Hu Roi va Trong

By: Lucy Hale


Something was wrong.

He wasn't sure how he knew it, but he did.

The man was acting strange. Even stranger than usual. Not that Darien could blame him -- it had been a hell of a week for them both. First the accident that had landed Bobby in the hospital, that horrible bleeding head injury -- subdural hematoma, or whatever the doc had called it. That strange memory loss, Bobby accidentally stumbling across the secret experimental surgeries going on in that hospital. Finding out that the Keeper's old friend was using homeless people as test cases, harvesting some kind of brain cells from them, leaving them barely coherent. And then giving those cells to people like Bobby -- contributing people who needed the cells more than the vagrants did. According to the doctor, anyway.

And now, it was over. The doctor was dead, and a lot of the people he had experimented on were made right again, thanks to the Keeper.

But Bobby but acting strange, and Darien wasn't sure of what to think about it.

It wasn't anything obvious. Bobby was still the unflappable Bobby Hobbes, with a comeback for every order, and a gripe for every assignment. He was acting like he always did.

But maybe that was the problem. Darien wasn't sure, but he figured having this big head injury and being operated on, being shot up with someone else's brain cells, would have an affect on a guy. For Darien, finding out that somewhere in the city, someone was barely able to walk and talk normally because the cells he needed were in Darien's head, would be enough to freak him out. Fortunately, he didn't have to think that. But Bobby did, and he wasn't acting like it bothered him at all.

Bobby acted tough and careless, but he had a heart. He had to be bothered, but he was keeping it inside. He was acting like the last week hadn't happened.

Of course, Darien wasn't about to go ask him about it. He could try, but it would come out some awkward I'm-here-for-ya-man buddy sentiment, and wouldn't get Bobby to say anything at all. Getting Bobby to talk about himself and his feelings was one of the hardest things Darien had ever tried to do.

So Darien was left wondering about it, and watching Bobby a little closer than usual.


"Come on in, boys. I've got a job for you."

Darien motioned grandly, and Bobby grinned and moved past him through the door that he held open. Darien followed, loping into the office and tossing off a snappy salute. "Invisible Man and Lithium Boy reporting for duty, sir."

"Lithium Boy?" Bobby glanced at him. "Good try, Fawkes, but I'm no one's sidekick."

"Come on, Hobbesy. You'd look great in a pair of tights and a cape."

"Actually, I don't. I could show you some pictures. It's bad."

Darien shot him a look.

Bobby smiled vaguely and turned back to the Boss.

"Pretend this is a serious briefing." The Official obviously wasn't in the mood to listen to their bantering.

Darien took another minute to try and figure out whether Bobby was serious or not before giving it up as hopeless and turning to his boss. "What's up?"

"Elmore High School." The Official's face was grave. "The cops have had to deal with some pretty constant calls from the school. Drugs, weapons, fights, you name it. Which is strange, because Elmore is a pretty upper-crust school. Best of the best in the city."

"Uh huh? So because some rich white kids are fighting and smoking some pot, we have to do something about it?"

"Nope. Because some of those kids are disappearing, you have to do something." The Official nodded, and Eberts moved from his silent, constant position beside him to hand a couple of folders to the agents.

Darien took his, and couldn't resist glancing over and watching Eberts and Bobby glare at each other silently as Bobby took his.

He was starting to wonder what was up with those two.

"We've had five kids vanish in the last year. There were explanations for all of them, but if you look hard enough those stories don't quite cut it. One boy's friends told the cops he was always threatening to run away, and now must have done it. But the kid had a bank account and a nice income from his parents, and he took none of the money with him."

"Maybe he didn't want to use his parents' money," Darien replied with a shrug. "Maybe he wanted to make it on his own."

"Yeah. Right." The Official held out a photo that wasn't in their reports.

Darien took it and grimaced at the body sprawled on cement in the black and white photo. He handed it to Bobby.

Bobby took it and studied it for a second. "This the kid?"

The Official nodded. "He ended up on a street in New Orleans. Overdosed on more drugs than anyone should ever be taking. Funny thing is, he was found in a…uh. Well, a brothel."

"A what?" Darien's eyebrows flew up.

"You heard me. He was working as a prostitute."

"Bad end for a kid like that," Bobby stated almost flatly. "But what's it got to do with us?"

"The kid was missing for two weeks before he was found," the Official replied. "In two weeks, he made it all the way across the country with no money, and ended up hooked on drugs and working in a house in New Orleans. Doesn't seem funny to you?"

"So he was a fast mover."

But Bobby frowned, getting serious. "Or someone had him sent there. Hooked him on the drugs, and started renting him out. Poor kid probably never knew what hit him."

The Official nodded. "Second boy, gone for over two months. Found in a hospital in Chicago, where he had apparently also overdosed. He was a John Doe and listed as a male prostitute until after he died, when his records came through."

Bobby sat up. "So we got someone grabbing kids from this school and selling them out around the country? That what you're saying?"

"Around the country, and maybe beyond. We've got three kids still missing, and if this operation is big enough, they might be out of the country." The Official glanced over at Darien, making sure the seriousness of the situation had sunk in.

Darien was frowning down at his folder, grim.

The Boss nodded slightly and went on. "Elmore is getting a rep as a trouble school, which is suspicious. This has been one of the top-rated schools in the state, until this year. Suddenly there are drugs practically out in the open, kids carrying guns and starting fights. And other kids vanishing. I think it's all connected. You're going to find out for sure."

Darien grimaced. "How're we gonna do that?"

"You're going undercover. Both of you."

Darien couldn't hide a small smirk. "Goody. I can go back and get that diploma I always wanted."

"We're a little old to be freshman, sir," Bobby added.

"Fawkes, the school just lost their gym teacher. He walked out after almost getting shot in class one day. Guess who's taking his place?"

Darien sat up. "Uh uh. No way. I'm no teacher. I'm really not a gym teacher. Let Hobbes do it."

"Hobbes has his own assignment."

Bobby straightened, interested. "Yeah, coach. I got my own assignment. What's up, Boss?"

The Official smiled faintly. "You know how to work a mop?"

Bobby blinked at him, then sat up as Darien started chuckling beside him. "No. No way. You're not sending me in there as a janitor."

"Custodial engineer," the Official responded blandly. "And you report for work first thing tomorrow."

Darien grinned and stood, clapping his partner on the back. "Come on, pal. We'd better go work out some kind of plan."

"Anything else, Boss. Anything! I can't go around in some gray jumpsuit cleaning up spitballs and bathrooms. Anything else."

Eberts was smirking from where he stood silently at his boss's side.

The Official shook his head. "Look, you're going to get a set of keys to every room in that school. You can stay before and after hours, you can go anywhere you want. I need you there, Hobbes. I have to put someone I can trust in that spot."

Bobby blinked and turned to Darien. "Did he just compliment me?"

"I must not have heard him right."

"Me neither."

"Hobbes. You just keep your eyes and ears open and do the same job you always do. That's what I'm counting on."

Bobby grinned, glancing over at Darien. "Hear that?" He gestured to the Official. "Huh?"

"Yeah, way to go."

"Can the sarcasm, mental midget. You're talking to Bobby Hobbes, the Agency's number one guy. The main man, the center ring, the whole--"

Darien shoved away from his chair, shaking his head. "Great. Just great. He's never gonna shut up about this." He turned a baleful look to the Official. "What'd I ever do to you?"

Bobby stood, lifting his head regally. "You watch how you talk about me, peon."

"Yeah, yeah. Come on, mop monkey." Darien pushed the door open.

Their boss's voice stopped them. "Boys, I want this one wrapped up fast. I don't want another of these boys to go missing." The Official sounded even more serious than usual.

Looking back, Bobby couldn't help asking. "What's our interest in this, boss? Why isn't the Bureau handling it?"

"They are. But we’re getting in first." The Official hesitated. "I asked for this. My sister's son goes to that school. Fits the profile."

Darien and Bobby exchanged brief looks, but Darien left without a reply, and Bobby followed.


"All right, Fawkes. You've got the big job here, so you'd better focus on this one."

Darien grimaced. "Whaddaya mean, the big job?"

Bobby nodded at the folder of papers spread on the table between them and their plates of food. "If ya look at the details, it's obvious whoever is taking these kids and shipping them out are the same ones who've started all this crap at the school. The guns, the drugs. My guess is, this is a pretty low-profile group, and they've got kids at the school working for them. They introduced the drugs, and these rich, bored kids who have nothing better to spend their money on fell hook, line, and sinker. Once they get hooked on the drugs, it's not too hard to put guns in their hands and bad thoughts in their heads. You get fights started, little gangs formed, and when kids start disappearing, it looks like a natural result of the rising violence, and not some master plan by these scumbags who started the whole thing."

Darien blinked at his partner, wondering at how the guy's mind worked. "You got all that out of these files?"

Bobby shrugged, munching a few fries before answering. "It's a little more complicated than most plans like this, but it's not original. Most of the bastards who like to deal in human flesh get their meat from bad parts of town, bad schools. There's less effort that has to be put in there. These guys are dealing in pretty, rich, clean-cut white boys. Obviously catering to special groups. If we're lucky, we can catch these guys and then hunt down the people they're selling to."

Darien moved his food absently around on his plate, disturbed. "You see this kind of thing a lot?"

"Not really. One or two times are a lot, in this case. Don't let it get to you, kid. In this job, you see the worst of people. You see the crap. You just gotta keep in mind that most people aren't crap. They're good. We're working for those people, right?"

Darien nodded slowly, surprised his partner had read his thoughts so well. "The Boss is right. We've gotta figure this one out fast."

"We will. Meantime, you're gonna have to get some of these kids to talk to you. You're gonna be a teacher, so it'll be easy for you. Nobody wants to bare their soul to the creepy janitors." His eyes flashed wryly. "You get those kids to trust you, whatever you have to do. See if anyone's willing to talk about what's going on. I'll be around, seeing what I can find out. My guess is the teachers here are keeping their eyes off what's going on, so hopefully no one will even notice me."

Darien frowned suddenly. "Last gym teacher was almost shot. Isn't that what the Boss said? Maybe he was asking questions too."

"Maybe." Bobby shrugged, but his eyes were serious. "I'll be around when you need me, Darien."


The scenes came in flashes, distant and removed, same as they had the last few nights.

 

They were performing a surgery. In the middle of the night, in a distant, closed off wing of the hospital, the doctor was probing into someone's brain, injecting some kind of substance from a large needle right out of Star Trek.

He didn't want to watch, but he couldn't turn away. He had woken up in this hospital, and had no idea why he was there. Was it for this? Would he be next? Where was Darien, the Official?

The door opened behind him. Two orderlies. They were coming towards him.


Another night, waking up not knowing where he was, or why his head hurt so badly.

Someone was there, in the dark room with him. A man with a beard, who was almost familiar, in some strange way.

"Mr. Hobbes, tomorrow you'll be feeling much better. I just need you to sign this consent form for me."

Bobby wasn't falling for it. "Consent form? Who are you? What the hell am I doing here?"

"Mr. Hobbes, just sign the form. Trust me. I'm a friend of Claire's."

Claire? The Keeper? What did she have to do with this?

The man sensed his resistance. "If you don't give your permission," he said quietly, with a strange sort of grimness in his voice, "we will simply operate anyway."

"Like hell." Bobby moved fast, swinging his legs to the floor.

"What's goin' on?"

Bobby turned and saw a bleary-eyed young woman staring at them from the bed beside his, with the curtain pulled back just enough for her to see them.

Who was that? Did he have a chick roommate?

The doctor smiled instantly. "Good evening, Sarah. I was just explaining a few things to Mr. Hobbes."

She grinned. "Don't bother. He won't remember it in two minutes anyway."

The doctor nodded. "You're right, of course." He turned back to Bobby. "Mr. Hobbes, I'll see you tomorrow."

Bobby heard the promise in his voice and stiffened. When the man was gone, he leaned instantly over and grabbed the phone. He had to contact the Agency, or Darien, or somebody.

"Bobby? You okay?"

He glanced over at the strange woman who knew his name. "Who're you?"

"Sarah. Your roommate. Hospital -- overcrowded. Your bed -- only one left. Got it?"

Bobby's brow furrowed, and he turned back to the phone. He reached out to dial, but paused, suddenly confused.

"Who you calling? That friend of yours?" She grinned hopefully.

"Who? Fawkes?" Bobby glanced at the phone, then back at her. Was he calling Darien?

"Is it about Doctor Carver?"

"Who?"

"He was just in here."

Bobby shook his head, completely baffled. He dropped the phone back down and sat back on the bed.

The girl laughed slightly. "Just go to sleep, Bobby. You'll feel better tomorrow."


Orderlies. Two of them. Big, and something a little familiar about both.

Bobby stiffened when they came right to his bed. "Mr. Hobbes, it's time for surgery."

"What surgery? Who are you guys? Where the hell am I?" His brain was a blank. Last thing he remembered was…

He tensed when he realized he couldn't remember. Not much of anything. He knew who he was, and where this was, but none of those typical scenes of memory were clear in his head. He knew he had a partner, Darien Fawkes, but for the life of him he couldn't picture him -- couldn't even imagine the guy walking in to a room or something.

It was all removed. And it was scaring the hell out of him.

"Come on, sir. The doctor's waiting."

Surgery? No way in hell. "Get your hands off me," Bobby growled at the two men.

"Bobby?" Some strange woman with short hair flipped a curtain and looked out at them. "What's going on?"

"We have to take him in for surgery, but he's not cooperating." One of the orderlies fixed a long-suffering look to his face.

She grinned. "He's good at that."

There was a sudden sharp jab in his arm, and Bobby's eyes were suddenly heavy. The room swam around him, growing more distant.

"There. That should make him more agreeable." The man's voice sounded friendly, but Bobby knew it was an act.

He knew this was wrong. He had to get away, had to fight.


"Doc, what happens if this guy remembers too much after you're done operating?"

The bearded man with the serious eyes studied the semi-conscious form of the agent in front of him, before answering his orderly's question. "This procedure is risky. It's unlikely anyone will find out he was ever here."

"Yeah, but if he talks, and they start digging, someone could find out about--"

"What I mean…" The doctor held up a hand, glancing over at the tall man behind him. "Is that if something goes wrong later on, we can't be held accountable if no one knows we did anything. You understand me?"

The man blinked, looking down at the drowsy, unresponsive man on the bed. "You mean you can manage it so that things go wrong in his head?"

"No. I can make it so that this operation is only…how should I say it? A reprieve. A gift to an old friend. Claire wants him to get better, so he will. Later, she only has to think it's an unfortunate accident when he regresses. Besides, the man has hospital records. He's doped up on lithium and Zoloft. When he starts going, they'll blame the medicine, not me."


Bobby woke up, feeling incredibly tired for someone who'd just gotten six hours of good sleep.

He sat up slowly, groaning under his breath as his head started throbbing. Every morning, same thing. That same spot in the back of his head. It would throb and hurt, and then the feeling would spread to the side of his head, right behind his ear. It was be bad for about ten, twenty minutes, and then fade away as the day went on.

Damned dreams. That's why he felt like he hadn't gotten any sleep. Those stupid dreams. Those flashes of maybe-memory that kept trying to surface.

Carver. The doctor had been scum. Pure scum. Bobby hadn't remembered when Darien first asked him about it, the day he woke up after the surgery. But he'd lied and said he had a vague memory of it, then changed the subject as fast as he could.

It bothered him not to remember. Now that he did, it bothered him more.

Especially that last flash, the last conversation. It was more distant than the others, less real. It could be a product of his overactive imagination, he knew. Dreaming that there was some conspiracy to play with his head while he'd been operated on.

He couldn't remember everything about it, but he was sure that Carver had bad intentions when he drilled into his skull.

Bobby shook his head, standing and dragging himself to the bathroom. He couldn't think about it now. As it was, he felt fine, except for those headaches. He had a new case to worry about. The last few weeks were in the past, ready to be forgotten.


Darien greeted him with a smile that faded quickly. "You know, you really oughtta get some sleep, Hobbes. You look like shit."

"Fuck you very much, Fawkes." Bobby almost had to bite back a yawn as he said it.

"Yeah, yeah. I guess it's time to go to school."

Bobby nodded. "I'll take the van. It's perfect for a creepy janitor. We'll probably be reporting to different people, so I'll make an excuse to get to your room soon as I can."

Darien nodded. "See you in the hallowed halls."

Bobby gave a derisive noise and headed towards the van.

Darien watched him go, wondering about Bobby's bleariness. It wasn't like the agent to go into an assignment at anything less than top form. Darien wondered if he was having nightmares. It wouldn't be too surprising, taking into account the last few weeks. Still, he wondered if he should tell the Keeper or somebody.

He headed towards the black car the Agency gave him to tool around in, considering. If something were wrong with Darien, Bobby would go to the Keeper. Darien had no idea who to go to about Bobby. The Official? Yeah, a mass of sympathy and understanding.

Nope, better the Keeper. She at least would probably know how to get in touch with Bobby's shrink, find out what's bugging him.

That decision made, he felt better prepared to get into this assignment.

It was gonna be a weird one, pretending to be a teacher. Having all these kids report to him. Fortunately, PE had been one of the classes he'd attended fairly regularly. So he'd throw a basketball on the gym floor and let the kids go at it.

Easy enough. What would be hard would be finding a way to get some of these kids to open up, to talk to him at all. Teachers weren't trusted figures. Adults period, even to these high school kids who should know better, were not to be trusted, or even liked.

How to get some of these kids to see him as more than a typical teacher?


Darien showed up at the gym, feeling slightly ridiculous. He had that typical gym-teacher whistle around his neck. He was now dressed in soccer shorts and a T-shirt. The better to get physical with.

And there was going to be a pack of high school juniors in there, ready to cream the new teacher.

He drew himself up, forcing confidence he didn't feel. Dangerous missions he was learning to handle. High school kids were another story entirely.

He went through the double doors into the gym, and found the kids waiting for him, sitting against the wall in bored groups. Surprisingly quiet for a group of kids.

He blew the whistle and let it drop with a grin as the kids turned to him. "Hey there, guys. My name's…uh. Mr. Fawkes. I'll be your new gym teacher."

Faint murmuring started in the group, and a lot of low, feminine giggles burst out.

"Everybody up. Get over here, we gotta talk through a few rules."

The kids got to their feet slowly and trudged over, staying in their little groups. There was only thirty something kids there, small for a gym class, if his memory of high school served him right.

He kept that con-man grin on his face. "I gotta call roll here. So speak up when I say your name." He went down the list in his hand surprisingly quickly, with no joker voices ringing out from the group.

When that was done, he dropped the folder he held and went to a small utility closet, opening it and glancing inside at the various balls and nets and things. He turned back to the students. "Okay, whaddaya you guys like to do in here?"

A few male voices rang out. Basketball, football.

He grabbed a basketball and tossed it out to the group. "Everyone who wants to play, stay here. Rest of you, go sit down."

Most of the girls broke away from the group and moved back to the wall.

The guys quickly split into two groups and started their game.

Darien was feeling slightly more relaxed as he moved to sit down and watch the game. It seemed easy enough.

"Mr. Fawkes?"

He glanced over at two of the girls, now standing and coming towards him. "Yeah?"

"Uh. We just wanted to say…welcome to the school." The speaker's face was flushed slightly. A few of the girls behind her scooted a little closer.

"Oh. Thanks."

"What did you do before you came here?"

Darien shrugged. "Lotta things."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I was a thief, a medical experiment, a government secret agent. You know, the usual." He flashed a smile.

They laughed, and a few more stood and came over, resetting themselves around him.

"You married?" an unidentified voice called from the back somewhere.

Darien grinned as giggles rang out from the entire group. "Nope. Completely single, ladies."

"Hey, watch out," a voice came from the court.

Darien stood and caught the ball flying towards them. He was feeling good suddenly -- nothing like a group of teenage girls fawning over you to make you feel like more of a man.

He dribbled up to the court. "Who's winning?"

There were a few shrugs from the boys. "Aren’t you supposed to keep track?"

"Oh. Yeah. Okay, guess we'll have to start over."

"You gonna play, Teach?"

Darien sighted and casually tossed off a three-pointer. God, he used to love this game. His height had been good for something, at least, when he was in school. "Who wants to be on my team?"


"You having fun, Fawkes?"

The voice surprised him. Darien turned to see a familiar crooked smirk coming towards him. He grinned. "You look like a natural."

Bobby grimaced and pushed the long, flat broom against the gym wall as the door shut behind him. "You free this class?"

"Yup. Apparently I gotta have some off time to plan my strategies and stuff."

"Or take a shower, maybe," Bobby suggested dryly.

Darien pushed sweat-soaked hair away from his face with a broad grin. "Man, I could get into this job. You know, maybe I missed my calling."

"Don't get too into it, Fawkes. We’re only here until we can find out what's going on."

Darien absently dribbled the basketball, staying in the middle of the gym floor and throwing off a few practice shots as they talked. "I don't get that, Bobby. This place seems like any other school to me. The kids are nice enough." Especially the girls, he added mentally with a grin. Three classes come and gone, and the same thing. Fawning girls, guys trying to be jocks. He managed to charm his way through the entire group.

"Yeah, well. While you've been closed up in this little room here, they had to break up a couple of guys trying to cut each other to ribbons."

Darien frowned. "So what're you learning? Anything?"

"Not a lot. The other mop jockeys aren't too friendly."

"Must be your natural charm," Darien said with a slight smirk, tossing the ball.

It hit the rim and bounced towards Bobby, who caught it with a look to Darien. "All right, Fawkes. Don't lose sight of the mission here while you’re having fun. You've gotta get these kids to talk to you. Bring up that fight earlier, and see what they say. Look the kids over; find some users. At the very least get some names for me.

Darien's smile dropped. It was true, he'd wasted the day as far as their assignment went. But still, no one could expect him to get any answers the first day, right?

Bobby shook his head and turned, heading for the door. "I'll see you end of the day, kid. Don't forget why we're here, you got me?"

"Can I have my ball back?"

Bobby turned and tossed off an easy shot.

Darien watched the ball thrown by his short, stocky little partner fly and fall neatly into the basket from what had to be the equivalent of center court. He turned raised eyebrows to his partner.

Bobby smirked. "Remember, appearances are deceiving. Don't let these little rich kids fool you into thinking they're pure and innocent."

Darien nodded slightly, a small grin appearing. "Have fun, Bobby."

Bobby grabbed his broom and grumbled something under his breath as he pushed it out the door, leaving Darien alone.


"So we've got three fights in one day, and one more kid picked up for possession of narcotics. I overheard the names of some of the pushers in school, some of the ones we'll need to lean on. You get anything from your day? Besides what the female seniors look for in a man?"

Darien actually felt a little sheepish as he shook his head. "I'm the new teacher, okay? There's no way they're gonna trust me enough the first day to talk to me."

"Yeah? Maybe you'd better change your technique, 'cause if they don't start talking soon, another kid's gonna go missing."

Darien frowned. "Did you find out who the Official's nephew is?"

"Yeah. Kid named Jason Davidson."

"Sounds familiar."

"Yeah. He's in your third period class."

Darien winced. "Oh." Way to stay on top of the mission, Fawkes.

"It's okay. We're not really worried about him anyway." Bobby dropped his half-eaten burger back on his plate. "I think I'd better get down to the jail. I'm gonna try and get some info from the kid they arrested today."

"You think that's a good idea? We're undercover here."

Bobby snorted. "You think anyone looks at the janitors twice? Besides, he was arrested early; he wouldn't have seen me. And he probably won't be going back to the school any time soon."

"Want me to come along?"

"Negative, pal. He was in your class this morning, he'll definitely recognize you." Bobby started to rise.

"You gonna finish dinner?"

"I'm done."

Darien glanced down at the half-full plate. "Bobby, you feeling okay?"

"Sure. Why?"

"You're a vacuum. I've seen you eat before."

Bobby looked fairly incredulous. "You're worried about my eating habits? Fawkes, only thing you should worry about is what's happening at Elmore High School."

"Yeah, great. You just make sure you get some real sleep tonight. Stay up another night and you'll really fit that creepy-janitor image."


Bobby strolled into the interrogation room and dropped down at the table. "Evening, Seth. Enjoying yourself?"

Seth Lewis looked up from his listless spot at the end of the table. "Who're you?"

"Just another interested law-enforcement type." Bobby leaned forward. "Let's cut to the chase here, kid. I need to know who brought these drugs to your school. I need to know who brought the guns and the knives, and who's taking the kids. You help me and this little pit stop tonight won't even go on your record."

"Screw you, man."

"Yeah? You don't look like a poofter to me. You that high?"

Seth's brow furrowed, then his cheeks went red. "Fuck you."

"I guess you are." Bobby smirked. "Just cut out the bad boy routine. You've never been arrested in your life. I know you're scared right now. You've gotta be. Mom and pop are gonna find out about this when they get home tonight, it'll go on your record. Boom. No more trust funds, no more Ivy League education. No more millionaire future. You want to blow all that because you couldn't give me the name of the guy who sold you the drugs?"

Seth was quiet for a minute, thoughtful. "Didn't sell 'em to me," he said finally, slowly.

"What do you mean? You just found a bag of coke on the street one day?"

"No, man. He didn't sell me the coke, he gave it to me."

Bobby's brow furrowed. "Gave it to you?"

"Yeah. Said all I had to do was get a few of my friends into it, and it was mine. Said we could get all we wanted."

And the kid never thought to wonder why. Jesus. Bobby shook his head. "Who gave it to you?"

Seth's eyes grew shadowed again. "I dunno."

Bobby rolled his eyes and leaned back, crossing his arms. "You're telling me that a total stranger offered you free drugs, and you didn't even think to ask why, or who he was?"

"He was…" Seth stopped himself. "Look, man, I talk to you, it isn't gonna be good. They made Ben dis…"

Bobby nodded, knowing exactly what hadn't been said. "Ben Page. He vanished a couple months ago. He was gonna talk? Is that why they took him?"

"I don't know," Seth admitted. "I don't know why they took him. But they can take any of us, and we know it. We're not gonna cross them."

Bobby blew out a breath. "You have to know more about these guys than you're telling, kid."

"Yeah? So I tell you, and you get me out. They find out all charges were dropped, and what are they gonna think? They're gonna know I talked, and that's it."

"You'd rather sit here, in jail? You really want to ruin the rest of your life over a hundred bucks worth of cocaine?"

Seth shrugged. "Better to be old and poor than young and dead, you know?"

"We can watch out for you, Seth."

"Yeah. Right."

Bobby heaved a breath. This was one argument that couldn't be won. If the kid was really so scared he'd rather face prison than talk, there was nothing Bobby could do to force him. He could threaten, demand, but the kid was right, If he got out, he was as good as dead. And Bobby and Darien didn't have the time to look out for him, not while they were still trying to find the men responsible.

"Sorry I couldn't help you, kid," he said sincerely, rising to his feet.

"What? That's it?"

"From me. But then, I'm not a cop. You'll have to go through it all again." Bobby gave him a crooked smile.

Seth rolled his eyes and slumped in the chair. "Great."


"Mr. Hobbes, tomorrow you'll be feeling much better. I just need you to sign this consent form for me."

"Consent form? Who are you? What the hell am I doing here?"

"If you don't give your permission we will simply operate anyway."

"Just go to sleep, Bobby. You'll feel better tomorrow."

"Mr. Hobbes, it's time for surgery."

"Get your hands off me!"

"Bobby? What's going on?"

"There. That should make him more agreeable."

"Doc, what happens if this guy remembers too much after you're done operating?"

"If something goes wrong later on, we can't be held accountable if no one knows we did anything."

"You mean you can manage it so that things go wrong in his head?"

"When he starts going, they'll blame the medicine, not me."

 

Bobby jerked up, gasping in a breath as his eyes scouted the darkness. No, the room was familiar. The darkness was familiar. He was in his own apartment. He was fine.

His head was together. He was still thinking straight. No problem with the memory.

It had to be just his mind playing tricks on him. That last scene, the one that seemed so much like a memory, couldn't have been real. He'd know by now, wouldn't he?

He sat up, glancing out past the drawn curtains and seeing the sunlight filtering in. Morning. Jesus. He had gone to sleep as soon as he'd gotten home last night. It must have been a good nine hours he was out.

So why did he feel like he'd stayed up all night?

He staggered to his bathroom. He'd need a good, freezing cold shower to wake him up and get him to face the day with any kind of alertness.


Another wasted day, cleaning floors and scrubbing graffiti off bathroom doors. Another day of sweeping and mopping and trying to start conversations with the other mop monkeys, none of who were friendly in the slightest.

Basic attitude seemed to be shut up and sweep, but Bobby'd never been good at that.

So when the time came to volunteer to stay after school and finish the floors, Bobby had quickly taken the job.

Schools were funny things. For the life of him, he couldn't remember his own, really. It had been smaller than this, and he hadn't been very enthusiastic about it. He'd done his work like a good boy. Graduated pretty high up in his class, and gone off to join the Marines instead of even looking into scholarships.

College. He wondered sometimes where he'd be now if he had gone the route of higher education. Sometimes he pictured himself in a nice suit, wearing some geeky little glasses, working as a shrink or something. Asking the same questions in the same smooth, impersonal tones as his own docs.

That made him appreciate where he was.

Still, he couldn't resist, roaming the empty halls, ducking into various rooms and looking around at the things he'd blocked out.

Science rooms were always the most interesting. With big charts and skeleton models standing around and animals waiting to be dissected. He could have gotten into science, maybe.

He found his way into one of the sophomore science classrooms and pushed his flat, pink dust broom around halfheartedly. He got to the teacher's desk and stopped, opening the top drawer and getting his snooping operation underway. He'd have to go through every desk of every teacher, until they could find out if any of the adults here were taking part in this plan.

He routed through pens and papers and little yellow hall passes and more pens, not finding anything of interest. He went drawer to drawer, but the lesson plans seemed to hold up. The first teacher seemed to be checking out.

He found the teacher's edition of the textbook and flipped it open, out of curiosity. He flipped through diagrams of cells and neurons and DNA/RNA chains, and memories came flooding back.

Boy, life had been easier then. As much as kids bitched about school, how easy was it to have only one responsibility in life? How easy was it to only have to worry about tests and homework, and not bills or psychiatrists or invisible partners or doctors drilling inside your brain?

He stopped and read through a few paragraphs, squinting at some of the words.

Boy, he'd been out of school for a long time. This shit didn't make any sense anymore. He understood most of it, and the concepts were familiar. But the paragraph itself seemed to be hazy, He didn't get what they were trying to say, exactly.

After a minute he gave up, shutting the book. He'd done his years. He was out of it now. No use worrying about electrons and protons in his line of work.

He turned and swept his way out of the room, locking the door behind him and heading for the next one.

It was gonna be a long night.


Darien caught sight of Bobby in the hall, unlocking one of the utility closets and dumping off a mop and bucket. He headed over, grinning.

"Hey, man, someone kinda lost their lunch in the gym. Can you spare a few minutes?"

Bobby glanced back at him, keeping his voice low. "I sure hope you're kidding."

"Just keeping up appearances, pal. Now come on, I gotta talk to you." Darien wasn't smiling anymore. In fact, his brow creased and he moved a little faster than he was intending, eager to get a few minutes in to talk to Bobby alone.

Bobby followed, mop and bucket still in hand.

They went down the long hallway that separated the gym from the rest of the school. They went in silence, Bobby trailing after Darien as his long strides carried him faster.

When they got to the huge, empty gymnasium, Darien held the door for Bobby, shut it behind them, and turned on his partner. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Bobby stopped in his tracks. "Whoa. Where's the attack coming from?"

"Look at yourself, Bobby. Jesus, you look horrible. Are you sleeping? Is there something going on here that you're not telling me?"

Bobby sighed, setting the mop against the shut door. "Nothing's going on. I'm sleeping fine. You're not supposed to be thinking of me here, Fawkes. You get anything out of these kids yet?"

Darien's jaw tightened in annoyance, but he accepted the change of subject. "Nope. I'm telling you, Bobby, I don't see anything wrong with these kids. They do everything I tell them, they seem like normal high school teenagers."

Bobby heaved a sigh. "All right, look. We gotta get serious here. We're on a time limit. If the kids aren't gonna tell you anything, try talking to some of the teachers. Ask when all this started, see if anyone knows anything more than we know."

"Gotcha." Darien studied his partner closely. "You sure you're feeling okay?"

Bobby smirked. "Better watch it, Fawkes. I'll start thinking you care." He grabbed his mop, picked up the bucket, and headed for the door. "Remember, we're on a timetable. We don't want another missing kid on our hands."


Philosophy. One of those things Bobby just couldn't get into.

He flipped through the book, wondering at anyone who could read things like this, where paragraphs went on for pages without a break.

It was enough to make the small part of him that was interested in learning new things shut right up.

Still, some of it was interesting. Middle Eastern philosophy -- the Art of War, the Book of Five Rings. Warrior stuff, writing to get the blood stirring. He could get into that if he was in the right mood.

Elmore was a well-off school, with a well-stocked library, which Bobby was now snooping in.

He had nothing better to do, really. There was no one else in the building, the place was shut down. The teacher's desks had been searched, the main office had been torn through. If some of these teachers were involved in what was going on at this school, they were hiding it well.

So he really should have just given up and gone home for the day. But he wasn't all that eager to go to sleep that night and face more nightmares, and who knew what random snooping in the school would uncover. So there he was, flipping idly through books in the library.

A title caught his interest. Right next to the Art of War. The Art of Peace, by some other Chinese type philosopher guy.

He grinned absently and pulled it out, flipping through. "Always keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the great ocean, and the highest peak, empty of all thoughts." He snorted and shut the book.

Give him old blood and guts Sun Tzu any day.

He moved to put it back on the shelf, but something caught his eye. His attention was suddenly drawn to a small, folded piece of paper, stuck in the thin space on the shelf behind the books.

He pulled down the two neighboring books, and set them aside as he pulled out the paper.

It occurred to him he was probably being ridiculous -- this was probably just some love letter or homework note or scratch paper dumped back there rather than making it to the trash can.

Still, his instincts had kicked in, telling him it was important.

He unfolded the paper and saw several different columns, random numbers filling each one, and sets of initials at the end. There were markings done in a few different colors of ink, in a few different sets of handwriting. It must have stretched over a period of time.

This meant something to someone, and it was stuck there deliberately. He knew it as certainly as he knew anything else.

He had to find out what it meant, and to whom. It would lead them to the answers they were looking for.

He folded the paper back up and carefully stuck it back in place, moving the books back to cover it.

At least he had a focus to go on now.


Darien had to go up to the library to find his partner.

Bobby was standing in a corner of the room, sweeping the same spot over and over again, his eyes scanning the room and all the kids and teachers in it alertly. He spotted Darien coming and smiled faintly.

Darien went to him, frowning sharply as he got a good look at his partner's face in the bright light of the library. Bobby was getting worse. The circles under his eyes were huge, his skin was pale and taught. His eyelids were stuck at little more than half-mast, as though they were too heavy to open all the way.

"Hey, kid."

Darien glanced around to make sure no one was paying them any attention. "Bobby, are you feeling--"

"Jesus, Darien. I feel fine. Back off already. You get anything from the teachers?"

"This is my first free class. I'm about to go hit the lounge, see if anyone's feeling talkative."

"Good. Get down there."

Darien glanced down at the immaculate square foot of floor Bobby was still sweeping. "I think you're done here."

Bobby quirked a small smile. "Keep quiet. I need a reason to be in here, and so far no one's looked at me twice."

"Why do you have to be in here? Did you find something?"

"I'm not sure yet. Get out of here, Darien. Your admirers are starting to notice you."

Darien looked back and saw a group of girls he had in one of his classes staring right at him, whispering among themselves. As soon as they saw him looking, they turned away, giggling.

He rolled his eyes with a smile. "Kids, huh?"

"Yeah, right. You love every minute of it." Bobby waved him out again, turning his attention to a fragment of flooring a few inches from his last spot.

"All right, I'm gone. But I want to meet with you after school."

"You got it. I'll stop by your place."

Darien moved off with a sigh. His place, after school. Maybe he could catch Bobby by surprise, brain him in the head, and make sure he got some sleep.

Ugh. No head injuries, on second thought. He should just spike Bobby's coffee. He had to do something, that was for sure. Bobby was looking worse and worse every day.


The knock on the door roused Bobby from his half-conscious stupor. He forced himself off his couch and stumbled to the door. "Who's'it?"

"Bobby, it's me. Open the door."

Darien. Partner. Yeah. Bobby unlocked the door and let the younger man in. "What's up?"

"What's up?" Darien was incredulous. "You scared the shit out of me, Bobby!"

"Wha?"

"You were supposed to stop by after school. You didn't show. I called you here, you don't answer. I thought something happened to you, asshole."

"Oh." Bobby's brow furrowed. He was supposed to stop by? "Uh, guess I forgot. Sorry, kid. No need to get so upset."

"No need…" Darien forced his tirade to a quick stop and frowned at his partner. "You got plans for tonight?"

"Plans? No, I got no plans. What's--"

"Good. I'm putting you to bed, and you're gonna sleep before you drop dead of exhaustion." Darien grabbed his arm and forced him towards the bedroom.

Bobby went along for a minute, then shook his head to clear it and looked up at his partner. "What's up with you today, pal? You're acting kinda strange."

"Me? Yeah. I'm acting strange. Come on, Bobby. Time for sleep."

Bobby didn't argue. It actually sounded like a pretty good idea to him. He was tired.

Darien released him and pushed him back onto the bed, and stood over him with his arms crossed. "Lay down."

Bobby couldn't help a sleepy chuckle. "If ya wanted to get me in the sack, all ya had to do was ask." He obediently climbed under the covers, still fully dressed and not the least concerned about it.

Darien stood over him, an odd expression on his face as he watched Bobby settle down.

"G'night, Darien." Bobby was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.


Darien stood there for a long moment, making sure his partner wasn't faking. When the sounds of Bobby's breathing grew deep and regular, he sat down at the edge of the bed and looked down at him.

Even in sleep, Bobby looked bad. He looked…unhealthy, somehow. Pale and drawn, his eyes seemed sunken in. Even his cheekbones seemed to be more prominent. Had the guy been skipping meals too?

"What the hell is wrong here, Bobby?" he asked quietly, reached out tentatively to brush a hand across his partner's forehead.

Not hot. Wasn't a fever or anything like that.

He kept his hand on Bobby's face a little longer than necessary, then slid it down to his arm and rested it there. He could feel a small flush creeping over him as he remembered Bobby's tired little joke about getting him in the sack.

He should have laughed that off. But he hadn't been able to. Strange. But it was probably just concern making it impossible for him to see the humor of the situation.

Yeah.

He sat there for a long moment, just looking down at the exasperating, annoying man that was his partner and his best friend. Funny how close the two of them had grown so quickly. Considering that they had resented each other pretty much from the start, they had managed to find common ground fast. Now they were a team. Darien couldn't imagine working with any other agent. He couldn't even imagine working on his own anymore, which was really odd. He was a lone wolf type. Ever since his first real partner and mentor had left him to take a wrap alone, he hadn't much cared for working closely with anyone.

But here he was, watching over his partner as he slept, wondering why he was feeling such concerned affection for the paranoid, jumpy little man.

He stood finally and made his way to the living room. It didn't even occur to him to leave Bobby alone for the night. Instead he sprawled out on the couch and settled in for what hopefully wouldn't be too uncomfortable a night.


He was awakened an hour or so later by a noise from the bedroom.

Always a quick riser, Darien got to his feet quickly and headed for where he'd left his partner.

The door to the bedroom flew open suddenly, and Darien, on instinct, let the Quicksilver overrun him, casting him into invisibility.

Bobby came out of his room, not even looking around for Darien. If he even remembered his partner had come by, he must have thought Darien left.

He dropped down on the couch and pulled over the folder resting on the small coffee table. He flipped it open and stared down at familiar pictures of missing high school kids.

Settling back, Bobby started reading files he must have memorized by now.

Darien frowned, and let the Quicksilver drop from him. "What are you doing?"

Bobby jumped, wheeling to face the new voice. "Darien! Jesus Christ! What are you doing here?"

"I stopped by earlier, remember? I stuck around, wanted to make sure you got some sleep." He looked down at Bobby pointedly.

Bobby blew out a sigh. "I'm not tired. Why don't you go home?"

"Not tired?"

"No. I'm not tired. Leave me alone, Fawkes."

"That's it." Darien moved to the couch, grabbed Bobby's arm, and hauled him up, spilling the file and its contents on the floor. "You're going to bed, and if I have to sit there all night, you're going to sleep."

"Darien--"

"Don't argue with me, Bobby. You were practically unconscious when I got here, and you dropped off so fast I know you have to be exhausted."

"Yeah. I was. Now I'm not."

"Get in there!" Darien pushed him towards the bedroom. "I'm not playing here."

Bobby glared, yanking his arm out of Darien's grip. "What the hell is wrong with you? Leave me alone, Fawkes! Get the hell out of my apartment."

Darien stopped, surprised at the sheer anger. "Bobby, come on. I'm just--"

"Get out!" It was Bobby's turn to push, driving Darien back to the front door. "I'm not answering questions or justifying myself, especially to some punk partner who's only pretending to give a fuck, okay?"

Darien planted his feet, gaping. "Bobby, I thought we were--"

"Give me a break. You got no call to be acting friendly, okay? You and I both know that when you get that gland outta your head, you're never gonna look back at us Agency clowns. You're putting up with this 'cause you have to, and we both know it. You don't have to play like we're best buddies."

Darien stepped back, inexplicably hurt by his partner's words and trying not to show it. "Fine. You want me out, I'm leaving. You think I don't care? You don't want to be pals? Fine. As your partner I'm telling you, if you keep going this way you're gonna endanger the safety of those kids we're trying to protect."

Bobby's glare grew deeper. "Don't you start telling me how to do my job, Fawkes. I'm the agent here, remember? You're the poor martyr enslaved by his country." His sarcasm was as thick as his anger.

Darien frowned. "Fuck you."

Bobby smirked. "Not tonight. Get out."

He was going to answer, then thought better of it. Turning on his heel, he moved to the front door, opening it and then slamming it shut behind him.

He stormed down the hall to the stairs, and was almost halfway down when his anger drained. Just like that, he remembered why he'd even come to the apartment that night. Concern. Bobby wasn't acting right.

Tonight only proved that. He shouldn't be pissed, he should be worried. He knew by now that he and Bobby were friends. It wasn't like his partner, to be lashing out like that.

Something was wrong. And he still had to find out what it was.


When Bobby greeted him the next day at the door to his apartment, it was with a tired smile and no hint that they had argued the night before.

"Darien. Want some breakfast before school?"

Darien smiled crookedly. "Sure. Makes you feel like a kid again to be saying that, doesn't it?"

Bobby made a face. "Real pleasant memories there, yeah."

Darien walked out his apartment, following his partner down the hall and to the stairs. They walked down in silence, until he decided it would be better to start the day's job with the air cleared. "Look, Bobby. About last night…"

Bobby glanced over at him as they walked. "What about it?"

Darien hesitated. "I know I shouldn't have come in like that, but you're getting me a little worried, you know?"

Bobby laughed slightly. "No, I don't. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Last night. When I showed up at your place. I--"

"You what? You didn't come over last night."

Darien stopped dead in the hallway leading to the front door. "Yeah I did."

Bobby shook his head. "I think I'd remember, pal."

Darien laughed faintly. "If this is your way of saying forget about it, that's cool with me."

"Forget about what? You sure you weren't dreaming last night or something?"

Darien's laugh faded. He studied his partner for a moment. "Wait a minute. You really don't remember me coming over last night?"

"Nope. Unless you came in when I was asleep." Bobby's smirk suggested he knew Darien had done no such thing.

Darien's gut was flashing warning signs at him. "What do you remember from last night?"

"Are you kidding? Come on, Darien. I want to get some food before I get to that damned school."

Darien followed him obediently. "Humor me here, Bobby. What did you do last night after you got home?"

"Went to bed. What do people normally do?"

"You slept the whole night? That's all you remember?"

Bobby headed out the door and towards the parking lot. "What am I supposed to remember? You coming over?"

"Bobby. I was there for a couple of hours. You were asleep part of the time, but you woke up. You started looking at the files for this case. We had a…an argument. You don't remember any of that?"

"Nope. Sorry, kid. Maybe you were dreaming about me." He wagged his eyebrows with a smirk and climbed into the van.

Darien got in to the passenger side, not replying. He knew it wasn't a dream. Bobby just didn't remember. Of course, he was exhausted, and it was after midnight when Darien had been there. Maybe anyone would have forgotten it, or dismissed it as a dream or something.

Still. Bobby thought he'd slept all night. Just like he kept telling Darien he'd been sleeping the last week. If he had been up most of the night last night and forgotten it, the same could hold true for the other nights.

Which meant something was severely strange here.


"Darien. This is a surprise. You can't have been using the Quicksilver that much already."

"I'm not here for a shot. I wanted to talk to you."

"Uh oh." The Keeper gave a half-smile, turning away from her desk to face him. "Is there something wrong?"

"Yeah. I think so. I'm not sure."

Her brow creased. "Something with the gland?"

"No. Something with Bobby."

"Bobby." She raised her eyebrows.

"Yeah. He's losing sleep, and he's forgetting things."

She frowned. "What kinds of things?"

"I went by his apartment last night. We talked, we had a huge fight. He doesn't remember any of it this morning. He says he slept all night, but I know he was up reading those files. He looks like he's running on an hour of sleep a night, but he really doesn't remember being awake. I'm kinda worried."

She nodded slowly. "It wasn't that long ago he was in the hospital. Brain damage like he suffered is bound to have some effects we don't see straight away."

"Yeah, but…it's getting worse. He wasn't like this days ago. Should it be getting worse like this?"

She frowned thoughtfully. "Why don't you tell Hobbes I'd like to see him after you're finished working today. I can ask him some questions and try to assess if there's something to be worried about here."

He relaxed slightly. "Good."

She couldn't resist a small smile at that. "It's nice to see you two being so concerned for each other."

"Yeah, well. I gotta go, I've only got an hour between classes."

"So how's it going at the school? Are you getting closer to finding any answers?"

Darien shrugged. "I don't really know. Bobby might have found something, but he's not really saying. From what I can see these kids are all normal, and the teachers are as confused as we are over where the drugs and the guns are coming from."


"Get your hands off me, fucker!"

Bobby stopped in the doorway to the boy's restroom, hearing the shout coming from inside.

"You don't cross us, Davidson. You should've accepted our hospitality when it was offered to you."

Davidson. Shit. Jason Davidson, the nephew to the illustrious Official.

Bobby sure hoped this wasn't gonna blow his cover.

He went in to the bathroom, letting the door fall back with a bang behind him.

Two guys wheeled to look at him. He recognized Jason Davidson from a picture the Official had dropped in their files, but the other kid wasn't familiar.

He only looked at them for a second before he started pushing his mop around the floors, moving past them without acknowledging their presence.

"Hey, you wanna give us a minute?"

Bobby glanced over. The second kid was glaring right at him. He decided not to answer, moving his mop around the first stall floor.

"Look, man, my friend and I are trying to have a private conversation here."

Bobby didn't look up. "Just doin' my job," he said in a mumble.

A hand grabbed his arm, pulling the mob to a stop. Bobby almost jerked and yanked away from the grasp, but his reflexes weren't the reflexes of a janitor, so he forced himself to stay still and just look at the punk kid.

"You know who I am, man?"

Bobby blinked at the kid, wanting to smirk. "No," he answered simply.

"Well, take a good look. Next time you see me, and I tell you to do something, you do it."

Bobby's eyebrows flew up. The kid was right -- he had to take a good look, and find out who the kid was. And then they were a step closer. This kid had to be heavily involved in this scam, or he wouldn't be so confident of his own superiority.

"Now get out of here and come back when me and my friend here are done."

"Sorry. Guy told me to clean the bathroom, I gotta clean the bathroom."

The kid's thin face flushed. His hand still on the mop, he yanked it towards him.

But Bobby held on, and with one jerk of his hands and sweep of the mop, the kid was flat on his back. "Why don't you get to class?" he suggested mildly, looking down at the little punk.

The kid shot to his feet, furious. "I'll see you around," he gritted over to Jason Davidson. His eyes skittered to Bobby. "Both of you."

Bobby waited until he was out the door before he broke into chuckles. Jesus, give a kid drugs to sell, he thinks he owns the world.

"You shouldn't have done that," Jason said quietly from where he was still standing.

Bobby flashed a grin to him. "Look, kid, I work for your uncle."

"You…" Jason did a double take. "You work for Charlie?"

Charlie. Bobby smirked. "Yep. We're gonna find out what's going on in this school. And it looks like you can help. What's the name of the punk who just left?"

"Tom. Tom Metro."

"He's a big pusher around here?"

"Yeah. But look, I've talked to Charlie about this. I don't know who he's working for, or who sells him the drugs. Or anything else. I can't help you, okay? I gotta get out of here."

Bobby opened his mouth to stop him, but Jason was out the door before he could speak up.

He frowned, grabbing the mop and heading out the door. Kid was spooked, but that was no surprise. He was also a mark for these guys, if what Bobby saw in the bathroom was any sign.

Looked like they'd have to keep their eyes on Jason, make sure he stayed safe. And on Tom Metro, who was one of the big fish in this tiny little pond.

His mind made up, Bobby headed for the library. As long as the two kids were in class, he only had the one thing he had to keep his eyes on.

He just hoped Darien was starting to make some headway wherever he was.


"Mrs. Perkins almost saw me. I had to go hide in the back, behind some shelves."

"Oooh. That coulda been bad. You gonna skip next class too?"

"Are you kidding? Next class is gym."

The high, feminine giggles made Bobby smirk. The two girls were hiding in he back row of the library, near where he was standing and sweeping.

"Darien Fawkes," one of them sighed. "No way I'd miss his class."

"I wish I could skip to go to his class. God, he's sexy."

"I know. Why can't we have more teachers like him? If he taught science I wouldn't be failing."

They giggled some more.

Bobby smiled to himself. Looked like Darien was making a big splash with his students. This was the second group of females talking about him that Bobby had heard since he'd come in an hour ago.

Apparently it didn't matter if Darien was a good teacher or not. He was cute. That was the general consensus, anyway.

Bobby smiled wryly. Darien had probably scored a lot off his looks in his lifetime. Maybe he'd be having an easier time at the Agency if the Official was a chick, and susceptible to Darien Charm. Maybe it would be easier if Bobby was a chick. Who knew?

Who cared? Darien had the easy job as it was. Bobby was the one reduced to janitor. He was trying not to take that too personally. Darien as studly jock teacher, him as mop monkey. It was enough to give a guy a complex.

Bobby kept his eyes on the bookshelf as his thoughts wandered. He found himself wondering, absurdly, if his life would have been easier if he'd been a tall, good-looking Darien-type with a full head of hair. Would Viv have found his quirks easier to live with if he had been built more like his partner? She'd settled down with that guy Brock, tall, square-jawed and probably what she'd consider handsome. Hell, she'd looked good with him. Bobby could still remember the strange looks they'd gotten when they were still married. She was taller than him, younger, absolutely beautiful. Just like Darien. And he was…him.

He shook off his thoughts, almost unable to repress a laugh. Jesus, where had the teenage girl angst come from? They had a case to solve, kidnappers to stop, and he was bemoaning the fact that he wasn't pretty?

He laughed faintly, going back to his sweeping. Until a second later he stopped again, stunned.

Just like Darien? Where the hell had that thought come from?

He dismissed it. Just those giggling girls getting to him. That was all it was.

He turned back to that spot in the bookshelves he'd been watching. And suddenly, his brow furrowed. What was he doing here? What was he watching for over there?

It was important, he was sure. It had something to do with…

With what?

He looked around, confused. He was in school, playing janitor. A case. It had to be a case. He was watching for something.

In the library?

Couldn't be right. He had to go find Darien, get some kind of report from him. He didn't have to let the kid know he was suffering some attack of memory. He'd get a report, and figure out where to go from there.


They were waiting for him after class.

Jason Davidson saw the group of guys standing behind the gym, and he felt a rush of terror going through him. This was it. This would be where he vanished just like the other guys.

He shouldn't have fought em. Damn his uncle, he should have gone along like the smart kids.

At least Charlie would know something was wrong. He wouldn't just give him up, the way the other parents seemed to have.

"Jason. Have a good time in class?" Tom Metro stood towards the middle of the group, grinning.

"Uh. Hey, Tom. I guess the offer isn't still open, is it?"

"Like I said, you should have accepted it the first time."

Jason swallowed. That was it. He was dead.

And then a thought occurred to him. "Wait a minute!"

"Too late, Jason. You're going to take a trip now."

He backed up as they started for him. "Wait! What if…I could tell you something, that could save you a lot of trouble."

"Forget it."

"Something about that janitor this morning. Something you really want to know."

Tom paused. "What are you trying to sell us here?"

"You let me go. Don't do this, man, don't touch me. I'll buy your stuff, I'll even use it."

"Why don't you give us this information. If it's worth it, we can talk."

Jason swallowed again, his eyes on the crowd.


"Bobby, what's up?" Darien couldn't hide a smile. It was the first time he'd seen his partner all day, and his concern for whatever was happening to Bobby made him that much more eager to keep an eye on him.

Bobby came up, dropping his voice in the crowded lunchroom. "How's it going on your end?"

"Not great. I think something's wrong with Jason Davidson, though. I tried to keep him after class to talk to me, but he was pretty nervous. We'd better keep an eye on him. The Boss will kill us if something happens to him."

"Yeah. Okay. Where is he now?"

"Should be in here. I think it's his lunch period."

Bobby nodded, almost to himself. "Okay. So you've got that covered. Anything else?"

"Nope. Sorry. How about you? Find anything in the library?"

A shuttered look appeared on Bobby's face. "Uh. No, not really. I kinda gave that up."

"Oh. Say, Bobby, are you okay?"

"Sure. Of course." The answer was too quick. "I…gotta go. Just carry on here, Fawkes."

Darien watched him hurry towards the door, and his brow furrowed. He watched Bobby go.

And then he watched a group of maybe four boys get up and go right behind him.

His instincts flared, and he dropped his tray of food on the nearest table, going towards the door.

"Mr. Fawkes?"

He glanced back, and almost groaned as he saw two of his first period students coming for him. "Yeah? Sorry, ladies, I'm in kind of a hurry."

"Oh. Well, okay. Guess we'll see you tomorrow, huh?" The one girl smiled charmingly.

He was too distracted to smile back. "Yeah, see ya." He went for the door, and then into the hall.

No one was in sight.

Cursing under his breath, he headed down to one end of the hall. Nothing. He glanced back to the other end, and swore up and down to himself. They could have gone anywhere.

Maybe he was being paranoid. Those kids might not have had anything to do with Bobby. And he could take care of himself, even if they had.


Bobby headed back to the library. He was confused, and getting a little bit nervous. Since when had he started forgetting important details about a case while he was still working on it?

"Hey!"

He glanced back at the shout, and saw with some surprise that the voice was directed at him. There were four students coming towards him. "Vang?"

The kids stopped in their tracks, and the speaker furrowed his brow. "We wanna talk to you, man."

"Ong noi sao?"

"What?"

"What do you want?" Bobby spoke slowly, in deference to their obvious confusion. Bright kids, these. Probably high as kites.

"Why don't you come with us? Just for a minute."

It sounded like an order. Stupid kids. Bobby just smirked. "Sorry. I gotta job to do." He turned and started down the hall again.

"Oh, no, you don't."

A hand grabbed his shoulder suddenly, and Bobby yanked away out of reflex, spinning to face the kids. "Co chuyen gi vo'i ahn?" he snapped out, annoyed.

"What? What the hell are you saying?"

"There you are, Hobbes."

The new voice caught all their attention, and Hobbes frowned slightly at the unfamiliar man in the gray clothes that matched what he was wearing. "Yeah?"

"You got the trash off the third floor yet?"

Bobby frowned, thinking. Had he? "Not yet," he guessed.

"Do it. You kids need to get to class." The guy turned his attention to the kids.

The boys frowned and looked to the one who had been speaking to Bobby.

The guy shot Bobby a glare, a look Bobby recognized as potentially threatening even if he had no idea who the kid was. But without another word he turned and headed down the hall, and his little posse followed behind him.

"What did they want?"

Bobby shrugged at the man he obviously worked with. "No idea."

"Huh. Get to the third floor, Hobbes."

"Right." Bobby glanced back at the kids, but started for the stairs. Third floor. Trash. He couldn't help thinking he had to get to the library, but he really couldn't think of a reason for it.

So he went to the third floor, and lost himself in his job for a while.


"Bobby." Darien couldn't hide a sigh of relief. He'd hunted his partner down with some effort, finally finding him after he'd asked another janitor where he was.

Bobby glanced over from where he was yanking a huge black garbage bag out of a can. "Can I help you?"

Darien moved closer so they could talk privately. "Everything okay with you?"

"Just fine, sir. You need something?"

Darien blinked and lowered his voice further, almost a whisper. "Bobby, there's no one around. Drop the act."

"Xin loi?"

"What?"

Bobby stared at him for a minute, then went back to emptying his trash, shaking his head slightly.

Darien watched him for a minute, baffled. He reached out and touched his partner's shoulder. "Bobby? Are you--"

Bobby jumped slightly, spinning around. "Darien! Jesus, don't sneak up on me like that."

"What?"

"What's going on?"

Darien gaped at his partner for a long minute. "What the hell is wrong with you lately?"

"Whaddaya mean?"

"Look, I saw some kids following you out of the lunchroom. I was just making sure--"

"Lunchroom?"

Darien fell silent, and a sudden, gut instinct drove into him. "You don't remember talking to me."

"When?"

"Just a few minutes ago."

Bobby's brow furrowed, and he shook his head.

"Aw, crap." It was happening again. That working memory thing. It was fucking Bobby up. But how? He was cured. He was fixed. It didn't just come back, did it?

"What's wrong?"

"We've got to get you out of here, Bobby. You've got to go see the Keeper."

"The Keeper? For what?"

"You're getting worse."

"Look, Darien, we both have work to do right now if we wanna keep up the cover, right? Why don't I stop by your place after school, we can talk then."

"Yeah, sure. I remember what happened last time you were supposed to stop by my place. Why don't I go see you?"

"Whatever." Bobby shrugged, tying off the garbage bag. "Have fun in class, teach."

"You too, mop monkey." Darien smiled, but his heart wasn't in it. Fuck class. He had to get to a phone and call the Keeper.


"Darien, calm down. If there is something wrong, I'll find it. You just get him to the lab as soon as you're done for the day, and I'll take a look."

"Calm down. Jesus, my partner's losing his mind, and you want me to calm down."

"Yes. You said yourself, he hasn't been sleeping. This could just be exhaustion."

"No. No, it's not. He didn't know who I was at first."

"What?"

"I went to talk to him, and he didn't recognize me. And then he said something that sounded like complete gibberish, and suddenly he was normal again."

"Darien, are you sure--"

"Yes! The guy's seriously messed up."

"All right." She hesitated. "If your observation is accurate, it sounds like maybe the damage to his brain was more extensive than we thought. If he's got damage to the temporal lobe, it could be causing a relapse in working memory loss. That would also explain him not knowing you at first." She sighed. "We'll have to get him off the case."

"Who cares about the case? Just tell me there's some way to get him back to normal."

"I don't know, Darien. I'll do my best, but the brain is a--"

"Yeah, yeah. It's a wondrous, complex organ and modern medicine isn't always enough to fix it. I know." He tried to bite down his panic. "Look, you gotta make him better."

"I'll try." Her voice was firm. "But there may be nothing I can do."

Darien hung up the phone a minute later, no more reassured than when he'd placed the call. She would look at him. Great. There would probably be nothing she could do.

Jesus, his was starting to get serious. Brain damage they hadn't caught. That was big.

Darien almost shuddered, remembering how he'd felt when the doctor at the hospital when they took Bobby in after he fell had said the words 'permanent brain damage'. He almost felt like something inside him was broken. Bobby was damaged, permanently, and it was his fault. His entire fault. His stupid, lackadaisical handling of the bad guys had sent Bobby over a fire escape.

Darien was more scared at that moment than he had ever been. Even considering the gland, the experiments, that first time he had looked into a mirror and watched himself vanish. When Kate Easton was kidnapped and he thought he might lose the chance to get the gland out of his head. None of that compared to how scared he was when he got to his partner's side and saw the blood pooling under his head, and felt for a thready, faint pulse.

He didn't know how it happened, but Bobby had become the most important person in his life. Strange, considering how they had made every effort to hate each other at first, but then again…

Bobby had been the one by his side through all this. He may have resented it at first, but then he had turned all his manic energy and loyalty over to Darien. He'd started using his talents and instincts to protect Darien instead of fighting with him.

And then his ex-wife had shown up, and Darien saw the human side of Hobbes. She had come in with pretty little nails barred, and scratched Hobbes away until there was nothing left but wounded, vulnerable Bobby. She'd been really nice about it, and hell, if Darien were in her shoes he might have behaved the same way. Still, if she had her reasons, so did Bobby.

Darien had had lots of experience getting left by women. Bobby didn't have that. He'd had his one great love, and there she was returning the wedding video and gifts he'd given her, making fun of his overprotective nature, calling him nuts and saying she never wanted to see him again.

That lit something up inside Darien. He was seeing the man behind his partner's Agency shell, and he realized that while Bobby really had his shit together as far as the Agency went, he had no clue how to deal with his own life. The world had dismissed him as a paranoid lunatic. His wife, the FBI, practically everyone. Even Darien, at first. But there was more to Bobby than that, and not even Bobby seemed to realize it.

Darien knew it now, and he wouldn't dismiss his partner again. The Bobby that was hidden underneath Hobbes was a caring, vulnerable kind of guy. A good person who didn't show himself because of how the world had treated him.

It made Darien like him. A lot. It made Darien want to go in there and repair all the damage that had been done. It made Darien want to protect him, and make sure nothing happened that would make it worse. He wanted to bring that Bobby into daylight more often. It even, selfishly, wanted himself to be the one Bobby came to. Viv didn't deserve him. Darien cared more for Bobby than she did.

Darien wanted to protect his partner. It had been the other way around this entire time, and he just wasn't satisfied with that. He wanted Bobby to know there was someone he could trust, someone he could be himself around. Someone who cared about him.

He wanted to protect him, but he couldn't. Not against Viv, and not against this thing now. This was beyond Darien. This was brain cells and memory loss and more than he was equipped to handle.

That was the biggest bitch about it.


Bobby walked the darkened hall, heading somewhere he wasn't really sure about.

His thoughts were wandering uncontrollably. He didn't have any great ideas about why he was there. In fact, part of him was convinced that the Agency had finally scratched him off the list for being a psycho, and now he'd gotten a new job. As a janitor. As sad as that was, it wasn't very hard to believe.

It made him wonder about Darien. Would his partner ever come visit? Stop by and say hello? They were friends, right? Darien was a caring guy, he'd pay a visit every now and then, just to see how Bobby was.

He found himself thinking hard about that, and actually felt his stomach twisting into small knots as he pondered the answer. What if Darien didn't think about him again? As nice as the kid was, he never pretended to like his life with the Agency. Could be out of sight, out of mind for the guy.

So he might never see Darien again. Was that really a big deal? Yeah, they'd been partners. Yeah, they'd been friends. But hell, Darien wouldn't be the first guy to take advantage of the fact that Bobby was gone to distance himself completely. His old partner at the Bureau had done it, even though Bobby had thought they were pals. Vivian had done it. Soon as Bobby started going on more and more Agency assignments, she had made it a point to already have plans the few times she knew he would be home. Separating herself physically before she'd done it legally.

So no, he'd probably never see Darien again. And he couldn't help but feel bad about that. He felt a lot for the guy. And no, it wasn't all buddy feelings. He couldn't figure out the rest of it, and he really didn't want to try, but he sure felt a lot more for Darien personally than he had for his old Fed partner.

In fact, thinking about it was making him feel really lousy. Almost betrayed. More like when Viv had left than when his old partner had.

But that was stupid. Darien wasn't his wife. Just because Bobby felt so much more normal and human and…good…whenever the kid was around, that didn't mean anything. Just because he'd be willing to jump in front of bullets or moving cars or anything else to save him, that didn't mean shit. There were quite a few people Bobby would do that for.

Just because being close to Darien lately had been making him flushed and dizzy, and he used every tiny little excuse he could to make contact -- a touch on the shoulder, brushing his arm when they walked -- meant nothing.

Bobby shook his head slightly and brought his mind back to the present. That was all over now. Things he didn't quite remember had put him into this school and out of the Agency, so he just had to do his job.

His feet carried him to one door and brought his hands up to unlock it, without him even realizing what it was.

The library. Bobby stood there for a long moment, gazing around at the dark room. There was something in that here he'd wanted to look at, now that everyone was gone.

He started into the room, his feet pushing him forward uncertainly. Some instinct drove him to one shelf in particular. He reached out and grabbed a book, pulling it off the shelf. The Art of Peace. Not his kind of thing, but something told him to…

He spotted the piece of paper stashed behind the book, and he frowned. Dirty kids, leaving their crap everywhere. There was a trashcan ten feet away, but could they go over there and throw trash where it was supposed to go? No. Of course not. They just stuck it any old place they wanted to.

He grabbed the paper and crumpled it. Book in hand, he headed for the trash can.

"Hey! Janitor!"

Bobby glanced back and saw a few kids making their way towards him. "Aren't you kids supposed to be gone?" School was over, the busses had left. He was almost out of there himself.

"Not quite yet, pal. We’ve got a message for you from some friends."

This didn't sound good. Bobby frowned and glanced around the room. Had he done something to piss someone off?

"We want you out of here. We'll give you one warning, and if we see you again, you're a dead man."

He relaxed slightly. Threats. Threats he could deal with. Threats weren't violent. "Yeah? You wanna tell me whose message this is? Maybe I should go answer it really personal-like."

"I don't think that's such a good idea."

Bobby fingered the book in his hand idly. "So, you guys got something against janitors, or is it just me specifically?"

"You. Agent."

He didn't show a reaction to that, but his thoughts collided out of control suddenly. He was still an Agent? Was this an assignment? How did they know? Had he given it away to someone? Had Darien…

Darien! Was Darien in trouble too?

He had to get out of there and find his partner. "Fine. Message received. Now get out of here and go home, kids."

The man in the lead smirked. "Oh, that was just part of the message. We have to make sure you're taking us 'kids' seriously."

Bobby rolled his eyes as they started forward. He really didn't want to have to beat up a bunch of kids. But if it was necessary…

He tensed, eyes skirting the four boys, anticipating which one would make a move first.

But the kids were obviously used to this. They moved as one, coming at him together.

He saw the flash of steel in the dim light, and they moved in from three sides.


 

Darien moved through the halls of the darkened school, clenched with worry and trying not to show it.

Despite agreeing to go by Bobby's, Darien wasn't willing to wait that long to confront his partner about what was wrong with him. Instead he sat in the parking lot, waiting for Bobby to come out.

He never did. Every other car left, but the van still stood in the lot.

Darien knew something was wrong. He could feel it in his gut, and he hated the twisting feelings inside him as he moved through the hall, trying doors to find an unlocked one that might signify Bobby's presence.

By the time he was climbing the steps to the second floor, worry was turning into gnawing panic. He had to resist shouting out Bobby's name, just in case there was anyone else in the school.

Voices broke the hollow silence of the empty school, and in a flash, with a thought that was slowly turning into instinct for him, he let the Quicksilver overrun him. In a second he was gone from sight, and just in time.

A door down the hall opened, and a group of kids came out, turning and running for the stairs at the opposite end of the hall.

Darien remembered them as the same kids who had followed Bobby before, and without even waiting for them to go down the steps, he headed for the doors they had come out of at a dead run.

He Quicksilver fell from him as he burst through the door of the library. "Bobby?" Screw undercover, screw the assignment. His partner was in trouble, he was sure of it. "Bobby? Where are you?"

There was no answer. He moved through the room, ducking in between rows of shelves.

He found the crumpled form near the back, between two tables.

"Bobby! Shit!"

His partner was unconscious, his shirtfront stained with red and slashed in an unidentifiable pattern.

Darien was at his side in a flash, grabbing his wrist and checking for a pulse. He breathed out in relief when he found the relatively strong beat.

Jumping up, he ran to the front of the library. He grabbed the phone behind the librarian's desk and dialed seven numbers frantically.

"Eberts."

"Bobby's hurt, you've got to send someone. He's bleeding bad."

"Agent Fawkes? Calm down. Where are you?"

"School. The school. The library. Second floor. Hurry up." Darien threw the phone down and moved back across the long room to his partner's side. He crouched down, wishing he knew what the hell to do. "Bobby? Dammit, Bobby, I'm sorry. Come on, wake up. You're gonna be okay."

A muffled groan came from the slightly opened mouth, and Bobby's eyes blinked open hazily.

"Bobby!"

He moved his head to follow the voice, and focussed on his partner's face. "Who're you?" he slurred out softly.

Darien bit down his first panicked response. "It's me, Bobby. Darien."

"Darien?" Bobby moved just then, trying in vain to sit up. "Darien. Trouble."

"What? Stay still, Bobby. I called for help, you're gonna be fine."

Bobby groaned and almost fell back, his face losing all color. "Get…get Darien. In trouble."

"I'm right here." Darien swallowed, wondering how this could possibly get any worse. "It's okay, Bobby. I'm fine."

"Please. Help…Darien." Bobby's eyes shut briefly, but opened again before Darien could really go into a panic. For a moment, dark eyes cleared and met Darien's scared, worried gaze. "Darien. Help."

For a moment Darien thought he was just repeating himself, but Bobby went on.

"Help. Darien…what's happening to me?" His voice was thin, his eyes frightened.

Darien swallowed again, his throat feeling like sandpaper. "You were hurt, Bobby. I called for help, you're--"

Bobby actually grinned faintly. "I know that… Hurts."

"You'll be okay," he promised again, realizing that he still had Bobby's hand in his and was squeezing it tightly.

"Where…" Bobby's eyes drifted away from him, to the floor beside him. His gaze caught on a book that was lying on the ground near him.

Darien followed his gaze and picked the book up. "This? Is this important?"

Bobby nodded so slightly it was hardly an answer.

"Okay. I'll hang on to it." Darien didn't even look to see what the book was about. He lowered it to his side and it was forgotten about a moment later as he stuttered in a breath.

"Ong the nao?"

Darien blinked misty eyes down at him. "What?"

Bobby's hand moved in his, squeezing slightly. "Ong the nao?" he repeated, his voice rising.

Darien shook his head. "I don't understand what you're saying."

"Lam o'n. Darien…ong co the giup toi khong?"

It hit Darien. Bobby was slipping, every second he was getting further away. He was losing his memory, he was speaking…funny. It sounded like another language one minute, then like complete slurred gibberish.

He was hurting, he was slipping away. He was lying on this floor bleeding.

He was losing his partner. Darien was losing him.

He crouched closer, his eyes shutting briefly. "I'm sorry, Bobby. I don't understand."

Bobby reached a hand up weakly and touched Darien on the face, as if insuring himself that there was really someone there. "Toi yeu anh. Lam o'n…" His hand dropped.

Darien knelt down, moving his other hand to grasp Bobby's even harder. "Don't do this to me, Bobby. Don't leave me like this."

"Darien…?"

Darien wanted to cry. His partner sounded so lost. Cocky, always-sure Bobby Hobbes sounded like a kid, helpless and distant.

There was a loud noise from the front of the room. "Darien?"

The familiar English-accented voice brought a feeling of relief so great that it took Darien a moment. "Back here! Hurry up!" He leaned in to his partner, knowing they were going to be separated in a moment, and words came out before he could stop himself. "I love you."

God, it felt right. All at once, Darien knew it was true. Their friendship, their partnership, had been missing something. It had been off slightly, and he could never quite figure out what it was.

Now it was right. He had figured out the last piece to the puzzle. Too late. Too damned late.

Bobby looked up with glazed eyes. "Me, too," he whispered so quietly Darien almost missed it.

Darien's eyes widened, shocked, but hands appeared behind him before he could think about it. "Darien, give him room."

He let himself be pushed back, and the Keeper crouched over Bobby for a brief moment before looking back over her shoulder. "We have to get him out of here."

A couple of unfamiliar men in matching Eberts suits followed her instruction, moving past Darien to lift his partner's body and move him quickly back towards the door.

"Darien?"

He sat back, shaken and scared. His eyes locked on the red-stained carpet where Bobby had been. He clutched the book in his hand, the one Bobby wanted him to get.

"Darien?"

A hand on his shoulder brought him back to himself, and he looked up into concerned blue eyes. "Darien, let's go."

He nodded, swallowing convulsively. Getting to his feet, he quickly followed the Keeper out of the library and all the way down to the waiting van.


Darien jerked out his chair the minute the Keeper stepped away from the bed. "Well?"

"He'll be fine, Darien. The cuts were actually fairly superficial. Physically, all he needs is rest and time to heal."

Darien moved to the other side of Bobby's bed and breathed a sigh of relief. "You scared the hell out of me, jerk," he said quietly to the unconscious face.

The Keeper studied him for a moment. "As to the rest of it…"

Darien's relaxation faded away and he looked back up at her.

"I'm not sure what to make of what you've told me he was saying before we arrived. If the problems in his behavior are being caused by damage to the temporal lobe, his speech might be affected, but not to the point of speaking complete nonsense. I'll have to wait until he's conscious to develop any theories."

"When will that be?" Darien asked quietly.

"I'm not sure. I'd say just by looking at him that our Bobby hasn't done a lot of sleeping lately. Hopefully his body will use this chance to catch up on the rest it's missed. He should be out for a good, long time."

Darien nodded at that and moved his chair closer to the bed, sitting back down and preparing for a long wait.

"You could go home, you know."

He barely glanced over at her. His eyes moved to a table near them, and he saw the book Bobby had told him to pick up. He reached for it, needing the distraction.

Was this something to do with the case? Most likely, if Bobby asked for it.

He flipped it open. The Art of Peace, by Morihei Ueshiba. Darien had heard of it, sometime in prison, probably, during his never-ending search for meaningful quotes and passages to attach to his life.

A cursory examination revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and he settled back to read through it, hoping to find what Bobby considered so important.


Darien wasn't sure how much time passed before the silence of the lab was broken.

"Darien?"

His eyes lifted from the pages and he dropped the book. "Bobby?"

His partner's eyes were half-open, turning towards him. "Where'm I?"

Darien leaned in. "You're in the lab, buddy. Back at the Agency. You remember what happened?"

He thought about it, then shook his head slowly. "Ong the nao?"

Darien almost groaned. "What?"

"Are you okay?" Bobby asked as if repeating himself.

"Me?" Darien laughed, but it was nervous and edgy. "I'm super. How are you feeling?"

"De so." The words seemed to take a lot out of Bobby. He spoke them quietly, with a strange note in his voice Darien had never heard before.

Unfortunately the words meant nothing to anyone else. Darien shook his head sadly. "I don't understand, Bobby."

Brown eyes rose to meet his. "I'm losing it, right?"

Darien swallowed. "Whaddaya mean?"

"I mean…one second you're here, the next it's a total stranger sitting there. I can feel it, Darien. It's all slipping away from me." He swallowed, moving like he wanted to sit up.

"Just stay still, Bobby. You were hurt pretty badly."

A wince and draining of color in his face put as much stop to Bobby's movements as Darien's words did. He settled back again reluctantly. "We're on a case, right? Something in a school?"

"Yeah. We…we were."

"I think I remember…but I won't. It's getting harder. I don't want to lose my mind, Darien." He lay back, his eyes shutting for a long time.

"Bobby? I'm gonna go get the Keeper. She'll make it right, I promise. She'll find some way to fix whatever's wrong."

Those lost brown eyes opened again. "Ai do?"

"No, come on, Bobby. Stay with me here."

"Toi…dau. Xin loi."

"Dammit." Darien sat back, dismayed as the eyes he was looking into seemed to go blank right in front of him.

The door to the lab slid open, and the Keeper and Eberts strode in. Darien felt a measure of surprise -- he hadn't seen her leave.

"He's awake," he stated unnecessarily as the two moved to the bed. "He was talking for a minute, but…"

Bobby's eyes moved to them. "Viec gi dang xay ra the?" he said sleepily, his eyes growing heavy again.

The Keeper's eyebrows flew up, and she glanced at Darien.

He nodded, showing that this was how Bobby had been talking for a while.

Eberts showed a completely different kind of surprise. His brow furrowed, and he looked thoughtfully down at Bobby. "Ong khong viec gi chu?"

"Toi cam thay om," Bobby replied, his eyes sliding shut and then forcing themselves back open again.

"Ngon, Bobby. Du'o'c roi."

Bobby gave a sleepy nod and stopped fighting to stay awake.

"Huh." Eberts shrugged to himself before looking at the other two people crowding the bed. "That's stran…what?"

Darien and the Keeper were gaping at him. Darien shook off his surprise enough to talk. "What was that?"

"What?"

"You understood him?"

"Of course I did. I asked how he was feeling, he said he felt sick. So I told him to sleep. What's the big…" His eyes widened suddenly. "Is this what you meant? When you said he was speaking nonsense?"

The Keeper nodded. "We assumed…"

"Well, it isn't. It's Vietnamese."

"What?" Darien and the Keeper spoke at the same time.

Eberts gave a small flash of a smile. "Vietnamese."

"Where the hell did Bobby learn to speak Vietnamese? Where did you learn it?"

"I believe Agent Hobbes had a past assignment, with another agency, of course, that forced him to learn what he could of it. One of our earlier assignments here also called it into use. I believe the Agency was trying to stop a group of poachers working in a national park. The men of that group were Vietnamese. It became something of a contest between Agent Hobbes and I to see who could pick up the language the fastest. He had an advantage, of course, having been to the country, but I've got a head for languages that seemed to--"

"Eberts."

The Official's right-hand man fell silent, realizing he was rambling.

Darien turned to the Keeper, relieved that at least Bobby wasn't speaking the gibberish he had thought. "Okay, so why would Bobby start using some language he learned years ago?"

She frowned thoughtfully down at the sleeping man. "The temporal lobe is thought to be the center for storing any second languages. This might be even worse than I had…"

"What?" Darien bit back a rush of alarm. "What's worse?"

She hesitated. "Bobby's brain isn't, at this point, telling him that there's any difference in the languages he's using. If he can't tell the difference between English and Vietnamese, his brain damage is even more extensive than I thought. Soon enough he may not be able to differentiate between objects, or people. He may lose more than his working memory."

"Jesus. How can you stop it?"

She shook her head. "It's strange. I've never seen this extreme a regression. It's not common to find one or two blank areas in a person's mind after they've suffered brain trauma, but to this degree…" Her eyes went to Bobby as he rolled over onto his side. "I couldn't even take a guess as to why…"

If Darien wasn't so worried, he would have been touched by the concern the Keeper's voice held over his partner's fate.

She straightened suddenly, sucking in a breath. Her hand came out, brushing over the back of Bobby's head, behind his ear. Revealing the small red scar that would never fade.

Darien caught the significance of the gesture. "What? You have an idea?"

She didn't seem to hear him. She looked down at the scar, and Darien could practically see the synapses in her brain firing as she thought. Finally she straightened. "Darien, you had a suspicion that Bobby discovered the surgeries Dean Carver was performing."

He nodded, confused at the change of subject but willing to go along. "Yeah. I came in that morning and he had a pretty nice black eye. Sarah told me two big orderlies brought him back in the night before. When I saw what was going on with the doctor, I figured…" He trailed off. "Why?"

She shook her head, her eyes almost sad as she looked down at Bobby. "I had never imagined him capable."

"Who? What are you--"

"It seems my old friend Doctor Carver may have taken steps to insure that Bobby would never re-remember what he'd seen that night." She lifted her eyes finally. "It fits. If he thought Bobby would regain his memory and talk about what he'd seen, he would have done something to prevent it."

"You mean…" That psycho doctor had been operating on Bobby's head with the intent of hurting him?

Darien felt a flash of anger welling up inside him, overpowering even the panic he'd been feeling for the last day.

"Is there any way to repair the damage?" Eberts cut right to the chase, sounding almost concerned.

She gave the faintest smile, trying to lighten the atmosphere slightly in the face of her mentor's betrayal. "I thought you and Hobbes didn't like each other."

Eberts made a face down at the sleeping agent. "I simply want to know so I can give the Official a complete and thorough update."

"Of course--"

"Just answer the question!"

Their eyes went to Darien in surprise, but the Keeper didn't argue. "I'm not sure," she said finally. "We should admit him to a proper head trauma facility. I'm certainly not equipped to take care of him myself."

"Yeah? Well, forget it. Checking him into a proper facility is what started this whole thing to begin with."

"What do you suggest we do, Darien? It's the only chance he'll have."

Darien flinched at the truth of that. He didn't know if he could do it. He didn't know if he could trust those butchers in the hospitals one more time with his partner's life or sanity.

If Bobby had a choice, there's no way he'd…

Darien frowned, thinking about it. Bobby was terrified about what was happening to him, that much was clear in his more lucid moments. If Darien let himself think about it long enough, it wasn't surprising that this slow form of insanity would be so frightening. So would Bobby rather trust himself to another doctor, knowing what had happened last time?

Carver wasn't exactly a typical doctor. It wasn't as if all of them were plotting, conceited bastards with a God complex. And it wasn't as if they could make things much worse.

He took a deep breath and held it, nodding. "All right. Yeah, you're right."


Darien planted a huge smile on his face before opening the door. "Knock knock. You up, sleeping beauty?"

Bobby looked up from the pages of the book. "Hey, Darien."

Darien's smile grew genuine. Bobby was lucid. However long it lasted, Darien was prepared to make the most of it. "How you feeling?"

"Bored. How long does it take them to look at some X-rays, anyway?"

"Don't rush it, pal. We want 'em to do it right this time." He kept his voice forcefully light.

"Do it right this time? You act like I have brain surgery done every few weeks."

Darien opted not to respond to that.

Bobby sighed and looked down at the book he held. "You want to tell me why of all the things you could've left me, you picked this?"

"Guess it doesn't really mean anything to you, does it?" Darien had been hoping seeing that book would spark Bobby's memory about the case and why he'd thought it was important.

Bobby shrugged. He flipped it open, leaning back against the pillows. "'If you have not linked yourself to true emptiness, you will never understand the art of peace.' Yeah, this is my kind of thing all right." He flashed a sudden grimace. "On second thought, it's looking like I might be linking myself to true emptiness pretty soon, huh?"

Darien swallowed. "Whaddaya mean by that?" Bobby wasn't supposed to remember what was going on here, exactly.

"I mean, normally my mind isn't one big blank with a couple of familiar things flashing every now and then. Normally I'd have no trouble reading this," he lifted the book slightly, "or understanding what the hell it's saying." He met Darien's eyes. "You won't tell me anything, but I remember enough to know they did CAT scans. Something's wrong with me, and it's getting worse. Right?"

Darien hesitated.

Bobby just nodded and set the book down on his lap. "I shut my eyes for ten minutes and then found out a day and a half had gone by. I don't know what I did or said during that day, but it was bad enough that every time you come in here and I recognize you, you seem surprised."

Darien nodded silently, confirming Bobby' interpretation.

Bobby looked at him for a minute, and his voice started to lose that calmness. "I'm really tired, Darien. But I don't wanna sleep, or who knows when I'll wake up? Or how? I'm actually…toi lo. Toi khong muon…to live like that." He swallowed, looking away from Darien. "I'm pretty fucking scared."

Darien moved to sit on the bed, breaking his silence. "I am, too."

"Do you…I want to…to see Viv. Just in case."

Darien felt a pang of hurt, surprising himself. Of course Bobby wanted to see his ex-wife. He loved her. He didn't remember the last few weeks. He didn't remember what Darien had said to him on the floor of that library.

Still, he couldn't refuse Bobby anything. "I'll find her." He stood slowly trudging towards the door.

"Darien?"

He glanced back and saw a strange look on his partner's face.

"I may not remember this a few minutes from now, but I may not get another chance, ya know?" He sucked in a breath, bracing himself visibly. "Toi yeu ahn."

Darien grimaced. "Bobby, I don't--"

"Okay!" Bobby held a hand up, a sudden, new despair burning in his eyes. "You don't have to say it, all right?"

Darien's brow knit. "I really don't--"

"Come on, you don't have to humiliate me here. Just go." Bobby looked away, opening the book and staring down at it in obvious dismissal.

Darien obeyed him reluctantly, wondering what Bobby had said to have misinterpreted his response so badly.

Eberts was standing out in the waiting area, on the pay phone. Filling the Official in, though God knew there wasn't much news yet. He marched straight up to the lackey and stood in his face.

Eberts ignored him for a moment, but finally asked the Official to hold on and lowered the phone slightly. "Is something wrong, Agent Fawkes?"

"Yeah. Uh…doy yahyoo…ahn. I think. That sound like anything?"

"A little. Did Hobbes say that?"

"Yeah. What's it mean?"

Eberts frowned. "I love you. Is he getting worse?"

Darien stood for a moment, stunned. "Uh. No. Could you find his ex-wife? He wants to see her."

Eberts nodded, as though that cleared it up, and turned back to the phone.

Darien turned and moved on heavy feet back to Bobby's room. Was Eberts on the up and up here? Maybe Darien had repeated the words wrong, and accidentally said something else.

But no. When he'd said that on the floor in the library, Bobby had replied. Me, too.

Oh, Christ. No wonder Bobby had reacted the way he had to Darien's reply. He hadn't realized Darien couldn't understand the words. He thought…

Darien moved fast, a broad smile appearing, ready to correct that thought. He went through the door without knocking. "Bobby, I--"

"Who are you? Where's Fawkes?"

He stopped dead, almost stumbling over his feet. "What?"

"Where am I? Where's my partner, you asshole?"

Darien's grin faded. "Oh, no. Bobby, it's me. It's Darien."

"Yeah, right, thang khon! Cut di!" Bobby glared at him with fury building on his face. "What do you--" He cut off abruptly, a hand going up to his head, covering his ear. His face lost all color, and he opened his mouth in what was probably going to be a scream. The sound never emerged, though, and his eyes rolled up in his head before shutting, casting him into sudden unconsciousness.

Darien reacted fast, moving to the door and throwing it open. "Eberts! Get a doctor!"


"What's the news?"

"I don't know! I've been standing out here for almost an hour. No one will come talk to me. Claire's in there somewhere, but she won't even tell me what's going on."

"Relax, kid. Where's Eberts?"

"I figured he went to get you."

The Official shook his head with a frown. "I don't like this, Fawkes. This doctor, the one who messed with Hobbes' head. We're sure he's dead?"

"Yeah. His organs are walking around in half a dozen people right now, I'm pretty sure."

The Official looked towards the shut door. "Good."

Darien let himself get distracted from his worry. "What's gonna happen to Bobby if this surgery they're planning for tomorrow doesn't work out?"

The Official breathed out. "I know what you're gonna say here, Fawkes. But I have no options to help him out. The Agency doesn't have much of a pension plan."

"But he originally got hurt on the job, right? He'd have insurance to cover him if he had to…have help."

"Oh, yeah. We take care of our own here. As much as we can, anyway."

Darien sighed and leaned back against the wall. Somehow, knowing that didn't make him feel better.

The door opened suddenly, and the Keeper emerged, looking grim.

Darien went to her before he had time to think. "Well?"

"I think we've figured out what the problem is. The CAT scans showed us…" She shook her head. "Look, we'll take him into surgery tomorrow, and I can't promise you anything from there."

The Official moved to Darien's side. "Well? What's wrong with him?"

"Carver was a little more careless with Bobby than he was with his other patients. In fact, he was careless enough to have used dissolving suture when he was closing him up."

"Dissolving suture?"

"There are two main types of suture used in surgeries. Permanent, which is most often used, and dissolving. Dissolving suture is used when you want to hold something in place long enough for it to heal on its own. After a week or so, typical dissolving suture starts to disintegrate. Carver used a stronger than typical form, but it's starting to give. It's a good thing we have the operation scheduled for tomorrow. He would be dead in another few days."

Darien swallowed. "Jesus. I wish the bastard was still alive, so I could kill him."

"Yes." The Keeper's voice was grim. "I know how you feel. If I had had any idea how much he had changed, I would never have asked him to help with Bobby's case."

"How is he now?" Darien asked hesitantly.

"Better. For the moment. He did ask for you. Eberts is in there speaking to him right now."

"Eberts? You let Eberts in to sit with him, but you wouldn't let me?" Darien's roller coaster of emotions took a dive back towards anger.

"Eberts is the only one who can understand him right now. I'm afraid he isn't speaking much English."

Darien frowned, but pushed past her and the other doctor who'd been called and went in without another word.

Bobby looked up from his bed, offering a weak smile when he saw Darien. "Hey, pal."

Eberts looked over in surprise. "Fawkes. Is the Official--"

"Yeah, right outside."

"Right. Excuse me. Call if you need me," Eberts added as he passed Darien.

"Where've you been?" Bobby asked once the door was shut.

"They kept me out. Guess they thought I'd disrupt the proceedings or something. Me. Go figure." Darien plastered his patented innocent look on.

Bobby chuckled under his breath.

"Besides, they said you and Eberts were kinda in sync, language-wise."

"I'm just helping the guy practice. His accent is lousy." Bobby grinned, but it faded fast. "Kinda funny, being in the middle of a conversation and realizing I'm speaking in a language I haven't used in at least five years."

"I'll bet." Darien sat on the bed, facing his partner. "How you feeling?"

Bobby shrugged. "Like I'm disappearing, and I can't do anything to stop it."

Darien managed a sad smile. "I know how that feels."

Bobby echoed the expression. "I guess you do."

"You remember talking to me before?"

Bobby frowned. "When?"

"Right here. Right before you…you know."

Bobby shook his head slowly. "I thought…I figured something just happened and you brought me here. Jesus, Darien. I…" He trailed off, shaking his head.

Darien leaned in to him, meeting his eyes. "Don't stop. You can talk to me, Bobby."

Bobby hesitated, then took him at his word. "I don't want it to happen like this," he said quietly, his voice low and almost hoarse. "I don't want to fade away. I don't want to just forget everything until I don't exist anymore."

"You won't." Darien held his scared gaze, trying to project a confidence he didn't quite feel. "They found the problem. They're taking you into surgery tomorrow."

"I know. She told me. She also said the chance this would work, and I'd come out anything but a vegetable, is about four out of ten. Not quite fifty-fifty."

Darien smiled faintly. "We've beaten worse odds than that before, partner."

Bobby wasn't comforted. "Yeah. We, maybe. But I'm kinda in this one alone, you know?"

"No, you're not." Darien's attempt at glibness faded. "I'm right here. I'm not gonna let you fight this thing alone, I promise. I'll be here for you. I know there isn't much I can do, but I'll be here." Darien hesitated. He wanted to say how he felt, realizing that Bobby had been right before when he said they might not get another chance. And he knew how Bobby felt, even if Bobby didn't remember telling Darien twice before…

He took a breath and bit the bullet. "I love you, Bobby. You don't have to fight anything alone anymore."

Bobby was still for a minute. "You what?"

"I love you." Darien shrugged, almost self-conscious now that the announcement had been made. "I told you before, but…I don't think you remember."

Bobby's face stayed neutral. "And what did I say? Before?"

Darien met his eyes, hoping this wasn't a horrible mistake. "You said it back. Well, technically, you said me, too. And then you said it in Vietnamese. But you said it."

Bobby's blank expression crumbled. He seemed to sink in on himself, his eyes shutting, his hands rising to cover his face.

Darien cursed at himself mentally. Jesus, he should have known better. Bobby didn't need this right now, on top of everything. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…" He trailed off. No real way to repair the damage now.

Bobby spoke through his hands, his voice slightly muffled. "I don't want to lose this."

Darien paused. "What?"

Bobby looked up, a strange anger and grief and bitter kind of joy warring on his face. "Ten minutes from now I won't remember, I may not even know who you are. I don't want to forget, Darien."

Darien searched his expression, sure his own worry and pain showed through as plainly. "I won't let you forget. I'll keep saying it, if you want me to."

Bobby nodded, all his normal shields and defenses gone. "I love you. Dammit, Darien, I love you, too." He leaned almost imperceptibly closer.

Darien moved himself closer to Bobby, reaching out almost tentatively to put his arms around the shaking man.

He moved into Darien's grasp and they held together for a long moment. The closeness was awkward for a split second, but after a few more moments it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be holding Bobby like that.

Bobby pulled back slightly after a minute, his eyes wide and brown and more innocent than Darien thought he'd ever seen them. "Tell me again, afterwards. If I don't remember."

Darien smiled faintly. "You couldn't stop me if you wanted to."

Bobby was bare inches away from him, and his eyes skirted Darien's face for a moment, settling on his mouth before rising up to meet his eyes again.

Darien needed no more encouragement than that. He closed the slight distance, and carefully touched his lips to Bobby's lightly.

Bobby's shaking seemed to increase, but his grip tightened around Darien. He pressed in further, drawing out the light press of mouths for a few more seconds before dropping back slightly, shutting his eyes.

Darien breathed in deeply, marveling at how right this whole thing seemed. It was more than just the missing piece to their friendship, it seemed like the missing piece to Darien's life.

He reached out and brushed a hand on Bobby's face. The gesture was so innocent, but so intimate and forbidden before this, that he got a thrill out of it. The raspy feel of a slight stubble was unusual, and not the smooth, soft skin of a woman, by any means.

It was wonderful. He held his hand there, on Bobby's cheek, and pulled him in again for a soft kiss.

Bobby brought a hand up hesitantly and rested it on the back of Darien's neck. The kiss stayed light enough to still be fairly innocent, but it left neither of them with doubts about whether what was happening was right, or real.

Darien broke away briefly. "You'd better come back to me, Bobby."

Bobby met his eyes, and smiled. It was such a near version of his rare but sunny grin that Darien felt his heart leap at the sight of it. "I will," he said firmly, promising.

Darien grinned. That had bean easy. "I believe you," he said in amazement. Relief threatened to come over him, but he kept it at bay. Despite what Bobby may promise, no one knew what would happen tomorrow. No one knew how much of Bobby would survive.

Bobby's smile faded somewhat as Darien thought about it, and the older man leaned in, as if determined not to let them get depressed or worried again.

Darien shut his eyes at the soft, light touch of his mouth. He felt those negative thoughts breaking off and flying in all different directions, and for a brief moment, it didn't matter what would happen tomorrow.

He held Bobby tighter, deepening the kiss slightly. He felt the lips against his falling open slightly. He had never gotten this close to a man before, so his tongue was tentative in its quest to invade that mouth.

That hesitancy lasted only until he felt the slick, wet touch of Bobby's tongue against his. All reservations seemed to vanish in a flash of heat, and fire, and he groaned against his partner's mouth, wanting to get closer and deeper than was humanly possible.

The door opened.

"Agent Hobbes, we just…"

Darien and Bobby yanked away from each other in surprise, both turning to face the shocked man in the doorway.

Eberts just gaped at them for a long moment. His normally unflappable features were coated with surprise. It took him a long moment to find his voice. "I…we found…"

Darien just stared back at him. Yeah, it was a shock, and no, he didn't want Eberts to find out before he and Bobby really knew exactly what was going on between them. But the damage was done.

"Spit it out, Eberts." Bobby's voice was gruff.

"We've located your ex-wife. She'll be back in the city by tomorrow morning. I just…I thought you'd like to know."

Bobby swallowed. "Yeah. Thanks."

Eberts looked back and forth between them for a moment, blushing. "I…okay. I'll…leave. Now."

He backed out of the room, almost stumbling over his feet as he grabbed the knob and swung the door shut.

Bobby relaxed, dropping his head and shaking it with a sigh.

Darien turned to him, unsure of how to react to the last minute.

Bobby laughed faintly under his breath. "D'you see his face?"

Darien smiled weakly.

"Shit. Funny thing is, now Eberts is gonna remember that we were doing this tomorrow morning, and I won't."

Darien's smile faded. "Bobby…"

"I can't do this, Darien. I can't handle this right now." Bobby shook his head, the bitter amusement in his voice fading to emptiness. "Could you…do something for me?"

"Anything you need."

"Just stay here with me for a while. I don't wanna talk about this, or anything else. I just want a little while to…be with you, I guess."

Darien leaned in to him in silent agreement. He skimmed a hand lightly over Bobby's face, his heart going out to his partner. The man was terrified, and he had a right to be. He was losing his mind, more surely than when he'd had whatever blowups had led to the lithium and the Agency being the only ones willing to trust him.

Bobby seemed to sense his thoughts. He lowered his head, not pulling from Darien's hand, but no longer meeting his eyes. "I'm scared, Darien."

"Yeah. So am I." Darien swallowed, knowing the words Bobby spoke were an understatement. Simple fear wouldn't be enough to make him confess fear. For someone like Bobby to actually say he was scared, it meant he had to be petrified.

"That damned doctor…" He shook his head slightly. "What gave him the right? Why would he do this to me?"

"Do what?"

They both turned at the voice, and Darien brightened somewhat when he saw the familiar short-haired woman in the doorway. "Sarah! Hey there."

She came in, not smiling. Her brow was furrowed in concern as she looked at Bobby. "Doc Dylan said you were back in here. Something wrong?"

Bobby shrugged. "Nothing a good brain transplant wouldn't cure." He tried to make his tone light, but the look on his face belied any casualness he may have tried to project.

"What is it?"

Darien's hand had dropped at the sound of a voice -- he used it now to reach down and take Bobby's hand, sensing that Sarah wouldn't think twice about it. "You remember when you told me that everything wasn't a conspiracy?"

She nodded slowly.

"You were wrong," he said grimly.

She looked back and forth between them. "Well…you're gonna be okay, right?"

"Who, me? Sure I will. Takes more than severe brain trauma to hold Bobby Hobbes down, don't you worry."

She flashed a faint approximation of her normal toothy smile. "Good."

Darien stood. "I'm gonna go talk to Sarah for a minute, okay?"

Bobby didn't release his hand. His eyes locked onto Darien's, suddenly wide with an unnamable emotion.

Darien searched his gaze. "You want me to stay here?"

A moment later Bobby released his hand, looking down at his lap. "Nah. Go on."

"You sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. Go."

Darien motioned Sarah towards the door. He'd make it fast, and he'd stay right outside. But he wanted to let her in on what was happening. She was a friend, to both of them.


Bobby watched the door shut, and his expression cracked. The neutral face disappeared, replaced by weary despair.

Darien loved him. Darien actually loved him. And what was more, he loved Darien. He finally had a name to go with the feelings burning inside of him. Love. Darien.

But as much as he knew -- knew -- that he truly loved him, he was sure that by the time Darien stepped through that door again, he wouldn't remember it.

He leaned back against the pillows, his eyes shutting. And slowly his mind drained of the last hour.


Darien woke up to the sound of a throat clearing. He blinked around the dim room before he remembered -- hospital, surgery. Bobby.

He immediately looked at the bed, where Bobby was sitting up, already wide awake and with an open book in his lap.

His eyes then went to the doorway, where Eberts stood studiously, waiting to be acknowledged.

"What is it?" Darien asked, his voice ragged with sleep.

"Vivian is here," the lackey replied quietly.

They both looked to Bobby, but he didn't show a reaction, apparently glued to the pages of the book.

"Bobby?" Darien leaned in to him, lightly resting a hand on his arm. "Bobby?"

The weary face swung to him. "Fawkes."

"How are you feeling?"

Hollow eyes met his for a moment. "Hu roi," he replied dully. "Hu roi va trong."

Darien glanced at Eberts. "What does that mean?"

Eberts swallowed, his eyes on Bobby. A strange kind of sympathy was in his face, sympathy he'd never shown before towards Bobby. "It means…broken. Broken and empty."

Darien felt something inside of him squeeze as he looked back at his partner. "Bobby, Viv's here. You want to see her now?"

Bobby stared at him blankly.

"Agent Hobbes?"

He swung blank brown eyes towards Eberts, then shrugged slightly, his eyes going back to the book.

Eberts glanced at Darien, uncertain. Darien frowned, but nodded. It was her only chance to see him before the operation that might make him even worse off.

Eberts disappeared back through the door.

Darien reached out for Bobby and touched his arm lightly. "You want me to leave?"

Bobby didn't look up from the book, but he shook his head quickly.

Darien sat back with a sigh.

The door opened, and familiar blue eyes peeked in. "Bobby?"

Bobby didn't react. Darien gave him a moment, then stood and moved to the door. "Hey, Viv."

She smiled faintly. "Darien."

"Eberts filled you in, right?"

She glanced over at her ex-husband, wondering why Bobby was so quiet. "He told me Bobby had been hurt, and there were complications. He said it was serious."

"Yeah. Look, he suffered brain trauma before. Pretty bad brain…" He trailed off, his eyes going to his silent partner before going back to her. "Bobby saw something he shouldn't have while he was in the hospital last time, and the doctor that operated ended up screwing around in his head. They hope they can repair the damage, but they aren't…aren't sure. If they can or not." He blinked hazy eyes, but controlled his expression. It was wearing on him, but he would control it. One more day.

She turned to Bobby, taking a few steps closer to the bed. Her eyes were wide with shock and horror. "Some doctor sabotaged his brain? Is that what you're telling me?"

"Yeah. He's dead now. That doctor. The one operating today, he's all right."

"Bobby?" She moved to the bedside and sat down awkwardly. "Does he even know who we are?" she asked quietly when Bobby didn't respond.

Darien moved back to his chair. "Sometimes. It's been getting worse every hour, seems like."

She kept her eyes on Bobby, a deep sadness growing in her eyes. "Oh, Bobby."

He looked up and over to her slowly. "Viv."

She swallowed. "Hi, tough guy."

"Thought you were…honeymoon."

"I was. We're back now." She didn't say more. She didn't tell him how they had been called away, and she had come back just because of Eberts' phone call.

Darien appreciated that.

"Brock?"

"He's outside."

That seemed to satisfy his curiosity. He turned back to the book.

She reached out and rested a hand on his. "Bobby, are you doing okay?"

"I can't read this," he replied almost conversationally.

"What?"

"This book. The words. They made sense for a while, but now…I can't read them. They don't make any sense to me."

She glanced back at Darien, helpless.

"This stuff was just starting to grow on me, too. Read it." Bobby held the book out. Not to Vivian, to Darien. "Tell me what it says."

Darien came over and took the book. He looked down at the page, blinking misted eyes to clear them. "'The art of peace is based on four great virtues: bravery, wisdom, love, and friendship.'"

Bobby smiled faintly. "Kinda makes sense to me now. All that stuff about emptying your mind, and the great virtues. I'm halfway there. Got the empty thing down. Got one of those virtues."

"One?" Darien shut the book and looked at his partner.

"Yeah. Nobody can say Bobby Hobbes was a coward."

Darien breathed in sharply, not missing the use of past tense. "Bobby…" He glanced at Vivian, whose eyes were tearing. He had promised Bobby he would remind him that they loved each other. He had to give Bobby that to hang on to, but would Bobby want him to say anything with Viv sitting right there?

She spoke up quietly. "There's more to you than bravery, Bobby. You have friends -- they're sitting out there, worried to death over what's going to happen to you."

Bobby shook his head slightly, but didn't reply.

"You've got love. You know that."

He looked down at her hand on his. "Not anymore."

She pulled her hand away, her eyes dropping.

Darien's mind was made up. Bobby was too important right now to worry about her reaction. He came over to his other side and sat, taking his other hand firmly. "Yes, you do."

Bobby turned to him in surprise, and turned his eyes to their joined hands. "Fawkes…"

"Darien. Bobby, I know you don't remember much right now, but you have love. A lot of it. I promised you I wouldn't let you forget."

His brow furrowed as he looked back up at Darien. "You…?"

Darien smiled faintly. "Yeah. Me."

Viv looked from one man to the other, her eyes going wide.

Bobby let out a crooked kind of smile. "That's…huh."

Darien returned the smile. "Yeah, it is."

"Anything else I should know about?"

Darien laughed quietly. "Only that you promised to come back to me after this operation."

"Oh." Bobby met his eyes for a moment, wondering. He glanced over at Vivian. "It was good to see you," he said softly.

She heard it as the dismissal it was. Surprise layered surprise, and she stood slowly. "I'll…call me and tell me how it goes?" She directed that to Darien.

He nodded simply.

She left the room quickly, not even glancing back.

Darien turned to Bobby. "I think you managed to shock her."

"I think you did that, partner. Darien." He said the name as if trying it out to see how it felt. From his slight smile, it felt good. "How long have…"

"Days. Just a few days."

"Really?" Bobby sat back, studying Darien. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry?"

"That's not a lot of time."

Darien's smile faded. "We'll have time, after today. You promised me."

Bobby shrugged heavily. "Toi thu."

Darien gripped his hand tightly. "Don't do that, Bobby. Stay with me, just a little longer."

"Y ong muon noi gi?" Bobby looked at him for a minute, then his eyes drifted away, to the wall.

Darien could practically see the light in those eyes drain away, leaving nothing but emptiness. He held Bobby's hand even tighter, fighting to keep him there. "Bobby, come on. Talk to me."

Before Bobby could answer, there was a light knock on the door.

He turned reluctantly, feeling all that sadness draping itself back over him. "Come in."

The Keeper walked in. "How is he?" she asked quietly.

"He was good for a while." Darien looked back at his partner. "But it's gone now."

"It's time to get him prepped for surgery." Her voice was gentle, and her eyes swept over the two men, pausing on their linked hands without showing much reaction.

Must have talked to Eberts.

Darien turned to Bobby. "They're gonna knock you out now, Bobby. That cool with you?"

He didn't respond.

Darien swallowed, glancing back up at the Keeper. "Give me one more minute?"

She looked at him seriously, then nodded. "I'll send the doctor and nurse in in another minute."

He nodded absently, his eyes staying on Bobby.

The door shut, leaving them alone.

"You don't let this be it, Bobby. You hear me?"

Bobby's eyes moved back to him slowly. "Darien." His voice was a whisper.

"Yeah." Darien moved in to him and kissed him gently. It didn't have any of the passion that Eberts had walked in on -- it was quiet, light, and Darien used it to memorize the feeling of it. Having Bobby's lips pressed to his, the warmth of having another person's skin so close to his. The slight air of Bobby's breathing against his cheek. The rasp of stubble on the face so close to his. The feel of Bobby's hand as it slowly rose and rested on his cheek.

He pulled back, drawing in a shaky breath.

The door opened behind them, letting in doctors and nurses and taking their privacy from them.

Darien moved when they reached the bed, and stood back looking over a shoulder as Bobby was laid back, and a nurse injected something into his IV line.

He saw Bobby's eyes growing heavier, and he stepped forward unconsciously. "Bobby, I'll see you soon."

Brown eyes moved to him, and Darien wished more than anything that he could reach out to his partner. He saw the liquid filling those familiar eyes, and spilling over as Bobby blinked once.

"Darien…" Bobby's eyes shut, leaving the two trails of tears he couldn't control in their wake.

Darien couldn't resist pushing past the doctor on his side and reaching for that hand. "I'm here, Bobby. I'll be here when you wake up, I promise." Screw what anyone else thought. Screw the Keeper and Eberts and the Official and everyone else. He had to be there for his partner.

He leaned in and lowered his voice, wishing there weren't prying eyes around them. "Don't be scared, Bobby. I'm here. I'm here."

Bobby's face tilted towards the voice for a moment, then sagged against the pillow as he lost consciousness.

"Sir? We have to take him to surgery."

Darien stood for a moment holding the now limp hand. The doctor's words filtered through eventually, though, and he released Bobby, backing away from the bed.

They quickly moved him onto a stretcher and out the door, carrying his IV tap behind him.

Darien caught the Keeper before she went to follow them. He grabbed her arm and turned her to him. "You make sure this goes right. You make sure he wakes up and knows who he is."

Her eyes were sympathetic. "Darien, there's simply no guarantees to be--"

"Promise me," he snapped.

She stopped dead, surprise coming over her.

He lowered his voice. "Please."

She sighed. "I'll try." Her expression told him it was all she could offer.

He released her without a word, and she moved after the doctors.

He left the room slowly, his feet dragging. He would sit here until they brought him back.

Vivian was sitting in the waiting area, her new husband beside her.

Darien went up to them slowly, now awkward in the face of what he'd revealed in front of her. "Viv."

She looked up, and her eyes narrowed slightly when she saw who it was. "What's happening?"

"They just took him into surgery."

She stared at him for a long moment.

The awkward silence was broken by Brock, sitting by her side. "Yeah. Well. Hobbes is tough, he'll come through all right."

"Yeah." Darien glanced over at him, then back at Viv. "Look, I know you've had a lot of shocks for one day. I'm sorry--"

"Don't say it, Darien. That was what I loved about Bobby -- he was always full of surprises." She smiled faintly. "How long is the surgery supposed to last?"

"They're not sure right now. There's no telling what that bastard messed with while he was in his head. It'll be hours."

She stood, and Brock was up right after her. "Would you call me when it's over? When they know something?"

"Yeah. Of course."

"Thanks." She stood for a moment, looking uncertain about something.

"He'll be okay," Darien offered, not sounding very convincing even to his own ears.

She shifted. "I…I need to talk to you for a moment." She glanced back at her husband. "Just give us a minute."

He nodded.

Darien glanced around, and stopped at Bobby's room's door, still cracked open. He gestured to it, and she started over. He tried to bite down apprehensive feelings as he went in after her and shut the door.

"What's wrong?"

She faced him squarely. "Do you know what you're doing? With Bobby?"

He wasn't very surprised at the question. "I hope so."

"Hope so?"

He shrugged. "This is new to us, and it started right around the time his brain started acting up. I'm not sure about much of anything right now."

She studied him. "Why Bobby?"

Now that did surprise him. He frowned. "What do you…I don't know. I didn't even like the guy much when I first met him. He comes off…a little strong."

"Yeah." She smiled faintly.

"But we've gone through a lot together. He's a better person than I gave him credit for."

She shook her head slowly. "Darien, he's paranoid. He's insane. You think at first that maybe it's an act, or maybe he'll calm down with time. But it isn't, and he doesn't. He's not going to change. You realize that?"

He blinked at her, a dark idea of what she was trying to say coming to him.

She kept going. Making it worse. "Look, you're a young guy, you're good looking. You've got your whole life ahead of you. You really want to start something with someone like Bobby?"

Darien's face hardened as he looked at her. "You're telling me to save myself?"

She met his eyes steadily. "I know how it sounds, but you've got to listen to me. You have to think about this seriously."

"Yeah? Why?"

"Because, from the minute Bobby realizes he loves someone, that's it. He's gone. Paranoia isn't the only thing he's intense about, Darien. He feels things deeply. If you start something with him, he'll want everything. From the minute he says he loves you, he'll be willing to put a wedding ring on. If he could."

She studied him. "I'm not saying this to protect you. I'm saying it to protect him. You have to be serious about him, Darien, because if you're not, and he falls for you, you'll crush him. You realize that? I did it, and I hate myself for it. But I had no choice. You do. Get out while you still can, if you need to. Because if you hurt him the way I did, he won't be able to take it."

His face lost its hard edge as he listened to her. The words made sense, in a strange sort of way. Still, he couldn't help being surprised that she even felt she had to warn him. "You really think there isn't enough about Bobby for me to love?"

She hesitated. "Darien. I loved Bobby, from the first night we talked. There's something about him, it just…" She shook her head. "I still love him, a little. But I didn't really like him much. I know it doesn't make much sense, but it's the truth. As time went on, I didn't stop loving him. But I liked him less and less."

He shook his head slowly.

"So yeah, I think there's a lot about Bobby to love."

"But not enough to like." He was almost disgusted, even though he knew she was just trying to look after Bobby. "Well, I won't have that problem. I liked him, a long time before I loved him."

She didn't drop it. "Are you still going to like him when he calls you every hour to make sure you're safe? When he starts giving you guns and mace as birthday presents? When he becomes obsessed to the point of following you home from work at night?"

Darien gave a brittle smile. "I'm his partner, Viv. He does half that stuff now. It's just who he is. Doesn't change how I feel."

She studied him for a long, serious moment, and then the confrontational air dropped from her. She smiled sadly, and Darien wouldn't have been able to say just what the sadness was for. "You're sure, huh?"

He nodded. "Very sure."

"Okay." She flashed a more sincere smile. "Make him happy, Darien. He deserves that."

"Yeah. I'll try."

She nodded, then left the room quietly, leaving him alone with his thoughts.


"Darien?"

He swatted at the hand on his shoulder, rolling over awkwardly.

"Darien? We're done."

Heavy eyes peeled themselves open slightly, and he groaned at the Keeper's face. Something must have gone wrong with the gland. Otherwise he'd be at home in bed, not here.

Wherever here was.

He looked around, and the sterile white walls of the hospital brought him back to himself. He sat up with a groan. "You're done?"

She nodded. "He's sleeping now."

"How…what…" He shook his head, tired brain unable to word the questions.

She knew what he meant, though. "I'd like to think we were successful. It's a tricky thing, the brain. We've repaired the minor cuts, and closed the wound with a permanent suture. It's all we can do."

"But…will he remember?"

"As I said, it's impossible to guess. When he wakes up we'll do some basic tests, of course."

He got to his feet slowly. "Can I see him?"

"He's unconscious. He'll sleep until tomorrow."

"Can I see him?"

She nodded. "He's back in his room. I had them put a cot in there."

He raised his eyebrows, surprised.

She smiled faintly. "Eberts can't keep a secret. You're going to have to have a long talk with the Official about this. You know that, right?"

He frowned, but nodded.

"If it's any help, I'm behind you two. I'll put a good word in."

"Yeah. Thanks." He was just too damned tired to deal with any of it.

She sensed that. "Go on in, Darien. Get your rest. I'll talk to you both in the morning."

He smiled faintly, but went without another word.

The room was dark when he went in, but his eyes adjusted quickly, and he ignored the cot to go to Bobby's side.

Bobby looked pale and shadowed, but it may have been the bad lighting. He was sleeping way too deeply, and it would have frightened Darien if he didn't know his partner was under sedation.

He sat at the edge of the bed and rested his hand on Bobby's stomach. "Good night, Bobby. I love you."

Bobby didn't move.


Jesus tap-dancing Christ. His head hurt.

That was the first thing that filtered through Bobby's head. He opened his eyes a crack and took in the hospital room, and shut them again quickly. Headache, hospital. Déjà vu.

But now, that wasn't right. He could remember being out of the hospital. He remembered being at some school, for a case. Some kind of…

A slight sound caught his attention, and he forced his eyes open again.

Darien.

Darien was sleeping on this tiny cot beside him. His tall, slender frame was crunched up in what looked like a real uncomfortable position.

Bobby's brow furrowed at his partner. He could remember…well, the last few memories he had were pretty blurry, but for some reason one stood out.

Kissing. Kissing Darien, and Eberts walking in on them.

Something must have been screwed up in his brain. Maybe he'd dreamed it. Or something.

"Darien?" Ugh. His voice sounded scratchy. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Darien?" Better.

And it was enough to wake his sleeping partner.

Darien came out of sleep with a jolt, and his eyes immediately swung to the bed. He met Bobby's eyes, and was by his side in a flash. "Bobby! You're awake!"

Bobby saw the look that came over him, the relief and almost intimate joy, and he knew in a flash that the memory hadn't been a dream. Something was going on between him and Darien.

The thought didn't bother him much. In fact, he found himself returning the relieved grin unconsciously. "Morning."

"Are you…how are you feeling? Are you okay?"

He paused, taking mental stock. "Feels like a philharmonic is blasting Tchaikovsky in my brain. Other than that, I feel fine."

"Really?" Darien swallowed against hope. "The Keeper says they're gonna run some tests on you, make sure everything went well." He hesitated. "How…how much do you remember?"

Bobby lowered his voice deliberately. "I…I remember…"

Darien bent closer absently, to hear him better.

Bobby grinned and moved fast, roping a hand behind Darien's neck and dragging him down, planting a quick, experimental kiss on his partner's mouth. "I remember that," he said with a grin when he let Darien go.

Darien pulled up in surprise, but a smile split his face a moment later. "Jesus. I was worried. Is this…you're okay with this?"

Bobby studied him. "I don't know. How about we try it again, and I'll tell you what I think."

Darien more than willingly bent again, this time sticking around for more than just a quick peck. He planted his lips against Bobby's, exploring his partner's mouth with a slow carefulness.

Bobby almost couldn't breathe under the torrent of feelings that flooded over him. He was better, he knew that without the Keeper's tests. He was back in control, and he had…this.

He moved his hand back to Darien's neck, holding him down closer, brushing fingers through that thick hair experimentally.

Darien broke away for air a few moments later, and his eyes were shining as he looked down at Bobby. "So? What's the verdict?"

Bobby tried to adopt a serious, thoughtful expression. "I think I'll be okay with it. May take a lot more practice before I'm positive, of course."

"Of course."

"You got a few years you can spare for the practice?"

Darien shook his head with a smile, feeling like everything was right with the world for the first time. "Rest of my life, Bobby."

Bobby's eyes flashed with something strange. "You sure about that, kid?"

Darien met his eyes and nodded firmly. "All yours."

That strange look grew, and Darien realized with a start that it was…happiness. His partner was absolutely happy, and Darien had never seen it from him before. He smiled, amazed by the amount of tenderness he felt for the man.

Bobby'd had a hard go of life so far, Darien knew. He'd lived a lot of different lives, and none of them had ended all that well, from what he could tell. His one true love had divorced him and made it clear what she thought of him.

But it was all right. Because now he was Darien's. Darien put that look of happiness on his face, and Darien was all set to make it his duty to ensure the look never faded.

There was a soft knock on the door, and it cracked open to reveal Eberts' hesitant face. "Can I come in?"

Darien chuckled under his breath. "We're both decent, come on."

Eberts flushed lightly, but held on to that look of quiet dignity. "Agent Hobbes. Your doctor would like to take you through a few tests, if you're feeling up to it."

"Sure. No problem. Bring it on." His smile faded suddenly. "Hey, that school. Who's taking care of things while we're here?"

"We've got other agents working on that." Eberts' face revealed more than the usual solemnity.

"Something wrong?"

"Nothing you need to concern yourself with."

Bobby sat up slightly, groaning at the dizziness that swept over him at the movement, but ignoring Darien's concerned look. "What's going on, Eberts?"

"The Official's nephew has disappeared."

"Dammit." Bobby blew out a breath and glanced over at Darien. "I ran into the kid. Some dealer was pushing him around. If I hadn't been out of it, I would've…dammit." He looked back at Eberts. "Let us handle this."

"Robert. With all due respect, you're in the hospital."

Bobby rolled his eyes, annoyed. "Yeah, after they get through with these tests and let me out of here. Tell the Boss we'll take care of it."

Darien piped in. "Tell him to let us prove to him we're not compromised now."

Bobby glanced over, brow furrowing.

Eberts understood him instantly, though. "I don't think they were talking of separating the two of you quite yet," he said with the slightest hint of sheepishness. "I've given my opinion on the subject, and as long as nothing overt happens, the two of you are safe."

"What's…"

"Eberts ratted on us," Darien replied with a crooked smile.

Bobby's eyebrows flew up, looking over at the Official's lackey. "And then told the Boss we should stay partners? You're strange people, Eberts."

"Yes. Well. I'll let the Official know of your interest in this case."

"Yeah, you do that. And tell those doctors to get their asses in here."

Eberts gave a nod and headed back out the door.

Darien turned to Bobby. "You okay?"

"I wish someone'd cut off my head." Bobby sank down again, grimacing. "Shouldn't they be pumping drugs into me to kill the pain?"

"I don't know. I could go check with Claire."

"No." Bobby looked over quickly. "No, you should hang out in here."

Darien smiled after a second. "If you don't want me to leave, just say so."

"Fine. If I gotta be specific. I don't want you to leave."

"Good." Darien sat back. "You serious about this case?"

Bobby nodded. "It's my fault that kid went missing. I know I must have missed something, or forgot something, that put him in danger." He looked over at Darien solemnly. "So I owe it to him to get him out, right?" A faint, half-hearted smile flitted over his face. "Besides, he's the Boss's nephew. We could probably wrangle another three day weekend out of saving him."


"Take it easy! Come on, stay slow. Jesus, why'd you have to get an apartment on the fifth floor of a building with no elevators?"

"No one asked you to drag me upstairs, okay? I can do this on my own, you know."

"Would you stop? Jesus, I'm trying to help here. They cut into your head twice in a month, and you want to go sprinting up stairs? It ain't gonna happen."

"If you'd let go of my arm and let me try this on my own, maybe it would."

Darien stopped dead on the steps. "Fine." He grandly released his hold on Bobby's arm. "You want to do this on your own? Go for it."

Bobby straightened. "Thank you." He headed up the stairs at a pretty normal clip.

Darien followed, almost wishing the guy would stumble so he wouldn't have to hear the I-told-you-sos when they got to his apartment.

Bobby made it to the fifth floor, though, and only paused once he was away from the staircase.

Darien caught up with him. "All right, all right. You could--" He stopped dead when he got a look at his partner. "Jesus, Bobby! What are you trying to prove here?"

Bobby shook his head, breathing heavily, his face pasty and pained. "I just…wanted to see…"

"Would you stop? You don't have to be fully recovered one day out of the hospital. You push yourself, you're gonna get hurt."

Bobby shook his head. "I gotta…we've got a job."

"That can wait for a day. We're not gonna get anywhere if you stress your body out like this. Now would you just accept my help and can the macho bullshit?"

"All right. Fine. Take my arm, walk me to my door like I'm a fucking cripple."

Darien rolled his eyes, but moved back to half-supporting Bobby as they walked. "You are the most annoying person I have ever met in my life."

"Yeah? I love you too, pal."

The irritated expression changed abruptly to a wicked smile. "Now that you mention it, I guess there will be perks to putting up with you."

Bobby glanced over and saw the look on his face, and shook his head with a half-smile. "Aren't you the one that keeps telling me not to push myself? I have a feeling I'm gonna need a lot of recovery time until I'm ready for those perks. Of course, if someone would just stop holding my arm and treating me like a baby, maybe I'd recover a lot faster."

Darien dropped his arm and moved a few steps away. "What do you mean? Who's treating you like a baby?"

Bobby flashed him a smile. "I think you win the prize for most annoying."

"Yeah? I guess we're just a couple of irritating bastards. Who else would put up with us?"

"Got me. Fortunately, no one else has to." Bobby pulled his keys out and unlocked his door, letting him and Darien inside.

Darien moved into the living room, then turned to face his partner. "Perk time?" he asked hopefully.

Bobby grimaced. "Any other time, I'd be all over you, pal."

The grin faded with concern. "Sorry. You must have tired yourself out."

Bobby opened his mouth to snap back some indignant response, but saw the genuine concern in his partner's eyes and nodded. "Guess I did. Think you can wait a day?"

"Sure. Take all the time you need."

"That isn't to say, of course, that you can't refresh my memory a little bit more."

Darien's smile returned, and he closed the distance between them. "My pleasure." He folded Bobby in his arms and bent to capture his mouth.

Bobby dropped his keys on the ground without even noticing, bringing his arms around Darien, pressing up eagerly into the kiss.

Darien parted his mouth and ran his tongue over Bobby's lips gently. Those lips opened a split second later, and he dove in.

He let out a helpless groan against Bobby's mouth. It was as hot and wet and delicious as he remembered. It sent waves of heat and pleasure and…comfort…all through his body.

His arms tightened around his partner as his tongue explored the interior of Bobby's mouth, running across his teeth, tangling with his tongue. He could feel Bobby's hands stroking his back, pulling him in closer.

He was lost. It was like the greatest sex he'd ever had, and they weren't even doing much of anything. He pulled back now and then for a breath of air, but immediately returned to his attempts to memorize Bobby's mouth outside and in. He could have done it all night, just standing there, kissing him. It was unbelievable; more feeling than he'd ever gotten out of a simple kiss.

But gradually he realized he was supporting Bobby more and more, and the grip around his back was losing its strength.

He forced himself to pull back, reluctantly, and drew in a deep breath. Looking at his partner, he wanted to just dive back in, and keep it going. Bobby was flushed, his lips swollen slightly. His eyes were burning with passion as he blinked up at Darien, his mouth curving into a small, but absolutely genuine smile.

"Jesus. When I'm strong enough, I'm not letting you off your back for a week."

Darien's body tingled with the words. "That a promise?"

Bobby grinned. "Oh, yeah."

"But not tonight." Darien sighed melodramatically.

"No," Bobby agreed reluctantly. "Not tonight."

"Let's get you to bed." Darien looped an arm around his partner.

"You'd better get used to saying that, kid."

He grinned. "You really think you've got the energy to keep up with me, old man?"

Bobby stopped in his tracks, gaping at Darien for a minute before chuckling softly and shaking his head. "A month from now you'll wonder why you ever even asked that."

"I'd better."

Darien eased Bobby down on his bed and helped him strip his shirt and slacks off, leaving him in boxers. He tried not to pay too much attention, but when the stocky, muscular body of his partner was revealed, he could feel himself tenting out the front of his jeans.

It was amazing. Darien hadn't ever felt stirrings for another guy before. He'd been in showers with other guys -- of course, that had been in prison, and you don't let yourself show anything that might remotely resemble interest in prison. Still, it hadn't done anything for him. He was surprised the body in front of him could affect him so strongly.

But it was Bobby, and he supposed that was the root of it.

Bobby broke through his thoughts. "You…uh. You want to…" He gestured at the bed awkwardly.

Darien grinned. "I thought you'd never ask." He quickly stripped, leaving himself in his own boxers. His arousal was evident in the tented cotton, but he climbed in under the covers before Bobby could see.

Or so he thought. Bobby rolled into him as soon as he was lying flat, and a tentative hand found his erection. "I do this to you?" he asked almost conversationally.

Darien hissed in a breath at the touch. "You have no idea," he answered softly, rolling to face him.

Despite the interest his hand showed, Bobby's eyes were already half-closed and fighting to stay open at all.

Darien leaned in and kissed him gently. "It's okay. Go to sleep. You'll need your energy tomorrow."

"Yeah. This job."

"Oh. Well, that, too."

Bobby chuckled softly, his eyes sliding shut. "G'night, Darien."

Darien moved to wrap his partner up in a loose embrace. "I love you, Bobby."

Those brown eyes forced themselves open one last time. "Love you too."

Darien felt the sleep coming over him, felt the muscles in the body he held relax as Bobby drifted into sleep.

He could feel his own tiredness catching up with him, and for a minute just lay there, reflecting on how much had changed in the last few days.

When sleep found him, he was smiling.

 

The End


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