~~ Friday ~~

I park my Cherokee in the only available spot, about a half block away from Darien's apartment building, and turn off the engine with a sigh. I have to admit, having finally been able to sleep in my own bed again is a relief. I had needed the sleep; the preceding days had been exhausting for all of us, and I hoped to never go through anything like it ever again.

By yesterday evening, Alyx had been well enough that she threatened to just walk out if she was not released. Since I knew she was perfectly capable of acting on that threat, I made the necessary arrangements and had both her and Darien taken home. Both will need to take a few more days to recover completely, but neither is in any danger, nor are they a danger to the population at large. That CDC facility is quite interested in that little virus and its creator, whoever that may be, but except for monitoring my pair of kepts, I am no longer involved; that facet of the investigation is out of my hands.

Having allowed myself the freedom to sleep in a bit, I am arriving just after ten AM, instead of earlier as Darien was probably expecting. I pick up my case, with its assorted medical gear, and slip out of my Jeep. Walking briskly up the street, I cannot help but notice, yet again, how quiet the neighborhood is even for a weekday. It makes sense, I suppose, given that his former profession involved working nights and he most likely slept during the day. He would want the tranquility and peace that could sometimes be so hard to find in a city of this size.

I sort through my keys as I walk, to retrieve the one for his building. There have been occasions that required my being able to get to him without the awkwardness of having to wait for a door to be opened, so I talked him into giving me a key. He made me promise to not tell Bobby about it, fearing his sometimes paranoid and neurotic partner would either make him cough up one for him as well or take him to task for handing out keys that could be stolen and used against him.

Seriously, it's not like Darien is trying to hide. His address and phone number can be found with little difficulty, which makes it somewhat surprising that any of the several enemies he has made haven't just blasted their way through his door in the middle of the night. It's one of those odd idiosyncrasies of this business; there are dozens of ways to trace a person's life, yet it rarely happens. Yes, there are most likely those who spy upon Darien -- probably upon myself as well, but I try not to worry about it. Be aware of it, yes. But, unless you are Bobby Hobbes, one cannot live in a permanent state of paranoia.

Instead of just unlocking his door, I knock, hoping he won't answer since he is supposed to be in bed resting. I hear a muffled "Just a sec," that makes me frown. I swear, there are times I think he never listens to a thing I say. Then the door opens, and he tries to give me a smile.

"Hey, Keep. Whatcha doing here?" He steps aside and waves for me to enter.

He's still in his pajamas, but has showered recently. His hair is damp and hanging down onto his forehead, instead of being upright and adding inches to his already lofty height. I can only hope it's just laziness and not another round of depression. "My job, what else?" I answer as I place the case on the pool table and open it.

I can't help but notice the pictures spread across the surface of the table. Most of them are older, and a majority of them are of women. There are also pics of Kevin mixed in, along with some of his aunt and uncle, with whom he had lived while growing up after he lost both of his parents through different circumstances. I notice one picture and pick it up. It is fairly old, worn and dog-eared as if it had been carried about in a pocket or perhaps crushed a time or two during its existence. The woman appears to be in her late twenties or so, and is pretty. She was sitting on a rocking chair and pointing at something off camera.

I am wondering who she is when Darien leans over my shoulder to look at the picture. I catch his face in profile and I realize this must be his mother. He plucks the pic from my hand and sighs softly. "Darien, are you all right?"

He moves away to lean against the counter a few short steps away from me. My reason for coming over here no longer seems important. I have the feeling he needs to talk to someone, and I switch my focus so that I can give him whatever help he may need.

"I was so mad at her for... for leaving that I threw all her pictures away." He gives me a wan smile. "Stupid, I know, but at the time it seemed to be the right thing to do. I was a kid." He shrugs and tries to smooth out the picture with a sad smile on his face. "I found this weeks later, buried in a drawer, when we were packing up to move. I carried it around with me for years. I never understood why Kevin didn't get mad at me for destroying the photos, till I found out he had dozens of his own. But I learned that years later, and by then I wasn't really angry anymore."

"Anger is a natural reaction when someone dies, Darien." I find myself falling back on the standard validation techniques that are used when dealing with grief. "You shouldn't feel guilty about it."

"I don't. Not anymore. I was just a kid trying to deal with something I barely understood. It had been hard enough when my dad bailed, but to lose Mom..." He stops and takes a deep breath. "At the time, it was just one too many things."

"What do you mean?" I ask out of curiosity as I look over the pictures again. Darien with various girls in high school, a few of him at college, more after he had left school and turned to less legal means of supporting himself. There are even photos of him and Casey, the doctor he had been dating when he'd been arrested that last time, who had offered to help him deal with the gland before I was been brought in and she was ... discouraged from getting involved.

"I... Even back then, Kev was 'das wunderkin' and, even though he was bumped up several grades, I still constantly got the 'why can't you be more like Kevin' line from just about every teacher I had. And mind you, this was in like kindergarten and first grade." He pushes away from the counter and looks over the pictures spread out before us, picking one up seemingly at random. It appears to be a school picture of a young girl about ten years old. "This was the last person who liked me for me. She killed herself when her father's abuse got to be too much and no one seemed willing to help her. I did what I could, but how much can a kid do, ya know?"

I am not sure what to say. In the past few minutes, he has told me more about his early life than I've heard in the previous year and a half. "Darien..."

He shakes his head. "My point, and I do have one, is that my mom was pretty much the only person who believed in me. Who knew that I was just as smart as Kevin, even if I didn't show it the same way. She would defend me in front of teachers, relatives -- hell, perfect strangers -- who thought that I should be Kevin Fawkes Mark II. She always explained that I couldn't be Kevin, that I was Darien Fawkes and had my own life to live." He tosses the picture back down. "Then she was gone and we got shipped off to Uncle Peter, who thought the sun rose and set on Kevin and never failed to compare me to him. With me on the losing end, of course.

"So one day I just decided that, since I couldn't be Kevin's perfect carbon copy -- not that I wanted to be, mind you -- that I'd make a name for myself, my way. And that's what I did." Sorting through the pictures he picks up one of Casey and shows it to me. "She was one of the best things that ever happened to me, but all she saw was the lie. Oh, when we were alone it was just me and her, but she saw me as this philanthropist, working for UNICEF." He chuckles for a moment. "She was right, though; it didn't matter that how I felt about her was real. I conned her. Sold her the product she expected, to get what I wanted. I'm not surprised she left after everything. I was a total stranger to her twice over."

I want to tell him the truth about that, but refrain. It won't help at this point, except to perhaps make him even more bitter about his current life and his association with the Agency. "You are who you are, Darien. We all have things in our past that we regret." I am still unsure about why he's brought this up. Why he's looking through photographs, through his memories of all the women who have left him over the years.

"Regret? Not really. I liked what I did. Being a thief was something I was good at, and not even my Uncle Pete, or Kevin, could deny that. I made a mark for myself. It just wasn't the one others wanted me to make." There is an odd tone of pleasure and wistfulness to his voice that tells me more than words can. He still feels a bit lost here, still feels out of place as an agent, still feels isolated and alone because of the situation. He has to find his place on his own though; there is little I can do to help him.

"Then why all this?" I wave my hand at the pictures.

"I was...checking, I guess. Making sure I was remembering things correctly. It's been a very long time since someone just accepted me for who I am, without lies and pretenses." He sets down the photo and begins sweeping them all into a pile, then places them into a box that sits nearby.

"Who?" I will freely admit that there are things about Darien I would change, but I know it will probably never happen. He is set in his ways and has fought every constraint placed against him, even those necessary ones I have set forth. There are reasons I'm called the Keeper and why I'm supposed to remain anonymous and detached. Reasons that crumbled to a degree after dealing with him. There is still a line drawn between us, but it is thin and worn in many places these days.

He laughs at my question. "Come on, Keepy, who do you think?"

Of course. "Alyx. But how do you know? Even you've said she doesn't trust you." It's not that I don't believe him, but I have to wonder what insights he thinks he has into her.

He shakes his head. "This isn't about trust. It's about... the little things. Like, she doesn't drink beer, but keeps a six-pack in her fridge for me, and I never suggested she do that. Or like yesterday -- she never once questioned whether or not I could crack the code on that cuff, just helped the process a bit. Even if she can't seem to trust me, she... has faith in my abilities, accepts them as part of who I am. I know Hobbes still gets this look when I do or say some things. So do you, Claire. But not her. Not Alyx." He is finished putting the pictures away and closes the box that he stores them haphazardly in. One of the few instances where he's not his orderly and neat self, and I know there is some deep meaning to this, but right now I'm not interested in delving into it. Lifting the box, he carries it to the closet and, after getting the door open, slides it onto the top shelf where there is an obvious space waiting for it.

I know I should examine him -- need to, in fact, to make sure he is recovering as he should -- but not quite yet. "And? Even if you are correct about how she sees you, what does that mean?"

He leans back against the closet door and looks at me, meeting my eyes with that calm, deep gaze of his. "I wish I knew."



Later that day, I'm making what I hope will be my last stop before heading back to my home for dinner and much-needed sleep. Unlike Darien, Alyx has not given me a key to her apartment, so I have no choice but press the buzzer and hope I'm not disturbing her too badly. She is in need of total rest for a few days, and I am going enforce it, somehow. I'll threaten to move her to Lab Three if necessary, though I doubt I will have to. When I spoke to her on the phone earlier, she sounded like a bullfrog, her voice badly distorted, and she mentioned she had been sneezing almost constantly. I found myself stifling the urge to laugh. It wasn't that she was complaining -- Darien had taken care of that quite handily once I began my examination. In fact, I think she was more than a little relieved, and a bit surprised, to still be among the living.

I think for a while there she gave up. Decided not to fight any more, once the danger from the explosives was eliminated and she knew the rest of us were safe. She has suffered some minor memory loss due to the fever, and has no recollection of whatever dreams and hallucinations she had. In truth, Darien remembers more about them than she does, since she talked in her illness-induced sleep -- much to her annoyance, when she was told. Her memory from the time she first woke up after being sedated till several hours after being given the antibodies is a shaky, confused jumble of images and fever dreams that make little sense to her as yet. She may regain some of the memories as she recovers, but I will not be overly concerned if she doesn't. Most people running one hundred and five degree fevers for several hours usually suffer more than just a little memory loss. Brain damage is typically a serious risk, but so far Alyx appears to be perfectly fine.

I hear the locks disengage and slide the heavy door open to see... no one standing on the far side. "Alyx?"

"Bed," she croaks out. "Didn't wanna get up."

I shut the door and walk further inside. She's moved the wall panels that usually conceal her bed from the living area, and I see her sitting supported by a pile of pillows nursing a mug of ... something. Sniffing as I get closer, I can't help but notice the all-pervasive scent of garlic. "Bobby?" I ask as I set my case on the foot of the bed and open it.

She clears her throat and then, unexpectedly, sneezes. She manages to not spill a single drop of the soup, but heaves a tired sigh as she reaches for a tissue from the box nearby, whereupon she sneezes twice more. "Always in threes," she comments as she tosses the now balled up tissue into a conveniently placed trashcan. "Yup, Bobby stopped by to play Jewish mother- hen at me about an hour ago. Was gonna head over to Darien's next. I have three more quarts of this stuff in my fridge, and I'll probably eat all of it. Don't exactly have the energy to cook right now." She screws up her face for a moment, and I'm certain she's going to sneeze again, but she yawns instead. "Finally." I look at her oddly, wondering what the bloody hell is going on. "Popped my ear. Please, a decongestant? Just one? I'm tired of sounding like a frog with a broken nose."

I chuckle and nod. "Got some, specially designed just for you," I answer, pulling the bottle out of the case and handing it to her. She shifts and sets the mug down on the headboard of the bed, then takes the bottle from me. Without hesitation, she reads over the instructions, opens the container, and dry-swallows two of them. "They will make you sleepy, but at a guess you won't mind that too much."

She shakes her head and shifts to sit cross-legged, leaning forward a bit. "I...how is Darien?"

"Quite well. He'll be perfectly fine come Monday, much to his dismay. Apparently all that time off to heal a couple weeks ago wasn't quite enough." Alyx snorts and begins to laugh, but it quickly devolves into a coughing fit that, while sounding horrible, is an improvement over the day before. "How are you feeling?" I ask once she has regained control.

"Alive, much to my surprise." She's not meeting my eyes, her head tipped down and one hand following the pattern stitched into the blanket draped across her legs. "I said something to him, didn't I? Something stupid and hurtful, though I'm guessing true as well."

I nod. "That would be my guess. You weren't speaking aloud at the time." Darien has not told me, and I haven't asked. It is between the two of them and they will have to figure it out for themselves. "He did mention that you two were 'messing around,' as he put it."

"Accurate enough, I guess. Can't call it dating when all we do is hang out here sometimes and ... make out." She lifts her head to look at me. "The Official was keeping us too damn busy for much more than that. He'd fall asleep half the time. Missed the climax to quite a few movies."

I am actually glad she is willing to discuss this, glad I don't have to dance around and draw her into the subject. "And you broke it off, why?" I pick up the blood pressure cuff and direct her to roll up the sleeve on the T-shirt she is wearing so I can wrap it about her biceps.

"Because it was a lie. I mean, great, given enough time, enough consciousness, and the opportunity, we could and probably would gleefully enjoy a tumble or two. But that's not what he needs, nor is it what he's looking for. Though he'd probably be loathe to admit it." She closes her eyes and absentmindedly scratches the back of her hand. "He deserves far more than the little I can give him."

I remove the blood pressure cuff and exchange it for a thermometer, which I stick in her mouth. "Perhaps. But perhaps you are being far too hard on yourself. Things have changed, Alyx. You have changed. Maybe the only reason you say you still can't trust is because you're afraid you already do." She glares at me, but keeps her mouth shut until the thermometer beeps, signaling it's finished its job. Her temp is still not back to normal, but she's not in any danger either. Considering she was near death just yesterday, I am more than satisfied at the rate of her recovery.

"When I woke up earlier, I realized it's been almost a year. And in that year, I have found very little reason to want to trust. The last person I did trust abandoned me, left me at the mercy of those bastards in that lab. He made me want to believe that people overall were more good than evil, made me almost admit that what my... husband had done to me was the exception, but in the end he abused what little trust I had been able to give him." She leans back into the pillows and rubs her forehead as if a headache is building there. "What am I supposed think, Claire, when every time I hold out my hand to someone they try to cut it off?"

The allusion to the recent incident is not lost upon me, and for her it is a reasonable worldview, however incorrect it is. "Everyone? That I don't believe. Bobby may not have...dealt with your arrival very well, but he's adjusted. He may not show it, but he trusts you, Alyx, in his own way."

"Trusts my skills, maybe, but not me. I still give him a major case of the willies," Alyx says in a flat tone, and I can't argue. Her assessment is probably more accurate. "More than understandable. Brilliant planning on the Official's part."

She's not wrong. Knowing how bad Bobby's paranoia can get, it is surprising how well he has adjusted to her and her abilities. He complained about it quite a bit at first, but somewhere over the last couple of months he's figured that her talents can be quite useful. Our adventure in the snowy northern mountains a few weeks ago only firmed this belief. A few things changed over the course of those days, for all four of us.

"What about Darien? He trusts you."

She sighs and slumps down into the pillows, looking tired. "Not really. He can't. He doesn't know me."

"Alyx--"

She cuts off my words. "He sympathizes with the lab rat -- feels a kinship. He's attracted to the packaging. He's in awe and sometimes in fear of the woman. But trusts me?" She shakes her head. "He may think so, but he only trusts that image of me he holds inside, and that's not me." Her voice is tight. "Hell, half the time I'm not sure who I am."

I consider her words carefully, wanting to make sure my commentary has the effect that I intend it to. "Well, then, how do you know his image of you is wrong?"

She locks her eyes with mine, and I suddenly have some small idea of what Darien must have seen -- still sees -- whenever he looks into them. It is not so much the very surprising color of her eyes, but the depths to which one can see in them. Eyes being the windows to the soul and all that. When she finally speaks, her voice is soft, and not because of the borderline laryngitis.

"That's what I'm afraid of."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The musical tone of her phone ringing partially drew Alyx's focus away from the notes she'd been making on biochemical dependency from the textbook before her. With only about a third of her attention, she answered with a gravely, "Silver."

"You should be resting," the only slightly nasal voice at the other end commented.

"I rested all day. 'M awake now." She closed both the book and the notebook and set them aside. "And I could say the same about you."

He sighed loud enough to be heard across the intervening distance. "Bored."

"Ah," Alyx responded and then fought off yet another sneeze attack. "Erm, go rent a movie or something."

"Nah, no fun watching alone, and I want no part of Hobbesy the mother hen right now," Darien said. His tone of total annoyance told her Bobby that had outstayed his welcome earlier.

Alyx started to laugh, but after a moment had to pull the phone away as she began to cough, her chest aching and the muscles of her abdomen complaining bitterly until she had control back. "Damn, Darien, don't make me laugh. I happen to like my lungs where they are currently located." Her voice actually sounded a bit closer to normal, as if that last coughing fit had finally loosened something in her chest and throat.

Darien chuckled softly. "Sorry. So, whatcha wearing?" The leer sounded very amusing with him being nearly as congested as her.

"Hey, I said not to make me laugh." She grinned. "And I'm wearing an exciting combination of sweats, T-shirt, and blankets that should be a hit on the runways this spring."

"Want some company?" His voice was soft, serious.

"Yeah, I'd like that. We can compare degrees of misery." She matched his tone.

"Well, then, open your door."

Alyx did light scan, to find him standing in the hallway outside her apartment. Setting down the phone, she wrapped the blanket about her shoulders and shuffled to the door, undid the locks, and slid it open to see him standing there, looking far healthier than she felt. Instead of saying hello or making any other comment, she sneezed threes times in quick succession and then sighed heavily as he raised his eyebrows at her and tried not to laugh.

"An interesting greeting." He stepped past her and then turned to take care of the door for her.

"Sorry. I can't seem to stop, and it's driving me nuts." With a burst of intuition, she suddenly knew that he'd been standing outside her door the last time, too, when she'd been teasing him while ensconced in a bathtub full of bubbles.

She waved at the sofa. "Pull up a box of tissues and have a seat." She sucked in a breath then as her sinuses decided to remind her of their unhappiness at the current situation, causing her to close her eyes and sway.

Darien reacted to what appeared to be Alyx trying to faint by moving the two short steps to her side and scooping her up in his arms. He carried her to the sofa and set her down, as she looked up at him in stunned silence. "You should not be up," he admonished her once she was sitting.

"I'm fine, Darien. Really." When it looked like he was going to start lecturing her, she backed down. "All right. All right. I'll be good." She lowered her voice to a mutter. "And I thought Bobby was bad."

"I heard that," Darien commented as he grabbed a box of tissues and sat down at the opposite end of the sofa, handing them to her.

"You were supposed to," Alyx quipped with a grin. "Now, why are you over here, really?"

He settled back a bit and looked at her, not sure where to begin. She might not remember everything that had happened over the last few days, but he did. Some of it was burned into his mind and had forced him to really think about things. He didn't get a chance to say anything, however.

"I'm sorry. I know I said something stupid, even if I can't remember exactly what." She paused to rub her eyes; this was not easy for her. "And I want to thank you."

"For what?" He sounded more than a little surprised.

She shook her head at him. "For what? For sticking by me. For getting me out of that damn cuff." She raised her hand, the remains of the burns still visible against her pale skin. "For putting up with all the crap I've been tossing at you when you don't have to."

"Alyx, yeah, you got downright nasty at one point, but you were right and I was just being too damn stubborn to see it." He lifted his head to meet her eyes, a dangerous thing to do considering he knew how they affected him. For a change, though, he didn't feel that fist tighten about his heart, that sudden raw burst of emotion that still could surprise him with its intensity. He simply saw her. Alive. "You have your own life to lead and your own decisions to make. I could really use another friend, anyway."

Alyx was truly shocked at the disappointment that surged through her, making her wonder what it was she had said that had caused him to ... to give up, to back down, even though he'd fought her backing off from their attempt at a relationship for weeks now. Could Claire be right? Could she have been lying to herself all along? Or could he simply have done what no one else seemed to have been able to do for a long time? "Darien, I... ah... ah, hell." She hastily grabbed a tissue and sneezed another set of three.

Darien grinned, but then fell into the same reaction, only with one spectacular sneeze that left Alyx looking at him in startlement even as she handed him the box of tissues. "Ah, crap. Well, that was, umm... different."

Both broke into laughter and the tension eased between them, that comfortable camaraderie settling back into place for the moment.

"Movie?" Alyx asked. "I have a ton of that matzo soup as well."

The reply that leapt from him was not planned. "How about poker?"

"Poker? Been years since I played that." She got hit by a sudden wave of deja vu and shook it off. "What the hell. I've got a deck of cards somewhere." She pushed herself to her feet.

"Strip poker?" Darien suggested with a grin as he got up as well.

"Trust me, you want no part of what's under these oh-so-sexy clothes."

Neither chose to comment on her choice of words, even though both knew they had been said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~ Saturday ~~

When my doorbell rings, I leave the medical journal I've been reading open on the sofa and head to my door. Much to my surprise and dismay, Alyx is standing there. This time she's not wearing heavy clothes -- the weather has finally broken, returning to the warm, dry conditions that are far more normal this time of year. Instead, she's in a sleeveless T-shirt and a pair of bleached-out jeans that are nearly worn through in the knees.

"Alyx, you should be home in bed." I step aside and she slips past me into my home.

"I'm fine." Her voice is still a bit rough, but nothing like yesterday. "Fever's gone, and blood pressure is back to normal. Didn't we agree to every Saturday I wasn't working?"

I join her near the banister at the beginning of the hallway, where she's waiting patiently for me to decide. "All right, but we'll try to go easy today. You could still relapse."

She nods and then turns her head at the small bark that comes from the living room. Pavlov is poking his head around the corner to see who the visitor is. "Hey Pav, how's it hanging?" He hesitates for all of a second and then barrels at Alyx only to stop right in front of her, sitting perfectly still as if waiting for some signal from her. Kneeling down, she scratches him on the top of his head. "Nice to see you too, sweetie."

For some reason I feel angry, jealous almost, and force myself to set it aside. There is little chance she is doing it intentionally. "You can... read his mind?" I ask her as she gets back to her feet. We proceed to the living room with Pavlov running back and forth between the two of us.

"Sort of?" she answers as she sits in the chair, sets the backpack down, and opens it to withdraw a box of tissues and a notebook. "Dogs don't think or process emotions quite the same way humans do. Much more stream of consciousness, and their sensory organization is different. I can get rough impressions from him."

I somehow manage to cover my surprise. I don't think anyone had entertained the possibility that she could... communicate with animals. We just barely understand how she does it with humans. "So what was he thinking?" Pavlov jumps up on the sofa next to me and shoves the magazine to the floor in an attempt to get my attention. I reach out to rub the top of his head in that one spot he can never seem to be able to reach.

"Well, first he just wanted to confirm with his eyes that I was who he thought I was. Then he was trying to figure out my mood. He was quite pleased to find I was happier than last time." She flips open the notebook and holds it out to me, and I release Pavlov to take it from her. "I read over that book like you suggested, and it did clear up a few things. It's been a while since I worked on stuff like this. I'm a bit out of practice."

I look over the first page of notes and try not to react. If I had known she was going to read the entire book and make an attempt at the problem already, I might have gone about things differently, but as has become common with Alyx, she has surprised me yet again. It had been a test of sorts, to see if she really understood the sometimes convoluted sciences that were needed to work on the QS-9000 project. She has more than passed my little test. I look at her and she has small smile that tells me she knew exactly what I was doing.

"So, does this mean you think my idea may be feasible?"

I set the notebook down on the coffee table. "Yes, if you're willing to help."

She shifts back into the seat. "You think you can talk the Official in to trying it?"

That was the real issue in many ways. Would the Official balk at making Darien's leash a bit longer, giving him some small amount of freedom, of hope? "Let me deal with the Official," I answer. It wouldn't be the first time I've gone behind his back or gone against his orders to help Darien, and I'm not going to stop now. She nods, but I can see something in her eyes, something that suggests that, even if I were to nix the entire idea, it wouldn't stop her from going ahead on her own. I debate calling her on it, but decide to wait, to see how things play out, to see how divided her -- our -- loyalties might become over the issue of Darien.

"So, where do you want me to start today?" she asks softly and I know her attention has moved on to her real reason for being here. There is a difference today; the sense of resignation, of discomfort at discussing her past, her life, is mostly gone, replaced almost by acceptance.

"You decide," I find myself saying, as if I know she has something she wants or needs to talk about. She seems to recognize the fact that I've granted her the freedom she needs for today. Instead of leading her down the path, I'm simply following along beside her. It's a step in the right direction for both of us.



// "When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." -- Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude

And when you find them, the one and only thing you should do in return is exactly the same. //

Finis