As Vlad combated against Daniel, the younger halfa met each of his blows to par. Even when he sent a clone across the block to overshadow his friend, the stubborn goth girl, Daniel responded with his own clone to defend her. He couldn't figure out how he was doing it—just last week his opponent had been weaker than him by just a margin. Now, the fifteen-year-old was beating Vlad at his own game with a nonchalant grace that took years to acquire.

How was he doing it?

Before he knew it, Daniel had him pinned against the wall. His gloved hand pressed into his throat and he couldn't breathe. What the fuck? Why couldn't he…?

"I'm so tired of this," he whispered. "Every fucking day you attack me as I leave the house. Every fucking day, Vlad. I can't figure it out in time because you keep—keep fighting me! I just want it all to end…"

The edges of his vision were dotted with black spots. He sputtered, trying to beg Daniel for mercy, but no sound came out. His chokehold was far too strong… far too angry.

"I just want one fucking day! I just want one day where you don't attack me, one day where I don't have to disarm that goddamn bomb at the school, one day where the GIW don't fucking cart me off to their fucking laboratory! Why won't it just stop! Why won't you just stop!"

… what was he talking about?

His airflow was nearly cut off. Daniel's grip was so tight that Vlad felt himself on the verge of passing out.

"Danny!" He could hardly make out the silhouette of the goth girl standing somewhere behind them. "You're going to kill him!"

Daniel only laughed. "Does it matter?"

"Danny, I swear to God—"

"What? It's not the first time he's died."

There were only vague shapes and sounds now. Daniel's luminescent form was before him… and then suddenly a black blur came at him from the side. His grip on Vlad's throat slackened just enough that he was able to phase free. He fell to his knees, gasping for air and struggling to find a steady intake.

It wasn't the first time he'd been strangled. No, that honor belonged to Jack in college… but it still wasn't pleasant.

"What is wrong with you?" the girl was crying. "You've been off all day! Just tell me something!"

From his place on the ground, Vlad saw Daniel shake his head. "Don't worry about it, Sam. I have to get to the school before it's too late."

There was a slapping noise. Daniel fell silent.

"If you don't tell me what is going on, I am going to kill you a second time."

Vlad had pulled himself into the air again, but neither teens were watching him. He had half a mind to flee after Daniel's show of power but Vlad was intrigued, curious what had happened to the good-natured hero he'd grown to know.

"Technus rigged a bomb," he explained, impatiently. "The Guys in White know about it, but they won't be fast enough. Right now, I'm the only one who can phase it out of the building in time."

"Earlier you said… you said that they were going to capture you."

"I never get away in time. Well, I've managed it a few times but something even more catastrophic always happens afterward."

"I don't understand. What do you mean always and—and how do you know what's going to happen?"

He looked at her with heavy green eyes.

"I'm in a time loop."

That… explained some things.

It was an odd notion to wrap his mind around but not impossible. Vlad was well aware that time magic was real, he'd been at the receiving end of it once or twice… but never something as drastic as a time loop. No wonder he was so out of character, acting with refined precision as if their fight was child's play!

"How long?" he asked.

Daniel and Sam startled, having forgotten his presence.

"None of your business, Plasmius."

"How long?" Sam repeated, making Daniel tense.

"I—it's not important."

"Yes it is. This is weighing down on your soul. You need someone to help you, to support you. Just let me help."

"Then what? So you can just forget about it in the morning?" He phased through her grip and floated further into the air. "Just let me go, Sam. I need to stop Technus before it's too late."

Before either of them could protest, he shot off into the distance.

Sam, who looked far too imposing for a fifteen-year-old girl, turned toward him with dark eyes lined with deep shadows.

"He's not well," she assessed.

"It doesn't take a genius to see that."

For a moment neither of them spoke, but then she marched forward, lunged for his arm, and pulled him down to her eye level with ease.

"You need to go after him. He might've knocked you up, but you're not weak. I know you can stop whatever stupid thing he's going to pull."

"Excuse me?"

Did she really think that she could command him? Vlad Plasmius? The half-ghost billionaire?

"I want you to stop him from getting kidnapped from the Guys in White," she said with a conviction that suggested he was a child. "He said it's going to happen because he's not fast enough. So stop them. Hell, you could probably stop them as the Mayor if you really tried."

"Why would I help him?"

"You're not a heartless monster, you're a selfish bastard. There's a difference."

She was insulting him to get her point across? No wonder Daniel was hopelessly infatuated with her.

"What if I succeed and the time loop doesn't break?"

"What if it doesn't?"

He hated to admit that she had a point.

Rather than giving her the satisfaction of persuading him, he vanished without a word and flew after Daniel.

If this really was a time loop it wouldn't hurt to try, right?