It was nearly sunset when Darien finally found her. Alyx felt his presence long before hearing the
rattling of pebbles as he climbed the rocks to the top of the cliff. She sat, legs drawn up to her
chest, looking out over the water. Waves crashed into the base of the cliff a good fifty feet below.

"You know, I grew up around here. Spent many a summer climbing these rocks," Alyx said as soon as
Darien was within earshot.

"You must have been nuts, then," Darien said from several feet behind her. He figured she probably
still wanted him to keep his distance.

Alyx laughed lightly. "Nah. I was just like any other kid." She turned her head slightly to look
at him. "I believed I could fly." She turned back to look at the water. "Now I wonder if I really
can."

"Alyx, she asked me to tell you something." Darien said, knowing that Alyx would have no trouble
figuring out who 'she' was."

Alyx didn't move.

"She said to tell the nice lady, 'It's gonna be okay. She just needs to open her own heart again.'"
Darien said.

Alyx stiffened.

"Alyx? You okay?" he asked.

She was silent for several very long minutes. "Not yet," she whispered. "But I'm starting to think
I will be." She stood up and stretched. She'd been sitting on that damn rock for quite a while.
For the first time in months, it seemed, she was able to find a bit of peace within herself, and it
felt wonderful.

Darien fought a sudden urge to yank her back from the edge of the cliff and stood perfectly still.
As she turned around and stepped away from the edge, he let out the breath he hadn't known he'd
been holding.

"Ah, Dare. I'm not that far gone," she said as she walked over to him. "How angry are you?"

He shook his head. He'd spent far too much time being worried that something had happened to her to
even consider being angry. "You could have told us. We would have helped."

It was her turn to shake her head. "I couldn't. By taking off I was breaking the deal I made with
the Official. I fully expect to be tossed into the padded room when I get back."

"So you are coming back." He sounded relieved. He'd realized while she was gone that he liked
having her around. Even if she did keep him at arms length.

She began to make her way down the rocks and back to her car. Darien trailed along, not quite sure
what to make of her. She seemed a bit sad and tired, which was pretty normal for her, but she also
seemed calm, which wasn't.

When she reached her car she leaned against it and looked up at him. "How did you guys find me,
anyway?"

"The Official flew us out here and then we activated the tracking device on your car," he answered.

"I disabled the tracking device," Alyx said.

"Only one of them. The second doesn't have its own power source, so you didn't find it."

She nodded absentmindedly. "Good idea. I didn't think of that. 'Course it won't work a second
time." Then she stopped, her good mood evaporating as the meaning of his statement sank in. "What
do you mean, he flew you out here?"

"What I said. He handed us plane tickets and told us to find you." Darien replied, not quite
understanding.

"Ohhh! He is so dead," Alyx said with a snarl. "He used me. The bastard used me."

"Alyx, what are you talking about?" Darien asked, taking a light hold on her arm.

She just glared up at him and he let go. He was not in the mood to repeat his experience flying
with a cliff nearby.

"Stay away from me," she said, getting into her car. "All of you, just stay away." She revved the
engine and pulled out with a shower of sand.

Darien just watched her drive away. He wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but he could tell
she was hiding back behind that mask again. For a few minutes there, he'd caught a glimpse behind
it. Climbing into his car, he went to join Hobbes and Claire back at the hotel.



Alyx checked out of the hotel and drove west. She definitely had a full mad on, but somewhere in
the Midwest she stopped being angry and began to think. About the past. About the present. About
the future. About a message from a small child.

It was a completely different Alyx who walked into the Official's office several days later. Oh,
she looked the same; hard, cold, and angry. But inside, she was changed. Calm, centered, at peace.

Expecting the Official to be essentially alone, she was somewhat taken aback to find everyone in
the room. Aside from Eberts, whom she expected, Hobbes, Darien, and the Keeper were also present.

It didn't change her decision, however; she walked up to the Official's desk and snarled, "You used
me, you bastard. Worse, you used her as bait." Alyx's fist clenched and everyone felt the atmosphere
in the room change. The air somehow became heavier, the lighting darker. The window shades slammed
shut, one after another.

"Alyx..." The Keeper said warningly, fearing that she was about to lose control.

"I will not be treated like that. And I will not allow you to treat them like that. We had a deal.
You can argue all you want that I broke it, but you broke it first. And you did it in the lowest,
nastiest way possible." Alyx paused, the window shades rattling against the glass in her anger.
"You will make sure they are left alone, or I will do it. And I promise you I can," her voice had
gone low and cold.

Then the Official did something that surprised everyone in the room. He said, "I'm sorry."

Alyx blinked. "What?" The shades stopped their erratic movement. "What did you say?"

"I said. 'I'm sorry'," he repeated. "The situation went a bit further than we intended, but we had
little choice."

"Why? Why involve the children?" Alyx asked, her anger returning.

"We hadn't intended to, but we had to make it believable for them. They had to be convinced you'd
come on your own. Yes we used you, but it was only way we saw to stop them and keep our end of the
deal with you." He leaned back. "Your kids will be safe enough now."

Alyx stepped back a thoughtful expression on her face. "You're right," she said, "but I don't have
to like it."

"You're right, you don't. You just have to live with it. Think you can manage that?" The Official
said a smile on his face.

"That, I think I can manage," Alyx said "Finally."



"You are in so much trouble, young lady," the Keeper said, smiling as she walked into her lab a few
minutes later.

Alyx sat on the exam table waiting patiently.

"Running off like that. What were you thinking?" Claire admonished her kept.

"I wasn't," Alyx said with a shrug. "Now, since I'm sure you want to torture me.... lets get it
done."

"Of course," the Keeper said, rolling over the monitors and beginning to attach the electrodes to
Alyx. "Two weeks. I can't imagine what your readings will look like."

Alyx said nothing, just shifted to a comfortable cross legged position on the table.

"Okay, lets see a nice theta.... Hmmm." The Keeper looked from the monitor to Alyx and back again.
A perfect theta wave arced gracefully across the screen. "How about an alpha?" The wave changed to
an alpha.

"Hi, guys. The boss decide to chew your asses off instead of mine?" Alyx said as Darien and Hobbes
entered the lab and walked around the glass divider to check on her.

"Hey, kid," Hobbes replied. "Nah."

The Keeper noted that the wave form failed to change, remained perfectly steady. "How about a
Beta?" She said.

"Right. I could fake one for you. But you know that beta's are sleep cycle." Alyx said.

"Yes, of course ." The Keeper said sounding distracted. "How's the hypersensitivity?"

"Fine. No problems." Alyx answered.

The Keeper threw her pen in the air. "Catch."

The pen stopped at the top of its arc.

"Any leakage? Picking up random thoughts and emotions?" Claire was beginning to suspect that Alyx
had accomplished more on her trip than she was telling anyone.

"None. Well, I still have touch problems, but I'll work on it," Alyx answered with a shrug. "I
can't be perfect, now can I?"

"You were in complete control upstairs, weren't you?" the Keeper asked.

Alyx just smiled.

"Why did you do it?" the Keeper asked curiously.

Darien answered for her. "Atmosphere. Special effects."

Alyx nodded.

"Huh?" Hobbes said. "What for?"

"I had to show him I was very serious. He doesn't have to know I did it under complete control,"
Alyx answered. "Although, knowing him, he already does." She turned to the Keeper. "We done?"

"Just about." She turned off the monitors and began removing the wires from Alyx. "I don't know how
you did it, but you've mastered the control you needed." She rolled the monitors away. "You aren't
going to have much need for me anymore."

Alyx and unfolded her legs and slid off the table. She let the pen drop and caught it neatly.
Handing it back to Claire she said. "Maybe not as a Keeper, but I could use a friend."

Claire took the pen from Alyx with a smile.

Alyx turned to face Darien and Hobbes. "That goes for you guys too. If you think you can put up
with me."

"I don't know kid. I was kinda getting used to your smart mouth," Hobbes commented. He had taken
the time to think about what Darien had said, and had decided to at least give the kid a chance.

"And what makes you think that's going to change?" Alyx said with a grin. "I've always had a smart
mouth. Now, I can have one in fifteen different languages. Just think: bad puns in Russian, insults
in Arabic, rude comments in Latin."

"Enough, kid, I got it. Nothing's going to change," Hobbes said with a laugh. Maybe this would
work after all.

"Oh I don't know about that." Alyx said, turning to leave the Keep.

"I'm not done with you yet." Claire said to Alyx. "Let me see that side of yours."

Alyx pulled up her shirt to reveal her side. Claire pulled over a chair and sat down examining the
wound.

Hobbes cleared his throat loudly and turned away slightly.

"Get over it, Hobbes. It's not like you haven't seen it before." Alyx said dryly.

The bruise had faded to that nasty yellow and green and the wound itself was a pink circle of still
raw looking skin.

"Very good." The Keeper said. "How's the mobility?"

"Still a little tight but I'm working on it. I didn't want to risk any internal tearing, so I went
easy on the stretching until this last week." Alyx answered.

"Perfect. Slowly work up to your normal routine over the course of another week and you should be
fine. As of now, you are back on active duty." Claire said standing up. "Unless the Official has
something for you, you can get out of here."

Tucking her shirt back in Alyx said. "Cool. I'm gone. See you guys later."

Once she was gone Darien asked, "Who was that? And what did she do with Alyx?" He leaned back
against the edge of the Keepers desk and picked up the pen his partner had so casually floated in
the air.

"Apparently she found some kind of peace while she was gone," Claire answered, looking up at him.
"Now let's see how you are doing today, shall we?"

"Sure," he said distractedly, still fiddling with the pen.



Alyx sat upright in startlement. Was that? The sound of her door buzzer going off again woke her
completely and she hopped up off of the sofa. After checking who was on the far side of the door,
she opened it. "Hey, Darien. Couldn't sleep again?"

Darien had been expecting a brusque welcome like the last time. Instead, he got a sleepy smile. Her
hair was tousled and she was absentmindedly rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry. The lights were on so I
assumed you were still awake. I'll go." He said turning to leave.

She placed a delicate hand on his arm stopping him. "No problem. I must've dozed off during the
news." She smiled. "Want to come in?"

"If you're sure..." He didn't want to intrude. Didn't want to cause any more problems. She had
said to stay away, but... Well he found he couldn't, didn't want to.

She tugged on his arm pulling him through the doorway. "I'm sure."

Closing door behind them Alyx asked, "Drink? Coffee? Coke? Sorry no beer in the house." She
strode past him and into the kitchen. "What time is it anyway?"

"Around one, I guess," he answered, completely thrown by her attitude. "All right, who are you?"

Alyx turned from making some coffee to look at him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, the last time I was here, you made some pretty definite statements about our relationship. I
was not expecting such a warm welcome." Darien followed her into the kitchen and watched as she got
the stuff out to make the coffee.

"That was then." she said as she prepared the coffee. She felt him move up behind her but ignored
him until she had the coffee actually brewing, then turned around to find him looking down at her.

Darien reached out to brush a section of hair away from her face, expecting her to flinch away as
always. Instead, she stood still, just looking at him. Completing the movement, he then lightly
laid his hand against her cheek, cupping it gently. Much to his astonishment and pleasure, her eyes
closed and for a moment she relaxed into his hand with a sigh. Then she moved his hand away with her
own and opened her eyes.

"Things haven't changed that much, Darien." She said quietly. "I still won't do this, no matter
how much I may want to." She took a step away from him a sad smile on her face.

Darien was stunned both by her reaction and what she had said. "Why not?"

"I told you why the last time you were here." she replied lifting herself up to sit cross legged
on a nearby counter. "My reasons still haven't changed."

"Then I guess I should leave," he said. He was at least partially serious. He didn't care anymore
why the Official brought her in.

"Is that how it has to be, Darien, all or nothing?" Alyx asked sounding somewhat irritated. "I've
known you for, what, two months, and you want me hop right on into bed with you? Even if it were
love everlasting, I wouldn't do it." Alyx said spreading her arms wide. "In all likelihood we're
going to be stuck working with each other for a long time. Could we figure out if we even like each
other first?" She dropped her arms to rest her hands on the counter top.

"And if I say I don't want to wait?" He had spent way more energy worrying about her than he
should have. He just couldn't believe she still wanted to push him away.

Alyx shrugged. "I go to the Official and tell him I won't work with you and probably get dumped to
some other partner."

Darien nodded tightly and turned to leave. So she was serious about this.

Alyx slid off the counter and went after him. "Damn it, Darien. I won't let you manipulate me, too."

He didn't stop, kept walking and slid open the door, only to have it wrenched out of his hand and
slammed shut. The locks then engaged all by themselves.

"Alyx..." he said warningly.

"No!" she shouted. "For all I know I could just be some little-boy fantasy come true for you,
legal jail bait, and you'd drop me as soon as you got bored and head for your next conquest. I've
just managed to bring myself back from the edge of one hell of an abyss; I won't have you or anyone
else shoving me back over it."

Surprised at the vehemence in her voice, Darien turned to her. She looked unhappily back at him.
"I...." She shook her head. "What do you want to hear, Darien? Because I truly don't know."

Stuffing his hands into his coat pockets, he said in a low voice. "Is that how you think I see you?
Some kid I can manipulate into bed for a cheap thrill? I think I should be insulted."

Exasperated, Alyx replied. "I don't know Darien. How could I? I don't go prying in peoples minds
for the fun of it. And your, our, partner never calls me anything but 'kid'. That's how the world
sees me now; as either a child or a tool to be used when I'm convenient. I'm tired of being used.
I've had a lifetime full of it already."

"That's not how I see you. I certainly figured out you were anything but what you appeared at our
first meeting." Darien said, relaxing somewhat. "I was rather pleased to find out you were indeed
older than you looked. Shoot, you're downright old."

For a moment Alyx was decidedly insulted, but then she saw the way he was looking at her and just
said, "Jerk."

"I think you've hurt my feelings." Darien took a few steps towards her.

"Are you unsure that they're hurt, or are you just unsure you have feelings?" Alyx said with a
smile.

"Cruel, cruel woman." Darien said. "Where's that coffee?"

Alyx laughed. "Coming right up."

As she poured the coffee into mugs he placed his hands on her shoulders. She stiffened and
carefully set down the coffee pot. Then much to his surprise relaxed back against him. "Now who's
being cruel." she said softly. She turned in his grasp and lightly laid her head on his chest. "Oy,
most definitely cruel."

"Oy?" He laughed.

"Yes, oy." She replied punching him lightly. "Do you want the coffee or not, ya lunk."

"What's my option with not?" he asked with a throaty chuckle.

"Gods, Darien, don't start this again," she said with a sigh, leaning against him again, her hands
coming up to rest on his chest. Right now, right this moment, she no longer wanted to fight with
him, no longer wanted to push him away.

"Sorry," he said quietly. "Can't seem to stop myself." His hands came up to rest lightly on her
back. "And you don't seem to want me to." He decided to take advantage of her current willingness,
sliding his hands further up her back. She looked up at him and was about to say something, but he
prevented her by the simple expedient of kissing her. He was pleasantly surprised when she didn't
pull away and good lord he'd swear she was even sweeter than the last time.

Alyx allowed herself this one last moment of weakness, wishing she could allow it to be more and
knowing she dared not. For all that she was attracted to the man, part of her was still in too much
pain and fear to let herself truly go. She couldn't yet bring herself to trust. Not even him. Her
hands still on his chest she pushed him away from her. "You're right I don't really want you to,
but I'll stop anyway."

For one moment more she was still with him. Smiling slightly, almost smugly, up at him, then the
mask dropped back in place and she closed herself off. It wasn't as harsh as before, but it was
there, and although he didn't like it, he understood. They had both been used enough and she was
not yet ready to be used yet again, even if it gained each of them some happiness.

"All right. Friends?" he asked her.

"Friends. Partners. That'll do for a start." She tipped her head to the side slightly. "I believe
you requested coffee?" She turned around, picked up the mugs, and slid away from him.

"You are going to drive me nuts." Darien said following her.

"You mean you're not already?" she commented sitting on the sofa. She held one of the mugs up to
him, but took her hand away before he was able to take a hold of it. Startled he reached out to
catch it as it fell only to have it hang there waiting for him. Taking it in his hand he sat down.

"Problem?" Alyx asked, failing to hide a laugh as she sipped her coffee.

"I guess I'll have to get used to things like that." Darien laughed along with her. This felt
nice. Kind of like when he'd hang out with Hobbes. Comfortable.

"Only if you hang out around me. Oh wait, that's right, we're stuck working together," she said
relaxing back into the cushions.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, handing it to her. "Here."

Alyx placed her mug on the coffee table in front of her and took the box out of his hand. "What's
this?"

Darien simply leaned back and sipped the coffee.

Alyx opened the box and unfolding the tissue paper in confusion. Underneath she found a exquisite
miniature sterling silver photo book. She looked up at him. "You didn't steal this did you?"

"Open it."

She did and what she found astonished her. Page after page were photos of her children, a dozen in
all. "Where...? How...?"

"I have my ways."

"Thank you. You've no idea what this means to me," she said softly, and for a while the mask
dropped again and stayed down.

"Oh I think might," Darien replied.

If you begin the day with love in your heart, peace in your nerves, and truth in your mind, you
not only benefit by their presence but also bring them to others, to your family and friends, and
to all those whose destiny draws across your path that day.

I don't know who said that, but it's true, for her at least. Somewhere on her long drive home she
had found the peace that had been eluding her, and it looked wonderful on her. She may have still
been hiding behind that mask, but this one was for appearances only. There was no need to let the
Official know that he had won; and he had. His little plan had indeed worked. I no longer felt
alone and for all that I wanted no part of making the Official happy or right, I also wanted no
part of things going back to the way they had been before.

Maybe the two of us could find a peace of our own.

Finis