Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Confront1.


Exigency: Confront
(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
Friday, April 16, 1999
(Same day is continued from Part 1)
7:13 P.M.


When I get home, Alex is wearing his jeans unbuttoned. I awkwardly fasten the buttons. It's a hell of a lot easier to fasten your own jeans. I help him with his boots and jacket to give the appearance that he's just stopped by.

When Scully arrives, I sit in the chair next to the couch.

She helps him out of his shirt and jacket. After looking closely at his wounds and probing gently, she murmurs, "Unbelievable." She looks over at me. "I think the stitches will come out tomorrow."

His chest does look remarkably better. The soft scar tissue has completely covered the knife cut. The skin around it is pink, but not the angry inflammation I'd expect to see on a wound of that magnitude. It dawns on me belatedly that the nanos may have saved his life this week. A life put at risk by the demands--my demands--of morality.

Scully inspects everything again, then asks Alex, "Is this the typical healing rate?"

"More or less. They're the fastest on damaged cells… cuts, broken bones, that kind of thing. They don't generate cells, but will speed up the body's own healing process, so missing skin will be slower to heal. Bruises aren't entirely damaged cells, so they only speed fading marginally." Alex's tone is cold, clinical and dispassionate.

She shakes her head in disbelief. "What about diseases?"

"They tested them on a few cancer patients… seemed to cure them. I would guess any disease that causes damage to the body would be curable. It has some effect on viruses, but I don't have the information on those tests."

Dana looks to me. She shakes her head slowly, disbelief melting into awe. I can see her mind working.

It is pretty fucking incredible. I'm so numbed over because of what they've done to him that I've barely considered what it means to medicine. If some of this knowledge can be used after freeing Alex and me, it could save millions of lives. A renaissance in medicine. One that would completely change human society as disease and disease-related deaths decline, disrupting the entire population distribution.

"Does Skinner have this capability?"

If possible, Alex's expression becomes even more remote. "No."

This line of conversation makes me uncomfortable.

"Why not?" Scully sounds annoyed.

Alex's face goes cold in an eye-blink. "Our leverage is severely compromised," fuck, it's the other Alex, "if we give the mark a way to escape the consequences of non-cooperation."

Scully instinctively draws back in response to the shift in Alex's demeanor. She opens her mouth to speak, but is interrupted by the sound of a cell phone. It's not mine.

She reaches into her bag and retrieves her phone. "Scully. … What do you want, Mulder?" Her professional voice shifts to her annoyed-at-Mulder tone.

My body goes tight and my eyes flick to Alex, who looks homicidal. I remind myself that I do trust Scully.

"I'm busy right now." She glances at Alex nervously. "I'm visiting a friend. We're in the middle of a… conversation. I have to go. … Bye, Mulder." She irritatedly punches her cell phone and throws it into her bag.

I'm about to thank her for protecting us, but there's something in her expression that tells me to keep my mouth shut.

Scully eyes Alex contemptuously. "So you con him into helping you, use him to make you better, but you won't give him any of the benefits of this technology."

I want to tell Alex not to respond, but I don't think I can control this Alex.

He leans toward Scully and softly says, "I don't con, Doctor. I give orders." He stands, awkwardly putting on his jacket. He stares at her for a moment, his expression completely blank. Then he steps around her and leaves the apartment.

Fuck. I wonder if he'll come back tonight. Or even soon.

Once he's gone, she turns to me. "I'm sorry." She takes a deep breath. "I just hate how he's controlling you." She shakes her head, angry but resigned. "He's a poor excuse for a human being… You don't think he'll hurt you because I made him angry, do you?"

"No. I'll be fine." I stare at her grimly, unsure what else to say. Something gnawing in my stomach concurs that Krycek is a poor excuse for a human being, but I can't… Change the subject, Walt. "Dana, I, uh, thank you for what you said to Mulder. I know that's not easy."

"I told you I would help you through this, and I will. But, sir, as a second priority, after we find a cure for you, I'd like to have the team investigate how to isolate the healing function. It could take years, but it's worth the effort."

"Of course. I'll be too broke to pay for it by then, but that project won't be difficult to fund." It's clear to me that this is the way to motivate our underpaid scientists. "If we have any trouble getting Lavagetto, we can use this as a closer."

She nods.

On that topic, I offer, "I ran a background check on Lavagetto. A lot of parking tickets. Got caught with his pants off one night on the beach. One questionable bust for possession of amphetamines, but it never went to court. He's pretty clean. I didn't see anything I'm worried about."

"I'll trust your judgment on that." She pauses, and sighs. "Do you need to arrange for me to take his stitches out tomorrow?"

Shit. "Is that something he can ask someone else to do for him? Does it need to be done by a doctor?"

"No. Removing stitches is fairly easy. A pair of tweezers and small pair of scissors… like cuticle scissors, and anyone can remove them. Of course, they need to be sure everything is clean."

I nod. "I'll tell him if I see him."

After Scully departs, I stare out the balcony window. It's been a fucking long day. I feel like I'm juggling about five more things than I can handle. And every day is spent worrying about which ones are going to fall.

Half an hour later, there's a tap out the door. I look out to see Alex standing in the hall. I let him in and he takes a seat on the sofa. He looks almost… despondent. Definitely an expression I've never seen before.

"You okay?"

He's silent for a long time, staring at nothing. "Do you ever think it would be easier just to die?" His voice is completely toneless.

I bite my lip. I don't like hearing that from him. I want to offer encouragement, but then I remember my own emotional state a few weeks ago.

Sitting next to him, I meet his gaze. "Sometimes I feel that way… but not when I'm with you."

**

It takes a few minutes for the words to sink in. At first it doesn't make sense, but then it occurs to me that I've felt dead for a long time… except when I'm with Walter. It makes entirely too much sense all of a sudden.

I turn my head to look at him more directly. I want to just blow it off… change the subject or something. But I can't.

God, Walter, what did you do to us when you made it impossible for me to lie to you?

My hand touches the side of his face. "I've never understood needing someone before. But I need you."

Walter looks like he's almost in pain. I don't know how to interpret that expression. He gently captures my hand and kisses my fingertips. "Don't give up, Alex."

I lean forward until our lips are touching. "Okay," I whisper against his mouth. My tongue meets his, tasting and exploring his mouth.

His tongue pushes against mine as he takes control of the kiss. I wrap my arm around his shoulders, pulling us tightly together.

When we break apart, both breathing hard, I say, "I want to fuck…" Leaning forward, I murmur in his ear. "Want to feel your cock in my ass… feel you stretching me open." I tilt my head back to meet his gaze, wondering if he's going to protest about my injuries, which are inconsequential right now.

His eyes meet mine and I can tell he's thinking about the advisability of sex. I give him a warning look. He gives me a knowing smile. The entire exchange without any words was completely understood by both of us.

Walter kisses my temple. "Upstairs."

It takes my dim brain a few moments to register that he's not going to argue. How novel. My cock throbs in the confines of my jeans… which need to come off… soon.

Once we're upstairs, I shrug out of my jacket. One pull and my jeans are undone, but it makes my hand hurt. Undressing, Walter watches me, but doesn't volunteer assistance.

Shit, my boot laces are tied. After a few painful tugs, I get them undone and kick them away. "Walter, would you help with my jeans?"

Now fully naked, he stands in front of me and tucks his hands into the back of my jeans. Squeezing my ass, he replies, "Sure."

My lip is suddenly clamped in my teeth. I love the feel of his hands on me. A finger slides down my crack and teases my anus before he shifts the pants to my upper thighs. The touch was too brief, and I whimper a protest.

He steps back slightly and the way he looks at my exposed body… Seeing desire so clearly on his face makes me forget to breathe. Seeing him turned on is necessary… like air.

Walter palms my cock and gives it a few good strokes before returning to my jeans. There's a sudden loss of blood to my brain as the sensations flood through me.

He tugs my pants down to my ankles and supports me as I step out of them. Then he steps behind me and presses his hard-on in between my ass cheeks. Oh yeah. This feels right. Too right. But I need it more than anything else.

Hands wrapped around my waist, he presses back and forth, rubbing his cock along my crack. Every time his cock head brushes across my asshole, I gasp.

Helpless to do anything but follow his movements, I complain, "Are you going to fuck me or tease me all night?"

"Tease you," he says in a slow, serious tone that makes my balls tighten.

Moaning, because I know he means it, I push my ass back, offering it to him for whatever torment he chooses to give me.

Walter makes a low sound in his throat that is not quite a laugh… more of a growl. He presses down on my shoulder, encouraging me to kneel beside the bed. Then he guides me forward so I'm bent over the edge of the bed, my ass exposed. I feel him on the floor behind me, nudging my legs apart.

"Arms up, hand over your head." The deep sound of his lusty voice fills me with need. My hips buck backward futilely, as I shift my arms into the position he has demanded.

The warmth of his body presses against my thighs, forcing my legs painfully far open. Involuntarily, my hips slip backward, my hard-on sliding off the bed to dangle untouched. A strong hand closes around my balls, kneading and rubbing just at the edge of painful. I feel his hot breath on the cheeks of my ass. The barest stimulation torture.

Releasing my balls, he sighs quietly. Then his face comes closer until I feel the roughness of his beard stubble on my ass. The faintest tickle of soft lips at my asshole. The gentle press of teeth around the skin of my anus. My body trembles. "Please, Walter."

"Please what?" He replies innocently, each syllable felt as a faint puff of air on my tender ass.

"Please, anything," I whimper.

His only reply is a breathy chuckle. He doesn't touch me again for a long, long moment. Then I feel the slightest contact of wet tongue on my anus. My fingers clench into a ball, as if crushing an imaginary object will somehow get Walter to speed this up.

At an infuriatingly slow pace, he dabs at my ass with his tongue, gradually shifting to a gentle lick. As the lapping of his tongue begins to feel substantial, I gnaw on my lip trying to find the patience I need to endure this. Finally, he makes broad brushes from the base of my balls up my ass.

"Fuck me, Walt," I rasp.

"Soon," he whispers, but I do not believe him. His voice still has a measure of control that tells me he could do this all night, if he chose to.

Suddenly the maddening assault of his tongue is withdrawn and I am desperate to get it back. I hear promising sounds… the opening of the bedside drawer, the click of a lube bottle. Hope surges and my ass tightens and rolls toward him with anticipation.

Expecting his fingers, I'm surprised by the silky touch of his cock head. He emits a breathless sound as his sensitive skin rubs across mine. Slowly at first, he coats me with lube, using the tip of his cock as a paint brush. Each time it passes across my hypersensitized anus, I imagine it penetrating me, but Walter's will is iron. His patience appallingly infinite.

Holding still is an act of will that feels like it will break me. My heart is beating at sprint-rate. The feel of his slick skin sliding over my body is incredibly intense and at the same time woefully inadequate. The muscles in my open thighs tighten to the point of pain.

Walter rubs me a little harder with his cock, even allows the head to almost penetrate me. "I know how badly you want it, Alex."

Even as his voice ratchets up my desire, I groan a complaint.

"How badly you need to feel my cock inside you…"

I'm reduced to frantic squirming as his enters me just enough to open my asshole, then withdraws.

"Without even looking at your face, I can feel your need."

"What about your need?" I blurt out, desperate to inspire his own loss of control.

His laughter--no doubt intended to be a cocky chuckle--reveals a hint of desperation as well. After a gasping breath, he spits out, "Oh yeah… I want to be inside you…"

Then do it! Fuck me, I want to scream.

The skin of his cock continues to brush against my ass, even a bit clumsily. My engorged cock and balls dangle heavily at the edge of the bed.

"… want to feel your ass close around my cock…"

Walt's entirely too able to speak, calm enough to prolong my suffering. He seems inhuman in his willpower. I feel a sort of benign hate, coupled with an intense ache for him--for his cock inside me and more… for his possession of my body.

One of my thighs protests, so I try to bring them closer together, but he maintains a strong pressure to keep my legs open. Then I realize I'm relaxing into the position, holding my body out for him.

As he continues to swipe at my ass with his hard-on, only the increasing rate of his heavy breathing gives me any hope of ever being fucked.

Somewhere through the haze of lust, I realize he's driving himself to madness as well. The only thing I'm capable of doing is giving him my will. The moment is his to control, my body his to command. As the pain in my balls begins to dim and I surrender to his torture, he penetrates me… forcing me open with the impossible hardness of his cock. It throbs deep inside me as his fingers grope for my cock.

I hear a yell, then the explosion of my balls fills with me a blinding pleasure that is larger than my body can contain. I float in the ether for a timeless period, then feel gravity return and the coiled tension in my muscles dissolves.

Walter's sweaty body is pressed over mine. His softening cock a decreasing pressure inside me. We remain like that, stuporous for a time. I enjoy the satisfied sounds of his breathing as it slowly returns to normal.

"You alive?" he finally asks.

"No. Thanks to you," I reply, mildly embarrassed by the sound of contentment in my voice.

He gives a chuff of amusement and kisses the back of my neck. His arms close tightly around my waist.

"I think I have beard-burn on my ass," I mutter, uncaring.

I can feel his smile on the back of my neck.

Walter shifts his weight off of me, and I allow myself a controlled fall to the floor. My muscles feel like Jell-o and my chest aches a bit. Lying on my back, I look up at Walter kneeling next to me. I rest my hand on his thigh, and blink a few times, trying to keep my eyes open.

He gives me a satisfied smile and gets to his feet, hauling me up with him. We collapse onto the bed and wind up entwined in a way that feels perfect. His arms are wrapped around me, holding tight, even as I feel my eyes become heavy again. I give in to my drowsiness.

Something is nagging at me. I resist the intrusion into my boneless sleep state. But the nagging won't go away. Reluctantly, I open my eyes. Something woke me. I realize I'm freezing. We fell asleep, sweaty and stuck together, then rapidly cooled off.

While I'm reaching for the blankets, Walter's eyes flutter open. He starts to smile, then freezes. He pulls his arm out from underneath me and rubs it vigorously.

I flash him a look of sympathy, while throwing the blankets over us. "Arm fell asleep?"

He nods and flexes his fingers.

I glance at the clock… we were only asleep for about an hour.

When his arm has recovered, we move close, and idly pet each other until I feel sleep pull at me again. But I don't want to sleep yet… I need to talk to him. There's something I have to get clear on… sooner rather than later.

His eyes are closed, and I take a moment to just look at him, not needing to guard anything since he's not watching.

Reluctantly, I lightly touch his face and say, "Walter?"

He opens his eyes. "Hmm?"

"I need to understand about this killing thing."

He blinks at me, uncomprehending, then his face gradually becomes more alert.

**

"Okay."

I shake myself to consciousness, a habit formed during many late-night Bureau emergencies, and sit up, leaning against the headboard.

My temporary reprieve on this subject is over. Gazing at him thoughtfully, I try to find something to tell him. I've had to deal with this since I was 18 years old, I must have some knowledge to impart. "I'm, uh, not sure where to start. Have you got questions?"

"Yeah. You have a problem with the killing-for-hire-thing, right?"

"Yes." I pause to get my brain fully engaged. "Even before my career in law enforcement, I was concerned about the moral implications of my actions."

Alex mouths the words 'moral implications' as if learning a foreign phrase.

Keep it simple, Walt. "My concept of morality is that people don't perpetrate violence on each other. The best possible world is one in which no one harms anyone else intentionally."

He looks doubtful. "But haven't you defined involvement in this conspiracy as being wrong?"

"It's not a bunch of men talking that's wrong, it's the specific violent and justice obstructing acts that are wrong."

"Well, if they were just talking, they wouldn't have needed to manipulate law and government or kill people."

"Agreed. But I believe in freedom of speech, so the crimes begin when they blackmail potential witnesses, steal property, perform unauthorized medical tests, take lives, etc." I can't tell if anything is getting through to him.

Alex chews his lip thoughtfully. "Well, if they were exercising their freedom of speech, that happened 50 years ago. Since then, they've been more interested in activities. Like arranging to have people abducted, then performing tests on them, canceling the experiment and killing the subjects and test team. So, who's wrong in that scenario?"

"Everyone except the test subjects."

His expression is an odd mix of exasperation and confusion. "So why do you care if everyone else dies? You've got the men who orchestrate the plan, the men who do the abduction, the scientists who perform the experiments and kill some of the test subjects, and the men who kill the scientists. If you think they're all wrong, what does it matter if they die?"

I sit up and gaze down at him. "In a backwards way, you've made my case, Alex. That is the point… that it matters who you kill and why. Some victims are innocent, but others are not."

Alex follows suit and sits cross-legged on the bed. "So it's okay to kill people involved in what you define as immoral behavior?"

"There's gray shading around that issue. The real problem is that if you start killing people on that basis, you risk becoming one of them."

Alex considers that for a moment, then replies, "Well, I became one of them before I ever killed anyone."

I don't know how to address that. We both know we're talking about him and his crimes here. "I'm not defining morality as the same as legality. As far as the law is concerned, you may only kill in self defense, not in revenge after the act. But morally I'm not inclined to condemn someone for this--say a woman who kills her rapist after the courts fail to convict. The law will imprison the woman, but I've never been comfortable with that. Many law enforcement personnel turn the other way at this so-called crime. Similarly, I don't consider personal use of drugs immoral, since they only harm yourself."

Alex looks away, apparently lost in thought. When he meets my eyes again, there's something like realization on his face. Then something like revulsion. "I had killed someone before." His voice is a soft monotone. "And I understand it now. I know what they did and why they chose me." He's far away. "They tried to explain, but I never could make sense of it."

"Explain it to me, Alex."

In the same toneless voice, he replies, "It was my third escape attempt. I got outside the fences. I found out later Spender had been watching. They beat me and put me in a cell… not my usual cell. I couldn't move… four or five broken bones. Spender came in, then the guard. After, Spender asked me some questions and gave me the knife. Said it would happen again if I didn't do something about it.

"I held the knife under the pillow. The guard came back. I waited until he was vulnerable… hands out of commission because he was pushing my legs up. Then I stuck the knife in his throat and twisted it. Spender and Yuri watched. Later Arntzen said it was a test, but I never understood. He said that's why they offered to let me join the Organization instead of staying in the gulag. I couldn't figure out what killing the guard had to do with it."

He focuses on me again. "It's because I can kill… without thinking about it. Because I wasn't trying to defend myself, but trying to kill. Because I didn't have any morals." His tone and expression are blank, but something in his eyes looks… lost.

Ah, Christ. I continue to be surprised by how much his pain hurts me. "Alex, it wasn't your fault they chose you this way. If you hadn't killed that guard, you'd probably just have died at the gulag. I'm not wasting any regret on that scum-sucking guard. He deserved to die. As did anyone who watched and didn't intercede. Hell, I'd've probably done exactly what you did."

Alex shakes his head in frustration. "It's not how they chose me, it's why. I'm defective. And after all this conversation, I still don't know who I shouldn't kill." His voice is strident and he's agitated. "And is it just killing you don't like? I know it's not just the law, because that's different everywhere. I mean, I understand what the laws are, but if I actually paid attention to them, well… I don't know. I couldn't get anything done. " He sighs and closes his eyes for a second. When he opens them, he looks calmer.

I tap his hand idly. "I've made some very questionable moral tradeoffs in my life. And I'm not happy about any of them. Even killing in self defense is full of ambiguities." I take a deep breath and tell him about the one that has always pained me the most. "In Vietnam I shot a child because he walked into our camp with explosives strapped to his body. Every logical argument tells me that I was defending my squadron, but when you start to ask questions about what the hell we were doing in Vietnam in the first place, the moral position falls apart. Even if I stand by the act, I will never feel that I did the right thing… the best I can ever believe about it is that I was part of a chain of events that cost that boy his life."

"I don't understand how you can feel badly about that."

"The kid was maybe ten years old. He was being used by his people. I can't believe he had any ill intent toward the U.S. Marines, other than what he'd been taught. In some sense, killing him was no different than killing your brothers and sisters."

Alex's eyes widen and his body stiffens.

"I assume you consider those murders to be immoral?"

He looks shell-shocked. "I… hadn't thought about it like that."

"Well, I think you need to… because if you don't…" I trail off thinking it's probably already too late for him to avoid this grim conclusion. It takes me a minute to figure out how to say it. "The outrage you felt when your siblings were murdered is what anyone feels when someone they care about has been slain. If you don't worry about the fine points of morality, you run the risk of becoming what you hate. Of doing to someone else what was done to you."

He looks like he's trying to make sense of what I said. "Outrage?"

I was half expecting that. He doesn't even realize what he felt about the worst loss of his life. "Let's try an example. Your friend Damien… would you want someone to kill him?"

"No," he replies matter of factly.

"Let's say someone killed him. How would you react to that?"

"I'd kill them."

"Why?"

"Because…" He frowns, then gives a one-shouldered shrug. "I don't know. I don't want Damien to be dead… And there's no point to it."

"No point? You mean no reason for Damien to be killed?"

"Yeah."

"So if Damien had been killed for a reason, that would be okay?"

"I… no… I guess it depends on the reason."

Hard not to smile. "That sounds like you're making a moral judgment, Alex."

He frowns and absently pulls at my leg hair. "I don't think about things that way."

"Okay, but if you start asking questions about 'why' before you kill someone, that's the same process I use to judge my own actions."

Alex bites his lip and stares into space for a moment.

"Let's change the example. Say you kill Damien's murderer, then discover you killed the wrong man… someone who had nothing to do with anyone's death. Now you're no different from Damien's murderer… just another killer who killed an innocent. And when the family of the innocent you killed comes after you, you can't even morally argue against them killing you."

There's a look of resigned comprehension on his face. "I… understand your point. But, I would never argue that I should be alive for moral reasons. And I never get the wrong man." He winces, then lies down on his back, resting his arms over his head. "Fuck. That's not even true." He closes his eyes and sighs.

I'd like to ask about that, but I don't want a head full of knowledge of his crimes because I might be asked about it at some point. It's better not to know.

I scoot closer so I can see his face. "Morality is an artificial construct. I don't think it has any meaning in nature. But most adults eventually seem to figure out that if they don't want the people they care about to be harmed, they have to offer the same courtesy to others. And it's probably not very difficult for most people to avoid attacking others. Of course, in law enforcement these issues are in your face every day… weighing the risk to your own life vs. the risk of killing an innocent person. I guess the same is true in your… career."

Alex stares at the ceiling for a long time. "I'm not sure I can do this. If I start looking at the whys of what I've done, I don't think I will like where it goes--what it says about who I've killed… and who I haven't."

"Who you haven't killed?"

He rubs his hand over his face, then winces and sets it back on the pillow. "With three exceptions, I've done things for no reason other than I was ordered to. I should have killed the people giving the orders. Spender should have died a long time ago. I found out that my… siblings' termination was ordered by a small group in the Russian organization I was working for. They should all be dead." His voice is unusually flat. "But, by the time I found out… I didn't feel anything anymore."

"If you follow orders, your morality is only as good as the person you delegate your moral decisions to. It sounds like you've never worked for anyone you could trust… morally or otherwise."

"Trusting people is a decidedly bad idea." He turns his head to meet my gaze directly. "So, I occasionally ask myself why I started trusting you." With a sigh, he looks back at the ceiling. "The Consortium believed, in some odd way, that they were doing the right thing. I… disagreed, but I couldn't even tell you why. But they, well many of them, still thought they were making moral choices. So, let's say Spender's beliefs are in conflict with yours… how do you determine what's moral? Right, wrong… whatever."

"It's painfully true that not everyone agrees on morality. And people use some extreme definitions of morality to justify a lot of ugly behavior. I try to draw the line where the actions of one person directly and non-consensually affect others."

He takes a breath and looks at me again. "I think I get it… at least abstractly. I'm not sure about the practical aspects, though."

"Since morality doesn't come naturally to you, you'll have to learn it. I can help. But you need to decide if you want to learn it and, if so, why."

After a long pause, Alex rolls over to face me, resting his hand on my waist. "I… guess I do. I think that's why we're having this discussion. I'm not sure about 'why' though. Mostly, it's because of you. But there are other things… I've never understood about how I felt about some of the things I've done."

"What things?" I ask with trepidation. I realize that my reason for not asking isn't a fear of being asked about it, but a fear of knowing everything he's done. Then I have to deal with Alex the killer, when I'm still trying to pretend he's somebody else.

"I don't know." He gives an exasperated sigh. "Occasionally--not very often--I felt… uncomfortable about something, but couldn't really figure out why."

"Tell me an example. What you were asked to do and what you felt about it."

"There was the time I beat you up…" He breaks off and looks at me intently.

I can feel the tension rise in my body. Our ugly history… I need to hear this, but I don't want to. "Go on."

"Spender gave Cardinal carte blanche to get the tape back. With Cardinal that meant killing someone. He really… liked killing people. When Spender said you had the tape, I felt something kind of like dread. I wanted to refuse the mission, but I knew Cardinal wanted to kill you."

It makes sense. Almost too much sense. I remember what I felt then… I had wondered if Alex kept me alive for sentimental reasons, but no one could have made me believe that he was there--beating me and taking the tape--to keep me alive.

"I thought I could keep him under control if I was primary on the mission. I knew I didn't want to hurt you… never wanted to."

A flicker of old pain passes through me. Somehow understanding his thought processes makes it harder to deal with the past, not easier. The gap between us was never that great and yet we failed to bridge it… until the past few weeks. In spite of my intense need not to, I feel all too greatly the loss… the damage to our lives and the lives of others because two defective men couldn't communicate with each other.

"Afterward, Spender tried to kill me, so I didn't have time to think about it until I was leaving the country. Then it was there all the time. This uncomfortable feeling I couldn't shake off. I started questioning everything. All the time I'd spent with the Consortium, everything I'd been ordered to do, but there weren't any answers… or understanding. I think I managed a couple hours of sobriety a day."

It's difficult to picture Alex accepting the loss of control that comes with getting drunk.

He goes on, "Then Mulder showed up in Hong Kong and… so many things… That night on the balcony, I wanted you to hate me."

I can all too clearly see how my assumptions kept us apart. "I, uh, tried. I had to write you off… reduce you to a criminal in a case, not anything… personal." I rub my temples. "Why did you want me to hate you?"

There's a brief flash of pain on his face, then his expression is blank. "I thought I deserved for you to hate me… for hitting you. For leaving. Until that night on the balcony, I wanted you to hate me because it seemed to make what I felt… easier. I don't know how to explain it better. But, that night, I realized I wanted you to hate me so I'd know you still… felt something."

So, hitting me made him feel bad. He's got feelings giving him moral cues like the rest of us but he doesn't understand them. Or isn't very clear on what he's feeling or why.

"I thought about your beating me up… more than I cared to. Unless you have something else to say about it, let's consider it finished."

Alex stares at me for a second, then sits up and moves a little closer. He lightly touches my face. "I do have something else to say about it. I… I'm sorry, Walter. It's on the short list of things I wish I could undo."

My eyes blink closed. Why do I suddenly feel vulnerable? I guess I needed to hear it. Gazing at him again, I kiss the side of his face. "It's forgiven."

He gives me a blank look and doesn't breathe. "I, uh… okay." He closes his eyes for a second, then frowns at me. "Are you… do you really mean that?"

It's a damned good question. He's done so much to me. And Mulder and Scully. Brought a lot of pain to our lives. It's so easy for me to be angry… in most situations. But I find it difficult to be angry at Alex anymore. Have my feelings overwhelmed my good judgment? Or…? I'm beginning to understand what made him and how he thinks. I guess it's understandable, if not wholly forgivable. Like that boy in Vietnam. He had been used by others.

I'd never expect Mulder to accept the reasons for what Alex became. I couldn't justify my growing acceptance of Alex to him or anyone else. But it's very real. Alex is not evil, he's lost. And perhaps I can help a little? I only hope that conversations like this one change his life for the better, not just change him for my benefit.

"Yes. I mean it." There's a lot more between us than that beating, but it's a start.

Alex says nothing, but the intensity of his almost-pained expression tells me it means a great deal to him.

"So you had some practical questions?"

"This has been… uh, helpful. But, it doesn't really address my immediate problem of how not to get killed while trying not to kill anyone else." He contemplates lint for a moment. "That situation from a few days ago is not uncommon. I'd like to avoid another beating like this but I'm not sure how this fits together."

"It's a judgment call. If a man came at me with a weapon like that, I'd have to decide the perceived level of risk. I'd definitely draw my weapon and fire, if I judged I had to. If you perceive a serious and immediate risk to your life, I hope our conversation about morality won't stop you from using lethal force."

Alex ponders my words.

I add, "Perhaps New York was this situation… and killing the man would have been the right choice. On the other hand, killing Agent Landis was wrong. He was a danger, but not an immediate threat."

He raises an eyebrow. "I've only ever met one psychic, Walter, and I'm not him. How do you make that determination? Two unknown men with guns, in an alley, a fight, and I'm supposed to know one's intent is benign and the other deadly?" He takes a breath and mutters, "It would be a hell of a lot easier to keep people alive if they'd just stay on the business end of my gun and not start hitting me."

"Dammit, Alex, you know in every one of these situations you're taking in data about the guy, making assessments. Sometimes judgment calls are wrong. I once shot a helpful citizen in the shoulder at a confusing bust. Once you stop thinking it's reasonable to kill anyone who might be a threat, you'll come up with alternatives on your own."

He gives a pained grimace and reluctantly replies, "Walter, I don't remember killing either of those men."

Fuck. He doesn't remember?

I take a breath to cover my dismay.

What would I say if he were one of my agents? I'd assign him to desk duty while he did 12 months of mandatory therapy, a punishment I would never dole out cavalierly. If a man can't control, much less remember, his behavior in a situation, he doesn't belong in these situations. But what choice does Alex have? At least for now, as long as he's infected by the nanos, he has no choice.

I have an irrational urge to take a leave of absence and stick to his side to keep him out of trouble.

Alex continues, "It only happens if I'm forced to physically defend myself. I wind up with a corpse and no recollection of the kill." He scowls. "Which is why I never…" he trails off inaudibly, but I thought I heard Mulder's name.

"What did you say? Mulder?"

He grits his teeth. "He gets away with his crap because I'm afraid I'll end up with his dead body."

"Exactly what crap does he get away with?"

"Mulder's a little violent when he's testy… which is every time I see him. I… thought, uh, you might be hurt if I killed him… well, whatever. Anyway, once I get to that point, it's a blank."

The sparks of outrage are burning in my brain. Mulder's been beating Krycek? More than just the recent kidnapping? His prisoner, suspect… or whatever? I'm thinking I need to do something about that when I recall that I beat Alex myself and cuffed him to my balcony like a dog. And Mulder does believe--rightly or wrongly--that Alex killed his father. What a bunch of fuckups we all are. At times like this I think the Bureau needs more women. Scully wouldn't pull this shit.

Alex sees something in my expression and says, "None of it matters. The only point is that, the two situations we talked about were hand-to-hand fights. I…" He breaks off, looking pained at admitting any of this. "I'm not as in control in those circumstances as I'd like, so it makes this morality thing a little more difficult."

Oh, yeah. I can see that. Fuck, he needs a bodyguard. If I thought he'd go along with it, I'd tell him to hire someone. "I'm not asking you to be perfect. If you can try to better assess the threat before you attack, that would be good. I don't know what else to tell you."

"Okay. What if the Resistance orders me to kill someone… even someone you would define as innocent?"

"So if the Resistance orders you to kill someone, you'll have a difficult choice to make, since they can so easily kill you. If possible, I'll help you figure out what to do. If not, I'll try to accept the choice you made. I can't offer you any magic, Alex.

I can almost see Alex putting the pieces together. I wish I knew what picture he came up with. After a moment, he nods. "All right. There's one other recent circumstance I'm curious about."

"What's that?"

"What if something like today…" He peers over my shoulder at the clock. "… yesterday, should happen again? Where the risk is someone finding out about us? Although, I believe that risk would be primarily to me, since they would just send you a new handler."

I'd been thinking about that myself. "If he'd found you and gone free, you'd probably be killed. If you'd shot him, it's possible we could have found some way to cover it up. As a representative of the men who infected you with the nanocytes, I don't think there are any moral issues. Only tactical ones."

Alex shakes his head. "The tactical issues are non-existent. If I'd had to kill him, the body would have been gone long before you found out about it. But, I don't know who he was working for. It's entirely possible he was a government agent."

"If they broke into my house, I think we're entitled to assume the worst." I shrug, feeling rather ineffectual. "You can still choose to disarm or disable the intruder."

"Uh, yeah. Normally when someone is after you, it's optimal to try and question them before you… umm… disable them. But, yesterday morning, I'd have been lucky to fire a straight shot. If I'd fucked up with the gun, I'd be, well, probably dead."

I nod. "I accept that. Your continued survival is, uh, important to me."

He gives me a quick kiss. "Yours, too. So, don't get so caught up in morals you get killed."

I nod again. And don't mention that I've already thought about this. If the Resistance ever tries to use me to kill for them, I'll decline. I know my limits.

Alex watches me for a long time, then asks, "Don't you find this exhausting… thinking about this stuff all the time? Doesn't it slow you down, trying to figure out the 'right' thing to do?"

"It's just part of my job. When I decided to go into law enforcement, I had to accept that it was my responsibility to try to do the right thing. And to risk my life to protect others. You just do it and it gets easier with practice, although some situations are murky and others very painful."

He moves closer until we're touching and wraps his arm around my waist. His forehead touches mine and he murmurs, "Thanks for explaining this. I'll keep trying to not kill people."

I take a sudden gulp of air, trying to abort an insane laugh. "Thank you, Alex." I know he's doing it for me.

**

I can already tell I'm not going to enjoy this. The whole trying to think about right and wrong thing. It seems… time consuming and imprecise.

But I'll try… if that's what I have to do to be with Walter. I need to be with him. And it would be nice to not have those moments of inexplicable feeling around something I've been ordered to do. Of course, Walter is another jumble of inexplicable feelings, but that's… different.

Suddenly, something occurs to me. "Walter, this moral thing you've got going… what besides killing?" I have a sense of dread.

For a second his expression freezes into something vaguely resembling horror. Then he takes a deep breath and begins to explain.

We talk for hours. I have to give Walter a lot of credit for patience. But I basically don't get it. The evaluation of right and wrong seems so… arbitrary. It seems to come down to what an individual doesn't want to see happen in life. And with six billion people, are there six billion moral codes with just some crossover on the major points?

Eventually, I conclude I'll just have to ask him if something comes up. Maybe I'll get it on my own someday. Ugh. It really does seem like too much work.

In the early morning, before sunrise, we both hit exhaustion. With my head resting on his shoulder, he falls asleep. I'm tired, but my brain is working too hard to sleep. I lie next to him, enjoying the feel of his body against mine, and replay the conversation in my head.

The one thing I did conclude from tonight is that being with me doesn't fit in with Walter's moral beliefs. I hold him a little tighter, ignoring the pain in my hand, trying not to think about how it will feel to lose him again.


Saturday, 17 April 1999
10:02 A.M.


A burning body drops from high overhead, landing several feet away on the floor. The heat is too intense to get close, so I hover away, waiting for the flames to die down. When there's nothing but a charred smoking lump, I can see that it's a small body. A child.

There's a strange sound from up above. I look up to see another burning body fall. I jump back, trying to open the door, but it's locked. Where am I?

Another body falls. Then another. An especially small body lands on my shoulder, knocking me down. I struggle to push it away, feeling my hands burn and an aching pain in my shoulder.

I stare in horror as more bodies fall and burn. Eventually all the flames die out, and I'm left with nine charred corpses. Most of them child-like in size. What happened to these people?

It's very dim with the flames extinguished. Still trying to figure out where I am, I walk around, stepping over bodies. Oh Christ, I'm in the silo. And I'm trapped.

A sound from behind me causes me to spin around. One of the charred lumps is moving… walking toward me.

I back up until I hit the wall. There's nowhere to go. The body continues to advance on me. Then it speaks. "Why did you leave us?"

My eyes pop open and I'm jolted back to reality. I feel frozen for a moment, like you only do when waking in the middle of a dream.

When I can move, I concentrate on forcing back the images from the dream. I won't think about it.

I'm alone in bed. I look around to find Walter standing near the foot of the bed sticking a foot into his jeans. Pushing myself up, I watch the second foot go in.

"If you'd give me a quarter turn to the left, I could ogle your ass." Walter's ass is always a perfect distraction… and sex is easier than… whatever.

Walter's lips quirk in a half grin. "So you're not going to sleep forever." The jeans are at his knees.

"Since I know you get dressed the moment you get out of bed, I'll assume you beat me by less than ten minutes." I get to my knees, then lie on my stomach with my head at the foot of the bed. I want to be closer to him. Looking up, I say, "Come on, Walter, let me look at your butt."

He allows the jeans to drop to the floor. "Three and a half minutes actually." His eyes flick to my ass, then he pivots to offer me the best possible view of his bare butt. He holds the pose for a few seconds, then reaches behind with both hands and squeezes his cheeks.

Walter has such a fantastic ass… so tightly muscled. My cock, however, seems disinterested. Come on, Krycek, shake it off. "You want to get back in bed so I can squeeze your ass?" Or just let me touch you. I slip off the bed to my knees and kiss his right cheek just as he begins to turn around.

His cock practically hits me in the face. "Later, Alex."

I kiss his stomach, wrapping my arm around his thighs.

He grabs the hair at the back of my neck and tugs gently. "Are you ever not horny?"

Thankfully, my brain function plummets for a moment at the tug on my hair. "A couple of days a few years ago."

"I figured." He steps back and offers me a hand. I grab it and let him help me up.

I notice my hand is almost working. "Hmm… my hand is better."

"I noticed. It's time for your stitches to come out. Scully said it doesn't have to be done by a doctor… so, I guess that means me." He kisses my temple and wraps an arm around my waist.

"You won't have a problem taking them out. I took out my own stitches back when I had two… uh, it's easy."

He releases me and pulls on his jeans. "Let's have breakfast first."

I feel like I'm forgetting something, but can't place it, so I head to the bathroom. I assume it's just part of my brain being occupied with that stupid dream.

I join Walter downstairs after I brush my teeth and tug on my own jeans. He's at the table eating yogurt. "No slime-beverage today?"

He raises an eyebrow, but says nothing.

As I start to move into the kitchen, I notice the smell. So does my dick. Good. It still works. I glare at him. "Dickhead."

He takes a spoonful and holds it up toward my face. "Peachbutt."

I have an urge to dump the yogurt on his head. Dickhead is much nicer than Peachbutt. I think I might actually prefer 'baby.' I turn on my heel and go into the kitchen. "Do you have any peanut butter?" No more talk about peaches.

"It's in the cupboard over the toaster oven. There's also a jar of peach marmalade."

I take an I-will-not-stick-peaches-up-Walter's-butt breath, then try to figure out which appliance is the toaster oven. I get it on the second try. There are the granola bars, too. I would never have suspected that cabinet contained food. I take both back to the table and sit across from Walter.

I coat one granola bar in peanut butter. An impulsive desire for a little vengeance takes over. I break off a piece and throw it at Walter. It sticks to his chest.

Barely blinking, he reaches for it and pops it in his mouth. He gives me a bland look that's almost… too bland. The smudge of peanut butter on his pecs distracts me.

Walter takes another bite of yogurt.

The peanut butter is going to drive me insane. I find myself at his side of the table. I straddle his lap, barely fitting between the table and his body. Leaning down I lick the peanut butter off his chest. The smell of peaches is stronger here. My hardening cock feels like it's robbing my brain of necessary blood flow.

His lips brush across mine briefly. "Do you have any idea how easy it would be in this position to put the rest of my yogurt down the back of your jeans?"

There's some peanut butter on my finger. I smear it on his neck and lick it off. What was he saying? He wants to put yogurt in my jeans? It registers, but I'm not sure I care if he does it. I reach behind me for the peanut butter, wiping some more over his shoulder, then nibbling it off.

Suddenly, I realize what I just did. I lean back and stare at him. "Goddammit, Walter. You are totally going to fuck up my diet."

"What? I'm the one being eaten off of."

"Exactly my point. You distract me with those fucking peaches, and now I'm going to start eroticizing peanut butter." I push at his chest, trying to get him to push back from the table so I can get up. "Soon I'm not going to be able to eat without getting a hard-on."

Walter doesn't budge, although it's quite clear he read my non-verbal cue. "Alex, you always have a hard-on. If you couldn't eat erect, you'd've starved to death a long time ago."

I grind my crotch against him. "You complaining?"

"Uh, no." His arms slide around me, squeezing me tightly against his chest. "I've received… fringe benefits, so it would be unseemly for me to complain."

I lean forward and suck his earlobe into my mouth, then work my way down his neck. "Fringe benefits? How very…" My brain suddenly starts to work. "Oh, fuck!" I pull back and glance around for the clock.

"What's wrong?"

"I have a flight to Tokyo at 2:00."

He scoots his chair back and allows me to stand. "Then we'd better get your stitches out."

I shower first so it'll be easier to remove the stitches. While the hot water beats on my back, I try to figure out what I'm feeling. Annoyed. I was enjoying myself--just being with Walter--and my 'job' intruded. Again.

It feels like this is never going to end. Then I remind myself it's why we're even together. Our discussion last night comes back to me. Once we're past this, he has no more reason to be with me. I close my eyes and lean against the wall.

Even I'm clear on which is more important.

After my shower, I lie on the bed while Walter prepares to remove my stitches. He asks me if I want them out fast or slow. I've never had that question before. Quick is better. Even going fast, it takes a while.

Once I'm dressed and ready, I grab Walter, kissing him until my dick is hard again. Probably not the best idea.

He breaks the kiss and opens his mouth to speak, but then closes it and shakes his head.

"What is it, Walter?"

"I was going to offer you a ride to the airport."

I kiss him again. "Thank you. I'll be back in two weeks."

"Be careful."


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 29 April 1999
8:30 P.M.


I finished up in Asia two days early and have never much cared for Kuala Lumpur, so I left. One of my stranger assignments. Four visits to four different men to collect data disks. I waited a day for orders, just to find I was handing them over to someone else during my stopover in Tokyo. Of course, I copied the disks so I can decrypt them later and find out what the fuck they're up to.

After completing my normal circuitous route to Walter's apartment, I slip into the building and begin the 17-floor trek to his apartment. As I approach the door, it occurs to me that it wouldn't have mattered if I had been in my favorite place, I still would have come back early. I have this nagging worry that we don't have much time. Although, that could be attributed to lack of sleep. I keep having these obnoxious dreams.

I remind myself, yet again, that I need to start acting normal and quit all this crap.

I open the door and set my keys on the table. The downstairs lights are on. Walter's home. I realize I'm smiling.

Stepping into the living room, I call out, "Giving up your workaholic tendencies?"

As I near the dining room, I hear a feminine voice. "Walter's up-" She cuts herself off as she takes in my gun pointed her direction.

Drawing my gun was an instinctive response to the unfamiliar voice. She takes a sudden breath, pales and, even from a distance, I can see the flash of fear. She doesn't move.

It takes my brain a couple beats to realize the woman seated at the table with her hand on a wineglass is not a threat. I lower the gun. Then I recognize her.

"Ah, fuck." I put my gun away and try to decide if I should leave now or in 30 seconds.

She visibly relaxes. "We met before, Alex. Do you remember?"

I take a deep breath. "Yes, Mrs. Skinner. I remember you." I pause for a second. "Sorry about the gun." I realize I'm less than pleased to see her, but her very presence doesn't give me an opportunity to figure out why.

A frown travels across her features. Then she forces it away and offers a more cordial expression. "Walter's upstairs on the phone exercising his workaholic tendencies. We're having roast beef. If you promise not to shoot, you're welcome to join me for dinner."

I raise an eyebrow at her and lean my shoulder against the wall. "Sounds like I could have dinner either way."

This time her frown is more indulgent. She rises gracefully and retrieves a glass from the cabinet. Filling it with red wine, she says, "Hang up your jacket and take a seat. Walter will be down in," she gestures vaguely, "a while."

Sit or run? Fleeing from confrontations isn't exactly my style, but I don't think Walter's going to like me talking to his wife.

I shrug and turn toward the living room to get rid of my jacket. Back in the dining room, I take a seat and look at Sharon Skinner. She's as beautiful as I remembered. I wonder if they're still fucking.

She watches me carefully. Her eyes flick briefly to the prosthetic, but her only reaction is a hint of surprise. "You're not what you appear to be, are you?"

I consider that for a moment. She certainly gets right to the point. "I'm not sure. What do I appear to be?"

Mrs. Skinner passes me a plate of roast beef. "A courteous young man whose rough appearance is concealing a more vulnerable side."

"Well, if that's what I appear to be, then I suppose you're right. I'm not what I appear to be."

"I'm not so sure," she replies thoughtfully, finishing the last of the food on her plate. "Walter told me he was seeing you again. He also told me I cannot discuss your relationship with anyone. And I assure you I have not."

"Uh, thanks." I feel incredibly tense and don't even know why. I know I'm overreacting to her, but I don't want to be having this conversation. Especially since I don't know what Walter's told her.

She nods and gives a reassuring half smile. "What do you see in him, Alex?"

"He's a great lay," I snap.

Mrs. Skinner's smile broadens. "Yes, he is, isn't he?" There's a faraway look in her eyes, suggesting some memories of sex with Walter.

I grit my teeth. I wonder how recent her knowledge is.

"I'm not competition. We've been divorced for years. I'm seeing someone else. Walter and I are still close… closer, in some ways, than we were when we were married. But not lovers."

The strong sense of relief surprises me. Keeping my expression neutral, I rise from the table to find something to drink. I return with a bottle of tea. "Why do you want to know what I see in him?"

"I'm sorry. I thought it was obvious. I'm… checking you out and keeping a protective eye on Walter. I don't want to see him hurt. Again." Her expression turns more serious. "I know he'll never tell you this, but it hurt him when you left. I'd be very upset if you did that to him again."

I pluck at the napkin on the table, watching Sharon. "I'm not going anywhere until he's decided he's had enough of me." I glance away from her so I can think for a second. My brain starts randomly throwing up information. Staring at nothing, I try to answer her question. "Walter used to bring me things. Every time he'd come to my place. I didn't ever know what to make of it, but… I liked it. I like talking to him… and I don't like to talk. I like to hear him laugh. I like the way his brain works… I don't understand it, but it's entertaining. I like… that he tries so hard to live up to his beliefs. I just like being with him." I look back at her, and feel my expression stiffen. "And he's sexy as hell and a really good lay."

I get the feeling she wants to like me, but she's also probably ready to toss me off the balcony if she thinks I'm making Walter unhappy.

She says, "He's a gentleman. Polite and almost old fashioned, but never old fashioned where it would hurt. He respects women, but doesn't overpower us. He can be very silly, but he doesn't show that side to many people."

Yeah. Peachbutt.

Mrs. Skinner continues, "Walter would kill himself to live up to his beliefs. It's noble, I suppose, but sometimes a little scary."

No shit. I didn't understand half of what she said, but I got that last part. The 'ask questions then shoot' philosophy scares the crap out of me.

Reaching across the table, she taps my hand briefly. "Do you know what he sees in you?"

"Definitely not." One of the things I've really been trying to figure out.

"You might try asking him." She takes a sip of wine.

"Um… sure." I think not.

"He's taking a lot of risks to be with you, so there has to be a good reason."

Christ, what has Walter told her? "I know he's taking risks. I'm doing everything I can to protect him."

She grimaces. "He hasn't told me very much, Alex." After a pause, she adds, "I'm not very close to my family and Walter--ex-husband or not--means the world to me. If he ever needs my help, I hope you'll contact me. I'll give you my number."

I blink at her. "Okay. Uh, tell me the number with the area code."

Mrs. Skinner recites the number and I memorize it.

"Walter has a great deal of trouble asking for help, so I'm counting on you, Alex." She taps my hand again.

"It's not a problem. If he needs anything, I will call you." While not thrilled to be having this conversation, it's nice to know she's there if Walter needs something. Well, provided the problem is benign.

"Thank you."

There's a lengthy silence, as she takes some of the dishes into the kitchen. She leaves Walter's plate where it is. After tidying up, she sits again. "Where did you go to school, Alex?"

Chit chat. I haven't had to do this in a while. "Rice University."

"Hmm… Let me guess. You majored in… Computer Science?"

My lips twitch into a half smile. "Um, good guess. Linguistics." For some reason I decide to offer more information. "With a minor in Russian. Which was kind of a cheat since-"

Walter appears on the stairs, but stops on the bottom step to gaze at us in awe. He takes a breath and continues into the room, taking his seat next to me. His eyes flick to Sharon briefly before he puts an arm around my shoulders and kisses me.

I feel myself relaxing for the first time since I heard Sharon's voice. My hand grabs at his shirt as his tongue enters my mouth. The kiss is brief, but it feels… possessive.

He pulls back and I blink at him, feeling a little dazed. Smiling at me, he then turns to Sharon. "I'm sorry, Shar. I had to sign some warrants but the ones they faxed me were incomplete, so we had to redo everything. I apologize for abandoning you."

"It's okay, Walt. It gave me a perfect opportunity to interrogate poor Alex."

Walter eyes me uneasily. "I trust he behaved himself?"

I jump in, "No. I pulled my gun on her. But she offered me dinner if I promised not to shoot."

He looks a little… dismayed, but he and Sharon exchange a glance that seems to reassure him. "I apologize for that, too. I should have told Sharon you have a key and you that Sharon was coming. I don't invite anyone else over. You two might have to get used to each other."

Sharon's hand falls to Walter's, squeezing gently. "It's fine." She turns to me. "I'm used to guns. When we were married, Walter would draw his weapon and search the house if the doorknob was dusty."

I'm fairly certain I could detach that hand cleanly. I give Sharon a half smile. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I just wasn't expecting an unfamiliar voice."

Her hand shifts to mine, which she also squeezes. "It's impossible not to be scared when someone points a weapon at you, but I'm not upset about it."

I nod. I know Walter cares about her, so there's no way I'd harm, or let anything harm her, but she still makes me tense.

Looking at Walter, I feel my stomach flip a little. I think it's weird that I miss him so easily. "It's not your fault I came back early."

He shrugs and takes a bite of his cold dinner.

I look between them, then say, "I've been flying for over 24 hours, and I'm a little tired. So, I think I'll leave you to finish dinner in peace." I am tired but I'm really looking for an excuse to get out of this situation.

Walter kisses me again, murmuring, "I'll be up in a couple of hours."

I give a slight nod and rise from the table.

Sharon stands up and presses me into a hug. "I enjoyed seeing you again. Take care."

Awkwardly, I pat her upper back. I pull back and look at her. For some reason I feel the need to reassure her about my intentions. "I will keep my promise."

Walter eyes us suspiciously, but doesn't ask.

**

After watching Alex disappear up the stairs, Sharon raises an eyebrow at me. "You okay?"

"Am I okay? You're the one who was held at gunpoint."

"He put it away as soon as he realized who I was."

"But still, Shar, you had to be wondering... after what I told you." I want to reassure her that he would never hurt her, but I'm not 100% certain that I can. I can too easily imagine unlikely scenarios in which he would. I don't want to go there.

"I did wonder. And that's all, Walter Skinner."

I try to gracefully concede. I open my mouth to speak but she cuts me off. "And don't apologize again!"

"Okay," I reply, raising my hands in supplication. Then I add, "And I did not search the house because the doorknob was dusty."

She shakes her head at me, not believing it for a minute. "It's hard not to like him."

"I agree." I fold my napkin over my plate. "What did you and he talk about anyway?"

"We agreed that you're great in bed."

"Oh, lord. I should never have left you alone. This is some form of punishment." They might both think I'm a decent lover, but the two of them never had the same experience, because I could never fuck Sharon the way I fuck Alex. If I had, it wouldn't have taken her 17 years to throw me out.

"He's terribly jealous."

"Of who?"

"Me. The look he gave me when I held your hand was scarier than having his gun pointed at me."

It's hard to imagine Alex jealous. She's probably exaggerating or I would have noticed it.

"Walter, I'm terribly worried about you. I know you can't tell me what's going on in your life, but it's impossible not to be concerned."

"I know. I'm sorry." Shit. What can I say? But I don't want her to think I'm shutting her out again, even though I am. "I… Haven't I done better about telling you things? I'm trying to share what I can."

She winces. "Yes, you have done better. But I know the kind of risks your job entails and I don't like having to worry about getting a call from the Bureau."

"I understand. I regret your fear, but there's nothing I can do now. I'm trying to change things to improve the situation. Alex is helping me. And I even asked someone at work to help me. I'm doing everything I can."

She nods reluctantly. "It's hard to accept, but I'm trying."

"Thanks."

I manage to get her off that topic. We chat about her boyfriend and her work. And when she starts to yawn, I walk her out to her car. I give her a bear hug and wait for her car to start safely, before heading back into the apartment building.

After locking up and turning out the lights, I jog upstairs. Alex is sprawled on the bed, reading. Launching myself toward the bed, I land on top of him, peering over his shoulder at the book.

"Oof."

"Poetry."

He takes a breath, then arches his butt up to rub against my crotch. "'Absence lessens weak and increases violent passions, as wind extinguishes tapers and lights up a fire.'" Tossing the book away, he looks at me over his shoulder. "Hi, Walter… missed you."

I kiss the back of his neck. "You want me to leave you to your book?"

"Hell no." He wiggles underneath me. "Sorry I, uh, scared your wife."

"Ex-wife." Shifting slightly, I'm able to reach the side of his neck. Alex tips his head to make it easier. "And it's not your fault, so don't worry about it." I apply my teeth to his skin and gnaw gently.

Alex moans with pleasure. "Malaysia was hot and boring… I missed you." He rubs his butt against my crotch again.

Rolling onto my side, I tug his body along with me, so he's spooned in front. I brush my fingertips along his chest, then pull open his fly. Sliding my hand into the front of his jeans, I wrap my fingers around his cock. "I missed you, too."

He gasps and pushes his hips toward my hand. I find myself trying to imagine what it looked like with a foreskin. He reaches back to rub my hip and leg. "You're still dressed."

"I guess I have no foresight." I squeeze his cock, then release it. Sitting on the bed, I pull off my shirt and kick off my shoes.

Alex kneels behind me and kisses the nape of my neck, his hand rubbing my chest. His face isn't scratchy… he must have shaved while he waited for me. "I was a little obnoxious to your, uh, Sharon."

His remark captures the attention of the small part of my brain that's not focused on sex. "She didn't say anything about you being rude." My hand twitches over my fly. Are we talking or fucking?

Alex brushes my hand away, then yanks at the buttons. Lips pressed against the skin of my shoulder, he murmurs, "Mm hm. She's very… nice."

This is getting a little weird. Talking about Sharon while getting ready to fuck. Maybe he's finished? I ease my butt off the mattress to peel off my briefs and jeans. Turning around to face him, I sit cross-legged. His chest looks good. Just a few tiny marks from the stitches and a long soft scar. The bite mark gone.

From the look on his face, I can tell there's something on his mind besides sex. His expression is a bit aggravated. He moves closer, his legs forming a V around me.

His voice is low as he says, "It's none of my business, but when I arrived, I thought you two were still fucking."

"Oh." I rest a hand on each of his knees. Maybe he was jealous. "We're not."

"I know. She told me."

"Okay, so what's bothering you?"

"I was surprised by how much I didn't like the idea. I'm not sure what to make of that. Obviously, you can fuck whomever you want. So I'm a little confused by the conflicting feelings." His expression indicates frustration, but not confusion.

I fight a smile. So Alex is getting possessive? I've always curbed my own possessiveness figuring it was obnoxious. But it doesn't feel half bad. Reaching for his head, I comb through his hair with my fingers. "Are you fucking anyone else?" If he wants to know about me, he's going to have to ask.

Despite my fingers in his hair, he looks at me intently for a long time, then replies, "No. I'm not."

"Good." I lean forward and kiss him. There's nothing unusual about the kiss, but it's suddenly apparent how much our kisses are about my possessiveness. The way he offers up his mouth to me and the way I take it… It overheats my blood.

There's a moan from deep in his throat, as our tongues tangle in his mouth. Breaking away from his lips, I kiss along the side of his face.

"That wasn't what I was expecting you to say," he says absently.

"Good?"

"Yes."

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know. I didn't think it would matter."

It does. It's not fair, reasonable or sensible, just something I feel. My lips brush across his eyebrows.

Alex pulls his head back to look at me. His expression is more relaxed. "I don't know why, but," he reaches up to touch my face, then stroke down my throat to my chest, "I don't like the idea of anyone else touching you. I know it's not realistic." He shrugs. "I… It doesn't mean…" He trails off looking flustered.

I wrap my fingers around his hand and hold it to my chest. "If you have something you want to tell me, you can just say it." We've both already made it clear what we want, but neither of us has made any promises. I'd take his in an instant, but offering my own seems… more difficult. I have so little freedom right now that I resist giving away any.

He frowns. "I did say it. I'm not trying to change you… anything… whatever. I just felt weird, so I told you." He hesitates, then continues, "I don't usually… think about how many people I'm fucking." He now looks uncomfortable and pulls his hand away. "But I don't… haven't fucked anyone else when… oh, fuck it." He flops back on the bed. "I hate this."

So he's not fucking around. And neither am I, although I haven't told him that. He didn't ask.

Rising on my hands and knees, I lean over his body and kiss him. "Then let's do something you enjoy." Ineffectually, I tug at his jeans. "Make these go away," I mutter into his ear.

Alex whispers, "In a minute." He tugs at my arm. "Move up the bed."

I shift my weight forward until my sternum is over his face. He lifts his head and sucks one of my nipples into his mouth, rolling it on his tongue. Then he switches to the other. Unmoving, I enjoy the sensation of his warm, wet tongue. He's mine and--for now--only mine. When he's gone, I don't have to wonder whose cock he's sucking.

A moment later, he nudges me to move forward again. I shift across his body slowly. His tongue draws a path down my abdomen. When he can reach my cock, he immediately deep throats me. With a shuddering groan, I begin fucking his mouth. I love being inside him. My cock feels like it belongs in his body.

His moan vibrates through my dick as it slides in and out of his throat. He can't control it like this. Whatever I give him he has to take. I keep the pace moderate so he can breathe.

When I slow for a moment, Alex pulls his head away from my dick. With a groan, his mouth moves along the inside of one thigh, sucking and nibbling a path to my balls. He pulls them, one at a time, into his mouth, tonguing them with firm pressure, then sucking gently. His lips and tongue retreat down my other thigh. I feel a path of heat in the wake of his mouth.

Alex's hand glides up my leg and over my ass. He scoots further down and pulls at my hip, changing the angle until I feel his tongue flick across my anus. Light teasing strokes of his tongue interspersed with firmer pressure… creating the most intense pleasure. God, if he could only do that and suck me at the same time.

His teeth lightly nip my ass cheek, and I hear a softly murmured, "I've never done this to anyone else." Then he slowly presses his tongue into me.

Ah, fuck. So this is only mine, too…

I shift my hips backward, pressing my ass at his tongue. He grabs my hip as he slides his tongue in my ass. My throbbing cocks needs attention… needs his mouth, but I can't bring myself to demand it because the tingling sensation of his tongue is so damned good. "Do it," I mutter, "Lick my ass."

His tongue moves frantically over my asshole, hand clutching at my flesh.

I let him stay there as long as I can stand it, until I'm making breathless half sobs and my balls ache. Pulling my hips out of his reach, I choke out, "Suck me, dammit."

Alex wiggles up and lifts his head, running his tongue along the underside of my cock. He quickly takes me all the way down, then backs off to suck the head.

Dropping his head against the mattress, he tugs at my hip. "Lower." He moans, still pulling at my hip. "Fuck my face."

I'm only too happy to oblige. Shifting my weight lower, I push my cock at his open mouth. He deep throats me again. My hips take over the movement, forcing my erection into his mouth at a rapid pace. The grip of his lips and throat on my cock creates a liquid pleasure suffusing in my groin that seems to fill my entire body.

I fuck him harder, with more abandon than I've ever fucked anyone in this vulnerable position. My mouth opens but only meaningless sounds come out. I want to tell him how good it is but my brain is no longer forming words.

There's a keening sound coming from Alex, but it's soon lost in the sound of my yell. I seem to lose conscious control of my body, but my hips keep thrusting as I fill his throat with my cum. The orgasm is shattering… taking me apart, reducing me to a shaking lump of flesh.

I collapse onto my forearms above Alex's head, my last remaining brain cell keeping my hips high enough, so my poor lover can attempt to breathe.

**

My lungs burn. I reluctantly release Walter's cock and turn my head to the side, gasping for air. My throat aches, my neck is sore… and I'm so hard my jeans are torture.

I run my fingers along the inside of his thigh as I attempt to get my breathing under control. God, I've wanted him to do something like that… wasn't sure I'd enjoy it, though. Now there's no question. I love sucking him… tasting him… feeling his skin. The harder it became to breathe, the more I felt like I was floating.

I take his cock back into my mouth, licking and gently sucking.

"Ungh…" Walter grunts.

As the oxygen begins to flow, my body starts to tingle. I'm so turned on, I don't think I can move without combusting.

With a weak groan, Walter slides down my body. When his eyes meet mine, he's blinking as if trying to figure out where he is. "Thank you, Alex," he mumbles.

I lean up and kiss along his jaw. "Mm hm."

Shifting his weight to my side, he props himself on one arm and kisses me. His tongue languidly explores the interiors of my mouth, as his other hand roams my chest.

I moan into his mouth, arching into his touch. My balls ache and my jeans feel like they're cutting off the blood supply to my dick.

Walter ends the kiss and gazes down at me, his expression a little more lucid. "I appreciate the amount of trust that took."

His words penetrate my lust fog. I stare at him for a second, then softly murmur, "Only for you…" I clamp my mouth shut. I probably should stop making it quite so obvious that I belong to him.

My words seem to make his eyelids grow heavy. He stares at me with an intensity that's almost frightening. After a long silence, he brushes his fingers across my trapped erection. "You need to come…"

"Yes. Soon."

He eases off me and stands a bit shakily at the side of the bed, before extending a hand to me. Perplexed, I let him pull me up.

He reaches for my jeans and begins sliding them down my hips. When I try to help, he bats my hand away. When the jeans are at my feet, he gestures for me to step out of them. Then he wraps an arm around my waist and speaks softly into my ear. "Do you know how much I enjoy just looking at you?"

Is that a rhetorical question? I turn my head to rub my lips on his cheek, feeling the scratchy evening beard. "If it's half as much as I like looking at you, it must be quite a thrill."

Walter shakes his head slightly, as if to disagree. Releasing his hold on me, he moves to face me. "You're so beautiful when you're like this. Your expression is so sexy. It wants to be relaxed but there's an edge because you really need to come."

Heat rushes to my face. I don't have any idea what to say. The way he looks at me is one of the hottest things I've ever experienced, but when he says things like that… I wonder who he sees.

Walter raises a hand to my face. His fingers trace gently along my eyebrows. "Your eyes are exquisite, the color arresting and seductive." Brushing the pad of his thumb across each of my cheeks, he continues, "Your cheekbones are round and a little delicate. The curve of your upper lip," he says tracing it with his fingers, "and the plump lower lip inspire every kiss." He leans forward as if to kiss me, but stops himself.

I stare at him, transfixed by shock, embarrassment and arousal. My face feels like it's going to burn off, but I cannot turn away from his stare. This is torture. My hand makes an aborted movement, not sure what to reach for.

His hands find my shoulders. "Your shoulders are strong, and broad, making you look powerful." His baritone voice is soothing, almost hypnotic. My body gives a shiver of appreciation, but I feel paralyzed.

Fingers moving down, he traces circles around my nipples. "Your chest is smooth, lean but muscular and very masculine."

I can't breathe. I want to tell him to stop looking at me like this. But another part of me wants to beg him to never stop. A tremor of fear passes through me. I need him too much.

He encircles my waist, reaching behind to cup my ass. "I dream about your plump round ass… and everything I want to do to it. I want… need to touch it." He squeezes my cheeks then runs a finger down my crack.

Fuck. I feel like I'm going to disintegrate. I desperately follow his touch, now gasping for air.

"Your long, long legs… so lean and strong." This time his fingers slide down the insides of my thighs. I can't stop myself from opening my legs a little wider. "The sensual curve of your calves. Your body is pure art, Alex."

My desperate cock is leaking. He's carefully not touched it… Almost more torturous than his words. I shake with need.

Reaching between my legs, he teases my inner thighs again. Then carefully, without touching my cock, he cups my balls. "You're so turned on," he continues at precisely the same metered pace, "you're desperate to come. The touch of my hand on your cock will bring you off."

My gaze is fixed on him, my breath coming in uneven gasps. I open my mouth and manage to get out, "Yes… Please, Walter."

His eyes darken, fixed on mine. His hand squeezes and caresses my balls. "Your cock is beautiful, too. Long and thick with a perfectly shaped head. The skin feels like satin." He's still not touching it. "It's so hard right now, you could almost come with just my hand on your balls."

I whimper and nod vigorously. My hand reaches out for support, finding his shoulder.

"When I touch it, you will come." He slowly releases my balls. The intensity of his gaze feels like it burns through me. The hand that moves to my cock seems to be going in slow motion. My body trembles, painfully on edge. I can barely hear anything over the pounding of blood in my ears. He gets close without touching, then in one brief movement, circles his fingers around my shaft.

Instantly, my body is consumed by the rush of sexual pleasure. "Walt…"

**

My beautiful lover appears to be imploding. I support his body with a hand at his waist. When he starts to fall, I scoop him into my arms. I want to just hold him like this and feel him trembling in my arms, but I don't think he's conscious.

Laying him on the bed, I examine him. He appears unharmed, but his eyes are closed. His chest and face are flushed, breathing still rapid. I stroke his cheek waiting for him to come back. He looks so very beautiful… there's a hint of fragility about his appearance that makes me ache.

"Alex, are you with me?"

I sit on the bed next to him, stroking his face gently.

I feel oddly peaceful. What I told him embarrassed him, I'm sure, but I needed to say it. Let him try to understand what I see.

Not a beautiful man myself, I've always been drawn to beauty. And I've been fortunate in my life to find many attractive lovers. Alex is attracted to me for reasons I'll never completely understand. And he means more to me than his beauty, but I'm moved by how he looks… and the interplay of who he is and how he looks.

"Alex, come back."

A minute seems like a long time, but he's stirring a bit. He moans and turns toward the hand at his face.

"Alex?"

His eyes flick open and he looks at me. Then he glances around. A look of disorientation crosses his features. "What… how did we get in bed?"

"What's the last thing you remember?"

He blushes and mumbles, "You finally touched my dick."

I am such a bastard. The self knowledge only makes me smile. "You came and passed out."

Alex looks shocked and a little appalled. He lifts his hand, then lets it flop back onto the bed. "I feel like… Jell-O."

"I've never passed out during sex. Does it, uh, make it less satisfying?"

"Me either." He frowns in concentration. "No, it's not less satisfying. Different. There was an extreme rush of sensation, then I woke up on the bed."

I ruffle his hair.

He levers himself up to kiss me lightly. "That was… intense. Thank you." He rolls onto his side, stroking my chest. Softly, he asks, "Did you like fucking me that way?"

My lips quirk into a grin. "You know I did." I pull him forward into my arms. I am such a fucking bastard. I have to wonder why he puts up with it… but I think I know the answer.

His lips trail up the side of my neck. "I liked it, too." He nips at my earlobe. "But you owe me a neck rub in the morning."

"Mm hm."


Sunday, 9 May 1999
8:01 A.M.


Alex has been gone for about a week. I avoided jacking off for a few days, then did it furiously three times in one night. Remembering how he let me control him. How I brought him to the edge of orgasm with my voice.

I remember, during our first affair, standing with Alex's body in front of mine at the mirror. Touching him and thinking how beautiful he was, but being afraid to tell him what I saw. And now that I've said it, he has power over me, too. A glimpse of how deeply I want him…

It's hard to let him have that much of me.

This week my condo has seemed so… quiet.

Not so, the office. Mulder and Scully were almost digested alive by a field of hallucinogenic mushrooms. It's amazing they don't pack it in and go work at a soybean farm or something similarly sedate.

Scully left me a note on Thursday that Dr. Lavagetto thinks our project is a hoax. He didn't buy the photos or Alex's report. If it weren't for her persuasive powers, he would have dropped us already. As it stands, he's agreed to--for a less-than-modest fee--let us try to prove it to him. We made plans to convince him. I wish I had some way to reach Alex. I don't like doing this without warning him.

I tie my tennis shoes, grab my gym bag and head out. Making a few unnecessary stops allows me to assess whether or not I'm being followed. There's hardly anyone on the street and by cutting through a few alleys I make it nearly impossible to follow me by car.

After hailing a cab, I direct the driver to a parking garage in Arlington. The car Dana left for me is right where she said it would be. I adjust the seat of the Bu-car and make my way to the expressway.

Taking a route with a few rapid turnarounds, I make my way up the highway toward Philadelphia. A couple hours later I reach my destination--Penn State University--and make my way to the science building. There are a few overeager students in the building, but when I get to the basement, there's no one. The lab is at the end of the hall. I tap on the door and Scully lets me in, locking the door behind me. She looks none the worse for wear following her fungus encounter. Tough woman.

Seated on a lab bench is a petite blonde man in a mint green polo shirt and khakis. I recognize him from the video, though he's smaller than I expected. He rises and extends a hand. "Hank Erwin, I presume?"

Nodding, I shake his hand. It's very small, but his grip is firm. "It's not my real name, but it's the one you can use."

"While this meeting is most curiously laced with intrigue," he tilts his head inquisitively, "it's my preference to conclude this expeditiously. I have legitimate matters that require my attention."

For a moment, and recalling what we're paying him, I find myself wanting to smack the little bastard, but I remind myself he's got every reason to question what he read in that document of Alex's. I take a deep breath. "Did you read the entire report?"

"That lengthy bit of Science Fiction? Yes, I reviewed it. With a little better characterization, I think you have a promising future in fiction." He frowns. "Although I found your sense of humor to be somewhat grotesque. If one wanted to be reminded of Nazi-esque atrocities, there is plenty of non-fiction to be had."

I meet his eyes with a hard stare. "Dr. Lavagetto, we brought proof. Save your energy. Save your sanctimonious speeches for someone else."

"Very well then, Mr. Erwin, let us examine your compelling evidence."

Scully comes at me with a syringe, but I gesture to the skeptical doctor. "Let him do it."

"I take it, then that you're claiming to be infected yourself?"

"Yes."

He raises an eyebrow, but looks decidedly unimpressed. I think he's sizing me up to determine which mental illness I'm a sample of.

Lavagetto draws my blood proficiently, if not gently, leaving the catheter in my arm. Then he and Scully hover over the scanning electron microscope. I hear him mutter, "There's definitely some sort of debris." He looks up at me. "But otherwise your blood is quite unremarkable."

I take the control pad out of my gym bag. I hate even touching it. "Dana, did you test the room's shielding?"

"I did, sir. The signal will be unable to leave this room." She steps to a nearby lab bench, with some equipment on it. "I'm going to record the signals, so we can analyze them."

"Thank you." I turn on the control unit. "Dr. Lavagetto, I think you should watch over my shoulder." And I'll kill you if you try to touch the pad. I sit at the workbench. Working from a note I made from Alex's document, I enter a series of commands.

The good doctor starts to open his mouth, but seeing the petulant expression on his face, I shut him up with a glare. Once I turn them on, I feel nothing. The instant I start to conclude it's not working, I feel lightheaded and my vision starts to go. It's working.

I turn it up to a mild level, not wanting to experience this, but wanting a good test.

"We'll wait ten minutes, then you can take my blood again."

He nods, but his eyes narrow, taking in my symptoms, which he obviously thinks I'm faking. Then he goes over to the other end of the bench to check out Scully's equipment. "Your little toy is definitely emitting RF, in the ULF to VLF range, not that it ratifies your preposterous assertions."

My eyes flick to my watch. He's digging himself in deeper. The real test of the man's character will be how he responds to being proved wrong.

After ten minutes, I call time and Lavagetto draws my blood again. When he loads the sample into the microscope, I turn off the control pad. Scully and I each take a position on either side of him. We both want to see the prick's face.

"Holy shit," he mutters. Looking a bit testy, he withdraws the sample and prepares another slide.

Dana and I exchange a glance.

Lavagetto stares into the viewer for a long time. Finally, he says, "When may I begin assembling my research assistants? Also, how parsimonious must we be in our expenditures?"

It's some sort of admission of his error. I don't say a word until he looks me in the eye. Then I say only, "We'll talk about that shortly."

He seems to come back to the present. "I do not want to cause you unnecessary symptomology. Perhaps you should deactivate your device."

"I already did."

I can see him processing the information. "I would like to take another blood specimen."

"All right." I extend my arm and he taps into the catheter again.

He examines the new sample, then puts the second sample back under the microscope. "This is very interesting. Your third blood sample has no activity. But the second is still active."

Lavagetto, with a slightly humbler personality, spends a couple of hours with Scully examining my blood, reviewing Alex's document and discussing the medical mystery. Lavagetto's voice takes on a cautiously eager tone.

I look in the viewer myself. There are a lot of tiny vibrating objects, but Scully has to tell me which ones are the nanos. Maybe my washing out of organic chemistry was a bad thing.

I activate the nanos again so the doctor can examine me during an episode. It's not pleasant, but it's a far cry from the full vascular crisis. It doesn't bother me to have him touching me… he's efficient. He doesn't waste action in any of his simple movements. It's a good trait.

Scully brought my full medical records--doctored to remove my name--for them to pour over. I should be bored to point of stupor, but I watch his every movement, judge every word. He seems to respect Scully's intelligence… a good sign for someone of his lofty IQ.

His clothing is immaculate. Each leg of the khakis has a perfect crease. No smudges on his white Nikes. Every hair in place, except for a little piece that turns up in the back. His blonde is a dye job.

He demands spinal fluid and cheek cells. I don't know what's so important about my cheek, but I let him swab it. He gives me a kit to use on the other infectee. Scully tells him there's a third known subject, but that he's refused to work with us. I mention that the man has the financial resources to do this himself. Both Scully and Lavagetto agree to keep their eyes out for anyone in the research community involved in anything like what we're doing.

I don't want to be here forever, but it seems important to let the doctor's mind work through this. He reminds me of Mulder in his extreme focus.

"Mr. Erwin, what additional data can you provide regarding the virus the other subject was exposed to?"

"Dana, I'll leave that in your capable hands."

She narrows her eyes at me briefly, then sits the good doctor down and tells him everything she knows about the virus, except it's purported origin. He listens carefully, but there's something happening in his expression.

"Dana, if I am to produce a remedy for this…" he uncharacteristically falters for a word, "…malady, you must be completely forthcoming. Otherwise you may face unforeseeable consequences."

I intercede. "Dr. Lavagetto, you're not going to believe what we have to tell you. I don't think I believe it myself. And we can't prove it, but I'll tell you, though I recommend you do not pass this on to the rest of the team. We've been told the virus is from an alien life form."

He looks extremely skeptical, but only replies, "Well, then, I shall take extraordinary care in examining this other subject's DNA."

I walk to his bench, so I am only a few inches from his face. "As I said, I don't believe it either. But I want you to know I don't make jokes when my life is at stake. Everything I've presented to you--every piece of information I will ever give you--is the truth to the fullest extent I know it."

"I understand the gravity of this situation. However, I would be remiss as a scientist if I did not question and validate every piece of information."

I turn to Scully. "Dana, I need to spend some time alone with Dr. Lavagetto."

She nods. I'd warned her I wanted to do this.

"Dr. Lavagetto, if you have any more medical questions, please ask them now."

Scully sits next to the doctor. "I'll be available as a resource as often as you need me." They discuss Alex's infection and tests. I allow myself to tune them out for a while.

Eventually, she packs up some of the equipment and gives him a disk. The RF data. She keeps a copy for herself.

I follow her into the hall. "What do you think?"

"He's asking the right questions, seemed sort of willing to admit he was wrong," she shrugs. "My only concern is if his ego gets in the way of finding an 'expeditious resolution.'"

"He's definitely got more ego than body weight." I scan the concrete wall, thinking. "Did you talk to any of his former team members yourself?"

"What he said on the tape was correct. The recruiter spoke to seven of his former associates… not names from the list he provided. All of them would work with him again. Only one said she liked him. They admire his genius. I spoke to a cardiologist who worked with him. He said Lavagetto was able to extrapolate from a few quick tests to projected results saving the team years of research."

My mind is made up. "Thank you for all your help, Scully."

Back inside the lab, I find Lavagetto making some notes on a pad. "We shall have to construct a shielded lab. Smaller than this one would suffice."

I nod. "Doctor, there are a few more things."

"Let's dispense with the formalities. Why don't you call me Russ and I'll call you Hank?" He gestures at me to continue.

"Okay, Russ. You answered an ethics question during the interview that you probably thought was hypothetical. I'm going to ask that question again. If you find a way to rid us of these nanomachines, are you willing to skip the legal requirements for human trials and implement the remedy without even committee review?"

He gives me a complacent look. "There were no legal requirements for you to be infected, so I do not have an ethical conflict with disregarding them to cure you. Nevertheless, it will make it necessary to perform any procedures outside of the country. Preferably a country with little or no medical licensing enforcement, probably Mexico. Although I would like to clarify one matter. I do have ethical objections to the manner by which this technology was prototyped on subject zero. I will not consent to this method of research to save your hide."

He's the man. "Dr. Lavagetto, we are in complete agreement regarding the Nazi-esque methods that were used on… subject zero. I will not permit him to be harmed in any way. He's… important to me. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Hank, I understand. That's copasetic."

Good. Because I will kill you myself if you cross me on this.

I continue, "The extreme security measures we've used so far will continue to be necessary. I need your reassurance that you're not going to find them cumbersome and brush them off to avoid the bother. Lives are at stake. More than my own and subject zero's. The most likely consequence of discovery of this work is our deaths, followed by the deaths of your research team." I hope to god I don't scare him off, but he needs to appreciate the severity of the consequences.

Lavagetto makes a try for patience. "I am operating on the assumption that there is a malevolent purpose behind torturing people in this fashion. In addition, the amount of funding necessary to develop this technology implies powerful investors. I will not take security precautions lightly."

He's got balls. Good. He's going to need them. "I will do everything in my power to protect you. And that means more than it sounds like. I hold an executive position in an agency with resources." I can't say any more than that. "And I understand security matters, a hell of a lot better than I understand nanocytes."

"Then we have some details to discuss."

I review the required precautions in great detail. He takes a few notes, but I get the feeling he doesn't need them. He's paying attention. I show him the controller. "This is what requires the most caution. If you turn this on outside of an area that shields RF, people will die." I don't bother to point out that it will probably only be Alex. I've decided to put my life in this man's hands, but I don't give up Alex's as easily. "For that reason, I'm not giving you this today. I'll send it along when you can no longer function without it, but not before."

His expression suggests that he wants to object, but he reads mine carefully and says only, "Yes, sir."

Good. He can figure out when I'm not going to bend and deal with it.

"I also require you to keep Dana isolated from any procedures with ethical problems. After she approves your team, you are the only one who will have access to her."

"Agreed. I would not want Dana to suffer repercussions."

I think he likes her.

We move to communications. He'll purchase a public email account with a cash deposit, paid up for two years. I supply a password. We'll both log on to the account and communicate through encrypted unsent emails. He will report to me at least weekly, and I will check the email at least twice a week.

Next we discuss the money. I give him an initial budget of $3 million for the project, hinting that I might be able to get more. I want him to ask if he needs something, but better to hold the reins tight at first. He'll open an account in the Cayman Islands and I'll wire the money per a spending schedule, which is to be agreed upon.

"If you'll agree not to nickel-and-dime me on every expenditure," Russ offers, "I'll waive my compensation--as you must know, I don't need the money--and I'll enlist the rest of the team on modest salaries."

"Agreed." I take a deep breath. There's only one thing left. "There's something lurking under the surface in our conversation that I'd like to discuss openly. As we both know, my life and the life of… subject zero will be in your hands. I think it's also clear that I will hold your medical license in my hands."

He raises an eyebrow, but doesn't look surprised.

"I'm not going to lie to you, cheat, interfere or attempt to use you for anything besides the research we've discussed. I don't want any surprises from you either. Let's start right now saying what we mean and not holding hidden agendas."

Lavagetto replies, "Then I want to clarify that my interest in this technology will not end with curing you. That is, of necessity, the exigent priority, but I expect to be able to continue the research. Specifically, isolating the reported cellular regeneration attribute."

"Although I will not be able to fund that research, there's no question someone else will. As long as our relationship continues to be candid and direct, you will have my full support in continuing the work. I know people in Congress, so that support could be substantial."

"We will discuss those eventualities after I cure you."

Cocky bastard. That's just what I wanted to hear.

I extend my hand, and he shakes it. This time it isn't a mere formality.

**

Tunis, Tunisia
Tuesday, 18 May 1999
2:17 A.M.


Even in the middle of the night, it's scorchingly hot here. After throwing off all my clothes and my prosthetic, I sprawl on the microscopic bed trying to keep my limbs from touching each other.

This has been a miserable assignment. With the Consortium supposedly wiped out, there should no longer be activity in Tunisia, but the Resistance received word that efforts are not entirely halted. I was sent to find out what they're doing. And, if possible, why they're doing it.

Impulsively, I reach for the phone. It's a little after 9:00 in D.C., Walter should be home by now. Being in another country for weeks at a time has never bothered me before, but I've been restless this trip. Thinking about him frequently and wanting to get back.

After a long connection delay, the phone rings. I took my usual paranoid precautions and it's extremely unlikely that anyone is monitoring this phone. I allow the phone to ring more times than usual, in case it takes Walter longer to get the satellite phone out of his desk.

After the seventh ring, the phone sounds like it's answered but there's no greeting. I consider that for a moment, wondering if Walter's just being careful.

I softly ask, "Are you being cautious?"

"Yeah. It's me."

"Are you available to talk?"

"Yeah. Is this business?"

"No. Just, uh, thinking about you."

"Good." Suddenly, he sounds less tense. "Are you coming home soon?"

Home. What a strange concept. But it feels right. If where you want to be is home, then I guess that's with Walter. "A couple more days of trying not to kill people, then I'll be back." I can hear the faintly disgusted tone in my voice. This trip has been unusually difficult as I've been avoiding situations where I'd normally shoot first and ask questions later.

I can almost hear Walter's grimace, but there's the barest hint of levity in his voice, as he says, "I guess it'll get easier with practice."

"Yeah." My tone is skeptical. "I'm really not liking this, but I'll manage. It certainly makes the day more difficult." I decide to change the subject. Talking about how much I hate thinking about morality is probably not an ideal conversation. "I'd say I wish you were here, but it's miserably hot. I'd much rather be there… trying to seduce you into a repeat of that memorable face fucking."

"Mmm. That was good--very good--but the second part of that encounter was more memorable I think."

"I… uh, yeah," I stutter. My face gets hot… as it does every time I think about that. I realize my dick is hard. Probably has been since I first heard his voice.

Walter chuckles softly into the phone. "I've been wearing out my right hand on that memory."

"Don't torment me. The image of you beating off will keep me up the rest of the night."

"Are you in the States, or somewhere else?"

"Africa. Let's see… it's almost 2:30 and it's still over 100 degrees."

"I've never been to Africa."

We discuss random things for several minutes before hanging up. I feel better just having heard his voice. It makes the next few days seem more bearable.

A couple hours later, I'm still fitfully trying to sleep, when there's a pounding at the door. Gun in hand, I answer it. My informant carefully averts his eyes as I begin to dress. Something is going on at the old Consortium facility. I wonder if I'll make it through the rest of this trip without killing someone.

And the bigger question, if I cannot keep my promise, do I tell Walter?


Crystal City, VA
Thursday, 20 May 1999
11:48 P.M.


After 14 flights of stairs, my physical fatigue starts to catch up with me. But I'm motivated to get to the top, so I don't even slow down.

I open Walter's door carefully, I don't want to scare him into thinking he has an intruder. After waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark, I quietly head upstairs.

Stepping into the bedroom, I see a glint of moonlight on metal and Walter's shape seated on the bed.

Smiling, I offer, "I must be losing my touch if you heard me."

He flicks on the safety and puts the gun in the drawer. The light on the bedside table flashes on. His eyes scan me from head to toe. "You look tired. Come to bed."

I shrug out of my clothes and slide in next to him, my hand immediately reaching out to touch him. He wraps his hands around my waist and pulls me onto his chest.

My tension drains almost instantly. I so desperately need to touch him… be touched by him. "Hi, Walter."

"Hi." He kisses the top of my head, then massages my scalp with his fingers.

I shift my head so our lips are in contact, mumbling, "Kiss me before you make me a stupid blob."

Walter's mouth closes over mine. His tongue reestablishes its territory in my mouth, then withdraws, encouraging me to explore his mouth.

I take my time, relearning his texture and taste. I've missed this. More than I should. Pulling back, I look at him intently for a long time. "I think I'll kidnap you and take you with me the next time I have to spend three weeks in Tunisia."

"Okay," he replies in a flip tone. His fingers descend into my hair again.

Within a few seconds, I'm certain I have no functioning brain cells. I moan in appreciation and satisfaction.

Walter reaches over with one hand and switches off the light. Then he continues the assault on my hair.

Feeling myself falling asleep, I slip off his body to lie wrapped around him.

Out of the blue, I ask, "Do you have any children?" God, where did that come from? And why now?

"Hmm?"

"Kids. Short needy people." On a slightly sarcastic note, I add, "The biological evidence of your masculine potency." I read that in some cheesy magazine on the flight. It made me chuckle.

"Uh-uh," he replies in a sleepy voice. "I guess I never proved my potency. I'll worry about it in the morning."

Random lurid thoughts float through my head, but I cannot seem to hold onto them. "Any other family?"

"My sister has a husband and two kids. My dad is still alive, but my mother died about ten years ago."

"Okay. I…" I'm so tired I cannot focus. "I'm going to slee..."


Friday, 21 May 1999
6:52 A.M.


My eyes pop open, and immediately I know that Walter isn't in the room. Fucking work days.

I'm so tired, I just want to sleep, but I roll over and grab Walter's pillow, breathing in his scent. God, I've missed him.

A noise from downstairs captures my attention. He's still here. A surge of anticipation gets me out of bed and down the stairs.

The whir of the blender tells me Walter is making his slime beverage. Just as I reach him, lips primed for a kiss, the phone rings. He brushes his lips across my forward, then steps into the living room to take the call.

I locate a granola bar and the peanut butter. Some strange urge prompts me to put a few spoonfuls of the peanut butter in the blender. I switch it on briefly, then pour the results into a glass. It looks… more slimy than usual.

When Walter returns to the kitchen, I'm sitting at the breakfast table. He bends down for a serious good morning kiss. "Morning, Alex."

"Mm hm," I murmur.

He sits across from me and takes a drink, reaching for the newspaper. Then he stops and moves his tongue along the roof of his mouth, looking like a Saint Bernard eating peanut butter.

Once I start laughing, he figures it out.


Saturday, 22 May 1999
1:32 A.M.


A sound from downstairs wakes me abruptly. I reach for my gun, listening. The sounds are distinctly Walter--putting his gun in the drawer, the sound of his keys jangling as he slides them back into his pocket. I relax.

His voice carries from the bottom of the stairs. "It's me. I'll be up in a couple minutes." Something in the tone of his voice signals an alarm, but I'm too sleepy to process it.

I call out a vague affirmative and flip on his bedside lamp so he can see. I lie back down wondering what hell was going on at the Bureau today. It was a long day for me, checking in, getting new assignments, but it was much longer for Walter.

A few minutes pass and I feel myself drifting back to sleep when I feel him on the stairs.

He enters the bedroom looking strung out. He tosses his jacket on the dresser instead of hanging it up.

"Tough day?" I ask.

Walter kisses me absently on the forehead, then sits in the chair. "Hostage situation. Bar full of elderly winos. And the only person killed was the bartender… a 21-year-old music prodigy working her way through school."

His tone is dull and lifeless, but there's something in the way he talked about the bartender that leads me to believe there's something horrifying about her death. Not sure what it is, I only reply, "Did you have to be on scene the entire time?"

"The HRT was in Phoenix, so one of my teams responded. The agent in charge fucked up the negotiations, the perp started firing and I had to order an assault."

And somehow Walter feels responsible. I may never understand the mystery of his morality fetish. However, now doesn't seem like a good time to ask.

I slide out of bed and kneel next to his chair. I can see the tension in his body and catch a whiff of alcohol on his breath. Lightly stroking his thigh, I say, "Sorry you had a rough day. Do you…" I trail off not quite certain what I'm trying to ask. I consider it for a brief second. "Do you, uh, need anything?"

He says nothing, but gazes at me assessingly for a long time. Something in the rigid anger of his expression shifts. He rises, moving around me, and goes to the bedside table. Retrieving a bottle of lube, he tosses it at me, eyes fixed on my face, watching my reaction.

I hold the bottle for a moment, trying to catch up. It wouldn't matter what he needed, I'd try to do it, but this is easy for me.

I lie in the middle of the bed, face down. While spreading my legs, I ask, "Do you want me to get myself ready?"

"Yeah," he says in a harsh baritone, as he begins to shed his clothing.

I watch him for a moment. Pouring the lube into my own hand is a little awkward, but I manage. Sliding my fingers along my crack, I begin to distribute the lube. Keeping my eyes on him, I start with two fingers. I gasp at the acute sensation. I haven't been fucked in three weeks, and my ass knows it. But I'm turned on. More than I would expect. Just the thought of Walter needing to fuck me makes my dick hard.

Once he's naked, he stands watching me impassively. His cock is fully hard. His expression nearly gives me pause… his eyes are narrowed and I've only seen a look like that when he's unhappy with me.

I continue to work the two fingers in my ass, focusing on stretching to get to three. His cold demeanor is making this harder than I expected. It's clear to me I'd let him fuck me under any circumstances, but this feels almost painful for some reason.

Sliding in the third finger, I cannot stop a brief moan. The sensations are so sharply pleasurable, it's difficult to focus on anything but my sudden need to rub my dick against the sheets.

My neck is starting to ache from twisting it to look at him. He's unmoving and nearly expressionless, but his breathing has accelerated. I continue to fuck myself on three fingers, watching Walter, waiting--hoping--for some reaction.

"Kneel on the bed. Brace yourself on the headboard." From his tone, there's no doubt that was an order.

Brace myself on the headboard? I try to visualize this and fail. Assuming he doesn't mean for me to keep my fingers in my ass, I withdraw them, roll to my knees and crawl forward. I yank off a pillowcase and wipe away the excess lube.

I'm unable to look at him now and feel slightly nervous. But it doesn't diminish my arousal.

I grip the headboard and lean forward. Pushing my hips back, I separate my knees far apart. It takes a moment to get my balance and figure out how to maintain the position.

I feel his weight on the bed and then his heat close to my body. He wraps his body around mine and suddenly his cock is up my ass.

The sound of my startled and pained cry fills the room. My grip on the headboard is white-knuckled. Conflicting sensations--pain and pleasure--flood my body.

The weight of his chest pressing against my back forces me to struggle to keep from collapsing. Without a warm-up, he fucks me vigorously. Besides the rasp of his breathing, he makes very little sound.

He takes me with brutal force. I now know that he's always held back before… except maybe that time he fucked me at the front door. When he was angry. I realize he's angry now, too.

No longer struggling to hold on, I use all the strength in my arm to push back, trying to keep from colliding with the headboard or wall.

His usual concern for my well-being is missing. He has to be angry with me. My body doesn't seem to care, and I spread my legs a little wider, dropping my head. I feel too vulnerable. The conflicting sensations in my body are a twisted parody of my conflicting emotions. I want him--in any way I can have him--but this fuck feels like it's ripping me… us apart. It feels almost as if he's punishing me. For something… anything. Maybe everything.

My ass feels raw. Pain creeps up as the dominant sensation. My shoulder and arm ache from the struggle to maintain this position as he continues to pound into me. When I realize I'm so lost in my desire for him that I'd let him hurt my arm, I quietly choke, trying to hold back something… trying not to let him tear down defenses I desperately need.

With a feral growl, he begins to come. His cock pulses inside me and I feel the warmth of his semen. His agonized moans make me think he's ripping himself apart, too.

As his body begins to relax, he wraps his arm around my waist and supports my weight. Shifting his weight back, his other hand gropes for my cock.

I don't even want to come, but my body is tamed to his touch--only his touch--and the orgasm feels like it's painfully pulled from me.

I come back to earth, hearing strange sounds like choked sobs coming from my throat. My fingers are still gripped tightly around the headboard, but the weight is off my arm. Even through my endorphin-laden haze, the throbbing in my shoulder is extremely painful.

Walter wraps his arms around me and lowers me to the bed, easing me onto my back. The gentleness is coming back. Without meeting my eyes, he rubs my shoulders and my biceps.

"Dammit, Alex. When you kill someone, do you ever think of what they might have been?" His voice is soft, his expression no longer angry. "What you're taking away?" He looks weary. No… hurt. He looks hurt.

"No," I quietly reply, "Not in the way you mean." I stare at the ceiling feeling bereft.

He shakes his head slowly, then lies down next to me. Curling in closer, he rests his head on my left shoulder and holds onto my chest.

Even though it hurts, I bring my hand to rhythmically stroke his head and shoulder, trailing my fingers down his arm. I'm not sure what he needs, but apparently contact is part of it. I can provide that at least.

I continue to stare at the ceiling, feeling numb.

**

I don't want to think about any of it. Anyone's wrongs… a hostage taker's, Alex's or my own. I need to forget… just for a few hours.

I stay close to Alex. He looks zoned, but he's still touching me. After a long silence, I rise and brush my teeth. When I return to the bedroom, Alex is lying on his stomach under the covers. Slipping under the sheets, I scoot over to his side of the bed and stroke his hair.

The words won't come tonight. I don't want to talk or think or feel.

Alex seems to relax slightly. After a few minutes, he slips out of bed and disappears into the bathroom. I hear the shower.

It's nearly a half hour before the water shuts off. When he emerges from the bathroom wet and naked, he heads for the door with a quiet, "I'll be back in a few minutes."

I fidget in bed, needing him here with me. I am such a fuck up.

Alex is gone for another half hour. When he returns his hair is still damp, but his shoulder is a vivid red.

He iced his shoulder. I hurt him. Dammit.

I shift back toward my side of the bed, still wanting his touch but too ashamed to ask for it.

He watches me for a second, then flips off the light and slides back into bed, moving to the middle of the bed, but not quite touching. Then his hand rests on my abdomen. "Good night, Walter," he murmurs softly.

"Night," I manage.

Alex's breathing slows and evens out. Shortly after falling asleep, he instinctively searches for my body and curls around me.

This is what I almost threw away tonight.

I sleep fitfully, waking up frequently. If he's not nearby when I wake, I move closer. I keep telling myself I'll deal with it in the morning, but nothing resembling restful sleep occurs.

Around 4:00, I get a sense that something's wrong. Alex's breathing has changed. Instantly, I sit up and try to make out Alex's face in the dark. His shoulders are pulled up protectively toward his face, his expression looks like a grimace. Is he having a bad dream?

Should I wake him?

It looks like he wants to scream.

I rest a non-restraining hand on his shoulder. "Alex?"

His eyes fly open and he jerks to an upright position.

"Alex, it's okay, you had a dream."

He reaches for the stump of his arm, then winces and lets his hand fall back to the bed. He stares at me blankly for a long time, as if not really seeing me. "You're here," he says in a quiet monotone.

"Yes." I hope that's the answer he wants to hear. After what happened earlier, I can't be sure. "You were sleeping and seemed distressed, so I woke you."

Even in the dim light, I can see the realization descend over his features. He stiffens and quickly climbs out of bed. "I'll… uh, be back."

Then he's out the bedroom door. I quickly follow. "Alex, are you all right?"

Heading downstairs, he calls back, "Fine."

I want to go after him, but maybe he no longer trusts me enough to accept my support? Shit. I return to the bedroom and sit on the bed.

Fifteen minutes later, he still hasn't returned. He doesn't need me right now. If he did, he'd be here. I slump back into the bed and into one of my sleeping positions. But it doesn't help.

Alex has been gone nearly an hour when I hear his footsteps on the stairs. Silently, he enters the room and slips back into bed, quickly moving over to my side. I hold out my arms and he settles on my chest. He drapes one leg over both of mine.

Exhaling my relief that he still trusts me, I relax and wrap an arm around him.

I could ask about the dream, but I won't. If he wants to tell me, he will. With his life, it would be a surprise if he didn't have nightmares. Not that I didn't contribute to this one myself.

A few quiet moments pass, then Alex lifts his head and lightly touches his lips to mine. A couple minutes later, he's asleep again.

I'm still holding on to him when the sun comes up. My arm is stiff but it doesn't matter. I'm not going to disturb him.

His face is relaxed. He looks so sweet like this. This is my lover, not some killer. I know I have to reconcile those two somehow, but last night I almost saw them both at once and the result was terrible.

But I can't pretend to be having a relationship with Alex if I'm going to treat him like that. It's not acceptable. I couldn't live with myself if I did that again, even if Alex let me get away with it.

I don't want to hurt him.

But I did last night. It's all mixed up in my head.

I remember fucking him at my front door, but that was different somehow.

It's about acceptance. I have to accept who he is and his moral deficits. Somehow that seems a lot easier than accepting myself.

The past is over, Walter.

Alex is my lover. That changes everything.

He stirs, moving restlessly for a few moments. When he finally settles down again, he's moved down the bed, his face pressed into my ribs and his hand resting on my upper thigh.

I stretch the kinks out of my arm. I want to touch him, but I don't want to disturb him, so I just watch him.

A short while later, his breathing changes and his head moves. He pulls back a little and looks up at me. "Morning."

"Morning, Alex." I stroke the side of his face. I'm ready to talk to him, want to get it over with, but he just woke up. Maybe I should allow his brain to start functioning first?

He slides up the bed, resting his head next to mine on my pillow. His arm movement is stiff, as he rests his hand on my chest. "Are you okay now?"

I swallow heavily. "I'm sorry, Alex."

Alex frowns at me. "I don't think there's any room in this relationship for you to apologize to me."

Returning the frown, I reply, "What I did last night was wrong. I had no right to use you like that."

His expression shifts to blank. "Walter, just forget about it. It's done."

Dammit, he's stubborn. There are things I need to say. "Alex, just let me say a couple things." I rub my forehead and take a deep breath. "I care about you, and if I can't show it, I've got no business touching you. The… other stuff between us is painful history for me. And last night it came up and I did something I'm not proud of, but I don't want that to harm… us. I don't want you to be afraid of me. And when I get aggressive in bed, I want you to be sure that it's because I know you like it, and not have to wonder if I'm trying to punish you for something."

Alex rolls onto his back and stares vacantly at the ceiling.

Shit. I've figured out he does that when he's not coping very well. I don't know what else to say, so I just let him think about it… or whatever he's doing.

"It did feel like you were punishing me last night." His tone is flat. "And I decided if that's the price to be with you--the price of the past--I could accept it. But… it has to be…" His voice trails off for a moment. "… one or the other. I thought I could handle you punishing me or being my lover, but I realized I cannot change gears like that. It-" He breaks off abruptly, then very quietly adds, "hurts."

The real problem is instantly and abundantly clear. I don't want anyone, especially me, to hurt Alex anymore. He's been through enough already and I don't think either of us could cope with a repeat of last night.

I start to speak again when what he said replays in my head, 'one or the other.' He'd accept my punishing him. The thought stings but it also suggests remorse. I'm simultaneously grateful that he feels it and saddened by it. This morning, in particular, I know how heavy it can weigh.

Awkwardly, in concession to sore muscles, I scoot around so I'm facing him and meet his eyes. "Alex, what happened last night will not happen again. I promise."

"Okay." He looks tired. Taking a breath, he adds, "If… you change your mind, I can live with it. Just…" He pauses for a second. His expression is blank, but I've never seen so much vulnerability in his eyes. He hesitantly says, "Please don't hurt my arm."

Cut bone deep, I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. Hearing him plead with me not to hurt his arm… it has to be the most painful thing anyone has ever said to me.

I force myself to look at him. His expression is more open than it should be. He gives me so much and I… I'm not sure what I give him. More headaches? I try to open my face, too, and let him see what I feel.

I guess I needed to hear what he said… a clear reminder of how vulnerable he must have felt last night. It awes me that he'd accept that from me. If he'd gone into a homicidal rage, I'd've had no one to fault but myself.

His acceptance of what I will never accept scares me. He'll let me choose to act out my anger on his body. It's in total conflict with everything I feel. Dammit, I feel like my insides are being shredded.

When I'm able to speak again, I reply, "Alex, I will not hurt your arm. I promise. And I will not change my mind. What happened last night won't happen again." I don't know what else to say to him. Words won't reassure, only actions can do that. I feel so fucking inadequate. I have to get us past this somehow. "Alex, is there anything else you need from me?"

Alex sits up, his expression tenses briefly, then he faces me. He carefully straddles my lap, wrapping his legs around my hips. Slowly, and somewhat stiffly, he wraps his arm around my shoulder. He places a kiss on the side of my neck. "Fuck me, Walter. I need you to."

Leaning forward, I hold him tightly, pressing my chin over his shoulder. Damn, I should have known he'd ask for that. I pull back so I can look at him again and try to smile. "I'm a bit stressed. I'm, uh, not sure I can get it up."

Sex reassures him more than anything else. And I guess he needs to know that I can still be a considerate lover. There's no way I can turn him down.

He looks at me for a moment, then, expression blank, nods. "Okay. Join me for a shower?"

Dammit. I need to reassure him. "No, I mean… I need your help." Fuck, I sound pathetic. "You're the best antidote to limp dick." I mean it, too. No one turns me on like he does.

What the hell was I thinking last night? To ruin this? He should've shot me. I'll do it myself if I ever break that promise.

Alex gives me a very faint smile. "That I can handle." Leaning forward, his mouth closes over mine. His tongue traces the shape of my lips, then he nips gently with his teeth. He nibbles at my lower lip for a moment before slipping his tongue inside. Starting with the inside of my lips, he carefully explores the interior of my mouth. His tongue strokes mine, as if tasting it, then sucks it into his mouth.

The very gentleness of his kiss shames me. This is my lover, not the punk killer I shot to death last night. And no amount of punishing Alex, or even me, will bring back Agent Landis or anyone else Alex may have killed.

He pulls his mouth away and kisses my cheek, marking a path to my ear. My earlobe is the next target as he sucks it into his mouth and worries it with his teeth. And it feels so damned good when he touches me, even the silliness of having my earlobe sucked. He traces the contours of my ear with his tongue before moving down the side of my neck and across my collarbone.

I have to let the past fall away because there's nothing I can do about it. And I do not want to destroy what we have here today.

Moving off my lap, he brings his mouth to my chest, kissing and licking a path between my nipples, alternately teasing them with his teeth and tongue. His hand is still, simply braced at my waist for balance.

Because I hurt his arm. Get over it, Walt.

I stroke his hair and whisper, "I'm sorry I hurt your arm." I said it because I had to.

Alex stills, then lifts his head to look at me. After a pause, he leans forward and brushes his lips across mine. Apology accepted? He lowers his mouth to my nipple again.

Reaching between his legs, I run my fingers along his inner thigh. There's a rush of air across my nipple as he reacts to the caress. His skin is so soft.

I straighten my legs, so they're in a V around him. Then I tug gently at his waist. "On top of me." I lay back and he follows, lying on my chest. My hips are sore. Fuck. But the solid weight of him reassures me.

This time the apology is silent… I'm sorry I hurt you.

Alex wriggles slowly, rubbing his body all over mine. My fingers trace down his spinal cord, teasing back and forth across his tailbone.

He arches his ass up into my touch, then grinds his erection into my half hard cock. His mouth briefly closes over mine, then he scoots down my body until his mouth is at my belly. My hands fall to his hair and I comb my fingers through it, enjoying the silky feel.

Alex relaxes, enjoying what I'm doing to his hair, then he begins learning the contours of my abdomen with his lips and tongue.

"You feel so good, Alex."

Moving lower, so his mouth nears my pubic hair, he reaches for one of my hands, which he clasps in his.

I can't breathe for a moment. He can't very well move without a free hand, yet he's making the connection. Apology accepted.

I squeeze his fingers gently and bring his hand to my lips. Then I loosen the grip, so he can easily take it away when he wants to.

He laces our fingers together as he sucks my cock into his mouth. With just the head in his mouth, he lightly gnaws around the ridge.

Christ, that feels good. My breathing accelerates and my hips want to buck, but I force them still. "I'm definitely," gasp, "up," I mutter inanely. Like he can't tell.

Normally, Alex initiates blowjobs very quickly, but this time he swallows my dick at an excruciatingly slow pace. I feel suction interspersed with light scrapes of his teeth or the vibration of a moan. My lust ratchets up so quickly I can't breathe. I open my mouth to try to stop him, but nothing comes out. His tongue firmly glides down the underside of my cock.

Oh, lord. I'm about a hair away from coming. "Allll-exxxx."

He squeezes my fingers as my cock finally slides completely into his throat.

"Stop," I wheeze, holding my hips rigidly against the bed as if I can prevent the imminent orgasm.

His thumb massages the palm of my hand as he applies stronger suction and makes a humming sound that sends an electric sensation through my dick.

In an instant, I slide up the bed, which pulls my dick out of his mouth. Even so, I tremble on the edge of orgasm before the feeling recedes. Still holding his hand, I press it to my chest. "Menace."

He braces his weight on his stump and gives me a half smile. "I try." Despite the flippancy of his remark, there's something in his eyes… an openness.

I feel better, too.

"Remember that trick--the ten minutes it took you to deep throat me--it'll come in handy another time."

He lifts an eyebrow. "Liked that, did you?"

"Oh, yeah." I bend forward and kiss his forehead. "You still want to get fucked?"

Easing his hand from mine, he rolls over onto his back. "Yeah. Do me."

Shifting to my side, I brush my fingers down his chest, eyeing him wickedly. "I suppose I should draw this out. Bring you to the edge three or nine times…"

"Only if you want me to get frustrated, tie you to the bed and sit on your dick."

"That doesn't sound half bad."

He feints a kick.

"Okay, you win." I lean over his body and kiss him right. He moans, offering his mouth to me. I trace paths around his tongue, sucking on it lightly, then brushing the soft interiors of his cheeks. My hand slides across his abdomen, then teases the sensitive skin of the crease where groin meets thigh.

Alex sighs into my mouth and wiggles into my hand.

With my index finger, I draw a triangle around his pubic hair, then slowly draw it smaller and tighter, closing in on his cock.

His fingers clench on my arm and his hips tremble under my hand.

When my fingers close around the base of his cock, he jerks upward. I stroke him lightly--too damned lightly--a few times. He pulls his mouth away from mine, gasping.

Shifting down the bed, I reach between his legs to hold his balls. I rub them gently between my fingers.

The look on his face is torn between pleasure and frustration. He's ready. I release him for a moment to retrieve the lube. Then I slide my arm under his knees and lift slowly. Alex eventually gets the hint and pulls his legs to his chest.

I can't take my eyes off his face. He's so beautifully and impatiently waiting. A rush of feeling floods me.

Alex wiggles to get my attention.

Oh, yeah. I slide lower on the bed and reach for the lube. Before my hand touches the bottle, I'm gaping in dismay. Most of the surface of his butt is covered with reddish bruises. His asshole is red and swollen.

My dick shrivels in a heartbeat. I can't give him what he wants.

"Alex?"

He's looking at me intently and cautiously asks, "What?"

There's no point in trying to argue with him. "Give me your hand."

With a curious look, he extends his hand. I move it to his ass cheek. "Feel your ass."

He moves his hand slightly, then stills. His expression is closed. "So?"

You did that, Walter Skinner.

Come on, Walt. Stay with Alex.

I lean toward him and try to give him an encouraging look. "How about I give you a blowjob?"

Alex is completely silent, expression unnaturally still. He lowers his legs to the bed.

I lower myself onto the bed at his side and put my palm on his chest, rubbing in circles. I force myself not to apologize again, because I know he doesn't want to hear it.

Slowly and precisely, he says, "The nano-machines will repair any cellular damage within 24 hours. I do not perceive any impediment to anal intercourse."

The jolt of anger that rises in me scares me at first.

For a moment, feeling anything ever seems like a really bad idea. Life was a lot simpler… when? It was never fucking simple. And Alex means so much to me because he makes me feel. I just wish I didn't make him feel… well, not whatever it is he's feeling right now. If you can call it feeling.

"I don't give a fuck about the damage repair properties of the nanocytes. I'm not going to hurt you again. Period." I sit up and continue massaging his chest. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disappoint you."

Have I done anything right in the past 24 hours?

**

I stare at the ceiling, the sound of Walter's apology roaring in my ears.

He's not going to fuck me.

I needed… to feel like I still belonged to him… with him. Even though it's my own fantasy, it feels so real when he's sliding into me. Always with that slightly possessive look.

Except for today. He was touching me so tenderly, it made me want to scream in frustration.

If I'd known last night that he would be treating me differently, I would have said no and left. I was willing--am willing--to let him take his anger out on my body, but not if this is the result.

The words are out before I can stop them. "I… Don't treat me differently, Walter."

There's sadness in his eyes when he replies, "Okay. I understand." He gazes at me thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "So I can offer you a blowjob, my hand or breakfast… what would you like?"

"Lie down."

There's a flicker of something in his eyes, but he takes a deep breath and lies down next to me on his side. His arm immediately finds my waist.

I turn toward him, so we're lying face to face and move closer until our bodies touch. I press my face against the crook of his neck, breathing the scent of his skin. He wraps his arms around me, pulling me closer.

I throw one leg over his hip, hoping he'll just stay like this for a few minutes. And stop apologizing.

He seems content to let me rest in his arms. I feel like I shouldn't… like I need to go away and think about this mess. But it feels like so much effort. And the longer I lie with him like this, the further away the problems seem.

Walter's hand is in my hair and I close my eyes. I turn off my brain and experience the sensation.

I open my eyes and realize I fell asleep. But I don't know for how long. Walter is lying next to me, half on his stomach, apparently asleep.

I need to move this day out of this room and onto better topics. What little time I've been with him since I returned from Tunisia has been… too emotional. For both of us.

But, for now, I watch him sleep. I want to touch him, but don't want to wake him.

Adjusting my position slightly, I suddenly become aware of how sore I am. Sometimes I'm not aware of pain for a long time. It's almost separate from myself, like it's in someone else's body. But, when I become aware of it, it's all at once. If I'd felt this earlier, I don't think I'd have asked to be fucked.

Long minutes pass while I observe him sleeping, watching the even rise and fall of his back. I even manage to catch his toes twitching occasionally.

The thought suddenly intrudes that I hope this isn't fucked up for good. I need Walter. I'm not sure what he gets from me, though.

Walter begins to move, then turns on his side, muttering, "Alex?"

"Yeah… I'm here."

He blinks at me groggily and I lightly touch his face.

When he seems more alert, I say, "Breakfast."

He nods and rises stiffly, then staggers into the bathroom.

A few minutes later, I follow him downstairs. My shoulder is too sore to get my jeans on, but I'm not prepared to mention it at risk of getting another apology.

Over breakfast, Walter tells me about his visit with the physician. He's hired a Dr. Lavagetto.

"Alex, in order to get this man, I had to prove we weren't perpetrating a hoax. We took every precaution," just the word precaution makes me tense. "using a shielded room, but we turned on the control panel you gave me. I wanted to tell you before we did it, but I didn't want to delay and I had no idea when you'd be back."

I think the blood is pooling in my feet. I feel lightheaded. I'm sure Walter wouldn't have done it if he wasn't certain it was safe. Still…

He's watching me, waiting for my reaction.

I manage to mutter, "Uh, okay." It's almost a croak.

"I didn't give the doctor the unit. And he knows he's not getting it until he earns some trust. I won't do anything I believe could harm you."

"I… trust you, Walter. Do what you have to." I extended the trust to him when I gave him the control panel, but I feel too vulnerable to him right now to explain that.

Walter seems quiet and a little subdued. He outlines the details of their conversation. I'm particularly interested in the anomalous behavior of the second blood sample. I would have expected all the nanos to deactivate, not just the ones in Walter's body.

I also commit to memory the security arrangements. I find it interesting that he discussed morality with the doctor. I guess it's not just me.

Right after breakfast, Walter announces he's going to the gym. Before he steps out the door, he gives me a full embrace and a slow kiss.

I stand in the living room, staring at the door and thinking of nothing. I give myself a mental shake and head upstairs to shower. Afterward, I dig out a pair of Walter's shorts because I can easily pull them on. Judging by the way my shoulder feels now, the nanos should have it back to normal by tomorrow.

After icing it, I pace around, not quite sure what to do with myself. So, I call an Indian restaurant and arrange to have something delivered. I stick an envelope with money on the door and wait, wondering what the hell is taking so long.

Eventually, I hear movement outside the door and wait for it to subside. Peering out, I see that the hallway is empty and there's a bag of food on the floor. I take it inside and place it in the refrigerator and resume my pacing.

Walter works out for a long time. By the time I hear his key in the lock, I've reorganized his CDs, videos, books, and started rearranging his living room furniture by nudging it around with my legs and body. I'm lying on the floor, using my legs to push his sofa into its new position when he steps inside.

I hear something land on the floor, followed by footsteps until he's looking down at me. "Why are you moving the furniture?"

After giving the sofa one last nudge, I rise to my feet. "I was bored and restless. Your CDs are arranged by genre now, I don't know the video stuff well, so your five tapes are alphabetical by title and the books are by category and author."

His eyes flick around the room to determine whether or not I'm pulling his leg. "Okay. Well, if anymore furniture needs to be moved, um, just let know and I'll help."

"Well, the TV needs to be repositioned. Oh, and lunch is in the refrigerator."

He gives me an indulgent half smile. "Where would you like the television?"

Walter helps me finish rearranging the living room--I notice he's moving stiffly himself--then we move into the kitchen to heat up lunch. I step up close behind him and sniff at the back of his neck. "You smell good." I run my tongue over his skin, tasting the saltiness of dried sweat. "Taste good, too."

"Hey, I showered at the gym," he replies defensively. "Of course that was before we rearranged the living room."

"I like it when you smell sweaty."

"Oh. I guess I've spent too much of my life around women. Sharon used a lot of colorful adjectives to describe how I smell after working out."

"Sexy comes to mind. Intoxicating, musky, heady, masculine, stimulating… The English language is so limited. I could give you dozens in Russian. French is also very descriptive." I pause for a second. "I think your wife's nose was defective."

"Yes, well, her list was quite different. Putrid, rank, stale, offensive, nauseating. You get the drift. I'll skip the shower next time, maybe it will elevate your opinion of her nose."

"Not likely, but we'll see."

After lunch, we're still sitting at the dining room table when Walter says, "There's one more thing I want to say about last night." He waits for my reaction.

Oh no. I feel my expression tighten and cautiously reply, "If you apologize again, I'm going to upend the leftover chicken curry on you."

Eyeing me warily, he picks up the curry and stows it in the refrigerator. Sitting down again, he says, "The man who started the hostage scene yesterday was wanted in connection with several murders. After the agent in charge goaded the man, he started firing, killing the bartender and wounding several of the patrons."

I listen intently, not sure where this is going.

"I gave the order to enter. I believe mine was the fatal shot--a head wound. When I went to check his vitals, the side of his head was blown off. He was dead, but his face… he looked a lot like you, Alex. About the same age, similar coloring. And his eyes were green, a little lighter than yours."

Walter looks at his hands as I try to piece together this information with what happened last night. He killed someone, a criminal, who looked like me.

Not sure if I'm putting this together correctly, I ask, "Were you thinking it could have been me?"

He meets my gaze with a pained expression. "Oh yeah. On the way home, I thought about Agent Landis, Melissa Scully, Bill Mulder, Sean Pendrell and whoever else you might have killed."

I struggle to make sense of what he's saying. This couldn't have happened to me, because I'm not in the business of taking hostages, randomly shooting people or engaging in conflict with law enforcement. But none of that seems to be the point.

"I know you don't understand, Alex. But I'm angry every day when people are murdered. I can't explain it, it just offends me. It's not the kind of world I want to live in. Where people are killed because they got in the way of something."

I look up at him. "And you see me as a… symbol of what you don't like about the world?" If that's the case, I'm more confused than ever by our relationship.

"No. I think I'm beginning to understand you and the reasons you've done what you've done, but…" Walter pauses, gathering his thoughts. "I was angry about anyone you may have killed who didn't deserve to die." He gazes at me with a pained expression. "I can't reconcile what you've done with how I feel about you. And I know you can't help me with this." He shrugs.

I stare at the table for a moment, not sure how to respond. He fucked me last night--punished me--because he was angry about the people I've killed. And he cannot reconcile what I've done with how he feels about me. Which means when the nanos are no longer hanging over our heads, our relationship will be finished.

I take a breath and try to focus on the present… because it's all I've got left. "Do you need me to give you some time… to think about all this?" I want to make this easier for him, but I feel a flash of irritation that I quickly suppress. I've already been gone for three weeks.

"Why don't you give me a couple of days?" His expression is filled with misgivings. "But I do want you to come back, Alex. Don't lie to yourself about that."

I nod and rise from the table, taking my empty plate into the kitchen. I return to the table for Walter's, then head upstairs, suddenly anxious to be gone. Maybe I'm the one who needs to be alone.

My shoulder is agony by the time I have my jeans and boots on. I pause before putting on my prosthetic, running over the events of last night and this morning. When I reach for my arm, I don't feel anything at all.

Walter is standing at the balcony door, looking out, when I come downstairs. He turns and comes to me. He looks at me as if trying to assess my mental state. I don't think he likes what he sees. He wraps his arms around me and presses my body to his. "Come back Tuesday or Wednesday… or as soon as you're ready."

"I'll try." My voice sounds like it's coming from far away.

He kisses my temple.

I pull away and step out the door, not certain I'll actually be back.

**

I wonder if he'll come back. And what will happen to our lives if he doesn't.

It takes me a little longer than usual to find my favorite Doors CD. Grateful to live in a well-insulated building, I put it in the stereo and crank up the volume.

Sitting on the sofa, I get lost in the music. It always stirs up the pain of Vietnam… but somehow takes me where I need to be. Releases everything so I feel worse before I feel better.

I play the CD five times, until I finally rise and switch it off. That's when I notice Alex's keys on the table by the door.

Fuck.

I can't do anything about that. He has to decide if he wants to be here or not. It's my fault if he no longer wishes to return.

A formless fear gnaws at my intestines.

If he doesn't… My rational brain tries to talk over the sinking feeling inside me. If he doesn't, I'm going to fucking miss him! This feels like my last chance for sanity. I should find it in myself to feel better off without him. But it's too fucking late. The fight in me fizzles.

I stare into the blaring music noise, hearing it and not hearing it at all.

And if he doesn't come back, my massively out of control life will probably become even more out of control.

If he does come back, I have to accept what he is. Our relationship can't survive in a sort of limbo between 'I care about you,' and 'I hate what you've done.'

On some level I already accept. I understand why he could be amoral. I hurt for him because of what's happened to him. Hurt he barely feels for himself. I understand how that could affect him. He's unanchored… has been since he was sold to the gulag and his siblings were killed.

It's as if the force of his pain just had to go somewhere… his violence. And what about mine? The real reason I was so rough with Alex? One of the most painful, anger producing experience in my life… the nanocytes. Netted the same damned thing. More violence.

It has to end here, Walt.

But what about Alex? Wandering lost through the wreckage of his life, he's going to keep on killing. I don't understand how he can live like that. I think I'd be looking for something outside myself… something solid to hold on to, to give me direction and meaning. Aimlessness and pain are not life.

Suddenly, I identify my fear. I'm afraid if he doesn't come back that he'll get himself killed trying to avoid me.

I can't even contact him to offer reassurance.

Are the two of us at cross purposes like we were before? Where a simple failure to communicate at a key moment will cost us everything?

If so, there's nothing I can do about it now.

I wrap my fingers around his key ring and allow myself the thoughts I've been avoiding. Come back, Alex. I want you here. We need each other. Please don't get hurt.

**

Crystal City, VA
Saturday, 29 May 1999
8:03 A.M.


I've tried to return to Walter's three times now, but couldn't make myself go in. I've never had this kind of conflict before. Needing to be with Walter, but knowing I'm not capable of it. And I really don't know how to deal with my lack of ability to handle this situation. There's been a deep pain every time I think about the fuck… and what he said later.

For the first couple days, I tried to not think about it. I thought if I could just suppress it all, I could go back to him. But I couldn't shake it… couldn't keep the memory away. He cannot accept me. Not in the long run, anyway.

Am I surprised? Not really. But it hurts. And I should never have allowed myself to get to the place where I could be affected like this.

It's too late now. I spent the last two days trying to cut my emotional tie to Walter. I couldn't do it. Maybe I never could. But I know I don't have the reserves to return for more tests if I can't come back to Walter. I just won't do it any more. I'd be dead and this would all finally be over.

If I can be with Walter for now, until I'm free of this or dead, I can handle going in for tests. But I couldn't see him until I could keep the pain of losing him again at bay.

But I can't stay away any longer. I need to see him… be with him again. For as long as he's willing.

I approach his door and pause before knocking. I wonder if he's awake yet? I realized within hours of my departure that I had forgotten my keys. Then wondered if I'd done it on purpose.

Bringing my hand up, I hesitate again. I'm days later than he asked me to return. All I accomplished with my absence was getting to the place where nothing has changed for me. Nothing perceivable anyway. But, what if it's changed for him?

Christ, I hate this shit… trying to figure out how to do this… relationship. I force the inane thoughts away and rap on the door.

A moment later, the door opens and a shirtless Walter gazes at me, a hint of a smile in his expression. He tugs me into the apartment, closes the door and pulls me into a kiss. His tongue penetrates my mouth, and I blindly grab at his shoulder, suddenly feeling dizzy. The message in the kiss is unmistakable. He's missed me.

Relief floods through me, and I surrender to the kiss, trying to let him know I'm not going anywhere.

When he finally breaks the kiss, he looks at me for a long time, eyes shadowed with pain and regret. He kisses my forehead and says, "Let's put last weekend behind us and try to go forward."

"Okay." I touch the side of his face and murmur, "You've stolen my ability to stay away from you."

A faint smile breaks through the darkness in his expression. Reaching behind me to the table, he says confidently, "You forgot your keys." He drops them into the front pocket of my leather jacket.

I ignore a flicker of indefinable pain, and place a light kiss on his lips. "Sorry it took me so long to get back."

"Apology is unnecessary. You came back, that's all that matters."

"Have you had your slime-beverage yet?"

He gestures toward the kitchen. "I'm just finishing it. Can I offer you some peach yogurt?"

I give him a faint push in the direction of the kitchen. "Not unless you want to take care of my subsequent hard-on." Something occurs to me. "I'll bet you stocked up on that flavor."

He smiles enigmatically and tosses me a carton. Peach. "I usually go to the gym on Saturday, but I know a beach where it's not too crowded. You want to join me for a run?"

We're going to do something together. Out of the apartment? I suppress my astonishment and only ask, "Are you going to get sweaty?"

He gives me a 'duh' look. "It depends on how fast you can run."

I decide to give him a little grief. "Since I, uh, got morality, I can run very fast. And if running will get you sweaty, I'm there."

We sit at the table to finish breakfast, chatting idly. When the meal is finished, I rise to leave, telling him cryptically that I'll be back in about an hour. He looks curious but doesn't ask.

It's likely that I have running shoes and shorts in my storage room, but it's too much effort to go there, so I head for the nearest department store.

I have to be extra cautious in very public places, so I'm on edge by the time I leave.

When I return to Walter's, he glances at the bag and looks enlightened. I head upstairs to change, locking myself in the bathroom.

I haven't worn bike shorts since before I lost my arm, so getting into them is a bit of a challenge. They're not ideal for running, but I think they'll make an impression on Walter… he always seemed to appreciate them.

For running, my balance is better with the prosthetic on, so I slip on a tight white T-shirt and head back downstairs.

**

When Alex appears on the stairs, I can't breathe. "Goddamn, you look good." He's wearing tight black bike shorts and a white T, looking a lot like he did that day in my garage.

I rise slowly, moving closer to him. "You're way out of line, Agent Krycek."

His hand touches my chest, slowly sliding over my nipple. Breathing suddenly rapid, he bites his lower lip and meets my gaze. His eyes express desire like they did that day, but this time there's more. He lets me see the emotion… how much he feels… for me.

My cock is beyond hard. My hands are unable to do anything but reach for him… to feel his ass and upper thighs. I grind my erection into his, musing on the memory.

It surprises me somehow… I realize it's because it's a good memory. Yes, I was pissed off about my infidelity, but fucking Alex was so good. A tiny piece of human connection that opened me up and helped me get free of a 17-year mistake.

My relationship with Alex hasn't been all problems.

I squeeze our bodies together. "Are you teasing me, boy?"

"Oh, fuck no… sir."

I hear my own laughter and realize how happy he makes me. We've found a small slice of happiness in the mess of our lives.

I could throw him on the floor and fuck him right now, but I want to do something normal together. Pretend, if only for a few hours, that this relationship is simple and free. "Let's go find out if we can run with hard-ons."

Alex gives a grunt of frustration but takes a step back. "Who's teasing who?"

Groping his cock clumsily, I reply, "Sometimes the anticipation is half the fun."

Much to my surprise, he considers my words while rubbing his crotch against my hand. "Well, okay." He sounds dubious. "I guess you'll get your opportunity to prove it to me."

Two hours later, I park the car on the street outside the municipal plant. I explain to Alex that the beach is a short hike. It's a perfect Virginia day… Bright, clear sky, warm, soon to be hot. When we get to the rocky outcropping that serves as a barrier to the crowds, I locate the only shady spot and jettison my small ice chest. The climb down to the beach is steeper than the beachgoers want to deal with, so there's never anyone else here.

"Time for your sunscreen."

Ignoring Alex's scowl, I whip out a bottle from my belt pack. Once I start slathering him with it, he relents. I'm certain he doesn't need it on his cock, but just to be sure, I reach into the shorts and carefully anoint it. Despite his apparent distaste for sunscreen, he actually appears to be enjoying that part.

Frowning at me, he mutters, "If this is part of the 'anticipation,' you can get your hands out of my shorts." Of course, he's too busy thrusting his hips against my hand to stop me.

"And last, but not least, the tenderest skin on your body…" I slip a hand around to the back of his shorts, easing one lotion covered finger toward his crack.

He separates his legs. "Bastard."

"It's not strictly necessary, but we can spare a moment to make sure you're properly protected." I push in two fingers and fuck him slowly with them.

He groans, ass clenching around my fingers.

I withdraw the fingers and squeeze his ass cheek. "Ready to run?"

"Don't you need sunscreen?"

"I put it on before we left the house."

Alex turns, giving me a vexed look and a solid punch to the upper arm. "Payback's a bitch."

I try to look scared.

We hike down the rocks to the narrow sand and gravel beach, a good distance away from the popular beaches. There's an old man walking his dog and a few people at a distance, but no one else in sight.

I start off at a gentle jog. Alex keeps up, but doesn't try to run any faster. I can see him visually tracking anything that moves. I know he's hyper-alert, and maybe it's justified, but today I feel the risk is worth it. To be in the sun and fresh air, playing with Alex. It feels as essential as air.

When I run a little harder, he matches my pace. A female jogger passes us going the other way.

Alex slows down a bit and I drop my speed to stay with him. He glances over his shoulder, then at me, with a mischievous look. "I don't think I liked the way she was ogling your bod. Think I should give her to the aliens?"

"I don't think you need to. She practically gave herself whiplash checking out your ass as she passed."

He grins. "Really? She was kind of cute. Maybe we should run after her."

"You angling for a three way?"

His smile is wicked. "Oh no. I'm angling for correction."

My laughter destroys my breathing, so I have to slow even further, which makes it easier to swat his butt. "Well, if we do have a three way, I'm picking a boy to suck my cock while you rim me."

"Does this boy have a death wish?" His tone is flip, but there's a feral glint in his eye.

"You saying you don't want to share me?"

"Yes, Walter, that's exactly what I'm saying. I've never played nicely with others."

"I guess I'll just have to think of some other kinky trouble for us to get into." I squeeze his cock briefly through his shorts. "So you can run with a hard-on."

"As you've pointed out, if I let my hard-ons get in the way, I wouldn't get anything done." He picks up the pace a little bit.

We jog half way to the pier, but turn around when the crowd starts growing. On the return trip, the sun is high in the sky and starting to slow us down. By the time we get back to the rocky starting point, we're both dripping with sweat. The trek up the rock face isn't going to be easy with one hand. I go first and offer a hand down to Alex.

He takes it once, but it seems like he just wants to touch. I guess he's used to almost any kind of one-handed maneuvering.

When we're back at the shady spot, I flop down on the rock and pass Alex a cold bottle of tea, opening a can of Coke for myself.

He takes the bottle absently, staring at me intently. His eyes glaze over and he moves toward me, dropping the tea. In the next instant, he's kneeling next to me and tugging at my shorts. A beat later, he sucks my cock into his mouth.

The fresh air makes my body more sensitive to every touch. At this moment, his tongue on my cock head is miraculously wonderful.

I laugh a groan and touch his hair, stroking lightly.

He pulls his mouth off my dick and pushes up my shirt. His tongue traces a path from my crotch to my collarbone, then across my chest to my armpit. His teeth tug at the hair, then he licks from armpit to elbow.

Alex looks up at me. "Your wife's nose was definitely defective."

Smiling, I reach for him and tug him onto my lap. Nuzzling his neck, I murmur, "You smell damned good yourself." Clean but very musky and masculine. Suddenly, I want to get my mouth around his cock.

His tongue gathers the sweat from the side of my neck as he licks a path to my ear. "I think you're going to have to stop showering after you go to the gym on Saturdays."

"Okay." I pull at his shorts, until his cock is exposed. Then I scoot out from under him and bend over to take it into my mouth.

Alex gives a startled gasp and his hips jerk.

I lap at the underside, then paint circles around the head. Then I swallow him down. Experimenting with my voice, I find that I can make some of the sounds he does. I wish I could see his face.

Tremors rack his body and his breathing is labored. "If this," he takes a sobbing breath, "is more," a groan this time, "anticipation," he stops and gasps for air, "I won't blow you," his hips buck, "for a month."

Chuckling around his hard-on, I try to do something useful with my tongue. Pulling half off his cock, I suck him down again. I establish a rhythm and work him with my throat.

I want to fuck him. I really want to fuck him. But this is too good. The post-run lassitude is the perfect complement to sex.

My fingers find and grip his balls. I use my thumb to massage them. Alex groans and his balls pull up. "Walterrrrr…"

I recognize his cautionary tone. It only makes me work harder. I try to increase the pressure on his cock, as my fingers reach behind his balls. Pressing lightly on his anus, I continue sucking him in and out of my throat.

When I think he's a hair away from coming, I slide one finger into his ass.

His yell is muffled as his hips thrust up and he begins to come. I swallow and ride out his jerking movements. As his body goes slack, I release his cock, holding it so I can lick the tip.

He whimpers and his hips twitch.

I back off and look at him. His face is covered with a sweat shine, his soaked T-shirt clinging to his chest. Hair tousled and wet, face flushed, dazed expression, he looks… debauched and… gorgeous. The sight makes feelings stir. Feelings I can't begin to identify, but they're good. Damned good.

I'm so grateful for this day. The sun and fresh air seep into my bones, soothing and giving me strength. For the first time since he's come back, it feels completely right being with him.

I kiss the head of his cock. "How long before you get it up again?"

He focuses on me. "Twenty minutes. Fifteen, if you'll take off your shirt." There's a glint of humor in his eyes.

He looks so open and relaxed. Happy. This is worth any risk.

I peel off my shirt and sit next to him, an arm draped over his shoulders. "What do I have to do for ten?"

Alex pushes me back against the rock. "You know that little trick you wanted me to remember?" He nudges my legs and lies between them. "Payback is a bitch. Ten minutes to deep throat you." Then he closes his lips around the head.

My fingers find his hair and I get a good grip. "I'm going to come in about two. And that is not what I have planned."

Releasing my cock, he looks up at me. "Not a chance. It'll be too slow to be anything other than maddening. I promise." His look is evil.

"Well, aren't you thoughtful." I release my hold on his hair, and hold my palms up. "Proceed then."

He raises an eyebrow, then lowers his head to my cock. The progress of his mouth down my dick is beyond slow. He doesn't use any suction, just teasing flicks of his tongue and light scrapes of his teeth.

The head is so fucking sensitive. I groan and twitch, trying to keep in control of my body.

Alex focuses on the tip for an eternity, before bringing it fully into his mouth and rubbing his lips around the shaft. His downward movement isn't visually noticeable… but I can feel it as his tongue occasionally applies firm pressure, then resumes teasing little licks.

If this is payback, I've got to incur more of it.

It takes a good amount of concentration to keep my hips from finishing this. The delicate sensations of his mouth on my flesh are impossibly stimulating.

When he's about halfway down, he abruptly lifts his head. "Uh, I can keep going, but I'm definitely hard now. I think this may be a record."

My natural irritability at having my blowjob interrupted--however excruciatingly slow--makes me growl at him. But then I recall my original intention. "No need." His cock is beautifully erect. I can't help but smile at it.

Glancing around our little nest of boulders, I see one that looks promising. "Think you can bend over that?"

**

I quickly stand and kick away my shorts, then peel off my T-shirt. "I think that can be arranged."

Walter rises carefully, favoring his right knee. He loses the rest of his clothes, then grabs my shirt and spreads it out over the rock. "I have a little surprise for you." He smiles enigmatically.

I drape myself over the rock and very slowly spread my legs. Looking back at him, I push my ass toward him. "What's the surprise?"

Walter replies, "The lube's in the ice chest."

My eyes widen. I wonder if I could persuade him to let me finish that blowjob.

He takes in my less than enthusiastic reaction. "Well, it's going on my dick, too."

"Why doesn't that make me feel any better?"

He moves to stand between my legs and pats me on the ass. "Relax. This won't hurt a bit."

I stifle a laugh and rest my forehead on my arm. "Have you ever done this before?"

"Well, no. Not exactly." He massages my back and I relax under his touch. "It's not like it's… frozen."

"Not that I think that would deter you in the slightest."

His hands slide down my flanks, rubbing my outer thighs. My body quivers in appreciation. Drawing his fingers along the backs of my knees, he traces up my inner thighs. Then he cups my ass cheeks and spreads them apart. I can feel the breeze on my asshole, and gasp with pleasure at the subtle new sensation.

Walter removes his hands and shifts his body position. The next thing I feel is his tongue on my anus. My entire body jerks in reaction and I momentarily stop breathing. The breeze is a startling contrast to his hot wet tongue. He laps across my asshole in long strokes, then nips around it. My entire body is shaking and there seems to be a deficit of oxygen in the air.

My cock throbs painfully. My groans increase in volume and I belatedly remember where we are and muffle the sound against my hand. He brushes his lips across the tender skin, then starts licking me again. "You like that, Alex?" he mumbles into my ass.

I'm so distracted by the rhythm of his tongue, it takes me a moment to form a reply. "Fuck, yes." How can I be this close to orgasm just from being rimmed? I'm barely breathing as I choke out, "Walter… fuck me, please." I struggle for air. "I need it."

His tongue breaches the tight ring of my anus, and I nearly scream. That wasn't what I meant, but… fuck, it feels good. My brain melts as he fucks me. The only thought I seem to be able to muster is gratitude that he has a big tongue.

After a lavish tongue fucking, he withdraws and suddenly something frigidly cold penetrates my ass. "Fuck!" I again clamp my mouth on my hand. A curiously pleasant sensation races up my spine and adrenaline hits my system. I groan and push back against his finger as the lube warms to body temperature.

"It warms up pretty fast." He sounds a little disappointed. Bastard. "Your ass must be really hot." He begins fucking me vigorously with what I think is two fingers.

I growl over my shoulder, "Would you put some of that icy stuff on your dick and fuck me. NOW!"

Walter chuckles and removes his fingers from my ass. He appears on the other side of the rock, dick practically in my face, as he opens the bottle of lube, pours a generous quantity into his palm and slaps his dick into it.

His eyes open wide in astonishment and his cheeks flush. He slathers it all over his hard-on, which wilts a bit. "That's quite… refreshing."

I wiggle impatiently. "Ya think? Would you quit screwing around and fuck me."

He leans over and presses his lips to mine. Fingers gripped tightly in my hair, he holds my face to his as his tongue ravages my mouth. I groan, unable to think anymore. The possessiveness of the kiss penetrates my pleasure-numb brain and I whimper… I needed to feel this again, needed to belong to him.

After a languorous kiss, he breaks away, breathless and fully erect. His eyes meet mine and seem to burn into me. He releases my hair and trails his fingers down my back as he moves behind me. Then I feel the head of his cock at my entrance. "You have such a fucking sexy round ass," he says softly, almost reverently.

Then he pushes inside me. I moan, feeling the tension drain away as my ass stretches to fit his cock. This feels so right, it scares me. My whimper is unmistakable as a sound of surrender.

He withdraws almost all the way, before he begins to fuck. Slowly at first, he builds the pace. "I love doing this with the sun and the breeze." Increasing the power behind his thrusts, he lets out a passionate moan.

His hands grip my hips firmly. I went years without him, but just a month apart felt unbearable.

I try to lose myself in the electric sensation of his cock moving inside my body… try to forget my fear about what's going to happen to us.

"Talk to me, Alex. Tell me what you want." His voice is low and raspy, his breath coming in labored gasps.

"I want you." The words are out before I can stop them. Actually a vague answer to his question, but too precise for my peace of mind.

"You got me."

A flicker of need shoots through me. I brace myself on my forearm and drop my head. "I want to feel your teeth."

I feel a shudder pass through his body, then he leans forward and rests his chest on my back. His hips continue to pound into me and I feel the soft brush of his teeth at the back of my neck. When he finds a spot he likes, he builds the bite gradually until his teeth are clenched around my flesh. The sensation builds the heat of his fucking until I'm at the edge of orgasm.

I want him to make me bleed, but I… can't ask him for that. Not now.

His hand slips between my body and the boulder, brushing down my belly until he finds my cock. He rubs his thumb over the head and I can feel him groan into the bite. I tremble trying to hold back my climax.

He fucks me harder. A sense of relief washes over me that I cannot explain. The power of his thrusts increases and I gasp, "Yes." He's not punishing me, he's taking what belongs to him… and I need him to take it.

He palms my cock and jacks me furiously. I can tell he's losing control. His teeth hold tight at the nape of my neck as he slams into me.

"Wal-" And then it's too late. My cock explodes under his fingers and I strangle the sounds in my throat.

He groans deep in his chest and, as my orgasm begins to subside, his teeth sink deeper into me and I feel his cock pulsing inside me. His hand cups my cock protectively, holding my hips away from the rock.

Suddenly his mouth is yanked away, and I hear him struggling to keep the sounds to a muted roar. The aftermath of my orgasm dulls the pain from the bite. I collapse onto the rock, trying to memorize the feel of his body pressed against mine, and warm rock underneath me.

Walter's labored breathing tickles my ear. I close my eyes and zone out. I'm not sure how much time has passed, when I open my eyes and say, "I hope you put some of that sunscreen on your own ass."

He squeezes my dick affectionately. "Uh, no. But if my ass is sunburned I'll let you rub cold lube on it." He shifts his weight off my body, pulling his cock out of me. "Fuck. That was…"

Still draped bonelessly over the boulder, I mutter, "Fucking incredible."

And then he's in front of me, squatting and pulling my face to his for another kiss.

When I'm finally able to make my body move, we stumble around assembling our clothing and wearily trudge to the car.

Once we're on the road, I say, "I think today was the first time I've ever been in a vehicle with you."

Walter smiles slightly, but says nothing.

After a moment of silence, I find myself murmuring, "Thank you for today. I've…" I hesitate for a moment, not quite sure why. "I've never done anything like this before."

**

I rest a hand on his thigh and squeeze. I hope it's enough to let him know how much this day meant to me. Because I can't say it. Because of what I feel now. After this near perfect day.

Being naked in the open air… the sun on our skin… it made me feel invincible.

I want desperately not to go back to D.C. To drive this car in another direction entirely. Change our names and live another life somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Would they find us? Could they? Would it cost us our lives? It feels like it might be worth it… for just a few more days like this one.

I suspect Alex would agree if I suggested that we disappear. He'd want it, too. Couldn't possibly be holding onto much of anything in his miserable life. Mine's not much better. I wouldn't miss the Bureau. I'd find some way to get a coded message back to Scully. That I'm alive and well. She could tell Sharon and my family.

Could we be free this way?

A truth about my feelings for Alex is nagging at me, but I can't face it yet. Can't let it intrude on the serenity I've felt today.

Running away?

Think through it, Walt. What happens if you don't go back?

They might have some way to kill us remotely. We can't live in an RF-blocked bubble. But I can't think of anything in what Alex has told me, or anything in that report, that suggests they can either find us or kill us without first locating us.

So if Alex and I are out of the picture, what will the Resistance do?

The answer is glaringly obvious: infect someone else. Mulder? Scully? Baker? The Director? Who the hell knows?

I have to end it. I can't just escape the violence and leave it for someone else to endure. The research has to be done. What happens if the Resistance infects a substantial percentage of the population? That could be worse than an alien invasion, whatever the hell that means.

I glance over at Alex. He's sitting quietly, looking out the window, lost in his own thoughts.

His life might be saved if we run. And would he choose to stay to save others? Why hasn't he already run? Why is here with me? He doesn't have the same moral issues I do.

And I want him to be free. Desperately. I could live with this alone, if I had to. If I knew he was safe.

Alex turns in his seat and puts his hand on my knee. "Are you wishing we hadn't done this?" His voice is soft.

I shake away my dilemma. "No, Alex. Today was… perfect." And that's the point, isn't it? I'm living and it feels damned good and I don't want to stop.

He looks relieved. His expression is open and relaxed, but there's a sadness there, too. For a moment I wonder if he's thinking the same things I am. And sad that I'm not running away with him.

Alex squeezes my thigh. "I know I already said it, but thanks for today."

I take his hand and press it to my lips. The past has fallen away. It's just Alex and me, together.

The closer we get to D.C., the more I feel the world closing in on us. C'mon, Walt. Don't think about this now.

I don't want to ruin the day for him.

With a teasing tone, he asks, "So, do you think I should ask Sharon to lunch and advise her to have her nose checked by a qualified physician?"

"I'm not sure I want you and Sharon comparing notes."

He runs his hand across my chest. "We already have."

"Shit. Do I want to know what you talked about?"

Alex smiles. "Probably not. But it was very complimentary."

I shrug, trying to conceal that it embarrasses the hell out of me.

Alex tactfully changes the subject. "Weren't you at all worried that someone would stumble on to us while we were fucking?"

"Prudence is over-rated." I wink at him. "Though I admit that I'd've been embarrassed if some rock climbing kid had discovered me with my face in your ass."

Alex gives a snort of laughter and kisses my ear.

**

11:06 P.M.

Sitting on the floor, next to Walter on the sofa, I ruminate on the day.

He's been quiet since we got back from the beach. Something churning in his head. But he stayed close to me, usually touching my leg or kissing me. I guess he withdraws when he's thinking? I wonder when it became easier to be with him in silence.

We lazily showered together after we returned. His eyebrow cut is a thin red line. While washing his ass, I noticed a little sunburn. I smiled, but didn't bother to tell him.

Dinner was nearly silent. Wordlessly, I straddled Walter's lap and fed him takeout Chinese. It got me turned on, but it didn't seem… relevant, I guess. I just wanted to be close to him. At one point--while licking sweet and sour sauce off his lower lip--I wondered if today actually happened. None of this time with him feels like my life… the life I've always known anyway.

After dinner, Walter did some mysterious electrical thing in the kitchen and I rearranged his CDs alphabetically by artist. I guess the next time I get bored, I can arrange them by album title. Or confuse the hell out of him and arrange them alphabetically by the title of the last track.

While prowling through the kitchen, I found his Valrhona stash and sat on the floor to feed him chocolate. I occasionally wondered what was on his mind, but sensed he'd tell me if he needed to.

I shake off my replay of the day's events and lean my head against his knee. Walter stands and gives me a hand up. "Let's go to bed."

A few minutes later, I settle next to him in bed, thinking this is too good to last for very long.

"Alex?"

"Hmm?"

He rolls onto his side to face me. "What would happen if you just disappeared? Could they find you? Kill you?"

I feel… blank. "No, they couldn't find me. Kill me? Maybe. They could have control pads activated and if I came in range of one, my nanos would activate."

"I've been thinking about this. I don't want them to test you again. And," he stops abruptly, looking away before continuing, "I'd miss you, but maybe you should run."

I reach up and turn his face back to mine. "Absolutely not." I guess I need to offer some explanation, but I haven't thought about this too much. "If I disappeared, you would be on the short list of suspects."

"So you can disappear the next time you're out of the country." He shakes his head. "I don't want to lose you, Alex, but I want you to be free."

My brain rapidly looks for something--anything--to change his mind. I realize I just don't want to leave him again. "Walter, I'm…" I trail off and reconsider what I was going to say. "My body is dependent on the nanos. If the rejuvenating nanos should fail in some way, I'd be dead within a few days."

He thinks about that for a long time. I have a feeling he suspects it wasn't the complete answer. Then he says, "It's a tradeoff. I think your Resistance orders or the tests could kill you. I want you to think about what I've said, and make the best choice for you. Don't think about me, just decide for yourself."

Shaking my head, I reply, "I cannot do that." I need to make him understand. "I can help protect you from the Resistance's orders… and their penalties." Christ, this is hard. I take a breath and go back to where I started. "I can't leave you again. The first time was almost impossible."

"Dammit, Alex. I don't want to be responsible for your death." He sits up and turns away.

I futilely tug at his shoulder. "You are not responsible for me. Nor would you be responsible for my death." I try to control my feelings. "Fuck, Walter. I can't run off and leave you to some thrill seeker who wants to pull your strings." I get to my knees and move in front of him. "Walter, please," I can't help the pleading tone. "Don't ask this." I'm close to panic. "The last four years have been…" Hell. I trail off and close my eyes. "Please… please don't."

God, if I'm this freaked out about him wanting me to go into hiding, how am I going to deal with the end of our relationship? Fuck, I am in way over my head.

He holds out his arms and I fall into them. "Okay, Alex," he says softly, but I don't think he wanted to say it.

I grab onto him, struggling to breathe, fearing relief may be premature. More words come out before I can stop them. "Please don't get rid of me yet."

Walter's arms tighten around me. "I won't get rid of you, Alex." His voice is shaky. "Shh, it's okay. I won't ask you to leave. I want you here with me."

I try to get my panic under control. Why do I feel like I'm confronting my greatest fear?

I gradually relax. Walter's making some sort of subtle rocking motion. My body goes limp and I cannot think of anything else to say… or am afraid to say anything else.

**

My regret doesn't surprise me, but my relief does. I don't want him to go. I hold him tighter and rub his back.

But he's wrong. I would be responsible for his death. Because if I were willing to disappear today, he'd go with me. So I have to risk both of our lives to stay.

And if anything happens to him, I'm going to hate myself for that choice. Maybe this is the right choice. I hold on to that hope as tightly as I hold on to him.

Alex's heart beats rapidly. He panicked, but I'm not sure why. I guess a lot of awful things happened the last time he left. I don't know…

I can't seem to think anymore.

"Alex, let's lie down."

It worries me that he doesn't respond, but I'm able to maneuver our bodies under the sheets without letting go. I kiss the back of his neck, the deep red mark that hasn't yet become a bruise.


Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, 1 June 1999
8:07 A.M
.

I walk to the public library and find an available computer with guest Internet services. It takes only a few minutes to log onto the account that Lavagetto set up. I've checked it 12 times already. He's prompt and efficient in his communiqués. He posts every Tuesday and Friday with less predictable extras on other days. He's obviously trying to reassure me that he's spending our money wisely, which is a good sign. So far, I've only wired him $100,000 of my own money to the account in the Caymans.

The note I find today reads:

--
Team Update:
Biophysicist--hired. He's even more intelligent than I am, though less obnoxious about it. He's got minor personality defects--extreme nerdishness--but nothing we can't cope with.
Micro-robotics Engineer--interviewing a gifted candidate. She's ideal for our work, but suffers from manic depression. Her boyfriend keeps her manageable and on her meds. Recommend putting him on the payroll to baby-sit her. He has minor computer skills, can type and tidy the labs.
Software Engineer--two candidates. Both technically competent. Neither has serious defects.
Lab Assistants (2)--I'm pursuing two I've worked with before. I should successfully acquire both if I wine and dine them.

Facility--Mexico environs. I prefer Tucson. On your approval, I will canvas for facilities.

-R
--

I tap out my reply.

--
OK to hire boyfriend, and others, contingent on D's approval. Wine and dine as needed to get the best people. Proceed with Tucson.

-H
--

Things have been getting back to normal with Alex. Well, as normal as they can be. I'm forcing my focus to the future. There's no time for regrets in our lives.

Alex's chest scar has healed completely. Even with all the evidence I'd seen, it still astonishes me. An incredible gift to mankind lurks in this terrible thing that's been done to us. I hope we live to see it come to fruition.

**

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, 2 June 1999
3:04 P.M.


I stop at a payphone to check in with the Resistance. Instead of the usual update or minor orders, I'm transferred to speak directly with Henderson.

"Mr. Krycek, We have a package for you to intercept." The 'we' man.

"When and where?"

"A Dr. Solomon Merkmallen will be arriving in D.C. tonight. He's carrying an artifact to deliver to Professor Steven Sandoz at the American University. Dr. Sandoz also is in possession of another artifact. You need to retrieve both and deliver them to us. We have left information for you in the usual pickup location"

"Why?"

"The why of this matter is not relevant to your mission."

I roll my eyes. "It's difficult to improvise if I don't know what's going on. At what expense do you want the artifacts recovered?"

There's a long pause before he replies, "A colonists' ship was found off the Ivory Coast. We are preparing a recovery plan, but fragments of the ship were found by these two scientists. Retrieval of the fragments is critical. Both doctors need to be eliminated."

Ah, fuck. "A trail of bodies will arouse suspicion. Why not just recover the artifacts?"

"There will be no further discussion. Report in as soon as you have information." The line clicks.

I slam the phone down.

10:38 P.M.

Well, I have information, but not good information. Reluctantly, I dial the number and ask to be connected to Henderson.

"You have news for Us?" Oh, it's 'us' tonight.

"Dr. Merkmallen appears to have been killed… his body is missing. Dr. Sandoz has disappeared, and so have the fragments."

A long silence greets this news. "It's time to tap our source at the FBI. Have him get the X-File's agents on this. But I want them on a tight leash. There's no room for mistakes. Have them locate Dr. Sandoz. Then carry out your orders."

Again, the line is abruptly clicked off. I close my eyes and wish this situation away.

I drive to Crystal City, trying not to think about what I have to do. Taking the folder of information, I take the stairs up to Walter's apartment.

Instead of using my keys, I knock on the door.

In a few minutes, Walter opens the door. "Forget your keys?"

I shake my head, still standing outside the apartment, then look down at the folder in my hand.

His eyes flick to the folder and back to my face. He nods curtly and crosses his arms over his chest. Oddly, the gesture appears more defensive than angry.

"Here or somewhere else?" I want to give him the option of not doing this in his home.

He steps back and holds the door open.

I step inside and wait for him to close the door. I try to focus on business and push away how wrong this feels.

With great reluctance, I switch into business mode. "You need to open an investigation into the death of Dr. Solomon Merkmallen, a professor from Africa here to meet with Dr. Steven Sandoz of the American University, who is presently missing, along with two artifacts. We need to locate Dr. Sandoz and the aforementioned artifacts." I pass him several pieces of information, including a sketch of one of the artifacts.

We're still standing in the entryway and I don't feel inclined to try to move this. I'd rather not do it here at all.

Walter eyes me intently. His expression reminds me of his A.D. look from when I worked at the Bureau. "What problem is the Resistance trying to solve?"

All business, Alex. "Recovery of artifacts of an extra-terrestrial origin found near the Ivory Coast. Due to the nature of this case, Agent Mulder is our choice for the investigation."

"And that's it? They just want the artifacts. I'm to believe there's no other agenda here?"

"I have not been informed of the full scope of this project. My instructions are to recover the artifacts and deliver them to the Resistance." I feel like I'm walking entirely too fine a line. I'm not prepared to tell him I've been ordered to kill people. Although, I'm intensely relieved that someone beat me to Dr. Merkmallen.

"Okay." He frowns. "So I'll assign Mulder and Scully. Anything else?"

"We need to be apprised of the status of the investigation. Mulder and Scully are rarely inclined to disclose their full knowledge or report to you in a timely fashion. We require monitoring of their office and recordings of any discussions."

Walter removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. After a long pause, he says, "All right."

I feel as if I might break as I continue to try and keep up this façade.

He continues, "This 'case' is disturbingly simple, so I know there's something ugly lurking behind it." He meets my eyes and his expression is imploring. "Can you give me any clue what we're getting into here?"

I give up the pretense and toss the folder on the entryway table. Leaning against the wall, I rub my hand over my face. "I don't have a clue what's really going on. The Resistance is always accumulating whatever they can from the colonists. They're working on a plan to recover one of their ships now. The ship the artifacts came from."

I pull together several pieces of information in my head in an attempt to help Walter. "Although the Consortium was wiped out by the Resistance, Spender's efforts have not ceased. But we don't know what he's up to. That's why I was in Tunisia for three weeks. I can only assume that they're trying to beat him to the artifacts." I've long suspected that Walter doesn't really believe in the existence of aliens or the conspiracy to colonize this planet. Which makes the truth, in this case, absurd to him.

Walter shrugs and looks away. "Okay. That it?"

"Yes. That's it."

He hasn't moved since we started this discussion. I put my hand on the doorknob. I feel like I should apologize or something, but there's nothing I can do.

**

The door snicks shut and Alex is gone.

I suppose that could have been worse.

Reviewing the details, I consider my willingness to do them. Assign Mulder and Scully to a case that Mulder would jump at if he knew who was interested in it? I can do that, although I'd feel a lot better about it if I knew what hairy mess is going to arise out of this case.

Planting a bug in their office? That hurts. I don't so much care that it's illegal, but it's a substantial betrayal. Can I do it to protect my life and Alex's? Probably even Mulder and Scully wouldn't begrudge me that one. I know I can do it, but… I really hate it.

Monitoring our meetings? That one doesn't bother me as much. At least they're meetings I'm privy to.

I suppose I don't need to die for this one. At least not today.

I realize I'm still standing in the entryway. Picking up the file he left, I take it to the kitchen, pour myself a glass of Scotch and start reading.

It occurs to me too late to ask Alex to stay.


Thursday, 3 June 1999

My workday begins at 4 A.M. in the X-Files office. While scouting for spots to put the micro-camera, I find two other bugs, one still active. Avoiding those, I plant my device in the smoke detector.

I haven't felt this dirty since I destroyed evidence for Spender in a useless effort to save Scully's life. Things haven't changed as much since then as I'd like.

My own office is already wired for video, although I've never recorded a meeting without the knowledge of the participants.

I give Mulder and Scully the case, dreading where this could lead.

At the end of the workday, I retrieve the video from the X-Files office and put a fresh tape in the system.


Friday, 4 June 1999
10:02 A.M.


Krycek phoned me about twenty minutes ago, so I know he's coming.

But I'm not used to having my hall door open unexpectedly--it's kept locked from the outside.

I force myself to breathe slowly, struggling not to remember that moment in the hospital room. When I saw him. And knew what he'd done.

He locks the door behind him and crosses to the center of the room, silently watching me.

I really don't like having him here like this, and judging by the closed off expression on his face, he doesn't like it either.

There's nothing to say. And if I did want to say something, I couldn't do it here. So I try to deal with it.

Krycek gestures to my inner room. As soon as I open the door, he enters and sits down. Looking up at me, he gives me a concerned look. Shaking my head slowly, I shut the door. This reminds me too damned much of Spender.

Scully and Mulder arrive ten minutes later. Mulder would kill me if he knew who was in my back room. He looks cross and disconnected, like he has a hangover.

They brought a rubbing of one of the artifacts. It has some sort of writing on it. Not part of an alien spacecraft. Not that I would know what one looks like.

Mulder and Scully found Merkmallen's body in Sandoz's trash compactor.

Mulder thinks Sandoz's department head, Dr. Barnes--not Sandoz--is responsible for Merkmallen's death. Looking like he has a headache, Mulder reviews his theory that Barnes killed Merkmallen and framed Sandoz to get the artifact.

Scully explains that parts of Merkmallen's body were missing.

"All of which would retain telltale traces of radiation," adds Mulder.

"Radiation from what?" I ask.

"The artifact," he replies.

So the Resistance is looking for radioactive artifacts? This does not add up in my mind.

Scully found traces of some kind of radiation in the remains. Mulder explains, "Cosmic galactic radiation." He's talking to his lap, rather than Scully or me. What's wrong with him? "It's a kind of radiation that's found only outside our solar system."

What does that mean? "Agent Scully?"

She says only, "I don't know how to explain it but I feel that we can make an arrest."

"Oh, forget the arrest," Mulder blurts out. "We've got to find these artifacts."

Finding the artifacts was my assignment. If an arrest is a problem, I'll let them sort it out, once I've given them the tapes.

Suddenly, Mulder presses his fingertips to his temples, as if he's in severe pain.

"Agent Mulder?"

He regards me with an odd expression, and calmly asks, "There's someone else on this case, sir?"

"Excuse me?"

"There's someone else on this case… you're not telling me!" This time it's an accusation. And a damned accurate one at that.

His intuitive leap is uncomfortably correct. I turn to Scully and prevaricate. "What's the hell's he talking about?"

Mulder's eyes meet mine. It's not the accusation in his gaze that stuns me, it's the clarity. He knows. "I hear it… in my head."

I knew I'd lost his trust, but how can he know?

Scully rises and convinces her ailing partner to leave. He slams the door, on his way out.

Cracking the door wide enough to see, I catch a few of his words. "…hearing people. He's spying on us."

When they leave, I shut the door.

How can Mulder know? The only thing worse than being dishonest to someone who should be able to trust you is getting caught doing it. My self esteem isn't worth a nickel today.

Opening the cabinet, I retrieve the videotape of yesterday's and today's meetings. Krycek's already got the tape from the X-Files office.

I hear the door open and close behind me.

As I pass the tape across the desk to him, I feel like an enemy to my friends and a friend to my enemies.

I meet his eyes. I hate this, but I can do it, Alex.

**

I try to feel nothing, but don't quite succeed. Is it insane to feel proud of him? I was worried he couldn't do this. What scares me is that I've begun to understand why it's so hard for him.

I return his gaze unflinchingly. I'm sorry, Walter. But this is what has to be. Although, if doing this to Mulder and Scully feels anything close to the way I feel about doing this to you, I understand your moral conflict better.

I'm tired of staying away and I miss him… miss sleeping with him. This will be finished soon, then I'll come home.

Turning on my heel, I leave his office.

Back at my apartment, I review the videotapes. A Dr. Barnes has one of the fragments. Fortunately, he's not on my list of people to terminate. I call him to arrange a meeting.

Mulder's 'intuition' about Walter is disturbing. But, if I call the Resistance for clarification, I risk being ordered to kill Barnes, too.

Having run into one psychic in my life, I know it's entirely possible, although I'd like to think there's another explanation.


American University
5:09 P.M.


I arranged to meet Dr. Barnes on the roof of the university. It was interesting to see Mulder creeping around the hallways. Stepping into the stairwell, I find him sprawled on the landing. He looks completely out of it, but seems to know I'm here. This could be a problem. Especially if he's really telepathic.

Avoiding his huddled body, I head upstairs to meet with Barnes. He's a tall man, but he looks somewhat frail. "Are you the man who called?"

"Dr. Barnes."

"Yes?"

"Dr. Barnes, you and I are… destined to be great friends." I step closer and hand him a videotape, which he takes, uncomprehending. "Have you used your coffee mug today?"

"What…?"

I activate his control unit and find that he has.

Barnes falls to the ground screaming. Even when I deactivate the unit and he's not in any pain, he curls into a fetal position, whimpering and muttering like a mental patient. I doubt this man is going to survive his nano infection for very long before he breaks. But that is not my problem.

I give him some errands to run and a plane ticket to Africa, in exchange for the artifact and his continued existence.

Mission half completed.

I package the artifact and leave it in a storage locker. As I'm walking back to my car, I suddenly have a vivid memory of Mulder and me on a plane.

Mulder gave me a none too gentle elbow nudge, muttering, "Have you always been this dull or has your life of crime, murder and betrayal turned you into a piece of cardboard?"

I ignored him.

He poked me again and said, "What? No dirty jokes? No obscene assassin humor?"

I stared straight ahead, and he put on his headphones, mumbling about wishing they'd play in-flight porn.

And that's all I remember. Which is strange, because that never happened. The only time I've been on a plane with Mulder was on the way to Tunguska.

My cell phone ringing interrupts the disturbing thought.

"Yeah?"

"Dr. Sandoz is in Gallup, NM." Henderson's imperious voice instantly puts me on edge.

"And we know this how?"

"Agent Scully phoned her partner."

"I'm on my way."

**

Washington, D.C.
10:27 P.M.


I'm peeling off my jeans, when the phone rings. It's an FBI operator. Georgetown Memorial Hospital has one of my agents. Mulder.

After putting my pants back on, I head to the hospital. It won't be the first time I've had to bail Mulder out of a psych ward.

But when I get to the hospital, it's no joke. They've got Mulder in a straitjacket. He's violent and screaming, then huddled on the floor, rocking himself.

Jesus Christ. I know in the pit of my stomach that my actions have led to this. This case I hoped would be nothing more than a blot on my ethics has turned Mulder into a raving lunatic.

I phone Scully and tell her to get her ass back to D.C.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Saturday, 5 June 1999
2:07 P.M.


I don't know what I'm doing at the hospital. Scully should have been here hours ago. And I'm not any use to Mulder.

A very harried-looking Scully finally turns up.

"I don't know what to do, Dana. No one else does, either. I knew you'd want to be here to see him, to talk to the doctors."

Scully doesn't know how bad it is. There's no good way to tell her. When I take her hand, her eyes open wide, raw fear reaching the surface of her face. "What? What is it?"

"Before you see him, I need to warn you. He's… really out of it. It's not like what happened in Chicago. I… He's raving and I'm not even sure he's got any awareness-"

She cuts me off. "Take me to him. NOW."

I escort her to the security monitoring station. Diana Fowley is there, watching him. She brought him in last night.

Scully watches Mulder with a clinical eye, but hurt seeps through the mask.

Fowley accosts Scully. "Thank you for coming. He was asking for you last night."

Is she trying to make a point that she's sleeping with him? I feel like I should eject her, but maybe she knows something useful.

A doctor steps into the room. "You really shouldn't be in here."

Scully demands, "What's wrong with him? This man right here, Fox Mulder?"

Mulder suddenly faces the camera and begins screaming Scully's name. As if he knows she's there.

Christ, there must be something somebody can do to help him.

The doctor replies, "We don't know what's wrong with him and we don't know what to do for him. He's got extremely abnormal brain function but there is no sign of stroke. We're waiting to run more tests." It's the same nothing they've been telling me for the past 12 hours.

"Waiting for what?" Scully asks in a harsh tone.

"He's extremely violent," says the doctor. "With what we've given him he should be in a barbiturate coma but there's brain activity in areas we've never seen before."

I watch Dana crush her fears, so she can carry on.

Scully, Fowley and I confer in the hall.

Fowley demands answers. Her abrasive manner puts me off. As Mulder's 'friend' she hasn't got a right to interrogate anyone. But Scully can shut her down if she wants.

"What kind of case is it?" asks Fowley.

"Investigation into a murder."

"Of whom?"

I've got to get Fowley off this. This thing is already fucked up enough and I don't trust her. "The case has nothing to do with what's happened to him." It's a lie, but I wish it were true.

Of course, she pushes back. "Agent Scully says it does. Now, you know my background, my previous work on the X-Files. If I can help on this case…" She's like a terrier with a bone.

I interject, "The X-File here is a fraud. Scully has ample proof of that--evidence authenticated by a scholar and authority."

Scully turns, giving me a hard look, her mouth open before the words come out. "I never sent you that report."

Fuck, she's right. I got that from the bug in the X-Files office. Panic is making me careless. "Anyway, the case is being resolved." I need to get Fowley out of my hair, so Scully and I can have a private conversation.

Agent Fowley won't let go. "Not as far as it affects Agent Mulder." Turning to Scully, she admonishes, "If you know what's happening, why won't you tell me?"

"Why were you with him last night?" Scully demands.

Fowley replies, "He called me. I found him in a university stairwell. He could barely speak. He said I was the only one who'd believe him--about an artifact."

Scully stares at her and says, "You're a liar."

Fowley does seem to be working an agenda, and somehow I don't think it's protecting her boyfriend.

Scully turns to leave, but I need answers. I take her hand. "Scully!"

Our eyes meet, and all I can see in her face is cold distrust. "You're both liars." She jerks her hand away and leaves.

Oh, shit. I've lost Scully. And Mulder's dying.

**

Gallup, NM
Saturday, 5 June 1999
8:48 P.M.


I was able to locate Albert Hosteen through the hospital where he was discharged. The sound of chanting carries on the air from a fire-lit hut. Walking in and asking if anyone knows Dr. Steven Sandoz seems a poor idea.

My problem is resolved when he emerges from the hut, dialing his cell phone.

He calls Agent Scully. And, unfortunately for him, he's figured out what the writings on the fragment mean. The reason for the killings was information control. If he knew nothing, I could have claimed he escaped without any knowledge, but this throws a wrench in my plans.

Fuck. I hate having to think about this shit. It massively affects my ability to get stuff done. I quietly advance on Sandoz. A more alert man would have been warned by the neighing horses. Before he can say anything else to Scully, I shoot him in the temple. After disconnecting the cell, I retrieve the fragment and leave.

Hopefully Scully doesn't have enough information to make her my next target. The Resistance has been adamant about keeping Mulder and Scully on the X-Files, but I don't know how this affects things.

I sit in my hotel room--the fragment carefully wrapped and stored in my bag--feeling twitchy. I felt the same way when I collected the other fragment, but I assume it's having to handle alien crap.

I'm amazed by the fervor with which Sandoz pursued the translation of the artifact, and his excitement over his discovery. If they knew why the human genome was written on that ship, they'd be less enthusiastic--basic instructions on how to interact with human DNA so we can be infected and enslaved.

I check the clock. My flight leaves in an hour. Time to go. As I pick up my bag, another memory suddenly flashes through my brain. Me giving Spender the DAT tape.

Could I be suffering from hallucinations? And if so, from what? Why would I give the tape to Spender when I went to so much trouble to make his life miserable with it?

Forcing the absurd thought away, I leave for the airport.

Once I'm on the plane back to D.C., thoughts of Walter finally intrude. I know this is a killing he would have a problem with. I stare out the window into complete blackness. Thoughts and feelings have been tugging at me since this all began, but I cannot focus on them, or I won't be able to get through this.

I close my eyes and rest my head against the cool glass.

I'm sorry, Walter.

**

Crystal City, VA
Sunday, 6 June 1999
9:04 P.M.


Sandoz is dead.

Mulder's dying. I gave him the damned case. I have no way to reach Alex. Scully's avoiding me. Fowley doesn't know anything.

What the fuck am I going to do? I have to find a way to help him.

Two new neurologists I had the FBI Medical Office locate are seeing him tomorrow. I cling to a sliver of hope that they'll find something, but I don't really believe it. It's something murky they'll never figure out. An X-File. The best man to solve it is in a straitjacket in the psych ward.

Desperation has come home when I start wondering if Spender could help.

How the hell does Mulder solve these things? Are there experts in this shit?

I pace the living room, hating my helplessness, hating that I caused this. I finally make myself sit down and leave another message for Scully.

Scully's another problem entirely. Even if she finds a way to save Mulder… What are Alex and I going to do if I've lost her? If she tells me to take my nanocytes and shove them?

I go into the kitchen and try to find something to do with my hands. There's a knock on the door. Hoping it's Scully, I look out the peephole.

Alex.

I open the door and tug him inside by the lapel of his jacket. "Do you know what happened to Mulder?"

His expression becomes extremely closed off and he yanks out of my grasp. "No." His tone is cold. "I came to find out what you know."

Kicking the door shut, I lock it and turn back to him. "Tell me you didn't know this was going to happen to him."

He meets my gaze head on, his eyes remote. "I didn't know this was going to happen."

I nod. "I believe you." I take a deep breath. I do believe him.

Gesturing toward the living room, I suggest, "Let's sit down. I debugged a few hours ago. Maybe we can piece it together."

He shrugs out of his jacket, then takes a seat on the sofa. "As I understand it, Mulder believed this was caused by looking at the rubbing?"

"Yes. He started having… episodes after seeing only the rubbing. Said he was hearing things. But the rubbing was a fake, according to their expert."

Krycek gives a humorless laugh. "It's not a fake."

"How do you know?"

"Do you think the Resistance would be so hot and bothered over an archeological fraud?"

"No, but even if it's not a fake, how does a rubbing of it make Mulder go berserk? And why not Scully? Or me?"

He looks away, contemplating for a moment. "I… I'm not exactly sure." He's holding back.

I sit down on the couch across from him. "What?"

Alex looks back at me. "It sounds like his brain is functioning as if he were an alien, which the human body cannot maintain."

Aliens? Oh, fuck. Give me something I can do something with. "Mulder's not an alien, Alex." He does know that, doesn't he?

He gives me an exasperated look. "Of course not. That's why it's killing him."

"So you think something alien got into his brain? How?"

"At a guess, Mulder was infected with an alien 'virus,' if you will, in Tunguska. It's likely that it is related, but I don't know why… or how."

"How do you know he was infected in Tunguska?"

"I was informed by the prison supervisor."

I take a deep breath. "And you were infected by a so-called alien virus. Is this going to happen to you?"

Alex looks uncomfortable. "Mulder was infected with an immature group consciousness. Scully with a, well, it was a gestating virus she got from that bee sting. I was infected with a single consciousness… an individual entity. If infection is key to the problem, it's probable that the type of infection is the major factor. Additionally, Mulder was mildly exposed to some unusual radiation prior to infection, which may be related."

Shaking my head, I reply, "My brain's not keeping up here, Alex. I don't know what to do or say about alien viruses, group consciousness or unusual radiation. Do you know anything that might help Mulder? Or someone to ask? Because they tell me he's dying, and I can't just do nothing."

Alex is quiet for a long time, before he cautiously replies, "I'll ask and let you know."

"Ask who?"

"The Resistance."

"Do you know anyone else we can turn to? I can't count on those guys to concern themselves with Agent Mulder's life."

He shakes his head. "The next best authority on this would have been the Consortium, which leaves Spender. And, despite his posturing, I understand the variations of the alien virus better. In any case, the Resistance is likely to be interested in what caused Mulder's brain function to suddenly become like their alien enemy. They may even be interested enough to find a way to treat it. The only thing I can do is ask and see what happens."

"Do you think I should try to contact Spender?"

"Definitely not."

"I don't trust Spender any more than you do, but I don't see what else I can do. I can't even find Scully, who, by the way, knows I've been eavesdropping on them." I scoot closer and put my hand on his shoulder. "I can't just sit on my hands, Alex."

Tonelessly, he replies, "I understand. I'll try to have an answer--whatever it is--by tomorrow. If you talk to Scully, you need to ask her if she experienced anything unusual after seeing the rubbing. Not necessarily like Mulder… Just anything out of the ordinary."

I nod. "Alex… Mulder's important to me. Please do whatever you can. I don't think the regular doctors are going to solve this one."

"I'll try." He looks at me for a few moments, then stands. "I'll come back tomorrow at 7 P.M. to let you know what I found out."

I rise, saying, "Thank you," and brush my lips across his forehead.

Abruptly, he turns and exits the apartment.

Maybe we're on the same side here… But there's something he's not telling me.

My touching him made him very uncomfortable. I guess it's not easy to be the cold criminal if I remind him about us. But I need his help. Mulder needs his help.

I think I'm starting to see Alex in shades of gray. I know he'll do whatever he can to help.

And Scully will, too. Maybe it's enough to let me get some sleep?

**

Monday, 7 June 1999
7:11 P.M.


I knock on Walter's door, still not prepared to use my keys. I have information for him. Regrettably, none of it is useful, which is likely offset by the fact that he won't believe it anyway.

He opens the door, but doesn't yank me in this time.

We sit at the kitchen table. He offers me tea and some of what he's having for dinner.

I decline with a non-specific gesture. Suddenly, another memory hits me so hard, my head feels like it's going to explode and I have to drop it into my hand.

"Alex, are you all right?" Walter's at my side of the table in an instant. "Shit! Is this thing happening to you?"

As soon as the memory fades enough for me to focus--that stunt in the airplane lavatory was not nice, Mulder--I look up at Walter. "I'm fine."

"Alex, can the crap. What's going on?"

I sigh with exasperation. The memories have been coming more frequently, even though I've been carefully staying away from those artifacts. "Nothing… fuck, it's not the same thing, so don't worry about it."

"Fine," Walter says in a tight voice. He pinches the bridge of his nose and sits down again. "Did you find out anything that will help Mulder?"

"Probably not." I shrug. "But nothing's for certain. After infection, the radiation is the key factor, the artifacts are the catalyst."

"This radiation you're talking about, is this when you and Mulder were in that car accident after flying in from Hong Kong?"

"Yes. If Mulder had been more directly exposed to the radiation, it would have killed him. The indirect exposure, however, appears to have left some kind of residual change to his DNA."

"But weren't you exposed to the same radiation?"

"Uh, I was exposed to a much higher saturation."

Walter looks perplexed, but he shakes his head and asks, "Okay, so the radiation made something different about Mulder, then he was infected with the virus in Tunguska. Then what? How does an etching on a piece of paper make his brain go haywire?"

"Genetic memory. The alien DNA carries the memory of the original organism. Here's the sequence of events we hypothesized for Mulder. The radiation exposure caused a mutation to Mulder's DNA. When the alien virus was later introduced, it interacted with the modified DNA and created new, inactive tissue in his brain. The artifact, in effect, turned that tissue 'on.' The artifacts are part of a whole that is a documented plan on how to interact with, and alter human DNA. And Mulder's slightly altered brain correctly interpreted the instructions just from a visual image--the rubbing." I pause for a moment, then add, "Uh, Walter, you can't tell anyone this stuff."

He nods and waves ambiguously. "So, let me get this straight. Seeing a picture of the artifact turned on unused portions of Mulder's brain?"

"Not quite. It turned on an alien portion of his brain. Un-"

Walter interrupts. "Alex, help me net it out. What is his brain doing, that it shouldn't be?"

I close my eyes for a moment, then look at him. "I'm trying to net it out. Be patient. It's not activating something unused in his brain, it's activating something new. And it was done in such an uncontrolled way that the alien genetic memory is confused. It's trying to make a human, Mulder, function like an alien. It's a-" Fuck. Another series of flash memories make me feel brainless for a moment. I rub my forehead, take a couple breaths and continue. "It's a one off. A fluke."

"So, Mulder has something new in his brain. Do you know what that is, or what it's doing?"

"Our best guess is that it's controlling his brain function and allowing him to be telepathic. It's forcing his brain to function in a non-human manner that his biological composition cannot support."

"Telepathic?"

I shrug. "It's likely. But, again, we're working off the premise of how one alien brain works. He's got confused alien DNA structure and we don't know how it might interact with Mulder's body."

"Well, I'm sure Mulder would enjoy being a mind-reader, but since it's killing him… Do you have any idea how to stop it?"

I stare into space as another image hits. But it makes no sense. I've never been on a submarine. Then another image… darkness… dark water, I think. Ugh. My head is killing me.

"Alex? Alex?! Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Struggling to focus on Walter, I push the odd images away. "A variation of what's going on with Mulder, apparently without the DNA confusion."

"Are you trying to tell me you have hunks of alien tissue in your brain?"

"No." I don't really want to discuss this. I'm not entirely comfortable with it. Now, I know I have never flown anything.

Walter. I'm talking to Walter. "I told you, I'm not confused." Except, I feel confused. "Mulder's infection was a different type of alien."

"All right," he says in a dubious tone. "Can I count on you to get word to me if your condition becomes serious?"

I don't bother pointing out that if it becomes serious, I won't be in any condition to communicate with anyone. "Sure. But it's not the same thing. Just the same catalyst. This will pass soon." I hope. "In any case, the Resistance is looking at the problem of Mulder's brain. But their research is more focused on what and why, than a cure. I'll keep pushing, but I don't know what will come of it."

Walter fidgets with his silverware. "This region in Mulder's brain, is it something that could be cut out? Not that I want anyone hacking up his brain, but it might be better than letting him die."

Something tells me that will work, but I cannot figure out why I think that. Instead, I offer a non-committal, "It's worth a shot if nothing else works."

He frowns, looking off into space. After a very lengthy silence, he asks, "Can you think of anything else I can do?"

"No." I pause for a moment. "I'm sorry, but that's all I could come up with."

Walter nods and continues to contemplate… something.

I rise from the table. "I'll let you know if I come up with anything else."

"Would you call me on my cell the instant you know anything?"

"Yeah."

"Thanks."

I look at him for a moment, allowing myself to wish this were all over. "Goodbye, Walter." Then I leave. Walter's still seated at the dining room table when I close the front door.

During the drive back to my apartment, I think about Walter. I miss him, but I don't know how to do this and be close to him. Leaving tonight was harder than last night, but I need to stay away until this thing in my head is sorted out. I told the Resistance I experienced no effect from contact with the ship fragments. They'd lock me up and throw away the key if they knew I was slowly gaining the memories of the alien that possessed me. Because, it's pretty clear to me that's what's happening.

Every passing hour, I become more nervous that they may be able to detect the changes. Because if they can, I won't be leaving Switzerland ever again. I have to go there in the morning to deliver the artifacts. I wanted to say something to Walter--tell him there was a possibility I might not be back--but it seemed… pointless. There's nothing either of us can do about it.

God, I don't want to think about this.

**

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, 9 June 1999


The two specialists we brought in are, of course, fascinated by Mulder's case, but it's pretty clear they don't know what to do. He's got atypical activity in his temporal lobe, which they don't understand, though they predict it will cause brain death. It's the same thing the hospital physician told me. Neither of them thinks surgery is a reasonable option. I don't imagine I could convince anyone to open up his brain on my say so. In any case, the responsibility for such a demand is daunting.

Scully's AWOL. I could be pissed at her, but it's impossible to believe she's not doing everything she can to save Mulder. And why should she confide in me about her whereabouts?

Which leaves me with… nothing.

I convince the staff physician to let me see Mulder. He's the only one who could solve this riddle. Maybe he can give me a clue.

And if not, at least someone who cared came to see him. It might be all I have to offer.

The doctor stands back as I step into the stale air in the padded room. It pains me acutely to see him huddled on the floor, looking so far gone. Wondering how it would feel, to be tortured by your own mind and kept in a box…

"Agent Mulder?"

He doesn't appear to respond, though he looks suspicious. Can't say I blame him.

I squat in front of him. "Agent Mulder, can you hear me?"

His eyes are on me, but I don't get a sense that he's really seeing me.

"Do you know who I am? It's Skinner, Walter Skinner."

God, I can't reach him at all. Is there anything I can do to ease his torment? I'd sit here with him and hold his hand if I thought it would help.

I rise and turn to the doctor. "Can we get him out of here and get him some fresh air, at least?"

Then a weight knocks me into the wall. Mulder's grabbed me and trying to crush my windpipe with his forearm. He's stronger than he should be. I'm barely able to breathe. The doctor's yelling something. I try to get Mulder off me but we fall to the floor, more through his effort than mine.

He ends up on top and tries to strangle me. I get one good grip on his chin, holding him back as best I can. I choke out, "Let go, Mulder. I don't want to hurt you."

A couple of orderlies yank Mulder off me and hold him up against the wall. I meet his eyes, his face contorted in a feral sneer.

I'm sorry, Mulder. But I cannot defend myself against his unspoken accusations.

And yet, I as start to exit the room, I look again. He knows it's me. And he wants my help. I can feel it.

Mulder begins to wail as I step into the hall to pull myself together. I hear the doctor order drugs and five-point restraints. Fuck.

What can I do, Mulder?

Except for a slight nosebleed, I'm fine. Cleaning my glasses on my tie, I notice that my pocket is torn. I touch the flap and reach inside absently. My fingers close around a piece of fabric. I pull it out.

Written in blood, it says, "Help me."

How, dammit?!

11:32 P.M.

I can't sleep, so I drive back to the hospital. If Mulder's asking for my help, there must be something he thinks I can do. I don't know what it is, but maybe I can find a way to communicate. I don't even care if he wants to start another fight. He's a stubborn man… maybe if I'm there he can find a way.

Sneaking into his room, I shut the door behind me. He's strapped to the bed like a lab rat. I try not to think of Alex.

He's still, but looks agitated.

Deciding to assume he can understand me, I show him the scrap of fabric. "Agent Mulder…" I glance nervously at the door, knowing someone could come in and have me ejected at any moment. "I want to help you. I don't know what to do. I don't have much time."

Opening his mouth, obviously wanting to speak, Mulder taps the bed with his right hand. It's the first sign of clear comprehension I've seen from him since he's been in this place.

"Can you write?"

He lifts his eyes and moves his face… almost a nod.
I take a pen out of my pocket and place it in Mulder's hand. I hold out my own hand for him to write on.

K… R…

I tense with dismay, thinking he's writing Krycek. But it comes out KRITSCHGAU, in surprisingly neat letters.

The name is familiar. Something in the X-Files. "I'll find him, Mulder." I squeeze his hand. "We won't give up on you. I promise."

Back at the Bureau, I raid Kimberly's file cabinet and manage to find some old X-Files reports. Michael Kritschgau. The graveyard shift runs an identity report for me. Ex-CIA. I sleep for an hour on Kimberly's couch while they dig up a current address.

At least he lives in the area.


Thursday, 10 June 1999
6:00 A.M.


Kritschgau lives on G Street in a dilapidated apartment building. The corridor smells like cooked cabbage. My knock wakes him. An unlikely hero, he's quite hostile. I'm ready to arrest him if I have to, but he grudgingly agrees to come.

At Mulder's bedside, I do my best to explain Mulder's condition.

Kritschgau notices something in Mulder's brain activity on the scope. "I started to ask you a question about his prior mental state but he anticipated it. Agent Mulder?"

The monitor shows some kind of surge in brain activity.

"He claimed to be hearing voices," I offer.

"I might know why Agent Mulder asked for me. Doesn't mean I can do anything for him."

"What just happened?"

He gives me a curious look. "I think he responded to a question that I didn't ask."

"What?"

Not offering any explanations, he disconnects Mulder from the monitoring equipment. I want to object, but none of it is treating Mulder, just observing. Mulder asked for this man… maybe he's going to be helpful somehow.

I help Kritschgau break into the hospital stock room, and wheel Mulder in with us. We're going to get caught doing this. "I don't know how long we can keep him out of that unit. We can be held responsible."

"You asked me to come down here. You better be prepared to accept the responsibility, Mr. Skinner."

Yeah, I know. But I don't have to like it.

He hunts around the lab coming back with a bottle and syringe.

"You're going to inject him?"

"No. You are. With a thousand milligrams of Phenytoin."

Shit. I can't treat Mulder. "I'm not injecting him with anything. Not now, and not until after I've talked to his doctor."

"He's being given the wrong treatment," says Kritschgau confidently. Does he really know or is it just bluster?

"You're not a doctor."

"No, but I've seen his condition. Who do you want to trust?"

I'm not trusting you. "Seen it where?"

"In a study. There's something like ESP called 'remote viewing.'"

"Whose study?"

"The company's--the CIA, Mr. Skinner. Extreme subjects would go into arrest, their minds working harder than their bodies could sustain. They became, in effect, all brain. Phenytoin was the only thing that could slow the electrical impulses to a normal rate."

"Agent Mulder knew about this. That's why he asked for you."

Kritschgau nods.

Scully's AWOL. The doctor's here are watching him die. I don't trust Kritschgau, but maybe Mulder does. I take the syringe and inject into his IV line, trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong.

To my immense relief, in a few seconds Mulder becomes lucid. Gritting his teeth, he says in a scream-worn voice, "They're coming."

We haul ass to get him back to his room. He's completely lucid. Knows what we've done and understands that we need to conceal it.

Kritschgau disappears. I help Mulder get into bed.

I'm regulating my breathing when the ICU nurse enters the room, Agent Fowley in tow.

"He's right here," says the nurse.

"He wasn't here when I came in," Fowley replies crossly.

"No, we just found him down the hall," I agree. "I just got him back into bed."

It couldn't be more obvious that Fowley doesn't believe me.

"Who are you?" demands the nurse.

"I'm his boss… and hers."

The nurse says suspiciously, "I don't know how he could have gotten up by himself or pulled all this stuff out."

"Well, I hope someone's calling a doctor making a report on this," I bluster. Dishonesty is too fucking easy.

"He's got to remain in this bed," she adds.

"I'll stay with him. Agent Fowley, why don't you see if you can help her?"

Fowley gives me a glare that could be used as a castration device.

I brush her off with, "That's an order, Agent Fowley."

Incensed, she nevertheless retreats after the nurse.

I return my attention to Mulder. He licks his lips and says in a hoarse voice, "She knows."

"You can read her mind?"

"Yeah. We've got to act fast."

Unbelievable. I suppress a jolt of fear and try to blank my mind. "The doctor's on his way."

"No doctors. Get Scully."

"I don't know where she is."

Mulder says, "Look, I know you've been compromised. I know Krycek is threatening your life… blackmailing you."

Oh, shit. It's all true… sort of.

He goes on, "You don't think I can trust you but it's not you that I need."

"Then who?"

"Him."

I glance around finding that Kritschgau has returned.

"Kritschgau. Ask him to prove it."

"Prove what?" Kritschgau asks blandly.

"What's causing this."

"It's a brain abnormality. It's how you're able to read minds."

Mulder says, "What's causing this is alien. That's why my doctors can't help me."

Kritschgau rubs his unshaven chin. "I don't believe in aliens, Agent Mulder. I think you know that."

"I do. That's why I need you."

Mulder and Kritschgau come up with a strange plan. To test something called remote viewing, a kind of ESP. I commandeer the requested equipment from the Bureau.

Kritschgau sets up the gear. A small system acting as a server and three notebook PCs displaying images selected at random, facing us, so Mulder can't see the monitors.
Mulder tries to point to the image of an alien ship. He's unable to predict the images. Kritschgau deems it a failure and is ready to give up, but Mulder goads him, "You're not looking hard enough."

I'm starting to believe this telepathy thing. I stop Kritschgau from turning off the equipment. "One more time," it's just a guess, "faster."

This time Mulder's dead on. Kritschgau watches in stunned silence.

I'm surprised that I'm not surprised. Somehow I knew Mulder could do it.

"He's ahead of the images," Kritschgau admits. "He's anticipating."

"You doubters are going to have alien egg on your faces," Mulder quips. He's too fatigued to show much excitement, but it's obviously his life's work. "We can prove it."

"To who?" I inquire. "It looks like a carnival trick."

"With the changes in my brain we can explain it. It can be studied scientifically."

"Mulder, we don't even know if we can keep you alive."

"I'm fine. Can you get me transferred to a private clinic? I know a place where the doctors are a little more… creative. We can run more tests and start documenting this."

I don't like the idea of moving him, but as long as he stays under competent medical care, I don't see how his health is going to be made any worse. Maybe those creative doctors can do something the others can't.

After giving me the name of the clinic, he agrees to rest, if I'll try to find Scully. Kritschgau's going to obtain more information on Phenytoin. He's a lot more interested in helping Mulder now than he was this morning.

I make a few calls. The clinic will admit Mulder. I ask them to send an ambulance. At the nursing desk, I inquire about Scully. They tell me the red-haired doctor hasn't been here in days. That's not the answer I wanted to hear.

Since we can't explain to the doctors here why he's suddenly better, they probably won't let Mulder release himself. So I decide we'll just take him ourselves. Explain later if we have to.

Back in the room, Mulder's out of it again. Damn. I don't want to transport him like this. He could get hurt. "I don't think he's in any shape."

Kritschgau prepares a syringe. "I'm going to hit him pretty hard. Maybe we can get him on his feet."

I grab the bottle of Phenytoin from his hands.

"What are you doing?" Kritschgau demands.

"I know what you're doing."

"I'm trying to help him," he objects.

"No, this isn't about him, it's about you." I got your number, Kritschgau."It's about revenge against the government for trying to destroy your life."

"I was destroyed to protect what Mulder knew all along. Now he's the proof--he's the X-File."

"We can't just keep shooting him full of drugs. It's gone too far!"

"How far should it go?! How far would Mulder go?!"

Further than this, no doubt. Dammit, Mulder, I wish you were lucid enough to protect your own interests. I don't like this, but as soon as we're in the ambulance, you're going to give me your own directives so I know what the hell I should be doing on your behalf.

I let Kritschgau have the bottle, half of me screaming that I've gone way too far with this.

Everything's gone to hell. Trying to protect Mulder's interests in this is imprudent and illegal. Once you start where do you stop? Where the fuck is Scully?

Kritschgau injects the Phenytoin. Just as Fowley reappears, with the hospital staff.

The doctor says, "Hey! What's going on here?"

Fowley pounces on Kritschgau and demands, "Let me see your hands. Hands!"

Kritschgau holds up his empty hands.

"Step away," she orders.

"Agent Fowley, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"What am I doing? What are you doing, sir, with this?" She holds up the used syringe. Turning back to Kritschgau, she insists, "I want you to face the wall. Do you hear me? Face the wall."

I interrupt, "Let me explain."

While Fowley, the doctor and I are arguing about the Phenytoin, Mulder begins to seize.

I grab his face to protect his head, holding on tight as he thrashes, while the doctor tries to examine him.

The doctor injects Mulder with something. I don't know whether it helps him or not, but after a few agonizing minutes the seizure fades. Mulder is physically relaxed again, but I can still see the anxiety in eyes. I can't tell if he's lucid and faking, or he's really gone again.

Before I have a chance to find out, hospital security arrives to eject me from the room. Knowing there's nothing I can do anymore for Mulder, I let them throw me out. Going to jail won't help him.

Agent Fowley stalks me into the hall to read me the riot act. The security guys have Kritschgau. It's probable they've already called the police. I show my credentials. Fowley yells something about I should know better as a senior representative of the Bureau. I point to Kritschgau and identify him as CIA. Fowley is momentarily struck silent, giving me an astonished stare, as she tries to figure out what the hell I'm up to. When she starts in again, I turn my back on her, grab Kritschgau's elbow and announce our departure. The security men are confused, pissed off, but intimidated.

I leave Kritschgau in the parking garage, grateful that the federal agencies have influence in this town.

Fowley's another matter. I can count on her to make a formal complaint. There's no way I'll ever explain this to OPC or a court of law. But there's no fix for it.

I sit in my car trying to decompress. I've done all I possibly can. I have to find Scully. If she's not coming to visit her partner, maybe her search for a solution has led her out of town. I phone the Bureau and assign Agent Mallory to find her.

Unfortunately, we're back to square one. I can't help Mulder.

I keep hoping my cell phone will ring and Alex will have something for me. But I haven't received any message from him.

Starting the car, I head for the Bureau. As I pull into the parking garage, my cell rings.

"She's gone to Africa, sir."

"Thank you, Agent Mallory."

Now what?


Crystal City, VA
Friday, 11 June 1999
7:22 P.M.


There's a letter in my mail box without a return address. I open it and find an unsigned note. "Had to leave the States. Hope to be back."

The note gives me a jolt of anxiety. Alex is overseas, too.

I sit at my kitchen table playing with a plate of scrambled eggs.

Alex's odd experiences weren't quite like Mulder's. At least that's what I tell myself. He's not tied to a hospital bed in a third world hospital somewhere with his brain self destructing. He's not dying alone in a place where no one cares about him. He's not screaming my name in a padded room.

The eggs end up in the garbage disposal.

I sit on my balcony and try to think of something else.

Alex at the beach. His hair, tousled and sweaty. Smelling like the god of lust.

That night, I wanted him to disappear. Better to lose him if that's the only way he can be safe. But he wouldn't go. He was afraid.

So was I. Afraid he would go and I'd be alone again.

We're in this together. Like it or not.

I wish he were here now.

Walt and Alex get lost when we're forced to do 'business' together. If I'd asked him to stay the night the last time he was here, would he have? Why the hell didn't I?


Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 12 June 1999


Mulder's still alive. I call the hospital every few hours. The nurses station is tired of hearing from me. Fowley found someone to sign off on 24-hour guards for Mulder's room, with instructions to admit no one from the Bureau. Except her, I presume. And I don't have any good argument why I should be allowed to see him, after what I've participated in.

Alex and Scully are still AWOL. I've spoken to Kritschgau, but he wants evidence more than Mulder's life. If I thought he knew how to save Mulder I'd beat it out of him.

I'm trying to get something done when Scully enters my office, looking rumpled and dirty. "Where is he? Is he still in the hospital?"

I try to explain what's happened, but she won't hear it. She starts to leave for the hospital.

"Agent Scully!"

"I have been on a plane for 22 hours," she grates. "I have to see him."

"Then I think you should know what you're going to see if you can even get on the ward. There's been some trouble."

"What kind of trouble?"

"I got this man, Kritschgau, involved."

"Kritschgau?"

"It's a long story, but it ended badly. They've got Mulder under security now around the clock. I take full responsibility."

"Responsibility for what?"

"He can't even communicate, Agent Scully. They won't treat him because they don't know what's wrong with him! They said he was dying. I had to do something."

"He's not dying."

"I'm afraid it's true."

"He's not dying," Scully says calmly and forcefully. "He is more alive than he has ever been. He's more alive than his body can withstand and what's causing it may be extraterrestrial in origin."

If Mulder can read minds, could the alien thing be true? Scully believes it. She heads for the door again.

"They're going to deny you access."

"Maybe as his partner… but not as his doctor."

After she departs, I stand at my window and tell myself she'll get to him. She's his doctor and has healthcare power of attorney. She's beyond determined. She'll get to him. And maybe she learned something useful in Africa.

But it's becoming harder to escape what seems inevitable. Mulder's going to die. Because of my betrayal.

I give myself a mental kick in the balls to get off the guilt. It's not helping anyone.

Taking my seat, I think about working on something else. But it occurs to me that Scully needs to know everything I know. It'll be a relief to tell her. She's the only one who has the knowledge to try to save his life and deal with the paranormal aspects of his illness. I dial her cell phone. When she doesn't answer, I leave a voicemail about the Phenytoin, Mulder's brief recovery, remote sensing tests. I also give her Kritschgau's address.


**

Geneva, Switzerland
Sunday, 13 June 1999
9:00 A.M.


To my surprise, Arntzen steps into my room.

I sit up in the bed and glare at him. "What the fuck do you want?"

"Still angry with me, Alex?"

Gritting my teeth, I force myself to calm. There's no point in telling him how little I appreciate that he sold me out to endless torture. The fallout of which is seriously fucking up the only good thing in my life.

"Get out of my room."

Arntzen takes a seat by the door. I'd love to beat the shit out of him, but he's still a large man and I'm too weak to do much damage. Some other time, you son-of-a-bitch.

After a moment of silence, he says, "I'm sorry about this round of tests, Alex, but we had to be sure."

"Oh bullshit. I expected some tests to see if I had developed Mulder's problem, but what does that have to do with the nanos?"

"We needed to make sure this anomaly didn't effect the functionality of the nano-machines."

"Well, now you know. So leave me the fuck alone."

"I admit to some disappointment at how hostile you continue to be."

I let my silence speak. Like I give a shit about his disappointment.

Arntzen sighs, "Alex, I am truly sorry, but you'll be recovered from the nano experiments in a few days and then you can go back to the States. There is some increased brain activity from exposure to the ship fragments, but it seems benign, so we're not going to try to keep you."

I close my eyes, feeling relief. Then I wonder if there's any chance for my relationship with Walter, after giving him the orders that caused this whole mess.

Opening my eyes, I glare at Arntzen. "So, what are you really here for? You've never brought me a get well card before?"

"You're correct. There is something else. When you go back, we need damage control. Michael Kritschgau has copies of all the information Scully amassed."

Please don't let him order me to kill Scully.

"If Agent Mulder recovers, he and Scully could still be quite useful to us. Kritschgau, on the other hand, is quite useless and a potential security risk. You are to gather the information and kill Kritschgau."

Christ, not again. "Has it ever occurred to you people that just killing everyone is going to eventually draw attention to you?"

Arntzen gives me a curious look. "Those are your orders, Alex. We expect them to be followed out. While I agree that we don't want to draw attention, it's important this information be contained."

I'm so tired of this shit. "What does it matter if they persistently interpret it incorrectly anyway?"

Arntzen stands. "You have your instructions. We'd like you to return to the States in the next couple of days, so I'll leave you to your rest."

Once he's gone, I lie back in bed, trying to ignore the remaining vestiges of pain. I need to arrange to move to a hotel. I can't ever rest in the facility. I'm too tired now. I'll make the move later today.

I expected them to do some actual medical tests to determine if anything was different, but I was surprised that they wanted to run through a short nano functionality panel.

Making sure they still work? Why doesn't that ring true?

I roll onto my side and look at the wall. Soon, I can go back home. And find out if Walter still wants to be with me.

Closing my eyes, I clench my hand in my blanket and try not to think… or feel.

**

Washington, D.C.
Monday, 14 June 1999
11:40 A.M.


I phone the hospital to get the status on Mulder, but the clerk tells me he's no longer a patient. Another call confirms that he's not at the clinic he requested either. I have a really bad feeling about this. I phone Scully, hijack Agent Mallory, then head for the hospital.

In the car, I give Mallory a thirty second accounting of the situation. Then I use my cell to phone the hospital and ask for the security director, telling the operator that it's an emergency. It takes him painfully long to come on the line.

"This is Walter Skinner, Assis-"

"You're that guy who-"

"Listen to me! Fox Mulder has been kidnapped."

"Hey, you listen, I'm not-"

"Call all the ambulance bays. If Fox Mulder is still here, detain him."

We arrive at the hospital front entrance.

"But you-"

"Do it, or I'll have your job, pal. Count on it."

I leave my car in the red zone, flashing my badge to the attendant.

We dash to the ward. His room is empty.

I dispatch Agent Mallory to find the discharge paperwork, which gives me a moment to think.

Mulder's gone… I suspect Spender or the Resistance. If it's not the Resistance and Scully finds him, they could use me to get to him. I can't allow that to happen.

Mallory comes back with a nurse who shows us the paperwork. Mulder was checked out by his mother. Under ordinary circumstances, no one would remove a patient in Mulder's condition from the hospital. I wonder if someone posed as his mother to get him released. Security videotapes could answer that question.

I give Agent Mallory precise instructions on how to proceed. Instructions he doesn't need, but it serves as a reminder not to overlook anything.

I'm admonishing him to give Scully his full support, when she arrives, finding us in Mulder's room. "There were guards posted here. A man who's gravely ill doesn't just get up and disappear."

"I know. I know." What can I say?

"How did this happen?" she demands.

"His mother checked him out."

"His mother?"

"That's what they're saying."

"Has anybody spoken with her?"

"I'm leaving that up to you." I hedge. "It's better I not be involved any further in this case." I'm halfway out the door when she stops me.

"Sir, this isn't just a case. This is Agent Mulder we're speaking about."

Fuck! After everything Mulder said? What I did? Doesn't she understand!

I assert, "And I am trying to help him by staying out of this from now on."

"Sir!"

I lower my voice to spell it out. "I'm in a compromised position. The less I know about Agent
Mulder's whereabouts and yours the better."

I depart before she can argue further.


Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, 15 June 1999
9:17 A.M.


Kimberly buzzes me, stating that there's an Erik Lewis demanding to see me. Claims he has an appointment. Her tone of voice clearly conveys discomfort.

Shit. Here it comes.

I tell her no interruptions, especially Scully.

I make excuses to my visitor from the Federal Prosecutor's office, escorting her out the hall door. Then I take a deep breath, remind myself that my office is not private, and open the main door.

He's wearing that awful wig. I suppress a grimace and say, "Mr. Lewis." He follows me into my office.

Without preamble, he asks, "Where's Mulder?"

"I don't know. I figured you and your friends were responsible."

He looks tired… too tired. "Who's working the case?"

I hesitate, considering a lie, but they can probably figure out the truth anyway. "Scully."

"Does she have any information on his whereabouts?"

"No." I hope that's not the truth.

My direct line rings. I accept the call, before I realize I don't want to be taking calls with Alex in my office. He's not safe here.

"Skinner."

"Sir, did you send me this book?" It's Scully.

"Excuse me?"

"This book. It explains everything that I found in Africa... using the same symbols that I found on the ship."

If I'm going to disregard my orders on this one, I might as well let Alex know I'm doing it. "Agent Scully, I asked you not to involve me in this."

Alex's eyes widen, then a look of anger crosses his features. He pulls the control pad out of his fatigue jacket. Sorry, Alex. This is one line I can't toe.

Scully babbles into the phone, "It's all here, sir. A foretelling of mass extinction. A myth about a man who can save us from it. That's why they took Mulder. They think that his illness is a gift--protection against the coming plague."

Dammit, don't tell me this shit! I hang up.

Alex steps close to me, hissing in my ear, "Fake it." Then he punches some buttons on his pad.

I feel a sudden tingly sensation, like a mild electric shock all over my body. I almost object, but lives are at stake. I need to trust him, so I collapse on my desk.

"That was not wise, Mr. Skinner. Your only use to us is if you can control your agents and feed us information. This will be the only warning."

I remain slumped on my desk, groaning. This is completely out of control.

He's backing away when there's a sound in my outer office. Scully barges in and Alex is instantly out the side door.

While Kimberly calls the emergency team, Scully checks me out to see if I'm okay. I tell her my usual, 'I'm fine.' By the time I get my wits about me, she's already running down the hall.
I don't want her to catch Alex, because I'm not sure I could persuade her not to arrest him when he's in the damned building. And if she thinks he knows where Mulder is, one of them is going to get hurt. But I can't run after them without exposing our charade.

When I hear the fire alarm go off, I guess that Alex pulled it to ensure his getaway. I remind myself that he's good at getting away. I think only of his safety, until I remember Mulder's still dying and missing. Fuck. Even if Alex escapes and Mulder survives, I don't think we're going to be able to do this again. But if we don't, they may kill Alex.

I try to unhinge my jaw and calm myself. There's nothing I can do right now.

With the fire alarm, it takes almost half an hour for the emergency team to get to me, by which time I'm 'resting' on the couch. I let them check me out. I make up some shit about getting a mint stuck in my throat. And I swallowed it. The med techs are buying it, but Kimberly isn't. But, ever loyal, she doesn't say a word, just gazes at me with motherly concern.

I take the EMTs' advice and let Kimberly drive me home. There, I call the Bureau and speak with security. The UNSUB Scully was chasing got away. I celebrate my relief with a tumbler of Scotch.

**

Washington, D.C.
7:10 P.M.


As an ex-company man, Kritschgau should have been much harder to kill. Not that I'm complaining. I gather up all the information I can find and light a fire, tossing the damned wig on top. I want to be done with that thing forever. I'm not sure I can go through another situation like this with Walter again.

I take Kritschgau's laptop and leave the burning apartment.

What I want to do is go see Walter. Try to explain some of this mess. But it feels like the wrong thing, so I head to my apartment, stopping to report in first.

I've never had a problem stepping into a role, but confronting Walter in his office and playing the heavy was intolerably difficult. I don't want to do this again. Not sure I'm able to do this again.

And then there's the matter of the killing. There's no way I'll tell him. The deaths are too much of a burden… he takes too much responsibility for it.

But what if he asks about it? He can easily guess that at least some of the bodies are my handiwork.

All I can do is ask him not to ask.

I climb into bed, wishing I were with him, and contemplate that stupid stunt he pulled. What was he thinking to deliberately flout the Resistance's orders when they're listening? And they would know if I turned the control pad on, so I had to do something.

I realize I'm angry at him. Because he forced my hand and… and I may never forget the look on his face when I pulled the control pad out.

**

Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 17 June 1999
11:01 A.M.


Scully left a message with Kimberly: she found Mulder. He's going to live. It's a huge relief, however, Kritschgau and Fowley have been murdered. I have to own those deaths.

Fowley's murder means I won't be prosecuted for my egregious acts at the hospital. It's hard to feel good about that.

I asked Kimberly to schedule Scully to debrief me ASAP. Business first.

Scully apparently came to the same conclusion. A few hours later, when she comes into my office, she's pure cold business. She reports that Mulder's captors performed brain surgery on him. Took a chuck out of his temporal lobe. Surgery that seems to have saved him, but it seems doubtful that was their intent. She had one of the visiting neurologists check him out to be sure, but he seems to be fine, mentally and physically, other than recovering from the surgery.

Although he's no longer telepathic, Scully informs me that he remembers some, but not all, of what he learned during his days of mind reading. I don't look forward to finding out what that means for me and Alex.

She wouldn't offer an explanation for how she found Mulder. "That's not important, sir."

I have to push for the hidden audience. "I'll expect that in your report, Agent Scully."

She nods tersely. "Who will you be assigning to the Fowley and Kritschgau murders?"

"They're not X-Files are they?"

"Not really."

"I'll tell Baker to assign whoever you request." I pass her a file folder with nothing it in, except a note that says, 'We have to talk.'"

She glances at the note, then says, "Thank you, sir," without feeling.

I look down at my desk. "You're dismissed, Agent Scully."

Even though he's no longer telepathic, I'm anxious about what Mulder read in my mind. If he knows that Alex and I are lovers, he's got the power to kill Alex with a few careless words.

If I can set aside the fear, the telepathy was fantastic. Not something I ever thought to see. It really justifies the X-Files. I've supported the program for years, but sometimes wondered if I was doing the right thing. It was good to hold proof in our hands, if only for a few moments. That must be part of what motivates Mulder on his quest. I wonder if it's been worth it for him. The victories have been so few and the losses so grave.

I'm not certain the Resistance had anything to do with Mulder's abduction and surgery. It's possible that they, and Alex, are responsible for some of the deaths associated with this case. I've decided not to ask Alex. He knows where I stand on the deaths of innocent people. We're both trying to stay alive here. My judging him will not help. I have to find a way to live with it. I wonder if he can live with everything that's happened.


Annapolis, MD
Thursday, 24 June 1999
8:20 P.M.


I haven't seen Alex in over a week. Though I'm deeply troubled by the events of the past few weeks, I can cope with what's happened between Alex and me. But I'm not certain he can.

I could really use his presence to remind me why I'm still doing this.

Scully makes me wait for twenty minutes, but at least she comes. I breathe a little easier when I see her at the restaurant door. I pay off my bar tab and meet her halfway. "Let's go for a walk."

She follows as I lead her out the back way. We head for a small park at the top of a hill. Neither of us speaks until we scout out a secluded park bench. It's dark, moist and cool. We're unlikely to be disturbed.

I straddle the bench to face her, though she sits face forward. Suddenly, a piece of cardboard on the ground seems diverting. Taking a breath, I begin, "Thank you for coming. I…"

Scully holds up a hand to stop me. "There's not much to explain. I know what you did and why you did it." I can see her anger in the line of her jaw.

I nod, forcing myself not to look away. "I think an apology is a good place to start."

"It's not necessary," she states in a measured tone, looking away.

"Yes, it is." I squat in front of her, so she can't avoid my gaze. "I betrayed you, and Mulder, bugging your office, taping you in mine and assigning you that case."

Her eyebrow rises a bit. She didn't know all of it.

"I nearly cost Mulder his life, and I consider myself responsible for Kritschgau and Fowley. I'm not sure about the others. An apology won't change that, but I do apologize. If I had known, I would have let myself be killed instead."

She closes her eyes for a moment. "I know, Walter." She puts a hand on my shoulder and tries not to look so angry.

Neither of us speaks for a long moment.

I get up and straddle the bench again. "Dana, I know I've lost the trust you've given me. Now that Mulder is safe, I'm here to answer your questions to the best of my ability, in the hopes that I can rebuild a little trust."

"Who was in your office… the man I chased down the hall?"

I'll answer that if I have to, but I'd rather not. "It's not important. I'm sure you can guess it was a representative of the people who are controlling the nanocytes."

"It was Krycek." It isn't a question. "Why did he hurt you?"

"Because I told you not to give me information."

"So you couldn't pass on the information to them."

"Yes."

"You personally planted the video-cam in the X-Files office."

"Yes."

"At their direction?"

"Yes."

"Who are they, Walter?"

"It would be extremely risky for me to tell you."

"But you know?"

"Yes."

"So you did these all these things at their direction, in exchange for your life?"

"Yes," and Alex's, "but that's no excuse for what I did, Scully. I still had a choice."

"I'm still angry, Walter, but I also understand and… accept what you had to do." She adjusts her hair. "I know you tried to help Mulder."

I acknowledge it with a nod.

Scully continues, her tone hardening again, "But I have to feel I have integrity in my investigations. We need to know if and when you're on our side."

"I agree." I take off my glasses and rub my eyes. "I'm not sure I can do anything for them again. It might be over."

After a lengthy silence, she turns and straddles the bench, facing me. "This battle has had many deaths. Each of us can blame ourselves for some of them." Her voice shifts from gentle to more determined. "We have a choice--we can feel guilty or we can fight."

It's a well-deserved kick in the nuts.

Dana fills me with awe. She's so strong, always ready to face the truth and go on. I'm so weak compared to her. But filled with gratitude that she's on my side of the battle.

"I understand, Dana. I'll do my best," I promise. "I'm still infected with these things. If something like this happens again…" I don't even want to think it, but I must. "… I'd like to be able to covertly tell you what I've been ordered to do."

She nods. "We can use a code phrase, so you can tell me immediately when there's a conflict of interest. I'll keep information from you, as necessary, when that happens."

"That would be best."

"A code phrase… why don't you say 'Give me your usual preliminary report?'"

"Okay. 'Give me your usual preliminary report," I parrot back. It's a safe-word. I hold out a small hope it keeps everyone safe.

"I may have to tell Mulder," she warns.

That's more than fair. "Scully, I know this is an impossible situation for you. If you need to tell Mulder you think I'm compromised, I can accept that. Hell, he read my damned mind. He already knows."

"Yes. He believes Krycek is blackmailing you. And I hope you're not giving that man too much trust."

"I appreciate your, um, acceptance of my situation."

"Even Mulder understands, sir. And I'm purported to be the more reasonable half of our partnership."

I chuckle half-heartedly. "I have a question for you, but if it betrays a confidence, I don't expect you to answer."

She frowns a little. "Okay."

"Since we know Mulder read my mind, what else does he remember?"

"As he explained to me, he didn't read minds, he read thoughts. A distinction because you must have been thinking about Krycek giving you directives. And not about the research."

Thinking about Krycek is exactly what I was worried about. "He didn't say anything odd to you about me?"

"No." She shakes her head, looking curious. "He doesn't remember everything."

I'm sorry I can't explain. Thank you for not asking.

Agent Scully is one of our finest agents. Even disregarding her help with the nanocytes, I feel like I should fall at her feet for the generous support she's given me.

When I offer nothing further, Scully says, "I'm going to meet Dr. Lavagetto's team in the next week."

I can't hide my relief. "Thank you," I offer with as much feeling as I can muster.

We sit in silence again, but it's a more comfortable silence. It's gotten colder, so Scully uses my coat as a blanket.

After a time, she says, "I almost lost everything. Mulder. What I believe in. I still can't accept everything I saw evidence for." Her face opens up with rarely seen vulnerability.

"Do you want to talk about it? I'm happy to offer an ear."

She hesitates.

"Dana, your friendship means a great deal to me…"

Then she begins to share. Her experiences. Her beliefs. Fears. Doubts. Aliens. She even sheds a few tears. I hope for once I'm able to give something back to her.

There's an unexpected solace in her words. I'm not the only one struggling with risks, disbelief, uncertainty and sorrow.

**

Crystal City, VA
Friday, 25 June 1999
6:35 P.M.


Standing in the shadows across the street, I watch Walter pull into his parking garage. I enter the building and start up the stairs. His door is closing as I emerge from the stairwell.

I've stayed away for several reasons. Not the least of which is that I needed to recuperate, but I've been dreading finding out how much the last few weeks has damaged our relationship. If there's even a relationship left. But I've had as much waiting as I can stand.

I rap on the door. I need to get this over with.

Walter opens the door, stepping aside to admit me without a word.

I have no idea what to say. After a moment, I ask, "How's Mulder?"

Walter gestures to the sofa. "He's fine, I think." He takes a seat in the chair by the sofa. "Whoever abducted him performed brain surgery without his consent. On the up side, it appears to have saved his life."

Taking a seat, I ask, "Did Scully tell you who grabbed Mulder?"

"No. Does she know?"

"Yes. It was Spender acting on one of his delusional fantasies."

"What fantasy was that?"

"That Mulder is resistant to infection by the black oil because of that thing in his head. That Mulder is a homegrown alien-human hybrid."

"So why the brain surgery?"

Talking about the inanities of the past few weeks is easy, but it feels… distancing. It's not what's really on my mind. "To remove the new tissue. Probably to implant it in someone else, but we're not certain."

"I haven't seen Mulder yet, but he may know about us. There's no telling what he got out of my thoughts. He told me he knew you were blackmailing me… His previous suspicions confirmed."

So Walter still thinks there's an 'us.' Is relief premature? I set my concern aside and consider the problem at hand for a long time. If Mulder knows about us and mentions it in any way that the Resistance can hear, Walter and I are both likely to be dead. No, that's not true. I'd be dead. Walter would get a new handler.

Blandly, I reply, "It's not a major problem."

Walter glares at me, shaking his head. The disagreement is in his expression, but he doesn't say a word.

"If the Resistance finds out, they're unlikely to take punitive action against you. At least, nothing permanent."

"Dammit, Alex. We both know they'd probably take you out."

I shrug.

He frowns. "I asked Scully if Mulder told her anything odd about me and she said no. If he does figure it out, I think we can count on her to try to prevent Mulder from doing something foolish."

Whatever. "Did you experience any problems from that episode in your office?"

"No. Although Scully figured out it was you."

I watch him for a second, then decide to ask a question that's been bothering me. "Why did you push that day? When you knew the Resistance would hear?"

Walter sighs, but there's a hint of a smile in his expression. "I wasn't thinking. I wanted you to know about my little rebellion. Maybe it was stupid, but they probably expect me to fight and kick a little."

There's nothing to say. I want to yell at him, tell him not to do that again. But it feels like too much effort. When did all this apathy set in?

I lean my head back and wonder if there's any point to me staying here any longer.

"Alex?"

Tipping my head up, I reply, "Yeah?"

"What about the problem you were having? Are you okay?"

I rest my head again. "I'm fine." I close my eyes and quote the doctor running the tests. "Some mildly abnormal brain function, 'but nothing that will interfere with your work.'" I manage to almost exactly duplicate his guttural German accent.

"I hope… if they tested you again, it wasn't as bad as before."

I've certainly been through worse. "It was fine."

"Is this, uh, assignment over?" he asks with obvious dread.

Opening my eyes, I stare at the ceiling. "Yes. They recovered the fragments and the ship."

Walter is silent for a long time. Finally, he says, "Alex, we knew this was going to happen. It's over for now. We're all still alive, so… I don't know. That's something."

Still alive. I've been reminding myself of that for 16 years. For some reason, it doesn't seem like enough right now. I lift my head to look at Walter. "I'm not sure I can do this again. I don't seem to be able to play the heavy with you anymore."

He rises and sits closer on the sofa. "You've been through so much. I know you can do this. I'll help you."

His being close tells me more than anything we've said. But, is it fair to ask someone to help you hurt them? I'm at a loss to understand my changing feelings around this… situation. Looking at Walter, I decide the questions don't matter right now.

Moving until our legs touch, I twist my body to wrap my arm around his shoulder, burying my face in his neck. I don't know what to say anymore.

Walter's arms come around my waist. "It's okay, Alex," he whispers, rubbing my back with a strong hand.

With Walter, I don't feel like I have to try so hard to protect myself. I'm starting to trust him to do it. A part of me realizes it's not wise, but I need this right now.

I murmur against his skin. "Are we okay?" The thing I've been worried about the most.

"Yeah." His deep voice is solid and reassuring.

The relief nearly overwhelms me.

**

It's a start on forgiveness.

I'm changing. Can't keep blaming him for what he's done. Can't live with myself if I don't start accepting. He and I are on the same side. We have to be, or I don't want to do this anymore.

"Alex?"

He quietly murmurs, "What?"

"Remember the day at the beach? We'll do it again." I hope it's true. We both need to believe it.

He tips his head back to look at me, offering a tired half smile. "Okay."

We sit together for a long time. I think about what lies ahead of us, and what we're going to have to do to get through it, and what I want when it's over. I wonder what Alex thinks about.

When it's time for bed, we go upstairs and brush our teeth together. Exchanging kisses after my shower and before his. Going to bed isn't about sex, it's about being close. It scares me a little, but it's what we both need.

** End Confront **

The Exigency saga is now 50% complete, with about 700 pages still unpublished. 95% of it has been written, but editing is long, hard work.

Want to give us some encouragement?
Tell us what you liked—what made you smile, laugh or feel warm inside.
What made you unable to stop reading?
What angsty moment drove you insane?
What sex scene was the hottest?

Thanks!
Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us


Next book in series: Exigency: Advance


Back to LZL Home Back to Exigency Page