Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Advance1.


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 2

Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 29 July 1999
6:32 P.M.

I'm going absolutely insane. Being stuck in the condo all day for the past 11 days is too much like... prison or the silo. Walter's been coming home between 6:30 and 7:00 since this began, so the evenings are tolerable. The nights and mornings are more than tolerable since he's being so 'obliging' about the sex. And, of course, the weekend was nice... having him around all day.

But when he's at work... I'm losing my mind. I had to go out the first day and check in with the Resistance. They were in agreement that I needed to keep out of sight, so my daily check-ins were suspended.

I've organized and cleaned everything in Walter's apartment. Well, except the kitchen. I'm not that bored. I think Walter's still trying to figure out how I organized his CDs. The last time was alphabetical by the last letter of the third track. Yes, I am insanely bored.

Walter's been pretty mellow about me re-organizing his house. Except yesterday, when I decided to tackle his office. He looked a little panicked when he found me ankle-deep in resorting his files. He opened his mouth three times before actual words came out, then just suggested I leave him some kind of index so he knows where to find things.

And that got me started on today's task. It was simple at first... typing up the index on his computer. Then I started reorganizing his computer files. Then had to type up an index for that. I definitely need to not get started on tasks that require typing.

On a whim, I left him random notes. I lost count of the number. Some of them on the computer, some hidden in drawers or files.

I started contemplating a color-coding scheme for his office that I'll implement tomorrow. For now, I'm absorbed in online shopping. I can't figure out what Walter will do with a retractable garden hose, but it might come in handy for something.

After hitting one of the sex supply sites and buying Walter a surprise assortment of stuff, I sign off, put some cash in an envelope with a note and tuck it under his keyboard.

I haven't tackled the closet in his office yet, so I head there next. The first thing I find is a box of photos. Part of me immediately wants to sit on the floor and go through them, but another part feels a sense of... unease. I want Walter to show these to me.

Putting the box back, I think to ask him soon to show me his pictures.

I hear a sound from downstairs. Walter's home. I make a mental note for tomorrow. Color-code the office, clean the closet, rearrange clothes. Then I head downstairs to jump on Walter.

He's still shrugging out of his jacket when I attack. I kiss up the side of his neck to his ear while saying, "I cleaned up your computer, upgraded your virus software, but I left you an index."

"Uh-huh," he says, sliding a hand into my jeans to squeeze my butt. "Well, I can always buy a new PC if I have to."

Wiggling against his hand, I kiss to the front of his throat. "My organizational abilities are unsurpassed." I nip at his Adam's apple, then find his lips.

He coaxes my tongue into his mouth. I explore the recesses with a franticness that belies the short duration of time since our last kiss. When my need to taste him is temporarily sated, I suck at his tongue, drawing it into my mouth.

Walter kisses me thoroughly, then pulls back. Feeling a little light-headed, I grab at his shirt, muttering, "I'm going nuts. It's a good thing you're such a sexy distraction."

A short time later, we sit down to a dinner of spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. I helped with dinner by groping him from time to time. He threatened to tie me to the chair if I didn't get out of the way. The threat struck me as titillating. But I cooperated and got out of the way.

Dinner is great... I think Walter's a fantastic cook, but he brushes off the compliments.

Afterward, we settle on the couch in a complicated, but comfortable, entwined position. I'm feeling a little antsy, so after a few minutes, I drum my fingers on his chest and ask, "Would you show me your photographs?"

"Hmm... Okay. They're in a black box in the office closet."

I disentangle myself, then kiss the side of his face. "I know. I ran across them today."

He smiles thoughtfully. "You could have looked at them. I wouldn't have minded."

I shrug, not sure how to tell him I wanted him to be willing to show them. I go upstairs to grab the box, then return to the sofa, handing it to him.

Walter sets the box in my lap and removes the lid. I pull out a small album and glance to Walter. "Sharon made that book for me during the divorce. It's pictures of us, some from the wedding, some after."

I'm not entirely clear on all the intricacies of marriage and divorce, but this seems like an odd divorce present. I flip through the photos. In the wedding shots, and a few from what must be before the wedding, Walter has hair. It's dark brown. Almost as dark as mine. I glance at him, then back at the pictures. He looks younger, but also... less sure of himself. It's hard to imagine. Then I look back at him.

"Yeah... Walt with hair," he says. "I lost most of it within two years of the wedding. I told Sharon she could exchange me for a husband with hair, but for some insane reason, she decided to keep me."

Almost to myself, I murmur, "No great surprise. I would have kept you, too." I glance between the picture and him again. "I think I prefer you the way you are now."

He smiles indulgently. "I knew I liked having you around."

I give him a quick kiss. "I like being around." Tapping the photo, I ask, "Why didn't it work? Sharon seems..." I struggle for the word. "Perfect, I guess."

"Yeah, she is close to flawless. However, I am not." He looks away for a moment, then adds, "I wouldn't let her get close to me, shut off most of what I was feeling. We became like roommates, but she wasn't happy that way. I guess I wasn't either. It made me feel... old."

It wasn't my intention to make him think of painful things. Trying to lighten the mood, I ask, "Do you think it would be in poor taste for me to thank Sharon for divorcing you?"

"Definitely poor taste, but Sharon would find it amusing." He wraps an arm around me and squeezes. "It turned out better for both of us. She's got a sexy young boyfriend, too."

Something in his voice tells me how important it is to him that Sharon is happy. I turn over something he said in my mind... 'better for both of us.' He feels better with me than with Sharon? I realize I'm starting to smile. Maybe Walter wants this relationship as much as I do... but I'm still not prepared to ask him about it. I grab the hand resting over my shoulder and give it a squeeze before resuming my perusal of his photos.

Eventually, I find pictures of each of his family members. He looks a little like his mother, but definitely has his maternal grandfather's build. His sister, Anna, looks nothing like him. Blonde hair and rather petite. His niece, Lisette, and nephew, Jeremy, both resemble him slightly.

His mother's photo captures my attention. After the description of her, I expected someone tall, stern and imposing. She is tall, but she looks... energetic and happy.

As I near the bottom of the box, I find photos that are clearly of Walter in Vietnam. It takes me a minute to spot Walter in the photo of his platoon. He was much lankier when he was 18 and had a buzz cut that makes me smile. He looks almost... goofy.

Walter points to one of the men standing next to him. "That's Larry, my first... uh, boyfriend."

The two of them are turned ever so slightly toward each other. Your eye is easily drawn to them because they seem slightly separate from the rest of the men. "This is the man you let fuck you?" Normally, I feel jealous when I think of Walter having sex with other men, but this just feels... sad, I guess, but also sweet. The two of them in a difficult situation, having only each other. In some ways, it's not unlike where we are now.

"Yeah. Larry was... a bit of a trouble maker, but he was a good guy."

I nudge Walter with my elbow. "I guess you do have a type." I consider for a second. "Although, I don't think anyone would dare call me a 'good guy.'"

He chuckles and kisses my temple. I look for and don't find the familiar tightness around his eyes when reminders of my criminal activities arise. Something's changed, but I can't pinpoint what or when. And I'm afraid to trust it... because I want it too badly.

I spend more time looking at the few photos from Vietnam. I give him a really bad time about the photo of him and Larry with a hooker. They both look incredibly stoned. I'm sure the hooker got more than her usual fare off those two that night. They would have been lucky to wake up with their wallets.

At the very bottom of the box is an envelope addressed to Walter. Inside is a nude photo of a man and woman. They look like they couldn't be more than 23 or 24. Their arms are around each other's waists. What's really eye-catching is that they look like brother and sister.

I glance at him, wondering what the deal is with this photograph. His expression is a little weird. He's clearly fighting a smile. I wave the photo at him. "What gives?"

"Fraternal twins."

I think about that for a moment. He's not addressing the obvious. "Uh-huh. And why did they send you a photo of them naked... together."

His eyes are laughing. "It was sort of a... souvenir."

It doesn't take me long to process that. "You slept with both of them?"

He nods.

"At the same time?"

He nods.

I give him a look of admiration. "Wild man." I try to visualize and fail. "Uh, who did who?"

"I, uh, fucked both of them. They kissed each other a lot and mostly watched."

"I see I'm going to have to, um, probe further into your sexual past. This could be quite interesting."

Walter shrugs. "I'm more interested in the present. Why don't we get ready for bed a little early?"

I start piling the photos back in the box. I can take a hint.

A mere twenty minutes later, we're climbing into bed. I kiss Walter's shoulder. "Thanks for showing me your pictures."

He smiles at me, as his hands slide down the backs of my thighs. He tickles the skin behind my knees, a heretofore unknown erogenous zone. I gasp and leave a trail of kisses from his jaw to his nipple. I lave it with my tongue, then look up at him. "I'm going to do an index of your body now."

"No, you're not," he replies calmly. "You're going to bite my nipple."

I feel an instant tremor of shocked arousal, then lean down to take his nipple between my teeth. I roll it between my teeth, bite gently, then soothe it with my tongue.

His hands glide up my backside to my shoulders, squeezing and rubbing. "Harder."

I bite down again, keeping the pressure on longer. His breathing accelerates and his tension increases. Releasing the nipple, I scrape my teeth over it, then caress it with my tongue.

I've done this so many times, with so many men, but now I'm doing what Walter wants... not what I want. And the experience is so very different.

I feel a little hesitant, but incredibly aroused, not knowing exactly what he expects tonight.

Walter slips a hand between us and draws it down my body until he reaches my cock. His fingers close around it and I shudder. After stroking me twice, just enough to really tease, he murmurs, "Bite it again... don't hold back. I want to really feel it."

I glance up at him for a second. He's serious. I suck and lick his nipple gently, then blow on it until it's hyper-sensitive. Taking it between my teeth, I pull a little... his body will tell me when it's enough.

Drawing more of his flesh into my mouth, I bite harder.

His breathing gets faster and his hand appears at the back of my head, fingers tightly gripping my hair, holding me to him.

I keep the pressure on until I know he's at the edge, then release it abruptly. Walter hisses, and his hips move subtly. He's definitely enjoying this. I suck hard at his nipple, knowing I'm drawing the blood quickly to his flesh. He emits a breathy groan, as his fingers go lax in my hair.

Releasing his nipple, I move on to its neglected twin. I gnaw lightly at the very tip, then lick gently. I begin to pinch tiny pieces of flesh with my teeth, when he grabs my hair again. The sensation destroys my focus and I react on instinct, sucking on his nipple, then biting down.

His fingers, still wrapped around my cock, clench rhythmically. My hips seek his hand, and I groan, fighting the draw of my need to fuck.

I bite harder than the last time, then release it and apply firm suction.

"Damn. I like that, Alex," Walter says, releasing my hair. "What else can you do with that sexy mouth?"

After gently soothing his nipple with my tongue, I glance up at him. "It might leave a mark." I rather like the idea...

"Go ahead." Walter gives me a lust-filled smile.

I move up until my mouth is near the base of his throat. I explore with my tongue until I find what I'm looking for. The nexus of tendons shielding a nerve. Pressure causes an intense sensation throughout the entire body, and the pressure near the carotid artery causes temporary oxygen deprivation to the brain. I think to warn him, but I'm so turned on, I bite before the words will come out.

Walter's body tension is suddenly gone. He squeezes my dick gently.

I keep the pressure on for about five seconds... long enough to make him feel slightly high. Releasing his neck, I lick gently to soothe the indents in his skin. It's a good thing he wears button-up shirts. I pull my head back to look at him. He looks stoned and is obviously trying to focus, but finding it extremely difficult.

Stroking the side of his face, I kiss him lightly, then draw a path down his chest and to his navel. As I move, my dick is pulled from his grasp. Damn.

I probe his navel with my tongue while he recovers.

"That mouth of yours is a dangerous weapon."

I lift my head so I can see him. "I take it you approve." I draw my tongue from his navel to the base of his cock. "What else would you like me to do with my mouth?"

Unexpectedly, he shifts out from under me, turns over on his stomach, tucking his legs around me so that his ass is now in my face.

Groaning, I bury my face in his ass, dragging my tongue along his crack, then bringing it back to his anus. I take my time, circling the tight ring slowly, before pushing in to fuck him with my tongue.

Walter sighs and rocks his hips slightly, setting the pace for the penetration of my tongue. I pull back for a second to wet my finger, then slide my tongue back inside him. Gently slipping my finger under my tongue, I find the swell of his prostate and massage it lightly.

He moans mournfully and mumbles, "Oh, yeah."

Once, he mentioned me fucking him. This is the first time the desire to do just that has nearly overwhelmed me. If he enjoys this, I can't see why he wouldn't get off on being fucked. But, I push the thought away and continue working my tongue in his ass while stroking his prostate with my fingertip. It's a little difficult, but I'm not going to stop until he wants me to... or my tongue gives out.

"God, Alex, I could almost come from this."

Fucking hell. If I had two hands I know I could manage that. But I'll give it my best. I rotate my hand so I can massage his perineum with my thumb. The change in hand position forces me to arch my neck to keep rimming and tongue-fucking him, but it doesn't matter. It just makes me feel more turned on.

I put a constant pressure on his prostate, and press with my thumb against his perineum. The subtle motion of our bodies allows my cock to rub slightly against the sheets. The minute friction is maddening, and my tongue movements in his ass become more frantic.

His hips begin to move back and forth as he also rubs against the sheets. The ratcheting up of his body tension tells me he will be able to come like this. And I want him to... want to feel his orgasm on my tongue.

Walter groans deeply, then increases the speed of his movements. It becomes more difficult as my own concentration begins to fray. I keep my fingers in place and force my tongue to follow the movement of his hips, the friction on my own cock unbearable.

When he's at the very edge of coming, he growls, "Stop."

It takes my brain a second to catch up. I groan and begin to comply even as Walter barks out, "Stop," and wrenches away.

I roll over on my back, gasping for air. Fuck.

Walter rolls onto his side and looks at me, an exasperated smile on his face.

Once my breathing is under control, I ask, "Why the fuck did y-" I cut myself off, grunting with frustration. That was so close. I've never felt him come like that before and I wanted it.

Sadist.

His mouth closes over mine and I too easily forget my disappointment in the heady pleasure of his kiss. His hand brushes down my chest and encircles my cock. I arch against him, groaning into his mouth. When he breaks the kiss, he looks down at me with a wicked expression. "Don't you ever like to take it right to the edge, then stop and start all over again?"

I give him an equally wicked smile. "No. I'm pretty much into instant gratification." Then I turn more serious. "Except with you. I like the idea of turning you on over and over again."

Releasing my cock, he rubs his body up and down across mine. The tingling sensations are so intense, I close my eyes and moan, wishing my skin had memory. He kisses me again, then his lips move up my jaw line to my ear, then down my neck. I twitch, loving the feeling of his lips on my skin. He takes a bite a couple inches under my ear, pressing down until it stings. I tilt my head, giving him the best access and move into the bite, needing even a temporary mark. He groans and his teeth sink in deeper. Then with a quick, intense bite, he suddenly releases me.

The throb of pain fills my body, endorphins morphing it into pleasure. He smiles down at me... The smile is oddly... affectionate. Then he shifts me onto my side. He reverses his position so that we're side by side in the classic 69 position. My tongue immediately licks at the head of his cock.

I feel his lips brushing across my pubic hair as he mutters, "Suck me, Alex."

I suck the head into my mouth, quickly taking him all the way down. His lips and teeth nip and explore my dick as his fingers stroke my balls. I groan around his cock and pull back, lightly dragging my teeth along the underside ridge, then swirling my tongue around the corona before sucking him all the way down again.

The light teasing sensations coming from my cock and balls are driving me insane. With Walter, I can have a hair-trigger orgasm, but even I can't come like this. I channel my frustration into sucking, licking and deep-throating him vigorously.

He groans and begins to fuck my face. I'm torn between keeping my throat relaxed and the now not-so-teasing touches on my cock and balls. The rhythm of Walter's thrusts into my mouth increases and I grab his hip, encouraging him. I give a startled yell around his dick when he pulls the head of my cock into his mouth and applies firm suction. My whole body jerks in reaction.

The only thing preventing me from coming is focusing on the face-fucking he's giving me. Then he gives a hum of pleasure around my cockhead that vibrates through my entire body. I'm at that edge, my body twitching constantly with the need to come. Something tells me Walter doesn't want me to come yet. And I want to come when he's ready.

God, but I'm so close. The rapid thrust of his cock into my mouth makes it impossible to warn him. His hips suddenly tense, then he thrusts hard as he begins to orgasm. No longer frantically trying not to come, I can only swallow convulsively, sucking at his cock and feeling lightheaded at the taste and smell of him.

My cock is still in his mouth, but he's no longer sucking. My body is trembling in reaction to his climax as I begin to lick his cock, cleaning it and tasting the last of his cum. After a few moments, I feel a gentle lick on my cock head. Then he releases it and kisses my abdomen. "That was... unreal." He presses the side of his face against my belly and wraps an arm around me.

My body is shaking from the effort of not coming... my dick painfully hard. I continue to lick at his cock before gently drawing his balls, one at a time, into my mouth to suck lightly.

Walter moans quietly into my stomach. "Alex?"

After a final lick, I pull back. "Hmm?"

He extracts himself from my hold, sits up and looks at me. "I want you to do something for me."

My eyelids feel heavy. I can't stop the subtle movement of my hips. "Okay."

Hesitating, he replies only, "It will be very difficult for you."

My curiosity is piqued, but I'm too lost in the pleasure haze to put much energy behind my response. "Whatever you want."

Walter takes my cock in his hand and squeezes gently. "I want you to stay hard all night for me."

I gape at him in shock. "What?!" There's no confusion about what he said and his expression is completely serious. He doesn't mean for me to come and get it up again. He means for me not to come at all. "Walter, I... I..." I swallow hard, trying to come up with something to say. "I can't..." But something in his eyes gives me pause. This has some significance to him. He really wants this. I feel my body relaxing before I'm even aware I've made a choice. The choice to accept.

I look at him for a long time before I repeat the words I said before, now understanding what they mean. "Whatever you want."

The softening of his eyelids tells me this turns him on. He just came, but this arouses him. He scoops me into his arms and kisses me. His mouth seems to be trying to communicate what he hasn't said, but I don't completely understand.

My mind drifts to the time he told me his fantasy. The only other time he's pushed like this... pushed me somewhere I wasn't sure I was ready to go. I hold on to him, feeling vulnerable, even though all he did was ask me not to come. So simple, but I know things won't be the same in the morning. It frightens me even as my arousal surges to a higher level.

Ending the kiss, he shifts our bodies into our typical going to sleep position. His hand in my hair, he begins to massage my scalp. "Thank you, Alex," he whispers.

My body relaxes, but not as much as usual. After a long pause, I look up at him and say the most difficult thing in my life. "I would give you anything you wanted, Walter."

Walter inhales suddenly. His expression looks pained--deeply pained--but I know he's not hurt. I wish I understood. "I know you would, Alex," he replies quietly. "What you give me... means so much to me." His voice cracks on the words.

Closing my eyes, I rest my head against his and hold him tighter. I need it to mean something to him, because it's all I have to give. I can't undo the past, I can't be the moral person he wants, and I can't prevent the fact that being with me might hurt him more in the long run. All I have to give is my will, myself... and if, someday, it's enough, I might have a chance of holding on to this.

Pushing away unsettling thoughts of the future and dangerous emotions, I drift back into my body... aware of touch and smell. Walter. I'd know him anywhere. My sexual tension increases at the potent stimuli, and I let it flow through me so I'll stay erect. This is where I belong.

Walter intensifies the work of his hand in my hair. A long while later, some of the edge is off my raging sexual tension. So, he moves his hands down my body, lightly caressing me everywhere. His fingers trail along my crack, down the insides of my thighs, between my toes, over my balls, along the length of my cock, then up my torso and across my nipples. My tension ratchets back up as the need to come is the only thing on my mind.

Making strange gasping grunts, I curl up next to him. His arms come around me and I know he feels the tremors in my body. He holds me, but periodically his hands stray to stroke some part of my body, bringing me back to a state of exigent arousal.

After a long time, my shaking body manages to find a fitful sleep. I wake gasping at the sensation of his fingers lightly trailing along my cock. Gritting my teeth, I meet his gaze. There's a sleepy look about his eyes. He must have drifted off, too.

He pulls me close and rubs my body along his. I groan and shake, but am aware that he's become erect again. We lie together for a long time. I drowse briefly, but my cock has been hard for so long, it's painful, making sleep elusive.

Sometime late in the night, Walter turns me on my stomach and spreads my legs. It's not morning yet... more torture. My only thought is of my hyper-sensitized cock in contact with the sheets. Then there are two fingers at my lips. I suck them inside, working them as if they were his cock. The thought makes me whimper in distress as my cock reacts to his presence.

Walter pulls his fingers away, then slides them along the crack of my ass. He teases my anus--stroking and rubbing until I'm ready to scream at the sensation. Even the soft sheet is too much and I have to lift my hips off the bed to keep from coming.

Oh god, Walter, I need you to fuck me so badly. Want to feel you forcing me open.

My cock leaps at the thought and I stop breathing, twisting my fist in the pillow. Finally a whimper escapes when I'm forced to breathe, because Walter is relentless and continues to stroke me. Maddening touch. There's a pause and I feel his lips touch one ass cheek, then the other.

My cock aches, the head soaked with pre-cum. I nearly lose control when his finger slips inside and strokes the ring of muscle. A pitiful groan is all I'm capable of. My muscles tremble with the effort of not coming.

My ass is the nexus of my pleasure. I attempt to block out my pained cock as his teasing strokes in my ass cause the frustration to continue to mount. I endure his caresses of my anus with a white-knuckled grip on the bed sheets.

Then he stops and pulls me into his arms again. My cock comes into contact with his erection and I jerk my hips back. I can't block it out anymore and it's way too much.

Walter kisses me briefly, then pushes me down the bed. He lets me pull his cock into my mouth. He's fully hard, and must be suffering, too, but he seems completely in control. Giving him pleasure is essential. His cock pushes at the back of my throat and something in me unwinds... this is right. This is where I belong.

Sucking him is only a brief distraction, because he quickly pulls it away and tugs me back up the bed. He pushes me onto my side with my back to him, then positions his cock between my ass cheeks. He glides his cock along the crack of my ass and I whimper a protest. Sensation floods my body and I can barely gasp for air.

When I wake again, I'm surprised I fell asleep. Walter positions me on my back and nudges my legs far apart. Time has no real meaning, except as a device of torment, but I know I've never been hard for this long. The blankets are nothing but a memory. There's one pillow left on the bed, otherwise it's just my body and his.

He sits next to me and takes my hand, guiding it to my own nipple. He wants me to tease myself. I groan, helpless to do anything but what he wants. I trail my fingertips over my body, pinching my nipples, moving down to my stomach, then to my cock. Almost unable to breathe, I lightly touch my erection, then move to my balls, rolling them between my fingers.

Choked noises of frustration issue from my throat. Walter stops me, takes my hand and places it on the headboard. I grab on as he takes over the caresses, using the same path and motions I used. But this time, he continues on, sliding his hand under me to caress along my crack and tease my anus. My body twists and arches. I'm aware of sweat rolling off my body, soaking into the sheets.

Eventually, he stops and sits with his back propped against the headboard and pulls me onto his lap.

No... it's too much contact. I whimper and moan as he caresses me again. His fingers on my nipples drive me to insanity.

My body is feverish, writhing in his arms. I sound like a distressed animal, but it doesn't matter. Every minute of this is a step closer to complete surrender. And I want it. Need it. So I endure it.

My eyes lock on his as I shake in his arms.

When I wake again--to the feel of his finger sliding into my ass--I realize there's morning light at the window. And lube on his finger. My arousal surges. After long hours of torment, it's nerve shattering.

I'm on my side and he's lying behind me. A second finger slides into me, opening me up. He whispers in my ear, "I want you so badly, Alex." He fucks me on those fingers, brushing across my prostate. "I've been thinking about fucking you all night long."

My cock has been hard for what seems like an eternity. Every touch is amplified, and I can barely tolerate the penetration. But I push back against him and murmur, "Fuck me, Walt. Even if you don't let me come, I need to feel you inside my body."

Walter responds with the most desperate-sounding groan I've ever heard from him. "I know this was hard for you, Alex." He enters me with a third finger and a sob rises in my throat. "And that I've been merciless... tormenting you all night." Thrusting inside me, he rubs my prostate again, then slowly withdraws.

I whimper at the loss, insanely wanting more of the torturous sensation. When the tip of his cock touches my anus, I have to fight to not come instantly. He holds still for a moment, then pushes his cock head into me. I grunt, then stop breathing. Reaching back, I hold his hip, waiting for him to take me.

He takes a gasping breath, then pushes all the way into me. I cry out at the riotous sensations.

"You belong to me, Alex."

My eyes widen, his words take me beyond the fragile limits of my self control and I begin to come. 'You belong to me.' It sears me from the inside out as the orgasm races through my body, setting every nerve on fire.

It's real... not just a fantasy.

**

The pressure wave from Alex's orgasm feels like a bomb going off. I manage a couple of thrusts while he's flailing, but my own orgasm explodes into the chaos. As the intense pleasure fills me, I hold onto his body tightly, possessively.

He's mine.

Alex is struggling to breathe, trembling, his hand clamped to my hip. We're stuck together with sweat but I don't remember being hot.

Our hearts are still pounding as our muscles begin to relax. I lightly kiss the back of his neck. His body shudders in a shadowy echo of his orgasm.

Oh, Christ.

My body is trembling, too. I nuzzle his ear. "You alive?"

Alex breathlessly replies, "No." He takes a couple deep breaths and continues, "That was beyond... intense."

"Yeah, it was..." I kiss his ear. "Nine and half hours of foreplay followed by one second of intercourse." Smiling, I brush my face along his, enjoying the scratchy surface of his jaw.

"God... nine and half hours. I can't believe it was that long. Although it felt like days." He's quiet for a second, then adds, "I knew you could talk me to orgasm." He sounds serious.

Hmm... I don't think the talking was what did that, but maybe. I feel oddly peaceful, yet energized. "I have to get up. Do you need anything?"

"I think you should go in to work late so you can get some sleep." His voice is soft and sleepily toneless.

I sit up and lean over him trying to find a mouth to kiss. "I'm fine." My lips close over his. He kisses back half-heartedly. Poor boy needs sleep, I guess.

As I pull my mouth away, he whispers, "Yours."

Closing my eyes, I savor the sound of him saying that to me. I want him to be mine.

Standing up, I see a litter of pillows, sheets and the blanket around the bed. There's nothing left on the bed except Alex, who's at an odd angle on my side. I pick up a couple of pillows and put them near his head. He's already making little soft sleep sounds. He'll find them when he needs them. I drape the sheet over him and get ready for work.

I work about as effectively as I slept last night. My mind keeps going back to Alex. I imagine him in bed sleeping off the hellishly wonderful night. I probably suffered almost as much as he did, but I took more pleasure from his suffering than my own.

"Sir, are you all right?"

I realize I'm standing at Kimberly's desk, looking at nothing. "Uh, fine. I didn't get much sleep."

Alex was so beautiful last night. At any moment, he could have reached for his cock and jacked himself off in a few strokes. Yet, even in his sleep, when he could hardly be faulted for succumbing to temptation, he never tried to get himself off.

It was incredible watching him give himself like that. 'I would give you anything you wanted, Walter.' I play the words over and over in my mind, loving that he said them. Knowing that he meant them. I wanted to hear that almost as much as he wanted to hear what I said. 'You belong to me, Alex.'

With belonging comes responsibility. I will do everything in my power to protect him. I wish I could do more.

I leave the office mid afternoon to find another library. There's a short note from Lavagetto.

--
I will notify you in advance of any future testing involving Tom.

Dr. Aaron, our software engineer, has devised a computer model of the type 1 and type 2 nanocytes.

Between the data I acquired from you and the data from Tom, we are approaching an understanding of how the nanos are controlled and programmed. These things aren't magic... they behave in predictable ways. I have every confidence that we can master them.

There is one major stumbling block in this effort. We require the control panel. We've reached a critical juncture where we cannot proceed without it.

I realize this is a trust issue. If there is anything I can do to aid you with this decision point, please advise me. You've invested a lot of money getting us this far. Please make the unit available as soon as possible, so we can solve this problem for you.

-R
--

We need to do this. I know we need to do this. Alex knows it. But the idea of putting his life into their hands... it seems impossible. But I have to do it. Somehow.

I sit at the PC in the library, fidgeting for half an hour before I can get my fingers to type.

--
Arrange to meet me in Miami on Sunday, 8/1. I'll bring the unit.

-H
--

As I send the email, I can't help feeling that I've betrayed Alex. I'm allowing his safety to rest in hands other than my own. But I don't want him to die.

I'm sorry, Alex.

When I get home from work, I'm exhausted. I lock my gun in the drawer. Alex wanders downstairs, hair rumpled, wearing nothing but raggedy jeans. He wraps his arm around me and kisses my jaw. "Hi, Walt. How was work?" His voice is low and throaty.

He doesn't seem distressed about last night. Quite the contrary, he seems happy.

I shrug. "You know... pretty boring." I kiss his forehead. "Of course, anything was boring after last night and this morning." Mustering up my last energy reserves, I give him a smile.

Alex looks at me for a second, then says, "I'll order dinner, then you can tell me what's wrong." He takes my jacket, then finds the phone.

He's taken up mind reading in his spare time.

I head upstairs and change into jeans, not bothering with a shirt. We rendezvous in the living room. Alex hands me a single shot of Scotch. "Everything okay?"

I take the whiskey and down it quickly. "Mostly I'm just tired, but... I have to give Lavagetto the control panel. I stalled as long as I could, but there's no point in doing the research if we don't give him what he needs to get the job done." I realize I'm trying to justify it to Alex, even though he already understands.

Alex nods complacently and I can clearly see the trust in his expression. I'm willing to carry that trust, but extending it to the arrogant little man who's running the project doesn't feel good. Of course, being controlled by these damned things doesn't feel good either.

He takes the empty glass. "Don't worry so much. There's nothing we can do about it now anyway."

I nod ineffectually. Sitting on the couch, I gesture for him to join me. After getting rid of the glass, he sits next to me, wrapping his arm around my waist. He's very relaxed. I muss his disarrayed hair and rest my head against his. "What were you up to today?"

"Changed the sheets," he plants a kiss on my jaw. "Rearranged your closet." Another kiss. "Color-coded the office and updated the index." A kiss on my ear. "Rolled around in bed, thinking about beating off." His lips on my neck. "Heard you at the door." A nip at my collarbone. "Got harder."

I chuckle weakly. "We've had so much sex in the past week, I don't think there's any skin left on my dick."

He gives a soft, throaty laugh near my ear. "Okay... I'll give you a night off."

"That's very generous," I reply, kissing his nose.

Alex is quiet for a moment, then adds, "My motives aren't entirely altruistic... I think my body is still on overload from last night."

"Mm hmm..." I want him to talk about it if he will.

After a long pause, he says, "I... Thank you for last night. I've been thinking about it all day. I'm not sure why you wanted it, but..." He trails off staring into space.

"I wasn't completely certain you would thank me."

Alex considers that for moment, then, still staring into space, he replies, "I felt like you accepted me. I've been... concerned that you wouldn't be able to."

Yes, Alex. I think I'm beginning to know who you really are. I remember when we first got together. The Alex I cared for wasn't completely real. So, my affection for him must have seemed false. But now, it's real.

Hesitantly, he continues, "And, this morning, I realized that you finally believe me." He turns his head to look at me directly. "That you can have anything you want from me."

Even fatigued, my body responds, hips shifting slightly toward Alex. "That's a lot to give, Alex." I want to tell him that I won't hurt him... again. That he can trust me with that. But it doesn't feel like the right thing to say to him. "Thank you." But that feels inadequate.

I wrap an arm around his waist and pull him closer.

His lips lightly brush mine, then he relaxes against me, murmuring. "You're all I want, Walter."

My chest tightens. It's hard to hear... it's too much. It's not safe for either of us to be the other's reason for living. The possibility of one of us losing the other is too real. And yet, I think it's too late for either of us.


Saturday, 31 July 1999
10:15 A.M.

I step into the bathroom, and pause for a moment to enjoy the diffuse image of Alex's naked body through the shower door. "Alex?"

His body turns toward the sound of my voice. "Morning."

I open the glass door and kiss him. "Where's my checkbook?"

"It's in the index, under green for financial. But you can also find it in the top drawer, left side of your desk underneath your stamps."

"Green. Financial," I mumble as I exit the room.

It's right where he said it would be. When I open it, I find a little note.

--
I think you should buy a willing sex slave for the evening. I warn you, I am not cheap.

-A
--

A bored Alex is a dangerous thing. I pull out my emergency cash and clip $300 to the note and write, 'I want a kiss.'

After paying my bills, I leave the note on the kitchen table.

Alex comes downstairs for breakfast, hair wet, only wearing jeans. He immediately reads the note and laughs. Then he removes the slime beverage from my hand and straddles my lap, covering my mouth with his and kissing me thoroughly.

I suppose for $300 bucks it should be a thorough kiss.

He breaks away and says, "That one was just incentive. I'll credit the $300 to your account."

"It won't last very long, at the rate you're going." I like having him here. Never expected him to get silly on me, though.

"Even I can't go through 600 kisses very quickly."

"50 cents a kiss? I thought you said you weren't cheap?"

Alex kisses the side of my neck. "I'm giving you a repeat customer discount."

A few minutes later, he climbs off my lap to retrieve a carton of peach yogurt. He sits across from me this time and makes a very long and sensual show out of eating his breakfast.

I try not to drool. Much.


Miami, FL
Sunday, 1 August 1999
11:32 A.M.

I pull up to the main public library and head up to the third floor. As promised, Lavagetto is waiting in the 800's, poetry. We retreat to a small study room and sit at an old wooden table. My gym bag is wedged between my feet. This is not going to be easy for me.

"Dr. Lavagetto, were you able to send RF signals to the nanocytes in the blood samples?"

Lavagetto gives me a knowing look... this isn't why we're here. But he only says, "In a manner of speaking, yes, our communication protocols met with success. We were able to relay a signal to Tom's nanocytes, but not yours. We are investigating the differences now. I am not yet certain how significant this find will be."

"All of Tom's nanocytes?"

"Well, his type 1 nanocytes are already deactivated and our attempts to activate them have met with failure. The type 3, from his recent round of, uh, tests, were also unresponsive. But, his type 2's returned a signal."

"Isn't that the same kind I have?"

"Quite. Which is why we are a tad perplexed. Another reason why we were eager to begin investigating the control pad. According to Tom's narrative, yours runs on a different signal, but we have yet to identify one that responds. Even with the RF documentation Dana provided based on her examination of your control pad."

It's very kind of him not to mention that sorting this out could take years, even decades. I think he understands that this is not ordinary research, and we may reach a point where we must act on limited information. "Have you fully tested the RF shielding at your lab?"

Lavagetto smiles faintly. "Yes. We executed two more phases of testing after Tom picked apart our security measures, equipment and general set up. The lab is fully shielded."

My feet clamp tighter on the bag. "So, the lab passed all of the tests recommended by Dana?"

He nods confidently. "Yes. And two additional procedures demanded by Tom."

"How long does it take to run the full suite of RF tests?"

"An hour and seven minutes."

"Good, because you're going to run them every time you turn on that box. Do you understand? Do I need to remind you that at least one person will die if that signal is detected outside your lab?"

"Hank, I am fully cognizant of the risks and repercussions. I will take no chances while handling this equipment and it will never be outside the radius of my control. I have one of two keys to the vault where it will be stored. When in use, I will always be present." He passes me a key. "That's the other key."

I pocket it, still dreading that I must hand over the control unit. "I'm not repeating this because I think you're stupid, Dr. Lavagetto. I'm putting lives in your hands and I don't like doing it. The lives of your team are also at risk. In the kind of work I do, I've seen people disappear overnight. No bodies ever found. Even when we've been able to point a finger at the perpetrators, we have been unable to prosecute. I also know that the men controlling this box will not hesitate to kill large numbers of people if it meets their goals. If a mistake is made, they might easily destroy the entire city of Tucson to prevent certain information from leaking."

Lavagetto has the presence of mind to only look slightly appalled. I can see that he wants to doubt my words, but given what he's already seen, he's not confident that I'm wrong.

I take off my glasses and rub the bridge of my nose. "I'm giving you this box because I trust you and because I want you to save our lives. Do you understand?"

He nods slowly. "It's not a trust I take lightly. We will not make a mistake."

"I'm counting on it." I can't begin to think what I would do to the man if his mistake cost Alex his life.

Opening my bag, I pull out the box that contains the control panel and hand it to him.

Lavagetto tucks it securely into his own bag. "It won't be opened until I reach the lab.
We will succeed, Hank."

I nod and leave the room.


Monday, 2 August 1999
8:42 P.M.

My bad right knee aches tonight. I flop down on the sofa. Guess our fucking was a bit too vigorous for this old man. Not that I plan to change it. It's better to ache.

Alex is leaving tonight. I really don't want him to go. Because... he might get into trouble or get hurt... or I might be lonely. Will be lonely.

I've lived alone for years, but now, being with him, I'm aware of just what those years were really like. My life was more or less in control, but... empty.

It's worth a little loss of control to be with him, but I think our lives are going for world's records in out of control.

I hear Alex coming down the stairs. He has a small bag in his hand, which he tosses by the door. Stepping close to me, he pushes me down to sit on the sofa and straddles my lap. I pull his face to mine and kiss him aggressively. Alex is hard again and grinds his erection against my thigh.

When we pull apart, he says, "Beating off isn't as much fun if you're not around," he sighs mournfully, "but I'll make do. Try to keep at bay all those pretty boys and girls angling for correction, or I might get peeved."

Oh, yeah. They'll be lined up at the door.

His expression switches to something more serious. "I should be gone about a week... maybe a little longer."

"So, I'll be checking Lyosha's voicemail?"

Alex nods. "You know the procedures for his safety as well as I do..." He trails of for a moment. "Thanks for taking care of this."

"If anything happens, I'll get Lyosha somewhere safe until you return."

He gives me a half smile, then leans down to kiss me again.


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 5 August 1999
8:17 P.M.

After unlocking the door, I haul in the bulky carton, leaving it on the floor in the living room, while I lock up and stow my gun.

Jettisoning my jacket, I unpack the box in the living room, before carrying the large mirror up the stairs. I stow it in the hall and step into the bedroom to take another look. I'm going to have to move the bed.

Forty minutes later, the bed's under the window and the mirror is on the wall facing Alex's side of the bed. Perfect. I worried a little about when we fuck side-by-side... he'll want his arm free, so we'll have to have our heads at the foot of the bed, if I want to see him in the mirror. But this way, I can see his face is he's turned away from me while we sleep.

I flop onto the mattress and try to image what I'll see. He's such a beautiful man. I love the way his eyelids seem to melt during sex, so you can barely see the emerald green of his eyes. Those long lean legs... wrapped around my waist. The way he offers his throat to me for kisses or bites. And the husky rasp of his voice when he utters, 'Yours.'

Rising from the bed, I go to the bathroom to clean the semen off my hands. Then I change into jeans and head downstairs to find something to eat.


Silver Springs, MD
Friday, 6 August 1999
5:49 P.M.

I get to Sharon's early, so I can repair her shutters and install her garden window. As always, she's grateful for the help, but she doesn't ask as often as she used to. I guess her boyfriend is doing some of her heavy chores.

Sitting across from Antonio at dinner, I conclude that he's just about the exact opposite of me. He's young, slender and pretty. Alex's type? Not any more. Antonio's face is very expressive, his personality almost feminine and very emotional. He must be a great relief to Sharon after so many years with me.

After dinner, Antonio volunteers to do the dishes, while Sharon and I sit in the backyard on an oak bench I made the first year we owned the house. It needs a new coat of sealant. I'll do it next time I come over.

"I like Antonio. He's nothing like me. He'll probably be good for you."

She lifts a brow. "I'm not with him because he's 'not like you.'"

"Well, you should be. He may be able to make you happy the way I never could. Don't try to say something nice about me. This is about you, and I want you to be happy."

"Now, you listen Walter Sergei Skinner. The biggest mistake I made in our marriage was in ever thinking anyone could make me happy. But, by the time I grew up and realized it, we'd already grown apart. We both could have done things to mend it, but chose not to. Both of us bear the responsibility for our marriage, but my unhappiness is not your responsibility." She sounds quite stern.

I gaze at her the way you can only look at someone who has known you forever. There's nothing I can say that she hasn't already heard.

Sharon taps my hand, an obvious signal that we're changing the subject. "Where's Alex tonight while you're here with us?"

"I don't know. He had to go out of town."

"How are you two doing? Things getting better?"

"Things are still... complicated, but we're getting along well. He's... we have a good time together. It's more than the sex. He makes me laugh and I enjoy having him around."

She looks at me curiously, then asks, "Is he living with you?"

"Most of the time."

"I'd like to have you both over for dinner sometime... when the complications in your lives have been taken care of."

"Yeah." Yeah, I'd really like that. Alex might, too. Maybe someday. "Thanks for the invitation. I hope that will happen eventually."

Sharon watches me for a second, then murmurs, "You miss him."

"Yeah, I do. Plus I worry about him when he's not with me."

Her fingertips lightly touch my jaw, then her hand settles over mine. "Is it difficult, Walter? Being in love again?"

My jaw tightens. I don't like being that easily read, but this is Sharon. She had to read me all those years when I wasn't talking. "You might have waited until I'd had a little time to get used to the idea before springing it on me."

She pats my hand reassuringly. "Well, Walter, sometimes you need a push. But probably not as much of a push as Alex does. He may not acknowledge it yet, but he's in love with you, too."

"Sharon, you haven't even seen him in weeks. There's no way you could know that."

Sharon shakes her head. "You can be so blind. It was apparent to me weeks ago. I can only imagine how obvious it is now. Have you two grown closer since I last saw you?"

"Yes," I reluctantly concede. "It may very well be true. We, uh, haven't talked about it."

She wraps her arm around my shoulders and gives me a squeeze. "Talk, Walter. I don't want you to let communication keep you two from being together."

I remember what we said to each other after nine and a half hours of foreplay. It was a commitment of sorts. Not one I could explain to Sharon. "We talk. We just don't... use that word."

"Men think 'that word' is only important to women. But that's a fallacy. Men need to hear it, too, Walter. And you'll find that out someday. Then you'll owe me dinner."

She's probably right, but 'that word' is hard. It's really fucking hard.


Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 7 August 1999
9:03 A.M.

I have email from both Lavagetto and Scully. I read the doctor's first.

--
H.

The examination of the control pad has been highly beneficial to our research. The signals that control the nanocytes are quite elementary. The problematical part is predicting when the nanos will respond. Yours never respond. When we tune the unit to Tom's signal, his do respond, but we haven't yet ascertained how to control them. We have no answer for this conundrum at present.

It would be beneficial to examine you in the lab again. Tom, as well, but I'll let the two of you negotiate that eventuality.

The optimal solution is to learn how to control and program the nanocytes ourselves, but I am not optimistic that this can be done expediently.

Therefore, we are presently focused on creating control pads that work with each of your signals to override communication. Meaning, if your nanos receive a signal, we could provide you a device to alter the commands. Of course, we must understand the signals to effect this solution.

But, first we must unravel the mystery surrounding when they do and do not respond to RF signals. I suspect we have all the pieces of the puzzle, but are missing the Rosetta Stone. It would be useful to confer with Tom when he's accessible. Preferably sooner rather than later.

Dana and I have been analyzing other approaches. She made several cogent suggestions that we are also exploring. We will pursue whatever method will yield the swiftest results.

As you recall from our funding itinerary, the next installment is due on the 10th.

-R
--

Scully's email went to Lavagetto with a copy to me. It reviews the various categories of solutions. Find a way to cut communication. Find a way to over-ride communication. Find a way to reprogram. Find a way to permanently deactivate nanocytes. Find a way to get them out of the body. Methods of controlling the effects during an episode.

I can't follow all of her specific technical discussions for each approach, but it's clear she's got valuable ideas to offer. Some of the solutions may only be useful in the short term, but it's something. At the very least, Lavagetto has sunk his teeth into the problem. I was most afraid he'd spend six months getting ready to think about solving it.

I reply to Lavagetto.

--
I have trouble understanding much of Dana's email. Would you give me a brief description of each of the approaches you're considering? In less technical language. I don't want to make you document everything, but I'd like to comprehend each of the scenarios. I'm not trying to micromanage, but the details are important. Someday I may have to make an informed decision about the various options.

The funds transfer has already been made.

-H
--

Progress, Alex. I'm visualizing freedom for you, and me.

**

Outskirts of Tunis, Tunisia
Saturday, 7 August 1999
11:02 A.M.

It's so hot here the landscape is distorted. The Resistance plans to locate some of their operation here, so it's critical they know what's happening at the former Consortium facility. Unfortunately, I haven't observed anything going on. The last time I was here, there was some activity, but the place seems deserted now. I've been here four days and have accomplished absolutely nothing.

After spending the morning watching the facility, I decide to pack it in and head back to the city to check in with the Resistance. This will probably be just like the last four days--instructions to keep monitoring the damned situation.

I want to get out of here and go home. Home to Walter, who I miss more every time I have to leave. There was something different about our relationship before I left, and I cannot quite pin it down. One thing I do know is that he wants me in his life. And, to some degree, that means he's accepted what I am.

It's entirely too easy for me to get distracted with thoughts of Walter. During the day I have to keep my eye on the objective. The nights, on the other hand, are a different story. My mind is too easily occupied with thoughts of that hellish night of foreplay and the morning when he decided to take what I've offered him.

How did it turn out this way? After four horrible years apart, and all the stuff between us, we're together again, and it feels right.

I'm not focusing again, so I shake off my ruminations and find a phone to check in. Half way through the conversation, I hear the click of a gun being cocked near my ear. Fuck!

The phone is removed from my hand and hung up. I'm debating about going for my gun, even though I don't know what's behind me, when I'm yanked around and come face to face with at least half a dozen armed men. Then, then man closest to me swings his gun toward my head.

Walter...!

**

Crystal City, VA
5:27 A.M.

What!?

Suddenly I'm sitting up, breathless. Alex? I frisk the bed next to me, but he isn't there. Where is he? Could they be testing him? Is he fighting for his life somewhere?

I sit up and turn on the bedside lamp... rub my eyes... and try to get my brain to work. I must have had a dream or something.

I get up to take something for heartburn. I can't figure what's got me so worked up, but I'm too amped to sleep, so I put on a pair of shorts and wander downstairs.

**

Forj Sidi Toui, Tunisia
4:42 P.M.

I wake to a ripping pain in my skull. It's difficult to focus, but I force myself to look around. I'm alone in a... oh, god, I'm in a cell.

No. This cannot be happening.

Rolling to my knees, I discover I'm naked and my prosthetic is gone. The room spins and I feel unbearably queasy. I wait a moment for it to pass, then struggle to my feet.

Stumbling to the door, I beat on it, trying to get someone's attention. What am I doing here? I fight panic, hating the idea of being in any locked room.

The only consolation is that they would have killed me by now if they wanted me dead. But... what if I don't get out of here? Walter will think I abandoned him again.

No, no, no! Walter, I didn't run away.

I have to get out of here.

Please don't think I abandoned you again.

When my hand starts to throb painfully, I jerk away from the door. I stagger around, but eventually fall to my knees. At once, time has no meaning and too much meaning. As long as I'm in this cell, it has no meaning. But time will hurt Walter and I can't do that to him again.

I struggle to stand again. I have to get out of here.

At that moment, the door slams open and two men enter with a stack of clothing. Both are armed. I charge the nearest one. I briefly get the upper hand before I feel a rifle slammed into my gut. I collapse, grunting with pain. Fuck. Shades of Mulder.

I realize there are more men in the room as the punishment beating begins. I must have hurt one of the guards. Curling into a ball, I try to block out the attack.

I'm fighting for consciousness when they roughly dress me and haul me out of the cell. As I'm dragged along a corridor, even my distorted vision can make out a prison. My mind balks at the reality of what's happened.

I try talking around my swollen throat, but they don't respond. Their language sounds like Arabic, which I know very little of. I try the few words I know and am ignored.

Finally, I start screaming. Nonsense at first, then I plead with them not to take me away from him. I try to stop the words, but they pour out.

Walter finally wants me. Please don't take me away from him.

My yells are ignored and we arrive at a large cell with a lot of men. I'm thrown in and the door is slammed shut. I lie on the dirty floor and know, from somewhere deep inside, that I'm not getting out.

My throat feels tight and my eyes burn.

Walter... I'm so sorry.

A hand touches my body and my attention is captured. I become aware that the other prisoners are staring at me. Oh, fuck. At least I had a private cell in Tunguska.

My body begins to tremble, but it's not in fear. No, it's a nano episode.

Abruptly, no one is touching me and I hear whispered words. I think I make out the word for 'devil.'

I was wrong. Someone does want me dead. And they want it to be very unpleasant.

**

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, 10 August 1999
7:17 A.M.

Kimberly drops off my updated calendar. Instead of looking at my appointments, I think about Alex. It's been a week since he left. He said it might be longer than a week. I wish I'd asked where he was going.

Be careful, Alex, wherever you are.

I've been working. A lot. The house is too damned quiet.


Crystal City, VA
Wednesday, 11 August 1999
10:02 P.M.

After dinner, I head downstairs to get my mail. There are two large packages for me. I wasn't expecting anything, but they both appear benign. I take them upstairs.

The first box contains a huge assortment of sex toys. Dildos, bondage gear, nipple clamps, cock-ring, etc. I think I can guess what happened to my VISA bill. Next time he's trapped here, I have to make sure he's got something productive to do.

Now afraid to open the second box, I take a deep breath and reach for my utility knife. It's a retractable garden hose. I check my name on the box. It's addressed to me. After the first box, I find myself wondering if this is some sort of sexual appliance... or just what it appears to be. In either case, why?

I roll the thing onto my balcony. At least I have a water outlet.

Tossing the sex toys back in the box, I head upstairs to stick it in a closet. The mental picture of Alex wearing a cock-ring is... nice. Hmm... I open the box again and find the little leather strip, which I put in the bedside table.

Returning to the office, I pay a few bills. I make out a modest check to the Women's Health Foundation and attach a note, asking them to acknowledge the gift to Dana Scully. Kimberly found out she donates time and occasional services to the clinic. It's the least I can do to express my gratitude.

Entering the check into my computer, I notice a file called 'ReadmeWalter.txt.' I click on the file.

--
Updated your Quicken. Did some PC maintenance. You should try to defrag your drive at least once a decade.

Cybersex seems anticlimactic since a typo can ruin the mood so I won't even bother. But know that I'm thinking about it...

-A
--

I chuckle at the note. I wonder what it means to 'defrag your drive.' He should be here to explain it.

Where are you, Alex?

It's impossible not to worry.

Kill if you must to come home to me alive. Just come home.


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 12 August 1999
6:48 A.M.

As I finish my slime beverage, I think of him again.

Dammit, at least call or send a message! I need to know you're okay.

On my way to the door, I open the locked drawer and retrieve my SIG. Before I lock it again, I decide to pocket the satellite phone. What if he needed me and couldn't reach me safely?

Don't be so paranoid, Walter.

I pat the pocket with the phone as I head for the garage.


Washington, D.C.
Friday, 13 August 1999
3:10 P.M.

The meeting drones on. I exchange a glance with Baker. We both know we don't have any good suspects on this one. Agent Herrera reviews the evidence report, which hasn't changed since yesterday.

Maybe Alex is coming home for the weekend. I'll pick up some groceries on the way home. We're out of Valrhona and granola bars.


Crystal City, VA
Saturday, 14 August 1999
2:59 A.M.

Some noise wakes me and I listen for the sound of Alex's keys on the table by the door. Nothing. Then I hear the sound again. It's just a plumbing noise.

I find myself on Alex's side of the bed, looking for him in my sleep.

Okay, Walt. When do you decide to worry?

What good would it do? I couldn't begin to guess where to look for him. Switzerland? New York? Tunisia? Russia?

I could call Morgan. Maybe he knows something. I'll do it in the morning.

Sleep eludes me. There are so many potential threats to Alex in the world. It takes me half the night to catalogue the ones I can think of. And there are probably more.


7:18 A.M.

Not everyone gets up this early on Saturday, but I can't wait any longer. I dial the number.

"God dammit, this had better be good," he says, punctuating it with a sleepy deep growl.

"The last time we met, I punched you in the jaw. You deserved it. Do you know who you're talking to?"

He chuckles. "Yeah. It swelled up like a motherfucker. You wouldn't call if there weren't a problem. Is it about the kid?"

"Have you seen him?"

"Not since at your place. How long since you last saw him?"

"Almost two weeks. I expected contact after one week. And I don't know where he is."

"Well, I wouldn't worry too much yet. The kid is always disappearing. But I'll ask some questions and let you know."

I give him my cell phone number. "I want to hear the minute you learn anything."

"Will do."

Dammit. 'Always disappearing.' I believe it. But still, our relationship has changed. He'll call if he's gone longer than two weeks.

I wish there were someone else I could ask.


Sunday, 15 August 1999
7:02 A.M.

It's been two weeks. Still no word from Alex. Today I think I'll call Damien. Maybe he's heard something. Adjusting the shower spray a little cooler, I soap myself, wishing Alex were here to do it for me.

Suddenly, there's a voice in the bathroom. I can't get to my gun. Replaying the sound in my head, I realize that it's Morgan baritone, asking, 'How long do you intend to spend in here?'

I open the shower door and glower at him, cutting off a caustic retort. "Do you know where he is?"

"Get right to the point, don't you?"

Don't give me this shit.

"No. But there's definitely something going on. You want to get dressed and I'll tell you about it?"

I nod and step out of the shower.

Morgan gives me a quick once-over then mutters under his breath, "The kid's a size queen. I knew it." He turns to leave the bathroom.

Fucker. Checking out my equipment when Alex's life may be at risk.

I don't bother to dry myself off, just pull on a pair of shorts and head downstairs.

Morgan's seated on the sofa. With preamble, he says, "The contract on him was withdrawn. Not completed. Withdrawn."

That doesn't seem like Spender. I can't imagine him having a change of heart, assuming he has such an organ. "Does the, uh, smoking man do that often? Order a hit, then change his mind?" Morgan's got to hate having this conversation with an FBI man. I think he'll deal with it, though. For Alex's sake.

"Once. It was also Alex. Whenever a contract comes around regarding Alex, I pick it up so I can monitor it. Usually, they're just looking for him or want to keep an eye on him. But once there was a hit ordered. When the hit was withdrawn, I asked the smoking man why, because I was interested in that contract. He said Alex had been taken out of the game." Morgan looks uncomfortable and continues, "Yesterday, I put the word out that I was pissed that the contract had been withdrawn and I wanted to know why. Word came to me late last night--the same thing--that the mark had been 'taken out of the game.'"

Taken out of the game? What the fuck does that mean? "Do you know what that means? What happened the last time you were told this?"

"I assumed it meant he was dead. I'd heard he left the country... possibly in Hong Kong or Singapore, then a contract was put out on him. A few days after the contract was withdrawn, he called me from somewhere in the U.S. This was around the same time the smoking man ordered a hit on you. I was the one who had to tell Alex that you'd been shot in the stomach by Cardinal. He was extremely unhappy."

So Alex was keeping tabs on me then? "So something has happened to Alex, would you agree?"

Morgan nods. "But that's all I could find out in a day. I'll keep checking but we may not get anything else."

"Then one of us has to ask the smoking man." I meet his eyes. "You or me?"

He shrugs. "I'll try but it's not likely that he'll tell me anything. I'll let you know."

I wonder if Morgan is able to apply incentives. "I'll beat it out of the man, if I have to. Do your 'professional' relationships allow you to do the same?"

Morgan looks annoyed. "We'll see what we see."

"What the hell does that mean?"

He rises to his feet, then makes for the door. "It means I'll call you within a couple days."

Bastard. But he's got a better chance of getting the information out of Spender than I do. At least by asking nice.

After he's gone, I drive to Alexandria and phone Damien from a pay phone. He hasn't heard from 'our mutual friend,' but if he does, he'll leave a codeword on the voicemail.

Afterward, I face my worst fear. I stop at a library and send email to Lavagetto.

--
Tom is not available and I'm concerned. Any chance anything went wrong with the control pad?

-H
--

The satellite phone keeps not ringing.

When I get back home, there's no one there. I lie on the sofa half the night with the phone in my hand.


Washington, D.C.
Monday, 16 August 1999
5:43 A.M.

I leave voicemail on Mulder and Scully's line. "Agent Scully, I need to see you ASAP about a personnel matter."

Unlocking the file cabinets, I retrieve every phone number and address I've ever had for Spender. Nothing recent. If I don't hear from Morgan by tomorrow, I'll try to find him myself.

Later, in a one-on-one meeting with the Director, I inquire about Spender. He acts like a gatekeeper, wants to know why I want to know. That doesn't make me feel very good about my boss. I make up some pitiful excuse about having something Spender wants, which I can see the Director not believing. He tells me he hasn't seen or heard from the man in two months, then brushes me off.

When I get back to my office, Scully's talking to Kimberly. I interrupt. "Agent Scully, will you meet me in five minutes?"

She knows where. "Yes, sir," she replies, looking only faintly concerned.

When I get to the fishpond, she's already there. "What is it?"

I blank my face of all expression. "Krycek is... missing. Have you or Mulder seen him or heard anything?"

"No, not since Mulder told me he saw Krycek at American University, when he was investigating the artifacts."

Damn. "It's important that we find him. Can you think of a subtle way to ask Mulder?"

"Sir, if I wanted to find Krycek, I'd ask you."

"I know, but I can't find him. Maybe Mulder can think of someone to ask."

"Why is it so important to find him? He's never been easy to locate. Lavagetto has what he needs to do the research." The tone of her voice is not idle curiosity. She knows there's something important lurking in this conversation.

Why, indeed? What can I say to her? "Because the last time Krycek went missing, the men who control the box told me to produce him or else. They're going to think I did something to him."

It's a good story. All true.

Scully blinks. She knows it's a lie. Dammit, not now Scully! She opens her mouth, but I cut her off. "Scully, will you help me find him?"

Her features settle into a frown. "Yes."

I have to try everything I can think of.

Back at my office, I cancel my next meeting and leave the Bureau to find another library. There's a message from Lavagetto.

--
No. We were extremely cautious and have a receiver positioned 50 yards from the facility. I check it nightly on my way home. It's received nothing that could have come from our lab.

I hope Tom isn't undergoing more tests. I'll contact you ASAP if we hear from him.

-R
--

I reply.

--
Let me know ASAP if you think of anything that might relate to his disappearance.

-H
--

I suspect Spender, not the Resistance, but I can't afford to make a mistake. If Spender has Alex, it's only a matter of time before I hear from the Resistance. That's a visit I'm not looking forward to.

If Alex is still alive, I may not be when he gets back.

When I return to the office, there's a note from Scully.

--
There's no new information. The latest we have is suspected involvement in the murders surrounding the artifacts. Both of us will keep our eyes and ears open. Let me know if you have any leads you want our help with.

-D.S.
--

Shit. I don't like waiting for Morgan.

If I knew what part of the world Alex was in, I'd call all the local authorities, morgues, hospitals, prisons, research facilities, hotels, whatever I could think of, looking for a one-armed man. But I don't even know what country he's in. Fuck, if Spender's got him, he's probably locked away somewhere no one would ever admit he's being held.

Or he's dead. But I've decided not to consider that possibility yet. It would only interfere with my ability to function.

So, I pick up the phone and read a list of phone numbers, which had been associated with Spender, to a technician. He'll turn them into addresses and maybe I can find the black-lunged bastard.

Later in the afternoon, I escape again and visit Spender's last known address. No one answers the door and there's no one around, so I quietly break in. He doesn't live here anymore unless he's raising children. What a horrible thought.


Crystal City, VA
Tuesday, 17 August 1999
9:07 P.M.

I step into my apartment and throw my jacket over the arm chair. I spent all day chasing down leads on Spender. Every single one was a dead end.

I'm running out of options.

Dammit, Alex! Where are you?

He has to get me a message. I can't help him otherwise. I've got nothing.

Message... I'll check my mail.

The letters are all bills. There's another package. Now what?

I carry it upstairs and find Morgan leaning against my front door. "Wondered when you'd get home."

"Got anything?"

Morgan steps away from the door and gestures broadly. "Let's step inside."

I unlock the door and let him in.

As soon as the door is shut and I've had time to scan the condo, Morgan says, "The cigarette man would only talk to me on the phone. No face to face. The contact who got the message to him said he wasn't taking in meetings while 'he recovers.' Whatever the fuck that means. When I called, I told him I had work Alex was contracted to do and I wanted to know where the fuck he was. Of course, he asked why I picked up the contract if I had work for Alex... but that's irrelevant." Morgan sounds less than happy, even though his expression is blank. "Eventually, he told me to find someone else to do the work. That Alex is out of the picture. He wouldn't say anything else. I tried threats... told him not to fuck with my business, but he was firm. Said I won't be doing business with Alex again."

"Do you think he's dead?"

Morgan shakes his head, but says, "I don't know. He was pretty... final, but he's sounded that way before. I've seen the kid cheat death too many times to completely give up on the chance that he's still alive."

"Can you think of any other avenue of investigation... legal or otherwise?"

Morgan pulls a piece of paper out of his jeans and passes it to me. "I feel like I'm betraying the kid to give you this, but I think it's called for. That's every alias I've ever known him to use. Add what you know, and start searching flight records for any of his known aliases. It's a long shot... he's probably using a different name, but it's worth checking."

I grab the paper, as he rises and heads for the door. "Anything else? We can't just give up on him."

Morgan reaches for the doorknob.

I put my weight against the door. Not so fast, Morgan.

He looks at me for a long moment, before saying, "I'm not giving up. I'll keep looking through my sources and will let you know if anything turns up. If you hear something, I expect you to call."

"I will call when I know anything, or if you can help me." I meet his gaze and give him my no-bullshit look. This is deadly serious for me. "Now tell me where I can find the smoking man."

Morgan sighs and shakes his head, then pulls a card out of his wallet. "This is the contact I used to run him down. You can lean on him for information if you want, but don't you dare drop my name." Under his breath, he mutters, "The things I do for that goddamned stubborn kid."

"Do you have anything else on the smoking man? Known associates? Hang outs? Residences? Vacation retreats? Phone numbers? Aliases?"

He shakes his head. "He usually contacts me by phone. We only met in person in public a couple times. He likes his privacy." With a real look of consternation, Morgan pulls one more card out of his wallet and reluctantly passes it to me. "If I didn't believe you were sincere about your concern, there's no fucking way I'd give you this."

It's a card with a hand-written address in D.C. No name. "What is it?"

"Alex's apartment. If he knew I managed to follow him there... Christ. What an awful thought."

"And you've got nothing else on Spender? You've been doing business with the man, Morgan. You've got to have something."

When I think of all the times Spender showed up uninvited and unwanted, it makes perfect sense that he'd be impossible to find if you actually wanted to.

"Spender? That's his name? Hmm. No. Nothing else. Spender was a very small part of my business. One of his other associates was a better client--an older English gentleman, but he's dead now."

"Do you have contact information for this dead associate? Or any other associate?"

Morgan grits his teeth, takes a breath, then calmly replies, "Yes. But not with me. I find it unlikely that you'll wait until tomorrow so I'll have it brought to you tonight. If I can leave anytime soon."

"Just keep thinking... You might know something."

He gives me a curious look. "Has it ever occurred to you that he's just skipped out?"

I look away for an instant, then meet his eyes directly. "He didn't." Moving away from the door, I allow him to leave.

Before turning the knob, he gives me an intense look and says, "You're right. He didn't. Not the way he looks at you. I just wanted to see if you knew." Then he steps out of my condo.

Yeah, I thought about it, Morgan. But I saw the way he looks at me, too.

After locking the door, I step into the living room, tossing the mail on the coffee table. Absently, I start opening the box.

I had to work to get this information from Morgan. That means he believes none of it will be useful. God, I hope he's wrong.

I find myself staring at a box of barbecue accessories.

Dammit, Alex! My fingers close around one of the implements and I use it to beat the box to shreds. Then I kick the pieces across the living room floor.

I won't give up, Alex.

When my breathing is at a normal pace again, I start putting together a plan. Phoning Kimberly, I tell her that I need to take an emergency leave. Next, I call Scully and ask her to meet me for breakfast.

A half hour later, at the Bureau, I find another tech. We spend an hour trying to trace down Morgan's Spender-contact. The name is probably an alias. And even if it isn't, there are a 127 people in New York City with that name. One of them has a record for petty larceny. Another is serving a prison sentence. All the others have no criminal record... must be a lucky name for crime. The tech prints out photos of these two.

When I get back to my apartment, there's an envelope tucked under my door. It contains several names, addresses and phone numbers.

I stay up half the night at my computer trying to find something on the Internet related to any of Alex's aliases or the other names Morgan gave me.


Wednesday, 18 August 1999
5:46 A.M.

Waking, I find myself on Alex's side of the bed again. With no memory of having gone to bed. I take a quick shower, gather my notes and make a list for Scully.

I head out for Alex's apartment. My badge gains me entrance to his unit in an older, somewhat decaying building. The smell hits me first. Musty. There's a thick layer of dust. Alex hasn't been here in awhile. Neither has anyone else. I find a few books--mostly poetry--and clothes.

I search the place from floor to ceiling, looking for anything... loose floorboards, anything under or in the mattress, taped to the bottom of a drawer, drawers with false backs or bottoms, the insides of his stereo components.

Come on, Alex. You must be hiding something here, somewhere.

Maybe the kitchen... There's hardly anything here, but all the shelves and drawers have shelf-paper. Neat, clean, new shelf-paper. I start peeling it up and soon have removed all of it and found nothing. I go back to all the surfaces, inspecting each one carefully. When I see it, I know it. The shelf above the refrigerator... there's something funny about the veneer of the wood. Grabbing a chair, I stand on it to get a closer look. Using my pocketknife, I'm able to peel back the wood. There's an envelope.

I almost fall off the chair trying to open it. Inside are three photos. The first is the picture of him and his 10 siblings. The second is a copy of the photo on my Bureau ID. The third is incomprehensible at first. A burned building, probably a house.

Oh, Christ. Is that what I think it is?

There are people picking through the debris in the background of the photo. In the foreground, is a row of charred bodies--most of them small.

I sit on the chair and try to breathe. I wish I could kill whoever gave this photo to Alex. I already know I will never forget it, and I imagine he carries the image around in his head as the last memory of his brothers and sisters.

I try to squelch the anger. I can't afford it right now.

Turning each photo over, I look for... I don't know what. Anything. The photos of his family--alive and dead--have dates on them. My photo has nothing on the back. It's... touching that he hijacked my Bureau photo. It's a crappy picture. I'll get him a better one... if I ever see him again.

Resisting the urge to crush the photos, I examine the envelope. There's nothing written on it.

Dammit, Alex. I have nothing. You have to help me. I know you're good at keeping secrets, but I need a clue.

I tuck the photos into my briefcase and go into the bedroom. There's a multitude of language references, but little else. His bedside table is empty. His closet yields only clothes and a leather jacket. I look at it closely. It's not the one he wore when he left. There's a knife cut... the one he was wearing when he was injured in New York. I search it carefully. It's empty. Nothing but lint.

As I begin to turn away from the closet, something catches my eye. One of his shirts... is not right. I pull it out. It's not his shirt. It's mine. I think he wore it one day. I press the sleeve with my fingers, before slamming the closet door.

I go over the room again finding nothing out of the ordinary.

Glancing at my watch, I see that I'm late for breakfast with Scully. I brush my thumb across the face of the watch. Thank you, Alex.

At the restaurant, I give Scully all the data to chase. She'll run Alex's aliases against the airline records, and agreed to forget she ever saw them. I silently apologize to my lover for giving them to her.

I ask Scully to tell Mulder I approved his cave slime case in the Ozarks, as long as Scully stays behind to help Baker with some autopsies. That'll keep him out of her hair.

It takes all day to find Spender's associate in New York, but when I do, I don't waste any time. I flash my shield. "I'm the law. You have a piece of information I want, and I will kill you to get it if I have to. And I know how to get away with it. I'll arrest you, toss you in jail and put the word out that you're turning state's evidence on Spender. You'll be dead by morning, pal, so start talking."

He tries to play tough, but he buys that I'm bad news. I think he needs me to rough him up, so I oblige. I've got all this anger I should do something with, so I pound the crap out of him until he's screaming everything he knows about Spender. It isn't much. He says the man's been in hiding for about two months. Doesn't want anyone to know where he is. Thinks he might be sick or something. He gives me a couple of addresses to chase and a phone number, but that's all he's got.

I stop at a gas station to wipe the blood off my hands. I can still hear the crunch of his wrist bones.

If I thought he could lead me to Alex, I'd have done anything to him. No act of cruelty would be too much. I don't have an ounce of sympathy for any associate of Spender's.

There's blood on my shirt, too, so I change into the spare I keep in the trunk of my car.

I've got more to do in New York, but I need to be home tonight. In case Alex comes.

But when I arrive, weary from the day and the drive, the apartment is empty.

Unable to sleep, I retrieve the photos. One of the men picking through the debris looks like a younger Vlad. Could the woman be Tatiana? Spender was there somehow, shaping events in the life of a teenaged Alex. Maybe even before then.

Some day, I hope to have the opportunity to kill the man.


Thursday, 19 August 1999
6:27 P.M.

Scully tracked one of his aliases to London, but then nothing leaving London. That suggests he's gone international. I ask her to try Switzerland and Tunisia. Try the aliases on record and phone hospitals, morgues and prisons for a one-armed man. I phone the Bureau to get her carte blanche for translator support.

She gave me some more addresses to chase. I found a couple of people who know Spender. His deceased British associate still has a penthouse apartment in New York City. The houseman wouldn't let me inside without a warrant. So I got one, using some very fishy justification, but my A.D. title was enough to bully the system. But it's just a house. I even threatened him enough to get him to open the safe, but there was nothing in it but some jewelry and a lot of cash. Not a computer to be found. Papers were scarce, too. Someone already cleaned out the place.

I drive home again, because I have to.

But my condo is empty and the damned satellite phone doesn't ring. I keep dialing it from payphones and get pissed off when it works.


Las Vegas, NV
Friday, 20 August 1999
9:28 P.M.

Three weeks. I catch the last flight back to D.C. Another dead end. This time I found a place Spender had visited. The home of a chemist. I shudder to think what said chemist is doing for Spender. He told me the same story. Spender's been hiding. No one knows where he is. I promised the man a get-out-of-jail card if he'd lead me to Spender.

Even though Baker's covering for me with great finesse, I'm getting all kinds of shit from the Director. He knows my absence has something to do with Spender, but he can't ask too many questions without admitting something.

I should've flown to Tucson to let Dr. Lavagetto run some tests on me. But I didn't want to. I haven't even checked his email in a few days. He'll carry on fine without me.

Coming home again to an empty house just drains the energy out of me in an instant. I stand on the balcony for a long time, looking down at the cars moving on the street.

I lost him again. This time I know he needs my help. And I have none to give.

Wherever you are, Alex, if you're still alive, please know that I'm searching for you.


Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 21 August 1999
7:49 A.M.

Baker and Kimberly both did a great job. The stack of crap on my desk is modest.

I ignore it and take care of the business at hand. Ordering illegal wiretaps on the phones at the dead-associate's and the chemist's.

Scully came up with a few ideas of her own. A horse ranch where a scientist was killed. I drive there and discover that the property is on the market. Under extreme duress, the realtor gives me a contact in England.

I'm tempted to go to England myself, but I feel I need to be close to home. So I make up a cover story and send someone from the London office of the Bureau. If he finds anything suspicious, I can fly there tomorrow.

I stop at a payphone and listen to Lyosha's Saturday check-in voicemail. His voice sounds so happy. I hope he is. Probably missing his parents, though. If Alex doesn't turn up soon, I'll have to get him out of the country and set them up.

Running out of leads, I find another library and check email. There are two from Lavagetto. Details about the research. I type my reply.

--
Keep up the good work.

-H
--

I phone Scully's cell. She and the translators are working their way through Tunisia and Switzerland. They've already found two one-armed men. One is a Swiss corpse, estimated age 75. The other is in a prison infirmary in Tunisia. He has leprosy. And he's short.

Nothing.

Sensing my mood, she tries to reassure me that they haven't gotten through more than 20 percent of the lists they're working from.

It's still nothing.

When I get home, I fidget around the house doing meaningless chores as my brain tries to conjure up one more useful thing I can do. Someone I can bribe, threaten or manipulate into giving me a shred of information. I put clothes in the washer, clean the kitchen and oil the dining room table.

There's isn't anything you can do, Walt. You've lost him. If he can't get a message to you, it's because he's dead.

It's likely the truth, but I can't stop looking.

Upstairs, I think to tidy up the office, but Alex has organized everything. In the bedroom, I clean out my drawers. I find a small object wrapped in paper.

It's my toenail clippers.

I peel off the paper and read it.

--
Do you know that you have sexy feet? Yours are the only toes I've sucked... the only feet I've licked.

-A
--

I sit on the floor.

I don't give a flying fuck about my sexy feet. Or much of anything else. I try not to think about the beautiful, silly man who left me these notes. Or I'm going to cry.

Head in my hands, I sit there for a long time. I don't have words to describe the kind of loss I feel. I can't afford to feel it anyway.


Sunday, 22 August 1999
11:32 A.M.

Scully phoned with an update. They're almost half way through the Tunisia list and 40 percent through the Switzerland list. They found a one-armed man at a hotel in Liechtenstein who fit the description. She had the local police scan the man's passport, which she examined over the Internet. It wasn't him. No surprise.

I call Morgan again. He's still looking but has nothing new to report. After terminating the call, I reflect on Morgan's voice. He sounded... upset and... discouraged. Because he thinks Alex is dead.

I phone Sharon and ask her to come over. When she arrives, she gazes at me in astonishment. "Walter, what happened?"

Taking a deep breath, I lead her to the living room. "It's Alex. He's missing and-" I break off. I don't want to say it. I can't. "I think he might be... dead." For some reason, I'm afraid to see Sharon's expression. So I sit down and look away.

She sits next to me and places an arm around my shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Walter," she offers in a voice filled with sympathy and sadness.

I wrap my arms around her and pull her close. I start to shake. I feel like I'm going to break apart. Closing my eyes, I see pictures of him in my head. Eating peach yogurt. In the green silk shirt. Roughhousing in the shower.

Sharon stays close, both arms wrapped around me. There's nothing to say. I shouldn't have asked her to come. It just makes me feel worse.

After a long time, she quietly asks, "Is there any way you could be wrong?"

I'm almost afraid to go down this path again. It's bad enough that he's gone, but the doubts are eating away at me. "Yes. I've tried to find him, but I can't. It's a guess. I'm still trying to find him, but I'm running out of places to look. I have to keep looking, but I don't know where to look any longer..." Hearing the desolate tone in my own voice, I abruptly pull out of her arms and go to the balcony door.

She follows me and places a hand on my back. "Don't give up hope yet, Walter. I believe that wherever he is, he's trying to get back to you. And I'll be here whenever you need me." I can hear something in her voice. She's crying... for me.

I bite my lip and rub my forehead. Remembering standing here with him, letting him taste my slime beverage before I went to work.


Monday, 23 August 1999
11:14 A.M.

There's nothing left to do but make overseas phone calls. I know a little French, so I take a few pages of the list. There's a one-armed man in a hospital in Zurich. He has green eyes. I make them bring him to the phone. It's not Alex.

I have to go for a walk before I can make any more calls.

There's a one-armed man in a mental hospital in St. Moritz but he's been there for a year. I ask them to describe him anyway. He's got red hair.

By the end of the day, we've finished all the lists. Scully wants to give up, but I come up with more places to check... Research facilities. Foreign Embassies.

Fuck, he's probably not even in Switzerland or Tunisia. She's right, I should stop this. But I can't.

The Bureau's paying for this. I don't care.

Mulder came back from the slime case. Solved it, too. He can't figure out why I'm signing his 302s without a fuss. Except for the local case he wanted. He tells me Scully's been sneaking around and keeping secrets. I grow tense with concern, but he says he thinks she's hiding a boyfriend. With any luck, he's not so jealous as to surveil her.


Tuesday, 24 August 1999
11:57 A.M.

I started doing my job again. Kimberly knows I'll take any interruption from Scully. When she interrupts a case review, I don't allow myself any hope.

A tall dark haired man died in a Tunisian prison recently. Do I know if Krycek is circumcised? Yes. Then it's not him. I don't bother to try to guess if she thinks it odd I know that information.

I'm neither relieved nor disappointed. Just tired.


Wednesday, 25 August 1999
2:28 P.M.

I ask the Director about Spender again.

"I told you, Walter, I haven't seen him. You don't have any active cases that involve him, do you?"

"No. I told you, I found something he wants."

"What is it?"

"Some... information. Do you have any clues to his whereabouts? I'll track him down."

"Why don't you give me the information and I'll try to pass it along to him."

That was not what I wanted to hear. "Just tell him to contact me, okay?" I find myself not caring that the Director has obviously been in bed with Spender.

"If I hear from him, I'll give him the message," he replies testily, before dismissing me.


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 26 August 1999
6:14 P.M.

I came home early tonight. There's no Scotch in my office. And now there's none at home either. I'll get another bottle tomorrow. I'm too tired to go out.

Sharon called. She's called me every day just to see how I'm doing. Years ago, I would have told her I'm fine, but I don't bother to lie anymore.

I heat up one of the dinners she dropped off for me last night. She made a few of my favorites. By the time I'm washing the dish, I don't even remember what I ate.

There's a knock on the door. I walk toward it and yell, "Who is it?"

"Mr. Skinner, my name is Mr. Jones. We have some business to discuss."

Retrieving my SIG, I look through the peephole and see a non-descript man of medium height and build. Brown eyes and hair. His most noticeable feature is his very flat nose.

"What kind of business?"

I'm on the floor before I even feel the pain ripping through my body. Thrashing on the hard wood, I try to grasp what's happening to me. Abruptly the pain stops and the voice calls out, "Do I need to give you another demonstration or will you open the door?"

He's got a control pad programmed for me. He might know something about Alex. I struggle to my feet and retrieve my SIG. I slide the lock and call out, "It's open."

The man casually strolls into the apartment with his thumb literally on the button and takes a seat on my sofa.

I tuck the SIG in my waistband. Facing him, I remain standing. There are things I intend to ask, but I want to know what he wants first.

"My name is Brian Jones. You are already aware of the organization I work for. I was pulled from my normal duties to baby-sit some of our... resources. I'm in no mood for any problems. I expect you to behave in accordance with the instructions given to you by my predecessor. If you do that, we'll get along fine." He pulls a card from his wallet and sets it on the coffee table. "That's my number. I will contact you at home or at your office when I have need of you. You've taken some unexpected time off recently. That will not happen again."

"What happened to your predecessor?" I ask in what I hope is a casual tone.

"I can't imagine why you would care, but I was told he was unavailable to finish his assignment."

Fuck, I have no leverage with this guy. He has it all. "It's better for you if I do exactly what you tell me, right?"

He raises a brow before replying, "Yes. And I prefer a minimum of fuss."

The words are out of my mouth before I can think. "I'll do whatever you want and give you no fuss at all, if you'll find out where Krycek is." God, don't let him ask me why this is so important to me.

He looks confused for a moment, then an expression of enlightenment crosses his face. "Yes, I heard he was quite a bastard. While I am not inclined to make deals, I'll consider your proposal."

Jones rises and heads for the door. I reach out with a gentle hand to touch his shoulder. "Please."

He looks disconcerted and his calm, cool demeanor slips a little bit. "Uh, okay. I mean, I don't know what your game is, Mr. Skinner but, I warn you, I won't play."

"It's just what I said. I'm not playing a game." I try to look earnest.

The man gives me a haughty look. "As I said before, I'll ask." As an afterthought, he adds, "And if it's in my best interest, I'll consider making a deal with you."

Shit, he's some kind of novice. He doesn't even know what he's doing. "I'll make it in your best interest," I say confidently. I haven't any idea how, but he'll probably figure it out for me.

There's a glimmer of interest in his eye, but he nods and departs.

God, I hope Alex's life isn't somehow in the hands of this Intimidation 101 reject.

I suppose I should feel angry about the new handler. Or humiliated that I begged. But I don't feel anything at all except a nagging anxiety that has become as familiar as my own face. And it's not because I told the man I'd do anything he asked. Though I may yet have to struggle with that problem.

For now, finding Alex is the only thing that matters.

I try to find something to do, because I know I can't sleep. Giving it up, I leave to go buy another bottle of Scotch. Detouring to Falls Church, I find a payphone and call Alex's voicemail.

My heart pounds in my chest as I hear the message. For the first time, Damien's daily message is different. He's asked Alex or me to call him as soon as possible. Regardless of the time.

I drive to another phone before I return the call.

Damien answers the phone. "Hello?"

"Do you recognize my voice?"

"Of course." He sighs with relief. "I was afraid I wouldn't get you in time."

"In time for what?"

"A m-" He cuts himself off. "Uh, do you have the number you're supposed to call me at?"

"Yes. How long?"

"Ten minutes."

I hang up.

Driving back toward D.C., I find another pay phone and dial the number.

"Hello."

"What's wrong?"

"I brought the whole crew so you can talk to whomever you want. A man and a woman showed up today for Lyosha. He knows them... says they're his parents. The man said I would have received instructions by now but I haven't heard anything."

Lyosha's not going to lie about his parents. If he says that's who they are, that's who they are. The missing piece is the instructions. Which Alex never sent. Dammit, can this get any worse? "Okay, where are Lyosha's parents now?"

"Here. Now. The father wants to talk to you."

"Put him on."

A tentative voice says, "Walter?"

"Yeah. Tell me what your last instructions were."

"When I saw Alex-"

"When and where?" Please let Vlad know something.

"Uh, I'm not sure he'd want me-"

"Look, I know you have to keep secrets, but there are lives at stake. I'm asking you to trust me on this."

There's a long pause and I hear whispered conversation in the background. I'm grateful that he's being cautious, even if I want to scream. Finally he says, "I asked everyone to step away. I'll tell you, but no one else. I saw him a little over three weeks ago in Greece. It was a Tuesday at the airport. He'd just flown in from London. He gave me a packet of instructions."

"That's Tuesday, August 3rd?"

"Yes."

London to Greece. Maybe he stayed there. Probably not. "Can you tell me anything he told you? I'm trying to find him. It's very important that I locate him. Did he tell you anything that might help me to do that?"

"I don't think so. That's the only reason I've stayed here this long, but we have to go soon. Alex said I was to wait three weeks, then come to the States and find Lyosha and take him to a temporary hiding place. I was to tell no one where we were going. He said he had business to take care of, but would set up everything on this end before I arrived. When we came and found that no instructions had been sent, I became worried. I was told to get Lyosha quickly, but I wanted to speak with you first."

Alex was sending Lyosha and his parents to California, temporarily, before he could get them out of the country. Alex was supposed to inform Damien to have Lyosha ready for Vlad's pick up. Vlad was supposed to call into the voicemail every day once they reached their destination, taking over this responsibility from Damien. Alex left quite complicated but thorough emergency procedures and a final note that he was looking at permanent relocation in three to six months.

I try to reassure Vlad that Alex's absence is just his work. He's skeptical and says so. Alex has never failed to deliver anything he promised regarding Lyosha. I can't answer that. I'm not about to tell Vlad that I think Alex may be dead. Instead, I tell him to proceed with the plan. He seems willing to follow my instructions in Alex's absence.

Vlad puts Damien on the line and I convince him that it's safe to turn Lyosha over to Vlad. He's worried and upset that Alex didn't contact him, but he'll go along. I ask him to put Lyosha on the phone.

"Hi." He sounds happy.

"I'm sorry Alex didn't handle this better. Sometimes in his line of work things get out of control. You okay with what's happening?"

"Yeah. He kept his promise and got us back together again. Everyone seems to be worried about him, but they won't tell me why. Even Noreen."

I want to lie but find that I can't. "We just don't know where he is, so we worry. But he disappears sometimes. It's something we have to live with." God, if anything has happened to Alex, I'll have to be the one to tell Lyosha.

"Okay. You'll call me when you find him?"

"Yes. And don't forget your Saturday voice messages. And leave a message anytime if you need anything, okay?"

"Okay. Thanks. Here's dad."

Vlad and I review the details again, so there won't be any mistakes. He doesn't need money. I remind him that I'll be available in an emergency.

When he hangs up, I feel... lost.

I should have told Lyosha that wherever Alex is, he's thinking of him. Me, too, I hope.


Friday, 27 August 1999
8:00 A.M.

I get Scully checking the airlines for flights out of Greece. Before I even suggest it, she offers to start calling morgues, hospitals and prisons in Greece. She never questions my abuse of her Bureau time.

Leaving the Bureau several times, I keep checking the voicemail until I get an all-is-well message from Vlad. They should be half way to California by now.

It helps a little to worry about Vlad and Lyosha.


Saturday, 28 August 1999
9:19 A.M.

I get a call on my home phone. The voice is familiar... that same man who called me the last time Alex was missing.

"Mr. Jones has been replaced. You may use the same number to contact your new representative."

"What happened to Krycek?"

"We do not have the patience for your revenge. Just because he is no longer your contact does not give you carte blanche to seek vengeance."

"Call it morbid curiosity. Is he dead?"

The man gives a humorless chuckle. "By now... probably."

"Where is he? What happened?"

"I am not inclined to be interrogated. With regard to the former, we're not exactly certain. With regard to the latter, none of your concern."

The line goes dead.

Shit. I blew it.

If he's telling the truth, he doesn't know what happened to Alex any more than I do. But that's a big if.

I toss the receiver in the cradle and pace the living room floor. I should have put a tracer on my own phone.

Overseas they told me last time. Probably Switzerland.

But it still doesn't help.

Without thinking, I reach for the bottle of Scotch. Today, I'm not going to allow myself to remember.

**

Forj Sidi Toui, Tunisia
Sunday, 5 September 1999
12:07 P.M.

The skinny man with the jagged scar across his eye brings me my ration of water. Being a servant of the devil has some perks in here. Most of the men steer clear of me, and the others are frightened into obedience.

Most days, the only thing I think about is Walter... and what I've lost. But days like today... I have to not think about him. I have to temporarily forget, because I won't survive if I think about it. Even not thinking about him, I'm not sure why I'd want to survive this hellhole.

The answer is easy. Because of the remote, distant possibility that I might see him again.

No. I'm not going to think about it.

Normally, when I need to forget about what I lost, I have my alien memories to keep me company. I've learned I cannot force the memories, but once I have them, they're available to me at any time. I've remembered some bits of alien biology, more than I ever wanted to know about human DNA, some alien agreements with the Consortium and some fragments about interstellar space travel.

But, today, it's not enough. I have to focus on something outside of my head. My memory has become my enemy.

Fortunately, there's some distraction. Tattooing going on today. Very different from the conventional tattoos I've seen. A native practice I gather. They use a piece of wood with a needle-looking thing in it dipped in ink and tapped against the skin.

The man doing the tattooing must be very talented, considering his great precision with such an awkward-looking instrument. I've seen tattooing in here before. It seems like an attempt to pass the time. I've picked up a little of the local language, but I've been mostly apathetic and haven't really tried.

On impulse, I rise to my feet and cross to the artist. He flashes me a wary look.

I indicate I want him to tattoo me. He gives a terse shake of the head. I nod and manage to come up with enough words to tell him it will be good fortune for him.

He reluctantly agrees, and I squat down to draw the design I want on the dirty floor. Some part of my brain knows what I'm doing, but I refuse to have a conscious thought about it. I can't.

The artist looks at the design and shrugs. When I indicate where I want it, he looks... perturbed.

**

Monday, 20 September 1999
9:43 A.M.

Seven weeks. And a week since we had anything left to try. How can I find a man, with nothing to go on? And if he were alive, I think I'd have heard from him by now. Fear gnaws at me... the fear that I've overlooked something that might have saved Alex's life.

The last time I spoke to Morgan, he sounded embarrassed. As if I'm being a dumbass who can't figure out that Alex is dead.

Maybe he is dead.

I feel like I should accept it, but I still can't. In fact, I don't want to do much of anything.

Scully asked me to meet her at the fishpond. I know it's not a clue to finding Alex. If she had a good lead, she'd have said so.

I walk out of my office and head toward the elevator. When the doors open, Mulder's inside. "Hey."

"Hey, Mulder."

"Nice watch, sir. You know, I never figured you for a Rolex man."

"Then you figured wrong, Agent Mulder. I love this watch." And the man who gave it to me. I only realize that I'm barking when Mulder's eyes go wide.

"I'll be sure not to comment on your shoes. Um, nice Kenneth Cole's." He smirks.

Why do I want to smack him?

At the fishpond, Scully's seated on a bench. Not expecting a brief conversation, then. I don't even know what she wants, but I know I don't want to deal with it. Whatever the fuck it is.

"Sir, I've been exchanging email with Dr. Lavagetto."

"And?"

"He says you haven't been responding to his emails."

I haven't even read them in over a week. "Has he needed a response?"

She frowns. "He asked to run some tests on you weeks ago."

I shrug. "I've been busy."

"Sir, this is your life we're talking about. Only I get the feeling you don't much care anymore. Has something happened to change things? Something you're not telling me?"

"Uh, no. I just... I've been tired."

Scully shakes her head. "You look like you haven't slept in weeks. I'd guess you've lost weight. Frankly, sir, you look terrible." She gazes into the pond for a few minutes.

I should get up or say something, but I just sit there.

"Sir, you've been keeping secrets since this project began. And I have tried to respect your privacy, but I'm not sure I can do that any more."

"I don't know what to tell you, Agent Scully."

"Tell me why you've been frantic and then depressed... since Krycek disappeared."

"It doesn't matter." I close my eyes and wish her away, but she's still there when I open them again. So am I. Unfortunately. "Look, I'll go to Tucson. You're right. I should have gone already. I'll go later this week."

"Sir, what is the nature of your personal relationship with Alex Krycek?"

I'm too tired to lie. I knew she'd figure it out sooner or later. "Why is that relevant? Do you really need to know, Agent Scully?" I give her a look. It's probably a pathetic look. Don't do this to me, Dana.

"No, sir. But, I feel like I deserve to know. I've wondered what the hidden piece of this puzzle is. I'd like to know if that has been saving the life of... your lover."

I close my eyes and mutter, "Yes."

"For how long?"

"March." It's sort of the truth. Close enough.

She's quiet for a long time. "I don't pretend to understand. Someday I'd like for you to be willing to help me understand. It's obvious you have been suffering over his departure, so I won't belabor this now. I only hope he hasn't been using you." After a hesitation, she adds, "I understand the source of your apathy regarding the research, but it's still important for your survival, if not for his. I'll let you know directly if something is needed by the team. In the interim, please make plans to see Dr. Lavagetto."

Scully rises to depart.

"He wasn't using me."

She looks back at me, her expression a little sad, and something else... I can't put my finger on. "For your sake, I hope that's true."

As she walks off I realize she looked hurt. I can't make sense of that. Without having any idea what I've done, I'm nevertheless certain she deserves to be treated better.

I sit on the bench for a long time, even phoning Kimberly to cancel a meeting. It's the first time I've spoken about Alex in the past tense.


Tuesday, 21 September 1999
6:30 A.M.

I'm not sure why I got out of bed this morning. Probably because I didn't want to lie here and think.

After showering, I step into the walk-in closet and select a shirt. There's a wrinkle in the pocket. When I try to smooth it, I realize there's something in it.

I pull out a note.

--
I was rearranging your closet today. The delicious smell of you clings to your clothing. I got turned on just moving your suits around and had to lie on the floor in front of the closet to jack off while smelling this shirt.

You're in all my fantasies.

-A
--

I don't know how I ended up on the floor, but I'm sitting there like an idiot. Tears running out of my eyes.

I really loved you, Alex. I'm so sorry I never told you. Sharon was right, I think. You needed to hear it from me.

At least, you were mine. You belonged to me. And, though you'll never know it, a part of me belonged to you, too.

I sit there for a long time before I find the energy to go for my cell phone. And call Kimberly. Then I go back to bed.

**

Forj Sidi Toui, Tunisia
Friday, 31 December 1999
11:42 P.M.

I've been in this hellhole for almost five months. One hundred and fifty-one days since I last saw him. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new year... a new millennium. And I could care less. Because I've lost him.

Does he think I abandoned him?

I didn't leave you, Walter. But you have every reason to doubt me. I'm so sorry.

If he doesn't think I ran out on him, is he looking for me? Is that even worse? The idea of him searching for me is... too horrible to contemplate. He has no chance of finding me. The search is pointless.

I managed to get one of the cots tonight, so I don't have to lie on the floor. A fight this morning resulted in a nano episode and, as usual, the prisoners stay far away from me after one.

I curl up on the cot, silently translating my thoughts into Spanish. Something to keep my brain occupied while I try not to think of him.

Ten minutes later, the language drills aren't occupying me any longer and my mind returns to Walter. I hope he's happy... getting on with his life.

It's easy to envision his routine and it makes me smile. Wake-up, brush teeth, shower, shave, briefs, socks, slacks, shoes, shirt, tie, slime beverage, newspaper, jacket, SIG, keys. Of course, when I'm there, I try to fit a blowjob into his morning ritual. My smile fades abruptly.

Fucking hell. Sometimes I think I can still taste him... still smell him... still feel his hands. It helps to believe he's happy. Happy for both of us. But happy would mean that he had... found someone else. The thought pulls at my thin layer of self-control. I hate the thought of someone else touching him. Is that awful? How can I want him to be happy--to get on with his life--and feel murderous at the idea of him finding a new lover?

In what has become a familiar nervous habit, I realize I'm rubbing my fingers over the location of my tattoo. I shouldn't, but what does it matter anymore?

I told Walter that I belonged to him. It was true. More true than he knew. Because he assumed I meant sexually. While that was true, it was so much more than that. I still don't fully understand it, but with every passing day I gave him a little more of me. If things had continued on with us... if we'd been able to completely get over the past, the inevitable conclusion... he would have everything... all of me. At the time, I wondered if I could handle that. Now, I can't live with the fact that it won't happen.

But what cuts at me like a razor blade--too sharp to be felt at first, then bleeding profusely--is that he was never mine.

The truth of it stings. It didn't matter as much then, because I was willing to take whatever I could get. But now... it just hurts. Hurts to think he might give himself completely to someone else.

I hate this. Hate everything.

I need to pull my mind away from these morbidly depressing thoughts. It's impossible. I'm stuck in a Walter-thought-cycle tonight and it's not going to end anytime soon.

I wonder what he did for Christmas. I've never been interested in the holidays, but I wanted to be with him this year. I knew he'd have time off... maybe we could have gone somewhere. Some place- No, I cannot keep doing this. But I don't know how to stop. Some days I think the only thing keeping me alive is the faint hope that I'll be able to get out of here and see him again.

I miss you so much... lyubof' maya.

**

Crystal City, VA
Monday, 14 February 2000
11:15 P.M.

I've been working every day since before the holidays. The work doesn't mean as much to me as it used to... just trying not to let down my people. But sometimes it gets my mind off him.

I never stopped looking. I spend an hour or two every day making phone calls, most of them to the same places. But I stopped expecting to find him.

After I finished Greece for the second time, I started on the U.S.

My Bureau experience tells me the case is not worth pursuing, but it's not a case. It's Alex. So I keep picking up the phone.

Scully hasn't said anything more about my relationship with Alex. And I'm not in the mood to discuss it. She's been kind and gentle with me, only getting tough when I need to do something for the research.

At her insistence, I went to Tucson twice and let Dr. Lavagetto poke, prod, test and annoy me. He tried to put me on anti-depressants, but I declined.

Lavagetto's team has finally isolated all the communication protocols. They have discovered one untenable solution, which requires two infected subjects, which we no longer have. It's not a cure, but it demonstrates their progress. The team is doing exactly what we've paid them to do. I'm not sure I care.

Vlad, Lyosha and Tatiana are safe in Mountain View, California. I procured false IDs for them. The next step is to find them a home. Alex was planning on sending them to New Zealand. I'll have to go there to make the necessary arrangements.

I've been on the Mulder-go-round on a weird child abduction case he connected with his sister's abduction. We pulled two dozen children's bodies out of a mass gravesite near Sacramento. I couldn't help but think of that photo of Alex's... the charred remains of his brothers and sisters. Mulder's mother died during the case, an apparent suicide. The losses we all feel... how do any of us cope?

The abducted child wasn't one of the bodies we found. The killer I arrested claimed he never killed her, though he admitted the rest. Mulder and Scully found evidence that his sister was alive several years after her abduction. He says that some kind of starlight saved the girl, his sister and other missing children from a violent fate. That they're dead, but in a better place.
Even for Mulder, it's crazy. But it's no more bizarre than Judeo-Christian beliefs. And if it gives him peace in the face of terrible loss, who am I to criticize?

When I reach out for solace about Alex there's nothing there.

I have dinner with Sharon and Antonio every Friday night. It helps me deal with the weekend.

I started going to the gym again, even when I don't feel like it. It's something to do. Jason figured out that I'm 'single' again and has been gung-ho with the propositions. Sometimes I ask myself why not, but I always decline.

Spender remains elusive. I haven't found him and he hasn't contacted me.

There are a lot of one-armed men in the world. With tattoos, scars, other missing body parts.
I pick up the phone and dial again.

When I can't face it any longer, I head upstairs and get ready for bed. Over time, I found a couple more notes from Alex. I can't bring myself to read them, so they're buried under my socks.

Standing at the side of the bed, I stretch and catch sight of myself in the mirror. I stand before it and look at myself.

Did I look this old six months ago?

I installed this mirror so I could look at Alex, not my ugly tired face.

Alex made me feel alive and now I'm just... existing. But why? Why am I still here? What perverse aspect of humanity makes me get out of bed in the morning and keep going?

To find him? To protect Lyosha? To do my work? To solve the nanocyte problem?

I've cheated death several times in my life. Why?

Of what possible use is this man I see in the mirror? Once, I wanted to make things right in the world, but nothing seems right now. As I attend meetings, sign papers and direct agents, am I making things more right? If so, for who?

Not for the man in the mirror.


Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 25 March 2000
7:49 A.M.

Scully stirs her coffee, eyes uncharacteristically on the table as she tells her story. "Spender used me, in much the way he's used Mulder in the past, just with different... bait." Her discomfort makes me uncomfortable.

I take a chance on patting her hand. "We've all been used by-"

"I know! It's just..." She holds up both hands, as if to keep me at bay. "Miracle medical cures! I shouldn't have listened to him. I know better!" She takes a deep breath, then meets my gaze. "He used me to get to someone so he could kill them." I've never seen her like this. Self loathing.

"You're-" I have to stop myself, as the waiter appears having said something I didn't hear. I take a guess "No, thank you, just the check." When he disappears, I continue, "You're human, Dana, just like the rest of us."

"I know..." There's little acceptance in her expression. This one's going to eat at her for a while.

"Law enforcement is just like medicine. You're in the business of saving lives. And sometimes in this business, you don't save a life."

She gives me a tense nod. "This isn't what I needed to tell you, Walter."

I feel a twinge of fear. "Did you learn something from Spender?"

"Nothing that helps you, us, find Krycek." She wads up her napkin and leaves it on her plate. "I asked him if he knew where to find Krycek. He was extremely curious to know why I was interested, so I implied that Mulder had some questions for him."

"And?"

"He didn't give me any answers, but I interpreted his smug look as proof that he's responsible. So I asked him where to find Krycek. And his reply was 'I believe he's burning in the hell he deserves.'"

It's my turn to look away. A confirmation of death? Not from Spender. It doesn't mean anything. Except more doubt. I don't have anything to say, so I pull out a credit card and leave it with the check. We sit silently, in an odd way sharing our regret.

After the bill is paid, Dana says, "Spender's dying."

"That's what? 60 years too late?" I only catch the anger after the fact. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

Dana shakes her head, dismissing it. "It's not lung cancer. According to him, it's cerebral inflammation brought on by brain surgery he had in the fall."

"Whatever they took out of Mulder's brain?"

"That's what we think. Spender implanted it in himself and it's killing him."

"I'm certain this is important information of some kind, but I'm at a loss."

Nodding, she rises to her feet, placing a hand on my shoulder. I place my hand over hers and silently will her to forgive herself for being human. Then she departs.

I wait the requisite ten minutes before leaving in the opposite direction.

**

Forj Sidi Toui, Tunisia
Thursday, 25 May 2000
12:45 P.M.

There's a furor amongst the prisoners. I repeatedly hear the word for 'woman.' I think the guards must have slipped something into the water... we never see women here.

But the chatter continues to build. Then I hear a voice... a familiar voice. There's an insane surge of hope that I quickly suppress.

I step up to the bars, processing what she said. 'Your release has been arranged.'

An hour later, I'm out of the prison, clean and dressed in a suit. But I have nothing I had when I was arrested. The only thing I cared about was my knife. Walter's knife. It's gone. But it's hard to deal with that when I can barely deal with reality.

I'm going home.


Washington, D.C.
7:02 P.M.

As soon as we step off the plane, the only thing I can think of is finding Walter. That means shaking Marita, which I cannot do until I see Spender.

Fighting every instinct, I get into the taxi with Marita to go see that smoking bastard. The man who took me away from Walter, all these long months. The man I hate with every cell in my body.

I called the Resistance from the airport in Tunisia, to make sure I didn't wind up dead the next time I came within range of their control signal. Only their insistence that we find out what's going on with Spender prevents me from killing him. I'm too close to Walter to have them kill me now.

Walter, please don't have given up on me... please still want me. I'm not sure I can go any further without you.

Marita and I meet with Spender. I try to shake off the prison despair and pass as a man who's in control of his life. Dare not let him think he's beaten me down. He spins a tale about a downed spaceship in Oregon. I could care less.

I make a pretense of interest to get out of there. Despite my preoccupation, I cannot believe that crazy bastard wants to revive the conspiracy.

But it doesn't matter... Not now. I have to find Walter. Have to see him.

I'm supposed to leave for Oregon. Fuck that. I'll go tomorrow. I can't focus on my criminal to do list right now.

I shake Marita and find a pay phone. I call the Resistance and tell them what Spender wanted. They want me to go along with him for now... and feed them information.

Fine.

But no more anything tonight.

Walter. Now.

I catch a cab that drops me a mile from his apartment. Despite my need to see him, now is not the time to get stupid. I walk the mile to his building and slip inside.

Seventeen flights of stairs.

Please be home. I need to see you... so badly.

I love you.

Love.

How strange.

I had a lot of time to think in that hell-hole. My own denial was boring after the first couple weeks. Once I admitted it to myself, I fought with it. But, then that got boring, too.

Acceptance. That wasn't dull at all. Accepting how I feel about Walter. After years of denial and fighting, it feels good. It's not something I can ever tell him, but I need to be able to say it... to myself.

It gives me something to be with when life really sucks. I've been doing it for years. Being with it--with him--whenever things are difficult. When I go in for tests, when I was locked in the silo, in Tunguska when my arm was amputated, even the night I was cuffed on his balcony. Underneath everything else, it's been at the core of me for a long time. I just didn't have a name for it.

Months of nothing but my own ruminations took care of that. In prison, I felt stripped of anything but how I felt about him and the need to keep living... to see him again.

He has to wonder where I've been. That was sort of the beginning of my realization. At first I was more upset about Walter worrying, than I was about being thrown in prison.

I hope he's not angry.

The door is only a few feet away.

It's okay if he's angry. There's nowhere else I want to be.

**

I toss another report into my briefcase. There are only four more. I haven't gotten very far behind lately. Picking up another one, I start reading about a drug bust.

There's a knock at the door. I drop the report and head to the stairs. Another knock. Not very damned patient. When I get to the bottom of the stairs, I hear the sound of keys or something at the doorknob. I grab my SIG and stand facing the door. My 'company' is inviting themselves in.

There's another knock at the door. Weird. Breaking in or not? Then the sound of more scraping at the doorknob.

As quietly as possible, I turn the lock and yank open the door.

A suited figure stumbles into the room. I grab him and slam him face first into the wall. Something tweaks my subconscious and I twist him around so I can see his face.

I can't breathe. It can't be real, can it?

He stares at me for a heartbeat, then his body is pressed to mine and his arm is around me.

Alex.

I crush him into my arms, pressing him into the wall, trying to rub every part of my body on every part of his. "Oh, Christ, Alex... I thought..."

Words don't seem to have any meaning. My hands roam his body, hating the unfamiliar suit, loving the feel of him under my touch.

He's alive.

I touch him everywhere to be sure.

He clings to me and in a shaky voice says, "I know. I didn't think I'd make it back. I'm so sorry."

Fuck apologies. He's alive.

I want to get out of the entryway, but I can't let go of him, so I just pick him up and carry him to the living room. Somehow we're on the sofa, bodies pressed together, my hands still wandering, trying to convince myself he's real.

When I can breathe again, I pull back a little to look at him. He looks weary, thinner and I think his face has picked up a couple of lines. Fuck it, he looks gorgeous.

His hand strokes the side of my face. "I've missed you so much."

I groan at the memory of the past nine months. "I... never stopped looking for you, but," I'm not sure I want to say this, "but, I thought you were... dead."

"God, Walter, I'm so sorry you were hurting. I kept hoping you wouldn't think I'd run out on you. Fuck..." He closes the short distance and presses his lips to mine.

When I realize that he tastes the same, everything is incredibly perfect. Nothing else matters. We kiss forever. I can't stop needing the feel of his sweet mouth. The familiar surfaces of his tongue, lips and mouth wash away the horror of the past months without him. His body molds itself to mine, his fist clenches in my shirt and soft moans emanate from deep in his throat as we relearn the taste and feel of each other.

He's alive. And he's mine.

We kiss for hours, days, months. It's sex and love and loss and longing. I don't even think to stop until his face suddenly feels like sandpaper.

Breaking the kiss reluctantly, I remember what he said. "Alex, I never believed that you ran out on me. I knew. I tried so hard-" Suddenly, I feel the weight of the months spent searching for him. I feel as if I'm about to shatter. I press my body down over his and try to breathe.

He sees something in my face and his expression shifts... reflecting my pain.

In that moment, I know the connections between us were never broken.

Guiding my head down to rest next to his, he says, "Thank you." His arm holds me tighter.

I curl up on his body and allow myself to take comfort from him.

When I'm feeling stronger again, I think to ask the most obvious question... that hadn't even crossed my mind until now. "What happened?"

He softly replies, "Four days after I left, I was captured on Spender's order and taken to a penal colony in Tunisia."

Tunisia? I feel a surge of homicidal rage. Why didn't we find him? Whose mistake cost us Alex? I can't deal with this now. I push it away to stay focused on Alex. "Were you there all this time?"

"Yes, but you couldn't have found me... I wasn't where I should have been."

"What do you mean?"

"There aren't many foreigners in the penal colony. They have their own cellblock. I was put with the general population... primarily natives."

It's hard to think about... whatever might have happened to him. Prison in Tunisia must be... a nightmare. He's here with me. Whatever it is, I can deal with it. But what about him? "I, uh, hope you weren't hurt and that it was... bearable."

His hand rubs soothing circles on my back. "Nothing I can't live with... I'm with you, and that's all that matters."

I try not to think about what horrors are hiding under his words. Nodding, I kiss the side of his face. "Lyosha's safe in California, with Vlad and Tatiana. I got them false papers, so all they need is a home in New Zealand."

Alex gives me a half smile. "I knew you would take care of him. Thank you." He trails his fingers over my head and down the back of my neck. "Let's go upstairs. I've missed sleeping with you."

**

Walter is agreeable and helps me off the sofa, keeping hold of my hand as we head upstairs. I almost kicked his door in with my impatience to get inside the apartment. Despite the pain of our separation the last few months, I didn't realize just how much I missed him--needed to be with him--until I saw his face.

As soon as we enter the bedroom, I stop and stare. "What is that?" The bed is in a different location and there's a huge mirror on my side. I turn my gaze to Walter.

I see a shadow of pain cross over his features and then he pushes it away. "Surely you haven't forgotten my love of mirrors. Well, not mirrors, per se... watching you in them."

Unexpectedly, I feel myself blushing. Yes, he does like his mirrors. I wonder why it caused that flash of pain. I consider it for a second. If it's to watch me, he must have put it up before he knew I was missing. Shit.

I wrap my arm around his waist and kiss his throat. "I'll perform for you anytime."

His eyes seem to smile, but I notice how weary he looks. And thinner... he hasn't been taking care of himself. He pulls me into a hug and runs his hands up and down my back.

For a long time, I hug him back, then grab his hand and pull him toward the bathroom. "I've missed hot showers... especially with you." He comes along willingly, but I add, "I'll try not to scald you... too much."

Reaching for Walter, I unbutton his shirt and push it off his shoulders. I run my hand over his chest and abdomen, then step closer to smell and taste his skin. I've needed this so badly... the feel of him under my fingers, lips and tongue.

He seems almost... sedated. I look at him closely and find that he's watching me intently. He looks like he's not quite sure this is real. I guess I've had more time to adjust than he has.

I stroke my hand down the side of his face, then drop to one knee to unfasten his pants. I slide his jeans down and feel his hand settle in my hair. My chest suddenly feels tight and I realize I'm shaking.

"You okay?" he asks in a soft tone.

I rest my forehead against his hip and wrap my arm around his thighs. "Yeah. I'm fine... now."

Too fine. I've learned that he's stronger than I am. My own weakness was apparent in prison. If I thought he were dead, I wouldn't want to keep living. My happiness is entirely centered around him.

He continues to stroke my hair and massage my scalp. I'm not sure how much time passes before I lift my head and tap the back of his knee, encouraging him to step out of his jeans.

Once his jeans and briefs are removed, I sit back on my heels and look up at him. It's impossible not to be turned on by him--and it's a relief to know my body still functions sexually after nine months of nothing--but it's not even the point. I just need to touch him. Reconnect.

Smiling down at me, Walter extends a hand. He pulls me to my feet, then begins removing my suit coat. "What's with the suit? You trying to change your image?"

"It's what Marita brought me when she sprung me from that place. I haven't taken the time to buy something more... my style." I give him a faint smile.

"You look... beautiful, in anything really." He rapidly divests me of my shirt as I begin working the fastening on my pants. I kick my shoes away and let my pants fall to my feet. I step out of them and move closer to Walter, pressing our bodies together, feeling his skin for the first time in so long.

I find myself saying, "These last nine months felt longer than the past four years."

I feel his nod. "I think I've aged 40 years, but now that you're back..." He trails off.

I finish his sentence based on my observations of how he's been taking care of himself. "You'll start sleeping more and eating enough." I kiss his neck.

"You should talk, Mr. Skin and Bones." His thumbs glide down my ribs. "Guess I'll have to fatten you up on peach yogurt and granola bars."

My mouth has missed so much more than yogurt and granola bars. I let my tongue taste his collarbone. "Okay. I'll even let you watch me eat the yogurt."

His laugh still has the memory of all that pain in it. He opens the shower door, holding it for me to enter. I step inside and turn on the water, adjusting the temperature to only be a little too warm. Walter follows me into the shower and watches me with an intense look on his face--awe with an edge of possessiveness that makes me ache for the months we spent apart, and desperate to not let go of him again.

His eyes move down my body, stopping abruptly. He steps closer and I realize he's looking at my tattoo. I've had it for so long now, I easily forget about it because it's just a part of me. I feel myself starting to flush.

"Is that?" He's not wearing his glasses, so he has to hunker down to see it clearly. "Oh, Christ, Alex."

Uh-oh. He doesn't sound happy. It was an impulse to have his intertwined initials tattooed on the front of my hip, at the juncture of my thigh, but I didn't think he'd mind.

He presses his face to my upper thigh, then kisses the tattoo. Arms wrapped tightly around my waist, he just holds me like that. When he finally stands, and I can see his face, I know he's not upset. "I think I understand why you did that, Alex." He kisses me. "I had... uh, the watch you gave me. It was very important to me-"

I interrupt, finishing his sentence. "To have something with you." Which is how I felt about the tattoo. Like having a part of him with me all the time.

"I wore it to bed." This time when he smiles, there's a lightness in his expression that I haven't seen since I left. His fingers brush over the tattoo as if he can feel it. "It's very beautiful and I'm pleased to be a part of your body."

I lightly touch his fingers as they rest on my tattoo. "It was just a formality... you already are a part of me."

His eyes flick closed for a moment. When they reopen, he brushes the backs of his fingers down my jaw line.

Walter insists on washing me first. He gently soaps and scrubs every inch of me, as if he has to inspect my body to make sure I'm okay.

I immediately respond to his touch and my breathing is erratic by the time he finishes washing me. He positions me under the shower spray to wash the soap away and I struggle for equilibrium. When I'm completely rinsed, his fingers close around my cock, stroking me a couple of times. My body is on fire. I groan and brace my hand against the wall, gasping, "Don't. If you don't want me to come now, just don't. I haven't had an orgasm since before I was arrested and I have no control."

Walter shifts his position, wrapping both arms around my waist, so my back is pressed against his chest. Holding me firmly with one arm, he reaches for my cock again and resumes jacking me off.

Orgasm is perilously close and I feel a sudden rush of emotion. I'm aware of Walter's solid presence, his strong arms holding me. My chest feels tight and my throat burns even as my body is pushed over the edge. My climax tears something away. As I return to reality, the explosive sensations beginning to abate, a hoarse dry sobbing from deep in my chest nearly chokes me. I'm finally safe. It's over and he's here.

He kisses the back of my head and murmurs, "Welcome home."

**

Holding him while he climaxed was... perfection. The burning intensity of Alex in my arms was the necessary antidote to the lifeless months I've spent searching for him.

My own cock, only half hard, was never the point.

Tugging him out of the shower, I toss a toothbrush at him. I want him in my bed.

Reluctantly, I leave him alone for the sixty seconds it takes me to retrieve the satellite phone. When I return to the bedroom, he's sitting on the bed looking adorably sleepy.

Slipping under the sheet, I pull him close. He presses against me, holding on tightly. I stroke his hair until he drifts off to sleep.

I've never felt like this about anyone. He's more important to me than anything. The last nine months... I shudder and Alex stirs, readjusting his body around mine.

He tattooed my initials on his hip. He shouldn't have done it, but I find myself musing that I might have done the same. To keep him close.

Watching him sleep, I wonder if I'll be able to let him out of my sight again. He's dancing on a wire and I feel like I need to be at his side to keep him safe. But it's an illusion. There's no safe for either of us... as long as the nanocytes are with us.

Shit. The research. I've neglected it. Badly. I'm sorry, Alex. If I'd known you were alive, I never would have.

Don't regret, Walt. Alex is back.

I'll get up early and check Lavagetto's email. Tell him Alex is back.

Reaching for the satellite phone, I consider making the calls in the office, so I won't wake him. But I decide to be selfish. I can't leave him right now.

Morgan sounds somewhat annoyed, telling me to have 'the kid' call. But, I can hear the relief he's not expressing.

The phone rings for a long time before I reach Damien. He sniffles into the phone and thanks me effusively, as if I had something to do with Alex's return.

When I tell Sharon, she exclaims, "Oh, thank, god." The relief in her voice is palpable. She's loved me so long and so well. I thank her for keeping me alive these past months, although I'm still not sure what did keep me alive. Maybe I just don't have what it takes to kill myself.

Glancing at my sleeping lover, I conclude it's a damned good thing I don't. Because if I had, this could easily have turned into a Shakespearean tragedy.

Leaving the phone on the nightstand, I pull him back into my arms. Where he belongs.

Alex wakes briefly, tipping his head back and staring at me. He lightly touches my face, then gives a half smile before falling back to sleep.

**

Friday, 26 May 2000
5:20 A.M.

I've been staring at Walter for five minutes. It took almost that long to accept that this is real. I'm home... with him. I hate having lost the knife he gave me--something I've carried for so long because he gave it to me--but I realize it's not truly important, because I have him back, and that's all that matters.

I should let him sleep. I should go downstairs and find breakfast. Instead, I reach out to rub my fingers down the side of his face.

Walter's eyes blink open, taking only a second to focus. Then he smiles. His smile is relaxed and... happy. I don't think I've ever seen this expression on his face. It's infectious and I return the smile before leaning forward to kiss his jaw.

"Morning, Walt."

His hands close around my waist as he pulls my body on top of his. Around a yawn, he asks, "Should I call you Alex? Or Sasha or Aleksandr?" He pronounced 'Aleksandr' correctly--with a Russian accent and proper inflection.

I think to give a flip response, but something in his eyes tell me he's serious. Hearing my real name spoken in that incredible voice is... almost too perfect. But I'm not sure I can leave 'Alex' behind. It's like giving everything up. And I'm not ready yet. I rest my cheek on his chest and savor the feel of his skin against mine. "Alex is fine. I've been using it longer than any of the others."

He eyes me curiously, and says, "Morning, Alex." He brushes his scratchy cheek across mine, which is rather tender from the marathon kissing session last night. "Shall I cancel my meeting with the Director, so you can take care of my morning hard-on?"

While reaching for the phone, I leave a kiss on his shoulder. I hand it to him, then move my mouth to his neck, nipping and kissing a path between his jaw and collarbone. I savor the taste of his skin. I'm afraid he's stuck with me now... because I don't want to live without him.

Looking a bit addled, he manages to dial a number. "Kimberly, this is Walter. I'm-"

I make quite a show of wiggling down his body. His glance is a mild reproach, but I can see he lacks the will to stop me.

"I'm, uh, going to be a little late this morning. Would you-"

I suck a nipple into my mouth as my fingers find his erection. His fingers clamp onto my shoulder even as his hips lift into my touch.

His voice drops half and octave and the words run together as he says, "Adjust my calendar? Thanks."

I release his nipple and smile against his skin. Kimberly is going to correctly assume that he's calling from bed. The evil side of me would love to send her a snapshot so she'd know who he's in bed with.

The phone flies across the bed, headed for the floor. I catch myself laughing faintly as I move further down his body, trailing kisses along his chest and abdomen. When I reach his cock, my sense of humor melts away, replaced by the desire to touch and taste.

His hand finds my hair, and he pets me gently.

I lap at the tip of his cock, delighting in his salty, familiar taste.

I've missed you, Walter. Everything about you, but memories of this are what kept me awake at night.

Sucking the head into my mouth, I pause briefly before taking him all the way down. It's been so long since I've done this, it's a little difficult. But I need the feel of him in my mouth, pressing into my throat.

"God, I've missed you," he mutters breathlessly. "I mean, not just 'cause you're blowing me," he adds with an almost hysterical laugh.

I know what he means. Every touch makes the missing more acute. Because it's not about sex anymore. Maybe it never was.

Not in the mood to tease, I rapidly pull my mouth on and off his cock, applying firm pressure with my tongue. My fingers play with his balls, rolling them in my hand, then squeezing.

A low moan rumbles in his chest, and his fingers tighten in my hair.

I back off for a moment to nibble around the corona, stimulating the sensitive spot on the underside where the shaft meets the head. Then, I take him into my throat again.

"Fuck..." His breath comes in gasps, as he thrusts into my mouth. "Alex..." Then he begins to come. I swallow hungrily, wanting whatever he has to offer me.

When his body begins to relax, I allow his cock to slip out of my mouth. Suddenly, he flips me over onto my back. He looms over me, with a predatory gleam in his eye. He traces patterns across my chest. His glance leaves me for a moment and I realize that he's looking in the mirror.

I turn my head to take in the image of his body above mine, arms on either side of me. My eyes trace his form, the planes of his back, the curve of his butt, the shape of his legs. I bite my lip, feeling an odd sense of apprehension... fear about what we almost lost.

Shaking it off, I notice the contrast between our bodies, his skin more golden, mine pale next to it. Lifting one leg, I wrap it around his hips, then look at his face. "Nice mirror, Walter."

"Damned fine mirror." He meets my eyes in the mirror, then his expression softens. Shaking his head slowly, he murmurs, "You are so beautiful." He teases my lips with his own, gazing down at me. "Do you know how much you mean to me?"

I look at him for a long time, my throat feeling constricted. Eventually I manage a slight nod and, "It's the same... for me." It's hard to imagine that he could feel as strongly about me as I do about him, but I feel like we're close to saying too much.

Walter seems to sense it, and shifts his body lower on the bed, reaching for my leg. He brushes his fingertips along the sensitive skin of my inner thighs, which open automatically at his touch. My skin burns in the wake of his fingers.

He widens the spread of my legs and settles himself between them. Cupping my balls, he leans over me to lick the tip of my cock. I gasp and my fingers clench into the mattress.

Gesturing at the bedside table, he whispers, "Grab the lube."

Groaning, I fumble for it. When I offer him the bottle, he holds out his hand. I flick the cap and pour a small amount onto his fingers. He rubs them together sensually, then reaches under me to tease my asshole as his tongue returns to lap gently--far too gently--around my cock head. My moan is trapped in my throat as I am suddenly unable to breathe... only react. My muscles tremble, wanting to seek both sensations.

A finger breaches my anus, as he closes his mouth over the end of my dick. I struggle for oxygen and push my hips against his finger--needing to feel some part of him inside me more than I need the stimulation of my cock.

The pressure of his hot mouth on me is overwhelming... so incredibly intense. After tormenting me sufficiently with his tongue, he slowly takes me into his throat. At the same time, a second finger pushes into my ass. I groan, feeling my ass stretch to accommodate his fingers. My eyes briefly slip shut. It's been so long. I shudder as the sensations burn their way through my body.

Fucking me vigorously, he swallows my cock, moaning as my hips thrust up to meet him.

My eyes flick to the mirror. Fuck. The leashed power of Walter's body is visible in every line and curve of his muscles. The sweat runs off my skin and my body shakes as he controls me with just his mouth. The image in the mirror is enough to take me over the edge. The orgasm feels like it pulls me apart.

I come back to reality, floating from the post-orgasmic tremors. Bringing my breathing under control, I mutter, "That mirror is a menace."

Walter releases my cock, his expression entirely too self-satisfied. "So, I guess you enjoyed watching me suck you off?"

I hadn't quite thought of it that way, but... "Yeah... but maybe not as much as I'll enjoy watching you fuck me."

Fifteen minutes later, we're prowling through the kitchen in search of food. Walter obliged me by coming down to breakfast wearing nothing but his slacks.

There's yogurt, but no peach. I find some stale granola bars and the peanut butter. Perfect. I've missed normal food. Walter offers me some slime beverage. I shake my head, muttering, "Ick."

That simple exchange makes everything feel right.

Once we're seated at the table, Walter says, "Scully knows about us. I was, uh, depressed and she figured it out."

I nearly choke on my orange juice. When I can breathe, I start to laugh. "That really isn't funny, but... what else could have gone wrong during the last nine months?"

"Don't worry about it, Alex. She knows she can't share the information." He takes a long drink. "She probably thinks I need mental health care, but that hasn't lessened her resolve to help us with the research. In fact," he hesitates. "Scully's been directing the project since I've been, um, less interested."

Oddly enough, I'm able to read between the lines and catch what he didn't say. He lost interest when I disappeared. After a moment, I say, "In your shoes, I would have told Russ to shove his robotics engineer up his ass, so..." I pause for a second. "I think you probably handled the situation, um, well."

Walter scoffs. "I'm not going to dwell on that. I want to keep moving forward. I'll have an update on the research for you tonight."

I should be more interested in the research but, even after all this time, I feel removed from it. "Um, I have to go to Portland today."

He winces and makes an aborted hand gesture... reaching for me. "Why do I feel like I shouldn't let you go?"

I lean forward and kiss the side of his neck. "Because, like me, you know nothing good can come from anything Spender's involved in."

Before I can finish, Walter interrupts, "Spender?" It's almost a yell. "What the hell? He's the one who..."

"He's also the one who got me out. I'm not doing this because I want to. I'm doing it because the Resistance wants to know what scheme he's hatching." I pause for a second, then add, "He wants to revive the conspiracy."

**

Fuck.

I can't let him do this.

"Alex, you can't... not Spender. What's to stop the fucker from sending you back to prison when he's finished with you? Or worse?"

"He's not sending me back to prison, because I am never going to Tunisia again. He is running out of allies. That's why he sent for me... he needs eyes and ears. And he's dying. That thing he took from Mulder's brain is killing him."

"I know. One piece of happy news in a dismal year," I mutter under my breath.

"And I hope it kills him very painfully." He looks at me intently for a moment, a hint of sadness in his eyes. "I'm suspicious of everything he does, so I won't take any risks."

Being on the same planet as Spender is a risk, dammit!

He must see the objection in my face, because he sighs and says, "Allowing him to revive this conspiracy is not an option. The Resistance has the best chance of preventing this but we have to know if Spender's correct about what's in Oregon."

There are a whole lot of questions floating in my brain. "Okay, first, I want to say something about Spender. I know I told you I don't want you to kill anyone."

Alex looks wary. "Yeah?"

"Spender's an exception. If and when it's in your best interest to kill him, feel free." I rub my forehead. I can't believe I'm saying this. "And if you want me to do it for you, just say the word."

That man has torched your life, Alex. As long as he's alive, he can hurt you again. I still believe in law and order, but it hasn't worked to stop the man. At some point, I have to draw a line and protect my own.

Alex's eyes widen briefly, then something feral crosses his features. But, in response, he only nods.

I would kill Spender to protect him. I hope I'm not becoming Spender, but it doesn't change what I have to do.

"Alex, you mentioned Mulder's brain surgery. Do you have information about what was done to him? Information Mulder needs to know?"

"Nothing I didn't mention to you at the time. Except Spender believed he could transfer the telepathic and precognitive abilities to himself by cutting it out of Mulder's brain."

"If you learn anything more about that, please tell me."

He nods again.

"So what's in Portland? And what does it have to do with Spender's conspiracy?"

Alex's lips twitch in an attempt to fight a smile. "I know you're skeptical, but, well, it's a... downed alien spacecraft. It collided with a Navy jet."

Oh.

It's not any different from Mulder's cases. Whether or not there's a spacecraft probably has no bearing on his safety. I think. Fuck, I don't know.

I consider my words carefully. "Alex, I know you're more than capable of taking care of yourself, and I don't mean to imply otherwise, but maybe I should go with you to Portland to watch your back."

Alex blinks at me a couple times before replying, "It's difficult to be back for less than a day and have to leave again, but..." He trails off and stares into space for a moment. Focusing on me again, he says, "If you want to join me in Portland, that's fine. Or, I can give you my cell number and you can call whenever you like."

I know that offer was for my benefit, but I can't treat him like a fragile child. Even though I want to. I just don't want him out of my sight. Anything that Spender's involved in has to stink. But Alex needs to know that I trust him. I put a hand on his shoulder. "Alex, if you need me there, I'll go. If you believe it's safe for you to go alone, I'll trust your decision."

He scoots his chair back and straddles my lap. "Carry the satellite phone today. If there are any problems or things aren't what I expect, I'll ask you to join me."

"Okay." I pull him closer and rub my face against his collarbone. "And you won't leave the country... and if you have to leave Oregon, you'll call me?" God, I sound like a nervous cop's wife.

"Yeah."

At the door, I don't want to let him go. But I do. He said he'd be back in the morning.

In bed this morning, I almost told him I loved him. I could hear Sharon's voice in my head telling me to do it. But I sensed that he wasn't ready to hear it.

That may be true, but... I wasn't ready to say it. Although I don't know why, I'm afraid.

Alex changes everything.

This is another life entirely than the one I thought I was leading. But I can't bring myself to regret... any of it. Especially waking up this morning with Alex in my bed.

I put on my suit coat and head for D.C. But first, I drive to a pay phone and call Vlad. It's the wee hours of the morning. Tatiana answers.

"He's alive and uninjured," I say without preamble.

She sobs into the phone. "Vlad, wake up. Sasha is safe."

I hear mumbled words in Russian, then Vlad's emotion-laden voice. "Thank you, Walter."

It occurs to me that there are a lot of people who care about Alex. I doubt he even realizes.

Encouraging Vlad to wake Lyosha with the news, I end the call. I wish I could see the look on Lyosha's face. These people I barely know--Alex's family--have become important to me.

At the library, I discover that Lavagetto has maintained his weekly updates, even if they have gone unread. There are a lot of them. I phone Kimberly to cancel my next meeting so I can stay and read each one. I need to be on top of the research, so I can make the best choices when the time comes.

Lavagetto still hasn't solved the problems with their initial 'solution,' but they're pursuing other options. They've built a tunable control panel they believe would talk to anyone's nanocytes, and does not send a tracing signal. The reverse engineering effort on the software is making progress. They duplicated the vascular crisis module and are working on ways to end it once it's begun. Lavagetto also has come up with some treatment options that may keep the patient alive longer during a vascular crisis.

The micro-robotics engineer has created a physical model of the nanocytes themselves. It's the size of a tissue box and they estimate only about 40 percent accurate, but it's a start. She needs more active nano samples to continue her modeling.

The team has also determined when the nanos respond to a signal and when they don't. They only respond to a signal when inside a body. Attempts to simulate the environment--heartbeat, temperature--have not met with success. Once the nanos are extracted from their host body, they continue their programmed function until complete, then shut themselves off to be resorbed. The team is currently working to determine which cells the nanos use to replicate.

I'm not a scientist, but it seems like a lot of progress. They're getting to know these nanocytes. It's enough to give me hope.

I type a brief reply.

--
Tom is alive and safe. I'll send him to you soon.

I'll be checking the account twice weekly now.

Thank you for keeping the project on target. I am unable to adequately express my intense gratitude for your dedication and professionalism.

-H
--

Kimberly gives me an odd look when I practically skip into the office. She probably thinks I'm on drugs. I ask her to contact Scully.

With a chagrined face, she informs me that Scully and Mulder are in Portland. It fucking figures.

No, I didn't sign a 302. And Mulder knew he had to answer to me today about roughing up an FBI auditor. But I don't really care today. I ask her to call me if she hears from them.

A bit taken aback by my aplomb, she smiles and replies, "Yes, sir."

I stop and look at her for a moment. She's never questioned my mood all these months. Never complained about the workload. Never failed to resolve a problem that I dumped in her lap. I couldn't survive without her.

"Kimberly, uh, thank you for your support. You've been incredible these past few months. I really appreciate it." I make a mental note to give her a bonus, even if I have to pay for it myself.

Entering my office, I gaze out the window for a few minutes. Everything has changed. Life is still dicey. The nanocytes didn't go away. But Alex and I are going to beat them. For the first time, I'm sure of it.


3:03 P.M.

I'm in a meeting with OPR. Mathis wants Mulder's ass for hitting the auditor yesterday. It's true Mulder was way out of line. Still, part of me wishes I'd thrown the punch myself. These damned bean counters are vultures. Without any knowledge of our work, they attempt to tell us how to do it. OPR is more of the same mentality. I blow off Mathis, telling him I'll handle the disciplinary action myself. Mulder will admit he did it and apologize. I'll suspend him or some damned thing and it'll be over.

The satellite phone rings during Mathis' rebuttal. Perfect. I wave at him encouragingly to continue, knowing he can't do it without me, and take the phone into the hall.

"Yeah?" I keep walking to find a more private place to talk.

"I'm in the middle of bumfuck nowhere and there's nothing going on."

"Good," I reply tersely. I really want him to be bored on these... assignments. "Did you happen to run into my AWOL X-Files agents?"

Alex chuckles. "Yeah, they're here."

"I suppose it's too much to ask that all three of you stay out of trouble."

He snorts. "Scully is too prudent to get into trouble. Mulder could get into trouble at home in his sleep. I, on the other hand, never get into trouble."

Don't I wish it were so. "You only called one out of three right." I lean against the wall near the copy center. "Did you find any spacecraft?"

"Not yet, but when I do, I'll visit their gift shop and pick you up a souvenir."

"Yeah, great. You know, you'd be making Mulder's dreams come true if you'd let him bring home the ship."

"Making Mulder's dreams come true is not high on my priority list. So be careful or I'll send my homeless kitchen alien to your house."

"My plates are shuddering at the very thought." The line is silent for a moment and I add, "Thank you for calling, Alex." He knew I needed to hear from him.

"I should be back around eight o'clock tomorrow morning." He's quiet for a second, then murmurs, "Your agents are having lunch at the café across the street. I need to get out of sight. I'll talk to you soon."

**

I hang up the phone and duck around the corner. Walter's offer to come with me today was... unexpected. It hit me again how much he worries about me. I really don't get into that much trouble.

Ten minutes later, I'm at the general location where the spaceship was reported. I wonder if it's really out here or if Spender is just blowing smoke.

In less than a minute, I have my answer. It's here. And I can feel it. Shit. I wish I'd never seen those goddamned artifacts that turned on this part of my brain.

I get a little closer until the feel of the ship is driving me nuts, then get out of the car and try to focus. There's too much sensory input and I cannot process it all, but I know its approximate location and I sense the presence of abductees. There's more, but I can't keep up. If it's anything like the alien memories, it'll filter through my brain eventually.

Wanting to stay out of Mulder and Scully's way, I drive to the next town to find a payphone.

Usually Henderson answers this line, so I'm surprised to hear Arntzen's voice. And annoyed. "Alex, we weren't certain you survived the incident in Tunisia."

"You knew where I was?"

"Of course."

I won't ask why they left me there. I think I may actually prefer Henderson's terse manner of telling me nothing, to Arntzen's phony friendship. "Where's Henderson?"

"Still here. I've left the Organization and work with the Resistance full time, so I'll be your contact now."

Fucking perfect.

Arntzen continues before I have to say anything, "What have you found out about the ship in Oregon?"

"It's here. Cloaked in a ter... uh, cloaked in an energy field of some kind." Where did the phrase terzatractic shield come from? "Um, Mulder and Scully are here looking for it, too."

"Did you see the ship?"

I begin to respond in the affirmative, knowing it's rebuilding itself, but I realize there's no way I could have seen it. "No. As I mentioned, it's cloaked."

"Did you attempt to penetrate the shield?"

It would have let me in, but that's not what I want to tell him. "Yes, but I couldn't pass through."

"Any idea how long we have to recover it?"

Three days. And I know that with certainty. "You've got to be kidding. No. Look, I don't know anything other than that the ship is here. What the fuck do you want me to tell Spender?"

Arntzen gives an aggravated sigh. "Nothing. Let him think you don't know where it is."

"Fine. What about the FBI?"

"Alex, we're going to have to work on this open hostility."

Yeah, my tone wasn't nice. Sue me. "Whatever. I'm out in the open here, could you answer the question?"

"We can't mobilize a recovery mission quickly enough, and with the Bureau around, it will be difficult not to be noticed. I think..." he trails off for a second. "I think we should have them recover it. I've already assigned Mr. Skinner's current handler to another project and I'm reassigning you to manage him. Encourage Skinner to keep his agents looking for the craft."

Christ, I hadn't thought about them sending a replacement to Walter. That had to have been within a few weeks of my disappearance. Then... he thought I was dead for a long time now. I need to ask him about it.

I shake off my ruminations and reply, "Fine. I'll pay Mr. Skinner a visit when I return to D.C. Sunday night. Listen, these daily call-ins are a pain in the ass. Is there any reason I need to do this so frequently?" Because, I really don't want to talk to you.

"We need to keep tabs on you, Alex, but I suppose we could move them to every other day, and when you have critical information to report. Call in after you speak with Mr. Skinner on Sunday."

"Uh-huh." I wait for him to disconnect, then slam the phone down. As if this situation wasn't already fucked up enough, now I have to talk to the bastard who sold me to the Resistance, and is indirectly responsible for Walter's infection.

I hope I get to kill you some day, you fucking son of a bitch.


8:07 P.M.

Scully just disappeared into Mulder's room. Now, that's not the kind of 'playing nicely' that I expected from them.

I pick up the phone to call Spender. I tell him no one has found anything and accuse of him of withholding information.

He tells me to keep looking.

I head for the airport.


Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 20 May 2000
8:04 A.M.

Before I left yesterday, I retrieved my key to Walter's apartment, so I'm able to let myself in. He's at the table, drinking his slime and reading the paper. Twisting in his chair so he can see me, he gives me a once over. Yes, I came back in one piece and uninjured.

From behind, I wrap my arm around his chest, kiss the back of his neck, then murmur in his ear, "Everyone thinks I'm in Portland until Sunday, so you'll have to keep me entertained until then."

"Okay." He kisses my fingertips.

After I grab a strawberry yogurt, I take a seat next to him and ask, "The Resistance said they sent a replacement for me." I hesitate for a second. "How did it go?"

Walter's eyes narrow. "Well, he sure as hell wasn't any kind of replacement for you."

I wonder what that means. I look at him intently for a moment. "Did he hurt you?"

"A little. I think he got himself into trouble with his superiors. I never saw him after the first visit and they told me he wasn't coming back. I haven't heard from any of them since."

I stare at my yogurt, trying to control a homicidal rage. I should have expected the Resistance to send a replacement, but I had deliberately not thought about what they might do to him to introduce themselves. I tilt my head to the side, as if I can release some of the tension by stretching my neck.

I need to change the subject. "I guess I'll have to go clothes shopping." I glance over at him. "Unless, of course, you want to keep me naked all weekend."

Walter rises to put his dishes in the sink. "I can see the benefits of that, but you probably could do with some clothes." He stands behind me and starts rubbing my shoulders. "I went to your apartment on Patterson Str-"

My mental processes grind to a halt. "You went where?"

"To your apartment." Aborting the massage, his hands clasp my upper arms.

"How did you know where it was?" I realize how terse I sound. "I don't care that you were there, but... I'm..." confused as hell.

"Morgan had you followed."

I groan and shake my head. Unbelievable. "Um, okay."

"Alex, I was trying to find you and Morgan was the only person I could get my hands on who knew anything."

"It's fine... that you were there, uh, whatever. I'm not trying to hide anything from you. I'm just surprised someone was able to follow me." Shocked, actually. Maybe a little horrified?

Walter tentatively starts rubbing my shoulders again. "I found the photos. I cached them at the safe deposit box."

I think about what he must have seen in one of those photos. Burned bodies. "I'm... I would have warned you. I'm sorry if..." I don't know what to say.

"It's all right, Alex." His strong fingers start working on my neck. "I should have paid the rent or gotten your stuff, but I didn't think you were coming back."

I reach up to stroke his hand lightly, then freeze when I remember the third picture I had hidden in my apartment. Walter's Bureau photo. It's a good thing he's behind me, because I don't need him seeing me blush. I clear my throat before replying. "Um, it's fine. I'm used to replacing my clothes."

"It's unfortunate that I can't go shopping with you. I would enjoy dressing you..."

Warmth spreads through my body at his possessiveness. I tilt my head back to look at him. "I'm a little surprised by how much I enjoy that idea."

Walter ruffles my hair and kisses my forehead. Then he pushes me back into position and peels off my shirt. Deftly, he removes the prosthetic, and returns to the massage. I drop my head to give him better access to my neck, and belatedly realize I didn't even tense when he removed my arm. I quietly sigh, wondering how far this thing between us can go. Do I have any defenses left?

I relax, giving in to his massage as I contemplate how much I've given myself to him.

Once my body has turned to jelly from Walter's massage, we move into the living room and he gives me an update on the research. The news that they're solving some of the puzzles and creating building blocks for a solution is the first encouraging thing I've heard. It gives me pause as I don't like the idea of having any emotional investment in the outcome of Lavagetto's work. I resist Walter's explanation of the details... I need to stay objective about this.

Walter rises to get ready for the gym and I contemplate going shopping. I hate shopping. And it's a frequent necessity considering how often I lose my entire wardrobe.

I'm still seated on the sofa when he returns downstairs. I wrap my arm around his hips and kiss his abdomen. "So, what would you like to see me in?"

"Shorts," he replies without hesitation, fingertips teasing the side of my neck. "Short shorts, so I can see those long beautiful legs." He squats down to kiss me. When his lips leave my mouth, he mutters against my jaw line, "In a bright color or wild pattern."

Bright color or wild pattern? Oh, hell. But, I only reply. "Okay. Anything else?" He makes one more request before leaving for the gym. I call out after him, "Don't shower when you get back." Walter winks before disappearing.

I rise and put on some of his clothes, so I can drop my suit at a one-hour cleaners, then head out to shop. I've never felt nervous about shopping before.

After getting all the necessities--501's, boots, T-shirts, leather jacket, etc.--I search for the stuff Walter wants to see me wear. Four stores later, I think I have what he wants. I take an arm full of stuff into the dressing room and start trying it on.

The orange and green shorts, while meeting his criteria for short and wild, are not ever going on my body again. I toss them over the door.

I try on another dozen pairs. He didn't specify tight or loose, so I try a little of both. And feel like a complete idiot.

Reaching a point of complete frustration, I try on a green pair that are... uh, too tight. I look in the mirror. I look like a sex toy. No, no, no. Then I consider. Maybe that's the point? They barely cover my butt and have an alarming tendency to... creep.

This is surreal.

I turn around and look at my butt in the mirror. I don't spend a lot of time contemplating my sexiness. Will Walter like these? Do they make my ass look good? Fuckable? Would I find this hot? I contemplate the snug material, cut low on the hips and grabbing--also barely covering--my ass cheeks. Yeah, it looks pretty good.

Yesterday I was hunting for an alien spacecraft, and now I'm trying to figure out if my ass looks sexy in shorts... wondering what my lover will like best.

What the fuck is wrong with me? I decide not to get them, then realize they're the same color as the shirt Walter bought for me. He must like this color.

Fine. The green and the loose blue ones with the obnoxious Hawaiian print.

I contemplate the other three items I brought with me. With a sigh, I try them all on. Making this decision is way beyond me, so I buy all three and decide to let Walter choose.

I stop at a luggage store to buy a duffel, then head to the cleaners to pick up my suit.

When I get back to the apartment, Walter's in the laundry room, behind the kitchen, with a lot of wood. He looks up from the floor and gives me a dour look. "You look like you went shopping at the Goodwill. I hope I don't look like that when I wear those."

"You look great in these. I decided to just wear what I had on. I'll change later." I look around the laundry room. "What the hell are you doing?"

His slight frown suggests that it's obvious. "Putting in a swimming pool." He tosses me a piece of abrasive paper... uh, sandpaper. "Here, you can give me a hand." He gestures to long board and shows me the raw edge of the wood.

My lips twitch into a smile. "Sorry... I don't have any to spare." Looking back at him, I watch his expression shift to dismay.

I can see an awkward apology forming on his face, then he just shrugs and says, "Shit." He smiles wanly and reaches for the tape measure.

I'm glad he didn't apologize, although it did cross my mind to detach my arm and give it to him. He probably would have laughed and taken aim for my butt.

After contemplating my task for a moment, I put the sandpaper against the wood and start rubbing. After a few minutes of monotonous sanding, I ask again, "Walter, what are we doing?"

He grunts and draws a line on the wall with a pencil. "Putting up shelves."

Okay. Then I ask the next obvious question. "Why?"

Shaking his head at me, he draws another line on the wall. "To put stuff on."

Muttering under my breath, I say, "Thank you, Captain Obvious." In a more normal tone, I add, "What stuff?"

"Oh, you know..." He picks up little L-shaped pieces of wood and holds them to the wall. "Whatever needs putting away..." Satisfied with the placement of the L-pieces, he opens his toolbox and pulls out a box of nails. "Like laundry soap... hose caddies... sex toys."

I start laughing. Really laughing. More than I can ever remember. It's really not that funny, but I wind up on my butt, laughing myself stupid. He's teasing me. His lighthearted joking is so... so un-Walter. I manage to gasp out, "I was... bored."

Walter's leaning, with one shoulder against the wall, just watching my fit with a subdued grin on his face. "I have learned to never let you get bored."

Bringing myself under control, I rest my head against the doorjamb and look up at him. "So, what was in the sex toys box? I ordered their 'deluxe assortment' as I recall."

"Oh, you know..." He takes my board and inspects the sanding, touching it up a bit. "Just a bunch of stuff that guys like me use to torment guys like you."

I blink up at him, feigning confusion. "But... Walter... I was planning to use them on you."

"Really?" he replies in a light voice. "I think the Rod of Ramses is a bit more than I can handle." He makes a show of flashing his ass at me. "But you could warm me up with something a little more modest..." His hand darts out and grabs my groin. Then with an expression of pure-but-false innocence, he says, "Want me to bend over?"

I'm trying so hard not to laugh. I keep my expression flat. "Are you calling my dick modest?"

There's a big smile in his eyes. "Only in comparison to the Rod of Ramses, which is at least 9 inches in circumference."

I give him a stern look. "Good answer."

**

Alex helps me finish with the shelves.

It was good to see him laughing. I love teasing him. It surprises me a little... it's not something I often do. But he's fun to tease.

I really would like him to fuck me sometime. Just because I think he could make it good. And if he'd told me to bend over, I would have called his bluff. But I don't think he wants to fuck me. I'll talk him into trying it someday.

After dinner, I clean up the kitchen and jog upstairs to take a shower. After toweling myself off, I tug on a pair of jeans and go looking for my lover.

When I reach the living room, I'm surprised to see his shadow on the balcony. None of the lights are on downstairs, nor is the balcony light.

Alex's foot is propped on the lower balcony rail, and he's leaning forward, forearm resting on the upper rail. He's got his own clothes on now.

I pause in the dark living room, taking in the sight of his silhouette. He looks damned good like that. But something is different from the Alex I'm used to seeing. He looks relaxed. I watch him for a long time, just enjoying my surreptitious view as if it's a piece of art. Alex at rest.

Eventually, I decide to join him. Stepping forward, I nudge the balcony door wide enough to exit, and step outside.

He looks over his shoulder and gives me a half smile.

I step up behind him and wrap my arms around his waist, pulling him close. "Am I intruding on your ruminations?"

His body molds itself to mine. "No." His voice is soft. "You are my ruminations." He gives a vague gesture to the buildings around us. "There are exactly six spots in the area with a clear view of this balcony. I asked Morgan to check them all today."

I'm not surprised by his thoroughness. We both want to stay alive.

Alex's hand rests on my arm, rubbing lazily. "Are we ever going back..." there's a hint of anxiety in his voice, "to the way things... were?"

What the fuck is he talking about? Back?

Instinctively, I hold him more tightly. And then I think I know what he's asking. Us... God, no. "I don't want to go back, Alex" I reply in cautious metered tones. "What about you?"

The anxiety is shared now. What if... what if he doesn't want to be here with me? When I've come to require him for any hope of happiness.

His body is relaxed, his tone soft as he replies, "Never want to go back."

I try to suppress my relief.

He's quiet for a moment, then adds, "The last time we were out here together... we couldn't talk. That was the hardest part. Not just then... so many times. I know I'm lousy at communication or... well, whatever, but I can't go back to that. Can't go back to not talking to you. Being with you."

As is often the case when he talks to me I get what he's saying only obliquely. I loosen my arms and push his hip to encourage him to turn around.

Alex turns and his eyes meet mine, conveying longing with a touch of sadness.

I hate seeing the sadness in his eyes. Hate it. "What is it, Alex? Is there something you're not telling me?" Or something he needs me to tell him? Shit. I'm not very good at this.

"I was just... contemplating the past. Tiny--and not-so-tiny--mistakes with horrible consequences. I worry sometimes-" He breaks off and glances away briefly. "About making another one and having another moment where there's so much to say and... we just can't."

I worry about that, too, Alex.

He sighs, then continues, "I was also thinking about my endless musings during my time in prison. I knew you thought I was dead. Well, I hoped you thought that... rather than I abandoned you."

I'm barely breathing, watching him intently.

"And I tried to visualize you getting on with your life. It was an image to hold on to. It made me happy. Until I thought about you finding someone else. Is it obnoxious to have hated that?"

"No." It's my turn to glance away. When I can look at him again, I reply, "I don't want anyone but you, Alex." My voice sounds... shaky. I try to control it better as I continue. "I've never wanted anyone the way I want you."

I don't like being this vulnerable... to anyone. And yet it seems oddly inevitable. As if this sort of relationship requires vulnerability. I suppose it does.

He takes a ragged breath, eyes locked on mine. "I don't want anyone but you, Walt." His thumb strokes the side of my face.

The fact of his own vulnerability hits me hard. This is both of us on our balcony in the dark, shaky and scared. Needing each other.

I pull him close, so I don't have to talk or think, just run my hands across his lean muscular form and feel.

Alex holds on to me. After a long time he whispers against my neck, "I had nano problems in prison."

I don't want to hear this right now. But he must need to say it, so I force myself to listen.

"The, um, simple-minded thought I was a devil. The more intelligent thought I was diseased."

Where is he going with this?

"Either way..." his voice trails off for a second. "Either way, I wasn't... raped in prison."

I smash him to my chest and mutter, "I'm glad. Glad you weren't hurt that way." Again. I had hated the thought that it had happened to him again. But I couldn't bring myself to ask.

He softly adds, "I didn't... voluntarily either."

"Thank you." I remember when we talked about this once. He said he hadn't been fucking anyone else and I believed him. This time it feels like he's offering his fidelity. It feels... good.

Alex is pressed up against me. Before this would have led to sex immediately. But now, we have something else... a lot of feelings and it just feels good to be in contact. I'm still scared of myriad events that could do us in but his warm body is pure reassurance.

"It doesn't really matter, but..." his breath is warm on my skin. The tentative tone of his voice tells me that whatever it is does matter. I can feel a flutter of anxiety in his body. "Did you find someone else while I was gone?"

My jaw drops. Fuck, he has no idea what it was like for me. A hundred of America's sexiest could have come after me and I wouldn't have noticed.

And he's asking more than that. He's asking for my fidelity. Shit, the only person I ever gave that to was Sharon. Is it possible that I could start making promises to Alex and one day look back at them shattered and broken?

After a moment, Alex says, "It's okay, Walter. You don't have to answer. I just... wondered."

I pull back and look at him. "Alex, I didn't fuck anyone else while you were missing. I didn't want to." I've already given him my fidelity... since he came back last year. Is it good enough to give it to him and not tell him? I don't ever want to look at him and see betrayal like I once saw in Sharon's eyes.

My response seems to be enough for him. He wraps his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close again. His fingers slowly trace patterns on the back of my neck as he stares at the night sky.

I say the words silently in my head. I love you, Alex.

He was just worrying about either of us not communicating. And here I am not telling him something... important.

I tell myself that it's more important to show it than to say it. I hope it's enough.

**

Resting against Walter's body, I put some of my fears to rest. Fears of losing him.

I shouldn't have asked about him having other lovers, but I just hated the idea. Hated the image of someone else touching him. Although, if I were out of the picture, I'd want him to be happy... I just don't want to think about the details.

But, there was no one. Just me. I want him to be mine... at least for as long as I can. Because he's it for me. I wonder if I'll ever be able to tell him that I love him.

I instinctively respond to a subtle change in his body, knowing he's going to kiss me. My whimper is lost in his mouth as his lips, tongue and hands reclaim me. This kiss is different from any other, we reconnect in another way. As he explores my mouth, more of my defenses fall, leading to the inevitable end. Where every part of me is irrevocably connected to him.

I have no concept of time as we kiss and touch each other. Not so long ago, I'd have been yanking his clothes off, but now... my feelings for him intensify my lust for him, and also mute it. Something I don't know how to interpret. But I'm learning the pleasure of just being with him... just touching and being close.

Eventually we wander back into the house to neck on the sofa behind the privacy of closed blinds. I wore the shorts Walter requested under my clothes and I'm regretting it now. They're too snug to comfortably accommodate my erection.

Somehow I wind up on top, and am acutely aware of Walter's hard-on. I move my mouth to nip at his neck, rubbing our groins together. I know we both want to fuck, but there's no urgency. It just feels good to be turned on.

But I'm distracted enough to make a wrong move while trying to get his shirt off and wind up rolling off the sofa. I land on my back and hear Walter's chuckle while I try to catch my breath.

He leans over the sofa and peers down at me. "Shall I send down a ladder?"

"No. Just you. You'll save me from making any more risky maneuvers."

With one long leg, Walter shoves the coffee table away from me so I'm no longer pinned between it and the sofa. He rolls from the sofa and lands on top of me.

When I can breathe again, I mutter. "I'll have to be more specific next time."

He presses his face along the side of my hair and nips at the side of my neck. Gasping, I turn my head, exposing my throat, as I begin yanking at his shirt again.

Walter gnaws gently at my throat, then murmurs, "If the clothes are going to go..." His hand wanders to my crotch, unsubtly checking out my hard-on. "...we might have to get up."

I arch my hips into his hand.

He glances at me with a puzzled expression, and gropes my cock again. "What's up with your dick?"

"It's trapped--painfully trapped, I might add--by your, um, clothing request."

His eyes open wide and he slips off me, fingers working my fly. He looks happy and... excited. I would have bought these shorts a long time ago to see that relaxed, happy expression on his face.

He unwraps me like a package, mumbling, "Green," when he can see the shorts. Then he stands up and extends a hand to me. Once I'm on my feet, he murmurs, "Show me."

I tug my T-shirt over my head. After ridding myself of my shoes and socks, I turn my back to him, lean over, and push the jeans down my legs.

"Fucking sexy ass, Alex." There's a slight breathiness in his tone that gives away his arousal.

I kick the jeans away, then turn to face him. His eyes pass over me so thoroughly I believe I can feel his gaze. "Gorgeous, gorgeous legs." He stands in front of me, fingertips brushing across one of my nipples. My breath catches. Then he presses his lips to my forehead. "I don't want you to think it's just your body that turns me on, but dammit I love looking at you."

I reach out to finally remove his shirt, and reply, "It's the same for me, Walter."

The lines around his eyes crinkle as he smiles.

Once his shirt falls to the floor, I look at him intently for a long time. He returns my gaze. His breathing accelerates and his Adam's apple bobs as he swallows hard. I can tell he's sensing my mood and I know we're completely connected right now. Something clicks in me and I know it's time. One step closer to the edge.

I unfasten his jeans and push them past his hips, dropping to my knees as I work them down to his ankles. His feet are already bare and he steps out of the pants. I pull off his briefs after carefully freeing his cock and leaving a kiss on his cock head.

Resting my hand on his hip, I sit back on my heels and look up at him. I feel the bite of the tight shorts as more pressure is put on my erection.

His heavy eyelids fall shut for a brief moment, then unmoving, he just watches me.

Keeping my gaze locked on his passionate brown eyes, I say, "I've had a lot of time to think, Walter. I've never been willing to discuss, or even think about, how submissive I feel with you." Even as I say the words, I feel myself relaxing into the state of surrender he so easily brings me to. "You already know, but I need to say it. Need to tell you that I belong to you. I... trust you, and feel safe offering myself to you. And I need to do it. Because I want to give you everything."

I've seen that expression before. It's awe, I think. "Thank you," his voice is abnormally low and a bit weak, "for giving it to me." He presses my face to his hip and strokes my hair.

I wrap my arm around him and let go of the fear that he wouldn't accept me.

**

Stunned speechless, I play with his soft hair.

He's so brave to give himself like this. To acknowledge it's what he needs. The moment is so intense and so real... so acute that the rest of life seems like a faint outline of real living.

"So beautiful, Alex..." I rub his scalp lightly. "Not your body. What you give to me." The words are faint outlines, too. Maybe one of his poets could say it with real meaning.

The feelings we share are huge. Everything else seems trivial. I've never been here before and I don't understand what it all means.

He tips his head back enough to look at me and softly replies, "No one has ever looked at me the way you do... and I'm finally beginning to understand that you want me."

Sliding to my knees, so we're face to face, I reply, "Yes. You... even before, it was you." We can see so much in each other. As I see him, he's seeing me, too. It's terrifyingly perfect somehow.

There's a flash of something like pain in his expression. Then he tips his head forward to lightly kiss my shoulder. His eyes meet mine again and he says, "Before... I didn't believe it was about me. And I made the worst mistake of my life." His eyes briefly slip shut and he whispers, "I'm sorry I left you, Walter."

I needed to hear that, but it still stings. I want to make light of it, but I don't want to lie to him. "It hurt," I say quietly, then hasten to add, "Apology accepted," so that he won't ask about it. The pain of the more recent loss allows me to feel it far too intensely.

There's reflected pain in his eyes. "I know it hurt. And I'm sorry for that, too." His fingers trace my jaw line.

There's nothing I can say, so I sit on the floor and tug him into my lap. Wrapped around each other, we stay on the floor for a long time. Silently. Lost in our own thoughts.

For now, the past is just a bad memory.


Sunday, 21 May 2000
9:47 A.M.

I blink at the clock in disbelief.

The bed beside me is empty so I guess Alex gave up on his sleeping lover. I rise stiffly and make my way to the bathroom.

Last night was... intense. I never... Fuck, I don't know what to think.

I wander downstairs and find a shirtless Alex reading at the kitchen table, drinking a glass of orange juice. There's another glass at my seat. Filled with what looks like my protein drink.

He glances up at me and grimaces. "I think I broke the blender."

A smile breaks through the morning haze and wakes up my face. "You can buy me another one." I pick up the glass and sniff it suspiciously. "Is this safe to drink?"

Alex chews his lip for a second. "Well, it came out a little thicker than I anticipated, but... I guess it's fine."

I tilt the glass and the 'liquid' doesn't budge. Shrugging, I pick up a spoon and take a seat. "Uh, thanks," I add just before I take my first 'bite.'

He watches me, then shakes his head and mutters, "A complete disaster."

On the way to get more milk, I ruffle his hair. Returning to the table, I spoon a small quantity of the sludge into a glass of milk. "Just the way I like it," I offer inanely.

He gives me a knowing look, then leans forward to give me a kiss. "Morning."

"Morning." My newspaper is on the table, so I pick it up and fumble through it as he goes back to his poetry. After his long absence these mundane moments are heaven.

After a few minutes, Alex sets down his book and asks, "Do you prefer me with or without the arm?"

Tossing the paper aside, I stare at him. "What?"

He gestures to his exposed stump. "The arm. With or without?"

"When? Why?" I reach out and squeeze his stump, as if he's offending it.

He looks a little perplexed at my confusion and concern. "I've been doing some reading about advances in prosthetics. They can now permanently attach a prosthesis. I already have something more functional at home, but I was wondering if you prefer me to be able to take 'the equipment' off, or if it doesn't matter."

Oh. I don't really care... well, I do care, but mostly I want him to be happy. "Whatever you want is fine with me. I'm, uh, flexible." Why do I sound so uncomfortable? "You look great with or without it." I hope that sounded reassuring.

He frowns. "Um, well, I was thinking of the pros and cons. On the plus side, I don't have to worry where the prosthetic is and I wouldn't lose it. And I could wear a functional prosthesis year-round as opposed to just in... at home. On the downside, if it's damaged, I have to take it in to have it repaired, I can't just replace it, which could be a nuisance. Also, if someone decides it needs to be removed it could be quite, uh, painful. And..." He trails off for a second. "And I, when I... uh, I can't... I don't visualize... when I think of us in bed together, I don't really imagine artificial limbs." He flushes a little. "And I just wanted your opinion."

Alex seems more uncomfortable than I am. "I think you should get the best damned arm you can find. And wear it to bed, too." What I really think is that he needs an arm that's a work of art... that's as beautiful as the rest of him. I wonder if that can be done.

After a moment, he says, "Okay. I just... I'm not sure if I like the idea of touching you with metal and plastic." As an afterthought, he adds, "Of course, there are positions we can't do now that would be possible."

"I just want you to touch me... with your real arm, your prosthetic or your stump." I slide my chair closer to his and tilt my head until it's resting against his.

His fingers find the back of my head and he slowly glides them down my neck. "I'll decide the next time I go home. If I choose the permanent arm, I'll need some minor surgery." He's quiet for a second and his fingers begin massaging my neck. "Would you go with me?"

"Sure." I squeeze his denim-covered thigh, delighted to hear him planning for the future. "Want to tell me about 'home?'"

"I've begun to think of home as..." He clears his throat. "With you. But I have a house in," he leans forward to whisper in my ear, "Scotland." In a more normal tone he adds, "Complete with a bossy housekeeper and a Range Rover. I've only been there four times, but I'd like to take you with me someday."

Scotland? That makes a pretty picture. "Does your bossy housekeeper let you in the kitchen?"

He chuckles. "We had a little battle of wills right after I lost my arm. I was determined not to let her do anything for me. I tried to cook once. She's never forgiven me."

"I see." I capture his hand and press it to my lips. "I'd love to see your house."

Alex looks happy. "Good. It will set her on her ear. I think she believes I told her I was gay as a scare tactic."

I find myself wishing he and I could get on a plane right now, but I'm unpleasantly reminded of the real world. Soon, I hope.

He rises to his feet and stands in front of me, butt resting against the table. "I have a surprise for you, but you'll have to unwrap me first."

I grab for his fly and tear the buttons open with one quick motion. No shorts this time. It looks like a jock--I asked him to get one--a wide black band with green stripes. This is very promising. I reach behind him and slip my hands into his jeans, feeling his smooth round ass cheeks. I'm going to like this.

As he watches me, his breathing becomes erratic. He braces his hand on the table and pushes his hips forward.

Leaving a few nips on his neck, I tug the jeans down. The pouch is black. My fingers are drawn to his bulge. "You look very... hung." And extremely fuckable. My cock is rapidly getting in the mood.

His voice is half an octave lower and husky as he replies, "I take it you approve?"

I give him a growl. "Turn around."

Alex pivots and leans forward enough to brace his arm. He pulls his legs slightly apart, confined by the denim bunched under his ass.

"Oh, Christ," I mutter to no one in particular. His ass is framed beautifully by the black straps of the jock. It's suddenly apparent that we must fuck.

Reaching for his ass, I roughly massage the cheeks, then run a teasing finger down his crack. I lean over his body and whisper, "I'm going to fuck you."

He groans and a tremor passes through his body.

I yank the jeans down, so he can kick them off. Then I bend over his ass and swipe his crack with my tongue.

He hisses with pleasure, and spreads his legs.

I reach down to knead his cock through the soft fabric of the jock. My tongue laps the skin of his anus, which seems to become more crinkly in response.

Alex groans, his body twitching under my touch.

The subtle movement of his hips allows me to hold my tongue in place while he rubs against it. My own body shudders at the feel of him and the excitement that is building inside me.

Reluctantly, I withdraw and rise. "Stand up."

After taking a steadying breath, he complies. I enclose him in my arms from behind. My hard-on, still trapped in my jeans, presses against his ass.

Lube...? Canola oil. Position? Hmm...

The table doesn't look sturdy enough. The kitchen counter looks better.

Alex's body presses backward into mine, rubbing against me.

I reach for his hand and turn him to face me. He looks... rather mindlessly turned on. I tug him toward the kitchen counter.

"We're going to have to put lube in the kitchen," I say as I reach for the bottle of oil.

His fingers thread through my chest hair as his lips find the side of my neck. He murmurs against my skin, "I'll put lube in every room if you want."

"Mm hm." I open the bottle, pour some into my hand and reach clumsily for his ass. I manage to slide an oiled finger inside him.

He gasps and wiggles against my hand.

He's tight, so I take my time, fucking him on the single digit for a long time before trying for two. I brush myself against the front of his body for the sake of my impatient cock.

Alex, looking complete pleasure-dazed, slides his hand between us, fumbling for my fly. He's easily distracted by my fingers in his ass and it takes several tries before he gets my cock out. Then he grinds his jock-covered erection against mine.

Groaning, I lose all dexterity for a moment and realize that my fingers are slipping out of his ass. I push back a little too hard and jam them back in.

He grunts and shudders, then his eyelids become heavy and he squeezes his ass around my fingers.

I can't get very deep reaching behind him, so I pull back and guide him to the counter. He leans over it and spreads his legs. When I can breathe again, I tear off my jeans. Applying more oil, I reinsert two fingers and start working them in his ass to open him up. A brief brush across his prostate results in a deep moan.

Carefully, I insert a third finger, fucking him slowly, even though my cock urges me to hurry. For some reason I flash on the first time I fucked him. I was in a hurry then... and it was his first time. It's been nine months. My cock can be patient.

Alex's ass eventually manages to relax and I'm able to work my fingers in and out of him more vigorously. He's ready. And he looks damned good bent over like that. But suddenly I want to fuck him face to face. But how?

Then it occurs to me. "Alex?"

It take a couple beats before he responds in a sex-dazed grunt, "Huh?"

"Turn around and sit on the counter."

He whips around and stares at me in mindless confusion. He takes a couple gasping breaths and manages, "Need you to fuck me."

"I know you do." I reach for his waist and lift. He gets the idea and hops up onto the counter, looking mildly annoyed.

I crack a smile. My poor lover has no idea what I'm up to. Reaching under his knees, I lift his legs onto my shoulders. His eyes widen and he throws his hand back to balance his weight. As comprehension dawns, he stops breathing and briefly shuts his eyes.

He pushes his ass forward, almost off the edge of the counter and begins to breathe again. "Oh yeah." His passion-filled eyes lock on mine. "Fuck me, Walter." Though the words are demanding, his tone is a plea.

Shifting my body slightly, I'm able to guide my cock head to his ass. The realization that this is going to work is almost enough to bring me off.

Breathe, Walter, breathe.

Pushing forward, I begin to slowly fill him. The squeeze of his tight, hot ass is so very good. So right. And so missed. His gaze never wavers, eyes widening as I slide all the way in. Then, he groans and drops his head back, chest heaving with labored breaths.

God, I love doing this to him.

I hold still for a few moments, for as long as I can stand it. "Alex, wrap your legs around my waist."

He lifts his head and braces his weight more firmly on his arm, then pulls his legs far apart, so I can bring my arms up. His legs close around my waist as my hands reach around his back.

Alex gives me an intense heated stare, then wraps his arm around my shoulders. His muscles tighten as he lifts himself up, then pushes back down on my cock.

Holding on tightly, I step backward carrying him away from the counter. I laugh with delight at the ridiculous but sublime position. A wide-eyed Alex gasps when he realizes what I've done. I turn us in a circle in the kitchen, just because I can.

Of course, the one thing I can't do is fuck him like this.

Alex's ass tightens around my cock.

Yeah, I haven't forgotten.

I can only see one way to do this, so I walk to the only free wall in the kitchen. Slowing down as Alex approaches the wall, I guide his back until it's against the wall.

Pressing my upper body weight against him, I pull back with my hips and cautiously begin to fuck. Alex clings tightly to my shoulder, his fingers vise-like.

With every thrust, Alex moans. I adjust my position so one hand is braced on the wall, the other supporting him. I hit his prostate on the next thrust, making him gasp and shake.

Alex rests his head against the wall, breathing hard, his body glistening with sweat. "Missed you... so much." He gasps and closes his eyes. "Missed you fucking me... the smell of you." He opens his eyes, struggling to focus, still clinging to me. "Obsessed on the way you taste." His lips find the side of my face, licking away sweat. "Need you."

It feels like my entire body is dissolving with his words. He does belong to me and we belong together. Anything else is just a terrible mistake.

As my confidence increases that we're not going to land on our asses, I begin to fuck him harder. My cock feels like it's melting inside him, but somehow that's a good thing. As my arousal rises toward orgasm, I realize I still haven't figured out how either of us is going to get a hand on his cock.

My groan carries a frantic edge as I realize I'm closer than I'd like to orgasm. I could try to pull the hand off the wall to stroke his cock, but I could drop him. So I hold on tight and grunt, "Stroke your cock."

Gasping, he pries his fingers out of my shoulder and he releases the only control he had in this position. He wiggles his hand between our bodies and into his jock, then his lips close over mine.

My tongue slides into his mouth as my cock fills his ass. I'm so far gone that all I can do is try to hold on. I want his orgasm to bring me off. So I keep fucking him hard and trying to stay on the edge. "Come for me, A-" his name is lost in a gasp for air.

He draws my tongue back into his mouth, sucking hard as his hand moves one more time between our bodies, then his whole body goes rigid and muscles of his ass begin to spasm around my cock.

Oh, fuck. I concentrate on holding him as the blood rushes through my veins. My hips pound out automatically and my limbs want to thrash, but I manage to keep us both upright as my climax hits.

I'm aware only of the explosion of pleasure and the harsh sounds of our voices. Fighting my body's desire to go limp, I collapse mentally. A few moments later, I'm almost surprised to find us still standing.

Alex has gone boneless.

I chuckle softly into his ear. "Well, that was an adventure."

He manages to rouse himself enough to reply, "I bought three jocks... do we get to do something new for each one?"

"Uh, sure," I mutter, hoping for a little time to recover.

His lips find the side of my neck. "You're un-fucking-believable, Walt." After nipping my earlobe, he asks, "So, muscle man, how do we get out of this?"

Suddenly, I notice how heavy he is. I take a deep breath and lift him a couple inches, so my cock slides out. He groans, then lowers his legs, slowly sliding down the wall until he's on the floor. Somehow I end up sprawled out next to him. With a tired arm, I reach around until my hand's on his damp jock. "Nice jock strap, Alex."

"Glad you approve... it certainly got quite a reaction." He twists his body until his head is resting on my shoulder. "Sometimes this still doesn't feel... real." He drops a kiss on my chest.

"It is real and we're not going back." I press a row of kisses across his forehead and silently promise myself to do everything in my power to keep him safe.

A few minutes later, Alex rouses himself, struggles to his feet and extends his hand to help me up. "Come on... let's shower. I plan to use all my oral talents to see if you can get it up again before we finish."

I take his hand and allow him to pull me up. My back is a bit sore. One of Alex's scalding showers will feel good.

An hour and a second pair of orgasms later, we head downstairs to find lunch. Alex gave me a thorough backrub in the shower and I feel refreshed. Two orgasms, a backrub, a leisurely Sunday morning... I feel good. Pretty fucking incredibly good.

Alex grabs the phonebook. "You up for Indian?"

"Sure."

A piece of paper flutters out of the phonebook. Alex picks it up, then frowns at it. His expression rapidly shifts from confusion to amusement to horror to pained.

"What is it, Alex?" Then it dawns on me. Another of Alex's little notes?

His voice is hoarse as he replies, "How many of these did you find?" He turns the paper around so I can see it's one of his notes.

"A few," I reply vaguely, not wanting to remember. The pain of losing him is too fresh.

Alex is quiet for a moment. "I... I'm sorry-" He cuts himself off, crumples the note in his hand, then abruptly heads upstairs.

Because he seems upset, I follow him up the stairs. "Alex?"

There's no response. I find him in the bedroom, pacing.

"Alex, what is it?" I stand a few feet away.

A minute of agitated pacing, then he stops and stares at me. "I don't know how to do this."

"Do what?"

He gestures between us, his hand balled in a fist. "This. This... whatever." He looks like he's struggling for the words. "I don't know how to... feel your pain." He closes his eyes. "I'm so goddamned sorry about those notes."

Fuck. He's supposed to feel my pain? How the hell...

Having not the slightest idea what to do or say, I respond on instinct. Sitting on the bed, I encourage him to sit next to me. After a hesitation, he takes a seat. "Alex, I... when you were gone, I missed you. Badly." I take a deep breath to steady my voice. "It wasn't the notes that upset me, it was believing you dead. I found a note in my shirt pocket and it really reminded me of you." It reminded me of the silly, horny Alex who I'd grown to love. "I lost it. But that's over now. You're safe now and I want us to enjoy our time together." Because we may not have a lot of time.

He's still and quiet for a long time, then rubs his fisted hand over his forehead. "Okay."

**

I can too easily feel what he went through the past nine months. And I don't know what to do with these unfamiliar feelings.

In truth, this is my fault. My choices led us to this place. I wish I knew which one to regret. I had committed the crimes Walter objects to long before I met him. And had I not taken that path, we would never have come into contact. I'd like to be able to point the finger at one thing and say, 'that's where I fucked up.' And if I could, if it were one thing, he might be able to forgive me. But it's everything. Me. How can he forgive that?

But all I can do is try to make sure he's never hurt again... by anything.

Walter's arm comes around my waist. Instinctively, I turn toward him and he pulls me closer.

Why does this have to be so fucking hard?

His other arm comes around me and I remind myself that it's worth it. No matter what the price... I'll pay it to be with him.

**

I guess pain doesn't evaporate the instant the problem goes away. And wishing it away doesn't work, but it won't stop me from trying.

A short while later, we go back downstairs and order lunch. Alex seems subdued, but not upset any longer. We spend the afternoon doing pointless things before settling on the couch to read. Alex lies with his head in my lap reading Russian poetry while I read a biography of Benjamin Franklin.

During dinner, Alex fidgets with his food and it's clear he has something on his mind. I decide to wait quietly until he feels ready to talk. After arranging his pork chops, baked potato and broccoli into no less than seven configurations, he looks at me and says, "I need to see Mulder tomorrow."

I blink at him for a moment, then reply, "That doesn't seem like such a good idea. I hate to break it to you, but Mulder doesn't like you."

He sets a piece of pork on a broccoli tower. "The feeling is mutual. But the Resistance ordered me to have the FBI recover the ship."

"The spaceship? Is there actually something to be recovered?"

Alex nods, adding a dab of potato to his monument. "Yes, I found it. It's shielded in a ter... uh, it's shielded. The Resistance cannot mobilize a recovery operation before the ship is repaired."

"So, there's really a ship in Oregon? And if I send Mulder to get it, he's not going to come back with a picture of a big hole and a lot of blather about what was there?"

"Yes there's really a ship in Oregon." He squishes the broccoli with his fork. "But I have no idea what Mulder will come back with. I've never seen anyone get so close, so frequently, and always wind up empty-handed."

"Tell me about it," I grumble. Extending my fork over his plate, I spear a piece of pork, then direct it to his mouth.

He absentmindedly takes the bite before replying, "I'm not really in the mood to do the Resistance's bidding, but their objective is to keep the ship out of Spender's hands... which I am in favor of."

Alex isn't like Mulder. He doesn't get excited over unexplained phenomena. He doesn't exaggerate facts, hoping they'll be something they're not. In fact, he's quite literal. So, if he says there's a ship, he believes there is one. "So, have you actually seen this ship?"

He suddenly looks uncomfortable. "Not exactly. Um, as I mentioned, it's shielded."

"Okay..." I feed him another bite of pork. "So, how do you know it's there?"

Looking even more uncomfortable, he chews the pork thoroughly. Too thoroughly. When he can't avoid it any longer, he replies, "I, uh, felt it."

"You felt it?" That wasn't what I was expecting. I don't know what I was expecting, but not that. "What do you mean, you felt it?"

Alex takes a drink of his tea, then takes a couple bites on his own initiative. Sure, now he wants to eat. Eventually, he looks at me and replies, "I told you a while ago that I was experiencing the alien's memories... well, that's not all it left behind. But don't mention that to Mulder. He'll try to have me locked in a lab for the rest of my life." He looks decidedly unhappy.

"Since when do I go to Mulder with information about you?"

Alex flashes me a mildly exasperated look.

I bring the subject back in line. "So, you can sense what... the aliens? The ship? Just get a feeling and know they're there?" That's tough to believe. It's hard to deal with coming from my lover. Could it be true? What really worries me is what it means if it's not true. I don't need a degree in psychology to figure that out. The phrase 'paranoid delusion' comes to mind.

He's quiet for a minute, then sighs. "Walter, I know you don't buy into all this. And I can accept that. Believe me, no one is less thrilled about it than I am. And the only person who would be happy about getting sensory input from aliens is Mulder. But, the fact remains that I need you to take me to see him tomorrow morning."

"Well, you're not seeing Mulder without me. It could be hazardous to your health. Do you think Mulder's still in Oregon?"

"I used the satellite phone to check-in with Morgan this morning... he's been monitoring the situation in Oregon so I could come back here. Mulder and Scully left Oregon yesterday. And I'm perfectly happy to have you around to keep Mulder from re-arranging my face."

"I guess you can ride with me to work tomorrow morning." There's an idea that almost melts my brain.

Alex blinks at me. "Um, okay. I'll be leaving early to talk to Marita. I hope to swing her away from collaborating with Spender. If I can manage it, she'll be coming with us."

"This is Marita Cova... whatever? From the U.N.?"

"Marita Covarrubias. And yes, that's her."

"How does she figure in this?"

"Figuring out who Marita works for is as difficult as figuring out who I work for."

"No, that's simple." I put a hand on his thigh for emphasis. "You work for me and your primary mission is to keep your pretty ass safe."

Alex's hand settles over mine and he leans forward to give me a quick kiss. "You're right... very simple. As for Marita... she's worked with the Consortium, the Organization, clearly drove the U.N.'s agenda at times and, for all I know, she's worked for the Resistance as well."

I'm sorry I asked.

He drums his fingers on the back of my hand. "Um... any advice on how to approach Mulder?"

Well, there's an ugly topic. "Mulder's pretty irrational when it comes to you. He thinks you killed his father-"

Alex snorts. "Mulder's father isn't dead."

I was about to cut him off. I really don't want to know if he killed Mulder's father. But this is... unexpected. "Mulder's father was shot in 1995."

"No. Bill Mulder was shot in 1995."

Fuck. "Are you saying Bill Mulder, the man Mulder thinks was his father, wasn't his father?"

He nods. "Mulder and I share a common hatred for his real father."

It's not really any of my business who Mulder's real father is... "Who?"

Alex gives me a humorless grin. "You hate him, too." He imitates smoking a cigarette.

Fuck! "Spender is Mulder's father? Does Mulder know this?"

He shakes his head. "I doubt it. Do you see how nice I've been to him? I could have taunted him with this a long time ago."

I smack him on the shoulder. "And all the horrible things he's done to Mulder?" I suppose it's crazy of me to expect Spender to be sentimental toward his son.

"Spender has primarily protected Mulder. Physical harm or torture are just part what he believes to be the price of survival. He's amazingly delusional. Hell, he gave his wife over to be experimented on, and killed his other son. He's been astonishingly kind to Mulder."

"Did Bill Mulder know he wasn't Mulder's father? His mother must have known. Or did they... was there anything unusual about his conception? Or was he produced in the normal way?" I can't believe I'm 'gossiping' about one of my agents. But I can't stop myself. Spender has been all over my work life and now my personal life. The knowledge could be important some day.

"Mulder was produced in the same old-fashioned way as the rest of us. His mother had an affair with Spender. And yes, Bill Mulder knew he wasn't Mulder's father. His mother knows, too."

"She's dead. In an apparent suicide."

Would Mulder really want to know this? Would I want to know I was the spawn of Spender? No. Mulder's precious truth could only hurt him. Still, he's a stubborn man. He might want to know. "Fuck, so Jeffery Spender was Mulder's half-brother?"

Alex nods. "Which do you think Mulder would dislike more?"

"None of us thought much of Agent Spender, but as soon as he developed balls he was killed." It dawns on me for the first time that Alex has a wealth of information related to the X-Files. I never thought of him as a potential source. I'm sure most of the information can't be used without putting him at risk. But it's still intriguing.

He contemplates his plate for a moment, then mutters, "Yeah, it doesn't pay to cross daddy."

"So, you think Spender killed his own son?" It's a bit odd that both of them ended up on the X-Files. He's got a sick sort of connection with them. I guess it could be a twisted form of affection. What other kind could I expect from a man like Spender?

"Yeah. He knew I had betrayed him by then, but I was keeping tabs on him for the Resistance. I heard him bemoaning to Diana Fowley how hard it was for him to kill Jeffery... while she gave him a blowjob."

Suddenly, I'm gasping for no reason. "Fowley gave him a blowjob?"

Alex nods, looking at me quizzically.

"That's disgusting." I push my plate away.

He wrinkles up his nose. "Yeah."

"You look really cute when you do that." I smile at him waiting for the fireworks.

His eyebrows shoot up. "I am not cute."

"Sure. Whatever you say."

Alex pushes back from the table, then straddles my lap. He bounces a few times. "That's it. No sex for you for at least an hour."

I bounce my thighs a couple times. "Hey, I'm an old guy... You're only punishing yourself."

"Smartass." His hand lazily roams over my chest. "It's amazing Mulder never found out. It's one of those great secrets that isn't. I don't even think Spender cared if Mulder knew.

"Well, it's easy to see why Fowley wouldn't want to let on she's fucking Spender. I knew there was something I didn't like about that woman." I jostle my legs again to watch him bounce. "So, you've been holding out on me. I suppose now you're going to tell me that the flukeman was Scully's illegitimate child."

Alex gives a snort of laughter. "No. but one more thing about Fowley... she was blowing both sons and the father at the same time." He pauses. "Yuck."

I think my face just turned green. At least it felt like it should have. "Well, that's... Christ, Alex, where do you get this stuff? Wait, I don't want to know." I wrap an arm around his waist and pull him closer. "So, what do you know about that A.D. Skinner? I'll bet he's got some skeletons in his closet."

"Oh, yeah." He kisses the side of my neck. "I'm very intimate with his skeletons." He pulls back to look at me. "Seriously, that's one of the things that drove Spender nuts. Your complete lack of moral turpitude. That may be why he set that hooker thing up. He always worried about his ability to control you."

That's a rather sobering topic. "It's not that I'm without sin, but there's not much about me I wouldn't go public with to prevent blackmail."

He contemplates that for a moment. "What about me? Am I your skeleton?"

I kiss the crinkle of skin between his eyes. "If our lives weren't at stake, there is no one I wouldn't tell about you... about us." It's a big statement for me because it would ruin my career at the Bureau. But I meant what I said, I would not deny this relationship to keep the Director happy.

Alex's expression conveys surprise, then something I haven't seen before. He looks... really young and sort of open. I don't know what it means, but I decide not to pry. I kiss his forehead, then ask, "We were having a serious conversation on some topic of importance. Could you remind me what that was?" The range of topics we've discussed today, from silliness to... sensing aliens is unlike any conversation I've ever had. I generally keep serious things serious, but being silly with Alex is a rare pleasure in my overly-serious life.

He quietly murmurs, "I don't ever want anyone to use me to hurt you." Pulling back a little, he continues in a normal tone. "You were about to give me some advice about how to approach Mulder tomorrow."

"Yeah. Well, it's not going to be easy, but if you want him to listen to you, you need to try not to antagonize him. Recognizing that your mere presence will probably piss him off, just don't play with him. Placate if you have to, but don't hold up your end of the fight." I shrug. "I'll be there to try to keep him under control." Not that that's an easy task.

Nodding, Alex says, "Okay. It goes against the grain, but I can be placating. I think. One other thing... If Marita agrees to help, I'll need to, uh, get back into role."

"Yeah. I understand. It's what we have to do."

A few minutes later, Alex gives me a kiss, then rises to clear the table. The last time he did that I found dirty dishes in the potholder drawer.

Later, we're on the sofa watching an episode of Fawlty Towers--which Alex selected--when there's a tap at the door. Concerned, I glance at Alex. He gives a faint shake of his head and shrugs. Rising, I gesture for him to disappear and grab my SIG. Before I can look to see who it is, a large envelope slides under the door. Checking the peephole, I see an empty hall.

The envelope says in big letters, 'KID.' Morgan. It's too thin to contain anything with ears or anything dangerous.

"Alex, I think Morgan left an envelope for you."

He reappears, gun in hand, looking perplexed. "What?" He glances at the envelope and frowns. After clearing the chamber of his Glock, he sets it on the entryway table and takes the envelope.

I'm reminded that Morgan is one of way too many people who have our lives in their hands. But his affection for Alex seems genuine. So, I add it to a very long list of real concerns that I'm not going to worry about.

Alex tears open the envelope with his teeth. He shakes out a piece of paper. After reading it, he passes it to me.

--
It was a clear night. -M
--

Shaking the envelope again, what looks like photo negatives fall out. Alex begins to look worried. He finally tears the envelope off whatever's remaining, than gapes at whatever he's holding.

He passes something to me. It's a large photo of him on the balcony by himself. Leaning against the railing, looking peaceful.

It's a beautiful photograph, but it makes me acutely aware of how dangerous it is for us to be on the balcony, even with the lights off.

He hands me another photo. Me standing behind him, arms wrapped around his waist, his hand resting on mine. He passes the third, and final, photo. The two of us kissing.

Though I feel a numbing sort of anxiety, all I can manage to say is, "We look good together."

Alex leans over to look at the photo again, then nods, looking a little shell-shocked, too. Bending down, he picks up the negatives and holds them up to the light. "Lord. This isn't exactly what I had in mind, Morgan." He hands over the negatives. A couple dozen shots of us out on the balcony. Morgan made prints of the best three.

Shit. It's too easy to forget and just try to enjoy our time together. But, we have too many enemies. For now, we can't afford to relax or get careless.

I'd like to put one of these photos somewhere where I can see it, but instead, I put them all in the envelope and hand it to Alex. "Can you take these to the safe deposit box in the morning?"

Nodding, he replies, "Yeah. We'll get a later start tomorrow, but I think these need to be taken care of. Morgan never makes a subtle point."

**

I toss the photos on the table. I'll have to keep them close to me until I can hide them. I wish I didn't have to. Just the thought reminds me of something Walter said earlier... that he wouldn't deny our relationship if our lives were not at stake. I couldn't stop myself from feeling... hopeful.

Fucking hell... this is so dangerous.

Absently stroking Walter's stomach as I pass, I move into the kitchen, trying to remember where he keeps the Valrhona. I check five drawers before I find it.

I join him in the living room and feed him chocolate, trying not to worry about what else can go wrong after this perfect weekend.

** End Advance **

About 500 pages still still to go in the Exigency saga.

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