WARNING: Mild sexual situation in this section

Alyx woke up with a start and tried to figure out where the hell she was. Her last clear memory
involved.... It took a moment but she remembered. The EMT's giving her and Garrett the once-over
after they had driven out of the park and caught up with one of the fire crews. She tried to run
her hand through her hair and regretted it immediately. Then she caught sight of her reflection in
the mirror mounted over the bureau. She almost didn't recognize herself. Except for the eyes being
the correct color, the person was a stranger. Her hair so soot-covered it was completely gray. Her
clothes were a total loss, between the dirt and the burn holes. She couldn't even tell what color
her skin was supposed to be. She must have been completely exhausted to have slept in this

Looking about the room, she saw what looked like her travel duffel tossed on a chair and was
pleased to discover it was. She sought out the bathroom and was enraptured with the oversized
freestanding shower. The jacuzzi tub tempted her, but not before she got the first five layers of
crud off. Shedding her clothes, she felt slightly guilty leaving them on the floor of whoever's
place this was, but there was no way she was going to go another moment in them. She turned on the
water, not caring that it was cold, and started to rinse off the grime.

Trying to free her hair from the braid turned out to be a challenge. The elastic holding it had
melted into her hair at some point and had become a permanent resident. Sticking her head out the
door of the shower, she mentally looked about and found a pair of scissors in one of the drawers.
She floated them over to herself and plucked them out of the air. With only a twinge of regret, she
cut her hair about an inch above the damage, placed the scissors and the fried hair on the ledge in
the shower, and went about freeing the braid.

The water had finally warmed and she was attempting to wash her hair when the shower door opened
and Garrett stepped in with her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, startled.

"It's my shower," he answered, moving under the spray. "You don't remember, do you."

Alyx shook her head. "Not much of anything after the EMT's."

"Here, let me help," he said, his hands moving to work out some of the knots that had taken over
her hair. "Not surprised, you slept the clock round."

Okay, so she was indeed standing with a virtually unknown man in his shower and she wasn't reacting
beyond being glad it was him trying to get the knots out and not her. He obviously fell into the
safe category as far as her mind was concerned because she had not reacted to his presence even
before he entered the shower with her. Most people couldn't get within a hundred feet of her
without her being aware of it. Only Darien, and now Garrett, and the former only about half the

"Slept the clock round?" she asked as he began to lather her hair. His hands gently and deftly
working out the snarls and snags that had seemingly become permanent residents thanks to their
adventure. After several minutes of relaxed enjoyment, part of her brain kicked back in. "Where are
Bobby and Darien?"

Max had wondered how long it would take her to ask. "At a hotel well out of the danger area. They
had some work to finish up and were pretty tired as well." He let the water rinse her hair. "They
worked their butts off, helping some of the fire crews and rescuing us." He turned her around to
look at her and she smiled up at him.

For the first time in a very, very long time, she was standing next to a man and felt no fear, no
discomfort, no worry that she was going to be used in someone else's little game. Standing here
with him felt right, felt safe, felt wonderful to put it mildly. Like a huge weight she didn't know
she'd been carrying had been lifted from her.

"Did you know there was a lovely shiner hidden under the dirt?" he said brushing his hand along her

"That would explain why it hurts I guess." She looked him over. "You got yourself a collection as
well." Her hands traced a path from one burn or scrape to another on his arms and chest. She'd
never have guessed that he was this well defined under those clothes. "How bad is it out there?"

He shivered at her touch. He had hoped she wouldn't toss him out when he decided to try this little
stunt and his mind was quickly being distracted by her. "Bad. We lost HQ late this morning and the
fire jumped the highway in three areas," he answered softly. "I don't want to talk about it right
now, okay?"

"Sure." If she was going to say more it was lost to the kiss he gave her.

This was not for a minute a chaste kiss, and it was gentle for no more than an instant. Everything
from the past couple of days mingled with the desire he felt for her and poured out of him in that
kiss. From the moment he had awoken that morning and looked in at her sleeping on his bed, he knew
it was more than the exigencies of the situation that attracted him to her. He wanted her in his
bed, for tonight, for tomorrow, for always if he could arrange it. He knew there would be
obstacles, but right now he didn't care and threw caution to the wind.

Alyx melted into his touch, but instead of being buried under the kiss she returned it with as much
fervor, surprising herself at the depth of feelings she had for him. She had the advantage of being
able to see, feel, know more than perhaps she should. She had a very good idea how he felt about
her and she couldn't help but feel honored by it. Given time, she could easily fall for this man.
He had seen her through the fire, literally, watched her nearly breakdown before him, watched her
do things few if any other people in the world could do, and he was still here. He wanted to be
here, by choice. Who was she to turn him away?

Garrett broke the kiss, breathing heavily. His hands slowly began to explore the curves of her body
and she stood there quietly, allowing him the time to seek and find and touch and excite. When she
moaned the first time he nearly lost it. So low, so full of meaning, so exciting. His mouth found
her jaw line and he kissed his way back to her ear. "Alyx."

"Hmmm. What?" she said her voice breathy and more than a little rough.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked hoping like hell she wasn't about to say no.

She laughed lightly. "Max, I'd have thrown you out of here if I wasn't sure about this." Then she
took one of his hands and placed it between her legs, where it became instantly obvious exactly how
she felt about the situation.

Garrett groaned and Alyx chuckled, until the movements of his hand made her forget everything else
for a time.

Sometime later they lay in his bed. Garrett shifted as if to move off of her but she held him in
place. "I like you where you are," she said.

"I like me here too," he returned. He kissed her lightly on her brow. Savoring her presence for a
few moments more. "Are you in love with Darien?"

"What?" she was a little surprised, both at the question and the timing. She had just spent the
last several hours making love with this man, getting pleasantly euphoric every time he touched
her, and he goes and asks her that?


"You are, aren't you?" He didn't sound upset, didn't sound angry, more like he was stating
something obvious that until now he hadn't wanted to admit to.

"No, I'm not." Alyx said truthfully. "It's different, something else that I can't really
explain." She stopped her hand coming up to trace along the edge of his jaw, her thumb running
across his lips. "But nothing will ever come of it. I won't let it."

"I don't understand," Garrett said, sounding a bit confused as she ran her hand back through his

"For reasons I can't go into I won't let myself involved with him. His friend, his partner, yeah.
But it will never go further than that." She lifted her head up and kissed him. "I'm here with you
because I want to be and I think we could have something more than just friendship."

He did move then and she didn't stop him, but he didn't let go of her. Shifting her until she lay
with her head on his shoulder. "Well, since you're in my bed I would certainly hope so."

Alyx laughed. Relieved he was at least trying to understand and that she was no longer fighting
with herself. With Max she could just be herself. "Max..."

"Alyx, sleep. I have the feeling both of us are going to have a very long day tomorrow," he said
quietly. He had a fire to fight and she had a pair of overly concerned partners to face.

"Yes sir," she mumbled. Sleep already trying to take her again.

It was long time before Max slept, however.

Darien pushed the food around his plate, not really interested in eating at the moment. He wasn't
sure what he was. Alyx had been given the choice of heading to a hotel with her partners or
crashing at Garrett's place and she had chosen Garrett, much to Darien's surprise and dismay.
Granted, she'd only been semi-conscious, but he still felt hurt that she'd chosen a virtual
stranger over him.

"Fawkes, would you stop moping around? It's depressing me," Hobbes said from across the room.

"I'm not moping," Darien said, lifting his head to look at his partner.

"So, you've been pushing that food around your plate for the last twenty minutes for a reason?"
Hobbes wondered with a smile. "Look, the kid made her choice. Let her have what life outside of the
Agency she can." His tone turned serious. "Do you think she'd be acting this way if you found

"No," he mumbled. That was part of the problem. He stood and shoved his plate back on the room
service cart, no longer feeling hungry. "So what do we have left to do?"

"We're done," Hobbes answered. "I'm planning on heading back early tomorrow. Between the boss
wanting us back and you probably needing a shot, I thought it would be best."

"Shouldn't we let Alyx know?" Darien commented, somehow managing not to stumble over her name.

"I got ahold of Garrett. She was still sleeping. He'll tell her." Hobbes answered, knowing that it
wasn't over for his partner. He and the kid were just going to have to work things out on their own.

"Wonderful," Darien said without conviction. "I'm going down to the bar. I'll be back later." He
walked out of the room his shoulders slumped.

Hobbes shook his head at the closed door. It was looking to be a long ride home tomorrow.

When the phone rang just after six am, Alyx had been awake for a while. She had fallen back into
her normal pattern of only four or so hours of sleep at night. Beside her Max grumbled a bit then
leaned over her to reach his phone. "Garrett," he growled into it. "Yeah, hold on." He handed the
phone to her. "It's Hobbes."

She reached for the phone but before he allowed her to take it from his hand he claimed a kiss from
her, one that went on long enough that he woke up and Hobbes began to holler at her over the phone

Alyx laughed and then pulled the phone from his now unresisting grasp. "Hey, Hobbes. What's up?"

"You better be, kid. We'll be by in thirty minutes to pick you up." he said. "Time to head home."

"I'll be ready Bobby," Alyx replied trying not to let what Max was doing and where he was doing it
distract her too much.

"You okay?" he asked, a hint of concern in his voice.

"Fine, Bobby. Thirty minutes." She shut off the phone and grabbed a handful of Max's hair to get
his attention.

"Yes?" he asked lifting his head to look at her with a broad grin.

"Just hurry," she said a bit breathlessly. She released him and he moved over her, lowering his
head to kiss her again.

"They can wait," he said into her ear.

Her response didn't exactly involve words.

Alyx was standing on Max's front porch, sipping her coffee, waiting for the guys to show up. They
were late, as usual. For all that he hadn't wanted to hurry, Max had been unable to go all that
slow, but neither of them had gone away unsatisfied. When the slightly singed Humvee pulled up out
in front of his house, Alyx was as ready to leave as she could be.

"Hey. You be careful," Max said coming out the door and walking up behind her.

She turned part way to look up at him. "Me? Who's going to be out chasing fires?"

"Huh. Good point. How about we both be careful," he said taking the coffee cup from her hand. He
didn't give her a chance to respond and kissed her. "I'll call you when I can."

"You'd better, or I'll have to hunt you down," she said with a smile. "Thanks Max. For
everything." She was talking about a lot more than even he knew. She'd tell him eventually, but
not right now.

"You're welcome. Now get going before one or both of your partners comes after me for detaining
you," he said handing her bags to her. The backpack would need to be replaced, it was thoroughly
trashed and smelled of singed nylon. Ick.

She looked at him one last time and then jogged down the stairs to the Humvee that Bobby was
joyously driving. Opening the rear door, she slid in and tossed her bags in the cargo area. "Hey

"Morning, kid," Bobby said as he put the Humvee in gear and drove away. "How are you feeling?"

"Not bad, Bobby. Not bad at all." Alyx leaned forward to rest her arms on the back of the front
seat. "Morning Dare."

He grunted something unintelligible.

Alyx took the hint. It was a long ride home.


Alyx sat in the Official's office a couple of weeks later looking over the file Eberts had acquired
for her. It contained the official reports about her parent's accident. It had been far easier to
obtain than she had ever hoped, given that the case was a good twenty years old. It had come as a
bit of a surprise to find out it was still technically an open case, sitting neglected in the cold
case file. Her parent's death had been listed as suspicious, probable murder, but at the time the
police had run into one stone wall after another and within months the case had been dead in the
water. It was even mentioned in one of the reports that it was like someone had made sure all the
trails disappeared or that they lead in tight little circles that went nowhere.

The cause of death was pretty much what she had expected: they had both burned to death, probably
suffocating long before the flames had done enough physical damage to actually kill them. It was
the report on the car that caught her attention. Turned out the doors weren't just locked. They'd
been jammed shut so that there was no way to open them. Also, they had found residue of some
unknown chemical that had been smeared all over the underbody of the car, in the trunk, and under
the hood. This was the reason the fire had been so intense, why they had been unable to put it out.
Why, from the moment the other car had hit them, triggering the fire, there had been nothing anyone
could have done. Not without superpowers anyway.

It hadn't been her fault. She had done everything she could have possibly done. She'd failed, but
the blame was not hers.

They had never found the driver of the other car. It had been empty when the fire crews arrived,
and it had been rigged to burn just like her parent's car had. Someone, for some as yet unknown
reason, had her parents killed.

She closed the file and got up, looking forward to this evening. She was leaving here to spend the
weekend with Max. They had finally gotten the fires under control up there and he, being the boss
and all, had decreed he was unavailable for this entire weekend and invited her to come up and stay
for a few days. She had agreed on one condition: no barbecues. Instead he had suggested a day at the
beach, complete with picnic. There was no way she could say no to that. Not that she wanted to. Far
from it. She had missed him over the couple of weeks. His voice over a phone line, though welcome,
was not the same.

Eberts and the Official were watching the television, ostensibly CNN, but she suspected it was the
soaps again, when the National news feed broke in. Alyx let it flow past her until she heard a
particular name. She rushed over to stand behind the Official and watched, stunned, as the news
anchor repeated the information. A group calling themselves the Messengers of God had bombed
several buildings in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in retribution for those
that had been arrested for arson two weeks earlier. One death had been confirmed, that of Maxwell
Garrett, Regional Director for the National Parks Department, and one of the persons responsible
for the capture of the six men being held.

The news anchor droned on but Alyx no longer heard.

Guilt is always jealous.

Yeah, I'll admit I had been jealous of Garrett, and maybe a bit angry at Alyx. And I'll admit I had
a few rather nasty thoughts pass through my mind concerning the two of them. But, this, this was
never what I wanted to happen.

She had finally come out from behind that mask, and one senseless act of violence thrust her back
behind it. The only thing I could do was wait.