Mahone walked up to the F.B.I building, anxious and irritated. He was going after Aldo today; he hoped to bring him in for questioning, demanding that he tell him where Michael was.

Not being able to find him was driving him crazy.

He was still trying to make sense of Michael's tattoo, and had spent the better part of the previous day in a heightened state of anxiety thanks to a never-ending supply of caffeine. He'd come up with nothing, and it was causing him to spiral. But today could be different once he got Aldo in his grasp.

"Good morning, Alex," Bill Kim greeted him as he walked through the doors, which immediately made his guard go up; being greeted by his boss first thing in the morning was never a good sign.

He nodded and kept walking towards his office, "Kim."

"Why don't you step into my office," Kim asked, "there's something we need to discuss."

Hesitant but without a choice, he changed directions and followed Kim into his office.

"Take a seat," Kim instructed him, and he obliged.

"What's this about?" he asked, wanting to get straight to the point.

"Scofield."

"What about him?"

His expression remained neutral, "He's no longer your concern. I'm assigning you to a different task."

Baffled, "What do you mean Scofield isn't my concern anymore? I've been on this case from the start, no one knows anywhere near as much as I do-"

"-you're not hearing me," he interrupted, "he isn't of our concern anymore."

His emphasis on the word "our" indicated to Mahone that he wasn't referring to the F.B.I., but he was still confused, "Can I ask why?"

With a smirk, "No you can't."

He huffed out a frustrated laugh, "Well can I at least ask what I'll be assigned to now?"

He replied simply, "Burrows."

His brow knitted in confusion, "What about him? He's already in custody."

"Well," Kim folded his hands on his desk, "it's come to our attention that there may be someone poking around his case, trying to get a new trial. You and I both know we can't let that happen, so I need you to do whatever is necessary to make sure Burrows is actually executed," he paused, "as soon as possible."

His mind flashed to Veronica and then to Aldo and he sighed. He'd planned on going after them anyways to try to find Michael, but this was different. He'd never intended to actually hurt either of them, but the look on Kim's face indicated that he might not have that option.

He didn't know much about Aldo, but Veronica was innocent in this; she was just a lawyer and friend trying to do her job, and he certainly didn't relish the prospect of endangering her in any way.

"Alright," he sighed.

"Glad we understand each other," Kim replied, and Mahone got up to leave.

Oh we do, he thought with a feeling of hopelessness. When The Company tells you to do something, you do it. Otherwise, the secret that haunts him every day would come out into the open, destroying him once and for all.

He paused in the doorway of his office, surveying the papers strewn about, the images of Michael's tattoo staring back at him. The endless hours and mental exhaustion were for nothing, and not just from the day before. All of the days and endless waking hours since the Fox River eight had escaped, he was after Michael. The others too, but he knew Michael was the mastermind and genius behind it, and now that Michael wasn't his to worry about anymore, it was as if all of his efforts were brushed aside. It had all been for nothing.

Anger came over him in a flash and he slammed the door shut behind him, breaking everything around him, shredding the papers that yesterday were so important, seeing nothing but red. The case that challenged and intrigued him wasn't his anymore, and all he was left with was the task to capture and possibly torture an innocent. He slumped into his desk chair, the veins in his neck still popping out, and his face beet red. He sank forward and rested his face in his hands, anger giving way to sadness.

Will I ever get out of this mess?

XXXXX

The news rambled on in the background from the small T.V. in Aldo's current motel room. He was on the north side of Chicago this time, getting ready for his meeting with Gretchen.

He brushed his teeth, and just as he was spitting the toothpaste into the sink, he heard the T.V. from the other room, "Breaking news on the trial of death row inmate, Lincoln Burrows."

He wiped his face with the hand towel and tossed it down, quickly walking over to the T.V.

"Burrows was arrested after he and seven other inmates escaped the Fox River State Penitentiary. Now back on death row, he's set to face his execution just three weeks from today-"

His stomach dropped; three weeks.

That definitive time frame set the wheels in his mind spinning. It would probably be in everyone's best interest if he confessed within a week or two; no point in cutting it too close to the execution date. Given how slowly the wheels of justice turned, even after a full confession and hopefully coming up with enough evidence that Steadman is alive, Lincoln would still be in Fox River for a while.

That fact was strangely comforting. It was unlikely that The Company would be able to kill Lincoln if he was still in Fox River. Not impossible…but not likely. Being in prison kept him safer, at least for the now.

By the time Lincoln was free and clear with the law, Aldo would hopefully have his hands on Scylla and they could say finally put the whole matter to rest.

Hopefully; and that's where Gretchen came in.

He grabbed his keys and drove to their designated meeting spot; an abandoned warehouse in a sketchy part of town.

He parked and walked up to the building. It was covered with graffiti, some of which was actually impressive; the artistic skill of whoever had done it far better than his own. He leaned against the side that was facing the sun and enjoyed its warmth.

After a moment or two, he checked his watch and saw that it was five minutes past their scheduled meeting time. He figured he'd give her ten minutes at the most, and then head out. If there was any chance she'd ratted him out...well, he didn't want to be around to find out.

"Long time," her voice startled him from the side.

The dark-haired agent approached him confidently, her icy blue eyes locking onto his as she extended her hand.

He shook it, "No kidding," he agreed, "thanks for meeting me."

She replied with a breezy, "Well if I'm being honest, I might be here out of self-interest."

He shrugged, "I'd expect nothing less."

She smirked, "So, not to be pessimistic, but do you really expect to get your hands on Scylla?"

Flatly, "I think it's possible."

Unconvinced, "Do you know the kind of security they have around that thing? Motion sensors, heat detectors, noise sensors – anything that moves or breathes or weighs more than two ounces will be detected in an instant. The General gets a phone call and boom. Game over."

"But some people have access to it."

Firmly, "Only the General. There's an elevator in his office that goes down, straight to where it's kept. There might be a few people in his inner circle with some kind of access, but they wouldn't help us," sneering, "their loyalty knows no bounds."

He tilted his head, "But yours does?"

She met his gaze with a small smirk, but otherwise gave no indication of her intentions.

He paused, not wanting to spell it out, "If I remember correctly…your relationship with him was more than professional."

She didn't waver, "Not anymore."

"Your decision or his?" he asked.

Confused and slightly annoyed, "Did you come here to gossip about my social life or to get Scylla?"

"I just need to know what we're working with here."

She sized him up a moment before giving in, "Mine. He made it so that I'm never allowed to see Emily."

Genuinely, "I'm sorry." Not being able to see your child was a pain he could commiserate with, "but I think that'll work to our advantage."

"How?"

"If you can convince him that it was a mistake and you want back into his life, maybe you can exploit that relationship to get his office."

Mockingly, and with a wave of her hand, "Right, I'll just stroll on into his office for a booty call and he won't notice me getting into the elevator."

"Drugs."

Slowly and amused, "You want me to roofie the General?"

Shrugging, "Unless you have a better idea?"

"Hmm," she contemplated a moment, "can't say that I do, and while I'm fascinated by the possibility- what about his security? His staff? People come and go out of there all the time…always keeping an eye on him. Not to mention the fact that when he wakes up, he'll realize what I've done."

After a moment, "But by then we'll be gone. And as far as the staff…I guess you'll just have to figure something out."

Rolling her eyes, "You've always been so helpful."

A small smile, "Can't expect me to do everything."

She scoffed, "Oh, I never have. Why do you think Copperhead was so successful?"

He waited.

"Any operation is only as good as the agents on the ground," she replied, referring to herself.

He shook his head, amused, "That's a debate for another time," he replied, and started wrapping up their meeting, "I'll be in contact later with more details. For now-"

"-get friendly with the General," with a seductive smirk, "I know what I'm doing."

"I know you do," he confirmed, confident in his ally.

XXXXX

Mahone watched as Aldo pulled out of the parking lot of the warehouse, leaving the graffitied walls behind him.

The video footage from outside Veronica's office had granted him a glimpse at the car Aldo had. More than a glimpse actually; enough for a license plate number. With that stroke of luck, there was no need for him to wait for Aldo to visit Veronica again.

It was a rental car, as expected, but it was one that Aldo was still driving and that was all that mattered.

Mahone slowly pulled out of his own parking spot and followed him at a careful distance, all the way back to a motel on the north side of town.

Aldo parked and went into a ground floor room.

Mahone parked just down the street and watched as he entered, committing the room location to memory since he couldn't read the number from so far away; fourth door from the corner.

He got out of his car and double checked that his weapon was securely holstered, his F.B.I badge visible. He should have back up, but there was no time to waste, and few people he trusted.

He strode towards the motel, heart pounding in his ears. The sun felt hotter than normal, causing sweat to bead along his forehead and heat to radiate through his body in waves. He reached into his coat pocket and found one of his pills, gulping it down as he was now only a few strides away from the door.

He took a deep breath, his shaky hands knocking on the door, "F.B.I. open up," he demanded.

No response.

"Aldo Burrows, this is the F.B.I," he wasn't playing games, "I know you're in there. Things will go a lot more smoothly if you open the door."

Stillness behind the door, then a slightly shuffling, "I'm unarmed."

Dryly, "That's great, then I won't shoot you."

"I'm opening the door," Aldo warned.

Mahone stood back a step, gun raised self-protectively in anticipation.

The door cracked open slowly, revealing Aldo, unarmed as promised.

Mahone lowered his weapon, "We need to talk."

XXXXX

Katie fell into step next to Sara as they walked into Fox River, "You hear the news?"

Adjusting her bag on her shoulder, "What news?"

"I saw it this morning, Lincoln's execution is gonna happen in three weeks."

Sara slowed her pace, "You're sure?"

She shrugged, "That's what the reporter said."

Sighing, "Why are we always the last to know?"

Shaking her head, commiserating, "I don't know. I'm just sorry to see it all happening again. That guy has been through a lot these past few months."

More like in the past…his whole life, she thought, "Yes he has."

They walked up to the infirmary in silence, her mind chewing on what might happen next. She wanted to text Veronica, hoping that she already knew about the execution date, and see if she'd heard any more from Aldo.

Did Michael know? She wondered. He didn't watch much T.V. and it had only been by a stroke of luck that they'd seen Veronica on the news that night in his hospital room.

Last night when they talked she'd insisted that he go to bed early, and he'd probably spent his morning the same way she did; getting ready for work. He probably didn't know.

Katie went into the infirmary to get everything set up and ready, so Sara ducked into her office and plopped down in her chair. She pulled out her cell, and sent a quick message to him, "Did you see the news? We have a timeline now…"

No response.

He's probably working, she reasoned, considering that it was almost eight o'clock. He seemed like the type to show up early and get a jump on things – something they had in common, although this morning had been an exception for her. She'd slept through her first alarm and got dressed in a sleepy daze, wandering out to her car without so much as a cup of coffee.

She grimaced at the realization, kicking her past self for leaving her at the mercy of coffee from the break room.

She leaned back and ran her hands through her hair, shaking it loose and then pulling half of it up, pinning it back with a few bobby pins she found mingled in with the paperclips on her desk. Feeling slightly more presentable, she started rummaging through the papers on her desk, getting herself organized for the day.

She had to assume that Lincoln would be told about the date being set; that was the Warden's job, not hers, so she didn't have to lie her way into an excuse to see him today.

The lineup for her work day looked pretty typical; a few checkups on old injuries, a few routine patients who needed medications regularly…

Her chest constricted, missing Michael and his daily shots. It still felt different; her days at Fox River still missing a certain someone, and her evenings at home alone feeling…lonely.

Katie peeked her head in, "I meant to ask you; you wanna get lunch somewhere today and catch up? I need to live vicariously through whatever vacation you had."

That earned a smile, "That'd be great."

"I need all the details," she winked.

Suddenly wary, she replied with an innocent, "What do you mean?"

She pointed a finger, "Don't think I didn't notice the glow around you when you came back, and I'm not talking about the color from the sun."

She felt pink rising in her cheeks, "Uh-"

"-at lunch," she held up a hand, "all the details."

XXXXX

Aldo gestured for Mahone to have a seat, seeing no reason why they couldn't be civil. It was a crappy motel, but at least it had a table and two chairs- worn out but still functional.

Mahone sat and Aldo did the same. The morning sun shone through the window next to them, illuminating the dust particles floating between them; they flurried around as the two men took their seats, then slowed to a steady drift as a silence fell between them.

He waited in silence, Mahone staring him down, trying to make him uncomfortable.

Aldo knew the tricks and wasn't having it. He ventured, "If you're here to ask me where Michael is, I don't know."

Tilting his head, "Why would you assume that's why I'm here?"

Shrugging, "You have my other son in custody; process of elimination."

"Well, you're wrong, I'm not here about Michael."

"Oh?"

"No, in fact," his hand on the table began to tremble, "I was informed just yesterday that Michael is no longer of our concern. I'm here about Lincoln."

Confused, "Lincoln...who's already back at Fox River?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Well, it's come to my attention that a certain lawyer of his is trying to get him a new trial."

"That's right...but so? That's his right if she has enough evidence."

Nodding, "You're right, absolutely. If she finds enough evidence to grant him a new trial, he could get one, and potentially go free."

"So what's the problem?"

Leaning back, "I can't let that happen; for reasons that are...irrelevant for this conversation, but Lincoln can't be exonerated. I can't let that happen," he reiterated.

"If he's innocent, why shouldn't he be allowed a trial? Allowed to go free?"

Irritated, "Maybe I wasn't clear before, but my reasons are none of your concern. This is a warning; you and the lawyer need to back off or there will be consequences."

"We've done nothing wrong."

Mahone seemed to consider that for a moment, and a look of pain passed through his eyes. Aldo didn't know what to make of that; the source of his pain being unclear, but the brief expression was a mix resembling sympathy and maybe even regret.

Mahone stood up and headed towards the door, he met his eyes and replied, "That doesn't matter. Stay away," and slammed the door behind him.

XXXXXX

It was Friday afternoon as Michael left work, another day under his belt. He had the weekend off and planned on spending it looking for an apartment; not something he was particularly looking forward to, but it was necessary.

He got back to the hotel and pulled out his phone and typed, "Hey, how's your day going?"

Sara replied after a minute, "I had to lie about you today."

His heart rate quickened, "Umm. Why?"

"Katie said I had a glow. I had to tell her I met a handsome stranger in Miami."

He actually laughed out loud, then sarcastically, "Are you implying that I'm NOT handsome?"

A quick reply, "Never. But you aren't a stranger."

Nope, they weren't strangers anymore, and he was really glad about that.

They chatted a bit more as he settled in for the night, ordering take-out from a restaurant this time. Life was starting to feel more normal again; he had a job, a woman he loved, and the task of finding a place to call home- even if it was just temporary.

A few hours later he was in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The only loose end now was Lincoln, and a wave of sadness came over him thinking about his brother being stuck in solitary. Here he was, living it up in the sunshine, eating take out and chatting with Sara while Lincoln was back to where he started.

His mind wandered back to their father, hoping that he'd make good on his word. If not, they didn't really have a Plan B.

The thought terrified him.

What the hell was he doing? An urgent panic came over him; Sara had informed him earlier that Lincoln only had three weeks. He needed a back-up plan, or at the very least to know what was going on with Veronica and Aldo as soon as possible. Were they making progress? They still needed more than Aldo's confession to prove Lincoln's innocence. They needed, well…proof.

He'd already said goodnight to Sara and didn't want to bother her, but he knew that he needed some kind of outlet for his worrying thoughts. He went back and forth in his mind for five minutes, but finally couldn't help himself and dialed her number.

She answered, groggy, "Hey, everything ok?"

"Yea, sorry if I woke you up, I just-"

"No, it's fine," her voice was more worried now, "what's wrong?"

"Uh," now he felt silly for calling, but had to follow through, "just worried about Lincoln. What if it all goes wrong; if dad doesn't confess, if they can't find enough evidence, I just…I'm here living a normal life. And he might be executed in three weeks."

After a moment, "What can I do to help?"

A weight lifted off his chest just hearing those words, "Can you talk to Veronica again? Maybe give her my number here? I just…feel out of touch. Everyone involved in this thing is in Chicago and I'm…here."

"Of course I will. I'll call her tomorrow- we'll figure this out."

He managed a quiet, "Thank you."

Softly, "I love you. Now try to get some sleep."

"Love you too."

XXXXX

"Where have you been, Alex?" Kim questioned Mahone as he arrived back at the F.B.I building, strolling towards his office.

Breezily, "Out in the field, remember what that's like?"

A smug smirk, "Out in the field doing…what exactly?"

He stopped walking and faced him squarely, a file in his right hand, "Following leads."

"Leads on-?"

"-Lincoln Burrows. That is what you assigned me to do, isn't it?"

Unwavering, "Any progress to report?"

Mahone grew irritated, he didn't have time for this. And he wanted to smack the smug grin right off Kim's face, "I'm making progress, but none to report."

Firmly, "I see you had a camera installed across from Ms. Donovan's office. Is there something I need to know?"

"No," he replied flatly, even more annoyed that Kim was spying on him.

Sighing, "It's not a good idea to hide things from me, Alex."

He stood his ground, "If there's anything you need to know, I'll tell you, but until then just let me do my job."

He paused, and they sized each other up, "Just get it done, Alex."

He sighed, "Then stop getting in my way," he turned towards his office, "if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

XXXXX

Veronica was walking out of the gym with a sheen of sweat, feeling better than she had in weeks. The stress and endless sitting of her office job had been taking its toll; a stiff neck, a sore back…the general feeling of life draining out of her with each passing day.

That morning she'd ordered herself to get to the gym, no matter what, and held herself to it. She'd stretched, lifted some weights, and finished it out with a nice run that left her with a natural high she'd forgotten all about.

She needed to do this more often.

The drive home was fairly short, and her mind wandered along the way. She'd started gathering evidence, or rather, taking everything she'd learned since Lincoln had been arrested and compiling it. Next time she met with Aldo she hoped to have a concise file to give him, figuring he wouldn't appreciate having to sort through the massive array of papers in her work bag.

She was messy when she worked; organizing things in a way that made sense to her but probably no one else. Now she just had to clean up what she had and make it more presentable.

Parking her car, she grabbed her gym bag and her bag from work and slung them over her shoulder, walking up to her building. She dug a hand deep into her gym bag and found her key ring, fiddling with them until she found the right one.

She went to stick the key in the door and realized it was cracked open. Her heart rate quickened immediately, and she slowed her movements, not wanting to make a sound.

It's probably no big deal. It's nothing, she told herself, but that didn't stop her from grabbing her cell phone from her bag and sticking it securely into the side pocket of her leggings. She set both bags down on the ground outside her apartment, wanting to be ready to run if she had to, and slowly pushed the door open.

Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't win any organization awards, but stepping into her apartment now, it was a mess. Papers everywhere, pillows thrown off the couch, kitchen cabinets open…

"Hello?" she yelled, hoping for no response but also wanting the coward responsible to show their face.

"Hello?" she called again.

No response.

She gingerly ventured further into the apartment, checking each room one by one.

No one was there.

She sighed, willed her heart to slow down and returned to the door to grab her bags. She brought them inside and locked the door behind her, once again surveying the damage around her.

Was it just a simple robbery? All of her electronics were still there, and she didn't really have any other valuables in the house- not much cash, no expensive jewelry or anything like that…

She wandered around and started tidying up, still shook by the whole thing. They must have been after her files, right? There was no other explanation. But who exactly had come looking for them?

Her mind flashed back to Hale, the one Company agent she actually knew by name, and the one who'd given his life trying to give her the list of names of everyone involved in framing Lincoln. What she wouldn't give to get her hands on that list, but she knew that the chance of getting it back was basically zero.

The Company was such an abstract concept in her mind; a group of people who work together towards a common goal, but she didn't know their names. She didn't know who they were…she knew some of them were law enforcement which was unsettling to say the least. Hell, if she'd called 9-1-1, the person showing up to "help" her could have been The Company agent who'd broken in in the first place.

The thought had her stomach in knots.

But there was one agent she could rely on. She slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out her phone, calling Aldo.

"Hey," he answered.

"Hey, umm," she started, realizing her voice was shaking.

"What's wrong?" he asked immediately, "are you ok?"

"Yea I'm fine I just…someone broke into my apartment."

"But you're ok?" he asked again.

"Yea, I wasn't home," she replied, already feeling a bit better having someone to talk to.

"Did they get anything?"

"I don't think so," she replied, glancing around her apartment again as they chatted, "and don't worry, they couldn't have gotten any of the evidence, I keep it in my work bag, so there's no chance-"

"-that's not my concern at all, Veronica. I'm worried about your safety. These are not people to mess with. If they came looking once and didn't get what they wanted, they'll be back."

This conversation suddenly wasn't making her feel better anymore, "So what do I do?"

He blew out a sigh, "Honestly, I don't think you should stay there. And you probably shouldn't be alone. Do you have any friends you could stay with? Just temporarily. As soon as this whole thing is over in a few weeks you could move back…"

Her mind went to Sara, her only close friend at the moment who also knew about their situation. But she didn't want to impose, "Hey, mind if I crash with you for a few weeks? Oh, and there's a chance that dangerous men with guns might come by and kill us."

"Veronica?"

"Sorry, still here," she thought a moment, realizing it was her best option. She did not want to spend weeks in a hotel, and honestly, she didn't want to be alone, "yea I have someone I can ask."

"Good, and we can meet up again soon."

She nodded, "Sounds good, I was going to organize everything tonight."

"No, you don't need to do that tonight. Don't stress yourself out."

She insisted, "It's ok, trust me, I'd rather keep myself occupied."

"Alright then," he sighed, "take care of yourself, ok? Call any time if you need something."

"Thank you, and I will."

XXXXX

It was around eight at night and Sara was in sweatpants, comfortably curled up on her couch. She sipped on a mug of hot tea and watched the movie that was on with detached interest; she'd seen it a dozen times, so it was really just a comfortable background noise for her thoughts.

She'd texted with Michael briefly that night, and he seemed to be doing ok. Physically, he was doing remarkably well. Mentally, he was sharp as ever, talking passionately about his work and the progress they were making. It was the emotional side she was worried about. He tried to hide it, but she could tell that he was conflicted. The excitement in his voice when he talked about his work would be there one minute, and then be noticeably dampened the next. She knew that he felt guilty; having a good job and freedom again while Lincoln was on death row, but she was glad that the work he was doing seemed to be distracting him well enough during the day.

Her phone went off next to her and she slowly reached over thinking it was just a text, but then realized it was a call from Veronica.

"Hey," she answered, setting her mug down on the coffee table.

"Hey, uhh," Veronica started, and Sara could feel that something was off.

"Everything ok?"

"Not exactly. I mean, I'm ok but someone broke into my apartment."

"Oh my God, did they take anything?"

"No. Trashed the place pretty good, but nothing is gone as far as I can tell...and I have a feeling I know what they were looking for."

Understanding, "The files on Lincoln's case."

"You got it."

"You had them with you?"

"Yeah, in my work bag."

She stood up and started pacing back and forth around the kitchen, "Do you need anything? Help putting your apartment back together, or-"

"-Yea, that's actually why I called," Sara could hear the hesitation in her voice, "you can definitely say no…but is there any chance I could stay with you for a while? I'm an easy roommate I swear I just...don't want to be here right now. Or alone."

Sara's heart went out to her, "Of course you can stay with me. Whenever you want to head over just do it and make yourself at home."

Veronica sighed in relief, "Thank you. So much, seriously."

"Oh, are you kidding? Don't worry about it, as long as you don't mind sleeping on the couch-"

"-not at all. Anything is better than staying here, there's no way I'd be able to get any sleep."

"Yea, I get that."

"Alright, well, if you're sure I guess I'll pack a bag or two and head over now."

"Sounds good, I'll be here."

She paused a moment, and Sara could still hear a slight tremble in her voice, "Thank you."