An alarm goes off, and the doctor- the new Whispers, the woman who’s been in charge of working on Wolfgang for the past few days- pulls away and glances at the nurses.
“What is that?” the doctor asks.
An assistant pulls out a phone. “Security alert. Sensates in the building. They just captured a Riley Gunnarsdóttir Blue, there are more.”
“Riley Blue,” the doctor repeats, turning back to Wolfgang, who is trying to control his breathing, his terror at the thought of someone like Riley trapped in a place like this. “She’s one of yours. They came for you. That should be of some comfort. They came for you.” The doctor glances up at the nurse at the door, out of Wolfgang’s eyesight. “Give him blockers.”
The nurse does so, putting the needle into his IV, and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change a thing, because every one of the cluster’s been on blockers for weeks. They were going somewhere, buying tickets and walking through airports and making plans, and then he gave them away, and then there was nothing. All the blockers will do now is keep Lila out.
“Lito Rodriguez has been captured,” the assistant with the phone reports, and Wolfgang closes his eyes. They shouldn’t have done this. They should have just used blockers until Wolfgang’s body gave out, just let him go.
Long moments pass, long enough that he hopes frantically and improbably that this is the end of it, that Riley and Lito are the only ones who came.
“Nomi Marks and Capheus Onyango.”
“If they all came, your time with BPO will be over,” the doctor croons gently at him, putting the equipment aside and stroking the back of Wolfgang’s hand. “You won’t have to do this anymore.” The thought is almost tempting, and Wolfgang hates himself for it, and-
“Kala Rasal,” the assistant says, and Wolfgang’s whole body jerks frantically against the restraints. It doesn’t do anything, has never done anything, because he is tied down and helpless and there is nothing he can do. He’s already doomed her.
“Shhh,” the doctor says, running a gloved finger down his hand. Another long minute passes while Wolfgang shakes, tries not to cry, won’t cry.
“Will Gorski is down. Sun Bak is confirmed and cornered.”
Wolfgang knows perfectly well that this means that Sun is beating the hell out of everyone that gets close enough. It doesn’t bring him any comfort. He also knows it means it’s only a matter of time.
Inevitably, the assistant looks up from the phone again, a sense of finality in her voice when she says, “The entire cluster is locked down.”
The nurse behind Wolfgang asks something about taking him somewhere- it’s in English, rather than German, and Wolfgang’s is limited.
The doctor nods. “Yes, our work here is done. Take him.”
Wolfgang can’t catch the hopeless groan that’s pulled out of him. The Cluster came, but they were caught. It’s over. They’re all caught, it’s over.
The nurse crosses over into his vision, getting the wheelchair, and Wolfgang startles.
He recognizes her. For a second, he can’t place her. She’s not from the facility, she’s in the wrong place-
It hits him like a freight train that she’s the girl.
Without the psycellium, he can’t quite remember her name, but he’s checked up on her, occasionally. It’s nice, sometimes, to drop in and find her laughing, her legs kicked up on Lito’s lap, looking happy and whole and safe. It reminds him that some people are stronger than his mother was. It reminds him that he’s done good things, that he’s more than just the monster in his bloodline.
And now, she’s in scrubs, smirking at him, her hands on the handles of the wheelchair.
“Don’t fight,” she instructs, enunciating and speaking slowly enough for him to catch it in English, and unhooks his bed restraints before the doctor can voice her obvious protest.
Wolfgang doesn’t fight. He doesn’t trust her, not really, but it seems like the best of his limited options right now. Besides which, he couldn’t, wouldn’t, lay his hands on this woman. Instead, he slowly gets out of bed on shaking, wavering legs and all but collapses into the wheelchair.
The woman- Dani, Wolfgang suddenly remembers, her name is Dani- squeezes his arm briefly, locks his wrists into restraints plenty loose enough for him to escape if he wants, and then wheels him out of the procedure room.
She doesn’t speak German, and Wolfgang speaks little English and less Spanish, so it’s a silent journey to wherever it is they’re going. Wolfgang doesn’t recognize the path.
Eventually she stops and knocks on a door, which swings open to reveal Felix, wearing a janitor’s uniform several sizes too large and looking relieved.
“Felix, what the fuck?” Wolfgang asks reflexively.
“I could ask you the same thing several hundred times over,” Felix responds. His tone is cheerful, but he’s pallid and strained, with dark circles under his eyes. “Fuck, Wolfie.” Dani pushes the wheelchair into the room, which is a small prep room.
A woman Wolfgang distantly recognizes as Capheus’ mother is sitting in the chair. “Wolfgang,” she greets him warmly, handing him a tray with a glass of water and two pills.
“…Hello,” Wolfgang says blankly. The situation is too surreal to do much with. He takes the pills.
“Shiro and Daniela don’t speak German,” Felix says. “I’m here to translate. And also for moral support and the like. Also, ‘cause I insisted. Probably mostly the last bit. Anyway, Shiro’s here to fix up any injuries she can, and Daniela’s gonna put makeup on the rest.”
“Hair first,” Daniela says pointedly, wheeling Wolfgang over to the sink and firmly pushing his head over it.
“The Cluster,” Wolfgang says, abruptly, as Daniela turns the water on. “They were captured.”
“Yeah. Apparently it was the only way the mad scientists were gonna let you out of their sight,” Felix replies casually. “Just a diversion. They’ll break out again in a bit.”
Daniela moves his head and begins running her fingers through his hair, dislodging the dirt and blood and dried sweat. Shiro hums to herself while pouring disinfectant over a cut on Wolfgang’s scalp.
Other than being reborn Sensate, Wolfgang has never been so perplexed in his life.
Eventually, Daniela speaks, keeping her eyes on her work. She says something in a slow, measured tone that Wolfgang doesn’t really catch.
“She says she knows it was you who helped get her out,” Felix translates. “She says thank you, and to consider her debt repaid. What’s that mean, Wolfie?”
Wolfgang ignores the question. “What about Shiro?” he asks. Shiro glances up and smiles at her name. “I did nothing for her.”
Felix relays the question, and Shiro smiles sadly and pats his head tenderly. Her voice is soft when she speaks again, and this time, Wolfgang doesn’t need a translator. “You are Capheus’ family, so you are my family.”
They turn off the water and turn on a blow-dryer, and no one tries to speak over the noise. When that’s done, Shiro turns to the injuries to Wolfgang’s lips, which he’s nearly bitten through, and neck, wrists and ankles, which are bruised and scraped from the restraints. Daniela pours foundation onto a sponge and begins sweeping it across his face. Felix just sits on the counter and keeps up a soothing chatter of pointless stories, with a smile on his face that doesn’t reach the strained and afraid look in his eyes.
Daniela finishes covering a bruise, and Shiro cleans the IV sites at his elbows and hands, and then they both step back and evaluate him.
“Not as pretty as he usually is, but he’ll do,” Felix says- in German, so entirely for Wolfgang’s dubious benefit. He tosses Wolfgang a bag. “Clothes.” Other than a white coat and stethoscope, they’re Wolfgang’s clothes: black jeans and a black button-down he wears to clubs, his favorite boots and the thick, fuzzy socks he wears when he’s feeling self-indulgent.
His legs shake when he gets out of the wheelchair to put on his pants, and Felix comes over to hold him up. Daniela gives him an appreciative once-over when he takes off his shirt.
When Wolfgang is fully clothed, Felix gives him an assessing look, declares, “Good,” and pulls a radio from a clip on his belt. He greets the person on the other end with something in English that Wolfgang can’t parse.
“Hi, Wolfgang!” a friendly female voice says from the radio. Wolfgang recognizes it, but can’t place it. “I’m Amanita. See you soon. Felix!” she returns to giving instructions that Wolfgang doesn’t understand.
Amanita. Nomi’s fiancée, and another person who has no reason to give a damn what happens to him, but who is here anyway.
“Shiro’s going to give you a shot,” Felix reports once the radio’s back in his belt. Shiro moves to roll up a sleeve. “It’s an antidote for the blockers, should reverse their effects. Never been tried, actually, so we’re hoping for the best. Let me know how it works, and then we’ll have the rest of you people take it too.”
Shiro slides the needle into him and pushes the plunger before pulling it out and carefully putting a Band-aid on the puncture.
Wolfgang searches his head and heart frantically, looking for something, anything. The Cluster is absent, a hole that hasn’t stopped aching in weeks. Whispers is gone, still a relief. Lila-
He finds Lila, a twisted mass of scheming and ill intent at the bottom of his brain.
“It works,” Wolfgang reports to Felix, who beams and reports it over the radio.
“Good. It was developed for this by Kala- who, by the way, I’ve met now. It explained a lot,” Felix reports cheerily. Wolfgang groans and isn’t sure whether he’s relieved or alarmed about having missed that conversation.
The train of thought is interrupted when the void in Wolfgang’s chest implodes and is filled with the Cluster instead.
Needles are pulled out of arms and discarded on the concrete floor of cells. A cavalcade of relief and worry and love crashes in around him, around them.
“Kala, you magnificent genius,” Riley says appreciatively, tugging her sleeve back down.
“Wolfgang!” Kala breathes, lighting up. “You’re all right.”
“You look good,” Lito tells him. “Daniela did well. It is good to see you, friend.”
“Yes,” Capheus agrees. “I am glad you are all right. I have missed this.”
“Guys, I don’t want to cut this short, but we’ve got a schedule,” Nomi interrupts, smiling at Wolfgang.
“…Sun, did you get Tased?” Will asks concernedly. “I thought we were mostly just surrendering politely.”
“Yes. I don’t do that.”
“Are you gonna be able to make the exit as planned?”
Nomi presses gently on the edge of Wolfgang’s brain, and he yields immediately in a way he couldn’t have even imagined doing last month. He’s so tired, and so relieved, and he’s willing to do anything he has to in order to get out of here, to get everyone out of here.
“Felix, I need the radio,” Nomi demands out his mouth.
Felix, looking startled, wordlessly tosses them the radio.
“Well, he didn’t speak English a minute ago,” Shiro muses. “I suppose that means it’s working.”
“Hey, Neets, we’re all good to go here,” Nomi announces.
“Whoa, that is so cool,” Amanita breathes. “Mmkay, I’ll send Hernando your way.”
The rest of the Cluster begin preparing for their escape. Will picks the locks on the inner cells, Sun stretches their bodies, Riley breathes deep to calm their minds. Wolfgang closes his eyes, so relieved his hands tremble slightly, awash in it.
There’s a knock on the door. Daniela opens it up to reveal Hernando, wearing uniform identifying him as BPO security. He gives Wolfgang an overwhelmed and faintly disbelieving look, which in Wolfgang’s opinion makes him about the sanest person here. “Ready to go?” Hernando asks anyway.
Wolfgang nods and slips on the surgical mask Shiro hands him.
“Come on, then,” Hernando says. “Leave the wheelchair. There’s a real security guard by the elevators, so we’re taking the stairs.”
“Can you walk?” Shiro asks quietly.
“Yes. If I have to.”
Daniela raises an eyebrow. “Can you walk without attracting attention by being in physical pain?”
“…No,” Wolfgang admits. His body has been through too much, over the past few weeks, and the pain pill Shiro gave him is dulling it, but he knows he can’t do more than hobble without his body just giving in.
“Uh oh, guys,” Nomi says worriedly to the Cluster.
“Give it to me,” Sun says calmly. Wolfgang starts, stares at her. “Pain is just an experience, and we can share those. Give me the pain and I will carry it.”
“All of us will share it,” Capheus says quietly. “They did this to all of us. We will all carry it.”
There’s a silence. Wolfgang wants so desperately to do it, to drop the pain onto all of them. It’s more than they realize, he thinks, because he’s well-trained in acting normal through the pain, has been since he was a child. Even divided, it will be more than they anticipated, enough to hurt them, and Wolfgang hates himself for wanting to do that, to be the person who offloads pain onto people he’s supposed to love. Like his father.
“You’re not!” Kala gasps at him. “You’re not.”
“It’s mine,” he says dully, looking away from her. “I don’t want to inflict it on anyone else, anyone who matters to me.”
“Look at me,” Kala all but snarls, and he’s startled enough to glance up again. “Wolfgang, no. It isn’t yours. Capheus is right, they did this to all of us. For all of us, because of all of us. And we have been taking blockers for weeks because we had to, because it was the only way, but we’ve left you alone to take it. That doesn’t make it your responsibility. This is ours, all of us. Let us carry it, and let us get you out.”
“Kala,” Wolfgang breathes, ignoring Felix’s muttered “of course” from the counter. “I don’t want you to feel this way, ever,” Wolfgang admits quietly. “Not even part of it.”
“Do you believe I’m strong enough to take it?” Kala demands.
“Then let me. Let us. Even if this was only your pain, your weight, you are one of us. You are ours. You would carry our pain, let us do the same.”
The whole Cluster is there, then, staring at him, pleading. Waiting.
He’s not sure whether he believes them, whether he’s really ready to commit to being a part of this, or whether he’s just too tired, too beaten down to fight it anymore.
Either way, he gives in and pushes the pain outward, breaks down the wall between his mind and body and theirs and lets what BPO has done to him flood into them as well. The sudden, stark relief slumps his body backward, relaxes him, even as he hears Riley let out a tiny cry, hears Capheus gasp, a half-sob from Lito.
“Go,” Kala tells him, jaw clenched fiercely.
Wolfgang gets up.
“Okay, well,” Hernando says, still sounding dazed, “I have almost no idea what just happened, but I take it we’re good to go. This way, then.”
“Mission control, this is Felix. We’re headed to the hall, toward the stairs.”
“Gotcha,” Amanita replies. “I’ll make sure Bug’s still got the cameras sorted.”
Hernando leads them out, dropping into the role perfectly, scowling lightly at anyone who looks at them too long and acting for all the world like he runs this place. Wolfgang realizes, with access to Lito’s brain, that Hernando must be drawing from his experience of pretending to be Lito’s bodyguard. Felix, in his janitor’s uniform, drops a few paces behind so as not to draw attention, so it just looks like a security guard leading a doctor and two nurses through a highly secure ward. Nothing out of the ordinary, Wolfgang knows.
Hernando swipes a keycard and enters a passcode at the stairwell.
“Come on, work,” Nomi mutters.
The light turns green and Hernando pushes open the door.
“Nice work, Nomi,” Will tells her, and she grins.
Daniela’s giggling when they enter the stairwell. “Security guard is such a good look on you, Hernando,” she teases.
“You’ve mentioned,” Hernando replies faintly, pushing up his glasses. “I don’t understand how you’re so relaxed about this.”
“It’s kind of fun,” Daniela replies nonchalantly, grinning.
“If we get caught… these people are dangerous,” Wolfgang points out.
“To you,” Hernando says, nodding, “and to Lito. According to Will and Nomi, the worst they’ll do to us is turn us over to local law enforcement. They don’t want anything from us, and they’re trying too hard to pretend to be civilized to kill us outright.” Wolfgang blinks. It’s a little strange, hearing what he’s pretty sure are Nomi’s words out of the mouth of someone who isn’t in the Cluster. “It doesn’t matter,” Hernando continues, “not if these people are hunting Lito. He’s the love of my life.” He pauses, then adds, “This is just so strange.”
“Yeah,” Wolfgang says, nodding. “We all felt the same way when it happened. It’s… hard to explain.”
“Not a good enough excuse,” Felix grumbles. “You are supposed to tell me if you get superpowers. We had an agreement.”
“We were thirteen and drunk when we made that agreement,” Wolfgang points out, to an eye-roll from Felix.
“You could have told me,” Felix finally says. “Then I would have known more, when you vanished. Wouldn’t’ve had to wait two weeks, not knowing a fuckin’ thing, until Riley called to explain.”
Wolfgang looks up, blinking at the strain and fear in his brother’s voice. “You’re right,” he finally concedes. “I should have told you from the start.”
“Eh, you’re forgiven. Pity pass, ‘cause you just got tortured, and all. But I want to know all about it later, and you tell me about this stuff from now on, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Wolfgang agrees quietly they apparently reach the appropriate landing.
Felix nods and pulls out the radio. “Mission control, we’re headed to the security block.”
“You don’t have to say mission control, I’m the only one on the other end of this channel,” Amanita points out. “I’ll check in and make sure we’re good to go.” There’s a moment of silence, and then, “Go.”
Hernando repeats the card-swipe/passcode and opens the door to reveal a very put-upon Diego Morales in a uniform designating him as the Head of Security.
“Come on, then,” Diego mutters, waving them inside. “A’ight, so they’re already out of their inner cells, courtesy of Will’s charming criminal past. I’m going to flip a switch and that’ll let them out of the block, let them out here. When I do that, alarms are gonna go off. This weird dude named Bug is gonna throw alarms everywhere else, too, so the real guards won’t know where to go, but we’re only gonna have a few minutes to get out. As a fun bonus, apparently whenever you people meet in person, there’s a whole This Is Your Life flashback of their relationship. They’ve presumably all been doing that for the past few minutes.” Wolfgang nods, having been distantly aware of it happening, and having heard of it from Will and Riley. “But it’ll happen with you, now, which is gonna waste some time. We’ll hustle you out as best we can, and our hacker team is pretty sure that we can do it in time, just… try to keep the warm-and-fuzzies as short as you can.”
Felix snorts loudly, presumably at the idea of Wolfgang experiencing warm-and-fuzzies.
“Got it,” Wolfgang says.
“Do you? Because I barely understand what’s going on,” Diego mutters.
"Why did you come?" Wolfgang can't resist asking. "You don't want to be here."
Diego gives Wolfgang an odd look. "You're not great at asking for help, are you?"
"He is not," Felix replies immediately.
"Well, Will's better," Diego replies. "He's my people. He asked, I came. He needs to keep you safe, and I need to keep him safe, so here we are. In this fucked-up comic book villain lair, rescuing the slightly nonhuman brain-buddy of my nonhuman best fri-"
“Keep it together, Morales,” Will says from Wolfgang’s mouth.
Diego glances up, blinking. “Fuck you, Gorski,” he finally says without bite. “How do you do that, anyway? Become each other?”
Will shrugs. “It’s easy. It’s what we do.”
“…A’ight. Come on, let’s do this,” Diego says, walking back to the security booth, swiping a pass and keying himself in. “Okay, now,” he says, and flips a switch.
The door to the security cells swings open, and the entire Cluster pours out of it, Kala in the lead and all the others just behind, and-
And he’s gone, swept away in Kala’s kindness and passion and courage, in Lito’s bravery and love, in Will’s leadership and protectiveness, in Riley’s tenderness, in Sun’s stubborn fierceness, in Nomi’s calculating intelligence, in Capheus’ resilient joy. He relives them, one by one, the pain and the suffering but also the joy and the support and the love, the love, the love.
He starts coming back again, slowly, in a hallway, being half-carried, half-dragged by a swearing and out of breath Felix.
“Welcome back,” Felix says when he notices Wolfgang’s awareness, “Fucking walk.”
He takes his own weight back and glances around at the rest of the Cluster. Kala was the most effected, and was being carried along by Shiro. Hernando was herding Lito and Sun, Daniela has Riley and Nomi, and Diego is dragging Will and Capheus.
“Wake up!” Hernando shouts. “Company!”
Sun is the first to move, ripping away from Hernando and lunging forward toward the three BPO security guards. She hits two of them in a whirlwind of carefully controlled limbs.
The third ducks to the side and moves to jump toward Wolfgang, and he sees it coming, but he is slow, damaged, and can’t make his body react quickly enough.
Felix jumps between them, takes a punch to the stomach, and drives a fist directly into the security guard’s neck, leaving him coughing and gasping and an easy takedown for Sun when she returns from dropping the other two. Wincing and breathing through the pain, Felix returns to Wolfgang’s side.
“Right, then, let’s go,” Will says. “Before more show up.”
They rush out of the building, with Diego leading the way through the winding halls, past various ringing alarms and confused BPO personnel, who Sun drops quickly and ruthlessly.
“Mission control, we just hit the ground floor,” Felix pants into the radio. “We’re probably coming out hot.”
“You should hit the door to the garage in three minutes,” Amanita replies. “I’ll make sure we’re ready for you.”
“You’re a beautiful genius,” Felix replies. “Sorry, Nomi.”
“No, I know,” Nomi says breathlessly. “I’m gonna marry that.” Wolfgang feels her swell of joy under his skin, and this connection isn’t something he ever would have wanted, before, but he’s missed it.
They reach the door and everybody turns toward Wolfgang.
“The electronic lock is separate from the internal security, I wasn’t able to get a code for it,” Nomi explains.
“It’s all you, Wolfie,” Felix explains cheerfully.
It’s a simple enough lock, something Wolfgang could break in his sleep. It bothers him, though, that all these people created a plan in which they wouldn’t have been able to escape the facility without Wolfgang. If he hadn’t held out, they would all be trapped. He doesn’t deserve that much trust.
Wolfgang drops to a knee and breaks off a plastic plate, revealing the wires, and quickly strips two, rewires a third to them, and breaks a fourth. The light turns green and he opens the door, which is a side door to a parking garage.
“Hello!” Jela says cheerfully, perched on the hood of a black van.
“Wolfgang, Riley, Sun and I are with Jela,” Will announces. “Capheus is driving the lead bus. Diego is driving the other pursuit car, there. Everybody else, pick one of those- at least one Sensate per vehicle. Go.”
Wolfgang isn’t really sure what that means, but he follows Will into Jela’s van, Sun and Riley piling in behind him.
Jela doesn’t start the car.
“Aren’t we… going?” Wolfgang asks.
“Capheus is going,” Jela says, gesturing out the window at a clearly stolen party bus which is doing a pirouette-like spin out of the parking garage. “Tinted windows. They’ll assume we’re all in there and we’ll blend in with the pursuers.”
“Our job is to get BPO to stop pursuing,” Will explains.
“How?” Wolfgang asks.
“By getting Whispers to give the order.”
“Whispers is gone,” Wolfgang replies, suddenly alarmed. “He vanished three weeks ago. No one knows where he is.”
“He’s in my trainer’s back room in Seoul, on blockers 24/7,” Sun replies nonchalantly. “That was us.”
“Jonas is with my Papa in Iceland,” Riley adds. “They actually get along quite well.”
“Speaking of which,” Will says pointedly as BPO security starts pouring out of the building and into the other black vans and sedans.
Jela tosses Sun and Riley each a phone, and they immediately dial.
Sun’s is answered first. Wolfgang can hear and recognize the voice, that a man Sun only thinks of as her trainer.
“Hello. Do you still have the shot we gave you?” Sun asks. “For the man?”
“I do,” the trainer replies. “Now?”
“Now,” Sun confirms.
On the other phone, Gunnar picks up and immediately declares, “Riley!”
“Hi, Papa,” Riley says, smiling sweetly. “I’m calling about Jonas?”
“Time for the anti-blocker shot, then?” Gunnar asks.
“Yes,” Riley confirms. Meanwhile, Wolfgang starts to feel the connection to Whispers slowly reform, a sense of cold malevolence seeping into his head.
“Done,” the trainer confirms to Sun. “Are you well?”
“I am,” Sun tells him warmly. “Thank you.”
The sense of Whispers gets stronger, and then Wolfgang and Will are standing in a tastefully-decorated room containing Whispers, tied to a chair, and an old and kindly-looking Asian man, drinking tea.
“Milt!” Will greets in his smarmiest voice, the one Wolfgang’s only ever heard when Whispers is involved.
“Will,” Whispers replies. “…Wolfgang.” He sounds genuinely alarmed about the addition.
“Long time, no see,” Wolfgang replies coldly.
“Jonas,” Whispers adds, glancing off into what appears to Wolfgang to be nothing. He’s still never met Jonas. “So they took you too.”
“Here’s the deal, Milt,” Will begins, “we’re nearing the end of the rescue operation, which, as you can see, is going quite well. The thing is, we’re currently being pursued by some BPO personnel. You’re going to call headquarters, and you’re going to tell them to stop pursuing us.”
Whispers blinks, looking genuinely startled. “Really. And why would I do that?”
“I can think of a few reasons,” Will replies. “Starting with, BPO is done with you, Milt. You’ve been missing for weeks. Bet you thought they’d find you by now, right? And your family- wife, the beautiful Elizabeth, and your daughter, Chelsea- you figure that BPO put them up in a nice safehouse somewhere?” Will snorts. “They’re bureaucrats, Milton, and you fucked up. They’re not about to shell out for you anytime soon. Nah, they’re just off at Grandma’s house instead. That’d be, ah, 10489 Bethany Way, right? If we were the sort of people who went after innocent bystanders- the sort of people like you, Milt- they’d already be dead. BPO doesn’t care about them; it doesn’t care about you. You’re not employee of the month anymore. They’re done with you.”
Whispers and Will both turn to look at thin air. Wolfgang focuses on his connection with Will, trying to pick up Jonas’ statement secondhand. Jonas apparently agrees with Will’s assessment.
“But honestly, Milt?” Will asks when Jonas is done. “Honestly, I think you’re gonna call BPO because you’re tied up in the house of a seven-time world kickboxing champion who loves Bak Sun like a daughter.”
“Do something threatening,” Sun instructs her trainer, who nonchalantly adjusts his shirt, revealing a knife, and then hides it again. Whispers eyes him warily.
“Not the big man when you’re actually in the room,” Will observes. “So, what’ll it be? Enough reasons for you?”
“I can think of one more,” Wolfgang adds. Whispers turns to look at him, pale and wide-eyed behind his glasses. “You know who I am. You know what I am. You know what you did to me. And you really want to give me a reason not to get my revenge.”
“More the reason to let them capture you,” Whispers points out, and Wolfgang grins.
“Sure. Yeah, if you believe that they can actually do it,” Wolfgang agrees. “And hell, maybe they can recapture me. Maybe even a few of us. But unless they can bring in all eight of us- actually more than eight, apparently- not to mention getting you out of that room. Unless they can bring us all down, then you’d better start getting in our good graces now. And you know, you believe, that BPO can’t bring us down. You don’t think you can do it.”
“You have no idea what we can do,” Whispers scoffs.
Wolfgang shrugs. “Okay. Don’t do it. Let BPO catch us, and rescue you. If you believe BPO can do it, then it doesn’t matter. But if you think even one of us will remain free, make that call.” Whispers hesitates. “What if it’s me?” Wolfgang adds. “If you don’t make this call, and the dust clears, and I’m still free… I don’t think I can hurt you as badly as you hurt me. I don’t have the equipment. But I have a few ideas, and I will try. Do you trust BPO to protect you from that?”
Whispers hesitates, and then caves. “It will be an hour or less before someone goes over my head and overrules me. They’ll resume chasing you, and it won’t be my fault.”
“Yeah, we know,” Will replies.
“Fine. Give me the phone.”
Sun cheerfully relays the instruction to her trainer, who hands Whispers a burner phone. With visible ire, he dials a number and orders the BPO to stand down, and also move his family to a safehouse.
Will and Wolfgang snap back to the van, where they can see Capheus doing a vaguely impossible two-wheeled hairpin turn in his party bus up ahead, causing Jela to laugh delightedly. There’s a long moment, and then-
“Stand down,” a cool, vaguely confused voice comes over the speaker in the van. “Stand down, do not pursue.”
Riley cheers loudly, and they all beam at each other. Sun, grinning, thanks her trainer and asks him to put Whispers back on blockers. With relief, Wolfgang feels the presence of Whispers in his head slowly dissolve into nothing.
Will looks at thin air, and Wolfgang realizes that Jonas must be visiting, and focuses on hearing him through their connection with Will.
Jonas is staring, horrified, at Jela. “You brought a human here? Not just told him the truth, but brought him here? Are you really so- you have risked all of us. Not just yourselves, but every sensate. If the humans find out-”
“You don’t have a lot of friends, do you?” Will asks.
Jonas huffs. “Of course I don’t! My entire Cluster is dead! Do you watch what humans do to one another? Have you considered what they’ll do to you? Have you considered the depth of that betrayal?”
“I don’t think you get to talk to us about betrayal, Jonas,” Will says pointedly. “We trust them a hell of a lot more than we trust you.”
“…I take your point,” Jonas says.
“Papa, can you please put Jonas back on his blockers now?” Riley asks sweetly.
Wolfgang steps away from Will’s consciousness as Jonas fades away. Outside, the last of the BPO pursuit cars are turning away, leaving Capheus’ bus up ahead and Diego’s car behind.
Jela pulls out a radio. “Amanita, we are heading toward the airstrip.”
“Yay!” Amanita replies. “See you soon! I’ll get us moving over here.”
“Airstrip,” Wolfgang repeats. “If we’re flying internationally, we’ll have to submit a flight manifest. They’ll track us.”
“We bribed the guy in charge of that,” Riley replies. “A generous gift from Kabaka, who by the way has absolutely no idea what it’s for, which should make it hard to trace back to us. We’re good. Wolfgang, we thought this through, we’re good. You can stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Wolfgang nods, glancing away, unwilling to let himself hope that it’s really over. He stares at the window, trying idly to figure out where they are. BPO had him unconscious for the transport.
It’s the dilapidated sign at the tiny worn-down airport that gives the country away as Venezuela, which if nothing else probably means that the bribery went fairly smoothly.
Jela parks and they all spill out of their respective vehicles.
“That was incredible,” Lito gushes at Capheus.
“Capheus Mohamod Onyango, is that how you drive?” Shiro is asking, aghast.
“…Not with customers,” Capheus replies guiltily. “Usually.”
Daniela touches Wolfgang’s arm. “Like I said before.”
“We’re even,” Wolfgang agrees.
“Let’s go,” Kala says impatiently, gesturing at the small plane sitting on the beginning of the runway.
Felix leans over to Wolfgang and mutters, “You’re probably not gonna like this bit so much.”
Wolfgang climbs the stairs into the plane, to find a bewildered looking Rajan Rasal watching them and petting Sun’s dog. Amanita and Bug are sitting in the row behind him, grinning.
“Oh, hi,” Rajan says. “You must be the guy we’re rescuing. I’m Rajan. Welcome to my plane. Is anyone going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Sorry,” Kala says, shifting uncomfortably.
“It’s your plane?” Wolfgang asks, unable to think of anything else to say. Felix was right, Wolfgang doesn’t really like this.
Rajan nods. “It was a wedding gift from my uncle.”
“Are we ready to takeoff?” Kala asks, clearly just trying to change the subject.
Rajan nods. “As soon as the tower clears us, we can go. I will… go work on that, then.”
Amanita hops up, hugs Nomi, and says, “We are amazing.”
“Nancy Drew would be proud,” Nomi agrees.
“Hell yeah!” Amanita crows. She turns and grins at Wolfgang. “Nice to meet you, finally.”
There’s a few more minutes of idle conversation- Wolfgang hangs back, because that has never been his strong suit- before Rajan returns.
“Uh, the man I was supposed to talk to- the one who’s authorized our release?- he’s not there, and the man on the line says that there’s a problem with our manifest,” Rajan says. “Do you know what that means? What should I tell him?”
“Lito,” about half the plane says in unison.
Lito stands, gives a mock bow, and crosses to the front of the plane, clapping Rajan on the shoulder. “Let me handle this, my friend!”
And suddenly Wolfgang can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t escape the small compressing walls of the plane. He knows that Lito is a good liar- the fact that Wolfgang didn’t die by Steiner’s hand in a parking lot is testament enough to that- but some part of him, deep in his bones, is convinced that it isn’t going to work. BPO is going to board the plane, or Venezuelan border officials who will quickly send him back to the BPO. This was a brief, torturous interlude, but it couldn’t last.
“Wolfie,” Felix mutters, grabbing Wolfgang’s arm tight enough that the pain undercuts his thoughts. “Breathe.”
“Stop giving up,” Capheus says firmly, seemingly to no one, staring at the window. Sun is meditating, doing deep breathing exercises that feel somehow pointed. Riley is shaking, crying, physically expressing the fear that Wolfgang doesn’t know how to, but that desperately needs an outlet, and Will is stroking her hair, a comfort that Wolfgang feels through her. Nomi is mentally running through her list of backup plans and backup plans to backup plans, the soothing rhythm of I promise you we can get through this.
Kala stares at him, her gaze fierce and unyielding. “I know this is an uncharitable thing to say, given the circumstances,” she begins, “but you are better than this. You are a fighter. Do not let them ruin you.”
There’s a long moment of this, of the Cluster trying to comfort Wolfgang while he tries to push away the desperate sense of doom, the feeling that BPO has him now, that no matter how far he runs, he’ll always end up back in that room with blood in his mouth.
Finally, Lito emerges. He walks directly to Wolfgang, bends over, hugs him, and then buckles his seatbelt.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and whoever else might be here,” Lito announces dramatically, “we are cleared for takeoff.”
Amanita raises her hands and cheers loudly. The seatbelt sign dings on, and the plane starts moving.
Wolfgang can’t start breathing again until liftoff. He stares out the window as the plane climbs, unable to tear his eyes away until they rise above the cloud cover and he can no longer see Venezuela shrinking in the distance.
“I know you,” Felix mutters when Wolfgang finally turns away from the window. “I know you weren’t expecting anyone to come. Well, I counted, and there were twenty people involved in this operation. Twenty. Okay?”
Yesterday, Wolfgang wouldn’t have been able to come up with half that list of people who cared at all whether he lived or died.
“Okay,” he replies, acknowledging the staggering number. “Okay.”
He continues to wait, watching out the window, trying not to count the ways it could all go wrong. The Cluster continues trying to relax, trying to ease him. Felix is keeping up a steady, comforting meaningless chatter that fades into white noise. Even Jindo the dog crosses over to lick Wolfgang’s hands.
Rajan announces over the speakers that they are officially out of Venezuela, and the relief hits Wolfgang like a train. The desperate fear that has been so tightly coiled in him for weeks drains out. He breathes deeply, his hands trembling lightly on Jindo’s head. The exhaustion isn’t far behind. He’s been alone, in pain, and unsafe for weeks, and now he has respite.
“It’s over,” Wolfgang breathes. “It’s over, I don’t have to go back.”
“Well, we still have work to do,” Nomi says gently.
“Whispers and Jonas,” Will agrees.
“Convincing other Sensates to leave BPO,” Riley says.
“Lila,” Kala points out with some venom in her voice.
“We can never go back to Berlin,” Felix acknowledges.
“But for now, yes, it’s over,” Lito says.
“We will do what we can to make sure you never go back. And if you do, we will come for you again,” Sun promises.
“Go to sleep,” Capheus suggests gently.
Wolfgang is exhausted, and more importantly, he’s safe, so he does.