He'd had that sinking feeling all afternoon

Title: Fawkes Hunting

Author: Loganlover

Category: Drama

Status: Complete

Spoilers: none

Rating: PG13

Content Warnings: Ha! Read at your own risk.

Summary: Bobby's away on assignment and Darien is being stalked.

Disclaimers: I don't own these characters, they're the property of the SciFi channel, Stu Segal Studios and their writers. This story is written just for fun, and no profits are being made from it.

Forward: This started out as a cute little independent scene and it morphed into a 20+ page suspense story. The muses are like that sometimes. Many, many thanks to my beta readers (who I will be nominating for membership to the Psycho Secret Agent Softball League). They gave me pointers, encouragement and enough Counteragent (feedback) to hold me over so that I didn't post this story before it was *really* done. With me, patience isn't a virtue...its a bloody miracle.

Thanks especially to Lyrica, for her help, feedback, encouragement and tireless efforts busting my chops to do a good job with the writing. Its a much better story now than would have been the case otherwise. I'm sure the bruises will clear up in a day or so.

**************

Fawkes Hunting

**************

***********

"When I come home at night, I bolt the door real tight.

People call me on the phone, I'm trying to avoid.

But can the people on TV see me, or am I just paranoid?

I always feel like…somebody's watching me."

--Rockwell

***********

He'd had that creepy, uneasy feeling all afternoon.

Like someone was following him.

The moment Darien Fawkes stepped out the door of the Agency and onto the street, out in the open, the feeling returned in a rush. Like an itch between his shoulder blades and skin crawling on the back of his neck. Like some stranger's gaze was slithering all over him.

He scanned the street and the nearby buildings as he sauntered towards his car. He tried to keep his movements casual, tilting his head back to look at the clear sky, sniffing the air like he was testing for rain, all to make it look like he was just walking and enjoying the sunshine, without a care in the world. And in between all the casual strolling and the sky watching, he checked the windows of the buildings across the street, the occupants of each car along the curb and the shadowed alleyway that he passed on his way to his car.

Normally, he left all the paranoid worrying to Hobbes, but Hobbes wasn't around now. Darien's partner, the highly skilled, very experienced Bobby Hobbes was away on foreign assignment, training six field agents while Darien was forced to stay behind in San Diego.

Darien reached his car and fumbled with his keys, dropping them. He cursed loudly and bent down to get them. As he did, he scanned the big parking lot and as much of the underbelly of his car as he could. While pretending to scrounge around on the ground for the keys, he looked to see if he could spot anyone watching him, trying to find the source of that nagging feeling.

Nothing. No one. He was being goofy. He knew it. It was just that…he felt anxious. Irritated, useless and at loose ends. And trapped. Like someone who owned a big, mean, drooling dog and wanted to go away for the weekend, but couldn't find anybody who'd feed such a beast while he was away. His beast, his trap, his prison, was the gland. And the counteragent he needed every six days, which in that 'Murphy's Law' way of the world, didn't store well, didn't travel well, didn't do anything all that freakin well and on top of it all, required a warden in the guise of his Keeper. Which meant that, unless an assignment important enough to warrant the transporting of him, his stash of blue liquid and Claire, Darien was a prisoner. Stuck wandering around the musty hallways of the Agency while Hobbes enjoyed pina coladas on a warm, sunny beach full of exotic, bikini-clad beauties.

Darien gunned the motor with a little more fervor than was necessary as he pulled out into traffic. The 'sunny beach' part wasn't exactly true and he damn well knew it. But he was feeling frustrated and it was coming out in exaggerations. Hobbes's assignment was in Tijuana – which was dusty, urban and only a 15 minute drive from here. Hobbes had done the original scout work tracking down Arnaud's hacienda in Northern Mexico, and he was intimately familiar with all the underworld contacts in the region. So he'd been taken away from his usual duties in order to provide advanced training to several agents who had been recently assigned to work that territory.

Given Darien's lack of formal training and his limited experience as an agent, his presence was not required, so he'd had to stay behind. He felt useless. Hobbes had been gone less than a week, but it already seemed like a month. Especially after today's screwed up mission. And maybe that, rather than the gland, was the real reason for his irritation and that nervous, itchy spot, about the size of a bullet that he kept imaging between his shoulders.

This morning Darien had been called in to provide surveillance on a drug smuggling case the CIA had been working for months. Two days ago, the smugglers had been tipped off to the Fed's presence and escalated the violence by kidnapping one of the agents investigating the case. So, Agent Miller of the CIA had called The Official and asked to "borrow" Darien. Of course The Official had jumped at the chance to get a moody, annoyed, pacing Darien off his hands. They'd teamed him with CIA Agent Monteiro. It hadn't gone well.

While paused at a stop light, Darien checked his rearview mirrors as casually as he could, pretending to fingercomb his hair. Nothing. No one. Unless he was being followed by a little old lady in an antique Volkswagon van with a faded yellow peace sign painted on the hood.

He shook his head and deliberately flipped the mirror so he couldn't even see the street. He wanted to stop thinking about this morning. The whole scenario made him feel like a lab-rat, a human experiment, a non-person. And he couldn't stop thinking about it, rehashing it, trying to make it come out right this time. And he couldn't leave the mirror pointed down like that, reflecting the ragged knee of his jeans. That itchy, annoying spot wouldn't let him. It kept sliding around on his back, one minute on the back of his head, the next way down on his spine, the next hovering on his neck. It was red and it had crosshairs on it.

He wanted to wheel around and catch whoever was behind him, staring a hole through his bones. He didn't. Partly because Hobbes would kick his butt for doing something that obvious, but mostly because he knew it was futile. There was nothing there. No one.

It was just his imagination. It was just the damned assignment and Agent freakin' Monteiro. He knew it. But knowing didn't help much. It had started the minute he walked into the stake-out. That annoying feeling that something wasn't right. Nothing about the whole damned week had been right, with Hobbes out of town. That, plus the hyper-awareness that the rest of his life would be spent within the confines of these city blocks. And now the whole annoying CIA thing. Yeah, something wasn't quite right; like his whole damn life.

The little old lady blasted her horn at him, shaking him out of his thoughts and back to the present. The light was green and he'd just kept sitting there staring into space. Darien accelerated the car and took the turn, slowing to let a couple of kids get out of the crosswalk and back up on the curb.

This nagging, worried feeling was really getting to him. He tried to shake it off. "I'm just feeling paranoid because Hobbes isn't around to do it for me," he told himself. He had left work hoping that getting away from the Agency offices would lighten his mood and let him stop thinking about this morning.

The weather was being wonderfully cooperative. It was a fine, warm afternoon. The sun was still up, spring was almost here and the days were getting delightfully longer. He had a couple of hours before darkness fell and no place he had to be. It wasn't much, but it was a welcome change after a long, nasty day at work. After what seemed like the longest winter of his life. Maybe that was what was making him so edgy lately, the weather. The cold and rain and early dusks of winter.

It was the first winter he'd lived with the gland, and with the Agency and this new, weird occupation. Maybe it was the lack of freedom and the odd, structured nature of his days that contrasted sharply with so many other winters and made this one seem so long. Back when he'd been a thief, beholden to no one, life had been lived off-the-cuff. On the spur of the moment. Except of course, those years he'd been in prison, then winter had passed unnoticed.

Normally, he would head straight home after work, with maybe a side trip to the store or to run other needed errands. But a quiet evening at home was just not what his mood called for tonight. It would leave him too much time by himself, roaming around his apartment, pretending to watch television while ruminating about today, the mission and Agent Monteiro.

At the intersection where he would normally turn right to head home, he looked around, looked up at the clear blue sky, and turned left instead, cutting off the little old lady in her retro van. He waved to her as he pointed his Ford it in the direction of the ocean and gunned it. When she didn't follow and the street stayed empty behind him, that creepy, haunting feeling of being watched eased a bit. He knew he'd made the right decision. He needed a little R&R.

Besides, there was only an hour or two of daylight left and he really wanted to enjoy it. He felt unusually energized, almost jumpy, and more than anything, he wished Bobby were around to hang out with him.

********

He dragged his hands across his face, pulling the skin taught over his cheekbones, as if he could rub away the exhaustion that sat behind his eyes.

Bobby Hobbes was sunburned, tired and sore from a week spent mostly outdoors in the Mexican sunshine. He was in Tijuana, training half a dozen field agents who'd been recently assigned to work this territory. Although the agents were experienced, they were new to the region, and Hobbes had done his best to familiarize them with the local customs and contacts, and acquaint them with the current hot sheet. They'd spent the past few days learning Hobbes' own specialty, advanced tracking and surveillance procedures. Although it was his favorite topic, and he could spend hours on end talking about the subtle nuances of tailing suspects and avoiding detection, it had been a long, grueling week and Hobbes was definitely feeling it. He was more than ready to head back home.

He turned his head and watched as his trainees piled into the van. Hobbes had insisted they wear street clothes and not the usual black suits for today's outing. Better to blend in with the tourists. Hobbes examined each agent's choice of attire as he or she entered the van. Most of them managed to look casually non-descript. Murphy had it down perfect, looking like a typical tourist in her worn Hawaiian shirt. Griffin needed work on his concept of 'casual.' Hobbes gunned the engine gently to hurry them along, so they could get going with this last exercise.

He missed San Diego already, which seemed stupid since he'd been away before this for much longer periods and never missed it. Maybe he was getting old, he thought, missing his apartment and his comfy bed so much. Last month he'd even gone out and bought an extravagant goose-down pillow, just because it was so dammed comfortable. 'Ah crap. I've bivouacked, slept in fox holes, spent months living with sand and sand fleas and now I'm missing my comfy bed. How sad is that?' He sighed. Ah, who was he kidding? It wasn't the bed or the new pillow he was wanting. He missed having Fawkes around. His thoughts were interrupted by Agent Castillo.

"So, that's it?" Castillo slammed the van door shut and shifted around in his seat, reaching for the seatbelt. He was tired and ready to call it a day. Heck, he was ready to call it a week.

Hobbes felt twice as tired as Castillo sounded, but he wasn't about to let it show. He raised an eyebrow, managing to look both annoyed and mildly amused. "One more thing, Castillo. You pass the final exam, then we're done."

"What's the exam?" Agent Hernandez piped up.

"We're taking a little road trip. We're going to a new site, one we haven't worked this week. I'm gonna have you track a real perp. Show me you know your stuff." Hobbes grinned. This would at least be entertaining.

Agent Mallozi leaned forward from his seat behind Hobbes. "How do we know if we've passed the exam?"

"You'll still be breathing."

*******

Darien headed down to Belmont park; it was an amusement park right by the ocean. The place had a carnival-like atmosphere at any time of year, and was usually filled with both locals and tourists looking for fun. Darien figured the activity would take his mind off of work and Hobbes's absence. It would also let him kill a few hours before heading home to his empty apartment.

He parked his car in the lot and dodged traffic while crossing the busy street. As Darien strode down the boardwalk, checking out the booths and playing a few games, he was really starting to enjoy himself—for the first time in a long while, it seemed. There was a warm ocean breeze flapping the awnings over the storefronts and making the palms sway and flutter as he walked along. By the time he reached the end of the pier, the sun was setting over the Pacific and he stopped just to watch. As the sun approached the horizon, the light turned from yellow, to rosy-gold and finally to a deep scarlet. Darien leaned against the railing watching the splashes of light on the water as they gradually mutated from color to color, determined to savor every moment.

In spite of his best efforts, his mind wandered back to work, reviewing the events of the past few days, and how different things seemed now that Hobbes was gone. He'd been away for nearly a week now, and although Darien hated to admit it, he felt adrift without him. Like the assignment he'd been given this morning. They'd teamed him with agent Monteiro and sent him in to do some invisible surveillance work. It seemed pretty straight-forward at the time.

'Surveillance,' Darien thought, 'from the French, loosely translated as: to over-look.' Darien grimaced in dismay, 'Well, they got *that* right anyway.' He sighed.

Darien had felt over-looked ever since he'd been picked up at the Agency that morning and whisked off in the CIA's car. The drive to the smuggler's suspected hide-out was tense. He tried to ask Monteiro about the mission, to find out what exactly was going on, who was involved and so on, but 'Monty' had been a complete pain in the butt and stuck to his hard-line "need to know" routine. Then, Darien tried engaging him in some small talk, but that was like talking to a brick. A cold, overbearing brick. In a black suit and mirrored shades.

The car came to a stop near the end of a quiet residential street. When Darien stepped out of the car, Monteiro didn't introduce him to the other agents. Didn't even look at him.

One of them peered over his sunglasses to glare at Darien. "This the Agency guy?" he asked, jerking his thumb in Darien's direction.

Monteiro nodded and spoke in low tones with the other agents, making plans and comparing notes outside of Darien's earshot. When they finally broke their huddle, Monteiro walked up to Darien and said, "That's the house." He indicated a small yellow ranch style house at the opposite end of the block. It was surrounded by a yard with high, uncut grass. The place looked neglected and Darien didn't have high hopes for it being occupied.

Darien tried again to ask about the mission. "Well, who are these guys? and why are.."

Monteiro cut him off. "Just get in there, look around and give me a report," he said with disgust.

Darien tramped off, muttering under his breath. "What the heck am I? A freakin' appliance?" This jerk, Monteiro, obviously regarded Darien as some sort of tool to be used, not a person to be spoken to.

So he had walked down the block, sneaking through back yards and behind trees until he was behind the yellow house and out of view of the CIA agents. He went invisible and walked to the back door, looking for signs of an open doorway or unguarded window. There didn't appear to be any security on the windows or any alarms, so he jimmied the lock on the kitchen door and slipped inside.

He sneaked through the house, noting the entry and exit opportunities. The inside was actually nice, richly decorated and well taken care of. At odds with the neglected exterior. He heard a television playing something rather loud and followed the noise. Down a hallway and to the right he turned into a spacious living room. There were three rather rough looking guys wearing worn blue jeans and tee-shirts, but all they were doing was hanging out, smoking cigarettes and watching Jerry Springer. The noise from the TV made it easy for Darien to avoid their attention. When he was sure there were no weapons around and no signs of any kidnapped agents, he headed for the kitchen to make his exit. On the way, Darien amused himself by noting all the things he would have noticed if he were still a thief.

Being a thief was a world away from this Agency work. As a thief, he worked alone and with a lot of tools like plastic explosives, drills, lock-picking sets...that sort of stuff. But not with guns or bullets or anything else designed to hurt people. In fact, he'd taken it as a point of pride that as a cat-burglar his job was to avoid people, not confront them.

And as a burglar the things he was trained to see were safes, alarms, jewelry, paintings and the general household décor. He had picked up on the décor thing early in his burglary career. If the household furniture looked expensive and seemed to have been arranged by a professional decorator, there was probably some cash and jewelry around. If the place looked like a Sears reject, it was going to be slim pickings.

When Darien reappeared behind agent Monteiro, fifteen minutes later, he couldn't resist tapping him on the shoulder and watching him jump.

Monteiro glared at him. "What's your report?" he barked. Monteiro was looking annoyed and impatient. Like he resented having an 'outsider' brought in to help with the investigation.

Darien regarded him for a moment. 'Monty' was really ticking him off with all the attitude. He decided to play dumb and give his report the same way he would if he were a working thief.

"Okay, I checked the place out," Darien began. "The living room is laid out in one of those faux French-Provincial arrangements that's really popular with the retirement set, and it looks too over-coordinated not to have been done by a decorator. The furniture is first class, definitely imports. Artwork on the walls is all originals; oils and acrylics mostly, but no major names—definitely safe-hiding material. No visible security systems, but the layout is...."

Monteiro cut him off. He had a look on his face like he couldn't decide if Darien was really serious or just insane.

"What the hell are you talking about?! Weapons, Fawkes! What about the perps? Where's the agent who was kidnapped? Any signs of him? Forced entry?"

'God, Monty looks like he's gonna have a spasm!' Darien fought to suppress a smile. "Your guy isn't there Monteiro. As far as I can tell, he never was." Darien was pissed and had had enough of Monteiro. "Your intelligence stinks," he said, sauntering back toward the car. "So stop wasting my time." Darien glanced at his wrist to check his tattoo. Almost full. Crap! He realized that while part of his rotten attitude was because of the way Monteiro and company had been treating him, it was also being fueled by how near he was to running over his quicksilver limit. By the time he'd gotten back to the Agency, the headaches had already started.

He had stewed about it all the way back to the Agency. Darien knew that his training as an agent left a lot to be desired. At best, he got some on-the-job training by working with Hobbes, but that didn't come close to the real thing. And after today's events, it was more obvious than ever that the guys he worked with regarded him as some kind of tool to be used, not another agent.

Darien gazed out the window as the car sped through the city streets, heading back to the Agency. The car's smoky window glass made the whole world seem dark and colorless. 'Just like my life,' he thought, as he watched dim images of people and cars slide past his view.

It seemed that everyone at the Agency, everyone but Darien that is, was a career Fed of one kind or another. The Official and Hobbes had both been Marines once upon a time, and they each trained as federal agents with different organizations after that. Hobbes had a long, rather checkered background with the FBI, that he'd been reluctant to talk about, and The Official had been with the CIA and Department of Defense. Claire had also been with the DOD.

'Hell,' Darien thought, 'even Eberts used to work for the IRS – and that's *got* to be one of the more ruthless federal agencies.' He sighed, no longer watching the view out the window, wrapped up in his thoughts about how much he just didn't fit in.

The more Darien thought about it, the more he realized that Hobbes wasn't just his partner, he was his friend and his guide. Darien never felt like he was really a federal agent, but somehow, when he worked with Hobbes, he was able to forget that and feel more like a contributing member of the team. Now, after the whole "Monty incident," he again felt like a fish out of water. He'd be gladder than ever when Hobbes came back.

Darien's mind returned to the present just in time to watch the last blood-red slivers of sunset sink below the horizon. The ocean turned the color of slate and the sky took on a blue-gray hue heading for darkness.

As Darien turned away from the railing and began the slow trek back to his car, he noticed a shadowy form off to his left, that also turned and moved, right after he did. As if, whoever it was, had decided to move precisely *because* Darien had begun to move…like he was being followed. Darien looked in that direction, but wasn't able to pick out any suspicious looking characters. None of the people strolling along the boardwalk seemed to notice him at all, much less be watching him.

Darien shrugged off the feeling and walked back through the crowd, past the ticket stands and the booths where hawkers energetically sold a multitude of trinkets, souvenirs and food items. He stopped briefly to watch a group of kids and their parents riding the antique merry-go-round. It had been rescued from some storage facility and restored to its original glory just a few years ago. To protect it from the weather, it was housed in a special pavilion. The rafters were strung with lights and colorful decorations that added to the dizzying atmosphere inside. But no amount of decoration could detract from the merry-go-round itself. The detail on the carved wooden horses was amazing, and the bold jewel colors they'd selected when doing the restoration sparkled under the lights.

As Darien watched the ride slow to a stop and children began to dismount their rides, the same disquieting feeling returned. The unwelcome memory of Agent Montiero's words came back to him. "Fawkes, these guys have kidnapped one agent already, and they won't stop there. We've got to catch them fast, before it escalates even further." A chill ran down Darien's back. Could they have been tipped off to Darien's presence in their hideout today? Were they following him, waiting for the chance to jump him?

The nagging, uneasy feeling persisted even as he left the pavilion and continued down the boardwalk. Darien looked around, carefully scanning the crowd for someone who might be watching him. Nothing. No one. Just happy kids racing up and down the walkways, parents pushing strollers or carrying bags and jackets, and here and there, romantic couples holding hands. He passed the arcade and heard the jumbled sounds of laser tag, video games and techno-music all clamoring for attention above squeals and shouts from dozens of kids. He considered going in for a moment, but without Bobby around to share the games, Darien didn't feel his usual enthusiasm.

The evening breeze was getting cooler, and the chill air made Darien wish he'd picked a heavier jacket to wear. It seemed a good time to head for home. Darien turned and headed for the parking lot and his car. As he waited for a break in the traffic that would let him cross the street, he again felt that nervous, itchy sensation slip across his back. An image flashed into his mind of a rifle's laser sight sliding across his shoulders and centering on his back, as some nameless assassin prepared to fire. Darien whirled around, scanning the crowds on the sidewalk, looking for sinister characters. This time, he thought he'd caught a glimpse of someone, out of the corner of his eye. But when he turned to focus more closely on the people around him, he couldn't spot anyone who looked at all suspicious.

Darien shook his head, smiling to himself. "God, Eberts was right. Hobbes's paranoia really *is* contagious."

********

"Welcome to the final exam, gentlemen."

Hobbes spoke so that he could be heard by the agents surrounding him, but not by any passersby in the crowd. He had started the final exercise by 'making' and tracking this target himself, giving tips to the trainees and pointing out his technique as they went. Now that they were in a busy, highly populated area, Hobbes judged it was the best opportunity to hand over the reins to these agents and see how they handled themselves. It would also make the test as difficult as possible.

"You, Hernandez, take point. Griffin, you're Command." The younger agents nodded, each taking note of his role. "The rest of you, follow Griffin's instructions."

Griffin stepped into his role like a seasoned pro. "Check your radio frequencies, we'll be on channel three. Murphy and Fuentes, you track the point. Murphy, fan left, Fuentes fan right, and make sure you keep Hernandez in sight."

Hobbes stepped in to provide some final instructions and get the agents into the proper frame of mind. "Now, remember, we're going after someone real. Keep this thought in your minds; this is someone dangerous. If he makes you, you're dead. If you let him make your Command, he's dead too. Your objective is to track the target without being seen by him. Got it?" Six agents nodded in unison.

Hobbes stepped back and let Griffin take charge of the operation. While Griffin gave orders to his team, Hobbes moved smoothly through the crowd, blending in with such skill that even his trainees had a hard time keeping tabs on him. He moved between the 'point man' and 'Command,' watching how they worked together and analyzing their strategy. He hoped for no slip-ups, but that seemed almost too much to ask.

The new agents tracked their target, smoothly weaving through the crowds, past numerous storefronts and vendors. Agent Murphy got tripped up by a salesman who was overly-enthusiastic to sell a bunch of touristy-type Mexican sombreros, and Fuentes got distracted by a bunch of kids playing a game of tag, but overall, the team was doing fairly well.

About 20 minutes into the operation, Hobbes glided up along side Griffin. "Pull your point man, he was almost made." Griffin looked surprised but didn't object. He called in Agent Fuentes and told her to take over for Agent Hernendez. "Fuentes, you're on point now," Griffin instructed. "Head fifty meters north, then cut right. Confirm visual on the target."

Silently, Hobbes came up behind Agent Hernandez. "You're down, son. Command is pulling you—right now."

"No way! I wasn't seen," Agent Hernandez protested.

Before he could continue, Hobbes cut him off. "Trust me, you were 'made.' You gotta track the eyes, son. The perp looked down and to the left, then up. He picked up the peripherals, then he focused. That means you were about to be spotted."

Hobbes sighed inwardly, this was going to be a long, last day of training.

********

Darien reached his car and after a quick glance into the back seat to make sure he was alone, he opened the door and slid into the driver's seat. He rarely locked the door. He didn't keep anything worth stealing in his car and if some hot-wiring genius decided to swipe the car for a joyride, Darien didn't want them smashing the windows to get inside. Besides, he figured this car wasn't exactly a hot ticket item for joyriding or for its re-sale value on the black market, so it was pretty safe.

But Hobbes never let him hear the end of it.

Darien could hear the lectures even now. "Y'know, kid, for a thief, you got a really crappy sense of personal safety. You don't lock your car, you don't have a security system in your apartment…"

The last time they'd argued about that, Darien had pointed out what he thought was obvious. "Yeah, Hobbes. But there are very few security systems that I can't break, and there are guys out there who are even better than me. So what's the point? Besides, with what the Agency pays, I can't afford to own nice stuff. If any thieves break in, they're likely to leave a donation."

Darien smiled at the memory. Yeah, he was a fatalist. Either his stuff was destined to be stolen by some thief, or it wasn't. He didn't see any point in making himself crazy worrying about it.

But then Bobby had started talking in that classic Hobbsian-paranoid way, that seemed designed to make Darien nervous. "Let me explain something, my friend. You work for the Agency now. That means you've got enemies you've never even seen. You don't know who might be after you or that gland in your head. So you should at least take some steps to be careful."

"Don't kid me, Hobbes. You don't have those security systems at your place to keep people out. You have them just to see if someone tampered with them when they broke in. I can't live like that. It would drive me nuts, always looking over my shoulder."

That had been the end of the argument, at least as far as Darien was concerned. But he knew that Hobbes was just biding his time, waiting for his next opportunity to bring it up again.

On the way home, Darien stopped by the grocery store to pick up supplies for dinner. He had eaten too darn much take-out lately and was getting sick of it. Hobbes was the better cook and sometimes made dinner for the two of them at his place. 'But, even my own cooking is better than another night of pre-fab food.'

When he returned to his car, he loaded the bags into the passenger's seat; one bag of groceries and one containing a six-pack of Corona. It wasn't Darien's favorite beer, but Hobbes loved the stuff, and Darien wanted to have some around when Hobbes got back from Mexico – it was a small way of paying him back for the cooking. 'I hope its soon, buddy,' Darien thought. Life was getting boring without that 'Little Tiger' around. He grinned. Hobbes would kill him if he ever learned that Darien thought of him that way.

He pulled out of the parking lot, heading for his apartment and noticed a car pulling out behind him. It was a late-model sedan that looked suspiciously nondescript. Just the kind of car the Agency used all the time; so plain it stood out. Maybe the Agency was tailing him now that Hobbes wasn't in town to keep an eye on him. He glanced back in the rear-view mirror, but couldn't get a good look at the car through the darkness.

Several blocks later, when traffic cleared a bit, he looked back again but could no longer see the car. 'Hmm, it must have turned off somewhere.' Darien looked around, checking all the mirrors but only saw normal traffic. "This is getting ridiculous," he muttered. "I'm gonna have to stop hanging out with Hobbes." He paused, then added. "Or grow eyes in the back of my head." Darien grinned at the thought, it reminded him of an old Twilight Zone episode he'd seen years ago.

********

The target was moving again.

Hobbes re-grouped his trainees and re-assigned positions. They'd been getting more efficient and more confident as the day went on, working together like an experienced team. It was time to wrap things up. Time to see if they could tighten up their formation and move in for the kill.

This time Castillo would be 'Point' while Murphy took the Command position. "Switch to channel two," Murphy ordered. "Castillo, move to the north-east quadrant and confirm visual."

The visual confirmed, Murphy proceeded to relay information and instructions back and forth between the other agents, smoothly moving the team in response to intelligence reports from her point man.

Hobbes smiled. These guys were getting better…a lot better. Maybe the week hadn't been a waste after all. After another twenty minutes of tracking the target through crowds and busy streets, Hobbes pulled his agents in for debriefing.

"Very smooth, Murphy. You've really got a knack for surveillance work." Hobbes was relieved that the training week was at an end, and he was very pleased that his trainees had survived their 'final exam.' They'd all done well. Even Griffin was learning to blend into the background better.

'Now, I can get the heck back to my normal life.' Hobbes grinned, 'Well, as normal as it gets, anyway.'

He had to admit it, he'd missed having Darien around. It never failed to surprise him, how close they'd gotten. Especially since when they first started working together, killing each other had seemed like a viable option. But as an investigative team, they now operated smoothly—each understanding the other, almost without words. Heck, they even finished each other's sentences half the time. During the past week, Hobbes had missed Darien more than he'd expected. These agents, good though they were, just didn't match his working style the way Darien did. Without the kid around, Hobbes felt out-of-kilter. Off balance. As if something was missing…like when the firing pin on his favorite Glock had broken and it was out being repaired. He'd kept reaching for it when it wasn't there. And his back-up pistol just didn't handle as well. The only cure was to wrap this up and get back home.

Hobbes dismissed his troop of agents and watched them drive off, heading back to base where they'd need to check in before starting their weekend. As their car turned the corner it was illuminated briefly by a bright streetlight then disappeared from view. Hobbes sighed, returning his mind to the situation at hand. He didn't want to leave the job half-done. 'We've come this far tracking the target, I might as well finish it.'

********

Darien pulled his car into the parking lot next to his building. All the spaces near the entrance were taken, leaving empty slots only along the back near a row of large bushes. The security light in that corner was out, making it nearly impossible to see if anyone was back there. Darien could only catch the briefest glimpse of the area as his car's headlights swung past. He stepped from the car and scanned the lot as he headed around to the passenger's side to get his bags. Nothing. No one. But he couldn't shake the nagging feeling that he might be missing something. The contrasting glare from the street light in front of the lot made the inky blackness of this corner all the more impenetrable. If anyone was hiding back in those bushes, he'd never be able to spot them.

Darien jumped, startled by the sharp sound of a door slamming behind him. His heart raced and he whirled around, only to see a couple, dressed up for an evening out, leave the building and head toward the street. His heartbeat slowed to its normal pace and he smiled at himself and headed into the building. "Just me and a couple of squirrels out here."

Darien slipped his key into the lock, opening the building's side door and headed up the stairs to his apartment. At the first landing, he paused. Shouldn't he have heard the door shut behind him by now? The closing mechanism was slow but.… Just then, the distinct echo of the latch clicking into place filled the stairwell. "Just your over-active imagination, Darien," he tried to convince himself. Man! This paranoid thing was getting to him. He needed to relax and clear his head from work, and a hot shower would just about do the trick.

******

The shower felt great. He stood under the water for the longest time, just letting the soothing stream run over his hair and down his shoulders and back. He hadn't realized what a long day it had been, until that deliciously hot water hit his skin.

As good as the shower felt, Darien realized he'd better finish before his skin was permanently pruned from the hot water. He turned the water off and grabbed a towel. He felt much better now and was glad that he'd chosen to delay dinner until after the shower. Heck, he might just skip dinner altogether and crash. Leaving the shower, he dried off and slipped on a pair of boxers. He grabbed a smaller towel and continued drying his hair as he exited the bathroom, heading for the kitchen. He decided to make a small dent in the Corona supply before turning in.

Darien flicked off the bathroom light and walked to his bedroom. He stopped in the doorway and frowned. His rooms looked different….hadn't he left most of the lights on? A prickle of apprehension crawled up his back, chilling him and raising goose bumps on his arms. The apartment was dark now, except for the orange-yellow light from the street lamp streaming in through his open blinds. Then he noticed the floor lamp by the couch was off. He smiled slightly and shook of his paranoia. 'Hobbes, I've definitely been hanging around you too much,' he thought. 'The damn bulb in the lamp blew again, that's all.' He headed toward the lamp, draping the towel loosely across the back of his neck as he walked.

The blinds snapped closed, plunging the apartment into blackness. Darien turned toward the noise and a hand clapped across his mouth. A strong arm came from behind, reaching across his chest and hauling him roughly down to the floor. A voice, harsh and threatening, growled in his ear, "Don't fight. It'll go easier on you."

Panic and anger rose together in Darien's chest. He twisted his head away from the hand covering his mouth. "Like hell!"

Darien fought.

He tried to throw off his attacker, to grab an arm, a leg…anything, but it was difficult to get leverage on the smooth hardwood floor. They wrestled, arms and legs grappling wildly. Darien twisted around and managed to plant his foot hard into the attacker's side. The man fell back and grunted as he hit the floor.

Darien scrambled to get back on his feet, but the attacker tackled him around the waist. As Darien reached around to grab his attacker, he was suddenly upended and landed face down on the carpet. The impact knocked the wind out of him with a sharp "oof" as his back connected with the coarse carpet. He fought to escape the attacker's grip, but every move Darien made was countered efficiently. This guy was obviously trained in fighting. 'Just my luck to have a freakin ninja invade my place.' Darien thought. Whatever the source, the man's skill put Darien at a distinct disadvantage. His face was pushed hard against the carpeted floor and his arms were wrenched up behind his back. Stinging pain greeted his efforts to free himself. When he twisted, trying to get loose, another zing of pain sliced through his shoulders, thwarting his efforts.

"I said, this'll go easier if you don't fight," the attacker growled into his ear. Darien renewed his efforts, trying desperately to free himself. He brought his leg up, sliding his knee under the attacker's hip and pushed him off. Darien tried to stand but before he could get his legs under him, he was tackled again. The man wrenched Darien's arms up behind his back. Darien's face was pushed hard into the carpeted floor. The attacker pressed his knee hard against the small of Darien's back, and leaned in close. A rough voiced hissed in his ear, "You've got enemies you don't even know about."

Darien couldn't help breaking into a wide smile, the 'Little Tiger' was back! He tried to give some 'attitude,' but his voice was muffled by the carpeting. "Hobbes I'm glad you're back, but I'm still not changing my locks. And I'm still better than *any* security system. Now let me up."

"You may think you're hot stuff, My Friend, but someday some perp is gonna prove you wrong," Hobbes warned as he let Darien sit up.

Darien grinned, remembering how he'd broken into Hobbes' place three days ago, just for fun…and to prove he could foil the alarm. 'Yeah,' Darien thought, 'wait till you get home and find the *present* I left under your pillow.'

******

FINIS