Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Pairing: Skinner/Krycek
Warning: Extreme angst. Violence.
Spoilers: Just a touch of Season 7: Requiem.
Note: Hollywood AD didn't happen in our universe, because the timing is impossibly bad.
Summary: Alex sends Walter a surprise delivery.
Series: Exigency. This story is best read after Confront.
Beta Thanks: Helen, speediest beta north of the border!
Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 Productions own the X-Files series characters. The rest are ours. No revenue is collected. No infringement of rights is intended.


Exigency: Advance
(ek-'si-gen-see)
noun: urgent requirements, exacting want or pressing needs.

Starring:
Zoe Takashi as Alex Krycek.
Louise Wu as Walter S. Skinner.


Part 1

Crystal City, VA
Wednesday, 30 June 1999
9:02 P.M.


The past few days have been quiet, which is a tremendous relief. No mind reading. No agents on the brink of death. No spying on my colleagues. Alex has been fatigued, quiet and subdued... until Monday when he attacked me (quite pleasantly) in the shower. I'm thinking tonight I'll turn the tables on him.

The doorbell chimes. Maybe Alex forgot his key? He's running late... said he would pick up dinner on the way back tonight.

I look out the peephole to see a tacky Hawaiian pattern--blue and cream with bamboo and hula girls. It must be someone's shirt, but that's all I can see. The only thing I can be certain of is it's not Alex.

"Who is it?"

An extremely deep voice calls out, "I have a message for you from a... green-eyed mutual friend."

I unlock the drawer and extract my SIG, planting myself at an odd angle to the door in case someone fires through it. "What's your name?"

"Morgan."

Alex mentioned him. The man who took care of him when he was injured in New York. I reach for the door and turn the lock. "Put your hands on your head and stand back where I can see you."

There's a long pause, before he replies, "Listen, buddy, I'm doing our friend a favor. But I will not put my hands on my head. I told him I'd deliver his message. If you don't open the door, I'll just yell it to you."

Who is this guy? If this is the man who hit on Alex when he was injured, maybe I should just fire through the door myself.

After another long pause, he loudly says, "Okay, he said-"

I yank the door open with my weapon held at chest level... make that, crotch level. Fuck this man is big. He's got his hand tucked inside his jacket. "Drop your weapon!"

He rolls his eyes, pulls out his .44, and leans down to lay the weapon on my entryway floor. "You can relax, you know. The kid would have my nuts for breakfast if I did anything to you."

Kid? Surely no one calls Alex that to his face.

I move his weapon with my foot and gesture for him to enter the room. He enters casually, glancing around, while shrugging out of his massive leather jacket. "Nice place."

I pick up the .44. Safety's on. I tuck it in my waistband and close the door.

Goddamn, he's big. Must out weigh me by 150 pounds. He takes a seat in the chair next to the sofa. My chair.

I follow him into the living room and sit across from him. "Tell me something to prove he sent you."

"You want me to prove I know him?"

"Yeah."

He tips his head to the side and looks contemplative. "Okay... You've known Alex since 1994. He paid me to not notice you, as a matter of fact. More recently, he had me watching the men watching you. And tonight he was supposed to bring dinner."

"Okay." I relax my gun arm slightly. "What's the message?"

"The kid said he had to leave unexpectedly and didn't know when he'd be back. But he's sending you something."

"Where'd he go?"

Morgan shrugs his massive shoulders. "He's always a bit mysterious." He looks at me curiously. "I don't suppose you know how he lost his arm? The little pain in the ass won't tell me."

"He'd tell you if he wanted you to know." I get a sense that Morgan has a certain affection for Alex, but I'm not giving any information. "Is he... all right?"

"I don't know. I've never seen him so upset. Actually, with one exception, I've never seen him upset at all. Oops. Two exceptions. And both of those times were about you, too."

Well, I know I didn't upset him today. He was his normal fun self this morning--eating the white gooey stuff while making snide comments about my slime beverage. So, who or what did upset him? Something has to be very wrong for Alex to send a stranger to me like this.

Morgan continues, "Now, that makes me a little... suspicious, Walter. Makes me wonder what you've got hanging over him."

"What the fuck?" He thinks I've got something on Alex? I almost laugh, until I get his number. He thinks I'm the competition and doesn't credit me with what it takes to attract Alex. He's looking for the trick.

Morgan leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He looks like the statue of Abe Lincoln. "Well, you know, out of the blue he drinks himself into unconsciousness, and it's because of you. A man has to think you're fucking with him in some way."

"He doesn't drink." But it rings true, somehow. "When?"

He arches a non-existent brow. "Recently. This February. Although, I thought you were dead."

So did I. Alex never told me he went on a bender over that. It occurs to me that Morgan might be an ally. Someone keeping an eye on Alex when I can't. If only I knew I could trust him... "So, what's this thing he's sending me?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't say. Which isn't unusual. Alex barely speaks most of the time. But, he said it was very important and wants you to keep it safe. Until he gets back from wherever the hell he went."

Morgan cocks his head to the side and adds, "And then he said something that I'd like you to explain. He said that if he doesn't come back he trusts you to figure out what to do with his delivery."

If he doesn't come back... Fuck.

Alex is in trouble, and I don't even know where he is. There's really no way for me to find him. And he wants me to keep something safe for him. I can do that, whatever it is, but I wish I knew what the hell was going on.

I'm torn between picking Morgan's brain and ejecting him as soon as possible. "What is it you want me to explain?"

His expression reveals something like anger. "What's he into that he might not come back from?"

Shaking my head, I reply, "I don't know, Morgan. I wish you could tell me. Can you think of anything that might help me understand? As you must know, I have resources I can turn to, but I don't know what the hell is going on."

Morgan leans back in the chair heavily, making the frame creak, and looks frustrated. "That kid just can't stay out of trouble." He rubs a massive hand over his face and bald head. "He made a call right after we talked, which I've never seen him do before... use my phone, that is. He delivered his message to me in under five minutes and took off. I suppose you could check my phone records." He frowns at me. "Not that I like the idea. In any case, the conversation was in another language. Russian, I think. I caught a name. Arntzen. Mean anything to you?"

Arntzen... one of the men at the gulag, I think. "I don't know who he is, but he's dangerous to... our friend."

"What has th-" Morgan's cell phone rings. It looks absurd in his hand. "Morgan. ... What time? ... Why the fuck didn't you call me sooner? ... Yeah, whatever." He punches a button and looks over at me. "He took a flight at 6 P.M. from New York to Switzerland." Morgan grins. "I had someone follow him. He must be off his feed if he let that happen. He's always spotted anyone tailing him."

Shit. I can't go there and try to find him and be here for whatever's he's sending, which must be important if he took this risk to get a message to me. And even if I did go, I'd run the risk of blundering into something and getting one of us killed. I can't send anyone in the European Bureau offices after him. All I can do is trust him. "I don't know why Switzerland. And if either of us goes after him, we could make the situation worse. Give me your phone number and I'll trace the call."

Morgan pulls a card out of the breast pocket of his Hawaiian shirt, then passes it to me. A plain white card with nothing but a phone number. I tuck it in my wallet and pass him a card of my own. "My cell phone is on the back. I want you to call me if you learn anything."

He nods and takes the card. Rising to his feet, he looks down at me. I stand, pointing the gun at him vaguely. Somehow it seems inadequate to deal with his bulk.

After a beat, he says, "You'd better be nice to him, Walter." It's clearly a threat.

"It's not me he has to worry about."

"Well, it's me you have to worry about."

"I can see that... and anyone who touches him has me to worry about."

His arched non-brow tells me he got the message. Not that I think he's going to heed it.

He holds out his plate of a hand. "I don't give out .44's as souvenirs."

I shake his hand. "At the door."

He returns a firm handshake, then walks to the entryway. When he's in the hall, I pass his weapon, then lock the door.

Shit. I pour a glass of Scotch and stand at the window. Alex is at risk, but there's nothing I can do except what he asked me to do.


Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 1 July 1999
2:03 P.M.

The call placed from the phone number Morgan left was charged to a credit card. I put a trace on that card number. The call went to Switzerland and the Bureau was unable to trace it past Geneva.

I've spent the entire day worrying and only going through the motions of doing my job. I carried the satellite phone with me today, hoping he'd call.

Kimberly buzzes me. "Sir, there's a man in the lobby who says he has a message about your meeting with David Brown? But I don't have that name on your calendar."

David Brown. That's Alex. This is probably the delivery. "Put him through."

After a few seconds, the call comes through. "This is Walter Skinner. Can you meet me nearby, away from the Bureau?"

"Yes." The voice is hesitant and heavily accented.

"Around the back of the building there's a courtyard. On the north side facing the building is a fish pond. I'll be there in five minutes."

"I will meet you." Now I can place the accent. It's Russian.

"Do you know what I look like?"

"No. I will need to see your papers."

"All right. But I'll also give you a description. Six foot one, 220 pounds, mostly bald, gray suit, yellow navy striped tie. And you?"

"I am 1.8 meters and about 66 kilos. My hair is brown." He sounds downright nervous.

"Five minutes then." Still trying to convert his height and weight, I hang up the phone.

Opening my desk drawer, I pull out my passport. I grab my jacket, check the safety on my SIG and exit the building rapidly.

I get to the fish pond before he does, but it's only a few minutes before I see someone approaching. He's wearing jeans, work boots and a T-shirt with a picture of the Empire State Building. He doesn't look like trouble. In fact, he looks intimidated.

He approaches me and tentatively asks, "Mr. Skinner?" He appears to be in his mid to late 20's. He's about 5'9" and 145 pounds. His eyes are pale blue, light brown hair and his features are slightly feminine. He's very pretty. I'm almost certain he's one of Alex's ex-lovers.

"Yes." I offer my passport and my shield. He looks at both intently for a long time.

Handing them back, he looks me over carefully. "I have a question for you. To make sure you are the man I seek."

"All right."

"What gift did you give Sas... uh, Mr. Brown?"

"A knife."

He visibly relaxes and pulls a small envelope out of the front pocket of his jeans, extending it to me.

Taking it, I ask, "Can you tell me your name?"

The man hesitates, then says, "Vladimir. Vladimir Pietroski."

"Vlad..." Alex's first lover. Not at all what I was expecting. I tear open the envelope. Inside is a note in Alex's block printing.

--
I hope you received my message. Please take care of whatever this man gives you. It's very important. I'm sorry I could not warn you.
--

"Do you know where he is?"

The man's face is entirely too expressive. Pain and fear flicker across his features. "No. But I am worried." He looks around. "Please, Mr. Skinner. I do not have much time. You must come with me."

I tuck the note in my pocket. "All right. Do we need my car?"

"Yes, please. I came by taxicab."

I open my cell phone and dial Kimberly, asking her to pull my spare keys and drive my car to the stoplight on Ninth. I lead Vlad to a place behind a tree, where I can watch for the car.

"What is it that you brought me?"

He gives me a sad smile. "I've never understood Sash-, uh, Alex's precautions, but I'm sure he would tell me to not speak of anything out loud. I will take you there, but then I must leave."

"When did you talk to him?"

"Yesterday. It was most urgent."

"Did he tell you anything that would explain where he's gone?"

Vlad looks trepidatious. "His instructions said he was being taken out of the way, so I was to see you."

"What? Taken out of the way?"

"Yes." He looks like he's trying to remember. "It said his employment... employers wanted him out of the way."

Shit. I try to conceal my reaction. Vlad seems upset as it is. "Can you think of any way we can help him?"

Vlad looks faraway and murmurs, "Sasha has never wanted any help." He focuses on me and his eyes swim with tears. "What he sends you is what help he needs."

"Do you need help, Mr. Pietroski?"

He swallows hard. "No. Sash-, Alex has taken care of me." He pauses, then adds, "Please call me Vlad."

My car is at the corner. "Come with me, Vlad."

Kimberly seems a little surprised when she sees him, but she doesn't inquire. I ask her to walk back to the office and not to mention this meeting or the man I'm with to anyone. Vlad gives me an intersection in Alexandria, about a 20 minute drive.

Maybe if I chat with him, he'll have more to say. "My grandfather was Russian, from Novosibirsk."

He looks over at me, then asks, "How much do you know about Sasha?"

I wince. "I know about his family and some of the terrible things that happened."

"He would never tell me what happened to him. Why he was gone for so long." He shakes his head. "But we grew up within a few hours of where your grandfather was from."

"Tell me about it... where you're from."

"Zushta. In the Siberian... uh, what do you call a shorter, um, place near a tall land area?"

"Valley?" The name Zushta is familiar, but I can't place it.

"No. Um, a large area."

"Lowlands?"

"Yes, I think that's it. Siberian Lowlands. It was a farming area, but little farming took place in our town. Many men went to a larger town to work." He pauses. "But not Sasha's parents."

"Where did they work?" I ask, cursing them silently.

"That was not, um, known by the people. They were rarely home, so it was assumed they had employed in Moscow or Leningrad."

"What was he like as a child?"

Vlad gives a surprised laugh. "Difficult. And very, um, stubborn."

I feel a smile on my face. "That hasn't changed."

"It would be nice to see him again one day." He stares out the window for a second, then looks back at me. "I met Sasha when we were five. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, but my memory does not tell me where we were. I saw a naked boy running from his mother. She chased him, telling him to put his clothes back on. She called him 'Alex' and he kept yelling, 'that's not my name.' I would never yell at my parents. I liked him immediately."

Odd about the names, but it's a sweet memory. I try to imagine a five-year-old version of Alex. Maybe he can scare up a photo... "Vlad, you said it would be nice to see him again. When was the last time you saw Alex?"

He looks away. "The 17th day of February in 1986. It was a Monday."

My jaw falls open. That's 13 years ago. Why would Alex use his childhood friend as a courier if he hasn't seen him in 13 years? It doesn't make any sense.

It's impossible to miss the longing tone in Vlad's voice. He loved Alex. I try to imagine the two of them together. Alex fucking for the first time. It's a pretty picture.

Vlad looks at me and asks, "I... I would like to ask something of you?"

I hesitate, knowing that I can't be a source of information about Alex. "What is it?"

There's a long pause before he replies. "Men came and took Sasha away. We knew that. Yelena told me. Then..." he stops and takes a breath. "Then the house burned and the children died. We thought he was dead, too. I saw him later, in Leningrad, but he would never tell me where he went... what happened. Do you know?"

"No. I'm sorry, I don't know." I don't like lying to Alex's friend, but it seems kinder than refusing to tell him. Definitely kinder than the truth.

Vlad nods. "He was so different when I saw him." He pauses, lost in a memory. "The children were very sad when he left. He was their parent, I think."

There's an image that won't gel. Alex taking care of all those siblings. It must have nearly broken him when they were killed. I brush away the pain. I need to stay focused. Though for what, I'm still uncertain.

Out of the blue, Vlad chuckles. "Yelena was given most of Sasha's chores. But her cooking was not as good. Sasha was very... what is the word? Inventive."

"He cooked?" Are we talking about the same man?

Vlad gives me an odd look. "Every day. It seemed like he was constantly cooking because the little ones needed to eat frequently." His voice sounds faraway.

I imagine a teenaged Alex feeding ten brothers and sisters the gooey white stuff. Do they have granola bars in Russia?

Vlad continues, "Especially Kseniya. Only Sasha could get her to eat and she would only eat his cooking. And only a little of that. More stubborn than Sasha."

"What did he cook?"

"What people eat. Breakfast was always different because the children rose at varying times. Yelena, Miya and Nikolai were self-sufficient. He was more elaborate with dinner. Kroucheniki--that's beef-- Gous v Yablokach--uh, goose--Babka--a vegetable dish-"

"Vegetables?"

"Why do you sound startled?"

"Because he never eats vegetables. And because he can barely tell a fork from a spoon, much less make a meal."

"I do not understand this. He was an excellent cook and made wonderful kletski--that's apple dumplings. Miya loved to get underfoot and try to help him." Vlad gives another laugh. "Sasha would let her get away with anything."

Miya... part of the password for those encrypted files.

The picture of a young Alex in a big kitchen with all those children... it's a very happy picture, and suddenly I know why Alex can't function in a kitchen. It's everything he lost.

I'm filled with a desperate but impossible need to take that pain away from him. And I don't even fucking know where he is. Or why.

Suddenly, Vlad asks, "Are you his lover?"

I open my mouth to lie again. "Yes." I wanted to tell him the truth, so I did. It's fascinating meeting Alex's friends. Vlad is so sweet, I want to take him home and make him tell me every memory he has of my mysterious lover.

"I hope he's happy." Vlad sounds wistful.

I wish I could tell him Alex was. Then I remember our day at the beach. "I've seen him happy." At a stoplight, I meet Vlad's eyes. "You can't tell anyone that we're lovers, or anything about Alex or me. Do you understand?"

"Yes. I understand. Sasha never wanted me to tell anyone anything. You are the first person he has asked me to speak to. For my curiosity... why do you call him Alex?"

"It's the only name I've ever known him by." Well, that's not precisely true. He has many aliases.

"He is insistent. We are almost at our destiny and I will likely never see you again, Walter Skinner. Promise me you will look out for him."

"I will, Vlad." He can't know how difficult that is, or how important it is to me. "Thank you."

He points where I should park the car. "If you have the ability to persuade him, please ask him to call us. I would be in your debt."

"I'll mention it to him."

Vlad's hand hovers on the door handle. "Thank you."

He gets out of the car and guides me across the street and down a block. He stops abruptly and looks at me. "I forgot part of the instructions were to tell you to make sure you were not followed." He looks upset.

"It's okay. I was watching. Let's go around the block before you take me to the destination, so I can double check."

Vlad leads me around for ten minutes, then takes me inside a small, cheap motel. On the second floor, he stops outside a room. "Please wait here for a moment."

He steps inside the room and closes the door. The mysterious package I'm supposed to keep safe. I guess I can drive out of the city... maybe to Durham and put it in a safe-deposit box or something... I wish I knew what the fuck was going on.

Five minutes later, Vlad emerges with a bag over his shoulder and tears streaming down his face. He hands me the room key.

I place a hand on his shoulder. "Vlad... if you need anything..."

Vlad shakes his head and closes his eyes for a moment. "Just take care of him."

"I will."

He kisses both my cheeks, then departs.

I unlock the room and step inside, resisting the urge to draw my gun.

Oh my god.

Seated on the only bed is a dark haired boy. He's staring at me with vivid green eyes. He's a pubescent version of Alex. His body is small and slender, the way Alex's might have been in his early teens.

My startled brain tries to do the math. Alex's brothers and sisters are dead, so this must be... his son?

The kid is staring at me, his expression tough, but it's a front. I'll bet he's scared.

I extend a hand. "Hi, I'm Walter Skinner."

He stares at me blankly, but rises to his feet and tentatively shakes my hand.

"What's your name?" I can't believe it. There's no question from his appearance. You might have mentioned the small detail of your son, Alex.

He just stares at me.

My grandfather's face flashes in my mind and I struggle to remember the words, "Meenya zavoot Walter. Kak vas zavoot?"

His face twists into an irritated scowl. "My name is Lyosha. Your accent is terrible."

Yeah, don't try to con me, kid.

His English is a hell of a lot better than my Russian. He has only a slight accent... an ability he inherited from his father? There are many things I want to ask him, but I'm not sure where to begin. Establish rapport... "When did you arrive?"

His expression tells me he's deciding if he should answer any of my questions. Eventually, he sullenly replies, "This morning."

"Have you eaten?"

A little of the tough façade slips away. "Yes, but I'm still hungry. Can we go to McDonald's?"

"Sure." I can't believe how much he looks like Alex. The kid's going to be a looker when he grows up.

I lean against the wall and ponder the situation. I have to assume that Lyosha is in danger... probably because of his relationship to Alex. But I don't know what kind of danger, whether it's imminent or potential.

Is it safe to take him to my place? Probably, as long as no one knows he's there. I shouldn't be anyone's first guess of people Alex would turn to. But I can't leave him alone, and I can't be seen with him.

I open my cell phone and dial Kimberly. Ten minutes later, we're in the car, Lyosha lying down in the backseat. "It's a short drive. We'll be there in just a few minutes."

"Okay."

I concentrate on the driving and watching to see if anyone's following us. When we get to my building, I pull into the underground garage and double park at the stairwell.

"Lyosha, stay put until I know it's clear." I wonder if he understands all the fuss about his safety.

I get out of the car, scanning the garage. There's no one in this section. I check the stairs. Clear. Opening the backdoor of the car, I gesture for him to follow me. I let him carry his duffle bag, so my hands are free. As we enter the stairwell, I press the remote to lock my car. The doorman will call me before he has it towed.

We begin climbing the stairs. I hope the kid's in good shape. "Don't say anything until I give you the go-ahead, okay?"

He nods, seeming fairly complacent about all this.

At the 9th floor my right knee cracks and I feel a sharp twinge. An old Vietnam injury. It doesn't like stairs.

When we get to the 17th floor, there's someone in the hall. A neighbor. I check again after the elevator goes down. Clear.

When we enter the apartment, Lyosha looks around with an impatient expression. His expression turns to curious and he moves toward the dining room.

I lock the front door, then unlock the entryway drawer, retrieving the scanner. When he sees the device in my hand, he gets close to me to have a look and follows me around while I scan the apartment, frequently becoming distracted as we enter a new room.

Not surprisingly, he seems impressed by my modest furnishings.

I close the blinds as I scan. Once the scan is complete and we're back in the living room, I advise, "You can talk now."

"I thought we were going to McDonald's."

Single-minded boy. Reminds me of Alex except Alex always wants sex, not food. I hope he's okay. Now that I've received his 'delivery' I understand that I need to be right here.

"Lyosha, I can't take you to McDonald's, but if you can be patient, I'll get you food from McDonald's."

He frowns for a moment, then his expression brightens. "Can I listen to your stereo?"

"Yeah." I hope I have something he'll want to listen to. There's always the radio. "You can use anything you want. Let me know if you need me to show you how." He rolls his eyes and crosses to the stereo. I return upstairs to remove my spare gun from the bedside table and lock it in the firearms box in my office. That's the only thing I can think of that he shouldn't find.

Downstairs again, Lyosha is listening to Bob Dylan and frowning. He looks up at me as he pops the CD out. "He can't sing."

"No kidding." I take a seat on the sofa. "Lyosha, I need to talk to you."

With a ridiculously heartfelt sigh, he rises from the floor and takes a seat at the other end of the couch. "What?"

"Do you understand that we're hiding you for your own safety?"

"Yes. Fath... uh, Vlad explained it to me."

So he calls Vlad 'father.' Maybe that woman--the first one Alex slept with--is Lyosha's mother. And Alex left the child to be raised by them. It makes sense. There's no place in Alex's life for a child.

"So, I need to ask you to stay away from the windows. And if anyone comes to the door, I want you to step out of sight. Can you do that?" What's it going to be, Lyosha? Rebellion or cooperation?

He bobs his head from side to side, and mimics, "Don't answer the door, don't make any calls, don't let anyone see you." He gives me a mild glare. "I got it already."

"It's not a lot of fun, is it?"

Lyosha looks upset. "No! They wouldn't even let me say goodbye to my friends. And..." His eyes are wet. "I'm never going home."

That hurts. I'd like to reassure him, but he could be right. There's so much I don't understand. "I'm sorry. For now, keeping you alive takes priority over everything else."

He blurts out, "But why? They weren't even looking for me." His expression turns angry. "They were looking for this other guy."

"Who?"

Lyosha looks disgusted. "This Aleksandr guy they sent me to. It's not fair!"

Shit. He doesn't know who Alex is. I guess it makes sense if Alex hasn't seen them in 13 years. That's probably when he agreed to leave the baby with them. I'm not going to be the one to tell Lyosha that Alex is his father. "You're related to Aleksandr. Someone might hurt you to get to him. That's why we're protecting you."

He rolls his eyes. "I already knew I was related. Am I supposed to care? I've never even met him. And why isn't he here? And who are you?"

"Alex, uh, Aleksandr, will come as soon as he can." He damn well better. "And I'm his, uh, friend. For now I'm your bodyguard."

Lyosha contemplates that for a moment. "I've never had a bodyguard before. What do you do?"

"You saw me scan the apartment. I was checking for bugs."

He wrinkles up his nose. "Bugs? Don't you need a spray?"

"No, uh, surveillance devices. Like in a spy movie."

His face conveys excitement. "Really?'

I realize that everything I hate about this will make it fun for him. "Yes. You're caught in the middle of international intrigue. Alex is a, um, spy, so we don't know when he'll be back."

He gives a little bounce on the sofa. "Wow." He pauses for a moment, then asks, "When can we eat?"

I open my cell phone and press the preset for Kimberly.

"I got you Gjersse," she says in lieu of hello. "He's on his way."

"Thank you. What's his cell number?"

I punch in the number as she reads it. Gjersee answers on the second ring.

"Gjersee, this is Walter Skinner. Where are you?"

"Fourth and Madison."

"Good. When you get to my neighborhood, there's a McDonald's across from the Blockbuster Video. Would you mind picking up, uh, lunch?"

"Not at all, sir. What do you want?" He sounds only moderately offended. No avocado and sprouts at McDonald's.

I glance over at Lyosha. "Why don't you just get two of everything?"

He laughs halfheartedly at my joke.

"I meant that..."

"Oh."

After ending the call, I turn back to Lyosha. "There's one more thing that I wanted to talk to you about. Bodyguards carry guns. I don't know if you've ever been around guns."

Wide-eyed, he shakes his head.

I slip off my jacket and hold up my arm so he can see my shoulder harness.

He moves a little closer, looking intently. "Are you going to shoot someone?"

"Not very likely, I hope. But if someone tries to hurt you, I will shoot." And there's no question in my mind that I would do anything in my power to keep this boy safe.

He looks a little intimidated. "What's wrong with Aleksandr?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's in his life that you have to do all this? That someone would want to hurt me just because I'm related." He looks bewildered. "I don't understand this."

Oh. That. How to explain this without telling the boy his father is a criminal. "An organization, the bad guys, are sort of blackmailing him. He and I are working together to try to get free."

"Are you going to shoot them?"

"If I have to. But I don't carry this gun because I want to shoot anyone. There are other guns in the house, but they're locked up. If you should see my gun, leave it alone. I don't want you to touch it, okay?"

"Yeah, all right. I won't touch your guns."

I have a bad feeling about this. Guns are fascinating to teenaged boys. "If you want to see it, I'll show it to you now, but only if you promise to never touch it otherwise."

Lyosha immediately moves right next to me. "Okay. I promise. Show me."

I draw my SIG, pop out the clip and verify that there's no round in the chamber. Passing the gun to him, I show him the various parts and explain the clip and how to check the chamber. He's fascinated by everything, but his hesitation when handling the gun is probably a good sign.

The phone rings, the distinctive chirp of the intercom. After confirming that it's Gjersee, I buzz him in. I won't be able to hide Lyosha here by myself for very long, so I have to take a chance with someone else.

"Lyosha, the man who's coming with the food is someone I trust. He's going to be another bodyguard. But I don't want you to tell him anything about your family or about Aleksandr. You can talk to him, but don't give him any clues."

"Okay! No doors, no phones, no talking about Aleksandr. Fine." He sounds annoyed.

"Lyosha, it's-"

I get up to answer the knock, and Lyosha bounds out of sight. He's just a kid, but he's a good kid.

I admit Gjersee, who's carrying four bags. "Thank you, Agent Gjersee. I'll explain everything." Well, that's quite an overstatement. Taking the bags, I set them on the coffee table. "I have a guest. His life is in danger and I need your help to protect him. That includes protecting his identity. I need you to agree not to tell anyone anything about the boy or anything you learn while you're here. Can you do that for me?"

Gjersee looks curious, but only replies, "Yes, sir. I'll keep the entire situation confidential."

"Thank you. I chose you because I trust you. There's something else. I'm going to be paying your salary, including any overtime. As far as the Bureau is concerned, you're on vacation."

His expression shifts to surprise. "Uh, yes, sir."

I step into the hall and find the boy in the guest room. "You can come out now."

As soon as Lyosha steps into the living room, Gjersee's jaw drops and he mutters, "Holy shit."

I give him a stern glance, but don't say anything. He probably has a lot of questions--that I do not intend to answer--but I think he understands the need for secrecy. "Gjersee, this is..." I trail off, putting a hand on Lyosha's shoulder. "Please select an alias for yourself."

In his slightly accented voice, he replies, "John."

I smile at Gjersee. "This is John. John this is Nate."

Six-foot-five Gjersee manages to look friendly, rather than intimidating. He extends a hand and Lyosha takes it, looking up at him with something like awe. "Uh, can I touch your hair?"

We all sit around the coffee table, patiently waiting while Lyosha touches Gjersee's spiky blonde hair. After a moment, he pulls his hand away and says, "It's kind of... sharp."

Gjersee smiles at Lyosha. "Yeah. That takes time and talent." He touches Lyosha's head. "Yours... isn't"

Lyosha grins at him and then attacks one of the bags. There is an appalling array of junk food. Around a mouthful of hamburger, he says, "Thanks for the food."

Gjersee gives the food a dubious look. "Uh, you're welcome."

I pass Gjersee two twenties and inspect the food, trying to find something that looks edible.

Lyosha and Gjersee chat, Lyosha giving him his opinion about Bob Dylan.

Then Gjersee asks Lyosha, "How old are you?"

Lyosha starts to respond, then looks at me.

I nod.

He eats three French fries at one time and replies, "Sixteen."

Sixteen?! Shit. Doing the math, I discover that Alex must have been sixteen himself when Lyosha was born. I'll bet the kid's mother got pregnant the first time Alex had sex with a woman. Lucky the baby was with what's her name, not with Alex's family, or Lyosha wouldn't be here.

There's a lot Alex hasn't told me, but I can understand why he'd protect his son.

At Gjersee's surprised look, Lyosha shakes a fry at him. "Don't say it. I already know I don't look it." His voice is defensive. He shifts his attention back to his food, and mutters to his hamburger, "I'm never going to grow."

God, did Alex look like this when he fathered this boy? What a baby face.

An hour later, Lyosha's exploring the myriad channels on cable TV. I escort Gjersee to the kitchen and close the dining room door, so we can speak in private.

He immediately says, "Sir, that kid looks exactly like-"

"Yeah, I know. I'm not going to be able to answer all of your questions, and I'm sure you have quite a few. I need you to understand that this boy's life isn't the only one at risk."

"What's the relation between, uh, John an-"

"I can't answer that. You and I are going to keep John safe until the proper plans have been made. Then, John will disappear and you will forget ever having seen him. Understand?"

Gjersee nods. "Yes, sir. I understand. I... wouldn't want to see anything happen to that kid. No matter who he looks like."

"To avoid arousing suspicion, I have to go to work tomorrow. So, I need you here first thing in the morning. Try to avoid being seen. It won't make any sense for you to be here."

He nods. "Do you need me to stay tonight?"

"I don't think so, but I want you to keep your cell phone with you." I run through scenarios in my head. "If anything happens, I'll call you and say we need to meet. We'll use the parking lot behind the 7-11 on Forest Street as a meeting place. When I call, you need to get there as quickly as possible."

"I assume the same applies in reverse?"

"Yes." I pass him a business card with my cell phone number on the back.

I review my thoughts about security precautions, and ask Gjersee to walk through the apartment and see if he can find anything I missed. I remind Lyosha to stay away from the windows.

Afterward, I get Lyosha to show us what he's got with him. His duffel bag is stuffed with a deck of cards, various photographs, a couple books, some knickknacks and only one change of clothes. I make a list of things for Gjersee to get and I try to estimate Lyosha's size. Gjersee looks at my estimate and immediately changes it.

"John," I say deliberately, "do you want anything else?"

Lyosha looks curiously at the paper. "Did you get jeans on there?" He finds the item on the list and looks happy. "Um, can you get me a Backstreet Boys CD?"

I hand him the paper and the pen. "Do you need anything like shampoo, razors... or do you just want to use my stuff."

He shrugs, then adds 'Diablo II' to the list. Looking up at me, he says, "I read about it in the magazine on the plane."

I glance dubiously at Gjersee, having no idea what it is. A movie, I guess. He gives me a 'don't worry about it' look.

Retrieving the list from Lyosha, I add groceries. When I'm done, I give it back to Lyosha. "Put whatever you like to eat on there. We'll probably be eating at home."

He puts a list of Russian foods down and even Gjersee looks stymied.

I walk Gjersee to the door and give him all my cash. "This isn't very fun for him, so get whatever you can think of."

Lyosha gravitates back to the stereo, this time listening to The Beatles. He calls out, "At least I know this one." He stops it. "Boring."

I squat next to my CD collection and try to find something he'll like. Bruce Springsteen. Otis Redding. "Here try these. Otherwise," I refer to the card next to the TV, "channel 37 is MTV, 55 is VH1."

"Okay." He sticks one of the CDs in and hits play.

Between the TV and the stereo, Lyosha is occupied until Gjersee returns three hours later. Then he jumps on the bags, rifling through them enthusiastically, while I put away the groceries.

Gjersee stops in the kitchen to tell me he's leaving. When I return to the living room, Lyosha is playing with some small handheld device that beeps a lot. I notice all the clothes have been neatly folded and lined up in stacks by his duffel bag. He's as fastidious as Alex.

He looks at me, smiling. "He got me a Gameboy. Well, you did. Thanks." He resumes playing.

I let him play for a while, then help him carry the stuff to the guest room.

"Can I install Diablo II on your computer tomorrow?"

"Sure. Whatever."

After a dinner of my weird, exotic spaghetti and meatballs--they couldn't have been too bad, he ate them--we sit around the living room. "Lyosha, can you tell me about your parents?"

He jumps up and runs into the other room, returns with a photograph. He plops down next to me. "I don't know who my parents are anymore." His voice is sad. "But these are the people I thought were my parents." He shows me a picture of Vlad and a very tall woman with olive skin, brown eyes and jet black hair. She doesn't look like she could be his mother. Recessives I guess...

"Tell me their names."

Lyosha points to the man. "Vladimir, or just Vlad." His finger moves to the woman. "Tatiana."

Tatiana. That's her--the woman Alex first slept with. "Are these the people who raised you?"

"Yes. They always said they were my..." He trails off. "Until yesterday."

"And what did they tell you yesterday?"

He's quiet for a long time, then replies, "Fa... Vlad said I wasn't their real child. That I had parents in his old hometown of Zushta."

Parents? So Tatiana's not his mother? Now I'm really confused.

"He said men were there asking questions about my real family and that it was dangerous and we had to leave our home. He said I had a brother named Aleksandr..."

"No, he's not your br-" Brother?

A brother?! But they were killed in the fire. Oh shit! Alex lied. Lyosha is his brother. Probably the youngest. Which means, he's part of the experiments. Before I even realize what I'm doing, I shift closer, put my arm on the couch behind him and have to stop myself from checking my SIG again

Lyosha must have been talking. "... a while." He looks mutinous. "He said I had other family, but they were dead. But I don't want a brother who's never been interested in me before."

I take off my glasses, and pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to regain my focus. "Just because you haven't seen him doesn't mean he doesn't care about you." It's a lot more clear why Alex has had no contact with Lyosha's adoptive family. "He's protected you all these years."

Lyosha crosses his arms over his chest. "You sound just like papa."

"Do your parents, Vlad and Tatiana, have other children?"

He shakes his head. "Ma... uh, Tatiana-"

"Lyosha, she's still your mother. These people who raised you, cared for you, are your parents, even if someone else gave birth to you." Vlad and Tatiana had to be dramatically better parents that his original pair. In a way, he was very lucky.

He looks sullen. "She couldn't have children. They told me any more children, but now I know she couldn't have them at all."

"Then they were very lucky to have you."

His defensive demeanor drops and he looks at me intently. "Will I see them again?" His voice is barely a whisper.

I wrap my arm around his shoulders and meet his eyes. "Alex and I will do everything we can to make that possible. I promise."

I'm astonished to discover how much this boy means to me. I've only known him for a few hours and I already consider him part of my family.

He chews his lip for a second. "What's he like?"

I catch myself smiling. "He's... a tough guy, but underneath he's, uh, sweet. Not that he won't try to hide it. He's intelligent and extremely handsome. He looks very much like you, so I think you're going to be a handsome man, too."

Lyosha gets up and trots off, returning a moment later. He hands me a small photograph. "I found this a few years ago. I thought it was me when I was little, but I don't think so. Because I don't think I've ever held a baby. Do you think it's him?"

I reach for my glasses. The picture is of a five or six-year-old trying to hold onto an infant. "It might be him." The boy in the picture looks so incredibly innocent. I close my eyes when I remember what I've learned about his family. I don't want Lyosha to see it in my face.

Opening my eyes again, I offer, "When he gets here, we'll ask him."

He tucks it in his pocket. "Okay."

I want to ask him about his home, but I don't want to make him homesick, so I'll keep it brief. "Where did you live before you came here?"

"About an hour south of St. Petersburg."

"What do your parents do for a living?"

"He's a supervisor at the docks. She stays at home to be with me." He's quiet for a minute. "They've never left me alone."

I'll bet they haven't. I wonder what kind of life that was for the family. "Tell me about the trip here."

Lyosha sighs. "Papa got a call from someone in his old home town, and he seemed upset. Then we got a strange phone call from a man who wouldn't tell me his name and papa left suddenly. When he came back, he was telling me to hurry and pack only one bag. He told mama to pack, too. Then we drove to St. Petersburg." He looks more excited all of a sudden. "They showed movies on the plane. And they had headphones so you can listen to music. We stopped in London, then we came to New York. But," his voice drops to a whisper, "papa gave me a passport with a different name on it. Then he burned it when we arrived. We rented a car and drove to a place and papa picked up a big envelope." He looks pouty. "He read for a long time, but wouldn't let me see. Then we drove to Virginia."

It probably would have been an exciting trip if they'd let him see anything. Poor kid. "Have you ever been out of Russia before?"

He shakes his head. "Nope. But when I get old enough, I want to go everywhere."

I hope he gets to.

Like any kid, he doesn't even seem tired, but his internal clock has to be totally screwed up. I convince him to go to bed around 11:00. Then I go upstairs and wash up.. I lie in bed for all of ten minutes, worrying about Alex... and missing him. Then I get up, go downstairs and sleep on the sofa.


Friday, 2 July 1999

In the morning, Gjersee arrives promptly at 6:30. I check out the guestroom. Lyosha is still asleep. He looks... peaceful. I leave him to Gjersee with a reminder to call me if anything happens.

Gjersee calls twice during the day just to say everything's fine.

Dana and I rendezvous mid morning at a bar in Georgetown. She spent 12 hours with Lavagetto's team. Gave me a summary of what she found out and approved his choices. She was especially impressed with the physicist, says he has an incredible mind. Having him on the team could lead to a Nobel prize some day.

She brings a few messages from Lavagetto. He needs more money to pay for modifications on the building in Tucson. I agree to provide it immediately.

"He also wants to get his software engineer started on reverse engineering the control panel," she says very gently.

Oh, god. I know we need to do this, but I can hardly bear to think of that device leaving my hands.

"I understand why you're reluctant to part with it, so does Lavagetto. And I don't expect you to provide it until the lab has passed shielding qualifications. We came up with a short-term compromise. Let me know if it meets with your approval. If you and I can get back to Penn State, you can watch while I document the physical specifications of the unit and attempt to download the software."

In other words, we have to turn it on again. Shit. And again I have no way to notify Alex, unless he turns up quickly. "Agreed."

I toss a ten dollar bill on the table, thinking that we're done.

"Sir, there's one more thing. Lavagetto would like Krycek to come to the facility so he can run some tests. Preferably-"

"No."

"But sir-"

"No. It's not negotiable."

She gives me a look she usually reserves for Mulder.

I know it's not the best decision. I can't justify this to her, but maybe I can appeal to her humanism. "You've read that report. You know what they did to him. He won't do it." I stick my wallet back in my pocket. "Anything else?"

Scully shakes her head. She's not happy with this, but it can't be helped.

On the way back to the Bureau, I stop at the safe deposit box that Alex opened for us. I've already memorized his account information. I pull a pad out of my briefcase and write the date and the amount. $200,000. And the expenses. Rent, payroll and supplies. I fold the sheet of paper and tuck it into the box.

Next I go to a payphone to order the wire transfer. It's the first money of his that I've spent. It hurts a little but I'm not sure why.

Then I put all of it out of my mind. For now I'm only going to worry about keeping Lyosha safe.

Driving home from work, I think about all the things I'd do with Lyosha if I could. But he's just like Alex, I can't be seen with him. It's a beautiful summer day and we're going to be stuck in my condo for the entire weekend.

When I arrive, Lyosha is nowhere in sight.

Gjersee says, "I've barely been able to pry him away from Diablo II to eat today. He's going to develop postural problems by the end of the weekend."

I ask Gjersee to wait while I check on him. I need to see for myself. He barely looks up as I duck my head into the office. "You okay?" He's wearing his brand new Levi's, a striped T-shirt, and a pair of Nike's. The green stripe on his shirt makes his eyes look extra green.

"Great," he says over the sound of cartoonish machine gun fire and death yells. "Gotcha!"

At least it's not the real thing like his brother.


Saturday, 3 July 1999

In the morning, I recruit Lyosha to help make pancakes. While stirring the batter, he asks, "How do you know Aleksandr?"

I hesitate, wanting to tell him as much as I can, as long as I can avoid Alex's criminal activities. Anyone who knows he's Alex's brother must know some of the basic facts about Alex's life, so I decide to answer the question. "He used to work for me at the FBI."

Lyosha looks at me with round-eyed astonishment. "He was an FBI agent?"

"Yes he was. A good one, too."

"What does he do now?"

"He is living on his, uh, investments, and trying to stop the people who are blackmailing him."

"Oh. He's rich? I mean, papa said he's been sending us money for years."

"He has enough to take care of himself, and you."

Lyosha thinks on that for a second. "Do you still work for the FBI?"

"Yes."

"Don't you have to be an American to work for the FBI?"

"Yes. I was born in Pennsylvania."

Lyosha rolls his eyes. "Not you. Him."

"He, uh, cheated."

"Really? Is he good at cheating?"

I turn on the heat under the griddle. "Yes. Remember I told you he's a spy."

Lyosha places the bowl of batter near the stove. "So, how do you know him now? If he doesn't work for you anymore?"

Shit. I think I feel my face flushing. "I got to know him well when he worked for me. Then a couple of months ago, he... looked me up again."

With a suspiciously innocent expression, Lyosha says, "On the long plane flight, papa tried to tell me some things about Aleksandr. He said that he and mother both loved him very much."

I have to stop myself from saying, 'so do I.' Turning abruptly to the sink, I decide it's time to wash the spatula.

All this sincerity is taking me places I'm not sure I want to go. I'm going to forget I ever thought that.

Lyosha continues, "Papa eventually told me Aleksandr had been... what do you call it when two people, uh, put their genitals together? The never teach us those words in English class..."

I chuckle out loud and turn back to him. I always thought not having children would save me from this kind of conversation. "Sex."

He frowns. "I thought that was a word related to gender."

I ruffle his hair, but when I catch myself doing it, it makes me nervous. "It's one of those stupid English words that means more than one thing."

"Yes, you have many of those. Well, he and mama had been engaging in sex together when they were young. My age."

I feel for the kid. Who wants to hear about their parents having sex? But it doesn't seem to bother him. "It's entirely possible."

He looks at me blankly. "Then he said he and Aleksandr had been, too."

It's not my job to tell the kid who his parents have fucked. "That may be."

Lyosha waits, then sighs. "What about you?"

I knew that was coming, so why am I reacting?

He watches me closely, then blurts out, "I knew it. He engages in sex with everybody!"

He damn well better not, I think, trying to stifle laughter. There's something about Lyosha that makes me open up. I feel entirely unable to conceal my feelings from him.

Lyosha shakes his head and mutters to himself in Russian. I catch a word that I think is the rough equivalent to slut.

After testing the griddle, I pass Lyosha the ladle. "Uh, Lyosha, what I said about not telling anyone anything about your family... add me to that list. Don't say anything about me either."

He cocks his head and thinks for a second. "Sort of like my brother-in-law?"

I give him a mild glare.

He starts ladling out the pancake batter and tries to hide his smirk.

Lyosha seems mellow about his gay brother, so I ask, "So, do you like girls?"

Carefully watching the pancakes, he replies, "Oh, yes. Especially with few garments on."

I flash back on my own teenage years. I should have seen that one coming. "What kind of girls do you like?"

"I like them to have breasts."

"Last time I looked, they all do."

He glares at me. It's sort of a junior Alex glare. Not quite as lethal. "Big ones."

"My first, uh, girlfriend had big breasts and long black hair."

Lyosha smiles, but looks a little sad. "My girlfriend had hair almost the color of my father's, but she was much taller than me." He flips over pancakes. "Medium breasts."

"Did she have any other redeeming, uh, features?"

"She had a very nice, round..." He points to his butt. "You have so many slang words. Which do you use?"

"Ass. But not in polite company." I resist the urge to tell him about his brother's spectacular ass.

"Ass. Like a donkey. What is polite? Butt? Bottom?"

I muse over the nuances. "I guess 'rear end' is the most polite, but you can get away with 'butt.'"

"And what word do you use for your penises?"

I only have one. "'Penis' is the only polite word."

"What do you say when you are not being polite?"

"Cock or dick." I can't believe I'm discussing this with Alex's teenage brother. Well, he is 16.

"Cock... like a male chicken. Dick... a shortened form of Richard. Your language is very odd."

"What other languages do you speak?" I ask, trying to change the subject.

"German."

"Good. I don't know any of the sex words in German."

He laughs and begins piling pancakes on plates.

We watch TV for awhile, both agreeing that Britney Spears is sexy. Later in the day, he teaches me how to play Diablo II. I'm not very good at it. He tells me I need to get a joystick. This was not how I expected to spend my Saturday.

On Sunday, I teach him how to play poker. It's July 4, so I turn off all the lights in the living room. We sit, a good 15 feet away from the open blinds and watch fireworks.


Tuesday, 6 July 1999
11:12 P.M.

Lyosha appears at my bedroom door, looking bleary-eyed. I wrap a towel around my waist. "Something is ringing and ringing and ringing..."

The satellite phone. I'd've heard the regular phone. I dash down the stairs. Don't hang up, Alex. I unlock the drawer and pull out the phone. "Yeah?"

"Is he with you?"

"Yes. Are you all right?"

"I need you to bring him to me. Now."

"Where?"

"Behind the gas station, corner of Lexington and High."

"Twenty minutes?"

"Fine."

We hang up. Alex is alive and back in town.

Lyosha taps my back. "Was that him?"

"Yes. We're going to meet him, right away."

He looks nervous and a little unhappy.

"It's okay. You're going to like him."

I find a spare suitcase and help him load up his new possessions. This is the second time in a few days he's had to do this. I wish I could make it easier for him.

In 15 minutes, we're in D.C. I feel funny. I hope Alex isn't going to just take him away. "Lyosha," I say toward the backseat, "I hope I get to see you again, but whatever happens, I'll remember you."

There's a long silence. "I'd like to see you again, too."

When we get to the gas station, I pull around to the side and cut the lights. I pull out my weapon and wait. Let Alex come to us.

Within a minute, he approaches my door. He looks terrible. Pale and gaunt and barely on his feet. He has his Glock in his hand. I open the door, step out and open the back. Wrapping my arm around his waist, I try to guide him to the car.

Alex resists, but it's a pathetic effort. "What are you doing, Walter?"

"You look like you need rest... where are we going?"

"I'm taking him to..." He hesitates, then sighs. "Damien. Until I can get Vlad and Tatiana here. We have to go tonight."

"Okay. I'll drive. Get in the car, dammit." I notice Lyosha peering at Alex.

He doesn't get in the car. "Walter... you don't have to."

"Unless you have a compelling reason why I shouldn't drive you, I'm going. I can call for a switch car if you're worried about this one being traced."

He shakes his head tiredly and climbs into the car.

I close the door behind him and jump into the front, starting the car and watching for any interested parties.

Alex says, "Ohio. South of Springfield."

"Got it. Do you need anything besides rest?"

"No."

A minute passes and I feel a tap on my shoulder. I glance back and see Lyosha leaning close. "He's asleep." He pauses, then mutters, "He didn't even look at me."

"He's sick, Lyosha. We're going to have to take care of him. And then he's going to want to see you." Or I'll kick his ass.

"Okay," he whispers. "When we get out of the city, can I ride up front with you?"

"I'll think about it. For now I'm counting on you to keep an eye on Alex. Let me know if he looks... sicker."

"What's wrong with him?"

"He's got an infection in his blood that makes him sick sometimes. And he's exhausted. He's going to need a lot of sleep."

In five minutes I'm on the expressway. I zig-zag west for half an hour before I'm certain we're not being tailed. Then I open my cell phone and dial Gjersee. He agrees to get me a switch car in Baltimore and to call Kimberly in the morning.

Lyosha softly calls up, "He looks like me."

"Yes, he does. You're both very handsome."

After a long pause, he asks, "Hey, Walter, do you think he'd care if I looked through his jacket?"

I blanch at what he might find. "You may not look through his jacket. You can ask him tomorrow if you like."

When we get to Baltimore, the car is right where it's supposed to be, identified by the number 16 drawn in grease pencil on the rear window. I pull up close so Alex won't have to walk. Scanning the area, I draw my weapon and step out of the car. There are a few people at a nearby donut shop, but no one looks interested and I'm certain we weren't followed.

I open the door of the white sedan and find the keys under the seat. I put them in the ignition and start the car. Everything looks okay. Returning to my car, I open the back. Alex is semi-alert and watching me. Lyosha is watching him watching me. I want to smack him for not saying hello to his brother. Later.

Alex lets me help him into the other car. I gesture for Lyosha to join Alex in the backseat. Then I lock up my car. It'll probably be spare parts by this time tomorrow. I check the trunk of the white sedan. It's regulation Bureau stocked with armaments, emergency supplies. Gjersee also provided a case of water and the makings for peanut butter sandwiches.

I get back in the car. We're off again.

After a while, Lyosha whispers, "He's boring."

It occurs to me he might be staying awake because I told him to watch Alex. "I think he's okay now. Why don't you get some sleep?"

"Can I come up there?"

I want to say no, but I relent. "Okay."

He climbs over the seat and settles next to me. In a few minutes, he's asleep with his head on my shoulder.

After a few hours, he stirs and pokes me in the ribs. "I'm hungry."

From the back, Alex replies, "Then I suppose you should eat."

**

I've been awake for several minutes. Watching Aleksei sleep on Walter's shoulder.

Aleksei gets on his knees and stares back at me. "You're awake."

I stare at him for a minute. I guess he looks a little bit like me. "Yeah. Do they still call you Aleksei?"

He blinks at me. "Aleksei?"

I shake my head. "Never mind. What's your name?"

"What do you mean, 'what's your name?' If you're really my brother, you'd know my name."

"Aleksei Mihail Krycek. Now, what do they actually call you?"

"You mean they lied to me about my name?"

"Of course." What an inane question.

Walter nudges him with an elbow. "He's tired. Go easy on him."

Aleksei looks at Walter. "Why doesn't he know my name?"

I grit my teeth. There's nothing wrong with my ears. Although, I'm curious how Walter will respond to that.

"Because, Lyosha, he remembers you by the name you were given at your birth."

Lyosha? That wasn't very original, Vlad. I try to make my brain work. I'm so fucking tired.

Alek- uh, Lyosha accepts what Walter says. I guess they bonded. Not a terribly good idea.

Lyosha focuses on me again. "Why weren't you here when papa brought me to Washington?"

"I was recalled to my employers headquarters in Switzerland."

"Are they the ones blackmailing you?"

"What?!" What in the hell has Walter been telling him?

"Walter says you're rich and the only reason you have to work is because someone's blackmailing you."

Christ, leaving these two together for the last five days was not my best idea. Not that I had a real choice in the matter. "Uh, yeah."

Lyosha's expression is a bit mutinous. "Walter and Nate have been my bodyguards. We've been getting along fine until you came along."

I lean forward enough to look at Walter. "Nate?" I ignore the inference that I'm messing up his holiday with Walt.

"Gjersee," he replies with a shrug.

I close my eyes. "Fuck." I take a breath. "Walt, is he... okay with this? Does he know who, uh, Lyosha is?"

"He took one look at Lyosha and made the connection, of course. But he's sworn to secrecy. He knows he can't say anything about Lyosha or even me. He's kept a secret of mine for many years. That's one of the reasons I chose him."

I stare out the window for a moment, then look back.

Lyosha is still staring at me. "What happened to your arm?"

Why is that the first question out of people's mouths? "It's in a landfill in Russia."

"What?" he points to my left arm. "It's stiff. You're holding it funny."

I pull the glove off and lift the prosthetic. "It's fake."

His eyes widen and he tweaks my fingers. "Is the other one fake, too?"

God, what an awful thought. I pull off my other glove with my teeth and show him my hand. "Sorry to disappoint."

"May I see where the other one ends?"

If it'll keep him occupied... I shrug out of my jacket and detach my prosthetic, handing it to him. He blinks at it, holding it away from him like a dirty rag. After he inspects the socket, he leans into the backseat to examine the stump.

"Was something wrong with your arm?"

I take back the prosthesis and put it back on. "No."

"Were you in an accident?"

"No." I lean my head back and close my eyes.

Walter cuts him off before he can ask again. "It was a mistake, Lyosha. A very painful mistake. Can you talk about something else?"

Normally, having someone relay information about me is annoying, but I just feel grateful. Yes, let's change the subject.

Lyosha says, "Did you look like me when you were young?"

"I don't know. Walter, does he look like me?"

"Yes, Alex. Massively. His face is thinner, his nose a little more... normal. He has a more prominent jaw line."

I briefly touch my nose. It's not normal? What an odd thing to say. To Lyosha, I reply, "How tall are you?"

"I'm 167 centimeters."

"You're about a centimeter taller than I was at your age." Why did that feel like it was ripped out of me?

"Can you grow a mustache?" Lyosha asks.

"I suppose."

"Have you ever had one... or a beard?"

"Once, but I was in Alaska and it was very cold there."

"I tried to grow a mustache last year, but there were empty spots."

What is the point of this? "Um... okay."

"When was the last time you saw me?"

I take a breath and rub my temple. I don't want to do this. "September 15th, 1983. You were seven months old."

"What did you do to your wrist?"

It takes me a moment to change gears. I glance at the circle of bruises. "Uh, nothing."

"Is Walter your boyfriend?"

I stop breathing for a second. Walter's shoulder twitches. He's not snickering, is he? I look at Lyosha for a moment. "Why do I think you already know the answer to that question?"

"Walter didn't answer it either. But the way you both act, it seems pretty obvious."

"What else did you and Walter talk about?"

"Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, girls with big breasts, Diablo II and sex."

I process that for a moment and pick something at random. "Girls with big breasts?"

"Yeah, he asked what kind of girls I like. Bob Dylan doesn't have much of a voice, but Otis Redding is okay."

This is surreal. "Sex?"

"He told me the only polite word for penis is penis. But he calls it cock or dick."

Walter finally speaks for himself and offers, "As you may have noticed, he asks a lot of questions. I tried to give him straight answers." There's a hint of defensiveness in his tone.

Does Walter think I care if Lyosha uses the word cock? "Yeah... he's certainly chatty."

Lyosha peers at me more closely. "Did you really do sex with both of my parents?"

It feels like my brain just short-circuited.

Walter replies, "He means, Vlad and Tatiana. And I didn't tell him that."

I blink at Aleksei. "Yes." Vlad must have told him. But I can't imagine why.

"That is a little... gross." He wrinkles up his nose. "If you liked them so much, how come you haven't visited them?"

The last question distracts me from the 'gross' remark. "Because it wasn't safe."

"Why not?"

I grapple for an explanation, when I really don't want to give one.

Walter jumps in with, "I told him they might use him to get to you."

I nod. "I made career choices and seeing any of you would draw the attention of my employers. That wasn't safe for you."

"Walter said you worked for the FBI. That you cheated your way in."

My eyes immediately flick to Walter and I notice he's rubbing his forehead. I certainly hope you have a headache, Walt.

I look back to Lyosha. "That's all true."

"Are you really a spy? Walter had to search the house for bugs."

"Well, searching for bugs is prudent." Maybe I'll get by without having to answer that 'spy' question.

"You didn't answer my question."

Guess not. "Yes, I'm sort of like a spy."

"Do you have a gun?"

"Yes." A lot of them.

"Can I see it?"

"No."

"Walter let me see his."

I look at the roof of the car for a moment, trying to find my balance in this incredibly weird situation. "It's well known that Walter is nicer than I am."

"That's true."

Walter says, "Lyosha, be nice. Alex is sick and tired."

Lyosha very audibly whispers, "He's not being nice to me."

"He's answered every one of your questions even though he'd probably rather be sleeping."

Lyosha nods and looks back at me. "Do you remember anything about me when I was a baby?"

I'm in hell. "Yes. You didn't talk."

Lyosha sighs and turns around in the seat.

Christ, I don't know how to handle this. I feel like I've been trying to protect him for 16 years and yet, I can't even talk to him. Something prompts me to try. "You had very busy fingers. You liked to pull on things... especially my earlobe. When you were six months old, I wasn't paying attention and you somehow pulled out the shoulder seam on my sweater."

He gets to his knees and turns around again, his expression less hostile than I've seen it. "Did we live in a house or an apartment?"

I take a deep breath and let myself remember. "We lived in a four bedroom house. The four girls in one room-"

Lyosha interrupts. "What girls?"

Fuck. Vlad, why didn't you tell him this? "Vlad didn't tell you about your brothers and sisters?" That's just great. Tell him about the fucking, but not his siblings.

He's round-eyed with astonishment. "There are more than you?"

I can't say it. "Walter... please..."

Walter softly answers, "Lyosha, you and Alex had nine brothers and sisters. I'm sorry to tell you that the others are dead. They died in a fire that burned down the house you lived in." He glances back at me. "Your birth parents were killed, too."

"Nine?" He looks like he's too shocked to say anything else.

I close my eyes again, fighting exhaustion and try to push the picture of the burned bodies away.

Walter says to Lyosha, "You had four sisters and five other brothers. You were the youngest and Alex the oldest. Alex, can you tell us why Lyosha wasn't killed in the fire?"

I swallow, and keep my eyes closed as I respond, "Yelena, your oldest sister, left you with Tatiana for the afternoon. Tatiana offered to keep you overnight so Yelena and Mi..." I clear my throat. "Miya could get some rest. The house burned that night." I open my eyes and look at him.

"Where were you that night?"

Before I have to come up with a response, Walter replies, "Alex was working that night."

Lyosha starts to ask a question, then leans forward to stare at me. I press back into the seat, not sure what to make of his closer proximity. He turns to Walter and taps his shoulder. "He's looking worse."

Walter glances back at me. He looks concerned. "Alex, do you want me to stop, or should I keep going?"

I look down at my hand and see the veins starting to show. Oh. That. "Keep going. And, uh, keep him facing front."

"Lyosha, let's give Alex some privacy since he's not feeling well. Can you do that for me?"

Lyosha stares at me for a second, then turns around, flopping onto the seat. "Okay. Can we get some Krispy Kremes?"

I lie down across the back seat and wonder who introduced him to those nasty things.

Walter's hand slips behind the seat and he squeezes my knee.

I touch his hand briefly. "Missed you." I pause for moment, then add, "Sorry about everything."

"It's okay. I missed you, too."

His hand returns to the steering wheel as Lyosha whispers, "I thought we were giving him privacy."

Walter ruffles Lyosha's hair and whispers, "Smartass."

It's light when I wake up with my head pounding. The car is quiet. I continue to lie still until my headache begins to recede. My world changed so fast, I find I'm not prepared to deal with it. I haven't had time to stop and think since I got Vlad's message a week ago. '...men in Zushta asking about the Kryceks...'

I sit up and see that Lyosha is asleep. Good. My headache won't come back so quickly. I touch Walter's shoulder.

He glances back and smiles, then passes me a bottle of water. "We just passed Pittsburgh."

I set the bottle on the seat, and return my hand to his neck, stroking lightly. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. How are you?"

"Okay." I glance at Lyosha. The cadence of his breathing hasn't changed. "The Resistance is looking for him."

"Shit. I'm glad you sent him to me."

I rest my head on the back of his seat, still stroking his neck. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about him. I just couldn't."

"I understand. I'd've done the same thing."

Thank you for that. "You met Vlad?"

"Yeah. He was frightened and crying when he left Lyosha."

Vlad has always been so... sensitive. "I'll get them back together soon. I just need a little time to get their identities set and prepare a new life for them."

Walter gestures with his head toward Lyosha. "He's a bit angry. His entire life has been changed, plus he's lost both his home and his parents."

I muse on that for a second. "I don't know what else to do for him."

"You're doing fine. Just keep answering his questions and try to be patient. I'll help as much as I can."

Closing my eyes, I whisper, "I don't want to go back there." There's the truth. I don't want to remember this stuff.

"I know. While you were sleeping, I talked to him about it a little. He still has questions, but I've been trying to get him to understand that you don't want to remember all that."

"Thank you." I rub his neck a little more vigorously. "Do you need to get some rest?"

"I'll make a rest stop as soon as I find something suitable. If you're up to it, I'll let you drive for a couple hours."

"Sure."

About 20 minutes later, Walter pulls up at a park rest stop. He parks behind a row of trees and gets out of the car to stretch. I hop out to go to the bathroom. Before I take two steps, he pulls me into his arms and holds me tightly. I can almost feel his relief. Has he been worried about me? I bring my hand up to his shoulder and hold him. I've been numb since I first picked up Vlad's voicemail, but I'm starting to feel again.

I pull my head back and brush my lips across his. He gives a faint groan and his tongue enters my mouth. I want nothing more than to find a motel and curl up next to him. I let his mouth take whatever it wants.

"Ewww."

With extreme reluctance, I pull my mouth away and look over to see Lyosha leaning out the driver's door, watching us.

I keep my arm around Walter and raise an eyebrow at him. "I think the word you're looking for is 'yum.'"

He rolls his eyes with a little more drama than I can stand. "He's not my type. I have to use the restroom."

I kiss Walter's jaw. "Walter is everyone's type."

Walter shakes his head at me, as if to say I'm a total fool. "Why don't you take Lyosha. I'll stay here with the car."

Lyosha hops out of the car and glares at me. "I can do it myself. I'm not a two-year-old."

I release Walter. "Yes, you're old enough to hold your own dick. But not a gun, so move it."

He glares at me mutinously. "If I need a bodyguard, that's Walter. Not you."

Walter gives him a stern look. "Sorry, kid. You either go with Alex or you wait."

Lyosha turns his glare on Walter with a look that says, 'traitor,' then marches away. I follow, trying not to laugh.

He ignores me the entire time we're in the restroom.

Back at the car, just before we're ready to leave, I turn to Lyosha, "Cover your eyes if you don't want to see." I pull Walter to me and kiss him again. He kisses me all too briefly and breaks away smiling.

"You sure you're okay to drive?"

My first reaction is to brush off the concern, but instead, I say, "For now. I'll let you know if I get tired again."

He nods and gets into the backseat of the car. Lyosha climbs in next to Walter. Walter gives him a look of weary exasperation.

Once we're on the road, Lyosha pokes my shoulder. Rather hard. "I'm hungry."

I glance in the rearview mirror. Walter's eyes are closed. I open my mouth to reply, but Walter says, "Here. Bag. Bread. Peanut Butter."

Lyosha settles back and occupies himself for a few minutes. After a few minutes, he says around a sticky mouthful, "This is good."

Ugh. We cannot possibly be related. "Uh, sure, kid."

After a few more minutes of strange chewing noises, he says, "I can't figure out what your type is. Mama and papa aren't bald."

It's amazing that that's what's on his mind. "I knew your parents when I was a teenager. Walter's my type."

"I like him, but not like that. I had a girlfriend back at home."

"I'm very relieved to hear you don't like him like that. And thank you for letting me know your sexual orientation." I think I'm tormenting him a little.

"Sexual orientation? The position in which I prefer to make sex?"

I nearly choke on laughter. "No. Sexual orientation is whether you prefer men, women, or both. Or neither, I guess."

Walter's eyes are closed, but there's a frozen grin on his face.

"What do you mean by neither?" Lyosha sounds baffled.

I shrug. "Not that I understand it, but there are people who choose celibacy. Or just the company of their own hand."

"That gets boring after awhile. I think papa is a 'both.' Mama is 'men.' You must be 'both.' And Walter thought Britney Spears was sexy, so is he 'both?'"

I press my lips together, trying not to laugh. When I'm sure I'm under control, I reply, "I used to be both, but I'm only men now. You'll have to ask Walter if you want to know if he's 'both.'"

Walter grunts and turns toward the window. He's awake and not responding.

Lyosha asks, "Why aren't you 'both' anymore?"

This is less funny. I consider that for a moment, and decide to tell him the truth. "Because I don't want to be with anyone but Walter and he's a man."

This time, when I look in the rearview mirror, Walter's looking back. He gazes at me intently, with a subtle smile. I wish I could read his mind right now. When I glance back after a few seconds, his eyes are closed again.

Lyosha makes himself another sandwich, then falls asleep after he finishes eating, curling up next to Walter. I shake my head. This is going to be difficult if he associates Walter with his sense of security.

After another couple hours, I know I need to eat. And peanut butter sandwiches are not on my menu. I stop in a rural town and park at a diner.

Walter sits up suddenly. "Everything okay, Alex?"

"Yeah, Walter. I need to eat though."

We both move to check our weapons, then Walter wakes Lyosha.

Inside the diner, we select a booth in a deserted section. Lyosha immediately slides in next to Walter. I wordlessly slide in across from them.

We order breakfast. Lyosha orders like he hasn't eaten anything in days.

"Where am I going?" Lyosha asks abruptly.

I glance at Walter, then back to Lyosha. "You're going to stay with a, uh, friend of mine until I can bring your parents here."

"Can't I just stay with Walter?"

Fuck.

Walter replies, "It's too dangerous, Lyosha. I enjoy your company, but it's not safe with me."

Lyosha sets his jaw and glares at me. "Is this friend someone else you have practiced sex with?"

Walter's lip quirks.

Dickhead. I neutrally reply, "Yes. We practiced rather extensively."

"Is there anyone you have not done sex with?" He sounds annoyed.

I make a sweeping gesture to encompass the people in the diner. "I'm fairly certain I haven't 'done sex' with any of these people." Why is he so obsessed with my past sex life?

Walter steps in. "Why don't you tell Lyosha where he'll be living."

"In a suburb of Springfield, Ohio. With my friend and his wife. And, no, I have not performed sex on her."

Lyosha gives me a sideways glance. "Do they have children?"

"Uh, no. He is a 'men' and she is a 'women.'"

He looks completely baffled. "Then why are they married?"

I lean forward and whisper, "Money." I suppose I could stop being obnoxious.

"Do Americans give you money when you get married?"

I shake my head and decide to change the subject. "My friend is a language professor now. You need to work on losing your accent and he can help you."

Lyosha looks even more confused. "Why?"

"Because you don't want people to know you're Russian. Do you want to pick your new name, or do you want me to do it?"

After a moment, he softly asks, "We're never going back, are we?"

"No. You're never going back."

Lyosha looks at the tabletop.

Walter says, "I'm sorry, Lyosha."

I look at Walter, wondering what's going on.

"Alex, can't you see this is difficult for him?"

I nod. I can see it, I just don't know why.

Lyosha looks at me, his expression stony. "I will pick my own name. Do you need to know now?"

"No. I'll need to know when your parents rejoin you."

"When will that be?"

"A couple months. Maybe less."

He looks disappointed. "Am I going to have to go to school?"

"No, but Damien and Noreen are too academically inclined," I gesture vaguely, "to let you go without anything educational."

Our food is delivered, briefly interrupting any further conversation.

We eat in silence for a little while. With a mouthful of bacon, Lyosha says, "Tell me about my other brothers and sisters."

I feel myself tense. "What about them?"

"Their names and what they were like." He puts more butter on his toast. "And what they looked like."

My eyes shift to Walter. He's watching me, his expression concerned.

I stall for a long time, then push Lyosha's plates out of the way.

He gives me a 'what are you doing' look.

I reach into my jacket, tearing a section of the lining and pull out a photograph, sliding it across the table. Walter gives me stunned glance before his eyes fall to the photo of the 11 of us.

I take a breath and point to a tall girl on the right edge, holding a baby. "That's Yelena. She was 16. She's holding you... I think you were six months old when this was taken."

Walter taps the left edge of the photo where I'm seated on the ground, holding two of the little kids, with Miya's arms wrapped around my neck. He breaks into a smile. "That has to be you, Alex."

"Yeah." I glance away.

He reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. Then he nudges Lyosha. "See how much he looks like you?"

"Almost exactly," he murmurs. He looks at me. "You were little, too."

I blink at him. "Uh huh. I didn't get taller until I was 18."

Walter is watching me carefully.

Lyosha points to the photograph. "The two boys next to Yelena look identical."

I clear my throat. "Dmitri and Viktor. Twins. They were 13. Inseparable." I tap the photo over a girl. "That's Valeriya. She was 10. Kind of sickly, but, uh, sweet. She was the only other one with green eyes. Next to her is Ivan. He was eight. Then Nikolai, aged 11. They liked to watch you try to walk. Ivan was very hyper and Nikolai loved to entertain him."

I close my eyes for a second, then continue, "On my lap is Kseniya, age four, and Kostya, age five. Kseniya was the most stubborn in the family. Kostya seemed sad a lot. I think he missed our... parents."

I try to block out that this hurts. It's a struggle to speak as I point to the last girl. "That's..." I stop for a second. "Miya. With her arms around my neck." I can't resist tracing the side of her face with my fingertip. "She was 14."

I rest my forehead in my hand and add, "She liked to pretend you were her baby."

Glancing at Walter, I see a lot of sadness on his face.

Lyosha seems subdued. "All of them were real... and now they're just dead."

Walter places his arm around Lyosha, but he's looking at me. I get up and leave the table. No more of this. I don't want to think about them.

I dawdle in the men's room, then return to the table, feeling numb again. Lyosha hands me the photograph. I don't want to touch it. "It's a copy of the original. If you want it..."

He stands and kisses my cheek, then murmurs, "Spaseeba, moi braht." Thank you, my brother.

"Ikh pomnit' menya." Remember them for me.

"Da." I will.

**

I find myself wishing he could cry. I feel his sorrow so deeply, in every slight tremor of his voice.

I could kiss Lyosha for seeing it and being kind. For once. There's no telling if he'll ever see Alex again and I think Alex needed the little bit of acceptance. Maybe Lyosha needed to give it, too.

Lyosha sees his life as wrecked by Alex, but he doesn't even know wrecked. Alex successfully protected him as well as he could. The loss of his home and country are relatively minor. He's old enough to accept and move on.

I'll never forget the picture. Alex when he was 17. Looking as baby-faced and innocent as Lyosha. Taken to a work camp to be beaten and raped. And turned over to the likes of Spender. No one stepped forward to protect him. At least Lyosha has Alex, even if he doesn't appreciate him.

"Excuse me," I mutter to Lyosha. It's my turn to retreat to the men's room. There's just no way I can protect Alex from things that happened years ago, but I can't stop wanting to. I'll never forget what happened to him... and that he was alone.

I pull myself together. He's not alone anymore. Perhaps my complete support can make a difference today. It's the only thing I can offer.

When I return, Alex and Lyosha are waiting at the table. Alex looks... tired, but I can see how much he's hurting. If Lyosha's safety weren't at risk, there's nothing that would stop me from taking him into my arms right here and now.

But we cannot afford to be remembered.

"Alex, let's go."

He nods and gestures for Lyosha to walk between us.

When we get to the car, I ask Alex for the key.

After a hesitation, he drops it in my hand. I take his hand and bring it to my lips.

His expression softens and he touches the side of my face briefly. The he gets into the back seat. Lyosha follows him into the back. He's a great kid.

Alex gives me directions, then lays back with his eyes closed.


Oakgrove, OH
12:03 P.M.

When we reach Damien's neighborhood, they're both asleep. I pull into the driveway behind the house and turn off the ignition.

Alex wakes first.

"We're here."

Alex looks toward the back door of the house. "There's Damien." He climbs out of the car.

I get out and open the back to wake Lyosha. At the house, Damien is trying to give Alex a warm hug, while Alex holds him stiffly and pats him on the back.

Seems a bit odd for an ex-lover and friend...

As soon as we step inside, Damien gapes at Lyosha and turns to Alex. "God, Alex, he looks just like you."

"Uh-huh." Alex fidgets for a second, then says, "Damien, this is Walter," he points to me, "and this is Lyosha."

Damien is an extraordinarily attractive man. Early thirties, pale blonde hair and vivid blue eyes. Even if I didn't already know Alex bottomed only to me, I wouldn't have any trouble figuring out that he topped Damien.

Damien shakes my hand, then takes Lyosha by the hand to show him his room. I introduce myself to the curly haired woman I presume is his wife. She tells me her name is Noreen. She and Alex exchange semi-hostile glances. I wonder what that's about.

Noreen offers me a beverage and I sit in the kitchen, happy to be out of the car. Alex disappears into the front of the house.

"So, Walter, how long have you known him?" inquires Noreen. The tone of her voice conveys distaste.

"Five years." I sip my Coke. She seems like a very direct person, so I ask, "You don't like him, do you?"

"No, I don't. Damien could have any man he wanted, but he's been hung up on him for years. If Alex cared at all, I wouldn't mind. But he doesn't so I wish he'd just stay away."

"Alex is not without his faults," I admit, "but I doubt he's given Damien much encouragement. He doesn't show his feelings much, but the fact that he's bringing Lyosha here means that he holds Damien in very high regard."

"I work with kids and I'd do anything to help one in trouble, so I'm happy to help Lyosha, but I'd be thrilled never to see his brother again." She pauses, looking at me speculatively. "The last time he was here, I asked him not to have sex with Damien. He did it anyway. If you have any sway with him, I would appreciate it if you would persuade him to stay out of Damien's bed."

"I think I can manage that," I reply. But I'm still concerned about her attitude toward Alex affecting Lyosha. "Lyosha met Alex for the first time since infancy about 12 hours ago. They're not even sure they like each other. I need to know that you're going to give Lyosha a chance and not displace your feelings about Alex onto him."

Her expression softens. "He seems like a nice kid. I'm sure we'll get along very well."

A few minutes later, Damien and Lyosha return to the kitchen. Alex reappears at my left shoulder. I wrap a hand behind his neck and tug him to me for a kiss. He seems surprised, but it's not like him to refuse a kiss. His lips part, encouraging me inside as his arm comes around my shoulders. I grip the back of his hair with my fingers as my tongue glides between his lips.

When I break the kiss, I catch Damien's eyes. He does look hurt, but maybe it's for the best. He also appears astonished and a bit curious. About what, I've no idea.

Lyosha mutters, "They're always doing that."

Noreen replies, "I'll bet. But you and I can talk about girls." She gives his shoulder a squeeze.

"Are there any people in America who are attracted to people of the opposite gender?"

"I think we can find two or three, maybe even under the age of 20."

Alex touches my shoulder. "I need to talk to Lyosha for a few minutes."

"Alone?"

"Yeah. We'll be sitting out back."

"May I have a word with you first?"

He steps out of the room and into the hallway, watching me expectantly.

"Noreen would appreciate it if you would keep your hands off Damien."

Alex's eyes widen in astonishment.

"It might be best for Lyosha if you didn't do anything to piss off Noreen."

"Well, there goes my plans to set her hair on fire." He gives me an exasperated look. He looks just like Lyosha annoyed.

"Alex..."

"Okay, Walter." He shakes his head and smiles. "I won't torture anyone today."

"Thank you." I kiss him on the side of his face. "And I did know that you weren't going to seduce Damien in front of me."

There's a flash of irritation in his eyes. "I wouldn't have seduced him behind you either."

I acknowledge his words with a nod.

Alex escorts Lyosha outside. I catch a look of trepidation on Lyosha's face. Returning to the kitchen, I find Damien is the only occupant.

I sit at the table wondering what I'm in for now.

After a moment, Damien asks, "I noticed a prosthetic hand and the stiff left arm. What happened?"

"It was... an accident. His arm was cut off between elbow and shoulder."

"He's a trouble magnet. He doesn't look as bad as the last time I saw him, but still doesn't look healthy."

"He's been ill and traveling internationally, so he's exhausted."

Damien nods. "I don't suppose you two were together in the spring of '94?"

It's hard not to show my surprise. "Yes. But I need to remind you that any information about Alex and I, or Lyosha, needs to remain private. As Alex must have told you, Lyosha's life is at stake."

"I understand." He looks at the table for a moment, then back at me. "He's different with you."

I smile a little, wondering if he's imagining Alex and I in bed together. "How did you know about 1994?"

"When Alex and I were together... well, we were never really together, I guess. Anyway, he was very keyed up. All the time. Like hyper-alert. He hated to be touched unless it was sexual and couldn't stand sleeping with someone. In the ten months we were, uh, having sex, I actually slept with him twice." He pauses, then continues, "I had lunch with him in the Spring of 1994. He was more relaxed than I've ever seen him... almost happy."

I remember. I was happy, too, but for the inconvenience of a marriage license.

He adds, "He's the same way now. I knew back then it was someone in his life... I wondered if it was the same someone or if there were two people."

"Thank you for telling me that."

Damien taps the table with his fingertip. "Out of curiosity, if you two have been together so long, when Alex was injured--nearly dead--a few years ago, why didn't he call you?"

The sad truth is that could have been any number of times. But it doesn't affect my answer. "I hadn't seen Alex since 1994 until a few months ago."

He thinks for a moment, then asks, "Would this be why an FBI agent was asking about him and showing me pictures of that awful smoking man?"

"It's related."

Damien shakes his head, smiling at something. "Alex really is a trouble magnet." It's obvious it's one of the things he likes about Alex.

"I can't argue that." I fidget with my can of Coke for a while, then add, "I'm sorry if my relationship with Alex causes you any pain."

Damien gives a mirthless laugh. "It was hard to get over Alex because I never felt like I really connected with him." He looks lost in a memory. "He walked into the language lab at Rice to be tutored in Cantonese and I was instantly obsessed... he had such a reputation around campus. And, aside from being, well, gorgeous, he was such an enigma it was hard not to be interested in him. Completely anti-social. I used to ask his opinions about things. He almost never had one. Sometimes on questions about values... he seemed lost. I never saw him go anywhere with anyone... we never even ate together."

It's not how I see Alex, but it's a fair description.

Damien absently strokes his jaw, and it strikes me again what an extremely attractive man he is. He smiles ruefully at his own thoughts, then adds, "He made it painfully clear that he was not interested in monogamy or relationships. No matter what I did, I could never connect with him... though it never stopped me from trying." He flashes me a rather self-deprecating grin. After a contemplative moment, he asks, "Alex lets you touch his head?"

"Uh-huh. Is that odd?"

"Uh, yeah. I thought he didn't like it. If my hand went anywhere near his hair, he'd yank it away."

Alex would never yank my hand away. It instantly makes sense. Smiling conspiratorially, I reply, "If you touch his scalp or his hair, it makes him stupid." Something else he only gives to me. Good.

Damien gives a surprised chuckle. "Well, that makes sense. Alex would never tolerate being out of control." Then he frowns at the apparent contradiction I present.

Well, not often anyway. This encounter with Damien, which I was not looking forward to, has served as a pleasant reminder that Alex belongs to me.

**

Lyosha taps the envelope against his legs. "I understand! You don't have to tell me ten times."

I've only told him twice--explaining the emergency instructions in the envelope. And he has to retain this information. "Look, I know you're not enjoying this, but you have to know this stuff. You have to keep that hidden and not mention it to anyone. Keep it with you at all times."

"I got it." His tone is extreme annoyance.

I lean against the door to the shed and fish some money out of my jeans. There's money in the envelope for any emergency, but I hand him some more in case he needs anything.

He takes the money and stuffs it in his pocket. "Money. More money. Is that all you ever think about?" He shifts agitatedly from one foot to the other.

I blink at him. "I almost never think about money. What's crawled up your ass?"

"Then what do you think about? Because I know it isn't your family."

"I think about staying alive. And what family am I supposed to think about?"

Lyosha's jaw sets and his cheeks flush as his breathing accelerates. "Papa told me he hasn't seen you in 13 years. Don't you care about anyone besides yourself?"

I'm at a loss for a moment. "Yes! I don't want to see any of you hurt, and that's exactly what would happen if I were around."

"I'm tired of hearing about my safety. What have you done that's so terrible that you can't even visit?"

Fucking hell. Body tense, I push away from the door and try to contain my anger. "Christ, kid, what's wrong with you? The death of your brothers and sisters wasn't an accident. Someone wanted them dead. Wanted all of us dead."

"I hate you. You're a liar." He blindly swings at me and I catch his wrist, pushing his hand away. "No one wants me dead. You're just telling me these things so you can fuck up my life. You don't care about any of us. You abandoned me, and my life would have been a hell of a lot better if you had stayed away permanently." The driving tension in his arm falls away, and his hand slips out of my grasp.

I feel like he's just stabbed me. "I never abandoned you," I whisper.

"If you cared about us, you would have visited or called or sent a damned postcard!"

Shaking my head, I reply, "I couldn't."

"Don't say it. I don't want to hear about safety ever again. You'd still visit Walter even if it weren't safe. Because you love him."

I gape at him and feel my temper rise. "Are you out of your mind? Someone assassinated your brothers and sisters. If they knew you were alive, they'd do the same to you. That has nothing to do with Walter. I made a choice. If I wanted you to stay alive, it wasn't safe for me to ever see you again." My voice is rising. "Live with it."

"Fine. You made a choice. I'm making one, too. Goodbye." He slips out of my grasp and heads for the house, running smack into Walter.

How long has he been standing there? This is a fucking nightmare.

When Walter speaks, his voice is low and stern. "Lyosha, sit down at the picnic table. Alex, sit down, too." His eyes flick between Lyosha's and mine as he waits to be obeyed.

Lyosha's posture slumps when he decides to give in. He stomps to the picnic table and sits with his arms crossed. Walter's eyes meet mine, unblinking.

Goddammit, Walter. This is so fucking pointless. I sit across from Lyosha, then glance at Walter. "Well, what now?"

He comes to the table and stands at the head. "First, I want both of you to shut up. If either of you gives a damn about safety, when you speak you will lower your voices. Got that?" He doesn't wait for a reply. "I've been standing on the porch for about ten minutes, hoping that the two of you could resolve this together. However, it appears you need a referee."

Ten minutes? Fuck. I put my head in my hand. Don't you get it, Walter? We don't want to talk anymore. I feel raw.

"Now, I'm going to tell you how I see this. And either of you may speak up if you feel I've misrepresented you. Otherwise, just listen." He meets my eyes, expectantly.

I turn my palm up to gesture acquiescence, if not enthusiasm.

He turns to Lyosha, who nods nervously.

"The Krycek home in Zushta was deliberately burned. You have to accept that, Lyosha. Through no fault of your own, or Alex's, your family was, and still is, a target. The loss of your home, and temporary separation from your parents, is necessary to keep you alive."

Lyosha looks a little peeved.

"Those are the facts, Lyosha. If you don't accept them now, you'll have to when someone comes to kill you. You're old enough to understand and deal with this terrible situation."

This is just paraphrasing what I said to Lyosha, so why does he appear to be listening now?

"After the fire, Alex's circumstances were very difficult--worse than yours now--and he had to fight to stay alive." I see a flash of sadness leak through Walter's man-in-charge expression. He takes a breath and meets my eyes for a moment. "He did abandon you, but he did it because he cared about you, and about Vlad and Tatiana. And he stayed away for your safety, not because he didn't care."

Hearing Walter say I abandoned... my family is like having him peel away my skin. I look away for a moment, trying to get my emotions under control.

Lyosha is about to object, but Walter cuts him off. "Alex has gone through a great deal of effort to protect you, and I can assure you he would not spend a moment worrying about such things if he didn't care. There is a very short list of people Alex cares about and you're at the top of that list."

I do care about Aleksei, but there's nothing for us anymore. Knowing he's alive makes me feel... stable, I think.

Then Walter turns to me. "Alex, money and safety are good things to give to a child. However, children have feelings. Feelings you need to accept. Lyosha's life has been turned upside down. This is not your fault, but you are the only one he can find to blame. When Lyosha says his life would have been better if you had stayed away, you have to ignore the words and understand the meaning behind them. That he is hurt and angry because you abandoned him."

I want to yell that I did not abandon him. By the time I knew Aleksei had survived the fire, the choice had been made.

Lyosha bristles, but Walter gives him a look and says quietly, "You think you can convince me you're not hurt and angry?"

Lyosha shakes his head slightly.

Could I have walked away from all of it and gone back home? I don't know anymore. Once I knew about the genetic alterations, staying away from Aleksei was the only choice. But that was 10 years after I found out Aleksei was alive. What would have happened if I'd left the Organization? Gone back to my life in Russia with Vlad and Tatiana and Aleksei?

I put my head in my hand. I can't live like this... second guessing every choice I've made.

"How about you, Alex? Can you admit that you're hurt and angry, too?"

No.

Facing me again, he continues, "You and Vlad and Tatiana made a lot of decisions about Lyosha, informing him of none of them. For safety reasons. But not letting him know he had a living brother was cruel. Lyosha didn't make choices about your life. You made choices about his, choices that cost him almost everything. He has a right to be angry at you."

I can't deny the truth of that. I have been making the choices about his life... since I saw Vlad in Leningrad. But I don't know that I'd change anything. Aleksei--Lyosha--is a living record of an experiment the most powerful men in the world needed to cover up. But Lyosha is angry. I feel nothing for the upheaval in his life. It just seems necessary.

Maybe it's up to Lyosha to feel for both of us.

Walter arches his shoulders, before continuing, "Lyosha, Alex has risked his life to keep you safe and you claim he doesn't care about you. He has a right to be angry at you."

I don't feel angry. I just don't know what to say. I don't know how to answer Lyosha's accusations except with a truth that even I think is too cruel to lay on him--the truth about what he is and where I went. And perhaps more painfully to him, what I've done.

"The two of you may never see each other again after today. I am not going to allow you to part pretending you hate each other. There's been enough unhappiness in this family already." Walter stops and just looks at us for a long time. "Lyosha, you said some cruel things earlier. Would you like to correct any of them?"

When he speaks his voice is weak. "I, um, do not hate you."

I look at my youngest brother for a long time. "Lyosha, knowing you were alive and safe made it possible for me to get through my life. I'm sorry for my choices that made it impossible for us to be together. I can't change anything, but I need you to keep being alive and safe."

Lyosha blinks back a few tears. "I promise I'll follow your instructions and, um," his voice cracks, "I know you didn't abandon me."

I nod, not knowing what to say. Why am I glad he can cry? Reaching across the table, I touch the back of his hand. "I will get your parents back to you. I don't know if I'll ever be able to see any of you again, but I," I have to stop for a moment. "I do care about all of you."

I'm being torn apart. I can't take much more of this.

Walter bends down and kisses Lyosha on the cheek, then repeats the gesture on my cheek. "I'm sorry I invaded your privacy, but I decided your relationship was more important." Without waiting for a response, he turns and goes into the house.

Lyosha pulls something out of his back pocket and passes it to me. It's a small photograph. "Is that you, Aleksandr?"

I blink at it, then hand it back. "Yes, that's me."

He's quiet for a minute, then asks, "Who's the baby?"

It's my turn to be quiet for a long time. "I'm holding Miya in that picture."

Lyosha nods, rests his hand on my shoulder, then leaves the table, heading inside. I stare into space for a moment, thinking about Walter and Lyosha.

Lyosha... my past. Walter... my present. And neither can accept what I am. Without them, do I still have a future?

I push away the pointless thoughts and follow Lyosha into the house.

A few minutes later, I corner Damien for some last minute instructions, giving him ten thousand in cash for any expenses. He looks so shocked it's comical.

"Damien, could you work with Lyosha on his accent? Help him get rid of it? He needs to sound like a native English speaker. Preferably a fairly neutral, mid-western accent."

"Sure. Uh, Alex, is Russia where you're from?"

The denial is almost instantaneous, but why bother? I'm already trusting him with a lot more than my birthplace. "Yeah."

"Okay. One more thing."

"What?"

He makes his expression rather too blank. "When did you start taking it up the ass?"

"What?!"

Damien raises and eyebrow and waits.

I feel instant irritation. "Fucking hell, Damien. How can you know that?"

"Oh, be serious. I knew as soon as I saw you together." He lightly pokes my chest. "You have joined the ranks of those of us who like to bend over, sweetie."

"Damien, don't incite me to kill you. I'd have to explain it to Walter."

"You are so whipped."

Nearly growling, I turn away to head back to the kitchen.

"Wait, Alex."

I spin back to face him. "What now?"

"Don't give me that deathly look. I just wanted to say..." he trails off, then adds, "you seem happier. I'm glad."

I think to blow it off, but it's probably true and I'm too tired for denial. "Yeah. I get a lot from Walter."

He looks at me intently. "You say it... as if it were bad. What's wrong?"

I turn away, staring at the wall. "He doesn't get anything from me."

Damien takes a surprised breath. "Alex, I'm sure that's not-"

I cut him off. "I need to find him. We have to leave."

"Alex-"

I interrupt him again, "Damien, thanks." I pause, I really do owe him a lot. "Thanks for everything."

**

Noreen is setting us up with sandwiches for the return trip. I steer her away from vegetables, so Alex can more easily pick out the meat.

Alex comes into the kitchen, looking a little... perturbed, and weary.

I give him a quick kiss on the forehead and announce, "We'll be out of here soon and I'll find us a hotel room."

He gives me a half smile. "God, you're always thinking about sex."

Oh, yeah. Every minute of the past 14 hours has been sex-obsessed. He wraps his arm around my waist and leans against me briefly.

I step into the living room, and find Lyosha installing software on the PC. "We're getting ready to leave."

He looks up and his expression conveys disappointment. He stands, and I put an arm around his shoulders to walk out of the house.

I shake Noreen's hand and start to shake Damien's, but he insists on a hug. He hugs Alex and I see the same stiff allowing-himself-to-be-hugged routine. I step behind him and whisper in his ear, "Give Lyosha a real hug, dammit."

Alex turns to Lyosha. "Da svedaneeya, moi braht."

Lyosha looks at Alex for a moment, then replies, "Da svedaneeya."

They exchange a traditional Russian greeting, kissing each other's cheeks, before Alex pulls Lyosha into a hug. He wraps his arm tightly around Lyosha's back and squeezes. Lyosha smiles at me over Alex's shoulder.

When they release each other, Alex's expression appears blank, but I can see sorrow in his eyes.

Lyosha jumps into my arms. I'm tempted to pick him up, but he's too old for that. So I squeeze him to my chest. Releasing my grip, I whisper into his ear. "We'll try to come for a visit, but it might not happen. But every day we'll be caring about you."

He kisses each of my cheeks. "Da svedaneeya, moi zyat'."

Alex looks shocked, then extremely peeved.

As soon as we get him in the car, I ask, "What's zyat''?"

Alex fidgets for a second, then replies, "Brother in law."

I chuckle at him. His baby brother has advanced our relationship far beyond anything we're comfortable with. "He's a great kid."

"Yeah," he replies without enthusiasm.

"What? The brother-in-law thing pissed you off?"

Alex flashes me a disgruntled look and mutters, "Zyat' means my sister's husband."

I am unable to prevent the twitch of a smile.


Springfield, OH
Wednesday, 7 July 1999
4:30 P.M.

Alex reviews the details of his arrangements with Lyosha as I drive us out of town. He gave Damien and Lyosha written instructions on what to do in an emergency, and will also place a copy in our safe deposit box. Damien is supposed to call Alex's voicemail daily. If Alex isn't around, I'm to use the satellite phone or a pay phone every night and make sure Damien has checked in.

On Saturdays, Lyosha is supposed to go with Damien and leave part of the message. Lyosha will use a common word to indicate everything's okay, a different word if there's a problem. Alex also mentions that he'll leave instructions for Lyosha's future in the safe deposit box.

A couple of hours away from Springfield, I find a nameless hotel that doesn't look too smarmy. When we enter the room, I look around at the tacky furnishings, reminded of our first encounter in a similar hotel many years ago. So much has changed since then. Everything.

Alex and I peel off our clothes and collapse into bed. He curls up next to me and instantly falls asleep.

When I wake, I feel the warmth of Alex's body pressed against mine. It's now dark outside and the bedside clock reads 11:04. Not time to get up. Plus Alex needs more sleep.

Christ, they tested him again. He came back last night, exhausted, his body abused by whatever experiments they ran this time, and then had to face his sweet but demanding kid brother.

Alex's face is a few inches from mine, features peaceful in slumber. His hand rests on my abdomen and his legs are entwined with mine.

Carefully, I disentangle our legs and slip out of bed, moving toward the bathroom. Alex makes little sounds that could pass for mumbled words and flips onto his back.

When I return from the bathroom, I stand by the bed and watch him sleep. I'm desperate to make life easier for him. But I'm not sure I can.

Slowly, I slide back into bed and pull him into my arms. His eyelids flutter open, then slip shut as he relaxes back into sleep, head resting on my shoulder, arm around my waist.

I wake again to the feel of Alex's lips on my nipple and the feather-light caress of his hand on my rapidly hardening cock. It's insane, the idea of sex when he's recovering. But he needs it. Maybe I do, too.

He sucks harder and the flat of his tongue rasps firmly across the swelling, tender nub. His fingertips glide lightly along the length of my erection.

I reach for him. He pushes at one of my hands, and tries to wiggle away from the other.

Alex looks up at me. "No, Walter. Just let me touch you. I... love touching you... the way you feel. Please... just let me."

The expression in his eyes borders on desperation. I drop my hands. He watches me until my hands are still, then turns his attention back to my body.

He's endured so much pain in the past few days, I can only give him whatever he wants.

Using only his mouth, Alex explores my chest. He nips gently at my nipples, sensitizing them. He stops to rub his face against me, as if feeling the texture of my chest hair.

When did being close become more important than the sex?

He looks completely abandoned to whatever pleasure he feels touching me. He really does like to touch my body. He acts like it's a drug... looks like he's getting high. It makes me feel so appreciated and yet inadequate at the same time. It's just me... Walter... with so many flaws. Nobody special.

But to him... perhaps more.

His exploration ends at my armpit. He nuzzles against me, murmurs, "I love the way you smell, Walt."

Slowly, he shifts his position until his head is near my groin. His hand closes around my cock, stroking a few times. He groans and a tremor passes across his shoulders.

This is pure Alex. This encounter is untouched by me, and my expectations about sex, but for me. He's so damned beautiful like this.

He inches closer to my dick as he fondles my balls, rolling them in his hand. His fingers drift down to rub my perineum, then up to my anus. Another small movement. His warm gasping breaths caress my dick.

My arousal is not the animal desire to fuck that I first felt with him years ago. It's all mixed up with things that have nothing to do with sex... the way I feel Alex's pain, his love for Lyosha, and the growing connection between us. The result is a gentler need... for the contact and the brilliant simplicity of fucking.

Breaking the light touch on my ass, his hand cups my balls again. In the next breath, his tongue glides along the length of my cock as his hand squeezes gently. The instinct to reach for him, to add my touch to his, is strong, but I resist so he can have this.

Alex's shoulders heave with rapid breaths as I feel his tongue tracing the head of my dick. He whimpers when his mouth closes around the tip, sucking it inside. Then my cock slides into the warm wetness of his mouth, across his tongue and into his throat. A sound like a sob emanates from him and vibrates through my dick.

The flow of hot blood into my groin slowly dissolves my thoughts, reducing me to sensation.

He stays like that for a moment. Then he braces his hand on my thigh and begins to move his mouth on my cock. Too quickly, I feel a familiar tightening in my body.

Alex pulls off at the last minute, looking as if he feels the loss more keenly than I do. I toss him a smile that is only a mild censure.

He rests his face against my groin and breathes deeply while gripping my hip tightly. Eventually, he moves to his knees and reaches up to grab a bottle lying near his pillow. Kneeling beside me, he pours lube into his hand, holding it until it's warm. He strokes the slick fluid over my erection.

His eyes close and a look of concentration settles over his features, as if focusing only on the feel of my cock sliding in his grasp.

My cock knows Alex's fingers, his touch is perfect pleasure. He takes me to the edge again, then opens his eyes and reluctantly pulls his hand away.

As the edge slips away, I begin to anticipate the fuck... my body urgently demanding that I act, rather than waiting for him. It's harder to hold myself in check.

After applying more lube to his fingers, he shifts his knees far apart and pushes his hips back. He slides his hand down to the crack of his ass and finally meets my gaze. The desperateness is still there. I love that look of frenzied need on his face.

The motion of his arm tells me exactly what he's doing. He pushes his hand up as his hips rock down and back. There's a faint flutter in his eyelids and his features relax. He's feeling his ass begin to stretch. Two fingers?

A growl comes from deep in my chest... wanting.

His hips move rhythmically, then another slow press upward with his hand. This time he gasps and his eyes slide shut. Three fingers?

His movement is slower this time. A few careful thrusts and he removes his hand, shuddering as his fingers slip out of his ass.

I notice the unsteady rasp of my own breathing.

Stay still, Walt.

I bite my lip, grimacing at his uncharacteristic patience.

Finally, Alex wipes the excess lube on his leg, then straddles my body. Reaching down, he grasps my cock and positions it at his anus.

He pushes down with his hips until the head is forced past the tight opening. I feel a violent surge of intent... to thrust my hips hard into his body, but I want to give him this, so I remain as still as I can.

After bracing himself, he begins to sink down slowly. His ass feels so very tight. Almost too tight. There's another gasp from him... I'm guessing my cock just found his prostate.

Once I accept the strange stillness of my body, the aggressive urge to fuck subsides. I find myself focused on Alex's face. Pain and pleasure war on his features, but he continues, at an almost undetectable pace, inexorably impaling himself on my erection.

Alex pauses, then takes the last few inches all at once. A gasp turns into a sob and his head drops forward, hand resting on my chest for support.

"Christ, Walter... it's been too long." His voice is hoarse and choked. Before I can reply, he begins moving his hips, sliding his tight ass over my cock.

Each twitch of his hips... the trembling of his hand is filled with subtle beauty. Watching him perform is exquisite.

He straightens up and his hand moves to his thigh for balance. The look of intense concentration has returned to his face.

Subtly shifting his hips to change the angle of penetration, Alex groans, and tremors pass through the muscles of his chest and shoulders. He moves faster, head thrown back, eyes tightly shut.

His mouth is open, the sound of his harsh breaths filling the room as he fucks himself on my cock.

The perfect squeeze of his body on my cock... my control falters. I reach for his erection.

Alex's eyes meet mine as he captures my hand and places it on his hip. "I... no." He sinks down heavily on my cock, his breath escaping on a gasp. "Please... I want to come... just from this."

I shove my arousal down a level, wanting just to experience this with him. His hips rock up again and he moans, "So close, Walt... god." He pushes down hard, shuddering, biting his lip and whimpering.

His movements become shorter and more abrupt. His sweat-slicked body trembles with the effort of maintaining control.

I seem to have left my body and entered his, my hard-on farther away and his building climax closer.

Suddenly, he pushes down all the way and begins long, hard strokes. Rising almost off me, then slamming back down. His eyes fly open and the desperate look is replaced by something close to astonishment. Increased tension floods through his already flexing muscles, showing his body at its masculine best. My hands clamp on his hips as he loses control. I'm barely able to hold onto his convulsing body as his orgasm erupts and I feel it intensely in my own body. I hear him sobbing out my name as his cock pulses and his semen spills onto my stomach.

As Alex begins to relax, the satisfaction I feel through him begins to wane. My own need breaks through. "Alex..."

I roll us over, so he's on his back. It's a lot to ask to keep fucking him after he's come and everything's so sensitive, but I suspect he wants me to.

He whimpers as I slide my cock back inside him.

**

Walter's cock slides into me in one smooth stroke. My whimper turns into a faint cry and I hold him tightly. It feels so different after already having come. Things that normally feel good, now feel uncomfortable. The brushing of my prostate is unpleasant. My ass stretching to accommodate his heavy erection is more painful than pleasurable.

And I want more of it. Without the frantic sexual need driving me on, I can focus on the feel of his body joined to mine. Feel where our skin is rubbing together.

He watches me as he fucks me, his face transcendent... he's lost in a place of sensation and emotion. I realize it's about me... whatever he's feeling is for me. It's not just what my ass is doing for his cock.

I wrap my legs tightly around his back, urging him on. Curling my arm around him, I pull his weight onto my body and nuzzle his neck.

The fucking hurts. My throat feels tight, but it's not from pain. I need to get out of my over-sensitized body, so I retreat into my head.

I feel so connected to you this way, Walt. Vulnerable and exposed. It scared me the first time, but I still liked it. And that scared me even more. That's why I only let you do this... I don't want to feel connected to anyone else.

I wish I could tell you.

Then I realize I have been telling him. I've been murmuring everything into his ear. I shut my eyes, trying to erect a barrier so he won't see everything, know everything. Know too much.

Walter pulls back and assaults my mouth. His tongue fucks me to the same rhythm as his cock in my ass. He groans into my mouth, then his body goes rigid and he begins to come.

I gasp and shudder as if I'm the one orgasming. His mouth is still on mine but he's not kissing me. I suck on his tongue, trying to feel the vibrations of his orgasm in it.

He groans again and slumps onto his side, a movement that pulls his cock out of me. It stings but I don't care.

Walter clumsily rolls next to me, his lips at my ear. "You mean so much to me, Alex. That may be the only thing I'm sure of right now." He kisses the side of my face. "Go back to sleep."

My throat feels tight again. He means entirely too much to me... I don't think I can learn how to be without him again. I reach up to touch the side of his face, feeling the exhaustion creep back.

**

Alex is already asleep. I'm not surprised. He's been running on adrenalin since yesterday. Since forever.

We both feel the connection. A tiny part of my rational brain still tells me everything is wrong about this, but it couldn't feel more right.

I wish I could tell you what I really feel.

Thinking back on Lyosha's words during their heated argument, I find myself pushing these thoughts away again. I can't go there. Even though I know the truth.

I lie in bed for a couple hours thinking. What if we did get free of the nanos? What then? I think I know what I want, but... Alex is a skittish man. It's doesn't seem realistic to believe I could hold onto him for long.

It's going to hurt when he leaves. A lot more than the first time.

You've really dug yourself deep into this one, Walt. Enjoy it while you can.

I wrap my arm around his waist. He stirs, then his breathing returns to its slow sleeping rhythm.

A few hours later, I wake with a cramp in my upper back. Something round and hard is under my shoulder blade.

Alex is pressed close, turned half on his back. When I move, he stirs and nudges me with his hand. His sleepy voice is barely audible as he says, "Walter... lying on my stump."

I shift my weight and he pulls it out from underneath me, then wraps himself back around my body, immediately drifting back to sleep.

"Sorry about that," I whisper to no one in particular.


Summerford, OH
Thursday, 8 July 1999
10:48 A.M.

Alex is still sleeping almost 12 hours later. Not wanting to leave him alone, I fidget around the hotel room, eat two of Noreen's sandwiches and wish I had something to do besides think.

He finally wakes around noon. While sitting up and stretching, he looks for me. "Morning."

I kiss him and guide him toward the shower. When he emerges from the bathroom, I feed him the meat from one of the sandwiches, one piece of turkey at a time. He looks faintly amused through the entire thing.

We hit the road around 1:00. I drive, while telling Alex about my encounter with Morgan.

At one point, Alex blurts out, "He had a tail on me when I went to the airport? Fuck!"

"How much do you trust him, Alex?"

"I don't really trust him. But he's never revealed our affair, he's been willing to help me out on occasion and having a good relationship with him is beneficial when I need to hire help."

In that case, I'll call Morgan when we get back to D.C. to let him know that Alex is okay.

Next we talk about Vlad. "He wanted to know why you left Zushta, but I told him I didn't know. He asked if you were my lover, and I said yes."

"Thanks for not telling him why I left. I... I think it's best that they don't know." He's quiet for a moment, then leans closer and smiles at me. "But I don't care if he knows you're my lover."

"He wants you to call them, of course. I didn't make any promises."

Alex sits back against the seat. "Walter, how is that supposed to work? It's always been best for me not to talk to them. I don't see that changing. It might even be more dangerous now."

"All right, Alex. I'm just telling you what he said." I'll give it some time before I try to convince Alex to visit Lyosha. There are good reasons why it's worth the risk.

We drive in comfortable silence for another 100 miles, before I ask, "You were with the Resistance... do we, uh, need another blood sample?"

Staring out the window, Alex is quiet for a moment, then replies, "No. The tests were pointless, they were just trying to keep me occupied while they looked for Lyosha. And they also thought it would make me too sick for a few extra days, so I could be easily followed."

"Sounds like they underestimated you. It would be good for us if they'd keep making that mistake."

He drums his fingers on the seat. "I always make sure people underestimate me. It's a tactical advantage."

"One you use very effectively." I put my hand on his thigh and squeeze. "I can guess, but can you tell me why they want Lyosha?"

Alex sighs, focusing on me again. "That's what's bugging me. I don't know why. It's too much trouble for just a means to control me. Besides, they already have a very effective way of doing that. The only thing I can conclude is that it has something to do with the experiments, but they have to be grasping at straws to look for a kid who was supposed to be dead for over 16 years. Of course, the Resistance didn't tell me they're looking for him. I figured that out... it seemed rather obvious."

"It would be good to understand why, but it doesn't change anything. We still have to hide Lyosha."

Alex returns his attention to the window for a few moments. "I couldn't let them experiment on him."

"I know." And I can't let them experiment on you either, Alex, but I don't know how to stop it.

When we are within an hour of D.C., Alex asks me to find a payphone. "I'm already hours late on checking in."

He's on the phone for about five minutes. Climbing in the car, he says, "That's a relief. They don't have anything for me for a week."

"Good. I want to give you an update on the research. And we have a couple of places to go together."

I tell him about the team and the facility in Tucson. He asks a few questions, but it's clear that he's leaving this in my hands. He hasn't made any emotional investment in the project. It concerns me, but I don't want him to have false hopes either, so I let it alone.

Then, I start with the easy part. "We need to get spinal taps, and I need to get a cheek cell sample from you."

Alex gives me a salacious look. "Which cheeks?"

I enjoy his silliness, knowing it's about to end. "The inside of your mouth. And, no, I can't use my tongue to get the sample."

"How about your dick?"

"I'm not that adept." I rest my hand on his thigh. "There's one more thing I know you won't like. The software engineer is going to try to reverse engineer the control unit."

Alex's body tension increases instantly. Dramatically.

I reassure, "I'm not going to give them the unit. I don't have that level of trust yet. Scully and Lavagetto came up with the idea of taking it to a shielded facility--probably the one we used before--to document the hardware and try to download the software."

He looks at me intently. "Okay," he says with great cost. "I know Scully and I aren't getting along well, but I'd prefer to be there."

"That's what I thought. Dana understands my need to be there. I doubt she'll have a problem with you joining us. We won't ever leave her alone with the unit."

Alex seems to relax somewhat. "Okay... Uh, thanks."

Once we get closer to D.C., I phone Scully on my cell. Using carefully bland language, I ask her to set up the spinal taps and to arrange to meet at the university on Saturday. I mention that I'll be bringing a 'guest' to our 'luncheon' on Saturday. She's quiet for a moment, but doesn't demur.

Alex's energy seems to be holding, so when she calls back, I accept a spinal tap appointment for 1:00 A.M. tonight.

When we arrive at the clinic, I knock on the back door and a handsome Japanese-American man admits us. I don't ask his name or offer him any of our pseudonyms.

The doctor shows us to an exam room, tells us to choose who goes first, and then puts on a lab coat. I notice Alex is deathly pale and his breathing is a little erratic. I ask the doctor to leave us alone for a minute.

"Alex, I know this isn't going to be easy for you. But no one's going to tie you down and I'm not leaving the room. I'll be right here."

He gives a jerky nod, then shrugs out of his jacket. He's uncoordinated as he unties his shoes and begins undressing. I move close so he can lean against me while he wiggles out of his jeans.

Once he has a hospital gown on, he sits in a chair and stares at the table. "I... I'm not sure I can volun-" He cuts himself off and looks like he's steeling his resolve.

I sit on the table across from him. "I know you can do this. Just tell me if there's anything I can do to make it easier." I step into the hall and tell the doctor we'd like to get started.

The doctor enters and addresses Alex. "Okay, if you'll lie on your right side and pull your knees up, we can get this done quickly."

"Doctor, can you do this if he lies on his left side?"

The doctor's eyes flick to Alex's prosthetic. "Uh, sure. Just lie with your head at the foot end."

I extend a hand to Alex to encourage him to get this over with. He looks like he's going to bolt, but takes my hand and lets me lead him to the table. After a hesitation, he gets into the requested position, his body rigid.

While preparing a tray of supplies, the doctor watches Alex. His eyes flick to me, radiating concern and curiosity.

I stroke the side of Alex's face a few times before taking his hand again. "Don't forget to breathe. I'm right here." I know he hears me, but I sense he's not entirely here anymore.

The doctor pauses in his cleaning of Alex's lower back. "Is he going to be able to hold still for this?"

"Yes," I reply firmly and immediately.

Alex keeps hold of my hand--tightly--through the entire procedure. He never moves and his tension never lessens. I can tell that it hurts, but he's been in a lot more pain before. The room scares him more than the procedure hurts.

As soon as the doctor says he's done, Alex is off the table.

He dresses while I undress. I slip on the damned gown and climb onto the table, shifting into the requested position.

Alex moves near my head and squats down, resting his chin on the table a few inches from my face. I smile. He returns a weak grin, takes my hand and I know he's back.

He doesn't release my hand until it's over. It did hurt, but I've felt worse. I take the samples from the doctor, noticing that they're labeled Tom and Hank. I pay for the procedure in cash and we head home.

Alex has me drop him a block from my condo and tells me he'll be there directly. I discover that Gjersee picked up my car and brought it back to my building. Someone else I owe a debt I most likely will never be able to repay.

I step in the door completely exhausted, but glad to be back. While waiting for Alex to return, I retrieve the satellite phone and dial the contact number Morgan gave me.

A sub-baritone voice answers, "What?"

"You told me you were paid not to notice me... do you know who you're speaking to?"

"Yeah. You got any news?"

"He's okay."

"Good. Tell him to come see me."

"Will do." I hang up the phone.

Alex enters a few minutes later, moving close and whispering, "Did you scan?"

I shake my head and look at him bleakly.

He gives me a quick kiss and whispers, "Don't worry about it. I'll do it and be up in a few minutes."

I look at him closely. He's tired, too, but seems a little more functional than I am. I nod and stumble up the stairs.

Alex joins me a few minutes later and scans the bedroom. "Everything's clear." He steps into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Groaning out loud, I set the alarm and slide into bed. I'm barely conscious when I feel a warm body settle next to me. Alex spoons behind me, wraps his arm around my waist and kisses my neck. A moment later, he reaches over me and turns off the alarm.

My hand reaches for it, but stops midway. Fuck it.

**

University Park, PA
Saturday, 10 July 1999
9:52 A.M.

I park in a remote corner of the lot and, following Walter's directions, make my way to the science building. While walking down the tree-lined sidewalk, I think back to yesterday. My first day back home. Walt went to work late, and I slept most of the day. I wasn't expecting him back from work until late, but he arrived with dinner and we spent the evening just being together. It felt comfortable... right.

Walter told me about his time with Lyosha. His evident protectiveness of my brother nearly brought me to the point of blurting things out that I'm not ready to deal with yet. Also, when he was talking, I felt a twinge of pain. He knows Lyosha better than I ever will.

I forego my ruminations in favor of focus as I approach the lab... I have to get back into role. The door is locked. I rap on it twice. Scully admits me, saying nothing. Walter hasn't arrived yet.

Our last encounter did not go well, so I keep my distance and take a seat.

She approaches me cautiously. "The head of the research team wants to examine you and run a few tests."

Immediately, I tense.

Scully continues, "Skinner said no. If this research is important to you, you should go to the facility in Tucson and let the doctor check you out."

Without a pause, I reply, "Write down where I can find Dr. Lavagetto and I'll go in the next couple of days." Walter, you should have talked to me.

She pulls a slip of paper out of her pocket and passes it to me.

Then, she asks, "Is there a way I can reach you?"

I sneer, "I'm not sure I'm ready to make that kind of commitment, darling."

She has a finely honed exasperated glare. I imagine Mulder is on the receiving end of it all the time.

I relent, and write down a voicemail number. "I only check it a couple times a week. But, don't tell Mulder... wouldn't want him to get jealous."

"Because of you, this situation is life-and-death serious." I hear the door as she continues to lecture. "I don't have a sense of humor about it, especially from you."

I give a dramatic sigh. "Honestly, doc, I'll try to be good."

Walter approaches us, looking concerned. "Is there a problem?" His tone is pure A.D.

Keeping up the act for Scully's benefit, I reply, "Why, no, Assistant Director Skinner. Ms. Scully was just keeping me abreast on her opinions of humor in the workplace. Very dull stuff."

His eyes flick to mine, then away. When he speaks, he addresses Scully. "Let's get started." He removes the control unit from his gym bag, but does not hand it to her. "Scully, since Krycek knows more about this device than we do, I'm going to ask you to work with him. Let him be the one to handle it as much as possible. And I want you to tell him what you plan to do before it's done, so he has an opportunity to veto it if it's too dangerous."

This situation is now very serious.

Scully looks less than thrilled by Walter putting me in charge. I decide to distract her before this can get ugly again.

Reaching into my bag, I pull out a slim notebook PC. Turning my attention to Scully, I offer, "I've never tested this, so I'm working from third-hand information. As I understand the software, it has a gotcha. If you manage to download it, and your computer is on, the software will always run. There's no way to turn it off. It's activated at the I/O layer. It's going to attempt to send its routine use signal. Not finding its hardware, it will send a packet of information disguised as a system call, waiting for the next time your computer is hooked up to a communications port. The only way to work around this is to use a computer that is never hooked up to any network or phone line. For today, I brought a notebook you can work with, then deliver to the researchers. But you need to make this point clear to them."

She nods. "I'll explain it to Dr. Lavagetto."

Just to be sure, I took the modem and network card out of the PC, and disabled the connectors.

I glance at Walter, "W- When I documented the nanos, I forgot to include this, so I'll need to provide you with an addendum." I almost called him Walter. Shit.

Scully and I sit down and I reluctantly turn on the device.

Several hours later, Scully is writing up the hardware specs, when I finally manage to get a clean download of the control pad's operating system and the vascular crisis module.

Absently, I murmur, "We've got it. Clean download." I shut the unit off and feel some of my tension drain away. I hate having any of these things turned on, but particularly this unit. Since it leads straight back to my deception.

Walter gives a half smile at our success. He's been sitting in a chair, looking comatose and watching us intently for the past few hours.

Scully brought an electronics catalog and has successfully identified most of the components in the box as off-the-shelf products. She's very pleased by this discovery because it means the team can more easily understand the box and possibly make a prototype for testing purposes.

We switch positions, so I can review her hardware spec and she can look at the software.

She's been really thorough. I come around the table and lean down to point at one of the components. "I'm not sure, but I think if you leave this out, the device will be incapable of sending its use signal, while maintaining its nano control functionality. I'll let you decide, but it might be a good idea to build the prototypes without communication ability."

Scully points to another component. "This is also a transmitter. We'll have to experiment to be sure, but if you're right, we can build the prototype as you suggested, which would be ideal for our tests. But we need to test both transmitters first, because they could be redundant systems, in which case, either of them would transmit the use signal."

I pull a folded sheet of paper out of my pocket. "This is the analysis I did on the RF readings you took from the device during your demo to Dr. Lavagetto. If his research team is worth anything, they should have a better analysis than this, so you might want to compare notes. But, there are clearly two different signal bands in use, which implies that the transmitters function separately. I agree, they should double check, but you might want to see if their findings match ours."

Her lip twitches slightly. I think she was about to smile. "I did the same analysis and came to the same conclusion."

**

I've been bored out of my mind, but it's become apparent that Dana and Alex are actually cooperating. I'm not sure who's more surprised.

When they wrap up the work, Alex puts the device back together and returns it to me. I wait for him to depart before thanking Dana.

We head back the way we came--separate cars, separate routes. Back in Crystal City, I park my car and head upstairs. When the elevator doors slide open, Alex is unlocking my front door. I arrive just as he's stepping back out. He whispers, "Stay here," and disappears back inside with his weapon drawn and closes the door.

My SIG is in my hand before I even have time to be aggravated at his 'stay here.' I slide the door open and look around the dim entryway, trying to figure out what he saw. He emerges from the guest room and his gun swings my direction. He flashes me an annoyed look, then jogs upstairs.

Since I have no idea what's going on, I search the dining room, kitchen and laundry room. My ears are on alert, but I don't hear anything.

Without a sound, Alex returns downstairs, tossing me the scanner. He holds up three fingers, pointing upstairs.

I scan the lower level, turning up another three. The lights flip on and I see Alex intently looking around the living room.

"All-"

Alex gives me a silence gesture and moves behind the TV. A moment later, he yanks my TV cable out of the wall and uses his knife to cut the cable.

After he inspects the cable, he looks at me and says, "They're getting inventive. The only bug a scanner can't locate is a hardwired bug. They don't send a signal. It was spliced into your cable line. I wonder how the fuck they monitor that?"

"All they need is a broadband connection somewhere else in the neighborhood." I walk over to him, so we're standing face to face. "Did you have an ESP moment?"

"Why didn't you wait outside?" I notice the evasion.

"Would you have waited outside, Alex?"

"No."

"Then you can answer your own question."

He wraps his arm around my waist. "Stubborn."

"Overprotective." I kiss the bridge of his nose. "It's a lot easier to backup your partner if you have some idea what they're doing."

He gives me a mock glare. "Fine. The next time I think the house is bugged, I'll be sure to tell you."

"You planning on telling me how you knew?"

Alex sighs. "I don't know. I've always been able to tell if someone has entered a room since the last time I was in it. Well, not always. Since I was 19 or 20, I guess. You and I left at the same time, so when I walked in... I just knew someone had been here."

I make a face. "Well, I'm glad we cleared that up."

He pinches my arm and moves away. "You looked catatonic all day."

"It was... dull, but important." I sit down on the chair. "I'm surprised at how much progress we've made. We have a team in place and they're actively researching the problem. It's not a solution, but it's a good start." I don't expect him to get excited, but I feel good about it.

Alex stands behind me and leans down. Draping his arm over my chest, he nips at my earlobe. I reach back and run my fingers through his hair. He groans and drops his head to rest on my shoulder.

"Damien was very surprised that you let me touch your head." I emphasize the remark by increasing the friction of the scalp massage.

In a tranquil tone, he murmurs, "You can touch whatever you like. Although, I hate to think what my former sex partners have been telling you."

"Yeah, now you know how I felt about you and Sharon comparing notes."

"That's different. We were very complimentary. We both agree you're a great lay."

I smile silently. Seemed pretty obvious to me that both Vlad and Damien had been in love with Alex. He's pretty clueless if he thinks they had a lot of negative comments about him.

After a few moments of Alex practically purring in my ear, he mumbles, "I'm starving. Scully is a slave driver."

"I suppose you want me to feed you. But I know your secret now. Vlad told me you used to cook." I shift in my chair so I can look at him.

He stands, looking perplexed. "What do you mean?"

I swallow hard. Could it be he doesn't remember? Unsure what to say, I stand up and tug on his arm. "Come on. Lyosha left us a few hot dogs. If you ask nice, I'll defrost a bowl of chili to go with it."

Alex grimaces and follows. "Hot dogs... those pressed meat cylinders with all that bread? I've never had one. They looked completely... unappealing."

He finds the taste of them tolerable with a ton of spicy mustard. After our late lunch, he absently rubs his left shoulder. "I'm going to take a hot shower. Come with me? I promise to be bad."

Alex is in a playful mood and we wind up wrestling in the shower. He's harder to hold onto when he's wet. Eventually, I get him pinned in an awkward position on the shower floor.

Through the water running down his face, he gurgles, "I give. You're drowning me."

I adjust the spray so it's landing on his ass instead of his face.

He wiggles a little. "That's nice."

"I couldn't agree more," I reply, watching the water spray down his crack.

Alex slides his hand up my leg, stopping at my knee. Suddenly my knee gives out and I end up on the floor outside the shower.

He leans out, snickering at me. "You're supposed to fall forward."

"Well, it would have been a lot easier on my ass if I had." I recline so I'm lying on the floor. "You play dirty."

"Uh-huh." Leaving the water running, he gets out and kneels next to me, water dripping everywhere. "Roll over. Let's see your ass."

"Why?" I ask suspiciously.

He nudges my hip. "Roll over."

"You're kind of pushy." Curiosity gets the better of me and I roll over. My elbow discovers a puddle of shampoo. "Yuck."

Alex chuckles. His lips touch one ass cheek, then the other. "Fall forward next time."

"Ass kisser."

He kisses my crack, right at my anus. "You betcha." Alex lies on my back, rubbing the shampoo up my arm and kissing the back of my neck. When he has all the shampoo off the floor and on me, he gets up. "Come on. Time to shower."

I stand and gesture for him to precede me back into the shower. "Did you just use me to mop the floor?"

"Well, yes. But you enjoyed it and got clean."

"Okay. So turn yourself into a sponge and suck up the two inches of water on the floor. I'll enjoy that too."

Somehow we manage to get clean and dry without inflicting too much further damage on the bathroom. Well, nothing the mop couldn't handle.

Before bed, Alex asks me to massage his aching shoulder. I'm a little surprised because he so rarely asks for assistance. I use the canola oil and give him a good rub from neck all the way down around his stump. He relaxes into my touch and lets me do the work. It must be painful, but he doesn't resist.

Working on his neck again, I realize he's had every opportunity to seduce me tonight and he didn't even try. Both of us got hard during the antics in the bathroom, but he just let it stay playful. And that was just right.

**

Sunday, 11 July 1999
7:03 A.M.

As soon as I open my eyes, I see Walter. He's still sleeping. We're face to face, but not quite touching. I move a little closer so our skin comes in contact. He doesn't stir. I watch him sleep for a long time, then bring my hand up near his face. I don't touch him, but my fingers move about a fraction of an inch above his skin.

I wonder how things changed so quickly? I've never felt as relaxed as I do with him. I sigh quietly, and finally let my fingers rest on his skin. His breathing changes but he doesn't wake. I run my hand down his body, lightly feeling his skin. Scooting down a little, I bring my face close to his chest. I love the way he smells... the way he feels... the way he tastes.

It scares me how much I need him. I move my body down, still touching him, until my face is near his groin. He's half-hard with a morning erection. I trace my tongue over his cock, then take him in my mouth, sucking softly.

He grunts softly and mumbles, "Alex..."

My hand cups his balls and kneads them gently. His cock hardens in my mouth until the head is pushing into my throat.

Hips thrusting involuntarily, he sighs. "Okay, I'm awake," he says in a raspy morning voice, as his hands find my shoulders.

I'd smile if I could. I bring my arm around his hips, stroking his ass, and begin to suck harder. I become aware of my own arousal. I love doing this--making him feel pleasure. I pull my mouth off his cock and suck his balls, one at a time, into my mouth. While rolling them with my tongue, I slide my hand up to his chest, caressing everywhere I can reach. Then I take his erection back into my mouth, teasing the head before letting him slide back into my throat.

His hips buck, pushing his cock into my throat. "Oh yeah..." His hands find the back of my head, fingers carding through the hair. Then he grips tightly, holding me still as he begins to come. He gasps and shudders with his orgasm.

With a faint groan, his muscles go lax and he releases the grip on my hair, stroking gently. I let his cock slip from my mouth with one last lick at the head, savoring his unique flavor.

I slide my body up a little until my face is at his navel, then wrap my arm around him. I breathe in the scent of his skin and kiss his stomach.

Walter's hands move to my upper back, stroking and rubbing. "Alex?"

I don't want to move yet, so I keep my face pressed against his skin, my arm around his hips. "Hm?"

"If it's something you'd like to do... I'd let you fuck me." His hands slide down to my waist and tug me up 'til my head is resting on his shoulder.

My brain isn't working. I haven't even thought about fucking Walter since... right before the first time he fucked me.

I tilt my head back and look at him. His expression is contemplative.

Bringing my hand up, I touch the side of his face. "I would like to... sometime. Not now, though... I just want to-" I cut myself off. I can't believe I was about to say that.

"Want to what, Alex?"

"I... never mind. It's nothing."

Suddenly, he flips me onto my back, pinning me to the bed. He looms over me, eyes watching me carefully. "Tell me." He looks a little amused.

I try to move. I'm effectively pinned. "Nothing... I..." Seem to have no ability to lie to him anymore. Fuck. "I just wanted to... touch you, be close to you." I try to pull my hand out of his grasp. I don't like this all of a sudden.

Walter's lip twitches in an aborted chuckle, the skin around his eyes crinkling with laughter. "Okay." He releases me and rolls onto my side, resting his head on my shoulder.

I stare up at the ceiling, grinding my teeth. "I had no idea you were such a dickhead, Walter," I mumble in an offhanded tone.

His silent laughter vibrates along the side of my body. "After that buildup, I was expecting you to ask for some weird sex act involving hard boiled eggs or midgets or something. I'm a little relieved." He trails kisses along the side of my neck.

I snort. "I've already done everything I wanted to try, Walter. Well, there was one thing... but that's... uh, well, not relevant. At least not... oh, fuck it." I try to get back to the subject at hand. "Before I met you, I could count on my, uh, toes the number of times I actually slept with someone." I tilt my head to give him better access to my neck. "This is unfamiliar territory for me so try to contain your mirth."

He nips at my skin. "Already done everything? How were the midgets?"

I bonk him on the back of the head. "He wasn't a midget. He was a gymnast. And it was interesting. Back breaking, but interesting."

"Hmm... I've never fucked a midget or a contortionist. I guess I've lead a sheltered life." He gnaws on my neck briefly before continuing. "So what was that one thing that's not relevant?"

My mind melts briefly at the gnawing. I struggle to focus. "Uh... what? Oh, that... nothing."

Walter sighs into my neck. A hand that was resting placidly on my thigh rapidly reaches for my balls. Closing around them with his fingers, he twists just slightly. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you. What was the answer to my question?"

I give a startled jerk. His tone of voice tells me I'm not in any real danger... I don't think. I find myself turned on at the prospect of it not being entirely safe. "Uh, I guess there were two things."

He shifts over my body, fingers still tight on my testicles. Gazing down at me, he feigns a disciplinarian glare. "Start talking." He squeezes those fingers to give me extra incentive.

My dick is now fully hard and my balls ache... in a very good way. But, my lips twitch, fighting a smile. I don't think I'm getting out of this. "I sort of told you the second one already... I liked it when you were aggressive and I used to fantasize about you being... rough." Is embarrassment deadly? Probably not, but for the first time, I'm finding it arousing.

A glimmer of something wicked passes across his expression. I shudder in reaction to that look, imagining what he could be thinking... wanting him to play out his fantasies on my body.

"I can be rough," he replies, nonchalantly twisting my balls the other way. "What's the other one?" Beneath his smirk, I can see that I'm turning him on.

Despite the ache, I arch my hips against his hand. I can't believe I'm going to tell him this. "I wanted you to..." I take a breath before continuing, "to fist me." It had never crossed my mind before Walter.

His expression transforms rapidly to dismay. "Fuck, Alex. Have you seen the size of my fists?" The fingers suddenly loosen on my balls. "Christ, I think my ass just got 300 percent tighter."

I roll my eyes. "I wasn't asking you to fist me before breakfast. Believe me, I already had this discussion with myself. Rationalization wasn't very effective. You asked... so, there's your answer."

Releasing my testicles, he holds his fist up over my chest and swallows hard. "Okay," he replies absently as if not really talking to me. That was a mysterious little moment he had with himself.

He shifts his body over me again. "Wasn't I torturing you? But, dammit, you've told me everything..." He grinds against the front of my body, slipping a hand between us to encircle my hard-on. "Maybe we should do something with this?"

I gasp and press against him. "Yeah... that would be good." I have a thought. "Want to try an experiment?"

Walter eyes me dubiously. "What kind of experiment?" To punctuate his question, he strokes my cock.

Breathing a little unevenly, I reply, "I used to think I could come listening to you talk. Why don't you tell me your fantasies and let's see what happens."

I can see a hint of reticence in his eyes, but he only says, "All right. But first I want you in an inspiring position." His face turns serious, as he considering various possibilities. Why do I suddenly feel nervous?

When he speaks again, his voice is very low. "On your knees, on the bed facing me." He shifts off of me and repositions himself so he's sitting with his back against the headboard.

I can't believe we're going to do this. I crawl across the bed and kneel facing him. Anticipation makes my skin tingle. For a long time now, I've wanted to know what his fantasies are.

"Now sit back on your heels."

I comply. Why do I suddenly feel... exposed? I've been in this position before and not felt this way. Maybe because he knows me now?

"And spread your knees." The words are spoken slowly and his expression is severe. His hard-on has filled out completely. He's turning himself on.

I lock my eyes on his. My breathing becomes erratic as I push my knees apart. His desire causes an endorphin rush. I love turning him on. I bite my lip and try to control my breathing.

"Wider. And arch your back a bit."

I cannot seem to breathe for a second. As I push my knees further apart, the muscles begin to burn. My cock becomes painfully hard. I close my eyes for a second, reminding myself to breathe. Then I once again focus on his face... his dark, intense eyes.

Only because I'm paying attention, am I able to see the slight hitch in his breathing. He covers it quickly by speaking again. "Lick your fingertips and wet your nipples."

I slide two fingers into my mouth, moving them in and out for a second as if they were his cock. Then I move them to my nipple, circling it, feeling it pucker as the moisture evaporates. I move them to the other nipple, repeating the motion.

His hand moves to his erection, which he strokes lightly. "Now put your hand behind your back and keep it there."

This suddenly doesn't seem like a good idea. I want to touch his cock. But I'm so turned on, I'll do whatever he says. I put my hand behind me, resting it against the small of my back.

Walter rubs his cock slowly, just watching me, before he speaks again. "In my fantasy," he pauses, a glimmer of tension in his eyes giving away that this isn't easy for him, "you belong to me."

I'm already still, but I feel like I cannot move... cannot breathe.

His low sexy voice continues, "Your body is mine... to use, or play with as I choose. Your ass is for my exclusive use." He's barely moving, but I can see how incredibly turned on he is.

Well, that's not a fantasy.

I realize I'm now trembling slightly. And I'm so aroused it's painful. Even the movement of air across my skin makes me shake.

The tension in his body is building. The veins are standing out in his forearms and his cock. "Your mouth only for my cock. You may not even touch your own cock without my... permission."

Fuck, fuck, fuck. My hand clenches behind my back. I need to touch him. I cannot look away.

His breath accelerates and his eyes seem to smolder. "If another man were to touch... you, or even look at..." This time his hesitation reveals a tinge of pain, "my property," his eyes flick closed for a moment.

I'm quietly gasping. He's not telling me his fantasy, he's telling me mine. My nerves are screaming, my cock begging to be touched. Some part inside of me desperately wanting to truly belong to him.

Fingers tightening on his cock, he strokes himself slightly faster and meets my gaze again. "I would beat the crap out of them. And," he loses his voice for a moment. Breathing harshly, he struggles to regain control. "And make you swear that..." his voice begins to tremble slightly, "you belong to me and only me."

I do belong only to him. Even for the past four years. I just never saw it. And it hurts.

My shaking has to be visible to him now. It's a struggle to keep still. I'm incredibly aroused, but it has a bite I've never experienced before.

Fingers clenching on his own cock, as if to force himself to stop jacking off, he emits a breathy moan. His eyes sear me... with his lust, his need.

My whole body is on fire, but orgasm feels out of reach, and it doesn't even seem like the point. What is the point? My need for him that has nothing to do with sex. And, I'm starting to believe, his need for me.

His eyes flick closed, then open again. He rises unsteadily and moves behind me. With a hand on my back, pushing lightly, he says, "Head and shoulders down, ass up."

My skin burns where he touches me. As I lower my chest to the bed, turning my head to the side, I hear a sound like the whimper of a distressed animal. Was that me? I close my eyes and try to breathe. My fingers clench at the small of my back... my hand held where he told me to put it.

Walter stands for a moment, retrieving a bottle from the bedside table, before situating himself between my widely spread legs. He enters me rapidly with two wet fingers, opening me up hastily.

I gasp, my body jerking at the sudden sensations... searing pleasure and a stinging pain at the abrupt penetration. Unable to stop myself, my hips move frantically, fucking myself on his fingers.

I hear a low moan, then the fingers are withdrawn. His cock head is pressed to my anus. He pushes hard and fills me in an instant.

I strangle the scream in my throat, emitting a choking sound. My fingers dig into my palm as my hand clenches and I push back against him. Then, I'm gasping, feeling the orgasm building in my spine.

His body over mine, he fucks me hard and fast.

I cannot warn him, am unable to speak, as the orgasm suddenly rips through me. My brain blanks as my senses are swamped by pleasure.

Fuck, that was... way too intense.

As my climax begins to recede, I struggle not to collapse under the weight of his assault. He continues to fuck me. The sensation of his cock sliding in my ass is almost painful. I cannot evade how... submissive I feel. How I feel owned by him.

A low growl comes from deep in his chest, as he pounds into me at a furious pace. His arm clamps around my waist as his body begins to shudder. I can feel the pulsing of his cock as he comes deep inside me.

His body collapses on top of me, forcing me into the bed. There's a brief jolt of pain, then I'm lost in the heady pleasure of his body on mine. I can feel the pounding of his heart, as his breathing begins to slow.

My hand is trapped between our bodies, but it allows me to touch him, so it doesn't matter. When my ability to speak returns, I find myself saying, "I belong to you." I hesitate, but he already knows. "Only you."

He groans faintly, then lifts his body off of me. His hands find my hand and he rubs it and my forearm, before placing it at my side. Then he lies next to my prone body and puts an arm around my waist.

**

Oh, Christ.

I was beyond turned on for that, but now that the hormones are receding, I... Fuck.

I never shared any of that with anyone. Shouldn't have. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I can't deal with this. That was so terrifyingly real. Too real.

Alex loved it, but I... I've always kept private what I feel so deeply. I've always kept too many things private. Maybe now I've gone too far the other way.

What are you doing here, Walt? With this man... with this assassin? With this passionate, sexy, half-crazy assassin? Who makes me smile and drives me to the edge of madness with the darker side of myself...

I'm putting so much of myself into this... Parts of me I'm not ready to face, much less share.

Alex's eyes are closed as he quietly asks, "Do you remember that night on the golf course?"

"Yes," I reply cautiously, uneasy about discussing any of this.

Eyes still shut, he takes a deep breath before replying. "You bit me so hard that night... I obsessed on it. All I could think of was that I wanted you to do it harder." He hesitates. "I couldn't shake the image of you biting me until I bled... wanted that. Not... not because I wanted you to hurt me, but because..." His voice trails off for a second, then continues, "I wanted you to leave a permanent mark. Wanted to feel like I was... yours." He opens his eyes, looking uncomfortable. "I..." his voice fades off again. His body twitches. His tone is more normal as he adds, "Uh, I'm going to take a shower."

"Yeah," I mumble into the pillow, every bit as overwhelmed by his fantasies as my own. Releasing him, I try to find some place on the bed to hide.

At the sound of the water running, I exhale in relief.

This delving into the mysteries of my twisted psyche is not what I need right now. This relationship is changing me--possibly a good thing--but I'm certain I don't have the emotional reserves to cope with it all.

Fuck, it's only nine in the morning and I'm already wasted.

I really need to piss and it takes me a moment to figure out why I'm not doing it already. Am I really afraid to go into the bathroom? Surely not. I drag myself out of bed and perform my morning rituals, barely aware of Alex's presence in the shower.

I tug on a pair of sweats and head downstairs. I'll shower later. I assemble my morning protein drink and turn on the blender. The sound of it sends me into a hypnotic fugue. When I snap out of it, I have to concentrate to remember where the glasses are. Finally, drink in hand, I stand at the balcony window gazing sightlessly at the world.

Alex appears a few minutes later, hair wet, towel around his waist and holding an armful of clothes. His expression is neutral. "I need to use your washer. My clothes are still wet from last night."

"Sure." My eyes flick in the general direction of the kitchen. "I think I need to be alone for a while. How about I shower while you," I make a sweeping gesture with my hands, "whatever." I'm half way up the stairs before I realize I forgot to wait for his reply.

I step into the shower, and catch myself adjusting the water a little hotter than I like it. The usual compromise on Alex's preferred parboiling.

Having him in my life changes everything. And this morning, oh god...

I've always held back my feelings of possessiveness, but Alex tweaks them as no one ever has. He encourages it. 'I belong to you... Only you.' Damn, I can still hear his gravelly voice. My cock reacts instantly.

I lean against the shower wall.

You are not going to jack off, Walt.

This should not turn me on the way it does. Alex is my equal, not my property. How can I care for him, respect him, and still feel this way?

Would he want me to be less possessive? No question, he would not.

When I return downstairs, there's no sign of Alex. I hear the dryer running. There's a note on the table.

--
Borrowed a T-shirt and jeans. Back soon. -A
Oh yeah, and a belt.
--

I add to the bottom of the note.

--
Gone to gym. Back soon. -W
--

A couple hours later, when I return, Alex is lying on the sofa reading and wearing only a pair of too-large jeans.

I leave my gym bag next to the stairs. "Hi. Want some company?" I'm a little unsure of myself after this morning.

"Mm hm," he mumbles.

"Sharon would say I stink," I add, giving him an out.

Alex tips his head back to look at me. "I think I'll have to assess that for myself." He bends his knees to make room on the sofa.

I sit next to him and lay a hand on his belly. "Thanks."

He rests his book on his chest and touches my hand. "For?"

"The alone time. I, uh, just needed to think." Actually, I spent most of the time trying not to think at all.

Alex swings to a seated position and moves closer until his face is near my arm. He sniffs near my armpit then moves closer to my neck, breathing deeply. "You do smell." He licks under my ear. "Really good." He lies back down, this time with his head in my lap. Tapping the book now squished into the sofa, he says, "Did you actually make it all the way through this book?"

I card my fingers through his hair and check out the spine of the book. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime. "Only the first time. The second time I got bored at the Civil War."

He closes his eyes and sighs with pleasure. "You tried to read it twice? Are you a closet masochist?"

Tugging playfully on a bunch of his hair, I reply, "Hey. Don't give me grief. I tried to read your damned Ginsberg, but got scared away. I had trouble visualizing his 'asshole sandwich'... guess I don't share his poetic genius."

Alex chuckles and gives me a light slap on the chest.

He sleeps for several hours, while I putter around the apartment. At dinner, he tells me that he has to leave for a few days. He told me the Resistance wouldn't need him for a week, so it occurs to me to wonder where he's going. I don't ask. It's none of my business, and it might be for the best that I don't always know what he's up to.

Besides, maybe a couple days apart is what we need right now.

**

Tucson, AZ
Monday, 12 July 1999
5:28 A.M.

I take a seat in Lavagetto's office and wait for him to find me. Breaking into this facility was entirely too easy. I'll have to see about upgrading their security system while I'm here. I glance around the office, making mental notes. The only thing that really stands out is the precise placement of every single thing in this office. The man is more anal retentive than I am.

The original Warhol above the lawyer's bookcase is a little surprising. As is the giant dictionary on its own shelf. Who drags around the complete Oxford?

After several minutes I'm bored enough to move to his desk. One side of his desk has office supplies. The other side is locked. Hmm. I pull out my lock-pick set and work the lock. Inside the top drawer is a Walther PPKS. It's loaded and the safety is on. Does he think a band of children are going to attack him? The gun is too small for anything else.

The bottom drawer contains files--none of them about the project--and a book with a picture of a bare-assed schoolboy being caned on the cover. I pull out the book and flip through it. Ah, yes, the nasty school-marm goes after two mischievous lads with her yardstick. Complete drivel, but it's interesting that this is our researcher's favorite fantasy. I flip a little further into the book, then hear a sound outside the door.

I look up as the door opens, and see a short man with bleach blonde hair. I wave the book at him. "How many spankings can you fit into one novel and actually have any plot?"

The man tenses immediately, eyes flicking to his desk drawer. "Who are you, and what is your purpose here?" he asks in a deceptively calm and authoritative voice.

Tossing the book back into the desk drawer, I reply, "I'm here because you asked me to come." I give him an assessing look. "Your security is lacking and your taste in literature is questionable."

"If you don't identify yourself immediately, I will have you removed from the premises. This is a private lab and visitors are not welcome." There's a faint twitch in his muscles that tells me how much he wants to be out of this room.

"Come on, doctor... there's no need to get antsy. You invited me. Besides, you can't very well evict me from a facility I'm paying for." I remain seated so he doesn't feel any more threatened. I'm just fucking with him... don't actually want to terrify him to death.

He doesn't reply, but reaches for his cell phone.

I shake my head. "I wouldn't advise it. Anyone who touches me is taking a risk." I decide to end this little stand-off. "I'm Tom. I understand you wanted to see me."

He doesn't seem surprised. Still holding the phone, he asks, "Can you prove it? I understood that you would not be available."

"Prove it? I'm not going to show you ID, doctor. But, let's see... Dana got a message to me that you wanted to see me. If that doesn't convince you, I can recite you chapter and verse on that document you received explaining how the nanos work, because I wrote it."

The stubborn little man, who identifies himself as Dr. Lavagetto, actually grills me on the document. I mess with him a little by answering each question in a different language and making him identify it before I'll repeat it in English. It isn't as much fun as it would have been if he didn't know half the languages. After all that, he still insists on a blood sample. He asks me to follow him to the lab.

I'm not going anywhere near his lab for any tests. "No. You take the blood here, or not at all."

He looks puzzled for a moment, then seems to really see me for the first time. "All right." He presses a few buttons on his cell phone and asks someone to bring a hematology kit to his office. I shrug out of my jacket and remove my prosthetic, then push the sleeve of my T-shirt up to my shoulder.

After a minute a bland young man, probably a lab assistant, comes to the office eyeing me curiously. Lavagetto takes the kit and dismisses him. Turning to me, he says, "I'll draw the blood as efficiently and painlessly as is feasible. May I count on you to advise me if the procedure distresses you?"

I'm fairly certain I'm not going to like anything he does. But I nod my head anyway and turn my body so he can get to my stump.

Dr. Lavagetto is precise and quick, but he's tense through the entire blood draw. Which makes two of us. As soon as his hands touch me, I feel... agitated.

When he's finished, he preps a slide and looks at it under the conventional microscope on his desk. After a moment, he glances up at me. "This specimen is vastly dissimilar from the other subject's."

No doubt. I put my prosthetic back on.

He gives me an intent look. "Thank you for coming, Tom. I'm eager to compare your static blood samples to those during a cellular breakdown crisis..."

The doctor prattles on and I half listen. So, he wants to see me during an episode. I'll have to think on that. I don't exactly like the man, but I sense that he knows what he's doing. He certainly doesn't scare easily. Which is interesting, considering his size and occupation. I wonder if the Consortium had more scientists like this man, if they'd have been able to realize their goals. What an awful notion.

The tests he outlines don't sound too horrible. Of course, the idea of any tests makes me uneasy. But this has to be done. Walter might not ask this of me, but I'll do whatever is necessary to get him out of this mess.

After a few minutes, I decide I don't want every test described in minute detail. I interrupt him. "I need to leave for a while. I'll be back later. You need to be ready to start some of your tests." I rise to my feet, when something else occurs to me. "I won't go into your lab, so make some other arrangements."

"That's copasetic. I appreciate your amenability." He taps the corner of his desk thoughtfully. "If you reappear by three o'clock, we could conclude with sufficient time for me to buy you dinner."

Not if things go as I plan. "Sure. I'll see you in a few hours. Oh, I don't think I need to break in every time, do I?"

His smile tells me he's figured out that this was for my own amusement. Ah, the good doctor can smile. "No, that will be entirely unnecessary." He retrieves a passcard from his desk drawer. Handing it to me, he says, "Do you think you could stay out of my desk?"

I rise and pull on my jacket. Not that it's necessary. It's hotter than hell down here. "Sure, doc. If I find something locked, I like to open it, but once is enough to satisfy my curiosity."

A few minutes later, I slide into the driver's seat of my rented SUV and head out to find someone... mean.


2:48 P.M.

I stumble to the front door of the facility and grope for the security card. God, I think that guy broke a rib. It wasn't my intention to get seriously injured. He was a little meaner than he looked.

I limp through the reception area, at first thinking it's deserted, then noticing a woman sitting on the floor sorting small computer parts.

She looks up at me with an expression of shock and horror. "Shit! What happened to you?" Then she resumes her sorting, as if I'd disappeared.

I continue past her, assuming the question was rhetorical. Rounding the corner, I see Lavagetto and two other people at the end of the hall.

"Hey, doc. I brought you a present." I grab at the wall, trying to remain upright, and shut my right eye to avoid the dripping blood.

Lavagetto's head turns and he freezes briefly before darting down the hall. "Robert, help me get him to the break room. Tom, do you believe you have internal injuries?"

I could laugh. "Probably, but who cares? Countdown to nano episode, doc. Less than an hour, I would guess. And then you get the bonus of observing the healing function throughout the next few days. Aren't you lucky."

I allow them to help me--less than they'd like--to the break room, where I collapse on a convenient sofa. I feel like shit. The logical outcome of deliberately getting beaten.

He examines me carefully, poking and prodding where it hurts. "You did this with intent. What did you do... swagger into the truck stop and start calling the patrons queer?"

I wince at an especially painful poke, then reply, "Doc, I have an unusual gift... I can piss anyone off. And, yes, I did it on purpose. How else would you be able to examine me during an episode? It's not like I could ask you and your research team to beat me up."

Lavagetto stops fussing with my wounds for a moment, placing one hand on his hip and giving me a good glare. "I'm quite well acquainted with your adroitness at pissing people off. And, no, we would have declined the opportunity to batter you. We're in another business entirely."

Dr. Lavagetto takes care of my wounds, even though I keep trying to get him to stop, until the nano episode begins. Is it possible for someone to be concerned and excited at the same time?

I close my eyes, trying to ignore the new onslaught of pain. Do your tests, doctor. I'm not giving you another chance.

As I feel the episode escalating, I find myself wishing Walter were here. But... there's that disastrous morning... when he told me his fantasy. I was so turned on--and vulnerable--hearing what I realized I most wanted. It wasn't until I was on the plane that I remembered he only referred to it as a fantasy. It's not real for him.

I forced myself not to think about it, but I can't stop myself now. Because I need him.

Fuck, this is really bad.


7:02 P.M.

The familiar throbbing pain in my head brings me back to consciousness. I open my eyes and immediately see Dr. Lavagetto seated in a chair next to me with a notebook on his lap. He glances at his watch and writes something down.

He hands me a glass of orange juice. "Do you need anything else?"

I slowly move to a seated position and take the proffered juice. "Yeah. An entire bottle of Tylenol would be nice." Now that it's over with, I feel more relaxed, despite the headache. I was afraid I'd wake tied down in the lab. I couldn't let myself think too much about that, or I couldn't have gone through with this.

The doctor leaves the room for a moment, returning with two Tylenol-3. "I presume you're not allergic to codeine?"

I take the pills. "Nope. Did you get what you needed from observing the nano episode?"

Lavagetto offers a curt nod. "While I appreciate the fascinating demonstration, I object to your methods. I am not operating the sort of lab outlined in the chronicle you wrote."

It's a good thing, doctor, or I might have to kill you. "Well, I only planned to give you one shot at it, doc. So, it won't be happening again."

"Good."

"Let's do some more of these damned tests, then you owe me dinner."

A couple hours later, I make an attempt at dragging Lavagetto away from his precious data. I can tell when he comes back to earth because he suddenly looks at me very intently.

He takes in all my injuries. "I find it astonishing. At this rate of healing, you'll be recovered within a day or two." He keeps muttering, and I give him a push toward the door.

Lavagetto takes me to a Mexican restaurant. Right after we order, I can see I've lost his attention again. Sort of. He's preoccupied with staring at my injuries again. When he reaches out to unbutton the shirt he scrounged up for me to examine a cut near my collarbone, I slap at his hand.

"Cool it, doc. You can get me naked later."

The people at the table next to us look at us askance. Lavagetto doesn't even notice. He opens my shirt anyway, mumbling, "The rate of cellular repair of the epidermis is remarkable. Scar formation appears to be... You are so not my type, Tom."

"Yeah, well, my broken rib will be completely healed by tomorrow. It's a shame I left my yardstick at home."

"Too bad. You could benefit from a good caning, I think. It's been over three hours since you ingested the Tylenol... you may have an alcoholic beverage if you wish."

I give him an expression that clearly tells him I wasn't waiting for his permission to drink. And I don't see caning in my future. Some idiotic part of my brain throws up the thought that it is in my future if that's what Walter wants. I'm so shocked--and horrified--I can only stare vacantly at Lavagetto.

He asks what's wrong, but I'm saved from answering by the arrival of our dinner. I force my brain back on track--forgetting I ever had that thought--and dig in. I'm fucking starving. I flag the waiter and order each of us two shots of tequila. Something anesthetic would be good right about now.

Lavagetto cuts his burrito into neat little squares, and finishes chewing each bite completely before speaking. "Am I correct that I may not inquire about ordinary things such as your profession?"

His speech is so... precise. It's kind of odd. To his question, I can only shrug. "You can ask, I might not be able to answer. But, I can answer that one... I'm an errand boy." Yes, my career has soared the last few years.

He gives me a penetrating look, finishes the second shot and orders some obscure local beer--two bottles for each of us. "So, what kind of dirty books do you have in your desk drawer?"

"Looking at my lover is about all the stimulation I need, but let's see... take that book of yours, get rid of the school-mistress and that could work." I take a bite of my enchilada. "Pretty boys fucking each other sounds... nice."

Lavagetto rolls his eyes. "If you hit on me, Tom, I'll pour my cold beer on your crotch." He gestures ominously with the bottle and makes a show of scooting further away.

It's my turn to roll my eyes. "Don't worry, Russ, you're not my type. And I'm taken. But the beer might still be nice." I give him a slight leer. It occurs to me how weird it feels to be saying something like 'I'm taken.' Although, there's no doubt in my mind... I'm just not sure I'm prepared for this. And anyway, it's not real for Walter. Fuck it. I down half a beer.

He shakes his head. "Cooling off your privates is not my problem."

I lean back in my chair, returning to sipping my beer. "So, Russ, what do you look for in your women? Other than... strictness."

"You do realize the only reason I endure you is the doctor patient relationship?" He polishes off his first beer and starts on the second. "See that rangy blonde at the table at the end of our row? That's my preferred flavor."

Lavagetto's back is to the woman and he never even looked around. The woman is tall and... perfect. Looks like she stepped out of a magazine. "What color dress is she wearing?"

"Same color as her eyes... sky blue. And if she'd just lean forward 10 degrees, you'd get a clear shot at her cleavage. I'd say 34B. Maybe even C."

I lean slightly to the left to get a better look. "I'd definitely say C. So, photographic memory, eh?"

"No. I don't have an eidetic memory. I see a lot... I remember what matters."

Images of Walt flash through my mind. I guess I remember what matters as well.

After we finish dinner and two more shots of tequila each, Russ pays the check and I guide him out of the restaurant. "Come on, doc. There's a bar down the street. Let's go find you a blonde."


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 15 July 1999
9:47 P.M.

I had hoped to get to Walter's before now, but I had some threats to make on behalf of the Resistance. I park a few blocks from his apartment and take a circuitous route to his building.

I think back on my days with Lavagetto. At one point Russ expounded on how fascinating it was for him and his team to see the type 1 nanos destruct, and the damage done to nearby cells. Something they'd never have the opportunity to see otherwise. It made my skin crawl. I prefer not to EVER think about what's happening under my skin. Which brings to mind what he told me before I left Tucson. All the type 1 nanos in my body should have destructed by now. With the number of type 1 nanos currently in my body, they should all self-destruct within six weeks. He theorized that I'm being infected with additional type 1 nanos when I report in to headquarters.

I'm still not sure what to do with this information. I asked him not to mention this to Dana or 'Hank' since it has no bearing on his research. He said he couldn't promise, but he'd only mention it if it became important. It worries me. If he's right and the type 1 nanos have all destructed within a certain timeframe, I have no more counters to Walter's request for me to leave him and go into hiding. I don't want him to think that's an option because I'm not prepared to lose our relationship yet. I wonder if I ever will be prepared?

Entering his building I begin the long trek up the stairs wondering how much I should volunteer about what happened this week. Do I need to tell him anything? I think he'd want to know, but I'm still wondering why he didn't mention that Lavagetto wanted to see me.

I push the thoughts away. I'll only tell him if he asks. Digging out my keys, I focus on something more pleasant... Seeing Walt. I force myself not to think about the other, more disturbing problem... the temporary nature of my relationship with him.

It's dark downstairs, but there's light coming from the stairs. I drop my keys on the entryway table, throw my jacket over the sofa and head up to see him.

"Walter?"

"In the office." My body turns toward the sound of his voice before he finishes speaking.

I step in to find him at the filing cabinet. "Hi." I walk toward him and we meet in the middle.

"I've been thinking about you, Alex."

I've been trying so hard not to think about you... losing you.

Before I can say anything, he pulls me into his arms and his mouth closes over mine. While his tongue reclaims its territory, he takes my hand, guiding it along his body until it's resting on his erection. I groan into his mouth and squeeze his cock through his pants, then move my fingers to his fly, fumbling with the buttons.

His fingers close around my wrist as his lips move across my face. "Take off your clothes," he whispers into my temple.

I can't stop my grunt of frustration. I wasn't ready to stop kissing him yet. My lips close over the pulse-point at his throat as I yank at my own fly, quickly popping open the buttons. I want to taste him from head to toe, but I step back and pull my T-shirt over my head, watching Walter intently.

I want to see him... not fumble with my boot laces, so I use my knife to slice them open, then kick my jeans and boots away. He looks bemused more than turned on.

Moving close again, I slide my hand up the center of his chest. Dropping my voice half an octave, I murmur, "What would you like now, Walter?"

Still fully dressed, he steps to the desk and lifts off the computer monitor, placing it on the file cabinet. I thought we were having sex? I watch him curiously.

He clears the top of his massive desk and pushes the chair out of the way. Finally getting the picture, I come up behind him and reach around to open his jeans.

That disagreeable hand of his grabs my wrist again, pulling it away. "Not yet." He turns, wraps his hands around my waist and guides me to sit on the desk. I blink at him. If I go for his fly again will that pesky hand interrupt? I decide to try.

He's fast for an old guy and captures my wrist before I make contact... damn him. "Walter, don't tease."

"I'm not teasing, Alex. I'm quite serious." His baritone throbs in my groin.

Walter inserts his thigh between my legs, pressing them open as he steps in between. Then with a hand at the back of my neck he lowers me onto the desk, covering my body with his. My eyelids feel heavy and I moan, arching against him. I need him so much it's frightening.

He brushes his body against mine--the rub of the fabric making my skin tingle--and kisses me again. I part my lips, suck his tongue into my mouth and bring my legs up to wrap around his hips. He moans softly and nips at my lip.

Releasing my mouth, his lips trail down the side of my neck. I turn my head, offering my throat. His low growl vibrates into my body, making me tremble. He marks a path of gentle bites down my throat. I gasp at the physical sensation and feeling of vulnerability. He bites a little harder as he works his way down the center of my chest.

I unhitch my legs and plant my feet on the edge of the desk, my knees far apart to accommodate his body. He brushes his fingers along my abdomen as he continues to work his way down. My breathing accelerates as he passes my ribs, taking more flesh into his mouth as he bites my stomach.

There's a twinge of trepidation, wondering how far he's going to take this... even more trepidation at the knowledge that I won't try to stop him. I allow my legs to fall further open as I trace my fingers down my body, following his path and feeling his teeth marks in my skin.

At my navel, he clamps his teeth around it, biting more firmly. I struggle to breathe, arching my back to press against his mouth. It feels like his teeth are vibrating into the bite. He shifts lower. The bites get closer together as he moves toward my dick. I trace the ring of teeth around my navel, relaxing into the knowledge that I belong to him, in my own mind, and he can do whatever he wants with me.

Undeterred by my pubic hair, he continues to bite until he reaches the base of my cock. I hold my breath waiting to see what he wants. He takes a gentle nip at the base of my shaft, then holding it gently, he lightly bites a path down the underside. My breath is now coming in ragged gasps. The oddly sharp, but pleasurable, sensations are unlike anything I've ever experienced. When he reaches the most sensitive spot, where the shaft joins the head, he pauses, his teeth gently resting against my flesh.

Very slowly I notice an increase in pressure as he begins to bite. I groan at the pleasure so acute it's painful, and grab at the side of the desk. Faint tremors rack my body as the force behind the bite continues to mount. I can't help but wonder how far he's going to go... how much harder he'll bite, but I keep my legs open.

Despite the pain, my cock is rock hard. Arousal tinged with fear is something I've never experienced before. Strange-sounding groans and whimpers are coming from my throat, and I feel the sweat dripping off my body as I begin to shake.

The pressure never abates and it becomes harder to stay still. At the very moment I know I have to beg him to stop, the pressure is gone. My trembling becomes violent when Walter sucks the head of my cock into his mouth. His tongue soothes the sore tissue and I groan, pleasure winning over the pain again.

After giving my cock head a thorough massage with his tongue, he releases it. Leaning over me, he gazes at me, his expression a mix of awe and affection. "You're incredible, Alex." Lowering his face to mine, he kisses me. I'm unprepared for the tenderly possessive way his tongue explores my mouth. My breath catches.

I stroke the side of his face, then clasp his neck, wanting to keep him close. It's a languid kiss, but I feel the telltale tension in his body signifying arousal. I arch up against him and feel a startling jolt of pleasurable pain as my cock head rubs against the denim of his jeans.

When he breaks the kiss, he pauses for a moment, just looking down at me. There's so much emotion in his eyes... things I don't even know how to identify. I can't get enough air. I clutch his arm, as if I need support, feeling raw and exposed. Even if it kills me to lose him, there's nothing I would do to prevent this... I have to be with him... like this... for as long as I can.

He brushes the side of his face across mine. "Thank you, Alex." His fingers massage my shoulder.

"Anything you want, Walt." My voice is a hoarse rasp. And it may be the truest thing I've ever said. Because he can have anything he wants from me... even if that means he wants me out of his life. I kiss the side of his neck, the thought cutting at me like a dull blade.

He whispers, "So damned beautiful..." Then he stands and unbuttons his shirt. I watch intently as his body is revealed. He's efficient, but seeing his skin, the definition of his muscles, turns me on so much I have to remind myself to breathe.

Once he's naked, he extends a hand to me and helps me rise. My legs feel a little stiff, so I hold his arm for a few seconds. Then he steps behind me and rubs my neck and shoulders. I relax back against him, aware of every inch of skin that touches him. He turns me in his arms and brushes his body across mine. I'm acutely aware of the bite marks where his chest hair rubs against my skin.

I capture one of his hands and guide it to trace the teeth marks around my navel. He draws a circle around the bite with his thumb.

Stepping away, he opens the top drawer of his desk. In among the pens and supplies is a bottle of lube. I wonder how long that's been there. There's a smile in his eyes. My lips twitch in return, but my amusement is snuffed by my desperate need to have him fuck me.

Walter places the bottle on the desk, then reaches for me. His hands slide down my back to my ass. "I really need to fuck you," he says in a tone that almost passes for calm, squeezing the cheeks of my ass. Turning me again so I'm facing the desk, he murmurs, "Bend over for me, Alex." His fingers glide down the cleft of my butt.

I give a faint groan at the feel of his hand on my ass, then lay my torso flat on the desk, separating my legs.

When he touches me, the lube is warm. He brushes it back and forth across my anus, before slipping a finger inside me. His other hand finds my balls, which he cups gently. I clench my ass around his finger as if I could pull it deeper into my body.

"Relax, Alex."

My body responds before I have a conscious thought, releasing the tension.

He slides a second finger into me and begins to fuck me, quickly adding a third. I whimper at the acute sensation of being stretched. Then pull my legs a little further apart, pushing my ass back against his hand.

I hear his faint groan. He curls his fingers to brush across my prostate and my whole body spasms with pleasure. Withdrawing, he shifts closer. I feel the front of his thighs rub across the backs of mine. After placing the head of his cock at my entrance, he begins to push slowly. I grunt and push back at him, needing it faster.

Ignoring my non-verbal plea, he holds me in position and continues to penetrate me at his own pace. Once he's fully sheathed inside me, he presses his body flat on top of mine and whispers, "I really missed you, Alex."

I close my eyes and rest my cheek against the cool surface of the desk. For the moment, I feel completely content. I whisper back, "I missed you, too."

I feel a trail of kisses across my shoulders, then he raises himself off my body and begins to fuck me. I make guttural animalistic sounds with every thrust into my body. The myriad sensations are more than my overwhelmed brain can process: the sharp pleasure as his heavy erection forces my body to accept him... submit to him, the tender skin on my chest and stomach sliding across the wood, the throbbing pain near the head of my dick. And I push against him, meeting his thrusts, needing more.

Walter finds a steady rhythm and asks, "Harder? I don't want to crush you into the desk."

Immediately I begin to tell him harder, but it doesn't come out. I only manage, "Whatever you want to give me."

He does fuck me harder, but I can tell he's holding back. I know it's because he won't really hurt me. I believed what he promised, so I trust him to take whatever he wants.

I feel close to coming, but I'm determined to wait until he's ready. I slide my hand to the small of my back, palm up.

Groaning breathlessly, he mutters, "God... so sexy. I can see every muscle in your back." His hand brushes my hip, then slides between my legs, fingers curling around my cock. My body jerks and I groan as his thumb goes immediately to the tender spot where he bit me. He simply holds my cock while lightly brushing his thumb over the bite mark.

I move my hand to stroke the fingers holding my cock, then press his thumb into the sore spot, gasping at the sudden throbbing pain. Walter gives a low growl and begins jacking me off, his thumb rubbing aggressively over the inflamed skin. "Come first..." he gasps. I can tell by his halting speech that he's losing control.

I'm surprised by the rush of sensation signaling impending orgasm... triggered more by his words than his hand. Then my body is overwhelmed by a rush of pleasure and all my muscles clench and spasm.

With a wordless cry, he pounds into me harder. Even while experiencing the vibrations of my own orgasm, I feel his cock pulsing inside me.

My brain and body feel numbed by intense pleasure. I tighten the muscles of my ass around his cock as he rides out the last of his orgasm.

I feel him shift so he's lying on top of me, but he's obviously supporting most of his own weight. "Fuck," he mumbles.

I don't have the energy to agree with him. I give a soft meaningless grunt and enjoy the feeling of Walter touching me.

**

When my brain is working again, I rise and peel Alex off the surface of the desk. Although he's a little boneless, he doesn't look the worse for wear. Sitting on the edge of the desk, I tug him between my legs and kiss his chest.

"I really like having you here, Alex. When I came home the past few nights..." It came out of my mouth before I even realized I intended to say it. "...it was, I, uh, wanted you here." And now that I've said it, I'm not sure how he'll respond. My feelings for him have always been uncomfortable territory for us. Maybe he doesn't want to know. Surely he can figure it out from my actions, but maybe it's better left unsaid?

Still looking pleasure dazed, he gives me a half smile. "I like being with you... It's the only thing I enjoy." He lips touch my head and I hear a faint whisper, "I wonder if I enjoy it too much." Then the brush of lips on my cheek. "I need you, Walter. I'll keep coming back as long as you want me to."

And, for the first time, I admit to myself that I need him, too. I want him to be a part of my life for a long time, but I'm not sure if either of us has a future, so I say nothing.

After washing up, we go to bed. He curls up on my chest, and I stroke his hair until he makes sleep sounds.

I didn't intend for that biting thing to happen. But when he offered me his throat, I got turned on past all reason. The chemistry between us is... extraordinary. And I can't complain about his reaction. The way he offers himself to me is breathtaking.

Maybe it's wrong for me to be a possessive, domineering, sadistic lover. But it's clear to me that both of us enjoy it.

'It's the only thing I enjoy.' Yeah, me, too, Alex. There's not a lot of joy in either of our dismal lives. I'm going to take what I can, for both of us.

Alex mumbles incoherently and slips off my chest. I roll onto my side and drape an arm over his hip. He places his hand over mine, without ever appearing to wake.


Friday, 16 July 1999
6:40 A.M.

I wake before Alex. Carefully lifting the sheet, I examine his body. There's a faint red mark at the base of his throat and a purplish ring around his navel. The underside of his cock isn't visible, so I gently nudge it. There's a rosy circle the size of a quarter.

My eyes fall shut and a tremor passes through me. Impossible not to be turned on seeing my mark on his cock.

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I force myself to get up. A cold shower is in order.

Alex appears, half naked, as I'm having breakfast. He resists my attempt to feed him a slime beverage and takes his peanut butter to the coffee table with another of my books, after giving me a quick kiss.

Driving to the office, I imagine him there on my couch, getting granola in my peanut butter and complaining about my reading material. It's a nice picture. I'm sure Kimberly won't know what to make of the atypical smile on my face.

At lunchtime, I head over to another public library and check my email. As expected, there's a note from Lavagetto.

--
Thank you for sending Tom. The three days he spent with us were most beneficial. We were able to observe an episode, thanks to his resourcefulness. Per your concerns, I kept the tests as non-invasive as possible.

The team has learned a tremendous amount. We're all very excited about the long term prospects for this technology but--of course--focused on the immediate goal.

Tom also upgraded our security system, after he violated it.

As you must know, he's a unique character. Most of us rather like him and since we're all still breathing, he must have found us acceptable.

-R
--

You little bastard!

It doesn't take me long to figure out how he accomplished it. Had to be Scully. I want to get angry at her, at Lavagetto, at Alex, but... I know I was fighting the inevitable. If Lavagetto's team is going to find a cure for us, I can't expect them to do it without any data. I'll have to live with it.

But Alex should have told me.

I shudder to think what Lavagetto meant by Alex's 'resourcefulness.' From the sound of the note, Alex made quite an impression.

Shit. I hate that he did this without me being there to make sure he was okay. I remember the spinal tap. How did he get through this? Then I remember the tests the Resistance performed on him. I feel so helpless to protect him. Even in trying to help him, I only subject him to further tests.

I'm sorry, Alex.

I wish I could talk to him now, but I cannot phone him and I have to go back to work.

I tap out a quick reply.

--
Under no circumstances are you to perform more tests on Tom without my prior consent.

You may reach me at the following number, for emergencies only: 617-555-0421.

-H
--

In the middle of the afternoon, I manage to arrange a meeting with Dana near the fishpond. "Krycek went to Lavagetto this week."

She clasps her hands together and waits for my reaction.

"You did an end run around me."

Scully nods, too smart to get defensive.

Lavagetto needed to see Alex. I was lying to myself about that. "We both know they had to examine him but, dammit, Scully, I don't like surprises."

"I tried to talk to you about it, but you did not have an open mind on the subject." Her expression dares me to argue. "I'd like to know why. It's almost as if you're protecting Krycek."

No, more like exactly. I consider excuses... didn't want Krycek to have contact with the team. Then I don't bother. "Look, I'm managing this thing as well as I can. No more surprises, okay?"

"As long as you cut me off from the information I need to help you, I can't make that promise. Unless I have good reason to do otherwise, I will continue to put the needs of the project over your need to keep secrets." The uncompromising glare she gives me is one she uses on Mulder. Surely I'm not being that unreasonable.

I remind myself for the hundredth time that she's doing me a favor. A big one.

Shaking my head, I mutter, "Thank you," and take off back to the Hoover Building.

When I get home, Alex is sitting on the living room floor, replacing his boot laces. Well, that's what happens when you cut them off.

Fighting a smile, I shrug off my coat and sit in a nearby chair. "I heard about your visit to Tucson."

His welcoming smile fades, and he turns his attention back to his boots. "Uh-huh."

He and Dana are playing the same game. "Were you planning on mentioning it to me?"

Readjusting the boot so it's held more securely between his knees, he replies, "There's not much to tell." His gaze locks onto mine. "Except... I wish you'd been there." He looks back at his boots.

"If we'd discussed this before you did it, I could have been there."

Alex tosses the half-laced boot aside and gives me a slightly annoyed look. "If you'd told me Dr. Lavagetto wanted to see me, we could have discussed it."

"I..." I guess it's not fair for me to give him shit about his failure to talk to me. "Fuck, Alex, I was..."

Wrong. You were wrong, Walt.

I rise and go to the balcony, looking out at blue sky. The whole problem is that I'm trying to protect him, but I can't really. So I keep pretending that I can.

I sense movement behind me, then his arm comes around my waist and his lips touch the back of my neck. "I'm... sorry I didn't tell you. I haven't felt like there was anything I could really do to help you get free of this and I needed to do something. Russ did everything the way I told him, so it was... fine."

It's not about me. It's about us. Resting a hand over his, I reply, "Us."

Alex is still and quiet for several moments before whispering, "Us."

Does he see what I see when I look into the future? When I imagine us free of the nanocytes? Does he want to be with me the way I want to be with him? Or will he move on to a fresh pretty boy, having lost a taste for whatever I am to him?

I know what he and I have is different from what he's had with other lovers, but I can't imagine him wanting what I want.

But now that I'm finally successfully banishing the past, I need to stay in the present.

Don't worry about the future, Walt. Just be with him now. And stop trying to hide yourself and control everything. Just enjoy him.

Turning back to Alex, I give him a proper kiss. Then we sit at the kitchen table, over snacks, and exchange information about Lavagetto and the research.

At one point, Alex gives me a conspiratorial look. "Russ really likes tall and, um, strict blonde women. So, as a gesture of goodwill, I found one for him."

"You picked up a woman for Lavagetto?"

Alex smiles... a suspiciously innocent smile. "Oh, yeah. He was sitting on her lap when I left the bar."

I shake my head in astonishment, trying to imagine Lavagetto like that. "I'm not going to ask about the 'strict.' That's more than I want to know about, um, our doctor."

Thinking of the present, I decide to do something I've wanted to do since the days when Alex worked for me.


Saturday, 17 July 1999
2:23 P.M.

I shower at the gym, then drive to a good men's clothing store. It's not one I usually shop at. The clothes are... younger and more fashionable than what I wear. A pretty salesman helps me find what I'm looking for. He boxes it and wraps it in white paper with a green bow.

When I get home, Alex isn't there. I head up to the office. The computer monitor is still on the file cabinet. I put it back and finish cleaning out my files. A lot of old junk I've been holding onto that I don't need anymore. I fill several bags for recycling.

After Alex returns, I broil a couple steaks for dinner. Mid-way through dinner, looking very uncomfortable, Alex passes me a small white box and a large envelope. "I've been waiting for an opportunity to give these to you. Open the envelope first. You'll need to take it to the safe deposit box later."

I tear open the envelope and find passports, credit cards and identity papers. Two sets. With my photo. Not something I would have thought to acquire but I suspect they will be useful. "Thank you."

He drums his fingers on the table and replies, "Well, I figured you'd need them and... I realized I missed your birthday."

I crack into a smile. "No one's ever given me false identities for my birthday. A unique and thoughtful gift."

Alex throws a piece of lettuce at me. "No laughing. I've never bought a gift before. Besides it's really the other one."

The little white box is making me nervous. I resist the urge to make a wise crack. Glancing at the box, I look at him with a questioning expression.

"It's nothing illegal. Just open it."

Lifting the lid, I find what looks like a blue jewelry box. I remove it from the white box and open it. It's a Rolex Sub-mariner. Platinum and yellow-gold band with a sapphire-blue face. The time is marked with small round diamonds. It's a beautiful sporty looking watch. I like it instantly. Slipping it on, I extend my arm so he can admire it.

He looks at it, then back at me. "It looks good on you."

"It's great. Thank you, Alex." I lean over and kiss him. As my tongue explores his mouth, I think about wearing something he gave me. I hope it's waterproof. I may never take it off. My lips wander to his ear. "I have something for you, Alex."

He gives a faint chuckle. "I already have enough fake IDs."

"I'll bet you do." Standing, I retrieve the bag from the laundry room. Removing the box, I place it on his lap. "Are you going to be around tomorrow night?"

Alex looks faintly astonished, and absently murmurs, "Yeah."

"Good."

I remember the time I gave him the knife. He didn't understand what to do with a wrapped gift. This time he just tears it open, while asking, "Is it something illegal?"

I lean over and kiss his forehead. "No, but when you wear it, you're going to look like you should be illegal."

**

Wear it? I look at him curiously, then pull the box lid off. There's more wrapping inside. I pull out the thin white paper and find something green. It feels like silk. I pull it out of the box... it's a shirt. A very nice shirt.

Walter says, "I'd like you to meet me somewhere, and I wasn't sure if you had anything appropriate to wear."

I feel a little lost, but decide to just go along with whatever he wants. I glance up at him. "Um, where do you want me to meet you?" And why?

He gives me an address in Georgetown. "Seven o'clock tomorrow. Go to the back door, and ask for Shimizu-san."

Seems easy enough. I wonder what's going on. "Okay." I brush his lips with mine. "Thank you."

Walter wraps an arm around me and ruffles my hair. We finish dinner and my mind drifts to tomorrow night. Does Walter need to talk to me somewhere away from the apartment? But, if it's just that, why a new shirt?

Later, I sit behind him on the sofa and rub his neck... just wanting to be close to him.


Georgetown
Sunday, 18 July 1999
6:58 P.M.

The address Walter gave me is a Japanese restaurant named Horikawa. We're having dinner? I drove to my storage unit to get something to wear with this shirt, just to have dinner? Well, whatever. I guess anything with Walter is fine.

I go to the back door and ask for Shimizu-san. An elderly man appears. "You are Tom?" he asks in a heavily accented voice.

I nod, then formally greet him in Japanese.

He escorts me through the kitchen into a dark corridor. I feel slightly tense not knowing what's coming up. Once again, it hits me how much I trust Walter now. Any other circumstances, any other person, and I would never have entered this building.

When he reaches a curtained doorway, he bows and gestures for me to enter. "Your host is waiting for you."

I thank him in Japanese and step into the room, hearing the curtain swish closed behind me. It's a private tatami room--a low table with a mat on each side. Walter rises to his feet as I enter. He's wearing tailored black slacks and a royal blue soft knit shirt that hugs his torso. He looks so good it's hard to breathe.

Walter gives me a leisurely once-over, then flashes me a smile that makes my dick start to harden. I notice he doesn't appear to be breathing either.

I toe off my shoes, leaving them next to his and step up to him, wrapping my arm around his shoulders. "Hi, Walter." This is so risky. And it just doesn't matter.

"You look incredible." His hands slide down my sides and onto my ass. "It's a private room and the waitress is very discreet. I just wanted to be able to take you someplace nice..."

This is so foreign to me, but it feels... good. I like being with him here... like this. I give him a light kiss and murmur, "Thanks." I pull back enough to look at the shirt hugging his muscles. "You look pretty fucking sexy yourself, Walter. Were you thinking we'd actually, uh, eat?" Because I'd like to jump you. I wonder just how discreet that waitress is?

He gives me an odd smile. It takes me a moment, but I realize he's a little embarrassed. He smacks me lightly on the ass and gestures to the mat.

I reluctantly pull away from him, trailing my hand over his ribs and abdomen, then take a seat across from him. I notice after he sits he adjusts the cuff on his left arm, revealing the watch I gave him. I'm glad he likes it. I really had no idea what to buy him, I just wanted to give him something. And I'm surprised by how much I like that he's wearing something from me.

Picking up my chopsticks, I take an assortment of the appetizers on the table. We chat about idle things. I stretch a leg out under the table so I can play with his knee and thigh.

After the second course is delivered, I decide to ask him about something I've wondered about. "What's your family like?"

He seems a bit surprised by the question. After finishing a piece of sushi, he replies, "I was raised in a small town in Pennsylvania. My mother was a stock broker. She was the dominant personality at our house. My father was a Marine, before I was born, but he worked as a carpenter until he retired a few years back. He's quiet--painfully shy, actually. My sister lives next door with her family. She's a banker, mostly settled down now after some wild years as a teenager."

"You mentioned that she had two kids... a boy and a girl?"

"Yes. An eleven-year old boy, Jeremy, and Lisette, who's nine. Lisette is smart, charming and pretty. We haven't figured out how she's going to get into trouble yet. Jeremy is more shy, like his grandfather. He's a bit hard to get to know. Maybe I was like that once, too."

For some reason, I like the picture of Walter having a happy family, but I feel like I already know the answer to the next question. "Do you get to see them very often?"

His expression reveals regret. "It's funny. We all like each other, which is not how everyone feels about their family, but I only visit once a year. I guess we're not that close. When Sharon and I were first married, we went twice a year. My dad's pretty self sufficient. And Anna, my sister, keeps an eye on him."

I so easily get lost in the complexities of other people's relationships, but I want to understand Walter's. "Do you... miss them?"

He looks at the table for a moment. "Growing up, I was closest to my sister, but we're very different. I still enjoy her company when I visit, but I wouldn't say I miss her. I'd like to help out more with her kids, but I don't really know how." He rests his chopsticks and sips his beer. "I miss my mother, though."

"What was she like?"

"Kind of like Dana Scully on speed. She was an aggressive woman... always doing something... usually more than one thing at a time. She traveled a lot on business, but when she was home the entire household revolved around her. We all took orders from her and loved every minute of it. She was so... dynamic."

Walter appears caught in the past. His expression reveals his deep affection for his mother. Cautiously, I ask, "What happened to her?"

"She was killed in a train accident, a year after I joined the Bureau."

I get to my knees and lean over the table, giving him a light kiss. "Thanks for telling me about your family." I kiss him again, tracing his lips with my tongue as the waitress enters with the next course. I sit back thinking the waitress has her opportunity to be discreet.

Once she's gone, I ask, "So, you were an obedient kid. Any obnoxious tendencies you'd like to... share?"

"I was very polite as a child, until puberty. Then, I, well... My parents had a lot of opportunities to do their jobs. I didn't do drugs until 'Nam, but I was very independent and smart-mouthed at times. My sister was the wicked one, but she was adept at not getting caught, unlike me."

I smile at the picture he's painting. "How old were you when you lost your virginity?"

"Eighteen." He definitely looks embarrassed now. "Laura Jean... the night before I reported to the Marines."

"A girl, huh?" This is kind of fun. "Was it any good?"

He smirks. "I was an inept lover, I suppose. But, yeah, I enjoyed my first three minutes of intercourse."

I choke a little on my sake.

"What about you, Alex? Were you the fine lover you are today your first time?"

"Hell, no." I think back. "I came exactly four seconds after Tatiana touched my dick the first time. I got it up again in five minutes, but she had to tell me what to do... not that I wasn't enthusiastic, but my only prior experience was rolling around on the riverbank with Vlad."

Walter's smile broadens. "It makes me hard imagining you as a horny teenaged boy, with a pretty girl, shooting in an instant. But it's also... sweet."

I feel slightly embarrassed as I say, "And I had developed some self control by then. It seems kind of funny now, but back then..." I shake my head.

"I only lasted three minutes because I was so stressed out about whether or not I was doing it right. I think girls that age get used to coaxing the boys past their humiliating moments."

"Up until you," I elucidate, "my philosophy on sex was: with women, give it to them the way they want it. With men, do it the way you want it." I make a vague gesture. "Women are much more... I don't know... something. Stronger, I think."

Walter nods sympathetically. "Agreed. And fussier, too." He reaches across the table and takes my hand. "So what's your philosophy on sex now?"

Feeling a little flustered, I look at the table top while rubbing circles with my thumb on his hand. "I get so turned on by giving you pleasure... seeing desire in your eyes. So, I guess my philosophy is do whatever you want." I look up at him. "Anything that makes you look at me that way."

An intense look passes between us. For a moment, I think he's going to pounce across the table and throw me on the floor.

Instead he clears his throat and drinks half a glass of water. "I, uh, turning me on has never been much of a challenge for you, though."

True, but there's something beyond desire in the way he looks at me sometimes. I feel like I live for it... but I'm not ready to tell him that. "It's not just about turning you on. I've... done that before. It's... knowing you want me is... unreal. I'd do anything for it."

I'm suddenly acutely aware of my own body. And his. The two layers of fabric between my toes and his thigh. The smooth slide of the silk shirt on my skin. Two distinct drops of sweat rolling past my ribs on the right side. The pull of the shirt across his flesh when he moves.

His eyes seem to burn into me. "You don't have to do anything for it, Alex."

I shake my head faintly. "That's not true, Walter. I have to give you parts of myself that I've never given..." I trail off. He knows I've never given it to anyone else. And it's not because he demands it... I'm compelled to. By something in me, in response to something in him. It feels like it tears me apart sometimes. And I don't understand it. I take a breath and try to change the subject. Too much information. "I think I could get turned on imagining you doing anything sexual... including cutting your toenails in the nude. But... I have a hard time imagining you with hair." I can hear the now distant edge in my voice.

The serious expression on his face tells me he heard what I said. He pulls my hand across the table and kisses my palm. My fingers twitch, curling toward his cheek. He gazes at me for a long time, as if trying to silently finish the conversation we're not having. I can't say anything else, but I let him take what I haven't said from my eyes... my expression. I don't hide from you anymore, Walter.

**

I can't deny it any longer. I still want to, but... I'm in love with him.

He can see it in my face, if he chooses to, but I think he won't. And what I see in his face might be the same thing that's in mine.

If this gets any more intense, we're both going to expire on the table. So I take pity on both of us. I squeeze his fingers and return his hand to the table.

We eat in silence for a few minutes.

God, Alex. I can't believe where we've been and where we are now. And I dare not think where we're going. This thing between us has been... unstoppable. The forces pulling us together are the strongest I've ever felt.

And we're both so ill equipped to deal with any of it. Sometimes the nanocytes seem less a problem than our own feelings.

Alex stops eating and pulls something out of his pocket, passing it to me. "I got this for you today. I don't know if you want it, but you seemed to like..." He trails off and I take a photograph from his hand. It's a smaller copy of the photo he gave Lyosha. The 11 Krycek children.

"Thank you." I really want a photo of him now. The way he looks tonight--so gorgeous in the green that makes his eyes smolder--but it would be too dangerous for me to have it. So I memorize the way he looks right now, and tuck the photo into my pocket. This one is dangerous, too. I'll find some place to conceal it. "I was a little jealous when you gave it to Lyosha."

He gives me a half smile. "Then I'm glad I brought this one for you."

Dessert is a tray of beautiful tiny pastries. I feed him a chocolate one across the table, and he licks my fingers clean. He selects a tiny fruit tart and holds it to my lips. I lick his fingers, too, feeling silly, but happy.

When the food has been cleared, I move to his side of the table and take him in my arms. We sit together just being close for a long time. Neither of us wants the evening to end. There's a world of ugly realities out there.

Hearing the sounds of the kitchen crew closing the restaurant, I whisper to Alex. "We have to go."

He's unresponsive for a moment, then kisses the side of my face and gets to his feet. "Thanks for tonight... for everything."

I watch him go, not liking that he has to leave separately. Wanting to erect an RF shield around this room and keep him here forever... The bill is already paid, so I linger, remembering how he looked tonight.

After a few minutes, I pick up my jacket and exit through the front door, thanking Shimizu-san, who lets me out.

Back in Crystal City, when I open the door to my apartment, the light is on. Alex must already be here. But when I step into the room, I see a large figure on the couch. Morgan. Reading a magazine and holding his gun.

Reflexively, I pat the jacket pocket with my gun, but I don't draw it.

I shut the door, leaving the deadbolt unlocked, a clue for Alex. Stepping into the living room, I watch him watch me. "Morgan..."

He nods a greeting and taps his gun on his thigh. "I'm looking for the kid. You seen him?"

"Make yourself at home," I mutter, not really caring that he's broken into my apartment, unless he means harm to Alex, which I doubt. "Why are you looking for him?"

Morgan shakes his head. "I need to pass on some information to him."

I open my mouth to respond when the door swings open. There's no one in view. A moment later, Alex cautiously steps around the doorframe, gun at the ready. As soon as he sees Morgan his expression shifts briefly to surprise, then back to cold and flat. He kicks the door shut and locks it, then whispers to me. "Scan?"

Rising, I go to the drawer and retrieve the scanner. Alex gives Morgan a glare that clearly says 'be quiet,' while I leave the living room to scan the condo.

Returning five minutes later, I announce, "All clear," and put away the scanner.

Alex turns to Morgan. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

I take a chair.

Morgan gives Alex an appreciative look from head to toe. "I have some news for you kid, but I have to say, I've never seen you looking this good." He reaches out a beefy arm and yanks Alex onto his lap. Alex gives a shocked yelp.

I'm across the room in an instant, pushing Alex to the side, before my fist connects with Morgan's jaw. "You son of a bitch, keep your hands off him!"

One of Morgan's arms is trapped by Alex, who is struggling in some fashion. Morgan's other hand rises to impact with my chest in an attempt to push me away.

Alex pulls at my arm as he tries to get out of Morgan's grip. "God dammit, Morgan. If you don't let go of me, I'll fucking shoot you this time."

I apply pressure to a nerve point in Morgan's arm and Alex rolls off the sofa. I extend an arm and help him up before I turn to Morgan. "You do not break into my home to pull a stunt like this. You'd better have a damned good reason for being here."

Alex pushes me back toward the large arm chair, muttering Russian curses under his breath. Then he quietly asks, "Will you sit?"

I glare at Morgan. Don't fuck with me. Then I sit down. To my surprise, Alex sits on my lap. I wrap my arms around his waist.

Morgan gives us a faintly amused look.

Alex rests his hand on my encircling arms and addresses Morgan. "We've had this 'grabbing' discussion before, but let me phrase it differently this time. Only Walter touches me."

Sweet. Too fucking sweet.

I should resist this sort of intimacy in front of a stranger, but I can only enjoy Alex's affirmation of my possessiveness.

Morgan gives Alex an arch look. "Monogamy, Alex? Not exactly your style."

I'd like to point out to the prick that we didn't invite him here to critique our relationship. But this is Alex's problem... and he'll tell me if he needs something from me.

"Morgan, I don't think you're in a position to say with any certainty what I would, or would not do." Alex's voice is just shy of being frigidly cold. "And there are no ambiguities here. Walter is it, so keep your hands off."

Morgan nods his head to the two of us. "No, there's nothing ambiguous, kid."

He accepted that way too easily. I realize that this was some sort of test... of me, I think. But I'm not sure why. I'm almost certain that Morgan actually cares about Alex, so I'll make a point to try to tolerate him.

After a moment, Morgan adds, "You don't have much practice trusting people, kid."

Alex gives a one-shouldered shrug. "So?"

"So, nothing. I haven't seen you two together before. But that's not why I came."

So, he's making sure I can be trusted to protect Alex. Well, fine, you smug son of a bitch. I'll thank you not to abuse my lover to test me.

Alex looks at me, with a faint air of confusion. Then he clears his expression and looks back at Morgan. With a sigh, he asks. "So, why are you here?"

Morgan absently rubs his jaw--his first concession to the punch I delivered--then replies, "I have some information for you kid."

Alex's sigh is now exasperated. "What information?"

Morgan's glaze flicks to me. "You want to do this in front of him?"

Alex stiffens and considers the question for a long time.

I don't know much about Alex and Morgan, but I'm guessing there's a lot of history, which probably includes some things Alex might not want me to know. This is a huge matter of trust. I'm tempted to offer Alex privacy, but he'll tell me if that's what he wants.

Alex turns his head to meet my gaze, looking at me intently. Then he looks back at Morgan and replies, "Yes."

Morgan's expression briefly conveys astonishment, then he shrugs nonchalantly and says, "There's a been an order placed... recently. It's on the street. At least three interested suppliers."

Alex's tension increases dramatically. "Me or Walter?"

Morgan's face stiffens. "You."

Alex relaxes a little, then turns to me. He brings his mouth close to my ear. "It's a... hit. Three takers."

Fuck. I ask Morgan, "Who's the customer?"

Morgan's gaze flicks from me to Alex, then back to me. "It's not entirely clear. And usually I know. My best guess... our cigarette smoking friend." He looks back at Alex. "You do something to piss him off recently?"

Alex snorts. "Uh, yeah. Every opportunity I get."

Dammit. This is bad. Spender comes out ahead too often. If he wants Alex dead... This is just one more impossible problem. I wonder how much Morgan would charge me to take out Spender.

Morgan rises to his feet. "Keep a low profile. I've been dropping information that you've left town, but that will be pointless if you're seen. Call me every couple days... I'll keep you posted."

Alex nods, but doesn't rise. "Thanks, Morgan."

"Anytime, kid." Then he's gone.

My arms close tighter around Alex's waist. Yeah, I'm good for punching men who make passes at my lover, but what can I do about this? Keeping Alex safe just keeps getting harder.

Tonight at the restaurant it was so damned good. Either of us could be dead tomorrow. I want us to keep living, and not give up under pressure. In Vietnam, I thought I was going to die dozens of times and I didn't. I have to find some hope for both of us. We have to live days that are worth living while we can.

Alex turns his body toward me, his arm coming around my shoulder and his face resting against my neck.

**

There have been hits out on me before, but I don't remember ever being this upset at the prospect of dying. And I'm not sure why. Is it because I'll lose Walter? Because I'm afraid he'll be hurt? And I know he would be. I saw it in his eyes tonight... just how much he cares for me.

And now... Spender is back in the mix. And, as usual, making life miserable wherever he goes.

I'm so sorry, Walter.

Suddenly, I feel responsible for all this. If I'd made different choices...

I feel silly holding on to him like this, but I need it.

After a long time, I manage to whisper, "The Resistance will be sending me out of the country soon. I'll keep out of sight until then."

"What can I do to help? Is there something, anything, I can do to help you beat this hit?"

I take a breath and pull my face back enough to look at him. He looks concerned. "It's not the first time Spender's put out a hit on me, and he hasn't gotten me yet. I know how to lie low, Walter. But..." I consider for a second. I can either spend most of my time at my apartment, or here. Well, that's a tough choice. "I probably won't leave the apartment much until I'm ready to leave the country."

"Good. If there are things you need, I'll handle as much of it as possible for you. If we maintain our security measures, this will be the last place anyone will look for you."

I feel a faint smile creep up. "No kidding. But, I warn you, I'm going to go stir crazy with all this time inside." I smile a little more. Trying to distract us both, I nuzzle the side of his neck. "I'll need lots and lots of sex to distract me."

"When has that ever not been the case?"

That's true enough. Wearily, I rise from Walter's lap and lock the door and shut off the lights. Tugging at his arm, I suggest, "Let's go to bed."

We both execute the bedtime ritual quickly, then meet in the middle of the bed and settle into a familiar position. His arm around me, my arm around his waist, my leg draped over his, my head on his shoulder.

Idly, I stroke his chest, while contemplating everything that happened this evening. Dinner was... perfect. Perfectly uncomfortable sometimes, but my discomfort didn't detract.

Then Morgan. What a nightmare. I don't have any idea what he was thinking tonight. It's not the first time he's grabbed me, but I cannot believe he did that in front of Walter. Of course, I've never really explained my relationship with Walter to him.

But, even more surprising, is how Walter reacted. When he told Morgan to 'keep your hands off him,' I felt a wave of heat flood through my body. Despite the fact that I was focused on getting Morgan's vice-like grip off me.

I'm not exactly sure what prompted me to sit on Walter's lap after that mess. It wasn't about Morgan. It was... well, about Walter. About telling him I'll acknowledge that I belong to him. And that he can do what I won't allow anyone else to do.

It was stupid, but I felt like I needed to make the gesture... because it's easier than saying it. A lot like just curling up in bed, rather than trying to seduce Walter. It's much harder to say that sometimes I just want to be close... and not fuck.

I close my eyes and wonder if I'll figure this out.

** End Part 1 **

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In Part 2...
Walt asks Alex to do something that is totally contrary to his nature.
Walter tries to solve a mystery.
Alex acquires a permanent souvenir.

Next part in series


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