Title: Last Chances

Author: A. X. Zanier

Pairing: None

Rating: PG-13 (Language)

Summary: The first step of a new journey is always the hardest. Sequel #3 to Eavesdropping

Spoilers: Maybe? Does it really matter after two years?

Timeline: Post season 2.

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

Notes: Peja Archive Challenge. ("So, while we're on the subject, how do you feel about...me?")

As always, thanks go to my beautiful and talented beta - Krys.

Last Chances

Fawkes was up to something. I could see it in his eyes, in the little smirk that kept creeping in and lifting the right corner of his lips. In the sneaky glances he kept throwing my way as he chatted up the Keeper. Oh yeah, he was up to something, all right, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was.

It had been one of those days that had ended 'just swimmingly' as Claire would say, that accent of hers adding a touch of flavor to the sarcastic statement. The chief had tried to chew our asses off, but we weren't putting up with it today, and walked out of his office as one. Usually worked pretty well these days now that Fawkes don't have that counteragent chain to be yanked no more. He'd suggested we head to Herb's, which had kinda become our routine when the bossman tried pulling some stupid shit with us. We'd toss back a few, bitch, moan and generally agree it was damn fun to be in the driver's seat at work - if only occasionally. Fawkes' my way had become our way and we made sure the fat man behind the curtain knew it.

Have to say I was surprised when Claire accepted, knowing I was gonna be there and all. Things hadn't been right between us since that little talk we'd had a couple weeks back. While she hadn't said anything, it was pretty plain she was ticked off, as being reassigned to the Antarctic was looking to be a warmer setting than southern Cal at the moment.

Fawkes snagged a booth in the back of the bar and made sure the Keep was sitting between the two a'us, though she did her damnedest to make sure there was plenty of personal space between her an' me. Least until Fawkes started in with the squirming so's she had no choice but to shift closer to me. By then she'd had a couple 'wine spritzers' in her and had begun to defrost a bit. I suspect Fawkes might've been slipping something in her drink given how quick she went from stone cold - make that icy - sober to giddy as a school-girl on her first date.

Somewhere along the way, the stream of consciousness babble that the Keep had going suddenly turned on me.

"So, while we're on the subject, how do you feel about... me?" Claire suddenly said, a smile on her face, but with hurt in her eyes.

"What?" I responded, in what I thought was an intelligent manner. "How'd we end up talkin' about... this?"

Claire looked over at Fawkes who rolled his eyes. "Hobbes, buddy, we've been on this topic for like 10 minutes while you've been off in the ozone. Reconnect with reality, man. We're having a serious discussion here."

"Serious?" Claire snorted delicately. "So you meant that whole 'undying love' thing you just spouted at me, Darien?"

My hands fisted and I swear I spent several seconds seriously considering how to kill my partner and make it look like an accident.

"He actually quoted Shakespeare at me," Claire continued, blithely ignoring my reaction. "Quite well, I must admit. Although he needs to work on that accent. Twas dreadful." She swirled the drink with the bright yellow umbrella that was sitting in it, and then took a long sip from the curved glass.

'When did she swap the spritzer for a colada?' I wondered silently. Maybe Fawkes was right, maybe I had been off in the ozone.

Fawkes cleared his throat. "Stop stalling, Hobbes, and answer the lady. Using that term loosely at this point."

Claire giggled. "Loose indeed. Now, fess up Bobby."

Hobbes sighed softly. "Claire, it don't matter how I feel about you, I won't..."

"...fish off the company pier," they answered in unison, much to my annoyance.

"Fine," Claire stated, smiling brightly. A little too brightly, I thought. "I quit."

"Keep," I squawked, "you can't quit. Fawkes still needs you."

She waved a hand in the air. "Bah. The cure has held for months now, any competent scientist could take over for me and continue the removal research."

"Keep, get serious here. You wouldn't abandon Fawkes and we both know it." In truth, I wasn't so sure. Before the cure, before Fawkes walked on us, I doubt there were enough wild horses in the west that could've dragged her away, but now... Now I wasn't so confident.

"Then you quit," she suggested. "Retire. Become a...w hat is it you call them?" She scrunched up her face, trying to figure out what she wanted to say while we both waited, not having a clue where the Keep was going with this. She snapped her fingers. "That's it. A private dick."

Fawkes snickered. "Private eye, Claire. Hobbes has already proven he wants to keep his dick private."

"Same thing," she insisted, plainly missing the innuendo Fawkes was layering on his words.

"Claire, I can't. I don't bail on..."

"...my partner." They did the stereo thing at me again.

"Would you two cut it out," I growled. "Finishing my sentences for me. It's annoying."

"Then say one we haven't heard," Fawkes snarked, surprising my with the anger I could hear buried in his tone. "You know what, Claire, I think he's chicken. He had a chance to 'go fishing' when you were working for the CDC, but he didn't do a damn thing then."

"I knew we was gonna get back together," I blurted out. "I wasn't gonna let anything mess that up." I looked at the Keep, whose face was an unreadable mask, and then at Fawkes who was lookin' like the cat that ate the canary, and knew I'd been played. Shit, I felt like I was in the crosshairs of a sniper.

That lip a'his twitched upwards again. "Hobbes, you are a jerk," he stated and Claire nodded in agreement.

"Not fair, Fawkes," I grumbled, wondering what rabbit he was gonna pull out next.

"I prefer your original assessment, Darien. He's chicken." She sipped from her drink as she gazed drunkenly at each of them in turn.

"Probably has inadequacy issues. You being a genius, after all," Fawkes offered up, makin' me want to slap that smug grin off his face.

"Oh, most certainly," Claire agreed. "And the whole height thing... It would probably just lead to all kinds of performance issues."

"Hey," I barked, drawing the momentary attention of others in the bar. "I do not have inadequacy issues. There's a reason for the rules, y'know." God damn it, they were just trying to piss me off and back me into a corner. I told Claire that I loved her; that should be enough.

"Life is short, break some rules," Fawkes said in an earnest voice.

"That should be on a T-shirt," Claire slurred and then hiccuped. "Don't you agree, Bobby?"

I grunted and drank some of my, now warm, beer. Fawkes had a T-shirt that proclaimed that very thing and he seemed to do his best to follow it, which got us into trouble more often than not. When I set my glass down, I shifted in the seat to face Claire squarely. "I won't put you in danger because of... of my feelings for you."

"Bullshit. Jeeze, Hobbes, it's not like she's a civvie or something." He jabbed a finger in my direction. "We work for the same place, have to deal with the same security shit, hell, I'm pretty much at the top of the Top Secret list and both of you are at risk every frickin' day because of it." He glanced at Claire, who was suddenly looking a lot more sober than she had just seconds before. "Look, the two of ya are already friends."

"Yeah, and I wanna keep it that way," I interjected, wondering exactly where I'd lost control of the situation.

"You will, Bobby," Claire said softly, and it hit me that she wasn't drunk at all. "I would simply like to discover if we can be something more."

I shook my head. "I can't..."

"Yeah, you can," Fawkes interrupted. "Jump off the god damn pier and into the deep water, man. It may be your only chance. And take it from someone who knows... it's worth the risk."

I wanted to be stubborn, to shake my head and insist no, but I couldn't. He was right. The stupid mook was right, and I had to admit I wanted to dive in headfirst and see if I would sink or swim. "Claire..."

She reached out and laid a warm, silky hand against my cheek. "Yes, Bobby." Not a question, but an answer to the one I had been unable to fully form. I took her hand into my own, happier than I'd been in a long time. For the moment I wanted nothing more than to gaze upon her and know she was mine for as long as I wanted. When I managed to break away from her eyes, I discovered Fawkes was gone. Leaving us alone to figure out where to go from here.