Author: A. X. Zanier

Title: Life's a Beach

Rating: PG-13 (Language, mild sexual situation)

Disclaimer: I do not own The Invisible Man or the premise behind the show. Any additional characters or premises are mine.

Timeline: Umm, original AS story line. Several months after the events in The Guinea Pig Incident. Yeah, that works.

Comments: I had a dream and decided to find out how bad my writing had deteriorated.

A huge honking thanks to Pipsqueak for braving my writing style and doing the Beta thang for me.

Life's a Beach

So this really old dude, Herodontus, once said, "If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it."

What can I say? When you're right, you're right.

The banging on the door penetrated the depths of the sleeping mind, drawing a groan of annoyance from deep within. Forcing a single eye to open, the baleful glare resting upon the red-lighted numbers of the alarm clock that seemed to glow far too bright in the still dark room, the groan repeating, though this time deeper and with a touch of anguish attached. The pounding continued and with mutterings and grumblings that did not belong anywhere in the realm of polite company, the covers were tossed aside and a lanky body was levered from the bed, every muscle protesting this rude awakening at such an unholy pre-dawn hour.

Yawning hugely and rubbing a hand absently through hair gone wild during the all-too brief overnight hours of unconsciousness, the form shuffled to the door, and began undoing the variety of locks to yank the door open in irritation. "Hobbes, for pity's sake..." the words stopped, suddenly choked off by the sight that was revealed. It was most definitely not the balding, shorter-than-average aforementioned man standing in the hallway and wearing an eye-searing combination of purple and yellow as well as a grin that was, in some ways, even brighter than the clothes.

Eyes blinked once, twice before the brain caught up with the image and managed a coherent sentence. "Good lord, what is that?"

"Appropriate garb." came the response, as the owner of said garb pushed past the semi-human blockage of the doorway and into the small apartment. "Which just proves it's been far, far too long since you've done this."

The door was shut and the locks engaged before energy was found to face the bouncing purveyor of boundless energy that stood in the center of the room. This time the pair of braids was noticed as well, one hanging fore and the other aft, more annoyingly bright color, especially against the bright yellow of the sweatshirt. A glance down brought into view the violet shorts liberally sprinkled with more of the painful yellow, in the shape of stylistic flowers. The frightening result of some insane designer's mind-warped opinion of contrast became the momentary focus and very nearly forced an unwelcome consciousness upon the viewer. The fear of waking completely made the siren's call of the nearby bed far louder. After stumbling back towards the warm haven of tranquility so recently abandoned and collapsing upon it, the face burrowed into the pillows, as springs creaked and popped in response.

"Hobbes kept us out all night chasing down some Hobbes-net' leads and is going to be here...," he mumbled into the smooth cotton covering the fluffy soft pillows. He turned slightly and cringed again at what the digital numbers revealed. " a little over an hour to drag my ass out of bed to spend the day sitting in Golda waiting for this guy, who I don't yet believe actually exists. And I've only gotten three hours sleep." While the pitiable tones were easily audible, they caused no obvious act of commiseration by the other occupant of the room, and so eyes closed and the attempt to return to sleep was made.

Weight settled on the edge of the bed with a poorly stifled giggle. "All the more reason to be gone when Hobbesy gets here." Fingers were run up the spine of the disgruntled one, delicate touches that caused a shiver of reaction from the recipient. "Come on, big fella, when was the last time you played hooky?"

Those quietly spoken words earned the right of being paid attention to. "Hooky? Damn, been ... too long." With more dramatic creaking of bedsprings, movement was achieved so eyes could rest upon the soon-to-be co-conspirator. "No phones?"

"Not a one."

"No pagers?"

Eyes rolled, bright eyes that seemed to glow from some internal source in the dim light of the room. "Heaven forfend. Just you, me, and miles of sea and sand."

A grin appeared then as shifting ensued until they were facing each other, mere inches separating the two. "I think I could handle a day of that." Leaning forward a gentle brushing of lips was exchanged; a simple act shared between two whom had grown close over long months and years. "Give me fifteen."

They paused and gazed across the sand at the deep blue of the Pacific' the sun just clearing the horizon somewhere behind them. Surfers were already hitting the impressive waves that a stalled storm system far west of the coast and the full moon-to-be had combined to provide. Every surfer from northern California to the Baja peninsula was in heaven and ready to take advantage of some of the biggest waves Mother Nature had seen fit to generate in years.

The beach of choice was not one either usually frequented and was not one popular with the tourists that regularly invaded the far more common and well-known beaches. The locals, as was made evident by the stores that lined the boardwalk, owned this one. Catering to those who spent their days surfing and sunning and offering nearly none of the tourist trap crap that one typically would find, they carried everything one who knew the business of surfing could want. From replacement boards to waxes, full body suits, to keep the body warm in the sometimes surprisingly chilly water, to bikinis just as brightly colored as that worn by the younger-looking of the pair.

Catching sight of a swimsuit in one of the not-yet-open, shop windows, Darien shook his head, realizing that not only was her choice tame by comparison, but that she would also blend in perfectly amongst all the other sun worshippers that would soon be arriving to take full advantage of yet another glorious southern California summer day.

"Purple and yellow. It's just so ... so loud."

She arched an eyebrow, "Oh really, Mr. Road-Work-Orange Shirt." The shirt in question was currently being worn and was buttoned only halfway, the early morning breeze causing it to billow open and reveal the deeply tanned muscles beneath.

"Yeah, well, maybe you should leave the eye-searing colors to the experts." He commented with a sly grin.

"Like them?" She waved at a group of twenty-somethings moving onto the beach a dozen or so yards away. They carried little more than towels, a radio, and a cooler, as well as the nearly mandatory surfboards, but were all dressed in a style similar to Alyx, just louder if at all possible. Not only did they clash individually, they clashed with each other and not a single one of them seemed to notice or care.

He closed his eyes, his head dropping as he began to laugh silently, his entire body shaking with it. It took several long minutes for him to regain control, as every time he lifted his head he would catch sight of yet another group just as loudly dressed and lose control yet again.

Alyx was forced to chew on her lip to keep from erupting into gales of laughter at his antics. He'd been so tightly wound recently that this day was more than just needed, it was a necessity. When he'd finally calmed a bit, wiping away the tears the laughter had created from his eyes, she sidled closer. "Well, if I had known that's all it would take to get you to smile, I'd have dragged you off weeks ago.

Darien snorted. "Like when? We've been busy as all get out and you've hardly been home."

"Tell me about it. The hours for this saving-the-world-schtick bite." She agreed with a grin. "All the more reason to steal time off when the boss man don't give us none." She headed back to the rental car she'd paid cash for and was using to throw those that would be sure to try and drag Darien back into work off the trail, with Darien following. Once there they gathered the few necessities they'd brought along ... well she had, actually. She'd planned this out the day before while she was recovering from her latest non-Agency assignment, and had made sure to keep it simple. So there was a cooler filled with assorted drinks and snacks, a blanket to sprawl upon, and some towels to dry off with along with some cash to allow for spontaneous purchases of food or whatnot that might occur during the day.

As Darien stepped up behind her to lend a hand his stomach rumbled audibly and she rummaged in the cooler for a second, coming up with a deep red apple, which she tossed over her shoulder at him.

He caught it deftly and took a bite even as he lifted the blanket to toss over a shoulder. "We did skip breakfast." he commented around a mouthful of the juicy fruit.

"You did, thou great lummox, I did not." She slung the bag over her shoulder and hefted the cooler with little effort even as the trunk shut and the car locked itself seemingly without help.

"Lummox? Hey, that's not nice." Darien griped good-naturedly as he followed her lead. "Have a spot staked out, do ya?"

"Maybe. Can't have you thinking I planned a day of hooky, now can I?" She tossed him a smile over her shoulder and he took an extra long step to move up beside her. When he leaned down to whisper in her ear, she all but sighed at the combined scent of apple and him.

"To borrow a phrase, heaven forfend'." he was close enough for his soft words to tickle the hairs near her ear.

She led him towards the border of the swimming and surfing areas, where the waves petered out and the offshore reefs broke up the waves too much to get enough height for real surfers. Boogie and body boarders still found more than enough power in the surf to enjoy themselves, though. As they spread out the blanket well above the high tide line, more and more people began arriving. Surfers by the carload unloaded and changed into their preferred gear in preparation to partake in the rare and extraordinary waves the weather had deigned to provide. The word "dude" could be heard in a variety of tones and accents and, on occasion, the only way to determine sex was via the octave by which the word was spoken.

The vast majority were blonde, either natural or bleached by hours in the sun and water. While nowhere near as harsh as your average chlorine pool the salt sea contributed to the looks of those that spent large quantities of time in it. Even those with very dark hair had distinctive streaks on the top layers and only when the stray breeze lifted the locks to reveal those darker ones beneath did one gain some knowledge to the true color.

Darien toyed with the core of the swiftly denuded apple while Alyx stood before him looking out at the water. She stripped off the vivid sweatshirt and brightly colored shorts to allow him to gaze on the matching bikini that he'd suspected lay underneath. Slipping off her sandals and setting them next to Darien's sneakers she stepped off the blanket to wiggle her toes in the sand and take in the feel of the grains against her skin. Glancing back over her shoulder she blinked slowly at Darien, trying to gauge exactly what his mood was at the moment. He looked like he belonged there, the faded dark red swim trunks softening the glare of the bright orange shirt and assisting in catching the eyes of quite a few of the females who were also staking out their spots on the stretch of beach.

"Come on, lazy, time for an invigorating swim to wake you up."

Darien found a nibble of apple he'd missed and took a moment to devour it before answering her. "Too cold, yet. Later." While it was indeed in the hottest part of the summer, the mornings were still deceptively cool — usually. Thanks to that surprise storm system; temperatures even at the coast were hitting the low nineties and while only shortly after dawn the heat to come could already be felt in the air.

"Feh, load of bull that is. Up and at em, bub." Much to both his surprise and dismay his shirt chose to unbutton itself and slide off his shoulders. "'Sides I'm sure you'll find some way to keep warm."

He buried the apple core in the sand before lazily getting to his feet, the shirt staying in place, the outline of his body still visible within it, instead of following along and only fell onto the blanket once he was fully upright. Putting forth the effort to not telegraph his intentions, he lunged for her, but she slipped away with a laugh. "Alyx, you're gonna make me work for this aren't you?"

"Nope." She stayed just a few steps out of reach and slowly backed away. "Make you have fun."

"We could have stayed in bed and had that." Darien said pointedly as his eyes swept over her. Those brightly colored scraps of cloth left little to the imagination, more so in his case, as he knew exactly what lay beneath.

"Pfftt. We can do that anytime ... and have. Today is supposed to be different." She dropped her head and shook it sadly. "It has been too long, hasn't it? Poor boy, even forgotten the proper way to play hooky. Maybe I need to rent Ferris Bueller's Day Off' for you."

He slowly paced after her as she kept herself just out of reach. "Right. Like you ever played hooky in your life." He wagged a finger at her.

Reaching out she captured his hand for an instant, the contact doing nothing more than teasing him. "So I'm a fast learner."

"Can't argue with that." He couldn't help but notice they were at the surf line, the water already lapping at her feet. He knew she was going to get him into the water one way or another so he figured it might as well be on his own terms. Taking two more steps towards her in the damp sand he yelped and went to his knees.

"Dare? You okay?" Alyx splashed to a stop in ankle deep water to turn about and see Darien down and wincing in pain with his hands wrapped about one foot. "Crap." she muttered. It was a good bet he'd nailed some hidden piece of glass or other trash and cut up his foot. Maybe playing keep-away was a less-than stellar plan on her part. Going to his side she set a hand on his shoulder and bent over to get a look at the damage. "Let me see."

"Uh, yeah. Just a sec." Moving as fast as he could he twisted and grabbed her about the waist and stood, lifting her off her feet and tossing her over his shoulder. "Soon as I've finished this." Striding into the brisk water he kept moving till it was waist deep on him, ignoring her squeals and peals of laughter that were liberally interspersed with pleas to stop the entire way. Pleas he, of course, failed to hear.

Once he was satisfied with the depth he shifted her till he was looking her in the eye. "Gotcha." He grinned and tossed her into the next incoming wave. She went under with a complete look of shock on her face and Darien chuckled, impressed with himself that he'd managed to keep her from knowing what he had planned. His glee swiftly faded as she failed to surface. "Ah shit. Alyx! Where the hell are you?"

He moved forward to the approximate spot where he'd tossed her in and was about to dunk under to go in search of her when something cold ... no something fricking icy grabbed his thigh causing him to jerk away with a shout of shock and surprise. Only on one foot and with the surface rough enough for him to have to pay attention to his balance in the chest-deep water, he found himself suddenly at the mercy of whatever was beneath the surface of the waves. The leg he was balancing on was knocked out from under him and he went down with nary a sound.

He found himself confronted with a creature that wrapped itself about his neck and, much to his amazement, kissed him.

*Gotcha.* Echoed through his mind even as he realized that the creature was neither monster nor mermaid, but instead a selkie. A shape changer that sometimes took on the form of a fiery-tempered redhead he seemed to recall meeting once upon a time. Gathering his feet beneath them he stood up and held her in place with his broad hands on her waist.

Ignoring the waves that tried to send them back under, the water dripping from their bodies, and the whistles of those they had either impressed or inspired by their antics, they spent long minutes doing nothing more than enjoying each other's familiar presence.

"Mmm, apples." she informed him as she toyed with the now damp curl at the back of his neck.

"That was not nice." he said softly as he leaned his forehead against hers. "I thought I'd hurt you."

"Same here." She made sure he could feel that she was indeed apologetic for frightening him. "You've been practicing."

"Yep. Just like you taught me. Though until now I hadn't thought to use it for practical jokes." Darien lowered her slowly down into the water, as it was far deeper on her than on himself.

"You use it as necessary, remember that." Alyx slipped away and allowed the next swell to lift her off the bottom and give her a boost into a more horizontal position where she began to lazily swim away from Darien parallel to the shore.

With deceptively slow strokes Darien caught up with her and they swam side by side for several peaceful minutes until their oft hidden, but far more playful natures asserted themselves and the leisurely swim became another round of keep-away and who could dunk who first. The addition of the quicksilver made it far more interesting as one never knew when the next icy cold hand or foot would suddenly make itself felt. The sometimes vociferous shouts and yelps occasionally attracted the attention of others, but never for very long, as it was plain the pair were engaging in nothing more that some energetic frolicking among the waves.

The tide, at its peak at dawn, had waned and, though there were still some surfers catching waves, most had come in to rest, relax and recharge during the heat of the day. Music drifted upon the air joined by the various scents of roasting meats. The collection of restaurants and smaller eateries had opened for business and a few of the groups had brought along small grills or hibachis and were cooking up their own midday meal. Not to mention the plethora of entrepreneurial folk who showed up with their vending carts selling everything from snow cones to fish tacos.

Darien was standing at the foot of the blanket looking over the heated sand as he dried his hair with one of the towels, a slight frown on his face. He knew all the work he'd put into it this morning was toast and that there would be no saving it. Running a hand through the damp locks he debated making a vain attempt at putting it to rights when female commentary intruded.

"You still look gorgeous, bub. And the hair is far more beach bum when down." Alyx was sitting cross-legged on the blanket and perusing the contents of the cooler. "Relax and just go with it." She tossed one of the bottles of soda up at him, which he caught easily, twisted the top off and drank half of.

He flopped down next to her and grabbed the end of a braid to toy with as she drank her share of carbonated liquid. "If you say so. Though you could at least try to look legal there, Goldilocks."

"What? You don't want the ego boost of them thinking you managed to score a pretty young thang?" She leaned into his hand, trying not to grin.

"More like thinking about not getting popped for you being underage." He caught the look of pure mischief in her eyes. "Alyx, you wouldn't."

Alyx shook her head. "Of course not. You're my jailhouse sex kitten." When Darien just stared at her dumbfounded she leaned down and ran her lips along his collarbone. "You get no trips to the big house without me."

Darien collapsed back onto the blanket with a groan and dragged her along with him. "You are dangerous. You know that?"

"Moi? Dangerous? When innocent little ol' me has been seduced by the big bad wolf? Umm, make that fox." By this point Darien was laughing softly.

"The big bad wolf was Red Riding Hood. The three bears got it on with Goldilocks." He'd managed to undo the elastics and began working his fingers through the twined strands of damp hair to free it. When he was done he chose a section at random and began to twist it into an ever-tighter spiral.

Alyx rolled so that she lay upon his chest but was looking up at the cloudless sky. "Well, this Goldilocks is debating the need for porridge versus testing various sections of this bed' to see which is the most comfortable."

Darien was about to answer, but his stomach got there first and voiced its opinion on the matter, loudly. "Uh ..."

"Shoot, D, that was blinking a five point three, there." Alyx was more than slightly amused. You could always count on him being hungry and for his stomach to make sure those even in the next county knew it. "All right, we'll feed you." She ran her fingers across his abdomen causing him to twitch and flinch until she'd been dumped on the blanket, chortling.

"Ah, crap. Don't do that." He sat up looking at her, her eyes flashing with a relaxed happiness that hadn't been there for a long time. Work took its toll on both of them and often allowing them little time to recover between assignments. He leaned down over her and she reached up to play with the lock of hair that had fallen across his brow and hung in his eyes. "Thought today was about fun, not torture."

Her look sobered. "True, very true. Forgive me?" Sometimes she still failed to read him correctly no matter how much she picked up of his emotions.

"I suppose I must if I want food." He dipped his head down and kissed her forehead, her skin still tasting salty from their swim. "We're alone for the whole day, let's enjoy it. Okay?"

"Mmm, yes. Forget reality and just be us for a bit. A nice change of pace." She planted a kiss on his lips and then allowed him to assist her sitting up as he shifted away. "So, any preference for lunch."

"Hmm, how about steamers," he suggested as they got to their feet. Alyx slipped on her shorts and sandals while Darien tossed on his shirt and grabbed his sneakers, having the same lack of interest as her at burning his feet on the hot tarmac that lined the boardwalk.

"Works for me." She tossed the sweatshirt over a shoulder, knowing the interior of the buildings would be markedly cooler than the outdoor air temperature. They sauntered away with little concern for their belongings. There was nothing that couldn't be replaced and theft was far less a concern on these local beaches compared to the big tourist ridden ones. A smart thief knows it's usually the tourist with the ready and often large supply of cash on hand and not the locals. Side by side they wandered across the hot sand towards the eatery Darien had chosen for their mid-day meal.

Considering breakfast had been nothing more than that apple he was surprised he hadn't noticed how hungry he was sooner. Apparently just having fun was far more of a distraction than yet another boring stake out and kept him from griping about being hungry every fifteen minutes. By the time they had walked into the cool and dim interior his stomach was rumbling its need almost constantly thanks to the scent of food surrounding them.

Alyx had to keep stifling stray giggles every time it spoke up since most would never even hear the sound effects. She followed him to a table that was by the open windows that overlooked the beach. They sat across from each other and Darien grabbed one of the laminated menus from where it had been stuffed between the salt and pepper shakers and perused the selection of delectable seafood until finding the one he wanted.

Lunch was for the most part uneventful except for the slight disagreement of Alyx's drink choice. Darien had ordered himself draft and Alyx had chosen a rum and coke whereupon the waitress chose to card her. With an irritated sigh Alyx changed the order to plain coke, as she did not want to have to run to the car where her ID among other small items were safely secured. Darien solved the problem by ordering a glass of rum for himself and with a subtle use of quicksilver, poured the rum into Alyx's drink.

The waitress was suspicious, but since she never actually caught him and Alyx never showed a single sign of being drunk she could do nothing. The two of them went through four buckets of the shelled creatures before Darien finally leaned back into his chair and stretched out with a sigh of contentment. They stayed for about ten more minutes, finishing up their drinks and chatting quietly about anything but work. Once the bill was paid they headed back out into the bright sunlight, strolling casually along the rows of shops in the ninety-degree heat, occasionally even stopping inside one to check out some item that caught their eye.

Eventually they found themselves walking along the beach heading for the far end of the surfing area where the sand petered out and rocks began to appear to eventually build up into fair sized cliffs supporting homes that probably cost a small fortune to own due to the view. They spent some time climbing the rocks and poking into the tide pools the ebb had left behind and the small sea creatures contained within.

As the tide began to return, heading towards its next peak, they began leisurely wandering back up the beach towards where they had left their belongings, with their shoes dangling carelessly from their hands while their free ones were entwined. Their steps were slow and their bodies seemed unable to resist the almost magnetic pull that lay between them, slowly and inevitably leaning towards one another as they walked.

The surfers were back in full swing, taking advantage and enjoyment of the building surf that would only continue to increase as both the tide and the moon conspired to make the waves even greater. An impromptu contest arose and the couple found themselves caught up in the mood of those about them and joined in on the fun. It had been years since Darien had put in any effort at surfing so he, along with a few others who were far more familiar with the sport, filled in Alyx on the finer points. She absorbed the information just as readily as any other piece of data she might come across and was very nearly cajoled into giving it a try herself. For this day though she begged off, citing the spectacular surf as a valid reason for one, as untried as she was, to not begin on that day and, though somewhat reluctantly, they agreed, but only after securing her promise to return for the lesson at some point in time.

After an invite to the bonfire that would be happening once the sun went down, which they accepted, they headed back to their belongings. Finding them untouched they dropped their footwear, shed their excess clothing and headed to the water to cool off for a while. Late afternoon had arrived and many were leaving the beach to head back home, the rough surf and higher than usual tide encouraging some to leave sooner than they normally would. For Darien and Alyx, it simply added to the peace of the day, the crowds thinning and the only sounds that of the surf and the occasional cheers from the surfers as something spectacular occurred.

The surf finally became too rough even for them, sending them back to the blanket to dry off and relax for while. Darien was lying curled about her, his head on her stomach and fingers trailing in the sand, doing nothing more than listening to her breathe and feeling her presence while she ran one hand through his hair and hummed some nameless tune under her breath.

"Hey, sleepyhead."

"Hmm? Uh, what?" he mumbled only drawing partially back towards consciousness.

"We don't have to go to that party if you'd rather not." Her impulsive act of accepting the offer for both of them was, perhaps, not the best of choices she was beginning to realize.

"Why? Sounds like fun and its not often we get invites to parties that don't involve some sort of spook participation." Maybe she was feeling a bit reluctant, not as comfortable interacting with veritable strangers, not anywhere near as used to cutting loose as he was, or had been. Even for him it had been a few years. "Hooky remember? Doing things different."

She chuckled softly. "So long as its okay with you. I know I haven't done an all night beach party since I was a kid."

"More than all right and I'm sure you'll be the hit of the party." Shifting he kissed her slowly, teasing her with his lips and tongue until she lay boneless and pliable beneath him, more than willing to allow him to do whatever he wished. "Come on lets put this stuff away and join the crowd."

"Mmm, whatever you say." At the moment she wasn't capable of any real thought beyond wishing he hadn't stopped. Oh, she knew this was not the appropriate place for getting in a little nookie, but that didn't mean she or they didn't want to. In fact, his words to the contrary, it was pretty damn obvious that he was just as in the mood as she. Instead of shifting off so they could stand up, he'd simply made his way lower till he was nibbling his way along her collarbone. "You sure you don't wanna cool down a bit first?"

"Uh, no?" he replied against her throat as one hand surreptitiously wandered about to other locations causing her to gasp and arch in reaction. "You don't seem to wanna either."

Alyx moaned half in response and half in regret since she knew they were going to have to stop and soon. A sudden chill along her right calf told her exactly how soon and with a quickly stifled yelp she yanked his head up from where it had been heading due south from the hollow of her throat. "Your leg." Her tone was bland and it took him a moment to figure out what she was talking about.

"Aw, crap." he muttered as he rolled off her and tried to calm himself down. He started by regulating his breathing and from there convinced his heart rate to slow and the adrenaline to stop flowing quite so enthusiastically. "You have been gone ten days, ya know."

"Damn straight I know. Tomorrow, sweet one. We'll get together tomorrow night, promise." She patted him gently on the cheek as he got himself back under control and the quicksilver flaked away to reveal his left leg back where it belonged. "We have plenty of time." Too bad she wasn't nearly as calm, her heart was still pounding and the temptation to return to their previous activity was great.

"Tomorrow? Why not tonight?" Darien did his best to look pitiful. She was home and he didn't want to sleep alone. Not after all the fun they'd had today, not when they could easily continue the fun for quite a few hours yet.

"Because, you silly, Bobby is very likely to be at your door at oh-dark-hundred to chew your ass off for playing hooky today and that's only if he's not camped out on your doorstep waiting for you to arrive home." Alyx explained with a hint of a grin on her lips.

Darien sagged in place and then tipped over to crawl to her and bury his face against her stomach. "Save me from the wrath of Hobbes, please?"

"Sorry. You know you have to pay your dues. As will I." She curled about him, knowing he was only half-serious at most about being rescued from Bobby. He'd known there would be hell to pay for skipping out on work. "But not yet."

Her sly tone convinced him to lift himself up to look her in the eye. "So we should play while we still can, eh?" At the slight frown that crossed her features he added. "Not like that, sweets, you know what I..."

She set a finger over his lips. "I know. Really. I do know. I just..." she trailed off shaking her head. They both knew, had talked about it many times, though half-heartedly at first. Neither finding it easy to discuss that night and its events and what it meant to them as individuals or as a couple. Or what had occurred only a short week after. The thin white line up near the crook of her elbow was swiftly fading to nothing, but the one on her heart was still easily reopened.

"I knew almost from the start that you had your ... monsters to deal with. And you do with amazing courage." She paused watching him carefully. "With the Cabo debacle and dealing with the aftermath... I thought I had dealt with mine." She closed her eyes, her throat tight. "It was one hell of a wake up call to learn that I wasn't even close."

"Damn it, girl, you have to stop beating yourself up about that. No one knew that would happen and no one blames you." One hand cupped her face, hoping to get her to look at him while the other found one of hers and held on tight. He knew she was still having trouble dealing with it, hell, there were times he did as well, especially reminders of the first time he'd gone Stage Five at the world. Suspecting what she would say next, he headed her off at the pass. "No, they shouldn't blame you. Yeah, you screwed up. Yeah, you went to town and made quite an impression. But so did I. And neither of us walked away without yet another scar."

Her eyes finally opened at the earnestness in his voice. "It was not your fault," he insisted for the millionth time. He'd freely admit to carrying the burden for that night along with all the others, dealt with the battle of wanting the freedom it provided versus the self-loathing of the person he became. He truly hated what he became when quicksilver mad — in any Stage — but he had also learned, mainly through Alyx, that it was still him, part of who he was and to accept it and deal with it. That beating himself up over it accomplished nothing of use. Running his fingers across hers he encountered ... nothing and he lifted her hand to confirm what he'd not felt. "Hey, where'd it go."

Alyx looked guilty for a moment. A few days after she'd fetched the jewels they'd stolen she'd fallen into a deep depression over the incident and had tried to return the ring. She'd felt guilty about dragging him into her little bout with insanity and had convinced herself she wasn't worthy of him any longer. He'd just barely managed to talk her into holding onto the ring until she was ready to wear it again, somehow understanding that she needed time to sort through things even as she still needed him to help get through it. He'd been endlessly kind and patient, even with her taking off on out-of-Agency assignments that she'd requested because she'd felt the need to get away.

But she'd come back and put the ring back on just a couple weeks ago, finally feeling confident enough in herself to wear it again. "It's at home. I didn't want to risk losing it is all."

"Good. Though the ring can be replaced. You, what we have, can't be." Damn, if she hadn't proven that to him as well. Though he still wanted to marry her, with a near desperation at times, he didn't want to lose her by pushing her away. He'd done that twice and found this ... this living in sin far preferable to being alone. She wanted to be here, with him, and no ring, no piece of paper signed by some overpaid county official would make a bit of difference to her. "Now, come on and let's go join the revelry."

Getting to his feet he pulled her along till her diminutive self was standing before him. Together they dressed and packed up the gear to take back to the car. Just a short time later they found themselves striding back down the beach towards the sounds of music and laughter.

Over the course of the evening the tide waned while the raucous enjoyment waxed towards full, much as the moon that hung near directly overhead had already achieved. They danced about the leaping flames, modern day sun worshippers paying homage to their gods of dark tans and wild surf. Beneath the scent of overcooked burgers and spilled beer, one could still pick up the distinctive odor of half a dozen varying brands of sunscreen that had been slathered on in vast quantities over the course of the day.

Darien and Alyx had followed the flow of the crowd, dancing when the mood struck, eating when hunger made itself known, drinking when thirst demanded its share of the attention. Now, however, they were sitting quietly on a massive piece of driftwood that had been dragged near the unmarked, yet clearly defined boundaries of the fete. Originally intended as yet another sacrifice to the fire gods, it was instead serving the far more onerous duty of supporting those who chose to sit for a time and recover some of the energy lost while doing their share of "worshiping."

Alyx was drawing curlicues in the sand with her mind, trying to see how tight and fine she could get the spirals without the sand collapsing into them, while sitting on that very piece of drift wood. The temperature had cooled noticeably by this point and she hugged her arms about herself even with her sweatshirt zipped all the way up. Darien sat on the sand beside her, one arm casually draped over her legs as he stared at the flames that flickered brightly a short distance away.

"You do know someone might actually notice what you're doing?" he commented softly.

"And all I'd probably get is Duuuuuude, that is, like, wicked kewl.' before the alcohol kicked back in and they staggered off again." Her imitation of one of the more air-headed seeming members of the party was dead on and caused Darien to start laughing. She nudged him with her leg and smiled. "Ah, I so needed this day."

"You and me both, toots." He lifted the bottle of reasonably decent brew and let a portion of the dark golden liquid slide down his throat. He'd never actually arrived at the state of inebriation, just a mild buzz that had mostly worn off by this point.

"Toots? You've been hanging around Bobby way too long," she chided with amusement. "Toots." she snickered. "Oy vey."

Darien's eyebrows went up. "Oy vey? And you say I'm hanging around Bobby too much? Since when did you become a Jewish Princess?"

That turned her snickers into real laughter and she leaned over against him, her arms wrapping about his neck. "You silly man." She kissed him on the back of the neck, released him and slipped down onto the sand beside him. She tipped her head back and looked up at the full round moon high above them. "Well, it appears our day of hooky has come to an end."

Darien mock pouted. "Awww, does it hafta?"

"'Fraid so. Last I checked you were not yet up to going several days without sleep." She ruffled his hair with a hand making him bat it away as if it were an annoying insect. "Up and at em, bucko." She gave him a shove of encouragement and watched as he slowly got to his feet.

As he helped her up an idea came to mind. "Think we can steal enough time for just one more thing?"

"I guess that would depend on the thing'." She replied as she wiped the sand off the back of her shorts.

"I know its cliched, but how's about a moonlit stroll?" Thinking about it he realized that it would be their first one. In general any strolling' they did at night usually involved work and, far more rarely these days, one of their forays in thieving. But to just stroll along a beach, for no reason other than they could? This would be a rare treat indeed.

Alyx couldn't agree more. "I think we could spare some time for that. Let's wander through and pretend to be polite by saying goodnight and head on down to the shoreline."

"A plan. Are we in trouble?" Darien tossed an arm about her shoulders and they moved towards the fire to thank those who had invited them and that had made them feel so welcome. They'd already decided to frequent this particular patch of sand more often even at the risk of it being discovered by the various Agency mooks that had the thankless task of keeping track of them. Namely Bobby, Claire, Kat, and Drake.

Once away from the crowd and the only sound that of the surf at low ebb they strolled along with little care other than that they were together. And while it was indeed true that Darien needed to get home and get some sleep as he'd not gotten nearly enough the previous night, neither was in a hurry to have this day end, this slight pause in their otherwise hectic lives. So they sauntered together, his far longer steps shortened so they could remain side by side, almost, but not quite touching.

They were nearly to the point where they would need to turn up the beach to head to the car when Alyx broke the comfortable silence. "Oh, if you check that account I think you'll find it increased by a fair amount. I had some success with the family jewels while back east."

For all that she still had regrets about that night, not once did she voice a comment about returning the jewels. In fact, she'd done her share of fencing them especially when on her out-of-town assignments, often staying an extra day if the chance to cut a deal presented itself. She may not have known the business as well as Darien, but as she had mentioned this morning, she learned fast and had been quick to pick up on where to go even in a city she'd never been to before. The account she'd set up was growing by leaps and bounds and only about a quarter of the gems had been sold as of yet.

"What are you doing with your share anyway? Infinity?"

"Nah, that's pretty self-sufficient at this point. Most of it's earmarked for the kids, one way or another. To make sure they stay safe and get what they need, security, college, whatever." A flash of white caught her eye and she bent down to pick up the mystery item and examined it in the bright moonlight.

Not at all surprised at where she'd planned to use the money, he simply nodded. His share was going just as untouched as the money she'd stolen from Arnaud. It got used if needed, which had happened three times now, but otherwise was waiting for that proverbial rainy day. "How are they?"

"The kids? Fine. Mikey sends me regular updates as do Jacob and Patrick now that they've finally gotten over me being alive." Getting her ass chewed off by both her older brothers had not been enjoyable and they'd stayed aloof for months after, though they had thrown in their lot to help keep the kids safe. It had taken a face-to-tearful-face meeting to break the ice, for which Alyx had been very thankful. In just a few years the kids would learn the truth as well and they would need the support of their family to help understand the difficult and painful subjects that would be revealed.

"Good." He watched as she turned the ... something she'd picked up over and over in her hands. Whatcha got there?"

"A sand ... Wow." She looked at the sand at her feet, stunned.

"A sand wow? What the hell is a ..." Something crunched under his foot and he looked down to see the beach covered in small pale disks. Bending down he picked up a couple.

"Sand dollars. The rough surf must have toasted their home territory and is washing them ashore." Alyx explained in hushed tones. Looking across the damp sand you could see the beach was covered in them, more coming in on every wave.

"I haven't seen anything like this in like ... ever, actually. Gonna be a beachcombers haven come tomorrow." They both stared at the incoming water for a while an odd combination of shock and amazement running through both of them.

Reaching out to the few in Darien's hand she removed all but one and tossed them back into the waves. "One for each of us, a memento of our day of hooky."

He contemplated the small, and now dead, sea creature in his hand, a tiny token to take with him and to remind him that even they could spend a day just being normal. "Good plan," he said softly as he slid the sand dollar into the pocket of his swim trunks. "Come on, time to head home."

"Past time, but it'll be worth the lost sleep, I think." She buried her face in his chest for a second, breathing in his scent that mingled with everything they'd done over the course of the day. Imprinting it in her mind. "Thanks for this, Darien."

"You thanking me? You rescued me from a day trapped in Golda with Bobby Hobbes on a mission to bore me," Darien said in all seriousness.

She got them turned and started on the reluctant walk to her car. "Yes, I'm thanking you. Do you really think I would have run out and done this on my own?"

He knew she was right, knew she was far more likely to bottle her need for a break until ready to explode and then just keep on going. Channeling her unhappiness into working harder and longer until someone took notice and forced a break on her. The sad thing was, only he and Bobby were very likely to notice and they would often be helping to push her into even more work whether or not they wanted to. It's just the way their life went most of the time. "Good point. Feel free to use me as a hooky excuse any time."

"I will."

The banging on the door penetrated the depths of the sleeping mind, drawing a groan of annoyance from deep within. Forcing a single eye to open, the baleful glare resting upon the red-lighted numbers of the alarm clock that seemed to glow far too bright in the still dark room, the groan repeating, though this time deeper and with a touch of anguish attached. The pounding continued and with mutterings and grumblings that did not belong anywhere in the realm of polite company, the covers were tossed aside and a lanky body was levered from the bed, every muscle protesting this rude awakening at such an unholy pre-dawn hour.

Yawning hugely and rubbing a hand absently through hair gone wild during the all-too brief overnight hours of unconsciousness, the form shuffled to the door, and began undoing the variety of locks to yank the door open in irritation. "Hobbes, for pity's sake, couldn't you at least have let me sleep past dawn? Three hours is nowhere near close to my required hours of beauty sleep." Darien complained as his wide-awake partner shoved past him and into the apartment.

"You're already beautiful there, lover-boy. I brought coffee," At Darien's look of consternation at his partner's quite empty hands, he explained, "In the van. Hit the showers and deal with that bed head, we have places to be and a bad guy to find."

Darien swung the door shut and took two steps before the words sank in causing him to stop dead in his tracks. "Uh, didn't you do that yesterday?"

Now it was Hobbes' turn to look at his sleepy-eyed partner in consternation. "Fawkes, yesterday we ran down leads, I dropped you off around two AM, remember?"

"Umm, maybe?" Darien was sure that he'd spent yesterday playing hooky, but Hobbes' relaxed and perfectly non-angry attitude made him begin to second-guess that. "I played hooky yesterday, with Alyx. Skipped work. Didn't I?"

"You been dipping into the Keepy's stash of drugs again?" Hobbes asked in concern. "The kid got in late yesterday afternoon, according to Drake, and headed home since she knew we were busy." He wandered over to Darien's answering machine and saw that there were three messages waiting to be heard.
"Betcha one of those is from her."

Darien came over and pressed the play button. The first was a reminder that some rented video tapes were overdue, the second an overly enthusiastic or desperate telemarketer who spoke for five minutes to the machine and the third was, indeed, Alyx. It was short and simple, saying "hi" and that'd she'd try to run into him tomorrow after he was done for the day. No mention of the beach, surfing, or hooky.

Hobbes figured out right quick that Darien was more than a bit lost. "Musta been one hell of a dream."

Rubbing the back of his head, the sights, sounds and scents still in the forefront of his mind trying to convince him otherwise, Darien nodded. "I guess so, Hobbes. Weird though, so damn real."

Hobbes rolled his eyes. "Not another one of those' dreams?" Referring to the often-prophetic quicksilver dreams Darien still had with annoying regularity.

Running his hands across his face he tried to shake off the false memory. "Nah. Just really vivid."

"Good. Now hit the showers." Hobbes gave him a shove to get him moving.

The day did not go nearly as badly as Darien feared, given that he walked about most of the day only half-aware. The date on every newspaper and calendar convincing him that it was, indeed, yesterday. Today, rather. That the day of hooky had been nothing more than the wishful musings of his sleeping mind.

The guy they were waiting to speak with about some information Hobbes' contact claimed he had in his possession finally showed just after lunchtime. A lunch Hobbes would not let him have on the off chance the guy showed while Darien was taking five minutes to scarf down some greasy burger. Instead he got to spend some quality time invisible while trying to convince his stomach to growl at something less deafening than a sonic boom. Small smiles crossing his features as he remembered Alyx's commentary the day before. Commentary he had to keep reminding himself wasn't real.

He followed the guy around a very busy office until he was able to swipe the disk Hobbes was so antsy to get his paws on and chase the little geek — complete with horn-rimmed glasses and pocket protector — out to Bobby for the obligatory shake down. Being able to wave the disk in question -- neatly slipped into Hobbes' hand on cue -- persuaded the gentleman to give them the assistance they needed.

So by mid-afternoon they had several more links in a very tangled chain that supposedly led to one very bad guy who was very good at making people very dead and that the Fat Man wanted to speak to. Not arrest. Not eliminate. Just speak to. Darien realized that he'd either missed that memo or been asleep at the wheel during the debriefing because he had no idea what was going on. On this occasion he determined asking would be the best thing to not do, having the sneaking suspicion he'd just get the newest version of Hobbes' "need to know" speech and, right at this moment, he didn't want to know, never mind need.

He got a free trip down to the Keep for a refill on his blue Kool-Aid, while Hobbes turned over the information and the little geek to the Fish and his new pet lackey. Drake was growing on him, but was still irritating at times with his "better than thou" attitude. He was heading back to meet up with Hobbes and deal with the annoying task of filling out the required paperwork when Alyx appeared.

"Hey, you." He smiled at her.

"Hey, big fella. How'd your day go?" Alyx smiled right back, more than just a little happy to be home.

"Well enough, I guess. Look can I..." he'd wanted to ask her about yesterday, but Hobbes' sudden appearance ended that.

"Kid, glad to see you back. You hanging about for a while? We got something big coming down and could use an assist." Hobbes' tone was both relaxed and serious.

"Sure, I can give you a week or two. Unless the boss-man's chain gets yanked." She flipped her most recent incarnation of backpack around front and dug in it for a second. Tossing a small item to Hobbes she gave him a somber look. "I did just like you asked, Bobby. The paperwork should arrive in a day or two, but I wanted to deliver that personally."

"Thanks kid. You have no idea what this means to me." Hobbes set a hand on her shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze.

"Yes, I do. That's why I offered to help." She gave him a look of complete understanding. "Now go on. I know you have things that need doing."

Hobbes snorted. "Don't I always. No dawdling, Fawkes. You can play with her after hours."

Before Darien had the chance to say a word, Hobbes turned away, heading, presumably for his office. Leaving Darien mystified as to what Alyx had done for Hobbes and damn surprised at the last comment. "Alyx..."

"Here, got you something as well." She handed him the box she'd bought on sheer impulse just before leaving for the airport yesterday. She had no idea how he'd react to it, but the rather stunned look on his features when he opened it was the last thing she'd expected. "Umm, it's not that bad is it?"

Darien removed the small acrylic box out of the cardboard one and looked at it closer, but the image didn't change.

"It's kinda like a Zen garden only with an ocean theme." she frowned. "And you hate it. Sorry, I just had this really weird need to buy you ..."

"Sand dollars," he finished. The small box included "authentic beach sand," and various items like a small preserved starfish, several shells, sea glass in three colors, some smooth pebbles and two perfect sand dollars.

"Yes. How did you know that?" She took a step closer as he began to smile.

"Let's just say I had a dream." Putting the gift back in its box he pulled her close and kissed her lightly. "I'll explain everything later. Okay?"

"Sure." she agreed. "My place, around seven?"

"I'll be there." Chuckling softly he walked down the hall, the boring task of paperwork no longer seeming quite as irritating when he knew later he'd be able to tell her all about their phantom day at the beach.

A very recent and popular writer, J. K. Rowling, had one of her more wise characters expound, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that." True enough, but without those dreams there would be little to live for.