Counterattack



No one spoke much on the way home.

I sat in the back seat, slumped down, my face lined with salt but starting to dry.

Isabel was next to me, her arm thrown over the seat behind me, ready to reach for me if I started crying again. She was staring away from us, her fingers fluttering nervously against her lips. Tess sat in front of her, silent and immobile, the lift and fall of her blond curls in the night air her only movement.

Michael was driving, his eyes fixated on the road. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel.

His ring kept reflecting the moonlight, I thought numbly. The light glinted every so often, when he took a sharp turn, when he tightened his grip on the wheel.

My heart hurt.

I always thought the concept of heartache was figurative, a poetic way to describe emotional loss. I never considered that heartache was something real, a physical manifestation of grief and pain, something your body did to you because your mind couldn't handle it all at once, the image of his face pressed up against the glass like a prisoner, an animal, like he wasn't human -

I closed my eyes and felt the tears running over my skin. Damnit. It wouldn't help. Crying wouldn't help or bring him back...

But I couldn't stop.

He'd come after me. They all had.

He'd gotten caught because of me.

I felt Isabel's hand fall to my shoulder, squeezing gently. I looked up at her. She was crying, too, her eyes still staring out at the passing landscape, her lips pale from pressing them together.

I let my gaze drop back to my hands in my lap, trying to focus on my hands, lying open and empty.

It's strange what you think of when you're in shock.

I kept remembering one of my favorite books when I was a child, the Never Ending Story, a book about the world of imagination, where everything anyone ever imagined was real, brought to life. And one of the creatures was a stone giant, a huge, kind being who ate boulders and had to walk carefully, because he could crush a city with his steps...

He became friends with two other creatures, I thought, creatures who were nothing like him, but they were friends, and they helped each other...

And then one day, a plague surged across their world, obliterating everything in its path, destroying everything without cause or explanation, and finally it found the three of them...

And because he was the strongest, he held them in his hands, trying to keep the howling winds from snatching them but he couldn't stop it, I thought, the plague was too powerful and he was too weak to hold them and they flew out of his hands and the nothingness took them and they disappeared, and there was nothing left of them.

No sign they'd ever even existed.

Not even bodies for him to bury.

He couldn't help them. He couldn't save them.

He looked down at his hands before the plague took him too, the rough-hewn hands of stone that had held his friends, trying to hold them, trying to save them, and he said -

"They look like good, strong hands... don't they?

Don't they?"

The lines on my palms blurred and fell out of focus.

They had Max.

What could I do? What could any of us do?

Oh, God -

{Liz, you have to stop.}

I blinked and raised my head a little. He hadn't communicated with me since we left the carnival-

{I can't. Michael, I can't, I don't know how -}

{You have to, Liz. We have to focus on Max.}

My throat constricted. They caught him because of me. If I hadn't left with Nasedo, maybe I could have stopped them -

{Damnit, Liz, I mean it.}

I took in a deep breath, my eyes closing.

{You can't tear yourself up about this. You didn't know...}

His voice faded and I opened my eyes, blinking, watching the dark droplets falling to my jeans, marring and darkening the fabric.

I didn't know. That was true. But it didn't make me feel better.

I should have known. Why couldn't I tell the difference?

Michael moved quickly and immediately stopped. I think he just shifted his shoulders. I barely caught it out of my peripheral vision.

Like he was trying to shake something off.

I looked up at him.

His back was tense, the arm on the steering wheel locked at the elbow.

He breathed out heavily. I could see him blinking furiously in the rear view mirror. He brought his free hand up and rubbed his face, quickly, the motion sharp and angry.

{Michael?}

His eyes flickered up to the rear view mirror, at me, and then back to the road. He didn't respond.

I sat up. Isabel looked at me, a little worried. I shifted my weight immediately, smiling at her weakly, trying not to look at him.

{Michael. What -}

He snorted a laugh. Tess looked over at him. "What," She said.

"Nothing," He replied quickly, pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes, staring out at the road.

She stared at him for a few seconds and then let her gaze drop, turning her head, looking at the darkness hurtling past us.

{Michael.} My voice was a whisper. {What is it, Michael -}

{I shouldn't have left him.} His hand tensed on the wheel. {I should have gone with him.}

{Michael, you were looking for -}

I stopped, letting my eyes rise up to the rear view mirror.

His eyes were locked on the road. They flickered up to mine and then dropped back to the night.

He was looking for me.

He couldn't have done anything. I couldn't have done anything.

Oh, God -

I started crying again, my hands coming up to my face, trying to stop them, thinking it won't help, Liz, you have to think -

Isabel's arms were around me, pulling me close to her, her tears falling hot on my skin, her body trembling with silent sobs.

Michael and Tess stared out at the night, still as statues, not acknowledging our muffled cries as if they could will us to stop.

We had to get him back. We had to.

********

"We should have never split up," Michael said, leaning against the counter in the kitchen.

I looked up at him. His eyes met mine and flickered away almost immediately.

"I mean, I never - I never should have left him alone," He finished, looking down.

"What are they doing to him?" Isabel asked, her hand dropping away from her face. Her voice was shaking. "God, what if he's already dead -"

"No," I whispered. She looked over at me, her eyes desperate. "No, Isabel, you can't even talk like that. Max is too smart to let something like that happen."

"Pierce won't kill him," Tess said. "He wants to study him."

"How the hell do you know?" Michael snapped.

I heard the crashdown doors open and ran out to meet Maria and Alex. Michael had called them on the way back.

"Oh my god, Liz," Maria said, her arms held up to hug me. "We were so worried -"

I stepped back from the hug and tried to say the words.

"They - they took Max," I said, my voice getting stronger.

"Who?" Alex asked. "Who did?"

"Pierce," I said, my voice breaking a little. "The FBI Special Unit. They took him."

Maria's eyes widened and then she looked past me.

Right at Michael.

She walked past me, her arms out to him, pulling him close. He wrapped his arms around her. I looked at him, then at her.

She loved him. It was that simple.

I heard something behind me and looked over my shoulder. Alex was holding Isabel. She was shaking, holding on to him as close as she could -

I turned away from it, and my eyes slid back to Michael. Holding Maria. I turned away quickly and fell on the only other person in the room with no one to hold her.

"Where's Nasedo?" I asked Tess, my voice choked.

"I don't know," She said quietly.

"He's supposed to be at our side," Michael said. "Where is he?"

"I told you," She said. "I don't know. He's never left me alone like this before."

"Then it's up to us," Isabel whispered. We looked at her.

"We have to find Max."

"What - what makes you think we can go up against alien hunters and win?" Alex asked.

"What the hell choice do we have?" Michael demanded. "What, let him be a pincushion for Pierce? Let him die?"

"No," Alex said, shaking his head. "That's not -"

"We have to go to Valenti," I whispered suddenly.

You could have heard a pin drop.

{Liz -}

He didn't agree. I didn't care. It was all we had left. I started moving for the door -

Michael caught me by the arm. "What, and tell him everything?"

{If we have to.}

{Liz, we can't trust him -}

{Michael, you didn't see him. He was trying to help-}

"Max was willing to do it to save Liz," Isabel said slowly, interrupting us. We both turned to her. "Maybe now is the time to trust him," She finished.

"What makes you think that Valenti is better equipped than we are?" Tess asked suddenly.

"He's the law," Maria said, her voice tense. "He's got resources -"

"So do we," Tess interrupted. "Stronger ones. Look, I know what can do." She looked at Isabel, then Michael. "What about the two of you?"

"What do you mean?" Michael said slowly.

"Your powers, Michael. Your gifts. You do have them, don't you?"

He stared at her. I knew he was not looking at me deliberately. "We're not too advanced -"

"We can do easy things," Isabel interrupted. "But we don't use them very often. What about you?

"Being around Nasedo has taught me quite a few things," She answered quietly.

I stared at them. They couldn't be serious. {Michael -}

{Let me do this, Liz.}

Be careful around Nasedo and Tess - don't forget about her -

{Michael, we can't trust her -}

"Wait," Alex said suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. He turned to Isabel. "What about that dream thing that you can do?"

********

Alex and Isabel were in my room, talking quietly. Maria was sitting on a lawn chair, staring in at the two of them. I was crouched at the far end of the rooftop, and Michael -

Michael was pacing like a caged animal, back and forth, back and forth, his hands on his hips, his eyes flickering everywhere. He wouldn't stop moving.

{Michael.}

He ignored me.

{Michael-}

He sighed and sank into the nearest lawnchair, his hands covering his face and sliding through his hair. {This has to work, Liz.}

I bit my lip. {I know.}

{If she doesn't get through to him...}

I didn't answer. She would.

She had to.

His hands tapped on his legs, a sporadic, nervous rhythm.

{Michael. Please -}

He breathed in sharply, pressing his knuckles against his eyes. {Damn. Damn -}

{It's alright, Michael.} I tried to make my voice soothing, quiet. {It'll be alright.}

His hands dropped and he leaned forward, his hands dangling in front of him. {Right. I know. You're right.}

He stood up quickly and paced to the far side of the rooftop. I sighed.

The next thing we knew, Isabel was sitting up in bed screaming.

******

Michael got to her first, reaching for her, cupping her face and forcing her to focus on him. "What happened?" He said. "Isabel, what happened -"

"Michael, he's so scared," She said, her voice frantic. "He's so scared -"

"Okay, Isabel - Isabel, you've got to calm down."

I stared at Michael.

He got to her first. Alex was in the room with her and Michael got to her first -

Stop it. Stop.

I couldn't help it. I looked at Alex.

Under the concern for Isabel, I saw something else.

"- calm down. All right? You got to tell me what you saw," He said, leaning in to her. "We've got to help him."

"Oh god. That deputy -"

Deputy?

"- the deputy that stopped us last night, he's Pierce," She whispered, gasping for air. "He's Pierce."

"Are you sure?" Alex asked.

"He told me. And he's drugging him," She said, her voice cracking. "He's hurting him -"

She was falling apart. I moved closer to her, holding her arms. "Where? Isabel, where is he? Where is -"

"I don't know," She whispered, shaking her head. "I don't know where he is -"

"Think hard," Tess interrupted. "He must have given you something. Think."

Her eyes were frantic, searching for something, a clue, anything.

Please, Isabel. Please -

"He did," She whispered suddenly, looking at Michael. "He did. I think I know where I've seen it before."

*********

"This is it," She whispered, pointing at the symbol. "This is what Max showed me. This is the symbol on the hall floor on the base."

"It says that it's been abandoned for years," Maria said slowly.

"That's where he is -"

"Look. Now we have no choice," I said, my voice sounding louder than I intended. "Okay, we have to go to Valenti."

"What, are you crazy?" Michael demanded.

{Michael, listen -}

He ignored me and kept talking. "After we just found out about Deputy Fisher? Valenti's probably in on the whole thing -"

"Michael," I shot back. "We can't go to a place like that on our own -"

"No," He said sharply, cutting me off. "You can't." He looked up at Isabel.

"But we can."

I stared at him, panic rising in my blood. My heart clenched. {Michael, what are you-}

"Isabel, Tess and I can protect ourselves," He said quickly, not looking back at me.

{No. No. Michael -}

"With what?" Maria said suddenly, crossing over to us. "Your gifts?"

Michael licked his lips. "Why not?"

"Because you don't know how to use them, that's why not," She said quickly. "You could get killed, or worse -"

"And you guys aren't going there without me," I said quickly.

{You're not going.}

{Michael, I'm not leaving you -}

"Look, you want the truth?" Tess said. "You're liabilities. All three of you."

I stared at her, my mouth slightly open. Who did she think -

{Liz. She's right.}

I looked back at him. {Michael -}

{I can't be worried about you, Liz, I have to get Max.}

My eyes dropped.

You're liabilities - all three of you -

"We've got a better chance of saving Max without you," Tess said quietly. "That's what this is all about. Right?"

I looked at Michael.

Max was bad enough. But if I lost Michael -

My gaze fell again, my heart constricting, making it hard to breathe. No, the voice in my head shouted, not Michael, not him too -

If I lost Michael, I'd be alone. I didn't think I could go back to being Liz, to being without him...

{Liz.}

I looked up at him, trying not to cry. He looked determined. Focused.

Just like I did when I went to see Tess.

Maybe someday you'll be the one worried, Liz. And then maybe you'll understand...

He'd made up his mind.

Oh, God. I can't lose him.

He wouldn't tell me he was going to be careful. He wouldn't lie.

He'd be reckless, he'd take chances, just like he always did, and they could catch him, he could get killed -

He could never come back. Maybe none of them would. And then I'd never know...

I couldn't stop him.

He would do whatever needed to be done.

That's part of why I loved him.

{I can't lose you, Michael.}

My voice was cracked. He stared back at me, at the few steps that separated us. It might as well have been a chasm a thousand feet deep.

I couldn't even kiss him goodbye.

"Bring him back to me," I whispered.

His eyes flickered. He took a quick breath.

"I will," He said.

"We'd better hurry," Tess murmured.

Maria looked up at Michael, her arms reaching for him.

"You come back to me," She whispered.

He hugged her, his arms wrapping around her tightly and I felt it, felt Michael's arms around me, crushing me to him, his hands cradling the back of my head, his light and warmth spreading over my body and into my heart.

{I won't leave you,} And the whisper was fierce and strong, resounding in my head, my body, resonating through my heart...

{I won't leave you.}

The light pulsed and faded slowly from my body, the energy dissolving into my heartbeat.

I opened my eyes and watched them leave, all three of them climbing the stairs, feeling the pulse in my heart start to fade, feeling the ache coming back, stronger and more painful than before...

And then, they were gone.

**********

We were in the military base. It looked totally deserted. Liz and I were linked up but we weren't communicating. I told her it was the only way I could focus on what I had to do, and she agreed to it.

Isabel finally pointed out a door.

"I saw that," She whispered. "Max remembered it -"

"He's in there," Tess said.

"How do we get in?"

"In here," Tess said, dragging Isabel by the arm. "Or they'll see us -"

I moved back to them quickly. Footsteps grew louder and then passed, echoing further down the hallway. I started to move -

"Wait," Tess whispered, grabbing my arm. "They always patrol in intervals."

My eyes flickered to the hallway. Another chorus of feet, rythymic and even, covered the same ground, fading and disappearing as the agent turned the corner.

"How did you know that?" Isabel demanded in a low whisper. "Nasedo?"

"When you've been hunted all your life, it gets easier to catch on," Tess said quietly.

I glanced over at her. I'd seen what a few hours with Nasedo had done to Tess. What did years of it do to her?

"He won't let me in," Isabel whispered, her hands trembling. "I just keep seeing some blinding light. That's not good. He's in some kind of trauma -"

I looked back at Tess. "If you can get through the damn electric fence, why can't you short circuit the security system?" I demanded.

"I told you," She stressed. "They're watching. The minute they see us, it's all over."

"So what are we supposed to do - just wait and let them kill him?" Isabel hissed.

Tess didn't answer. I looked from her to Isabel and stood up.

"I'm going to take this thing down myself," I muttered, moving into the hall -

I stepped back quick. Two men were wheeling a gurney down the hall. A body -

"It's him," Isabel whispered, panic straining her voice. "Oh, God, it's him -"

"We don't know that," Tess interrupted, shaking her head. "I would have felt it if something happened to him."

I stared at her for a second. How would she know -

"Only one way to find out," I whispered, ducking into the hall and moving after the body. Tess and Isabel followed me.

********

"I'm sure they've found him by now," Maria said, glancing at me.

I blinked, focusing on her voice, trying not to jump to conclusions. It was just a body. We didn't know it was Max -

"They're probably on their way back," Alex said, his eyes worried.

"Yeah," I whispered. "I wish I could believe that one."

They both stared at me, then at each other. I heard an unfamiliar sound and looked up -

Valenti was dragging a chair over to our booth. I stared at him. He could help us -

We just found out about the deputy - Valenti's probably in on the whole thing -

"I've been up all night trying to figure out what happened at that carnival," He said slowly, his eyes focused on the table, then on me.

"I know what I saw. Mirrors or no mirrors, there were two Max Evans standing right in front of me. And now one of them is in the hands of Agent Pierce and the Special Unit, and I'm just hoping that it wasn't the one that we all care about."

I focused on the restaurant window. People were walking their dogs, shopping, buying food for their families. Like everything was normal.

Like Michael wasn't risking his life to save Max -

"Liz," The sheriff said. "Tell me. Let me help."

I looked at him. I could tell him -

We've got a better chance of saving him than you do...

"We don't know any more than you do, Sheriff," I said, my voice hoarse. "Sorry."

He flinched, breaking his gaze and staring down at the table. "If Pierce has reached the same conclusion that I have," He said slowly, standing up. "Then Max is going to need a lot more help than any of you can give him."

The three of us watched him walk outside, the door drifting closed behind him.

"You guys, what if he's right?"

They both looked at me, worried, anxious. "I mean, I would never forgive myself if something actually happened to them that maybe we could have, like, prevented... I..."

Oh, God, Michael. Be alright. Get him, bring him back , but please be alright -

"Ok, listen," Maria said quickly. "Let's give them until four o'clock, all right? If they're not back by thenů"

I looked up at her. Her eyes were red too.

"Right," I whispered, nodding. "Okay. Four o'clock."

"He's going to be fine," Maria lied.

"Yeah," I whispered, not believing it.

Hurry, Michael. Hurry.

*******

We snuck into the morgue. I let Tess in first, then Isabel, shutting the door behind us quietly.

The body was under a white sheet. Tess and Isabel were standing next to it.

My hands rubbed my face, my ring cold against my skin. It was cold in here -

For the bodies, Guerin. It's cold for the bodies..

My stomach turned.

It wasn't Max. It wasn't Max.

It could be.

I walked over to the body and stopped. I looked up at Isabel. She stared back.

Don't look, I thought, don't look -

She pressed her lips together and looked away, over my shoulder. I looked back at the body. My hands were numb.

Do it quick.

My hand reached for the edge of the sheet. Everything was going in slow motion. It's not him.

It could be him. Do it quick -

I pulled the sheet up quickly -

Not Max. Someone else. My hands flew up and covered my face and I breathed out. I hadn't realized I was holding my breath.

Thank God, I thought, and immediately felt guilty.

"Oh my god," Isabel whispered, pointing. "Michael, look -"

"What is that?" Tess asked, staring at the silver handprint on the man's chest.

"Nasedo," I whispered.

"That's how he kills," Isabel said.

I felt Liz's panic. {Liz. Calm down.}

{Michael, he's there, you have to get out -}

{Liz, calm down -}

{Michael, please. Please, Michael -}

"Hey," Someone said. We all spun around.

"You shouldn't be here," The agent said, scowling. "What are you doing here?"

I brought my hand up fast, trying to throw him back, to do something -

I was flying back and my back hit something. Hard. I fell to the floor and tasted blood in my mouth, my muscles screaming. What the hell -

{Michael, get up. Get up. Michael -}

"It's you," Tess said. I glanced at her. She was glaring - at the agent -

"Don't ever leave me alone like that again," She said, her voice short, angry.

I looked at the agent.

{Hello, Michael.} Nasedo said.

*********

I blinked, trying to focus my eyes, trying to stand up. Nasedo?

{Yes, Michael.}

I froze. That was - that was in my head -

He was in my head. He could feel the connection -

Liz was shaking. Terrified. I could feel it. {Leave him alone. Just leave him alone -}

{I think we need to talk without distractions, Michael. Don't you?}

Liz screamed for him to stop, to get away from me, and then I felt something cold, icy and cruel, like a knife severing the connection between the two of us, the pain searing and strange and deliberate -

It was over.

Liz was gone.

I looked up at him. He smirked at me.

{You sonofabitch -}

{Easy, Michael.} His voice was like ice slipping down my spine. {We have work to do.}

His hand came up, and light flooded the room.

**********

"Oh my God," I whispered, focusing on the table. Maria and Alex looked at me.

I looked at the clock. 4:08.

The connection was gone. Nasedo broke the connection -

"I'm not waiting any more," I said, moving for the door. "I'm going to do what Max would do for me."

"Wait - are you sure it's our responsibility to tell Valenti everything?" Maria asked.

"It's our responsibility to keep them alive," I said, looking at both of them. "You know, Max was ready to trust him. That's all I need to know."

Valenti's probably in on the whole thing -

He wasn't. I saw his face at the carnival. He wouldn't betray us -

Are you willing to take that chance?

Yes, I thought. He can help, he can do something -

"What are you going to say?" Alex asked.

I reached out to Michael. Nothing.

"Whatever I have to," I said, leaving them. "To get him to help."

*********

Ed Harding blinked his eyes, his eyes flickering over each of us.

"I've been looking for you for a long time," I said, standing up and walking over to him. He took Liz. He kidnapped her. He hurt her -

"Not as long as I've been looking for you," He said easily. "Now you're about to get yourselves killed."

"We're here for Max," Isabel said, not moving toward him.

"This isn't the local sheriff you're dealing with," Nasedo snapped. "You should have known better."

What did he expect us to do? Leave Max? Where the hell had he been -

"None of you are equipped to be here," He said, his voice short and clipped. "I've got to get you out of here."

His hand came up again, blinding, so bright I had to look away. I squinted and could barely make out a metallic sliver rippling over his body, changing his hair, his clothes, his skin -

He was an agent. He looked totally different -

He's trying to protect you, Michael - I can't agree with what he's done -

"Let's go," He said quickly, opening the door.

********

I walked into the sheriff's office. Now that I was here, I didn't know what to do -

Do something. Help them. Please -

He looked up at me thoughtfully. "Liz Parker," He said slowly.

It's all going to change, I thought, everything's going to change -

I couldn't talk to Michael. I didn't know what was happening. Nasedo could be hurting him -

"You're right, Sheriff," I whispered. "I need your help."

He stared at me. The words were tumbling from my mouth.

"We all do," I whispered, trying to make my voice stronger. "Your new deputy, Fisher; he isn't a deputy, Sheriff, and his name is not Fisher. It's Pierce - from the FBI Special Unit. He's the one who has Max."

He blinked, his face contorting in a frown. "How do you know that?"

"I can't tell you," I whispered.

His eyes flickered over me.

What if he's in on the whole thing -

Michael, you didn't see him -

"Sheriff, Max is in a lot of trouble. I think that they all are. Sheriff, please. Will you trust me?"

He looked down at the table. I was losing him.

I only had one card left.

"I can tell you where he is," I whispered. "I can tell you where he is."

********

"....I can shape-shift into any of these agents: take their form, even their fingerprints," Nasedo said.

I blinked. He was telling us we had limitations. That they knew what we could do better than we did -

{Focus, Michael.}

I blinked and ran my hands through my hair. I hated having him in my head -

"...I can change my appearance, but not what's on the inside. Your bone structure, on the other hand, is one hundred percent human.

I frowned at him. "So you're different from me?"

He smiled. "Biology lessons later. Come on. If I'm going to get through that door, I'm going to need one of you with me, and since the only female agent at the Special Unit is now dead, it's you and me, Michael."

"I can't get through the scanner," I said, shaking my head. "I can't change my fingerprints."

"Yes. You can. You just don't know you can," He said quickly.

"I'll teach you. I just hope for Max's sake that you're a quick study. I'm going to need both of you, too."

*******

We left Isabel and Tess, moving back to the morgue.

"What did you do to her," I said under my breath.

He glanced over at me and then looked back, checking behind us for agents. "You know, Michael, you're - what's the phrase? Oh yes," He said, rolling his eyes. "Whipped."

"What. Did you do. To her," I said, trying to keep the fire in my hands down.

We had to get Max. I didn't like him, but he had a plan, and we had to get Max out -

"What, Michael - are you worried Max is better in the sack than you?"

I blinked at him. "You bastard," I said. "You -"

"Easy now, Michael," He said, turning the corner to the morgue. "I didn't do anything. She's a great kisser, though." He looked back at me, his hands on the door. "But you already knew that."

I stared at him. Sonofabitch -

He pushed the door open, gesturing that the room was clear. "Humans are weak," He said, turning back to me, "Which doesn't bother me - and they're wasteful."

He stopped in front of the body. "Their brains are incredible machines they haven't even begun to use. When you were engineered, you were given the capacity to do everything the human brain is capable of."

"You mean beside our powers," I said.

"Those are your powers, Michael. Everything you can do is human. You were just programmed to be several thousand years ahead of mankind, that's all. But from what I saw earlier, you've barely tapped into what you're capable of."

He lifted the dead agent's hand and stared at me. "You can do it, Michael. The only thing stopping you is yourself."

I stared at him.

{Max doesn't have much time, Michael.}

I reached out, grabbing the arm, lining my hand up next to his. I stared at the swirls on the skin and tried to concentrate -

I blinked. Nothing.

"Try again," Nasedo said.

Nothing.

"Again," He said, his voice more tense this time.

I clenched my teeth against the inside of my mouth, trying to will my skin to match the body in front of me, the strange sensation of cold flesh cooling in my hand, chilling my blood, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up -

"Damn it, I can't do this!" I yelled, dropping the hand and walking away.

"Yes. You can. The only one stopping you is you -"

"Will you quit saying that?" I yelled, turning around to him. "That is not helping me -"

"Are you just going to let Max die?"

I grabbed his jacket, pulling his face down to mine. "I am trying my best," I yelled.

{You're not thinking of Liz, are you, Michael? That she'd be available if he's gone?}

I let go of him as if he were on fire. Another second and he might be. The light in my hands was getting hard to control. {No. That's not -}

"That is not your best, Michael," He hissed, leaning in to me. "It is not your best."

"Well, give me a pointer, huh?" I shouted, waving my hands. "Give me a hint. Give me something -"

"It's inside you," He snapped. "Your program."

"Hey, I didn't get the manual, okay?" I shouted. "All this time I've been alone. Where have you been?"

He blinked. Got him.

"Where the hell have you been? Huh?" I shouted, getting closer to him, the fire in my hands searing my skin, screaming to get out -

"Why'd you let this happen to us? To me -"

"Emotions are a weakness, Michael."

I shook my head. He didn't get it. He never would -

I caught movement through the window. An agent, coming for the door -

He followed my stare and snapped back to me. "Focus," He hissed. "You've got until this guy gets to the door, then I'm using his hand, and you know how I'm going to get it."

I'm not condoning what he's done, or what he's going to do -

So he did kill them. All those people -

"We are running out of time here," He snapped, moving towards the door. The agent was closer. Ten steps, maybe.

I grabbed the body again, staring at his hand, lining my finger up with his, focusing on the lines, on the swirls -

I focused on the space between the lines. The blood that no longer pulsed underneath.

Veins.

Arteries.

Muscle.

Bones.

Cells -

My hand started glowing, I felt it contort, and move -

"I did it," I whispered, my voice rising. "I did it - I think I did it -"

The door opened. My eyes flew up -

"Agent," Nasedo said. He was smiling.

"Who the hell are you," The agent said, looking at Nasedo, then me. "What are you -"

His hand moved quick, up to the man's chest.

No -

{Sorry, Michael.} He was smiling -

"No!"

It was the same light, blistering and blinding, only this time it was smothered against the agent's chest, the smell of burning cloth rising up and then the smell of burning flesh merging with it a second later -

He fell to the floor. His body, I thought numbly, correcting myself, his body fell to the floor-

I lunged for him. "I said I did it -"

"I heard you," He said evenly. "I told you you could."

"You killed him," I whispered, the smell like acid in my mouth, choking my breath. "Why'd you do that?"

"I can't take a chance like what happened in the hallway before. There can't be two of me."

He's a monster, I thought numbly. Is that what he wants me to be?

"How can you do this?" I whispered. "How can you kill all these people? You don't care, do you?"

"Michael, if you want to survive, if you want to get back home, you've got to be willing to fight for that. You understand?"

I stepped back from him. He killed him. I did it. He didn't have to kill him. He kidnapped Liz, he scared her for hours, he threatened her, he didn't have to -

"You're not who I thought you'd be," I said, my voice strained.

His eyebrows went up. "Neither are you."

He moved his over me and I felt the fabric on my body - change, suddenly. I looked down.

I was in a suit. I wondered if it was the same suit of the man he'd just killed -

He held up something to me. A comb.

"Show time," He said.

*********

We found him. Max. He was behind a pane of glass. Pierce - the deputy who'd stopped us - he was with him. Max was holding the orbs in his hands and Pierce was saying something to him.

{Easy, Michael. We're almost there.}

Get. Out. Of my head, I thought.

He shrugged. {If you insist.}

Pierce was walking away when he stopped, leaning over and staring at the orbs in Max's hands.

Nasedo smiled at me. "Timing is everything," He said.

Then he reached up and broke the glass, and all hell broke loose.


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