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This developed out of a suggestion on a ficlist. Could I write something that did not abuse Darien? My first thought was of course, 'no way!' But considering it crystallized a couple ideas buzzing around my head in need of a story. This resulted.
Warning: there is a crossover here, and not only is this crossover logistically impossible from just about every angle, but it's with a show many Imaniacs might never have heard of. However, the story is foremost an Invisible Man fanfic, and I hope enjoyable even without comprehension of that aspect. In all honestly I don't know if it will work, but I had to do it...
It had started out such a good day. Warm, sunny, perfect for a long drive in the countryside. Or a car chase, but that was about as good as it got, in Darien Fawkes's world. Besides, there was something to be said for car chases. Especially when one was the pursuer, rather than the pursued.
They finally ran the other car into a ditch and proceeded on foot to corner the kidnappers in an orange grove. Darien brought one man down with a simple invisible leg trip; Hobbes less subtly but just as effectively tackled the second, sending the man's gun flying from his hand.
The third man caused the trouble. Darien was retrieving the gun from where it had fallen at the foot of an orange tree when he heard the shout, "Don't move!"
He jerked up, still safely invisible.
The third man had his own pistol, this one aimed square at Hobbes's head. "Call your partner back," he snarled. "Tell him to show himself now, or you're dead!"
"Easy, man." Hobbes had knelt with his hands locked behind his head, defenseless, but yet calm, smooth to the criminal's rough agitation. "You don't want to do this. You know what the penalty is for shooting a federal agent?"
"You know what the penalty is for kidnapping? I ain't going to jail. Get your partner out here now!"
"He's too far away to hear us." But Hobbes's eyes flickered, almost to fast to notice, searching for what couldn't be seen but whom he knew was there nonetheless. He always knew. They were partners. He trusted Darien to be there. He trusted Fawkes to get him out of this.
Darien was too far away to risk charging the guy. If he heard him coming through the tall grass, he might fire. Couldn't risk it. But he had the gun—
"If he's too far away—" The man's eyes were wide in the bright sun, pupils dilated with panicked fear. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and his hands shook, clutching the gun. "I'll have time to make it—without you watching—"
The gun was in Darien's hands, the weapon visible though his fingers were not. In his quicksilvered vision the sunlight turned the barrel to a silver streak. It pointed toward the man, a clear shot, Hobbes far out of range from this angle. Hobbes kneeling with his hands behind his head, outwardly cool, but even his steel nerves were fraying under the sights of that quivering gun, under the man's terrified determination. Darien could see the fear beneath the calm; he knew his partner well enough that it was unmistakable.
He had the shot. Nothing in the way. No danger.
The man's finger was clenching on the trigger.
The gunshot crashed like thunder, setting the green leaves in the grove aquiver.
"He could've killed me, Fawkes. Did you see that? Did you notice? He could've killed me!"
"I know." He hadn't been able to say much of anything else. Partly because Hobbes hadn't let him get a word in edgewise during the entire ride. Mostly because he couldn't think of anything else to say. "Dammit, I was there. I saw. I know."
"If his hand had been any steadier—it would've gone straight through my head. Pow. You ever seen someone who's taken a bullet in the head, Fawkes? At that range? You don't survive that kind of shot. You wouldn't want to."
"It hit a tree, Hobbes."
"It could've hit me. An inch to the right and it would have. One inch. And where were you? You saw it all. You said that. You saw it all, and you had the guy's gun. And you just watched. That mother had the gun at my head, and my partner just sat there and—"
"I'm sorry." It felt like the thousandth time he had said it. "Hobbes, I don't know how to use a gun."
"Yeah, you say that, and then every time you go quicksilver-friggin'-crazy you're shooting things up like Butch Cassidy. And no way you could've made it on the street without packing."
"I did. I mean I didn't. I mean...I never needed to. I never cared about it; I never learned how to shoot. When I'm quicksilver mad...I dunno. Maybe it's leftover from Simon Cole. You've seen me with a gun, Hobbes."
"Yeah." Hobbes hunched in his seat, fingers tight on the steering wheel. "Okay. Then you need to learn. You're a federal agent now. Tomorrow we go out on the firing range and you learn how to shoot, and then we get you a piece."
"Should've done it months ago. Don't know what we were thinking."
Hobbes glared at the street before him. "He could've killed me."
He didn't know how to use a gun.
Darien kept saying it. Aloud to Hobbes, and then to the Official and Eberts, and then to Claire. He kept telling it to himself.
It was the bald truth. He didn't know. He'd never learned how to load a gun, how to take the safety off, how to aim. He didn't know the first thing about firearms.
But dammit, it didn't take much brains to point a pistol and pull the trigger.
Even Hobbes never said that outright. He didn't have to. Darien thought it loud enough for both of them.
The bald truth was a flat-out lie. He hadn't not shot the guy because he hadn't known how. He had froze.
The man had gotten away. His shot went wide but he didn't wait to see if it hit, just rabbited the instant he had fired. Hobbes and Darien were too busy securing his two accomplices to catch him. And too shaken, perhaps, to go after him immediately.
The Official wasn't happy about that. Neither was Hobbes. Neither was Darien, though he didn't say so.
He had frozen.
The guy could have killed Hobbes.
That was reason enough, wasn't it? His partner's life in immediate danger, one shot and he could have been killed, just like that. Of course he had been scared. Hobbes could have died. No wonder he had froze up.
He had been afraid. He had been so terrified all his blood had felt as if it were turned to quicksilver, glacial metal pouring through his veins. It had petrified him, an invisible statue of ice in the warm orchard.
The guy could have killed his partner.
But that wasn't what had frightened him so badly that he couldn't pull the trigger.
Hobbes was right. He needed lessons. He needed to be comfortable enough with a gun that it became natural. An extension of his hand. A friend from his checkered past had told him that once, how it felt like simply to hold your gun, to have that power close to you, the explosive might of gunpowder totally in your control. Watch people walk by and know you held their deaths, by proxy their lives, in your hand, under your jacket.
Learn how to wield it, so that next time he wouldn't freeze. The criminal might not miss next time. But neither would he.
The kidnapper was still at large. He probably remained in the city's area, though. Darien still had some underworld contacts. He might be able to track him, bring him down.
Tomorrow he would go to the firing range and complete his training as an agent. Tonight he could find the guy. Clear his slate for the lesson, win back Hobbes's trust. He could end this.
Instead he went out for a drink.
Darien didn't realize he had exceeded his tolerance until, after downing the latest beer, he stood and the bar spun slightly.
At least he could take comfort in that he wasn't as far gone as his companion. A little after he had found a table at the bar, the man had plunked down in the seat across from him, with a cheery greeting as if they had known each other forever. Then the stranger, just as cheerfully, began matching him bottle for bottle and then some.
Currently he was standing on his chair, belting out a randy drinking song. At least Darien assumed it was randy. Hard to tell, when it kept switching between English, German, French, and a few other tongues he didn't recognize.
He applauded anyway. Listening to the guy was better than listening to the stream of conscious—stream of conscience—still babbling in his brain, blurred now but not mute. He wasn't about to drink what it would take to silence it completely.
The man bowed, nearly toppling off the chair, and started on another song, a slower, melodic, and happy tune. Half the bar clapped and hollered encouragement; the other half hunched lower in their seats and glared, as if the sunshine in the song were too much for them. No one seemed to notice or care that the lyrics were garbled beyond intelligibility, or perhaps they too were in another language.
They were kicked out when the song was done. Darien tried to argue that he hadn't done anything but be at the same table as the smashed singer, but the bouncer wasn't interested in hearing it. Next thing Darien knew, he found himself in the alley outside the bar.
Good riddance. The place had been a dive. He had only gone there because he was pretty sure Bobby didn't frequent it.
His unwelcome companion was puking his guts out into a garbage can. Darien sighed and crossed over to him. "Hey, you okay? You want me to call you a cab?"
"You care?" The man jerked up. His teal eyes welled with tears. "You really care!"
"Uh, yeah. Whatever." The guy was even more plastered than he looked, or he really did have a few screws loose. Not that Darien was in any position to criticize, on either account. "C'mon, you should go home."
"What about you?" Surprisingly, he wasn't slurring, but his accent kept slipping between a Texan drawl and twang, undercut by an indefinably foreign cadence. When he straightened up, Darien was slightly startled to realize the man was taller than him, and that wasn't counting the spiky yellow hair, which gave him a few inches' more unneeded height.
He rarely had to look up to meet someone's eyes; it made him nervous.
"Shouldn't you go home?" the man asked, and the question was so innocent, almost childlike in its ingenuous concern, that Darien relaxed.
"I'll go home too," he reassured. "Got work tomorrow anyway." And wouldn't that be fun with a hangover. He'd get hell for it, too; Hobbes would notice right away—
Hobbes. Dammit. A mix of anger and guilt made his fists close involuntarily. "Yeah," he heard himself say. "I need sleep. Hangover's not gonna help me learn on the firing range."
"Firing range?" The man's eyes opened a little wider, making him look even younger and more naive. "I can show you how to shoot, if that's what you want. See?" He reached into his longcoat and pulled out a gun, a dangerous silver thing, neither pistol nor revolver but a weird hybrid.
He cocked the hammer, and Darien moved forward hastily. "Hey, why don't you save that for when you're not—"
A gunshot cracked, that too-familiar sound. Darien felt a rush of hot air against his cheeks. He turned slowly.
Six bullets were embedded in the brick wall behind him. They were all along the circumference of a perfect circle, barely the diameter of his head. The center fell right between where his eyes had been the second before.
He turned back, and said inanely, "That sounded like one shot."
"Fast gun." Utterly guileless.
"It's an automatic?" He looked back, mesmerized by amazement or shock, he wasn't sure which he should feel.
"No...ehhh..." The man suddenly clapped his hand over his mouth and offered the rest of his stomach's contents to the trash can.
By the time he was done, Darien had managed to tear his eyes free of the perfect circle of bullets, and concluded that he didn't want to see the man's shooting when he was sober. "Can you show me how to do that?"
"You really want to know?"
The man raised his other hand. Rings over the black glove glittered in the nighttime gloom. "You just point—" He extended his index finger—"and shoot! Bang!"
He jerked his fist, and laughed like a plastered hyena.
Anger snapped into targeted focus, almost a match for the rage of quicksilver madness. "Don't make fun!" Darien growled, grabbing the man's shoulder to spin him around. "This isn't a game—"
Two things happened. The man let himself be wrenched around, tilting from one foot to the other with tipsy fluidity. But the shoulder under his grip was rock solid—not even muscle; it felt like metal, like the guy was in plate armor under his coat.
Then Darien met his eyes, and all thought of that was lost along with his anger as he realized how guarded they were. The face contorted with grins like a rubber mask, but the eyes, unnatural blue-green, glowing like an aquarium through the dimness—they were serious, sad, absolutely sober even if the man was not. The laughter didn't touch them.
And suddenly Darien wanted to see those eyes smile with the face, thought he would do anything if it could win happiness from that sorrow.
Shaken, he released the man's shoulder, stumbled back.
"Ow ow ow," the man whimpered, rubbing his shoulder. "Sorry, sorry, I'm not a very good teacher. Why do you want to learn, anyway?"
"What?" Darien recaptured his previous train of thought with effort. Momentarily it felt like something from a thousand years ago; then the real considerations returned, washing away odd fancies. "I need to carry a gun in my line of work."
"Really? Then why don't you know how to shoot?"
"I don't carry a gun."
"Then why do you want to learn to shoot?"
The circular questions were making him dizzy. "I need to get a gun. That's why I need to learn."
"Do you really need one? What's your gift?"
"Gift," he confirmed. "Everyone has a talent. Something they can do best. It's what makes someone human. It's why they do whatever they do, or why they don't, or can't, if they haven't found it yet. What's your talent?"
He wanted a talent? Darien grinned, malicious. He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't been drunk, and annoyed, and if he hadn't had the smallest notion that the surprise might shock the grief out of the man's eyes.
"Here's what I do," he said, and released the quicksilver to shield him in its cold embrace.
"Ah," the man said. "Wow! Awesome! How d'you do it?"
He wasn't that far gone. "My secret." Darien picked up a garbage can lid and sent it spinning like a flying saucer, crashing into the wall.
But the man's gaze followed him instead of it, tracked his invisible form. And the enthusiastic wonder in his tone was a lie. Only mild curiosity showed in his eyes. Darien felt a chill that had nothing to do with quicksilver. "How are you doing that?" He feinted to the left. The gaze stayed locked on him. "You can't see me."
"Nope." The man moved, so swift one couldn't catch the motion. But abruptly his gun was to Darien's head, the mouth of the barrel touching his forehead.
Darien raised his hands in the air and let the quicksilver fall from him. "What do you want?" he asked hoarsely. So this was what it felt like, to have death's shadow on you. His stomach churned with more than the alcohol.
"What?" The man blinked, confused, then laughed self-consciously and returned the gun to the folds of his coat. "Ahh..." With one hand he rubbed the back of his neck, blushing. "I didn't mean that. Sorry, sorry. I thought, since you were just invisible—"
"You know any other invisible guys?" Darien demanded
"Uh, no, not quite, but it's a trick you can figure out, if you listen, feel the air currents—but it's a good trick!" he blurted hastily. "Really good. Different. Helpful."
"Yeah, well, it isn't always enough."
"No." Like that he was serious again.
"He could've died!" It exploded out of him without warning. He whirled, slammed his fist into the wall behind him. At the last instant he pulled his punch, but still barked his knuckles on the rough brick. He jammed his fists against the wall, leaned against them for a support while a little blood trickled down. "Today...my partner could've been killed..."
The story poured out of him, fast and disjointed, but the man listened closely and seemed to absorb it all. When Darien was done he remarked, "So now you want to learn to shoot."
"Yes. No. Don't have a choice, right?" He flexed his skinned fingers. The bleeding had already stopped. "I never needed a gun before. Never wanted one before."
"Don't know. Because I was broke. Because I'm lazy. Because...." It was too late to stop the words; they came out in spite of him, "because I can't take that responsibility..."
The man could have laughed, but didn't.
"If I knew how to shoot," Darien said, "if I had a gun...it'd be dangerous. You can't understand how, but I could hurt people. I could kill people..." Even if he didn't want to now; it was different when the madness took hold, when that amoral darkness inside rose up and claimed his body. If it had the capability to murder quickly, easily, it would. He couldn't stop it.
But even if he was certain he would never lose to the quicksilver's insanity...
"That's why you learn to shoot. To kill," the man said. "It's what a gun is for."
He took out his own piece again, and pushed it into Darien's unwilling grasp. It was heavier than it looked, cool and smooth, and fit comfortably in his hand despite its weight. "Can you feel that?" the man asked quietly. "The purpose?"
He could feel blood, dripping cold over cold metal. "No!"
He shoved the gun back at its owner, who stowed it away with inscrutable calm. "It's a tool," said the man. "A tool is what it is made for, just as it is who uses it."
"I'm not a killer!" Darien snapped automatically, but when the man nodded trustful understanding, he growled, "That's a lie. I've killed people."
"I know." The understanding hadn't diminished.
Darien couldn't bear its buoyant weight. He turned aside, pressed his knuckles into the wall again. His raised arms blocked his view of the man in his peripheral vision. "Everyone I've killed," he heard himself say, "they were against me. They were the bad guys, they'd hurt people... But when they died—when I killed them—that's the way they'll always be. They won't be able to hurt anyone, or help anyone. They never made their lives better, and they can't now—they might've done something worth it eventually, but they won't get a chance.
"I was a screw-up. I was a criminal. I went to jail—I didn't do what I was accused of, but they had reasons to arrest me anyway—"
"That's happened to me occasionally," the man remarked quietly.
"But the Agency—the people I work for now. They're the good guys. I'm paying my debt, and it's not by serving time, it's doing something real. I'm fixing stuff, and even if it's not the same stuff I messed up, it's gotta count. It's karma, or penance, or something. I don't know. But if I'm killed, the chance is over. And if I kill...I killed...I don't have the right. I don't. Not to take that from someone. Not anyone. I might be sure I'm right, sure that I'm the good guy. But it's not true. I can't be sure it's true. If I could become one of the good guys...I can't end anyone else's chance."
"Do you have to have a gun?" asked the man.
It was suddenly a very simple question. "No. No." Darien rocked his head forward, until his crown was against the rough brick. He closed his eyes. "But what if I'm wrong? What if I have no choice? What if by letting someone live, someone else dies?"
"I don't know," the man said.
Darien looked at him then, because all the anguish, all the grief in the man's eyes shook in those words, the smallest reflection of a conflict that tore at his core. There was an innocence to him yet, but there was nothing childlike about it now, nothing simple, his aspect laid bare, and what Darien saw for that single instant was agony. The man looked younger than him, but Darien recognized in that moment that he had wrestled with this for longer than he himself had been alive, and still had found no answer.
But maybe he hadn't looked in the right places. "There's another way," he said, and the words came easily, so easily, not flippant but with the effortlessness of sincerity. "I've managed this long." He felt nauseous and weary and unexpectedly free, as if something had been lifted from him, as if he were floating on more than the long-faded buzz of the beer. He pushed away from the wall, stood straight. "I've got other talents...they've been a match for whatever we've met. I'll find a way to handle it."
And the man smiled, a smile to heal the wounds in his eyes, more brilliant than he had expected, the joy more beautiful. Darien lost his breath to it, even as he smiled back, mumbling, "So you can smile like that."
"You're the second man to tell me that. I don't know what you mean." And just like that it was gone, the cheer still in his face but his eyes shuttered. He said brightly, "We should get that cab. It's pretty late."
The alcohol, the day, the decision, all caught up with him suddenly, slammed into him with the force of a hammer. Dizzy, Darien staggered, might have fallen if the man hadn't looped an arm around his shoulder to steady him. "Ah, I'm gonna have such a hangover tomorrow," he remarked as he walked them to the street. "You will too—drink lots of water before you go to sleep."
"Hangover?" Darien blinked at the man. His vision was a bit blurred but he could see the man's eyes, clear, too clear, completely unaffected. "But you're not drunk."
"No," the man agreed. "Still will be hungover, after that much. None of the pleasure, all of the punishment."
His head was too muzzy to make sense of that. "Then why drink?"
"Because you do."
He didn't mean Darien, but a generalization including every man. And he not among them. "What are you?" Darien whispered—but looking into those too-old teal eyes, with their sadness and kindness and that flash of absolute joy, he knew, he understood, and couldn't see why he hadn't realized it sooner. Did he expect something out of a painting, or a Christmas ornament—
"No." The man shook his head, as if he could read the assumption in Darien's face. "Watashi wa tenshi dewa arimasen."
He didn't understand. "Why are you here?"
The man had successfully flagged down a cab, was bundling him into the back seat. Maybe Darien gave the driver his address, or maybe the man did, although he couldn't know it. Before he could shut the door, Darien grabbed his wrist—it was too solid, again like metal, but he ignored that, stared into the man's unfathomable, impossible eyes. "Why'd you come down here? Why were you here, why'd you talk to me? Why?"
The man smiled, and Darien couldn't see if it reached his eyes, because he was pulling away, broke his grasp without effort and closed the door. Through the open window he grinned at Darien, raised his right hand. His fingers were crossed.
"Why?" he said. "The same reason I'm anywhere! Love and Peace!"
And the cab pulled away, leaving the man standing alone on the curb, waving as it drove off, his red coat a riot of color against the gray city night.
He awoke to knocking at his door. Squinting at the red numbers on his alarm clock, Darien realized he hadn't set it the night before. He was supposed to have been at the Agency five minutes ago.
It seemed a bit excessive to send someone this soon, without even calling him first. Nevertheless the knocking was increasing in decibels and frequency. He groaned and clambered out of bed, still dressed in the jeans and t-shirt of yesterday. At least he had taken off his shoes. The two glasses of water he had gulped before crashing had softened the hangover but not canceled it. Hands splayed protectively over his eyes, he cracked the shade in his bedroom, then wandered out to the main room and opened the front door.
Hobbes charged inside, then did an about-face to confront Darien head on, his arms folded. "You're late for work, my friend."
"I overslept. Sorry. Gimme fifteen minutes and I'll be ready to go."
Hobbes still regarded him closely. "Where were you last night? I tried calling twice and got your machine."
"Out. Got back late."
"And weren't in a condition to check messages."
Darien shrugged, not bothering to deny it. Hobbes's mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "When I said you gotta get out more, I kinda meant on weekends." He strode past Darien to the kitchenette and started going through his cabinets, taking out a glass and an assortment of ingredients. "You could look worse. Sit down, I'll whip up something to take care of that headache."
"What about the job?"
"It can wait. Nothing pressing."
"Listen, Bobby. About yesterday..."
Hobbes looked up from the drawer he was shuffling through in search of a teaspoon. "Oh, yeah, about that. They got the guy."
"Yeah. He hotwired a car and then ran a red light in front of a cop. Morons like that shouldn't be allowed on the streets. They give criminals a bad name." He poured orange juice into the mixture in the glass, then added a sprinkle from a spice bottle Darien didn't recall ever buying.
"That's good. That they got him. But that wasn't what I meant." He drew a long breath. "I'm not going to get a gun, Hobbes."
There was a short silence, marred only by the ringing of the spoon against the glass as Hobbes stirred his concoction. He sniffed it, wrinkled his nose, then handed the glass to Darien. "There you go, partner. One Hobbes Hangover Helper."
It was an unseemly red-orange, with yellow froth. Darien set it carefully on the counter a safe distance away and faced his partner. "I'm not going to the firing range. I'm not carrying a gun."
"I'm not...it's because of yesterday, but it's not..." Darien didn't like fumbling for words. He memorized quotes so he wouldn't screw up whatever he wanted to say. But he couldn't come up with anything applicable now.
"I'm not feeling betrayed or anything like that," Hobbes said, before he got any further. "I figured you might decide that. Doesn't change anything, does it? You've never had a gun before, except that time with the gland and the RNA. Most agents have one, but you aren't most agents."
"I am an agent. I accept that. Maybe not everything, but...I don't picture myself doing anything else, right now."
"Good. Neither do I. We're okay, then?"
Darien looked him in eyes, to be sure. "Do you understand, why I won't?"
Hobbes met his gaze willingly, openly. "Not exactly. But as long as it's straight in your head, it's okay. You'll explain it to me sooner or later, I figure. And if not, doesn't matter. It's how you operate." He frowned, not angry but with a stubborn determination. "From day one I've known you aren't Agency material, Fawkes. And I think that's what makes you the best agent we've got. Besides, gland, gun, the details don't matter. You're my partner. That's all I need to know. I can count on you, like you can count on me. Everything else, it's your life."
He picked up the glass of orange stuff and thrust it back at Darien. "Now hurry up and drink this down. We've got a job to do."
Ah, okay, yes. There we go.
The crossover, of course, was the very strange stranger Darien encountered. He happens to be my favorite character from one of my current favorite anime. However odd he might have come across, I assure you the actual character is even more strange and awesome. (Incidentally the story's title comes from the same source, if you were wondering about it.)
This was longer than expected, and I have a feeling it might not make sense. Comments appreciated anyway...
Love to know what you think!
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