Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: PG-13 (Language, violence, adult situations, mild sexual situations)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or basic story ideas to "The Invisible Man." Any additional characters or ideas are mine.
Timeline: And now for something completely different yet eerily familiar.
Comments: I blame this on the lack of brainpower it requires to bike for an hour. This is definitely part of my A.S. altiverse, but changes everything. What if instead of parting ways after they met back when D was 10 and Alyx 13, they had remained friends and stayed in touch with one another? Read on and find out.
Music: You Owe Me Nothing in Return by Alanis Morissette and Here I Stand and Face the Rain by a-Ha
"A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future and accepts you today just the way you are." Proverbs 17:17
"Darien, phone call for you."
Darien groaned, not wanting to interrupt his game of Pac-man on the Atari system. "Who is it?" he shouted back, hoping it was just Pizza or Rich so he could blow them off for now. He was at the end of this month's journey into grounding and didn't want to screw it up. Summer was damn boring when stuck in the house or forced to accompany Aunt Celia about town. The only thing worse was having to help Kev and Uncle Pete with whatever crap they were doing in the basement lab.
"It's Shelly," Celia called back.
Darien dropped the game controller and his stocking clad feet were thudding down the main staircase in record time. He ignored the stern look Celia gave him for running in the house and waited impatiently for her to leave the room after she'd handed him the handset.
"Truth!" he whooped into the phone.
"Dare!" was the gleeful response. "I was afraid you'd be out raising cane. Did you get grounded again?"
Darien squirmed and shuffled his feet. "Kinda," he admitted a bit reluctantly. She was the one person he had trouble lying to.
She snorted. "That's my Dare, bad to the bone."
Darien grinned, while she might not necessarily approve of his hobbies she also didn't get on his case about it, just accepted it as part of who he was. "So what's up?"
"Remember how I promised to make it out there this summer?"
"How about two weeks from now?"
"Really?" Darien tried to cover his sudden surge of happiness; she was just a girl after all. One he'd had on his mind an awful lot lately.
"Yep, and come fall I'll be a lot closer as well."
"You picked Cal-Tech?" He'd been hoping she would, but with offers from a dozen top notch schools all over the world he'd held out very little hope she'd choose to move across the country, not when MIT had made an offer as well. By choosing Cal-Tech she'd be a comparatively short eight-hour drive away instead of on the east coast. "How long can you stay?"
"A week. We leave tomorrow for Pasadena. Gotta get me squared away on campus, special rooming and other crap 'cause I'm so young." She sighed and shifted the phone from the sound of it. "Then we'll drive up to Cold Springs. Kinda weird though. This'll be the first time I've been to the house. We always used to meet up at the cabin," she reminded him and he was midly surprised to realize it was true. "Mom'll be calling Celia tomorrow with the details. It'll be me and Jacob, by the way."
"I'll let her know. Still hard to believe you going to college and all, and with the esteemed Kevin Fawkes no less." Darien found it very easy to forget she was so smart, smart as Kev at least, because, unlike his brother, she didn't act like it. Not really.
"It's just more school. You'll get there yourself one day. Don't sweat it." Her simple and direct confidence in him stunned him and he fell back onto sarcasm to cover it.
"Yeah, right. Like I'm ever gonna make it out of high school." The silence that echoed across the line told him he'd screwed up, but she surprised him.
"They doing it again?" she asked softly.
"Yeah," he agreed, keeping his voice down. "The whole 'why can't you be more like Kevin' spiel. I'm sick of it 'Chele."
"I know you are, Dare. Maybe if you cut down your extracurricular activities to a couple times a month, they'd get off your back for a while," she suggested with humor obvious in her tone.
"Practice makes perfect, right?" When she laughed, he joined in; glad there was one person in his life who trusted him to just be him. "Damn, it'll be good to see you."
"And my ego-stroking has been successful," she commented, making Darien smile. "I gotta run. We've got a ton of crap to do before we leave. Don't forget to tell Celia."
"I won't." Darien rolled his eyes. "See you in two weeks."
"You know it, Dare." There was a soft click as she hung up and Darien set the handset back into its cradle. He stood there, allowing himself a few moments of pleasure before having to face the reality that was his life.
Straightening his shoulders, he stuck his head out of the room and shouted, "Aunt Celia!"
At the sound of a car door slamming Darien rushed to the living room window and scanned the area outside. He'd been jumping at every thing for the last couple of hours now, and Celia had already banished him from the kitchen for not being able to sit still and ruining two apples he'd been supposed to be peeling. On the street before the house was a nondescript dark blue rental car. A man Darien recognized as 'Chele's oldest brother was standing in front of the car and gazing up at the house. The passenger door opened and Darien smiled at the shock of red hair visible around the dark green kerchief holding it out of the owner's face.
With a shout of, "They're here!" he ran to the front door, swung it wide and rushed out onto the porch only to stop dead at the top of the steps instead of bounding down them as he had planned. While he and 'Chele talked almost weekly, he hadn't seen her in six months and in that time she'd changed quite a bit. Somewhere along the way she'd gone from a friend who had the bad taste to be a female to being a girl.
Wearing a t-shirt, snug fitting jeans and a pair of Nike with the mandatory blue swoosh on the side she looked little like what he remembered. She'd not only filled out over the summer, but she was gloriously tan, making it plain that, unlike his brother who had rarely ventured out of the basement lab, she'd spent the vast majority of her time outside in the sun. Suddenly she was no longer the bouncy tomboy he knew, had morphed into something far more elusive and mysterious, and for an instant he wondered if, because of that, he'd lost her.
"Darien?" she asked, breaking him out of his quiet contemplation of her. He nodded in response. She ran to him, taking the steps two at a time and stopped one step below the porch proper to gaze up at him. "Jeeze, when did you get so tall?"
Darien ducked his head and stepped back so that she could stand beside him, which is when he realized her words had not been facetious. He now stood a good eight inches taller than her, not that he'd ever been shorter, even when they'd first met he'd topped her by a couple of inches, but this past summer he'd hit one of those inevitable growth spurts and shot up three or four inches in a matter of a couple of months. Lucky for his aunt he'd spent most of that time in shorts, as she would have been unable to keep up with him had he been in pants, easily outgrowing them in weeks.
"Shoot, when did you shrink?"
She smiled and punched him on the arm. "Good to see you too."
Celia stepped out onto the porch followed by Kevin; they stayed back as if waiting for the initial reunion rituals to be completed. Jacob mounted the stairs to stand next to 'Chele, still topping her miniscule height by several inches even though he remained a step lower. Darien pulled himself together to make the introductions, though he had met Jacob before, neither Kevin nor Celia had, and Celia had spent enough time drilling etiquette into him that he knew he'd better do this right or face the consequences of yet more reminders.
"Jacob MacTierney, this is my Aunt Celia Donovan and my brother Kevin Fawkes." Darien moved out of the way so Jacob could reach over to shake hands with each of them, then Kev moved to hover at Darien's side. Kevin shoved his glasses back into place and stuck his hand out to Michele.
"Really?" 'Chele asked as she shook his hand. "I never would have guessed," she said this with the perfect combination of sweetness and sarcasm, causing Darien to snicker and bite the inside of his cheek as Kev's brows drew together in consternation, making it obvious that he had missed the boat on her subtle jibe, but that didn't prevent him from forging ahead with his, most likely, pre-planned speech.
"I understand you'll be attending Cal-Tech come fall?" At her nod he continued, "May I inquire as to what your planned major is?"
"Neurophysics, biochemistry, and genetics will be my main fields. Have a bunch of ancillary ones as well. Plus I plan on minors in computer science and writing."
"Writing? What on earth for?" Kevin asked in surprise.
"Can't write a book if you don't know how," 'Chele answered in such a way that implied it should have been obvious, especially to someone as smart as Kevin was purported to be. "I hope to continue my parents' work when I graduate."
Kevin's mouth snapped shut.
"Kevin, Darien, go get their bags and take them upstairs. Jacob will be in the spare room, 'Chele you can stay in Darien's room; he'll bunk with Kevin." Celia informed all of them.
"Mrs. Donovan..." Jacob began.
"Celia, we have a room booked at the local hotel," Jacob explained politely.
"Nonsense. You've welcomed Darien into your home many times, the least we can do is the same." With one hand motion she urged Darien and Kevin towards the car and Jacob and Michele into the house. Jacob handed Darien the keys to the car and set a hand on 'Chele's back as they entered the house.
Kevin started in on Darien before they were halfway down the front steps.
"Damn, Darien, no wonder you like visiting her. She's cute."
"I guess. She's just a friend, Kev." Darien tried to keep his tone bland, but based on the look Kevin shot him he hadn't been very successful.
"Can't see what you two have in common," Kevin continued, trying to play on Darien's current lack of self-confidence. "I mean, she's my age, heading to the same school I am this fall. You can't really be hoping to keep her interest, can you?"
It wasn't until Darien saw the trunk of the car open before him that he realized he'd frozen on the sidewalk and that Kevin had taken the keys. Getting himself into motion, Darien lifted the purple trimmed backpack and duffel from the trunk knowing they were hers. "See, Kev, that's the difference between you and me. Keeping her was never part of it. She's free to go whenever she wants." He waited until Kevin had removed the remaining suitcases and then slammed the trunk shut, relocked it and pocketed the keys. He was back on the porch before Kevin began to move.
Dinner was earlier than usual and being treated as a special occasion with everyone around the table at the same time. Darien could count the number of times that had happened this past summer on one hand. Darien had been bored about five minutes after the mashed potatoes had been passed around, unlike his aunt he couldn't just smile and nod and pretend to be part of a conversation that was so far over his head that gills would do him little good. Uncle Peter had asked 'Chele a seemingly innocent question about her parents and from there the topic had delved into sciences that got more obscure the more they spoke. So Darien just sighed and poked listlessly at his meal until it was obvious everyone was finished and then, uncharacteristically volunteered to help Celia clean up.
The entire time he was drying and putting the plates away Darien couldn't help thinking that Kevin was probably right, that 'Chele did fit in better with Kev and his crowd of brainiacs. She easily kept up with Uncle Peter, who seemed, at times, to know everything, and she even made Kevin back down when she was able to refute a theory he'd been basing one of his recent experiments on. 'Chele apparently had access to some more recent data that changed the premises Kev had been counting on. When the conversation drifted into the living room Darien trailed along, noting grimly that Uncle Peter had excused himself, leaving just 'Chele and Kevin. Darien just slouched in the doorway undecided as to whether or not he should interrupt them when 'Chele stopped mid-ten-syllable-word and turned to him.
"Go find a deck of cards. I plan on taking you for every cent you got." She winked at him and then finished what she was saying to Kevin.
Darien grinned at the glare Kevin shot his way and rushed off to find a deck of cards.
Darien lay on the lumpy cot; his hands threaded together behind his head as he stared up at the star field Kev had painted on his ceiling. As per Kevin's usual meticulousness the scene was accurate, the stars of the northern hemisphere, done to scale the constellations easy to pick out even for Darien. Once he'd gone through all the ones he knew, he began making up his own, recombining the stars in his mind and creating new names for the shapes revealed. Even this didn't keep his mind from bouncing around from topic to topic, the swirling confusion preventing him from sleeping.
In some ways 'Chele was his best friend in the world, the one person he could tell anything and everything, but now... Now, for apparently the first time, he'd noticed her. The way she smiled, laughed, moved, it stirred something inside of him he couldn't yet put a name to. Something that scared the hell out of him and that he liked all at the same time.
On the bed Kevin rolled over and began to snore loudly, tempting Darien to shove a pillow over his brother's face to silence him for a few minutes. Instead, Darien tossed off the covers and got up, deciding that maybe a midnight snack would help him settle down enough to sleep. These days it seemed like he was always hungry.
Opening the door he stepped out into the hall and ran smack into 'Chele, knocking her to the floor with a grunt.
"Crap," Darien muttered as he crouched down next to her. "What're you doing up?" he asked as he offered a hand to help her up.
"Too weird trying to sleep in your bed," she told him. As she stood upright one hand went back to rub the spot on her tailbone that had taken the brunt of the impact and winced. "Ahhh, I think you broke my butt."
Turning her about, Darien checked over the gluteus maximums in question and found nothing wrong other than her pajama shorts being slightly askew. "Looks fine from here," he said, then blushed a deep red as he realized exactly what he had done."
'Chele began to giggle, her hand coming up to cover her mouth to control the volume somewhat. Darien, relieved she hadn't taken offense by what he had done, smiled and ducked his head. When she reached up to brush the hair off his forehead and out of his eyes, his smile faded to something far more serious. To cover it he grabbed her hand and led her to the stairs. "Come on, before Celia wakes up."
"Sure. Midnight raid on the kitchen?" she suggested, echoing Darien's own intent.
"That too." He didn't release her hand until they reached the top of the stairs where he only let her go in order to slide down the banister. He hopped off just before connecting with the large knob at the end, just like he had done a hundred times before. He spun about to see her tripping lightly down the stairs. She leaned against the very knob he had avoided damaging himself on and looked Darien right in the eyes.
"Lemme guess, Celia don't allow banister slidin'?"
"Hell no," he agreed with a devilish grin.
They ended up in the backyard with their stolen booty from the kitchen. Cookies, soda, and some hoarded candy that Darien had known the exact location of Kevin's hiding place. With the addition of a couple of blankets and their midnight picnic was complete.
Lying on their backs they spent some time pointing out the various constellations to each other and then, once all those visible in the arc of the sky above had been discussed, he gathered his courage about him like a shroud and showed her some of those he had created. After a few she pointed out some she spontaneously came up with, each taking turns creating the names and mythology that went with them.
In the midst of their laughter about the invented history of Gallimimus the Gallant Darien suddenly asked, "Why do you hang out with me?"
'Chele rolled onto her side and propped her head up to look at him in the dim light of the yard. "Dare?"
"No, truth," he responded, tensing in anticipation of her answer.
"Well, at first it was my parents' suggestion. You know, to thank you for hanging out with me at the hospital." She kept her voice quiet, one finger tracing the ripples on the blanket. "After that it was 'cause I wanted to. Though I kinda got the impression your uncle would have encouraged it to continue."
Darien groaned. "Probably thought you'd be a good influence on me or something." His look turned dark as he realized this.
She snickered. "Yeah, right. More likely to happen the other way 'round."
His hands moved behind his head, mimicking the position he'd been in up in the bedroom, and stared at the sky above him without really seeing it. "Not with Kev around," he muttered and then yelped when she smacked him with the flat of her hand on the stomach. "What was that for?" he snarled.
"For being an idiot." At his look of disbelief she continued, "Kev's a geek who is so monofocused on his work that he's forgotten everything else."
"One track mind," Darien mumbled softly, mostly to himself.
"And not easily derailed," she added ruefully. "That boy must eat, sleep and drink... that bio-engineering crap."
Darien rolled on his side to look at her; he tried, in vain, to hide the laughter that wanted to bubble up.
"If I ever begin to turn into that," She waved in the direction of Kev's bedroom window, "hold me down and feed me Oreos 'til I return to reality, would you?"
"Gladly." Darien nodded, his laughter contained at the seriousness in her tone. "So what you're sayin' is... you like me 'cause I'm real?"
She was silent for a long moment. "I like you 'cause you're you, Darien. And before you argue you're too young or some other bullshit..."
He interrupted her right there. "I'm 13, I don't even start high school for another year and here you are 16 and heading to college. Six months from now we'll have nothing in common."
'Chele sighed heavily. "Darien, we have plenty in common and, though you hate to admit it, you are just as smart as Kevin and could probably start high school this year without a problem. I'm not saying you should 'act more like Kevin,' but..." She paused to take a sip of her Coca-Cola as she gathered her thoughts. "You're getting A's and B's on minimal effort right?"
Darien squirmed internally at her question. "Yeah, what of it?"
She shook her head and then seemed to change the topic completely. "Truth or dare?"
"Dare," he answered automatically and she grinned in such a way that it made Darien's stomach tighten up into a hard ball that suddenly caused all the sugary snacks to sit less than comfortably.
"Pick one class and for one semester give it your all. Do all the work, study, everything," she said, the challenge plain in her tone.
"Oooooh, that's sneaky. So when did Uncle Pete talk you into this?" he snapped, not wanting to be manipulated by her of all people.
She rolled away and sat up. "He didn't, Darien." Getting to her feet she glanced back at him. "And I'm 15, my birthday is in October, remember?"
As she began to walk away Darien whispered, "'Chele, wait." He contained a sigh of relief when she did so, her feet still planted on the edge of the blanket. "On one condition."
She eyed him. "Since when are there conditions in Truth or Dare?"
"Special circumstances. You're daring me to months of work, seems fair I get something in return."
She raised an eyebrow. "I could argue that, successfully by the way, but you've got me curious." Turning about she sank onto the blanket to sit cross-legged by his feet.
"I teach you to pick locks," Darien told her.
She opened and closed her mouth several times before tipping forward to lie alongside him, laughing softly. "What the hell? We can corrupt each other." Shifting she stuck out a hand. "Deal?"
Knowing full well she'd expect him to keep his end of this little bargain he shook her hand with all the solemnity he could muster. "Deal."