This one's much darker than my previous pieces. It's actually much less violent than I expected, although the threat is very real. Hence the title, and the rating of PG-13...I used "Ghost" as my model for what you can get away with in a PG-13 movie.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (working title -- alternate Came So Close) by CritterKeeper

Eyes to her microscope, Claire's hand patted down the bench beside her until she found her pen and notebook. Only when she had moved the notebook closer and held the pen poised to write did she look away from her slide to make a few notes.

Then she squinted, blinked blearily at the paper, and rubbed her eyes. She'd been looking into the light and focusing at a single distance for too long. Now that her attention was off her work, she felt the headache behind her eyes and the tension in her shoulders and neck.

Remembering her old histopathology professor, she focused on the far end of the room to rest her eyes as he'd taught so many years ago. Fleetingly, she wondered whether this was what Darien's quicksilver headaches felt like.

Her eyes stuck in one spot, her attention wandered to the various sounds of the lab. The bubble of the aerator in the piranha tank. The hum of the fluorescent lights, a slightly flat B-sharp. The skittering of the bearded dragons across their rocks. The whir of the fan in her computer. Familiar, homey sounds. Still, she considered popping in a CD to make the day move a little faster.

Her eyes flicked away from the far corner over to the door almost before her brain registered the noise in the hall. Some sort of a bang, a thud. Perhaps a voice? She frowned. She wasn't expecting anyone, and her lab was the only active location with an entrance from this hallway.

She rose from her stool and took a wobbly step as she discovered her left foot was halfway asleep. Feeling vulnerable, she paused at her desk to retrieve her dart gun before moving silently to the door. All was quiet now and she wasn't really sure she'd heard anything, but the gun felt good in her hand nevertheless. She stood to the side of the door and slowly turned the latch back, then eased open a wide enough crack to glimpse the hallway. Nothing was visible. With a quick, precise movement she yanked the door open and stuck out her head and her gun at the same time, taking in the hallway in one sweep and then retreating back inside before her mind even had time to process what she'd seen.

Which was nothing. The hallway was empty.

She opened the door again and this time stepped out in to the hall and scanned its length.

Nothing.

Heading for the stairwell, she thought she heard a faint noise in that direction, perhaps one of the heavy fire doors slamming shut on another floor above her. She took a couple of steps towards the exit -- and tripped.

On nothing. Nothing visible, anyway.

She reached down, and her fingers met the icy cold of active quicksilver.

She pulled off her lab coat and let it fall across what was lying in the hallway. The shape outlined was rough, but could, possibly, be an outstretched arm, attached to a head and shoulders. Feeling through the cotton, she could definitely feel fingers, clothing, a face lying against the cement floor.

"Darien?"

A low groan answered her.

She shook him on the shoulder, gently at first, then more firmly. "Darien! Wake up!"

Another groan, and the fingers flexed, the head rolled. She was sure now that this was Darien.

"Darien, you're quicksilvered. You've got to wake up and shut it off!" She tried slapping at it, scrubbing at it through the lab coat, hoping to get him visible, but quicksilver was remarkably cohesive stuff so long as the gland continued to secrete a fresh supply...which it apparently was doing now. "Darien!" she called again.

At last, with a louder moan, he rolled over and began to sit up, and the quicksilver flaked away into glitter on the floor. There was a gash across his forehead, dripping blood into his eyes, and his sleeve was torn and sticky with it.

"Arnaud...." he muttered, struggling to rise. "He was...he was here...."

"Take it easy, Darien. He's gone now. It's alright." The Keeper tried to push him into sitting propped against the wall, but he was struggling unsteadily to his feet.

"Like hell..." he groaned with the effort of rising. "Keep, he was in *here*, in this hallway. I followed him...." He glanced at the stairwell. "Bastard's getting away!" He tried to throw her off, then clutched at the back of his head moaning.

Her first though was of concussion. It actually took a couple of seconds for her to think to check his monitor. What she saw made her heart skip a beat.

"Darien, you need counteragent. You can't go after him!" She watched as he looked at his monitor, looked back at the doorway.

"Aw, crap."

"Come *on*, Darien! We've got to get you into the lab. I can call security and give you an injection of counteragent, then you can go after him." She worked his arm up over her shoulder and hauled him to his feet.

His body shuddered again and he stumbled. "Maybe you'd better get the shot first," he said, panting. He felt warm against her back and side. She didn't dare pause to try to see his eyes through the blood, to see how bloodshot they were.

She lowered him into the chair and hurried to the refrigerator, grabbed the bottle of counteragent, and snatched her syringe out of cold sterile. She twisted on a fresh needle, held the bottle upside-down and slid the tip through the rubber seal. As she drew up the blue liquid, bubbles got in, and she impatiently flicked the barrel to make them rise up to the needle hub, then squirted them out and drew up more counteragent until she had the proper amount. All the while she was talking to her patient.

"Hang on, Darien, I'll have you fixed up in just a moment. It's all right, we'll call security and they'll catch Arnaud. You've done your part. Let me take care of you now. Then we'll --"

She was already walking towards his chair as she finished drawing up the counteragent and looked up. Her voice and her steps trailed off.

The chair was empty.

She couldn't see Darien anywhere.

"Darien?" She called out, taking one slow step back toward the counter. Her gun was on the counter, where she'd dropped it, next to the cold sterile tray. If only she could get to it before....

"Arnaud will be long gone by now."

His voice came from next to the chair. Claire took another two steps back as if he'd startled her. "Maybe not. We should call security, they can seal off the building." Just a little further. So close, and yet so far. She hated how frightened her voice sounded to her ears, how uncertain. She didn't even consider suggesting the counteragent now. It was too late for that, at least until he was sedated or restrained. Or both. Both would be nice. She took another step backwards.

She heard him start towards her and she turned, ran, put everything she had into one quick dash to the counter, grabbed for her gun. She came so close.

Then cold fingers yanked her back, pulled down her arm before she could reach the gun, digging into the muscles of her forearm painfully. A cold arm wrapped around her chest and threw her bodily away.

The counteragent went skittering across the floor.

Her eyes scanning the room for any movement, her ears straining, Claire scrambled to her feet and made a dash for the phone. She had security programmed in. Just touching one button would alert them, putting her on speakerphone automatically if she couldn't pick up. It was her last chance.

He slammed into her, knocking them both to the floor. They slid a few feet farther away from the phone, from rescue, from sanity. She tried to fight but she couldn't get a grip. He was so cold her hands burned from the touch. She couldn't tell what part of him was where fast enough to succeed in connecting with anything vulnerable. She kicked wildly, hoping to hit him where it counts, or at least slow him down. Maybe even knock him back into visibility. Her elbows, her hands flew. She felt impacts, but all against thick solid muscle that wouldn't feel it nearly enough.

Then his hand was around her throat, what felt like his knee was pressing into her belly, squeezing the air out of her. The collar of her blouse was between his fingers and her bare skin, but his thumb was pressing against the side of her neck, crushing and burning with cold at the same time. She would have cried out if she had any air to do it with. The weight of his body pressed against her diaphragm. The cold hard floor pressed into her back, her shoulders, her read end. She tried to push him away but was weakening rapidly. All the while, she could see only the empty room, and her own arms and legs fighting nothingness.

The edges of her vision were beginning to turn red. She wondered if that was how things looked to Darien now.

She tried to bring her foot up to push him away and he slammed her head down against the floor, hard. Bright sparks flashed before her eyes and for a moment she was lost in the pain.

His hold had loosened on her neck, his thumb finally coming away from the now frostbitten patch of skin on her neck. She started to raise her head, then froze as her vision cleared. The needle on the syringe of counteragent was hovering an inch away from her left eyeball.

She stared unblinking, her eyes crossing. The needle looked huge, blurred from being so close. She remembered that she had grabbed an 18 gauge, larger than usual, knowing she might have to go for the jugular to get him dosed fast enough.

"Look familiar?"

His breath caressed her cheek, she could feel the moisture of it hitting her skin and see the sides of the needle fog. Her lips moved but she couldn't speak.

Darien's voice was playful, but terribly angry and dangerous as well.

"How many times do you think you've stabbed me with this thing, 'Keep?'" The needle moved from her left eye to her right, trailing gently across the bridge of her nose along the way, just barely scratching her skin, raising a thin line of blood but not enough to flow. "Every six days? Hell of a lot more than that, of course, but the minimum is every six days. How many days in a year?"

His voice moved from one side of her face to the other and back, closer and farther away, taunting, occasionally singsong. His knee would dig into her belly or his fingers tighten around her throat even further for emphasis.

"Oh, yes, three hundred sixty-five. Call it three-sixty-six, the math is easier. Why, that's sixty-one injections! Wow, that's a *lot*!" The needle began running down her cheek, her jaw, skipped over the hand on her throat, and pressed gently into her chest.

"Give or take using the gland, and we can certainly exclude personal use, I'll give you that, we must average at *least* a couple hundred a year." The sharp tip pressed slowly against her blouse. "I owe you this, two hundred times over." She could feel the fabric giving way, the needle starting to mark her flesh. His voice whispered directly into her ear, his fingers pressing into her throat viciously and lifting her chin high. "Do you think it's time I collect?"

Tears streamed freely down Claire's face, but she didn't dare try to shake her head. She tried instead to look him in the eye, or at least the face, tried to gauge where his eyes were hidden by where his voice was, where his breath hit her face, where she could hear him lick his lips or chuckle.

"No, wait, let's do this right!" he exclaimed, and she felt his weight shift off of her and his hand at her throat jerk her viciously. She was dragged across the floor of the lab, by the throat and by a handful of her slacks, too fast and unpredictable for her to get her footing. Darien eluded her kicks and kept her too far away from anything to grab hold of. She sank her fingernails into his wrist as deeply as she could, wishing she could have kept them longer without their getting in the way of her work.

He swept her legs up and slammed her into the chair, knocking her head hard enough to black out her vision for a moment. She cried out in spite of herself, fighting back sudden nausea, fighting to stay conscious. His hand was away from her throat now, busy with the restraints, but her cries were hoarse, rattling in her bruised voicebox and nowhere near loud enough to carry outside the lab. She screamed anyway until a fist driven into her gut took away even that release.

By the time she could breathe again, she was thoroughly restrained, the cuffs cutting into her wrists and ankles painfully. She struggled, but couldn't move more than a few inches. Darien, watching her, chuckled. He'd shed his quicksilver once he'd finished with her bonds, and his eyes were completely red and pitiless. Most of the blood had flaked away with the quicksilver, leaving an angry gash across his temple. She supposed his second skin had applied pressure, because there was very little bleeding now. Too much to wish for that he have a concussion.

"Comfy?" He laughed as she gave another frustrated shake to the straps, then sank back, defeated. She felt fear clutching at her insides, her guts going cold, the muscles of her belly clenching. Her shirt had pulled out of her waistband and bare flesh was exposed. She hoped he wouldn't notice, but knew he would.

He stepped forward, and every nerve screamed alarm at the implacable cold of his gaze. "Now, where were we?" He held up his hand, apparently empty, gave it a little shake, and that damned needle was back, shedding cold little flakes of quicksilver onto her belly.

She tried not to flinch as the needletip pressed into her stomach just below her breastbone. She tried to distract herself by analyzing his reactions medically, scientifically.

That worked for a few seconds. Then her memory flashed back to Gross Anatomy exams, where the instructors would set up a skeleton and fasten an arrow through it, asking the students to list all the tissues, blood vessels and internal organs it might pierce. She was about to become an arrow question for some hapless paramedic.

Darien could see the fear in her eyes, she could tell, and she hated herself for that weakness, for letting him see her vulnerability. She knew that in this state, her fear would only egg him on.

She wasn't ready for the first jab. His face gave no hint he was about to strike and those red eyes never moved from hers. She could feel the whole thing with terrible clarity -- the initial pain as the needle's sharp edge sliced into her skin, the duller dragging feeling as it slid through fascia and muscle, even the slight drag and pop as the peritoneum lining the wall of her abdomen stretched, then sprang back as the needle finally pierced it. He kept going until the hub of the needle was pressing hard into her belly, unable to go any farther. She wondered if he'd really gone that slowly, or if things had shifted into slow motion for her. She wondered whether her intestines had been pierced and were now leaking bacteria into her abdominal cavity, or if he'd nicked a mesenteric artery or the edge of a liver lobe and she would slowly bleed out. She wondered if she could bear this pain and fear, two hundred times over.

He left the needle there for what seemed like an eternity, watching it all play out on her face with a mix of cold interest and spiteful glee. Then he slowly pulled it out again, and glanced down at the little spot of blood welling up. He grinned with satisfaction.

The needle tip began tracing lazy circles, Claire aware of every inch of its progress. Suddenly, it plunged in again, fast this time, the hub hitting hard enough to bruise, then back out in a flash. She gasped in spite of herself.

The needle tip traced across her again, and Claire realized with cold horror that it had paused right over her right kidney, that the damned needle was long enough to go straight into it.

Claire had watched an ultrasound-guided kidney biopsy once. The Tru-cut needle was about the same size as the 18 gauge now pressing gently into her flesh. The ultrasonographer, so cool and professional, admitted nervously that she *hated* kidney biopsies, that she'd seen them bleed uncontrollably, that the OR was always notified and on standby in case of complications because a delay could cost the patient his life. The doctor's palms had been sweating, that was what Claire remembered the most.

Two hundred. What were the chances he'd miss the kidneys every time? And the liver? And the aorta? That she wouldn't just bleed out, here in her lab, left who knows how long before someone discovered her?

As the needle started another slow descent, Claire sobbed and, giving up her pride, began begging.

"Darien, please don't! Please, stop! Darien, let me go, please, I promise I won't call anyone, I'll let you get away. I'll give you the formula, anything! Just please don't....don't kill me....." What she really meant was, don't hurt me.

It had worked, for a moment anyway. He paused, the needle about an inch into her, and smiled smugly before turning to her in mock surprise.

"Why, Claire, I'm surprised at you!" He tsk-tsked. He had to be so theatrical! "Tell me, really....why would I want the formula?" He leaned close to her and quicksilvered just his eyes, so that they went silver and vanished into empty sockets. She screamed a little at the silver; for an awful moment she'd thought he was going into stage five right before her eyes. "I'm having so much fun without it."

She stared into those empty eyes, trying to make a connection. "Please, Darien. I know that's the quicksilver talking, I know you're still in there. Fight it! Oh, God, don't let this happen, damn it, fight!"

The needle wrenched out of her and flashed to her throat, against her jugular. The quicksilver flaked away from his eyes and she was amazed how glad she was to see that deep red color.

"Does this mean you've been lying to me, 'Keep?'" His voice was cold fury, sharper and more deadly than any metal tool.

"Lying? I don't understand!" She almost wailed the last like a child. His unpredictability scared her more than the sadistic rage; at least that she'd had a chance at manipulating.

"'It's not your fault, Darien. It's the quicksilver making you mad, Darien. You were completely out of control, you were insane, you couldn't help it.'" His voice sing-songed, mocking her accent and the sympathy in her voice when she'd said those words. "So which is it, 'Keep?' Is it Darien talking, or the quicksilver? Am I in control, or have I lost it?"

He leaned closer, his body over hers, his hand caressing her cheek.

"If it's the quicksilver, then I *can't* stop, right? I'm out of my head, neither legally nor morally responsible for my actions." He smiled, almost childishly. "That's pretty cool. I can do *anything* I want, and no one can hold it against me later, 'cos it wasn't my fault. I feel so free!" He threw up his arms and did a little dance, the syringe clasped in his teeth like a rose.

"Darien, no..." she cried softly.

"No?" He turned back to her in a flash of movement like a cobra strike. "But Claire, if it's not true, then it really is me doing this! Your friend and favorite guinea pig has you strapped down and is torturing you. How are you ever going to be able to work with me again? How can you ever forgive and forget, if you really believe it's me doing these horrible things, to you and to everyone else I've hurt?"

"I don't know...." Tears streamed down her cheeks freely. Her voice was still little better than a whisper. "Please, *try*, Darien! Try to remember how you feel when you're normal."

"Oh, you mean trapped? Used? Kept? Resentful, angry, impotent? Not a problem, I remember those perfectly. Only difference is, now I can do something about them. And, of course, I understand that I don't need the counteragent. I'm better off without it." He stared at the syringe, its needle already pressing against her neck. "You, on the other hand..." His tone was almost normal now, a sad parody of his usual, as he asked, "Hey, Claire, what would happen if I were to inject *you* with some of this crap?"

"Nothing!" Claire realized too late that she'd answered too quickly and forcefully, that the naked horror was showing around the edges of her eyes again. The truth was, she didn't know for certain what it might do to her.

Darien saw it all, caught every nuance, and she could see in turn how he toyed with the information, trying to decide which response would be the most interesting, the most fun.

She felt the needle pierce her skin. With the perfect clarity of horror she could see her own reflection in his eyes, the needle pressing into her, even see the red swirl, the flash of blood that told her he'd gone cleanly into the vein. She waited for the plunger to move, to feel the tickle that jet of fluid would make on the inside of her jugular. And he was watching every second of her fear and anticipation.

*Get it over with already!* her mind screamed, although that was the last thing she really wanted.

Suddenly, without warning, he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers, buisingly hard. His left hand reached under her blouse and squeezed her breast painfully, his right hand keeping the needle in her vein so that she was too busy fighting her urge to squirm and possibly rip up the inside of her neck, to try to fight him. He pulled back just as suddenly, grinning, sadistic, smug, triumphant.

"You know," he said smoothly, slipping the needle back out so that a trickle of blood ran down her neck, "a hundred ninty-seven to go....it doesn't have to be the needle that I stab you with." His hands slid over the outside of her blouse, actually smoothing things back into place, covering her decently yet touching her intimately to do it. "Have you got a preference?" He started to lean toward her face again, his body looming over her.

"Stick your tongue in my mouth and I swear I'll bite it off!" she cried, tired of feeling so helpless.

He grinned more broadly, and she realized he'd taken it as a challenge. His hand grabbed her face, fingers pressing her cheeks inwards, hard, between her teeth, forcing her mouth open. He covered her mouth with his, his tongue thrust against hers, and she did try to bite down despite the pain, but his fingers were in the way and she only bit her own cheeks.

He held on just long enough to prove her helplessness, then pulled back and released her, smirking at the smouldering fury and shame in her eyes.

"Promises, promises." His hand stroked her cheek where his fingers had left red marks, and she tasted blood where she'd bit her buccal mucosa. "Any other requests, my sweet?"

He stepped out of her line of sight, moving silently. She wondered if he'd quicksilvered again. A drawer opened, then slammed behind her, then another, Darien rummaging through their contents. Then silence.

The seconds stretched out, Claire's imagination working overtime wondering what he'd been looking for, what he might do next. The anticipation was almost as bad as the pain had been.

She felt something terribly cold press against her ankle a moment before she heard the cutting sound. The leg of her slacks came apart, just within her sight if she lifted her head high, and she realized it was a pair of shears, quicksilvered, that was tracing up her skin so coldly. As he got to her knee, the quicksilver fell away, and he reached out to caress her exposed calf. His nails dragged across her skin at the end of the motion.

Claire was again amazed how relieved she felt to see his eyes solid red. Every moment brought them closer to the final stage of madness. Somehow, Claire was certain, now, that, toy with her as he might, Darien would not actually kill her until he hit stage five and the final inhibitions slipped away. Then, all bets were off.

But what he could do to her in the meantime was bad enough.

She expected him to cut all her clothing away, to leave her naked and vulnerable. Instead, he stopped at her upper thigh and made a circle around it, turning her slacks into a pair of very brief cut-offs. His hand traced along her inner thigh gently, teasingly. He then unbuttoned her blouse, slowly, one button at a time, careful not to touch her bare skin, and tied the front of it in a knot across her bosom like a halter top. He sliced away the sleeves, the collar, turning it into a very summery, very alluring outfit which actually looked perfectly natural, albeit casual.

His hand covered her belly, over her navel, and pressed in gently.

"Forgive and forget?" He whispered intimately. "I may not be able to do anything about forgive, but I can do everything I can to make sure you never forget." His hand slipped around her waist, to the small of her back. "I want to see that fear in your eyes, every day, Claire. I want to savor it."

His free hand quicksilvered and he pressed it against her stomach, below her navel, his other hand pulling her up toward it, preventing her flinching away. The cold of his touch was searing and she cried out, moaning. It seemed to go on forever before he released her.

Quicksilver fell away. She could feel one cold little flake land inside her belly button. She realized he was running his fingers across his handprint and she couldn't feel his touch. *Frostbite.*

"Don't worry, Claire, my sweet, dear Keeper," he whispered in her ear. "The scar will be easy to keep hidden. You can even wear a bikini, if it's high-cut." His finger traced the outline, an inch or so below her navel extending to the edge of her pubic area. "Only you and I will know it's there."

He straightened out her clothes, buttoning her now-sleeveless blouse and tucking it in, his fingers touching the handprint one last time. He scooped up the discarded cloth, and she could hear him dumping it into the biohazard trash behind her. She realized with sick relief that he was finished with her, that he wasn't going to rape her, or kill her, or even torture the formula out of her. He was just going to leave her.

"If they catch me," he called from behind her, "I'm sure they'll come looking for you to get me back to what they call normal. If not," his face appeared over hers, upside down as he stood behind her head and bent over her, "then I'll have to come back another time to finish what we've started here. After all," he said, running a finger across her cheek, "I still owe you."

A chill ran down her spine and clenched her belly as he turned and skipped out of the room without another glance. She hadn't gotten out of it after all, only won a reprieve. And who knew how long it would be before the next time?

She had half an hour, strapped in the chair, before they came. He'd been caught. He'd made a comment about his poor, sweet Keeper that sent Hobbes running for the lab. He unstrapped her, held her as she sobbed with relief, massaged her sore wrists, asked oh so delicately and discretely whether he'd 'hurt' her, and looked so relieved when she said he'd only stabbed her with the counteragent syringe and left her tied up, that she cried again for his caring.

Then, when she'd cried herself out, he reminded her, ever so gently, that Darien needed his shot. He even offered to give it to him for her, if she wasn't up to it. She smiled, but told him no, it was her job, and she'd better not start flinching from it now or she might never stop.

Medics had been called in to treat those Darien had hurt during his capture, and Hobbes escorted her to them before he'd let her go to him. They checked her blood pressure, her color, her pulse. She lifted her shirt for them to treat the stab wounds, and they told her that it was too late to do anything for the frostbite on her neck. They shared her concern about peritonitis, and gave her an antibiotic injection as a precaution. Any internal bleeding would have shown itself by now.

Finally, Hobbes could think of no more delays, and they headed for the rubber room, for Darien.

A look from one of the guards reminded her how casual and revealing an outfit he'd left her in, but she refused to back off and go change, to admit that it was a problem. It was still decent and coolly professional. Hobbes hadn't even noticed it had been altered. She chose to ignore it for now. Later, she could shove the whole thing into the incinerator.

She stepped into the room, then froze, the syringe clenched tightly in her hand, looking at him. Part of her wanted to stab *him* in the gut with it as he lay, tranquilized, vulnerable as she'd been. An irrational impulse, one society's constraints would never let her follow.

She pulled out his arm and he moaned, quietly. She was especially careful, gentle, refusing to allow him to change her professional behavior.

Turning his wrist so that she could see the snake returning to green, his soul returning to sanity, she felt the burning of her frostbitten skin, and realized she had marked him long before he'd marked her.

Claire stood in the next room, her arm aching from the antibiotic injection the medic had given her. She watched him through the two-way mirror until he woke. Watched his confusion at the strange room, the horror on his face as memories returned, his heartbreaking sobs. Was he mourning his loss of control? What he'd done to her? What he'd thought of doing? Or, perhaps, mourning the lost freedom, sobbing because he was back in his prison, physical and mental.

By the time she opened the door, he'd cried himself into exhaustion, his eyes bloodshot from tears rather than quicksilver. Sitting on the floor, disconsolate, he looked so vulnerable, so innocent. They'd treated his head wound while he was out, but the bandage tape had come off on one side, re-sticking too low, somehow increasing his helpless appearance.

He looked up, and she stood in the doorway, watching, wary. This was the Darien she'd worked with for so long, the man she was trying to help, a man she knew she could trust her life to. A good man, torn apart by what his darker side was capable of.

She'd spent half an hour pondering his question, about whether he had any control over his actions while the madness had him. She still wasn't sure she knew the answer.

"I'm sorry." His voice was ragged, hoarse from sobbing.

"I know. I am too." Her voice was little better.

She knew what he needed to hear, that it wasn't his fault, that she forgave him. But she just couldn't make the words come. So she stood there, silent, wary.

Darien sighed. "You wouldn't be human if you could forgive me, after that. If you weren't afraid of me."

"I'm not afraid of *you*," Claire replied, realizing it was truth as she spoke it, "only of what you become. You, I can trust with my life." Yet something held her back.

"But you can't ever feel quite safe around me."

"I never could. I never should. I've just had a reminder why."

His eyes went to her belly. To an outside observer, he was thinking of her stab wounds. Only they knew, just as he'd said.

"I could have killed you. I could have --" He cut off, licked his lips nervously, tried again. "Why didn't I?"

She knew the answer he needed and this time, it came so easily it might even have been the truth. "You're a good man, Darien. Even the madness couldn't wipe that away completely. Maybe in stage five you could have, but not while you had even an ounce of control left."

"So I do have control," he said hollowly.

"Only a little, but yes. You came to the lab for treatment instead of going after Arnaud. You couldn't stop the madness, but you could keep it in just enough check to save my life. You shouldn't blame yourself, I think you did everything you could."

"How do you know? How do you know I couldn't do more if I tried harder?"

"Because I know you."

"But you're still afraid of me."

"I am only human."