Paranoia

By Lucy Hale

Part One

"What is this world that is hastening me toward I know not what, viewing me with contempt?"

He shut the book and set it beside his bed with a sigh.

Kahlil Gibran. A Middle Eastern philosopher and poet, Bobby had first heard of him in the Gulf, when one of the guys in his company had handed him a book to distract him one long night. The Prophet. It was a successful distraction, and since then had remained one of Bobby's Hobbes' favorite books.

Gibran put some lofty ideas through the mouth of his Prophet, and Bobby hadn't figured he'd like it. But he found himself agreeing with most everything the guy had to say. Gibran used some bigger words and more symbolic and metaphorical language than Bobby would have liked, but the sentiments were definitely something he could get behind.

There was a chapter in that book, one Bobby read over and over again, that he agreed with more than others. That chapter discussed the often-used sentiment that a chain was only as strong as its weakest link. It was a load of crap, Gibran stated. Chains, and people, and whatever else applied, were as strong as their strongest link, and also as weak as the weakest.

Applied to people, it meant that the worst, most hateful and violent people in the world weren't some kind of exception, some kind of weak chain bogging down the loftiness of human nature. Those hateful and violent people were that way because hate and violence were there in all people. The capacity to kill and destroy and hate were in every single person in the world, just like the capacity to love and sacrifice and be happy were in everyone.

Or something like that. That's what Bobby figured the guy meant, anyway.

And that basic principle was one Bobby had held for a long time. No matter how innocent or sweet people seemed, or even were, there was the capacity in everyone to turn violent, to lash out without reason, to kill and destroy. Mother Theresa could've snapped and turned a gun on some crowd, because she shared the same basic flawed human nature as every other shmuck walking around the earth.

That's what people didn't understand. People who made fun of the way Bobby lived, and the things he thought. They didn't get that psychotic criminals were once normal guys or girls who just snapped one day. No one knew why, or how, or whether it could be stopped.

And that made every single person walking around the earth a threat.

He sighed and reached for his lamp to shut out the light and get some sleep.

His hand froze halfway to the light.

He had locked the door.

Of course he had. He always did. He locked the door to the apartment, and the door to his bedroom. He had the light on in the living room to make it appear to anyone looking through a window that someone was still awake in the apartment. He had his alarm set to go off if the door was opened.

His hand hesitated in midair, then dropped, leaving the light on. He knew, absolutely knew that he'd done everything he had to.

But what if he hadn't?

Couldn't hurt to check.

Bobby slung the cover off him and stood, padding to the door. Hesitating with his hand on the knob, he held his breath and listened.

It seemed quiet, but God only knew what could be out there. If he had forgotten anything, any thief with a slight talent for stealth could be right by the door, waiting to kill him when he showed his face.

His heart started thumping and his mouth went dry.

But he was resolved. Tensing, ready for battle, Bobby turned the knob slowly and quietly. He cracked the door the first inch, and peeked his eyes out.

Nothing seemed to be out there.

He drew in a deep, quiet breath, then flung the door open, eyes darting to every corner and every visible space.

The apartment was small, and there wasn't much furniture. The living room light was burning, and the furniture had been placed so that there were no shadows large enough to hide an adult person.

Bobby's eyes scanned the familiar space. He had chosen this apartment because of its one bedroom and open-aired living and kitchen space. From his doorway he could see anyone else in the apartment, as long as the bathroom door was open wide.

He looked over. It was.

The door had to be locked. Had to be. He would never forget to.

But what if he had?

He moved slowly, stepping into the open space beyond the doorway, tense and ready. His stomach churned in nervous energy as he passed the window.

The window wasn't much threat. He'd had bars put on the day he moved in. Strong bars set close together. The glass itself was vulnerable, but he couldn't do much about that. And the drapes he had were heavy and thick. No one could see in past those, no matter how many lights were burning. And no one could hide behind those drapes without an obvious bulge showing.

He made it to the door, and his eyes instantly went to the alarm panel. The light was flashing red, showing it was armed.

Good. As long as the thing wasn't malfunctioning, he'd be pretty safe. Problem was, it was a machine, and machines broke down. He couldn't trust the alarm fully. No one could trust those things. They could be turned off, destroyed. They could break down, and they probably did, all the time.

He stopped his line of thinking. Never did any good to get worked up about things like that, his shrink would tell him. That was one of those matters out of Bobby's range of control.

Range of control. According to the present shrink, Doc Number Eight, Bobby had to sort out the range of his control. It was no good worrying about the weather, as she put it, because that was out of his control. It was in his control to carry around an umbrella or gloves or whatever.

Simple as that. He couldn't control the computer technology behind the alarm system, so he shouldn't be worried about it.

Simple. Yeah, right.

Bobby tried the doorknob leading out. It didn't move. Locked, as he remembered.

Good.

The first bolt was obviously slid into place, and a quick push insured bolt number two was holding steady.

He was safe.

He exhaled a sigh, trying to get his body to relax. Turning back to his bedroom door, he couldn't help looking at the window instead.

Moving to the drapes, he reached out and pressed against the heavy fabric until his hands touched the wall. He ran his hands to both edges of the drapes, insuring no one was possibly hiding behind them.

Edging up close to the wall, he tentatively lifted an edge of the drape.

If someone was watching him, this was the best chance they had to take a shot. Bobby had been a Marine; he knew what snipers were capable of. He had worked with some of the best. Taking a shot through a lifted corner of a drape was nothing to those guys.

But the shot didn't come, and Bobby let out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding. Checking the windows quickly to make sure the glass was still intact, he tried pushing at the sliding glass to see if it would open.

It didn't budge. He'd had the windows sealed shut long ago, and it seemed to be holding firm. The bars were there, looking untouched, but he pushed at them anyway. Just in case they had been cut and were set in place to fool him.

Satisfied, he let the drape drop and turned back to his small quarters.

The door was still shut, the bolts still locked.

He had to resist the urge to go over and check again. He could hear the voices in his head, laughing at him.

The roommate he'd had at Quantico, making fun of him for not being able to sleep at night without some light on in the room. Better were the roommates he'd had in college, or partners he'd shared hotel rooms with in the various agencies he'd worked for. They had simply griped so much about his restless nights and constant fears that they asked for separate rooms. Most of the time that had been granted.

Bobby formed fists with his hands to keep himself from reaching out the check the window one more time for moving figures on the street outside, and he had to make himself turn and go back to the bedroom.

People laughed their heads off about him. Figured it was a big joke, and he was out of his mind.

Worse, though, were the people who accused him of deliberately acting the way he did. People actually accused him of being paranoid to get attention. Or just to be different. They figured he liked acting that way, because it set him apart from most other people.

They thought he did it on purpose.

Bobby always felt a measure of amusement. Those people just had no idea.

He had taken so many pills for so long…at first, in his teens, when he got his first prescription for some anti-anxiety pill or another, he could barely force himself to swallow the things one at a time. He was so sure the small pills would get trapped in his throat. They could cut off his breathing, and he would die.

It had taken him time to learn to swallow the things. But by now, in his fifteenth year as an official psychotic personality, he had pill prescriptions up the ass, and he swallowed handfuls at a time. He could swallow without water to wash it down; he could swallow any size, any number. He was as skilled at taking his medicine as he was at practicing the psychosis itself.

And people thought he did it for fun.

Bobby had always known that he behaved differently from other people. When he was starting high school, he realized that he was the only person around him who thought the closed-off fourth floor of the school was some kind of criminal laboratory. He knew the teachers took kids up there and did all kinds of evil things to them. Somehow they wiped the kids' memories, and they never remembered, but Bobby knew. He just knew.

He tried telling people, but they laughed it off. Still, whenever a teacher called him out to talk alone in the hall, he refused. He absolutely wouldn't go unless they left the door open and he stayed in plain sight of the other kids. He wouldn't go alone to the principal's office, he wouldn't take a bathroom break in the middle of class. They wouldn't catch Bobby Hobbes alone in the hallway, that was for damned sure.

And Bobby realized the other kids didn't think about that kind of stuff. He didn't see how they could go a minute without worrying about it, but they did. They listened to his theories about the fourth floor, the so-called 'renovations' the school was doing, and they laughed. They loved it, because it entertained them. Bobby Hobbes was a big class clown as far as they were concerned. They could laugh off his certainty over the atrocities being committed.

Still, it was better than in the Marines. They didn't laugh in the Marines. They get pissed off, and they shut him up.

Jesus, during the Gulf he couldn't sleep a night. He woke up every hour, certain of some noise or creak or yawn. Certain it was the damned Iraqis ready to invade and massacre everyone in their sleep.

By that time, though, he knew enough to shut up when they told him to. He knew that when he woke up at one in the morning, he couldn't go waking anyone else up. That led to some pissed off soldiers, and pissed off soldiers made his life hell.

He learned not to tell other people about his certainty that every movement was an enemy coming to slit their throats. He learned to laugh with other people about their inconsequential jokes, and hang out late playing cards with the guys, even if it meant he had to cross to his barracks alone at night.

Before he was twenty-one, he was taking pills for physical reasons as well as mental. He had worried himself a few ulcers.

Of course, he went to a few doctors before he accepted that diagnosis. He would go so far as to drive to a spot at random, circle a few blocks until he found a doctor's office, and go in unannounced. Just so no one would be able to insure that he'd only go to certain doctors, doctors that were in on the plot.

His first shrink had laughed at him. When he got into plots and conspiracies, she laughed. Asked him if he thought the CIA killed Kennedy.

He didn't. He knew the government wouldn't be involved in killing their own leader. Not his government.

Funny, but that was his big blind spot, and shrinks had figured that out and mused over what it meant since he was in his twenties.

Bobby was always sure of plots against him, but he was also sure that the government wouldn't be responsible for those plots. Not his government. Another government, maybe. Some criminal faction, more likely. Never his leaders.

He loved his country. He loved the guys in the history books who had fought and died to make it free and safe and the greatest country in the world. He loved that so many plots to destroy America had failed.

He wanted to be part of it. And he was.

Bobby shut the door into his bedroom and locked the door. He slid the extra bolt shut, and immediately glanced over at his closet.

The closet was small and pretty empty. He had taken the doors down, and he kept the clothes in there to a minimum. No one would get the drop on him by jumping out of the closet.

Finally he made it back to his bed. A foot went out and thumped the boards that went from the bottom of the mattress to the floor, just to make sure they were securely in place and no one could have gotten through them and under the bed.

Finally he dropped to sit on the mattress.

His stomach was still clenched in fear and worry, and his body was still tense. Still, he shed his clothes quickly and laid down, shutting off the light.

His eyes opened in the darkness and looked up at the ceiling absently.

He was safe. As safe as he could be.

Of course, just because he hadn't seen anyone didn't mean no one was there. Now that he knew the kind of technology people were capable of these days, he couldn't ever be sure. Now that he knew there was at least one person, and maybe even more, walking around with the capacity to turn invisible, he was never safe.

Not that he thought Darien was out there. He didn't. Really. Darien was…okay, he wasn't government exactly, but he was working for them. Of course, he had been a criminal. He had served jail time. If someone wanted a mole in the Agency, they could have gotten to Kevin Fawkes and found out who his lab rat was going to be. They could have gotten to Darien, bought his obedience.

No.

Bobby shut his eyes with a sigh. No, damn it. He wouldn't do this. He wouldn't fall back into this trap.

He had few enough friends in the world, and none of them had ever escaped his suspicion. Not even Darien Fawkes.

Jesus. Why couldn't he turn it off? Why couldn't he make himself stop thinking things like that? It was abnormal, the stuff he believed. That's what the shrinks said. He was a freak, and he would have given anything in the world to be able to come home, lock the door, and go to bed like a normal person.

How could anyone think living this way was fun for him? How could anyone believe he wanted to be this way? If they knew how his mind was constantly alerting him to nonexistent danger, or how he could never sleep through a night without the aid of drugs, they would change their mind.

It made him feel frustrated beyond belief that he had no power over himself. Helpless. Weak, easily beaten.

Darien wasn't a bad guy. Darien was his partner, and he trusted his partner. He trusted Darien.

That was one of the things he could convince himself of. Even when he couldn't turn off the other voices, he was actually starting to believe that was true -- he could trust Darien.

But his grief didn't end there. No. Because Darien was his partner, and Darien didn't know about the dangers in the world Bobby knew about. Darien didn't realize how vulnerable he was. Darien went to sleep in a big apartment with open windows and a flimsy lock. Darien didn't check to make sure he wasn't followed, and there were hundreds of people by now who could be after him.

Luke Lawson was still out there. Arnaud with the last name he couldn't spell was still out there. All kinds of people were walking free, and had some kind of interest in shutting Darien Fawkes down.

Darien had gone home alone tonight. Bobby hadn't followed him. He only followed Darien a couple of times a week, when he just could not talk himself out of it.

They were in the middle of a job right now, trying to stop some scum Yakuza agents who liked to dine on endangered animals.

Yakuza was big. Huge. Powerful beyond what Darien could appreciate. And if they were on to Hobbes and Fawkes at all, they would be strong enough to squash them without breaking a sweat. And Darien didn't think about it outside of work. Even if he did…hell, when Darien was at his most paranoid during that whole Simon Cole thing, Bobby had still managed to sneak in to his apartment without a problem and get close to Fawkes while he was sleeping.

Bobby sat up, turning on the lamp. He reached for his phone and dialed quickly. Just one call, one check-up on his irresponsible partner.

The sleepy voice that answered was unmistakably Darien. "Hullo?"

Bobby opened his mouth, but his eyes went to the clock and he saw what time it was.

He hung up without a word, fast. Before Darien could guess who it was and have ammunition to make fun of Bobby the next day.

A minute later, he picked up the phone and dialed seven more numbers, watching his hands move without being able to stop them.

After five rings the phone was answered. "Hello?" The familiar voice was struggling to be polite even though they were roused from sleep.

Bobby didn't say anything. He held the receiver close, his eyes shutting, hoping she understood.

There was a pause.

"Bobby?"

He breathed out slowly. Jesus, he missed her.

"This is you, isn't it?"

He swallowed. "Yeah. Sorry. I just…"

She knew, though. She knew how he got sometimes. She was one of the few people who lived close enough to him to see the hell that he went through. She didn't get mad, she didn't laugh. Not when he was in the middle of it.

Later, she would laugh. In the morning she would talk to her new husband, and vent to him about how much she hated being Bobby's crutch. But for now she would talk to him, and he knew it. It was worth the humiliation of knowing what she would say later.

"I'm sorry," he said again helplessly.

She breathed into the phone lightly. "Did you take your meds today?"

He nodded pointlessly. "Yeah. I just can't…" He shook his head, wishing he could express it. "I can't make it stop."

"What is it, Bobby? A case you're working on? Me?"

"Everything," he replied bitterly. "I can't sleep."

"How long?"

His hands squeezed the phone in frustration. "Couple of days."

She was quiet for a moment. Bobby could almost picture her sitting up in bed in the darkness, nodding to herself as she remembered how to deal with him.

Picturing her in bed alone in the dark made his guts churn. "Viv, is he there?"

"What? Yes, he's here. He's sleeping."

He relaxed slightly at that. Brock was a good guy, he was forced to admit. And he was protective of Viv. He would keep her safe, if he could.

As if she could sense the absolute fear he'd felt for that brief moment, she spoke again quietly. "This is bad, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry," he answered quietly. "I know you hate…"

"Bobby, I don't hate anything. But someday this will happen and I won't be home. You have to find someone else to depend on."

"I…" He couldn't. Tears of helpless anger and self-hatred rose up against his will. He couldn't do a damned thing to please her, even now.

She heard his distress. "It's okay, Bobby. I didn't mean you can't call." Her voice was sympathetic. "Do you need the Mellaril?"

He frowned into the phone. He only pulled those pills out in emergencies. He wasn't sure this qualified. He would get some sleep, yeah, but the bizarre dreams that plagued him, the headaches he'd have the next day, the muscle tremors he would have to control…he didn't know if it was worth it.

"Bobby? I'm sorry, I'm about to fall asleep on you. Please, if you can't get any sleep, take the pills. I know you don't like to, but you can't drive yourself crazy like this. It wears all of us down."

He couldn't reply for a moment. His throat was dry, and he found himself listening to the silence on her end of the line for strange noises.

He shook his head to clear it. "All right, Viv. I hear you."

"You take care of yourself, Bobby."

"Yeah. You, too." His eyes slid shut in distress.

"Good night."

He couldn't answer. A moment later he heard the click meaning she'd hung up, and he slowly lowered the phone.

She was okay. She was safe, for now.

Find someone else, she said. Someone else to depend on.

That wasn't very frigging likely. His options were too limited. In fact, if he thought about it, he considered only one option.

Darien.

Darien Fawkes, who would sooner laugh at him than talk to him. Darien wouldn't understand.

Then again, Darien had a good heart. He was a good person. Maybe if he realized how serious Bobby was about it, he would play along.

Bobby's fingers dialed shakily. Any option was better than those damned pills.

Darien's sleepy voice sounded irritated. "Hello?"

Bobby had to swallow before he could talk. "Fawkes."

"Hobbes? Jesus, what time is it?"

"I'm sorry, it's late. Early. Whatever."

"You okay?" Despite his grouchiness, Darien actually sounded a little concerned.

"Yeah. I…" Something was nagging at Bobby, though, and he couldn't focus on whatever he meant to say. "Could you do me a favor right now?"

"Now? Come on, Hobbes." Darien sighed into the phone. "What?"

Bobby swallowed, bracing himself for the jokes. "Make sure your door is locked."

"What?!?"

"Your front door. Just do it."

Darien didn't answer, but Bobby could hear the grumbling as Darien dropped the phone and did as he was asked.

A moment later he came back. "Alright. Now what?"

Bobby heaved a breath.

"Come on, Hobbes. Tell me what your paranoid little brain is thinking so I can get back to sleep."

No. Darien wouldn't understand. "Nothing," Bobby said quietly. "Sorry I woke you up."

"Wait a minute. You called me to make sure my door was locked? You are something else, Hobbes. You're really over the top, you know that? Calling people at…Jesus! Four thirty in the morning? What's wrong with you?"

Bobby was used to that. But it hurt nonetheless. I'm sorry, he wanted the scream out. I can't help it! I wish I could! I wish I knew what was wrong with me.

Instead, he dropped the phone. He brought up a shaky hand and rubbed his eyes tiredly, and he stood and moved to his dresser.

Under the sweatpants stashed in the third drawer was a locked case. He moved fingers deftly over the lock, moving the combination numbers into place. It snapped open, and he almost shuddered as he lifted out an unmarked pill bottle.

Tomorrow he would be a mess. He would be tired, weak, aching from this stupid medicine. Somewhere in the city, Vivian would be griping to her husband about having to baby-sit her nervous wreck of an ex. And when he saw Darien, the younger man would laugh about his four-thirty phone call, making Paranoid Bobby jokes and guessing it was time to up the dose of Lithium.

But Bobby would smile through it all. He'd fire back a few insults at his partner, make up some reason for his call. He wouldn't talk to Vivian. She was out of his 'range of control' now.

He forced himself to swallow two small pills, and he carefully replaced the bottle, locked the box, and hid it back in its usual spot.

Allowing himself to double-check the bolt on his bedroom door, he managed to keep from going back out the check the front door again. Even half-certain that his fiddling around a few minutes ago probably shut the alarm off, he wouldn't let himself go check.

Instead he lay back down, stared up at the ceiling, and resigned himself to his troubled, unstoppable thoughts until the pills could work their magic and knock him into relieving oblivion.

****

 

Part Two

**

 

"Hullo?"

No one there.

Darien dropped the phone tiredly back on its cradle, flopping his head back against the pillow.

He was back asleep a moment later.

Until the phone rang again.

Pulled out of the same dream twice, right when Casey was about to declare her undying love, Darien couldn't help but get a bit grouchy. "Hello?"

There was a brief pause on the line. "Fawkes."

"Hobbes?" Oh, jeez. Darien sat up slightly, hoping like hell the Agency wasn't giving out assignments at…whatever time it was in the morning. "Jesus, what time is it?"

Bobby sounded odd. Pinched. "I'm sorry, it's late. Early. Whatever."

"You okay?" Darien heard the off note in his partner's voice, and couldn't help responding to it. Bobby had almost as big a capacity to get himself into trouble as Darien did.

"Yeah. I…" Bobby trailed off.

Darien blinked out into the darkness for a minute, trying to wake up enough to tell his brain how to answer.

Bobby spoke again before he could. "Could you do me a favor right now?"

"Now? Come on, Hobbes." Darien sighed into the phone. "What?"

"Make sure your door is locked."

"What?!?" Darien's voice rose in surprise. If this was some kind of joke…

Bobby sounded serious, though. "Your front door. Just do it."

Darien rolled his eyes, but he let the phone drop onto the mattress and he slithered out of bed, padding to his front door. "Hobbes, if you're standing out there with a bucket of cold water or something, I swear to God I'll murder you."

He tried the knob, but it was locked. With a sigh, he turned and padded back through the darkness to the bed. He dropped down on his stomach, bringing the phone up. "Alright. Now what?"

There was an odd little sigh from the other line.

Darien couldn't help a slight smirk. Lithium Bob was in full-force this evening, it seemed. Darien had the feeling when he first met Hobbes that the guy was an oddball, and it was confirmed to him more and more the longer they were partners. "Come on, Hobbes. Tell me what your paranoid little brain is thinking so I can get back to sleep."

"Nothing," Bobby replied quietly. "Sorry I woke you up."

Darien flopped over onto his back, frowning up at the ceiling. "Wait a minute. You called me to make sure my door was locked? You are something else, Hobbes. You're really over the top, you know that? Calling people at…" He shifted his eyes to the small clock radio by his bed, and couldn't hide his reaction. "Jesus! Four thirty in the morning? What's wrong with you?"

The other line was quiet.

Darien was about to ask again when the sound of an electrical little click came through, and he realized Bobby had hung up.

He let out a growl of annoyed frustration as he hung up his phone. Whatever the hell Bobby was thinking, Darien was going to give him hell the next day for waking him up like that.

His partner had a twisted sense of humor, Darien knew, but it didn't usually…

His eyes were shutting heavily, against his will, but his mind wouldn't let him drift back into sleep.

Was something wrong? Bobby sure didn't sound like he was playing some joke. He sounded tired and sincere, and really strange. Worried.

Still, that gave him no call to be waking Darien at almost five in the morning for a cryptic thirty-second phone call.

Yeah, but what if something was really wrong?

Well, what was Darien supposed to do? It was late, he didn't know where Bobby was, and if he was locked into that fortress of an apartment, Darien would never get in anyway.

Just as his mind started shutting down, the phone rang. Again.

Cursing, Darien sat up and grabbed the phone. "Hello?" he barked into it.

A hesitant voice answered. "Hello? Is this Darien Fawkes?"

Darien's brow furrowed as he tried to relax. God, he hated having his sleep interrupted. "Yeah. Who's this?"

"This is Vivian Elbourne. I met you a few months ago?"

Vivian? Bobby's ex? What the hell was going on tonight? "Yeah. Vivian. What's up?"

"I know it's late, and I'm sorry if I woke you. I'd like to talk to you."

"Uh. Okay."

"Could we meet somewhere? I'll buy you some coffee."

Coffee? Who needed caffeine? The telephone was doing a wonderful job of keeping him awake. He heaved a sigh.

Vivian spoke again before he could answer. "It's important."

Sure he was tired and grouchy, but Darien Fawkes could never refuse the request of a damsel in distress.

 

****

 

Vivian offered a tired smile when Darien slid into the booth across from her. "Thanks for coming, Darien. I'm really sorry about what time it is."

Darien waved her off with a slight smile. He was awake now, he could let it slide. "No problem. You said it was important."

"I ordered you some coffee." She hesitated, looking suddenly uncomfortable. "Look, I have to talk to you about Bobby."

Darien sat up abruptly. Jesus, he should have guessed. "Is he following you again? No wonder he was up so late. Damn it, Viv, I'm sorry. I can try talking to him, but--"

"Darien. That's not it. He's not following me. In fact, he's been very good about staying away since the wedding." She smiled somewhat sadly, but the expression was short-lived. "Have you talked to him tonight?"

Darien nodded, pausing as a waitress dropped two mugs of coffee in front of them and sauntered off. "Yeah. Told me to make sure my door was locked, then he just hung up on me."

"Right before I called?"

Darien nodded again, sipping the hot coffee. He grimaced and reached for the sugar. "So what's the deal?"

"Darien…" She ignored her drink, sitting back thoughtfully, as if unsure of how to phrase what she wanted to say. "I think Bobby trusts you. I told him to find someone else he could call, someone besides me, and he called you. That's a big step for him, and I'm not quite sure you can understand that."

"Yeah. I know Bobby. I know he doesn't trust anyone. But it's not like he was confiding in me or anything. Just told me to lock my door."

She nodded slightly. "I don't suppose you took him very seriously."

"At five in the morning? The guy's a nutcase, calling like that. What am I supposed to--"

Vivian held up a hand suddenly, her gaze going over Darien's shoulder. "Do you know that man?"

Darien glanced back. A dark-haired guy about fifty years old was reading a paper in the booth behind them. He turned back and shook his head. "No. Should I?"

She frowned. "He came in right after you. He's been watching you the entire time you've been sitting here."

Darien tensed. His mind immediately started racing.

Someone from the Agency? Maybe they had watchers keeping an eye on Darien during late-night trips like this.

Somebody from the case he and Bobby were working on now? Darien knew the guys they were up against were big-time, and Bobby kept reminding him how serious the trouble could be if they were discovered. What if they already had been? What if this guys was following him around?

Jesus, it could be from any of their cases. The FBI was still fighting to prove the Agency had an invisible agent. What if they were on to him? What if it was Luke Lawson? What if the guy had been sent by Arnaud?

He could taste rising panic, and his stomach was clenching in worry. "Uh…look, maybe I should go."

Vivian shook her head. "Darien, he was there before I got here."

Darien blinked. "What?"

"That man was here before you. And he hasn't looked up from the paper once."

Darien shook his head slowly, his mind sluggishly aborting the panic attack. "What…why…why would you tell me…?"

"You got pretty nervous, right? I figured, since you and Bobby work together, you have to have a few of your own secrets. Something that would make being followed scary for you."

Darien's mouth dropped open. "What kind of weird game are you playing?"

She smiled sadly. "It's no game. You think Bobby's a nutcase. You don't understand how he feels. Darien, I'm being serious here. The way you felt when I pointed that man out…that's the way Bobby feels every single hour of the day."

Darien shook his head, still not quite following.

"He's tried explaining it to me before, but I never understood. I figured it out on my own one night, when he woke me up saying he'd heard some noise." She sat back, lost in the memory. "He left me in bed alone while he went prowling around the house, and I had visions of burglars or killers, someone from one of his cases, ax-wielding psychopaths…" She shrugged. "It's an awful feeling, isn’t it? Tensing up, expecting something or someone to jump out and kill you any minute. When Bobby came back to bed finally, I could see on his face that he felt the same panic I did. And I realized that I see that look on his face a lot. I had just not put together how serious it was."

Darien studied her, staying quiet. He was starting to put together what she meant by that little stunt.

"I used to think he liked being on guard twenty-four hours a day," she continued. "I thought maybe it was a macho thing. Maybe he felt good keeping me safe every minute. But there's nothing good about how he feels. He drives himself to panic sometimes. Did you realize that? Bobby makes himself miserable. He is miserable," she stressed. "I would doubt he's had one peaceful day in his life."

Darien nodded. "Alright, I see what you're saying here. But I--"

"Do you?" She shook her head. "I don't think you do. People make fun of him because he's taking meds, but they don't know the half of it. Lithium's the least of his problems. He's on anti-anxiety medication, anti-psychotics when it gets really bad. He has to take pills for ulcers he's gotten by worrying himself sick."

She met his eyes, sincere and solemn. "Bobby has a lot of pride, Darien, and he knows how other people talk about him. Do you honestly think he would have called you this late, knowing how you would probably end up making fun of him later, if he wasn't scared to death something was going to happen to you?"

That hit home. Darien breathed in slowly, thinking about it. He gave Bobby hell for his paranoid little rants. He laughed at him, called him those stupid names. And Bobby did have a hell of a lot of pride. He normally wouldn't open himself up for ridicule that way. Yet he had.

Vivian smiled slightly at the understanding she must have seen in his eyes. "I told him he needed to trust someone else, and he called you. He wants to trust you, Darien. I don't envy you -- it's a hard job to be saddled with. He called me tonight, and he was panicking. He was almost in tears, because he couldn't make those thoughts and doubts and worries stop. He says he hasn't slept in a couple of days."

"Jesus," Darien said quietly, guilt beginning to eat away at him. Why hadn't he realized Bobby needed real help?

"It happens more times than it should. He has to swallow his pride to call me. He only does when it's out of his control to battle his demons by himself. Still, I hear from him once or twice a month."

Darien frowned down at the rapidly cooling brown liquid in front of him. Well, that did it. He felt like absolute crap. Bobby was supposedly his partner and his friend. Bobby made sure Darien was safe -- he watched out for him, no matter what. Made sure he was always on time for his shots. Took care of him those times Darien didn't make it in time. Bobby made sure the red-eyed demon reached the one thing they needed to free Darien from his own body.

Darien hadn't once stopped to think that Bobby could maybe use some help of his own. Not like Bobby ever asked for help…

But no. He wouldn't. He had a lot of pride, like Viv said.

Darien realized that with a sinking feeling. That meant if Viv was right, and Bobby had been calling him to see if he could trust his problems to Darien, than Darien had blown it. Big time.

He slid out of the booth. "I gotta go. Thanks for the coffee."

She didn't seem to mind being abandoned so abruptly. "Remember, he's got alarms everywhere in that place."

Darien smiled slightly at her perceptiveness about where he was headed. "I'll knock, don't worry."

 

****

 

He knocked. Loudly. Repeatedly. So much that he was surprised none of the neighbors opened the door and threw a knife at his back.

When Bobby finally opened the door, it was just a tiny crack. "Who's there?"

Darien dropped his aching fist with a sigh. "It's me, Hobbes."

The door slid open another few inches, and a glassy-looking Bobby Hobbes peered out at him. "Fawkes? Whaddaya want?"

"Can I come in? For just a minute?"

Bobby's eyes narrowed as they studied him, but he shrugged and stepped back, letting the door open halfway.

Darien slid through into the apartment, and Bobby shut the door and locked it behind him.

"What's wrong?"

Darien turned back to his partner, and took in the pajama bottoms and bare feet, and the gun Bobby held loosely in one hand. Some sarcastic little Dirty Harry joke rose to his lips, but thankfully he repressed it. "You called me. I got worried about you."

"Worried?" Bobby smirked, but his heart obviously wasn't in it. He moved past Darien and into his bedroom.

Darien trailed after him and watched him drop the gun on the table right beside his head. "Yeah. Worried. Are you okay?"

"Peachy."

Darien frowned and came in, studying his partner under the bedroom light. "One more time with feeling," he replied blandly.

Bobby rolled his eyes and dropped to sit on the bed.

Darien couldn't help but see that there was a strange gloss over Bobby's eyes, a look he'd never seen before. "Bobby? Are you…"

Bobby blinked and turned to him. "Sorry, kid. I'm a little spaced out. Took some…medicine…"

He was a step away from falling on his back and into unconsciousness, Darien realized.

All the words he was planning to say flew out the window. Darien could see the bags under Bobby's eyes, the exhaustion on his face. He could tell Bobby was holding himself up through sheer willpower, and that overcame any need to ask questions or apologize.

"Why don't you go to sleep, Bobby?"

Bobby crooked a lopsided smile at him. "I'm not that rude a host."

Darien didn't return the grin. "Go to sleep, Hobbes. I'll watch out for you."

Bobby shook his head instantly.

But Darien moved faster, going to his partner and gripping his shoulders firmly. Pushing him back and over, so he was resting on the pillow, Darien stood over him. "Bobby. Sleep. Now."

Being flat on his back obviously wasn't helping his fight to stay awake. Whatever pills Bobby was taking, they had to be powerful. "Fawkes…go'way."

"Not tonight, Bobby. I'm gonna hang out here, make sure you're safe."

Bobby's eyes opened at that, and he looked up at his partner with an unreadable gleam in his eyes. "Darien…don't…"

"Jesus, you're a stubborn guy. Sleep, Bobby. Remember what that is? It's when you shut your eyes and let the nice little pills work their magic." Darien regretted his sarcasm instantly.

But apparently it comforted Bobby a little more than the strange concern Darien had never shown before. "Smart ass," he mumbled, his eyes shutting heavily.

Darien relaxed at that.

"Dar…ien…"

He moved closer to the bed, dropping to sit beside his nearly comatose partner. "Yeah?"

"Door…make sure…" Bobby was out before he could finish.

Darien put it together, though, and stood up. Going out into the living room, he checked the front door obediently, making sure it was locked. He glanced over at the alarm system. It was off, but he had no idea how to turn it on, so he left it. The number of locks on Bobby's door would keep them safe if any of Bobby's unseeable enemies came calling.

He moved back to the bedroom and shut the door behind him. He took in the bolt attached to the bedroom door with a slight smile. He shrugged to himself and slid the bolt, locking them into the room.

Finally he moved in, dropping down on the foot of Bobby's bed and scooting over until he was sitting with his back against the wall. He glanced around the dim room, noting that there were no windows, one doorless closet, and that was about it. The dresser and small little bookcase, like the bed, were flush against the walls.

Jesus. Viv wasn't kidding. This guy was seriously paranoid.

And now that he stopped to think about it, it couldn't be a fun way to live. Whatever it was that made Bobby think he had to protect himself so thoroughly, it had to keep him up nights and make him almost nuts with worry.

Shit. Ulcers and anti-psychotics at night, and Darien's stupid jokes during the day. No wonder Bobby seemed so bitter.

Still, if Darien's life the last year had taught him anything, it was that it was never too late to reform. He could cut out the jokes and make an effort to watch Bobby's back, help him feel safe.

It was time to start acting like this guy's partner, and not just the person Bobby was supposed to be babysitting. Hell, he was gonna be with the Agency for a while, that was painfully clear. Might as well start doing what he could to make it better for himself. Making it better for Bobby was a good place to start.

 

****

 

Darien shuddered awake, his back lodging an immediate and vocal protest over how it had been forced to bend for the last God knew how many hours.

He groaned quietly and stretched, his eyes opening as he wondered why he'd gone to sleep sitting up the night before.

Bobby Hobbes' dark eyes greeted him immediately, and Darien remembered why.

"Fawkes."

Darien tried to hide his discomfort as he stretched. "Hobbes."

Bobby was sitting on the bed, fully dressed, watching him. "Figured I was just having some messed-up dream last night," he mentioned conversationally.

"Nope," Darien chirped in response, sliding to the edge of the bed. "You were actually blessed by my presence. Feel the rush."

Bobby didn't smile. He didn't even smirk. He just watched Darien. "Wanna tell me why?"

Darien shrugged. "You called. You sounded kinda off-kilter. And I'm your partner. It's my job to watch your back."

Bobby didn't answer, waiting.

Darien realized what he was waiting for a moment later. "No jokes, Bobby. I'm too tired. I also feel kind of like a piece of crap for not realizing how much this kind of thing bothered you. So if you want jokes, from now on go to Eberts. If you need someone to watch your back and help you sleep, you call me. Got it?"

Bobby searched his eyes for a long moment, quiet. "You…uh. You got any idea what you're saying, Fawkes?"

Darien nodded, keeping his voice light. "Sure. And you know, my nights are really too boring anyway. I go to sleep, I wake up the next morning. It's boring. Lacks a certain government-agent edge, don't you think? I need to get shaken up every now and then."

"I get…" Bobby shook his head, turning away for the first time. "I get kinda nuts sometimes. You really want to put up with it?"

"Hobbes, I like putting up with you. It's fun."

Hobbes frowned. "It wouldn't always be."

Darien heard his solemnity and his own grin faded. He'd been trying to keep the air light to keep either of them from feeling too awkward. But Bobby obviously needed a minute of seriousness. "I know that. I also know it's never any fun for you. But I'm serious. Next time you need me, call. You know you can trust me, right?"

Bobby tensed. His mouth opened then shut uncertainly.

Darien realized how hard a question that would be for him to answer, so he let it drop. "Well, you can start depending on me. I'm your friend. You don't need to be worrying about stuff alone when you got friends who can worry with you."

Bobby nodded slowly. He stood and went to the door of the bedroom. "Well, friend, we have to be at work in about a half an hour. If you want to use my shower you'd better hurry."

Darien groaned and stood up, ignoring the protests from his back. He dragged his feet to the door and past Bobby, scratching his back with a yawn.

"Hey, Fawkes?"

He glanced back. "Wha?" he asked through the jaw-cracking yawn.

Bobby smiled faintly at the sight he must have made. "I do," he said simply. "I trust you."

Darien grinned, but turned around and kept heading for the bathroom before things could get too mushy and awkward between them.

 

****

Part Three

**

Guy named Elbert Hubbard once said, "A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same." It's a nice, mushy little sentiment. A keychain slogan, like something Claire would say.

But that doesn't mean it's not true. Me and Bobby were partners, and I liked the guy. Most of the time. But we never really started feeling like friends until that day, when I started to genuinely get to know what made him tick.

Of course, as is my way, I had to complicate things. I had to start liking my partner a little more than was healthy for either of us.

**

 


Darien heaved a sigh and stared up at his ceiling.

Since the night he had talked to Vivian and gone to make some sort of amends to Bobby, Bobby hadn't taken advantage of his offer. He hadn't called once.

At work, nothing much changed between them. Darien did stop taking cheap shots at his partner about his paranoia. He started noticing more and more signs of it, in fact. Staying silent instead of making jokes gave him more time to study Bobby, and he realized Vivian was right -- Bobby never had a peaceful moment.

He was always on guard. Always checking the shadows. He never failed to tense up when they approached a blind corner, even in the halls of the Agency. His eyes, especially when they were out on the street, never stopped moving. He was always on the lookout for danger.

It gave Darien a whole new level of respect for his partner. Bobby couldn't help his neuroses, and the fact that he'd lived with them for as long as he had without becoming a complete antisocial psycho spoke a lot for his strength of character.

Darien wanted to help him. He wanted to make him feel a little at ease.

Truthfully, he wanted to be able to erase everything in Bobby's head that was wired wrong. He wanted to somehow help Bobby go at least one day without the fears that kept him from enjoying anything.

But he couldn't, so instead he waited up nights and wondered if Bobby would ever call and ask for his help.

He kind of felt bad, wishing for it to happen. For Bobby to need his help would mean Bobby was in trouble, and he never figured he'd wish to see Bobby in trouble.

Kinda like that guy in The Misanthrope. Darien always liked that play. At some point in it the guy, the main character guy, says to some chick that's rich and snotty and doesn't like him that he wished she had been living in the gutter when they met so he could have offered her safety and shelter and stuff like that.

She didn't respond well, and Bobby probably wouldn't either. But Darien felt that way now. He didn't want Bobby to suffer, but he wanted to be of some help to Bobby.

It was hard to put into words. Even in his own mind.

Fortunately, the phone rang, distracting him from his thoughts.

"Hello?"

There was a pause. "Fawkes."

"Hobbes?" Darien sat up. "What's wrong?"

"Uh. Just doing my part to keep your nights from getting boring."

Bobby sounded pinched, and Darien already regretted even subconsciously wishing for Bobby to need his help. "Do you need me, Bobby?" He kept his voice serious.

"Nah," Bobby answered much too fast. "Just couldn't sleep. Figured I shouldn't suffer alone."

Darien smiled faintly. "That's very considerate of you."

"Hey. We're partners. I get bags under my eyes, you get bags under your eyes. It's only fair."

But Darien wasn't about to let Bobby get away with distracting him. He was all set to take his responsibilities as Bobby's partner seriously, and he wasn't about to let even Bobby stop him. "Yeah. We're partners. If you need something, you just have to tell me. You need some help getting to sleep?"

There was a pause on the other line. Darien could practically hear Bobby's thoughts as he worked to process this new side of Darien. Bobby would be trying to guess if it was some kind of joke or not.

Finally the older agent answered, sounding almost defeated. "I don't know. I don't know what you could do."

Darien sat up, swinging his feet over the side of the bed and scouting for his shoes. "I'll be over in a few."

"Darien…don’t--"

"What?" Darien shoved his feet into untied sneakers and stood, looking for some relatively clean shirt he could throw on over his sweats. "Hey, neither of us are gonna sleep anytime soon, so we might as well keep each other company, right?"

Bobby didn't answer.

"Right," Darien finished for him.

 

****

 

Bobby opened the door at the first knock. He looked out at Darien, and surprise flashed over his face as he stepped back and let Darien come in.

Darien strolled through the door like it was completely natural for him to be showing up at his partner's apartment at nearly two in the morning. He heard the sounds of Bobby locking the bolts on the door, and he turned to see the gun Bobby held loosely in one hand. "You always answer the door with that?" he asked, careful to keep his voice from sounding light.

Bobby shrugged and moved past him to the bedroom. "Yeah."

"Gonna scare some cookie-selling Girl Scout to death some day."

Bobby smirked back at him. "Better her than me."

Darien's mouth dropped open for the moment before he realized Bobby was kidding.

"What are you doing here, Fawkes?"

"I told you I was coming." Darien followed him into the bedroom and dropped down on the bed as Bobby tucked his gun away. "You thought I was joking?"

Bobby turned to him, shrugging. "Yeah."

Darien smiled somewhat. "Me coming over the last time didn't really sink in to you, did it?"

Bobby folded his arms across his chest seriously. "I figure you meant what you said at the time, but the sentiment's one thing. Actually talking your psycho partner off a ledge at four in the morning's different."

"Bobby. I don't see any ledges. And it's only three. And I don't take back my word like that." Darien paused, wondering if Bobby was going to be completely uncooperative in this whole partners-mean-sharing thing he was going for. "So you want to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?"

Darien's eyebrows went up. "About whatever it is that made you call me."

"I told you, I just don't want your nights to get--"

"And I told you, if you want jokes and sarcasm, call Eberts. I'll go through the motions at work, but at four in the morning I assume you need me, and I'm not gonna laugh it off. Now talk, Bobby. Tell me what it is."

Bobby opened his mouth, then shut it, surprised.

Darien spoke before the momentum could wear off. "Come on, Hobbes. Sit down. Talk to me."

Bobby obeyed stiffly, moving to sit at the edge of the bed. There was silence for a minute, and Darien could see his partner physically steeling himself for whatever he was going to say. "I can't…it's hard to explain."

"What is?"

"The whole thing." Bobby gestured with his hands impotently. "I mean, I've been the way I am for a long time. I don't know what normal is, so I don't know how I'm different."

Darien leaned in slightly, seeing the genuine distress on Bobby's face and responding to it more intensely than he would have thought. "Just tell me what made you call me."

Bobby took a deep breath and held it, looking down at his lap. A moment later the air blew out in a sigh. "I can't get the damned voices in my head to shut up." He looked up sharply, his eyes instantly defensive. "And no, I don't mean I actually hear voices. I'm not that nuts."

Darien's expression stayed neutral. "So your thoughts get so loud they sound like voices."

Bobby drew back slightly, surprised. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Yeah, that's pretty much it."

Darien nodded. "I can't say I know exactly how you feel, but I was in solitary for a while. My thoughts got pretty damned loud sometimes, too."

"Huh." Bobby actually smiled somewhat, as if surprised Darien could actually understand part of what he was saying.

Darien smiled back suddenly. "You know, I think you're wrong. I think some people have a good idea of how you feel. Vivian sure had it pegged. She made me understand pretty good what--"

"Vivian?" Bobby's smile faded. "You talked to Viv?"

Darien shut his mouth about five seconds too late. "Uh. Yeah, actually. She called me, that night…"

"The night I called you the first time."

"Yeah. Bobby, she has a good idea how you feel. She tried to make me understand it, and she did a good job. So you don't have to think other people can't sympathize, you know?"

Bobby's expression was suddenly closed-off. "Yeah. Guess that's true."

He kept his voice light. But Darien could see the change. He could read his partner's expression, and he realized that mentioning Viv had probably been a mistake.

"You know…I'm glad I talked to her, because you sure weren't going to explain anything to me. You could have, you know. I would've understood. And even if I didn't, I could have at least stopped giving you hell about it."

Bobby shrugged. "I like you giving me hell about it."

Darien almost laughed. "No, you don't. You have to hate putting up with the jokes."

"No. I don't. It's better than you treating me like I'm a time bomb ready to go off. Or some psycho you have to coddle and baby so I don't kill you." Bobby frowned, meeting his partner's eyes. "You're gonna start that shit now. I just know it. That's why I wasn't gonna tell you anything. You might have been a smart-ass to me, but that's how you treat everyone. Now, it's gonna change."

Darien studied him for a moment. "Bobby. Are you being an asshole 'cause you're tired, or what?"

Bobby's face showed his surprise.

"Think about it, Hobbes. Two weeks ago I was here, after that first phone call. Two weeks ago your ex-wife told me things about you that you never would. Has anything changed in two weeks? Haven't I been my usual charming self at work?"

"So why are you here now? Why did you break your neck racing here when I called?"

"Because. I realized two weeks ago that I was being a lousy partner. I don't want to be here, Bobby, and I was taking it out on you along with the people who put me here. You didn't deserve that. You're just doing your job."

Bobby met his eyes for a moment. "Look, Fawkes…"

"Bobby. You need some sleep. You're starting to look like a raccoon with those circles under your eyes. Don't pull any more of this macho BS on me, okay? Just lay down and go to sleep. I can hang out, watch over you."

"Just like last time, huh?"

"Yeah." Darien ignored the sarcasm in his partner's voice. "Just like last time."

 

****

 

He wasn't falling asleep.

Darien shifted where he sat against the wall. Same place he'd been last time, but this time sleep just wasn't coming to him. His back was already complaining, and he was actually a little chilly.

Then again, it could have been Bobby keeping him awake. His partner wasn't sleeping the easy, deep, drug-induced sleep he had last time. He was tossing and turning, restless and mumbling.

Darien had been watching him for what felt like hours. This poor guy obviously didn't sleep deeply that often. He must have been having some vivid dreams to be moving around like that. Fortunately none of them seemed to be nightmares. Still, it was tiring Darien out just watching him.

Just as he found himself thinking that, Bobby's mumbles turned a little louder. His face pinched in a look Darien recognized as that paranoid furrow Bobby had most of the time.

Darien almost reached out to him, but what the hell was he gonna do? Wake him up? Nah, Bobby needed sleep. Hell, he needed it too.

Darien tried to turn away and ignore his partner, but his eyes kept going back, drawn by an almost-understandable mumble or another toss of the restless body.

Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he shifted and lowered himself onto the bed against the wall. Only thinking about sleep, his body moved on its own, stretching him out until his head reached the pillow, ignoring that parts of him were precariously close to his partner.

Bobby shifted in a display of lousy timing, turning until his arm was draped over Darien's side. If the feel of another body in his bed filtered through the sleeping man's brain, it only caused him to move a little closer, practically snuggling in.

Darien tensed as Bobby closed in on him. His eyes were wide open, watching Bobby's face as the smaller man curled in to him. Bobby stayed asleep, though.

Darien shrugged mentally. He was stuck there for the night. Maybe Bobby would kill him when he woke up in the morning, but he was too tired to care.

The last thing he noticed before he drifted into sleep was that Bobby wasn't shifting or mumbling anymore.

 

****

 

Darien's eyes opened after a pleasantly deep sleep, and he found himself staring at Bobby's face inches from his.

He was surprised, but didn't move. Bobby was sleeping.

Bobby was sleeping. It was a strange thing to see, and Darien lay there for a long moment, just looking. He was twitchy -- Bobby was twitchy awake and twitchy asleep. His eyes fluttered under the thin cover of skin, and his breathing was uneven.

Funny how much of Bobby's personality remained as he slept. Darien would bet if he so much as sat up, Bobby would be awake and alert, with some unseen gun out and aimed.

He felt a smile rise to his face and settled more comfortably on his side. Bobby was still pressed close against him, now lying flat on his back. One hand was on his chest, the other buried under the covers somewhere.

This was a pretty far road from when he and Bobby had first met. Strange how even though neither of them had made any attempt to like the other or be liked by them, somehow they seemed to have found a lot of common ground. Somehow their little sarcastic sparring matching at work weren't out of resentment anymore. Now they were just for fun. Just a chance to lighten the air -- lighten his life, Darien figured -- by trading smart-ass jokes with someone whose personality was eccentric enough to appreciate it.

In fact, now that he thought about it, he really had more in common with Bobby than with anyone else he knew. The Official? Eberts? Forget it. The Keeper? Well, he'd figured they had some common ground when he found out about Gloria, and deduced that she was an unwilling party in this just like he was. But that ended, and she stayed. For him, supposedly, but still. He didn't have that common factor with her anymore. And without that, they really were nothing alike. She was intense, smart, dedicated. He was still just a smart-ass slacker trying to laze his way through this strange new time in his life.

Really, that should have made him nothing like Bobby. Bobby was ten times more dedicated to the Agency than Darien ever would be. Bobby was born to serve his country, and as far as Darien could see he had no higher ambitions than that. Bobby was obsessed with the country and the Agency, obsessed with everyone's safety. Obsessed with his ex-wife.

Obsess wasn't in Darien's vocabulary. He was lucky if he was interested in something at all. He thought he had loved Casey, but when she left him to his new freak life he hadn't shed any tears. He thought he loved Kate Easton, but again, she was gone, and he wasn't missing her. He hadn't written her at her new address. Out of sight, out of mind.

He was obsessed with one thing -- the gland. The removal of the gland, more specifically. Outside of that, he was easygoing and laid back.

Still, even with those huge opposites, he felt a big kinship to Bobby. He almost felt like they were both prisoners in this. Him with his gland, and Bobby with the weird synapse misfirings in his brain that made him what he was.

But that wasn't fair. Darien couldn't dismiss Bobby's entire personality as one big psychological flaw. Much as he might joke about it at times.

Darien's thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the loudest, most annoying mechanical beep he had ever heard in his life.

Bobby shot upright as the beeping continued, and he immediately lunged for the other side of the bed, slamming his arm down on the small radio.

The beeping stopped abruptly.

Darien sat up with a laugh. "Remind me never to wake you up."

Bobby jumped and twisted his head to look at Darien. "Shit. Kid, you scared the hell out of me."

Darien leaned against the wall, flashing a grin at his partner. "It's a wonder that thing still works at all."

Bobby glanced back at the radio, and surprise flitted over his face. "You know, I think that's the first time I've ever heard that alarm."

"New clock?"

"No." Bobby looked down at his lap, shaking his head to clear the last traces of sleep. "I'm just usually awake before it goes off."

Darien frowned at that. Given what he had seen of Bobby's tossing and turning, the guy couldn't get that deep a rest. Insomnia was a bitch -- Darien knew that from more than a couple of times he'd tossed and turned a night away himself.

"Jesus, look at the time." Bobby threw the covers off and swung his feet to the floor.

Darien moved his long limbs off the bed, standing and stretching with a huge yawn. "Sar da'off," he said through the yawn.

Bobby grinned at that "Shit, that's right. Sunday. Day off."

"Yeah. You set your alarm on your off days?"

Bobby shrugged and stood. "I need a shower. You can make breakfast."

"Oh, gee, thanks."

"Hey. I offered you the pleasure of my company and a nice warm bed last night. You owe me."

Darien watched, but if Bobby had any negative reaction towards sleeping in the same bed as his all-too-male partner, he didn't show it. He just stretched his arms, shook his head again, and shuffled for the door.

He froze with his hand on the bolt. Eyes wide with sudden serious trepidation moved to Darien. "Did I set the alarm by the front door after you got here?"

Darien shrugged. "I dunno. Probably."

Bobby's hand dropped. "I don't think I did."

Darien watched his partner move to the bedside and grab the gun from off the table. He almost laughed, but held it in. "You locked the door. No one could have gotten in here."

Bobby just shook his head, a dark look in his eyes. Clutching the gun, he stalked to the door, raising a hand for silence. For a moment he just listened, his ear close to the cool wood. Finally he reached for the bolt and slid it open. Tense, looking like he expected a very real ambush, he cracked the door open.

Darien just watched him. He stayed back and quiet, studying his partner. Seeing the genuine alarm all over Bobby's body.

Bobby looked out into the outer apartment, and must have been satisfied. He relaxed slightly and moved fluidly out the door and into the living room.

Darien trailed after him, watching as Bobby went first to the door, where he set the alarm, and then to the window, where he unnecessarily checked the street below.

Finally, satisfied, he turned back to the bedroom.

Darien met his eyes from where he stood in the doorway.

Bobby's gaze was practically daring him to make the joke he knew was coming.

But Darien didn't say anything. Didn't even crack a smile. "Go on and shower, Hobbes. I'll fix you some eggs or something as payment for being allowed to be in your presence."

Bobby stayed quiet for a minute, and a tension drained out of him. He nodded once, and headed for the bathroom. At the doorway he glanced back. "Hey, kid?"

Darien loped over to the kitchen area and opened the fridge. "Yeah?"

"Thanks."

Darien glanced back, and smiled faintly. He knew Bobby was thanking him for a lot more than just breakfast.

And Bobby, he saw, knew he knew that. They traded a look loaded with understanding and acceptance, and Bobby cut it off by shutting the door into the bathroom and locking it quietly.

Darien turned back to the fridge, his heart suddenly beating just a touch faster. Looked like he was breaking some barriers with his partner. Finally.

The thought made him happier than it probably should have.

 

****

 

"You mind telling me again what we're doing here, Fawkes?"

"Revisiting our childhood," Darien stated grandly as he put the van into park. "We're gonna waste fifty bucks and our afternoon off by doing what few people over sixteen let themselves do anymore."

Bobby climbed out of the van and peered dubiously at the neon sign over the building they were about to enter. "I don't know about this."

"Aw, come on. You have to give it a chance. You'll be amazed how liberating it is."

Bobby shot him a look.

Darien heaved a sigh and marched to him, grabbing his arm and leading him towards the door. "Like it or not, we decided to hang out today, and this is where I wanna go. When we're done here we'll go wherever you want, okay?"

Bobby broke into a sudden grin. "That a promise?"

Darien realized he might have spoken too soon, but he just returned the grin. "Yeah. Promise."

"Okay then. Let's blow hard-earned money on children's games."

"Hey, there are more to video arcades than children's games. Give it a chance."

Darien opened the door, and they stepped into the loud, clattering, dim world of one of San Diego's coolest arcades. In Darien's opinion, at least.

It was one in the afternoon, and the place was almost deserted. Still, the unused games clamored and whistled for attention, and the lights flashing from screens and whirring from strategically places strobes and sirens made the place seem a lot more alive than it was.

Bobby stopped inside the door and shook his head slightly.

Darien forced him in. "Come on, hard-ass. I'll set you up on Tekken, and you can dismember and kill and maim as much as you want."

He got their fifty bucks worth of tokens, which, he told Bobby, they would use every last one of before they left, and got Bobby started on some shooting game with a bunch of half-decayed zombies and killer frogs.

He stayed long enough to watch the magic happen.

First, Bobby hefted the blue plastic gun attached to the game by a chain, and shook his head at the images floating across the screen.

Then the zombies appeared, and the sight of his gun flashed on the screen, and Bobby half-heartedly started firing.

And then, as Darien was anticipating, Bobby got into it. His brow furrowed at the quick-moving dead things, his grip on the gun got a little tighter, and suddenly he was aiming with both hands, vocally lambasting the zombies.

Amid bursts of "Die, zombie scum" Darien grinned his smug satisfaction and wandered over to some high-tech looking racing game.

Ten minutes later he put his initials into the machine, smirking. "Just like driving a getaway car from a bank," he said with satisfaction, even though he'd never done any such thing.

Bobby appeared at his side, his eyes flashing interest. "Wha?"

"Nothing. You should try this. You drive like a lunatic anyway."

Bobby grinned at the game and slid into the seat. "Tokens. Now."

Darien laughed and handed out the appropriate coins. "Have fun, Bobby. Don't talk to strangers. Daddy'll be right over there kicking some ass on Mortal Combat."

Bobby nodded absently and waved him off, his eyes alertly scanning the controls and the wheels and pedals, getting a feel for the game.

By the time Darien had gotten his ass thoroughly kicked by some big guy in armor, he wandered back over to where Bobby still sat behind the wheel.

He got to watch as Bobby kicked in his own initials, a few spaces below Darien's.

"Having fun?"

Bobby smiled up at him. His eyes were bright and cheerful, his face gleaming, his smile almost childish and goofy.

The look made Darien's breath almost seize in his throat.

"This is a blast. You really did this a lot when you were a kid?"

Darien swallowed and moved back as Bobby hopped out of the chair. "Yeah. You didn't?"

"Nah. Poor Brooklyn kid like me? Friend of mine had an Atari, but it wasn't anything like this."

"Atari? Oh, Christ, Bobby, you have to see the good stuff."

"It was actually pretty neat at the time, but…hey! What's that?"

Darien caught up to the distracted Bobby by the Skeeball machines. He obediently put in a token for Bobby and one for himself, and explained the game.

Bobby gave up after one turn. "Too much like bowling. I hate bowling."

Darien grimaced at his own score. "I'm inclined to agree."

"Hey!" Once again Bobby was off, his eyes drawn to another shiny toy.

Darien couldn't help a smile as he followed. This was a good idea. Unbelievably good. He hadn't seen Bobby this happy…ever. Christ, the guy was using words like 'neat' and grinning like a teenage boy. This was definitely making both of them forget about the problems that had brought them together that day.

He met Bobby by the large air hockey table. He grinned and fished out tokens. "This you're gonna like. I'll take you through it one game, and then I show no mercy."

Bobby's eyes gleamed at the challenge. "Think you're pretty good, huh?"

"Bobby, if real hockey was anything like this, I'd have made a fortune even Wayne Gretsky would be jealous of."

"Mmm hmm." Bobby went to his side of the table and picked up the round thing. "Okay, what's this?"

"Think of it as hockey," Darien explained, going to his side of the table as the game lit up, air pockets blowing through tiny holes on the table.

Bobby looked down in interest, but back up at Darien for the explanation. "Uh huh?"

"That's your goal, this is mine. All you have to do is use that thing to stop this puck from going into your goal."

Bobby chuckled. "Sounds easy enough."

Darien took it slow long enough to score the first point.

After that, he didn't need to.

The game went on for what could have been hours. Darien was a master at the game. He had a long reach and fast-moving arms that sent the puck whipping to the other side like a streak.

But Bobby, two minutes into the game, was a pro. He used his shorter reach and lighting reflexes to block every shot Darien fired. He stayed on the defensive, parrying Darien's shots, and the second point scored was against Darien as the puck slipped past his arm and into his goal.

Bobby grinned in delight. "Hang on." He stepped back, taking off his jacket and throwing it over the chair of one of those driving games. His sleeves were rolled up quickly, and he stepped up with a smile. "Alright. Let's do this."

By the time another point was scored, by sheer luck slipping once again into Darien's goal, they had attracted a crowd. The few kids hanging out in the arcade wandered one by one to the table, until they were picking favorites and rooting the two men on.

Darien sliced a shot that managed to cut through Bobby's defense, and the score was tied.

The kids cheered, the crowd grew, and Bobby and Darien went back and forth madly for the next point.

As it turned out, Darien's arm gave out before he did, and he slammed the puck to a stop finally, breathing almost in pants. "I think I've lost all the feeling in my hand," he said over the voices of the kids.

Bobby grinned and straightened. "Good call. I'll buy you lunch."

Darien glanced out at the large picture windows and nodded at the darkness. "Dinner."

Bobby looked at his watch. "Hell," he said agreeably. "Guess we could keep going till the place closes."

Darien shook his tired hand out. "No thanks. Rematch, though?"

"Anytime."

"Good. I've still got thirty bucks worth of tokens in my pockets." Darien reached back and grabbed his coat, hearing disappointed sounds from the young kids. "All yours, guys," he said with a grin.

Bobby slid his jacket on and came face to face with a black-clad, earringed teenage boy. "Need something, junior?"

The kid shook his head. "That was cool, man," he said simply, his voice almost awed.

Darien came up and clapped a hand on his partner's back. "Come on. I'm hungry." He led his partner out of the arcade, and the quiet, cool air outside was almost a shock. "You know, you just got the biggest compliment an old guy can get from a punk kid like that."

Bobby glanced over as they walked down the block. "What? Cool?"

"Yep. I never would have said that to an adult when I was his age."

"I never would have used that word when I was his age," Bobby retorted amiably.

"Oh, yeah. Guess the word wasn't around back then. What'd you say? Groovy?"

Bobby elbowed him. "Lay off, kid. I'm not that much older than you."

"Yeah? So what's with the 'kid'?"

"Well, I am a little bit more mature."

"Oh really? So it wasn't you shouting for those zombie bastards to meet their makers a few hours ago?"

Bobby grinned. "I gotta admit, Darien, that place was fun."

"Told ya. Hey, this place any good?"

Bobby glanced at the restaurant on the opposite corner. "Never been?"

"Nope."

Bobby grinned openly. "Alright, looks like I can return the favor. You introduced me to air hockey, I'll introduce you to perogies."

 

****

 

The food was obscenely expensive, and the atmosphere a little too quiet after their loud afternoon, but Darien bit into his first of the steaming perogies loaded with freshly made sour cream, and he forgave Bobby for bringing him here. In fact, he forgave Bobby for everything Bobby may have ever done or not done in his entire life.

Bobby smiled at the bliss on his face. "Almost as good as air hockey."

"Better." Darien swallowed and took a minute to just savor. "Damn, why didn't you tell me about this place?"

"Not like we usually share dining tips."

Darien's smile faded slightly. "Yeah. I guess I really haven't been that great a partner to you, have I?"

Bobby laughed in genuine surprise. "Are you kidding? Best partner I've ever had."

Darien heard the sincerity in that, and was flattered but dubious. "Come on. I've been apathetic, antisocial, smug, and bitchy since I first met you."

"And you think that's bad? Hell, I'm used to flat-out hostile. A little smugness was a relief."

Darien frowned for the first time in hours, unable to take that as the compliment Bobby intended. Knowing what he knew now about what Bobby endured day to day, he didn't welcome knowing how Bobby's own partners must have compounded the problems. "Well, either way, I'm gonna change. You're a good friend. I guess I just didn't realize that until recently."

"Huh." Bobby met his eyes across the table, then dropped his gaze to dig back into his food.

Darien followed his lead, treating himself to a few more perogies in the silence that followed.

The quiet between them was comfortable, which wasn't unusual. Despite their fighting and bickering like some old married couple, they were never really that tense with each other.

Old married couple. Huh. In a way, they were like that, and They were getting more and more like that an old married couple every day. They could communicate without saying a word. They could speak one of two words and get across whole ideas and plans. They were starting to really come together as partners, and at that point Darien could almost predict Bobby's gripes before he griped them.

Couple of months from now, they probably wouldn't have to say a damned word to each other and still be able to have complex conversations.

Darien liked that. He wanted it to happen.

That thought stopped him in mid-chew. He swallowed heavily and couldn't help looking across the table at his partner. He really did want to know how far they could take this thing. They were just starting to open up, really open up, to each other, and who knew where that could lead?

Darien wanted it. More than he wanted to leave?

Scarily enough, he couldn't answer that right away.

His mind kicked in a moment later. Of course not as much as he wanted to leave. His life, his freedom, his health, they were all more important that trading quips with some ex-Fed nutcase.

Thinking that got him mad at himself. Bobby was no nutcase. Well, he kinda was, but it was something he couldn't control, something that made him miserable, so Darien couldn't think it of him in that way. Not in that negative, sneering way he usually did.

Jesus, he really did want to know Bobby a lot better. And as far as he could tell, interpreting his own thoughts and feelings, there was a chance he did want it more than he wanted a quick fix to his gland problem.

Holy shit. When the hell had that happened?

 

****

 

The phone rang at three thirty in the morning.

Darien scowled hazily out at the clock face, and groped for the phone. "'lo?"

There was a pause, then a click. A few seconds later, a dial tone.

Darien grumbled wordlessly as he dropped the phone and fell back against the pillow.

A few moments later, he was up and looking for his shoes.

 

****

 

"You shouldn't hang up on people, Bobby. It's rude."

Bobby couldn't hide his surprise as he stepped back to let Darien in. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"You called."

Bobby grimaced, locking the door behind him and punching numbers into his alarm system. "The whole point of hanging up is so you don't know it's me."

"That's weird, Bobby. Really. Weird." Darien couldn't hide a yawn as his eyes followed Bobby back to the bedroom. He shuffled after him. ""Now what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Bobby."

Bobby dropped his gun on the table. "Nothing more than usual," he amended reluctantly.

Darien frowned and moved in, dropping on the bed. "This really happen every night?"

Bobby shrugged. "I usually don't call every night. Don't worry. I just…I was thinking today was a good day, and wouldn't it be just like fate to go fuck it up by making something happen to you after I dropped you off. I just wanted to hear that you were okay."

Darien looked past the defensiveness on his partner's face. "You were really worried, huh?"

"Yeah. You…you're not as worried about self-protection as you could be, Fawkes." Bobby's eyes met his, then dropped suddenly. "So I'm really okay, and I'm sorry I woke you up. You can go."

Darien rolled his eyes. "Sorry. I'm here now. I'd probably fall asleep behind the wheel if I tried to drive home."

Bobby almost flinched at that. "You want to stay here again?"

"You mind?"

"Nah. Do what you want."

Darien was quiet for a moment. "Bobby?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

Bobby turned to him, surprised. "For what?"

"For trusting me." At Bobby's furrowed look, he explained. "I don't imagine it's just anyone you'd let stay in your apartment while you're sleeping. I'm glad you trust me."

Bobby gave a crooked smile. "Just don't make me regret it."

"Never." Darien grinned back. "So…bed?"

"Yeah. Work tomorrow. Have to be well rested to defeat the forces of evil."

Darien chose not to mention again the fact that Bobby didn't seem to have a problem with them sleeping in the same bed. It should have been weird, right? Should have gotten the two of them all macho and standoffish.

"You need something to wear?"

Darien laughed. "No offense, but I don't think anything of yours would fit. I brought my own stuff."

Bobby's eyebrows rose at that. "Anticipating?"

"Yep. Got clothes for tomorrow and everything. Kinda like a sleepover."

"A what?"

"Sleepover." At Bobby's blank look, "Come on. You and your little Brooklyn friends must have had sleepovers, right? Stay up all night playing video games and eating junk food? Talking like we knew something about women. It's a rite of passage."

"Like the arcade?"

Darien shrugged. "Your parents ought to be shot for the way you grew up."

Bobby smirked. "No argument there. Come on, kid. Time to sleep."

 

****

 

Darien rolled over, stretching under the sheets luxuriously.

Damn. He slept good last night. No dreams, no stirring at four in the morning. Nice, deep sleep that left him feeling like he could--

"Ouch. Watch your leg, kid."

He dropped his head to the side and grinned at his partner. "Morning, Bobby."

Bobby grunted.

"Come on. Time to get up and conquer the world." Darien beamed, feeling inexplicably happy. He rolled halfway on top of Bobby and scrambled off the bed. Dropping down long enough to give his partner a good morning kiss, he headed for the bathroom.

At the doorway he stopped and glanced back. "You want any…"

Bobby was bolt upright, staring at him with mouth dropped open and shock in his eyes.

Darien's mind replayed the last minute, and he froze, realizing what he'd just done.

Their eyes met across the room, and neither of them spoke for a long minute.

Finally Darien broke the gaze, feeling blood rising to his face fast. "Coffee. Yeah, I should make some coffee." He turned and left the room as fast as he could.

When he reached the kitchen counter and lifted the coffee filters, he saw his hands were shaking.

Jesus Christ, what the hell was that? He had kissed his partner. Kissed Bobby. For no good reason at all, he planted his mouth on the mouth of his male partner and friend.

He realized quickly that his reaction to that wasn't much more than shock. He actually kissed Bobby. Wow. There was no disgust or male posturing, no regret. Just surprise.

"Tell me that was some reflex left over from the last time you slept in someone else's bed. Tell me you didn't mean to do that." Bobby's voice sounded strained.

Darien turned around to face him. "I didn't mean to do that," he said easily. "But I don't think I'm real sorry that I did," he admitted.

Bobby started, surprised. "What?"

Darien shrugged. "I don't feel bad about it. I guess I wanted to do it, whether I realized it or not. Sorry if it's ruined your morning."

"Darien…" Bobby shook his head, looking confused and shocked and a lot of other things. "Hang on. You don't just go planting your lips on someone for no reason at all."

Darien smiled faintly. "I didn't say there was no reason."

Bobby almost flinched at that. "Damn it, you'd better tell me what's going through your brain, Fawkes."

Darien leaned his butt against the counter, folding his arms over his chest. He thought about it for a minute, then shrugged again. "I like you, Bobby. You're my best friend. I want to be your best friend. I want to keep being the person you call every night at some obscene hour 'cause you can't sleep. I guess I want to be a lot of things to you. I want to make you smile like you were smiling yesterday." He grinned in memory. "I'll bet you never smiled that much in your life."

Bobby studied him. "Look, you're way off…actually, you have a point about yesterday. But this is…you're nuts, Fawkes. Jesus, you must be crazier than I am."

The good cheer that came with the kiss and the realization it brought was quickly fading under Bobby's eyes, but Darien kept the smile planted in place. "I don't think so. Look, Bobby, I've fooled around with guys before. It's not really that big a deal."

Bobby snorted.

"It isn't," Darien argued. "Not if you don't let it be. And I like you, and it just seems kinda natural, you know?"

"No. No, there's nothing natural about this. You're crazy. Nothing's happening here, not now, not ever."

"Why not? You that homophobic? Too vanilla to give it a try?"

Bobby almost rolled his eyes. "I'm a lot less vanilla than you think, partner."

"Yeah? And you like me, huh?"

Bobby shrugged stiffly.

"Okay then. Give me one good reason why that kiss was such a big deal."

"Because."

"Not good enough."

"Good enough for me. It's not…I can't do that, Darien. I don't kiss people and not mean for it to go somewhere. And this," he gestured between them, "isn't going anywhere. Ever."

"Why not?"

"Because. You and me…it's it'll last an hour, Fawkes. You know that. Look at what we are. You're fighting to get the hell away from me and everyone else in this Agency, and me…"

"One good reason, Bobby," Darien requested again.

"Sure, I can give ya several good reasons. Paranoia, schizophrenia, attention fucking deficit disorder. Antisocial tendencies, manic depression, mental illness." Bobby laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "Listen to me good here, Darien. I'm a psycho, a mental case, a maniac. An unstable personality. I am a flipped out, over the edge, certifiable, demented, off my rocker. Nuts."

"Bobby." Darien almost smiled. "It's not--"

Bobby pretended not to hear him. "Lunatic, sick, unhinged. Alarmist, non compos mentis. Unbalanced. A crazy, demented, insane, bitter, uptight, overwrought, sociopathic, unsteady, anxiety-ridden kook addicted to so many friggin pills it'd make your head spin."

Darien's smile faded under the torrent of words. He looked into Bobby's eyes and saw genuine pain there. He listened to the bitter self-recrimination, and realized he was probably listening to things Bobby had heard from other people. Things he had said some of himself.

Things Bobby genuinely believed about himself.

Darien moved forward, his brow furrowed, as Bobby winded down. "Bobby."

"And you know, there are a few shrinks who figured I might have some kind of split personality disorder. Of course they can just take that diagnosis and shove it up their ass 'cause I sure as hell don't need it on top of everything else I got wrong with me. You get what I'm saying here, Darien? You underst--"

Darien grabbed his head and shut him up with his mouth.

Bobby stiffened against him, frozen.

Darien pulled back after a minute, shaking his head. "Bobby--"

"Don't you fucking do this to me, Darien. You know what I am." Bobby's eyes were on his shoes, his voice quiet. "You've seen it. Every damned night, remember? Every minute of every fucking day."

"I don't believe it."

"You need more convincing? Christ, Darien, you've had to come over here the last three--"

"Not that. I know you have problems, Bobby. I'm not stupid. But I don't believe that's what you are."

Bobby laughed wryly. "Believe it."

Darien shook his head, waiting until Bobby looked up and met his eyes. "I see more. I see that, Bobby, the problems. I do. I wouldn't ignore it. But there's a lot more. And I see that too, you know?" He smiled faintly, searching the wounded brown eyes in front of him. "Problem here is, you don't see it. I think those voices in your head are affecting your vision."

Bobby's eyes spoke mute denial of what Darien was saying. "You’re my partner. We're friends, Darien. Don't do this. Jesus, don't fucking do this."

"I'm sorry," Darien said sincerely, hearing old, deep pain in Bobby's voice. "I think you should know. Even if you're right, and nothing would ever come out of this, you should know there's at least one person in the world who sees through the problems. I see you, Bobby. It's taken me a while, but I do. And I think I could love you, if you let me."

Bobby flinched visibly, taking a step back. His eyes wide, he spoke quietly. "Get the hell out of here."

Darien swallowed. "You want me to--"

"Get out!" Bobby spun on his heel and went in to his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

Darien stood there for a long moment. He listened, but didn't hear the slide and click of the bolt fastening into place.

Slowly, uncertainly, he headed for the bedroom door. Cracking it open, he saw Bobby sitting on the edge of the bed, breathing shallowly, head bowed and eyes closed.

He went in.

Bobby spoke before he could say anything. "Even if I thought you meant it," he said quietly. "Even if I could believe it, I can't do that. I can't let one person…" He shook his head. "Vivian was everything to me, Darien. She was my wife, my best friend. I trusted her more than I've ever trusted anyone. I gave her everything I could, everything humanly possible. And it wasn't enough. She threw it all away. Threw me in the fucking trash. You get it, Darien? I trusted her with everything, and she destroyed it all, my entire fucking life. I can't let anyone else do that." He looked up finally, his eyes bright. "I trust you. I do. As much as I can trust anyone. But I can't trust you more than that. I'll never do that to myself again."

Darien moved in closer, sitting on the bed near Bobby.

Bobby dropped his gaze, smiling wryly. "I was better when I was with her. I think she ruined a few things when she left. I'm not that good anymore. Don't know why you made yourself think you might want me."

Darien smiled sadly, his chest feeling like it was squeezing around his heart. "Self-pity isn't flattering on you, Bobby." He spoke gently, knowing Bobby probably had a really good damned reason to feel sorry for himself. Still.

He thought he liked Vivian. Especially after she woke him up at four in the morning to have coffee and talk about his wacko partner. But he could see the damage she'd done to her ex-husband, and it made him mad. She knew Bobby as well as anyone could, and she still abandoned him. She must know she'd made him even worse off, which was why she was trying to get help for him.

Bobby laughed faintly. "I know," he answered Darien's statement. "I don't talk like this a lot, believe me."

Darien heaved a sigh. "Listen, Bobby."

Bobby looked up, his eyes guarded.

Darien reached out unconsciously and touched the stubbled face lightly. "I'm not Vivian. You can trust me. You know that. I know," he stilled Bobby's objection before he could voice it. "I know it's hard. It's probably damned near impossible. But…" He couldn't help himself. He leaned in and pressed his lips to Bobby's again gently.

Again Bobby didn't move in response. He just sat there, frozen, not participating in the kiss but not pulling away either.

It occurred to Darien as he pulled back that Bobby might be right -- he might be ruined. For good. Still, he was able to smile faintly. "But," he finished, "I'll take whatever you can give me."

Bobby shook his head slowly, but didn't respond.

Darien breathed out heavily, turning to frown down at his lap. This wasn't gonna work. That sudden realization struck him with a hammer blow that was surprising given that last night he wasn't even considering starting some kind of relationship.

"Look, Fawkes…"

Darien glanced back, and saw a strange gleam in Bobby's eyes. "What?"

Bobby shut his eyes briefly, then leaned in, grabbing Darien's shirt and hauling him close.

Darien tensed for a moment, but the feel of Bobby's lips willingly against his lit some kind of fire in him, and his arms went around his partner's smaller body, pulling him closer.

Lips. Warm, soft, gentle, fitting against his too damned well. Darien almost groaned against Bobby's mouth, his eyes shutting tightly as long-absent stirrings of genuine love and desire swept over him. He moved a hand up to the back of Bobby's neck, pressing him in tightly, increasing the strength of the kiss.

Bobby changed angles slightly, and breathed in a gasp against Darien's mouth, diving in again without breaking contact.

Darien felt chills going through him at the sheer desire he could feel emanating from Bobby's body. The chills shivered down him until they met with a growing warmth coming from his groin. The contrasting feelings left Darien breathless and helpless against Bobby. He couldn't help giving in to desire and opening his lips, sneaking his tongue out to taste those surprisingly soft lips.

Bobby voiced a full-bodied groan and opened his lips, letting Darien in.

Letting Darien in. Jesus, Darien hoped he wasn't just imagining what the symbolism there could mean. He didn't think about it long, as his tongue slid into a wet, delicious heat and started a slow and thorough exploration of his partner's mouth. He couldn't catch his breath, and didn't want to. He wanted to dive in to the warmth and comfort he found there, and stay. He wanted to keep the contact up forever, until long after he had memorized the feel of the smooth teeth, the ridged roof, the slick inner walls and hot velvet tongue.

His thoughts vanished in the whirl of a vacuum inside his head, inside his entire body. He felt the hardness rising between his legs from a distance, an unimportant detail. His hands slid restlessly up and down Bobby's back, and he could feel Bobby's hands burning into his skin through his clothes.

Bobby seemed to get into it more suddenly, sliding his tongue along Darien's and into his mouth, probing slowly and carefully, sliding in and out in an echo of making love that was somehow the most erotic thing Darien had ever felt in his life.

Moments later, Bobby was sucking Darien's own tongue back into place, holding him there inside his mouth as if it was the greatest thing he'd ever tasted. Like he wanted Darien there connected to him forever.

Darien could see stars through his closed eyelids. He could see Bobby the day before, flushed and beaming and enjoying himself more thoroughly than he probably ever had before. He could see Bobby trembling and twitching in sleep beside him, and he could see Bobby as the cocky and overconfident agent that shielded each every insecurity and problem he had from view.

He knew probably better than even Bobby did that in reality, it was some combination of those insecurities and problems, and that cocky, confident agent, and the lost child found in those huge grins and the restless sleep, that really made up Bobby.

Bobby didn't see past the pills and the problems, but Darien would teach him. After this, this overheated, fantastic thing they were sharing, Bobby couldn't possibly push him away.

When the contact between them finally ended, when both men had to force themselves apart to suck in needed oxygen, Darien opened his eyes and stared in wonder at the flushed and panting man in front of him.

Bobby caught his breath, and met Darien's eyes across a short distance. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again.

Darien felt a smile rising to his face, and he reached up absently to brush over lips that were now somewhat swollen from the impassioned kiss.

Bobby's eyes went to his lips and locked there for a minute, and he shook his head, looking stunned. "Oh, crap."

Darien nodded, laughing breathily. He knew exactly what Bobby meant.

Bobby dropped his eyes and shifted slightly. "You, uh…you better take that shower."

Darien nodded. Bobby needed space, a few minutes to himself. Understandable. Darien could probably use a little room himself.

He stood without a word and crossed to the door, going through and towards the bathroom without a look back.

It wasn't until his boxers were at his feet in a puddle of cotton that he realized he was sporting about as hard an erection as he could remember. He looked down at it for a moment, then shook his head with a grin. "Great."

His eyes caught on his reflection, and his grin went crooked as he studied himself.

He looked pretty much how he was feeling. A little red in the face, hair wild and sticking everywhere. His eyes were echoing the grin on his face. A little sheepish, now that he was debating jerking off in Bobby Hobbes' bathroom.

Still, undeniably he was happier than he had been when he woke up that morning. Unbelievably happier. And unsurprised that Little Darien was just as happy.

Wow. One minute, and things were spinning all around inside him. One intense, incredible minute. Something Darien could never have predicted.

Hell, he liked Bobby. A part of him might have always been mildly attracted to the guy. Bobby wasn't exactly his type, but he had the attitude and bearing that made Darien either want to smack him or kiss him, and he had since the beginning.

Still. Nothing could have predicted the reaction he'd had to actually getting a taste of Bobby. None of his feelings towards his partner could account, and none of his more-than-plentiful bed-time jaunts with other people, male or female, had brought him the reaction Bobby had.

He shook the thoughts away. Fact was, he wanted more of that, and if Bobby wasn't insane, Bobby'd want more too. So they'd have to figure out what to do from there.

And in the meantime, Darien had to figure out whether to turn on a cold spray or get real personal with Little Darien.

 

****

 

It surprised Darien how normal he and Bobby were able to act that day. The ride to work was mostly quiet, a little awkward, but once they had so much as set foot in the Agency building, they were Fawkes and Hobbes, without a doubt, smirking and giving each other hell. Slouching into the Official's office without a sign anything at all had happened between them.

"Boys." The Official didn't seem to be having as relaxed a morning. "Your case has been closed."

Bobby sat up, all business. "What? What do you mean, closed?"

"I mean, you took too long, you got us nowhere, and the Feds came in and caught the bad guys. That clear enough for you?"

"Fuck." Bobby shot out of his chair, moving to pace across the office. "Dammit."

"Yeah," the Official replied dryly. "I'm not happy."

Darien glanced between them for a minute. "So what now?"

"Now, you two get the hell out of here. We've got nothing for you, and I don't feel like paying you to sit on your asses while another case goes to hell. You take a break. And tomorrow, any case I give you had damned well better be solved before tomorrow night, you hear me?"

Bobby had stopped during that tirade and was now just looking at the boss.

Darien broke the silence by standing. "Yeah. We get you. Come on, Bobby."

Bobby shook his head slightly and went for the door before Darien could reach him.

In the hall, Darien had to work his long legs a little faster to catch up to his partner. "Hey, relax. I'm sure he's just a little uptight right now."

Bobby hardly glanced at him. "Yeah, great. We get one day off a month, and he thinks we're not working hard enough. Out of all the crazy crap he's given us we screw up on one frigging case and he's down our throats. Work like frigging slaves for this guys and what has it gotten us?"

Darien's eyebrows flew up at the outburst, but he kept the surprise out of his voice as he answered. "Uh…two days off this month?"

Bobby turned sharply to look at him.

Darien grinned, trying to lighten the air. Hell, it was just another lecture. He used to get those all the time. Teachers, relatives, wardens, judges. He was used to it. Almost made him nostalgic.

Bobby's mouth tightened, as if annoyed by Darien's attitude.

Darien wasn't about to let him get away with that. "Wanna kill some more zombies? Let me kick your ass at air hockey?"

For a moment the frown remained, but Darien's infectious grin worked its magic, and Bobby couldn't resist a smile. "Jesus, you're a goof, kid. You know that?"

"Been called worse. Let's grab some lunch."

 

****

 

They didn't mention the kiss. Didn't hint that anything was different, and didn't act any more awkward with each other than usual. Not even when they were alone in the relative privacy of a booth in a nearly empty diner did they bring it up.

Darien didn't even have to work to maintain Bobby's good mood. Once it came, it was there.

In the relative privacy of Darien's thoughts, he hoped that kiss might have something to do with it.

Not until they were back at his place and Bobby was walking him upstairs did he say anything.

"Bobby?"

"Yeah?"

"Wanna stay?"

Bobby glanced over, only slightly more tense. "No clothes. I didn't pack for it. Don't have your foresight, I guess."

"I'm sure we could manage something," Darien answered easily. He was impressed how casual his voice sounded -- almost as if it really didn't matter what Bobby decided.

There was a pause as they reached the end of the stairs and loped side by side to Darien's door. "Just means we have to get up earlier tomorrow so I can go by my place."

Darien shrugged. "No biggie. I'll set my alarm."

"You have an alarm?"

"Sure. If I didn't use it I'd never wake up in time to be an hour late."

Bobby grinned.

They reached the door, and Darien put his key in the lock then turned to his partner. "Whaddaya think?" Still casual. Go Darien.

Bobby met his eyes for a minute, then shrugged. "Alright."

Darien grinned, releasing a pent-up breath, then tried to return to casual a moment later. He opened the door and pushed it open, gesturing for Bobby to go in first.

Bobby moved in slowly, stopping right inside the door.

Darien tried to go in behind him, assuming Bobby would keep moving. But Bobby just stood there, stiff.

When he got in close enough to see the expression on Bobby's face, Darien realized what the problem was.

Bobby's eyes were skirting the apartment, narrowed and dark. Darien knew what Bobby was seeing -- the large, exposed windows, the doors shut to hide God knew what, the nooks and crannies large enough to hide sumo wrestlers.

Bobby's mouth opened, then shut. His eyes went inward, as though fighting some kind of inner battle.

Darien figured he was probably fighting with himself, trying to keep from being so paranoid he ruined whatever he was hoping would happen that night.

But he also knew by now that Bobby's worry and fear were genuine and deep, and he couldn't just tell them to go away. He was fighting now with a huge part of himself.

So Darien took the fight off of his shoulders. "You know, you have a good point about the morning. I was never a morning person. Since we're here, why don't I grab some more stuff and we go back to your place?"

Bobby relaxed instantly, but his eyes were still dark. He searched Darien's expression, as if trying to find something patronizing about Darien's change of heart.

"Come on, tough guy. Don't analyze everything to death." Darien slid past him and into the apartment. "Let me pack a bag and we can get out of here."

Bobby just stood there. He shut the door behind him, leaned his back against it, and stood. His eyes went everywhere as Darien moved easily around his apartment. He was constantly looking towards the window, tensing if Darien got too close. His eyes would whip to the bathroom door as if he'd heard some noise.

Darien finished as fast as he could, packing a few different outfits. Just in case, he told himself. Just to leave in the van, maybe. Not because he was anticipating more nights with Bobby. Of course not.

He only took a couple of minutes, but by the time he was done and back at the door, there was no sign of the relaxed Bobby Hobbes of five minutes ago. His shorter partner was now stiff, frowning and serious.

"Come on." Darien reached him and touched his arm, knowing better than to try and lighten the moment again. "Let's go."

 

****

 

"Bobby…can you tell me what happens?"

Bobby glanced over at him, frowning slightly. "What do you mean?" He asked it with the tone of voice of someone who knew exactly what was meant, and was hoping for a different answer.

Darien sat back against his couch, slinging one knee up so he could face Bobby more easily. "I mean…today, in that restaurant. Or at the arcade yesterday. It's not like you have to sit with your back to the door, or you go all suspicious whenever someone walks in to the room. You can get out in the middle of a crowd and not act all…stiff. Why does it happen sometimes and not others?"

Bobby shrugged. "Tell you the truth, I dunno. Mostly it just comes in at night real bad. I always figured it had something to do with the medicine wearing off, or my metabolism, or something. But then it happens during the day sometime. I just go wacky, and suddenly the meds ain't helping much."

Darien met his eyes, reaching out absently, almost without noticing, to rest his hand on Bobby's arm lightly. "Does it have something to do with…I mean, it happens in this place a lot, and it happened at my apartment earlier. Something about homes?"

Brown eyes flashed with something indefinable, and Bobby pulled away from Darien's touch. "It's nothing. I don't know, I said. Change the subject, Fawkes."

"Okay," Darien agreed quickly. Tense Bobby was back, and that was bad. "You got any set plans for tonight?"

Bobby didn't relax any more at that. "You're the one who wanted the sleepover, pal."

Darien grinned. "So I get to choose the activities?"

"I didn't say that," Bobby fired back automatically, relaxing every so slightly. "You can make the first suggestions, though."

"You're too generous." Blunt, or suggestive? Darien could do either. He decided on blunt. "How about we finish what we started on your bed this morning?" His hand went out again in search of contact.

Bobby didn't agree, but he didn't pull away again. "You really want to keep this up, huh?"

"Keep what up? You think it's some thrill for me having to come on to someone who looks at me like I'm as desirable as dog shit?"

Bobby smiled at that. Victory for Darien. "You really want to try for something? I mean…us? You want us to try…something?"

"Damn. Women are right. Men can't talk about this coherently." Darien grinned, but it faded after a moment. "Yeah. I want you and me to have some go at a relationship. I haven't been very subtle about it. I'm no good at subtle. You know what I mean. You know what I want. Stop dicking around and tell me how you feel about it."

Bobby relaxed into the cushions of the sofa. "I feel like it's gonna be the second biggest mistake of my life. Maybe even the biggest. I think you must be suffering some temporary insanity, maybe gland-induced, and you'll get better a week from now and wonder what the hell you were thinking. I feel like you're not in your right mind, which would be okay if I was in my right mind, but I never really am, so we're both screwed. And if you're looking to me to stop you, or be responsible, or play it safe, than you're looking at the wrong psycho, cause nothing I feel right now is responsible or safe or anything else."

Darien blinked, then smiled. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Bobby shrugged, but echoed the smile. "That wasn't really an answer, either."

"I noticed that."

Bobby paused.

Darien waited.

"Yeah," he said finally. "God fucking help me because I'm gonna regret this like I never regretted anything before, but I want to finish what we started on my bed this morning."

Darien grinned -- a huge, sincere, flashy, boyish and probably fairly ridiculous grin.

"One catch," Bobby said quickly in warning.

Darien tried to look dutifully serious. "What's that?"

"I…you…someone sleeps on the couch tonight."

"What?"

"I mean it." Bobby was indeed looking very serious. "No more sharing beds. Someone's cramping their back on the couch tonight, and I don't care which one of us it is. Deal?"

Undeterred, if surprised, Darien shrugged. "Race ya to the bedroom." He bounced up off the couch and reached his hand down.

Bobby rolled his eyes, but accepted the hand and stood. "I'm trying to unload on you, and you're acting like a ten-year-old again."

Darien pulled him close, not releasing his hand. He looked carefully into those wary brown eyes, and was very serious and sincere when he spoke. "I won't make you regret this, Bobby."

Bobby blinked, met his eyes, blinked again, then pulled back and looked at the ground. "God help me," he said again. "I almost believe you."

 

****

 

Bobby Hobbes tasted like Coke and fries, spice from a damned good diner burger, and something indefinable and sharp, instantly recognizable.

Darien latched onto it. He was tasting post-lunch, post-burger Bobby. He wanted to know more. He wanted post-dinner Bobby, post-breakfast. He wanted before-bed Bobby, middle-of-the-day Bobby. He'd even be willing to try morning-breath Bobby, just to see.

For the moment, though, he was content with post-lunch. He was content to lie there and memorize every sensation, every taste and feeling and muffled sound. He wanted to sit there and suck at his partner until he swallowed every trace of that lunch and left just plain Bobby taste behind.

God, it was a rush. If this wasn't love, as Bobby kept insisting it couldn't be, than Darien had never felt a pure physical rush like this before. He wanted this -- if this wasn't love, than screw love. Who needed love when he had this right at his fingertips. This muffled and controlled, this delicious, tense, impassioned and uncertain.

Most of all, he wanted Bobby to keep sliding his tongue around just. Like. That. God, he never knew his entire mouth was an erogenous zone.

Actually, now that he thought about it, every single spot on his body that Bobby touched seemed to be an erogenous zone. Every inch of skin on his arms, his back, his stomach. His ass, his legs. Jesus, right there at the backs of his thighs.

Christ, he just had to hold on and feel it. It was too much to think about. He had to stop analyzing. Good advice he'd given Bobby, and he had to take it now. Stop trying to feel things to death and just let them be felt.

He relaxed, and Bobby instantly rolled them, sliding himself on top of Darien, letting his body press into his partner.

Darien could feel it, calf to mouth, every inch of them pressed and touching, close, separated by nothing but clothes. Too damned much

He shimmied his hands down, prying until they made it under the shield of Bobby's shirt and groaning into Bobby's mouth at the feel of skin.

Bobby's breathing jerked, but he didn't echo the noise. He thrust his tongue a little more insistently into Darien's mouth, moving his body in small shifts until.

Until. Holy God. Everything was lined up perfectly. Darien's furiously pulsing erection was suddenly burying itself against equally hard flesh, and immediately he was thrusting, arching his hips, trying to keep it going. Heat against heat, it was strong and masculine and damn but he was gonna come too soon.

He felt a sudden soul-crushing loss, and opened his eyes to see Bobby braced over him, looking down in flushed amusement.

"We've got all night, Fawkes."

Darien whimpered, hips moving, trying to find that electric heat again.

"Jesus." Bobby drove back down into him, cock meeting cock at the same time his mouth ravaged Darien's again.

The whimper turned into full-fledged, uncontrollable moaning. Darien kept his hands in motion, running over the smooth skin of his back, up against the warmth of his stomach, the slight softness over undeniably hard muscle. Up over the slightly curved pecs, against pebbled nipples.

Bobby stayed quiet through the assault, his ragged breathing the only sign that he was enjoying this as much as Darien. He dropped his mouth down Darien's jaw, down his throat, latching on to the soft skin of his neck and sucking hard enough to do a Hoover proud.

Darien threw his head back, tilting his neck up, inviting it. Realizing Bobby was marking him. Realizing. Bobby was marking him.

His slim and shaky hold on reality gave up the fight, and he slid down into a world made up entirely of balding, older, problem-laden secret agents.

The thrust of hips against his drove Darien further into that world, and he realized he was about to come in his shorts like a horny sixteen-year-old.

Bobby's mouth found his again, and he didn't care where he came. He would have come all over the Official's desk and the Official besides at that moment. Didn't matter. All that mattered was Bobby, and hips, and tongue, and that pressure building up, too good, too damned warm and nice and fleeting.

Darien's hands reluctantly slid from their warm contact with actual flesh and moved down to grab at Bobby's ass, pressing him in closer, harder. Whimpering and moaning and mumbling words he didn't even realize he was speaking, unintelligible as they fell directly from his mouth to Bobby's, no air reaching them to bring them to life.

Bobby swallowed the words, and Darien himself, drinking him down as he pulsed their bodies together in faster, more erratic rhythm.

Darien's hips began the uncontrollable twitching, and the feeling of pleasure so sharp it was almost pain pulsed inside of him for a few seconds. He didn't give in, thrusting and pulling and holding, kissing and sucking and trying hard to devour his partner.

A moment later, his body overpowered him, and he was coming in great, hot spurts, tearing away from Bobby's mouth only to moan Bobby's name so loudly he could hear it over the sounds of pleasure crashing down on him.

Only seconds later, Bobby shut his eyes and grit his teeth, pressing his forehead into Darien's shoulder, and another flash of heat came between them.

Darien could feel every slight twitch of hips. He could practically feel as the strength left Bobby's arms and legs, and his smaller partner collapsed on him, panting like he'd run a marathon.

Darien could only find enough strength to loosely hold him close with one arm. He was doing a little heavy breathing himself, and the roar of vacuum that filled his ears faded slightly as the seconds ticked by.

Bobby at last managed to roll himself off of Darien, and he landed on his side, curled in just the right ways around Darien's longer body.

Darien relaxed even more, his bones ceasing to exist as he twisted slightly and settled in closer to drift into blissful sleep.

But Bobby's voice dragged him back a minute later. "You awake, kid?"

Darien was awake enough to answer, but his lips refused to move. "Mmrph."

Bobby hesitated, then slid away from him slightly. "It's okay. Go to sleep."

Darien relaxed again happily.

The warmth at his right side moved away.

His eyes opened, and he grabbed the heat again quickly. "Where you going?" he managed to get out through lazy lips.

Bobby stopped and looked down at him. "Gonna sleep on the couch," he said quietly.

"Uh uh," Darien shook his head sleepily and tugged him back down. "Stay here. S'warm."

"Fawkes…" Bobby's voice was a warning, but Darien didn't let him go. "Darien, come on."

"Uh uh," he mumbled again.

"Darien." Bobby stopped resisting. "Please."

Half-asleep Darien was ten times more stubborn and less perceptive than the awake version, and he simply pulled harder.

Bobby sighed heavily. He sat back for a moment, in silence.

Darien pulled at his sleeve. "B'bby, c'mon."

This time he obeyed, sliding in beside Darien again with a slight, low sound that was almost a groan.

Darien folded himself around Bobby to make sure he stayed put, and drifted into sleep.

 

****

 

Darien was watching when Bobby woke up.

He was expecting any number of reactions. Surprise, shock, disgust, regrets, disappointment, guilt. Maybe even, if Darien was lucky, actual happiness or contentment.

The one thing he wasn't really expecting was, of course, the one thing Bobby showed.

Those brown eyes opened, and met Darien's, and Bobby curled in to the arms that still held him for a brief, too brief, moment, then slid away, his eyes shutting in something that looked very much like sadness. Not sadness, even. More like soul-twisting, stomach-gnawing depression.

Darien's mind told him the reaction was wrong. No one got depressed over sleeping with the wrong person -- not three hours later, anyway. "What is it, Bobby?"

His quiet voice was enough to make Bobby flinch. "Nothing."

"Bobby. Come on."

There was a pause. "I didn't want to sleep with you."

Darien swallowed, wondering if maybe he really had pushed his partner too fast. "I…it's okay. I mean, it's only sex, right? Doesn't have to be--"

"Not that." Bobby turned to stare ahead of him, moving up to sit against the headboard. "Shit. That too, I guess. If I had known…"

Darien sat up as well, facing his new lover dead on. "Bobby. Talk to me."

Bobby shook his head, but began speaking a moment later. "I don't want to get used to this, Darien. I didn't want to get used to you coming over anytime I needed you. That's why I told you not to come. Why I hung up on you. I don't want to get used to someone sleeping in my bed again."

"Why not?"

"Because. It's too fucking nice, and it hurts. I'm not gonna go back to that, not even with you."

Darien opened his mouth to protest.

"I know, Fawkes. I know you think this'll all work out, we'll be sunshine and roses. But it won't. And I can't let myself get used to feeling like…to feeling you, with me. I figured I could go through the sex part, 'cause that's jutjust physical. But sleeping beside someone, waking up with them. It means more, you know? Course, that was wrong too."

"Wrong?"

"Well. The sex part. Jesus, if I'd known what it was gonna…be like…shit."

Darien tried to smile. "You're right, Bobby. It was incredible. I think I broke a personal speed record. It felt like more. You can't deny it."

"No. I can't." Bobby dropped his head and sighed. "I can't do this, Darien. I can't let myself believe that you'll be here whenever I need you. Can't get used to the idea that there's someone who would…"

Darien reached out and brushed a hand over his cheek, drawing his eyes. He smiled faintly. "Sorry, Bobby. But you're gonna have to."

Bobby actually smiled, but it was tinged with bitterness. "Do you know what this'll do to me when you leave?"

Darien leaned forward and met his lips gently, wishing he could somehow communicate everything he felt through that gesture. "I'm not going anywhere."

Bobby shook his head. "I don't believe you. I can't trust you that much, Darien."

Darien's breath caught in his throat, and he tried not to be too hurt by that. "I know it's hard, but--"

"Not hard. Fucking impossible."

"Fine. You…you don't mind fucking around in bed, but you don't want to cuddle afterwards? You want me to be some kind of fuck buddy, is that it?"

Bobby hesitated, looking unsurprised by Darien's sudden anger. "No." There was a pause, and Bobby drew his eyes away. "Yeah. Maybe I do."

Darien's mouth opened in surprise. Bobby was serious. He wanted to just use Darien for some sexual release and send him on his way. Bobby didn't love him. Jesus, that…

No. That was wrong. Bobby did love him. It was obvious. Bobby was just too fucking stubborn and scared to let himself admit it. He was too worried about being deserted again.

For a brief, intense moment, Darien hated Vivian Elbourne more than he'd hated anyone in his life.

But a moment later he realized what he had to do. For both of their sakes, he had to give Bobby what he wanted. He would play along with this impersonal fuck-buddy scenario, especially if it meant more of those incredible feelings he got from touching his partner. He would play along and be nice and distant, until Bobby relaxed and started to get the picture. Until Bobby realized that even if he tried to ditch Darien, Darien wasn't going anywhere.

So he responded finally with a simple shrug. "Okay."

Bobby snapped his eyes up. "Okay?"

"Yeah. Okay. If that's what you want. I know we could both stand to take the edge off now and then, and I guess it'll be easier without letting emotions get in the way. So okay. If that's what you want."

 

****

 

Darien loved Bobby. The feeling had been growing for a while, and the first time Darien realized it with full, mind-numbing implications sinking in, it was almost a physical shock to him.

Oh, it was a few weeks after they first came together, literally, and they'd been close a lot more times after that. Darien had even let Bobby fuck him. Not a new thing to Darien, but it had never been the way it was with Bobby. Seemed everything he did with Bobby was just going to be the best ever. He was learning to live with that.

He loved Bobby. He was in love with Bobby. If there was a difference there, as women sometimes insisted there was, than he felt them both. He felt everything a person could possibly feel for another, and towards his stocky little ball of annoying energy partner.

He realized it early one morning, when the soldier-arm of a very strange and environmentally unconscious cult came blasting at the two men and their van.

Bobby reacted like lightning, jerking the wheel so that the driver's side was facing the shooters. "Get down!" He shoved Darien down by his shoulder and fired the first shot through the window of the van.

The glass split, and he cursed and elbowed the broken pane out completely. "Fuck. Shit. Shit, shit, shit." He fired a couple more shots, but the cultists kept coming.

He dropped the gun on his lap suddenly, throwing the van into drive and slamming his foot on the gas, spinning the wheel to bring it around.

If Darien's tall body hadn't been filling the space under the seat completely, he would have been tossed around like a leaf. He stuck his head up in surprise. "What are you--"

"Stay down!" Bobby's hands were both on the wheel, his jaw tight with determination. The van was racing in a straight line now, and Darien could hear the shots now coming from directly in front of them.

A bullet sliced through the windshield and ripped through the passenger chair.

Bobby reacted, needlessly grabbing Darien and shoving him harder against the floorboards.

Darien twisted his hand off, wide eyes on the hole where his head had been a minute ago.

Another bullet, another hole in the windshield, and if Bobby hadn't been leaning towards Darien slightly, it would have found its target. Instead the headrest behind Bobby took the brunt of the shot.

Bobby flinched a moment later, breathing suddenly harder with the ragged energy and adrenaline that came with knowing death had been two inches away.

Darien realized what he was doing as he tromped the gas and sent the stone-aged van moving faster. Bobby was playing chicken with a bunch of armed lunatics.

He almost shot up to shout at his lunatic maniac partner, but another bullet too close to Bobby sent him diving back for cover.

Bobby didn't move, tightening his hands on the wheel grimly.

Darien heard the firing outside stop, and a few voices shouting, and then Bobby whipped the wheel again, spinning the van sideways and tromping on the brake.

His gun was in his hand and he was out of the van before Darien knew what was going on.

Darien managed to get up and out of the van in time to see Bobby jumping on the one member of the cult trying to escape.

The rest of the gunmen were huddled in a shocked, pale little group feet away from the van.

Bobby came dragging the runaway back with him, and shoved him to join the others. "Stay right the hell where you are, assholes." He was shaking, pale, but doing his damndest to hide it. "Fawkes, call the boss. Tell him to bring some pick-up cars to get these bastards."

Darien was numb. He nodded and went to the van, grabbing the cell phone Bobby kept stashed in the glove compartment.

"This is the Official."

"Boss. We got em. Send some cars."

"Fawkes? Everything okay?" To his credit the Official did seem slightly concerned.

"Yeah. We're fine." Darien's eyes went to Bobby, and back to the holes riddled through the windshield. "Jesus," he said quietly, forgetting the phone.

"What? What's wrong?" The Official raised his voice. "Fawkes? I've got cars en route. What's the problem?"

"Nothing. Just…" Darien shook his head and lowered the phone, his gaze going back to Bobby.

His partner was standing there, gun in hand, glaring at the cluster of men. He was in control, not at all looking like someone who'd escaped death by a margin of centimeters.

Jesus. Maybe Bobby was used to this. He had a spotted past, and though this was the closest he'd come to getting shot while working with Darien didn't mean it hadn't happened before.

Still, he knew his partner. He could see the tightness around his eyes, the wavering in hands that were usually rock-steady. And Bobby looked as pale as a malaria victim.

Darien opened the door to the van and reached his partner's side. He held a hand out shakily. "Bobby. Let me watch them. The cars are coming."

Bobby's hand tightened on the gun. "I've got it."

"Bobby. They're not going anywhere." It was true. The men were standing looking almost shell-shocked. Darien found himself wondering how close Bobby came to running them all down. He guessed the idea of dying for some freakish cult ideal was easier to face in the abstract than in reality.

It was always easier to dream about dying than to face down a gun, and Darien now knew this real well.

When the Agency cars showed up to escort the group of gunmen into a nice safe prison, one of the agents came to Darien and Bobby, still standing there watching over the group. "Agent Hobbes, the Official needs to see you and Agent Fawkes as soon as possible."

Bobby almost glared. "For what? We got the damned job done."

The agent shrugged. "It's not a good idea to hang up on the Official after an assignment like this."

Bobby's eyes whipped to Darien. "You hung up on him?"

Darien shrugged, and the two men started back to the van. "I was a little freaked out."

"By what? Damn it, now he's gonna bitch us out."

"By what?" Darien stared at his partner as they climbed into the van. "Are you kidding me?"

Bobby's eyes went to the bullet holes in the glass and he seemed nothing but annoyed by them. "Now we gotta get this thing fixed. Great."

Darien realized then that Bobby was serious. That he really didn't see why Darien was so freaked.

Bobby wasn't gonna think twice about it. Now that his body had been through the shock he couldn't control, he was fine. He would live to go charging into another group of mad gunmen. He was actually annoyed at Darien.

Darien shook his head slightly as Bobby sent the van into motion. "Bobby…"

"What?"

He didn't answer. His thoughts were going places he wasn't about to voice.

Damn, Bobby was a really frigging incredible person, and he hadn't realized how much before. He knew Bobby was brave and daring, but this much?

It was at odds, really, with the vulnerable man Darien went to in the middle of the night, or the emotionally frightened guy Darien was trying to start a thing with.

There was a hell of a lot to this man, and Darien didn't really appreciate how much. He doubted anyone ever had.

That was the moment he realized he was absolutely head-over-heels in love with his partner. And it was time for Bobby to start accepting that.

So Darien made the choice right there -- he was running things that night. He was going to turn Bobby's world around and inside out, and he'd show Bobby how good he could feel. He was gonna prove what he felt to his lover, force Bobby to see that he was for real.

 

****

 

"You up to a little exercise before bed?" Darien's eyes sparkled devilishly.

Bobby grinned right back at him. "You want to run a few laps? This is a pretty safe neighborhood. Feel free."

"That wasn't exactly what I had in mind." Darien closed in, moving into Bobby's air and not stopping. He forced Bobby back into the doorframe and stopped only inches from his face. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes for a moment just to enjoy the warmth of being so close to another person.

And then the moment was over, and he moved like lightening, plastering himself against Bobby, seizing his mouth roughly, forcing Bobby's lips open and pushing his tongue inside the warm, familiar mouth forcefully. He probed and relearned every centimeter of that mouth, and didn't pull back until Bobby's hand moved to his chest and pushed him, signifying he had to take a breath.

Darien pulled back obediently, met surprised eyes and smiled. "Am I still being too subtle?"

Bobby was flushed, breathing a little harder than normal. "You were never good at subtle, remember?" he answered with a faint chuckle.

Darien grabbed his arm and turned him, steering him to the bedroom. "Come on, Hobbes. I'm calling the shots tonight."

"S'that so?" Bobby went along willingly enough, going along with Darien's sudden desire to lead.

Darien didn't release Bobby, though, until they were safely inside the bedroom. He let Bobby go to shut the door behind them, locking it. Despite the bolts on the door leading into the apartment, Bobby never could get comfortable if the bedroom wasn't locked as well.

Darien didn't question it.

Bobby's expression was odd as he watched Darien turn from the lock. "So what now, boss?"

Darien grinned sincerely. It was funny, but he was getting to know Hobbes pretty well. Despite the projected toughness, he could hear the tiniest waver in Bobby's voice that meant he was excited, and probably horny as hell. He could practically see the twitching of muscles that wanted to move, to jump on Darien and not stop moving until they were both trembling masses of happy exhaustion.

Damn, but he wanted to make Bobby happy. Bobby was the best friend he'd ever had, and they were getting closer every day. For one of the first times Darien could remember, he wasn't even thinking about the erection trying to burn through his own jeans. His own satisfaction wasn't important tonight. It was all about Bobby.

Accordingly, he moved forward, reaching for the front of Bobby's shirt. His eyes locked on Bobby's as he started on the top button, but his gaze dropped after a moment to take in the flesh he was revealing. He took his time, opening the shirt and peeling it back over Bobby's shoulders, studying the uncovered skin with a growing smile.

"I don't know why I ever thought you weren't my type," he said appreciatively.

Bobby snorted quietly, but his cheeks burned a light pink. "You having fun, kid?"

Darien looked into those brown eyes, shaking his head with a slight, knowing smile. "Don't do that, Bobby. Don't try to keep the air light. I've never taken the time to see you, and I get the feeling I've missed out."

Bobby chuckled, but the sound was tight, almost nervous. "Look, Darien--"

"I said, don't. You don't need to protect yourself by being a smart-ass about this. You don't need to protect yourself from me." Darien searched his expression, hoping Bobby could see how sincere he was.

This, right here, was more important than self-esteem or sex or anything else. "You can trust yourself to me, Bobby."

The smirk fell from Bobby's face, a look like surprise appearing in his eyes. He drove his eyes into Darien's, searching carefully.

Darien's gaze didn't waver. "Trust me," he said again, and this time it was almost a question.

Bobby hesitated.

Darien gave him a moment, and realized with a start that he was holding his breath, hoping against hope for a positive response. Bobby's answer meant a lot to him. More than it should.

"Trust me," he said again, barely above a whisper. And now it was a request, a step away from begging.

Bobby drew in a breath, and visibly tensed. A second later, he nodded. "I trust you," he answered, and his voice was raw.

Darien released his breath in a rush, grabbing Bobby and pulling him close, holding him in a tight hug. Relief and happiness tore through him, and he just bet his eyes were glowing when he released Bobby to look down into his eyes again.

Bobby's face was more solemn, and Darien could read the request in his partner's eyes -- Bobby had just given Darien the most important thing he could: his trust. He was silently asking Darien not to make him regret it.

Darien smiled in response, holding his gaze firmly long enough to broadcast his intention to make Bobby's life nothing but wonderful; at least, for tonight.

A moment later he reached out again, his hands going to the waist of Bobby's slacks and slowly unfastening the front.

Bobby relaxed at that -- emotions were over. They were moving back into physical, and physical he was always more comfortable with.

Darien let the slacks fall to Bobby's feet, and his shorter partner stepped out and kicked them away lightly with a smile.

Darien's eyes widened slightly as he saw the bare skin revealed. Bobby had gone commando. Jesus, it was a good thing he hadn't realized that earlier that day, or he would have been walking with a constant hard-on.

Almost as an afterthought, Darien tugged his own shirt off and slipped out of his jeans before Bobby could offer a hand of assistance. Both uncovered finally, Darien pushed Bobby lightly backwards to the bed. "Lay back," he said quietly.

Bobby hesitated, but obeyed after a minute. He sat on the mattress, and moved until he was flat on his back, eyes never leaving Darien.

Darien stood for a moment watching him. "Spread out a little," he said with a smile. "You look like you're laying in a coffin." He almost shuddered at that. Coffin was too close an image after what happened earlier that day.

Bobby rolled his eyes, but relaxed, letting his legs spread slightly and bringing his arms up and behind his head. His eyebrows went up and he eyed his partner. "What now, Mr. Particular?"

"Now just lay back and let me do the work." Darien lowered one knee onto the mattress, and then the other, and then he was crawling over and stopping to kneel between Bobby's legs.

Bobby spread out unconsciously a little more, a question on his face.

Darien shook his head, telling Bobby to stay quiet. He once again filled the pause by just looking down at his partner. Seeing the body spread open for him, at his command. The muscles that formed the sturdy body all relaxed and waiting for him.

It gave him a thrill. Such power, and attitude, and intelligence. A person like Bobby -- brave and worth so much, despite what people said behind his back. A cocky, daring, strong man like this, spread in front of him and waiting for his next move. Trusting him.

Trusting Darien Fawkes.

Jesus. Darien could feel his breathing growing heavier, and he was already leaking precum from his untouched erection. He was more turned on than he could remember being in his entire life, and God, this was going to be a good night.

"Darien…"

"Shhh." Darien moved finally, stretching out over Bobby, bracing himself with his arms. He let himself down far enough to meet his partner's lips, and relaxed into the kiss as Bobby's mouth opened to him immediately.

Kissing Bobby. It was nice. Beyond nice. It was frightening. It was something Darien could lose himself in too easily.

Bobby's arms must have moved from under his head, because Darien could feel the warm grip around his back, tugging him in closer.

Darien pulled up at that. "Uh uh," he said with a shake of his head. "Stop that. I don't want you to move."

Bobby was slightly dazed from the kiss, and his arms dropped obediently.

Darien rewarded him with another deep, slow kiss, and he could feel the tensing beneath him as Bobby fought not to move.

He grinned into Bobby's mouth, and decided it would be fun to make it even harder for him.

He lifted and moved his lips down to Bobby's jaw line, feeling the rough press of slight stubble under his lips. He smiled at the sensation, darting his tongue out and licking at the sandpaper of his skin. The feeling made him chuckle slightly, but he loved every second. His mouth moved up to Bobby's ear, first lightly kissing the sensitive skin just below, and then moving up to suck at an earlobe. Next his tongue darted out again, flickering into Bobby's ear.

Bobby shivered beneath him, giving his own quiet chuckle.

Darien smiled at the sound. Bobby didn't laugh enough. He wasn't happy enough. Wasn't that the whole point of this night?

He played with Bobby's ear for another moment before lifting up and gently turning Bobby's head, exposing the other ear. Instead of the flirty tickling, though, his smile faded and he brushed back the hair behind his ear.

There was that small scar. The one that had almost cost Bobby's life. It was faded and smaller, but it was still there. And it would always be there. A constant reminder of near-death or brain damage, of the evil they had to fight and how close they came to being destroyed by it. Made even fresher a warning thanks to Bobby almost getting shot earlier.

Darien brushed his finger lightly over the scar, and dropped down to press his lips against it gently.

Bobby shivered again, but there was no laugh accompanying it this time.

Darien raised up, meeting Bobby's eyes for a moment.

Bobby was quiet. But then, Bobby was always quiet. Darien found himself remembering that, out of nowhere. Every time they had sex, Bobby was silent. He breathed a little harder, and Darien had no doubt that he enjoyed it, but he always came quietly.

Not tonight. Tonight Darien was wrestling with demons and fighting to make his partner feel pleasure, and he was going to make Bobby lose control and scream his name before it was over.

Now inspired again, Darien dropped down to drag his lips and tongue on a trail down Bobby's chest. He tasted the hardening nipples but didn't stay there too long. Bobby wasn't all that sensitive there, and Darien's time was much better spent a little further south.

He shifted his longer body down the bed, and kept on the trail, past Bobby's navel and still further.

When he reached the line where coarse hair overran flesh, he could feel the anticipation practically beaming out of Bobby's body. When he moved a hand down, brushing his fingers through the short curls of hair, he felt the tremble.

"Darien…"

"Shhh." He didn't even look up. "Don't say anything. Don't move. I'm gonna make this good for you, Bobby, I promise."

The tension only grew, but Darien knew it was only from the forced stillness. He kept his attention on the nest of curls and the hard, leaking flesh rising from it. Darien considered going right for it, but his hand moved on its own further south, moving to cup swollen sacs of flesh with warm hands. Bobby may not have had a sensitive chest, but he could come from Darien just stroking his balls.

He jerked under the touch, in confirmation of Darien's thoughts. His body was still stiff with tension, and he didn't make the faintest sound.

Darien wasn't satisfied. He lowered his head and bathed the flesh in his hands with his tongue firmly, pressing the knuckle of one hand on that secret spot right behind Bobby's balls, the spot every man had but few knew about.

Bobby gasped quietly, and Darien could feel movement over his head. He looked up to see Bobby's hands coming for him, to stroke him or hold him in place, whatever.

He swatted Bobby's hands and knocked them away instantly. "Behave," he said with a smile that took the sternness out of his words.

Bobby looked dazed as he opened his mouth to respond.

"And don't say a word." Darien almost chuckled at the repeated command. For a dutiful government agent, Bobby had to have these orders repeated an awful lot.

Darien dove in again, this time working his mouth over the head of that impressively dripping erection.

Bobby arched under him, stiff, quiet, but struggling now to stay that way.

Darien was nowhere near an expert at oral sex, but his sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment of the deed made up for lack of talent. He went at Bobby's erection like he was starved for it, licking and sucking and bobbing up and down the length eagerly.

Another funny thing about this relationship. Darien had never lost respect for a woman or man who gave him head. In fact, it was a good thing to find in a person, in his book. But he himself, though he'd do it to return the favor, had never exactly been enthusiastic about it.

He loved this, though. And maybe it wasn't the act itself. Maybe it was having Bobby Hobbes squirming and struggling for control. Maybe it was the sharp tang of flavor that meant he was giving Bobby so much pleasure that his partner got off on it.

He didn't know, and he wasn't really interested in finding out specifics. He did love it. And Bobby sure as hell loved it, and that was all that mattered.

Still, tonight it wasn't going to be about a blow-job. Tonight Darien was planning the Big One. He was going to let Bobby know just how wonderful it felt to have someone he cared about deep inside of him, filling him and making him whole. He was going to show Bobby why being on the receiving side of sex was just as good as being on the giving side.

Just the thought that soon he'd be buried in Bobby's body as deep as he could go had Darien achingly close to an eruption, but he didn't focus on himself.

He released Bobby's cock just short, barely in time to keep Bobby from coming. Above his head, Bobby groaned faintly, and Darien thrilled at the victory. A sound. An actual sound from Bobby during sex.

Just wait until Bobby felt the really good part.

Darien released one of Bobby's hands, still holding the other one down just in case. With his free hand he stroked Bobby's erection lightly, only enough to wet his fingers with the slick fluid dripping down.

He moved his hand down, past Bobby's balls. He stroked over the tight, puckered entrance into his partner's body, and felt Bobby get even more tense under him.

"Darien, what are you--"

"Shhh. Not a word, Bobby. You're going to love this." Darien rubbed one finger against the small hole.

Bobby was stiff as a board under him, breathing unevenly, and Darien could feel movement over his head. He looked up in time to see Bobby's hands coming for him again, and he almost rolled his eyes. Grabbing Bobby's hands, he pinned them down to the bed, shooting a look of amused frustration at his partner.

He brought his hand up to coat his finger again, just to be safe. Bobby hadn't done this before, and Darien wasn't going to risk hurting him.

"Darien, wait--"

Darien ignored his partner's strangled voice, grinning to himself. He moved his hand back into place, and quickly slid one finger through that tight ring of muscle and into the warmth of Bobby's body.

"Wait! Darien…"

Darien's eyes floated up then back, reluctant to be distracted, at the same time he sent his finger in search of that magical prostate.

"No!"

The cry was harsh, sudden, and Darien's eyes jerked up to his partner's face at the same time Bobby tore his hand free and practically scrambled away from Darien.

"No."

"Bob--"

"No, no, no." Bobby didn't seem to hear him, his eyes shut tightly and his body wrapping up into a huddle at the headboard of the bed.

Darien's erection wilted like a dead flower, and his mischievous grin was nowhere to be found. A sick feeling rose up inside of him as he watched his lover. "Bobby…"

That formerly flushed face was pale, almost sickly white. The expression on his face was almost unreadable, but only because Darien had never seen it on those features before.

Fear. Jesus, it was fear.

The man who had faced down a group or armed men, getting too fucking close to being shot, without even a moment of hesitation, was now afraid.

Darien's mouth was dry, his heart pounding. "Bobby? God, I'm sorry. What…I'm sorry." He knew this was his fault. He was certain of it, even without knowing what exactly was going on.

Bobby shook his head, though whether it was in response to Darien or just a mute denial of whatever was going on in his head, Darien wasn't sure. His eyes stayed clenched shut, his hands fists. He was shaking uncontrollably.

Darien moved to him quickly, reaching for his hands to still them. "Bobby--"

"No!" Bobby jerked his hands free. An instant later he lunged for the bedside table.

Darien watched in shock as Bobby grabbed the gun that he kept right by his head as he slept.

Bobby grabbed the gun, flipped the safety off, and then just froze, trembling, the gun in both hands.

Darien swallowed his fear and shock. Bobby wasn't aiming, and though Darien had no clue what was happening, he knew his partner would never hurt him. He tried again, gentler. "Bobby, it's me. It's Darien. I won't hurt you; it's okay. We're here, we're alone. No one's gonna hurt you, I promise."

Bobby seemed to relax slightly with those words, but made no other acknowledgement of Darien. His head shook in continued defiance, his eyes stayed closed.

Darien reached out and touched his face gently. "Open your eyes, Bobby. You're okay. I'm sorry. Jesus, I'm so sorry, whatever I did…Come on, open your eyes."

Bobby obeyed finally, looking up at Darien. The fear in his eyes transformed to shock, and then sheer pain. All the while his hands were tight fists around the handle of the gun, and he kept mumbling. "No, no, no, no."

Darien's breath caught, and his chest felt constricted so tightly he couldn't breathe. He pulled Bobby to him, wrapping him in his arms and holding him. He was scared and guilty and uncertain, and knew only that Bobby was in pain and it was his fault. "I'm sorry," he whispered in response to Bobby's repeated word. "I'm sorry."

 

***

 

First there was nothing.

And then, consciousness.

Darien's eyes snapped open. Even in that moment between dreams and wakefulness, that gray, half-conscious state, he knew something was wrong.

He could feel a trembling beside him, and he turned to see his partner, his sometime lover, lying beside him.

The night returned to him in a flash. The promising, steamy beginning, and the one moment where things went horribly wrong.

The last thing he remembered was lying there, holding Bobby to him and trying to comfort the strangely fearful man who had taken over Bobby Hobbes' body. He must have fallen asleep somehow.

Bobby hadn't.

Darien shifted up, his eyes sad and concerned. Bobby was flat on his back, trembling even now. His eyes were open and staring at the ceiling, but glazed. Whatever he was looking at, what he was seeing in his head was much different. Darien recognized that.

Darien just had to find out what it was Bobby was seeing. What it was, what he had done to bring it out, and what he could do to stop it from haunting his partner.

 

****

 

As soon as he snapped out of his stupor, he looked up and saw Darien sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him, just looking. He knew he was going to have to talk. He owed it to Darien to volunteer the story without being asked.

Dammit.

Darien offered a small, feeble smile. "Good morning."

Bobby sat up stiffly, leaned his back against the barred headboard of the bed. "I had an old partner. My last one with the FBI." He smiled faintly. "I was with them only for a few months before I fucked it up, but I went through four different partners."

Darien smiled back tightly, knowing this wasn't going to be pleasant.

"Anyway, the guy's been to my house a few times, right? Met Viv. And he apparently got the idea that she was sending him some kind of signals. Viv…she's nice. Too nice, sometimes, you know? She doesn't see the harm in it. So this guy, Alan, my partner, he figures he'll wait until he knows I'm gonna be gone, and he goes to my place. To see Viv."

Darien tensed, sitting up to face him more fully.

Bobby's eyes unfocused, lost in the memories. "When I got home, he had her on the bed, down to her underwear. She was fighting. Jesus, she was fighting. But he was big, and trained." He shook his head. "When I came in and saw them…I saw her being…being…and she was everything to me, Darien. I was more protective of her than of anyone, even myself. And he was pulling his pants down, ready to get to it. She was screaming, crying…" He shuddered. "I know I'm too overprotective of her now, but I can't help it. She doesn't like it, because if reminds her of that day. She knows that's why I try so hard to…shit. It doesn't matter."

He shook his head, rubbed his eyes to clear the last hints of sleep, and drew further into himself. "She was crying, and I just saw red. I can't even explain it. Everything turned into some haze of red. Next thing I knew I was pounding his head into the wall, screaming louder than she was." Bobby didn't meet Darien's eyes. "Alan freaked. I guess he realized that was it. His career was over. I was unstable, maybe, but everyone would believe Viv. So he just turned on me. Knew his life was over, and didn't seem to care."

Darien reached out uncertainly, wavered at touching Bobby's arm, then dropped his hand without making contact.

"I don't know exactly what he was thinking. Maybe that if he tried to rape me, we wouldn't go to the Bureau. Maybe I'd be too ashamed and force Viv to keep quiet. He didn't really know me that well, I guess. Anyway. He tried. And I fought him, and I beat him, but he had a few fingers in before I could get him off me."

"Jesus," Darien whispered quietly.

"I almost killed him. Would have, if Viv hadn't been there. She was hysterical, shouting for me to stop, not to kill him. She had been screaming the whole time, when he was on me. Hurt that she had to see that. But anyway. I stopped myself, and stayed together long enough to get her to a hospital and him into custody. After that…" He shrugged. "I cracked. Big time. The Feds dropped me. I was unstable. I really was. I don't blame them for setting me loose." He heaved a breath. "Me and Viv didn't last too much longer. I was going to shrinks and chugging pills, but I still couldn't deal with what had almost happened to her. I got nuts about keeping her safe, and she cracked under it. I don't blame her, either. You should have seen me, Darien. I was insane. Even by my standards."

"Bobby…" Darien did reach out this time, and he rested his hand on Bobby's shoulder, feeling the tension of muscles under his grip.

Bobby didn't react to the touch. "Once she was gone, I never stopped thinking about what happened to her. But I did start thinking about what happened to me. Despite the pills and the shrinks, I got worse about…everything. He was my partner, Darien. A good guy, a friend. And he attacked us in the middle of my home. You asked me once if I got extra paranoid in homes, and I guess I do. I also never came close to trusting anyone after that. Not until you."

Darien swallowed, his eyes lowering. "And I sure fucked that up. Bobby, Christ, I'm so sorry."

Bobby waved him off. "You didn't know. My fault. But when I felt you…the only other time I felt that was with him, and it wasn't good at all. I freaked. I told…I told you to wait. To stop. And you didn't. Just like…fuck." He drew in a shaky breath.

Darien shut his eyes, leaning against the headboard. Hating himself with a passion. "God." He couldn't believe it. All he wanted was to help Bobby out of his mindset. He wanted Bobby to trust him, to trust anything. And he'd done the one thing that made it impossible.

"I'm sorry," Bobby said quietly.

It took Darien a minute to absorb that. His eyes opened slowly and turned to Bobby. "You're sorry."

"I'm completely fucked up. I don't think I'm fit to be involved with anyone. I shoulda told you, should have known better than to try to get close to anyone."

Darien drew in a breath. He wanted to grab Bobby and apologize over and over again until Bobby realized it really had been Darien's fault. But he didn't. It wouldn't work. They could sit there and tell each other they were sorry forever.

"Bobby…" He hesitated, unsure of what he wanted to say. "Just tell me something."

"Yeah?" Bobby stayed huddled in on himself, his eyes unblinking as they stared at the wall.

"Is that it? Are we finished? Did I ruin it?"

"You didn't--"

"Don't argue. Just tell me. Did last night make any future impossible?"

Bobby shut up and thought about it. "I don't know," he answered finally. "I don't want it to be, but…this is getting too serious, Darien. We can't pretend we're just some kind of fuck buddies anymore."

Darien smiled sadly. "I never was anything but serious."

"Yeah. I think I knew that. I wasn't either. Tried to be."

"Tell me I can make this up to you."

Bobby glanced over, his eyebrows raised. "Darien. Think about it. Don't argue, don't deny anything. Just think about it. You know how fucked up I am. You know now better than you did. You've seen me crazy, you know how paranoid I am. I haven't slept through a night without waking up since I was young. I can't do it. Do you really want to work so hard to stay close to me, knowing that?"

Darien wanted to argue instantly, but he obeyed Bobby and thought about it.

Bobby cleared his throat and stood. "I'm gonna take a shower. We can go have lunch." He grabbed some boxers and slid them on, going to the door. After unlocking it and making sure there was no one in the living room or kitchen, he wandered out and shut the door behind him.

Darien sat there for a few moments, his head spinning. He couldn't believe it. His stupid fucking ideas about making Bobby feel good. He picked the one thing that would hurt the most. Jesus, why hadn't he stopped? Why had he let himself think Bobby was enjoying it?

What the hell could he do to make up for it?

A few moments later, he was at the door to the bathroom, knocking quietly.

The shower was on, but Bobby heard him. "Darien?"

Darien opened the door and stepped inside. "It's me." He was still naked from bed. Without a pause he lifted the shower curtain and stepped inside.

Bobby looked at him in surprise, his hands dropping to his sides.

Darien just looked at him for a moment, serious. "I want to be with you. No matter what." He moved in, his arms open.

Bobby paused, but accepted the embrace, dropping his head to rest against Darien's chest, breathing raggedly.

Darien held him close, hoping against hope that there was some way to keep this going without him fucking it up beyond repair.

 

****

 

It was true, Darien noticed. Bobby didn't sleep through a single night. At some point, inevitable as the sunrise, Bobby would get up. He would check the door, or go all the way through the apartment. Sometimes he would pick up his phone and dial some numbers, only to hang up before the call started going through.

What was he thinking? What kinds of messages was his brain sending to him? How could he go from random dreaming to suddenly being certain that his ex-wife was in mortal peril? Or be absolutely convinced that there was someone dangerous prowling just outside the bedroom door?

God, it was awful. Darien couldn't help but waking up whenever Bobby got up. He couldn't help but catch glimpses of the suspicious, concerned face. He could practically see the thoughts eating away at Bobby's sanity.

And he cursed every doctor and every pill for not doing their job. He cursed that bastard son of a bitch shithole from hell, Alan whatever-his-last-name-was. He cursed Viv for making Bobby so nuts, and for making Bobby feel that even at his best he'd never be good enough for another person.

He even said a few curses towards himself for not being enough or knowing enough to help Bobby find himself again.

He asked out loud, early one morning, a few weeks after the disastrous attempt to make love to Bobby. "What can I do to get you to trust me that much?"

And of course, though they never really talked about it anymore, Bobby knew exactly what he was talking about. "You ask the tough questions, kid."

Yeah, tough question. But Darien couldn't help himself. The presence of this gap between them was always there. It wasn't conspicuous, and they still slept together every night. They would make each other come once or twice a day. But that was no way to fix what was wrong, and though it was great, there was still that dark spot.

"Let me get back to you on that," Bobby said finally.

 

****

 

"'I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.'"

"Very good, Bobby. I'm rubbing off on you."

"Insert lascivious reply here."

Darien chuckled. "Yeah, left myself open, I suppose."

Bobby laughed. "Insert second lascivious--"

"Yeah, yeah. You want to tell me what that was and why you're quoting deep thoughts on fear in the middle of a taco lunch?"

"Frank Herbert. Dune." Bobby grinned crookedly.


"So you can read!"

"Shut up, asshole. I have a point here, okay?"

"A point? Insert lascivious comment--"

"Fawkes. Can it."

"Okay, so what's the deal?"

"Well, you asked me a question. That's my answer."

"Wow. Bobby, you have really got a grip on this whole annoyingly-vague-answer thing."

Bobby's smile faded slightly. "You want to know how I'll trust you. With…everything. That's my answer."

Darien met his eyes, his laughter vanishing. "Okay. What does it mean, exactly?"

"It means, I gotta face it. My fears, you know? S'what every shrunk I've ever had has told me, but I never knew how exactly I could face up to that big attacked-by-my-partner thing. Now I know."

Darien swallowed. "Yeah? So…what? How?"

Bobby shrugged. "You're gonna fuck me. Tonight. And that's it. Problems solved."

"Oh."

"Darien? I assume that's okay, right?"

"…oh."

"Come on, Fawkes. It's not real easy for me to come out with this, okay? You could help by making some kind of understandable response."

"Oh. Oh, shit."

"That's…better."

 

****

 

Darien couldn't hide his apprehension. The entire night he was quieter than usual, which led to long silences between the two men. The dinner before they headed back to Bobby's apartment was quiet and tense. Neither could forget what was coming enough to act casual.

When they got to Bobby's place, the tension grew.

Bobby smiled, though, moments after they walked in the door. "So we gonna do this?"

Darien had to echo the smile at the bravado in Bobby's voice. Even though he knew this was tearing Bobby up, and had the potential to ruin everything the two men had built up together, he knew they wouldn't let it beat them without a fight. "Yeah. How do you want to do it?"

Bobby shrugged. "I been doing a lot of thinking, and…look, if I can, I'll stop it in a minute. If I can physically reach out and stop you, I will. I'm too chicken-shit not to. But I don't wanna do that."

"So…what should we do?"

Bobby offered an even tighter smile, heading for his bedroom. "Before you laugh, yeah, I keep spares laying around. Just in case."

Darien followed him. Bobby went to the drawer of his bedside table and opened it, pulling out a couple of sets of handcuffs.

Darien swallowed. "You're not serious."

Bobby looked down at the metal clanking in his hands. "You want me to trust you. All the way." He held them out. "You asked me to think of the way. This is what I came up with."

Darien moved forward and took the cuffs stiffly. "I don't know if I can…"

"If you don't, this'll be over before it starts." Bobby looked apologetic. "You know, I wouldn't normally insert some kinda kink like this so early in the relationship. You should consider yourself lucky."

Again Darien smiled at Bobby's attempt to be casual. He hefted the cool metal of the cuffs, his eyes going to the posts of the headboard.

Could he do that? Restrain his partner, even though Bobby was obviously already so nervous about this whole thing? Have Bobby helpless under him, forced to submit to…

Okay, Little Darien was liking the idea. But there was more at stake here than getting the two of them off. There was a hell of a lot to work through for Bobby, and Darien could make himself sick if he let himself think about what could result if he screwed this up.

"Uh. Can we…just…"

"What?" Bobby shifted the cuffs, looking almost embarrassed now.

"Something else. Not handcuffs. They'd cut your skin to ribbons, for one. Ruin the headboard. Besides, I've got prison time in my past. The less I associate sex with handcuffs, the better."

Bobby smiled at that, faintly. "So what do you recommend?"

"Uh…" Darien looked around. "You have some real hideous ties, you know that? I think we can endanger one or two of them for the cause, if you really want to be…tied. You know."

Bobby shrugged. "I know how it sounds, Darien. I know the idea's loony. But I really have put some thought behind it."

Darien met his eyes, then looked away to dig for ties.

Bobby must have found it easier to speak without having to face his partner. "I think my big problem is that I think everyone's out to hurt me. I have a hard time believing people are good. I figure it sounds nuts to other people, but I know that if I wasn't on guard, I'd be dead by now. Or hurt, or whatever. I have to keep my eyes open. I have to keep my guard up. But maybe I don't have to keep it up with everyone. Maybe if I'm with someone else, someone I can trust, I can be helpless. Totally fucking helpless. And just maybe there's one person out there who won't hurt me, even when I'm helpless." He breathed out.

Darien grabbed two ties and turned back to him, meeting his eyes across the room.

"I have to know you won't hurt me. I have to let you make me helpless. I have to trust you."

Darien nodded, understanding the full implications of what Bobby was asking of him.

Still, his eyes went to the bars of the headboard, and down to the ties in his hand, and he was wracked with uncertainty.

"Darien."

He looked over at Bobby.

His partner was studying him. "I trust you enough to even attempt this. It may not be as hard as we think." He moved to the bed and sat down stiffly. "Let's get it on, huh?"

Darien smiled, moving to him and perching on the bed beside him. "Always the romantic."

"Some of us don't have a quote for every occasion." Bobby shrugged.

Darien smiled, thought about it. "'There are no guarantees. From the viewpoint of fear, none are strong enough. From the viewpoint of love, none are necessary.'"

Bobby chuckled. "Trying to tell me something there?"

Darien shrugged. "Are you sure about this?"

"Sure as I'm gonna get, kid. You have any problems?"

Darien debated mentioning his all-consuming fear that he was going to screw this up, but stayed quiet. Bobby didn't need to know that they were both scared. Instead he just shook his head.

"Good." Bobby moved quickly, pulling his shirt up and off and backing up onto the bed, sprawling down on his back. "This good, or you want me on my stomach?"

"Stay like that," Darien said quietly. He looked down at the ties in his hand for a moment, then up at his half-dressed partner.

Bobby reached over his head and grabbed two of the bars of the headboard with his hands. "Alright. Your show."

Darien moved fast, before either of them could think twice. He looped one tie around Bobby's wrist and the bar, and tied quickly and efficiently, using strong, secure knots Bobby himself had taught him. He finished, tugged at the tie, then, satisfied, leaned over Bobby to tie the second.

"Damn, this is gonna suck," Bobby said suddenly.

Darien looked down from where he was still leaning over Bobby's head. "Second thoughts already?"

Bobby grinned. "Nah. But this could be a real nice view, if I could just get some of those clothes off you." Bobby leered at the chest that was precariously close to his head.

Darien laughed, relaxing slightly at the familiar gleam in his partner's eyes. He dropped down at Bobby's side, grinning. "You want it? You got it." He reached down and peeled his top shirt off, dropping it to the ground behind him, leaving him in a plain T-shirt and jeans.

"Dunno why you insist on wearing layers," Bobby groused, shifting slightly where he lay.

"'Cause I like watching you squirm." Darien pulled his T-shirt up slowly and balled it up, throwing it behind him. "Better?"

"Those jeans look kinda uncomfortable," Bobby said in reply.

Darien grinned. "You're not getting me naked that easily. You gotta work for it."

Bobby jerked his restrained hands. "Not much I can do like this."

"Huh. Good point. Well, let me take care of you before I get selfish and take off my own pants." He reached for the waistband of Bobby's slacks, unfastening with hands that were quickly becoming expert to the task of undressing Bobby.

Bobby shifted and arched his hips helpfully, and Darien pulled the slacks off, leaving him in boxers.

"Your turn," Bobby said fast.

Darien shook his head with a smirk. "I know how careful you are with your clothes. I should go hang these up for ya, huh?"

"Fawkes…"

"Yeah." Darien stood, shaking out the slacks and venturing over to the closet.

"Fawkes. I'm gonna have to kill you before this is over, aren't I?"

"Good luck, Hobbesy. Hey, I know. Anyone who wants Darien undressed, raise your hand."

Bobby glared. "You asshole."

Darien laughed. "Come on. You love it."

Bobby rolled his eyes, but a grin twitched over his face regardless. "Just hurry it up, smart ass."

Darien neatly draped the slacks over a hanger, and stuck it in the closet. "There. Cleanliness is next to…something or other."

Bobby laughed, relaxing again as Darien came closer to the bed. "You remember detailed quotes from guys been dead a hundred years, and cliches you have trouble with?"

"Cliches are tacky. I usually don't lower myself to using them."

"By all means, Fawkes. Lower yourself."

Darien stood over him. "Don't you wish." He reached down and unfastened the top button on his jeans.

Bobby gave a sigh of almost relief. "About time."

Darien deliberately slowed his hands, pulling the zipper down one tooth at a time. He paused, sliding a hand between the open zipper and the loose cotton boxers. He adjusted himself slightly. "Hard-ons are a pain in the ass in tight jeans, you know that?"

Bobby almost groaned, his eyes glued to Darien's hand resting over the tented boxers.

Darien slid his jeans down and stepped out of them, resisting the urge to perform a little strip tease for his restrained partner. He was hard as a rock, and looking down at Bobby's frustrated face, watching him squirm, held in place by strips of fabric, it was appealing. Really appealing, if that little wet spot on the front of his boxers was any indication.

He couldn't help himself. Sliding his boxers down, he breathed a sigh of relief and stroked down his hard erection.

"Fawkes…" Bobby's voice was strangled, his breathing getting heavier.

Darien smiled down at him. "Jesus, you're such a fucking turn-on. You know that? Since I first met you, you've been doing this to me." He stroked himself again, shutting his eyes under the feel of his own fingers.

"Christ," Bobby mumbled in response.

Darien opened his eyes and reluctantly released himself. He crawled onto the bed and over his partner. "You want some help with that?" he nodded to the bulge reshaping Bobby's boxers.

"Would be nice," Bobby grunted.

Darien grinned, but obediently reached down and pulled at the only fabric left between them. He lifted the front of the waistband so it wouldn't get hung up on anything important, and couldn't resist a hungry smile as Bobby's erection sprung from its trapping.

He moved down the bed, snaking the boxers down over Bobby's feet and letting them fall. He repositioned himself, kneeling between Bobby's legs and taking a moment to just look. "God, Bobby," he breathed out. "You look incredible like this."

"Darien. Please." Bobby's eyes flashed in genuine need, and his wrists were already starting to strain against the ties.

Darien reached out and ran a hand up Bobby's leg, feeling the tension in well-developed muscles. Bobby's body held so much strength that he rarely ever used. Jesus, if Darien had these kind of muscles he'd wear shorts in the middle of winter to show them off.

He couldn't shake that thought. "Say, Bobby?" His other hand stroked the opposite leg just as slowly, pausing to rest mid-thigh.

Bobby swallowed. "What?"

"Why don't you show yourself off? Your body…" Darien looked him up and down with a grin. "It's pretty amazing."

Bobby laughed slightly. "Five years and twenty pounds ago, maybe."

Darien shook his head. Okay, so he wasn't all muscle. His stomach was showing a need for toning. But even that was a good thing, In Darien's opinion. Made Bobby softer. Cuddly.

He laughed to himself, knowing what Bobby would say if he said that out loud.

"You're too hard on yourself," he answered out loud. One hand left Bobby and drifted between Darien's own legs again. "You're hard on me, too."

Bobby almost growled. "Enough with the jokes, Fawkes. Would you get this started already?"

Darien moved slowly to position himself over his partner. He kept his hips arched away, not yet giving Bobby the satisfaction of contact to his obviously painful hard-on. He made up for it by dropping down and pressing his mouth to Bobby's chest. His hand stroked up Bobby's arm, up to the fabric around his wrist. He moved his mouth up to explore Bobby's throat as his hand moved down and up that frozen arm.

He glanced up when he realized Bobby had fallen silent, and he realized his partner had gone into his silent sex mode.

That wouldn't do.

"Bobby?"

Bobby grunted in response.

"You're trusting me with a lot here," Darien said quietly. His hand moved over Bobby's chest lightly as he leaned up to look at him. "But I'm trusting you, too. You have to tell me what you want. You gotta tell me how it feels, you know? I need to know if I'm hurting you or if it feels good." He leaned in and kissed Bobby's jawline softly, nuzzling at his cheek.

Bobby swallowed. "Okay. You want to know? If you don't start paying some attention to more southern regions, I'm gonna explode."

Darien murmured against Bobby's neck, rasping his teeth over the soft skin gently. "That wasn't too hard, was it?"

"I don't see you obeying me, though."

Darien grinned. "Patience, partner."

Bobby groaned slightly in frustration, trying to arch up against Darien's hips.

Darien moved away. "Uh uh. I'm running this show, remember?" He slid his hand down Bobby's chest, stopping over his hips, careful not to touch anything too early.

Bobby was twitching in frustration. "Jesus, Darien. You're killing me here."

Darien laughed. "I haven't even touched you yet."

"Ah ha! Your Honor, I think that was a confession."

"Oh, you big baby."

Bobby growled and arched up again, his eyes glowing with near-manic energy. "Darien. If you're gonna fuck me, do it!"

Oh, damn. Teasing was over. Darien didn't have that much control. He doubted anyone would.

He signaled his obedience by dropping to cover Bobby entirely with his own body, arching his hips down, letting erection hit erection, and ignoring the burst of heat that erupted over him to watch his partner.

Bobby's face went tight, his eyes shutting and his mouth staying closed tightly. He thrust up into Darien's body helplessly.

Christ, it felt good. That touch, without even clothes separating them, was hot and wild and slick, and Darien knew that could both come that way too quickly.

He braced himself on one hand, reaching up to brush his fingers over Bobby's face lightly until his partner opened his eyes. "Hey. It's okay. We got all night for this."

Bobby shook his head, arousal and fear showing equal amounts in his eyes. "No. Now. Please. Or I may not be able to…"

Darien snaked his hand down between them, gripping Bobby's hard flesh in his hand. "Okay," he said quietly, apprehension rising in him unbidden.

Bobby's head dropped back and he swallowed a vocal reaction.

But all Darien wanted at that moment was to hear him. He wanted to hear the effect he had on Bobby's body. He gripped his silent partner tighter. "Don't do that. Don't hold back. Let me know if it feels good." He purposefully jerked his hand up fast, rubbing a thumb over the head of Bobby's erection, enjoying the hard, rippled heat of it..

The gesture and Darien's words came together to wring a deep, drawn-out groan out of Bobby's throat.

Darien almost came at the sound.

Damn, so that's what Bobby sounded like. Guttural and low and raw and like something out of a gay porn.

He clenched his muscles to stop a reaction, glowing in satisfaction that that little hurdle had been overcome. Bobby was going to learn to let go, and more than he wanted anything, even a way to get rid of the gland in his head, he wanted to be the one to catch him.

He moved his hand away from the leaking erection and back, to cup the swollen sacs behind.

Bobby's most sensitive spot, he couldn't hide another full-bodied groan.

Darien stroked and fondled his balls until Bobby was a breath away from coming. Moving fast, he released the drawn-up sacs and brushed his fingers in a feather-light touch over the head of his cock, swiping up leaking fluid and coating his fingers.

Bobby was trembling beneath him, his eyes shut and his face glowing in pleasure.

Darien's finger searched out and found the entry into Bobby's body, and slowly he pressed the tip inside.

Bobby's eyes flew open and he tensed, his muscles clamping down against the intruder.

Darien was ready for that. He stayed close to Bobby, meeting his eyes. "It's me, Bobby. You know me. You know I'll stop whenever you want me to. No one's gonna force anything."

Bobby's eyes were almost pleading with Darien -- for what, Darien wasn't sure. He shook his head, helpless against instincts and feelings as old as any he could remember.

Darien closed the space between them and seized Bobby's mouth in a kiss. He had resisted kissing Bobby that night so far, knowing it was one of the things that turned Bobby on the most.

He attacked him full-out, tongue intruding and probing, playing inside Bobby's mouth in all the ways he knew Bobby loved. He brought both of them comfort with the familiar taste of their mouths together, the familiar feel of tongues meeting and wrestling in some game of control they usually both won.

Slowly, the body beneath him relaxed slightly, and the grip on his finger loosened.

Without giving Bobby a chance to have second thoughts, Darien probed his slick finger deeper, hoping his instincts were good enough to find his prostate and show Bobby a hint of the pleasure he could get out of this.

He pulled up to give Bobby a chance to breathe.

Bobby's eyes stayed closed, his face pinched as he tried to bear what Darien was doing to him.

Darien swallowed against the knowledge that he was causing his lover pain. He kept his voice quiet and deep. "You know, Bobby. It may be a bad time to bring this up, since we haven't said it before. But…" He took a deep breath, dropping for a light kiss to seal his nerves. "I love you so fucking much it hurts. I don't know what I'd do if you walked out on me."

Bobby's eyes opened in shock, and he met Darien's fearful gaze.

Darien felt the ring of muscle he was probing loosen more, and he slid a second finger in.

He wasn't sure if Bobby even noticed.

"Darien…"

"Shhh." Darien swallowed. "Later. I just want you to know. I love you. I won't hurt you."

Bobby's eyes slid shut again, but his face was more relaxed.

Darien kept his fingers in motion, probing and loosening the puckered entrance. He dropped and sealed his words in with another deep, slow kiss.

Bobby responded with almost desperate energy, and Darien hoped like hell that was a good sign. He slid a third finger into Bobby's body, and just as Bobby started to tense, he felt a finger brush against a small, hardened nub deep inside of his partner.

Bobby gasped, his eyes flying open in surprise, and he arched against Darien's fingers unconsciously. "Jesus!"

Darien grinned as the remaining tension seemed to drain out of Bobby, and he took advantage of the moment to move down quickly, forcing Bobby's legs further apart.

His fingers left the tight heat of Bobby's body, and Bobby stifled his reaction before Darien could tell if it was good or bad.

Reaching for the small table, Darien awkwardly used one hand to flip open the top of the small tube he'd set there. He messily managed to squirt into his hand, and moved to coat his erection.

He positioned himself carefully, his eyes staying on Bobby's face. "I love you," he said for the third time, his eyes shining his sincerity as he pushed himself slowly and carefully into his partner.

Bobby's face pinched in pain, but it relaxed after a moment. He drew his knees up to make the awkward position more comfortable for Darien.

Darien saw that his hands were fists inside the fabric restraining his wrists.

"Stop me if I hurt you," he said, strangled, pushing himself in another fraction of the way.

Oh, Jesus. Bobby's body was indescribable. Heat and lust and tight soft heaven. His erection was gripped and almost squeezed under the pressure, and it was unlike anything Darien had ever known. He was a perfect fit, Bobby was accepting him inside, and the whole thing was going to make Darien's brain explode, replacing thought with pure feeling.

He shut his eyes and bowed his head, forcing himself to keep from thrusting in all the way.

Bobby himself was still tense, and Darien could easily remember the first time he'd let someone do this to him, so he knew it wasn't unexpected. Still, he wanted to make this good. If Bobby hurt through the entire thing, that was it. Darien would have blown it.

So he forced his protesting body to slow down even further, moving his hips in tiny thrusts to work himself deeper inside. He forced his eyes open and kept them on Bobby's face, alert for some sign that his partner was rejecting this.

Bobby's eyes were locked on him in return, as if Bobby needed the constant reminded who he was with; who it was doing this to him.

A few more angled, small thrusts, and Darien's body fell flush against Bobby. He could feel Bobby's cock, now barely hard, against his stomach.

And he was perfect. Bobby was perfect, and Darien was perfect inside of him. God, he hoped Bobby could feel an ounce of what he was feeling. If he did, there was no way they wouldn't be doing this again.

He froze where he was, willing to give Bobby some time to adjust to him. "Is this…?"

Bobby leaned up and kissed him forcefully. Positioned the way they were, they were perfectly matched, and kissing Bobby was natural and easy.

Darien let himself get lost in Bobby's mouth for a few long moments. He forcefully forgot about his own pleasure, giving Bobby exactly what he wanted. He forced the smaller man's head back into the pillow, sucking and probing at his mouth with wild abandon at odds with the controlled way he kept the rest of his body still.

He reached between their bodies, finding the semi-hard erection and trying to coax it back to life.

Bobby breathed in a gasp that tore him away from Darien's mouth. He opened his eyes long enough to meet Darien's. "I'm ready," he said in a cracked whisper.

Darien nodded, shutting his eyes for a moment to regain some of his control. He moved his hips slowly, feeling the grip around his cock almost milking him as he slid almost out of his partner's body. Biting his lip to stay focussed, he slid back in slowly, and let the incredible feelings surround him again. His angle was slightly different as he went searching for Bobby's prostate again, and the second time he pulled out and pushed back in, he found it.

Bobby stirred under him, letting out a strangled moan. "Darien…Jesus."

"Tell me, Bobby." Darien forced words out with difficulty. "What do you need?" He had to know. Because he wasn't used to the sounds Bobby made, and he couldn't even tell if they were pleasure or pain.

Bobby sucked in a breath that was almost a sob, swallowing his long-maintained instinct for silence. "Nothing. It's…fine."

Fine. Darien almost trembled under the word. It meant everything -- Bobby was starting to open up. Fine wasn't the best word he could have used, and he still wasn't getting any harder under Darien's hand, but they might just get through this night after all.

He moved again slowly, pulling up and sinking in again, sure to stay at the same angle.

Bobby gasped again, and his hips arched in a purely physical reaction even as his face stayed pinched.

"Tell me," Darien said again quickly.

Bobby kept his eyes shut. "Just…finish it."

Oh, shit.

Darien pushed himself up, staring down at his partner. "We can stop," he forced out, despite his body's natural urge to keep going. "Tell me. Please, if it's bad, tell me."

"I can't…don't. Just…finish."

It was nothing that Darien had been hoping for. He moved a little faster, arching out and then thrusting in, hitting that spot. He kept moving without forcing Bobby to ask for it, keeping it slow but falling into a rhythm steadily. He kept the last fragments of his control with difficulty, pleasure so intense it was becoming pressure building up inside of him.

He had to shut his eyes against the carefully controlled expression on his lover's face. He had to ignore the fact that the body beneath his was still stiff.

He couldn't do it. Jesus, it felt like rape.

He stopped his body again forcefully. "Bobby. I can't."

"Darien. Please. I need you to. It's not…bad. I promise you."

Oh, fuck. Darien could hardly hold himself steady. He could barely keep from letting go and pounding into Bobby the way his body wanted to.

He followed direction, saying prayers in his head that Bobby felt some of this, that he wasn't hurting as much as Darien thought.

Hot, slick, perfect. Love, lust, desire, friendship, everything. Partners. They were partners, two sides of the same coin. Two halves of the same whole, coming together for the first time the way they were meant to.

That was it for control. Darien's hold over himself snapped and he gave in to his own instincts and his lover's request. He sped up the motion of his hips, thrusting harder into the body beneath.

Bobby moaned slightly. Darien was nailing his prostate with every thrust, and his body was responding despite itself. "Darien…"

Darien's body grew impossibly hotter at the sound of his own name falling from Bobby's lips. The heat, the friction, the fast slide into the body that felt like a squeezing velvet glove, it all flashed over Darien, and he was ready to erupt too soon. He wanted to make it last. He wanted to draw it out for the rest of their lives. It felt too damned good. Better than anything.

He heard his own voice echoing his thoughts in a passionate whisper. "Jesus, Bobby…you feel so…God, so good."

"Love you," he heard in response.

His eyes snapped open. His breath caught in his chest almost painfully.

Bobby wasn't feeling the pleasure Darien wished on him, but his eyes were open, sincere, and he did actually look as though something inside of him was better. At the same time, despite the half-hard state Bobby was in, his body again reacted to the physical stimulus, and he came. It wasn't spectacular, or magic, and it didn't fix anything.

Still, coming so close together, the words Bobby spoke and his almost reluctant orgasm seemed to do something to Darien. It only took another couple of thrusts for Darien to feel the crashing wave of pleasure, and he let himself go, spilling out into his lover's body. The orgasm shook him harder than any he could remember, and he almost passed out, collapsing on top of his partner and losing all control of his mind and body for a long few moments.

The world came back to him slowly. His eyes fluttered open, and he drew himself up enough to meet his partner's gaze.

Unexpectedly, Bobby practically shattered in front of Darien's eyes. Sobs bursting forth out of nowhere that shook his entire body. Tears streamed down his face in rivers.

Darien quickly pulled himself off Bobby's shoulder, suddenly terrified he'd done everything wrong after all. "Bobby?"

If Bobby heard him he showed no sign. He was still against the bed, his hands relaxed inside the restraining fabric of the ties.

Darien moved fast, his heart pounding, carefully sliding his softened flesh out of Bobby's body. He looked around long enough to spot his own crumpled T-shirt, and he grabbed it. He wiped Bobby's stomach off gently, and cleaned himself almost as an afterthought.

He tossed the shirt back in the floor, and his eyes went to the headboard. He quickly, gently untied the knotted fabric and brought Bobby's arms down.

He wasn't sure Bobby even noticed.

Without a word, almost choking on his guilt and fear, Darien settled down beside his partner. For a brief moment he was forced to wonder if Bobby was going to push him away or not.

But Bobby turned in to him, tears still going down his face, and curled in to Darien's body.

Darien swallowed, hope burning through him as he folded his lover's smaller body into his arms. He held himself back far enough to study Bobby's face, then leaned in to press his lips gently to those streams of salty tears.

Bobby shivered under the touch, but angled his face closer.

Darien felt Bobby's arms circling him, and he shut his eyes, resting against the pillow and holding his lover's body tight. "I'm sorry," he whispered against the heated skin of Bobby's neck. The words were nowhere near what he wanted to say, to express. They weren't adequate in the slightest. No words would be.

But, pressed against Darien's shoulder, Bobby shook his head. "Don't."

Darien wanted to laugh. He wanted to cry. He wanted to do everything in between. "Jesus, I'm sorry." It was all he could say.

He had come like a rocket. Bobby was suffering under him, and Darien had gotten off on it. He was no better than that old partner of Bobby's, no better than--

"Darien. Stop it." Bobby inhaled in a sniff and pulled himself out enough to meet pained brown eyes. "I…I'm okay. It was okay."

"Okay," Darien repeated bitterly, doubtfully. Bobby looked as far from okay as Darien had ever seen.

But the tears were slowing, and Bobby smiled at him. A real smile, if small and rather weak. "It wasn't gonna be super. No matter what. But…I thought it would be hell. I thought I'd end up snapping those ties. That's why I wanted the cuffs. I was sure it was gonna be…I was sure I'd get out of anything else. But…it wasn't. It wasn't hell. It…hurt, at first. I could…I could almost hear Viv's voice, screaming." He shivered slightly. "But then it wasn't so bad. It wasn't," he insisted when Darien looked away. "I won't lie to you. I'm sorry it wasn't great for you. I'm scum for making you feel like a bad guy for this."

"No. No, no. Come on, Bobby. I'm the one who--"

"--did everything I asked you to. Fuck, Darien, I'm sorry it wasn't good, but it was what I needed. Exactly. It was so much better than I thought it would be. I would…" He blinked, hesitating. Looking suddenly bashful. "I wouldn't mind trying again."

"Again?" Violent reactions clashed at that. Darien's body responded with a rush so strong that it was almost a jerk. It had been the greatest feeling of Darien's life, and his body wanted it again.

But his mind couldn't come to terms with it. His mind would keep seeing Bobby crying.

"Hell," Bobby said quietly, as if reading Darien's mind. "Maybe I blew it. Maybe it's too soon to…" He sighed and dropped his head back. "Let's get some sleep. We can work it out in the morning."

Darien swallowed and nodded. He would have to take Bobby's word for it. Bobby wasn't leaving, or laying as far from Darien as possible. Bobby might want to try again.

They might get through this, together.

He shut his eyes and lay back, certain he wouldn't be getting to sleep anytime soon.

A touch on his cheek opened his eyes, and he looked up at Bobby's half-smiling face. "Darien. When I said it was what I needed, I wasn't lying. You really want to know what I feel right now?"

Darien nodded firmly. He didn't just want to know. He had to know. He had to know exactly what he did to the fragile man he cared for so much.

Bobby's smile grew. "I trust you. I trust you more than I thought I'd ever trust anyone after Viv left. It scares the shit out of me how much I trust you."

Darien searched his eyes, and knew Bobby was telling the truth.

His eyes teared. Against his will, the next breath he drew caught in his throat. He reached out and echoed Bobby's touch, brushing his fingers over that stubbled cheek gently.

Bobby smiled under the touch. "I love you."

A relief floated over Darien so intensely that he might have fallen if he wasn't already lying down. Was it really true? Had he managed it, despite Bobby's reaction?

Maybe that was part of the reason for Bobby's reaction.

Bobby would be better. Jesus, he would actually be better thanks to this.

Darien wasn't na´ve enough to think sex or love or anything else was enough to cure Bobby of those demons raging inside him.

But tonight Bobby had learned to trust. He had surrendered himself into the control of another person, and Darien hadn't made him regret it.

As a step towards healing, it was a big one. The first of what would be many, no doubt. And Darien sincerely wondered if there would ever come a time Bobby would actually enjoy having him inside. Still, it was more than he had dared to hope for yesterday.

"I love you, too. So fucking much." Without loosening his hold on Bobby in the slightest, Darien's eyes shut heavily, and his hand dropped to join the other in keeping Bobby tight against him.

Bobby's head fell back against the crook of his neck, his arm curling in and around.

They slept that way, holding tight onto each other. Limbs wrapped and holding together so tightly no one could possibly have separated them.

****

 

Part Four

**

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
-Ambrose Redmoon

 

His eyes fluttered open, and the darkness of the bedroom replaced whatever images had been floating around in his dreams.

The first thing Bobby thought was that he felt strange. Sore in places he hadn't ever been sore in, and warmer and heavier than usual.

His mind, ever-quick even moments after waking, supplied him with the reasons in memory form, and his eyes opened wider into the darkness.

If anyone had told him a week ago that this night would ever happen, he would have laughed. He would have wished for it to be the truth, but the pragmatic voice inside his head would have said never.

Now here it was. It happened. He let Darien inside. Literally, figuratively, in every frigging way possible. He had just gone against everything he'd tried teaching himself since his divorce, and let another person in so close he wasn't sure if there was anything inside him not affected.

His heart was thumping a bit harder, thinking about it. Darien was strong in his mind, where only flashes of Vivian had been before.

His stomach was clenching.

What had he done? He had allowed himself to believe. To trust. And now…what?

Was he going to spend every waking moment scared for Darien's safety? Or would his fears be more centered around the certainty that Darien would leave him?

On the one hand, Darien was dying, by degrees. Slowly, so slowly it was almost unnoticeable, but he was dying. Killed off one brain cell at a time by that damned gland in his brain. Darien was his partner at one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Darien could get killed, any time. Killed by the gland, killed for the gland, killed by some random accident or some perp's lucky shot.

On the other hand, Darien was the most alive person Bobby had ever known. He had more life inside of him than even Viv had ever had. He was young, he was beautiful, outside and in. He was brave, smart. Fast, funny. He was perfect. The chances he would have the patience or the desire to put up with Bobby through good and bad were next to impossible. Bobby doubted anyone could do it, but Darien? Saddle himself to the wreck that was Bobby Hobbes? It was a joke.

Still. Darien was there. Darien had put up with him so far. Darien made love to him, and thought he'd hurt him, and the idea of that seemed to shake Darien so hard he could barely talk.

Darien cared. Darien…Darien loved him.

Bobby swallowed against the darkness outside and in. Darien loved him. He believed that. He…he trusted it. He trusted what Darien told him. He trusted Darien here in his bed. He would give Darien keys to his apartment, the code to his alarm. He would give Darien everything Darien wanted.

And in return…

Bobby couldn't help but feel a warm rush, despite his misgivings, despite his paranoia.

In return, Darien would love him. For as long as it was possible, until death or youth or psychological instability broke them apart. Darien would love him.

Bobby wouldn't need to have someone to call on these late nights when his fears and doubts kept him awake, because Darien would be there beside him already. He wouldn't have to worry about Darien's safety, because he would know at every moment how he was.

God, it was going to hurt worrying about everything. It angered Bobby to know that this solution to his problems wasn't a solution at all -- just a new set of problems.

Still, problems were nothing new to him. Worrying and caring so much it physically hurt was nothing new to Bobby Hobbes.

Having someone there, having someone to hold him and laugh with him and make the worrying worth it…that was new.

And maybe that was the whole key right there. Maybe Bobby would never find the magic fix-it for his insanity. Maybe he was wired wrong, had the wrong chemicals in his body. Maybe he was incurable.

But Darien was there. The man he loved loved him in return despite it all.

That made things as close to perfect as Bobby ever dreamed he'd come.

He settled back down, breathing in the light scent of Darien's skin and listening to the hypnotic, rhythmic breathing of his lover and partner.

And for the first time in a long time, after waking up and letting his fears loose in his head, Bobby Hobbes shut his eyes and felt the warm blanket of sleep silencing them again.

End


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