C'mon Fawkes. Raise your hand, put the freakin' key in the freakin' lock and turn. How difficult can it be?
Darien stood rigid. Frozen to the spot right outside his apartment, with the jagged metal edge of his keys cutting into his tightly clenched palm, wondering why the simple act of unlocking his own front door should be so unnerving,
What the hell was the matter with him? Wasn't this exactly what he'd been craving for the longest time? After weeks of nothing but the stark clinical surroundings of Fort Leavitt and then the claustrophobic confines of The Keep during his 'de-programming', they were finally cutting him loose. So surely he should have been euphoric, not a quivering mess.
Of course, the Official had voiced his concerns in his own inimitable way on whether Darien was ready for this next stage in his recovery, but had finally buckled under Claire's argument that allowing him his freedom would help to restore some of those still more elusive memories.
Only Bobby's staunch presence right behind him and the reassuring but firm hand resting in the small of his back, stopped him from bolting. Finally, with a deep breath Darien raised trembling fingers, inserted the key into the lock and turned, pushing the door slowly inwards, to be greeted to his intense relief and surprise by the beaming faces of Claire, Alex and Eberts - waiting for him just the other side: A gentle nudge from Bobby pushed him over the threshold and Claire's gentle grip on his hand pulled him the rest of the way in. And then he was home…finally.
Some time later…
"Goodnight Darien," Claire whispered affectionately, as she leaned down to plant a soft kiss on the lips of her Kept, then chastised herself as he stirred and began to rouse from his contented slumber.
She hadn't intended to wake him, but temptation - possibly fuelled by the copious amount of red wine she'd consumed during the evening - had got the better of her. He just looked so….scrumptious…laying there like that; all curled up and disheveled.
As if savoring her sweet taste, Darien ran a tongue over his lips and then stretched his long lean frame, cracking open one eye at a time "Wha' time izzit?" he mumbled as he scrubbed his palms over his face.
"Just gone midnight, my friend," Bobby answered as he appeared at Claire's side, giving his partner an amused grin. Alex Monroe soon joined them, pulling on a jacket over her tight-fitting tee shirt..
Darien groaned with embarrassment. Some host he was! He must have dozed off literally as soon as he'd settled back into the squishy comfort of his couch. The amiable banter and laughter from his friends as they feasted on the take-out pizza, coronas and red wine - courtesy of Bobby - the light soothing drone of music and a sense of all-round well being, had obviously worked its magic and lulled his senses.
"Great party, Fawkes," Alex added with a quirk of one well-defined eyebrow, pressing her lips to his cheek.
"Yeah, shame he missed most if it," Bobby teased. "Ebes left a half hour ago, and I'm just about to escort our two young lovelies to their homes so that they can catch up on their beauty sleep, not that they need much…if any," he countered quickly with a disarming smile.
"Oh, some of us definitely need more than others these days," Claire advised through a partially-stifled yawn. Then to Darien, in an instant reverting to Keeper mode. "Make sure you get a good night's sleep…preferably in your bed. That couch is no good for your back," she added firmly.
At his mumbled "Yes, ma'am," Claire flashed a fond smile, before turning on her heels to head out of the apartment arm in arm with Alex. A sudden sense of dread washed over Darien as he watched the two women leave and he shivered.
"You gonna be okay, buddy?" Bobby asked, picking up instantly on his friend's unease. He had deliberately held back for a moment, reluctant to go until Darien was properly settled. Part of him wanted to offer to stay the night, but he knew that option wouldn't be doing the younger man any favors. If Fawkes wanted to maintain his independence, then the sooner he got back into the old routine the better, particularly as the Fat Man was looking for just about any old excuse to move his I-Man into Agency controlled accommodation, or to put the hated protection team back in place.
One look up into Bobby's concerned face and Darien summoned one of his best tough-punk masks, unwilling to admit his nervousness.
"I'm good," he assured brightly, if a bit too quickly. "I'm gonna get me a long hot shower and then hit the sack, just like Keepie ordered."
Bobby studied the younger man for a moment, not entirely comfortable to be leaving him. "Okay," he said after a minute or two of measured silence. "But you need me, at any time day or night, you call and I'm straight back here…faster than a speeding bullet. Got it, stretch?"
"Got it…Robbie," Darien confirmed with a genuinely grateful grin.
"Good." Bobby gave an amused chuckle as he left, raising a hand to wave goodnight as he closed the door firmly behind him.
Finally alone in his apartment - completely alone for the first time in many months -
Darien mentally berated himself for his pathetic fears, particularly when all he'd wanted for the longest time was to have his 'own space' again. He took the time to wander around, familiarizing himself with his old possessions. They felt like they were his, but not quite his, if that made sense. Running his fingers along the pool table, picking up photographs of him and his brother Kevin when they were little kids, smiling at the one of him and Bobby on a fishing trip when they'd obviously been goofing around. The memories were all there, but some of the finer details were still missing. Given time and a little more work, Claire had assured him that it would all slip back into place.
Thankfully, Arnaud De Fehrn had never had the time or opportunity to complete the EPC programming, otherwise Darien's stolen memories might have been lost forever.
Darien stretched wearily again. It was time for that shower, and then maybe he'd relax in front of the TV with a cold beer and catch an old movie on cable.
The shower worked its magic, so by the time Darien emerged naked from his steaming bathroom about a half hour later still toweling himself dry, he was feeling and looking more like his old self. Humming contentedly, he started towards his refrigerator for that beer when a cold draft from the doorway - the open doorway - stopped him dead in his tracks. After a minute or two of trying to quelll the mounting panic, he managed to calm himself, finally, by reasoning that Bobby obviously hadn't closed it properly on his way out.
Simple as that.
Now stop jumping at shadows he chided himself as he moved quickly to shut and lock the door himself.
Letting out a relieved breath, he ran a trembling hand through still damp hair, turned…and froze. A strange sense of déjà vu overcoming him even as reality slipped away and unbridled terror made a spectacular return visit..
Standing across the room someone stood, partially obscured in the shadows but unmistakable nonetheless. They made some sort of noise and Darien shivered when he realized it was a throaty chuckle.
The figure took a faltering step towards him, then another and he unwittingly backed up until his bare body was flush against the door, the door that he had locked and bolted securely just moments before.
"Hello baby," Ella Craven rasped out, obviously amused by his shocked expression and the momentary flash of revulsion at her appearance. The right side of her once beautiful face was now horribly scarred and disfigured, a mass of scar tissue and what looked like open blisters in places, and Darien could tell from the way she held herself that the damage and scarring probably ran down the entire right side of her body. The left side seemed unscathed and the hand that held the gun and motioned him away from the door was steady and unwavering.
"We have some unfinished business, you and I," she advised, watching as he moved into the center of the room, almost in an exact re-enactment of their very first meeting all those long months previously. Of course, on that occasion he hadn't been buck naked, mores the pity. She giggled again at that thought and Darien shifted uncomfortably.
"You're dead… they told me..." he finally found his voice.
Ella dragged her withered body another step closer to him. "They saw what they wanted to see, Darien. I managed to drag myself out of that wreckage." Her tone was raw and he guessed that her vocal chords had been damaged in the inferno. "And I've been living a nightmare ever since, enduring months of agony for one reason only. Do you know what that is?"
"For you angel," she offered without hesitation, as if it were the most logical thing in the world. "But I can't endure…this…any longer." Motioning at her disfigurement. "And we need to be together…it's our destiny."
As she took two more faltering steps in his direction, Darien eyes locked on in horror-filled realization to the explosive devise strapped to her emaciated body. Staring around desperately, willing an escape route to magically appear.
Another step closer and he acted on instinct, triggering the Quicksilver to coat his body as he lunged to the side. Not really having much of a plan beyond keeping her as far away from him as possible.
The gun blast was thunderous in the confines of the small apartment and at first Darien didn't realize he'd been hit until his legs suddenly buckled beneath him and the Quicksilver dispersed into thousands of silvery flecks that wafted gently in the air around him as his boneless body crumbled to the floor. He gazed numbly at the small entry hole on the left side of his chest, wondering idly why there was no pain, no fear, just an overwhelming sense of sadness and of the inevitable as Ella Craven dragged her withered form towards him, the smoking gun now discarded as she knelt at his side, trailing blackened, mutilated fingers along his temple and then down to his cheek.
Darien waited now, powerless to move as he felt his essence grow weaker. Darkness was gradually encroaching his vision as Ella activated the digital timer on the explosive devise to countdown from five, and then shifted to cover his body with her own.
"Our destiny, baby," she repeated blissfully, as her lips crushed brutally against his one final time. Then a flash of pure, blinding white light and…
…he came awake and sprang upright with a violent jerk sending a startled Claire stumbling back a few steps in alarm.
" I am so sorry, Darien," she began through a nervous giggle. "You just looked so…never mind. I didn't mean to wake you." Her smile faded. and her expression took on one of concern as she registered her Kept's wide-eyed panicked expression and his attempt to get his breathing under control. She knelt at his side. "Are you alright, sweetheart?"
"Night…" breath, breath, "mare," he managed to gasp out eventually. "Be okay…in a …minute." Gulp. Another deep breath.
Not convinced at all, she laid her palm over his forehead. "You're a little feverish. It must have been some nightmare?"
You'd better believe it, lady.
Darien nodded numbly, leaning into and welcoming his Keeper's soothing touch. It sort of assured him that he was in the land of the living and his body parts were, well, still part of his body..
A second later Bobby Hobbes appeared, frowning down at the seriously freaked ashen individual on the couch. "Whoa partner, you look like you've seen a ghost," he offered helpfully. "I was just about to escort our two young lovelies home, but if you…"
His voice trailed off as a suddenly miraculously recovered Darien jumped up from the couch in a flash, grabbing his jacket as he scrambled for the door and raced outside ahead of them.
"Great! I could do with some fresh night air," he called over his shoulder by way of an explanation to his friends.
Bobby exchanged bemused looks with Claire and Alex and then with a chuckle and a shrug he followed his partner from his apartment.
The dark non-descript vehicle was parked in the shadows on the corner of the block, just beyond the wide arc of the street lamp. The figure seated within had been there for a very long time - just watching and waiting - knowing that time and patience would eventually yield their own reward.
It was late and it had been an unexpected turn when he had emerged from his apartment block followed by that bitch, Claire Keeply, Agent Hobbes and the other woman; all four of them clambering into the decrepit battered tan van.
Just for a second as the van slowly pulled out, the light from its headlamps illuminated the interior of the car and trailed across the horrifically disfigured face of the lone female passenger.
Your destiny is not always the one you seek, but always the one that finds you.