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Summary: "Sauntering, by clinical definition, is an aimless wandering, without destination." Darien's having a very unusual reaction to the counteragent… Couldn't help myself with this one – I mean, check out his face, it's obvious isn't it? Or maybe it's just my lascivious mind… C/D angle.
Rating: R, for rude words, and what the Australian censor coyly refers to as 'adult concepts'.
Spoilers: Post-Impetus, at least.
Archive: Drop me a line.
Feedback: Always gives me the warm tinglies
"And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and figure of blown youth,
Blasted with ecstasy: O! woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, to see what I see!"
William Shakespeare – Hamlet
Sauntering, by clinical definition, is an aimless wandering, without destination. But he doesn't buy that. In fact, he's often realised that sauntering casually, letting long legs take him where they will, usually brings him to the place he's most been wanting to go.
Nice, how it works out that way.
The doors hiss. His face is already prepared into nonchalance.
She waves a fork, like a little flag. All he can see is her back, stylishly lab-coated, and how she's hitched her hair back out of the way. Getting stray hair in your takeaway is a drag.
He ventures closer, observes her multi-tasking. Chew, check the microscope, exchange a slide, spear another forkful, drop it back into the container to make a note, exchange a slide, check the scope, remember that there's something else you're doing…what was it? Ah, yes – eating. Tedious that. Take another mouthful –
He cranes his head a little, eyebrows raised, watching it all happen. There's too much going on for her to make eye contact yet. No, the slide goes under the microscope, not in your mouth. But she's had practise at this. It's really a fairly smooth operation.
He sees the contents of the takeaway container and blanches.
"I think the thing that all those years of juvie hall really taught me – I mean, apart from all the useful stuff, like picking pockets and locks – was that, whenever possible, it's always better to eat real food."
Her concentration breaks. She puts the slide down, and gives him a familiar look – droll, but ready to play.
"Are you referring to my lunch?"
He counters with dry seriousness, the doctor explaining the gravity of the condition. That's the game.
"I'm sorry, Claire, but it looks like dog chow."
She's rewarded with a double-take. Having gained the upper hand, she slips him a wicked grin.
"It's leftovers from dinner. Pavlov had half, and I had half. So technically, yes, it's dog chow."
"Yuck." All pretence aside, he looks thoroughly disgusted. Then he shrugs, deadpan – back to the game. "Can I have my shot?"
The eternal game of wait and see. Banter, counter, rebuke, riposte, and can I have my shot now? She's familiar with the ritual by this stage, doesn't see any harm in it, and in any case, labwork does get a trifle dull from time to time. It's actually gotten to the point now where she likes to drag the game out a bit, see where it goes. Not that it's going anywhere, of course.
"Wait a minute."
She holds up the fork again to prevent his reply, then rifles through some notes ( that's just window-dressing, really), switches the slides again and sets her lunch aside, stands up.
"Right. What did you?… Oh yes. Right."
"Sorry to interrupt your lunch."
There's a smidge of genuine contriteness. She shrugs, makes a 'pfft' noise, flicks her fingers at the takeaway container like she might make it invisible all by herself if she had the facility.
"No problem. It was already cold, anyway."
"Cold dog chow – nice."
Now that one makes her crack a smile. Impish, on a tame scale "I can bring you in some tomorrow if you fancy.".
"Gee, I'm honoured, and…totally grossed out. Thanks, I'll pass."
He's gone the cool, debonair route, so she retreats into her professional persona. Nods her chin towards the Chair.
"Right. Sit. Give me a moment."
She doesn't watch him fold himself into the Chair, all lanky arms and legs, but instead focusses on the fridge, the vial, the syringe – the bits and pieces of the procedure that make it seem, although clinical, vaguely normal. She feels like an air hostess – are you comfortable in your chair, sir? here's your napkin and martini glass, is there anything else you needed? then I'll just stick this huge needle in your arm and inject you with a bizarre concoction of synthesized toxins and chemical inhibitors and we'll be landed before you know it…
She's readying the tray when she hears the swoosh and plop. The white missile sailing into the wastebasket at her feet is also a dead give-away. He's shooting hoops with her stationery, a look of sweet concentration on his face, tip of the tongue peeking out from between the teeth, arm raised, wrist back, ready to let fly.
With a tsk and a frown, she lets fly instead.
"Darien! Do you mind?"
"What?" All innocence. Hah.
"That could be important, you know. I've been taking notes all morning, and now you're… Oh, for pity's sake –"
She snatches for the paper ball in his hand, unscrews it, scans it, and then, irked, thrusts it back at him. Glowering.
"Don't tell me – just doodles, right?" He's making light of it all, because he knows it was just doodles – he checked. See, not so dumb after all.
She opens her mouth, thinks better of it, closes it.
He checks her face to get the okay. Come on, it's her lab. He always tries to be a well-trained houseguest.
"So – fire away?"
She can't think of anything to say that won't come out sounding like a tiresome, boring-adult rebuke, so she just nods and waves a hand. Turns back to fiddling with the tray-on-a-stand near his arm. The ball flies past her ear to land with a satisfying papery thunk inside its intended target.
Darien holds up both hands to quell the sounds of a screaming audience.
"Thank you, thank you. No applause, folks, just throw money."
She can't help it. He always manages to force her to grin, even when she thinks she's totally fed up with the 'terminal adolescent' thing. She sometimes feels like her own adolescence finished when she was five. So in a way, when it's not being overdone, it's refreshing. She gives him a dose of eyebrow, for tweaking her strings, but her voice is more relaxed.
"Yes, ma'am." He's penitent, but irrepressible.
He sticks his arm out obligingly. She notices the tattoo, it's sections stained with red. When she glances up, he's watching her eyes, the hint of concern there. This in turn makes him mirror her worry – except his usual reaction when he gets worried is to mouth off.
"I really used to play basketball, you know."
She taps the syringe, watches the bubbles float up, then lets her gaze rove over the rangy length of him – allowable, in this situation. Regards the syringe again, voice dry.
"I'd never have guessed."
"Yep. Might have gone major, if I hadn't been such a screw-up."
She watches carefully as the needle slides in, over the faint marks of old scar tissue, and when she's safely in the vein she pulls on the plunger and sucks back blood into the hub.
He's not watching the operation, it's all old hat. The only thing he's aware of nowdays is the tickle of her fingers on his arm. Still talking, he's looking over into some corner in space, and when she's sure he's completely distracted, she'll give him the shot.
"Anyway, it was kind of good experience for when I was in the pen. There was even a team, in Soledad. Good, too. One game, I remember, there was – unh!"
He gasps and jerks, eyes and mouth going wide. Claire looks up immediately.
"What is it?"
He looks into her eyes, shocked, still holding a breath. It trickles out of him slowly as she pulls out the needle, pressing a piece of gauze into place automatically. When he gets his arm back, he pulls it sharply away, folds it in against his chest.
"Darien, what is it?"
Dry-mouthed and stammering. "What the hell did you put in that?"
"What? Nothing! Just counteragent." She peers at him, confused.
He frowns. This is not fun. This isn't supposed to be how the game ends.
"Well, I just got a rush off it."
Non-plussed, and accusing – it has to be her fault. He sure didn't do anything wrong. Just showed up, stuck out a vein, same as usual.
"What?" He must be imagining it. "That's not possible. You can't have."
"Hello – can, and did." Annoyed, that she doesn't take him on his word, stinging like the tail-end of the sensation in his arm. "What, did you slip some secret herbs and spices into the new batch?"
"No!" She's really confused now, a little flustered. Checks over the vial, then grimaces at him. "Wait – show me your tattoo."
It's all green, so there's no disaster, no fault in her method, no incorrectness in the data, no lapse of concentration. The liquid was definitely counteragent. Now she's bothered.
"Well what happened?"
"Like I told you. Got a buzz."
He rolls his eyes. Was she really this protected as a youth?
"You know. Like a…a…" How is he going to put this?
"A rush," she states for him. She understands. Not that protected.
"And you've never had this reaction before?"
She considers the vial, all the equipment again. Very odd.
"Well, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong… I just don't understand it."
Darien frowns and flops back on the Chair.
"Great. That makes two of us." He can't think of a better comeback, still feeling the jolting aftertaste of the shot.
She pats his arm, trying to reassure.
"Darien stay where you are. I'll try and find out what's happening. We'll need to run some tests on this."
She swings into full doctor mode, begins bustling. Ticked-off, the prospect of a lazy day ruined, he throws up his hands and looks to the ceiling.
"And my life is complete."
Nothing's coming up. It's been days of decanting, and blood work, and scope-work, and there's nothing. She can't figure it out, which really plagues her. She should be able to figure it out. She's just about to put it down to a freak occurrence – some reagent on his arm, some minute detail in the transfer… A one-off.
It's three days later when he returns – busy at the office. He's looking rather average. Hobbes has to help him in the door, he's in first-stage headache-o-rama. No smell-o-vision. Just sharp, lancing pain.
He staggers at the entrance, and Hobbes catches him, looks up with an appeal.
She's at the phone, and turns at the sound of them coming through.
"Yes, they're here. Yes… No – look I have to go." Hangs up abruptly, then quick-steps to the refrigerator.
Darien is clutching at his skull and panting. She fumbles the vial for a second, giving directions.
"Move him – in the chair."
Hobbes struggles his partner up onto the seat, watches for a worried second. Nothing's reached critical mass just yet, and the Keeper is already prepping the syringe, so he bobs his head towards her, then back at the door.
"You okay? I got Golda double-parked…"
Too busy for chit-chat, she nods, dismissing him peremptorally.
"What? Fine. Go. Darien –"
Snapping her fingers in front of his face, no games today. He's not too out of it yet to be aware.
"Is Bobby gone?"
He looks blearily towards the door. She knows what's on his mind, nods as she moves the tray closer.
"Yes." Curt. Does it bother her? Keeping little secrets is her job…
He glances at the needle, glances at her. The worst part of anxiety is not knowing whether you need to be anxious in the first place.
"Do you think?…"
She shakes her head, unable to give any concrete answers, in spite of all her research.
"I'm not sure. But we don't have a choice really."
"Great. Fine." Grunting, as a lash of pain makes him see red spirals. "Just give me the shot."
She pulls his arm down, watching his fingers curl up as the headache worsens, checks the syringe, taps the vein, swabs, slips in the needle.
Darien is staring at the syringe, she realizes. He looks strangely…hungry. Unnerving. His eyes flick up, sees her watching him – his face tints guiltily. She feels bad. It's not his fault, after all. She's supposed to be responsible for all this, and if she'd only managed to work out what was going wrong, then none of this would be a problem…
She sighs, then pushes the plunger in slowly.
His expression changes. Goes slack, mouth softening. The grimace of pain turning into a look of pleasure, his head rolling back, eyes closing as his back arches up gently.
Then she's the one feeling guilty, guilty for watching him, like she caught him getting out of the shower or something.
But she's a professional (hah - a professional what? voyeur?), his doctor, and she needs to keep tabs on his reaction. So she tells herself. Feels her cheeks pink delicately.
His breath is coming in short, soft gasps – it's stronger this time. His head falls to one side, exposing a tanned expanse of neck, where she can see the artery throbbing electrically beneath the skin.
Then it's over. He's in a light sweat, but that might have been the headache. When his eyes blink open to look at her, to see her observing him, she starts, then fumbles around methodically, withdrawing the needle and replacing it with gauze.
Instantly, he's embarrassed. For both of them. His released arm goes up to cover his eyes, voice a mumble.
She swallows, and reaches for professional courtesy.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. You're having a reaction to the counteragent and I can't figure out why – I'm the one who should be apologising."
"Darien, it'll be alright. Whatever this is, we'll sort it out and stop it."
He closes his eyes. There's a pang there that he doesn't like to put on display. Because for an insane second, he's not sure if stopping it's what he wants.
Conversing later over test results. He balances on the edge of the lab counter. She's frowning at her notes.
"So I've checked everything I can think of, but nothing's been changed."
"Well something's changed. You've seen what it does to me."
"Yes, but there's nothing here that tells me why you're reacting this way. Your blood chemistry, the counteragent itself, are all exactly as they were."
He sighs and unkinks his neck. When all the possible explanations have been ruled out, the only solution left must be…
"I'm developing a tolerance or something, right?" The idea of becoming a full-blown junkie, with all the implications, has him more panicked than he wants to admit.
Claire shakes her head. She's done the graphs on that.
"I really don't think that's it."
"Then what the hell is it?"
She expels a long breath, and the bad news.
"I don't know. I'm going to need to run more tests."
"Great." Picking at his fingernails grimly.
She's been weighing up her options, and this seems to be the last one available. She broaches it gently.
"Darien, I want to administer the counteragent under controlled conditions. Hook you up to the monitors, try a scan – the works."
"It should help me work out what's going on." That's the light at the end of the tunnel, the dangling carrot.
"Should help you… Okay." Relenting, he shrugs. "You're the doc."
He trusts her, with the medical stuff anyway – that's good. She nods as she explains the procedure.
"So I'll need you to come in earlier than usual for your shot. Just before you hit three segments green. That way we won't have to worry about you going red-eye. I've asked the boss to hold you off any major assignments this week, so barring unforseen disasters, you'll need to come in by Friday."
His face flattens at mention of the Official. "So what'd you tell –"
"That I'm conducting a series of routine precautionary tests, part of your regular quarterly check-up." And she explains it with the same cool exterior she used when she explained it to the Official.
"Oh." His shoulders relax.
She gives him an encouraging smile. "So, we should have some answers, or at least some more complete data, by the weekend."
He frowns, not completely convinced.
"And this is going to help, right?"
"I'm sure of it." How sure is that? She makes her voice sound confident, for his benefit.
It seems to work. With a hitch of his shoulder, he swings off the bench.
"Okay then. Guess I'll see you Friday."
That's only four days away. She sits in her chair, watching him go, and makes a mental note to try and find some kind of anti-blush makeup for her face between now and then.
Four days, and then three, and then two, and then one…
And then none at all. He sits in the Chair, waiting with tightly reined impatience while she arranges flasks, tubes, notes, tray. Stuffing around with wires and the machines behind and at left flank. Not much longer, but then some.
Steadying the nerves. He pulls a coin out of his baggy pockets, and begins running it over the tops of his fingers, somersaulting over and back, and over and back. Bomb disposal experts often do leatherwork to relieve stress. Darien only has his fingers to play with.
Claire comes up from behind his shoulder, looking very efficient, a gaggle of wires streaming out of her fist.
"Open your shirt, I need to put these on."
More sticky tabs going onto his chest, a matching set for the ones at his temples. He feels like a piece of performance art. That done, she bustles away to do something else.
All this anticipation, so when's the big climax?
No – scratch that. Rephrase.
She snags his attention by dotting her pencil towards him, involved in examining a paper read-out.
"Do something. I need to check the monitors."
She flicks the pencil again.
"Quicksilver something. Anything."
He shrugs, looks at the coin in his hand. Suddenly a point of liquid mercury pools in his palm, blossoms up to cover his fingers, slithers over the coin. His visible lower arm shifts, the coin is tossed, and by the time it lands back in his hand the quicksilver has flaked away from both. A magic trick. Would you like to see it again? In slow motion, this time?
Claire is immune to conjuring – she's already checking over the read-out.
"Perfect. Okay, we're ready."
Finally. Everything has been tagged and wired and ordered to the nth degree. She clears her throat, rolls the tray over to his side.
"Alright. Here we go. Don't worry about what happens when the counteragent is going in –" What happens? Oh, that. Right. "- just let me record exactly what's going on. And hopefully we'll get something out of all the data."
"Hopefully." Her echo, looking sideways quizzically.
"Yes – hopefully."
She prepares the shot. Tra la la – everything under control here, folks, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to see…
His arm is already in place. She checks the tattoo, then swabs, and slips the needle in. Then glances up at him.
He was watching the shot, watching it all happen, but he just can't do it. It's…it's personal. Sure, he's seen her dancing around her own bedroom in a bathrobe, but this is different. He turns his head away.
Her voice turns it back again.
"Darien." Gently, the old 'this will hurt me more than it's going to hurt you' line. "Darien, you have to look at me. I'm sorry. But I need to keep an eye on your responses."
His face darkens, but he swivels back in her direction, keeping his eyes firmly focussed on a point somewhere over her right shoulder, nods unenthusiastically.
She sees him tense-up as she readies her fingers.
"Stop worrying. You'll screw up my readings."
Is that all? He snorts unhappily.
Her face softens compassionately. "It'll be fine. Maybe – maybe nothing will happen." Which she knows is an out-and-out lie. Twice is no coincidence. But she's trying.
"Maybe," he mutters grimly.
He nods mournfully, then makes an effort. Sighs out a breath, lets his shoulders dip.
She nods in reply. Then steels herself. This is the first time she's really allowed herself to watch what happens. She's already fighting the blood-rush in her cheeks. Having a pale complexion is a bitch.
She sighs, then pulls back to get a flash in the syringe. Got the vein. Okay…
Narrowing her gaze as she meets his eyes – this somehow makes her feel more professional, more detached. A clinical concern. He's staring at the syringe fixedly, expectation and anxiety and fear running together to form a thin gruel of sweat, tiny beads at the hairline.
Fingers working on automatic – keep a thumb on the gauze at the entry point to prevent a bruise, depress the plunger slowly…
Her eyes flick down to check the dosage line – then dart back up again when she hears his tight inhale. His eyes have widened.
Dammit. Twice is no coincidence.
And third time's the charm. She watches him blink unsteadily, fight against it, breath stuck in his throat. Then his eyelids go heavy, flutter down, and she knows who's won.
His breathing becomes imperceptible, mouth yielding, lips forming a silent 'oh'. In stasis, for a moment. Then she eases the plunger in a little further, and his chin lifts, neck lengthening, head going back to press against the cushion.
She doesn't need to look at the monitor to know that his heartrate has escalated – she can feel it, under the skin of her arm, near her elbow. Swallowing, she tries to stop her own pulse from mirroring. Pushes the plunger slowly. Watches his breathing as it starts coming faster, shuddering into staccato ins and outs.
He makes a noise, a quiet gasp, and his head rolls to the right, then back to centre. It registers in her brain that he's still aware of her presence, that this is restrained thrashing. She checks the dosage counter – barely halfway – and her fingers are coldly slippery on the plunger when she thumbs it in again.
The extra measure slipping into his bloodstream seems to erase his consciousness of an audience. His shoulders push back, one knee jerks up. Her eyes travel to his bare feet - his heels are kneading the padding of the Chair. His other hand, on the armrest, grips tightly, knuckles white. Outside time, outside awareness, his face has become pliant, gentle, a contrast to his body, which is twitching in tiny, convulsive spasms.
And she realises that her own breathing has become hot, rapid, small.
The-the periodic table starts with hydrogen. Helium. Lithium…then – um, …Berryllium. Boron.
She watches a perfectly formed droplet of sweat roll along his breastbone, trickle into the brown hollow of his stomach.
Carbon. Nitrogen. Oxygen…
The plunger has two lines to go. He makes another inarticulate groan, squeezes his eyes shut tightly, his lips trembling. His head falls forward as his hips push into the Chair –
And then it's over, and his gasps are becoming quieter, more gentle. Everything is coming to a slow, shuddering halt. His shoulders relax, and he eases his head back. His eyes are still closed.
Which is probably a good thing. Claire extracts the needle, tapes the gauze, busies the tray away to the countertop, and takes a long, blinking breath. She has a strong urge to press her cold fingertips to her cheeks, but that would be excessive. Instead, she begins putting instruments aside, for sterilization.
She hears him sigh out a hoarse breath behind her, his rasping whisper is not intended for her ears.
The first rule of good doctoring is always reassure the patient. She fixes a blank face, turns around to look at him, keeping her fingers in steadying balance behind her on the countertop.
"So. I think that went…quite well."
He glances up from massaging his eyeballs behind closed lids. Sarcasm writ large.
"No. Really." She moves quickly to check the reams of print-out, presses the appropriate buttons on the machines. "We have a lot of information now, and I just need to collate it and study it. It will take a few days, of course, but I'm sure that –"
" – and once I've managed to examine the evidence it'll be a simple –"
He's risen from the Chair now, monitor tabs ripped away exasperatedly. It's like a glimmer, the barest hint of darkness unleashed, and she remembers suddenly why she's always so careful. Being self-contained is her best defense.
Mastering frustration with a conscience-stricken sigh, he jerks a thumb at his chest.
"It's me, remember? Just…can you fix it?"
The unsettled note in his voice makes her frown. But she can't be handing out false hope like placebo candy. It's not only unprofessional, it's unfair. She assumes a calm, rational expression, eyes kindly, because most people find that comforting.
"I'll call you. First thing I know. I promise."
That's all the candy she's going to dole out, and it will have to do. He nods wearily, then turns to leave, buttoning his shirt.
She's about to swivel around again to her precious instruments, when she sees Darien look back. His shirt is crooked – he's mismatched the buttons, she realizes.
"Claire? Can I ask you something?"
He frowns softly as he considers the question.
"Why do you put your bathroom scales up on top of the lid of the toilet?"
Her mouth opens, shock, disconcertion, self-consciousness warring on her face. A hint of déjà vu.
What did you see, exactly?
Then she understands. This isn't the game. This is something else. A kind of 'I've shown you mine, now you show me yours' turn-around that cements an alliance. An alliance of personal details, of confidential knowledge. Of secrets. And he needs to know. To allay his fears.
Stammering. Quiet. Blushing. Because it's silly, and stupid, and insane, and she can't believe she's giving her tacit agreement by replying.
"Because…because Pavlov drinks the toilet water."
He stares, then nods.
"In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then
to hang a question mark over the things you
have long taken for granted."
Sunday night phone conversation.
"Darien, it's me. I've got it."
"You-you got it? Well that's great! What is it?"
"It's the counteragent. Something so simple – I knew it had to be. One of the chemicals I use in the production was contaminated, probably in storage. A trace element of a digitalis compound, the spiking in your blood pressure was the only clue. So then I just titrated…oh, it doesn't matter. What's important is that I know what's causing the reaction and now I can remedy it."
"Fantastic. I was – I was worried. That it was me."
"It's not you, Darien. So you can relax."
"Great. Now what? It's easy, right? We just get some new counteragent and –"
"There's a hitch."
Sigh. "Never easy… So, what's the hitch?"
"It'll take me eight days to prepare a new batch of counteragent. If I order the chemicals on Monday, and get them by Tuesday, it still means that we won't be able to give you a clean shot –"
" – until the middle of next week. Right."
"So. I guess we'll just…"
"…have to manage. Right."
"Right." A pause. "Darien, I'm sorry."
"Nah, don't be sorry, it's not your fault. You did great. Really."
"Well I'd hoped that we might be able to work this out sooner…"
"Hm. Oh well."
"It's okay. You did great."
"Thanks. I just wish I was able to – sorry, but what is that noise?"
"Huh? Oh. Popcorn. I'm makin' popcorn."
"You mean real popcorn, with a saucepan, and the stove…"
"Yeah. Something wrong with that?"
"No, no. It's just that Americans seem so fond of those little microwaveable bags, so I thought…"
"Nah. I prefer the real stuff. You know. Oil. Salt. Calories."
"Yeah. S'good. I was just getting ready to watch a movie."
"Claire. Please tell me you're not at the lab."
"I'm…not at the lab?"
"Well, I had to finish my notes, and then there was a computer problem, so…"
"It's late, you know."
A sigh. "I know. And I'm – I'm going home now. Soon."
"What about Pavlov?"
"Oh, my neighbour feeds him for me if I don't get home in time."
"So…wanna come over and watch 'The Seven Samurai'?"
A snort. "Hm. Well…" A pause. "No, I should – I should go."
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Well, okay then. But you're missing out."
"Right, my loss. But I should go."
"So you said."
"Yes. So. I'll, er, see you Monday."
"Maybe. Goin' to Guatemala on Monday."
"Oh. Well. Then I guess…I'll see you when I see you."
"Okay. Well – bye."
"Thanks. You did great."
"So you said. Good night Darien."
The door hisses open on Tuesday morning. His shirt is correctly buttoned this time.
The dynamic has changed. New game.
"Guatemala didn't come off then."
"Nah. False alarm."
"Hm." Thinking that it's probably for the best. She doesn't know how the counteragent will affect him if he's deep in need. The combination of QSM and the dirty shot could have…dramatic results. Best not to think about it really. She pushes her notes to one side and pats the Chair. "Come on then – jump up."
Prepping the shot, she notices him grinning at her. Disconcerting. Got his sense of humour back, obviously. She can't help but wonder what's going on in that medically-altered brain of his. What the gland has done under the hard cranial bones – pushing the soft lobes rudely to one side, sinking sinuous tendrils into the most hidden parts.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with the gland. Maybe it's just him. Darien – being a smart arse as usual.
His arm is already in position, and she taps a vein, places the cold syringe against his skin.
Then the door sounds again, and Eberts walks in. Darien folds his arm up quickly, smoothly, holds it to his chest with his thumb on the vein, post-shot pretence. She puts the syringe on the tray, and then after a beat, slips a piece of notepaper over it, covering the tell-tale hint of blue. Feeling odd. Wondering what's going on in her own brain.
He has his face turned away from her, smiling at Eberts amiably.
"Hello." The accountant's doughy face smiles back, blinking in the dimness of the lab. His eyes find Claire's. "Hello doctor – these are for you."
He steps closer and passes a sheaf of notes in a manilla folder across Darien, into Claire's automatically extended hand.
"Oh. Thank you, Eberts."
Eberts smiles politely in acknowledgement, then looks down.
"Mr Fawkes, if you're finished here you're required upstairs."
"Sure." Darien nods obligingly. "Almost done. Just need to, uh, talk to the Keep about something."
"Certainly. Well, I'll see you upstairs."
For want of anything else to do, Eberts smiles again, then nods at Claire.
She smiles tightly. Eberts, sensing that this is his exit, turns and leaves. The door is sibilant in his wake.
Darien watches the door for a second or two before turning back around slowly. He meets his Keeper's eyes, and there's a short contest to see who'll look away first. The mutual awareness that some unwritten protocol has just been breached hangs thickly, like smog in the air.
Claire has had some measure of practise at staring down the barrel of a microscope, so she has an advantage. This is one contest she's not about to lose.
Then Darien cheats. Folds his arm back down casually.
"So. Can I have my shot now?"
Claire squints at him, then sighs and turns for the syringe. Jaw twitching grimly. She holds it up in the air in front of his face. Keeping hostages – that's cheating too. So now they're even. Almost.
She glares at him, face serious, pronouncing each syllable in clipped warning.
"Don't do that again."
"What?" Darien baulks a little. "You want me to let Eberts see me –"
"I meant the position you put me in. Covering for you. Just…don't."
She preps the syringe again in silence, casting frustrated glances back at him. Mentally, she's thinking that this is getting out of hand. The whole damn situation. Hard to admit to herself, considering how she likes to maintain things all scientifically smooth and under control. But the chaotic, catalytic, medically-altered-brain-owner sitting in front of her could be out of her league. She clicks her tongue against her teeth in irritation.
Now he's doing his best to distract her. Staring is enough.
"You're watching me."
"Well, you're watching me."
"That's not funny." She frowns at him, annoyed. Narrows her eyes at his droll expression. "You're getting off on this."
"Thought that was kinda obvious," he deadpans.
"Oh ha ha." She slaps the vein in his arm. "You could at least try to be professional about it."
He grins in reply, happy to share his new philosophy.
"I am – maybe not professional, but hey, logical. I mean, way I figure it, this isn't hurting me, and I'm not hurting anyone else, so I guess the only option left is to just lay back and enjoy the ride."
"You're impossible." Rolling her eyes crossly, contemplating male venality.
His grin broadens at her discomfiture. She gets a flash in the syringe. There's a pause before she injects, and he sees her gaze flick up towards his face. Compulsive viewing. It's such a give-away that he can't help but smirk, then because it's a great opportunity, he gives her the old puppy-dog look.
"So does this mean you won't hold my hand?"
"No." Claire directs her flaming face at his arm. Her thumb is sweaty. Damn.
"What, no you will, or no –"
"No, Darien, I will not hold your hand. Be quiet."
"You sure? 'Cos you said 'no', so I thought –"
His voice is cut off by a gasp as she delivers the shot in one long push. His head is thrown back against the cushion as his back curves up gracefully. No breath, no thought, just intensity of sensation. It's not subtle, but it's certainly pretty to watch. His head rolls towards her gently, then he's blinking and trembling in the aftermath.
And she's trying to concentrate, really trying damnit, but it's difficult when she can feel the fingers of his right hand squeezing the tender skin behind her elbow.
Two days later and Claire is riding the elevator in a not-quite-third-class hotel, wearing, of all things, a baseball cap. She's (sigh) in disguise. It all seems so ridiculous – let the boys play their silly games, she prefers to stay well out of it. But duty calls.
In fact, it was Bobby who'd called.
"Yeah, you heard me right. The Pandora. Room 611. And don't come in your usual threads."
"What – will I 'blow your cover'?"
"Very good, Keep – you're really gettin' the lingo down pat. Let me take you out to lunch one day and I'll trade you a few pointers."
Hah. Sorry, Bobby, but not in this lifetime.
"And what, exactly, would I be trading?"
"Ah, you know. Useful stuff. Like maybe how to keep my sidekick here from blowing my or his own head off, for next time he goes postal."
She sighs. Never easy…
"I'll be right over."
Her jeans and t-shirt actually make an agreeable change, but she doesn't feel completely at ease going into a potentially uncontrolled situation without her doctor's persona. The labcoat is always such a nice, comforting buffer. The best alternative she could hunt up on short notice was a beige men's suit-jacket – borrowed from Eberts, as point of fact. He'd been so polite when he requested that she try not to get it blood-stained that she almost gave it back.
Her medical gear is hidden discretely in a backpack, slung over one shoulder. She pulls it around to the front when the lights on the elevator ping disconsolately, and she's expelled into the corridor.
Finding the room is easy, but she has to gather herself for the knock, and the expectation of what she'll discover inside is curdling her stomach. No one answers, at first, so she tries a soft call.
"Ah – hello?"
The door is pulled open suddenly, and Hobbes is giving her a glare, his voice a stage whisper.
"I thought I told you how to knock."
Oh, that. The secret knock, which goes with the secret handshake and the special decoder ring. She shrugs diffidently, impatient.
"Sheesh." Bobby rolls his eyes, but hauls her into the room without ceremony.
It's brighter inside than she expected. There's a large window directly in front, garish curtains pulled half-way, but the room is still basic, and budget-small. She and Hobbes are in the miniscule entrance hall, the bathroom off a door at left, and the rest of the room opens out into enormous bed, bureau with television, single chair, end of story.
Darien's not hard to spot. He's the curled-up lump under the window, with one trailing hand chained to the radiator.
Her first thought is that he looks pale - his face is side-on, buried in his arm, so there's not much else to see. He and Bobby both look like they've been sleeping in their clothes, but then Bobby's clothes always look slept-in, so that's little to go on.
"So. What's the situation?"
"Ah, you know, the usual." Bobby shrugs, reholsters his gun. "Big guy here goin' poco loco – been overdoing it, I guess."
"I heard that, you know." Darien's hand gives a curt wave near the side of the bed. His voice is raspy. "I might be going mental, but I'm not going deaf." He's turned his head to face them, and gives her a wolfish grin. "What's up, doc? Hey – nice hat."
Claire notes his bloodshot eyes, and the nasty contusion under his right eye in particular, the bruise seeping up the edge of his cheekbone almost to the temple.
"Nice shiner," she returns evenly, before glancing back at Hobbes. "What happened?"
Bobby looks sheepish for a moment. "That was me. Sorry. No choice – things got a little out of hand, so I clocked him one."
Claire nods, understanding how things could get 'a little out of hand', then cautiously rounds the nearest corner of the bed. She sets her backpack down and begins gathering equipment automatically with one hand, keeping her gaze fixed on the unknown quantity in front.
"How are you feeling Darien?"
"You're ready for a shot then?"
Which brings a more immediate problem to the fore. Actually, she's been thinking about how to get Hobbes out of the room since she got in the elevator. It's a dodgy proposition – dangerously dodgy, from her perspective – but more easily facilitated with Darien in restraints.
And necessary. Because now, unfortunately, it's not Darien's reaction that she's trying to conceal. The mechanics of the situation have become inexplicably messy. Her own natural reserve is somehow at stake, and frankly, she'd rather not have an audience.
At least she managed to find a plausible excuse. She draws Hobbes' attention with a casual glance.
"Look, I need you to do something for me."
"Sure. What?" Bobby's eyes regard her obligingly, and she thanks god for a brief second that he's always so eager to please.
"Back in my car – you know my Jeep, here's the keys - there's a black bag on the front seat, with a brown bottle of chloroxylenol, and a packet of cotton gauze. I'll need it to patch up his eye. Would you mind going to get it for me?"
Bobby's eyes narrow automatically - years of practise make his instincts wave a little red flag, and it just doesn't gel with his sense of what's good and right in the world that the Keeper should be prey to something so human as forgetfulness. But it all seems kosher, so he shrugs and nods, turning for the door. Then turns back, frowning.
"You're gonna wait for me, right? I mean, I don't think you wanna try giving him his jolly juice without assistance –"
"Absolutely." Claire nods reassuringly. "No question. Thank you."
Hobbes hitches a shoulder, then heads out. The door closes behind him with a click.
There's a throaty chuckle behind her, and Claire turns around slowly to see Darien, pupils mere pinpricks, wagging a finger at her.
"Tsk, tsk. That was very naughty of you, Claire. You really gotta stop manipulating Bobby like that – he's hard up, you know."
Her guilty conscience was just telling her the same thing, so to hear it repeated makes her face darken.
She examines him grimly. He's lying on the floor, right leg pulled up, squashed in beside the bed, and the other stretched out lazily where there's open space at the foot of the mattress. His right arm is hanging in mid-air, the chafing of the handcuff around his wrist looking a little raw – she's really going to need that chloroxylenol after all.
He looks up at her contemplatively. "Hm. Now we've gotten rid of one problem, but still the question remains…how you gonna give me my shot?"
Mind-reading again. She ignores the flutter in her gut, the one telling her that this is a bad, bad idea, resolutely ignores him as well, and goes for the backpack, pulling out gauze squares, and the all-important syringe.
The plastic cap is still on, and she resists tugging it off immediately. Instead, she chews her lip as she thinks the logistics of the problem over. The variables – Darien's position, the number of feet of manouverable space, how far his arm's reach extends… It's not really adding up in her favour.
He's shaking his head at her – he's been watching her eyes move.
"Not lookin' too good, is it Keep?"
It's easy to bluff a blind man, but a crazy one? She fixes a bold stare, and demurs.
"No, no – it's quite doable, I think."
He grins and lays his left arm down on the carpet temptingly, the blue vein blushing under the surface of the skin. He waggles his eyebrows in scheming amusement.
"Come on, then. I dare ya."
She doesn't move. He's no spider, and she's certainly no fly. His face falls theatrically, and it's all a great joke – even in the first pallid glow of insanity, he still credits her with some intelligence. But he prods anyway, for good measure.
"Ah, come on, Claire." Full wheedle mode. "Let's tango – you know you want to… It'll be fun." Eyes dancing, full of promise.
"Somehow I very much doubt that."
She sighs, because she's running out of time. This has to happen soon. The syringe in her hand feels as heavy as lead, but she moves a step closer anyway.
Darien's lips smirk up in a gratified grin, and he lounges back in a deceptively relaxed posture against the radiator. "There now. See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"
His eyes are burning into her as he tilts his chin up, his voice lilting sinuously.
"Claire, Claire, Claire… Why do you always have to make the easy things so difficult?"
Her thoughts exactly, as she watches his face soften.
"It doesn't have to be this way, you know. You could ease up, enjoy the ride a little…"
It would sound so natural, so simple, if his eyes weren't practically glowing crimson. She's seen this transformation a dozen times, the devolution of adorable Darien, sweet-natured Darien, into this…this caricature, but it still never fails to astonish and disturb. And it doesn't make his siren-call any less provocative.
"You're words, Darien, not mine." She swallows around a dry throat and pops the cap off the syringe, then takes another calculating step.
His expression becomes impatient.
"Don't be coy, Claire. I've seen you blushing, remember? So what's the point?" Then his voice coaxes again, as he leans forward. "You could give in, you know – you just have to come…a little…closer…"
She takes another brave step, to a point near his sneakered foot, and the temptation overcomes him. He explodes forward, a striking snake, grabs for her ankle with his left hand, the jarring rattle of the handcuff an exclamation mark. She jumps back out of range rapidly, pulling in a startled breath. He's stretched out as far as it's possible for him to go, hand snatching at empty air convulsively, his eyes fiery and fixed.
Then the sudden movement seems to trigger a reaction in his metamorphasising brain, and he's wincing, gasping with hurt as he curls up quickly, clutching the back of his skull with his free hand.
And Claire's eyes narrow, because that's her potential 'in'. But the headache only lasts a second or two – she tries to time it, around her own harsh breathing – then he's rolling back, expression slack and pained. He mutters quietly into the crevice of his elbow.
"What a bitch…"
Is he referring to her or the headache?
"You're no fun."
"I'm not here for your entertainment, Darien." Although her heart is jittering like a wild thing in her chest, Claire forces herself to reply coolly. Think, damnit – how is she going to work this?
"Really." Recovering now. Deadpan and blackly serious, and still, despite everything, horribly, frighteningly perceptive. "But you're a liar if you say you haven't thought about it."
Her cheeks flare in response, and he takes it in with a sly grin.
"Yeah – you've thought about it alright." His eyes meander over her as his voice thickens sensuously. "All soft skin and sweat…those little moans…silky sheets, and you on top, 'cause that's what feels so good…"
She's getting desperate now.
"Darien, don't –"
"Don't what? Don't stop?" He leans toward her, breath husky, lips full and open. "Well what are you waiting for, Claire? I'm right here – even got the trusty little handcuffs on already, and don't tell me that doesn't turn you on… Come on, Claire…a little closer…"
Suddenly he winces again, sucking in agony, hand going up, chin tucking down, and this is her last chance, and she doesn't wait even a beat, just springs forward to kneel behind him, syringe up and at the ready.
So she misses his grin, only catches the cunning tone as he mutters "Gotcha" – then his head slams back into her face, knocking her backwards.
The baseball cap tumbles free, the pain in her nose and cheek is an explosion as she scrambles for purchase, for the syringe, on the carpet.
Darien whips around, his left knee scissoring up quickly to pin down her legs, and he lunges for her with his free hand, gathers her hair roughly, pulling her towards him, face flushed and close, eyes dark in a leering parody of an embrace.
"I knew you'd come round."
Then her hand closes around the syringe barrel, and her thumb is automatically, mercifully, ready, and she stabs the needle into his neck – somewhere, anywhere, to hell with the fucking vein – as she lets out a strangled wail.
And Darien cries out, and his head falls heavily, burrows into the crook of her neck, hot breath there, as his body jerks and tightens, and his hand squeezes around her shoulders. For one lightening second she's frozen, terrified, and then memory returns and she softens, props herself with one trembling arm as she lets the other one curl around his body gently, because there's no one to see, and he's unconscious now anyway, his head sliding down her chest to her stomach, then finally onto her thighs, the syringe sticking out of his neck like an obscene arrow, Saint Sebastien at the end.
So that's how Bobby finds them. Claire, sitting on the floor, legs skewed sideways uncomfortably, Darien's body stretched from the cuff, limp head in her lap. She's curled over him, brushing her fingers through his hair softly, mixing brown hair and blood together, because her nose is streaming, although she hasn't quite realised it yet – so much for Eberts' jacket.
"What the freakin' hell happened?" Hobbes' obliging eyes almost starting out of his head.
Claire looks up, glassy, blood dripping off her chin, with a weary sigh. What else is she supposed to say?
"Things…got a little out of hand."
"If you can dream – and not makes dreams your master;
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same."
Rudyard Kipling – If
Friday she took the day off. Getting out of bed potentially disastrous. She looked in the bathroom mirror to check the bruises once – more than enough – but apart from that, didn't do anything more strenuous than feed Pavlov and take the phone off the hook.
Saturday – slightly improved. Managed to go out long enough to buy ice-cream and put Eberts' jacket in at the drycleaners. Wore her sunglasses, and avoided her usual places of business, but still got pissed off by people's wary, slightly pitying expressions.
Mind your own business. It's not what you think.
So…what is it?
She doesn't know, and doesn't really want to contemplate it.
Later, propped up in bed in her darkened room, watching the Discovery channel with the sound turned down, she's feeling calmer. More contemplative – mellow, actually, after a G&T, and a cigarette from the pack she has stashed away behind the vitamin B capsules and the mouldering diaphragm back in the far recesses of the medicine cabinet ('Yes Pavlov, mummy is being very naughty' – a spiralling flashback of a wagging finger, 'Tsk, tsk…').
So what is it?
Pesky question. It's…war wounds. Responsibility. Duty of Care – all that palava. It's being the right person in the right place at the wrong time. It's being cursed with rotten luck. And two brothers – that's right, ladies and gents, count 'em, two – both so incredibly different, but both of them needing her in some way…
But better to ask what it's not.
It's not fate. It's not out of her control, and it's not bugging the hell out of her. Whatever it is, it's not conceivable, not within the doctor-patient framework. It's not going to last, because it's a phase. And it's not, in no way, never will be, emotional.
Feeling vaguely disturbed by her last thought, she tosses off the rest of her drink. The bubbles of gin warm her throat, make her feel much better. She snuggles down under the blankets, careful not to let the pillow press too hard on her sore cheek, and eventually – before 3a.m., this time – drifts off.
Sunday finds her – after the judicious application of extra hot water and makeup – feeling brighter. She stands above the phone for a long while with the receiver in her hand, listening to the steady drone of disconnected line, then with a wince places it back in it's cradle. As expected, it rings immediately. She waits for two jarring tones to go by before she rolls her eyes and picks up.
She relaxes; not the voice she'd thought she would be hearing, just the boss' sombre, almost calming baritone. She fixes a pleasant expression, although he's not there to see it, and lets the conversation flow.
"Good morning to you too, sir."
"You're needed at the office."
Right to the point – one of the man's virtues. Still, she hesitates a moment before replying.
"It's Sunday, sir."
"I understand. However, you're needed at the office." There's a beat before he resorts to bribery. "If you come in today, I think I can manage without you on Monday."
"Well sir, I'll need to give Agent Fawkes his medication on Monday, so I was hoping to take –"
"Correction. You need to give Agent Fawkes his medication today, because today he and Mr. Hobbes came back from their earlier assignment."
"Yes." He waits for a moment, then his voice continues, more gently. "But, as I said, if you come in today, you may take a personal day on Monday."
"Oh." Digesting this. "Well. Fine. I – I'll be right in."
"I understand, from what Agent Hobbes said, that you got a bit banged up on Thursday afternoon."
That was unexpected, and she takes a breath before answering. "Oh. Yes – yes I did."
"And you're alright, I take it?" The voice on the other end of the phone sounds almost fatherly, solicitous.
"Yes – yes, I'm fine."
"Good." Paternal overtures shaken off abruptly. "Then we'll see you in, say, twenty minutes?"
She sighs – back to business – and renegotiates.
"Make that half an hour."
Never one to pass up a bargain, the Official sounds like he's grinning down the line.
"Excellent. See you then."
And she's left with an electronic buzz, and a slightly nauseating, acidy feeling in her stomach – along with the usual tiresome drama of what to wear.
Just walk in, and give him the shot.
Just walk in, and give him the shot, and no angst-ridden apologies, and no 'Carry On Doctor', and no games-that-aren't-going-anywhere…
And no contemplating.
And no blushing.
She takes a breath, straightens, trips the door with her card, and walks in. Already be-coated, she feels pretty much prepared.
Darien is sitting cross-legged in the Chair, flicking through a medical journal that she knows is one of the more excruciatingly dry tomes in her collection. Immediately, he jumps up, wearing the expression that she has privately catalogued as his 'Mom, I know you're angry, but I can explain…' look.
Before he can start, she goes to her desk and dumps her briefcase and sunglasses, then turns without fanfare.
Whatever his mouth was open to say, it doesn't emerge. Not the way he wanted, anyway.
She's somewhat gratified by the gaping, the hushed tone, then breaks the moment by giving him a tight grin and pointing to his own eye.
But his face is so horrified, so suddenly and overwhelmingly guilt-stricken, that she's forced to look down. When she lifts her head again, he's still slack-jawed and blinking. Like he's had all the air sucked out of him.
Obviously, she's going to be the one to have to begin. Which actually suits her fine. She wants to clear the atmosphere.
"Darien, I just want to say first thing that I don't hold you in any way –"
Then she's put-off by his sudden nearness, hands on her shoulders, face close and searching for further evidence of his alter-ego's mindlessness.
"Oh God…are you – are you okay?"
It's dreadful, and sad, but her first instinctive reaction is to tense up. Look at a point somewhere, anywhere but his face. Lie.
A pause. "Claire – look at me, and say that again."
Feeling his grip tighten fractionally, and the response is automatic, my god, so tragically natural – she stiffens, and swallows, and stares coldly into his face.
"Darien, I'm fine. Do you mind?"
Split-second confusion, and then the unpleasant understanding. He removes his hands, steps back. This wasn't how it was supposed to go – got a free throw, but he's landed on the snake's head, and slithered all the way back down to the bottom. And there it is, that lightening-bolt shock of clarity when you hit the ground. Shit. He sits on the edge of the Chair, running a hand through his bed-hair, then over his face with a quietly disheartened sigh.
"Ah, geez, Claire…why didn't you just wait for Bobby?"
It's her turn to gape – the empty mouth of the volcano immediately preceding the eruption.
"Why didn't I…Excuse me, but do you really think I wanted to play out that charming little scene in front of Hobbes? Thank you very much, Darien, but not every damn thing is about you!"
She's shaking with rage, and has to turn and face the wall to contain it. Misses him biting his lip, contemplating the right response. She always seems so…self-contained. He's on unfamiliar territory now, making it up as he goes along. Simplicity is always the best.
An acknowledging nod at the wall gives him some encouragment.
"And…y'know. I'm sorry."
One apology from Jekyll and one from Hyde. It doesn't seem fair, even to her, that he should be begging pardon for something over which he has little or no control. She relents, and turns around with a sigh.
"It's alright. Really. It's fine. I'm okay, and my nose isn't broken, so there's no harm done."
"You shouldn't do that." A tilt of the head. Quiet, serious, and damn if he isn't still getting into her brain again.
"Brush it off like that. S'no good."
And he's right, of course. It's like an untreated canker – left on it's own, it festers. Deepens, sinks into the bone. But what else is she supposed to do?
Thinking for a moment – breaking the 'no contemplation' rule, oh well – but when she looks up again she's calmer.
"Thank you. I appreciate you apologising. Really, I do. But…it's…it wasn't you." Is she explaining this right? "It's a part of you, I know, but…it's not the part that I think of as you."
Oh, what a muddle. When she finds his face again, he looks understandably confused. But that's not the reason.
Frowning, soft "How do you do that?"
"What?" Make a mess out of a simple sentence? – it's easy really, you just…
"How do you…find that-that place, where you can keep two separate ideas of 'Darien', and still…just relate to…me?"
She hadn't thought of it like that. A little bewildered, she shrugs.
"I just…can. You do it, don't you?"
"Yeah." He's nodding wearily, hand ruffling that hair again. "I guess. But I still have trouble looking at myself in the mirror afterwards."
She gets a rush of compassion, and shakes her head at him with a small, sad smile.
"You shouldn't do that. It's not good."
"Why the hell not?"
Considers. She's careful with the phrasing because it's important.
"Because…I know that you would never - intentionally - hurt me. It's not the part of you that's you."
This triggers a thought, then another, in a little chain reaction that ends up with him narrowing his eyes at her, until the final awareness blossoms on his face like the sun peeking through clouds.
"You trust me."
She's blinking – how strange. When you see the full picture, it seems obvious then that it really is a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.
"Well…yes. Yes, I do."
He's smiling then, getting wider, and it's so breathtakingly sincere and sweet that she has to turn away. Distraction, please. She holds up the empty syringe.
"So. You should, er, get your shot. I'll just, er…" Back in bustle-mode, heading for the refrigerator, he snags her arm on the way through.
"You sure about this?"
Not quite certain what he's referring to, she nods anyway, and takes what she thinks is the safer option. "This is the last of the old batch. By Tuesday, I'll have a clean shot ready for you." Her lips quirk up automatically. "So, this is your last ride, okay?"
She goes off, and he's left gently amazed and elated, wondering how on earth he managed to get such a good dice-roll in the space of such a short conversation. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Now it's only a question of whether his luck is going to hold. His mind is racing as he watches her, watches the soft curve of her face. Ah, man… Is it too soon? It might be too soon – but heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Come on, Fawkes, you used to have guts…
By the time she returns with a blue syringe, he's managed to psyche himself up. Long legs dangling over the side of the Chair, sitting on his hands. Expression neutral.
"Can I sit up?" Eyes twinkling, hopeful.
Claire frowns, looks at his position doubtfully. "Darien, I don't think I can catch you if –"
"I won't fall, okay? Promise." He checks her worried look with that old stand-by, the puppy-dog face. "Come on. Last ride, remember?"
She still looks bothered, but now it's for another reason entirely. Apprehension vies briefly with her desire to surrender some concession, given the circumstances. And then there was the apology. And the smile. Finally, she yields.
"Alright. But if you give yourself another black eye falling on the floor, I take no responsibility."
He nods, all seriousness.
She's wary, but the situation has taken on a life of it's own, so she swallows back uncertainty – no blushing, remember? – and taps the glass barrel to prep.
"Right. Well, er…you should give me your left arm then, it's easier."
Darien pulls his hands out and proffers his vein obligingly.
With his height advantage, and the way he's sitting on the Chair-edge, Claire realises that they're practically face-to-face. And it's not until she's slipping the needle under the skin that she notices how this position allows her to stand between his knees. He's very close. She feels her face warm, and little sirens go off, somewhere in her brain, but it's too late now, and does it really matter? Last ride…
Darien's watching the syringe, watching her, and his breathing is already tight. She hasn't done anything. The barrel is still full, so why is he…
Awareness comes with a little blink, and her colour deepens. Oh. Oh.
Even more unexpected than the realization, is the sudden sparkling hum of delight that explodes and careers off inside her. Threatens her grasp on the syringe – oh god, concentrate…
She pulls the plunger back carefully, and hears his strangely bashful, stuttering whisper.
"Shh…" Bravado – where did that come from?
Then she pushes the plunger in slowly. And as he inhales, his eyes come up to hers, and the warm flush travels through his body to his face, and he wants her to see, to feel, just for a moment, what he's feeling as his eyes soften, whole body softens and hardens together, lips trembling, a shuddering, his eyelids getting heavier as his head tilts back and –
Claire grabs for his shoulder with her free hand, and his backwards momentum reverses towards her effortlessly, as his head topples forward to rest in the crook of her neck.
And she should be aiming for detachment but she just can't quite reach it, because his heavy, humid breath is tickling her neck, and yes, she can feel it now…the heatwave in his body, the air shimmering around them both as her skin responds, easing the plunger in another notch, and his right hand slides up to her waist, a steadying, squeezing grasp.
Her own breath thickens and hurries, she can feel him shiver, and Lord, he smells wonderful, and goosebumps rise when his faintly stubbled cheek grazes her neck, her jaw, panting…
She has to fight against closing her eyes, concentrate, god, watch the syringe slip past halfway – loses the battle when his lips find her ear, absorbs his whimpering moan back into herself, runs with it…
Until the syringe is empty, and he's nestled against her, dying tremors, and her fingers work the needle away, into her pocket for convenience sake, fold his arm up gently.
And free now to slip her arms around him tentatively, feel his trembling, her own hand fluttering shyly at his nape, as his breathing steadies - the ground still shaking faintly, after the quake, and the earth having shifted invisibly, mysteriously, a magic trick, to reveal a new Eden.