A/N: Yet another out of sync story that did indeed get the beta treatment (Thanks WorkerCaste) and is therefor reasonably worthy of posting here.

Author: A. X. Zanier

Rating: PG-13/R (Language, violence, adult situations)

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or basic story ideas to "The Invisible Man." Any additional characters or ideas are mine.

Timeline: Several weeks after "Fallen"

Spoilers: Small references to MFN1&2, TDYK, the Pilot, Germ Theory, Insensate, Tiresias

Comments: This incident is vaguely referred to in "Multiple Choice." I make some off hand mention of something in one fic and get two big honking plot bunnies out of it. I'm not sure if it was a good deal or not. BTW the other plot bunny created "Out in the Cold."

To Temper the Soul

An amazing woman, Helen Keller, who suffered through much as a child once said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

The amount a single person can endure and recover from is astounding, but what I've learned is that when the suffering is shared there is nothing that cannot be achieved.

Bobby Hobbes stood leaning against the wall just like he had been for the last couple of hours. He was trying not to think, trying not to let his guilt eat away at him, trying to hold it together until his duty here was discharged. How so many things could go wrong in so short a time always amazed him and in this week alone more things had gone wrong than had in the entire previous year. Or so it seemed and, considering what the year had been like, that was truly saying something.

He now wished he'd listened to Fawkes when he said the meet stank to high heaven. When his 'thief sense' kicked in to tell him things were going to go bad. But no, Hobbes had made some offhanded commentary about Fawkes being paranoid and sent him on his way, only to have him bellow for help mere moments later when his presence was discovered. There is only so much an invisible man can do when the bad guys are wearing thermal glasses and seem to want nothing more than to capture you.

When Hobbes appeared it turned into a firefight. Not the best thing to have happen in the semi-public area near the cruise ship dock. Good thing it was early Sunday morning, there were few people about. He was slowly forced back along Harbor Drive until they ended up in front of the Maritime museum. A pirate ship. In the middle of San Diego. Which he was being forced to use as cover. He heard a commotion as Darien tried to break free of the hold on him and quicksilvered in hopes of getting away. Hobbes had laid down some cover fire figuring that retreat and escape was the important thing at the moment. They'd deal with the bad guys later, once they had a chance to regroup.

He'd screwed up though. The covering fire worked to chase away the majority of them, but one was doing this odd dance a dozen yards away and trying to get his gun aimed at him so Hobbes tossed off a couple rounds in his direction, intending a shot across the bow and no more. Instead there was a scream of pain and the guy stopped his dance and took off after his buddies.

It was the sudden appearance of Fawkes lying unmoving on the ground that caused his heart to drop to his shoes. Holstering his gun he ran to his fallen partner to try to discover what was wrong. Had he been hit in the head again? Or maybe just had the wind knocked out of him? He was lying sprawled half on his side breathing in shallow pants. A quick exam told Bobby the worst. Fawkes had been shot in the back.

Quite possibly by Bobby himself.

If Fawkes hadn't opened his eyes and moaned just then Bobby might have pulled out his gun and put one of his bullets into his own head to drive away the all encompassing guilt of what he had done. With Fawkes' return to consciousness Bobby's protective instinct, instead of the need to wallow and suffer, kicked in. He had back-up on the way in moments. Fawkes had claimed he was fine, that it didn't hurt even though there was a pool of blood slowly spreading out beneath him.

If only he'd realized what that meant.

"Bobby, what's wrong?"

He opened eyes that he hadn't remembered closing to see Alyx standing before him. She looked tired and was carrying her usual bags with her. He hated having to do this now. Hated having to ruin her homecoming after being gone a week working for the NSA... NRA, or whoever had bought her this time. Hated to have to be the one to tell her.

"Kid," his throat tightened convulsively and he forced himself to swallow. "Kid, you need to come with me."

She tipped her head slightly to the side and then nodded. "Let me just toss my bags inside." She stepped past him and opened the door to her apartment and stepped in.

Bobby followed her and stood beside the door as she moved to set her bags on the dining table. She'd made some changes in the last few months and he had to admit he liked them. She looked over the pile of mail that was stacked neatly on her counter and he debated asking her to hurry, telling her that there was little time to waste, when she turned to look at him.

"How bad?" she asked in a barely audible voice.

Why should he be surprised? "Bad enough. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. He's just as close to you." She walked over to him and set a hand on his arm. "You're more his brother than Kevin ever took the time to be."

Bobby released a huge sigh that bordered on a sob. "Thanks, kid. Lets get moving, okay?"

She only nodded. Right now it was obvious that he needed what little support he would allow her to give so she kept her emotions in check and tried not to let the despair and guilt that came off of him in aching waves to affect her more than necessary. Poor Bobby was blaming himself for whatever happened. She held her silence until they were ensconced in the darkened interior of the van. "You shouldn't blame yourself, Bobby."

He gave a harsh bark of laughter. "On this occasion that is exactly where the blame rests, kid."

Alyx was unable to pry an explanation out of him and in truth didn't try very hard. He was hurting to such an extreme amount that she was more than a little concerned for him. Forcing him to tell what she would learn eventually anyway would do far more harm than good. When they arrived at Fort Leavitt instead of going to the Agency building she knew it was truly serious. The only other time Darien had been anywhere near this hospital was when Arnaud had infected him with that flu virus. The Official was not very fond of risking the knowledge of quicksilver getting out and made it clear that hospitals were out of the question even in a life or death situation.

So if Darien was here, the 'Fish had to know about it and approve.

Bobby escorted her through the maze of hallways to a private room on the third floor of the building. The blinds over the window facing the hall were pulled shut, but she knew Darien was within, knew he was dozing, knew he was in a state of severe depression. She waited for Bobby to tell her what was going on.

"Go ahead in. I'll get Claire." He began to move away and stopped. "Don't hold what he says against him. He's not really himself right now." On that confusing note he walked away to find Claire, who was probably looking over the latest batch of test results and seeing no change. He didn't have the heart to tell Alyx anything else. He didn't want to even hint at what she was going to find in that room; he had trouble facing it. Had trouble facing what he had done to his partner, his best friend. Which made it almost impossible to face Alyx. He hadn't destroyed one life with his friendly fire; he'd destroyed two.

Alyx watched him walk away with his shoulders slumped and a decided lack of energy in his usually brisk stride. She waited until he was out of sight down the hallway before opening the door and slipping into the room. She adjusted her eyes to the dim light to see Darien lying on his stomach on a specially designed bed that both supported and restrained him. There was a sheet pulled up to about mid back, which was bare, but there were also straps holding him in place.

"Go away Hobbes. I don't want any more of your damn apologies." he growled at the far wall.

"I'll be sure to tell him that." Alyx said quietly.

Darien twitched and then slowly rotated his head until he could see her. "So you're finally back. Did you show up just to ogle the freak? To get one last look before the harvesting party? Or are you going to help, maybe make the first incision yourself?" The anger in his voice was overshadowed by the desperate fear that she couldn't help but feel. He was terrified, angry, and part of him was hoping she was here to save him. Then he closed himself off, actually managed to stop projecting his feelings to her, holding everything he felt inside where it belonged.

Alyx held her temper and wished she knew what the hell was going on. "Dare, you're free to have the gland removed and walk out of our lives whenever you wish. You decided to tell Claire 'no'."

Darien squeezed his eyes shut and ground his teeth in frustration. "Just get out." Her careless comment had ripped through him like a knife.

Alyx didn't leave; instead she closed the distance between them and ran her fingers lightly through his hair. She was more than a little confused. It was obvious he was hurt -- he was hooked to a half dozen monitors as well as an IV -- but for some reason she couldn't figure out where he was injured and he was not giving away any more secrets today.

His hand came up and grabbed her wrist, holding it painfully tight. "I said, 'get out'." He threw her hand away from himself. Not wanting her to touch him, not wanting her pity or false words of comfort.

Alyx was tired and her temper short after the week she'd had. She'd arrived home to find Bobby on her doorstep, guilt ridden, Darien in a high security hospital, hurt, and he wanted to just shove her away for no apparent reason. "What the hell did I do?" she snapped at him. "I find out you've been hurt and you go off on me. All I want to know is what's going on and... and..." her momentary anger melted away. "Dare, what happened, please?"

It dawned on him that she didn't know, that her earlier commentary was not an intentional jab to cause him more pain, and just a simple statement of the facts. For a moment he was tempted to give in, to tell her what happened, to allow her to console him, but instead he pulled himself farther away from her, from everyone. "Ask the Keeper, she'll be happy to tell you I'm sure." He turned away from her to stare at the far wall he had memorized the day before. "You once said that if I wanted you to leave you would, no questions, no arguments. Has that changed?"

Alyx stiffened at his words. She had thought they had worked past everything. That he understood. She twisted the ring about her finger in nervousness. "No, that hasn't changed. If that's what you really want; will make you happy."

He swallowed hard. He had to do this for her.

"Its what I want. Go." He shut his eyes and tried to convince his ears not to work so that he would not hear her protest. Instead all he heard after a moment was the soft click of the door closing. Turning his head back around and opening his eyes he found her gone. Just to be sure he quicksilvered his eyes and still there was nothing, she had really left. Without a word. Letting the quicksilver flake away his eyes fell upon the small table within his reach. On it lay the pitcher of water, a plastic cup with a straw sticking out of it, and... a ring. Reaching out with a shaking hand he picked it up and brought it closer to look at. With a sinking heart he gazed upon the ring he'd given her and that she'd finally chosen to wear only a couple months ago. Closing his fist tightly about it he let out a shaky breath and reminded himself that this was what he wanted. It was for the best. Once she knew the truth she'd want no part of him except out of pity and pity was the one thing he did not want to see from her.

Pulling his hand in close he closed his eyes and tried to make himself believe what he'd said to her.

Bobby found Alyx sitting in the small lounge area down the hall from Darien's room. Her head was in her hands and she was shaking. He had to wonder what she was doing out here when she should be with Darien. Unless... Fawkes was being a damn fool. Had probably thrown her out of the room and she, being the kind soul that she was, had left. He needed to convince her to go back in, she was their only hope to bring him out of the depression he'd fallen into.

"Kid, why are you out here?"

She lifted her head; her eyes red rimmed from unshed tears. "What happened, Bobby?"

The sadness and confusion in her voice was audible even to him. "I..." he sighed. "Be easier if the Keep explains it to you." He sat down next to her. "He needs you, kid."

She shook her head. "He doesn't want me near him, Bobby. He asked me to leave and I won't go back."

Bobby frowned. He hadn't expected Fawkes to do that. To tell her to leave for good. It didn't make any sense. It wasn't that long ago he'd nearly gone over the edge when he thought Alyx was dead, why would he push her away? "He didn't mean it."

"Yes he did, Bobby. Let's find Claire. I want to know why my heart's just been broken." She didn't move though, couldn't find the energy to even shift back into the hard cushion of the sofa. "I..."

He watched as she brought a hand back up to rub her forehead. He got to his feet and held out a hand, which she took, and he helped her up. "I'm sorry, kid." He didn't know what else to say right now, the two of them had been through hell in recent weeks and now this. "Come on, the Keep's this way." He led her down the halls to a small lab Claire was using to try to solve the current problem. She was frowning at a series of X-rays when they came in.

"Alyx, I'm so sorry." Claire said in a tired voice.

"Why do you guys keep apologizing to me? I'm fine. Just tell me what happened." Alyx moved to stand in front of the X-rays.

"Darien was shot, Alyx. He's..." Claire paused and took a deep breath. "He's paralyzed from the waist down."

Alyx held very still for a long moment before speaking. "Did you administer the anti-inflammatory steroids?"

Claire blinked. "Yes, as well as Sygen. It's experimental, but there has been good results with it." She wasn't all that surprised that Alyx had figured it out with very little information. "We can't remove the bullet without causing more damage, though. At least not yet."

"How long ago did this happen?" Alyx asked quietly as she looked over the X-rays.

"Three days ago, kid. Sunday morning." Hobbes answered from across the room. He'd decided he needed to sit down for this. "It was my fault."

"Bobby, it was an accident." Claire said as she turned to face him. "It was not your fault."

"Friendly fire isn't, Keep." Hobbes shook his head, as far as he was concerned it was his fault and somehow he would make it up to Fawkes, though he had no idea how.

"How bad?" Alyx asked. She was watching Bobby, who looked so sad that it frightened her.

"The bullet lodged between L-3 and L-4 and is putting pressure on the nerves there. The spinal cord does not appear to be severed and there is minimal damage to the bones, but it has affected him adversely." Claire paused, wondering if she should continue; Alyx's face was a complete blank. "He has partial feeling through hips, but none in his legs. We're keeping him as immobile as possible to keep the bullet from shifting into a worse position."

"So if the bullet were removed the pressure would be relieved. What chance of recovery then?" Alyx turned to face Claire for a second before looking at the X-rays again.

"Alyx, we don't dare even try..."

Alyx cut her off. "Me, Claire. I should be able to remove it without doing any additional damage. I didn't practice my fine control for nothing you know."

"Keepy, can she do that?" Bobby didn't want to hope, didn't want to risk being told more bad news.

Claire had a small frown on her face. "Maybe. This isn't like yanking a bullet out of muscle. One slip and the damage will be permanent."

"Will he get better if it stays in?" Alyx snapped at her. "Will it hurt to try?"

"Claire, we have to do something." Bobby tried to keep the pain out of his voice and was only partially successful.

"Let me look into it. Maybe cobble together something for you to practice on. To test if it's even feasible." Claire was thinking quickly. If there was even a chance Alyx could pull this off it might be worth trying. "Go sit with Darien for a while. I'll need at least an hour."

Alyx snorted. "I think not. I'll find the cafeteria and get something to eat. Call me when you're ready." She looked over the two of them and then turned and left the room.

"What the hell?" Claire turned to Bobby in confusion.

"Fawkes threw her out and told her not to come back." Bobby explained.

Claire threw up her hands in exasperation. "What is going on in his fool head?"

Bobby shrugged, not entirely sure. "He's been shoving us all away. Maybe... maybe he doesn't want to saddle her with half a man." he said quietly.

"Alyx doesn't care about things like that." Claire picked up her stethoscope and the metal file containing the notes she'd been making. "He needs her, he needs all of us." She moved to the door with Bobby beside her. "And we need him."

"You know that, Keepy. I know that, but Fawkes doesn't. He still thinks we're gonna h... har... harvest the gland and then abandon him." Darien had admitted his fears to Bobby shortly after being told the news and no matter how many times either he or Claire tried to assure him it wouldn't happen he refused to believe. Instead he had simply endured what he must and done his best to ignore everything and everyone else the rest of the time.

"So since he's hurt and afraid he has to spread the pain around to the rest of us. Like we don't hurt enough already." They stopped outside the door to his room so that Claire could calm and compose herself. Yelling at him would do no good.

"Claire he's scared. He thinks he losing what little life he had managed to find in this mess."

Bobby knew his friend very well. Knew that until the kid had arrived his emotional state had still been more than a little precarious. Bobby had watched him carefully and never knew which Fawkes he would be seeing at work on any given day. He had been so desperate to get away some days. Though he had to admit the way Fawkes had stood up to the Official, even going so far as to end up in Stage Five to show he was serious, was quite impressive. To no avail, but he'd done it and Bobby... well Bobby had proved his loyalty -- he thought -- when he'd gone with Fawkes instead of trying to bring him in.

Fawkes had come back so far since then, had stuck it out and found not only some happiness, but also the solution to the problem with the gland and -- to the amazement of everyone -- he had chosen to stay. With the gland. He refused to discuss why, but Bobby suspected it was because of the kid, Alyx. He could understand why, especially now. He looked at Claire, the beautiful, far too intelligent for the likes of him, Keeper, Claire, and knew exactly how Fawkes felt. They had been cautiously seeing each other and sorting out exactly how far their feelings for each other ran. If it was actually more than casual interest spurred on by months of flirtatious comments and a close work environment. Oh yes, he could understand why Fawkes might consider staying. When you find 'the one' you can endure almost anything for her. Including the pain of sending her away to save her? Perhaps. Some days Fawkes was too noble for his own good.

"What do we do? I never thought he'd send her away."

Claire sighed. "I wish I knew." She opened the door and stepped into the darkened room. He refused to allow the light to be turned up unless absolutely necessary, refused a television, radio, books -- even his comic books -- and just stared at the wall or slept. This time he appeared to be sleeping; one hand in a tightly clenched fist just under his chin.

Bobby waited next to the door as Claire moved over to the bed and checked the various monitors and made notes in the file she held. He knew Darien had been lucky so far. He was alive and there were no signs of an infection. Claire gently turned over his right arm and checked the monitor. He understood why she wanted to wait to give him the counteragent, that she needed his system as normal as possible so that the other drugs would have a chance to work. But the danger of having Darien go into seizures was always present since the timing of the severe headaches was often a bit nebulous. Ultimately it was up to Darien to tell them if he was feeling uncomfortable with the level of the headaches that would inevitably come.

When Darien opened his eyes part of him was hoping it was Alyx moving about the room, that she had ignored his request and come back, to wait out his stubbornness, but the soft sound of a pen on paper dashed that faint hope. He shifted slightly and saw Bobby standing near the door of the room with a forced smiled on his face that looked far more like a grimace of pain.

"What now, Hobbes?" he sounded like he'd swallowed a truckload of gravel.

Bobby moved to sit in the chair beside the bed so that Darien wouldn't have to strain his neck to look up at him. He wanted to apologize yet again, but knew it would only anger his friend. He had to do something, anything to bring him back out of the pit of despair he had fallen into. "You know

Fawkes, I never thought you were cruel, but I guess I was wrong about that."

"Bobby," Claire said in a shocked tone.

Darien clenched his jaw and glared at Hobbes. He had a good idea what Hobbes was talking about, but chose not to acknowledge it. "Cruel, what do you know about cruel? Leaving me strapped to this bed while I wonder if I'll wake up tomorrow, if tonight will be the night they do it 'cause the fat bastard is tired of paying for a broken receptacle. Wondering if you'll bother to try to save me as well as the damn gland. That's all you ever cared about. Protecting the damn gland."

Bobby kept his look bland while the anger built inside. "Claire give us a minute, would you?"

"Yes Claire, leave so that Bobby can follow whatever orders he's been given." Darien growled. "Put me out of my god damned misery."

Claire looked shocked, but did as Bobby asked.

Once Bobby was sure she was gone he spoke, his voice quiet, controlled, and full of anger. "Fawkes, shut the hell up." He watched as Darien retreated into himself, but this time he wasn't having any of it. "You are going to listen to me whether or not you want to." He paused to calm himself, just shouting at him wouldn't work, he had to get through that thick head and make him think finally. "You want the gland out? Fine, tell the Keeper, she'll have it out within a week and you can get the hell out of our lives once and for all."

Darien went pale at the words, nearly the same words Alyx had used and with nearly the same effect on him. Pain, heart wrenching pain. "Go away."

"No! You want to wallow in self-pity, go right ahead. Want to yell at me for screwing up and doing this to you. Great, I deserve it. But you had better realize that I would trade places in a heartbeat if I could. That Claire is doing her damnedest to find a solution so that you stand a chance of walking again. That the kid.... That Alyx..." he trailed off. "How could you do that to her? She'd walk through hell itself for you and you throw her away, over this?"

Darien found himself fighting tears. Hobbes was right; he didn't want to hear any of this. Wanted to get up and leave, to walk away from this situation, and he couldn't. He was stuck here. "Yes, damn it. Over this. Shit Bobby, I have nurses watching me twenty-four hours a day. I can't feed myself, can't wash myself, hell it takes two guys just so I can take a damn piss. You think I want to subject her to that for the rest of her life?" He gulped in air, not wanting to think about what his life was going to be like from now on.

"You think that little of her do you?" Darien's argument, though valid to a point, meant nothing. "You are a fool. She doesn't care if you go off on her while quicksilver mad, you really think stupid shit like that will bother her?" Bobby got to his feet. "Even I know her better than that."

Darien closed his eyes and held the ring in his hand even tighter. He couldn't subject her to that. Didn't want to watch as her feelings for him changed to nothing but pity and disgust. So that she would stay only out of some warped obligation to him that had nothing to do with the relationship they had now. He didn't want to watch that light in her eyes die. "Bobby, I can't do that to her." It was barely a whisper.

Bobby shook his head. "You know Fawkes you're right. She's too damn good for you. She's better off without you." In complete disgust Bobby left the room. Closing the door he found Alyx standing in the hallway and knew she had heard everything one way or another. Not that he thought she'd been eavesdropping, but because when it concerned Fawkes she always seemed to know. "Damn, kid I..."

"No Bobby. You said what was needed." She raised a shaky hand to her eyes and wiped away the tears that she had weakened enough to let flow.

Bobby moved to her and enfolded her in a gentle hug. "Go in there, kid. Even if he ignores you he needs you there."

"I can't." When he tried to protest she silenced him. "It's an old promise I made to both myself and him."

"Hell kid, he's being a stubborn fool." He gave her a last squeeze and released her. "Both of you are too damn stubborn."

Alyx sniffed. "Ah, you wouldn't have it any other way and you know it."

"True." He glanced back at the door. "Let him stew for a while. Maybe he'll come to his senses." Tossing and arm over her shoulders they went in search of Claire. Maybe she'd have some news, good news.

Darien stared at the closed door for several long minutes, he could just hear the voices out in the hall and knew Bobby was talking to Alyx, but could not quite understand the words. Bobby's words had hurt. Darien would never really understand what Alyx saw in him, why she was willing to allow herself to become so intertwined with his life, why, on his say so alone, she would walk away. Even with the memory of how she felt about him to savor, to cherish, it still brought no true understanding.

Shifting, he felt the pain shoot up his back yet again, but it no longer gave him any hope. He could feel where the bullet had struck him. It was a dead ache, like a deep muscle bruise. It was lower that was gone. Where only phantom pain existed, where the itchy foot was nothing but a figment of his imagination. Claire had told him once the bullet was stable, or hopefully removed, he'd be able to sit on his own. Would be able to function quite easily in a wheelchair if the worst were to happen, but she reminded him not to expect the worst. That there was a great deal of hope.

Who did she think she was kidding? He knew the longer the bullet remained lodged in his spine the more likely damage would be permanent even if the spinal cord wasn't severed. There could be more than enough damage just from secondary swelling to keep him wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.

He really wished he hadn't read that copy of Gray's anatomy when he was a teenager, but he'd wanted to try and understand Kevin and he'd thought that if he could talk to him about some of the weird shit he did that they might find a common ground. It hadn't worked, but the section on the spine was now fresh in his memory and he knew that his chances at recovery were becoming less and less with every hour.

Unclenching his fist he set the ring back down on the table and just stared at it until he drifted off into an uneasy slumber.