Notes: Hi All! It's been a while, I know, but I've had a busy busy quarter with lots and lots of units, so it's been a little hard to get to writing. But, here's chapter 4 for y'all. Hope you enjoy it. (Oh, and it may be a little while before I get to the next chapter, since people've been bugging me to get to writing chapters to a few other fics of mine, so I'll be elsewhere in the world of writing for a time.)

Chapter 4

Waking up out of a drug-induced deep, dark sleep isn't usually high on my list of things I like to do, but for once that groggy, heavy feeling was the best I'd felt all day. It was one of those simple pleasures to just sit there for a little while, not realizing where I was or why I was there, just sure of the fact that I was relaxed with my own thoughts and no trace of Mr. Naughty or any other split personalities that I may be developing thanks to that thing in the back of my skull.

And then reality always rears its wonderful head. I felt the hard, familiar feel of my 'high chair' in the Keep beneath me, and felt a somewhat scratchy, presumably old government stock blanket draped over me. What the hell am I doing here...?

Oh... yeah, that... Crap.

"Ugggh...." I gurgled involuntarily when I forced my stiff body to stir from where it was resting.

"Darien!" Claire's voice resonated melodiously through the Keep, making me aware that she was only a few feet away from me. Let's see... by the sound, she was probably at her computer doing her Keepie things that blow my mind when I get nosy enough to ask her what exactly she's doing.

I tried my best to sit up, wanting to exact some control over myself, but felt the room pitch and back down I went with my head pounding again. I tried to raise my hands to rub at my face, but found a whole new pain greeting me from my right hand. I stared at it dumbly for a moment trying to figure out why there were multiple bandages and sutures marking my entire hand and forearm.

"Wha...?" I mumbled blearily, my vision focusing better at this point when I noticed Claire standing over me with her 'mother hen' look of concern and doting.

"You'd best be thankful for whoever came up with the ingenious idea of using super glue for small lacerations or you would have quite a Frankensteinian hand right now," she said with a bit of her usual admonishing humor.

"Aw, but you know how chicks dig scars," I countered hoarsely, trying my best to smile.

Claire grinned lightly. "I'm sure you'll have many more opportunities to smash your hands through glass windows in your line of work, and your usual reckless behavior," she examined the sutures and bandages with a light touch that only physicians and mothers can master. I wondered if Claire ever became a mother, then, would her touch be so light that it couldn't be felt? Didn't really have that much time to ponder that first thought when it dawned on me that I had, indeed, sent my writing hand through a rather large window in the Official's office.

"Oh, yeah... that did really happen, didn't it?"

"Urm hm..." she mumbled, since she was now preoccupied with shining her penlight into each of my eyes and began to poke and prod me. Under different circumstances, I would let Claire poke me wherever she pleased, but it does get a little on the obnoxious side when someone's always welcoming themselves to examining every intimate part of your body without even asking you first.

"Am I ripe yet?" I asked as she was pushing on my bare chest with her fingertips over and over again.

"Shut up," she retorted, still preoccupied with her examination. "Does your chest feel tender at all? Any pain?"

"Aside from a general feeling of throbbing all over? Nope."

"Excellent," she turned and wrote something down in the notebook on the counter behind her.

"Put something new in me while I was asleep? I hope that this one can make me fly; Superman sounds like a lot more fun than the Invisible Man, even with kryptonite," I joked, though somewhat downheartedly. There was was a bit of seriousness in that question.

"No, no, Darien... I'd never do that to you," she turned and looked down at me apologetically, "I was just making sure that my new tranquilizer gun hadn't inflicted any lingering damage. It was designed originally for use upon large mammals in zoos and such, so I wasn't sure if the cartridge load would hurt a human."

"Zoos, huh?" my mood was sinking fast. Each little tidbit of memory from my last stint into QSM would linger by itself, just long enough to make me feel completely rotten about it until moving on to the next wonderful event. "Why not? I'm just another wild, mindless, caged creature..." I began to sit up, fighting the dizziness with all my might, distressing Claire.

"Darien--! Don't say that... lay back down! You're body is still not recovered from the sedative and whatever abuse it has been through in the last few days..." she put her hand on my shoulder tenderly, but I didn't want anyone's touch, anyone's pity, and pulled away.

"Aren't you going to ask me why on Earth I didn't check the snake, or tell me that I shouldn't be so careless? C'mon, Claire, it's your line," I said dryly, looking her in the eye.

"I --" I don't often see Claire at a loss for words, or at least in a very delicate grasp for the right ones. She sighed, and I took that as my cue to take off. I wobbled around the keep for a little bit, silently searching for where my shirt had magically disappeared to, trying my best to keep up the front that I wasn't thisclose to falling like a tree in a forest with no one to hear it.

"I care about you, Darien," I heard her say when I had stooped down to pick up what looked like it could have been my shirt. I stayed there for a moment, gathering my thoughts, and felt her behind me, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Not only as your physician, but as your friend... I've noticed that you haven't been yourself lately, especially since the last mission, and I'm sure that Bobby has noticed as well. We're... I'm worried about you, and I'm asking you now, is there anything you want to talk about? Because, you know I'm always here for you."

I turned and looked up into those bright, sincere eyes of hers. She really wanted to help me, and for a moment I almost broke down with all my fears and depression right there in a heap for her. But...

What can you do, Claire? You can't just kiss my shitty life and make it all better... You've got stuff going for you, you're a useful member of society by no aid of something someone did to you. Don't taint it with me.

I stood up, where I got the willpower to do so, I don't have a clue, and stared at her for a moment.

"Thanks Claire... when you can help me, I'll be sure to come straight to you."

"You're sure there's nothing I can do?"

"Nah... I'm okay. Just moody me like always," I flat out lied with a smirk on my face. Wasn't really sure if she bought the line, after all, it doesn't take a genius like her to see through one of my lies.

"All right..." she said, sounding resigned, and turned to start cleaning up the countertop next to Satan's dentist's chair, and I stood watching her, my shirt in hand.

"Need anything else from me?" I asked gently. Honestly, I was feeling guilty for making Claire feel like she was being blocked out, and yes, I was doing exactly that, but I hadn't even intended on making my favorite Keeper feel useless and mistrusted. And so she felt bad, so I felt worse, which would make her feel more bad at not being able to help... and the vicious cycle continues on.

"You are due for blood work, but I took the liberty of taking a draw while you were still asleep, so you're free to go," Claire told me without turning around to look at me. So, feeling worlds more frustrated I headed for the door just wanting to get away and hopefully not run into anyone else and inevitably make them feel like an inferior friend. I was just about to press the keypad to open the Keep door when...

"...I'm sure I'm fine-- Hel-lo!" I heard the voice of Agent Cross coming from the vicinity of my chest, since she had swiped open the door a split second before my finger made it to the button. Her nose was pressed to my bare chest not only because she had walked into me, but there was a pursuant Bobby Hobbes right behind her who had collided into her, creating an Agent sandwich of sorts. At this point I realized that though I had possession of my shirt, I had failed to put it back on as I felt hot female breath straight between my pecs, (or as Bobby would say, my 'cleavage' -- he's just bitter that I actually have chest muscles to create some manly muscle cleavage... er, anyway...).

"Woah there! Sorry 'bout that," Bobby sputtered, backing off of her as quickly as possible. I'm sure he'd done enough already to make her want to get away from him that he didn't want to mess up more by squishing her into me more than he had already done.

"Not your fault--" she cut off quickly when she finally looked up, rubbing her nose, and realized that the person she had just been forced into a somewhat compromising position was the same guy who had attempted the equivalent of rape, battery, murder, and not to mention a lot of perv-ish dialogue and feeling-up, mere hours before.

Yeah... that's me.

I, for one, felt ready to hide under a rock as I looked down at her and found myself trapped by her stare. I noticed her eyes dilate behind her glasses and felt her freeze against me. Damn it, not another person traumatized thanks to me.

"Ah, Fawkesy, I see you're up," Bobby quickly interjected when he realized exactly what was going on in front of him, and delicately slid between us and began to shove me backwards. "Put your ever-lovin' shirt on," he muttered to me beneath his breath.

"Oh... yeah," I mumbled blearily and pulled it over my head absently, searching for a moment for the correct armholes.

"Agent Fawkes... are you feeling better now?" Agent cross piped up with a somewhat shaky voice as I fumbled with getting my shirt on.

"Me? Yeah, nothing out of the ordinary... a shot, some stitches..." I said somewhat muffled when I finally pulled down my shirt correctly.

"Typical QSM procedure," Bobby added.

"I'm so glad you're ok; I was worried that you might have gotten hurt when everyone jumped you, or when I, um, kinda flipped you over," she said sheepishly, biting her lip and nervously twining her fingers together in a way that I don't think I'd seen a girl act since Junior High.

"You were worried about me? Wasn't I the one doing the assaulting and... um... other not nice stuff to you? 'Cause, I didn't mean to do any of that to you... and I was kinda crazy at the time, but that's not a good excuse..." I stammered, looking at the floor, rubbing the back of my head absently again in my wonderful nervous way that will probably result in a hideous bald spot right above the gland sooner or later.
"I... ah... I just want to say I'm really, really, sorry, and I hope that you'll forgive me. I know I don't deserve it, and don't feel obliga--"

"I wasn't angry at you to begin with, but I accept your apology," she said gently. I looked up at her quickly, and she was smiling again, that wide, sincere, soft smile. I was surrounded by confusion.

"Huh?" I found myself hearing both Hobbes and I grunting.

"Danger comes with the job," she said, reciting back what all agents are told over and over again in their careers, but -- this is the female version of Eberts; none of us expect him to have to put up with being shot at or molested, or at least by his own colleagues. (Verbal abuse doesn't count!) "And, I did read the profiles that your Official sent on you, the gland, your colleagues; I can't blame you for something that's not in your control."

"You didn't read *all* of our profiles, didja?" Bobby asked delicately.

While he took a few moments to find out just how much she knew about him and his various psychoses, I took in what had just been said to me.

Why the hell does this not bother her? Why does it bother me that she's not angry at me? I'm angry at me! Not in my control... never in my control...

"Excuse me, does anyone actually need something in here, because I am trying to work," sounded the voice of Claire, who had snuck up behind us during our little exchange. She smiled with a 'I'm just being polite so you would hurry up and get the hell out of my laboratory' smile and waited for an answer. Bobby and I looked at each other, pointing fingers back and forth.

"I was just leaving..."

"I was followin', er, escorting Agent Cross..."

All eyes were suddenly on Agent Cross again, looking lost, obviously not used to the usual pattern of banter around our Agency.

"Oh... um.... .... ...! Oh, I came down to borrow a bottle of painkiller for Albert! He's taking it easy for the afternoon in the Official's office and I had volunteered to get him something and Mr. Borden said that Claire would have something, and... well, here I am... and you're Claire... and... yeah," and so she stopped suddenly, like a yappy dog toy when its batteries go out.

Claire softened. "Ah, yes, that's very nice of you. I gave him some ibuprofen after I finished examining his strained shoulder, so I suppose I could entrust you with the remainder of my bottle," Claire informed Alma as she dug through her painkiller cabinet that's used a little too often in my opinion, usually involving me, or some action of mine. She shook the bottle, listening for the pitch of the rattle to gage how many pills were left.

"Actually," Alma began somewhat hesitantly, biting her lip again when Claire glanced back at her, "he told me that IB tends to irritate his stomach more than it should. I was thinking that Naprosyn or acetaminophen would be better options, depending on whichever we have a higher dose of on hand... that is... if you think that's okay."

"I would agree, actually," Claire said sounding mildly impressed with the Agent's knowledge of non-perscription painkillers. Bobby and I both watched intently as Agent Cross' face lit up into that grin of hers.

I began to move out into the hall, remembering that I had been on my way to sulk before my plans had been so rudely interrupted by casual interactions that took my attention away from my little pity party, and I was thinking of going back to that little shindig as soon as I could -- and alone, I might add. Well, as he likes to say, 'nothing gets past Bobby Hobbes,' and as puffed-up a statement that might be, it's often a true one. He followed me as far as the door, which he kept ajar by standing by the sliding part, and snagged my arm.

"Yo, Fawkes... there's something about that Alma Cross there," he told me, pointing to her as she talked with Claire. I glanced over quickly; she and Claire were laughing about something now. Well... at least someone was making Claire happy after my act as a black hole of positive emotions.

"Yeah," I muttered, trying to sound as uninterested as I could.

"She's just so... so... sweet. She's got that smile; man, what is it with that? Bobby nudged me again, fixated on the two lovely figures across the room from us.

This time I couldn't act uninterested; I did have an opinion. "It doesn't belong here, that's what's with that. Too innocent, too sincere. This place'll only wear something like that away until it's gone forever."

Hobbes looked up at me, stuck in my far away stare at my caring Keeper and the forgiving Agent Cross. He stepped out of the doorjamb, which let the reflective metal door whoosh closed, cutting off my thought chain and vision. I was left with a blurry reflection of myself -- looking so tired -- and Hobbes with his his arms crossed and face set in a certain way. Crap. He was getting ready for a 'talking to' with his kid partner. My mind was running in circles trying to think of ways to get away from Bobby's guy-talk which I knew would result in cracking me more than Claire's gentle coaxing had. Jokes, jokes are good.

"I see you're trying to put the moves on Miss Smiles there. Not wastin' any time, are we?" I began, cocking a grin down at my short partner.

"There is competition in the air, my friend. Eberts, that smarmy mook of a partner she's got, and," he eyed me sharply, "I'm not gonna have to be beatin' your gangly hands offa her, am I?"

"No, no; I stopped being attracted to girls like that when I left Catholic school and found out why everyone was talking about the chicks that wore short skirts," I dismissed -- making particular care to be contrary to the advances of my less inhibited, maniacal side.

"Your loss, but hey, it'll save you the dissapointment of losing. After all, there isn't a lady out there who can resist the charms of Bobby Hobbes," he informed me with a poke in the chest.

"What about Monroe?"

"Not enough time with her, and I have more decency to be chattin' it up with her what with everything that's been happenin' with her kid."

"So, in other words, you've gotten nowhere?"

"Hey -- maybe I lack the motivation; after all, this is Alex "Five-Star Shrew" Monroe we're talkin' about," he told me, waggling his finger, and looking around to make sure that she wasn't about to pop up unannounced right when he was talking smack about her

"Right," I nodded, "So... how do you explain Claire not threatening to knock down your door every night to get to your body?"

"Like she's trying to knock down your door either--"

"Yeah, but I didn't just say that the ladies can't resist my charms."

"Shut it, Fawkes," he said, crossing his arms.

I smiled more, "And what about that chick at the bar last month who called you a toad?"

"Okay, buddy, this is now a closed subject."

"Hehe, I win."

"I said shut it!"

At this point I was pretty sure that I was going to be able to get away from Hobbes without any mishap -- which was good for me and for him. Heck, just playin' around with him for a minute ot two really raised my spirits in general; I was tempted to not even sulk while I spent some time in solitude. But... if there's another thing that I know about Bobby, it's that he can't just let something be, even when he should.

"Anyway..." he began as a transition, his voice dropping down into the 'indoor voice' that only comes out when he's thinking partcuarly hard about what he's about to say, "How you feeling now? Anything botherin' you about this last QSM episode... or, you know, about life in general?"

I rolled my eyes, not wanting to play along, "Are you trying to get at something here?"

"No, no... well... yeah, maybe, kinda. I mean, what's your partner to think when he finds your apartment a disaster zone and you lookin' like a wreck and hung over like a frat boy on a Friday morning?"

So he had noticed. Was I dumb enough to think that Bobby hadn't been concerned just because he hadn't pushed the issue earlier? I had hoped that at least he'd forget about it...

"And then to not check the 'countdown to mayhem' snake... I know you check that thing more often than I look over my shoulder for enemy snipers, and believe me, my friend, that's quite a frequency. I know you're not irresponsible unless there's something going on."

He had put a lot of emphasis on that last part, and he was being as honest with me as he could be. So what was I to do? What do you do when your best friend and one of the few people you'd trust with your life on a daily basis ­ someone like Bobby Hobbes -- is taking the time and effort to try and get through to you?

"Hobbes -- I don't wanna talk about it..." I said, forcing myself to turn away from him, clenching my eyes shut, a hairsbreadth from caving.

Yes, you cave when someone like Bobby Hobbes is trying to help you.

"Fawkes, look at me;" he grabbed my shoulder and pulled me around forcefully, something that Claire hadn't the physical power to exact on me earlier when she had tried a similar gesture. "Fawkes, you stubborn kid, look at me," he emphasized when I tried to keep my eyes on the ground. I looked up. "Good. There is something going on, but no one can help you -- not me, not Claire, not Eberts, not Alex -- if you don't talk."

A tears began to well up in my eyes despite how hard I was trying to keep them from coming.

Useless. Useless! A tool, a mere tool.

"You can't do a fucking thing! No one can!" I shouted, pain breaking through my face, and I pulled back violently. A startled, but listening Hobbes kept his eyes fixed on me. "You can't just make up a purpose for me. They tried that already and made me into nothing," I finished in hushed tones, feeling incredibly empty and worthless.

"Whaa...?" Hobbes looked at me with intensity and confusion. "Fawkes, you're making no sense at all. Are you just gettin' all moody about the gland-thing again? C'mon, they'll figure out a way to get that lump of genetically engineered garbage outta your head soon enough. And for now, you got us to pal around with," he said way too casually for my state of mind.

You can't see it, can you? You're supposed to be my friend, and you can't see how deep this goes? You can't tell that I'm defined by this gland, and without it I'm nothing. But I'm still nothing now. Just an accident waiting to happen; a liability on legs. A body for the trick up the Agency's sleeve.

"Pfeh... moody? Think I can just shake it off, huh? Maybe pop a couple'a pills like you to make the bad things go away? Leave me alone, Hobbes," I said icily and turned to make my getaway down the hall.

Of course, my remark had hit just below the belt, and Bobby, like any man, is sensitive there. "Damn it, Fawkes, would you quit being a child about this? Let someone help or shake it off," he tried grabbing my shoulder again, but this time I wasn't about to be stopped, so I shrugged my elbow back roughly and ended up catching Hobbes by suprise right in that one muscle below the chest that'll force all the air out of your lungs. He folded right over in pain, but more in the reflexive distress that comes from not being able to take in any air for a few, long seconds.

He looked up at me with hurt, angry eyes, and I suddenly realized that I had worked my magic a third time for the day.

Crap...

"Friends'll only put up with this self-pity shit so long, Darien..." he wheezed out before he began to hobble back towards the Keep. I was chiding myself internally over and over again, then looked up to see that Claire and Alma had been standing outside the Keep door just long enough to catch the juiciest bit of our little chat.

Damn damn damn.

"Bobby, are you okay?" the girls called out in unison, hurrying to him. Once again, I was the bad guy, so like the bad guy, I turned on my heel and walked out, letting the angry stares that I knew would be coming for me to burn into my back.

As I turned the corner, I brushed past a bruised and slinged Eberts, who eyed me warily while I tried to ignore him.

"Darien! The Official wants a word with you!" he called to me as I headed for the stairwell.

"Tell the Fat Man that he can have a word with my ass," I shouted back as I slammed the access door behind me. If I'm going to burn bridges, hey, why not burn 'em all?

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