Author: A. X. Zanier

Series: Requiem Arc

Title: Heaven Laughs

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: #4 in the Requiem Arc.

Music: Heaven Laughs by The Hooters

Heaven Laughs

"Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter." -- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

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

It's weird, I can see when it started, when the first signs began to show up, even though neither of us knew it at the time. As usual with my life, it began so innocently. If anything about my life could be looked upon as innocent these days. It was no great event, no sign from above, no mile high words written in the sky to tell me 'Hey, you bozo, something's wrong.' No, I simply woke up in my bed, in my dark apartment to find Alyx sitting up next to me, her fingers hovering millimeters from my temple with this look on her face. Not worry, not fear, not anything I'd ever seen before, and it kinda freaked me out.

"You okay?" Can you say irony? Me asking her if she was okay.

"Was gonna ask you the same thing, bub," she responded, still not seemingly able to touch me.

I shifted my head so that her fingers brushed along my cheek, that eerie echo of something still reverberating in the air, but I answered with what I thought was the truth. "I'm fine," I assured her, shifting closer to bury my face against her stomach and making her chuckle warmly. I loved to hear her laugh, loved being able to make her laugh, hell, loved her more than I ever believed possible. Seriously, who'd've thought I, a jaded, cynical, ex-con could drop my guard long enough to let someone in to steal my heart. Yeah, so maybe Hobbes had put a chink or two in my armor, but still... After Casey I'd promised myself I'd never let myself go that far, wouldn't let 'em in and risk having my innards ripped to shreds again.

Such bullshit. Once trapped at the Agency I latched on to anyone willing to put up with me, like a lamprey to a shark, knowing all the while that at any second the shark could decide he - or she, let's not kid ourselves here - was hungry and that I was the sushi du jour. And while there were a few nibbles in the beginning, the damage healed and I found... first compatriots and then friends in the unlikeliest of persons - Claire and Bobby.

It wasn't until Alyx had shown up, thrust upon us unwillingly, that I realized how vulnerable I'd allowed myself to become. The street-wise punk that eschewed every attachment had found himself not only willing, but wanting to take chances with his heart again, only to have most avenues of normal human contact cut off due to the gland and that whole 'top secret' thing. I was ripe for a fall and hit the ground headfirst. Luckily, my head is the hardest portion of my anatomy.

I ignored her giggled protests, and pulled her down until we were finally laying with her curled about me, her fingers wandering lightly through my hair. I felt the sudden need to be held by her and she sighed deeply as she wrapped her arms about me. When I drifted off to sleep it was with the firm belief that everything was all right and our sudden waking no more than a mutual mental hiccup.

***

'Christ on a crutch,' I thought slowly, my brain running at about half-speed, 'anyone see the frat party that hit me?' Oh, you can blame that colorful idiom on the east coast redhead I've been spending more than a few of my off-time hours with. Our collection of pet phrases overlapping and abused regularly by anyone within easy hearing distance. Listening to a Brit say 'wicked kewl' is just one of the stranger events in recent months.

I cracked my eyes open to the sight of Alyx - the redhead, not the Brit - hovering over me with a look of complete and total shock on her face. I tried to speak, but found myself unable to do more than shift my jaw slightly. For one incredibly long moment, I feared I'd had a stroke or been shot or something. My head ached in new and interesting ways that sent my heart racing.

"Easy there, bub," she said softly, her words oddly muffled, as if my ears had been stuffed with cotton. "Don't try to move just yet."

I wasn't about to argue, though it was more do to the ice pick being plunged into the left side of my head than her request. She gave me the once over, including a glance at the snake tattoo, which only had three red. Hell, I coulda told her it wasn't the gland, the pain was all wrong for it to be the cause of all this trouble. "Waaa.... Whu.... Wha' hap'n?" I struggled to get out, my tongue not cooperating at the moment. I figured I musta gotten jumped by a friend of the bozo we'd been following around most of the day and clocked a good one 'cross the back of my thick skull, however impossible that scenario could be with Alyx right next to me the entire time.

She helped me to sit up, the pain easing as I reached vertical. "I was hoping you could tell me. One sec you were conscious and then you were in nappy-land."

I reviewed what I'd been doing, which had been nothing more than tailing a little weasel of a perp who was supposed to be leading us to the big bad the Official really wanted us to nab. Apparently, the reward money would keep the Agency afloat a few more weeks. Alyx and I had been posing as a couple - yeah, a real stretch there - casually strolling through the park. One moment I'd been bitching to Hobbes that the guy was leading us in circles and the next... my ass was getting real friendly with the damp grass. "C...c...crap," I stuttered. That was when Hobbes decided it would be a good time to yell in my ear. Just my luck that the headset hadn't fallen off.

"Fawkes, what are you frickin' doing? The mook is gonna get away while you two are getting in some afternoon delight on the clock. Move it!"

Alyx rolled her eyes. "Bobby, don't get your knickers in a twist. We..."

I shook my head, not wanting her to tell Hobbes that I'd had a temporary and unexpected bout of unconsciousness. My partner would be sure to tell the Keep, who would then insist on tests, and since I'd just endured my annual a few weeks ago, I wanted no part of playing lab rat again so soon.

"I had to make a pit stop," she said, amending her response. "I got the guy tagged, he ain't left the park yet."

Hobbes grumbled for a few seconds about women and their infinitesimally small bladders, surprising me with the use of the 100 dollar word, then barked, "Quit the dilly-dallying then. We still got a job to do."

"Sir, yes, sir," she mocked even as she helped me to my feet.

For an instant, the ground seemed to stretch away from me with an interesting and stomach-lurching twist to the right and then everything snapped back to normal, the headache nothing but a memory. "Shit," I mumbled, hoping Hobbes wouldn't pick it up. Her arm wrapped firmly about my waist, we got moving in the direction the weasel had last been heading.

"D, you sure you're okay? Maybe you should talk to Claire..."

"Nah, I'm fine." I insisted, still blindly believing that there couldn't be anything wrong. It would've shown up on all those tests the good Keeper put me through. That was her job, after all, to keep me healthy and sane, right? "Let's go catch ourselves a bad guy before Hobbes decides to string us up like a piƱata and thwap us with a stick."

That drew a soft laugh from her and we returned to our lazy strolling.

***

"Just put 'em on the coffee table. I'll be there in a minute."

I looked down at my hands to find a bottle of wine in one and a pair fluted glasses, which I held by the crossed stems, in the other. I lifted my head and didn't recognize the room I stood in, nothing familiar anywhere about me. "Casey?" I called out, wondering if this was her place or mine, not that I could recall either of us moving recently.

"Casey?" A voice that did not belong the blonde doctor that I was currently dating questioned. A tiny redhead suddenly appeared before me, nearly startling me into dropping the glassware I carried. Since when did I go for jailbait? If she were of the age of consent, it would be a miracle, never mind being old enough to drink. "Darien, are you all right?"

"I... You're not Casey," I observed, as if stating the obvious would help in some way. She removed the items that I could no longer feel from my hands before I could allow them to slip to the floor and shatter. I was becoming more and more bewildered by the moment. "Who are you?"

Before answering, she set the bottle and glasses down on a nearby table. "A friend," she assured me as she returned to my side. She reached up and set a hand against my face, fingertips resting on my temple. "Where are you, bub?" she muttered as she looked up at me with eyes that were a gorgeous and completely unexpected shade of, all things, silver. Eyes that I knew, though I could guarantee I'd never seen the woman before in my life.

There was this sudden snap, only inside my head, that sent the world spinning about me for an instant. This caused me to lose my balance and induced a headache of monster proportions. My hand made a beeline for my forehead even as my knees buckled.

"Whoa, easy there." She got a firm grip on my shoulders and helped me down to the floor, the room dipping and spinning in a dizzying manner. "Talk to me, Darien."

I wanted to, but I wasn't sure if I knew how to speak, who I was, who she was, where the hell I was... "Ummm," I managed in what I thought was an intelligent manner.

"I'm calling the Keep."

"No!" I shouted, knowing the last thing I wanted was for Claire to learn about this. Whatever this was. Claire. Hobbes. Eberts. The Official. Suddenly, I was assailed with a thousand images, coming faster than any overly dramatic movie trailer that I'd seen, and lacking the mandatory crescendo of music. The pain went from sharp and needle-like to dull and distant, like I'd been given a hefty dose of Demerol. "Alyx," I whispered, wondering how I could ever have forgotten, "don't call Claire. I'm fine."

"Darien, you had no idea who I was," Alyx argued. "You called me Casey, for heaven's sake. This is not a sign of things being fine."

Okay, so she had a point, it just wasn't one I wanted to hear right now. "Alyx..."

"What happened? Or should I be asking where were you?" She settled down on the floor next to me, the concern in those eyes a damn near physical force.

"I have no frickin' idea," I told her. "It was like I suddenly woke up, standing there in the middle of the room and had no idea how I'd gotten there or anything." I rubbed the back of my neck in consternation. It was as if I had two different memory tracks stuck in my head. One where I remembered the whole day, boring as it had been, right up to Alyx handing me the wine and then... Then it was like the space/time continuum had taken a left turn onto a mobius strip and then stopped to ask for directions. For a couple minutes there, the last few years had vanished, wiped clean, like a blackboard at the end of a school day. "I heard a female voice and just assumed it was you, uhhh... Casey," I explained, prepared to duck if she swung at me. Mistaking your current girlfriend for your ex was usually frowned upon in a relationship.

"I don't like this, D, you've been pulling weird shit for a couple of weeks now. I really think you need to tell Claire."

She didn't plead, didn't demand, just voiced her opinion on the matter, and I have to admit that she almost swayed me, but my stubborn, tired of being a lab rat, streak reared its ugly head. "Don't wanna," I whined. "C'mon, you know what goes on in my head better'n she does. You see anything wrong?"

One eyebrow arched upwards upon her brow. "No," she admitted with obvious reluctance, proving she had been poking about in my head. "But then, I can only see so much."

"You see more than any three other people combined, babe." I grabbed a stray curl of her hair and tugged on it. "I'm just tired. Too much work and not enough play."

She allowed herself to buy this, letting me win this one without any more argument. I knew because the worry never left her eyes. "'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'."

"Exactly, and I'm thinkin' it's time for some play."

***

The next couple of weeks just got weirder, even by my standards, which were quite liberal by this point. The headaches became a constant companion; the blackouts and interesting twists of memory would make random appearances. I'd spend hours with my hands shaking uncontrollably and blame it on too much caffeine. Alyx did everything she could to help, never again suggesting that we talk to Claire about it. She knew I'd just bitch and moan until she gave in and did things my way. Least that's what I thought at first. Somewhere along the way, the worry in her eyes changed, and it wasn't to fear or pity or irritation at my continued idiocy on the matter, but this look of knowing. Like she knew what was happening to me and that going to Claire wouldn't make a lick'a difference.

Me... I just kept up the lines of bullshit and even managed to convince myself that the lies were true, conning myself into thinking that there was nothing wrong that a few years of vacation couldn't cure. Even pulled the wool over Hobbes' eyes; had him believing every word, even when he gave me the look. You know the one, stares me right in the eyes watching for the slightest twitch, the tiniest hint of falsehood. But he never caught me out, 'cause as far as I was concerned I was just fine. He kept one hell of a weather eye on me though, and Alyx knew it and covered, telling lies smoother than a newborn baby's bottom. Damn, when did she get so good?

She was doing a pain block on me at least once a day, on top of the aspirin I was swallowing down by the handful, which of course had the nasty side-effect of making anything I ate feel like boiling oil poured into my stomach and causing me to lose weight that I couldn't really afford. Thankfully, she was no longer needing to keep me from passing out every time some schmuck stuck a needle into the voodoo doll of me they were carrying around and taking all their pent up aggression out on. Hell, except for the headaches, I was doing pretty good, just needed to catch up on my sleep, eat a real meal or three and I'd be right as rain.

I was counting on a long weekend after this sneak and snatch, as the boss man seemed to think this file we were after was the Holy Grail itself. That had to be worth an extra day to sleep in, right?

Alyx and I planned to get as close as possible to the building without going invisible. The first law of thermodynamics, the Conservation of energy, might rule the rest of the universe, but mine was all about the first law of the gland, the conservation of Quicksilver. And I had damn well become an expert in that over the last few years.

We reached our go/no-go point - see, I'd even learned some'a the lingo - and Hobbes gave us the go-ahead, saying everything looked clear from where he was sitting, which was, of course, a quarter mile away all snug, secure and outta sight in the van. It was our asses on the front line as usual. But, hey, that's what we got paid the big bucks for. With a nod to Alyx, I went into my routine, nice deep breath, relaxing in just the right way and let the Quicksilver flow. There was this odd tingling sensation in the back of my skull and the feel of it oozing across my skin was different, but it wasn't like it hurt or nothing.

Then it suddenly got way too bright, like someone was aiming a half dozen high powered spotlights right at me. Reminded of some of my early, and less successful, days as a thief, though back then it had been police flashlights tagging me. I swore softly and closed my eyes at the sharp pain lancing into my head.

It was Alyx's gasped "What the hell?" that made me realize something was seriously wrong.

I tried to open my eyes, but found myself just as blind as before. "Alyx..."

"Shhh," she hissed at me. *Drop the Quicksilver,* she told me, fear lacing her thoughts.

*I can't see,* I explained, realizing I was also getting quite warm, which shouldn't have been possible while invisible. The stuff was a thermal insulator, not a thermal generator for cripes sake.

*D, drop the Quicksilver,* she repeated, her voice firm. I didn't argue and did as she asked me. There were two immediate reactions: first, I was lots cooler, the late summer breeze a blessed relief and second, I felt sick as a dog and doubled over panting and trying not to toss my proverbial cookies all over the ground.

"What the hell is happening to me?" I grumbled at an undertone.

I thought I heard her say, "I wish I knew," but the blood pounding in my ears drowned out her words as the world became more than a little fuzzy, graying out with lovely flashes and sparks in my peripheral vision as I did my best to faint. I dunno how, but I stayed conscious, even if the next few minutes were more'n a bit blurry in the instant replay department, Alyx's cool hands resting on the back of my neck giving me a connection to the here and now.

"D, try to Quicksilver your hand. Just your hand."

I didn't quite feel up to talking, still hunched over and swallowing hard to keep the contents of my stomach where they belonged. The instant I triggered the gland I knew something was wrong, that irritating tingle was back and my guts tried to tie themselves into square knots. My arm turned silver from the elbow down just like always, but instead of fading into the background like it was supposed to it turned dark, almost black and it got damn warm on the inside of the Quicksilver glove I was wearing.

"That's not right," I stated in confusion, looking at my arm as if it belonged to someone else.

"No shit, Sherlock," Alyx snarked, taking me aback with her harsh reaction, but then I looked at her and saw the fear in her eyes.

I shed the Quicksilver and slowly straightened, my insides still all twisted up and screaming their unhappiness with the situation. "Do me."

"What?" She was staring at me in shock. "You gotta be kidding me, Dare, you just..."

"Have a job to finish. Right?" I don't know how I did it, or why, but part me knew I just had to do this. Maybe it was some of who she was rubbing of on me. You don't leave a job half done no matter how uncomfortable, or dangerous or asinine it was. And I think, maybe, I still wasn't ready to admit anything was wrong. Convinced that, maybe, the funky Quicksilver was a fluke that would never happen again. "Right?"

She closed her eyes for a moment, swallowing hard. "Right," she agreed as she reached out to set a hand on my arm, her Quicksilver flowing to cover us both.

As we headed for the target, I quoted, *"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more..."* and received a gentle elbow in my side as admonishment and leaving me wondering what she knew that I didn't.

***

Tests. I frickin' hate tests, but even I couldn't argue their necessity any longer. I've been pricked and poked and prodded and scanned and a dozen other things I can't put a name to so many times in the last few years that, now and then, the thought of just one more blood draw is enough to send me off the deep end without the need of the special edition gland in my head. I never thought there'd be a day I'd willingly submit to a detailed battery of tests such as those I'd just gone through. While not quite as thorough as the annual exam I'd had - was it only two months ago? - it was a damn close facsimile.

Least they were over with, which only left the really difficult part - the waiting.

Me and Alyx managed to complete the mission, but by the end I was shaking with fear. Somewhere along the way, the reality had sunk in and no amount of bluffing or blustering would change the truth of the situation. Something was way wrong with me, the gland, both... I didn't know, but it was time to find out. It wasn't 'til we got back to the Keep, Claire looking bewildered at our appearance and Hobbes looking mightily cheesed off at my continued silence that I spilled my guts and told 'em everything that had been going on. Alyx filled in some tidbits here and there, 'specially spots where I had a complete blank on the mental video tape, but for the most part she just sat there in silence, that look back in her eyes. I don't know what freaked me more, the look or Hobbes and Claire's shock and horror when they realized I was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It was Claire who suggested we needed to eat and since we'd been here all night long, no one disagreed even though I'm betting no one was really all that hungry. Hobbes, Boy Scout that he is, volunteered to go, saying there had to be someplace other Starbucks open at this hour. Knowing Hobbes, he'd be back with bagels and lox from the nearest deli, convinced that some quality Jewish cooking could cure all my ills, or at least not make 'em any worse. He was definitely a firm believer in 'comfort food' as a placebo.

So when the news came down, Hobbes wasn't there, and I think that might've been a good thing considering what happened. Claire had gone off to see if the results for any of the tests were in and when she returned it was in perfect cool and controlled doctor mode. Docs should think about changing that style, it just shouts "bad news" to the victim... uh, patient.

I took one look at her and felt my heart drop to my feet. "Oh crap," I whispered hoarsely, somehow knowing that bad would probably be a step up. She went straight into the blame game.

"Darien," her voice cracking on my name, "I don't know how I could have missed this."

I went numb. I mean, part of me was expecting the worst, but actually hearing it is one'a those things you ain't ever prepared for. "Missed what, Keep?" I managed to get out past a mouth gone bone dry.

Instead of answering, she turned away, making a bee-line for the light box on the wall. She shoved two x-ray films up. "It'll be easier if I show you." She flipped the switch, backlighting the images. She was right; those pictures were all I needed to see to know I was a dead man walking.

The one on the left was, I assumed, from the recent annual exam and looked just like every other x-ray of my skull since the gland had been implanted. A golf-ball sized mass of tissue that most docs would mistake as a tumor buried in my brain, but the one on the right... it looked like some weird multi-legged sea-creature had taken up residence in my skull. The mass was less than half its original size and there were arms reaching out every which way, almost at random. There was no direction that the tendrils didn't stretch out in, including down, wending its lazy way into my spinal column from the looks of things. I had to wonder why I was still alive.

Good thing I was sitting down, 'cause there was no way in hell my legs woulda supported me just then. What's that phrase? Knock me over with a feather? Well, you coulda knocked me over with far less. Alyx noticed first and rushed from where she'd been staring at the x-rays to my side.

"Breathe, D, passing out won't do you any good right now."

I couldn't help myself and burst out in hysterical laughter. "Not like it'll hurt any either," I pointed out around the guffaws.

Claire tired to soothe me, which was so the wrong tack to take. "Darien, I understand this is a bit of a shock..."

"'A bit of a shock'," I mimicked, accent and all, cutting off her attempt to placate me. "Damn straight it's a shock. Everything was fine. You said so, Keeper. 'Healthy as a horse,' I believe were your exact words," I snarled, anger getting the better of me and I stalked over to her. "And now I'm not even good enough for the glue factory."

I backed Claire up against the coolers, tears pooling in her eyes, but at that moment I didn't care, wanted to inflict as much pain as possible on anyone near me, but Alyx stopped me before I could do anything excessively stupid.

"Darien, it's not her fault."

I whipped around to glare at Alyx, who was picking up the file Claire had dropped when I went after her. "A'course not. It's not anyone's fault, right? Just one'a those things that happen, right?" I stormed over to her. "Wanna tell me why these things keep happening to my sorry ass?"

"Luck?" she retorted, without a trace of humor in her voice as she stood to meet me glare for glare. "Fate? Destiny? Karma? And I hate to point out the obvious, but it ain't only your ass dealing with this shit. You forgotten my life the last year or so, bub?" A single finger poked me dead center in the chest and all the anger suddenly drained out of me, like a balloon with a leak. The room swung about me and if it weren't for her, I'm pretty sure I'd've gotten to experience, first hand, the joy of smashing my face into the concrete floor of the Keep. "Crap," she muttered, dropping the file in favor of supporting me.

Claire was there a second later and the two of them maneuvered me back to the exam chair, which was, suddenly and blessedly, horizontal.

"Darien, I can give you something... to help you relax if... if you like." Claire's offer, while appreciated, wasn't wanted. I only had so much time left and didn't really want to spend it numb thanks to quality pharmaceuticals. She was only trying to help. I knew that much.

I curled up on my side, unable to respond. Alyx did for me. "No, Claire. Not right now, anyway. Just give him a few to process the news." She had gone back to picking up the file, her voice strained.

"Darien?" Claire questioned, wanting to hear the answer from me, I guess.

"What she said. I... how long, Keep?" I didn't want to hear the answer, but I had to ask, y'know? I didn't want any more surprises.

She sighed heavily. "Darien, that's not important right now."

"Not important?" I hissed, the anger flaring back to life momentarily. "I'd say it's the most important thing in the world about now."

She closed her eyes for a long moment then straightened her shoulders and looked me in the eye. "Four, five days. Unless..." She turned to Alyx. "You've been helping him all this time, I'm betting. Can you...?" She left the sentence hanging.

"I can't cure him, if that's what you're asking. At best I can give him a few more days," she explained, looking as dour as I felt.

"You knew what was wrong with me?"

She shook her head and moved to my side, handing the file to Claire. "No, I swear it." Her hand came to rest on my cheek; her eyes getting that far away look in 'em that told me she was doing something, probably in my head. "Even now the gland registers as fine, healthy to my senses. You feel ill, but the gland doesn't." She swung back into focus and looked over to Claire. "It makes no sense."

Claire disagreed. "Actually, it does. The gland has undergone what appears to be a natural mutation. It was never sick or injured so there was nothing for you to pick up as wrong. Yes, there were symptoms, but since they weren't typical of what the gland does..." She trailed off, knowing she didn't need to spell it out for us.

"But you knew," I insisted, reaching out to grasp Alyx's hand. "I saw it in your eyes. You knew... something."

She sat down on the edge of the chair, hand shifting from my cheek to my hair, playing with it. "I... I can't explain it. But you're right, I knew."

I closed my eyes, hoping to fall asleep so that I could wake up and have this all be a bad dream. But it was more real than anything else I had ever dealt with in my life. Even being sentenced to life in prison without parole hadn't struck such a harsh blow. The echo of heartache from the woman sitting beside me was more than enough to make me aware that there'd be no waking up from this.

***

It was full dark out when we arrived at Alyx's place. My choice. I didn't want to spend my last days in my tiny studio apartment like some desperate soul just one step above living on the streets. I wanted light and comfort and familiarity and, though I knew it was selfish of me, I wanted her. By my side, and not just because she could keep the pain away, but because if I was gonna die I wanted to spend my last days with people I cared about and who, I hoped anyway, cared about me.

I'd spent most of today mourning my wasted life, but right now, right this moment I wanted to remember what it was like to live. I walked over towards Alyx who had tossed her keys on the dining table and was now leaning heavily on it. Both palms in contact with the surface, her shoulders slumped and head tipped down.

I sidled up behind her, pressing my body against hers and lowered my head to bury my face in her hair. The bitter tang of the sea still lingered upon her, but instead of putting me off, it only aroused me further. With a low rumble, I pulled her upright and shifted so that I could kiss the side of her neck, drawing a low moan from her. She would have been justified in shoving me away, in telling me to go to hell, in asking to be left alone with her own personal pain, but instead, it was one of those many moments we were in perfect sync with each other.

She spun about, her arms reaching up to coil about my neck and her lips finding mine, her need nearly as desperate as my own. Within minutes, our clothes were scattered about the floor. We didn't even make it to her bed, the sofa being far closer.

It was hours before we found ourselves out of energy, if still interested and willing. Neither of us were ready for the sleep we both should have needed given we'd been awake a solid 24 hours by that point. I didn't want to lose any more seconds than absolutely necessary to Morpheus. I'd be closing my eyes a final time soon enough.

We were sprawled on her oversized sofa, my hands wandering lazily across her body as she hummed some nameless tune under her breath, neither of us feeling the need to move. Least not our bodies, my mind, however, had gone haring off into areas I'd never really bothered to examine until now. And, while I had never questioned her commitment to me before, I now found myself wanting to know why, if she could share how she felt about me through that mental connection we had, she couldn't say the words aloud. Three little words that, in truth, neither of us had ever spoken to the other.

"Baby, you in there?"

"Yep," she responded, the pleasant vibration her humming had created coming to an end.

"Do you love me?" Why beat around the bush and drag it out? I'd rather know the truth right now, than to spend my last days wondering.

"Okay, lying here naked after one hell of a sexual romp and you're asking me if I love you? Hello? Were you, perhaps, mistaking me for Casey again, which, while I will forgive you due to your mental burps, it won't stop me from severely damaging you." Her voice maintained the same sardonic tone throughout, so I knew the threat was empty, but the fact that she tried to slip around the question only made me want to know the answer all the more.

"Alyx, I'm being serious here. We've been together for a while now and you've filled all those journals for me, but you've never said or written 'I love you' even once and I guess I'm wondering if you do. Love me, that is," I added when I realized my sentence structure sucked. Crap, I was screwing this whole thing up. I just knew it.

"Like you've ever used the words?" she sniped right back at me, rolling over to look me in the eyes. "You know I how feel about you, hell, I practically live inside your head when we're together. Do the words really matter that much?"

You know, yesterday, before I knew what was coming, the words didn't matter, and I had no doubt about where I stood with her, but now... Now I wanted to hear the words, wanted her to say the one thing she seemed to be incapable of admitting to even herself. Yeah, I'd never said 'I love you' to her, but it was more because I was afraid. Afraid she wouldn't respond in kind, afraid that, while she cared, she didn't love, afraid that by admitting exactly how I felt that I'd just find myself knocked down again and have yet another woman walk out of my life.

I gotta admit I was sorely tempted to whine pitifully, to make a plea claiming a dead man's last request, knowing that she would respond, would tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. But, and to me it was huge but, I needed her to mean the words, to say them freely and without feeling like she'd been backed into a corner. I'd rather have her tell me she didn't care about me that way than to lie just to placate a dying man's whims. So all I said was, "Yeah, it matters."

She shivered lightly, her eyes drifting shut for a long moment, before she screwed up the courage to reply. "Darien," she began, eyes opening to meet mine. What she said next made me think for an instant that I'd taken another one of those trips down memory lane. "You've been half my heart, half my soul, half my life since we first met. How could I not love you?"

I released the breath I hadn't realized I was holding and pulled her closer. "I love you too," I whispered, well and truly choked up, but she, wiseacre that she could be, had to go and change the tone of the whole moment, maybe fearing the tears I could feel waiting just below the surface.

"Well, duh. I knew that," she said with a chuckle.

Even with everything else that was going on, she could still make me do the one thing I thought impossible, she made me laugh.

***

Okay, explain the logic to me. Here I am dying, no hope of a reprieve, no chance of a last moment pardon by the powers that be and, instead of wallowing in a justified pool of self-pity, I'm doing everything I can to hold my friends together, comfort them, keep them from doing something drastic and the epitome of stupid once I'd gone gently into that good night. Shouldn't they be the ones holding my hands and soothing my worries? It's funny, it took me looking death in the face and knowing he was gonna win, for me to grow up, to see things about me with a clarity that I'd never before comprehended.

I could see the pain in their eyes, the loss, the brave face they put on for me so that I could pretend for another few hours that this wasn't happening. I once told a crazy old man, 'If the stoplight turns red before you can cross, your life changes forever. I'll buy that it changes, but just 'til the next morning. Then it's a whole new deal.' The hell of it was, pretty soon I wouldn't be getting that next morning.

Alyx, damn that woman was strong. I hadn't lied to her. I really couldn't face this if I knew she wouldn't keep living. I just couldn't imagine this world without her in it. She was so wrong, thinking that she didn't matter, that her life or the loss of it would affect nothing. Without her, there would be a hole in the world of monstrous proportions. She had so much more than me to live for, she was, I think, just too afraid to see it.

Bobby, on the other hand, was holding himself together by a thin and fraying thread and I knew I had to do something to reweave the strands before they snapped completely. Even the comfort Claire quite obviously displayed, no longer caring who saw how she felt for my partner, wouldn't be enough if Bobby let his ghosts get to him. I had to act, had to convince Hobbes that my death didn't change a thing. We would always be friends and he had to keep going, for my sake as much as his own.

I knew there was a fair chance Hobbes might kill himself, or worse, take that swan dive in his head alone, his inner demons winning the battle for control and leaving him less sane than me in Stage Four madness. I knew my partner, he was already feeling that he'd failed me somehow and I couldn't allow him to think that. Had to give him some sort of purpose besides keeping my larcenous tendencies under control. Show him I'm not the only one who was his friend, who depends on him, on his counsel, or his unique and refreshing outlook on life.

I asked Claire and Alyx to take a walk, though I knew she wouldn't go very far. With the link between us as strong as it was, she couldn't go far, and without her nearby, I would swiftly succumb to damage being done and, not die, not yet, but be far more incapacitated than I appeared. The ultimate in life saving measures, me, quite literally, greedily sucking down the very force that kept her alive, and now that I knew what a risk she was taking to do this for me, I loved her all the more.

"All right, Fawkes, you wanted me alone to tell me somethin', what is it?" Hobbes never missed a trick, did he?

"Just wanted to talk, might be our last chance, after all," I joked.

Hobbes frowned. "You think this is funny?"

"Not for a second, but I'd much rather go out to the sound of laughter than tears," I told him honestly and it seemed to throw him. "Need you to do something for me."

"This a last request or somethin'? 'Cause if it is, I don't want any part of it," he stated, his voice icy cold, obviously still not wanting to face the reality of the situation.

"Bobby..." I shook my head slowly, wondering if there might be an easier way to do this without having an inkling what that may be, so I fell back onto what had always served me best over the years - other's words. "'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'," I said, looking him in the eye. "You gonna let that happen, huh? Just because you lost your partner?"

"Fawkes, it ain't that simple," he argued, but even he didn't seem quite convinced.

"C'mon, Hobbes. Who else is there to deal with bastards like Arnaud or Stark? You gonna let Chrysalis take over just because one man couldn't fight any longer?" Unfair and playing on his loyalty to god and country, but I could see in his eyes that it was working.

He turned away for a couple minutes, one hand rubbing the top of his head as he considered my words. When he finally spoke, it was with a tone of resignation. "What if I don't wanna, Fawkes? What if I've had enough, huh? Ever think about that?"

Of course I had, pretty much every day since I ended up working for the Agency. So, it was blackmail at first, but, after a while, it became part of who I was, who I wanted to be and it was in no small part due to Bobby Hobbes. "Bobby, you know as well as I do the Agency is it. No one else out there gets it. If you leave..." I paused, trying to come up with words that would play on his inherent chivalry. That was one of the things Alyx had noticed about my - our - partner, he was old school all the way. "Someone has to take a stand, to be the last bastion of light against the darkness." Oh man, that was just so... so over the top even for me. "I trust you to do that."

"You little shit," he grumbled, his steely gaze pinning me in place and looking for the con in my words, but, for once, there wasn't one. I meant every word and he could see that. He shook his head, chuckling more'n a bit ruefully. "The boss man is prob'ly gonna regret it, but I'll stay... For a while," he amended hastily. "Can't keep doing this forever, y'know."

"Sure you can, Hobbes. You're the best, remember?" I reminded him, relieved I'd won this round so easily.

"And don't you forget it, my friend," he came right back with.

"For as long as I live."

'Nuff said.

And heaven laughs when we say good-bye

It ain't so far to the other side

Someday soon we will meet again

Say it over and over and over 'til then

Finis