Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: PG-13 (Language)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or basic story ideas to The Invisible Man'. Any additional characters or story ideas are mine.
Timeline: Several weeks before Legacy'
Spoilers: Various Episodes and various other fics.
Comments: This was just for the fun of it and allowed me toss some thoughts of mine on certain subjects out into the arena. Slightly revised to account for episodes that I had not seen at the time I wrote this.
Music: Angel by Sarah McLachlan
Truth or Dare
In vino veritas.
In wine there is truth.
It's a game we played as kids. A way of finding out secrets. A way of making our friends look foolish without repercussions. A way of challenging ourselves and others into great deeds or deep thoughts. A way to find out if the girl down the street likes you. It's harmless, innocent fun.
But when its played by adults its different.
Bitter truths can come to light and the dares can take on a seriousness no one expects.
Just remember. It's only a game.
First we must have the proper atmosphere.
It's a bar.
Not a dive. Not a club. A bar. Live music four nights a week. Karaoke contests, open mike night and other such promotions the rest of the nights. A small dance floor is near the stage for those brave, or drunk enough to dance to the music. This was a place where adults who like music with their drinks and conversation with their friends came. A place that lets you drop the days worries and cares at the door and become the person you are when your work no longer consumes you. A place where colleagues and friends can gather to discover truths about each other.
If they dare.
The first is a nondescript man who, once again, has worked far too many hours today. But this had been at least partially his idea and he felt obligated to make an appearance. Although it was a little after 10:00 PM he was still dressed for work. As he walks across the room he removes the suit jacket and tie, rolls up the sleeves of his shirt, unbuttons the collar and signals the bartender for his usual. He had stumbled across this place a couple of months ago and had been drawn to it for some reason.
He was not normally a drinking man. Oh, the occasional glass of wine or maybe something stronger if the day had been exceptionally bad, but here it was different. The waitress arrived with two pitchers and a half dozen glasses as if she knew tonight was not going to be an ordinary night for him. He notes that the band on stage is part way through their second set. Perfect provided the others showed up soon.
There was a good crowd tonight, which did not surprise him. There usually was. The band was one of the better ones and regularly draws in a larger than normal crowd. They play a combination of their own songs and those of other artists, a very eclectic selection of music.
He pours himself a drink from the pitcher of beer and sits back to enjoy the music and wait.
Our next two players arrive together and they take a moment to look over the semi-darkened room for the others of their group. The taller of the two spots whom they are looking for and directs the woman he is with to the table. With smiles and greetings they sit and both wonder why they are here. Now, he was no stranger to bars, but typically the ones he frequents are far lower class than this. When he wants to drink, seriously drink, it typically involves a dark room laced thickly with cigarette smoke and a hint of despair.
She, well she looked like she'd be more comfortable at one of those clubs that was mentioned earlier. Looking quite hip in her black leather and impeccably coifed blonde hair one could imagine her on a dance floor pounding the night away to a heavy beat surrounded by others of like mien. Here she looks a tad uncomfortable and uneasy.
Our fourth player arrives with an excess of fiercely controlled energy. Not as tall as the other two gentlemen he makes up for it with an attitude that screams with power, energy, and vitality. He surveys the room, not yet looking for his friends, but simply making himself aware of whom is where and tagging any character that looks even vaguely suspicious for further observation. With a tight look of discomfort he walks further into the room, wishing the music were not quite so loud, but noting that it is also well played. The comfortable jeans and shirt he has changed into does little to disguise the obviously well toned body beneath. He too makes his way through the crowd to the table where his friends sit. After one last look about he sits down at the table to wait and see what the night would bring.
One more player remains, but will along shortly.
"All right Eberts, why are we here." Bobby once again managed to sneer his colleague's name while saying the rest of the sentence normally.
"Yeah." Darien chimed in. "I thought Alyx was supposed to be joining us."
"She was working with Sims. They must have run into some problems as they still hadn't checked in before I left the office." Eberts answered pouring himself another beer from the pitcher. "She usually calls if she's going to be late."
Darien gave him this really odd look. "This is where she's been taking off to in the evenings?"
"Darien..." Claire tried to intervene on Eberts' behalf.
Eberts faced the larger agent without a hint of fear. "Yes. We talk."
"Who else is he gonna talk geek with out of the office?" Bobby commented a bit offhandedly. "Besides she can't spend every night with you can she?" He didn't catch Darien's look, but Eberts and Claire did; though neither commented on it at the time.
Alyx showed up then, looking rather irritated and sporting a bandaged hand and a bruise on her cheek. "Hey guys. She rested one hand on Darien's shoulder and gave him a quick kiss. Eberts handed her a glass of the margarita he'd poured from the second pitcher and watched as she gulped it down. "Thanks Ebes." She hooked an empty chair from a nearby table with her foot, dragged it over and sat.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?" Claire asked giving her the once over or as much as she could in the poorly lit room.
"Sims happened." She held out her empty glass and Eberts refilled it. "Idiot freezes up when I shout in his head to duck. So I had to take a frying pan in the face to save his stinking ass."
Hobbes laughed. "A frying pan?"
Alyx shrugged. "Pissed off girlfriend. She was not pleased because a) her true love was being arrested for smuggling illegal furs yet again and b) that he was being arrested by a redhead who had managed to sneak into their bedroom."
By now everyone at the table was laughing, including Eberts, although he was trying to be polite about it. At first anyway.
"How is this Sims' fault?" Darien queried after catching his breath.
"He was the expert who said the jerk was alone. So when the perp pulled a gun and then Sims wouldn't duck, I had to shove him out of the way and then got whacked by the girlfriend who'd been making a little snack in the kitchen." Alyx did not sound happy at all. "With the frying pan."
Claire hissed in sympathy. "She hit you with the hot pan?"
Alyx nodded. "And now I raise a toast to the quicksilver gods for saving me from third degree burns via hot bacon grease."
They joined her in the toast.
"And your hand?" Hobbes asked in curiosity.
"I punched Sims. Gave him a bruise to match mine." She was smiling as she said it.
"Alyx!" Claire was shocked.
"Way to go, kid." Hobbes said.
Eberts just shook his head.
Darien kissed her.
"Hmmm. Maybe I should beat up annoying agents more often." She shifted her chair closer to his and he draped one arm around her shoulders.
"Awright, enough you two. Bad enough working with the two of youse..." Bobby griped.
"Yeah, right. When did we last work together? The three of us." Alyx asked him.
"Six weeks ago." Eberts answered automatically. "That fishing trip. You know you always seem to rack up a lot of overtime when the three of you work together. The accounting department hates it."
"Its Hobbes. Slows us down." Darien commented over his beer.
"Right. Without me would you two ever get out of bed?" He was trying to keep a straight face as he said this.
"Not fair, Hobbes." Alyx stuck a thumb at Darien. "Not my fault he likes to sleep."
That got Claire laughing again. "Why are we here anyway?"
"Yeah. Why are we here, Eberts?" Bobby wondered aloud. "Unlike you, I have a life."
"Actually, it was as much Alyx's idea as mine." Eberts commented nodding to Alyx.
They all turned to look at her, but it took her a moment to notice as she was tipped back in her chair talking to a gentleman at the next table over, who pointed at her friends to make her aware her attention was required. "What?"
"How about telling why we're here? Eberts is blaming you?" Darien explained.
"Is that all?" She tipped the chair back and thunked her boots down on the table. "Fun, people. To have fun." They all, with the exception of Eberts, looked at her blankly. "C'mon guys. We work our asses off together, can't we have some fun together? And get your mind out of the gutter, Hobbes."
Bobby had opened his mouth to say something, but closed it with a snap at her words. Claire failed to hide her snicker and Bobby glared at her.
"Easy Hobbes, even I had a good idea what you were going to say." Darien said.
"We are going to put away a few more, listen to this awfully good band," Alyx raised her glass and drank. "And then we're going to play Truth or Dare." She set the glass down on the table with a thud. "By the way anything that comes out here tonight stays here. Those are the rules. No running home and making notes. No paranoid delusions. No reporting to the Official." She looked at Eberts. "Right Ebes?"
He nodded. "Right."
The others all nodded in stunned agreement.
"Good. Now drink, drink and be merry." Alyx raised her glass again.
From here on out the evening was going to get interesting.
So the scene is set. The players have assembled. The rules have been laid out. Our players follow their orders. They watch the band and drink. They flood their brains and loosen their tongues. In no time at all an hour has passed and game time has arrived.
They were working on their third set of pitchers when arguing broke out between Bobby and Eberts.
"Suck up." Bobby muttered just loud enough to be heard.
"What was that, Robert?" Okay, so Eberts could do that sneering inflection as well.
"I said you were a suck up' Eberts." Bobby repeated for him.
Alyx decided to intervene. "Awright, you two mooks. What is it between you two?"
The first official question of the night.
"Yeah, what, did Eberts sleep with your wife or something?" Darien asked facetiously. The look on the two men's faces said it all.
"My god, you did?" Claire sounded amazed and then burst out in a fit of giggles.
"Way to go, Eberts." Darien said knowing it would drive Bobby crazy.
"Fawkes, the man slept with my wife, don't you have any sympathy?" Bobby whined, looking for back up on this one.
"She was not your wife at the time. And she asked me out." Eberts filled in. "I never went out with her again."
Alyx, Claire, and Darien all laughed.
"Fawkes, you've been in the same position with the kid and Ar..."
"That is a sentence I wouldn't finish if I were you." Darien's voice was not pleasant.
"See. It still bothers you as well." Bobby was practically bouncing with glee.
"Yeah, it still bothers me, but not for the reasons you think." Darien picked up his glass and finished it off.
Alyx didn't react. Showed no concern whatsoever. Looked Bobby right in the eyes and smiled.
"Well, since you two aren't going to go your separate ways when are you gonna make it official and get married?" Bobby was in the mood to push every button tonight.
Darien and Alyx answered simultaneously.
Then they turned to glare at each other.
"So that's what's been bothering you Darien." Claire turned to look at the two of them.
Alyx stuck her tongue out at Bobby and gave him an impressive raspberry.
Bobby ignored her and nudged Eberts. "It was the kid I heard say never', right?"
Eberts rolled his eyes and didn't answer.
"Why?" Claire asked innocently enough.
"Yeah, I'd like to know that for myself." Darien agreed.
"Ummm, I think I'd like to take a dare on this one." Alyx hedged, pouring herself another drink.
"I didn't offer one." Bobby replied leaning back in his chair.
Alyx frowned at him trying to think of a way to answer without answering. "Fine, but this is all you're getting on the subject. I won't deny Darien certain," She paused to choose the correct word. "opportunities in the future."
This seemed to satisfy Bobby, but confused the hell out of Darien. He had no idea what she was talking about.
"Your turn, Eberts. You ask one." Alyx said to him.
He straightened in his chair. "Darien, what did you do with the money."
Darien stared at him over the top of his glass. "What money?" He could still do the innocent look pretty well.
"The money that was transferred out of Arnaud's offshore accounts and the into the one created for you." Eberts elaborated.
"How much money?" Claire got the words out just ahead of Bobby.
"About three million." Darien answered. "And its still sitting there. Doing nothing."
"Actually it closer to four and a half million now. Interest you know." Alyx commented.
"What did you do with yours?" Darien asked Alyx.
She smiled. "O,h I made some investments that are beginning to pay off."
"And how much did you steal from Arnaud, kid?" Bobby was curious.
"I earned that money. A little job I did for him." Alyx sat up a bit straighter. "It was only $30 mil."
Darien choked on his beer. "How much?"
"Thirty million." Alyx repeated sounding a bit smug.
"You stole over $30 million from Arnaud?" He looked at her, an odd smile on his face. "You are an expensive date, aren't you?"
The others laughed and Alyx whapped him on the arm. "Jerk," Then she leaned in and kissed him, and for a couple of minutes both forgot where they were.
"Break it up you two. Make the rest of us jealous." Claire was smiling as she said this.
"Oh really?" Alyx had slid her chair closer to Darien's and now sat with her legs sprawled across his thighs. "And where were you last weekend? As if I don't know."
Claire blushed bright red.
"Keepy's got a boyfriend. I'm feeling left out." Bobby was smiling slyly at her.
"I hope you had authorization." Eberts said in that voice.
Claire caught on that he was joking, but commented anyway. "Actually yes. Michael wanted me to double check some findings of his." She looked over to Alyx. "They're all fine."
Alyx gave her a small nod of acknowledgment. "You aren't going to see each other any more are you?"
"No, not that way anyhow. We'll still work together though." Claire didn't look unhappy. "There's someone closer to home that..." She let her sentence trail off.
No one, however, took her up on her little faux pas. There were other things to explore.
Have you heard enough? Shall we delve deeper? Shall the game continue?
Of course it will.
Alyx came back to the table bearing yet more pitchers of intoxicants. She shouldn't have been able to carry three of them at once and everyone at the table knew it. They also knew how she was doing it. The looks on the faces of the patrons at other tables made it worth it though.
"So you get a bit freer with your powers when you've been drinking, huh?" Hobbes managed to get this out all in one sentence, barely.
"Bobby, Alyx can't get drunk. We've tried." Claire informed him.
"That's not quite true. I just can't get royally shit-faced. Pleasantly relaxed and silly I can do." Alyx corrected as she filled everyone's glasses.
"Don't I know it. I caught her doing tequila shooters against this hulk in a dive I sometimes frequent." Darien shook his head. "It took and hour, but the other guy eventually tipped over out cold. The rest of the bar gave her a standing ovation."
"Hey I made two hundred bucks with that stunt." Alyx gave him a shove.
"Why don't you just beat the suckers a pool or something?" Hobbes suggested.
"They won't let her back in. She won too much money." Eberts answered.
"Well, what about darts?" Claire waved toward the dartboards lining one wall of the room.
Alyx looked at Eberts who nodded and got up to get her a set of darts. Alyx also stood and walked to stand against the bar across form the dartboard Eberts had retrieved the darts from. The waitress saw what was going on and advised those in between Alyx and the dartboard to stay seated and then stepped back to watch. When Alyx had the darts in her hand she turned to the bartender. "What'll it be tonight, Mac?"
"Ah, let's try something different, sweets. Double twenty." He looked up and down the bar. "The usual bet if you please."
Alyx plunked down a twenty and several more quickly joined it. "Normal split?"
"Of course." He was already dividing the money, much to the dismay of several of the patrons there. He only let her keep doing this because she split the take with him fifty/fifty. "All set."
Alyx turned back to the dartboard and adjusted the focus of eyes. One after the other she threw the three darts with nary a pause in between. The waitress wandered over to the board and called out, "Double twenty. All of them."
Alyx was already on her way back to the table counting her share of the take. When she sat down she looked at Claire. "That's why."
"You're scaring me again, kid." Hobbes looked a little wide-eyed. "You used your powers, right?"
"Nope. But since I can see in almost pitch dark and adjust the focus of my eyes..." She shrugged. "Ask Claire about my reflexes."
"Hobbes, you've seen her dodge bullets. Tossing a couple of darts is nothing." Darien added.
"Okay, I've done my dare. Who's next for some torture?" Alyx was rubbing her hands together in glee.
"Since we're playing a high school game how about a high school question?" Darien had this rather amused look on his face.
"So long as you remember some of us were in high school at a rather tender age." Alyx replied.
The others nodded wondering where he was going with this one.
"First person you've slept with and when? How many in total?" Darien hid behind his glass waiting for a reaction from his friends.
Alyx laughed. "Was wondering who'd ask that one."
Claire got this offended look. "Darien, that's private."
"What's the matter, Keepy." Hobbes said. "Afraid we won't be impressed."
"Bobby? If that's you're attitude then you can start." she responded putting him on the spot.
"Teresa Rosenstein. We were seventeen. There have been, let's see." He thought for a moment. "Six others." He turned to Claire daring her to not respond.
"Oh, all right. Oliver Bainbrigde III. It was in college. I was 20. I've had three other relationships since then. Satisfied?" she said this as quickly as she could.
"The real question is were you'?" Everyone turned to stare at Eberts.
"We have got to get you drunk more often, Eberts. You actually turn into a human." Bobby commented.
"Robert, you have no idea what I really am." He said turning to look at the other man and for a moment he truly did not look like Eberts. Then he blinked and he was himself again. "Mary Stewert. Age 18. I've had seven other long term relationships since then."
Everyone looked at Alyx. "Hey, I was the one married with kids. Haven't had all that much free time, ya know."
"Spill, kid." Bobby urged, gesturing with his glass.
She tipped her head at him. "You asked for it. First was Jess, of course. Third year of college. I was18, he was 22. Supposedly. There have been four others since then, two were willing, one I was certifiably crazy and the other was a rape."
"Raped? When?" Claire was honestly surprised, Alyx hadn't told her.
"The Slavers. Months ago." Alyx shrugged and swallowed some of her drink. "It wasn't a big deal."
"Not a big deal..." But Claire's words were run over by Eberts'.
"Crazy? What are you talking about?"
"Cabo." Darien answered. "When Heilburg used that Phase III crap on her."
Eberts did this oh of recognition and mumbled, "Sorry."
"Did you ever figure out how Arnaud got loose, anyway? I would really have loved to have had another chat with him." Alyx asked with a rather nasty tone to her voice.
"Nah, kid. We still have no fricking idea how he got out or where he's holed up now." Bobby answered sounding disgusted. "I'm sure he'll show again. The only question is which of you wonder twins he'll be after."
"What did you do to the man anyway?" Claire asked Alyx.
"I just gave him a taste of his own medicine. It should teach him not to let someone with a good memory read his formulas." Alyx responded with a smug smile.
"It'll teach him to shoot you first next time, kid." Bobby reprimanded, shaking his head.
"He'll have to get to her first and the Official has sworn that won't happen." Eberts reminded them.
Everyone else laughed.
"I think Arnaud is the least of my worries." Alyx commented. "He just wants me dead. Have you made any headway in finding out who Jess was working for?"
Eberts shook his head. "Just one huge wall, and between the two of us we should have found something."
"So that's what the two of you do? Bury yourselves in the computer hunting bad guys?" Darien asked.
"That's part of it. I've also redone the archiving system and improved the security. Changed all the passwords and the like. Both Jess and Arnaud had access and hopefully we've shut them out now." Alyx answered. "Of course that's only when I'm not running around being shot at."
"Or working out, or reading, or sleeping, or..." Alyx punched Darien to get him to stop.
"Not my fault my system is so screwy." He captured her hand and pulled her closer to him.
"I've gotten used to it," he whispered into her ear, making her sigh.
"Ya see what I have to put up with." Bobby complained good-naturedly.
"Well, I could just do this..." Alyx quicksilvered her hand that lay on the table. "And then no one would notice a thing."
"Alyx..." Claire admonished. She watched as Alyx slid her hand under Darien's shirt causing him to jerk away swearing.
"It works when the alarm clock doesn't." Alyx laughed as Darien spluttered at her. A few moments later she shook off the quicksilver, the flakes dusting the tabletop. "Why the hell did Kevin make the trigger fear, aside from the obvious self-preservation reasoning, of course?"
Claire thought for a moment. "I was a logical choice since the adrenal system can be triggered at will. As far as I know Kevin had no knowledge of the QSX project and therefore no idea that will alone could work." She turned to look at Eberts. "As you know there are major differences between your systems. Yours is actually far more complex than Darien's. Near as I can tell you were essentially designed this way. Darien... I'm afraid they really weren't totally sure what they were doing."
"So you're saying that if they'd done things different he wouldn't spontaneously disappear." Bobby commented as he poured another drink.
"Possibly, but given the circumstances he's adapted amazingly well." Claire answered, giving Darien a small smile. "Alyx, JAMA reprinted an old article recently and the authors names caught my eye. Andreson and MacTierney."
Alyx raised her eyebrows. "Let me guess, Artificial Enhancement of Human Physiology'."
"I bet the names were familiar. My parents co-wrote that a couple years before I was born. Pure speculation at the time." Alyx confirmed.
"That article was most intriguing. Especially since it was written over thirty years ago." Eberts added.
"What... what was it about?" Bobby was afraid he might be in way over his head.
"It was about how if the right chemical triggers were given the human brain, gland and lymph system could be reprogrammed to create any of a dozen possible effects. Including ESP in its multitude of forms and an increase of potential intelligence. At the time it was considered rather radical and dismissed. Only recently have experiments begun that may prove their theory might be correct." Claire explained in comparatively simple terms. "That's why it was reprinted."
"They had to get my brothers' permission to reprint the article." Alyx commented.
"But isn't that what was done to you?" Bobby asked making the connection.
Alyx nodded. "Someone went ahead and tried it, I guess."
"Wouldn't your parents have been involved with it?" Eberts was watching Alyx carefully. "It was their theory and, one would assume, they had some ideas on making it work."
"I don't know. And a lot of the records of my parent's research from back then are missing." She sipped from her glass. "I know they worked for the government at one point, but while I was growing up they were teaching at various colleges and doing private research." She leaned against Darien. The memories were still a bit painful, especially given the recent reminders.
"You had it done to you, Hobbes." Darien said with a smirk.
Bobby looked confused for a moment and then figured it out. "The retro-virus. That's not the same."
"In result it was in many ways." Claire said. "We still don't know the exact trigger they used on those tested in the QSX project."
"So why didn't the kid go off the deep end like those college kids?" Bobby mused aloud.
"Her age." Darien guessed. "She was a baby when it was done, right?"
"Exactly. Even then it was dangerous, but they did the process in steps over the course of several years." She turned to Alyx. "How old is your earliest memory?"
Alyx's focus turned inward for a moment. "I'm about six months old, I'd guess. I'm playing with one of the family cats and I pissed it off so that it scratched me." She held out her right arm drawing a line from her wrist back to her elbow. "I have a pretty clear memory track from that day on."
"Most children don't become fully aware till age three or so." Claire said to give them some perspective on Alyx's statement.
"Mikey's first memory was from when he was about a year and a half. He fell off a swing." A reminder that her twin had been part of the experiment as well. "And Jacob and Patrick are no dummies either. Jacob's doing medical research and Patrick created a new programming technique that is driving the computer industry nuts."
"Wait, that Patrick MacTierney? He's your brother?" Eberts actually sounded shocked. "You look nothing like your brothers."
"I know. I'm a sport." Alyx said shifting to stretch a bit.
"You all right?" Darien leaned over to ask her quietly.
"Uh, huh. Just a little stiff is all. You know me, can't stay in one place for long." Alyx shifted and nuzzled his neck for a moment.
While they were talking Bobby asked Claire, "A sport?"
Eberts answered. "It means she has the same basic genetic structure as the rest of her family, but in her it combined in a unique manner making her outward appearance completely different from the rest of the family." He glanced at Claire. "Right?"
"Perfect." Claire replied. "The fact that she's a sport may be why the experiment worked so well on her. She got nailed with the mother load of abilities and her brother only got two fairly minor ones."
"If you're twins why different abilities?" Bobby asked.
Alyx turned away from Darien. "Who knows. Why were we the only two with significant abilities? Why did the majority of them die?"
"You can do the same things your brother can, right? Your..." Eberts paused searching for the right word. "... Technique is just a little different."
Darien jumped in with an answer. "I asked him about that and he compared the two of them to a radio. Normally you can only pick up one, maybe two stations at a time if conditions are just right." He looked at Alyx for a moment who nodded to him. "Alyx can pick them all up at once. Because of that she's able to, oh, mimic other abilities."
"So why did you end up with the ones you did? Why can't you say, start fires, or something like that?" Hobbes sounded actually interested.
"Partially because I think that's what they were expecting so I unconsciously tailored my abilities to match." Alyx responded. "And it isn't all I can do." She snuffed the candle that sat on the table and after a moments concentration re-lit it rather impressively. The flame was a tad larger than necessary, but it quickly reduced to a more normal size after a moment. "Still working on that one." she said with a shrug.
"Fawkes, you're a lot braver than I thought." Bobby said with a laugh.
"Watch it, Hobbes, or I'll have her short the electrical system in the van." Darien said wagging his finger at his partner.
On stage the band was wrapping up for the night and a good portion of the patrons readied themselves to leave as well. It was midnight. The witching hour and our game players were about to head into darker more dangerous territory.
They chatted about inconsequentials while a little over half of the patrons in the bar headed home for the night. The ones who remained were the serious drinkers, and those, like our players, who were just sharing an evening together. Some as couples, more as groups. The atmosphere became closer, more intimate, quieter. Perhaps a bit more conducive to questions that normally one would not dare ask. Shall we see where our little group ventures, what questions they may ask, what they may be persuaded to dare?
"You know, Fawkes, I just realized you didn't answer the who was first' question." Bobby commented with a slight slur to his voice.
"You're right I didn't." Darien said, obviously with no plans to answer now either.
"Bobby, don't push it, please." Alyx was the one who asked him much to his surprise.
"What, you afraid of what you might hear?" Bobby still had some issues with her and occasionally like to push her buttons.
"No, I pretty much know all of it and trust me you don't want to know about most of it." Alyx tossed right back at him.
Claire looked at Darien. "So you are talking to her?"
Darien nodded and ducked his head a bit. "She understands, and doesn't hold some of the things I've done against me."
"Like my past is so bloody perfect." Alyx commented dryly.
"Not hardly." Eberts added and they all turned to look at him. "It's my job. I probably know more about her than she does."
"Oh, that makes me feel just so secure." Alyx said with a smile.
"So you're saying that after Doc O'Claire there was no one till the kid?" Bobby was just not going to drop that subject until he had the answers he wanted.
"You know one of these days you're going to screw up and actually say my name, Hobbes." Alyx was trying to push him away from the subject without success.
"Don't bother, he ain't gonna drop it." Darien told Alyx. "Just one, Hobbes. Allianora."
"What about Miss Easton?" Eberts asked out of curiosity.
"Kate?" Darien got this kind of wistful look on his face and sighed. "Nah, never had the chance really. And before you ask, yeah I would have if given the chance."
"Smart lady." Alyx commented.
Claire started. "You met her? When?"
"When I was on my vacation." They were still using that euphemism for the time she'd run away to go after Arnaud in Cabo. "I asked her advice on a few things."
"And you don't look the least bit surprised." Claire observed of Darien.
"Nothing she does surprises me anymore." His tone was a bit wry.
"Hmmm. I guess I'll have to do something about that." Alyx stated. "Can't let you think you understand me or anything now, can I?"
"I said nothing about understanding you." He turned his head slowly towards her.
"Ah." was all she said in reply.
Bobby chose then to push his point again. "C'mon, Fawkes, there must have been someone else. All those nights alone you must have...."
"Jeeze, Hobbes, would you give it a rest." Darien came damn close to shouting. Alyx laid a hand on his arm and he took a deep breath. "Hobbes, think about it. What happens when my heart rate gets going?"
He did, and after a moment said, "Oh. Ohhhh." Then he started to laugh. "You mean. You really... during..." He lost it then for a few minutes.
"He thinks its funny," Darien complained to the ceiling.
Both Claire and Eberts were doing their best not to laugh and Alyx just rolled her eyes.
"Sorry, but all I can think of is popsicles." Bobby said through his laughter and that was enough to send both Claire and Eberts over the edge as well.
Alyx spoke up then. Her voice low, smooth, almost a purr. "Care for a demonstration, Bobby."
That got his attention, as well as Eberts', and several other men who were within earshot.
"Wha... What did you say?" Hobbes asked her, no longer laughing.
"I said would you care for a demonstration'?" Alyx used the exact same tone of voice.
"Alyx..." Darien warned.
"Oh, all right." She returned her voice to normal.
"How did you do that?" Claire asked in astonishment.
"Practice." Darien commented.
"It's a combination of tone and how I distort the sound waves." Alyx shrugged. "Saved my ass on a couple of assignments."
"Can you produce other effects?" Eberts asked while shaking his head as if to clear it.
"Fear is pretty easy to do and I can be very, very persuasive when I want to." Alyx replied.
They were all looking at her with a bit of shock on their faces. "You haven't... I mean..." Claire tried to say.
"Hell, no. And I wouldn't have tonight, but Bobby was being a putz," Alyx shook her head.
"Then how do you test it?" Eberts asked.
Darien raised a hand. "I would be the guilty party."
"Coconspirator is more like it." Bobby muttered.
"Hey, the fat man sends her out alone a lot. I rather she have every weapon she can no matter how subtle." Darien was more than a little defensive. "I'd kinda like to keep her in one piece."
"All right. Down boy. Sheesh, you'd think the kid couldn't take care of herself." Bobby complained.
"Don't worry, Bobby, if I started going at you he'd jump to your defense just as fast." Alyx admitted with a wry smile.
Eberts jumped in at that point trying to change the subject. "So Alyx has been keeping you out of trouble."
Alyx snorted and Darien elbowed her. Gently, of course.
"Darien, what did you do?" Claire sounded exasperated.
"Fess up, partner. You know you're a terrible liar around us." Bobby added.
"I was bored. And its not like we stole anything. It was just to keep in practice." Darien admitted a little sheepishly.
"We?" Claire squeaked.
"Well, yeah. Do you think I'm going to let him have all the fun?" Alyx failed to show even a hint of remorse. "Finally convinced him to teach me to pick locks, too."
"You are definitely not the same person you were before Heilburg and his little experiment." Eberts observed his voice dry.
"Shoot, remember when she first arrived. She hated the place worse than Fawkes did." Bobby stated.
"I had every reason to." Alyx said a bit belligerently. "At least Darien got to choose. Lousy as the choices may have been."
"Alyx, I thought you had come to terms with the situation?" Claire had gone into full psychologist mode.
"Could you?" Alyx snapped at her.
"Hey, don't take it out on her." Bobby warned, jumping to Claire's defense.
"Why the hell..." Darien leaned over and whispered something in Alyx's ear which stopped her cold. She nodded and sighed. "Sorry."
"S'okay." Bobby said with a nod.
"Ebes, what dirty little secrets do you have lurking in your past?" Alyx asked him knowing he wasn't going to answer.
But he surprised her. "You have no idea what secrets I keep, Alyx. I know more about the four of you than you could ever imagine." He had this sly little tone to his voice that actually sent shivers down her spine.
"Duh. I think she meant about your past, Eberts." That snooty tone had returned to Bobby's voice. He was beginning to sober up, obviously.
"My past is rather uninteresting." he replied and signaled the bartender for coffee.
"Your present, then." Darien said. "Anything you're hiding now?"
"You've heard the Official. I'm just as invisible as you are, Darien. What could I possibly be hiding?" Eberts just looked at them with that flat expressionless stare he had mastered.
Alyx caught the hint of something but she had no idea what it meant.
The waitress delivered the coffee and all the attendant accessories and the next several minutes were spent preparing the drinks.
"So, Claire, what are you hiding from us, besides your real name that is?" Darien asked her as he sipped the coffee. Alyx was sprawled against him after having dragged over another chair to put her feet on.
Yeah, Miss Keeply. Any good news on the gland front, perchance?" Alyx added.
"You know as much as I do, Alyx." she responded keeping her voice flat.
"No, I only know what you tell me." Alyx closed her eyes and seemingly dozed off while sitting there, but Darien knew she was still quite awake.
"Whatcha hidin' Keepy." Hobbes tossed in.
Claire opened her mouth once, twice, but nothing came out.
"She can't tell you even if she wants to." Eberts said.
"So the fat man is hiding something." Hobbes commented.
"Shit Bobby, when ain't the fat man hiding something." Alyx nearly snarled. "Feh, I'm getting cranky."
"Nah, your just rattling your cage bars again." Darien pointed out.
"Not much else we can do. Someone else still holds the key." Alyx opened her eyes and looked over at Eberts. "Right?"
"Someone has to hold the keys." he replied in that not-Eberts voice. "You've both had experience with others holding them. Would you rather have it be someone else?"
"Lawson." Darien muttered. "Not my most favorite memory."
"I could call Duke. I'm sure he could find and opening for me." Alyx said only half joking.
"Kid, don't say things like that. I might take you seriously and then have to do something I'd rather not." Bobby told her as he held his coffee.
"I'm still in the dog house, am I?" Alyx laughed. "Guess I should get used to it."
"They'd relax a bit if you'd let me put in the monitor." Claire said quietly.
"I don't think so." Alyx snarled. "Bad enough you got him with the electronic leash. Uh, uh. No thanks. Not in this lifetime. No way in hell..."
Claire held up her hands in surrender. "All right. I give up. Will never mention it again." They both laughed, the sudden tension easing.
"That's my biggest problem, still. There's this line drawn between us and the rest of you." Darien shifted slightly and Alyx sat up allowing him to lean forward on the table. "We may be co-workers, friends even, but you three are still on the other side of that line. The Keepers as opposed to the Kept."
"It only seems that way Darien. It isn't really." Claire set down her cup.
Darien held up his right arm showing off his tattoo. "Fine, give me the counteragent information."
Claire just looked at him.
"And that, my friend, is the line." Darien let his arm drop to the table.
"How about answering this then, why the DOD and not private research or even just being a doctor?" Alyx asked her. "We know why you came to the Agency."
Claire thought for a moment, its not like the information was classified or anything, but she was still wary about others knowing more than they should about her and her past. Need to know and all that. "I had originally planned on joining a research company doing work on the genetics markers of birth defects. The government made a better offer. I guess I chose them because I knew I would see the results of my work during my lifetime." She sighed.
"That you did Keepy, but it worked out in the end. You got her home." Bobby said, reminding her that in this case there was a silver lining.
"How is Gloria doing anyway?" Eberts asked.
Claire smiled. "Okay. It's been a major adjustment for her family, but they'd rather have her back, however the means, than continue to believe she was dead."
"Lucky woman." Alyx commented.
"Ummm. Alyx..." Claire began.
Alyx waved her hand. "Completely different situation. I understand." She got this sad smile on her face. "They'll learn the truth eventually. Kinda hard for them not to if the fat man wants them to work for him."
"Kid, what the hell are you talking about?" Bobby shifted forward to lean on the table.
"C'mon Bobby why the hell do you think I asked Mikey to be their guardian. Aside from me, he's the only one I know of who could possibly train them. He trained me after all." Alyx answered, but Bobby still had a blank look on his face.
"Robert, all of Alyx's kids are talented like she is. Her eldest may very well be working for the Agency within five years." Eberts leaned back in his chair watching the expressions slide across Bobby's face.
"Two of her? Oy vey." Bobby rolled his eyes as everyone else began to laugh.
"Claire, if your specialty is genetics and I'll admit I'm guessing here, why are you working on the I-Man project at all. Doesn't quite seem to fit." Alyx asked her knowing that there was a good chance she'd get little or no answer.
"Part of it was Gloria, of course." Claire said.
"The Official was willing to fund her research for Gloria's case in exchange for her helping with the I-Man project." Eberts added. "And she does have the necessary skills to solve the problem." He was trying save Claire the problem of have to disseminate over her answer.
"I'll say this much. Because of the changes Arnaud made to the gland," She nodded to Darien. "I've had to spend a lot of time reconstructing the original work that was done, based on the altered data, before I could move forward. Alyx has helped quite a bit with that and she has had insights and made connections that I would never have."
Alyx raised her cup of coffee in salute. "This is what happens when you give an ordinary housewife the brains of a genius and then access to top notch scientific information."
Bobby snorted. "Ordinary, right."
"I hate to say this but I must agree with Robert. You were never ordinary, Alyx." Eberts said, nodding to her.
She got to her feet and bowed. "Thank you one and all." she mocked as she sat back down. "If I'd been working for some high powered corporation you'd never have grabbed me. The fact that I was ordinary made it that much easier for you to make me disappear."
It wasn't like Eberts could argue with the statement. It was true.
Darien decided to change the subject. "You know, we never discuss our families. You all pretty much know everything about my and Alyx's families going back quite a few years, but you guys hide behind a wall. Hobbes, I seem to recall you have a sister. Heard from her lately?"
Bobby frowned at his partner. "My sister and I only talk when absolutely necessary. Which is very rare, thank god."
"Hobbes, if I learned nothing else in the last couple of years I did learn that after they're gone it's too late to get to know your family. I'd give anything to have another chance with Kevin." Darien said sliding his coffee cup in slow circles on the tabletop as he spoke.
"Fawkes, you have no idea what you're talking about at least where my family is concerned." Bobby said at a near snarl. "My sister' is a good part of the reason why I am the way I am today."
"Bobby, that's not entirely true." Claire argued, turning to him.
"I know part of it is simply the way I'm wired up here," He tapped the side of his head. "But dealing with the torture - and I do mean torture - she put me through left its mark as well." He wagged a finger at Claire. "And you can't convince me otherwise."
"I take it, it went beyond normal sibling squabbling?" Alyx asked. Heck, she did have some experience in this area.
"Don't know. Do kids regularly find ways of terrifying their siblings, by setting out to scare them to death, on a daily basis?" Bobby said to her tipping his head a little to one side.
She shook her head. "Not in my family."
"Mine did. You learn to listen around corners and prepare for the worst real quick. I can tell you that." Bobby managed to keep his voice under control. The only other people he'd really discussed this with was his shrinks and he wasn't entirely sure why he was saying anything now. Although based on her look, the kid had some understanding of what he was saying. And given what he knew about her husband, he didn't doubt she had at least some hint of what he went through. What really surprised him was the look of sympathy on the Keeper's face.
"Bobby, I didn't know." Claire said almost, but not quite reaching out to touch him.
"Invisible enemies, huh?" Darien smirked. He was hoping to ease the seriousness of the discussion.
"Exactly Ralph'." Bobby tossed back relaxing a bit.
"Ralph?" Alyx asked.
"One of our earlier adventures. I'll tell you about it sometime." Darien answered.
Eberts looked at his watch. "I have to be going. The Official is still expecting me in on time no matter how late I stay out." He slid back his chair and got to his feet.
"You okay to drive?" Surprisingly it was Bobby who asked.
"Yes, Robert. I'm perfectly fine." He pulled on his jacket and made to get his wallet.
Alyx waved at him. "I got it Ebes. My turn anyway."
Claire got to her feet. "I should go as well."
Bobby almost jumped to his feet. "Need a ride?"
Claire debated for a moment, she had come with Darien, but...
"He doesn't bite, you know." Darien said to her.
"That's a shame." Claire blushed bright red as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
"I dare say a ride is in order for her." Eberts commented with a chuckle.
"Come on, Claire." Bobby said in full gentleman mode. "To your door and no more."
"Ack. He's rhyming." Alyx snorted. "Go home, y'all."
"Shame we didn't talk you into singing tonight." Eberts said not even trying to hide a smile.
They all turned to look at her including Darien.
"Crap. I'd hoped we'd get through the night without that coming out." Alyx groaned.
"You sing." Darien stated. Filling in the comment the others were surely thinking.
"Like you haven't heard me. What do you think those sounds I make when I'm cooking are?" It was Alyx's turn to feel a bit exasperated now.
"I'm usually thinking other things while you're cooking. Sorry." Alyx had a pretty good idea what he was talking about.
"What? I gotta keep busy somehow." Alyx spread her hands.
"What were you thinking about just now?" Claire asked her.
"Huh? Oh, lets see. Working on key changes for a couple of pieces of music, pre-writing my report on today's fiasco, making some adjustments in my computer system, and planning my workout for the morning." She paused. "Yeah that's it. Oh, and talking with you all as well."
"Slow night." Eberts observed.
"Alcohol, slows me a bit." Alyx shrugged. "Nothing compared to what was done to Hobbes as I recall."
"You never slow down do you?" Claire allowed a touch of concern to enter her voice.
Darien answered. "She sat in that chair most of the night. That is slow."
"Go home." Alyx repeated. "You can talk me into singing some other time."
"Yes, ma'am." Bobby saluted. "Claire?"
What? Oh, yes of course." She turned to Alyx and Darien. "Tomorrow?"
"Bright and early." Darien groaned and Alyx added. "Me not you."
"Oh, good." Darien sighed. "For a moment I thought I was going to see the sunrise."
"You still may, if you behave." Alyx murmured.
"It's been... interesting." Eberts nodded. "Good night."
"Night Ebes." Alyx said with a lazy wave. "Tuesday, right."
"Tuesday," He turned and after saying goodnight to Claire and Bobby left the bar to head home. Within a few hours he'd be back at the office and back to his formally stiff self that they all were far more familiar with.
Bobby and Claire also said their good nights and walked out together. Claire was standing far closer to Bobby than either of the remaining two would have expected.
Once they had left Darien turned to Alyx who was leaning back in her chair again seemingly staring up at the ceiling. She could feel him watching her, but then again she always could. "What?" she asked without looking at him.
"Sing?" Darien queried with a smile.
"Gonna make me, aren't you." She moved so that she was very close to him.
"Uh, huh." He nodded. He kissed her lightly just barely touching her lips and making her sigh in response.
"All right. Let me pay the tab and see if Mac'll let me borrow the stage." Alyx said getting to her feet.
Darien watched as she did exactly that. She sat down at the piano that had been shoved over to one side of the stage and ran through a quick set of scales to warm up. Picking up his drink he moved to one of the tables closer, but she waved him over to sit with her. He noticed several of the remaining patrons were moving closer as well.
She ran through a few more hand exercises. "I bet you had to take piano lessons as a kid."
She had begun playing something that he didn't immediately recognize.
"Aunt Celia insisted on it. I chose piano and Kevin picked violin."
Alyx chuckled and segued into something else.
Then she started to sing.
"Spend all your time waiting for that second chance, for the break that would make it okay, there's always some reason to feel not good enough and its hard at the end of the day. ..."
The game is over for tonight. Though for our participants it never really is. Every day is another round of the same game. Seeking some truth in their lives. Daring to go on for just one more day.