A/N It's been pointed out that I posted an incomplete version of this yesterday. Here's the complete story! Sorry for any confusion :)
Blowing in the Wind 9/1/05
"Aw c'mon Bobby, please!" came the plaintive whine from Darien Fawkes as he was forcefully dragged down the dimly lit hallway leading to Lab One by his partner. "I'm fine, really, just need to get cleaned up a little, put some antiseptic on it and I'm good to go," he asserted, waving his bandaged left hand around dramatically whilst still trying, unsuccessfully, to pull away from the vice-like grip Bobby Hobbes currently had on his other arm.
"Uh-uh, no way my friend," Hobbes replied with a vigorous shake of his head. "I'm under strict orders from the Keeper – any problems with your hand and I have to drag you back here pronto. So, that's what I'm doing," he said, tugging harder on his reluctant friend as if to underline his determination to follow her orders.
"But…" Darien began again, unwilling to give up on his attempts to avoid the ministrations of his Keeper.
"No buts, ifs or ands there kiddo, this is non-negotiable," Hobbes stated in an uncompromising tone. "Or do you wanna mess around with this thing until you end up with your body parts going AWOL on you again huh?"
"That was totally different man," Darien insisted. "It was a million to one chance and the cut was contaminated by an experimental counteragent and…." He suddenly stopped babbling and lapsed into silence when he noticed the glare Hobbes was giving him. He let out a long-suffering sigh and knew there was no reasoning with his partner when he got that 'don't mess with me' look on his face. Admitting defeat seemed like the only option open to him by that point, so he grudgingly allowed himself to be propelled through the door of the lab when it swooshed open.
"Hi guys, what brings you down here at this time of day?" Claire asked as she looked up from the report she was reading at her desk.
"One uncooperative, pain in the ass invisoboy delivered as requested ma'am," Hobbes announced with an extravagant bow, keeping a restraining hand on his partner's shoulder.
"Why, what's wrong?" Claire asked anxiously, quickly moving over to take a closer look at her Kept.
A grimy and dishevelled Darien stood just inside the lab. With his eyes cast down, bandaged hand hidden guiltily behind his back and feet shuffling nervously, he looked every inch the epitome of a naughty schoolboy awaiting punishment.
"C'mon Fawkes, 'fess up," Hobbes urged.
"Well, my hand's kinda been bothering me I guess," he admitted reluctantly.
"Oh don't tell me," Claire said, rolling her eyes dramatically, "You've managed to mess up my handiwork from yesterday already, haven't you?"
"It wasn't really my fault you know," Darien grumbled unhappily. "The 'Fish sent me and Hobbes on a simple pick up mission, but the stupid SOB we were meeting got spooked and hid the package in a dirty great dumpster before we got there. Took me almost an hour to find the damned thing and you don't wanna know some of the stuff I had to wade through to get it!" he concluded with a shudder.
"Come on then, sit down and let me have a look," Claire requested in a friendlier tone, which only lasted as long as it took Darien to sit down and move his hand out in front of him.
"Darien! Look at this mess!" she exclaimed angrily as she saw the grime covered, tattered remnants of the pristine bandage she'd applied the previous day.
"Well, what do you expect?" Darien replied petulantly. "I swear Claire, some of the stuff was so rank it was about ready to walk out of that thing all by itself!"
"Yeah and when I contacted Eberts with a sit rep he wouldn't even spring for a freakin' pair of Marigolds!" Hobbes added in disgust.
"Alright, alright, I believe you," Claire finally admitted. "Now sit still and let me get this thing cleaned up before it turns gangrenous and I have to amputate."
Darien managed a nervous laugh as his Keeper unfurled the dirty bandage to reveal six stitches holding together an angry red wound across his palm.
"Well, it's definitely infected," Claire announced, probing the swollen flesh carefully before moving over to get her instrument tray and rolling it towards the examination chair.
"Oh man, I just knew it," Darien groaned dejectedly. "I guess that means more pricking, poking and prodding huh?"
"Oh come on now Darien, I'm only going to clean the wound, apply some antiseptic and put on a new bandage. That's not so bad is it?"
Throwing his friend a 'told you so' look, Darien leant back in the chair and closed his eyes, surrendering to the attentions of his doctor.
"Here, take these," Claire ordered, placing a couple of white pills into
Darien's uninjured right hand and offering him a glass of water.
"What are they?" Darien asked suspiciously.
Claire fought to suppress a smile. "They're only antibiotics and as I remember, last time you had an infection you were demanding copious amounts of them!"
"But antibiotics make me nauseous," he replied, pouting. However, an unsympathetic glare from his Keeper silenced any further dissention and he dutifully swallowed the pills.
He didn't notice Claire preparing a syringe and filling it with liquid from a vial she'd taken from the refrigerator until she approached him and demanded, "Give me your arm."
"Hey, what gives? You never mentioned anything about needles," Darien complained as he suddenly noticed what she was doing.
Claire gave him an admonishing look and said, "It's just an anti-emetic Darien, not poison. I'm going to give you a course of strong antibiotics to try and knock out this infection before it gets a hold and I think Bobby would appreciate it if you didn't pebbledash his van with your vomit, don't you?"
"Have I ever told you how much I love it when you sweet talk me?" Darien grumbled as he once again lay back in the chair, closed his eyes and held out his arm.
Choosing to ignore her unhappy patient, Claire administered the injection then patted him lightly on the shoulder. "I need to go inform the Official about your condition. I want you to lie still and get some rest until I get back, alright?"
As she turned to walk away Darien raised a hand to his forehead in a mock salute and muttered, "Jawohl mein Fuhrer."
"I heard that Darien!" came Claire's disembodied voice from the hallway.
An hour later they were heading away from the Harding building as Hobbes pulled Golda into traffic. He quickly cast a worried glance over at the silent figure huddled in the passenger seat and asked, "You okay buddy?"
"Not really," Darien admitted miserably. "I don't think the stuff Claire gave me is working." He fumbled with the handle by his hip, trying to open the window wider. He was hoping more fresh air would stop the pizza he'd had for lunch from making an unwelcome reappearance.
"You know, someone once told me you should eat strawberry jam if you're feeling nauseous," Bobby observed casually. Seeing a spark of interest on Darien's face, he continued with a smile, "Doesn't stop you from hurling, but it tastes a lot better when it's coming back up."
"Oh man, no fair!" Darien groaned, wrapping his arms around his protesting stomach.
"Sorry kiddo, no more bad jokes I promise. I'm just gonna pick up an overnight bag from my place then we'll get you settled at home."
"You don't have to baby-sit me Bobby," Darien protested. "I'll be fine."
"Sure you will, but it never hurts to get a little TLC every now and again my friend. Besides, the Keeper was gonna make you stay at the lab if I didn't promise I'd stay with you," Hobbes pointed out.
Darien shuddered at the thought of spending another night in the depressing surroundings of Lab Three and gave his friend a grateful look. "Thanks man."
By the time they reached Hobbes' condominium Darien was almost asleep, his face flushed.
As Bobby made to get out of the van, he patted his friend's arm lightly, feeling the unnatural heat under his hand. The sooner he got Darien back to his own apartment the happier he'd feel. "I'll be as quick as I can - okay buddy?"
"Uh-huh," Darien murmured drowsily, his eyelids at half-mast.
Unfortunately the intrusive noise of construction workers busily digging up the road a little way ahead floated into the open window, disturbing his attempts to rest. Instead, Darien allowed his sleepy gaze to aimlessly wander around the area until his attention was caught by a small video store across the street. It would have been very hard to miss with its windows plastered from floor to ceiling in posters announcing the release of the latest Disney film. He found himself mesmerised by the brightly coloured pictures featuring a young clownfish separated from his father and the tagline 'There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean – they're looking for one.'
"Poor kid," he muttered, as his eyes finally closed and he fell into a light doze.
By the time Hobbes returned to the van all hell had broken loose at the construction site and a ruptured water main persuaded him to take an alternate route along the coastal road to avoid the area. It added twenty minutes to their trip to Fawkes' apartment, but meant they could keep moving rather than queue in traffic for who knew how long until the problem was solved.
Ten minutes into the journey Hobbes' concern was rapidly giving way to irritation. Darien's face was still fever-flushed and his pupils were worryingly dilated, but he was squirming around like a three year old desperate for a toilet break and affecting Bobby's concentration as he tried to negotiate the road ahead. Eventually Hobbes glowered over at his best friend and snapped, "Fawkes will you quit squirming around as if Pavlov's given you fleas!"
"Hey Bobby, how about we spend some time on the beach, or maybe go to the zoo huh? Have a little fun ya know?" Darien suggested, completely ignoring Hobbes' request.
"Nope. The Keeper said straight home for you kiddo and plenty of rest, so that's what's gonna happen - capishe?"
"Aw! I don't wanna go home," Darien complained. However, the firm set of Bobby's jaw persuaded him not to push the matter and he pursed his lips, staring sulkily out of the window at the beach and the ocean beyond.
They continued on in an uncomfortable silence for the next few miles until Hobbes suddenly heard a click from the passenger door and turned to catch Darien attempting to open it.
"Fawkes, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Hobbes screamed, slamming on the brakes and pulling the vehicle to a screeching stop. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"I've got a really neat idea Bobby," Darien replied, his eyes glinting with manic enthusiasm. "I'm gonna find Nemo - wanna come?"
"You have GOT to be kidding me!" Hobbes barked in disbelief. "Get your skinny ass back in the van right now Fawkes, you hear me?"
"Aw, c'mon Hobbesy it'll be fun!" Darien assured his partner as he clambered out of the van and dashed across the beach, stripping off his shirt as he ran.
"Oh sure I can see what fun that would be!" Bobby Hobbes replied sarcastically, rushing to try and keep up whilst busily collecting the younger man's discarded clothing as he went. "It's the middle of November for chrissakes. Just be thankful we're in San Diego and not on the East Coast my friend, or you'd be freezing your cahones off right about now," he called just as Darien's pants dropped into the water.
"The tide is high but I'm holding on, I'm gonna be your number one…!" Darien yelled out tunelessly as he splashed through the surf. He ducked under the waves for a couple of seconds before emerging again holding his white briefs triumphantly above his head.
"Aw crap!" Bobby moaned quietly, "Just when did I lose control of this situation?"
"Oh Hobbesy, Hobbesy my little chickadee, you coming in or what?"
"Young man are you going to do something about your friend's disgraceful behaviour or am I going to have to find a policeman?" a stern voice demanded from behind him. "You do realise that nudity is not tolerated on this beach don't you?"
Hobbes whirled around to be confronted with the disapproving scrutiny of a matronly looking older woman. "Um, I'm sorry ma'am I am trying to get him outta there, but he's sick you see and …."
"Oh, he's obviously sick," the woman replied caustically. "Only a pervert would disrobe on a public beach and go cavorting in the water like that."
"Ah, I'm sorry I didn't mean it that way. There's something wrong with him…um, I mean to say, he's ill…" Hobbes stuttered unhappily.
"Not much wrong with him from where I'm standing honey!" a second voice commented brightly. Hobbes turned to see another woman approaching them. She was wearing a bright orange dress and had a large floppy hat covered in sunflowers drooping over her eyes.
"Marjorie! I'm shocked at you!" the first woman exclaimed.
"Oh Cynthia, when did you become such an old fuddy-duddy? What is it the young ones say these days? Ah yes - just chill man!" Marjorie replied with a broad smile and a wink at Hobbes. "I remember the days when a certain flower child was happy to 'cavort' around wearing nothing more than a dreamy look on her face, love beads and flowers in her hair!" She leant forward and whispered conspiratorially in his ear, "Damn near got arrested too!"
Cynthia turned a nice shade of crimson before having the good grace to smile sheepishly. Beginning to back away, she said, "Yes, well, I'll leave you to deal with your friend then shall I?"
"Yes Ma'am," Hobbes assured her sincerely.
"Oh, if I were thirty years younger...," Marjorie observed wistfully, allowing herself one last admiring glance at Darien as she turned to join the other woman.
Returning his attention to his wayward partner, Bobby was just in time to see him dive under the water again.
Darien surged back to the surface over a minute later and panted, "Hey Bobby, Nemo's not here. Think we should try Pacific beach?"
"What say you put something on and then we'll talk about it huh?" Hobbes suggested nervously. Skinny-dipping at this nearly deserted stretch of coastline was one thing, but descending on what was probably the busiest beach in San Diego was quite another.
"Why?" Darien asked petulantly. "Fish don't wear clothes."
"Man am I glad you don't go quicksilver cuckoo anymore, 'cause you're high maintenance enough without it," Hobbes grouched under his breath, before shouting over to his partner, "Look Fawkes, fish don't need sun block either, but we do and if you don't get your butt over here I can guarantee ya there's another part of your anatomy that ain't gonna be happy!"
Darien's face crumpled and he bit his bottom lip as tears filled his eyes. "Why won't you help me? A kid needs to be with his dad when he's growing up ya know?"
"Aw c'mon now, there's no need to cry" Hobbes soothed, taking in the sight of his partner standing forlornly in the water, his usually gravity-defying hair plastered to his head in small curls. "I'm gonna help you Darien, I just need to make a quick call first, okay buddy?" After a quick nod from Darien, he took out his cell phone to contact the Keeper, but before he could punch in the number, his partner's hangdog expression suddenly transformed into a beaming smile.
"Aw crap, what now?" Hobbes muttered, dreading the answer.
"I've got it!" Darien exclaimed happily. "A young kid, all alone in the big wide world, he's probably scared to death. I'm gonna have to go into," he paused for dramatic effect and lowered his voice to declare, "stealth mode!" With that, he let the quicksilver flow and dived back under the water.
Hobbes looked around quickly and sighed with relief when he noticed that with the approach of evening and a cooling breeze, the beach was now practically deserted. He flipped open his cell phone and pressed speed-dial.
"Claire, it's Bobby," Hobbes said without preamble when he was eventually connected to the Keeper. "We've got ourselves a situation down at the beach. Fawkes has gone nuts and he's splashing around in the water like a certifiable kewpie doll." He glanced back towards the ocean just in time to see Darien re-emerge, jumping exuberantly into the air and sending quicksilver flakes flying around him. Taking in a huge gulp of air and waving cheekily at his friend, he shimmered out of sight and dived once more.
"No scratch that," Hobbes amended into the phone, "he's acting more like a demented dolphin on speed and he's throwing quicksilver around like tickertape at a parade."
The Keeper's hurried, "Oh hell! Try and keep him contained and I'll be right there," was music to his ears. After relaying their position, he snapped the phone closed and, catching sight of a group of young men heading towards them, desperately wracked his brain for some way to 'contain' both his partner AND the situation.
Suddenly, as Darien resurfaced for the fifth time, inspiration hit and he began speaking quickly to stop his partner submerging again, "Hey there kiddo, I've got some good news. I just spoke to the Keeper an' she said to tell you she's already found Nemo and he's safe an' sound in her aquarium at the Keep with his dad - so you can come out now and we'll go see him there, okay?"
"Really?" Darien asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. So you need to come out of the water now…" Hobbes paused and looked down at the wet and bedraggled clothes in his hands. Fawkes was never going to struggle back into them, but they were definitely going to need something to cover him up. "On second thoughts, you just wait there while I go and have a chat with those young gentlemen heading our way," he said, indicting along the beach, "then we'll get back to the Agency, okay?"
"I guess – if you're sure…" Darien agreed reluctantly.
"Trust me Fawkes, everything's gonna be fine," Hobbes assured him whilst silently praying they could get back to the lab with no further problems. He turned away quickly and jogged along until he was in front of the group of men.
"Excuse me Sir, I'm a federal agent," Hobbes informed the man nearest to him and flashed his ID. "I need to ask you to donate your towel to me in the interests of national security and then vacate the beach immediately."
"Are you for real dude?" the young man replied, a look of surprised disbelief on his face.
"Nah, he's just messing with your head Bud," his companion said, dismissing Hobbes' claims. "Get lost ya weirdo!"
"Are you questioning my mental health?" Bobby asked with quiet menace, casually moving aside his jacket to show the holstered handgun beneath. "I'm simply asking for your cooperation, so if you'll kindly step away from the towel and return the way you came we can resolve this situation peacefully."
A collective gulp from the group in front of him was rapidly followed by a number of towels being dropped onto the sand and hands hastily being raised into the air.
"Um, sorry dude. No need for any trouble," Bud managed to choke out before following his friends' example and carefully backing away from the madman before them.
Hobbes gave a snort of amused disgust as the young men threw caution to the wind and turned to flee. "Your country thanks you for your generosity," he called after them with a nod of his head and stooped to pick up a couple of the towels before making his way back to his partner.
"Come on then Fawkes, let's have you," he called as he approached.
Darien looked deep in thought, but started to wade through the water back to shore. "You know I've been thinking…" he began.
"Oh, oh. What now," Hobbes muttered under his breath, before asking, "And?"
"Well, if Nemo's safe with his dad an' all, why don't we go do something fun instead of going back to the Agency?" Darien finished with an expectant smile. "Maybe go to the funfair, huh?"
"I don't think that's such a good idea Fawkesy. The Keeper would skin me alive. Besides, you need some clean clothes and I'd really like to grab something to eat."
"Well, we could always go back to that food court place we went to after Arnaud dosed me with the flu. There's plenty of restaurants there and they did have a roller-coaster an' stuff," Darien persisted. "I'll even drive."
"Mmm, maybe later, okay?" Hobbes replied falling back on the time-honoured ploy used by parents the world over to win the cooperation of their children, without actually agreeing to their demands.
"Aw, come on man. Please?" Darien whined, turning on the puppy dog eyes.
"Sorry kiddo, it's more than my life's worth."
"Oh man, you are such a wuss!" Darien stormed. "Claire doesn't ever have to know!"
As Hobbes just stood there implacably, Darien slumped his shoulders and suddenly capitulated. "Alright, fine. We'll do it your way," he agreed, standing still to allow his partner to wrap a towel around him. "But can I have a hug first?"
Hobbes was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with Darien's mercurial emotions and was momentarily stunned by yet another sudden shift in his young friend's mood. He gaped for a few seconds before stuttering, "Er, sure, I guess so." As Darien engulfed the smaller man in a huge hug and clung on tightly, Hobbes reflected that he was just about ready agree to paint himself green and sing the national anthem whilst standing on one leg if it meant he could go home.
"Thanks Bobby," Darien giggled after a few seconds, quickly pulling away and revealing his subterfuge. Golda's keys were now dangling from his right hand. "Sucker!" he crowed, bouncing around and dislodging the towel from around his waist. He dodged away from the other man's grasping hands and with a gleeful shout of, "Don't look Ethel!" he broke into a run, heading back in the direction of the van, with arms and legs – not to mention other parts of his anatomy - flying in all directions.
Offering up a few choice oaths to the fates, Hobbes set off in pursuit.
"Oh man, I can't believe you fell for that!" Darien yelled back at him as he approached the battered old van. Hobbes was busy talking into his phone and refused to make eye contact.
Just as he was about to step over the low wall that separated the beach from the road, Alex appeared from behind the rear of the van, moving towards him with her arms out to show she wasn't armed. If she was surprised to see him wearing nothing more than a tattered bandage on his injured hand, she didn't show it.
"Easy there Fawkes, I just want to talk," she assured him calmly. "The Keeper's worried about you and she asked me to take you back to the Agency so she can check you out."
Darien stood his ground and shook his head vigorously. "Not until I've…" he began before there was a barely audible 'phut' followed almost immediately by a sudden sharp pain. Looking down, he saw a tranquilliser dart sticking into his bare torso. "Aw crap, not again!" he managed to mumble before collapsing onto the sand.
Alex gave an indulgent smile and turned to see Claire emerging from the other side of the van, tranquilliser pistol still in hand.
"Nice work ladies," Hobbes remarked as he arrived at the scene. He bent down to wrap Darien in a towel and, with Alex's help, quickly bundled him into Golda. "Who's the sucker now?" he murmured affectionately as he slid the door closed.
"Come on sweetheart, it's time to wake up for me," came an intrusive voice into the comfortable oblivion of unconsciousness.
"Ung," Darien managed to groan, raising a hand to clutch at his pounding head.
"Headache?" the voice enquired as a gentle hand made soothing strokes across his forehead.
"Uh-huh," Darien managed to mumble, enjoying the sensation. "That's nice – don't stop."
"Alright, I'll make you a deal. You answer my questions and I won't stop, okay?"
"Questions? Why, what happened?"
"Well you seem to have had some kind of adverse reaction to one of the drugs I gave you yesterday…." She paused as a look of panic swept across Darien's face and she rushed to reassure him, "I've been expecting something like this for a quite a while now and I don't think it's anything to be unduly alarmed about. Prolonged exposure to the quicksilver in your bloodstream is bound to throw up a few anomalies like this every now and again. I just have to identify the cause of the problem and adapt any future treatments accordingly."
"Oh is that all?" Darien asked with more than a hint of sarcasm in is voice.
"Now whether it was caused by the antibiotics or the anti-emetic, I'm not sure yet," Claire continued without appearing to have heard Darien's comment. "Of course it's going to mean I'll have to run some more tests and I think it will be safer if you're confined to the Agency until I can work this latest wrinkle out…."
"Aw no, please don't do that to me," Darien whined unhappily. "I just want to go home to my own bed. I promise I won't make a move out of the apartment without your approval and I'll get plenty of rest and eat properly and…."
"Darien you're babbling," Claire interrupted with a chuckle. She stared down at his unhappy features and mused, "You know, Bobby and I were talking earlier and we both agreed that if there was a world championship for Grouches you'd win hands down at the moment."
Darien smiled in spite of himself. "That bad huh?"
"You have no idea partner," Hobbes agreed as he stepped into Lab Three, closely followed by Alex and Eberts.
"Hey Bobby, where've you been?"
"He was a little frazzled around the edges after dealing with you all day, so I suggested he should take a nap in Lab Two," Claire explained.
"Dealing with me…? Darien echoed, experiencing a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Why, what did I do this time – or don't I want to know?"
"Well, let's see…"Claire began in a teasing tone, "Apparently you decided to ignore my instructions and tried to persuade Bobby to take you somewhere 'fun'. When he wouldn't agree, you decided to go to the beach, took a swim – attracting the attentions of a couple of nubile ladies I might add – then decided to go jogging.
"That's all?" Darien blew out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. His imagination had been ready to kick into overdrive, but that didn't seem so bad.
"Well the Reader's Digest version anyway," Hobbes concurred with a smirk.
Darien was about to ask for more information when he was distracted by Eberts' behaviour. The Official's second in command seemed very nervous and was obviously trying to conceal something behind his back.
"Hey Ebes, what've you got there?" he asked curiously.
"Um, well Robert told us about your…um…'quest' and Claire informed the Official you were to be confined to the lab for a few days, so I though you might like a little company." He brought his hands out from behind his back to reveal a glass bowl with a small goldfish swimming around inside. He blushed. "Not exactly what you were searching for, but I thought you could still call him Nemo."
"Gee thanks Ebes," Darien managed to say whilst staring quizzically at the goldfish bowl. What did Eberts mean by 'quest', and why bring him a fish to keep him company? An elusive memory began flitting around in the back of his brain, making him feel increasingly uneasy.
"Oh man, what did I do?" he murmured as he tried to focus on the annoying flashes. The others looked on in anticipation as images assailed him like flicking quickly through a colourful picture book.
"Aw crap, please tell me I didn't!" wailed Darien, draping his arm over his eyes as images of himself running naked along the beach started replaying in his mind.
With a quirk of his eyebrow, Hobbes grinned down at his partner, "Lets just say - the answer my friend, was most definitely blowing in the wind!"