Hobbes thought he'd made a deal with the devil when he'd agreed to help the Quicksilver psycho in Fawkes's body, but it had nothing on the sense of wrongness he felt as he helped Arnaud and his doctor-lady sidekick haul his unconscious partner into the hospital and into the private examining room Rendell had arranged for them.

With Fawkes laid out, eerily still on a narrow stretcher, Hobbes stood there feeling useless as Rendell and Arnaud bustled around, quickly finishing up any pre-op tasks that needed finishing. Hobbes didn't know much about medicine, and he spent his time glaring at his untrustworthy allies, hand lingering on his Colt, just in case.

Out of some instinct, Hobbes glanced back at his partner just in time to see Rendell yanking at Fawkes's shirt, trying to strip him of the garment.

"Hey!" he protested, stalking toward the doctor.

Rendell had stopped trying to undress the unconscious man at Hobbes's barked command, but she sighed impatiently. "I need to get him in some scrubs."

"No way am I letting you molest my friend in his current condition," Hobbes told her. Seeing Rendell's hands on a patch of Fawkes's bared skin, Hobbes fought a primal desire to draw his weapon.

"I'm a doctor," she reminded him.

"I don't care," Hobbes said.

Arnaud appeared behind Rendell, a stack of hospital scrubs in hand. "Let the agent here do it, my dear," he said, and just the sound of oily-slick voice made Hobbes's stomach roil. It was too bad he needed him to save Fawkes. "If he doesn't want you touching his partner."

"Works for me," Hobbes said. "Give 'em here."

Rendell lifted her hands away from Fawkes, and Hobbes released a relieved breath as Arnaud tossed him the garments, then more solicitously handed a set to Rendell. "We have to change ourselves."

As soon as he heard the soft click that announced their departure, Hobbes set to his own task. First he removed Fawkes's shoes and socks, then he pulled his unmoving body up into a sitting position, his friend's weight heavy against his shoulder. Fawke's head rested in the curve of his neck, against his throat, so close that his wild hair tickled at Hobbes's chin.

For a moment he stilled, arms awkwardly around his unnaturally docile partner, before he finished what Rendell had started, peeling the tight black shirt from Fawkes's unresisting form. He tossed it over a nearby chair, then ran soothing hands down Darien's naked back, unconscious comfort that comforted Hobbes more than it did the unconscious man. Hobbes quickly pushed limp arms through the shirt sleeves and smoothed the fabric before he guided Fawkes's body back into a supine position.

Next was the pants, garments fitted much too closely to make his job easy, but Hobbes had been a Marine, and men's pants on his friend's gangly body weren't going to outdo him. It took him longer than he would've liked, but Hobbes got them off as well, and they joined the shirt in the chair. Stuffing those long, skinny legs into the scrubs was even more difficult than the arms in the sleeves, but he managed until Fawkes was laid out on the stretcher again, now decked out in that disgusting hospital green.

As he looked down at his still-unconscious partner, Hobbes recalled when he'd been the one in the hospital with his skull cracked open, the way Fawkes had hung around, watched after him. It had been nice to have someone who cared around, even if he hadn't necessarily remembered that fact within a few minutes of realizing it.

Like his hands acted completely on their own, Hobbes watched them slide over Fawkes, one going up an arm to his shoulder, until it was cradling his head, while the other ended up on a sliver of skin near his stomach, bared by the rucked-up shirt. Hobbes stroked one thumb over Fawkes's just-starting-to-stubble cheek, a strange contrast of prickly and smooth under the rough pad of his finger.

It wasn't until that quiet moment that Hobbes had really let himself think of how much he was depending on Arnaud to keep his end of the bargain, how much he needed to make sure Fawkes didn't end up on the Keeper's operating table -- how much he didn't think he'd survive if Fawkes didn't.

Hobbes dropped his forehead until it rested against Fawkes's, closing his eyes. His hand moved a little under it was knotted in his friend's wild-as-always hair. "Christ," he whispered into the scant space left between them. "You gotta survive this, kid. You hear me? You and me, we're gonna make this right."

He didn't even have time to think about the implications of that moment when he heard the soft click of the door opening. Hobbes jerked back, straightening, the hand he'd had under Fawkes's head settling once again on his gun grip.

Arnaud noticed and held up his hands in mock-surrender. "It's just us," he said.

"Yeah, I know."

Arnaud smirked. "Well if you're finished..." He looked down pointedly to where Hobbes still had a hand laid flat against an uncovered bit of Fawkes's skin. "...molesting your partner in his current condition, we'll get him into place." He turned, but tossed back, "And if you can't bear to take your hands off him, you can at least be of use helping us move him."

It took every bit of hard-earned training he had not to do something about that smug face, but Hobbes knew that smug face and the evil that went with it was all the chance he had to get his partner back.

Hobbes didn't care if Arnaud the Phone was the devil; he'd gladly sell his soul if it meant Fawkes would get his back from whatever hell it went to when the Quicksilver took over.

After Arnaud's escape from the hospital, Hobbes returned to the examining room in time to hear Fawkes's heart-breaking apology and to watch his partner pass out again. This time, though, Hobbes knew it would be his friend who woke up and not the silverized sociopath; it was difficult for anything to ruin the moment knowing that.

Rendell trounced out of the place before Agency backup arrived, but Hobbes didn't sweat that, either. With the Keeper on her way, he wrestled Fawkes's deadweight onto the stretcher and spent his time wrangling agents to search for Arnaud to keep him busy until the Keeper arrived to check out his partner.

Hobbes figured it couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes since the clean-up chaos had started, but when he ducked back into the room where he'd left Fawkes, he found him awake, if not completely alert.

He was also standing in the middle of the room, only half-dressed.

"Fawkes?" he asked, hating how his voice almost cracked. Even though he knew it was his Fawkes, he held his breath until his partner turned to look at him, his eyes their usual, non-psychotic brown instead of red or silver or any other horrifying color. "How you feeling?"

He shrugged, a sleek movement of muscles under his smooth skin. "Not exactly sure yet."

His friend sounded even shakier than Hobbes felt, so he nodded in sympathy. "Any reason you giving me a show here, my friend?"

Darien looked confused for a moment and Hobbes made a vague little gesture toward his bare chest. Fawkes looked down, comprehension dawning. "Oh, just getting dressed. My own clothes. You know."

Hobbes nodded again, noting Fawkes had already pulled on his pants and socks, and the black shirt was twisted in his hands, as if Hobbes had interrupted him in the action of donning it.

"Makes sense," he admitted.

Fawkes nodded absently, like he was only half-registering the conversation, but he slipped the shirt on, taking extra pains to smooth it in just such a way. Hobbes recognized it for what it was -- a distraction, something to let him not think about the events of the day.

Hobbes could relate.

"Claire on her way?" Fawkes asked once he tired of futzing with his shirt tail.

"Yeah, she wants to get you back to the lab to make sure everything's okay."

"Yeah," he echoed, looking down at his hands, like he didn't want to look Hobbes in the eye. That wasn't typical Darien Fawkes behavior, which concerned Hobbes.

"Fawkes..." Hobbes took a step forward.

"Hobbes --"

As Hobbes reached his friend's side, Fawkes finally glanced up and met his eyes. Hobbes saw the same stricken expression he'd seen earlier, the horror and guilt his friend was carrying from what the Quicksilvered madman had done. Hobbes couldn't take what he saw there, so he chose to look down at Fawkes's hands, too. It was then that he noticed that they were shaking.

"Bobby...I am so, so sorry," Fawkes finally managed to say, his voice a whisper, leaden with the same pain he'd seen in his eyes. "I'm..."

"Fawkes," Hobbes interrupted. "None of that now, okay? You already said that and it's done, behind us."

Fawkes nodded, but he still painfully resembled a kicked puppy dog, Hobbes's words not making the difference he'd wanted them to.

Hobbes knew from his own experiences with Darien that, despite his punk ass attitude, he was a touchy-feely guy, more softhearted than he probably thought any of them guessed. But Bobby Hobbes was a master of observation, which is why he knew all that and more about his friend, and he hoped a little touchy-feely comfort would help ease that burden.

So he did what he remembered Fawkes doing for him on occasions when he'd been the one who'd needed a little comfort, laying a heavy hand on his shoulder, fingers tightening soothingly. "Hey, I mean it now. It's fine."

"Yeah, okay." Fawkes's face went slack a little, like he'd been holding the muscles tense. "Thanks, man."

"Not a problem, my friend," he said. Where his hand was still on Fawkes he could feel shivers wracking his partner's body. Hobbes frowned, moved closer to peer into Fawkes's eyes, this time searching for a clue to his health status. "You sure you're okay? You're shaking like you're cold or something."

"I am, a little," Fawkes admitted. "Jittery, too, and..."

Hobbes didn't even think before he laid a hand on Fawkes's forehead, only to find it clammy and cold. He pushed his friend down into the forgotten but now-appreciated chair. "Maybe you should sit down while we wait for Keep."

"I still need to find my shoes," Fawkes said in protest, but he didn't try to stand up. He was slouching in the chair, almost huddled over, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

"I'll find your shoes," Hobbes told him. "You just sit there before you pass out again."

There was a ghost of a smile on his partner's face as he watched Hobbes grab his shoes from a random shelf. "You gonna put 'em on for me, too, Hobbesy?"

"Don't you wish?" Hobbes said as he dropped them at Fawkes's sock-clad feet. "I think you can slip 'em on all by yourself."

Fawkes did manage to stuff his feet into his shoes without much difficulty, although Hobbes noticed he was still shaking. Given the events of the day, Hobbes figured it was plain and simple shock, but he knew he'd feel better once the Keep checked him out.

Hobbes grabbed a blanket from one of the supply shelves and dropped it over Fawkes's hunched shoulders.

Fawkes sighed and pulled the blanket more snugly around him. "Thanks, man."

"Warming up?" Hobbes's hand followed, lingering on the back of his partner's neck.

Fawkes looked up at him again, and finally his eyes had lost that haunted look. They were just plain brown eyes again, with perhaps a touch more gratitude than usual, as Fawkes tried to smile up at him partner. "I am now."

It was the best damn thing Hobbes had seen in awhile.

Even though the Keeper gave Fawkes a clean bill of health once she'd checked him over, he was still a little unsteady on his feet, and Hobbes decided it was best for all involved if he escorted his partner home for the night. Fawkes didn't argue, especially since his car was still parked at the hospital across town.

The apartment was dark and quiet when they got there, a little messy but nothing out of the ordinary that spoke to their latest ordeal. Hobbes had seen it in worse disarray on better days, so he hoped that bit of normalcy would help Fawkes lose the jittery edge he still had.

Once they were both in the apartment, Fawkes seemed content to stand in the middle of the place, looking around like he didn't recognize it. Hobbes wandered around the kitchen a little, waiting for his friend to say something -- anything -- and break the awkward silence that had lapsed since they'd left the lab.

"You sure you're okay, kid?" Hobbes asked, when he saw that Fawkes still hadn't moved much since they'd entered.

The words seemed to spurn him into movement, and he shrugged out of his jacket, which he threw over the pool table as he headed for the couch. "Yeah, I'm good," he said, though there wasn't much conviction in his voice. "Just tired. And...I can't believe I let Arnaud get away -- again."

"Not for lack of trying, I promise you that," Hobbes said as he stopped his idle examination of the kitchen space and joined his partner on the couch. "Gotta give you and your dark side credit for that."

"Dark side?" Fawkes seemed amused by the title but he let it pass. Instead, he leaned back against the lumpy cushions, like his head was too heavy for his neck. His eyes were closed as he said, "I screwed up, Bobby."

"Yeah, so?" Hobbes asked. "You've done it before and you'll do it again. What's the Fat Man gonna do? Fire you? I don't think so, pal."

Fawkes's eyes opened to slits so he could look at his friend. "That's not even what I mean."

"Then what do you mean?"

"I went into stage five madness," Fawkes said, like Hobbes didn't remember that silver-eyed freak well enough without the reminder. "I could've hurt somebody worse than I did, killed somebody, even."

"But you didn't, and since you ain't gonna pull this again, why worry about it?"

"I could've killed you." Fawkes's voice was doing that almost-cracking thing again, and Hobbes bet those dropping lids where hiding that guilt-pain combo he thought he'd banished at the hospital.

"Look, Fawkes..." Hobbes leaned closer in case Fawkes tried to ignore him. "Listen, listen,, okay? Even when you were whacked out of your mind on the silver stuff, the worse you did was punch me, all right? Maybe if we hadn't gotten the counteragent when we did that would've been different, but it wouldn't have been you even if you had done something."

"I can't make that distinction, not in my head," Fawkes admitted, his voice raw and low. Not quite a whisper, but Hobbes strained to hear him.

"Well you're gonna have to learn or else you'll drive yourself crazy over it," Hobbes pointed out. Then, with humor added, "And the last thing we need is more crazy in this partnership."

Fawkes only managed a weak kind of smile, but his eyes were open, without the guilt in their depths.

"You need to get some rest, buddy," Hobbes told him, watching the way his friend's bleary eyes tracked his face. "Keep said so, and the Fat Man expects us back on the job tomorrow."

That drew a remarkably familiar groan from Fawkes, and Hobbes knew he was on the road to recovery if he was bitching again. "No rest for the wicked, huh?"

"You should know, my friend," Hobbes said, biting back his laughter at the look Fawkes shot him. "You should know."

"Cheap shot, Hobbes, really."

Hobbes was still laughing to himself as he stood up, ready to head out. Fawkes wasn't the only one who was dead on his feet, and he still had a drive ahead of him. "Off to bed with ya, kid. I'll swing by in the morning, and we'll get your car, okay?"

"Hobbes..." Even before he registered the sound of his name, he felt the tug on his hand stop him from leaving, then looked down to see that Fawkes had him by the wrist. He tried to ignore the frisson of electricity it shot through him, just as he had tried to ignore how it had felt to lay hands on his friend's bare skin or run fingers through his hair. It was a dangerous thing, way more dangerous than anything he'd faced from the Quicksilver psycho.


"I just want to say...thanks," Fawkes said, showing his soft heart like he didn't mind a bit if Hobbes knew he had it. He used his hold on Hobbes's hand to pull himself up, and Hobbes obliged by instinctively acting as counterweight. But standing, they were much too close, making Bobby glad he was on his way out the door.

"Just part of the job," Hobbes told him.

"No, it was more than that," Fawkes said. "So...thanks."

Those brown eyes were looking at Hobbes with all the softness he never saw in them, and Fawkes still seemed much too close; somehow they'd ended up pressed together, and Fawkes's breath was warm against Hobbes's face. Alarms bells were ringing in his head because Hobbes had to fight to keep from doing something stupid, like pulling him even closer.

"Anytime, my friend," he answered, all honesty, his voice as rough as Fawkes's. "You know that."

"Yeah," Fawkes said. He wet his lips with his tongue, his mouth much too near Hobbes's. "I know that."

There was so much Hobbes wanted right then, but he only got so far as a ghost-soft slide of his lips against Fawkes's still-stubbly-and-soft cheek before he pulled back, years of experience at denial keeping him from going further. It was way too dangerous, for him and for Fawkes, and it wasn't the time to try out dangerous things. They were both too raw, too open, hyped on adrenaline and worry and fear.

Hobbes wasn't ready to risk everything when he'd almost just lost it.

He managed a goodbye before he stomped out of the apartment, hoping Fawkes remembered to lock up behind him. Hobbes could still remember the glittering, dazed look he'd last seen in Fawkes's eyes, could still feel the pressure of the slide of his lips against Fawkes's skin. Hobbes wiped his hand over his face, trying to banish it all to some other corner of his mind.

But he knew he couldn't, not that night or later. It would stay there, like every memory he had from that day, and he'd just have to deal with it, push past it, make sure it didn't interfere with his job, their partnership.

It was easier said than done, but Hobbes was willing to try, because he knew working around it was better than having to work without it -- without Fawkes.

That was still a deal he'd make with any devil, anywhere, anytime.

The End.

touch-and-go: Extremely uncertain or risky. This idiom implies that a mere touch may cause a calamity.