Hobbes touched the nearest pillar to get his bearings, then broke into
a run towards where he knew the closest wall should be. Every step,
he expected to feel a foot tripping him, arms grabbing hold of him,
but instead he heard only laughter. They weren't pursuing him. Not yet.

He tried to form a picture in his mind of where he was, how far it
would be to the wall, and how to get from there to the exit. He ran
with one arm outstretched enough to touch each support pillar as he
passed, the other held before him to feel for the wall ahead.

His wrist smacked into the next pillar instead of just his fingers,
numbing his hand for a second. He'd miscalculated the angle. He
swore, shook his hand, felt tingling but no sign of anything broken.
He corrected course without breaking stride.

Slowing a little as he got closer to where the wall should be, he
still hit it hard, grunting a little, spinning with his momentum as
fast as he could to get the wall behind his back, cutting in half the
number of directions they could approach from.

Try to get them talking, he asked himself, or keep the place quiet so
he could hear footsteps?

A noise, off to his left, like someone's foot had hit a pebble.
Claire had been on that side when the lights went out. Another sound,
far off to his right, near where he thought the exit was. Hobbes
strained to hear. To quiet his own breathing and the roar of his own
pulse. Combat situation. Keep it together. The world sharpened into
that odd clarity Hobbes only felt when the danger was greatest, his
need for sanity strongest.

The small sounds continued, from three different directions in a
little too quick succession. He realized that they must be decoys,
Fawkes must be throwing something to make sounds away from where he
really was. Hobbes listened not just to the sounds, but to which
direction they were moving in. Another one, off to his right, moving
away...again, in front of him, starting far away and getting
farther... Fawkes was off to the right and ahead of him, still a
ways away, moving slowly closer.

Straining his eyes, Hobbes could just make out a faint purple glow.
Was it real, or was he just seeing what he wanted to see? He slid
along the wall, and the light was obscured by a straight dark line. A
support pillar. As his eyes adjusted further, Hobbes could make out a
couple more areas that were faintly purple. Not enough to see by, not
with ordinary eyes, but no doubt flooding the room with plenty of
illumination in those higher spectrums.

"What's the matter, Bobby?" the Keeper asked in that weird sing-songy
voice. "Don't you want to play?" She was still off to his left, but
closer now. Another stone's throw told him Fawkes was getting closer,
too.

What could he use as a weapon? His gun was useless in this dark, and
he didn't want to kill either of them. Bobby unbuckled his belt. He
could hear giggles. Slipping his belt out of its loops, he began to
swing it, fast, fanning his improvised weapon in a shifting figure
eight that would hopefully catch anyone trying to attack him. It
could be taken away almost as easily as a gun, but at least it would
give him a second or two warning while they got past it.

Eyes wide, Hobbes could just barely make out the buckle as a lighter
blur, not constantly but it was still encouraging. The faint purple
light outlined the side of a pillar again as he slid further towards
the exit. And then the outline wasn't straight anymore. There was
something moving, a figure. He breathed a sigh of relief as he
realized it was too short to be his erstwhile partner. Claire. A
Claire who wasn't herself, but any threat from her paled in comparison
to Fawkes.

"Now that's a promising start, Bobby," she said, giggling again. "Can
I take off the next piece?"

"Stay out of this, Claire!" Hobbes didn't hear any more sounds from
the other side of the room. Either Fawkes had caught on that Bobby
wasn't fooled by the diversions, or he'd run out of pebbles to toss.
Or he was too busy watching...

"Oh, but I don't want to stay out of it." She giggled again, and
moved in closer. Hobbes was trying to keep track of her, to gauge her
mood, but even more on the alert for Fawkes to take advantage of her
distracting him.

Hobbes felt the steady swing of the belt suddenly stop as it connected
to something. He knew the leather strap would wrap around the target
fast, the metal buckle hitting hard, but when your opponent is beyond
pain, he wasn't sure how much effect that would have. The belt gave a
sudden jerk and Hobbes hung on, deducing that Claire had caught the
belt mid-air and grabbed hold of it even as it grabbed hold of her.
He could feel her other hand pressing against his chest, then moving
downward to his stomach.

Her fingers slid under the waistband of his slacks, so much looser
without the belt cinching them. "I don't want to stay out of it at
all..." she murmured, tugging on the belt he still held, pulling his
hand toward her hip.

He tried to push her away, and she laughed, enjoying the tussle.
Hobbes could feel himself blushing as his hand connected with her
breast. The thin cloth was damp and rumpled, the flesh beneath soft
and so very warm.

"Ooh, Bobby!" she squealed, her fingers brushing his arm as she tried
to grab his hand and bring it back to touch her again. "You should
see the expression on your face!"

Bobby could almost feel something grate as his mind changed gears.
Training and survival instincts combined to tell him what he should
do, what he *had* to do. Volatile, fickle, she could be an enemy, or...

"Aw, crap..." he muttered under his breath. Hopefully she'd forgive
him. A huge chunk of his personality protesting all the while, Hobbes
relaxed his posture, let his free arm slide around her shoulder,
pulled her towards him.

"I wish I could see you, Claire." Voice lower, huskier. His hand
slid down her back, cupped her backside and gave a little squeeze.
"You're wearing those pants, aren't you, the ones you look so hot in?"

She pressed against him, pulling the belt out of his hand and letting
it fall to the floor. "I don't have to be, Bobby," she murmured,
nibbling his ear, her other hand stroking his chest.

God, he wanted this. He wanted her. But not like this. His insides
squirmed, in a not-entirely-uncomfortable way.

"Best offer I've heard all day," he whispered, putting his CTS skills
to work. "Wanna go back to my place?"

"Why go anywhere?" she asked, pushing him back against the wall. "The
floor here's quite comfy."

He would not, could not think about that last remark, not now.

"Well, honey, the floor is okay for a quickie..." He nibbled her
neck, one hand giving her breast a gentle squeeze, the other pressing
her ass towards him. God, he could not do this, he could not... "But
for what I have in mind, I think it'd get way too uncomfortable."

"Oooh, Bobby, I like the sound of that!" She latched onto his arm and
began dragging him towards the stairwell he'd come down. Her body
still pressed against him, her hip bumping into his own with every step.

Hobbes pretended to stumble. "I still want to see you, Claire," he
said, making an artfully playful grab for the thermals, "not to
mention see where I'm going." Her weight against him shifted as she
ducked her head away, and his fingertips brushed the metal of the
visor too lightly to grab hold.

"Naughty boy, it's still my turn!" She grabbed at his wrist, pulling
further away. He laughed and leaned his face in to kiss her, to show
her it was all a game, and to close the distance. He reached up
stealthily with his other hand to make another try for the thermals.

Suddenly he felt her body jerk, heard her cry out in pain. Her weight
sank downward, she slumped forward, and the thermals clattered to the
floor. He wanted to help her, but dammit, he couldn't if he couldn't
see! He reluctantly but swiftly lowered her to the floor and
scrambled to find the thermal goggles.

Claire was moaning, but Hobbes thought he heard another sound, all too
close. His fingers brushed metal, closed around the frame, pulled
them on. He expected Fawkes to be right on top of him. Instead, he
could see the glowing figure still several yards away, strolling
towards them.

"Well done, Robert! I didn't think you had it in you." Fawkes
gestured down towards Claire, but Hobbes didn't dare look her way.

The goggles hid the confusion in his eyes. If Fawkes hadn't attacked
them, then what...

"...bobby?..." Claire's voice was weak, filled with pain and
confusion...but it was Claire's voice. Her real voice.

Fawkes chuckled, that low, dangerous mirth unique to the madness. "So
it does wear off eventually." Hobbes crouched in a combat position,
Fawkes slowly circling them, still strolling casually.

"No gland," Claire mumbled. "Body...breaks down...quicksilver..."

"Ah, but I still have this lovely little lady pumping fresh juice into
me way too fast for that." He gestured at his head, where the
quicksilver gland was implanted. "Lucky me."

Any other time, Darien would have said that with bitter irony. In
stage 5, he meant it.

"Claire, you okay?" Hobbes asked, still not daring to look her way.

"Aside from a…massive headache?" He could hear her moving as she
stood up, and gestured her towards the wall so he could protect her
better, before realizing she wouldn't be able to see it.

"Looks like you got her, Robert." Fawkes's lazy circling brought him
back between his friends and the exit. "Now all you've got to do is
get past me."