Author: A. X. Zanier

Title: Past Lies

Rating: PG-13 (Language, violence)

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

Timeline: After consulting my story list I have discovered that this one takes place after School Daze.

Spoilers: I blatantly steal from any and every ep that might be of use.

Comments: Another Darien POV that ties up a few loose ends and creates a boatload of others.

Past Lies

Some love is just a lie of the soul

A constant battle for the ultimate state of control

After you've heard lie upon lie

There can hardly be question of why

Some love is just a lie of the heart

The cold remains of what began with a passionate start

But that can't happen to us

Because it's always been a matter of trust

-B. Joel

It had been one hell of a day; Alyx was still in the shower trying to remove the grime she was convinced had become permanently imbedded in her skin, while I was rummaging about her fridge looking for something for dinner. When Alyx and the perp had gone off the roof Hobbes and I freaked and rushed to the edge of the building expecting to find the pair playing sidewalk pizza. Since I seem to have this awful habit off tossing people off roofs I was afraid that unlucky streak of mine had rubbed off on her. I don't know whether she was lucky or not - she doesn't seem to think so - as they landed in a garbage truck, with him still fighting tooth and nail to get away. When we finally caught up with the truck Alyx had managed to stop it by killing its motor, dragged the perp out and sat on him - literally - until we arrived.

Somehow Hobbes and I didn't laugh. Maybe it was the deadly glare she'd leveled at us. Maybe it had been the perp screaming at us to protect him from her. Maybe it was the fact she'd been plastered head to toe with garbage.

"Take him or I will kill him," she snarled, getting up. She'd grabbed him by the collar and pushed him towards Hobbes, who'd cuffed him with a look of disgust. "And if I hear one word - just one - from either of you I'll... I'll hug you." With a screech of disgust, she pulled one of her tricks and the worst of the crap flung itself from her and back into the truck.

I won't mention the ride back to the Agency, but we'll be airing out the van for a week.

Her door buzzer went off and I hollered, "I'll get it." When I opened the door I saw a guy who seemed vaguely familiar. About six feet tall with perfectly styled dark blonde hair, blue eyes and wearing a dark gray suit. An expensive suit. He carried a bouquet of red roses and was looking at me in consternation.

"I'm looking for Michele. Michele Stevenson," he said to me.

I can honestly say I had no idea who he was talking about. "I'm sorry. There's no Michele Stevenson here."

"Maybe she's going by MacTierney." He seemed a bit impatient. "I'm certain this is the correct address."

I wasn't sure what to say. I had no idea who this Michele was and didn't really care. I had more interest in joining Alyx in the shower as soon as she deemed herself safe for company. "Sorry, there's no..."

"Who is it, Dare?" I heard from behind me and turned to see Alyx toweling her hair dry wearing... I swallowed hard. Not much. She'd put on one of those one-piece bodysuits that she sometimes wore to workout in. She also wore them because she knew they drove me nuts. This was the black, sleeveless, high collared one that zipped up the front from navel to neck. I also knew that it had no back to speak of. It hugged her every curve and was probably illegal through the entire Bible Belt.

The guy at the door stepped by me at the sound of her voice. "'Chele?"

She froze and for a moment, a long moment. Her head was tipped slightly forward with the towel hiding her face. When she finally did raise her head and drop the towel I swear she looked terrified. "Jess?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"'Chele, it is you. You look wonderful." He walked towards her, the flowers held out slightly before him.

Alyx backed away from him several steps and she looked around wildly, as if for a place to escape to. She looked as if she were about to Quicksilver and vanish in order to get away. As I watched, her look changed, becoming harder, becoming downright angry. "Go away," she growled at him.

"Alyx, is there a problem?" I asked her, moving up behind the guy.

"Alyx? Is that what you go by now? Couldn't think of anything original?" The stranger's voice had gone from sweet and compelling to demeaning and insulting.

"Who the hell are you?" I snapped, really not appreciating the way he was speaking to her.

"Me? I should be the one asking that. Since it's quite obvious that you're sleeping with my wife." The look on his face was one of total conviction.

"Your wife?" I repeated, unsure if I believed him, but then I glanced over at Alyx. The look on her face scared the hell out of me. Reminded me of the early days or right after Garrett had died. Cold, hard, and completely unfeeling. Like she was blocking off the rest of the world, again. I knew what he was saying had to be true.

"Yes, my wife. Thought dead for nearly two years... but I've found you now, and you can come home." He walked towards her, his voice once again sweet, charming.

"What do you want, Jess?" Alyx asked softly, suddenly not able to meet his eyes.

"Want? Michele, I've missed you. I just want what we had. I want you to come home." He stepped closer to her and she stood frozen in place. As I watched, he reached up to brush a hand along her face and she shuddered, but since she was still looking down at the floor I was unsure why. "I'm sure we'll be able to overlook your little lapse of judgment... in time."

To my surprise Alyx actually slumped down a bit in response to what he was saying and I didn't like it one bit. "Alyx, don't listen to him. He can't do anything to you." Her head snapped up and she looked at me, her whole demeanor changing in a heartbeat, and the guy recognized it instantly. He stepped back, dropping his hand from her face.

"A bit of a surprise, my arrival. I understand. I'll call tomorrow when you're not quite," He tossed an unfriendly look at me, "so busy." He set the roses down on her table and after one last glance at her turned around and gave me a smile that was far more dangerous than pleasant. "Tomorrow, my pet."

I waited until he had left before walking over to Alyx. I wasn't quite sure what to say; what to ask. She still stared at the doorway. She was shaking slightly though whether out of anger or something else, I wasn't sure. When she did finally move it was to slam the door shut with her mind and hit a key on her speed dial. She turned on the speakerphone. When it was answered it was Eberts.

"We have a problem," she stated, her voice stiff.

"Miss Silver. And what is the problem?" Eberts asked.

"Jess Stevenson."

"Jess Stevenson? Who..." The phone went silent as he was cut off.

"What about him?" It was the Official.

"He was just here," Alyx elaborated, keeping her voice flat.

The Official swore. "Miss Silver, you are to take no action in this matter. It will be handled. Is this understood?"

Alyx was silent.

"Is this understood?" the Official repeated.

"Yes," Alyx growled and disconnected. She stalked across the room and hit her punching bag. Hard.

"Ummm. Question?" I said. She turned to me, her expression just as closed off as before. I had to get her to open back up even if that meant taking a bit of abuse. "Who exactly was that?"

For a moment I was sure she wasn't going to answer. If anything she closed herself down even more. Then she must have come to some decision and her whole body relaxed. "You didn't get the memo either, I take it?" She walked over to her bed and flopped back on it.

I followed and leaned against one of the bedposts. "So it's true."

"When was the last time you heard the Official react like that?" she pointed out, rubbing her eyes. "I spend part of my day rolling in garbage and end up dealing with a piece of shit."

"Michele, huh?" I repeated, mostly to just to see how she would react. Bad move.

"Forget that name. I'm not that person. I don't want to be that person. I will never be that person again." She was angry. This time at me.

"Alyx, I didn't mean anything by it." I was contrite. The little I knew about her husband did not amount to much. I'd only seen him for a moment, ages ago when we had followed her across the country, and then just to make sure Alyx's youngest was safe. We had never really talked about him. I knew she'd been married and that their relationship had been rough. That was about it. Obviously there was more to it than that otherwise she would not have reacted the way she did. I sat down on the edge of the bed and put my hand on her leg. "Talk to me."

She sat up a bit, leaning on her elbows. "No."

I slid my hand further up her leg determined to get her to talk to me and to smile. "Yes."

She lay back down. "Don' wanna," she whined.

"Don't make me use force," I warned mischievously, climbing onto the bed, straddling her, and moving my hands to her sides. "Last chance."

"Darien, you wouldn't." She looked up at me still not smiling, but it was close. She was doing her damnedest not to allow those lips to curve upwards.

Ever since I discovered she was ticklish I had never used it against her and I couldn't now. Instead I employed my other method of persuasion. I gave her the hurt puppy look and begged, "Please?"

"I knew you wouldn't." Her voice was hushed. "What do you want to know?"

Now I had a bit of a dilemma, on the one hand I did want some information especially since the guy had been thrust into my face. I was curious about him and his relationship with Alyx. On the other hand I had her in the position I'd wanted her in all day, in an outfit that drove me wild, and knew that if we continued this discussion the chance of getting her out of that tight fitting, revealing piece of spandex was going to be nil. Then again, maybe a little human contact with someone who didn't terrify her would help. I moved my hands up across her stomach and ran several fingers up the length of the zipper.

When she had relaxed slightly under my touch, I asked my first question. "What is he doing here?" She stiffened in reaction, but I kept up the movement of my hands hoping to keep her from closing herself off again.

She laughed at me. Dry, harsh laughter. "He wants to reclaim his property, most likely."

Reclaim his property? How big of a jerk was this guy? Alyx was rubbing her forehead like she was working on a headache. I gently pushed her hand away and kissed her lightly on the forehead. She sighed.

"Why did he scare you?" She went still, and I worried that it might have been the wrong question. It took a couple of minutes but she was finally able to answer.

"He was very... controlling." Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. "And he was abusive."

Damn. I never figured on that. She's so strong, so independent you would never know, but looking back... it was almost obvious and explained a lot of her behavior when she had first arrived here. I guess it explains why she found it so hard to trust anyone. When the person you trust the most, betrays you like that it must make it damn hard to believe that anyone could be anything else. I wanted to apologize, to explain, to make sure she understood that everyone isn't like that, but I suppose she knows or she wouldn't be here with me.

"Dare," she spoke quietly.

"Hmmm?" I was debating whether or not to find out what, if anything, she was wearing under her outfit. I slid the zipper down part way, exposing her tanned flesh.

"Darien." Her voice was a bit more insistent and I met those glorious eyes of hers. "Thank you."

"For what?" I asked.

"For standing by me through all of this. I've put you through so much lately and now this. I'd understand it if you want to leave," she sounded resigned.

I stopped my explorations and moved to lie beside her. Yeah, I guess we had been through a rough bit recently, but it was working out. Some days were still a fight for her, but her good days came more and more often. I knew that earlier today, when she had warned us she wanted to kill the perp, she hadn't been kidding and was on the verge of doing just that, but she had managed to control it. It was a good thing Heilburg was dead, because who knows what other things he had done to her when she was under his control. But she had fought her way back.

I'll admit there were things I tried not to think about. Like her and Arnaud together. I had never even brought it up with her, but she knew I wouldn't be here if it really mattered. In the months since she had come back we'd rebuilt our relationship on all levels. It had made a difference to me that when she came back, in trouble, it was me that she had come to, me she had trusted.

"I'm not going anywhere."

I ended up sleeping at my place alone. Not part of my original plan, true, but I could tell she needed some time to herself. I could sympathize, I'm not sure what I'd do if Casey suddenly reappeared and said she wanted me back. Actually, I'd probably be wary as hell given the way things had ended between us; what with her walking away even after promising to help. Alyx's husband showing up now... Well, suspicious was not a strong enough word for it, and I got the distinct feeling the guy was not going to be easy to get rid of.

I got into work, early for me, late for the rest of the world, just in time to be accosted by Hobbes.

"Where's the kid? She come in with you?" he demanded, sounding a bit worried.

"No, I left her place after dinner. Why?" I didn't like the way this day was starting.

"She hasn't showed and she's not at her place, we've checked," Hobbes explained, leading me to the Official's office. "She's not with Fawkes, Boss." Turning back to me he grouched, "The one night you should have stayed and you get all noble an' go home."

I shrugged. "She wanted to be alone. If there was a problem you could have told us. Hell, you could have sent some men over to watch her place." Bobby shifted uncomfortably and saw the look of consternation on Eberts' face. "You did, didn't you and she slipped them. Good for her." They were well aware of my opinion of being watched and followed. Alyx was pretty much in agreement with it. It had only been the last couple of weeks that they'd taken her off 24-hour surveillance. They had been concerned she'd run again

"We know she got a phone call about seven this morning. No one saw her leave, but she's not in her apartment and she's carrying none of her tracers," Hobbes told me, which meant he had been the one to check her apartment and had been one of the ones she'd got by.

"And?" I had no idea why they were explaining this to me.

"Did she agree to meet with him?" the Official asked, somewhat gruffly.

I had no trouble figuring out who he meant. "Not that I know of. He said he'd see her tomorrow, meaning today," I answered. "What did that guy do to her, anyway? She was terrified of him."

"He did his job," Eberts answered. "To break her and keep her under control."

I was more than a little confused. "This is her husband we're talking about, right?"

"Yeah, partner. Surprised me too," Bobby commented with a frown. "Turns out he's been working for someone all along."

"Exactly. We believe they were hoping to use her for themselves, but we figured out how to activate her abilities first," Eberts filled in.

"She doesn't know," the Official stated. "He didn't exist until shortly after her parents were killed."

"Didn't exist? I saw him yesterday." I let slip out without thinking about the meaning of his words.

"As in Alyx Silver didn't exist until she joined the Agency," Hobbes reminded, with a headshake.

"Great, just great. And do we have some inkling what he might do?" I was not looking forward to the answer.

"We think he will try to get her back under control and use his influence to get her to leave. We don't think he will take her outright, too dangerous." Eberts set the file down on the desk.

"Do you have any idea where she might go to meet him?" the Official asked of me.

I ran my hand through my hair, thinking. "There's a coffee shop a couple of blocks from her place, she might go there."

"It's a start, let's go." Hobbes turned to me tipping his head.

"Stay in contact, and if you do find her bring her in for the Keeper to check over," the Official ordered, and amazingly he really sounded concerned.

Hobbes and I left in my car, the van was still being cleaned from the day before, and we drove to the coffee shop. I went in and asked the owner who always worked the morning shift if Alyx had been in. She had been and left with a gentleman fitting the description of her husband. Wonderful, this day was just getting better. Hobbes asked a few more questions, which led to nothing. Mornings are a little busy around here.

Back in the car, neither of us were quite certain what to do, where to go. So we tried to work out where she might go. Hobbes had trained her well and she had a few smarts of her own. Someplace public, someplace familiar. Then I had a thought.

"Hobbes, what about Balboa Park. Think she might head there?"

"Good thought, partner." He put the car in gear and we headed there as fast as we could.

And that's where we found her.

I figured if she came here she'd probably head for the Botanical Garden, she had a thing for this place that I didn't understand, but whenever she needed to find some peace this is one of the places where she'd come. Lately she had been out here a lot trying to sort out her emotions and self. Trying to figure out just who she wanted to be. She wasn't quite the same... actually that wasn't true, she was the same, inside, but the face she showed the world was different, a little harder, a little more ruthless, a little more dangerous. But when we were alone she was still the same, kind, gentle, understanding and sweet woman she had always had been.

The person we were looking at was none of those. Alyx sat on the bench with Jess next to her. He stood as we approached.

"Look, my dear, your friends have finally arrived." He used one hand to lift her chin forcing her too see us.

"Alyx. You need to come with us," Bobby coaxed, trying to keep his voice calm. He was doing his best not to go off on this man. He held out his hand to Alyx, C'mon, kid."

Jess laughed. He walked over to us and slowly circled around us. "She won't listen to you."

I tried, "Alyx."

She shuddered where she was sitting as if trying to fight whatever the hell it was he had done to her.

"You don't get it yet, do you?" He stopped beside me. "You had a couple of years. Do you really think you can undo a decade of very carefully planned control." He circled around to Hobbes. "Three words and she was mine. I'm looking forward to seeing exactly what she can do. As are my superiors."

"I bet. Who exactly are they anyway?" I figure it was worth a try and he seemed to be amused by this.

"Lets just say they are very interested in recouping their original investment." He glanced over at Alyx. "They've been quite impressed with her skills, so far."

"You do know we won't let you have her?" That was from Hobbes, who was no longer bothering to hide his anger.

"You won't have any choice. Will they, Michele?" He had turned slightly towards her.

She looked at him. "I don't want to go."

His look hardened. "'Chele, do I have to teach you another lesson?" He sounded sweet, charming and she flinched in reaction.

"No." She bowed her head to look at the ground.

"Alyx, don't listen to this mook," Hobbes entreated of her.

"She has no choice," Jess announced. He leaned down and took her hands, helping her to her feet. "Remember what I told you?"

She nodded. "I remember."

"Good. Now, run along with your friends. I'll call to let you know the time." He kissed her on the cheek leaving her shaking in reaction. Then he spoke to us, "Enjoy her while you can, Mr. Fawkes, but remember she'll always be mine."

"No one owns me," she suddenly growled. I knew that look. Alyx was pissed.

Hobbes got on his cell and called for back up.

"'Chele. I guess you changed your mind. Do you remember what happens when you defy me?" He took two steps towards her and stopped suddenly.

"Oh, I remember. Care for a taste of it?" She smiled while she spoke and Jess realized that whatever control he may have had over her was suddenly gone. He tried to move only to discover he couldn't.

"Michele, what do you think you're doing?" he barked, trying to intimidate her with his voice alone.

She twitched, and for one second he was free. Then she reasserted herself and he was once again trapped in her mental hold. His hands went to his throat and he began to make choking noises. I went to Alyx.

"Alyx, stop it," I pleaded, not wanting to see her backslide into that overly aggressive persona.

"Why should I? Give him a little of what he deserves." She slowly lifted him off the ground while standing a good foot away.

"Kid, do you really want to lower yourself to his level?" Bobby questioned coming over to her other side. "Much as I would like to see him squirm, this is not the way to go about it."

"But, Bobby, it's so much fun. I can feel his little mind just screaming for air. 'Course I could solve the problem and just snap his neck." Alyx laughed. "He didn't like that one little bit."

It was my turn to try. I stepped between her and Jess and got her to focus on me. "This isn't you."

It took a moment, but I heard him fall to the ground with a thud, to lie there panting loudly as he was allowed to breathe again. She scrubbed her hands over her face trying to get herself back under control. "Darien, it is me. We just don't like to admit it is all." Her voice was soft. She stepped around me and knelt down before Jess. "Go home, Jess. I'm not your wife any longer."

"Maybe not, but you're still my Kept and I will complete my job," he snarled, then slowly forced himself upright. Several Agents appeared and closed in on him. "I'll be seeing you." He turned to run.

I had the distinct impression he was going to escape. Now, would have been the time for Alyx to stop him, but she stood frozen in shock at his last words.

"His Kept?"

"Claire needs to see you, kid," Hobbes commented, heading towards the car.

"His Kept?" she repeated.

"I'll explain later," I told her.

We got her back to the Keep without too much trouble. Hobbes was pissed he hadn't taken out the bastard himself, but considering we had no orders to bring him in, it would have been kind of hard to justify. The agents sent to trail Jess, lost him in the late afternoon traffic, so we still had no idea where he was hanging out and Eberts still hadn't figured out who he was working for. Claire had kicked us out of the Lab while she gave Alyx the once over.

We had already spoken to the Official who was not thrilled with the lack of progress with Mr. Stevenson, although he did find it interesting that he had referred to himself as her Keeper. One more piece of data for Eberts' geeky little brain. He insisted that he would solve the problem, it was just such a large amount of data and a really good cover job. It would take time. My concern was that by the time he figured it out Alyx would be gone, with her husband.

After about 30 minutes Claire showed up without Alyx. She had a frown on her face and looked like she was ready to hit someone.

"How is Miss Silver?" the Official asked.

"Physically, she's been better." She raised her hand. "I will not go into details. Mentally, she's a bit of a wreck. Which I'm sure you expected."

"She's not gonna rabbit again is she?" Hobbes asked.

"Might be better for her if she did. Keep her away from the bastard," Claire muttered. "Look, she's suffering from classic battered woman's syndrome. Put her anywhere near him and she's going to react one of two ways, submissive or violent, and given her recent penchant for violence she could quite easily kill him."

"Not necessarily a bad thing," Hobbes mumbled, then more clearly. "When we found her she refused to even look at us. He was in complete control. Then like that," Hobbes snapped his fingers. "She stood up against him, hell, she tried to kill him."

"He spent 10 years controlling her every movement, thought, attitude, it's possible given what we now know that he used other methods - hypnosis, pain/pleasure response, who knows. Alyx won't talk about it, possibly can't." Claire tossed all this out into a group of quite stunned men.

"Are we talking about the same person? The kid with the mouth? The little redhead with brass balls? The one who dove off a roof to catch a perp yesterday?" Hobbes was rather astonished.

"Yes, Bobby. And with one word from her husband she'd probably do anything he wants out of a combination of programming and terror," Claire answered sadly.

"Suggestions?" the Official asked her.

"Keep her away from him for now. Once we have proof of who he is, we give it to her and see what happens," Claire suggested and no one came up with anything better.

"All right. Fawkes, I would rather she stay at your apartment, she's already proved she can evade us at hers. We will also set up surveillance at both places and maybe finally get a trail for this guy," the Official ordered. "Where is she? I would like to speak with her."

"Her office," Claire answered.

I volunteered to fetch her. I hadn't added all that much to the conversation back there and wasn't really sure what to think. At least now I knew why she didn't like to talk about her life before the Agency stepped in and took over. I'll be the first to admit I'd done things I wasn't proud of and had things done to me that I would rather not think about, up to and including the gland in my head, but never did I have to deal with something like this. I knocked on the door to her office before stepping in and she looked up at me with a beautiful smile. So maybe it wasn't going to be as hard as I thought.

"Hey, thanks for the rescue earlier. Don't know what the hell I was thinking," she admitted as she completed whatever it was she was doing.

"The boss wants to see you," I said.

She rolled her eyes. "Probably gonna chew me out for slipping his net this morning." She walked over to me, acting as if nothing was wrong, just another day at the Agency.

When we got back to the Official's office she stood ready for the worst and was surprised instead.

"Miss Silver, I just want to assure you that we will not allow Mr. Stevenson harm you."

She snorted. "Too late for that."

"Also," he continued, "we have taken steps to insure the safety of your children. We had an agent already in place and have called another one in to assist."

"Mikey, huh?" she guessed.

"That's need to know," Eberts reminded her. Then he went over the arrangements for the next few days and she stood there nodding. "One last thing, how did you slip past your watchers this morning?"

She smiled. "I'll give you a hint. Why do the thermals work?"

"'Cause you register as cold on them," Hobbes popped out, without really thinking.

"What if that wasn't true anymore?" she suggested, just before leaving the room. "Meet you out front, Darien," she called from the hallway.

Claire stopped me before I could even turn. "Darien, be prepared for a bad night."

For her or me I wondered.

We'd stopped by Alyx's place so that she could pack a few days worth of stuff and grab her laptop all the while complaining good-naturedly about my lack of a high-speed connection. As she packed she paused while looking over her jewelry; she rarely wore any, but this piece a simple silver and onyx bracelet, I knew had a tracking device in it. I guess she was a bit more concerned than she let on, because instead of just packing it, she put it on. The two agency suits who had come with us watched everything, and did a bit of not very subtle snooping, trying to figure out how she got out of her apartment earlier. She just shook her head and smiled at them.

We picked up dinner on the way to my place. I tried to remember if I had left it a disaster area or not, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I let her in. Thankfully, I'd been spending more time at her apartment than mine and it was pretty decent. I carried the groceries to the kitchen and she went to visit Darien-the-rat. It was weird; the rat was completely off its rocker, but would turn into a little puddle of ooze the moment she got near its cage. Of course she had a similar effect on me. At least I had to credit the beast with good taste.

She booted me out of the kitchen, saying that I had yet to acquire the appropriate skills needed to cook a steak. Now, I'll admit to not being the world's greatest cook, but we both knew I was more than capable of cooking a decent meal, but who was I to argue. Her skills were definitely far superior to mine. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down to watch the evening news. Which was depressing as usual, but about halfway through I could smell heaven wafting through my apartment as she produced her usual culinary miracle.

She had already set the table and opened the window so we were probably making the neighbors jealous. I walked over to the tiny table she'd insisted on buying so we wouldn't have to eat on the pool table, breathed in the scent of the food and sighed.

"Let me guess. You read a book."

"A cook book. Years ago. It's amazing what happens when you follow directions. I've added my own twist to it, is all," she answered, as she set the food on the table.

"Let me give you a hand." I set my hand on her back to pass around her and she hissed in pain. "What?"

"I'm just a little sore is all. Don't worry about it. Sit. Eat." She moved the last few items over and sat down directing me to do the same.

"Alyx you don't have to wait on me," I assured her, feeling a bit suspicious of her actions.

"Wait on you? Not a chance. You know I like to cook and I don't get to do it nearly often enough." She started in on the salad she had made blissfully unaware that I was, once again, baffled by her.

While we ate I tried to get her to tell me what had happened that morning, but she was quite evasive and managed to get all the way through the cleanup without once giving me a straight answer. I knew something was up when she decided to get ready for bed. I thought it might be fun to help her. She wouldn't let me into the bathroom and when she came out had a completely innocent look on her face. I wasn't buying it.

Not even when she came over to me where I sat on the sofa, pulled the magazine I was staring at out of my hand, flung it across the room and proceeded to try to thoroughly distract me. I cooperated willingly at first, until I moved my hands along her back and she flinched away from me.

"Are you going to tell me or do I have to hold you down to find out." My choice of words was apparently not the best for she paled and got up, backing slowly away from me.

"Sorry." She stopped only when she had backed into the pool table.

I sat up. "What is going on?"

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Nothing."

"Nothing. Right." I got up and went to her. "Talk to me, Alyx. What the hell happened today?"

"Jess gave me a little reminder of what he can do," she hissed, her voice tight.

She turned about and leaned on the table. Using one hand, she lifted up her shirt slightly and I swallowed hard in shock. Timidly, I raised the shirt up further and she placed her hand back on the table to support herself. I couldn't believe what I saw. A half dozen welts crisscrossed her back; some were already shading towards purple. I ran my hand lightly over them, the welts were still recent enough to be raised up and felt warm to the touch. Somehow, Jess had not broken the skin, but he'd come close in places. I couldn't understand how she was even standing, much less able to go all afternoon and evening without a comment.

"This is what he does when he's a little angry. When he's really mad he holds me down and rapes me," she announced in a tiny voice.

"Shit, Alyx. Why the hell did you let him do this to you?" I inquired in a hushed voice.

"Let? You think I let him do this to me?" She spun around to face me. "Damn it, Darien, you have no possible way to understand." She was getting upset, but I wasn't sure if it was with herself or me.

"You're right, I don't." I placed my hands on her shoulders. "Tell me."

She actually managed to laugh a little. "You don't ask the easy ones do you."

"Have I ever?" I escorted her over to the bed and got her to lie down on her stomach. "Doesn't it hurt?"

"Not as much as some other things he has done," she responded. "This isn't something I ever wanted to discuss with you. In fact, this was the only thing I could thank the Official and his damn Agency for. They got me away from Jess." She rolled over and sat up hugging her knees. "Jess was a master at not leaving marks unless he felt I needed a little reminder."

I lay down next to her, crossed my hands over my stomach and stared at the ceiling.

"He let me have my little amusements, but he always made sure that I knew he was in control." She rested her head on her knees staring across the room.

"Why did you go with him this morning?" I questioned hoping, but not really expecting her to answer.

"Because I had to." She turned to look at me. "I don't want to talk about this."

"I can see that, but why not? I'm not going to fault you for something that was done to you." I turned my head to meet her gaze and placed one of my hands over hers.

She grasped my hand like it was a lifeline. "It's because I don't just remember something I re-experience it. And some of those memories hurt."

I had forgotten that. Made me glad, once again, that my memory was not nearly as good as hers. She literally remembers things differently from the rest of us. I can't think of another person who can learn a new language in a couple of hours and be able to speak it fluently in that amount of time, but she had. At last count I think she was at 25 different languages not counting the various dialect skews that occur.

I rolled up on my side and leaned my head against her shoulder trying to give comfort with my presence. In the time we had been together I had learned she was a very tactile person. Her sense of touch was very sensitive and her ability to read people through touch made it almost another type of communication for her. She sighed and rubbed her cheek across the top of my head. Guess it worked. She was still tense, frightened, but not as much now.

"I still have nightmares about him." Her voice was so soft that if she hadn't been talking almost into my ear I never would have heard her. She leaned back against the pillows and I followed, carefully resting against her. Laying back must have hurt her like hell but she didn't say a word. I curled up against her; she kissed me lightly on the forehead and wrapped her arms about me. "And now he's here. What the hell am I going to do?"

The boss was going to be pissed over what I was about to do, but I didn't think we should wait, she needed to know what was going on. "Alyx, he's not what he seems. Not who you thought he was."

Her hands, which had been tracing abstracts across my side, stilled. "What does that mean?"

I pushed myself up on my elbows so I could face her. "Eberts can't find any record of Jess Stevenson until shortly after your parents died." I watched her carefully for her reaction and for the longest time there wasn't one. I could almost see what she was thinking. Who was he? What did he want from her? Why? When were you going to tell me? It was all the questions I would have asked in the same situation.

"Who does he work for?" Was the first one she voiced aloud.

"Eberts hasn't found out yet. That's why they didn't want you alone. He's already shown he can influence you easily. We'd rather not lose you again," I answered her without dissembling or giving the need to know run around.

"The whole thing was a lie. An excuse to get control over me." She stopped, thinking for a moment. "They were trying to solve the Phase II problem, but fat boy got to me first. They must have known my potential and wanted to make sure I'd be controlled." It was obvious she was just thinking aloud, as she was definitely not focusing on me at the moment. When she did it was instantaneous. Raising her head she kissed me soundly. "Thank you."

I was a little surprised, not that I was complaining. I'd much rather have her kissing me when we're alone that just about anything else. "For what?"

"For once again proving me right about you."

When Hobbes showed up just after seven the next morning, I was unwillingly dragged up out of blessed unconscious. Alyx had been up... who knows how long, I wasn't sure she had even fallen asleep. As I came awake it was to the sound of conversation between Alyx and Bobby.

"Look, kid, they're watching this place for your protection, skipping out like that just ain't right," Hobbes was saying to her.

"Then maybe they should do they're jobs better. Sheesh, Bobby, I went and got coffee, that's it. I'm wearing a damn tracker and I walked for god's sake." I watched her pick up said coffee and sip it. "Not my fault they were sleeping at the wheel, literally. Sims is just pissed I caught him at it."

I cracked open one eye and stared at the two of them. They still spent more time arguing than anything else, at least when not working on a case. On the job they may snipe at each other but they worked together well. We all did.

"What is it with you two that you gotta ruin a perfectly good morning with consciousness?" I sat up and leaned against the headboard.

"Go back to sleep. I need to head in and talk to Eberts." She closed her laptop and grabbed both it and her coffee. "C'mon, Hobbesy, you get to drive me in."

He rolled his eyes at her and grumbled, "Try not to be too late, Fawkes. All right, kid, lets go."

When the door closed behind them I rolled over and tried, really tried, to go back to sleep, but gave it up as a bad job within a short amount of time. Once I had forced myself to achieve a vertical position I stumbled into the kitchen to find Alyx had left me coffee as well. I drank half before heading to the shower. I had just finished dressing when there was a knock on my door. Opening it saw the person I least expected to.

"What do you want?" It never dawned on me that he had somehow slipped past the watchers outside to get to my door.

"Simple, I want what you have. And I'm betting you can get it for me," he elucidated, raising and firing a tranq gun at me. I really hate mornings like this.

I woke up wondering where Alyx was and tried to roll over, intending to curl up next to her, only to be met with a whole lot of pain. My arms were tied behind my back, my legs bent up behind me and secured to my hands. The rope then looped up around my throat so that the slightest movement caused the rope about my neck to tighten. My careful testing of my bonds ended very quickly as I kept cutting off my air. I shifted, trying to find the position that would cause the least amount of pain.

I was able to roll onto my side and get a look around. Which told me I was in a room and that's about it. The floor was cement, what windows I could see were up high and well out of my reach even if I was standing. I debating squirming around to see what was behind me, but decided against it as I was not really wanting to spend several more minutes choking myself. I knew I'd have to try to free myself eventually. I had the option of trying to freeze the ropes and trying to break them, but I didn't get beyond some preliminary plans when I was greeted by a voice I dreaded hearing.

"Awake are we, Mr. Fawkes?" Jess questioned from behind me, and I instinctively tried to look up, which only succeeded in tightening the rope about my throat. I forced myself to relax and tried not to cough as I gulped in air.

"Careful," he warned, "I need you alive for now." He came around to where I could see him and looked down at me.

"What do you want me for?" I managed to get out.

"Our girl is proving to be more difficult than I counted on. It's been a little too long since I had her under my control. She's being stubborn." He paced back and forth in front of me.

"And?" It's annoying when the bad guys take the roundabout route to answer questions.

"This would have been so much simpler if Heilburg had just done his job instead of selling her to the highest bidder, but that's not important right now. You wanted to know what I want you for." He squatted down before me and tapped me on the forehead. "You're the bait."

I would have shaken my head at him, but I dared not. "You really don't think she's that stupid do you?"

"Stupid? No. Loyal? Yes. She's been under surveillance for months now. We know exactly what she'd do for you. Anything."

Damn. I hate it when the bad guys know the right strings to pull. He stood back up. "I have to make a few preparations. By the way, the rope is extremely cold resistant. I wouldn't waste what little sanity you have left."

I listened to his footsteps fade away behind me, wondering what he meant by that last comment. I decided to try snapping the ropes anyway as I had very little interest in playing bait for anyone. I triggered the Quicksilver on my hands and hoped like hell this was going to work. When I felt I had frosted them enough, I tried jerking my hands apart, intending for the ropes to snap. Nothing happened other than getting choked. I tried again, this time working my hands back and forth thinking that maybe I could fray them instead. I don't know how long I tried and I think I was having some success, but had to stop when my head was wracked with pain.

Crap. The timing sucked, as usual. I lay there after the pain had passed, counting up tattoo segments in my head. I had used some Quicksilver the other day, but not enough to warrant a shot of counteragent and should be at five red, maybe six. Claire was still tweaking the inhibitor and sometimes I went from green to red very quickly as it wore off and this was obviously one of those times. My choices were limited. I could use the Quicksilver again and try to break free. Wait and go over the edge and hope the ropes would hold until someone got to me with the counteragent, or I could go mad and break loose and probably do some major damage to various people before being put out of my misery.

What a set of choices.

For all that I certain they would be of little use in this situation, I began my meditation and biofeedback in hopes of keeping things under control for a while yet. When I had myself reasonably calm and centered, no easy feat in my current pretzel-like position, I began slowly and methodically working on the weakened ropes around my wrists. When the pain came, as I knew it would, I tried a trick Alyx had painstakingly taught me. Instead of fighting the pain, reacting to it, I simply let it pass by me. It's like a good dose of morphine, you know the pain is there, but you're distanced from it. When it had passed I went back to working on the ropes.

I always wondered where Alyx had learned that little trick. Now I knew. You don't spend years being beaten without learning how to function around, with the pain. It explained a lot actually. Our first mission out she got herself shot and didn't tell anyone until it was nearly too late. She'd been more concerned with keeping me from going over into madness than about herself. Scared the hell out of me back then, but was par for the course today.

I realized it had been months since I'd been this close to the madness. The headaches I had learned to live with, the severe pain and seizures that accompanied them happened on rare occasions these days. The inhibitor and the counteragent together gave me a bit more leash to run around on, but I still wasn't free. I still had to get my shots, still had to be cautious, still had to sell my soul for another moments sanity. There were days I would have gladly traded places with Alyx, she had all the benefits with none of the side effects. Just imagine what I could do on the outside with just the invisibility alone. She stayed out of some warped sense of duty, worse than Bobby I sometimes thought.

I was jealous, of her freedom to leave if she so chose; freedom to use her powers just for the fun of it without consequence, freedom to tell off the Official without fear of reprisal, freedom to snap these damn ropes with a thought. Crap. I was closer than I thought; already I was picking apart those closest to me. Yeah, so she a bit more freedom than I did, but as the last couple of days proved, heck the last few months, there were those out there that would gladly use her for their own purposes and throw her away when done. Yeah, the Agency used us for their purposes, but it also protected us. Gave us at least the semblance of normal lives, gave us a place to be in a world that could not easily understand us, and that would in all likelihood despise us for what we could do, what we are.

I hated it.

The peace I had attained began to crumble as I focused more and more on the negative aspects of my life, grumbling under my breath about how unfair it all was. I became almost frantic with the need to free myself from the ropes, even at the risk of cutting off my air. When the next pain came, 10 times worse than the last, it seemed, I was only partially successful in ignoring it and ended up arching back in reaction until it passed.

When it was gone, leaving me gasping for breath on the floor I was astonished to find my hands free. I thought I had broken the rope during my struggles until unseen hands,

cold hands, loosened the rope about my neck. Within seconds I was free of the ropes. It was obvious who had to be with me, there's only one other person capable of Quicksilvering - Alyx.

"We've got a problem," I said to the room in general, not quite sure where she was.

"I know. It's handled, for now." Her voice came from a few feet away. "Claire's waiting nearby."

I felt the chill in the air as she came near and her icy touch on my wrist as she turned it over to look at the monitor, only two sections remained green. "We're not going to make it are we?" It was a fair bet my eyes were at the very least heavily bloodshot, if not fully red by now, but she didn't seem to even notice... or care.

She appeared as a cascade of Quicksilver fell away from her. She was dressed head to toe in tight, form-fitting black. The thoughts that ran through my mind had very little to do with escape at that moment. Her expression was hard. "Nope. But it's part of the plan." She tugged on my arm leading my to the base of a staircase that I hadn't been able to see before. "Listen to me, when it comes don't fight it. Just like the pain management, let it pass by."

"Alyx that's nuts..." She placed her hand over my lips cutting off the rest of my sentence.

"Do you trust me, Darien? After everything that's happened, do you still trust me?"

She watched me carefully, given my currently state of half a mind I couldn't blame her. Did I trust her? Hell yes. Even after the Arnaud debacle, even after the misunderstanding with Shannon, even with her practically telling me to give in to the madness. Yeah, I trusted her.

I nodded.

"Good cause I'm going to be trusting you." She moved her hand and gave me a quick kiss. "Stay here. You'll know when it's time." She Quicksilvered and vanished, leaving the room the way she had come in I supposed.

When the madness hit I was as unprepared as ever. Sometimes I remember everything that happens when I go over clear as a southern California day, sometimes I remember nothing except for wisps and half dreams that haunt my already restless slumber. I still haven't decided which is worse. Knowing what I did or being told about it later. This time I remembered nothing until I found myself outside. It wasn't until much later that I figured out why.

All I know is that somehow I went from the basement of the building to outside in the rear yard of the house invisible. Alyx was standing before that bastard Jess her head bowed down looking resigned, but as I walked up behind him debating which of a dozen pain-filled tortures to inflict upon him, she raised her head and smiled. I remember hearing her voice.

*Gently, we need him alive for now.*

I took that as permission to enact one of the lesser tortures I had envisioned upon him. Things got a little hazy for a while there, but I'm pretty sure I got to work out some of those more aggressive emotions upon his face.

Alyx was suddenly there holding my arm, keeping me from hitting him again. For a moment a nearly turned on her, wanting to show her exactly how much I appreciated her getting in my way, but she never gave me the chance to.

"So, ready to jump ship with me now?" she purred with a smile that almost, almost, cleared away the red fog of the madness. I took a deep breath, dropped the Quicksilver, and looked at her. She's never been afraid of me while I was mad, even when I've done some really horrible things - most of them to her. Watching her I knew she had touched on her own madness, tapped into those other personas that Heilburg had called to life within her. It was the arrival of Hobbes and several other agents that nearly did us in.

"Fawkes, back off," he shouted, with his gun drawn and wavering between me and Alyx.

I reacted as I always did, with the urge to shove that gun down his throat.

"Bobby, stay," Alyx ordered, as if to a misbehaving puppy. Then to me, "Dare, we have better things to do."

"Kid, get away from him. The Keep's on her way." Bobby almost sounded... concerned. As if this had not been part of whatever plan they had cooked up.

Alyx laughed at him. "Don't need the Keep, Bobby. Don't want her."

Jess was getting to his feet not looking nearly as bad as I had hoped; Alyx must have stopped me too soon. He staggered back a few steps from us.

"Michele. You're just making this harder on yourself." He spat blood onto the ground and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Alyx turned on him with a snarl, "I'm not afraid of you anymore."

"You will be," he snapped, stalking towards her.

I spun about preparing to go after him and pound on him a bit more, but Alyx got to him first.

"Never. Again." She didn't give him a chance to respond. He suddenly went stiff and grunted in pain.

"Let's see what's in that slimy little mind of yours, shall we?" she hissed, her eyes narrowing in concentration.

He sank to his knees holding his head as if in pain.

I had reached that point in my madness when everything became perfectly clear, everything made sense, where the rules no longer applied. I knew Alyx had joined me there in her own fashion.

"Kid, back away and let us handle him," Hobbes pleaded with her.

"Darien, shut him up."

While not known for a willingness to take orders, mad or not, this was one I didn't mind hearing at all. "With pleasure." I was looking forward to the opportunity. Hobbes didn't look too pleased when I turned toward him.

Hobbes backed away from me the gun focusing solely upon me. "Fawkes, don't make me shoot you."

I laughed. "Not today Bobby-boy, not today."

Hobbes actually looked stunned, but he did not lower the gun. Behind me Alyx was doing what she needed to do with her husband. That phrase just irritated the hell out of me. Her husband. But it wasn't Alyx I wanted to hurt, it was him, the bastard, the scum that thought it was fun to torture her, to control her, to break her. My anger nearly overrode the clarity that was keeping me from actually hurting anyone right now. For a moment it was a struggle, but I remained in place blocking Alyx from Hobbes' line of sight. I turned slightly to watch the show.

"Jess," she cooed, walking to where he was on his hands and knees. She tipped her head slightly to one side as if listening to something only she could hear, which of course she was. "But that's not your real name, is it? C'mon, Jess, give it up. I'll get it one way or another."

"No!" he shouted at her.

She shifted her hand slightly and he jerked to his feet like a puppet on a string. "How does it feel to no longer be in control, Jess?"

"You won't get the info, Alyx," he spat out her name. "I won't give it to you."

"I was so hoping you'd say that."

In my distraction of watching her systematically break the man before her I failed to keep as close an eye on Hobbes as I should have. He came at me from the side intending to take me out of the game and spoil my fun. I caught his movement out of the corner of my eye just in time. I spun and took a half step back catching Hobbes' gun hand in my own. I brought my other hand up and caught him by the throat lifting him up until his toes were just barely touching the ground. I squeezed his hand with mine, crushing it against the hard metal of the gun. With a curse he dropped the gun and it hit the turf with a dull thud. Its hard to describe how much I enjoy being so much stronger, faster, unafraid, uncaring during the madness. It's euphoric. I have all the power and those around me are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing. Well mostly.

"Darien, behave," Alyx admonished me.

For an instant I was tempted to just snap Hobbes' neck, ending the irritation he caused me and then go after her, but only for an instant. I lowered Hobbes back down and after one final squeeze I released him and stepped away. His hand went to his throat, rubbing it, but he stood there defiant, just daring me to go after him and try to finish the job.

"Who do you work for, Jess? Who started this project?" Alyx asked him from a few feet away.

He shook his head. "They planned for this."

"Then I'll just take it." A dangerous smile crossed her face.

The report from the single gunshot was astonishingly loud and Bobby went for his weapon in reaction. I got to it first and pointed it at him. Alyx screeched in irritation and spun around to snarl, "Hobbes."

"Not me, kid," he stated, lying on his back with empty hands going into the air to show her. Jess still hung in the air his eyes wide with pain.

Alyx stalked over to him. "Tell me, Jessup." Her voice was quiet, angry.

He said something I couldn't hear. Then a second shot rang out. This one passing so close by Alyx that it creased the shoulder of her shirt. This one was effective and he died instantly. Alyx let the body fall to the ground and turned away from it walking over to me.

The other agents fanned out, looking for the shooter on Hobbes' orders. He turned to us watching us carefully.

"Have you decided, Darien? Do we stay, or find a nice beach to buy?" Alyx asked me in a seductive tone, her hand on my arm.

To say I was tempted was putting it mildly. Bobby backed away out of our physical reach while I considered her proposal. It was Claire's voice that got our attention.

"Alyx, you promised."

For a moment it looked like Alyx was going to ignore her. A little Quicksilver and the two of us could be gone. Go wherever we wanted to go, do whatever we wanted to do, be whoever we wanted to be. Her own madness was nearly as vicious as mine and probably more ruthless. There wasn't anyone who could stop us, not now.

"Alyx, for his sake if not your own," Claire pleaded, cautiously approaching the two of us.

Alyx placed her hand on the gun barrel and took it from me. She looked as if she were fighting with herself.

"Maybe next time," she told me, her voice sad.

That was the last thing I remembered for a while.

I was really getting tired of returning to consciousness and not knowing how I got where I was. After a moment to focus I recognized the lab. Claire was working nearby with her back to me, and I could hear voices from the far side of the glass screen. It wasn't hard to figure out that Alyx and Bobby were arguing yet again.

"If it wasn't our guys then who the hell shot him?" Alyx was griping, loudly.

"I don't know, kid," Hobbes answered, sounding as frustrated as she did.

I heard the sound of the Keep door opening and a moment later Eberts' voice. "We found the shooter, dead, on a nearby rooftop. He.. he killed himself."

"Lovely. And all I got was some vague images that I haven't sorted out yet." I could hear her pacing across the floor. "Jess was prepared for this. They knew exactly what I could do and covered all contingencies."

"I'm working on it," Eberts assured her. "They are well hidden, but we'll find them... eventually."

"How's Fawkes?" That was the Official's voice.

"Awake," Alyx responded. Like I should be surprised that she knew.

Claire had heard her and came over to me. "Darien, you could have said something." She gave me a quick once over then asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine. A little tired maybe," I answered truthfully, as everyone else appeared from around the glass wall.

"I'm not surprised. You were missing almost three days," Claire said as she moved over to one of the cabinets and began to prepare a shot.

"Three days?" I repeated, having no memory of it at all.

"Yup. Just some more torture from the master," Alyx added. "His penchant for being overly dramatic did him in this time. One too many teasing phone calls for me to trace." She moved beside me, not touching, not even smiling. "Sorry it took so long."

"It ended well enough," the Official commented. "At least you managed to control yourself this time." He seemed pleased, but I was going to disappoint him yet again.

"No, I didn't. I was just as out of control as always." I knew now what had happened and understood why she needed my declaration of trust.

"If you didn't control it, Darien, then what..." Claire swabbed my arm and I recognized the liquid in the syringe as the inhibitor.

"Alyx did," I explained as the needle pierced my arm. At least this wasn't the elephant sized one. They all turned to look at her.

"I only helped a little," she mumbled with a shrug.

"Kid, you were off the deep end yourself and you know it," Bobby pointed out.

"You have no idea, Bobby. I just let him borrow a little of my control, got him to rationalize a bit better. I didn't control him. He made his own decisions." She shrugged, as if it were nothing important.

"You acted as his conscience," Eberts stated matter-of-factly.

He had summed it up perfectly. I may have turned into an amoral son of a bitch while mad, but this time I never really stepped over the line. I'd thought about doing lots of things, was tempted to do them, but never actually did. Not this time.

"Are we done for now boss?" Alyx asked the Official. "I'm wiped."

"For now. I want you in here first thing tomorrow," he told her. "Good work."

"Thanks." She was running her hand through her hair as she turned to leave the room. Before walking behind the wall she paused and looked at me. She gave me a smile and left.

"Is she okay?" I asked Claire once I was sure she had left.

"Good question. Wish I had an answer for you," she replied, coming back over to where I sat. I pulled my legs up to sit cross-legged on the table. Three days. That explained why I seemed to run out of time so fast; I had lost two and a half days napping. "So am I safe?"

"Yes, Darien. Get some rest and some food and you'll be just fine," Claire told me.

"Good," the Official commented. "Time to debrief."

I sighed. Duty first, I suppose.

It was evening before I got out of there and by then I was ravenous. Three days of unexpected dieting had not been part of my plan for the week. I got in my car, which I was indeed surprised to find parked in the tiny employee parking lot, and headed home hoping that there would be something resembling edible, somewhere in my kitchen. What I found when I walked in the door surprised me. Dinner was waiting for me and, based on the scent, Alyx was the chef. There was a note on the table with directions for how to reheat the meal, but I must have arrived shortly after she had left, because everything was still warm.

Shaking my head, I checked on the rat noticing that she must have been taking care of him as well. "You know, she's too good for us."

The rat squeaked in agreement. Deciding food was top of the list for things that must be done now, I sat down to enjoy the repast she had left for me in front of the television. Thought I might want to catch up on what the world had been doing while I was out of the loop. Turned out to be more of the usual, so while I left the TV on I tuned it out, thinking about other things. Up until today I never really understood that Alyx felt just as trapped as I did.

I wondered how she was doing. Setting down my plate I picked up my phone and dialed her place. After a half dozen rings her answering machine picked up. I disconnected and tried her cell number instead and got her voice mail. She was obviously not in the mood to talk and I hoped it wasn't just me she was ignoring, but the world in general. Maybe she was worried I was angry that she took me back to the Agency, that could explain the dinner minus her presence, an apology of sorts. Not that it was necessary. Somewhere along the way I had discovered I liked the job, not that I'd tell them that, and although I would still leave if the opportunity arose, I was no longer pushing for it as hard. I could be patient and wait for it to happen.

I cleaned up the meal and took a shower. While the water ran over me, I gave some thought to what Alyx had said. It's not the first time she's offered to take me away from all of this. From what I understand she stole millions from Arnaud and the Agency can't touch a dime of it. Hell, the money she dumped in an account for me nearly got me locked away when the Official found out about it. It had been her way of saying that I could leave if I so wanted, but I had stayed. Instead of allowing her a chance at freedom from all this I helped track her down and bring her back. Which we had pretty much failed at, proving that she was smarter than anyone had suspected. In the end she'd some back on her own, needing to settle a few things here. Well, it also had to been due to the fact they had screwed up with the inhibitors and nearly killed her because of it.

Some days it seemed she was even more of a lab rat than myself.

And earlier today she had gone off her very own deep end. I can blame my madness on an intentional defect in the gland, designed for the purpose of control. Alyx can't. Oh, she had help. Psychologically she has more defective programming than a Windows machine. She has the control though, when she sinks to the baser emotions, when she decides in favor of her Id over her Ego, its all her. Today must have been such a struggle, one that she almost lost. Not only was she keeping me from doing something I know I would regret once returned to sanity, she was doing the same for herself and I think... I think she nearly lost the battle.

When the water started to get cold I got out, dried and dressed. Where would she go after today? I mean, she did just have her husband killed in front of her, even if he did deserve it, it can't have been easy to watch. In the last week she had everything she thought she knew to be true about her marriage to be proven a lie. That's not something you just let pass by. It's something that changes your whole perspective. I doubted she'd go to the park, not with the recent experience with Jess. There was one other place she might go and, seeing that it wasn't quite sunset yet, I thought it worth a try. If she wasn't there I'd head over to her place and wait for her.

I found her sitting just at the water line. The waves washing up over her bare feet as she stared at the setting sun. I watched her from a distance for a few minutes. She was wearing a pair of shorts and a bikini top. A towel and shirt lay on the sand within easy reach. Her hair was still damp from her swim and as she shifted her position I could see the bruises on her back from where Jess had beaten her... oh, four days ago. Above the welts was what looked like the beginnings of an elaborate tattoo over the scar just below her right shoulder blade. Turning slightly she picked up her shirt, pulled it on and rolled up the sleeves to her elbows.

Carrying my sneakers I walked down to her.

"Guess I'm going to have to come up with new places to go hide," she grumbled without turning about. "You keep finding me."

I sat beside her. "Why would you need to hide from me?"

She shook her head.

"C'mon, I had to eat this wonderful dinner, alone. Wasted time on the phone trying to talk to you. Had to come all the way down here to find you. You could at least give me the run around." I watched for a reaction and was pleased to see a least a hint of a smile.

"I nearly did us both in today. I wanted him dead. I wanted to run. I wanted the world to bow down at my feet." She hugged her knees to her chest. "I wanted to be told it was all a dream and any day I'll wake up and things will be the way they were."

I could understand everything she had just said. That's almost exactly how I feel during the madness and after. "But you didn't do any of those things, and you kept me from doing them as well."

"No, I didn't. Like I said I only helped. When push comes to shove, Darien, you will always choose the right way." She turned to me. "Can't seem to say the same for myself."

"If that were true you wouldn't be here now," I observed, shifting closer to her. "There must be a reason you stayed." I gave her a gentle shove with my shoulder and got a smile as a reward.

"A couple." She leaned against me and I brought my arm up around her shoulders.

We sat there quietly watching the sun fall below the horizon. The tide was coming in, but since Alyx seemed disinclined to move, I didn't complain about the seawater soaking my pant legs. I remembered most of the events of today and I had some questions.

"If you don't want to answer I'll understand, but I need to ask; what about your kids? Are you going to be leaving?"

"I'm staying," she stated after a minute or two. "One of my brothers will take care of them, probably Mikey, and the Agency has a couple of agents whose job will be to protect them and nothing else." She sighed. "They're a valuable commodity."

"What do you mean?" They were just kids after all, the oldest maybe16 at a guess. What made them so special?

"It seems I passed my little talents down to my kids. They all qualify for Phase II of the QSX Project. There's going to be a lot of people after them," she explained this with such unconcern that I was worried for her. I held her a bit closer and she reached up to twine her fingers with mine. "I don't understand why they wanted me back now. Within a few years all the kids would be more than old enough, and would have Jess herding them about."

"Maybe something changed that we don't know about. Maybe they' couldn't wait. Hell, maybe they' wanted to eliminate him and saw this as the easiest way to do it." I had no more idea than she did for why all this had come about now. I knew Eberts was working on it, but it was beginning to think this one would defeat even him. Whoever was running this show had covered their tracks well.

"I wish..." she began.

"Go on, you wish?" I leaned in close and breathed in the scent of salt water and her.

"Nothing. Changing things wouldn't make them better." She shifted to rest her head against my chest. I still had one more question for her.

"At the end, what did he say to you?" I regretted asking as she sat up straight and pulled slightly away from me. She looked out over the water and frowned, but not at me.

"He said, You'll never be free again'." She turned back to me. "The worst thing is, I'm afraid he's right."

I knew that feeling. The chances that they,' whoever they were and worked for, would not come after her again were probably zero. She and the Agency were going to have to be very careful from now on. Like her life wasn't scrutinized enough as it was. She would learn to live with it, just as I had. But neither of us had to like it.

"When you leave, what will you do?" she asked, seemingly out of the blue.

The question caught me off guard. It wasn't something I had thought about. I never saw myself as anything but a thief before all this started, and when I did think about it, it never got further than the gland being removed. I had no idea what I would do after. I was pretty sure the Agency would want no part of me. Without the gland I really had no purpose. I wasn't a real agent by any means and didn't really care to be. The only thing that kept it interesting now was the gland, without it... I shrugged.

"I haven't really thought about it."

"Maybe you should," she suggested.

The next wave that came in was strong enough to thoroughly soak us. White shirts get very see through when wet and my mind went from thoughts of after the Agency to the woman sitting next to me. I don't know what she saw when she looked at me, but I found myself lying on my back with her on top and me tasting the sea salt that had been left on her lips from earlier. When she gave me a chance to breathe again I rolled so that I could look down at her. I brushed her hair back from her face and kissed her lightly, teasingly, running my tongue across her throat and up to her ear.

Returning to her lips the kisses became, longer, deeper, leaving her breathless and moaning. It was quite a shock when a wave swept right over us, shocking and cold. Alyx burst into laughter as I jumped to my feet, soaked from head to toe.

"Crap."

She got to her feet more slowly, unconcerned about being soaked to the skin. She smiled slyly at me. "Maybe we should go and get out of these wet clothes?"

I couldn't agree more.

Fin