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Sorry about the long wait.  I hope you're all still reading and enjoying!

Disclaimer:  Whoops, forgot to mention, I DON'T OWN THEM!  So, your not gonna sue, right? Mmm, kay.

Finally, the trial procedure was concluded; everything had gone exactly as hypothesized.  Before turning to gauge his subordinate’s reactions, Raines savored one last look through the two-way mirror at one of the Centre’s disposable subjects.  Sydney’s face had turned to stone; his eyes revealed none of the fear and guilt Raines knew must be boiling beneath the calm exterior.  Raines smiled slightly.  Fear . . .  Sydney was getting a graphic glimpse into his precious pet project’s future. Raines’s face hardened.  Guilt . . .  If the meddling psychiatrist hadn’t forced Raines to do a beta test for the Animus experiment, the young man on the other side of the glass would still remember the last two years of his life.  Sydney had always been good at concealing emotions, but Raines knew that being here had to be painful.  

Miss Parker took one more look at the test subject, then lowered her head and pinched the bridge of her nose, as if massaging a migraine.  Raines watched her with a critical eye.  For a Parker, she had never been good at hiding her emotions.  She has too much of her mother in her.  Raines thought.  But, for now, Parker was committed to the project, and that was enough for Raines.  It would be easier after the treatment.  A former cleaner, Parker could, no doubt, slip easily into the role of security chief.  All Raines had to do was play off of her innate need for control and order.  Controlling Jarod would come quite naturally to her, Raines had no doubt.  First, though, the wayward Pretender would have to be pacified.  Jarod was hell bent on uncovering the Centre’s secrets.  If that tendency couldn’t be curbed, more drastic measures would have to be taken before the pretender could spread any more dissent among the staff.  Dissent, after all, could prove deadly for a newly instated Chairman with as much to hide as Raines.


Raines took one more look at the nameless man in the room beyond and then spoke,  “as you can see, the subject is in the final stage of treatment.  Those monitors—“ he indicated a bank of screens on the other side of the operating table “—show current brainwave function.  The amnesia is complete and there appears to be no residual damage to other areas of the subject’s brain. The subject will regain the power of speech momentarily and basic motor skills shortly after that.  Then, Dr. Anders will confirm that the therapy was successful.”  For Sydney’s sake, Raines hadn’t bothered to keep the triumph out of his voice, and he was rewarded by a nearly imperceptible cringe from the psychiatrist.


Raines had earned this triumph; it had taken months of veiled threats, untraceable bribes, clandestine meetings, and general political wrangling and lobbying to get to this point.  Months ago he’d uncovered the project’s potential in the form of an obscure, low budget research program on dementia.  Raines had quickly commandeered the project and refocused it on one area of study—chemically induced amnesia.  The process had been arduous—first to gain the proper funding to develop the treatment, then to convince the Triumvirate—all of whom were afraid of another Angelo style failure—that this treatment would be effective and safe enough for one of their most valuable projects.  Jarod’s sudden recapture had forced him to escalate his timetable. However, he had adapted, and today, as the last test subject finished the therapy, he stood ready to enjoy the fruits of victory.


 A panicked voice from the treatment room pulled him out of his reverie.  “What’s going on?”  Sydney’s jaw tightened involuntarily.  “Where am I?”  Miss Parker grimaced visibly.  “Why can’t I remember?”  As the subject’s voice rose to uncomfortable levels, Raines gave the waiting nurse a curt nod.  The woman quickly pulled a set of blinds down over the windows and disconnected the speaker that carried sound from the other room.   Raines paused a moment, letting Sydney and Parker imagine what was going on in the treatment room.  Only after both sets of eyes had flicked to him did he continue.  “When Jarod receives the treatment, there will be several significant differences.  He must be kept fully conscious to ensure that the procedure goes as expected.  The infirmary will acquire additional restraints to compensate.  The procedure will take approximately two hours. In addition, once the treatment is complete, Dr. Anders will place Jarod in a drug-induced coma that will last two months.”     

“A coma?”  Sydney interrupted, alarm in his voice.


 Raines gave his former colleague a mocking smile.  “You didn’t possibly believe could fool Jarod without evidence, did you doctor?  A prolonged coma is the safest way to explain his memory loss without implicating ourselves.  Two months should be long enough for his muscles to atrophy sufficiently to make a five year coma seem plausible.” Devoid of all feeling, Raines fixed Sydney with a corpse-like stare, as his voice lowered menacingly, “when he wakes, doctor, you will inform him that he suffered a head trauma and spent the past five years here in the Centre infirmary.  If he were to discover the truth, the consequences could be . . . severe.  For both of you.”   

It was so gratifying to throw the psychiatrist’s words back in his face, knowing that they held so much more weight since he was the chairman of the Centre.  Manipulating Sydney wasn’t particularly difficult, but it always left him feeling . . . dissatisfied.  The old shrink was far too good at controlling himself—being seen only as he wished to be seen.  Raines had thought long and hard before inviting him to aid in Animus.  He hoped that the allure of being granted unlimited access to Jarod would be enough to buy the psychiatrist’s loyalty, but he had misjudged Sydney before.  It was always best to tread lightly around someone who was so difficult to read.  Raines reflected that it was fortunate that the psychiatrist hadn’t managed to pass that particular skill on to his genius protégé.


Sydney certainly wasn’t giving anything away today.  His voice was even, as he responded, “I understand.  Mr. Chairman.”


Raines gave Sydney another appraising look then responded, “good.  The procedure will be performed at eight AM, one week from tomorrow.”  Raines allowed a slight smile to brush his lips, as he set his next game in motion, thrilled to finally have Jarod as his pawn. “Sydney.  You will be granted access to Jarod tomorrow for long enough to inform him about the therapy.”


“Are you sure that’s wise?”  Miss Parker interjected, “aside from the Reems incident, Jarod’s been fairly quiet thus far.  He doesn’t know what’s coming, so he’s taken the ‘wait and see’ approach.  If we tell him about Animus, he’ll be that much more desperate to escape. And, genius boy gets very stupid when he’s desperate.  He’ll try something, I’m sure of it—“


 “What you are or are not sure of is irrelevant, Miss Parker.  I’ll be the judge of what is wise, Raines interrupted his subordinate with a voice that cut like a honed steel blade.  He knew full well what Jarod’s reaction would be, but with the new security measures on SL-25, the pretender would be helpless to prevent what was coming. This thought, more than anything else, brought a leer to Raines’ face.  Parker’s mouth tightened, and her eyes smoldered, but she said nothing more, so Raines continued, “you should thank me, Miss Parker; this will be the ultimate test of your security methods.  If you can hold a desperate genius for an entire week, you’ll have no difficulty controlling him after Animus. Now, if you have no questions of relevance, I suggest you both return to the sublevels.  The Tower will contact you if your services are required.”   

Sydney was halfway to the door when he turned and asked in an offhand way, “Mr. Chairman, how is the doctor that Jarod attacked?”


Raines kept his face impassive as he uttered in a monotone, “the funeral is this afternoon.”


That stopped Parker dead in her tracks.  “What?!  I saw him after the attack!  His injuries weren’t nearly that bad.”


Raines injected a note of regret into his voice, “the injuries were not the cause.  I’m afraid the young doctor was involved in a tragic car accident a week ago.”


Parker spitted Raines with her coldest stare—the one that left sweepers shaking in their suits, rendered Broots speechless, and could make even Jarod think twice about crossing her.  “And the motive behind this . . . accident?”


 Raines’s lips tightened and his nostrils went white and flared with anger.  How dare she question his judgment, like her mother had.  His voice held even more than its usual dose of vitriol.  “Dr. Reems was negligent with our most valuable project.  His carelessness nearly allowed Jarod to escape.  I will not tolerate that type of carelessness from Centre personnel - Especially on this project.”    

Raines watched with barely restrained delight as the color drained from both their faces.  Parker opened her mouth to retort, but Sydney quickly put a restraining hand on her wrist, and guided her towards the door.  Parker took the hint and hurried to keep up.


 As the pair headed for the elevator, Raines followed them with thoughtful eyes.  So much depended on his ability to control these two.  Ultimately, they would either be the linchpins that brought Animus together—or the dividing wedge that drove everything apart.    Raines allowed a predatory smile to tug at the corners of his mouth.  He would be watching them closely, and if they let their emotions compromise the project . . . well, it would hardly harm the Centre to see a few more go the way of Dr. Reems.    



As she fell in step beside Sydney, Parker took a steadying breath.  It was one thing to convince herself that Animus could be a positive thing when she was in a bar, far from the Centre with her third comforting glass of scotch in front of her.  It was another matter entirely to still believe in the project, when its newest victim was stretched out in front of her under the Centre’s unforgiving fluorescent lights.  With difficulty, Parker forced her misgivings down.  No other way, she reminded herself stubbornly. 


Sydney pressed the button to summon an elevator, and Parker took a close look at her old friend.  It appeared she would have to keep a closer eye on Syd.  He was obviously bothered by the Animus project far more than he let on.  Only someone who knew him as well as Parker did would have picked up on the subtle notes of anguish in his voice as he was forced to observe the final tests of the Animus project.  This went beyond concern over an experimental procedure; Sydney wasn’t definitively sold, despite Raines’s assertion that Animus was a humane method of control 

That worried Parker more than she could admit.  Syd had a long history of doing foolish, impulsive things when he felt Jarod was in danger.  In the last five years, he’d shot Raines, blown up SL-27, and jumped in front of several loaded guns all in an effort to protect his protégé.  Parker hated to admit it, but from watching the gleam in Raines’ eyes, she could tell she wasn’t the only one picking up on Syd’s subtle cues.  If Sydney interfered with Animus, he could potentially allow Jarod’s escape.  Even worse, if he interfered and failed, Parker knew already what his fate would be.  Poor Dr. Reems was graphic proof of the demented chairman’s resolve.


Sydney seemed to read her mind as he always did.  As they stepped into the elevator, he turned to her and spoke for the first time.  “Parker, I want you to promise me something.”


 Even sensing his emotional turmoil, Parker was taken aback by the gravity in his tone. “What, Syd The shrink stared fixedly at the inside of the elevator and spoke haltingly, as if it were taking all of his emotional control to hide what was in his heart, “I want you to promise me . . . that you’ll never tell Jarod what Raines just told us about Dr. Reems.”  His deep brown eyes sought hers, and a faint note of pleading crept into his voice, “please…you.  know he would blame himself.  He doesn’t need to know.” 

Parker looked into his eyes and marveled at how similar they were to another pair of brown eyes she’d looked into recently.  They both had the same trapped, helpless look.  Both were haunted by their demons.  There were a thousand things she wanted to say, but as the elevator slowed to a halt, all she did say was, “okay, Sydney.  I promise.”



He waited until Parker had left the elevator before pushing the button for SL-5.  Only when the door had closed and the elevator was beginning to move did he allow his eyes to close and his face to crumple under the weight of terrible emotional strain.  Swaying slightly, he raised a shaking hand to clutch his forehead, almost as if to prevent it from splitting open.  


 Sydney’s control had slipped only a few times over the years—always due to either crippling grief or uncontrollable rage.  Stress, at least at the level he was experiencing it now, was a new experience to him.  Three weeks had gone by, and he was no closer to saving Jarod from Animus, much less securing his freedom.  In that time, Raines’ strict isolation order had kept him from seeing Jarod, and he was quite literally sick with worry.  The constant state of fear and tension was chipping away at his physical strength as well as his resolve.   

If I’m falling apart, I can only imagine how Jarod must feel.  The stray thought jolted him out of his introspective perseveration.  As the ding of the elevator announced his arrival at SL-5, Sydney forced all his pain, both physical and emotional, into a place deep in his mind where he locked it away just as he had taught Jarod how to do so many years ago.  To Sydney, the process always felt like stuffing too many blankets into a chest and forcing the lid down.  In the decades he’d been using this “emotions box” to control himself, the box had never seemed so full.  Sydney pushed the thought aside.  He had no right to self-pity, when Jarod was locked in a cell at the mercy of Raines.  Smoothing his face as best he could, Sydney headed down the hallway at a brisk pace.


 As he’d expected, the tech room was almost empty.  By ten o’clock on a Friday evening technicians tended to go home—even at the Centre.  Sydney reflected that this was probably why Raines chose this time to conduct his Animus experiments.  Sydney breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the lone exception to that rule typing feverishly at a computer in the corner.  Sydney quietly walked up behind him.  “Broots.”   

Intent as he was, the tech only jumped slightly at the unexpected sound.  “Oh, uh, hi Sydney.”  The younger man took in the psychiatrist’s strained expression, and concern filled his face, “What is it?  Not more bad news?”


Sydney, who thought he’d done a better job of wiping all emotion from his face, managed a slight smile at that, “No, I just hoped you had some good news.”


“Oh,” Broots looked down and took a big gulp of coffee and inquired, “how did your meeting with Raines go?”


Sydney’s jaw tightened, but he kept his tone neutral for Broots’ benefit, “It was what we expected.  We only have one week.”


The younger man’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Sydney.”  The tech took another long drink, and Sydney noticed for the first time how deep the shadows under the other man’s eyes had become.


“Broots,” he said, “Aren’t those the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?”


“Oh, well, yeah.  I was just up late doing some . . . some programming, so I decided to spend the night on your couch instead of going home.”


“But Broots, what about Debbie?”


“She’s fine!  She’s just been spending a lot of time at friends’ houses lately.  You know—sleepovers and stuff.”


The brave face didn’t fool Sydney for a second. “Broots, I’m so sorry.  I never meant for you to miss out on time with your family for my sake.  You should go home, rest—“


“Sydney, just stop, okay?”


The irritable outburst surprised Sydney more than anything else Broots could have done.  The interruption, the tone—both were so very out of character for the mild mannered tech.  “Stop what?”


Broots’s forehead creased, and his voice strained slightly as it always did in his rare moments of agitation.  “Stop trying to make yourself feel bad for me being here.  And, stop acting like this is just a big favor for you.  I mean, you’re my friend and all, but the real reason I’m here is because I owe Jarod.”


“But Broots, your daughter—“


Again the tech didn’t wait for him to finish, “No.  If it weren’t for Jarod, I wouldn’t even have my daughter.  Look, you were right—about what you said.  Jarod sent that letter to the judge four years ago telling him about my ex-wife’s gambling.  He gave me my daughter back.  I never told you because . . . well, I don’t know why, but the important thing is Jarod needs my help, and if that means spending a few extra hours down here while Debbie’s with the neighbors so be it.  I mean, Jarod—he’s . . .” Broots trailed off, apparently at a loss to describe Jarod’s predicament.


There was a brief silence as Broots composed himself.  After a moment’s consideration, Sydney decided not to press the matter.  Broots rarely asserted himself like this, but when he did, nothing could change his mind.  So instead of arguing, Sydney asked the question that was really weighing on his mind, “Has there been any progress at all?”


The tech raised his eyebrows in exasperation and returned to his keyboard, typing so quickly that his hands were a blur. As Sydney watched, Broots brought up document after document as he searched for the ones to show Sydney.  He spoke as he worked, and, though tension laced his voice, he did not stutter as he described his efforts.  “Funny thing about Animus.  You’d think it’d be top secret, what with Raines being in on it and its connection to the Pretender Project and everything.  But, no, the Tower’s being very open about it.  It has its own file in the medium security electronic records, just like our defense contracts and those old alpha brain wave experiments you used to mess around with.


“Now, just looking at this page, everything looks squeaky clean.  The project started up almost twenty-one years ago, and they have yet to miss filing a report.  We’ve got proposals, budgets, reports from early laboratory tests, even bios on the lead developers.”


Sydney scanned the monitor, his brow creased in confusion, “I don’t understand.  Why would Raines allow this much information to be readily accessible?”


Broots didn’t look up, but he took a nervous sip of coffee before continuing, “that’s the funny thing though; he didn’t.  Look at this proposal.”  He used the mouse to highlight a sentence.


Sydney read aloud from the screen, “‘A Long Term Study to Determine The Effects of Chemical Treatments on Human Consciousness.’  That’s . . . a bit vague.”


Broots snorted into his coffee.  “Political stump speeches are a bit vague.  Abstract paintings are a bit vague.  That is what you put in a Centre project proposal after you’ve deleted the original message so that no one will know its real intent.”


Sydney nodded in agreement and added, “because they can’t say ‘man-made amnesia.’”


“Yeah.  Might make the stock holders a little unhappy.  This is clever though.  They must have known that it would look suspicious if there was no evidence of Animus in the mainframe, so they set up this file with pages and pages of babble and no real substance.  The Tower must have hoped no one would look any further than this.”


“But you did?”


“Yeah, and let me tell you, once you get past the fluff, it all gets pretty freaky.”


“How so?”


“Well,” Broots glanced around the empty room and lowered his voice, “you know Anders?  The new scientist who took over management of the project a month ago?”  Sydney just nodded.  His few encounters with the doctor always left his hair standing on end.  “Well, he’s in here.  Only, according to this file . . . Anders was in two places at once.”


Sydney’s brows knitted in surprise.  “What?” 


Broots typed a few rapid commands to bring up a new page.  “This is a record from nineteen years ago.  Animus had just received Tower approval to hire a new developer; thus, the project coordinator ran a background check on one Doctor Lucas Anders.  According to this, Anders went to Dartmouth and Princeton before doing some contracts for the Pentagon.  The Tower was impressed, so Anders was hired as a lead developer—whatever that means.”


The tech took a quick gulp of coffee and glanced around nervously.  Though the room was still empty, he lowered his voice.  “There are proposals, reports, even payroll records, all with Anders’s name on them, all stating that he was working steadily in a laboratory Monday through Friday right up until seven weeks ago.  A month before Jarod was caught the project coordinator died of a liver disease—I confirmed that with the hospital records, it appears to be legit.  This brings us up to when Raines appointed Anders the new project head.”   


Sydney nodded, still confused, “It sounds like everything is in order.”


“That’s what I thought.  Then I found this.”  Broots brought up another page, this one a digital photo of an old employment record.  He scrolled down, and highlighted a single sentence amid a page-long paragraph of tiny fine print.  Sydney had to lean forward and squint to make it out.  What he read rocked him back on his heels.


“This lists Anders as a special expeditor for Project Animus during the exact same dates the other documents claimed he was working on research.”

 “Bingo, Sydney.  I was puzzled too, so I ran a background check of my own.  Anders went to Stanford and Yale, not Dartmouth and Princeton.  He’s actually five years older and two inches shorter than the background check claimed.  Here’s the weirdest part though:  according to the Centre background check, Anders had a squeaky clean record—not even a parking ticket—but when I searched for felonies or misdemeanors, I ran into walls.  It looks like he has a criminal record, but for some reason it’s classified.”  

Sydney nodded slowly, “He must have friends in high places.  The kind that can make a criminal record disappear.”  The psychiatrist’s brow furrowed.  “Special expeditor . . . that could mean anything; subject acquisition, engineered cover-ups for the Tower, secret research they didn’t want the other scientists to know about . . .”


“Yeah.  It creeps me out too.  But if he was . . . special expediting, who was in the lab filing all these reports?”


Comprehension dawned slowly on Sydney.  “Someone the Tower doesn’t want us to know about.  Someone they’ve erased.  They just put Anders’s name in his place.” 

“Exactly.  I’m still trying to track down this guy.  I have a feeling that if we find the ghost, we find our answers.”


“Good work, Broots.  I know how hard you must have worked on this,” Sydney’s voice was hollow, and Broots knew he was only being polite.  “I don’t understand, though; how is finding this ghost going to help Jarod?”


“Oh.  I was getting to that.”  Broots closed the documents, shut the computer down, and swiveled to face Sydney.  Lowering his voice again, he continued, “you know Bert, down in the Human Resources?  You know, he had the mullet before he . . . never mind.   Well anyway, he has a nephew who used to work here as an intern in the Animus lab.  The kid’s a graduate student and he’s really into all that research stuff, so when his bosses weren’t looking, he’d sneak into the records room and read the files on the research they were doing.  Here’s the thing; according to the kid, somebody already had the Animus therapy all worked out.  It was safe and it worked, but the lead developer was dragging his feet rather than present it to the Tower.”


“The ghost?  Why would he do that?”


 “Well, this is all from Bert, of course, but according to the kid, our mystery man was working on an antidote.”  

Just a hint of surprise leaked into Sydney’s voice, “an antidote?”  Broots caught the hopeful gleam in the old man’s eyes and smiled as proudly as if he’d invented the antidote himself.


 “Yeah.  The kid says he almost had it, too, but one day, out of the blue all the files on the antidote and a big chunk of the Animus research just disappeared.”  Broots lowered his voice still further, “that was four months ago; just six months after Raines started pumping money into Animus and lobbying for the memory drug.”   The pieces slowly came together in Sydney’s mind.  ”So, the ghost must have fled.  Perhaps he thought there was an execution order out against him.  He ran, and he took most of his research with him.  That would set the project back . . . and the Tower would be after his blood.”  Sydney looked up, and his tone became urgent, “Broots.  You think this man, whoever he is, still has an antidote?”  “I, uh, I certainly hope so.”  Feeling Syd’s wishful thinking wash over him, Broots didn’t have the heart to suggest that the ghost was just that, a ghost. No longer alive, thanks to the Tower’s compulsive need to maintain control. 

“And this antidote, you think it can . . . undo whatever they’re about to do to Jarod?”


“Yeah.  At least, that’s what Bert’s nephew said.  And . . . it’s not going to be easy, but I think—I hope—I can find him.” Broots ran a tired hand over his bald head, resigning himself to many more all-nighters. 


 The psychiatrist looked away, and let his thoughts drift to Jarod.  The problem with Broots’ plan was that even if they found the missing scientist—even if they administered the antidote the minute Jarod woke, even if it worked perfectly—Raines would still have invaded the sanctum of Jarod’s mind.  Sydney thought of the pain—the horror Jarod would feel when he realized that the Centre had stolen his memories, and slowly shook his head.  I can’t tell him.  The realization struck Sydney suddenly.  If they really do this to him and Broots can’t find the cure . . . I can’t ever let him know what the Centre stole from him.  A part of Sydney screamed in horror at his sudden resolve; he knew Jarod would consider withholding that information the ultimate betrayal of his trust—trust Sydney had spent years trying to rebuild.  In his heart, however, Sydney knew that for Jarod, the knowledge of what he could never regain could only cause pain, and he couldn’t stand to see his young prodigy in pain.   “Broots.” He began tentatively and then asked with more intensity, “are you sure there’s no other way?”   

Broots knew instinctively the magnitude of what he meant: he shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Sydney.  I don’t like the idea of them messing with Jarod’s head either, but there’s nothing here that could stop the procedure.  If there are any flaws in Animus, Raines has buried them deeper than Solomon’s mines, and the security around Jarod . . . all the pretenders the Centre has ever housed couldn’t get him out of that cage.”  Despite all his control, Sydney couldn’t help but flinch slightly at that last word, and Broots lowered his head apologetically.


Sydney saw how disappointment weighed heavily on the young tech’s face.  He placed a comforting hand on the anxious  man’s shoulder,  “it’s all right, Broots.  I know you did your best, and it was indeed a good start.  We’ll just have to focus on finding the antidote.  If we can restore Jarod’s mind, he might be able to find his own way out.”  He paused and took a deep breath in order to calm himself.  “If he’s still alive, do you think you can find the missing developer, given enough time?” he asked.


Broots rubbed his eyes and shook his head to clear it. “I think so.”


“Good.  You can start on Monday.  For now, though, go home.  Rest and spend time with Debbie.  You’ll have plenty of time to help Jarod when you’re not falling asleep in your chair.”


Broots took another gulp of coffee.  “I don’t know, Sydney, I could still get some more done tonight—“


“Broots, no.”  Sydney did his best to keep his tone neutral, as he forced the painful words out, “the treatment isn’t for another week.  And, once it’s over, Jarod will be in a coma for two months.  You’ll have plenty of time to search for the antidote.  Right now, you have to take care of yourself.”


 “I, um, thanks, Sydney.”  Broots stood and picked up his coat, but before he left, he turned to Sydney and murmured sincerely, “I . . . I’m sorry.  About Jarod.”    

Sydney forced a smile. “It’s quite alright, Broots.  And thank you.”


After Broots left, Sydney caught a glimpse of his reflection in the now dark computer monitor.  He looked very old.  And very tired.  He was once more assaulted with memories of the weariness and fear he’d seen in Jarod’s eyes almost three weeks ago; the very same that now graced his face, despite his attempt to hide his emotions.  


 With a groan, he looked away and raised a trembling hand to his head again.  How do you tell a man that he’s about to lose the best five years of his life? Even as the thought flashed through his mind, Sydney knew that it didn’t begin to describe what Jarod was about to experience.  He closed his eyes and followed Broots out the door.  He would go home, too.  But, like every night for the last three weeks, this night would hold little sleep for him.   


Chapter End Notes:

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