A/N: This section falls after Snapshots Chapter 19 and before Chapter 20. A big thanks to Krys for, not only doing the Beta thang, but bugging me to finish this story. -- AXZ
* * *
Michele waited impatiently for the man she needed to speak with to come on the line. This red tape laden run-around was just one more item to add to the long list of reasons why she wanted no part of working for the government. Now if the DOD would just get the fricking hint. The trail that led to this point had been well and truly muddied and she had been forced to call upon her brother Michael for assistance, which he'd willingly given. Her twin knew how she felt about Darien and the lengths she go to for him. Mike also trusted her judgement implicitly, so when she'd told him that Darien was innocent and she had proof... Well, it had taken Mikey less than 12 hours to get her the basic information she needed and he'd offered more if she determined she was in need of it.
That basic information included two names and a phone number. He also provided her with a long string of numbers that would 'scare the bejeesus out of them,' but also legitimize her and keep her from being hung up on out of hand. 'Chele had already rattled off the number and knew the gentleman who had answered the phone with the claim that they were the Department of Fish and Game was probably on another line confirming the veracity of her clearance.
"This is him," the gruff male voice barked in her ear, just as she had been warned he would.
Michele got right to the point. "I need to speak to Dr. Kevin Fawkes on a matter of some urgency." Urgency was putting it mildly, it had taken her longer than she'd hoped to get the information that could clear Darien, only to find out the best of it was practically useless because of the methods used to retrieve it. She had been forced to resort to some less than legal avenues to obtain the data due to the serious time constraints.
The slight hiss of indrawn breath was as expected as the well practiced words that followed. "There is no Dr. Fawkes associated with this office of Fish and Game," he stated flatly.
'Chele was unable to repress the sly grin that burst across her features; the man she spoke to had no idea that she actually had him by the short hairs, though he was about to find out. "But there is for the Agency," she said in a voice just as lacking in emotion, not wanting the man she assumed was 'the Official' to feel threatened. "Look, your lackey wouldn't have handed you the phone if I didn't have the right clearance code, so can we not do this song and dance and cut to the chase?"
"I don't know who you think you are," the Official blustered and 'Chele hurried to cut him off and prove she meant business.
"I'm the person who could have pulled enough strings to contact Kev directly, but chose to go through so-called proper channels in order to keep his project secure." 'Chele paused to allow him time to ponder the ramifications of that. From what she'd been told, the man was anything but a fool, and he should have caught her intentional use of Kevin's nickname.
"Who are you?" Though loosely couched as a question, she knew it was an order.
Softening her tone she replied, "Dr. Michele MacTierney and I must speak to Kevin about some important family matters."
There was silence for several minutes, during which she was certain he was running a background check and verifying her identity.
"I'm afraid Dr. Fawkes is working on a highly classified project and..."
Michele cut him off again, not caring how irritated he might get. "I know where Kev is. I even have a damn good idea what he's working on, but I will speak to him, one way or another."
Based on the grinding of teeth that could clearly be heard across the phone line, the Official was beyond irritated; he was downright pissed. She sat there in silence, noting absently that she needed to reapply the polish to her left hand while she waited for the muttered imprecations to run their course. This was followed by threats to have her arrested for treason along with a half-dozen other national security violations, he even tossed in a few biologically creative suggestions that she made a mental note of as they were very colorful. Eventually, however, he ran down and gave her a chance to speak.
"So, did you buy enough time to validate my relationship to Kevin?"
The Official chuckled dryly. "And then some. I've met your brother; best damn agent I've seen in years."
"So I've been told on numerous occasions by that scion of wonder himself," 'Chele agreed. Now that the Official was satisfied with who she was they might actually be able to get this settled quickly. "Sir..."
"I'm afraid there is no way to arrange a face to face meeting at this time," the Official sounded far more genial and even a touch sympathetic and it made her wonder what was going on now, but she didn't have the time to feed her curiosity at the moment.
"No need, the data is on my secure web server. He can examine it for himself and then contact me via e-mail." Michele explained, though she knew it unlikely he'd believe her security measures could ever be tight enough. So she was shocked when he immediately said,
She recovered quickly. "Thank you, sir. I must emphasize the need for urgency on this matter."
"Understood," the Official stated. "Kevin has spoken very highly of you, Doctor."
Before 'Chele could respond to that surprise tidbit of information the voice of the man who she had first spoken to echoed across the line, suggesting the speaker phone had just been turned on.
"The message will be relayed within the hour, once the security of the site has been ascertained."
"Of course," "Chele responded. She had expected that. "Kevin will need to enter a password to access the data."
"Will he know the password?" the lackey asked.
Michele thought about it and realized Kevin might very well have forgotten that bit of data as unnecessary. "Tell him ... tell him Lab 3, Killington," 'Chele said, since the password was the one they'd used on the sole project they'd worked together on at Cal-Tech. Then she rattled off the specific web addy he'd need to access the information.
The Official's voice was suddenly back and sounding oddly disconcerted to her ears. "Cassandra Project?"
"Yes, case sensitive with an underscore between the words. It's a bit of an inside joke," she explained, not about to go into detail about why the private section of her website went by that name.
"I see," the Official muttered not sounding the least bit convinced. "Does Kevin know how to contact you if necessary?"
"Yes, he has my secure number." Michele wondered where he was going with this line of questioning, but there was no chance she was going to give the game away. Oh she knew with a little research on his end either the Official or his office pet could figure out what the family issue was, if they were even vaguely interested. Though the fact he called Kevin by his first name suggested that the Official was more than just Kev's boss.
"Doctor, I hope the family problems are cleared up quickly," the Official said in obvious dismissal followed by the sound of the line being disconnected.
'Chele snapped her cell phone shut and muttered, "So do I."
* * *
'Chele shut the door to her apartment and sank down to the floor, not having the energy to do more than lift one shaky hand to her forehead. She'd been there for Darien even if he'd not been aware of it. He had insisted that she not show up for his sentencing, not out of anger, but out of concern for her. He didn't want her to be associated with him; worried it could adversely affect her career if it became known she was a friend of a convicted murderer. She hadn't even argued too strenuously out of a deep sense of failure. Her one hope, her last chance to possibly avert this hadn't come through and she was at a total loss for what to do now.
At least part of her plan had worked, he hadn't gotten the death penalty, and he wouldn't be heading up to San Quentin to await a last meal and the offer of a last confession by some padre who didn't give a damn. Darien had turned his back on the church long ago and she doubted there was any way to drag him back, not even with his own personal visitation of death staring him in the eye. No, now he was off to Bakersfield to live in the general population and she knew it would break him. That they would beat him down, rape him, and that beautiful soul, that amazing mind of his would be lost to her forever.
When the gavel had come down and the cheers had erupted by the legions of senior citizens who had been watching, she'd wanted to scream at them, tell them how wrong they were, but she knew her words would fall upon deaf ears. Then Darien had turned about to the one supposedly friendly face in the entire room only to watch Casey get up and leave without even the slightest glance in his direction. Darien shouting her name over and over all the while, the tumult that filled the room providing Casey a convenient excuse to not hear him.
Once Darien had been all but dragged away, 'Chele had approached Harry, not caring who saw them together. She had no reason to hide and had only stayed in the background because Darien had asked her. Harry was rightfully dismayed, but also relieved that 'Chele's ploy had allowed them to skirt the death penalty. After all, why bother executing someone on a third strike when he'd never get out of prison anyway?
"Damn it, Kevin," she snarled into the swiftly darkening room and then just about jumped out of her skin when her cell phone went off. She dragged it out of her pocket and flipped it open to stare at the caller ID that was informing her it was an unknown number. With a sigh she pressed the accept button and said, "Mac."
"Michele? Is that you?" came the static laden query.
"Kevin? Wonderful timing. They gave him life with no parole," 'Chele had no idea how she kept from screaming at him, her voice oddly cold and stiff even to her own ears.
"I heard. And it's being taken care of." Kevin sounded just as stiff and formal as she did. "I don't know what you were thinking 'Chele..."
"I was thinking you could use some of those government contacts I know you have and get the proof legitimized. Then I could've given it to Harry and maybe gotten a mistrial. Now, we have to wait for appeal." 'Chele's pushed herself to her feet, her temper flaring. "God damn it, Kevin, he's your brother. For once get your head out of your ass and do something right."
"You mean like you do? Sit back and watch him waste his life as a two-bit thief?" Kevin snapped, that sneer she'd learned to hate over the years making its scheduled appearance.
'Chele's tone dropped to a low growl, "It's his life. Maybe you should take the time to see what he's done with it instead of making assumptions."
Instead of the expected sharp comeback, Kevin sighed heavily. "Maybe you're right. This... Darien couldn't have done this. It's not in him to hurt someone like that."
'Chele chuckled ruefully and headed for her kitchen to scrounge a bottle of water from the barren fridge. "Just more proof you don't know him. In the right situation, for the right person there is nothing he wouldn't do." She twisted off the top and drank down a quarter of the bottle while Kevin stewed over her comments. "Look, did you call just to make my shit day even worse or what?"
"Damn it, 'Chele could you give me even half a chance? Shit, you'd go to the ends of the earth for Darien and yet barely give me the time of day," Kevin argued in total exasperation.
Michele froze in place for several seconds. "Kevin, sometimes you are a complete idiot. I'd go to the same damn lengths for you. You're my friend, Kev, that has never changed." She leaned back against the counter and sighed softly.
"Yet you sleep with Darien," Kevin hissed, which caused Michele to suck in a breath.
"Kevin," she warned. He had no right, none at all to question her choices. To suddenly bring back all that anger and jealousy of that first summer she and Darien had been together as a couple. Jealousy that had carried over to Cal-Tech where she and Kevin saw each other fairly often given their overlapping studies. It had taken a good six months before Kevin loosened up and realized that the relationship had ended when she'd left Cold Springs.
"Sorry, you're right, of course, who you sleep with is none of my business." She listened as he shifted the phone. "Look, can you get me copies of the files. I need them to wave under noses."
"Copies I can do," 'Chele responded, more than willing to drop the subject of her personal relationship with Darien. "How do I get them to you?"
"Courier. He'll pick them up and deliver them to my boss." Kevin chuckled then. "He didn't believe me when I said you were ballsy as hell. You changed his mind very quickly."
"Glad I could help," she commented her voice full of irony. "What are you gonna do, Kev?"
"What I need to, all right?" His tone was oddly sad. "You'll just have to trust me on this."
"Kevin, I have always trusted you," she responded quietly. "Let me know if I can do anything to help." While she didn't know what he had planned, she fully realized that if he needed more details on where the information had come from, and that she was the only legitimate source.
"'Chele, I'll contact you and let you know if I pulled this off, but beyond that..."
"We'll wait and see. Got it." Somehow she'd known there'd be a catch with Kev, but it didn't matter so long as Darien never had to serve any real time in prison. "I'll need an hour to make copies. Where do you want me to meet this courier?"