Author: A. X. Zanier

Series: Requiem Arc

Title: Last Breath

Rating: PG-13

Fandom: The Invisible Man

Pairing: Darien/OFC, Bobby/Claire

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

Timeline: N/A

Comments: #1 in the Requiem Arc.

Music: My Last Breath by Evanessence

Last Breath

"The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for."

Homer (800 BC - 700 BC)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Things'd been getting weird for a while, but they just pushed it aside, ignored it. Said it was just overwork. Stress. The usual crap. I didn't buy it.

The kid suspected it was something else, but even she didn't make him go in to see the Keep, force him to admit to it.

Fawkes had been having headaches for weeks now. Not that he told me, but I could tell. They'd been getting progressively worse, but since he wasn't saying anything about them, she kept her trap shut too. It was another case of them against the Agency, along with a touch of, I suspect, not wanting to admit something was wrong.

Other problems began to manifest. The forgetfulness. The shaking hands. The exhaustion. The lack of appetite. It could all be chalked up to other things, and she covered for him. Helped him as much as she could. So'd I. By ignoring it. At least to their face.

It came to a head when they were sent on a simple snatch. All they had to do was walk in, grab the goods, and get out. Fawkes' headaches had been worse than usual, but he'd been doing okay, feeling better overall. If we had only known.

She was too loyal, as usual. Though it was for all the right reasons.

They came back with the stuff, but it was obvious something had gone wrong. The kid was handling the Quicksilver for the both of them.

She didn't say a word. It took a lot of prodding from me to find out what the hell had gone wrong, and why Fawkes looked so pale and frightened.

All he said was "Get me to the Keep."

I did. And that's when the truth finally came out. Fawkes told Claire everything that had been happening, including that day's problems. We, Claire and I, didn't believe him, so he gave us a demonstration. He Quicksilvered - sort of. The stuff covered him, but instead of making him go see-through, it simply darkened slightly, turning the color of tarnished silver. Thank god, it wasn't like when he caught that flu, but I sure as hell didn't know was going on. And Claire... Claire was just confused, and ordered Fawkes to submit to a series of tests, which he did without a single word of protest. Guess that should have warned me.

The whole time the kid just sat there quietly, almost as if she'd known what was going on and was just waiting for us to learn for ourselves. Like we wouldn't have believed her if she'd told us what she suspected.

She's right, we wouldn't have.

By the time all the tests were complete, but with no real results yet, no explanations, no understanding, we were all exhausted, and I volunteered to get us some food. Claire didn't want Fawkes to leave until she knew exactly what the problem was and, hopefully, had a solution.

When I left, the kid and Fawkes were sitting on the exam chair, his arms draped about her as she leaned back against him, talking quietly. I now think I should have stayed, been there for all of them when the initial news came in, because I know something happened, though I never found out exactly what. When I returned Fawkes had, to all appearances fallen asleep. He was lying curled on his side on the chair while the kid was perched on the edge, running her fingers slowly through his hair.

I could tell the news was bad, but, looking at the kid, it seemed to be no more than a confirmation instead of an actual surprise. Claire had to show me the results and explain it three times before I believed it myself. I can't tell you the technical details, but it boiled down to this: mutation. The Quicksilver and the gland, which was at least partially organic in nature, had mutated. The reason it wasn't making things invisible was because it wasn't refracting the light at the correct wavelength, focusing it inward instead of around him, which is why it changed color. The light went in, but never came back out. According to Fawkes, it was not a very pleasant experience, 'specially not out in direct sunlight. Heat would build-up inside the Quicksilver, cooking him like a potato wrapped in tinfoil.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

As the gland mutated, it had spread, tiny tendrils invading and imbedding themselves into other parts of Fawkes' brain and body, which is why he'd been throwing off all those hinky symptoms. You know, the ones we'd been ignoring. I got angry then, because I was positive the kid had known what was going on long before I did. I was working myself up to verbally ripping her a new one for such blatant stupidity, but Claire stopped me. Insisting that even if she had discovered the problem when it first began there was nothing she could have done. Once the mutation had occurred there was nothing anybody could do. It had even gone so far that Fawkes didn't even need the counteragent any more. He was free from the side effect, but it was killing him.

I asked if she could remove the gland, if that could help, and she shook her head. She was six to eight months away from a viable solution and - this shocked the hell out of me - the kid's research lab was a least three away from a solution. They'd had some success with rats, but not enough to make an attempt even vaguely worthwhile.

I looked over at the two of them and I felt helpless. They'd managed to find some small amount of happiness in this weird situation that was their lives, only to have it ripped out from under them by a whim of nature.

Claire gathered up the various files and headed upstairs to report the problem to the Official. I wasn't sure what to do. Fawkes was my partner, my friend, but I didn't want to intrude on what might be their last moments together. I didn't even have the guts to ask Claire how long Fawkes had left, but I suspected it wasn't anywhere near enough time.

The kid didn't let me waffle for long. With a light laugh, she called me over. Fawkes was awake and hungry, or so he claimed, and while Claire was passing on the news to the boss, the three of us pretended to eat the food I had brought, and talked. It didn't take me long to realize the news was grim. So I asked. Fawkes fumbled for a couple and then told me the unvarnished truth, and it was worse than I had imagined. He had a week, tops.

The Official burst in then, trailed by Eberts and Claire, who was trying to calm him down, without success. Claire was explaining at a near-shout that even if she harvested the gland it wouldn't matter, it had mutated as well. Whatever was recovered would be useless, at least as far as Quicksilver and invisibility were concerned, but the fat bastard ignored her.

Fawkes pushed himself to his feet and looked at the man that, some days, he still blamed for what his life had become and said two words.

"We quit."

He didn't even look back to the kid, she simply stood and followed him out of the lab, while the Official blustered and shouted. When he made the comment that the gland belonged to the Agency, the kid paused and turned to face him.

"You can have it when he's done with it and not before."

Then they left, leaving the Official standing there stunned. It was almost as if he hadn't believed it was true until that moment.

***

The kid called me a couple of days later and invited me over, in fact, asked point blank why I hadn't been by to see Darien. In truth, I figured when they quit they'd quit all of us. Boy, was I wrong.

When I showed up at the kid's place, Claire was already there and it looked like she had been for a while. They had cleared a space on the living room floor and were building one of those 3-D puzzles, a huge honking castle that would stand about three feet high when complete. When I came in the kid gave me a quick kiss on the cheek that surprised me. She looked relaxed and... not happy, but at peace. Claire was the one who looked sad, as if she was trying to fight the urge to cry.

I asked her how it was going and she just shook her head. Turned out they were doing the puzzle on the floor because Fawkes couldn't stand for very long any more. He was having severe dizzy spells every time he was upright and could no longer walk without help. The mutated gland was basically eating away his control functions and generally screwing with his entire system. He wasn't in much pain, but I suspected that was the kid's doing. I'd had her do the trick to me a couple of times; she would simply numb the receptors sending the pain signals. I didn't really understand it, but it worked. The trouble was, it was only a short term effect and had to be redone as the pain returned. It wasn't hard to figure out why the kid stayed so close to him. She musta been almost continuously restoring the pain blocks just so he could function.

It hurt. Fawkes looked like himself, if you ignored the unhealthy dose of pale under the tan or the obvious loss of weight that there was no way to hide on his already too-skinny frame. He even sounded like himself for the most part; the effect had yet to destroy that smart mouth of his, but you could see it in his eyes that he was going and that he knew it.

This was why I had stayed away. I didn't want to watch him die, but, by staying away, I was removing what little comfort and compassion I could give him. This would have been easier if we had stayed only partners and had never become friends. Too late for that. And now... now that I was here, could see him doing everything in his power to face this with a courage few would have expected, I wanted to be with him for whatever time he had left. He needed me to be there, I realized. Needed Claire to be there, needed the kid to be there. So we stayed.

When we weren't at work, we were at the kid's place. In two days, he couldn't get out of bed any more. Two more and he couldn't sit up without support and couldn't even eat. It was a horrible thing to watch. Whatever else the stuff was doing to him, it stopped affecting his memory, those early lapses, those warnings we ignored, had faded, leaving him fully aware of everything that was happening to him. It never touched that intelligence of his, which was both a blessing and a curse, to my way of thinking. Right up to the end, he was still a smartass. Still could give as good as he got. Could still smile at some stupid-ass thing that had happened to me that day.

The two of them amazed me. You always hear about people handling situations like this with dignity and aplomb. This was the first time I'd ever seen it. The kid always had a smile for us or for Fawkes. Especially for Fawkes. She didn't baby him or treat him any differently and it took until that last day for me to figure out why.

***

Claire called me in the middle of the night and told me to get over to the kid's place. She'd been spending most of her time there, not wanting to leave the two of them alone even though it pissed the Official off to no end. She was concerned the kid might do something foolish if left alone when... when the end finally came.

When I arrived, Fawkes was sitting propped up on a pile of pillows on the kid's huge bed with her sitting next to him and holding his hand. He was pale, his brown eyes looking far brighter than they should. He knew the end was coming.

"Hey Bobby," he said to me. "Thanks for stopping by."

"No problem. Bobby Hobbes doesn't bail on his partner, no matter what," I replied, meaning every word.

Fawkes laughed.

Even with the kid sitting there, we talked as if we were alone. About old times, about things we'd done, things we'd planned to do. Things... we should have done. As we talked, his voice got softer and softer, but never faltered.

I always knew he was stronger than even he suspected.

"Bobby," he said suddenly. "I'm glad we met. You were the first true friend I ever had."

"Same here Faw... Darien. Same here." We did that low five thing we'd been doing forever, it seems, and then he turned to the kid.

"I'm tired. I'm gonna rest for a while, 'kay?"

"For as long as you want, Dare."

He shifted a bit, getting comfortable amongst the pillows and closed his eyes with a sigh.

Claire was suddenly standing behind me and laid a hand on my shoulder. When I turned to look at her, I knew what was coming. The kid had moved to lay with her head on Fawkes' chest, a look of calm acceptance on her face.

In minutes, it was over.

***

Claire and me just stayed frozen in place for an eternity, as if we were afraid to disturb the pitiful tableau in front of us. The kid had closed her eyes, as if it would allow her one more moment with him, to trick herself in to believing the warm, but empty shell she clung to still held the man she loved. Hell, had to admit it wasn't that bad a fantasy, and who was I to take it away from her, least not right then. She had more than earned the right to a few minutes of denial.

Something, I've no idea what, but I knew something more was going on here and it set the hairs on the back of my neck to standing. Claire musta sensed it as well, for her grip on my shoulder suddenly tightened. What came to mind wasn't anything I would ever had considered, least not where the kid was concerned, but looking at her now, reviewing how she'd been acting the last few days I realized it was more than just some crazy idea, but a serious possibility. Claire'd mentioned it being a risk, and having just lost my partner... hell, my brother, there was no way I'd lose the kid too.

"Kid," I managed, my voice cracking on the short monosyllable and already fearing I was too late.

I was outrageously relieved when a single tear trailed down her cheek and her eyes opened.

"Don't worry, Bobby. I don't break a promise."

***

You'd think my story would be over as well, but it's not. The next week was crazy. Under orders from the Official, Claire attempted to harvest the gland, only to find nothing of value left. It wasn't much more than a jellied mess that could never be used for cloning new glands even if there'd been any viable material left. The mutation had changed it so drastically that it had little or no resemblance to Kevin Fawkes' original design. What she never told the boss and only told me years later, was that the kid had destroyed the gland after Fawkes no longer needed it.

She didn't want to see anyone else go through what he had.

Neither did I.

The Official then had the audacity to try and talk her into coming back to work for the Agency. She told him no.

He threatened to take away the protection he'd been providing for her kids.

She told him she didn't want it any longer. That she would protect them herself.

She stormed out, but not before destroying every piece of gland information, both hard and soft copy. She made sure there was nothing left. Vindictive? Maybe, but given the fact the boss man already had plans in place to create new glands and implant them into volunteers, it was justified in her eyes.

She stayed in town long enough to see Fawkes buried next to his brother and then vanished; leaving almost everything she had in San Diego behind. As if she no longer wanted to be a part of what she'd built there. As if she wanted to forget all of it. Erase it from her past as if it - we - had never existed.

Claire quit a week later. With the loss of all the gland information, there was no reason for her to stay. She hadn't any real interest in starting over from scratch, the Quicksilver Gland had always been Kevin's dream, not hers. Plus, she was more than smart enough to get a high-paying job anywhere she wanted.

Neither of them even called to say goodbye, and that hurt almost as bad as losing Fawkes.

The only reason I went back to work for the Agency was 'cause of Fawkes. Like the kid, I don't break promises, and the mook had insisted that I stay, claiming that one'a us had to stick around to keep up the good fight. 'Last bastion for light' or some such crap. I don't think he had any idea that the kid was gonna bail for parts unknown or that Claire was gonna up an' vanish.

'Sides, what else was I gonna do? The spy biz was all I knew and the Agency was the only place that'd put up with me and my quirks. To my way a'thinkin' I didn't have any real options, so I stayed.

Yeah, I gotta admit I considered taking the easy way out, both before and after Fawkes died, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Like I was waiting for some sign from above - or below, I wasn't gonna be too picky at this point - to clue me in as to what I should do next.

So I worked, but it was without any enthusiasm. I did my job, collected my paycheck, and not much else. When you've worked with the best, maybe not agents, but friends, there was no place to go but down, after. And, in truth, it just wasn't any fun without the three of them around.

After about a month the boss decided that he wanted the kid back or, if not her, her kids, and he sent me to get them. I agreed to do it, but reluctantly. She'd left, right? Didn't want a damn thing to do with the Agency or me, right? Then why was it I found myself wanting to go after her? Oh, not to bring her back - doubt I could do that without a small army equipped with more firepower than it'd taken to overrun the Falklands - but to just see her. To have her tell me herself that she wanted me outta her life, face to face instead of popping pills 'cause I'd spent another sleepless night wonderin' why.

I guess I'd found that sign.

***

She had moved out of the house in Newport, the grass was in need of cutting, the hedges trimming, and the pool was full of leaves. The For Sale sign planted near the end of the long gated driveway looked as forlorn as I felt. For all that I was essentially there to drag her back kicking and screaming to San Diego, I had been looking forward to seeing her. I missed her that bad.

It took some time to track down where she'd run to, but we eventually found her in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, her entire family living in this huge house on a lake in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town of any size was 50 miles away. There was a small collection of houses and businesses at the opposite end of the lake from her, but it was so tiny it didn't even show up on a map. The place had the ironically perfect name of Lost Valley. The kid had inherited the place from her grandparents, years back, but had never mentioned it to any of us. Kinda made sense, since it gave her a place to disappear to, if she was ever in need of it. Fawkes' death and her break from the Agency was more than enough reason.

When we pulled up in front of her house, climbing out of the cars looking like a bunch of crows descending on juicy treat left on the roadside, we found her sitting calmly on the porch steps, waiting for us. Somehow, I knew she wasn't alone. I'd also been made aware that several of her kids had come into their initial abilities and had been trained by her brother, but until right then I'd never really thought about what that would mean. Falklands? This could very well be reenactment of the allies taking the beach at Normandy. Me and my team of eight were in way over our heads.

All the kid did was stand up and say, "Bobby, let's talk."

Those three words changed my life.

***

I've been living in this house the kid had built for me for a lotta years now. Claire has shared it with me for quite a few of them, happily at that. That day, me and the kid talked, and she made me an offer. She invited me to come stay with her and her family, which included Claire. Turns out the kid had made a similar offer to Claire that she would have been a fool not to take, and, with nothing to hold her at the Agency, she'd accepted. Not that either of us were living off the kid. She hired us. Claire to reconstruct the QSX research and me... me, to make sure her family stayed safe. By the time I had shown up, there had already been attempts by three other agencies to kidnap her and her kids, which is why she'd abandoned her home in Rhode Island.

Just like with the Keep, it was an offer I couldn't... didn't want to refuse.

It's been a wonderful experience. We've all become family. An odd one, I'll be the first to admit, but family. I wish Fawkes could have been here for it. The kid does too, but she never really lets it show. She has her memories, which are so much more than mine. When she remembers him, she can see, hear, and feel everything. I don't think I could handle that. It would hurt too much.

The kid... Michele is a lot more than I ever thought she was. It's taken me a long time to see what Darien saw in her, and today I can honestly say I like her, who she is. She's one of the most amazing people I've ever met.

It's my turn to cook dinner for this madhouse, but there's one more thing I want to mention. From the day Fawkes died to this, some 15 years later, I have never seen her actively use any of her abilities and she says she never will. Says she gave them all to him when he went. I have no reason to doubt her.

We all still miss him.

~~~~~~~~~

i'll miss the winter

a world of fragile things

look for me in the white forest hiding in a hollow tree

(come find me)

i know you hear me

i can taste it in your tears

Finis