot heavy artillery and were able to do it quickly and efficiently. General Volskaya is leading the Svyatogor team and the Russian government is requesting as well soldiers capable of piloting heavy lethal machinery.” Angela nodded, although there was a knot forming in her throat.”

“Proceed.”

“And finally, there’s Captain Khalil from the Raptora team. The Egyptian government requested soldiers somewhat... Different than the others. Stealthy, silent and fast, but lethal nonetheless.”

“Why exactly?”

“We don’t ask. They provided us with the tools, that’s all we have to know.”

Angela was in total disagreement with everything Satya was saying, but something inside her, deep down and believed to be buried, told her to take the offer without thinking twice, but her head immediately told her no, to retreat, to never get involved in such atrocity. There was not much to do at the time, but Angela needed clarity and think things through more carefully.

“I understand… However, I cannot give you an answer to your offer today, maybe not tomorrow, because as you can imagine this is something that I must think carefully, there are many things that I leave behind for these six months.”

“And I understand your position. We will return in two days and expect your answer to our offer, Dr. Ziegler.”


A full day had passed, and Angela was still thinking carefully about the offer Vishkar had proposed. There were so many negative points against her that the answer was more than obvious, but within her conscience there was a more intimate fight involving sacrifice: denying an offer that put several patients at risk or sacrificing her integrity to achieve greater good? Whatever the answer was, it was eating her alive. And right now, inside the luxurious fashion store where the Aetria signs where everywhere, she felt out of place that moment as her mind kept wandering somewhere else, even when that store was one of her favorites as of lately.

“Angela.” A soft, seductive voice called her, bringing her back and dissipating her distraction. “Are you okay?” Amelie Lacroix probed to be her best friend and almost sister for quite some time. She knew her better than most.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Stop lying to me. Is it about that offer?” Angela groaned and massaged the bridge of her nose hastily.

“Yes, I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Was it to think about? It’s definitely something you’ll never think of ever doi- hold this dress, please- of ever doing and yet, you’re overthinking.” Angela sighed as she held the hanger with the dress Amelie hand her.

“That’s the thing, I’m more towards accepting than denying the offer.” Amelie stopped searching in the racks and looked slowly at her friend, almost frozen in place.

“Excuse me? Are you actually suggesting that you want to accept?”

“No, I don’t want to. However, there are some things that we could benefit from, and I feel that it’s an acceptable risk to take.”

“Acceptable.” The french woman raised an eyebrow. “Neither you or I believe in that word, Angela. There’s something entirely driving you to go there, whatever it is.” The doctor bit her lip, her friend definitely was as observant as always. Somewhat displeased with her answer, she fidgeted with the iron ring in her index finger, a sign of nervousness that probed to ease her in her darkest times.

“I know…”

“Do you know what I think? Not only do you want to have a benefit of going to that expedition in the middle of nowhere in that desert, you are looking for something else... Or perhaps someone?” Angela stopped twisting her ring and scoffed.

“I’m not looking for anyone-”

“Clearly.”

“It's just that there's something weird that I need to investigate there and- you know what? Yes, I’m still looking for her even when she forgot about me, so shut up.” She said with sarcasm more than anything.

Amelie laughed when she saw the blonde search through the racks, perhaps looking for nothing but that ended up as a therapeutic exercise. Honestly, Angela was looking for someone. Unconsciously she always did, and even when her mind had surrendered to keep looking for her a few years ago, something deep inside her told her not to lose hope, to never even think on doing so. And so, she continued. It was for the best.

“Stop using retail therapy.”

“Hey, it’s not- fine, you dragged me here, so I’m doing some shopping to ease my anger, okay?”

“Oh, anger? Have I upset you?”

“No.” She said as she took a dress and looked at it, then another, and another one until she finally picked one.

“Then why are you looking for dresses? I am the one looking for one.”

“Because I need something light and fresh to take to India.”

“Angela…” The doctor expected a reprimand when Amelie took the dress she had chosen and put it back in the rack, except that this time she walked to another rack and between more pieces of clothing, taking two different dresses and giving them back to Angela. There was no anger or judgment, but compassion and understanding. “You need to take long dresses, the sunrays will damage your pale skin if you don’t protect yourself.” Angela smiled and nodded. At least she had the support of her best friend.

After a few more hours of strolling inside the huge shopping mall walking buying compulsively, having a cup of coffee around here and brunch over there, they decided to go to Eichenwalde's for a cold beer, the doctor’s favorite bar for some time and where she has very precious memories. The place was full of life as always, Reinhardt’s voice all over the place filling everyone’s ears with his mighty laughter. As if expecting both of them, a few friends of the two girls were sitting in a round booth, drinking and having a pleasant conversation altogether. One of them waved a hand, and the two sat with a huff.

“I apologize to interrupt your double date, but we’re tired.” Amelie said, fanning herself with a hand. Next to Angela was sitting Emily and Lena, and across Amelie, Hanzo and Jesse. “Reinhardt, darling, can I have a pinot noir?”

“You are tired, I can keep going.”

“Where have you two been?” Jesse asked, taking a sip of his beer.

“Shopping.” The two answered at unison. Hanzo sighed and shook his head.

“No wonder, I called Amelie like three times and she answered shit.”

“Why would you call me, cowboy?”

“Because my gorgeous man was worried about you, cunt.” There was a round of laughter in the table, Angela’s tension finally subduing just a bit. Reinhardt came with a few more pints of beer, a glass of wine, and a special beer bottle for Angela.

“Good evening! I got you your favorite, Angela!”

“Thank you, Reinhardt. You’re always so sweet.”

“Well, you’re the only one worth having a good taste, huh?!” The doctor laughed and nodded.

“I believe I am, right? Anyway, give them a round, I’ll be paying.”

“Now that’s what I wanted to hear, Angie!”

“What’s the occasion?” Angela straightened in her seat, a little uncomfortable but she needed to voice her decision.

“I’m leaving the city in two days for six months… I’m going to India.” Everyone fell silent, even Reinhardt. The silence was so uncomfortable and palpable that Angela preferred to have told them by text message rather than in front of their faces. Lena was the first to blink and speak.

“Pardon, love? Six months? What are you going to do there?”

“It’s a temporary job.”

“But that far?!”

“Lena, calm down.” Emily patted her wife’s hand to ease her. “So… You took the offer.”

“I did.” Angela sighed, expecting -once again- some kind of reprimand, but it never came.

“Angela, I believe that among us I am the person who best understands your position. I don’t judge you, and personally I don’t think I would have made the same decision as you, but I trust you. I trust that you have a plan and that you have carefully thought through the options. I think all we can do is support you and hope for the best, right?”

“That’s right, sugar. You have our support.”

“You will always have our support, understanding and love above all. Remember that we are family and we stand for each other, okay?” Amelie put a hand atop Angela’s pale one and gave it a slight squeeze. After all, she was the one who was closer to call her a family member, for she promised Gerard that she would look up to her as the sister she never had. Angela smiled and saw each of her friends, all of them smiling sweetly at her, it was overwhelming.

“Okay. My thanks, all of you.”

“Well, that deserves a mighty farewell! Let’s bring the good beer, shall we?!” Reinhardt roared, and he went to the back only to return with more beers and some of them quite exotic for the taste of everyone, but not for him and Angela.

That was exactly what Angela needed, a night of relaxation after an exhausting shopping afternoon. Family. She did not have one, she does not remember having belonged to one, but this was the closest and of course, the most honest. She couldn’t say farewell in a better way.

The night passed in a blur, and soon she was carrying five shopping bags up the elevator to her apartment. The lights turned on automatically when she opened the door and let out a more than tired sigh. As usual, she threw her purse and shopping bags on the couch, then kicked her heels off, landing somewhere in the living room and untied her ponytail once she felt comfortable in her own home. With a grunt, she stretched her arms and was about to go to her bedroom to rest after such a tiring day.

However, something stopped her, and instead of flopping in bed, she looked towards the windows and the terrace on her left, then a little to the right where there was a locked door that no one was able to open except her. Her studio and more than personal office. Angela bit her lip, and eventually her feet lead her to that special place in her home. With much apprehension she opened the door and entered, breathing deeply that unique smell of old books and the faintness of some coffee.

More than a study, it was a sanctuary. A place of peace, a place where she shouldn’t worry about anything, but above all, where she kept all the memories of that person who changed her life. The wall to her right was filled with several certificates, photographs, plaques and other prizes that were once given to Fareeha Amari, that girl who was the love of her life and who, probably, had already forgotten about her. Angela didn’t want to admit it, but she was also starting to forget her and feared the day it would happen.

What always brought her back was the letter Fareeha left her when she had to go, a simple white sheet handwritten where she said everything she left behind, everything that she carried and that above all things she remembered who she was and what it meant to her. Without that letter framed on the wall, Angela would have forgotten it more times than she wanted. Shaking that thought from her mind, she took a bottle of wine from the cellar next to a bookcase and went to the terrace. That night was going to be heavier than usual.


She opened her eyes when the pilot of the private jet spoke through the speakers, indicating that they were only fifteen minutes away from landing. Angela looked at her side, Satya was at a small table writing who knows what on a laptop, as focused and serious as ever. On the other side were the three people who accompanied her, the two women looked as serious as Satya, but the man was the only one who greeted her with a nod of his head and a calm smile. Angela did it in the same way, maybe she needed to gather allies in that place.

“Did you sleep well, Dr. Ziegler?”

“Better than I expected. Thank you…”

“Khalil.”

"Thank you, captain Khalil.” He chuckled, waving a hand.

“Just Khalil, it’s alright. I don’t need more formalities than Vishkar requires. Sometimes it's good to get away from that, but hey, that's just my opinion.”

“I think you are right.” Nonetheless, she still felt uncomfortable in the presence of Satya.

“We are arriving at the hangar of the facilities of Vishkar Corporation. Please, fasten your seatbelts and secure your belongings. ETA two minutes.” The pilot spoke once again, and they all obeyed.

Angela looked through the small window of the plane and indeed, below them, there was a facility maybe doubling what the hospital was, and that was only the building. Vishkar headquarters were surrounded by training fields, gardens, hangars and a fairly modest track. The tires touched the ground, and in a matter of two minutes, Angela was already taking her handbag. The doors opened and she immediately regretted having accepted the offer. Heat, a scorching heat through the wind burning all her skin with just one simple blow. It was so extremely hot, that the simple gust of wind that entered the cold jet made her sweat a little.

“Oh my goodness…” Angela said under her breath. The other person who was as uncomfortable as her was the woman with black hair and piercing blue eyes. If she remembered correctly, that was General Volskaya from Russia. She must definitely be suffering more than Angela.

“It is quite hot in here. After all, it’s summer.”

“Dr. Ziegler, for your type of complexion, skin and resistance to low temperatures, I recommend that once we are inside the facilities, do not leave the place except in extreme urgency.” Satya advised her, and perhaps she was going to take such suggestion. The pilot left the cabin and Satya didn't take long to call her. “Fio, is Mirembe still not here?”

“We have already called her but-”

“I’m right here, Satya.” A woman came from the stairs of the open door. Her skin was dark, her hair curly and blonde. She was wearing a white uniform similar to that of Satya. “Why do you always have to hurry me up? Huh?” The Indian woman squinted her eyes.

“That is far from the truth.”

“I know, I know. You're easy to tease. Well, where is this magnificent doctor everyone’s talking about?” She turned her head and looked straight at Angela, who honestly was a little baffled and scared, aside the dehydration threatening to hit her like a million arrows. “Goodness, gracious. You are turning red as a lobster and you haven’t even stepped outside. Here.” Mirembe took a somewhat peculiar cloth and wrapped it around Angela's head, tying it quickly and easily. “There we go. This hijab is a precious thing a dear friend of mine gave me to protect me from the sun, but as you can see, my skin tone helps.”

“My thanks.” Angela said, feeling the soft pale pink-colored fabric on her head.

“Khalil, be a lamb and help her with her bags, would you?”

“Sure thing.”

“Come on, we have a lot to catch up.” The woman motioned Angela to follow her out the doors when everyone already left. The doctor hesitated to step outside, but Mirembe’s laughter gave her enough encouragement. “You’re as white as milk running down a fridge to the marble flooring, dear. Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?” Angela laughed due to her comment, and shook her head.

“Honestly, I had no idea how hot it would be here.”

“Pretty darn hot, but the nights are bearable. You’ll get used to the place. And this time, listen to Vaswani and stay inside when the sun is out.”

“I will have that in mind, thanks.”

“I’m Mirembe from the medical research team, by the way. It was very considerate of Satya to introduce us, don’t you think?”

“Angela Ziegler.”

“Nice to meet you, Dr. Ziegler.”

Several minutes later of walking from the hangar to the door of the building that formed Vishkar, Angela could breathe easier. Fortunately inside it was as fresh and sterile as if it were a hospital. There was only one detail with the interior; all were uniformed in a similar way. White. White on the walls, white on the floor, white everywhere. Only a few excelled, Mirembe explaining that it depended on rank and position, as for example Satya was one of the highest, just like her.

Angela was guided through several corridors and an elevator to the second floor of the place, where the quarters were concentrated. Mirembe showed her her designated bedroom and with the help of Khalil, they left their suitcases in the place so that Angela would settle down for the day. There was only too much things in her mind and she needed to rest, to drink a gallon of water and make some video calls to her friends since her phone was taken away for privacy purposes. At least her laptop was intact and she still had a way to communicate back.


The next morning was not very different from those back in the city. The clock on the bedside table beeped incessantly until Angela could manage to hit the snooze button and sit on the bed. No light filtered through the blinds, which meant it was too early even for the sun. Five in the morning. ‘Damn’. A shower would help her wake up better before going to the cafeteria and breakfast, but not before having her much-desired cup of coffee in her hands.

Mirembe was waiting for her, and Angela was immediately attracted to her. And the woman had such a lovely and kind personality that it was easy to sit down to talk with her and ask her about all the doubts she had about the place, as well as suggestions and other more private aspects of Vishkar that Satya refused to tell her. There was always a source of additional information anywhere, and Angela was more than willing to take that advantage in her favor.

“After breakfast I will show you the laboratories, it’s very important to know your work area. Many of the people you see there at the other tables don’t have access to the basement, and I mean the basement, not what they call the quarter’s floor.” Mirembe took an orange slice and shoved it in her mouth. “Below in the other cellars, there is the truth of Vishkar. Maybe the best advice I can give you is to stay away from the agents in black uniform.”

“Black uniform? We’re all wearing white.”

“That shows how different they are. Those are the... How to say it... Test subjects; the modified soldiers.” Angela almost choke. Luckily, their table was up in some secluded floor where no one could listen to them.

“P-pardon? What do you mean by ‘modified soldiers’?”

“What do you think this project is about?” Mirembe cocked her head. “Russia, Egypt and Korea wants new modified soldiers, so they threw these poor people to the wolves to experiment with them. The ones we have the most problems with are the girls, you know, hormonal issues and all that. We have four of them. I think Satya told you about it, right?”

“She told me something about it but refused to explain more about why.”

“That woman… Well, what Vishkar is going to ask you is to take one protégé. I have one myself, our MKSH082.” Angela squinted her eyes.

“You don’t even use their names.”

“It’s forbidden to name them. As I told you, they’re just an experiment, and we don’t have to take parts with them, but they’re humans and Vishkar doesn’t seem to understand that. That’s why I took part into this project at the beginning, because I want to know what truly is going on here, you know? My girl is only nineteen, she’s the youngest.”

“Nineteen? She’s barely an adult.”

“Barely, and she’s still acting like a child sometimes but I let her have her fun because she is a child, just like the rest of the Meka’s.” Something pinched at Angela’s heart, why was this happening?

“I can’t believe it…”

“But aside from my girl, they’re doing great. Pretty much all of us scientist have a protégé, but the asset who’s the most difficult to deal with has had eight because they saw her as a challenge, but she’s the one who suffered the most. She even lost part of her memory due to being tested several times with some weird shit they call an outbreak. Assholes, if you ask me.”

“So this girl has no protégé now.”

“Nope. And those who dare to have her as their protégé are easily frightened and refuse to continue working with her. All the doctors who had her resigned.” Mirembe shrugged, and took the last slice of orange. “But it's okay, it's no longer allowed to work with her, especially since the government revealed why they sent her here as a lab rat: she’s a murderer, a former assassin, so there’s no one in their right mind willing to work with her now.” Mirembe stood up when she finished her breakfast, Angela doing the same.

“Can I ask you a last question?”

“Of course, honey.”

“…Why are you telling me all this? Isn’t this classified?” The scientist smiled.

“It is. But it’s very easy to see that there is not a shred of evil in you. You are here for a reason more than just getting a juicy reward, and I know that you have money up to your ears. That's why I trust you, girl. Or am I wrong?” Angela smiled. How right she was.

“Not at all.”

Her mind was processing everything the woman told her. Angela would be lying if she said she was not horrified. There were many things to discover and it seemed that Mirembe only told her what was on the surface. There were still the variables of what kind of treatments they were using, how specifically and what the effects they had on the patients were. It was only the first day, and Angela was already regretting it, but it was too late to retract.

“What have I gotten myself into?”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter III

How I kept dreaming of her

 

She woke up in the middle of a hospital.

The artificial lightning of the place blinding to her sight. The waiting room was half full, several nurses, doctors and patients were walking from one side to another and others disappeared through a few halls. Everything was white, and nobody seemed to notice her. The place looked quite familiar, as if she had been there before. Perhaps while working for Helix she hurt herself and ended up in some bed in that hospital. But that didn’t make it any less uncomfortable of a sense.

The voices were muffled, the light was too bright and yet, it felt oddly mundane. Fareeha saw among several doctors a face, a short woman with Asian features, a bit chubby but with a friendly, meek face. She definitely should have known her, but she couldn’t remember her name or who she was. In fact, nobody recognized Fareeha or acknowledged her presence, for she was a mere ghost among the sea of people.

A few steps stomped on one side of a hall, getting closer and louder with each step taken. Fareeha could easily hear it, but there was nothing. That is until a womanly figure turned from a corner of a hall and there she was again: this blonde ever-powerful woman who always looked angelical, ethereal, and heavenly. Gorgeous as ever, and unattainable like no one stridding with pride. Whoever was this person had a big impact in Fareeha’s life, no one was ever capable of making this electrifying reaction in her dreams as her.

And Fareeha was more than right, for the blonde was the only one who noticed her. Just for a fragment, for a brief moment, she looked at her, and again that beaconing smile drawn her towards the always suggestive doctor. Then she looked forward again and kept walking her own path, forgetting Fareeha in that waiting room with other people who didn’t gave a notice for her. Decided to find out about her, she took a step, then another, and followed her through the halls.

One or the other doctor greeted the blonde, and she always greeted back. Sometimes she would smile, sometimes nod her head, and sometimes she would laugh softly, covering her mouth with a creamy and delicate hand. That giggle echoed in the whole room and in Fareeha’s heart, pounding like a sledgehammer on the concrete. The blonde’s steps were as provocative as always, even the white lab coat covering most of her body couldn’t hide such attractive features. And finally, she stopped in front of a door and opened it.

An office, oddly familiar as well. Fareeha recognized the desk, the couch, even the bookcase in one side and an archive on the other, but mostly the couch was extremely familiar to her, calling her in soothing comfort. It seemed that regardless of the situation, that piece of furniture had some lulling effect on her. Fareeha stood in the middle of the office, right behind this woman who seemed to purposefully show her something, demanding that her presence would be acknowledged.

The door closed itself and slowly by inertia, Fareeha feeling a shiver run down her spine. She took a step back, then another, until her calves touched the edge of a couch, making her fall and sit abruptly. The doctor twisted her body slowly, and a smirk was playfully showing on her face as she approached Fareeha at a maddening pace. She shrugged the lab coat until it fell on the floor, then slowly undid the buttons of her white blouse, revealing a lace bra of the same color. Fareeha swallowed with wide eyes when she felt a pair of thighs straddling her own. The black pencil skirt of the doctor bunched up to her waist when she adjusted her hips and legs with a wiggle.

How was this happening? How this incredible woman was showing herself to her? This was a dream, this was obviously a dream, it had to be, and Fareeha could only stay still as she let the blonde do anything she wanted.

And she did.

She untied her hair, falling freely just below her shoulders like a gold cascade, and the unexpected –and perhaps expected- happened. Her hands went to her back, and she unlatched her bra, falling on her lap as she kept smiling and biting her bottom lip. Both of her hands went to her perky breasts, massaging each one in soft, circular motions, gasping due to the lewdness of the act. Fareeha almost wanted to close her eyes, to deny herself this experience, but a pair of lips latched on her ear, a breathy moan heard in hot air touching her skin.

“Fareeha.”

It was one of those rare times she called her name, and it didn’t make it any less awkward whatsoever. Nonetheless, she started to feel like she was in this position before, the couch almost hugging her rear in memory. The blonde closed the space and put her hands on the couch right next to each side of Fareeha’s head, her breast mere inches apart from her head. For yet another strange reason, she wanted to touch her, to embrace her, to kiss her with as much affection as she could muster, and her hands were making a way to her waist, but just before she could touch the soft pale skin of her abdominal area, everything turned white, only followed by darkness.


Fareeha woke up with her brow damp, sweating as if she ran a mile in ten seconds. She was perspiring and everything in her body ached, burning desperately. Her chest heaved, her heart pounded fast and her head was spinning. She sat down quickly, feeling an uncomfortable sensation between her legs. She shifted slowly, only to realize she had quite the wet spot in her boxer briefs. Fareeha sighed and rubbed a hand on her face. One of those nights once again.

“Shit…” She muttered under her breath.

“Fareeha, are you okay?” Tariq called her from his bed in a hushed tone. Everyone else was sleeping, and it helped that her bed was just right next to his.

“Yes, yes, just… I need a shower. A cold shower. Now.”

“You had nightmares again?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it, I just want to take a shower.”

“Okay… If I can do anything now to help-”

“Yes, yes. Of course. Thank you.”

Fareeha got up quickly, thankful that the lights were turned off so no one could see her flushed face and damp pants in the bedroom light. She walked stealthily to the bathroom, making as little noise as possible and flipped the light switch on once inside. A quick look in the mirror told her she needed more sleep, her eyes were slightly red matching her face, but she just couldn’t. Deciding to do something positive, she changed in her workout clothes instead of taking a shower, throwing her dirty pajama in the laundry hamper and putting on a pair of black leggings and a matching sports bra.

Once out and her hair held in a ponytail, Fareeha sighed satisfied when she saw all her roommates sleeping soundly and the clock blinking at four forty-eight, just a few more minutes until they had to wake up and start their day. The halls were almost empty, just one or two early birds could be seen. At least they had some privacy in that special quarter. Two minutes later Fareeha was already inside the gym, stretching before going to the barbell bench press.

Feeling how her muscles contracted and rippled with each lift was a gratifying sensation itself, which brought a pleasant pain and the satisfaction of knowing she was becoming stronger, useful at least, not how the people at Vishkar called her when she refused to follow some orders or when certain treatment didn’t work on her. However, being on the battlefield and the missions she was deployed to, she definitely excelled in that matter. Perhaps if she became stronger someday she’ll be able to get out of there.

“This early?” Fareeha heard a voice, and put the barbell to rest in the rack. Zarya was one of the other people who woke up early and headed to the gym first hour in the morning. After all, she was by far the strongest person in the facility. “Is there a problem?”

“I couldn’t sleep.” Fareeha sat down, wiping some sweat droplets on her brow and neck with a towel as the Russian began to stretch.

“Nightmares again?”

“I… Don’t know. Dreams, but weird.”

“How weird?”

“…Weird enough.” The bigger woman chuckled and shook her head, understanding her friend and waiting for her to continue. Fareeha stood up and gave Zarya the space, helping her by putting more weights on the barbell enough to fit the strength and endurance of the Russian. “I dreamt about that woman again…”

“Again? And what happened this time?” She definitely couldn’t tell her.

“She uhm… Kept walking.”

“Just walking.”

“Yeah…”

“Do you think she must be an angel or some sort?”

“Well, she definitely looks like one…” She mumbled more to herself.

Obviously she had to lie. She couldn’t tell her how that woman of her dreams kept alluring her, teasing her, getting more provocative overtime. And over those kind of steamy dreams she had, this was a modest one. Sometimes she dreamt of her simply dancing in underwear, joyful and childish at the time, and sometimes she dreamt of her having a good time naked in bed while calling her name. For some reason, Fareeha wanted to be with her all the time, to truly feel her and touch her, like a true call, but just when she was about to do so, she opened her eyes, and every time it left her with a sense of emptiness and the feeling of a part of her torn apart.

“Fareeha.”

“Huh? What?”

“The weights.” Fareeha blinked twice, and understood that Zarya meant to add more weights to the bar.

“Oh, right. Sorry.” She helped her, and the pink-haired woman continued with her lifting.

“You’re distracted. Vaswani isn’t going to be pleased.”

“I know, I just… This fucking thing they keep injecting me it’s becoming more difficult to deal with.”

“Have you told a doctor?” Fareeha walked to the dipping bars, bending her legs and lifting her body as her arms tensed, slowly and steady in a rhythmical pace.

“I don’t have any assigned.”

“It’s because you keep screwing up.”

“Because they see me as a lab rat. Well, fucking shit, I’m not. They keep giving me drugs I sometimes can’t stand and they make me throw up. And the seizures and... Whatever. I hate them, I don’t need more of that.”

“Does Mirembe know?”

“She does, and she’s helping me but honestly? It’s not enough. The effects lessen with a dose but it just doesn’t seem to be sufficient. Mirembe’s helping me as much as she can, but even she knows she’s not enough for the mess they made out of me. I just wanna get out of here, find my mother and hide somewhere, I’m tired.” Fareeha grunted when she felt the exercise wasn’t enough. If something, it was making her angrier. Zarya sensed this, and she stopped lifting the bar, instead walking to Fareeha and handing her a pair of boxing gloves.

“Get down, you look like a monkey on that thing.” Fareeha rolled her eyes. “Spar with me, you need it.” Perhaps Zarya wasn’t so wrong, for she couldn’t deny the therapeutic effect sparring had on her. She put her feet on the ground and nodded tiredly, taking the gloves and fastening them with ease. Both walked to a spacious place inside the gym and took their stances. Right foot in the back, guard up, hands protecting their faces. “Hit me.”

And so, Fareeha did just that. A straight jab, then an uppercut, followed by a round kick, exhaling with each blow and releasing a low cry. Zarya was amazing at taking blows, and she covered every single punch and kick Fareeha threw at her with her gloves and legs, like she was a kid trying to hurt her. Truth was that Fareeha was strong, and stronger than most inside the facility. She was agile, fast, powerful, such a demanded lethal asset. Slowly, her kicks were fiercer, the anger and energy with which she had woken up finally seemed to subside as she kept hitting Zarya, and her battle cries echoed throughout the gym.

“Harder!”

“Hah!”

She yelled when she kicked Zarya with all her might, making a hollow sound when her leg touched the glove. Then another set of ten kicks, and Zarya told her to stop after twenty minutes. Fareeha was drained, sweat seeping from her shirt on her back and chest, and from her forehead to her neck. But Zarya was absolutely right: this helped even better than any treatment. Fareeha turned to go for her bottle of water when she saw that the gym was full, several watching her scene and some even impressed by the act. At least she kept her reputation.

“Who’s next?” Zarya called, and everyone turned around. Fareeha smirked amusedly and took a big gulp of her water, almost draining its contents. “Are you scared of a harmless woman like me?”

“I’ll do it!” Saleh yelled, and Fareeha almost choked. She tried to muffle her laughs as she wiped the water she spat.

“Don’t kill him, Zarya! He’s the funny one! Just look at him go!”

“C'mon, Fareeha! I’m more than that!”

“That’s literally like, the only thing you are.” Zarya laughed as well. “See? Even Aleks thinks so.”

“I’ll spar with you.” Another voice interrupted them, and Fareeha wanted to roll her eyes, but shrugged as Tariq offered himself to have a training session with Zarya.

“You are more obliged to have your legs broken.”

“Heh I might not be as strong as you, but definitely I’m not weak.”

“Less talking, more punching.” Zarya motioned him with a hand and she punched her gloves together.

Fareeha would be lying if she said that she wasn’t attracted the slightest in Tariq, and even more when he began to show signs of overcoming. That is something that man lacked and for which Fareeha decided to put a stop to their relationship. But now, especially by showing her that perhaps she was slightly mistaken in thinking less of him, it definitely had an attractive and alluring effect on Fareeha, which is why she came to perhaps make a few bad decisions about fooling around with him.

The training session lasted longer than Fareeha thought. Zarya had an impressive endurance, his training lasted at least two hours, and the fact that Tariq endured one of them hitting and dodging Zarya was cause for admiration. Fareeha laughed inside, it was obvious that he wanted to show himself as someone capable in front of her. The worst of all is that, even though he tried hard enough to get her back, Fareeha didn’t quite convince herself that he was the one. In fact, not even any man inside seemed to satisfy her.

And still, Fareeha called him when he finished emptying his own water bottle, the girl thanking Aleks for such generous help, and they parted down the hall to the showers, walking side by side like the lethal team members that they were. If something that Fareeha exuded was respect itself, she had a mark and a place inside Vishkar that gained her admiration amongst the several group members of various countries. But Tariq was just another member, a nobody, unlike her.

For the moment, it didn’t mattered to Fareeha. She pinned him to a nearby wall inside the lockers and looked intently at him, expecting the man to make the next move. She could easily see he wanted more, he always did in matters of her body, Tariq was quite easy to read and even her fellow comrades did too. But Fareeha was still mentally disturbed by her dream, and while the training worked, it wasn’t enough. She needed something, and this was the only thing she thought might help her at the moment.

It didn’t take them long to go to one of the back showers and start undressing. Her sports bra was on the floor in a quick, swift movement, her leggings and underwear following suit by reaching her ankles as she was lifted up and pinned to the tiled wall of the stall. Fareeha braced herself for what could be an easing of her needs, but she found nothing instead. Emptiness. Just something hard being pushed inside her in a rhythmical set of movements. Fareeha hissed, not due to the pleasure, but for something entirely different. The act was not enjoyable. Not even close. Not even in the slightest pleasant.

Tariq stopped as soon as she felt Fareeha tense and turn her head as she closed her eyes. It was quite obvious she wasn’t near the mood to do that, at least not with him, but what was unexplainable was why she started. He let her go softly, easing her with care. Fareeha slid down and sat on the floor, crossing her legs and covering her exposed breasts while trying to hide her face. Why didn’t it feel good? It was what her body demanded, right? She started it, she wanted it. Then why did it have to be -to feel- so… Empty?

“Fareeha?” Tariq called her, fixing his pants again even when it was obvious he was aroused, but his calming sound never extinguished when worrying about Fareeha. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you-?”

“N-no, no. It’s…” Truth was, she wasn’t sure, but she had to be honest. “I don’t know… I just don’t-”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not… This is not okay, this is not good.”

“Us doing this or…?” The act? No. Us? Yes. Having sex with anyone? Perhaps. Fareeha got up and adjusted her leggings once again, taking the bra and wearing it hastily.

“Everything. It doesn’t feel good…” He blinked a couple of times.

“…So it is me, then. Am I not doing it well enough?”

“It’s not that. It’s not even you. I just didn’t- don't… Like it.” A deafening silence where no one dared to breathe. It was clear Fareeha ruined the moment and he was just as confused as her, but she kept dressing herself back without looking at him. It was too embarrassing to face that. Again.

“Just tell me the truth. Do you have someone else in your life?”

“What? No, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Well there has been something happening with you and I don’t get it. I don’t know what you want, you just keep playing with me for some reason as if it doesn’t affect me. Well, it does. Did you have someone else?”

That was the point. Fareeha knew absolutely nothing, she had a range of five years of erased memories, forgotten faces, and only a few occasional moments of recollection were left there, as when she was captured and handed over to Vishkar, when she arrived in Algeria with her mother and a train trip that lasted over a week. But in relation to that question, there was definitely something that killed her inside, and it was a memory where she picked up her phone and sent a text message.

'I love you.'

But who exactly? Her mother? Her friends? Or perhaps someone entirely different?

“No. And if I did, I don’t remember.” Best leave the topic as it is, as nothing.

“Fareeha, tell me what the hell you want.”

“Well, no shit. I don’t even know what I want, and you know why? Because of this-” She pointed to the shock necklace. “-And this.” And she grabbed her dog tag. “I don't know anything. I’m no one, I’m supposed to be no one and all I want is to get out of here and look for answers.”

“You know well that we will be stuck here for a good time, so you better get comfortable and cooperate because this goes for long.” The tone with which he spoke sparked a boiling anger inside Fareeha. He was demanding, as if he owed her for the time he spent taking care of Fareeha and for all those time he actually succeeded at sleeping with her, and she was fuming now.

“You know what? No. First, because I didn’t like it. And second, I don’t like it and I’m not sure I’ll ever want that.”

“Would you calm down, for God’s sake?”

“Would you leave me alone? Get the hell out of here!” He rubbed his face tiredly and groaned, eventually turning back and walking away.

“Do whatever the fuck you want! It’s always the same with you! Nothing’s good enough for you and nothing will ever be!”

Once she stopped hearing his footsteps, Fareeha opened the shower faucet, letting the water fall even when she was back at being fully dressed. She needed to cool down her body and she didn’t mind getting out of the showers soaked and leaving a trail of water all over the hall. In a last burst of despair, she took a momentum and hit the wall with her fist, grunting when the skin touched the white tile.

That hurt. Not because of the force of the blow, but because Tariq was absolutely right. Fareeha didn’t know what she wanted, and whatever they offered, nothing seemed to satisfy her. The worst thing was that he didn't even have an idea where to go or who to turn to for an idea, because the few he knew were ignorant of her life and many others considered him an object.

Twenty minutes later he was back in her bedroom, clean and dry. Lying in bed didn’t help clear her thoughts as she hoped, but she was only so physically and mentally exhausted that sometimes she stopped working properly and it was the only way to recover her mental health. Fareeha hated being rude, and more with those who cared about her. Maybe after a little nap she should apologize to Tariq. So, she closed her eyes slowly, and drifted away.


The moonlight reflected off the vast ocean of sand that stretched around and beyond the pyramids and ruins of one of the most sacred places in Egypt. The stars crafting irregular patterns of lights of different sizes in the sky, and now, lying on one of the pillars of the necropolis, it was the perfect place to draw constellations with a finger pointed at the starry sky. Twelve years old, and those peaceful moments were one of the few Fareeha ever had for herself.

The wind was in her favor; serene, cool and quiet, whispering sweet nothing. Fareeha smiled to herself when she managed draw a rabbit through narrowed eyes, or at least the closest thing to that. She didn’t know the name of all the constellations, unlike her mother who was as wise as a sage, but that didn’t stop her from crafting her own. The sound of footsteps made her stand up, her braid beads clinking together when her hair returned to a normal position above her shoulders, and she looked at the source of the sound. How much she wanted her mother to be alongside her now.

“What are you doing here all alone, Fareeha?”

“Yeah, you shouldn’t be outside unsupervised.”

“What if you attack someone, huh? You shouldn't be outside without your leash on.” The three teenagers laughed at her. Two boys, one girl, all Fareeha’s cousins and five years older than her. They were all close and distant relatives, but family nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, I’m going back with-” Fareeha stood up from the column she was sitting on, but was shoved back and fell with a thud on the floor.

“What are you doing here? You shouldn’t even be allowed to be outside.”

“Yeah, a half-breed like you can't be here with the family.”

“Why do they keep letting you stay with us?”

“Because she's Ana's daughter. You should run away so you won't ever embarrass the family and your mom.”

“The God’s aren’t pleased with you being here with us, you know?”

Each word hurt like a needle sticking in her heart. Of course, just because she was half Egyptian-half Canadian she deserved a different treatment inside an elitist clan. But still, it was unthinkable and cruel to mistreat her, to denigrate her, and to banish her for something that's not her fault at all and of which she wouldn’t have to be ashamed. However, she mostly listened to her mother, and she should remember her words always.

“I don’t want any problems. I’ll be on my way and-”

“Of course you will, and don’t come back Fareeha, ever.” For the first time in maybe a lot of time, she processed what was told to her and she blinked once, twice, and shook her head.

“I’m sorry, but no. I will keep returning here. Mother told me this is a sacred place and I’m doing nothing to disrespect the Gods.” She was pushed again, and stumbled with a few lose rocks on the way, almost falling from the top of the building. Luckily, she managed just in time to stop with just a scraped knee.

“You were born! That’s disrespectful enough.”

“Your mom should have thrown you away when she had you!”

Fareeha closed her eyes when one of the teenagers raised his leg ready to kick her, but a sharp sound made her open her eyes, and everyone turned around when they saw Ana slapping him. Her mother was furious, one of the few times that Fareeha remembers seeing red in her eyes.

“You have literally five seconds to scram or else I’ll start throwing stones at you.”

“A-Ana, we’re sorry-”

“One!”

She yelled, and the three ran away, frightened by the threat of being stoned by one of the most powerful members of the Amari family. When they disappeared from sight and the screams were heard no more, Ana relaxed a little and ran to help her daughter get up. After enduring the insults, Fareeha could finally cry, even if it was a little, and release the accumulated stress of that unpleasant encounter.

“Fareeha, are you okay?” Ana knelt next to her and took her face in her hands, wiping the few tears her daughter let go.

“I’m fine…”

“Your knee-”

“It’s okay, it doesn’t hurt.” Her mother wasn’t so sure, but she sighed eventually and hugged her softly, just enough to make her know she was there for her. "It doesn't hurt..." She repeated.

“They were mean to you again. Those kids...”

Fareeha leaned on one of the pillars and breathed deeply. It hurt in the ego, in the spirit, sometimes in her body, but the actions of the teenagers didn’t hurt more than the words of the adults. She wasn’t stupid, although everyone wanted to believe that because she was still a child, but she knew that all discrimination she was suffering was by adults putting poison in the minds of the little ones. And yet, there were days when she did believe everything mean that was said to her directly or indirectly.

“Mom…” Fareeha hugged her knees, hiding half her face.

“Yes?”

“…Do you regret that I was born?”

“Oh, Fareeha…” She could almost hear her mother’s heart break. Ana crawled back to her and sat down with her legs crossed, nestling Fareeha between them as she caressed her tresses with three fingers. “There is nothing in this world that would make me regret having conceived you. Nothing. You are literally the best thing that has ever happened to me. And your father can tell the same.”

“Really?”

“Really.” It helped, for Fareeha relaxed visibly and she wasn’t stiff anymore. The sobbing stopped, only a few wet eyelashes was the product of her release. “And I think it's time to pay him a visit, don’t you think?”

“Are we going?!”

“Mhm. But we’ll go in a few months more, okay? Never in winter, or we could freeze to death.”

“Okay!” Ana kissed the top of her head tenderly.

“We don’t know what we did to deserve such a good daughter.” That was enough to warm her heart again, her mother's love and compassion.

“Mom, can you show me?”

“Show you?” Fareeha pointed to the sky.

“I found a bunny.”

“Of course you found a bunny.” Ana laughed and propped her chin on her daughter’s head. Raising a hand and pointing a finger to the black sky, she spoke again. “That, over there. Can you see that group of starts with five branches?” Fareeha squinted her eyes and cocked her head.

“I think so- yes! I see it.”

“That’s Andromeda: daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus. They were the king and queen of ancient Ethiopia. When Andromeda died, Athena placed her in the sky as a constellation to honor her, so she’s right there.” Ana poked Fareeha’s cheek playfully, making her giggle when other hand reached for her ribcage. “And her smile is right here.”


“Fareeha?”

Her shoulder was shaken slightly and a soft, feminine voice called her. Fareeha sat up quickly, frightened and agitated. Her breathing was rapid, she was sweating and a few tears ran down her cheeks. It was another of those strange dreams, real but above all, very raw to the point of almost feeling them. Fareeha turned to her side, finding a worried Hana looking back at her. Quickly, she wiped her face with the back of her hand.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

“Another bad dream?”

“No. It wasn’t bad, it was just… Memories coming back… But I’m fine, I promise.” Hana grimaced, but let the topic aside. She knew Fareeha sometimes hated to speak about them and she dealt with her nightmares alone most of the time. Hana had her own problems, but not as disturbing and consistent as Fareeha’s nightmare’s and intrusive flashbacks.

“Okay… Anyway, I’m here because we’re needed.”

“Did something happen?”

“They are calling us for another mission, Mekas and Raptoras. Tariq told me you were sleeping and Saleh asked me to pick you up, they’re all getting ready upstairs.”

“Gods, what now?”

“Vaswani’s back.” Fareeha ran a hand on her hair, pushing her locks back.

“Even better news. Did she brought the doctors and country representatives she was hoping for?”

“Looks like it. Mirembe’s busy enough to ask her.”

“Well, seems like we’re about to find out.”

Fareeha stretched her arms upward, listening to a satisfying pop of her joints. She got up, and followed Hana through the corridors of the quarters to the elevator, inserting her fingerprint into a scanner to give her access. This very moment the least she wanted was to be assigned to a mission, her head ached and there was a fire in her navel that she couldn’t put out yet, and it was obviously not good to be distracted that way on the battlefield. The battlefield. A place she no longer wanted to set foot ever again, but nevertheless she was forced to. At first, she tried to take her own life to avoid returning to old habits. She didn't succeed, and it was for a reason.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, bun.”

“You seem moony.” Fareeha looked back at Hana; the girl had a bothered, worrisome face and it was obvious she was concerned for her friend. It made the Egyptian swell with pride to have such wonderful friends.

“Don’t worry, I’m okay.”

“Hug?” Fareeha hesitated for a moment, but once she took a look at Hana, she stretched an arm.

“Yeah, come here.”

Hana returned the gesture, embracing her and nestling in the arms of Fareeha. Their heights easily comparable, as Fareeha was standing several inches taller than the Korean girl. Before the doors opened, they parted and the taller woman patted Hana in the head. That corridor with completely white walls and floors, as well as its incandescent lights, always brought a chill. Many times it meant the step towards death.

Just like now.

Both walked into an isolated room where there were all kinds of weapons and armor, all meticulously supervised so that nothing would get out of control, but everyone knew that they should not even provoke Vishkar's guards. Fareeha's equipment consisted of a black bodysuit as well, tactical vest, combat boots, gloves, and a helmet. And goodness, she hated that helmet so much.

That sole piece of accessory with a black shiny visor covering the whole front was specially designed so that it didn’t recognize faces, bodies, sexes, only outlined figures with a specific pattern and color that displayed their rank of value and position, such as a teammate, a superior or a threat. And the indication was that as soon as the order was given, she would have to eliminate all those outlined in red.

As simple as that. Red. Order. Kill. Vishkar was creating modified soldiers inside and outside. Physically resistant, mentally stable, and everything that was out of place had to be corrected immediately with the inhuman treatments they had developed. While some had an effect, most of them worked because of the fear they caused when threatened with being used. It wasn’t a treatment, it was a threat.

Once the Raptora and Meka team were ready, they moved to another room where they had to be inspected. As everything in the building, it was white with the exception of a black crystal going from side to side in the front wall. The presence of several members of Vishkar -among doctors and scientists- was obvious behind the tinted glass.

One minute, two minutes, and a red light turned on, indicating that they had to leave through the much larger door and go directly to the specialized vehicles that would take them to their destination. Her team was there, and obviously and even more uncomfortable, Tariq was ready inside the convoy. The helmet indicated only his serial number, and fortunately for Fareeha, he couldn’t distinguish anything else from her or anything from her behavior.

Once loaded in the car, everyone left for a small town. Nobody knew anything, only Khalil, his superior and team leader, was the only one with the rank high enough to be informed of everything. He alone was the link between Vishkar and Raptoras, and they were fortunate that their captain was a very understanding person, unlike the Svyatogors or the Mekas, who had quite strict leaders.

“Alright, team. The mission is simple as always: you enter stealthily, once inside you attack at my order and take out all those who remain alive so that the Mekas can deal with them. Got it?” He didn’t earn a verbal response from his team, instead a military salute. They were ready. Fareeha was ready.


Truth is, Fareeha was never ready.

The mission was completed as expected, a success. Her numbers and statistics saying she was the most lethal, the most effective, the most efficient, simply, the very best of them all. But for Fareeha each mission was as failed as dying on the battlefield. Within her echoed some very powerful words that always wanted to make her to stop, something pulled her but her body moved against her will once the command was given.

“There is no one on Earth who can say if a life is more valuable than another. No death is justifiable, we are not judge and jury to decide on the lives of others. Why must violence always be the solution?”

That voice was not hers, not her mother's, not even her friends'. That voice was soft, subtle, and angelic, from someone else. Unknown and extremely familiar at the same time. She used to imagine a hospital when she remembered that phrase, as if the first time she heard that phrase was in a similar place. White walls, white floors, white doors and white overall, not dissimilar to the Vishkar facilities.

It was night when the mission ended and they were returning back to the Vishkar headquarters. Fareeha had the urgent need to remove all the uniform, especially the helmet, and breathe the clean and fresh air of the desert night, the only moments of peace and tranquility inside -or rather outside- of that place. So when she asked Khalil for some time just for her before returning to shower and sleep, her captain didn’t object, besides maybe it was one or two in the morning and nobody was awake to really care.

Fareeha was grateful that Tariq didn’t bother her that night, the least she wanted was to deal with a subject as uncomfortable as the slip in the showers after a mission. And most of the time after a task as heavy as that, it was best to take fresh air and clear her fogged mind, something she couldn't do even in the comfort of her own bed. Once the door closed and everyone walked in, Fareeha went to the warehouse where she regularly met Mirembe, although she knew that night was going to be only her and the stars above.

“Oh, come on…”

Fareeha grunted when she tried to remove her helmet, pressing a button so the clasps would come off but it wasn’t working. She tried again, and again, until she surrendered and huffed, reminding herself to report the malfunction immediately. Despite wearing the helmet, the air filtered from under it, giving her a fresh sense of comfort, enough to calm the heat of her body and ease her mind only for a minute. And so she let the air hit her body gently, appreciating that the bodysuit was made of a breathable and light fabric enough to cool quickly.

The tranquility didn't last long, and her helmet began to beep, alerting her of a nearby threat. It was almost impossible, but her senses trained to respond immediately to that sound and it didn’t let her ignore and pass on that signal. Her body reacted instinctively, and her mind shut, concentrating only on attacking. When turning around, her suspicions were confirmed. A red silhouette was in front of her, immovable, but the helmet linked with her mind told her that it was a threat and as such, it should be eliminated.

The figure raised its arms, and then put itself in defense position, an attack maneuver that Fareeha easily recognized. Maybe it was someone who wanted to infiltrate Vishkar and that wasn't allowed, much less on her guard. Taking a step opposite, Fareeha launched herself at this figure and threw a blow, easily dodged which surprised the girl, as almost no one could match her speed. Another hit, and this time it was blocked.

Who was this person? It incredibly fought for a few minutes, dodging, blocking, throwing punches and one or two successfully hitting Fareeha even if it was just a light touch. The least she wanted was to kill, she didn’t want another incident in her record, and chose not to use more force than necessary, just enough to immobilize this person and let Vishkar deal with it.

Suddenly she felt a blow to her head, a kick strong enough and in the right place that it made Fareeha's helmet unlatch and fly away, sliding down on the thin sand blanket of the desert and she fell down on it. Fareeha felt how she could breathe properly, taking a big gulp of air as her eyes adjusted to reality, blinking the fogginess away as she tried to get up with her arms wielding the sand. She shook her head, her jet black hair and braids moving smoothly as the illusion of being a simple soldier dissappeared from her head, and looked at the person who dared to knock her clean to the ground.

A figure dressed in white except for the pale pink hijab covering her head and part of her face. A thin marble-white hand moved to her head and slid the fabric down, revealing a blonde silky mane that shone like the sun under the moonlight, and eyes as blue as aquamarines looked back at her. Her lips were slightly parted, and her face was that of shock overall. Taking one step back, she faltered, and clutched the fabric covering her chest, just above her heart. Tears were gathering in her eyes before she could do or say anything.

“Fareeha…?”

Her voice was as soft as a cloud, the tenderness of her name falling from her lips similar to the embrace of her mother in her darkest hours. Her whole figure exuded an ethereal personality, and she stood out like an angel ready to take her to the Heavens above. What was frightening was the fact that she felt how her body suddenly released a spanless amount of stress. Fareeha blinked once, twice, and she swore she saw her in her dreams; giving her tender looks, beckoning her, calling her name, but she couldn’t make up her mind of who this person was or why she knew her name in the first place.

“…Who are you?”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter IV

Then I found out about the truth

 

Scared was a very insufficient word to describe what Angela felt about that place and only one day had passed. Horror was coming closer, panic, repulsion, a mixture of several things combined in an indescribable feeling. The experiments they performed within Vishkar were beyond inhuman, they played at being God with the lives of those they considered unworthy. While it is true that some countries came to deliver these people for being convicted, murderers or thieves in general, they didn’t have the right to decide on other lives in that way.

Only two days, and Angela already wanted to escape from that place.

Being guided and showing her the various laboratories, offices and other specialized rooms for the supposed therapy was taken place was an agony itself. The sound of machines was disturbing, but even more so were the screams. Heartbreaking yells, cries, pleads, all indicating that what they were actually doing was a torture disguised as an experiment for human improvement. What a vile lie, and Angela had agreed to work on that.

The only thing that kept her healthy were two things: on the one hand she would get the support to continue her photochemotherapy research, which would help humanity as never before in treating and curing cancer. On the other hand, knowing exactly what Vishkar was planning, she could do something positive for the company to work more humanely by proving that the expected results were not achieved through threats, suffering and agony, but quite the opposite.

And so, the next day, she was standing in front of a dark glass window where on the other side there were five people, all very young and who wore helmets hiding their faces. Satya and Mirembe were standing next to her, Satya with her faithful tablet in hand whilst she tapped at a few icons on the screen, and Mirembe as unfazed as always, her arms were crossed and she looked always forward. She cleared her throat, Angela looking at her and Mirembe pointing forward to a specific person in deep blue and white bodysuit.

“That’s our youngest one. Nineteen years old. She may be very young in age but she’s the best of them five. She has an impressive precision, nobody equals her in the battlefield while piloting.”

“She’s still a child.” Angela said with a hurt, frowned face until Satya interrupted her without even looking out from her tablet.

“She has reached adulthood, you cannot call her a child.”

“It doesn’t make her any less adult.”

“It does, Dr. Ziegler.” Satya tapped at the screen and a red light flashed on top of a door, the whole team getting out in order like any soldier ready to take over the world. The doors closed and the other door let in another team of five, this time all of them were dressed in black. Now Satya looked at them, her eyes fixed on a specific person.

“Remember what I told you about the ones in black uniform?” Mirembe asked Angela, the doctor nodding. “Well, here you have. The Raptoras. Don’t approach them unless it is extremely necessary, especially if they wear a helmet.”

“What does the helmet have to do with that?” Satya looked at her this time, and returned her eyes on the people on the other side of the tinted glass and spoke.

“The helmet is specially designed to work only on them. They react with hard light treatment and synchronize with their bodies for a better, almost perfect performance. This reduces the amount of errors due to complications, disturbances, interferences and any other kind of distraction that defocuses them from the objective.” Angela frowned again, trying to get a better grasp of whatever Satya was saying. Mirembe seemed to get it.

“You have your ID with you, right?” Angela nodded, patting at the bag of her lab coat from where it was hanging. “Good. Now, look at this.” Mirembe took her own card hanging from her neck and threw it on the ground, sliding it away with a foot. Angela didn’t understand at first, but when the five people inside the isolated room turned at the same time to the mirror, the doctor opened her eyes in amazement. Mirembe walked nonchalantly towards her identification and put it back in its place, five heads returning to the position in which they were.

“What was that?”

“Basically what the helmet does is that it allows them to see silhouettes, they don’t distinguish faces, voices, gender nor age of people from one another, and we’re all just a bunch of serial numbers and vital signs to them. Those who don’t carry a Vishkar's identification are immediately seen as a threat.”

“That’s why they looked back at here…”

“Yes. So if you were to meet one of them, you'd better be using your ID.”

Mirembe looked at her back raising an eyebrow and waiting for a positive response from Angela, the doctor simply nodded, satisfying the scientist. The red light went on again and the team known as Raptoras came out through the doors, disappearing behind them without further ado. Angela for a moment breathed easy, truly every member looked intimidating behind that black helmet. The doctor watched cautiously each movement, each reaction, and it is as if they were murderous robots waiting for the order to annihilate.

Minutes later, Satya ordered Mirembe to finish showing the facilities and her work area to Angela. The tour lasted approximately one hour in which she was shown the laboratories with the highest technology available as of today, a dream for the doctor and scientist that Angela had inside. The space that would function as an office wasn’t very different from the one she had in the hospital, with the exception that the place had an examination area for patients.

Half an hour later, Mirembe had several folders with the records of the teams that Angela had to examine and monitor medically to control their mental and physical states as long as the treatment continued to function properly. That was her job for now, and once she was settled in the office, she started with the first bunch: the Meka team. The folders had no name, just serial numbers. Mirembe explained that Vishkar refused for their scientists to "get attached" to the subjects of experimentation, so they always addressed them by their serial number. That dehumanized the whole thing even more.

Looking through and reviewing each file carefully took longer than planned, and even though that was part of what she liked to do, she was mentally exhausted now. Once she finished with the Meka team, Angela opted to continue tomorrow with another team, in addition to wanting to physically check each patient and perhaps that way she would find her a suitable protégé. She got up from the office chair, stretching her arms up and yawning when she couldn’t hold it anymore, and went to her quarters to sleep.


Angela opened her eyes abruptly, sweating cold and trying to regulate her agitated breathing. She sat up, wiping her forehead with the back of a hand and pressing the other above her chest. She usually didn’t have any kind of nightmares since a couple of years ago, but once she set foot on Vishkar everything began to make sense as to why she couldn’t have a proper rest. Only two days and two nights filled with nightmares. Angela stood up and fixed herself a glass of water, hoping the clear liquid would ease her a little.

She went to bed again, this time much calmer than before, but sleep was eluding her and lying on her back with her limbs stretched to either side was all she could do. After a couple of minutes, she sighed wearily, realizing she wouldn’t go back to sleep soon again. This wasn’t her home, so she couldn’t go to her private studio and work her brains out until she was tired again, she had to try and get as much rest as possible, even when right now it wasn’t.

The doctor decided to get up, changing into a comfortable attire of black leggings, white blouse and her lab coat just in case, taking the hijab Mirembe gave her as well and stuffing it in the pocket of her coat. She walked through the halls, as empty as they were expected due to the early hour, and perhaps a simple stroll could entice her to sleep. Suddenly she realized she needed something else, and it was simple; pure, clean air. Angela remembered that Mirembe told her the night was much bearable in the desert, so she wished to try that.

One of the side doors faced outwards and it was easy to get out there, only one guard was watching and told her to be careful even if the place was desert, Angela nodded and left without more. Truly, Mirembe was right, and the air was fresh and pleasant, not comparable to the air conditioning inside but it was much friendlier to her mental health. Despite being at night, she took the hijab and put it on to avoid being questioned after why she was out at such late hours of the night.

The place had quite large fields and gardens, very well maintained and which stood out among the desert like tulips in the snow, all a wonder. Angela kept walking through the gardens, marveling at the various bushes, pots and even the fountain in between, which she was sure would be full of little birds in the day seeking refuge. She followed the path without realizing it, ultimately leaving the garden to reach the desert and even a building that hadn’t been shown to her previously but that took little importance to Angela since it seemed more like a warehouse.

Her heart stopped for a moment when she arrived and saw a figure standing looking towards the horizon. Black uniform and helmet of the same color, a Raptora. Angela instinctively thought of what Mirembe said and patted the pocket of her coat, only to realize that she forgot the ID on the bedside table. The doctor cursed to herself and panicked but quickly composed, she knew she must run, but her hopes vanished when the figure turned to her and everything would end there.

There was nothing else to do but defend herself, so Angela did that. The Raptora rushed towards her throwing a punch which she dodged easily, fortunately Angela never stopped training in self-defense and her agility was quite good, even higher than that of many others. Another series of hits and she blocked most of them. The more he hit her, the more he missed and for some reason she felt comfortable doing it. There was a touch of familiarity in that pattern. Angela was determined to end that.

Angela braced herself for the next blow and analyzed her possibilities, finally spotting an opening and she kicked a high round kick, making the helmet of the Raptora snap off as he fell to the ground. That was it for the moment, she had to run back inside and alert the security guards there was one of the Raptora’s loose on the field. Angela stopped in her tracks immediately when she realized it wasn’t a men, but a woman. Her black hair fell down to her shoulders and was being moved slightly while she shook her head to clear herself of whatever the helmet was doing to her mind.

The blonde’s heart stopped for too long, she was breathing no more, and her mind shut for what felt like an eternity. Her eyes only saw tan skin, black hair with tresses clasped in golden beads, dark eyes that shone like amber under the moonlight, and a well-known tattoo under an eye. Angela took a step back, then another to brace herself of almost falling, and pained eyes looked back. She lowered the hijab slowly, trying to grasp on anything to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, that it wasn’t an illusion. Angela opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Finally, a name, breathed shakily.

“Fareeha…?”

“…Who are you?”

Angela wanted to crumble right there and then. She was there, the Fareeha Amari that left her five years ago, her forever friend and love of her life, and she was lying there on the sand, confused and hurt, not recognizing her. It hit her harder than she thought: Fareeha was one of the military experiments Vishkar was making, and apparently she had some flaws such as Satya had mentioned earlier. The most notable was loss of memory.

“I-I’m…” Angela mused, but before she could say anything else, two guards were running towards her direction.

“Hey, you! Halt!” One of the guards shouted when Fareeha started to stand up and took a small remote of his pocket, pressing the button and pointing it towards Fareeha. The necklace that the girl was wearing began to beep, and then an electric shock knocked her down to the ground again, making her scream painfully and writhe in the sand.

“No! Stop! You’re hurting her!” Fareeha kept screaming, trying to rip the device off her neck, until she was moving no more. Angela wanted to run, to grab her, to do anything in her power to help her, but a guard grabbed her from the wrist. “Please! She needs my help!”

“She’s out of containment at an early hour, doctor.” He took a radio from his shoulder and talked to it. “Asset RPAF008 in the field. Captured via electroshock measure and ready to be taken to isolation for examination. Aggressive towards medical staff-”

“She was wearing the helmet, she didn’t know what she was doing!”

“Doctor, she attacked you. The process to follow is simple, we take her to recovery for the moment, unless the superiors have other plans for her. That is not our decision.”

Angela stopped momentarily, looking at Fareeha being lifted by both security guards, motionless and completely unconscious, but her chest was moving and that brought her a breeze of relief to her aching heart. She weighed the words she was told for a moment, and nodded, knowing that she could still handle the situation positively. She ran to the helmet and took it in her hands, following the guards as they carried Fareeha inward. Angela still could do much, and the most important thing above all was that, after five years of wondering if she was either dead or alive, she found her; conscious, complete, and breathing.


Her feet echoed in the white tile of the corridors as she ran, sprinted, almost flying to reach a specific door near the higher staff quarters. Her lab coat fluttered, and a few strands of hair escaped from her ponytail, falling on her perspiring face. If she wasn’t sleepy before, now even less. Her mind raced a hundred miles per second, she had so many questions and no answer, and thus, she went to the first person who could help her somehow. Once she stood in front of a door, breathing rapidly and her heart racing, she knocked fast, loud, enough to be heard.

“What the hell? It’s two in the morning!” Mirembe opened the door rubbing the sleep away from her eyes. Her blonde hair was disheveled, she was wearing a two piece pajama and plain slippers.

“She-I was attacked a-and me, her, they took he-” Angela was speaking rapidly, her words tangling in a mixture of English and German.

“Okay, okay. Girl, breath.” The doctor stopped. “In and out. C’mon, in and out.” She did that, three times, her pulse and breathing normalizing a little after a few more times, but her heart kept pounding hard in her ears. “Good. Better?” Angela nodded, exhaling the last one. “Now tell me what happened and why you’re waking me up in the middle of the night… And also why you are up.”

“I-I couldn’t sleep, so I took a stroll and went outside for some fresh air. I wandered for a few minutes and I reached a warehouse, and I saw-” Angela stopped talking, analyzing that whatever she was about to say could affect more things than wanted. She couldn’t say she knew Fareeha, even less what they used to be, so she had to play along as best as she could. “-I saw one of the Raptoras wearing the helmet, I forgot my ID in my room and I was attacked.”

“Wait, which Rapto- you told me you were near the warehouse?”

“Yes…”

“RMAF008 is the only one that wanders over there at night… Good Lord, they caught her.” Mirembe clicked her tongue and tapped her foot a few times. “It seems that she always finds the way to get in trouble.”

“Take me to her.”

“What?”

“Please, take me to her. She seemed… She seemed distant, a-and they electroshocked her.”

“That’s what the necklace is for, to control them in case they get violent.” The older woman sighed and went back inside, getting out after a few seconds with her lab coat on, covering her sleepwear. “Let’s go, I wanna know how she’s doing too.”

Mirembe led her through several halls, doors and other rooms Angela has never seen before. Everything became a combination of a hospital and a lab, the air smelled like alcohol, disinfectant and antiseptic, something not dissimilar to the hospital she was working on. The only difference was the environment made you shiver every time as if only extinction was everything available at hand, and although the hospital didn’t exactly save the lives of its patients in one hundred percent rate, this place exuded only death.

Once in one of the many doors inside the place, they reached a closed space with another crystal in the front wall and a door next to it. Mirembe walked to the door and signaled Angela to stay put, however she walked to the window and saw Fareeha lying unconscious on a bed with several electrodes stuck to her body being monitored by another Vishkar member who seemed as a medical staff, Angela sometimes couldn’t differentiate them. Mirembe walked around her, checking her pulse and vital signs on the monitor. She tapped her shoulder, but had no response.

“How long ago they brought her here?”

“Ten to fifteen minutes perhaps.” The other person, a man, answered calmly.

“Hm… So she’s about to wake up.”

“Seems like, she’s been stirring a lot.” Mirembe looked at him and raised an eyebrow with sarcasm.

“You know she has a disorder.”

“She’s making up that so we feel sorry for her.” Mirembe pointed an accusatory finger at him and looked beyond angry.

“Liao, one more word and you bet I’ll whoop your ass. Get the hell out of here.” He huffed and raised his hands in surrender, barely dealing with her coworker. He left and opened the door where Angela was, taking a quick look at her and saying nothing. Mirembe however stayed inside, still looking at the unmovable girl over the bed. She tapped her shoulder again, this time stronger, until she earned a response. “Hey girl, it’s me. Wake up, you’re safe.” Fareeha opened her eyes slowly, blinking the sleep away.

“Mirembe…” Her eyes moved from being half-lidded to fully close.

“The one and only.”

“Fuck… What happened?”

“I should ask you the same. Attacking a staff? Why did you have the helmet on?” Fareeha got propped on her elbows, blinking once, twice, and looking at Mirembe with lazy eyes.

“It was after a mission and I wanted fresh air, I tried to take off my helmet but the clasps didn’t work, and someone arrived and I guess she didn’t have her ID because my body reacted on its own... I'm sorry.” Mirembe then looked at the mirror and raised an eyebrow, just like she did with the other scientist. Angela immediately caught the blame towards her, and she accepted it.

“So it was a malfunction, which explains it all.” The older woman walked to a table and took a glass jar with water, filling a glass and going back to Fareeha. “Here, drink. You’ll feel better.” Fareeha took the glass and downed its contents in merely five seconds. “You okay?”

“My head hurts…”

“You must go back to sleep, it’s almost three in the morning. I'll leave you here and dim the lights so you can rest, and I'll report the malfunction so nothing else happens while you’re in observation, okay?”

“Yes… Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, honey.” Mirembe filled the glass again and handed it back to Fareeha, as well as a pill from her pocket. “Take this and go back to sleep.” Fareeha nodded and took the glass of water and the pill provided, lying down in the bed and closing her eyes again. Mirembe left once satisfied with Fareeha, and beckoned Angela to follow her back to the bedrooms.

“She’s nonviolent…” Angela spoke after several minutes in silence.

“At all. She’s a sweetheart, but nobody believes it here except me and all those who are down there with her. They label her as aggressive and uncooperative because she sometimes refuses to use violence or when one of her partners is about to go through a painful process. And even then, she is the most lethal of them all. This girl is a double-edged sword.”

“I see… What did you gave her?”

“Prazosin it’s the only thing that has helped her both with her high pressure and the nightmares, more with the late. If you’re interested in her, you should read her file.” She was right, there was a file in her office filled with everything about Fareeha in that place and perhaps some more. A couple more minutes and they reached Mirembe’s door. “Well, go back to sleep you too. There’s so much we have to do tomorrow and we won’t function properly if we stay up.”

“Of course, and I apologize for waking you up at such late hour.” The woman smiled nonetheless.

“Not at all, and thanks for notifying me actually. We’ll talk about this tomorrow some more.”

“Thank you.” Angela turned around, but before she moved away to her bedroom she was stopped by a hand on her shoulder that made her turn back around, and a finger pointed in the middle of her eyes.

“Ziegler.”

“Y-yes?”

“Sleep, don’t get distracted. My good friend Dr. Zhou has told me more than interesting things about you, like your lack of self-care and bad eating habits. So I hope that tomorrow you are rested and show for breakfast. Understood?”

“…Yes.”

“Good night then.”


Despite Mirembe's instructions and her body more tired than ever, Angela couldn’t sleep properly that night. Her mind kept spinning, she kept thinking about Fareeha and Vishkar, and how everything made sense after a last connection with her two years ago. A simple message that was enough for her to believe again and to never lose hope, and fortunately she never did, because after all, Fareeha was here with her, alive, and although it was heartbreaking that she didn’t remember her, at least she wasn’t dead somewhere in the middle of the desert.

After a cold shower and a quick breakfast that morning, she locked herself in the office, quickly looking for the piles of files and finding Fareeha's among the Raptora's lump. Her file was mainly clinical, with only a few sheets detailing her activities, weaknesses and strengths, as well as her performance on the battlefield and some personal background, such as nationality, birthdate and a shady family history. That wasn’t hard to read, Angela already knew it and even more than those few printed words could say, but once reaching the clinical record her heart wanted to break.

Fareeha was mentally limited thanks to Vishkar and the experiments they had done with her with the sole purpose of making her more physically able. Mixed anxiety-depressive disorder, long-term memory loss, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, nightmare disorder and first stage amnesia, among other things. Her eyes focused primarily on two things, such as a suicidal attempt and arrhythmia. Angela could barely believe everything that was written, it’s simply that it wasn’t possible for her to have such a number of psychological diagnoses and still have the ability to speak coherently with Mirembe.

Angela needed to dig deeper into her and look for her real problem, since the huge number of problems listed were made by several doctors, and it was obvious that the final diagnosis would be a horrendous mixture of lies and truths. There was a soft knock on her door and Angela immediately hid the file between several others before Satya –followed closely by Mirembe- invited the doctor to follow her to a special lookout on top of what appeared to be a gym on one of the floors below where the assets were training.

“How is she doing?” Angela asked after several minutes observing a crowd on the exercise equipment, although her eyes didn’t move away from Fareeha.

“See for yourself.” Satya responded as nonchalantly as always. “She has a fast recovery ability thanks to our hard light technology treatment.” Indeed, Fareeha was dodging and throwing punches to such a beast of a woman in pink short hair. “And she would get better sooner if she didn’t protest with the doctors in charge of her.”

“Mirembe, you haven’t thought about making her your protégé?” Angela asked, and she shook her head, instead pointing at one of the women below.

“You see that small one over there? That’s MKSH082, she’s my protégé. I can’t have more than one and she’s been improving since my mentorship and treatment.”

“Indeed.” Satya said proudly, just a hint of a smile on her lips that faded rapidly. “Almost everyone is assigned to a specialist, except those who don’t really need it, or those who are usually a problem, like her.” Fareeha wasn’t the problem, Satya didn’t have a shred of reason in that regard. She was just a pawn in this battle and her chances of winning were scarce. But if it was possible, Angela could move some loose ends and motivate her to reach a better position. Fareeha could be so much more with her help.

“I want her to be my protégé.”

“Dr. Ziegler, you don’t know what you are saying.” Satya commented, only to be stopped by Angela.

“You said that she was the most problematic person on the facility, and you hired me to help you with a treatment to such cases. I think I'm the only one capable of making her change. Then why did you call me if you don’t think I'm capable enough of handling such a human?” Angela could see Satya’s eyes twitch, but Mirembe intercepted.

“Dr. Ziegler, what Ms. Vaswani is saying is that she’s a big problem not because of the failure of treatments, but because she refuses to have a patron to watch over her. She’s… Stubborn.”

“She’s a rebel, a non-cooperative asset that refuses to follow the protocol.”

“I want her and no one else. Period.” That was enough for both Vishkar members to close their mouths. “Send her to my office for a preliminary analysis.”

“Mirembe didn’t give you the files? She already has a record-”

“Which consist of mainly lies. Until I say so, she will have a new clinical record and we will erase everything the other doctors have done to her. Send her, I’ll be waiting.”

Without waiting for the two of them to say something else, Angela left for her assigned office with her head held high but holding her breath. She rarely talked like that, and less in such an environment that wasn’t hers and she hadn’t total control of, but today she had to put her foot down. As soon as she got to the office she closed on the door harshly, leaning on it and breathing fast, she was sweating a bit due to the nervousness but she had to control herself before Fareeha arrived.

Angela carefully kept each file in its place, sorting them by group and alphabetical order, only Fareeha's was on her desk. Biting her pen she began to read the pages carefully again and again, absorbed between the file and the monitor of the computer that showed the chemical composition of one of the many serums they used in her. It was amazing how much chemical was flowing through her body, angrily transforming her on the inside. A soft knock on the door almost made her jump, realizing more than half-hour already passed when she looked at the clock on the monitor. Angela cleared her throat before speaking.

“Come in.” She said in her softest voice, what she least wanted was Fareeha had a first bad impression of her... Or maybe a second one. The door opened slowly, and Angela's heart came to a stop for the second time that day. Fareeha’s look was stern at first, but softened visibly when she looked at her eyes. That definitely meant something. “Good morning. Take a seat, if you may.” Fareeha closed the door and sat in the chair across Angela’s desk. The doctor could see how Fareeha peeked to her desk and saw her file wide open. “That’s your record. It impressed me, if I must admit it.”

“It impresses everyone.”

“And I don’t believe a single bit of it.” Fareeha blinked twice, squinting her eyes a little when Angela took the file and tossed it to the bin. “So we’ll start from scratch, shall we?” The doctor took a new form and put her glasses on, starting to fill the paper’s blank spaces without asking her a single thing.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but you haven’t asked anything about me.”

“I don’t need to for this part.” Angela spoke without taking her sight from the paper and pen. “I know plenty of things about you.”

“You know my name.”

“…I do, Fareeha Amari. Now please, sit on the examination table.” Fareeha hesitated for a moment, but obeyed in the end. So far, she was being cooperative and calm. Angela stood in front of her, examining her pupils slowly with a penlight. “Twenty-eight years old, born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. One hundred and eighty centimeters tall-”

“You read that in my file.”

“…You moved in your younger days of adulthood with your mother, Ana Amari, out of the country. You finished an engineering degree in Canada, and later worked in Helix Security International. That I couldn’t read in your file, or could I?”

“…Who are you?”

“We need to do more cabinet studies. Laboratory exams, X-rays, EMG, MRI, and what’s necessary to have a faithful diagnosis of your problems, listed and non-listed in that record that we’ll no longer use.” Angela was avoiding the difficult topic, it was sufficiently delicate to drop quite the bomb on the girl, so she needed to be cautious. “I’m not going to resort to the usual therapy Vishkar has, but I’ll definitely try psychotherapy to work with your memory loss.”

“So… I suppose I used to know you.” However, it wouldn’t hurt to tease with her a little bit.

“In a more intimate way than you know.”

“What?”

“Here.” Angela poked her stomach, as toned as ever. “A scar from a bullet wound, three stitches. I treated you, you were my patient for the night.”

“Just because you know a few things about me doesn’t mean I can fully trust you.”

“And you are absolutely right.” Angela stopped her examination, looking at Fareeha in the eyes. It was so long ago, but she still made her shiver. “That’s why I chose you as my protégé, because I know you can and will trust me eventually.”

“What makes you believe I will?”

“This.” Angela closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and taking the iron ring from her index finger, taking Fareeha’s hand and placing the accessory on her palm. She felt electricity, a strong warm current coursing through her arm and into her body as she held her hand in her own.

“How did you…?”

“You trusted me enough to give it to me. But the truth is that I never stopped looking for you to return it to you, I know what you worked to achieve it, and it is a very precious possession for you. Brigitte told me so.” Fareeha’s eyes sparkled for a moment, it was overly adorable. "Now I'll take the ring back until you get out of here."

“You know her? Brigitte?”

“I know all of them. Brigitte, Ingrid, Torbjörn, I had dinner in their house a few times.”

“How are they?”

“Wonderfully, and they miss you and your mother greatly.” It was for a moment, for a brief time she finally saw Fareeha smile, illuminating her heart after five years of darkness. Angela wanted to cry right there. “They all miss you so much.”

“I miss them too…”

“Anyway. You can sit down in the chair again.” Angela moved to her desk chair and sighed when she sat down. “There are many things that you probably don’t remember, I have been told you have a lapse of approximately five to six years of blurred or deleted memories, and I need to investigate a little more what is causing that. I’m willing to help you and fill some gaps for you, update your previous life and help you with your memory, but that has to be gradually as to not confuse you more than you already are, okay?”

“Very well.”

“I just need to ask you one last thing before you leave. I have been told that you have denied the medical attention of several doctors for some reasons which I find totally valid. I am not here to have pity on you, and I really want to help you, so I will only proceed to rehabilitate you if you allow me. The question is, will you allow me to do it?”

“I need to think about it.” That was a big progress nonetheless.

“I’ll be here six months, take your time. Either if it’s one day or five months, I won’t proceed unless you decide the other way.”

“I just have one question.”

“Of course.”

“…Who are you again?” Angela blinked once and took a deep breath. Fareeha wouldn’t remember her now, so what was the point?

“I’m Dr. Ziegler. Angela Ziegler…” It was barely visible, but the doctor could clearly see how the woman in front of her got uncomfortable for a brief moment, composing as fast as it happened.

“If… If you want me to trust you… I think I need to ask you a few things first.”

“And you have every right to fill the gaps that the hard light treatment has left you.”

Angela's tone of voice was as gentle as she could make it, just like her face and features, the least she wanted was for Fareeha to deny her help right there and then without even considering how much the doctor was willing to do so she would be herself again. A tortured and silent minute passed in which neither said anything and there was only an uncomfortable exchange of looks, finally being Angela who looked away to her index finger, glancing at Fareeha’s engineering ring back on the same place.

“I’ll come back tomorrow and see if this is worth, but I have one condition: no drugs, no treatments, not a single thing goes inside my body.”

“I promise you. I will not be a scientist in front of you if you don’t want me to, I will only be a doctor and I won’t do anything without your consent.”

“…Thank you.”

Fareeha got up slowly and left the office. Angela released the breath she was holding once she heard the door click shut, her legs and arms trembled, barely believing what happened in a couple of minutes. The tears did not wait to build up in her eyes, Angela at first trying to hold them, but it was impossible, and quickly fell down her cheeks and to the desk. She repeated herself words of calmness both in English and German to compose herself, but she failed miserably and started sobbing uncontrollably on her desk, hiding her face in her arms as she pressed her cheek on the cold countertop.

It was almost impossible to believe, but Fareeha was there and alive, and she didn’t recognize her.

That day, that morning more specifically, it was torture for Angela. Her thoughts focused mainly on that tall girl with tanned skin, dark eyes, hair as black as night, and a unique tattoo under her eye. So when the night came and after a rather quiet and uncomfortable dinner, she went to her bedroom, her mind an unassembled puzzle and her body as exhausted as any training session. She eyed the bed and nothing seemed so comforting as that piece of furniture at the moment, however, she walked to the small desk in the corner where her laptop was, and turning it on she sat in the chair.

Angela didn't know how to start, she had so many questions of which only a few could answer, and definitely what hurt was the lack of answers she could be working on, and not which Fareeha refused to answer for the time being. Navigating between the various icons on the screen. She opened a video call program, sending the request to a distant friend. One tone, another, and several more after Hanzo appeared on the screen.

"Angela?" He asked her when she saw her puffy eyes and her knotted brow, ready to cry. "Are you okay?"

"She's here..." She breathed, barely audible.

"What?"

"She's here." She repeated, this time louder. "Fareeha's here... S-she's alive, here." The tears gathered, and now she sobbed softly. "A-and she doesn't remember who I am."

Chapter Text

 

Chapter V

How I became her protege

 

Whoever she was, whoever she dared to be, nothing and no one could prepare her for the impact the doctor was already making on her life. No one in her sane right had made her feel so uncomfortable yet comfortable the very same moment. It was intriguing, more than usual, because the doctors who took her as her 'subject of experimentation' -her protege- regularly treated her as much as or worse than an animal. The first of several patrons going as far as to demand her to get undressed so he could take a look at her and examine her body, but as soon as he approached, he groped her rear and bosom, earning quite the hit on his chin with an elbow.

That was the first and definitely not the last, but certainly this woman who she swore has seen before, was being as kind as no one has been among her patrons. Fareeha lied down in bed last night trying to sleep as usual, barely doing so as she tried to recollect herself. The day began with Mirembe asking her to go to a certain office she knew so well because a new doctor wanted her, and to be honest, she was intrigued, so she followed suit. The surprise was when she saw a familiar face, that one she saw a night after the lady kicked her helmet off and made her fall to the ground.

The one who knows her real name.

No serial number, no nickname, but her real name. She knew Mirembe wouldn’t even dare to mention her identity to anyone, not even Vaswani, and yet it was frightening the fact she knew such personal and confidential information such as her full name. Knowing her identity wasn’t the worst thing inside this mental labyrinth, but what made Fareeha tremble the most, what really had her dismayed, frightened and at the same time interested, was the fact that she was the same woman that she dreamed sometimes and the only one capable of making her dream of anything other than nightmares.

That is what Fareeha remembers the most. Dreams about a beautiful woman, thin, tall, piercing blue eyes and incredible blonde hair that fell on her shoulders like a cascade of gold. Something in her chest was pressed by just remember her, but now that she was here, waiting behind this door, it was simply a fact she couldn’t easily forget, as her heart pulsed in her ears and her body warmed as never before. Determined, she stepped forward and knocked at the door softly, praying to herself that there was no one on the other side.

“Come on in.”

A soft melodious voice called her, and she cursed herself when her prayer didn’t work. Brown eyes met aquamarines, and she could definitely swear a thousand times that this doctor and that of her dreams were the same, with a few visible differences like her hair, now longer and collected in a high ponytail, she was a little thinner, but still she looked like a model in front of her. Fareeha still didn’t understood why such a specimen was in this prison in disguise.

“Good morning, I’m glad you came back.” The doctor smiled at her as she motioned for the examination table. “I’m going to take your vitals. Is that okay?” Why is she asking? No one has asked before. Everyone just tugged at her arm -and even her hair- so she could sit and strip her down like a sex slave, but this woman was going as far as to ask her for permission to do something as simple as taking her vitals. Fareeha could never deny such kindness and cordiality.

“Of course. Do I lie down or-?”

“As you feel the most comfortable.” She spoke perhaps three times, and it was enough to make her feel weird inside.

Fareeha sat on the table rather than lying on her back, and the blonde approached a device towards her with which she measured her blood pressure, with a light pen she checked her eyes and later her reflexes, making her leg bounce slightly when the hammer hit her knee. It was far more common, like a routine visit to the doctor. So far, it was going okay. The strange thing started when the stethoscope touched her back and she felt the touch of her thin hand on her shirt. Then her chest, and Fareeha closed her eyes, breathing deeply, easy and calmly, also inhaling part of the aroma exuded by the doctor.

“Good.” Fareeha blinked the sensation away and looked at her. “You look good so far. I need to search for damage to your body such as wounds, scrapes, bruises, scars and so on, but I need you to be in your underwear in order to do so. If you want to proceed with the physical examination there is a gown in the bathroom that you can use and- what?” Fareeha had to laugh at that, no one in her right mind was as considerate as this doctor.

“You are the first person inside this place who has asked me permission to even proceed with something as simple as that. You are disconcerting.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” The blonde smiled tenderly, but flinched immediately when Fareeha began to take her shirt and pants off, remaining only in black briefs and a sports bra. “S-so I guess this is a yes?”

“You can proceed, yes.” The doctor went to her desk and grabbed a paper sheet and a clipboard as Fareeha lied on her back. Soon enough, she was being analyzed, examined with a clinical eye at every naked inch of her body. Fareeha could hear and see the doctor scribble something on the paper, humming when she found something.

“You do have more scars than before…” She said more to herself, but Fareeha was still blown away because she did knew her.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.” She kept doing her job as Fareeha took a deep breath. So anything would be, and she was starting from the beginning.

“Why do you know my name?” The blonde stopped and met Fareeha’s eyes only briefly, returning her sight to the clipboard.

“…You used to work for me.”

“You were my protégé?”

“More than five years ago, yes. Well, my ex-husband hired you, but you were my bodyguard for about half a year. Turn around, please?”

That explained a lot. However, it was strange that dhe knew her name, because it was a golden rule in Helix to keep her identity hidden and they should only be addressed to themselves by their nickname, although her mother came to sympathize and trust one of her protégés, maybe Fareeha did it with this intriguing doctor too. Now Fareeha just wanted to know more about her, and started by obeying and lie on her stomach, hiding her face between her arms.

“And who are you?”

“Do you want to know my name?”

“No, I want to know who you are. I want to know who Dr. Angela Ziegler is.”

“I’m that, just a simple doctor.” Fareeha shook her head. Of course she was no simple doctor. If she was here, it was because of something. “Although I think you mean what I do specifically.”

“Yes, Mirembe has only glorified you.”

“I am the head of a well-known hospital, also I assist as a surgeon. That’s my home, and that’s where I face my most problematic patients. Such as-” she poked Fareeha in the abdomen, specifically at a scar she doesn’t remember how she acquired it. “-yourself. This one and a few other as well.”

“This must have a history.”

“That was the first one while you were working for me.”

“That dangerous was to protect you?”

“More than you can imagine… But here I am, alive and well thanks to you. And since you’re so perky, can I ask you only one question myself? It’s fair since you’re so eager to ask my brains out, don’t you think?” Indeed. What could this doctor ask her anyway?”

“Sure, one won’t hurt.”

“What do these mean?" She pointed with a surgical hand to her left side, her arm covered mostly by a series of tattoos that went from her wrist to her shoulder and part of her ribcage. Fareeha really doesn’t remember what they all mean, only fragments of her memory recognize a few others being tattooed while lying on the bed of some study hidden in the confines of Egypt, but nothing more. “They are beautiful.”

“A few remind me of who I am and where I come from, although today I don’t remember many things and the exact meaning of a couple of them, I do know they symbolize that.” The blonde was about to touch her arm gingerly, but retracted her arm immediately, distracting herself in something more.

“Thanks. And about me, I also specialize in medical research. My discoveries have helped many, fortunately. And that’s something I want to keep doing.”

“You are not doing it here.”

“I disagree. You will know over time.” She smiled again. “I have quite the assistant now back at the hospital and she’s doing a magnificent job. I couldn’t thank her enough for her support.”

“She sounds helpful.”

“Oh, believe me. Emily is more than helpful, she’s resourceful and loyal.” That name she knew, she recognized it pretty easily, and Fareeha dared to ask.

“Emily? As in Lena’s Emily?” The doctor giggled in her hand, and then proceeded to tuck a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.

“The very same, Mrs. Emily Oxton.” Fareeha perked up, her eyes shining and looking back at those blue ones.

“No way. Are you serious? Did they get married?”

“A year ago. I was Emily’s maid of honor. Lena’s was Jesse, all of Helix was there, except-”

“Me…” Fareeha finished the sentence, hiding her face between her arms. She heard a deep, long sigh, and the slender hands continued to nudge at key spots on her back.

“Yes, you… You were missed very much. Every day, and every Sunday at Eichenwalde’s.”

“I miss the guys too… I miss my life.”

The doctor muttered something for herself only under her breath, Fareeha missing the words but ignoring them at the end. Fareeha shifted slightly and propped her chin on her arms when the doctor pressed a hand on her side.

“Now, I need to touch you and feel if something hurts, that may be an indication of internal damage and I want to rule out the damage before proceeding with other types of analysis, is that okay?”

“Yes.”

“You will only feel pressure in some key points and nothing else, if you feel pain or discomfort you should let me know. If you want me to stop, you just have to tell me and I will without questioning.”

Fareeha nodded, and the doctor proceeded to touch her back with two fingers at first, then her other hand’s, and she kept looking for anything odd. Luckily, nothing seemed to hurt, but Fareeha had to concede that the touch of her hands on her bare skin made her shiver. It didn't feel bad, but on the contrary, it felt extremely familiar, comfortable and pleasant, and even the way she felt how she was gently massaged had an erotic touch that Fareeha hadn't felt in years. Not even the touch of a man seemed to be as close as that.

“No pain so far?”

“No pain.” She said barely above a whisper.

“That’s great.” The doctor kept her pressure in several spots, almost lulling Fareeha. “Well, there’s no damage but you are really tense. I can feel several knots due to stress, but if you like, I can help you with those.”

That seemed utterly tantalizing, the mere thought of having years of accumulated stress being reduced in a few minutes was a more than pleasant desire. Fareeha said no words, she simply nodded and acknowledged the doctor to proceed. She closed her eyes, trying to enjoy the sensation as long as she could, but at the same time refused to relax more than usual. It was not normal to feel so comfortable with this woman she barely knew, but she radiated such a calming energy it was impossible to not do so. Also, she knew her, she knew her family in another country, and she refused to do anything Fareeha didn’t want to. She earned that respect.

“I’m not usually hm- I don’t know how to say it but… Thank you. For being so nice and understanding… No one has been like that to me inside this place.”

“I have to thank you for allowing me to work with you and help me help you. This is the very least I can do. We’ll keep at your pace and always at your request. You can trust me.”

Minute by minute, massage after massage and rub after rub, Fareeha felt her body relax at such levels she thought no longer possible to achieve again. With her eyes still closed, she tried to concentrate on something else but the calming pressure on her lower back, going further up so methodically, it was simply impossible to do so. Fareeha tried to suppress the humming and moaning, with every stress point unknotted pleasantly as the doctor’s hands kept creeping up to her upper back, then her shoulders and neck.

Fareeha was in a state of bliss, her body was floating on thin air, and her mind was in the point of no return. She lost to this doctor only the second day she was with her. No other doctor, scientist or even Vishkar staff and partners went as far. This was on a whole different level, and Fareeha’s closed eyes led to something beyond daydream. It was only when the hands on her neck went further up and between her locks of dark hair she fell her mind shut and her body gave up completely into slumber. The sensation glorious on her unlike anything she ever felt.


“Remember well, Fareeha. If you want to be half as worthy as your siblings, you must prove it.”

“Stop, she’s still too young, she-”

“Ana, stop making excuses and correct that bastard daughter of yours.”

“Don’t you dare call her like that! She’s as much an Amari as any other kid or adult around here!”

“Not even you believe that. Half Canadian? That shouldn’t even exist, the Amari blood has to never be mixed with anything but our same blood.”

“She is the product of the love that her father and I had for each other, not the result of a breeder!” She earned quite a fierce slap after the last comment.

“You are so valuable inside this family that we can’t dispose you. Fareeha, it’s the last time I’m going to say it: take that damn gun and join the others.”

“She’s only twelve! You can’t expect her to go on an assassination mission at that age!”

“Her siblings are in age of doing their first mission-”

“And they’re almost adults! Five more years her age! Stop it, she’s still so young to go on a mission!”

“Mother… I will do it.”

“Fareeha, don’t-”

“I'll be fine, I will not disappoint you.” Her mother knelt in front of her, hugging her thin frame with unparalleled love.

“There’s nothing in this world you can do that would disappoint me. Don’t do this if you don’t want to.”

“I’m ready, mom.”

“You better be and prove you’re worth a dime. Anything less and you don’t deserve the air you’re breathing.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, go on. They’re waiting for you at the armory.”

Fareeha was actually more than ready for some months, both physically and mentally, and it was her mother who made sure of it, making her train in secret under her guidance on her days off or on those dark nights under the dim light of the moon and the stars. One last hug, and her mother wished her the best with such a show of affection.

‘May the Gods protect you and guide you to protect those who need it. Return home safe and sound, my child.’

A phrase, the first of many. Fareeha could only cling to that and not disappoint her mother or her family. Fareeha would prove that she deserved to carry the Amari surname with pride.

Alone and among several dark corridors barely illuminated by some torches that night, Fareeha arrived at the armory where her relatives -many older than her and a few inches taller than her thin frame- were talking and taking their guns in their hands, clicking a few things in place. They turned around to her when Fareeha’s footsteps echoed through the dark and hollow corridor and into the room full of crates with ammunition and weapons.

“Look who’s here! Little Fareeha is ready to prove her worth?”

“Yeah, I don’t think is a good idea she’s here. She will mess up the mission.” One of the boys said, earning approvals from the others.

“Well, we’ll see if she can manage to be a distraction at least, don’t you think?”

“Oh yes! That she can be! She’s going to be a useful bait!”

Fareeha decided to ignore everything they said, opting to go to one of the boxes and take a rifle similar to her mother's, loading it with enough bullets to hold for the night, plus a couple of daggers was she used to have some fun at times and proved to be pretty good with them. The night market was not exactly a busy place, much less safe, it used to be the place where many illegal businesses were carried.

Abdul Hakim, a crime boss with ties to Talon who operates out of a compound in Cairo is like many other times the objective of this night. The Amari family might be harsh on her, but their intentions overall with the security and dignified treatment to the inhabitants of Egypt was commendable, and neither the government nor Talon were very happy with their presence. Fareeha wanted to follow her mother’s footsteps, she was a legend among the Cairo population and the Amari’s herself.

And so, on top of that building with her rifle pointing down towards the fountain in the middle of the square that at this time was the meeting place for several members of Hakim's personal circle, Fareeha waited patiently as her mother had taught her. Breathe deep and calm, in and out, immovable, unattainable.

Through the rifle’s scope, she spotted a group of men dressed in black suits, they were the objectives, they were the ones they had to eliminate as soon as possible and the worst was that none of her cousins were in position. Fareeha checked the mission over and over again in the night, making sure that everything had be perfect for her first time, and these buffoons were nervous and joking on the roof behind her.

If she had to do everything to prove that she deserved to be in the family, so be it. Cautiously, she shifted her body more to the ground, leaning her stomach and chin on the ground as she adjusted the weapon as the group moved. Fareeha took a deep breath, and threw one of the daggers to the ground, distracting the group. Her finger on the trigger, eye on the scope, and just a methodical pull was all it took. One man down. Another one. And the last one. It was done. Her firsts, not the last, but those deaths were already twisting something inside her, and it was chilling to think that she did it alone with total ease.

She became a monster.


Fareeha jumped from the bed, sweating and breathing rapidly, her heart thumping heavily against her chest. Her eyes were wide open as she tried to grasp anything to balance her body. Looking everywhere, she only found a shocked doctor sitting on the chair behind the desk getting up and rushing to her side with worry in her blue eyes. In just a couple of seconds, a thin hand landed on her back while the blonde ducked to be on her eye level, tucking away a few strands of hair sticking to her perspiring face behind her ear, only the tresses were the only ones remaining.

“Fareeha, look at me, talk to me… Are you okay?” Fareeha did just that, looking at her as she tried to catch her breath. She nodded once she felt air on her lungs once again. “A nightmare?” Another nod. The doctor came with a water bottle, twisting the cap open and handing the bottle to Fareeha. “Drink. Slowly… That’s it, good job.” She downed half the bottle in small sips as not to get choked.

“…Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, dear... This happens often?”

“You should know about, you have my file.”

“Which I discarded because I refused to read something that might be half the truth. Don’t get sassy with me and be honest, that’s the first rule of working with me.”

“And what makes you think I want you to work on me?”

“You came here by yourself this morning, didn’t you?”

“Because you know me and part of my past.” Fareeha had to smirk, this woman was as curious and honest as no one inside Vishkar.

“Hm that’s right. Now will you answer me?”

“Only if you answer me another question.” The doctor laughed and for some reason, it was adorable, making Fareeha blush slightly.

“Sure, anything.”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, I answered that already, didn’t I?” Fareeha shook her head.

“No. What I mean is… Who are you, what you were to me.” The doctor flinched and seemed nervous all of a sudden. “I don’t think we've only had a work contract.”

“You’re right… I was also your friend.” The way she answered wasn’t enough for Fareeha, there was something fishy in the way she was acting.

“You’re hiding me something more.”

“Once again, you are right. But it’s not the time to continue with such… Delicate topic. I don’t want to mess with your head at such tender stage. You will know eventually.” She smiled, but she was hurt and Fareeha could easily see that. Still, she needed answers, but perhaps the doctor was right and it could mess her up.

“Okay… And it happens every day and every time I sleep. The nightmares, that is.”

It was easier to hide the whole truth at the moment, Fareeha refused to say everything to a person she barely met, despite having worked together before. That wasn't the problem itself, but the fact that the only times she didn’t have nightmares were dreams with her, with this doctor whose life was beginning to change, with whom she felt an incomparable peace and the desire to simply be her with her.

“We’ll work on that eventually, is that okay?”

“Yes.” The doctor went back to the desk and sat in front of the computer, typing on the keyboard swiftly as she looked intently at the screen. Fareeha sat across the desk when the blonde motioned her to follow suit.

“While you were sleeping I was able to review the serums of the treatment that you have been given, and I am not at all in agreement that they are injecting such a cocktail of drugs into your system, it is easily creating an addiction to your body and I don’t even have to do tests to prove it.” Fareeha blinked twice.

“…Creating an addiction?”

“That is the second step, to convince Vishkar that it’s necessary to reduce and remove the treatment to... Analyze the negative effects and counteract them. It's a lie, of course, you just don’t have to take this, and it’s not making any good to your body.”

“Then they will stop injecting me?”

“Yes, that is the plan. I only warn you one thing, your body will begin to suffer from the lack of serum, because I am taking away a drug to which your body has become addicted with. It’s the only thing that I will refuse if you decide to continue with the treatment, I refuse to give it to you and we will continue with my method of rehabilitation and drug detox.”

This time she stopped seeing the monitor and so did her typing, looking intently at Fareeha and waiting for the message to reach her. And it did. Fareeha nodded once more, she knew that the path would be painful but it was the best, it was a step closer to freedom.

“Okay.”

“Very well. We’ll start tomorrow.”


Tomorrow was not easy, neither the next day nor the next one, and not even a week later. If anything, it was worse. The nightmares were more recurrent, more livid, and Fareeha had a sense of uneasiness overall. In general, this was becoming intense and the withdrawal symptoms as Dr. Ziegler said, were becoming more irritating and they didn’t seem to lessen. Her muscles ached with no explanation, she was sweating from doing nothing, agitation and anxiety were hand in hand, and for some odd reason her eyes watered more than usual.

In spite of the nightmares, the insomnia also complemented that bad circle of sleep. At four in the morning, Fareeha lied on her bed hugging her legs, trembling and trying to close her eyes with no avail. She could hear a couple of her teammates snoring, their breathing mingling with the roaring of the air conditioner, among other things. Every sound or movement seemed to make her jump, and now more than anything she was alert even though her eyes were heavier than ever.

A creaking bed made her look away, and she knew immediately that it was Tariq moving, knowing he was awakened by the change of breath, and was about to get up. And as Fareeha saw him coming, his steps took him to the bathroom door, until he turned his head and with eyes half closed by the darkness of the place, saw Fareeha sitting and fully awake. That turned out to be a more than usual scenario as of lately.

“Fareeha?” He whispered as to not wake their roommates. “You up?”

“Yeah…” He walked to her and Fareeha could swear that he saw her eyes reddened by the light that filtered through the door leading to the hall.

“You haven’t slept anything?” She acknowledged it. “For God’s sake… What is the doctor giving you?”

“Nothing…”

“’Nothing’ wouldn’t give you insomnia or make you shake like a leaf. Why don’t you tell me? You know you can trust me or any of the guys.”

“It’s nothing, Tariq. Drop it.” It was frustrating because she was being honest, Dr. Ziegler gave her absolutely nothing to complete her detox and rehab, it’s just that she refused to say anything and promised her not to tell as well. To prevent him from continuing to inquire, Fareeha stood up and grabbed her sneakers, tying them loosely and walking out the door. “I’m going out.”

“It’s four in the morning.”

“Good night then.”

“Fare-”

She closed the door so he would stop talking to her and make a distraction of her walk. What she needed the least now was more noise in her head, the pain was sometimes unsustainable especially when she didn’t sleep at all. Regularly being outside for a while taking the fresh air of the night helped, but the sun would rise in an hour and it wasn’t an option when the whole building started to wake up. There was only someone who could tolerate her at such hours of the night.

Soon enough, she was standing in front of the door of Mirembe's room, her fist held for a while in the air as she looked towards another white door with a nameplate on it. Dr. A. Ziegler, the one who was currently treating her and making a hell of her life, but Fareeha knew that she was doing the right thing and was really helping her, with the passing of days she became aware of it. Sometimes, on all those nights, she preferred to knock on her door instead of Mirembe's, but she just sighed and knocked on that familiar door.

“…Again?” Mirembe groaned when she opened the door, spotting Fareeha in her sleepwear, a pair of short shorts and a loose t-shirt.

“Yes, please…” The older woman simply stepped aside and let Fareeha go inside. It was forbidden for her to stay in the high ranks quarters, but Mirembe was too kind to allow her and rest in her couch while she slept.

And that seemed to be every night lately. Taking a cushion from the armchair, she adjusted her head and lied down fully stretched, hoping that she could sleep for an hour perhaps. She should be ready to train in a couple more hours, then show up with the doctor to be monitored again. And for the past three days, that seemed to be the only place where she could catch some sleep. And she thought of the next room, or rather the person occupying it and her overall calming presence that was enough to send anyone to rest. Just thinking of the blonde, of her touch, of her lulling whispering, of her calming hum while she worked, seemed enough to help her again to close her eyes despise the heaviness of her lids.


Another one of those dreams, and the place was quite recognized. She opened her eyes only to realize she was lying on a couch as well, the apartment she shared with her mother was the only place that brought her familiarity, tranquility, a sense of recovery and unusual inner peace, and it was her safe place. What could not be explained was why she was lying there that night, why everything was so quiet but mostly cold.

It was damn cold in the living room, the speckles of snow fell on the other side of the window and the clock on the kitchen read one o’clock in the morning. The blankets were not helping, the cold was seeping through every notch. Why was she waking up there anyway? The sound of footsteps caught her attention, and a thin, lean womanly figure covered by a blanket stood in front of her, staring deep into her eyes. A hand was extended, and like a spell, Fareeha stretched her own and took that cold hand in her own as she was lead to her bedroom.

Fareeha was lying on the bed, looking intently at those blue eyes begging her. Never before she felt her heart thump so hard, so fast, and so intense. This was a dream. This had to be a dream.

“Stay with me… Stay with me for the night.” A begged whisper fell from rosy lips, and Fareeha couldn’t do anything but nod, to give her anything she demanded. “So much better…”

“Yeah…” She thought for herself when she felt warmth but her mouth betrayed her.

“Fareeha?”

Upon hearing her name, she looked at her and suddenly, the blonde was pinned to her body, her face going lower and lower to hers, their breaths mingling with every exhale. Fareeha was as confused as ever. Wasn’t she supposed to be working for her? What was happening? Why was she there? That and many questions erupted but they stopped immediately when a pair of plump lips pressed gently against her own.

And God’s she never thought it could feel that way. They felt amazing, they tasted sweet, they were a drug and Fareeha needed more. She seemed to notice, for a tongue brushed her lower lip and Fareeha opened her mouth, letting a tongue explore inside. Never before she felt that with a man, but it was so surreal, it’s still didn’t feel right.

“This is wrong…” Fareeha managed to whisper between kisses.

“I know… I know. I know, and I don’t care… Just touch me.”

Fareeha couldn’t complain, she wanted to do that and more. Kiss, suck, touch everything from her like she was the only thing that could satiate her needs and yet it wasn’t enough. She took all the will necessary to push the negative thoughts aside and twisted her body to reverse the rolls and pin her to the bed-


Fareeha twisted and rolled her body, only to fall from the couch with a thud. She grunted as she rubbed her head over the sore part, remembering where she was and trying to compose herself as quickly as possible. The sun hardly threatened to show up, she could easily see it through the window of the room. Mirembe responded to her fall with a single snore, leading her to rearrange herself in bed. Fareeha sighed when she saw that she didn’t made any major damage and decided to get out of there.

But she still couldn’t process the whole situation: that dream was so livid, as if it was a memory. A memory like those reminding her of her childhood, but those were nightmares more than anything, the least she wanted was to go back to that place. This ones, however, were the only ones where she could actually rest. And who was she? She was someone important, that she could see easily. But why was she being shy all of a sudden? What was she hiding? There was only one way to know.

Closing Mirembe’s door, she walked a few steps to the one next to her, the one where Dr. Angela Ziegler rested. Standing outside in front of the white door, she hesitated once again. Her fist was hovering, her lips were parted slightly and she began to shake for any other reason. Fareeha knew it was fear, but she couldn’t know why she was scared all of a sudden. What she did know is that she needed answers. Two soft knocks, and she counted the seconds in her head. Ten, and she was ready to run.

“Fareeha?” She stopped when she heard her name. There she was standing shyly, wearing only a thin pinkn robe, looking at her with sleep still in her eyes. Her blonde hair was disheveled, she cleaned a bit of drool from the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand, there was no makeup in her face and yet, she looked as beautiful and stunning as anyone she has ever seen. And she had to blush at that. Great. “Are you feeling unwell? Your face is red. Do you have fever?”

“N-no, not at all. It’s just that I-” her mouth went dry, she couldn’t make a word of what was happening.

“Fareeha?”

“I need to talk to you, doctor.” The blonde blinked a couple of times and stepped aside.

“Okay…? Come on in, I was just-”

“No, no! I can wait until-” The blonde laughed, making Fareeha flinch even more than she was. “What?”

“You are already here and we both seem to need the distraction. Care to join me for coffee at least?”

“…Inside?”

“Only if you want. I have no problems, if that’s what's stopping you.”

Fareeha didn't had any problem with that, if so, she was wanting to go inside and lock the door immediately, even if that could only bother the doctor even more than her knocking at her door at five in the morning. But now, and in front of her, saying she had no problem with her presence, Fareeha was more than excited by the idea of sharing some time with her. In the end Fareeha nodded hypnotized, and rubbing one last time her eyes, she disappeared through the doorframe and behind her when the blonde closed the door.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter VI

Then I gave her a photograph

 

Coffee. That she could do.

Despite the thousands of rambunctious thoughts that were spinning inside her head from the lack of sleep of being working so late into the night, only to wake up so early and so abruptly, but above all, by a certain person who had knocked on her door and demanded answers of doubts that she was very afraid to answer because she wasn’t sure if everything would be the same, brewing and drinking coffee seemed the most logical thing to mitigate every emotion and sensation in a single task.

Fareeha was sitting on her couch, moving her leg up and down restlessly and clutching her pants with her fists. Something was bothering her and, despite her dark circles under her red eyes, her tangled hair and her clothes not suitable for going out, what disturbed her was something more internal than what she could review in her clinical file.

And so, standing in front of the coffeepot and waiting for it to finish brewing the dark grinds, Angela found her distraction. It was perfect to distract herself and to pretend that she was doing something profitable in front of Fareeha. Weighing her options, she preferred to serve a cup of coffee to the girl even though she enjoyed tea the most, but given the circumstances, coffee was the best option now. Two and a half tablespoons of coffee and a dash of milk. That was her.

“Thank you.” Fareeha said meekly and tired as she took the cup of coffee in her hands, taking a sip and humming in delight. “It’s good… How did you know I like it like that?” Angela took a sip of her own as she sat on the chair in front of the modest desk inside the bedroom, turning it to face her.

“A hunch.”

“A hunch…? Heh, sure.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” They stayed mostly in silence, Angela waiting for Fareeha to make the first move. Even when it was her bedroom and she was dressed not decently enough to house a guest, she wanted her to step forward, and to not force her to do anything she didn’t want to do. It worked in the end. “So… I think it’s safe to speak with you in this place.”

“Really? How so?” Fareeha pointed to the ceiling.

“No cameras in the upper quarters.” Angela hummed, noticing that herself. “What I wanted to tell you is that, just like my file said, I do struggle to sleep and have recurrent nightmares… My teammates knows it, Mirembe knows it… And since you stopped giving me the serum this has been-”

“Worse.” Angela filled for her, Fareeha nodding as she took a sip of her drink.

“Yes…”

“I told you it was going to be difficult the first days. It’s been a week and a half, perhaps three more days and the symptoms will lessen.”

Angela honestly wanted to believe that, but like all medical procedures, the patient's body was different and could react in a thousand ways. She wasn’t a hundred percent right, but the blonde still had hopes that soon such suffering would pass. The drug itself was complex, unlike anything she had seen before, obviously the lack of financial support had some inference in that. Nonetheless, the rehabilitation had similar effects as any other drug, so it was easy to work around its effects.

“Pardon me for my lack of… Choosing a better attire for such a meeting.” The doctor decided to speak first, the silence was becoming quite uncomfortable after a couple of minutes.

“I should be the one apologizing. After all, I disrupted your morning.” Angela smiled and shook her head.

“Not at all. It’s always pleasant to see you.”

“Which brings me to the reason why I’m here.”

“Yes?” Fareeha started to fidget with the cup in her hands, a nervous tick.

“…Who are you? And what were we?” Angela let the mug half emptied on the desk, sighing and looking at her with earnest affection, the one she used to feel.

“Why are you so interested in knowing so?”

“…Because-” Fareeha hesitated at first, opening her mouth only to close it again. “-Just because.”

“’Just because’ it’s not a valid answer here. I need an honest reason why, Fareeha.”

“That.”

“Hm?”

“You know me, you know more than I even know myself now. I could’ve never, never express myself with every knowledge you possess of me as of now. So that’s why. How did you get to know me so well? Who are you?”

Angela weighted both her options: telling Fareeha who she was to her and her to the doctor, the one and true love of her life, the one she still desired and longed with all her might. Or just saying they had a mere work-patron relationship. Neither seemed appropriate at the moment, and thus, Angela decided to let her see it for herself. Turning on her laptop and waiting for it to start, she typed her name on the web browser, handing the personal computer to Fareeha so she could take a look.

As expected from the doctor, Fareeha’s brow furrowed with every word read, her eyes moved at lightning speed and Angela sat next to her, ready to explain everything she was willing to ask. Articles, interviews, photographs, awards, balls, all kinds of public information about her since her puberty, as Angela was used to being in the spotlight from a very young age. The blonde was drifting, daydreaming, and suddenly Fareeha cleared her throat and pointed at the screen.

It was then that Fareeha opened a specific page with a rather nerve wrecking headline for her: 'Unfortunate disaster at the Hospital Annual Gala in Teatro Bel Canto’. Helix was involved, she was a host. The whole situation was a living nightmare, one she barely gets to forget some day or another. But then, another article, one much lighter and enjoyable, the one where she took Fareeha to the same theater to see her friend Amelie perform in the stage.

A photograph caught her attention: she was wearing a sparkly champagne colored dress and a white faux fur coat, Fareeha wearing a dark gray suit, light gray vest and white button up shirt, her dark hair was up in a ponytail. Angela’s hair was shorter than now, now reaching the middle of her back. The doctor missed that, going out with someone where she could be herself and feel a hundred percent secure to be honest, and with someone who would love her no matter what kind of fancy outfit she wore, as long as that person saw her as the most precious woman in the world.

Angela remembers the night quite well, for that night is where she became more than intimate with Fareeha for the first time. The beginning of many in a short span of four months.

“That night I invited you to attend the Giselle ballet with me… As a friend.” Fareeha then looked at her, Angela could barely follow her gaze, fixing hers in her hands instead. “I had such a great time that night, to be honest, until someone threatened to kidnap me, bursting the tires of my car so we couldn’t run away. You helped me escape and we ended up hiding in your mother's apartment that night… A-and…” How could she tell her? No, it wasn’t plausible to tell Fareeha what happened next, how needy and clingy Angela became after such a night. How both-

“-I ended up sleeping in the couch and you in my bedroom…” Angela opened her eyes, looking at her with utter surprise. Fareeha’s eyes were scrunched, her brow furrowed as she remembered something, or at least it seemed like. “It was cold, freezing cold… And it was snowing outside. One in the morning…”

“Y-you remember?” Fareeha blushed. She knew, she knew what happened next. Right?

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you too. I have this… Dreams, nightmares, both…”

“Of course…”

“The few times I manage to sleep my dreams are plagued by nightmares and memories of my childhood, which are almost the same. The only times I don’t have bad dreams is when I dream of... A woman... I didn’t know who she was, until I saw you... And I knew it was you... I don’t remember who you are, but I know you’re important. For what other reason would my mind make me dream specifically of you and no other person? It doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t…”Fareeha pressed her head with both hands, rubbing her hands on her face and growling softly in frustration. “Who are you?”

“Someone…” Angela tried to contain herself, taking the laptop from Fareeha’s lap and putting it on the table next to the sofa, shifting her body so she was looking straight at Fareeha. She couldn’t stop the tears that were about to come out, tears that she hadn’t shed in more than two years and that she promised not to do it again. It was impossible. “Someone who… W-who… I’m sorry, I-I can’t do this to you… It’s just not fair for either of us.” Fareeha opened her mouth to say something, but stopped when Angela simply could not contain herself and wept silently, covering her face with both hands.

“Are you okay…?” Angela got up, grabbing a tissue from her desk and dabbing at the tears running down her cheeks. She had to laugh at such childish attitude.

“This must be a first to you. Your doctor and patron crying in front of you… How pathetic.”

“You’re not entirely wrong. However, I don’t think you’re pathetic. If so, you’re the most human doctor I’ve met in-” Three knocks on the door startled them, both women glancing at each other in horror and fearing someone else might hear them. Fareeha being on the wrong place could lead to a more than aggressive punishment.

Angela. You okay, girl? Is someone else with you?” It was Mirembe. Both released a sigh of relief knowing that the doctor and scientist wouldn’t give them away. Nonetheless, Angela much preferred to deny Fareeha’s presence.

“Y-yes, I’m okay! I’m on a video call!”

Got it! I’ll meet you at the cafeteria then! And I mean it, Ziegler!

“Okay!” The sound of footsteps lessened, and it was when she stopped listening to them that she could relax again. Her eyes were red from the lack of sleep and the tears recently shed. “Okay… I think we'll have to postpone this conversation. It’s time for others to wake up and Vishkar too, they should not see you here or else-” Angela heard such a melodious laugh, it was almost impossible to divert her attention from such a source.

“Believe me, they’ve done horrible things to me from something worse than sneaking in here. But something tells me you are worth the trouble.” She smiled sadly, trying to hide something Angela couldn’t make just yet. However, she hoped Fareeha was right with her statement, and smiled as well, giggling to herself from the boldness of the younger woman.

“I just hope I still am. I know you have a mission in a few hours, so I will not see you on the day for testing. So what do you say if... We see each other somewhere else rather than my office?”

“There’s a place I use regularly to think and clear my mind… But one time my helmet had a malfunction and someone kicked it off. She was rude, but had a great round kick to be honest.”

“Heh I learned from the best.” They shared a smile briefly, Angela frowning all of a sudden upon seeing Fareeha’s tired face. It was unforgiving to go on a mission looking like a disaster and feeling as such. She closed the space between them as she leaned forward. “Your eyes are red and irritated. Do you feel your eyes dry? Do they itch?”

“N-no, well- I’m tired, but that’s all.” The back of Angela’s hand rested on the taller girl’s forehead, then cupped her cheek unconsciously as she would do with any other patient.

“You are red, are you feeling hot? You might have a fever.”

“No…”

Fareeha breathed out, and Dr. Ziegler’s mind state faded, only Angela remained and she felt her hand on fire. Fareeha closed her eyes and released a long, shaky breath, the doctor hesitating to either remove her hand or cup the other cheek with her free hand. In the end, it was the Egyptian who leaned on her palm, making Angela squirm inside, a shiver running down her spine and her heart aflame. Whatever was happening, it was real.

She wanted to close more of the space between both of them, but she didn’t know what move to do as not to scare the poor girl, not to mess with her so fragile mind this time, but Fareeha was inciting everything, she was approaching, she opened her eyes and she begged her with those amber orbs, and Angela couldn’t do anything but surrender to her spell. Slowly and at a maddening pace, their foreheads joined, their noses about to brush, their lips apart by a fraction of a second.

“Who are you? Why are you always in my dreams? …And why are you the only one with whom I feel this way?”

“…How do I make you feel?” Angela dared to ask, her eyes half open due to the intoxicating energy Fareeha emanated.

“Serene, in peace, protected, as if nothing bad was going to happen to me... I feel...”

“…Loved?” Fareeha said nothing, instead nodded and breathed deep, filling her lungs and expanding her chest in the process. That was beautiful, looking at her being alive despite everything that Vishkar did to her body and mind. “Loved.” Angela repeated. “You are loved. By your mother, by your friends, by your teammates… By-” Another knock on the door startled both, parting and standing up as they tried to get their thoughts –and feelings- assorted. “Yes?”

Dr. Ziegler? It’s me, Fio. Mirembe asked me to remind you of the four pm meeting today, and also to let you know she’s waiting for you at the cafeteria for breakfast.

“Yes, yes. I’ll be right there in a second, thank you!” When she heard the shoes stomping on the ground no more, Angela hugged herself and sighed, releasing the breath she was holding. She looked at Fareeha with apprehension, the girl looking her back in the same manner. “I think it’s better that you leave. I need to take a shower and-”

“Right! Right. Of course. I uhm… I’m so sorry for interrupting, again.” Angela smiled and nodded meekly.

“Not a problem… So, I guess I’ll be waiting for you tonight.”

“Yes. As soon as I arrive I’ll be there.”

“Good, I’ll make sure to bring you something to help you remember a few more things.”

“That would be great… Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I think I should-”

“Yes, yes. Of course. Be careful. Say that I called you if they catch you or get into trouble.” Fareeha went to the door slowly, hesitating whether to do it or not, but in the end she opened the white wooden door, and saluted Angela cutely but shy, leaving the place. Angela sighed when she heard the door click shut and breathed out, almost in a huff. Running a hand over her hair, she grunted. “Well, that was awkward…”


That morning and part of the afternoon only a small fragment of her felt sane. Mostly her thoughts were distracted by a certain girl with dark skin, black hair and amber eyes so hypnotizing and piercing that they were able to penetrate her soul with the right look, which seemed to be most of the time. It was strange how even though she spent so many years without seeing her -without even knowing anything about her since she left- Angela felt such a substantial attraction to her. And it was hard not to surrender to her, for she has never seen such a dangerous yet innocent soul in the same body of perfection.

Wherever she went, Fareeha always seemed to be the main attraction. Mirembe constantly praised her, a specimen worth keeping alive until her body decided to surrender biologically speaking. Satya simply saw her as a problematic person, an anarchist and rebel but with whom it was easier to carry out the treatments that Vishkar and Lumerico were able to create together. And that is why when Angela suggested completely withdrawing Fareeha's treatment, Vaswani was the first to react negatively.

“I am just hoping you are doing the right decision with such… Daring act of postponing the hard light serum treatment.” Satya’s always recollected persona seemed a little bit off now, obviously being unsatisfied with Angela’s decision. And right here, in the briefing room, she seemed the most annoyed.

“It’s only temporary. The negative effects have already begun to show, and I must admit that I am not pleased, at all. The side effects are similar to that of completely removing a drug from an overdosed patient. This serum is very similar to that of a narcotic, I studied its composition.” Angela frowned slightly, Satya straightening in her seat as the rest simply stared at each other, then at Satya and Angela.

“It might be similar, but the effects are quite promising-”

“And also aggressive if withdrawn. The effects are negative and positive in both scenarios. However, you and your team haven’t yet investigated what the treatment’s discontinuation of the provided dose might cause in their bodies.”

“And why would we concern about stopping it?”

“Because you still don’t know whether the patient is capable of supporting more complex and constant doses. Do you know if they are capable of not going crazy without a day of treatment? How about if not only their bodies, but also their minds become addicted to said serum? I am talking about hard light as a drug, and you haven’t yet explored the possibility of treating it as such. Remember that the person becomes more addicted as the time of consumption passes, and in the end, there is nothing else to do when their organs malfunction and their heart stops beating. That’s how you kill a multimillion dollar research, by pouring more venom into the container until it’s full and it can’t hold it no more.”

For a beat, the room stood silent, everyone still looking at each other but Angela’s gaze fixed on Satya’s brown eyes. Eventually it was her who spoke. “That is a very valid explanation.”

“Remember, Ms. Vaswani, first and foremost I am a doctor, then a scientist. I care for my patients first, and is then once I ensure their safety that I continue with a research, not the other way around. That’s why I chose the strongest and most willed person inside the program. She works perfectly and she’s cooperating, highly oriented at results and I still suggest you to avoid sending her on stressing missions for a while.”

“We can’t waste her potential-”

“And that’s why you should avoid doing such. You can send her into madness and waste her true potential. She barely remembers who she is, she’s sleep deprived and has a strong post-traumatic stress disorder that gives her non-stop nightmares and makes her remember certain stressing situations. She’s on the brink of losing herself.”

“Very well.” Satya stood up, the whole team of Vishkar following suit. “I only hope to see positive results in two months, and no more. After forty-eight days, she must continue with the treatment.”

Angela nodded, two months was time enough to work a plan to get Fareeha out of there. Everyone left the place, leaving the doctor alone with her thoughts, who finally decided to go back to her office and ask someone dear to her for a favor. The heels sounded loudly on the tile in the long white corridors that constituted Vishkar's building. White walls, white floor, white ceiling, white doors, even white light began to drive her crazy.

What she needed most at the moment was coffee, her main source of food and energy, and this would be her fourth cup of the day. Her legs led her to the cafeteria, empty in its entirety except for two people having a leisurely lunch. With a slight greeting, Angela went directly to the coffeepot, taking a paper cup and filling it to the top to return to her office. It was about to be only five in the afternoon and she felt that the workload didn’t lessen.

If only Emily or Mei saw her now, she would most likely have been scolded more than once, something common when Angela went into medic mode and worked with coffee and unsurpassed concentration. But now, going through the corridor and seeing herself in the reflection of one of the office windows, her dishevelment was more than obvious and unacceptable. Maybe later she would deign to compose herself a bit.

Once arriving in front of her office and opening the door with the identification card that gave her access to several specific places in that facility, she opened the door and went into her office tiredly, which also functioned as a infirmary in rare cases. Sitting in the chair and taking a sip of her coffee, she looked for a name in the ocean of contacts on her computer, finally reaching that of her best friend and, pressing a button, started a video call with him. Angela immediately smiled when she saw Hanzo on the other side.

“Good morning and thank you.” Angela said, looking at her friend with a tired face but smiling at her despite his fatigue and the early hour it was there.

“Good afternoon, I suppose.” He said when he looked at the bright light of the office’s window. “I hope I’m here for a good reason.”

“You are, I could never ask you for such a favor if it wasn’t important.”

“That is right… Anyway, I’m here already.” He moved the camera of his phone, showing Angela’s apartment on the inside. “What do I do now? I watered your plants and-”

“No, no. It’s not my plants, but thank you regardless. I need you to go to my studio.” He blinked once, twice, and frowned.

“That… Is new. No one has ever been in your studio, you don’t allow us.”

“It’s a sacred place and I trust you will do as I say. Now, I need you to go the bookcase next to the fireplace.” Hanzo stood up and moved right where Angela said, the doctor following his movements through the camera, even when the image shook with each footstep. “Now look for a book that’s called ‘Harrison’s principles of internal medicine’.” She heard a sigh.

“Is that even real?”

“Hush. It's almost on the top, to the right-that one. Now open it and in the middle pages is a key. Use it at the study door.”

“Why are you so jealous of that place? Do you have experiments there? Corpses?”

“No, not at all. Do you want to be the first one?”

“No, thanks for the offer.” He took the key once he found it and stood in front of the studio’s door. “Now what?”

“You obviously open the door. But before you do, remember that once you get out of there, you saw nothing. Understood?”

“I’m a Shimada, I’m prepared for whatever is inside your small studio.” Angela laughed and shook her head.

“Go inside then.” Hanzo opened the door slowly. The room was as dark as anything and Angela was sure it smelled strongly of coffee and humidity perhaps. Hanzo turned the light switch on and he immediately drowned a gasp.

“For the love of- this is not a studio, woman.”

“You are seeing nothing and won’t remember a single bit of it, understood?”

“Angela, your entire wall is plastered with Fareeha’s info.” He was right, every photograph, certificate and badge belonging to Fareeha’s previous life was there. He touched one of the badges on the wall and it made Angela squirm inside. “This looks like a serial killer’s mastermind room.”

“Okay, you’re overstepping. Don’t touch anything if I don’t give you permission.”

“Fine. What do I have to do?” The doctor sighed, frowning for the fact she was going to ask him to look somewhere too personal.

“I need you to take photos. From that wall, from the picture frame on the desk a-and… Go to the bookcase… There must be a book with a black leather hardcover. Open it and take photos of every page…” Hanzo hummed in slight displeasure. It was a heavy task but still he did it like a good friend. The camera moved to certain angle, looking at the bookcase as Hanzo took the album and he sighed when he opened it.

The album was so dear to Angela. More than one hundred photographs were perfectly aligned on the sheets of the photo album. Photographs of Fareeha and her, some of the two of them alone, some others with company. Photographs of them in the hospital, in Eichenwalde, in the Panorama Diner, photographs in their apartment. Some even so intimate that she or Fareeha appeared in their underwear or naked at all. That was what made her more uncomfortable, that her friend saw such photos that, although they were intimate, beautiful and perfect for them, for others it was a bit embarrassing.

“Angela…”

“D-don’t say anything, I don’t need to-”

Hanzo took the picture frame on Angela’s desk, looking intently at it and almost caressing the glass. “This is beautiful.”

“…What?”

“I don’t know why you're ashamed of her, and why you say to all of us that you don’t love her anymore. It’s clear that you keep doing so, we all know it, but you still try to deny it. You two are beautiful together, you just… Match. You’re made for each other.”

“Hanzo, stop…”

“I’ll send every photograph to your email, okay? I saw nothing, I won’t say anything of what I witnessed here.” Angela smiled and wiped the single tear that was threatening to roll down her cheek.

“T-thank you…”

“Anytime, angel. And you owe me juicy details after this.”

The video call ended, now her black screen focusing on nothing and reflecting her tired face. The coffee cup was almost gone and Angela was sure she would need another one in a few more minutes. Perhaps it would be best to wait until Hanzo sent the promised photographs and report safely to his home. After all, the doctor made the poor man wake up early to do her a favor and was sure that if Hanzo had asked her the same, she would have grumbled more times than she would like, but her best friend was simply a sweetheart behind a threatening face.

Twenty minutes later and the photographs arrived in her inbox, one hundred and twenty-four photographs were attached to the email, which made it more than heavy. Making sure the mail was going to be deleted, Angela moved all the contents to an encrypted folder on her desk and, once with a new cup of hot coffee she retrieved from the cafeteria, she began to check each of them with unparalleled dedication and affection.

If Angela wanted to help Fareeha remember certain parts of her past, she should start with a place. First she had to start with those where she showed herself alone, photographs that Angela took secretly in order to preserve more memories of her. If that helped Fareeha remember, things would be more than clear, and perhaps, it would be enough for her to remember who she was and could show her the letter Fareeha left before she left and that Angela refused not to take with her to India. It was the most important piece of her, and it was unthinkable to leave without that part of her heart, tucked and hidden in her wallet.


One hour, two hours. Four hours went by and the photographs ceased to be her main task some time ago, focusing on what Vishkar hired her to do. That was the heaviest thing, to use Fareeha as a guinea pig, but her reasons were more than valid and Angela would continue to insist until the end of the days that she would do nothing without her consent. Never. The sky turned dark a few hours ago and the artificial lights outside Vishkar peeked out of her office’s window.

Review, analyze, write, redact. Repeat. Change formulas, make corrections. Repeat.

Everything became monotonous, but it was a step that Angela was more than accustomed to. A soft knock on her door distracted her after being engrossed for so many hours in her computer’s screen. Hiding the folder where she printed some of the photographs that Hanzo sent her in the drawer, Angela cleared her throat before calling the person outside.

“Come on in.” The door opened, and a man dressed in black, tall, brown hair and a charismatic aura altogether, came to greet her. It was odd, for Angela has never seen him before, but judging by the uniform he was definitely part of one of the three teams. Nonetheless, she was going to treat him like any other person.

“Hello, Dr. Ziegler. I apologize for interrupting at such late hours of the night.” At least he was polite.

“Do not worry, I think I needed to stop this anyway. I tend to push myself until I forget I have to sleep. How can I help you tonight?”

“I don’t want to meddle too much, but I have certain concerns regarding your... Protégé.” It was enough to perk Angela’s curiosity and concern.

“Yes, of course. Please, take a seat if you li-”

“I’m good standing here, thank you.”

“Very well. What are your concerns about my protégé?”

“She did poorly on the field, she was almost killed. Twice.”

“What do you mean?”

“RMAF008 is my teammate. We have just arrived from a mission and none of her teammates, nor I, are pleased with her performance. She’s been distracted, her mind is somewhere else and she has had some hallucinations. Today has been the straw that broke the camel’s back. She had migraines so intense that she fainted twice.”

“Then why isn’t she here with me?”

“Because she ran somewhere else after arriving and said to not follow her.” His gaze for some reason was completely focused on Angela, looking at her with a hint of revulsion which the doctor immediately tried to block as not to upset herself. “Whatever you are giving to her, it’s making her worse. You may not be worried about her as much as other doctors, but we, her family in this place, love her more than you think.” That was enough. Angela stood up in a huff and pressed her hands on the desk.

“First of all I want you to know that I am not giving her anything. Both she and I agreed that I would never lay a hand on her or do anything to her body without her consent. Second, I'm not like the other imbeciles who call themselves doctors, I'm a medic first and I'm proud of it. And third, I don’t know what you win coming to threaten me at my office.”

“I want you to stop doing whatever you’re doing to her.” Angela smirked when he frowned, obviously angry.

“I will never. This is what she wants.”

“You don’t even know what she wants, you don’t care. You don’t even know her name, no one cares to-”

“I know Fareeha Amari better than you think… Tariq.”

Angela was more than sure it was him. Previously she heard Fareeha mention him, her ex-boyfriend, who was with her in the Egyptian army but that was never enough for her. Conformist, it was the word she used. And both Fareeha and Angela, always sought more, wanted and desired more, and only among them did they find a being capable enough to satiate one another.

“How do you know my name-?”

“Do not think less about me just because the effects that she is going through are bad. It was her who took that decision, and I hope you respect it as much as I do. If you have nothing else to ask or say, I’ll invite you to leave, because it’s time for me to rest too.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t expect you to. You are not my protégé.”

Although the meeting didn’t end in a pleasant way, he remained kind enough to slightly bow a farewell to her. Angela had to acknowledge it, he was a nice catch. Kind, concerned, and in general, an attractive young man with an impressive background. What she didn’t like at all is to think that Fareeha had even any kind of sexual interaction with him, or with any other person in general. Fareeha was hers, and so she must remain as such.

Taking off her lab coat and hanging it on the rack next to the door, she took the hijab that was right on the hook next to it and wrapped it as best as she could over her head. Going to the desk, Angela opened the drawer and took out the folder with the printed photographs and took a small black remote that Vishkar gave her. She never used it, and Angela was sure that it would continue like that for a long time.

The corridors were mostly empty, and fortunately for her, the few people who found her didn’t bother to even speak to her. Once outside, Angela found herself closer to the warehouse, pressing the folder hard against her chest as she got closer to the place. Her heart started beating faster when, as she promised, Fareeha was sitting on the ground, leaning her back against the wall. Her head was pushed back and her eyes were closed. In an instant, brown eyes looked back at her, and just a hint of a smile.

“Dr. Ziegler.”

“RMAF0… Forget it, I can’t do it. My head refuses to remember your serial number.” Angela smiled when Fareeha chuckled, only slightly, but as beautiful as always. She joined her on the floor, sitting carefully as she held the skirt of her dress to the back of her thighs. “It is quite nice in here, it’s not hot.”

“It gets colder the longer the night goes on. Two in the morning it’s quite cold, I can’t stand it.”

“Hm, now I know what time I should be coming back.”

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping at that hour?” Angela shrugged.

“I sleep when I remember to rest.” Fareeha blinked twice, her eyebrows knitting in a cute concerned furrow.

“That’s… Unhealthy.”

“No, this is unhealthy.” Something Angela wasn’t used to was doing things that might seem illegal, but not here, so looking both ways, she reached into her cleavage, rummaging inside her bra and pulling out a tiny box from it. Fareeha’s face was far from pleased, but her cheeks tinted of a darker shade, always the ever considerate. “There. I apologize for the undignified display.”

“N-no, it’s fine.”

“I don’t know if they are allowed but I much preferred to smuggle them.” Opening the box, she took out two cigarettes and a lighter, handing one to Fareeha who looked at it like it was a piece of candy. “It’s better to smoke with good company, don’t you think?”

“Well, this is even unhealthier. And you're a doctor, that does make you an-”

“Hypocrite.”

“-Hypocrite… Yeah, how do you-?”

“That’s something you have never stopped calling me. Not even when you don’t remember me, it seems.” Angela had to smile at that, it was still amusing and part of her told her that it was fine, that Fareeha still seemed to remember her even in her deepest thoughts. Lightning both cigarettes, they both shared the moment of relaxation, although who seemed to enjoy it even more was the girl next to her. Angela smiled, and then giggled by such a sigh. “You seem… Content.”

“I don’t have one of these very often.”

“I can imagine.”

“What’s that?” Fareeha pointed with two fingers at the folder Angela set on the ground. Suddenly realizing what the contents were, her heart began to beat strongly again and she felt a numbness in her hands. Taking the folder, she pressed it against her chest.

“I wanted to bring something to help you remember your past a little more. I will not be able to help you with what happened four years ago, but this- well, this is a starter. Also, I wanted to give you something.” A hand reached inside the hijab, where the small remote control that Satya gave her was hidden, Angela finding out at the time it was to control those who had a necklace similar to that of Fareeha. The doctor immediately discarded the idea of even touching it, and so, she wanted to hand it to the younger woman next to her. “I refuse to even give at the idea of using it. It’s your remote, and it’s only yours. No one should decide what to do with your body but you.”

Fareeha for a moment stared at the black piece of plastic, then at the doctor whose eyes were fixed on her feet rather than anything. “…Why are you doing this? You’re… Treating me like a human, like a person… No one does that inside this place but ourselves, our teammates, those below the ground wearing nothing but black. What makes you think I won’t attack you right here? That you must use the control to stop me?” Angela laughed to herself, covering her mouth with the other hand.

“Because you are incapable of putting a hand on me. It has always been this way, and I doubt that things will change even after five years.” Fareeha smiled with so much sincerity it was overly adorable, and taking the remote, she stood up and let it fall to the ground, only to be crushed with her foot. Particles of black plastic, metal wires and chips remained scattered on the ground before Fareeha took the biggest piece and hurled it over the fence with great force, landing somewhere non-visible and burying in the sand. “Now here, sit with me.” Fareeha obliged, and took the position prior, getting closer to the doctor to have a better view.

“Pictures?”

“Mhm.” Angela nodded, giving reason. She started with the first picture. “This is all you left behind, at least your belongings. Your recognitions, medals, some certificates, photographs of your childhood... You really left everything to me, and you asked me to take care of it until some day we meet again. Five years later and all is still on the wall of my studio in ou-my apartment.”

The cigarette burned in her hand for so long, that it was past half consumed by the time she showed the second picture. One long drag, and she released the smoke in a cloud above her as Fareeha kept looking at the photographs. Angela preferred to give her privacy and space, time to better assimilate each of those images. And maybe now it was she who needed distraction.

“Your boyfriend came by my office a couple minutes ago.” Fareeha’s gaze switched from the folder to her, making Angela blush in an instant.

“I’m sorry?”

“A member of your team. Tariq, isn’t it right?”

“Oh, yes. But he is not my boyfriend.” At least it was one thing to scratch from the dubious list that was constructing in her head. “What did he say? Why was he there?”

“Well- he said that you did poorly today.” The Egyptian scoffed in reprimand and returned her eyes to the photographs instead. “Did you faint?”

“Twice. But the sun was unbearable, and I had to stay mostly on top of a building. Who wouldn’t faint with the scorching heat of the summer in the desert?”

“Well, he claimed I gave you something that made you faint, have hallucinations and such.”

“What?”

“I obviously told him I hadn't given you anything, but I just wanted to get you up to date. I don’t want him or anyone to put words in my mouth and confuse you, only I have the ability to voice my own thoughts.” Fareeha nodded, smirking as she flipped another photograph. “Oh, that’s one I like.” Angela pointed to the photo, pressing the cigar's butt on the concrete floor as she closed the space even more between Fareeha and her. “Do you remember?”

“The apartment?”

“Yes.” Fareeha closed her eyes, throwing her head back again.

“Hm... I think so… I remember… An elevator... A painting on the left side, next to the fireplace?”

“Yes! Yes, that one exactly. What else do you remember?”

“…I shouldn’t say.”

“Why?”

“B-because I shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s my place to-” Angela scoffed at her, a look both hurt and disappointed in her aquamarine gems.

“Fareeha, you can trust me. Whatever you see it helps greatly, and if you don’t remember, I’m here to help you and make it as easy as possible.”

“Heh…”

She simply shook her head and continued examining a couple of pictures more. Angela sat back in her place, a little disappointed that Fareeha refused to tell her what she remembered, but she knew better than to press her. Therefore, the doctor let me continue with that moment of intimacy. Taking one of the photographs, one more fell to the ground and in front of Angela's feet. The blonde immediately opened her eyes to see what it was, and horrified tried to snatch it, it was too early for Fareeha to see that. Her mind tried to move it but his body did not respond, and it was Fareeha who first grabbed the photograph.

“Oh, this one fell-” Angela’s senses kicked, and she threw herself to Fareeha in order to snatch the picture from her.

“N-no! You must not see that one yet-!” But Fareeha was taller, her arm larger than hers, and pushed softly the doctor away, standing up and smirking amusedly. “Fareeha, don’t you dare…!”

“Why? Why don’t you want me to see?” Angela stood up as well, standing on her toes to reach Fareeha's hand lifted above her head.

“It’s not…! Fareeha, stop! Give it to me!”

"Sorry, no. Now I have to see it."

She won. Fareeha won the brief game of tug-o-war. Angela simply gave up and sat back, bringing her knees up to her and hiding her face on them. She didn't know why, but it was embarrassing, and it was too early to show that. The blonde didn’t know how that picture ended up there, but it was quite the unfortunate coincidence. The photograph was the only one she had completely in sight, on top of her desk and that always remained there to remind her who she was, who loved her, and who promised the world to make her smile. That girl who disappeared five years ago.

That picture was so beloved, and it showed the doctor sitting on Fareeha’s lap as her waist was surrounded by strong arms with great affection. She was affectionately kissing her cheek and Angela simply let herself be taken and loved, her hands on top of hers, smiling all the while in drunken love. Even when both her eyes were closed, she could see love in that picture, almost materialized in her hands. But if one thing Angela was almost sure now, is that Fareeha would be more confused than ever. Maybe now is when she should run away and leave the girl completely alone. That didn’t last long enough.

A hand, rough and strong, touched her face and cupped her cheek, bringing her gaze to that of the owner of such sweet and tender caress. Glistening blue eyes with tears rolling down her cheeks looked back, and Angela’s heart stopped, so did her breathing all the while. The same electricity coursed through her veins, sending sparks of jolting emotion all over her body. Even more, and more, as Fareeha’s face came closer to her, her eyes looking intently at her lips, then back at her eyes, until she closed them and so did the space between.

Her lips touched her cheek briefly, Angela could feel Fareeha's lips pressed on her damp face. Then her face moved straighter to her, and a chaste kiss so indulgent, so slow and needed, made Angela's willpower vanish in thin air, just like the dust particles in the desert. Fareeha breathed deeply and shaky as Angela gave in on the kiss, letting the Egyptian take the lead, always to allow her to do what she pleased, to never deny her anything regarding her own feelings, the ownership of her body, of her heart, of her purest and devilish part of her soul. Of all that made Angela Ziegler hers.

“It was you.” Between even more intense and desperate kisses Fareeha managed to speak, Angela always giving in, surrendering at her touch. “It was always you… You are the missing piece. You are the one who I dream of... You are the one who I remember calling me, touching me… Loving me?”

“Always…” Both girls parted, Angela feeling how her body was burning from lack of contact. Fareeha simply remained as spectacular as ever, the flavor of her lips incomparable. Fareeha’s drunk gaze fell on her, wondering if what she heard was exactly what she needed to hear. “Always.” Angela repeated believing her words and hoping Fareeha did as well.

“…Did you love me?”

“I have never... Never stopped searching for you, I have always waited for you… But above all, I have never stopped loving you, Fareeha… Never, never. As much as the others told me to forget about that, I never thought about giving up, and I always, always loved you, I'll love you, always.”

She kept repeating even when her lips returned to that of the love of her life. Angela needed her to believe her with all her might. A pair of strong hands surrounded her and lifted her body to rest her on her lap, similar to that of the photograph as the kiss never stopped. If something, it intensified, desperately searching for every drop of Fareeha, and she responded in the same way. And for a moment that felt like an eternity, nothing else mattered, neither its surroundings, nor the present, nor the past, nor the photograph that fell at their feet. Only the two of them remained behind that warehouse under the heavy night in the desert.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter VII

How I got to remember her

 

For some strange yet familiar reason, waking up had now an entirely different meaning. The sun rising over the horizon marked a new beginning, and when it regularly pointed out the beginning of a monotonous day of exercising, eating, testing on her body, performing missions, more testing, eating again and sleeping, this time brought with it the promise of hope. Even the air she breathed was different, lighter, more aromatic, and sweet. Just like her, always reminding her of her.

Even a week later when she showed her quite the shocking printed photographs, Fareeha still considered the idea of digging a little deeper, of seeking more information that would bring her closer to her, of knowing her completely and remembering every moment she had with the doctor. It was then that she knew that every time her head thought about her, it wasn’t dreams at all, but memories, precious recollections that her subconscious refused to let go despite the abusive treatment that was given to it.

That was becoming her mind, a cloudy sky that gradually began to clear. And as Angela had said before, the side effects of the lack of serum in her bloodstream began to slow down, leaving if something insomnia and fatigue, quite noticeable during her morning training. Today was a special day however, today Fareeha had to show to all those members of a Vishkar team what she was worth. End of the month meant showing the results of thirty days of therapy.

Standing in front of a white room, like any other wall inside Vishkar, her half-naked body was full of electrodes, counting thirty in all. Legs, arms, chest, back, face, each one stuck to her skin. In front of her lay five people: Satya, Mirembe, two more scientists and Angela, matching her role as doctor and scientist with those she accompanied. The blonde was a bit old school, taking a notebook and pen in her hand to scribble whatever data she discovered, distinguishing herself from the rest of the tablets. That might not be a lot to anyone, but that showed Fareeha how different she was from the rest.

“Step forward.” Satya ordered her, and glancing rapidly at her assigned doctor, earning a silent nod in the process. Fareeha stepped forward, her arms behind her back like a good soldier, like the army taught her. Like her mother did. “Mirembe.”

“Yes.” The older woman replied, taking a metric tape and measuring her body, starting from her arms, then her legs and ending up with her entire body. “Step into the treadmill.” Without hesitation, Fareeha obeyed once again, something impressive for everyone but not for Angela, as she would previously refuse to even step forward. But not this time, not now that her mind was finally clearing and there was a general sense of comfort despite being surrounded by unscrupulous people. She needed to support Angela and show everyone her worth. “She lost muscle mass.”

“That’s unacceptable.” Satya simply stated. “We expected improvement from you, Dr. Ziegler.”

“I see improvement.” The blonde challenged. “Tell me. Regularly, how long would it normally take for her to obey? That is if she were to obey without further ado.” No one said nothing, Angela smiling and closing the gap between the treadmill and her, scribbling and writing in her notebook. “Her improvement is from the inside out, always like that. Her mind has progressed considerably and remains more stable. You can’t deny the success of my work.”

“Very well, I won’t deny your discoveries. What I will have to remind you is the motive of our work.”

“You want soldiers, that I know. But tell me, how good would be a stronger and faster soldier than others if it’s unstable? If it snaps at any moment and instead hurts her own teammates? None. There goes your multimillion dollar research. We discussed this already, Vaswani, is my way, and it is working. I apologize but you won’t touch my protégé without my consent, because I’m proud of her improvement.” Fareeha didn’t know if that was directed at her, but it definitely made her heart beat faster, sending electrical signals to the device where the electrodes were connected simultaneously. And just for her, Angela smiled warmly, reflecting the love that she had only with her gaze. “Encouragement.”

“Pardon?” Satya furrowed her brow.

“Encouragement and endorsement, key elements which both have a positive effect, and is reflected as such. For now, we keep with my method until she’s a hundred percent stable. First mind, then body. You may stop.” This time she referred to Fareeha, and the girl immediately stopped, standing off the treadmill and returning to a relaxed position. A few drops of sweat trickled down her neck and down her forehead. “For now, retreat and do your usual activities. Meet me at my office at the stipulated time.”

With a slight bow and a military salute, Fareeha looked at her one last time before disappearing through the door. It was then when she closed that she could breathe calmly, leaving aside the nervousness that, in spite of not showing in front of Satya or the other doctors, ate her on the inside, because deep down she didn’t want to disappoint herself or Angela. It was amusing yet encouraging.

After several minutes and a much-deserved shower, Fareeha found herself in the almost empty dining room, proud of her results as she was serving herself a lighter breakfast than usual prior sitting on an empty table. Finally the fatigue seemed to reach her, and the yawns didn’t take long to make presence. The attempt of scrambled eggs and toast weren’t appealing to her at all, and her head started to bob when her eyes half-lidded, opting to ditch the breakfast break for a minute. Propping her elbow on the table and her head on her hand, Fareeha yawned once again, and when her eyes closed she soon fell into a deep sleep.


Despite being the youngest of the group, despite being the one to whom the others had repulsion and were beginning to fear her, Fareeha was standing with an ever serious gaze next to her siblings, all lined up in front of the ruins of the necropolis on a dark night, the crescent moon scarcely painting some faces blue while the torches lit her forehead, her eyes without the brightness that she had when she was younger. And now, at fifteen, she was the most outstanding of all her relatives.

Amber burned in her eyes as the bonfire in front of them, the heat of the fire mixed with the cold of the night gale should be enough to drive her into a fit of goosebumps and shivering sensations, but not today, or any other day. Just so young into her teenage years, and she was already behaving even more as an adult that to those older, more in power, more deserving than her.

If there was something that she didn’t show and that she lost a few years ago when she began to participate in such missions, it was her ability to feel, compassion and remorse, that she learned with her first bullet in that market. So when those three gagged Hakim agents in front of her –almost at her feet– looked back at her, her eyes didn’t reflect any emotion, not a sign of mercy, only perhaps a hint of a treat. Because what was more, they were her prey, and they would be dead in a few minutes.

"You just had one mission, all twelve of you…” Her uncle spoke firmly, an older man with white hair who dressed in a robe, just like her mother and seven others who were part of the council. “And it’s clear as day that there is only one person completely devoted and committed to its work.”

“With all due respect, uncle…” Another sibling, like the rest of her cousins standing in line, was older than Fareeha for five years and more. “We stuck to the plan and when we got to the point there-”

“You have no excuse here. Fareeha-” She looked at him and said nothing, expecting his questioning and command. “Tell me what happened and why it’s you who brought Hakim’s men alive, bound and gagged.”

“I was excluded from participating in the plan they developed, but I am part of the mission as any of them, for which I followed my own plan to complete the mission.”

“And you succeeded.” A nod. “How is it possible that the only person –a teenager, a woman, a half-blooded Amari- succeeded in record time alone and without any of your help?!” Inside, Fareeha was proud of herself, but on the outside she had to remain as a statue and to not give to her urges, only in front of her mother alone.

“Now, prove that you are an Amari. Prove that you have no mercy towards those who dares to threaten the-”

Fareeha didn’t let him finish. Taking the gun from her holster, she aimed at one of the men below her, and taking a step back, she fired at his head.

‘Twenty-seven…’

She started counting in her head, the number of her list of assassinations increasing with each bullet.

‘…Twenty-eight...’

‘…Twenty-nine.’

Three dead men on the floor, and she returned to her initial position. Glock on her holster, arms behind her back, chin up, eyes looking forward, unfazed.

“Now, how can a younger half-breed be better than you?!” Her uncle yelled again, Fareeha’s eyes fixed on a blank spot. She could see her mother next to him, pain reflected in her eyes despite not showing so. “You are all beyond pathetic. Only you, Fareeha, are the only one who is trying to be worthy to carry the surname Amari with pride. Keep proving that you are valuable, Fareeha Amari, heartless Anubis and daughter of Bastet. Now, finish this one as well.”

From behind a wall, another member Fareeha recognized as member of the council dragged another person, a cloth bag was on its head. Fareeha didn’t know if it was one of Hakim's grunts, a member of her family or a simple civilian, but she knew what she had to do. At this time there was no room for questioning, but to do her duty, and the duty was clear. Taking the glock from her holster once again, she aimed coldly at the head of this person, male or female, and positioned her finger on the trigger, hooking her digit more, and more, waiting for the successful sound of a shot.


A thunderous sound similar to that of a firing bullet woke her up, making her to jump out of fright. Her heart began to beat rapidly, almost feeling it pound in her ears when she saw the source of the noise. A tray with food was placed harshly on the table and Hana was the owner of such a lunch. With a reprimand look, the younger girl accused Fareeha by pointing a finger at her face. Fareeha didn’t know how much time passed, but it must have been something because Hana had already finished her checkup, and that could only mean a minimum of two hours. Minimum.

“I can’t believe you've fallen asleep in the cafeteria... Again! It's the fourth time already, Reeha. Why do they keep giving you that stupid thing if they see that you're all weak, sleepy and you're dying?”

“Hana, I’m not dying. And for the… I don’t know how many times I’ve said it but the doctor is giving me nothing. It’s a rehab.”

“And for the ‘don’t-know-how-many-times’, I don’t believe you.” She crossed her arms, making a childish pout. Fareeha could only raise an eyebrow for such attitude.

“Are you done?”

“No.”

“Well-” Fareeha got up with a grunt, stretching her numb back due to sleeping in an awkward position. “I gotta go. I have one last check-up with Dr. Ziegler and judging from your annoying presence, I’m already late.”

“Will you let me eat alone here? And since when do you care so much about going to those check-ups? Did the doctor wash your brain?!”

Hana had to yell at her, for Fareeha was starting to walk away towards the door. However, she stopped mid-track, weighting the heaviness of Hana’s words. Fareeha had a reputation within Vishkar, she was a symbol of inspiration and motivation, several teammates reminding her of that. But now, accepting any order from the doctor, from Angela, from her caretaker, it was a critical blow to the pillar of her influence. And knowing the myriad of opportunities she had of recovering her memory and remember who this magnificent woman was, it was worth it.

“I'm going. I will take a nap in my own bed once I finish my evaluation.”

“Fareeha!”

“What?” She turned around, but a pair of thin arms surrounded her legs, making her stumble and almost making her fall. “H-Hana!” Puppy eyes stared back, the smaller girl with a pout similar to that of a kid begging for a treat.

“Yuna, Zarya and we are all worried about you. Even Tariq. We want to know what happens to you and you refuse to tell us!” Fareeha had to roll her eyes and shake her head.

“When will you understand that I am fine? The fact that my insomnia is heavier than ever doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. You need understand that, and it’s my decision to continue with her therapy, not hers. It's my words coming out of my mouth, Hana. Mine.” Hana let go, and stood up carefully, looking at Fareeha with apprehension.

“If that’s what you really think… Then you'll have to catch up on one of these days.”

“I promise.” Hana extended her hand, her pinkie being the only finger she was showing.

“Pinky swear.”

“You’re not ten-”

“Pinky promise me, you fucking stubborn mule!” Fareeha had to laugh at that, despite Hana being small and with an innocent vibe overall, the girl was the opposite. The taller woman extended her own finger and latched it with Hana’s cute and pale one.

“Pinky swear, Hana.”

“Yes! Thank you! Then I'll let you be and I'll eat my breakfast.”

Fareeha just rolled her eyes when Hana went back to her seat, almost jumping with happiness. Despite being nineteen, her mentality was that of a girl of ten, but when she was on the battlefield she was a completely different person. A beast, and Yuna wasn’t so far behind her. Going through the corridors and riding the elevator to the first floor of the Vishkar building, her legs guided her to a familiar door, white like all of them, but on which a small sign with the doctor's name stood out.

A knock, then another, and she hear the sweetest voice calling her in. Fareeha opened the door, only to find the doctor, Angela, watering a few plants in the office window. She smiled to herself when she saw the blonde so self-absorbed, removing some dry leaves in the process while humming a tuneless song. Fareeha closed the door and approached her, close enough to observe the plants more carefully but giving Angela the space to continue her work.

“This country might be very hot, but that doesn’t mean there cannot be life in my window.” She had a soft, fond smile while touching the leaves of one of the potted plants. It peaked Fareeha’s curiosity.

“Do you like gardening?”

“It’s more of a hobby than an activity to which I dedicate my time completely. But yes, I love gardening, it is an essential part of life after all. The plants, the flowers, not to mention that they are beautiful and very useful.” Angela turned around, leaving the glass of water on her desk. “I’m sorry, I must be boring you with all of this.” Fareeha shook her head, returning the smile.

“Not at all, it’s interesting.”

“Then allow me to continue. By the way, how are you feeling?” Being honest with her turned to be one of the easiest things inside that place. A safe zone. So she was honest.

“I have a constant headache for not having enough sleep. I fell asleep in the cafeteria for a while and woke up with migraine. I feel fatigued in general.”

“Hm…” Angela hummed, returning to her plants. “Have you had nausea, vomit or any other symptoms besides your insomnia and migraine?”

“No.

“That's very good, we are making progress with your rehabilitation. I promised you that the side effects wouldn’t last for more than three days, but I didn’t count on how powerful the serum that was injected was. A thousand apologies, it was my mistake as a doctor to promise you without having further proofs.”

“You have absolutely no reason to apologize. You have been the only person kind enough to not lie to me… Or at least to not tell me lies even when you are hiding something more.” Angela giggled, covering her mouth as she plucked another dry leaf.

“Information is power, and for the moment, you cannot stand a blow of such magnitude. Graduality, constancy and patience, we need those first, just like these plants.”

Angela plucked a few small green leaves from one of the plants, taking a couple of them between the fingers of both hands and crushing them with her fingertips, creating an aromatic paste. Peppermint, Fareeha could smell it easily now that the doctor forced the leaf oils. The blonde took a couple of steps forward in her direction, and placed two fingers on each of Fareeha’s temple, massaging the skin in smooth, circular movements.

“Medicinal plants above all are my greatest interest, it’s amazing how nature is so wise as to create such perfection. Peppermint oil increases blood flow and provides a cooling sensation that helps ease the pain.” She kept talking, but Fareeha was in another plane of existence, closing her eyes and letting her be taken to a distant place of blankness filled by new sensations. The smell was soothing, the touch incredible, and her voice magnificent as she kept talking. “How does it feel? Isn’t it better like this?”

“Your touch is enough…” Angela chuckled, and even though Fareeha had her eyes closed, she knew that the doctor had blushed, something very common as of lately, and it was positively adorable.

“Oh, is it? Then I wonder if the right touch might help you heal better and faster…”

Fareeha felt the fingers move away from her temples, this time a pair of hands taking her cheeks and bringing her a few inches down, down, until soft lips settled over hers. It was amazing how such a delicate kiss could create such emotions, such an electrifying sensation, a thousand volts running through her body in a frenzy. The sensations only intensified when the doctor opened her mouth a little, deepening the kiss and giving Fareeha permission to explore inside.

Without thinking twice, Fareeha slid her tongue down the doctor's pink lower lip, earning a breathy gasp in response. Angela did the same taking her bottom lip in her teeth, sucking slightly the flesh and inserted her tongue too. Whatever type of game this was, Fareeha was enjoying it more than expected. Best of all, it was the fact that she remembered that feeling. Ecstatic, addictive. Fareeha wanted more; her body demanded more of the sweet honey that her mouth released.

The hands that were perched on her cheeks moved back and up, higher, hooking in her hair and caressing the scalp between dark threads. Paired with the touch on her lips, the sensation was beyond magnificent. Fareeha could remember that, could make up her mind and the idea on why she hated previous relationships, on why no man could ever please her like this very woman in front of her, and how everything made sense now. And yet, this swirl of memories was rushing in with every kiss.

“Hmm… Just like that…” Angela managed to say, humming when they parted and smiling all the while, only to be pulled back.

“No, no. Don’t go.” A giggle escaped from her rosy lips as she was kissed again, Fareeha following suit realizing how childish her pled was.

“That’s… Improvement. Does it help?”

“Very…”

“Let’s just stop before I-” She cleared her throat, a blush spreading on her cheeks. “Before I cannot.” Fareeha smiled victorious on the inside, but decided to agree with the doctor this time. She could barely control the burning sensation in her pelvis, she could lose control just as well, and that wasn’t permitted. At least not inside there.

“Very well, Dr. Ziegler.” A sigh, and a reprimand look from the blonde.

“Fareeha… Call me Angela inside here, we talked about this.”

“It’s still…”

“Hm?”

“Nothing… Angela.” That made her smile.

“There we go.”

Angela took her hand and guided her to the examination bed, Fareeha immediately catching the message. As usual every week, her body had to be examined and evaluated, and all that must be in her underwear. Her shirt and pants were left on a chair, her shoes on the floor, and she leaped over the bed, sitting quietly and waiting for Angela to do the usual procedure. For anyone it would be the most uncomfortable step, but now for Fareeha, feeling the fine hands of Angela on her bare skin was a blessing.

Angela took her notebook and pen and began to make notes, carefully observing the marked body of Fareeha. Scars, musculature, wounds, bruises, internal and external damage, sensitivity and reflex. She was quick, and she was good at her job. It was quite curious to see her concentrated, absolutely nothing like when they were alone now, much less in her dreams. And talking about dreams.

“I dreamed of you again… Or at least I think it was important.” Her blue eyes parted for a moment from the paper, instead looking at Fareeha’s brown orbs for a brief moment.

“Oh? Did you?” A hummed agree. Since Fareeha began to trust Angela more, she ended up asking her if it was really just a dream or if her mind was really playing dirty tricks with her memory. Angela was more than pleased to answer every question and prayer of the girl, except to limit herself to five specific questions in order to avoid an overload of information in her brain. Fareeha agreed without hesitation. “Tell me about it.”

“I used to work in a nightclub, it was one of the first jobs I had in the city. But this time I wasn’t working, I was a guest, but you were there also.”

“Oh my…” Angela laughed shyly and shamefully, but there was definitely amusement in her giggle. “We did. That day I was very sad because it had been years since I last went out to have fun, and you offered to take me there. I had a great time for the first time in forever. We had.” She concluded, moving to the other side of the bed to examine Fareeha’s left side. Now Fareeha wondered why she was sad, what or who was capable of making such a pure soul suffer with sadness. She should know more.

“Can I begin with my questions?”

“Sure thing.”

“That didn’t count as one.”

“Of course it did.” Fareeha pouted without realizing it, making the blonde giggle once again. “Don’t cheat.”

“Fine… How are you?” Angela howled, bending due to the sincerity of the question. Nothing as precious as that was able to make it irresistible to Fareeha, a smirk showing on her face.

“My! Aren’t we smooth?”

“I try.”

“Well, I am good now. It could be better if the weather was colder and I could go out during the day, not hide from the sun like a bat. But I'm fine, more than alright. Next question?” Next would escalate from extremely simple to slightly intrusive.

“I had some dreams of an apartment on a seventh and eighth floor maybe. It is your place?” Again, that laugh.

“It is my current home. It was the place I chose after I decided to change and become a more independent and trusting person. I deserved it, we deserved it.”

“We? What do you mean with we?”

“You moved in with me.” She left it there, no more information than Fareeha could process, maybe the next was too much for her to assimilate correctly. She trusted Angela blindly, and preferred to ask her later.

“Okay… Next question…” It took Fareeha time to think smart about her only remaining question. She wanted to know more about Angela, and she had to ask her question with care. “Why was it not possible for you to go out for years to have fun? Did you work a lot? You seem like a workaholic.”

“That I am, I love my job and it distracts me from a lot of things, but…” She stopped, looking at a blank spot on the bed. Whatever it was, it was tormenting her inside, and it was a battle between telling the truth or not, Fareeha could see it clearly. “…But it had nothing to do with it. I didn’t go out because I wasn’t allowed to do so. My husband never allowed me to do so... Well, ex-husband.”

“Oh… Oh.”

So she used to be married. A widow? A divorcee? A stream of memories, names, voices and images began to run through Fareeha's mind. That hurt, so much information wanting to be incorporated into her disturbed mind. One of those memories became more present than all; her friends and her walking to the bar. Reinhardt acknowledging a Swiss woman. Angela at a table in a corner. A wound. A lot of blood. Repentance and pain reflecting in blue eyes. The blonde lying on the floor of the back room. Emily. The three of them rushing out of the place. Fareeha holding her in a bridal carry all the while to her apartment.

She recognizes everything. Every sound, every image, every smell, everything. Fareeha pressed her head with both hands, the sound muted as a storm of memories kept rushing towards her. But what stood out the most, was the fear at that moment, in that memory. Afraid of having disappointed her, afraid of not arriving on time, afraid of losing her. And in reality, looking back at Angela and her worried eyes, she jumped out of bed and took the blonde in her arms, reversing the positions and seating her in the bed instead.

“F-Fareeha…?!”

She opened her lab coat, and without thinking twice unbuttoned the lower buttons of her blouse, revealing soft pale skin and a notorious mark on her abdomen. A scar. The source of all that blood spilled in the bar. Fareeha ran a finger over it, feeling the slightly highlighted skin of the scar. It hurt to see her, Fareeha felt that she failed to protect her. Leaning forward slowly, her lips touched the soft scar, kissing the healed wound with only so much care and love, she knew she did that before. What was frightening was that she used to kiss her wounds and bruises more times that she would ever like.

“I’m sorry I failed you… I shouldn’t have left you alone that weekend, or any other day in that house...”

“You remember…?”

“He’s a piece of shit…”

Suddenly, Fareeha felt a pair of arms hugging her tightly, it was chilling, as if the most precious thing to the arms of the doctor was to escape with a simple sigh. Angela hid her face in the crook of Fareeha's neck, inhaling shakily, exhaling in the same manner only followed by tears and a sob. No matter how insignificant or important that memory was, it definitely created an impressive impact on the doctor, and Fareeha wanted to share the moment, holding her gentler, and letting herself be brought with her to a place somewhere only they know.


Two more weeks, and her body began to demand more. More food, more exercise, more rest. More of her. Her mannerisms, her dedication, her selflessness, it was fascinating. How could such a woman be so perfect in every way and despite everything show interest in her? In a captive woman, mad to a certain extent, even an assassin? It was a mystery, and it was driving Fareeha to do better overall, to achieve more, to be perfect and try to match her position to hers. Of being worthy of her sympathy.

Her legs ached, her arms, her whole body in general when before something as simple as doing push-ups didn’t tense her body in the least. Angela explained days before that the experimental serum was composed mostly of hormones and steroids of various types, limiting the pain to a low point of resistance and creating an effect similar to that of an addiction. Not anymore. Now, without the serum, the resistance slowed down to what she used to have maybe five years ago, which, while it was a lot, wasn’t compared to that of Vishkar's own treatment.

Fareeha was doing crunches for who knows how much time, and her body screamed her to stop. In the end, she ignored it, and collapsed on the ground. She was red and flushed, sweaty, tired and her limbs were a trembling mess. Her breathing stirred and she closed her eyes heavily, hoping that the result was good enough for Vishkar, who Satya with all her entourage of doctors and scientists -Angela included- were watching her doing her work out. Hana, Zarya, and all those who were protected from some of them were in the gym, monitoring their progress. Satya made a face of dissatisfaction.

“Three hundred and forty-eight.” A scientist with a tally counter in hand said, looking at Satya for a response.

“Unacceptable.” Satya stated, and Fareeha wanted to sink right there. “Dr. Ziegler, your asset-”

“She’s my protégé, not an asset.” Angela corrected, and the girl felt her heart beat for a brief eternity. Even in front of Vaswani she was willing to defend her humanity.

“Your protégé is not even reaching half of what is required. Even that of Mirembe was able to reach the goal. Clearly she needs our treatment as your methods are not working.”

“I beg to differ. She is as mentally stable as a healthy patient of mine, something the other protégés can’t achieve yet. If the mind is stable, the body follows suit, and thus we have a balanced human being. That is what I want to achieve. Remember what I have told you over and over again? That word precisely: balance. Balance between the body and mind.” It irked curiosity in Fareeha the way Angela spoke her words with so much determination, there was fire in her eyes and an outstanding personality enough to overpower hers.

“You have spent a month of your stay in not showing results.”

“And what is this?” She pointed at Fareeha.

“Clearly, a tired and exhausted woman who could not resist the exercise that was indicated.”

Angela scoffed, and it was adorable. But Satya was right; Fareeha was far from being the person she used to be a month ago. That made her feel useless and in general, a failure at the eyes of the doctor. It was embarrassing, but Angela always made her feel more than that, she encouraged her and reminded her that all those thoughts were more than incorrect. Fareeha was fine, she would be fine. It was then that the blonde took several steps forward to reach Fareeha's side, extended a thin hand towards her and Fareeha took her more than happily as she helped her stand up.

“Come on. Show them how mentally stable you are.” What exactly did she meant with that? Nonetheless, Fareeha obeyed, and dusted her training pants. What definitely surprised her was the fact that Angela was stripping from her lab coat, leaving it on top of a bench press, followed by her pumps. Only when she stood up in front of her and braced herself in a defense position, Fareeha understood. That had nothing to do with mental stability, but it was definitely making her curious. “Stance.” She obeyed. Right leg behind, fists in front of her face. “Jab.” She did that, Angela successfully blocking it. “Double jab.” And it went on and on for perhaps ten more minutes, the orders increasing both in intensity and difficulty.

“What are you trying to achieve, Dr. Ziegler?” Satya asked after a while, wondering on why the doctor was doing such atrocity.

“This.” Angela put her arms back and stood firmly, lifting her chin slightly and looking at her decisively, Fareeha returning to a rest stance, arms at both sides of her body. “You are worthless. You are nothing. You are just an experiment, and nobody cares for you inside and outside this place. Once you return to the outside, you’ll be nothing and no one. You don’t have any friends here, and your family doesn’t care for you. You are nothing, but a shallow body.”

It hurt, and when in regular circumstances –and even more now warmed up with the one on one training- it would make her angry and blind with madness, just like Hana at this very moment being held by two guards as she yelled at the doctor and called her as much insults as she could muster, this time it wasn’t like that. Fareeha didn’t felt anything beyond discomfort. No anger, no pain, just a general sensation of surrealism. Nonetheless, she stayed in the same position, waiting for a command, looking into her eyes.

“Satya, can you come here?” The woman rolled her eyes and obeyed, walking quietly to Angela’s side. “My protégé, hit her.” She was positively crazy. Fareeha could never do that without having serious consequences. She didn’t know what her plan was exactly, but she had to trust her, even when it was beyond strange. Taking position and fixing her stance, Fareeha took a momentum, and launched herself for Satya’s face. “Stop.” It was quick, her fist stopping in matter of milliseconds. Her body responded to a simple command even when she knew she could hit Satya –the woman who called that and many more insults, the woman who experimented with her body- without having any problems. “There you go.”

“Are you positively insane, Dr. Ziegler?!”

Fareeha wasn’t far from thinking the same, since anyone in that room that didn’t belong to Vishkar was more than ready to punch Satya if given the opportunity. And this time, it was handed in a gold tray. However, she responded swiftly to the command, and thus, stopped when given the instruction. Fareeha was sure even Zarya and Hana would think the same, even Tariq, who was standing still in a surprising position looking at her. Eventually, it was Angela who spoke again.

“I am not. I trust her. That’s where you start, with trust in your patient rather than offering words and notions of displeasing subjects, just like you.”

“Point proven, Dr. Ziegler. Now get her out of here.” Angela smirked amusedly, Fareeha doing the same on the inside.

“At ease.” The blonde said, and so Fareeha obeyed once more, hand at either side of her body. Impressive, impassive, an obeying soldier. She only lacked the strength she used to have, something she would eventually gain again. “You can leave now, I’ve proven my point. We’ll start with the serum treatment in a week.”

With a nod, Fareeha acknowledged her decision, even when it irked inside with an uncomfortable feeling swirling and twisting. She needed to talk to her about boundaries once again, but the Egyptian knew she said that only because it was needed. Satya needed to know, so did Vishkar. And thus, she left the gym. Deciding to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the night, she headed to her quarters, a shower sounded amazing, and it was the perfect way to end her routine.

The water cascaded pleasantly on her naked body, salty due to the sweat. The hot liquid relaxed her muscles and helped with the knots on her back and shoulders, but something else was entirely needed. Angela massaging her stress away was fantastic in that matter, it was an angelic touch on her devilish skin. Perhaps later she could properly ask her and not suggest it as she always did. It still made her sheepish the fact that she needed her touch to relieve her strained body, but hot water over her body helped. Wearing a set of short shorts and a lose shirt, she slipped into bed and drifted to sleep faster than she expected.


This was new. Strange, fascinating, known and cherished. A bed that wasn’t hers, but it made her feel so at home. Stretching out on the bed, she touched a bundle under the sheets, soft and hard at the same time. She moved, and a blonde mane emerged from the white fabric, aquamarine eyes watching her back. A smile so tender and honest was gifted to her, and Fareeha's heart beat so hard that she felt it was going to leave her ribcage at any moment.

“Hello, stranger.”

In a soft, alluring voice, Fareeha was called. That was Angela, undeniable sexy and evidently naked. Her pale body was still covered by a thin sheet up to her chin, and even now that her mouth was partly covered, she could see her eyes smiling at her. How wonderfully this woman was making her feel inside.

“Come here.”

She begged, making Fareeha shift slightly, their bodies’ mere inches apart.

“Come with me.”

So close, so near. Angela lifted the sheet, revealing her naked figure under it and inviting Fareeha to the warmth under the covers.

“Stay with me.”


Fareeha woke up sooner than she expected. Her surroundings were dark, and her roommates were already asleep. It couldn’t have been more than two hours. The insomnia hit her again and the tiredness didn’t go away, but only increased. The memory of Angela made her relax most of the time, but this time it didn’t happen for some strange reason. Fareeha remained one more hour awake, thinking, and looking at the darkness that was the ceiling of her room while a few words echoed in her head again and again.

‘Come with me.’

Was it a signal? A message? She didn’t have it clear, but it was bothering her more than she wanted to. Growling, she got up ready to go looking for reasons to stay awake until her body decided to tire again. The warehouse and the stars seemed to be a good option, and tying her shoes, she prepared to leave, until a voice stopped her.

“Fareeha?” Obviously it had to be Tariq, sleep still in his voice and in the ruffling of his hair, the only person concerned enough to ask her. “Can’t sleep?”

“No. I’m taking fresh air.”

“It’s two in the morning… Do you want company?” She stopped for a moment, wondering if indeed she needed to vent to someone, except she didn’t have anything to say at all. Company didn’t sound bad, but Tariq wasn’t the most suitable person as of now.

“I’m doing well alone for the moment.”

“Well… Alright. If you need me, you know, I’ll be here.” His sincerity was always appreciated, and Fareeha returned him a soft smile and a nod.

“Thanks.”

And she parted. Out to the halls, walking the white tile with no purpose. Her feet guided her into several more corridors while her mind wandered, trying to collect more memories and remember more events from her past. That worked sometimes, and the cool night air was a great incentive. However, Fareeha didn’t realize when she took the elevator and her body found not to be outside, but further inside the facility.

Looking both ways she could recognize the place. She shouldn’t be there, much less so late at night, and yet there she was, in the quarters of the medical and scientific staff. The door to Mirembe's room was only a few steps away, but Angela's was farther away, and yet it was that door that called her. Again unconsciously she heard her voice, beaconing her and sending signals to approach.

‘Come with me.’

Maybe she should follow them, after all, her dream told her the same thing. She should always follow her. Breathing deeply, she took several steps forward and stayed maybe two minutes waiting outside Angela's door, her body didn’t respond but she knew she should knock. And she did it after doubting so much, she knocked, only to realize it was a huge mistake. What if she was sleeping and she interrupted her? Or perhaps she simply didn’t wanted to be bothered. Less at such late hours of the morning. There was no more room for doubt, as Angela opened the door quickly, rubbing the sleep away from her eyes.

“Fareeha?” Her eyes were slightly red, her hair disheveled and down up to her middle back, and she was wearing only a night gown that seemed so fresh and light. She looked envious perfect.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here and-” She tried to explain, it was unreasonable. Angela shook her head.

“It’s okay. Can’s sleep, darling?” Fareeha nodded sheepishly. “To be honest, neither could I. I tried and failed miserably, so I ended up working up late once again.”

“That’s unhealthy.”

“Heh, it is…” She smiled at her, flushing slightly due to the words she was thinking of speaking. “Let's work on this together, the two of us. Shall we? Come with me.”

Again those words, and Angela stepped aside, inviting Fareeha into the comfort of her bedroom. There was no room for doubt that moment, and smiling wearily, Fareeha went into her room, and Angela closed the door once more. What Fareeha wasn’t expecting is that this was the beginning of several nights of her looking for Angela at night.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter VIII

Then I let her in again

 

Normally her nights were an empty agreement for five years. With no adventure, with no motivation, with no purpose, maybe that of continuing to work and fill it with silly ideas that were enough to make her say that she had something to do on her weekend. Her nights would be lacking of people to hold dearly or have some fun-calling activities, but if they were full of red wine, cigarettes, and strolling naked or in her underwear around her apartment while listening to music of various genres, that would fill her at that moment. And in Vishkar it was no different, especially due to the fact that now her friends weren't by her side.

But now, tonight while watching the laptop's screen in which she used to work on her own personal projects, the opportunity knocked at her door, and Angela quickly got up to answer, hoping that the only person able to make her night such a wonderful one would be on the other side. Fixing her hair a little, she realized she was in her sleepwear, and Angela cursed under her breath, but it was too late to change into another outfit. Adjusting her posture, she opened the door and felt immense relief to see that indeed the person who she most expected to see was standing in front of her.

“Fareeha?” She had to ask just to be sure as she cleared her eyes. It was past two in the morning and she was getting tired already.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here and-” She had to stop her fast, to reassure her.

“It’s okay. Can’t sleep, darling?” That one slipped from her mouth, but Fareeha didn’t seem to be bothered by it, and she nodded. “Neither could I. I tried and failed miserably, so I ended up working up late once again.” She chuckled, running her hand over her head.

“That’s unhealthy.”

“Heh, it is…” Fareeha was still her worried self towards her without being conscious of. It was positively adorable, making Angela want more of her. “Let’s work on this together, the two of us. Come with me.”

Stepping aside, she invited Fareeha inside without asking her directly. The invitation was accepted, and Fareeha went inside the comfort of her bedroom. Angela closed the door and felt that everything stopped, her body moving in slow motion when she realized that Fareeha was in her room again, weighing now the importance of that action. She shouldn't be there, she shouldn’t even go near the quarter's floor of the Vishkar's staff, but there she was, and inside her bedroom, the most private space Angela had as of now.

Fareeha had already been a few times there, but those times were always to talk about more important things, never because of the fact that she couldn't sleep. And now Angela's body felt lighter, the presence of the girl enough to remove all the stress and throw it out the window, relaxing her body in an impressive way. How wonderful it was. Fareeha kept standing, perhaps waiting for an instruction from the doctor, but she just received a hug from behind, a pair of slender hands intertwining in front of her abdomen.

“I didn’t want to bother you so late, but my legs led me here. When I least thought of it, I was in front of your door.” Angela shook her head, nuzzling in her back and feeling the warmth and coziness of her shirt against her skin.

“You are far from bothering me. If so, the lack of your presence is what really upsets me. I want you here at all times, if I’m being honest…”

“Heh… Perhaps I can manage to escape every night.”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m half joking.” It was Angela’s turn to smirk.

“Then half make it happen.” Fareeha turned around and hugged Angela back, her height towering hers. “Do you want to have a sleepover? I can fix you a tea. Chamomile, this time.”

“I’m fine, I don’t need chamomile. I just-” She dragged Angela to the bed, sitting her on her lap when Fareeha’s rear touched the mattress. “I don’t know why it's so easy to be like this around you… I just need to sleep with nothing in mind today. My body begs for a good night rest…” Angela would be lying if she said she wasn’t blushing, her face was redder than before, but a soft, hard beat in her heart overpowered any other sensation. Not even the fatigue seemed to be subduing to such a feeling.

“I-If that’s what you want…”

And she lied in bed next to her. Gladly only the lamplight of her bedside table was turned on, and with a simple press of a button, she turned off the light. Now both lying side to side, face to face, she could see tension in Fareeha’s eyes, but also something as charming as what she used to feel for her: love. That word again, the one she refused to ever let go, and tonight, she was glad she never did. The moonlight filtering from the blinds was enough to light Fareeha’s face, but not hers, and she was thankful, for she couldn’t bear the situation calmly. She was beyond delusional, drunk with endless affection.

A smile was shared to her, sincere, and Fareeha’s eyes slowly started to close. Half lidded, refusing to succumb into slumber. “Sleep.” Angela barely whispered. “Have some rest. You deserve it.” And she did, that morning workout wasn’t as bearable as before, Fareeha's body couldn’t hold so much straining as before, and it was obviously normal she would be exhausted as never before. But she was improving mentally, and that was all what mattered. Fareeha, her Fareeha, was coming back slowly, and Angela didn’t want anything else at the moment but to see her at peace, even if it meant to share a few hours of forbidden sleep with her.

For quite several minutes, Angela stared back at Fareeha’s face. She was asleep, resting, beautiful as ever, innocent, and no worries in her mind and body for the moment. Angela traced every detail she missed before, like the tattoo slightly fading, or a couple of wrinkles on her forehead she knew were due stressful hours, but she still did that cute little frown when sleeping. Her mouth was partly open, but her lips never lost the fullness of them. Plum and tempting as ever, and Angela wanted to touch them with her own, but she was as tired as her, and preferred to sleep next to such an amazing woman, scooting closer so their foreheads were touching.

However, the peace didn’t last long. Angela woke up an hour later to Fareeha stirring in place. Her frown deepened, now her lips were pressing together in a thin line, and she could see a twitching here and there in her face, her hands, even her shoulders started shaking, and there was a thin layer of sweat in her brow. That wasn't normal, Angela never saw that in her, but she very much knew those were the nightmares she was having, a rush of memories and bad dreams mixed together in what seemed a painful knot in her brain. Those seemed to be scarce now, but they didn’t make them any less dangerous and the doctor decided to ease her.

“Fareeha?” She called her softly, but there was no response, only more stirring. “Fareeha, darling…”

Nothing, just movement, and a faint shaky breathing followed by soft groans similar to that of moaning. Decided to wake her up as passive as possible, Angela touched her head, tucking a few strands of black hair sticking to her face.

“My love… Wake up…”

She decided to use her honesty once again, as that was the only thing that she seemed to feel now, her love overcoming any other feeling, emotion or sensation now. Her love to protect her, to make her feel safe, to make her feel she deserves that and more. And it worked. Fareeha opened her eyes abruptly, her breathing was heavy and rapid, but the shaking and tensed features disappeared. Black eyes stared at her, and Angela’s heart wanted to break when tiny droplets of tears started gathering in Fareeha’s eyes and she tried to blink them away.

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault…” Angela shook her head and embraced her tightly, burying Fareeha’s face in her chest. “It’s not your fault.” She repeated, assuring her as she stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. "Never your fault."

“I want to get out of here… I can’t handle it anymore…”

Her words weighed like iron. The place was a torture chamber, a slaughterhouse, and Fareeha was locked inside for more than two years. The dread stirring inside Angela wanted to make her feel as good as possible, to hold her and never leave her again, to kiss her for many, many years to come until she gets tired of doing so, but she knew that tiredness would never come. And thus, she held her face with both hands and brought her lips to her own in a soft, lucid kiss.

“Leave with me.”

“What?”

“I’ll get you out of here... Both of us.” Angela didn’t know how much those words meant to Fareeha, but the way her eyes lit up said it all. “Just wait for me a little longer until I come with a plan…”

“…Why are you doing this for me?”

“Why?” It could be a disaster to tell her the truth, but if she didn’t say it, it could very much be painful to both of them. Perhaps half the truth would be the idea. “Because I care only so much for you, I want your happiness at all costs. I have never stopped looking for you, my heart refused to surrender.” And another kiss. “I… I desire you so much. So, so much, it hurts… It hurts that you’re not by my side at all times, that I lived without you for five years…” And another deeper, more meaningful kiss. “And I missed this so much… Knowing and feeling you alive is a magnificent sensation…”

“Even if I’m a mess and I’m still trying to remember parts of who you are?”

“The mess I don’t mind, we both are, to be quite honest.” That elicited a soft laugh from Fareeha. “And for the other part, I think it’ll be amazing to discover who I am, for I lost track of myself only for too many years, I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“You’re Dr. Angela Ziegler.”

“I know who Dr. Ziegler is, but who is Angela?” Fareeha blinked, getting closer to her. “Who is this person behind the doctor façade?”

“You are an angel.” Angela wanted to stop breathing, and she did for so long she needed the air more than anything now, but Fareeha’s eyes started to search desperately for hers, her brow slightly knotted. For a beat, she closed her eyes only to open them. Her pupils were completely dark, Angela could see so much affection in them, as if drawn to something she desired with more than anything. “You are my angel.”

“You used to call me that- do you remember…?” Her angel. Hers, only hers and no one else’s. Angela eyes started to water. She was remembering her, if only for a fragment, it was one of the most important ones, and the doctor was lucid.

“You are my savior, my muse, my queen, my goddess… I partly remember who you are… You are my Angela. Mine.” The word echoed in Angela’s head, heart and soul like a hammer, pounding harder with every remembrance. Hers.

Yours…” She confirmed, no suspicion but pure truth. Once again, she took her face in her hands and brought her closer, kissing every part she could kiss, from her forehead to her chin and ending in her lips. “I’ve been only yours…” She muttered between kisses, no longer caring for the tears streaming down. “And I’ll ever be, as long as you allow me… As long as you want me… As long as you don’t leave me again.” A pair of strong arms surrounded her waist, bringing her even closer and deepening the kiss. In a swift motion, Fareeha turned over their bodies, now Angela lying below her.

“I don’t want this to stop… I want more.”

“Take it… Take as much as you want.” Angela was numb by the sensations and barely thought of her words when Fareeha spoke, even she could see the taller girl wanted the same.

“Are you-?”

“Yes, yes… Whatever you want from me is yours. I'm yours.” The blonde encouraged, and Fareeha needn’t no more.

Fareeha kept kissing her, the hands on her waist squeezed softly the flesh as a tongue trailed inside her mouth, caressing every crevice with hunger and trying to take as much as she could since Angela gave her a green light to do so. She was being eager, and Angela was into a whole plain of existence that, along with Fareeha, was beginning to remember, to savor once again with every touch, the one she was forgetting and her body daily tried to remind her.

For quite the time, they stayed like that, just sharing kisses of different intensities. Slow, hungry, deep, softly, whatever they had to offer, it was such an indescribable experience, Angela being the one who felt the tingling sensation all over her body with every touch of her lips. Without thinking, a moan slipped when Fareeha introduced her tongue even more and caressed the sensitive skin of her hips, earning a soft smile from the woman on top of her. Fareeha knew she earned victory.

“…May I?” Fareeha said finally after several minutes playing with the hem of her nightgown. Angela was still surprised by how caring and considerate she was, even when she lost part of herself while staying at Vishkar against her will. Angela was more than pleased to oblige, to give her everything she wanted.

“You may.”

She said with a smile, shyly returned as well. Fareeha moved back a bit, enough to allow Angela to sit, and slowly slid her skirt up with her rough hands, revealing the pale skin of her thighs that, Angela knew perfectly well, was one of -if perhaps- the favorite parts of the girl, and the doctor let her took charge of anything else, staying put, immovable. Slowly, the pink fabric of her underwear began to show, and Angela felt a chill from the exposure of the damp fabric against the cold air of the room.

Like a hungry animal, Fareeha looked at her underwear, and continued to slide the robe upwards, bulging beneath her bare breasts, and with another look in her eyes, Angela gave her permission silently, shaking her shoulders slightly so that the piece came out with ease. The doctor felt her nipples harden more by the exposure and the hungry look of Fareeha, that expression that years ago she didn’t look and desired with all her being in those lonely nights.

In a smooth and firm movement, the robe fell to the floor, and Angela tried to cover her exposed arms lightly with her arms, but quickly dismissed the idea and placed both of them on her abdomen, looking Fareeha in the eyes with longing. She could have expected any reaction of panic, fear, even excitement and desire, but never of tenderness. Never. The taller girl came slowly to her and gave her a tender kiss on the lips, keeping an inch from her once they parted.

“You are gorgeous, just like I dreamed.” Angela giggled both by the ticklish breath over hers and such a comment.

“You did not have wet dreams with me, Fareeha.”

“Heh more times than I can remember…” Another kiss, this time deeper. “But this is even better. The real you is even better.”

With a slow step and crawling towards her, Fareeha put Angela back in between kisses, caresses to her naked abdomen and exposed legs, never taking her touch away from her or her lips from hers. Angela was in heaven for a moment, experiencing the lost touch of her lover once again, feeling how she was being serviced with only so much dedication and care, and the soft moans falling from her lips were adding more intensity to such activity. But the blonde needed more, and she parted from the kiss with heavy breathing, looking flushed and urged to keep forward.

“Clothes off.” She said, pulling at the hem of Fareeha’s shirt. “Off, please.” Fareeha obeyed in a hurry, hurling the shirt somewhere in the bedroom and doing the same with her short shorts, remaining only in panties like Angela. “Fuck…” She had to curse at such a sight, it was impressive even when she looked at her bare upper body more times as of lately.

“I didn’t know you cursed.”

“Only when I’m… Astonished.”

“Haven’t you seen me several times before?” Angela giggled and pulled her back, pressing a chaste kiss on her lips.

“Yes, but this is not even remotely close to what I’ve done before to you… Go ahead, do whatever you want this time and take the lead.”

“Are you my experiment now?”

“Is that’s how you want to call me?” Fareeha had to laugh at the implicit comment, feeling the blonde’s lips stretching in hers.

“Unbelievable…” Fareeha kept moving, the hand that caressed the blonde's hip was now moving down more, towards her thighs, eliciting a raw moan from the doctor. Suddenly, it moved to her inner thigh, and Angela almost squirmed in place. “What if I want to…” Her hand began to touch the fabric of her panties, teasing slightly with a finger hooked on the hem. “…To try here?” The need and sultriness of her voice was enough to send a shiver down Angela’s spine.

“Y-you are more than welcome to do what you want w-wherever you want…” It left in a whisper, and when Fareeha smiled at her, she knew everything was lost.

That hand slid out back to the surface, only to slide down on the lace fabric and touch the doctor's most sensitive spot, wet from her arousal. Angela gripped at the sheet below her and pressed her lips to avoid screaming, chanting to the skies for the sudden perfect touch after half a decade of it being snitched away from her life. Fareeha’s hand kept moving in soft circles over her panties, and her mouth went lower to Angela’s neck, licking the flesh underneath and sucking only slightly on her pulse joint, now a moan released after trying so bad to avoid doing so, Angela's hand immediately went to her mouth to hush every noise coming out of it. It was uncontrollable, and she couldn't believe that with that alone she was so close to ecstasy. As if Fareeha had realized that something else was needed, her kisses on the neck went to her collarbone, and then they hovered on a milky chest, her eyes turning to see Angela for permission, and the doctor nodded quickly and desperately.

The sensation was unmatched when Fareeha's mouth touched her nipple, her hand did an excellent job of silencing the intense moans while this magnificent woman was dedicating to service her, and it was clear she was enjoying it by her facial expressions. Now Angela was even closer to the edge, she felt her core tightening, a heat concentrating in her groin with every passing second, and when Fareeha slid her panties to the side and sunk two fingers inside her, it was all over. An orgasm exploded like one she used to feel, she used to enjoy like anything else, and her whole body quivered as a drown moan rippled from her throat.

Fareeha kept pumping her fingers, more and more slowly, ending to a soft sliding enough to help her come down from her high. A few tears gathered in her clear blue eyes, and Angela groaned in disappointment when said fingers left her entrance. A few fluids were released from her womanhood due the overload of stimulation when she lacked of such for a long time. Her heaving chest was relaxing now, and she looked dearly at Fareeha, even when her hand was still pressing her mouth. Fareeha smiled sweet and teasingly, removing such pale hand from her mouth to press a kiss, making her gasp and breath a shaky breath.

“I did it well enough?”

“More than enough… Thank you.”

“It felt so natural...” Fareeha had to acknowledge it, now earning a caring smile from the blonde as she cupped a cheek, the Egyptian leaning on her touch.

“You did that many times…”

“I did, huh?”

“Yeah... And every time you were… Always so caring, so worried about my needs… You’re perfect.”

“I’m far from being perfect, but thank you.” Ever the modest girl.

“And now it’s your turn.”

“M-my turn?” Permission, allowance again. She needed a green light from her.

“That is if you want me to proceed, of course.” And for a moment Fareeha thought, she seemed in a battle between what was right and wrong, but in the end she surrendered, and with a shaky nod of her head, she allowed. “Good girl.”

It was Angela's turn now to change positions, Fareeha lying on her back and waiting for the doctor to continue. Angela would immediately have asked permission for each movement, but seeing the enlarged pupils and a rather noticeable stain on the girl's underwear, she knew that she didn't need more than a few yes and no in certain scenarios. Carefully, Angela straddled her hips and began kissing her, starting with the crown of her head, going down to give her nose a peck, and then to her lips, staying there for a minute and leaving her breathless.

As she did, Angela descended from her chin to her neck, her strong and marked shoulders, and to an exposed breast, immediately latching on one as a hand massaged the other. Angela’s tongue circled her nipple with care, like she remembered doing and how Fareeha actually liked it, and it seemed to work, for the younger woman’s breathing began to speed up and a hand stroked softly her golden locks. That was Fareeha’s signature move when she enjoyed something the doctor did, playing with her hair and squeezing her thighs, although the later were far from her reach. While servicing her, Angela paid attention to the hand grasping at her hair, the one that she remembered naked now covered in beautiful tattoos of a dark ink, combining perfectly with her skin.

Angela knew she needed more, both of them, and she left her breast and crawled further down, kissing and licking the flesh of her toned abs and down to her navel, biting slightly her hip bone, earning a soft groan in response. One look at Fareeha, and Angela knew what to do next. She slid her panties down to her ankles and off of her body, revealing her more than needy cunt and exposing it completely, and Angela’s hunger was strong. One more look and dark eyes looked at her desperately. Angela needed no words.

“Oh my…!” Fareeha moaned loudly when Angela’s tongue touched her sensitive folds; lapping at her needy glistening cunt with unparalleled hungry and desired to make her feel even better as to how she made her feel. But her rasping voice, paired with her loud moans and grunts was a warning signal for many outside. Angela stopped for a moment, slightly pressing her lips on her navel and gave her a soft kiss on the skin prior looking in her eyes, black orbs looking back at her in a flushed face.

“Honey, Mirembe is next door, so we better keep it quiet. Can you do that for me?” Angela asked barely above a whisper.

“Y-yes, ma’am…”

That word, that phrase she remembered perfectly and could never forget. It stirred a lot of sensations, new ones building up and old ones resurfacing from a deep part of her soul. As if it were a shot of adrenaline, Angela felt more impelled to please her, to remind her why she was the only one who was allowed to touch her, to feel her, to truly love her without expecting anything in return. And in a swift motion, she went back down, this time pushing her tongue deep inside her, bringing her tan body by gripping her legs and pulling her closer to her face.

Fareeha was a squirming, moaning mess at her touch, even more than Angela remembered, attributing it perhaps to the lack of attention or maybe to a bad experience inside there. That was something Angela didn't want to think about at the moment, to know if someone else touched her when her mind was foggy, and perhaps later, if she ever remembered it, it would be something she would ask. For now, only her pleasure was the most important thing.

Angela kept with her caresses deeper, more specific and more dedicated, giving special attention to her sensitive bundle of nerves, circling it with her tongue on scarce moments. She could feel and see Fareeha was near the edge, her toes curled, her eyes were pressed together real hard, and the hand grasping at a bunch of her blonde hair was tightening, close enough to hurt her but soft enough to not restrain her. It was when Angela saw the opportunity to bring her to the edge just as she did, and releasing only one of her thighs, Angela kept sucking and licking at her clit when she inserted two fingers, feeling her walls stretch in pleasure with barely any effort.

The blonde nudged at her sensitive spot in her front wall, curling her fingers to tease as much as she could, and Fareeha took one of the pillows on Angela’s bed, bringing it to her face and biting it as much as she could do to muffle the screams. It was a win, and Angela felt how her fingers were close to be crushed between velvet walls, Fareeha’s legs closing at both sides of her head as her head was being pushed even closer to her arousal. The younger woman’s back arched and the grip and bite on the pillow increased, quite the grunted moan suppressed thanks to the thickness of the cushioned item.

Suddenly, she fell back into bed, Angela still paying attention to her orgasm as the sensation lessened more and more, and Fareeha's breathing was agitated, heavy and rapid, a thin layer of sweat was covering her ever perfect bronze body, accentuating her abs with every release of her breath. Angela freed her and gave her a soft kiss on top of her clit, enough to make Fareeha flinch and gasp in surprise, eliciting a chuckle from the doctor, who crawled back at her and lied next to her protégé, dragging the sheet back up to cover their waists. Once Fareeha’s breathing normalized, she returned her gaze back to Angela.

“Okay I…” Fareeha cleared her throat, leaving the pillow aside. “I don’t remember ever feeling that… Or I do, but I think I forgot how it felt, I-I don't know...”

“Was it good?” Of course it was, her body spoke for itself, but Angela needed assertion.

“Amazing…”

“Amazing how?” Fareeha chuckled softly, Angela flashing a wide smile to her.

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because I know you get flustered pretty easily, and I want to know if I still have my touch.”

“Your touch, heh. I like your touch.”

“Oh, that I know.”

They both shared a few laughs, filling the room with quiet sounds of sheets rustling and bodies adjusting their positions, later being Angela who remained on her back and Fareeha was the one lying on her arm as the blonde surrounded her, cuddling her body and stroked her dark hair, kissing the crown of her head with paramount affection. Both stayed in silence, sharing the comfortable sensation of their bodies connecting, limbs entangled perfectly and fitting like a puzzle.

Angela stayed with her eyes open for quite the time, her fingers still running though black strands of hair, and she felt how Fareeha’s breathing began to slow, slower every time, and carefully she peeked at her face covered by more of her hair, but her eyes were closed and her lips slightly parted. Her factions reflected those of tranquility and peace, of pleasant dreams and mind rest, and for the entire night and perhaps for the past years, Fareeha had no nightmares, and Angela slept as peacefully along with her.


After that night, Angela's nights weren't the same anymore. After having experienced such peace and comfort in her arms after five years of keeping them empty, her body cried out for her company, and Fareeha always made sure to remind her of it during her physical and psychological exams. For Angela it was a pleasure, because initially Fareeha escaped from her quarters to sneak into her bedroom when she had nightmares, which were five or six days a week, but when she began to get used to it, she ended up doing it every night. And this very morning, after three weeks, was no different.

The chamber was dark, and the sun was still hidden on the far horizon and beyond the dunes of the Thar Desert. The soft sound of the alarm began to beep, Angela listening to it in the distance although she knew that it was right next to her. Heavily, she opened her eyes slowly, eyeing the numbers on the alarm clock. Four in the morning. She hated waking up so early. Getting up at five in the morning was torture enough, but now, one hour less of needed rest, it was hell. However, everything was worth it, as the girl who slept next to her, hugging her body as if she were going to escape from her life, rested peacefully at her side.

This was the part that Angela both loved and hated. Waking up next to her only to just to wake her up too and tell her it was time to leave before the others realized she was hiding in her bedroom, and even more, sleeping with her -both ways-. Carefully and trying not to startle her, Angela shifted her arm, slightly numbed by the body on top of hers, and whispered softly in her hair.

“Fareeha… Reeha.”

“Hm…”

“It’s time. Wake up.”

“Hm?” That was adorable, Fareeha only answered in grunts of discomfort.

“You need to leave.”

“No…” Instead of letting go, the pair of arms surrounding her waist tightened their grip, almost drawing the air out of the helpless doctor.

“Fareeh-! Stop…!” She slapped a hand, and luckily she was able to let go off of her. “Every morning, Fareeha… Please, get up, or else you’ll get us in trouble.”

With a final grunt, Fareeha released her body completely and shifted in the blankets, rolling her body over so she could sit properly on the bed. As much as Angela wanted to let her stay for the rest of the morning, it was going to be easy to be caught, and thus, both their lives could possibly be in danger. She saw how Fareeha got up and walked to the chair in front of the small desk, grabbing the neatly folded gym clothes and changing to that outfit. Even in the dark, Angela could perfectly distinguish her toned body, and wearing only underwear was even more so.

The nights weren’t just about sex, but about pleasant conversations and meaningful questions, although sometimes just lying side by side in silence was just as delightful. Angela could not agree more that this was the ideal psychological therapy for the girl, because it was in this way that she managed to clear her mind. Once Fareeha was dressed in her workout clothes and her sneakers were tied, she walked back to bed, standing in front of Angela’s side and bent over, placing a soft kiss on her cheek just before heading back to daily routine.

“I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Mhm, eat your breakfast and take a shower after training.”

“Yes, mom. I will.” Carefully Fareeha walked to the door, only to be hit on her back by a flying pillow. She laughed softly prior to open the door, peeking to both sides to see if the coast was clear.

“Tell your boyfriend I said hi.”

“I could very much trade you for him if you want.” Fareeha teased, earning an amused glare from the doctor.

“You are terrible.”

“I know. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?”

Angela rolled her eyes when she left and closed the door, but deep inside that comment hurt. The doctor knew she was there because she was right at some extent, she did something wrong, but Angela wasn’t exactly in the right place to judge her actions without knowing the reason. However, knowing Fareeha’s ever good intentions and sense for justice, things couldn’t be as bad as Vishkar and the Egyptian government portrayed. Setting that thought aside, she tried going back to sleep.

The clock kept moving, changing its numbers, and Angela was still wide awake. Her mind swirled in a whirlwind of emotion, thoughts of how uncertain their future was and how she could come up with something smart enough to take them both out of there. Fareeha had her suggestions, but the plan always involved getting her teammates out of there as well, every person had their own demons and some were innocent, such as Hana and most of the Meka team, which Angela could easily understand.

However, the plan was only getting Fareeha out of there and only her. For Angela, everyone could die in the process, even her, but Fareeha had to remain safe above everyone.

Still thinking in many options to solve such a difficult issue, time moved at an impressive pace, the clock now stating past five and it was close to beep again. Decided to beat the annoying alarm, Angela got up and went to the bathroom to take a quick shower and be on her way to start her day as usual. The cool water of the shower probed to help her turn on her brain and activate her body, it always did. The missing ingredient was coffee, and so, she changed to her usual uniform and went to the cafeteria, knowing Mirembe would be already there judging by the time on the nightstand clock.

As she had expected, Mirembe was sitting at a table along with Fio, the personal pilot of the high ranks, both having a pleasant and friendly conversation. The biggest woman noticing that Angela was in front of the coffee machine pouring some of the bitter liquid in a mug, waved her hand and motioned the doctor to sit with them. Once her coffee was poured, sweetened and she had a tray with breakfast consisting mostly on fruit, toast and scrambled eggs, she sat along the two women.

“Morning, Angela.”

“Good morning, both of you.”

“Did you have a good rest last night? Nothing bothered you?” Mirembe asked with a lifted eyebrow, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“I am rested enough, thank you for asking. Why such a question?”

“How long are you gonna keep hiding the fact that a Raptora is sneaking to your bedroom at midnight?” Angela spat her coffee when she heard Mirembe, immediately blushing from drowning with her drink. After a brief coughing fit and some napkins to clean her dripping mouth, Angela looked back at Mirembe, then Fio and back to the older woman, and her face was just as impatient as ever.

“E-excuse me?”

“Look, Fareeha has insomnia problems and heavy nightmares, you know it well, but I do even more. I've been with her for two years and I know the girl perfectly to know that every night she's outside next to the warehouse or in my bedroom sleeping on my couch because she can’t in her bedroom with four males snoring like pigs. Not that I don’t snore but those boys –especially Saleh- are like lions roaring.”

“I-It’s not that-” Mirembe placed a finger in front of her, shutting Angela immediately.

“I don't need you to lie to me. I have seen the girl in the hall past nights and she has never knocked on my door. It's obvious. But if something, that has brought her peace of mind and, let me tell you, she has improved a lot since one month ago in her workouts and her numbers have risen, so that means that Vaswani is happy, and if she is happy, nothing bad will happen to her.” A beat, and Mirembe lowered her hand, looking intently at Angela. “Just remember that she has a mission in a week, and it’s an important one.” Angela composed herself at Mirembe’s last words, and set the coffee aside.

“And what exactly do the missions mean? I have been told that they are going to missions to some towns and that is all, I don’t know what they are dealing with or what they are doing exactly.”

“That's when they show what they're made of, literally. However, your protégé has nothing in her body. How's that going to affect her on a mission, hm? Have you thought about it, doctor?”

And Angela really was ignorant knowing on how that would affect Fareeha. She didn't know much about the missions and didn't take the trouble to investigate further since her priority mission was Fareeha's well-being, mental and physical, and how she could help her out of that hole. The plan to escape was almost ready and set in her mind, and even some details were discussed and polished with Fareeha as they lay quietly in bed every night.

That special place where they shared a sensation of unequaled peace, of unity, of stable emotions, which could only be achieved in her bed, embraced one another with their entangled members, whispering questions and answers and other trivialities. And yet, peace couldn't last for long, because Mirembe's words echoed in Angela's head, and once again, the woman was right. Angela could only hope and trust that Fareeha would do the right thing, show that she was more than capable of belonging there and at the same time, demonstrate to her and to herself that they were capable of escaping from that place.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter IX

How I failed the mission

 

Like every dawn, the awakening was a blessing. The desert was lead by a cool wind before the sun came out, the stars still shone high and the moon threatened to hide once again. Everything was quiet, more than serene, except for a few people who had already started their day or barely prepared to finish it. But inside that cold and cozy bedroom, none of that mattered, only the two people who occupied the space in the bed.

The bedroom was filled by the soft sound of electrical appliances inside, humming and roaring ever softly, as well as the sound of shifting blankets and the gentle whisper of light moans, muted by the fabric of a sheet. It was so early -around five in the morning- and yet Fareeha was in full readiness to give Angela a good enough reason to wake up early, nestling between her legs while gently squeezing her thighs with each thrust of her tongue, pulling her closer to her waiting mouth.

Her moans were lovely, and the tears that pooled in her deep blue eyes from the overstimulation of pleasure in her most sensitive area made her look even the more irresistible and sweet. Angela was breathing quickly, clenching the sheet closer to her mouth without covering her eyes, biting the fabric as her back arched slightly off the bed. Fareeha could see and feel that she was very close to ecstasy, her body language telling it all, and she wanted to give a good time to this fine and magnificent specimen of a woman.

With one last push of her tongue, Fareeha sucked on her clit as she sunk two fingers deep inside Angela’s velvet walls, eliciting a moan loud enough to be heard and making the blonde release more of her arousal in her hand, seeping between her fingers. Thankfully, she was biting enough to muffle her scream and lied in bed trying to catch her breath as her eyes rolled back in place. Fareeha retracted her fingers slowly when she felt the clenching on them release her, and she looked up to her lady’s face now fully exposed.

That was a sight she could get used forever. Angela’s face flushed in a beautiful rouge tint, her eyes were half lidded, filled with a mixture of lust and affection, and her lips pursed up in a faint smile, only growing wider until she giggled softly as if she was a kid keeping a secret. Fareeha shared the same smile and crawled back up to her, but not before giving a soft peck to her navel as a sign of a finished job, which Angela gladly released a grateful breathed moan in response.

“Good girl, you kept it quiet this time.” Fareeha earned a soft slap in her arm from a smiling doctor, eyebrows furrowed by the comment.

“Oh hush. You should take it as a compliment.”

“I do, but it's just that it's very dangerous to do this here.”

“Then give me a good reason on why you should keep doing that.” Fareeha propped on her elbow, leaning her head on her hand as she looked at the blonde’s naked body up and down, landing on her eyes in the end.

“You made me gay, it's only fair that you remind me why.”

“Oh. So perhaps it is only my fault, I can only assume.”

“Yes. Thank you for reminding me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Fareeha flopped down on the mattress again, hiding her face in Angela’s crook of her neck, nestling in the softness of her pale skin and the intoxicating scent of her body, a blend of sweetness and antiseptic. A hand tangled in her hair, caressing her dark strands in soft lulling movements, and she was sure that if she continued like this she would fall asleep once again, so she sat on the bed before something else happened. With a final grunt, Fareeha stretched her arms and heard the satisfying pop of her joints, relaxing her muscles.

Suddenly, a pair of arms surrounded her neck, resting comfortably over her shoulders. A rush of memories came suddenly with that action, most of them reminding her how Angela liked to lean her cheek on hers. Lately those memories were more constant, more livid, and much of her memories with her were being recovered, although there was still the cloudiness of something big, something that Fareeha was sure changed her life and why she had to move away from her side. However, Angela refused to remind her of such event, saying it didn’t matter anymore. Perhaps it was time to believe her and move on. Just perhaps.

“I know that this mission is important.” Angela started saying, breathing deep and snuggling more into her shoulder. “Satya refuses to tell me what the true purpose is, Mirembe says she doesn’t know although I know she does, I’m not stupid. And you don’t want to tell me either.”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to know, to be honest. The less you know, the better.”

“Is that a revenge because I refuse to tell you some things?” Fareeha chuckled, loud enough to be heard only by her.

“Maybe?”

“You are terrible. But I trust you.” The blonde stopped hugging her body and returned to the bed, burying herself under the covers. “Now go. I'll see you before the mission for a preliminary checkup.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Fareeha got up from the mattress and went to the chair where her gym clothes were always perfectly folded, ready to be used. She quickly changed to her sportswear once she glanced at the clock on the bedside table and dialed past five in the morning. Very late for the monitored routine of both. Once comfortable and leaving her sleepwear in one of Angela's drawers, she went to the door ready to leave, only to be stopped by a whispering voice.

“Fareeha?”

“Yes?” Angela hesitated for a moment, there was obvious worry in her eyes.

“Just… Take care.”

“Always.” Fareeha gave her a side smile and opened the door slowly, peeking to both sides until the corridor was empty.

She made her way quick and swiftly, taking the stairs instead of the elevator to avoid being seen. That was the kind of adrenaline that she needed at times, something that would activate her but at the same time not put her as much in danger as a mission to an unknown town without the slightest idea of what to do. This was a training class for Fareeha as sometimes she forgets what it was to escape from dangerous scenarios without the use of a weapon. No, this was so much better. She felt like a child playing tag and hide and seek at the same time all over again.

In a matter of a few more minutes, Fareeha was already on the lowest floor of the Vishkar facility, the deepest floor of the entire basement, where the gym, and the training and testing area were located. And as was the custom, the place was bustling with people starting their day, walking through the corridors and doing their own chores. Unfortunately the only way to access the place was through the elevator, and Fareeha had to take it alone to avoid being caught. Once the doors opened, the corridor was occupied only by a couple of people for her relief, and she left with complete peace of mind.

The gym was her first stop. It was already late, she was sure that Zarya would scold her for showing last-minute because it was not a normal philosophy in Fareeha. Hastening her step, she ran into one or another teammate, some pairs of eyes looking at her astonished at her lack of commitment, something abnormal. Pushing her way through the crowd that gathered in front of the gym doors, she was able to reach one of the available excercise equipments and settled in the bench press, only to be stopped by Tariq.

“And exactly what are you doing arriving at this time?”

“Who are you? My mother?” Fareeha scoffed, taking the bar in her hands and doing the first lift.

“I’m your teammate, who’s worried about you because you don’t catch a sleep in your own bed, sometimes you don’t even touch it. You don’t report to any of us, and even Hana is worried about you.”

Fareeha took a pause to think about the consequences of running away in the evenings to Angela's quarters. Yes, it was true, she had in mind that for her roommates and teammates it would be a direct impact. However, Fareeha had forgotten the important factor that were Hana, Zarya and even Yuna, Mirembe and Fio. Maybe, and just maybe, one day she would trust enough to tell them about how close she has become with Angela, how this gorgeous woman came one day and changed everything in a matter of weeks and gained her complete confidence in what others couldn’t do in two years. How she was the most important thing she had between those walls.

“I’ll apologize to Hana once I see her.”

“And what about your team? What about me?” Fareeha left the bar in its place, sitting up again and looking at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What about you?”

“Yeah, me. I keep worrying about you every night, you try to sleep for a few minutes and then you sneak off. Where are you going?”

“Outside.” Fareeha simply said, getting up. The least she needed was someone to scold her, it was very late in the morning to begin and she needed to release stress, prepare for the mission aheadn and not have more mental knots than she already was carrying with her. “And I’m done.” She got up, ready to take a shower, but Tariq followed closely.

“Are you seriously stopping now? You are not taking your training seriously. Do you want Vaswani and the rest of them to fuck with you? And also, I don’t think you’ve been ‘outside’, I have looked for you every night that you leave and I don’t find you there. So tell me, where have you been?”

Fareeha walked straight to the door through which she entered just a couple of minutes ago. Her body did not have a drop of sweat, nor a discomfort, it was as intact as when she woke up, but she was sure that she would regret that during the mission. But, as Angela told her several times, her mind must be stable first and foremost, and now she needed just that. Clarity. Peace of mind. Nonetheless, Tariq was still following her down the hall, he knew that she was going to their bedroom and it wasn't difficult for him to follow her path.

The questions kept coming, as did the comments. Don't listen to him, you don't need that. The stretch of the gym to the hallway felt increasingly interminable with every step Fareeha took and every word she had to endure to hear. And she would have, Tariq is after all her friend and nothing more, nor would he be once she met that angel who was willing to give everything to rescue her. Fareeha could simply return the favor by being eternally faithful, and the rest was an extra to her life.

“-And since that doctor took you as her protégé, you haven’t done anything for that and you let her put even more bullshit in your head! I can bet you she's the devil just like everyone else here!” Then when he opened his mouth to insult her, Fareeha quickly turned to see him with a violent look.

“Don’t you dare to talk a single bad thing about her!”

“…What is wrong with you? Why do you defend her? She’s working for Vishkar, Fareeha!” They were both still in the corridor, right in front of their bedroom door. Fareeha looked at both sides, several teammates watching them back. Their fights were not normal, and Fareeha must definitely hold her position and reputation.

“Inside. Now.” As she pointed her finger to the door, Tariq moved to open it and get inside their quarters, followed by Fareeha, who closed the door behind them. “First of all, you shouldn’t care where I go at night as long as I’m alright. Second, stop imagining that we are more than friends. That was a long time ago and I honestly don’t plan to return, I don’t have the energy or the time for a relationship. And third, don’t you dare insult her.” His face was that of surprise, mixed with a hint of anger.

“Why do you care so much for her?”

“Now yes, that shouldn’t matter to you. Why do you insist on hating her?”

“I asked you first, Fareeha.” She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms and leaning on a nearby wall next to the bathroom door.

“I care about her because she has been the only one who has shown honest concern for me inside Vishkar. Thanks to her I recovered much of my memory and my nightmares decreased, because she was the first of absolutely all the members of Vishkar who asked me if I agreed with her procedures, and when I said no, she accepted it and did not proceed. She’s different and unique.”

“So you trust her.” A beat where Fareeha pondered for a moment.

“I do. She earned my trust fair and square. Now you answer me.” Tariq moved to his own bed and sat in it, looking at Fareeha across the room.

“I don’t insist on hating her because I don’t, but I don’t trust her. She could have thrown something into your drink, the next few days she was assigned as your patron she started to drive you crazy. You didn't sleep, you sweated like crazy, you screamed, and you didn’t have the strength to do anything. Now tell me, how do you want me to trust someone who did that to you?”

“Once again, and for the last time I repeat, she did nothing to me. It was a rehabilitation process that I, in my rightful mind, accepted to take. That’s it.” Tariq shook his head, barely believing her. “Now, I don’t expect you to believe me, but that you respect her. Or else, it will be me the first person you will have to deal with.” They both exchanged glances for a time that seemed to Fareeha eternal, eventually being he who looked away. Fareeha smirked at the knowledge that she had won. “I’m going back to the gym. I need to prepare for the mission.”

“You've been with her these nights.” He stated all of a sudden when Fareeha went to the entrance of their quarters. She stopped, but only to open the door and look at him out of the corner of her eye.

“See ya.”

Fareeha closed the door behind her once more, leaving her partner and former lover inside. Today distractions weren't needed, today was one of those days so crucial for her position within Vishkar and everything must be in order. Walking confidently through the corridors, she headed back to the gym, this time hoping she wouldn't be disturbed by anything or anyone until a few hours in which she would see Angela for her preliminary examination.

And even when it meant going outside to unleash hell in a small town or building in a suit that alienated everything and everyone, seeing Angela always brought her hope. Only in that she could think, to improve for herself and for Angela in the process. So that morning, lifting the weights she used to lift before leaving Vishkar's experimental serum was no longer a problem.


The room for some reason felt cold, more than usual, and the bench on which she was sitting felt like a block of ice. Fareeha didn’t want to admit it, much less before starting a mission, but she was nervous. A bad feeling followed her all morning, since she woke up until this very same moment. There was a general sense of uneasiness that she couldn’t quite describe, for she never went on a mission without a considerable amount of the serum running through her veins.

Fareeha watched sitting from the bench to her right as Hana was monitored by Mirembe, a tablet in her hand while the other held the helmet, watching how certain connectors reacted with the screen in her hand. Fareeha turned down towards her helmet that she held on her own hands. Her reflection on the dark glass looked back at her, and even there she could see her own fear. The questions in her head were several. How would it work now that there wasn’t a drop of synthetic adrenaline in her bloodstream? How would her body react when wearing the helmet?

A clearing throat made her lift her head, immediately finding herself with piercing blue eyes, a look that silently told her not to worry and that everything would be fine. The feeling was not completely removed, but seeing the dismayed look of Angela, Fareeha wanted to avoid thinking about it, at least for the moment. Rising up with the helmet in his hands, she looked at it out of the corner of her eye, handing it to Angela only to be rejected by a porcelain hand and a shake of her head.

“I don’t need to recalibrate the helmet.” Angela said softly, enough for her to hear. “A moment, please?” With a movement of her head and eyes, she motioned for a corner far from where her team and other members assigned to the mission where. Fareeha obeyed blindly, she couldn’t deny Angela a request anymore. “I think you're just as worried and curious as me of how this thing will work on you now that your blood tract is clean.”

“That… I am. I’m concerned.”

“And how do you feel physically? Something hurts? Do you feel nauseous, dizzy, headache?”

“I’m fine. I think I am, at least.” A nod.

“Can you put the helmet for me? Let’s test it before hand.” Fareeha obeyed once again, looking at the helmet and so her reflection, feeling the black hard cover under her palm. Turning the helmet around, she positioned it over her head, sliding it down until it fit perfectly around her head. Strange. “What do you see? How do you feel?”

The feeling was unique, she hadn't felt it before. The alienation that she initially felt before withdrawing the treatment was a separation of reality and everything around her, except for the commands directed by her superior. But now, with the helmet on and the vitals displayed correctly on the visor screen, they were different. Everything was clear. There were no colors, no red, no blue, only real people. She took the helmet off, blinking the darkness away, and looking at it with disgust.

“What did you saw?”

“…Nothing changed. I see you.”

“You see-?”

“I don’t see what I used to see.”

“That’s good! The rehabilitation is-” Fareeha shook her head immediately, making Angela stop her speech.

“It’s not. It’s not…” She repeated. “You do not know why I have to go out there, what I have to do in those small towns. The instruction has always been to eliminate the threats, but now I will know exactly who the threats are... And if what I have been doing is more horrible than I thought? Who I am? I’m afraid to discover I’m a monster and-”

“Stop.” She did, and looked at Angela’s furrowed brow, then the adorable pout on her rosy lips. “You are Fareeha Amari, the one who does the right thing no matter what. The one who taught me to always be strong and chose the right path even if it’s the most difficult one. I trust you, Fareeha.”

A red light turned on above a door, gathering the attention of everybody. It was time. Fareeha felt the nervousness even more when they all began to put on their helmets, separating themselves from reality and anchoring themselves to that fiction that Vishkar made them wear. The place emptied in a matter of seconds and Fareeha was about to retreat too, but a hand on her shoulder spun her around, and Angela's smile was so pure and blinding, something she always longed to see. The doctor's left hand rested on her cheek, a thumb tracing her tattoo with total delicacy.

“May the Gods protect you and guide you to protect those who need it. Return safe and sound, my love. You’ll do the right thing.”

Those words she knew. Her mother recited the same phrase every single time she was out from home. No one else knew them, no one else knew about such an intimate phrase, except this perfect woman in whom she was grateful to have made the right decision to trust her life. Everything would be fine, everything should be fine, and Fareeha should do the right thing no matter what happened.

With one last look back, Fareeha watched her lady stop, hugging herself with a soft smile displayed on her serene face, and with a mouthed ‘I love you’, she said goodbye to her, only for Fareeha to return it back with a ‘me too’. Now it was time.

Once with her helmet on, she stood next to the other Raptoras, who were ready and in position to board the convoy that would take them to an unknown town near the desert. It was chilling to think about it yet, how her friends lost total consciousness and succumbed to the inhibiting power of the helmets, only reacting under the command of a high-ranking voice. Fareeha was not like them right now, she was fully awake, aware, alert, and now that she could see herself and her team on the other side of the mental pond, they really looked like monsters disguised in black.

The group of Raptoras was escorted to the convoy, the five of them settling down on benches and preparing to be taken to an unknown place. The vehicle moved abruptly as it traversed the sandy desert lands, each leap and movement causing Fareeha to feel the tension and turbulence in her throat. Kahlil, their superior, sang the instructions with total serenity, as if it were a walk on the beach and he simply instructed them not to get too far from his sight and have fun in the process. If only it were something as friendly as that.

Another convoy larger and noisier followed their own vehicle, the Mekas following in their footsteps very close to them, ready to use heavy machinery and whatever was necessary to accomplish their task. Fareeha looked down at her hands, squeezing and unclenching her fists to ease the tension a little, until the sound of radio interference in her helmet brought her out of her thoughts via a private line. Tariq's voice sounded different from normal, colder, less emotional, and more synthetic.

Stop doing what you are doing. You are a big girl, you don't need to be nervous since you have done this more times than you would like. Enough.

It's not your place to tell me how I should feel, neither yours nor anyone else's. Why don’t you focus on looking ahead like everyone else and obey like a good soldier?” Fareeha answered through the same line, setting their conversation private and aside from the group.

It seems that worrying about you and giving you advice is an insult. I don’t know what the hell is happening to you, and since that stupid doctor came to Vishkar, everything has changed. You are not the same, you are forgetting your values and keep changing as the wind. I don’t believe a single thing she says, and I’m starting to doubt about your own words as well.

I told you to stop insulting her. And what the heck do you mean with ‘values’? There’s no value in killing only for staying alive for a corporation. And honestly? Now I don’t care if you believe me or not, as long as you don’t involve Dr. Ziegler in your hatred.

You are being ungrateful, Fareeha. I’m trying to help you, to be by your side and support you as much as I can, but you don’t let me get closer to you, even less since she arrived.”

Don’t come to me with that bullshit now. When I needed you the most, when the government and Talon were looking for me, you disappeared. You ran away like a coward when you swore you were going to protect me forever.” She hissed through the radio, not looking at him but rather at the inside metal wall of the vehicle. “My mother was the only person who remained by my side. She gave away everything she had; her home, her job, her friends, just so she could save her daughter. So don’t you come to me with some bullshit that you’re trying your best to show me you are worth. It’s too late, Tariq.

But now I’m here to be with you a hundred perce-

Too late. There’s nothing that ensures me that you won’t ever do the same. So leave Angela out of this and focus on the mission instead.”

“…Angela? Who’s Angela?

Shit.’ She ruined the opportunity. Fareeha felt it as a deja-vu. “Dr. Ziegler’s name is Angela.”

Now you are calling her by her first name?

She’s my friend, it’s natural I'll eventually call her by her first name.”

She’s not your friend. She’s your patron and doctor, you’re her protégé and experiment. The relationship is easy to understand, so don’t get mixed feelings with this ‘friendship’ because you’ll end hurt and-”

For the last time, Tariq. Shut up. Shut up and-

ETA three minutes. Get your equipment ready and wait for your superior’s orders. Any unauthorized movement will be punished via hard-light electroshock therapy.

A mechanical voice filtered through another channel, making both to be silent at the time. Shock therapy she could stand it, she has done it twice. However, the first time she experienced a punishment with such a dose of serum in her veins, the result was discouraging, and it was the beginning of all her nightmares. Literally. The vehicle stopped faster than planned, the minutes flew like particles of dust in the wind, and in a matter of minutes, the five Raptoras were standing outside the vehicle, the Mekas group waiting patiently behind them.

“Raptoras.” Captain Kahlil spoke firmly. All five of them were in a straight line behind a building in a lone alley. “Same day, same mission. Infiltrate to the basement, there is a hidden vault that you must find and of course, clean the way so that the Mekas can take the loot; experimental liquid stolen from Vishkar. The reminder? Eliminate all those threats in red, starting now. Dismissed.”

A nod, and the group of five retreated to the wall, climbing the fire escape from the old building to the roof. Fareeha become the leader a year ago, and her easy command was obvious, so Kahlil soon made her the head of the team and main strategist. The girl knew where to go, and the roof was always the first place, topple the mountain from the tip down to the base. When the five met on the top floor, Fareeha evaluated her position. Five floors, seven windows in each one. Taking her holster glock from her waist, Fareeha clicked a few clasps on it, loading her pistol with a few bullets and feeling the dagger tight inside her boot, she stood up on the edge of the building, and despise the uneasiness on her stomach, she commanded as she had to do.

In position. Infiltrating in three… Two… One…” With a calculated jump, Fareeha got hooked on the roof edge and kicked one of the windows with both feet, breaking the glass and falling into an empty room. The four remaining members of her team followed immediately, stopping quietly despite the noise of the broken glass and the footsteps of their heavy boots, taking their glocks and facing forward. “Proceed.”

The group left through the bedroom door, opening each of the doors in the hall with a thump of their feet on the wood, always pointing to the front. Last floor cleared. Next. The result was the same. Third floor, and there was a man slightly frightened and angry in the hall, quickly being eliminated by Mahmud with a bullet to his forehead. Red, no time for questioning. Clear. Next floor. A woman, and Fareeha wanted to stop. She had utter terror in her eyes, she was shaking like a leaf, immobile due to the fear, and Fareeha couldn’t blame her. She wanted to let her leave, she was an innocent victim, but a bullet from Tariq’s glock ended her life with a single hole in her head.

This was even worse than Fareeha thought.

The second and first floors were filled with life. Men, women, elders, children. Many children. All of them looking at the group of five, their faces showing that of pure fear. The adults were quick to gather as much children as possible, Fareeha getting into another dream all of a sudden, a livid one, except that this one was much closer to a real nightmare. Looking at her surroundings, she could grasp a general idea of the place. Many lone kids and teenagers in a building of one of the poorest areas of the town meant only one thing; an orphanage.

Fareeha couldn’t do it. She couldn’t even think of aiming her gun to a defenseless person. The helmets were doing an amazing job at fogging their will and mind, incapacitating them of distinguishing faces, genders, people, only silhouettes lined either in blue or red, and all the people inside were red. The majority of tenants inside started to move, each adult gathering as much children as they could handle, and the rest of Fareeha’s team aimed. They were blind, Fareeha wasn’t, and she opened her eyes in realization. They were about to kill them all.

Stop…” She said softly, then when a gunshot was heard and a man fell dead on the floor, Fareeha took a step forward, prompting her teammates to stop by stretching her arms at both sides. “Stop!” She yelled this time. “Don’t shoot! Stop! There’s children in here!

You’re interfering with the mission.” Tariq stated. “There’s no children here, only adult who are a treat to Vishkar’s true purpose.

This is an orphanage! Lower your weapons and retreat!” None of them moved, instead, another gunshot was heard, this time hitting a teenage girl on the chest. “Abort! Stop!

Only our superior can give us the order to abort. We must proceed and get to the vault.” Aizad spoke this time.

There’s no vault in here! Stop shooting! I’m the leader of this group, so listen to me and retreat!

Fareeha, you’re interfering with the mission. Dr. Ziegler is messing with your head again.”

She’s doing nothing to me!” She kept yelling so her team could reach the despair in her voice. “You four stop! Please! The helmet is not affecting me, I can see them!

You’re delusional. Step aside, or we’ll have to report this situation.

Report me, punish me, I don’t care! But please, stop! I’m begging you to stop!

As if the four of them were deaf, they aimed again, and began to shoot. A livid massacre involving many underaged humans beings slaughtered. She couldn’t stay and look, she had to do something right now or the consequences could be worse. ‘You’ll do the right thing.’ Angela’s words echoed in her head, she needed to follow her gut and the doctor’s trust. She was capable of trying to do the impossible, and with a mighty will, she remained standing between the civilians and the Raptoras.

Taking her own pistol, she pointed to her teammates as the last warning sign. The five were motionless for a few seconds that felt like hours as the crowd behind Fareeha screamed, cried, scattered everywhere. The movement of some hands with a gun in them made her pay attention to the man when he pulled the trigger, and Fareeha answered in the same way, wounding Saleh in the leg to immobilize him further. What she didn’t expect entirely was Tariq shooting her in the arm, hissing as the heat started to spread.

Go! Go! Get out of here!

Fareeha yelled through the helmet. She couldn’t speak a single word of Hindi, but the movement with her arm prompted them to escape. Luckily, her intentions were properly understood, and all were running to the exit. If it was the last thing Fareeha had to do was face her teammates to save the lives of dozens of innocent lives, she would not hesitate to do so for a second. Loading her glock once more, she ran behind the crowd to protect them if they we’re going to be followed.

Open fire and clear the area.

What Fareeha didn’t expect at all was a searing pain in her left leg, making her stumble when she began to run towards the front door with innocent lives still trying to get out and escape such ordeal. Her left arm was bleeding, her right thigh as well, and despite the pain she felt at the moment, Fareeha was able to get up with difficulty, squeezing her weapon tightly, but one kick made her fall to the ground again, her back hitting the concrete. Three bodies ran by her side directly toward the door, and Tariq's silhouette was the only thing left in front of her.

I can’t allow you to compromise the mission.

And a kick in her head made her faint, everything turning black in seconds.


“You can do it.”

One push up.

“Keep going.”

Another one.

“One more.”

Fareeha's weak and still developing body was screaming for her to stop, her barely noticeable muscles tensed with each lift, feeling the weight of her mother on her back while she was face down doing push-ups, almost kissing the ground due the surpassing weight of her mother's form. Fifteen years, and the words of her family continued to hurt despite the compliments. You are agile, but you aren’t strong enough. Fareeha wasn’t willing to give up and keep proving that she could do and be more.

“One hundred… Very good.”

Her body sweated like never before, the eighty limit was satisfactorily overcome. Ana got off her back, and Fareeha collapsed on the sand, breathing hard and letting her trembling arms rest so they could stop shaking. Everything hurt, from her neck to the tip of her feet, but the reward would be great, that was for sure.

“You did great, my child.”

“Thanks, mom…”

“How are you feeling?”

“I feel…” Terrible, painful, as if her body was made of glass and had fragmented into thousands of pieces. And yet. “…Amazing.”

“That’s the best part, finishing. The reward is always sweet when you put a lot of effort and dedication into something you do. Now it’s your turn, get on my back.”

Fareeha grunted slowly, covering her eyes with her forearm and in spite of the night that already fell, the added darkness that her arm gave her over her face was more reassuring. Ana put herself in a push-up position, waiting for her daughter to climb on her back, and Fareeha obeyed, lying back to back, and watched the stars in front of her. Her body moved down, then up. Her mother’s stamina was impressive, but the fact that her body was lighter than hers had a lot to do with it.

“Fareeha, tell me something you like of a constellation. The sky is clear and precious tonight.” It was. Her eyes, now half-lidded, focused on a long constellation.

“Draco.”

“Draco. That’s a good one. What do you remember of Draco?”

“Draco represents Ladon, the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the gardens of the Hesperides. The golden apple tree was a wedding present to Hera when she married Zeus.”

As she began to talk and feeling the lulling movement of her mother doing push-ups with her in her back, Fareeha began to close her eyes, only to open them when a rough movement of her mother startled her. She opened them, then she closed her eyes again, bobbing her head, trying to remain awake.

“She planted the tree in… In her garden… On Mount Atlas… And tasked Atlas’ daughter with guarding it…” She closed her eyes in sleep.


She opened her eyes.

Everything was bright, her body felt hot, light and heavy at the same time, and a throbbing headache didn't allow her to go back to sleep. When she focused where she was, Fareeha saw her surroundings move, or rather her, being carried by four figures holding each limb, her four teammates. Her body rocked with each step they took, and sudden pain on her arm and thigh reminded her that she was hurt. Looking to the side and below, she could see how a few drops of blood painted the white floor of the corridor.

Fareeha was barely recovering her energies, her body trying to wake up and her mind to clear, and the lights didn’t feel so bright now. The sounds were thunderous, the boots almost crushing the floor with each step, and then several more steps joined, unmistakable voices, full of anger, disappointment and despair. But the voice she most wanted to hear at that moment was not present. The double doors opened wide, and Fareeha's weakened body was deposited in a phlebotomy chair, feeling how her body was leaning slightly back, close to being lying down.

“What?! What in the world happened?!” That was Satya. She was fuming, gripping strongly her usual tablet. A few strands of hair escaped rebelliously from her signature slick braid. And that wasn’t usual. “If nobody explains to me at this very moment what happened in the mission, you will all go to punishment!”

“Ms. Vaswani, RMAF006 didn’t follow the orders once inside the building. She refused to cooperate, put ourselves in danger, and defended the enemy, helping several escape.” It hurt. That was Tariq giving her away.

“It doesn’t explain why I have two wounded Raptoras bleeding in the room and staining my floor!” Satya hissed, looking at Fareeha and then at Saleh, who was holding it together quite impressively.

“She shot him, I shot her in defense. She was restrained before the situation got worse.” Vaswani bit her lip, trying to recollect herself. Breathing steadily, she ordered the rest of the Raptoras to leave the room with a single flick of her arm. Two more scientists were behind her, and she looked at them with anger.

“All this happened because of Ziegler allowing her protégé to get out of control. Restrain the asset and supply her with the hard-light inhibitor serum to see if she’s capable of holding it. This kind of action shall never be forgiven so easily.”

She left the room, and Fareeha’s eyes opened wide. With a scientist on each side, both of them took her wrists and fastened them to the armrests of the chair, following her legs. Fareeha felt the panic immediately, regaining her physical strength and in a moment of pure adrenaline running through her veins, she tried to get away from that grip, uselessly. Satya was behind the glass in the wall, observing her with a predatory look while one of her subordinates approached with a huge syringe with a strange bright blue liquid.

“No… No, don’t do it…” Fareeha begged, her eyes reflecting pure fear as she kept moving from side to side, back and forth, to no avail. It was so close now to her arm, ready to puncture her vein and go into her bloodstream. She knew that pain, she remembers it quite well. “No, no, no. Please, no! No! Stop! No!”

The needle went directly into her skin, flesh and vein, the liquid content disappearing from the barrel. Her scream was tearing at her throat as the liquid burned inside her, making her sweat immediately with every second that passed, and her scream and crying were far from stopping if that kept up. A mouth guard was placed between her teeth without her noticing due to the unbearable pain, and it shut her immediately. Electrodes were placed in both sides of her head, and if as things couldn’t be worse, the electric current coursing through her body paired with the injected serum in her bloodstream was enough to make her faint, to feel her mind numb, to imminently fall into a darkness like no other. To sense her heart beating no more.


She woke up in the middle of nowhere. A place with no walls, with no sky, all covered in white, light and soothing at the same time, giving her a feeling of uneasiness. As much as she wanted something to guide herself to, she could not find anything, and walking, she came nowhere.

‘…Fareeha…?’

The girl heard so far, yet it felt so close.

‘…Fareeha…!”

She looked everywhere for the source of the voice, but she couldn’t find it.

‘…Don’t leave me…!’

Leave? Where? She was in the middle of nowhere. As she took another step forward, she felt her bare foot get wet, touching a clear liquid that quickly started to rise, stopping her in her place as she was slowly sinking.

‘…Don’t you dare, Fareeha…! Stay… Stay…!’

She wanted to stay, but soon enough her legs were covered in water, and the floor holding her broke, feeling like a thin layer of ice on a lake shattering. She closed her eyes trying to escape, trying to stay in the surface, but when she opened them a thin, porcelain hand was above her on the surface. An angelic figure, blonde hair, blue eyes, wearing white, looking ethereal, giving her immediate peace and sense of fulfillment. Fareeha managed to raise an arm, and she stretched her limb, trying to hold her hand.

And she did.

It felt warm despise the cold lake dragging her down, her grip gentle yet strong, enough to let her know she cared for her and she never wanted to let her go. Slowly, Fareeha was able to swim up with her help, but she felt heavier than normal all of a sudden, weak and useless, and the grip on her hand started to loosen. This celestial being shook her head, holding her hand stronger, making her know she wasn’t willing to let go. Fareeha didn’t want to either. However, her hand slipped, and she was covered in darkness soon enough to never see the light of life again.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter X

Then I lost her again

 

The third cup of coffee wasn't enough that night. The caffeine stopped being processed correctly by her fatigued body, tired by the constant worry towards Fareeha and this mission like any other, mainly because the girl showed signs of nervousness and apprehension, something that since Angela arrived at Vishkar, she had not shown. Perhaps, after all, Fareeha had every reason to fear discovering the truth about those missions. And to be honest, Angela as well, but she had to show confidence to perhaps pass on a pinch to her beloved gallant lady to endure such trial.

Sleeping was out of her plans for the moment, and until Fareeha returned safe and sound, Angela could rest fully that night. Therefore, the option that seemed most desirable was to work in the lab starting from the morning that Fareeha left for an unknown town. Missions usually took two days, and maybe taking a nap wasn't such a bad idea considering that information. That was something that would be discussed later with herself.

Standing in front of the work table with a series of various liquids in test tubes, Angela analyzed a sample under the microscope, adjusting the zoom of the device until a clear image of the components inside were shown. The doctor knew that she couldn’t work precisely in her photochemotherapy research in that place, that was out of the question, so working on a new serum -or rather perfecting one already used- seemed an ideal option.

The liquid was yellow, shiny, and even touching it outside the test tube through the glass she could feel a warm and peaceful feeling, positive vibes and a promising future, as ridiculous as it seemed. It might sound as absurd as it came to be, but the serum worked, and her only patient had shown encouraging results since the first dose. Angela felt bad on the inside because the first time she gave her this dose was without her consent, like the rest of them and until that very same day.

Her mind fought between telling Fareeha or keeping the secret, but the second was seen as the best option as she didn’t want to break the trust they had formed with this relationship in secret. Finishing her day with this perfected treatment, she kept a small amount in a test tube, covering it with a cork to analyze it more closely in her office. Angela took her cup of coffee and downed the last contents of it, leaving it on the sink to wash later. She turned off the lights of the empty lab and made her way to the office to drop the serum.

Everything was quiet; corridors, offices, cubicles and other rooms, filled with the uncomfortable silence of the night. Her heels were pretty much every distinct noise that filled that floor, echoing with every step taken. She was close to reach her office door, grabbing the keys from her lab coat as they clinked. The double doors at the end of the hall swung open, revealing a more than upset Mirembe looking everywhere, her dark eyes fixing on Angela’s blue aquamarine once she spotted her.

“Mirembe? Are you okay?”

“Come with me. Now.” The older woman grabbed her wrist, pulling her toward the doors she entered.

“What’s going on?”

“There was a mishap in the mission; two agents wounded by bullets among themselves. They didn’t fail the mission, they met the objective, but they definitely had a problem. I can’t say more until I’m a hundred percent sure.”

Speeding her pace through the halls with Mirembe still holding her wrist, they reached the elevator, the wide space of it suddenly shrinking as Angela’s senses started to tell her something was off, obliviously wrong, and Mirembe letting her go and pressing the elevator buttons with irritability told her as well. The ride seemed to last forever, going from the second floor to the basement’s third floor.

With the little information Mirembe gave her, Angela couldn't clear up many of her doubts. Two agents wounded by firearms, but which group? And more specifically, who? Fareeha was among them? What had happened to cause such action between the members? This and many more questions revolved in her head. All she wanted was that Fareeha wasn't inside that terrifying equation, but this bad feeling told her otherwise.

Once again, everything was as quiet as the night demanded, only the humming of the elevator was the only she heard, and perhaps her heart beating in her ears. Mirembe was moving her foot up and down, making Angela even the more nervous about the whole situation. A soft chime, and the elevator doors swung open, only to be followed by a drowned scream. Tearing, ripping, high pitched and filled with fear and nothing else. Angela felt a shiver run down her spine, following Mirembe when the woman started to walk at a fast pace.

“I-Is that a Meka…?” She had to ask for her sanity, she was getting dizzy by just hearing such a guttural and desperating scream.

“…That’s your protégé.”

Angela stopped in her tracks. She touched her chest, feeling her heart beating faster all of a sudden, and her eyes pleaded to Mirembe to tell her she isn’t, that the person filling the entire floor with her wail wasn’t Fareeha, her ever dedicated, strong and selfless girl. She had never heard Fareeha scream like that, her voice a high pitched tone, easily confusing her with Yuna or any other girl in the place. Fareeha never shouted like that, not even when she felt bullet wounds when she was in service with Angela, and there were several times.

What were they doing to her? What was happening? How much suffering had to happen for her voice to be transformed and was about to materialize in pure fear? She took one step, and then another, beginning to hurry her way, and without realizing it she was running down the corridor, sprinting, looking for the source of the sound and the place that housed her. Without waiting for Mirembe she knew exactly where to go, despite never having visited the place. With each step Angela took, the sound intensified, and it was increasingly painful for the doctor to process it.

She arrived in front of doors, a weary Mirembe regaining her breath as she tried to reach Angela in the place. Her hands tried to take her ID several times, but the shaking of her hands wasn’t helping. Luckily Mirembe stood forward and swept her own ID into the notch, beeping in green and giving her access. The doors opened, and the scream was immediately muffled, but it was definitely there. She faced Satya, standing in an irritated position and looking forward through the glass, Fareeha sitting on the other side as electrodes were being placed in her temples.

“Satya, what is happening?” Mirembe was asking her in quite the untamed voice, something unusual in her. Satya wasn’t looking her back, but her eyes were fixed on the girl trying to free herself, as a blue bright liquid –similar to that of hers- was injected in Fareeha’s bloodstream, making her clench her eyes and start sweating, trembling with every second passing. “You are not giving her th- Satya, stop!”

“If she wants to disobey her superiors’ orders, she knows there’s consequences to such anarchist behavior.”

“This is not the way to punish her! That serum is still in experimental phase!”

“She almost made a disaster out of the mission!”

“Satya, you can kill her!”

“Stop…” Angela begged as the two woman started a heated argument. “Please, stop…” Now she meant to whatever was being done to Fareeha. The machine kept beeping faster each time, her pulse at an impassive rate, the display showing alarming results. Angela’s mind went in full doctor mode, working and analyzing her patient’s vital signs with horror. Uncontrollable muscle spasms, cold sweat, clenched teeth, unusual noises, unconsciousness. The monitor beeping even faster, and Angela’s senses kicked in again. “Stop! Stop!”

Angela ran to the door that led to the room where Fareeha was, not caring about Satya's orders or Mirembe's advice. The door opened abruptly and the two people inside looked back at her with surprise, Angela immediately pushing them away from Fareeha. She tugged on the cable that connected the battery that was giving electrical current to the electrodes and removed the needle from her arm when Fareeha stopped responding, the liquid almost burning her hand as it touched her gloveless fingers.

A seizure. Cardiac arrest. The symptoms were unmistakable, Angela had already seen them several times in the emergency room. The fear that was attacking her sanity now was even more irrepressible, especially while looking at Fareeha motionless, unconscious, and not responding to her voice. Suddenly, she stopped moving when an intermittent sound was heard on the monitor behind her. No pulse. No heartbeat.

“…Fareeha?” Angela called her softly at first, disconnecting the electrodes from her head. She wasn’t moving, the machine kept beeping long and steady. “…Fareeha!”

She was breathing no more. Her body was losing the warmth that she longed for every night. Angela had to push away that part of her that was screaming for her beloved and letting the doctor in her completely take over her mind, although desperation said something else. Thanks to the adrenaline rushing through her veins, she was able to lift Fareeha from the chair and lay her on the floor, ready to perform CPR on her body.

Angela knelt next to her and pinched her nose, blowing into her mouth twice and began chest compressions. One, two, fifteen times. Two more breaths. Four cycles, and Angela rechecked for signs. Nothing. Not a change. Two more minutes, and Angela was growing desperate, trying to maintain the compressions steady. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, mouth to mouth. That wasn’t the way how Angela wanted her lips to touch Fareeha’s once again, never like that.

“Don’t you leave me!” One, two, three, four, five. “Don’t you dare, Fareeha!” Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. “Stay…” Fifteen. “Stay…!” Mouth to mouth, two more breaths. Five minutes, no response. Angela knew very well that that time was her limit, irreplaceable brain damage, but she wasn’t willing to surrender now. She was staying for hours if that’s what was going to take for Fareeha to wake up, to find a pulse, a heartbeat. Anything.

“Ziegler, she’s gone… You have to let her go-” Mirembe reached her, placing a hand on her shoulder only to be slapped away.

“Don’t touch me! Leave me alone! She’s coming back!”

“Angela, you have to let her go! You've been trying to revive her for five minutes!”

“I’m not leaving her! She’s coming back!” She was growing more desperate as the time passed, there was a few drops of sweat trickling down her neck, and she was tired also. “She’ll be fine… She’ll be fine.”

“Tsk… You’re doing no good…” She decided to ignore her and continue with CPR. “Take off, I'll cover you.”

For a moment Angela hesitated, but she really was tired and needed someone to help her while she went for the proper equipment. Fareeha’s body was losing her usual warmth and she was becoming paler by the minute. Despise not wanting to part from her side, she let Mirembe move her to be replaced by her, performing CPR with a steadier speed and force, something Angela was lacking now.

She dropped to the floor, exhausted, more tired than usual, watching as Mirembe tried to revive her. She remained there, looking at her, the tears now came out freely, and she needed to control them. Angela looked for a tissue in her lab coat’s pocket, but her eyes opened wide when instead she felt something cold yet warm, a glass test tube filled with her own experimental serum.

Getting up, she went to a table and got a syringe, filling it shakily with the content of her test tube, tapping the bubbles out of the barrel as she pushed the plunge. It had to work, there was no other way. Running to Fareeha, she pushed Mirembe softly and with a pair of scissors she got from a tray, started to cut the black uniform, exposing her covered chest and moving slightly the fabric of her sports bra, uncovering a small portion of her chest enough to reach her heart with the needle. Angela took a deep breath, and sunk the needle carefully through the flesh, feeling it touch a spongy tissue.

The liquid slowly began to be injected into her heart, a shot of adrenaline that was disappearing from the barrel with each controlled push of the plunge. Once all the content disappeared, Angela retracted the needle and tossed it to the ground, beginning again with the compressions, hoping that it was enough. Nothing mattered more than bringing her back, or Satya screaming at two people to get her out of there, or Mirembe telling her that she was crazy for doing that.

Angela was not going to give up until she felt a pulse, a heartbeat, a breath. After fifteen more compressions, she placed her ear on her chest, waiting and begging to hear a heartbeat. And she heard it. Her eyes widened in surprise and relief, immediately placing two fingers on her neck to check her pulse. Faint, but there it was. Fareeha's chest rose less than a centimeter, and her body began to regain a bit of her normal color.

“I-is she breathing…?” Mirembe asked her astonished. Angela nodded, feeling the tears ran down her cheeks once again, this time carrying a different emotion. “Get her upstairs to a room! Now!” She yelled to a couple of staff members along with Satya. They took a portable stretched and lifted Fareeha with it, running with the unconscious woman to take the elevator and Angela following suit as well, sprinting at her side, looking at her breathe again.


Because she was her assigned doctor, caretaker and patron, Angela had a lot of freedoms and permits with Fareeha lately, and among them was taking care of her and isolating her from everyone, at least until she healed completely. The room was totally empty except for the two, more medical devices than she would have liked, Fareeha having oxygen tubes in her nose as her chest rose quietly, still unconscious, in a coma after more than two weeks. As long as she was alive, Angela didn’t mind how much it could take her to wake up, she would be by her side until she could do no more.

Carefully, she removed the gauze that was covering Fareeha’s tight, checking the bullet wound and tapping the piece of cloth back when she saw it healing successfully, doing exactly the same with her arm. She remained always at her side, dragging a chair the moment Fareeha was placed on the bed, and she refused to leave. Angela started to neglect herself even more, avoiding lunch as not to leave Fareeha alone for a long time, even a shower seemed bothersome enough.

She was a mess, inside and outside. On one hand she was tired as never before, never did a patient of hers demand so much of her time and effort than Fareeha was needing right now, or rather Angela needing to remain by her side. On the other hand, the lab coat had more stains than normally acceptable, she wore the same clothes for two to three days, and her hair was a matted mess tied in a ponytail. Her eyes had dark bags under them, she looked paler, thinner, weaker, but as long as she could remain by Fareeha’s side, it was all worth it in her mind.

Angela needed to be there the second Fareeha woke up. She sat on the same chair she always did and leaned forward, propping her arms over the mattress and next to Fareeha, nestling her head over them, ready to take another quick nap. She closed her eyes and started to drift when a knock on the door startled her and she got up to answer it. Tiredly, she opened it to reveal an annoyed Mirembe with a visible frown. Angela was used to her reprimands as of lately.

“For the love of God, Ziegler. Take a break, eat breakfast, take a shower and go to sleep. I’m taking over her now.” Angela shook her head, closing the door when Mirembe stepped inside.

“No, it’s fine. I still need to check on her.”

“She’s in a coma, she’s not going anywhere.” Angela huffed, tired of her scolding.

“Is there something you need? Or else I’ll ask you to leave.”

“You’re a mess of a woman. What was the last thing you ate?”

“I don’t know. A chicken sandwich.”

“The one I brought you? That was almost two days ago when I left. This ain’t healthy, Angela, you need to eat properly and rest.”

“It’s okay, I’m drinking water.”

“You don’t live alone on water. You need food, you are neglecting yourself and when Fareeha wakes up, what do you think will happen? She’ll see a woman in terrible conditions, you will only make her feel worse with her doing whatever she did.” Mirembe had a very valid point, what Angela least wanted was for Fareeha to wake up and worry more, she would surely scold her even after being unconscious for weeks. Nodding slightly, she gave Mirembe a reason.

“Okay… I’ll go get some breakfast, take a shower and perhaps a quick nap…”

“Good, I’ll watch over her. She’s going nowhere.” Both smiled, Angela ready to leave the place and try to take care of herself. Something irked her and she stopped before opening the door.

“That reminds me, do you have any idea why Fareeha attacked? I'm sure she had a very good reason to do so.” Mirembe just raised an eyebrow, taking the same chair where Angela was sitting previously.

“Why do you think that?”

“The helmet… It wasn’t working on her.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were doing the last checkup and Fareeha was still herself. She said she could recognize everyone, she could recognize me... So I'm intrigued to know what really happened so that she, fully aware, was able to shoot her teammate and try to stop the mission.”

“That’s not what the helmet does, was it a malfunction?” Angela shook her head.

“I doubt it, but since the helmet reacts in pair with the hard-light serum in her body, it could made it useless.”

“That could be a possibility… I’ll ask Fio for the recordings. But first, take care of yourself and come back when you’re rested.” A nod, and Angela left the room for the first time in four days.

She really was neglecting herself, her head throbbed with every step she took, and the cafeteria wasn’t exactly close. She opted to go to her bedroom, take a bath and feed herself once clean and presentable, being locked up with Fareeha for four days wasn't healthy, but her body and mind refused to separate from her. Once in her bathroom, Angela undressed tiredly, shedding off her lab coat, shirt and pants, only remaining in underwear and looking at herself in the mirror she could easily see how bad she was treating her shell. Ignoring that, she went into the shower, cleaning herself quickly to leave the place and head to the cafeteria.

She wasn’t hungry, she didn’t want to eat now, and flopped herself on the bed, letting the sleep catch on her, which was fast and effective. Her dreams were focused more than anything on formulas and her, always Fareeha. She saw them both in the apartment, both returning home. Angela took her time trying to figure out how she could get her out of there without causing a big mess, how she could get her back home. Their home.

Angela woke up after a three-hour nap, desperate to have wasted so much time sleeping when she promised herself to do it for a couple of hours only. One more hour lost. She quickly changed into a decent outfit to head to the cafeteria in the same way, taking breakfast as soon as possible in order to return to Fareeha's side. Once opening the door of the room where the girl was, she definitely not expected the surprise that would await her.

“What are you doing here?” Tariq looked back at her, Angela’s face that of a mix of anger and worry. “Get out.”

“I came to see her. I’m her teammate, I think I have enough rights to visit my friend.”

“Well, you have some guts coming here after you shot her twice.” Angela was visibly challenging him, and he answered in the same way, standing up from the chair and crossing his arms.

“I did what I had to do in order to complete the damn mission.”

“And I can see how much of a friend you are.” The doctor walked to him, standing in front of the man and looking at him with a more than defiant look, ready to snap at any given moment. “Leave. Now.”

“I’m not leaving, she’s my teammate and I care for her.”

“I don’t give a damn, get the hell out of here.”

“Are you seriously kicking me out?” He started raising his voice. “I’m her friend! Something she seems to be lacking of in this place while you snatch her all the time!”

“Excuse me?! You are just not coming to this room to start pointing fingers at me! You are the one who hurt her and subsequentially put her in this bed! You don’t even deserve to look at her!”

“And what makes you think you’re deserving her attention more than we, her teammates, her family, do?! Just because you think you own her?! That’s it?! She means nothing to you, she’s just your experiment and you wanna keep playing with her!” She took a step forward, facing Tariq at eye level, the intensity that was in her eyes even overpowering her emotional control.

“For starters I’m not her owner nor anyone else in this goddamn land! I don’t own anyone and nobody- listen to me, nobody owns Fareeha! And don’t you dare ever again to put your words in my mouth or hers! You don’t know what she means to me! So get the hell out of here before I personally and literally kick you out of the room!” The door opened, and Mirembe –carrying a laptop- was standing in the doorway looking at both of them yell at each other.

“What in the world is happening here? Would you have some respect for the sleeping beauty in here, please?”

“Get out, Tariq. And you too, no one is allowed here anymore.”

“Angela would you-”

“Get the hell out of here!”

“Would you at least listen to me and see that I brought what I promised you before?” Weighing her options, Angela stopped and looked at Mirembe in the eyes, earning a pleading look.

“I want you to leave, Tariq, and I want you to step inside for five minutes, then you can leave as well. No one is allowed inside here ever again once you leave this place.” She didn’t wait for anyone to retort her, and Tariq left the place, giving her another threatening look before opening the door prior leaving. Angela knew it wasn’t the last of him, but she had to state who she was and how important she was taking Fareeha’s care. “Get inside, Mirembe.”

“Your command, Dr. Ziegler.” She closed the door and sat in front of a table, Angela dragging the chair next to Fareeha and sitting next to Mirembe. “This is the deal. Nobody knows that Fio gave me this, not even that she managed to take these recordings. Unfortunately she only managed to recover the audio, the videos are encrypted and it’s out of our reach.” A nod. “To be honest, I've never heard a recording, not even Satya. She has the power to do so, but refuses since she states is a waste of time and thus, of resources.”

“Proceed, please.” A finger moved to a key, and with a press, the sound of voices and background noises began to play. If mild, there was some interference, distorting some of the conversation. “This is creepy… Now I’m glad I didn’t listen to them before.”

‘In position. Infiltrating in three… Two… One…’ Fareeha’s voice, even though normally collected and calm, seemed to be hidden a hint of fear, Angela feeling it clear as day. After a few more minutes of just hearing footsteps, Angela was growing tired, Mirembe even more so.

“Why do they have to speak in Arab? I can’t understand a single thing over here, for God’s sake. Do you speak Arab?” Angela shook her head and Mirembe grunted. More footsteps, and more of the same. The older woman stood up, pacing in the room and waiting for some more as Angela kept hearing Fareeha’s breathing. “How long until-?”

‘Stop. Stop! Don’t shoot! Both scientists looked at each other. ‘Stop! There’s children in here!

“No…” Angela covered her mouth in horror. “Tell me they didn’t-”

‘This is an orphanage, for fucks sake! Lower your weapons and retreat! Abort! Stop!’

Suddenly, a gunshot was heard, then another, and Fareeha's grunts filled the audio, trying to suppress the urge to scream. Angela could easily feel the pain in her limbs, both treated by her, wounds carefully taken care with her unparalleled affection for her. Mirembe stood up once the audio recording stopped, covering her mouth with a clenched fist. Angela simply stayed sitting, looking at the screen, then at Fareeha.

"She tried to stop them..." She whispered. "She tried to do the right thing and yet... And yet they punished her and put her in that bed..."

"Ziegler, you better-" Angela stood up, her face contracted and red, brows knot, fists clenched.

"They killed her! And it was a miracle she came back! I don't even know what's going to happen now! So don't tell me to calm down!"

"All I'm trying to say is that you have to think things better, don't rush, don't get crazy, clear your mind." Angela relaxed for a second, tensing all over again.

"You're right... I need to be alone with her only. Leave the room, no one is allowed here but me."

"That I can't promise you if Vaswani is lurking around."

"You let me deal with Satya, the rest is not allowed."

Listening to her and taking the laptop back in her hands, Mirembe left the room, leaving Angela alone with Fareeha once again. She felt the tears threatening to run down, but wept them immediately, she wasn't going to cry in front of her lover, even if she was unconscious. Dragging the chair back at her side, Angela sat next to her and placed a hand on top of Fareeha's one, squeezing a little in reassurance.

"I'm so proud of you... You did the right thing, Fareeha, you always stood for what you thought was right... I could never be prouder of you, I just want you to wake up so I can take you out here." She leaned forward, placing her cheek on the matress. "Please..." She closed her eyes, trying to rest a little bit more, only to feel slight pressure in her hand. Angela almost stood up frightened, but as soon as she realized it was Fareeha's hand squeezing hers back, she retracted. "F-Fareeha...?"

Angela didn't wanted to move, expecting Fareeha to do any other movement by herself. And then, another movement, soft yet strong enough to latch her fingers with her, digits intertwined, hand pulled closer to her. Angela looked at the hand, tiny droplets of tears trickling down her eyes, then she looked up, at her face, only to face deep amber eyes partly open and staring her back.

"Hi..." It came as a whisper, but a word enough to spark an insurmountable happiness again in Angela's heart.

"Oh my goodness..."

"I had a weird dream, Angie..." She whispered again, Angela getting up and hugging her body with all might. "I'm sorry, I-"

"Shut up, it's not your fault. It's not. The only things that matter now is that you're here, that you're alive and you're awake... I thought I lost you again..." A hand stroked her back slowly, caressing the slenderness of her body.

"I'm here..." Angela let her breathe, sitting next to her and wiping the tears dripping down to her lap and chest. "Angie? Are you okay?"

"You ask me if I'm okay after you have been in a coma for two weeks?" She chuckled and composed herself, taking a deep breath. "You are unbelievable... I'm better now. How are you feeling?"

"I'm thirsty..." Angela got up quickly, taking a water bottle from the mini fridge and twisted the cap open, taking Fareeha's chin and tipping the bottle into her mouth, prompting her to drink. Slowly, half the bottle was emptied. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. How are you feeling? Are you hungry?" A shake of her head. "Do you need anything else?"

"You."

“That’s very sweet, but I’m being seriou.”

“So am I. Can you lie down with me?” Fareeha asked her, slightly moving her hand and signaling the doctor. “I’m tired.”

“Then rest.”

“Not until you join me.” Angela sighed, smiling all the while, and complied to Fareeha’s request, lying down next to her and hugging her body as not to fall off. “It wasn’t that difficult, wasn’t it?”

“More than you think.”

“How so?”

“I feel you so fragile…” Angela’s hand rested peacefully on top of Fareeha’s abdomen, stroking softly the covered skin with her thumb. “I feel like the wrong touch might… Might separate you from me again.”

“Thank you.”

“...Thank you?”

“I had a weird dream, I told you… I fell into a frozen lake, I was drowning and you tried to reach me… Tried. And I fell, and everything went dark…” Angela’s hand clenched in a fist, her eyes closed, trying to suppress the urge to feel more than that. “But then I opened my eyes and you were there, with me inside the lake, and you took my hand and pulled me to the surface… You saved me.”

“You died…” Fareeha stopped talking, almost holding her breath. “For several minutes and I- I tried to bring you back, but you stopped breathing, your heart stopped beating and you had no pulse, you had no life, I saw you dead and… I can’t, Fareeha, I can’t do it anymore… I can’t lose you for a third time…”

“Don’t cry, I’m here. I’m never leaving you again.”

Slowly, Fareeha was able to sit up, taking the oxygen tubes out of her nose and, although with difficulty, managed to pull Angela to her side, sitting the same, and the doctor's heart began to beat strongly, her cheeks turning red, and when Fareeha took her face with both hands and she kissed her softly, again felt an immense relief navigate her body. Angela responded in the same way, tenderly, trying to retain as many emotions as her beloved could grant her, and with ease, Fareeha provided.

“I promise you to never leave you ever again, that was the worst mistake I’ve ever done in my life.” It perked Angela, blinking a couple times.

“Do you remember something?”

“You can tear that letter because I’ll go back to you no matter what.”

Angela’s eyes lit up when Fareeha smiled and pulled her back to her lips. It felt eternal, just the two of them sharing a moment of intimacy longed for quite the time, Angela taking care of her like she never took care of anyone else and even when it was a selfish wish, she only desired to put her whole attention in the girl trying so hard to hold her and show her how much she wants her. It was time to get out of there, and the plan was near to be finished.

The doctor parted from the show of affection when she felt she needed air, taking a big breath, only to be pulled back by Fareeha. Angela laughed at the attitude of her patient, Fareeha simply smiling but not caring, but when she pulled Angela and laid her on top of her, the doctor began to worry.

“Fareeha, what are you doing? I’m-”

“I want to hold you longer, I missed you.”

“I missed you too…” She looked at Fareeha for a beat, looking intently into her eyes, dark with affection and want in them. “I love you…”

“I love you too.”

And she didn’t need Fareeha’s hands to pull her back, for she slowly lowered her head and began kissing her again, and again, until her lips demanded more, her hands roamed for warm skin, her senses. She let herself be taken, be grasped of every part her body and a pair of arms surrounding her waist, feeling her closer. Neither of them heard the door open, nor the fact that a man was standing in the doorway looking at them, until he spoke and startled both of them.

“Fareeha…? What the fuck is going on…?!”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter XI

How I had to start again

 

It felt like an eternity, such deep state of sleep and no rest, no dreams. The water was heavy, the darkness pulling her deeper, further to the nothing, and she felt it, an emptiness like never before. Fareeha gave up, she knew she couldn't reach the surface by herself, and it was only when hope reached her when a form -an angelic figure- dove next to her, swimming down and stretching an arm to reach her, taking her arm with her slender hand and pulling her up to the surface, the presence of light blinding her, and before she could undress herself of a water body, Fareeha opened her eyes only to see someone squeezing slightly her hand, meeting a blonde somewhat disheveled head affectionately holding her. There weren't words enough to describe the feeling of having her there, both in her dreams and real life.

Both the angel who, in her sleep, never stopped telling her stories from her past, from a gap of time five years ago, of the perfect life both could have. That's why Fareeha never hesitated to take her in her arms, to remind her that both Angela was hers and vice versa, for Fareeha was now beyond doing the impossible to make happy the woman who saved her quite a few times and actually brought her back from the death. What she definitely didn't expect was a man interrupting, standing still in the doorway looking astonished, baffled, even disgusted at seeing them both embracing and kissing each other affectionately, and in bed nonetheless. Her ex-boyfriend, her friend, a past fling and her current teammate staring at them wasn't an experience to forget.

"What is going on?' Angela flopped to the side almost startled, but there was a tinge of annoyance in her face when she got up and straightened her lab coat.

"It's good to know you listen to your superiors command."

"You are not my superior.”

"And yet I outrank you." A beat. "You should be glad that Fareeha is awake, yet you are judging me for my actions.”

"So you were harassing her."

"What?! How could you...!" Angela was fuming, the flush in her face was no longer of excitement but that of rage. "I could never hurt her and here you are claiming I do, the one who actually shot her twice!"

"I did it because she went crazy for whatever shit you gave her! It was for her own good!"

"You called her a liar! You doubted her when she needed you the most!" The yelling only increased, making Fareeha's headache increase in intensity. "And stop claiming that I'm drugging her! You don't know the truth and you are not entitled to say anything she doesn't want to!"

"And how can I believe her?! You are doing ruthless things to her! The moment you took her as your protégé she changed!"

"Stop both of you." Finally, Fareeha managed to speak, scolding both of them with her gaze, eyebrows furrowed, lips drawing a thin line. "And for the Gods, Tariq, stop blaming Angela for something she hasn't done." He seemed hurt, and who couldn't blame him.

"Are you seriously defending her over me? Your teammate?"

"Yes."

"What happened to the Fareeha who claimed to protect all those below? To never trust in anyone from Vishkar?"

"She's still here."

"I don't see it, I see you defending a doctor who doesn't care about you and-"

"I'm defending my girlfriend."

There was quite the awkward moment where no one dared to speak, even Fareeha seemed to weight such statement that fell so easily from her lips. Her girlfriend, a relationship, something she longed to have with her and due to many unconceivable events and countless events, neither could claim such a bond, only lovers. And perhaps it was late, but Fareeha loved her beyond reason, and there was no doubt that Angela did as well, the doctor pushing the boundaries of death to bring her back.

"...What?" Tariq finally spoke, and Angela's face showed endless love, walking back to her side and taking her hand, her fingers intertwined, acknowledging. "Tell me you mean it as she's your friend and nothing else..."

"I love her." Fareeha said easily, the grip on her hand tightening. "Since the day I met her five years ago, I’ve always loved Angela."

"She was your employer-"

"And I fell in love with her. Do you have a problem with us?"

Angela's accent was more prominent and rough. Fareeha, knowing how relatively calm Tariq has always been, never expected the following. He looked at Fareeha with absolute disgust, then at Angela with rage, and he shook his head in disapproval.

"I should’ve known... Since the moment I met you back here I should’ve known that you're a fucking dyke."

"Hey, stop-"

"Everything I did for you was worth nothing for both of us and you don't know what it's coming, Fareeha. I hope it was worth for you letting me fuck you to hide it from everyone else."

Before Fareeha could say something back to defend herself, Tariq left the place and closed the door with a thud, both women almost feeling as if the door was about to break. Fareeha closed her eyes and let herself fall on the bed with a grunt, almost pulling her catheter from her body. Angela sat next to her and sighed, leaving space to Fareeha to think, speak, and whatever it would take for her to ease her mind.

"Angela, I-"

"Sleeping with a man, Fareeha Amari?"

"Eh-" she swallowed hard. How could she explain it to her? She didn't notice, but quite the time passed that she didn't say anything, and Angela cleared her throat, lifting and eyebrow. "I... I can't explain... B-but it didn't felt good! I swear, I-" Another occurrence, and Angela burst in laughter.

"Calm down, it's okay. You were trying to recover part of who you are, and perhaps I could have done the same if I was in the same situation as yours."

"So... You're not angry?"

"I am upset, yes. But I also understand your position."

"...You do?"

It baffled Fareeha, but when Angela lurked back to the bed, straddling her hips with such a sway of her own and a provocative gaze, she knew she had something planned. Fareeha grunted almost in a moan when Angela moved her hips on top of her stomach, feeling the heat of her crotch making her hot immediately.

"Starting now, Amari, you are mine. Only mine." Just a tiny amount of blue could she see in her eyes, painting black her desire for her.

"Yes..." Fareeha breathed.

"Yes? Yes what?" Another movement of her hips, swaying, teasing.

"Yes, ma'am..."

"Good girl." Angela got off and straightened herself.

"You are cruel."

"And you called me your girlfriend without even asking me." She fixed her ponytail and looked Fareeha sideways, a smirk on her face.

"T-That was more than anything to make things clear to him and not to keep insisting on all this 'drugged' nonsense..."

“Really? Well, I was wishing for the day you'll actually ask me. And before you do, yes."

"...Yes?"

"Yes, I want to be your girlfriend. Yes, I still want us to live together in our apartment. Yes, I want us to have a life together back with the guys, with our jobs, with our family. But not now.” Angela turned around and looked at her intently.

“Not now…”

“Not until I get you out of this place, and I can't do that until you're fully healed.”

“So that's a promise.”

“One I'm willing to fulfill.” They both shared a smile, Fareeha nodding. A knock on the door startled both of them, Angela sighing and answering it.

“The idiot who shot her told me she's awake.” Mirembe asked Angela through the door ajar, the blonde looked back and Fareeha nodded once more.

“She is, come on in.” The doctor stepped aside, letting the older scientist get inside. Mirembe reached her side and sat on the chair Angela was sitting before.

“How are you feeling, girl?”

“Ill be fine, I guess.”

“Ready for the next mission?”

“Mirembe!” Angela said loudly and scared, but both Fareeha and Mirembe laughed.

“Relax, Ziegler. She's not going anywhere, less with a useless arm and leg.”

“Don't say that…”

“I'm okay, Angie.”

“I know, you will.” Mirembe quirked an eyebrow and looked at Fareeha. She understood her mistake immediately. “Mirembe, can you make her company for a while? I need to run some errands.”

“Sure.”

“My thanks. I'll be back, Fareeha.” The girl nodded and smiled before she disappeared. It took her some time to take her eyes off the door.

“Ain't you two so close, hm? Sneaking around at midnight and thinking I don't notice when you give her those looks and so does she?”

“...Excuse me?”

“Oh my God, do you think I'm that stupid? I'm older but far from being blind! She took care of you for weeks, she never left your side except a few times just because I was forcing her to eat.”

“She… Has that tendency of neglecting her body.”

“You love her.” It was more an affirmation than anything.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps doesn’t exist regarding that, you either love her or not. And your mother has told me you are more than fond to this girl, am I wrong then?” Fareeha chuckled and fell back in bed.

“So mom told you…”

Mirembe was always a very attentive person with her, an old friend of her mother in which they met in Helix just as Mirembe began to get the hang of the world of medicine, interested at the end in other areas that Fareeha barely understood, maybe Angela would be the only that would. For the moment, there was only to be trusted in her, the one that her mother sent discreetly to square her inside Vishkar.

“She’s tried hard to stay in contact with you. But you know.”

“I know…” She can’t. The moment Ana Amari steps inside Vishkar, even a sound or a mention of her name and everything would become even worse for Fareeha. “Someday I'll meet with her again.”

“Someday will be closer than you think. For the moment, how about you take some rest? I'm sure Dr. Ziegler will be more than eager to let you recover.”

“That seems ideal, I'm honestly so tired…”

“Then sleep.” Mirembe patted twice Fareeha's thigh softly. “She'll be back, she's watching over you.”

“She always does…”


Running, sprinting through the desert, carrying as much of their home as they could in a backpack and a few duffel bags. It felt like years of escaping from the grasp of Hakim, and perhaps it was, for her mother one night ran into their home, took a few bags hidden somewhere in their house and started packing.

Packing the best of the life they gathered in Egypt.

So one night, Ana Amari woke up her daughter, rummaging the drawers, packing as many photographs and awards, memories and recognitions, all of them hidden between stashes of clothes inside the bags, not minding that her daughter had barely any clothes to wear that night. Eighteen years old, and Fareeha -wearing proudly a fresh tattoo under her eye not dissimilar to that of her mother, a tattoo she earned- didn't know how much her life was about to change.

“Mom…?” Sleep was still in her voice and she tried to clear her sight, rubbing one eye as she leaned on her other arm. “What's going on?”

“Pack everything, Fareeha. We're leaving, now.”

“Leaving? Where?” Her tone switched to that of worry upon looking at her mother desperately stuffing the backpack with pieces of cloth. *What's going on?”

“Hakim and his men is what's happening. If we don't leave, they're going to kill us just like the rest. Half the family is dead, Fareeha, and I'm not willing to let us become part of such statistic.” Fareeha got on her feet, helping her mother by grabbing her own stuff.

“Where are we going?” Ana stopped, looking at her hands, and then proceeded to keep going.

“With your father. There's no other way or place where we can escape and be safe.” Fareeha now stopped grabbing her stuff, looking at the shirt she held in her hands. She knew her mother wasn't especially fond of her father even when she knew Fareeha adored him. So it had to be a more than serious situation for them to run and hide back in Canada.

“Okay…”

Time was lost when they heard gunshots so near them followed by screams and cries, both mother and daughter looked at each other and knew exactly what to do. Taking their bags, they went to the window, and even when the ground was far from them, both climbed down with amazing speed and technique, reaching the sand beneath.

And they ran.

They ran from their home, from the sand, from their family, from the gunshots, from the blood, from their now past life. They ran from death once more and found an open window, one being opened by her mother while meeting a man in the army, the one who invited her to join Helix Security International, the one who she took as a younger brother, the one who was her best friend, the one named Jack Morrison.

Fareeha kept running, grabbing a hijab from her mother and wrapping the cloth around her head just like her mother to hide her identity, running under the stars and the constellations she adored to watch on nights such as that one. But not anymore. Her feet hurt under the weight of her own body and those of the backpacks she carried after an hour of walking, and she was about to surrender and give up escaping, until the horizon greeted her with a trail of train tracks.

She need no words to know what they were about to do.

Her mother’s friend, a tall man with blonde mane and an overall soothing aura waited for them at the station, lone and deserted except for him. He waved back at the two and Ana almost ran to him, prompting Fareeha to follow her, and she followed. Embraced in a tight hug, Ana gave him a pat in the shoulder and he smiled fondly, then looking past her mother and to the younger lady there, nodding and approaching her.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m Jack Morrison, your mother has always talked highly of you any time she has the oportunity.” He extended a hand for her to take.

“Oh, Jack… But it’s true.” They both shared a chuckle, Ana looking at her daughter. “I am proud of my daughter.” Fareeha simply smiled and returned the shake firmly with a hint of shyness.

“Fareeha Amari.”

“You look like a true doppelganger younger version of your mother.”

“Heh thank you, but she is way prettier than me. I look a lot like my father.” She shrugged, believing strongly her words. Ana Amari was a though, intimidating yet beautiful woman, both on the inside and the outside. Fareeha was constantly compared to her, and her mother always excelled, she could never reach her level. It didn’t matter, as long as she was a ten percent of what her mother was, she was more than happy with her life.

“She kinda looks like her father, it’s true. Still, she has that beautiful pout of her mother, doesn’t she?”

“Stop, mom…”

“Embarrassing your daughter is truly a full time job, isn’t it?” Jack commented, laughing and teasing Ana. “Your mother has also told me about your skills. We at Helix would really love to have your expertise, we kinda need experimented agents. What do you think?”

“Helix? As in Helix Security International?”

“The very same. I left the army to join HSI, right now I have some business in Busan, but if you want to take my offer, we can arrange something between us. Your mother has already accepted mine, it’s up to you to take ours.” For a moment Fareeha pondered on the idea of becoming an agent and actually being paid for her job, but even more, being recognized. The idea didn’t sound bad at all, perhaps it was time for a better change and to not waste the skills and knowledge she gathered over the years. Perhaps this time she could actually buy a motorcycle like the one she saw in Cairo and fell in love with it.

“Once we settle I’ll make my decision, but it doesn’t sound unappealing at all.”

Jack nodded and smiled, both Ana and Fareeha doing the same. Their shared moment died when a whistle in the far east roared, earning the attention of the three. The first train of the day, the sun barely painted the horizon with a pink and orange hue signaling the sunrise. Fareeha was more than tired and she couldn’t wait to take a good deserving nap once she settled in their seats. Ana sighed and looked at Jack, hugging him tightly once the train stopped at the station.

“We’ll see each other again, Ana. Stay safe.”

“You too stay out of trouble, Jack.”

“Fareeha, I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

“I’m sure we will.”

She nodded and smiled, following her mother inside the train and grabbing all her luggage, loading it in the nook above them and sitting back in her seat once the train started to move. Fareeha saw her mother sigh and prop her chin on her hand, looking outside the window and sighing. It was easy to see that she missed their home already, and making a new one wouldn’t be easy.

And thus, as a sign of affection, of remembrance and support, Fareeha sat next to her and put her head in her mother’s lap, bringing a smile to her as she began to comb her hair with her fingers, running her digits through black strands. It scared Fareeha to death, but as long as she was with her mother, nothing else mattered.


Two more weeks since she woke up from such a long sleep, and things seemed to get worse inside Vishkar.

People were running from side to side, from a place to another, dragging machines Fareeha had no idea of what they were for or the exact purpose of them. The place had an overall sense of frustration and despair, and for the first time in almost that month of her staying in that room, she wanted to remain inside and stuck to that bed once again.

However, Angela was by her side when she opened the door, and reassured her with a soft squeeze of her hand, looking at her with unparalleled love and showing her the way by taking her by the hand, up to the elevator and up to her office, the place where everything started once again inside of Vishkar, and the place where she met her for a second time.

“Things have changed a lot since… The incident.” Angela started, taking a seat in her own chair and inviting Fareeha to do the same in the one across the desk. “Nobody feels safe now. Your teammates, your friends in the underground, specially that little girl- Hana, she’s reported to be constantly frightened without your presence.”

“She gets anxious pretty easily.”

“That I could see, and Mirembe has been eager to make me note it.”

“So is that bad.” Angela hummed, rubbing the back of her head.

“I wouldn’t call it that bad, but it’s definitely getting worse. Things have never been exactly perfect, but when the rumors of your supposed death –which was true- spread like flames, the people in the underground wanted to rebel themselves, but your pink-haired strong friend eased them. We owe her a lot.”

“Zarya knows we can’t do a revolution just like that. Vishkar has the weapons, we depend solely on our strength, and even when Aleks is the strongest of the place she could never hurt anyone, she’s too pure. If only I could make everybody realize that mistake…” A hand was placed on top of hers, earning her attention immediately.

“Everything will be alright.” She smiled and nodded.

“I know.”

“After we discuss a few things, you are fully discharged and ready to go back down. First, I want to know how you are feeling.”

“Regardless…?”

“Everything. Your mind, your body, your feelings…”

“I remember a lot now… As if what they did to me reset my brain or something but, I definitely remember so much now. It helped that you told me stories when I was sleeping.”

“Y-You heard that…?” It felt strange, but Fareeha did. Even when her eyes were closed, her body didn’t respond and her mind was somewhere tucked in a dark space of existence, she recognized Angela’s voice through the nothing, dancing across limbo and holding her hand.

“Yeah… Isn’t that weird?” Angela shook her head, a few droplets tricking down her cheek.

“Not at all. I know that happens and I hoped that would be the case with you, so I always kept talking to you and it also eased me, so… I’m so glad it worked on you.”

“Thank you, Angela.”

“Anytime…”

Angela got up before she could cry anymore and wept the tears threatening to escape once again. She got up and went to the medicine cabinet, taking a few boxes of medicine and putting them aside, reaching for a first aid kit on the back and taking it back into the desk, placing it between them. As she opened it, the doctor took a few papers from there, documents, and spread them wide on the desk, showing Fareeha what it was all about. Maps, coordinates, places marked and a trail in red.

“Once we get out of here, this is the route we take.” Angela said in one of the most serious tones Fareeha had ever heard her saying. “We’ll get over the plan a couple times. Take a good look since this is the only time we’ll get through it. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It felt like an hour or so of them discussing about whether route to take; the easiest, the safest, the shortest, there was none that could circle the three of them. The places involved many, including Illios, Paris, London -places where Angela had certain contacts and liberties- even Cairo and Giza as much as Fareeha hated the idea to return. The methods as well involved traveling by car, train, plane, and staying in a hostel in the outskirts of the city, but Angela refused immediately to sleep somewhere as unsafe as the outdoors and preferred the comfortable way of a luxurious hotel. In the end, they reached an agreement both were particularly not hating it, as none seemed to be the best.

Once with the idea settled in their minds, Fareeha said her goodbye to the doctor and parted down to the basement, taking the elevator down to the last basement floor. She needed a shower urgently and anything related to her personal hygiene. The elevator rumbled slightly as usual as she went further down, and to the last floor it stopped. Fareeha made a beeline to her quarters and luckily they were empty, not a soul was on the halls which was strange.

Nonetheless, she took a few clothes from the drawers and went to the shower, turning the hot and cold lever to combine the water at the perfect temperature her body demanded as of now. It felt as if all the layers of stress on her body were washed down minute by minute, only remaining perhaps a couple of them that only a certain blonde was able to take away wholly. After what felt like hours of being under the warm stream of water, Fareeha changed to her usual uniform, feeling a touch of familiarity and repulsion when touching the shirt with her code engraved in white.

Her stomach growled after days of having pretty much nothing on her stomach, so heading to the cafeteria was a good option. And again, not a soul on her way and she knew why when she opened the doors: absolutely everyone was there, stuffed and surrounded by a somewhat scandalous table which was mixed with several languages that Fareeha did not understand, but only two excelled for her. No one seemed to notice her, until when she got closer and cleared her throat she could get everyone's attention.

“What are you gossiping around?” She said before being tackled by a small figure, one she used to feel wrapped around her frame by an insecure barely-adult Korean girl.

“Reeha! You’re alive!”

“Of course I’m alive. Do you really think it takes that little to kill me?”

“Last time we heard…” She stopped, looking down and releasing her. “We were scared, we didn’t know if you-”

“It’s okay, I’m here.”

It felt undeniably different, the whole place had an atmosphere of fear and anger mixed with something that Fareeha still couldn’t decipher. While she understood part of her anger, she knew well that whatever it was they had in mind wasn’t the right thing to do, and Zarya, sitting uncomfortably at the table, could not ask for help so desperately with her gaze. And thus, she approached her, sitting next to her as the people surrounding her scooted to give her a seat. It felt as she still had the leadership of the place.

“Now tell me what’s going on.” Saleh was the first to speak.

“Okay first of all… You can’t come back from the death and ask us what’s going on. Do you realize that you’re here alive when we thought you died for good?”

“The important thing is that I’m here. Now tell me, what in the world are you planning to do?” Everyone looked at each other, then at Fareeha. No one spoke, so Zarya did it for them.

“Since the mission that left you incapacitated for weeks, they all became irritable and fear for their lives, I do not blame them. They want to start a revolution, but I say it’s ridiculous, we can’t do that.”

“If we unite we can easily do it! We have the strength to defeat them and get out of here!”

“Saleh, she’s right.” Fareeha spoke, and everyone turned their heads towards her. She felt intimidated, but she had to stand her ground. “We don’t have the resources to escape. We don’t have weapons, we don’t have equipment, we don’t know where we are, and to escape from here is to lose ourselves in the desert and die. In addition, Vishkar has all the resources to stop us and kill us at will. Remember that we have this necklace that can stop us at any time.”

“Us? You are wearing no necklace, Fareeha.” She stopped and touched her neck. Bare, clean. It felt odd to feel it after years of having such an accessory at all hours. Angela, she must have been. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know… Maybe when I was unconscious she removed it to work better on me. I honestly taken back.”

“Or maybe your so called friend made you a favor.” A voice she didn’t want to hear. She closed her eyes only to open them and look at Tariq.

“I do not know where you want to go with this, but you better stop before you get hurt.”

“What? Did I say something that wasn’t true?”

“You are crossing a line, Tariq.”

“No, you crossed the line, Fareeha.” He pointed at her, only rising Fareeha’s anger, eventually standing up and facing him.

“You don’t know what you're getting into, so it's better for you to stop.”

What?” He switched to Arab, Fareeha knowing something serious was about to be said. “You don’t want everybody to know you’re sleeping with someone from Vishkar? Especially with a woman?! How fake do you have to be so the people that support you keep doing so?! So you keep staying in your glory and power!” Only a few were able to understand that, earning quite a glare.

You don’t get a say in this! Just because you betrayed me and fed me to the wolves do you think you’re entitled to earn my trust anytime you want?! You still think I will open my legs wide just for you because I’m still “madly in love with you”?! Fuck you!” She pushed him, making him recoil and being caught by Mahmud. “And don’t you dare! Don’t you dare to even point a finger at her because I chose her!”

You want to act like a man?! Fine! Fight like one!

It was unexpected, and the fist she felt making contact with her cheek made her fall to the floor with a thud, immediately getting up and returning the blow at him. Tariq got up as well, and threw another punch at the woman only to be avoided and granted another jab right in his other cheek, then a kick returned him to the ground and Fareeha took a momentum to straddle his hips and deliver a flurry of punches right in his face.

It felt savage, she knew it, and her hands started to heat due to the contact with the skin, and fortunately Zarya was there to stop her, lifting her from behind her arms with hers and holding her so tight that her feet hung, Fareeha growling and kicking to get free of the grip. Saleh and Mahmud helped him up, blood running from one side of his eyebrow and nose, and Fareeha wasn’t left behind, for the taste of metal filled her mouth.

“Fareeha, stop!”

“He started all of this!”

“I don’t care who started but who finishes it! You taught us that!”

Zarya was right, and Fareeha stopped wiggling in her arms. Once she settled down, she was released and stood up properly, wiping the blood running from her lip and down to her chin with the back of her hand. Fareeha turned around and looked at everybody, mixed reactions of fear, disappointment, even pride and admiration. She needed to speak and voice her thoughts, she needed to know she still had power down there and prove it to everybody.

“No one is doing a revolution! You’re putting all in danger and if one of you start to think of something stupid everyone will pay for it! We’re not ready! Do you want to go through the same shit I went?! Do you want to die as well?! None of you deserve to go through the hell that I’ve suffered! So you better stop with those ideas because it’s not time to do so! Understood?!”

The cafeteria was filled with an uncomfortable silence that Fareeha preferred to avoid when escaping from the place with a quick step, whipping the doors of the dining room and completely forgetting that her stomach was empty, maybe when the anger dissipated and the pain in her cheek and mouth could be relieved she could go for a snack. For the moment, what she most wanted to do was forget the incident and avoid the unpleasant comments of everyone.

She knew perfectly well that a few of them understood, a large part being her teammates, and she hoped that she would not make the awkward situation even bigger than she already did. Fareeha was constantly repeating the stupidity she had just committed, especially for failing Angela and showing that she was not mentally healthy. Such disappointment.

Her bed greeted her for the first time in weeks, and she missed the feeling of comfort and familiarity of something that was not related to a hospital or where she felt crippled, even though she knew perfectly well that this was not the case. However, her body demanded continuity, her mind constancy, her soul spirituality, there was something that emptied it, and Fareeha knew that the place had a lot to do with it. That was her bed, but it did not feel like her again. Upon closing her eyes and trying to rest and reset her brain, she fell into a dreamless sleep.


It felt like a blow to the stomach.

The sound of the alarm woke her abruptly. It was so loud that she felt her head would explode at any moment. Grateful that she was still fully dressed, Fareeha simply slid her shoes on and walked to the door, only to be tackled back in by a mob. She recognized faces, voices, even the sound of footsteps rushing desperately from one side of the hallway to the other. It was Saleh who stood in front of her and pulled her arm, making her run with him.

“What’s going on?!” She yelled, trying to get his attention through the loudness of the alarm.

“It seems like something exploded upstairs! I’m impressed that didn’t woke you up!”

“What?!”

“The labs! We need to get to the other side, there’s flames upstairs!”

“The labs…?” She frowned, still running, and her eyes opened wide. “…Angela!”

Fareeha stopped in her tracks and ran in the opposite direction, Saleh yelling at her and eventually ignoring her run, following his own path. Fareeha ran desperately and toward the elevator. She knew that there were stairs that could only be accessed with a Vishkar identification, but if she could find a way to climb, she would do so in order to reach the doctor.

The heat intensified the closer she got to the elevator, a heat she could easily endure but she knew Angela would not be close to putting up with that. The stairs were out of reach, unthinkable to get there, and the elevator was out of service. That was the only place where she could reach the upper levels. Opening the doors with both hands and thanking her for strength, she was able to enter the elevator and remove the emergency door above her, jumping and climbing towards the ceiling.

The tunnel was dark, except for one of the slots where light and fire were clearly visible, and she had to think fast before things got worse. “May the Gods protect me…” A quick prayer, and Fareeha took the rope and climbed as fast as possible three floors up. She needed to get there before something happened to Angela.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter XII

Then I had a change of plans

 

Dispatching Fareeha was one of the most difficult things that she had to do as of lately. Her recovery was quick but slow, with ups and downs here and there, but improved nonetheless. Angela knew that she couldn't keep her protected forever and eventually Vishkar would go for Fareeha and even for herself too. She felt the headache coming up and getting closer with every passing second, so coffee would be ideal to help her out of that situation for the moment.

Once after reviewing the plan and reaching a common agreement, Angela went to the cafeteria with the intention of refilling her coffee cup, and for her luck the place was empty, except for a couple of faces she didn't recognize and didn't care at all. It felt strange for the first time in a few days to leave that room freely without the intention of return as fast as possible. Maybe it would be a new habit that she should get used to.

It felt like fire, a strange sensation burning her from the inside out, a stimulus similar to that of a sixth sense showing the right path. Angela initially thought it as stupid, thinking that maybe physically moving away from that girl that made her heart jump out of her ribcage and create a vortex of emptiness in her chest. Maybe she was wrong and it was something minor. Whatever it was, it was driving her crazy.

Instead of returning to her office, she set about making some arrangements in her room, most of them related to the plan that Fareeha and she had made. Preparing a backpack with emergency clothes, medicines and various items that would help her with her survival, Fareeha was in charge of doing the same with her belongings. Trusting blindly in her and beginning to prepare her own luggage, Angela packed what she considered most important, her first aid kit.

Knowing what kind of trouble both have endured, she definitely needed to pack that first and foremost.

It felt odd at first, knowing how methodical and detailed the doctor was on important issues such as these, but that odd sensation kept crawling back at her and prevented her from concentrating one hundred percent on the tasks at hand. Nonetheless, and with whole purpose on packing the upmost necessary, she started once again. Bandages, antiseptic, medicines, gloves, even thread so the stitches were ever needed in the future, and in a few minutes, everything was packed tightly in a cargo backpack on the verge of overflowing of when she used to carry on her quick travels.

A soft knock on her door startled her, and Angela tucked a few strands of hair that came out during packing. Getting on her feet, she went to the door and sighed in relief upon seeing Mirembe on the other side.

“Everything’s in order?” The older woman asked, Angela stepping aside to let her in and close the door.

“Everything’s alright. Why do you ask?”

“Because I could hear quite the ruckus on the other side of my wall. Were you building something or why the excessive thumping?”

“O-oh, my bad. I was dealing with a couple things on my backpack.” She stopped, knowing she said too much.

“A backpack.”

“Yes, a backpack.” She already did the damage. Forcing herself to evade the topic, Angela walked to her laptop and opened her email, browsing selflessly through several messages pending, scrolling and reading the text, and yet she didn't understand a single word.

“Anyway.” Mirembe started, sitting in one of the doctor’s sofa as she crossed her legs and arms and looked at her. “I wanted to talk about Vaswani.” That peeked Angela’s interest. She didn’t know about Satya for quite a time since she was locked in that room with Fareeha for weeks.

“What about Satya?”

“You haven’t seen her.”

“No.”

“Neither have we.”

“Neither…? Since when?”

“Since ‘the incident’ with Amari. I spoke with her, so did Fio, and I told her about what we heard in the recordings…” A beat. “She didn’t know and refuses to believe it.”

“But there’s proof, the voice recordings and even the video is more than enough to prove her what Vishkar is doing behind our backs.” Mirembe shook her head.

“She also refuses to watch the recordings, even when she has the authority to look at them. Vaswani still believes in the true and rightful purpose of Vishkar and the hard light treatment. That woman is too stubborn for her own good.”

Deep inside, Angela knew that Satya was anything but an evil person. After several weeks of living with her, it was easy to diagnose her true way of acting: autism. Angela couldn't judge her no more after that, much less deny her certain requests that she thought were exaggerated, for in Satya's eyes they were perfectly normal and understandable. The psychiatric patients were not at all her area of expertise, but Angela was definitely willing to explore a bit of that in the future, especially having recovered Fareeha and seeing that her girl needed both psychological and moral and physical support.

“I just hope someday she understands how delicate and twisted this whole situation is. Vishkar is messing with her the most, Satya is undeniably intelligent, but she is naive and that is leading her to do wrong things. Vishkar is manipulating her to unimaginable reaches.” Mirembe nodded, shifting in her seat.

“Exactly that. Satya has always been manipulated and we have tried to keep her safe, just like the rest of the others below us.” A brief silence Angela knew was not normal, and Mirembe sighed, looking intently at the doctor with weary eyes. “She’s not coming out of her bedroom either. It’s been two days and she refuses to leave her quarters.”

“What? Why? Is she feeling sick?”

“We don’t know, but Fio says she saw the recordings from one of the Raptoras: Tariq.” Angela closed her eyes, the pieces fit once Mirembe said that.

“Of course…”

“She has refused to talk to me, but maybe you can do something. If you can convince her to eat something, it will be more than enough.” Mirembe got up and sighed, stretching her back with a grunt and heading to the door.

“I don’t think she will listen to m-”

“Can you try at least?” Angela thought for a moment, and knowing she could never refuse to help someone, she nodded.

“I will.”

“Thank you, Angela.” Mirembe stopped before closing the door and looked at her. “And good luck with your backpack.”

Maybe this was her bad feeling and Mirembe only came to warn her, or maybe it was just a coincidence. However, once hiding the backpack in the closet, she took her lab coat and went out into the hall, walking directly to Satya's door. What exactly did she have to say? That it wasn't her fault? That everything would be fine? But it was her fault, Fareeha died momentarily because of her, and maybe others did as well.

Fareeha had the great and extreme luck that Angela was there just when her heart stopped beating, and the doctor had a stroke of luck finding the experimental serum in her coat, but with Satya it was something completely different. There were no coincidences. There were no mistakes. Everything was for her and for her only, Satya was the only one responsible. And still, she locked herself in her room.

“Ms. Vaswani?” Angela called her, knocking softly and earning no response. “Satya, is Angela. I want to talk to you if you let me.” Not a sound. Angela knew she needed to be more delicate regarding such a matter. “Satya, I just want to know how you are doing since you have a couple of days without leaving your quarters. I won’t judge you, I promise you.” Not a sight, and then the soft sound of footsteps began to thump closer each time, followed by the fumbling of a lock and the know turning.

That was a sight Angela did not expect of Satya Vaswani, the most perfectionist and recollected woman she knew. Satya was wearing a loose shirt, as well as white pants combined. Her feet were bare, her hair -usually arranged in a perfectly braided braid- was a mess, tangled and matted. The bags under her eyes were visible from the moon, tiredness was easily seen. Satya stepped aside and let Angela in, closing and locking the door immediately.

The room was perhaps three times the size of Angela's, similar to a medium-sized apartment. Kitchen, living room, dining room, study, bedroom and separate bathrooms, Angela missed her home even more. The blonde sat on the couch when Satya indicated, and the Indian woman sat on the couch in front of her. At least she still didn’t lose the elegance and composure of her movements. An improvement. Small, but a step forward nonetheless.

“How are you feeli-?” Angela started after the silence followed for quite the uncomfortable few seconds, only to be stopped by Satya, placing a hand in front of her as a signal of a pause. Angela complied, and stopped mid question.

“I do not need the pity of the people around here, so save your sermons of motivation and encouragement.” Angela quirked an eyebrow clearly unsatisfied with such request.

“It would be pity if I didn’t care for you. However, I do, and that’s why I’m here.”

“And Mirembe sent you.” A pause.

“Yes, she did. My apologies for not noticing it sooner as I was taking care of… My patient twenty four-seven.”

“Your patient.”

“She is that.” Satya scoffed a chuckle, surprising Angela.

“She has always been the most problematic person in all the facility. Rebellious, aggressive, disobedient, a constant headache. And even after that last mission where she did what put her in trouble, she kept having me on the verge of madness.” Angela really wanted to defend Fareeha right there and then, she had her own reservations and a more than believable explanation on why Fareeha did what she did, but decided to stop herself and let Satya continue.

“She is that hard to deal with sometimes.”

“She has always been.”

A boiling kettle sounded a few steps away from her and Satya stood up carefully, going to the stove and turning the burner off as she poured the contents into a cup, sitting down again where she was, sighing and blowing the cup to cool the tea. Angela watched her closely, how each movement she made spoke for herself, and the defeat was more than visible. The doctor sat straighter in her seat, expectant.

“What I could never explain was how you could choose her as your protégé. Many doctors have tried to... Tame her. None has been successful, except you. You proposed to cure her both physically and mentally, especially the last, and I never thought that you could achieve it as nobody else has done it. She is a lost case.” A sip of her tea, and Satya looked to the ceiling, trying to contain a couple of tears. “That’s what I used to think.”

“What made you change your mind?” Angela knew the answer already.

“I-I saw the recordings… Those missions in which we sent them to deal with crime in nearby cities and towns were all a lie... For so long -years- I refused to revise that and I relied blindly on Vishkar and it's purposes, I never doubted its true purpose. More, however, I sent them, I was part of the people who caused those deaths to helpless people... I was, it was me, and I refused to believe it, for being too stupid and blind!" The cup was no longer in her hands, and it flew across the room, crashing near the kitchen and spilling its contents.

“Satya, you didn’t know-”

“But I refused to see the other side!” She cracked, she was a crying mess, the tears no longer restrained and her face of a darker shade. “I provoked dozens of deaths in the place where I was born! In the very same orphanage that housed me for fifteen years!” Angela was quickly at her side, sitting next to her and hugging her tightly. “It was me! I did all that! H-how many deaths have I provoked? How many?! What’s my toll?! I killed my own and many more!”

Perhaps for the first time in a long time, Angela indeed felt pity for Satya. It wasn't pity because of her obvious illness, but because, although several of her companions told her that Satya Vaswani had no heart, at this precise moment she was demonstrating the opposite. Satya was a delicate and innocent soul of which a multimillionaire corporation took advantage mercilessly.

It felt like hours holding her in her arms as she stroked her hair, until the scandalous weeping turned into a soft sob, enough to momentarily push her away and wipe away the tears that soaked her cheeks, chin, and even part of her neck and blouse.

“I don’t deserve this… I don’t deserve forgiveness.”

“You deserve a second chance, just like everyone else. Just like everyone down here. It’s up to you to provide such opportunity to both them and yourself.” She shook her face.

“They will never forgive me, especially RMAF006.”

“She has a name. Her name is Fareeha.” Satya ran her hand in front of her face, hastily and perhaps a little harsh.

“I did not even have the decency to do that. To look at their names, to know who they were.”

“You did what you had to do, even if it was not right.” Angela placed her hand on top of Satya’s, pressing it softly.

“…Will I have forgiveness one day?”

“That is something that you will know only if you are willing to face it. At least, today you have a person who forgives you.” Angela smiled, and perhaps for the very first time since she was there, so did Satya. The younger woman opened her mouth to speak, but a deafening sound, followed by red lights scattering across the ceiling, caught their attention. “Is this a drill?”

“We don’t have drills…” Angela was quick to go on her feet, but it stopped once it arrived at the door when seeing that Satya hadn't moved. She was still in her same position, looking at a fixed point on the wall and it was obvious that she had no intention of getting up.

“Satya, we need to leave.”

“You need to leave. If something happens to this place, I'd better sink with it.”

“This is no time for suicidal thoughts…!”

“She needs you, not me.”

That was the last thing, Angela immediately thought of Fareeha and how she was trapped underneath. Thousands of thoughts came to her head, as the source of that alarm, what was happening, and where Fareeha was. She had a bad feeling and it was this. Thinking about dealing with Satya later, Angela ran down the aisle, almost colliding with Fio in the process. The redhead immediately stopped in panic.

“What’s going on?”

“A fire in the laboratories. It is getting out of control and we need to evacuate immediately. Mirembe told me you were here so I came for you two, she is evacuating the ground floor.” The doctor felt it already, heat rising and smoke slowly filling the halls.

“Vaswani is still in her chambers and she’s refusing to leave.”

“I’ll deal with her. You worry about yourself and try to leave. The fumes are extremely toxic so hurry up!”

Angela nodded, and ran into a sprint once again, ending in her bedroom and taking nothing but the backpack she just readied when she was thinking about when to carry out the escape plan. It seemed that things would be sooner than usual. Backpack in hand, and Angela walked down the stairs to her office to get rid of everything she had worked on, an old habit that should never die in her mind, for the least she needed was another breach with her research just like happened with Moira five years ago.

Once she fumbled with her keys and opened the door, she was surprised to see the place wasn’t empty. Rather unexpected and not at all pleasant company.

“Tariq? What are you doing here?” She asked cautiously, the fumes of the fire already reaching that area of the offices and labs. He was looking out the window, his back at her, and turned slowly to look directly at Angela’s eyes.

“Of all the people, I didn't think you would be the one to brainwash Fareeha. How can a physically and psychologically strong woman be attracted to someone like you?” He took a couple steps, and reached behind his back. “The only thing that had me anchored to this place was her. I can be free whenever I want and yet I decided to stay for her, fight for her, only to be despised by her and her 'girlfriend'. How do you think I feel at this moment? Angry? Sad? Betrayed or a mix of everything? Perhaps.”

Angela put the pieces together. He wasn't downstairs with the others, he was inside of her office which she had locked, he was upset. He had a gun in his hand and was aiming at her.

“She meant everything to me. And you took everything of her, you snatched her from my side.” A click of the glock, and Angela raised her hands.

“You failed her-”

“She left me no choice!” A shot he missed on purpose just to startle her. “It was her or to be faithful to my own family, and I chose my family and my head! And at the first opportunity that is presented not only she gets to sleep with her employer, but also with a woman. How sinful and stupid of her to be let convinced by you.”

“That’s not my fault-” Another shot, and this time he didn’t miss. The bullet grazed Angela’s leg, making her hiss in pain and fall to the floor pressing the painful open wound.

“It’s very much your fault.” The fumes were reaching inside the office, and Angela felt them tearing at her throat, rasping voice and dryness above it all. She started to cough only sporadically, and looked at Tariq with nothing but challenge in her eyes.

“You think I fear you.”

“I think you should.” He readied the pistol once more, aiming back at Angela. “You think Fareeha’s going to save you, that she’s always the super hero ready to save her damsel in distress. Let me tell you she is all that, but right now? She’s trapped in the basement along with the others, and there’s nothing she can’t do now. The elevators are not working, the stairs are impossible to reach if you don’t have a Vishkar ID. She’s helping her own as she should, as is her duty.”

“And still you are here preparing some kind of revenge that will not fill you, all to have your love back?” He chuckled.

“If that’s what it takes.”

“You love her, and yet you refuse to let her be happy.” He flinched for a moment, Angela could see the crack. “Just because she’s not with you, you refuse to let her live a happy life with whoever she chooses. I’m not forcing her to anything, yet she’s always coming back to me. What does it say?”

“Shut up.”

“You’re selfish. You don’t know what love is for another person. You don't know how difficult it is to let a person go in order to make her happy, no matter how unhappy she makes you inside.” Angela’s eyes started to water, both from the coughing due to the toxic fumes and from the remembrance of her letting Fareeha leave, one of her biggest mistakes in life. “You don’t know because you’re selfish…”

“I said shut up!”

Tariq readied his pistol and was about to shoot. That was it, Angela was ready to let go once again. She closed her eyes and tensed her body, hearing the shot but never feeling the pain. As she opened her irritated eyes, she saw Fareeha in front of her, gripping at Tariq’s pistol and the firearm pointing to the ceiling. She was grunting, sweating, she was looking visibly tired and her clothes and skin were tinted of dark due to the fire and ashes, but she never looked more handsome in front of Angela’s eyes.

“Stop it! Let her go!” Fareeha yelled and kicked Tariq to the ground.

“What are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be in the basement with the others!”

“What are you doing here?! I came for her!”

“How did you-?!” He didn’t finish his sentence, as Fareeha punched him in the face, making him stumble only to fall back to the floor while quickly helping Angela to her feet. The doctor cried when she felt the searing pain in her thigh, making Fareeha's blood boil.

“What did you do to her, you fucking asshole?! Don’t you even dare to look at her!” She hissed, and looked back at the doctor with endless worry in her eyes. “Angela, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, is just a flesh wound. Nothing serious, I promise.” A hand touched her cheek, Angela reveling in the firm caress of her lover. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad… We’re getting out of here.” She was about to help Angela walk, when a kick in her back made her fall front face to the floor, her face crashing with the white tiles and tinting it in red due to a probable broken nose.

“Fareeha!”

“What the fuck!?” Fareeha hissed and stumbled when she got on her feet once again, gripping tightly at her nose and cracking it fix in one painful movement. “Why are you doing this?!” She put her body in front of Angela to defend her, backing up a little when Tariq showed her his pistol once again.

“You know…” He started smugly, his face like nothing Angela saw before. “My father told me you were trouble, and yet I refused to believe him. In the end, he was right but still I wanted to be with you.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“He gave me one simple task I couldn’t fulfill since I fell foolishly in love with you… So he postponed it, so he let you and your mother flee.” Fareeha’s eyes opened wide, Angela couldn’t put the pieces together. Yet.

“You’re not… Tell me you’re not-”

“You don’t know how many times I had the chance of killing you while you slept in my bed and yet I refused because I was stupid. Vishkar wasn’t helping matters, so I needed to make this. A diversion. How clever of me, don’t you think? I wonder how long the flames and the toxicity of the place will take to get rid of everyone here.”

“You’re Hakim’s son…”

Hakim, a name Angela heard before. A name Fareeha mentioned, and so did her mother. She didn’t know exactly who this person was and yet, she could tell it was an important piece in this whole messed up situation. Life and death pending on a thread. Fareeha backed up even more, the doctor could feel her trembling. Was she actually that scared of Tariq or his father? Or was that anger? Angela wanted to stay silent, but the toxic fumes were filling the room, and she was close to a cough fit and fainting.

“You were everything to me, Fareeha. When we met in the army, when we started dating… I met your mother, the legendary Ana Amari, and dating her daughter was both a dream and a nightmare. I guess in the end it was the later rather than the first… Father was right. I should’ve killed you since the very first chance I had.” He clicked his gun, and Angela in a desperate movement pushed Fareeha to the side, falling with her with a thud and launching herself to Tariq’s feet.

“What the-?!”

“Fareeha! Now!”

She didn’t need more words, for Fareeha took a momentum and kicked Tariq’s gun out of his hand and away from his reach, landing close to her as a golden opportunity. Taking the firearm in her hand, she stood up and pointed at the man she used to love, the one who betrayed her. Angela got on her feet as well and stood behind Fareeha, touching her back and feeling the stress go away with that simple motion.

“Your father and you might call us animals, and so do I call all the Amari’s ruthless and stupid, except for my mother… However, you threaten us, you threaten what we love the most, and you suffer the consequences. That you already knew.”

“So what? Are you gonna kill me for threatening your precious girlfriend?”

“You don’t know what I’m capable of.”

“I know what you are capable of. People feared you, Fareeha. They have always feared you and they’ll always will. You kill, you murder, you’re ruthless and don’t care of the lives you take just to fulfill a simply duty! Don’t you think Hana and the others don’t fear you?! The whole underground is under your hands not because they respect you and see you as a leader, but because they’re afraid you’re gonna rip off their-!”

He didn’t finish that sentence. A bullet pierced his forehead. Blood splattered all over the place, and Tariq’s dead body fell back to the ground, making a pool of dark tinted blood. Her face reflected nothing, even when tears gathered in her eyes. Angela didn’t expected that, she thought she changed, but far from judging her, she was more than ready to help her move forward. Both she and her together.

“Let’s go…” Fareeha whispered, Angela nodded as she was starting to doze off due to the toxicity of the vapors. “Stay with me, don’t sleep.”

“Okay…”

Angela was lift in a swift movement, being carried in Fareeha’s back as she ran along the hall slightly crouched with the doctor in her back, a backpack in her left hand and the glock in her right. Fareeha was clever enough to not leave the accessory, as she knew she would need it sooner than later. The fog was slowly clearing the further down they traveled, and Angela could finally say something to Fareeha and ease the tension she could painfully feel below her body.

“Don’t believe him… We all respect you, we all care for you. We feel protected and safe around you…”

Angela said, Fareeha smiling back at her and saying nothing but walking forward. Deep inside she knew Fareeha was at a phase where she did believes that, and thus, decided to approach that delicate topic some other time when things weren’t as rushed as now. They were close to the main floor, Fareeha knowing that was off boundaries for her, so she let Angela stand up once she felt the doctor was capable to hold herself.

“Are you okay?”

“Better at most… Yes.”

“Can you walk on your own?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good…” Hesitation.

“What?” They were just a few steps to reach the main floor and Fareeha started to hesitate. Definitely not a good sign. The younger woman started to fidget with her fingers, taking a deep breath and looking at Angela with pleading eyes. “…No.”

“You know I have to-”

“You won’t leave me, Fareeha.”

“You need to go alone and escape.”

“And what about you? What about us?! Are you seriously wanting to do this all over again?!” Her Swiss accent became more prominent, rustic and thick. Angela was furious and it was obvious to the eye. “You think I’m leaving you here now when we have the chance to escape? Are you insane?!”

“I can’t leave without them!” She pointed down, meaning the basement and all of her teammates. “I cannot leave them down because I know that Vishkar doesn't care about them and they are more than willing to let them die in order to save themselves and save a few cents!”

“Well you're not worth a penny to me! You are worth everything and you want to leave me alone again! Do you know how painful it was to lose you not just one, but twice?! Fareeha, I can’t do it...! Not again… Please, Fareeha.” Angela resorted to begging when she couldn’t stand it anymore. “Letting me go is letting me die... I can’t bear it a third time, Fareeha... You better leave me here to die because I can’t.”

Angela felt the tears coming back, she wanted to sound serious yet the flush on her face wasn’t helping matters. Fareeha's face distorted in a mixture of pity, sadness and despair, but also pain, worry, love. She sighed heavily, and nodded, taking the doctor's wrist and pulling it in again, securing the gun and going exactly where she needed to go. She knew that Fareeha had a plan in her mind worked out in a matter of seconds. Or maybe hours since they separated.

“We need to get down one floor and into the armory. Our next stop is the control room.” She almost huffed her words as they both ran down the stairs and inside the halls. The place deserted, except for the smoke of the fire that Angela didn’t know was there as well. “The floor below is on fire and we need to hurry up!”

“We will not have problems in the armory? The ammunition could be detonated!” Fareeha shook her head.

“No. The place is very well sheltered and airtight, I have been there several times during these years just to be sure.”

“Okay. And the control room?” Both women stopped in front of some wide doors, Angela sliding her ID card in the slot next to it and sliding open the doors.

“I can’t arm every men and women down there. What's more, I don’t want to do it, it's very dangerous. So, I will simply deactivate the collars and open the doors, that way they can escape without harming anyone and being harmed in the process.”

“Sounds like a plan… Have you thought about it before?”

“Nope. I think as things happen. I like to improvise, is what makes the tragedy interesting.” Angela had to smile at the comment despite the precarious situation in which they were currently.

Once they were both inside the armory and closing the door again, Fareeha searched several compartments on one wall, dozens and dozens of weapons lined up perfectly behind glass doors. Fareeha simply took a glock very similar to the one she used to wear and Angela recognized as a precious memory of her mother, and taking a simple holster, she rummaged through other cabinets and took several rounds of ammunition.

Their movements felt so natural that they were even syncronized, but Angela relied blindly on what Fareeha had to do. But not in the following. Fareeha offered her a small weapon, but what the girl didn't know is that the doctor already had her special weapon hidden in her backpack, the weapon that Fareeha gave her before leaving and of which she had an infinite affection. Firearms were something that Angela hated, because they were the cause of several deaths, but this one was different. This one meant a new opportunity.

“I only need ammunition for my weapon.”

“You still have that?”

“Why would I discard such precious firearm?” Fareeha said nothing and went to grab 9mm bullets, handing two boxes to Angela, the doctor quickly opening the backpack Fareeha was wearing and stashed them inside. “My gun is loaded, we’ll be okay.”

“Okay…” Deep breaths. “Ready to go down?”

“As long as you’re there with me. Together from now on. Understood, Amari?” Her smile could truly lit the darkest room, one of the many reasons why she fell easily for her.

“We’re in this together, ma’am.”

As a signal to advance, both went to the door and went down the hall, but not before closing the armory again, and reaching the stairs Angela slid her card, giving them immediate access one floor below. Hell. The blonde was worried about just one thing: how others would react when they saw someone belonging to Vishkar with a gun in her hands. She could be easily attacked or worse with a single fault reaction. Fortunately, she had Fareeha at her side to protect her.

She just hoped that Tariq's words didn't reach her very deeply.

Angela had never been in that area. The place had a completely different vibe despite being the same walls, floors and ceilings. White. Fareeha ran in one direction and the doctor followed her firmly, her hands on the weapon just like Fareeha.

“We need to guide them upstairs, that's where the control room is and there's the exit that we use when we went to missions outside. That's the light at the end of this tunnel. The plan is to gather them all there, open the doors in one fell swoop and deactivate the collars so they can escape before Vishkar finds us.”

“Understood. I got you.”

As soon as the door at the end of the hallway opened, Angela felt the fear she knew she would feel: absolutely everyone was gathered in the cafeteria, the faces of panic, horror and despair were almost palpable, especially in those younger. One of them, whom Angela recognized as a Meka, took a few steps forward but stopped when she saw the doctor. Fareeha raised her hands in defeat, and Angela imitated her slowly once the weapon was placed in the pocket of her coat.

“When I came back you had the idea of a revolution, of a change to get out of here!" Fareeha started shouting, getting everyone's attention pretty quickly." This is not a revolution, but it's a way to get out of here together! Alive! The chance to take the reins of our own lives!” Damned be Tariq. Fareeha was a true leader, Fareeha knew how to inspire. "We needed the perfect opportunity and it has been presented for a single occasion right now! It's getting out of here alive or dead, and I didn't come back risking my freedom to let you all die here!" Fareeha knew how to make herself be respected. She was more than she believed in. She always was.

“What about her?” A massive woman with pink hair took a few steps forward, not fearing anyone. Angela on the inside did truly fear her.

“I’m not here to hurt you or anyone. I want to help you escape.”

“How can we trust someone from Vishkar?!” Another voice in the back, hidden among the crowd.

“I didn’t come to Vishkar with the intention of doing what they are doing. I was deceived, and I admit my mistake. I just want to correct it and help you escape with Fareeha.” Her hands were still up, immediately straining to see that this muscular woman gave her an inquisitive look and came closer to her, more and more, only a few centimeters apart.

“Fareeha, you trust her.” It was more of a statement than a question, and she smiled. “So do I. What do we do next?”

“We go upstairs. The doctor will help us navigate through the building with the use of her ID card. We must reach the dispatch area. I open the doors and deactivate your necklaces, and that’s your chance to run away.”

“Hm… I get it. I like the idea.”

“Very well. Move, people! Move! We’re all getting out of here!”

With one swift movement of her hand, Fareeha commanded the entire crowd with incredible ease. Angela knew that Fareeha had military training and a wide range of experience just like the others, but this seemed rehearsed, and in the end Angela took the lead by running through the corridors with hundreds of feet behind her, standing in front of the stairs and giving access. That was quick, and soon they found themselves in the office room, all allying themselves to wait their turn. Fareeha and Angela were in the control room just a glass wall away.

“This is it… I deactivate the necklaces, and all of Vishkar is coming right this way no matter if the floor is in flames. Ready?” Fareeha started to press a few buttons, the outdoor doors leading to a tunnel opening slowly.

“Yes.” Pressing a button, she contacted the other side. “Necklaces are off in three, two, one… Now!”

As Fareeha pushed down that black button, a louder alarm began to ring. The Egyptian ran as fast as she could and pulled Angela by the wrist, and along with the others, went out through the dark tunnel, illuminated by a few artificial lights. The end was near, the sunlight blinding, and Angela regretted having forgotten the hijab in her bedroom. At that rate it would have been consumed by the flames.

“Go! Scatter in the dunes! The guards are coming, do not let them see you!” Fareeha yelled as she kept running, jumping the fence like everybody else and taking Angela’s hand to help her as well. Gunshots. They were there already. “Go!” With a last pull, Angela was able to reach the edge and jump down to her freedom along with Fareeha.

Her legs screamed to stop the more she ran and the sand didn't do much to give her momentum, and Fareeha didn't look very different despite having better endurance, but she kept going. She kept dragging Angela despite of the tiredness, of the people following them, and after several minutes they came to stand in front of a train track, the carriage in the distance approaching slowly. One more opportunity delivered in gold tray.

Angela needn’t words to know what to do, and nodding to Fareeha, they both started a run towards the upcoming train. As they ran, a few figures ran along them, Angela recognizing the two young girls from Korea running desperately to catch them up. Fareeha was huffing, but slowed down just a bit so they could be at the same level, and once close to reaching the train, she prompted them to get up in one of the open wagons.

“Get inside!” Fareeha yelled to the girls, Hana jumping quickly inside the wagon and taking Yuna’s hand, pulled her inside, falling both to the metal floor with a thud. “Your turn!”

This time it was to Angela, she acknowledged that. As they kept running, the doctor took a momentum and jumped with her remaining energies and landed clumsily inside. A backpack landed next to her, and stretched her arm so Fareeha could take it, and so she did, being pulled inside the wagon. Angela’s arm was burning, but nothing like the fear of leaving Fareeha once again.

Breathing rapidly, agitated and sweaty like never before due to the exposure of the sun, the scorching wind and the sprint, both ladies flopped on their backs, catching their breath after what felt forever. Catching their breath at the end of the world and finally staying together. Angela turned her head to look at her, Fareeha’s eyes closed and her chest heaving, and the doctor took her hand in her own, intertwining her fingers, letting her now they were now in this together alive. Hope once again.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter XIII

How I started alongside her again

 

The desert sunsets were something that couldn't be ignored as their beauty were incomparable. The yellow, orange and pink hues painted the sky and reflected in the bright sand that covered the ground for miles. A few stars were beginning to show, the moon already visible hours ago, and thanks to the fact that the heat was no longer as unbearable as before and the wind helped to cool slightly, all this reminded Fareeha of her childhood.

It reminded her of the afternoons in Egypt; the sunsets in the army with her teammates sharing a drink after a hard day at work. It reminded her of her mother. Five years and she didn't have a single bit of information from Ana Amari. The woman disappeared as if nothing once Fareeha was captured by the government and Hakim, the man behind doing a lot of damage to the cities and towns of her beloved Egypt, the one who she had to leave along with her mother in order to save their lives.

And Gods, she missed her mother so much.

Fareeha was in the verge of crying some other times when thinking of her, of her affectionate way of easing her soul, a void that could only be filled by a mother. This afternoon was one of those, but a hand resting quietly on her chest squeezed gently in a state of unconsciousness and made her turn down. Fareeha was sitting and leaning against the wagon's wall, a tender blonde rested tranquil in her lap, her head leaning on her shoulder and her hand relaxed on her chest. And even when for the poor woman it was more than hot and the sweat made her hair stick to her face, Angela was sleeping peacefully, her breathing quiet, her visage relaxed.

Fareeha had to smile at that, her rarely shown innocence made her heart flutter. And she felt stupid. How could she have abandoned her? Or how could she have even forgotten her? She was grateful to her brain and conscience; she didn’t forget her at all. The doctor refused to leave her head; she remained embedded in her heart and soul, in her mind and thoughts, that much of an impact she had on her. Despite the sound of the train moving on the tracks, she could hear a throat clearing which made her turn to her left.

“That is a cute and uncommon picture of you, let me tell you.” Yuna commented on a low tone, having Hana in her own lap resting her head as the girl slept. She was leaning on the other side of the wall. Her fatigue could be seen quite easily. “Not even Hana was allowed to spend a minute with you like that.” A beat, and Fareeha looked down one more time, tucking a few damp locks behind the doctor’s ear. “She’s that special to you?”

“She’s that special to me. I swore to protect her with my life.”

“How come?”

“She swore that she would protect every soul she could by becoming a doctor and achieving it by reaching her limits and surpassing them. She is an angel, always looking to keep improving and to save as many lives as she can. My mother swore to protect me throughout her life too, as Angela did with her patients and every helpless soul that needs her help. However, no one swore to protect her... When she needed help the most, nobody was there for her. She was abused, mistreated, and yet she wanted to continue. I swore to protect her, and I swore to try and return the many favors she has done by staying by her side… Which I failed.” The train movement paired with the sounds of machinery made a pregnant pause.

“So you knew her.”

“And I forgot her thanks to Vishkar.”

“Talking about Vishkar, what was she doing there by the way? If she claims she’s that angelic being and such.”

“She doesn’t claim it, Yuna. She has worked a large portion of her life without worrying about hers, she neglects herself too many times, it’s impressive…” Fareeha sighed, shifting slightly and cradling the blonde to bring her back to a more comfortable position. “But like many others, she didn’t know what Vishkar was doing. She needed more money for an important research, so she ended up accepting this job that promised her that income.” The sun was set, and only a dark blanket with white speckles covered the sky.

“Isn’t she too nice for your own good?”

“Heh perhaps, but she chose me.” Fareeha started to stroke her hair softly in sweet motions. “She’s too good for me. I don’t deserve her.”

“Perhaps you’re made for each other. You put too much of yourself into other people above you. That’s being selfless.” Yuna smiled in what seemed forever, agreeing that their relationship –even when not mentioned– was more than acceptable and fitting. Fareeha returned the smile, and smiled wider when Hana stirred in Yuna’s lap and opened her eyes, blinking the sleep away as she focused on her surroundings. “Hey, sleepyhead."

“How long have I been gone?” Hana asked, rubbing her eyes and stretching her body as she sat straight, the train still rumbling and swaying as it moved.

“I’m not entirely sure-”

“Three hours. We have approximately four on the road.”

“I’m still baffled at how good you are telling the time without a clock.” Hana commented with eyes wide open and Fareeha stretched her hand towards the open door, placing two fingers horizontally to the front.

“It’s easy, you just have to measure the sun and there you go.” There was a pregnant pause, Fareeha retracting her fingers and returning them to comb Angela’s hair, trying to cool her by tucking more strands or rebel locks due to the flowing wind.

“Aww, aren’t you a cutie?” Hana said with a wide grin as she looked at the doctor and then at Fareeha.

“Stop… I can take Yuna teasing me, but you’re on a whole different level of tease. I won’t comment on you wetting the bed if you don’t tease me.”

“Heh, fair trade.” They both shared a smile, and Hana shifted in place. “So, what’s your plan?”

“We had a plan, but things changed all of a sudden and… Well, there’s no plan. We only have that backpack.”

“Do you have food there? I’m starving.”

“I don’t think so. Knowing her, she must’ve packed medical stuff in there.”

“Doctor stuff, huh…”

“What’s your plan?” Hana hummed and cupped her chin, looking at Yuna and then at Fareeha with a quizzed look.

“I’m not sure. Yuna and I had a plan of going back to streaming if we ever got out of that place.”

“If you have the looks and the skill, it’s a great way to earn money.” Yuna complemented, only earning a strangled look from Fareeha, who cocked her head and arched an eyebrow.

“That’s something I’ll have to see later, to be honest.”

The blonde in her arms started to stir, groaning in discomfort. Fareeha immediately thought of the heat Angela had to endure, tiny droplets of sweat gathering in her forehead and telling her so. Slowly and opening her eyes, Angela focused on her surroundings, her blue eyes landing on both Korean girls with confusion and then up her, to Fareeha, who smiled at her fondly. Fareeha could swear her heart was about to jump from her ribcage when the doctor smiled back at her.

“Hello.” She said softly, separating slightly apart from Fareeha.

“Hey. How was the nap?”

“I would have preferred it in a room with air conditioning. But I cannot complain about the support.”

“Charming.”

“You two are cute.” Hana smiled, instantly making the doctor blush.

“O-oh… My thanks.”

“Humble, unlike Fareeha here.” She pointed with a finger at the taller woman. “We were wondering what your plan was. You know, reaching one place, travelling to another, having a life and all that.”

“Well, I was thinking on going back home.”

“Obviously.”

“But also taking Fareeha right where she belongs.” It irked Fareeha’s curiosity. She had a slight idea of what that meant, nonetheless, she wanted to hear it falling from those rosy lips. “With me.” That. And it made her heart flutter. Happiness in a pure and silly show.

“Makes sense! You two fit somehow.”

“I think we do…” The blonde blushed as she said that, and wiped the sweat off her brow, fanning herself softly with her hand to mitigate the heat. “But me and this weather does not. I can’t wait to get out of here and into some decent temperature. My body demands a cold shower.”

“We all deserve any kind of shower.” Fareeha stepped up, standing and walking towards the door to peek outside. After hours of being on the train with no sign of a town with decent technology to get in touch with someone who could help them, at last on the horizon she could see the city they were waiting to arrive at. “We are close to reach Rajasthan, just a few more minutes.”

“Finally!” Hana squeaked, getting up as well and being followed by Yuna. “I can’t wait to eat anything. I can even eat a rat.”

“Disgusting, Hana.”

“Oh, come on! Don’t think less of me for eating crap for the sake of survival!”

“It’s not survival, is just being disgusting.”

“Whatever.”

Fareeha smiled to herself, the carefreeness of Hana and the seriousness of Yuna were something she’ll definitely get to miss. And right now, thinking about both girls and how they would get away from their lives after a few years of sharing their biggest worries and fears, like illusions and emotions, was something they were afraid to lose. And losing them in their totality was an even greater fear. Fareeha could defend herself outside, knew how to hide and fight back, but these girls were almost helpless in their totality. Maybe, just maybe, if she told Angela anything.

“You know, if you don't have somewhere to go, you are more than welcome to come with us and stay in my house until we find a suitable place for you two. You could get back to study, that would be a good option for you.” Angela said so humbly, and Fareeha’s eyes opened wide given the right comment, as if she had read her mind or understood her intentions without even looking at or listening to her, just feeling her. “There’s not plenty of rooms in my apartment to be quite honest with you, but I can fix you a place near to get you comfortable.”

“That would be…”

“Awesome!”

“Hana, we need to think about it!”

“Think about what?!”

“Uh, going with a stranger rather than home?!”

“We had no home for two whole years and you are questioning the help of someone who Fareeha trusts?!”

“Will you stop yelling?” Fareeha calmed them down, both girls looking at her and stopping immediately. “Good. Now discuss that as the barely adults you are, you have a few more minutes until we arrive at town.”

“Fine. We’ll think about it.” Hana crossed her arms and leaned on the wall, Yuna imitating her. Fareeha sat back next to Angela, taking her hand on her own and squeezing slightly in reassure.

After several minutes of travel, the train stopped at the station and the younger girls jumped at the first opportunity they had, Fareeha following them and extending a hand to help Angela down, who gratefully took it. The station was crowded, several people in a hurry trying to catch on with their lives. After a few more minutes, the four arrived at a somewhat modest bar. Hana, Yuna and Fareeha sat at a table eating their plate of food while Angela was standing at the bar talking on the public telephone.

“So, do you have an answer now?” Fareeha questioned both of them, even more to Yuna.

“I definitely want to go with you, but Yuna has her doubts.” Hana was almost gobbling her bread and rice, Yuna being more modest than her.

“Of course I have my concerns. However… I think the best option is to go with you two. Going back to Busan means risking almost everything: our lives, our family, our future. The government doesn't want us, Vishkar will definitely look for us, and I'm sure we would put everything we created there in danger. Also, a new life opportunity doesn't sound bad at all.”

“Yeah! We can have a job and an apartment where we can stream and stay up late without any adult to tell us otherwise!”

“I’m pretty sure Angela would tell you to not stay late at night.” Fareeha laughed, taking a spoonful of her warm meal. For a couple seconds she turned her head around and looked at the blonde still talking on the phone, her hand made a slight movement every time she had a phone call, and it was adorable. Fareeha propped her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand, looking at her a little longer. Truth is, she couldn’t get her eyes off her, she had this constant need to protect her body, but also her dreams, her aspirations, her heart and soul.

“Hello?” Hana waved a hand in front of her, making Fareeha to snap from her daydream.

“Sorry.”

“You got caught out there, huh?” Hana grinned, making Fareeha blush instantly and dealing with the topic by shoving more spoonful of her meal in her mouth. “Heheh! You’re so cute!”

“Stop. I don’t do cute.”

“But you are! Your overall attraction to the doctor makes you dummy for her and that's cute!”

“Hana, for the love of the Gods…”

“She’s not wrong.”

“Yuna!” Both Korean girls laughed subtly, Hana more scandalously than the other. Fareeha shared that moment with them and just smiled.

“What are you laughing about?” Angela returned faster than expected, scaring the tallest girl in the group. Fareeha scooted to give Angela her seat.

“We were saying that Fareeha looks cu-!” A hand in her mouth cut her off.

“They were saying they wanted to join us but also take time before starting a new life, you know.”

“Oh! That’s magnificent!”

“We were thinking on going back to Busan for a few days and sort everything out there. Our parents, for example.” Yuna said softly, playing with her food. “I don’t know if that will be a problem.”

“Not at all.” The blonde shook her head. “Actually, we have to be some other places before going home. And as to move you, that won’t be a problem.”

“Wait, what do you mean we have to be some other places first?” Angela got up, not touching her food but smirking instead. Fareeha could easily see there was something fishy.

“Very well, ladies, we need to go to the airport. An aircraft would be more than obliged to take you back to Busan whenever you want. When you’re ready to go back with us and start a new life, just call me and I’ll fix everything for you.” From the pocket of her shirt she retracted a business card, handing it to Yuna. “Fareeha?”

“Y-yes?”

She saw a different look on her. Her eyes shone again, her determination filling her iris with unparalleled purpose. Fareeha knew that look. As if under a spell, she got up and left everything aside, getting up and taking the place next to her, straightening her back and checking her backpack and pockets, feeling the gun tucked in her pants. A nod, and she was ready, letting Angela know she was more than prepared to face whatever was going to come next.

“Let’s go.”


During the flight, Angela said nothing. Fareeha wanted to make for a conversation, but the doctor was so caught in her own thoughts that she found it rude to disturb her mental swirl of ideas. Fareeha felt a shiver run down her spine, knowing already she used to do that. Fortunately, the private jet made it easier for both of them to relax and not worry about things for the moment. Fareeha kept dozing off, but soon enough her head was back at her place. She definitely needed a shower and proper rest.

Once landing, Fareeha simply got the backpack in one hand and secured the glock firmly in her pants once again. The doors were opened, and Fareeha was greeted by a warm yet fresh breeze for the first time in more than four years. The sea could be seen extending from one side, several boats and yachts sailing through its blue waters. This was a place she had never visited despite having made a great tour of Europe in her life. Greece definitely looked interesting.

The trip to the hotel was quick, but despite that, Fareeha could see a little more of the city and delight in the architecture, the people and its surroundings, a real gem. The building had a modest surrounding and was painted in white and blue colors, but inside it shouted luxury, something that Angela could easily afford and that Fareeha still thought it absurd to spend such amount of money in an eccentric place like that hotel, but she would give her the benefit of the doubt always.

“And what exactly do we do here, Angela?” Fareeha left the backpack at the foot of one of the two beds once they both got inside of their designated room.

“I can tell you all about this, just wait a little longer. For the moment, my body demands a shower, and so does yours.” She pointed a milky finger at her, up and down, and Fareeha saw herself wearing quite the ragged clothes, plus the dust and sweat gathered in the travel.

“I think I’m fine.”

“For God's sake, Fareeha… Get in the shower.” Laughing to herself, Fareeha obeyed and walked to the bathroom, starting the shower and undressing slowly.

Her clothes even felt hard from the dirt, and the shame was immediate. Quickly the cold water washed away all the dirt from her body and Fareeha moaned with pleasure as she felt her body clean after a while. The sound of falling water was a relaxant in itself, and the smell of the shampoo only added more pleasurable sensations to the mix. Soaping her body with her eyes closed she didn't felt the presence of another person hugging her from behind and placing her cheek on her back, but the warmth and soft touch easily told her who she was.

“I missed you…” Angela said all of a sudden, the falling water making her comment barely audible.

“I’ve been here all the time.”

“No, I missed you. I missed my Fareeha. I missed taking a shower with her, talking to her, sleeping with her without the fear of being caught… I missed a lot, and this.” Fareeha turned around, looking at blue eyes back and closing the gap, kissing her tenderly on her lips that -despite having been tired and needy- tasted as sweet as ever.

“And I missed you, even when I didn’t remember you.”

“Aren’t you charming?”

“It’s the truth.”

“Well, a lot is coming and we have quite the ordeal ahead. As much as I want to stay and spend a decent day with you and only you, we need to get going.”

“It’s nighttime…”

“And perfect for speed shopping.”

“You still haven’t told me what this is all about.” A beat where Angela looked down and then up to her.

“Do you trust me?” There was only one valid answer.

“Always.”

“Then wait just a little longer, okay? I need some coffee to keep going.”

“As you wish, ma’am.” Angela smiled and gave her one last peck in the lips before Fareeha got out of the shower and wrapped herself in a fluffy white towel.

As Angela had said, the night had fallen a couple of hours ago, but the city was bustling with life. The establishments had their lights on and the people didn’t stop walking up and down, music playing in one place or another, and many tourists joined the locals in a vivid coexistence and cultural exchange. Even in the ports where it should be quieter, the laughter and music weren't lacking, brightening the waters illuminated by the light of the moon.

Five years in which for the first time Fareeha saw the sea again.

The breeze from the harbor blew gently on her face, moving her hair lightly as she walked beside Angela, following the blonde and enjoying this peaceful moment between the two. The only thing she regretted wasn’t wearing proper clothes, sports pants and a baggy shirt weren’t exactly an outfit to walk among such elegant avenues. However, Angela wasn’t far behind, and her jeans and shirt made her look different than she usually was seen.

“I know you're wondering where we're headed.” Angela said after a while of walking, a stroll of perhaps twenty minutes from the hotel and into the city’s busiest and wealthiest zone. The extravagance and elegance surrounding both of them. “It's not good to run away with just a change of clothes in your back, don’t you think?” Fareeha looked down at her own clothes, then at Angela when she stopped in front of a store, and nodded sheepishly.

“Yeah…”

“Worry not, dear. I don’t feel comfortable wearing… This, as well.”

And she opened the door, the bell rang when the door closed as well. Fareeha looked at her surroundings, several mannequins filling the store with clothes that seemed worth thousands of euros. Another detail that she had forgotten about Angela and had just remembered right now: the doctor -despite not bragging about it- was addicted to luxury. And as if it were a moth attracted to the flame, Angela walked directly towards the mannequins that wore dresses fitted with fine fabrics.

“Welcome. How may I help you tonight?” A rough yet soft voice called both of them, Angela turning her body at the man wearing a black suit and standing next to several other mannequins, fixing the clothing.

“Good evening. My friend called several hours ago to make an appointment for both of us for a proper tailoring. As you can see, we are not in the best of our looks, so we need your help for a new wardrobe.”

“…Angela?” Fareeha called her softly, but the doctor never diverted her attention from the man, instead standing straighter and lifting her chin with pride.

“You must be Miss Lacroix’s friend, Dr. Angela Ziegler?”

“Yes. And I would like that dress, please.”

“Of course. Miss Lacroix told me about your situation and the need to keep all of this secret. If you excuse me for a moment, you can move into the room behind those doors while I close the store for a couple of hours. The place is reserved for both of you at the request of Miss Lacroix.” The man apologized and went to the front door while both girls crossed the threshold of the door, Angela sitting on one of the lounge sofas in front of a fitting platform with several mirrors stretching to the sides of the wall.

“Is this… Normal for rich people?” Fareeha said shyly, feeling out of place immediately while Angela seemed to thrive and enjoy this part.

“Of course. Privacy is a luxury, and as said luxury, the cost is grand.”

“I-I see…”

“Why are you so apprehensive? Didn’t your wealthy clients take you to places like this?”

“Angela, you are the richest person I have ever worked for.”

“…Oh. And to think about it, this is the first time I bring you for a fitting, isn't it? My apologies, Fareeha. I didn’t think about how uncomfortable you could feel in a place like this.”

“N-no! It’s okay, really! It’s just that it’s all too weird for me right now. I can manage it.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“I am.” Angela got up from her place and walked to where Fareeha was, cupping her cheek with a slender hand and tracing the tattoo under her eye with a thumb, feeling the warm skin underneath and smiling fondly at her. Fareeha’s heart felt close to jumping out of her ribcage.

“I would never force you to do something that you don't want to do. But I won't deny that if you are willing to continue, I will be more than grateful to you.”

“This time, I'm willing to go to the end of the world if I’m by your side. I promise you.” Angela blushed at the comment, tucking sheepishly a loose strand of hair behind her ear and earning a grin from Fareeha, who bent down to press her lips to those of the doctor in a chaste kiss, feeling the softness of the plump flesh touching fervently her own. A pair of arms surrounded her waist, bringing her even closer to the doctor. The heat was rapidly spreading from her chest up to her head and down to her groin.

“Sorry for the intrusion.” The man returned and cleared his throat lightly, making both girls separate with a tad of discomfort. “Everything’s been taking care of and now we can begin with the fitting session.”

“That would be ideal, my thanks.” Angela sat down on her place on the sofa and took one of the two flutes filled with sparkling champagne, sipping carefully. “She goes first, if you would be so kind.”

“Absolutely. Ma’am?” He motioned to the fitting platform in front of them.

“Wait, first?”

“Now you can get an idea of why we keep all this secret.” Angela ignored Fareeha’s question, instead she kept talking to the tailor who started measuring Fareeha’s body with a measuring tape. “The world isn’t ready to see that I’m dating someone, in a sort of way. You must keep this secret.”

“I understand, and no word will slip from my lips.”

“Thank you.”

After what seemed like an eternity in standing on the platform while the measurements were taken from head to toe and in which a lot of outfits were fitted, Fareeha was quickly getting tired and bored with such activity, something that Angela seemed to be enjoying and triving herself. At least that she could give her: entertainment. Once her time had passed and she was dispatched to the more casual section of the store to complement her wardrobe, she returned with a modest amount of clothes back to the dressing room, sitting where Angela was and understanding why the doctor was having so much fun.

It was a show itself. Angela was in her underwear, it mattered little that a man was seeing her and measuring at her mercy, but Fareeha was calm given the professionalism of the tailor. What she was uneasy about was the fact of keeping her composure and not being able to take her in her arms with each fitted dress she wore, each and every one of them exquisitely accentuating her figure to the delight of all. She would definitely take revenge for putting her through such a calvary once they went back to the hotel.

“There’s one more thing Miss Lacroix asked me to hand you.”

The man took a briefcase in his hands and opened it in front of them. A glock and several cartridges of ammunition paired with a shoulder holster tucked tightly in the dark foam. Both women were already changed in a more adequate attire: Fareeha wearing a plain black suit with a white shirt underneath, a pair of black shiny shoes dressing her feet. Angela was wearing a pale pink dress nudging tightly her body and nude stilettos to complement her outfit.

“You are my only source of safety, Fareeha.” Angela started saying as she took the holster from the briefcase and Fareeha stripped from her jacket, the doctor helping her secure the leather strap. “I don't trust anyone else with my life as much as I trust you.”

“Your life over mine, my lady.”

“Charming.”

After leaving the place with several bags of the store filled with clothes, shoes and accesories, Angela led both of them to a restaurant near the same avenue, the place filled with live music on a corner, making the place quite the popular place to gather and spend the night with friends. Fareeha almost flopped down in a booth after carrying so many bags, breathing deeply and arching an eyebrow when Angela sat down and giggled, adorably covering her mouth with a hand.

“What’s so funny?”

“You make a great assistant.”

“For carrying your shopping bags?”

Our shopping bags, Fareeha.” The doctor raised a hand, earning the attention of a waitress. “I want a glass of red wine, Carlo Rossi, and she’ll have a malt beer.” Once the waitress scribbled their order in a small server book, she left them alone once again only to return a minute later with both beverages. Angela swirled her glass in her hand before taking a sip, humming in delight at the taste. “I missed this.”

“You’re an alcoholic.”

“Excuse me, who reported late on her first days of duty because she had a hangover and overslept?”

“It was my birthday... I had a freebie.”

"We don't have "freebies" in this life, Amari." Fareeha laughed and took a drink of her beer, tasting the sweet bitterness of the dark liquid.

“And you still remember my preferences regarding alcohol?”

“Oh, I could never forget this smell and taste. I used to take one myself once or twice a week to remember you.”

“That's cute… And needy.” Fareeha jested, earning a soft slap in the arm by the blonde who was caught in a fit of giggles.

“I will take that partly as a compliment. What did you do to remember me?”

For a moment, the younger woman recalled as much as her brain could, closing her eyes briefly and taking a deep breath. She didn’t remember much. “That’s the thing, I didn’t remember you until a couple months…” Fareeha stared down at her own drink, looking at the foam gathering on top of the cold glass. A hand rested on top of hers, warm and soft, making her look up only to be met with a tender smile.

“How are you now?” Be honest with her.

“There are many things that I still don't remember. My mind tries to make me understand some events, even faces... And many things from my past -like my childhood- keep disturbing me… Is that normal?”

“Given the circumstances in which you found yourself, it is very likely that you still have these gaps of unrecalled memories. Unfortunately, that’s something that only you can fill, revisiting old places might help you, but that includes Egypt as wel-”

“Out of question.” Fareeha interrupted, drinking hastily from her glass.

“As I said before, my primary concern is your well-being, and I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want. If you want to go some other time or not at all, I’ll respect your decision.”

“…Thank you.” Angela smiled at her and drank from her glass, retracting her hand from Fareeha’s own and fidgeted with the ring in her middle finger. Now seemed to be time to ask the right questions. “Angela, what exactly are we doing here?” Her sweet face hardened for a couple seconds, straightening in her seat as she placed both her hands in the table, one overlapping the other.

“Fareeha, when we were in India I told you a little about why I sacrificed working for Vishkar in order to achieve an advance that would benefit humanity. I still don’t know how to feel about all this, I failed in my personal goals but I found something that I treasured even more. I found you, and the moment I saw you I wanted to leave everything behind and take you out of there with me. But life is more complicated than that, especially mine.”

“What do you mean?” A sigh and diverted blue eyes.

“My work is everything, it means a lot to me and my main objective has been to never stop improving, never stop looking for ways to benefit humanity. I never relapse into unethical practices; although this time I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but that’s no excuse... I regret a lot, Fareeha. The news are plagued by an 'unfortunate incident at Vishkar’s Headquarters in India’. I fear what they can discover and that they link me with that.”

“You fear for your reputation.”

“I'd be lying if I told you otherwise. Only a few people know exactly where I was going, what I was headed for and what I was doing. Emily is one of them, and I trusted her to keep the secret and cover me in the hospital until I finished my six-month leave. No one in the hospital knew exactly what I was doing or where I was going, but the presence of Vishkar in my own hospital can raise those suspicions if I don’t give a logical and reasonable explanation before and after.”

“I understand…” Even when she didn’t understood at all, she needed to let the doctor vent and explain herself. She owed her that.

“I know it's complicated, and I need your help.”

“Of course, you will always have my help… Although I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

“What you did before.”

“What I…Pardon?”

“I want you to be my bodyguard once again, Fareeha. That way, you can come anywhere with me and you won’t have to leave my side. That’s a mere excuse for you to come with me and not be questioned about it.”

“Your bodyguard?”

“I need to make public appearances but subtle, not to tell the world that I am in such a part to obviously call their attention, but to make an appearance in some hospitals that are linked to mine and my work, I monitor the use of my techniques and procedures to the goals that are established and I think it is a perfect opportunity to make a new revision of those.” Everything was clicking now.

“So that’s why we are in Greece.” A nod.

“That’s right. The main Ilios hospital is linked to my own, and this is where I want to start.”

“Got it.” A soft smile was delivered, and quickly turned into a not so pleasant grimace. It was very obvious, and Fareeha immediately wanted to correct that. “What’s wrong?”

“A selfish wish...” Angela took the glass of wine and started swirling it again. A habit that she had when she thought, finding a soothing source at watching the liquid tint the walls of the glass. “You are that.”

“Am I disturbing you?”

“N-no! Not at all! What I mean is that- Look, I need to really explain myself.” She sighed, and drank the whole content of the glass in one single sitting. “My reputation is the most important thing I have, many things depend on it, such as support for my hospital and therefore, my patients. Several years ago I had the misfortune of being involved in a lot of drama that seriously affected an important support of a photochemotherapy treatment capable of eradicate cancer cells. I lost it completely, that's why I resorted to dragging myself to Vishkar and I failed... I don’t need more drama, I don’t need more gossip. And that's why bringing you with me is a selfish wish...”

“I don’t understand, Angela.”

“By coming with me I am prone to more suspicions and assumptions. I’m a divorced woman, I promised to my ex-husband’s family to protect both our reputations and interests, so having you around means you are more than a friend… It leads to gossiping but still I want to take you with me everywhere knowing that people will ask about you, why suddenly the bodyguard escorting me previously is back with me even when I don’t need her anymore. I am sure that this peace will not last long, and they will look for you, and therefore me too, and they will probably take away another important support but...”

“…But?”

“I-I don’t care… And I’m afraid, Fareeha. I don’t mind losing one more support while you're with me, you're my selfish wish… I’m willing to leave something that might improve and save the lives of many others just to spend more time with you…” It could be the alcohol she kept ordering in the middle of the conversation mixed with the moment of shared intimacy, but Angela started crying softly, covering her face with one hand while trying to soothe the sobs.

“Angela, I don’t need you to hire me as your bodyguard to stay by your side. But if this brings you peace and helps us get out of this together, I am willing to do it without thinking twice.”

“My thanks, Fareeha… My thanks.” She took her hands in her own and squeezed strongly, Fareeha almost fearing the doctor would crack her fingers. Nonetheless, she was more than willing to let her do so, she could see Angela was tipsy and she kept ordering more wine, Fareeha barely finishing her second pint of beer. “And since we’re here, why don’t we celebrate for our successful yet improvised break?” She raised her glass, and Fareeha clinked her glass with her.

“For the reversed roles, and to you, my protégé.”

“For the future awaiting us, and to you, my bodyguard.”

Both glasses collided and the drink ran out in a matter of seconds, Angela raising her hand and ordering a full bottle. Time flew by and soon they were both drunk, Fareeha conscious enough to stop and know it was time to retire to the hotel before something else happened. After more than two years without drinking a drop of alcohol, her body would definitely resent her as soon as she touched the bed.

Walking back through crowded streets as enthusiastic as they were was no easy task, and in the end Fareeha ended up leading Angela by the hand back to the hotel, to her bedroom and to her bed, and despite her drunken state, Angela was clingier than usual, more desperate than usual, more aroused than usual. Between kisses, she pinned the Egyptian to the bed, unzipping her dress from behind as she started to caress the body below her with need and desperation, both forms pressing against each other.

Fareeha felt her body warm with every touch of the doctor's body, until she felt her slender hands not move any more, and only a soft snore alerted her that Angela was still alive but totally unconscious. She had to laugh about it, but she was just as tired that she quickly closed her eyes and succumbed to a heavy sleep with a delicate and delicious body on top of hers, giving her warmth on that cool night.


The night and the desert were a wonderful combination. The small grains of sand shone under the moonlight, and the wind caressed its soft, yellow, brown floors with small dots dyed crimson. Her knees could barely support her weight, and the hand on her eye was soaked with more blood, furiously dripping down her skin and clothes to the sand. That was her mother.

“Fareeha, get away from here!” She howled, begging her own daughter to run and hide, to leave her behind.

“I won’t, mom! Get up, we can make it-!”

“No, we can’t! I can’t drag you down with me!”

“Fuck them! They won’t!”

“Are you that stubborn, Fareeha. They will, and I prefer a thousand times to die now so that you can live a better life before living one of suffering together!” Fareeha’s face was distorted, showing frustration, anger and desperation, tears gathering in her eyes and dripping down her chin as she tried to get her mother to get up, only for that hand to be slapped back. “Fareeha, I can’t leave with you!”

“Why not? You’re injured!”

“Exactly! If I walk I'll leave a trail of blood and guide them to my location, and if I go with you it's the perfect formula to catch us both!”

The time was running out, and both would not last long hidden behind that deteriorated temple. Both Ana and Fareeha knew it, and a mother's love was undoubted, since the older woman was willing to sacrifice herself for her daughter. What she did not know, is that the love her daughter had for her was just as important, just as intangible and sensational. Fareeha had only one solution in her head. Sacrifice.

“May the Gods protect you and help you protect those who need it, mother.” She stroked her hair softly, with endless love and affection. Ana’s healthy eye widened.

“What are you doing-?”

“We will meet again. Take care mom. I love you.”

“Fareeha!”

And she ran away from the temple, away from her mother, away from her past life in order to distract Hakim's men hired by the government to trap and annihilate them. Fareeha was more than willing to save her mother's life, she had already caused many problems and maybe it was time to pay her mother for everything she had done for her.

But she had no idea what they had prepared for her.