Disclaimers: The Invisible Man and its characters belong to Stu Segall Productions and the Sci-Fi channel. 'Nuff said.
A/N: This was inspired partly by devilrats' wonderful story, Epilogue. It got me to thinking about just how the series' ending might go.
A deep thinker and occasional optimist named Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "A breath of will blows eternally through the universe of souls in the direction of Right and Necessity. It is the air which all intellects inhale and exhale, and it is the wind which blows the worlds into order and orbit." Now my thoughts haven't always been deep and they sure as hell haven't always been optimistic, but I think what he was trying to say is that left to their own devices, most people will choose to live their lives according to the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, what Ralph forgot to mention is that Right and Necessity aren't always the same direction.
Darien Fawkes took a deep breath of warm soft air, savoring its salty tang, then exhaled in a long, slow sigh. The weather was perfect tonight and the moon shone high and bright on the gentle waves. He took another breath and began walking in the soft sand towards the water's edge. He exhaled again as he closed his eyes and turned his face full into the fine sea spray.
Breathe in, breathe out -- just as he'd learned so many years ago. He ran a hand through his hair, still upswept, but longer, more subdued and touched by grey at his temples. Even his goatee and mustache were peppered with it and considerably fuller than the stubbled look he used to sport. His clothes too were different. Gone were the vibrant colors of his youth. Now he wore sage and cream. 'Muted colors for a muted mood,' he mused, lips pursing at his silent alliteration.
Breathe in, breathe out. How many times had he practiced this simple meditation over the years? He couldn't even try to guess. It had become second nature, calming his nerves and cooling his impatience. He'd needed it frequently -- tonight especially.
Tonight. One way or another, it would all be over. He would face his arch nemesis tonight and this time -- this time -- only one of them would walk away. He scarcely cared anymore who'd survive. All he knew was that it would be finished. He'd live or die, but either way, he'd finally be free. Tonight
Chapter One -- Past Perfect
A young British chick named Jane Austen once wrote, "The younger brother must help to pay for the pleasures of the elder." Believe me, I could be the poster boy for that sentiment. My brother's work was his pleasure and I've paid for it in spades. Slavery, madness, nobility, self-sacrifice -- you name it and I've given it.
Of course, I've gotten something out of it too - like a partner and a purpose and a Keeper. Now my Keeper, who happened to be another young British chick, once asked me to trust her. To which I cite Mason Cooley, a world-class wiseguy from the roaring Twenties: "Trust, but look for exits."
Darien wasn't quite sure when the idea had first occurred to him. Surely it had been after that fiasco with Kevin's mRNA, but who knows? Perhaps it had been rattling around his brain before then, half-baked as so many of his plans had been at that time.
His first clear memory of its inception, though, was of standing before Kevin's grave, trying to make sense out of his brother's senseless decision. He'd realized then how long it would take to find a solution, an answer to steal the sting from the scorpion that lived inside his head. He'd felt the crushing weight of the years -- the years -- of waiting ahead of him. The years of toiling away as a slave for the Agency. The years of being hunted down by one madman or another every other day of the week. And he'd known that he wouldn't make it that long. He'd either be dead or insane, if not from the gland then surely from the monotony, before the Keeper found an answer.
Hobbes had chosen that moment to interrupt his thoughts. Bobby had only wanted to comfort him, to let him know that Kevin had made his decision out of love. But Bobby hadn't known Kevin, hadn't grown up with the daily arrogance of Kevin's genius or the selfishness of his love. Oh, Darien knew that Kevin had loved him, but he'd loved the gland more.
That's when Darien had known he could do it. He could cross all the boundaries, betray all their trust. He wouldn't even have to be Quicksilver Mad to do it. He'd finally remembered the key: Anything done out of love is beyond good and evil. And he did love his life, his freedom, his soul so very, very much.
Chapter Two -- To Steal a Life
An old Chinese proverb warns, "Those who steal have guilty hearts." Well, I'm not so sure about that, but I can tell you that when stealing innocent hearts, it's best to rely on the words of Dickens, "It's immoral to steal, but you can take things."
Three things were essential to Darien's scheme: Time, money and Claire. Time he had plenty of, not so with the money, but there were ways to handle that. Truthfully, of the three, he'd thought Claire would be the hardest to come by.
He'd had unexpected help with that though -- both Kevin's and Bobby's. Apparently Claire and Kevin had been lovers in graduate school. Darien hadn't known, of course. He'd been in prison at the time, and Kevin had cut off all contact with him. Out of sight, out of mind, he’d supposed.
Bobby had found out about the affair when Kevin's memories had returned in Darien's body. He'd blurted it out to Darien one day when he'd been late with his meds and Darien had been teasing him about his growing crush on Claire. It was just the key Darien had been looking for.
After that revelation, Darien had made sure to nonchalantly play up what few commonalities he did share with Kevin. You can't grow up with someone without internalizing some of their idiosyncrasies, he'd rationalized. Not that he'd ever go the whole peanut-butter-and-bologna route, but he'd had enough experience as a professional con man to know that it's the small details that sell the scam -- a little less smartass attitude, a little more genuine curiosity in her experiments, a subtle softening of his tone when he said her name.
Of course, it had helped that she'd been fond of him already and that she'd seen Kevin inhabit his body during their mRNA experiment. She might even have come to love him on her own if he hadn't been loading the dice. As it was, it hadn't taken very long at all before she'd begun lingering a bit too long in his friendly embraces or staring just a touch too intently into his eyes when she was giving him his shot. She'd only put up token resistance when he'd begun stealing small kisses at odd moments.
It was raining lightly the night he'd gone to her house. Unusual weather for San Diego, but a very appropriate deja vu of the last time he'd stood in the rain asking for her help. Before this night was through, however, he'd planned on taking more than just her help.
Dressed in his thief's black, he'd walked up to her door and quietly picked the lock. The street was deserted, so he hadn't bothered to quicksilver. Besides, he'd known she found him particularly appealing when slightly bedraggled. Stepping inside, he'd disabled her security system without breaking a sweat. These residential systems were little more than souped-up remote controls for the most part and he'd had plenty of experience besting them during his time as a cat burglar.
The house had been dark, except for a light coming from the bedroom upstairs. He'd started up and was met halfway by Pavlov. He'd reached down and patted the dog to quiet him, then continued his ascent. At the top of the stairs he'd stopped, leaning against one side of the doorway, and looked at the sight set out before him. There was Claire, lying on a couch, eyes closed, book open on her lap. She'd been a veritable sleeping beauty, clothed in a cream satin nightgown, just begging to be woken.
For a moment, Darien had hesitated. He'd liked Claire, he really had, but he'd held no illusions about his being her Prince Charming. There'd been another man in line for that role -- Bobby Hobbes, his partner, his friend. To follow through on his plan, he would have to betray them both. Perhaps, if he tried, he might be able to make it up to Claire, but Hobbes would be lost to him forever. That thought had stung him deeply, but dammit, he'd needed her. He'd needed her to help him before he lost himself forever.
So he'd stepped inside the room. Removing his gloves, he'd walked casually over to the CD player. Seeing its lights still on, he'd pushed a few random buttons until the low sound of some smooth jazz filled the room. Claire had stirred, spilling her book on the floor. She'd blinked her eyes once, twice, before they'd settled on him as he'd turned and smiled softly at her.
"What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"Oh, I see. And you thought you'd just break in here and steal something?"
"Umm, yeah, that sounds about right." He'd cocked an eyebrow and outright grinned at her.
"And just exactly what were you thinking about stealing? My stereo system, my jewelry, my..."
"Oh no, something much, much better," he'd said, bending to pick up the book she'd dropped.
"Your virtue." With that he'd leaned in and kissed her. As he'd felt her arms slide up and around his neck, he'd known he'd won.
After that, they'd become lovers. In secret, of course. He'd pretended to be convinced by her argument that the Official would have separated them -- fishing off the company pier and all -- as well as to spare Hobbes' feelings. In reality, it simply wouldn't have suited his plans for anyone to find out. He'd needed for everything to appear normal until the time was right to make his move.
Chapter 3 – To Trust a Thief
Some deadhead in a suit once advised: "Those you trust the most can steal the most." Now my friend, Bobby Hobbes, he’s lived his life by that code. The man was a walking advertisement for the joys of paranoia. That is, until he partnered up with yours truly. Yup, at some point that psychotic little tiger decided he could trust me. Well, he should have asked me before he came to that decision. I would have reminded him of what that suit said and assured him that truer words were never spoken.
For three months, Darien had bided his time. He’d made sure to fall into a reliable pattern with Claire, to become a fixture in her life, keeping up the front of a friendly relationship at work, then letting things get even friendlier after hours. But pleasant though it was, he hadn’t been able to spend every night with Claire. He’d needed some seed money to get them started on their escape and he’d known just how to get it.
Everyone had always thought of him as a lousy thief, he’d known that. Truth be told, he would have liked to have corrected their impression, but it had served his purposes better for them to think of him as a screw-up. After all, if the authorities don’t think you’re the brightest bulb in the box, they don’t go looking to pin more … inventive … heists on you, do they?
True, he had been popped three times too many, but hey, one of those had been a frame-up from that back-stabbing, son-of-a-bitch Manny Merrick. So that meant he’d only been caught for two of his own jobs. The last one had been his own damn fault. Liz had been right; he had developed a big, fat conscience, and it had been his downfall. It wasn’t a mistake he’d planned on repeating.
What no one had seemed to consider, though, was just how Darien had managed to support himself when he wasn’t in jail. What had they thought, that he’d taken odd jobs at the mall? No, he’d run plenty of successful gigs. They’d just tended towards the smaller scores, which was exactly what he’d needed for his plan. No high profile, one-shot deals – those just got you caught. Instead, a series of small, low-profile burglaries had suited his needs just fine. He’d just needed enough to get started and then the real show would begin.
So, on the odd evenings when he hadn’t been romancing Claire or tossing a few drafts down with Bobby, he’d executed a series of small, sporadic break-ins -- sometimes a local jewelry store, sometimes a well-stocked penthouse. Never anywhere too big. Always somewhere that was insured.
He’d been surprised that the ever-paranoid Hobbes hadn’t gotten suspicious right away. Man, sometimes it had seemed like that guy had been hardwired into Darien’s brain. The only thing Darien had been able to figure was that Bobby had been too busy trying to one-up Monroe to have been paying too much attention.
It wasn’t until Darien had gone to meet his contact at Flip’s Bar during lunch that Bobby had smelled something brewing. Darien had known he was pushing his luck, but he’d been getting impatient. He’d wanted to get gone before he’d lost his resolve. And if anyone could have made him lose his resolve, it would have been that overly annoying, slightly manic, totally loyal little tiger.
He had been sitting down, having a draft with his old pal from the pokey, Buddy. Darien had used Buddy’s unique abilities on a couple of scams he’d run. The man had been a genius at the lost art of forging documents. This time Darien had tapped him to create a complete set of IDs and credit cards for one Mr. Ed Sterling and his wife, Karen.
Bobby had walked in the door and made a beeline right for Darien, just after goods and payment had been exchanged. Buddy had seen Hobbes and looked questioningly at Darien, who simply shook his head. The two then continued with what to all appearances had just been an easy conversation between two old friends.
“Fawkes,” Bobby had started in, “what kind of trouble are you getting yourself into now?”
“It’s nice to see you too, Hobbes. Let me introduce you to my friend, Buddy….”
“Oh yeah, Buddy, well, nice to meet you,” Hobbes stated pleasantly enough. Then he’d grabbed Darien by the arm, jerked him out of his seat and dragged him out the front door. “No offense, but friends like you this kid don’t need no more.”
By the time they’d reached the van, Darien had finally managed to free himself from Bobby’s death grip. He’d sucked up his courage and – figuring the best defense was a good offense – had rounded on his partner.
“Do you want to tell me now what the hell that was all about?”
"Bobby Hobbes has a sixth sense about trouble, my friend. And you and that employment office for ex-cons spell trouble with a capital T."
"Relax, Hobbes. I'm just trying to cultivate some sources for Fawkes.net. Some really good potential contacts frequent that bar."
"Fawkes.net? What the hell are you talking about? There's no such thing as Fawkes.net."
"Yeah, I know. That's why I'm here, catching up with some of my old cronies. Or at least I was until you came in and started cramping my style."
"Don't you frickin' lie to me, Fawkes …."
"Hey, you have Hobbes.net, why can't I have Fawkes.net? What? You got a corner on the informant market or something, huh?” Darien had snorted, then gone straight for his partner’s jugular. “You know, Bobby, someone once said that it’s an equal failing to trust everybody and to trust nobody.”
“What? What is that, some kinda shot there, pal?”
“No, it just means that you have to take a chance and trust someone at some point in your life. Lucky me, I had to go and decide to trust you. Can’t you at least return the favor for once?”
Bobby had squinted his eyes and looked into Darien’s, tilting his head first one way, then the other. “Fine. Fine, Fawkes. Just remember, you even think about going back into the life and I’ll kick your sorry, skinny little punk ass all the way back to Soledad myself. You got that?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, my friend.” And truthfully, he wouldn’t have had it any other way, if only there had been any other way
Chapter Four – Viva Las Vegas
A fellow jailbird and professional wit named Oscar Wilde once observed: “"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." Well, after being sentenced to life in prison, having a gland implanted in my head and becoming a slave for the Agency, I’d had enough of the first option. Now, I was ready to try the second. Or as Mae West, another one-time jailbird, put it: “When choosing between two evils, I always like to pick the one I haven’t tried yet.” Believe me, I’m down with that, sister.
With his nest egg nicely filled out and their new identities in his hands, Darien was finally ready to make his break for freedom. Now all he had to do was to get Claire on board. He’d been stringing her along for the past few months, but even so, he’d known that reeling her into his life raft was not going to be easy.
He’d needed a carrot to entice her, to make her think it was her choice all along. And he’d come up with a big fat one – the one that any woman who thought she was in love wouldn’t be able to resist. Sure, it would cost him, but in the end, he’d wind up the big winner. It had been the biggest scam he’d ever hoped to pull, but she’d be bound to him for life, and, as an extra, added bonus, no one would be able to make her testify against him, even if they were caught. It’d been a win-win for him, really.
It was supposed to have been their usual Friday night routine. Claire had left the Agency before him and gone home to start dinner. Darien had stopped to have a drink with Bobby to celebrate the weekend. Then he’d gone home, grabbed a couple of videos and headed for Claire’s. But instead of bounding through her rear patio doors and sweeping her into an eager embrace, he’d simply stepped quietly into her house and put the Blockbuster bag on her countertop.
Claire’d turned to greet him with a warm smile, but that had faded as she’d looked at him standing there. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s just … nothing.”
“Don’t do that, Darien. Don’t shut me out. I thought we were beyond that now.”
“We are,” Darien had shaken his head for effect. “God, Claire, we are. It’s just that … I don’t know … are you happy like this?”
“What do you mean like this? With you? Here? Then yes, I’m happy. Aren’t you?” He’d watched as she’d knitted her brows together with worry.
“Yeah. I mean, yes, I’m happy being with you, but don’t you want more, Claire? Is this how we’re supposed to live out the rest of our lives? With me sneaking into your place so we can steal a night together? Never going out in public? Never telling our friends?”
“Darien, we’ve been through this before. We need to keep this to ourselves or else the Official will separate us. Is that what you want, to be separated?”
“No, that’s just my point. I don’t want us to be separated. I hate the idea that that fat bastard could separate us on a whim.” Darien had stalked the length of her small kitchen, stopping with his face turned to the glass of her patio doors. “Jesus, Claire, I’m a man. I should be free to live my life with the woman I love without having to worry that some frustrated old bureaucrat can take her away from me as punishment.”
Claire had reached up and turned Darien’s face to hers. “I understand your feelings, your frustration – really I do. Don’t you think it’s hard on me too? But that’s just the way it’s got to be. Unless of course you propose to somehow go about changing things at the Agency.” She’d given him a wry smile to show just how likely a prospect she’d considered that to be.
He’d turned from her and begun pacing again. “That’s it. That’s the problem exactly. Things aren’t going to change while we’re at the Agency. And I do propose, Claire.” He’d stopped at the opposite end of the kitchen and faced her. “God, don’t you get it? I want to marry you. I want you to come away with me, now, tonight.”
“We can’t just leave. You don’t know what you’re saying, you haven’t thought it through….”
“I have thought it through. We can rent a car and be in Vegas by morning. Think about it, Claire. By tomorrow we could be married. They’d never be able to trace us in time to stop us. We could be starting a new life together, one without the Official, without the Agency, without…”
“Counteragent? Yes, you’ve gotten your shot today, but what would we do next week, next month, next year? You see, you haven’t thought it through, Darien.”
“Yes, I have. It’s all I’ve been thinking about. We can make counteragent. Given the raw materials and the equipment, you can make it, right?”
“But all of that takes money … and time.”
“I’ve got the money. Well, at least enough to get us started. And then I know how we can get the rest. But none of that really matters. All that matters is that we’ll be together. And as long as we’re together, Claire, we’ll have all the time in the world.” He’d reached out and gathered her into his arms.
“No, without money and without the Agency, all we’ll ever have is six days.” She’d pulled away from him to stand on her own. “I may be in love with you, but I’m not blind. You think I can’t guess how you came by whatever money you do have … or how you think you’re going to get more? Oh, Darien, haven’t you learned by now that your bloody, thieving plans never work?”
“Actually, they do. I’ve had quite a successful run recently, if I do say so myself.” He’d halfway grinned at her. “But the point is that I’ve only done it so we’d have enough to get away, to make a fresh start. After that, you won’t have to worry about me coming up with any harebrained schemes. I plan on taking a page out of the master’s book. We’re going to run the casino scam, Claire. We’re going to out-Official the Official.”
He’d really smiled at her then, but his smile had been met by her crossed arms and set jaw. “I see. So you expect me to give up my life, my work, my reputation to join you in a life of crime?”
Darien had sighed, cocked his head and simply looked at Claire. He’d known he’d have to convince her to come, that she wouldn’t abandon her life at the Agency willingly. But he had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. He was no stranger to emotional blackmail. In fact, he’d fallen victim to it too many times to count … when Kevin convinced him to leave the gland in for a few weeks of testing … when Liz roped him into helping Johnny Castagnacci. Yeah, he’d been taught how to play this game by some of the best. He’d known all too well how to use it and just exactly what he’d need to say to break Claire. After all, the best lies always had some truth to them, right?
“Your life. Your work. Your reputation. You don’t really love me, not truly. Oh sure, you like me well enough and hell, the sex is great, but what you really love is the gland. What you really love is Kevin’s dream, not me, not Darien, the man. I’m just the receptacle.”
He couldn’t have been any more brutal if he had slapped her. He’d watched Claire’s face crumble as his words had hit home, just close enough to the truth as to make her gasp an automatic denial.
“That’s not true! You know that’s not true, Darien.” He’d backed away as she’d tried to reach out and grab his hands.
“How, Claire? How do I know?” He’d scrubbed his hands through his hair, then suddenly grabbed her up by her shoulders and shaken her. “God, I’ve been a fool not to see it sooner. You’ve got the best of both worlds right now, don’t you? You’ve got your own private boy toy at your beck and call and you’ve still got your lab rat to carry on Kevin’s work,” he’d growled. “Why should you want anything to change? But you can’t have it both ways, Claire. You can be my Keeper or you can be my wife. The choice is yours.”
Slowly he’d lowered her off her toes and let go of her. He’d stood before her, hands at his sides, head bowed, and given her that forlorn look that had caused females as far back as his mother to cave into him.
Claire had sighed and pushed her hair back from her face. “Alright, Darien,” she’d said softly. She’d reached out and caressed his cheek, giving him a small smile. “If it’s what you want, then we’ll leave.”
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, Claire. Just to be free.”
And so they’d run. First to Las Vegas, where Claire had indeed made a beautiful bride. They’d stopped at The Little White Chapel and tied the knot before they’d even gotten a hotel room. From there they’d taken the bridal suite at the MGM Grand. Claire had been disappointed to find that Darien had planned to spend their wedding night ripping off the casinos instead of making love to her in their king-size bed. As an apology, Darien had bought her the biggest, most perfect diamond ring they could find.
They hadn’t stayed long in Las Vegas, though. It was too close to the Agency’s home base for comfort. Instead, a day and a half later, they’d taken a red-eye out to New York. From there they’d driven to Atlantic City. It had been a good temporary base of operations. They could scam some more casinos and they’d been close to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It hadn’t been cheap, but they’d managed to bribe their way into one of the companies’ labs after hours. There Claire’d found what she’d needed to brew up some counteragent.
After that they’d made their way to the Caribbean islands, which offered more casinos and a chance to set up a more permanent facility for Claire’s work. Whenever they’d needed additional funds, they’d hop scotched across the gambling globe – Mexico, Monaco, Nice, even back to Vegas once or twice. They’d been careful never to take too much, too often, and they’d rotated their appearances. Claire had been a brunette, redhead, long hair, short hair. Darien, thankfully, hadn’t had to change as often since he’d spent most of his time in the casinos invisible. It really had been the perfect scam – perfect that is until Monte Carlo. Perfect until Bobby Hobbes had come knocking.
Chapter 5 – That’s What Friends Are For
I’ve never been a man of many friends. Sure, I’ve had plenty of acquaintances and partners-in-crime, but real thick-and-thin types? Nah, not in my chosen profession. So imagine my surprise when the watchdog that damn Agency assigned to me turned out to be the best frickin’ friend I’d ever had. Vice versa, too, I think. Of course, where there’s friendship, there’s danger. Or in the words of Mark Twain, whom my Swiss Miss mother of an enemy once quoted: “It takes your enemy and your friend working together to hurt you to the heart.” But what happens when your enemy and your friend turn out to be one and the same?
Over the course of two years Darien and Claire had honed their Bonnie and Clyde routine to a science. The basics of the scam hadn’t changed much since the first time they’d run it in Las Cruces. In order to avoid being seen together, they had arrived at their target separately. Claire had always gone first class, just like the high roller she was supposed to have been. Darien had taken the less conspicuous route, relegated to shabbier rooms and shoddier service. He’d hated having to pose as a second-class citizen when they’d been running the scam for the Agency. Somehow, knowing that he had been playing the part of his own free will had made the indignity much more palatable.
Though Claire had understood the reasoning behind their separate accommodations, she had been unhappy with the arrangement. If she could have had her way, they would never have spent a night apart. Darien, on the other hand, had come to relish his freedom, even from her. In the end, it had been his refusal to give up this bit of freedom that had saved them both.
They’d been making a killing in Monte Carlo – almost enough to worry him but they’d done this enough that he had developed an easy sense of confidence. His headache hadn’t actually become a problem until well after midnight. He’d come from around the croupier’s side of the roulette table to whisper in Claire’s ear that it was time for his shot. Without waiting for her answer, he’d proceeded invisibly to the ladies’ room, their normal rendezvous for his fix. She’d followed him in a minute later, checking under the stalls to make certain they had been alone.
“So you got the good stuff there, sweetheart?” He’d eyed her tiny evening bag suspiciously. “’Cuz I’ve got the mother of all headaches starting here.”
“Darien,” she’d begun, her lips pressed in a firm line, “it’s too soon.”
“Too soon? What’s too soon? With the new recipe you’ve been using to cook up the juice lately, I haven’t needed a shot in almost five weeks.”
“Look, I’ve explained this before. Even though the new reagent we’ve refined is purer and it extends the life of the counteragent in your system, you can still build a resistance to it if we don’t carefully monitor the intervals between dosages.”
He’d watched her give her reply as if by rote, casually slapping one hand against the other to emphasize each point. He’d been wrong that night in her kitchen. She had been able to become both his Keeper and his wife … and right then he’d needed to get away from them both.
“Fine then,” he’d said, his headache and anger flaring simultaneously. “I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow afternoon. Two-thirty sharp.” He’d turned and left, ignoring her protests, not even bothering to quicksilver despite the shocked gasps from the ladies entering the room as he’d exited.
He’d practiced his breathing meditation as he’d made his way from the swank casino to the seedier section of the hotel. Unlocking his door, he’d tossed his tuxedo jacket carelessly to the floor and angrily undid his tie. He’d almost managed to stop his hand from shaking as he’d poured some Jack Daniels into a glass and gulped it down. It hadn’t carried the kick of counteragent, but it had helped dull the pain until he could manage to make Claire give him a real fix. She’d be at the door any moment with plenty of apologies and counteragent to go around, he’d thought. He’d poured another glass of JD, rolled his eyes and, with a jaded air, begun to count to ten.
The knock at the door, then, had come as no surprise. The sucker punch that caught him square in the jaw when he opened the door, however, did. He’d been knocked well and truly on his ass. The only reason he’d avoided serious harm was that the force of the blow had landed him front and center on his bed.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t find you, Fawkes? Did you really think you could frickin’ hide from Bobby Hobbes?” Hobbes glanced around the room, taking in the threadbare carpet and musty curtains, along with the half full bottle of JD on the bed stand. “This room fits you, Fawkes. Yeah, it’s just the perfect cage for an overgrown lab rat like you. Now, where is she?”
Darien had started to stand, then sunk back to the bed as his worst nightmare had become reality. He’d been looking down the barrel of Hobbes’ gun. “Hobbes, man, I know you’re pissed. I would be too in your shoes but c’mon, put the gun away and let’s talk this out….”
“There’s nothing you got to say to me that I want to hear, my former friend. Nobody stabs Bobby Hobbes in the back and gets away with it, you hear me? I don’t know what kind of crazy mind control you used on her, but you are not getting away with it. I’ll ask you just once more, where is she?”
The desperation in Hobbes’ voice had awoken the sleeping embers of QSM that Darien had so recently subdued. The flames had danced at Hobbes’ pain and they had licked at Darien’s veins wanting to inflict more. Instinctively Darien’s eyes had narrowed as he’d mocked, “I didn’t need any mind control, Bobby. I just gave her what she wanted – me. I married her, Hobbes. She’s my wife.”
Hobbes’ face had contorted, though whether in pain or rage, Darien had never known. A soft hiss had filled the space before the Agency’s self-appointed avenging angel could reply. Hobbes had pitched forward, jerking awkwardly and falling across Darien. Looking up in surprise, Darien had seen Claire standing in the doorway, a silencer muzzling her gun. "Jesus, Claire," was all he had been able to say as he'd stared down at the man he'd once called partner and friend and whose blood was now staining his hands.
She'd stepped into the room, calmly shut the door and pulled Hobbes off Darien. "Don't worry. He's alive," she'd stated, then gestured from Darien's bloody hands to the bathroom, "Throw me some towels. Then go clean up so we can get out of here."
Bobby had sunk to the floor, his eyes wide, staring at her in shock and accusation. "Why, Claire? Why?"
"Because I love him." Claire'd caught the bundle of towels Darien had thrown to her.
"But he doesn't love you. He never has."
Claire had bent down and pressed a wad of pristine white towels to his wound. Then she had leaned over, pressed a kiss on his cheek, and whispered, "I know."
She'd stood as Darien’d returned from the bathroom. Sliding his arm around her waist, he'd asked, "He'll be OK?"
"He'll be fine. It's a small wound, not life threatening, just enough to slow him down. Take his cell phone. We'll call 911 from the car -- that should give us enough of a head start."
Darien had grabbed a pillow from the bed and dropped it by Hobbes' head. "Take care, buddy," he'd said. "Believe me, I never wanted to hurt you, but I swear, if you come after us again, someone will get seriously damaged. Just let it go, Bobby." And then they'd left, eschewing their scheduled flight and hopping the train to Nice instead.
Shortly afterward, he'd noticed that Claire was focusing her research efforts more and more closely on enhancing and extending the efficacy of the counteragent. Sure, she'd still gone through the motions of looking for methods to remove the gland, but without any real enthusiasm. And he'd realized that he was suddenly farther away from that ultimate freedom than he ever had been at the Agency.
Claire was not a stupid woman, quite the contrary, which is why he'd needed her in the first place. After the first flush of romance had worn off, he'd seen her come to the realization that she wasn't the love of his life. He'd tried to not to let her know, had even tried to be faithful to her. When he couldn't, he'd been the very model of discretion. She'd never had to fear looking a rival in the face or a whisper of scandal behind her back.
He’d liked to think that over time, he had made his betrayal up to her somewhat. They had settled in the Cayman Islands, a little bit of paradise renown for its discreet banking laws and lack of extradition agreements, and he'd done his best to make her happy, fulfilling her wants and needs as completely as he could. He'd become a rich man and he'd spared her nothing. Beautiful clothes, beautiful jewelry, a beautiful house on a lavish island complex, all these were hers. Of course, he'd supplied the finest equipment, along with a hand-picked roster of assistants, for her laboratory.
And he'd given her a daughter, his daughter, Nicole. She'd been a miniature replica of Claire but with his dark hair and eyes. He could still see her in his mind's eye, a precocious six-year-old with a disarming mix of her mother's brilliance and her father's charm. She'd almost reached her seventh birthday when some drunken fool had gotten behind a wheel and slammed into the BMW that had been driving her home from school. Darien couldn't help but blame himself. He should have known better than to name her after his mother.
In the end, Claire had known one thing. She'd known he'd needed her -- for the research, the counteragent, Nicole. But Nicole was gone and without the gland, Darien would no longer truly need her. And he'd known Claire would never stand for that, so he'd watched helplessly as that door shut forever.
Not that he hadn't gained some measure of freedom. Claire's counteragent innovations had been generally successful. Each new formulation had laid the groundwork for the next improved version. Hell, he wasn't even tied to a needle anymore. Now he had a small implant, not unlike those for the contraceptive Depo-Provera, inserted into his left shoulder. This device allowed a carefully modulated amount of a time-release version of the counteragent to enter his blood stream. Depending on his Quicksilver usage, he could go anywhere from four to six months before needing a new implant.
Of course, it had been a long time since invisibility had been essential to his survival. He was a legitimate businessman now. He'd taken the money they'd stolen from the casinos and with the help of some very good accountants and lawyers had begun buying and selling companies. Much to his own surprise, he'd actually had a knack for it. Perhaps it was the former con man in him, or his natural charisma, or maybe even the take-no-prisoners attitude he'd copped from Monroe, but he'd learned that he could out-talk and out-bluff even the most experienced business sharks. In fact, for him, the thrill of the corporate con almost rivaled the thrill of the illegal kind.
They'd stopped running the casino scams after their last run-in with Hobbes. They hadn't really needed to get money that way and besides, it had been much too close a call. Instead, they had gone to ground, changing their names and appearances once again. Darien had grown his mustache and goatee and subdued his hair. Claire had looked striking with grey eyes and jet black hair.
They had always been careful to buy the supplies necessary for the counteragent through an ever-changing stable of brokers and dummy corporations. Hobbes was too smart of a bloodhound to miss trying to follow that trail to them. Hobbes. He had remained a thorn in their sides. Darien had been forced to make Fawkes.net a reality just to keep tabs on his tenacious ex-partner. Like a dog with a bone, Hobbes had refused to stop gnawing on the search for the former Invisible Man and his one-time Keeper.
The intervening years, though, had not been kind to Hobbes. The Official had retired after a heart attack just seven months after Hobbes had failed to capture Darien and Claire in Monte Carlo. Eberts, perhaps not surprisingly, had been passed over and the new head of the Agency had not been so forgiving of Bobby in his personal quest for revenge. When Hobbes had stepped out of line once too often to follow up a private lead, the Agency had cut him loose. With no other agency willing to take a chance on someone with his mental history, Hobbes had gone into business for himself. Instead of giving his all for his country, he’d tracked down people's runaway kids or snapped pictures of unfaithful spouses. Not a great trade-off in the grand scheme of things, but the money had been decent and it had funded his unrelenting manhunt.
Without the resources of the Agency, though, that hunt had been slow and painstaking. After Monte Carlo, Hobbes had never managed to come close enough to really worry Darien. At least not until now. Maybe all Hobbes' years of doggedly tracking down every lead and hunting down every clue had finally paid off. Or maybe Darien had just grown tired of hiding. Perhaps they'd been heading towards this confrontation since the day they’d first met in the chaos of that Mexican market. In the end, it didn't really matter to Darien. He'd just wanted it finished. And so it would be -- tonight.
Epilogue – Freedom’s Just Another Word
Once, when sitting on a bomb, I discovered that your life doesn’t flash before your eyes in the face of imminent death. Nope, this philosophic wanna-be’s deep thoughts had been: “Holy crap, I’m gonna die.”
Hobbes’ last words, when he thought he was sitting on a similar bomb, had been a bit more significant: “I love you, Claire.” That had come as no big surprise to me, much to Alex’s disappointment when she’d finally let the cat out of the bag. Nope, I’d known he’d loved Claire, even as I was betraying him by stealing her love.
Now I can try to justify that betrayal all I want with talk about Right and Necessity, but it’s never going to change one simple fact to an eye-for-an-eye kind of guy like Hobbes. I willfully betrayed him. I knowingly made him my enemy.
So perhaps it’s fitting that as I wait for my former friend, the only quote that comes to mind is from the Bible: “Have you found me, O my enemy?”
He stood facing the waves, hands in his pockets, still breathing in a slow, steady rhythm. As he stared out at the dark horizon, it wasn’t his mother, or Kevin, or Claire, or even Nicole of whom he thought. It was Adam Reese. He’d never seen the young boy returned to the life he should have had -- another regret in a lifetime full.
He’d once told Adam that sometimes you had to sit tight and wait for things to come back into your control. Well, he’d sat tight at the Agency until he’d been able to take control of his life -- and Claire’s – and plunged them both into the whirlwind. To all appearances, he’d succeeded. He was a rich man and no longer a slave to the Agency. The master of his own fate, some would say.
But for all that effort and will, he still had the gland in his head. He was still a slave to the Counteragent. He’d never been able to gain that ultimate freedom. And he was standing on a beach waiting for Hobbes, for his fate, to come to him.
He heard the soft sand shift under footsteps behind him. “Fawkes, don’t you know never to leave your back exposed? Didn’t you listen to anything I ever told you?”
“Yeah, well, there was a time when all I needed to know was that you had my back, Bobby.” Darien turned to face Hobbes. His former partner had changed since Monte Carlo – he was thinner now and what little hair he had left was white. His eyes, though, were exactly the same. Riveting in the intensity of their gaze. Haunting in their unspoken accusations.
“The only person who changed that was you. And don’t try to pull that buddy-buddy first name crap on me. I’m not falling for it, Darien.”
Darien heard his name come from Hobbes’ lips and felt the white-hot chill of it sear the depths of his soul. Hobbes had rarely used his first name, only when he was desperate or panicked. Now he’d turned that name into a channel for all the hatred and anger and sorrow that Darien had caused him. He’d twisted it and spat it out as though it was the worst sort of epithet. Darien wished he’d simply called him a mother-fu**er and been done with it.
Darien sighed and walked towards his ex-partner. “All right then, Hobbes, let’s dispense with the pleasantries. What is it you want? What is it exactly that you think you’re going to do here?”
"Simple. I’m doing what I always warned you I would if you stepped back over to the dark side. Bobby Hobbes is taking you in, my friend."
Hobbes pulled out his gun and stuck it point-blank into Darien’s chest. Darien looked at the gun and remembered when Hobbes had done the same thing outside Cabriel Hospital. His eyes had been silver then and he’d asked Hobbes to join him in his madness. He briefly considered doing the same now, but rejected the idea. No, Hobbes’ help had simply landed him back at the Agency then. He’d end up in Hell this time, if Hobbes had his way.
"Where, Hobbes? Just exactly where are you taking me in to? You're not with the Agency anymore and no other outfit would have you. Besides, what are you going to charge me with? You haven't got any proof -- none that isn't classified, none that would be believed."
"There's Claire, she'll tell the truth once she’s away from you, under oath, even if she is your wife."
"She's dead, Bobby. Claire's dead."
"Dead?" Hobbes continued to hold the gun on Darien, but it shook ever so slightly now. He dipped his head and massaged his temples with his free hand.
"Yes, Bobby. I'm sorry. She died about a month ago. Cancer...," Darien's voice broke as he choked on the word.
"God damn you, you bastard. Don't tell me you're sorry. You didn't love her. She was a tool to you, a means to get that gland out of your head. You just stole her ... you stole her life. You stole my life."
"No, Hobbes. I stole my life. I stole it back from Kevin, from the gland, from that damn agency you're still paying misguided allegiance to. They don't want you or your allegiance, Hobbes. They don't even want my life. All they want is the damn gland. Don't let them have it, Bobby. For God's sake, don't let them have it. For my sake ... for Claire's sake ...."
"Wrong answer, Fawkes. I'll see you dead before I hear you speak her name to me again." Hobbes' gun hand steadied as he pushed the weapon into Darien's chest.
And once again it was as simple as breathing. He felt the coolness of Quicksilver slide over his body as he faded from sight. All that remained was his whispered, "Please, Bobby. I have never wanted to hurt you...."
With a sharp intake of breath, Hobbes stared at the nothingness that had been Darien. Darien wondered briefly why his former partner should be so shocked. Hobbes had seen him pull this particular stunt countless times when they had been younger ... when they had been friends.
"So, she didn't take it out after all," Hobbes surmised as he whirled about, reaching his free arm out to try and locate Darien. "I should have known she wouldn't be fooled by you. She always was the smartest."
"You're wrong, you know, Bobby. I did love her. Maybe not like she deserved to be loved ... maybe not like you would have loved her ... but I did love her. And she would not have wanted it to end like this between us."
Darien stood behind Bobby now. Had he been Quicksilver mad, he would only have had to reach out his arm and snap the smaller man's neck to finish it. But it had been years since he'd been subjected to the madness, years since he'd felt that murderous rage infuse his veins. It was precisely the urge to extinguish that rage that had led him to make his escape. Now he was perfectly sane ... and completely incapable of harming the one man who held his freedom in his grasp, who had given him his unconditional friendship -- the one man he had betrayed beyond all reason.
But Hobbes didn't know that. Not when his instincts kicked in. Not when they told him that Darien was behind him and too close for comfort. Not when he pulled trigger. Not even when he watched the only friend he'd ever truly had come back into sight, lying in the surf.
Hobbes stared at the hole gaping in Darien's chest -- the hole he'd put there. Dazed by the realization of what he’d done, he knelt at his former partner's side and stared into Darien's perfectly clear, brown eyes. "God, Fawkes ... I'm sorry ... Jesus, this is bad ...."
Darien grabbed Hobbes hand. "No ... Bobby ... never wanted to hurt you ... never wanted to hurt Claire ... just wanted to be ... free." And with one last exhale of breath, he was.
I never was much for this quote thing, you know? That was always Fawkes’ shtick. That guy, he always had one to fit the situation. A frickin' walking Bartleby's Quotation book, he was. So how the hell do I wind up being the one standing here picking out his headstone? It's a weird world out there, my friends. But you know what? I think I got one for him. I remembered it from grade school, of all places. Frickin' spinster English teacher made us memorize it. Like Bobby Hobbes didn't have nothing better to do. I think he would have approved though ... nah, I'm sure he would have. Yeah, I'm sure I'm sure:
Vanquished in life, his death
By beauty made amends:
The passing of his breath
Won his defeated ends.
-- Lionel Pigot Johnson, British poet,
By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross