Michael stood looking over the grave site. When all this began a few weeks ago, this was the last place he'd expected to end up. In a few hours he would be flying to San Diego, to give a final report to the Official. Claire had flown back over a week ago, since her skills were no longer needed here and she had a job and a Kept who were both indeed in need of her. So he had been left alone to deal with everything that was left.

In some ways, he felt completely responsible for everything that had happened to her over the years. From the death of their parents, which left her vulnerable to that bastard she had married -- they all should have realized she was still badly hurt over it since she had been a witness to their deaths. He should have been more involved with her life, forced his way in, gotten her out from under Jess' abusive controlling thumb long before, but he'd been too involved with his work. It wasn't till she called him for help that he'd finally really gotten involved, and by then it had been too late.

If he hadn't walked out on her at the lab, had instead stayed and kept them from running those power experiments on her. Or if he had never forced the Official give her the option to come home. Maybe she'd still be trapped working for the government, forced into being someone she wasn't, maybe. Then again, maybe it was always what was meant to be, which is why things had turned out the way they had. Maybe what he had done was meddling, and this had been the only way to put things to right. Maybe that grand plan he'd run from was her destiny, maybe this was always what she was supposed to be, how her life should turn out. He shook his head at himself. He didn't believe in fate, at least not one that didn't require active participation on the part of the person. You make your own fate.

He paused his inward argument and self-imposed guilt and responsibility as 'Chele stood up from setting the flowers at the grave site. She was visiting this place for the first time since the funeral. She had felt the need for some closure with the man whose resting place she stood over. When she had woken two weeks ago from the induced coma, he had sensed the change in her. That change became even more deeply rooted in the weeks that followed as she took the time to retrain herself to use the abilities that had lain dormant for over a year.

He had forgotten exactly how powerful her abilities were at full strength. Her accidental turning on and off of lights and closing the stray door were minor little tricks compared to what she could do. She had completely fried the power in the house twice while trying to regain control. The local electricians were enjoying the windfall of having to replace a fair portion of the wiring, even while scratching their heads as to how it had happened.

He had to shore up her own deteriorated shields until she had once again mastered how to hold them waking or sleeping. Had to run her through all the very most basic training exercises over and over and over until the control was once again hers. It was actually easier this time around -- he wasn't having to fight her, to manipulate, trick, or lie this time. She was more than willing to get to work; her resolve was there this time. She knew this was how it should be, knew that this was part of what had been missing all those long months. This time she hadn't fought for the peace she needed, it was already there.

The real test had been the quicksilver, triggering it the first time, but that turned out to be far easier than either Claire or himself had imagined. Michele still had held a bit of disbelief that she could even do this thing, but with a bit of help from those memories, she was able to trigger the effect with little difficulty, and within days had once again mastered her control of it. For her, controlling the quicksilver was almost as natural as breathing, part of who she was -- always had been in fact -- but, as they now knew, she could and would die without it. Although it was somewhat selfish, he was glad he had been passed over for the Phase II experiment for the QSX program. His own abilities were more than enough to deal with, without also being able to turn invisible at will.

Michele looked over at Michael, giving him a genuine smile, and he was able to truly smile back. She hadn't looked this comfortable in months. She was feeling no pain and had readjusted to her new senses, and it was like the world had regained a color she hadn't known was missing. But now the real work was to begin. Now, she had to go face the Official.

Michele turned from her brother to look back at the gravestone she had placed over her husband, Jess. It was funny -- she had carried guilt all those months because she had thought she had done something wrong in defending her child and herself, but sometime over the last few weeks she had come to realize that she had done the only thing she could do. Jess had controlled her life for so many years because she had seen no reason to control it herself. She had allowed herself to swept up in a tide and be completely washed away by it. Had allowed herself to lose trust in everyone and everything, and he had played on it, had, in many ways, controlled her with it. Kept her under his thumb with it. Until one day she had realized that he was controlling the children as well. It still took her months to screw up her courage to call Mike, and then a lawyer. To begin the potentially dangerous process of leaving her husband. She'd never managed it, though -- the Agency had stepped in and stolen her away.

Even to her mind it sounded weird, but she was thankful that the Agency, with their private agenda, had freed her from Jess, freed her from her, in many ways, self-imposed captivity. Perhaps she had traded it for another form of captivity, but at least she had some say in how her life was run now, some say in who she saw, what she did, and the choices she made. And besides, it was bloody fun at times.

So she said her final good-byes to her husband and turned away, feeling no remorse, no guilt, and no anger, to face her brother and her future with an anticipation she had not experienced in years. She knew that her recovery had not been easy at all; her body had come damn close to rejecting the drugs, and at one point it looked almost as if she was having an allergic reaction to the serum. She had fought her way through, and now she was back to her old self and ready to cause trouble for the Official and the Agency.

Michele joined her brother on the pathway and he threw an arm about her shoulders as they walked back to her car. "Everything all right?"

"I can honestly say for the first time in a very long time, yes, everything is all right." She paused laughing for a moment. "At least until I have little talk with the Official. I don't think he quite knows what he's in for."

Michael joined her in the laughter. "You're right, he has no idea."

Darien sat on the grass, his knees tucked up to his chest staring out at nothing. Claire had been back two weeks and had been extremely close-mouthed about Alyx, much to his irritation. This time there were no slip-ups, planned or not. In fact, after several repeated attempts to get her to tell him how things had gone, she had point-blank told him to shut up about it. It had the effect of making him feel both angry and guilty. Claire was his friend, and none of this was her fault, but having heard nothing made him worry and conjure up all sorts of awful things that might have happened.

Of course, the fact that when Claire had finally returned he and Bobby and been neck deep in a really nasty kidnapping case hadn't helped matters. The child had been rescued unharmed, for the most part, but the hired thugs who had kidnapped him had been killed or had committed suicide and left them without knowing who the real culprit was. The kid and his family were still in danger, and that didn't sit well with either Darien or Bobby. Neither of them liked loose ends. And these days there always seemed to be a loose end hanging about for them to trip over in the future.

Which is why he was sitting here stewing over Alyx. She was another loose end grating on his already frayed nerves. He had stopped coming out here after the memory RNA incident where Kevin had left him with the gland and the madness, even after pleading with him to help, but after Claire had removed the QSM he'd returned to visiting. To forgive Kevin for leaving again. To admit that Kevin was right -- having the gland had made him a better person. Though there were times the anger returned because there was still no way to remove it and, for all the benefits, for all the good he was doing, for all the happiness he'd found with good friends, he still feared that every day the gland remained part of him the chances of it being removed safely were reduced by that much more. Did he really want to be a ninety year old invisible man? Provided he lived that long, of course.

Who would have thought he'd miss his brother just because he was his brother? For help, for money, for getting the gland out of his head -- those were reasons he'd expect to miss him, not just because he was his brother. Alyx and her family had given him a taste of how siblings could get along, and he wished he'd had that opportunity with Kevin. He had changed a lot in the last few years. At one time his goal was to avoid his brother, or even the mention of his name, at all costs. Now he would take the time to visit his aunt and talk about Kevin and the person he was, trying to learn just a little more about him. One thing he had discovered was that, although their lives had taken very different paths, they had become very similar people in many ways.

Ignoring all the other people wandering about the cemetery on this beautiful evening, he continued the mental musings on his life and the sometimes unfairness of it.

As Alyx -- here she was Alyx; maintaining an identity separate from her family was a necessary evil, she had concluded -- and Bobby approached Kevin Fawkes' grave site, she shook her head at the way her life seemed to wander in tight little circles. Just this morning she'd been standing before a grave across the country. They paused a short distance away and Alyx turned to Bobby.

"Looks like we found him," Bobby said to her. "He's been out here a lot the last few weeks." He'd been both shocked and thrilled when she'd called him earlier to let him know she was fine, in town, and to ask if he had any idea where his wayward partner was. He'd been more than willing to help her find him, and got her to agree to let him take her to lunch tomorrow. They had a lot of catching up to do. Over a year's worth of stories to tell and news to exchange and he was looking forward to telling her all of it.

Alyx watched Darien for a few moments, sitting slumped before his brother's grave, before making any comment. "Thanks for helping me find him, Bobby." She set a hand on his arm and he grinned at her.

"No problem, kid. Glad to help." Bobby knew this was going to be one hell of a surprise for his friend and called out to him in a voice perhaps a bit too loud for the solemnity of the location. "Hey Fawkes, someone's here to see you."

It took a moment for Bobby's voice to register, but when it finally did he turned to see his partner, feeling irritated at being disturbed. About to snap at Bobby, he instead swallowed his words when he noticed Alyx standing there. She was dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and a new black leather jacket, her hands stuffed into the pockets as she waited for him to react. Bobby laid a hand on her shoulder and she turned to smile at him.

"You can thank me later, Fawkes," Bobby commented with a wave before turning to leave the two of them alone. He figured Fawkes would stew and bitch for a few minutes, and then cave. Whistling brightly, he made his way back to where Golda was parked.

Alyx stood there patiently, her head cocked slightly to the side while he watched her. Wondering what was going on inside him, she broke the awkward silence. "I'm only here for a few days. Negotiating with the Fat Man."

He turned to look back out over the grave, not really ignoring her, but finding her way of suddenly reappearing with no warning a little painful. Once again he had been assuming the worst, since no one would tell him anything, and instead everything was just fine.

Alyx could tell he was upset, though she wasn't sure if it was with her or not. She was very careful to not pry, to not take advantage of that connection that still lay between them. Walking softly across the carpet of grass, she lowered herself down next to him, almost but not quite touching. "I missed you." She spoke softly as she looked at the headstone of his brother.

He still sat stiffly, trying not to react to her, but she was a real, warm, living presence sitting beside him. Tried to keep the joy, which wanted to bubble up and escape from him, from doing more than rattle about inside, bouncing off the walls of his heart. He wanted to hold on to the irritation, to be angry at her for not calling. "How long?" he asked, his voice tight.

Alyx knew he wasn't asking about how long she was going to be here; he wanted to know how long she'd been awake. Obviously angry that he hadn't known she was alive and well. "Couple of weeks." One hand came up to rub the side of her face. "I would have contacted you, but I had to get some control back first. The wiring in my house suffered greatly, though I think the local union is quite happy with me." She smiled wryly. "Mike told the Official I was okay, but, from what I understand, he was asked not to inform you because of the case you were on."

Darien just shook his head. So maybe news about her, good or bad, would have been a bit of a distraction... A distraction they could not afford on that case. It had been close enough for that poor kid and his family as it was. "Yeah, it was a bitch, but we wrapped it up days ago. Why wasn't I told?"

"The Official must've been concerned I wasn't going to come back to work for the Agency. Maybe he didn't want to get your hopes up," Alyx mused. Never had she claimed to really understand the man. His real goal was to keep the Agency alive, and with it to protect the country -- from itself if necessary.

"Get my hopes up? Like he gives a damn about my feelings," Darien snorted in derision, his voice low and angry.

"Darien, why did you go back to the Agency? You could have gone anywhere, picked any government agency in just about any country, even run away, just disappeared, yet you went back to the Official." Alyx, knowing Darien the way she did, already had a damn good idea of the answer, but wanted him to remember it as well.

"I... I felt right there. Here. With Bobby, and Claire, and Eberts. Hell, even Monroe. I fit in, not just another small cog in the vast machinery of government service." He had known this, had come to the decision months ago, which is why he was still here even though he could be free from it. He had found a place he belonged.

"If they had told you I was alive, but was not coming back here, ever, what would you have done?" Alyx shifted slightly so she could see his face, and he turned to meet her eyes while contemplating his answer.

"I'm not sure. I would have tried to work something out between us. I meant what I said; I don't want to lose you again." He searched her eyes, finding himself once again falling, lost to the brilliant color and the depths he found to her hidden in them. While he was no longer willing to walk away from the relationships he'd made at the Agency, he was also not willing to lose another woman to the fates. He'd fight to keep all of them in his life.

It was an honest answer, and that was all she needed to hear. "Well, seeing as I currently have no real place to stay in this town, I was wondering if I could crash at your place instead of some luxury suite in a hotel?"

He sat there, pretending to think about his answer, dragging it out for long minutes. "I don't know... I kinda like having the place to myself. I haven't moved, you know, still the same tiny apartment. And I know you can afford the suite with the hot tub and champagne. You might be more comfortable there, instead of cramped at my place."

Alyx moved closer to him and reached out with one hand to run her fingers along his jaw line. "Any chance I could persuade you?"

He did his damnedest not to crack a smile; he wanted to see how far she would take this, how far she would be willing to go to persuade him. "What did you have in mind in the way of persuasion?"

Moving closer, till she was mere centimeters away, she cupped his face in her hands and kissed him. He resisted at first, but she could tell he was doing it just to test her, so she changed tactics and pressed her forehead to his and let him feel how much she had missed him, how sorry she was he hadn't been told she was doing okay, how much she wanted to be with him now and for as long as he would let her.

She found herself pulled down across his lap, his arms wrapped about her, and his lips doing their best to make her melt.

"I take it we have an arrangement?" Alyx asked needlessly when she had a chance to breathe again.

"I'll have to think about it," Darien said, not bothering to hide the smile this time.

"Jerk." Alyx punched him lightly in the arm. Getting to her feet, she offered him a hand to help him up. "C'mon, let's go home."

"Yeah. I think it's about time," Darien said as he got to his feet and looked down at her.

Hand in hand, they walked from the cemetery as the sun finally dipped below the horizon and the first stars of the evening appeared.

// In the immortal words of my Sunday comic hero Calvin (who also had a feisty tiger of a partner named Hobbes) "That's the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn't good enough for me! I demand euphoria!" Now, although I admit to at one time emulating this hellion to the best of my ability, I am not quite so greedy. The happiness I had succeeded in finding was good enough for the time being. Euphoria could wait -- for a while. //