~“A couple of hundred years ago a guy called William Cowper wrote ‘Freedom has a thousand charms to show, That slaves, howe’er contented, never know.’ I think about freedom a lot. I have thought for a long time that I wasn’t free because of the gland. I have no choice but to turn up for the counteragent or I will go raving mad and possibly kill people. My life hasn’t been my own since Kevin put the damn thing in my head, but I’ve been discovering there are things that bind us much more tightly than addictions.”~
The case was something Bobby Hobbes did not want to remember. He did not want to remember his partner in a cage, his eyes blood red and his voice spitting expletives at any who came near. He did not want to remember the lab, and he definitely did not want to remember the explosion that had caused the burn on his right arm. Yet no matter how he tried to put it out of his mind those last few minutes kept coming back.
They had entered the lab together, he and Claire. The Keeper had brought the counteragent so that they could get Fawkes out, but Clive Mescling; the raving lunatic who had designs on ruling the world (now there was a surprise...not!); had known they were coming. Why couldn’t their world be full of the Easter bunny and Santa Claus instead of mad scientists and labs that tended to explode?
Mescling had threatened to kill Darien with explosives rigged to the cage he’d locked Fawkes in. Bobby hadn’t been sure what to do. The most important thing was that the gland didn’t fall into enemy hands, but as usual when it came to Fawkes, Agent Hobbes couldn’t disconnect himself from simple Bobby Hobbes, and he couldn’t just let his partner die. The scientist’s almost fatal mistake was underestimating Darien Fawkes. Even under the influence of quicksilver madness Fawkes was a formidable opponent, in fact without his conscience Fawkes was far more dangerous than Bobby would ever care to think about. While the scientist was distracted by Hobbes the insane agent had freed himself from the cage.
Some of the things Darien eloquently told the doctor he was going to do to him had actually made Bobby go cold. Hobbes had been on the receiving end of one of Darien’s attacks, but the cold, calculating way the younger man systematically dragged up Mescling’s deepest fears was frightening. With the scientist’s attention focussed on Fawkes, Hobbes and the Keeper had tried to circle round, one to take Mescling and one to subdue Fawkes, but neither had reached their mark. Whatever twisted plan Fawkes was following in his mind spectacularly backfired as his taunting panicked Mescling into pushing his button.
A digital clock on the open cage had started counting down from ten and Bobby had realised he had nowhere to go. Claire was on the other side of the room and had thrown herself down behind a lab bench. Bobby on the other hand was right near the cage and there had been no cover. What happened next was burned into Hobbes’ brain as if in slow motion. Fawkes had looked at Bobby with his blood red eyes and for a fraction of a second Hobbes had seen his friend in those eyes, not the monster that had control of his body. Fawkes had run straight at him them as the counter flicked towards zero. For just a few seconds Bobby had not known what to do and then Darien had floored him.
There had been no time for anything else as the small but deadly explosives had blown throwing the lab into chaos. Glass had shattered and wreckage was everywhere. When Bobby had collected himself enough to realise what had happened and he had met Darien’s eyes again his partner had been on top of him and there had been nothing of his friend in that gaze. Whatever instinct had lead Fawkes to save Hobbes it was gone and the monster was back. Bobby had hit him then, clubbed his partner with the butt of his gun and scrabbled out the way. It was as Fawkes chased him to the door that it had finally happened: the event that had Bobby standing in the Agency wondering if his friend would live.
The chemical storage cabinet for the lab had been displaced by the explosion and Bobby had run passed it, knocking it slightly, When Fawkes came after him it had fallen and there had been no way for the tall man to get out of the way. If it had just been a cabinet the Keeper would have jabbed Fawkes whilst he was down and then she could have patched them both up, but it wasn’t just a cabinet. Whatever sick experiments Mescling had been up to; that was where he kept his drugs and his potions. They had smashed when the cabinet fell and they had landed on Fawkes. They’d had to use a HAZMAT team to extract him from the debris. One of the rooms in the basement of the Agency had rapidly been transformed into a room for the injured agent. There was no way they could risk a normal hospital with the condition Fawkes was in, and since the fiasco at Fort Leavitt there were new protocols in place.
Bobby stared through the door and watched Claire as she took readings from the various machines attached to his partner. Fawkes himself was strapped to the bed, his eyes squeezed tight shut in pain, whimpering piteously. It was a quiet period and it was almost worse than when Fawkes was screaming his agony. Bobby had been standing there since they’d brought his partner back. He had watched Claire and the two shipped in nurses strap his friend down; he had watched them clean him up; and he had watched Fawkes scream until his voice gave out. He had watched his partner convulse against the leather straps on his body and he had watched other times like now when Fawkes just lay there, tormented by the pain.
He had been standing there for five hours. It was terrible to watch, but Bobby would not leave, not until he knew Fawkes was going to be okay. That his friend might not make it was not a thought Hobbes allowed into his head.
Claire was the epitome of the calm scientist as she tried to save her patient. Her calmness almost made Bobby angry, but he really didn’t have enough emotion left to work up to that. Instead he waited patiently for her to come out of the white room and talk to him. He didn’t have long to wait, but when she walked out of the door she simply came and stood next to him in silence.
They watched together as their friend pulled against the reinforced straps, opening his blood red eyes once to glare at a world he didn’t seem to understand anymore.
“Can’t you help him, Keep?” Bobby finally said in desperation. “Can’t you stop the pain, give him the counteragent or something.”
There was silence for a moment and Bobby looked at the Keeper expectantly. Slowly she turned to look at him and her eyes said what her expression did not. Bobby was frightened by what her saw there because he realised that Claire was as scared as he was.
“Do you think I would let him suffer like that if I could stop it?” she said quietly and her words cut right to Hobbes’ soul. “There are so many chemicals in his blood that I don’t know why he’s not dead. That damn gland it the only thing keeping him alive, and I don’t know how it’s doing it. Half the things he absorbed should have killed him outright, but he’s still breathing. I daren’t give him the counteragent or anything else because if the gland stops working he’ll be very dead.”
Then she walked away back towards her lab.
On the fourth day Fawkes stopped struggling. From where Bobby habitually stood just outside the door he almost looked like he was sleeping peacefully, but every now and then he would twitch. It was like watching frog’s legs connected to a battery: one second he would be still and then some part of his body would spasm. Bobby had begun to crave the movements whenever he looked in on his friend: they were the only signs of life Fawkes gave anymore.
Bobby and Claire had come to an arrangement: he would stand next to the door whenever he was not working and she would come and stand beside him. She would tell him the changes in Fawkes’ condition and he would give her calm words of encouragement. Neither of them took much comfort in their exchanges, but they were better than the silence. It was a simple matter of dealing with things beyond the realms of human experience. Science could not explain Fawkes’ state of health and neither Claire nor Bobby really knew how to deal with it. The gland was doing things it had never been designed to do and all anyone could do was watch. Claire had only tried to interfere in what was going on in her patient’s body once and it had been nearly fatal for Fawkes. Since then she had simply monitored and watched. There was nothing she could do and both she and Bobby knew that the only option open to them was to wait.
It had been almost ten days and Darien had barely moved for six of those. Claire busied herself with taking blood samples and analysing Darien’s condition, but she knew if her Kept was going to come out of this he was going to have to do it on his own. The Official had allowed her to confer with two experts in toxic contamination, but they had been no help in coming up with a solution.
Darien’s blood stream was saturated with quicksilver and he had gone invisible more than once. She was not sure what had triggered the episodes since he gave no indications of anything on the outside, but he had managed to disappear for a total of over ten minutes. Claire had never felt so out of her depth. She fed her patient nutrients and oxygen and that was all she could do for him. The fact that even if he woke up Darien could be in irreversible fifth stage QSM was also always on her mind. However, every time she checked Darien’s eyes were still red - they did not show the quicksilver saturation of the final stage of the madness. It was yet another thing Claire could not explain.
The screaming had been bad, but the silence was almost worse. It was almost like he was dead already. Trying to put such thoughts out of her mind she leant over to check his IV. It was secure and the bag wouldn’t need changing for another few hours. Noting this down on her clipboard she stood upright again and brushed the hair out of her eyes. Then and only then did she notice that Darien’s eyes were open and he was looking at her.
Claire noted instantly that even though she had checked his eyes only half an hour ago, they were no longer the same. They definitely weren’t the dark brown she had come to appreciate, but they weren’t completely what she had been expecting either from her previous inspection or for stage five QSM. The whites were blood red, but where the brown iris should have been were silver mirrors where she could almost see herself. His eyes were a cross between stage five and stage four madness and they were strangely hypnotising.
“Hi Keep,” Fawkes said in a hoarse whisper and blinked, breaking the eye contact, “just tell me you didn’t have to cut anything off.”
Claire was so surprised that she was stunned into silence for a few seconds. Darien should have been raving at her in the full throws of quicksilver madness, but instead his tone was completely normal.
“Well I did consider removing the organ between your legs since I’ve observed that it tends to lead the male of the species into trouble more often than the gland possibly could, but I didn’t think you’d appreciate that,” humour was Darien’s defence mechanism, but Claire retreated to it as well as the shock began to wear off. “How are you feeling?”
Darien blinked at her slowly and seemed to think about this for a second.
“Tired,” he said honestly.
“Any pain?” Claire continued, slipping gladly back into Keeper mode.
“Headache,” Darien admitted with a small frown, “but no biggie. Maybe need a shot soon.”
To that Claire mumbled a non-committal reply since she really didn’t know what to say. Darien hadn’t had a shot in ten days, she doubted if it would do anything predictable now. Maybe the cocktail of chemicals in his system had given him temporary immunity to the quicksilver madness, and then again, maybe it was something else.
“Any paranoia, rage, anything other than the headache to indicate you need the counteragent?” Claire asked calmly as if it were any other day.
Darien thought about this carefully, she could almost see the thoughts tracking across his face.
“No,” he said eventually, but the self-diagnosis seemed to have taken a lot out of him.
She smiled at him reassuringly and put her hand on his arm.
“Well, we’ll leave you strapped down for now,” she said lightly, “just in case. Try and get some sleep, you need the rest.”
“Just where you want me, eh?” Darien joked back, but his eyes were already closing.
It only took him seconds to drift off again and then Claire had never moved so fast in her life. She went to her lab and checked the reading on Darien’s blood work and then she high tailed it up to the Official’s office.
“Come in,” the voice said from the other side of the door as soon as she knocked.
She was so excited that she barely made it into the room before she began speaking.
“He woke up,” she said triumphantly, “and he’s rational.”
The Official looked a little taken aback by her jubilance, but soon smiled. There had been an air of melancholy around the Agency since Darien’s accident and it hadn’t been a simple matter of the effect on the weekly budgets.
“So the gland still responds correctly to the counteragent, that’s good,” the Official said, pleased by the news. “How long before Agent Fawkes is back on his feet?”
“A few weeks, maybe less,” Claire answered the question first, but she was not stopping, “but that’s not the point. I haven’t given him any counteragent, I didn’t dare. Darien woke up and was rational even though he’s saturated with quicksilver.”
The man behind the desk just looked at her for a moment. His face showed something between anxiety and pleasure. Claire had the distinct impression that he was weighing up all the consequences of her statement, but couldn’t help but be pleased for the ex-thief who had somehow managed to get under all of their skins.
“Permanent or temporary in your estimation?” the Official asked evenly.
“Difficult to be sure,” Claire admitted objectively, “but the only foreign substance left in his body is the quicksilver. There is no counteragent and there are no other chemicals anymore. I don’t know why he wouldn’t have succumbed to the madness by now if it was going to happen. I’m keeping him strapped down, but if asked to guess I would say this is permanent.”
The Official was silent for a few moments and Claire just waited.
“Thank you for your report,” the man said finally and looked at her calmly, his mask of the Official back in place, “please let me know of any further developments as soon as they happen.”
Claire left at the dismissal and walked straight out of the office almost directly into Hobbes. The other agent looked tired and worried where his patriotic shell was cracking under the strain.
“Darien woke up,” she said before the man could speak and she watched him light up.
Energy seemed to flow into his body from nowhere and suddenly she was looking at the Bobby Hobbes who had vanished the day Darien was hurt.
“The kid’s going to be okay?” Hobbes asked as if he didn’t quite believe it.
“He’s not home and dry yet,” Claire would not lie to her friend, “but, yes, I think he’s going to be okay.”
“Did his shot take, or would he try and bite my head off if I went to visit him?” Bobby asked quickly.
Claire couldn’t help it, she grinned.
“No shot,” she said jubilantly, “but no QSM.”
Hobbes looked stunned.
“Are you saying Fawkes is free of it?” Bobby asked as the initial shock wore off. “Is the gland not working or what?”
“Or what,” Claire replied with a gleam in her eye. “The gland’s working normally as far as I can tell and his eyes are red and silver, but he was totally rational. I have to run tests, but I think whatever the gland had to do to save his life put the balance back in his brain.”
Claire was overcome by the sudden need to do research. She needed to find out what was going on: she needed to be sure she was right. She barely noticed that Bobby followed her as she hurried off down the corridor.
“He’s asleep,” she did manage as she rushed past the room where Darien lay, “wait ‘til he wakes up to talk to him. He needs the rest.”
Bobby watched her go as she vanished into the lab and then he looked through the door at Fawkes. For the first time in ten days Hobbes actually felt hope and with the relief came the knowledge of how disconnected he had been since his partner was hurt. It was quite a shock as he came to the stunning conclusion that Fawkes meant so much to him. Bobby Hobbes was a stand-alone agent; he hadn’t ever really needed anyone, but now, now he was one of two. It made him feel strangely anxious. It was difficult for him to admit he needed someone other than himself. Settling himself in to wait he walked through the door and sat down in the only chair. It was the first time he had actually been in the small white room.
Darien had never felt so tired, not even when he was first given the gland. His whole body demanded that he rest, but his mind was on the move and reluctantly he swan to consciousness. He knew there was someone in the room before he opened his eyes but he didn’t stop to figure out what had tipped him off. As Darien flicked back his heavy eyelids he knew he was going to be seeing Bobby.
His partner was sitting in the chair staring at the floor, a very pensive look on his face. Bobby was one of those people who did sitting absolutely still very well and for some obscure reason Darien couldn’t figure out. The younger agent just lay there and watched him for a moment. Hobbes had a face that was etched with experience and most of it not very nice experience. In Darien’s opinion Bobby had spent far too much time frowning and not enough time laughing. Only when Darien was overcome by the sudden urge to cry did he actually move. Where the urge had come from and exactly what had caused it rather escaped the young man and it took him so much by surprise that he moved.
Instantly he was the focus of his partner’s attention and Darien blinked back the completely irrational tears. The sudden loss of control of his emotions was unsettling, but Fawkes had other things to think about now.
“Hi, Hobbes,” he said quietly and felt his throat rasp.
“Hi, Fawkes,” Bobby replied in kind. “You feeling sane at the moment?”
“As sane as I ever get,” Darien replied with a smile.
Bobby finally smiled at that and the sight chased away the memory of tears from Darien’s mind. The wave of happiness at the greeting nearly took Darien’s breath away and it was almost as startling as the sudden desire to cry had been. Now Darien knew he could be moody sometimes, but such violent mood swings were not in his nature.
“You okay, kid?” Bobby asked a deep concern in his voice.
“I’m not sure,” Darien admitted slowly.
Unbidden his anxiety leapt up and tried to drown him. He closed his eyes and with a deep breath grabbed hold of his spiralling emotions. He told himself he was not going to do anything stupid, but he felt quicksilver shoot up his right arm none-the-less.
“Darien, what is it?” Hobbes sounded very worried now, he only ever used Darien’s first name when he was under stress.
“I’m okay,” Fawkes said slowly and opened his eyes again. He tried to let the anxiety flow over him and not touch him: he almost managed it and the quicksilver flaked off his arm. “I’m just tired, can’t seem to get a handle on my emotions. One minute I want to bawl my eyes out and the next I’m on cloud nine.”
He tried to placate Hobbes with a grin, but Darien knew he hadn’t managed to make his last comment as light as he’d hoped.
“It might be that damn gland,” Bobby said standing up, “I better fetch the Keeper.”
Another wave of anxiety flooded though Darien and he couldn’t help himself.
“The accident didn’t make me resistant to the counteragent did it?” he asked almost desperately, but managed to keep the quicksilver inside.
The worry threatened to turn into complete panic and Fawkes didn’t know what to do about it. Bobby’s hand on his arm brought him back from the edge of despair.
“Fawkes,” Hobbes said gently meeting his eyes and holding them with a calm steady gaze, “you’re not on the counteragent. Claire couldn’t give it to you after the accident and you’ve been out for ten days.”
That brought Darien’s thoughts to a skidding halt as he totally failed to comprehend the statement at first. There was no way he could have been without the counteragent that long and not be quicksilver mad. He’d been almost fully gone when they’d found him, so without a shot he should have been a psychotic maniac.
“I don’t understand,” he finally managed lamely.
“You should be dead, kid,” Bobby said gently, “Claire says that the chemicals that were all over you would have killed anyone else. The gland saved you and it may just have found something that allows you to live without the counteragent. Keeper told me I should tell you that she doesn’t know if it’s permanent, but enjoy it while it lasts.”
It was such a shock Darien didn’t know what to say. The counteragent was such a part of his life that he couldn’t really conceive of it not being the reason for his sanity. Darien was anything but stupid and the violent mood swings suddenly made sense. If he was controlling the gland’s effects on his own it was more than likely there were going to be side effects. Suddenly he wanted to cry again but because he was happy rather than sad. He shoved the emotion as far away from his rational brain as he could and tried to grab hold of himself.
He habitually ran his hand through his hair when trying to sort something out in his head and without thinking he tried it at that moment. There was the clank of chain as he came up short thanks to the restraints on the bed. The chain caught his attention and he noticed that the leather straps were reinforced with metal. Strapping him down if he wasn’t on counteragent seemed like a perfectly rational precaution where he was concerned so that didn’t bother him, but the chain did have him wondering.
“Care to explain the new bondage toys?” he asked, fixing his mind on anything that wasn’t going to cause his emotions to spiral out of control.
“You broke the old ones,” Bobby told him straightforwardly.
“You’re kidding,” Darien said, not sure if his friend was joking or not.
How could anyone break two-inch leather straps?
“You were in a bad way, Fawkes,” Hobbes explained a small knot of remembered anxiety knitting his brow. “The madness had you and then there were Mescling’s potions working on you as well. You had attacks and in one of them you snapped the strap on your right arm and left leg. Keeper had the other restraints brought in after that.”
Darien’s mind shied away from how much brute strength it must have taken to shred leather. He decided to focus on anything else and another question occurred to him.
“What colour are my eyes?” he asked, not one hundred percent sure he wanted to know the answer, but curious anyway.
Bobby looked unsure for a moment, which gave Darien the answer he needed.
“They’re red, aren’t they,” Fawkes was stating a fact. “I’m free of the madness but my eyes are still red.”
“Almost,” Hobbes said tentatively.
Looking dubious about whether he was doing the right thing Bobby picked up the mirror that was lying on the table next to the bed.
“Keeper said it would be best to be up front about this,” the older agent said and placed the mirror where Darien could see into it.
For a few moments Fawkes just stared at himself, refusing to see what was really there. He’d only seen himself with the red eyes a couple of times and then he had been under the influence of the madness. Really for the first time he was seeing his demon, and what a creature it was. The red whites contrasted brightly with the silver irises and it gave him a very supernatural look.
“Aw crap,” was the only thing he could come up with to say.
Why couldn’t life be easy just once?
Darien wasn’t sure when he fell asleep. He remembered talking to Bobby and it becoming more and more a one sided conversation, and the next thing he knew he was waking up again. Something was tickling him. He opened his eyes to find Claire standing over him, examining one of his restraints. Her hair was touching his arm. Not sure quite what to say he waited to find out what she was doing. Much to Darien’s surprise she took hold of the buckle on the strap and began to undo it.
“Does this mean I get parole?” Fawkes asked quietly and Claire almost jumped out of her skin.
She glared at him for a second and then slowly smiled.
“Don’t do that to me,” she said in a mock serious tone. “You scared me.”
“Well it’s not as if you’re going to disappear,” Darien replied with half a smile.
“How are you feeling?” Claire asked and pulled the restraint free of his arm. “Hobbes mentioned something about mood swings.”
Darien nodded and flexed his limb to get it moving again. Claire moved on to the next strap.
“One second I’m fine the next I feel like crying or laughing manically,” Fawkes told her openly, “an emotional roller coaster, y’know. I figure it’s probably something to do with me trying to cope without the counteragent. It’s beginning to bug the hell out of me, but it beats the madness hands down.”
Claire considered his assessment thoughtfully as she released his left ankle.
“Your hormone levels are a little high,” she admitted clinically, “and it is most likely the gland that’s doing that. The quicksilver is still altering your brain chemistry and I don’t know why you’re not slathering yet, but I will find out. If the mood swings become any worse let me know immediately, but you seem to be coping for now.”
Her comments had obviously started her mind going because she stood there just staring into space for a moment. Darien half expected her to go wandering off to her lab with him still half strapped to the bed, but after a few seconds she went back to the restraint on his right ankle.
“Was Hobbes pissed at me for falling asleep on him?” Darien decided to change the subject.
“Actually I think he was glad to see you resting so peacefully,” Claire told him calmly. “For the first time he went home and I didn’t have to throw him out.”
Fawkes wasn’t quite sure how to take that.
“You’ve been throwing him out?” Darien asked hesitantly.
Claire gave him an understanding smile.
“He’s been standing out there every waking moment when the Official hasn’t had him chasing bad guys,” the Keeper explained honestly. “We’ve all been very worried about you.”
Darien felt a lump coming to his throat and he suddenly felt his emotions take a jump. They cared, they really cared and it hit him like a ton of bricks. He’d known this before, but now it leapt out at him as if it was completely new. He ran his free hand through his hair and closed his eyes trying to bite back the rampaging emotions that this train of thought sent through his body. It was time to change the subject again.
“What about my eyes?” he asked using the negative emotion this idea brought to counterbalance the other feelings he was trying to deal with. “What happened to them?”
“Well the saturated whites are the same as stage four QSM,” Claire explained and moved to the last strap. “Your body temperature is higher than usual and your capillaries are dilated trying to cool you off. As for the attractive silver irises I’m coming to the conclusion that the quicksilver has infused and bonded with several systems in your body. Whatever the gland had to do to save your life it altered your body chemistry in several ways and it’s pooled in several areas. Your eyes have enough to reflect the light but not to make them appear invisible.”
Darien’s mind absorbed this information and ticked over the consequences of what Claire had said. A nasty thought slowly began to dawn on him.
“Changed my body chemistry,” he said slowly. “It’s not going to change back is it?”
Claire just looked at him, she looked unsure.
“This gland is never coming out is it?” Darien said quietly.
“I don’t know,” Claire said honestly. “I need to run more tests. The extraction will be more complicated now, but it’s just another hurdle to jump. I’ll figure it out.”
Darien felt total despair form a knot in the pit of his stomach. This wasn’t going to be over, this was never going to be over. No matter what Claire said he knew deep down that the gland was now a part of him forever.
“Please would you leave me alone,” Darien said in a voice that was only just steady.
He did not want her to be here when he broke. There was a flood building up with his emotions and the dam was going to go any second. Claire hesitated as if she wasn’t sure that was a good idea.
“Please,” Darien said again and slowly she nodded.
The moment his Keeper was out of the room Darien curled onto his side and cried like a baby.
Over the next couple of days Darien did a lot of sleeping and a little talking, but not a lot else. He could make it to the bathroom on his own but that was about as far as physical exertion went. He had to admit that his body felt as if it had been pulled to pieces and put back together again, quite possibly in the wrong order. He would have been going stir crazy except for the fact that every time boredom was about to hit he managed to fall asleep.
On the third day after his return to the real world Darien woke up to find Bobby in his room again. What cheered Fawkes up no end was that his partner was carrying an armful of clothes.
“The Keeper asked me to bring in some of your stuff today,” Hobbes explained and put the garments on the end of the bed. “Looks to me like the vacation is over.”
Darien grinned at him.
“Give me ten minutes,” he said, sitting up and dragging himself out of bed.
He felt like he could still sleep for a week, but there was something about getting his own clothes that gave him a little more energy. In the end it took him nearly half an hour and a lot of expletives before he finished in the shower down the hall and managed to climb into his clothes. He noted sourly that he’d managed to lose more than a few pounds thanks to the accident and pulled the belt through a couple more notches. He never put on weight anyway, but it was going to take some serious eating to make his clothes fit again. However, he meandered out of the bathroom feeling much better for his garments.
“I was beginning to think you fell down the plug hole,” Hobbes commented from where he was sat on Darien’s bed eating from the bowl of fruit the Official had sent down.
The arrival of the fruit had been quite a shock, but Darien had got over it. He had a sneaking suspicion that Charlie would be recouping the money out of his salary some how.
“Have to look my best for my first day out of this room,” Fawkes told his partner cheerfully.
Darien was still having problems keeping his emotions under control, but it was getting a little easier. The mood swings were distracting and he’d had to apologise to Hobbes and the Keeper on more than one occasion for yelling at them, but they seemed to take it in their stride. The relaxation techniques had been helping and he was coming to the conclusion that he was going to have to be a much more controlled person from now on.
“We going anywhere nice or just down the hall?” Darien asked nonchalantly.
“Keeper wants you in the rubber room for a couple of tests,” Bobby explained and stood up. “Just in case.”
Fawkes ruthlessly squelched the anxiety Hobbes’ words caused and grinned instead.
“Y’know, I just love being a lab rat,” he said and headed out the door.
Darien sat on the padded bench in the centre of the room idly staring at his reflection in the two-way mirror. Claire had said “hello” but that was the only communication so far. She was obviously setting something up and for now Darien decided to keep his curiosity at bay.
“Okay, Darien,” his Keeper’s voice finally came over the intercom, “I’d like you to quicksilver for me.”
It was not exactly a surprise. Darien barely had to think about what he wanted to do and he felt the cool effect on his skin as the quicksilver flowed.
“Anything else?” he asked calmly glancing round the monochrome room.
“Not at the moment,” Claire’s voice came back, “just sit tight for a while.”
“Yes, boss,” Darien replied lightly.
“If you feel strange at all tell me and become visible again,” the Keeper told him in her clinical, I’m-not-taking-any-notice-of-your-comments voice.
After about five minutes Darien was getting bored.
“Hellooo, is there anybody out there?” he said with a sigh. “Is anybody going to talk to me?”
“I’m taking readings, Darien,” Claire said her tone very much distracted. “Hobbes, talk to Darien.”
“What about?” Bobby sounded at a loss.
Darien rolled his eyes and stifled a laugh.
“Did you convince the fat man to validate your parking yet?” Fawkes knew it would probably put his partner into rant mode, but any voice was better than just sitting there.
Bobby started talking and didn’t stop. The minutes ticked past and all Darien had to do was put in the odd word. He was about to comment on a particularly absurd comment about company parking spaces when the pain hit. The back of his skull felt as if it was going to explode and he fell off the bench onto his knees, grabbing at the back of his neck as if he could stop the agony. He lost control of the gland and the quicksilver fell away leaving him crouching on the floor praying for deliverance or death; whichever came first.
“Darien,” he could barely hear Claire’s urgent voice, but at least it was something to latch onto in a world suddenly gone mad. “Fawkes, can you hear me.”
Just when Darien thought his head was going to explode it began to fade. It was such a relief that he slumped forward touching his head on the floor. The sharp stabbing pains ebbed to a dull throbbing and he just stayed put breathing through the shock.
“Darien?” Claire sounded very worried and a little guilty.
He really didn’t want to move, he didn’t want to do anything but he didn’t want to leave his friends guessing either. Wearily he pushed himself off the floor and looked up at the mirror.
“I’m okay,” he said slowly and tried to pull himself up onto the bench.
He gave up after a couple of seconds and settled for sitting on the floor. The attack had completely zapped his strength and he felt as weak as a kitten again.
“That was the thirty minute barrier,” Claire sounded relieved. “I’m sorry I had to do that to you, but it was the only way to find out.”
Darien felt a moment of anger that she hadn’t warned him, but he sat on it when it threatened to become anymore than a thought. After all he was one of a kind, it wasn’t as if they had anyone else to test these things on.
“Did it feel like QSM?” Claire asked clinically.
Darien nodded, “But more,” he told her. “Felt like there was acid in my skull.”
“That’s enough for this morning,” Claire decided after his answer. “I’ll need to run a couple of tests, but we can do that back in your room.”
Realising he was going to have to get back to his bed Darien tried to pull himself up using the bench, but he didn’t do too well. He was completely exhausted and his limbs didn’t want to know. Before he could flop back to the floor the door opened and Hobbes entered crossing straight to him.
“Let me help, buddy,” Bobby said quickly and slipped his arms around Fawkes.
Surprisingly strong arms helped him to his feet.
“Lean on me, kid,” Hobbes encouraged as Darien tried to stand properly on his own and lurched madly. “We’ll get you back to your room no problem.”
Sleep seemed to be the only thing that Darien’s body wanted and no matter how much his mind insisted, he could barely keep his eyes open. The arms keeping him upright were firm but gentle and Fawkes thought he could get used to those arms. In his sleep fogged brain it never occurred to him what he was thinking and a small smile played at his lips even as he tried to put one foot in front of the other. How they made it back to his room he couldn’t be sure but the next thing he knew he was sitting and then lying on the bed. Hands helped his legs onto the bed and the same hands started taking off his shoes. Darien was asleep before the fingers finished with the first set of laces.
Bobby Hobbes did not look best pleased when Claire turned around and found the agent standing in her lab. She was just gathering the things she needed to take a blood sample from Darien having already entered the results of the morning experiment in the computer.
“You could have warned him,” Hobbes said pointedly.
“I didn’t know anything was going to happen,” Claire replied quickly, but they both knew she had suspected something or she wouldn’t have run the test.
“Bull,” Bobby responded.
“Expectation of an event can cause an event,” Claire justified her reasoning. “If I had told him what could happen it may have triggered an attack anyway. I don’t want to hurt Darien anymore than you do, but we have to know what’s happened to him for his sake as well as ours.”
Hobbes still didn’t look happy but he glared at her rather than saying anything. The Keeper decided to walk passed him but his hand touched her arm as she tried to go past him. Their eyes met.
“You do that kid any damage,” Bobby said quietly, “and I’ll never forgive you.”
Then he turned and strode out before Claire could reply, not that she knew what to say. She wasn’t about to tell Hobbes this, but if she did any damage she would never forgive herself. What surprised her more was that she did care what Hobbes thought of her.
Two days and a lot more invisibility tests later they were ready for the big question. They had discovered that the limits on Darien’s invisibility were still pretty similar to what they had been. Rather than any more than half an hour invisible between shots of counteragent it was any more than half an hour out of every seven that landed Darien in pain central. The thing they hadn’t tested yet was the effect of the counteragent. Claire turned around with the syringe in her hand to find Darien sat in the brown chair looking nervous.
“We don’t have to do this now,” the Keeper found herself saying even though really they did.
She’d found herself doing that more and more. The smallest amount of distress in Darien caused her hours of guilt. It was not professional and clinically detached, but she couldn’t help herself.
“We have to find out if the counteragent affects the gland anymore sooner or later,” Darien replied his voice sounding confident even if his face looked like a deer in headlights.
It was a small dose and Claire had done tests on blood samples. She was almost sure it would have little or no effect on the gland the way it was working now, but there was still a small doubt. When Darien saw her hesitate he stuck out his arm.
“Come on, Keep,” he said lightly, “give me my fix.”
Without letting herself think about it anymore Claire crossed the distant between them and pushed the syringe into the waiting limb. When Darien barely reacted she began to breath again. They both looked at his monitor tattoo as it slowly turned green.
“Do you feel any different?” Claire asked and looked from the tattoo to her friend’s face.
Before he could speak she found herself smiling broadly.
“What?” her patient asked obviously unsure what to make of her expression.
She didn’t reply, she just turned and picked up the mirror from where it had been left on the lab bench. She held it up so Darien could see himself.
“I got my eyes back,” he said jubilantly.
“How are the emotions?” Claire wanted to know of the counteragent had had any effect on Darien’s unpredictable mood swings.
Darien thought about his for a few moments and then he shrugged.
“The same,” he admitted, looking a little disappointed. “Guess my brain chemistry really is screwed now.”
“Actually it’s better this way,” Claire told him with a smile. “The counteragent can be used to make you look normal, but if you run out you can always use a pair of dark glasses. It’s better that you learn to control the stronger emotions on your own without the agent, that way you’re not dependent.”
Darien hadn’t thought of it like that and slowly a smile spread across his face.
“I’m free,” he said quietly, almost as if he didn’t believe it.
“As a bird,” Claire agreed, more than simply happy for him.
“Oh good, I can look at you without thinking of the Exorcist,” Hobbes said as he walked into the lab a couple of hours later.
“Thanks, Hobbes, I’m so glad I don’t make you uncomfortable anymore,” Darien shot back, but he grinned at his friend.
If there was one thing that Fawkes knew about Hobbes it was that his friend was up front.
“So does the counteragent do anything else?” Bobby asked with his normal straightforwardness.
“As far as I can tell,” Claire spoke up at this point, “its actions are now purely cosmetic.”
“Trust me,” Darien put in cheerfully, “the gland will never catch on as an alternative to lenses.”
Hobbes actually grinned at that.
“Sound like we need to celebrate,” Bobby said, much to Darien’s surprise.
Claire looked a little taken-aback as well.
“You two look like I just suggested a trip to the moon,” Hobbes commented.
The idea would never have entered Darien’s head, but now that Bobby had put it there, getting out of the Agency sounded like an incredibly good idea. He looked at Claire hopefully. He was not stupid enough to sneak out without her permission, no matter what anyone thought. He had nearly collapsed enough times in the last few days to know that if she told him ‘no’ his Keeper had a very good reason.
“How do you feel?” Claire asked quickly.
Darien’s heart leapt - at least she hadn’t put the idea down out of hand.
“A little tired, but nothing I can’t cope with,” he told her truthfully.
A small frown knitted Claire’s face for a moment and then it cleared.
“Then I think a change of scenery would be good for you,” the Keeper decided with a slight smile. “But no strenuous exercise or alcohol.”
Darien grinned and swung his legs off the chair.
“Are you coming with us?” he asked quickly as his Keeper turned back to her lab bench.
She turned back almost immediately and looked somewhat surprised. Her eyes flicked to Hobbes and Darien glanced at his friend to make sure he hadn’t done something he shouldn’t.
“Sure, come with us, Keeper,” Bobby said with a smile as if he realized why Claire hesitated. “You can pay - you earn more than both of us put together.”
Darien snorted with laughter at the expression that appeared on Claire’s face.
“He’s kidding,” Fawkes promised faithfully, but wasn’t actually one hundred percent sure.
Darien looked at his plate mournfully. The steak was delicious but with only half of it eaten he was completely full. Not having eaten for ten days while he was out of it his stomach was still recovering and his appetite had yet to return properly.
“Not hungry, Fawkes?” Bobby asked as he polished off his last fry.
“Full,” Darien admitted with a defeated sigh. “If I eat any more I’m going to be sick.”
“Another week and we’ll have you back to your old self,” Claire promised him with a smile. “Sans maniac tendencies of course, although I’m sure I can come up with something if you miss them.”
The laugh escaped Darien with genuine joy. At that moment he was happier than he had been in a long time. Sitting in the restaurant with Bobby and Claire he felt strangely at home. He reached for his drink and took a swig, a warm feeling spread down his throat and it brought him up short. Darien glared at the glass accusingly as he realised what he had done.
“Claire,” he said slowly, “was there any specific reason you said no alcohol?”
The Keeper’s fork stopped halfway to her mouth and she looked at him.
“Why?” she asked in a very even tone.
“This isn’t my glass,” Darien admitted holding out what looked like coke, “it’s Bobby’s.”
Fawkes was on soft drinks; Bobby was on scotch and coke.
“Well do you feel any different?” Claire asked quietly.
Darien shook his head: there was the warm feeling in his stomach but nothing unusual when taking a swig of what had to be 50% whiskey.
“It was only a suggestion,” the Keeper told him with a smile. “I’d give it to any patient who had only been out of a coma under a week.”
There was a rush of air as Darien let out the breath he had been holding.
“But no more,” Claire warned, “or you’ll be under the table before you know it.”
Darien grinned at the thought.
“I’ll let you know if I’m going to pass out,” he promised faithfully.
In fact he was fine until they’d finished the meal and were walking towards Claire’s car. The world span madly about half way across the parking lot and he had to grab Hobbes to stop from falling over.
“Wo,” he said as he tried to blink away the sudden disorientation, “I think the alcohol just hit.”
His vision faded in and out and he had the most peculiar sensation of seeing into the boot of Claire’s car. He blinked and it was gone but it was the most peculiar feeling.
“You going to make it to the car, junior?” Bobby asked, concerned for his friend.
“As long as you point me in the right direction,” Darien assured them with a half smile.
He tried to set his sites on the car and the dashboard jumped out at him where the alarm light flashed. Then the engine leapt out at him as if he could actually see it.
“Okay guys, I think I’m seeing things,” Fawkes said a little worried by what was going in.
“What do you see, Darien?” Claire asked reassuringly.
“I can see your engine,” Darien admitted as he stared and try to work out what his vision was actually doing.
Bobby came to stand in front of him and Darien had trouble focussing on him.
“Darien your eyes keep changing,” Hobbes told him as Fawkes blinked at him trying to get his sight under control.
Claire took Bobby’s place as Darien’s centre of attention as she took hold of his chin to find out what Hobbes was talking about.
“Your pupils are fully dilated,” she commented studying him carefully, “and the quicksilver saturation keeps returning to your irises.”
“Aw crap,” was Darien’s carefully considered commentary on the situation.
Absurdly all he wanted to do was laugh, he silently decided that he now had the alcohol tolerance of a small hamster. As Claire kept peering at him and his eyes focused through her he gave up and actually giggled.
“Fawkes,” Hobbes said in a vaguely disgusted tone, “you’re wasted.”
“I know,” Darien replied and giggled again.
The situation was ridiculous; he’d only had one sip of alcohol, and his bemused brain found this very funny. His vision was flicking in and out and he could barely keep up with what his eyes were telling him.
“Hey Bobby, I never had you pegged as a Calvin Klein man,” he commented absently as a few facts did stick; Darien never stopped to consider how he could see Bobby’s underwear.
Hobbes’ startled expression faded in and out of focus and Darien giggled despite trying not too.
“Fawkes, look at me,” Claire instructed firmly.
He tried, he really tried, but focusing on anything was such hard work. He shook his head to try and clear it but he simply succeeded in swaying violently.
“Hobbes, take his right arm,” the Keeper said calmly, “we have to get him back to the lab.”
It was at that point that Darien gave up trying to make sense of anything.
There was a pounding inside Darien’s skull that made him wish he could chop his head off, but he reluctantly opened his eyes anyway. The room was blessedly in focus but it felt way too bright.
“Welcome back,” said a voice from beside him and he blearily peered over to see Claire.
“Aspirin please,” was all Darien chose to say.
Claire smiled at him and produced a glass and two pills. Fawkes took them gratefully and downed both before he made a reply.
“Thank you,” he said genuinely.
While taking the pills he tried to sort out in his memory what had happened to cause the thumping headache. The last thing his brain could construct successfully was walking out of the restaurant into the parking lot.
“What happened?” he asked, at a loss to explain anything.
“The alcohol went straight to your brain,” Claire explained patiently. “Your natural defences are still low thanks to all the chemicals that have been through your body recently. Simply put you became inebriated very fast and your control on the gland slipped.”
“And the jack hammer in my head is the hangover,” Darien concluded with a touch of relief. “Well at least it isn’t QSM.”
“Actually last night gave us an insight into the new you that we might not otherwise have seen,” the Keeper told him in a very scientific tone.
That caught his attention and even managed to get his mind off the slowly dimming pain in his skull.
“What did I do?” he asked a little dubiously.
“Exhibited the ability to see through things,” Claire said calmly.
Darien had to take a moment to make sure he had heard her correctly.
“Don’t joke,” he said finally deciding it was a gag, “what did I really do, and please tell me you don’t have photographic evidence.”
Claire smiled at him and shook her head.
“I’m not kidding,” she promised him faithfully, “something about the quicksilver saturation in your eyes give you the ability to see through what should be solid objects. Quicksilver bends visible light, but it also has properties at other frequencies as we saw when you went blind. This appears to be a similar phenomenon, it’s just taking it one step further.”
Darien didn’t know what to say.
“Any idea how I did it?” he asked dubiously.
“That’s something we’re going to have to find out,” Claire said brightly, “right after you apologise for giving Hobbes a detailed description of my underwear.”
A suspicion began at the back of Darien’s mind that today was not going to be a fun day.
By the end of the week Darien was convinced that Claire’s lab rats had it better. There were tests and then there were the Keeper’s tests. Darien was pretty sure there wasn’t an inch of his body that she hadn’t tested in some way, well except for a certain spot that seemed to get more and more excited every time he saw her. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Fawkes wanted to know about his current condition as much as Claire he would have walked out by now. He was feeling much stronger and he was more than ready to broach the subject of going home.
“Just one more try please, Darien,” Claire said as she marked something off on her clipboard.
“I can’t,” Fawkes replied rather petulantly, “it feels like my eyes are turning inside out, and I am never going to be any good at this.”
They had tried several techniques to see if Darien could reproduce the x-ray vision trick in the lab, but they had met with limited success. It was possible, but it was almost more trouble than it was worth and Darien did not like the effect it had on his equilibrium. Claire just looked at him with one of her hard stares. Fawkes was saved from having to argue his point when Hobbes interrupted them.
“The Official wants to see you,” Bobby announced in his normal businesslike tone.
“You’ve saved me again, partner,” Darien said and hopped out of the chair he’d been sitting in.
With a small wave at the slightly annoyed looking Keeper he left the lab with Hobbes.
“So what does he want to see me about?” Darien asked as they walked.
“Beats me,” Bobby replied in a manner that indicated he didn’t think it had been his place to ask.
“Well you’re just the fount of all knowledge today aren’t you?” Darien replied sarcastically.
“If I was supposed to know he would have told me,” Hobbes replied reasonably with only a slightly irritated glance at his friend.
Darien had been noticing that Bobby didn’t seem to be getting as annoyed with him lately. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was being less annoying or something else and he was trying to work out how to ask. In fact Darien had been looking at Bobby in an entirely different light for a while now. It was nothing he would ever bring up with Hobbes, but with his emotions reacting the way they were Darien was having to be more honest with himself these days. He had felt Hobbes was his friend for months, rather than the reluctant partner Bobby had been to begin with, but there were certain reactions Darien was having to his companion that pointed at the desire for a deeper relationship.
When Darien had realised that Claire did the same thing to him he had been worried that it was his hormones on overload. However it had turned out only to be the two people closest to him and after a little introspection he had had to come to the conclusion that his feelings were real and he’d been suppressing them. He couldn’t suppress them anymore so he had decided to ignore them instead.
The partners reached the Official’s office and Bobby knocked on the door.
“Come in,” came Eberts’s voice.
“See you later, junior,” Bobby said as he opened the door and backed off.
“You’re not coming in too?” Darien said, surprised. These days they usually ended up in the Official’s office together.
“I have better things to do than watch you annoy the boss,” Hobbes said in his deadpan manner. “You can tell me all about it after he takes the alterations to the lab out of your salary.”
Darien grinned and walked into the office. Eberts and the Official were behind the desk as usual and there was one chair Darien’s side of the piece of furniture.
“Good afternoon, Agent Fawkes,” the Official greeted, “please have a seat.”
“Whatever you say,” Darien said and wandered over to the chair.
Being so tall sitting up in chairs usually mean his back met with the wrong part of the frame so as usual he lounged more than sat on the furniture. Eberts pushed a piece of paper across the desk at him and he picked it up.
“What’s this?” he asked, scanning the first few lines.
“It’s an NDA,” Eberts told him calmly, “it states that you will tell no one about the gland when you leave the Agency.”
Darien stopped reading as his mind caught up with what the Official’s assistant had said.
“Why now?” he asked a little confused, after all he had signed so many things before he wasn’t sure why they wanted him to sign this one now.
“You’re free, kid,” the Official took over and completely stunned Darien with his first words. “The Keeper has informed me that you’re fit enough to go home, and she’s convinced you have no medical need for the counteragent anymore.”
“But the gland ...” Darien countered immediately.
“Is an integral part of you and isn’t coming out in the foreseeable future,” the fat man finished for him. “The Agency will of course retain legal claim to it in the event of your death, but at the moment there is no way to part you and it. We have no more hold over you, Fawkes, you have your wish, you’re free.”
Darien was shocked and a little at a loss.
“What did you think we’d do, kid?” Charlie asked before Fawkes could convince his brain to respond. “Did you think we’d find some way into blackmailing you into staying.”
Well actually Darien had figured they’d try something like that, but he hadn’t actually really considered the subject that much, he’d been far too busy relearning about himself. He sat there staring at the paper stupidly for a while not sure how to proceed. Part of him was jubilant that he was finally free to go his own way again, but there was also quite a large part that was coming to think of this place as home.
“What if I don’t want to leave?” he asked quietly, finally making a decision.
It was the Official’s and Eberts’s turns to look surprised, although Borden didn’t look as shocked as his assistant.
“But you’ve never stopped saying that you want out,” Eberts pointed out.
That was true but it was different now.
“That was when I didn’t have a choice,” Darien admitted and looked the Official in the eye. “When I was here because I had to be I wanted to escape, now I ...”
He didn’t really know how to explain it. He actually liked being a good guy and he was getting better at it all the time.
“Welcome to the Agency, kid,” the Official said, negating the need for him to say anymore.
The fat man offered him his palm, and the pair stood up and shook hands. Darien had the feeling that he’d just taken a large step to leaving his past behind forever.
Darien was a little distracted when he walked back into the lab. His own decision had actually taken him a bit by surprise and he was trying to figure out where it came from. He had never expected himself to be a voluntary federal agent. Put that together with the fact that the Official had been about to let him go far too easily and he had a lot to think about. He was about to wander back to his room when he realised that both Hobbes and Claire were on the other side of the lab.
“Hi guys,” he said with a grin.
“When’re they cutting you loose then, Fawkes?” Bobby got straight to the point, he had obviously actually known what the meeting was about.
His partner sounded like a man trying to be happy for someone although they were pissed on the inside.
“When I do something so bad they have to fire me,” Darien replied irreverently, quite enjoying the faint air of sadness that permeated his friends.
Hobbes looked confused, but Claire cottoned on quicker and the smile she sent him was worth a thousand words.
“I don’t get it,” Bobby said, obviously not sure what to make of the situation.
“He chose to stay,” Claire said pointedly.
Hobbes stared at Darien as if he’d grown another head, Fawkes just grinned at him.
“You’re not leaving?” Bobby seemed to be having real trouble with the concept.
“Yeah I know Claire’s probably going to have to reassess her analysis of my sanity,” Darien said lightly, “but I kinda like it around here.”
What happened next would stay in Fawkes’ memory forever. Bobby walked over to him gave him the once over and then embraced him quickly.
“Catch you later, partner,” Hobbes said and then walked out of the lab.
Darien stood there a little stunned; Bobby actually showing affection was enough to blow his mind. That and the fact that Darien was rather disappointed that the hug had been so short had him rather distracted. Then his mind flicked back to the meeting he had just had.
“What did you say to them?” he finally asked and walked up beside Claire.
His Keeper looked at him innocently, but Darien was not fooled.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said but did not meet his eyes.
“Ever since I came here the Official has been more worried about the gland than me,” Darien said and leant against the bench. “Suddenly he hands me an NDA and says I can go without the slightest hint of trying to guilt me into staying. I don’t buy it. What did you say?”
Claire pointedly stared at her computer screen.
“Keepy,” Darien said coaxingly.
The Keeper sighed in a very resigned manner.
“I may have mentioned that if they tried to force you to stay every scrap of research I have on the gland might just pop up on the internet,” she said quietly.
Darien was stunned into silence for a moment and he just stared at her.
“You didn’t?” he couldn’t believe it: Claire!
She turned to him then a slight smile playing at her lips.
“I did,” she said lightly.
Darien began to laugh.
“Besides,” she added with a wide grin, “I knew you couldn’t bear to part with that shiny badge after all this time.”
Darien laughed even harder.
~“So I’m free. Who am I kidding? I’ll never be free, not like I was before the Agency; and do you know why, because I have people who care. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. Oh yeah, there was family, but it’s not the same, y’know? Family is always there; you don’t have to work at that if you don’t want to.
Now I have friends that I can’t ditch no matter what and they have me tighter than if I had to be hooked up to an IV of counteragent forever. Don’t think that I’m bitter, I’m not, in fact I’m happier now than I have been since I can remember. Being a thief I had friends, but I was never sure if they would turn around and stab me in the back some day. It’s difficult getting used to people like Hobbes and Claire ... people I can trust. I think I’m finally beginning to like it.
That Cowper guy I mentioned before also wrote ‘A fool must now and then be right by chance.’ I hope that my chance has come.”~