*Don’t hate me. I didn’t mean for this to be this long. I’m not sure what happened. I’m sorry in advance. Skim if you want.*

Part II (Kirby)

Alexei lay on a surgical platform, fully unconscious. Langley hadn’t been exactly what he had expected. An automated arm detached from the platform and whirled up a quarter-sized saw. Then it began cutting into the back of Alexei’s skull, which, though cauterized and drained, still dripped a yellowish fluid from the incision.

Harkov stood in the viewing room while the procedure took place- well, he didn’t have to think of himself as Harkov anymore, did he? I’m Sullivan again. He told himself.

The surgical saw withdrew, and mechanical pincers plucked a blood-covered silicone chip from Alexei’s medulla. The chip contained a revolutionary recording system, reflexive clamps, and a tiny capsule of cyanide connected to a jet-injector which could feed into the spinal cord.

“Just in case.” Sullivan scoffed to himself.

Surgeons entered the room and began dressing the incision, and the chip was handed off to a Langley technician. Just then, the door to the viewing room opened, and two men entered. Sullivan knew the first man; it was Nathan Gould, the overseer of the sleeper program. Sullivan had corresponded with him often when he was still in Russia. The second, as Gould soon announced, was a Detective Surewood of the Erie PD, as unlikely a visitor to Langley as any.

“Surewood worked with Agent Federov on a joint task force between their PD’s.” Gould explained. “In 2012, there was a drug smuggling ring that stretched from the Midwest to Beirut, and Federov and Surewood were critical in dismantling it.”

“You worked together?” Sullivan asked.

“We did. You could have called us friends. He was fluent in English, not even an accent, really.”

“He’s here to help our department shrinks work up a psych profile for Agent Federov.” Gould said.

“I would like to see him if I can. Once he wakes up.” said Surewood.

“We’ll see.”

***

Alexei gritted his teeth as the nurse removed the first round of syringes from his major muscles. The bound incision in the back of his head throbbed. One, two, three, four…. He stopped counting at nine and focused on sitting still. I don’t even know what that is. Alexei thought as he stared at the mix of steroids and antibiotics in one of the syringes. “You’re done for now.” the nurse said.

He rolled his sleeve over the injection marks, then checked his recently-issued pager. Surewood had sent a request for Alexei to meet him before he left for Erie. It was the last thing Alexei felt like doing, but Surewood was a friend. Alexei took an agency car to the suggested street corner on the D.C. limits, in a shopping district beneath a bustling overpass. It was late into the night by the time Alexei got there. Surewood was waiting in an SUV. Alexei strolled to the car, and he and Surewood clapped hands and shared a few inside jokes. “Why the cloak-and-dagger?” Alexei asked.

Surewood dropped the small talk, and his tone grew somber. Alexei’s face matched the sound of his friend’s voice as he listened to the narrative. Alexei glanced around the darkened block- an unconscious tick of his. He returned his attention to Surewood as the detective’s tone took on an even more charismatic note. The instant after he did, however, he registered something odd; there had been the slightest variance of black in the reflection of a storefront window a few dozen yards ahead. Alexei’s breath caught in his throat as his fast-twitch mind screamed ‘danger’. At the speed of thought, he instinctually rewound his mind back a fraction of a second, and he found himself staring at a frozen Surewood, his open mouth stilled, mid-speech. Before his eyes, Surewood chattered on, but behind them, Alexei saw unmoving moths stuck around unflickering streetlamps, halted planes trapped in the stilled night sky…

…And a gradiating shadow in a window reflecting the outline of a man. A gleam danced off something in the man’s hand.

Alexei snapped out of his mental reconstruction, and he flinched, tensing, his hand twitching toward his gun. It was well he did; a searing line of heat lashed Alexei’s ear as a vapor trail sped away from the side of his head. His honed reflexes, coupled with a surge of adrenaline, caused everything in the world to slow tremendously. Alexei’s eyes followed the warp just in time to see a window pane get pierced by the bullet and fracture into shards, the pieces catching the light of a muzzle flash. The flash bloomed brighter, lighting the block, refracted in all the shops’ displays. The glare was disorienting, but the windows’ multiple angles allowed Alexei to pinpoint the position of the shooter, using the silhouette of his own body as a reference.

Before Alexei could respond, the pain kicked in, causing him to stagger; out of the corner of his eye, he saw a piece of his ear cartilage whistle through the air, trailing blood. He pressed one hand to the wound and drew his weapon with the other, whipping it towards the ground while holding the slide to cock it. He took a step; he heard his shooter running down the street sidelong to him. The man twisted and fired at Alexei as he ran. A trail of rounds pummeled the side of Surewood’s SUV, and another wave of pain caused Alexei to lose his balance. He fell, firing sideways, but it was like falling through water. Jagged lines of bullet-holes punctured the walls behind both shooters. After what seemed like an eternity of falling, Alexei hit the ground, firing a last shot that tagged the man in the hip.

The shooter lurched, a paroxysm running up his leg and into his arm, causing him to drop the weapon. Alexei’s gun clicked empty, and a loud revving filled the streets as a van sped around a corner toward the shootout. Alexei rose partially, the bleeding tracts in his arm and ribs burning like pitch. He staggered forward as the wounded shooter made an abrupt hook toward the van. The tires of the vehicle squealed as it cut across the street, braking hard. The door slid open, and two men jumped out with submachine guns. The original shooter limped closer, and his comrades raised their guns and fired at Alexei.

Alexei’s pounding heart had completed a course of blood through his body, bringing a fresh surge of adrenaline; Alexei reached into his coat, kicked into a sudden roll, and pressed the mag eject on his gun. He came to a stop, a new magazine in his weapon. A spray bullets pinged off the asphalt where he had just been. Alexei shot back, twice, and the two men dropped; the van behind them was splattered black in the poor light. The first shooter reached the van and fell into it as the vehicle peeled away, crashing through the glass first floor of an office building and onto the street on the other side, heading towards the overpass. Alexei sprinted ahead for a clear view of the street, calculating how far a van that size could travel on a flat tire. He reached the corner, sped around it, slid to a stop, took a deep breath, and fired.

His body was humming with such mind-altering clarity that he could see the subtle variations in the tracer’s otherwise straight flight path as it sped toward the vehicle. The bullet hit the van in the rear left tire, and the driver jerked, slamming into an oncoming city bus. Sparks skittered between the vehicles, and bits of glass rose into the air. The van jerked in the opposite direction then, and slammed into a pylon of the overpass with a deafening boom. Tongues of fire leaped from the engine block, and a hail of parts and concrete rained into the street. Alexei lowered the gun and returned to Surewood, shuffling in pain. Behind him, the van’s engine burst into flame.

The doors of Surewood’s SUV looked like a Pollock piece. Vapor rose from the SUV’s compromised gas tank, and tiny pieces of glass from the damaged windows fell clinking onto the street. A thread of blood raced down the driver’s-side door. Surewood didn’t move. Alexei holstered his weapon and pressed to fingers beneath Surewood’s jaw; he had no pulse.

***

Alexei thrust open the door to the conference room, his dressed wounds smarting- all grazes, luckily, according to the unit doctor; two in the ribs, one in the bicep… wouldn’t even scar. “Your ear, however…”

Alexei resisted the urge to touch his bandaged ear. He’d just have to live with it. The bullet had sheared a groove out of the edge, leaving basically a bullet hole in the outside of his ear. “Women’ll love it.” the doc had said.

Alexei could care less- about the ear or the women. Surewood was dead. He wanted to know why.

The staff in the room gave Alexei almost fearful glances as he entered. Did he look that bad, or was he just scary? Smithy was there, along with Gould and Sullivan. The rest of crowd was made up mostly of analysts. “Agent.” Gould said.

“Sir. Where do we stand?”

“They were Russian. A joint operations force between the special task division of Moscow’s PD and a KGB defector-hunting unit. Going off the tattoos on the two bodies, we know they were ex-Spetsnaz. Our guess is you were supposed to be an example. Sort of a warning to other defectors still in Russia. And they didn’t have to worry about the politics of an international incident because we can’t admit you work for us in the first place. Only thing is-”

“They didn’t know I was a sleeper.” Alexei muttered.

“Exactly. We never reported the embassy incident. They couldn’t have known.”

The thought of people he might have spoken to before trying to kill him, and the fact that he killed them first, unsettled Alexei. Had they just told their families they were taking a train to St. Petersburg for a weekend meeting? Had their children stared confusedly at the hearses of their fathers? Alexei swallowed, surprised with himself, with his humanness.

“Anyways,” said Gould. “We’ll know more when you get back.”

Alexei looked up. “Get back?”

“Smithy?” Gould asked, busying himself on his tablet.

“We’ve caught an assignment.” Smithy explained. “You’ve been tasked to join us. Sullivan too.”

Alexei glanced at Sullivan, who looked serious. “When do we leave?” he asked.

“Tonight.”

***

The C-130 carrying the team to their destination had been an Air Force requisition, but the airmen had been happy to lend it. It seemed it wasn’t every day they got to work with SEALs, even in such an indirect way. The respect and fear the SEALs commanded still shocked Alexei; even though his memory had been restored, he was still unfamiliar with such American hierarchy. Hierarchy seemed like the best word to Alexei, as he had come to realize that that truly was the essence of every military.

“Alright, we should all get some shut-eye before we’re there, so I’ll keep this brief.” Smithy had said. “We’re going to Azerbaijan. An English-American national is being held by Azerbaijani extremists; they’re an offshoot of the main ultranationalist presence in the region. We’re cleared to use any means to bring her home, but we aren’t cleared to fire on non-splinter ultranationalists per NATO regulations. Basically, if they’re patriots, leave them; if they’re terrorists, kill ’em. The girl’s being held in a refinery in a border town to Iran. These guys have strong affiliations with ISIS, so we’ve gotta be long gone by the time the ultranationalists call for help. The US will deny any involvement in the area so once we’re on the ground, we’re on our own. Any questions? Then go to sleep.”

Week IV, Group III

Sleeper Cell

The ringing of phones filled the office, and detectives shouted over them in rhythmic disharmony. The smell of coffee and cigarettes clung to the felt dividers and trafficked floors. Desk cops bustled like ants, carrying manila folders and red case binders. Identical aluminum desks, piled high with computers and files, butted against one another in the centre of the room. The edges of the offices were dark, lightened only intermittently by fluorescent tube lights. There, detectives would be seen slinking with their CI’s through the disorienting maze of smartglass conference rooms and carpeted pillars, which supported the second floor atrium.

The second floor was an entirely different world. It opened over the first, and from it the bosses eyed their underlings like vultures. It was neat, modern, and smelled of hand sanitizer. It was quite literally a glass house, and its inhabitants didn’t get there by throwing stones; just the opposite. The bosses on the second floor were there because they minded their own business, and carried great insurance- the kind that only blood could buy. The detectives drew straws when bringing the bosses bad news. When a cop was actually called up by the bosses, the walk was as somber as a funeral procession. That was what happened to homicide detective Alexei Federov as he sifted through the week’s case files. It was a habit of his, one idiosyncracy in a long list of attributes that made some detectives resent his efficiency and others value his brilliance. The detective’s list of friends was not long, as his temper when roused was feared throughout the department. However, the friends he did have were extremely loyal, a testament to his true character.

Just as he tucked away a file for a heinous triple murder, one of the lieutenants buzzed Alexei up to his office.

“Der’mo.” Alexei muttered.

But before he had even moved, the lieutenant buzzed again, saying, “Prinesite dela Harkov.” Bring the Harkov file.

So, this wasn’t about Alexei; it was about a case. An upper had actually taken an interest in a case. Alexei picked through the stack of unsolved homicide cases on his desk, his intelligent grey eyes gleaming over the pages. He found the right file, then climbed the winding steel staircase that lead to the second floor. All of the noise from the floor below seemed to grow muted, drowned out by Alexei’s forceful heartbeats. One of the bosses was chattering on the phone in his office and noticed Alexei staring at him. The boss tapped a key on his computer, and the glass fogged up. Blinking stupidly, Alexei strode down a hall to the correct office. He tapped the glass, then opened the door, which let a gleam of light into the room. A green desk lamp and a monitor were the only lights inside. The lieutenant sat smoking a cigar, rapidly tapping his keyboard, pretending not to notice Alexei. This was the custom; Alexei was patient. “Sit, please.” the lieutenant murmured.

Alexei raised an eyebrow but sat. After the appropriate amount of time had passed to suggest the lieutenant was a busy person and Alexei was just barely fitting into his schedule, the boss spoke. “The Harkov case. Bartender killed in bar fight. Not a great tragedy. But it has been almost two months. It was your case, no? Why has it gone unsolved?”

Annoyed, Alexei’s pride overrode his nervousness, and he responded in much more fluid English. “I have a dozen more pressing cases that were great tragedies. I have a head of state killed by a tripping college student with a bow and arrow. I have a vigilante leaving a trail of heroin dealers from here to Irkutsk-”

“Not why I called you in here.” the lieutenant cut in. “The ‘victim’, Nikolai Harkov, has been confirmed alive by one of my CI’s. You are to find and arrest him immediately; I will not have a stain like him disgracing our system.”

“I’m not in the fraud division. Why me?”

“It was your case, it is your mess. …And your English is very good; actually, yours is the only English good enough.”

“Good enough for what?”

“For handling an international incident.”

***

Amerikanskoye posol’stvo, chirped Alexei’s GPS as he entered an address into the device. Moscow during rush hour was beyond infuriating, but Alexei used the time to re-read the Harkov file in his lap.

Full name: Harkov, Nikolai

Height: 5′ 2”

Weight: 183

Eyes: Black

Hair: n/a

Nationality: Current: Russian. Birth: Ukrainian

Family: Wife- deceased; cancer. Parents- deceased; auto accident. Siblings: 3- one deceased; auto accident

Marital status: Single (girlfriend)

Occupation: Barkeeper (owner)

By the time he was through downtown, Alexei was intimately familiar with the Harkov file- perhaps because of the striking similarities to his own tragic childhood. By the expressway, Harkov’s entire life had been committed to a ruthlessly eidetic memory. But beneath the cold reason with which he studied the file, Alexei felt an additional stir of familiarity at the sight of Harkov’s photograph. It was like a splinter of his past, which had been sleeping for ages, had suddenly awakened. He knew this man. A scene flitted behind Alexei’s eyes as he drove. A man in a black, rain-soaked suit was standing over him; he could have been a giant, or Alexei could have just been a child. “Your parents’ deaths, your brothers’…” the man said in Russian, “…they didn’t have to be for nothing.”

Alexei nearly crashed into the car ahead of him as he returned his attention to the road. He had to swerve and slam his department sedan’s brakes to avoid the vehicle. A chorus of blaring horns rose from the stopped traffic. Muttering curses in truly original contexts, Alexei blinked away the odd memory and steered back into his lane.

It wasn’t long after when Alexei arrived at the U.S. Embassy. At the gate, he flashed his credentials and stated he was on a case, and was escorted to an empty office in the heart of the building. His escort asked him to wait there and then left. Alexei sank into a leather chair that creaked at every movement. With nothing to do, Alexei scanned the room, trying to understand what kind of man the office belonged to. The plaque on the desk read “Daniel Brandt, Executor of Local Department Relations”.

The full set of Thatcher’s commentaries on foreign policy dominated the shelves. Fan of Thatcher. Other, smaller sets on department policy and inter-agency cooperation lined the other spaces. This was someone who took their job seriously, but also their family, as hand-drawn crayon portraits rested near pictures of grinning children on the desk. A bustling cork board hung on the wall to the left of the desk, and a lukewarm cup of coffee rested with the handle facing the same direction. Left-handed. Additionally, he was a 9 to 5 worker. Alexei could see the seat of Brandt’s computer chair from over the desk, suggesting it was set at maximum height. So Brandt was about 5′ 6″- 5′ 10”. Likely blonde, as his eyes were almost certainly blue- the office’s paint scheme and furnishings were predominantly blue- not to mention that his children were blonde as well.

Wife? No. There was a hand resting on the shoulder of a child in one of the photographs. Couldn’t have been Brandt’s- he was the type of man to always take the family picture, and the owner of the hand had been cut out of the photograph. Had the mother have died, her place in the family would have been preserved- enhanced even. It wasn’t. So, he was divorced. But the children were in Russia- they were wearing ushankas. And they weren’t just visiting- their coats were a discontinued Russian brand found only in grunge boutiques and modern-brand-only thrift stores. “Recently divorced, then.” Alexei said to himself.

“Excuse me?” asked a voice. It was Brandt, standing in the doorway, looking both confused and annoyed. Alexei had been so absorbed in thought that he hadn’t heard the man approaching. However, to Alexei’s peevish satisfaction, he found Daniel Brandt to be exactly what he had guessed. …And he was, in fact, blonde.

“Apologies, sir. Just thinking aloud. Have you been told of my business here?”

“I have,” Brandt replied. “I’m required to inform you that Mr…. Nikolai Harkov has been granted political asylum by the United States.”

This was news to Alexei. “May I ask on what grounds?” he ultimately managed.

“You may, but I am neither required nor at liberty to release that information.”

“Are you aware of my investigation?”

“The vague details.”

“Then you must know that whatever arrangement you have with Harkov, it would not be affected by my investigation. Would it be acceptable for me to interview Harkov and close out the case while he remains in your custody?”

“I can’t see what good it would do; Mr. Harkov will not be released to Russia to face trial-” Brandt cut himself off; apparently he had said more than he intended.

“Well… then I have no reason to secure a confession.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“…Unless the United States would, as a gesture of good will, prosecute Mr. Harkov in the place of our courts. You would have full access to all the evidence, heck, we’d even pay the court costs. Mayor Sobyanin is a personal friend of mine who’s taken great interest in this case, and I’m sure he would be thrilled with the embassy for a favor like this.” Alexei lied.

Alexei could see Brandt’s soul darken beneath the mask of respect. “I… will have to check with my superiors on a request like that. But,” he raised a finger. “I’m willing to allow you to close out your investigation today, in respect for Mayor Sobyanin.”

“Thank you.” Alexei nodded his head, relief showing in his eyes.

“What do you need?”

“To interrogate Mr. Harkov. I need a confession.”

***

Alexei fidgeted as he stared at his reflection in the one-way mirror. He was eager to see the man who’s photo had elicited such a reaction from him earlier. He hoped that by spending time with Harkov, he would understand why. Had he known him, or did he merely resemble someone Alexei had met as a child?

“All right, recording.” an American tech said as he put on headphones and flipped a switch on his console. The lights dimmed in the observation room Alexei was in, reversing the two way mirror. Alexei found himself staring at Harkov as he was escorted into the interrogation room by an embassy guard. He was seated, then offered a glass of water. The guard moved away and took his position at the door. Alexei turned his attention from the window as Brandt entered the observation room, followed by and ordinary-looking suit with reading glasses. “This is Undersecretary of Extradition Pierce.” Brandt said. “He’ll be in there with us as an extra opinion. Alright, Federov, you’re up.”

Alexei took the lead as the three entered the cell. Immediately after seeing Harkov face to face, another long-lost memory swirled into Alexei’s head. “You’re gonna be a microphone, basically.” a silhouette had said to him through a secured screen. How long ago had that happened?

The random pictures and emotions didn’t stop as Alexei sat down across from Harkov. The fat older man exclaimed suddenly in a thick Russain accent, “It is very wonderful to be seeing you again, my friend.”

“I- we-?” The roiling memories resolved into a single image. Harkov was standing at attention next to Alexei. A dozen others were standing like they were, forming a line of young men. Boys, actually. A rep was striding down the line, briefing them, or maybe debriefing them? The man said: “You will all be confused at first. But you will know what to do. And you will know it’s right.” They were both soldiers. They were doing what they were supposed to. Alexei and Harkov, they had been brothers. Only, his name wasn’t Harkov, it was-

“Sullivan.” Alexei said. A ghost of a smile danced across Harkov’s face. But Brandt cocked his head, giving Harkov a suspicious glance.

“You remember.” Harkov answered, never taking his eyes off Alexei.

Annoyed, Brandt turned to Alexei. “Talk to me here. What’s…” He didn’t finish. Alexei kicked him directly in the kneecap, buckling his legs. As Brandt fell, Alexei stepped around him, secured a hand around his jaw, and yanked, hard. There was a snap, and Brandt went limp. As he did so, Harkov broke the mouth of his water glass on the edge of the table, leaped at the guard with the jagged weapon, and eviscerated him before he could draw. In a lithe motion, Harkov drew the guard’s handgun as the body dropped. Harkov tossed the gun to Alexei, and they strode to the door, the guard’s key in hand. Pierce had backed into a corner, wide-eyed, shaking. As the door swung open and the two Russians exited, Alexei fired the gun sidelong at Pierce without so much as a glance. The man dropped.

Behind the Plexiglas window, the shocked technicians radioed security. “Be aware, we have two apparent sleeper agents at large on these premises. Suspects are armed. Security is cleared to use lethal force.”

In a hallway several dozen yards away, Alexei said, “I remember,” as he rushed with Harkov toward the exit.

“Took you long enough.” Harkov replied. “It’s been fifteen years. The boys at Langley are very impatient to take that very special battery out of your head and see what you’ve got for them. Let’s get you home.”

Week III, Group II

The Prelude You Never Knew was Needed

It started with a piece of marble. Not a bright, webbed, polished orb- just a vein of dusky marble buried in the roots of the cliffs outside of Florence. Eventually the vein was tapped, picked, and the chunks of it carted by miners out of the hills and into Florence. The pieces were fired and buffed in the workshops of the city’s stoneworkers, then distributed throughout the country.

The pieces would all become famous sculptures; Schiavonni’s “The Arachnid”, which suffered two broken-off limbs as it was dropped by movers in Paris and then renamed “The Insect” in 1799. The “Madonna of Bruges”, stolen by the Nazis and rescued by George Clooney in 1945. The statue of David, which would meet its fate via flash photography in 2022, as one shocked tourist forgot to change his camera setting and accidentally flashed the statue to pieces.

But one work never saw the worldwide fame of the others. It was shipped to a dying sculptor in Verona in 1402, where it was fashioned after a prominent citizen of the city. Hour by hour, the block of stone was slowly transformed into a flawless bust of an emotionless man. Upon finishing the sculpture, the artist managed to inscribe in its base, “Dedicated to Lord…” before he dropped dead of Renaissance Disease, a malady consisting of starvation and broken-heartedness.

Three months later, the artist’s landlord came round to the apartment, responding to other tenants’ complaints of “a sinful reek” on the third floor and also wondering why he hadn’t been paid rent in ages. It was dark and stuffy as he entered the apartment, groping blindly along the walls in the palpable, fetid odor. He stumbled over something in the dark, a loose rug maybe, and only just caught himself by grasping a hard object in front of him. He stood, running his hands over the object. He felt eye sockets, a clammy nose, cold lips. Wild panic seized him for a moment before he realized he was holding a bust of a head. An idea popped into his head as he thought he could take the sculpture as rent payment. Whistling, he strode back out of the apartment, again tripping over something on the floor as he left.

He sold it in Verona’s market to a merchant who immediately displayed it for twice the price. Before long, a voice in the crowd called out, “Oh, darling look! This looks just like you!”

At the same time, another voice from elsewhere in the market exclaimed, “Why, husband, I think that sculpture might be of you!”

Two women emerged from the crowd, rushing toward the merchant’s stand. One was tall, beautiful, and olive-complexioned… and also severely pregnant. The other was stout and matronly, but her only baby was a cannoli at every meal. Their husbands came beside them. The first was a lord of the city and head of the Montague household. His eyes were drilling and his words powerful. The second man was also a lord and patriarch of the Capulet family. He was known far abroad. For his temper.

They tried arguing with each other for the sculpture, they tried bribery, haggling, reverse psychology, inverse psychology, but both couples were recalcitrant. A few grabs were made for the bust, but the merchant hugged it to his chest with a gleeful grin as the proud couples’ offers went up. Finally, the bidders challenged each other to a couples’ duel, a fight to the death in which all spouses participated. Holding her jiggling baby bump with one hand, and throwing haymakers with the other like it was 1399, Lady Montague socked the Lady Capulet in the chin, dropping her like an under-stuffed doll.

The husbands both had their fists out like they were holding invisible snakes, making a few tentative punches now and then. “Hit ‘im, Gary!” Lady Montague yelled to her husband as she throttled Lady Capulet. Lord Montague tried, but he hurt his knuckles on Capulet’s jaw. Lord Capulet responded with the dreaded backhanded slap.

Before the duel could progress any further, the young Prince of Verona rushed to the fight and shouted, “Halt! I just decided that citizens aren’t actually allowed to kill other people!”

“But we’re winning!” Shouted Lady Montague.

“No you’re not! We’re winning!” Lady Capulet yelled from beneath the baby bump.

“If you don’t stop, I’m throwing all four of you into the dungeons!” replied the Prince.

The couples grudgingly relented, and the Capulets rose and fled, smashing the bust from the merchant’s arms as they ran. It cracked into fist-sized chunks as it hit the ground. “I’ll get you for that!” Lord Montague shouted. “I always get my man!”

And this is how the feud between the two most influential families of Verona really started.

Week II, Group III

Last Night’s Dream (Perfect Timing, Brain!)

The dread order was given, and I was to leave.

So I made to depart- to through webs of fate move

Which, wrapping and pulling, quick tried to reverse me

Tried turn me around, and, to the face of my love

Have my aching heart emptied, ere it was too late

***

The mind fought the heart, dueling over the soul

-I turned, facing her and her ironwilled gaze-

And by then o’er my body my heart had control

Bidding me to her walk, and to hold by the waist

As we gazed into each other’s razor-sharp eyes

***

…To what lay beneath: our weary and roiling souls:

Very tired, but hopeful, though by no means sure

Together we’d always stood; apart, we weren’t whole

Alone, we would be like on two Makins immured

On our own dead atolls of regret and ruin

***

That fate, above all the others which drew so near

Compelled without thought me to swallow my terror

And wrestle with useless and unruly fear

I stooped lower; she, still in my arms, heard me whisper,

“I love you, and I have to do this at least once.”

***

From her small lips came a smaller gasp, defied

As I kissed her; a token that I loved her most

Her blazing green eyes did hold mine in surprise,

Then their bright sparks went out as she let them close

And then leaned into both my soft kiss and scarred arms

***

My mind took me quickly to a new time and place

Or rather an old one, as key turned in time’s lock

And I remembered her perfume, the look on her face

The rolling, gold hills; the dark, water-stained dock

And the warm, sure, real weight of her in my embrace

***

We stared across seething and sparkling waves

Wishing forever to stay in that secret place

But to our cruel fate we were only but slaves

And reaving time’s fearful pull did take her away

And I was left cold, pointless, and full of regret

***

I found her again, late in life; on narrow chance

Just in time to needs answer to strangers’ blood calls

Those webs pulled again via dual happenstance

And dark war sounded to my family, friends, and all

We answered, my brothers and I, and our father

***

And marched to our young deaths as was sounded the call

Then my eyes opened quickly; bright and alive

As did my lips to let out the groan of appall

Only a dream; that ruefully or joyfully?

Life was still mine, but love never was

Week I, Group II

P.S. I know the rhythm’s off; gosh, what do you want from me?!