Actions

Work Header

An Angel by the Wings

Chapter Text

Old soul, your wounds they show
I know, you have never felt so low
But hold on, head up, be strong

 

Her hand touched the back of his as they wandered through the streets. He wove his fingers through hers, and he smiled. It was unseasonably cold for that time of year, but Paris was still beautiful. Chilly as it was, they could hardly feel the cold. Well, he could hardly feel it. He was used to this weather.

When he felt a slight shiver run through her body at a sudden gust of wind, he took off his light jacket and helped her into it. It was comically too big. He rolled the sleeves quite a few times until her slender hands were visible. He took one of them in his and rubbed circles at her pulse point. He looked up to meet her eyes and smiled wider at the happiness and contentment he found in them. With her free hand she poked at one of his dimples and giggled. He pretended to bite her finger. She was startled, but the giggle turned into a heartfelt laugh and a swat at his shoulder.

The next morning he could feel her presence before she even touched him or spoke his name, and when she did, his whole being responded to her. He could feel his hand crave the touch of her skin, his brain wake to the sound of her voice, and his lungs expand on a deep breath to take in her scent. His eyes started to open before he even commanded them to in their hurry to see her.

Kala, the woman who ruled his world and owned his heart, was next to him. The woman for whom he left his life behind, and travelled to Paris to meet for the first time, touch for the first time. The woman alongside whom he slept every night and woke every morning. The woman who believed in him when he himself didn’t. He believed he was a better man because of her, for her, and he couldn’t be happier.

He was already planning what they would do that day. He was looking forward to see her smile and hear her laugh at the memories of the mischief Felix and he had been up to as children. He wanted to tell her more about his mother, and the brother he believed he could have had, had his father not intervened. He wanted to make sure she knew everything there was to know about him. He wanted to make sure he knew all there was to know about her.

A small smile started to form on his lips as his eyes slowly opened. He blinked a couple of times until she came into focus. His half smile faded as he took in her face. Her warm brown eyes looked haunted. There were tears running down her cheeks and onto her blouse, her eyes were blood-red. The dark circles around them made them look bruised, and his heart dropped.

“I’m so sorry, Wolfgang, but I can’t stay any longer than this,” she hiccuped, struggling with the devastation that devoured her and was slowly seeping into their connection to devour him as well. His confusion was insurmountable. Wolfgang opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word Kala’s head swiveled to the side, her eyes widening. A whine escaped her before she hurriedly bent down to kiss his lips then disappear.  

“No, wait!” he called after her as he tried to get up only to realise he was strapped down. He frantically looked around and his eyes landed on him, Whispers.

The reality of his situation crashed down on him hard. They never made it to Paris. They never found out what it would feel like to exist in the same space, to breathe the same air. They never touched or kissed in person. They never started a life together. It was all in his head. It was all a dream. A hallucination.

“I see you had a visitor, Mr. Bogdanow,” Whispers smiled maliciously as he bent down to murmur in Wolfgang’s ear, “I wonder if Mrs. Rasal’s blocker will work quickly enough to spare her this.” He straightened as his smile turned feral. “I really hope it doesn’t.”

Whispers was taking great pleasure in interrogating Wolfgang and mentally patted himself on the back for taunting him with Kala’s last name. The tightening of Wolfgang’s eyes gave away how much he hated that Kala was carrying another man’s name instead of his own.

Whispers wondered if he would be able to keep Wolfgang alive long enough. He wanted to see Wolfgang’s face as he was forced to watch Kala break, feel her break, in front of his own eyes. He couldn’t do it with Will and Riley, maybe he will succeed with Wolfgang and Kala. Maybe even she would be the one to give away the other couple’s location. Maybe he will find the entire cluster and they would all feel each other die.

Still smiling, he gestured with his hand and the electric paddles descended on Wolfgang’s chest bringing with them a world of pain. Wolfgang’s chest lifted off the bed, his lungs couldn’t take in air or push any of it out. He could feel the current sting every inch of his body as though someone has taken a thousand needles and stabbed him with them repeatedly all at once.

He gritted his teeth so hard he was sure they would soon break. Not that he cared. Let them break, he thought, as long as it deprived Whispers of the pleasure of hearing him scream. When Whispers asked him where his cluster was, all he could see in Wolfgang’s head was himself, strapped to a hospital bed with Wolfgang taking his sweet time skinning him alive.

********

Kala could barely feel Riley’s arms, as tight as they were, around her. She simply sat on the tattered couch in the hell hole Riley found for them and stared ahead. Her eyes were unblinking, unseeing. She wasn’t aware that she was staring directly into Amanita’s tear-filled eyes as she crouched before her. Nomi’s slender fingers wiping away her tears might as well have been touching someone else.

Her awareness had shrunk to one single point, Wolfgang, and all she could see was how abused he looked. His vibrant eyes were streaked red with broken blood vessels. Subconjunctival hemorrhage is what it’s called, her brain unhelpfully supplied.

She couldn’t shake off the memory of the caked blood around his lips and all over the front of his hospital gown and how his lower lip tilted unnaturally to the side as he tried to smile at her. All of this broke her heart, but what nearly drove her to madness was his dream-induced hope at feeling her by his side. Despite his numb hands and feet, his aching chest, and how painful it was for him to breathe, for a moment he was at ease. He didn't feel all this pain just because she was there, yet she ran like a coward as soon as Whispers showed up. She despised herself for it despite it being the right thing to do, the smart thing to do.

Still she felt like she was somehow failing him. Maybe she should feel it all with him to prove to herself and to him that she was really by his side, that she truly understood what he was going through. Maybe then she would prove herself worthy. Worthy of what, she wasn’t entirely sure, but she needed to feel worthy of something.

She understood why she had to be on blockers all the time; she wasn’t just protecting herself but all of them. She also knew that they only allowed her a few minutes to see him in between doses for her own good, to avoid her own electrocution. It all made sense, but at the same time it all felt wrong.

It was no easy task to get the cluster, and their significant others, to agree to those few stolen moments. It came as no surprise that they all initially ruled against it. Too risky, they said, and she agreed, but she also couldn’t care less. She needed to see him, be there for him, reassure him that they hadn’t given up, and that they would get him out one way or another. So she argued and argued until they finally succumbed to her wishes.

She nearly laughed at herself now, however, as she realised she had fought so hard to be permitted to see her existence, her consciousness strapped down, bloodied, and barely breathing.

********

He could feel the sun warm up his body. It was so bright he could see red through his closed eyelids. A heavy sigh tried to escape his chest only for it to stop half-way out of his lungs. Breathing burned. He focused on making his breathing slow and shallow, but that left him panting and lightheaded. There was no way to make breathing any easier. In addition to his pain, he was growing increasingly restless and confused. Shouldn’t all these aches have healed by now? He thought to himself. He was about to open his eyes knowing Kala would be there, but she stopped him.

“Don’t. You’ll give our location away,” she warned. “Just enjoy the sun and know that I’m with you. I will always be with you. Blockers or no blockers you are all I think about.”

Her statement made his heart constrict in his chest as cold sweat covered his body. He refused to call it panic, but it was. He was still trapped, still under Whispers’ non-existent mercy. Had he not known it would hurt his lungs even more, he would have laughed at himself because, for a brief moment, he thought they had succeeded in getting him out. He shook his head slowly to avoid making his headache worse. He was losing touch with reality too frequently. Every time Kala visited, he felt like he was home, that he had finally broken free of the excruciating pain and the worry that he would eventually give away something that could potentially hurt the cluster. How stupid of him to hope.

“Will has a plan,” she said, knowing what he was thinking.

He could hear her voice shake. He knew she was trying to be brave for his sake. He wanted to tell her it was futile since he could feel everything she was feeling, but where would that leave them? She would just beat herself up for not hiding her feelings better. He opted to just let her think her attempt to comfort him helped more than it truly did. He nearly snorted at the futility of that thought itself because she already knew. She already knew they were both trying to not hurt the other by pretending to be strong, but they weren’t fooling anyone. You can’t really lie to yourself and actually believe it. There would always be a part of you that reminded you of the absurdity of your attempts.

He sighed before he could stop himself and grunted with the pain. He could feel the burn echo in Kala’s chest and wished she would just take the blocker and spare herself the pain.

“We’re coming for you, Wolfgang,” she squeezed his hand firmly, reassuringly, but he could tell she was crying. He could feel her tears run down his own cheeks as she continued, “We will get you out. We will soon meet like we were supposed to. You will get to see us all face to face. You will meet Amanita, Hernando, and Dani. They’re amazing. You’ll like them.”  

“The only person I want to see is you,” he whispered as he freed his hand from hers and reached out blindly until he found her cheek. She licked her lips and he could taste the salty tears that touched the corner of her mouth. Her breath hitched as she covered his hand with hers and kissed his palm.

Soon after, she let go reluctantly. “I have to go,” she said, bending down to kiss his lips. A second later she took her blocker.

He could feel his connection to her dissolving. A ringing in his ears that lasted a few seconds then Kala was gone and a sudden rage began to bubble in his chest. It was all-consuming. He was panting with it. Ignoring his aching chest, he growled and thrashed violently trying to free himself.

********

Will stood quietly with Riley behind the roof’s closed door, both waiting for Kala to get back inside. He had to wait between doses as well to watch out for Whispers while Kala visited Wolfgang. It angered him every time they did. He could feel Wolfgang’s growing pain and quickly dwindling hope and it made him feel like punching a wall.

As soon as Kala’s presence in his head started to fade, he raised the blocker to his mouth, ready to take it, but Riley stopped him.

“Wait!” she said with a hand over his.

“Why?”

“Just wait,” she urged him.

He understood why she wanted him to wait when he began to sense her in his head while her blocker wore off slowly.

“Riley,” he pleaded, not needing many words now that she can tell what he’s asking.

“I miss you,” she whispered then hurried to continue before he interrupted, “Just this once. Give me five minutes.”

He sighed. “I miss you too,” he said with a chaste kiss to her lips. He wasn’t about to deny he missed her and how he missed the way he felt with her without the damned blockers.

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and whispered into her hair, “We need to move faster than this. It’s been five days.” Tightening his arms around her he continued, “He’s getting weaker by the minute and this game of cat and mouse I’m playing with Whispers will soon turn sour.”

“I know, but we’re moving as fast as we can, and Nomi hasn’t been sleeping trying to figure out how to carry out the plan as best as possible with all of us disconnected,” Riley reasoned. She moved back to hold his face in her hands, “We can’t afford to rush this. The consequences of failing are unbearable to think about. ”

Will gritted his teeth in frustration, “I understand, but how long can Wolfgang take this? How long before he gives up on us ever saving him?” he sighed and suddenly started looking around refusing to meet her eyes, somewhat ashamed of what he wanted to say, “What if he breaks and gives away more about us?”

Riley ignored his last question and held his head firmly in her hands, making sure he had to look into her eyes. “If any of us could survive this, it’s Wolfgang, and I know that he won’t lose hope. He may have moments of doubt, but he won’t give up. He knows that you, of all of us, would never give up,” the strength and conviction in her voice should have eased his doubt but they didn’t, and Riley could feel it. “You don’t believe me?” she asked with a small smile. “See for yourself. Close your eyes,” she ordered, waited until he complied, then she shared a memory.

Will could see himself sleeping on the mattress in Amsterdam. His face was gaunt, his body was too thin, his arms were bruised, and his t-shirt was stuck to his sickly frame with cold sweat. He could see Riley sitting, vigilantly as she always did, by his side and holding his hand. He then saw Wolfgang, looking so different from how he looked now, standing at the edge of the mattress. “Don’t give up on him. He wouldn’t give up on any of us,” he said, then he was gone before Riley even finished nodding her agreement.

As Will opened his eyes, Riley could see tears already filling them but none came down. He didn’t need to use words for her to know how affected he was by the memory.

Wolfgang and Will were opposites yet the same. Will was a cop, Wolfgang a safecracker. One followed, respected, and upheld the law, while the other broke it without qualm, but they both shared an unwavering loyalty to those they love, and stood by them whatever the cost.

Wolfgang was the one who struggled most with having his consciousness, troubled as it was, shared with seven strangers. He never said anything or did anything to express that unwillingness, but they all knew. He readily helped when they needed him, but his feelings were always his own. Wolfgang had trust issues and they couldn’t blame him knowing what they know about his life, which wasn’t much to begin with. For someone as complex as Wolfgang to say something like this about Will? It meant more than Will was ready to admit. Riley’s memory confirmed what Will thought before; Wolfgang loved them. Reluctantly, maybe, Will thought with a smile, but the emotion was still there.

“I better not let him down then.” He exhaled as he wrapped Riley in a tight hug then borrowed a page from Wolfgang’s book and let anger determine his next course of action.

********

“No, you don’t know how I feel. We are all on blockers. So, for you to say that you know how I feel, it would imply that you have been through what I have been going through for over a week now, and in turn speaking from past experience. Since we all know that didn’t happen, then no, you have no idea what I’m going through,” Kala was pacing as she spoke whereas Capheus stood still and waited for her to let it all out.

He didn’t regret trying to comfort her. As angry as she was after she tried to visit Wolfgang and failed, she was still a part of his family, a sister, and he had to be there for her.

When they realised Whispers had Wolfgang on blockers Kala just lost it. She couldn’t visit him and she couldn’t stay off blockers waiting for his blocker to wear off either. He couldn’t possibly blame her for her outburst. He blamed himself for his poor choice of words. She was right. None of them knew how she truly felt except for Will who went off the blockers every time she did.

“We don’t even know if he is still where we think he is, Capheus,” she said, her anger suddenly turning into despair. “We have been sitting here planning and planning and waiting to have everything we need, but my patience has run out.”

Capheus took a deep breath to brace himself then moved forward carefully. He took small steps, hesitant. His face was frozen on a grimace he wasn’t aware was there.

Kala saw his unintentionally comical caution and something in her broke. The protective wall she had built around herself, the wall that kept her from breaking to pieces after the failed visit, crumbled. She couldn’t hang on to the anger that held her together anymore. It wasn’t really helping anyway. She decided to try a different approach and put faith in her cluster mate.

So she forced herself to smile. A small smile, but a smile nonetheless. Capheus smiled back brilliantly as if he knew that at that moment, she had finally let her guard down. He decided to try a different approach too, words weren’t helping, so he opened his arms in an invitation that she accepted.

“I’m so sorry for snapping at you. You didn’t deserve this,” she apologised after a few seconds. She squeezed him hard as she spoke trying to convey how sorry she really was. She wanted to cry when he squeezed back just as hard, but miraculously managed not to. She wanted to break down, cry, scream, and break everything she could get her hands on, but she knew that it wouldn’t help. What would really help was staying focused and keep helping with the planning.

“Don’t be silly, Kala. We are family and family sticks together through everything. I was wrong to say what I said, and I don’t mind listening to you for as long as you need,” he pulled away to look at her while keeping his hands on her shoulders, “But you need to try to get some sleep. You have been working really hard with Will and Nomi,” he took her face in his hands, “We have to be in our best shape to bring Wolfgang home. Also, I am sure you don’t want to be too tired to take care of him when he gets back, right?” he finished with a smile.

Capheus’ smile was contagious, it always was, she just had to smile back. A bigger smile this time, a more sincere one. How could she not? He was so bright and optimistic. His presence, even with the blockers, was soothing. She couldn’t help but admire his faith and his strength. He had been through alot, lost alot, but his beautiful soul remained intact. He was inspiring, and she wished someday she would be able to meet his mother and Zakia. “You may have a point, but to be honest I don’t think I will be able to sleep at all,” she said with an exasperated sigh.

“Then I shall sing to you till you sleep,” he said with a wink.

Kala surprised herself when she found a giggle escaping her. She welcomed it and teased, “You really shouldn’t.”

Capheus feigned shock, “Are you saying I don’t sing so well? I will prove you wrong,” he said with a smile then started singing off key in Swahili just so she would keep laughing.

She shook her head and walked the few feet between them and the mattress. She sat cross-legged on one side soon to be followed by Capheus who sat next to her. He had taken mercy on her and stopped singing. “Only a couple more days, Kala,” he said as pulled on a loose thread in the sheet.

All Kala could do was nod before someone cleared their throat and walked in.

Hernando smiled apologetically and walked in with two steaming mugs of what Kala assumed was coffee.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” he said as he handed each of them a mug, “Kala, I don’t think you need any more caffeine in your system, but from what we’ve all heard from you two, I think you need more caffeine in your system.”

Kala looked down in embarrassment, but Hernando was quick to try wave it away.

“Don’t worry about it, dear. No one is judging you,” he pushed his glasses further up his nose, “If I were in your place. I would have been the same or even worse. I think you’re pretty collected given the circumstances,” he smiled and covered the hand that wasn’t holding the coffee with his.

Kala nodded at him with a small smile before she blushed and looked down again.

The uncomfortable silence that descended upon them made Capheus fidget. He felt the need to say something, do anything. So he opted for a joke, regardless of how awkward and out of place it felt.

“You really shouldn’t do that,” Capheus said gesturing towards Hernando’s hand on Kala’s.

Hernando looked down at their hands and rushed to let go. “I’m sorry. I assumed it was alright to do that. I shouldn’t have. I apologise.”

“No, really it’s fine,” Kala said hurriedly, reassuringly meeting Hernando’s eyes.

“Don’t lie to him,” Capheus said frowning at her, then turned to Hernando, “Wolfgang will kill you for this.”

“What? Why? I only touched her hand,” he said to Capheus who only shook his head. Hernando turned to Kala, but she was looking down and wouldn’t look at him. “I’m gay!” he nearly squealed at Capheus.

“He will kill you,” Capheus repeated as seriously as he could before he burst out laughing, spilling some of his coffee on the floor. Hernando’s face was priceless.

Kala handed her coffee to Hernando as she snorted and joined Capheus. What started as a chuckle soon turned into hysterical laughter with tears streaming down her face. Kala could feel the tension seep out of her body with every shake of her shoulder and surrendered herself to it.

Hernando looked between them unsure of what to think for just a moment then narrowed his eyes at Capheus. He had been played. 

Capheus’ laughter quieted down quickly. Hernando met his eyes. Capheus looked over at Kala then back to Hernando, and he understood what Capheus meant; she could use a laugh. Hernando smiled, then waited Kala out as he drank her coffee.

********

“Charge the paddles,” Wolfgang heard Whispers say. He groaned as he struggled to wake properly, but he wasn’t given much of a chance. The paddles descended on his chest and, as the current pulled him off the bed, he couldn’t keep himself from screaming in agony. His scream didn’t last long, however, because his lungs collapsed.

The beeping of the machines, the hurried orders, the firm hands handling him; they were all distant. At that very moment he couldn’t feel anything. He was without pain and it was such a comfort. He couldn’t feel any of it.

They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die, but for Wolfgang, it was just three faces morphing into each other: his mother, Kala, and Felix.

Felix Berner. His brother.

Whispers stood to the side and wrote down the name, before he heard Wolfgang’s heart monitor scream.

Wolfgang’s heart had stopped beating.


********

Chapter Text

Oh, hold on
Hold on until you hear them come
Here they come

 

The cluster had adjusted the plan ensuring that Kala wouldn’t be in the same van as Wolfgang on the journey back to the safe house. They had managed to get him into a body bag before Kala reached him at the BPO facility. The little opening they had left for him to breathe was not enough for her to see him. They heavily relied on how fast they had to move to prevent her from doing more than see the tuft of blond hair that stubbornly stuck out. Their main objective was to keep her from panicking, but that wasn’t all, they also didn’t want the first time she saw Wolfgang to be tainted with blood, literally. He was covered in it.

A few days before the rescue mission, Riley had reached out to Mr. Hoy who helped her get in touch with a doctor: a fellow Sensate who waited for them in their new safe house until they returned with Wolfgang on a gurney. They had rushed Wolfgang to the room they had prepared for him as soon as they had walked through the door.

The doctor had given Riley a list of equipment and supplies beforehand, and between Nomi’s and her connections, they had managed to turn one of the ground floor bedrooms into an examination room. It didn’t exactly have state of the art equipment, but it had what they needed to monitor Wolfgang’s condition adequately enough.

Keeping Kala away from Wolfgang when they got back, however, was not an easy task. It was as if she had allowed them their precautions at the BPO facility and that was it. She looked ready to break as the doctor and Will wheeled the gurney into the room. When she tried to get inside, the doctor stopped her.

“Only one person is allowed in this room with me at this point, and this person is most definitely not going to be you,” he said as he stood in front of the closed door, keeping her from walking in. He looked intimidating despite his short stature and his green eyes were unwavering.

Kala fought to stay as calm as she possibly could before answering. “If you think,” she said through gritted teeth, trying to stare him down while pointing an accusatory finger at his chest, “That I will just stand here and wait, you are sorely mistaken.”

He might have been swayed to step aside, to let her in, but her eyes were wide with near hysteria and her voice was shaking. He was positive she would collapse at the mere sight of Wolfgang. She was in no shape to help. “You have no other choice but do as I say. If you take one step inside this room, I’ll walk out of this house and good luck finding another doctor who won’t turn you in to BPO,” he said as he folded his arms over his chest and returned her stare. He took a second to thank his lucky stars that the cluster was on blockers. Had she not been, she could have easily connected with him and no door or lock would have held her back. She might have looked fragile, but he was sure she was a force of nature not to contend with under normal circumstances.

“You can’t do this!” she was incredulous. She couldn’t comprehend how this was even up for discussion. “I have waited,” she started but paused to swallow the tears that were threatening to fall, then tried again, “I have waited ten days to get him back. You have no idea what those ten days were like. So don’t do this, and let me in, please,” she finished with her eyes pleading and still wet with unshed tears.

For a second, the doctor considered sedating her. She jumped from one emotion to the next too fast. First anger, then disbelief, then grief. All in under a minute. She was too emotionally unstable, and stress had obviously been eating at her for too long. As much as he wanted to help her, his priority was Wolfgang, so he pushed the thought aside, trusting her cluster would take care of her.

“My answer is still no. Your presence would only get in the way. I’m sorry, but we’re wasting time,” the doctor said then turned to open the door and walk inside.

Nomi saw Kala’s nostrils flare as she took a deep breath. She seemed to be bracing herself for a fight, a physical one, and Nomi knew someone had to step in. She only wished it didn’t have to be her. Kala was a ticking bomb and Nomi wasn’t exactly keen on being in front of her when she finally exploded, if for no other reason than she wouldn’t know how to handle it or how to help. She believed she would be terrible at comforting her. Despite her apprehension, Nomi walked over to Kala and wrapped an arm around her shoulders firmly, hindering her progress.

“Hey, easy. We need him,” she warned, slowly walking a stubborn Kala away from the doctor, “Come with me. Let the doctor do his job. You should go to your room and clean up, and maybe put some ice on your hand. By the time you’re done, you’ll be able to see Wolfgang and spend as much time with him as you’d like,” she continued quietly as if trying not to spook Kala, or maybe she was worried she might get a punch in the face if she spoke too loud. It was a possibility. Kala was anti-violence, so was Nomi, but she put herself in Kala’s shoes and admitted that if it were Amanita in Wolfgang’s place, she thought with a shudder, she might have turned to violence as well.

Nomi finally managed to get Kala to her room, but Kala refused her offer to keep her company. When Sun brought her a pack of ice and a first-aid kit a few minutes later, Kala was still standing where Nomi had left her in the middle of the room. As soon as Sun closed the door, Kala locked it then dragged her feet to the bed, sat heavily on the mattress, stared at the blank wall, and let her mind wander to what had transpired earlier that day.

She recalled how she had punched someone. She never thought she had it in her, but apparently when the man she loves is in grave danger, immense pain, and someone stands between her and that man, suffice to say that to Kala, anything and everything is permitted at that point. So, she punched someone, then took an IV pole to another someone’s head. Again, a faceless, nameless person stood between her and Wolfgang. “What was I supposed to do? Ask nicely that he move out of the way?” she asked her empty room. “So, I took an IV pole to his head and left him on the floor bleeding,” she continued with a shrug. Had Wolfgang been conscious at the time, he would have been proud, she thought to herself. “Proud and worried”, she added as she looked down at her hand, now wrapped in ice.

She sighed as she puzzled over the absence of pain. Her knuckles were sliced open and her wrist was sprained, yet she couldn’t feel either injuries. “Adrenaline,” she sighed again, “It’ll soon wear-off and I’ll feel it all.”

She looked around her and part of her brain registered that this safe house was much better, and bigger, than the previous one. The night before, they were in a different place. It was a dilapidated hell hole, but here she could see the relatively clean walls, could feel the comfortable mattress, and stared at the closed door of the adjoining bathroom, but her examination of the room was a detached one. She still felt numb, both physically and emotionally, and if she were completely honest with herself, she’d admit she wanted to stay that way. She needed the detachment if she wanted to survive this because what happened while they tried to save Wolfgang was one thing, what was yet to come was a whole different matter. She was under no illusion that her reunion with Wolfgang would go smoothly. She didn’t know exactly how it would play out, but she knew it would probably bring her to tears and said tears would not be happy ones.

Her mind wandered to the residents of the other rooms. Lito, Hernando, and Dani were in the room across from hers. Next to that was Nomi and Amanita’s. Will and Riley had a room down stairs, and she refused to think about why that was. Sun’s was to her right, and Capheus’ to her left. She hung her head in embarrassment and wondered if she were placed between the two currently single cluster members on purpose. Did Riley want to spare her the pain and awkwardness of hearing something coming from the other couples in the cluster? She frowned at the thought and looked up at the wall, “If that were the case then I appreciate the thought, but I am not single,” she said in defiance.

Kala was unaccustomed to anger. She had experienced it before of course, no human never did, but Kala was the kind of person to never allow it to control her or take her over. However, she had no control over it this time and it escalated so fast that she couldn’t sit still. She pushed off the bed, yanked off the ice wrapped around her hand, and threw it at the wall. She yelped in pain before staring down at her hand. She could feel it now. Not as bad as it should be, but she was starting to feel the sting from the cuts and the throbbing from the sprained wrist. She started shaking her head while stepping back as if she were trying to move away from her hand, as if her hand had personally offended her. She only stopped when her back hit the wall. “No. Please, not yet,” she whined as she continued to shake her head. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to feel anything, to allow anything to sink in.

********

Riley and Will helped the doctor get Wolfgang out of the body bag and move him from the gurney to the hospital bed. As soon as that was done, the doctor started to examine Wolfgang, taking his vitals, flashing a light into his eyes to check his responses, and pursed his lips when he found them too slow. He then pulled down the hospital gown to reveal burns from the electric paddles Whispers had used on Wolfgang. He could hear Will and Riley’s sharp intakes of breath, but paid them no attention as he examined Wolfgang’s wrists. There were cuts and bruises where the restraints had been. He looked over to Wolfgang’s ankles and found cuts matching the ones on his wrists. He sighed, then turned to Will and Riley, “First things first, we have to clean him up, but it needs to be done fast. There’s alot of work to do,” he said urgently.

“I’ll be right back,” Will said, squeezing Riley’s shoulder before rushing out of the room. He returned a few minutes later carrying two buckets of water which he left at the foot of the bed. He walked out again, then came back with a third bucket of water in one hand, an empty bowl in the other, in addition to shampoo and sponges under his arms. He set those down too, then finally locked the door.

Before they could start, there was a knock on the door. Riley opened it to find Capheus and Lito standing outside.

“Will said that you needed help,” Lito said, his voice distressed as his eyes landed on Wolfgang’s unconscious figure.

Riley let them in and said as she closed the door, “We’re going to him a sponge bath. You can help us with that.” Lito and Capheus nodded as Riley handed each of them a sponge. They all, however, stood awkwardly around the bed unsure of where to start.

The doctor cleared his throat, “Start with his arms. I need to start IV lines as soon as possible,” he instructed, and directed them to which arm he needed first. “You two can work on his legs,” the doctor instructed Lito and Capheus.

“Yes, of course,” Capheus said hurriedly, pulling a stunned Lito by the arm to one side of the bed as he took the other. Lito just stood there, staring into Capheus’ eyes. Capheus nodded in encouragement. He dipped a sponge in soapy water and motioned for Lito to do the same. He started wiping down one of Wolfgang’s legs and watched as Lito copied him.

Riley started on one arm while Will handled the other. She took a bracing breath as she cleaned the cuts on his wrists.

“He put up one hell of a fight,” the doctor whispered in an attempt to comfort her.

Riley gave him a small smile, “Yeah, sounds like Wolfgang.” The doctor smiled back before he fetched antiseptic and gauze.

When Riley and Will were done with Wolfgang’s arms, the doctor disinfected the wounds and wrapped them in gauze. He soon after proceeded with the IV lines.

“Look at him!” Riley said to no one in particular. She soaked a sponge in soapy water and started to wash off the caked blood on Wolfgang’s chin. “The doctor is right. We can’t just leave him covered in his own blood like this. Kala should never see him, physically, for the first time, looking like this,” Riley’s breath got caught in her chest as she wiped down Wolfgang’s face. “Isn’t this why we kept her from him in the first place? Isn’t it bad enough that he’s so badly hurt?” she questioned, not really waiting for answers. It was as if she were thinking out loud.

Will exchanged a look of concern with the doctor. It didn’t go unnoticed.

“Stop it, both of you. I’m fine,” she berated them assertively.

Riley was cleaning the sponge in the designated bucket and watched as the water turned murky. She sighed and reached out to work on Wolfgang’s chest. She hesitated, took yet another bracing breath, but she still couldn’t touch him. She nearly cried at the sight of the burns the paddles had left behind and her hand started to shake. Will covered her hand in his and looked into her eyes. She nodded in agreement to the silent question he asked and let go of the sponge. The water in the bucket was turning a sickly shade of red. It left Will fighting the urge to break something. He, however, kept working until Wolfgang’s chest was clean. The doctor immediately started attaching electrodes and adjusting the monitors.

Riley directed Will to raise Wolfgang’s head. She placed the empty bowl underneath and finally allowed herself to cry as she washed his hair. Not only was it covered in sweat and splatters of blood, she also found strands of his hair falling into her hands. “What have they done to you?” she whispered through her tears.

Lito, having finished wiping down Wolfgang’s legs, rushed to her side. When he saw Wolfgang’s hair floating in the bowl, he cursed in Spanish then said heatedly, “They have to pay for this, Will. Every person responsible for this has to pay.”

“I know, and they will. We need to focus on him getting better first.” Will tried to be reassuring but he was just as troubled as they were. Just then Will understood why Riley was so adamant on keeping Kala from ever seeing Wolfgang like this. If it were Riley on a bed like this one, covered with blood, cuts, burns, and struggling to breathe, he would have lost his mind.

Everyone helped turn Wolfgang on his side while Capheus washed his back. They worked together again to change the soaked sheet without moving Wolfgang too much or too roughly.

They were soon done and were about to get Wolfgang into a new hospital gown when the doctor told them to wait. He applied an ointment to the burns from the paddles, covered them in a thin layer of gauze to avoid friction then helped them get him into the gown.

“What now, doctor?” Capheus asked.

Applying antiseptic on Wolfgang’s cut ankles, and without looking up, the doctor answered, “Now we wake him up.”

********

Kala was sitting in the bathtub, hugging her knees to her chest. Despite the hot water she was cold to the bone. Her whole body was shivering. The pain from her hand was, mercifully, as distant as she was. Where she was physically wasn’t where she was mentally. All she could think about was how desperately she wanted to see Wolfgang. Even though they were all still on blockers, she still felt a pull in her chest. She felt as if there were a string that was stretched too far connecting her to Wolfgang, and if she didn’t go to him, it would snap. She knew it had nothing to do with being a Sensate. That part of her was asleep. All she was at that moment was a woman, hopelessly in love with a man. A man who had been tortured, yet she wasn’t allowed to see him.

She was desperate to see him and touch him, make sure he was really there, but she was also afraid to. Did she want the first time they ever see each other physically to be in this context? A broken man, and his haunted lover? She believed they deserved better than this. They deserved Paris. They deserved happiness.

She took a deep breath then exhaled slowly. Thinking about what would have been was pointless. What she needed to focus on was that she had to be strong for Wolfgang. If his injuries were as bad as she thought they were, he would need all the strength she had to offer.

The thought seemed to strengthen her resolve. As if on a mission, Kala got to her feet and cleaned up vigorously. She styled her hair, wore perfume, and applied a little concealer to hide the exhaustion that circled her eyes. She wore a nice dress and shoes, then checked herself in the mirror. For a moment she approved of what she saw reflected back at her, however, she soon felt stupid. Wolfgang wouldn’t need her to look pretty, he wouldn’t give a damn about what she wore. He would need her to be strong and reliable and understanding. Above all, he would need her to be patient because if she knew him well at all, and she did, he wasn’t going to accept her help easily. He might not even want to see her at first. He wouldn’t want her to see how hurt he was. He would pretend to be unaffected by his ordeal just to put her mind at ease, just to appear as the strong man she knew and loved. She would somehow be pressuring him with her presence without really intending to.

Kala groaned and shook her head, hiding her face in her hands. She couldn’t think anymore. She was conflicted between what she wanted and needed, what she thought was the right thing to do, and what Wolfgang might actually need from her. Should she go see him or should she give him space?

She was thinking in circles. Going nowhere. Capheus was right before. Maybe all she needed to do was rest and prepare for whatever came next. She finally decided that sleep might clear her head and help her decide. She walked over to her suitcase and found her sleeping pills. She took one, knowing she would never be able to sleep without its help. She stripped down to her underwear, closed the curtains, and by the time she pulled the covers over herself and rested her head on the pillow, her brain was already slowing down. In under ten minutes she was sleeping deeply.

********

“He should wake any moment now,” the doctor said as he disposed properly of the syringe he used.

They all stood around Wolfgang watching his face, except for the doctor who kept his eyes on the heart monitor. What gave away the fact that he was waking was his heart rate which started to escalate rapidly. Everyone’s eyes went to the heart monitor then back down to Wolfgang as his breathing became laboured. Riley moved to his head and whispered close to his ears, “Wolfgang, wake up!”

His eyes snapped open. He didn’t blink. He slowly turned his head to the side. Riley’s smiling face was the first thing he saw. “Welcome back, Wolfie,” was all she said before his face crumpled.

Oh nein, nicht schon wieder! ” he groaned and shook his head, “Wach auf!” he yelled at himself while repeatedly slamming his head onto the pillow.  

“Wolfgang! What? Stop! We don’t understand,” Riley said desperately as she tried to hold his head down. That wasn’t the best thing to do because he started to thrash around to free himself of her grasp, and realising he wasn’t restrained anymore he nearly jumped off the bed. It took all of them to hold him down as Riley tried to draw his attention to her. “Wolfgang, please! It’s just us. You’re out. You’re with us now,” she held his head in her hands one more time and left mere inches between their faces in a last attempt to force him to focus on her face. “Stop it! It’s me!” she yelled at him, and it worked.

Wolfgang gradually stopped fighting them off, his eyes softened, focused on her face, met her eyes, and when he tried to reach out and touch her, Lito let go of his arm to let him. As soon as his fingertips touched her cheek, Riley smiled so widely that her cheeks hurt despite the tears running down her face. Wolfgang didn’t pay attention to them though. It seemed as if he was thinking about something, puzzling over her face. “Riley?” he murmured.

“Yes, Wolfgang. It’s Riley, and you’re safe now. Look!” she said and gestured towards the rest with her head.

The sight of the other three Sensates should have reassured him, proved to him that he was out. Their tentative smiles and Capheus’ small wave of his hand and warm “Hello” should have settled his nerves, marginally at least, but they didn’t. He just averted his eyes, stared up at the ceiling while shaking his head, and the few moments of calm were broken.

Wach auf !” he said under his breath as tears quickly formed in his eyes then fell from the corners and onto the pillow. He kept repeating it over and over until he was screaming it. His face had turned a deep red, the veins in his neck painfully visible. He tried to get up again, and yet again they held him down.

“This isn’t working. He needs a sedative,” the doctor said with a grunt from where he was, holding down one of Wolfgang’s legs. “You got this?” he asked Will who was nearest to him, making sure he could hold down both of Wolfgang’s legs. When Will nodded with a groan after Wolfgang’s knee made contact with his chin, the doctor prepared the syringe, quickly calculating the dosage in his head.

The doctor worked fast, but he struggled with the injection because, as unfocused as Wolfgang was, he still saw the syringe. His eyes widened in panic, “ Nein !” he said as his thrashing got worse. “ Lass mich los ,” he screamed and fought against them with so much despair that he managed to throw off Riley who was literally sprawled over his chest in an attempt to help hold him down. She slipped and landed on her knees, hitting her nose on the bedrail in her descent.

“Fuck!” Will said and watched Riley crawl into the corner sobbing. Not caring about her bleeding nose, she simply hugged her knees to her chest and watched as the fight died out of Wolfgang, his body gradually relaxing, and his eyes closing.

When he was sure Wolfgang was no longer awake, Will ran to Riley, wiping her nose and hugging her close. She buried her head in his chest with handfuls of his t-shirt in her fists, still sobbing. Will looked up and saw Lito running his hands repeatedly over his face and Capheus backing up until his back hit the door. The only one of them still collected was the doctor who methodically checked that none of the IV lines was clogged and reattached the electrodes that came off.

“No, not again. Wake up. No. Let me go.” the doctor exclaimed mechanically as he continued his work without looking up.

“What are you talking about?” Lito asked with confused frustration while he paced at the foot of the bed.

“That’s what he was saying,” the doctor answered, “I have a German in my cluster,” he explained with a shrug. With a sigh, he reattached the last electrode to Wolfgang’s chest. “The fact that he thought he was dreaming means that he struggled with lucidity while The Cannibal did this to him,” he said as he gestured towards Wolfgang. “It might be hard to convince him otherwise. This will make our job even more difficult. I was concerned about his physical health, I overlooked his mental one,” he took off his surgical gloves and threw them in the bin. “He will probably need psychiatric consultation. There’s a possibility he will suffer sleeplessness, nightmares, panic attacks, depression, and agitation.”

The silence that fell on the room was only interrupted by Riley’s sobs. The doctor sighed, took off his coat and replaced it with his jacket, “I have to return to the hospital. I’ll be back later tonight. The sedative will keep him down long enough, then we’ll see what we can do.”

When no one said anything and just quietly stared at Wolfgang, the doctor left, closing the door quietly behind him.

********

Chapter Text

Take an angel by the wings
Beg her now for anything
Beg her now for one more day

 

They were all gathered in Kala’s room a few hours after the doctor left. As soon as she opened the door, and before she even stepped out, she found all the other doors opening simultaneously, and everyone in her cluster stepping out one by one. She didn’t need to be a genius to know there was bad news about Wolfgang.

Once they were all in her room, Riley took it upon herself to explain Wolfgang’s condition. She told Kala, in full detail, what had happened since she walked into Wolfgang’s room until the doctor left the house. She left out nothing knowing that Kala would appreciate it although it was painful to hear, and Kala did.

Kala’s eyes were wide, shining with unshed tears. She wasn’t entirely surprised at Wolfgang’s physical condition. She knew what those paddles could do to a person when used repeatedly, as well as needlessly, as they were. As Riley spoke, Kala’s brain supplied the medical term for each injury in addition to what medication should be used to treat it. She told herself to remember to ask for his chart, if the doctor had actually written one. What she never foresaw was the mental deterioration. She should have known though. Wolfgang was tortured for information about people he would rather die than betray. The weight of the responsibility, the excruciating pain, the anger, the helplessness, the despair, and of course the guilt of letting her name slip must have been too heavy to bear. It wasn’t just physical torture that Whispers exercised on Wolfgang, it was a psychological one as well. Now that she knew the extent of the damage Whispers had caused, she had no idea how to proceed.

“Are you alright?” Kala asked quietly, referring to Riley’s bruised nose.

Riley gave her a small smile, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“That’s good,” Kala said, nodding and taking a deep breath. She exhaled slowly through her nose. “What did the doctor say?” she asked Will.

“He doesn’t know for sure. He said that Wolfgang might need psychiatric consultation. He’s coming back later tonight to check on him and tell us if he’s come up with something to help,” was Will’s straightforward answer. He knew Kala wouldn’t want to be coddled, or treated as if she were fragile. He was sure she would have no patience for sympathy or evasion.

Kala nodded slowly as she took in the information, “He’s sedated now?” her voice shook as she spoke, but no one acknowledged it.

“Yes, he is,” Will answered.

“I would like to see him now,” Kala stated. This time no one argued.

She went down the stairs slowly, but her mind was racing. She needed to see Wolfgang as soon as possible, yet she couldn’t help but think how unfair the setting was; she was an emotional mess, while he was broken physically and mentally. And if that weren’t bad enough, he was currently unconscious. She needed him awake, coherent, healthy, and happy.

This was not how it was supposed to be. They should have met in Paris. Whoever arrived first would have picked up the other from the airport. The first time they met should’ve been with smiles not tears unless they were happy ones. She was supposed to be breathless in anticipation for their first touch, first kiss, first night together. She was not supposed to be breathless in fear of what she might find once she enters his room.

She had already visited Wolfgang after Whispers took him. She saw him. Then why did they not allow her to see him as soon as they were back? Was he in a much worse condition than what Will and she had seen in their earlier visits? Or were they just being overly protective of her?

She was thinking in circles, just like Wolfgang had told her shortly before he was taken. It seemed as if that was all she did ever since.

Kala sighed heavily as she reached the door to Wolfgang’s room and decided that there was really no point in asking questions or lamenting what should have been. She needed to focus on what was to come instead.

She turned the door handle quietly as if she didn’t want to disturb his sleep. She noticed what she was doing and just rolled her eyes at herself. He wouldn’t wake up even if she shook him.

She walked into the room and left the door open. She knew her cluster would need to check up on her. They couldn’t help but be protective of each other especially when they were on blockers. Besides, the open door meant no one would insist on going in with her. So it was a win-win situation in her opinion.

Kala’s fear of what she would find once she walked into Wolfgang’s room won the battle. She kept her eyes on the floor until she had to look up to see where she was going lest she bump into anything. Her eyes slowly looked up until they finally fell on him.

Her breath caught in her chest. Not because of how sick Wolfgang looked, but because of how beautiful he still was despite everything he’d been through. All her doubts and fears seemed to dissipate upon seeing him. There he was, the man she loved and believed in. The man she would move heaven and earth for. It was as if the mere sight of him gave her the strength to face anything the world threw at her. As long as he were there, fighting by her side, she knew they could conquer anything.

With sure steps, she walked the short distance to the bed. She pulled the chair in the corner closer to the bed and sat down. She confidently took his hand in hers and squeezed it lightly. It would have been electric to touch him without them being on blockers and she regretted not feeling it right this second, she mourned the fact that he wasn’t awake to share this first moment with her. That would come later. Eventually. She thought. What mattered now was that he was here, by her side.

She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb while her other hand caressed the gauze covering his wrist. She smiled proudly as she imagined Wolfgang telling Whispers to fuck off while he fought to free himself.

She picked up his hand and touched the back of it to her cheek. “I’ve missed you,” she murmured before dropping a kiss to his hand, then the one kiss didn’t seem enough. She kissed his hand a few more times, unaware that she was crying. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said through her tears, which she started to notice were falling on his hand. She took a deep breath and let go. She dried her face and stood up. After making sure she wouldn’t damage the IV lines, she somehow managed to squeeze herself beside him. she carefully slipped one of her arms under his neck and wrapped the other around his waist. Her eye caught movement by the door making her look up. She saw Nomi standing there smiling fondly with tears in her eyes. Kala smiled back and watched as Nomi walked back out, closing the door behind her.

Kala could hear murmurs behind the closed door. She couldn’t make out any of the words spoken except for one sentence. It was Sun saying firmly, “Let it go, Will!” and Kala wanted to hug her.

She turned her attention back to Wolfgang and slowly turned his head to be facing her instead of the ceiling. She smiled as she ran her fingers lightly over his face; from his forehead to his temples, his ears, his cheek, jawline, nose, and, finally, lips. She wanted desperately to kiss him, but that would be cheating. He must be awake the first time they kiss. Her heart was about to burst. She couldn’t help but hold the back of his head firmly and lower her forehead to his. “I love you,” she whispered.

Kala closed her eyes and timed her breathing with his.

********

“Are you just going to stand there?” Amanita asked Will who was standing guard by Wolfgang's door.

Will crossed his arms over his chest without answering. He looked like a stubborn child who knew was doing something wrong, but wouldn’t own up to it.

Amanita smiled and shook her head. She turned to the cluster who were all in various degrees of amusement over Will’s pose, “He’s all yours,” she said to no one in particular while doing a wide gesture with her arms.

When Will simply rolled his eyes, a dam broke and everyone started laughing one after the other like a chain reaction, even Will joined in, finally relaxing his stance. There was nothing particularly funny about him standing guard by the door, or his eye roll, or Amanita’s lighthearted attitude. There wasn’t really anything to cause the hysterical laughter that ensued after Amanita’s statement, but it was as if Kala and Wolfgang being separated had weighed heavily on everyone in the cluster not just Kala. Despite knowing they still had a long way to go, this little win seemed to make them breathe easier. They were laughing as though they’d missed it, and when they suddenly had it, they refused to let go.

When the laughter died down, Amanita took Nomi by the hand and said, “Come on, babe. We have someone to find.”

Still wiping tears from her eyes, Nomi nodded then waved a little ‘good-bye’ to Will with a smile on her face.

Will sighed and shook his head as they all followed Nomi and Amanita to what was supposed to be a living room, but was actually used as Nomi’s workspace. They did spread a few mattresses around as a seating arrangement, however. Not ideal, but it sure served its purpose.

“Ok. First things first, guys. This is important,” Nomi started, looking around seriously, successfully grabbing everyone’s attention.

They waited anxiously for her to finish her statement because getting Wolfgang back was only the beginning of a long journey. There were too many loose ends that needed tying up. One of these loose ends was what Nomi had been trying to figure out before Kala woke up, and they waited in anticipation to know what Nomi had uncovered.

“I need carbs and coffee,” she continued somberly. Her statement was met by a second of complete silence followed by a cacophony of seriously?, What the fuck? And Are you serious? With a varied assortment of groans and eye rolls. They didn’t really mind though. They were all still riding the high of Wolfgang and Kala’s reunion. As incomplete and unfair as it was, it was still a victory that they felt needed to be celebrated.

********

It was after midnight when the doctor returned. He looked haggard to say the least. He went directly to Wolfgang’s room to find Kala sleeping beside him.

Amanita walked quietly over to gently wake her up. Kala woke with a start. She looked around blearily as Amanita soothed her, rubbing her arm lightly, “It’s alright. Everything’s fine,” she said with a soft smile.

Kala nodded, returning Amanita’s smile with a sleepy one. She slowly began to get off the bed. Still a little unbalanced, Amanita helped her down as Kala said a quiet “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Amanita said then excused herself to go take Nomi’s place.

Kala’s arms were asleep and the pinpricks made her whine as she tried to get the circulation back to normal. At that moment Capheus walked in with two mugs of coffee. “You look like you need it,” he said to the doctor and Kala as he handed each of them a mug while they mumbled their thanks.

The doctor took a sip of his coffee.”So I spoke with someone I can trust about Wolfgang and she told me how I might be able to help,” he said, then a lopsided smile took form on his lips as everyone in the cluster shuffled closer to the bed, with intense focus on him. He was sure they weren’t aware of how in sync they were. He had encountered his fair share of clusters in his life, as connected as he was, but he could tell something about this one was different, special. He couldn’t point out exactly what it was, but he believed it was undeniably there. They were definitely the largest cluster he had ever come across. Eight people, he shook his head and thought maybe that’s why they were so unique.

They had waged a war against BPO and one of their fighters was down. It seemed to have made them stronger rather than weaken them. It made them more feral, more vicious. They wanted revenge and something told him they wouldn’t stop until they had it, and they would make sure it was Wolfgang who pulled their collective trigger to give him closure. He was positive Kala would stand with pride like a goddess of vengeance as she watched her wolf tear out their enemy’s metaphorical throat.

He wasn’t fooled by how fragile she looked. Yes, there was a moment when he was sure she wasn’t ready to see Wolfgang when they first brought him in, but looking at her now, as bleary eyed as she was, he was certain she would kill to save one of her cluster.

“So,” Sun prompted, pulling him back to the moment, “What did your friend say?” she asked impatiently.

The doctor cleared his throat, “Well, we will keep him sedated, but barely so. Do any of you know the feeling of just coming out of anesthesia?” he asked and without waiting for an answer he continued, “You’re not fully awake, but you’re aware of your surroundings. You can hear what’s happening, people talking, sometimes you can see around you, but you can’t speak or react.”

He stopped to take another sip of his coffee reminding Kala of her neglected one, “There should always be at least two of you around. You should talk to each other, but, and this is very important, do not talk to him. At least not at first. We need to get him used to having you around. That’s the first step. Once we’ve established that we lower his dosage again. He’ll be more alert, may even say something, but won’t be able to move. At this point you can talk to him as long as he’s the one who acknowledges your presence. We keep lowering the dosage until he’s fully awake but not hysterical. Once that happens whatever comes next should be easier.”

“And what shall we expect ‘next’?” Lito asked with air quotes, dreading the answer.

“I have no idea. We have to wait and see.” was the doctor’s blunt answer. “Kala I won’t be able to stay and monitor the doses. If I recall what Will told me correctly, you’re the pharmacologist, right?” at Kala’s nod he continued, “Good! That will be your job, but, you shouldn’t be one of the people to stay with him the first day, at least.”

“Why not?” Kala asked, her brows knitted.

“Because you’re the only one who would evoke an extreme emotional reaction in him. We want him to manage to stay calm not agitated,” the doctor explained as he rubbed his eyes tiredly.

“When do we start?” Will questioned, taking Kala’s mug from her hand for a sip then returning it.

“We start now.”

********

Lito and Sun took the first shift. They didn’t talk much. Both of them tired, both of them worried, and both of them jumped when Wolfgang groaned. They slowly looked over not sure if looking at him at this point was the right thing to do, but they did anyway. They let out the breaths they were holding when they found his eyes still closed, then exchanged a look and laughed quietly at themselves.

“Why are we so afraid?” Sun asked somberly when their laughter died down.

Lito sighed, “Because we don’t want to be the reason this goes wrong. We’re not sure how to help him. We are desperate for him to wake up and go back to being himself, not just because we need him, but also because,” he paused looking for the right words, “Because he is part of each one of us and we want that part back. Even with the blockers, and as long as he is unconscious, we will always feel like he’s still gone.”

Sun gave him a small smile, “I would normally call you out on the drama queen act, but this time, you’re not wrong.” She looked at Wolfgang and for a moment she wished his eyes would open, wished he would acknowledge her. He was the one to instantly support her every decision when it came to Joong-Ki. He was the one to understand her the most. He was familiar with the dark and twisted desire for revenge and was not afraid to follow it, feed it. Plans change, he said and followed her when the others wanted to hold her back, yes, they meant well, but what they felt through her was foreign to them. It wasn’t foreign to Wolfgang.

“Wake up, Wolfgang. I’m getting bored,” she said teasingly with a smirk lifting the right corner of her mouth while Lito chuckled. They sobered up, however, when he groaned and turned his head in their direction.

“I think we shouldn’t do that again,” Lito whispered.

Sun bobbed her head up and down rapidly, “I agree.”

********

When morning came, Kala injected the sedative into the IV bag, reducing the dosage, lightly kissed Wolfgang’s forehead, and told Nomi and Capheus to take care of him. The smiles they both gave her were too kind they hurt. She gave them a little forced smile then left, closing the door quietly behind her.

Capheus and Nomi soon fell into an easy conversation. Well, it was more Capheus asking questions about Nomi’s hacktivism and Nomi answering them the best way she could.

When the conversation turned to her family, Nomi’s lively demeanor didn’t falter. “My father is on my side now,” she said, surprised at the happy tears that suddenly stung her eyes. “I never thought this day would come,” she added on a whisper. Capheus simply smiled and took her right hand in his left. She returned his smile and squeezed his hand tightly.

Nomi turned her gaze to Wolfgang and sighed, ”I will never forget how Wolfgang just threatened my brother-in-law at the wedding reception,” she shook her head in disbelief. “It’s good to know he’s willing to have my sister’s back, not just mine,” she concluded with a soft smile.

“He can be very intimidating,” Capheus said with a nod of his head, “Doesn’t work on us though,” he added with a bright smile.

“As soon as he realises intimidation doesn’t work on yourself, things will be much easier,” Nomi retorted. She turned to check on Wolfgang and did a double take. He was staring right at her. For a second she was about to jump up and rush to his side.

As if sensing her reaction, and without taking his eyes off Wolfgang’s face, Capheus held her arm firmly, keeping her in place, silently reminding her of the doctor’s orders.

When Wolfgang’s eyes shifted to him, Capheus unconsciously held his breath.

“Caph!” Nomi said shifting his attention to her, prompting him to breathe again. “Tell me about Zakia,” she said and he started talking. Both looking away from the bed.

********

Kala lowered the dosage again, refrained from speaking or kissing Wolfgang’s forehead this time, and left. There was no need to take chances when he’s half awake. Will was on the opposite side of the bed, prepared to keep Wolfgang from turning his head in Kala’s direction should he wake.

Will sat on the mattress he brought in from the living room with a tablet in his hand waiting for Riley to come back with the beer she offered to bring him.

Riley entered the room, pushed the door with her foot until it closed with a quiet click. She handed him his beer then asked, resting her head on his shoulder, “What are you watching?”

He set the bottle down after taking a sip and wrapped an arm around her, “Just an old baseball game,” he explained with a kiss to the top of her head.

She thought for a long moment, then excitedly exclaimed, "Chicago Cubs!” Her smile lit up the room. Her eyes shone with joy for remembering a team's name. The brightness soon faded, though, as Will frowned, took his arm off her shoulders, and slowly sat straighter. "No,” he said, his jaw tense, “No. We need to talk, Riley!"

Riley nearly stuttered in her confusion, “Ok. What do we need to-”

“You don’t want to be a Cubs fan.” The way he said Cubs sounded as if his tongue would turn black and fall off for saying the word.

Riley frowned, not understanding what has gotten into him, “Will, you know-”

“No. No. Hear me out!” he pushed off the mattress, his face serious. His lips were pursed, his brows were all the way up to his hair, and his nostrils flared. “You want to be a White Sox fan,” he cocked his head slightly to the side, pointing a finger at Riley, then continued, “The best team to ever exist. Yes?”

Riley narrowed her eyes at him, “I really don’t-”

“That was a rhetorical question, Riles. This is serious. Don’t even joke,” he interrupted, yet again, then raised both hands in the air for emphasis.

Will then started pacing and enumerating the basics Riley just had to know, “Ok, there are a few things you need to know; like who the players are, their positions, and, naturally, the team’s stats.” Will was on a roll that he ignored Riley the first two times she called his name. “Jose Abreu is my favourite player. He plays first base. He’s phenomenal, Riles, you should see him,” he said enthusiastically.

Giving up, Riley threw a pillow at him and said urgently, “Will!”

He picked up the pillow from the floor and asked exasperatedly, “What?”

“Look!” Riley gestured with her head to the side.

Will turned towards the bed to find Wolfgang chuckling, or trying to chuckle. He was smiling, albeit awkwardly as his lower lip tilted slightly downwards. His shoulders were shaking slightly, but no sound came out.

Will turned to Riley, eyes wide, then asked, pointing towards Wolfgang, “That’s acknowledgment, right?”

Riley shrugged with a smile, “I believe so.”

Will smiled in relief. “You’re awake,” he said to Wolfgang as he walked over to him.

Riley stood beside Will, hugging Will’s arm to her chest. She smiled down at Wolfgang who looked up at her, “Hey, it’s good to have you back,” she said quietly, afraid of what might happen if she raised her voice. Wolfgang’s answering smile encouraged her to keep talking. “See what I had to deal with while you were playing Sleeping Beauty?” she joked, mentally crossing her fingers that it was not the wrong thing to say or do.

Wolfgang nodded weakly with a smile still on his face.

“Riles,” Will whispered, sobering up marginally, not taking his eyes off Wolfgang, “Why isn’t he freaking out like before?”

Riley was silent, thinking. If it were just like general anaesthesia, Wolfgang wouldn’t wake laughing. He’d be groggy, nauseated, dizzy, but definitely not laughing. Then it dawned on her, “It must be the happy drug. At least that’s what I call it.” She whispered. Will’s clueless expression made her smile. “It’s the fun kind of anaesthetic. As it wears off you don’t feel nauseous or irritable, but rather, well, happy and in love with the world,” she finished with a shrug.

“Wolfie is high,” Will exclaimed, and smiled again, “You should get high more often my friend,” he said to Wolfgang.

“Cubs,” Wolfgang croaked, his throat parched, and apparently totally disregarding Will’s statement as though it had failed to register in his fuzzy brain.

“Not you too, man. Not you too,” Will shook his head, his eyes warm. He didn’t really give a damn. He just wanted Wolfgang to keep smiling, to keep talking.

Wolfgang tried to speak again, but his throat was so dry he started coughing instead.

Will and Riley looked around frantically, looking for water, but found none.

Riley was halfway to the door to fetch some when the door sprung open and Nomi literally stumbled in. “I’ve found him,” she said urgently, “I’ve finally found Felix.”

At the mention of Felix’ name, Wolfgang’s heart rate started to escalate. His eyes moved frantically between the three of them, his breathing coming faster, and his coughing getting worse.

“Oh shit!” Nomi exclaimed meeting Wolfgang’s eyes. She looked up to see Will and Riley staring at her in disbelief, then she ran out of the room calling out for Kala.

Kala walked briskly into the room, disapproval etched on her face. She avoided looking at the bed, she was afraid of meeting his eyes. She was afraid to look into them and maybe see indifference, or distrust, or even longing. She wasn’t ready to share a moment with him, not like this. Not with the erratic beeping of the heart monitor, or his loud, laboured breathing.

It was then that she noticed, while injecting a mild dose of the sedative into the IV bag, that the troubling cacophony had marginally quieted down. It couldn’t be the medication, it wouldn’t work so fast, she thought to herself. She pulled out the syringe and disposed of it slowly. This time her own breathing was almost as laboured as his. She dared to entertain the possibility that maybe he had only started to quiet down after she had walked into the room.

Despite her fear, she dared look down. Wolfgang was frowning, lips parted, his eyes fixed on her face. Kala’s heart was about to beat its way out of her chest. He was almost fully awake, right there in front of her, his eyes open and looking at her. There was a lump stuck in her throat as she stared into his eyes. She loved them, bloody or not, she loved them. It felt like forever since she had last seen them and her chest ached.

Tears were welling in her eyes, she was choking on them, but she felt a desperate need to speak with him. She needed his attention to stay on her, she had missed the intensity of it. “Would you please calm down, so we won’t need the sedatives?” she somehow managed to say in spite of her closed up throat.

Wolfgang’s frown deepened, but he still said nothing. His eyes searched her face, then blinked rapidly when a tear escaped Kala’s eyes. For a brief moment, Wolfgang’s hand lifted off the bed. Kala took in a shaky breath in anticipation, silently praying that he touch her, but his hand fell to the bed with a thump without making contact with her face.

She failed to keep the tears at bay. She hiccuped, yet tried to smile as she looked down, her eyes still fixed on his. “I would very much like to kiss you and I would prefer it if you were coherent as I do,” she said, trying to make it sound like a joke, but the aching need behind it was not lost on anyone in the room, definitely not on Wolfgang, who finally looked down and away.

*******

Later that night, the drug had completely worn off, leaving Wolfgang awake and coherent. Nomi and Sun were the ones with him and they watched as he became less and less expressive. They realised he was no longer under the influence when he simply looked away from them and stared at the ceiling, saying nothing.

“Wolfgang,” Nomi said cautiously as she approached the bed, closely followed by Sun. When he didn’t look at her, she reached out to touch his arm, but Sun grabbed her hand before it made contact with his skin. Nomi startled and looked at her questioningly, but all Sun did was shake her head. She then led Nomi away from the bed and out of the room.

********

Chapter Text

Take an angel by the wings
Time to tell her everything
Ask her for the strength to stay

 

Kala stood before Wolfgang’s room, nervously staring at the closed door. She looked back and saw her cluster hovering. Under any other kind of circumstances she would have rolled her eyes at them and shooed them away, but not today. Today she needed them. She took comfort in their presence. She turned back, eyed the door warily, took a deep breath, then walked in.

She didn’t waste a second. As soon as she entered the room, her eyes sought Wolfgang out. He was sitting up in the bed, staring ahead. He didn’t bother to look at the door as it opened and closed. He didn’t show any sign of interest in knowing who had just walked in. If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was still under the influence or in a trance, but she knew for a fact that neither was the case.

She moved to the chair by the bed, eyed the untouched tray of food on the bedside table, then took a seat. The tray only had a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. He had been on an IV drip for too long so eating heartily would have made him sick. Not that he was eating at all, but her brain seemed to keep providing her with information that she neither really needed nor tried to recall.

“Hi,” she whispered tentatively and waited a moment for him to say something back. When he showed no intention to reply she continued, “We’re happy to have you back,” she said gently, but again she was met by silence.

Her hand itched to reach out and touch his, but if he wasn’t even speaking, how would he react to being touched? So, she decided to keep her hand to herself and just look at him, take in his features. She had missed him more than she could bear.

Her eyes roamed over him. His hair looked lifeless and thready, thinner than how she remembered it. His eyes were still bloodshot and glassy. His cheeks were hollow making his jawline even more defined, unhealthily so. His usual stubble had become a light beard. His sensual lips were in a tight line and chapped. His shoulders were more pronounced. She couldn’t see much else because of the gown and the sheet covering his legs, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what was underneath them. She eyed the bandages around his wrists and for some reason she could no longer see them as signs of Wolfgang fighting his restraints and telling Whispers to fuck off. Instead, she shuddered at how they resembled those of someone who had tried to hurt themselves. Would he? Hurt himself? she thought, and her breath caught in her chest. She couldn’t bear to think it or process it. Her Wolfgang would never do it. He was the kind of man who faced his life’s challenges head-on. He took no hostages, he accepted no middle ground. He found the root of the problem and annihilated it. The only problem is that he tended to face those alone, never asking for help even when he knew he might fail because he didn’t. The only reason they were ever able to help him, the only reason they ever knew that he was facing death by meeting with Lila, was because he came to say goodbye, in his own way.

“I’m sorry,” Wolfgang said hoarsely making Kala jump. She was too lost in thought.

“What are you sorry about?” she asked quietly despite her heart beating so fast. She was breathless as if she had been running.

She was frustrated when he wouldn’t answer her although she knew perfectly well why he was apologising. She just needed him to start talking. He had always been a man of few words, but not with her, or Felix for that matter. She debated whether to wait for an answer or just keep talking. She opted for the latter.

“I know,” she said on a whisper. She tried to speak louder, but she was finding it hard to breathe.

“Whatever happened with Whispers was not your fault, Wolfgang,” she said with conviction. She might have been whispering, but that didn’t take anything away from the certainty of her statement.

“Any one of us would have done the same. I honestly think that if it were anyone else, they wouldn’t have held on for as long as you did,” she was panting at this point. There was no calming down or breathing easier. Her heart wouldn’t allow her to, beating as fast as it was. She felt tears sting her eyes and she was desperate not to cry. She tried for a minute to hold it all in. She failed miserably. So before she fell to pieces, she got up and walked to the door. She hesitated with her hand on the handle and said with her back to him, “Eat something. I’ll drop by later.” and with that she pulled the door open and walked out.

 ********

Daniela Velasquez was on a mission, but that didn’t stop her from looking like she stepped out of a magazine cover. Not that what she was wearing was particularly haute couture, but because of the way she carried herself. Her confidence and flair stood out. The cluster told her not to stand out, keep a low profile, but there was just too much personality to cram into her petite figure. She tried to fit in, she really did, but it was Daniela.

She carried her small bag over her shoulder, headed to the airport exit, took a taxi, and gave the driver her destination. He gave her an odd look, but a raised eyebrow closed the subject.

It should take her thirty-two minutes to get to the Haus der Statistik from Tegel airport, depending on traffic. That was the easy part. The difficult part was locating Felix in the ruins of the behemoth of a building that once served as the DDR's statistics-gathering headquarters. She shook her head at Felix’ choice of hiding place.

Dani was ecstatic when they agreed to let her be the one to bring in Felix. It wasn’t easy of course. Lito and Hernando went insane, talking animatedly over each other as they tried to convince her of how dangerous it was. She couldn’t make out what either man was saying and she honestly didn’t care. She wanted to get out. She couldn’t stay cooped up in that house any longer. This was a drastic change and she needed it. She had never been to Germany before and regretted not having enough time to explore its capital.

She checked the GPS on her phone and found she had five more minutes to arrive. She texted Nomi a short message. Almost there. You’re up.

She arrived at the building, paying the taxi absentmindedly. She was beginning to feel nervous. Her phone pinged in her hand, nearly making her jump. She quickly checked the message and moved purposefully towards the entrance specified in the message. She climbed the stairs to the fifth floor. As soon as she reached the landing she paused and listened carefully. Her laboured breathing could be heard in the empty space. She tried breathing through her nose to make it less audible.

She took a couple of careful steps forward only to feel what she assumed to be a barrel of a gun touching the back of her head.

Wer zur Hölle bist du?” who she assumed was Felix hollered behind her.

“I don’t speak German. If you would be kind enough to switch to English, I would greatly appreciate it,” Daniela said, voice shaking slightly.

“Oh really?” he said sarcastically. “Who the hell are you?” he translated anyway without lowering his gun.

“Are you Felix?”

“Are you the one who sent me a message telling me to hide and throw away my phone?

Daniela sighed, “I will not answer any questions until you answer mine.”

“And I won’t answer any of your questions until you answer mine,” Felix said stubbornly.

“Oh my God! Are you twelve?” she asked, exasperated. She turned around carefully and stared down the gun’s barrel. She slowly raised a hand and pushed the gun to the side with one finger. She studied his face for a second and came to the conclusion that, yes, it was Felix.

“I’m Daniela Velasquez,” she said offering him her hand. He cautiously shook it. “I’m not the one who sent you the text, but I kind of work with her. She sent me to pick you up,” she answered his earlier question, looking around in disgust.

Felix gave her a once over with a smirk, “Yeah?”

Daniela stared him dead in the eyes. “One wrong word and I will cut you open,” she threatened.

Felix’ smirk didn’t falter, but he still raised his hands in mock surrender, the gun now tucked in the back of his jeans.

“Good. Now I will do the talking while you shut up and listen. We’re on a tight schedule,” she ordered as she walked towards the corner she noticed earlier. It had a mattress with clothes strewn all over. There was a significant number of empty beer bottles thrown haphazardly around the space. “Ew,” she exclaimed, scrunching her nose.

“Hey!” Felix said in indignation.

“I said, shut up!” she silenced him with a raised finger. “Now pack up your clothes. We’re leaving.”

Felix crossed his arms stubbornly, “Why would I even go anywhere with you?”

“Don’t you want to see your brother?” she asked tauntingly.

“I don’t have a brother,” he answered cautiously.

“Yes, you do,” Daniela said as she pulled out her phone and made quick work of unlocking it. She scrolled swiftly through it then held it out for Felix to see.

He reached out to take it, but his hand stopped mid-air. His hand fell to his side as his eyes landed on the screen. It was a picture of Wolfgang in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown. He was sleeping, and there were IV lines in both arms. Daniela noticed his jaw tick before he looked up, looking fixedly into her eyes.

“Give me five minutes.”

********

Kala was back in Wolfgang’s room. Sitting in the same spot as before. She sighed as she noticed he still hadn’t touched his food. The tray with the soup was replaced with a plate of fruit. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by not eating, you know,” she said quietly. Her heart wasn’t beating as fast as before. It ached and squeezed in her chest, but it wasn’t trying to make her faint of hyperventilation anymore.

Knowing she won’t be getting any answer from him, she just started telling him how everyone was doing. “Bug arrived today. You know, the hacker who’s been helping Nomi. He’s quite odd, but strangely likeable,” she said with a frown as if trying to understand why that was.

“Hernando is adorable. He’s really sweet, intelligent, and kind-hearted,” she smiled fondly as she remembered all the times he kept her company, not that Wolfgang saw the smile. “I can easily see why Lito loves him so much. Daniela, on the other hand, is a force of nature. Seeing her through Lito’s eyes is nothing compared to how she is in person,” she shook her head. “She’s much more than just a beautiful woman with endless charisma. She is smart, funny, kind, loving, and extremely loyal.”

She picked up the fruit plate and thoughtfully sucked on a slice of orange while giving Wolfgang a sidelong glance. She knew for a fact that he could hear her. The stoic attitude wasn’t fooling her, it never did. She was certain there was a war raging inside of him, but he wanted no one to see it. She wasn’t just anyone though. She knew he loved her, but his silence and seemingly indifferent attitude made her worry. Was it possible that what Whispers had done could affect how Wolfgang felt for her? Could it make Wolfgang reconsider their relationship? Would he push her away to protect her? She brushed the questions aside impatiently, but they kept nagging her. Kala’s frustration had reached unbearable levels. She wanted him to talk to her, to say anything. She bit her lip, brows furrowed, thinking of ways to make a crack in the wall he had built around himself.

Kala remained lost in thought for a long time, then took a deep breath. “This tastes great,” Kala said brandishing the slice of orange, “Would you like to try it?” she asked as she moved to the edge of the bed and sat down facing Wolfgang. She outstretched her hand and touched the orange to his lips. That made him look at her, eyes fixed on hers. Her heart jumped in her chest and for a second she forgot to breathe. The slice slipped from her fingers, its juice smearing Wolfgang’s chin before it rolled down the front of his gown until it finally settled in his lap.

“Oh my God!” Kala said, embarrassed, picking up the orange and putting it back in the plate. “I’m so sorry. It’s just so juicy, it slipped,” she explained as she wiped her hand on her shirt then looked around for tissues. She found a couple on the bedside table.

“Here, let me take care of that,” she said apologetically while she wiped his lips and chin. When she was done with them, she started wiping down his gown, then straightened when she was done. He raised his eyes to meet hers and she could swear he was holding back a smile.

Ich möchte jetzt alleine sein ,” he whispered.

“English, please,” she requested, her eyes lowering to his lips involuntarily.

“I want to be alone,” he translated.

“Oh,” Kala said, raising her eyes to his again. “ Ha bilkul. Mujhe vaise bhi sab saf karna tha ,” she said and waited a few seconds. When he didn’t ask for a translation, she sighed and shook her head, “ Ab tum sirf ziddi ban rahe ho. ” She got off the bed and walked out with a small, optimistic smile on her lips. She had just shared a moment with Wolfgang. He spoke to her, nearly smiled. It was a victory.

As soon as the door was closed, Wolfgang threw his head back in frustration. He ran his hands over his face a couple of times then sighed. He fingered the front of his gown thoughtfully. The wistful examination of his gown soon turned critical. He needed clothes. He needed to get rid of the damned catheter and pee like a normal person. Both would require him to talk to someone and he wasn’t ready to. If he spoke one full sentence, they’d ask him a hundred questions and he wasn’t ready to answer any. There was one question in particular that he knew he’d be asked many times, and he honestly didn’t have an answer to it: how are you feeling?

He couldn’t decide on a particular emotion, stick with it and say this is it, this is how I feel. He felt everything, but he also felt nothing. He was furious at Lila and Whispers; Lila for turning him in and Whispers for torturing him. He was also furious at himself for giving away Kala’s name. He put her and her entire family at risk because he couldn’t keep her a secret. He also gave away Felix’ name. He was dying when he did, but he still blamed himself. Guilt was eating at his insides. He wondered how many more times was he going to fuck up the lives of the people he loved the most. Maybe it would have been best if he had just died and stayed dead. Maybe he did. Maybe this was his afterlife, if there were ever one. Wolfgang was not a believer. He shook his head at the thought. With everything he had done throughout his life, if there was indeed an afterlife, this would not be it. He would be burning in hell, not spending time with the people he loved. And he loved his cluster, he really did, but this was confusing. Wolfgang didn’t know what to think or believe anymore. It seemed his brain was broken somehow, no longer capable of logical reasoning.

He closed his eyes and breathed as evenly as his lungs would allow. He opened them again when he felt calm enough to continue trying to make sense of how he felt. Maybe if he managed to understand why he was feeling the way he was, he would be able to move forward instead of running in circles in his head. So, anger and guilt seemed to be at the top of the list. Self-loathing came next because why not? He hated himself for being weak. Too weak to keep Kala and Felix hidden from Whispers, too weak to somehow find a way out, too weak to try to get into Whisper’s head. He was aware he was probably being unrealistic in his expectations of himself, but he couldn’t help it, reality had been escaping him alot lately, so maybe he wasn’t wrong in expecting too much of himself. He had lost touch with reality too many times to count during his time in BPO that sometimes he couldn’t help thinking maybe all this was just an elaborate dream conjured up by his broken brain.

He was getting tired of thinking. He was getting tired. Period. He realised he couldn’t stay awake for long periods of time and wondered if the IVs attached to him had anything to do with it. He looked to the side and eyed the plate of fruit on the bedside table. He picked the slice of orange Kala had bitten earlier and cautiously placed it in his mouth. She was right. It was juicy and sweet. He chewed it slowly then swallowed loudly. His throat was still aching. Nonetheless, a small smile found it’s way to his lips as he remembered Kala speaking in Hindi. He was curious to know what she said and that’s how she wanted it. He was about to ask her to translate, but couldn’t utter the words.

With that thought in mind, he started to drift off.

********

“Wolfgang!” Whispers called out gleefully.

Wolfgang’s eyes sprung open.

“You were gone for so long I thought we’d lost you,” Whispers said with his hands clasped together, smiling.

Wolfgang’s eyes, full of panic, darted between Whispers and the paddles hanging by the bed. He shook his head violently in denial. He was out. How come he was back again? Wolfgang froze at that thought, his breath caught in his chest, and the all too familiar pain in his lungs surged. He had lost touch again. He lost himself in dreams again. He never made it out. But it felt so real, he thought miserably. Kala felt so real. His cluster; their voices and their faces, all felt so real. He was starting to heal, to have hope. How could he be so stupid? He couldn’t help the whine that escaped him as despair flooded him.

The sound of the paddles charging unfroze him. His head jerked to the side and saw one of Whisper’s assistants holding the paddles, awaiting orders. Wolfgang couldn’t contain his hopelessness anymore. He knew if he didn’t let it all out, it might as well kill him before the paddles ever did. So he screamed with all his might, head thrown back, eyes closed tight, tears spilling from their corners.

“Welcome back, Wolfgang!” Whispers murmured by Wolfgang’s ears just before the paddles made contact with his chest.

********

“Wolfgang!” Will screamed at Wolfgang, shaking him violently, “Wake up!”

Wolfgang’s eyes sprung open. His eyes, full of panic, darted between his cluster members. They were scattered around the room, their eyes reflecting the panic in his. They were all silent. The only sounds in the room were the frantic beeping of the heart monitor, the sound of his own laboured breathing, and someone else’s. He noticed for the first time that Will’s hands were on his shoulders, his head bowed as he breathed heavily. He looked up again and saw Kala standing at the foot of the bed, copious tears spilling from her eyes. She had one hand fisted against her chest while an arm circled her midriff. He had a flashback of when she looked exactly the same as she did now while she watched him shoot Sergei in the face, as he told her to marry Rajan.

“You scared the shit out of me, of all of us,” Will said, straightening up.

“Get out!” Wolfgang ordered.

“What?” Will asked, confused.

“I said, get out!” Wolfgang hollered making everyone jump, “Get the fuck out!” he repeated, pushing Will away. “All of you. Leave me the fuck alone.”

They all scurried out of the room. Nomi wrapped an arm around a stunned Kala, guided her away from the bed and out of the room. Nomi hesitated at the door and looked back. She squealed and slammed the door shut when Wolfgang swiped his arm over the bedside side table, dropping everything to the floor, and screamed, “Out!”

Wolfgang panted heavily, the screaming and the panic taking their toll on his abused lungs. Wolfgang hid his face in his hands. The heart monitor beeped irregularly in sync with the erratic beating in his chest. He violently pulled the wires attached to the electrodes on his chest. The monitor screamed at the flatline it was receiving. Wolfgang growled and pushed the equipment hoping it would fall over and crash, but the heavy equipment simply slid back on its wheels, out of reach.

He slammed his head back into the pillow. He wasn’t sure if he could get out of the bed with the catheter still attached. So he resolved himself to having the screaming heart monitor for company. Maybe he really was dead and the stupid machine was simply trying to get it through his thick skull. He could no longer be sure of what was real and what wasn’t. Was he saved, but dreaming about Whispers? Or was he still held captive and dreaming about being saved? Both possibilities felt too real.

Wolfgang only managed a few minutes of the madness before he called out for Will, his lungs protesting. He counted in his head to keep from screaming until Will walked through the door.

Will grimaced at the noise the heart monitor was making, then rushed to silence it. He turned to look at Wolfgang, saying nothing.

Wolfgang stared at Will for a few intense seconds before he started barking orders, “I need to get rid of this fucking catheter now. I also need a shower, a change of clothes, shoes, and a punching bag.”

Will raised an eyebrow, smirking, “Anything else, Sir?”

“No, that’ll be all for now,” Wolfgang answered, his eyes fixed on Will’s face. Wolfgang could see it, the excitement over him asking for things that meant he was willing to try. It was carefully hidden, but it was definitely there in the smirk that was dying to morph into a grin. He could see it in the brightness of Will’s eyes. If this were a dream, it was quite an elaborate one and he might as well enjoy it, and if it were real, then it was about time he got up and tried to get his shit together.

“It would make more sense, Sir, if we removed the catheter first before I fetched anything else,” Will said with fake subservience. It set Wolfgang’s teeth on edge. Wolfgang felt ready to jump out of his own skin and Will’s playful attitude and barely hidden excitement grated on Wolfgang.

Wolfgang asked sarcastically, “Is there a doctor here? Or do you plan on doing it yourself?”

That was when Will fell into an embarrassed silence for a brief moment. “No, he.. he isn’t here right now,” Will stuttered. “He actually said that he might not come back tonight and gave me instructions on how to remove it should there be a need to,” splashes of red spread on Will’s face. He looked as if he might be choking on his own breath.

“I bet you didn’t think you’d need to apply that knowledge, did you?” Wolfgang asked with a smirk that held way too much sarcasm for Will to handle. In a way this whole interaction turned into a battle of wills. Wolfgang seemed hell-bent on provoking Will.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Wolfgang taunted him.

Will ran both hands over his head as he puffed out a breath. He started walking sideways to the door under Wolfgang intense gaze as he said, “I need a few things first.” and with that he left, closing the door hurriedly.

Wolfgang didn’t need to wait long. Soon enough, Will returned with a bucket and a bag of supplies. He stood just inside the door, forgetting to close it. Wolfgang could hear what sounded like nervous laughter coming from outside and assumed Will had a meltdown before coming back.

“I don’t have all day,” Wolfgang said with a frown. Wolfgang didn’t know why he was being difficult, or why he was trying to get a rise out of Will. His emotions were all over the place, his confusion dumbfounding, and they manifested themselves in odd behaviour. Wolfgang had no control over it.

Will took a deep breath, “Yeah,” he said then cleared his throat. “I’ll talk you through the process so you understand what I’m doing as I do it,” Will clarified, in a professional, detached voice.

“You’re going to touch my dick, Will. What’s there to explain?” Wolfgang said, trying to deliberately embarrass Will. “It wouldn’t be the first time either. You’ve done it twice before.”

That was the last straw for Will. He was tempted to tell Wolfgang to go fuck himself, but realised how many ways that could be turned against him. So, he opted for silence. He simply went about the procedure as mechanically as possible until he got to the point where he would actually have to disinfect Wolfgang’s dick and pull out the tube.

Wolfgang’s patience was wearing thin, he had already removed the IV lines from his arms while Will was still unable to touch him. Resigned, Wolfgang offered to help, “Would you like me to hold it for you?”

“Please,” was Will’s short answer.

When Will declared that it was all done, Wolfgang immediately swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Now, the shower,” Wolfgang said then jumped off the bed despite Will’s warning not to. A second later he understood why Will didn’t want him to get off the bed. His legs couldn’t carry him. His knees gave way, he hardly had the time to break his fall with his arms as he cried out in pain.

Will hurried to crouch by Wolfgang’s side ready to help, but Wolfgang pushed his hands away. Will didn’t move back, though, he stayed where he was, again, saying nothing, waiting Wolfgang out.

Wolfgang rolled on his back as he processed where all the pain was coming from: his knees, his elbows, his chest, and his wrists. His feet were another story. They didn’t hurt per se, they were just numb.

Wolfgang looked sideways and met Will’s eyes. He was tempted to tell him to get the hell out and leave him alone, but he was tired. He was tired of staying in bed, of feeling weak, of being confused, being a nuisance or a burden, he was tired of feeling useless. Wolfgang Bogdanow was never one to surrender, so why would he start now? He never allowed anyone to break him, and when someone tried, he killed them. His father was proof of that.

Wolfgang closed his eyes for a short moment then pushed off the floor, leaning on his elbows. He outstretched a hand to Will who took it wordlessly. He knew that a smile or a word of encouragement would not be taken the way they should be, so he simply helped Wolfgang up.

Wolfgang leaned heavily on Will. He draped his right arm over Will’s shoulder while Will circled Wolfgang’s waist. They took a small step, but Wolfgang stopped them short. He didn’t say anything. Will studied Wolfgang’s profile and saw his jaw was clenched tight. He understood where the apprehension was coming from. He guided Wolfgang back to the bed and helped him sit on the edge, “I’ll be right back,” Will said and Wolfgang nodded.

Will returned a few minutes later and helped Wolfgang to his feet once more. Wolfgang gave him a sidelong glance to which Will said, “Trust me.”


The problem was that the only shower was on the first floor. The trip up the stairs was a long and arduous one. Wolfgang encountered none of his cluster or their mates and was assured that Will understood him perfectly. No words needed.

********

Chapter Text

You can, you can
Do anything, anything
You can, do anything

 

Showering wasn’t easy. It was awkward and clumsy. Wolfgang had to sit in the bathtub as he washed himself, and that he did, vigorously. He wasn’t just washing off sweat or whatever else that had clung to his skin, he was cleansing himself. Water had always had a soothing effect on him and this time was no exception. He felt as though some of the burden he had been carrying had started to fall off his shoulders along with the soapy water that cascaded down his body.  

Even after he was done showering, Wolfgang simply sat where he was, clearing his mind, his eyes closed, and his head raised into the steamy air. He was acutely aware of how much he had to process in order to reach a point where he was in control of himself. Up to this moment, his feelings had been tossing him around like a ball. Sometimes it all became increasingly overwhelming. He felt as though he were at sea, stuck in a storm without a life jacket. He was constantly being drowned and right before he took his last watery breath, the waves pushed him up again, but just enough for him to take a short breath before swallowing him up once more.

It was different now though. Now Wolfgang was paying attention, his aching muscles relaxed and his eyes closed. He was surrounded by calm and warmth without IV needles or catheters stuck in his body to distract him. Being alone, sure that there would be no interruptions, helped him focus. He was in a cocoon, free of his own worry and confusion, and of his cluster’s anxiety and expectations. He could finally search within himself and look very closely at what he had been experiencing.

Wolfgang reasoned that this couldn’t be a dream, could it? It was too elaborate to be conjured up by his brain. Wolfgang started with himself, his body. With his eyes sharp and focused, he raised both hands, inspecting them, taking in details of the wounds around his wrists. He did the same with his ankles and his chest. He pressed a finger to the burns and felt a sharp sting. He concluded that they definitely felt real.

Satisfied with the physical inspection, he started to analyse every encounter with the cluster, everything he had experienced with them since he opened his eyes to see a smiling Riley to the moment Will left him in the bathtub to shower. Dreams never lasted this long, did they? The amount of details was not possible for him to make up, the Hindi Kala spoke, the taste of the orange she left behind, the odd feeling of the catheter being pulled out, Capheus’ stories about Zakia, and Will’s favourite baseball team. The time he spent with his cluster since he woke up to Riley telling him he had been saved was longer than that he spent with Whispers. Those fresh minutes of torture now seemed detached from the other solid memories he was sure would haunt him for a long time.

Wolfgang replayed his latest encounters with Whispers over and over in his head. He kept at it for what felt like hours when he suddenly had an epiphany. All he had experienced with Whispers since he got back was repetitive. It was the same every time he closed his eyes. It was a kick to the chest when he realised that all those times he saw Whispers after the cluster brought him back were, in fact, a recurring dream. It was always the same; the same words, the same sounds, and Whispers wore the same suit. It was always the same eyes behind the paddles. His eyes sprung open and he sat straighter at the thought of those eyes. He finally understood why the eyes behind the surgical mask were familiar: they were Lila’s. He was certain Lila was never there with him. He was certain she would never work under Whispers or in such close proximity to him and BPO. Ever since he came back, his brain had added Lila to the equation as the one manning the paddles. In a way, she might as well have been. “This is not a dream,” he muttered to himself in disbelief.

Wolfgang hid his face in his hands as relief flooded him. He had finally found a life jacket. He could stay above water longer now. He was still at sea, braving a storm, but now there was hope he could stay alive.

The heaviness that weighed on Wolfgang's chest eased and the relief of it made his eyes sting with tears. He decided that should these tears start to fall, he wouldn’t resist or hold them in. He was desperate for his time with the cluster, with Kala, to be his reality. Now that he was certain that it was, he could feel his heart constrict then release as though the realisation was an electric shock, bringing it back from the dead. He could finally breathe again without doubting if it were really air he was taking in. He could finally shed his doubt in his own sanity. He even dared to allow hope to take a hold of him.

A few minutes passed as he revelled in the feeling of freedom before his shoulders started to shake and his throat to close up. His eyes were suddenly unable to hold back the tears as they had been trained to ever since Wolfgang was a child. He was crying, his face crumpling on itself as his tears joined the droplets of water already on his face. The crying soon turned into silent sobbing. He hid his face in his knees and rode it out. He wasn’t too proud to admit he needed it.

Wolfgang’s eyes dried up not too long after the floodgates had opened. He took a few steadying breaths, washed his face, then shut the water off. He managed to get out of the bathtub without incident. He dried himself then picked up the pyjamas Will had left on top of the closed toilet lid. They looked like something Will would wear.  Wolfgang never wore pyjamas, but he also couldn’t just go without some clothes on him, pants at least. He eyed the boxer shorts Will had included and sighed, vaguely missing his own boxer briefs. He slipped on the boxers anyway, followed by the pants. The burns on his chest stung as he showered, he didn’t want to wear the t-shirt. He could do without the chafing and he wasn’t ashamed of the burns. He had no reason to hide them, not anymore.

He was about to call out to Will when his eyes landed on the steamy mirror above the sink. He suddenly had the urge to see himself, see if he looked as different as he felt. Leaning heavily on the bathtub, he took careful steps to the side until he reached the sink. He wiped the steam off the mirror hurriedly, worried he would lose his already shaky balance and fall. He studied his face in the mirror for a full minute. What he saw made his heart clench. He didn’t like what he saw. He looked haunted. He was suddenly reminded of the face that stared back at him as a child when he examined a bruise in the mirror. The intensity, the confidence, and the fierceness in his eyes were dimmed. He looked tired, abused, a mere shadow of the man he was before Whispers took him. The broken blood vessels had mostly healed, but were still there. He could imagine how bad they must have been before the cluster brought him back. The dark circles around his eyes stood in such stark contrast with the blue of his irises. His cheeks were hollow, his cheekbones accentuated by the beard and the sharpness of his jawline.

Wolfgang looked around and found someone’s electric shaver on the shelf below the mirror. Good he thought. He didn’t want a close shave. He only wanted to look into the mirror and see himself instead of the ghost currently staring back at him. He plugged in the electric shaver and got started. As he watched the hair fall into the sink, he had a feeling of a very distinct satisfaction. It oddly felt as if he were shedding even more of the distress that plagued him since coming back. He felt even lighter than he was in the shower. It was therapeutic, like he was actively doing something to fix the damage Whispers had caused.

When he was done, he looked a little more like himself. The wide staring eyes with the purple circles around them had more resolve in them, some of their ever residing intensity had returned.  He looked less of a victim, he admitted through gritted teeth, angry at the thought that he was ever one. He impatiently ran a hand through his hair. As precariously balanced as he was while fixing it, it ended up styled to the side instead of how it usually was. He examined his reflection one more time, then called out to Will.

Will came in as soon as he heard his name. He took a look at Wolfgang and smiled, “You’re looking good.”

“Thank you,” was Wolfgang’s short reply. He wanted to tell Will that he felt better, that he was grateful for Will’s help, that he was grateful for Will putting up with his erratic behaviour, apologise for how he handled the whole catheter situation. He wanted to thank Will for saving him. He wanted to say many things, but he couldn’t get any words out. They got stuck in his throat. Wolfgang’s arms started to shake after supporting his weight for so long, so instead he just said, “I’m ready to go back to my room.”

The trip down the stairs was easier than it was going up. As soon as he entered the room, Wolfgang noticed that the floor had been cleaned, the sheets had been changed, the IV poles and heart monitor had been pushed to the corner, and a steaming mug sat on the bedside table with a fresh plate of fruit beside it.

Once Wolfgang was settled, Will sat on the chair by the bed. He rested elbows on his knees, bending forward, looking up to meet Wolfgang’s eyes. Will noticed a shift in Wolfgang’s attitude. Will couldn’t put a finger on it, but it was there. Wolfgang’s eyes looked different. Several questions were on the tip of Will’s tongue, but he was certain Wolfgang would not be willing to answer any.

“Everyone’s gone off blockers, now that you’re here,” Will said quietly. “Only you and I will remain on them for obvious reasons,” he added. “I understand you’re not ready to talk yet, but we really need you to try. It’s important, so I hope we get around to doing that soon.” Will leaned back in the chair, his eyes soft. “It doesn’t have to be me you talk to, Wolfgang. Truth is, I believe you should talk to Kala. Trust me when I tell you that she is your best option.” Will said, getting up. He walked to the door, but paused on his way out, “The last time the doctor was here he gave me the name of a medication and told me about some exercises that should help in your case. I suppose he guessed this might happen. Hernando will pick up the pills first thing tomorrow. The doctor said it shouldn’t last long. You should be able to walk by yourself in two or three days maybe.”

“Thank you,” Wolfgang spoke softly, his eyes on Will’s. “Thank you for everything,”  Wolfgang added. There was a small frown on Wolfgang’s face; an unsuccessful attempt at hiding the vulnerability of the statement.

Will wanted to walk back to the bed, grab Wolfgang by the shoulders and tell him to go fuck himself. They were cluster-mates and there was nothing any one them wouldn’t do to bring him back. He wanted to tell him to shove the thanks and get back on his feet, wanted to tell him they didn’t want his gratitude. The only thing any of them wanted was to have him back inside their heads, but he didn’t say or do any of it. He only gave Wolfgang a small nod, the ghost of a smile on his lips, and said, “You’re welcome,” then walked out, closing the door behind him.

Wolfgang was lost in thought when a knock sounded on the door. He waited for whoever it was to just walk in as per usual, but they never did. Begrudgingly, Wolfgang said, “Come in.”

When the door opened and he saw Kala walk in, closing the door behind her, he knew why she didn’t just come in. She was doing what she had been doing since she came to see him the first time: trying to get him to speak.

Kala stood with her back to the door. She studied him for a few seconds. For a fleeting moment he thought she was fighting back a smile. It hit him hard to realise she was afraid to smile at him. He wondered if she worried he wouldn’t want to see it, accept it, or return it. He was aware he had not been at his best the last few days. He was angry at himself, knowing he was the reason behind so much uncertainty in Kala. He also knew that he couldn’t help it then, he was not the same man he was now, yet it still left a sour taste in his mouth. What made it even worse was his memory of how he turned away from her when she told him she wanted to kiss him. He could imagine how much that must have hurt her. It would have hurt him, if the roles were reversed. He knew in that instant that he had to make up for all the disquiet, maybe even pain, he had put her through since they saved him, since she saved him.

When Kala didn’t move from the door, he gestured towards the chair by the bed, inviting her to sit down. As she slowly walked into the room, he noticed for the first time the glass of water and the black pill in her hands; the blocker. She sat on the edge of the chair, her back straight, and her hands neatly in her lap still holding the glass and the pill. He blinked rapidly, a deep frown marred his face, as he noticed the cuts on her knuckles.

He looked up to meet her eyes, still frowning. He gritted his teeth and took a deep breath through his nose. “What happened?” he asked her quietly, his eyes travelling down to her hand then back up to her face, conveying exactly what he was referring to.

Kala was surprised at first that he spoke to her. He had spoken to her before, but she simply didn’t know what to expect after his earlier outburst. She looked down at her hand nervously, cleared her throat, then met his eyes again. She wanted to see his face when she told him, “I punched someone.”

The slight widening of Wolfgang’s eyes, his parted lips, and sharp exhale were so satisfying to see that she decided to keep talking. It seemed like he wanted to know more. “A guy got in my way as I tried to get to you at the BPO facility, so I punched him really hard. I’m surprised I didn’t break a knuckle. I did sprain my wrist though,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Wolfgang’s eyes were rarely expressive, but now they betrayed him. Every emotion whirling inside him was reflected in his eyes for her to see. It left him feeling exposed, vulnerable. Wolfgang was used to being neither. He couldn’t get his guard up, he felt a need to hide, but found himself in an open space with nowhere to shield himself.

He needed Kala. He could admit that much. Wolfgang needed to hide his face in her neck, her hair a halo around his face, and feel her arms wrapped protectively around him. He was certain that if he asked, she would readily oblige, but he couldn’t even imagine asking. He was broken and only she could put him back together, yet he found it painful to entertain the idea of looking weak before her. He saw himself as her protector, not that she needed him to be, but still, it was his responsibility to watch out for her. He nearly laughed at himself. If anyone had watched out for the other, it was she who had watched out for him time and time again. He recalled in vivid detail how she built him a bomb to save his life when he went after Sergei, how she set the table on fire at the restaurant when he met with Lila, and how she blew up a car as they all chased after Joong-Ki. And now? She punched someone in the face hard enough that she cut her hand and sprained her wrist just to get to him. He was in awe of her. He always had been, but this was different.

Maybe after all she had done for him, given up for him, he might be able to bare his soul to her and allow her to fix it. She undoubtedly loved him the way only a Sensate can love. Maybe giving in to his need for her would show strength instead of weakness. Maybe all he needed was a leap of faith, to believe in her ability to see him, not his burns and cuts and bruises. All he wanted was to know for sure that she would still see the strong man she loved instead of this watered down version of him, sitting up in a hospital bed, staring at her.

He took that leap of faith, he stretched out his hand to her, palm facing up. She misunderstood the gesture and placed the pill she nearly forgot was in her hands in the center of his palm, careful not to touch him. He eyed the pill then popped it his mouth and accepted the glass of water when she offered it. He swallowed the pill, gave her back the now empty glass. She placed it quietly on the bedside table and turned back to face him only to find his hand outstretched again. She stared at it uncomprehendingly at first. Her eyes moved from his hand to his face multiple times. He finally gestured for her to give him her injured hand and her heart leapt in her chest.

Kala slowly reached out. When her fingertips touched his, she took in a shaky breath. Wolfgang ran the backs of his fingers across her palm to her wrist where his fingers caressed its underside gently. His touch was so gentle yet it sent a shiver down her spine. She was having a hard time processing what was happening. She questioned the sudden change, but she also didn’t care about any of it. She just wanted to touch him back.

They both looked down at their joined hands. Kala’s slender hand looked frail compared to Wolfgang’s larger one. She tentatively allowed the tips of her fingers to skim the inside of his palm. She heard him inhale sharply at the touch, but she wouldn’t dare look up in case she shattered the moment. Her skin tingled and her fingers wanted to touch more. She wanted to run her fingers up the inside of his forearm, squeeze the strong muscles above his elbow, she wanted to keep touching him till she had her fill.

Suddenly emboldened, Wolfgang wrapped his fingers around Kala’s wrist and pulled her up and off the chair. She sat on the edge of the bed facing him. He let go of her and hesitantly reached out to her waist. She watched his hand hover without making contact as if waiting for permission. She took his hand in hers and pressed down until it touched her. Looking into Kala’s wide eyes, Wolfgang pulled her closer by the waist. She moved willingly closer to him, searching his eyes.

With his left hand, Wolfgang touched a curl of her hair then gently pushed it behind her ear. He ran his thumb across her cheekbone, her jaw, then finally her lips and watched as they trembled at his touch.

Kala raised her right hand and grasped his left wrist. She closed her eyes as he continued to touch her face. She soon forced herself to open her eyes, to watch his face. There was a look on his face that she didn’t understand and she needed to understand. She needed to know everything. Her right hand moved to his bare chest. Her hand only hovered, unsure if she should touch him.

Wolfgang made the decision for her. He let go of her waist and pressed her hand down to the center of his chest. It was the only area without some degree of burns. When tears started to fall from Kala’s eyes, Wolfgang pulled her head closer to his until their foreheads touched. “It’s alright. They’ll fade,” Wolfgang whispered softly looking intently into her eyes.

“No,” Kala replied with a small shake of her head. “It is not ok. I know you probably don’t want to talk, but I really need to know, Wolfgang,” she hiccupped then continued, “I need to know what happened. Please!”

Listening to her words, watching her tears fall down her face, Wolfgang suddenly realised that he could still be strong for her. He was still a survivor. Turning to the one you loved and loved you back was not a vulnerability. It was a show of strength and trust. He never had any experience with real relationships, but he somehow knew that this was how they were supposed to be.

Wolfgang took a breath then let it out slowly. “You already know how it all started. I’ll tell you what happened after Whispers put me on blockers,” Wolfgang said, no longer meeting her eyes. Yes, he wanted to be strong for her, but even he had his limits. He closed his eyes, his forehead still touching hers, and heard Kala’s loud swallow. He licked his lips then started talking.

********

The electrodes on Wolfgang’s chest picked up a pulse again. The heart monitor, which was screaming over the flatline it was receiving, started to give voice to the erratic beats of Wolfgang’s heart.

“Wolfgang!” Whispers called out gleefully.

Wolfgang’s eyes sprung open.

“You were gone for so long I thought we’d lost you,” Whispers said with his hands clasped together, smiling. “I suppose I have to leave you alone for a couple of days to recuperate. Dying does take its toll on one's body,” he said, patting Wolfgang hard on the chest. The pressure sent shockwaves of pain across Wolfgang’s chest and injured lungs making him hiss in pain.

“I’m sorry. Did that hurt?” Whispers asked, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “I have to go now, Wolfgang. Thanks to you, I have people to find. I hope you’re more cooperative when I get back,” Whispers said maliciously, “People will get hurt if you’re not.”

Wolfgang lost track of time. He kept drifting in and out of dreams. He kept waiting for Kala to visit again. He kept waiting for Will’s presence in his head. Will never visited, but whenever Kala did, Wolfgang could feel him there, watching out for Whispers, making sure Kala didn’t get hurt. Wolfgang was grateful for him. Wolfgang knew why Will never visited him. He wanted whatever moments they had to be Kala’s alone. He could feel Will’s anger and frustration though. They kept Wolfgang going, knowing that Kala was safe, knowing that Will hadn’t given up on him.

He dreamed about his cluster too many times to count. It terrified him to think that Whispers would find them through his dreams, so whenever he fell asleep and dreamed about them, he fought with all his might to wake up. It was tragic enough that he had given Kala away to Whispers, he was hell-bent on giving away no one else. It was a double-edged weapon though, because he ended up getting next to no sleep unless he was sedated. He never dreamed when they drugged him and it always left him feeling sick when it wore off. He was so tired he had reached a point where he welcomed the drugs despite their side-effects. Being drugged meant he wouldn’t dream and he wouldn’t feel the pain.

Wolfgang wasn’t sure how long Whispers had been gone. He was hoping he would never return, but Whispers did, of course.

“Too bad Mrs. Rasal can’t visit anymore,” Whispers taunted Wolfgang. “I have to say I’m disappointed,” he said as he sat back in the chair beside Wolfgang’s bed. “I thought failing to visit would make her, and maybe even Mr. Gorski, stay off the blockers to visit you the moment you’re off yours,” Whispers watched as Wolfgang swallowed. “You don’t think they’ve given up, do you? That would be such a shame.”

When Wolfgang remained silent, staring at the ceiling, Whispers continued, “I wouldn’t blame them though if they did. The safety of the many should be of higher priority than that of the few.”

“Anyway, let’s continue where we left off, shall we?” Whispers said and gestured to his helper. Wolfgang heard the paddles charging and he couldn’t help the scream that burst out of him as they descended on his chest. Wolfgang heard Whispers’ order, “Again!” before the pain came once more. Wolfgang could feel tears slide down his face. He could taste the salt along with the metallic taste of his own blood.

“I found Mrs. Rasal’s family by the way,” Whispers said conversationally as he looked into Wolfgang’s head and saw Kala. “Such nice people, the Dandekars. I have people watching them. They’re worried out of their minds. They filed a missing person’s report,” Whispers sighed. “Rajan Rasal, though, you know, Kala’s husband,” Whispers said then chuckled when Wolfgang’s nostrils flared at the jab. “He hired a detective to find his wife. He is worried sick about her,” he said with fake sympathy, “He misses her terribly. We’re keeping an eye on him in case he finds her. Don’t worry, Wolfgang, we won’t hurt him. He’s important.”

“I don’t give a fuck about Rasal,” Wolfgang managed to say through the agony, somehow capable of holding Whisper’s gaze despite his blurry vision.

“I believe you,” Whispers conceded, “What about Felix Berner, then? Do you give a fuck about him?”

The elevated heart rate coming from Wolfgang’s monitor was music to Whispers’ ears. The panic in Wolfgang’s eyes every bit as priceless to Whispers as the finest and most beautiful of art.

“Keep Felix out of this you mother fucker,” Wolfgang spat at Whispers. “He doesn’t know anything.”

“Come on, Wolfgang,” Whispers said forcefully, getting off the chair and leaning over Wolfgang who fought against his restraints. “He doesn’t need to know any anything,” he explained, looking Wolfgang in the eyes, “He will only serve as incentive for you to start talking because if you don’t, I will tear him to pieces and make you watch,” he concluded with a smirk.

Whispers moved away from Wolfgang and straightened his suit, “Charge the paddles.”

Wolfgang’s chest lifted off the bed as it always did when the paddles touched him. He fought with every ounce of his being to keep details about Felix hidden, but failed. Memories of his childhood friend, his brother, flooded his brain. Wolfgang could feel Whispers sifting through them for useful information. He could literally feel Whispers’ brain click as he found clues as to where Felix could be.

Wolfgang broke. He never meant to, but he handed two of the people he loved over to Whispers. At this point he wanted to die. It would be best for everyone. He wished there was a way he could will his heart to stop beating. He wished they would miscalculate the dosage of his sedative and kill him. He wished to see Kala one last time, wished Felix would be smart enough to disappear. He wished for so many things. None of these things was for him to survive.

“Thank you, Wolfgang,” Whispers said politely, fixing the cuffs of his shirt. “I look forward to meeting Mr. Berner. I wonder what his last words to you would be, should you not cooperate. I’m pretty sure they would hurt though.”

With those parting words, Whispers left and never came back.

********

Chapter Text

Look up, call to the sky, oh

Look up, and don’t ask why


In a way the waiting was worse than the torture. Not knowing whether or not Whispers had found Felix grated on Wolfgang. Although Wolfgang was never religious, he prayed that Felix went into hiding, trusted no one. As time passed, Wolfgang’s emotions swung between relief that Whispers had not found Felix or he would have returned by now, and dread that Whispers had found Felix and was playing mind games with Wolfgang. He wondered if this was what psychological torture was. It definitely felt like it.

Whispers was gone two days before Wolfgang finally had a visitor who wasn’t one of the helpers who came periodically to inject him with the blocker. The man was as impeccably dressed as Whispers always was. His eyes were an odd shade of blue-grey; they were even colder than Whispers’. As soon as the man walked into the room, he established a connection with Wolfgang.

“Hello, Wolfgang,” the man said as he took a seat by Wolfgang’s bed. “Unlike my colleague, I don’t waste time with pointless conversation. He talks too much in my opinion.” He crossed his legs and leaned back in the chair. “Charge the paddles,” the man ordered.

Wolfgang could hear someone shuffling behind him. He could hear the beep of the paddles charging, but he couldn’t look away from the man by the bed. He was about to ask him who he was when he noticed the man merely lift a finger and the paddles came down on Wolfgang’s chest.

After two days of relief from the torture, Wolfgang felt as if he was experiencing the pain for the first time. The man was even more relentless than Whispers. Wolfgang lost count of how many times the paddles tore at his chest. He lost count of how many times he was asked the same questions, and how many times he felt violated by the cold stranger in his head. The torture didn’t stop until Wolfgang saw black spots swimming before his eyes and everything faded.

********

Speaking of what had happened to him in full detail felt as though someone had cut open his heart and peered inside. Speaking so unabashedly about his fears and pain was disconcerting and out of character for Wolfgang, but it was a necessary evil. He recognised his need to purge himself of what had transpired. He took comfort in the fact that he was not talking to just anyone. He was talking to himself; to Kala. Oddly enough he hoped that she would share it all with the cluster. It would keep them from asking him questions. It would also expose him to them all, but it was the best of two bad options. At least this way, this page would be closed, for them at least. Wolfgang believed he would never forget it. He could move past it maybe, but he was certain something inside him had changed because of it. He was not the same man he was when they wheeled him into Whispers’ interrogation room.

Wolfgang dared to open his eyes but delayed meeting Kala’s. He was bracing himself for the pity he would surely find in them. He could feel her tears falling on his chest, the worst of the burns stinging at the contact. They were sitting in the exact same position they were in when he started talking. Wolfgang thought about how uncomfortable Kala must have felt, bending over him as she was, like a guardian angel with her forehead still touching his.

Wolfgang carefully raised his eyes to meet Kala’s. Her eyes locked on his immediately as though she had been waiting for him to look up. He was surprised to find no traces of pity on her face. Kala’s eyes betrayed no emotion. They were red from crying, unblinking, and her lips were slightly parted. She was frowning, breathing through her mouth. Wolfgang wished he was not on blockers to see what went through her mind. Granted, it was an unrealistic wish, but he had it nonetheless.

Kala’s eyelashes suddenly fluttered rapidly as if to make up for the time she had spent without blinking. “I need a moment,” she said, her voice raspy. She pushed off and away from Wolfgang. If her body ached from staying in the same position for too long, it didn’t show. She paced a couple of times by the side of the bed before grabbing tissues from the bedside table. She wiped her face and nose clean then took a deep breath through her mouth. She discarded the used tissues and started pacing again. Her mind was in turmoil. She wanted to cry, to scream. She wanted to hold Wolfgang so tight, will the memories to fade from his brain, or turn back time and stop it all before it even happened. Kala knew that none of it would do any good. None of it would erase what had happened. All they could do now was move forward. She couldn’t change the past, but she was hell bent on shaping the future.

Wolfgang’s eyes were watching Kala’s every move. He remained silent, giving her time to process what he had just told her, his own anxiety pushed to the side.

Kala wondered if Wolfgang expected her to say something. She couldn’t think of anything that could help. She suddenly stopped pacing, she knew what Wolfgang would need to hear, what could actually help. She turned to face Wolfgang, her eyes sharp and her tone heated, she said, “If it’s any consolation, the man you just described is now dead.” At Wolfgang’s wide stare she continued, “Will shot him in the head.”

Relief washed over Wolfgang. That was one connection he didn’t have to worry about anymore. His connection to Lila and Whispers was more than enough to make him lose sleep. Wolfgang extended a hand to Kala, beckoning her to join him again and she complied. This time she didn’t sit on the edge as she had done earlier. She got into bed with him, her cheek on his shoulder, her arm around his waist. Kala needed the physical contact. The fact that Wolfgang was back and healing wasn’t good enough to settle her nerves or calm her heart, not after what she had just learned, anyway. The arm Wolfgang draped over her shoulders tightened as if sensing her need for comfort. Wolfgang knew Kala was a strong woman, but he could also imagine how hard it must have been for her to hear this. He could also imagine how he might have felt if it was she who had gone through hell. His initial reaction would be an urge to kill whoever dared lay a finger on her, then he would want to hold her so tight that their bodies would fuse together as one.

The silence that descended on them was a comfortable one. Neither felt the need to say anything and whatever they both thought about was probably better left unsaid. What they both craved was to bask in the other’s presence, to find solace in each other’s arms. Wolfgang rested his head atop of Kala’s, inhaling the familiar scent of her shampoo. He closed his eyes as he recalled the only night they had spent together. He recalled the feeling of having Kala in his arms the whole night, waking to her warm body plastered to his. The memories helped ease his anxiety, he buried his nose in her hair then kissed it absentmindedly. Kala kissed his shoulder with her eyes closed, sighing in contentment. This is where they belonged, together.

Kala raised her head. At her movement, Wolfgang looked down. Their eyes met for a relaxed moment that soon became intense. Wolfgang’s eyes bore into Kala’s and she got caught in the moment, the heat of it. She had missed this. She had missed him.

“I’m coherent now,” Wolfgang said, his eyes roaming over Kala’s face. He knew Kala would remember what she had told him the day before. She would know what he meant, what he wanted, what he needed. Wolfgang was nervous, but he knew he craved the intimacy. It would ground him, would give him more to hang on to, would reassure him of where they stood. Anything that came after that would be easier to handle knowing Kala was by his side.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Kala said, her heart beating fast. She understood what he meant, what he was referring to, but she somehow never expected this night to turn out the way it did. It never occurred to her that, after his earlier outburst, he would tell her everything he had endured or that he would hold her so tightly in his arms afterwards. She was desperate to kiss him, be with him, but never thought the moment would come tonight. Her heart jumped in her chest at the prospect of finally feeling his lips on hers. Kala regretted that he was on blockers, remembering what Riley had told her about what physical contact would feel like. Kala, however, decided to not let that detail get in the way of her savouring the moment.

“I think you do,” Wolfgang whispered when a tentative smile finally took form on Kala’s lips. His face slowly inched closer to hers, she could feel his breath on her face.

“I do,” Kala admitted and allowed her eyes to land on his parted lips. She cupped his cheek in her hand then closed the distance between them.

They merely touched their lips together, Kala heard a sharp intake of breath, but she couldn’t tell if it was hers or his. Wolfgang moved in again, this time more confident. He took her upper lip between his in a slow kiss, then took in her face. Kala’s eyes were closed, lips parted, waiting for his lips to meet hers again, and they did. This time there was no hesitance, no gentleness. Wolfgang kissed her hungrily, his tongue lapping at her lips. Kala parted her lips further, letting his tongue inside her mouth, feeling it caress hers. The arm Wolfgang had around her shoulders tightened its hold on her, pulling her to him. Kala’s lips moved under Wolfgang’s hesitantly at first, but it didn’t last long. The hand that cupped his cheek moved to the back of his head. Kala was soon kissing Wolfgang with all she had. Her tongue slipped between his lips, licking the roof of his mouth. Wolfgang bit her lower lip, licked it, and sucked on it eliciting a moan from Kala.

The sound seemed to spur Wolfgang on. He shuffled to his side, his arm now under Kala’s neck, while his other arm caressed her side and hip incessantly. Wolfgang was half on top of her at this point. One of her hands was stuck between their bodies, barely grazing his shoulder, the other was moving desperately along his bare back. The feel of his skin under her fingers was familiar yet entirely new. When Wolfgang nipped at her ear, her fingernails dug into his back. Now it was Wolfgang's turn to moan. The hand caressing her side tightened, and on an upward stroke, his thumb grazed the side of her breast. Kala needed more. The hand on Wolfgang’s back moved to his hip and pulled at his pants. He moved between her legs which she then wrapped around his waist. Leaning on his left elbow, Wolfgang allowed his right hand to move gently over her breast. It was a slight caress of fingertips on fabric. Wolfgang sucked and licked at Kala’s neck making her squirm. She pushed her head back exposing more skin for him to taste while she pulled his head closer still. Wolfgang was caught by surprise when she pushed his hand firmly on her breast and squeezed, showing him what she wanted him to do. Wolfgang obliged and squeezed her breasts, each in turn. The lips on her neck soon moved to her collarbone. A gentle bite made her buck her hips slightly. Wolfgang groaned and pressed his own down to meet hers. Wolfgang’s lips travelled down her chest, to the top of her flowery blouse. He pushed it to the side, his mouth open, eager to taste the swell of Kala’s breasts, but the movement pulled at his burns making him cry out in pain. Kala sobered up quickly and sat up straight, just as Wolfgang sat on his knees facing her.

“I’m sorry. I-” Wolfgang apologised breathlessly, but Kala wouldn't hear of it.

“Don’t be silly,” Kala interrupted him hastily. She cupped his face in her hands and leaned forward, kissing him hard on the lips. “It’s perfectly fine,” she reassured him and thanked every deity she ever believed in that he was on blockers so he wouldn't sense how bereft she was feeling. Kala looked down to Wolfgang’s chest and tutted at the burn that had split open. She looked up at him and rolled her eyes. “It wouldn’t have split open if you applied the ointment on a regular basis,” she chastised him as she jumped off the bed.

Wolfgang smiled at her as she straightened her blouse then tucked it into her jeans and for a moment, he felt perfectly normal. It felt as if this was perfectly them . Sighing, Wolfgang dropped himself heavily back on the bed. His eyes followed Kala as she rummaged through the drawers of the bedside table until she straightened, brandishing the ointment victoriously in her hand. Kala sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes searching Wolfgang’s face. “May I?” she asked quietly, the corners of her mouth lifting in a bashful smile. When Wolfgang nodded, she uncapped the tube and squeezed some of the ointment on two fingers. She carefully applied it to the burns, her touch gentle. She was satisfied when she found the majority of the burns had started to scab over.

“Will told me about earlier, when you couldn’t stand,” Kala said matter-of-factly, making sure her voice remained neutral. Studying Wolfgang’s face, Kala continued, “Electrocution can cause nerve damage, but the doctor thinks you should get better in no time and I agree.” His deep frown didn’t help her understand what he was feeling, so she shrugged, her eyes focused again on his chest, her fingers carefully moving over the burns, “Hernando insisted on trying to get your meds today instead of tomorrow.” Kala shook her head, smiling fondly. “He said that the sooner you heal, the sooner we all will.” Wolfgang still said nothing. When Kala was finished, she recapped the ointment and put it back in the drawer. She wiped her fingers clean then turned back to Wolfgang. “Will you eat something, please?” Kala whispered, changing the subject. She suddenly turned her head to the side and nodded to thin air. “I’m needed outside. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Kala explained, dropping a kiss on his lips which he reciprocated, before leaving and closing the door behind her.

********

Kala walked into the living room to find her cluster quiet, each looking in a different direction. Their forlorn faces answering her question before she even asked it. “You’ve heard?”

No one said anything, just nodded. Kala could feel their despondence laced with anger. She needed them to get over the first and focus on the latter. They all needed justice and they wouldn’t get it by feeling dejected. “He’s going to be fine,” Kala said matter-of-factly. “He has us. We need to help him get better and literally back on his feet if we want the rest of our plan to work out,” she continued assertively. It was agonizing to hear Wolfgang recount the events of his torture and Kala couldn’t even imagine how it would have felt if Wolfgang was not on blockers. She imagined she would have fallen to her knees and sobbed. There would be time for her to mourn what had happened to Wolfgang, but now was not the right time. That brief moment of intimacy she shared with Wolfgang gave her hope. It inspired strength in her, helped her push past the pain and look forward to the future.

“Felix?” Kala asked, her focus back to the task at hand.

Sun scoffed in reply and Kala could imagine how well that first meeting went.

“Where is he now?” Kala questioned.

“Hernando and Daniela can barely contain him in their room,” Will said with a sigh. “He’s a handful. He won’t shut up about wanting to see Wolfgang and asking what happened. Explaining what we are to him won’t be easy.”

Kala sighed. “Alright. Let’s go,” she ordered as she walked towards the stairs, the cluster following closely behind. She stopped by her room and briefly searched her bag. She pulled out a notepad and a pen, then headed to Lito’s room. She walked in without knocking, effectively bringing the ongoing arguments to a pause.

Kala suddenly had no patience for anything. She wanted to get things done, check one item off her list, then move on to the next one. The time she spent with Wolfgang gave her more resolve, more focus. She was more driven than she had ever been since he was taken and since his return. She was confident Wolfgang would be back to normal soon. She would make sure of it. Wolfgang meeting Felix would help exponentially, provided that she could get Felix to calm down enough to understand what he was about to see.

“Felix,” Kala said, her voice firm. Kala stood in the middle of the room while the cluster and their mates were scattered around the room. Some were sitting on the bed, others on the floor, or in each other’s laps in a chair. It looked as if she was about to give a lecture, surrounded by her students, and in a way she was. Felix was standing by the window, hands on his waist.

“I’m Kala,” she started. “Wolfgang’s India plan,” she added as clarification. “It’s good to finally meet you,” Kala continued when Felix didn’t respond and merely checked her out.

“You’re beautiful and everything. You’re Wolfie’s type, but that doesn’t help explain anything,” Felix finally said.

“That wasn’t me explaining anything. I was simply introducing myself,” Kala answered conversationally. “Me explaining things would be me giving you this,” she said, walking over to Felix, handing over the notepad and pen, “and asking you to draw something, anything. One of my people will look at it without telling anyone what it is. I, however, will tell you exactly what you drew without seeing it.”

“That’s stupid, but I’ll do it anyway if it means you take me to Wolfie,” Felix said with an eye roll, then proceeded to draw. When he declared he was finished, Riley walked over and looked at it for a second.

“That’s vulgar,” Kala said in reference to the dick Felix had drawn. Before he could protest, Kala continued, “We are eight people from all over the world who are connected mentally,” Kala said and raised her hand, the rest of the cluster doing the same, identifying themselves. “Riley saw the drawing,” Kala explained, gesturing towards Riley, “And through that mental link, she told me what you drew. She was disgusted by the way,” Kala held a finger when Felix was about to interrupt. “What we are called is Sensates. We can not only talk to each other in our minds, but we can speak each other’s languages and get access to each other’s skills.”

Felix sneered at Kala, “You sound crazy, woman. Are you even listening to yourself?” he said, shaking his head in exasperation. “That trick with the drawing doesn’t mean shit. It proves nothing,” Felix continued, running his hands through his hair. “Besides, there’s only seven of you. I’ve counted.”

“Wolfgang is our eighth,” Sun said stoically, but her patience was wearing thin.

“Is he now?” Felix asked, his tone sarcastic, “You say you speak each other’s languages? So if I say fick dich , you’d know what that means? Huh?” Felix taunted Sun.

Sun fixed Felix with a stare. “It wouldn’t work right now because Wolfgang is currently disconnected from all of us. I wouldn’t be able to use his knowledge of the German language at this moment,” Sun clarified. “Although I have to say that despite my non-existent knowledge of German, that was not hard to guess at all. You’re not very creative, are you?” she finished with a smirk.

Kala intervened before Felix and Sun jumped down each other’s throats. “Look at it this way, Felix, you sit down and listen to what I have to say and immediately after I take you to Wolfgang. Or you refuse to listen and I won’t allow you to see him,” Kala gave Felix the ultimatum in a calm and steady voice, her eyes fixed on his. Kala could see his nostrils flare and his face turn red before he walked closer to her, his face inches from hers.

Felix poked at Kala’s chest with a finger, “You will take me to Wolfgang right this minute or I-” Felix couldn’t finish his sentence. Sun had grabbed him by the finger that was touching Kala’s chest, then twisted his arm so hard he cried out in pain and dropped to his knees.

Kala gasped in shock, “Sun, don’t,” she exclaimed, shaking her head.

Sun reluctantly let go of Felix, but she looked down at him and warned, “Touch one of my people again-” Sun left the sentence hanging, but Felix understood what she had left unsaid.

Felix refused Kala’s offer to help him up. He pushed off the floor and walked back to the window. Kala followed him and sat on the floor then pulled him down to sit with her. Felix stared at his hands, massaging his twisted finger, refusing to look at Kala as she spoke. “Felix, your loyalty to Wolfgang is exactly why I am telling you all this. It is why we trust you,” Kala cajoled. “We are all your friends here,” she said warmly.

“Debatable,” Sun interjected. Kala gave her a stern look. Sun rolled her eyes and said nothing.

“Before I tell you anything, I want you to ask yourself if you have ever seen Wolfgang act strange. Has he ever stared into space for too long saying or doing nothing? Have you ever heard him talk to himself? Has he ever spoken a language you know for a fact he doesn’t speak?” Kala asked softly.

Felix frowned when he found the answer to all these questions was a solid yes. He finally looked over at Kala, “What does that have to do with anything?”

Kala smiled, “It has to do with the connection I told you about earlier. Wolfgang was definitely talking to one of us when you thought he was talking to himself. Wolfgang and I were having a snow fight around Christmas when you walked over to him with your arms wrapped around two girls. I was sitting with Wolfgang in that outdoor cafe in the rain when you came bursting out excited about something. He spoke Hindi one time and you even asked him what language that was.”

Felix’ mouth was hanging open at this point, his eyes wide, and all he could say was, “What?”

“Are you willing to listen now?” Kala asked. When Felix nodded, Kala told him everything he needed to know. She didn’t tell him about the intricacies of their lives, but she told him about their rebirth, about how BPO hunted them down, how they stayed safe for so long until Wolfgang was betrayed by Lila. Kala also told him what had happened to Wolfgang to prepare Felix for what he would soon see. She also asked him not to bring it up with Wolfgang for Wolfgang’s sake. Kala was hesitant to tell Felix about Wolfgang’s emotional instability, but she finally decided to tell him anyway. She hoped it would convince Felix to refrain from commenting about it with Wolfgang.

“This is fucking insane,” Felix whispered, looking around the room. As though the information was too much to handle sitting still, Felix got up and started pacing. “This is fucking insane!” he yelled, running both hands through his hair. His eyes were moving around rapidly as if they were trying to keep up with how fast his brain was processing the information it had received.

Felix stopped pacing abruptly and turned to Kala, “Ok. I listened to you. Now I need to see Wolfgang.”

Kala nodded and led him down the stairs.

********

“You seem troubled, Riley Blue,” Mr. Hoy observed from where he was, sitting in the armchair by the fireplace. His voice was oddly soothing to Riley’s nerves. She was staring out the window in his study. It was nighttime and she couldn’t see much, but her brain filled in the blanks for her. She had been here enough times to remember exactly what the view from that window looked like.

Mr. Hoy had been an incredible help to Riley and the cluster since they turned to him after Wolfgang’s capture. However, it was not easy to get him to cooperate. He was understandably apprehensive. The mere thought of helping them terrified Mr. Hoy, especially when he learned of what Whispers was doing to Wolfgang. He had Kristy and himself to worry about. He was afraid BPO would connect him to the “August Eighth” cluster. He was tempted to send Riley away after imagining himself in Wolfgang’s place, or worse, lobotomised. He wasn’t sure what it was that changed his mind about helping, but he had somehow fought against the crippling fear he had lived with his entire life and won. He could feel Riley’s desperation then, the same way he could feel it now.

Riley turned to face him. “I need your help again, Mr. Hoy,” she said, her voice pleading. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Mr. Hoy sighed and motioned for her to sit in the armchair facing his. Riley walked over slowly, sitting on the edge of the armchair, her legs pressed together, her hands in her lap.

“What do you need this time?” Mr. Hoy questioned.

“I need to find someone. Someone only the Archipelago can find,” she answered quietly, her eyes searching Mr. Hoy’s face, but it was as serene as it always was.

“And who is this person might I ask?”

“Lila Facchini.”

********

As soon as Lila had heard of Wolfgang’s rescue, she started packing as her cluster researched places for her to hide. She refused to hide under BPO’s protection. Their headquarters were easily penetrable for Wolfgang’s cluster. They’ve proven it time and time again. Besides, Lila was not one to owe anyone anything, especially not to an organisation like BPO.

Lila was standing in the balcony of her apartment when one of her cluster visited and suggested the most unexpected place for her to hide: Egypt.

“Siwa Oasis to be exact. All major cities are riddled with CCTV coverage. The hotel you’ll be staying in is Adrére Amellal,” Lila’s cluster-mate explained, showing her images of the salt rock building on his phone. “It has no cameras, no electricity, and mobile phones are banned outside the bedrooms. You should be safe there until we figure out how to handle Bogdanow’s cluster,” he concluded.

“I would also be close enough should I need to return to Europe fast,” Lila added, getting a nod from her cluster-mate.

“Egypt it is, then,” Lila said with a sigh, picking up her phone to make reservations.

Lila took a flight to Cairo, followed a by a flight to El Kharga Oasis, then finally a car to the hotel. Check-in didn’t take long and Lila was soon safe in her room. Lila walked around the room, lighting the beeswax candles left by the staff on the bedside tables. She then went through her bag in search for her cigarettes and lighter. She lit her cigarette, taking a long drag, before picking up her passport. She opened it to the first page and smirked. Her name was Amelia González and she was Spanish. Lila threw her passport back in her bag and walked to the window. The view was lost on her though, she was too busy enjoying the fact that, as far as Wolfgang’s cluster knew, Lila Facchini never left Berlin.


********

Chapter Text

Just take an angel by the wings
Beg her now for anything
Beg her now for one more day

 

Wolfgang was dozing off when someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” he called out groggily. Kala walked in a second later, her face bright with a smile.

“Hey,” Kala said, standing just inside the door. “There’s someone here who’s dying to see you.”

Wolfgang frowned, uncertain and wary, “Who?” he asked.

“Me, brother,” Felix said excitedly, running into the room, theatrically opening his arms wide with a face splitting grin.

Wolfgang sat up in bed abruptly. His eyes were wide and his mouth hung open. He mouthed Felix’ name silently, disbelief etched on his face. When Wolfgang finally smiled, it seemed that was all the encouragement Felix needed to launch himself at him. Felix wrapped his arms tightly around Wolfgang’s shoulders. The burns on Wolfgang’s chest stung like a bitch, but he didn’t have the heart to tell Felix to loosen his grip. Not when his arms were wrapped just as tightly around Felix.

As if sensing Wolfgang’s discomfort, Kala said kindly, making sure there was no sting in her warning, “Mind the burns, Felix.”

Felix pulled back, smiling sheepishly at Wolfgang, “Oops. Sorry,” he apologised. Wolfgang only shook his head and took Felix’ face in his hands, his eyes studying his brother’s grinning face. Wolfgang’s hold on him was hard enough that Felix’ cheeks hurt. Felix didn’t mind though. He had finally found his brother, alive. He didn’t give a damn about anything else.

“You’re safe,” Wolfgang whispered. He finally let go of Felix and turned to Kala who was still standing by the door, “Thank you,” he said, his voice warm, emotional.

“I didn’t do anything,” Kala said with a shake of her head then continued, “Nomi found him and Daniela flew to Berlin to get him here, but you’re welcome.”

Before Wolfgang could respond, Felix said, “You’ve been hiding your hot friends from me, Wolfie. Daniela is-”

Wolfgang hit Felix lightly on the back of the head, cutting Felix short, “Watch it with that one. I haven’t even met her, not in person anyway, but she’s badass,” Wolfgang explained, smirking.

“Oh yeah, that whole superpowers thing,” Felix joked then turned to Kala and asked, “What did you say you were called again?”

“Sensates,” Kala reminded him, but her eyes were on Wolfgang, a fond smile on her lips. Wolfgang gazed at her with such gratitude. He was relieved he didn’t have to explain anything to Felix, relieved that he wouldn’t have to recount what had happened to him another time. When Felix didn’t comment on the burns, Wolfgang doubted that Kala had told him. Now that he knew for a fact that she did, he was more grateful to her than he could possibly tell her. It seemed Kala knew exactly which fights he dreaded, and she fought them in his place. Wolfgang was wondering how he could ever thank Kala enough when Felix chose that moment to comment on the burns scattered over Wolfgang’s chest.

“They really did a number on you, didn’t they?” Felix asked, his face serious, his eyes intent on Wolfgang’s. Wolfgang merely pursed his lips in response. “I’m still mind blown, Wolfie,” Felix exclaimed, smirking, shaking Wolfgang by the shoulders and the serious moment was broken. “I have a ton of questions, but Kala told me to shut up. She’s bossy.”

Felix was not a fool. He could read Wolfgang’s face like an open book and he knew, as soon as he brought up the burns, that his brother wanted the subject changed. Felix was tempted to not bring it up at all, but Felix Berner never played by the rules. He decided to bring it up, just to prove a point to Kala, then reassured Wolfgang the subject was closed with a light hearted statement. It was Felix’ way of rebelling over being told what to do. He resented having a complete stranger dictate his actions where his brother was concerned. Kala might be the love of Wolfgang’s life or she might not be, Felix was still unsure about that, but he was Wolfgang’s brother. The sooner all these people realised that, the better.

“I’ll leave you two to catch up,” Kala said, her eyes lingering on Wolfgang’s face before she left, closing the door softly.

Felix stared at the door for a moment then turned to Wolfgang, “I’m surprised they allowed me to be alone with you.” The sarcastic undertone in his statement wasn’t lost on Wolfgang.

“What do you mean?” Wolfgang asked although he could imagine what it was that bothered Felix. Wolfgang, too, knew his brother like the back of his own hand.

“I mean that they’re-”

A knock on the door interrupted Felix. Kala walked in, all business. “I’m sorry, guys. Hernando came back with the meds,” she explained, walking into the room, pulling out the purchases from the bag, and arranging them on the bedside table. “Hernando couldn’t find the pills, but came back with a substitute,” Kala continued as she pulled out the last item, syringes. She heard Wolfgang inhale sharply through his nose. She pretended not to notice and proceeded with preparing the injection.

“Why didn’t he just wait until he found the pills?” Felix asked sardonically. He noticed Wolfgang’s distress and, unlike Kala, he chose not to ignore it.

Kala sighed, Felix’ attitude starting to get on her nerves. “Injections are stronger than pills. I think it’s a good thing Hernando got these instead.”

Felix was about to argue, but Wolfgang cut him off, “So these should work faster?” he asked.

“Yes. Absolutely,” Kala confirmed.

Wolfgang was about to ask why the doctor did not suggest those from the start, when he realised that he was the reason why. Wolfgang was wary of syringes now. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his eyes on the now ready injection that Kala held carefully in her hand.

“Fine,” was all Wolfgang could say through the thundering beats of his heart.

“I’ll do it,” Felix interjected.

Both Kala and Wolfgang looked at him with suspicion, but it was Kala who gave voice to it, “I don’t think so,” she said firmly.

“I know how to do it,” Felix said indignantly.

“This maybe true, but I believe it’s better if a professional does it,” Kala argued.

“Am I going to need one injection or will there be more?” Wolfgang asked irritably.

“You’ll need at least three,” Kala said unhappily, somehow knowing what Wolfgang was about to say next.

“Then you can take turns stabbing me with this shit,” Wolfgang responded impatiently. “Felix will give me the first one,” he said decisively. This was the only way he could think of to bring this battle of wills to a stop. Wolfgang knew Kala was acting out of concern for his well-being. He also knew that Felix was acting out of insecurity. Felix suddenly found seven strangers laying claim to his brother. Not to mention how surreal Wolfgang’s connection to these people was. Both Kala and Felix were driven by their love for him and although it made his heart squeeze in his chest affectionately for both of them, their feelings for him were also a ticking bomb. He understood each, somehow, had a right to him and albeit it being of a different kind, it could still cause a rift between the people he loved.

Wolfgang was nonplussed at how logically and systematically he was approaching the situation despite never being in a similar one before. It gave Wolfgang a sense of confidence considering how unbalanced he knew he still was. It made him feel there was still hope for him to come out of this a better man. He knew he had alot to learn about relationships. He had plenty to learn about friendships he didn’t ask for but still cherished, so much to learn about family. Felix had always been his only family for the longest time, but now that it had expanded considerably, he was willing to give it his best.

Wolfgang noticed Kala’s displeased purse of her lips and Felix’ smug smile. So he took the syringe from Kala’s hand, gave it to Felix, then pulled Kala down for a kiss. He didn’t let go until he felt her relax against him. When Kala straightened, she wasn’t as angry as before, Wolfgang’s peace offering accepted. Wolfgang looked over at Felix and saw the smug smile wiped off his face. Now it was Wolfgang’s turn to feel self-satisfied. Kissing Kala eased her worry and apprehension. It also told Felix to ease off with the attitude.

“Tomorrow we start the exercises,” Kala said quietly. Despite the conciliatory nature of the kiss, it still moved her, she still wanted more.

“I can help you with these,” Felix said addressing Wolfgang.

We will help him with these, Felix,” Kala said, her eyes sharp on his.

Felix rolled his eyes, but Kala chose to ignore him for Wolfgang’s sake. She dropped a chaste kiss on Wolfgang’s lips then left.

“Seriously?” Felix said derisively.

Wolfgang sighed and resigned himself for the battle of wills to continue despite his best efforts.

********

It took longer than the doctor had initially anticipated. It took five days of intensive exercising along with the injections to get Wolfgang back on his feet. Throughout those five days Wolfgang had started eating properly and moving to the bathroom freely. His favourite part of recovery though was being allowed to drink coffee. What he hadn’t done though was sit with his cluster or meet their partners. Wolfgang didn’t want them to smile at him with pity or sympathy as he walked out to them leaning on Felix or Will. He wanted them to smile at him with pride because he was finally back to how he was, who he was.

The struggle between the cluster and Felix continued. Felix couldn’t understand how deep the connection between Wolfgang and his cluster was. And naturally the cluster was protective of Wolfgang. It kept causing friction between them all, much to Wolfgang’s frustration, that one day he just snapped. Felix helping him with the exercises while ranting about who did what to piss him off triggered Wolfgang. “Would you cut them some fucking slack?” Wolfgang said impatiently. “You still don’t get it, do you? We are eight bodies with one mind. A connection like this, it’s deep Felix.” Wolfgang limped to the bed, sitting down heavily on the edge. Felix’ crestfallen face caused guilt to wash over Wolfgang. “I have had them in my head for over a year. Did I ever do anything to make you doubt me?” Wolfgang asked, his tone quiet and his eyes pleading with Felix to understand. He was never one to be vocal about his emotions, not even with felix. Having this conversation was making Wolfgang uncomfortable.

After a few seconds of silence Felix asked, his face suddenly morphing into a lopsided smirk with a not so small amount of sarcasm.“Are you trying to tell me you love me, Wolfie?”

Wolfgang returned the sarcastic smirk, “Fuck no.”

Felix cackled and walked to bed. He wrapped an arm around Wolfgang’s neck and teased, “Good. I was about to think this whole Sensate thing turned you into a pussy.”

Wolfgang only chuckled in response with an arm around Felix’ waist.

********

Wolfgang and Kala were in his bed, limbs entwined. Kala kissed his chest while a finger drew patterns on his torso. “Everyone is growing restless,” she whispered. “They haven’t seen you in days. They know you’re getting better, I’ve shown them, but they still need to see you,” she explained.

Wolfgang sighed as he stroked Kala’s arm, “Tomorrow,” he stated, adding nothing else.

When Wolfgang didn’t elaborate, Kala raised her head and met his eyes, “Tomorrow?” she questioned, a hopeful smile lighting up her face.

Wolfgang couldn’t help his answering smile, “Tomorrow I meet with everyone.” Kala grinned happily and pulled his head down for a passionate kiss that Wolfgang reciprocated enthusiastically. It soon became more than just a celebratory kiss. It grew more heated with each passing moment. Wolfgang’s tongue teased Kala’s lips as his hand teased her breasts. Kala moaned then straddled Wolfgang’s waist, still kissing him. Wolfgang’s hands slowly crept up her arms. He felt a shiver run through her before he slipped the straps of her blouse off her shoulders. Kala sat back and watched as he unclasped her bra, freeing her breasts, kneading them, pinching her nipples. When Kala’s hips undulated in response, pushing down on him, Wolfgang moaned and Kala could feel him harden against her. Wolfgang suddenly sat up, still holding both of her breasts in his hands. He buried his face in them, licking the small space in between with a broad swipe of his tongue before taking a nipple into his mouth and sucking it feverishly. Kala threw her head back in pleasure. She held the back of Wolfgang’s head and curved her back, pushing more of herself into his mouth. A bite to her nipple almost cost her her balance, so she wrapped her arms around Wolfgang’s neck and rested her head on top of his. When Wolfgang groaned and kneaded her butt, Kala pulled at his hair, forcing his head backwards. She stared at him for a long moment, leisurely taking in his features. Wolfgang’s eyes were hooded but bright, his lips were red and sensually wet. Kala thought he never looked more beautiful. She started moving her hips again and enjoyed hearing Wolfgang groan. She stared into his eyes as she lowered her hand until she could feel his hardness against her palm. She gave it a gentle squeeze and watched Wolfgang’s eyes close, a grunt then a hiss escaping him. Kala was about to worm her hand into Wolfgang’s pants when his hand suddenly grasped her wrist firmly. Kala’s brows furrowed. She could see Wolfgang struggling to focus, to breathe evenly through the haze of arousal surrounding them.

“Are you sure?” Wolfgang finally asked, still breathless, but his eyes were alert. If Kala wasn’t worried over the sudden change in his attitude, she would have envied his self-control.

When Wolfgang asked Kala that same question before, she could tell what he meant through their connection, but now, she was not so sure. There was something different in his eyes, a fierceness she couldn’t quite fathom. He wasn’t just asking if she were sure she wanted to have sex with him. There was definitely something else there. “What do you mean?” Kala asked quietly. She was frowning still, her eyes on his.

This was the first time they had tried anything since one of Wolfgang’s burns split open. It was in part due to how exhausted Wolfgang was after exercising hard all day, but there was also another reason: Rajan. Wolfgang couldn’t care less about the man, but he knew Kala cared. He was certain that even if Kala allowed herself to sleep with him, it would still weigh heavily on her. She was a married woman after all and Wolfgang, as much as he desperately wanted her, needed to know for sure that she wouldn’t come to regret it afterwards.

“You know what I mean. You know who I mean,” Wolfgang replied, pushing a strand of her hair behind her ear.

It was as if Wolfgang had pressed an “off” button in Kala. Rajan was the last person she wanted to think about at this moment. Kala got dressed in quick, jerky movements. Irritably, she moved off Wolfgang’s lap while he watched silently, a worried frown on his face.

Kala stayed on her knees beside Wolfgang, facing him. “Rajan is not exactly pillow talk, Wolfgang,” Kala said harshly, her eyes fiery with temper, then immediately regretted it. She knew he meant no malice with his statement. On the contrary, she knew it came from a place of love. “I’m sorry. You just caught me by surprise,” she apologised, bowing her head, letting out a frustrated breath. “It’s just that I talked to Rajan,” Kala admitted then looked up, searching Wolfgang’s face for a reaction, but he didn’t give her one. Kala ran a hand through her hair then pushed Wolfgang back by the shoulders until his head rested on the pillow once more. She kissed him chastely and noticed that his eyes remained open despite him returning the kiss. She stretched out beside him, hugging his arm to her chest.

“I called him from one of Nomi’s burner phones,” Kala said, staring at Wolfgang’s chest. “I told him everything. I don’t know whether or not he believed the Sensate part, but I’m sure he believed me when I told him I’m in love with someone else.” Kala’s voice was low, but steady and measured. She didn’t wait for Wolfgang to say anything. She needed to get this off her chest and out of the way. “I asked for a divorce. He refused and asked me to meet him first,” Kala said, feeling Wolfgang tense beside her. “I told him that if he doesn’t file for a divorce immediately, he will never see me again and that I’ll find out if he lied about it,” she continued hurriedly, but added nothing else.

“And? Did he agree?” Wolfgang asked impatiently, staring at the ceiling.

“Yes, he agreed and started the process, but I don’t know what the court will decide. The law says we have to be separated for at least a year before a divorce is granted,” Kala said with a heated sigh. “This isn’t how I wanted to tell him. It was such a difficult thing to do, but I had to. I couldn’t be with you without him knowing I no longer belong with him,” Kala finished on a whisper.

Wolfgang remained silent. He only freed his arm from Kala’s grasp and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her to him and kissing her forehead. They stayed like this, lost in thought for a long time until Felix knocked on the door saying he wanted to sleep.

********

The cluster and their partners were gathered around in the small kitchen having breakfast when they heard a knock on the door frame. All conversation petered out as they one by one realised it was Wolfgang at the door. Everyone had an excited smile on their faces, but none of them moved. They were unsure of what would be acceptable to him and what wouldn’t, so they simply studied Wolfgang for a few moments first. He looked so much better. The dark circles around his eyes were gone, the red streaks had faded, his hair was styled to the side, and his stubble was trimmed. The clothes that Daniela bought for Wolfgang fit him perfectly. The black jeans, dark grey sweater, and the black shoes were true to Wolfgang’s style.

Sun was the first to move, not worried about what the right thing to do was. She reasoned that if Wolfgang was joining them for breakfast then he was ready for anything. She poured a cup of coffee and offered it to him. He took it with a smile and a quiet “Thank you.” Sun returned the smile then on an impulse she pecked him real quick on the cheek. Before she could move away, Wolfgang stopped her, wrapping a hand around her wrist. He pulled her close gently and gave her a one-armed hug, careful not to spill the coffee on her. Wolfgang was surprised when Sun’s arms circled his waist and squeezed hard. She let go of him with a shy smile, “Welcome back.”

It seemed this was all the rest of them needed to start moving. Kala rushed to take Wolfgang’s mug right before Lito charged at him, wrapping him in a tight hug. Will held Wolfgang by the back of the head and brought their foreheads together briefly, eyes meeting, saying nothing. Capheus took Wolfgang’s face in his hands before wrapping his arms around him, patting him on the back. Riley squeezed in between them with a bright smile. She circled Wolfgang’s neck with her arms and pulled him close, swaying them from side to side giddily. When Riley started to pull away, Wolfgang wouldn’t let her. With one hand still on her waist, he raised the other to her face. He touched his thumb to her nose then looked into her eyes, asking a silent question. “I’m fine,” she said, her smile still bright and happy. Wolfgang returned the smile and watched as she moved to the side to allow Nomi to kiss Wolfgang’s cheek and hold him tight, “We’ve missed you,” she whispered, her voice trembling slightly. Wolfgang tightened his arms around her, unsure of what to say.

This was the first time in his life where there were so many people who loved him, missed him, worried about him, fought for him. Literally everyone in this room had either risked their lives or put them on hold just for him. He didn’t know what to do with that knowledge or how he could possibly show his insurmountable gratitude. He didn’t know if they understood how appreciative of it all he was. He hoped they knew him well enough to be certain of it.

Kala could feel how emotional everyone was becoming, so before any of the emotions manifested as tears, she said enthusiastically, “Come on, meet the extended family.” She dragged him by the arm to where Hernando, Amanita, and Daniela were standing with their backs to the sink.

Hernando pushed his glasses up his nose and extended a hand for Wolfgang to shake. Wolfgang shook Hernando’s hand firmly, then on a second thought, he grabbed Hernando’s upper arm with a small curve of his lips. Hernando mouthed a silent “You’re welcome”, his eyes as warm as always. Wolfgang wasn’t sure Hernando would understand what he meant with the gesture, so he was satisfied to find that Hernando did. When Wolfgang let go of Hernando’s hand, he turned to find Amanita’s arms already wide open despite the shy smile she was giving him. Wolfgang couldn’t help the grin that took over his face as he hugged her. She patted him on the back and said, “Welcome back, Wolfie” making him chuckle. When Wolfgang finally turned towards Daniela, his attitude seemed to shift, quickly adapting to hers. He slipped his hands into his pockets, lifted his chin, and looked down at Daniela who continued to sip on her coffee casually.

“Just so you know,” Daniela said between sips, “It was not easy for a woman of my taste to buy such boring clothes,” she continued, giving him a once over. “I suffered. Ask Hernando!”

Wolfgang’s gaze moved to Hernando, who nodded solemnly in confirmation.

Wolfgang raised an eyebrow then sneered, eyes on Daniela, “Well, I’m not sorry.”

The left corner of Daniela’s lips curved upwards, “Good! I would have been disappointed in you if you were,” she said then set down her mug and hugged him. Daniela was grateful to Wolfgang. Lito had told her that if it weren’t for Wolfgang, he never would have been able to beat Joaquin. Her life had been saved because of Wolfgang, Hernando and Lito’s relationship had been restored thanks to what Wolfgang had said to Lito, what he had done for Lito. So, she whispered a thank you that no one else heard. Wolfgang tightened his arms around her in response. It seemed it was the only answer he had to offer anyone.

“Can we eat now? I’m starving,” Felix declared loudly from where he was, leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed. No one had noticed him join them and that was how Felix wanted it. He wanted to see for himself how Wolfgang was with these people. He found he was no different from how he was with him. Felix wasn’t sure if that was a reason for comfort or for worry. He pushed away from door and sat at the table. He pulled out a chair, winked at Dani, then nodded towards the vacant seat. Her only response was to flip him off then rolled her eyes when Felix just laughed it off.

Wolfgang didn’t miss the exchange and smirked. Felix was not wrong to keep trying, he thought. Daniela was interested. Wolfgang could see it in her eyes, in her half-hearted sneer, in the brightness of her eyes, and the subtle flush of her cheeks when Felix blew her a kiss. Wolfgang squeezed the back of Felix’ neck. In a way Felix and Wolfgang were a cluster of two because with just a look, Felix knew what he meant, no words needed. Felix grinned at Wolfgang and concluded if Wolfie thought a woman was interested, then she really was. The grin on Felix’ face turned into a grimace, however, when Wolfgang’s hold on his neck tightened hard while he gave Felix a stern look. Again, Felix understood what his brother meant and gave a disgruntled, “I know. Damn it. I know,” shaking off Wolfgang’s hand.

Wolfgang finally sat at the table. Capheus took the seat next to him, making a sandwich and talking about nothing in particular as the rest of them did. The hubbub of their chatter was familiar yet brand new. Wolfgang was used to hearing them in his head, muted, but still there. Now they were sitting right before him. He touched them and they touched him. He could see them for real and he was in awe. These people were his family, all of them were, not just his cluster. Wolfgang’s heart thudded in his chest at the thought, a foreign emotion surging through him. He failed to give it a name and stopped trying to when Hernando handed him a plate of pancakes with a smile that Wolfgang returned without hesitation.

********

Later that day, they all lounged around the living room. It was the most normal they had ever been since Wolfgang was taken. Even with the blocker in his system, Wolfgang could feel their relief, their excitement, their happiness. It shouldn’t have caught him by surprise, how elated they were, but it did. Wolfgang never had so many people in his life who genuinely cared about him. It had always been Felix and himself against the world. How drastically that had changed in so little time left Wolfgang reeling. The enormity of it all only just settling in now that he was surrounded by them all, physically, for the first time.

Will dropped on the mattress beside him, an apologetic smile on his face.

“Just spit it out,” Wolfgang demanded, bracing himself.

“Are you ready to talk business?” Will asked, his face serious.

“Will!” Kala warned from where she sat at Wolfgang's other side.

“He needs to know, Kala,” Will stated.

“Now? He only just-”

“Yes. Now. We can’t keep holding this off any longer,” Will insisted.

Kala was about to object, but Wolfgang shook his head at her, “What do I need to know exactly?” he asked Will.

“It’s better if we show you,” Will stated, standing and extending a hand to assist Wolfgang up. Wolfgang grabbed Will’s hand and pushed off the mattress, Kala following suit.

When Will led Wolfgang towards the door to the basement, all chatter died down. Everyone got to their feet, one by one, their eyes on Wolfgang. He frowned at their concerned faces as his heart filled with dread. It was obvious whatever Will was about to show him would not sit well with him.

Wolfgang turned away from them and followed Will and Kala down the basement stairs. He could hear the shuffling of feet behind him, he could see the shadows cast by those who remained upstairs as he descended lower into the dimly lit basement. He took the last step then breathed deeply through his nose and looked up. Kala’s deeply concerned face and Will’s nervous one were what he saw first until he looked past them.

His eyes landed on Whisper’s face. It was bruised and bloodied. There were dark spots on his grey shirt. Probably dried blood, Wolfgang’s brain supplied. One of Whispers’ eyes was swollen shut, the other met Wolfgang’s defiantly. A smug smile was starting to take shape on Whisper’s face. It never got a chance to take full form.

Growling, Wolfgang charged at Whispers with all his strength, turning over the gurney to which Whispers was strapped down. He turned to the other side of the gurney and repeatedly kicked Whispers in the chest. Will ran to Wolfgang, grabbed him from the back, trapping his arms under his own. Will tried to pull him away, but it took several attempts until he managed it while kept repeating “We need him alive.”

Upon hearing the ruckus, everyone ran down the stairs. They stared in shock for a moment before Capheus and Lito ran to Whisper’s gurney to straighten it. Kala was immobile at first, but when Capheus called her name she pulled out of it to check Whispers’ vitals.

Wolfgang was panting hard, his face red, when he suddenly felt drained. His rage had subsided as suddenly as it had built up, and he fell to his knees. Felix dropped to his knees beside him. He placed a reassuring hand on the back of Wolfgang’s neck, but his eyes were fixed on Whisper’s unconscious figure and Kala’s measured movements. Felix shook his head to clear it and helped Wolfgang off the floor, guiding him slowly towards the stairs. Wolfgang looked back at Whispers briefly, but as he turned towards the stairs once more he did a double take. In the corner behind Whispers’ bed, face stricken, eyes wide in disbelief, was a handcuffed Jonas.

********

Felix was the one responsible for getting the punching bag. He simply returned to the safe house one night with one. Whether he stole it or bought it was unclear and he never said anything about how he had acquired it. The only thing the cluster cared about was that no one could track it back to them.

Wolfgang used it for the first time that night. The relative peace he had felt in the morning was now shattered. Kala was probably right when she insisted he wasn’t ready to see Whispers. It brought back too many memories that were too fresh to have no bite. Yet Wolfgang was glad he knew where Whispers was. Whispers was exactly where Wolfgang wanted him.

Every hit to the punching bag was a hit directed at Whispers. With only wraps to protect Wolfgang’s hands, his knuckles soon started to bleed, but he paid them no mind. What stopped him was Kala’s hand on his shoulder and her voice quietly saying his name. That was all he needed to instantly pause, to pull out of the haze he was immersed in. However, he didn’t turn and only hung his head as he tried to catch his breath. Kala stood between him and the punching bag then held his bowed head in her hands. As if on cue, Wolfgang buried his face in her neck and wrapped his arms around her waist.

********

Later that night Wolfgang woke with a start. His breathing was laboured, dark spots were dancing before his eyes, and his skin was clammy with cold sweat. Wolfgang felt as though he was submerged in ice cold water. Felix woke to the sound of Wolfgang hyperventilating and rushed to his side. Wolfgang could hear him speak, but failed to make out any of the words. His ears were ringing, Felix’ voice sounding as though it was coming from a distance. Felix ran out of the room to wake Will. Riley reached out to Kala in panic, waking her up.

 

Wolfgang could see them standing by his bed, but his eyes only focused on Kala and the syringe she held in her hand. He barely felt the prick of the needle as it punctured his skin. His eyelids soon felt heavy as drug induced sleep claimed him. When he woke the next day to Kala by his side, she gave a name to what he had experienced the night before: an anxiety attack.


********

Chapter Text

Take an angel by the wings
Time to tell her everything
Ask her for the strength to stay


Later the next day, Will found Wolfgang training with Sun. It seemed they had been at it for a while, judging by the heavy sweat clinging to their bodies. Studying their faces, Will speculated that neither were really fighting the other. There was another face, another body taking all the kicks and the punches. Wolfgang’s reflexes weren’t as fast as Will remembered them to be. Sun caught Wolfgang off guard several times. It didn’t faze him though; it seemed the mistakes made him even more focused, his movements more precise. Sun delivered a perfectly executed kick aiming for Wolfgang’s head. He blocked it just before her foot made contact with his head.

“Hey, easy on the guy,” Felix yelled at Sun from where he sat in a corner, his back to the wall.

Sun didn’t pause to respond. She kept trying to find weaknesses in Wolfgang’s defenses as she said, “If you really knew him as well as you say you do - ” she grunted at a punch to her midriff before continuing “- you’d know he wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Rolling his eyes, Felix begrudgingly agreed.

Will hid a smile at the interaction before interrupting. “Hey, guys!” he called out. When the fighting paused, he walked towards the center of the room where his cluster-mates were. “Nice job,” he commented, then added, addressing Wolfgang, “We need to talk.” Wolfgang nodded then turned to Sun who closed her eyes, giving him a minute nod of her head.

“I need a shower,” Wolfgang stated, “Give me ten minutes. I’ll meet you in the kitchen. I need coffee.”

“Sure. I’ll start a fresh pot,” Will replied with a slap to Wolfgang’s shoulder then headed for the kitchen.

Wolfgang ran up the stairs to the bathroom. He locked the door, hurriedly undressed, and stepped into the shower. As soon as the water started beating down his back, he sighed in relief. Wolfgang rested his forehead against the tiles, his eyes closed. Training with Sun helped him feel more centered, more determined. He needed to be both if he was to be of any use to his cluster.

Wolfgang’s hatred for Whispers rivaled that of his father’s, but Anton never managed to break him; if anything the abuse forced Wolfgang to be stronger. It was twisted and sick, but that was how it was. You could never survive being a Bogdanow if you weren’t fearless, ruthless, murderous even.

Whispers on the other hand had managed to get under Wolfgang’s skin, into Wolfgang’s mind. Whispers made him doubt who and where he was. Whispers made him reach a point where he couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. The mere thought of it made Wolfgang’s blood boil. No amount of deep breaths could calm him. All he could think about was torturing and killing Whispers. It all became too overwhelming, so instead of punching the wall, Wolfgang got out of the shower and dropped to the floor doing push ups. Only at the count of fifty was he finally capable of controlling himself. He pushed off the bathroom floor, leaned on the sink, and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He was looking more and more like his old self, but on the inside he knew he was no longer the same.

After a couple of minutes, Wolfgang turned his back to the mirror and showered properly. He dried off and wrapped the towel around his waist then remembered he hadn’t brought in a change of clothes. He shrugged then absently combed his fingers through his hair. He didn’t care who saw what; besides, he wasn’t about to spend the whole day in jeans anyway. If anyone had a problem with him walking around half naked, well, they better get used to it.

Wolfgang descended the stairs two at a time and headed to the kitchen, the smell of coffee greeting him before he even walked through the door. When Wolfgang walked in, he found Will, Amanita and Dani standing by the coffee machine, nibbling on what he assumed was biscuits of some kind, while sipping on the coffee already in their hands.

“Hey,” Wolfgang greeted, fetching a mug and pouring some for himself.

“Hey,” the three of them said at the same time.

“I’ve added you to the schedule by the way,” Amanita told Wolfgang. When he only gave her a questioning look, she explained, “Well, we have a cooking, cleaning, and laundry schedule. You’re handling laundry tomorrow.”

Wolfgang smirked, “No, I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are,” Amanita insisted, putting down her mug. “Because if you don’t take a turn, no one will wash your clothes and you will be left without any,” Amanita said, her arms crossed. She raised a challenging eyebrow with a smug smile on her face

Daniela giggled, “Does he look like a guy who would have a problem with that, Neets?” she asked while gesturing at Wolfgang’s half naked form with both arms.

Amanita gave Wolfgang a once over and groaned.

Wolfgang smiled then conceded. “I’ll take my turn in the schedule,” he declared and was surprised when Amanita cheered then kissed his cheek.

“You’re a good man, Wolfgang,” she said as she grabbed her mug and walked out of the kitchen with Daniela close behind.

Wolfgang startled when something hit the wall hard. He turned his head towards the sound and saw movement outside the window. He walked to the sink and looked out to find Felix, Capheus, Hernando, and Lito playing football. Lito was a goalkeeper. It was all he could do really and when Felix scored, Capheus ran to him and ruffled his hair, while Felix wrapped an arm around his neck. Hernando gave Lito an exasperated look, but when Lito pouted, he walked over and pecked him on the lips. Wolfgang smiled and craned his neck to look to the side. He found the girls cheering for the winning team while they sipped on their drinks. The sight of how normal they all looked came as a shock to Wolfgang. He shook his head, confused. This picture of family and solidarity had somehow given Wolfgang the focus he was lacking, the resolution that kept eluding him. He couldn’t help but think that maybe these people were all he needed to keep the rage at bay, under control.

“Felix is starting to fit in,” Will said, bringing Wolfgang’s attention back to him.

“Yeah,” Wolfgang said, studying Will’s face. “You needed to talk?”

Will nodded then gestured towards the table, inviting Wolfgang to sit. When Wolfgang did, Will took the seat opposite him, his fingers toying with his mug. Wolfgang met his gaze steadily, both hands wrapped around his own mug.

“This isn’t what you think,” Will started. “I won’t bring up last night. Your reaction was perfectly normal. No one blames you for that,” Will finished and paused in case Wolfgang wanted to add something. Naturally, he didn’t, so Will continued, “He’s not talking.” Will felt no need to clarify who he was referring to. “Actually neither of them is.”

Wolfgang leaned back in his chair, took his time sipping his coffee, then asked, “What methods of persuasion have you tried?” This was familiar ground for Wolfgang. This fell into his area of expertise. Will saying he didn’t give a damn about the night before as well as asking Wolfgang for help with interrogating Whispers and Jonas gave Wolfgang’s waning confidence a boost. However, Wolfgang wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part in any of it. Did he want to only provide Will with methods to get them to talk? Or did he want to be the one interrogating them? Was he ready to follow through a methodical wearing down of their hostages? Or would he snap and kill them both?

“The usual. The bruises on both are self-explanatory. Violence isn’t working.” Will’s voice cut through Wolfgang’s self-reflection.

Wolfgang took his time considering his options for so long that Will became restless. He kept busy by drinking his coffee, silently watching Wolfgang. Will noticed the changing expressions on Wolfgang’s face. He remembered how Wolfgang used to be better at hiding his emotions. Will could tell his mind was racing and that not all of his thoughts were positive ones. Will refrained from addressing any of it. Wolfgang needed to know they trusted him, that they weren’t afraid of what he’d do next time he snapped.

“I think I know how to help,” Wolfgang said, finally.

“I’m all ears.”

********

Kala and Wolfgang were in her room. Kala had her back against the headboard, Wolfgang’s head in her lap while her fingers toyed with his hair. Wolfgang was relaxed, his eyes closed. He hummed in satisfaction as his left hand caressed her calf. They were in a world of their own, isolated from everything and everyone. When Wolfgang spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, “Felix is finally warming up to you.”

“Yes. He even offered to help me cook dinner,” Kala whispered back, smiling.

Wolfgang gave a low chuckle. “Dinner was great. Does that mean you sent him away?” he asked.

Kala giggled, swatting his shoulder playfully, “No, I let him help with washing and cutting vegetables. I was too happy he offered, I couldn’t say no,” she sighed. “Besides, it was nice to chat with him. I told him how I visited him in the hospital and sat with you as you watched over him. He seemed happy to know that.”

Wolfgang finally opened his eyes and looked up to meet hers. He moved up as she moved down, meeting her halfway for a kiss.

“I’m glad I finally met your brother,” Kala said when they parted. Wolfgang only smiled, but Kala knew he shared her sentiment.

Wolfgang turned on his side, absent-mindedly kissing her thigh. “This bed is more comfortable than mine,” he stated, not meeting her eyes. Wolfgang wasn’t sure why he was too afraid to directly ask if he could share her room, but he was certain he needed her close. He was certain she was his lifeline. He wasn't ashamed to admit that much, at least to himself. It felt odd to admit it, but that didn’t make it any less true. He also knew she was willing to help him any way she could.

Kala held her breath for a second to curb her excitement. She had been waiting for this moment, waiting for him to come to her, to realise he belonged by her side. Now that the moment had finally come, she didn’t know how to react to it. So, she took a deep breath and offered as nonchalantly as possible, adding a small shrug for effect, “You could always sleep here instead of down stairs.”

“Yeah? That’s a good idea.”

“I know.”

********

Wolfgang stayed with Kala until she fell asleep then went down stairs, packed up his few belongings and deposited them on the floor in Kala’s room. He kissed her forehead and watched her smile dreamily without waking then went back downstairs in search of Will. He wanted to tell Kala what they had planned, but the time he spent with her was so peaceful, Wolfgang hated to disrupt it. He decided he would tell her first thing in the morning.

Wolfgang nearly jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He quickly turned to find Felix frowning.

“Easy. It’s just me.”

Wolfgang nodded. “Have you seen Will?” he asked.

“Living room. Waiting for you,” Felix supplied. He stopped Wolfgang who was about to turn and leave. “Will told me about your plan. I’m in,” Felix said.

“No,” Wolfgang said curtly, wondering when Will and Felix had become such good friends that they were sharing plans now. He was going to have a talk with Will. Felix had to be kept out of this mess.

Knowing perfectly well what Wolfgang was thinking, Felix grabbed Wolfgang’s arm in a firm grip. “How many times did we have this conversation? I won’t leave you alone in this.” When Wolfgang seemed about to argue, Felix stabbed Wolfgang’s chest with a finger and gritted his teeth. “That fucker fucked with you, now I’m gonna fuck with him, Wolfie. You hear me?”

Wolfgang’s lips were in a tight line as he glared at Felix. He then sighed, shaking his head, when intimidation didn’t work and begrudgingly acquiesced. “Fine.”

They walked into the living room to find Will pacing. Felix snickered, “You need to chill, the experts are here.”

Will ignored the jab and addressed Wolfgang. “You ready for this?”

“Only one way to find out,” Wolfgang said with a shrug. It was a straightforward reply, and Will appreciated it. It was a comfort, knowing Wolfgang could admit to a possible weakness in himself. It was so unlike him. Will never doubted Wolfgang’s strength or his ability to bounce back from the worst experiences. They’ve all seen it for themselves considering how Wolfgang survived his father, but they’ve never witnessed the process of it happening. Will couldn’t help but wonder if what he was asking of Wolfgang now could hinder his progress, but it was a necessary evil.

The three men descended down the stairs to the basement. They took their time as if bracing themselves before they started.


Will turned the lights on at the bottom of the steps. The three of them were greeted with hysterical grunts from their hostages. Wolfgang stepped to the center of the room and watched Whispers and Jonas for a solid minute before he said a word. The silence was intentional. He wanted both men to notice the lights through their blindfolds and nothing else for a while. It added more stress to the already strenuous situation the men were in. Felix walked forward, pulled out the earplugs from their ears, then stepped back. The grunts became louder and more hysterical. They tried to wrestle themselves free, but there was not much space for them to move as spread-eagled against the wall as they both were. Wolfgang noticed their gags were wet. It was probably tears and snot since they wouldn't have had much saliva in their parched mouths. They weren't allowed to eat or drink after all. Wolfgang wondered whether they cried from the hallucinations or the extreme exertion of being only allowed to balance on their toes. He hoped it was both.

He slowly walked up to Whispers. Pulled the blindfold off his eyes. Whispers closed his eyes tightly against the harsh light. His eyes unable to handle the stimulus after spending so much time closed.

"How long?" Wolfgang asked Will, his eyes never leaving Whispers' face.

"Ten hours," Will replied after checking his watch.

"Good," was all Wolfgang said before addressing Whispers, "Open your eyes, Milton," he ordered as he pulled the gag out of Whisper’s mouth.

Whispers shook his head, "No, I can’t. No, please it hurts," he begged.

"If you don't open your eyes, I won't untie you," Wolfgang threatened, but his voice was devoid of emotion.

The threat seemed to do the trick. “If I open my eyes, will you untie me?” Whispers asked, desperate, his voice trembling almost as much as his aching muscles. At Wolfgang’s affirmative reply, Whispers struggled to open his eyes and keep them open. His pupils suffered, hardly able to constrict after staying dilated for so long. Whispers blinked rapidly as his eyes watered. He could barely make out Wolfgang's form as well as what looked like an elephant grazing at Wolfgang’s hair.

"Don't mind the elephant," Wolfgang snickered. Whispers frowned, he wasn't aware he had spoken out loud.

"Elephant?" Will whispered near Felix’s ear.

"Hallucinations from the sensory deprivation," Felix explained, and watched Will nod. "I thought Wolfie explained all this."


"He did explain. I just-" Will failed to articulate what he was feeling, so he just let the sentence drop. Will’s eyes were glued to Jonas' seemingly oblivious figure. He had gone completely still.  If he understood what Wolfgang had told him earlier about this interrogation technique, Jonas was quiet because he was trying to drink in the sounds they were making. His brain was hungry for stimulus. When Wolfgang spoke again, Will's attention was drawn back to Whispers.

"Let me explain how this will work," Wolfgang started, his face mere inches from Whispers', "I will ask you questions and you will answer them. With each answer that checks out, I will allow you to drink, maybe eat, or maybe even give you one of your senses back." Wolfgang raised a finger in warning, "But, If you don't answer my questions-" Wolfgang left the sentence hanging, leaving Whispers' muddled brain to imagine the worst.

Wolfgang turned to Jonas, “These rules apply to you, too, Maliki,” he said as he pushed the ear plugs back into Jonas’ ears. Jonas whined, grunted, and growled against the gag in his mouth, but Wolfgang paid him no attention.

"Now, who is the Chairman?" Wolfgang asked whispers.

“Wait! No, wait!” Whispers pleaded, “You said you’d let me down if I opened my eyes. I opened my eyes.”

“Shut the fuck up and answer the question,” Wolfgang hollered, effectively silencing him.

Wolfgang questioned Whispers for nearly an hour. During that time Felix and Will simply stood back and watched.

What they were doing hit Will the hardest. He was a police officer, he was no stranger to violence, but he was never the one inflicting the pain. After Wolfgang was taken, and before they brought him back, Will was prepared to do whatever it took to safely bring Wolfgang back. He had no regrets over hurting whomever for information. Now that Wolfgang was in their midst, Will struggled to reconcile what he was with what he had become. He was aware it was necessary, he was aware he was the one to ask Wolfgang for help, but it still didn’t sit well with him. Will’s conflicting emotions gave him a headache. He was helping Wolfgang torture someone by depriving them of their sight, their hearing, and their ability to speak. The hallucinations were not even the worst of the side-effects. Will was having second thoughts about the whole approach until Whispers started giving names.

Whispers resisted giving away the Chairman’s name, but he did disclose others. He named five executives within BPO who secretly worked against the organisation. He explained to Wolfgang the only reason the Chairman had kept them alive was because they had information he needed. Felix wrote down the names and ran upstairs to Nomi. When he returned to the basement, he nodded to Wolfgang. The names checked out.

Wolfgang allowed Whispers a sip of water and a bite of toast before he gagged Whispers, blindfolded him, and plugged his ears once more. Like Jonas, Whispers tried to free himself, but naturally he failed.

Wolfgang was getting tired, but he was driven by his desire for answers, so he pushed through the exhaustion and turned to Jonas.

Jonas had the same reaction to the light as Whispers, but when his eyes had finally adjusted, he didn’t see an elephant.

“Angel,” Jonas murmured. “We have been compromised. You must get out.”

Wolfgang sighed at the mention of Angelica’s name then motioned for Will and Felix to move to the corners of the basement and out of Jonas’ line of sight. He moved to stand by Jonas and whispered, “All you have to do is give the Chairman’s name, Jonas. It’s the only way to end this.”

Jonas didn’t hear the statement in Wolfgang’s voice, to him it was Angelica speaking. “My love, they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into,” Jonas said, futilely trying to wet his dry lips.

“Stop underestimating them. They have come so far,” Angel said with a sad smile. “Say it! Say the Chairman’s name and end this.”

“I can’t. I can’t. The chairman will order me dead,” Jonas shook his head then suddenly stopped and stared at where he believed Angelica was. He frowned and gritted his teeth, “Is that what you want? You want me dead? Is that it?” Jonas was rapidly losing touch with reality. He pulled violently at his restraints regardless of how much strain it added on his joints. He kept repeating the same questions in the same order as if he were a broken record.

Wolfgang stood before Jonas and slapped him. It was hard enough that Jonas’ head snapped to the side with the force of the blow. His eyes finally focused on Wolfgang. “Hello, Wolfgang. Have you gotten your cluster killed yet?” Jonas taunted.

“I’m not you, Maliki. I protect my own. Can’t say the same about you,” Wolfgang replied.

“I couldn’t help what happened to my cluster,” Jonas said heatedly.

“You had your own ‘children’ killed,” Wolfgang roared, grabbing Jonas’ face in one hand, squeezed hard, then let go. “You’re a failure, a disgrace.”

“You can’t stand against BPO. Many have tried and failed. You will get yourselves killed,” Jonas warned.

“We won’t fail,” Wolfgang exclaimed, “And if you’re so fucking concerned about our lives then you should fucking help. Maybe atone for your past failures.”

Jonas frowned. “They will kill me if I help you.”

“You’re assuming I won’t kill you if you don’t.”

Jonas remained quiet. It seemed he was weighing his options and Wolfgang didn’t rush him. “What do you want to know?” Jonas finally asked.

“I need the names of those on the inside working against BPO,” Wolfgang demanded. He needed to see if the names would match the ones Whispers had provided.

Jonas gave him seven names. The extra two checked out as the first five names did. Wolfgang allowed him the same sip of water and bite of toast before cutting him off from his senses once again.

Will, Felix, and Wolfgang dragged their feet up the stairs, switching off the light.

Wolfgang took a shower before he walked into Kala’s room, quietly closing the door then slowly joining her in bed. He wrapped an arm around her waist, she pushed her back further against his chest with a contented sigh. Wolfgang took a deep breath then let it out slowly, closing his eyes, allowing her regular breathing to calm him. The next thing he knew, was the sun filtering through the window, waking him. Sometime during the night they had switched positions. It was a familiar yet unexpected feeling. Kala had always watched out for him, always had his back, this time was no different and it made Wolfgang’s heart jump in his chest.

Wolfgang was basking in the warm and blissful aura that surrounded them when a loud, urgent knock on the door made him sit up. Kala startled at the sudden movement and opened her eyes to Riley barging into the room unapologetically.

“We found Lila,” Riley declared then walked out after signalling for them to follow.

********

They all sat around the living room. Despite the early hour everyone was fully awake. Nomi and Amanita were focused on their respective laptops while everyone else nervously watched Wolfgang argue with Will and Kala.

“I still don’t understand. Why can’t I go instead?” Wolfgang asked, his voice raised.

“We already discussed this. Jesus! I need you here, Wolfgang,” Will answered, frustration dripping from every syllable. They have been going around in circles for way too long. He had already explained this. “If you leave, who will interrogate the assholes tied up in our basement? By the time you’re back their brains would have turned to soup. So who’s gonna do it? I sure as fuck can’t do it and neither can Felix.”

“Besides, Felix will not be here anyway,” Kala joined in.

Wolfgang frowned, turning to Kala, his eyes intense, “You are not going anywhere near Lila.”

Kala narrowed her eyes at him. “You don’t get to tell me where I can or can’t go, Wolfgang!” Kala replied, her tone firm, but her voice trembling with barely contained temper.

“That’s not how I meant it and you know it,” Wolfgang glared at Kala.

“I don’t care how you meant it. It’s how it sounded. Besides, I’m not going alone. Sun and Felix will be with me,” Kala said walking over to Sun. “Are you saying they can’t handle it?” Kala asked, gesturing at an obviously agitated Sun. She didn’t say anything, but her posture was defensive and her eyes were judging.

Wolfgang wanted to pull at his hair. He wasn’t winning this argument. Kala had been ambushing him over and over leaving him not much room to argue. “I trust Felix with my life, so don’t bother trying to corner me with that one, but even he knows he’s not a skilled fighter,” Wolfgang said impatiently, looking over at Felix who took no offence from the statement. Wolfgang was right. Reassured that Felix agreed with him, Wolfgang continued, “Sun is a remarkable fighter, but you’re not. Sun will be alone in this even with Felix by her side.”

Will raised a hand, “No, she won’t be. We will all be with her. Are you calling all of us useless?” Will asked, borrowing Kala’s technique in shutting Wolfgang down. Will noticed Wolfgang’s jaw tick. “That statement includes you by the way,” Will added.

At Wolfgang’s lost look, Will clarified, his voice warming, “You will be off blockers too. You will be with the girls and Felix every step of the way.”

Wolfgang’s eyes widened, instantly locking them with Kala’s. Nomi was about to speak, but Will shook his head minutely and waited. He could imagine what was going through Wolfgang’s head as well as Kala’s. The moment they had been craving for so long was finally here, but again the circumstances are nothing as they had imagined them to be. Kala would be on a dangerous retrieval mission while Wolfgang was stuck with their hostages torturing them for information. They would be connected, yes, but still apart, each of them in a different part of the world.

Kala approached Wolfgang and held his face in her hands. She looked into his eyes pleadingly and whispered, “Let me do this for you.”

Wolfgang was angry, frustrated, and terrified. He was ready to jump out of his skin, but he couldn’t bring himself to pull away from her touch knowing it would hurt her feelings. Instead he inhaled deeply, smelling the subtle scent of her shampoo then exhaled slowly through his nose. He reined in as much as he could of the emotions that raged within him and shook his head weakly, circling her waist with his arms, “You have done more than enough already.”

Kala’s voice was thick with anger, her eyes fiery with determination, “Let me do it for me , then. I need this, Wolfgang. I need to be there. I need to see the look on her face as she realises we got her.” She pulled Wolfgang’s forehead to hers, her eyes still on his. “Besides, you will be with me the whole time. You won’t allow anything to happen to me,” she said with certainty.

Wolfgang sighed, closing his eyes, then closed the gap between their faces and kissed her lips briefly. When they parted, Wolfgang’s eyes were still closed, his jaw clenched. It felt like forever before he finally opened his eyes then nodded. The last thing he wanted was to be a controlling boyfriend. He had no desire to make Kala think he believed her too fragile. She would not allow him either of those anyway and he’ll be damned if he let Sun look at him and think “misogynist”.

Wolfgang watched Kala’s lips curl into a smile. He finally pulled away from her, shoving his hands into his pockets, “You better do your fucking best not to establish a connection with her,” Wolfgang warned Kala, his eyes intent on hers, his voice steady, and deadly calm, “Because if you accidentally do, I will snap her neck and it’ll be your fault.”

Taken aback, Kala’s eyes widened. Wolfgang had never used that tone with her and it felt disconcerting to be at the receiving end of it. His eyes, however, stayed on hers, unwavering, unblinking, waiting for her reply. Kala took a deep breath then let it out slowly. She tilted her head slightly to the side, studying Wolfgang, “If I establish a connection with her, I will kill her myself. I will not have this bitch inside my head.”

At Kala’s statement, Wolfgang’s tense shoulders relaxed marginally and he smiled at her with pride.

********

Lila was sitting by the lake, bored out of her mind. She was not a woman who enjoyed nature and quiet. She was a city girl, used to the luxurious, finer things in life. She made sure she had them, believed she deserved them, believed the world owed them to her. She most definitely didn’t find that in a hotel that prided itself in its simplicity and eco friendliness. Even with her cluster-mates keeping her company, even with her visiting them frequently, she still felt trapped, and she was.

Her cluster couldn’t find anything on Wolfgang’s. They kept running into dead ends, deleted records, and altered footages. They learned from a source inside BPO that someone had siphoned Whispers’ bank account, but the people at BPO had lost track of the money, the trail suddenly disappearing.

Irritated, Lila huffed, swung her legs over the side of the chaiselongue, and walked towards the edge of the lake. She stared at the reflection of the dusky sky on the water. The water was so still it almost looked like a mirror.

“Nice view.”

Lila’s heart nearly stopped upon hearing the words. Her head snapped to the side and met his eyes. “Wolfgang!” she tried to mask her surprise with nonchalance but Wolfgang could see through it. Lila immediately visited him in an attempt to keep her location secret and gasped at what she saw. Whispers and Jonas spread-eagled to the wall, Whispers was singing a children’s song and Jonas was having an angry conversation with someone she couldn’t see.

Lila turned her horrified eyes to Wolfgang who simply smirked, moved close enough to her that her eyes nearly crossed.

 

“You’re next.”

That was all Lila needed to hear to take off running back to her room, but as soon as she opened the door, she felt a needle stab her in the neck. She turned, prepared to fight whoever it was only to feel an electric current shoot through her back before spreading to the rest of her body. Lila fell to the ground, her body convulsing. She tried to reach out to her cluster, but couldn’t. Despite the pain, she looked to her left and saw someone close the door to her room, while two figures she couldn’t make out bent down by her side. She felt another needle stab her before her body started to go lax and her brain started to slow down. Before she went under, she heard a woman’s voice whisper in her ear, “Welcome to your own personalised hell, bitch. I hope you enjoy your stay,” then everything went black.

********

Smuggling Lila out of the country was the hardest part. It took Sun, Kala, and Felix two days to get Lila to England.

The trip east to Cairo was gruelling. Lila was dead weight in the trunk of their rented car while they stuck mostly to desert roads to avoid police. It was a risk as these uncharted roads were also used by drug smugglers. Sun may have had her hands on the steering wheel, but it was Capheus driving. He didn’t stop for a moment during their seven hour drive to Cairo, going as fast as the roads allowed him. He got them to their destination in record time even as he maneuvered the heavy Cairo traffic once they made it to the city.

Wolfgang had managed to strike a deal with a smuggler his family dealt with regularly to pick them up from Cairo airport. Whisper’s money had come in handy in paying for the private jet. The smuggler had demanded an obscenely high price for the job. The forged medical documents Nomi provided from a hospital in Egypt to the one their doctor worked at served their purpose and they were able to get Lila through the airport. It wasn’t easy and raised many questions, but Lito made sure the answers were delivered perfectly and convincingly. Felix kept his guard up, but Sun and Kala were still on edge the whole time despite Felix’ best efforts and Wolfgang's constant presence. By the time they landed in Gatwick airport a little over five hours later, they were drained. By nighttime they had moved to yet another rented car, yet another road, then finally a small bed and breakfast that didn’t care about the “sick friend”. That night Sun and Kala tied Lila to a bed and woke her. With her head still heavy with drugs, she accepted the offered juice box and crackers Sun fed her. Early the next day they finally made it to the safe house.

As soon as the car parked in front of the house, all three passengers jumped out of it. Capheus and Lito walked out to help carry Lila into the house, but when Lito opened the trunk he was met by a smell so foul he scrunched up his nose and moved away from the car. “What the fuck is that?” he asked, looking to the side, waving away the smell with his hand.

“Oh yeah, she peed herself,” Felix helpfully clarified before he ran into the house.

Lito turned to Capheus who was staring at Lila’s unconscious figure disgustedly. He looked over to Kala and Sun, but both shook their heads. “Sorry, Caph. She’s all yours,” Kala said as she took Sun’s hand and walked into the house.

Once inside, Sun turned to Kala and smiled, “You shower first. You shouldn’t meet Wolfgang looking like this,” she said as she pulled lightly at Kala’s frizzled hair.

Kala chuckled and blushed slightly, but nodded. The thought made her nervous.

“Hey!” Nomi, Daniela, Riley, and Amanita said in unison as they ran to Kala and Sun, hugging them.

“Welcome back, Angels,” Nomi said with a wink.

“Kala, I prepared the bathroom for you and left you a change of clothes there as well,” Riley said, guiding Kala by the arm towards the stairs. Confused, Kala looked over her shoulder to the other girls, but all they gave her were encouraging smiles. “Take your time and relax. I can feel how tense you are you poor darling,” Riley continued as she walked Kala up the stairs. She shooed her into the bathroom and said before she closed the door, “As soon as you're done. Come to the kitchen. We’re celebrating.”

Kala stared at the door for a few seconds before she exploded into action. She started the water and got undressed thinking she could really use a party. If she were being honest, she would rather spend time alone with Wolfgang before she celebrated anything, but if they were celebrating Wolfgang’s mental freedom then so be it. Kala might have been excited at the prospect of normalcy, but that didn’t make her rush the shower.

Kala was getting more nervous with every passing minute. She wanted the first time she felt Wolfgang’s presence in person to be theirs alone, not in a room surrounded by so many people who would have nothing better to focus on but Wolfgang and herself. What if she made a fool of herself? What if she fainted? What if she said or did the wrong thing? What if everyone laughed at her? Kala groaned at herself. She understood now why one day Wolfgang just snapped and told her to stop talking in circles. She was going to experience being physically present with Wolfgang, but, like everything else she had been robbed of because of Lila and Whispers, she would be robbed of having this moment with him alone. At least this time she would be surrounded by people she loved. She would not begrudge her family a celebration they all needed. There better be champagne though , Kala thought to herself. She was tired of beer.

Kala finished her shower feeling refreshed and energised. The idea of a party was becoming more and more appealing as the heavy weight of not knowing where Lila was dropped off her shoulders. She checked the pile of clothes Riley had left on top of the laundry basket. A broad smile took shape on her face as she saw that Riley had picked a dress and high heels. Kala hurriedly got into the matching black bra and panties, styled her hair then got into the snug red dress and her shoes. She found her make up kit on the shelf above the sink and wanted to kiss Riley. She wondered what the girls would be wearing. When she packed her bag she was planning a trip to Paris with the man she loved, but the others packed for a rescue mission. She thought maybe Dani had helped the girls out. Kala wore her favourite perfume and checked herself out in the mirror one last time then stepped out of the bathroom. The house was quiet and Kala assumed everyone was in their rooms getting ready.

Kala took a deep breath then slowly descended down the stairs, her high heels making a satisfying click with every step.

Kala was halfway down the stairs when she felt it: her connection to Wolfgang. Kala could feel it throb like a pulse. She could feel the odd sensation all over her body. It was such a foreign feeling she had never experienced in all her life. Her feet moved without her consciously telling them to. It seemed as if her body was gravitating towards the kitchen and she was simply following the impulse. As soon as she walked in, her eyes landed on him. He was standing by the table, dressed in a light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of navy blue jeans, and a nervous smile on his face.

It hit her then. The throbbing she felt within herself intensified and took her breath away. If she would compare it to anything, she would compare it to watching a perfect sunrise, to witnessing northern lights wrapped in the arms of someone you love, to listening to a perfect symphony that played just for you. It felt like the excitement of experiencing snow for the first time, like the peace of having a baby sleep in your arms as soon as you held it. It felt like happiness in its purest form, peace and elation as never experienced before.


Yet, all this, she knew, would still fail to encompass how she felt at that very moment, her eyes gazing into Wolfgang’s for the first time without blockers.

Chapter Text

You can, you can
Do anything, anything
You can, do anything

 

It seemed as though time had slowed down just for the two of them.

Kala thought her heart would race when she finally saw Wofgang without the blocker getting in the way, but she couldn’t be more wrong. Kala’s heart had somehow decelerated. She could feel every beat, hear every beat,powerful and empowering. She could feel her blood running through her veins, her awareness of herself sharpened beyond her comprehension. Kala’s eyes locked on Wolfgang’s and it was as if she was seeing him for the first time. She could almost swear she had only seen him in black and white before this instant. His eyes were impossibly vibrant, his lips were a vivid pink, and his hair was a blond halo around his head. His jawline was more accentuated than she remembered, and when he moved towards her, she could almost feel his moving muscles as if they were her own.

Wolfgang was not aware of his feet moving. All he knew was that he needed to get closer to the warmth that Kala seemed to emit. He was freezing and Kala was a blazing fire that promised to ward off the cold forever. Wolfgang initially believed he would be nervous, and he was for only a second. It seemed the world had stopped moving, stopped existing, and it was just them: nothing and no one else. He would wonder why he saw her differently now, but he was in no way coherent enough to form the thought. Kala was literally glowing before his eyes, her skin luminous, her eyes as warm as sunlight, her hair flowing around her face in perfect curls. She looked glorious. She was a goddess, and in that instant, he was willing to became a believer. He would worship her if she asked him to.

Wolfgang’s feet had somehow kept moving, with every step he took, their shared hyperawareness gradually ceased to affect how they saw each other. When Wolfgang stopped, leaving mere inches between their bodies, he finally saw Kala the way he always did, and she him. They no longer seemed surreal, but the internal yearning was still there thrumming and growing with each passing moment. They both still thought the other was more beautiful in person. Without blockers, their presence was far stronger than what they could’ve imagined. It was so tangible you could almost touch it.

Kala was the first to break the silence. “Hi,” was all she could manage at first, but when Wolfgang said “Hi” back she found more words. “Where is everyone?” she asked.

“Out,” Wolfgang replied, his eyes roaming over her face then finally settling on her own. “This is just for us,” he continued with a smile.

Kala returned his smile, but said nothing. She wanted to touch him, yet she was afraid to. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle it, afraid it would be too much.

“I know what you mean,” Wolfgang said, his face serious, responding to her thought which had echoed so clearly in his mind he might as well have been the one to think it. And in a way he was.

Wolfgang took it upon himself to initiate that first contact. He lifted a hand and carefully touched his fingertips to her cheek. Wolfgang watched as Kala’s eyes closed then he focused on how he felt. It wasn’t electric like one would assume. It was warm, welcoming. It felt right. Wolfgang dared lift his other hand to cup her face. Kala smiled and sighed. No, it certainly didn’t feel electric. It felt like finally coming home after being away for far too long.

Kala slowly opened her eyes and met his. “Finally,” she whispered.

“Finally,” Wolfgang whispered back, before leaning in to kiss her. That was when it turned electric, when it became thrilling. At first Wolfgang only touched his lips lightly to Kala’s, but a second later neither could hold back. His lips captured hers in a searing kiss, his tongue lapping at hers, her teeth grazing his full lower lip. He buried his hands in her hair and she dug her fingernails in his back.

Wolfgang could feel her desire for him pounding in his chest and was certain she could feel his. It would have been easy to succumb to the temptation of her lips, of her body plastered to his as it was, but Wolfgang was adamant on doing this right. He wanted this to play out the way Kala deserved.

Wolfgang smiled gently when Kala chased after his lips one more time before allowing him to leave a few inches between their faces. Wolfgang couldn’t help himself when he kissed her forehead, her cheeks, then finally her lips before asking, “Was it too much?”

Anyone else might have thought Wolfgang was referring to meeting without blockers for the first time, but Kala understood what he was really asking. “It was hard, exhausting, frightening, but it was satisfying.”

“Yeah?”

Kala nodded, her eyes filling with pride, “It was especially satisfying to watch her fall to the ground, to know I put her there-” her eyes then gentled and her voice lowered even more as she tightened her arms around his waist, “-to know I could do this for you.”

Wolfgang sighed and kissed her again. He pulled away just enough to see her eyes, “I don’t know how I will ever-”

Kala interrupted him, kissing him again. It wasn’t easy to stop, but she managed it. “You don’t need to say or do anything.”

Wolfgang nodded, placing a chaste kiss on her lips, “Are you hungry?” he asked, pushing a curl of her hair behind her ear. He didn’t really need to ask. He already knew the answer, but just because they were Sensates it didn’t mean they couldn’t have a conversation or ask questions. If they didn’t they’d be lost inside their heads the whole time and Wolfgang needed to hear her voice, not just sense her feelings or read her thoughts.

“Starving,” she answered enthusiastically.

Wolfgang chuckled and gestured to the side with his head, his hands still busy touching her face and hair. Kala reluctantly turned her gaze to the kitchen table and noticed the setting for the first time.

A white sheet covered the scarred table. Plates, cutlery, and glasses were arranged to perfection. A bottle of champagne was chilling on the side. Kala’s mouth watered when she saw the steaming bowls of some kind of broth on the table.

“Shall we?” Wolfgang asked.

“Yes, please!”

Wolfgang took one of her hands in his, kissed it, then led her towards a chair. He pulled it back for her to sit and bowed his head at her quiet “Thank you.” Wolfgang’s eyes were glued to her as she gracefully lowered herself to the chair.

Wolfgang sat in the chair opposite hers then lit the candle at the centre of the table. He watched in silence as the small flame came to life, casting golden shadows on Kala’s face, reflecting the light in her eyes. The kitchen was growing darker, so he excused himself and moved around the kitchen lighting the candles scattered around the worktops. Yet another detail Kala hadn’t noticed.

When he finally returned to the table he said, “ Guten Appetit ,” before they both started sampling the food.

Kala hummed in satisfaction as the broth slid silkily down her throat, “Did you do this?” she asked skeptically.

Wolfgang grinned. “No, Dani and Amanita set the table, Riley chose the menu, and Hernando cooked,” he clarified. “We have steak, vegetables of some kind, and rice.”

“That was so kind of them. I need to thank them later,” Kala said, taking another spoonful of broth.

“Yes, later. Much later,” Wolfgang replied, his eyes meeting Kala’s heatedly.

Kala could feel her face heat up under Wolfgang’s gaze, the lull in their desire for each other ending abruptly. She could see it in his eyes, in his mind, that he was barely holding himself together. Kala could feel the answering pull within and all over her body. Kala’s breath caught in her chest when she saw an image in his mind of her naked on her bed, her legs spread while he buried his mouth between them. Kala inhaled sharply as she squeezed her legs together against the delicious tingling she felt. She would have been ashamed of how much she wanted him under different circumstances, but this was not the same as any other time. There was no room for them to hide and it was oddly comforting.

Wolfgang! She called out needily in his head.

Eat first! Wolfgang said as he added an image of himself sucking the tender skin on her neck.

Kala didn’t try to hold back the moan that escaped her when she felt his lips on her neck. “Then stop it!” she ordered breathlessly.

Wolfgang smirked, but did as he was told.

Kala and Wolfgang managed to curb the aching desires begging to be addressed and ate in silence, both enjoying the first proper meal they’d had in days. Kala sipped on her champagne happily. Red wine would have worked best with the steak, but she didn’t care. They had creme brûlee for dessert, and Kala wanted to hug Hernando.

Wolfgang heard the thought and raised a teasing eyebrow. Kala smiled playfully at him before offering him a spoon of the dessert which she then deliberately dropped on his shirt.

“Oh! Do you need me to help you clean that up?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Wolfgang could hear her in his head far more clearly than through his ears. His mind wandered back to her trying to feed him that orange and how she dropped that as well.

Kala leaned back in her seat and giggled as Wolfgang shared the memory. She shrugged as she continued to smile giddily. Wolfgang’s answering smile was wide, warm, and carefree. Seeing Wolfgang this relaxed made her heart constrict. She wanted him to be this happy all the time. Despite the memory being part of a painful one, it still did nothing to dampen the mood. They only remembered the warm part of it. The part where Kala tried to tease the man she loved.

As the memory faded, so did their smiles and all that remained was their ever increasing want for each other. They pushed away from the table at the same time, met each other halfway around it. Their lips fused together, their bodies melted against one another. There were no restraints, no reasoning, no inhibitions.

Wolfgang led Kala up the stairs to her room. He could have undressed her right there in the kitchen, he could have slept with her on the floor, but Wolfgang insisted on doing this right, like he insisted on waiting until she had a proper meal.

Once inside her room, their hands tore at each other’s clothes. Wolfgang searched for her dress’ zipper while she pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto the ground. When her dress pooled at her feet, Kala stepped out of it, then her shoes, and reached for his jeans.

The rushed movements, the hungry kisses, and stolen caresses stopped as soon as they were both naked. They slowed down again, their touches reverent, their lips soft. Wolfgang guided Kala towards the bed. She slid back till her head found the pillows and opened her arms, beckoning him over. Wolfgang crawled onto the bed, Kala’s hands cradling his face as soon as he was within reach. With his eyes intent on hers, Wolfgang gently parted her legs with one hand as he leaned on the other for balance. Kala wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer and Wolfgang readily complied, leaning on his elbows, careful not to crush her under his weight.

They kissed again, their lips parting and tongues touching. Wolfgang’s mouth ghosted over Kala’s cheek, kissed her neck, and sucked on her collarbone, all the while caressing her thigh and side repeatedly. The way their naked skin rubbed against the other was unlike anything either had experienced before. Every sensation was doubled. She could feel everything he felt and he could feel her in a maddening loop.

Wolfgang lowered his head to suckle on Kala’s nipples. He moaned when he sensed how that felt on his own body. Kala giggled at his bewilderment, not because she thought she had superior knowledge of what to expect, but because she felt both: his lips and tongue on her breasts as well the ghost sensation that took over him. She found it fascinating and wondered how long they would last with such heightened awareness of each other’s arousal.

Wolfgang kissed his way down Kala’s body. She felt his breath ghost over where she was aching most, but he trailed open mouthed kisses on the inside of her thighs instead. Kala gasped loudly when his tongue finally parted her folds and his finger teased her clit. Wolfgang swore under his breath when his cock twitched at the stimulation.

Wolfgang kissed his way back up Kala’s body, his hands kneading her breasts. He sucked on her lips leisurely then paused, breathing heavily, his eyes on hers, waiting for permission. Kala took a hold of his cock, gave it a few slow and measured strokes then guided it to her. They held on tight to each other’s bodies when Wolfgang finally slid all the way in. Kala whined and Wolfgang groaned. The feedback between them breathtaking, dizzying.

Kala suddenly recalled a line from a novel she read as a young girl. The line made no sense to her scientific mind when she read it: they no longer knew where one started and the other ended. She had written it off as unnecessary embellishment from the author. At this moment, however, and as physically and emotionally intertwined as she was to Wolfgang, she understood what the author had meant. Kala literally couldn’t tell where one of them started and the other ended. She could no longer separate her feelings from Wolfgang’s. They had literally become one mind, one body, in a world that existed just for them.

Their bodies, heated and covered in sweat, rubbed deliciously together. They both moaned deliriously when their arousal suddenly, inexplicably, multiplied until it reached a peak they could no longer endure. Wolfgang's thrusts became more frantic, more needy, chasing an orgasm he didn’t want just yet. He wanted them to stay in this bubble for as as long as possible. He wanted their joined consciousness to stay that way for as long as possible. Never in his life had he ever experienced this kind of emotion and he knew he could not live without it now that he had tasted it.

Kala wasn’t sure who orgasmed first. All she knew was that a second orgasm hit her immediately after the first did. Kala thought she would black out with intensity of feeling both. The ringing in her ears subsided after a brief moment and she could clearly hear Wolfgang’s heavy panting as he laid his head on her chest. She wondered how he could possibly be comfortable with how fast it was moving with her own laboured breathing. Wolfgang dropped a kiss between her breasts in reply to her unvoiced question. Kala kissed the top of his head and tightened her arms and legs around him.

Wolfgang looked up at Kala, his eyes warm, his face flushed. Kala’s eyes were closed, her lips curving in a smile.

“Kala,” Wolfgang whispered and saw Kala’s eyes snap open. It was the first time he had ever said her name and Kala’s heart felt as though it wanted to break out of her chest. Her eyes slowly watered as they stared into Wolfgang’s.

“It was never the right time,” Wolfgang murmured, answering yet another unasked question. “It was never the right time,” Wolfgang repeated desperately as Kala pulled his face to hers and kissed him passionately.

“I know,” Kala whispered against Wolfgang’s lips when they finally parted. She paused for a moment, her eyes not moving away from his, “I love you, Wolfgang.”

“And I love you, Kala,” Wolfgang replied, his voice steady and clear, then kissed away the tears that fell from Kala’s eyes.

********

Kala woke the next day to Wolfgang kissing his way down her back. A satisfied smile lit up her face as she squirmed when his teeth grazed a ticklish spot on her hip. Wolfgang’s hands kneaded Kala’s butt making her push back and into his hands as her legs seemed to part on their own. Wolfgang shifted swiftly on the bed, spreading her legs wider and lifting Kala to her knees, then dropped a quick kiss to the bottom of her back.

Kala gasped in shock when Wolfgang slipped between her legs and pulled her down to his mouth. She held onto the headboard for support, not trusting her shaking legs. Kala was scandalised, but she didn’t want him to stop either. Wolfgang took his time enjoying her taste, the sounds she made, and the hand that grabbed his hair tightly while she grinded her hips against his mouth. Only when Wolfgang felt her orgasm approaching did he stop and positioned himself behind her. He slid inside Kala in one fluid motion and moaned when she thrust back forcefully against him. Wolfgang took his cues from Kala and right now she didn’t need it slow.

Wolfgang’s hips moved fast and pushed hard at her while one of his hands moved to tease her clit. They orgasmed at the same time, falling over the edge by the shared sensations. It was an odd yet exhilarating experience for both of them. Again, it felt as though they shared the same body. Again, the loop and the surreality of it was overwhelming.

Kala and Wolfgang collapsed on the bed with Wolfgang immediately pulling Kala to his chest, his arms circling her as she trembled still through her orgasm. With her head on his chest, Kala listened to the frantic beating of Wolfgang’s heart and closed her eyes, falling asleep. Wolfgang soon followed.

********

When Kala and Wolfgang finally made it out of bed, they showered together then went down to the kitchen. Kala’s shy nature took over long before they even made it down stairs.

Her cluster knew, and felt, what Wolfgang and she had done several times through the night and again early that morning. She couldn’t wrap her head around how she would face them or how the cluster would react to them finally getting together. What somewhat comforted her was that it never seemed to be an issue with Riley and Will. No one ever said or did anything out of the ordinary. Unless of course she counted the times the whole cluster joined them. She blushed at the thought of the cluster joining Wolfgang and herself. Kala wasn’t sure why she was fine with riding the high of Will and Riley’s arousal, but obsessed over the cluster tagging along in something she had initiated. The embarrassment would eat her alive should an orgy ensue because of Wolfgang and herself.

Wolfgang could hear Kala think. She was too nervous to even try to keep her thoughts private. Wolfgang quit getting dressed, wrapped his arms reassuringly around Kala, and pulled her close against his chest. “Stop worrying,” he whispered into her hair, “Everyone was quite busy anyway. No one will say anything.”

Kala wondered if the cluster was busy with Lila. The playful certainty of Wolfgang’s words made Kala assume he had already warned them not to mention it, but Kala worried that perhaps, just to spite Wolfgang, they’d still do. Wolfgang gave up trying to put her apprehension to rest after that thought.

Kala and Wolfgang walked into the kitchen with Kala half-hidden behind his shoulder. They were greeted with the smell of coffee and tea brewing, and of breakfast being cooked. The small crowd in the kitchen gave them no mind and continued with their low chatter.

Morgen ,” Wolfgang greeted as he made a beeline for the coffee machine.

As soon as Wolfgang moved, Kala automatically started walking. She caught herself mid step and headed for the kettle instead of following after him. She quietly said, “Good morning,” keeping her hands busy with her mug and teabag.

Their morning greetings were met with some cheerful replies while the majority were barely audible ones. Kala dared look up from her mug and turned her head slightly to the side. She found everyone in their cluster staring sleepily into their morning beverage of choice, whereas the rest moved around comfortably helping Hernando with breakfast. It didn’t take her long to realise Wolfgang and she were the reason why. They must have kept everyone awake. They weren’t particularly loud the night before. Their connection to the others on the other hand must have been intense to say the least.

Wolfgang snorted into his mug and sent a silent you have no idea making Kala roll her eyes then give him a mental shove out of her head. That was when she suddenly connected the dots. Wolfgang’s certainty when he said no one would say anything, how he said everyone was rather busy, the playful tone of his voice as he said it, and then that final comment, it all now made perfect sense. Kala’s eyes widened in surprise, but the mental kiss Wolfgang dropped on her temple pulled her out of it. She looked over at Wolfgang and the wink he sent her confirmed her suspicion. Kala no longer had to worry about a time when her cluster might ride the high of her arousal. They already did the night before.

Kala let the information sink in, processed it, then shook her head at the nervous mess she had been earlier. Now that she knew what her cluster tapped into the night before, she wondered why she ever worried. She didn’t mind having them there, sharing that love with her. She shared with Wolfgang the moment everything intensified inexplicably between them followed by what felt like a question mark. Wolfgang nodded, confirming that yes, that was the moment the whole cluster merged together.

Kala took a deep breath then turned to face everyone in the kitchen. “Dani, Riley, Amanita thank you for the wonderful gift last night,” Kala said, looking between the three ladies whose responses varied between a raised mug of coffee with a smile, sure thing, babe , and you’re very welcome. Kala’s eyes settled on Hernando last. “Thank you for cooking dinner last night, Hernando. It was amazing,” Kala said sincerely with a bright smile.

Hernando turned away from the stove with a skillet in hand. “It was my pleasure, Kala. I’m happy you enjoyed it,” Hernando replied, giving her a brief bow of his head before addressing Wolfgang, “What about you, Wolfgang?”

Wolfgang swallowed his coffee hurriedly to answer, “Yeah, it was great. Thank you!”

Hernando nodded, giving them a smile that was a mixture of satisfaction and pride.

Hernando’s smile widened further, however, when Wolfgang walked over to him, eyed the skillet, then asked, “So, what’s for breakfast?”

********

Lila was tied to the hospital bed Whispers had previously occupied. She was blindfolded, with ear buds shoved painfully into her ears, and a gag that was too big was secured to her mouth with duct tape. Her jaw ached, but she had no room to ease the pain. She had peed herself again. The humiliation and anger made her want to scream.

Whispers and Jonas were handcuffed to steel rings attached to the wall, staring at Lila, wondering what the cluster had in store for her. Both men were hanging to their sanity by a thread at that point. They were both relieved when Lila was brought in for no other reason than that it led to them being untied and allowed to sit and eat again. They were even allowed bathroom breaks. They couldn’t say the same for Lila, though. Her current condition was deliberate.

Lila reached out to her cluster as soon as she felt the blocker wear off. Only Maitake responded to her call out for help. She was initially puzzled at the absence of her cluster, but Maitake soon explained, “They’re all on blockers. You know the protocol. You put it in place,” he said fiercely.

When Maitake visited her, the complete darkness and silence she was drowned in made him retreat to his own mind immediately. Lila visited instead and sighed in relief as her sight returned, even as borrowed as it was.

“I told you to stay away from Bogdanow,” he reminded her with barely contained anger. He wouldn’t give her a chance to respond before he continued, “You’ve jeopardised us all with your childish infatuation. Now we are the ones forced into hiding while they hunt down BPO’s hunters one by one.”

Lila’s eyes widened in disbelief, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about four hunters being assassinated at the same time, all over the world. That’s not even counting the one they took out while getting Bogdanow.”

Lila paced as she processed the information, “They have The Cannibal and Jonas Maliki. That explains how they got the names, but there’s no way they’re capable of the assassinations on their own. Someone must be helping them.”

“No shit!” Maitake spat at her. “BPO is rounding up all their Sensate operatives and no one knows what they’re doing to them. They probably believe someone on the inside helped Bogdanow’s cluster and they’re interrogating everyone.”

Lila stopped pacing and faced her cluster-mate, “You must get me out of here as soon as possible,” Lila demanded.

“You’re on your own, Lila. Your recklessness is why you are where you are. I won’t risk all of us for you,” Maitake said then swallowed the all too familiar black pill before Lila’s panicked eyes.

“I will expose you all, you traitors. They will come for you and I will watch as they kill you off one by one,” Lila’s threat had no edge to it though. Maitake could feel the ice-cold fear that seemed to settle inside her.

Lila struggled with the fact that she would suffer the consequences of a protocol she had set herself. Maybe she believed they would never need it considering their cooperation with BPO, or maybe she thought she would never be the one it had to be applied to. Whichever it was, it was pointless to contemplate.

Lila was under the illusion her cluster was stronger than this, tighter than this. The lengths Wolfgang’s cluster had gone to save him grated on Lila when she saw how her own ostracised her at the first sign of a real threat.

Through the ringing in her ear that signalled the blocker taking effect, Lila heard her cluster-mate taunt her, “We have all relocated. They won’t find us.” Lila growled and charged at him, but he easily evaded her. “Enjoy your time with your precious Wolfgang,” was all Lila heard before she was back in her own mind, alone.

Lila fought against her restraints, but she froze instantly when the blindfold was violently pulled off her eyes. She struggled against the sudden brightness. Her eyes took a few moments too long to adjust. When she could finally focus on her surroundings, Lila saw Wolfgang and an Asian woman she didn’t recognise looking down at her.

Wolfgang pulled off the duct tape covering Lila’s mouth harshly, eliciting a whine out of her. She flexed her jaw when he pulled the gag and ear buds out.

“Rise and shine, Ms. Facchini,” Whispers said with a chuckle that was near maniacal. Lila’s head whipped to the side and met Whispers’ eyes for a second before she turned her attention back to Wolfgang and Sun.

“Hello Wolfgang,” Lila greeted sweetly, trying her hardest not to let her dread show. She then shifted her eyes towards Sun, her voice hardening and giving Sun an insulting once over, “And whoever the fuck you are.”

The slap Sun landed on Lila’s cheek reverberated across the almost empty basement. Sun smiled in satisfaction as red marks slowly appeared on Lila’s face. “You will stay respectful to me no matter what I do or say. Do you understand, Lila?” Sun threatened, her voice calm, almost placating. Lila refused to reply. She tried to connect with Sun, but found nothing. Damned blocker , she thought to herself.

Wolfgang interrupted the tense silence that landed upon them, “I’d suggest you cooperate, but I’d be insincere.” He leaned over her, his face inches from hers, “If you give me the answers I want, I won’t have to torture them out of you. Where’s the fun in that?” Wolfgang concluded with a smirk.

“Fuck you, Bogdanow.”

Sun snorted and shook her head at Lila’s comeback was. She decided this interrogation would be lacking in challenge until she heard Wolfgang’s reply and laughed quietly.

“Yeah, you’ve been trying to do that for a while,” Wolfgang said with a shrug, “Lucky for me I don’t fuck bitches like you.”

" Ti giuro che ti uccido con le mie mani, gran figlio di puttana! " Lila said with a growl. “You wouldn’t even dream of being with a woman like me.”

Nodding in agreement, Wolfgang retorted, “True. I have much better taste than that.” He chuckled as Lila hurled another string of expletives at him.

“I can’t believe I saw potential in you,” Lila said disgustedly, “We could have owned Berlin. We could’ve had so much power, so much influence, but no, you are too small minded. You are nothing.”

Sun sighed. “Are you really this stupid or are you just pretending to be. If Wolfgang was interested in owning the city, it would have already been his,” Sun raised her eyes to the ceiling in a show of exasperation. “Not everyone is as power-hungry as you.”

Lila opened her mouth to speak only to be interrupted by Sun, “Shut up!” she ordered, her voice menacing, then turned to Wolfgang, “Shall we get started? I’m getting bored,” Wolfgang nodded with a smirk pulling at the corner of his lips.

“Go over the restraints again,” Wolfgang said all business-like. Sun methodically went over them, tightening them more than was strictly necessary.

" Toglimi quelle cazzo di mani di dosso! Non ti azzardare a toccarmi! ” Lila hollered at Sun.

“First you threaten to kill me with your own hands and now you’re telling Sun not to dare touch you,” Wolfgang shook his head, “Get it through your head, Lila, that we are the ones in a position of power and that you are about to fight for your life.”

Lila warily eyed the towel Wolfgang brandished before he asked, “We need the names of the backstabbing Sensates, like yourself, working for BPO.” Lila looked away defiantly, eyes on the ceiling, but Wolfgang could feel the fear pounding in her chest. “Suit yourself,” Wolfgang said then secured the towel to Lila’s face with one hand while the other poured water on the towel with a hose. Sun held Lila’s shoulders down.

Lila fought hysterically to free her bound hands. All her attempts to undo them or to move her head failed. She couldn’t breathe and her lungs began to constrict in her chest, her brain ordering them to take in air that doesn’t exist. Her brain finally overpowered her resolve, making her open her mouth in search of air, but all she got was a mouthful of water. Lila’s body started to convulse violently right before the towel was taken off her face.

Lila spat the water out and coughed hard, her eyes watering with the force of it. She was struggling to take in as much oxygen as she could manage, but it was impossible to do that and cough at the same time. When it finally subsided, Lila took in one gasping breath after the other.

“Are you ready to talk now?” Sun asked quietly.

“Fuck you, bitch,” Lila croaked before Sun’s palm made contact with her face again. Lila whined.

“Respect, I said,” Sun said quietly.

Wolfgang waited until Sun met his eyes. He gave her a questioning look to which Sun simply nodded understanding his silent question.

Sun was on blockers to avoid connecting with Lila. Wolfgang had insisted on it. He was against any of his family taking part at first. He knew Will would do it, but he also knew how hard it would be on him. Wolfgang was aware of the warring emotions that plagued Will whenever they questioned Whispers and Jonas. So, when Will and Sun fought over who would help Wolfgang, he chose Sun. He was now questioning his decision. Sun was not a violent person despite being a formidable fighter. She only hurt opponents out of necessity. He wondered if this was considered necessary to Sun. Wolfgang could do this without blinking, Sun on the other hand, he wasn’t sure.

Wolfgang knew his cluster was anti-violence. He never imagined he’d be the one to take that innocence away from them. Him being taken by Whispers had already set a strain on everyone. Their desire to save him forced them all out of their comfort zones, made them do things they never contemplated doing before, and the cycle still continued now. Wolfgang couldn’t help thinking his existence poisoned those around him.

“Stop it right there,” Kala ordered him firmly.

Wolfgang’s head snapped to the side, his eyes landing on the visiting Kala. He had forgotten she was keeping a close eye on him. He knew Kala wasn’t afraid of what he was capable of doing and she sure wasn’t worried about Lila. What ate at her was what this would do to Wolfgang, thus why she was literally residing in his head the whole time. It appeared that her apprehension was not unfounded.

Kala walked over to Wolfgang, but not to comfort him. He didn’t need comforting, he needed someone to slap the truth hard onto his face. So when Kala spoke, her voice was heated and her eyes were blazing. “What was poisonous was not having you with us. You already know what it was like without you here. No one regrets anything they’ve done. You know that, so don’t you dare, Wolfgang,” Kala concluded, retreating from the basement, but staying where she was in the back of wolfgang’s mind.

It was now Sun’s turn to look at Wolfgang questioningly. He only shook his head, dismissing the concern. He resolved himself to talking to Sun afterwards.

“Again,” Wolfgang said, Sun immediately held a still wheezing Lila down, while Wolfgang repeated the routine. When he finally allowed her to breathe, he asked derisively, “Now what’s the first thought that comes to your mind?”

Whispers and Jonas who had kept completely quiet until that moment, started laughing.

“You’re fucked, Ms. Facchini,” Whispers said when the laughter finally died down, “Mr. Bogdanow has learned from the best.”

**********

“Hello, Riley.”

Riley startled, looking up. Will held her hand as she turned to see Mr. Hoy standing by the door with his shoulder to the frame and his ankles crossed.

“Mr. Hoy,” she smiled, letting out a relieved breath and patting Will’s hand in reassurance. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” She asked, composed again.

Mr. Hoy walked into the room and sat in a corner facing Riley. “Your cluster is becoming more famous by the second,” he said enigmatically.

“Famous in which circles exactly?” was Riley’s cautious reply.

“Don’t worry, child. Just among us in the Archipelago,” Mr. Hoy said placatingly.

“And you’re here just to tell me this? It is to be expected considering how much help The Archipelago has been to us.”

“I’m here to tell you someone is offering to help you even more,” Mr. Hoy said with a wriggle of his eyebrows.

Riley couldn’t help the wide smile that took over her face. She was quite fond of Mr. Hoy, “How?”

“He wouldn’t tell me, but he said it would help you with your overpopulation problem. Whatever that means,” he clarified, shrugging, “He said you would understand.”

“I do understand,” Riley answered, her mind wandering to the three hostages they had in the basement. How did that person know? The Archipelago learned about Lila because it was they who helped the cluster find her, but not Whispers and Jonas. It dawned on Riley then. She had given Mr. Hoy the names of the BPO hunters they got from Whispers during his interrogation. Riley believed it was only fair to warn the Archipelago. Knowing exactly who your enemies are give you better chances at surviving the war. It was the least they could do for those who risked exposure with every piece of intel they leaked to the cluster. Whoever that person was must have figured out their hostages were the source of the information.

“I think,” Mr. Hoy interrupted her train of thought, “Some members of The Archipelago are trying to return the favour. The hunters you revealed to us have been taken care of by the way.”

“Taken care of?” Riley asked despite knowing the answer beforehand.

“Killed.”

“Good,” Riley never thought that would be her reaction to murder, but they were at war and there were thousands of innocent lives at risk.

Will, who was closely following the conversation through Riley, asked, “How does he suggest we meet him?”

Mr. Hoy looked in Will’s direction, “He said he would only meet Riley, alone, in Paris.”

“I can’t do that, Mr. Hoy,” Riley said, shaking her head, “New rules. No one in the cluster moves alone. I will have at least one member of my cluster with me. Tell your contact he can take it or leave it.” Riley’s tone left no room for argument.

“You’ve changed, Riley Blue,” Mr. Hoy said, smiling kindly, his eyes searching her face, “for the better,” he continued when Riley said nothing. “You can only win this war with a sharp mind and a strong heart. You have both.”

Riley mumbled a quiet “Thank you.”

Mr. Hoy stared at a point behind Riley shoulder for a minute, neither Riley nor Will interrupted. “The contact agrees to your terms,” he said before giving her a name, a time, and a location.

“Good. We’ll be there.”

“You know where to find me if you need anything,” Mr. Hoy said before leaving.

********

Hernando gave Lito hell when he offered to go with Riley. “Riley has been compromised, Lito. She has a target on her back,” Hernando said then turned his apologetic eyes to Riley, “You know it’s true, my dear. Call me selfish if you want, but I can’t risk him. If you are recognised, Lito’s identity is exposed as a member of your cluster.”

Riley gave Hernando a shrug and a small smile, “I would feel the same way as you if it were Will we’re talking about.”

Hernando’s intense gaze moved to Lito, “See?”

“But,” Riley interrupted, “It’s not my decision to make, Hernando. It’s Lito’s.”

Hernando groaned and looked pleadingly at Daniela for support.

“I’m sorry, Hernando. I would go if I would be of any use. The stakes are too high for us to not take risks,” Daniela moved up to Hernando, taking his face in her hands, “I’m worried too. Never doubt that, but if Riley needs Lito, then Lito she gets. Everyone is risking someone they love here. Us refusing to let Lito go really is selfish.”

Hernando’s eyes slowly watered as he realised he was losing the argument. Lito joined Hernando and Daniela, circling their shoulders with his arms, “I love you, family, but our other family needs us, yes?” Hernando nodded begrudgingly after a brief hesitation. Daniela smiled before Hernando and she wrapped their arms around Lito, tightening the circle into a group hug.

“It’s settled then,” Felix said from where he sat by the window, cleaning guns. “Too bad you can’t take any of those with you,” he said gesturing towards the Glock in his hand, “But I will make sure my contact meets you at your hotel with what you need.”

Riley nodded nervously, “That’s good.”

Felix could see the doubt in her eyes, “You won’t have to use them yourself. That’s what Wolfie and Will are there for.”

Riley smiled at Felix. She was grateful for his attempt at comforting her, but her heart still kept on beating way too fast. Lito interrupted the moment, however, saying indignantly, “Hey, I know how to handle a gun.”

Felix snorted, “Have you ever used a gun knowing you’re about to kill someone by pulling the trigger?” Lito remained silent. “That’s why I said Wolfie and Will,” Felix explained, then trying to take the edge off his statement, he added, “You’re lucky you don’t know what that feels like, friend.”

Lito nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry too much, Hernando,” Amanita said kindly, “We all have fake passports. Unless they use facial recognition software, they won’t find out Lito’s real identity.”

“What are the chances of them using facial recognition software?” Hernando challenged.

Amanita’s face fell, “The chances are quite high, but let’s look at the half-full part of the glass.”

“We’ll be with them the whole time the same way we were with Kala, Sun, and Felix,” Wolfgang added, “That turned out well and we were smuggling a person into the country.”

“I don’t think anything you guys say will make me worry any less, but thank you,” Hernando said quietly.

********

Lito and Riley arrived early. They stayed in their hotel until it was time for the meet. They were meeting Adrian, their contact, in a cozy cafe, tucked away in a nondescript street. It was empty but for them and the staff who in turn kept to themselves unless they were serving them their drinks.

Adrian had a tangible charisma. His brown eyes seemed to have a perpetual smile in them. The only thing that belied his nervousness was a tick in his square jaw and the hand that repeatedly went through his thick auburn hair. Riley wouldn’t have necessarily noticed all these details had it not been for Lito. Whether he noticed these little gestures from a professional standpoint or Adrian was just Lito’s type, Riley couldn’t tell.

“We don’t have much time. We leave in a couple of hours,” Riley said.

“I understand,” Adrian nodded, “I’ll get to the point then.”

“Please!”

“I’m a neurosurgeon. I have all of Angelica Turing’s notes about the neural grafts.”

“How did you get your hand on those?” Lito asked, trying to mask his doubts about the authenticity of the statement.

“Sources inside BPO,” Adrian replied, “I can’t tell you who the sources are. That wasn’t part of our deal. What you do need to know is that I can perform the procedure.”

Silence descended on the table and Adrian didn’t try to break it. Lito and Riley struggled to let the information sink in. Adrian was actually offering to carry out the procedure on Whispers, Jonas, and Lila, but why? And Riley asked exactly that.

“It’s time we have our own army, don’t you think?” Adrian started, “I wasn’t supposed to bring this up yet, but I believe you need to know.”

“Know what exactly?” Lito asked, confused.

“Many of us in the Archipelago have decided to join your fight against BPO. We have numbers and resources. We can be of great help to you, and you to us.”

“That wouldn’t be easy to coordinate. Too many people,” Riley argued.

“True, but with the common goal of taking down BPO, I’m sure we can all reach a middle-ground.”

“No,” Riley’s tone was final.

“No?” Adrian was puzzled.

“My cluster started this war while the Archipelago was hiding underground. You may have taken risks providing us with information, but we are the ones in the line of fire. My cluster leads the resistance and the willing members of the Archipelago can follow,” Riley said, her eyes staring defiantly into Adrian’s.

“You’re giving us an ultimatum?” Adrian asked, incredulous. “After everything we’ve done for you?”

“Not an ultimatum. A choice,” Lito interrupted before Riley said anything, “If you decline the offer, nothing changes. We work on our end and you work on yours.”

Adrian remained silent for minutes. He suddenly shook his head as if to shake off an unpleasant thought, as if it were getting too loud inside his head. It was obvious Riley’s conditions were met with mixed reactions.

“How do you suggest we coordinate our efforts with such a centralised chain of command?” Adrian finally asked.

“Depending on your numbers, there could be one leader to each group. Each leader coordinates with my cluster then cascades the info to their teams. I could teach you how to reach us directly, but it has to be done through Tor so no one can trace it back to either of us,” Nomi said for Riley.

“Tor?” Adrian asked.

“You can actually google that, Adrian,” Nomi replied, then took a backseat for the remainder of the conversation.

Adrian rolled his eyes, but conceded, “Fine. I’ll discuss this further with my people and get back to you.”

“You have twenty-four hours starting now,” Wolfgang said through Lito.

Adrian nodded then got up and left.

********

Riley was pacing around Nomi’s work space. She was making everyone slightly nauseous.

“What if they say no?” Riley asked, “What on earth possessed me to give him that ultimatum?” she asked again. “I honestly don’t know what came over me,” she exclaimed, her voice laced with despair.

“Can you honestly see any of us following someone we don’t know after all we’ve accomplished so far?” Kala asked reasonably.

“I wouldn’t follow anyone,” Sun stated.

“Me neither,” Wolfgang agreed.

“If you hadn’t said it, one of us would have, Riles,” Will said soothingly, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Like Mr. Hoy said, you’ve changed. We all have. What you did was exactly what we all need right now.”

Riley’s tense shoulders slumped. “They haven’t gotten back to us yet and the deadline is almost over,” Riley pointed out.

“They’re probably just trying to rattle us,” Capheus offered, “I think they will agree to our terms. They need us as much as we need them.”

“I hope you’re right.” Riley said as she moved away from Will and continued to pace.

“I am,” Capheus said confidently, and he was indeed right.

Ten minutes before the deadline Adrian visited Riley. “We agree to your terms, Ms. Blue,” he declared.

“Good!” Riley exclaimed. “Now, first things first, I need to see Angelica’s notes.”

“Sure,” Adrian agreed. Riley visited him as he moved to another room. He made quick work of unlocking a safe the combination of which Riley caught easily. Adrian pulled out several thick envelopes and placed them on what was probably his workspace judging by all the books and papers strewn around.

“I need a copy of those,” Riley demanded.

“Come on, Ms. Blue. You can’t possibly think I’ll hand you over the one thing that’s making you willing to work with us,” Adrian said cautiously, somewhat disheartened, “How do I know you’ll still help us after you get your hands on them?”

“If we’re going to do this, you’ll have to trust us,” Riley retorted.

“Trust is earned. That applies to both of us. I can meet you somewhere and you can see them for yourself.”

“Fine. How soon can you fly to London?”

********

Adrian met Riley the next day in an abandoned apartment. Capheus’ tall and broad build intimidated Adrian. Capheus didn’t talk much beyond the initial greeting to maintain that aura.

Adrian immediately pulled out the files and handed them over to Riley while keeping his eyes on the frowning Capheus.

Kala moved Riley towards a scarred table tucked in a corner and started sifting through the envelopes. “I need time to go over these in detail. Some of these documents are out of order, some may even be missing,” Kala stated, “Would that be a problem?”

Adrian tilted his head to the right, studying Riley, then finally said, “Not at all,” he answered with a smile, “May I know your name though? You are not Ms. Blue.”

“You may not. Not yet anyway,” Kala tried to think of any fake name for him to call her by for the time being and came up empty. “You can call me Mrs. B for now,” she blurted out and immediately regretted it.

“B as in Bogdanow?” Adrian asked with a smirk, “I wasn’t aware Wolfgang Bogdanow was married.”

Kala was frozen like a deer in headlights. She had no idea how to explain this, she had no idea where that came from. Asking Adrian to call her Nancy Drew would have been less embarrassing. Kala held back a groan when she felt her cheeks heat up, or were those Riley’s?  

Taking mercy on Kala, Wolfgang spoke through Capheus, while he listened to the cluster’s entertained chuckles. “I’m not married and I suggest you wipe that smirk off your face or I will do it for you,” Wolfgang threatened.

Adrian straightened his face and raised his hands in mock surrender.

********

“Mrs. B, huh?” Wolfgang teased Kala as soon as the visit ended. Kala blushed and struggled with what to say. She couldn’t think of any come back, so she opted for a groan and a shake of her head.

Wolfgang’s lips curved into a warm smile, then opened his arms in invitation. Kala closed the short distance between them, hiding her face in his chest. Wolfgang tightened his arms around her, then whispered just for her to hear, “I think it has a nice ring to it.”


********

Chapter Text

Three days later.

 

Wolfgang, followed by Will and Felix, marched into the basement purposefully, each of them grabbing a hostage by the arm and pulling them to their feet.

“To the wall, Milt,” Will said as he pushed Whispers harshly towards his spot on the wall.

“No, wait!” Whispers said, turning to Will. “I’ll tell you anything you need to know. No need for the wall,” he pleaded.

Will stared at Whispers for a few seconds, considering the offer. “Ok, but if the information you give me doesn’t check out, you’re back on the wall indefinitely. Understood?”

Nodding frantically, Whispers agreed, “Yes, absolutely.”

Will turned to Jonas and Lila, “Any of you interested in making the same deal?”

“Yes,” both Lila and Jonas said hurriedly in unison.

“Smart,” Felix exclaimed, “Let’s get started.” Will and Wolfgang nodded in agreement as Wolfgang led Lila to one corner, Will led Whispers to another, while Felix kept Jonas in the corner he was already occupying.

Wolfgang pushed Lila to the ground, then using a crate as a makeshift chair, he sat down. “I need the names of all the hunters you know of and where you think they are located. I also want to know the name of every contact you have within BPO, their positions in the organisation, and their locations,” Wolfgang pulled out a pen and a rolled notebook from his back pocket, his hand poised on top of the paper, confident that Lila would talk.

Felix pulled his phone out to record Jonas’ answers and asked him the same questions Wolfgang had asked Lila.

“I have only one question for you, Milt,” Will said, “Remember this is your final chance to give me a straight answer or you’re back on the wall until you die,” Will threatened then paused until Whispers nodded his affirmation.

“Who is the Chairman?”

********

“This is an insane number of people,” Nomi said, looking up at Wolfgang who was leaning against her workstation, his arms crossed.

“Can you get more people to help you?” he asked.

“I already have. Bug and the Virts are on it,” Nomi clarified, “I should have a consolidated list of confirmed addresses within a couple of days. What I’m referring to is how we’ll manage to go after all these people. We don’t have the numbers.”

“And if we start taking them out one by one-”

“The others will go into hiding making it impossibly hard to track them down, yes,” Nomi finished for Wolfgang.

Wolfgang sighed, “Finding them now is hard enough since they’re already taking extreme measures to secure themselves. Finding out their new locations won't be easy and not enough of our allies in the Archipelago can pull off something like this.”

“Exactly!”

Wolfgang and Nomi remained silent for a few minutes. Each of them lost in thought, trying to figure out a way to carry out the plan without jeopardising it.

Wolfgang was the first to break the silence. “I just realised something,” Wolfgang said quietly. “Lila wasn’t entirely wrong about what she wanted to do. Taking over Berlin, I mean. We’re at war and in wars enemies fight over territories. It’s time we fought for ours, not just our lives.”

Nomi frowned. “You want us to take over London?” Nomi asked, confused.

“No, not just London or Berlin. I want us to take over Europe.”

Nomi’s mouth dropped open. “Are you actually serious?” she asked, incredulous, “Forget I asked that. Of course you’re serious.” Nomi pushed her glasses up her nose, her still surprised eyes meeting Wolfgang’s, “And how do you suggest we do that? Where do we even begin?”

“It all depends on one thing: whether or not you can reach the guy who gave you E-Death.”

The Guy?” Nomi asked, stressing the syllables of the words the way Bug always did.

The corner of Wolfgang’s lips lifted into a smirk. “Yes, The Guy,” he confirmed stressing the syllables just as she did.

********

Amanita was massaging her temples when she said, “Wolfgang, I understand. This is a war, but what you’re thinking is suicide.”

“It’s a risk, yes, but a calculated one. Besides, we don’t even know if it will work. We haven’t heard back from Bug or The Guy yet,” Wolfgang argued.

“Even if we get The Guy to cooperate, Wolfgang, will you be able to get out once you’re in?” Kala asked, pacing.

“You know the Kings of Berlin want you dead,” Will started, “If one of them hears word of you being there, they’ll come after you,” he concluded, staring pointedly into Wolfgang’s eyes as if that would get his point across.

“That’s not a risk any of us is willing to take,” Riley added.

“I’ll go with you,” Sun declared, joining the conversation for the first time.

“No!” was Wolfgang’s kneejerk reaction. At Sun’s lifted eyebrow he continued, “I can’t risk your life; any of your lives.”

“But it’s alright to risk yours for ours?” Dani scoffed. “Shake off the hero complex, Wolfie. We’re all in this together.”

“I’m with Dani,” Felix agreed, “Sun and I can help. Whether you like it or not, we’re coming with you,” Felix said with finality, while Sun nodded in agreement.

“I can’t do this!” Hernando blurted out, startling everyone, then pushed off the floor to stand. Lito reached for his arm, concerned, but Hernando brushed him off.

Hernando was headed for the door when Capheus managed to grab his arm, make him pause. “Hey! What’s wrong?” Capheus asked, his voice concerned, his brows furrowed.

When Hernando couldn’t free his arm from Capheus’ grasp he exploded, “Damn it, Capheus! Everything is wrong. Everyday one of you risks their lives and it scares me. Yes, it scares me. I’m not ashamed to admit it.” His outburst lost its heat as soon as it had gained it. “We are all family now.” Hernando’s eyes slowly watered as his shoulders sagged. “When I first came here it was just Lito and Dani for me, but then I couldn’t help it. You all became family too, and now you’re waging war against a corporation that can obliterate you all and I can’t help being afraid for all of you.”

“Hernando-” Lito said, walking to him, but Hernando signalled for him to stop. Lito reluctantly stood still and asked, his eyes pleading, “Hernando, what did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything, Lito. I’m not angry with you. I just need time alone,” Hernando said, then turned his eyes to Capheus who nodded and gave Hernando’s arm a brief squeeze before letting go.

As soon as Hernando left the room Lito turned to the cluster. “This is driving us all crazy. Hernando is not the only one afraid and worried. We all are,” Lito squared his shoulders and said decisively, “In order for this to work we need to move fast and let go of that fear. Like Wolfgang said once, fear never fixed anything.” Lito looked around and saw everyone’s shoulders slump in defeat. “Those in favour of Wolfgang, Sun, and Felix going to Berlin, please raise your hand,” he said, raising his own. There was a moment of tense silence until one by one, everyone started to raise their hand. Kala was the last to raise hers.

“Then it is decided. Nomi, find The Guy, or they all die,” Lito demanded.

“I’m trying, Lito. I swear,” Nomi said, frustrated.

“You were trying when you believed Wolfgang shouldn’t go. You were afraid to find him, but now you are not, my dear,” Lito concluded then walked out in search of Hernando.

Nomi sighed in resignation. “Since you’re so hell-bent on toying with your life,” she said looking at Wolfgang, her eyes reproachful, “The first order of business for me is to figure out something you can use as leverage.”

********

What’s the point of having Bolgers if we can’t control them? Will had asked two days earlier. So, it only made sense that they would try to get their hands on Traceworks. Additionally, the less devices BPO’s London headquarters had, the less interrogations the hunters could carry out. The cluster decided they could take three off of BPO’s hands. Archipelago members had offered to help. They refused to personally take part, but provided the devices’ exact locations within the building. It was up to the cluster to go in and retrieve them.

Capheus was the one driving the van headed towards BPO’s headquarters in London. It was one hour before dawn. The streets were eerily empty and quiet. Through the small window separating the cab from the back he could see Will, Felix, and Wolfgang getting ready. Will was zipping up his BPO hazmat suit, Wolfgang was checking their guns, while Felix tied his boots. Capheus was uneasy and restless, but he fought to push it all down and focus on the road.

It would be easy enough to enter the parking lot with the BPO van they’d stolen going after Whispers and Jonas, Wolfgang thought to himself. The rest of the plan, however, was far from easy. Their informant said the devices would be in the interrogation rooms. All interrogations were held in the lower levels of the building. The basement was room after room where Sensates were held captive and questioned.

The setting made Wolfgang tense, not only because there were no viable exits except through the upper level, but because he remembered all too well the time he had spent in one of these rooms. A chill ran down his spine as his brain supplied him with unwanted memories. Wolfgang closed his eyes, and, gritting his teeth, he willed the memories away.

Wolfgang felt a hand cover his own. His eyes snapped open to find Kala smiling encouragingly at him. She squeezed his hand tightly and looked into his eyes, her gaze confident, “You are out and you are never going back. Do you understand?”

Wolfgang nodded after a brief hesitation that Kala didn’t miss, then leaned in to place a chaste kiss on her lips.

Felix, sitting beside Will, shook his head, “I will never get used to this,” he exclaimed, gesturing towards Wolfgang. Will chuckled briefly before squeezing the back of Felix’ neck affectionately.

Wolfgang watched the interaction between them silently, but his brain was in overdrive. If he lost himself to the growing panic in his gut, his people could die or worse. Captivity in Wolfgang’s mind was worse than death. He had these people to protect, to watch over. He knew he could not give in to the dread that covered his skin with cold sweat.

Wolfgang breathed deeply through his nose and channeled every ounce of anger he could find within himself towards surviving this mission. Anger always drove Wolfgang, gave him focus, and he had so much to be angry about.

“Nomi,” Capheus called out, his voice cutting through the silence in the van.

Nomi visited, sitting in the passenger seat, “The surveillance cameras in the garage are now on a loop. You can go in.”

As Wolfgang expected, it was fairly easy to go in and park near the elevators. From that point onwards they could only move when Nomi told them to. Felix made sure his earpiece was firmly in place and could hear Nomi’s instructions clearly as he crouched by the doors.

“Go!” Nomi prompted and the three men rushed out of the van and pressed the elevator button. They stood on both sides of its sliding doors avoiding the camera in the corner of the elevator.

“Move!” Nomi prompted again and watched on her live feed as they rushed into the elevator and pushed the button to the basement.

“Ten seconds and the loop ends. Step out as soon as the doors open. We’re ready for you.”

As soon as the doors opened they moved swiftly into the hallway and away from the elevator. Staying close the walls, the three of them walked towards the end of the hallway and waited. Their heads snapped to the back upon hearing approaching footsteps. The sound of several heavy soled shoes echoed in the quiet hallways.

“Security guards,” Nomi stated, “Three of them. Don’t move, they won’t turn the corner just yet,” Nomi instructed.

Felix hissed into his mic, “Remind me again why the fuck you didn’t just loop the whole thing. We’re fucking sitting ducks here.”

Wolfgang turned, gestured to him to keep quiet, and listened as the footsteps sounded dangerously close. He quietly moved behind Felix to face the other end of the hallway, his gun ready should the guards show up, and waited for Nomi’s instructions.

“Go!”

The three moved silently into the second hallway a second before the guards turned the corner and the loop ended.

“These people aren’t stupid, Felix. We talked about this.There are people in the surveillance room watching the feeds at all times,” Nomi said as she coordinated with one of the Virts helping with the loops, “If those guards didn’t show up on their screens when they were meant to, we’re screwed. This applies to every hallway you guys will walk through. Now shut up and do as I say.”

Nomi’s eyes were switching attentively between the feeds on the two screens before her, but she was on edge. The mission was an extremely dangerous one. She was the one who had come up with the plan, coordinated with the Virts, and gathered the intel. A single wrong, uncoordinated move from either the men on the ground, one of the Virts, or even Nomi herself, and all hell would break loose. Nomi took a bracing breath, doing her best to stay sharp. If she didn’t, the cluster could lose all three of them. It would be a blow the cluster might never survive and it would all be on her.

The process took time. The men were sweating nervously, their muscles tense. It didn’t help when tendrils of the Cluster’s anxiety made chills run down Will and Wolfgang’s spines.

When they finally made it to their destination they stopped and waited. Each of them stood in front of an interrogation room. Upon Nomi’s prompt, Wolfgang rigged the pad by the first door, Will immediately walked in, gun in hand, ready to take down anyone who got in his way. Felix rigged the one next to him and walked into the second room. He carefully checked that it was as empty as promised, then proceeded to undo the Traceworks from the unconscious Sensate on the bed. He heard the soft click of the third and final door opening and knew Wolfgang was doing his part.

The three of them wheeled the devices just inside the doors and paused. Nomi left the cameras to the Virts and set off the fire alarm three floors up. It irked Nomi that that was the extent of her abilities where hacking into BPO was concerned. She sighed and focused on keeping the alarm going despite BPO’s control room trying to switch it off. They needed the noise.

They still didn’t move until they heard Nomi shout, “Go! Go! Go! They won’t evacuate. The heat sensors won’t pick up anything, so you should be clear, but move fast.”

The men ran at full speed, pushing the carts before them, the wheels squealing loudly, but the blaring alarm system drowned out the noise. Again, it was a game of run and pause, but they were met with no security rounds making their run back to the elevators unchallenging.

Will nervously pushed at the buttons of both elevators, but nothing happened. “For God’s sake, Nomi! Kill the alarm,” he exclaimed.

“Already on it.”

A second later the alarm went quiet and the elevators started moving. As soon as they arrived they pushed two of the carts into one, Will squeezing himself between them, and immediately made his way up. Wolfgang and Felix took the other one and followed suit.

Capheus was helping Will with the two devices, while Felix and Wolfgang lifted the other into the van. Once they were done, they hopped in and Capheus hurriedly closed the doors, running to the driver’s side.

“As soon as you’re out, floor it, Caph,” Nomi instructed then continued, “Thirty seconds till the loop for the garage ends. You’re cutting it close.”

“I got this,” Capheus said and maneuvered his way out of the garage just in time.

Back at the safe house, Nomi took off her headpiece, throwing it on the table. She slumped back in her chair letting out a relieved breath when she suddenly found Kala, Sun, and Riley throwing themselves at her, hugging her tight.

********

“I made you girls something to eat,” Dani said to Nomi and Amanita as she set down a plate piled with an assortment of sandwiches.

“Thank you!” both girls said before diving in.

“These are great, Dani,” Nomi said before taking another bite.

Dani noticed how Nomi’s eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep, yet she somehow seemed sharp despite the exhaustion. “What are you working on now?” Dani asked.

Amanita answered while Nomi chewed, “Turns out some of Bug’s Virts are pretty damn good at hiding money. They siphoned the dead hunters’ accounts and moved the money to ours, after taking out their share, of course.”

“They did an even better job than I did with Whispers’ accounts,” Nomi added now that she had swallowed, “I have to admit I’m impressed, maybe even a little jealous,” she concluded, staring into the distance.

Dani speculated that Nomi was probably wondering why she didn’t think to do what the Virts did moving the money. She cleared her throat to bring Nomi back from wherever she went inside her head.

Nomi’s attention snapped back to Dani and explained as though the conversation never came to a pause, “They are currently working on emptying the accounts of the other hundred hunters we now know of,” Nomi said excitedly, “If this all works out, I think we will have all the money we need to carry out Wolfgang’s plan. We’re talking millions, Dani.”

Kala walked in, catching Nomi’s last sentence. Her eyes fell on the plate and helped herself to a sandwich. “I wonder what they would do when they find their accounts empty,” she said, taking a small bite.

“I’m not sure,” Nomi retorted, “Maybe they’ll panic, maybe they won’t, knowing BPO has their backs. If we’re lucky though, they may start making mistakes and we need them to make mistakes.”

“Well, at least we can have their money until you find The Guy,” Kala said dejectedly.

Amanita rose from her seat and walked to Kala. She hugged her briefly then said with her hands still on Kala’s shoulders, “We have come a really long way, Kala. A few months ago you were on the run, hiding in hell holes hoping to survive, but not anymore. We are now leading a resistance. Once this gains momentum, we will become unstoppable. You’ll see.” Amanita concluded and waited until Kala nodded, her shoulders straightening.

“You’re right. We have come a long way. We just need to keep pushing forward.”

“Exactly!”

********

Kala left the girls and went to her room. Wolfgang had told her not to wait for him. He was back to interrogating their prisoners. He needed to know all of BPO’S affiliate companies. The cluster agreed these needed to be taken down too, but they weren’t sure how to yet, and that was what Kala focused on. Amanita was right. They shouldn’t obsess over a single obstacle. They had to consider every possibility, cover all grounds, work all the angles.

In her bed, Kala drew a map in her head where BPO was the source of all evil, where all tangents extended from. There were complicit government officials, affiliate companies, complicit Sensates, and of course, there were hunters. If they took down the hunters, then they declawed the monster and bought themselves some time. Kala believed taking care of the complicit Sensates would be the next logical step; they were all potential hunters. Yet she believed that most of them would sell out BPO if they thought they would survive doing so. She failed to think of a way to successfully filter Sensates who would join the resistence without potentially letting traitors in, so she moved to the next logical step, and that was the affiliate companies.

Kala was certain Wolfgang would get that list out of Whispers, Jonas, and Lila. He was questioning them separately to ensure they didn’t just match their answers to each other’s. The technique worked every time. They always ended up with a few extra names.

If Wolfgang had anything to do with it, he’d just burn the companies to the ground, she thought in fond exasperation. What they really needed to do, however, was to put them out of business.

Kala sat up abruptly, threw the bedcovers to the side and ran down the stairs. She rushed to Nomi and Amanita, her questions ready, but as soon as the girls saw her and gave her surprised but appreciative once-overs she realised she hadn’t bothered to get dressed.

“I love it when you wear red, babe,” Nomi teased, adding a wink for effect as Amanita hummed her agreement.

Kala looked down at herself and fingered the soft fabric of her negligee. Kala would have normally been embarrassed, but she was pleasantly surprised when she was simply appreciative of the complement. “Thank you,” Kala said, looking up with a smile. “I needed to ask you something.”

“Sure. Go ahead!” Amanita encouraged.

“Do you think BPO or the other companies would have incriminating documents on their servers?”

“Most definitely. I think it’s safe to assume that they would keep records of all their joint transactions, yes,” Nomi said. “You want to use those documents how?”

“Public exposure, of course. If we expose them to the public with irrefutable proof of their wrongdoing we could take them out of the picture, or at least slow them down, right?” Kala asked, pacing.

Amanita agreed, “If we make enough noise, the government officials involved with BPO might actually use these companies as scapegoats to save themselves.”

“That’s assuming we can get into their servers and acquire these documents,” Nomi interjected. “Remember we’ve been trying to hack into BPO’s servers for a while and failing. If these companies use the same security measures we’re screwed.”

Kala stopped pacing and sat next to Nomi, “What do you need to gain access to these servers?”

Nomi scratched her head, “I’d need a backdoor, a trojan horse that I can use to go in. I can design one, but I’d need someone who works at BPO to run it on a computer or a laptop connected to BPO’s intranet. So you see-” Nomi paused and shook her head, “Why the hell didn’t I think of this earlier?”

“That we have people inside BPO now?” Kala asked. “We’ve been dealing with so much, Nomi, and you and Amanita have been carrying the biggest of that load on your shoulders. It’s perfectly fine,” she said, holding Nomi’s hand. Nomi smiled and appreciatively squeezed Kala’s hand. “What matters is what we can do now,” Kala concluded.

“Well, in that case, I think I have an idea,” Nomi said excitedly.

“Of course you do, babe,” Amanita said proudly.

“She’s an all access kind of girl after all,” Kala said, hopeful again, eliciting giggles from the brilliant women sitting before her.

********

It wasn’t easy to convince a rogue BPO employee to be the one to run the trojan horse. Nomi had to explain several times how she had designed it to look like a system file to remain undetected until the woman finally agreed.

Nomi sat chewing on the back of a pen waiting for confirmation that the file had been run. Once she had the confirmation, her hands flew over the keyboard, typing one command after the other. When she successfully accessed BPO’s servers, she screamed, “We’re in!”

Everyone rushed into the room soon after.

“Well done!” Will said, teasingly pulling at a strand of Nomi’s hair. She affectionately swatted his hand away.

“Now what?” Capheus asked.

“Now, I search for everything related to the companies on this list,” Nomi explained, pointing a finger towards the short stack of paper on her desk, “And hope the documents aren’t redacted.”

“And if they are?” Sun asked, picking up the papers, her eyes quickly scanning the names.

“We search for other copies that aren’t, depending on the nature of the document. If the document in question had to pass through a law firm, we search there. If it was government issued, we search the governmental entity that approved it and so on,” Nomi explained.

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Lito pointed out. “How long would this take?”

“It shouldn’t take too long with Bug and the Virts helping. Worst case scenario, it could take approximately three weeks,” Nomi answered, knowing her impatient cluster-mate wouldn’t like it.

Later that night, Nomi was dozing off on a mattress in her workspace when one of her laptops started beeping incessantly. She blearily reached for her glasses, putting them on, then stumbled towards her laptop. She dropped heavily on the chair and touched a finger to the touchpad to activate the dim screen.

What she saw as soon as the screen lit up made her gasp. There was nothing on the display but a single line of text: TG: Hello, Nomi! I hear you’ve been looking for me.

Nomi typed a cautious reply,

NM: Who is this?

The reply came flying on the screen,

TG: You already know who this is. I’m the one who gave you your freedom. I must say I’ve been following what you’re doing. Great work.

Nomi replied, biting her lower lip,

NM: What do you know about that?

TG: Enough to know that your cluster is making BPO chase its own tail. I’m impressed, but it’s not enough, if you ask my opinion.

NM: That’s why I need your help.

TG: With what?

NM: Wolfgang Bogdanow, I want him “E-Dead”.

A few minutes of silence passed before a reply came on screen:

TG: That’s an impressive criminal record. Someone doesn’t like this Wolfgang Bogdanow and keeps pressing new charges against him. Not surprising though, considering his family’s line of business.

NM: I don’t care how impressive it is. I want it gone along with any outstanding arrest warrants with his name on them. It’s important.

TG: How important?

NM: Taking down BPO kind of important.

TG: You’re going after the Bogdanow money?

NM: It’s much bigger than just that, but I’m sure you understand why I can’t go into details.

TG: I do. I’ll think about it and get back to you with a reply tomorrow, same time. Goodnight, Nomi.

With that the black screen disappeared and the search Nomi was carrying out continued in the background just as she had left it originally.

********

Daniela and Felix were sitting in the movie theatre. Felix was watching the movie while Dani kept looking over her shoulder.

“Would you stop doing that? You’re attracting attention,” Felix whispered, leaning towards Dani, his eyes still glued to the screen.

Dani snatched the popcorn from his hand, “I’m bored and this is just too creepy,” she retorted impatiently.

Felix reluctantly looked away from the screen, meeting her intense gaze, “Why are you bored? I let you choose the movie and got you that caramelised popcorn shit you like, which you’re not eating by the way and eating mine.”

Dani’s hand stopped halfway to her mouth, dropped the popcorn back in the bucket, which she then pushed into his chest, “Take your damned popcorn, Berner,” she said, fixing him with an icy glare.

“Come on, Dani,” Felix cajoled, “I didn’t mean it like that. Take it all if you want,” he said offering her the bucket and giving her his best attempt at puppy dog eyes.

Dani accepted the bucket. Her cold stare disappeared and was replaced by a suppressed smile. She continued eating the popcorn for a few moments before saying, “I’m still bored. This movie is shit.”

Felix chuckled quietly. “Well, we can always make out to pass the time. Kissing burns calories you know,” he said with a wink, “Think of it as an exercise. Beats going to the gym.”

“Sorry to interrupt the not so romantic moment,” The Guy said, poking his head between Felix and Dani making them both jump. The Guy looked at Felix, shaking his head, his eyes behind the mask disapproving. “Really?” he asked referring to Felix’ lame attempt at flirting.

Felix let out an indignant “Hey!” while Dani rolled her eyes.

“Do you have what Nomi asked for?” Dani whispered.

“Yes, but you need to understand that this keeps law enforcement off his back, not his enemies,” The Guy said, offering her what looked like a flash drive. Dani took it carefully from his hand and hid it in her purse.

“Leave the criminals to us. Wolfie and I know how to handle them,” Felix replied.

“I hope you’re right. The stakes are too high for you to be wrong,” The Guy said, then got up and left.

Dani and Felix waited a few minutes staring unseeingly at the screen, then Felix took Dani’s hand helping her to her feet and said, “Let’s go!”

As soon as Dani and Felix returned to the safe house, Dani ran to Nomi and gave her the flash drive. Nomi wasted no time plugging it in as Wolfgang watched nervously by her side while Felix squeezed his shoulder in reassurance.

“It worked for Nomi, it will work for you too,” Dani said, placing a hand on his other shoulder.

Wolfgang gave them both a nod, his eyes on the laptop. When all screens went black and the words “Congratulations! You are now E-Dead” flashed on the screen, Dani squealed excitedly and hugged Wolfgang who returned the hug with a smile. Felix and Nomi hugged him next just as Kala rushed into the room with heavy shopping bags in both hands. She dropped them to the ground and wrapped her arms around his neck tightly. Wolfgang buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply. Kala pulled back only to capture his lips with hers in a searing kiss.

“Congratulations!” Kala said breathlessly, her lips parted in a radiant smile.

“Thank you!” Wolfgang replied, his hands roaming over her back. “So you want to show me what’s in the bags?” he asked playfully.

“Sure, but I think you may be disappointed. They’re not what you think,” Kala stated. Ignoring Felix’ long suffering groan and the girls’ giggles, she continued, “They’re all for you.”

Wolfgang’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, “They are?”

“Of course! The new King of the Bogdanow Kingdom needs to look the part,” Kala said jokingly while her heart constricted in fear.

********

Elke Bogdanow paced in her late husband’s now renovated office as two bodyguards stood stoically on either side of the closed door. The faster her mind raced, the faster her pacing became. Volker was dead, Sebastian Fuchs and Khalil Dogan were under investigation after several incriminating documents were leaked to the public, and she was running a kingdom she had no business running. She wondered when it would be her family’s turn in the unwelcome spotlight. Elke took comfort in the fact that the documents weren’t much of a threat to either men, so maybe whatever might surface with the Bogdanow name on it wouldn’t be so damaging. It had been a week though, since the documents surfaced for both kings, at the same time. If the Bogdanows were to be exposed, wouldn’t they have been already? She obsessed over the fact that if her family didn’t face the same threats, the other kings might think she was behind their legal problems and that would be enough to start a war she had no chance of winning. A war that might very well end in her death.

A muted knock on the door made Elke pause her pacing. One of the bodyguards opened the door to reveal yet another bodyguard who walked confidently into the office. He stopped in the middle of the room, and addressed the obviously irritated Elke, “Wolfgang Bogdanow is here to see you.”

That simple announcement made a whirlwind of emotion run briefly through Elke. She was relieved to know Wolfgang was alive. He had been gone for too long, his apartment abandoned with a half-packed suitcase, she was almost certain he was dead. She had no particular love for Wolfgang, but she didn’t hate him either. Her feelings for him were neutral, but there was a time when she needed him, realised his worth, and he was nowhere to be found. Wolfgang showing up at this time could change the outcome of the imminent war. The intention behind his sudden return, however, made her wary.

Elke quickly composed herself and told the bodyguard to let Wolfgang in. He turned to leave while she stood straight, fixing her already impeccable attire, waiting.

Wolfgang walked into the room and she immediately noticed the subtle differences in how he looked, yet the aura of confidence and barely contained ferocity had remained the same, if not even more pronounced than she remembered.

“Hello, Auntie,” Wolfgang greeted, but to Elke it sounded more like a warning or a threat.

“Wolfgang!” Elke said, opening her arms for Wolfgang and beckoning him over.

Wolfgang walked over, allowing her to hold him by the shoulders as she kissed his cheeks.

“I was so worried about you. I looked everywhere,” she said as she linked an arm to his and guided him towards one of the chairs facing the desk. “Where have you been?”

Wolfgang took a seat, his movements slow and calculated, “Take a seat, Auntie.”

Elke was taken aback at the order despite it not being articulated as one. However, she took a seat behind the desk, crossing her legs. Since Wolfgang was obviously reluctant to approach the subject of his disappearance, Elke went straight to business, “Why are you here, Wolfgang? Are you finally ready to help with the family business?”

Wolfgang fixed her with a stare, not saying a word. Only when she started fidgeting did he speak, “No, Auntie. I’m not here to help with the family business. I’m here to take over it.”

“What does that mean?” Elke asked, her face slightly entertained, but her voice shook by the end of the short question.

“I mean you go back to being no one in the chain of command and enjoy the monthly salary I give you, while I run the Bogdanow family business without your interference.”

“Go back to being no one? You’re on very thin ice, Wolfgang. Tread carefully,” Elke warned, but Wolfgang wasn’t fazed.

“You’re the one who needs to tread carefully, Auntie. I’m the only one in this family standing on solid ground.”

Elke frowned. “How so?” she asked, steepling her fingers in her lap.

“Let me put it this way: if I don’t get what I want no one else does. What’s happening to other kings right now will happen to you except it will be much worse,” Wolfgang threatened. His eyes were intense, a deep frown marring his face, while Elke’s eyes widened in realisation.

“You’re behind this?” she asked incredulously, her voice raised. “You’re a wanted man yet you antagonise the other kings and now you think you can come here and threaten me? Have you completely lost your mind?”

“I’m not a wanted man anymore, Auntie, and if you refuse to peacefully hand over the family business, you will be the one the kings and the police are after.”

********

Elke had set a meeting with the two remaining kings at the Bogdanow residence. They reluctantly accepted the invitation. They would have preferred it to be on neural ground, but Elke was persuasive. She was aware that both men never took her seriously until the leaked documents started causing them problems while her family remained out of the controversy. She used that knowledge to her advantage and the men agreed to meet with her the next day.

When they were guided into the office, though, it was Wolfgang sitting behind the desk. Sebastian and Khalil stopped in their tracks upon seeing him.

“What is this? Where’s Elke?” Khalil asked, while Sebastian continued to stare.

“Sit down and I’ll explain everything,” Wolfgang said stonily then turned to Sebastian, “Are you alright, Fuchs? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Sebastian snorted then moved to sit. He was shortly followed by the other king.

“Before I say anything, I want you to read these carefully,” Wolfgang said as he pushed two files to the edge of his desk, one for each.

Skeptically, they exchanged looks then reached out for the files, opening them. The more they read, the deeper their frowns became. Khalil’s face had turned red with suppressed rage.

“I will kill you, Bogdanow,” Khalil spat out, “It was you and this fucking family all along.”

“There are worse things than dying,” Wolfgang said, straightening in his chair. “Killing me wouldn’t help you anyway. If I die, documents far worse than these will find their way to the police, they will become public knowledge, and none of the people you pay off will be able to help because their names will be included too.”

“What do you want, Wolfgang?” Sebastian asked.

“Access to your resources, your contacts, and your men for as long as I need,” Wolfgang stated stoically.

After a moment of stunned silence Sebastian chuckled. “Not going to happen, Bogdanow. I don’t know what you think you’re doing here and I don’t care, but whatever it is, it’s not going to work. It seems you’ve lost your mind,” Sebastian said, shaking his head.

Khalil stared at Wolfgang while Sebastian gave him his answer. He wasn’t about to dismiss a threat to his kingdom as easily as Sebastian did. He needed to learn more. “Why?”

“The why doesn’t concern you.”

“What if I refuse?”

“I’ll burn your business to the ground. I’ll take all the money you have in local banks and those you’ve stashed away in foreign ones. I’ll make sure you spend whatever life you have left in prison while your family struggles to make ends meet. In other words your kingdom will be mine” Wolfgang explained, a faint smile on his lips.

Khalil scoffed, “This is ridiculous. You can’t possibly do any of that.”

“No?” Wolfgang asked derisively. “Give me five minutes and I’ll prove to you that I can.”

When Sebastian was about to speak, Wolfgang raised a finger to silence him, “Five minutes to prove to you both that I can do all of what I just said I would.” Wolfgang rested his elbows on the desk, looking pointedly at Sebastian, “Although, I do have something special just for you. Want to know what it is?”

Sebastian sighed, “What?”

“Lila Facchini.”

“What do you know about Lila?”

“Where did you think she was all this time? I have her. What happens to her now depends entirely on you.”

“Prove it!” Sebastian challenged.

Wolfgang pulled out his phone, browsed through it quickly, then showed it to Sebastian. It was a video of Lila. She was bruised, her clothes torn and filthy, her lips chapped, and her voice hoarse begging Sebastian to save her.

Sebastian crossed his legs, tapping his fingers on the desk, “If you think I will hand over the keys to my business in exchange for pussy, you’re delusional.”

“Even when you learn that this pussy played an integral part in me having everything I need to bring you to your knees?” Wolfgang scoffed at Sebastian’s stunned face, “Did you honestly think I’d bring her up to soften your heart? Fuck that. You don’t have one.”

Before Sebastian managed to piece together a reply, his phone as well as Khalil’s started to ping. They pulled out their phones and frowned as they checked their screens.

They’d both received messages from their banks confirming the transfer of a million Euros from each of their respective accounts to an unknown offshore one.

“Do I have your attention now, gentlemen?”

Wolfgang’s back was straight, his eyes fierce, his jaw clenched, and his chin was lifted in defiance. He looked every bit the king he had just become.


********

Chapter Text

 

Wolfgang was bone-weary as he made certain Felix and Sun were in their hotel rooms safely before letting himself into his own. He threw his keycard on the bedside table, then dropped on the bed still fully clothed, aggravating the persistent headache that plagued him all day. He had taken a painkiller for it earlier, but it didn’t help much.

“Same here,” Nomi said, visiting, lying down beside Wolgang.

Wolfgang turned to her, “I know,” he said, reaching over to touch the back of his hand to hers briefly, “You should rest and eat properly. You’re living on painkillers.”

“I tried that and nothing works,” Nomi said, closing her eyes as a fresh wave of pain hit her.

“We should get in touch with a doctor.”

“It’s probably just the stress, Wolfie,” Nomi said, waving away his concern.

“The headaches have been getting worse with each passing day. You need a doctor,” Wolfgang insisted.

“I don’t need a doctor. I need this fight to come to an end,” she sighed. “I’ll leave you to get some sleep,” she added with a smile before he could argue his point further, then left.

Wolfgang stared at the ceiling for a few seconds before he tiredly pushed off the bed and dragged his feet to the bathroom. He started the shower and undressed, his movements slow and laboured. He checked the water temperature then got into the shower stall, sighing when the hot water beat down on the back of his neck.

Felix, Sun, and he could have stayed at his family’s residence, but they would have been sitting targets with BPO on high alert and the other kings probably planning his death. Together, they decided it would be best if they made use of the fake passports Nomi had provided them with, and stayed at hotels instead, changing them every two days.

Wolfgang grimaced when he moved his head, pain stabbing into the right side of his skull. He had spent the majority of the last three days visiting the cluster, planning and working out the logistics of their next move. It was as though the longer he stayed with them, the worse the migraine became. He wasn’t aware of that side-effect until now and wondered if Sun’s and Nomi’s own headaches were amplifying his.

Wolfgang could almost feel Kala wrap her arms around his waist before she actually did. He sighed, looking down, his arms joining hers. Kala dropped kisses on his shoulders and the back of his neck before resting a cheek between his shoulder blades.

Feeling Kala’s soft body against his eased some of Wolfgang’s tension, but he was still high strung and the pain in his head remained relentless. Kala unwound her arms from Wolfgang’s waist and when he made to turn, she stopped him with a gentle touch to his back. Kala’s slender fingers dug into Wolfgang’s tired muscles, trying to bring him any kind of relief as she, slowly and methodically, massaged his back. When Kala reached the back of his neck, Wolfgang groaned and closed his eyes. Kala’s thumbs delicately rubbed at the base of his skull, then moved behind his ears, her fingers at his temples. She didn’t stop until she could feel Wolfgang’s tension ease.

When he tried to turn once again, she didn’t stop him. He gazed down at her, his eyes warm and grateful. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed his slowly, leisurely. Too soon she pulled away and reached behind him for the shampoo. She uncapped it, squeezed some on her hand while Wolfgang watched quizzically. He chuckled, then winced at the pain that caused, when she started washing his hair. He closed his eyes to avoid any of the shampoo getting into them, but the grin on his face told her everything she needed to know. Her connection to him told her everything she needed to know. Wolfgang was happy and she knew she was the only reason behind it.

Kala gently pushed Wolfgang’s head under the showerhead and rinsed his hair. When Wolfgang opened his eyes, he immediately sought out hers. The playfulness in them was contagious. He bent his head and caught her lips in a kiss that he hoped conveyed how he felt.

Kala pulled at Wolfgang’s hand and guided him out of the stall. She grabbed a towel and dried his face and hair, giggling at how his hair stood in spikes. He carefully shook his head at her, his smile so wide, Kala couldn’t help but kiss it. Wolfgang took the towel out of her hands and dried himself, then kissed Kala again as she ran her fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame it.

Wolfgang led Kala to the bed and pushed back the covers. Once they were settled in, they both pulled the covers over themselves. They lay down facing each other, their bodies touching, their legs intertwined and their hands joined. Wolfgang closed his eyes and let the peace Kala’s presence brought him wash over them both.

It seemed Wolfgang had projected his contentment to the entire cluster. He could almost swear he heard their collective relieved sigh reverberate across their connection. When Kala let go of one of his hands, Wolfgang opened his eyes to find Sun spooning Kala, her hand on Kala’s shoulder. The hand Kala withdrew from his was on top of Sun’s, holding it gently. Wolfgang reached over to cup Sun’s face in his hand, his thumb caressing her cheek, then pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. Sun pulled her hand from under Kala’s to hold Wolfgang’s wrist briefly, then let go to wrap her arm around Kala’s waist. Wolfgang let go of Sun’s face and pulled both women closer to him.

When a body plastered itself to Wolfgang’s back, he turned his head to see Will and Riley smiling down at him. Wolfgang returned the smile, stretching his neck to meet Will for a kiss followed by Riley who then rubbed her nose against Wolfgang’s and giggled before snuggling in, wrapping an arm around his waist. A strong hand squeezed Wolfgang’s arm. Without looking he knew it was Capheus. Through their shared consciousness, Wolfgang sighed as he felt the kiss Capheus shared with Will and Riley. Lito and Nomi were the last to join them, sharing a kiss themselves before they took turns kissing Kala and Sun. Their cluster was finally complete. With hands touching, limbs entwining, and lips meeting whatever skin they could reach, they gave each other love, support, and comfort.

For a fleeting moment, Wolfgang’s muddled brain wondered how the double bed fit them all. It didn’t make sense, but then the thought soon dissipated and all his tired brain could think of, before finally allowing Wolfgang to sleep, were two words: family and home.

********

“Guys, are we sure we want to do this?” Nomi asked, pacing around her workspace, massaging her right temple, hoping the persistent migrain would ease. It was an hour after midnight. Everyone was mobilising and it was Nomi’s job to make sure they were all in sync, but her nerves were suddenly frayed thinking about the purpose of the mission.

“What do you mean?” Dani asked.

“Killing all these people. We’re going after them in their homes, in their own beds. That’s what I mean,” Nomi replied in exasperation.

“These people have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sensates over time. They’re murderers,” Sun stated, visiting. She was in a car with Will, heading to their target’s house. She had reluctantly left Wolfgang in Berlin to help Will.

“Yes, but we’re giving ourselves the right to be judge, jury, and executioner. How are we any better than they are if we just put bullets in their heads?” Nomi asked, her voice shaking.

“Hon,” Amanita said, walking over to Nomi. “We’ve been planning this for two weeks now. You were there every step of the way. Why are you suddenly questioning it?” she asked, wrapping her arms around Nomi’s shoulders.

Will interrupted before Nomi could respond to the question, “Do you think any of them would think twice before killing one of us?”

“No, I don’t, but-”

“Now is not the time for doubt, Nomi,” Wolfgang said assertively as he drove expertly through the sleepy streets of Berlin. “None of us is taking pleasure in any of this. We all fucking hate it, but it’s a necessary evil.”

“Besides,” Felix interjected through his mic, wondering if Nomi could hear him through Wolfgang anyway, “We can’t expose them for what they are without exposing you too. Do you think the world is ready to learn about you?”

Nomi shook her head from where it was against Amanita’s neck.

“He can’t see you, baby,” Amanita reminded Nomi gently, smiling affectionately at the small slip. Because of how close they’d all become, sometimes they forgot who was a Sensate and who wasn’t.

“No, Felix. I don’t think the world is ready for that,” Nomi answered.

“Then stop worrying, babe,” Felix said lightheartedly, then added seriously, “We’re not just watching out for our Cluster, but for every Sensate out there who can not defend themselves. If we have the power to do this and choose not to, every Sensate they torture or kill will be on us.”

Nomi stayed silent for a brief moment contemplating Felix’s words. She needed to be reminded of the scale of the danger every Sensate in the world was facing and Felix did exactly that. Nomi sighed then kissed Amanita before pulling away and returning to her laptop, “You’re right. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologise for,” Riley said, leaning against Nomi’s workstation, “It’s perfectly normal. Just don’t let it get in the way of you bringing our people back safe.”

“We’re all counting on you,” Kala added without looking away from the window she had been staring out of since her cluster-mates left.

Nomi took a deep breath then let it out slowly. When she spoke again, she sounded confident, driven. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, let’s do this.”

Kala, Dani, and Riley took seats at the workstation along with Nomi and Amanita, each with a laptop and an earpiece. It was all hands on deck for this mission. With so many units mobilising all over Europe at the same time, they needed a small army to keep them all coordinated.

None of them was comfortable with what they were doing, but they recognised the necessity of it. They took some comfort in the fact that all they had to do was make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. They wouldn’t be the ones pulling the triggers.

“Units eleven to twenty are in position,” Riley said, checking her maps the way Nomi taught them.

“Same with one to ten,” Kala said to Riley, then opened the channel between her and her group, “Don’t make a move yet. Wait for further instructions.”

“We’re in position,” Wolfgang said to Nomi.

“I can see you,” Nomi replied, “Units twenty-one to thirty are still en route. ETA three minutes.”

“What about the rest?” Will asked.

“All of them are ready and waiting,” Dani provided.

The three minutes it took for the final unit to arrive felt like three hours whether to the people on the ground or the women sitting at their laptops watching the proceedings in maps and GPS pins.

“Final unit is in position,” Amanita said, looking up, “Shall we?” she asked.

Everyone at the table nodded and gave their respective units their instructions.

By the time the sun came up, BPO had lost all their hunters in Europe.

********

“Hello!”

“Rajan,” Kala said as she paced around her bedroom, her hand holding the burner phone too tightly.

“Kala! Where on earth are you? It’s been too long since your last call. Why haven’t you called all this time? It’s been-”

“What did the court say, Rajan?” Kala interrupted coldly.

Rajan didn’t answer immediately. It sounded as though he was taking a deep breath before speaking, “The court dismissed the case as I told you it would, Kala.” Rajan’s voice was warm as he said, “You should come home and we can talk about this in person.”

“There are other ways to get that divorce, Rajan,” Kala said, ignoring his last statement. She had already told him why she had to go into hiding, but it seemed Rajan refused to believe it, and she wasn’t willing to explain it yet again.

“What other ways?” he asked with a sigh as if he was humouring a child.

“Stop pretending!” Kala’s voice had an edge Rajan had never heard before. “You have discussed every possible scenario with your lawyers as soon as you hung up the phone after our last call.”

“You mean our only call,” Rajan added testily.

“Semantics? Really?” Kala’s sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed. With everything happening with the cluster at that moment, Kala was constantly on edge. She couldn’t handle Rajan’s word games. “Convert, Rajan.”

“Convert? Convert what?” Rajan continued to feign ignorance.

“If a spouse converts to another religion, the other spouse can seek out a divorce. This reason does not require any time to have passed before a divorce can be filed,” Kala explained despite knowing Rajan already had full knowledge of the law.

Rajan laughed humorlessly, “You want me to  convert? Have you lost your mind, Kala?”

“You never cared for our faith and neither did your father. What do you care?” Kala replied indignantly, quickly losing whatever control she had on her temper.

“Maybe I should file for a divorce on the basis of a spouse cheating. You did cheat on me with that German of yours,” Rajan said, his tone insulting, no longer caring if the words hurt Kala. He didn’t understand all of what she had told him in their first call, but he certainly understood there was a man behind it.

It was Kala’s turn to breathe deeply before answering, “I didn’t cheat on you, Rajan. We already talked-”

Rajan talked over her, “That’s why you want me to convert, isn’t it? Because it’s the fastest way to get a divorce?” he asked, raising his voice with each question, his humiliation fuelling his anger, “Are you in such a hurry to get rid of me? Did this white trash mess with your mind, Kala? You know what? I will not give you a divorce. I will not make it easy for your filthy lover to make a fool of me. Do you understand?”

Kala had stopped pacing while Rajan yelled at her with so much vitriol. She wasn’t sure what made her more angry; the fact that she once thought Rajan was a reasonable man who loved her? Or that he spoke of her as though she was his property? Or because he insinuated she could be manipulated and incapable of independent thought? Or that she was immoral with no integrity? He didn’t even seem to care that there were people trying to kill her. She had explained it all to him when she called that one time. All he kept asking about was Wolfgang. Kala decided not to waste time contemplating any of it. All that mattered was to dissolve her marriage to a man who had little to no respect for her, and somehow didn’t even grasp the danger she was in.

Kala spoke with confidence, but her voice shook with barely contained fury, “You will give me that divorce whether you like it or not, Rajan. Wolfgang is not the only reason I don’t want you in my life anymore. I can’t stay married to a man whose company is in bed with the same organisation that is trying to hunt me down and have me killed. Is that what you want? Is that why you’re asking me to come back? You want them to kill me. Is that it?”

Rajan’s stunned silence encouraged her to continue and finally drive her point home, “You have a week to finalise the procedures of your conversion. If you don’t, I will release documents that prove Rasal Pharmaceuticals’ involvement in distributing expired drugs as well as unapproved ones. I will tear your family’s business to pieces and I will make sure your father knows you’re behind the exposure. Do you understand?”

“Kala, I don’t understand. I would never-”

Kala interrupted, screaming down the phone, “Do you understand, Rajan?”

“I understand perfectly,” Kala heard Rajan say after a moment of silence before hanging up on him, tears streaming down her face.

Kala knew her situation was all of her own doing. She knew Rajan was hurt and she couldn’t blame him, but she was hoping her relationship with him wouldn’t end in anger, insults, and threats. Maybe she was too optimistic, but she was a hopeful person by nature. She should have known better though, because no man, no matter how much he loved his wife, would accept what she had put him through and move on without a fight.

********

“After the documents that were leaked earlier this week were proven to be authentic, several government officials and seven major pharmaceutical companies, including the research conglomerate BPO, are currently under investigation.”

Nomi groaned when the live stream started buffering, but it only lasted a few seconds and the cluster could soon follow the news report once again.

“The documents provide solid evidence of the seven companies manufacturing and distributing unapproved drugs that were tested on unconsenting human subjects. Our experts believe that there is enough evidence to put some, if not all, companies out of business, and those involved to serve time.”

Nomi lowered the volume and turned to her cluster-mates. “So, the hunters are dead, BPO is in the spotlight, and their affiliate companies are about to be shut down. Is Europe ours yet?” Nomi asked.

Wolfgang answered, shaking his head, “For the time being, yes, but BPO can still survive this investigation with The Chairman still out there, not to mention that they could always send over more hunters. They’re desperate at this point. They’ll do anything to find us now.”

“You’re right,” Nomi agreed, “But we have definitely slowed them down and if they’re desperate, they’ll make mistakes.”

“That’s why we need to move on all fronts, at the same time, and as quickly as possible,” Amanita interjected.

“That shouldn’t be too hard. We have the numbers and resources now,” Hernando said.

Nomi turned to her laptop and continued, “Exactly! Also, after this success, more members of the Archipelago are coming forward to take part and help. One of them actually came forward offering to get us access into BPO’s servers located in the US. I’m sure we can find a list of all the hunters BPO has recruited, not just the ones in Europe. If we have that list, I could track if any of them shows up in any European airport. I’m sure you can take it from there, Wolfgang.”

Riley turned to Wolfgang, “Also, you need to come back. Will and Sun have been making great progress with their Traceworks training. You’re falling behind. We shouldn’t rely completely on our connection to make it work.”

Wolfgang nodded, “I’ll be there tomorrow. Felix will stay behind to make sure no one makes a move against the family business while I’m gone, but he won’t be able to hold it for too long by himself.”

Placing an arm around Wolfgang’s shoulder, Lito said, his eyes on Wolfgang’s, “Which brings us to the next point. We need to consider relocating, my friend.”

Wolfgang nodded in understanding, “I think I know how to make that happen.”

“We relocate then we find The Chairman and take him out of the picture. We’ve only cut the snake’s tail. We need to cut off the head,” Capheus added.

“Riles,” Will said, “You need to speak with Mr. Hoy and I need to speak with Adrian.”

********

Wolfgang managed to plan the cluster's relocation while he trained intensively on Traceworks to catch up with Sun and Will. All it took to move everyone and everything was some bribery, the airport personnel on the Bogdanow payroll, and a private jet. In three days everyone was relocated to Berlin, in the Bogdanow residence, and with tripled security.

“Mr. Bogdanow! You’re rich,” Amanita exclaimed as soon as she stepped into the foyer, whistling, while everyone else looked around.

Wolfgang said pointedly, “We are.”

Amanita smiled at him in appreciation then linked her arm with his, “Grand tour?”

“Sure,” Wolfgang answered with a smile on his face.

“Now that’s what I call a safe house,” Capheus said, gesturing at the sweeping staircase and the antiques scattered around the open space. “No offence, Riley,” he concluded with a wink.

Riley giggled, “None taken.”

“Well, it does have a ton of security,” Hernando pointed out, totally missing Capheus’ joke. “How many men are on duty?” Hernando asked wolfgang.

“Forty, at all times. Welcome everyone,” Felix said, running down the stairs. He hugged Wolfgang then turned to Daniela who was standing by Hernando, “Looking wonderful as always, Ms. Velasquez,” Felix said, giving Dani an appreciative once-over. Dani shook her head at his attempt to flirt, while the others rolled their eyes. “Allow me to escort you to your chambers, princess?” He asked, oblivious to the others’ amusement, offering her his arm.

“Wolfgang was just about to show us around, but ok,” Daniela teased, linking her arm with his.

“Let’s get you guys settled,” Wolfgang said, “Then Felix and I will take you on a grand tour.”

********

Nomi and Amanita were setting up their workstation in one of the guestrooms when Capheus walked in, “You ladies need help?”

“No, we’re almost done, but thank you, Caph,” Nomi said as she plugged in a cord.

“How did your call go?” Amanita asked Capheus referring to his call to Shiro.

“She’s still worried. Scolded me like a child for not calling her enough and told me Zakia is so mad at me, she will never speak to me again,” Capheus sighed.

“I can only imagine how worried they must be, but Zakia will come around when she knows the truth,” Nomi tried to comfort him.

“Yes, I suppose,” Capheus shrugged. “So did Will talk to Adrian?”

“Yeah, he did. Adrian will fly in tomorrow with a surgical team. He says he needs three days to prepare an operating room and carry out the procedures, but that Lila, Whispers, and Jonas will be of no use for at least two weeks after the surgeries.”

“That’s too long a wait, don’t you think?” Capheus worried.

“We have no choice, my friend,” Amanita explained, starting up her laptop, “Besides, Wolfgang, Will, and Sun are working on Traceworks with Whispers, we have a lot to keep us busy in the meantime, and we haven’t even found The Chairman yet.”

“But don’t worry. Now that we know who we’re looking for, I’m sure the Archipelago will locate him soon enough. They’re already on it,” Nomi added.

“I wonder if Whispers is telling them everything he knows,” Amanita said, worrying her lower lip.

“Will told Whispers that if he tells them everything and it works when they test it, he’ll let him go. I believe he’s motivated enough,” Nomi said, “What I’m worried about is whether he actually remembers everything. His time on the wall sure did a number on him. It’s probably why he’s cooperating in the first place, and why he believed Will when he said he’d let him go.”

“Only one way to find out I suppose,” Capheus said as he dropped heavily in one of the lush chairs by the bed. “I could get used to this,” he added, his hands running over the smooth velvet on the armrests.

“What’s mine is yours,” Wolfgang said, walking into the room, startling all three of them. “I’ll make sure you go back to Kenya a rich man. You can go back to making a difference in people’s lives, you can take good care of your mother, and take Zakia out on nice dates,” he concluded with a smile.

“Thank you, brother. I appreciate it,” Capheus said, smiling, “To be honest I just want this to be over. I can’t seem to think of anything else.”

“I can,” Wolfgang exclaimed, “If this war taught me anything, it taught me that Riley was right that night at the club. As long as we’re together, there’s nothing we can’t do, right?”

Tears sprung to Nomi’s eyes unbidden. It was one of the very rare times Wolfgang had opened up to them. It made her heart squeeze in her chest to know he had hope for a better future, not just fighting a war to eliminate a threat. Nomi failed to keep the tears at bay and walked over to Wolfgang, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. She could feel his arms wrap around her waist, hesitantly at first, but then firmly as he buried his head in her shoulder. Capheus and Amanita joined them and, one by one, the cluster members visited from wherever they were around the house seeking out the comfort that only their cluster could give them.

********

Everyone, cluster and partners, were sitting in Nomi’s den, each with a laptop, making a list. There were over a thousand hunters recruited by BPO worldwide and they needed to have one consolidated list that included names, addresses, and pictures to share with the Archipelago and it gave them all a headache.

“Keeping track of all of them will be a nightmare. Every single one of them has several aliases,” Kala said as she typed on her laptop.

“I know!” Daniela agreed, rubbing her tired eyes, “What are we going to do should any of these guys show up?” she asked no one in particular.

“I’m not sure,” Will said, “If the hunters start trickling in and they start disappearing, BPO will know we’ve hacked into their main servers. Who knows what they would do if that happens.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Riley said with a yawn, “What matters now is that we send these lists to our cells in the Archipelago so they can cascade the information to everyone.”

Lito cleared his throat, “Guys, I know this is off topic, but am I the only one terrified of what Adrian is doing right now in the basement?”

Hernando sighed, “Nope.”

“It has to be done, Lito. They’re important to the mission, if not the most important part of the mission,” Sun said, reaching over to lay a hand on his.

Lito smiled awkwardly, “I know, but-”

“But it’s still horrible,” Kala interrupted, “Doing this to one of our kind is unthinkable. What is also unthinkable is what BPO and The Chairman would do to us if we don’t do this.”

Lito let out a breath, “I want this to end. I want us to have our normal lives back.”

“Somehow, this is normal for me,” Felix said, “Maybe not the cutting brains open bit, but running, hiding, and looking over my shoulder is normal for Wolfgang and I.”

“That’s actually sad, Felix,” Daniela replied, her voice soft and her eyes kind.

Felix shrugged, “It is what it is. I’m used to it. Besides, I have Wolfie, so it’s not so bad.”

“You have all of us, Felix,” Daniela corrected him, “You and Wolfie aren’t alone anymore.”

Felix didn’t know what to say, so he just gave Dani a small smile and hoped she understood that he was grateful. Felix never had a woman like Dani in his life. She was strong, capable, funny, loyal, gorgeous, and, for whatever reason, she seemed to like him. He honestly didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to make a mess of everything, but he also never knew how to do things any other way. Wolfgang was of no help. He told him to just make a move. Felix argued that his moves were not of the right kind for a woman like Daniela. Wolfgang just asked him whatever the fuck he meant then told him to talk to her and to stop stalling.

Felix snorted and thought how it had always been easy for Wolfgang to handle women. With that fucking face of his, he could get away with pretty much anything. Felix sighed and looked at Dani out of the corner of his eye only to find her looking at him questioningly. He quickly turned his eyes back to his laptop and started typing nonsense pretending to work on his list.

“Oh my God!” Nomi exclaimed, typing furiously on her laptop, “Check these out,” she said, sending links to their laptops.

“BPO is taking down their own affiliate companies?” Amanita asked, confusedly scratching her head as she opened one link after the other. She then turned to Kala, her eyes wide with shock, but also apologetic, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but Rasal Pharmaceuticals is mentioned.”

“What?” Kala exclaimed, her voice raised, her eyes running over the text in one of the articles. “But Rasal Pharma was not involved directly with BPO. They only helped with shipping.” She nervously ran a hand through her curls, her mind racing. She never wanted Rajan to get hurt. She only used the company’s ties to BPO as leverage to get the divorce, which was imminent after Rajan converted as she demanded. “Excuse me, I have to make yet another stressful call to my family,” Kala said, picking up a burner phone and leaving the room.

They all stared at the door for a few seconds, not sure what to do. When Wolfgang determinedly pursed his lips and headed for the door, Lito grabbed his arm to stop him. “Give her space to call her family. You can always check on her here,” Lito said, pointing to Wolfgang’s temple. Wolfgang reluctantly returned to his seat, his eyes still on the door, waiting for Kala to come back.

“These headlines mean only one thing,” Nomi said, drawing the cluster’s attention back to the matter at hand, “BPO must have struck a deal to expose these companies in exchange for immunity or something. They’re throwing them all under the bus with the new documents they shared with authorities.”

“But there are documents that implicate BPO as well,” Riley exclaimed.

“It seems BPO has an even further reach than we initially believed,” Will said, running his hands repeatedly over his face.

“If we want to take them down for good, taking out The Chairman will get us nowhere. The documents we released weren’t enough,” Nomi said, her eyes roaming over everyone in the room, “We have to expose the true nature of the experimentation BPO is carrying out.”

“But this would mean we reveal our existence to the world,” Lito snapped his laptop shut, frowning.

“I know,” Nomi retorted impatiently. She didn’t mean to snap at Lito, but the insessant migraines were becoming intolerable, she could hardly keep her temper in check.

Silence descended on the room, everyone lost in thought. They were all certain of one thing: the world wasn’t ready to learn about their species. Homo-sapiens were afraid of everything and anything different, afraid of change. How would they take the news about a different species living amongst them all this time? Would they welcome them or persecute them? Would they be hunted down, but on an even bigger scale? Or would there be people who defended them and demanded coexistence? Would they be weaponised by governments? They had too many questions and the answers to them could only be guessed at.

Kala walked back in to find the room in complete silence. She sat next to Wolfgang nodding her head, silently telling him not to worry, just as Nomi’s laptop beeped incessantly. Nomi turned to her laptop to see the now familiar black screen with white text that signalled a message from The Guy.

TG: Bad news, huh?

TG: I sent you several files that you can thank me for later.

And with that the screen reverted to normal and an e-mail notification showed up in the corner of the screen. She clicked the notification, and said after skimming over the first few lines, “Guys, you need to see this.”

They all gathered around her, but she still read it out loud knowing not all would be able to see the screen.

“Hello Nomi,

You will find attached to this e-mail a few samples of what I will release to the public tomorrow. I only have seventy of these. I wish I had more.

It took us months to get our hands on these, go through them all, and cross-reference them to those involved. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault that you didn’t find them yourself. We just knew where to look. I will publish them without audio. No need for people to hear what was being said. We have deleted all seventy original files from BPO’s servers. I suspect BPO will act fast and delete the rest before they fall into the wrong hands when an investigation starts.

This doesn’t guarantee BPO’s fall, plausible deniability probably, but if it does bring BPO to its knees, I believe that your secret will remain exactly that. I highly doubt BPO would expose you to the world, not after the extreme measures they have taken to keep your existence hidden.

By the way, the Sensates in these videos, except for one that I attached for your eyes only, are unfortunately deceased. That means we’re not exposing any living Sensoriums.

One last thing, please, tell Mr. Bogdanow that he has earned my respect.

The Guy.”

Nomi ignored the weird request and clicked the first attachment. Everyone gasped when the first video started playing. It was of an interrogation carried out by a hunter, her face clearly visible, her assistants had the BPO logo on their uniforms. Nomi fast forwarded the video, making sure it was incriminating enough. She followed the same steps with each video. Despite it being painful to watch, she just had to make sure there was enough to start a thorough investigation. She clicked one link after the other and found a different hunter, a different victim each time. She clicked the final video labelled WB right before Kala screamed at her not to. They all soon realised why The Guy asked her to tell Wolfgang he had earned his respect. The video was of Wolfgang’s interrogation, but unlike the others, this one had audio.

Nomi hurriedly turned it off, but she wasn’t fast enough. They’d already seen and heard a few seconds too long. Nomi kept her eyes on the screen, afraid to turn to where she knew Wolfgang was. It seemed they all shared her sentiment because no one took their eyes off the screen either.

Kala was the first to move. Her eyes, wide and horrified, sought out Wolfgang’s. He refused to meet her gaze, but he knew he couldn’t hide, not from her and not from the rest of the cluster. All he could do was change the subject.

When Wolfgang spoke, his voice was low but steady, “We should finish putting together this list and send it out. Although, after these videos are released, I believe we will have seventy less to worry about.”

Wolfgang then returned to his laptop to work on his list, except he wasn’t really. He just clicked blindly through the files, his mind elsewhere. He was stuck in an interrogation room, strapped to a bed, electrocuted repeatedly, fighting to stay awake, and fighting for the lives of his cluster-mates. What he wasn’t aware of was that no one in the cluster was working on their lists either. They all sat staring at their screens as they silently went through it all with him.

********

Felix sat at the kitchen table nursing a bottle of beer. He sighed and lifted his legs on the chair in front of his. His closed his eyes and dropped his head in hands with a groan, his mind racing. It had been a week since he watched Wolfgang’s video and he still couldn’t wrap his head around what his brother had endured, couldn’t wrap his head around what was to come.

“Hey,” Dani said softly, walking quietly into the kitchen. She checked the clock on the wall and sighed when it read 2:17. “I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said when Felix didn’t return her greeting.

Felix shook his head both in negation and to clear it. “You didn’t. Please,” He said, gesturing to the chair beside his. He was surprised when Dani simply sat by his side without a snarky comment as per usual.

“Can’t sleep?” she asked, reaching for his beer and taking a sip.

“No, I can’t. I don’t think anyone can. They’re just staying in the rooms instead of sitting in the kitchen with a beer,” he said with a smirk that Dani could easily see through.

“You don’t have to do that,” she chastised him.

“Do what?”

Dani merely raised an eyebrow and Felix’ shoulders slumped.

“I can’t stop thinking. If all goes well tomorrow, does that mean it’s really over?” Felix asked, his eyes on the table.

Dani helped herself to another sip of his beer before answering, “Well, BPO’s affiliate companies are dead after the documents we had, as well as those handed over by BPO, went public. The hunters exposed by The Guy’s leaked videos gave away most of the others and they’re all in police custody awaiting trial,” Dani paused then snorted, “How they found space in prisons for all these people is beyond me.”

Felix chuckled quietly, his eyes meeting Dani’s. “Finally, BPO is being dragged through the mud and tomorrow we end it.”

Dani nodded, “And tomorrow we end it.”

Felix couldn’t hold Dani’s gaze any longer and shifted his eyes back to the table, “So, you will go back to Mexico?”

“Where else would I go?” Dani asked pointedly staring at Felix profile.

“You can stay in Berlin.” Felix answered, swallowing loudly.

“Why?”

“Because I wish you would?” Felix whispered, watching Dani’s face out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh my God! You’re an idiot,” Dani exclaimed, but with no real heat in her statement.

“I know,” Felix answered defeatedly.

Dani was caught by surprise. She wasn’t expecting Felix’ answer. She expected indignation or sass, but not this. She was lost in thought for a brief moment, then said, “I guess it was too optimistic of me to wait for you to say something.”

Felix turned to face Dani, his face hopeful, “What do you mean?”

Dani rolled her eyes before leaning in and touching Felix’ lips with her own. A moment of stunned immobility passed between them, then Felix finally kissed her back.

********

The cluster assumed the reason The Chairman flew to the London headquarters was to be closer to where the investigation was. What they didn’t know was that his decision was fuelled by anger and desperation. Anger at the cluster and the incompetence of his operatives, and desperation after the board of directors threatened to fire him for his inability to foresee and solve the issues the cluster raised. The Chairman’s hatred for Homo-Sensoriums had reached a new high. Blinded by these emotions, he made his first mistake and took a jet to London with five of BPO’s most brutal hunters, hell-bent on destroying the August Eighth cluster.

Guarded by a small army, they all stayed at a hotel near the company’s headquarters, believing the crowded hotel provided added security, and that was his second mistake. Hotels had surveillance cameras that were not hard to hack into.

The Chairman’s third mistake was when he established a routine. He always went to headquarters at the same time everyday to monitor the progress of the search and that was what gave the cluster the opportunity they needed.

Capheus, Sun, Will, and Wolfgang flew to London with fifteen of Wolfgang’s men. They stayed in a safehouse not too far from the airport, set up the Traceworks, and finalised their plan. Within two days of their arrival, they made their move.

Nomi was responsible for coordinating with the men on the ground, while Sun, Will, and Wolfgang were connected to Traceworks, each sitting in front of a laptop, watching the proceedings through their Bolgers. It was the ideal use for Jonas, Lila, and Whispers. None of the cluster would be in direct risk and should the plan go wrong, they could leave as easily as they’d arrived, except for Capheus. He had insisted on being the one to drive the getaway car, refusing to trust one of Wolfgang’s men with the job.

“All units in position,” Nomi said, sitting at her station in Berlin, eyes alert on all screens.

“Approaching The Chairman now,” Will said, as Capheus took Whispers to his mark.

“Lila is at her mark,” Wolfgang informed Sun.

She nodded, then added, “So is Jonas.”

“Ok, guys, arm the packages and get the hell out,” Nomi instructed.

“We have The Chairman surrounded,” Will said, before a piercing pain stabbed into his temple. He groaned in pain as everyone in the cluster did the same. After a brief moment of blinding agony, the pain eased, the cluster letting out a relieved breath except for Nomi. She cried out as she held her head in her hands, tears streaming down her face. Amanita rushed to her side just as Nomi fell off her chair and onto the ground with a heavy thud.

“What the fuck is happening?” Wolfgang questioned harshly through his mic so Amanita could hear him. He was so focused on Nomi, worry eating at him, that he forgot Lila standing still in open space.

Sun called out his name, bringing him back, “Move! They’re coming after Lila.”

“Shit!” Wolfgang exclaimed, making Lila run. “Amanita!”

“I don’t know, Wolfgang. Kala is here, but she doesn’t know anything either,” Amanita replied, obviously crying, “I’m such an idiot. I should’ve insisted on taking her to a damned doctor.”

Another stab of pain reverberated across the cluster, blinding them once more.

“Neets, take Nomi’s place. We’re rapidly losing our window here,” Will said nervously.

“But-”

“No, buts, Amanita. Take her place,” Will ordered assertively.

“Ok. Ok. I’m on it,” Amanita said, reluctantly leaving Nomi writhing on the ground, surrounded by Hernando, Riley, Kala, Dani, and Felix.

“The fire alarm just went off in HQ,” Amanita said, her fingers flying over the keyboard, “Get ready for a red light,” she continued unsteadily.

When the traffic light finally turned red, all windows were rolled down and Wolfgang’s team opened fire on The Chairman’s security detail, while Will guided Whispers to The Chairman’s car. He dodged quite a few bullets himself, ignoring the deafening screaming that ensued and the people getting out of their cars and running in the opposite direction. Will quickly broke the window and let himself in, putting a bullet in the back of the driver’s head before he could take a shot at Will. He was just in time to stop The Chairman from getting out of the opposite side. He quickly dragged The Chairman to Capheus’ car, throwing him on the backseat, then going in after him. Capheus silently gave Will a syringe that Will emptied into The Chairman’s neck.

Just as sirens started sounding in the distance, all the team’s cars started moving, leaving the dead guards behind. While Wolfgang’s men all drove in opposite directions and abandoned their stolen cars in alleyways, Cepheus was going full speed towards BPO’s headquarters. He came to a screeching halt at a back exit and silently watched through the tinted windows as Lila and Jonas broke from the crowd gathered around the building and ran towards the car, hurriedly getting in. As soon as they did, he started to put as much distance as possible between them and the building.

Ten seconds later, Cepheus could see the building’s foundations crumble through the rearview mirror.

Two blocks down, they abandoned the stolen car and switched to a properly licensed one. “I can take it from here,” Capheus said, as he headed towards the airport. Capheus would never forget how life was drained out of the three shells in his car, their eyes staring, and their faces devoid of expression as his cluster-mates disconnected from the Bolgers.

At the safehouse, Will, Sun, and Wolfgang packed up the Traceworks and took them down to the van parked at the back of the building. They quickly loaded them up with their luggage before Will drove them to the airport.

They arrived at the hangar at the same time as Capheus to find Lito pacing. As soon as Capheus stepped out of the car, Lito pulled him in for a tight hug before he opened the car door and proceeded to pull the drugged Chairman out of the backseat.

Capheus would have helped, if Wolfgang’s hand hadn’t grabbed his right shoulder firmly, forcing him to turn. Wolfgang’s eyes gave Capheus a quick cursory look, then he asked, his hand moving to the back of Capheus’ head, “Are you alright?”

Capheus nodded, his hand cradling the back of Wolfgang’s neck. Wolfgang nodded back and pulled Capheus in a one-armed hug, then released him, moving to the backseat of the car to pull Lila out.

Soon enough, they were all strapped in and ready for take off after Bug had taken over from Amanita.

During the flight back to Berlin, the cluster’s migraines eased up marginally, but they knew Nomi’s suffering had finally come to an end.

She was now the proud mother of five Sensates.

As soon as they arrived at the Bogdanow residence, Will, Sun, Capheus, and Wolfgang ran to Nomi’s room where she was sitting with her back against the headboard, a cup of tea in her hand with a tired smile on her face. Amanita had an arm wrapped around Nomi’s shoulders, while the others were scattered around them on the bed and the floor.

Riley ran to Will when he walked in, wrapped her arms around him tightly, “This is so exciting, isn’t it?” she asked, dropping a kiss on Will’s lips, then rushed back to Nomi’s bed without waiting for an answer.

“Felix, could you go down and take care of the cargo, please?” Will asked, his eyes not leaving Nomi.

“Sure thing,” Felix said, then added, “Congratulations, you’re an uncle now or whatever.”

Will squeezed Felix’ shoulder, “Thanks, man,” then squatted on the floor by Nomi’s bed, an ecstatic smile on his face. “Hi,” he whispered, taking one of Nomi’s hands in his.

“Wait, I’ll come with you,” Dani called out before Felix could leave the room. She patted Nomi’s thigh then left with Felix, taking his hand in hers.

Wolfgang sat in Dani’s place, a hand circling Nomi’s ankle, while he leaned over to kiss Kala for a long moment.

“So, tell us about them,” Sun prompted, as she sat behind Amanita, her chin on her shoulder.

Nomi stuttered at first, not sure of what to say, then finally spoke up, “One of them is a Japanese systems analyst. He was running diagnostics on a server, looked up at me for a moment then just went back to work like nothing happened,” she said with a chuckle. “Another is an American dancer, a ballerina, who sprained her ankle when I suddenly showed up,” she grimaced in guilt. “You’ll like this one Hernando,” Nomi said, smiling briefly at Hernando who was sitting in a chair by the bed with Lito on the floor, resting his head on Hernando’s knee, “He’s a Spanish chef, who is very good with knives, thank God, or he would have cut off a finger when I stared at him over the counter.”

Nomi continued to tell her cluster about her children. She was giddy with happiness and worried sick in equal parts, but the worry didn’t take anything away from her excitement, or how her cluster lapped up every detail she gave them.

********

The Chairman was on the wall, spread-eagled, gagged, blindfolded, with earplugs in his ears. The cluster and their partners were standing in the basement, simply staring at him.

“So this is the asshole behind everything you and every other Sensate has gone through over the last who knows how many years?” Dani asked, her hands in her waist.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Will said.

Without saying a word, Dani closed the short distance between The Chairman and her and slapped him so hard her own hand hurt. She left the rambling Chairman behind and returned to Felix, linking her arm in his, a smug, satisfied smile on her face. Felix smiled down at her, nodding proudly.

“What now?” Sun asked, silently wishing they would let her beat up The Chairman within inches of his life. She knew she wasn’t the only one to feel that way. The amount of anger and resentment that filled the basement was tangible. It wasn’t a simple matter for everyone present to hold back their emotions. The man behind the lives they’d led since Whispers connected with Will was right before them and many couldn’t decide on how to punish him for it.

“Now we pull every piece of information we could possibly need from him,” Will said, his arms crossed, his eyes not leaving The Chairman. “There’s so much we need to know from this fucker.”

“This is going be so much fun,” Wolfgang added, taking a few steps forward, getting closer to their hostage.

“I bet,” Felix smirked.

“With The Chairman in our hands, we can bring down BPOs board of directors. All I would need is names,” Nomi said, her brain already gearing up. “Don’t worry. They’re on their knees. They won’t get to you,” she said to one of her children, “ We won’t let them get to you.”

“Who’s that?” Kala asked.

“Jade,” Nomi replied with a smile.

“The ballerina?” Kala asked dreamily. She loved ballet. The fluid strength and precision of movement fascinated her.

Nomi nodded.

“Don’t worry, Jade. We have your back,” Kala said to Nomi, “I hope to see you on stage soon.”

“That would be great,” Jade said, waiting for Nomi to relay the message. When Nomi did, Kala grinned.

“I have a niece and she is an artist,” Lito said proudly.

“Yes, you do,” Nomi said, hugging him.

At that, the cluster bundled closer together, their anger no longer as prominent as it was earlier. Their family was growing, they were still high on the thought of bringing Sensates into a world without fear. Nomi’s children further strengthened their resolve, if that was even possible.

The hunted had become the hunter and BPO was about to become extinct.

********