I hope you enjoy them and blessings to you as we bring in this wonderful season of Thanksgiving!!
After I’d parked the car, I’d raced upstairs and started packing. How pathetic was it that my entire wardrobe fit into the black backpack Thirteen had bought for me after the new year? I looked up to the small camera hidden behind one of the drape rod finials. I wasn’t upset about leaving this place – it had never been mine anyway. Hell, I’d barely slept the whole time I was here.
I felt Thirteen appear in the doorway. Crap. I should have never shown him all that stuff. But he’d been right – I wasn’t free of my family. They were in every thought and feeling I had. I turned to face him. His enormous frame took up the entire doorway. He hadn’t spoken at all during the drive back to the safe house. Seeing him now, a strange anxiety crept into my throat.
“We need to talk, Magnolia.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Your family is different from other supernaturals, aren’t they? The Russians your father mentioned – the fire-starters – most individuals with supernatural abilities are like that; one power, one supernatural ability. But your family is different. ”
I shoved another shirt into my pack. I so didn’t want to go where this conversation was headed.
“Where does your power come from, Magnolia?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Did your grandparents have powers like yours? Your mother?”
I clenched my fists. “Damn it, Thirteen, I don’t know! My mother was a weak-minded moron, so no, I can’t imagine she ever had powers of her own. And Grandmother was a power hungry bitch, but no, she didn’t have any supernatural abilities either.”
“You met your grandmother? Our records say that she died before you were born.”
“She died right after I was born. And I saw her a lot in the rest of my family’s memories.”
“Your Grandfather then,” he said more to himself than to me. “Your powers most likely came from your father’s father. We have no record of him.”
“Join the club.”
“You never met him or saw him in your father’s or uncles’ memories?”
“No one ever met him. I mean, obviously Grandmother did, but no one else ever knew anything about him.”
Whatever. I went back to my bag.
It was a long moment before he spoke again. “They punished you because they fear you,” he said quietly.
I froze mid-pack. “They tortured me because they hate me.”
“There is a fine line between fear and hatred, Magnolia. Especially for powerful men.”
I shoved another shirt into my bag. “I know what fear is, Thirteen. It’s debilitating and consuming until it becomes a part of who you are.”
“Is that how you felt?”
“It’s how I feel now.”
He stepped into the room. My breath turned shaky. Damn it! Why did I react to his concern like this?
“Why you?” he asked. “From what you showed me, your brothers were in attendance when you were being dealt severe violence at the hands of your father. And yet neither brother ever seemed concerned about his own safety.”
I jerked the zipper closed on my bag and went to the dresser to gather my toiletries. “They never touched Malcolm or Markus. I mean, they were slapped around some when they screwed up or something, but they can’t heal like I can. Malcolm breaks an arm and it stays broken for weeks. It doesn’t do much for honing Uncle Max’s torture skills – I mean, interrogation skills – when your test dummy is always broken. Not to mention, a punching bag that shatters every time you hit it isn’t exactly prime stress-release material.”
I fumbled through my soaps and lotions. “But they do hate me. Real hatred, like you or any other normal person couldn’t possibly understand.”
“But why? You all have extraordinary powers.”
“No one has powers like mine. I can’t be killed. No matter what they did to me, no matter how hard they tried, I always lived.”
Thirteen inclined his head. “You were their first failure.”
I turned to face him. “I am their only failure.”
This brought out a serious frown over his wide face. “The Network has thwarted a great deal of the terrorist-like activity that your father and the senator have attempted. In fact, just last summer, our Liberian operatives confiscated a massive shipment of unauthorized weapons Senator Kelch was secretly transporting to guerilla forces trying to gain a footing. It was a major blow to the Senator’s weapons’ network.”
Poor Thirteen. I almost didn’t want to tell him the truth.
“I remember that confiscated shipment.” It was one of the few occasions when Uncle Max actually took a turn on me – he’d brought out the heirloom knives if I remembered correctly. “And Uncle Max was totally put out … for about fifteen minutes. But it was hardly a failure, Thirteen. He hopped a plane that night, flew to Africa and got all the weapons back. I remember because he brought back some kind of wine that Uncle Mallroy wanted for his goats when he returned the next day.”
Thirteen shook his head hard even as he pulled out his cell phone. “That’s impossible. I would have known if the shipment had been removed from its secured location.”
“Not if your operatives still think the weapons are there.” When he paused, I tapped my forehead. “Memories aren’t the only thing I can telepathically project into your mind. If Uncle Max wanted the people guarding the weapons to think they were still there, then that’s what they think.”
For a long moment he just stood there. I took my lotions and other stuff over to my bag and shoved them in the front pocket. There – all packed. Now what?
Thirteen snapped his phone shut and stood straighter, getting all serious. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Aren’t you going to check the weapons? See if I’m telling the truth?”
“You have no reason to lie to me, and I will check the shipment in a few moments. But first, I’d like you to consider working for me.”
Okay, it was my turn to frown now. “Like what? Answer your phone and shit? Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“I’d like you to be an informant for the Network. Specifically, I’d like you to educate a specially designed task force on the abilities and motivations of your father and uncles. And your siblings, as well, if you believe them to be a potential threat.”
My jaw hit the ground. Power swelled inside me. “I can’t.”
“Why not? You’ve shown me your powers.”
Not all of them, but whatever. “That’s different. You already knew who I was, you were helping me.”
“Most of the Network knows who your family is, Magnolia.” His eyes turned sad. “Do you want to protect them? I suppose can understand that – abusive or not, they are all the family you’ve ever known.”
“No, I don’t want to protect them.” Was he crazy? “They can protect themselves. But I can’t talk about their powers – like give you details and stuff. I just can’t.”
I shifted my feet, my body aching in remembered punishments from the times I’d slipped up as a child. When I asked my brothers’ tutor why she didn’t speak with her thoughts the way Father and my uncles did, or when I questioned the stable hands why it took five of them to lift the farm equipment that Uncle Mallroy could lift on his own. I been punished enough to learn that lesson well – people could speculate all they wanted, but we didn’t talk about Father’s and my uncles’ powers. Ever.
He took a step closer, just to the opposite side of the bed, my packed duffle bag between us. “There’s more to what I’m asking than you might think, Magnolia. You would be an unparalleled source of information – there’s no denying that. And your existence would still be protected. Only a select group of agents would ever know who you are.”
Yeah, right. “Sure, and as soon as one of those agents was captured by family guards, Uncle Max would strip their mind and Father would know I was alive. Thanks, but no thanks.” Even as I said the words, though, my resolve wavered.
“You need this,” he said, his voice getting stronger. “You’ve already taken the first step – you escaped. You’ve taken time to adjust to your freedom, but there is still so much fear inside you. Working with me will be another step in helping you rid yourself of that fear. You need this, Magnolia.”
Okay, let’s just think about this a moment. On one hand, he was right – I had escaped, but I wasn’t really free. Father’s nurture fear was still deep inside me, affecting every thought or move I made. On the other hand, the idea of working against Father and Uncle Max made me sick to my stomach.
I closed my eyes and let my power swell inside me. I had choices now. Control over my powers, control over my decisions, and in the case of talking to Thirteen’s Network, control over how much information I gave. I looked back across the bed to Thirteen. So patient, so accepting. Even now, after violating his mind with those horrible images, he was still giving me a choice rather than forcing information from me. It made me want to cry. Damn it.
“What exactly do you want me to do?”