The door to the Keep slid open, startling Claire. She wasn't expecting anyone.
She looked up from her computer to see Darien charging in, staring frantically around the room, a frightened look on his face.
His eyes were black holes. He'd quicksilvered them.
"Claire?" he called, his voice tense.
"Darien, what is it?" She stared, fascinated, at those empty black spaces, before tearing her eyes away to scan the room nervously. Of course, if Darien's eyes were quicksilvered, the threat must be invisible, so she wasn't sure what she was hoping to see.
Darien rushed to her side, his posture protective yet frightened. "Keep, we've got to get out of here!" He put his arm around her shoulders and started hustling her to the door.
"Darien, wait! What is it?" She quickly realized what threat would involve invisibility. "Is it Arnaud?"
"How the *hell* did he get in?" Darien swore, more to himself than to her.
"Wait, wait," she stopped, pulling away from him and heading for the refrigerator. "Let me grab some counteragent, you'll be needing it!"
He caught her wrist as she moved away. "There's no time!"
"There bloody well better be time," Claire retorted, pulling her wrist free, "or Arnaud might not be our only threat!"
She grabbed a few of the precious vials, shoving them into the pocket of her lab coat, and snatched up her syringe and some clean needles from the bench on the way out the door. She stuffed them into her pocket too. The counteragent wouldn't keep long outside the refrigerator, but she was afraid it wouldn't be long before Darien needed it anyway.
Darien hustled her to the elevator, glancing around the hallway frantically.
"Shouldn't we call the Official, or Hobbes?" The elevator felt claustrophobic with an unseen threat hanging over her.
"I called Hobbes' cell, got that stupid not-in-service message. And the fat man knows."
As Claire opened her mouth, the elevator doors swished open, and her mouth was left hanging open in shock for a moment. The remains of one of the Agency guards was lying just to the side of the elevator. Another was barely visible behind the front desk, just the bloody stump where a head had been.
"Aw, crap!" she exclaimed in a hushed voice.
"C'mon, I've got to get you out of here!"
They darted down a side hallway, to where a plain unlabeled door opened into the passage to their emergency exit. Darien kept a hand on her wrist or an arm around her shoulder, as if afraid that if he let go, he would lose her forever. Or perhaps as if he could shield her from danger with the contact. Claire was deeply touched, even as it drove home just how frightened Darien was.
When they reached the outside door, Claire heard the sound of an alarm from deeper inside the Agency. "A little late, guys!" Darien called out softly to the unseen klaxon. "Hang on, Claire, we're going to head for the van!"
With that, Claire felt the cool touch of quicksilver sliding over her from where Darien's arm crossed her shoulder. It crept down and up and around, enveloping her in seconds. The worst part was feeling it approaching her eyes, and the feeling of that aching cold coming in contact with her eyeballs. A thousand times harder to handle than contact lenses. She closed her eyes at the critical moment, braced herself, and finally opened them, trying to pretend it was cold water she was diving into.
It helped distract her when she began to see in that spooky quicksilver vision.
Darien was sort of in black and white, his eyes an eerie purplish glow, but none of the colors translated exactly. As she watched, the purple glow spread across the rest of his form. She wondered, again, why she couldn't see herself when quicksilvered. It still made her skin crawl, beneath its coating, to look down and see nothing of her own body.
"Okay, let's go!" Darien urged her in a hushed voice, shoving the door open and pushing her out. Now, his arm around her served a purpose, maintaining the contact that would enable him to keep her quicksilvered as long as possible and send the stuff flaking away at a moment's notice when necessary.
They moved as quickly and silently as possible. Claire couldn't even hear Darien's footsteps, although her own seemed to echo endlessly in the alley they had emerged into. A glowing purple hand pointed left, pressure on her shoulders urging her in that direction. She nodded, knowing Darien would be able to see her even if he couldn't see himself.
She could just barely hear the alarm through the brick wall beside them. Voices shouting carried down from an open window somewhere.
The van was parked at the curb out front. They hurried into the street and around to the side of the van away from the building.
Just as they reached it, an explosion shook the ground and sent bits of brick and plaster showering down around them. The van provided just enough protection. A fire alarm's wail joined the earlier klaxon.
Darien eased the side door open, hidden from view of the building by the rest of the van. Suddenly he yanked the door open the rest of the way and dove in. Claire could hear the sounds of a struggle, of flesh and bone colliding. A crunch of something plastic breaking.
She started to follow, but was brought up short by the sensation of her quicksilver cocoon flaking away from her. She pressed against the side of the van, trying to stay as invisible as possible from as many angles as possible.
Silence from the van, and then a hand, freezing through the cloth of her sleeve, pulled her inside. She cried out in spite of herself, wondering briefly which Invisible Man it was that had hold of her.
"It's me," Darien reassured her in a whisper. "Stay in the back, out of sight. I'll drive."
As the van started up, and pulled away from the curb, tires squealing, Claire could hear shouts and gunfire. A metallic thwack echoed through the van as bullets hit the back door and the side toward the Agency building. Claire struggled to pull the side door closed. When it finally latched with a click she couldn't hear over the engine's roar, she sank to the floor for a moment to catch her breath. She scooted around, back to the door to brace herself against sudden swerves, so she could survey the van's interior.
Two motionless bodies were in a heap against the back door. They wore dark suits, the generic uniform of everyone from terrorists to FBI. The one on top was facing toward her, except for his head, which was hanging at an unnatural angle and facing backwards on his shoulders.
She glanced toward the front of the van, where Darien had un-quicksilvered, his eyes intent on the road ahead.
A pile of shattered plastic by her foot. The remains of thermal goggles.
"Darien? Are you alright?"
"Oh, I'm just peachy," Darien replied.
The van pulled into somewhere dark. A tunnel, a garage, a parking tower....Claire couldn't see from where she was, only glimpse cement overhead through the windshield, and the change in light inside the van. After the glare of midday sun, her eyes couldn't adjust fast enough.
They jerked to a stop. Darien turned off the engine.
Claire steeled herself and reached out to the body. Turned the head around so she could see his face. She had to know.
She recognized him. One of the Agency's footsoldiers.
She tried to tell herself he might have been a traitor, might have been bought by Arnaud. But she knew it wasn't true.
She yanked at the door to the van, tumbled out the back, hit the ground rolling and came up running.
She could hear her own footsteps echoing. It was a parking garage, large and empty and with no sign visible of where the way out might be. She ducked behind a pillar and tried quiet her own ragged breathing enough to hear whether he pursued. She scanned the walls and ceiling for any signs or arrows. She could see clean spots where they'd been removed. He'd planned this ahead of time.
She couldn't hear him. Was he following? Had he seen where she stopped? The hair on the backs of her arms rose as her senses strained. Was it fear? Or a sudden chill?
"Having fun yet?" Darien's voice, right in her ear, his breath on her face.
Flakes of quicksilver fell around her like snow. He was standing before her, one arm to either side of her leaning against the pillar, trapping her between them.
The quicksilver fell from his eyes last. She knew what she'd see even before she saw it.
"I am," he whispered, grinning.