Michael sat behind the wheel of the SUV, driving north still. He'd been driving for several days now, trying to put some distance between himself and San Diego, hoping to maybe get far enough away that, even if Fawkes and his friends realized it was all a fake, the trail would be so cold there would be little or nothing to follow.
In the back seat, the twins had once again cried themselves to sleep. No amount of comfort he tried to give them could ease their pain, just as no amount of comfort he tried to gain from their presence could ease his. They were wise enough, even at their tender age, to know that he was the cause of their unhappiness. Michele had made sure they knew what he was, even if they were really too young to understand it. He could read them, but he could not sway them. They wanted their mother, whom they knew was gone. That intimate connection that allowed them to share even the slight emotions in their minds before their birth was cut off now, leaving them feeling empty and lost.
Cat was especially upset. She had been pulled rudely from a place where she was happy, taken away from her favorite blankie and toys. To her, both that ugly duck and her father had been toys. Kit was upset too, through her sharing the knowledge of their father with him. Kit had not had nearly enough time to know the man, but Cat had made sure to share every experience her unique mind could recall. Michael would just have to be patient -- one day they would understand that Fawkes would never have been able to care for them. He would have been unable to help them through the difficult times to come, when their powers began to fully manifest themselves. True, he might have been a source of comfort in the loss of their mother, but Michael could do that just as well. Or so he hoped.
It was Michele's death that had sent him on this unplanned journey. He had fully intended to return to the welcoming home of Changeling, to see to it that these children were raised and trained to become the next generation of agents, designed to protect the country from all enemies, including those from within. The loss of Michele -- his twin, his love, his life -- had changed that. He had just finished interrogating those of the Agency, to find out where Kit was going to be taken once freed from the lab, when there had been an explosion of emotions in his mind and then nothing, a complete blank where the connection to her used to be. He'd found himself on his knees, one of his agents looking down at him in concern, with tears running down his cheeks. He'd been stunned. She'd died, sacrificed herself in order to be sure Kit would be free -- free from him, from Chrysalis, from Changeling -- and he suddenly found himself needing to make sure that happened.
Without any hesitation, he had drawn his gun and shot the agent with him, retrieved Cat with only minimal damage to her nurse, and then proceeded to kill every Changeling agent that had come with him. Once out of the city, he'd called Stark to arrange for a meeting, and with his help had secured Kit as well. When Kit arrived, along with the other items he'd requested, he changed the plan and slaughtered not only the Chrysalis agents but also the near-perfect doubles Chrysalis had brought to act as decoys. He had set the SUV on fire with no regret, only an odd sense of purpose that he was doing the right thing, for the twins and for Michele.
He would have taken the time to kill Stark, maybe even destroyed Chrysalis' American holdings entirely, but the need to find a safe place to hole up had had to come first. Michael had stripped the minds of those who had delivered the items he'd needed and had learned that Stark had somehow found out about Michele's little problem dealing with EM fields. That was how Michael had held her captive throughout her pregnancy, by trapping her in a room surrounded by a low level EM field that interfered with her powers. It had worked as long as she was pregnant, since any attempt to interact with or disrupt the field, risked injury to both herself and her unborn children, as the field interfered with the way her body generated and absorbed power.
It was only after the twins had been born that she began to systematically try and break through it. She had eventually succeeded, though by then she had already been injected with the virus in hopes of keeping her under control. A creative little plan; as long as she received the antidote, the virus remained dormant. Once activated, however, it would attack her and begin to do its best to kill her.
He knew how well she adapted -- it was what she'd been designed to do -- so the virus was designed the same way. Using her own DNA, the Changeling bio-techs had come up with a virus that would also adapt. Every time she survived an attack, it would use the knowledge of what her body did to regroup and attack her again. Eventually, one of three things would occur: she would defeat the virus completely and adapt, a stalemate would be achieved and both would survive, or the virus would win.
It was hoped that once she became ill that she'd come back, realizing that she couldn't risk Cat's young life without help, help only Changeling could provide. That was until they discovered she'd downloaded vast quantities of information, including what was in the antidote to the virus. With that information, she could probably have come up with something that would do as a substitute. As the days and then weeks went by, it was assumed that she had done exactly that, and they had been forced to cut off her other resources -- access to accounts, to contacts, to safe houses, to labs. They'd forced her into a corner. So they had turned to watching Fawkes and the Agency, turned to the tracker that had been implanted during the Phase II process.
In the end, though, it didn't matter that Stark had learned about the EM field, trapping her in that one room and leaving her unable to escape the lab. Michele was already dying. According to the information he'd accessed from the Agency computer before she'd slammed the back door shut, the virus had mutated to the point where even the cure -- not the antidote, but the actual cure they had on hand to use if she was lured back into the fold -- would not save her. The pills, the cobbled-together antidote she'd been using, was nearly ineffective. She could no longer eat solid food, since the virus had ravaged her stomach and digestive system so badly -- half her pill collection had been nutritional supplements to keep herself as healthy as she could until the twins were safe. According to the Keeper's findings, Michele had had maybe six months to live. Only her unique system, which enabled her to absorb energy from the outside, allowed her to retain any functionality at all. She had already lost a fair amount of weight, and every resurgence of the virus took its toll, leaving her body just a little bit weaker. And she had known it.
Changeling had, in effect, killed her, and Michael found himself unable to reconcile that fact with the work they'd been doing over the years. It had been hard enough on him when those he answered to wanted to use her for breeding purposes once the first successful pregnancy had been known. He'd believed them when they said it was necessary. Just five years of breeding, just five more sets of twins using invitro techniques, they had promised. Then she could return to work. But they had assumed she was still Michael's, that she hadn't been changed by her encounter with Fawkes, and that was the furthest thing from the truth.
Michele had found in Darien Fawkes the one thing she had never found with him: life. And in the end, it had had been Fawkes and her children causing the regret in her mind, and not Michael.
Staring out the windshield, Michael found the car slowing and he pulled over. Sitting there along the tree-lined back road, he finally broke down and cried, mourning the loss of his sister, his twin, his life. It was the quiet sounds of the twins that finally drew him back from the edge of despair. Michele might be gone, but part of her lived on in the children she had carried and borne. He would do his best to raise them as she would have -- with honor and, above all, free.
The quiet atmosphere and pink-hued sky was usually enough to encourage Darien to fill the silence with words, to create an utterly useless conversation with the dead man that rested below the neatly trimmed grass that he sat upon, but not tonight. In fact, instead of his usual position facing the headstone of his brother Kevin, he leaned back against it. The chill of the granite found its way through his clothes, leaving him even colder, but he didn't care. His knees were drawn up to his chest with his hands dangling loosely in between them. The look of utter pain and loss etched on his face was plain to the few who wandered past him. They would glance at him, then turn away, almost as if afraid that whatever had caused such pain to him would suddenly be thrust upon them.
After a couple weeks of hope -- fading hope, but hope nonetheless -- Claire had today, just a few hours ago, confirmed his worst fears. One of the bodies recovered from the Chrysalis breeding facility had indeed been Michele's. That wasn't all that big a surprise; the hole in his heart had told him she was long gone, had died when the implosion had occurred. He had the memory of her final moments embedded in his mind, to both torture him and give him a strange sort of comfort.
No one else had been found alive after day five of the search. Some of those found had died mere hours before discovery, finally succumbing to their injuries, thirst, or in one case both. The body that had been tentatively identified as Michele's hadn't been found for another week, and Claire had spent two days running tests before coming to the inevitable conclusion that it was her. That blow had almost been easy to take, but Claire had gone on to tell him that Michele had already been dying. That the virus she'd been fighting was one designed to kill her, and that it was succeeding.
Now he understood her reluctance to tell him what had happened between them a year ago, her unwillingness to commit to any sort of plans after Kit was back where he belonged. All of Darien's fantasies, hopes of a maybe having a life with her and the twins, had been for naught. In, at most, half a year she would have been gone. As dead as she was now. The virus created just for her by Changeling having done its job.
He didn't blame her for not telling him. The burden she had been carrying around was more than enough to offset any anger he might have felt. The memories, the hope, the love she had given him would be something he would always treasure. He just wished there could have been more for the two of them. Maybe, as she had once commented, if they had met under different circumstances, they could have had a real life together. Shared some happiness and joy for more than a few short days. Perhaps had a chance at more children. Perhaps...
He let the fantasy of what might have been fade away and allowed reality to intrude. It was the second bit of news that had led Darien to this place, sitting over his brother's grave without an ounce of hope in his soul, with nothing but pain, despair, and guilt in his heart and mind.
Those small bodies recovered from the wrecked SUV, bodies burnt nearly beyond recognition, had been confirmed as the twins. Claire had had tears running down her face as she told him, as she explained that she'd run every test she could think of and they always came back confirming the worst. DNA had matched perfectly for Cat, and Kit's was close enough to hers to be identified. She'd even found traces of quicksilver in the pitiful remains. There could be no doubt; Kit and Cat were dead.
Darien had failed in the one and only promise he had ever wanted to keep in his life. And the guilt was overwhelming.
"You know Fawkes, you always were predictable," a voice -- a decidedly female voice -- proclaimed into the still air, breaking the silence that had kept him motionless.
"And how the hell did you manage to get out?" Darien asked as Alex closed the distance and sat down next to him.
"It was simple, Fawkes. You tell them what they want to hear enough times and they eventually believe it." She emulated his position and stared off into the distance. "I heard about what happened. I'm sorry."
Darien let the words wash over him without feeling anything. While he hadn't forgiven her for calling Corvan, he also knew it didn't matter anymore. Nothing did.
"Is it your turn to talk us into getting shit-faced and then falling back into bed, or we gonna do this right this time?" he asked quietly.
"I'll show you mine if you show me yours." As she spoke, she reached into the pocket of her jacket and withdrew a gun.
Darien grunted and did the same, though the gun surprised her a bit, seeing as it was hers. "You never picked it up, and I never got the chance to return it," he explained. "What with you going Section Eight and all."
If his words bothered her, she didn't let it show. "Well, Fawkes?"
"Rock, paper, scissors, Monroe. Or is that too complicated for you?" Darien sent a wordless apology to both Bobby and Claire, hoping that someday they would understand. At least they'd made up in the last few weeks. They'd settled the last few issues between them and agreed to move on. With them, at least, his conscience was clear.
With Monroe it was different. As Bobby had said, their relationship had always been based on pain. What better way to deal with the pain now than together?
It took Alex a moment to figure out what he was referring to, but when she did she gave him a grim smile. "Always a game with you, Fawkes."
Darien shrugged. "Good bet I'll win this one."
She nodded, and together they began the chant. "Once. Twice. Three..."
There was a pause, and then Darien finished it for the both of them.