Author: A. X. Zanier

Rating: R (Language, violence, sexual situations, the usual)

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

Timeline: About two weeks after Fall from Grace

Spoilers: Ummm. None I can think of from the show. Bunches from my other stories.

Comments: Okay guys, hold onto your hats (or the equivalent). This one gets moving fast and gets truly depressing along the way. Hey my story, my torture.

Fallen

~~~

"Unlike those who pretend to be immaculate, fallen angels are usually more intriguing because their earthliness is heavenly."

Carl Polloi

~~~

"What did you just say to me?" The Official actually sounded surprised.

"I said no'." Alyx repeated, crossing her arms at her chest.

The Official sucked in a deep breath in preparation for the bellow that was to come, but was forestalled by Eberts leaning over to whisper something in his ear. "Are you sure?" he said glancing over at Alyx.

Eberts nodded and then stood back upright.

"We will discuss this later, Miss Silver. I want you to report to the Keeper for an evaluation." The Official's tone had changed slightly. He was still ordering, but not quite as vehemently as before.

"No," Alyx said, yet again and then watched with some amusement as the Official turned several different shades of red.

"Then tell me what exactly it is you plan to do?" he asked her once he had control of his voice again.

Alyx relaxed slightly. "You know, I think I'll go to the beach." Then she turned and walked out of the room without a backward glance.

The Official half turned to the man next to him. "Eberts."

"Yes sir." He picked up the phone and pressed one of the many buttons on it. "It's a go." Setting the phone back in its cradle, he said, "It's done, sir."

~~~

Alyx made her way out of the building fully intent on going to the beach. The six men that followed her out had other ideas.

"Miss Silver, come with us please," one of them said.

She turned about. "Sims. So he sent you to do his dirty work."

"We have orders to stop you by any means." He made as if going for his gun.

Alyx laughed. "Somehow I doubt he gave you permission to shoot me, no matter how much you may want to." She leaned forward to tap him on the chest.

This had given the others a chance to circle around her on the sidewalk in front of the building. Passersby were avoiding the area like a plague at the moment.

"You're right, as always. And I know you're good, but even you can't fight off six of us at once," Sims said with a smile.

"Maybe. Shall we find out?" Alyx backed towards two of them and a melee ensued. She was careful not to hurt them any more than necessary, but she was pretty sure one guy was down with a broken collarbone. It was when the van pulled up beside the fight that things got interesting. Alyx slammed Sims into the side of the van as Darien climbed out of the passenger side.

"Hey Dare," Alyx said, as she side kicked one of the other agents as he came up behind her.

"What the hell is going on?" Bobby shouted as he came around the front of the van.

Sims spat out a mouthful of blood as Alyx dealt with another agent as gently as she dared. Darien grabbed Sims by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him into the side of the van, again. He was on the borderline right now with a headache that wouldn't quit and was not in the mood to take shit from anybody. "Talk. Now."

"It the Official's orders. She's to be restrained and brought to the Keeper," Sims snapped.

"Alyx," Darien shouted turning slightly.

"I ain't doing it," she stated as she put one last agent down and made sure he'd stay there with a threatening look. "I'm going to the beach." The last word came out with a bit of a grunt and Alyx spun about to see Claire standing in the doorway lowering the tranquilizer gun. Alyx pulled the dart from her back and swore. "Cheater," she complained.

Darien let go of Sims, who just about went to his knees thanks to the job Alyx had done to him, and caught Alyx as her eyes rolled up and her legs gave out. "What the hell?" He was looking at Claire.

"Not here. Get her inside. Now," Claire ordered.

"Don't Darien, please," Alyx whispered. "I don't trust her."

"Kid, it's just the Keep," Bobby said, helping one of the other agents to his feet.

"Now Darien or I'll cut off the counteragent supply." Claire was glaring at him, daring him to challenge her.

Darien was tempted to tell her exactly what to do, except for the fact that he needed a shot, now, and didn't know where Alyx kept her supply hidden at her apartment. "I want answers." He scooped up a semi-conscious but still fighting Alyx and carried her into the building.

Claire said nothing, but followed him in and directed him down to Lab Two. She had him place Alyx on the bed there and proceeded to strap her to it. Even after all this, she still wasn't completely out. Claire quickly prepared a shot and injected it into Alyx's arm. In moments Alyx finally relaxed completely.

"All right. What is going on?" Darien asked her yet again, but didn't give her a chance to answer as he winced as another pain shot across the back of his head.

"You need a shot. Come on." She pulled him by the arm out of the room. "Watch her." She said to an assistant who was waiting in the outer room.

In Lab One Darien sat on the chair while Claire prepared the counteragent for him. "Have you seen Alyx Quicksilver or use any of her other abilities since you came back?"

Darien thought for a moment. "Other than to talk when her throat was injured, no. Why?"

She came over with the syringe. "No one has and we don't know if she's just on strike or can't use them."

Darien tried not to flinch as the needle penetrated his skin. He hated the needles Claire used. Alyx made no bones about the fact that they were unnecessary and used for intimidation purposes only, but part of the deal returning had been that Claire had to study Alyx's version before they could use it again. Barring emergencies.

"Has anyone thought to just ask her?"

Claire frowned at him. "Of course. But she's also been acting erratic emotionally." She walked back over to the lab bench. "You've noticed nothing?"

"We haven't seen much of each other. We've been working separate assignments. She seemed fine last night. A little quiet, maybe." He shrugged. "She was tired. Long day."

"I'll just have to do a full work up on her. First one actually." Claire said as she leaned against the bench.

"Ummm. What does that mean exactly?" He asked her even though he was pretty sure of the answer.

"A physical, a GYN exam, a Cat scan series, MRI. The usual." She was just watching him.

"Don't," Darien said to her. "Poke in her head, fine. Leave the rest alone."'

"Why? Give me a reason." She didn't move.

"I can't. Just don't do it. She'll never forgive you." Darien shifted sitting up straighter.

"Tell me why and I'll consider it." She turned away from him.

"I can't. Look, I know she's seen another doctor, hell, several. She's fine." He was trying to stress that this was important to both him and Alyx. That it was none of the Keeper's or Agency's business, but deep inside he knew their wishes didn't really matter. Not in the long run.

Claire moved around the room and came up behind him and didn't even give him a chance to react before she got him with the sedative. "Sorry Darien, but I have my orders and I can't let you interfere."

That's when Hobbes walked in. "Keepy, what's taking so long with Fawkes... why is he unconscious?"

"He'll wake up in a bit. Watch him until he does." Claire breezed past him. "Oh, and he'll probably wake up pissed." She was out the door before he could react.

"What the hell did I miss this time?"

~~~

It had taken several hours but Claire had got it all done and she now had a good idea why Darien had asked her not to proceed with this. No wonder Alyx had been so insistent that Claire not examine her. She wondered if the Official knew and suspected that he didn't. Then she wondered how long Darien had known and guessed it could not have been all that long. Alyx was just as adept at keeping secrets as Claire, it seemed.

It explained some of the nastier comments Arnaud had made about Alyx on the couple of occasions she had tried to discuss the gland and counteragent with him before he had vanished from his cell. At the time she thought it had been because of the drugs he'd been given, but now... Now she knew he had simply be speaking the truth.

"Are you satisfied now? Did you get what you wanted?" Alyx sounded groggy and weak still, but just as angry as Darien had predicted.

"I was following orders," Claire said moving to her side. "How long have you known?" She pulled a chair over and sat down.

"Years. It was a gift from Jess." Alyx stared at the ceiling. "I hoped, when this happened that... I don't know for a miracle I guess." She closed her eyes.

"So, you were rechecked, when?" Claire was concerned about outsiders knowing about the Quicksilver.

"Kanvia. When I was married to Piotr," Alyx replied. "I wasn't overly surprised by the answer given that none of the usual signs that things were normal were around."

"I'm sorry." Claire was trying to sound sympathetic.

Alyx laughed. "Right. Sorry you're little experiment can't happen? Sorry that you are going to recommend Darien and I be separated? Or just sorry that my former husband used to beat the crap out of me on the direct orders of his superiors." By the end her voice had turned harsh, full of anger.

"Alyx, that is not fair," Claire said, somewhat offended.

"Maybe not, but you can't deny its true." Alyx snorted and turned away. "Can I leave now?" She rattled her strapped arms against the sides of the bed.

"Not yet. Quicksilver for me." Claire kept her voice soft.

"No," Alyx said.

"Then you won't be leaving." Claire rested a hand on her shoulder. "Tell me what's wrong."

Alyx simply turned away and ignored her completely.

Claire gave up for the time being and left the room only to encounter a swaying and very angry Darien standing, barely, in the outer room. "Go ahead. You might as well be pissed off at me together." She thought he wasn't going to speak to her, but he paused in the doorway and looked back at her.

"Don't ever threaten me with withholding the counteragent again."

He didn't raise his voice, but she got the message although she couldn't let him know that. "You follow your orders and I follow mine."

Darien nodded in acknowledgment of her statement and then joined Alyx in the other room.

Damn. Had she lost control so completely? Perhaps, especially with this new information, it was time to separate the two of them.

Permanently.

~~~

Darien sat down in the chair he had dragged over next to the bed. "Damn it, Alyx. I tried to stop her. She drugged me."

"She would have just found another way if you had blocked her this time. They know. It's not worth fighting over any more." She sounded like she had given up something that was important to her and in a way she had. She knew that she and Darien had been shoved together for a reason and now the boss man was going to find out it was an invalid one. The likelihood that they would be allowed to stay together now was slim to none. This had been one of her reasons for not wanting to get involved in the first place.

"Alyx, what is going on?" He asked running one hand along her face.

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Liar," he commented, and that earned a small smile from her.

"I don't know, Dare, but it's nothing to do with you. I swear it." She lifted her right hand as far as she could with the damn shackles on and he took her hand with his. She was still wearing the ring.

"I'm going to find out what's going on," he told her.

"Don't push them. Not on this. Trust me, it's not worth it." Alyx squeezed his hand.

"All right, but only for a few days. Then I'm getting some answers one way or another." He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

Alyx knew it was the best she was going to get out of him.

The door slid open and Bobby stood there. "Sorry kid, the boss wants him pronto."

"S'okay Bobby. I'll forgive you this time." She gave a weak smile.

"See, you're better already." Bobby tried in response to her attempted joke.

Darien gave her hand one last squeeze and then got up to follow Bobby. He refused to speak to Claire.

~~~

"It's time to pay the rent boys," The Official said once Darien and Hobbes had sat down in front of his desk. It was good thing this assignment had come up. It would keep Fawkes most thoroughly occupied for the next few days. "Eberts."

Eberts handed them each a file, which they opened. On top was the photo of an older gentleman.

"Emile Santori. Dealer of exotic animals. It is rumored he is about to procure several white Bengal tiger cubs," Eberts said.

Darien looked up at him. "And?"

"Wait, The Butcher Santori?" Hobbes asked suddenly.

The Official nodded.

"This guy is slime. Purchases rare and exotic animals to save' and when they're old enough he arranges for them to be shipped to his hunting preserve'." Hobbes sounded both sickened and angry. "Then modern day great white hunters' bid for the chance to kill the animals."

"Last year he made over 25 million with his hunting trips," Eberts added.

"We believe the tigers are being shipped in by boat sometime in the next week, but we don't know where or when. I'm afraid the information we have is extremely vague. You two get to follow around Mr. Santori and get to the tigers before he does."

"Why don't we just," Darien paused to clear his throat, "break into his place and find the information?"

"Yeah, what he said," Hobbes agreed.

Eberts gestured at the file and Darien flipped through several pages until he saw a diagram of the estate and whistled.

"You couldn't make it to the house from the road in time," the Official said with a laugh.

"What if we got invited in?' Hobbes asked.

"Go undercover? Eberts do we have budget for that?" The Official half turned to look at Eberts.

"I believe we do, sir. I'll get to work on it." Eberts moved over to where his computer sat against one wall.

We'll check out the place while Eberts works on getting us an in with the Butcher." Hobbes got to his feet.

"What about Alyx? She could get in there without a problem. Hell she could just read the guy's mind and get the info." Darien still wanted to know what the hell was going on.

"She is unavailable and will be until further notice," the Official stated without meeting Darien's eyes.

"If this is to get back at her for taking off with me..." Darien stopped when the Official's lifted his head to look at him.

"Fawkes, Darien, it has nothing to do with that." There was something in the Official's voice.

Darien believed him.

~~~

In the hallway, Darien thumbed through the file again.

"Do you want to go check on Alyx before we leave." Hobbes was trying to be nice.

Darien thought for a moment, then shook his head. "You know the routine. Work first."

Hobbes nodded leading the way out of the building and to the black Agency van parked out front. The crappy tan thing had died a fiery death months ago and been replaced with this slick looking piece of machinery. Hobbes loved it.

"I'll say this only once, Fawkes. You know I never really approved of your relationship with the kid." He raised his hand when Darien started to protest. "That's my problem not yours and I'll give you guys credit for not letting interfere with your work, but, and trust me on this, the work should never be first." Hobbes climbed in the drivers seat and Darien got in beside him. "It's a good part of what split me and Viv up. I always put the work first."

"But you and Viv didn't work together did you?" Darien asked him as he pulled out into traffic.

"All the more reason not to put it first. You two pretty much live your jobs. Take the time to be something other than what the Agency sees you as," Hobbes said quietly. "End of lecture."

Darien thought about what he'd said in silence for several minutes as Hobbes navigated the van through the afternoon traffic. "Thanks, Bobby."

"No problem, my friend. What's the use of having knowledge if you don't share it, right?"

"Right." Darien agreed.

~~~

The Butcher's estate was located just northeast of the city in a private gated community that they, at this point could not get into. So, after a little creative driving on his part, Hobbes found a nearby hillside that would let them get at least a partial view of the house and the land around it. Turned out there were three houses, two obviously for guests that did not rate staying at the main house. There were a couple of barns and several other buildings that housed animals when not out in their pens. We could see horses, llamas, lions, some other big cats, what looked like an elephant and some tigers.

"Hobbes, what if he's not buying the cubs?" Darien had lowered the glasses and sat in the doorway of the van.

"What do you mean?" Bobby was still looking through the glasses trying to spot the security surrounding the estate.

"He's got some tigers down there. What if he's not buying, but breeding?" Darien said.

Hobbes lowered the glasses and turned to face his partner. "Eberts said procure.' That implies he's buying them."

"He also said it was a rumor," Darien pointed out.

"Huh. Good point. We'll have Eberts look into it when we get back. Maybe there'll be veterinary records he can access or something." Hobbes saw the look on his partner's face. He shrugged. "Viv liked cats."

Darien picked the binoculars back up. "How bad does the security look?"

"Tight as a 20-year olds ass," Bobby said.

"Jeeze, Hobbes, get laid would you. Sheesh." Darien noticed someone walking through the pens and adjusted the focus. "Looks like the Butcher and his friend are visiting the tigers."

Bobby turned slightly to see for himself. "Interesting." He lowered the glasses and pushed past Darien to get into the van. He rummaged for a moment and came up with the parabolic mic. Instead of headphones he hooked it up to the recording system in the back of the van. He was hoping to get whatever was said on tape. Standing in the doorway, he found his targets in the pen with one of the tigers, who was obviously quite tame. He'd be damn lucky to pick up anything at this distance, but it was worth a try.

Voices began to waft out from the interior of the van. "Gotcha."

~*~*~

//... overdue. It's her first set of cubs, it's not unusual.// They were assuming this was the veterinarian. //Within a week at the most. Any longer than that and I'll go ahead and induce.//

//She's healthy, correct?// This voice was the Butcher's.

//Quite. You're watching her around the clock as a precaution?// The vet.

//Of course. Cameras in the pen and hourly checks by my staff.// The Butcher.

The two men had started to walk away from the pen at this point, and moments later were behind a building and nothing else could be picked up.

"Now what, chief?" Hobbes asked the Official. "The tiger is legally his we can't just walk in and escort momma out."

"Alyx could," Darien said quietly. When the Official glared at him he added, "I know, unavailable'."

"You two used to manage just fine without her. I'd like to think you could do it again," the Official sniped, sounding irritated.

"Of course, boss. Not a problem." Hobbes said in his best placating tone. "But what now?"

"Now, we want you inside and getting us the proof that he's been selling the animals to be killed. We want to shut him down completely." Eberts answered.

"Yeah, right. Like he's going to keep the info in his bedroom safe." Hobbes snorted.

"Actually, he might. Stuff like this you typically don't let out of your sight. Don't want to have to run your safety deposit box to get your information at three in the morning," Darien said.

"His security is very tight." Eberts said. "Both inside and out, and he is not currently allowing guests on the property no matter how influential."

"You're going to have to get in, get the info, and get out using a minimal amount of Quicksilver." The Official was looking right at Darien.

"You could just give me some counteragent to carry along with me." Darien knew what the answer would be, but wanted to hear it said anyway.

The Official chuckled. "Nice try."

"What we will attempt to do is access the security from the outside and take control of it during your infiltration so that you can keep the Quicksilver use to a minimum." Eberts explained.

"You can do that?" Hobbes asked with a hint of disdain.

"Miss Silver created a program that duplicates some of the things she can do. Provided his power is from the main grid I should be able to gain access and control it from my computer here." Eberts answered knowing that by mentioning Alyx's name both men before him would drop any potential arguments. He was quite right.

"When?" Hobbes asked.

"Tomorrow night. I'll have the specifics in the morning," the Official answered. "Fawkes, get together whatever you think you might need." He tilted his head a bit. "No explosives, please."

Darien rolled his eyes "I have better skills than that."

The Official laughed. "I know. I just wanted to see your reaction."

Hobbes got to his feet. "C'mon, Fawkes. Looks like you get to nap this afternoon."

Darien got to his feet and followed Hobbes to the door. "Why is that?"

"'Cause tonight we're gonna be sitting on that hillside seeing what kind of guard set up he has at night. That's why." Hobbes was rubbing his hands together. This was the kind of stuff he loved.

Darien groaned. "What time?"

"I'll pick you up at 10 tonight." Hobbes looked up at his partner.

"Yeah, 10." Darien watched as Hobbes swaggered down the hallway already making his plans for the night.

Darien stuck his head back into the office.

"What, Fawkes? We do have other work to do," the Official said with out looking up.

"Alyx." Darien was rubbing the back of his neck. "Can I go see her?"

The Official raised his head and looked at Darien surprised he had even asked. "Yes." He lowered his head back down and didn't even hear Darien leave.

~~~

Darien only had to deal with one flunky named Timmens before getting into see Alyx. She was pacing the floor of the room and muttering to herself. When the door opened she spun around going into a defensive crouch which she relaxed out of when she saw Darien. She waited for him to come in and the door to shut before moving to him.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her.

She leaned against him. "Mmmm. Feeling? Wrong question. I think the meds Claire has me on are stronger than Bobby's. Doing? I can answer."

He wrapped his arms about her. "Just can't win, can you?"

"You're here. I'd say I'm running on the plus side for today." Alyx's voice had that flat tone of someone on way too many meds, but she still slid her arms under his shirt and ran her hands along his ribs.

"Never get enough do you?" He was smiling as he said this.

She stepped back and he got a hint of why she was being confined here for the moment. "You'd rather I got bored and looked elsewhere? Or is it that you're getting bored with me?" Her voice was a near snarl.

Bored? With her? Not in this lifetime or several others for that matter.

"Alyx, that's not what I meant." He moved to her, but she backed away. Good thing the room wasn't very large. He soon had her backed into a corner. "And somewhere in that confused mind of yours you know that."

"I... I..." She gave up and closed her eyes.

Darien took advantage of her momentary docility and kissed her. At first she stiffened and then relaxed into it her hands once again finding their way under his shirt. This time she ran her nails lightly down his sides causing him to twitch and yelp. "Ah... Crap. D... Don't do that." He ended up with his head leaning against the wall above her with her laughing quietly.

"That should look interesting on the camera." Her hands had moved lower, running along the edge of his jeans.

"Camera?" He pulled away just out of her reach.

She pointed to one corner of the room and waved at it.

"Shit. Like this cage isn't bad enough." He moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "So what have you been doing?"

Alyx laughed shaking her head. "Scut work." She hooked her thumb over at the computer sitting on the counter. "Cleaning out the archives and the like. The Official has decreed that I'm not sick enough to get a free ride on that oh so comfortable bed." There was only a touch of sarcasm in her voice.

"Eberts mentioned a program for controlling security systems," Darien said to her.

"My Destiny program? Why? It hasn't been fully tested yet." She went to the computer and accessed the program. Darien moved behind her and looked over her shoulder. "I designed it to override the security protocols of pretty much any system, allowing outside control."

"You've been hanging around me too much," Darien commented wryly. "Why would you do this?"

"Well, I'm not always available and this is a potentially adequate substitute. The program can be run from anywhere, provided there is a phone or power line to gain access from. The worm program I use doesn't care if it connects to a computer; it will search for the proper connection through the phone and power lines in any building." Alyx activated the program and dialed into a nearby bank. Within moments a grid of there security came up on the screen. Different systems showing in different colors. As he watched she hit a few keys and took over control of the cameras, altering their pattern of movement and turning some on or off.

"And they can't detect it?" he asked, resting his hands on her shoulders.

She shrugged. "Like I said it hasn't been fully tested, but so far no." She leaned back against him. "Why?"

"Tomorrow we, I, have to get into an estate with really nasty security. Eberts said he was going to use this to control the system so that I could get in and out easier." He leaned over and looked closer at the screen.

"Eberts." Her voice had gone flat again.

"Uh, huh. Hobbes and me are gonna check out the human factor tonight." He leaned his head against hers for a moment. "We do the actual job tomorrow night."

Alyx grabbed a pen and paper and began to write hurriedly. When she was finished she handed it to him. "My laptop should still be in my office. Take it with you and run Destiny while you check out the area. That way you'll be able to see how the two coordinate." She lay a hand along the side of his face for a second. "Everything should be in my bag. Even the power converter that hook's into the van's system."

He pocketed the piece of paper after glancing at it. It had various password and command codes scribbled on it. The stuff he'd need to access her program. As he watched, she released control of the bank's security system and then shut down the program. "Where did you learn to do stuff like this?"

"Huh? This is what I went to college for. I did a six year program in four years and had a job before I graduated. I wrote security protocol systems for major corporations for several years." Alyx spun the chair around to look at him. "Guess I never mentioned that."

"No, that I would have remembered." He was trying not to be surprised by her once again. "What did you minor in?"

"Double minor of Literature and Journalism," she said snaking her arms around him again.

"A computer geek that reads?" He was shaking his head and chuckling.

"This is a bad thing?" She moved to kneel on the chair, which made her a bit taller than she normally was.

"Well, if all geeks looked like you the term would become a compliment." His hands found their way into her hair and she sighed. "I have to get going."

"I know. Just be careful, okay?" She nuzzled his neck for a moment.

"Always. I'll stop by tomorrow." He really didn't want her to stop, but knew he'd better for her sake if not his own. "Ah, crap, Alyx..."

"Hmmm. Oh, yeah. You must go make the world safe for those without powers far beyond those of mortal men." She didn't seem upset, maybe tired, possibly lonely, definitely drugged.

"Get some rest," he said moving to the door.

She just watched him as he knocked on the door and waited for Timmens to open it. He gave her one last smile before leaving and then the door shut on his form.

"Tomorrow night, huh?" She went back to her computer and got to work.

~~~

Darien bumped into Claire, literally, as he walked into the hallway outside Lab Two.

"Darien! How are you?" she asked with as much cheer as she could muster. Alyx's latest round of tests had shed no light on the situation, which wasn't a good sign.

Darien just looked at her and it gave her a bit of a start. There had been a time when, even though Darien hated the situation, he still had trusted her, but now... now it looked like even that was gone and she had no idea how to get it back. She had told the Official all those months ago that bringing in another experiment, another lab rat, someone Darien could commiserate with, suffer with, would backfire on them one day, but the Official had assured her that the benefits would outweigh the risks.

Not anymore.

He looked over her head and called out to Timmens, "Thanks. I'll be by again tomorrow." He moved to walk away and Claire reached out to lay a hand on his arm to stop him.

"Don't touch me, Keeper." His voice was flat and she removed her hand and stepped back.

"Darien... I..." She gave up as he turned away and walked down the hall with her staring after him.

"What did you do to him?" Timmens asked as she entered the outer room of Lab Two.

Claire ignored the question. "How is she?"

Timmens waited for a moment then shrugged. "The same. This drug combo just seems to make her sleepy." He pointed at the monitor where Alyx sat in front of the computer leaning on one hand and typing with the other. "She's been reasonably cooperative." He handed her the chart, and watched as she looked it over. "I take it she and Agent Fawkes know each other?"

Claire glanced up at him. "They partner on occasion."

"Oh, so that's what they are calling it now." Claire noticed the silly grin on his face and after a moment she realized what he meant.

Separating them was going to be difficult.

But it would be for the best.

Or so she believed.

~*~*~

"You sure you know what you're doing with that?" Darien was standing in the doorway of the van watching Hobbes set up Alyx's laptop. "You bust her comp and it's me she'll hurt."

"Cut me some slack, would ya. The van is filled with gear just as complex, I think I can handle one little computer," Hobbes grouched, making the last few connections and then turning the machine on.

"Except the stuff on the laptop is worth more than all the gear and van combined." Darien sat down toying with the earpiece. They'd decided if they could get in with the Destiny program that Darien would try and get a closer look at the situation.

Hobbes snorted. "Right. Ah, here we go. You got the passwords, Fawkes, use em."

Darien moved inside the van and dug out the piece of paper Alyx had given him and punched in the password she had given him at the prompt. Her voice could suddenly be heard.

::This is private access only. Designed for limited use. Please type in the program you wish to access and then follow any instructions given.::

Darien typed in Destiny and the computer thought for a moment.

::Interesting choice. Please enter additional password.::

"Even her computer is a smartass," Hobbes grumbled.

"I would have said user friendly," Darien said with a bit of a laugh as he keyed in the password.

::Access granted. Destiny' program loading.::

It didn't take long at all. Darien followed the instructions on the screen and within minutes had a graphic of the estate showing the security both inside and out with the outlines of structures overlaid.

"Not bad," Hobbes commented looking at the monitor. "Where did the kid get this program?"

Darien did that slow head turn to look at his partner. "She wrote it." He made a few adjustments to the display. "The key commands are pretty self explanatory. Just don't play with anything."

"Teach your grandma to suck eggs will you. Move, oh gawky one." Darien did, so that Hobbes could sit at the computer. "Now, if only we could add your tracking signal to the graphic," Hobbes mused.

Darien sighed and reached over his partner's shoulder to punch several keys. "That should do it. Won't know until I'm closer though."

"Are you sure the kid wrote this?" Hobbes asked adjusting the view a bit.

Darien put the earpiece on. "Yup. Apparently she used to do this for a living." He climbed out of the van.

"Great. She writes the ultimate program for thieves. You have been a bad influence." He shook his head. "Perimeter only. We don't want them jumpy come tomorrow night," Hobbes called after him, putting on his own headset.

"Would you let the thief do his job casing the place while you play gadget-boy? Teach grandma to suck eggs indeed," Darien complained as he slipped into the darkness. He didn't carry a flashlight he simply Quicksilvered his eyes which gave him an odd sort of night vision.

He made his way through the brush that covered the hillside and, after about 15 minutes, he heard Hobbes in his ear. "Gotcha on the grid, partner. About 20 yards straight ahead is the first security perimeter." There was silence for a minute. "It's motion sensors, overlapping, but limited range. About 10 feet."

"All right. Let me know when I'm clear." Darien moved closer and just before entering the range of the motion detectors he Quicksilvered.

It didn't take long at all.

"You're clear. Next is the perimeter fence. It's hot."

"Where?" Darien asked.

"Fifty yards," Hobbes replied.

Darien moved as quietly as he could and spotted long before he neared it. He could hear it buzzing quietly in the night air. He found a conveniently placed screening of brush and hunkered down behind it to watch for any potential guards.

There wasn't a whole lot to see given he was somewhere between the main house and where the animal pens were. "Hobbes, I'm going to move along the fence line."

"There are cameras mounted atop the fence. I'll try to warn you if any are swinging your way." Hobbes sounded like he was enjoying Alyx's little creation.

Darien tried to stay the same distance from the fence and even managed to spot a couple of the cameras before Hobbes warned him about them. There were guards, but they seemed to stay closer to the house and when he made his way further back along the fence line, to the animal pens. He spent a couple of hours checking the place out. Looking for the best way to get on the property and into the house. With only 30 minutes to be invisible, he'd need to rely on Eberts and the program to do most of the work for him. The place was just too damn big.

"I've done all I can tonight, Hobbes." Darien was sitting down against a tree.

~~~

"Good enough. I talk ya back out." Hobbes was pleasantly surprised at how well this little toy worked. He talked Darien back through the peripheral security with out a problem. He turned to his partner when he climbed back into the van. "Ya know with this thing you could do some major damage."

Darien just smiled at him. "Let's see how well it works tomorrow. This was simple. Tomorrow is going to be a stone cold bitch." He slid the door shut and helped Hobbes pack up the gear before they headed out for home.

Darien checked his monitor on the drive back knowing he'd need a booster before heading out tomorrow night and probably one after.

Hobbes noticed. "Keep knows were on a job. You'll get what you need."

"Nah. I'll just get my shot," Darien said slouching down in the seat and pretending to doze off to avoid any other commentary by Hobbes.

For a change it worked.

~~~

Darien took full advantage of his late night and slept until well after noon, something he hadn't done in a long time. When he finally did wake up and crawl out of bed he did so with the knowledge that he'd have to go into the office and face Claire and ask... ask for a damn shot of counteragent. He planned on waiting as long as possible. It would be the last thing he did before heading out to do this damn job.

When he left his apartment, he had a small bag with him and a change of clothes. Tonight was definitely a night for black.

After checking in with the Official, and making some final adjustments to the plans, he headed down to Lab Two. He wanted to spend a couple of hours with Alyx while he still could. He walked in on a fight.

"Timmens, get that damn thing away from me," Alyx snarled at the lab tech. "If I donate any more blood I'm going to pass out."

"The Keeper needs another sample to compare," Timmens began, sounding thoroughly reasonable.

Alyx lost it then. She took two steps forward and knocked the syringe and empty vials out of his hand, shattering them against the wall. "If she wants me to cooperate she might want to do it herself."

"Miss Silver, don't force me to restrain you." Now, Timmens stood a good foot taller than Alyx did, but he was a geek through and through and it was doubtful he had lifted anything heavier than a couple of files in years.

"Don't push your luck, little man." Alyx sneered, plainly hoping he would try something.

Darien decided to intervene at this point. "You might want to listen to her. Even if her powers are toast I'm quite certain she can take you without much effort at all." He was leaning on the door frame with his hands stuffed into his pockets. "Hey, Alyx."

"Hey, Dare. You want to toss this guy out? I'm pretty sure your rat could take him." She had calmed down a bit, but she was still tense. Almost vibrating in place with barely controlled energy.

Timmens looked insulted. "I'm getting the Keeper." He sounded like a six year old running to tattle to the teacher.

Darien stepped into the room as he stepped out. Alyx turned about and moved to hit the wall.

"Hey, why are you trying to hurt that defenseless wall?" He walked behind her and grabbed her hand to keep her from repeating the action.

"Stir crazy, I guess. Meds are making me nauseous and they still don't know what's wrong." She had turned to look up at him. "How did it go last night?"

He pulled her over to the bed and sat down cross-legged on it. "Fine. I think Bobby is in love with that program. He wants to borrow it again tonight to monitor the show." Darien ducked his head a bit to look at her. "That okay?"

"Sure, it's what the thing is for." She allowed him to pull her closer.

"You gonna tell me what's going on?" He released her hand and just watched her.

She spun about and flopped backwards onto the bed next to him. "Piffle. If I knew that would I be in here?"

He looked down at her amusement. Her hair spread out behind her like a fan, staring up at the ceiling in consternation. "I've got a couple of hours to kill. Mind company?"

"Depends on whose. The Keep is not on the top of my visitor list right now." She leaned up on her elbows.

"Me, silly," he said reaching out to play with her hair. He loved to play with her hair. "It's too quiet around here without you."

She snorted. "I've been on assignments longer than this." She sat up pulling her legs up on the bed.

"Uh, huh. But then you're out of reach." He leaned in close just barely touching her. "This is just torture."

"Hmmm. Torture has its place." She was quickly becoming most thoroughly distracted by him. Meds or no meds. "I want to go home, Dare," she whispered.

His answer was a series of kisses that trailed along her jaw, down her neck, and across her shoulder as he slid the strap to her tank top aside. He had to force himself to stop when he remembered the damn camera. Reaching inside his jacket he pulled out a book.

Alyx raised an eyebrow at the cover when she saw it. "A trashy romance novel?"

"I found it in the van. Figured it must be Hobbesy's." He opened it up to one very dog eared page and began to read.

It may have been a silly way to pass the time, but neither of them minded. The fact that they were together was what counted.

~~~

When Claire showed up carrying Alyx's dinner, she was surprised to see Darien there. They had adjusted the bed, raising the head of the bed to recline against. Alyx was between Darien's legs laying back against him, a book in her hand, reading aloud while Darien had his head tipped back and eyes closed his arms wrapped about her, hands lazily moving up and down her sides.

It was this simple display of affection, of comfort that made Claire realize that the two of them weren't together just out of convenience, that they wanted to be together, that their relationship was about far more than two people in a difficult situation trying to make the best of it. That the two of them were deeply, completely, and madly in love with one another. Ah, the twists of fate it took to bring them together.

Part of Claire felt inordinately jealous

Darien opened his eyes then and looked at her and for the first time she got a hint, just a hint of what it was Alyx saw in him. She wondered why she'd never noticed it before.

~~~

The fact that Claire was standing in the room and neither he nor Alyx had reacted made him realize that something really was wrong with Alyx, that this wasn't just some ploy by the Keeper to run a few more tests that Alyx didn't want to participate in. He'd opened his eyes to see Claire standing in the door way holding a tray of food with this wistful expression on her face, but as soon as she realized he was looking it changed, becoming the standard Keeper look. Cold and controlled.

Alyx was still reading, not having even heard the door open. He nudged her slightly. "We have company."

Alyx stopped reading and lowered the book to look across the room. When she saw Claire she said. "No we don't. We have Keeper."

Claire ignored the comment and set the tray down on the counter next to the computer. "Dinner."

Alyx made a face. "Ewww. Not hungry. Thank you very much."

"I know the meds are making you nauseous, but I want you to try and eat anyway." Claire walked over to the bed. "I've been expecting you in the Keep, Darien."

"I was going to stop by later," he said, his voice tight.

Alyx tipped over a bit to look up at him. "What on earth.... Oh. Booster shot." She lifted his right hand and turned it over to look at the monitor. "He's fine for days yet. No hurry."

"No hurry. I do have a life outside of the Agency, you know." Irritation tinged her voice.

"Not tonight you don't." Alyx snapped back. "I've looked over the profile for this one and, unless you're planning on making him suffer for some reason, he's going to need a shot as soon as it's over."

Claire closed her eyes and fought the urge to yell at the woman. She knew this. She wasn't stupid. She simply wanted to get some sleep before having to sit with Bobby in the van at three in the morning. She was very surprised when Darien, however grudgingly, came to her defense.

"She knows," he said to Alyx. "I just wanted to wait till the last possible moment. Maximize my see-through time." Darien was looking at Claire who had opened her eyes.

"You're right. I'll wait until just before you leave." Claire walked back towards the door. "I'll be in the Keep if you need me for anything. Alyx try and eat please." She didn't wait for an answer or commentary. Simply walked out the door and left.

~~~

Everything was in place. Eberts and the Official sat in the Agency offices with the computer before them. The program was running and Eberts had already tested the system to make sure he had control and was quite pleased with the results. There was one very simple goal for tonight and he intended to carry it out successfully. Some days he really loved his job.

~~~

Darien dozed in the front seat of the van, looking rather dangerous dressed in black from head to toe. He even wore fingerless black gloves. The satchel he'd be taking with him lay on the floor between his feet. He'd tried to cover every possible contingency, but... Well, in this line of work there was always a potential but. Hobbes had all the gear set up, and was just waiting for the word go' to get the show on the road.

Claire sat in the driver's seat reading a medical journal and making notes into a notebook. Of the three of them she was the least comfortable to be there. Although she'd been out on a few missions, typically as a part of a secondary group and discovered it could be quite exciting, she knew it was not her forte. Tonight she was pretty much here for the sole purpose to inject Darien with the counteragent when needed and only because she wouldn't let Darien do it himself and because Bobby was too bloody squeamish to do it unless absolutely necessary.

Her job as Keeper had become way too routine. She was still doing the research to try and remove the gland, but it was slow going with a limited budget and few test subjects. She was angry with Alyx. She knew that. Claire was the Keeper. Alyx was just another lab rat. A lab rat with attitude admittedly. She had been vaguely pleased when the Official had ordered certain information sealed before she'd even had a chance to look at it.

But then Alyx had gone over the deep end and the Official ordered her to look into the information and judge its feasibility. What she was discovering made her feel stupid and ineffectual. Such a beautifully simple solution and it had never even occurred to her. Oh, she would have thought of it eventually.

Eventually.

~~~

Alyx had woken up about an hour ago, just like she had planned. With a yawn she had stumbled over to the computer and activated it. It took her mere seconds to set up the programs she wanted to run. She turned on her little Destiny' and accessed the location the guys were going to be at tonight. She had a bad feeling about it. Then she tapped into the computer Eberts was using just a few floors above her, not to interfere, just to observe. In the background, she activated a recording program that would store everything that happened tonight.

When she got a hunch, she went with it.

None of them would have long to wait.

~~~

Darien grumbled under his breath at the discomfort of the needle being unceremoniously shoved into the crook of his elbow. One problem Alyx couldn't solve was the pain of veins that had been so abused over the years that just the sight of the needle made his arms ache and Claire still insisted on using the elephant sized ones.

"Darien, I've noticed that your cravings for the counteragent aren't as severe as they were before your little trip." She replaced the syringe in its case for later disposal. "How?"

Darien debated blowing her off, but thought he'd rather see her reaction to his answer. "Alyx made an adjustment." He tapped the side of his head. "She just dulled it. Said it would return eventually." He pulled his shirt sleeve back down and slid back into snug fitting jacket zipping it up to his neck.

"That could have been very dangerous," Claire admonished. She had to try and reassert her authority over him.

"I was tired of being a slobbering junkie and it worked. So what the hell do you have to complain about?" Darien snapped, getting up from the seat to move in back so that Hobbes could wire him up. She had utterly no concept of how hard it had been for him. Some days, even if he'd just had his shot, he'd been unable to sleep because he could almost taste the stuff. He'd wake up from a sound sleep smelling it. He'd dream of getting his shots, hell, of being hooked up to IVs of the stuff and just letting himself fall into the release it gave him, but no more.

"Darien, it's my job to keep you safe and sane," Claire said, turning in her seat to watch the two men.

"And a great job you've been doing, Keepy." Bobby smiled at her and winked. "But I gotta admit he's a lot calmer now that he's not bouncing over his next fix of counteragent four days early."

"It was that bad?" Claire asked. "You didn't tell me."

"Keep, he didn't tell anyone. Me and the kid figured out something was up months ago, but he wouldn't talk." Bobby shrugged. "I assumed you knew being his Keeper and all."

Claire was beginning to feel a bit left out of things. At one point, Darien had been comfortable enough to come to her with just about anything, but that had ended long ago. She'd not be able to maintain her status as Keeper if he avoided interaction with her. Something would have to change and soon.

"We ready to go, yet?" Darien asked Hobbes.

"Whenever you are, my friend. Happy hunting." Hobbes made a few last adjustments and then waved for Darien to be off.

~~~

Everything went fine, just like the night before until the first real obstacle, the electric fencing. Quicksilvering wouldn't help here; he'd get fried right through the stuff. So he waited for Hobbes to tell him the nearest cameras had been diverted and the power switched off so that he could cut the fence and eel through.

Hobbes watched the changes on Alyx's laptop with Claire hovering over his shoulder. Her proximity was coming darn close to distracting him from the job at hand, but he was professional enough to not let anything truly distract him when in the middle of a mission

The quarter Fawkes was at, died and the cameras reduced their sweep range so they would no longer pick him up. "Go Fawkes. It's clear," Darien heard in his ear

Darien moved to the fence, which was along that lonely section between the house and the pens. He already had his fence cutters in hand and went to work snipping the wires to gain just enough room to slip through. He guessed two minutes tops, the gauge was a little heavier than he was prepared for and so was harder for him to cut through by hand, than he had originally expected.

~~~

Hobbes watched the monitor and muttered, "What the hell?" as the reading for the fence flickered for an instant suggesting that for one quick second it had been turned back on and then off again.

~~~

Down in Lab Two Alyx growled, "Nice try, Ebes."

~~~

"I'm in. Proceeding to the house," Darien said quietly. He was making use of the shadows and plants around the buildings. "What's next?"

"Cameras closer to the house and sound sensors so keep your mouth shut just in case," Hobbes said in his ear.

Darien made his way closer trusting, Eberts to divert any systems that might notice him and Hobbes to warn him if Eberts failed to. He made his way to a door he had noticed last night, which appeared to open up onto a mud room or laundry room off of the main kitchen. The hair on the back of his neck kept wanting to stand up because he was sure that the some part of the security system had picked him up, but the house remained quiet.

He tried the doorknob just on principle and found it was indeed locked and pulled out his lock picks and got to work and in seconds had the it unlocked. Opening it, he encountered a bit of a hitch, a cheesy security chain which he dealt with by sliding a slightly different set of wire cutters through the gap and snipping it in half.

Now, the real work began.

~~~

"How are we doing, Eberts?" The Official was pacing the room; truly worried that Darien risked getting caught.

"He's in the house, provided he memorized the floor plan like he was supposed to everything should go fine." Eberts tapped a few keys turning off or altering systems as Darien made his way through the house. Everything seemed to be going fine. Darien made his way up to the third floor of the house and towards the room that was the first choice for where the evidence they were looking for would be found. The second choice was on the second floor, the third in one of the other guest houses. They were really hoping it wasn't there.

At least everyone else was.

~~~

Darien was wishing the damn place were carpeted. He might leave imprints when Quicksilvered, but at least he was quiet. He managed to dodge the couple of guards that had been wandering around the house without having to Quicksilver yet. He doubted he'd be able to stay that lucky for much longer. The door to the room he wanted into was locked, so he knelt down to pick it open when someone on the other side turned the knob and pulled it open. Darien rolled away and Quicksilvered, not having any trouble generating enough adrenaline to trigger the gland.

He so very much wanted to say, aw, crap,' but managed to refrain and sidled out of the way as Emile Santori came out of the room fully dressed. Perhaps he was planning to check on that pregnant tiger of his. Perhaps he was just going downstairs for a midnight snack. Darien considered following him for a moment then decided against it. As soon as the Butcher was out of earshot he tried the door again, finding it unlocked this time and slipped in.

It wasn't an office as it was supposed to be. It was more of a media room. Wide screen TV, stereo system, a sound system to die for. All the bells and whistles. Even a digital video projector from the looks of it. Darien's greedy little heart began to rack up the value of the items in the room before he remembered he was here for far more serious business.

"Hobbes I'm at target one and it's no office." He began to walk about the room searching for a possible hidden safe or the equivalent. Darien went through a few cabinets and was rather disgusted to discover that Mr. Slaughter the Animals had a predilection for young girls and liked to tape them himself. Ick. Just the thought made his mind feel like something slimy had been poured into it.

And he was the guy dating a woman who looked sixteen.

"Any luck, Fawkes," Hobbes whispered.

"Not unless you want to get him on pedophile charges. He has quite a video collection." Darien made his way back to the door of the room. "I'm heading for target two."

~~~

"Gotcha," Hobbes responded.

"Bobby, something is going on down there." Claire had been watching the place through a pair of binoculars.

"Where?" Hobbes was all business now.

Claire waved her hand in the direction of pens behind the main house and as they watched lights began coming on around one of the buildings.

Hobbes raised his binoculars and looked for himself. "Fawkes, find a hidey-hole for a minute. We've got movement out back."

"What now?" Fawkes was sounding a bit irritated.

"Don't know, yet. Just hide and give me a minute," Hobbes ordered, still watching the area.

There was some grumbling, but nothing intelligible from Darien.

It was the arrival of a pickup that drove all the way around the back that allowed Hobbes to figure out what was going on. He recognized the man who got out the passenger side as the veterinarian from the other day.

"Fawkes, I think you just got yourself a diversion," Hobbes said lowering the glasses and going back to the computer. "Looks like that tiger has decided she's been pregnant long enough."

"Cool. Heading to secondary target." Fawkes voice sounded more like it should, now.

"Keep, Claire, would you mind watching the situation down there," Bobby requested, "just in case."

"Sure, Bobby." She turned back to the scene unfolding down below. At least someone thought she was worth a bit more than a portable counteragent injector.

~~~

"Eberts."

"Initial target was a bust, sir. He's heading for the secondary target now," Eberts answered.

"Move the back up teams into position," the Official ordered.

"Yes, sir." Eberts did so while continuing to watch the monitor. There had been major changes to the security grid, but it seemed to have been done on site and didn't involve the house so he wasn't overly concerned. His intrusion into the system remained undetected as of yet.

Fawkes had made his way down to the second floor and through the maze of rooms and halls to the target.

~~~

Garsen, the nighttime version of Timmens, had come in to check on Alyx and she had simply growled at him to go away. When he tried to make her take the meds, she threatened show him exactly how far she could throw him. He left the meds sitting next to her and beat a hasty retreat. With an annoyed look Alyx faked swallowing them and then dumped them down the drain of the sink when she got a drink to supposedly wash them down.

Then she got back to work making sure things went exactly as they should for her partners.

Alyx was grouchy mainly because Garsen had forced to stop her search for a moment. She'd finally broken through that damn firewall and accessed all the encrypted transmissions and communications between the moles. She had names, dates, passwords, hell, she had phone records proving they'd been in contact with each other and the black agency' for months now. She was uploading the information in the background while she oversaw tonight's mission.

Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day.

~~~

The secondary target was an office. Computer gear everywhere. File cabinets, more video storage, computer disk storage. Oh yeah, this was the heart of this operation all right. He let the Quicksilver drop. "We may have a jackpot, guys."

"Hurry up, Fawkes," Hobbes said. "It's getting busy out here."

"Yeah, yeah," Darien muttered. "First you tell me no, stealing is bad'. Now you want me to hurry up and crack this safe to get what you want." Darien slid aside the panel hiding the safe and got to work on opening the combination lock there. When that final tumbler fell into place he smiled. Good thing he'd been keeping in practice. "So the lesson here must be it's okay to steal if it's for the government'," Darien said as he opened the door to the safe.

"Partner that has always been true about the government. They have perfected the art of stealing," Hobbes replied with a chuckle.

Darien started pulling the contents of the safe out and laying them on the desk in the room. He rolled his head from side to side to relieve some of the discomfort in the back of his neck. He ignored the cash, even though sorely tempted, in favor of a stack of books, one of which he opened and began to thumb through. It became obvious real quick that these were what he was looking for. There were seven of the books, each about an inch thick. Each book covered multiple years. Darien's best estimate was that these covered 15 years.

As Darien put away the other items he didn't need, he pocketed one of the bundles of bills. Hey, he never claimed to be perfect.

~~~

"Fawkes! What the hell did you do?" Hobbes shouted at him through the earpiece. On the monitor the room Darien stood in was now blinking, which meant that the alarm had been triggered. "The silent alarm for that wing of the house has been triggered."

"Nothing, Hobbes." Darien wasn't thrilled with the news. "I'm on my way out."

Bobby watched as other systems began to go off and the only thing he could think of was that the infiltration to the system had been detected, but according to his monitor it still hadn't. What the hell had set off the alarms then?

~~~

"Sir, we have a problem," Eberts stated, making sure to keep his voice steady and calm just like always.

"What?" Fawkes is all right isn't he?" The Official moved his chair closer so that he could see the monitor better.

"Several alarm systems have been set off and I am unable to regain control." Eberts pressed a series of keys and watched as nothing changed on the screen

"Damn." The Official was not currently very happy. Very concerned was far more accurate. "Give him a chance to get out. Let's see if we can't still keep this quiet."

"Yes, sir," Eberts responded, hiding a smile. He was looking forward to seeing Fawkes try and get out of this one intact.

~~~

"Get the hell out of there, Fawkes." Hobbes actually sounded concerned.

"I'm going," Darien said, and Quicksilvered just before the door to the room opened and two gun toting goons charged in. He looked at the desk realizing he'd forgotten the books. "Aw, crap," he muttered under his breath, and reached out to lay a hand on top of the books and covered them in Quicksilver.

One of the goons did a double take at the desk, but by then, the books were gone. Darien lifted them and snaked his way out of the room and traced his way back to the main stairwell. This floor was confusing and designed that way intentionally. Unless you knew exactly how to get to that office the chance you could randomly find it was very slim.

Alarms started to go off everywhere and the guards were running about in confusion. The tidbits he caught suggested that it was some sort of weird malfunction in the system - essentially a false alarm. Eberts was apparently doing his best to counteract the effect of the actual alarm.

It didn't really matter at this point as Darien was already in trouble and his headache getting progressively worse by the moment.

Once outside Darien made his way to a semi safe location and dropped the Quicksilver. Shifting the books he took a look at the monitor. He had three left green, which gave him maybe 10 minutes invisible before his evil cousin id attacked. Looking about at the guards and others, scurrying everywhere he knew there was no way he could make it without going invisible. Quicksilver mad? That was something else entirely. That he'd have to wait and see.

He disappeared again and made his way back to the cut he'd made in the fence only to discover that one overly observant guard had found his escape route. Given the current situation he decided that the direct approach would do. Taking a tighter grip on the books he simply charged the man who managed to hear his footsteps at the last possible moment and turned around just in time to take a shoulder to the stomach. He hit the fence and there was a momentary flash as the electricity surged through the man before the fence suddenly went cold. Feeling a bit guilty for shoving the man into a live fence, Darien dropped the Quicksilver from a hand to check for a pulse and was relieved to find one.

He eeled his way back through the fence and hurriedly made his way back through the peripheral security and promptly dropped the Quicksilver, falling to his knees as the first of the really excruciating pains shot through his skull.

"Fawkes. Where are you?" Hobbes asked, in his ear giving him some sense of focus.

"On my way back," Darien replied through clenched teeth. "Make sure the Keep has that shot ready."

~~~

"She already does, partner," Hobbes said looking over at Claire who was readying the counteragent as he spoke.

When Darien stumbled out of the trees, still holding the prize Hobbes was there to help him to the van and to sit while Claire stripped him out of the jacket and slid up his sleeve to inject the counteragent into him. She was careful to be as gentle as possible this time.

Darien flopped back onto the floor of the van as the drug kicked in driving the pain and that horrible urge to hurt someone back into that corner of his mind where it normally hid. "Can we go now?" he moaned.

"Yeah. I think we've done enough damage for one night," Bobby said with a shake of his head. "Right, Keep?"

"Yes, Bobby. More than enough." She was looking down at her Kept whose face was still showing the remains of the pain.

~~~

"Shame on you. I bet you told the boss it wasn't your fault. Good thing only I have the priority codes," Alyx muttered as she took control of the system. She couldn't prevent whatever guards there were from responding, but she could and would gladly confuse the hell out of them. She kept Darien's pathway clear, kept him off their monitors while setting off alarms randomly all over the estate. It was several minutes before he made his way out of the house and eventually off the grid. She could only assume that he was okay.

She shut down the Destiny program and swiftly completed organizing the other data she'd acquired including a digital copy of tonight festivities from both her and Eberts' computers, which she then uploaded into a very specific file and sent an e-mail to the Official. When she had finished shutting down the computer it was nearly dawn.

A new day had begun.

~*~*~

The Official was going through his morning mail, both regular and electronic and was pleased to find the one he'd been waiting for. It wasn't much, just an address for an encrypted archive to which, only he and one other had the key, and a question: Plan A or Plan B?'

He accessed the archive and skimmed over it. He flicked his eyes towards the only other person in the room who was humming quietly to himself as he shredded documents.

"Eberts."

"Yes, sir?" Eberts responded, straightening.

"Find Fawkes and Hobbes and bring them here," he barked at the man.

"Yes, sir." Eberts skittered to the door and was gone in a moment.

"The Official shook his head and closed the document. In response to the e-mail he typed, Plan B' and hit send.

He could only hope this worked as they had planned.

~~~

Alyx checked her messages just after lunch and was pleased to that they included a message from her brother, but she bypassed it in favor of the one with the code name she'd been told to watch for. She opened it and the contents her look hard. Plan B it was.

***

Three weeks earlier...

Alyx stormed into the Official's office without so much as a knock on the door. Usually she was the polite one of the bunch. "Eberts, get out."

Eberts looked to the Official who took a moment to finish signing his name to the paper on the desk before looking up at the woman standing before him. That one look was enough. "Go."

"Sir?" Eberts sounded offended.

"Now."

"Yes, sir." With an air of superiority, Eberts strode past Alyx and out of the room.

"Tell him no eavesdropping," Alyx growled.

"Eberts." The Official raised his voice slightly.

"Yes sir." Came from the hallway.

"Satisfied?" the Official asked her.

After a moments searching for any hidden bugs she nodded.

"All right, what is the problem? And if it's to complain about being kept away from Fawkes..."

She waved her hand at him. "That, I agree with. For the time being."

"Then what?"

She held her hand out over the desk and let the Quicksilver flow from her palm. It still wasn't normal. Still took on that horrid solidity that looked decidedly uncomfortable, before falling to the desk with a sound like a poorly minted silver coin being tossed down. Metallic and dulled. She turned her hand over to show the blood that had appeared there.

"There's nothing I can do about the drug in your system. The Keeper is trying to figure that out." The Official seemed a bit taken aback by her rather graphic visual display.

"Don't be so thickheaded. It's how the drug got there that's the real problem. The only people to know about the meet were Traci, Darien, me and one other. Now, we know Traci didn't tell them; she'd been out of direct contact for quite a while. She didn't even know who the hell I was. Darien and I didn't tell them. Only one other person knew where we were. You have at least one mole here and he is screwing with my life." Alyx had kept her voice low but the anger was still evident.

"I'll need proof," the Official said.

"I'll need complete access to the computer system and the clearance to find what I need," she replied.

"You'll get it, but we can't be obvious." He thought for a moment. "What if you were to have an unexpected side effect that would require you to be confined here for a time."

"Not in the cage," Alyx said with a hint of a shudder.

"No. Lab Two most likely. Can you handle that?" He raised one eyebrow.

She nodded. "Have to wait til I'm clear of this crap. Say a week and I'll start acting a bit odd and deteriorate from there?"

"That should work. This will go no further that the two of us. No one else will know. No one. I want all the moles." He watched her.

"You'll have them." Alyx crossed her arms. "I'll do what's necessary."

"This won't be pleasant and I can't make it any easier if this is to work." He actually sounded a touch sympathetic.

"Finding the truth rarely is, boss," Alyx commented wryly. "Oh, one other thing."

The Official managed to bite back a groan. "What?"

"When you have the moles you will tell Darien everything. Including the information I have passed along to both you and the Keeper." Alyx insisted quietly.

"And if I refuse," he countered.

"Then I will. I guess it's a matter of how badly you want to keep him here and how." Alyx didn't wait for an answer. "Let me know your decision." She opened the door and left the room with the same air that she had entered with.

***

Alyx got up from the desk after shutting down the computer and began a series of stretches and, as casually as she could, she checked out the window of the door. As expected Timmens was there and not Claire who was most likely at the Keep this time of the day. She'd been doing this routine every day to keep in shape and to get Timmens used to it. So when she started her katas, including rather loud yells, he didn't even bother getting up to look.

He did react when she slammed into the door hard enough to create an obvious dent, and then proceeded to destroy everything she could in the room. One honking big problem with Plan B' was enacting it without overt use of her powers.

Timmens reacted as she had predicted, by calling for help and then trying to subdue her by himself. Alyx switched her focus and moved into a rather predatory mode. Timmens got the door partway open, where it stuck, thanks to the rather impressive bow Alyx had managed to put in it. He foolishly stood in the open space, which was not quite big enough for him to pass through, and aimed a tranquilizer gun at her.

He never got the chance to fire. Alyx went for him, one hand grabbing the gun and his hand her other hand reaching through and slamming his head into the very hard metal door. As he fell to the floor unconscious she pulled the gun from him. Alyx slipped through the space, which was just large enough for her small frame, through the front room and out into the hallway just in time to see Sims and Caufman come around the corner heading for the Lab. Alyx raised the gun and fired. Hitting Caufman with the tranq dart took almost no effort, then she threw the gun at Sims and charged him, burying her shoulder in his stomach, which put him on the floor coughing and gasping for air.

She then raced down the hallway to the stairwell and headed up.

Moments later the alarm sounded.

~~~

Claire just about jumped out of her skin when the alarm went off, and her first thought was Alyx. She raced out of the Keep and for Lab Two only to find a rather green looking Sims, two unconscious lab techs and a thoroughly trashed and empty room where Alyx should have been.

"Bloody hell. What is going on in her head now?" She raced back out of the room and ran all of the way to the Official's office with Sims following along behind her.

Claire slammed open the door nearly shattering the glass. The four men in the room turned to stare at her.

"Alyx is loose and in a bad mood I'd wager," Claire told them.

"We'd know if she tried to get out the front," Eberts commented.

"Where would she go? She knows once the alarm goes off that we seal the building," the Official said.

Almost as one Darien and Bobby both said, "Roof."

They all went up and found her. She had dealt with the two agents that had taken up position there when the alarm had sounded. She looked at them warily as they approached her. She wasn't wearing much, just sweats and a T-shirt. Her feet were bare and it must have hurt like hell to walk on the rocks that were used for drainage on the roof, but she didn't seem to notice.

"Alyx." Claire kept her voice as calm as possible. This was the last place Alyx should be as far as Claire was concerned. She had been exhibiting suicidal tendencies similar to those when she had first joined the Agency. Not actively suicidal, but willing to put herself in harms way with very little care about protecting herself. She'd even gone so far as to confront a fully Quicksilver mad Darien and do nothing to protect herself. Only Darien's innate sense of right and wrong prevented what would have been a tragedy on two fronts.

If Alyx didn't start improving soon, Claire was going to have her committed.

Alyx ignored her choosing instead to watch the men of the group. Sims and several other agents that had joined the group circled around Alyx and she watched them only to make sure they were not coming after her directly.

Claire got a few steps closer before Alyx's attention snapped back to her. Claire found herself wishing she'd remembered to grab a tranquillizer gun before coming up here. "Alyx, you need to calm down."

Alyx twitched and began to laugh. "You want me calm. You want me complacent. You want me to behave. You want me to be a target for you." Her laughter died. "I won't play the game any more."

At Hobbes' urging, he and Darien moved more between Alyx and the nearby roof edge. She watched them as they moved her look changing slightly. Unconsciously she began to toy with the ring on her finger.

"Miss Silver, perhaps if we..." Eberts stopped when she spun to look at him.

"Did you really think I wouldn't figure it out? Did you really think I wouldn't check?"

Eberts and the Official stood side by side and both backed up slightly as she walked towards them. Several agents, including Sims, went for their guns, but the Official signaled for them to put them down.

"I don't know what you are talking about," Eberts responded stiffly.

"Oh really. How many people had the clearance to get to Arnaud and get him out?" She took a step closer. "And Traci, it's amazing how she got fed the same poison their operatives use in the field to suicide when caught."

"Eberts, what is she talking about?" the Official asked turning slightly to look at him.

"Sir, I..." Eberts shook his head, looking bewildered.

"I trusted only one person here with the information about where we were going. Traci knew. Darien and I knew. And Traci couldn't have set us up; she'd been out of direct contact for too long." Alyx was yelling now.

Hobbes caught the movement first and dove at Sims who had pulled his gun, obviously intent on shooting Alyx. After a bit of a struggle Sims was lying cuffed on the roof with four agents watching him.

Darien had moved closer to Alyx, having figured out at least part of what was going on. But he stopped short when Eberts - yes, Eberts - pulled a gun.

The Official moved cautiously away from the man.

Eberts didn't look a whole lot like Eberts any more. Gone was the subservient kiss ass. Now there was a hard-eyed operative who realized his cover was blown.

"It's such a shame the project failed. You had such potential, but I guess you couldn't adapt as well as we hoped. Not to worry though, we have an entire new generation to work with." He took casual aim with the gun. "If Sims had done his job I wouldn't have had to do this."

Alyx didn't move, just smiled at the man she had known as Eberts. *Are you so sure it failed?* she said into his mind and his alone.

The timing was perfect. His eyes widened even as he realized what she had done, but it was too late, he had already pulled the trigger.

Alyx had just enough time to deflect the bullet so instead of her chest, it struck her in the lower abdomen and at an odd angle, ending up somewhere near her left hip. Lodging against the bone. She dropped and Darien went wild.

Quicksilvering in record time he lunged at Eberts, tore the gun from his hand and knocked him to the roof of the building. Darien had his hands around his throat, doing his best to choke the man to death.

"You son of a bitch. You fucking traitor. She trusted you. She was your goddamned friend." About halfway through the Quicksilver had fallen off.

It took both Hobbes and the Official to pull him off and by then Eberts was quite unconscious. Then Darien turned and saw Claire kneeling next to Alyx. The blood was everywhere. Or so it seemed to him.

"Aw fuck, Alyx."

She managed a strained laugh. "Not right now, I think." She grabbed for one of his hands and held it tightly when she found it.

Darien looked at Claire who shook her head slightly. Crap.

"You'll be fine. You're too damn stubborn to die," Darien said quietly.

"So they keep telling me," she muttered.

Two of Claire's assistants arrived then with a gurney that someone had thought to call for.

"Help me move her," Claire said to Darien, who nodded.

He moved behind Alyx's head and slid his hands under her shoulders. The assistants got her torso and legs while Claire continued to apply pressure to the wound. Claire did the count to three routine and they lifted her to the gurney without a even a wince of pain out of Alyx. It then became a mad dash back down into the building.

"Take her to Lab Two. Damn it. No, Lab Three," Claire said, remembering that Alyx had trashed Lab Two.

Somewhere along the way down Alyx had passed out without a sound. Once inside Claire ordered everyone, but her assistants out. Darien didn't want to go, but did so when she looked at him. She was starting triage while one of the assistants got an I.V. line and monitors hooked up when she heard Alyx in her mind.

*Claire, I have to die.*

Startled Claire began to speak out loud, but caught herself in time. *Alyx, what are you talking about?*

*The Official will confirm. I have to die'.* Alyx's mind voice was insistent.

The room's phone rang, and was brought over to Claire after being answered by one of the techs. It was held to her ear as she continued to work on Alyx. "Yes."

It was the Official. "She has to die. She'll handle her end. You handle yours."

"Yes, sir," Claire acknowledged, shaking her head. The phone was taken away, and she returned her full concentration to saving Alyx.

The readings on the monitors slowly went from bad to worse, but she kept working. She got the bullet out and then found the damn bleeder that was driving her nuts and closed it off finally. Somehow Alyx had kept the bullet mainly in the musculature of her abdomen, keeping it from going too deep or hitting anything vital. The bullet had just clipped that one artery and then impacted her hipbone. She glanced at the monitors. If she didn't know better she would swear Alyx was actually dying under her hands.

*I'm still here, but I'm going to have to go deep to fool the geeks with you.* Alyx's mind voice sounded very tired, something Claire would not have thought possible. *Don't let Darien near me for very long. He'll know.*

*Alyx I...*

*Please.* It was barely a whisper. Then she began to convulse on the table as her readings bottomed out and then flat lined. With a sigh Claire went through the motions and then pronounced her dead a few minutes later. She then ordered the other two out of the room.

Claire spent a couple minutes checking Alyx and although faint and very slow, she did find a heartbeat and sighed with relief. She finished cleaning and closing the wound. She was as careful and neat as she could be. Alyx had no need of another nasty scar. After Claire had dealt with telling everyone, she'd do some X-rays to make sure there was no damage to Alyx's hip or pelvis. She left the I.V. drip going as Alyx had lost enough blood to worry her. Examining her handiwork, she knew it would hold for now and turned off all the monitors. For the final touch she pulled the sheet up over Alyx's pale, still face.

She left the Lab, locking the door behind her and went to the Keep. She knew they'd be in the Keep. They were always in the Keep.

Claire walked in, blood still staining her clothes, her face as expressionless as she could make it. She did her job well.

Both men knew the moment they saw her.

~*~*~

Darien walked into his apartment and closed the door softly behind him. He leaned against it for a long moment trying to push the memories of the day from his mind. He couldn't. He hadn't believed Claire until he'd seen her for himself and then the world had turned into one huge blur of pain and abject misery. Hobbes had offered to drive him home, but Darien had refused. Had fought the urge to go after Eberts and finish what he had started up on the roof. Instead, he found himself here, dealing with her death again, only this time it hurt so very much more.

He tossed his keys onto the pool table and looked to the kitchen, trying to remember whether he had any beer in the fridge that he just couldn't see through the glass door. Instead he found himself swallowed by a memory from several weeks ago. The whole thing replaying in his mind. Bright, vivid, real, as if it was happening this moment, this now.

***

Alyx stood at the kitchen counter, kneading the dough on the cutting board before her while I watched her in amusement. It seemed that the worse that her day had been the more elaborate a dinner she would cook. She'd been gone the last two days and I had come home to find her elbow deep in vegetables and boiling broth. Chicken and dumplings she'd said with a strained voice. It must have been bad, but I knew she wouldn't talk about it, yet. Not until she had worked off some of her frustrations and anger, and cooking seemed to do that for her.

I couldn't help but notice that she kept rolling her shoulders and twisting her neck, so I figured she must be one huge knot and I decided to do something about it. Maybe get her to relax a bit, get her talking about what was bothering her. I tossed the magazine I'd been thumbing through down on the floor and got up to pad barefoot over to her. She'd showered changed when she'd gotten here. I knew because she was wearing my barfly' shirt and a pair of sweats she had left here some time ago.

Standing behind her I began to knead her shoulders even as her hands continued to knead the dough before her. Her hands were covered with flour and bits of dough and she smelled of my soap and shampoo and I, after breathing in her scent for several minutes, couldn't help but wonder how she would taste. She had pulled her hair up into a simple bun leaving her neck bare and she sighed softly as I pressed my thumbs into the muscles of her back and kissed her on the neck. She tilted her head slightly to rub the side of her face against mine.

Her hands stopped kneading the dough and began to spread it across the board, slowly forming a sheet about a quarter inch thick. My hands made their way down to the small of her back finding and working on any of the knots I encountered along the way. She had started humming as she worked, reached for a nearby knife, and began slicing the dough into strips about and inch wide.

I bit her gently on the ear and then lower on her neck, down towards her shoulder showing no concern about the knife moving on the board before me. I knew she would stop if I actually succeeded in distracting her enough for it to become a hazard. I slid my hands under the shirt tracing lightly over the ribs on her back. Now would not be the time to tickle her. I slipped my hands around her to glide lightly over her stomach and then upward to caress her breasts. She stilled her hands for a moment and sucked in a deep breath, releasing it slowly. I could feel her heart jump in her throat, her nipples hardening beneath my palms.

She then began to cut the strips of dough into squares, while I continued my slow, relaxing exploration of her body. My lips teasing her throat, making her shiver at my touch, but she kept her concentration on the dough and the knife before her. She fully intended to complete this task no matter what I was doing.

When the dough was all cut, she set the knife aside and, with a little convincing to get me moving, she turned around to go to the stove where a pot of steaming broth was waiting. Carefully, so as not to splash the hot water, she added the squares of dough to the pot and then set the cutting board down. She gave the contents of the pot a quick stir and adjusted the heat.

Quick as a cat she spun in my hold and buried her dough and flour covered hands into my hair and kissed me, her tongue sliding into my mouth and finding mine.

Pulling back with a sigh she said, "You have twenty minutes. Use them wisely."

I did.

***

Darien shut his eyes to banish the images before them and pressed one hand to head. He couldn't do this, couldn't stay here, and couldn't look at anything in this room without seeing some flash of memory involving her. Grabbing his keys he fled his apartment without knowing where he was going, or what he would do when he got there.

~*~*~

Claire walked into the Official's office, her expression tight. She had spent the night with Alyx at a very private hospital that would ask no questions, and give out no information out about Alyx without the express order of her doctor. Namely Claire. She wasn't worried about Alyx, who was doing just fine, if in a bit of discomfort thanks to the new bullet wound in her abdomen. No Claire was worried about Darien who had walked out of here yesterday in such a state of despair it frightened her. She'd waited impatiently for him to show up down in the Keep like he always did, like he had promised to, but it had been too long.

"Have either of you heard from Darien?" she asked the two men there.

"No," Hobbes said turning to look at her. He sounded and looked tired. "I stopped by his place last night, after calling three times with no answer, and went back this morning. He wasn't there and I'm not sure he's been there since leaving here yesterday."

Claire looked at the Official. "We need to find him, I'm concerned he may do something foolish."

"He wouldn't," the Official stated. "He doesn't give up that easy."

"Normally I'd agree with you, boss, but he and the k..." Bobby choked on the word and it took him a moment to find his voice again. "They were real close, is all."

"Should I activate the tracker?" Claire asked.

The Official thought about it. "Just to get a location. Provided he's still in the area, I suppose we could cut him some slack for today."

Claire nodded and left the room to return to the Keep, with Bobby trailing along behind her.

"Claire...," He couldn't get beyond her name.

"Yes, Bobby, I know." She hated this part. The lying, but she understood and, even to a degree, agreed with the reasoning. Watching her two favorite men crumple and wilt under the false knowledge, that hurt more than she thought it would.

"I... Do you mind if I hang out with you for a while?" he asked, his voice not quite pleading.

Claire keyed open the door to the Keep. "Of course, Bobby. You're always welcome to spend time with me."

"I am? Since when." He made his way over to that chair. The one both Fawkes and the kid had learned to hate. And then he sat on it, swinging his legs a bit.

Claire made her way over to one of the lab benches and after a bit of searching pulled out her portion of the tracking device and turned it on. "Well, he's not too far. I'm getting a nice strong signal."

"It shouldn't have happened this way. I don't know if Darien can handle this," Bobby said to her, and she turned around to look at him. "The kid's tougher than him in a lot of ways. If Fawkes had been the one... Well, I'd probably be the one losing it while she held it together."

"I wouldn't say that, Bobby, Alyx wasn't cold hearted." Claire moved closer to him.

"Not saying that, but she had a different perspective on... On just about everything." He lifted his head and looked into her eyes. "You noticed the ring didn't you?"

Claire had to think for a moment and vaguely remembered seeing a silver ring on Alyx's right hand. She'd seen no significance in it. Alyx occasionally wore jewelry, is all. "Vaguely. It's just a ring, right?"

Bobby snorted. "That ring had been burning a hole in Fawkes' pocket for quite a while."

"You mean?" Claire hadn't thought Darien would ever consider something like that.

"Yeah, Fawkes didn't want to take a chance on her getting away." Bobby shook his head. "I told him he was nuts, but he was convinced it was the only thing to do."

"I didn't know," Claire admitted, staring past Bobby. No wonder Darien had looked so lost. Bobby was right about one thing, if the situation had been reversed Alyx would have handled it much better, been much more in control. But she would have hurt no less.

"You miss a lot of things, Keepy." He sounded so sad still and a little lost.

"What are you talking about Bobby?" Claire asked him, feeling a little lost herself.

"Like this." He reached out and brushed his hand lightly across her cheek and back into her hair. When she didn't move, didn't say anything, he found himself feeling a bit brave. "And this." He leaned forward and kissed her gently. For a moment she froze and then she relaxed into his touch, responding to his kiss with a fervor that surprised both of them.

When she had the chance to breathe again she said, "I noticed, Bobby."

~*~*~

Darien had spent most of the night wandering from place to place and everywhere, it seemed, brought back some memory, no matter how slight, how painful. He'd found himself at the beach waiting for the sunrise just like she had done many times, shadows stretching out for dozens of feet on the sand before him. He didn't care about the sand creeping into his shoes, or shirt, or hair as he lay back and stared at the sky as it began to lighten with the dawn. When he sat up, he could see her in his mind. Sitting right where the waves would wash across her feet. Letting the salty water soak her clothes, the breeze causing stray curls of hair to wave like banners in the early morning sunshine. Saw her turn to look at him, smiling.

He swallowed hard, forcing the image away. Revealing the beach as it truly was, empty. Flopping back down he lay there on the sand staring at the sky for an unknown length of time. Not thinking about anything in particular; tried to not to think at all, in fact. He succeeded pretty well.

When he pushed himself to his feet he was surprised at how far the sun had moved across the sky. He wandered to his car and climbed in, heading for the one place that had helped last time and arrived at Alyx's apartment with little idea of how he had gotten there. The drive had become a blur that was swiftly fading from his conscious memory.

He unlocked the door to her apartment, fingering the key for a long moment after he had entered and shut the door behind himself. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. He wandered through her living room, noting the untidy heap books piled on the floor next to the couch. He could picture Alyx sitting at on one end, a book in one hand, pen stuffed behind her ear, her other hand playing idly with his hair as he lay sprawled with his head in her lap. He reading whatever had caught his interest on that particular night.

Some nights all they would do was read. Some he would read to her, others she to him and some nights the reading would be nothing more than a prelude to something more. Some nights they never even made it to the bed only a dozen or so steps away.

He moved further into the room and gave the punching bag a push to start it swinging. The mats and weights were stacked neatly underneath one of the windows. He flashed on another memory from several months ago.

***

I stood on the mat panting, the sweat running down my back and soaking my shirt. I'd thought Bobby had been a hard task master. She was relentless. She'd offered to teach me a couple of tricks to prevent another incident like the one a couple days ago when a perp half my size had managed to get the jump on both myself and Hobbes, with the cuffs still on, no less. Both I and Hobbes were sporting a variety of bruises including the black eye that I was currently very uncomfortably aware of.

I'd foolishly made the comment at the beginning of this sparring match about not expecting someone so small to be so strong. Alyx had just given me this look with one eyebrow raised and said, "Oh, really."

I knew I was in trouble right then and there.

When she'd pulled out a pair of handcuffs and had me cuff her hands behind her back, I wondered where she was going with this demonstration. "You said the guy got his hands in front somehow, right?"

"Yeah?" I responded.

"Might he have done this?" As I watched she dropped to the mat in a controlled fall, rolled up on her back and slid her arms down past her legs and feet. Rocking back forward she stood up, her hands now in front of her. With a quiet pop she dislocated one of her thumbs and slid the right cuff off her hand. I just watched her with shock on my face.

"I know you're limber enough to pull off that trick." She used the key to unlock the other cuff and tossed them onto the table. "And for you, picking the lock requires very little effort." She put her hands on her hips and looked at me. "Apparently working out with Hobbes hasn't taught you enough."

That had been over an hour ago and she was just now breaking a sweat. So far I had learned that it was far, far easier for her to dump me on my ass than it was for me to dump her onto hers.

"Again," she said.

I nodded and tried to catch my breath. This time, instead of circling as we had been for the last 15 minutes or so, I closed with her. I feinted one punch at her face, intending to get her in the stomach with my other hand, but she saw it coming and blocked it, spinning to catch me gently with a backhand to the face. I was very thankful she was pulling her punches. I've seen her put down two hundred pound hulks with one good hit and I was starting to figure out that trading punches with her wasn't going to work. I've seen her do katas in the traditional outfit, with a sword. Mr. Lee had done his job well with her.

I closed with her again, doing my best to keep her hands from doing any damage or hooking me with her legs to dump me to the mats yet again. My height was no advantage with her. She was incredibly agile, yet somehow I shifted just right and got one of my legs between hers. I moved like she had shown me, getting her off balance and tossing her backwards and onto the floor. She managed to keep a hold of me and I found myself on the floor as well, looking down at her. She was smiling.

"Not bad."

Something in her voice gave it a way. "You let me drop you."

"Uh, huh," she said, nodding. "Tired of fighting. Want to play now."

Her voice rolled across me, and the exhaustion that had begun to take hold was forgotten. "What did you have in mind?"

She shifted, sidling closer and lifted herself up to kiss me. Her hands trailed down along my chest to my stomach tugging at the shirt and we broke apart so that she could remove it. I leaned down to kiss her throat and could feel her heart pounding beneath the skin and my hand found the bare flesh at her waist. I trailed my hand upward, but she stopped me and I lifted my head to look at her.

"Shower," she suggested. "Warm water, suds, endless possibilities."

I swallowed hard. Oh yeah, endless possibilities indeed.

***

Darien hit the punching bag as hard as he could to make the images go away. It didn't really help, unless you can count bruising the hell out of his knuckles. He stilled the bag and walked to the kitchen rummaging through her fridge to find the beer he knew she kept there for him. He found them buried in the back and pulled all six out, fully intending on drinking them all. Closing the fridge he leaned back against the counter and slid down it to sit on the floor. He opened two bottles and drank the first without even thinking about it. He took a bit more time with the second, but it was still gone within minutes.

By the time he was halfway through the third the alcohol was beginning to work its magic, beginning to dull the pain, blur the lines between reality and memory.

***

"Dare. What the devil are you doing here?" Alyx asked as she entered her apartment and placed the bike on its rack next to the door.

"Hiding," I answered, letting the irritation I felt seep into my voice.

"Oh, is that all." She tossed her keys on the table and put her backpack next to her desk. "Hobbes or Claire?"

"What?" I opened another beer and walked out of the kitchen towards her.

"Are you hiding from Claire or Hobbes?" She slid out of her jacket and hung it on the coat rack with the others. The she reached up behind her head and pulled her hair out of the ponytail, running her hands through it to loosen it up. She'd been letting it grow again.

"Both, neither, damn. I don't know anymore." I sounded more tired than anything, now.

"Sit." She pointed at her couch, when I didn't move she grasped my elbow and urged me over. "C'mon. If you don't relax a bit you're going to give me a headache."

I nodded slightly and allowed her to guide me to the couch and sit down. Instead of sitting with me, she stayed behind the couch and pulled me back into the thick cushions. The stereo turned itself on and soft jazz music wafted across the room. She squatted down resting her arms along the back of the couch behind me.

"When was the last time you slept? Really slept?"

I rubbed my face with one hand. I didn't really want to tell her, she'd probably just go and call the Keep on me. "Too long, it seems."

She ran her fingers lightly over the back of my neck and I had to control a shiver of pleasure, then they moved up through my hair. I turned slightly to look at her and she shifted just enough to kiss me gently. "Why?"

I shrugged. "I close my eyes and then I wake up feeling even more exhausted than when I fell asleep."

"Hmmm. Dreams?" She continued to run her hands over me. Shoulders, neck, head; her touch no more than a whisper against my skin.

"Not that I can remember." I tipped my head back with a sigh. Relaxing for the first time in weeks, it seemed.

"I've been off working with Terence, but around. So it can't be that." She slid over the back of the couch to sit beside me. "Did I miss your birthday or something?"

I smiled at her. A sad, tired smile. "Nah, nothing like that. I guess... It's just been so long. What if they can't take it out? What if I'm stuck like this forever? I don't want to end up living my life in some padded room because there is nothing else they can do, no way to stop me from sliding into the madness and staying there."

Alyx buried her head against my chest. "I won't let that happen. I can't."

I wrapped my arms around her, and rest my chin on the top of her head. "What can you do? They own me."

She lifted her head t look at me. "You have no idea what I'm capable of." Her eyes were bright. Her look dangerous. "And neither does the Official."

I ran my hand along her jaw and she closed her eyes. She was right I didn't have any idea and there are days I don't think she does either and I think, maybe, that scares her a little. "You don't have to do anything."

"I want to and you know that." She moved away, sitting at the far end resting her head on the throw pillow, one leg on the floor. "Now, come here and lay down."

I set the bottle on the coffee table and crawled over to her, resting my head on her stomach. "I won't sleep," I muttered, curling one arm underneath her, the other hanging off the couch. I started tapping my fingers on the wood floor, following the beat of the music.

"So don't." She rested one hand on my head and I felt her relax herself beneath me. She slowed her heart rate, and dozed off. At a guess, she'd been awake almost 20 hours herself.

I sighed, not believing I'd be able to sleep, even curled on her, but I was willing to try now that she was here. She smelled of fresh air, and sunshine. A warm, familiar, comfortable presence for my mind and heart. One of her hands was playing idly with my hair the other thrown back behind the pillow. I reached my hand back a bit to rest against her calf and her toes wiggled in response. I let my eyes drift shut, listening to the slow rhythmic beating of her heart.

I never noticed when sleep reached out to capture me and drag me under.

***

"Fawkes, buddy. You in here?" The door hadn't even been locked and Fawkes' car was parked right outside. If he weren't here, the Keep would have to use the tracking system to find him. "C'mon, partner, I'm tired and want to go home, but the fat man wants to know if you're okay."

"Then go home, Hobbes, and leave me alone," Darien muttered just loud enough for Bobby to hear.

Bobby followed the sound to find Darien sitting on the kitchen floor, knees drawn up to his chest and a collection of bottles lying abandoned about him. It looked like after he had run out of beer and started in on the kid's liquor cabinet. There was an empty bottle of rum rolling back and forth on the floor and a half empty bottle of vodka still in Darien's hand. Bobby really hoped that neither bottle had been full.

"Well, partner, does getting shit-faced help at all?" Hobbes leaned against the wall looking down at his friend.

"Not in the least." He raised the bottle in a mock toast and drank.

"Too bad. I'd join you if it helped at all." Bobby moved to sit on the floor across from him. "Want me to take you home?"

Darien shook his head, stopping when his stomach warned him that it might not be that good of an idea. "Too many memories there. It hurt too much. S'why I'm here."

"And this is you're way of not hurting?" Bobby asked. He stood up and held his hand out to his partner, his friend. "C'mon I'll take you home."

Darien started to protest. "My place, Fawkes. We can be depressed together."

Darien took Bobby's hand and got shakily to his feet. Bobby wrapped an arm about the taller man's waist and steered him towards the door.

"You get sick in my van and you'll regret it big time, pal." Darien leaned heavily against him so drunk he could barely see.

"Thanks, Bobby," Darien slurred.

"No problem, my friend."

~~~

"Keep, I think maybe you should get over here," Bobby said into the phone.

"Did you find him, Bobby?" Claire sounded tinny. Must be bad reception on her cell phone.

"He was at her place. He's currently drunk off his ass, lying on my bed." Bobby peeked into the room to make sure Darien was still asleep. "He's not doing so good."

"I'll be there in 10 minutes, Bobby," she said and then hung up the phone.

Bobby sat down on his couch, waiting. Just another thing he had learned to do well. For some things he'd been waiting a long time. She was as good as her word and almost exactly 10 minutes later there was a knock on his door.

"Hey, Claire. He's this way." He led her into his bedroom where Fawkes had curled around one of the pillows, holding it in a crushing embrace.

Darien mumbled something unintelligible as Claire sat down next to him. She brushed a stray lock of hair off his forehead. He opened his eyes. "Alyx?"

"No, Darien. It's Claire." The disappointment on his face was enough to break her heart. Damn it, she hated this, but to save Alyx they had to risk destroying Darien. This was just so wrong. "How are you feeling?"

He laughed harsh, dry laughter. "Wonderful, just wonderful. How about you, feeling good about keeping her locked in that room until she had to break out and sacrifice herself to save the rest of us? You feeling good about that?"

"Darien, she was sick. I did what I had to do," Claire said in her defense. Oh, liar,' she shouted at herself.

"That's what you always say. You know what? I don't believe you any more." He rolled over, turning away from her. "Just g'way."

She did and Bobby was waiting for her just outside the door. "Ignore him, it's just the booze talking. Tomorrow will be better."

Claire looked back over her shoulder at Darien. "No, it won't. Not for him." She turned back to Bobby and rested her head on his shoulder. "Some days I hate my job."

"Yeah, I know the feeling."

~~~

Darien lay on the bed not quite asleep, his head kept doing that slow dip and spin every time he closed his eyes, so, for now, he was keeping them open. He stared at the mostly unfamiliar wall before him his mind wandering randomly. He was so tired, so very tired, and it wasn't just because of the large quantity alcohol he had imbibed. Every time his eyes would drift shut another image would appear in his mind. At first, they were pretty much exclusively Alyx, then others, Casey, Becca, Stacey, Lora, and then Kim. Damn, he hadn't thought about Kimmy in ages. Mentioned her in passing a few weeks ago to... he let himself skip over her name. His eyes drifted shut, the alcohol combined with having been awake over 24 hours finally jumped up and attacked him, dragging him down into the slumber he'd been avoiding.

***

I ran up the front steps of the house, hoping she was still waiting. She said she was going to wait until I showed. Hard to believe summer was almost over. Hard to believe she'd spent it all with him. I stood at the back door and looked out over the yard and after a moment found her sitting under the tree, where we usually sat, where we'd done lots of stuff the last few months.

It was funny that out of all the girls I'd brought home, all the ones I'd dated I ended up with the one I was supposed to be tutoring. Not that she was stupid by any means, heck she was sheer genius when it came to math, but English Lit. that left her lost and much to my amazement when she'd asked for help the teacher had suggested me. I hadn't really liked the idea at first, I was sliding through school with A's and B's, but that was with no effort. I did the bare minimum and took my tests and my teachers kept giving me these odd looks; like they never expected me to pass them. It was only in my one math, Trigonometry, and my science class, Chemistry that I wasn't doing as well. Still getting B's though, so my Uncle Peter had very little reason to complain. Or so I believed, somehow he still found reasons to.

I'd been tutoring Kim since just after the first of the year and somewhere along the way we just clicked, so that by the time the end of the school year rolled around we were damn near inseparable. Hell, about the only other person I hung with was Liz and she was good only for trouble. Kim, well Kim was the sunshine in my day.

I opened the back door and trotted down the steps moving into that lazy low energy walk I had mastered. "Hey, thanks for waiting."

She looked up at me frowning a bit. "Kevin let me in. What did you do this time, Darien? Off getting into trouble with that Liz again?"

What could I say? That's what had happened. I folded myself to sit cross-legged in front of her. "It's no big deal."

"For gods sake, Darien. My dad arrested you." Now she was beginning to sound angry with me. I needed to get her mind off my most recent screw up. "Are you sleeping with her too? When you're not out stealing candy from babies, are you playing bed games with her too?"

I shook my head. With Liz? Good lord the thought was enough to make me feel ill. Get drunk with her? Yeah. Steal some trinkets or cause trouble in general? Yeah. Go to bed with her. Uh, uh. No way. I just didn't see her like that. She was a friend, a mentor, a teacher in the art of competent larceny, and nothing else.

"Kimmy, do you think I'm nuts or something?" I looked at her, giving her that grin that always makes her smile and it almost - almost - worked. Something was going on here that's for sure. I unfolded and leaned in, almost but not quite close enough to touch her, and then I brushed my lips across hers. She tried to push me away, but gave up as soon as she laid her hands on me. We ended up lying on the grass, her hands buried in my hair, mine doing their best to slide under her shirt and get that bra unfastened.

"Darien, we need to talk." Her words had come out a little breathless and I lifted my head from her throat to look at her. Honey blonde hair, pale green eyes, the color of spring leaves, before summer's maturity has deepened and darkened the color. I didn't want this to end, didn't want summer to end, and didn't want to move.

"It's important," she said her tone more serious now.

I rolled off her and sat up. She lay there staring off into the distance. "Well."

"You know I was out of town last week," she began.

"Yeah, family vacation you said." I let one hand capture a stray lock of her hair and twisted it around my finger.

"Not exactly. I was at MIT. They said they'd be willing to take me a year early. Want me, actually. I took my GED and got my diploma two days ago. I'm leaving in a week." She flicked her eyes over at me waiting for my reaction.

My hand had stilled for an instant before continuing to play with her hair. Leaving? But we were still in the beginning part of our life. There was so much more I wanted to do, to see, to say. I took a deep breath. She'd made her decision. I should be happy for her. I would be eventually, I knew that much.

I leaned over her a hand on either side of her head and tried to keep from falling into those eyes, those emerald pools that I could drown in if I wasn't careful. "Well, I guess I'll have to make your goodbye a memorable one then, won't I?"

***

Darien half awoke on Bobby's bed muttering, "They all left me. In the end they all left me. Couldn't get rid of the assholes in prison no matter what I tried. The ones I wanted all left me." He grumbled a bit more and then fell back into an uneasy slumber.

~~~

Bobby half dragged a very unwilling Darien into the Keep the next morning. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, he had the headache from hell, his stomach was not very happy with him, and he hurt. Physically, mentally, emotionally, he hurt.

Claire took one look at him where he stood leaning against the wall looking pitiful. "Darien, I..."

He pushed himself off the wall. "Don't bother." He held out his wrist. "I think I mucked the monitor." It was full red, but he was not really showing any of the symptoms. As a matter of fact the color wasn't quite right.

"Sit, please," she requested him and he shuffled across the room to the chair without comment or a complaint. "Glasses."

Darien removed them and looked at her. When she shined the pen light in his eyes he flinched away. "A shiv would be less painful."

"Fawkes, it ain't her fault you drank enough to put most normal people in the hospital," Bobby reminded, as he randomly shuffled through items on the lab table.

"Like you'd let me anywhere near one." Darien turned to look at Bobby unable to put any real feeling into his voice.

"Darien, I'm going to reset the monitor." She stood next to him with the electronic wand that she used to make adjustments to the miniature motherboard buried just under the skin of his wrist.

Darien grunted and held out his arm. Claire held the wand over it and pressed the switch disabling the monitor. Darien jerked his arm at the shock. "Shit. Have to make it so it hurts don't you?"

"It's not intentional." She held her hand for his wrist again. The monitor looked the same only the colors were far duller. "You should be at three segments red." She looked at him and he nodded.

"Unless I've been going invisible in my sleep." He leaned his head back not really caring what she did next.

"I doubt that," Claire said. "Here goes." She set the wand over the monitor and turned it back on. Darien flinched only slightly this time even though it hurt just the same as before. "Much better." There were three brightly lit segments now, just as there should be. "I want to take a blood sample. See if I can figure out what the alcohol did to your system."

Darien pulled his hand out of her grip. "No."

"What did you say?" Claire sounded astonished.

Darien slid off the chair. "I said no, Keeper." He walked out of the room.

Claire turned to Bobby. "Give him some time, Keep. He's not really himself right now."

Claire shook her head. "No Bobby, he is himself. He's been wanting to say that for a long time and I can't really blame him."

There was something in her voice that Bobby picked up on. "What's going on?" He sidled up close to her. "Whatcha hiding this time?"

She stared in the direction of the door she couldn't see. "His freedom."

~~~

Four days later

Darien walked in the door of the house. His house. He still had trouble remembering that this was his house now. He shut the door and just stood there for a long moment and for once the memories running through his mind weren't of his time here as a boy, but instead of being here with Alyx. He didn't understand how a house that was empty could feel that much emptier just knowing that she would never walk through the door again.

The flashes of memory had eased a bit in the last few days, but they would still hit him at unexpected moments. He poked his head into the office and could picture her sitting behind the desk, her laptop partially blocking his view of her as she was swallowed up by his uncle's chair. She'd probably have a pen in her hand and be tapping it unconsciously against the edge of the desk.

He turned away and wandered into the living room, noting the thin layer of dust that had settled over everything, he'd have to remember to call a cleaning company to come in and clean the place every couple of weeks.

Responsibility, ugh.

That had always been more Kevin's department than his.

With a sigh, he wandered out to the kitchen to see if there was anything edible still there. Not that he was hungry, but he felt that it was something he should do. And there she was standing at the sink, washing the dishes by hand, much to his amusement, given the dishwasher just a few steps away. He closed his eyes and banished the images. He remembered her reasoning. Washing the dishes was relaxing she'd said. Not that the two of them had made a huge mess - there couldn't have been more than a half dozen dishes. It was nothing more than an excuse to do something mundane, something normal, something real.

He looked out the window and then moved to the door and went out onto the rear porch. The swing was swaying lightly in the breeze and he wondered if it would ever get any easier.

***

Alyx laid on her back on the bench swing her legs straight in the air, trying to stretch a cramp out of her lower back. I was standing in the doorway watching her with a smile. She was keeping me at arms length again, but this time, at least, her reasons were fully justified.

"How are you feeling?"

She turned her head to look at me as she pulled her legs in closer, her knees nearly touching her face. "Uncomfortable."

"Maybe it has something to do your current position." I let my amusement be heard in my voice.

"Cute, real cute," she muttered, lowering her legs. "If I don't ache all over, I get muscle cramps." She flung her arms behind her head and arched her back, still trying to ease the discomfort. "This sucks."

I moved over to her and trailed a finger across her stomach. She twitched.

"Jeeze, Dare, be careful, would you." She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Behind me, I heard a pop and turned to see that the light bulb next to the back door had exploded. The bits were sitting in the bottom of the decorative globe, which was now filled with smoke that oozed out the top.

"Ummm. Yeah. Guess I should be." I started to pull my hand away but she grabbed it and, for an instant, I got a hint of what was going on inside her before she got control back.

"Didn't mean to snap at you, but right now my shields are shot to hell, Quicksilvering hurts like you wouldn't believe, I'm picking up the thoughts of a round dozen of your neighbors, half of whom remember you and are debating locking away their good silver and daughters to protect them..." I laughed at that one. "I'm leaking energy like crazy and I'm afraid to touch you because I might very well kill you. I managed to keep you from getting nailed with this stuff once, I'm not going to put you at risk now." She released my hand. "I don't think I could bear it if I lost you."

"I'm not going anywhere," I said sitting on the swing and moving her feet to lie across my thighs. That's when she noticed the book.

"And what is the fare for tonight? We finished Oedipus Rex yesterday." One of her feet had slid beneath my shirt and was sliding over my stomach. Her toes were cold.

"I thought we'd go with something lighter tonight." I held up a battered book for her to see. I'd found it in my room earlier.

"A Tale of Two Cities. Ugh. You're definition of lighter' leaves a lot to be desired," she said with a smile then closed her eyes. "Shall we take turns tonight?"

I opened the book as she began to read it from memory.

"'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...'"

***

Darien walked back inside; a note sandwiched between two glasses on the table caught his eye. Picking it up he read the short sentence written there. Meet me at the cabin.'

What the hell? The handwriting looked like hers, but since that was impossible After the last few days, this was not what he needed now. More mystery. He still couldn't believe Eberts had been responsible for a lot of the really nasty shit that had happened to the two of them. Eberts had actually tried to arrange Darien's untimely demise on several occasions. Including the night they had gotten the goods on Emile Santori. Good thing he had unholy luck when he really needed it. All this time Eberts had simply been watching, testing, pushing Alyx to see exactly how far she could go. How fast she could adapt. He made sure she could never be completely comfortable at the Agency. Made sure she would always be at odds with the Official or Claire or even Hobbes.

Eberts had been the one to inform Hielburg where she was, just so his agency' could see how she reacted to the implanted programming. He was also the reason her husband' had been able to find her just when things had been returning to normal. Tried to keep her always a little off balance and all while pretending to be her friend, a person she trusted, a person she was willing to spend time with outside of the office.

Darien still had trouble dealing with the betrayal.

The fact that Eberts had been recruited by this other group long before he ever came to work at the Agency made it no easier. Eberts had recruited both Sims and Karen Landry in accounting to act as his back up, as spies. To carry out her termination if it was deemed necessary. Only Landry had successfully suicided, but before she had she'd managed to get out a coded message to, they assumed, her superiors. What exactly it said they had no idea, but they guessed at the very least it told of Alyx's demise.

Both Eberts and Sims had gone and were still going through intense interrogation, but they had revealed very little as yet. Although the last couple of days Eberts had become willing to tell a bit more, much to Darien's surprise.

The Official had finally ordered him to take a few days off. The only acknowledgment of Alyx's passing had been a very small memorial service. Darien still couldn't believe that Alyx had been cremated, although her logic on the matter was impeccable as always - can't play with the body if there isn't one.

It was all such a fucked up mess.

He looked at the note again and decided why not. It wasn't like he had anything better to do.

~~~

When he arrived at the cabin, he was surprised to hear the faint sounds of music coming from somewhere nearby. His first thought was that perhaps Rachel and Jay had come, but that didn't make any sense. Alyx had trusted Michael to get them some place safe and coming back here so soon would be anything but safe. Then he thought maybe it was Michael himself, but that didn't make much sense either. Michael could have contacted him directly.

He made his way through the cabin noticing that someone had obviously been here for several days. He let his eyes slide over the items without really seeing them. As if his mind refused to believe, it was a t all possible. When he opened the back door, it became obvious that the music was coming from here. And he even recognized it as something she liked to listen to on occasion. It still refused to register on his mind. He absolutely refused to make the connection.

He followed the sound of the music back a short ways where a hammock was strung between two trees. The hammock was new. A CD player and a cooler sat atop a box that had been dragged out and set within easy reach. The hammock swung gently back and forth.

"Took you long enough," a voice said from within the curving embrace of the hammock and once again he just refused to believe it.

Alyx shifted a bit and looked over at him. "Dare, c'mon it's me."

He shook his head and closed his eyes.

It couldn't be real, had to be just another memory taking over. Reminding him of what he had lost. But... and here he got a bit stuck... but there hadn't been a hammock here the last time. Not in years. Even he could tell it was brand, spanking new. Had he perhaps gone off the deep end completely, slipped into some weird state of Quicksilver madness that no one could have predicted?

He opened his eyes.

She sat up a bit more. That hair, those eyes, they looked so real. Like he would be able to twine his finger through those flaming tresses and feel their softness, smell the sweetness of it. To fall into those silver pools and lose himself to her once again.

"Darien?"

His heart skipped a beat and he swallowed back a whimper. He closed his eyes again to block the impossible sight before him.

They wouldn't have done this again, would they? He thought about it. If they, that other agency, thought she was dead, at least for a while, she'd have some freedom, some peace. The moles in the Agency had been caught, and with her dead, there was no reason to try and infiltrate again.

He opened his eyes allowing himself to really see what was before him this time. "You know I really hate that you keep having to do this." He walked over to the hammock and knelt down beside her.

"I'm starting to get used to it. The yearly ritual of killing me to save my ass yet again." She reached out to touch his face. "I'm sorry, but it had to look real."

"Who knew?" he asked her, still a little afraid to touch her and discover this was just his imagination, that he had sunk into madness and created this fantasy to sustain himself.

"Only myself and the Official." She lay her head back down. "Though we had to let Claire in on it at the end there. She wasn't thrilled."

"Are you all right?" His hand came up to take a hold of hers.

"Good enough. They turned me loose a couple of days ago and told me to make myself scarce. I came here. Hope you don't mind?"

"Mind? You're the reason I bought the place, remember?" He was beginning to think she really was crazy. "So the whole wacko routine was a con."

Alyx nodded.

"You never lost any of your powers?"

"Not once the drug was out of my system, and let me tell you pulling off that last bit without them was a major pain in the ass," Alyx complained.

"Only you could stage your own death and then complain about it." He brushed his hand along her face. "Got room in that thing for me?"

"Maybe," she said with a smile and then shifted over to make some room for him.

As he climbed in, she bit back a yelp of pain. For all that she had talked Claire into turning her loose she still hurt like hell and wasn't lying on her right side for nothing.

Darien noticed the pain on her face and was as careful as he could be. "So that's where my shirt went. I've been looking for that sucker."

Alyx chuckled and shifted a bit more so that their heads were side by side. "Took it to the grave with me."

"Ack. Death jokes," he groaned. He rested his hand on her side and she hissed.

"Gently there," she warned, her voice soft and tinged with pain.

He slid the shirt up to see the bandage still taped across her abdomen. "How bad?"

She shrugged, sort of anyway. "New hole. Chipped the hip bone. Didn't hit anything of real importance. Nothing that won't heal in record time." She slid his hand further up her side to rest on warm undamaged skin. To feel him touching her again. He slid his hand under the shirt to lay on her back atop the older scar, the one now hidden by a tattoo. "We have a few days here then we need to head back. I have to stay away from my place for a while. You willing to put up with me for a week or so?"

Sometimes she asked the silliest questions. "I think we can work something out." He kissed her then. Testing the waters. He needn't have bothered.

Alyx had been waiting impatiently for this for... ever, it seemed.

Between the pain, and her meds her control was a little iffy and she began to pick up what he'd been going through the last several days. "Ah, Dare, I'm so sorry. I never wanted to put you through this again." She pressed her forehead against his. "So much pain, so sad, gods so lost. I'm sorry." Her voice had dipped to a whisper.

"I can't go through this again," Darien said softly.

"I know. You won't if I can help it," she replied with a sigh. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Let me guess, you're pregnant." He didn't know why, but he knew he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.

"Not unless a miracle has occurred," Alyx said with a sad smile. "It's important."

"All right, no more jokes," he said. Truth to tell it was never a joke. He would have loved to hear those words from her even though he knew it was impossible. Maybe in the future something could be done to change that.

"Remember Kevin's note, how he said that they were the key'?" Alyx asked him.

"Yeah." He was not sure what this was about.

"It was a plant. The information was real, but I traced the drop company to an outfit that does work for government agencies exclusively," Alyx told him.

"But Eberts..." He trailed off.

"Yeah, he covered." Alyx ran a hand up his arm.

"But we never found the key. Didn't even ask," Darien said, rolling onto his back.

"Oh, I found it. I've even translated the book. I just didn't tell anyone else yet." She shifted laying her head on his chest. She lazily began to unbutton his shirt.

"Well, are you going to tell me or not?" He was twisting her hair around one finger making the curl even tighter.

"Who does Jay remind you of?" she asked him, and, for a moment, he thought she was changing the subject.

"He kinda reminded me of Kevin at that age. I've looked at photos," he answered.

"There's a reason for that," Alyx said, having completed her task and sliding the shirt open.

Darien lay there staring up at the canopy of leaves above him, letting her words sink in without really understanding what she was getting at. "You'll have to be a bit more specific."

Alyx sighed and ran her fingers across his stomach lightly, tickling him. "Dare, he doesn't just look like Kevin."

He grabbed her hand and stilled it. "You can't be saying what I think you are."

She lifted her head to look at him. "It's why they want him dead. Why I made sure any trace of his existence was removed from the Agency computers. Why only Mikey knows where they are. At least for now."

"Shit. But what about the key?" he asked.

"He is the key. DNA creates a distinctive pattern. That was the key. Kev's was already in the system," Alyx explained. "You okay with this?"

Darien didn't know what to think at the moment. "I think I will be eventually. Is that reasonable?"

"Perfectly," Alyx agreed, laying her head back down.

~*~*~

They spent the next few days at the cabin or house, where Alyx did a bit more research in the secret attic room. She still had to take it very easy. She might heal remarkably fast, but it still took time and it had only been a little more than a week.

Darien well, Darien did his best to distract her and more often that not she let him. In some ways it was simply his was of reassuring himself that she was still there. That, once again although he had watched her die, she was still there and with no plans to leave. He spent a lot of time near her. Constantly reminding her of his presence and convincing himself of her own.

When they returned to San Diego, she moved into his place temporarily. Claire stopped by to see how she was doing and was satisfied she was healing as well as she ever did. Darien would go to work in the morning, the Official actually had work for them, and no matter how late he would return Alyx would be there waiting. Usually with a smile. He decided he liked it this way, but was pretty sure she'd still have no interest in making the arrangement permanent.

When the Official cleared her to come back to the office Darien was almost disappointed, but he knew that neither the Official nor Alyx could allow her to stay unused for long. They could only hope that this ruse had bought her some time, some peace, some hope.

The most interesting development was that Eberts had offered to play double agent for the Official. Nothing had been decided yet. The Official wanted Alyx to question him. Okay, he wanted Alyx to tear through Eberts' mind and get all the information she could and then decide whether or not he was worth the effort to try and save.

The last few nights had been restless ones for Darien. Damn Quicksilver dreams that he couldn't even vaguely remember. Dreams that left him feeling both frightened and relieved. Dreams that left him wondering about his future.

~*~*~

Darien jerked awake in the darkness, his heart pounding, the sweat soaking the sheets. The same damn dream.

"Crap."

"Nightmares again?" Alyx asked sleepily from beside him.

"Yeah."

She curled herself against him, resting her chin on his chest and opening her eyes to look at him. They seemed to glow in the dim light of the room. "Want to talk about it?"

She had come awake amazingly fast. He hated disturbing her sleep, since she got so little as it was. The air conditioner kicked on and he shivered. Shifting slightly she pulled the covers up closer about them.

"Nah, it's not important. Go back to sleep." Darien brushed a stray curl of hair away from her face.

"Bullshit." She moved, raising herself up on her arms. Stopped and squirmed for a moment. "Sorry, bracelet got caught." Then she kissed him.

They lost themselves to each other for a time. Enjoying the few remaining moments they had. This last couple of weeks had been some of the most peaceful of their entire relationship, but with her returning to work in the morning that would all change.

"You should get some sleep," she whispered into his ear. "You want to go to work tomorrow."

"Oh, really. And why is that?" He tried not to groan at what she was doing, but couldn't stop himself.

"It's a surprise," she said against his throat.

"Alyx," he growled warningly. Darien had never cared much for surprises. The last one ended with him being able to turn invisible.

Lifting herself up slightly, she laid a finger on his lips. "Shhh. It'll be worth the wait. I promise."

And she never breaks a promise.