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Chimera Fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 7/15

July 15th, 2011 (07:31 am)

Previous parts here.
 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Patience was a virtue.

At this point in Stefan's life, however, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that Stefan was not a virtuous man.

And he sure as hell wasn't very patient.

Sure, he had his moments. He could be the epitome of self-control when it came to Michael. He could suffer through anything that kid threw at him, from ridiculous bouts of hunger to inane shopping sprees and even the odd conversations the kid seemed to bring up from time to time. Like the nature of diplomatic ties in the Middle East. Or why butter was far superior to margarine.

Stefan even had patience for Michael's more vulnerable side - he had the most patience then. Even if it wasn't in his comfort zone, Stefan would sit and listen in the middle of the night to any nightmare. He would let Michael talk about any memory he chose to share. That was all part of being a big brother.

But being patient while looking for a lead to find said little brother?

Not exactly a situation in which Stefan had full grasp of his self-control.

The surveillance video had been a huge find - Stefan wasn't arguing that - and it did narrow their list of suspects substantially. Wendy's presence was not a coincidence, and it really didn't bode well for Michael. At least if it had been the mafia that took Michael, chances were there would be some kind of ransom request or some contact in the very least. The whole point of using a kidnapping as leverage was to lord it over the intended target.

The Institute, however, wasn't after Stefan. Sure, they might want to off him just out of principle or maybe for how much he now knew about their smarmy organization, but their primary goal was clearly Michael. Now that they had him, Stefan couldn't think of any reason why they'd ever try to get in contact with him. If anything, they'd be packing up shop and trying to book before Stefan organized an attack on their facility.

Which was why Stefan was going to plan an attack on the facility.

Tonight.

It was a bit of a stretch, but not too much of one. Stefan had been prepared for this job before, and all the pieces were still in place. Saul had his equipment gathered and Stefan had picked up his weapons the day Michael ran away. When he had told Michael that he didn't have to come, he'd been serious. Though his plans had included Michael, he'd thought of it primarily as a two-man job. He and Saul could pull this off.

They would pull it off because when Stefan ran out of patience, he ran out of just about everything else, too: politeness, cordially, humanity.

All things considered, it was as ready as Stefan needed to be. His nerves were on edge, his mind was sharp, and his trigger finger was damn near twitchy. He just needed Saul and Ava to get here, then they could pack up and head out.

Simple.

Until Saul showed up.

Stefan was good at reading people - he had to be - and Scozinsky had a lot of looks: horny, blase, annoying, perturbed - but disappointed was not one he wore often.

In fact, Saul was practically hedging, scratching the back of his neck, looking like someone had just run over his damn dog.

Stefan sort of wanted to run over someone's damn dog because he was about to hear bad news and he really, really, really didn't want to hear bad news.

"It's a no go," Saul said finally. The words were stark, his expression plaintive.

Stefan resisted the urge to laugh. He was already strapped with weaponry, the last pieces of his artillery on the table, half packed into a duffle. "You better have a good reason for telling me that right now, because at this point, I'm going to shoot something, and if it's not one of those sons of bitches-"

"It's a front," Saul said, and he held up a file in his hand. "The entire damn thing's a front."

The words resounded hollowly in Stefan's head, sounding more absurd each time he heard them. He shook his head, a smile of incredulity on his face. "That's not possible," he said. "You're the one who found them there. We have a money trail linking them there, we have a guarded patrol on the outside, all the obscure governmental ties you could want. This is the place."

Saul kept the file extended. "Take a look for yourself," he said. "I'm sorry."

Numbly, Stefan put down the gun he'd been loading, resting it heavily on the table. His fingers clenched around the file. Flipping it open, he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

"It's the infrared scan Michael wanted," Saul continued. "He thought we could see where the children were concentrated, help us organize our efforts."

"But it's blank," Stefan said. He looked up, meeting Saul's eyes in disbelief.

Saul nodded, lips pursed. "A full armored guard on the perimeter, but not a soul inside. Not even a sign of any significant electrical output. It's a dummy operation."

The words made sense. Saul's conclusion was invariably right. And yet, Stefan could bring himself to accept it. The denial was rising in him, threatening to choke him, dimming his vision around the edges. To think all their hard work might lead to nothing - to think that their only viable lead was a dead end - to think that they had to start over-

To think that Michael was gone and they didn't know where he was.

To think that they might never find him.

His heart was pounding, his eyes drying out. His palms began to sweat and he had to swallow convulsively to keep his stomach in check.

What was he going to do?

It was a dummy operation. A false lead. Michael was gone and he didn't know where-

And he didn't know what to do.

He'd worked hard to keep panic and disappointment at bay throughout the entire process, so focused on the end goal that he hadn't let himself dwell on the current situation. But the end goal was only getting further away - hell, it was damn near unattainable - and the terror of failure was beginning to take its hold.

Ten years he'd spent looking for Lukas only to find out he'd lost that fight before it began.

And this felt exactly the same. The failure, the guilt, the helplessness. But what could he do? What could he do?

Then, someone knocked at the door.

The rapping was so sudden, that Stefan thought for a moment he imagined it.

When Saul asked, "Do you want me to get it?" Stefan realized it was real.

Real. Just like the infrared scans that said no one was in the compound.

Stiffly, the file still in his hand, he walked to the door. He didn't even bother to check who it was. At this point, he almost wished it were someone out to get him.

When he opened it, Ava was there. She flounced a little, breezing past him. "I hope you two realize how nice I am to you," she said. "Do you know how many favors I had to call in to guarantee a wide-spread release without giving my editor the scoop? Let me tell you - hard."

She paused, looking from Saul, who was still standing at the table, then back to Stefan, who was clutching the sheet at the still-open door.

Spirits dampened, Ava hedged. "Did I miss something?"

Only the sound of their plan, crashing and burning before their very eyes. Nothing big.

Fortunately, Saul took the lead. "We've hit a bit of a snag," he said.

That was the understatement the century. Hell, the whole damn millennium.

"Oh," Ava said cautiously. "You want to share?"

Saul hesitated only for a moment. "Turns out our location was a fake."

Ava raised her eyebrows. "A fake?"

Saul nodded. "An infrared scan showed that the interior of the compound is virtually unoccupied."

"Could it be shielded?"

"Scans showed some movement throughout, but not enough to constitute the operation we're looking for."

Ava considered that for a moment. Then swore.

Mutely, Stefan closed the door. He walked over to the table, throwing the file down and sitting hard in a chair, still reeling too hard to do anything else. He was aware, if vaguely, of Saul's concerned look and Ava's curiosity, but he couldn't bring himself to care. About anything.

The lead was bogus and Michael was gone and what else was there?

Nothing.

There was nothing.

"Well, if it's a set up, then we just have to figure out why," Ava said. She shrugged. "I mean, why to through the through the trouble of setting up a front?"

So they wouldn't get caught. It didn't take a genius like Michael to figure that one out.

"I'm just saying it may not be the dead end you think it is," she continued, almost apologetically.

Stefan didn't even bother to glare at her. He didn't even look up.

Saul gestured to the table. "All our intel is there," he said. "Be my guest."

Ava leaned over, leafing through the piles. She lingered on the infrared scan, then put it aside. "Is this everything?"

Ava had a funny way of dismissing hours and weeks and months of work with a casual question. If Stefan wasn't so lost in his own misery, he would have had to slug her, even if she was a girl.

"The gist of it," Saul clarified, his voice edged with frustration.

Ava shuffled the papers once more, then squinted at the map. "That's your trail?" she asked.

Saul nodded. "They've been moving slowly southward ever since they hightailed it out of the States," he said. Then he shrugged. "Figured they were looking for a good permanent base camp."

Ava's nose was scrunched. "That doesn't make much sense," she said thoughtfully. "I mean, all of these locations - they're capital cities. If you're looking to lay low, you're going to hit someplace more rural."

Ava also had a tendency to state the obvious. Stefan was beginning to wonder why he'd wanted her on board at all. There was a reason he liked to keep things small.

"They've got government ties," Saul pointed out.

"Yeah, but not official ones," Ava countered. "If they got caught with a major illegal genetic testing operation in a major city, even in Mexico or Central America - it'd be an international incident. How long did you say they were in each location?"

"About three months, as best we could tell," Saul said.

"Three months?" Ava asked, her incredulity evident. "You serious?"

It wasn't uncommon for Ava to have mostly one-sided conversations with herself. It was just part of her charm on good days. Other days, it was part of the reason she drove Stefan insane.

"Why not?" he asked pointedly.

She blinked at him, almost as if she thought the answer were obvious. "If this operation is even half of what you told me it was, there is no feasible way for it to move every three months. Especially not over these distances. I mean, transit time alone for equipment, staff, and children - and then you have to consider the time it would take to get set up and to tear down. Moving that much doesn't even make sense."

Stefan wanted to glare, even though he knew on some level that his frustration was not with Ava. Still, it was impossible to keep the malice from his voice. "So what does make sense?" he snapped, looking at her fully for the first time since she'd arrived.

Ava actually seemed to consider the question, looking back at the map. She glanced at the fresh intel and almost laughed. "They've all been decoys."

Saul's protest was immediate, but the pronouncement settled over Stefan with a clarity he couldn't deny. Of course they'd been decoys. How else would they have been so easy to track? They had gone unnoticed in Florida for nearly twenty years. The thought that in less than a year, the Institute could become so mobile was asinine. A beautiful fantasy.

But there was another question. "But why put up the illusion?" Stefan asked.

Saul fell silent, shoulder slumped. His normally cocky looks were crestfallen and reserved.

Ava chewed her lip, shaking her head. "That is the real question here," she said. "If they wanted to disappear, they should have just disappeared. I don't doubt they could have the resources to keep themselves well veiled for another ten years, unless someone got really lucky."

"So, what, they wanted someone to look for them?" Saul asked.

The pieces fell into place. "No, they just knew someone would," Stefan concluded. He swore. "Think about it. We raided them once, took one of their kids, even got Jericho and some of his men killed. Michael's worth a hell of a lot to them - if not in dollars, then in straight up science."

Ava was nodding along. "So if they set up a dummy trail to see who bites-"

"They can take care of it once and for all," Stefan said, the pronouncement heavy on his tongue. He'd known they were smart - they had to be, given what they were doing - but he had never let himself believe they had a leg up on him. His own damn naivete, a blind sense of security, and now Michael was paying the price for it.

Because - a set up. It had been a damn set up. Every trail they'd thought they'd had, every piece of intel they'd worked so hard to obtained - it'd been designed to keep them preoccupied, to draw them in, like rabbits to a snare. He'd known the Institute was well connected - he wasn't sure why he'd thought it'd be so easy. What was the saying? Shame me once, shame on you. Shame me twice-

Clearly the Institute didn't intend to be shamed twice.

Ava stared blankly at the map, Saul sitting still in his chair. Stefan didn't know whether to laugh or cry or just rip the entire apartment to shreds. They'd all have about the same effect: nothing.

Turned out, he did none of the above. The gripping numbness did not relinquish its icy grip. It seemed to be a common problem for Stefan, living in a fantasy world, shrouded by lies of omission and false truths. His father had fostered the delusion that Lukas was alive, just missing, for nearly ten years, and now Stefan had walked blindly into the same trap.

Weakness. That was Stefan, making the same damn mistakes. And with a flourish - in a spectacular fashion of sheer stupidity. He was nothing if not consistent. No new tricks for this old dog.

Except, what now? Turn tail and run? Trot off with his tail tucked between his legs? Give up?

Give up on Michael?

That question doused him like a bucket of cold water.

The numbness from before melted away, thawing his shock and disbelief and giving way to hardened resolve. Because giving up on Michael? Was never going to happen. Could never happen.

The idea was too preposterous. Not all habits had to die hard. Infallible hope could make him believe in the impossible, even to his detriment, but sometimes - when it counted - it helped him do the most unbelievable things. It was how he'd tracked down Michael the first time. He could do it again.

He had to.

It was a fledgling hope, but the situation was pretty clear: he had no other options. Give up, or believe in the impossible.

Swallowing, he nodded. "Then we need to start fresh," he said, his voice tight.

"It's a nice idea, Korsak," Saul said, his tone not mean, but jaded. Saul liked to keep his cool in most situations, but Stefan could see plainly that this failure was a bit hard to take. "But intel like this - it just doesn't fall in your lap. I worked my ass getting this stuff for you, worked all my contacts for everything they know."

Stefan felt for Saul, he did. The disappointment was something Stefan understood. But he'd seen a lot of disappointment in his life. The best defense was to fight on anyway, be the stubborn bastard that he was deep down. "Work them again," Stefan said roughly.

Saul's expression didn't denote much confidence, but to his credit, he didn't argue.

"I can make some calls, too," Ava offered. "Journalists know more than they print. I might know someone who has picked something up, off the record."

Saul sighed, pulling out his phone. Shaking his head, he stood up. "Give me a few hours," he muttered. He paused at the door, scowling. "But I make no promises."

No promises, but no refusals either. Stefan would take it.

With Saul gone, Ava lingered, smiling for a moment. Her hand reached out tentative, taking Stefan's hand in hers. "What about you?" she asked. "What do you need?"

The question was easy to understand, but it almost didn't make sense. Stefan had spent most of his life dedicated to finding his brother, to taking care of Michael. It was a mistake he'd made during the first ten years, where he forgot that part of this was really about him. There were things he'd sacrificed unnecessarily in the pursuit, things like Natalie, a conscience, a life.

It was different now. He and Michael were settled, legitimate. Even if Stefan wasn't ready for love, he was ready for friendship. Saul and Ava - parts of the puzzle he didn't know he'd been missing until the whole damn thing fell apart.

What did he want? What did he need?

Even after all of it, the progress he'd made as a person, not a mobster, he realized that some things hadn't changed at all.

Meeting her eyes, he squeezed her hand back. When he spoke, his voice was almost raspy, but sure nonetheless. "I just need my brother back."

At that, she nodded. "Okay then," she said, nodding again. There was no weariness in her face, no disappointment in her eyes. Just steadfast determination. "Then I guess we'd better find him."

And Stefan could not - would never - disagree.

-o-

In reality, being a mobster left Stefan with very few usable skills. Sure, he could defend himself in a fight. When it came time to break into a top secret facility, he could swing the explosives, firepower, and gumption to get the job done. Oh, and he could run. He knew how to stay hidden, which had saved his ass in more ways than he wanted to remember. But beyond that? There wasn't much to talk about.

His interpersonal skills were atrocious. His ability to think on his feet usually involved making a snap decision between pulling a gun and bashing someone's head in. His research skills extended as far as his pocketbook would take him.

In short, Stefan was mostly useless now.

Not that he didn't trust Saul and Ava, but this was Michael. Michael was missing and the Institute had him, and Stefan was sitting around the apartment waiting. Stefan took being a big brother pretty seriously, so it was hard not to see this as a total failure.

Who was he kidding - it was a total failure. He'd crushed Michael's spirit, let him go running off in La Paz alone, and couldn't find more than a trace of him when the Institute swept in and whisked him away.

And what was Stefan doing now?

Packing.

Putting crap into boxes, sealing them with tape, and labeling them for good measure.

Michael was in the clutches of the Institute and Stefan was packing.

It needed to be done - that much was true. After all, when they found Michael, there was no way they could settle back in La Paz like nothing had happened. Their position had already been compromised - at the very least, their current apartment couldn't work anymore. The last time Stefan had made a clean break, he'd left most of his stuff behind. As far as he knew, most of his stuff was still in a storage unit in Florida. He wasn't overly sentimental and his personal philosophy had always been that if he was with Michael, he had more than enough.

Certainly, leaving the stuff behind would be easier and more efficient. But this was Michael's stuff. And Michael really liked his stuff.

It was inevitable, Stefan supposed. To grow up with nothing, of course Michael would want things. Trinkets, collectibles, anything at all - stuff to call his own. After a year, the novelty of possession still hadn't worn off on the kid, and Stefan relished every minute of it. It was almost like Christmas every day for Michael, amassing stuff and keeping it.

So when they found Michael, he'd want his stuff back. He'd be pissed as hell if Stefan just left it there. And considering how they'd parted the last time they'd seen each other, Stefan wanted to do everything he could to make Michael happy.

He owed Michael some packing. He actually owed Michael a whole lot more than that, but dumping every piece of cheap junk Michael had collected over the last year was the only place he could start to make it up to the kid.

But even packing couldn't answer the next difficult question: where were they moving to?

When they found Michael, they'd need to hole up some place quickly. Someplace out of the way, under the radar, but still comfortable. Stefan would do motel rooms if he had to, but he wasn't looking for something too generic if he could help it. He and Michael had been there and done that and when they found Michael, Stefan wanted the focus to be on restarting their life together, not how quickly they could skip town.

Of course, all of that would be much easier if they knew where Michael was. At this point, they didn't even know if they were on the right continent or even a nearby hemisphere.

At least he could be sure that Michael would be able to speak the language no matter where they settled. Michael was a chameleon in some ways; so intently interested in everything that he tended to adapt to whatever culture or setting he seemed to be in. To the casual outsider, it would seem that Michael had been raised in Bolivia, a true La Paz native given his ease with the accent and his quick knowledge of the streets. Hell, the kid probably knew more about Bolivian history than two-thirds of the people they'd met during their stint there.

Michael would survive a move. Bolivia had had meaning, of course, but Michael would probably even like a change of scenery. Something new to study. He'd like the tribal feel of rural Africa, the old world charm of Europe, the high rise lifestyle of big city Asia. As long as they didn't settle someplace cold, the kid would probably flourish.

Stefan sighed, picking up a fresh box and starting in on the knickknacks strewn across Michael's desk. He couldn't make heads or tails of the odd collection of Smurf figurines, and he had to laugh when he found the miniature turtle with a bobbing head from their latest shopping outing. He'd tried to explain that those things were cheap souvenirs, hocked ad naseum to gullible tourists, but Michael had insisted.

"It has a mellow vibe," had been Michael's defense.

A mellow vibe and a five dollar price tag that Stefan had to shell out.

Carefully, he put it in the box, minding the small bobbing head as best he could before reaching for the next item.

His heart caught in his throat, his hand stuck mid-grab. It was the picture, the one Anatoly had given him for Christmas over a year ago. It had been a painful gift when he'd received it, but when Saul had found a lead on Lukas, it had become an emblem of hope. He'd even used it to try to jog Michael's memory, to convince him that they were brothers.

For a while, Michael hadn't been able to look at it. But when they'd gotten unpacked in Bolivia, Michael had come across it again, shoved into the bottom of some box probably by accident. Stefan had intended to put it in a drawer, to look at it to remember the brother he'd lost, but Michael had wanted. The kid just put it up in his room, without so much as a word, and the gesture had been so promising in terms of Michael's acceptance that Stefan was willing to go with it.

It did make him feel guilty, sometimes, when he saw it on Michael's dresser. It reminded him of the lie he was asking Michael to buy into and of the brother whose legacy he was augmenting in favor of another. But seeing the way Michael looked at it sometimes, curious and hopeful, Stefan had always figured that Lukas wouldn't mind. He was a selfless kind of kid; he would have liked that his memory was still making a difference, even if in anonymity.

The picture was something else now. The stark reality of a failed lie. It was why Michael had run. After all, Stefan had worked hard to give him everything - a family and a backstory to call his own - but the lies were built on nothing more than good intentions.

His fingers closed around the frame, picking it up and looking at it closely. Lukas was smiling, his eyes sparkling. It was a memory of Lukas Stefan still held dear, a memory he'd been striving to recreate for Michael ever since he'd pulled the kid out of the Institute over a year ago.

When he got Michael back, they'd have to take a new picture. Something of just the two of them. When Michael got back, they'd create their own history.

Part of him knew that he was pinning a lot on the way things used to be. With his focus on getting Michael back, it was sometimes easy to skirt why Michael had left in the first place. While it was true that Michael could adapt to nearly any living condition (as long as there was candy and fast food), Stefan was not so sure how well the kid could adapt to the truth of their familial situation.

Rather, the lack thereof. Whether he was out knocking heads together or stuck inside packing boxes, he still didn't know if Michael would still want to move with him at all. Who was to say that he would willing go anywhere with Stefan after the lies he'd told?

Good intentions, though.

Stiffly, Stefan put the picture in the box, right next to the Smurfs and the turtle. It would be Michael's choice, and Stefan would have to respect it - when he got Michael back.

-o-

Time passed slowly when living in a bubble. Michael knew it was merely a psychological affect, how one's attention tended to remain transfixed on the passage of time when there was nothing more meaningful to use as a distraction. This focus made time feel slower.

Michael understood that intellectually.

Emotionally, it didn't make any difference. Each moment was more torturous than the last, and he could almost feel every second trickling by like dirt on a grave he was being buried in alive.

Second after second, the air was getting thinner. The light further away. His chances of survival dimming.

It seemed ironic to Michael that the real torture had not even begun. Dr. Bellucci had not yet returned. Yet, Michael was losing hope.

Even more ironic: that he still thought in terms that he had any hope at all.

Suddenly the door opened. Michael did not bother to see who it was.

"Hello again, Michael," Dr. Bellucci said conversationally. "Did you get some rest?"

Michael refused to answer, refused to even look.

The doctor went about his business regardless. "I have decided on a course of study," he continued. Michael could hear the clanging of instruments on a tray. "It was a bit of a consideration, trying to figure out where to start. However, I have decided to capitalize on your powerful healing capabilities and perform a portion of the physical tests I had in mind to begin."

Michael's breathing hitched, memories of his time in Jericho's lab coming to him unbidden. Still, he refused to look, refused to give this man the satisfaction of his pain or any other information.

Footsteps moved across the floor, closer to Michael. Something was wheeled around and a bright light was turned on, glaring into Michael's eyes so harshly he had to turn away as best he could.

"I realize what I am about to do may seem unduly cruel, but I assure you, it is not punishment," the doctor continued. "Surgically extracting portions of all your organs will give me a better look at the DNA throughout your body. I can assess how all your organs are functioning, see if there are any unpredicted anomalies that I should be aware of."

It was effort now, not to shudder, but Michael held it in. This was his fate, this was his penance for turning his back on the one person who had ever cared for him. He had burned his bridges and had no one to blame but himself.

"For most people, I would opt for a general anesthetic. The pain and trauma of such an invasive procedure would be beyond endurance. However, I am curious just how resilient you are, so we will complete these procedures with only local painkillers to numb the initial cuts. I am afraid you will feel quite a bit of it since the painkiller should be enough to keep you conscious even as I operate."

Michael's stomach went cold, his entire body starting to tremble. He had expected it to be bad, but he had not anticipated this.

Afraid, he turned his head, looking up at the doctor. The man was in a surgical gown now, gloves on his hands, hair in a surgical cap.

Inclining his head, the doctor smiled. "Please, feel free to share your thoughts at any time," he noted. "We will be recording this for the sake of documentation. I wouldn't want to miss anything now, would I?"

Michael found himself unable to speak, almost unable to breathe. His hospital gown was easily opened, and his bare skin prickled at being exposed. His heart started pounding and he shook his head, pulling uselessly at his bonds. "No," he whispered. He fought off the urge to cry. "Please."

Dr. Bellucci swabbed an area, then took a syringe and injected something into the site. "I'd tell you it'll all be over soon," he said with something of a sympathetic smile. "But I don't like to lie to my subjects."

"Please," Michael tried again.

The doctor's eyes passed over him vaguely, and he moved to Michael's arms, hesitating above the restraints. For a second - for a blessed second - Michael believed maybe the doctor would spare him, maybe there would be some release-

But the hope was squelched as the doctor cinched the restraints, essentially immobilizing Michael from even the smallest of movements. He repeated the action on both legs, then the other hand. "We don't want you thrashing and throwing off my cutting," he explained easily. "I would hate to think of unnecessarily harm coming to you."

Michael breathed out bitterly, his disbelief taking hold. "Please, don't," he said again, louder this time. "You don't-"

A numbness tingled across his abdomen and his next plea for mercy was cut off by a quick and efficient incision.

It was the shock that hit him first, the acute realization that he'd just been cut open. The was a logic to it he couldn't quite grasp, the plaintive pace at which it was occurring. The doctor's demeanor was too casual, as though this sort of thing were commonplace.

Life in the Institute before had been limiting and bland, but it had never been outright painful. Care had been taken to treat them well, like commodities. All procedures involved copious amounts of drugs, usually to the point where Michael could not remember anything afterward.

He had always assumed it had been a practical measure to ensure they never knew too much. What he hadn't realized was just how much of a mercy it had been.

Michael gasped as the scalpel flayed him, no more than two inches, but enough that Michael was gaping, hot tears rolling down his cheeks when it was done.

Dr. Bellucci pulled the bloody scalpel away, depositing it neatly on a tray. "This is where the fun begins, Michael," he said, as if in assurance, not in condemnation.

Michael's eyes went wide and as the doctor took a new tool to the open wound, the pain registered, choking off his tears. His body convulsed, locked into place, no outlet for his agony. He had no recourse. He had nothing. Just the pain and the blood and the inevitability that it would all end, but not nearly soon enough.

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