Title: Company Pier

Author: A. X. Zanier

Fandom: Invisible Man

Pairing: None

Rating: PG

Summary: When love meets life.

Spoilers: None

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

Notes: Well, Suz, begged, which made the muses wake up and glare, so here's sequel #2 to Eavesdropping.

Company Pier

The blood sample on the slide looked perfectly normal, the saturation of Quicksilver well within the expected range, as it had been for weeks now. Thanks to years of practice, she, without glancing at the notebook on the lab bench beside her, began to write detailed notes on what she observed until it began to blur, to morph into the embarrassed countenance of one Robert A. Hobbes. For the third time. With an irritated sigh she gave it up as a bad job and removed the slide. She'd finish up tomorrow, as it was obvious she would get nothing done until she allowed herself to consider the ramifications of that little incident this morning.

Once Bobby had run from the room, Claire and Alex had stared at each other in utter confusion for several minutes, both wondering just what the hell had happened. It was Alex who deduced that Hobbes must have overheard at least part of their conversation and how it could have been interpreted, which made Claire blush and Alex laugh lightly.

Alex seemed to find the whole thing very amusing and attempted to delve deeper into the situation, so Claire had been quick to change topics. But she'd been unable to get it out of her mind all day. She'd even sought out Bobby to talk to him, but had been unable to locate him. Not even Eberts knew where Bobby was, as he wasn't out on a scheduled mission and hadn't checked in. It appeared that she would not be questioning him about his outburst today.

Claire glanced at her watch, noting it was well past seven p.m., and decided it was time to call it a day. There was no point in running that diagnostic if she was unable to concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. Grumbling at herself for failing to keep her mind focused on the work she needed to do, she turned about and...

"Bloody hell, are you trying to give me a coronary?"

"Sorry, Keep." Bobby, at least, had a good sense to look embarrassed for startling her. "Figured you heard the door."

"Obviously not," she stated, trying to convince her heart to stop pounding hard enough to crack her rib cage. She sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly. "Can I help you with anything? Darien's not in trouble is he?"

"No, nothing like that," Bobby assured her. "I just... I wanted to apologize about this morning. I shouldn't have been listening in on your conversation."

"You were just being, polite, I'm sure, and didn't want to interrupt us." Claire was unsure of the meaning of the seriousness she could see in his eyes.

Bobby managed a wan smile. "Nah, I was being a mook. Thinking that you were sleeping with Fawkes and all." He shrugged. "My own fault, I know."

Claire was surprised, she had assumed that Bobby had realized that one incident was a fluke and nothing more. "Bobby, I'm Darien's doctor, I would never..."

"No, you're his Keeper, and I ain't so stupid that I don't know exactly how you're allowed to make sure he stays kept." Before Claire got a chance to respond to that accusation Bobby continued, "'Sides, it's not like I can't see which one'a us the girls'd flock to..."

"Bobby," Claire interrupted his self-deprecation. "There's more than looks..."

"I know. You don't need to stroke my ego, Keepy. There's more'n enough ladies out there who have walked away satisfied with what Bobby Hobbes has to offer." Somehow, he said this without sounding like a braggadocio, which was rather amazing to Claire's mind. "I just wanted to... explain, I guess."

"Explain what?" Claire was now verging on confused, as Bobby seemed to be jumping from one topic to another almost randomly. For an instant, she was tempted to ask if he had remembered his medication today, but refrained.

"Why I do some'a the things I do... around you that is." He glanced about the room, shuffled his feet, rubbed the top of his head and then met her eyes squarely, his look what could only be described as bittersweet. "I love you, Claire, and have for a long time now."

The entire universe paused. Claire was certain that she had forgotten how to breathe and that her heart had stopped beating for one eternal instant at his words. Then everything came back with a rush, her heart pounding in her ears to all but deafen her, the look of dismay on Bobby's face at her sudden stillness, the blessed relief that her feelings for him were not unrequited.

Then he muttered, "Crap," and turned away, apparently intent on leaving.

That spurred her into motion, she rushed to his side and set a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Bobby, I... I love you too," she blurted out, which was successful to halting his forward motion.

He rotated slowly about, a look of unvarnished hope in his deep brown eyes. "Really?"

Claire gave him the biggest smile she could manage. "Really. Why else would I be a blubbering mess at your funeral, you nit?"

"'Cause you're a good woman, Claire," Bobby stated, and pulled her into a gentle embrace. When he shifted slightly, so that they were face to face, Claire was certain he was going to kiss her, but instead he released her and backed away. "Better'n I could ever deserve."

"Not true, Bobby." She took a single step forward, but he backed away, keeping his distance. "Would you like to go get some dinner?" she suggested, hoping that they could perhaps investigate their feelings in a bit more depth, preferably away from all the potential prying eyes and gossips within the Agency's environs.

"No thanks, Claire, I got some stuff to do," he responded, the shy, nervous man of just a few moments before replaced with the hardened agent she saw most days.

"Bobby?" Her voice cracked on the two short syllables, her heart on the verge of breaking at his rejection. "I... Don't you want to spend time with me?"

Hobbes heaved a sigh. "Yes, I do. But I won't. I just wanted you to understand why I'm gonna get jealous and... stuff. Warn you, I guess."

Claire felt tears welling up in her eyes. Part of her was praying this was nothing more than another wish-fulfillment dream gone horribly wrong, but the other part, the logical, too intelligent for her own good woman, knew it was real; heart achingly, bone chillingly real. Bobby had just told her he loved her and she had replied with the same and he was just going to walk away? "Why, Bobby? I deserve to know that much, don't I?"

Bobby straightened his shoulders; his emotions tightly reined in. "Company pier, Keep. Company pier."

And with that he turned and left her standing there alone in her lab with only the hum of equipment about her to give lie to the fact that she did indeed still live after the blow he'd just struck to her heart.