Title: Lead us not...

Author: A. X. Zanier

Copyright: October 15, 2004, completed May 1, 2005

Status: Complete

Rating: C, FRT-13, T (warnings: language, violence)

Fandom: The Invisible Man

Series: Pater Noster Arc

Pairing: Bobby/Claire

Sequel: post-Items of Lesser Concern

Summary: A new threat is on the horizon and the Agency is forced to turn to an unexpected source for help.

Spoilers: Probably, does it really matter after three years?

Disclaimer: a) The characters and basic story ideas of The Invisible Man are the property of others including, but not limited to Matt Greenberg, Studios USA, Stu Segall Productions and NBC Universal. Any additional characters or story ideas are mine. I make no money from this intellectual exercise. b) This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any opinions or views expressed herein do not reflect those of the author and are used for story-telling purposes only.

Notes: I wrote several shorts that ended with Bobby finally jumping off the company pier (blame Suz) with Claire, which caused a whole slew of brand new plot bunnies to sit up and whine piteously at me. This is the result. The final episode of the show aired Feb. 1st, 2002; this story takes place in late April of the same year.

Music: Walls by Yes (Darien), Better Than This by Copper Sails (Bobby), Try by Nelly Furtado (Fallon), Everything by Alanis Morissette (Claire). For the complete song list just drop me an email.

Many thanks to my Betas, Krys and Suz, without whom this would be little more than drek and dren.

-----

Lead us not...

-----

"Spare minutes are the Gold-dust of time; the portions of life most fruitful in good and evil; the gaps through which temptations enter."

When I was a thief life was pretty simple, steal a few baubles now and then, don't get caught and avoid a vacation in a six by six cell with a roommate that was just as likely to screw me over as screw me. Now I work for the Agency, the welfare child of the government intelligence biz. Staying out of prison is easy, staying alive... is a bit more challenging. Okay, so it wasn't too bad, 'specially once that little madness problem had been dealt with. Trouble was I'd made a promise to myself, to Kevin, that I'd deal with the bastard that had killed him, and yet I'd watched him slip through my fingers time and time again.

Yeah, I can still be tempted, but these days it ain't likely to be by gold.

-----

"We done?" Darien peeked under the cotton ball to see if he'd stopped bleeding yet. At least the weekly exam and blood draw had become a monthly event; with just the Monday morning finger pokes to remind him that he was indeed still the Agency's number one lab rat. He adjusted his watchband as a pretext to glance at the snake tattoo coiled on the inside of his wrist. Green was color he had learned to enjoy seeing during the first couple of years here, now it was his continued assurance that he was not likely to need to invest in Visine for a bad case of the red-eye anytime in the near future.

The fact that his salvation had come from his personal nemesis still grated, ached like a tooth gone rotten in the center. The self-same bastard who'd had a serious hand in ruining Darien's life had also been the one to save it, an irony that was not lost upon him.

"Just about." Claire returned to his side, the vials of blood she had drawn having vanished into the depths of the Keep. She was now holding nothing more innocuous than a clipboard and pen while smiling brightly at him, like a reward for being such a good boy and sitting still while she stuck him with sharp pointy things.

Darien rolled his eyes. "Not the questionnaire?"

"Yes, the questionnaire," his blonde doctor retorted. "I told you before that if you won't voluntarily tell me we'd have to do it this way."

"Can't we just do it the old fashioned way and you find out through rumors in some dark alley?" One of her toes tapped impatiently on the concrete floor, her smile suddenly a lot less pleasant. Darien groaned to himself, knowing he'd been anything but a Chatty Cathy around Claire lately. "Oh, all right. Just hurry it up, Hobbes seemed antsy this morning." He smirked. "You wouldn't happen to know why, would you?"

Claire's cheeks tinged over to pink. "Perhaps," she admitted, "but you still have to answer the questions."

Darien relaxed back the chair and waited for her to begin. He'd known trying to distract her with her relationship with Bobby wasn't going to work, but he still got a kick out of making her blush.

For the next 10 minutes, Claire ran through the standard list: was he taking his supplements, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, the usual suspects. The very last one, however, was a new addition.

"Last time you had sexual intercourse."

"Claire," Darien squawked, shocked out of his complacent state of mind.

"A lady named Claire, eh? A bit odd, possibly a sign of an Oedipal-like complex, but does not actually answer the question." Claire obviously hadn't let his outburst faze her the least little bit.

"Claire," Darien repeated at a low growl, not in the mood to have this conversation.

"Yes, we have previously established her name is 'Claire.' Do you need me to repeat the question?" The gaze she leveled at him was one totally lacking in amusement.

Darien grit his teeth and bit out, "Four months."

Claire sighed and lowered the clipboard without writing down his answer. "For goodness sake, Darien, I didn't badger the Official into allowing you an outside liaison for nothing."

Darien slid off the chair and began to pace the confines of the lab, much like a jungle cat in a far too small cage. "I'm still not sure why you did."

"Because it is my job to see to it you are healthy, and as an adult male that includes sexual release." She kept to the clinical coolness, not because she didn't care, but in hopes of lessening the embarrassment this topic was sure to create for him. And it did work, but only to a point.

"Claire, release isn't a problem," he sniped, leveling a glare at her in challenge.

"And that is not what I meant," she snarked right back. "You deserve some happiness in your life, Darien. So, for god's sake, go out and find a girl, fall in love and be happy."

"Jeeze, Claire, just 'cause you and Bobby are making with the googly-eyes don't mean everyone else has to. Or wants to." Darien knew his tone was harsh, but it was his life. He didn't need another intervention. The last one, courtesy his brother, had just worked out so well.

Her tone softened. "Darien, sweetheart, can you at least explain why you don't want to... 'make with the googly eyes'?"

That phrase, with her hoity-toity British accent caught him off guard, and made him realize she was really worried about him. "Keep, I'm fine with the way things are."

"Now, that I know is a lie." She moved to his side and encouraged him to sit on her lab chair; this perforce put him lower than her so he had to look up to meet her blue eyes. "It is obvious to everyone you are... lonely. And don't you even try to argue," Claire ordered just as he was about to. "Even Alex has commented on it."

"Oh Christ, is that why she's been dragging me to all those parties? You trying to fix me up with her?" Darien ran a hand through his hair feeling both embarrassed and angry.

"Fix you up? No." Claire paced a few steps away and set down the clipboard on her desk. "I did suggest she ask you to join her, as company..."

"Claire, god damn it..."

"And she agreed it was a good idea," Claire finished, nearly shouting over his outcry. "Are those social events so awful?"

Darien shook his head. "Nah, kinda fun, actually. She tells me who has blackmail on who and I tell her who's wearing the fake jewelry." It was interesting to see the Monroe Doctrine on the spy biz, a completely different style from Hobbes', yet just as effective. He was learning a lot and, though he'd never admit it, he enjoyed Alex's company - on a purely platonic level, that is. It had been made eminently clear to Darien that Alex had no interest in any type of long-term relationship at this time. Oh, she had not said anything directly to him, but her obvious conquest of the males in that high-society circle made it plain she played the field and played it well, regardless of marital status. She got what she wanted; be it information or simple sweat-drenched sex, and then moved on.

Claire was right about one thing, since she and Hobbes had started spending more off time together, Darien had been left at loose ends more often than not. On any given evening he could most likely be found moodily watching Spike TV and drinking beer in his one room studio apartment.

"Claire, what'm I s'posed to do? Hit the clubs and start picking up hot chicks for sex?"

She huffed at him. "No, but you could, at least, look at what's around you. Most relationships start through random encounters. You just have to be willing to take the chance."

Darien closed his eyes and shook his head. "Not worth the risk. I don't want to see anyone else get hurt 'cause of me or the gland."

"Darien G. Fawkes, that is a load of crap and you know it." Darien stared at her in shock. "You can't argue that it was worth the risk for Bobby and then say it's not for yourself."

Darien opened his mouth to snap out a reply, but paused to think it through as she did have a point. "Different sitch, Keepy. You and Hobbes both work here. You're talking me and a civilian."

"It didn't stop you when you were interested in Kate Easton," Claire challenged.

"But she knew about me... the Quicksilver. 'Sides, she ended up marrying someone else." Darien tipped his head down to stare forlornly at the floor between the scuffed toes of his shoes.

"Darien, is that you are afraid that someone you meet might get hurt, or that you will?"

Darien was saved the need of answering by the opening of the Keep door with its Star Trek rip-off sound. Hobbes strode briskly in, all swagger and business. "You done, Fawkes? We got a meeting to make."

Darien looked over at Claire who sighed. "Yes, you can go."

Darien didn't say a word, knowing that just one might cause Claire to change her mind, and made good his escape.

-----

The ugly tan Econoline van weaved through the morning traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway, causing other drivers to honk and dodge out of the way or risk being run down. After skating through a light just as it turned red, Hobbes realized he was doing it again, focusing so closely on the now that he blocked out all awareness of everything else. For the last several minutes, to him, the road had been empty, just Golda and the asphalt warming in the sun rumbling beneath the wheels. All the morning traffic had vanished, of no importance compared to the goal of making it to the meeting on time.

He slowly released his grip on the steering wheel and checked the watch adorning his wrist - the gold Rolex his partner had swiped a few months back off the body of a local mob boss. During the funeral, no less. Hobbes chuckled softly. Had to admit, a Quicksilver Mad Fawkes was someone you didn't want to mess with. Though, based on the sounds of irritation coming from the passenger seat, Fawkes was in a similar mood right now. Hobbes' creative driving tended to do that even on a good day, and good days had been few and far between as of late.

In hopes of preventing a grouch session, Hobbes opened up the conversation with, "So, how'd it go in the Keep this morning?"

He really was curious. He might be sleeping with Claire, but that didn't mean she kept him informed on every aspect of her job; even if a big part of that job was his partner. He most certainly didn't expect her to, it was just part of the spook biz. Need to know, and all that. What Claire felt he needed to know, she told him and vice versa.

Darien shrugged and adjusted the seatbelt that had ended up askew on his lanky body during the last high-G turn. "It went."

"Oh," Hobbes said, fully realizing that the answer hadn't been all that informative. "So, no problems? Everything running up to spec?" he pressed. He'd been worried about Darien for a while now. Ever since the relationship thing with Claire had changed. It kind of left Fawkes in the unenviable position of fifth wheel, which, while he'd said it didn't, plainly bugged the hell out of him. It often left Darien home twiddling his thumbs instead of out hell-raising with Bobby. Trouble was that even though he could see the problem he couldn't figure out how to fix it. He was still too swept up in the high of having the Keep all to himself to break away even the slightest bit. When the newness wore off, then maybe. Though, selfishly, Bobby hoped that feeling of newness never went away.

Darien muttered something derogatory under his breath. "She has to run the tests first, Hobbes. Where we going anyway?"

Bobby wanted to ignore the question, wanted to know if Claire had reminded Darien that he should be out tomcatting around like any good red-blooded horny American male, but couldn't see how to do so in a way that would get an answer instead of another view of that wall Fawkes had been hiding behind as of late. "Over near Old Town to meet this guy, goes by the name of Fall."

"A guy named Fall?" Darien snorted in amusement. "The Fall Guy? We're going to meet Lee Majors?"

'Lee Majors? What the...' "No, Fawkes, I said Fall. A guy named Fall, not the Six Million Dollar Man." Hobbes hated when Fawkes took sudden left turns like this. The verbal whiplash nearly was painful as what he managed with a single sharp right in the van.

"After that, Hobbes."

Hobbes whipped his head about, thinking he'd missed the turn off, and saw the smirk upturning the corner of Fawkes' mouth. Proof positive Bobby was going end up with a headache thanks to his partner's convoluted reasoning. "After what?"

Darien straightened in his seat and met Hobbes' eyes. "After the bionic gig he did a show where he was a stunt man, called The Fall Guy. Doug Barr and Heather Thomas were in it too."

Hobbes let the response trickle in one drop at a time until it finally made sense. "Oh... Oh! That explains Mik's weirder comments. He has a thing for the chick, what'd you say her name was?"

"Heather. Thomas," Darien answered. "Mik?" He slid back down into the seat, making Hobbes wonder, and not for the first time, if Fawkes actually had a backbone in there.

"Mikail Dobrefsky. Former KGB," Hobbes explained. "Headed for greener pastures when his position was... downsized during the breakup of the Soviet Union."

"Friend of Yuri's, I take it?" Darien's tone was filled with, justified, suspicion.

"No relation. Only known him a few months, but he's been useful and reliable." Hobbes could tell that wasn't enough to convince Fawkes, not after what Yuri had done. "He gave us the lead on the Quesada case last month." That seemed to help, if only marginally. "Plus he set up this meet for us. Said if anyone had the info, it was him."

Darien was silent, obviously mulling his response. "Not a ringing endorsement, but we're pretty much out of options here."

"You ain't kidding there, pal. The intel that's trickling in is all bad. Whatever is going down is gonna be big and nasty. And no one has any info of use. It's frickin' weird." Hobbes turned off Juan Street and onto a smaller side street populated with rows of tightly packed buildings, all two or three stories high and home to variety of shops and businesses. Those upper stories were mostly apartments from the look of things. One generally didn't hang their lingerie outside their office window. Well, except for Minnie's Bloomers, apparently, which had mannequins adorned with similar scraps of cloth right in the front display windows for all the world to see. Hobbes forced himself to not do a double-take at the bright red garters and brassier that would look... stunning on the seemingly staid and quiet Keeper. He'd have to come back later, without Fawkes and his inevitable needling, and see about maybe purchasing a set.

Hobbes scanned the numbers adorning the doors, looking for 236, which he spotted a moment later. He drove past it and pulled into the first available parking space noting, with a dour expression, the meter beside it. He fished under the seat for a couple seconds before coming up with his prize. It appeared to be nothing more than a red cotton sack that had been turned a dull maroon by the years of dirt encrusted into its fibers. He hopped out of the van, crossed in front, giving the hood a fond pat as he did so and onto the sidewalk where he slipped the bag over the parking meter. Written across the side were the words "Out of Order."

Darien snickered. "And you say the 'Fish is cheap. What? You can't spring for two quarters?"

"Eberts will only reimburse for parking if I got a receipt." Hobbes waved at the parking meter. "You see any paper coming outta that thing?"

Darien shook his head, still chuckling softly. "This the place?" They were standing in front of a dress shop; the mannequins decked out in the summer's finest in skimpy evening wear.

"This way." Hobbes headed up the street towards their target. The building was one of the three story models and had about twice as much frontage as the others nearby. The windows were frosted over, no wares displayed to encourage potential customers strolling casually by to wander in and possibly do more than just window shop. The entrance was an ornate pair of double doors, wood over steel, with glass insets, one of which contained the business name, the fourth monkey, all in lower case letters, and no more. If it was a reference to something, he didn't get it. With only a twinge of concern, he reached for the door, the handle one of those old fashioned styles made modern with the thumb button, swung the door open and stepped inside with Fawkes right behind him.

The interior surprised him, it looked far more like an art gallery than whatever it was he had expected. Expensive leather chairs were posed perfectly in nooks between dramatically lit glass and chrome cases that showed off a variety of - not art, but high end electronics. And not computers or video crap. Oh no, this was all high tech security items.

Fawkes made a strangled sound and Hobbes spun about to gaze at his partner who was wearing a classic kid in a candy store look on his face.

"See something you like, Fawkes?" Hobbes asked as he sidled up next to Darien.

"Ten years ago... hell, three years ago I'd've killed to own one'a these." He gestured at the palm sized box on the shelf under-lit by blue neon.

Hobbes stared at the device, trying to determine what it was. It looked kinda like a calculator mated with a PDA and fed a steady diet of steroids, but none of that told him what it was. He'd never seen anything like it before. "Okay, I give up. What is it?"

Darien was practically vibrating in place. "It's an electronic skeleton key. Legal, but barely. They're typically used by security companies to override systems. More'n one customer has forgotten a password over the years. Quality ones run close to 10k on the street." He sighed, plainly thinking larcenous thoughts. "Man, the places I could get into with just that piece." His tone was more than a touch wistful.

"Could've, Fawkes, could have. You're one'a the good guys now, remember?" Hobbes' admonishment was not enough to wipe the gleam from the former thief's eyes."

"Gentleman, how can I help you today?" a soft cultured voice said from behind them. Both Darien and Bobby turned about to see a man, mid-thirties, or so, wearing a very expensive suit and smiling at them pleasantly. Hobbes wasn't fooled for an instant. Admittedly, the guy appeared to be perfectly comfortable in the Italian chic, but it was obvious that beneath the clothes was an exceedingly dangerous man, and not in the mob-muscle kind of way. More like ex-military turned... turned what, he wasn't sure, but it, strangely, upped his confidence in this Fall guy - a'course now it was funny - Mik had sent them to.

"Mikail Dobrefsky arranged a meeting with you." Hobbes' words earned a soft chuckle from the man.

"Not me, my boss." He checked his watch, which was not the half-expected diamond encrusted Rolex, but one'a those all purpose military ones, and it had seen a lot of use. "If you will follow me..." He led the way through an ornate door, to a marginally less ornate hallway with an ankle deep plush carpet in a dark blue that verged on black. This was where the artwork was. Upon the walls at irregular intervals hung metal sculptures, weaving vines and the like, done in copper, bronze and chromed steel. His ex - Viv - would probably have called them "charming," he, on the other hand, saw their potential use as weapons should this meeting go south in a hurry and they were forced to make an impromptu escape.

With a mental kick to his head, he realized he'd been so focused on other things that he'd forgotten to warn Fawkes of the, albeit slight, chance of this being a set-up. He glanced back at Darien and allowed a hint of a smile to curl his lips upwards. The kid might look relaxed and oblivious, but he missed nothing, just the right amount of suspicion and wariness was in those coffee brown eyes of his.

"In here, gentlemen," their guide directed, and Hobbes tensed in preparation of trouble only to see nothing more innocuous than an office. A comparably austere office after everything else they had seen. There was a single desk with a fancy computer monitor atop it, three leather chairs spaced evenly before the desk, two plants and another of those metal sculptures, this one twisted into a complex knot. "Can I get you anything while you wait? Coffee, water... whiskey, perhaps?"

Hobbes blinked at that last one, though he was starting to think he was gonna need it. Nothing so far had been even close to what he was expecting. Maybe he'd been to one too many meets in smelly back alleys to take this... luxury in stride. "Uh, no thanks, we'll just," Darien proceeded to plop himself into one of the chairs, his legs stretched out about half a mile in front of him, "have a seat."

"Very well. It should only be a few minutes." He left then, closing the door behind him with a soft snick.

Instead of sitting, Hobbes slowly turned about, checking out the room in detail, his paranoia kicking in with a fierceness that surprised him.

Fawkes picked up on it instantly. "Hobbes, relax will ya? Don't want to look bad for the cameras." With nothing more than a subtle glance upwards, he showed Hobbes where the pick-up he'd spotted was located. It was definitely subtle; part of the decorative molding that ran about the top of the wall. It was tiny, probably a fish-eye lens, and was snugged into a curlicue in such a way that it would go unnoticed by practically everyone.

"Audio?" Hobbes asked as he forced the muscles of his shoulders to loosen while he pretended to examine the artwork with all the care an expert would.

Darien shifted, crossing one leg over the other at the ankles. "Most likely, though where it's hidden I haven't a clue."

"Then what good are ya?" Hobbes sniped, and glanced over his shoulder at Fawkes, who simply snorted in response.

The door opened then, a large man in his mid-forties with salt and pepper hair stepped in and to one side. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt that was stretched tight over thick cords of muscle, and a shoulder holster, the butt of a Glock 9mm in easy view. Now this was more like what Hobbes had been expecting. This mook he knew how to deal with. That was, until he spoke.

"Boss, hurry up, they're waiting on ya," he said with a heavy British accent that was nothing like the Keeper's lilting upper-crust, make your knees turn to Jell-o one.

"Aye, they are," was the feminine response in a thick Irish brogue. "So's you've told me, Murphy."

Hobbes went completely still as the hitherto unseen "boss" made her grand entrance. She was tall, with short black hair and the greenest pair of eyes he'd ever seen. She was also skinny as a rail, but not in an underfed model kinda way, more like a life of hard knocks way. She was all muscle and sinew, the skin lightly tanned and sporting what looked like singe marks, some recent some old. Her face was delicate, almost elfin in appearance, which made sense with that accent. She was damn pretty and he would have gladly hit on her had this not been about business and he was not involved with Claire. He peeked at Fawkes out of the corner of his eye, expecting some sort of typical male reaction - Fawkes was more than capable at being as crude as any construction worker when he wanted to be - but aside from the same surprise Hobbes was feeling there was nothing.

It was the fact that Fall was a woman that left him gaping and unsure which way to turn.

"My apologies," she was pulling off a pair of heavy gloves as she crossed the room and stuffed them into the welding mask she had tucked under one arm, "I was working on another project an' lost track of time." The white t-shirt she wore was smudged with dirt and the jeans had holes in the knees as well as just below the right pocket on her backside, which showed pale flesh instead of the expected undergarment. As she set the mask down on the desk and turned the computer on, he noticed the tattoo on the back of her left wrist. It was small, about the size of a quarter, and was some sort of bird, wings lifted upwards with flames reaching up from below as if devouring the animal. It was familiar, but he wasn't sure from where so he filed it away for later. He had the odd feeling it was important.

Hobbes glanced over at Fawkes who seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride.

"Fall guy, huh?" Darien snarked, not about to let that mistake slide by without commentary.

Hobbes shrugged and was about to respond when she snorted.

"Dobby's still attempting to be 'umorous, is 'e?" She shrugged into a black jacket that had plainly been tailored for her and which gave her a far more professional look. "I'll 'ave to 'ave another chat with 'im." Her words were spoken in a soft voice that didn't hide, for an instant, the threat buried deep within them. "Agent Hobbes, Agent Fawkes," she nodded to each in turn, surprising Hobbes that she not only knew they were agents, but who was who, "I believe a fee was agreed upon."

Hobbes nodded and dug into the inner pocket of his sport coat for the envelope that was within. The Official had balked at the amount at first, but eventually coughed up the cash when it became obvious that there was no one else to turn to for the information.

"So what is your name, then?" Darien asked as the money was handed over.

She put the money in a drawer without even counting it, and somehow Hobbes knew that if it later turned out that it wasn't all there he, or the Official, would be hearing about it personally. She then tapped herself in the forehead. "Me mum would smack me a right good one for being so rude. Log it off to me being knackered." She held out a hand for Hobbes to shake, which he did. "Fallon O'Neill."

Hobbes released her hand. "Bobby, and my partner Darien, though I suspect you already know that."

Fallon gave them a smile. "I always check out potential clients prior to any meeting. If I don' like what I see, they don' get in the door... ever."

It was most certainly an interesting response, Hobbes had to admit, and, though he was tempted to ask a few questions on the subject, he kept his trap shut. They were here for information, not idle chit-chat. "About Papadopulos."

"A'course. However, I do need to know which one." She sat down at the desk, her hand hovering over the track ball. "It is a rather large family."

Hobbes had been confused at first, then shocked as it became clear she had information on more than one Papadopulos family member. "Uh, senior... what the hell is his name. Guy who flew into the sun and melted his wings."

"Icarus," Darien supplied.

"Close," Fallon corrected, "it's Icarius." She tapped a few keys. "I'll have a printout for ye in just a moment, but you will find 'im in 'is main olive grove, not the experimental one, at row five lane C." She reached beneath her desk and came up with a single sheet of paper a second later. "GPS tracking code and coordinates are included in the information."

Hobbes took the sheet of paper that she slid across the desk and scanned it. "You're telling me you know exactly where he is at this moment?"

"Aye," she responded.

"And that he's halfway 'round the world on his Greek island?" After all the intel saying that Papadopulos was in the US and in southern California looking to buy... something, Fallon's information made no sense.

She tipped her head to the side, her eyes narrowing slightly, as if trying to figure out if he was being honest or baiting her. "Agent Hobbes, Icarius Papadopulos is dead and 'as been for at least four months. That," she gestured at the sheet of paper in his hand, "is where 'e's buried."

Before that bombshell had time to sink in, Darien muttered, "Then who the hell have we been chasing around the last couple of days?"

Fallon's lips quirked upwards. "I'll give ye this one for free. It's Aristid, Icarius' youngest son." And with that tidbit of information, she shut off her computer and got to her feet. "If that's all, gentlemen..."

"Wait," Hobbes cut her off mid-sentence. "We need info on Aristid."

She shook her head, the short black hair swinging about. "For that we will need to negotiate a fee."

"Fee?" Hobbes growled. "We paid you already."

"Ye paid me for the location of Icarius Papadopulos, which I've given ye. I gifted ye with the fact that Aristid is running the family business now. If ye want additional information on him, we will need to negotiate a price, and it will be quite a bit 'igher." She spread her hands wide as if in apology.

"Crap," Hobbes muttered. "But this is urgent." Urgent was putting it mildly, but he had the feeling there was nothing he could say that would change her mind. On top of that, he knew that the money scrounged for the useless information he'd already been given was more than the Agency could afford.

"Then may I suggest that ye find the money quickly."

He was right, she wasn't feeling generous today. "C'mon, Fawkes, looks like we're back to square one." Hobbes turned away, Murphy was still standing by the door, his arms crossed over his chest and a bland expression on his face.

"Agent Hobbes, if money is as tight as I suspect it is for your Agency," she was making it crystal clear that she knew they didn't work for Fish and Game, at least not directly, "I am more than willing to barter. Say, like for like."

"And what does that mean, exactly?" Hobbes swung about to face her, standing beside Fawkes, who was still sprawled in the chair, and apparently hadn't even attempted to get up. Bobby had to wonder what his partner had picked up on that he'd missed.

"It means, I am willing to trade information for information," she explained, placing her hands flat on the desk and leaning forward ever so slightly.

"Such as?" Hobbes felt he had no choice but to take the bait and see how far he could swim away with it.

"Ach, nothing much. Say... 'is complete file." She pointed one finger at Fawkes.

Darien froze in place, his sudden fascination with his cuticles no longer holding his attention. "Why my file?" he asked, his voice carefully controlled and not giving away anything, which impressed Hobbes to no end, as Fawkes typically wore his heart on his sleeve.

"Come now, ye were a right gurrier until a little over two years ago." She sank back down into the chair, her fingers steepled before her. "Spent most your life as a thief until an... interesting third strike conviction. Bugger the laws of this state, eh?" She'd dropped the formal tone, all the colloquialisms coming out in force, and Hobbes was hard-pressed to weed through them to figure out what she was saying. "Your brother, who was working on some secret project, sprung ye and ye vanished for several weeks. Then all of a sudden your brother is dead and ye be working for the Agency." She shook her head. "Makes no sense. The Agency using ye as an informant, aye. Having you break into places that they'd rather not risk their regular people on, maybe. But hiring ye full time as an agent... It don' fit."

Darien open and closed his mouth, wanting to respond, but obviously not having a clue what to say. Fallon's Cliff Notes version of Fawkes' life was frighteningly accurate and Hobbes could only wonder exactly how much she really knew, and how much danger it put Darien in. "You saying a thief can't decide to turn his life around?" Hobbes commented just to fill the sudden dead air.

"Nay, not sayin' that. Just sayin' it don' sit right. 'Sides there's more'n a few rumors makin' the rounds about ye." She looked Darien right in the eye.

"So?" Darien questioned, straightening in the chair.

"So, I'd like the chance to see 'ow much truth there is to 'em," she told him.

"Not gonna happen," Hobbes assured her.

She shrugged and stood up. "I suggest ye take my offer to your... Official and let 'im decide. The information on Aristid isn't going to get any cheaper." She stepped around the desk, slipping a hand into the pocket of her jacket as she did so. Hobbes had to resist the urge to go for his gun, and was glad he had when all she removed was a business card that she handed to Fawkes as he flowed up out of the chair. It was only then Hobbes realized precisely how tall Fallon was, as the top of her head was somewhere about Fawkes' nose, making her around 5' 8" or so.

Darien took the card with some reluctance. "And this is for?"

"Want to make sure your Mr. Eberts spells me name right when he runs the background check," she informed them with a sly grin. "And there won't be a need for a middleman next time. Call or stop by anytime. We're always open."

"There won't be a next time," Hobbes stated flatly as Darien pocketed the card.

Fallon returned to her seat behind the desk. "Murphy, would ye please escort these gentlemen out?"

"Aye, boss. This way." Coming from the man, it was anything but a suggestion.

-----

Murphy was back minutes later, his look far lighter, almost amused. "I'm thinking they'll be back."

Fallon stood up from behind the desk and exchanged the jacket for the welding mask. "A'course they'll come back." She smiled knowingly as she pulled the gloves back on. "They always do."