When he arrived at the storage facility, this time long before the sun had gone down, he had a package waiting for him. He removed one of the beers and set it on the desk before putting the rest into the fridge. He used the bottle opener to remove the top and drank half before even thinking about opening the box. He fiddled with a half dozen items in the room, before finally coming back to the box. The bottle dangling between the fingers of his right hand he used his left to wiggle the top off and gazed inside. There in amongst bubble wrap and filler lay a note. He set it aside for the moment, not certain he wanted to read it. Under the air-filled plastic lay an external hard drive.
It took him a second, but then he remembered that Alyx had said she'd be putting the Perseus videos on an external. This must be those files. He ran a hand through his hair, picked up the note, and opened it with some trepidation. Her handwriting was a surprisingly neat cursive. I've marked the files I think will be of the most use to you. Yes, including the one you most want to see, even though you shouldn't. Call me if you want to talk about anything. - Alyx.
He reread the note several times wishing she had said something more, something else, but had no idea what exactly he'd been expecting from her. Words of comfort, perhaps? Though why he would turn to her in his proverbial hour of need he had no clue. He drank down the rest of the beer as he stared morosely at the hard drive, knowing he would watch the scenes even Alyx had said he shouldn't in hopes of gaining some insight into his current troubles. Eventually though, he finished the beer and saw it as his time to choose: leave it in the past and unknown, or see for himself what had happened on that fateful day, for right now the day he had died seemed to be the only one that mattered. Yes, there could be all kinds of useful information on the videos, but right now his ending seemed to be the only one he really gave a damn about.
He plugged in the power, grabbed a USB cable to connect the drive to the server, and turned it on. Seconds later the icon appeared on the desktop, a drive named simply Perseus. He walked over the fridge and after debating with himself for a second, grabbed the rest of the six-pack, suspecting he would need the lubrication to get through this. He opened the bottle and drank half before settling into the chair and double clicking the drive icon. The files had been neatly broken up by date, most by week, though it appeared the ones she had deemed most significant had been modified and were listed by specific dates. It took a few seconds, but he still easily found the one marked August 10th 2000. He ignored the shaking of his hands and double-clicked on the file, which automatically started the video.
Alyx had clearly taken the time edit the video, taking shots from multiple cameras and locations the story played out before him, the timestamp in the bottom right corner showing him when each scene had taken place. Some had overlapped, the same space of time, but from different areas of the facility so that he could see and understand everything that had occurred that fateful morning. The events covered the space of about an hour, though the video he watched was almost twice times that length. So many events occurring in such a comparatively short span of time. As he watched and drank he could feel his shoulders tensing, the build up to the ending, even though he knew exactly what was coming, feeling as suspenseful as if he had no clue. When it happened, the hallway cameras following him and Darien as they ran towards the exit, hoping to make it out without being discovered. The words said matching those from the dream.
When they both said, "oh crap," he flinched and forced himself to keep his eyes open and not look away. With a mighty shove he got Darien out of the line of fire and then... and then blood exploded from his chest in multiple locations. He could tell that there would have been no saving him even had there been emergency personnel instantly available. Even as his dying body hit the floor Darien was up and after the attacker, Quicksilvering as he ran, so the man had no idea where he might be. After a short struggle, the man's hands went to his throat as if an invisible arm were wrapped about it. Mere seconds later his head twisted sharply to the side and the body went limp, neck plainly broken.
Then Darien was back, trying to convince his dying brother that he would fix everything.
But the Kevin on the screen before him knew that wasn't possible. He was a dead man, he still had a few breaths left, enough to convince Darien to protect what the had inside him with everything he had. Kevin let it play out, watching as Darien made his escape, though not without leaving a warning for Arnaud on the body of the man he'd killed.
Once the crappy Fish and Game van had pulled away with Darien inside, he hit pause, trying to wrap his head around what he had witnessed. Darien had killed the man who had shot his brother, something Kevin would never had thought possible given their tumultuous relationship. And, add to that Darien's continued need for vengeance, wanting Arnaud to pay and pay and pay for the rest of his days. His brother loved him.
And that had to be one of the most shocking realizations he'd ever had.
Kevin slid the bar backwards until just prior to where he and Darien had run into each other, intending to watch the scene again. He had pushed his brother out of the way, but had no idea if it had been to save the man or the gland buried within his brain. That had been one of the many questions he knew Darien to have, and, after watching the video twice, Kevin still had no answer for him.
The beer was long gone, but the buzz remained, and the depressant effects had taken full hold of him. He had watched the video compilation through from start to finish twice and the penultimate scene, the one that had ultimately led to current situation, dozens of times without gleaning one more iota of information from it. He still saved Darien. Darien still killed the man in black. And he, Kevin, still died. Was still dead, and yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, had returned to this plane of existence to walk among the mere mortals again.
It was then Kevin knew he had had too much. Here he was, living in his brother's body and likening himself to the newly resurrected Christ. Did he have an ego or what?
Well, he had had one, once upon a time, but harsh realities had beaten it down, that and a few choice words from Alyx. Her tongue could be designated as a lethal weapon the way she could break someone with just a few words. She always seemed to know just the right thing to say to get her point across, whether to boost morale or knock it down.
He rubbed his face in his hands wanting to understand, hell wanting someone to talk to, but had no clue who to turn to. He picked up the phone and sent a quick text, deciding if there was no response to let it drop and not inflict his drunken musings on anyone else, but mere moments later the words whatcha need? appeared in response.
Since he was already in over his head he sent back, can you stop by the unit? I need to talk.
On my way, was the quick reply.
Mostly as a joke he texted back, bring beer, I'm out.
An LOL was the response.
Still, when she arrived some 45 minutes later, her arms were laden with bags, some brown and some the cheap plastic ones that usually came with take out in them. She strode into the room, the door closing behind her without aide; her abilities useful for everyday jobs as well as saving the universe. As she got closer, the airflow in the room brought him the scent of Chinese food, which made his stomach sit up and take notice. He'd been here for hours and had to admit he'd forgotten to eat anything of value since breakfast, which had been a very long time ago.
She set the food down away from the computer, then opened the brown bag and withdrew a six of some obscure local beer, followed by a bottle of tequila. He made a face; hard liquor had not been something he drank with any regularity, and after one taste of tequila years ago had decided then and there to never drink it again.
"That is vile," he stated pointing at the bottle of Cuervo Black.
She snorted. "Drank some cheap tequila during college, did you? This is nothing like that, trust me. Besides, it's for me. This," she withdrew another bottle and presented it to him, "is for you."
In her hands she held a bottle of fifteen year old Glenfiddich, which had probably cost her a small fortune. Sadly, he had never been much of scotch drinker either. Generally, the hardest his alcohol got was wine, and the occasional beer. "I'm not much of scotch drinker."
"Ah, but Darien is, and it is his palate you'll be using." She set the bottle down before him. "Plus, it takes too long to get drunk on beer and I'm guessing you're in need of a good one."
He shook his head, the buzz he'd managed to drag out for hours now long gone, leaving him stone cold sober and in need of the blur of alcohol to take the pain away. He rubbed his face in his hands. "What the hell am I going to do?"
She handed him a white carton with chopsticks stuck into it. "You are going to eat." She followed this with a bottle of beer, the top already removed. "And drink. And once you have a nice buzz going you're going to talk to me."
He nodded, digging into the pork lo mein with a hunger that blossomed in full when the scent hit his nostrils. He ate with such a focus that he noticed little about him until the carton was nearly empty and the second beer beside him bone dry. "Why don't you hate me?"
If Alyx were startled by the question, she made certain not to show it. She had kicked off her shoes, her bare feet propped up on the edge of the desk, the chair tipped back on two legs as she alternated between mouthfuls of some seasoned veggie concoction and long draws straight from the bottle of tequila. "Far as I know I have no reason to."
"But I ruined Darien's life and now have taken it over," he told her, all but whining in his slightly inebriated state.
"Kevin, you didn't ruin his life and last I checked you were working on getting him back. Or has that changed?"
He shook his head. "No... I just..." He trailed off not certain how to make her understand. He reached for the bottle of Glenfiddich, removed the cap and, after contemplating the merits of this move for a moment, raised it to his mouth and let the liquid slide down his throat. He set the bottle down, feeling the exquisite burn of aged scotch and realizing she had been correct, it tasted wonderful, Darien's palate more refined than he had thought given his preference in beer. Though that too, while seemingly low end, had actually been quite fine micro-brews. "Damn," he muttered. "That's quite good."
Alyx cracked a smile. "Why are you so surprised? You think thieves don't have good taste?"
"Not good so much as discerning." Kevin responded without even thinking about it. Of course, then he realized what he'd said. "Huh. Never thought of it that way. Is he more than a petty thief?"
"You're asking me? I met him after he'd come to the Agency," she reminded him, but the quiet amusement in her eyes told him a different story.
"So? I seriously doubt even the leash the Official tied about him stopped him. Hell, if I know Darien he'd want to pull off a few heists even more."
Alyx didn't blink, just raised the bottle to her lips and let the dark amber liquid slide down her throat. "He has his hobbies," she finally said, not intending to give anything else away.
Kevin might have been well on his way to seriously inebriated, but he still caught how carefully she chose her words. "Holy shit, he's still stealing and you're helping him. You've been giving him doses of your homemade Counteragent, haven't you?"
"Nope. First time he got a dose was when you received it."
He wagged a finger at her. "I caught that, you know. You didn't answer the real question."
She shrugged. "Does it really matter? Would it make you feel better to know that he's stolen nothing of grave importance, just having fun and keeping his skills honed? That he's teaching me skills the Agency hasn't and probably can't, and that he does it to make certain that when I have to leave that I'll come home? Judge him all you want Kevin, but I would suggest you get to know him first before casting those stones."
"I... That's not what I meant." He took another drink from the bottle. "Why did I save him? Was it for him or the gland?"
Alyx cocked her head, eyes narrowing. "Kevin, I have no answer for you."
He tipped his head down, staring at the floor between his feet. "I know you don't. I was hoping for some... insight, I guess."
"Insight into what?" She tipped the chair back down and dropped her feet onto the floor, her blue-painted toes just within his line of sight.
"This." He woke the computer up, which showed the scene of Darien holding his dying brother in his arms.
Alyx took one look then sighed heavily. "Tell me you haven't been watching that over and over again?"
"You want me to lie?"
She leaned forward and flicked him on the forehead. "You have a brain in there, use it."
"Don't want to." He lifted up the bottle and drank until he needed to breathe. "All I can see is me pushing him out of the way and then... then I tell him to protect what he has inside." He turned to look her in the eyes, those beautiful silver eyes of hers, and once again he felt that fist tighten about his heart and his breath hitch in his chest. It wasn't him, it was Darien who cared for her so deeply that his body would react even when he had been banished to the deep, dark recess of his own mind. "Did I bring him into the project to keep from killing another valuable agent?"
"I doubt that. The Official might have used that logic, but I cannot say with any certainty. I have the feeling you blackmailed your boss to get Darien out of his prison sentence. If Darien knows he's never told me." She took the bottle of liquor away, exchanging it for a bottle of water that had appeared out of nowhere.
"I hadn't spoken to Darien in years, it makes no sense that I'd do this, that I'd help him no matter how dire the situation. Did he call me or something?"
"Nope. You found about it on the 'net. Should be on the recordings, in fact."
"I found out about it on the 'net? You have got to be shitting me."
"Oh, so you want me to lie," she tossed back at him with a smirk. "It's amazing how alike the two of you are."
Kevin gaped. He had never heard anything so absurd. He was nothing like his brother. Of course, now he was his brother - some irony that - and he had no idea how to put things back the way they belonged, and more had begun to wonder if he should. Wouldn't he just be condemning Darien to more fear and madness. Even with Alyx's potential cure to dangle before him like a carrot, he'd still be forced to live with the current conditions, which would be considered intolerable anywhere else in this nation and yet it was allowed to continue as if it were a normal everyday occurrence.
"I don't know how to respond to that. I have no idea who Darien is, but I suspect that my preconceived perception of my brother had been shortsighted. I mean how could he end up with someone like you if he were the man I thought he was."
"Kevin," she trailed off shaking her head in obvious dismay. "I liked him as a bratty, potty-mouthed kid, why wouldn't I continue to like him just as he is?"
"Good question. Wish I had the chance to get to know him," he muttered, turning away from her and debating the merits of getting up for the Glenfiddich, but she effectively blocked him.
"You have all you need right here." She moved his chair aside, further from the alcohol, and began going through the files from Perseus. Once up on the screen, she shifted his chair until directly in front of it. "Watch." She hit play and stepped back.
On the screen were him and Darien, who sat on the floor in a lotus position. Kevin was giving him some suggestions on how to control the Quicksilver. Darien looked like he was getting frustrated when Kevin made some offhand comment that had his brother rolling in laughter mere seconds later. The banter continued for several minutes at the end of which Darien performed the requested feat with ease. The training session continued for about an hour with the two brothers talking and joking as if they had not spent half their lives ignoring each other or fighting over the choices they had made.
When the video ended, Alyx started another, and then another showing him tidbits of their time together at Perseus. Not everything was perfect brotherly love, there were arguments and disagreements, but overall the two of them got along, Darien's incredible skill with the Quicksilver amazing Kevin at every turn, but never seeming to be the focus of their discussions. Darien seemed to be just as enthusiastic about all the discoveries and progress they had been making, but then again all these videos were prior to the toxin presenting itself in Darien's system. Kevin could bet his enthusiasm had dampened by a factor of ten once the toxin had made itself known.
He stopped the current video and turned about to look at Alyx. "I liked him," he said, actually surprising himself with the words.
"Yes, you did. His past, your past, didn't matter. You gave him a chance and discovered your brother was something other than a petty larcenist. And he discovered you were something more than just an egghead who had his head buried in a beaker."
That drew a surprise snort of amusement from him. "The beer mugs... I had no idea... Darien and I didn't interact much as adults. The last time we spent any real time together we were still kids... barely teens really, since I went off to college so young. He'd already chosen his career path and it didn't mix well with the standard school system."
Alyx smiled. "No, I don't imagine it did, but he also didn't drop out and did well enough to get into medical school."
Kevin cocked his head at her. "How do you know that?"
"Kevin, I do know how to read a file." She patted him on the shoulder then turned about, leaning back against the desk. "Do you need to see more?"
He shook his head. "Yes. What went wrong? How did Arnaud manage to pull this off?"
"Ah, yes. Wondering why you didn't trust him." She didn't even turn about, a selection of videos moving to the front of the list. "You ready for this?"
He shrugged. "No, but I need to know."
She nodded and the first of the videos started. It was black and white security footage. Showing Arnaud in the server room, placing some sort of device into the machine over and over again, probably downloading data. After a few minutes he froze and casually picked up a fire extinguisher, spraying it across the room to reveal... Darien leaning against one of the computer racks, having caught Arnaud in the act of apparently stealing the project files. The scene culminated with Arnaud dropping the extinguisher on his own head and leaving Darien holding it as security arrived. Catching him in the proverbial act.
Darien protested his innocence over and over, but no one, including Kevin, believed him, ultimately leading to Darien being restrained hand and foot to a bed, the assumption, coming from Arnaud and not Kevin, being that the toxin had caused a paranoid mental break in Darien. Kevin simply hadn't believed his brother. Presuming that the supposedly upstanding Arnaud De Thiel had to be telling the truth over his lying, thieving, con-artist of a brother.
A mistake that turned out to be a fatal one.
And now the words he had spoken as they ran down the hall made sense.
"My fault... it's my fault..."
"Next time you'll trust me, right?"
"Next time I'll..."
He had no idea what he had planned to say next, but he could assume it would have been confirmation that he would trust his brother next time, instead of the words, oh crap, that had come from both of them at the appearance of the gunman.
If he had trusted him in the first place he, Kevin Fawkes, would still be alive. Well, maybe, things still could have ended badly had he trusted his sibling over his supposed friend.
Kevin looked up at Alyx, really wanting more alcohol in him before asking this question. "If I trusted him with the gland, knowing who he was, why didn't I trust him when it came to... to this?"
Alyx shrugged. "I can't answer that, I'm afraid, but I can make a guess based on known data."
Kevin shook his head. "No need, I can do that as well." He frowned. While professing trust for using the gland, he probably hadn't, least not without keeping Darien under close supervision and scrutiny, perhaps planning on never having Darien leave the facility until the gland had been fully tested and removed. Only the discovery of the toxic effect of the Quicksilver had changed that plan. Darien had never been supposed to go to work for the Agency. He had really and truly been nothing more than a guinea pig, used to test the modified gland and make certain it worked correctly, before removal and placement in an actual agent.
It made such perfect sense he knew it to be true, and would only need to confirm it with the Official. Then again, he could ask Alyx. "Was Darien only supposed to be a temporary host?"
Kevin sighed. "The Official didn't want to risk losing another real agent should something go wrong," he stated. "And somehow I talked him into using Darien."
"So I suspect," she told him, her voice soft and sorrowful. "You didn't use him-"
"Yes, I did," he got to his feet shoving the chair hard enough that it rolled across the floor and into a rack of equipment. "I used him and planned to toss him away when I was done."
"Kevin... yeah, that's what you did, but at the same time you saved him from prison. You wangled a deal: pardon for helping with the gland. Not that you told him about the gland then," she gave him a wan smile. "You were trying to help your baby brother the only way you knew how. You knew nothing about Arnaud's plans."
"Because I was a gullible idiot," he groused, rubbing his face in his hands.
"Because you trusted a man that had you had known for years. You may have wanted him on your team after the Cole failure, but it was the Agency who vetted him and approved him. The Official was just as snowed as you, and it wasn't until after that they made the connection between De Thiel and De Ferhn." She gently tugged his hands away from his face and encouraged him to meet her eyes. "It wasn't your fault."
"Then why does it feels like it was?"
"Because decisions you made led to the deaths of dozens of people," she stated frankly.
"Oh gee, thanks for that uplifting comment," he snarked, reaching for the bottle of scotch. She easily batted his hand away. "Alyx..."
"Not what you need right now," she admonished.
"And what is it I need," he snarled, not liking that she thought she knew him so well after only a few weeks of contact.
"Forgiveness," she said simply, then moved to wrap her arms about him.
He went stock still for a long moment, not sure what the hell to do. He may not have known, but the body he wore did. The arms coming about and wrapping about her much smaller frame, upper body bowing inward so that he could tuck his face into the curve of her neck, breathing in her scent, which had a strangely comforting effect upon him. His arms tightened about her, holding on for dear life.
They held that tableau for an unmeasured length of time, her tiny body seeming to take all the pain he felt and drawing as much of it away from him that she could hold and into her, until he felt... lighter. He pulled back first, sensing she would willingly remain in this position until he felt ready to move. "I'm not sure I deserve forgiveness." He took a half step back, hands still resting on her shoulders, hers on his hips as if knowing he still needed the physical contact.
"Of course you do. You had no idea Arnaud was anything other than what he had portrayed himself to be. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had."
"I just screwed up, big time."
"Yes you did, question is what are you going to do about it?"
His answer took no thought whatsoever, "Everything I can."
. . . . .
"Fawkes, you really shouldn't pull shit like this. My ass took a royal chewing when you took off yesterday."
"Sorry, Hobbes, but I don't really care anymore." Kevin had been tucked safe into his bed by Alyx in the wee hours of the morning, only to be awoken by pounding on his door just before nine a.m. by Hobbes, who had apparently been looking frantically for Kevin all night long, only a call by Alyx, assuring the agent that Kevin was safe, had eased his concerns.
"That won't stop the Official from dragging you in by force," Hobbes informed him, heavily implying that that particular idea had already been bandied about during Kevin's absence. "You need to at least make an appearance if you want him to give you some breathing room."
Kevin sighed heavily, rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand. He had a bitch of a hangover, but regretted nothing. He'd needed that drunk, just as Alyx had said. He wanted to get back to work, but wouldn't be able to until he lost Hobbes, who planned to stick by his side and make certain he behaved today. "Hobbes, I can't get my work done with you looking over my shoulder," he grinned as he gazed down at the shorter man, "so to speak."
"Cute, Fawkes, real funny that." Hobbes shook his head and stalked away while Kevin finished prepping the coffee, he'd been polite enough to make enough for both of them, they just needed to kill time until it was ready.
Darien had apparently become a coffee snob since coming to work for the Agency. He suspected it was more since coming to know Alyx, as it appeared that she had the means to afford the best should she wish it. So why did she still live in that crappy warehouse conversion? Hell, why hadn't she and Darien moved in together? Not that that would have worked too well in the current situation, but still.
"Hobbes, why does Darien still live here?"
Hobbes looked confused. "Why wouldn't he?"
Kevin gazed about the tiny apartment, which he imagined was perfect for thief that wanted to stay as unencumbered as possible. It certainly wasn't the last place he remembered Darien living in which had been a two bedroom on the beach he shared with a couple of roommates. "Did he live here before getting arrested, or just after?"
Hobbes blinked. "Uh, after I think. Not something I ever asked about really." He glanced around the place as if looking at it for the first time. "I'd assume after given how long he was... away."
"And he can't afford better?"
Hobbes shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. I got the impression that all he needs is here."
"Except Alyx," Kevin pointed out.
"Kid's got her own place, her own life," Hobbes said in bewilderment. "I'm not sure I understand the point you're trying to make."
Kevin sighed. "Neither am I, really." He leaned back against the counter, gazing down at floor between his sock clad feet. "He got a stable life, a stable job, a stable girl, yet he still lives in this rat trap when he could probably afford a place in one of the high rises downtown. So could Alyx probably, yet she lives out in the middle of a rundown warehouse district."
Hobbes paced the room. "Kid lives out in the middle of nowhere 'cause it's quieter." He tapped the side of his head.
"Ah," Kevin said, "that makes some sense anyway."
"Now, Fawkesy, here, I'm betting doesn't think he deserves anything better... including Alyx." Hobbes shook his head with a frown. "I never really thought about it till now."
Kevin snorted. "I hadn't thought about him in years... till I woke up like this," he gestured at the body he wore. "I have to wonder; did he trust me, or was he just so desperate that he felt he had no other choice? Prison for life or his egotistical brother's crazy experiment." He scrubbed his unshaven face in his hands. "He was backed into a corner and I took advantage of it."
"That's one way to look at it. You could also say that you saved him. Bakersfield ain't exactly a country club, and he would have been lucky to survive a decade."
"Great, saved him from one prison sentence and gave him another one," Kevin muttered, wishing he hadn't started this dead end conversation. "I'm not going back to the Agency. You can tell the Official that I quit."
"Now we both know that ain't gonna go over well," Hobbes pointed out in a droll tone. "Look, I know you got something going on outside the office, and no I don't need to know what, but if you don't play along you ain't going to be able to work on it. Least not unless you convince the kid to break you out and hide you, which I'm not saying she won't do, but you might be burning some bridges you don't really want to with this choice."
Kevin had to run through the whole statement twice before he could absorb it. Hobbes had an impressive ability to pack a lot of info into a complicated and convoluted sentence structure. That said, he was correct, and Kevin hated that fact. "So what do I do?"
"You go to work, you do your job, and you collect your paycheck like the rest of us schlubs," Hobbes walked over to Kevin, poking him in the chest as he spoke, "and don't rock the boat."
"But it won't do any good. I can't find the damn gene sequence."
"So, you know it's there right?"
"So figure out a way to work around it, or turn it off, or something. Finding that one gene can't be the only answer."
And that was the simple truth. Alyx had figured out a way around the problem, so could Kevin. If he could suppress just the toxin, without causing any side effects to the functionality of the gland... it wouldn't be a cure, and it wouldn't be perfect, but it would help. Kevin set his hands on Hobbes shoulders. "Hobbes, you are a genius."
"Okay, I can live with that." He scratched his ear. "Does that mean you're coming in... willingly?"
"Yes, Hobbes. Let me get dressed and drink some coffee and you can escort me before our lord and master for my punishment."
Hobbes snorted. "It won't be that bad."
"Yes, it will, but I have little choice in the matter at this point."
. . . . .
Kevin relaxed on the blanket looking out across the downtown skyline and the ocean off in the distance wondering why in all the time he had lived here he'd never taken the tine to sit on this hillside and take in the view. There was music wafting about from somewhere behind them and they were far from the only people to choose to spread a blanket and enjoy a repast on this beautiful afternoon.
He'd made great strides in both of his work goals. The hunt for a toxin suppressant had been going remarkably well, with several possible chemical mixtures already looking promising enough to begin preliminary testing. He had also finally gotten through all of Jennings files, and while no antidote or counter for the personality suppressor had been present, the full breakdown of the drug used had been, as well as the full description of how it worked and Kevin was already within days of his first test batch of drugs to return control to Darien. The mysterious Kat who had answered that phone number Alyx had given him, had been most useful and the lab equipment he'd needed had arrived the very next day, along with the assorted chemicals he'd requested. He wondered for an instant whom would be footing the bill for this endeavor, but knew it had to be Alyx, as she would clearly spare no expense to help.
Kevin watched as Hobbes removed his sport coat, tossing it back into the van, before grabbing the cooler he had lugged along for some reason. Yes, the blanket made the grass more comfortable and forced the chiggers and other creepy-crawlies to work for their pound of flesh, but did they really need to play the roles to the hilt? They were here at Alyx's request not for an actual picnic... or so he thought. The cooler definitely had ice in it based on the sound effects coming from within when Hobbes set it on the grass.
"Kid should be here in a few," Hobbes stated as he settled onto the blanket cross-legged. He opened up the cooler and withdrew two bottles, one of which he handed to Kevin who took it gingerly. He wasn't too certain he should be drinking after his over indulgence a few nights earlier. "How's the Keep?"
"Claire's fine, liking the idea of suppressing the toxin, which if done correctly, could allow the gland to be removed with fewer issues than currently. Finding just the right drug is going to be a challenge, but we've made a good start."
Hobbes shook his head while grinning. "Not what I meant. You two hook up yet?"
Kevin closed his eyes and took a deep breath before releasing it slowly. "Hobbes, I don't think that would be appropriate given the circumstances. There's a very clear doctor/patient line that should not be crossed... and if it hasn't already been, I certainly won't be the one to do it."
"First off she's The Keeper first and doctor second, and second... thank you. Like this mess ain't complicated enough without the two of you possibly... coupling, it would just be damn awkward when Fawkes gets back for good." Hobbes stared at the beer in his hand for a few seconds then asked, "He is coming back, isn't he?"
The older, tough as nails agent missed his partner and friend, and Kevin, playing the part or not, would never be an acceptable substitute. "Yes, he is. It just may take some time, I'm afraid."
"I can live with that. Don't get me wrong, Doc, it's been... interesting having you around, but..."
"I'm not Darien, I understand. Claire and I might have some unfinished business, but I only plan to say a proper goodbye."
"She want something more?" Hobbes asked, tone carefully neutral, and it was then Kevin realized Hobbes had a thing for the blonde Keeper.
"Hobbes, we had a relationship a decade ago, even if I wanted to revisit it, it wouldn't be the same, we aren't the same people. We had our chance," Kevin shook his head and sighed. "You can't go back, more, you shouldn't." He meant more than just his relationship with Claire and Hobbes seemed to understand that.
"What about the kid?"
"Alyx? She's with Darien, and makes him very happy from what I gather, I wouldn't do anything to compromise that," Kevin told him frankly. Yes, if they'd met before Darien had come in to the picture... maybe, but that would require some serious resetting of the timeline and while good, Kevin had yet to come close to designing a time machine. If he had, he most certainly wouldn't be in his current state of quite seriously dead.
"Ah," Hobbes stated effusively, making Kevin curious as to what had brought up this question. "Keep seems to think it's her keeping the two of you from hooking up."
Kevin frowned. Claire had taken his no far more personally than he had expected; but to accuse him of wanting Alyx instead... So, okay, the body wanted Alyx, and the dreams had been... pleasurable, but in the light of day Kevin saw her only as a smart, beautiful woman who cared for his brother enough to walk away from her job. "No and no. Alyx might need me to help with her current persona issues, but only because she can still feel Darien. Nothing else."
"Good. I'd hate to have to beat you up for making a move on his girl."
Kevin laughed at the mock violence in Hobbes' voice. At least Kevin hoped it was mock, because Hobbes could hurt him quite badly should he choose to. Kevin had zero skill at fighting and less at defending himself; a six year old could easily put him down. "And speaking of our girl..."
Hobbes spun about to see Alyx walking towards them with her usual messenger bag on her hip and a picnic basket in her arms. Playing his usual gentlemanly part, Hobbes got to his feet and met her before she'd made it halfway down the hill and took the basket from her.
"Urf. What do you have in this thing, gold bricks?"
Alyx laughed, the sound spilling from her and making Kevin smile in real pleasure. She looked like she had managed to get a decent night's sleep since he'd last seen her. Of course, he was sober now and could actually make heads or tails of what he observed.
"No, Bobby, just food." She swung the bag off her shoulders and let it settle onto the edge of the blanket, kicked off her shoes, and settled onto the ground. "Sorry about the roundabout requests, I wanted to throw off any Agency followers."
"Kid, what could be so important that you need both of us here. If the Official gets wind of us meeting, he'll know something is up. Something beyond whatever the Doc here is trying to do to get our Fawkes back." Hobbes didn't look all that upset to Kevin, but he understood the danger.
She opened up the picnic basket and began passing around plates and silverware. The real stuff, not plastic and paper that could be easily disposed of once they'd eaten their fill. No, she intended to take all of it home with her for reuse on another day. Damn, did the woman ever do anything small? "I think I know who's putting pressure on the Official," she said as she then began to remove containers of food. Containers that did not look to have come from a restaurant, which meant...
"You cooked all this?" Kevin leaned forward to sneak a peek into the basket and could not help but be amazed at the amount of food she had stuffed into it.
"Yep, needed something for my hands to do while I processed data," she answered, while Hobbes just stared at her, waiting for her to follow up on that bombshell she'd just dropped in their laps.
"Kid, who? What did you find out? And why did you want Fawkes here?"
"Fawkes is here because I have questions that only he has the answers to."
"Me? What could I possibly know about this?" Kevin really had no clue. He'd been woken up with the situation already having spiraled out of control.
"Not about this, Kevin, not directly anyway. Eat. You probably won't want to once I've started asking my questions."
"We have time, Bobby. I'll know long before anyone finds us, but with you babysitting Kevin they won't really have any reason to track him down." She reached into the cooler, pulling out a beer for herself. Kevin smiled when the top popped off without anyone having touched it.
"And they ain't following you?"
She shrugged. "They try, they fail," she grinned as she tipped the bottle up to her lips. "Have lots of people trying to track me down, none have succeeded."
Hobbes piled food onto the plate, eyeing her sideways. "Who else is following you?"
"Not sure, else I'd be making some very cranky phone calls to some very powerful people," Alyx told them, her look dangerous. She was not happy about being spied upon.
"Alyx, I don't want to put you into more danger-"
Alyx laughed. "Kevin, I appreciate the sentiment, but it's unneeded. Now eat, I spent all day cooking and don't want it to go to waste."
They ate and talked about nothing of importance for the next thirty minutes, just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful southern California weather. Alyx, even after a couple beers, didn't actually relax, the news she had keeping her tense and on alert. Hobbes didn't actually relax much either, especially after learning someone other than the Agency had been trying to follow his partner. It was clear on his face that he wondered if all of them had been under scrutiny by multiple forces all along.
Finally, after close to an hour had passed, Hobbes pushed his plate aside; the remains of the key lime pie nothing but a scattering of crumbs, and looked her in the eye. "Time to spill, kid."
She nodded. She had finished and cleaned up her own plates quite some time ago, just waiting patiently for the two of them to be ready. Hobbes had eaten his fill and then some, as if suspecting it might be his last good meal for a while, but, then again, it was Alyx's cooking, which, to put it simply, was fantastic. Little wonder Darien kept her around if she made certain to fill his belly with her culinary masterpieces.
"What do you remember of your father?" she asked as she leaned over casually and withdrew a few files and her laptop from the bag.
"My dad? Not much really. We never had much even before he left, my mom working long shifts to make certain we had food on the table, but when dad was there... he was there, if you know what I mean." Kevin ran a hand through his hair. He remembered his father as a gentle giant, always full of laughter and fun when at home, his job taking him away for weeks at a time. It wasn't until he had been much older that he'd learned his father had been a thief.
"I understand," Alyx said. "How old were you when you found out... what he did for a living?"
Kevin thought back. "Older, ten or eleven at a guess. I remember a huge fight between him and my mom when I was eight or so, and he left and never came back. I didn't find out the truth until I overheard a discussion between my mom and grams. They changed the subject as soon as they realized I could hear them, but the damage had been done." He shifted, sitting up to take up a position cross legged, finding it oddly amusing that Darien could do this at his age, when Kevin hadn't been able to, least not without his feet falling asleep in a short amount of time. "What does my dad being a thief have to do with anything?"
She smiled. "I don't think he was a thief."
"Kid, Fawkes, our Fawkes, freely admits he followed in his father's footsteps," Hobbes pointed out, only a hint of confusion in his voice.
Kevin added, "What else could my father possibly have been? A longshoreman?"
Alyx snickered. "Ah, no, though that would make an interesting twist to this story. Not that mine isn't a tad unexpected." She rubbed her eyes with one hand. "Like I said, I think I know who has been putting pressure on the Official."
"What does that have to do with Fawkes' father?" Hobbes questioned, looking as confused as he sounded.
"I'll get there, I promise."
"Who Alyx, who pushed the Official so hard that he brought me back from the dead for no real reason and drove you away," Kevin asked, willing to give her some leeway for now.
"A US Security Agency employee named Malachi Royce has been making requests for Darien's services for the last six weeks or so. The Official had been giving him the runaround when the far more polite no's didn't stick." She picked up her bottle of beer and drank, finishing it off. "I did some digging into Royce and learned he's the handler of a man who goes by the name Forrester Perdue."
Kevin blinked, recognizing that name. "My gram's maiden name is Perdue."
Hobbes scratched an ear. "Thought that would be Donovan."
Kevin shook his head. "No, Peter was my mom's side of the family. Grams is my dad's mom." He turned to Alyx, "You can't be saying that this Forrester Perdue and my dad are the same person?"
"I'm not saying anything, just drawing a logical conclusion based on the facts."
"Must be some damn good facts, kid."
She handed him one of the files. "Mason Fawkes' supposed incarceration record. Please make note of the dates while he still lived with his family."
Hobbes thumbed through the files hmmming at what he read. "Okay, what else?"
Alyx grinned and handed him a second file. "Missions performed by one Perdue Forrester during the same time period."
He thumbed through the file, went back to the beginning and went through it slower, and then a third time while also paging through the first file he'd been given, all the while his eyes getting larger and larger.
"Well?" Kevin, grumbled, wishing they would just come out with it and tell him.
"Your guess was dead on, Doc. All these dates match up perfectly," Hobbes told him in hushed tones, as if shocked as hell to learn the truth as well. He held out the files for Kevin to take, which he did with a sneer on his face, absolutely sure their evidence would fail to hold up under close scrutiny.
His surety stumbled quickly as he read, the dates indeed matching. "These mean little to me. I mean the dates he was in jail are pretty obvious but the others, the assignments seem pretty vague. In August of 1973 he was on temporary duty in Italy. Why is that of any significance? He was vet... Vietnam, I think. You saying he stayed with the military after?"
Alyx shook her head. "More like he got recruited. I have one more file." She held it out, but Hobbes got to it first. Instead of waiting his turn, Kevin scooted around to read over Hobbes' shoulder.
Kevin, even though it was unnecessary, flipped back through the two files he held, comparing the dates. "Wait. My dad was an assassin?"
"Is an assassin," Hobbes corrected without thinking. "Up until two months ago from the look of things." He lifted his head to look at Alyx. "Where did you get these from, kid? And how badly is it going to bite you on the ass?"
"Well, the arrest record I got from the great state of California, who never throws anything away, but conveniently scans everything into their electronic archives. The others are all from the Security Agency database." Alyx didn't sound the least bit smug even with the hint of a smile on her face.
Hobbes sighed heavily. "Jeez, kid. What does this have to do with the Agency?"
"Something has happened to Perdue and this Royce is looking for a replacement," Kevin stated softly, as the pieces fell into place, "and he wanted to keep it in the family."
"Christ," Hobbes muttered. "If he came looking for Fawkes... he could find you." He looked straight at Alyx.
"That was my conclusion as well. However, I've done any number of jobs for numerous clandestine agencies, many of which had full disclosure, so why does this Royce poking his nose into Agency business spook the Official so badly?"
"Maybe he's not looking to recruit Darien, but use him to draw my... this Perdue out," Kevin suggested, only stumbling slightly. He had always suspected his father was still alive, but, given his total abandonment of his family, no longer gave a good god damn about any of them.
Hobbes grunted. "Possibly. Though I think a deeper game is going on here. You got other info, kid?"
"But of course," she said with a flourish, opening her laptop and urging the two men to huddle close to look at the screen. "So, according to his military file Mason Fawkes was a sniper back in 'Nam, and a damn good one at that. When the war ended he got recruited to continue working, eventually ending up with the USSA."
"And somewhere along the way settled down and had a couple of kids," Hobbes muttered shaking his head.
"Why is that bad?" Kevin asked, not really understanding the dismay he could hear in Hobbes' voice.
"Even with a cover persona, you put everyone close to you at risk and they will be used against you at some point in your career." Hobbes glanced over at Alyx. "Even by your side if they think it's necessary."
Kevin didn't get what the glance meant, and pushed it aside for now. "Okay, so the government tried to cover his missions by saying he was in jail, why wouldn't he have told my mom the truth?"
"He probably wasn't permitted to read her in. The rules are pretty damn strict when it comes to revealing the truth, and... and if your mom thought his being a thief was unacceptable, what would she have thought about him being an assassin?" Alyx sounded sympathetic, as if understanding completely how hard this could be on a family.
"Shit," Kevin muttered, settling back on the grass, not needing to see the details of his father's career in the service to the government. "Where is he? My dad?"
"Not a clue," Alyx answered. "Gone rogue according to Royce, though I've seen no signs of that."
"You think Royce is blowing smoke?" Hobbes asked turning from the screen to look at Alyx who shrugged.
"I think something went down and Perdue left for a reason. What exactly, I will need to dig deeper to find out."
"Your spidey-sense is tingling," Hobbes commented making her smirk.
"Oh yes, but I don't know why. The impressions are still too vague to be of any real use. Trouble is as long as he's poking the Official with sticks this three-way stalemate will continue." She looked over at Kevin who met her gaze with eyes surely filled with pain and confusion. "I know this is a lot to absorb-"
Kevin shook his head and got to his feet, pacing about the blanket. "No, it makes perfect sense." He laughed bitterly. "Darien followed in dad's footsteps better than he ever knew. All that effort to be the best thief ever and it did nothing more than train him for his current position as a spy. Damn it. Did Pete know? Did he let Darien keep refining his skills knowing a job awaited him at the Agency? Did he die before Darien was completely ready? Have our entire lives been planned out?"
"Destiny is looking to be a bit more than the stuff of fantasy and romance novels now, isn't it?" Alyx said in such a droll tone that Kevin could only laugh in response.
"Sadly, yes. If the Emperor ever knew that Anakin had had children..."
Alyx giggled. "A misquote, but yes, like that."
Hobbes sighed. "A bit too much of the ego there, don't you think?"
"Only a little," Kevin argued with a smile. "So what do we do? How do we get Royce to back off?"
"We ain't doing nothing, Doc," Hobbes grumbled. "Now way we are risking your hide on this one. Royce is looking for a replacement hitter, if he gets his hands on you he'll quickly figure out he both doesn't have the guy he wants and the most useful weapon on the planet."
Alyx quirked an eyebrow at him.
"Kid, if Royce figures out he can stuff whoever he wants into Darien's body, he could have daddy back in a much younger body and ready for another twenty-five years of jobs."
Even Kevin paled at that statement. "Oh shit. That would be bad."
"Egon bad," Alyx agreed, causing Hobbes to snort in laughter.
Even Kevin got the reference, but he could not drum up any amusement for it. "And if he knew about you," he looked at Alyx, "you would no longer be working for the Agency."
Alyx protested, "I am not a paid hit man."
Kevin shrugged. "Maybe not, but all he has to do is find your weakness and you'd do whatever he wanted." He looked her right in the eye. "Tell me I'm wrong."
She flicked her eyes over to Hobbes, then back to Kevin, her lips set in a thin line of unhappiness. "Wish I could. Fuck."
"So what do we do?" Kevin asked again, knowing they needed to stop this now, before things spiraled even further out of their control.
"Kid, maybe you should talk to the Official," Hobbes suggested as he continued to peruse the additional information she had on her hard drive. "Damn, this guy is good."
"Very good," Alyx added. "And, aside from his handler, I'm pretty certain no one else had made the connection between Perdue and Mason Fawkes."
"But the fact that you have, puts you in danger," Kevin said, wishing like hell it weren't true. "You need to stay out of this. Let the Official handle it."
Hobbes ground his teeth. "The Official isn't handling it, he's hiding under a rock, and hoping Royce will get bored and wander away."
"Which he isn't going to do," Alyx pointed out. "Gods, what a fucked up mess. If he had just come to us in the beginning... And I have to wonder what Arnie kidnapping Claire has to do with any of this."
"Probably nothing, other than giving this Royce the opportunity he needed to make his move against the Agency." Hobbes reached for another beer out of the cooler, shaking off the excess moisture from the now melting ice inside. "Why does he need a hitter so badly?"
"Methinks I should find that out," Alyx said. "I have a feeling Royce might be playing his own game."
"Some off the books missions?" Hobbes questioned, his brow creasing in thought. "And Perdue said no. That could explain the whole gone rogue accusation. He pushed, Royce pushed back."
"And when the burn notice didn't work he went for the next best thing: his family." Alyx frowned. "Ah blackmail, how deeply thy wounds cut."
"Blackmail doesn't work if you don't care," Kevin reminded; the one and only flaw in their theory.
"You're making the assumption he doesn't care. Not being around does not equal not caring," she told him, tone cold, but pain in her eyes.
Kevin took a moment to absorb not only her statement, but the delivery and the wounded look in her eyes. "You saying he stayed away to protect us?"
"Fits the scenario," Hobbes agreed with a nod of his head.
"And we don't want to screw that up," Alyx said point blank. "We do not go looking for Perdue, we do not break his cover, burned or not. If the Official is unaware of the connection we do not change that, understood." She aimed a steely gaze at each of them in turn, waiting until she got definite nods of agreement.
"So we go after Royce," Hobbes said, as it was the only plan left available to them.
"No, I go after Royce. You," she pointed at Hobbes, "keep him," she hooked a thumb over her shoulder at Kevin who stood behind her, "safe and able to work."
"But if you need help-"
"I'll be giving you a call, promise." She closed the laptop and set it aside, ignoring Hobbes protests. "Now, sit and relax for a few minutes."
Kevin paced about a bit more, trying to process all the information he'd just been given. If not for the fact nothing about him had actually changed he would have sworn he'd just stepped from one reality to another. His father having gone from a small time thief who had walked out on the burden of a family to pursue a life of crime, to a man who walked away from the people he cared about most to protect them. It was a lot to deal with, Alyx had the right of that, but actually helped. He'd always...not hated, but never really cared about his father because of his leaving, and now... now he was just plain confused. The apathy softening in light of this new information even if it were too late by far for all of them. And... and the thought that he might have been watching them, if only from afar the entire time, just kind of freaked him out.
He sank on the edge of the blanket. "Oy, I think my brain is going to explode."
Alyx chuckled softly. "I can imagine. Felt the same when I found out the truth about my husband." She set a hand on his bare arm, her palm warm against his surprisingly chilled skin. "It gets easier."
"I hope so. My entire life... It's not what I thought it was."
"Sure it was, Doc. Your perception has changed, not what you did. All that's still the same," Hobbes explained, showing, though not a genius, he was still more than smart enough see things that were obvious.
Kevin turned to Alyx, who he was certain would understand. "This is insane."
"Yep, it is," she agreed, "and I doubt it's going to get any less so once I start really digging."
"Then don't. Leave well enough alone. Royce has no power over Darien."
"Yet," Alyx corrected, causing Kevin to frown at that one word that could be a serious game changer.
Kevin held his head in his hands. "I think I have a headache," he muttered.
"Here, this'll help," Hobbes said handing him an already opened beer.
Kevin took it with a sigh. It wouldn't help, not really, but it would blur the lines for a while longer and that... that was better than nothing. "Thanks."
Hobbes nodded. "Drink up. Come tomorrow we all have a lot of work to do."
Kevin choked on the beer. "And that is the understatement of the week."
Alyx just laughed and lay back on the blanket, her toes wiggling in the grass.
Hobbes was correct, best to relax and smell the roses while they could, tomorrow would come, as it inevitable does, and it would be a whole new ball game.
. . . . .
"Uh, Claire, what's going on?"
Claire pushed away from the computer and turned about, looking both tired and excited at the same time. "You were going to tell me the test results match the models and I was going to cheer and hug you."
He gazed about in bewilderment. "Why would I do that? And why am I in the Keep?"
Claire got to her feet, the smile on her face fading as she moved closer to him. She took the pile of print outs from his hand without even glancing at them. "Kevin, are you all right?"
"Kevin? Sorry, wrong Fawkes brother."
Claire's face scrunched up in confusion, then paled as realization hit. "Darien? Oh my god. Darien, is that you?"
Darien gazed about the Keep feeling dazed and as if he'd way overslept. "Yeah, why is that so exciting?"
She all but threw the papers aside as she closed the distance between them, her hands settling on him, as if looking for an injury. "Darien, Jennings injected Kevin with a personality suppressor, you've been... gone for a couple of weeks now."
Darien removed Claire's hands and took a step back. "Two weeks? Shit. Is Alyx all right?"
Claire burst out in near hysterical laughter. "You've been asleep for two weeks and your first concern if for Alyx? Are you certain you're Darien Fawkes?"
He frowned, not liking what he was hearing from the good Keeper. "Yeah, I'm sure. She here?" He moved to head towards the door, but Claire shifted quickly to stop him.
"No, she's officially taken sick leave."
"She's refusing to work until you're back," Claire explained.
Darien smiled. "That's my girl. So, I take it the Official won't be too happy to know I'm back." Much to his surprise his words began to slur towards the end as a searing pain began to build in the front of his head. He staggered, Claire catching him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Darien, are you all right?"
He shook his head, trying to fight the pain, afraid of what it could mean. "Damn it," he groused as the next wave drove him to his knees. Claire supported him as each wave broke higher and harder, making him moan and then all but scream in pain and then... nothing.
Slowly he got to his feet, wondering why he had found himself on the floor near the door to the Keep. "Um, I know I'm a klutz, but you'd think I'd remember tripping coming into the lab."
"No, I'm Kevin, remember," he teased. Then the significance of her words registered. "Wait, was Darien here?"
Mutely Claire nodded.
"How long?" he asked as excitement shot through him. He must be close if the drug he'd injected himself with in the wee hours of this morning had given Darien any control at all.
"A minute or two. Why?" Claire answered, urging him over towards the exam chair.
"Why? Because..." He stopped just in time; he'd nearly spilled the beans on his after hours activities. "Because it means Jennings' suppressor has a shelf life and appears to be wearing off or failing."
"But we're so close," Claire said only to receive a glare for her trouble. "You're right, of course. We can't allow Jennings to know. Has he followed up with those tests?"
"Yes, by just asking for more blood samples, which means he's looking for some marker we have yet to identify in my system." Kevin hopped off the chair, a hand running through his hair. "A marker he's finding. Which means I can find it as well." His excitement was palpable and he began to pace, mentally running through tests he could possibly run to find what Jennings had in his blood.
Claire set hand on his shoulders and spun him about, kissing him much to his surprise. "Claire," he squawked, pushing her away step.
"Hush. You don't want to be overheard, do you?" she hissed, then resumed kissing him. He wanted to push her away, but the moment his hands settled upon her his resistance failed. He really did want this, and for the time being was willing to give in and enjoy the moment.
Claire broke away first. "Kevin..."
He sucked in a long breath, trying to ignore the fact he'd lost his left leg somewhere along the way. "We have work to do. If the suppressor is breaking down then we are running out of time." He wanted to tell Claire the truth; that he had been working on a counter to Jennings' cocktail, but dare not. Better to let her assume that it was breaking down all on its own and not have to lie should the Official decide to question her.
Claire giggled. "After you've fully returned, I think."
He sighed. "Agreed." He checked the monitor, watching as a segment blinked to red before his eyes bringing him up to five full. He forced himself to calm down, trying to regulate his breathing and heart rate until the Quicksilver finally flaked away. "At five and not due for an inhibitor shot for a few days, if I'm counting correctly."
"You are. It will be ready with plenty of time to spare." She gave him the once over. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes. Was... did Darien seem okay?" He moved back towards the desk while Claire retrieved the print outs that had vanished from his hand while he'd been... elsewhere.
"Yes, Kevin, a touched confused of course, but seemed to be fine. He seemed most concerned about Alyx," she told him as she looked over the results. "Bollocks."
"Is Alyx all right?" Kevin asked.
Claire shot him a deadly glare that quickly vanished. "As far as I know, I've not spoken to her since she walked out. Talk to Bobby if you have any concerns. I was swearing over these," she waved the results in her hand. "Not as good as we'd hoped according to the results."
"Damn," Kevin muttered as he held out his hand for the papers to read over. "We're close though, I'm certain of that. If we can control the toxin..."
Claire nodded. "Exactly." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "We could break for lunch if you want some time to regroup."
He shook his head. "No, I'm fine. I'll eat a big dinner later. Let's get back to this."
She nodded and sat down next to him. "All right, where do we begin?"