Title: Testing Times

Author: Kazzoh

Rating: T

Summary: An old enemy is back in town with one objective – to kill Darien Fawkes. Can his friends save him in time?

Note: This is a sequel to 'Things Lost' and is set approximately nine months after the episode, 'The New Stuff'.

Chapter 1

Ever since I had this damned gland implanted in my brain I've been collecting enemies like baseball cards. So, over the last couple of years I've tried to take the words of General Joseph Stilwell to heart - "Illegitimus non carborundum". Translation? Don't let the bastards grind you down. Good advice, but just how many times can you dust yourself off and get back in the game?

A lone young man raced at full speed down the long, deserted city street. Darien Fawkes was running for his life and he knew it. Fear radiated from him like pure heat; if they caught him, his death would be swift and painful. Long, gangly legs ate up the ground, arms pumping frantically to try and increase the pace. Whatever Darien tried, he couldn't seem to shake them. They were close behind him and gaining fast. The faint hum emitted by his pursuers grew louder by the second and as his heart rate increased in response, he felt an all too familiar tingle. With a brief shimmer of silver, he disappeared from sight.

"Keep going, don't look back," a voice in his head encouraged. "You can do it, not much further."

Ignoring the burning ache deep in his lungs, Darien drew short, gasping, shuddering breaths and redoubled his efforts. His legs felt weighted with lead and he knew the primal urge to survive that had so far kept him fighting to stay alive was weakening. Adrenalin could keep you going beyond normal endurance, but it could only help for so long. Time was running out.

Darien knew he had to get off the street. It offered nowhere to hide, nowhere to take refuge. Turning into the next alley, he immediately realised his mistake. His steps faltered. There was no exit. The only way out was to return the way he'd come, and that wasn't an option. A door halfway up the alley was his only hope of salvation.

He rushed over and frantically tried the handle. It rattled ineffectually beneath his hand. Locked. Desperately Darien tried to force it open, but the door stood resolute against the pounding from his shoulder. Disturbances in the air behind him signalled their approach; he'd been found. The quicksilver hadn't fooled them for a second.

Turning slowly, Darien was faced with the heart-stopping sight of an amorphous swarm of giant bees directly behind him. He braced himself for the attack, but they just hung there, alert and poised, as if waiting for something. He edged to the right in an attempt to skirt around them, but they simply mimicked his move. A step to the left and they swung back to their original position. He was trapped.

A familiar figure appeared at the entrance to the alley and approached with measured, deliberate strides. He was wearing thermal goggles and a smile that would curdle milk. Quicksilver flaked from Darien's body like falling snow as he accepted the futility of further resistance. His chest heaved with the urgent need to draw air into his oxygen-starved lungs and his body quivered from exertion. Hair, slicked with sweat, fell limply into his dark, panic-filled eyes.

"Nice to see you Darien," Jared Stark purred evilly. "I told you I'd 'bee' back for you didn't I?"

If Darien had been in any fit state to reply, he would no doubt have been scathing about such a weak and obvious pun. As it was, he was paralysed with fear and incapable of coherent speech, his face a mask of absolute terror.

Stark slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out an electronic device that looked remarkably similar to Darien's tv remote control and started punching in a sequence of numbers with exaggerated precision. "Have a nice death," he gloated in a voice dripping with malice. As if to underline his last statement, Stark slammed his finger dramatically onto the final button of the code.

The calm hum emanating from the swarm suddenly changed. It was now a ferocious, buzzing cacophony. Darien had no time to react. The bees' frenzy increased to fever pitch and they swiftly descended to engulf him. Their stings stabbed and pierced his skin, depositing their venom with deadly accuracy. He could feel the poison coursing through his veins, burning like a fix of counteragent.

Pain became the full extent of his existence. It was difficult to concentrate, to breathe. Darien's ears were filled with a continuous high-pitched, agonising scream of torment. His vision blurred, the scene around him relentlessly spinning and whirling out of control. He staggered to try and maintain his balance, but his grip on reality was slipping. Everything became distant and muted and he finally succumbed to the pull of gravity, collapsing heavily to the ground.

Darien's final lucid thoughts were of his partner as darkness reaching out to claim him. Hobbes had never let him down before, but where was he now, at the end?