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Within the Sound of My Voice

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Control watched as McCall and Mickey shuffled over to the nondescript, brown sedan.  With McCall's aid, the younger man lowered himself into the back seat.  The man sighed.  He hated what he was allowing to happen, hated the righteous anger McCall would level on him when he found out, hated having to betray his friends.

He watched one of Oldford's men close the sedan door and walk away.

Still, we have to know, he argued with himself.  If there's any chance that Mickey's been turned…  He could be far too dangerous.  The man's a walking weapon as it is.  If that weapon is now in another's hands.

Control refused to follow the depressing line of thought.  The drugs that had been used on the young agent were new, experimental.  There was no way to know what messages, if any, had been planted in Mickey's mind to be activated at another time.

Whatever happened to the old days? Control silently asked the fates – no one would bother to listen if he spoke the question aloud.  Then, it was money that bought people off, torture that broke them, but this… drugs… what chance does a man have against the heinous technologies governments invent to use against each other?

He watched the sedan disappear, his good hand clenched into a tight fist. You had no other option, another part of his conscience argued.

No.  No choices.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall watched worriedly as Mickey closed his eyes and slumped against the retired agent's shoulder.  Wrapping an arm around the younger man's back and shoulders, he patted Mickey's arm.

"It will be all right, Mickey," he said.  "Everything will be all right."

Glancing up at the two men who sat in the front seat, McCall wondered why the Company hadn't sent an ambulance.  They must be taking us someplace nearby, he concluded.

The sedan gently veered off the main street, meandering down a long, narrow alley, and McCall knew he was right.  Still, he didn't recall a Company medical facility being anywhere near here.

"Excuse me," he said.  The agent in the passenger seat turned to face him.  "Where are we going?"

"A special medical facility."


"Director Oldford wanted to make sure you and Mr. Kostmayer would be absolutely safe while you recovered.  A special facility's been arranged."

"I see," McCall said, the tingling at the back of his neck refusing to let him believe the man.

"Don't worry, we're almost there."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Control walked wearily back to his car.  His arm was throbbing again, and he softly cursed Parmely.  Reaching for the door, he jumped slightly when it opened from the inside.


He smiled in spite of himself.  "Dom."

"Get in."

He studied the woman for a moment.  She was as stunning as he remembered, her mixed racial ancestry making her a metropolitan beauty.  "Is this a hit?  If so, I'm tired.  I'd prefer to die here, standing up."

"No hit, Control."

He opened the door and climbed in next to the woman.  She was exactly as he remembered.  "It's been too long."

"Nineteen seventy-five, thirteen years," she supplied.  "You look like hell."

He chuckled.  "I feel like hell.  What're you doing here?"

"McCall and Kostmayer."

"I had no choice."

"No, I don't suppose you did."

The frustration of the past few days caught up to the agent.  "If you think I enjoyed turning them over to Oldford's men, you're sadly mistaken.  I wasn't given a voice in this."

"Oldford's KGB."

"What?"  Control felt the blood drain from his face, pooling heavily in his chest and leaving him cold.  "Wonderful," he sighed, "just perfect."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall watched as two men removed Mickey from the car, carefully placing him on a stretcher.  Even unconscious Kostmayer was reserved, face set in a neutral mask that hid the pain McCall knew he must be feeling.

Sliding out, McCall swayed slightly on his feet before someone helped ease him into a wheelchair.  The sound of a cracking vial echoed through the noise and the retired agent tried to stand, but the sweet smell that stole away his consciousness worked too quickly.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Do you know where they were taken?" Dom asked.

Control shook his head.  "I only know they've been taken to a medical facility for treatment."

She studied the man's expression.  Control had the perfect poker-face – always had – nothing was ever given away.  Should she believe him?

"Look, don't you think I would tell you where they are if I knew?" he demanded.

"I don't know," she replied honestly.

He scowled at her.  "In this instance, I would."

"Okay.  I believe you."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall shifted in the hospital bed, wondering why he couldn't get comfortable. His shoulder was bandaged, the painkillers doing their job, but something felt out of place.

A doctor stopped by to tell him the surgery went well; he could expect a full recovery.  McCall smiled grimly to himself.  Mickey had placed the bullet perfectly, ensuring that the least amount of damage was done.  The conditioning was broken before the younger agent had even known it.

He asked about Kostmayer.

"I'm sorry," the man said.  "I can't tell you anything, yet.  He's in good hands.  I should have news for you tomorrow."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Mickey regained consciousness only to find himself back in the sensory deprivation tank, and for a moment he was unable to decide if he'd ever really left, but the memory of McCall's face, twisted by pain and disbelief, was too vivid to deny.  Clinging to the image like a life-line, Mickey hated it, but was too afraid to let go.

He remembered Control talking to them, but the conversation eluded him…  A brown sedan…  McCall's arm wrapping around his shoulder, feeling safe…  McCall?

He tried to speak, but he couldn't force the words out.  Maybe the drugs weren't gone after all.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"How did you find out about Oldford?" Control asked.  Sitting with Dom at O'Phelan's, he tried to remember that the woman was no longer a green agent.  She was one of the most accomplished individuals working in covert operations.

"The people I work with have had him under investigation for quite a while.  His actions in response to this situation tipped his hand.  That's all I can tell you," she said, then sipped at her glass of wine.

"That's not good enough," he snapped, glancing around to make sure than none of the scattered customers had heard him.  "You should know that."

"I know you turned your best friend and your best agent over to a man who's going to kill them if we don't stop him.  Why should I trust you with anything else?"

He wished she would stop watching him with those pale silver-gray eyes.  McCall had warned her they would stand out.  Where were the contacts?  It was damned difficult to lie while looking at them – and she knew it.

"I need proof, damn it!  Who're you working for?"

She locked gazes with the man.  "I understand you're still looking for a first run copy of Two Years Before the Mast," she replied, brushing back her long, black hair.

A shiver of fear passed through the man.  The code.  Whenever it came it chilled him.  He expected to hear it from time to time, but not from this woman.

"My God," he breathed softly, "you're family?"

"Just an in-law."

An agent for the Vigil.  Good God.  She had come up in the world.  The group was the most powerful, most secretive, covert organization in the United States, perhaps in the world.  The people who watched the watchers, weeded out problems in all the other covert organizations, and tried to repair the messes left behind in the pursuit of "national security".  The Vigil were the people who could, if they wanted to, take control of the American government, and probably several foreign governments as well.

"Like I told you, I don't know where they are, exactly.  But I do know they're still in the city," Control admitted.

"Well, that certainly narrows down the possibilities," she replied, her tone laced with sarcasm.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I would like to see Mr. Kostmayer – now."

"I'm afraid that's impossible at the moment, Mr. McCall," the doctor replied.

"And can you tell me why?" McCall asked, not bothering to hide his irritation.

"Mr. Kostmayer's in serious condition.  He's on life support, and being monitored closely."

"Life support?  He was walking and talking before we were bought here," McCall snapped, sitting up and swinging his legs off the side of the narrow hospital bed.  "What the hell happened?"

"Unfortunately, he underwent a rather severe withdrawal reaction to the drugs that were used on him.  There was no way for us to anticipate such a reaction.  That event triggered a complete respiratory collapse."

"I would just like to see him.  I—"

"Mr. McCall," the physician interrupted.  "You concentrate on getting well; after all, you've just had surgery yourself.  In a day or two you should be able to see your friend.  Give us some time; we've just begun treatment."

The retired agent watched the man leave, the persistent feeling that he and Mickey were in danger growing stronger.  He had to find the young man, and soon.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Mickey screamed.  He wasn't sure anyone else could hear it, or if any sounds actually passed his lips, but it echoed in his mind, rolling back and forth across his consciousness, searing him with its burning intensity.

A new pain consumed the last and he screamed again.  Time, place and identity shattered in the over-bright glare of agony.  Mickey felt himself exploding out, rushing with light speed into the nothingness at the core of himself.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I'll contact you as soon as I know where they are," Dom said as Control unlocked the door to McCall's apartment.  "You'll be here?"

"Yes, I have to make some phone calls and I know this line is secure."


"No, not until we know something conclusive."

"Be careful," she warned, "you're on Oldford's list, too."

"I should tell you the same, but it wouldn't do either of us any good."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall woke with a start.  His heart pounded and beads of sweat rolled into his ears.  Sitting up, he reached for the pitcher of water on the nightstand.  He downed three large gulps of the slightly warm liquid, then used the corner of the sheet to wipe his face.

The door opened.  Two orderlies entered.

He had waited too long.  "What the bloody hell's going on?" he demanded.

"Mr. McCall, you need to come with us."

"To where?"

"Please, don't make us use force," the second man said, easing a small aerosol can half out of his pocket.

"How could I possibly say no?" the gray-haired man replied sarcastically, eyeing the can.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall recoiled perceptibly when he saw Mickey.  The young man's face was a worse mask of bruises and barely closed cuts, his shoulders were hunched, hands twitching where Kostmayer held curled knuckles to knuckles in front of his scarred chest.  The matted hair was as wild and chaotic as the look in the agent's eyes.

"Mickey?" McCall whispered.

A high pitched, tittering laugh escaped from behind the man's swollen lips.

The two orderlies withdrew from the room, leaving the two men alone.  The sound of a steel lock sliding home silenced the mad giggle.

"Mickey?" Robert repeated, taking a short step forward.

A piercing cry erupted out of the younger man and he charged forward.  McCall felt himself moving automatically, sidestepping the headlong rush.  Mickey slammed into the far wall, and remained pressed against the pale yellow plaster, moaning incoherently.

McCall ground his teeth together.  Kostmayer's back was covered with the evidence of his torture.  Blood seeped from the wounds, dying the top of the white cotton pants red.

"Mickey," he said softly, "can you hear me?"

There was no verbal reply, but Kostmayer turned to face the older man, maintaining firm contact with the wall as he did.  The eyes, wide with confusion, pain and fear, darted erratically over the room.  Crossing his arms slowly over his chest, Mickey hugged his shoulders, trying vainly to keep the pieces from slipping away.

"What have they done to you?" Robert continued, making sure to keep his voice calm.  The eyelids fluttered.  "I am so sorry, Mickey.  I had no idea they would do this.  You must believe me."

Kostmayer pressed harder against the wall, sliding slowly toward the corner.

"I won't hurt you, Mickey.  You know that.  I am your friend.  I will not hurt you."

McCall stepped closer, Mickey somehow cringing farther back against the wall. Reaching the corner, he folded in on himself, retreating into the space, sliding down to the floor.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I found them," Dom said into the mobile phone.

Control closed his eyes in a silent thanks.  Still, more than seventy-two hours had passed – a long time.  "Where?"

"An old warehouse on 186th.  I'm going in.  I'll need someplace to take them."

"I'll arrange it."

"No," she told him.  "Contact your relatives and have them set it up.  I'll call you again when I have them."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"You pushed him too far, you fool," Oldford growled, watching the two men through an observation port.

"Kostmayer is well prepared.  Once they take him, all we have to do is wait.  The internal transmitter we implanted will be automatically activated in two weeks.  Mickey Kostmayer will kill McCall and Control and anyone else who happens to be with them."

"You're quite sure?"



* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


It took McCall several minutes to work his way over to the cowering man, inching forward in half-steps.  "Please, Mickey, let me help you."

The man was shattering right front of him, and McCall was grasping for anything to stop the process.  What in the bloody hell have they done to him?  "Damn you, Control," he hissed aloud.  "You will pay for this."

Close enough to touch Mickey, McCall could feel the fragmentation as a tangible reality.  Reaching out, he laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder.  Mickey jerked backward, slamming his head against the wall.  Struggling to his feet, he turned, only to be trapped by the corner.  The man's hopeless, unmasked terror shook McCall.  Reaching out, he spun Kostmayer around, instantaneously snapping a backfist to the side of the man's head, rendering him unconscious.  The agent sagged forward into McCall's waiting arms.

The sound of the steel lock sliding back prevented him from carrying Mickey to the small bed on the far side of the room.  The door opened.


"Let's get out of here."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The pair carried Kostmayer's battered form out of the warehouse.  McCall noted the number of men who lay scattered about the shadowed interior, dead.  She hadn't wasted any subtlety finding them.

A nondescript, charcoal-colored van waited for them outside.  McCall held Mickey while Dom opened the door and climbed in.  Handing the agent over to her, McCall joined them inside, pulling the door closed behind him and locking it.

She moved to the driver's seat and started the engine, calmly pulling away.  As soon as they were in traffic, she reached for the car phone, punching out a long string of numbers.

"I have them…" she said.  "…Right.  We'll be there in a few hours."  Hanging up the phone, she glanced up to the rear-view mirror.  "How is he?"

"I don't know," McCall said, arranging the unconscious man on the small, built-in bed.  "It's damn good to see you, Dominique."

"Same here, Robert."

"Where are we going?"

"A safe house, near Rochester."

"You're sure it's safe?"


"Good.  The last one left much to be desired."

She smiled.  "By the way, do you still have that original copy of Humbolt's Nevada Journals?"

McCall looked up from where he had been tucking a blanket around Mickey's shoulders.  She was family?  "You?"

"Callihan sends his regards."

"You don't say."  He smiled at her reflection in the mirror.  She was as he remembered, quick, beautiful, a bizarre combination of spontaneity and cold efficiency. Milton Haddison had found her in Vietnam, using her dual citizenship to recruit her into his covert operations unit, but McCall had polished her himself.  Now the Vigil had found her.  They could not have chosen better.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"You!  I want you out of here – right now!" McCall stormed when Control stepped out of the kitchen to join the retired agent and Dom in the living room.

With Kostmayer settled into an upstairs bedroom and a doctor working on him, the pair had headed for the kitchen and a well-deserved cup of coffee.

Robert's shoulder burned, the lack of painkillers reminding him that he had indeed been shot.  He was in no mood to deal with Control, too angry to be objective.

"Robert, please, let me explain—"

"Explain?  Explain how you turned us over to Oldford so Mickey could be tortured further?  For what purpose, Control?  You can explain that?"

"Yes," the man snapped back.  "The Company had to know if Kostmayer could be trusted.  It was necessary, and if you'd let yourself, you'd agree with me.  I didn't know that Oldford was KGB.  I had no idea this would happen.  It was supposed to be a routine debriefing and psychological evaluation."



Much of McCall's anger faded.  Parmely's organization was larger than they'd thought.  "And you?" he asked, looking at Dom.

"I was sent to get you and Mickey out."


"Because you're family," she said simply.

McCall, looked from one to the other.  She wouldn't have said anything in front of– My God.  Control is family, too.  He wondered if Callihan was Control's contact as well.  Somehow he doubted it.  And Dom?  Amazing.  He had known in 1973 she'd make a top agent – tough, resourceful, daring but not stupid, beautiful but not vain, intelligent.  It wasn't hard to believe that they had recruited her.

"Now what?"

"We get you and Mickey well again," Dom said.  "And I have a little house cleaning to do."

"Oldford?" Control asked.

"Among others."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall sat, dozing in the recliner they had crowded into one corner of Mickey's room.  The agent had yet to regain consciousness – three days and no change.  Physically he was healing, the doctor reassured them, but psychologically… Robert forced the thoughts away.

Rising, he walked to the edge of the single bed and stared down at one of the few people he called friend.  The bruises from the first kidnapping were a faded purple-yellow, but over those were fresher, blue-green blemishes.  The effects were cheeks that resembled a modern art canvas more than a man's face.

He would heal on the outside, McCall told himself.  The wounds would fade like the bruises.  He would heal.

McCall remembered the look on Mickey's face when he held the gun, fired just moments before.  He had seen the instant when the conditioning broke and the one man he trusted implicitly returned to sanity.  This unconscious form was not the same man who stood in the warehouse.  Whatever they had done to him was no longer aimed at conversion, but destruction.  And with all of his being, McCall feared that this time they had been successful; that Mickey Kostmayer was dead.

But why? he questioned himself.  Why didn't they just kill us both when they had the chance?  His hands balled into tight fists.  They're still running a damned experiment!  He turned and stalked out of the room.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"How can you be sure, Robert?"

"Because nothing else makes sense."

"They were interrupted," Control reminded his friend.  "You have no way of knowing what was planned for Mickey, or yourself for that matter."

"I'm telling you, they're still running their dirty little experiments on Mickey."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The first thing Kostmayer recognized was the nearly unbearable ache that reverberated through his body.  He was too hot and too cold.  He hurt, but he couldn't identify the origin in any specific part of his body.  He was awake, but he couldn't open his eyes.  Nothing had reality.  Was he in the tank?

He fought, but couldn't move.  Opening his mouth, he yelled.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"What on earth…?" Control said, looking up from the chess game he and Robert were playing.

"Mickey?" McCall called, already moving to the stairs.  He had climbed to the second floor before the wail died.

Entering the room behind McCall, Control stopped short, appalled by the sight that greeted him.  Kostmayer was fighting frantically in the soft restraints the doctor had used to ensure the man wouldn't hurt himself while unconscious.  His wrists were already raw.  The open eyes, full of terror, were unseeing.

McCall walked to the bedside.  Reaching out, he grabbed the younger man's shoulders.  "Mickey!" he yelled.  Kostmayer gave no sign of having heard.  "Mickey!" he repeated.

A second wail began.  McCall cut it off, slapping the man sharply across the face. The eyes blinked, a flicker of recognition springing to life in their depths.

"Mickey, hear me.  You are safe."  McCall looked over his shoulder, the pain showing in his eyes wounding Control deeper than Kostmayer's screams.  "Leave us."

Control nodded and stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

"Now, you will listen to me, Mickey," McCall said, turning back to the injured man. "You are among friends.  There is no one here to hurt you.  Do you understand?"

Eyes, wild and unfocused, roamed uncontrolled.  Kostmayer panted and began pulling against the restraints again. 

"Stop.  Micky, stop, you're hurting yourself."  There was a abrupt rap on the door. "What do you want?"

"It's me," Dom called.  "The doctor's here.  They've isolated the drug.  He needs to see Mickey."

"Yes.  Yes, come in."

The pair entered.  Dom joining McCall as he moved away from the struggling man.  The doctor administered a hypodermic to the IV.

"They used a complex synthetic," Dom explained softly.  "A combination of hallucinogen, sodium pentothal, and several other hormone- or enzyme-based complexes that break down the will and reality stabilizers in the brain.  A chemist's nightmare."

"And Mickey's," Robert added, watching as the man's struggles decreased.

"This should help counteract the majority of the symptoms.  It'll take a few more days for the remainder of the drugs to clear his system.  I have a blood filter on the way.  That will help speed things up.  Thank God they didn't create something that fixes into the system," the doctor explained as he watched Mickey's blood pressure fall off.


"Why don't we get out of here for now?" Dom said.  "There's nothing we can do.  Dr. Mike will need the room to get his equipment rearranged."

McCall studied the woman's face.  She was genuinely concerned.  He nodded.  She and Mickey had been lovers once, long ago when he was training the pair to be agents.  But she wasn't one to fall easily for any man and Mickey understood.  When she moved to Southern Control's operations, the pair lost touch, but apparently not their affection for one another.  It was clear she still cared deeply.  And, he could trust her.  An unbeatable combination at the moment.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"At least we have the information for the work being done by Intangible Plastics, now," Dom said as she watched McCall putting the finishing touches on the evening meal.  "You want any help?"

"No, thank you," he said, fixing the woman with a stare.  "What will happen to that information?"

"It'll stay strictly in the family."

McCall nodded.  It had only taken her four days to eliminate the network responsible for Mickey's condition and she'd recovered additional research.  Oldford, and several others, were dead, and no word of the purge had leaked out…  Not bad, he thought.  Not bad at all.

"Huh, excuse me?" Dr. Mike said, walking up to join the threesome.

"How is he?" Dom asked.


"That's certainly very encouraging, Doctor," McCall said.

"I took him off the blood filter, though," he continued, ignoring the comment. "He'll probably sleep for another twenty-four hours.  The initial antidote seems to have countered the worst of the side-effects – the delusion, the breakdown of ego boundaries…"  He trailed off, running a hand over his white hair.  "We'll keep a very close watch on his blood chemistry and I'm going to do a spinal tap tomorrow.  There are some drugs that won't cross the blood-brain barrier, and those are the ones we're most interested in at this point."

"You don't sound optimistic, Doctor," Control said.

"For as long as I've been involved with various governmental groups in a medical capacity, I have yet to grow used to the horrors men can inflict on one another.  I'm afraid that despite the fact that we removed the drugs from Mr. Kostmayer's system, the loss of his ego boundary will render him… dysfunctional."

"Is that a polite way to say he might be left insane?" Dom asked.

"I'm not an expert, but few people have the ability to come back from a complete breakdown."

"Mickey will find his way back," McCall said quietly.  "I'm sure of it."

"I hope you're right, Mr. McCall," Dr. Mike said, unsure if the comment was stated as fact or wishful thinking.

"Is there anyone you would recommend?" Control asked.  "A specialist who might be able to help?"

"There are several people who have been successful working with this kind of thing, but the magnitude of this schism…"  He trailed off.  Taking a deep breath, he sighed.  "Dr. Amelia Poe, in Los Angeles, has had a very high recovery rate with cases similar to this.  She might prove helpful.  I would avoid any Company personnel.  If he does regain some memory of the events, he isn't likely to trust Company psychologists."

McCall snorted in disgust.  "It will be a miracle if he trusts anyone, Doctor."

"Thank you, Rob," Dom said, stepping up to give Dr. Robert Lee Mike a hug.  "You're still my favorite saw-bones."

The man smiled.  "I'll be back tomorrow.  In the meantime, if he should wake up, talk to him, see what he knows about his surroundings.  Does he recognize you, does he know what happened to him, that sort of thing.  But don't remove the restraints.  He's unpredictable at this stage.  He might act perfectly normal one moment and explode the next."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *




"Mickey, can you hear me?"

McCall?  Where are you?  Where the hell am I?

"Open your eyes, Mickey."

The agent wanted to, but he couldn't find them.  A surge of panic passed through him.  A second voice joined the first.

"Mickey, relax, you're fighting it.  Don't try so hard."

A light tremor passed over Kostmayer as someone touched his closed eyelids softly.

"Focus on the feeling, Mickey.  Open your eyes."

With determination bordering on anger, he grabbed onto the feather-soft touch and thrust outward, or was it inward?  He didn't know, but the glare from the ceiling lamp that met him at the end of the effort was real.  He groaned.

"Easy," the first voice said.  "Just go slow, Mickey."

Mickey…  My name…  He forced the weighted lids open further.  Yes.  Mickey… "M'Call?"

"It's all right, I'm here," the voice responded.  It was concerned.

Fear, raw and ripping, tore through Kostmayer's chest.  Was he doing something wrong? 

"Easy, Mickey.  Lay still."

That he understood.  That he could do.  His muscles went rigid, locked in place.

"No, no, Mickey—"

No?  He had failed.  He would be punished!  Tears welled up in the still-blackened eyes.

Dom watched, her anger and hatred of the men responsible for Micky's condition keeping her silent.  His fear was disconcerting.  Kostmayer was on the edge, literally…  Literal…

"McCall," she said, stepping up to rest a hand on the older man's shoulder.  "Let me try something."

Robert moved back reluctantly, allowing Dom to sit down on the edge of the bed.

"Mickey, can you hear me?"

A second voice.  He nodded.  Yes, yes, I hear you.

"I just want you to listen to me."

A second nod.  I'll listen…  I can listen.

"Good.  You're doing fine.  Can you look at me?"

Look?  How do I look?  Look… look… look…  His head turned so slowly that she wasn't sure he had heard her at first, but finally his gaze met her own.

"Do you know me?" she asked.

He nodded.  Dom!

She smiled.

Stroking the bare skin of Micky’s shoulder, McCall watched the woman calm the younger agent like a wounded animal.  He waited until Mickey's breathing was regular and he was actively tracking the woman as she spoke and shifted on the bed before stepping back up to join her.

Kostmayer's eyes locked on his.

"Welcome home, Mickey."

"McCall."  There was an unreadable emotion behind the word, one that the older man couldn't yet fathom.  "How long?"

"Six days," Dom supplied.

Kostmayer closed his eyes.  Six days?  He held his breath, hoping he would not find himself lost in the tangled remains of his mind, and turned back the clock.

The mission…  Control warned them, a takeover was in the works…  The warehouse, the bodies… but they weren't bodies…  The exploding shots, the sting in his shoulder.  Then?

A blank.

He growled and opened his eyes.

"You can't remember?" Dom asked.

"I remember the mission—"  His voice caught, his gaze locking on McCalls.  "And I remember—"

"You fired to inflict the least amount of damage, Mickey.  Don’t you understand?  You broke the conditioning before you even realized it."

"Control was there.  A car?"

"Yes.  They took us to a facility.  Do you remember what happened there?"

Mickey frowned, the expression heightening the paleness beneath the bruises. "No…  Wait— I remember you were there, too."

"Yes.  Yes, I was."

"Tired," he mumbled, the exhaustion slurring the word into a breath, like air lapping out of a sliced tire.

"Sleep now, Mickey," Robert said.  "You are safe."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Doctor Amelia Poe sat in the living room, reading over the file Dr. Mike had put together.  Across the room, the three agents watched her with an anxious air.

After a flight from Los Angeles to New York, she had been met and driven to the two-story home in Rochester.  Dr. Mike had joined her at one stop and they had spent the rest of the trip discussing Mickey Kostmayer.  A call on the car's mobile phone had interrupted them an hour prior to the end of their trip.  Mickey had regained consciousness.

Now at the house, she read over the rest of the medical data while Dr. Mike checked the patient.  When she finished, she closed the file and glanced up.  "I hope I can be of some help to you," she said.  "Given what Dr. Mike has explained to me, and what you were able to tell be about Mr. Kostmayer's lucid moment, I don't believe the schism is as great as first predicted."

"I hope you're right, Dr. Poe," the man called Robert McCall replied.

"I must warn you, some of my methods might appear… callous.  But I assure you, I do not mean to harm Mr. Kostmayer.  I will need your cooperation."

"You will have it," McCall said.

"Very well.  We'll begin in the morning."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Mickey watched the older, oriental woman as she spoke to him, explaining what she intended to do.  The idea of reliving his captivity appealed to Kostmayer about as much as being placed in a sack full of hungry rats, but the agent knew he had to face what had happened before he could trust himself again.  He nodded.

"Good," she said, patting his arm.  "I don't use drugs.  What I will do is simply help you relax for the next couple of days.  We will learn to trust one another, then I will guide you through the events."

He nodded again.

"Close your eyes, then, Mickey, and we'll start."

"Into the breech," he muttered, closing his eyes.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Are you ready to take the next step?"

"I guess so."

She smiled.  "Close your eyes."

The darkness frightened him and he opened them again, blushing furiously.  "I'm, I'm sorry, I—"

Dr. Poe smiled and patted his arm.  "Mr. McCall, would you please sit there on the other side of the bed?"

Robert rose and walked around the bed, pulling a chair along with him to sit down next to the bed.

"Now, if you would be so kind as to just rest your hand on Mr. Kostmayer's shoulder?"

Mickey's blush deepened.  "Huh—"

"Shhh," the doctor silenced him.  "Dominique, if you would sit on this side with me?"

"Sure," Dom said, moving to take up the same position on the other side.

"Now, Mickey, you're safe.  You're in the hands of your friends," she said.

He nodded.

"Good, now, concentrate on someplace you find peaceful, safe, someplace relaxing.  Someplace absolutely safe.  This place is your own sanctuary, and while you're there, nothing, absolutely nothing, can harm you."

The agent sighed slightly and concentrated on McCall's apartment, imagining himself stretched out along the couch while the older man moved around the kitchen, preparing dinner.  He could still hear Dr. Poe, her voice like a distant thought.

"Very good, Mickey.  Now, I'm going to begin counting backward from ten to zero. With each number, I want you to relax more and more into a feeling of peace and safety.  Take deep breaths, and let your body relax.  Ten…  Nine…  Eight…"

Mickey felt himself melting into the couch, his muscles going slack.  Soft classical music began to play and the fireplace snapped quietly.  McCall hummed softly while he worked.

"Seven…  Six…  Five…"

The smells emanating from the kitchen made his stomach growl.  The aromas, like some exotic incense, soothed him.  The velvet soft material of the couch was warm. He breathed deeply and sank lower.

"Four… Three…"

The heat from the fireplace washed over him in perfect waves, not too hot, not too cool.  The music was melodic, calming.  McCall's humming rose in tune with the woodwinds.

"Two…  One."

In McCall's living room, Kostmayer let his eyes fall closed, the absolute feeling of peace and security erasing the last traces of tension from him.

"Fine, Mickey.  Now, I want you to listen to me very carefully.  I am going to help you remember an event from your past, a time when you were very frightened. You will see the event again, just as it was when it happened, but you will feel no fear, no pain.  You will be an observer, just an observer.  You will watch the event as though it were a film.  Do you understand?"

"Mmm," was the best he could do.

"Good, very good, Mickey.  Now, I want you to go back to your childhood, back to a time when you were very, very frightened…  Remember that time, that place.  Can you tell me where you are?"

"Park.  National park."

"How old are you?"

The voice shifted, pitched higher.  "Nine.  I'm nine.  It's summertime.  We're on vacation.  I'm nine."

"Very good.  What are you doing in the park?"

"Me and Nick, playin' cowboys and Indians."

"Remember, you are just watching these events as they happen, Mickey.  You will feel no pain, no fear.  Tell me what happened in the park when you were nine."

McCall felt the muscles twitch under his palm.  He curled his fingers, squeezing Kostmayer's shoulder.

"We're lost.  Nick's scared.  Me, too.  There's a man.  A big man with a red shirt.  He's smiling at us."  Sweat broke out on the agent's face, and the deep, even breaths became more shallow.

"Good, Mickey, very good.  Remember, you are just watching these events.  There is no fear, no pain.  What happens after you see the man in the red shirt?"

"He stops us.  Nick's crying, but he isn't making any noise.  The man says we're in his woods.  He says he can kill us for trespassing."

McCall ground his jaws shut, anger threatening to overwhelm the silence he had agreed to wait in.

"What happens with the man in the red shirt?"

"He says we have to pay him for using his woods.  He says he'll kill us if we don't pay."

Sweat ran off Mickey's face, his muscles cording and uncording as his breathing became more ragged.  "He touches me.  Nick runs, grabbed.  I'm scared. He tells me to take off my jeans.  I bend over to untie my shoes, but I grab dirt, throw it at him.  He's yelling.  Nick and me, we run, run, so scared.  He's chasin' us. I'm burning, where he touched me.  We run so fast."

"Easy, Mickey, easy.  Take a deep breath… a deep breath.  Let the memory go.  It's over.  It's all over.  You are back in your safe place.  You are safe, perfectly safe."

Mickey jerked on the couch like he was waking from a nightmare.  Opening his eyes, he found the apartment the same.  Calm, full of peace.  McCall was still working in the kitchen.  In the safehouse, Dom and McCall watched the man's muscles go slack, his breathing leveling off at the same time.  Dom allowed herself to look across the bed at McCall.  There was a deep, haunting pain in the man's eyes she wished she could wash away.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The following day, the threesome took up the same positions around Mickey's narrow bed.

"You're doing fine, Mickey," Dr. Poe said, helping him take a sip of juice through a straw.

"Yeah, well, I sure as hell don't feel like it."

"It will be over soon."

He looked from McCall to Dom.  "I'm, I'm sorry you have to—"

"Be here for a friend?" Dom finished for him.

McCall smiled thinly and nodded.

"Okay, okay," the agent said.

"Now, Mickey.  You are going to watch another film.  You will just watch.  You will feel no pain, no fear."

He nodded and closed his eyes.

Dr. Poe anchored him in his safe place, then began.  "I want you to go back, back to the mission that Control sent you on.  Do you remember?"


"You arrived at the warehouse.  Tell me what happened next."

"Found a guard, dead.  Something's wrong.  Number One says we go on.  More bodies.  We get to the main office, everyone's dead.  It's wrong, we're pulling out. Shots!  Ambush!  I'm hit!"

"Easy, Mickey, you feel no pain."

"Beating me… three men.  They're good…  I can't see!"

"Calm, Mickey," Dr. Poe directed.  "Just watch."

"Can't hear, can't see, I can't feel my body!  Vietnam!  McCall…  He doesn't believe me!  I'm no traitor!  Serena!  What's happening?  Not a traitor!"

"Easy, Mickey.  You are not a traitor.  You are just watching what happened to you.  You are not a traitor.  They tried to tell you that you were.  You are just watching."

"McCall!"  The scream was frantic, insane, but anyone who had endured the programming Mickey had was entitled to it.  "Have to shoot… 'm a traitor… me… McCall!"

"Mickey, stop," Dr. Poe ordered.  "Take a deep breath."

He sucked in a shaky gasp.  "They're wrong," the agent moaned.  "McCall’s m' friend…  No!  I have to fire!  The pain!  The pain… it hurts so bad…"

"You will feel no pain, Mickey.  No pain.  You are just watching."

"I have to shoot!  No!  I Can’t!  He’s my friend!  Shot!  No!"  Kostmayer's body went rigid.

"Mickey.  You shot Mr. McCall, but you did not kill him.  You shot him where it would do the least damage.  What happened next?" Dr. Poe asked, edging the agent out of the event.

The panting breaths leveled off.  "McCall, talking…  He's afraid, of me.  God, he's afraid of me…  I fire again, into the ground…  I know what they did, the bastards.  We get the drop on them…  Control's there…  The purge…  Nothin' real's happened since 1957."

McCall smiled, forcing the unshed tears down his cheeks.  He patted Mickey's sweat-damp shoulder.

"Keep going, Mickey, watch the events play out.  What happened next?"

"In a car… just want to lie down, sleep… can't keep my eyes open… McCall's there, I'm safe."

Robert shook his head.  No, Mickey, not safe, he whispered silently.  I couldn't keep you safe.

"You were taken to another facility, Mickey.  What do you remember?"

"Like before; they beat me…  Oh, God, I'm back in the tank!"

As the story of the second programming emerged, the retired agent swallowed hard to force the bile back into the tight knot of his stomach.  The pain, the unending torment the man had endured forced Dr. Poe to stop several times, returning him to the safe harbor Kostmayer started from, allowing his body to rest and recover before he faced more of what they had done to him.  McCall closed his eyes against the horrors he heard.

The thrust of the second session started with breaking Mickey down to kill McCall again, but the young man refused to yield to that.  When the steadfastness of his resolution became clear, the aim turned from McCall's destruction to Micky's own.

"No, can't, can't hurt McCall.  I have to kill!  Trapped!  Kill, kill me!"  A scream seared through the room.

"Mickey," Dr. Poe said sternly, taking the agent's sodden face between her hands.  "Stop it.  You are just observing."

The cry stopped.  Mickey, his eyes wide, watching his own private hell played out, moaned.

"Go back to your safe place, Mickey.  Go back."

Kostmayer sat on McCall's couch, shuddering uncontrollably.  Pressing back into the corner the pillows created he drew his knees up, wrapping his arms around his shins, and rocking miserably front to back.

McCall emerged from the kitchen, walking over to join him on the couch.  "Mickey?"

The agent refused to look at the older man, ashamed of his own perceived weaknesses.

"Look at me, Mickey," McCall said, more sternly.

The head came up slowly, reluctantly.  "I'm sorry, McCall.  I'm sorry."

"Why?  For God's sake, boy, you fought them off.  You beat them.  Heaven knows how, but you did."

"I'm so scared," Kostmayer whispered, self-loathing dripping off each syllable.

"There is no shame in fear, Mickey."  McCall reached out, resting a hand on the man's shoulder.

Kostmayer felt his resolve slip.  He sobbed, dropping his head onto his knees.

"Mickey, Mickey, Mickey," McCall said, drawing the man against his chest.

Dr. Poe watched the play of emotions across Kostmayer's face.  McCall had spoken the right words, she was sure.  Mickey had come through the regression better than she'd expected, but he was now in a very vulnerable position.  He had to make the decision to rejoin them, to live again as a whole human being.  The safe place she had helped him create had to be abandoned for the uncertainties of the waking world.

She reached out and untied the soft restraint holding his hand to the side of the bed.  She nodded to McCall to do the same.  The two agents exchanged concerned looks, remembering Dr. Mike's directions concerning keeping Mickey restrained.

Kostmayer drew one arm up, crooking his elbow over his eyes.

"Mickey, I want you to sit up," Dr. Poe said.

"No," he moaned, unwilling to leave the safe place he'd found in his mind, cradled in Robert's arms.

"Mickey, you must leave the safe place now and join us here."  Dr. Poe looked at the older man.  "Help me sit him up," she directed.

Together they raised the uncooperative patient off the mattress while Dom rearranged the pillows so they could prop him up against them.

"Mickey, open your eyes."

"Safe, g' away."

"Open your eyes," Dr, Poe snapped, shaking Kostmayer's shoulders sharply.

Mickey's eyes opened, locking on her black ones, the spell broken.  The pieces fell into place, creating a fragile whole.  "Where are you?" she asked him.

The agent glanced around the room.  He didn't recognize the house, but he know what it was.  "A safehouse."

"Who's here with you?"

"McCall, Dom 'n' you."

"Who are you?"

"Kostmayer, Mickey Kostmayer."

"What do you do?"

"I'm an operative for the Company."

"What's happened to you over the last few weeks?"

"I was captured.  They used experimental drugs and memory tapes on me in order to program me to kill McCall, and later to see if I would take my own life."


"They fucked up."

The threesome smiled and Mickey blushed slightly, looking away from the woman.  McCall reached out and grasped the man's shoulder.  Kostmayer nodded, and accepted the hug that followed, relaxing into it.

"It's good to have you back," McCall said.

"Like I told you, McCall, you make for a helluva of nightmare."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dr. Poe and Mickey spent the rest of the day in quiet conversation.  McCall and Dom filled in an absent Control with the progress when he returned to check on the agent's condition.  A general mood of optimism and good spirits prevailed.

The three were sharing a bottle of wine, when Dr. Poe finally joined them in the living room.

"How is he?" McCall asked.

"Sleeping, right now.  He's much better than I expected; a very resilient personality.  Dr. Mike said he would check on him later this evening to take some blood samples.  I replaced the soft restraints, just in case.  I would like a few more days with him, but now, if you'll excuse me, I must go fill out my reports and get some sleep."

"Please, don't worry about checking on Mickey.  We'll take care of that.  You need the rest," Dom told her.

"Thank you."

"No, thank you, doctor," McCall said.  "Thank you very much."

"Mr. Kostmayer isn't over the trauma yet, but I believe he will put this behind him. He's stronger than he thinks he is," she finished with a smile.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *



Mickey blinked, clearing away the blur of sleep.  "You have to ask?"

Dom chuckled.  "Silly question, I know.  Dr. Mike said you can start back on solid foods today, provided it isn't any more solid than oatmeal."

Kostmayer moaned.  "I hate oatmeal."

"Picky, picky.  How about a little doctored Cream of Wheat?"



"Whether or not you put a little nutmeg in it."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Kostmayer closed his eyes and savored the first real food he'd had in too long.  Dom had taken the nutmeg comment seriously, adding a few other ingredients of her own.  The result was fabulous.

She sat on the bed, holding the bowl while he worked the spoon.  She was as beautiful as he remembered, though much of that beauty was something that radiated from within.  The woman had the uncanny ability to look striking one moment, and girl-next-door the next.  He grinned at the memories – the two of them on a mission, Dom in regal gowns, Mickey acting like a terrorist…  They'd had some good times.

Good people, Mickey thought.  That's what she is.

"How you been?" he asked between bites.

"Fine.  Busy."

"I've heard."

"I could say the same."

Kostmayer snorted.  "I heard about John."

She looked away, the death of her husband still a painful memory.  "It was bad timing."

"I'm sorry."

"Thanks," she said, looking back, the pain back where it was safe, buried deep inside.  "I hear McCall's keeping your spare time filled with excitement."

Kostmayer chuckled.  "I guess you could say that.  Beats sittin' around the apartment."  He sobered.




He looked into her silver-gray eyes.  Cat-eyes.  She always could see right through me.  Why aren't you wearin' contacts like you usually do so I can hide?

"You're still as beautiful as I remember," he said.

"You're avoiding the question."

He looked away.  "I…  I couldn't help wondering if he'll still want to… use me."

"You're too good not to," came McCall's voice from the bedroom doorway.

"Huh, Robert, I—"

The older man joined them.  "Mickey, I want you to listen to me.  You are not to blame yourself for what happened.  It was beyond your control.  As far as I'm concerned, it will be business as usual when we go home."

"I know," Micky responded.  "I do.  And I know about victims feeling responsible for what happened to 'em, and I do feel like one right now.  But damnit, I shot you, McCall."

"You didn't shoot me, Mickey.  You kept the conditioning from killing me.  That makes you stronger in my mind, not weaker."

"I wish I could believe that."

"You will," McCall promised.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"McCall," Dom said, walking into the kitchen where the man stood, making a fresh pot of coffee.

He was instantly alert.  "What is it?"

"I just finished talking to Callihan.  They've completed the preliminary investigation of the files from Intangible Plastics."  She sighed heavily.  "We have a problem."




* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Twelve days.  Mickey found it hard to believe that a little less than two weeks had passed since he'd been rescued from Oldford's facility.  It felt more like twelve years.  He was up, shuffling around the second floor of the old house, the stairs still an effective barrier to the rooms below.  Dr. Poe had spent the majority of each day with him, helping him work through the residual fears and frustrations.  His self-confidence was slowly returning, due in large part to the trust McCall, Dom and Dr. Poe showed.  Control was another matter.  The agent knew he had a far walk to go to regain that man's trust.

He shuffled down to the bedroom-turned-library and entered.  McCall was seated in a large, leather chair he had pulled up in front of the flagstone fireplace, reading a book.

"Hi," Kostmayer said.

"Hello.  Getting restless?"

"You know how much I hate being cooped up for too long."

McCall chuckled.  "Well, we'll be going back home soon enough.  Enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts, Mickey.  It’s good for you."

"I'm not old enough to enjoy peace and quiet, McCall."

It was good to parry with the young agent and it made Robert acutely aware of the fact that he had doubted ever doing so again.  "I see incident this hasn't improved your manners, has it?"

"Some things never change, McCall."  Mickey smiled annoyingly and walked over to one of the ceiling-tall bookshelves, then scanned the shelves. 


He turned to face the older man.  "What's wrong, McCall?"

"Come over here, will you?  Sit down.  It's time we had a talk."

"I don't like the sound of this," Kostmayer mumbled as he shuffled across the floor, then slumped into a matching chair.  "What's up?"

"Dominique's people have completed a preliminary reading of the files from Intangible Plastics."


"And, according to entries in Oldford's private diary of the project, they have implanted a small transistor in your body."

"Oh, great."

"That transistor is programmed to go off day after tomorrow."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Kill Control and me, then yourself."

"It's getting better all the time."

"Dr. Mike is bringing a portable X-ray over today so we can take a look."

"Then what?  We wait for me to explode?"

"We remove the device—"

"But then you wouldn't know what I'll do.  You won't know if the programming’s been broken or not.  We won't know if it can be triggered again, later."

"That's true.  But we don't think you're up to—"

"McCall," Kostmayer interrupted.  "We, I, have to know, one way or another. I won't spend every day of my life wondering if I'm going to suddenly go off and try to kill you."

"I thought that's what you'd say.  Dr. Poe agrees with you, by the way.  She believes you will be able to fight off any of the memories the device will trigger."

"I hope she's right."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dom stuck her head into Mickey's room.  "Hi, you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah.  Could you come in and shut the door?"

Black eyebrows rose, but she complied with the man's request.  Sitting down on the foot of the bed, she cocked her head slightly to one side.  "What's up?"

"I need a favor."

"You're starting to sound like a friend of mine."


"Never mind.  What is it?" she asked somewhat reluctantly, the tone of his voice making her uneasy.

"When this thing goes off," he said, waving at the spot behind his left ear where Dr. Mike had located the transmitter, "no one knows what I'm going to do."

"True," she agreed, "but according to the files, it'll trigger the same memories they used to program you.  Dr. Poe has already helped you past that."

"But no one knows for sure what I'll do."


"I want you to promise me that if it looks like I can't handle it, like I'm going to hurt McCall, or you, or Control, or anybody else, you'll take me out."


"You heard me.  I don't want to be responsible for killing the people I care about, Dom.  I know you understand that."

She nodded, thinking, That's not fair, Mickey, using John against me like that.

"If I can't fight it off, then I can't be trusted.  I can't live like that, Dom.  It's not me, not who I am."

She paused, letting her gut feelings settle.  Reaching out, she touched his face.  "Yes.  I'll do it."

"Thank you."

She smiled sadly.  "How did we end up like this?"

"Just lucky, I guess," he replied.

She nodded, realizing that she did enjoy the life as much as he did – even if there were moments like this where she loathed it.

"Dom, I…"  He trailed off.  "It's good to see you."

"You, too."

"I've thought a lot about you.  You were, are special to me.  I don't have many friends."

"I know; the nature of the job."  She rose, moving to sit with the man, the two of them embracing.  She knew they would never share a physical relationship again, but she still cared deeply about him.  Friends were a rare commodity in their business and she planned on keeping those she had for as long as possible.

"Wanna go out when this is over?  Maybe see a movie?"

She smiled.  "You betcha."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Since we have no way of knowing when exactly the transmitter will go off, we'll assume midnight," McCall said.

"I still don't see why you just don't leave me alone in there until I can get past it."

"If we read the files correctly, the real programming won't kick in until you see your target," Dom supplied.


"I trust you, Mickey," McCall said.  "I have every confidence you can beat this."

"Yeah, but you might end up with another bullet in you."


Dr. Poe watched her patient carefully.  He was agitated, but more relaxed than she had expected.  He must have talked to one of the three.  She let her gaze roam over the possibilities, Control, McCall, Dom…  Dom.  She'd have to have a talk with the young woman.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall and Mickey were talking quietly in the doorway of the bedroom.  Dom lounged against the wall, farther down the hall, watching.  She heard Dr. Poe coming, the firmness of her step telling the agent she was in for a confrontation of some sort.

"Dominique, may I have a moment alone with you?"

Dom turned.  "Sure."

They walked down to the empty kitchen, each fixing a cup of coffee before Dr. Poe began.  "I know you and Mickey have an arrangement."

"Yes," Dom said. 

"I guess he has asked you to kill him if he fails."

Dom nodded.  The woman certainly knew her job.

"I have my own favor to ask you."

"What's that doctor?"

"That you wait to act until I tell you."

"I'm sorry; I can't make that promise."

"Dominique," Dr. Poe said, sitting down at the small kitchen table and folding her hands on the surface, "if the conditioning is too strong I will know.  However, the point where I will know is certain to be farther along the process than where you might make that decision.  Don't you think Mickey deserves the greatest amount of time to break the programming once and for all?"

"Of course I do, but if I wait too long, I won't be able to carry out my promise."

"I give you my word.  I will give you enough time to act."

Dom sighed, hating the situation.  "Why?  You're a doctor, aren't you supposed to be committed to preserving life?"

"Yes, I am, but I also know that if he fails, Mickey Kostmayer will be dead.  What will be left will not be Mickey. I also believe that we, as individuals, can often see clearly when our time here is finished.  I will not stop you from freeing Mickey if it is necessary, but I want to make sure he has every chance to come out on the other side of this nightmare."

"I appreciate that, Doctor."

"It might appear that he is giving in, he might even attempt to shoot Mr. McCall, or himself, but at the moment of carrying through, I believe he will stop.  Can you wait for that moment?"

Dom joined her at the table.  "What if you're wrong?  What if Mickey reaches that point and kills McCall?  Then I'll lose two friends, and I'll have failed Mickey."

"All I can tell you is I have faith in that young man's spirit.  I'm asking you to share that faith."

Dom rubbed her forehead.  "I'll wait as long as I can; I give you my word on that. Whether it will be as long as you want, I won't know until it happens.  I'm sorry, but that's the best I can do."

"I think that will be enough."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I wish it would just happen," Mickey growled.

The tension had climbed slowly since midnight, and now, at three in the afternoon, the waiting was wearing on all of them.

"McCall?" the agent said.


"I… I just wanted to say thanks, for everything."

Robert gave the younger man a wry smile.  "You're quite welcome, Mickey."

They lapsed back into silence for a time, then Mickey spoke again.  "Control?"


"If I get through this, I want a raise."

The man forced the smile off his lips.  "I'll take that into consideration."

Dom chuckled.  "Still a hardnose," she accused him.

"You bet I am."  He grew more serious.  "Mickey, I do want you to know, you're one of the finest agents I've worked with over the years.  It's been an… experience."

"Thanks," Kostmayer said, "but I still want a raise."

They lapsed back into silence.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


There was a slight buzz, disappearing as it climbed out of his aural register.  Mickey knew it was beginning.

Dr. Poe was the first to see that the process had begun.  Kostmayer's gaze began flickering around the room in a random way, a fine sheen of sweat breaking out on his face.  A slight front-to-back rocking alerted the others.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The explosion was deafening.  A mortar, and close by.  The buzz of M-16's followed.  Micky was back in Vietnam…

He recognized the scene as similar to the one they had generated in the tank. Similar, but not identical.  This time he was removed from the terror, floating above the images, detached from them.

The scene shifted, running through the images they had used to prepare him for the meeting with McCall.  He remained distanced, watching, noticing the key elements of each one that made them the powerful weapons they had been.  As he watched, he learned more about himself.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dr. Poe studied the agent intently.  He was doing wonderfully, viewing the images, but not becoming involved with them.  He was indeed a strong personality.

Dom laid a hand on the doctor's shoulder, indicating that she should move away from where Mickey still sat on the bed, rocking steadily – just in case.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


When Mickey reached the end of the images, a thick fog swirled up, obscuring the space.  In the fog, he could see bits and pieces of the time before he was put back in the tank at Oldford's facility.  These were his own thoughts, familiar and unthreatening.  A bright light broke through the fog, enveloping him, scorching his skin.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall grimaced as Mickey cried out and forced himself to remain rooted where he stood.  Dom shifted unconsciously into a slight crouch.  Control looked slightly pale, but he too remained frozen, waiting.

Dr. Poe frowned slightly.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The new images swept Mickey up in their power.  Far from the bits and pieces of his past, these were constructed nightmares from his present.  McCall being shot, falling, the flesh quickly rotting off the skeleton beneath.  The bones rose, reaching for Kostmayer.

The agent lunged to his feet.  Covering his eyes with his hands, the agent tried to force the images from his mind, but they came too fast, beating him down into a pit of confusion.  "No!" he yelled, swinging from side to side as if to dislodge some unseen specter from his back.

"Go to your safe place, Mickey," Dr. Poe called out.

Trapped in a maze of black and fun-house mirrors, Kostmayer frantically sought for a way out.  Distorted images of McCall and Control reached out of the glass for him.

Grabbing at his temples, he moaned, the pain blinding.  "Get away!" he yelled at the monsters.




Dr. Poe scowled, wishing she knew what the agent was seeing.  "Mr. McCall," she said softly.  "Call to him, tell him to come to your apartment."

"My apartment?"

"His choice for a safe harbor.  Hurry."

"Mickey?  Mickey, it's me, Robert.  Come to my apartment, Mickey.  My apartment.  You'll be safe there.  I promise you that."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


McCall?  Where are you? he asked as he backed up from a particularly ugly image of himself.  I have to get to McCall.  Turning, he kicked viciously at a laughing caricature of Control in a mirror.  The glass shattered and he was back in the fog.  He ran.

Voices rose out of the gray, swirling mass, calling to him, calling him names, but names he no longer believed.  Where was the building?  He stopped suddenly, finding himself on the street in front of McCall's apartment.  The black Jaguar was not parked at the curb. 

The roar of an engine captured his attention and Kostmayer looked up the street to find the car.  The Jaguar sprang forward, racing toward the agent.  Mickey threw himself out of the way, scrambling for the door.  It was locked.  He lunged against it, once, twice – it gave in, falling open. 

Rushing up the stairs, he cursed as he tripped, shins colliding with the edge of a step.  Struggling to his feet, Mickey staggered the rest of the way to McCall's door. Footsteps followed him, urging him on, and he reached for the doorknob.  A shot rang out, slamming into the wall next to his ear.  Kostmayer dove to the other side of the hall, twisting to see who his attacker was.  McCall?

"I will kill you, Mickey."


"I will kill you."

"This is not real!  You are not real!"


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"McCall?  This isn't real!  You're not real!" Kostmayer shouted.

"The apartment," Robert said, watching the young man as he swayed on his feet. "Come inside the apartment, Mickey.  You'll be safe."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Collecting his legs under himself, Mickey sprang for the door that would let him into McCall's apartment.  A second shot brushed over his back as he grabbed the handle, turned, and fell into the room.  Still on the floor, Kostmayer used his foot to kick the door shut.  An unholy scream echoed on the other side.  He had won.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The foursome watched Kostmayer as he collapsed into a heap on the floor.  Robert started forward, but Dr. Poe's hand on his arm stopped him.  "Wait," she said, "he is still fighting his demons."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Inside the apartment, the walls seemed to flex under the assault from the thing outside.  Kostmayer knew that whoever it was, it sure as hell wasn't McCall.  He crawled back to the door and locked it, realizing the locks were not likely to hold up long under the continuing assault.  Checking the windows, he found them bricked up.  He was trapped.

"Great," Mickey mumbled, heading for the weapons he knew were stashed in the apartment.

The attack continued, rising and falling in intensity like a storm.  The apartment seemed to shrink back on itself as the rage continued outside.  The constricting walls gave Mickey a severe case of claustrophobia, but he forced his mind back to the task at hand.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Crawling on the floor, Micky reached the gun they had agreed to leave in the room.  It contained one bullet.

Dom stiffened.  Stepping back slightly behind Control and McCall, she eased the Browning out of the back of her jeans.

Dr. Poe, glanced once in her direction.  It was clear that the woman was waiting.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The walls continued to close in on the agent, the air in the apartment growing stale and hot.  Kostmayer fought for breath and tried to keep the rising panic under control.  Even his safe place wasn't safe.  It was getting smaller and smaller.  If he stayed, he'd be crushed in the shrinking apartment, but if he ran, he'd have to face the monsters outside – Control and McCall.

No! he yelled at himself.  It's not Control or McCall.  It's what the KGB planted in my mind! 

He hefted the gun.  If he made a run for it, what would he face?  How could he fight what was out there?  What was out there?

Damnit, he had to make a decision: Stay or go? 

There was one other choice.  Yes, one.  He looked down at the weapon.  One other choice…


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


They watched Mickey study the gun, turning it over in his hands.

"Mickey, no, please," McCall whispered.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


I can't! he growled at himself.  I won't!  Stay or go, Kostmayer, he commanded himself.  He stood.

Walking to the door, Micky realized that the apartment was nothing but a closet.  Outside, the monsters still raged.  Calmly, he reached out and threw the door open.  Stepping out, Kostmayer found himself back in the fog, its cool moistness like an absolution that cleaned his soul.  There were no monsters.

Looking down at the gun, he tossed it away, dropping to his knees as he did.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Now," Dr. Poe said when the gun clattered to the floor, Mickey following it down, "go to him."

McCall strode forward.  Reaching Kostmayer, he knelt down, taking the agent's shoulders in his hands.  "Mickey?"

The head rose with herculean effort.  "There aren't any monsters anymore, McCall."

The older man drew Kostmayer into a hug.

Dom eased the Browning into the back of her jeans, watching the scene with tears in her eyes.  "He broke it, didn't he?" she asked.

"Yes, he did," Dr. Poe replied.  "And I would guess that Mr. Kostmayer under-stands more about himself than he ever has.  He came through better than I dare hoped for."

"Mickey's always been full of surprises," Control said.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Damnit, McCall, where're we going?" Kostmayer asked for the third time.

Robert continued driving, ignoring the peevish question.

Mickey sighed and settled back in silence to wait.  Before long it was clear that O'Phelan's was their destination.

"I don't know why you couldn't tell me we were coming here."

"It's a surprise, Mickey.  You wouldn't want me to give it away, now would you?"

"I hate surprises."

"Yes, well, you're still getting this one," McCall said as he parked.  "So, come along."

The pair entered and joined Control at the bar where he sat, obviously waiting for them to arrive.  "It took you long enough," he greeted them, not unkindly.

"Yes, well, Mr. Kostmayer here was most uncooperative – it seems he had other plans for this evening."

"Hmm," Control said. 

"Do you two mind telling me what's going on?"

"Dom," McCall said simply.

"Excuse me?"

"Dominique is going on," Robert enunciated carefully, nodding toward the small stage area.

Kostmayer turned slowly, silently cursing himself for missing her when they'd walked in.  She sat on a tall stool, waiting while the band, including Scott, tuned up. The blond boy gave Mickey a short wave, the agent responding in kind.  The young man had come close to calling out the National Guard to find his father when he discovered McCall was missing, but the man Control had left to watch Robert's apartment notified them about the impending problem.  A call from his father set aside Scott's fears, but did little to assuage his anger at being unable to help.

"You know, I forgot about her voice," Kostmayer said to no one in particular.

"Yes, so did I, but I was reminded fast enough when she sang here a few nights ago."

Mickey grunted.  The Company had put him in a local hospital for three days. Dr. Poe had stayed in New York until he was officially cleared for a return to "limited activity".  Six months of half-assed, routine jobs and then he'd be back to regular assignments.  He sighed.  Oh, well, maybe something interesting will come up for the Equalizer.

Yesterday, they had seen Amelia Poe off.  She'd been happy to be returning to Los Angeles and her regular duties at three of the largest hospitals there.  Mickey, one day out of the hospital, had seen her off with a single red rose and a heartfelt hug.  She was one special lady.

"If I was a little older, I'd come courting," he had told her.

The woman, in her early sixties, he guessed, had smiled sweetly and replied, "I don't know, Mickey, you might have trouble keeping up with me now."

McCall and Dom had broken into laughter at the rush of red that colored the agent's cheeks.  "You're an evil woman, Amelia," he'd told her.

She'd smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek before she left to board her flight.

Needing to get out of the apartment, Mickey had called up a young lady he hadn't seen in several weeks, hoping she would be amenable to a night on the town.  She hadn't been.  When McCall had arrived, Kostmayer lied, still slightly uncomfortable in the man's presence.  But Robert wouldn't take no for an answer, and Mickey had finally relented.

Now he was glad he had.  Dom had a wonderful singing voice, sort of a Linda Rondstat mixed with Sheena Easton sound.  He was going to enjoy himself, just like the old times.

It took the band a while to prepare and Control, McCall and Mickey took seats near the small stage and ordered dinner.  They were still eating when Dom began.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"That was great!" Mickey enthused when the woman finally joined them.

"Thanks," she said, giving him a kiss on the forehead.  "It's been a while, but it feels good to exercise the voice again.  I have to get back for the last set, but I’ll be back.  I promise."

"Hey, Dom," he said, stopping her.


He grinned, his cheek turning a rosy pink.  "You're something special, friend.  Thanks." 

"You're welcome," she grinned back, then leaned over and kissed his lips lightly. She shook her long, black hair out of the way and jogged back to the stage, launching into several songs from Linda Rondstat's latest album – most of them delivered to Mickey.

Kostmyer grinned when even Control began drumming his fingers in time with one of the songs.  The young man nodded to himself.  I'm pretty damned lucky, he decided.

"What?" McCall asked over the music, noting the smile on the agent’s face.

"It's nothin'."


With a sigh, he admitted, "I was just thinking how lucky I am.  Silly, huh?"

"Not at all," McCall said, reaching out to lay a hand on the younger man's arm.  "Nothing is more important than family, friends."

"Shhh," Control said, his head bobbing ever so slightly with the music.

Kostmayer nodded and the pair turned their attention back to the woman.  It was over.  He was home.


I am sending out a message, like a ship out on the sea

in distress but only you can send a life-line out to me.

Are you still within the sound of my voice?[1]

[1]  "Still Within the Sound of My Voice," by Linda Ronstadt.