Photograph
by Rhonda Eudaly

Minor Lyric Challenge/Inspiration - song by Echo's friend - "Photograph"
Fandom: The Invisible Man
Rating: PG - some violence & psychological twisting
Warnings: Nothing explicit - just sarcasm and mush
Archives: TRIS - any others, ask first...
Spoilers: General Knowledge of the Show first
Summary: The invisible man becomes a target.

Darien Fawkes settled on the barstool and signaled the bartender for a draft. Once the glass had been set before him, Darien rotated on the stool to survey the room. He wasn't sure why. Maybe some of his partner's, Bobby Hobbes, paranoia was rubbing of on him. Though, if he were really turning into Hobbes, he wouldn't come to this place as often as he did.

**Sometimes even an ex-thief, secret government agent, and six million dollar lab rat (okay, so maybe six HUNDRED million dollar lab rat) has to feel like a normal guy. That's why I come here. When I'm here, the only invisibility I have to deal with is anonymity of just another guy in the crowd, and not because of the Quicksilver gland in my brain.**

He saw the woman seated at a nearby table. She sipped a glass of wine, and made eye contact with him. She quirked an eyebrow and a half smile at him simultaneously. Darien actually looked around to see if there was someone else behind him. Surely she wasn't checking HIM out. When he turned back, she was still there and still looking at him. She was smiling openly now. He took the next step. He took his beer and went over to her table.

"Hi."

"Hello," she answered. Her voice was light with a musical quality.

Darien wasn't sure how to proceed. His brain went to pudding on him, especially when he looked into her eyes. Her wide, hazel eyes had a luminous quality, almost as if they might glow in the dark. He found he really wanted to find out if they would, and they sparkled with some hidden humor. He had a brief, sinking feeling the humor was directed at him.

"Would you like to sit down?" She asked after a moment, gesturing to the empty chair at her table.

"Sure," he answered intelligently. He settled down into the chair, hopes soaring. Something in his brain kick started. "I'm Darien Fawkes."

She smiled at him. If he hadn't been sitting, his knees might have been in danger of buckling. That smile almost made him believe in angels, God knew he believed in demons. She wasn't supermodel beautiful - she actually had a healthy figure - but there was some quality that made his throat constrict. She ran a hand through her wavy, fine, stylishly cut, dark hair. She held out a perfectly manicured, long, tapered fingered hand. "Collette Marroquin."

He took her hand gently, as if it were fragile, and shook it. He was pleasantly surprised by the strong, firm grip - nothing fragile or dainty there. She had some surprises about her. Though he doubted they were on the same level as HIS surprises. "Pleased to meet you."

"So what do you do, Darien Fawkes?" she asked, sipping at her drink. A fruity concoction with an umbrella and chunked pineapple.

For a split second, Darien froze. Some of Bobby's paranoia rose up to choke him. He finally realized it was only a normal small talk question. He relaxed a bit. "I...I uh... solve problems."

"As in a mathematician or as in an expediter?"

Darien almost laughed. "I'm definitely NO mathematician." It wasn't exactly an answer, but it sure sounded like one, at least to him. "What about you? What do you do?"

"I'm in human resources."

"I bet that's interesting. Hiring and firing. Holding the fate of people's livelihoods in the palm of your hands."

Collette laughed. Darien definitely wanted her to do THAT again. "It's not as dramatic as all that. I suppose it can be, but usually it's pretty boring, though I'm not very popular."

It was something they had in common then, Darien thought ruefully. What he said aloud was, "You're kidding."

"Yeah, well, by the time people see me, it's usually because they've done something to warrant it."

That sounded vaguely familiar and just a bit ominous to him. He couldn't imagine that kind of incongruity. "Really?" He couldn't quite understand why the hairs on the back of his neck were twitchy. The other bodily impulses and chemicals took control.

"I was on my way to dinner. I know it's really short notice, but would you like to..."

Before he could finish his question or hear her answer, Bobby Hobbes rushed in. He looked a hair's breadth away from coming totally unglued. In other words, normal for Bobby Hobbes. He scanned the room quickly then made a bee line for Darien.

"Hey! There you are. Thought I'd find you here. Sloppy work that." He realized someone else was at the table. He acknowledged Collette with the merest hint of a nod. "Hey, how ya doing. Fawkes, can I talk to you over here?"

"What's the magic word?" Darien teased.

Bobby glared at his partner. "Oh, I don't know. Headlock? Agonizing pain? You tell me."

Darien quirked an eyebrow in Collette's direction. "I was thinking more along the lines of PLEASE, but we can use your words."

Bobby grabbed Darien by the shirt collar and all but dragged him bodily from the chair. "Excuse is, would you?" Bobby asked in her general direction.

"I'll just be a second, Collette," Darien said around the near strangle hold from his collar. He had no choice but to go with Bobby.

Bobby, now that he had the upper hand, wasn't letting up or go. He dragged Darien around the corner of the bar and only then did he let go. Darien pulled himself to his full height and straightened his shirt.

"Hey, man, what do you think you're doing. I was in the middle of something here," he protested.

"Put your libido in neutral, Sport. This is business, and it's important," Bobby told him, taking a moment to straighten his own jacket. "Something's come up. We've got a job."

"Nuh, uh. No way," Darien protested emphatically. "It's after five. It's Friday. I'm off duty. I just met a really nice girl. Can't I have a normal life for JUST...FIVE... MINUTES!"

Bobby wasn't impressed. "Fawkes, you didn't have a normal life before you were dropped into mine. So don't start whining about one now. Besides, you knew the score when you took this job. Suck it up and be a man."

"That's what I'm TRYING...did you SEE her, man?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's very pretty. Why don't you take a picture, it lasts longer. Come on, Fawkes, focus. We have BUSINESS."

Darien forced himself to pay attention to Bobby. "Okay, Hobbes. What is it?"

"There's a new player in town. We've got to find out who it is and who the target is, and stop him."

"Do we have pictures?"

"No."

"Description?"

"No."

"Any idea who the target is?"

"None whatsoever. Someone important."

"Well THAT narrows it down. How do we know there's even an assassin then?"

"We got a tip."

"Oh, we got a tip, huh?" Darien parroted. "That's classic. What kind of tip?"

"An anonymous one," they chorused together.

"Figures. Then why aren't the regular feds handling it?"

"Does it matter?"

"Other words, you don't know either."

Bobby merely shrugged. "The Official just told me to track you down. He wants to brief us at the same time."

"Come on, Hobbes, can't you just say you didn't find me? Look at her. I can't believe I have a shot at someone like that."

"Yeah, right. Look, she's only a chick, Fawkes, not a steak. She'll keep. Get her number and let's go." Bobby didn't wait for Darien's reply. He was already heading back to the table and then the door.

"Aw crap," Fawkes muttered, and followed.

Collette watched the whole exchange from the table with amused detachment. She didn't change expressions when Darien returned with huge, puppy dog eyes. "I'm sorry..." he began. "I really wanted to get to know you better..."

"But we need him for the softball game." Bobby jumped in. "League finals, you know. Very important. Come on, Fawkes."

Collette suppressed a giggle, and handed Darien a slip of paper as she gathered her belongings and left money on the table. "You were about to ask me to dinner, right? Tomorrow night. Eight sharp. Call me with details and dress code. Nice to meet you, Mr. Hobbes. Good luck with the game."

Both men watched her swish out of the bar, nor were they the only ones. Darien looked at Bobby as they headed out after Collette. "Softball game?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Don't tell me there really is a psycho secret agent softball league."

"Oh, yeah. We've beat those ATF pansies the last three years in a row. They may know how to blow up a terrorist compound, but they don't know squat about pulling off a double play."

"Oh, and you do?"

"Best short stop in the league," Bobby answered proudly, and then turned quickly on his smirking, taller partner. "And no jokes about my height."

Darien spread his hands in an innocent expression. "When have I ever..?"

"Yeah, well, just don't start," Bobby muttered. "Not everyone can be the Jolly Green Giant with a full head of hair."

"Geez, Hobbes, feeling a bit insecure today?" Darien asked, following him out of the bar.

"By the way, Fawkes, how'd she know my name?" Bobby asked as they walked to the car.

"Didn't I introduce you?"

"No, you did not. Didn't your mother teach you any manners?"

"My mother's dead, Hobbes. You know that, what's the matter with you?"

"Still doesn't answer the question, Fawkes."

"We must've said it when we talked," Darien explained. "Geez, Hobbes, how's that lithium going?"

"Like the Energizer Bunny. It keeps goin' and goin'."

Darien slouched in the chair across from the Official's desk. Ebert hovered at the Fat Man's right shoulder, as ever present as the Department of Fish and Game seal on the back wall. He didn't even have to look over to know Bobby was perched on the edge of his chair like an over eager puppy, ready to get on with business. Darien couldn't summon up the enthusiasm Bobby showed. Bobby was in this by choice; Darien had been shanghaied.

"Okay, so what's the deal?" Darien asked. "I mean bottom line time. We're not assassin hunters. Aren't there professional spooks out there better able to do this than us?"

"We are professionals," Bobby returned.

"No. At best I'm a talented amateur. I still haven't figured out what YOU are."

"Funny."

"In fact," the Official interrupted, trying to get the meeting back on track. "All available agents are being pulled in on this search. ALL agents, including ours. It's that big."

"Who is this guy?" Darien asked.

"We're going after The Bear."

Darien looked at the Official like he'd grown another head. "What kind of stupid code name is THAT? I thought they were all Jackals and Ravens and Hawks. What kind of assassin is called The Bear."

"One who made a reputation for killing with bare hands," Ebert piped up. "At least for the first few kills, then the Bear expanded into weapons, but always at very close range. The Bear has had sixteen kills credited since appearing on the scene in 1996. All important. All believed to be inaccessible."

"Then how are we supposed to find this guy?" Darien demanded. "Hobbes said you don't even know how the target is supposed to be."

"The FBI came up with a list of potential targets. We've all divided 'em up - real interagency cooperation time," the Official answered. "You're to stick to your potential target like glue."

Ebert gave them the file. Darien flipped through it, unimpressed. "Great. A captain of industry. Yippee."

"A captain of industry who has the President's ear. The President would be very upset if this guy were killed."

"So there's NOTHING on this killer guy?"

"We don't even know if it's a guy. The Bear is almost as good about going invisible as you are," the Official answered with an ironic grin. "Our guy could be a girl."

"But that's unlikely," Ebert put in. "Statistically speaking, of course."

"Of course," Darien echoed. "So where do we start?"

"There's a reception for a foreign dignitary at the Blackthorn Hotel at 8 p.m. You have just enough time to shower and change into something appropriately formal."

After another moment or two of seemingly pointless discussion, Darien and Bobby left for home to prepare to hob nob with the rich and tasteless. Just as soon as Bobby was gone, Darien came up with a brilliant idea and pulled out his cell phone.

Collette sat at a table in a darkly lit apartment when her cell phone rang. The only illumination came from a dozen or so candles. "Hello, Darien. I wasn't expecting to hear from you until tomorrow."

"There was a change of plans," his voice said clearly over the connection.

"Really?" Collette's finger drew random patterns on the table top as she listened to Darien's proposal. She agreed and gave him the address and brief directions. "I'll meet you out front. My place is a mess. I'd be embarrassed to have anyone see it."

Hobbes paced the doorway outside the Blackthorn Hotel. It was one of the old, elegant buildings that had survived decades and earthquakes. He kept looking at his watch and eyeing everyone who went inside. He wouldn't put it past Darien to do a little disappearing act and slipping past him. Then Darien, in a fashionable dark suit was approaching him with Collette, stunning in a full length, royal blue strapless dress.

"Aw crap," Bobby muttered, going to meet them. "You brought a DATE to our assignment, Fawkes? What were you thinking?"

"Cover? It IS a social function, and I sure don't want people thinking I'm attached to you."

"You'd be lucky to get someone like me. You couldn't even hope to get someone like me."

Darien turned back to Collette and started for the door. He looked back. "Where'd you get a tux, Hobbes? Spies 'R Us? Who do you think you're trying to be? James Bond?"

"If Bond were more ethnic, sure, why not. And I bought the tux, because a good agent is prepared for everything. Think about it."

"Agent?" Collette inquired. "What kind of problem solver are you, Darien?"

"Uh oh," Bobby muttered.

"We work for the Department of Fish and Game."

"Ooh, a Fed. How fun. You could've said so earlier. Feds don't bother me. So is this a party or what."

"Or what," Bobby muttered as he and Darien exchanged glances. They followed her into the building. He couldn't help but adding, "Oh, she's going to be something all right."

"You're just jealous because you didn't think of it first."

"Yeah, right."

The hotel ballroom was all aglitter with glitzy decorations, bright lights, and every beautiful person in town - plus a few imports from Los Angeles. Darien recognized several movie and television stars amidst the politicians and CEOs. Their host wasn't hard to find. The human currents of conversation flowed around him like a tidal pool.

Bobby nodded in one direction and headed off in one direction. Darien and Collette went the other way.

**Two rules for casing a party: one, you can cover more area by splitting up; and two, never take a date better looking than yourself. It's too much of a distraction - yourself and for those around you.**

Bobby went three quarters of the way around the room when he caught up with Darien and Collette. He pulled his partner aside, once the girl had expressed interest in the nearby buffet table. "What have you been doing?" Bobby demanded.

"What?" Darien replied innocently. "We were checking out the room?"

"How many doors?"

"What?"

"How many doors does this room have?" Bobby asked again.

"Four? Five?"

"Seven. This room has SEVEN doors. How many security guys in his detail?"

"I don't know," Darien responded impatiently. "How many?"

"I made six. Not counting the personal bodyguards. You're one of the only men here not carrying."

"You don't have a gun?" Collette asked, coming up with a plateful of snacks.

"Not my style," Darien answered vaguely. "So what do we do now? If this place is more muscle than guest, nobody's going to make a move here, right?"

"The possibility seems unlikely."

"Then why do we have to stay?"

"Because it's our JOB? Come on, we just got here. We eat. We mingle. We keep our eyes open. I've been to these things before. It'll be over by Midnight," Bobby assured them.

Bobby's prediction ended up being right on the money. By Midnight, Darien and Collette were walking along the beach. Moonlight sparkled on the water; waves lapped on the sand; and they could hear the music and laughter of partiers above the break line on the board walk.

Collette looked at a strip of pictures in the waning light. "I know it seems silly, but thanks for all of this. I used to love those old photo booths."

Land here I thought it was the company."

"That too. Would it totally freak you out if I told you I haven't been this comfortable with anyone for a long time?"

"You'd be surprised by what it takes to freak me out these days," he answered. Darien noted the time. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was so late! You probably have to be up for work tomorrow..."

Collette silenced him with a smile and a finger tip on his lips. "Tomorrow's Saturday, Darien."

The next few days were an incredulous blur for Darien Fawkes. He spent every waking moment with Collette, and barely reigned himself in to keep from spending the non-waking ones, too. He was determined to be a gentleman. But that wasn't the only reason, he'd been celibate ever since the gland had been put in. Strong emotions and Quicksilver had - inconsistent - reactions, at best, and he was a little afraid of what might or might not happen when he finally put it to the test. But boy howdy, Collette was putting the test to the test.

At first he was puzzled by her constant desire to photograph everything they did. She always seemed to carry a one time use camera with them wherever they went.

"I've gotta tell you," he said once. "I'm a little embarrassed by being in all these pictures. Why don't you let me take some of you?"

"That's okay," she'd said, keeping the camera. "I LIKE taking pictures. That way I can always remember everything we did."

"You make that sound like you're not going to stick around," Darien answered with a sinking feeling. "You're not thinking of leaving or dying are you? Because that would suck."

"Oh, Darien," Collette laughed. "Everyone dies sometime."

After that exchange, Darien was a touch more tolerant of her picture fetish, and he lost total track of time.

Bobby Hobbes was being called on the carpet. Fortunately, her wasn't QUITE alone. Unfortunately, the person he was sharing the reaming with him WASN'T his partner. It was his Keeper. The Keeper wasn't looking her best just then either. In fact, she looked downright scared, and Bobby DIDN'T think it had anything to do with the Official's face's apoplectic shade of red.

"What do you mean you don't know where he is?" the Official demanded for the umpteenth time.

"For what it's worth," the Keeper answered, with only the merest crack in her cultured tones. "We don't think he's left San Diego."

"You don't THINK?" the Official bellowed. Even Ebert cringed. "Why don't you KNOW? We have an assassin on the loose, and Fawkes goes missing?"

"With all due respect, sir," Even Bobby couldn't let the Keeper talk all the heat. "He met a girl..."

"You're telling me he went on some kind of lovers holiday?" the Official's voice went dangerously low. "Find him. Find HER. Remind him of his priorities."

"He will come in on his own," the Keeper put in. "For the counteragent. He's only got a few days left before the madness begins."

"Not good enough. I want him back NOW. He's got a job. So do you two. Get to it."

Bobby and the Keeper exited the Official's office, and headed back to the basement labs. The Keeper chewed her lower lip. "Tell me about the girl, Hobbes," she finally said.

"Like what?"

"What's her name? What's she like? Is she..." the Keeper bit of the last question.

"Is she what?" Bobby asked slyly. "Is she PRETTY? Why, Doc? You curious or jealous?"

"Jealous? Me?" the Keeper protested. "Whatever for?"

"Yeah, right," Bobby snorted.

"What does THAT mean?" she demanded. Bobby didn't answer He merely started walking faster. The Keeper had to quicken her pace to keep up. "Come on, Hobbes, what did that mean?"

The Keeper never got her answer, but in an hour, she had a picture. Hobbes couldn't remember the girl's name, but he came up with a fairly accurate composite drawing of Collette.

"She's pretty," she said dispassionately, trying to pretend she didn't care. "Too bad you don't have a name for her."

"We're have it run through all the databases: FBI, CIA, INTERPOL, NCIC. If she's out there, we'll find her."

"What if she's not."

"Then it'll take a little longer."

"Have you tried telephoning or going by his apartment?"

Bobby looked put out. "Give me some credit, would ya? No answer. Multiple times. I'm staking out his place tonight. Wanna come?"

The Keeper merely glared at him.

It was late when Darien and Collette arrived back at his apartment, laughing and staggering. Darien fumbled with the key in the lock. They weren't drunk, though there had been marganitas at dinner. There were more giddy with exhaustion from going non-stop for several days. The door swung open, and Darien caught his breath. "You want to come in?"

"If I come in are you going to take advantage of me?"

"No, ma'am. I'll be on my best behavior. Scout's honor."

"Well, that's not going to be any fun. I should jut go home then." When Darien's face went stricken, she laughed. "I'm kidding, Darien. Geez, lighten up. Like I believed you were a Boy Scout." She slipped past him inside.

Darien came in right behind her and nearly ran into her. She was frozen not far inside the door. He looked beyond her to see Bobby sitting staring at the door.

"What are you doing here, Hobbes?" Darien demanded.

"You've been AWOL for four days, and you ask me that?"

"How'd you get in?" Darien asked, closing the door and guiding Collette the rest of the way in, assuring her Bobby was all right.

"You're not the only one with 'special skills,' you know. Besides, I've been watching you work.

Collette started backing away. "It looks like you two boys need to talk. I"ll just leave you two alone."

Darien tried to protest, but Bobby stopped him. "Let her go, Fawkes. You're right."

He turned on Bobby, pointing angrily in his direction. "I'll deal with you later." He walked Collette to the door. "I'm sorry."

She smiled gently. "It's all right. Things happen. Call me." In an impulsive move, she pulled his face to hers and kissed him passionately, but remained in control enough to keep the Quicksilver from manifesting.

Bobby finally had to clear his throat to get the two to break it off. She smiled at Darien once more. "Call me," and she was gone. Darien closed the door and leaned his head against it a moment before turning back to Hobbes. "Oh, this better be good."

Bobby drew back a bit, looking for evidence of Quicksilver madness. It wasn't there, the madness was simple, hormonally frustrated rage. Bobby could deal with that. "Des she know about your little buddy?"

"Who? You?"

"Hey! No height jokes! You know what I mean. The gland."

"Oh, yeah, right," Darien snorted. "That's the first thing I'm going to tell a girl. 'Hi, I'm Darien Fawkes, I have a gland in my head that turns me invisible and turns me insane.' There's a good pick up line. Why are you here, in my house, right now."

Bobby levered himself to his feet. "Look, you've been out of contact..."

"I lost track of time..."

"For four days?! This is not like oversleeping for work one morning, Fawkes! We had a job to do! You bailed on me, on the Agency! You DON'T do that!"

"What do you want me to say, Hobbes?" Darien demanded.

"Well, if you don't know..." Bobby began.

"Oh, don't give me that," Darien snapped.

"What's with you Fawkes? What is it about this woman that's got you so twisted up? And don't tell me it's just because she's pretty."

"No, it's not that," Darien said slowly.

"Then what? Explain it to me. Nothing you say can shock me."

"Look, I haven't had a decent, normal relationship since this gland was foisted on me..."

"Did you sleep with her?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"Just answer it!"

"NO! All right? No. I haven't slept with her. There? You happy? And it's still the best relationship I've had since..."

"Since when?"

"Since I blew it with Casey."

"You're not falling in love, are you?"

"Geez, Hobbes, your romantic side is touching," Darien replied. "So what if I am? What business is it of yours anyway? We're talking about my private life here."

"No, actually, we're not."

Darien was taken aback. "Excuse me? You want to explain that?"

"You're classified Top Secret, my friend. Anything you let get close to you is a potential threat to national security. That makes it my business."

"The hell it does!" Darien shouted. "I have a right to some privacy!"

"Says who?" Bobby retorted.

"The Constitution?"

"Try again."

Darien gave him a murderous look and went to the kitchen. A moment later he came back with a glare and a glass of water. Bobby thought he could see ice crystals starting to form. Darien was barely controlling the Quicksilver. His body temperature was dropping, but he was remaining visible.

"Look, Fawkes, I'm just trying to look out for you," Bobby began. Then he hesitated.

Darien didn't even blink. "Go on. I really want to hear how you think this is looking out for me."

"Come on, you've known this girl for what? Two - three days?"

"Yeah? So?"

"What can you possibly know about this girl in a few days."

"You'd be surprised, and she's NOT 'this girl'. She has a name. It's Collette."

"What's her LAST name?"

"Marroquin."

"Where's she grow up? Brothers? Sisters? Favorite food? Color?"

"New Orleans. No brothers, just one sister - married with two kids. She likes German food and her favorite color is blue. Do you want her blood type and shoe size, too?"

"Do you know them?"

"A+ and nine medium."

"Wow. I guess you guys have really talked," Bobby admitted.

"Maybe you should have some faith in me," Darien retorted.

"Just be careful, man. Remember, I know from experience how sour these things can go," Bobby headed for the door.

"I'm not you."

"You can say that again," Bobby muttered.

"Say what?" the Keeper asked, looking over her shoulder at Hobbes.

"Nothing. Hasn't anything come in on this girl, yet? I'm telling you, there's something just too convenient about all of this."

"Nothing's come back on the composite, and we've just put in her name," she answered. "If we had more to go on..."

Bobby snapped his fingers. "How about this?" He gently pulled a photograph out of his coat pocket by a small corner. "Might be a little smudged, but there might be fingerprints on it."

The Keeper gave him a disgusted look. "I"m a doctor, Hobbes, not a forensic analyst."

"Come on, Doc..."

"Oh, all right. Put it over there," she waved absently toward a lab table. "I'll do my best."

Bobby left the photograph and turned to go. He looked back once. "You'll let me know what you find out, won't you."

"Of course."

Darien was in a serious dream state when it happened. He'd been having an odd dream as it was, but the fingers tracing the planes of his face morphed it into something else. Until it finally dawned on both his unconscious and conscious minds that the fingers were not part of the dream, but actually flesh and blood.

His eyes slowly opened and his head to focus on the intense face of Collette Marroquin. It took a few more seconds for his sleep fogged brain to register that she was perched on his bed. She didn't seem to be wearing much either.

"Collette?" he asked groggily.

"Well, I hope you weren't expecting another girl. That could be messy."

"What...? How...? What time is it?" he managed to ask.

"It's about two a.m.," she purred in his ear. "Aren't you glad to see me?"

Darien tried to reply, but suddenly his tongue felt too big for his mouth. She was doing more with his ear than just purring in it. He rallied his forces enough to disengage and pull away. After a few deep breaths, he was able to say, "How...how did you get in here?"

"I have many skills, or haven't you figured that out by now?"

Darien was edging away from her before she did something he'd regret. "Collette..."

She came after him, like a lioness toying with her prey. "I got tired of waiting for you to take advantage of me. I decided to take the bull by the horns, or is it the other way around?"

Collette lunged at him, and in a gut reaction, Darien retreated. Right off the edge of the bed. His head cracked on the night stand, then nothing else mattered.

Hobbes slept in a chair, feet propped on the partially opened drawer of a desk. A touch on his arm made him sit bolt upright and reach for his gun.

"Whoa, Hobbes, slow down. It's just me," the Keeper said quickly, hands in plain view.

Hobbes made a visible show of relaxing. "What time is it?"

"Late, and we have a problem."

Hobbes was instantly alert. "What?"

"It's about Darien. I think he's in terrible danger. We've got to go."

Hobbes didn't need to be told twice.

Darien woke up, but not in his apartment. His head ached where he thought there was a giant lump forming. He forced his eyes to focus on his surroundings. He hadn't tried to move yet. Somehow he had the feeling if he tried he wouldn't be able to. There was something odd about the walls, but the room was too dark to tell for sure.

"Oh, good," Collette said from the doorway. "You're awake."

Darien sat up, surprised, in a way, that he could. He edged back as far as he could away from Collette. She appeared to be wearing some kind of negligee and holding a candle. "Where am I?"

"Well, he's not here," Hobbes snorted and he and the Keeper went through Darien's apartment.

The Keeper could see that. She was also filing away everything she saw in the back of her mind. She was getting to know more and more about the elusive Mr. Fawkes. For all of his bravado and brashness, he was just as reticent about parts of his life as she was about hers. She found the bookshelves and the magazines on the coffee table fascinating.

The medical journals and texts specializing in neurology and neuroscience were to be expected, given his condition. The entertainment magazines and books on security systems and locksmithing were also something to be anticipated, given Darien's previous occupation. What surprised her was the wide range of classic literature he possessed: Twain, Keats, Kipling, both Brownings, Shakespeare - sonnets and plays, Dickens, Stevens, several philosophers, and Doyle. She was most surprised by the Voltaire and the Baudelaire.

"Our Mr. Fawkes is something of a romantic at heart," she murmured.

"Excuse me, did you hear what I said?"

"What? Oh, yes. So what now?"

"Well, he was here," Hobbes said joining her. He ignored the books. "The bed's been slept in, at least for a while. His clothes and stuff are still here. He didn't plan on going wherever he went.

"So what does that mean?"

"Plan B."

"There's a Plan B?"

"Doc, there's ALWAYS a Plan B."

Darien thought he would die screaming. It was still a possibility, but Collette seemed to be enjoying his torment - wherever she was. She'd finally turned on a lamp before leaving him alone again in the room with only the sofa he occupied, the lamp, and the hideous wallpaper. The wallpaper consisted of hundreds, even maybe thousands of photographs of him, in every part of his life. Only a small section of them had been since he'd met Collette. Some even looked like security camera prints, but from where? If she'd wanted to prove something, he discovered it was only that he'd not had a moment of privacy, had never been alone since getting the gland.

"All right, lover, let's get this over with," her voice came from outside the room.

Darien was finally coherent enough to Quicksilver. If he could just get past her guard and through the door... Fortunately, he had not been bound to the sofa. Collette apparently wanted him to examine the photographs on the walls. However, she'd relieved him of his - apparently - bulky outer clothing and shoes. He was barefoot in his t-shirt and shorts. Fortunately, he'd just done laundry, so they weren't the ratty ones. He'd hate to be killed and mutilated in ratty underwear, Aunt Celia would be horrified. The shoes bothered him most. He'd have to be careful when he made his move.

Apparently, though, Collette wasn't taken in by his disappearing act. She came into the room dressed in sensible dark clothes, hair pulled back from her face, carrying an industrial fire extinguisher. With a bored expression, she scanned the room and then began hosing it down. Darien returned to visibility.

"I was wondering when you'd finally do that. I was really disappointed before, Darien. You controlled your emotions so well around me. I thought I'd get to see at least part of you go invisible before now. Shame too, the effect is very arousing."

"Nice tick with the fire extinguisher. I've only seen it done one other time."

"Not recently, I suppose," she sighed. The humorous twinkle in her eyes was gone, they were flat, almost dead.

"No. It was a while ago, and a long, long way from here."

"Not so long ago and not so far," a new, and very familiar voice said from behind Collette.

Darien tried to focus on the new figure, but he didn't need to see him to know who it was. His eyes narrowed and his fists clenched. "Arnaud."

Arnaud DeTheil moved into the light and put his arm possessively around Collette. She leaned ever so slightly into his embrace to emphasize the point. She kept the fire extinguisher ready. Darien's head spun.

"Hobbes was right," he managed to say. "You did know his name without being told."

"A minor slip, but apparently not a fatal one," she said with a shrug. "I don't like making mistakes, but they happen."

"And the last few days?"

Arnaud answered this one. "A simple lure to separate you from your support net and set you up for the denouement. Trust works both ways you know. Though I can't blame you for your little infatuation with Collette. She IS rather remarkable."

"You won't get away with it."

"Famous last words, I'm afraid," Collette said with feigned innocence and no regret. "And so very, very wrong. I've gotten away with it a dozen times or more."

"What? You? You're the Bear?" Darien asked incredulously. "You've got to be kidding. HIM I'd believe..."

"I could give you names, dates, places, position, and facial expressions," she answered casually. "If you like."

Darien really didn't want to know, but knew he had to ask. "How did you two...?"

"Believe it or not, Collette is my childhood sweetheart," Arnaud answered with a proud smile at her.

"You had a childhood?" Darien said, trying not to be sick at the fatuous look she returned.

"Drool, Darien, very droll," Arnaud sneered. "Anything else you want to know before you die? Just for the record, I don't have the same compunction as your precious Keeper to keep you alive after removing the gland. That way I win twice."

"How come her accent is better than yours?" Darien asked, stalling for whatever time he could, if Arnaud was going to be magnanimously talkative. Though he was really trying hard to pretend he didn't exist. He looked at Collette. "I take it you're NOT from New Orleans?"

"Actually," the hints of foreign accents began seeping through her speech as she let her cover go. "I'm from a small village near the Swiss/Italian/French border. I speak six languages fluently and can get by in four or five more."

"Impressive. So really the last few days..."

"A means to an end, Darien. Simply a means to an end."

"She was thinking of me the entire time she was with you," Arnaud put in. "By the way, thank you for being such a gentleman. I really appreciate you taking the hands off approach with Collette. I really benefitted from your work, and I had no problems taking full advantage of it." To demonstrate his point, he yanked Collette around and kissed her roughly, but very passionately.

Darien gave a strangled roar and launched himself at Arnaud. Collette was quicker off the mark. She put herself between Arnaud and Darien and brought up the fire extinguisher and shoved it into Darien's gut. He went down in a fetal position and a woof of pain. Arnaud barely stopped her from doing further damage.

"Not yet, my pet, not yet," he soothed. "Soon, though. Have a bit of patience."

"But I've been so patient so far, Arnaud," she pouted. "Please, just let me kill him."

Arnaud turned to Darien with a goofy, lovesick grin. If Darien's abdomen hadn't been plastered to his spinal cord, his stomach might have turned. "I do love a woman who loves her work, don't you?"

Darien climbed shakily to his feet. He was pretty sure nothing was broken, but it would be a while before he'd do effective sit ups. He'd survive his injuries if he survived the night - or day - he'd lost track of time. "Does it matter?"

"Come, come, Darien," Arnaud soothed. "Don't be like this. You didn't LOVE her, did you? I know you didn't sleep with her."

"What is with everyone asking the stupid personal questions all of a sudden?" Darien exploded. "Suddenly everyone's so interested in my love life."

"Well, I have a vested interest. You were falling in love with the love of my life, granted it was just business... at least for her... but relationships change. And, sadly, so must yours and mine. Though I've had a lovely time messing with your mind, well, to be honest, lately the joy has been fading. I've enjoyed our adversarial relationship. Every good villain should have a good hero to attempt to foil their plans, but this is one time where the good guy doesn't win."

"I notice you haven't asked about your brother," Darien said, changing the subject.

Arnaud let Collette go and paced a few steps. She kept a careful eye on Darien, exchanging the bulky extinguisher for a lighter, but more lethal, dagger with an eight inch, razor sharp blade. It was beautifully and personally made, and Darien had the crazy thought it was probably Arnaud's last Valentine's gift to her. She was currently using it to clean her fingernails.

"Neither have you," Arnaud said, regaining Darien's attention.

"You killed my brother," he shot back.

"Did I?" Arnaud asked innocently. "Ah, but you didn't kill mine, we're not even yet. I had to change the deal."

"There was no point in killing Huisclos!" Darien protested. "He took the blame for you!"

"Sentimental fool! My brother is WEAK!" Arnaud all but screeched. "He deserves his fate."

"At least MY brother did something to get me out. That's more than Huisclos can hope for. Some brother you are."

"Come on, darling, let me kill him," Collette all but begged.

Arnaud barely controlled his anger. "No, not yet. Not here."

"But I'll leave his head undamaged..."

"Soon, Collette, my love, soon," Arnaud soothed, calming himself as he calmed her. "I promise, but we can't do it here. I need a better place than the kitchen table to take out the gland. Come along, Darien, and don't bother to Quicksilver. No one knows where you are, where you'll be going, or how much you've gone invisible. The madness isn't that far off, is it?"

"So?"

"So? You either cooperate with me, or you get left behind to go mad alone. I don't have any counteragent with me. I cannot help you. None of us wants to lose you to Quicksilver madness."

Darien gave in, shrugging. He was rapidly coming up with alternatives for escaping when an unmistakable click got his attention. His plans radically changed when he saw the handcuff attaching him to Collette. "What's this?"

"You may be able to go invisible, but Arnaud assures me your body mass isn't altered, so you won't be able to slip away from us. These cuffs can withstand the change in your body temperature, and we've made sure you don't have anything on you usable as a lock pick. We like to cover our bases."

Darien sighed. The incredible weight of impending doom began to descend on him with the weight of a concrete truck. The days of boldly narrow escapes seemed to be over. Arnaud was going to win. The universe suddenly didn't make sense any more.

The odd trio exited the building, with Darien between them. They were immediately stopped by a bright search light blinding them in the early morning gloom. "Freeze! Everyone just freeze!" They froze.

"Hobbes?" Darien asked, squinting into the light.

"You okay, Fawkes?"

"Oh, yeah, just peachy," Darien snorted. "How'd you find me?"

"Remember what I said about national security?"

"You've got me bugged?"

"Do you think this is the best time of an argument? Bring it up later!"

"That might be a problem," Darien said, holding up his cuffed wrist. "I think she ate the key. There's a way to get iron into your diet."

"So we're at an impasse then," Arnaud finally said. "You want him. I want the gland. You shoot us, he dies. I get the gland, he may not die. We won't be taken alive, so you might as well let us past."

"Not going to happen," Bobby responded, turning off the light. They all blinked in the sudden gloom, readjusting to the darkness.

Darien's vision returned to normal more quickly than the others. It must've been a happy side effect of the gland. He'd have to remember to mention it to the Keeper. Speaking of the Keeper, there she was - near Bobby - pointing a gun at the trio. He just wasn't sure if it was loaded with bullets or tranquilizer darts.

Arnaud recovered first, pressing the barrel of a gun muzzle first into his left clavicle. "I have no compunction in killing him. The only thing I need is his head."

"And I don't have any compunction in killing you, Arnaud," Bobby answered. "And I don't need any of you."

"Again, we're at a stalemate, but do you think your lovely assistant has what it takes to kill MY lovely assistant before she kills her? Yours is a doctor - she's bound by the dictate to do no harm. Mine is a trained and professional killer. My bet is on Collette."

Darien almost smirked. He still bore the scar of a puncture mark from his first encounter with his Keeper. She wasn't as weak as Arnaud seemed to think, but to be pit against Collette. "She's the Bear, Bobby," Darien heard himself say.

"You're kidding," Bobby snorted. "The Bear was coming to town to kill someone important. She's not the Bear. No one's been killed."

"Yet, and thanks for the vote of confidence," Darien retorted. "I was the target."

"True, though thanks for the party, Hobbes. Now I know what I'm against if I ever get a contract for one of those guys. It was quite amusing, and if you're any example of what the Feds can field here, then working in the United States is going to be fun."

"Over my dead body," Bobby growled.

"If you insist," she said sweetly, bringing her semi-automatic 9 mm Browning up and firing.

Bobby dove to the side as the bullet tore a hole in the car door near where he was standing. "Aw, crap, cop killers."

"What does that mean?" the Keeper asked from the other end of the car. She'd dove with him, but in the other direction.

"It means, my dear doctor," Collette answered in clear tones, "That whatever kevlar body armor you may have won't protect you. I hope you're ready to die." She turned to Arnaud. "Shall we go, darling?"

"Are you sure you won't be hampered with the dead weight on your arm?" Arnaud asked solicitously

"What? Darien? No, I just consider him a growth soon to be removed. Hardly worth my consideration."

Arnaud and Collette shared a private moment and suddenly the handcuff went slack and Darien Quicksilvered. Arnaud and Collette shouted in uncomprehending outrage, but not before Darien started getting pay back. His open manacle clicked on Arnaud's wrist and tightened painfully, but not as painfully as when their two heads suddenly cracked together. They staggered and almost went down, but not before two tranquilizer darts landed in their chests.

"You have not seen the last of us, Darien Fawkes," Arnaud managed to say before his eyes rolled up into his head and settled next to Collette on the sidewalk.

Darien became visible again and looked at the two sleeping villains and then at his - well, okay - friends. "Why'd you wait so long?"

"I had to make sure I didn't hit you by mistake," the Keeper said practically. " Besides, Hobbes wanted to shoot you all just to make sure they went down."

"Gee, thanks, Hobbes."

"Sometimes you do what you gotta do," Bobby said unrepentantly.

"Well, at least HE will get to see HIS brother again," Darien said a few moments later as the unconscious forms of Arnaud and Collette were loaded onto a medical paddy wagon bound for a maximum security hospital ward. "Maybe they'll be in the same cell block."

"What about the girl? Any regrets about her?" the Keeper asked. "You seemed to be quite taken with her."

"How do you know?"

"Hobbes brought in a photograph to scan for fingerprints." The Keeper handed him the photograph.

"Figures. Yeah, well, that was a photograph, and about my regrets, well, that's something I don't want you to see." Darien took the picture and went to put it in a pocket when he realized he didn't have one. "Can I get a ride home?"

"You'll have to talk about it sometime, you know," the Keeper said a couple of days later while giving Darien his shot.

"Talk about what?"

"About the fact the ambulance was empty when it got to the hospital. They're still out there, and you're still their target."

"So what else is new?" Darien rubbed his arm where she'd given him the injection. The term 'little prick' had a whole new meaning for him now. "We done here?"

"I'm hear if you decide you do want to talk about it," she reiterated.

"I know, Doc. Thanks, but no thanks."

"All right, then. I found some promising research from a neurological team in Europe. They may actually be on to something that will be useful to us..."

Darien tuned the Keeper out as he pulled out a picture.

**Arnaud and Collette are still out there somewhere. They sent me a couple of pictures. One of them together on a beach somewhere. The other was from Kevin's lab cameras. Arnaud made a still of me holding Kevin's body. I guess he's reminding me to keep looking over my shoulder. He shouldn't have bothered, until I can get rid of Kevin's little invention, I'll always be looking over my shoulder. I don't need pictures on my wall to see that's never going away. Until then, we all go on. We all survive.**