Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: R (language, violence, adult situations)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or basic story ideas to "The Invisible Man." Any additional characters or ideas are mine.
Timeline: Approx. 10 years after "Family Matters"
Spoilers: Urf, probably. Both of the ficish kind and season 1 of the show.
Comments: This is the story alluded to in "Of Monuments and Miracles" and it was requested of me to actually write out exactly what happened.
A big honking thanks to Rebecca(WorkerCaste) my brave Beta reader. Without her my stories would be one large run-on sentence.
// You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose free will.
-- RUSH, Free Will
Sometimes the path, even when laid out in its multitude of forms, is never as clear as one would hope. Sometimes the only choice is the one you can't be shown. //
The darkness was a thick, choking presence, keeping the scream of pain, anger, and despair trapped within. There was nothing to see of the room, just the images that ran unstoppably, over and over again. Heart pounding. Breath rasping harshly, painfully into starved lungs. Quicksilver wanting to flow, out of a near desperate need of self-preservation. A need that was too late. An attempt to prevent the inevitable that had not yet happened.
Hands came up to offer comfort, to help calm the raging adrenaline that threatened to overrun the only semi-conscious system. Causing pain and heartache instead of easing the fear and sadness that so wanted to overwhelm the mind and body.
A voice could be heard. A voice from outside the sequence of events that paraded through the exhausted mind. A voice that was out of context and therefore did not register correctly at first. It was several long moments before reality, the one belonging to the here and now and not the one of the mind, not of the potentials that might be, even began to take its proper place.
"Alyx, talk to me." Pulling the shaking and crying woman close to him, he tried to get her to focus. This was not the first time that this had happened in recent weeks, and it was getting more and more difficult to get her to reconnect with reality. It was really beginning to frighten him.
"S...s...sorry," she stuttered out, trying and failing to control the tears that were flowing down her cheeks.
Darien shook his head and rested his chin atop her head. "Hush. Try and calm down. Your heart is racing."
She gulped in mouthfuls of air, trying to convince her still-divided perceptions that the man holding her close was the true reality, and that the dream was nothing more than that. Just another dream. She stared out into the darkened room, her eyes finally deciding to focus on what was before her. She shook again, shuddering almost violently in his gentle hold. She knew this dream, like the others she'd been having, was anything but just another dream, but until now she had been unwilling to admit it, even to herself.
When she was finally something resembling calm -- he was more than able to pick up what she was feeling after all these years -- he shifted her so that he could look her in the eye. Running one hand along her face, he said, "Tell me. I know you remember them and this is not the is first time you've had this dream."
She looked at him, not wanting to even think about it, but knowing it was past time she tried to talk to him. He would need to know, and maybe he'd be able to help her understand. "It's... I..." She took a slow, deep breath to keep herself centered and calm. It was so easy to fall back into the panic and fear the dream dragged her into. "There are several, actually. All revolving around the same theme, but with different outcomes. I'm not sure which one frightens me most."
"At a guess, this one," Darien said with a hint of amusement. He was not trying to make light of the seriousness of the dreams, just trying to get her to relax a bit more. To perhaps see things from a different perspective. He knew it was sometimes difficult for her to dissociate herself from her dreams because of the way her memory worked. There had even been problems in the past where she had gotten trapped in them, though that had been partially due to outside influences.
She shook her head. "No, in some ways this is the best of them." It was true enough, even if it did leave her body aching with phantom pain and her heart aching with a bone-deep sadness. "I hate the damn quicksilver dreams."
"Ah, hell," was Darien's comment. He had spent more than enough years living with them himself to know exactly what a pain in the ass they were. "What this time?"
She closed her eyes. "A cusp, and there are so many different paths. So many choices that I'm being shown... I don't want the responsibility. I put enough on my shoulders without some nebulous outside influence adding to it." She had spent the last decade turning the Agency into a force to be reckoned with, a power that did its best to keep the world as safe a place as possible. Once she had been given the position as the Official and granted the funding it truly deserved, she had, in many ways, taken the dreams of Kevin Fawkes and Charlie Borden and made them as much of a reality as she could. The last few years had been exceedingly hard, as it seemed to become an active war to counter the few major troublemakers left. Even for the talented folks at the Agency, there was only so much they could do. They were still human after all.
"Why me? Haven't I put up with enough by now? Haven't I sacrificed huge portions of my life, time and time again, for that damn 'greater good'?" She sounded frustrated and unhappy, something she hadn't felt this deeply for a long, long time. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't know if I can do it."
Somewhere in her rant Darien understood just enough of what she was talking about, and it scared him. "So quit. Pass the torch to Dani or Manda. They are both more than capable." The look on her face spoke volumes, and he knew that it was not a viable option. "Then how can I help?"
"I don't know that you can." She closed her eyes and leaned against him, wanting him to chase away the dreams, to hold back her decision, to make it unnecessary.
"I trust you in everything. You'll do what's best, as always." He wrapped his arms about her, hoping that she believed him.
"Dare, I know I promised never to ask this again, but why did you stay? Why didn't you have the gland removed and leave as soon as you knew?" Alyx wasn't entirely sure why she was asking this, but had an odd feeling it would help in her own decision.
Darien thought about her question for a long moment, and decided that at this point it would do no harm to tell her. Nevertheless, he chose a roundabout route to answer her. "What would you have done if I had gone ahead and had it removed? Would you have still spent time with me? Or would you have stayed away to protect me? Like your kids."
Alyx froze. "How could you know that?" Her voice was hushed, astonished. She had kept that bit of information locked tightly within herself, not wanting to influence his choice, his chance at the freedom he so longed for, in any way. She pulled away so that she could look at him. She, they had changed so little over the years, it seemed, and what changes had occurred were more than well-earned. She would never regret a moment of the time they had spent together, would never regret when hope and the wish to live had returned to her life, would never regret a single day, even the ones that had caused both of them pain.
He actually chuckled. "I started to have a dream a few weeks before Claire told me. And then every damn night until I finally told her 'no'. It gave me a taste of what my life would have been like without you, what would have happened to you without me there." He tipped his head down and drew random patterns on the back of her hand that lay on the bed. "Even Bobby couldn't protect you."
Alyx was feeling stunned. "What did you see?"
Darien rubbed a hand across his face. He had never allowed himself to forget that dream and everything that followed it. So many things that could have turned out differently. So many ways his life could have been affected by making one small change, by walking away from the Agency. "Remember the incident about six months before we got married? We stumbled on a hostage situation involving a bunch of grade school kids?"
Alyx nodded. "But that was like five years after you knew we had solved the problem."
"I know. In my dream, it was just you and Bobby who tried to resolve the situation, and you took a bullet to protect him." Darien lifted one of her hands and held it tightly. "You survived, but didn't really want to, so they called me to try and help. To try and give you a reason to live, much like you once did for me." He lifted his head to meet her eyes. "When the time came, I just couldn't leave and let you throw everything away. I... You..." He stopped, unsure how to put it into words. "It was the right choice, and it didn't take more than a day for me to realize it once I had finally decided."
"Darien, I'm not sure what to say. You gave up the freedom you longed for, for me?" Once again he had managed to surprise her. No matter how close they had become he was still able to do or say things that caught her off guard and taught her something new about him.
"No, I just learned that I wasn't trapped any more," he said to her. "Does this help you?"
"Help? I don't know how anything can help." Alyx just barely kept herself in control. She wanted to wail her confusion and despair to him, but knew it wouldn't do anything to solve the problem. She had to do that by herself. "I'm not ready for this."
Darien wanted to take away the pain and resignation he saw in her eyes, but how? "Maybe it's just a dream. It's happened before."
"Maybe," she muttered, not wanting to grasp onto what might be an ephemeral hope. "But if it's not, if it's one of those stupid things that will happen, I want..."
He stopped her with a finger on her lips. "We'll deal with it when the time comes, and not before."
She moved his hand away. "You have no idea what is coming. What I might be forced to do. What could happen if I do the wrong thing."
He pulled her closer, knowing that just being here would help, would calm her, would help her push the dreams and memories back into that corner of her mind where they belonged. "It doesn't matter. It hasn't happened yet, and may never. You're here now, and I want to see you smile." His hands began a slow exploration of her body in hopes of distracting her mind, and he felt her relax beneath his touch.
It was but moments later when her lips sought and found his, willing for the moment to just fall, to revel in the pleasure and joy only he could bring to her. It wasn't until much later that Darien realized he had never actually succeeded in making her smile.
--- A week later---
Alyx stood at the head of the conference table in the room next to her office, where she had chosen to spread out her work today. She was reviewing some candidates for possible gland implantation. So many people actually vied for the opportunity to join the ranks of the Agency these days, now that it was no longer considered the welfare child of the intelligence community. The Agency had been a minor-league institution, where people staggered along in hopes of getting noticed one more time before total obscurity buried them forever and they retired washed up and forgotten. Now people actually came here by choice, looking to advance their careers by spending a year or two in their exalted ranks.
While Alyx hated the tendency for high turnover, they had found that six months was the ideal term of service for those who volunteered to be I-Men. They had tried longer terms for agents willing to go through with the implantation, but had run into problems, including agents who were unwilling to go without the gland -- an addiction to being able to quicksilver as opposed to the quicksilver itself -- and agents who were kidnapped in hopes of revealing the secrets of its design. She was trying to arrange it so candidates worked with current I-Men for a while, so they truly understood what they were getting into, before being implanted themselves. Once the gland had dissolved, they were then required to help train the next group, a minimum two year commitment to the Agency. It was a commitment some were reluctant to make; there were those who just wanted a bit of quick glory before getting on with their real career, with a remarkable addition to their resumes. Alyx had to try and weed those out before they got in the door.
That didn't even cover a fraction of the work she did. Although she did delegate to those with more experience when she could, she still had to oversee pretty much the entire running of the Agency. From budgets to assignments, she made sure she knew what was going on and tried to keep things running as smoothly as she could. It wasn't easy. In the last few years, she had spent nearly as much time in the field as she had behind her desk. Not that she had ever completely retired from field work. In spite of her position, or perhaps because of it, during the first few months after she was put in charge she had gone out into the field nearly as often as before. It had taken time for her to realize that she had to give assignments to green agents, that she couldn't be there every time, that she couldn't be everything to everyone. The first time she sent agents out -- including one very new I-Man -- and there had been deaths, it had hurt, but she endured. The mission had been a risk, they had known that going into it, and yet not one of them had backed down. They had done the job and saved lives, even as they lost their own.
Some days she wondered why she had chosen to take on this responsibility. And then she would remember some of the others who had been the Official over the years and knew it was for the best. She tried to get to know all of her agents and did her best to pair or group them in complementary ways, to use them to the best of their abilities. She tried to make sure they always had the highest possible chance of success and, unless the situation was truly desperate, would not send agents into a no-win situation.
The last couple of years had been increasingly difficult, and she found herself forced into the field more and more often as resources ran low. There had even been occasions where her unique talents were the only way to get or do what was needed. In some ways it made her even better liked among those she oversaw. The fact that she was more than willing to risk her life to do the same job they did, right by their sides when necessary, said more than any bonus or raise ever could. She had spent so many years working for the Agency that she didn't really see herself as above everyone else. She was simply the leader among an amazing group of talented individuals, gifted or not. For many other agencies, it would not have worked, but here, in these times, it did.
Dani and Rose burst into the room then, and Alyx lifted her eyes from the computer display to look at them. They were radiating a combination of excitement and fear.
"Mom... Boss... Damn I'll never get that right," Rose began only to be cut off by Dani.
"We've got a lead, and we think we can grab all the intel and expose them finally," Dani said, with some irritation at her sister.
Alyx just tilted her head to the side. "I know you guys have been working on some big project on your own. Care to actually fill me in?"
Rose smiled. "Chrysalis. We got tired of just blocking their moves. We know where to get the proof to expose them."
Alyx just raised an eyebrow. Chrysalis had been a pain in the ass forever, it seemed, and those at the Agency knew they were the instigators of some major problems the world had been dealing with for decades. The problem was proof. Discovering and countering individual plots they had managed to do since back when Darien had still been an agent. Heck, the antagonism between Chrysalis and the Agency went back to before Alyx had ever shown up. There had been a couple of years when not much was heard from them, and she had to admit it had been a far more peaceful time without them. It was that 'plutonium' incident that had rekindled the conflict, and it hadn't stopped since. Tracking down and countering their little EMP plan had been sheer hell, combined with pure terror at times. Things had gotten scarier from there, and now... now two of her kids, two of her best agents, were telling her they could take them down in one fell swoop. She was finding it more than a little hard to believe.
"Explain. Slowly and concisely," Alyx said to them. Here in the office, at work, unless the situation dictated otherwise, she was the boss first and mom second. It had to be that way. Both of the women before her pulled out computer pads and began sending information into the computer system built into the table before her. She looked over the multiple data streams, as well as the graphics that appeared, and was impressed. "All right. How did you manage this?"
Rose laughed. "You will appreciate the irony of this one. We've known about this location for ages, as you know."
Alyx nodded. They'd been watching the place for over a year, but hadn't been able to get in. Chrysalis had adapted well to the changes and advances the Agency had made over the years and because of the power they wielded over a variety of government officials had been forced to keep their knowledge as quiet as possible or risk being shut down. Chrysalis had always remained just one short step ahead of them. Until now.
"Your 'Destiny' program got us in," Dani interjected, not wanting to draw out the suspense. This was too important.
Alyx burst out laughing. "That thing? It was outdated two years after I wrote it, thanks to Patrick."
Rose chuckled as well. "We know. Jase made some adaptations for current tech and we decided to try it, just for the hell of it."
"We were very surprised when it not only worked, but went completely unnoticed by their AI system." Dani was pacing now, her excitement at this chance overriding the fear. "Their system is damn good and damn adaptable, so we didn't risk more than two entries. We did learn that we can't download the intel, but we do know it's there."
"We just have to get in to get it." Rose added with barely restrained glee.
Alyx had to close her eyes as the sudden image of Rose lying near death thrust itself into her mind. Her own hands were covered in her daughter's blood, as well as her own, though her personal injuries were minor in comparison. That image fled, to be replaced with one of Dani captured and tortured by men of Chrysalis, her child -- child? -- to become a tool for an even more powerful enemy.
It was Rose who realized something was wrong. Rose who had the same talent as Alyx, though not as strong. She moved to her side and set a hand on Alyx's shoulder. "Mom?"
Alyx opened her eyes and looked up at her daughter, noting the concern that was expressed on her face, coming across through her touch. "I'm fine," she said quietly. Then she turned to Dani. "Were you planning on telling me you were pregnant, or just waiting till the birth announcement?"
Rose's surprise was only surpassed by Dani's look of dumbfounded astonishment. Rose laughed. "Well, this would explain your weird cravings for all things Mexican lately. Have you told that wayward husband of yours yet?" Having already had one of her own, Rose felt more than justified in teasing her older sister, who was apparently working on catching up with Alyx herself in number.
Dani shook her head. "I just found out myself. I haven't figured out how to tell Tom yet. We hadn't planned on another one this soon."
Alyx blinked, not really believing it herself. "Talk to Laura, you'll be a big help to her." Laura was Chris's wife, and they had announced she was expecting their first just a few weeks ago. The fact that both Laura and now Dani were pregnant helped make her decision on the Chrysalis matter. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I want a full meeting first thing tomorrow. Everyone, including as many I-Men as are available. I have the feeling we'll need them."
"Mom? Are you sure?" Rose had picked up just enough to realize this decision was very difficult.
"It's now or never. I would prefer my grandchildren grew up never knowing Chrysalis ever existed. If we can stop them now, we take the chance." Alyx's voice was hard. She meant every word and she planned on doing whatever was necessary to achieve this goal. "I want your ideas ready for the morning. We will not waste any time on this matter."
She got to her feet and walked over to Dani. For a moment, she was nothing more than 'Mom.' "Never regret it," she said as she hugged her oldest child. "I never did."
"We know." Dani hugged her back, once again having trouble remembering that the tiny woman before her was her mother.
Alyx stepped back, once again becoming the boss. "Move, you two. We have work to do."