The Simple Things
by A. X. Zanier
"Three-oh-five, Three-oh-five," Darien muttered under his breath as he passed identical white on white corridors searching for Alex's room. He'd managed to get lost twice so far and ended up having to ask for directions at one of the info desks manned by a tiny woman who looked old enough to be Moses' grandmother. Nothing but wrinkles, broad smile with teeth that clearly spent their nights in a glass of water, and the most brilliant blue eyes he'd ever seen. She'd gotten him sorted out and off to the correct wing of the sprawling complex.
A T corridor with a sign stating rooms 300-350 were to the left and 351- 400 were to the right had Darien nodding satisfaction and in silent thanks to the lady who had gotten him here. He turned left and saw Mike Zembach stalking towards him, a dark look on his face.
"Hey, Mike. How's...."
Mike cut Darien's greeting off with a snarled, "Maybe you can talk some sense into her," then stormed away, leaving Darien standing in the hallway wondering what he'd missed. He'd never truly seen Mike angry before, not that Darien had some mysterious expertise on the man, but they had worked together on a few things and the guy was cool as a proverbial cucumber. It must have been something rather extraordinary for Mike to be that cheesed off.
With a shrug, Darien shifted the duffle bag he carried and continued on his way to Alex's room. He knocked on the partially open door and poked his head in.
"Alex, you in here?"
"Fawkes? What do you want?" Alex stood next to the hospital bed, tying her sneaker. She looked like crap, half her face swollen, and various shades of purple.
"I figured you wouldnt want to spend any more time than necessary in the less than stylish hospital wear, so I brought you some clothes." He tossed the bag casually on the bed, where it landed next to its cousin. "Which you obviously dont need." That would explain why Mike had come, but not why he'd left in a huff.
She eyed him warily. "Exactly how did you get my clothes?" The threat was unmistakable.
Darien shrugged and plopped himself down into the only chair. "I broke into your place and went through your drawers, how else?"
Alex pursed her lips, anger flashing in those eyes, and Darien waited for the storm to break upon him, but it never came.
"Did you know you have a shoe print on your face?" He finally said solely to break the uneasy silence that had fallen over them. He'd been more than ready to get his ass chewed off in tasty bite-sized pieces, so her unexpected non-reaction worried him.
"Yes, I am well aware," she grumbled, digging into the bag Darien had brought. "Damn it, no file."
"File? You want I should go bake you a cake or something?"
"A cake?" Alex sounded truly confused.
"Yeah. It is the traditional containment for a file. A bit clichéd, admittedly, but it works." Darien tipped his head to the side, keeping the amusement well hidden for a change. "Wouldn't it be easier to just get your doc to sign you out?"
Alex closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. "A nail file, Fawkes." She held out her hands, showing that her manicure was no longer the image of perfection.
"Speaking of which... You know that's what blew your cover, right?"
She gave him the epitome of a blank stare. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
Darien got to his feet and walked over to Alex. Taking extreme care, he took her dainty but deadly hands into his own. "You got made because of your manicure."
Alex tugged her hands away. "You're insane, Fawkes."
Darien held out his right wrist, palm up, showing her the emerald snake coiled there, the dragon still sleeping for the nonce. "Am not."
Her hands fisted and settled on her hips. "Are too."
Darien shook his head. "Alex, you were going in as a mechanic, a grease-monkey, and you had hundred dollar blood-red daggers on your fingers." She frowned. "And the bad luck to be dealing with a guy who would recognize it."
"Shit," she muttered, hands coming open and dropping to her sides. "Just means I made the right decision, then."
"Decision? What did you...?" Darien recalled the look on Mike's face. "You did not dump Mike, did you?"
Alex's back stiffened. "It's none of your business," she snapped.
"Is too," Darien argued. "Like it or not Alex, I'm your friend and friends don't let friends do asinine things."
Alex's look darkened. "I had no choice." She waved her hands at him; the broken nails and chipped polish clear as day. "This proves it. Im better than a screw up this basic. Way better."
"And you're saying it's Mike's fault? How do you figure that?" Darien really wanted to know. Alex had never been happier since she'd starting seeing Mike.
Her lips tightened, every muscle in her body going tense, plainly at odds with whether or not to confide in him. "I've gotten soft since I met Mike."
Darien rolled his eyes. "Like when you got James back?" Alex shot him a look that had surely made a lesser men cower, but he'd long since become immune. Clearly, that reminder had struck a nerve. "Alex, caring about someone doesn't make you soft."
"No?" she snapped. "Then you tell me what it does."
Darien closed the distance between them and set his hands on her shoulders. "It makes you human."
She glared up at him for a second then sagged in his hold. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Do you love him?"
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Alex asked in pure frustration.
"Everything. Jeeze, Alex, you aren't your job."
She gaped at him and pulled away. "Darien...."
"Dont throw away the best thing in your life, Alex. You'll regret it." Darien ran a hand through his hair. "I sure as hell still do."
A hint of smirk curved the corners of Alex's lips upwards. "You lied to Casey from day one, and never made a real effort to do anything about it. I sure as hell haven't lied to Mike."
Darien cocked his head.
"I'm not talking state secrets here, he understands about that," she argued, missing the mark this time. Unusual for her, given she was a crack shot at a variety of weapons, including words.
"Ain't what I meant, Susie. You," he tapped her on the forehead with one finger, "are lying to yourself. You've convinced yourself that you dont need anyone or anything to get by in life. That the tiny universe of Alex you live in is all that you need. Or you did. Then you had James and your universe expanded."
"Then I lost him," she snarled through gritted teeth.
"Yep, and locked yourself away in your own universe again." Darien paced away rubbing the back of his neck. "Bet it gets lonely in there sometimes."
"Darien," her voice shook ever so slightly. "I don't know if I can be an agent and what Mike wants."
"Then stop," Darien stated.
She looked at him in confusion. "Stop what?"
"Being an agent."
"You think it's that simple?" Alex asked, confounded.
"For you, yeah." He shrugged. "Me, not so much."
"Darien," she just shook her head. "You're insane."
"Hey, we already established that I so am not," he reminded her; and was rewarded with a lopsided smile for his efforts. "Now, how about we find that doctor and spring you from this place, before I do have to go bake a cake."
"Would you really do that for me? The file in a cake thing?" Alex asked in curiosity.
"Anytime, Susie," Darien assured her with a grin. "And once I spring you, you are going to go tell Mike you were an idiot and make up."
The look she leveled at him spoke volumes. Not very light and fluffy ones either, more like the ones dedicated exclusively to death and destruction, if he dared to say even one more word.
Right, like he'd ever not taken a dare. "Why wouldn't you? Seriously, What's stopping you from moving in with Mike?"
Alex's hands balled into fists again, but this time Darien feared she might actually hit him and damn, she would hurt him if she connected. Really, right now, she could probably break him in half with very little effort on her part and he wouldn't even see it coming. Anger sparking in her eyes, the muscles of her jaw visibly clenched as she spoke, "James."
Darien blinked, confused what one had to do with the other for a moment. "Wait, you think moving in with Mike means giving up on finding James?"
She gave one quick nod, still tense and ready to give him an ass whooping if he said just the wrong thing. Well, he'd just have to take that risk -- and his lumps -- if that's what it took to knock some sense into her.
He started by turning the tables on her. "You are insane."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Fawkes. I'm not the one with the gland in my head, you are." She threw up her hands in exasperation.
"Alex, you're right, you are better than this. But it's not Mike, and it's not James, it's you." He sat down on the bed, his knees aching after standing for so long. "From day one you wanted to find James all by your lonesome. Your son, your problem..." She gave him the evil eye. "Your responsibility, then. You only came to The Agency because we had the resources you couldn't beg, borrow or order on your own."
"That's not... entirely true. If I hadn't come to you, to the Agency I never would have found Chrysalis," she argued, and was that a hint of pleading in her voice?
"Granted, but once you had what you needed you went your own way, doing jobs for the 'Fish only when you had to. You've had your own agenda all along and woe to anyone who gets in your way."
"No. I... I'm just used to working alone, that's all," she protested, denial written in every line of her body.
Now that was weird. Either she was playing him for all she was worth or Darien had really rattled her. "Bullshit. You, little Miss Five-Star-A, could run rings around the rest of us, including the Official, if you really wanted to. No, you stayed because we weren't competition and you had access to what you really needed, Stark."
Alex's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, but nothing, not even a sound came out.
"Which is fine. We never expected you to stay once you'd found James." He cocked his head slightly. "But maybe we should have. We're the only ones who know about Chrysalis and if we, meaning you, of course, were to bring them down your place in history would be assured."
"Darien, that's not...."
"No, of course it isn't, because that would mean you'd be sharing all that info you've gathered and stored in those encrypted files on your fancy computer."
"Fawkes," this time growled warningly.
"Now, I gotta admit those files were damn useful when Claire got added to their library, but overall you ain't been big on the sharing thing." He got back to his feet, warming up to his topic. "You like keeping all of us at arms length unless you need us for something...."
"Damn it, Darien, it's not like that," she interrupted, stomping her foot, though the rubber sole lacked the sharp crack her more usual footwear would have created.
"Sure it is. 'Cause if it wasn't, then you'd let us help."
She sighed and sank down onto the bed, her face completely blank. "I... He's my son, my resp...."
"Responsibility. Yeah, I got that." He scrubbed a hand over his face, beginning to wonder if he was ever going to get through to her. "You dont have to do it alone. Me an' Hobbes are your partners: your friends and we'd help you in a heartbeat to get James back. You just got to say the word."
"Shit," she mumbled. "I know that, I do. I just... It's not Agency-related. It's personal."
"The 'Fish... let's just say there were some... stipulations in my contract when I decided to stay," she told him, making it clear she wouldn't or couldn't elaborate.
Darien shrugged. "Again I say 'so,' but I understand you not wanting to get us into trouble."
Alex snorted. "Yeah, you do that well enough on your own."
"Mike could help you. He has some interesting contacts from what I hear."
Alex blinked, and Darien suspected that she had never even considered that option. "But that would mean telling him.... everything. Or damn near anyway."
"Yep, it would," Darien agreed. "I wouldn't suggest it, if I didnt trust him."
She looked shell-shocked, like he'd just turned her entire reality on its head. "The Official would never approve it," she argued weakly.
"Screw the Official.... Not like that. And I thought Hobbes was a dirty-bird."
That produced an actual smile from her.
"Dont tell him, just talk to Mike." Darien leaned against the wall next to the door, arms crossed over his chest. "You know he'll help."
"Even after today?"
"If you're honest with him, yeah, he will. He's crazy about you." Darien stared out into the hallway, hiding the twinge of jealousy he felt.
"Darien... You really think so?" Such hope in her voice.
"I know so," he confirmed, certain Mike would walk through fire for Alex. "You dont have to choose between them. It doesnt have to Mike or James. You can have your cake and eat it too."
Alex rolled her eyes. "It's not that simple."
"Shit, you keep saying that, but you're wrong. It is that simple. You just need to be willing to trust." Darien wanted to throttle her.
"Oh, is that all," she snarked.
"You are impossible," Darien growled.
"Why, yes, yes I am," she agreed sounding all smug about it. "But you're right."
He cupped a hand about his ear. "What was that? I'm not sure I heard you."
"I said, 'you're right.' I need to talk to Mike."
Darien's hand moved to his forehead and feigned fainting. "I think Hell just froze over."
"You are a pain in my ass," she observed.
Darien bowed deeply. "You are welcome, madam."
Alex zipped both duffels shut and sat cross-legged on the bed.
"Hey, I was wondering something." Since she seemed willing to talk, at least a little, Darien felt brave enough to bring up a subject that on just about any other occasion would have gotten him into deep, deep kimchee.
"And that would be?"
"I heard some of Stark's personal files were discovered." No reason to admit he'd been the one to discover them. "Were they any use to you?" Darien had never quite had the courage to ask Eberts what he'd done with those files and just assumed he'd shared them with Alex, seeing that Stark was her personal mission and all. Alex's utterly confused expression told a very different story.
"Oh crap," Darien muttered. "You haven't seen the files?"
She shook her head. "Haven't even heard about them. How long ago did the Agency acquire them?"
Darien had to think for a moment; had it really been that long? "Almost two years."
"Two years? Are you certain of that?" Not that she doubted him, but, yeah it was kind of surprising that the info had been floating around for that long without her hearing about it.
Darien nodded. "It was around the same time I got arrested for robbing those banks."
She sat there quietly for a few seconds, but he could hear those gears turning in her mind. "So that's what you were doing. While you were 'out'."
Darien twitched and she called him on it.
"Spill. What did you do?"
Prevarication clearly wasn't going to be an option this time around. He just found it hard to believe Eberts had simply filed the files and left them to rot in the Archives.
"I, uh, broke into one of Stark's apartments and, uh, cleared out a safe." Darien checked the hall, debating if he could outrun Alex in their respective conditions should she decide to go after him.
She burst out in laughter. "You, my friend, are priceless."
Looked like he wasn't going to need that escape route after all. "That's me, a MasterCard commercial."
"Did you steal the files for me?" she asked, once the laughter had wound down.
He nodded. "I was hoping they'd help you find James. I can't figure out why Eberts didn't give 'em to you."
"I'm sure he had his reasons," Alex groused.
Darien had the feeling The Official had something to do with it. "I have no idea if there's anything useful in there."
"But it'd be nice to find out," Alex finished. Silence reigned for a few minutes while she seemed to ponder everything that had been said. "Where the devil is that doctor?"
"I prefer angel, personally, but I'll take what I can get."
A man that Darien guessed was Alex's doctor in this situation entered the room. He stood maybe two inches taller than Alex, which meant Darien gazed down at the top of the man's head, and, while his English was perfect, he appeared to be pure Japanese. The nametag had Miyagi under the man's picture.
Darien, unable to stop himself, blurted out, "Wax on, wax off?"
Alex snorted and tried to cover it with a cough.
"Hmm... Yes, like I haven't heard that one before." A hint of grin crossed Dr. Miyagi's features. "Ms. Monroe, are you ready to go home?"
"Oh yes," she assured him.
"Good." He signed the papers on the clipboard and then handed them over to her. "You are officially discharged. I'll send one of the nurses with a wheelchair and your amusing friend can escort you out."
"I dont need...."
"Hospital policy. You ride out of here." The doctor turned to Darien. "Take care of her."
"I'll try," Darien answered, glancing at Alex, "but she don't make it easy."
Once the doctor had left, Alex sidled up next to Darien. "Give me my keys."
"Yeah, the keys to my car. So I can drive myself home." She held out her hand, patience not written on her features.
"Uh, about that.... Didnt Eberts talk to you?" Darien prayed to god, all of them, that Eberts had called and delivered the message about her precious Corvette.
"No." Her eyes narrowed. "Fawkes, what happened to my car?"
"It... ummm... it got a wee bit damaged," he stuttered out.
"How?" she requested with false politeness.
"Uh, chasing Smythe and Montenegro," Darien answered. "Cross-country. Desert. Cross-desert."
"You took my 'Vette off-roading?" Her voice rose precipitously.
"I couldn't let 'em get away," Darien squawked in his defense. He checked the hallway again, since he might need that escape route after all.
"No, I dont suppose you could. Just so long as you didnt do something stupid like ram them...."
Darien went dead pale and she noticed.
"You didn't," she growled stalking towards him, his imminent torture clear to see in her eyes.
"Maybe. Just a little," he admitted. "Not that it made much difference at that point." Oh, crap, why had he said that? Good thing he was in a hospital, it was beginning to look as if he was going to need a doctor, and in the very near future, at that.
She sighed, a hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose. "How bad?"
Darien cringed in preparation of the pain she was certain to inflict upon him. "Totaled."
"Oh god. My 'Vette," she whimpered.
"Run. Very fast and very far."
Seconds later the sound of her laughter followed him down the hallway and he knew he'd been had.
"It is the simple things in life that make living worthwhile - sweet fundamental things such as love." -- Laura Ingalls Wilder