Darien looked blankly into space, not really seeing the man sitting behind the desk. It had been a rough couple of days for everyone involved and he, personally, was at the end of his strength and the end of his rope. The quicksilver gland in his head throbbed, hot and painful, which made concentrating difficult. One would think that the cold, silvery substance that coated his body in invisibility would be produced from something equally as cold, but it wasnít true. He didnít bother to explain that to anyone, because no one would understand.

"Fawkes!"

Blinking in surprise, coming back to himself, Darien realized that it wasnít the first time the Official had snapped his name in irritation, but covered his minor guilt with laziness. "Yeah?"

"If youíre through staring into space, Iíd really appreciate your attention."

The mild words were completely at odds with the sharp tone, but that was the Official; contradictions all over the place. He was probably in his mid fifties, with pale blue eyes and a round body that had earned him the somewhat malicious nickname "the fat man" from most of his agents. His physical condition being such a wreck was the antithesis of his mind and force of will. And a character of strength that pushed the old man to demand and give 200% from both himself and his agents that Darien couldnít help but admire...reluctantly.

"I think I could manage it better with a shot," Darien admitted honestly. Heíd come to discover that honesty with the Official really was the best policy. If only because the man had a sixth sense about knowing a lie the second it was uttered. Not that Darien didnít lie to the old man, he just picked the spots that would give him the best chance of getting away with it.

Scowling, the Official nodded and said, "Go get one then. Shouldíve done it the second you checked in, as regulations stipulate."

"Gotcha boss," Darien replied with a grin. His grin only seemed to irritate the Official more, but Darien ignored the glare and sauntered out of the room at a leisurely pace. What he wanted to do was book it down the hall and downstairs into the lab where his Keeper waited, but that would show weakness. Something he didnít really think he could afford in this place.

ĎJesus. Hobbesí paranoia is really starting to rub off,í he thought tiredly.

Of course, the fact that Hobbes was even now sleeping off painkillers for a bullet wound given to him by a double agent within the Agency showed that some paranoia was necessary for their work. If Hobbes werenít so paranoid, heíd be dead and Darien in the hands of the highest bidder. He shuddered at the thought of his partnerís death, not wanting to think how close Bobby had really come to it this time.

He finally arrived outside Claireís domain and slid his keycard through the lock. The door slipped silently open and he stepped inside, his eyes automatically looking for his partner. Bobby was still comatose and stretched out on a bed a short distance from where Claire worked at her computer. Darien headed straight for the dentistís chair where the Keeper administered the counter-agent.

"Oh Darien, Iím glad youíre here," Claire said, looking up from her computer. "There are some tests that I need to run on you."

For some reason, the shot no longer seemed as urgent as it had and he grinned, feeling lazy and relaxed. The heat felt good as it loosened his muscles. "Really? Now thereís a surprise."

She frowned, looking at him closely. "I think that you are riding it a bit too close, Darien. Let me see your arm."

Shrugging, Darien hopped onto the chair and pulled up his sleeve. The green of the dragon eating its tail was almost all gone, replaced by a malevolent red more than three-quarters of the way through the tattoo. He wondered if his eyes were beginning to show the affects of too much quicksilver as well.

"Much too close," Claire murmured. She spun quickly and grabbed the large needle filled with the potion that kept Darien sane and out of the more destructive side effects of the quicksilver gland. Tying the rubber around his arm, she found his vein and plunged the needle in, administering the shot almost in one fluid motion. She watched as his body jerked in reaction, his jaw clenching, his eyes closing in pain. There was always a little guilt when she did this. He was, basically, a slave to the government and, no matter his thieving background, no one should be put into this kind of situation.

"So, what kind of tests?" Darien asked through his teeth. The pain was rushing through his body, the icy cold counteragent battling to regain control of Darienís body against the hot tide of the quicksilver already in his bloodstream. Thinking about anything, even future tests on himself, was preferable to no distraction at all.

"Iíve been working on a new theory and need to borrow some of your blood," she replied.

"Borrow. So, like, youíre going to give it back then, right?" Darien teased, finally regaining some measure of pain-free thinking.

"Very funny," she replied, wrinkling her nose at him.

"So what kind of theory?"

"Nothing major, I wouldnít have even mentioned it, but I know how irritated you get when I take your blood for no apparent reason," she teased back at him.

"Gee thanks, Claire," Darien retorted.

"Any time Darien," she said mildly. She pulled out a new syringe and drained four test tubes worth of blood, carefully labeling each as she set them aside.

A groan from Hobbes made them both turn and Darien slid off the chair, heading directly for his partner. The shorter, Italian looking man was pale and weak, something Darien was not at all used to, and something he didnít like. Hadnít liked for the last two days. Hobbes should be on his feet, animated and making gestures of all kinds at Darien and everyone else. Heíd been shot only the previous day but had been running on empty, just like Darien, for days beforehand. "Hey partner, you okay?"

Hazel eyes opened and blinked a few times before focusing on Darien. Hobbes tried to say something but had to clear his throat first. "Been better, Fawkes. You okay?"

"Sure, Hobbes, you got the guy before he could get me," Darien answered with a faint grin. He put out his hand and Hobbes took it, his grip weaker than usual. Darien put his other hand over it, holding onto Hobbes. "You did good, my friend."

A cocky grin spread across Hobbesí face and he replied, "As always, my friend."

"Look at that. A simple compliment and he gets a swelled head, why am I not surprised?" Darien commented with a grin.

"If you donít mind Darien, our star agent here needs to get his rest," Claire commented.

"What? Oh sure, no problem. I will see you later, partner," Darien promised, reluctantly releasing his partnerís hand.

Hobbes smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Darien."

"Any time, Bobby."

"So. Whatís wrong, Keepie?" Bobby asked after the door closed behind Darien.

Startled, she replied, "Wrong? Thereís nothing wrong. What makes you think somethingís wrong?"

"Come on Claire, this is Bobby Hobbes youíre talking to, I know you. I know that tight little clench to your cute little jaw and the tension around those gorgeous eyes. Something is wrong."

Claire sighed. "Youíre impossible, you know that?"

"But Iím also right. And itís got something to do with Gland-boy, doesnít it?" Bobby guessed.

"Iím probably just being foolish."

"Why donít you spill it and let me decide if youíre being foolish?" Bobby ordered.

"How long was he invisible during this last mission?"

Frowning, Bobby thought for a long moment. "Total? Probably aboutľletís seeľfirst we were at the warehouse, then at Simpsonís, then in the warehouse again, then some night surveillance. Altogether, Iíd say about five or six hours."

"Over a span of how long?"

"About four days. Why? Whatís going on, Claire?" Bobby demanded. He was starting to get worried. It wasnít just being British that kept Claireís face incredibly polite this time; it was her way of hiding when she was very worried. A worried Keeper was not a good thing for his partner.

"Well, Iím not certain, I have to run some more blood tests of course, but, and I could be completely off-base here you understandľ"

"Claire! Just tell me."

"I think something is wrong with the gland," Claire blurted out.

Bobby froze then demanded, "Be a little more specific. Wrong how?"

"Heís needing too much of the counteragent for the amount of actual gland usage. Unless he might be using it and not telling us?" Claire wondered.

Bobby shook his head. "No way. I know Fawkes and he wouldnít screw around with something this important. Well, not again anyhow."

"I wish he were," Claire sighed. "Is he acting strangely lately? Any unusual behavior?"

"No. Before things went haywire, he was his usual annoying self," Bobby said. His shoulder was starting to hurt again and somehow it flashed an image of Darien with a bruise on his face. "Hey wait! I remember a couple mornings before the whole Simpson thing, I showed up at his place and he had this bruise just under his ear. Wouldnít tell me where he got it. Does that help?"

"It might," Claire said thoughtfully. "If he had a severe enough blow to the head, it could have damaged the gland."

"Wouldnít it have damaged Darien more, though? Enough at least so that weíd have seen something was wrong?" Bobby asked.

"Not necessarily. When did you last see him before you noticed the bruise?"

"It was the weekend, so I dropped him off Friday night and didnít see him again until Sunday afternoon," Bobby informed her.

"So if it happened Friday night, right after you dropped him off, Darien would have had all of Saturday and most of Sunday to recover," Claire observed. "Plenty of time for him to rest up from whatever happened and show little affects."

"What now?"

"I donít know. I think the best thing to do is run some tests both on Darien so I can see if the gland has shifted position, or swelled, or changed in any way."

"What if it hasnít?" Bobby asked.

"Then it could just be that the gland is starting to break down on its own, as predicted," Claire answered softly.

"What do you do if thatís the case?"

"Thereís nothing I can do, Bobby, and you know it. Weíve had this discussion how many times over the last few years? The gland is artificial but has latched onto Darienís brain in a symbiotic relationship. You know that I canít remove it without killing him. If something has gone wrong with the gland thenľ"

"Then Darienís screwed," Bobby finished for her.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, she nodded. "Iím afraid so."

* * * *

"Iím going to start calling you Bride of Dracula you know," Darien joked, holding out his arm.

Claire smiled briefly. "Itís probably nicer than what you used to call me when you first got here. When weíre done, I have some other tests that need to be done."

"Such as?"

"Just some routine brain scans is all."

"Brain scans."

"Right. Think of it as a check up, preventative medicine," Claire lied brightly. Dark eyes regarded her suspiciously and Claire had all she could do not to simply tell Darien everything. His surprisingly cooperative manner wasnít helping her conscience any, that was for certain.

What did help was Bobbyís absence. Sheíd sent him home that very morning so that he couldnít hover over Darien while she did her tests. Darien would take one look at Hobbes and know something was wrong. It was so odd because Hobbes was the best stonewaller she knew. But when it came to something being wrong with his partner, the agent became agitated and easily read. Claire grabbed her notebook and opened it up. "I just have a few questions to ask before we get into the actual testing."

"Go for it Doc," Darien said, leaning back in the chair. For some reason she looked nervous and he wondered at Hobbesí absence. "Hey, whereís Hobbes?"

"I sent him home this morning. The best thing for him now is rest," Claire answered.

"Right. Because if youíve got a gun shot wound then, you know, the best place to be is somewhere unsupervised in case of emergency," Darien said slowly. He glared and demanded, "Whatís going on here, Claire? Why donít you want Bobby around? He knows something I donít, doesnít he!?"

"Darien, calm down," Claire admonished. "Thereís no need in getting upset. I just have some monitoring on the gland to do. You know how Bobby gets when I put you under the microscope. I felt it best for all concerned that he not be here. And for your information, he is not unsupervised."

"Oh?"

"Thatís right. Iíll have you know that Eberts is watching him for the next forty-eight hours," Claire said defensively.

Darienís eyes rolled as he commented, "Iíll bet that went over real well."

"Yes, well, neither of them seemed very enthused at the prospect," Claire admitted, trying not to grin. "The point is that I have some tests to do on you and Hobbes has nothing to do with it."

"Yes maíam," Darien saluted sarcastically. Hobbes had nothing to do with anything, did he? Oh no, he just saved Darienís ass on a regular basis and kept America safe for democracy just about as often. It really burned him how little respect they showed Hobbes, even after all this time, though now obviously wasnít the time to voice that opinion.

Frowning, Claire ignored the sarcasm and started asking her questions. She had a feeling that it was going to be a long afternoon. "Have you received any sharp blows to the head within the past two weeks?"

"No."

"No?"

"Did I stutter? No. I have not had any blows to the head, sharp or otherwise."

Claire frowned, but simply checked something off in her notebook. "Have you had any colds or fevers within the last two weeks?"

"No."

"Any unusual head congestion, or sluggishness?"

"No."

The questions went on for almost a half-hour and by the end of it, Darien was wishing it had just been a simple stick of a needle or another Ďsuck out some bloodí session. No such luck, though. He probably shouldíve been honest with her at the beginning, but there was no way he was admitting to the fight last Friday. If he talked about that, heíd have to explain who heíd been with, and what had happened.

Darien had the near-claustrophobic experience of several MRIs and CAT Scans, which took up the rest of the day. When the last test was finally over with, he was cranky and tired with an aching head, again, and wanted nothing more than to go home and to bed. "Are we done?"

"My, arenít we in a snappy mood? This wasnít exactly my idea of fun either, Darien," Claire pointed out.

"Sorry Keep, Iím just tired," Darien apologized, rubbing his eyes. His headache was starting to blossom into a nuclear explosion.

"How about I buy you dinner for being such a good patient?" Claire suggested with a smile.

"As tempting as that sounds, Iím just going to go home and get some sleep."

"Oh. All right. Well, have a good night then."

"Thanks. You too."

Claire watched him leave, disappointed that he hadnít accepted her dinner invitation, but more disturbed that he seemed soľdefeated. Darien was many things, but defeated was not an adjective that anyone could really use to describe him. He was always a bundle of lazy energy, as much of a contradiction as that sounded. Sighing, she returned to her computer. There was work still to be done, after all.

* * * *

"Fawkes!"

ĎAh crap,í Darien thought wearily. He turned towards the voice and managed a sneer. "Yeah Burke? What is it?"

"Given any thought to my proposal?"

Darien eyed the smaller man for a moment before shaking his head. The pale blue eyes staring at him were rodent-like and the twitchy nose only enhanced the image. "You might not believe it, but I honestly had other things to consider besides your lame attempt to sucker me into a job that isnít possible."

Puffing up indignantly, Burke squinted his eyes at Darien and exclaimed, "It can so be pulled off if youíre the one on the inside. Címon Darien, everyone knows that youíre the dude!"

"Oh, Iím the dude?"

"Yeah man, youíre the dude!" Burke repeated.

"So why have some goon try and beat me into a pulp if Iím the dude?" Darien demanded, advancing menacingly.

Burke backed away, hands up in a placating gesture. "Listen Fawkes, that wasnít my idea, okay? I told them you didnít respond to that kind of thing. You canít hold me responsible for that!"

Darien lifted a hand to his ear and said, "What was that? What did you say? Oh wait, I thought you said that I couldnít hold you responsible for getting a two by four across my head. Guess what Burke? I sure as hell can, so beat it!"

That was when the same large man whoíd knocked him out the week before stepped out from around the corner. He was like any other oversized, muscle-bound gym type except for the gun holster around his shoulder. Why didnít the Agency have muscle like this? Darien sighed. "Iím guessing that youíre not here for a date."

A faint grin and the man shook his head. "Not tonight dear."

"Didnít think so," Darien said. He knew that there was no way heíd get to the street from here, not with muscle-man in the way. Behind him were Burke and the stairs and a shot at freedom with minimal pain. Hopefully. "All right. How about we talk about this? Iím a little more open to suggestions this time around since, you know, bullets are a little more permanent than two by fours."

Muscle-man shrugged and looked beyond Darien to Burke. While his attention was off, Darien spun and jumped past Burke towards the stairs. He got to the stairs and swung over the rail. It was only a one-story drop to the grass, but he staggered heavily, his knees and wrists screaming painfully at the impact. Ignoring his body, especially when a bullet thunked into the ground inches from where he was, Darien sprinted towards the street.

Using his long legs to full advantage, Darien ran flat out, unable to risk quicksilver in case someone was watching. So far they only wanted his thievery skills. If they discovered the quicksilver, he would be so royally screwed that it didnít even bear thinking about. No sense in advertising to the entire community of thieves. Unless they already knew about it somehow? Nah. If they did, theyíd never have let him escape. Burke might be a pain in the ass, but he wasnít stupid.

Without even thinking about it, Darien had run to Hobbesí apartment building. Gasping for breath, he punched in the code and waited impatiently for the door to open. It clicked open just as a car peeled to a stop on the street. Darien flung himself inside and a second later, the glass shattered from a bullet. He ran to the elevator and pushed the button frantically. He saw Muscle-man getting out of the car for a better shot. A red dot appeared on Darienís chest a split second before he jumped into the elevator and safety.

Lying on the elevator floor, dragging in air to his tortured lungs, he managed to push Hobbesí floor then stayed where he was until the doors slid open. Crawling out of the elevator, he knocked on the door and kept knocking until an irritated Hobbes shouted, "All right, already! Iím coming!"

Darien stayed on the hall floor, until the door opened after the unlocking of several locks. He looked up into Hobbesí shocked face and felt like crying in relief, but instead only gasped, "Hey partner."

"Darien? Christ, man, what happened? Get in here!" Bobby reached down with his good hand and helped him up.

Darien walked inside and immediately started locking the door for Hobbes; an action which garnered him a look of astonishment.

"All right, Fawkes. What the hell is going on?" Bobby demanded, sitting on the couch. "What kind of trouble are you in?"

Darien collapsed on the couch and just lay there, letting his breathing calm down for a few minutes until he could talk without sounding like an asthma victim. "Guy contacted me last week about a job. Before the whole Simpson thing. Industrial information theft from a big-ass, worldwide corporation. They decided that I was the only one for the job and didnít want to take no for an answer."

"Thatís where you got the bruise."

"Yeah. Met up with a two by four in the hands of a very large guy who enjoys his work," Darien confirmed. "So anyway. I havenít been home since everything started with Simpson, right? I go home tonight and find Burke waiting for me."

"The guy."

"Right, the guy. Plus Muscle-man. Only this time heís got a gun and looking a lot more serious than before when he just bashed my head in. I got away, but they followed me here. Shot in your front door, by the way."

Bobby stared at him for a long moment. "Why didnít you say anything before now?"

Darien shrugged. "I figured they got the message that I wasnít interested and that it was over with. You know, the, take-my-lumps-and-we-move-on sort of thing, no hard feelings."

"Obviously they donít feel that way," Bobby observed, eyes darkened and narrowing.

Darien nodded agreement and waited for The Plan. He knew that Bobby was pissed, but whether at him or the situation, he couldnít tell. All he knew for sure was that he felt a hell of a lot safer now that Bobby was there to take care of things.

"So they know where you live and now they know where I live," Bobby said.

"Well, not specifically. I couldíve gone into any of the apartments," Darien pointed out.

Bobby grimaced sourly and said, "Doesnít matter. You got a way to get in touch with this guy?"

"Yeah sure. Why?"

"Because it looks like we got a new case."

"Bobby, youíre not in any condition to be running around with these people. Youíre not in any condition to be running around with Teletubbies right now," Darien protested with worry.

Hands on hips, Bobby demanded, "Are they going to leave you alone?"

"Uh, no. Probably not."

"Then weíre in this together, partner," Bobby said firmly. He held out his fist and Darien punched it lightly with his own, Bobby returning the gesture.

There was a silent moment before Darien wondered aloud, "Whereís Eberts?"

Bobby snorted. "Youíre observant. He was driving me nuts so I sent him packing. That man is so anal his asshole has an asshole with a pole up it."

"Itís not too smart to be here alone with a bullet wound," Darien said, trying desperately to avoid the image that Bobbyís words insisted on conjuring in his mind.

"Iím not alone."

"But you would have been if I hadnít been chased over here," Darien countered.

With a smirk, Bobby questioned, "Fawkes, what were you planning to do tonight?"

"Uh, go home and watch tv."

"And what do you always do when you get bored with the tv?"

"Call you."

"And then what do you always do after we talk?"

"Come over here and hang out."

"Right. So like I said. Iím not alone."

* * * *

"Bobby! Please tell me that Darien is there!"

"Well hello there Keepie, good to talk to you too. Iím fine by the way," Bobby said into the phone.

"What? Oh, good. Now, please, tell me that Darien is with you," Claire repeated.

"Yeah he is, but weíre kind of in the middle of something. Why? Whatís up?" Bobby asked, staring at Darien stretched out on his couch, eyes closed and his chest moving regularly in sleep. The younger man had fallen asleep shortly after making the call to Burke. Bobby wasnít sure what it was, but something about being in his apartment made Darien drop off. Theyíd be maybe twenty minutes into some television show and, like clockwork, Darienís eyes would close and his head would wind up on Bobbyís shoulder.

Not that heíd dream of complaining about that.

"The gland has definitely been damaged. There was some swelling from the head injury that he said never happened. I can bring it down, but I need him here right away," Claire explained.

Grimacing, Bobby said, "Right well, thatís a problem, Claire."

"Problem? Why?"

There was a knock at the door and Bobby hung up without answering. He knew that she would send a team over to see what was going on so there wasnít a lot of time. He shook Darienís shoulder to wake him then continued to the door. Looking back, he saw Darien shake himself the rest of the way awake, then the younger man stood up. Wearing the suit jacket, Bobbyís injury wasnít evident but his gun holster was.

He nodded at Darien then opened the door. A little man, shorter than Bobby by a good three inches, stood there, dwarfed by two large men, one of whom, Bobby presumed, had been the one about to kill his partner. He squashed the anger and directed a false smile at the small man. "You must be Burke. Come in."

Bobby turned and walked back to Darien, winking at his friend to reassure him before facing his Ďguestsí. "Have a seat, please. Fawkes, why donít you get Burke something to drink?"

Darien looked like he was going to protest, but Bobby glared and he subsided, going quietly to the kitchen.

Burke was surprised at the exchange and sat, the two goons standing behind him. "And you are?"

"I am Darienís employer, Robert," Bobby lied smoothly, sitting on the couch and crossing his legs. "We need to clarify a few things here, just so thereís no future mistakes. The reason that Darien refused you wasnít because he was averse to the job, but because he clears everything with me and Iíve been unavailable, out of town."

"His employer?" Burke repeated skeptically, taking a beer from Fawkes. Everyone knew that Fawkes worked solo, it was practically a law.

Bobby shrugged. "Among other things."

Burkeís eyebrows rose as Darien moved to stand behind the other man, one hand at first moving to cover Robertís shoulder, then jerking back as though heíd thought better of it. ĎThis is new,í he thought in surprise. Darien Fawkes with any man was a bizarre thought, though the air of command and power to the man explained a lot.

Burke had only dealt directly with Fawkes a few times, but had observed him a lot. The younger man had always gone for women that were cool and contained, powerful in their own rights as thieves and planners. Now it seemed that Fawkes had decided to find himself a first class backer, once and for all. Burke saw the expensive cut to the suit and the bulge of the gun beneath it; intentional, Burke was sure. "I see. So, Robert, what do I do to acquire Mr. Fawkesí talents for this particular job? I assume that he told you the details."

"He did," Bobby agreed. He pursed his lips and looked at his watch. Five minutes left, tops. "Iím afraid that I have other uses for Darien at the moment. I do appreciate the offer, but at this time it is simply not feasible."

"Not feasible," Burke repeated blankly. "Has he informed you who I work for?"

"Of course. I donít see how that makes a difference," Bobby said negligently, looking at his watch again.

"My employer does not take no for an answer," Burkes stated, standing.

"Iím afraid that where Fawkes is concerned, heíll have to. You can tell all your little friends that Fawkes is off the market until I determine otherwise," Bobby informed him firmly.

"But as far as I can see, you arenít using him for anything. Well, except maybe a toy," Burke sneered.

"As it happens, Fawkes is much more than a toy in that regard, but thatís another story," Bobby replied in cool amusement. He grinned, enjoying how much it unnerved the little man. "As for his other talents, I am using them in challenging ways that you certainly would not have heard about. If you had heard about the jobs heís pulled for me, then he wouldnít be the best now, would he?"

A faint smile crossed Burkesí face as he conceded, "Well, thatís true enough. Still, I canít bring back a negative answer to my employer, Iím sure you understand."

"Of course. Though if you wish to leave here alive, you will," Bobby said quietly, all amusement gone. "You donít seriously think that I would let you in here without security, do you little man? Oh dear, whatís that on your chest?"

Burke swallowed heavily as a laser sight appeared on his coat. He glanced at Fawkes and saw that the thief hadnít moved. Neither had Robert. The gun sight was definitely coming from elsewhere, which meant snipers. He looked back at Robert and the hard look on the manís face sent a shiver of fear through him. For someone not much bigger than Burke, he gave off a decidedly threatening air. "So I will just leave here now, we will leave here now, and no one will get hurt."

"You will leave Mr. Fawkes alone, never to trouble him again."

"Of course! Fawkes is in your employ after all, youíre the one who determines what he does," Burke exclaimed, backing towards the door.

"Exactly," Bobby hissed. "Now get out before I lose my temper."

The door closed behind all three men and Darien exploded into laughter. "God! I thought I was going to piss myself from not laughing at his expression! Hobbes, how the hell did you conjure up a gun sight?"

Bobby grinned and waved out the window. "Just our friends at the Agency, Fawkes. Speaking of which, we need to get you to the lab ASAP, my friend."

"What? Why?"

"Claire called while you were sleeping and said that the gland was damaged when muscle-man there hit you upside the head."

Darien groaned all of a sudden.

"What? You okay?" Bobby demanded, worried.

"Now everyone thinks that Iím, that weíre, you know! Iím never going to get another date in my life!"

Bobby grinned, unrepentant.

"You did it on purpose!" Darien accused.

"Hey, now, would I do that to you, partner?" Bobby said, stressing the last word with a wink. He locked the apartment door behind them and they walked to the elevator.

"Oh sure. Play it up my friend. Just remember that now the underworld thinks thereís some new player in town named Robert who keeps Darien as a boy-toy," Darien pointed out as Hobbes hustled him towards the van.

Bobby shrugged as he unlocked the passenger side. "What do I care?"

Darien frowned, not sure how to take the statement. He shook off the thought and climbed into the passengerís seat. His head was killing him and it would be good to get things back to normal. It wasnít that he minded the implications of him and Bobby together; it was just that it wasnít true. He would have to find out how far the info trickled into the community and do some damage control.

Later.

* * * *

"So the next time you get knocked upside the head you will do us all a favor and come see me about it, right?" Claire demanded.

"Yes, Keeper. I will be a good little boy and report to you all of my boo-boos," Darien sighed.

"Darienľ"

"Iím sorry, Claire. I will, honestly, I just need to get some sleep," Darien pleaded.

"Okay then. Go on with you," Claire ordered, smiling kindly.

"You about ready there, partner?" Bobby asked, walking into the room.

"Definitely!" Darien exclaimed. He hopped off the demented dentistís chair and grabbed his jacket, meeting Hobbes half way, then leaving the lab altogether. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was almost midnight and yawned.

"Still tired?" Bobby asked in surprise.

"Hey give me a break here. Iíve been damaged for almost week now and doing pretty damned good on practically no sleep," Darien exclaimed.

"Thus speaks the civilian," Bobby teased as they walked down the hall. "Have you seen me sleeping lately? I think not. But you donít hear me bitching about it."

"Because youíre a trained professional," Darien agreed, rolling his eyes.

"Youíd better believe it my friend," Bobby said. The night air was cool, and he had to clench his jaw to prevent a yawn from making a liar out of him.

"I saw that."

"Saw what?"

"Saw that. That yawn."

"I did not yawn."

"Yes you did. I saw you! You are so busted, Hobbes."

"Yeah sure. Whatever."

"Oh sure. Now that the shoeís on the other foot."

"Bite me, Fawkes."

Darien snorted, waiting as Bobby unlocked the van from inside to give his response. "You wish, Hobbes."

"I wish what?"

"You said bite me. I said you wish."

"Can you get any more childish?" Bobby demanded, starting the engine.

"Sure I could. You wanna see?" Darien offered with a grin.

"No, I do not want to see. I see plenty on my own, my friend," Bobby said. The rest of the drive was quiet, for which Bobby was grateful. He was exhausted, actually, and his system was more than ready to crash. To be honest, once he dropped Fawkes off, he was seriously considering sleeping a few hours in the van so he didnít get into a damned car accident falling asleep at the wheel. He suspected that there were still painkillers left in his body from earlier in the day, even though his shoulder was throbbing painfully in time to his pulse.

He glanced over at Fawkes and had to smile. Darien was out like a light, his long form sprawled uncomfortably against the door, legs spread at awkward angles because of the scant room. His face looked a lot younger when he slept, Bobby thought with a pang. It pricked at his conscience sometimes, the way he had to ride herd on Darien. They were really good friends, true partners, after all the shit theyíd gone through.

His thoughts turning back to the eveningís events with Burke and associates, Bobby wondered why heíd played things out as he had. He knew the conclusions that pissant little shit would come to about him and Darien, but had done it anyhow. Heíd played with Darienís reputation, even if it was to the criminal element, and that had been wrong. It didnít matter that Hobbes hated the ties Darien kept with that world because that was Darienís right. He could hang with anyone he wanted, so long as no laws were broken.

But he worried about his partner. Bobby didnít want Darien slipping down that path again and would do anything to keep that from happening. Including letting the hoods think that he and Darien were lovers. He snorted quietly, wondering how much of a kick the Official would get out of that. Bobby held no illusions that this eveningís stunt had not been monitored very closely.

Darien shifted in his sleep and Bobby looked at him again. Him and Darien lovers? Yeah, right. Like the kid would ever entertain taking up with a paranoid schizo like Bobby Hobbes. Maybe heíd done it to see just how Darien would react. Darien had certainly followed his lead without batting an eye, though his irritation after the fact had confirmed what Darien really thought of that particular scenario.

Sighing, Bobby brought the van to a gentle stop outside Darienís apartment building. "Hey, Fawkes. Weíre here."

Darien muttered something and shifted into a slightly less uncomfortable position.

"Hey. Hotshot. Wake up," Bobby ordered, shaking Darienís shoulder.

Bleary dark eyes stared at Bobby for a second before they closed again and he murmured, "Get your own pillow, I got mine."

Chuckling, Bobby shook his head, knowing heíd have to drag Darien to his apartment. Unbuckling, he got out of the van and pulled open the door, catching his friend as the taller man fell out.

"Geeze Fawkes, youíre a pain in the ass, you know that?" Bobby commented without any heat.

Slinging an arm around Darienís waist and pulling one of his partnerís arms over his shoulder, Bobby half-walked, half-dragged Darien across the lawn and up to the apartment. He ignored the ever-sharpening pain coming from his injury since there was no other way to get Darien back to his apartment. It was tricky, getting Darienís keys out since they were buried in his front pocket. Bobby froze as Darienís cock moved and he muttered crossly, "Knock it off, Bobby, Iím trying to sleep."

Eyes widening, Bobby didnít do anything for a long second as Darien snuggled closer. Snuggled! Bobby was in shock as his friend nuzzled his throat then kissed it, lips warm and soft. Finally he managed to pull out the keys and unlocked the door, kicking it shut behind them. "Come on, partner, just a few more feet and Iíll get you all tucked in."

He managed to drag Darien the rest of the way to the bedroom then pushed him onto the bed. To

his surprise, Darien didnít let go and pulled him down on top of him. Long arms surrounded him, holding him tight as Darien sighed peacefully. Bobby didnít move for a long minute, enjoying the sensation of being in Darienís arms. Knowing that this was the only chance he was likely to get, Bobby pressed a kiss to Darienís lips before carefully extricating himself.

"Hey. Bobby?" Darien asked groggily, leaning up on his elbow.

"Yeah?"

"Take the couch. Youíll never make it home, tough guy," Darien ordered around a yawn.

"Iíll make it," Bobby promised, inching towards the door.

"Bobby, just take the damned couch, okay?"

Bobby bit his lip then figured it wouldnít hurt anything so nodded, even though Darien wouldnít see it with his eyes closed. "You got it, partner."

* * * *

Darienís eyes opened and he frowned. He was in bed, his bed, but he was fully clothed and had no idea how heíd gotten home. Last thing he remembered, Claire was giving him some shot that would take down the swelling in his brain and, hopefully, the gland too. It must have been Bobby who got him home since no one else really cared enough to bother. Claire probably would have had him sleep it off in that damned dentistís chair.

Stretching, Darien sat up and pulled off his sneakers and socks, sighing in relief at the cool air hitting his feet. Standing, he stretched again then padded barefoot across the bedroom and into the living room. There was a lump on his couch, buried under a thin sheet and Darien grinned at the image Hobbes presented.

Then he frowned, realizing that Hobbes was shivering. He went back to the bedroom, grabbed his comforter and draped it over his partner. Bobby pulled the blanket tighter to him and Darien moved quietly to the kitchen, knowing his friend needed to sleep. He wondered how Bobby had managed to get him all the way from the van to his apartment with the injury and bit his lip, not liking the answer. Bobby had obviously ignored his own well being to get Darien someplace safe.

Again.

Gazing out at his friend, Darien murmured, "Weíre gonna have to work on that martyr complex, my friend."

Darien moved as quietly as he could, making some toast for breakfast, then returned to the living room and pulled out a book. He might as well catch up on his reading while keeping an eye on Hobbes. Turnaround was fair play, after all. Now it was Fawkesí turn to baby-sit Hobbes. Which wasnít a bad deal, he rarely got a chance to really look at his partner. Darienís mouth curved into a slow smile as his eyes contemplated the oddly handsome man sleeping in his living room.

Bobby definitely wasnít classically handsome; he was balding, and his nose was too big to fit that category. But the eyes revealed a dark intensity of being and belief that sometimes took Darienís breath away. Bobby bordered on fanatical once he believed in something and every so often, Darien thought he saw those things when Hobbes looked at him. Not to mention that Hobbes was in fantastic shape: short, but powerful, with broad shoulders and the endurance of a triathlon athlete.

Darien alternated between watching Hobbes and reading, but his thoughts roamed, not really paying attention to the book. He didnít like to think about how much Bobby meant to him, and most of the time, it wasnít an issue. They were best friends, they hung out, hassled the Official and Eberts together, as often as possible, and that seemed to be plenty for Hobbes. Even after four years together, Darien was still surprised that Bobby trusted him like he did. He knew that Bobby would die for him; theyíd saved each otherís lives too often for him not to know it.

A couple of hours went by before Hobbes groaned and woke up. Darienís eyes shifted from the book back to the lump on his couch and he grinned, dispelling the reflective thoughts as quickly as possible. "Morning."

Another groan and Bobby rasped, "What the hell time is it?"

"About ten in the am," Darien answered cheerfully.

"Got to get to work, Fawkes, what were you thinking?" Bobby demanded, trying to sit.

Dropping the book in alarm, Darien rushed to the couch and held his partner down. "That youíve got a bullet wound youíre still recovering from and you need to rest is what I was thinking."

"Iím fine," Bobby insisted even though he wasnít. His shoulder was throbbing with fire and he felt all-over crappy, probably had an infection or something.

"Youíre not fine, and youíre staying put," Darien ordered firmly, keeping his hand on Bobbyís shoulder. He could feel the heat coming through Bobbyís shirt and frowned, moving his hand to Bobbyís face and feeling just as much heat. "On second thought, maybe I should call Claire."

"Iíll be fine. Just get me some aspirin or something," Bobby suggested. It was hard to take the obvious worry and concern coming from Darien. Bobby wanted to be anywhere but where he was right then. Darienís hand slid down his face to stop at his collarbone, staying there as their eyes met. For once Bobby couldnít think of anything to say, let alone anything smart-assed.

"An aspirin," Darien repeated slowly. He knew, suddenly, why Bobby had been so overprotective lately; could see it in the other manís eyes. Bobby cared for him as more than a friend and Darien was floored. It had never even occurred to him that Bobby would go that way at all, let alone with him.

"Yeah, Ibuprofen or whatever," Bobby managed to say. He collapsed against the cushion, no longer fighting Darienís strong grip. He knew that Darien knew; could see the newfound knowledge in his partnerís eyes. He just didnít have the energy to deal with it at the moment. "Look, Fawkes, Iľ"

"Itís okay, Bobby," Darien interrupted. "Stay put, Iím calling Claire."

"DarienÖ"

"No, really, Bobby. Itís okay," Darien assured him. He didnít know what he was reassuring his partner about just then, but it didnít really matter. Hobbes grunted and closed his eyes, too tired to argue apparently. Shaking his head with dark amusement as he walked to the phone, Darien muttered, "Shouldíve known the only way to shut you up would be a bullet."

"I heard that."

Darien chuckled and picked up the phone, dialing the familiar number automatically.

"Keeper here."

"Hey Claire."

"Darien, where are you? You were supposed to come in this morning, remember?"

"Actually, I donít. But Hobbes is having some trouble. I think heís got a fever from the wound," Darien said.

"You think?"

"I donít have a thermometer. But heís way hot to the touch," Darien explained.

She sighed. "Well. First check and make sure the wound isnít bleeding, clean the site for good measure, and replace the bandage with a fresh one. If it hasnít started bleeding, then give him some ibuprofen to bring the fever down. Itíll help with any other aches he has as well."

"What if it is bleeding?"

"If itís bleeding, or the stitches have come out, bring him in and Iíll take care of him," Claire promised.

"Will do."

"Call me later with an update."

"I will, thanks Claire." Darien hung up the phone and walked over to the couch. "Sorry buddy, but Iíve got to take a look at your wound."

Hobbes groaned and struggled to sit. Darien helped, propping him up with pillows. "Oh wait, I should get the stuff first. Be right back."

It took a few minutes and when he returned, Darien was holding an armful of gauze, an ace bandage, a towel and a large bowl of warm water. He set everything down on the coffee table then sat next to Bobby. He carefully unbuttoned Hobbesí shirt and pushed it aside, helping Bobby pull his arms free. Darien was surprised at how much of Hobbes was solid muscle. He was relieved to see the outer bandage blood free, but pulled it off anyhow.

Then the smaller bandage came off as well, revealing an ugly, red scar held together by stitches. Of course, once the bandage was off, he saw just how close to the heart the bullet had come. Shocked, he looked up at Bobby and breathed, "Jesus, Bobby, why didnít you tell me it was this bad?"

"All in the line of duty, kid," Bobby answered weakly. It was worse than heíd thought. He was further gone than heíd thought. For a long time, it had just seemed a simple attraction to a handsome man with a good heart. He had purposefully not delved any deeper into it for fear of what he might find. But you donít get someone willing to die for you and have a relationship that stays at Ďjust friendsí.

Bobby closed his eyes, unable to bear the shell-shocked look in Darienís eyes. He had told Claire to keep the injury talk light, that he didnít want to worry Darien. That had been true, but the reason behind the reason was that if he saw how much Darien cared, that meant there might be the potential for something more to their partnership. A random thought crossed his mind and to distract himself from Darienís fingers carefully probing his injury, Bobby prompted, "What did you mean?"

"About what?" Darien asked absently, trying to be as gentle as he could while cleaning the wound.

"A few years ago, when I was super-brain and completely nuts, you said, ĎIn fact, Iím pretty sure thereís one thing about me you donít know.í" Bobby reminded. "What donít I know, Darien?"

"Bobby, I donít think this is a good time," Darien said uncomfortably. He remembered those words as though theyíd been spoken yesterday. Heíd been frantic with worry about getting Bobby back, his Bobby, not the suped-up IQ Bobby that didnít care about anything.

"Now is the perfect time," Bobby said quietly. What the hell, right? If he was wrong, then heíd end up with a new partner and a slightly worse career. But if he was right, it would be worth it. He reached up with his good hand and stopped Darienís cleansing motions, holding onto the larger hand and looking up at his partner.

"I, uh, I meant," Darien stopped, unable to form the words. Hobbes might be screwed in the head with that lithium Ďscrip, but it was Darien who was screwed in the heart. Every single person heíd let in had betrayed him, tearing his heart to shreds. Or died, he thought bitterly. "I would die for you Bobby. Thatís what I meant."

"Why?" Bobby whispered.

"You have to ask?" Darien whispered back. At Bobbyís nod, he sighed and warned, "Iím a bad risk, Bobby. You know me. Iím a screw up and that goes all the way through."

A wry grin crossed Bobbyís face and he said, "If I really believed that partner, I wouldnít feel this way. Not many people get invited to Camp Hobbes, but youíve got a lifetime invitation, Fawkes. If you want it."

"Donít do this Bobby. You canítÖyou canít trust me, not like that," Darien said shaking his head. "Iíll screw it up."

"Just tell me one thing." Bobby held Darienís eyes as the younger man nodded silently. "Do you want it?"

"God, yeah," Darien breathed, unable to look away from those dark eyes if his life depended on it.

"Good enough for me, partner." Raising his good hand to cup Darienís face, Bobbyís thumb brushed lightly over the full, lower lip. "Weíll take it as it comes, Darien. No pressure, and nothing more than you can handle. I promise I can wait for you."

Darien swallowed hard. If Bobby promised, then it was as good as done. He held his breath as Bobby leaned forward and pressed his lips to Darienís. For a couple of seconds, Darien didnít do anything. Before Bobby could try and take it back, Darien opened his mouth and gently returned the kiss. It was short, but infinitely wonderful and he sighed as his partner pulled away. Opening his eyes, though he didnít remember closing them, Darien stared into the dark eyes so close to his own. He murmured, "That was nice."

Bobby snorted, honest amusement entering his eyes. "Thatís one word for it."

Chuckling, Darien sat back on his heels and said, "Iím going to finish cleaning you up, and wrapping you up, then you, my friend, are going take these ibuprofen and go to sleep."

Eyes rolling, Bobby replied, "Yes, master. Anything you say, master."

Grinning unrepentantly, Darien agreed, "And donít you forget it."

It didnít take long to finish the job, especially now that Bobby was being more cooperative. He moved them into the bedroom so Bobby could stretch out comfortably. Darien settled back into a watching position and picked up his book again.Though he probably wouldnít be paying any more attention to it now than he had before. They would have to be careful, but Darien knew that their future together would be worth anything they had to go through for it. He thought about his partnerís promise, warmth flooding inside.

A lot of people had made him a lot of promises in his life, and heíd even believed most of them. This was the first time though, that Darien was sure he wasnít going to get burned. Not by the person making the promise anyhow. A slow smile crossed his face as he contemplated his sleeping partner.

Knowing Bobby as he did, Darien knew he was loved even if the words hadnít been spoken. The other man wouldnít have made any promise if deep feelings werenít involved, let alone a vow like that. He also knew that he wasnít the only one with trust issues. Theyíd been partners and best friends far too long for Darien not to understand the chance Bobby had taken, exposing himself like that.

Darien made his own, silent promise to the now-oblivious man on his couch. ĎIt wonít be long, Bobby. I swear.í

That settled, at least in his own mind, Darien got off the chair and lay carefully on the bed. Just being near Bobby put him at ease, and he yawned. Figuring that he could catch up on more sleep, Darien shifted as close to his injured partner as possible without actually touching.

Closing his eyes, Darien tried not to think about what theyíd be doing once Hobbes was all healed up. It was way too distracting. Ignoring the temptation only a couple of inches away, Darien yawned again and allowed himself to drift into sleep.

Bobbyís promise echoed through his mind, sending Darien to sleep with a smile on his face.

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