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(A/N: This is all still in the Equinox)

Stephen's punch fires dynamite into my jawline. I stumble to the right, tripping and falling to the ground. My arms hit the floor hard. I cuss under my breath a few times, the pain causing me to roll onto my side.

"S-Stephen," I gasp. I shut my eyes for a few seconds. The force beats into my cheek. I open my eyes again, sensitive to everything. Stephen stares back at me, eyes no longer kind.

"Stephen," I beg.

His eyes are cold, sending shivers up my spine. Suddenly they switch to warm again. "Holland, we can't do this anymore. We can't be here and pretend it's okay to fight against our nation. It's our country, the only place we'll ever be safe."

"Then why did you hit me?" I whisper. "Why would you hurt me?"

The empty space between us disappears as Stephen steps closer to me. His enhanced aroma swirls around me.  He kneels next to me, grasping my hand.

"I had to do it, okay? How else would you listen to me?"

I shake my head, biting my lower lip for a second. "That's not true. I saw the violence in your eyes, Stephen. You're not violent, but the Enhancement Project is."

Now it's Stephen who's panicking on the inside. "I swear it's not. It's really me right now."

I look away from him, totally in disbelief. The Screeners around me already disappeared, leaving me alone with the guy who's confusing the life out of me. He just hit me!

"Hey," Stephen says, reeling me back in. "I really love you."

He lays a hand under my chin, prompting me to wince when I normally wouldn't. Just moments ago he touched me then swung at my jaw. The thought brushes my mind before fading into the forgotten.

"This is screwing with you," I say. Distaste floods my senses. "You were kept in captivity for two years as a human test dummy. They tortured the will power out of you for being a minute late to your SkyTrain. The nation isn't keeping you safe; it's leeching onto you and killing everything it can."

Stephen pushes my shoulders roughly, shoving me back. I glare at him in pure shock. "What was that for?"

He groans, standing up and sliding his hands through his hair. "You don't get it. Neither of us can keep going like this, expecting the rebels to come and save us. They don't care about us. They're liars."

My eyes are wide now. Somehow I'm already standing and fuming.

I let Stephen continue as the white atrium walls around us become more and more familiar to me, like we never left the Project to begin with.

"I get it, you're mad," I say, "but seriously. Quit pushing me around. It's making me sick."

"You have to listen to me though. Please. Let's just forget the rebellion ever involved us."

My blood is pulsing. "You're not going to throw away everything we've earned. I can't believe we're having this discussion right now!"

Stephen's eyebrows draw closer together. "Worked for what? Everyone we care about is either gone or dead because we chose to fight for some stupid cause that's going to fail anyways."

I nearly cough on his words. "Excuse me?"

He shakes his head, skimming a hand over his mouth and chin. "It's true. Think about it: our lives are torn apart right now because we chose the wrong path. Literally everyone we know and love is unreachable."

I let out an angry scoff. "You know what, Stephen? You're completely deranged right now. Either someone's telling you what to think or you've gone over the edge. We're literally trapped in an experimental prison, yet you're trying to convince me life is all about butterflies and fricking rainbows!"

"That's it, I'm done," Stephen growls. "I tried to save you, but you aren't listening to me. Don't say I didn't warn you when you end up dead in here."

My jaw hits the floor, prompting me to shove Stephen. "Screw you!"

Stephen falls back a few steps. It's enough to get his rage turned up to the highest level. Hot redness slowly tints his cheeks. That's when he charges at me.

Slow motion kicks in as I turn on my barefooted heel. My legs take massive, daunting leaps to flee. Yet I can't believe it. I'm try to escape the monster I might want to call my boyfriend in the the future, the Project's finest subject. The world has officially gone insane.

Within moments, airborne hands wrap around my torso, throwing me to the ground in a single tackle. Punches, grabs, movements fly everywhere. Life threatens to leave me for the billionth time, but I'm not about to the let that happen.

A punch knocks into my stomach. Another lunges at my throat. I gag for air as Stephen presses his full, claustrophobic weight on me.

"S-Steph... S-S-Stop..." I croak. It's no use.  The hits keep coming, a punishment for not agreeing with a word anyone ever says. Not Stephen. Not the Project. Not the nation either.

One last hit smacks me into complete fiery pain. "Time's up," the monotonous voice commands. My insides twist at the sound of the sharp voice. The ultimate bad omen.

Stephen huffs, blowing out hot air that flutter a few of my hairs. He rises and back away from me, almost smug. Almost.

I curl up and cough, dripping blood down my chin. The pain is indescribably horrible. Like I was run over by a SkyTrain and then dumped off the roof. Not to mention it was my dearest ally that beat me to pulp.

I blink my eyes a few times, trying to clear the pain away and it works. Confused, I wipe the agony-free blood from my chin with the back of my hand and sit up.

"Don't give me that look, Holland," Stephen says. "I'm trying to help."

I glance at him. "I don't even know you anymore."

I blink my eyelids subconsciously, the Enhancement Project atrium disappearing when my eyes click open and closed. I appear in a penthouse office.

A dozen windows, taller than all the others I've ever seen, face me with fury. Pale light blinds my sight. I rub it away.

My eyes finally adjust, able to make out a silhouette. Within another blink, the shadow becomes a person. I could recognize that sharp suit anywhere. The presidential seal adorns the silver floor in white ink.

My stomach swoons with uneasiness. I know exactly what's going on.

-- -- -- -- --

keep it up and fully-explained answer were the winners! indeed, stephen's violence continued. i didn't get the opportunity to explain fully what's going on, but that "shadow" will certainly do the job.

as a sidenote: i am so much in love with this book and all the people who continue to read on each week. i cannot thank each and every one of you enough! thank you times a million :)

Question: Choose a phrase: know all, know some, know none.

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