Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: PG-13/R (Language, violence, adult situations, vivid and gross imagery)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or basic story ideas to The Invisible Man and I make
no money from the writing of these stories. Any additional characters or story ideas are mine to do
with as I please, including torture and death.
Timeline: # 5 After Interlude. Original Post 12/29/2000 @
Comments: This is the revised version.

Thanks to Rebecca(WorkerCaste) my brave Beta reader.

A Hot Summer's Night

Men say great pride goeth before the fall. This is a paraphrase. The actual quote is: "Pride
goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Our little group had been feeling pride in full measure. Things had begun to mesh between the three
of us, the Official was pleased with the work we'd been doing, and the Keep claimed to be making
progress with the gland. We had begun to think there was nothing we couldn't handle, no evil we
couldn't defeat, no problem we couldn't solve. We had no way of knowing of exactly wrong we were
until it was too late.

"You want us to go where? And do what?" Darien asked, sounding incredulous.

"It's a National Park near L.A.," Eberts said, handing out the information files. "There has been
a series of fires there that all appear to have been started by the same person or group."

"So you want us to catch ourselves a firebug," Hobbes commented.

"Exactly," the Official said, smiling sardonically. "This is no camping trip folks. I expect
results and quickly. Our landlords have expressed a bit of urgency in solving this matter."

"There is no way we can drive the van off-road," Alyx commented, rubbing her eyes.

"You will be provided a vehicle when you arrive, or you may provide your own if you wish," Eberts
said. Alyx may not have been here all that long, but he knew she had made a variety of contacts and
connections in the area. She tended to keep busy even when not on a mission. "Your contact info is
in the file. They are expecting you by this evening."

"Shall we, kiddies?" Hobbes said, thumbing through the file as he left the room.

"You coming Alyx?" Darien asked when she didn't move. He had noticed how tired she looked, but was
trying to not worry too much about her.

"You go ahead. I need to speak with the Official for a minute," Alyx said without turning to look
at him. Her voice was tight and she didn't look at all happy.

When Darien had left, a slight look of concern for her on his face, Eberts spoke. "What can we help
you with?"

"Take me off this case. I'll do anything else. Even shuffle paper and scut work. Just don't make me
do this one," Alyx said, doing her best to keep her voice calm. "And don't even pretend you don't
know why."

"We feel your talents would be useful on this particular case. We won't take you off of it,"
Eberts said to her. This was one of those times when orders were orders. Even if he didn't entirely
agree with them.

"You don't know what this will do to me," she said, her voice going very quiet as she felt those
old fears coming back. She felt the blood drain from her face and fought the sudden urge to
disappear, literally. "Don't make me do this, please."

At the unexpected please, the Official looked up at Alyx and saw the fear in her eyes. She really
wanted to be nowhere near this case and yes, he did know why. He dropped his eyes back to the paper
work on his desk and allowed Eberts to answer for him.

"You will go on this mission, Miss Silver," Eberts stated flatly.

Alyx nodded, turned and left. When the door shut behind her, Eberts placed another paper on the
desk before the Official to be signed. "Are you sure about this sir? She seemed a bit more upset
than you thought she would be."

"I noticed, but she has to face this at some point. Now is as good a time as any. She is far more
capable than even she knows," the Official said as he signed his name.

Darien sprawled in the chair he both needed and hated, looking over at Claire as she prepared a
booster injection for him. He was only at a quarter full, but if he had to use the gland at all
while on this job, he'd be stuck until they got him home. It wasn't like they could run down to the
corner pharmacy for more, and they were going to be a couple of hours away at best. The Agency still
didn't trust him or his partners to carry around any extra just in case of an emergency. They still
had to run home to mommy when he needed his fix.

"When are you going to trust us to take the counteragent with us?" Darien asked as she walked
towards him with the elephant needle.

"Hmmm," Claire said as she injected him. "Eventually, maybe."

Darien tried not to flinch as the needle broke through his skin and the liquid initially burned its
way into his system. With a sigh he turned away from the view of the arm being rudely poked, towards
the sound of the door which had just slid open allowing Alyx to enter the room. She pocketed the mag
card and gave him a half-hearted smile as she came around the corner.

"Hobbes already bail for home?" Alyx asked, sounding tired and irritated.

"Yeah," Darien said, hopping off the table rubbing his arm. "I'm headed home myself. Pack for a
couple of days."

Alyx nodded, her mind obviously on something else. "Call Hobbes, would you? I'll pick the two of
you up in a couple of hours."

"You'll pick us up?" Darien said, sounding a bit surprised. He had to wonder what she was going to
pull out of her proverbial sleeve this time.

Alyx moved over towards Claire, who was putting away the syringe in the sterilizer. "Yeah. I'll
arrange for a vehicle that can handle the terrain and pick you up." She turned to look at him. "Is
that a problem?"

"No. No problem," Darien said to her. "See you in a couple of days, Keep," he called to Claire.
After one more glance at Alyx, he left the Lab to head home.

"Claire, I need..." Alyx began but stopped when Claire held up her hand.

"The Official already spoke to me. I know what you're asking for, and I can't," she said, her voice
having gone into unemotional scientist mode.

"You won't, you mean," Alyx said her voice flat.

Claire said nothing.

"Fine. What's another week with no sleep and panic attacks," Alyx snarled turning to leave.

"Alyx," Claire began, sympathy creeping into her voice.

"Don't bother." Alyx stormed out of the Lab, wishing she could slam the door behind her.

Claire sighed. She wished she could help Alyx, but the Official had been very specific in his
instructions and she was forced to follow them. She turned back to her day's work, hoping things
would go well for all of them.

Alyx managed to calm down by the time she got to her car. Well, mostly anyway. Pulling out her cell
phone, she made a series of phone calls which resulted in the use of a very nice vehicle for the
duration of this little trip. It would be delivered to her place within the hour. It's amazing what
knowing just the right people could gain you in this town. Starting the engine of her nifty little
Jag, she headed for home to do her own packing. They had some driving to do to make the meet by
this evening.

They were an hour out of San Diego on the 405 heading for the National Park Service Headquarters in
the Santa Monica Mountains. There had not been much conversation, at least not that included her.
When the two men had begun arguing like children about who got to ride up front, she had ordered
both into the back. They had grumbled, and Darien had pouted, but Alyx had ignored the two of them
and just stood there waiting until they got in. This wasn't the first time she'd had to deal with
unruly children. It was obvious to both men that Alyx was a bit out of sorts, but they couldn't get
her to talk. She simply drove.

Hobbes was the first to admit he was impressed with the vehicle she had arranged for them. He'd
been skeptical about a woman getting an appropriate vehicle for driving off-road, but she'd made an
impressive choice. He was happily ensconced in the back seat of a barely street legal Humvee. Not
the Hummers sold to the public. This was a military issue model, adapted for street use, and it had
him ready to drool all over the paint job the moment he had seen it. When he had asked her how she
had gotten a hold of it, she had responded with a cryptic, "I made a couple of calls." Big help
for his hope of getting one for himself. He'd love to have one of these for work.

He was content for the moment to sit back, talk shop with Darien, and let the kid drive.

"Did you know this was what the kid had in mind for a ride?" Hobbes asked for the fifth or sixth

And for the fifth or sixth time Darien answered, this time in a tone of voice suitable for a
thickheaded child, "No. I didn't know. But I'm betting you'd love to have one for work."

"You know it. This sucker has all the bells and whistles. I think I'm in love," Hobbes said,
sounding a tad breathless.

Alyx ground her teeth. "Could we please not have the same discussion again. It's getting rather
repetitive and annoying."

"I'm just showing my appreciation for your choice of vehicle, kid. You don't need to get your back
up," Hobbes said, taking on the tone of a superior yet again.

Alyx growled softly. Things between her and Bobby had gotten better. Not perfect, but they were now
able to get along, for the most part. Sometimes, however, he made sure to push every button he could
and she made sure to give just as good as she got. Today she was not in the mood for it.

"Hobbes, she does have a name. Don't you think you should be using it by now?" Darien commented,
hoping to appease Alyx somewhat.

"I don't need your help," she snapped at him.

"Hey, what did I do?" Darien said, sounding exasperated by the whole thing. Alyx had been like this
all week. Snapping at the slightest thing. Way crankier than usual and he had no idea why. He'd
pretty much left her alone this past week, only asking her out to dinner on one occasion. Which
she'd declined. He'd made no surprise visits at her apartment, so it wasn't that she was angry with
him specifically. Unless he'd done one of those completely guy things and didn't know it. Heck,
she'd nearly taken off Eberts' head the other day for some comment he made. The problem with that
being that if she wanted to, she really could.

Alyx sighed and mumbled, "Sorry." This was turning out to be a very long week and it didn't look
to be getting better any time in the near future. She really wished Claire had been willing to get
her that medication. She hadn't needed it in years, but with what had happened to her in the last
few months she guessed she shouldn't be surprised she was having a recurrence of the nightmares.
And here she was, taking it out on everyone else. Like it was their fault her brain occasionally
decided to plumb the depths of her own personal hell. On the two other occasions she'd had these
problems, she had needed the drugs to get her through. This time they were being withheld on the
Official's orders. There was no way the fat man could not know what was going on, why she wanted no
part of this assignment, why the very thought of it made her want to curl in a ball and shake in
abject terror.

"Look guys, I'm having a really bad week. I wanted no part of this assignment, for reasons I won't
go into. I'm going to be the bitch from hell for the next week at least, and I'm not going to
apologize for every little thing I do or say that irritates you. If you don't want to deal with it,
complain to the boss. He made me go on this assignment. Maybe if you complain loud enough I can go
home." Alyx said this quickly and in a tone of resignation.

There was silence for several long minutes while the two men mulled what she had said. Amazingly,
it was Bobby who spoke up first. "Anything we can do to help? Maybe beat up the mook bothering you?"

Alyx laughed. "If only it were that simple." Then in a very sincere tone. "Thanks, Bobby."

"No prob kid. We all have our bad spells now and then." This was indeed something Bobby could
understand. He, too, had bad days. Or weeks. And, just like her, did his best to get through it
without help. He knew there were times when help was necessary, but she was not quite ready to ask.
He, they, would just have to wait until she was ready, able to trust them enough.

Bobby and Alyx's moment of introspection was interrupted by the sudden loud rumbling of Darien's

"Good lord, don't you have that thing trained yet?" Alyx commented, trying not to laugh.

"Ran late again this morning," Darien said a bit sheepishly.

"You're in luck then. Somewhere behind you is a basket filled with goodies from my local deli. Help
yourselves," Alyx said. "and pass me a water, would you?"

Darien unbuckled and twisted around in his seat, searching for the basket. When he discovered it,
he found it much heavier than it looked as he dragged it nearer to the seat.

Alyx shook her head at the view presented to her in the rear view mirror. Who'd have thought the
rear in rear view would be literal one day. She accepted the bottle Bobby handed her with thanks.
She twisted off the top and took a drink, trying to keep her eyes aimed out the front windshield
and not at the mirror, which continued to give her a rather interesting view.

After few more minutes, Darien was buckled back in his seat, with an inordinate amount of food
perched on his lap.

"I hope some of that is for me, partner," Bobby commented.

"Get your own. I'm hungry," Darien said, before handing over an enormous sandwich to Bobby. "Alyx,
where did you find this place?" he managed around a mouthful of food.

"Couple blocks over from my place. They do picnic baskets for customers. I told them food for a
small army and they were happy to oblige. Mrs. Epstein keeps trying to set me up with her nephew.
He's an orthopedic surgeon."

Darien nearly choked with laughter. Bobby had to come to his rescue with several solid thwaps on
the back.

Alyx watched the road and the idiot drivers around her as they chewed up the miles. Eventually they
caught the interchange to 101, the Ventura Freeway, and by then they were steadily climbing up into
the mountains. This was her first time headed up this way and she negotiated the traffic with
surprising deftness. It helped when you knew what the idiot in front of you was going to do before
he did it. By the time they had turned off the highway, they were all ready to get out of the
Humvee and stretch.

Alyx stopped at the main gate and showed her I.D., tossing out the name of her contact to the guard
at the gate. He made a comment about them making good time and waved them through, after handing
them a park map and giving them quick and simple directions for where to go.

When they arrived at the Visitor Center/Headquarters building, they parked around back as they had
been told. They were greeted almost immediately when they got out of the vehicle.

Alyx shook hands with Ranger Maxwell Garrett after she made her way around the vehicle. Her first
thought was that he filled out that uniform awfully well. Her second came as soon as he touched her
and it was that this man is worried out of his mind about these fires. Oh, goody.

Well, time to get this misery started.

"Do we have time to get to any of the burns before dark tonight?" Alyx asked as they walked into
the building.

"Tonight? No, but you have time to get to one of the watch stations near the area that's been
targeted," Ranger Garrett said in surprise.

"Perfect. If you give me directions, we'll get moving." Alyx entered the building as Garrett held
the door open for her.

"Is she always like this?" he asked of the other two agents.

"Usually," Hobbes answered.

"Ah, so long as it's normal. Most people after a two hour drive don't want to go off-roading right
away." He glanced back at their vehicle. "Then again, in that beast it won't matter much. Where
the hell did you get a military Humvee?"

"Ask Alyx. She got it for us," Darien said.

Garrett just looked rather shocked and led them into his office. "If you can give me thirty minutes
I'll take you myself. It's my night out there anyway. We might as well go together."

Hobbes looked at his partners. Darien didn't care one way or another. Alyx looked a little
impatient but shrugged her shoulders. "That will be fine."

"Have a seat then. I just have to check on a few things and finish some paperwork," Garrett said
gesturing to the variety of sit-on-able furniture in the room.

Alyx found an over-stuffed chair and sat in it sideways, her head leaning against one padded
armrest, her feet dangling in the air. She watched as Garrett signed a few papers and then turned
to a computer on a desk in her line of sight. She watched him as he called up weather and wind
data. Watched his posture change as he read the pages. She refocused her eyes to see what he was
seeing and swore under her breath at what she read.

"How bad are they expecting it to be?" Alyx asked, seemingly out of thin air.

Garrett turned, startled. "What?"

She waved her arm at the computer. "The winds. How bad?"

Deciding not to acknowledge the fact that she had read the screen from across the room, he
answered, "Bad, sustained thirty-five plus, gusts fifty to seventy-five easily."

"When?" Alyx said, fearing the worst.

"A day, day and a half at most," Garrett answered.

"Well that explains why they called us in for a firebug," Alyx said with a sigh.

"Okay, could you explain it to us slower ones?" Darien said, looking a bit confused.

"Santa Ana winds," Garrett offered.

"We always get those this time of year. No big deal," Darien said, still not quite getting it.

"Maybe not down in San Diego, but up here we have mountains in the middle of L.A. If a fire starts
now, it would be a disaster," Garrett explained. "Remember a few years ago, the flames made it to
the P.C.H.? We had an unusually dry winter this year; this has the potential to be worse."

"Aw, crap," was heard in stereo from both Hobbes and Darien, much to the amusement of Alyx.

"This is nuts," Hobbes said as they neared the top of the staircase. Not that he was going to admit
it, but climbing this damn fire tower was not the most joyful experience of his life.

Alyx leaned over the railing from a flight or so up and called down to him. "I heard that."

He swallowed hard at her leaning out so far just to look down at him. Jeeze, wasn't the kid afraid
of anything? She smiled down at him and then continued to trot up the stairs at double time, her
footsteps making soft taps on the metal stairs. Garrett was the only one of them keeping up with
her. Darien was lazily climbing beside him, but his longer legs made it look easy.

Hobbes made the mistake of looking down at the small station at the base of this tower and realized
exactly how high up they were.

"Incredible view, eh Bobby?" Darien tossed out casually. Considering he used to climb buildings for
a living, this was nothing.

Hobbes was about to argue with that, but then he really looked out at the view, this time with the
eyes of an agent. Yeah, it was one helluva view. Great for spotting targets, and shooting them. The
ultimate sniper tower. Made him glad he was on it and not down in the brush and trees below.

A few more minutes and they too had reached the top. It was divided into both open and enclosed
watch areas. The enclosed portion had full electric power for the equipment, radio, lights, heat,
coffee maker, a small refrigerator, and lots of windows. All the necessities. Alyx and Garrett were
already deep in discussion when they arrived at the top.

Darien had been awfully quiet since first meeting Garrett. He watched the way he and Alyx
interacted and was...he wasn't sure what he was, but he was pretty sure he didn't like the guy and
he wasn't entirely sure why. Darien walked up next to Bobby, who seemed a little off while climbing
the open staircase. Not that his partner would admit to anything, of course, but just in case,
Darien stayed with him. It was an amazing view. The station and the tower were on the top of a
ridge, so it was not only the height of the tower but the entire hillside they could look down
from. It was a long way down. Good thing he had a head for heights.

Little Miss I-can-do-anything obviously had no fear as she casually leaned over the edge up above
to make a comment to Bobby, who audibly swallowed at Alyx's careless attitude. Darien did his best
to distract him from whatever was bothering him by pointing out the incredible view. It was like a
switch had been flipped in Bobby's head and suddenly he was analyzing their position to use for
their best advantage. That was the Bobby Hobbes he knew. Able to see the advantage to the situation
even if it scared him buggy.

Darien looked out over the area that could be seen from the top and gave a startled hiss at the
sight of one of the recently burned areas. It was certainly impressive, everything blackened
seemingly for miles off over the next ridge.

"That one was small. Only five hundred acres burned before we got it contained," Garrett said,
noting Darien's reaction to the sight.

"You've pinpointed the location the fire was started?" Hobbes asked.

"Yeah. They're using a chemical rig to start the fires on an electric timing device. It's similar
to napalm, but homemade. The device explodes, spraying the accelerant out up to a hundred yards.
It's pretty sophisticated for an arsonist in the woods. It's more like what you would expect from
something in a city," Garrett said filling in information.

"Was the land recently added? Could it be angry former owners trying to get even?" Alyx asked,
still looking out over the area.

"No, been part of the park for years," Garrett answered.

"What about drug runners, or terrorist groups? Any of them hang about here?" Hobbes asked.

"Drugs aren't too common around here. Recreational use, yeah, but big time growers?" he shrugged.
"Look for yourself. It's mostly brush. Kinda hard to hide a pot field."

Hobbes nodded in agreement.

"Fanatics. White supremacy groups and the like. Well, we get groups through here on occasion. If
they cause trouble we encourage them to move on. Haven't had any real trouble. At least not
recently," Garrett said, thinking. "Had some religious nuts a few months ago that we had to remove
with a bit more force than usual, but they haven't been seen since."

"Religious nuts are the worst kind. Willing to die for their beliefs and will do it in a heartbeat.
Let's hope it's not them," Hobbes said, his voice hinting that he had dealt with the type before.

It was getting dark, the sun setting somewhere behind them. Alyx noted the few areas left unburned.
"Where would do the most damage?"

"Anywhere through here. There are lots of homes in the valleys around here; if we get a good blow,
well..." He shrugged.

"Then why this area? Why hit in through here, over and over?" Darien mused aloud.

"I wish we knew," Garrett answered. "We've upped patrols, but they can plant the devices anytime.
We think they're doing it at night, but it's a lot of area. We can't cover every acre. Best we've
been able to do so far is catch the fires early and put them out quickly."

"That's why we're here," Hobbes said. "If they show we'll catch them."

Garrett snorted. "No offense, but if experts in the area haven't been able to, how are you?"

"We're a talented bunch," Hobbes said cryptically.

It was full dark now. Garrett stepped over and flipped a switch that lit up the stairs for the walk
down. "C'mon. I'll get you settled and then I have to come back up for early watch. The towers
overlap, so we work the night in shifts."

"You guys go ahead. I want to stay for a while," Alyx said.

Darien moved over to her. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah. You go on. I'll be fine." She smiled up at him. She appreciated his concern more than she
dared to let show.

He turned and followed the others back down the stairs, feeling a little less worried about Alyx.
That had been a real smile for a change. He figured she wanted to try and work out where they would
go next. She had a knack for guessing correctly in situations like this. Who were they to argue
about her hunches when they were correct more often than not? He glanced back up toward where she
still stood, silently wishing her luck in whatever it was she was trying to do up there.

Alyx shivered and it wasn't due to the temperature dropping. This time of the year the nights got
quite cool, but she ignored it listening to the night sounds. Trying separate normal sounds from
artificial ones. Not that they weren't obviously different from on another, she simply had to learn
and identify them. The high pitched squeals of bats and swallows. The rustle of nocturnal critters
wandering through the brush looking for their supper. The buzz of an ATV tearing up the hillside.
The call of a coyote. All catalogued and put away.

Alyx heard Garrett coming back up the stairs some time later and was able to keep herself from
flinching when he put a heavy coat around her shoulders.

"It gets pretty chilly this time of year," he said when she turned to face him. "You sure you want
to hang up here for a while? It's not exactly exciting."

She smiled at him. "Neither is my job a lot of the time. Usually a severe case of hurry up and
wait, punctuated by the occasional bouts of gunfire."

Garrett chuckled. "I'm going to make some coffee. Would you like some?"

"Gods, yes," Alyx said, feeling the desperate need for a caffeine fix.

He walked inside, leaving the door open so that they could still talk.

"Do you guys patrol on ATV's or motorcycles?" she asked him, still hearing the buzz of a small
engine from out in the darkness.

"ATV's. Why?" he answered over the sound of the coffee grinder.

"I can hear one east of us. I was wondering if it was yours or someone else's," Alyx said.

"Give me a sec and I'll let you know." Garrett finished preparing the coffee and went over to the
radio. "Location check. Thomas, that you east of Station Three?"

There was the crackle of static for a moment then, "Yeah, running a sweep about ten east of you.
How the heck did you know?"

Garrett looked over at Alyx, who just shrugged. "Any movement out there?" Yes, he ignored the

"Except for some mule deer I scared the dickens out of, nothing so far." Thomas said over the roar
of the engine.

"Good, Garrett out." He set down the mic and walked to the doorway. "How did you hear him?"

"Hey, a girl has to have a few secrets, doesn't she?" Alyx said with a smile. So far she found
Garrett interesting, smart, and quite handsome. Her senses were just about demanding that she trust
this man. She was remarkably comfortable with him.

"Secrets. You feds and your I'm-better-than-you attitude." He said this with a smile so that she
knew he was joking, at least with her. She suspected that at other times it would be a true
statement of his feelings.

Alyx snorted. "Fed. Don't be impressed. I'm not." She turned about to look at him. "It's just a
job, and not one of my better ones."

"My lord, a fed who doesn't think that with the badge one acquires godhood. Be still my heart."
This was accompanied by dramatic flourishes ending with him leaning on the door frame, hand to his
heart, gasping in overacted shock.

"Idiot," Alyx said, laughing openly. "Where's that coffee?"

"Coming right up, milady." He gave he a bow and went back inside. As he poured the coffee he
called out to her. "So are you married or seeing anyone?"

"Garrett!" Alyx said, surprised at his audacity.

"I'll take that as a no," he said from the doorway holding two huge mugs of coffee. "I guessed
cream and sugar." He handed one to her.

"Anything will do right now. I'm beat." She moved to take the mug, her fingers brushing against
his. She made one of those instant connections and got flashes of feelings and thoughts, unable to
stop them. She was getting used to this, but that didn't mean she enjoyed it at all.

It was the final image that caused her to freak. A horrific image of Garrett engulfed in flames
screaming his pain and terror out to the world. Alyx flinched back with a squeal of horror. She
could feel his agony as the flames crawled over his body. Could smell the smoke and burning flesh.
Could hear the crackling as the cells of his skin exploded in the heat. Could taste his own flesh
as even his lips and tongue began to burn.

Still seeing the image, still feeling the pain, the ghost of the scent still in her nostrils and
the taste in her mouth, Alyx grasped the railing, trying to keep the contents of her stomach where
they belonged. Her mug of coffee had fallen to the floor and shattered, spraying coffee everywhere.
Garrett managed to dodge liquid and shards by jumping back, his own coffee spilling everywhere with
his movement.

For a moment they just stared at each other. Alyx managed to move first, kneeling down to pick up
pieces of broken mug.

Garrett knelt down and placed a hand on hers, stilling her movement. "Are you all right?"

She let out a shaky breath, thankful his touch hadn't caused a recurrence of the images. She looked
him in the eye, vowing that what she had seen would never happen to this handsome, sweet man. "Just
a klutz is all. Sorry about the mess."

"Klutz, my ass. Something happened." Garrett pulled her to her feet and handed her what was left
of his coffee. "Drink this. I'll get a broom."


"Don't worry about it," he said softly. "Stay."

She smiled at him. "Yes sir."

Shaking his head he went to get a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess.

Alyx rubbed her face with her hand. It was going to be a long time until morning.