Catholic Agency Boys in Trouble
There's Something About St. Mary's

Pressing his face against the glass of the passenger side window, Darien allowed his eyelids to sag wearily, lulled by the familiar view of Beemers and Saabs zooming past Hobbes' rusted-out shit-box van in lanes to either side. It was hot, unseasonably so for September, and he was tired and bitter and hated the outfit - all black with long sleeves, long pants and, of course, a high, restrictive collar - that the Official had forced him to don when they left the Agency a few hours earlier. And to top it all off, Hobbes wouldn't let him roll down the windows. Lucky him, it was hayfever season. Eyes narrowed, Darien shot a glance at his partner. Though similarly clad and wearing an additional long black coat, Hobbes did not seem to be particularly perturbed by the heat and was chattering away about something that Darien could not be bothered to pay attention to. Cursing his partner's meteorological fortitude, Darien shifted the position of his cheek against the window, which was only marginally cooler than the sweltering air inside the van, and was thoroughly undelighted by the awkward squeak emitted by the motion of his sweat-soaked skin against the glass. A fresh bead of sweat emerged from just behind his ear, running lithely down the side of his neck and tickling him so unbearably that he was forced to sit up abruptly and swat at himself to make it stop. This action roused him sufficiently that Hobbes' soliloquy, which had been ongoing for at least half an hour despite the lack of audience, was brought sharply back into focus.

"I think I know what your problem is, Fawkes," Hobbes was saying, nodding to himself in vehement agreement. "I think you're nervous. I think you think you're going to crack up and go nutty without access to your Playstation and your headphones and your DVD player - and don't think I don't know what you watch on that thing, my friend - twenty four hours a day. And I understand your concern and you're right - I don't think you can take it. Me, on the other hand... I'm looking forward to this assignment. It'll be a chance to let Bobby Hobbes rediscover Bobby Hobbes. A little simplicity, a little solitude, a little spirituality... I'm a very spiritual guy, you know. Not many people realize that about me but its true. I've got a very Zen-like quality that only a few individuals are perceptive enough to perceive. You, on the other hand, I do not have high hopes for. Some people are just not cut out for a monktastic lifestyle." Hobbes allowed his sunglasses to fall to the bridge of his nose and shot Darien a knowing look before returning his eyes to the road.

Darien frowned, blinking. "Wait a minute," he said, looking sideways at the driver. "Hobbes. Did you just use the word 'monktastic?'"

Although his partner's eyes were shielded behind dark shades, Darien could tell that Hobbes was squinting suspiciously by the way the side of his face crinkled. "So what if I did," Hobbes muttered, pursing his lips.

"Okay, first of all the word is 'monastic.' And second of all you're worrying me. This whole assignment is riding on your being able to pull yourself off as a Catholic priest. I thought the Official said you were Catholic."

Hobbes, on the verge of retort, extended his index finger and then narrowly avoided poking Darien in the eye with it as he jerked the wheel with his left hand and the van went lurching off of the highway at an unmarked exit. Once they were safely off the exit ramp and a modicum of equilibrium was restored he looked earnestly at his partner. "I'm not Catholic," he said defensively, "I just went to Catholic School."

"Oh yeah?" countered Darien dubiously. "For how long?"

"About a week." Hobbes took a deep breath in through his nose and released it slowly as he contemplated the road ahead. Now completely devoid of other vehicles, the flanks of the obscure highway were becoming thicker with trees, looking almost post-apocalyptic in the extent of overgrowth.

"A week." Darien rolled his eyes and then began to blink uncontrollably as several droplets of sweat rolled into them.

"Yeah, a week. After that, the Catholic Church and I decided that a lifetime relationship was not in the cards and agreed that we should just be friends. So what? It happened. I put it on my CV, Eberts saw it, the Official gave us the assignment and now we're merrily on our way to Mount Mary Magdalene Convent School for Extremely Catholic Girls, the campus of which just happens to contain several nests of endangered owls. That's how it works sometimes, Fawkes. Like the Official said, everything is not always about you."

Darien frowned. "Actually, you were the one that said that."


"So you're saying that in one week a hundred years ago you learned enough about the Catholic Church to convince an entire convent that you're a priest. One that *hasn't* been excommunicated, that is."

Hobbes quirked a grin. "I guess we're about to find out."

Darien regarded his partner for a few moments in silence before closing his eyes and wondering for the umpteenth time why exactly he had chosen this job over life imprisonment. Usually he went into missions with at least some confidence that they knew what they were doing but on this one he felt certain that their cover would be blown faster than you can say, 'monktastic.' Under his breath he emitted a heartfelt, "Aw, crap."

"I heard that," Hobbes grumbled. "Thou shalt not blaspheme in the presence of Father Hobbes. Father Hobbes hears all."

Darien slouched in his seat, wincing as his skin stuck sickly to the hot vinyl of the upholstery. He contented himself to ride in silence for a few minutes, taking in the scenery and processing the utter (and some might say unnatural) dearth of taco stands before piping up again. "But don't you think it's a little odd that we got assigned to this job? I mean, saving spotted owls is a noble cause and all, but isn't that what *real* Fish and Game agents are for? Besides, I'm guessing that rescuing endangered species does not typically require agents to go in undercover."

Eyes not deviating from the road, Hobbes simply shrugged. "We go where the assignments are, Fawkes, and do the job that the assignments call for. We had a sweet deal with F&G and if we're lucky they might even consider taking us back when the lovely and all-powerful Miss Alex Monroe decides she's tired of playing in our sandbox and Health and Human Services pulls the plug. We do them this little favor and we just might get back into their good graces. Besides, this job may be dull but somebody's got to do it and that somebody is us."

"But Owl Search and Seizure?" Unable to express himself more concisely, Darien blew an earnest raspberry. "I never thought I'd say this but I think we may actually be over-qualified. This is the most tedious, routine assignment we've ever had."

"So it's routine. Big deal. There may be no glory in it, but a routine assignment'll get you home, showered, and off to a karaoke bar a hell of a lot quicker. That's the thing about the Agency, my friend: you gotta take the good with the bad. You should really know this by now."

Darien lolled his head in the direction of the driver's seat. "Remind me what the 'good' is again?"

Hobbes snorted, ignoring his partner's question. "You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both."

"And then you have the facts of life?"

"The facts of life." Hobbes nodded, smiling wryly.

Darien permitted himself a grin and, for the moment at least, pushed his suspicions into the back of his mind. They rode for some time without speaking, content with the background noise of the van engine as a baseline to Darien's humming, occasionally accompanied by a staccato, whistled interlude on the part of Hobbes. The mountains, which had served as a surreal backdrop for the bulk of their journey, were now immediate and looming and as the road began its topographical ascent Darien found his doubts resurfacing.

"All I was trying to say," he drawled in that insistent tone of his which Hobbes always claimed reminded him of his most recent shrink, "is that it just doesn't make sense that they would send us on a job like this if there wasn't something else going on. I feel like there's got to be some hidden danger that, surprise, surprise, they didn't tell us about. And if you utter the phrase 'need to know' I *will* punch you in the jaw."

Hobbes began to speak but stopped himself, taking a moment to restructure his argument. "Look, Fawkes," he said patiently. "There is no hidden danger. It's a Catholic Girls' High School. We go in, we grab the hooters, and we leave. Simple as that. Now shut up and stop bitching. Father Hobbes needs to get into character."

"Okay, let's make a deal. I'll promise to stop bitching if you agree never to use the word 'hooters' again."

* * *

By the time they began to near the campus of St. Mary's, Darien's spirits had lifted somewhat. As they had climbed in altitude the air grew thinner and with it the mind-boggling heat had substantially subsided. The relative population of deciduous trees had also dwindled, which resulted in Hobbes granting permission for the windows to be rolled down part way. Once comfortably cool, Darien had been able to set his lingering paranoia aside and enjoy the breathtaking scenery, the fresh air, and the prospect that he and Hobbes might actually be facing an innocuous, bullet-free, and potentially even relaxing assignment. He chuckled to himself, as the last puzzle piece of a memory suddenly forced itself into alignment.

"Hey Hobbes," he said eagerly, "check it out." Clearing his throat ceremoniously, he began to sing, tilting his head from side to side on the downbeat. "When the girls you used to hate you date, you're starting to appreciate the facts of life! The facts of life!" He grinned. "Come on, Hobbesy, sing it with me."

Hobbes looked at him dubiously.


"Well first of all," said Hobbes, relinquishing the wheel for long enough to straighten his collar, "I believe the phrase is, 'perhaps you should investigate,' *not* 'you're learning to appreciate.' And second of all, whatever you may make of the 'true' relationship between Jo and Blair, the lyrics clearly state that they're dating the *boys* they used to hate."

"Okay, when did you get appointed Theme Song Nazi?"

"Alls I'm saying, Fawkes, is if you're going to sing a song you should sing it correctly. And I'm not going to sing with you unless you get the words right. Now if you're willing to sing the song properly, I am ready to sing with you."

Darien exhaled sharply. "Forget it," he grumbled, folding his arms and turning his head to look out the window. "You've ruined the mood."

Moments later the van rounded the final mountain bend and pulled into the wide, gravel drive of St. Mary's Convent and School for Girls. Darien swung out of the van before it had come to a complete stop and immediately began to tug at his clothes, hoping to generate enough air circulation to make them stop sticking to him. Hobbes carefully put the van into park, tucked his sunglasses into his shirt pocket and began primly smoothing his vestments. He looked around warily before bending down to check the safety on the piece in his ankle holster and then, scanning the perimeter of the lot and the windowless facade of the school building, strode over to his partner.

"Oh for Christ's sake, Fawkes," he snapped, noticing that Darien was flapping his shirt gracelessly to stay cool and was partially invisible underneath. "Tuck in your shirt - you're a man of the cloth now. And stop wasting quicksilver: I've only got one dose of counteragent and the last thing I need is you turning Judas Aquarius."

Darien made a face at his partner as he tucked in his shirt. "Just trying to stay cool. Besides, if this job is as cut and dry as you claim I won't need any quicksilver *or* counteragent." He leaned into the van's side mirror to investigate his hair, which was notably wilted from the heat. With a pained expression his pushed it out of his face, wondering how he was going to survive for several days without any hair care products. He turned back to his partner irritably. "Incidentally, way to stay in character, Father Hobbes."

"Shhh!" With a sharp nod, Hobbes indicated the heavy wooden door that was the only feature on the stone facade of the school. The door swung open and three nuns emerged, the first striding officiously ahead of the others. At the threshold, several girls had gathered to get a glimpse of the new arrivals.

Hobbes straightened his vestments and stepped forward, extending his hand to the lead nun. "Father Hobbes. Education and Missionary Division, Administrative Branch. This is my assistant, Father Fawkes."

The nun took his hand dubiously, passing a disinterested eye over Darien. She appeared by all intents and purposes to be the epitome of the Catholic School headmistress: she was in her early sixties, tall and rigid with sharp features, and had all the semblance of a nun whose ruler had come into contact with more than a few sets of knuckles in her day. Eyes narrowed, she addressed Hobbes with a respectful but reserved air. "I am sister Ursula, the Mother Superior here at St. Mary's. And I have to say I am surprised by your visit. Our school passed its five-year state inspection just over eight months ago and in the thirty five years I have been here we have never been forced to undergo an additional inspection by the church."

"I understand your concern, Reverend Mother," said Hobbes, his tone uncharacteristically subdued, "but the Catholic Church has as much interest as, if not more than, the state with regards to the quality of education for young Catholics. Surprise inspections are a way of life down at E&M. We will make every effort to do our job with a minimum of disruption to you and your girls." He spoke softly and empathetically, but Sister Ursula did not seem altogether convinced.

"And exactly how long will you be staying?" she asked. "The individual who telephoned to inform me of your impending visit was not generous with the specifics."

Hobbes tugged at his sleeves calmly before folding his hands in front of him. "We'll stay here until the job's done." He looked at her earnestly. "Your assistance and cooperation will be invaluable in helping to expedite the evaluation process. After all, we all want the same thing: the very best in intellectual and spiritual education for these fine girls." He gestured grandly towards the door and the half-dozen or so girls that had been eavesdropping hastily ducked back inside.

Sister Ursula raised an eyebrow but nodded, apparently content with, or at least accepting of, the situation such as it was. She turned her attention to Darien with a scowl. "You," she snapped, "Father Fawkes, was it? I would appreciate it if you did not sully my school with that rock-star haircut of yours. They may care nothing about the propriety of appearance at the administrative home office, but here we believe that fastidiousness of dress is the first step to godliness after cleanliness." She wrinkled her nose before adding, "And you might want to meditate upon the latter as well."

With a wounded expression, Darien pushed his limp hair away from his face, an action which was met by a wave of giggles emanating from behind the door, and was about to respond when Hobbes stepped in. "Forgive my assistant's appearance," he offered contritely. "I'm afraid his vow of poverty has taken a toll on his grooming habits. If you would be kind enough to loan me a bowl and some scissors, though, I would be more than happy to attend to his hair this evening."

Darien's jaw clenched and he glared at his partner wide-eyed but Hobbes waved away his objection before he could utter it. "Now if you wouldn't mind, Mother, might it be possible for Father Fawkes and I to be shown to our quarters? It is a little late in the day to begin our inspection but we would like to prepare for tomorrow."

"Certainly," Ursula responded, seeming somewhat relieved that these strangers were about to be removed from her presence. "I am afraid your accommodations will be somewhat meager, as we did not deem it appropriate to house you in our cloisters or, obviously, the girls' dormitory. You will have to share the sole guest room in Father Fred's house at the parish. Sister Catherine will obtain a cot from the infirmary for your assistant." One of the nuns behind her, presumably Sister Catherine, offered a little curtsey at this juncture.

"Perfect," said Hobbes, clasping his hands amiably. "Father Fawkes absolutely adores sleeping on cots. Canvas, I presume?"

The Mother Superior smirked. "Of course."


* * *

After a rather abrupt dismissal from Sister Ursula, Darien and Hobbes were entrusted to the care of Sisters Catherine and Agnes, the Mother Superior's shadows, who led them through the main entrance into a warren of poorly lit corridors. Plaid skirts and patent leather shoes vanished behind each corner they encountered, but they never actually saw any of the school's younger occupants. As they walked, Sister Catherine provided them with a hastily delivered and unsolicited tour while Sister Agnes seemed content to accompany them in silence.

"...and this is the French room, and the Latin room. Down this corridor are the science labs. Up these stairs here is the dining hall, where we take all of our meals, and above it the girls' dormitories." She gestured excitedly as she spoke. Short and plump with a round, kindly face, Sister Catherine looked like exactly the type of nun you would expect to putter around after a nun like Sister Ursula.

Hobbes followed immediately behind Sister Catherine and Sister Agnes. His long, deliberate strides seemed out of place in comparison to his usual energetic heel-toe and provided an amusing contrast to the nuns' tiny, rapid-fire footfalls. He was definitely in character, there was no doubt about that, and Darien found himself impressed with his partner's ability to transform his personality at will. Behind him, a soft, shuffling sound caught his ear, but when he turned around there was no source to be found. Hobbes, meanwhile, was asking dutiful questions about the logistics and demographics of the school's operation.

"And how many students are in attendance, Sister?"

"Almost two hundred at the moment," Sister Catherine responded proudly. "When this convent was founded at the beginning of the century it consisted of only a handful of nuns and two or three students. Even ten years ago, there were barely more than a dozen girls per class, but in recent years the school has really blossomed."

"Delightful," Hobbes responded. "Are they all confirmed?"

"Of course. A lot of more marginal schools will let non-Catholics in, but we at St. Mary's have very strict standards on matters of this sort."

"Isn't that lovely," Hobbes crooned, looking back at Darien and smiling through gritted teeth.

Darien rolled his eyes. "What about special coursework?" he asked. "Do you cater your curriculum to take advantage of your rather unique locale? Daily nature walks? Or fieldwork in ornithology perhaps?"

The nun stammered, somewhat confused by the question. She looked over at Sister Agnes who, incidentally, looked almost exactly like Sister Catherine only a smidgen more nondescript. Sister Agnes just widened her eyes and shrugged.

Hobbes raised an eyebrow, his curiosity evidently piqued. "Well do you have special classes or don't you? These fine young ladies may wish to go to college someday, you know, and could really benefit from the advantage of special instruction."

At this comment, Darien heard the distinct sound of giggling behind him. He whirled around in time to see at least two girls duck into a classroom a few meters back. Smirking, he silently crept to the partially open doorway, from which he could discern muffled whispering. With an abrupt jerk, he ducked his head into the classroom and said, simply, "Boo."

The response was not exactly as he had expected. There was a cacophony of startled screaming, followed by uncontrolled giggles and in a flurry of hair and shoes and polyester jumpsuits the three girls that had been tailing the visitors vanished through a door on the opposite side of the classroom. Darien was naturally a little taken aback. He hadn't understood high school girls when he was in high school and he *certainly* didn't understand them now. In the corridor ahead Hobbes was glaring at him like a stodgy librarian. Behind him the two nuns looked worried and confused and Darien began to wonder if it was just him or whether they always looked like that. With an apologetic shrug he trotted to catch up to the rest of his party. "Sorry," he said sheepishly when he drew level with them. "No permanent trauma, I hope."

"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing," offered Sister Agnes with a nervous smile. "Girls will be girls. This way, please." She lead them through a heavy door which was essentially a smaller version of the one they had passed through at the entrance and they emerged into a small, quadrangular inner courtyard with entrances at the center of each wall.

Hobbes shaded his eyes and looked up at the position of the sun to note the time and reestablish his directional bearing. They were emerging from the North wall, which was the only one with windows looking inwards. Across the courtyard, the South wall was only two stories high and afforded a breathtaking view of the mountains beyond. The walls to the west and east were each three stories, but were joined to the south wall by stone staircases which served to connect rooftop walkways to form a medieval-looking rampart. His eyes darted across the scene, making a meticulous mental map of the area. Ant farms of twisting corridors Hobbes could handle - they reminded him of the comfortably bureaucratic feel of government buildings - but wide open spaces, particularly those that were enclosed on all sides, always made him feel vaguely unsettled and vulnerable, touching on some deep-seated paranoia. He sniffed sharply, feeling more comfortable now that he had memorized the layout of the courtyard, and retured his attention to whatever Sister Catherine was saying about state average board scores.

Darien, on the other hand, was more troubled by the unearthly quiet of their surroundings than by the strategic disadvantage of their design. On a warm afternoon in September a boarding school campus ought to be bustling with students roaming from class to class or enjoying a little sunlight and fresh air on their free periods, at least if the guys who directed made-for-TV movies and teen-oriented soap operas had done their research, but the sunny courtyard of St. Mary's was utterly deserted. Once they were a little further away from the North wall, he squinted up at the rows of dormitory windows and saw several sets of faces shy away from the windows suddenly when his line of vision ran across them. He frowned. "Don't these girls go to class?" he asked abruptly, interrupting Sister Catherine's very informative lecture on the school's pre-pre-medical advising system.

The nun, clearly unaware of what had prompted his question, was nevertheless eager with a response. "Oh yes," she said, "almost all of our girls have perfect attendance records."

"Oh good," Darien muttered, rolling his eyes as he glanced back up at the dozens of half-concealed faces that populated the windows above, "blue ribbons for all."

"Easy, Father." Hobbes said calmly, concealing a smirk. "These little Lambs of God work very hard in their education. I should think we could brook a small amount of curiosity on their parts." He smiled, and raised his eyebrows good-humoredly before turning his attention back to the corpulent nuns. "Shall we continue?"

"Actually," sighed Sister Catherine remorsefully, "this is where I take my leave of you. I have to pop over to the infirmary to find a cot for Father Fawkes." She bowed her head towards the East wall apologetically before nodding goodbye to the two men and scurrying away.

Sister Agnes did not hesitate to take charge and the agents, exchanging a slight shrug, followed her in silence. Looking after her retreating companion, the nun, somewhat officiously, continued the tour. "That wing contains the infirmary and our cloisters," she announced. "Ahead are our somewhat meager athletic facilities."

Hobbes eyed the South wall and its associated sub-par gymnasium disdainfully. They approached the center of the courtyard, which was marked by a large sundial, and turned the corner sharply to walk towards the West wall, carefully adhering to the stone pathways in order not to tread upon the small but finely manicured lawns.

"You'll be staying with Father Fred in the parish," Sister Agnes informed them, nodding purposefully in the direction of the West door. "I think you'll enjoy it - it's the only part of St. Mary's that gets any peace and quiet these days." She smiled awkwardly before leading them through the door into a simply decorated vestibule that in turn opened up into the rear of a moderately sized chapel. As they strolled past the rows of pews, Darien scrutinized his partner, who appeared to be running calculations in his head, most likely in an attempt to estimate the school's population based on the chapel's seating capacity. They approached the altar in silence, their footfalls echoing across the elaborate curves of the vaulted ceiling. To each side of the altar were nestled thin, twisting staircases which lead up to a platform containing a stately pipe organ. Noticing the curiosity with which Darien examined the instrument, Sister Agnes was eager to enlighten.

"That organ is over two hundred years old," she said proudly. "It was brought to this convent from Italy shortly after construction was completed in 1910."

"It's beautiful," Darien replied, gazing up at the array of pipes which glinted blue, green, and gold in the sunlight that filtered through the stained-glass windows that lined the chapel to the south. "Do you use it often?"

Sister Agnes looked at him mournfully. "Sadly, no. Only one individual at St. Mary's may be regarded a true proficient and that is Father Fred, himself. But since his primary duty is to preside over our services we have yet to have the pleasure of hearing him play. We have to content ourselves with Sister Clara's piano playing." With a resigned, tedious air, she nodded towards a small upright piano to the left of the altar. "I believe, though, that Father Fred is offering private instruction to some of the girls. We are all hoping to be blessed with a concert one of these days."

"How long has Father Fred been with you?" Hobbes asked abruptly, wrenching himself away from this silent computations.

Sister Agnes considered. "Oh, about a year and a half," she said. "The pastor who preceded him had something of a breakdown - I think the sudden surge in the number of girls was a bit much for the poor dear."

Hobbes nodded contemplatively and shot his partner a quick, sideways glance. "And you've been happy with his work?"

"Oh yes," the nun responded. "Very happy. He is very energetic. It is a refreshing change for the girls, I think." She smiled emphatically and then, sensing the topic of conversation was spent, awkwardly gestured towards a small door to the right of the parapet. "Now if you'll be kind enough to follow me, I will show you to your room."

"Thank you," said Hobbes sweetly. "You're very kind."

As Sister Agnes turned to lead them through the door, which was tucked subtlely behind one of the spiral staircases, Hobbes looked over his shoulder and shot Darien a look, indicating the organ platform deliberately with his eyes. Glancing at the organ then back at his partner, Darien widened his eyes inquisitively. Hobbes just shook his head and turned to follow the nun out of the chapel.

* * *

The parish residence associated with the chapel was simple but appeared eminently comfortable. Unfortunately, as Sister Ursula had mentioned, it included only a single guest room, which was even smaller than Darien had anticipated. Located at the end of a dark, narrow hallway, the room was just large enough to accommodate the bed, two end tables, and a broad vanity. It was primly decorated, with doilies and harvest-themed tchotchkes covering nearly every flat surface. The duvet, dust ruffle and curtains were all printed in the same country floral pattern, which was just different enough from the wallpaper that it gave Darien a headache. Although the single painting hung over the bed was outnumbered by crucifixes three to one, its ring-necked pheasant theme was echoed in the lampshades. The one benefit it did afford, however, was a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains through a picture window opposite the elongated entranceway.

"Well this is just delightful," said Hobbes politely, looking over at Darien with a stifled smile.

"And where am I supposed to sleep?" Darien asked, already concerned about the answer. The queen-sized bed took up most of the room, leaving only narrow strips of floorspace, far too small to accommodate him comfortably, between it and the walls to either side. There was a little more room in the area between the vanity and the foot of the bed but but he was acutely cognizant that the act of sleeping there would make him feel like Hobbes' lapdog. He looked up at the nun inquiringly. "The closet?"

"Oh, I'm afraid this room doesn't have a closet," responded Sister Agnes apologetically. "But as we've said, Sister Catherine is fetching you a cot, which we thought we could situate right here." She gestured, with an excessive degree of aggrandizement, Darien thought, at the narrow entranceway in which the three were standing.

Before Darien could respond, Hobbes stepped in front of him with an undoubtedly more diplomatic comment. "And when will we be meeting Father Fred? It was so kind of him to permit us to stay in his guest room, we'd like to show our appreciation." Sensing his partner's continued agitation, Hobbes reached behind him and patted Darien soothingly on the arm.

Darien sighed defeatedly at his partner's attempt at consolation, more irritatingly endearing than effective, and took a step back until Hobbes' hand was patting empty air. At this point he had no interest in meeting their host. He was already dejected about the rooming situation and, having consumed several iced coffees over the course of their journey, was concerned with more pressing matters. "Where's the bathroom?" he asked abruptly, interrupting the Sister Agnes' waffling response about the priest's whereabouts.

Confused and somewhat taken aback by the question, Sister Agnes just stammered and pointed down the hall. Hobbes looked at him and frowned but said nothing.

"Thanks," said Darien with a tight-lipped smile. He turned and stalked down the corridor, leaving Hobbes to ask his token school-investigation questions on his own.

The bathroom, like their sleeping accommodations, was too-small and tacky, decorated with a tag-team strategy of cartoon frogs and large-eyed angels. It was also filled with toiletries, implying that they would also be sharing the facilities with the mysterious Father Fred. After taking care of his more immediate problem, Darien spent a few moments splashing water over his face, in hopes to rinse off a portion of the dried sweat and grime that had collected during the miserable trip up. As he leaned over, head down and elbows resting on the sink, Darien noticed a flash of color in the wastebasket. He knelt upon the pink and green bathmat and retrieved a stained tissue. Blood. And fairly fresh from the vividness of the color. He shook the trashcan gently and tipped it sideways to investigate some of the older contents, primarily tissue and old dental floss. Towards the bottom there was more evidence of older blood, brown and dried and beginning to flake as the tissue changed its shape in collisions with the other rubbish. Darien frowned, wondering how long it had been since Father Fred had actually taken out the trash. He stood up and, hastily drying his face on his shirtsleeves, threw the bathroom door open, hoping that Hobbes had managed to drive away the flying nun so he could consult with him in private.

When he opened the door, however, he emitted a short high-pitched scream of surprise as he found himself face to face with three young girls who burst in to hysterical giggles at his reaction. Unsure what to make of this, Darien just stood there in silence, wanting to flee.

Once the girls had recovered from their laughing fit, the taller one, who reminded Darien vaguely of Britney Spears, spoke up. "Hi stranger," she lilted, batting her eyelashes. "Welcome to St. Mary's."

"Hi," said Darien, pushing his hair back uncomfortably. "So am I to assume that stalking a guy to the bathroom is the traditional school greeting? If I were you, I'd be careful before trying it on my par... my boss. He's a little jumpy."

Britney laughed. "I guess you could say it's a tradition."

Darien offered his most translucently fake smile and laugh. "So is this a tradition unique to St. Mary's or is it actually in the Bible?"

"You tell me, Father," giggled Britney, rolling her eyes. "By the way, my name's Bunny." She extended her hand flirtatiously.

"No it isn't," Darien responded, shaking her hand briefly. "Now what's your real name?"

Britney pouted, looking back harshly at her two friends to quell their snickering. "It's Constance." She contorted her face as if the name left a bitter taste in her mouth. "But everyone calls me Bunny."

Raising his eyebrows, Darien smirked. "Well howabout we compromise and I call you Britney. I'm Father Fawkes."

Her coy smile spreading into a broad, toothy grin, Britney laughed. "You sure are," she said. "And you can call me by whatever name you want."

"Super," Darien responded, regretting having inadvertently given the girl some ammunition. He folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe casually. "And your friends are?"

"Corky and Muffin," she said dismissively. The two girls, who were also the blonde, blue-eyed, Barbie types, just slightly shorter than their ringleader, curtseyed briefly but made no further effort to converse with him.

"Okay... Christina and Mandy it is, then. You know, you all should seriously reconsider your policy of naming each other after toy poodles. That'll come back and bite you on the a... derriere once you get to college, believe me."

The two girls looked at each other vapidly, unsure whether to laugh. Instead they elected to stare up at Darien in silence.

"Well," said Darien awkwardly, eager as ever to extricate himself from the situation as quickly as possible, "if you girls don't have any pressing theological questions I'd better be running along." He stepped forward past the girls but Britney arrested his departure.

"Wait, Father," she beseeched, "I do have a very important theological question for you."

'Shit,' Darien thought. 'Me and my big, stupid, agnostic mouth.' Outwardly, however, he managed to assemble a warm smile. "What is it, my child?"

Britney stepped forward and placed a slim hand on his arm, lifting her face up towards his. "Where have you been all my life?" She curled her full lips into a wry smile.

Darien jumped back, wincing as another giggling fit ensued but thinking it the lesser of two evils. He calmly straightened his sleeves and, looking Britney earnestly in her blue Bambi eyes, said "Prison."

Britney laughed, but her smile wavered when she caught Darien's earnest expression. Her eyes widened. "P-p-prison?"

"That's right, young lady. Prison." Bobby Hobbes, apparently having freed himself from the ever-fascinating Sister Agnes, strode up behind Darien and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "We just got back from a three year stint touring the prisons of North and Central America. You would be shocked and amazed to see the sub-standard levels of spiritual guidance offered to these poor wayward souls... these moral chaff of society... these wretched, unknowing minions of Satan... these..."

"Okay, Father Hobbes," Darien interrupted sharply, glaring down at his partner. "I think they get the picture."

Hobbes smiled sweetly at the girls, eyes refusing to meet Darien's irritated gaze. "That's good," he said. "Don't do unprescribed drugs. Stay in school." He reached out and mussed Britney's hair. Mandy (or was it Christina?) dodged with surprising agility before he could pinch her cheek.

This delightful interchange was soon cut short by a clamorous crash a little further down the hall, where Sister Catherine had arrived and was attempting to navigate a large rollaway bed around some very ugly vases. Hobbes was quick to respond, stepping blithely past the girls. "Here, Sister, let me help you with that."

The nun acquiesced graciously as Hobbes began dragging the bed towards their room. "There was an extra one of these free," she explained, indicating the rollaway, "and I thought it would be much more comfortable than the awful canvas cot Sister Ursula had set aside for you."

"Thanks," said Darien with a thin smile, flattening himself against the wall as Hobbes labored the monstrosity past him.

"Oh!" Sister Catherine exclaimed, bustling towards them once she had caught her breath. "I see you've met our unofficial welcoming committee. Hello, girls."

"Hello, Sister Catherine," the girls responded in labored unison.

The nun smiled. "Father Fawkes, these are some of the girls in the gifted program I was telling Father Hobbes about."

"Well they certainly are gifted." Darien chuckled, hoping his irony wasn't *too* transparent.

"Run along now, girls. The Fathers probably want some time to rest and you've got to wash up for the evening meal." Sister Catherine's attempt at a stern voice was hardly convincing, but the girls obeyed nonetheless.

"Bye, Father Fawkes!" Britney waved cheerily as she and her companions bolted down the hall.

"They really are very nice girls," sighed Sister Catherine, almost apologetically. "'Though they do have a tendency to be somewhat over-zealous of late."

"It's all right. Really," Darien assured her. "You think those girls are over-zealous... they're nothing compared to the guys in prison." With a prim smile, he turned and trotted down the hall to see what Hobbes was up to, leaving Sister Catherine to linger a moment in confusion before wandering away to attend to her other duties.

* * *

"I think we may have a problem here, Fawkes," said Hobbes when Darien arrived. Having unfolded the bed in the hallway, he stepped back to examine it through the imaginary lens of his thumbs and index fingers in the manner of a stereotypical amateur cinematographer.

Darien exhaled wearily, glancing over his shoulder to watch Sister Catherine disappear around a corner. "What now?"

"Your bed doesn't fit." Hobbes grimaced and scratched the back of his head.

"What do you mean it doesn't fit?"

"'It doesn't fit' means it doesn't fit. The bed is wider than the room." Hobbes fixed his partner with one of those sarcastic looks that screamed, 'What are you? A genius?'

"Well, crap." Darien ran his hand over his face. "Now what?"

Smiling reassuringly, Hobbes walked around to grab the edge of the rollaway nearest the door. "Not to worry, partner. Bobby Hobbes has a plan. Grab that end of the bed, will you?"

Five minutes and an array of stifled expletives later, Plan Bobby Hobbes was brought to fruition. Darien's bed was jammed in the tiny entranceway of their room at a forty-five degree angle, effectively barricading Hobbes inside. One side of the bed rested on its legs at the height for which it was designed while the other side had been subtly altered: Hobbes had removed the lower half of the leg joints and thrown them in the corner. Still, despite the ridiculous angle, the bed seemed to stand sturdily enough.

"There you go, Fawkes," Hobbes said proudly, wiping the sweat from his brow and admiring his handiwork with satisfaction. "Go ahead. Try it out."

Cautiously and with little enthusiasm, Darien hoisted himself onto the bed and attempted to lie down, immediately rolling to the lower edge of the bed, his head wedged tightly between the mattress and the wall. He rolled his eyes upwards to look at his partner who stood over him, hands on hips, looking quite pleased with himself. "I don't think this is going to work, Hobbes."

"Sure it is," Hobbes smiled. He wandered over to the real bed, grabbed a pillow, and fluffed it before lifting Darien's head to place it underneath. "There. You look snug as a bug in a rug."

"Well, I'm not," Darien grumbled, punching at the pillow irritably. "Look, if you think this looks so comfortable than why don't *you* sleep here?"


"Why not?"

Hobbes shrugged matter-of-factly. "'Cause I'm the ranking clergyman. Religion is no different than the military, my friend. Rank is everything."

"Well can't we just *share* the bed then? It'll be just like camping." Darien sat up and swung himself around to face his partner beseechingly.

"Sorry, partner, but no can do." Arms crossed, Hobbes appeared resolute.

"C'mon. Why not? What're you afraid I'm going to molest you?"

"Nah. I think I'm a little young for your tastes." Hobbes chuckled and leaned casually against the vanity, not seeming to mind the nasty face his partner shot him.

"Well what, then?" Darien had to check himself. He was about to go into full-blown whining mode, a strategy that was rarely successful in convincing Hobbes of anything.

Hobbes sighed, folding and unfolding his arms a few times. "I think that given the respective situations of our covers it would appear... inelegant." He shrugged with apologetic finality.

Darien raised his eyebrows. "Inelegant? As opposed to you having to climb all over me if you need to take a whiz in the middle of the night?"

"Bobby Hobbes can hold it in, my friend."

"That's not the point and you know it."

"Look, Fawkes," Hobbes said sharply, losing patience. "If it were just you and me I'd say, 'Sure, why not? Jump on in and cuddle. Just leave those foul-smelling chips you're always eating on the other side of the room. And brush your teeth. And put some socks on because I don't want those razor-sharp toenails of yours scratching up my calves.' But it's not us, Fawkes, it's us undercover as a couple of priests, one of whom outranks the other of whom who, unfortunately for him, is doomed to have to sleep on a bed that looks like it was lifted from the Shake Shack. You know I'd do anything for you, partner, but if it's not a life or death situation, the mission comes first. Now just suck it up. With luck we'll track down the owls right off the bat and it'll only be for one night."

Laying back down in a huff, Darien spent a few moments pouting in silence before he lifted his head to address his partner. "Fine," he said flatly. "Forget it. Let's just dismantle this contraption and I'll sleep on the floor."

Hobbes shook his head. "Nope."

"Nope what?"

"Nope we can't dismantle it. It's stuck. I already checked." He knelt down to demonstrate and Darien sat up, craning his neck to see what his partner was doing. Hobbes flattened his hand and attempted to insert it between the wall and the collapsible bed leg with no success. "See? The leg is flush against the wall. Same on the other side. We can't collapse the damn thing, so the cot is in for the duration. Getting it out of here is up to Father Ted."

"Father Fred."


Darien slumped back and stared at the ceiling, noticing the fine network of cracks and chips and gimly wondering how much plaster would fall into his mouth while he slept. "Okay, fine," he sighed. "Then let's scoop up the owls at the first possible opportunity and blow this popsicle stand."

"Glad you see it my way, partner," said Hobbes brightly. "Now get out of the way. I've got to go to the john."

"No way." Darien replied flatly. "You put this obstruction here now you deal with it. Climb under if you want to get out so bad."

"Are you crazy, Fawkes? How much do you weigh? One ninety?"

"Yeah. About that. Why?"

"Why, the whole thing could collapse on top of me and crush me to death, that's why. And then you'd feel bad, wouldn't you? And you'd have to drive back to Diego and explain to the Official how you got your partner killed and he's going to tell you about how I'm the only guy in the Agency qualified to protect your sorry ass and even if I weren't I'm the only one who's willing to be partnered up with you anyway because you're a punk. And then you'll go to my funeral and the Keeper will cry and cry and cry and her makeup will put those big black streaks all over her face but then everyone will be too embarrassed to tell her and she'll find out, like, hours later while she's consoling herself over a martini in some high-class yuppie bar and she'll be totally mortified and hate you forever. Frankly, I don't think either of us wants that. Nope, the only sensible way is to go over. Now get off so I don't have to step on your face."

Darien didn't budge, folding his arms. "No," he objected. "I'm taking a nap. You want out, it's your own problem." He flopped his head back and made loud, obvious, snoring noises.

"Jesus, Fawkes, you really are a punk sometimes, you know that? Rolling his eyes irritably, Hobbes stepped onto the bed in a low crouch, determined to navigate his way around his stubborn partner.

"Hey!" exclaimed Darien, startled by the sudden extra weight on the mattress. "What gives?" In an involuntary reaction he kicked out with his right leg, sweeping Hobbes' already shakily balanced leg out from under him. The older agent came crashing down, his left elbow hitting the wall with a sharp crack and his right driving into Darien's solar plexus. Fortunately for Darien, the shock of the impact made Hobbes' right elbow buckle underneath him, causing it to subsequently settle benignly at Darien's side, but in the process Hobbes pitched violently forward, his face landing on Darien's chest. Hobbes made no effort to move his head laterally, but turned it to the side and through the pain was able to gasp out, "Funny... bone...."

Darien, his breathing halting and labored, was unable to gasp out anything at all until Hobbes propped himself up on his good elbow and started to crawl forward. "Watch the knee!" he choked out just as Hobbes, apparently unaware that his knee was imperiling a certain delicate portion of Darien's anatomy, was about to unwittingly strike a crippling blow.

His combat training taking over, Hobbes flattened himself against Darien, who jerked his knee up defensively and struck his partner in the side. Hobbes lurched forward and planted the bridge of his nose sharply against Darien's collarbone, landing hard and reaggravating the other man's already injured solar plexus. The involuntary exchange of blows finally at an end, both men lay panting for breath, half wallowing in agony and half thinking how funny this would all seem in about an hour... well, maybe a year. Hobbes closed his eyes and, wincing as he tried to shift his sore elbow, gave up on moving and rested his head against Darien's shoulder. Darien, wedged awkwardly in the Bermuda Triangle formed by the mattress, the wall, and Hobbes, who was surprisingly heavy, did not even entertain the hope of mobility. Instead, he focused his attention on praying that nobody wandered by.

He hazarded a brief, backwards glance at the thankfully empty corridor and sighed. "What was that you were saying about 'inelegant' again?"

"Shut up, Fawkes."

"You know, you're right, Hobbes," Darien deadpanned, still sputtering a bit to catch his breath. "This is quite comfortable. Maybe we should both sleep here."

"Very funny, Fawkes," Hobbes grumbled. "And I don't mean funny 'ha ha.' I mean funny 'peculiar.'"

"How about funny 'knock, knock?'" came a cheerful voice from just outside the door. Both men froze. Darien looked down at his partner to see his face buried in his shoulder, eyes squeezed tight, obviously willing the whole situation to be some sort of pseudo-psychotic delusion. Tipping his head backwards from his rather awkward position to see the upside-down hallway behind him, Darien spotted first a pair of worn, black dress shoes. Letting his eyes wander downwards, he saw the form of a man, dressed in all black except for his white collar, with rosy cheeks and an insufferably friendly grin. The man's stature and demeanor were such that Darien found himself thinking, 'Aha. So *that's* whatever happened to Bob Sagat.'

"You must be our surprise guests!" quipped the man, cheerfully and observantly.

"Uh... yeah," Darien croaked. "And you must be Father Ted."

"That's Fred. Father Fred," Father Fred corrected helpfully. "And you are?"

"Father Fawkes," Darien responded. Then, whacking Hobbes on the back of the head to rouse him out of denial, he added, "and this is Father Hobbes."

Hobbes lifted himself up with a pained expression, but took great care to pay attention to where he placed his knee. "Charmed, I'm sure," he said, nodding at Father Fred with a mortified grimace. "Sorry to be rude, but Father Hobbes really has to go to the can. Excuse me." He delicately picked his way across the bed and slipped past Father Fred out into the hallway.

Darien, suddenly free to move again, swung himself around and sat up ungracefully. "Father Hobbes and I were just... investigating the sleeping arrangements." He grinned sheepishly and uncertainly.

"Oh, I understand perfectly," Father Fred chirped. "I was going to apologize for your living quarters being so tight, but it seems you and Father Hobbes will be able to cope just fine."

Unsure whether he was being mocked or patronized or both, Darien felt the need to explain further. "No, you see..."

"Think nothing of it," said Father Fred in a tone which made Darien wonder what the hell the "it" was that Father Fred was thinking of. "Anyway," The priest continued, clasping his hands together in a manner reminiscent of a twelve step program support group leader, "I just popped by to welcome you and let you know that the evening meal is scheduled to start in about half an hour. You both will be honored guests at the high table, of course. Ta!" At this, he turned on his toes and sallied down the corridor to destinations unknown.

Left to his own devices, Darien crawled back over the rollaway into the room and sat on the real bed, looking contemplatively at the mountains outside. It struck him that he could see the mountains a little *too* well and although he tried to gain as advantageous an angle as possible, he could not find a vantage from which he could actually see the ground upon which the parish was built. He determined that the mountain must drop off sharply at the edge of the structure which, while disconcerting in itself, was also likely to make their owl-hunting job more difficult. Moments later Hobbes returned, looking pensive.

Darien smirked. "You recovered okay there, Little Tiger?"

"Yeah, yeah," replied Hobbes, still thinking. "You?"

"Oh peachy," Darien responded, lifting up his shirt to poke at the elbow-shaped bruise on his upper abdomen.

Hobbes nodded absently. "What did Father Sunshine want?"

"To invite us to dinner. We should probably head over there. I'll tell you, Hobbesy, he's a strange one. I barely spoke to him for five minutes and I already want to punch him."

Picking an arbitrary spot on the wall and squinting at it intensely before looking back at Darien, Hobbes frowned. "Maybe somebody already did. Did you happen to notice the collection of bloody Kleenex in the bathroom?"

"Yeah," said Darien, scratching the back of his head listlessly. "It seemed kind of weird, but it's probably nothing. He cut himself shaving or something." He slouched on the bed and went back to staring out the window.

"No, no, there was too much blood for that." Hobbes rubbed his chin and began to pace in what little space he was afforded, swearing as he banged his shin on the low metal frame of Darien's bed.

Darien shrugged, scratching at a smudge on the glass. "Maybe he picks his nose. That can cause severe nosebleeds. Or maybe he's a coke-head."

Turning sharply, Hobbes glared at his partner. "You're being unhelpful. Now think. Why else would a priest bleed?"

"I don't know. Stigmata?"

"Okay, that's unhelpful AND inappropriate." Hobbes grabbed Darien's shoulders, forcing him to turn and face him. "I'm telling you, there is something creepy about that priest and I want to find out what. Didn't you notice that organ before? Sister Catherine said..."



"It was Sister Agnes, not Sister Catherine." Darien raised his eyebrows, in response to which Hobbes exhaled sharply through his nose.

"Whatever. Fine. Sister Agnes said that Farmer Fred was giving some of the girls organ lessons. But did you see the way the cobwebs were hanging over the pipes on that thing? It hasn't been played in a year. At least. So tell me, Fawkes. What's he been doing with those girls? What kind of organ lessons has he been giving?"

His perpetually bemused smirk fading abruptly, Darien sat up, locking gazes with his partner. "What are you saying, Hobbes? You think that maybe..."

"Maybe? Maybe, yeah. It happens, Fawkes, believe me." Hobbes narrowed his eyes and looked out the window; his fists were clenched and his teeth were gritted behind pursed lips. A vein in his temple and another in his neck bulged out noticeably from his tanned skin and by looking closely Darien could just barely detect the rhythm of his partner's pulse.

"Just calm down, Bobby," said Darien quietly, concerned by the way his partner's nostrils were flaring as he breathed. "That's a serious accusation if you're going to make it and you don't have much to go on. The bloody tissues could be from anything... And as for the dusty organ, there's plenty of explanations. Maybe he's teaching them on the piano first, or starting them out on the glockenspiel. Maybe they need to learn how to read music. You can't just go leaping to the most horrible possible conclusion."

Hobbes closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Moments later, he raised his lids to meet the worried gaze of his partner. "You're right, Fawkes," he mumbled, shifting his gaze to the floor and waving off Darien's concern dismissively. "Maybe I overreacted. It's just that... that kind of crap really pisses me off, you know?"

"I do now," said Darien earnestly. He placed a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Look... Hobbes... do you want to talk about it?"

The stocky agent looked up suspiciously. "About what?"

"About why you left Catholic School."

Hobbes looked at him in surprise, considering for a moment. "Not right now, Fawkes," he said, giving the hand on his shoulder a few appreciative pats. "Just promise me you'll help me keep an eye on Father Ted."

"Fred." Darien chuckled mirthlessly.

Hobbes laughed quietly. "Fuck it," he said. "We're tailing both of those bastards."

Nodding, Darien slung an arm over his partner's shoulders. "Look, I promise to keep an eye on him - both of him. But until new evidence comes to light can we just forget about Farmer Ted and concentrate on tracking down the coveted owls? I'd rather not stay at the Nunnery Time Forgot any longer than we absolutely have to."

Raising an eyebrow curiously, Hobbes glanced up at his partner. "I don't get you, Fawkes. You spent the whole trip up here trying to convince me that this mission was about more than just owls, and now that we might be uncovering something underhanded here, all you want to do is finish the job and get out. I will not brook such erratic behavior, my friend."

Darien smirked, returning his partner's curious gaze. "Okay, I've got to ask. Since when do you know the word 'brook?' That's the second time you've used it today."

Hobbes frowned, ducking away from Darien's arm to clamber over the rollaway into the hall. "What? I know words. You don't think I know words?"

Stopping at the edge of the bed and putting his hands on his hips, Darien regarded Hobbes with amusement. "You've been staying up late watching Jane Austen movies on A&E again, haven't you?"

Already halfway down the hall, Hobbes shot over his shoulder, "Shut up and tuck in your shirt. We're late for dinner."

Hastily stuffing his shirt into his pants, Darien leapt onto the bed and off the other side, following Hobbes down the corridor. "Gee," he remarked, "I hope nobody is wearing the same outfit as us."

* * *

The St. Mary's dining hall looked like a combination of rooms one might expect to find in Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist. It had all the regal charm of European high society with its high ceilings, cathedral windows, and long, oak dining tables, but maintained a spartan simplicity that was reinforced by the rows upon rows of identically clad youth. The high table, at which Darien, Hobbes and the school's senior faculty were seated, was elevated about a foot above the main dining floor in which the crowded student tables were arranged in neat, regular rows aligned parallel to the long, side walls of the dining room. The high table lay perpendicular to the others and its occupants, who were seated exclusively on the side of the table facing the hall, oversaw the arena like a panel of regents holding court. The seating arrangement had not been changed to accommodate Darien and Hobbes; rather, low folding chairs had been perfunctorily added to each end of the table.

Darien slouched sideways, his right arm over the back of his chair, and scanned the gallery, pretending not to see Britney when she waved dreamily at him. A plate of something unappealing was placed in front of him and he was forced by the height of the table to sit up in his chair and crane his neck in order to see what it was. At the far end of the table he saw Hobbes sitting with impeccable posture, daintily cutting his dinner with a knife and fork despite the fact that it appeared, at least from Darien's perspective, to be gruel. Somehow Hobbes was also managing to maintain a modicum of dignity despite the fact that the table came up to his shoulders. He was chatting amiably with the very pretty young nun on his right, who laughed merrily whenever he made that closed-lipped smile that indicated he had just told a joke. Darien dropped his eyes to the table momentarily and then focused more intently on Hobbes who, feeling his partner's gaze, made eye contact. Darien widened his eyes inquisitively and Hobbes frowned, inclining his head subtly towards Father Fred, who was seated to Darien's left. Hobbes then returned his attention to his affable companion and Darien looked dubiously at Father Fred, who was engaged in an animated but decidedly one-sided discussion with a very bored looking Sister Agnes on the latest techniques in needlepoint.

Bored to tears and overly wary of the "meal" in front of him, Darien decided that he might as well interrupt and make a nuisance of himself. "So, Father Fred," he began loudly enough that the entire high table stopped to stare at him momentarily before returning to their more interesting discussions, "how long have you been at St. Mary's?"

Father Fred considered for a moment, moving his fork through the air like a baton, as if he were conducting his own insipid little symphony in his head. Finally, he arrived at an answer. "About a year and a half. It's been simply delightful." He beamed at Darien and joyously scooped another pile of dinner onto his fork.

Darien nodded disinterestedly, cursing Hobbes for scoring the more conversationally appealing end of the table. "And I hear you've been giving some private organ lessons?"

The priest froze and blinked about seventy times. "Why yes," he said at last. "I give all kinds of music lessons. Right now most of my pupils are just learning to read music, and the more advanced ones are learning theory and composition. I'm afraid we won't be moving on to the organ itself for quite a long time yet." He sighed wistfully. "It's a shame. It is such a *beautiful* instrument." He clucked his tongue at Sister Agnes, who just picked at her food, looking horribly uncomfortable.

"I see," replied Darien, shooting his partner a victorious glance that was utterly ignored. He returned his attention to Father Fred. "And I hear you've got a talented and gifted program here. That's great."

Caught off-guard, Father Fred stifled a laugh and Darien felt a sharp kick under the table.

"Ow!" Darien drew his feet back, banging his knees against the bottom of the table, and looked up at his companions accusingly.

Sister Agnes looked mortified. "Oh, I am so sorry!" she exclaimed, her face flushing. "My foot must have slipped. Please forgive me."

"Of course," said Darien, eyeing the nun suspiciously but lowering himself back into his seat. "Don't worry about it."

Sister Agnes favored him with a meek but gracious smile.

Intrigued by the allegedly accidental violence beneath the table, Darien continued with his line of questioning. "Now, Father Fred," he began again, smiling wryly at his dinner companion, "you were about to tell me about the gifted program?"

A faint smile played about his lips as Father Fred prepared to speak. He drew in a deep breath, which hitched slightly as the priest flinched in his chair and glared over at Sister Agnes. "Yes," he said once he had composed himself. "Yes, we have some very fine... very gifted young ladies here." He smiled cheerfully.

Leaning back in his chair, Darien came extremely close to tipping over backwards and shifted his weight tableward in response, steepling his fingers pensively. "Would you mind if I sat in on one of those classes? I was in a gifted program myself back in the day. It would be interesting to see how far education of the pre-cognoscenti has come."

"I don't see why not," Father Fred cooed. "We're very proud of our education system here."

Sister Agnes did not seem to agree as wholeheartedly. "I really don't know," she sputtered. "Sister Ursula is very particular about allowing observers into her class..."

To Sister Agnes' right, Sister Catherine suddenly tuned in. "Oh no," she said, toying nervously with her food as she spoke. Here eyes were wide and darkly portentous. "I'm afraid it is quite impossible to disturb Sister Ursula while she's teaching."

"I see," said Darien tersely, hoping to convey dire judgment. "Well can you at least tell me the subject of the class?" He leaned forward to rest his forearms on the high surface of the table, letting his eyes wander to the opposite end where he noticed that Hobbes was watching him carefully. Offering his partner a flippantly disinterested expression, Darien returned his attention to the conversation.

For several moments it seemed that no one could provide a satisfactory answer to his question, but eventually Sister Catherine found words. "I believe that Sister Ursula's course is in Mathematics," she said. The others nodded in half-hearted agreement.

"Math?" Darien raised an eyebrow dubiously.

"That's right," confirmed Father Fred. "Of course there are other gifted courses as well. There's Sister Rebekah's World Politics and Sister Violet's Debate and Rhetoric and, of course, Sister Clara's Music Appreciation. I'm sure you would be welcome to attend any of those."

"Oh, absolutely," said Sister Catherine brightly. "Although you should probably provide some advanced warning so the instructors may tailor thier lesson plan accordingly."

Father Fred dismissed the nun's suggestion with a wave. "Just swing by any class you like," he advised, "you won't be any trouble. Why you could even attend one of Sister Agnes' world-famous lectures on the fundamentals of social interaction. I'm sure she'd be overjoyed to have you in attendance."

"The fundamentals of social interaction," repeated Darien, regarding Sister Agnes with a bemused smile. "That certainly sounds like a practical subject."

Sister Agnes smiled weakly. "Yes, very practical." She cleared her voice uncertainly. "The girls' behavior must be refined as well as their minds. It's terribly dull, though. I'm afraid you wouldn't be much interested, Father Fawkes."

"On the contrary." Darien arranged his features into a wounded expression. "It sounds very interesting. After all, I may not be an administrator forever. If I hope to have my own parish someday, I would do well to learn how refined young ladies are taught to behave." He smiled sweetly at Sister Agnes, who knitted her brow and took a long draught of her water.

Sister Catherine laughed uncomfortably while her companion drained her glass. "Well that's very kind of you to say, Father Fawkes," Agnes sputtered when she had drunk her fill, "but I'm afraid my class won't be meeting again until next week. It only meets on Tuesday evenings, you see, and as you know this is Wednesday, so I imagine you and Father Hobbes will have finished your inspection by then... at least I hope so." She grinned awkwardly and then, repeating the statement in her head, widened her eyes in horror. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Not to say that we are not enjoying your company... it's just that we would certainly not want you to be inconvenienced for so long. I'm afraid it will be a great trial for you and Father Hobbes to bear the hardship of cohabitating in such a confined space."

Father Fred, who had obtained some cloudy wine from the head table's porter, glanced at Darien meaningfully. "Or perhaps not," he chuckled into his drink.

Darien glared at the priest, who sipped at his wine innocently. The two nuns, apparently oblivious, fussed over the way their silverware was arranged as their plates were taken away. From his station at the other end of the table, Hobbes had continued to monitor the conversation closely. Darien could tell by the way his partner had watched the discussion with narrowed eyes and slightly pursed lips that he had been attempting to read their lips but that the activity had met with little success. Hobbes nodded curtly, endeavoring to catch his attention but Darien, still mildly irked over the rollaway bed incident, pretended not to notice.

Once the meal had ended Sister Ursula, seated at the center of the head table, stood purposefully, clinking her knife against her water glass. "A few announcements, girls," she bellowed.

Silence fell over the hall and all eyes were trained upon the stern Mother Superior. "First, it vexes me to remind you that there is NO GUM CHEWING PERMITTED IN CLASS. I have heard from several of the instructors that this rule is being continuously and egregiously violated. The next transgressor will incite a school-wide ban on all gum and other contraband your over-indulgent mothers are sending you from home. Watch yourselves, girls. *I* will be." A low murmur rumbled over the dining hall but was rapidly silenced by Sister Ursula's reproachful expression. With an irritated sniff she continued. "Second, we have some special guests with us this week. Father Hobbes and Father Fawkes are educational administrators for the Catholic Church. Let's all do our best to demonstrate to them that St. Mary's is the *finest* school on this side of the Vatican, shall we? We may even be able to send them back with some suggestions for the Home Office."

Upon hearing himself introduced, Darien had stood to wave amiably at the collected student body but noticed too late that his partner had failed to do the same. His gesture was met by befuddled silence on the part of the gallery and, awkwardly, he retook his seat, glaring over at Hobbes, who peered at him over a small but stout glass of red wine. Although Hobbes' eyes were expressionless, the slight tension at the corners of his mouth indicated unequivocally that he was suppressing a smile. Darien grumbled to himself, wondering why *he* had not been offered any wine.

When she felt confident that Darien was unlikely to cause further disruption the Mother Superior continued. "Thirdly," she announced, "any appointments for music lessons with Father Fred shall be pushed forward an hour for the duration of our guests' stay. We do not wish to be disturbing them with ill-formed harmonics until the wee hours of the night. So if you are scheduled to meet with Father Fred, please convene with him at the parish ONE HOUR earlier than normal." She paused, making sure that everyone in the hall had absorbed her instructions before proceeding. "Finally, Sister Agnes' Tuesday night lecture, having been postponed due to last night's field hockey game, will take place tonight in Room Matthew 25. That is all. Have a good evening, girls, and God Bless."

At this final announcement, Sister Agnes' eyes widened in surprise and she looked at Darien sheepishly. "Fancy that," she stammered. "I'd better go and prepare." She curtseyed briefly to Darien, ignoring the smug look on Father Fred's face, and scurried away.

"She'll be fine," Sister Catherine assured them. "Sister Agnes enjoys doing things at the last minute." She smiled demurely and reentered the conversation with the nuns to her left.

Left to the sole companionship of his fellow priest, Father Fred looked bemusedly at Darien, who was gazing intently at Hobbes as he chatted with the attractive nun at his right, and leaned towards him with a conspiratorial smile. "New to the priesthood?" he asked, patting Darien on the shoulder.

Darien knitted his brow, looking first at his shoulder and then at the priest. "Pretty new," he said. "Why?"

"Oh no reason," Father Fred responded. "It's just... I know how you feel. It's not an easy life. Don't hesitate to come and find me if you need to talk." He smiled sympathetically.

"Actually," said Darien, scratching the back of his head and looking back at his partner thoughtfully, "I do have a question that I was hoping you could help me with..."

Father Fred rolled his eyes angelically. "Anything."

Darien smiled. "Where's room Matthew 25?"

* * *

When the evening meal had finally finished, Darien deftly avoided making eye contact with his partner and formulated a plan of action, eager to investigate the inner workings of the school on a more covert level. As he saw it, Hobbes was right: there *was* something strange afoot at St. Mary's. But as far as Darien could tell it didn't have anything to do with Father Fred, at least not in the way that Hobbes thought. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on his part, but the priest seemed far too flaky to be willingly responsible for the dire acts his partner had suggested. Besides, Darien had been watching the man carefully throughout the meal and not once did he cast an interested eye over the assembled student populace. He seemed vastly more eager to chat with Darien and playfully snipe at the hapless nuns than to ogle supple young co-eds. No, if there was strange behavior transpiring behind the scenes it was doubtless to be found in the gifted classes about which the nuns had been so reluctant to converse.

Once Sister Ursula had dismissed the assemblage at large, Darien ignored Hobbes' beckoning gesture, ducked out the side service entrance, and made his way circuitously to a classroom that opened onto the main hallway. Father Fred had given him a vague idea of where his destination was located but as the priest did not have any formal teaching responsibilities he had been somewhat uncertain as to its exact whereabouts.

Darien flattened himself against the wall of the darkened classroom, peering cautiously around the doorway to see if anyone was approaching. His path appeared clear, but he decided it would be more prudent to shun visibility just in case someone should happen upon him - with so many girls, each with an apparent propensity for self-concealment, he did not want to risk being spotted. Out of habit, he glanced down at his tattoo and then turned his wrist over to look at his watch. Once he had ascertained the time, however, something registered. Something worrying. He looked at his tattoo again. It was more than half red.

"What the...?" He cupped a hand over his mouth, which was apparently unable to stay silent of its own accord, and continued to stare at the tattoo. How could his neurotoxin levels have risen so far? He'd had a full tank of counteragent when they had left the agency and had barely used any quicksilver. He frowned, suddenly *very* grateful that Hobbes had insisted on bringing an extra dose of counteragent, but already dreading the number of needle pricks it would take before his partner actually found a vein. He shook himself. 'Think about that later,' he admonished. 'For now, conserve, conserve, conserve.'

Now consigned to make his way to Sister Agnes' classroom in full visibility mode, Darien was about to step out into the corridor when he was arrested by a firm hand on his shoulder, long fingernails digging lightly into his skin.

"Hi Father Fox." It was Britney, this time without her sidekicks. "What's shakin'?" She leaned against the wall dreamily, well inside Darien's cylinder of personal space, and tilted her head forward so that her twin, golden braids fell forward across her shoulders.

Darien sighed impatiently. He really didn't have the time to deal with a repressed would-be cheerleader and her hormonally induced puppy love. Thankfully, however, he managed to maintain a degree of tact and avoid using those specific words in his response. "First of all, it's Father Fawkes," he over-enunciated, taking a deep, calming breath. "I can tell you're spelling it wrong in your head by the way you're pronouncing it, so stop it. And second of all it's *Father* Fawkes. Get the picture?"

Britney batted her eyes innocently and edged closer, inching one of her saddle shoe-clad feet to rest gently against Darien's inner arch. "Not really," she said with a coquettish smile. She reached out to brush an imaginary piece of lint off of Darien's shirt and let her slender hand linger on his chest.

Darien regarded the girl seriously, reaching up to deftly remove her hand from his person. "You know, Britney," he said, offering a mildly irritated laugh. "I hate to burst your little bubble here, but most men find the really, really, really obvious approach something of a turn-off." Still clasping her wrist, he gently pushed her away.

Britney pulled her arm back irritably and slouched against the wall, pouting. "What do you know?" she snapped, folding her arms across her chest. "You're celibate."

"Yes, and now you know why." Leaning his shoulder against the door frame, Darien looked at her earnestly.

Slouching a little further down the wall, the girl looked at the floor and sighed, displaying perhaps the first genuine sentiment Darien had heretofore witnessed from her. She furrowed her brow and gazed up into his eyes. "But don't you ever feel like you're... like... missing something? Something *major*?" Her doe-eyes peered up at him, almost pleading, and in their depths Darien could see genuine pain. It suddenly became all too clear to him that she was just a stupid, lonely, confused kid. Whatever kind of spiritual guidance she was getting at this school, it sure as hell wasn't working. His heart softened and his countenance followed suit as he reached out to brush a tear away from her youthful cheek with his thumb. She clutched at his hand like a lifeline, the trickle on her cheek clearly heralding a barely contained torrent. Breathing slowly, she lifted her eyes to meet Darien's, awaiting his response. He looked down at her empathetically, trying to formulate an appropriately sensitive statement.

"No," came a stern voice from across the room, interrupting Darien before he could even begin. "No he doesn't."

Startled, Darien looked up to see Hobbes standing at the rear entrance of the room, arms folded and shaking his head almost imperceptibly.

"Oh!" Britney gasped, leaping away from Darien in surprise. "Hello, Father. I... uh... really should be going. I have class now anyway." She edged towards the door awkwardly. "Thank you for the talk, Father Fawkes. Bye!" She smiled sheepishly and tripped backwards over the small step at the door's threshold. "Whoops. Bye," she said again, waving briefly before turning on her heels and hot-footing it down the corridor.

Darien waved uncertainly at the retreating figure and then turned back towards his partner, not overly enthusiastic about making eye contact. He slouched against the wall and raised his eyes warily, meeting Hobbes' irritated gaze. "What?!" he said defensively, knowing perfectly well 'what.'

Hobbes was calm, folding his hands in front of him. "And what was that?" he inquired quietly.

Shrugging guiltily, Darien stammered. "What? Nothing." His eyes darted about, finally finding purchase on a desk Britney had overturned on her way out of the room. He paused, considering the desk curiously. Why was he feeling so guilty? He hadn't done anything wrong... He'd felt a spark of sympathy, perhaps, but could hardly be condemned for such a sin. And yet, he didn't want to look Hobbes in the eye.

Regarding him testily, Hobbes crossed towards him. "Look, To Sir With Love, it's time you started taking this assignment seriously, and step one is to remember to keep your hands off the damn co-eds."

Darien shook his head, looking at his partner earnestly. "Hobbes, I swear... I... C'mon, man, she's like fourteen."

"Actually, she's more like eighteen," countered Hobbes frankly. "And let me tell you something, my friend, she knows perfectly well what she's doing." His face was frozen into the expressionless physiognomy he always adopted when he was listening, triangulating, or really, really pissed.

"Nothing happened, Hobbes," Darien insisted, feeling angered and wounded by his partner's suspicion but unable to shake off the strange feeling of wrongdoing. Behind Hobbes, the full moon shone through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting thin, horizontal shadows across the floor and lending a Film Noir pall to the entire room. Darien wondered, briefly, whether Hobbes was going to pull the Maltese Falcon from behind his back an conk him over the head with it.

"Whatever, Fawkes," Hobbes pursed his lips, glancing briefly to the side and then back at his partner. He waved his hand dismissively but was clearly not letting the topic drop in his own mind. "Look," he said, donning his most professional expression, "did you scrape up any dirt on Father Ted or not?"

Darien blinked, startled by but overwhelmingly grateful for this sudden change in subject. "Uh... no," he said shaking his head as if waking up suddenly from a deep sleep. "Sorry, but as far as I could tell the guy's clean. A little weird... okay, a *lot* weird... but I really don't see any reason to suspect him of what you're suspecting him of."

Hobbes narrowed his eyes. "I'll tell you what I suspect him of," he growled, wagging his finger, "I suspect him of being a suspicious suspect worthy of suspicion. And I furthermore suspect that if you don't suspect him it's because your *in*spection of him was suspiciously unspectacular, as you might expect I suspected. That's what *I* suspect." He glared pointedly at his unresponsive partner before throwing up his hands and beginning to pace the room. Darien watched him for a while before he replied.

"Are you done?" he asked.

Hobbes stopped pacing and looked at Darien. "No," he responded decisively. "No I'm not done. I am very far from done. Because before I can be done I've got to go get the skinny on this pervert and his so-called music lessons." He nodded vehemently. "Now are you with me or not?"

Darien considered for a moment. "I think I'm going to have to go with 'not,'" he said with little apology in his tone. "There's something weird about this gifted program everyone keeps not talking about. Every mention of these classes has seemed extremely shady and I'd like to know why."

Somewhat taken aback by his partner's pat refusal, Hobbes looked up at him and frowned. "Oh, so you're just going to go ahead and launch your own little investigation then, are you? You're just going to go off on your own because you think *your* unfounded suspicions are more important than my practically proven ones. That's just great."

"Hobbes, why are you being like this?" Darien sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He felt a headache coming on. "Is this about what happened with Britney just now?"

"You said nothing happened with Britney."

"You know what I mean." Darien rolled his eyes peevishly.

"Maybe I do and maybe I don't," Hobbes responded, his expression solemn. "I may not be a know-it-all college boy like some people, but there's one thing I do know and it's that partners should back each other up. Even though those partners might sometimes not agree or understand where the other is coming from. It's what partners do." He paused, locking Darien in an intense and earnest gaze. "You're wearing the collar, my friend, it's time to find a little faith."

Darien paused in his response, uncertain, torn.

Quick to lose patience at this stage, Hobbes glared, shaking his head in frustration. "You know what? Forget it, Fawkes. You go launch your investigation and have a merry old time. I'll be in the parish keeping an eye on Father Over-friendly." His eyes narrowed angrily and, imbued with newfound purpose, he strode towards the door. "Have fun, Fawkes," he muttered as he closed the door behind him, leaving Darien on his own in the moonlit schoolroom.

* * *

In the hallway outside, Hobbes paused, hand still grasping the knob of the oak classroom door. He bit the inside of his lip pensively. 'Damn you, Fawkes,' he thought, looking from the closed door to the corridor and back again. Nothing could ever be easy, could it? After another moment of consideration he released the knob, but lingered to tap it uncertainly with his open palm several times before finally making up his mind and turning to trot down the corridor, slipping quietly through the wide door that opened up onto the courtyard.

Outside, the full moon hovered high over the East Wall, illuminating the courtyard with an almost divine glow. Out of habit more than anything else, Hobbes flattened himself against the broad stones of the North Wall, surveying the area for any other occupants. He saw no one. The far corners were shrouded in shadow, but there was no discernible motion from within. Beyond the outer wall to the southwest, he could make out the silhouette of a large hawk perched in the upper branches of a redwood. The bird had noticed him and was regarding him with interest. Hobbes nodded cordially to the hawk which, suddenly distracted by something more interesting, jerked its head to the south and took off in a broad swoop.

'Great,' thought Hobbes grimly, 'even the local wildlife abandons me.'

A sudden noise from inside distracted him from any wallowing that may have ensued and Hobbes leaned back, listening intently in an attempt to separate the low thud of footfalls from the myriad sounds that wafted down from the open dormitory windows above him. The tread was heavy, definitely a man's, and Father Fred had hustled off to the parish immediately after dinner.

'Atta boy, Fawkes,' he thought, 'sounds like you're coming around... Better late than never.' He flattened his hand against the door, hoping to feel the vibrations of the footsteps amplify, but it was far too solidly constructed to yield any useful information. Opening the door a crack, he listened with increasing disappointment as the steps grew fainter. He hazarded a glance inside just in time to see Fawkes disappear around a corner midway down the corridor. Hobbes frowned. 'Or maybe not.'

A peal of laughter from one of the windows above broke the calm of the courtyard and reminded Hobbes of his mission. He had to face the fact that, like it or not, Fawkes would not be joining him. With a sigh, he stepped out of the shadows and onto the moonlit path. The evening, like the day that had preceded it, was unusually warm but as Hobbes crossed the courtyard a sudden breeze stirred up, cooling the sweat beneath his clothes and making him shiver involuntarily. Rubbing his arms to rid himself of his goosebumps, he approached the central sundial and stopped, taking in the entire scene.

The brightly lit dormitory windows of the North wall and the mirthful amalgam of conversation and laughter that drifted down from them were a stark contrast to the darkened gloom of the windowless parish and cloisters. While St. Mary's was significantly more austere than the school Hobbes had attended, he couldn't help but be reminded of that loathsome week in Catholic School, the emotional nadir of an unhappy adolescence. And what was even more similar than the grounds themselves were the situations, the people, their behavior. It was all too sickeningly familiar. He shook his head testily. It had taken years of therapy to almost get past that portion of his childhood and this mission was bringing everything back in excruciating detail. He grimaced, wondering if he would be able to persuade the Official that his psychiatrist bills should start getting covered by worker's comp.

'No problem,' he thought, 'Fawkesy and I will just have to get Eberts really drunk when we get back and convince him to work it into the budget.' The idea made him chuckle momentarily but reminded him again of his partner's refusal to help. He wasn't sure *why* he felt so strongly that Fawkes should be with him: he was perfectly capable of finding out the truth about Father Ted on his own. But something was bothering him. He felt uneasy and restless and simply just too close to the problem at hand. Anger was a big liability in his line of work and Hobbes had it in spades. He sighed, regarding the North door. What he *really* needed was emotional back-up - someone to keep him grounded in a healthy perspective - and his partner just wouldn't, or couldn't, provide it.

The wind picked up again, this time from the south, resulting in a new wave of chills and bringing with it a bevy of pollen from the thickly wooded regions further down the mountain. Hobbes sneezed, taking his next breath with difficulty as he felt his throat constricting. Wheezing, he leaned against the stone sundial for support and fished around in his coat until he found his inhaler.

"Fucking pollen," he panted as he shook the inhaler vigorously and took three quick puffs. His breathing steadied as the medication took effect and even though his heart was racing he felt calm, he felt controlled, he felt... dizzy as hell.

Before his countenance could even register surprise, Hobbes reeled and collapsed, falling bonelessly to the cold stone of the pathway.

* * *

A few minutes after Hobbes' departure, Darien was striding purposefully down one of the vacant side corridors of the labyrinthine classroom complex in search of room Matthew 25. For a few moments he had considered going after his partner but eventually decided his time would be better spent on some preliminary reconnaissance. After all, as upset as Hobbes had been, he was still typically quick to bounce back, his anger swiftly subsiding to his incomparable affability and loyalty. In the end, Darien had decided that the best way to set things straight with his partner was to gather some evidence to support his own suspicions. In the meantime, Hobbes would get a chance to cool off and most likely discover that his own mistrust of Farmer Fred was wholly unfounded.

By the time he managed to find his destination, tucked at the end of an obscure side corridor, Sister Agnes' class was already more than half over. The door to the room was extremely thick, much moreso than even those that led outdoors, and after placing his ear against it had yielded little more than muffled voices Darien sighed and resignedly knocked.

There was a moment of pause before Sister Agnes said, "Come in?"

Darien opened the door and poked his head in. About a dozen girls stood in a circle at the front of the room, balancing books on their heads. Britney was among them but lost control of her book when she turned her head to wink at Darien. With an embarrassed smile she knelt down to retrieve it, keeping her eyes fixed on the new arrival. Sister Agnes stood just outside the circle, wielding a yardstick. The word "POSTURE" was written in large letters on the chalkboard and had been underlined several times. "Sorry," said Darien sheepishly. "Am I interrupting something important?"

"Not at all," Sister Agnes responded with a sweet but nervous smile. "Father Fred mentioned you might be stopping by. We were just learning about how polished young ladies ought to carry themselves in public."

"Really," Darien said, making an unsuccessful attempt at masking his amusement. "And this is a gifted class, you say?"

"Oh absolutely!" the nun replied proudly. "Each one of these girls has to be specially selected in order to take this class." As if to punctuate their teacher's statement, the entire collection of girls smiled vapidly and tilted their heads to the right at the exact same angle.

Darien took an involuntary step back. 'Catholic debutante robots,' he thought. 'Creepy.' He started edging towards the door, bemusedly wondering if it was the enforced finishing school that ultimately precipitated Hobbes' decision to part ways with the Catholic educational system. "Well," he said in an exaggeratedly official tone. "I don't want to keep you fine youngsters from your education, so I suppose I'll be running along."

"You're welcome to stay for the last few minutes of class," prompted Sister Agnes, shooing the girls back to their seats. "We were just about to preview next week's lesson. We'll be talking about forks!" She added this last statement with unchecked eagerness, as if no one could resist a sneak peek of her world famous fork lecture.

A tight-lipped smile the only thing barring him from hysterical laughter, Darien gestured apologetically. "Thanks," he said, "but I wouldn't dream of interrupting you for any longer. Enjoy the end of class, girls." His hand already on the brass knob of the heavy door, he began to swing it open.

"Bye, Father Fox!" chirped Britney abruptly and awkwardly, causing some of her classmates to giggle and others to roll their eyes in irritation.

"Bye bye," he responded with ingenuine cheerfulness to the room as a whole. He swung the door open wide and stepped casually past it, lightly gripping the outside knob to keep it from closing. He took a quick deep breath and quicksilvered, rolling deftly back around the door and into the classroom as it swung slowly to a close.

The room was in silence and the girls, neatly seated in a three by four grid, all looked up at Sister Agnes attentively. The nun, in turn, was peering raptly at the door. When she was satisfied that no further interruption seemed likely to be forthcoming she leaned forward on her desk, regarding her students with an aggressive air.

"One of you," she said darkly, eyes flitting from girl to girl, "is about to get the opportunity to graduate from this class."

* * *

Darkness. The world of Bobby Hobbes had been reduced to darkness. And pain, specifically a pounding headache. And confusion. He shook his head and tried to look around. Still nothing but darkness. "Christ, I've gone blind," he croaked.

Closing his eyes because, why not, he put a hand to his head and tried to reconstruct where the hell he was. He remembered dinner and catching Fawkes in the arms of an overgrown Barbie and... after that it got a little fuzzy. What the hell had happened? Had he made it back to the parish? He sat up abruptly and his forehead struck something hard and irregular, like weathered rock. He pitched backwards at the pain and the back of his head connected sharply with a cold, stone floor.

"Shit." Hobbes rolled onto his side and doubled over, clutching his head. Eyes squeezed tight, he took a few deep breaths to relax his body and then rolled over once more onto his back. He felt the soft tickle of grass at his neck but his behind and lower back were pressed against the less forgiving medium of travel-worn stone. 'Courtyard,' he thought as his eyes flickered open again.

Above him, Hobbes could see the pearly swath of the Milky Way. He directed his eyes uncertainly from left to right, testing out his vision, before drawing in his legs and shakily rising to his feet. Staggering back to the sundial for support, he crouched down to inspect a few spots of blood underneath. He frowned, dabbing gingerly at the back of his head and rubbing the small amount of blood that came free thoughtfully between his thumb and forefingers. He crouched lower, examining the underside of the sundial and assessing the texture of its surface with his thumb.

"Oh yeah," he muttered, placing his palm gently against his forehead. "That's the one that got me."

Hobbes looked up at the moon, his memories coming into sharper focus. Its position in the sky relative to what it had been before the blackout implied that he had been unconscious for just under an hour. The dormitory windows were universally dark and Hobbes concluded that it was probably just past lights out. He was about to reassess his plan of action in light of the hour when he heard a soft click as the West door unlatched, the noise echoing across the walls of the silent courtyard. Crouching beneath the sundial, Hobbes watched and waited.

When the door swung open it revealed Father Fred emerging from the parish vestibule. He looked around furtively, and Hobbes was grateful he had happened to pass out in the one part of the courtyard that offered suitable cover. The priest was carrying something. Hobbes couldn't quite tell what it was but it was white and the intense light of the full moon seemed to make it glow eerily. Continuing to peer around the courtyard nervously, Father Fred crossed, mindless of the impeccably manicured grass, to the South door, beyond which supposedly lay the sub-standard athletic facilities.

Once the priest was inside, Hobbes risked venturing out into the open. Still extremely woozy, his progress was slow and unsteady and by the time he reached the South wall he was short of breath. As he crouched near the door, his hand went instinctually to his ankle holster, unsnapping the leather strap that held the gun in place. He reached up to carefully test the door handle and was unsurprised to find that it was locked. Feeling exasperated and helpless, he listened at the door, his eyes widening, then narrowing, then widening again at what he heard. Unable to sit idly by any longer, he leapt up, determined to break the door down or shoot the lock off or do whatever he had to do. As he sprang to his feet, however, the blood rushed away from his head painfully, emerging from the back of his scalp in a thin trickle as a wave of dizziness overtook him.

Before he lost consciousness for the second time, Hobbes managed to grunt, "Aw crap."

* * *

At least half a dozen carefully manicured hands shot up at the opportunity to escape Sister Agnes' class earlier than planned. Perched on a table at the back of the room, Darien quirked an eyebrow in amusement. 'Guess they're not too wild about forks either.'

But despite this moment of levity he was concerned. The eagerness with which these girls were volunteering for Sister Agnes' "special project" and the marked change in the nun's demeanor after Darien's supposed departure were commensurately troubling.

Pacing the front of the room with a gait and stance more befitting of George C. Scott than Sally Field, Sister Agnes had launched into an oration which ranged in topics from honor and duty to wealth and professional advancement. "There are many of you," she was saying, "whom I feel are ready for this challenge, but as you know there can be only one. And I need not remind you that you have some extraordinary shoes to fill. I'm sure you all remember Amanda and the excellent work she did with the state inspector last spring." A few of the girls at the front nodded earnestly, while others pulled faces and mouthed the words along with the nun, clearly a little tired of that particular story. In the middle of the room Britney sat with a disconcerted expression. She rested her chin on her hand and twirled her hair with the end of a garish, pink pencil.

Sister Agnes continued. "Now I'm sure that any of you would do a perfectly adequate job. But if you have learned anything from my class it should be that CTS is not about adequacy. It's about..."

"Precision and efficiency," chorused the girls with an impressive span of enthusiasm.

"Correct," said Sister Agnes with a sharp nod. "And because I feel that her particular combination of assets will permit her to accomplish our goal with maximal precision and efficiency, I have selected Katie for this very special assignment."

A low murmur spread across the room and one of the girls in front, tall and slender with long, auburn hair, beamed in pleasure, pumping her fist in triumph, and enthusiastically whispered, "Yes!"

Sister Agnes smiled at Katie benevolently. "I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job with Father Hobbes."

Darien raised his eyebrows. 'Okay, this is getting interesting. What did she call this subject again? CTS?' The acronym struck a familiar chord but he couldn't quite seem to place it.

"Father Hobbes... Which one is he again?" asked a petite brunette at the back of the class. She barely looked old enough to be in high school and her eyes blinked wide and curious behind medium-length strands of mousy hair.

Britney turned around, scowling. "He's the short one. Duh. Do your research."

"Father Hobbes is the shorter one?" chirped Katie, twisting in her chair to address Britney. "Thank God!"

"No blasphemy!" Sister Agnes warned.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Britney frowned at her classmate, ignoring the nun's admonishing look.

Katie shrugged and reached up to twirl a strand of soft curls with her finger. "I dunno," she mumbled, squirming in her chair awkwardly. "I just think he's cute. Not like that other one."

"What?!" Britney was aghast. "Father Fawkes is totally hot!"

'Atta girl, Britney,' thought Darien with amusement. 'Way to go to bat for the old I-man.'

The girls in the class began to faction themselves into cadres as the discussion became more heated. Katie now glared at Britney with steely eyes. "As if," she said, garnering nods of agreement from a smattering of classmates. "Did you *see* his hair?"

Britney scoffed, testily positioning the palm of her hand between herself and her misguided rival. "Whatever. You and your freak bald fetish can just hit the highway."

'Ouch,' thought Darien, wondering if this argument would come to blows, and whether it was morally wrong for him to kind of want it to.

The little brunette chimed in. "I kinda like them both."

This statement was met by a simultaneous, "Shut up, Portia," from Britney and Katie.

"Enough!" Sister Agnes bellowed, rapping her yard stick violently against the desk. "If you wish to discuss the merits of clerical hairstyles you may do it on your own time. It is already past lights out, so class dismissed. Katie, I'll need you to stay after for a few moments so I can brief you on your assignment."

Katie skipped to the front of the room, turning to stick her tongue out at Britney, while the rest of the girls mulled about for a few moments, collecting their books and chatting quietly to each other before filing out.

Darien got to the front as quickly as he could without knocking anyone down, but was sufficiently delayed as to miss the first part of the discussion.

"I have no idea how long they're staying, so you're going to have to act quickly," Sister Agnes was saying when he drew within earshot. "You've had some help from Sister Clara, who sat next to him at dinner this evening, and if you want to capitalize on that you'll have to do it tonight."

Katie processed this information and nodded. "So that'll make him an easier mark?"

Sister Agnes leaned in, a cruel smile playing about her lips. "Much. Think you can handle it?"

"Absolutely," the girl replied, smiling confidently. "But I heard they were staying in the same room, and I'd rather not wind up with any witnesses. How am I supposed to get rid of the ugly one?"

Taken off guard by this remark, Darien sputtered in surprise, clapping a hand over his mouth. The two women stared in his direction but, seeing nothing, exchanged a dubious look and continued with their conversation.

"Don't worry about Father Fawkes," the nun assured her pupil, "we've arranged to keep him out of the way for long enough for you to dispense with Father Hobbes."

Dispense with,' thought Darien grimly. 'Okay, yeah. This is definitely bad.'

"'Kay," Katie grinned. "I'll let you know when it's done."

"Please do," replied Sister Agnes, smiling maternally.

With an air of indomitability, Katie collected her belongings and strode out the door, breezing past Britney who, Darien just noticed, had returned to the classroom and been waiting patiently at the door for the conversation to end.

He was curious, of course, as to why his young admirer had returned but at the moment he had more pressing concerns. Hobbes, for example, was clearly the target of a sinister plot and needed to be warned or rescued or both. Still, knowing he could easily catch up to Katie as long as he didn't delay *too* long, he lingered by the door, hoping to obtain some additional insight.

From behind her desk Sister Agnes looked up at Britney impatiently. "Well?"

Britney winced, not advancing from her station by the door. "We've located Father Hobbes and are keeping him under surveillance at the predesignated rendezvous point. We haven't been able to find Father Fawkes yet," she admitted ruefully, "but I've got a team waiting for him at the parish and another staked out at the main entrance."

Darien frowned. 'Right,' he thought, not quite able to reconcile the information he was hearing with the individual relaying it. 'Only two teams: that's good. They're looking for me: that's bad. They've got Hobbes: that's worse.'

Despite the concern it afforded Darien, the nun did not seem particularly pleased with this update and stalked to the back of the room angrily. "This compound is not that large, Constance. Fawkes has to be somewhere." She glanced irritably at the open door and slammed it closed.

Darien gasped in alarm. His escape route had been squelched. He was stuck in an out of the way classroom with Nun Ratchet and the slutty clone of Britney Spears with no hope of immediate egress while Hobbes was out there somewhere, the unwitting target of an adolescent assassin. As if envious of participation in this "You're so fucked, Darien" milieu, the gland decided it was time to kick in, sending a wave of pain that began in the back of his skull and spread like crackling fire through his entire nervous system. It was a relatively mild attack, much moreso than he was accustomed to, which meant he probably still had a reasonable amount of time before the madness hit, but the gland had been unpredictable lately and his meter seemed to be running fast. 'This is not good,' he thought.

The pain soon subsided but in its absence Darien's panic began to rise, concern for his partner leaping to the forefront of his mind. 'Okay, Darien, just don't freak out,' he instructed himself. 'If there's one thing old Hobbesy is good at it's keeping himself out of trouble when trouble comes looking for him.' With this steadying thought, Darien took a deep breath and turned his attention to the incriminating conversation being played out before him. If there was one thing he could be confident of it was that Bobby Hobbes was not in trouble.

* * *

Bobby Hobbes was in trouble. He felt lightheaded and woozy, almost drunk. And not the good kind of drunk - the maudlin kind of helpless kind of "There's no way I can walk all the way to the bathroom" kind of drunk. His head hurt in three places and his jaw was throbbing, presumably from when it had struck the heavy, brass handle of the South door in his most recent impromptu loss of consciousness. He had been drifting in and out ever since then, never quite achieving total mental coherence, and now he couldn't even be sure of how long it had been. An hour? A day? He just couldn't be positive. The only thing he could be positive about was that he was in trouble. A lot of it. And the jumbled voices that he could just barely make out in the background were doing little to change his opinion.

"So now what?"

"I don't know."

"You going to do it or what?"

"What? Now?!"

"No. Next fucking Bastille Day..."

"I don't know..."

"Jesus H. Christ. He needs to be dealt with and if you're not going to do it then I fucking will."

The voices were muffled but distinctly female and nearby. Not wanting to risk opening his eyes, Hobbes tried to assess the situation blind. He was definitely indoors and lying on a bed, which meant someone must have carried him inside. He could only discern two voices, but given the physique of most of the students and nuns that occupied the convent, he estimated that it would have taken at least three to carry him. Wait. There was the third one. She had just shifted her weight on a creaky chair near the bed. From the sound of it she was petite - not much help in heavy lifting - so he would have to consider the possibility of a fourth.

Hobbes shifted slightly to find out the kind of reaction it would incur. The conversation halted suddenly, but he made no further motion. Eventually, one of the girls, the frail one by the bed, piped up.

"Is he waking up?"

"No," hissed the girl that had been so free with her expletives earlier. "There are enough sedatives in his system to take out Courtney Love. He's probably just dreaming. Check his eyes for REM."

Sensing a form leaning over him, Hobbes was quick to respond, moving his eyes swiftly from side to side. The form hovered briefly and moved away.

"His eyes are moving," said the girl by the bed, whom Hobbes decided to name Tinkerbell. "Is that good?"

"Yes, it's good," snapped the one who had issued the instruction. "It means he's sleeping soundly. Now shut up and keep an eye on him."

'And the Wind named her Harpy,' mused Hobbes.

He tried to take stock of where, precisely, he was. The way the voices reverberated off of the walls he could tell the room was small and he decided it was likely they had brought him back to his own room at the parish. If this was true it meant one of two things: either Fawkes would swing by in the near future and kick everyone's ass or they'd already taken him out. Of course there was also the possibility that Fawkes would swing by in the near future and get his ass kicked but Hobbes didn't really want to think about that option. Getting his ass kicked by a couple of high school girls was beyond even Fawkes' capacity... or was it?

Hobbes' musing was cut short by a new conversation prompted by a late arrival. Aha. There was the fourth.

"What's going on?" asked the new girl.

"We're having a tea party," responded Harpy with no little acerbity.

"Petra thinks I should do it now," the other girl explained.

"What? Now?!"

"That's exactly what *I* said."

"That's funny. Really?"

"Yes," huffed Harpy. "To the word. And don't act so fucking surprised. I know you two script these things out ahead of time."

Although he could not actually hear it, Hobbes was confident that the other two muttered "Bitch" simultaneously under their breaths. Recovering rapidly from the slight at the hands of their peer, Laverne and Shirley continued their discussion.

"Wait, so are you going to do it now or not?" Shirley seemed nervous, which caused Hobbes to feel even more negatively about the bad situation he was so positive about.

Laverne hesitated. "I don't know. It seems kind of wrong to do it to him while he's unconscious."

"As opposed to when he's conscious?"

"Good point."

"Jesus, you two are pathetic." Harpy had evidently hit her breaking point. "Look, I'm heading out to see if there's been any sign of Father Fawkes. You guys just do what you need to do. Frankly, I'd rather not be here to see how badly you fuck this up."

Harpy's barrage was met with silence, with the exception of the slight rustle of sheets as Hobbes shifted his position, noticing a worrying lack of weight resting against his right ankle. The form hovered over him again, more briefly this time.

"He's still sound asleep!" prompted Tinkerbell eagerly.

"Shut up, Portia," the other three growled.

"Okay," Harpy snarled, "do you have his gun?"

"Yeah," responded Laverne in obvious annoyance.

'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,' was Hobbes' eloquent mental response.

"Good," said Harpy. "Wait. No good. I don't trust you with it. Give it to her."

"Why would a priest have a gun?" Tinkerbell asked.

There was no verbal answer to this inquiry, but Hobbes rightly assumed that the glare directed at Tinkerbell was enough to convey the intended response.

"You," barked Harpy. "You do know how to use that thing, right? Just point and shoot."

"I'm not a baby," sniped Shirley.

Harpy scoffed. "Fooled me." There was a rustling sound followed by a metallic squeak and a heavy thud. A door opened and closed.

"Bitch," stated Laverne and Shirley flatly.

"So," began Tinkerbell meekly. "You going to do it?"

"I guess so," said Laverne.

"No time like the present," said Shirley.

'I'm fucked,' thought Hobbes. 'Guess it's now or never.' He sat up abruptly, raising his fists into combat position, an action that was met by surprised screams from the three girls. His vision was markedly blurred, but he could see well enough to determine that he was, in fact, in his room at the parish. At least that he had been correct about. What he hadn't been correct about was his estimation that he would be able to sit up. Even before the girls' screams stopped ringing in his head, he found himself thinking, 'this is getting pretty fucking old,' as blackness filled his vision and he fell listlessly backwards, plunging off the side of the bed.

* * *

"Can I talk to you about something else for a second, Sister Agnes?" Britney asked, leaning hesitantly toward the nun.

Darien sighed wearily. He had hoped that once the report from the front lines had been sufficiently bandied about, Britney would return to the troops and provide him with a viable exit.

"Sure," the nun replied wearily, leaning against the wall and clasping her hands. "Look, if this is about the assignment I'm not going to change my mind. Katie's the best one for the job."

"I know," said Britney, tracing circles on the ground with her toe. "I was just wondering why it was just Father Hobbes that we're going after. I mean, couldn't we target Father Fawkes too? I'd be happy to volunteer for the job."

'Oh. Et tu, Britney?'

Sister Agnes smirked. "I bet you would. Sister Catherine told me you paid him a little visit at the parish."

Rolling her eyes, Britney nodded. "Yeah," she said as if the fact of the matter were obvious. "I've been operating in full effect since, like, the first second he was here. I think it's working, too."

Intrigued, the nun leaned forward, further blocking Darien's path to the door. "Amaze me," she challenged.

"Well, you know... I've just been, like, talking to him and stuff." She was obviously eager to describe her accomplishments but seemed strangely shy about it.

'This can't be good,' Darien thought.

"And what methodology have you employed?" The nun was curious but irritatingly smug, as one who knows in advance that the answer about to be given will be wrong.

Britney bit her lip and looked searchingly at the ceiling, racking the far reaches of her memory. She looked at the nun, wide-eyed and hopeful. "Gambit 154N?"

Blinking in surprise, Sister Agnes regarded her student dubiously. "Really. And Gambit 154N would be...?"

Clasping her hands behind her as if for recitation, Britney answered. "Misguided flirtation and overt sexuality with thinly veiled inner pain."

Darien's jaw dropped. 'That little bitch.'

Sister Agnes nodded her head slowly and smiled, clearly impressed. "Ah... the Monroe Maneuver. An excellent selection, Constance." Britney grinned cheerfully at this praise, but the nun raised a staying finger. "But that particular strategy is actually Gambit 239Q," she gently corrected. "154N requires somewhat more elaborate equipment than you have at your disposal here."

Britney bit her lip. "Oh. Sorry."

"Don't be." Sister Agnes offered her charge an encouraging smile. "It's the strategy selection that matters, not the nomenclature."

All smiles again, the girl leaned forward eagerly. "So can I?"

"Can you what?"

"Proceed with using Gambit 239Q on Father Fawkes."

"Sorry, dear, but no." The nun shrugged apologetically but her words were firm.

Britney stamped her foot and slouched roughly against the doorframe. "But why not? How come Katie gets to have all the fun with dumb old Father Hobbes?" Her voice was plaintive, irritatingly so.

"Because he's the ranking clergyman. He's the one that determines our evaluation, NOT your pin-up priest." Sister Agnes' voice was getting sharper and deep frown lines marred her face. She was clearly getting fed up with this topic.

Heedless of her instructors irritation, Britney was insistent. "Well can't we just seduce them both?"

'Seduction,' thought Darien, raising his eyebrows. 'Well this is interesting... Okay, and creepy. But at least this means that if I don't get to Hobbes in time, the worst that'll happen is he'll be forced to get it on with a hot, barely legal young vixen. Sir Galahad, meet your peril.' Although he was sarcastic about it, even to himself, Darien was immensely relieved to learn that Hobbes had not been earmarked for assassination, just sex. Presumably for blackmail over the school review. 'Ha,' Darien thought. 'Joke's on them.'

Sister Agnes shook her head definitively. "First of all, no. That would be a waste of energy and resources. And second of all, it wouldn't matter anyway. According to Father Fred, your Father Fawkes is a lost cause. He would resist your attempts at temptation and our entire operation would be exposed."

Britney frowned. "What do you mean? You taught us that every man has his weak spots."

"Oh, they do," Sister Agnes assured her. "It's just that beautiful young ladies do not happen to be a weak spot for Father Fawkes." She raised her eyebrows meaningfully.

Darien furrowed his brow, considering her meaning, and looked up at the nun grumpily. 'Hey!'

The implication finally dawning on her, Britney blinked in confusion. "But aren't you supposed to, like, get thrown out of the church for stuff like that?"

Sister Agnes rolled her eyes. "Welcome to the New Catholic Church," she said. "You can get away with all kinds of sin if you work in the Administrative Branch."

"Oh." A pensive expression on her face, Britney chewed a nail thoughtfully. Suddenly struck with inspiration, she snapped her fingers. "Hey, couldn't you have them send one of the boys from St. Bartholomew's over?"

Sister Agnes chuckled. "Well they're not really trained for that."

Britney pouted, much to the amusement of her teacher. "Why are you so determined to get this poor man seduced?" The nun was bemused, but genuinely curious.

"I dunno." Britney shrugged. "I like him."

"So to show your affection you're looking to manipulate him into breaking his vows to God?"

"Yep. Hey, he might enjoy it and realize he's made the wrong lifestyle choice. I mean, there can't be many things worse than being in the clergy. No offense, Sister."

The nun laughed and regarded her student quizzically. "You are a devious little bitch, aren't you?"

Britney grinned and nodded emphatically.

"Well keep up the good work," Sister Agnes smiled. "With that attitude you're going to get far in this business. Very far."

* * *

'Well this is just fucking great,' thought Hobbes, wedged in the narrow space between the bed and outside wall. Although the dizziness had overtaken him when he sat up he had managed to hang on to consciousness by sheer force of will. He turned his head to gauge whether it would be advisable, or indeed physically possible, to slide under the bed and out the other side as a potential escape route. No dice.

Not far away, the three girls were discussing what action they should take in low murmurs. From the tremors in their voices Hobbes could tell they were scared. That was good. It meant they were weak. But the fear also made them more dangerous. And, of course, they had a gun. Scared and weak and holding a gun was a bad, bad combo.

Hobbes closed his eyes tightly, trying to force them into focus. He took a deep breath and assessed his position. It was, at the least, easily defended. Anyone who came after him would have to leave themselves pretty exposed, vulnerable to a kick to the solar plexus or a palm heel strike to the nose. He had one free arm and one free leg and hopefully that would be all he'd need. Bracing himself against the wall, Hobbes readied himself for the attack. If those high school girls wanted a piece of Bobby Hobbes, he'd send them home crying for rhinoplasty. He took a deep breath. As long as he didn't get shot, his plan was going to work perfectly.

The girls' conversation fell suddenly silent and a metallic click resounded through the stillness. Hobbes held his breath. 'They found the safety... This is it... And where the hell is Fawkes? It's way past his bedtime.'

What happened next Hobbes would never have expected, even with prior briefing. One moment he was staring at the plaster-swirled ceiling, anticipating that the next thing that entered his field of view would be the business end of his own backup Browning .380 ACP, the next moment all he could see was skin, skin, everywhere skin. The skin landed on top of him with an ungraceful thud. It was girl-shaped.

When he got over his initial shock, Hobbes happened to notice that the girl-shaped skin was perfect and pale, topped with long auburn hair and featuring impossibly emerald eyes with matching lingerie. He also couldn't help but apprehend that she was straddling his chest and attempting to kiss him.

"Get off," he demanded, swatting her searching hands away testily.

"That's the idea," responded the girl coyly. Hobbes recognized from her voice that it was Laverne.

"I mean, quit it." He reached over with his free hand, the other still pinned underneath him, and tried to restrain her wrists but she kept managing to wriggle free.

"Oh, that's good," Shirley lilted from the foot of the bed. "Beautiful work. Beautiful."

Hobbes narrowed his eyes and, pushing Laverne aside by bracing his forearm against her sternum, lifted his head to see Shirley, whom he recognized as one of their young visitors from earlier that afternoon, beaming at him from behind a camera so souped up it looked like it was on loan from National Geographic.

"Put that down, Shirley," he snapped.

Laverne stopped struggling for a moment and looked at him strangely, like HE was the one prancing around in bright green underwear. "Who's Shirley?" she asked, echoed by her co-conspirator.

"She is," Hobbes replied wearily. He glared at Shirley. "You," he ordered, "put that camera down NOW. And you," he turned to Laverne, "get off of me and help me up. The whole right side of my body is falling asleep. And YOU," he tilted his head back to see where Tinkerbell had poked her tiny, stringy-haired head over the edge of the bed to see what was going on,"... go away."

The three girls looked at him, completely agog. "Do it!" he demanded.

Hobbes had to hand it to them: whatever these three little menaces were about they sure as hell could follow orders. Within seconds he had been hoisted up and placed on the bed, seated comfortably. He was still too dizzy to stand but he could stay upright, which at least was an improvement. Laverne and Shirley stood at attention, obviously not quite sure how they had arrived at this arrangement, and Tinkerbell had obligingly retreated to the chair in the corner.

Hobbes frowned at the girls, who avoided his gaze shamefully. "Now what exactly did you think you were doing here?" He snatched up Shirley's camera from where it lay guiltily next to him on the bed and brandished it at them reproachfully before popping open the film compartment and removing its contents.

The girls winced at the loss.

"Well?" Hobbes prompted.

Shirley bit her lip and crinkled her nose but actually managed to make eye contact. "We were doing a journalism project?" she hazarded.

"What, like 'Debbie Does the Deacon?' I don't think so."

The girls were silent, either too dumbfounded or too terrified or too almost naked to speak.

"Look, who put you up to this?"

Nothing. At length, however, a meek voice from the back of the room suggested, "Nobody?"

Hobbes jumped, startled. He'd completely forgotten that Tinkerbell was there. 'She should be a spook,' he thought with a slight smirk. "Nobody," he repeated.

Shirley was quick to corroborate. "That's right. This was our idea. Katie here just had a crush on you and all and... it's kind of embarrassing... It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Hobbes leaned back on his elbows, glancing from girl to girl skeptically. His head was finally, thankfully, beginning to clear. He still felt drunk, but it was a good kind of drunk. It was a Bruce Willis kind of Die Hard kind of "Don't test me, you Nazi motherfucker, because if I don't save the lives of all her prick coworkers my wife is going to divorce me" kind of drunk. Only Bruce Willis wasn't drunk in that movie, but that's still how Hobbes felt. He leaned forward to address the girls in a confidential tone. "Allow me to let you in on a secret. We have a little saying down at E&M - that's Education and Missionaries - Admin. And that saying is, 'You can't fool Father Hobbes.' Now come clean, girls. Who's really behind this?"

"Nobody," the three girls chimed, Laverne with significantly less conviction than the others.

Hobbes quirked an eyebrow and regarded the redhead. He stood slowly, making sure he could keep his balance, and took a few unsteady steps towards her. "Is that right?" he asked, ducking and bobbing his head to maintain eye contact. "This is all just because you had a little crush on me?"

Laverne looked away, squeezing her eyes closed. Her full, perfectly bowed lips folded into a frown.

Placing a finger under her chin, Hobbes slowly turned her face forward. "Answer me," he gently ordered.

The girl's eyes flew open and Hobbes saw with surprise that they were brimming with tears, the capillaries in her reddened scleras vivid in contrast to the impossible green of her irises. She blinked away the tears and drew her forearm unceremoniously across her face as more started to flow. "Yes, okay?" she sobbed, her whole face reddening as she choked out the words. "Yes I had a crush on you. And I got in an argument with this other girl and bet her that I could... I know was stupid. *Totally* stupid. But it won't happen again, I promise. I am sorry, Father Hobbes. So sorry. I should never have done it and I should never have gotten these two involved." She broke down in hysterics, clutching at Hobbes' arm and burying her head in his shoulder.

Unsure of how to respond, Hobbes reached around and, elbow out, patted Laverne on the back awkwardly. He glanced over at Shirley, who just widened her eyes in confusion and shrugged.

"Okay, okay," Hobbes muttered after the principle fit of sobbing had died down. "I think you girls have... uh... learned your lesson... So why don't you three go off to bed and say an extra set of prayers while you're at it."

The girls looked relieved but somewhat confused. "That's it?" asked Shirley.

Tinkerbell took a step forward. "Don't you need us to say penance or something?"

"Uh. Yeah..." Hobbes stammered. "Oh, just the usual, you know. On second thought, make it a double. An throw in a family-sized side order of Hail Mary's while you're at it."

"'Kay. Thanks," said Shirley uncertainly, putting an arm around the still sniffling Laverne. The three girls began to scramble up onto Fawkes' diagonal rollaway.

"Wait," said Hobbes suddenly. Obediently, the girls turned around. "You," he said, waggling his index finger in Laverne's direction, "put some clothes on before you catch a cold. And you," he grabbed the camera from the bed and handed it to Shirley, "this room is three feet wide. This particular art project did not, therefore, necessitate a telescopic lens. And you..." he paused, trying to think of something appropriately disciplinary to impart upon Tinkerbell, "... shut up."

The three girls nodded and turned towards the door, springboarding on the edge of the bed slightly as they leapt down in turn. With a mouthed 'Thanks' to Hobbes, Shirley smiled weakly and closed the door behind her.

Hobbes watched them go and then sat down on the bed heavily, flopping backwards and putting a hand to his forehead. "Sure. Yeah," he muttered. "Exactly like when I was in school."

* * *

By the time Darien managed to escape from the Classroom of the Infinitely Long Conversations it was after midnight. Sister Agnes had dispatched Britney to check in with her surveillance teams and get an update on the progress of the plan and Darien bolted out the door the moment he had a clear path. He was hesitant to stay quicksilvered much longer given how low his meter had been earlier but he knew they were on the lookout for him so he decided that the expediency of finding Hobbes was well worth the risk.

Zigzagging through the darkened corridors, Darien thankfully managed to find the main hallway with a minimum of wrong turns. Heedless of potential witnesses, he bolted through the North door into the courtyard, determined to get to Hobbes as quickly as possible. He wasn't altogether positive why he felt this sense of urgency: it wasn't as if Hobbes was in any physical danger or that he believed his partner might give in to temptation or, even if he did, that there would be any bad ramifications other than Hobbes kicking himself afterwards and refusing to come out of the shower for three or four hours. But if there was one thing Darien had learned in his short time at the Agency it was that if you can avoid becoming embroiled in any kind of conspiracy, no matter how seemingly tame or innocuous, you are better-off one hundred percent of the time.

He was forced to slow his pace when he approached the West door, as the bright moon illuminated the forms of two girls chatting casually right next to it. As he drew nearer they erupted suddenly with laughter and then shushed each other. The shorter of the girls he recognized as one of Britney's appendages from that afternoon. Mandy. Or was it Christina? Well, whatever. She was speaking animatedly to the taller girl, who had fierce features and a cruel smile. Her thin, blond hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and she had her shirtsleeves rolled up high onto her shoulders, revealing chiseled biceps and triceps that made Darien want to go to the gym. Her right arm bore a small bandage, although she didn't seem the least bit troubled by any associated pain. She was lean, but her legs were muscular, looking like they could snap a tree trunk.

"Sucker," she said derisively as Darien approached.

"I know," laughed Mandy, or whoever the hell it was. "He's up there right now, stewing in his own juices. He sent us to bed to say our prayers."

"Priceless. Men are so fucking dumb."

Darien winced. This definitely did not bode well.

"Hey guys!" came a voice from across the courtyard, its tone a mix of perkiness and professionalism. The greeting came from Britney, who trotted over to them authoritatively. "What's the status?"

"Mission accomplished with Father Hobbes," said Mandy brightly.

The taller girl sneered at the new arrival. "There's been no sign of Father Fucks. Any word from the nimrods at the front gate?"

'Oh that's charming,' thought Darien grimly. He was *really* starting to hate this girl.

"That's *Fawkes*," Britney snapped in irritation. "And no. As far as we can tell he's just disappeared."

"Sure. Yeah. Of course. Disappeared. That makes sense. You're a brilliant fucking squad leader, you know that?"

Mandy's eyes widened in response to the other girl's comment and she looked at Britney fearfully.

"Up yours, Petra," said Britney flatly. "You may be Father Fred's favorite chew toy but *I'm* not impressed. Look, why don't you just go to bed, okay? Both of you. I'll keep a team posted at the front gate in case Father Fawkes shows... not that it really matters. If Muffin's right, then there's not much left for us to do tonight."

The three girls set off together for the North door, Mandy looking on with concern as the other two continued to assert their mutual animosity. When the door had closed behind them, Darien raced inside, through the chapel, up the stairs, and down the corridor, leaping over the rollaway to find Hobbes sitting on the bed, chin on fist, bearing a grim, contemplative expression.

"You okay, partner?" inquired Darien breathily, shedding his quicksilver so suddenly that Hobbes leapt back in surprise, putting a hand to his chest.

"Don't do that!" Hobbes gasped, glaring up at him. "And where the hell have you been, anyway?"

"Sorry." Darien offered an apologetic half smile and decided to ignore his partner's question in favor of restating his own. "So... um... how're you doing? Do you feel... violated?"

Hobbes glared up at the other man testily. "Fawkes, what the hell are you... Wait a minute." He narrowed his eyes. "Were you in here the whole time?"

Darien raised his eyebrows, shaking his head in protest.

"You were, weren't you?" Hobbes insisted. He prowled towards his parnter suspiciously. "You were in here the whole time, you bastard. What, you get your kicks by watching a girl in her underwear climb all over me?"

Eyes widening, Darien smirked. "She showed up in her underwear?"

"Yeah," said Hobbes, relaxing again as he allayed his advance. "At least I think it was underwear. It was almost too small to be underwear." He gestured vaguely to try to indicate the size and shape of the garments but quickly gave up. "So you really weren't here?"

"Of course not," Darien assured him, sitting next to him on the bed and resting his arm amiably and, he hoped, sympathetically across his shoulders. "I would never let her do that to you."

Raising his eyebrows curiously, Hobbes turned to face his partner. "And what is it, precisely, that you think she did?"

Darien fidgeted. "You know," he muttered awkwardly. "Stuff. The stuff... that she... you know... did to you?" He wrinkled his nose and regarded Hobbes pitifully.

Hobbes rolled his eyes. "Nothing happened, Fawkes."

Darien sat up, perplexed. "Okay... But they said... the girls outside were saying that their mission was a success."

"Yeah," said Hobbes, nodding thoughtfully. "They think it was. I don't think anything was supposed to happen."

"Really." Darien was skeptical. "So the underwear was just a matter of forgetfulness, then. I have to tell you, I personally do not often go to visit priests without remembering to put any of my clothes on. I'm telling you, Hobbes, I heard their plan. They're trying to seduce you."

"Yeah I know, Fawkes," Hobbes replied, rubbing his temples wearily, "but that's not how it works. Look, the direct approach never works on anyone... at least anyone with willpower," he eyed his partner accusingly. "But pretending to botch the job and allowing the target to turn you down... now that's a tried and true strategy. It makes the target feel victorious but also begins stripping away his defenses. He starts to feel bad for the girl he rejected... he starts to fantasize... he starts to regret. All the elements are there. And then she limps back to him like a wounded puppy and - BAM! - deed is done. The poor sucker never knows what hit him."

Darien furrowed his brow. "And this is a common practice, is it?"

"Oh yeah," said Hobbes, nodding with certainty. "It's a classic. Gambit ninety or twelve or eleventy-seven... I can never remember which is which."

"Wait a minute." Darien said, responding to a sudden spark of recognition. "I heard Britney and Sister Agnes talking about Gambit something or other when I was looking in on the 'gifted' class."

"Oh yeah? Did they say which number this one was?" Hobbes raised his eyebrows, regarding his partner with uncharacteristically academic interest.

"No, no," muttered Darien, waving off the question distractedly. "But the way they - and you - are talking about it, it sounds like it's out of a textbook or something."

Hobbes snorted. "That's because it *is* out of a textbook. And a hell of a textbook it is - used in exclusive covert ops training all over the world. There's *one* book you will *never* be able to buy on, my friend."

"So what you're saying," began Darien slowly, "is that these girls are being trained in seduction strategies out of a top-secret textbook that is only used in covert ops training."

"Bingo," said Hobbes grimly. He patted himself down and rifled around in his coat pockets to produce several prescription bottles, deftly opening each in turn and shaking a collection of pills onto his open palm.

Darien nodded, a vacant expression on his face. "I'd say an 'Aw, crap,' is called for in this instance."

Hobbes nodded vehemently, toasting Darien with his meds before throwing them back and, with a wince, swallowing them dry. "Amen, brother."

* * *

Darien and Hobbes spent the next several minutes exchanging details and assessing their next move. They sat on the foot of the bed, speaking in whispers in case Father Fred should pay them another unannounced social call. Once they had each related their respective adventures Darien sighed wearily, leaning back on his elbows. Hobbes continued to lean forward, staring blankly at the vanity a few feet away.

"Well," said Hobbes, rubbing his chin contemplatively. "We're at a distinct advantage here because we know and they don't know we know."

"And why should we know? We're just priests, right?"


"So now what do we do?" Darien hoped his partner had a plan because he sure as hell didn't.

Hobbes shrugged. "Well, we'll have to call in the troops on this eventually... But we've got great covers so we might as well take some time to sniff around a bit. Find out who's involved... maybe even who's behind it all."

"Makes sense." Darien sat up and patted his partner on the back, giving his shoulder a quick, congratulatory squeeze.

Still thinking, Hobbes turned to face him. "You're sure that Operation Deflower Father Hobbes was the only thing on their agenda?"

"As far as I could tell, yeah." Darien hesitated uncertainly.

"What?" demanded Hobbes. "Did you overhear something else."

"No! I mean, not really... I..." Darien paused.

Rolling his eyes irritably, Hobbes slugged his partner in the shoulder. "Well, spit it out."

Darien sighed. "Apparently Father Fred thinks I'm gay."

"I'm not surprised," Hobbes responded, nodding pensively.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, he did walk in on us this afternoon just as you were propositioning me."

"I wasn't..." Darien glanced over at his arm, still draped over Hobbes' shoulder, and pulled it away quickly. He lowered his voice. "I wasn't propositioning you," he murmured secretively, "I was being sarcastic."

"Of course *I* know that," replied Hobbes, smirking at his partner's discomfort, "but he's a priest. What does he know?"

"So how come he thinks I'm gay but you're not."

"That's easy. I turned you down."


"Yeah. You may have already filed it under traumatic repression, my friend, but I most certainly did turn you down." Hobbes sighed and looked at his crestfallen partner earnestly. "Look, you're a good-looking guy Fawkes. I'm not afraid to say it. What I said before about the toothpaste and the chips and the toenails? I meant it. A guy would have to be either crazy or straight to pass up a looker like you. I know it, you know it, and Farmer Ted knows it. Ergo, Father Hobbes is straight as an arrow." He offered a little self-satisfied nod and got up to start rummaging through his duffel bag.

Darien just stared at his partner. "You know, Hobbes, sometimes you make it really difficult to tell when you're being serious and when you're trying to be funny and when you're just fucking with me."

"That's the way I like it, my friend," Hobbes chuckled, drawing a toothbrush and toothpaste out of his bag. "Nothing like perpetuating the old Bobby Hobbes mystique. Now I suggest we both try to get some sleep: it's late and there's not much more that we can do tonight." With that, he vaulted deftly over Darien's bed and padded down the hallway to the bathroom.

* * *

As he approached the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, Hobbes' brain was still hard at work. From what Fawkes had told him of the 'gifted' class, this whole mess seemed like a pretty cut and dry blackmail attempt. There were certainly more complex matters afoot, but by all appearances they had nothing to do with Fawkes and himself. But he couldn't help but feel that he was missing a piece of the puzzle.

"Ooof!" Hobbes suddenly found himself on the ground, shaking his head in disorientation. Still bothered by a lingering dizziness from earlier in the evening, it took him a few moments to determine what had just happened.

A few feet away, Father Fred sat on the floor, blinking in surprise. Apparently both men had been caught completely off guard by the head-on collision. A second later, the priest was up on his feet, collecting Hobbes' toiletries from the ground apologetically. He reached out his hand to help Hobbes to his feet.

Hobbes ignored the hand and got up by his own power, snatching the proffered toiletries gruffly.

"I'm terribly sorry," offered Father Fred earnestly. "I... I... must have had my mind on other things."

"I'm sure you did," replied Hobbes, his gaze accusatory and piercing.

The priest's friendly smile faded. "Well," he stammered, "I do apologize. I'll be more careful to watch where I'm going next time." When Hobbes gave no answer he smiled uncertainly and continued down the hall.

Hobbes turned on his heels to observe the taller man's retreat. "You got that right," he called after him. "You'd do well to watch yourself." When the priest had rounded the corner, Hobbes slunk into the bathroom irritably.

Glaring at his own reflection in the mirror, he swatted at the faucet but no water was forthcoming. "Great," he muttered, flipping the top of the toothpaste with his thumb and squeezing it onto the dry toothbrush.

He had been scrubbing roughly at his teeth for a minute or so, trying to quell the irritation spawned by his run-in with the priest, when the faucet suddenly sprang to life, spraying water into the sink at high pressure and spattering Hobbes' shirt and pants. He smacked the faucet closed again and leaned against the sink, trying to regain composure. His heavy breathing caused the toothpaste foam to form irregular bubbles at the front of his mouth and it began to run down his chin. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and his breathing started to slow, his anger rapidly subsiding at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Hobbes was truly a pathetic sight: shirt wet, pants wet, and now he had toothpaste all over his face. He was a little embarrassed that running into the priest - that big jackass pervert of a priest, he reminded himself - had upset him so much. Calmly, he turned the water back on and splashed it against his face. Filling his cupped hands, he took a large mouthful of water and swished it from side to side. He lifted his eyes to look at himself in the mirror. 'Just keep it under control, Hobbes,' he instructed. 'In a few days you'll be on the beach drinking coladas in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and he'll be in jail being sold to a guy named Rocko for a carton of cigs.' His eyes drifted down to the trash can, which exhibited recent evidence of slight bloodshed, this time on white gauze rather than tissue.

'Sicko,' Hobbes thought bitterly as he knelt down to examine the new piece of evidence. It was square, about two inches by two inches, and had been attached to the victim by thin strips of medical tape at the corners. The splotch of blood at the center was only a couple of centimeters wide, which meant the injury couldn't have been all that serious. Carefully avoiding touching the blood itself, Hobbes lifted the gauze out of the trash and held it up to the light. Two of the pieces of tape exhibited an irregular pattern on the sticky side, that mottled, oily appearance that results from affixing tape directly to skin. Stuck to the other two strips of tape, however, were several shortish strands of brown hair. Hobbes' eyes narrowed, a hazy memory suddenly coming into focus. He extracted one of the strands from the tape and, laying the gauze carefully on the side of the sink, reached up to pluck a hair from his own head. Holding the two strands side by side up to the light, he squinted. They matched.

Instinctually, Hobbes reached to dab at the small wound at the back of his head. It was clotted and clean, free of the dirt and grit that ought to have gotten into it during his falls in the courtyard. Had the girls tended to him, then? Maybe, but why would they bother to remove the gauze? It just didn't add up.

Hobbes' train of thought was suddenly derailed as a stab of pain erupted behind his eye. He pressed his palm hard against his forehead, gritting his teeth until the sensation subsided slightly. Though the pain was still evident, it had at least dulled enough to permit him to think somewhat clearly. He tried to focus on taking deep, steadying breaths. Mind running like wild, he felt a wave of emotions wash over him. This was wrong. This was *very* wrong. The sensation was familiar, harkening him back to the problems he had suffered during his last few weeks in the Bureau. He tried to think back over the evening. The Harpy had mention drugs before, but he'd assumed they'd mostly worn off by now. What the hell had those bastards done to him?

* * *

By the time Hobbes returned to the room, Darien was in his boxers looking out the window contemplatively. "'Bout time," he said when he heard the door close, not bothering to turn around. "I'd given up on getting to brush my teeth before morning, so I just had some cinnamon gum instead." He turned to face his partner, chomping on his gum with a grin. "And now that you're not going to show up and stomp on me," he added, "I'm going to bed." He sallied across the room and Hobbes stepped off the rollaway, brushing past him without a word.

Darien frowned, taking a seat on the rollaway but jumping up again when he slid downwards and banged is hipbone on the wall. "You okay, Hobbes?"

"Yeah. Fine." Hobbes did not look up at him, but started rifling through his bag, gathering a few items and tossing them into a small satchel.

"Obviously," replied Darien, regarding his partner suspiciously. "Who were you talking to in the hall just now?"

"Myself," Hobbes grumbled, still fishing for something elusive in his duffel.

"No," said Darien with a somewhat condescending air, "before that."

Hobbes stopped, turning to his partner with fiery eyes. "Oh," he responded, a low, angry tremor in his voice, "that would be Father Fred." He went back to his search.

If Darien wasn't worried before, he sure as hell was now. "So," he began hesitantly, "I know you were pretty busy this evening with the drugging and the seduction and all but did you happen to get a chance to check him out?" He raised his eyebrows, knowing advance what the answer would be, but dreading it all the same.



"Total scumbag."

"Are you sure?"

Hobbes looked up at him incredulously. "You know, Fawkes, I never took music lessons as a kid, but I'm pretty fucking sure they don't include the phrases, 'Oooh, yes, harder, harder.' and 'Faster, again, yes that is so good.'"

In any other situation, Darien would have been rendered incoherent with laughter by Hobbes' deadpan delivery of these lines. Now, however, all he could do was swallow uncomfortably and offer a quiet, "Oh."

Nostrils starting to flare, Hobbes was beginning to get an almost frenzied look on his face. "Oh," he continued, "and let's not forget, 'Let me know if this hurts you.' That's a gem. I'm sure that's the opening line to every accordion lesson that's ever been given."

Darien was speechless but his partner did not appear to be expecting a response. Finally encountering whatever it was he had been searching for, Hobbes thrust it into his satchel and brushed past Darien, pausing to turn around only when he got to the door. "You have a good night, Fawkes," he spat.

"Wait!" Darien took a quick step forward and banged his knee on the lower leg of his bed. "Where are you going?"




Hunched over and rubbing his sore knee, Darien looked up at his partner. "What? Does this convent have a nightclub that I wasn't informed about?"

Hobbes sighed and regarded Darien impatiently. "If you really must know, I'm going out to look for owls."

"Now? Hobbes, it's like two in the morning."

"That's right, making it the perfect time to hunt for nocturnal birds. You did know owls were nocturnal, right? Or did you sleep all the way through Eberts' filmstrip?"

"Actually," said Darien, rolling his eyes, "if you'll recall I was busy making popcorn during the filmstrip. But I totally knew about the nocturnal thing. I know lots about owls."

"So what were you thinking we should do? Just trot out there around lunchtime and yell, 'Excuse us, but does anyone know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie-pop?'"

"Okay, fine," Darien grumbled, reaching for his pants. "We'll go out and find the owls tonight."

Hobbes shook his head. "I don't recall you being invited."

"Well I considered my invitation as read when the Official bellowed at us to 'bring back the owls or else.' Or else what, by the way?"

"Or else the Agency is back to reusing coffee grinds and staples." Hobbes glared at his partner, eyes narrowed. "Do you realize how long it takes to bend those little fuckers back into the right shape?"

"Okay, then," said Darien, certain that he never wanted to find out. "Then let's go get those owls."

Folding his arms, Hobbes regarded his partner seriously. "Sorry, Fawkes, but you're benched. Frankly, I don't really want you with me."

"Hobbes, this is stupid." Darien was beginning to get agitated.

"Look," said Hobbes earnestly, hanging his satchel on the doorknob and taking a few steps back into the room, "a partnership isn't just for when it's convenient. You're either with me or you're not and you've already made that decision. You made it loud and clear when you wouldn't come with me to smoke out Farmer Fred. And I'm sick and tired of being treated by you and everyone else like I'm only here to take a bullet for you and that fucking gland."

Darien blinked. *Where* did that come from? "Hobbes... Man, you know I don't..."

"I'm sick of it." He shrugged wearily, snatching his satchel from the door. "So I'm going to head outside and find those fucking owls and come back here and arrest this fucking pervert priest and all the nuns and all these pint-sized wannabe Jezebels and drive back to Diego and request a new fucking partner. One who can give as much as he can take. Or better yet, I'll go back to working solo. It seems I have to do that most of the time anyway."

"Whoa. Bobby. Slow down, please." Darien was starting to panic. "Listen, I'm not trying to be a wise-ass about this or anything but have you missed any of your medication? I've never heard you talk like this - you sound like you're going off the deep-end, man."

Halfway out the door again, Hobbes stopped and turned around. "You know, maybe I *am* feeling a little bipolar tonight, but you know what? Maybe it's making me think clearly for the first time in a while."


"Look, I'm just going to go. I think I've made my position clear. And don't bother following me because it will only piss me off." Hobbes slung his satchel decisively over his shoulder and started down the hall at a rapid gait.

Undeterred by his partner's request, Darien started for the door but just as he stepped up to clamber over the cot he was hit with a shockwave of pain. His foot caught on the edge of the foldaway and he crashed down roughly, clutching at the back of his neck.

"Aw crap," he gasped as he curled himself into a ball. "Not now."

* * *

Once Darien had recovered a few moments later, he crawled forward and peered down the hallway, hoping he could still catch his partner. Hobbes, of course, was long gone. Swearing under his breath, Darien slid off the bed and back into the room.

"Okay, priorities," he thought out loud. "Step one: find counteragent. Step two: give myself a shot." He winced at this. "Step three: once I am *no longer* about to go on a psychopathic killing spree, I go find Hobbes, who may or may not be about to go on a psychopathic killing spree, but who at the very least has decided he hates me, a stance that must be immediately corrected." He looked around the room, quickly spotting Hobbes' duffel bag.

"Sorry about this, partner, but you'll thank me later when you're still alive." Darien upended the bag onto the bed, rifling quickly through all of Hobbes' belongings. He found socks, sneakers, underwear, a shaving kit, a smattering of prescription bottles... all the usual things one would expect to find in a person's suitcase: if they weren't a spy, that is. Where were all his gadgets?

Darien winced, remembering the satchel that Hobbes had packed. That's where all the good stuff was. The counteragent must be in there as well. Crap. He would just have to catch up to him.

Leaping over the rollaway, he was down the hall in a flash. He broke an in-church land speed record tearing down the aisle of the chapel and slammed against the door to the courtyard, which opened with frustratingly slow reluctance. Moments later he was through the North door and skidding to a halt at the other end of the main corridor, where he was horrified to see Christina (or was it Mandy?) and two other girls, a blonde and a short-cropped redhead, guarding the main entrance.

"Hi girls," he said amiably as he approached them. "Mind if I just slip outside for a minute?" He did his best to lend his voice a casual air, despite the rising panic.

"Nope," said Christina flatly. "I'm afraid we can't permit that."

"It's no big deal," Darien assured her. "It's just a School Inspector thing. I have to do a quick search for spiritually inappropriate objects on the grounds. You know, snakes... burning bushes... Lutherans..."

"Sorry, Father Fawkes," she interrupted, not sounding the least bit sorry, "but you're not allowed through here."

"Why not?" he demanded, still panting for breath. "This is the only way out, right? Didn't Father Hobbes just come through here?"

She glanced sideways at the other two girls, who just shrugged indifferently. "Yeah," she confirmed. "But he said he had to go commune with God."

Darien huffed in frustration but maintained his composure. "That's funny..." he laughed unconvincingly, "...because I, also, need to commune with God."

The other blonde girl, Buffy, stood to help Christina bar his passage and shook her head. "Nope."


Willow, the redhead, stood and approached him, regarding him sympathetically. "He and God have some very important matters to discuss and they don't want to be disturbed." She leaned in, whispering. "He's been having sinful thoughts,"

"Really?" Darien whispered back with feigned astonishment. "What a coincidence because I've been having sinful thoughts too." He looked at her earnestly. 'And they're getting more sinful by the minute.'

"Oh, we know," Buffy assured him, narrowing her eyes bitterly. "And we know *exactly* who you've been having sinful thoughts about."

"That's right," Christina confirmed. "And, you know, maybe if you didn't go chasing after him in your underwear he and God would let you join their conference call."

Eyes widening in alarm, Darien looked down at his red and white striped boxer shorts. 'Crap.'

Willow sighed, looking up at him earnestly. "You have to admit," she said, crinkling her nose, "it's kinda obvious."

Desperate and panicked, Darien did the only thing he could think to do: quicksilver his head. There was a moment of silence and then the screaming started. The girls looked from him to each other in terror and put up no resistance when he pushed past them to the door.

Outside the air had cooled and as he staggered out into the gravel drive a light drizzle began to fall. Clouds had eclipsed the once-bright moon and the world outside the school was a perfect black. Endeavoring to minimize the risk of madness, Darien allowed his head to reappear but left his eyes quicksilvered in hopes that he might beter be able to spot Hobbes or at least the far-off dance of a flashlight in the darkness. He ran east, remembering that the west side was a sheer cliff face, and screamed his partner's name.

Heedless of the alarmed voices and crunch of gravel behind him, Darien kept running, promising himself that Hobbes was just around the corner. He stumbled as another wave of pain hit him, more excruciating than any he had yet felt. Staggering to his feet, he pressed forward but knew that he was at the limit of control. Something suddenly struck him in the side and he found himself propelled forwards, skidding across the rocks, which tore mercilessly at his chest and arms. He was cognizant of a tight constriction at his waist: someone was on him and he struggled against their weight to no avail. As the last shreds of control left him, he was flipped onto his back, writhing in fury, and held fast by strong legs on his ribcage. He looked up, identifying the face of the bitch girl that had pissed him off in the courtyard, and spit in her face.

The girl was surprisingly strong and, holding his shoulders in an iron grip, she had him pinned. Darien struggled madly against her, longing to tear into her jugular with his teeth. From somewhere above his head he heard a woman scream. It was Sister Catherine.

"His eyes!" she shrieked. "Look at his eyes!"

Darien threw his head back, cursing furiously at the nun, and his captor took advantage of the distraction, kneeing him hard in the groin. He doubled over in pain, sputtering as he choked on his own bile. A few meters away he could make out the form of Father Fred, casually strolling towards him and twirling a set of handcuffs.

* * *

Hobbes squinted up at the sky as the rain began to fall, streaking against the plastic shield of his fast-dimming flashlight. Turning it off, he reached up and brought the night vision goggles down over his eyes. He was feeling better now: more balanced, more in control. As soon as he'd been clear of the convent, he had hurried into the brush and taken a select combination of the meds he'd brought with him. He'd already taken his prescribed dosage, of course, but the symptoms he was feeling were just as if he'd taken nothing at all. He had been extremely meticulous about his medication since his FBI days and hadn't had any significant problems since then but he couldn't forget that feeling of overwhelming helplessness and anger and euphoria and self-righteousness and self-loathing all rolled into one. You don't forget a thing like that. All he could figure was that his regular medications had been neutralized somehow, presumably by the drugs Fawkes said he'd been given by the nun at dinner. All he could do was take an extra dose, and while he wasn't sure what it would do to him, he was certain that anything would be better than that gut-wrenching feeling. After that things seemed to improve and he found himself tromping through the wilderness in the dead of night, desperately seeking owls.

The owls weren't what propelled him, of course. He couldn't give a hoot about the owls. What kept him from going back were the things he'd said to Fawkes - not because they were horrible things that he hadn't meant but because they were horrible things that he had... at least at the time. Of course he didn't want a new partner. Fawkes was the best partner he'd ever had. He was the only person alive that didn't drive Hobbes nuts most of the time, at least not in a bad way. He loved the excitement that came with being partnered with the Invisible Man. He loved getting all the high profile cases: the glory cases. What he didn't love was feeling like an accessory. For all his bravado, Hobbes realized that that was how the Agency - how the whole fucking US Intelligence System - saw him, even if it wasn't true. And he wasn't even a good accessory like a brooch or a tiara. He was more like a toe ring.

Wiping the raindrops off the front of his night vision goggles, he plodded forward, making a barely cursory effort to search for signs of nocturnal feathered friends. Putting his concerns of the ego aside for the moment, he turned his thoughts back to the nature and origin of the chemicals that had been administered to him, hoping that therein he might find some clue. He'd been slipped something at dinner, that was perfectly clear, and what Fawkes had overheard from the gifted class had confirmed that. But the sensations he'd felt in the courtyard, and later in his room, were all consistent with that of a sedative like valium or rohypnol. Hobbes was well versed with the effects and interactions of his various medications - he'd be stupid not to be - and there was no way something like valium could counteract Prozac. Or Ritalin. Or Lithium. Or that stuff that allowed him to take both Prozac and Lithium without keeling over.

Hobbes sighed. This line of thought was getting him nowhere. He had two gaping holes in his memory of the evening: one when he was passed out under the sundial and one when he was miraculously transported from the South Wall to the parish. Practically anything could have happened to him in the interim. He thought bitterly about the girls and their attempts to employ Gambit nine million and forty eight. They'd been good. *Very* good. They'd put on a hell of an act. But the whole situation was so utterly... abhorrent. It was one thing when real agents did that kind of thing. Adult agents. Agents who'd voluntarily been through some kind of Academy and could make their own decisions. These were just kids. Kids being trained to...

He stopped short, a flash of lightning punctuating his sudden realization. Of course. What was the only operation Stateside classless enough to train kids? Chrysalis. Those fuckers had no limit on their limbo bar. They went as low as they fucking liked. Hobbes blinked the rain out of his eyes, a new thought entering into his brain. A really, really bad thought. That thought was that Fawkes had been right all along. They hadn't been sent there by accident. The Agency had delivered them right into this deathtrap. And now the only thing Chrysalis wanted more than to jack up the business of every child psychologist on the planet was inside alone with them while he was outside in the rain, freezing his ass off.

Hobbes pushed his night-vision goggles back up onto his forehead and switched on the flashlight. "Hang tight, partner," he declared, "I'm coming to get you."

* * *

It took Hobbes several minutes to navigate out of the wilderness and find his way to the main gate of St. Mary's, and by the time he arrived he was drenched to the bone. The rain had been increasing steadily over the past half hour or so and was not looking to let up anytime soon. When he pulled on the heavy, brass ring of the door it did not yield so he pounded on it heavily. Almost immediately a horizontal slat slid to the side and a pair of blue eyes appeared, blinking at him inquisitively.

It was one of the blondes from before. Hobbes had named her Buffy. "Yes?" she asked skeptically, as if he were selling encyclopedias.

"It's me! Father Hobbes!" he yelled through the rain, "Could you let me in please?"

"Nope," responded Buffy firmly. "You're just going to have to continue communing with God for a little while longer."

"What?" cried Hobbes. "We're done communing! Now I need to get inside. I need to see Father Fawkes."

Buffy crinkled her nose. "Sorry, but we can't do that," she said. "They told us not to let you in."

Hobbes was dumbfounded. "Come on - it's raining lakes out here - I'll catch pneumonia and die if you don't let me in. Is that what you want?"

Shrugging, Buffy began to close the slat.

"Wait!" Hobbes yelled. The girl paused to listen. "Can't I just come in for a little while?"

Buffy shook her head. "Sorry."

Another pair of eyes and a pert nose suddenly appeared next to Buffy's. It was the cute redhead, Willow. "Hey," she suggested, "is your van unlocked?"

Hobbes furrowed his brow and glanced over at his van, tucked away in a remote corner of the drive. "Yeah."

"Well there you go," declared Buffy with finality and slammed the slat closed.

"Great," muttered Hobbes, looking up adversarially at the unforgiving heavens. "Now what?"

* * *

"Fortunately, nobody knows about *you*." Finally encountering the item he'd been searching for, Hobbes drew it out of his bag and patted it affectionately. After having been bounced from the convent by the front door, he was determined to find an alternate way inside. Again donning his night vision goggles, he had made his way around to the south side of the building, keeping close to the walls to take advantage of the paltry protection they provided from the rain. The North Gate was the only entrance - he'd confirmed that - so his only choice was to go over the wall and the South side, being only two stories, was the easiest to scale. Remembering the redwood that loomed over the southwest corner of the courtyard, Hobbes had decided that that was the optimal point of entry because his silhouette would not be visible, even against a lightning-brightened sky. He had to assume that if Chrysalis knew about Fawkes they knew about him as well and would be expecting a rescue attempt: he had to take every precaution necessary.

He looked down at the object in his hand, a small grappling hook attached to a nylon cable which had been fitted into a hand-held launcher about the size of an old-fashioned Remington. Hobbes was extremely grateful to have had his satchel of 'spy-gadgets', as Fawkes called them, with him when he was peremptorily stricken from the civil list. Waiting a moment for the wind to die down, he took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.

The grappling hook flew through the air, its tail flapping gracelessly behind it, and landed its mark. Hobbes tested the strength of the rope and pulled himself up onto the wall. He'd managed to find some old climbing spikes in the van and was therefore thankfully not faced with the task of ascending two stories of slick stone in the rain while wearing dress shoes. As the metal spikes dug into the wall he favored himself with a mental pat on the back for never throwing anything away.

The climb was relatively uneventful, with only one serious scare. When he got to the top, however, Hobbes' hands ached from the cold and were lined with red from where the nylon had dug into them during the climb. Massaging the blood back into his hands, he surveyed the courtyard. All seemed quiet. No guards in the courtyard, no sentries on the rampart, not even a spark of life from the dormitory windows. Affixing his grappling hook to the inside ridge of the South Wall, Hobbes cautiously rappelled into the shadows of the courtyard's southwest corner. Sliding the spikes off of his shoes, he deposited them on the ground next to his climbing line. They were unlikely to be noticed there and could come in handy if he and Fawkes found themselves in need of a quick non-front-door escape.

Sliding along the West Wall, Hobbes stayed alert but saw no other signs of life. The rain was coming down in thick sheets now, drenching him with vigor at regular intervals, and it was with no small sigh of relief that he slipped inside the West door. Stealthily, he made his way through the deserted chapel and up the stairs of the residence. He wasn't sure if all of the convent was allied with Chrysalis or if much of the population simply co-existed in blissful ignorance. Some of the students had to be real, otherwise why restrict the covert ops training to 'gifted' classes? So if Chrysalis was in the minority, it was possible that they hadn't yet gotten to Fawkes.

As he mounted the stairs, Hobbes took particular care, testing each step for creaks with his toe before shifting his full weight. The hallway, when he arrived, was dark and completely quiet but the door to his and Fawkes' room was open a crack and golden light, no doubt emanating from the bedside pheasant lamps, poured out onto the misshapen floral pattern of the hall carpeting. He strained his ears, thinking he detected the faint rasp of whispering, when suddenly the silence was cut by an impassioned scream. "Get the fuck away from me!"

Fawkes. That was definitely Fawkes. Hobbes reached down to liberate the gun from his ankle holster, remembering too late that it wasn't there any longer. Fuck. Hobbes winced. Okay. He could still do this. They couldn't have *that* many Chrysalis goons shoved into that tiny room...

Warily, he approached the end of the hall. Concealing himself behind the frame, he gently pushed the door, hoping to open it just far enough that he could assess the personnel. The door clanged against something metal and there was a sudden commotion inside the room. Hobbes grimaced.

"Hobbes!" shouted Darien, his voice hoarse and guttural. "Hobbes is that you? Red Rum! Red Rum! Get in here, Hobbes."

Inside the room, a woman screamed. "He's doing it again!" she wailed. "Make him stop!"

"F-Father Hobbes?" a man's voice this time. Father Fred. "Would you mind coming in here a moment? Perhaps you could help us with this."

Hobbes sighed. They had Fawkes. They had his gun. They knew he was there. What else could he do? Maybe they'd at least tell him their secret, evil plan before they killed him. Resignedly, he stepped around the doorframe.

The first thing Hobbes noticed was what the door had hit. The adapted rollaway bed, so brilliantly engineered, had collapsed at one corner and had somehow been shoved further towards the door, which now opened only halfway. Hobbes squeezed past the door and hesitantly climbed over the piteous looking bed. The second thing he noticed was that the scene inside the room was not quite as he had expected.

It was a small gathering: Father Fred, Sister Catherine and two students - Britney and another girl so mean-looking she could only be Harpy. They were all clustered around the bed, upon which lay Fawkes, one limb handcuffed to each bedpost. When Fawkes saw Hobbes he cackled with glee. "Red Rum!" he yelled. "Join the party!"

The rest of the room's occupants gave a rather mixed response to Hobbes' arrival: Sister Catherine was blubbering too hard to even notice. Harpy just looked bored and annoyed and indifferent, probably how she always looked, and Britney was utterly flummoxed. She opened and closed her mouth rapidly, but no sounds emerged. Father Fred, on the other hand, greeted Hobbes with a warm but concerned smile. "I'm glad you've returned," he said quietly. "We were getting worried."

"I bet," replied Hobbes skeptically, looking at the three females who continued to cry, roll their eyes, and be unable to speak despite the alleged relief afforded by his arrival.

Father Fred continued, swallowing uncomfortably. "As you can see, Father, we've got something of a situation here." He inclined his head towards Fawkes, as if there were some other obvious 'situation' in the immediate vicinity that he might have been referring to.

"Red Rum! " Fawkes growled in the back of his throat, his head momentarily becoming invisible and reappearing. A moment later, his right leg flashed out of existence and back again. This series of events sent Sister Catherine into a fresh round of wailing.

Raising his eyebrows, Hobbes looked quizzically at Father Fred.

"You see," the priest explained slowly, "it seems that your assistant is possessed."

Hobbes stopped breathing for a moment and then frowned, looking over at Fawkes, who waggled his eyebrows and offered a wide, toothless smile. Biting the inside of his lip and doing his best to look dire, Hobbes couldn't keep the right side of his mouth from ticking upwards. At last, with effort, he spoke. "Possessed, you say?"

"Oh yes," responded Father Fred, wide-eyed and solemn. "I'm afraid we've had to restrain Father Fawkes for his own safety... And ours."

Pursing his lips, Hobbes cocked his head and regarded Fawkes, who was now having a hushed conversation with himself in what sounded vaguely like Pig Latin.

"I see." He looked over at Father Fred, who appeared distressed and somewhat penitent. Hobbes frowned, absently smoothing his drenched vestments. "So this means *I* gotta sleep on the slanty bed now?"

* * *

The eyes gave it all away. Quicksilver madness. Definitely. But Fawkes was practically foaming at the mouth and Hobbes had never seen him behave quite like this. Had they drugged him too? The strange thing was, though, that Father Fred and his gal pals seemed as surprised by Darien's behavior as he was.

Leaning against the vanity, Hobbes frowned as he watched Darien's feet have a conversation with each other. They were engaged in an argument about who would win the World Series and it was becoming progressively more heated.

"American League sucks!" yelled Darien's left foot, curling its toes in fury.

"You're hopeless," countered the right. "I'm outta here." And the right foot promptly disappeared.

Head craned to watch the action, Darien grinned maniacally at the spectators, looking distinctly disappointed when the interchange didn't appear to register on Sister Catherine's radar. The nun had been reduced to gentle, incommunicative weeping and seemed, at least to Hobbes, to be beyond hope. Something had to be done.

Hobbes had spent the first several minutes after his arrival trying to convince the others to leave him alone with Fawkes but they had refused. Neither Britney nor Harpy would take their eyes off of him, presumably for different reasons, Father Fred hemmed and hawed about the dangers of being isolated with a possessed individual, and Sister Catherine was unresponsive to any and all stimuli. As the minutes wore on, however, Hobbes was getting impatient. He needed to determine exactly how far gone his partner was before he could formulate any sort of a plan. He rose.

"I've got to talk to him." Pushing past Harpy, who was standing at the corner of the bed, Hobbes regarded Britney expectantly, jerking his thumb behind him for her to get out of the way. Hesitantly, she acquiesced.

From the foot of the bed, Father Fred shook his head nervously. "I told you, Father, I really don't think it would be wise to leave anyone alone with..."

"I said, 'talk' not 'honeymoon'," Hobbes snapped. As he squeezed past Britney she uttered a surprised "Ew!" at his drenched clothes and then jumped skittishly as lightning streaked across the sky outside the picture window, immediately followed by a deafening boom of thunder. The rain was coming down in torrents now, pelting at the window with no sign of respite.

Hobbes removed his drenched coat and handed it to Britney, who accepted it with two fingers, and took a seat on the bed. Fawkes was grinning at him ferally, exhibiting no sign of rationality in his visage.

"Fawkes," Hobbes began, only to realize he had lost his partner's attention. Fawkes was now grinning ferally at the lamp on the end table.

"Fawkes," he repeated more sharply. Bracing his left forearm across Fawkes' chest, he held his face steady, thumb firmly planted on the bony ridge above his right eye socket. He snapped his fingers until his partner resumed eye contact. "Talk to me Fawkes. You in there?"

No response. Hobbes exchanged a concerned look with Father Fred who, demented bastard that he was, seemed to be the only one in the room worth a shit in a crisis. "Come on, partner," Hobbes continued. "Where are you?"

Fawkes smiled, beckoning him closer with his eyes. When Hobbes leaned forward, he whispered, "There's a place you've got to go to show you're growing. Now you know it all." His gaze was intense, almost hopeful.

A spark of recognition ignited in Hobbes' head as another peal of thunder shook the room. He looked inquisitively at Fawkes, who widened his eyes and offered a series of low amplitude nods, grinning eagerly as Hobbes mouthed the words, 'The Facts of Life.'

Fawkes was in there all right. The damn kid was still even getting the lyrics wrong. Hoping the clue would be sufficient to relay the current state of affairs, Hobbes responded. "Come on, Fawkes, come back to me. Even if... the world never seems to be living up to your dreams."

Watching closely as his partner ran through his lyrics in his head, Hobbes could see Fawkes eyes widen in anger and irritation as he got to the next line: 'Suddenly you're finding out the facts of life are all about you.'

There was a silent pause before Fawkes screamed out, "Why is it always about the fucking glan..."

Hobbes clapped a hand over his partner's mouth, pulling it away in surprise when he felt a tongue lick across the flat of his palm. Fawkes grinned with sinister playfulness and then indicated their company meaningfully with his reddened eyes. "Red Rum," he insisted. "Get it, Hobbesy?"

Frowning as he wiped his dampened palm on his soaking wet pant leg, Hobbes ignored his partner's exhortation and turned to the priest seriously. "You're correct," he said grimly. "He's possessed all right." He narrowed his eyes, gauging the priest's reaction. He had a shot of counteragent on him but could hardly administer it with the others present. Invoking Occam's Razor, Hobbes decided to go with the simplest possible plan. He folded his hands in his lap and gazed intensely at Father Fred. "I need a moment alone with him," he insisted. "And I won't take 'no' for an answer."

The priest waffled. "As I said before, Father Hobbes, I..."

"But I can cure him."

Even Sister Catherine responded to this statement, looking up from her sobbing in surprise.

Britney took a step forward. "Really?" she asked hopefully. "You can really fix him?"

"Yes," Hobbes replied evangelically, "but I need complete solitude."

"But how?"

He sighed, arranging his features into a far-off, wistful expression. "Years ago," he began, "in another life... No, let me start over. I haven't always been a school, prison, and mission inspector, you know." Set off by Hobbes' melodramatic tone, Fawkes began to cackle hysterically, an action that was quickly allayed by a thumb well-placed upon a pressure point in his thigh.

Hobbes continued, losing himself in nonexistent memories. "A long time ago, I used to be... an exorcist."

"Really?!" Britney was clearly unsure whether to be impressed or relieved or mildly disturbed. Behind her, Harpy rolled her eyes skeptically.

Sister Catherine closed her eyes and crossed herself. "Thank the Lord," she whispered. "I thought we were done for. If Sister Ursula had found out that Father Fawkes had been possessed, why there's no telling what she would've..." The nun trailed off, realizing that no one was paying any attention to her except Fawkes, whose eyes were becoming visible and invisible in a rhythmic pattern as he grinned at her. Her lip began to quiver anew.

At the foot of the bed, Father Fred regarded Hobbes with a scrutinous gaze. Unwavering, Hobbes returned his look earnestly. The priest's features changed, indicating he'd come to a decision.

"You mean you're THE Father Hobbes?" he asked incredulously. "Father *Bobby* Hobbes?!" He turned to Sister Catherine, who looked incredibly confused and kept glancing at Fawkes fearfully. "We have in our midst," he said, awe apparent in his voice, "one of the single greatest exorcists of all time."

"Yeah," chimed Hobbes uncertainly, regarding the priest with a skeptical eye. "That's me. World Famous Exorcist. Now will you all please get the hell out of here and let me do my job?"

* * *

Father Fred was quick to mobilize the women and send them shuffling out the door. But rather than going with them, as Hobbes had hoped, the priest instructed them to wait in his parlor and returned to the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Hands on hips, he stood irritably at the side of the bed.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded angrily.

Hobbes stood, eyes narrowing. "Who the hell are you?"

"The person who arranged for you to come here."

* * *

Darien had the best plan ever. It was the greatest plan he had ever come up with and if that STUPID priest would just take a hike he'd be able to tell Hobbes all about it. He'd tried to tell him already but his partner had been too dense to pick up his finely crafted clues. Oh sure, he could get The Facts of Life, but "Red Rum" was just too complex a conundrum for Bobby Hobbes to pick up on. He shifted awkwardly in the bed, trying to dislodge the tip of an errant mattress spring from the small of his back, and tugged at his handcuffs in irritation. He could *maybe* tolerate such an arrangement for sex - really good sex - but for anything else it was just simply unpleasant.

Hobbes and the priest were still talking. Blah, blah, blah. Could they take any longer? 'Patience, Darien, old Hobbesy will get you out of here soon enough... Better go over the plan one more time.' He nodded eagerly and wiggled his toes.

'Let's see... Step one: Hobbes unlocks me.' He rattled the handcuffs on his ankles. They were starting to cut into his skin and he didn't really appreciate that.

'Step two: Hobbes gives me one of his guns. Why do I never bring a gun?' Above him, Hobbes and Farmer Fred were still arguing across the bed. To his left, he noticed a large damp spot on the duvet where Hobbes had been sitting earlier. 'That better be from the rain,' he thought.

Darien blinked in distraction for a few moments before returning to his original line of thought. 'Okay. Back to the plan. Step three: now what was step three again? Damn, that was the best part...' He looked up quizzically at the priest, who was shouting.

'Oh that's right,' he remembered. 'Kill *everyone*.'

* * *

"Now run this by me again," said Hobbes skeptically. "Because I'm not entirely convinced that you know what you claim you know."

Father Fred sighed impatiently. "I'm telling you, I know who you are."

"You're not impressing me here."

"Okay, try this. You're from the Agency, you're here looking for spotted owls, and your invisible buddy over there is incredibly cranky and will get even moreso if he doesn't get a dose of a certain counteragent in the near future. Specific enough for you?"

Hobbes furrowed his brow. "Better..." he said defensively. "Now may I ask what you've done to my partner?" He jerked his head towards Fawkes, who was reciting a flowery love sonnet to his hair. "He may be a violent sociopath, but he's not actually *crazy*."

Father Fred shrugged. "We didn't do anything to him. He heard me tell the nuns he was possessed and just kind of ran with it." In a low voice, he added, "I think he was enjoying scaring the piss out of Sister Catherine." The priest rolled his eyes irritably as Fawkes launched into a poetic rendition of 'Superfreak' in a high falsetto. "You can kill the Linda Blair act," he snapped, "I know that you're not *really* possessed by Satan."

Suddenly calm, Fawkes glanced up at the priest. "Oh really?" he asked curiously. "Well okay then. I'll just sit here quietly."

Father Fred nodded in approval, but Hobbes continued looking at his partner and quirked an eyebrow. "Oh, there is just one more thing I'd like to ask," Fawkes added.

They looked at him expectantly.

"It will just take a second," he assured them, smiling affably at Father Fred before turning to face his partner. "Hobbes? Think you could do me a favor and KILL HIM and let me out of these handcuffs please? Yeah, that'd be a big help. Thanks."

Hobbes smiled paternally. "Easy there, Danny Torrence. Wouldn't you rather I just gave you some counteragent?"

Considering for a moment, Fawkes wrinkled his nose. "Do I still get to kill him?"

"We'll see," Hobbes shrugged, fishing around in his satchel for the glass vial of counteragent.

Fawkes leered up at the priest maniacally. "That means 'yes,'" he informed him with glee.

Encountering the vial of blue liquid, Hobbes crossed around to Fawkes' right and set it on the end table. He dug back into his satchel, withdrawing a syringe and a packaged alcohol swab, and sat down next to his partner. Father Fred looked on with concern as he tore the swab open with his teeth and began sterilizing the needle.

"Wait," implored the priest nervously, "are you sure that will make him... you know... not a psychopath."

"It better," Hobbes replied. "Or you're a dead man." Darien punctuated this remark with an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

* * *

A few minutes later Darien was sitting up, rubbing his wrists tenderly. Hobbes had managed to find the vein on the first attempt and the administration of the counteragent hadn't been as much of a tribulation as he had anticipated. At least one thing had gone right for him today. He rotated each of his ankles a couple of times and then stood up to make sure that they still worked.

Father Fred, still regarding him somewhat fearfully, took a defensive step towards Hobbes when Darien rose. This small motion, however, turned out to be a massive miscalculation of judgment. Hobbes had been pocketing each pair of handcuffs as he freed Darien, but the last pair he had kept concealed in his palm. In a single, fluid motion, Hobbes cuffed the priest's left wrist, twisting his arm over his head and shoving him onto the bed, where he handcuffed him to the high bar of the headboard. "Now," said Hobbes quietly, "you are going to talk."

Shaking the stiffness out of his shoulders, Darien threw in a couple of left-right jabs for good measure. "Nice move, partner!"

Hobbes offered Darien an amiable smile of thanks at the compliment and turned to loom over the priest. "Look, scumbag," he growled. "I don't like you. Haven't since the minute I met you... since *before* I met you. And, frankly, I don't trust you." He cracked his knuckles loudly and continued. "I don't have a lot of patience for bullshit right now so just be straight with me or I'll let my partner here beat you until you don't know which end is your ass."

Darien emphasized the point by doing a couple of karate chops and then stepped forward to lean over the captive priest, who tugged at his binds uncomfortably. "How's that feel, punk? Not so fun, is it?"

Father Fred swallowed hard. "Okay," he said, looking up at Hobbes pitifully. "What is it you want to know?"

"You said you were responsible for bringing us here." Hobbes leaned casually against the wall. Outside the storm still raged and another flash of lightning whitened the sky. "Why?"

Stammering, the priest at first had trouble finding words. "B-b-because I... I wanted you to... to close down the school."

Hobbes frowned, exchanging a perplexed look with Darien. "Why?" he asked acerbically, "the dating pool running too thin for you?"

"What?!" Father Fred was genuinely aghast. Either that or a *very* good actor.

Casting a dubious glance at his partner, Hobbes narrowed his eyes and leaned in over the priest. "Oh, I know all about your little hobby," he said bitterly. "Just can't resist putting a few more notches on the old bedpost, can you?"

"My...? I... This is outrageous."

"Nuh-uh," countered Darien, realizing how dumb that sounded only after the words had escaped his lips. "Hobbes totally overheard you tonight."

"That's right." Hobbes was grimly triumphant. "I got a nice big earful of your little polka party for two, you sanctimonious bastard, and you're in trouble. You're in big trouble. Given that you're such a genius, knowing who we are and all, you no doubt also know that we've got the authorization to arrest your sorry ass."

Father Fred furrowed his brow in thought. "You say you overheard me doing something... inappropriate... tonight?"

"That's right," Hobbes patronized, "at the gym."

The priest blinked several times and then exhaled sharply, as if the final pieces of a puzzle had finally fallen into place. "So *that's* what you were doing there..." he muttered.

"What?" asked Hobbes sharply. "Speak up. And enunciate: you're a priest, for Christ's sake, you should at least have decent diction."

Attempting to straighten out the evening's course of events, Father Fred shook his head pensively and sat up as best he could. "Look," he began meekly, "I'm afraid there's been a terrible misunderstanding. Tonight... Tonight, when you heard me in the gymnasium? I was with Petra."

"Whoa," Darien breathed, releasing a low whistle. "Isn't she that tall, vicious-looking creature that looks like she eats velociraptors and metal spikes for breakfast?" He glanced over at Hobbes, who grimaced and shook himself.

Chuckling, Father Fred nodded. "That would be her," he remarked wistfully. "She's very gifted."

Hobbes snorted. "I'll bet."

"No, no, no, no," Father Fred corrected hastily. "You've got it all wrong. She's my student. We were training."

Darien raised his eyebrows dubiously. "Training?"

"That's right." The priest had slid down onto the bed and he hoisted himself back into a seated position. "Hand to hand combat. It's my specialty. So you see, this was just a big misapprehension. I wasn't doing anything inappropriate at all."

"Oh sure," remarked Darien testily. "Teaching little girls how to knee perfectly innocent secret agents in the balls. That's not the least bit inappropriate..."

"As opposed to the alternative?"


The priest cleared his throat. "Look, no offense, but you two seem awfully confused. I thought you guys had figured this out."

"We have," insisted Hobbes hastily.

"Oh yeah. We definitely have," agreed Darien, casually grabbing a small, ceramic squirrel from the vanity and tossing it from hand to hand. The two agents exchanged an uncertain glance.

"But now that you mention it," said Hobbes, scratching the back of his head, "your story just doesn't add up. I mean, if you work for Chrysalis..."

The squirrel came crashing to the floor. "Chrysalis?!" he exclaimed. "This is another Chrysalis thing?"

"Yeah," replied Hobbes, furrowing his brow. "You were QSM for that part. Sorry."

Darien sat heavily on the foot of the bed. "Those fucking bastards."

"No shit," agreed Hobbes, looking accusingly at Father Fred. "And you work for these jackasses. So why're you trying to shut them down?"

Father Fred sighed, regarding Hobbes earnestly. "Look," he said, "I know I'm no angel, but I certainly don't go in for all this terrorism crap. I'm just an old Army Ranger who got tossed when it came to light that I tended towards a certain... lifestyle. Like your partner here."

Darien turned around sharply to face the priest. "I. Am. Not. Gay," he stated definitively.

"Really?" Father Fred responded quizzically, eyebrows raised. "Weird."

"Just get on with it," snapped Hobbes, gesturing irritably. "We can discuss Fawkes' sexual preferences later. I've got terrorist nuns to apprehend."

"My point," Father Fred emphasized, "is that when I got kicked out of the Rangers, there wasn't a whole lot I was qualified to do. So I got a job with Chrysalis and they set me up here with a decent paycheck and good training facilities and a crack squad of girls. But while I have no problem teaching these young ladies to defend themselves, I think some of the other things they're learning - in Sister Agnes' class in particular - are just plain abhorrent."

"Abhorrent," echoed Darien, kicking the shards of fractured squirrel under the vanity.

"Yes, very abhorrent." Hobbes nodded in agreement, blushing involuntarily as he recalled some of the events from earlier in the evening.

The priest continued. "The problem is that we - the instructors - are not really supposed to discuss each others' curricula. It wasn't until a few months ago that I learned what Sister Agnes' 'social interactions' class was all about."

"So you called us in," Darien had crossed around to the other side of the bed and was looking out the window. He started to sit down but, remembering the puddle left by Hobbes, thought better of it.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Father Fred replied, nodding non-committally.

Hobbes shook his head, still unconvinced. "So if you were so determined to shut this place down, why the runaround? Why not just give us the low down and make it easier on everyone."

After a quick burst of bitter laughter the priest regarded Hobbes, eyebrows raised. "Have you *seen* what Chrysalis does to traitors?" he asked earnestly. "I was kind of hoping you two would be able to figure it out on your own. The plan all along has been for me to get busted with everyone else. A few years in federal lock-up is a walk in the park compared to my alternatives."

"But then something went wrong," Hobbes observed.

"You're darn right it did," Fred affirmed, again hoisting himself upright. "Casper here would have gone on a killing spree if we hadn't contained him."

Darien rolled his eyes. "And demonic possession was the best you could come up with?"

"I had to act fast," replied Father Fred with a shrug. "I couldn't let the other Chrysalis agents figure out that the Invisible Man was in their midst, now could I?"

"Look, none of this matters," Hobbes grumbled irritably. "The fact of the matter is that we've got a convent full of nuns to put on ice and you've been outed as the snitch. So you're either with us all the way or your against us. Now which will it be?"

The priest frowned pensively. "That depends," he said. "Can you ensure that the Agency will help protect me from Chrysalis retaliation afterwards?"

Eyes wide, Darien deferred the question to Hobbes, who inclined his head in assent.

"Okay, then," replied Father Fred, issuing a deep sigh. "I guess I'm with you."

Darien shrugged. "Good enough for me." He looked at his partner questioningly.

After spending a few seconds pressing his palm pensively against his forehead, Hobbes sighed and tossed Darien the handcuff keys. "Okay," he grumbled, "let him go." He narrowed his eyes and regarded the priest skeptically. "Look, pal. We're going to need your help if we're gonna bust up this operation, but I've got my eye on you. One false move and you're toast." He leaned back against the wall decisively, then added, "And I still don't like you."

Father Fred carefully watched Darien unlock his cuffs and then turned to face Hobbes, rubbing his wrists gingerly. "Do you at least trust me now?"

"Not in the least," Hobbes snorted.

Feeling at least a small amount of sympathy for the man, Darien patted Father Fred on the shoulder congenially. "Don't worry about it," he murmured. "I knew Hobbes for, like, a year before he'd consent to loaning me five bucks."

"That is not a matter of trust, my friend," said Hobbes flatly, digging through his satchel and swearing when he realized he *still* didn't have a firearm. "It is a matter of principle. 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be.'" He dropped the satchel and thought for a few moments. "Okay, boys," he said at last, rubbing his hands together. "Let's formulate a plan. We should still be able to use our covers to our advantage. First things first, Fawkes, the next time we run into one of those nuns, be sure to try and look weary and demon-free... What?"

Darien's eyes widened in warning and Hobbes fell silent. The door creaked open and both Darien and Father Fred caught their breath. Flattened against the wall around the corner from the doorway, Hobbes could not see their guest and had to gauge the situation by the reactions of the other two men. He squinted, trying to catch a reflection of the entranceway in the window at Darien's back but the room's dim lighting combined with the lightning storm made the scene reflected in the window chaotic and uninterpretable. Hobbes found a small amount of solace in the fact that while he could not see the parish's new guest, that guest, at least, could not see him.

Moments later, however, the new arrival's intentions became perfectly clear when Darien and Father Fred cautiously raised their hands above their heads.

* * *

"I'm afraid I can't let you do this, Father Fred." It was Sister Catherine, a nine millimeter grasped in her shaking hand. Carefully, she stepped onto the cot lodged in the entranceway, placing her free hand on the wall to keep her balance.

"Well," muttered Darien grimly. "You certainly seem to have recovered quickly from your recent trauma."

The nun stopped advancing and raised her eyebrows. "I could say the same for you, Father Fawkes... or whoever you are."

"Listen, Catherine," said Father Fred, arresting her attention, his voice low and calm. "Don't do this." He took a cautious step forward, but she warned him back with a wave of her firearm.

"Do what?" She laughed bitterly. "*You're* the one that's betraying them. Do you have any idea what they'll do to you? To *us*? You weren't here before, Fred. You didn't see what it was like. Father Barney had reservations about this place too... And you know what happened to him in the end, don't you?"

Darien looked uncertainly from the nun to the priest, deliberately not allowing his gaze to rest upon Hobbes. He raised his right hand a little higher. "I... I'd like to know what happened to Father Barney...."

Ignoring Darien's request, Sister Catherine continued, her eyes wild. "And we all suffered for his mistakes. And I'm not going to go through that again. God help me, Fred, I'll kill you first. I've lived through disappointing them once and I promise you: eternity in the fires of Hell is vastly preferable." The gun in her hand shaking even more visibly than before, the nun took another hesitant step forward.

It was all over in a flash. Barely had she stepped off the disfigured rollaway and onto solid ground when out of nowhere a hand swooped in and Sister Catherine found herself unexpectedly disarmed. She looked at her empty hand in astonishment, as if its categorical lack of gun were some kind of an illusion.

Stepping out from behind the wall, gun in hand, Hobbes looked at her scornfully. "That was pathetic," he said flatly. In a quick sequence of motions, he released the clip, investigated the ammo, reloaded, and flipped the safety on, tucking the weapon into the front of his pants.

The nun, utterly flustered and looking as if she were about to faint, mumbled nonsensically. Darien and Father Fred leapt forward to keep her from falling, each holding up an arm as they helped her into the small chair by the vanity. The priest took a few steps back to allow her some space, but Darien hovered at the nun's shoulder, regarding her skeptically.

Hobbes frowned and turned to Father Fred, jerking his thumb in the direction of Sister Catherine. "She's supposed to be a Chrysalis agent and I disarmed her that easily? You guys must be slipping."

"I... I'm not an agent," Sister Catherine offered apologetically. "I'm just a teacher - Game Theory and Military Strategy. Sister Clara's the one who teaches them Ballistics and Firearms. I've never even held a gun before." Her breathing was slow and shallow and her eyes darted about in a confused panic.

"Well that much is obvious," said Hobbes, softening his tone. Darien rolled his eyes.

"That's my gun," Father Fred offered grimly, inclining his head towards the weapon in Hobbes' waistband. "She must have gotten it from the desk in my parlor." The nun nodded in confirmation.

"Oh," replied Hobbes, casting a quick glance down at his belt. "Well I'm going to be keeping it for now."

Sister Catherine took a deep, hitching breath. "I came by to check on you," she said, shaking her head slowly as if recounting some horrible memory long past, "and I heard you talking and... I don't know... I guess I just snapped."

Not altogether convinced, Darien took a step sideways to stand beside Hobbes. Leaning in close to his ear, he spoke in low tones. "Be careful," he murmured. "Sister Agnes acted meek around us but in private she turned into a raving bitch." He regarded Sister Catherine suspiciously.

The nun offered a half-hearted chuckle. "Well that's certainly true," she said, sniffling.

Hobbes considered a moment. "I think this one's okay," he decided. He offered Darien a slight shrug.

"I would tend to agree," confirmed Father Fred, leaning in and speaking to Sister Catherine in soft tones. "Where are the girls?" he asked.

She shook her head absently, still distracted by her own thoughts as she replied. "I sent them to bed." Her brow furrowed piteously and she looked up at the ceiling. "I told them the exorcism would take a while and sent them away."

"Good girl," whispered Father Fred, patting her gently on the shoulder as fresh tears began to fall.

Furrowing his brow, Darien looked from Hobbes to Father Fred and back again. "So," he began, "does this mean our covers are not blown? I mean, nobody else knows but the four of us in this room, right? Right?"

"Wrong," came a voice from the doorway. It was Britney, looking uncharacteristically dire. She stepped aside to reveal Sister Ursula, the Mother Superior, waiting in the hallway behind her, a sour expression chiseled into her face.

'Fuck,' thought Darien, 'they're coming out of the woodwork. Please don't have an AK-47, please don't have an AK-47, please don't have an AK-47. God, I hate nuns.'

* * *

Regarding the mangled rollaway distastefully, Sister Ursula elected to remain in the hallway rather than have to clamber over the cumbersome object in a manner unbefitting of her status. From her shoulder, Britney gazed in at the room's occupants guiltily.

The Mother Superior looked dubiously at each of the individuals present, wincing when she caught sight of Darien and his hair, which was no doubt even more unacceptable than it had been earlier. Her eye passed over Father Fred without finding fault and lingered only briefly on the weeping Sister Catherine, as it were a reasonably common sight. She frowned.

"Father Hobbes," she called. "Father Hobbes, I know you're in here. Why don't you come out where I can see you?"

Hobbes had flattened himself against the wall, out of sight and ready for combat, but a slight nod from Father Fred communicated that it was safe to emerge. He stepped forth cautiously, eliciting a horrified gasp from Sister Ursula.

"Father Hobbes," she stated, addressing the agent severely as he fingered the nine millimeter in his waistband, "I realize that in this nation it is the right of even priests to own and bear arms, no matter how personally repellent the prospect may be to myself, but I would greatly appreciate it if said arms were not stored in your trousers within full view of the God's Green Earth. At least not while you are a guest in *my* convent."

Skeptical but obedient, Hobbes reached down and slid the gun around to the back of his waistband, hoping the compromise would satisfy.

"Now," declared Sister Ursula, moving on but continuing to eye Hobbes' pants distastefully, "Young Constance here tells me that you all have some information of importance that I should know about."

Darien, Hobbes, and Father Fred regarded each other uncertainly. Hobbes raised his eyebrows inquisitively, but the priest shook his head, 'no.' Sister Ursula was not involved in the Chrysalis scheme. Sister Catherine, unwilling to permit her mental breakdown to be interrupted, just carried on crying without offering any input.

"Well?" demanded the older nun, her voice stern and intimidating. "Please do not tell me that Young Constance interrupted my morning ablutions for nothing."

'Morning ablutions?' Darien looked at his watch. Six o' clock. Damn.

At last Father Fred decided to speak, leaning casually against the vanity as he did so and nearly knocking over a pheasant lamp. "It's a long story, Mother," he said darkly, "and you're not going to like it. Perhaps we should adjourn to your office? We do require some privacy."

The Mother Superior frowned. "Very well." With a regal air and a final affronted glance at Darien's hair, she turned abruptly on her heels and, Britney in tow, strode down the hallway without looking back.

Hobbes pursed his lips as she retreated. "Guess we'd better follow her," he mused, looking at the priest inquisitively.

"You're damn right," confirmed Father Fred, jumping over the rollaway and hurrying down the hall, followed quickly by the two agents.

Just outside the room, Darien paused, suddenly scowling. "Fred and Barney?" he scoffed. "The last two priests here were named Fred and Barney?"

A few steps ahead of him, Hobbes waved off the comment dismissively. "Let it go, Fawkes. Their ways are not ours."

Sister Catherine, apparently dumb and deaf to the world, was left to her own devices in the empty guest room. Several minutes later, however, when the others were long gone and she attempted an abrupt egress she found that she had been handcuffed to the chair, metallic flakes drifting innocently to the ground to reveal her restraints. The door, wedged tightly against the broken rollaway, could not accomadate the breadth of the heavy oak chair and she was trapped.

"Well, fuck," the nun muttered, letting her restrained wrist drop limply to the arm of the chair. "I guess *someone's* going to have to do without back-up."

* * *

When Darien, Hobbes, and Father Fred emerged into the courtyard, Britney and Sister Ursula were several paces ahead of them. The rain was still pouring down in torrents and the sky darkened by massive thunderheads, but a dim, grey dawn was just beginning to shine through in the east. By the time they reached the central stone sundial, the Mother Superior was almost inside. She had, in fact, just barely reached the safety of the North door when the first shots rang out.

"Shooter!" cried Hobbes immediately, grabbing the back of Darien's collar and throwing him to the ground. "Hit the deck!" He winced as a bullet ricocheted off the stone pathway behind him.

"Where are they?" gasped Father Fred, looking around desperately. "I can't see them!" The shelter of the broad sundial was deflecting many of the bullets, but it wouldn't be of use for long unless they discovered the shooter's trajectory.

Darien quicksilvered his eyes and his attention was immediately captured by a pale figure on the eastern rampart. "Hobbes!" he hissed. "Northeast corner!"

With a quick forward roll Hobbes drew the gun from the back of his waistband and landed in a crouch at the front of the sundial. The rising sun and driving rain would make the shooter a difficult mark but he wouldn't have expected them to pinpoint his location so quickly. With luck, he'd be just careless enough for Hobbes to get a shot off.

"That's Sister Clara," Father Fred informed them, recognizing the shooter's familiar build. "She's an excellent markswoman."

"Not for long," said Hobbes grimly, setting his jaw. As the nun rose, bringing the rifle up to her shoulder, he took aim and fired. There was an outcry as Sister Clara clasped her shoulder, the rifle falling over the inner wall of the rampart to the courtyard below.

"Is that it?" Hobbes whispered, his breathing coming rapidly. "Is it over? Are we done?"

There were a few moments of pregnant silence before his question was answered by another round of shots, emanating from elsewhere on the rampart.

Darien rolled his eyes. "Of course it's not over. You'd think we'd learn these things eventually." He rapidly identified the origin of the gunfire as the northwest corner, but the structure of the wall on that side was such that Hobbes was unable to get a clear shot.

Hobbes swore, ducking back behind the sundial as bullets skittered off of it to either side. "Hey. Fawkes." He inclined his head towards the southwest corner. "I know how we can get up there. I've got a climbing rope."

Darien looked over at his partner, who was eyeing him keenly. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked.

Hobbes grinned and lifted his eyebrows. "You know I am, partner."

Shifting his eyes towards Father Fred, Darien asked, "Him too?"

"Him too."

"Okay then, let's go." Grabbing the other two men firmly on the shoulders, he concentrated on covering first them then himself with quicksilver. As he did so, he heard Hobbes tell the priest, "Just go with the flow, my friend. Just go with the flow."

* * *

It was a quick and easy jaunt to the southwest corner. Not long after they went invisible, the shower of bullets ceased as the shooter, whom Darien could now identify as Sister Agnes, attempted to relocate her targets. The maneuver had been dangerous nonetheless as the torrential rain made their invisibility something less than total. However, at that distance the darkness was still on their side and they arrived at the shadow-shrouded corner in safety. When they had gotten there, Hobbes pulled away from Darien, the quicksilver falling away from him like ash, and tore into the rain-soaked soil to recover his climbing spikes.

Hurriedly slipping the spikes over his shoes, Hobbes pressed his gun into the now-visible Darien's unexpecting hands. "She hasn't spotted us yet," he whispered, "but she will. I'll head up first while you cover me. Hopefully I can distract her for long enough for you two to join me at the top of the wall."

Without waiting for a response, Hobbes seized the rope and began climbing. Palming the gun nervously, Darien kept careful watch on Sister Agnes, who still had not spotted them. The morning sun was advancing in the east, from which the storm clouds were beginning to clear, but the tempest above them raged as violently as ever. Hobbes reached the top of the wall in safety and, with a soft hiss, tossed the climbing spikes down to Darien.

Quickly slipping the spikes over his shoes, Darien handed the gun to Father Fred. "Same plan," he instructed. "When I get to the top I'll go help Hobbes. You shouldn't need any cover by then, so just get up as fast as you can and head to the East wall to check on the shooter that's down." He felt a little awkward giving orders to an Army Ranger, who no doubt put him to shame in both training and experience, but the priest accepted the instructions with equanimity, responding with a curt nod, and Darien set forth to tackle the slick stones of the wall. Adept at the activity from his days of B&E, he scaled the wall quickly, reaching the top just as a shot rang out and a howl of pain issued forth from the far end of the West rampart.

"Aw, crap," hissed Darien, tossing his spikes hurriedly over the wall and taking the steps to the West rampart two at a time. "Bobby."

* * *

When he reached the top of the South wall without being shot at, Hobbes began to feel a renewed sense of confidence and optimism. From the brief conversation he had had with Father Fred as they trailed through the chapel after the Mother Superior, Sister Agnes was the last remaining major player in the game. There were other Chrysalis affiliates but, like Sister Catherine, they were academics and unlikely to participate in organized resistance. Besides that, they were green. Sisters Agnes and Catherine had apparently been the sole carryovers from whatever series of events had led to the dire fate of Father Barney.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Hobbes crouched and surveyed the scene. The front of the rampart looked about as he had anticipated, a simple walkway with a low wall of stones facing the courtyard, but rather than girding the other side of the walkway, the central portion of the outer wall was pushed westward thirty yards or so, forming a wide, square patio that stretched over the roof of the parish residence, the steepled roof of the chapel lining it to the south. As expected, Sister Agnes stood at the northernmost end of the walkway, peering with some confusion over the wall into the courtyard below.

Despite the general discomfort it caused him, Hobbes found himself feeling grateful for the rain, as it would conceal the sound of his approach. With any luck he would be able to catch Sister Agnes unaware and disarm her with a minimum of fuss and nun-beating.

For the most part, the cover worked. Hobbes was able to get within a few yards of Sister Agnes before he caught her eye and she turned her rifle on him. Diving to the side the moment she swung the barrel towards him, he was able to come up under the rifle as she fired, catching her when she was slightly off-balance from the kickback and securing a sturdy, two-handed grip on the weapon. She was surprisingly strong, sliding her left hand up the barrel to gain better leverage, and twisting him around so that his back was flush against the stone facade of the North wall. Hobbes was stronger, however, and he soon wrenched the weapon from her grip, striking her across the face with the butt of the rifle. The nun fell backwards and he was about to deliver a finishing blow when the small of his back was suddenly overwhelmed with pain unimaginable.

Hobbes cried out in surprise as he fell forward, the rifle skittering across the cold, wet stone. Seemingly from out of nowhere, something - or someone - had landed on him. He tried to rise, but his back was being held fast. He could feel the pressure of something hard directly against his spine: the small end of a baseball bat or, perhaps, a steel-reinforced heel. Unable to move his shoulders, he craned his neck around to determine the nature of his attacker. Half-blinded by rain, he could just barely make out the sharp features of a girl in the harkening dawn. Harpy. *This* was a wild card that Father Fred had not warned him about.

* * *

"Bobby!" Darien yelled again as he reached the top of the stairs. At the end of the rampart he could see Father Fred's prize student standing over him in triumph, kicking ferociously at his back and kidneys. Taking off at a full sprint, Darien crossed the rampart in a matter of seconds and tackled the girl head-on, slamming her into the North wall.

Hobbes was on his hands and knees spitting out blood and bile. As he tried to get to his feet, a stab of pain tore up his spine and he inhaled sharply, breathing thick fluid into his lungs and collapsing into a frantic coughing fit. This was an unfortunate distraction for Darien, who let his attention momentarily shift, giving his opponent the opportunity to regain her composure.

Immediately, she hit him with a barrage of attacks that pushed him backwards. She was good - fast and intense with little hint of what her next move might be. Father Fred had trained her well, damn him. Darien was able to defend most of her attacks but not without losing ground and he was wary of being led too far away from Hobbes, the gravity of whose injuries he had not yet been able to assess. They were level with the patio now, with more room to maneuver, and when she landed a square hit to his jaw he reached his breaking point.

"That's it," he hissed, "you may be a girl, but I am *so* going to kick your ass." Taking a deep breath, he slid quickly to the left and quicksilvered, landing a quick jab to the side of her face. Much to his dismay, however, she struck him hard on the nose soon thereafter. They circled around each other, attacking more cautiously than they had before, but she was still managing to hit him with reasonable efficiency. Glancing at his own arms as he extended them to strike it was clear that the utility of his transparency was marginal at best. He was not so much invisible as he was a volume of space in which the rain did not fall and at this range in the quickly increasing light he wasn't afforded much of an advantage. To make matters worse, the droplets of rain were freezing as they hit him, clinging to his body in tiny corpuscles of frost. In a few more minutes he was going to bear a striking resemblance to Frosty the Snowman, or at least Iceman from the early sixties, and his limbs would be too heavy to lift. He sighed as he side-blocked a jab and a tiny shower of ice particles fluttered to the ground. This strategy was not working.

* * *

Hobbes, meanwhile, was struggling to his feet, still coughing and sputtering. Harpy's attack had taken him so off guard that he'd had no hope of defending himself. He propped himself up against the wall and squinted through the rain to see Harpy kickboxing furiously against a silver-grey blur. 'That's my Fawkesy.' He chuckled faintly and fell into another coughing fit that brought the metallic taste of blood rising up into the back of his throat.

There was a sudden double thud behind him and he whirled around suddenly - and painfully - but ready for action.

"Whoa," gasped Britney with a start. "Easy. I'm on your side."

Hobbes relaxed, leaning back against the wall to maintain his balance, but eyed the girl skeptically. "You are?"

"Totally," she assured him, reaching up with both hands to push the wet tendrils of hair out of her face.

He frowned, exhaling sharply through his nose. "Where'd you come from?" he asked.

Raising her eyes to indicate an open dorm window on the North wall directly above them, Britney shrugged. Then, suddenly distracted, she murmured, "Oh, my God. Is that Father Fawkes?!"

Hobbes spun around and swore under his breath. It seemed Fawkes' battle had taken a turn for the worse. Harpy had him backed against the wall and was hitting him hard. He had shed his invisibility for some reason. This couldn't be good.

Britney turned to Hobbes, pleading. "We've got to go help him!"

She was off before Hobbes could stop her. All he could do was follow. He staggered a few steps forward, still reeling from Harpy's vicious attack, but a motion in his peripheral vision caught his eye. Sister Agnes had regained consciousness and managed to reach her rifle. Offering a quick, 'why me?' to the Heavens, he took a deep breath and lunged for the murderous nun. Though both were weakened, they struggled contentiously, Hobbes finally winning out when he forced Sister Agnes to hurl the weapon over the outside wall. The struggle over, they both collapsed onto the cold stone. Hobbes fished in his pocket to find a pair of handcuffs and, with effort, secured Sister Agnes. Quickly turning his sights to the struggle on the patio, he took one step forward but halted when he heard the harsh click of a chamber being loaded behind his head.

Hobbes closed his eyes wearily. 'Aw, crap.'

* * *

Shedding his quicksilver with a quick shrug, Darien caught his opponent across the nose with his elbow, drawing a trickle of blood. This only served to infuriate her and she shoved him hard against the wall of the patio, bracing his shoulders with her forearms and digging her thumbs into the twin nerves on either side of his jawbone. His throat constricted painfully as she continued to push, bending him backwards over the sharp, uneven stones of the wall. Over her shoulder, he noticed a flash of plaid as Britney came sliding to a halt at the far side of the patio. When she saw what was happening she came running towards Darien at a gallop and he shook his head violently, lacking the breath to warn her away.

"No!" Britney screamed, leaping onto the taller girl's back and tearing her away from Darien, who leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. Unimpressed by the attack, the priest's young protege reached behind her and grabbed her attacker's hair, freeing herself with a quick spin move. Kneeling, she pressed her free thumb into Britney's windpipe until lack of oxygen made her go limp. Then, with a derisive smile, she pulled the unconscious girl's head forward and slammed it against the stone floor.

This last move took place so quickly that Darien didn't even have time to react. In fact, he wasn't sure what had happened until he saw the blood, fast-diluted by rain, begin to pool pale-red in the folds of Britney's golden hair. He looked up at the girl in fury and she, in turn, sneered back at him complacently.

"You bitch!" he spat, lunging forward and tackling her into the far wall. Hand pressed against her face, he delivered a hard punch to her stomach. However, any further opportunity for vengeance was denied him by a shrill voice which suddenly rang across the courtyard, piercing through the clamor of the pounding rain.

"Stop!" the voice shrieked. "Stop, or he's dead."

Obediently, Darien and his opponent stopped, both turning to inspect the source of the command. At the north end of the rampart they saw Hobbes, gun held to his head by a waifish brunette, who added, "..and don't make a fucking move until we get there."

* * *

"Now just take it easy, Tinkerbell," Hobbes was saying as they walked. "You don't have to do this. We're not here to hurt you." He had been speaking to her in a low, soothing voice, buying both the opportunity to talk her out of killing him and a little more time to recover his strength. The scheme had been working, too, until Fawkes had regained the advantage over Harpy. When Tinkerbell noticed that her side was losing she had shifted into panic mode. Never a good thing.

"Bullshit," she countered. "Look, I'm not an idiot. I know what you're here to do. You've already shot Sister Clara and it won't be long before the rest of us are lined up against the South Wall facing a firing squad. I've done my research, jackass, so don't fuck with me. I'll kill you and everyone else here before I go quietly."

"You're very eloquent," Hobbes muttered. "Is this why everyone always tells you to shut up?"

She rapped the gun against his battered back sharply. "Don't test me..."

"Okay, okay," said Hobbes, wincing in pain, "but before you start gunning us all down in cold blood, I have a little parable that I think might convince you. Have you ever heard the story of Fluffy Bunny and Mister Turtle?"

"Don't patronize me, asshole," she hissed, pressing the gun into the back of his neck.

"No, really," he insisted earnestly, "hear me out. It's a geopolitical allegory - I think you might enjoy it." Receiving no response, he took the liberty of continuing. "You see, once upon a time Fluffy Bunny was walking through the forest when..." Hobbes dropped suddenly to his stomach, spreading his legs as he fell and using the low friction of the wet stone to slide backwards towards his captor. With a quick motion, he rolled over onto his right side, hooking his right leg across the back of her ankles. Swinging back with his left leg he caught the top of her thighs, forcing her knees locked with the scissors of his legs and, rolling deftly onto his back, throwing her to the ground. Taken completely off guard, Tinkerbell fired aimlessly into the air, the gun almost striking her face on the kickback, but Hobbes had her on her stomach and cuffed before she truly realized what had happened.

"I'll never go quietly," she spat as he got up and rubbed his sore back.

"Shut up, Tinkerbell," he replied flatly. He bent over to retrieve the gun from where it had fallen and noticed that it was his own .380. "And another thing," he added sourly, shaking his weapon at the captive youth. "Don't take things that don't belong to you."

Gun in hand, he took off down the rampart to help Fawkes in his newly-resumed struggle with Harpy, leaving Tinkerbell to hiss and swear and proclaim her refusal to "go quietly" unheard.

On the patio, Fawkes and Harpy were grappling at close quarters, perilously near the wall that girded the outer edge. She shoved him away and he danced a few steps to the right and came at her with a wide left hook which she ducked, countering with a spinning backhand that sent him reeling and a quick reverse side kick to his gut just as he was pushed towards a portion of the wall that had crumbled away with age. Momentum forcing him backwards, he lost his foothold against the granular surface and went plunging off the side.

"Fawkes!" yelled Hobbes, already running towards them at a full sprint. He couldn't see his partner, but Harpy was standing over the gap in the wall, looking down victoriously and oblivious of everything but her triumph. Hobbes wasted no time. The moment he was in range he struck the girl across the back of the head with the butt of his gun, dropping to his knees as she fell bonelessly to the floor.

Hobbes looked down, fearing the worst but finding more than he had dared hope for. Clinging tenuously to the ledge were six fingers and beyond them Fawkes looked up at him imploringly. The jagged rocks of the crumbled wall were slick with rain and blood and while the fingers scratched and scraped to gain a better hold they were making little headway.

"I've got you partner," Hobbes assured him, rolling up his sleeves and reaching out with both arms.

Hesitantly, Darien reached up with his right hand to grab hold of his partner's wrist, but a sudden crash of thunder and strong gust of wind shook his left hand loose of its finger-holds. The shift of weight nearly threw both of them over the ledge, but Hobbes thrust an arm out to brace against the stone wall just in time. Hobbes swore, desperately kicking out a leg to brace them against the other side of the broken wall, but was unable to achieve much leverage on the slick stone. Darien's fingernails dug painfully into his wrist, drawing blood which slickened his skin, further destabilizing their already precarious hold. Nostrils flared and breathing choked with frustration, Hobbes could only struggle and delve desperately for nonexistent hidden strength as his partner slipped slowly, sickeningly, out of his grasp. There was a wet 'snap' when their fingertips finally lost contact and Darien plummeted towards the mist-shrouded mountains below.

* * *

"Fawkes..." Hobbes breathed. He squeezed his eyes closed and turned away, cursing the rain, cursing the mission, and most of all cursing himself. Leaning back from the ledge and pressing both hands to his head, he let out a sharp, angry breath. Father Fred came trotting towards him, panting for air.

"What's happening?" he asked worriedly. "Have you taken out the shooter? Where's Fawkes?" He scanned the area, breath hitching slightly when he caught sight of the unconscious Petra, and turned to Hobbes beseechingly. "Talk to me!"

Unhearing, Hobbes continued to stare out at the rain which now fell through a blanket of haze. The sun had finally invoked its precedence and the horizon on all sides was awash in pale, lifeless grey: a grim compliment to the smoky hue of the clouds above which continued to rain down mercilessly upon him. The only hint of color was in the crimson of the blood, a mixture of his partner's and his own, that lay smeared and streaked across his arm. But when he turned his wrist over to investigate this singular shade it, too, was washed away by the rain. Unable to come up with a more productive course of action, Hobbes screamed out his partner's name, pounding his fists against the ledge and sending a shower of pebbles over the side.

"Hobbes?" a weak voice responded. "Ow! Stop that!"

"Fawkes?" Eyes wide with astonishment, Hobbes poked his head over the ledge to see Fawkes seemingly hovering in mid-air about six or seven feet down the wall and spitting out dirt and pebbles with an irritated expression. "But how...?"

Darien nodded towards the open space between him and the wall, which was rapidly becoming white with frost and taking the shape of two forearms. "Metal heating duct," he said. "Quicksilver. Rain. Frozen. HURRY."

"Right," responded Hobbes, "right. We'll get you. Nice trick. Like sticking your tongue to a flagpole in winter. The Keeper will be so proud..."

"Did you hear the part where I said HURRY?"

"Right. Just hold tight, buddy."

Behind him, Father Fred was perplexed. "Hobbes... what...?"

Startled, Hobbes jumped back, sending another shower of pebbles skittering over the edge. "Sorry, Fawkes," he called down. "Hi. Fred. Glad you're here. Look, Fawkes is trapped a few feet down. I need you to lower me over the edge."

Father Fred blinked in surprise. "Really? You mean you trust me to do that?"

"No," replied Hobbes, alternately shaking and nodding his head. "Good point. *I'll* lower *you* down." He paused for a moment, frowning pensively. "On second thought, no. You might drop him. You'd better lower me down."

With a shrug, Fred took a few steps towards the ledge, halting when Hobbes turned around abruptly. "Oh, and one more thing," Hobbes said. "Any chance you still have those climbing spikes?"

The priest nodded.

"Good, then put them on. You'll need a hell of a strong foothold to pull us both back up."

A few minutes later, Father Fred heaved Hobbes, feet first, back up over the ledge, immediately followed by Fawkes. It had taken Hobbes surprisingly long to retrieve his partner as his arms were encased in a shell of ice which held fast to the metal duct, but with a little selective chipping he was soon free. Hooking his arms under Fawkes' armpits and clasping his hands at the back of his neck, Hobbes provided a human sling which permitted both men to be hauled to safety with a minimum of jostling. When they reached the patio the two agents struggled to their feet, leaning against the low wall as they caught their breath.

Darien looked sideways at his partner and grinned smugly. "I thought you didn't trust Father Fred," he said, jerking his head towards his other rescuer, who was rubbing the kinks out of his calf muscles a few yards away.

Pursing his lips, Hobbes looked up at his partner earnestly. "I don't," he responded. "I wasn't about to let *him* haul you up."

After a moment's pause, Darien frowned. "Hobbes. He could have dropped both of us."

"I know that," Hobbes declared, a hint of insult in his tone, "but if he'd done that I wouldn't have had to live with myself for doing something stupid like trusting him when I shouldn't have, now would I?" He winked at his partner, who seemed wholly unconvinced by his line of reasoning but was nonetheless grateful to be alive.

"Freeze." The command was uttered in a low, serious tone, assuring the listener that it meant business. Hobbes and Darien turned their heads towards the origin of the voice to see Father Fred, holding his nine millimeter purposefully in a two-handed grip. Although there was a pained expression on his face, his hold on the weapon did not waver.

Darien parted his lips, about to speak, but the priest whispered simply, "I'm sorry," and squeezed the trigger.

Hobbes and Darien looked at each other uncertainly, trying to determine which one of them had been shot, when their attention was drawn by a heavy thud behind them. Petra had dropped to the ground, a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead and Hobbes' .380 still clutched in her left hand.

* * *

Darien exhaled sharply and put a hand to his chest. "*Please* tell me that's the last scare for tonight... this morning." He blinked up at the sun, still low in the east, that was beginning to shine through the storm clouds in intense rays. "Hey, Hobbesy," he mused, "whaddya say we quit the Agency and move to Tahiti. We can open a bar right on the beach. I'll even let you be the bartender."

"I'm beginning to consider it, my friend," Hobbes returned as he knelt to retrieve his gun from Harpy's lifeless hand.

With a sudden pang of awareness, Darien turned to Father Fred, who stood staring remorsefully at the girl's body. "You okay?" he asked.

The priest didn't answer; he simply handed Darien his gun and walked over to where Britney was beginning to stir. She sat up with a groan and Father Fred rushed forward to support her, delicately inspecting her blood-matted hair. She had a nasty gash on the back of her head but it didn't appear to run deep. He knelt to carefully draw her arm around his neck and lift her up. Looking over his shoulder at the two agents, he said, "Let's get her to the front gate. I've already called an ambulance for Sister Clara and we can come back for the others later." Without looking back, he began a slow march towards the far corner of the patio, where a small hatch opened up onto a narrow access stairway.

Hobbes rose slowly, wincing at the stab of pain that shot through his back, and walked over to stand next to his partner. They exchanged a concerned look as the priest silently departed but made no immediate effort to follow him.

"You okay, partner?" Hobbes asked worriedly, knitting his brow. He took a step back and gave Darien a quick once over to make sure he didn't have any gaping wounds or missing limbs.

"Yeah," Darien muttered. "Yeah, I'm fine." Distractedly, he surveyed the scene. The storm clouds above them had dispersed and a hint of color had finally begun to infiltrate the surrounding landscape. The sun, blazing brightly as it rose higher in the east, was making quick work of the morning mist, burning it away to erase all traces of nascent humidity. The dull, grey surface of the ramparts now glistened with moisture, the effect enhance by the flecks of mica and pyrite that ornamented the raw stone. The combined effect produced a spectacular view and Darien marveled that this very spot had been the scene of so much fear and violence just a few minutes earlier. It seemed impossible... or maybe not. Darien received a swift kick of reality as he turned his head an caught sight of Petra's crumpled body, steam rising languidly from her skin and clothes. "Fuck," he whispered.

"No kidding," said Hobbes flatly. He had been undertaking a similar survey of their surroundings and though he had been struck by the overwhelming sense of calm in the wake of the storm and the grace with which the red-winged hawk he had seen the previous evening soared over the north wall and alighted in the tall redwood to the south, there was no ignoring the corpse of a teenage girl a few meters away or the fact that Tinkerbell was unleashing a stream of expletives from the other end of the rampart. Hobbes grimaced and ran a hand over the top of his head, leaving the side of his face streaked with blood.

"Shit, Hobbes, you're bleeding," hissed Darien, suddenly alarmed. His partner looked up in confusion but, glancing down at his bloody forearm, waved away his concern.

"Not a big deal," he shrugged, reaching under his shirt and using the wet fabric to dab away the excess blood.

Darien was unconvinced, wincing as Hobbes patted down his forearm to reveal four deep scratches extending from the crook of his elbow all the way down to his wrist. He wrinkled his nose. "How...?"

With a dubious look and a hint of a smile, Hobbes looked up at his partner. "This is your work, Miss Kitty," he said informatively, gesturing at his arm with a little flourish. "From when you were falling before?" He indicated the broken wall with his eyes in case Fawkes needed an additional hint.

"Whoops." Darien bit his lip and looked at Hobbes apologetically. "I guess I got kind of caught up in that whole 'not wanting to fall to my death thing.' Sorry."

"I should hope so," Hobbes responded, supressing a smile as he clucked his tongue reproachfully. "Do you realize the kind of off-color remarks the boys in the office are going to make about this? Not to mention Miss Alex Monroe." He shuddered and began crossing the patio towards the hatch through which Father Fred had departed.

Trotting to catch up, Darien looked down at his fingernails guiltily and brought his hand closer to his face to examine the dirt and blood and skin that had collected underneath them. As his eyes drifted down to his wrist, however, he was struck by a sudden thought. "Hey," he grumbled, laying a staying hand on his partner's shoulder. "How come I don't have any scratches? Weren't you trying your hardest to hold on to me? What, wasn't I worth the effort?" He mockingly arranged his features into an expression of wounded scorn.

Hobbes regarded him dubiously. "Hey, you can't pin that on me," he admonished. "Just because *my* mother taught me to trim my nails every once in a while doesn't mean I'm not looking out for my partner." He shrugged Darien's hand off of his shoulder with a snort and continued towards the stairs. "Besides," he added over his shoulder, "you know the Fat Man would kill me if I let anything happen to that gland."

"Don't I know it," said Darien grimly, rolling his eyes.

As they neared the end of the patio, the profanities being hurled at them from the northern end of the rampart increased in volume and frequency. Hobbes narrowed his eyes and glanced over at the enraged Tinkerbell irritably. Sister Agnes was beginning to come around and she squeezed her eyes closed, clearly suffering from a terrible headache which was unlikely to improve under the onslaught of such deafening blasphemy.

Darien rasied his eybrows and bowed his head towards the screaming girl. "Should we go ahead and haul her inside now?"

"Nah," replied Hobbes, already down the first few steps that lead to the parish. "She'll only ruin our breakfast."

With a shrug and a friendly wave to the captive women, Darien took a last, deep breath of the fresh morning air and followed his partner downstairs.

* * *

By lunchtime everything seemed pretty much in order. Hobbes had contacted the Agency as soon as they'd seen the wounded off to the hospital and Sister Ursula had restricted the entire population of the convent to their quarters until they could sort out the innocent from the guilty. She had accepted their report of the school's illicit activities at face value - a multi-nun shootout in one's convent courtyard tends to quell one's capacity for disbelief - but was clearly upset and ashamed that it had gone on for so long without her awareness. Although only a small fraction of the student populace was actually involved in the Chrysalis project, she decided that St. Mary's had been infiltrated with far too much sin and corruption and that the school should be shut down permanently.

Father Fred had been more than obliging in his willingness to identify the participants, both teacher and student, in the training program, although he urged the agents to keep in mind that the truly dangerous parties had already been subdued. A caravan from the Agency arrived around eleven to take any and all Chrysalis affiliates in for questioning and while the suits busied themselves with tracking down everyone on the list Father Fred had provided, Darien and Hobbes were more than content to excuse themselves from that part of the mission and have lunch with the priest in his modest dining room.
Although decorated no more tastefully than the rest of the parish residence, the dining room was cozy and comfortable with a stone fireplace and tall wing-back chairs tucked in the corners to either side of the broad window. A small, oval table was the centerpiece of the room and it was laden with packaged salads and sandwiches that Hobbes, mistrustful of the St. Mary's kitchen staff, had insisted the Agency suits bring up with them from the deli down the street from their offices. Father Fred, at the head of the table, still seemed somewhat shaken from the morning's ordeal and sniffed at his food disinterestedly, occasionally prodding it with a fork. Opposite the priest, Darien lounged casually and, with a look of amusement, regarded Hobbes, who just seemed grateful to have some decent food which probably wasn't drugged.

Tearing off a large bite of his chicken salad sandwich, Darien leaned back in his chair and looked at Father Fred curiously. "So you were really the one who called us in?"

Fred left off staring at his untouched meal and blinked up at his guest. "Kind of," he responded. "I called Fish and Game with a tip about some spotted owls."

"So how'd you know they'd send us?" Hobbes asked, looking up from his plate abruptly. "We're not even with F&G anymore." He prodded at some pasta salad with his fork.

With a self-congratulatory half-nod, Father Fred smirked. "Easy," he shrugged. "I tipped off a Chrysalis leak. I knew word of our operation would get back to you."

"So the Official sent us into a trap? Again?" Darien scowled, shooting his partner a weary, irritated look which was deftly ignored.

"No, no, no," the priest corrected. His appetite fuled by this reminder of his own cleverness, he tore off a mouthful of turkey club and chewed it eagerly. "It wasn't a trap because they didn't know that we knew that they knew."

'Which was the 'we' again?' Darien wondered. He glanced over at Hobbes, who actually seemed to have followed the explanation but nevertheless looked somewhat perplexed.

"Yeah," Hobbes said, knitting his brow, "but if they knew that we knew but didn't think we knew that they knew, why didn't they just take us out while we didn't know?" He snorted in challenge, having apparently just presented an irrefutable proof.

Father Fred shook his head patiently, his words slow and measured. "Because they knew that it was you but they didn't know that it was *you*. They were going to try to use you to capture *you*."

"Ah ha," Hobbes leaned back with a smile and clapped his hands in understanding. He turned to address Darien in an expository tone. "Because they didn't know that we knew that they knew."

"Exactly." Father Fred seemed pleased, and took a triumphant bite of his sandwich.

Darien looked dubiously from Hobbes to Father Fred. "Um... Do you two want to be alone?"

Hobbes chuckled, reaching over with his fork to sample the salad from Darien's plate. "It's simple, partner. Chrysalis wanted us... well, you... but didn't think you'd be stupid enough to walk right into their trap..."

"That's funny," muttered Darien, not sounding the least bit amused.

"So they decided to try and capture some regular agents, knowing that the Fat Man would send the heavy hitters in to get them back. You going to eat that pickle?"

Brow furrowed in thought, Darien waved the pickle away and Hobbes took an eager bite. "That's a good pickle," he mumbled to Father Fred, still crunching. "Tangy. Here, Fawkes, you can have my chips." He tossed a small bag of potato chips at his partner. The chips hit him in the shoulder and dropped preremptorily to the floor.

"So they were going to use us as bait to capture ourselves?" Darien looked up, snapping out of his daze, but showed little confidence in his conclusions.

"Yeah," Hobbes remarked. "Brilliant, eh? Sounds like one of our plans."

Father Fred chuckled. "Well for all they knew you were just regular agents. Their orders were simply to keep the two of you separated and subdued."

"And seduced..." muttered Darien, glancing sideways at his partner who, at least, had gone back to eating off of his own plate.

The priest shrugged. "Well the girls *did* need some practice."

"So that's why I was drugged," stated Hobbes, pushing his own plate aside and returning his attention to Darien's, where the lettuce was apparently greener.

"Which time?" asked the priest.

Hobbes paused, fork midway to mouth. "There was more than one time?"

"Sister Clara did it the first time," chimed Darien, eager to contribute what little he could to the conversation. Resignedly, he pushed his plate over to Hobbes and began looking on the floor for the fallen chips.

"Right," Father Fred confirmed. "She gave you a flunitrazepam derivative which works basically like Rohypnol but the effect is shorter term. It hit you faster than it should have, though. I found an asthma inhaler in your coat when I carried you back to the parish; if you were using it, that could have accelerated the effect."

"Wait," grumbled Hobbes, shaking his head in confusion and suspending his assault on a wayward radish. "*You* carried me back to the parish?"

"Of course," replied the priest, somewhat confused by the question. "You collapsed against the gym door while Petra and I were training. I brought you inside while Petra ran off - I figure your gun must have been on the ground somewhere and she grabbed it before I noticed it was there. Anyway, that's when I drugged you."

"YOU drugged me?"

"My head hurts," Darien complained into his bag of chips.

Raising his eyebrows as if affronted by Hobbes' accusatory tone, Father Fred regarded him solemnly. "Of course I drugged you. I had to get that sedative out of your system. Our pharmaceutical division - Chrysalis' that is - has been developing a new product: a scavenger drug that automatically neutralizes any foreign chemical in your system. I got it into your bloodstream quickly through the cut in your head," he tapped the back of his head illustratively. "Anyway, later that night I wasn't sure if it had taken so I slipped some more onto your toothbrush."

Hobbes stood up angrily, upsetting his plate, which clattered around on the crocheted pacemat. "You asshole, that second dose canceled out my meds. If I'd been on heart pills or something I'd be dead by now!"

Having pushed away from the table by instinct, Father Fred scooted his chair forward again and shrugged guiltily. "Sorry," he offered.

"Easy there, Tiger." Darien rose and placed a steadying hand on his partner's shoulder. "He was just trying to help."

Eyes narrowed, Hobbes sat down begrudgingly and took a violent stab at the pasta salad, sending a few pieces of rotini flying onto the floor.

"I just have one more question," said Darien, having abandoned hope of understanding anything that they'd spoken about thus far. "How did you know about us?"

"Simple." Father Fred smiled uneasily, scrutinizing Hobbes for any forewarning of attack. "I read it in the newsletter."

Darien looked at Hobbes grimly. "The newsletter," he repeated. "Chrysalis gets a newsletter."

"Chrysalis gets a newsletter," Hobbes shrugged, dropping his fork to his plate in defeat.

"Only once we reach a certain clearance level," Father Fred offered. His attempted mollification, however, provided little solace.

"That's it," grumbled Darien, getting up from the table decisively. "We're getting out of here."

Hobbes rose, placing his folded napkin next to his plate, and followed his partner to the door. "I'll bet Chrysalis never has to reuse staples either," he muttered.

* * *

By two o'clock the Chrysalis round-up was complete and all but two of the Agency vehicles pulled out of the wide, gravel drive. As a matter of form, Darien and Hobbes had paid a final visit to Sister Ursula to ask if there was anything else they could do but she had flatly refused. The nun was sullen and withdrawn, still coming to terms with the whole, grisly situation and her unwitting role in allowing it to take place, and dismissed them from her office without even inviting them to sit down. This brusque treatment engendered little offense on the part of the two agents, who wanted nothing more than to get the hell out. After an almost continuous twenty four hour long ordeal they were anxious to get on the road and head for home.

As he stepped across the threshold of the main entrance, Darien relished in the sunlight and the sound of gravel crunching beneath his feet. It was another afternoon of blistering heat, even more oppresive than the previous day had been, but Darien threw his arms wide and soaked it in, eager for an extended period of warmth after the thorough drenching he had received. Hobbes, though equally grateful for a dousing of sun, was more reserved in his enthusiasm. Although he watched with amusement as his partner did his best Sound of Music reenactment, he couldn't help but be cognizant of the fact that after about twenty minutes in the sweltering van the complaints about the heat would start and were unlikely to let up until they reached the San Diego city limits.

Hobbes approached the back of the van, against which his partner was leaning contentedly. "You did take a shower, right?" he asked suspiciously. "Because I'm not driving back with you if you smell the way you smelled when we got here."

"Indubitably," Darien replied with a smile, wafting the air immediately in front of him over towards Hobbes so that he might take in his delightful aroma. "I'm Springtime Fresh."

"Okay, I believe you," Hobbes laughed, pretending to bat away the oncoming air flow. "Just take it easy on the cologne next time. What is that, Drakkar Noir? No self-respecting priest would wear that."

"Well that's fine by me because we're not priests anymore, remember?" Darien stood up and nodded haughtily.

"Au contraire, my friend," Hobbes corrected. "You and me are going to hit the town tonight. We're going to see exactly how many free drinks this pious apparel can get us." He raised his eyebrows mischievously.

Darien quirked a grin as he opened the van's rear door, tossing his bag in the back before turning to face his partner. "You're on," he agreed with a wink.

Hobbes smiled as he tossed his own duffel into the van, but before he could respond a voice called to them from across the courtyard.

"Father Hobbes! Father Fawkes!" Father Fred, accompanied by a pair of generic suits who eyed him suspiciously, was approaching them with a broad smile. Darien and Hobbes had agreed to permit him to visit the injured at the hospital, under close supervision of course, before he was taken in for questioning but they had not anticipated that he would return in time to see them off. As he strode towards them, Darien couldn't help but notice that he was carrying a large, pink object which glittered brightly in the afternoon sun.

"Here, Father Fawkes," said the priest, proffering the object as Darien took it uncertainly. "Constance wanted me to give this to you."

Darien was somewhat mortified to see that the object was a large heart cut out of construction paper and decorated with spangled stickers and glitter. Amused, Hobbes snatched the object out of his partner's hands and read the gold painted inscription out loud. "'I'll miss you, Father Fox. Love, Britney.' Aww..." he teased. "Isn't that sweet? This is going to look great stuck up on your fridge."

"Shut up," growled Darien irritably, snatching the card back and tucking it into his pocket with embarrassment. "Let's just go." He turned to the priest, saying "See you later, Fred. It's been real," and trotted around the van, swinging himself up into the passenger seat.

Hobbes nodded curtly to Father Fred and turned to address one of the agents behind him. "Take care of this one," he instructed soberly. "He's okay." With a final bow of his head, he walked around the van and climbed into the driver's seat, watching in the rearview mirror as the two agents escorted Father Fred to the only remaining Agency car, black and non-descript. He allowed the other car to pull out of the drive and on to the narrow mountain road ahead of him while he and Fawkes got settled in for the long trip. The van's engine sprang to life on only the third attempt and Hobbes pulled away from the school, feeling little regret when he rounded the first bend and watched the featureless facade of St. Mary's disappear from his rearview mirror.

* * *

Darien and Hobbes weathered the first hour or so of their journey in silence. The rain still sprinkled intermittently at the lower altitudes and they were offered a welcome respite from the blistering heat of the day before. Darien marveled to himself that it had been just over twenty four hours since the Official had originally dispatched them to St. Mary's. 'I guess a day seems a lot longer when you don't get to sleep,' he mused.

It was not until they got back onto the main highway that Hobbes cleared his throat and, awkwardly, began to speak. "Look, Fawkes..." he muttered, "about last night... you know, the things I said..."

"I know," Darien assured him. "It's cool."

Hobbes raised his eyebrows and looked over at his partner. "We cool?"

"We cool." Darien held out his hand and Hobbes gave him a quick low five, slapping the back of his hand on the return. "So..." he continued, trying to sound casual but failing, "you ready to talk about it now?"

"Talk about what?" Hobbes squinted behind his reflective shades.

"Why you left Catholic school."

There was a long pause. Hobbes kept his eyes fixed on the road.

"Come on, man," Darien urged. "You can't fool me. You suspected Father Fred way too quickly for there not to be some history there. Was there something ugly with the priest at your old school? Did he..." He blinked, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. "Were you...?"

"No," Hobbes laughed dismissively. "Absolutely not. No." Ha paused a moment, his smile wavering, then turned to face his partner, regarding him earnestly over his shades. "Actually, it was my sister."

Darien issued a heavy sigh, answering quietly, "Oh."

"Yeah," said Hobbes, clearing his throat and pushing his sunglasses back up. "Mind you, my sister was kind of a bitch. Quite frankly, she probably deserved it but it was still..." he sniffed uncomfortably, "unpleasant."

"I bet," replied Darien grimly. "So you found out about it and left, is that it?"

"Hell no." Hobbes chuckled genuinely. "They kicked me out, all right. Exposing the dirty priest wasn't enough for me, no way. I dug up the dirt on the whole faculty. Ratted out every one of those bastards." He turned to his partner with a little half-smile. "The Catholic Church was less than pleased. I got a personal note of admonition from the Pope."

"Really?" Darien laughed in spite of himself.

Hobbes shrugged. "Yeah, but I think it was his personal assistant who actually signed it. Anyway, after that it was off to military school for Bobby Hobbes, the anti-prodigal son. My folks *still* haven't forgiven me for pointing out the filthy little secret of their little girl who could do no wrong."

Darien shook his head bitterly. "That's so fucked up."

"Well, there is a bright side," Hobbes mused. "It was that little incident that made me decide to go into law enforcement. Without it, you'd probably be dead by now."

Leaning back in his seat, Darien chuckled. "You and your silver lining..."

* * *

When Darien and Hobbes arrived at the Official's office the following morning he did not appear to be overflowing with congratulatory glee. "Get in here, you two!" he barked.

Overjoyed at having finally been able to ditch his clerical garb, Darien was decked out in his favorite cowboy shirt, horribly mismatched yellow pants, and his ugliest green velvet sneaks. Hobbes, Darien noticed, was in his typical Khakis and casual dress shoes, but was wearing a vivid orange polyester button down shirt with short sleeves. Darien eyed the shirt, and his partner, suspiciously. As they crossed the office, he tugged on Hobbes' sleeve. 'Mine?' he mouthed accusingly.

Hobbes pursed his lips and shook his head definitively, wagging his finger and then pointing to himself with great conviction.

Darien was still dubious when he slung himself into one of the chairs in front of the Official's desk, spinning around once for good measure. Unmoved by his partner's suspicion, Hobbes lowered himself into his chair primly and waited to hear what the hell they were in trouble for now.

The Official closed the manila folder he had been looking through and leaned forward, eyeing the agents spuriously. "Eberts," he snapped.

From a few paces beyond the Official's right shoulder Eberts took a step forward, leafing through a bundle of papers nervously. "We just had a few questions about these preliminary reports you filed," he announced. "We are having difficulty with the explicit categorization of the Chrysalis affiliates with whom you interacted and were wondering if you would clarify."

"Sure," said Hobbes, leaning back and crossing his legs. "Shoot." Darien shrugged in affirmation.

"Well..." began Eberts, flipping to the front page of the report and placing it on a clipboard, "first let's address your principle allies, Father Fred and Father Ted."

"Oh," Darien winced. "Sorry. Yeah. Those two are the same guy."

"Really?" Eberts blinked in surprise and made a note on the report. "Okay. Well, this makes a lot more sense then. What about..."

"The Farmers are him too," Hobbes informed him.


"Do you realize," snarled the Official, "that based on your description of this individual we have been able to match his identity against a list of known Chrysalis agents and he's one of the most highly trained and dangerous they've got? He's one of their most decorated field leaders, responsible for countless unspeakable terrorist acts. He's devious, he's unscrupulous, he's depraved..."

"...and his credit history is marred by habitually delinquent remittance," added Eberts.

"Hey," said Darien with a shrug. "For a plot hatched in hell, don't expect angels for witnesses."

"That's very nice," commented Hobbes, nodding his head in approval. "Is that one of yours?"

"Nah, somebody else said that one."

"Oh yeah? Who?"

Darien shrugged. "I dunno. I've got so many I can't keep track of 'em now."

The Official pounded his desk. "The man is a monster!"

"I don't believe it," Hobbes scoffed. "If Farmer Ted were all that you say he is he would have been a lot more useful in a fight."

"He was faking it," the Official muttered, narrowing his eyes angrily.

Darien shifted his position in his chair, leaning forward against his knees. "So what happened to him anyway?"

Regaining his temper, the Official sat back in his chair. "We offered him a job."

Hobbes perked up, surprised. "Really?"

"No," replied the Official, a sardonic smile playing about his lips. We killed him."

Darien perked up, horrified. "Really?"

"No," said Eberts with a lugubrious sigh. "Actually, he escaped from our agents disappeared before we could do either."

The two agents leaned back in their chairs. "Oh."

Eberts continued uncomfortably, producing another sheet of paper from the shelf behind him. "Now here I have a master list of the Chrysalis affiliated students we took in yesterday, but almost none of them are named in your report. Which were the girls you had direct contact with again? Constance Riverwood?"

Darien raised his hand lethargically. "That would be Britney."

"Katherine Meenan? Meghan O'Malley"

Darien shrugged.

Hobbes leaned in. "That'd be Laverne and Shirley."

"Oh yeah..." chimed Darien, snapping his fingers in recognition. "Laverne, I mean Katherine, is Katie."

"Katie and Laverne are the same person?"

The agents nodded in agreement and the Official offered Eberts a curt nod of permission. Eberts then began hastily scratching up the report with his pencil, making copious marginal notes.

Darien sat up suddenly, looking puzzled. "Wait," he said, "are Laverne and Shirley the same as Christina and Mandy?"

Hobbes shook his head. "I think Meghan is Shirley is Mandy but that Christina is actually Caitlin or, as I like to call her, Incompetent Airhead."

"She the one you slipped by at the front gate with that 'conference call with God' line?"

"You know it, partner." Hobbes reached out his fist and Darien struck it amiably with his own.

The Official sighed, snatching the list away from his assistant and running down the names with his finger. "Then there's Petra Rubinskaya."

"Harpy," stated Hobbes.

"Interesting choice," said Darien. "I went with Wench-Ra, Foul Bitch Mistress of the Underworld." He looked at the Official and waved vaguely at the report on his desk. "It's in there somewhere," he added, causing Eberts to begin scribbling on the report anew.

Hobbes chuckled, nodding pensively. "It suits her," he said at last. "I like it."

"Oh, but yours is so much more pithy..."

"True, true... Both appellations have significant merit..."

The Official cleared his throat with deliberate annoyance. "Portia Livingston."

Hobbes cringed. "Tinkerbell."

"Tinkerbell?" Darien looked at his partner dubiously.

"She's very wee." He shrugged, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart in demonstration.

"Oh," replied Darien, nodding vaguely.

"And what was she called in *your* half of the report," the Official inquired irritably.

Darien scratched the back of his head. "I think I called her, 'Holy Crap, Who's That and How the Hell Did She Get a Gun?'."

Eberts flipped to the back of the report, scanning the pages rapidly and then nodding at the Official in affirmation.

"Is that all of them?" the Official asked Eberts irritably.

"No," replied Hobbes, cutting off Eberts before he could respond. "There were at least two more. The blonde and the little readhead at the front gate."

"Oh yeah," said Darien, smirking. "What did you call them?"

"Buffy and Willow." Hobbes raised his eyebrows, awaiting his partners assessment of his choice.

Darien laughed. "No kidding! Me too. You know they should totally get together."

"Who, those two girls?"

"No, stupid. Buffy and Willow."

Hobbes shook his head solemnly. "No way."


"No way means no way," said Hobbes frankly. "I don't think they should get together."

"Oh come on," Darien huffed. "You'll march in the Pride Parade with Burt and Ernie but you don't want Buffy and Willow to get together? What, do you have something against lesbians?"

"I got nothing against lesbians," Hobbes insisted. "I like lesbians."

"So what's the problem?" Darien regarded his partner skeptically, obviously dubious that he would be able to produce a satisfactory answer.

"I just think," explained Hobbes measuredly, "that Buffy should accept that Willow and Tara are in a happy, loving relationship and that she would be unwise to try and trifle with it." He nodded with finality.

Darien looked back at Hobbes, blinking uncertianly.

"I have to agree with Hobbes here," prompted Eberts. "It certainly does seem as if Willow and Tara are very content with their current romantic situation."

"Enough!" growled the Official, who had done his best to humor his agents in light of all they had just been through, but could only take so much. He had finished his coffee and had no other means of ignoring their prattle. "This conversation is moving on."

"Why don't we get a newsletter?" Hobbes asked abruptly, shifting his weight forward in his chair. "I think we should get a newsletter."

"No comment," the Official muttered.

"But Chrysalis gets a newsletter... I really think that..."

"The Official is not made of newsletters," Eberts interrupted, noticing the increasing agitation with which his superior was regarding the two agents.

Darien leaned forward, patting his insulted partner on the knee. "Hobbes is right," he insisted. "We were talking to Farmer Fred, and he said that..."

"No newsletters," the Official barked. "Next topic."

"Okay," said Darien, more than willing to take advantage of this opportunity if his boss was so eager to force it on him. "I've got a new discussion topic for you." He stood up with a balletic turn and rested his hands on the Official's desk, "Did you or did you not send us walking right into a trap? Discuss." Although his hopes were not high, he was ready to get some answers. A few yards away, Eberts craned his neck to make sure the Official's favorite pen set was not in peril.

"What?" the Official snapped, his tone more in inquiry than anger.

Hobbes leaned back and folded his arms. "He wants to know whether you knew that they knew that we knew."

"Oh," the Official replied, brows still furrowed in mild confusion. "He doesn't need to know that." He leaned back decisively.

Darien turned around, looking at Hobbes with a hopeless expression. "I don't need to know."

"You don't need to know." Hobbes shrugged.

"Come on," Darien petitioned, turning to the more easily swayed Eberts. "All I want to know is whether you knew."

"We didn't know they knew and they didn't know we knew," offered Eberts, visibly flustered.

"Shut up, Eberts," snarled the Official over his shoulder.

"Hey," Hobbes warned, raising an accusatory finger. "Watch out for that. It'll bite you on the ass."

Eberts hazarded a quick glance at the back of the Official's chair and smirked, causing both Darien and Hobbes to snort involuntarily and the Official to become suddenly paranoid. He narrowed his eyes, glancing from agent to agent, and was just about to start yelling when there was a knock at the door and the Keeper entered the room, her expression bright and cheerful.

"Hallo, boys," she smiled, totally unaware that she had just rescued them from getting chewed out. "Welcome back. Heard about the St. Mary's mission. Interesting work."

"Not bad, eh Claire?" Hobbes twisted in his chair to face her with a broad smile. "Did you hear about his flagpole tongue trick? Pretty clever..." He waggled his eyebrows proudly.

The Keeper frowned. "Yes, I read about that in the report. I had no idea that Quicksilver was so hydrophilic." She looked at Darien apologetically. "I'm going to need you to come in for some more tests."

Darien rolled his eyes and glared over at Hobbes. "You had to mention the trick."

Hobbes shrugged defensively. "What? It's a nice trick."

"Whatever. I was figuring I'd have to go in anyway because of those weird effects the high-altitude and temperature had on my quicksilver levels."

"Oh thank you, Darien," the Keeper breathed with relief. "I had completely forgotten about that. Bonus tests for you."

Darien winced, kicking the Official's desk stubbornly and flopping back into his chair. Eberts dove to save a bowl of paper clips before it bounced off the surface.

"So," Claire began, hoping to shift the conversation to a brighter topic, "where are the owls?" She looked from Hobbes to Darien excitedly.

"The what?" Hobbes broad smile never faltered, but he glanced over at his partner with panic-stricken eyes.

"The owls," Claire laughed, rolling her eyes. "You haven't just left them in the van the whole time, have you?"

Darien shook his head in disbelief. "Wait," he muttered, squeezing his eyes closed with a pained expression. "There were really owls?"

"There were really owls." Hobbes was nodding vacantly and staring at nothing in particular, his mouth a thin line.

The Keeper laughed brightly, standing between the two agents and clapping them each on the shoulder. "Of course there were really owls. Why do you think you were sent up there?"

"Didn't we just go over this?" Darien sighed impatiently, and Claire drew her hand away from his shoulder as if it were suddenly white hot. "You've got the Chrysalis with the knowing and the us kind of knowing but them not knowing that none of us know?"

Hobbes patted the Keeper's hand on his shoulder and looked up with her with a warm smile. "Don't forget the them thinking we knew and knowing that we would want to know more if they secretly let us know about the owls," he added helpfully.

Claire grimaced. "No. Sorry. Missed all that."

"So there really are owls?" Darien was still dumbstruck, and his vocabulary was correspondingly limited.

The Official leaned forward menacingly. "Yes, there really are owls and you're going to go right back up there and get them."

Darien slumped down further into his chair, a defeated expression on his face. "Great. There are really owls."

"So much for our vacation," Hobbes snorted.

"We were getting a vacation?"

"No, of course not."


"Boys?" The Official's tone was forceful, guaranteeing that their rapid-fire banter would, at least momentarily, subside.

The two agents turned to look at the Official. "What?"

"As long as you're going to be in that area, why don't you swing by and check out St. Bartholomew's."

With a sardonic smile, Eberts tossed them each a set of freshly pressed clerical garb.

Hobbes looked at his partner in disbelief. "We'll just go check out St. Bartholomew's."

Darien nodded, bundling his vestments under his arm as he rose to leave. "God, I hate owls."

"Amen to that, brother," Hobbes concurred, patting his partner on the shoulder as he stood. "Amen."

The End.