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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.


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.”


“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.


“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.


“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.”


“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.



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.