Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Defend2.


Exigency: Defend
(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 3

Sunday, 30 July 2000
8:22 A.M.


The razor makes tiny scraping sounds as it removes my morning stubble. I got out of bed without waiting for Alex to wake. I need to get focused, and the world outside of Scotland seems so damned far away.

A sleepy-looking Alex appears and wraps his arm around me from behind. "Morning."

I turn and give him a kiss, leaving a smear of shaving cream on his face. He absently rubs at it, then fumbles for his toothbrush.

I finish shaving, rinse my face, then sit on the counter next to him. "We need to talk about our future, Alex. But I don't want to do it here."

He gives me a curious look and replies around his toothbrush, "Why dod?"

Staring at him, I struggle to understand what he's said. Why not? "This is... I don't know, it feels like a sanctuary. I don't want to bring the outside world here."

He shrugs. "O-ay."

"Abby packed a picnic lunch. Let's drive somewhere and talk."

Nodding, he rinses his mouth.

I drive. I'm doing pretty well with the right-hand drive. About a half hour away from home, I spot a decaying farmhouse. It's probably private property, but it doesn't look like there's anyone around to care. I pull over and park the car.

We hike about half a mile, until I find a pleasant location with a bit of grass. I spread out a blanket and put the lunch Abby's carefully packed on it.

Sitting on the blanket, I take a look around. "I can smell the forest. It smells like... I don't know... like Scotland."

Alex grins at me. "I'm glad you like it here. The first time I came here, I felt so... comfortable, I guess."

I take his hand and bring it to my lips. I know exactly what he means.

After passing Alex a bottle of tea, I twist the cap off my beer.

The future. Fuck. Part of me wants to just stay here forever and forget anything else ever existed. It's so tempting. But it's a decision Alex and I have to make together.

I brush his hair off his forehead. Taking a deep breath, I begin. "I intend to spend the rest of my life with you, Alex. We need to talk about how we want to live it."

I can tell by the serious expression on his face that he knows where I'm going with this. He offers me a grim smile. "Sucking and fucking?"

As if I needed a reminder.

Shaking my head, I continue, "We can stay here in our beautiful Scottish bubble, sucking and fucking, trying to forget about everything that's happened, everything not of this earth, everything that will happen."

That's the part I can't accept. What's happening to the human race while we hang out in Shangri-La.

It makes me... sad. "Or we can go fight." I squeeze his hand. "This is not a decision I can make without you. We have to make it together."

Alex stares at our clasped hands for a long time, then looks up at me, his gaze intense. "Even with my limited grasp of morality, when I found out about the conspiracy, I knew it was wrong. Giving up the planet that way. Using our species as either slaves or incubators."

He's right. It's sickening. I'm not sure I could live with myself if I just let it happen.

Alex glances away, lost in some memory. "I chose to fight this a long time ago." He focuses on me again, looking a little sad. "That hasn't changed."

Just hearing the words hurts. Tears away weeks of denial about our future.

"Are you sure? I don't want you to do this because it's what you think I want." I take off my glasses, resting them on the blanket. "It could be over for you, Alex. After what you've been through, you deserve to retire if that's what you want."

"It can't be over for me if it's not over for you. Because you are my life. But-"

"I can't be the reason, Alex. I need you to tell me what you want to do."

"You're not the reason. More like the incentive, I think. I gave up on wanting anything for myself a long time ago. Until you. But for Lyosha... I've always wanted more for him. I couldn't sit back and leave him to that fate."

Lyosha is a damned good reason. He's at the top of my list of reasons.

For a moment, I'm still unsure. I know I can't bear to be the reason Alex takes the risks again. But I trust him. I have to trust him on this, for my own sanity.

I pick up a leaf that fell on the blanket. "How did you know I'd want to fight?"

Alex cocks his head to the side and looks at me curiously. "I love you, Walter. I love you because I know you. And not fighting is contrary to everything you believe... everything you are."

He's right, of course. But still, somehow I wanted him to convince me not to today. Still clinging to a fantasy existence. Because...

Because the risk is horrific. We could go from this near paradise back to the worst moments of our lives. But I think both of us are risk takers. And both of us know how to keep the fear at bay.

Alex moves closer and rests his hand on my knee. "I have some conditions, though."

So do I. And you're not going to like mine. "Name your terms."

"The first is, we cannot be a cog in someone else's machine. I've tried that too many times and it's led... nowhere good." He lifts his left shoulder protectively.

"Agreed. This will be our show." The last thing I need is to feel like a helpless fly caught in someone else's web. Reminds me too much of working at the Bureau. "And?"

He looks at me intently. "If it comes to it, I'll die fighting..."

I know you will. That's what I'm most afraid of. More than anything I've ever feared.

"... but not in a lab and not in a prison. Even if... even if you have to take care of it, promise me that won't happen."

I'd thought of that, too. "I promise." It makes me ache to have to make that promise. Yes, Alex, I'll take your life to save you from the labs, or prison.

In the hotel room in D.C., when he lay dying, I knew I could do it.

His expression relaxes slightly, but a dark moment passes between us as we both consider what we're agreeing to. I feel as if Scotland is slipping through my fingers and I make a vow that we'll always come back here. Always. Once or twice a year. More, if we can.

There's so much trust in Alex's eyes. He would let me lead him into the worst possible hell on earth, and count on me to end it, if necessary. It's far more responsibility than I'd like. But there's nothing I can do to change it.

"I have two conditions, as well, Alex."

He nods faintly.

"First, I'm staying on top of you. We might as well be handcuffed together for all the distance I'll let you get." Because we both know I can't protect you if I'm not there.

He looks like he wants to protest and visibly restrains himself.

"I'm sorry. I know this suggests I have no respect for your abilities, but if you're out of sight and I have to worry about you, I won't be able to do this."

Eventually, he sighs and says, "Okay." He squeezes my leg. "Next?"

Now the hard part.

"There's one more thing. Something neither of us wants to talk about." I pick a twig off the blanket, and meet his gaze head on. "But you and I both know how dangerous this will be. We have to consider the possibility that something will happen to one of us."

Alex tenses. "Uh huh."

"Recently, each of us had an experience that brought us to the edge of facing that loss. And neither of us handled it very well." I pinch the bridge of my nose. "When I thought you were dead, I didn't know what kept me alive, but I've figured it out.

"Ever since I was a kid, I hated to see people getting bullied or abused. That's why I went into law enforcement. After a decade at the Bureau it felt like I wasn't doing any good any more. But this... we're among a small number of people who know that it's real. Know that the human race will soon be extinct or worse. It's my responsibility as a citizen of, well, the planet, to do everything in my power to prevent it." I pause, because I really don't want to say this.

Alex looks pained, but I can see he understands. In his own way, he feels the same responsibility.

I force myself to continue. "If we do this, and if something happens to you," I can't get any volume behind my words, "I promise you that I'll continue the fight, that I won't fold under the loss, that I'll forgive myself for," I feel like I'm choking on the words, "getting you involved in this again."

Suddenly, Alex's eyes are wet and he glances away, blinking rapidly. After a few moments, he takes a steadying breath and looks at me again. "When I thought you were dead..." he trails off and takes another deep breath. "I'm not sure I can make the same promise, Walt." He meets my gaze, his eyes revealing his inner torment. "But I will promise you that I'll try. Try to not let your death destroy me."

The grief I feel contemplating his being hurt by my death threatens to overwhelm me. So I shut it down. "I need to know that you'll get on with your life. I don't care if you stay and fight, or forget about all of it and go live quietly somewhere, but you have to try to make a good life for yourself."

Shaking his head, he looks at his lap. "My life wasn't good before you..." his voice catches. "I can't promise that when I have no concept of it without you." With great effort, he looks at me again. "But I'll try to remember my brother and Vlad and Tatiana... and the rest of the fucking planet, and keep going. But I can't promise you happiness. Because you're vital to that."

It feels like his words are ripping out my organs.

I need his promise. Need it to face what we have to do. But he's just being honest. And no one can promise happiness.

Please, I muse silently to no one, don't let my death destroy him. Don't let this quest destroy him. I'd die a hundred times to keep him safe, but I can't.

I have to accept that. And remember that this fight is to keep us safe, too.

I should say something, but I don't know what. Finally, I manage, "Well then, I'll try not to get killed."

He offers me a half smile. "Good idea, Muscle Man."

Reaching for him, I tug him into my lap and crush him in my arms. "I love you, Alex. Maybe too much... but I'm not complaining. Not by a long shot."

Alex holds onto me tightly. "Good, because I love you, too, and nothing is going to happen to you. I can be very stubborn about these things."

I kiss the side of his face. "If stubbornness is enough to win this war, we've got them licked."

"Walt..." Alex sounds hesitant. "...can we have another week here? Just a little while longer before we face this?"

"Damned good idea, Krycek." I run my fingers through his hair.

After a few minutes of clutching each other like long-separated lovers, we start on the food. It doesn't seem to taste like much, and Alex feeds a good portion of his to a nearby anthill. After the subdued silence of the meal, I find I don't want to go home yet. Want things to feel better first. So we go for a walk. We find an old windmill and explore the interior in the half light from the door. It's all musty and old. A little creepy. I try to scare Alex, but it doesn't work. We end up kissing in a dark corner. There's a certain feverishness to our kiss.

Later, as we walk hand-in-hand back to toward the truck, the silence is once again comfortable, both of us having put the future on hold for another week.

Inverness, Scotland
Wednesday, 2 August 2000
10:02 P.M.


Alex and I leave the restaurant and head across the street to where the car is parked.

It's been a long day. We spent the morning in bed. The intensity of Monday's conversation has created a desperate edge to our fucking, as if we're both clinging to this place... to each other. After we finally got going, we ran errands into the evening, then stopped for a late dinner.

Alex acted normally during the first part of dinner, but toward the end it was clear he had something on his mind. As we begin the drive home, he stares out the window, clearly preoccupied.

His hand settles on my thigh, then he quietly says, "I'd like to tell you some stuff about my past. If that's okay."

I try to cover my astonishment. "Of course. That would be... good." I hope.

"You might not think so..." He trails off and looks far away for a moment. "I told you about my time in prison when I was 17... when Spender took an interest in me. I was given a choice then. To stay in prison or join the Organization—sort of a general crime syndicate, but also a Russian counterpart to the Consortium, except instead of collaborating they were opposed to colonization. Of course, at the time, I had no inkling of anything related to aliens. I chose to join... to become one of their operatives."

I wonder where he's going with this.

Alex continues, "I was turned over to a man named Leonid Arntzen. He trained me. In retrospect, I think he also protected me. He helped prepare me for my first mission... to kill my parents—at my own request. It was..."

It still hurts to think about him killing his parents. Not that they didn't deserve it. But, fuck, what a life.

He looks lost in the memory, then shakes it off. "After a couple years, Arntzen's supervisor, Yuri Smetanin, pulled me off of Arntzen's team and ordered me to the States. I didn't know it at the time, but Yuri was secretly working with Spender to further the interests of the colonists. Naturally the Organization would have considered this treasonous."

I repeat the key details in my head, so I can remember them, nodding to encourage Alex to go on.

For a moment, Alex appears to be a little uncomfortable. "When I was with the Bureau, I stumbled across an investigation into a purported Russian terrorist. I found out that Yuri was feeding false information to the feds to frame Arntzen. Probably because Arntzen was on to him. I guess I felt I owed Arntzen something, because I warned him—and consequently, blew your investigation."

This is all news to me. I don't remember any Bureau investigation like that.

"I hadn't spoken to him since I'd left Russia, but I couldn't stomach the idea of Yuri betraying him." He looks far away. "Possibly one of the greatest mistakes of my life."

There's a lot of pain in his expression. And in a life like his the 'greatest mistake' has to be huge. "Why?" I ask gently.

His expression shifts to pained. "At the time we were ordered to retrieve the DAT tape from you, Spender also ordered my termination. He'd been looking for a reason to get rid of me since I fucked up my deep cover at the Bureau. And, although I managed to evade that particular hit, it eventually led to my infection by the alien and to the missile silo."

So, Spender used him. Then betrayed him by ordering his death. I'm certainly not surprised. At least the fucker won't be doing that again.

"I was so fucked up after I finally escaped the silo." Alex sighs and agitatedly shoves his hair away from his face. "In the midst of recovering, I found out you'd been shot." He glances at me, and I can see how much it hurt him. "I don't know what I was thinking... maybe I wanted something safe, something familiar. Hell, maybe I just wanted to go home. So I went back to Russia, only to find out the Organization thought I had defected, and I was high on their hit list. Because Arntzen felt he owed me, he fixed it... brought me back in. And we agreed we wanted to prevent colonization. Our opportunity came when the rebel aliens began killing abductees. We knew it was our best chance. But our plan got fucked up and I found myself with a familiar dilemma; work for the Consortium or die. Tough choice. But instead of working for Spender, I became the handyman for the old English gentleman named Witherspoon. What I didn't know was that he and Arntzen had been collaborating for a long time. Both planning to align with the Resistance."

So how did Arntzen betray you, Alex?

"When Witherspoon and I went to meet with the Resistance—the only conduit to the Rebels—there was Arntzen. He told me he'd agreed to allow the Resistance to use me in the first human trial of the nanos. Arntzen said it was for my own benefit... that he'd lost the ability to control me and being under the thumb of the Resistance would ensure my survival." He grits his teeth. "He's been my handler."

For his own benefit? Arntzen sounds as bad as Spender. Enemies are one thing. Enemies who pretend to be your friend are the lowest. And this one's still alive. I'd like to get my hands around his throat.

Alex reaches out to touch my face. "There's a lot of history between Arntzen and me. Unresolved history. I don't know how this will all turn out, but I wanted you to know."

What is he not saying that I need to know? "So Arntzen is responsible for your nanocyte infection, and the tests?" And my nanocyte infection.

"Yes." He captures my hand and holds it tightly. "I don't know how we're going to handle the Resistance... I'm not even concerned about it yet, but I- I cannot work with him... align with him. The only-"

"Understood." I'm trying to keep my homicidal impulses at bay. "What would you like to do
about Arntzen?"

"I want him dead," Alex replies instantly. "But I... for you, I can let it go."

I briefly meet his eyes. "I appreciate the gesture, but it's wasted on him."

Alex blinks at me in surprise. "Uh... okay."

"Anything else you want to tell me?"

"Later... as I think of things. I just want you to be prepared for what we're going to face. And for how I, um, feel about it."

"Thank you for telling me, Alex."


Thursday, 3 August 2000
6:38 P.M.


Abby sets the last dish on the table and glances at Alex's vacant chair. "Is Will coming back for dinner?"

Alex went out on a late ride, but said he'd be back for dinner. He's been riding more than usual the last few days. "That's what he said." I glance around the room, as if to find him hiding in a corner.

I wonder how he's going to react to dinner. Vinegret, Gutap-Kazakh, Kotlety Po-Kievski, and dessert still cooking. Russian favorites.

She frowns. "It's going to get-"

The front door bangs open and I hear footsteps, then Alex calling out, "I'll be right in, Abby. Don't skin me."

Abruptly, he's in the doorway, his sweaty T-shirt clinging to his chest. He looks hot... sexy. But not exactly dressed for dinner. "What's that smell?" He takes in dinner with a surprised look. "You can prepare Russian cuisine, Abby?"

She shrugs. "It's just an idea. Something different. I don't have to fix-"

His expression shifts to flat. "No. It's fine. I'll, uh, be right back."

After he disappears, Abby turns to me. "Is he upset about the food?"

I shake my head. "He might like it. Let's just wait and see."

Abby looks concerned, but she heads into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Alex comes downstairs in clean clothes. We begin to eat silently. Alex eats slowly, then stops eating all together. He stares at his plate, pushing some Chicken Kiev around. "Kseniya would only eat this when I made it," he says softly.

My hand goes automatically to his thigh.

"It was so hard to get her to eat." He smiles wistfully. "She was a lot more stubborn than I am."

"Hard to believe..." I squeeze his leg.

"It's true. Except she would do anything to get to play with Ivan. She thought the sun rose and set on him." He focuses on me intently and places his hand over mine. "I guess she and I have something else in common... a weakness for our favorite man."

I tousle his hair, wishing I could have known his other brothers and sisters. Suddenly, I'm intensely grateful for Lyosha. That must be a tiny part of the loss he feels. "Have you thought about going to New Zealand?"

He nods. "We'll go. I'm not sure when, but... I want to know him."

It's the right decision. Lyosha needs Alex. I'm sure of it. I wrap my arm around Alex's shoulders. "Thank you. I want to know him, too."

He kisses me. In a moment, we return to eating. He's quiet, looking faraway and a little sad, but by the end of the meal, he seems to have shaken it off.

After Alex convinces Abby that he enjoyed the meal, we head out for a walk.


Sunday, 6 August 2000
3:15 P.M.


We brought lunch to the same spot. Our talk-about-the-real-world place. It's beautiful here, and that seems to make it easier.

"If we're going to fight, we need allies," I say, passing Alex a sandwich. "You know this arena better than I do. Who else is out there who might possibly help us or work with us?"

Alex thinks about it for the length of time it takes him to sort out the edible part of his sandwich. "Well, the best allies are the rebel aliens. They have the knowledge, the technology... all the tools we need to defeat the colonists. But, as far as I know, they're very apathetic about humans. The Resistance operates with their blessing, but very little involvement."

"Why are they here? What's their motivation to stop the colonization?"

"They were a slave race to the colonists, but managed to get free. Their stated aim is to prevent the spread of the colonists. To keep them from finding more ways to reproduce. But, I've always assumed there's more to it... just don't know what it is."

Well, yeah. Trying to understand human motives is complex enough. "We have to assume all parties have motives other than the betterment of mankind." I take some of Alex's veggies and put them on my own sandwich. "You said 'apathetic about humans.' Maybe that's a good thing. Do you think it would be safe to approach them? Find out if there's any basis for cooperation?"

Alex nods. "It may be the only option. To control the Resistance, you need to have the support of the rebels, because they have the power." He looks thoughtful. "It's too damned bad we don't have something to bargain with. Something to give us a measure of control... like the xtvac virus. I'm sure they'd love to get a hold of that." He pops a bite of meat into his mouth, then looks stunned.

"What?" I gape at him. "What's the, uh, stu-vac virus?"

He squints and rubs his temple in a way I know means he's got a memory-induced headache. "It's a... sort of like a retro-virus. It kills them almost instantly, but it doesn't leave any trace in a dead host. They would want to isolate it and try to find a cure to protect their species from colonist biological warfare, but without a living host..."

I toss my sandwich on a napkin. "This is something you just got from those alien memories?"

Alex looks a little queasy. "Yes... And it's more than that." He swallows hard. "I'm a carrier of the virus. I don't know how I know... I just do."

"Fuck, is it dangerous to you?"

"I... I don't think so. If it were, I would already be dead." He gives me an unsettled look.

I rest a hand on his upper back. "You okay?"

"Mm hm. It's just a little weird."

I sit quietly with him, until he starts to eat again, which I take as a sign that he's all right. "So, help me understand this virus. Who exactly does it kill?"

"The rebel aliens." He looks thoughtful. "I think using it as a weapon against them could be a tactically poor choice because we need them. But, it might be the bargaining chip we need. I could be wrong—my information is about 50 years out of date—but at that time they wanted to find an immunization, but needed a sample of the virus. We might be able to offer them that."

Only if we can get it out of you first. "So the rebels might negotiate for the virus, but how does that help us with the Resistance?"

"The Resistance only operates with the rebel aliens' blessing. They are driving an alien agenda. The rebels can force the Resistance to cooperate with us. Or whatever we deem to be the price."

We sure as hell can't let them know that Alex is carrying the virus, or he's going to be the most wanted lab rat in the goddamned universe.

As an afterthought Alex adds, "Um, I don't think we should tell them where we got the virus from."

"Uh, yeah. Definitely." Believe me, Alex. They couldn't torture it out of me. "So we've got some leverage with the rebels, but only once. Once we give them the virus, it's all over. We no longer have bargaining chips and we lose the weapon against them should we need it in the future."

Alex thinks on it for a moment. "More or less. We also have information. Information about the colonists we could use to keep them appeased. We can claim it came from Consortium files."

"Good plan. And that's where you got a sample of the virus... You stole it from a lab somewhere. Could that work?"

He nods slowly. "I think so. Neither the rebels nor the Resistance have full knowledge of what went on in the Consortium—how much they knew and what information they were privy to. I think it might work."

"So we leave a message with our recently abandoned handlers that we have the virus and request a meeting?"

"Henderson. Not Arntzen. Henderson wants to climb the ranks badly enough that he'll want to impress the rebels. You're already familiar with him. He's the 'We' man you've spoken to on the occasions of my disappearance. But, first things first, we need to isolate the virus. I was thinking of a trip to Tucson."

I do not want to take Alex to another lab. Ever again. But it might keep us alive long enough to do something useful. "Okay, if you can do it."

Alex gives a terse nod, his expression determined. "Start thinking about what our terms are. If they still need the virus, we'll be able to get just about anything we want."

As long as they trust us enough to pay up front. Maybe Lavagetto can give them a small taste of the information about the virus, to whet their appetites.

It might work. But it's going to take me some time to figure out what I need from the rebels. And how the pieces of this puzzle should fit together.

I finish my sandwich while Alex tells me everything he knows about the rebels and their activities on earth. Interrupting frequently with questions, I tease out the story... or at least what he knows of the story. He experiences new alien memories twice, one of which gives us more potentially bargainable information.

I ask Alex to try to come up with other potential allies. The Organization? Risky and probably not terribly useful. Something to try later. Maybe we can turn one of their members to spy for us?

Surviving members of the Consortium? There's hardly anyone left, plus Alex doesn't want anything to do with them. Most were collaborators anyway. It's what I expected, but I don't want to cut off options because of false assumptions.

Alex mentions Marita Covarrubias. Her contacts in the U.N. might be useful and she knows government officials who the Consortium were able to bribe or control who might be leaned upon to help us. The crucial question is what side of the war is she on? He's fairly certain she's on our side, as she risked her life trying to help Mulder, and helped Alex deceive Spender after his release from Tunisia.

So, we'll recruit Marita. And keep an eye on her. I'm not trusting anyone who hasn't already earned it. Maybe not even then.

Alex mentions an alien named Jeremiah Smith. A member of another slave race, who decided to help humans. He doesn't know where Jeremiah might be or if he can be of any use to us.

He's supposedly a healer, but there were others—clones. And not all of them on the same side.

I met one of them years ago at the Bureau. One Smith, presumably the healer Alex mentioned, had saved some people who were shot at a fast food outlet. The one I met was pretending to be the heroic one.

If we find him, we'll have to make sure we've got the right one. Unfortunately, I haven't the slightest idea how to go about that.

In the end, we decide the first steps are to contact Lavagetto about the virus, then contact the rebels.

Packing up the uneaten food and our trash, we head for the car. On the way home, I tell Alex to drive to Inverness instead. Once we get there, it only takes half an hour to find an Internet connection. Opening the channel to Lavagetto, I discover that he and Scully have been using it to discuss his research. I leave a short note for both of them.

--
D and R,

We're both fine. Coming home soon. Have a project for R—need to isolate a virus that Tom is carrying. Okay to fly to Tucson?

D—I have a plan that may get us more information about M. Need to meet as soon as we get back to D.C.

H.
--

Inverness, Scotland
Monday, 7 August 2000
11:17 A.M.


--
H,

Already found two unusual viruses in Tom's blood samples. Sorry I forgot to mention them. You two were so moody the last time I saw you. I have electron micrographs of both—see attached. What else do you need?

The Senator has been very helpful. There's money to be made in this work. I'm setting aside shares for you and Tom. You've earned it.

Take care,

R
--

I smile at Alex who's reading over my shoulder, then start typing the response.

--
R,

Tom says it's sample #2. I have someone who needs information about that virus, but I want to give them only enough to convince them I have the real thing. Can you provide a 'teaser?'

Tom and I know another tall sexy blonde, if the first one doesn't work out.

Regards,

H.
--

Alex chuckles. "Can't you just see Russ and Marita together?"

I shrug and log off the computer. "I can see that she's his type, but I haven't the slightest idea what her type is."

Unexpectedly, Alex flushes. "Strong hands."

"What?" And why is he blushing? Oh, shit. "You fucked her?"

He tries to wave it away. "A long time ago."

"It damned well better be." We walk out of the library. I nudge him with my elbow. "Next time you see her, you tell her you belong to me."

His eyelids get heavy and he flashes me a heated look. "I'll be sure to."

On the way to the car, I ask, "So what's with the 'strong hands?' Takes her a long time to come or what?"

Alex lifts his hand and wraps it around his throat.

Ouch. Fuck. "Well, she looks like a walk on the wild side."

He shrugs. "She certainly knows what she likes."

I push the remote to open the Range Rover. "What about you? Did you like it?"

"Doing it? I guess. It was kind of kinky." He seems rather blasé about the whole thing.

Once we're inside the car, I turn to him. "You have to give the woman credit for having balls... asking an assassin to choke her."

Alex laughs. And laughs. It takes him a few minutes to catch his breath and respond. "I'd never thought of it that way."

**

Walter drives us out of town. We discuss the phone call to Henderson, outlining what we're going to say. When we're ready to go, he pulls off the road and I dial the number on the satellite phone.

Henderson answers on the second ring. "Hello?"

"Are you alone?"

"Who is this?"

"It's Alex Krycek."

"Wha-"

"I suggest you not use my name. I have some vital information for you. If you're smart, you'll keep it to yourself."

"Hold."

There's a long pause and I mouth to Walter, "I'm on hold."

There's a click, then, "I cannot imagine what you might have to say that would be of any interest to me."

"I want a meeting with the rebels."

Henderson gives a derisive snort of laughter. "You have gone insane."

"I have something they want very badly. More than they want anything else. And if you help deliver it, I'm sure they'll be grateful."

There's a long pause. "I don't believe you. In any case, how is it that you're not dead?"

"You didn't think I'd roll over that easily, did you?"

He hesitates, then replies, "What is it that you have?"

I glance at Walter, then take a deep breath. "Tell the rebels my new patron can get them a sample of the xtvac virus."

"The what?"

"If you're smart—and I believe you are—you'll tell them. I'll call you back in half an hour."

"I cannot act on this that quic-"

"That's all the time I'll give you. Keep it to yourself, Henderson. My patron does not suffer fools."

He blusters indignantly. "Who is your n-"

I hang up. Twisting in my seat, I face Walter. "I think he'll do it."

Walter shakes his head and grins. "Patron, huh? Very smooth, Alex." He takes my hand. "I'm glad you're on my side."

Leaning forward, I give him a quick kiss. "I'm glad I'm on your side, too." I settle back in my seat. "I figure they'll be unlikely to suspect me as the source of this information if they think I'm still a hired gun. So when we meet with them, I'll need to act as your bodyguard or something."

"It's a good plan. Especially if they don't try to figure out how I'm paying you."

"That reminds me... my monthly deposits from the Resistance have stopped. Guess they had completely written me off."

Walter gives me a baffled look. "Your what? Oh, fuck, these guys were paying you?"

"Well, yes. Did you think I worked for free?"

"Shit, Alex. You're a smooth operator." He puts a hand in my hair and messes it. "So I guess you can pay yourself for being my hired gun."

I grin at him and smooth my hair down. "Nah. I'll protect you for free." I tap his knee. "You know, I kind of liked the irony of having the Resistance help pay for our nano cure."

"Yeah, well, we need to start thinking how we can fund our anti-colonization activities. That may give your clever financial brain a strain."

I smile at him. I've already been thinking about it. We discuss the upcoming phone call until it's time to call Henderson back.

The phone is answered before it even completes one ring. "When can we meet?" Henderson sounds anxious.

I smile at Walter and nod. "I guess they're interested?"

"They were cryptic, but want a meeting as soon as possible."

"Two days. Warsaw. Meet us at the Forum hotel in the Rotisserie Soplica at 5:00 P.M."

"Who is 'us?'"

I deliberately ignore his question. "Just you and them. Anyone else shows, we walk. We'll have proof that we have the virus, but not the actual sample. Anything happens to either of us, the sample will be destroyed."

"We need s-"

"Is that understood?"

I can hear his teeth grinding. "Yes."

"See you in two days." I disconnect before he can reply.


Tuesday, 8 August 2000
9:58 A.M.


We arrive at the library to find a response from Lavagetto and from Scully. I peer over Walter's shoulder as he reads Scully's first.

--
H,

Miss you at work, but B. is okay. Between him and D. I have more than my share of skepticism, but I think G. and M. believe.

No progress yet on finding the other M. Anxious to hear what you've come up with.

Glad to hear you're enjoying your vacation. You deserve it.

Baby and I are fine. D. does all the nasty work. Except for this parasite thing I'll have to tell you about.

See you soon,

D.
--

Walter grimaces up at me. "Parasite thing?"

I shake my head. "If it's an X-File, it must be horrific." I kiss the side of his neck. "Aren't you glad it's not your job anymore?"

"Definitely. Trying to keep a pregnant Scully out of anything messy is almost as difficult as keeping you out of trouble."

I playfully smack him on the shoulder. "I never get into trouble."

"Uh-huh." He turns his attention back to the email and reads Russ's. He's already got the data ready. Both the full data and the 'teaser' we requested. And, although he's still involved with the first blonde, he's ready for the next one. I'll just put Marita in a box and pop her in the mail.

I stand by the printer and wait for both to print out. After Walter's downloaded the files to disk, we leave the library and head back home. It's our last day here. We depart for Poland tomorrow, then back to D.C.

When we arrive at the house, by unspoken agreement, we pretend everything's normal. After a light lunch, Walter disappears to his shop and I go for a ride. Afterward, I join him, watch him work for a little while, then read from the window seat.

I so desperately don't want to leave this place. As soon as we get on the plane, the chaos begins again. I put my book down and watch Walter put the finishing touches on a linen chest he's built for Abby. Part of me wants to just stay in this window seat, watching Walter do something he loves. To hell with the rest of the planet. But I know that eventually I'd no longer be watching Walt pursue his passions... I'd be watching him collapse under the weight of the responsibility he feels for the rest of the fucking world. I can't sit back and watch it happen, either. Though for very different reasons.

I glance around Walter's shop... the place he most likes to be, with the possible exception of our bedroom. He still has quite a bit to do to get the shop the way he wants it. Incentive for us to come back. Soon.

Walter's been so relaxed and happy here. I don't want to see that change, but it seems inevitable. It's the consequence of the choices we've made. I'll do everything I can to make sure he's happy, but I know it won't be like it has been here.

I abandon my seat and step up behind him, wrapping my arm around his waist and kissing the back of his neck. "I'm heading inside. Are you working out this afternoon?" Walter always works out on Wednesday afternoons.

"Yeah. You going to join me?"

"I have to finish up some accounting, then I'll come bother you." Sometimes groping Walter is as much working out as I manage. That and smelling him as frequently as possible. Okay, some licking, too.

"Good." He turns and pulls me into an embrace.

A few minutes later, I head back to the house, feeling pleasantly aroused. Abby's cooking something that smells good, but I avoid the kitchen, not wanting to talk. Unlocking the security room, I bury myself in accounting, trying to avoid thinking about tomorrow.

When I look up again, over an hour has passed. I remember my promise to join Walter for a workout. After locking the security room, I go upstairs to change into a pair of shorts. Walter and I quit wearing shirts in the gym a few weeks ago. It certainly makes our workouts more visually stimulating. Maybe I could convince him to work out in the nude.

I head into the gym and find Walter at an upright chest fly machine. He's intently focused—squeezing and releasing the weight slowly, his breathing precise. His chest is bare and his body glistens with sweat. I'm suddenly so turned on I'm unable to move. Or breathe. He's so fucking sexy.

He hasn't seen me yet, and I find I'm no longer in the mood to work out. At least, not the type of workout he's doing.

Walter finishes his set, then lowers the weight stack. His eyes slide shut and he takes a few restorative breaths. I step in front of him. He looks up at me, with a smile, which quickly shifts as he takes in my expression.

He peels off his shorts, so he's clad only in his jockstrap. Then, with his eyes locked onto my face, he begins lifting the weight again. My gaze prowls over his body, and I realize I'm breathing at his cadence, my muscles tensing in time with his.

Finishing the set, he's breathing hard, still watching me. His eyes reflect my own lust as he rises to his feet.

We reach for each other simultaneously, mouths devouring. It feels as if it can never be enough as we struggle to get closer, our bodies rubbing against each other, attempting to climb into each other's skin.

I don't know how much time passes before we pull away, both gasping for air. Our eyes meet for a long moment, unspoken communication, then I slide to my knees, my tongue drawing a path from his chest to his abdomen. The heady taste and smell of him is intoxicating and I close my eyes, feeling overwhelmed. His fingers card through my hair.

His white jock barely contains his erection. I slide my hand around to his ass, fingers sliding under the strap, feeling the muscular roundness of his ass cheeks. I bury my face in his crotch, breathing in the scent of him, feeling the fabric against my skin.

Walter emits a soft moan, and waits, unmoving, except for the gentle caress of his fingers in my hair.

But I have no patience, so I pull at the jock, freeing his cock. I kiss from his hip, through his pubic hair, to the base of his shaft. I turn my head, lips marking a path along his erection. When I reach the tip, my tongue flicks out to lick away a drop of pre-cum. He tastes so fucking good.

A subtle shift in body tension is his only reaction. He's trying to maintain equanimity. But that's not what I want... I want to make him lose that control.

I take him into my mouth, teasing the head, tonguing the slit, before quickly taking him into my throat. Walter's hand falls to my shoulder and his hips shift forward slightly, as if against his will. I groan at the feel of him filling my mouth, then begin moving on and off his cock.

Walter's fingers fist in my hair, and—in spite of, or perhaps because of, his efforts at control—I feel the telltale tension that indicates he's close to coming. Abruptly, he pulls me off his cock. I try to catch my breath as I look up and flash him an accusing look.

He shakes his head at me... looking a bit astonished. His breathing is a little ragged, but he smiles and pulls me to my feet, turning me to face the machine he so recently abandoned. He presses me forward, until the seat is between my legs, my chest pressed against the backrest. He guides my hands to the arm pads, and I realize what he intends. I separate my legs, as far apart as I can.

Walter's hand starts at my neck, then slides down my spine. Both hands cup my ass cheeks. One moves back up, circling my neck, then he's holding two fingers at my mouth. I immediately suck at them, laving them with my tongue, getting them thoroughly wet. Too quickly, he pulls them away, then they're at my anus. He slides one inside me, immediately following with the second. He massages me from the inside, then scissors his fingers open, stretching me for him. I gasp at the acute sensations. He deliberately strokes my prostate and my gasp turns into a whimper as a shudder racks my body. I grip the armrests tightly and push my ass back, pleading for more.

When I feel as if I could come from the addictive torment of his fingers, he withdraws and positions the head of his cock at my entrance. I close my eyes, trembling in anticipation as he thrusts into me slowly. There's some pain as my unlubed ass accommodates the heaviness of his erection. The pain is transformed to a sharp pleasure, but I cry out when he finally pushes all the way inside. My fingers clench into the pads of the armrests as my erection is painfully crushed against the vinyl seat pad.

Walter pauses, breathing heavily against my skin, and I realize my breaths again match his. I feel his lips caressing the back of my neck and instantly crave the sensation of his teeth.

Suddenly, there's an unexpected sound, followed by Abby's voice, "Are you ok-" Walter's body tenses at the same moment I hear a startled screech, followed by a door slamming.

A strange choking sound comes from Walter, which I interpret as a gasping chuckle.

I'm really beyond caring, too immersed in what's going on between us.

I tighten my ass around his cock. With a low groan, his hands grip my hips and he begins to move slowly. My knees feel weak as pleasure swamps my senses, endorphins pumping through my veins. Each thrust rubs my cock against the backrest.

Walter drives his hips faster as his teeth grasp the flesh at the back of my neck. Slowly, the bite sinks in, a sharp contrast to the speed of his thrusts.

I keep my head down, offering my neck, as I clutch the armrests for support. I'm overwhelmed by the pleasure and pain, drowning in sensation.

Walter slides his hand between the seat pad and my body, closing his fingers around my cock. My whole body jerks in reaction, and I feel his teeth tighten on my neck. The bite becomes a bruising pain, a brutal counterpoint to the pleasure of his cock inside me.

The rhythm of his thrusts tells me he's about to come. My ass burns under the assault, my cock throbbing with each brush across my prostate. The equipment rattles as my arms tremble. He attempts to move his trapped hand, trying to stroke me. It's more than enough. Pleasure races up my spine, as his teeth penetrate my flesh. A scream is torn from me as orgasm overtakes me. I'm dimly aware of Walter coming inside me, his hips moving jerkily through the onslaught of pleasure.

When I can think again, I'm sagging against the machine, still gripping the armrests, Walter's weight heavy against my back. He kisses the back of my neck, over and over again.

I close my eyes and savor the stinging sensation of his lips on his new mark. I'm incredibly grateful he's drawn my blood. Here. At our home.

**

The taste of his blood is unbelievably arousing. It was something I had to do here, at home... before we return to the real world.

After a shower, and tending the back of Alex's neck, we present ourselves for dinner.

Abby tries to give us a stern look, but a hint of amusement leaks through. "Can I count on the two of you to behave like gentlemen at the dinner table?"

"Yes, ma'am," we reply in unison.

She shakes her head and returns to the kitchen to retrieve our dinner.

We don't talk during the meal. Both of us thinking about leaving.

It's so painful. It seems insane to leave this for something terrible... a war to save the human race. It doesn't seem quite real. Especially here. I wish it weren't. Wish desperately that it was some crazy thing Mulder dreamt up... not a real part of our lives.

But I know it is real. And that means we have to act. There are many reasons, not the least of which is Lyosha.

I know it's the right decision, but we have to return here. I need to know we'll be back or I'll lose my mind. We have to promise each other.


Thursday, 8 August 2000
9:40 P.M.


We can't put it off any longer.

Outside the front door, I ask Alex for his knife. He hands it to me, his expression curious. I cut a small neat nick out of my left forearm. Extending it away from my body, I allow a bit of blood to dribble onto the front step to our home.

"And yours, Alex?" I ask, gesturing to his stump. He starts to extend it, then stops. He offers his right instead.

I gape at him for a moment. Then I make a small cut on his forearm.

Alex leans over the step so his blood drips onto mine. Our eyes are locked. "You are my life and this is my home," he says solemnly. "I love you."

The pain of leaving our newfound home is abated by the flush of pleasure his words give me. "Our home." I wipe the knife on a cloth from my pocket, then hand it back to him. "We'll be back."


Warsaw, Poland
Wednesday, 9 August 2000
4:53 P.M.


Alex and I have been all over the hotel, checking exits, scanning our rented conference room for bugs, looking for suspicious persons. It seems clean. These guys didn't have a lot of time to get ready for this meeting either.

We've gone over our plans for the meeting in excruciating detail. There may yet be surprises, but there won't be any between Alex and me.

Our next stop will be Switzerland. Because we have to go. Or rather I do. I haven't told Alex yet that I intend to go alone. That's going to be a difficult conversation.

An innocuous looking man steps into the restaurant, but I know immediately he's one of them. Alex's posture tells me the same thing. Alex is seated slightly back and to my right, not up at the table. He leans forward and whispers, "Henderson."

The man wanders around until he sees me. He doesn't bother to conceal his shock. Probably thought they'd killed me.

I sit placidly and wait. He glances around nervously. Wishing he'd brought backup, I think. When he sees Alex, he appears puzzled.

C'mon, you fucker. Either do it, or turn and run.

He steps toward us cautiously. "Mr. Skinner. Krycek."

I ignore the greeting. "Did you bring them?"

Henderson's nervousness seems to evaporate and he gives me an imperious look. "You've made a grave mistake if you've listened to anything this man had to say."

"Did. You. Bring. Them?"

"Yes, they're waiting outside. I'll bring them as soon as I've established that you're not wasting our time."

I glare at him. "In other words, you're the canary."

Alex twitches slightly, suppressing a laugh. It feels damned good having him protect my back. Perfectly natural.

Henderson sneers. I can see he's formulating another useless retort. As soon as his mouth opens, I cut him off. "And the messenger." I pass him the envelope with printed information about the virus. "Deliver that and tell them to meet us in the Masovia Conference Room in fifteen minutes."

Before he can object, I stand and head for the door, my handsome shadow a step behind me.

Alex scans the Masovia Room again. Still no bugs. I take a seat at the head of the table. "Henderson is a putz."

Alex stands behind and to the right of my chair. "Yeah. A self-important putz."

For the third time, I review the document Alex has prepared for them. It's got snippets of information we can barter after we turn over the virus.

A few minutes later, four men enter the room. The first is Henderson. The second is a man in a gray suit, probably in his early 60's, with a full head of white hair. The last two look very similar. In fact, except for different hair and eye color, they look exactly the same. Bland features, about 35 years old, one with dark hair, one blonde. They look... too ordinary. Like they've been airbrushed.

Christ, am I really sitting down to negotiate with aliens? I can't quite make myself believe it.

Introductions are not made as the men take a seat. The bland man with the dark hair sits at the foot of the table, his blonde twin to his right, the older man to the left and Henderson next to the older man.

I sense some movement from Alex, but don't react to it. A folded piece of paper appears in front of me. We didn't discuss this. It must be important.

--
'Twins' are.
Older man not, but don't know who he is.
--

The older guy's not an alien? So they're already playing us. I offer a brief nod. I'm not going to reveal what I know because it might be obvious how I know.

The too-ordinary man with the dark hair sets papers on the surface of the table. "Where did you obtain this?"

I've momentarily lost my lead, but I'll get it back. "I'll get to that." Gesturing to Henderson, I add, "Since we're all taking obvious risks here, I suggest you have your man stand watch in the hall."

Henderson looks like he's sucking on a lemon as the two near-twins glance at each other and clasp hands. They appear to be wiggling their fingers. Weird. After a moment, they nod in unison and look to the older man, who gestures for Henderson to leave.

Well, now we've established the chain of command. Dark-hair, light-hair, older man and Henderson's a no-count.

I begin with, "I think you all know who I am. Before we go any further, I'd like to know who you are."

Dark-hair makes a very subtle hand gesture, then the older man says, "I am Jonas Albers." He gestures to Light-hair, "Mr. Green." He gestures to Dark-hair, "Mr. Black."

"When my man spoke to your man he was very clear about who was invited to this meeting. Can you prove your identities?" It's proof I don't actually need because of Alex.

Mr. Green and Mr. Black 'confer' again—hands clasped. Then Green looks directly at me and uses his fingernail to peel back a patch of skin on his arm. The flesh underneath is green. For a moment I feel like I'm in a very bad Sci-Fi movie. My brain can't quite acknowledge this as reality.

I notice Albers looks away and closes his eyes, but not in revulsion. Then Green slides the skin back into place and it seals automatically.

Fuck. Who- What are these guys? I can't begin to imagine how the world looks through their eyes, if they even have any that aren't fake.

My curiosity about them is rampant, but I have to get down to business.

It's not surprising they're hoping one demonstration of alienness is adequate. I decide to let the bluff stand for now.

"Thank you." I pause to order my thoughts. "As you may or may not be aware, I was recently under the hostile influence of the Resistance. However, I am now free of that influence." I do not look at Albers. He has to be Resistance if he's not an alien, but I'm not going to give away what I know. "I have resigned from the FBI and intend to work to prevent the colonization by the grays."

Green gives a start of what I take to be surprise, but Black remains stoic. They clasp hands again, before turning their attention back to me.

I go on. "This means we have a common interest, though our motives and methods differ." I pour a glass of water and take a drink. "The Resistance, though a human organization, has demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the human species. Those methods are unacceptable to me."

Green offers, "We are unconcerned with your internal conflicts."

I give him a hard look. "Yeah, I got that. But you need to understand that the minor matter of using human beings as lab rats concerns me greatly." I pause to bring my voice back down to business tone. "It's so important to me that I would consider using the virus against a potential ally to prevent it. If necessary."

Black puts his hands on the table. "We want the virus. What are your terms?"

"I have a long list of terms, most of which are probably trivial to you. But the big one is an alliance. We both want to prevent colonization. My quest—and that of other humans supporting it—is to protect the human race. I don't fully understand what yours is, but preventing colonization seems to be a part of it."

Green and Black confer again, then Green says, "We have an alliance with what you call the Resistance for this purpose."

Let's cut to the chase. "Do you command the Resistance or cooperate with them?"

Green replies, "They are ultimately under our control."

"If the Resistance had demonstrated respect for our species, I would be joining them. Since they have not, I am unable to do that. However, if you accept all of our terms, I will be open to limited cooperation with the Resistance. My major demand is that you cooperate with me and my associates. That we exchange information and cooperate tactically, as needed, on missions related to our common goal."

Green and Black wiggle their hands together, then Green says, "You wish to have another human resistance? One which will protect your species?"

"Correct."

"Very well. We accept."

Not surprisingly, Albers looks pithed, but says nothing.

That victory came way too easily. Let's push them a bit and see what happens. "Besides preventing colonization, what are your goals?"

They talk again and Green replies, "Our objectives are not your concern."

"They are if they demonstrate a lack of respect for my species." I take a calming breath. "At least as long as you're on our planet." This is fucking surreal. I'm negotiating with aliens about the future of the planet. Fuck. Should I even be doing this? One mistake and I could destroy the planet I'm trying to save. But no one else seems to be speaking on behalf of human decency. I force self-doubt aside. I don't have time for it right now.

There's a long silence before Black responds. "The colonists take over a planet and move on. It is their way. It may take hundreds, sometimes thousands of years to prepare a planet for colonization. They have been preparing your planet for many hundreds of years. The time is at hand. The next planet on their path is one of ours. We must stop them here."

"And besides stopping them here, what is your interest in our planet?"

"We have no interest in your planet or your species."

It's what I wanted to hear. It might even be true. "I will take that as the truth until I have reason to believe otherwise, but if it turns out to be false," I deliberately use a quiet voice for impact, "I will use every weapon at my disposal, including the virus, to prevent your species from harming our planet or our people."

Black continues to hold the reins on his side of the table. "Let us speak clearly, Mr. Skinner. If you give us the virus, as you have offered, in exchange for our alliance, it will no longer be a weapon for you. There is very little you could do to harm us. But we do understand the drive to protect your species. It is why we are here and we will sacrifice much for that goal. We will not hinder your efforts. Now, what else do you want?"

He's right. It's tempting to make some sort of bluff about the virus, but I'm beginning to respect Black and I don't think he'd fall for it. Still I hate leaving it that way... the open admission that we will soon have nothing potent with which to bargain.

Although, Lavagetto could find us a microbiologist and try to make a sister virus from the original one. It's something to consider.

I move on. "So are you prepared to offer us information and tactical cooperation?"

He considers for a moment. "You mentioned an exchange of information. What could you offer us?"

"I have a great deal of information from the American Consortium." I gesture to Alex and he passes our prepared list of teasers across the table. Christ, I hope there are a few things on that list they don't already know. "In exchange for sharing this information, I will prepare a list of questions for you to answer."

Black reviews the sheet. As much as his bland features will allow, he looks surprised. He passes it to Green, who also reviews it, then tucks it away without showing Albers. More useful information about their relationships. "How could you have obtained such information? It is difficult to believe that the Consortium had access to this breadth of data."

Yeah, I bet it is. "I have other sources, which I will protect." Let's make a guess here. "But I think you've seen enough that you were already aware of to know my information is real."

Black nods tersely. "We agree to your terms. For the complete information on the items contained on that list, we will answer the questions on your list. We further agree to exchange information with you in the future."

I'm developing a sort of understanding for these aliens, but I'm not taking anything for granted. It's completely unclear whether my instincts are of any use cross-species.

Their easy acceptance seems to be because we humans aren't very important to them. Our affairs all seem trivial. I hope they're not so god-like that it's a justifiable position. "And tactical missions? As you may know, one of my former agents has already performed such a mission for you." When I read Mulder's report on Wiekamp Air Force Base, I'd never have dreamed I would be here saying this to them.

He gestures dismissively. "Very well."

I suspect my 'trivial' terms are going to be granted without a fuss. "Can you assign Mr. Green to be our liaison? And establish a communication channel between us?"

Black slowly nods. "That will be acceptable."

"Excellent. Then let's discuss the more trivial terms."

He gestures for me to continue.

"First, a guarantee of my safety from your kind and the Resistance." I pause, and pretend to have an afterthought. "And my man, Krycek. Plus freedom from surveillance."

"Agreed."

"Second, any information that you—or the Resistance—has that will help me find my missing agent, Fox Mulder."

He nods. "You will provide Mr. Green with his abduction location and date. He will obtain what information he can."

"This matter is urgent to us, but that is acceptable." I jot down what I recall about Mulder's abduction and pass it across the table to Mr. Green. "Third, the Resistance will cease all human experimentation. And turn over to me all documentation on such experiments."

Albers visibly stiffens. Black glances at him, then back at me. "This is of no interest to me. I care not how you choose to use the nano technology. I have agreed to your terms. I want the rest of this information." He thumps the printout of the virus teaser. "You may negotiate your terms with Jonas Albers." Looking at Albers, he adds, "Give them what they want." Black then looks at me expectantly.

The old man has gone pale. He's been badly outmaneuvered. And now he's taking orders from me. He's learning a vital lesson—that he and his pals shouldn't have messed with Alex and me.

The fact that Albers does not object tells me he cannot. He'll do it because he has to answer to them.

I nod to Black. "Agreed. When I have determined that my terms have been fully implemented, I will deliver the virus to Mr. Green."

Almost on cue, Green holds out a card. Alex steps forward and retrieves it, quickly handing it to me. It's nothing but a phone number.

Black says, "That will be acceptable. When may we have the complete virus data?"

"That's up to Mr. Albers and his associates."

Black gets to his feet, quickly followed by Green, then addresses Albers, "Give them what they want quickly. I want that data. And I want our sample. Do not make me wait." He looks to me. "You will only give the information to Mr. Green. We will attend this meeting no longer."

"Agreed."

The aliens leave the room. The aliens have left the meeting. Surely I must be mad.

In the next instant, Henderson is back. Making deliberate eye contact with Albers, I jerk my thumb, then Henderson floats away again.

Albers gives me an assessing look. "What is it that you would like to negotiate, Mr. Skinner?"

We're not negotiating any more, Albers. You're doing what I tell you. "First, the Resistance will cease all human experimentation. And turn over all documentation to me." Not that I want to read about their shop of horrors, but it's the best way to get Alex's files back without revealing my protective interest.

He makes a placating gesture. "That will be very difficult. Perhaps-"

"It's unfortunate for you that it will be difficult. We require it."

"We are at a critical juncture in our research, but I will agree to stop the experimentation after we complete a test."

I decide to let him blather on for a moment, only half listening.

"...specifically, Mr. Krycek's former patron gave him to us to aid in our research."

Okay, now I'm fucking listening—and regulating my breathing like crazy. Even though he's behind me, Alex's tension is palpable.

Albers drones on, "He's the best record of our research and we would like your permission to continue with him as a test subject."

If I have to listen to any more of this, I'm going to crush his skull with my bare hands.

Breathe, Walt.

"Not acceptable. The work is finished." When he opens his mouth again, I add, "As is now quite obvious, I am free of the nanocytes. The method by which I became free has been documented. It will be uploaded to multiple locations on the Internet, so that anyone trying to solve the same problem will discover the cure. Your work is finished, Mr. Albers."

"We'll supply you with another bodyguard, Mr.-"

"No. I don't want one of your spies. End of discussion."

He reluctantly nods, but I can see he's still trying to figure out how to play me. "Trusting Mr. Krycek is a serious mistake."

"Your advice has been noted." I tap my fingers impatiently on the table. "In addition to turning over the research, you will provide me with the names of all the people you have infected, and release into our custody any test subjects who are presently in your labs."

"If you insist upon that, you will seriously damage the Resistance's efforts to prevent colonization."

"I can live with it," I reply with a frown. "Second, certain members of your leadership are to be removed at our discretion."

"Removed?" Albers scoffs. "You're not serious."

"Dead serious."

"I am not going to eliminate members of my staff on your whim."

Ah, so he is the Resistance's head man. I thought so. This is good news, because it means I now control the entire organization. "Yes, you are, Mr. Albers. Because it's quite clear to both of us that if you don't, I'll add your name to that list and Misters Black and Green will help me implement it."

He blanches, then grits out, "What else do you want?" Smothered rage is flushing his face. The desire for vengeance is blooming behind his eyes. It's almost funny, because he couldn't kill me now if I handed him my gun.

I continue with our list of demands, "A full briefing outlining your activities plus your knowledge of the colonists and other aliens known to be on this planet. In addition, we'll want this data in electronic format."

"What you ask is impossible."

"I doubt that," I reply imperiously. "And, we'll expect ongoing information about the activities of the Resistance. As a side benefit, if you're doing anything useful, we may assist you."

Albers seems to have visibly aged in the last fifteen minutes. "When do you want to implement these changes?" he asks, looking like he wants to spit.

"Do you want to make Mr. Black wait?"

"No." He adjusts his suit and sits up a little straighter. "I might suggest you accompany me back to Switzerland tomorrow morning and we can begin?"

You are not getting your hands on Alex, you miserable piece of sub-human refuse. "I'll consider that suggestion." I stand abruptly. "We will meet back in this room in one hour."

Looking slightly uncomfortable, Albers rises and approaches me. Alex immediately steps between us.

"He's well trained, isn't he?" Albers clears his throat, then moves around the table to face me from a distance. "You didn't need to get so heavy handed, you know. We would have been happy to collaborate with you."

Albers, my respect for humanity doesn't include you. "Good. Then this will be easy." I exit the room, listening for Alex's footsteps behind me as we pass a gloomy-looking Henderson.

We head directly for the front desk to check in and get our room key. Though we do not discuss the meeting, I can see Alex is tense... hyper-alert.

In ten minutes, I unlock the door to a hotel room. Alex runs another bug scan and finds none. I get a beer from the mini-bar and toss him a Coke. I sit down, then get up again and start pacing. "How did I do?"

Alex leans against the wall, probably more accustomed to meetings with aliens. "You did great." He offers a tight smile. "You got everything we wanted."

"They agreed to everything. Getting it is another matter entirely."

"But our gamble paid off. The rebels want the virus enough to give us carte blanche, and they're so apathetic about us, they're unlikely to be interested in finding a way to break their word."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I meet his eyes. "I don't know... Can we really trust these... aliens? My instincts tell me we're on the right track, but I don't have any experience to judge fucking aliens."

"Of course we can't trust them." Alex sits next to me. "But go with your instincts, Walt. We knew coming into this that it was risky. The best we can do is to hold enough cards that they have an active interest in keeping us around."

He's right. We're dancing with the devil. "Thank god we held back information. We'll have something to interest them later." Standing again, I walk to the window and back. I'm terribly worried that we'll make our exchanges and they'll just kill us off to get us out of their hair.

Watching me pace, Alex offers, "If they've put up with the Resistance, I don't see why they wouldn't put up with us." He seems to be reading my mind. It's a good argument. It will help to learn what the Resistance has been up to, so we can guess why the rebels keep them around.

He adds, "Now, about Switzerland. We still planning to go?"

I glance around the room, looking for my beer. Alex gestures to the television. Once I've retrieved it, I take a long swig.

This isn't going to be easy.

I choose my words carefully. "As we agreed, Switzerland is necessary, in order to stop the tests, monitor compliance with our terms and get the data we want before they have time to edit it."

"Uh-huh." Alex's tone is unconcerned, but he's still tense.

I take a deep breath and squat in front of him, so I can meet his eye directly. "Alex, I don't want you to go."

He's quiet for a moment, then gently replies, "I have to go."

"You heard what Albers said. They want you for more tests. It's too dangerous."

"And you told them no." He sighs. "Walt... I appreciate that you're trying to protect me, but I want to be certain this project is shut down. I want to get my fucking records. And when you tell them to cancel the experiment, they're going to just kill the test subjects. After what's happened to them... I don't want that to happen." He hesitates, then adds, "And more importantly, I need to find out why they were after my brother."

I can easily dismiss a lot of what he's saying. I could rescue the test subjects. But... he's a survivor of their disgusting work. I guess he needs to see it end. I knew that would be his answer... I just don't want to accept it.

Damn. I hate taking him there.

I want to argue—feels like I need to—but he'll never agree to let me go by myself. "All right. We both go. But you will not be out of my sight for a minute. Agreed?"

He leans forward and kisses me. "Agreed."

After sucking down the last of my beer, which seems to have gone flat, I rise and toss the bottle in the trash.

**

I watch Walter pace around the room for another half hour, while we review our plans for the trip to Switzerland. I really don't want to go back there, but I need to go. Need to see this end. Need to look Arntzen in the eye and let him know I won.

I leave a voice message for the operatives we hired in Warsaw. Including a description of Albers.

When the time comes, Walter straightens his suit and I grab my leather jacket, switching back into business mode. We're not staying in this hotel, the room is just a convenience, so we drop the key at the front desk.

Albers is looking a little steadier when we arrive. Walter agrees to accompany him back to Switzerland in the morning. The plan is to meet Albers in the lobby at nine A.M., prepared for travel.

"Mr. Skinner, why don't you join me for dinner tonight. I know the best-"

"No, thank you," Walt replies with obvious distaste.

"I'd at least like to get you alone for a moment, so you can tell me how you managed to turn our man."

"I think it's pretty obvious," Walter offers blandly. Solved the nanocyte problem is what we expect people to think. Truth is, Walter always had me. And they never did.

Besides, I don't suppose Albers would intuit how much fun I am to shower with.

Walter declines dinner a second time. After obtaining Albers' satellite phone number, Walt adjourns the meeting. Rising, he stands intimidatingly close to Albers and says, "Albers, don't fuck with me on these terms. Don't try to cheat by so much as one piece of data. I will happily give the order to have you terminated."

Can we still kill him even if he cooperates?

We catch a cab and take a circuitous route back to the airport, with me watching carefully to ensure we're not followed. We leave the cab on the tarmac, then board our leased jet. As the plane ascends, we have a quiet dinner, both of us trying to wind down from the day's events. Afterward, we curl up on a couch. I rub Walter's feet and he massages my shoulders.

I think about what we're doing... where we're going. At one moment, it seems completely insane—we should have stayed in Scotland. But, in the next instant, it feels like the only thing we can do. I want Lyosha to have a future. An opportunity for a long life. A free life. Hell, I want the same for Walter and me. Unfortunately, I worry that our current path is contrary to that desire.

A message from our hired guns confirms our suspicions about Albers.

Walt and I lie together in silence, just holding each other and trying to rest.


Geneva, Switzerland
Thursday, 10 August 2000
1:04 A.M.


The closer we get to the facility, the tenser I become. In the backseat of our hired car, Walter appears relaxed, although I know he's taking note of everything. When we arrive at the facility, I get out first, looking everything over carefully before standing out of the way so Walter can emerge. It would be easy for them to sabotage us. The only thing keeping us safe is our agreement with the Rebels.

I send off the driver, to remove the opportunity to tamper with our car.

The facility looks normal. I use my pass card to open the door, like I have so many other times. A heavy darkness settles over me and I have to keep telling myself this time is different. I catch Walter watching me attentively. I shrug to let him know I'm okay, but I'm not certain it's true.

Once inside, per our plan, I phone Albers and inform him we're in the lobby of building 100.

"You're where?!"

"About fifteen minutes ahead of you. I suggest you tell your driver to pick up the pace."

There's only silence on the line. He foolishly thought we'd fall for his ruse and spend the night in Warsaw.

Time to give orders. "We're headed to the labs. By the time we get there, you'll have given Walter command authority. Understood?"

"Krycek, you can't-"

I pass the phone to Walter, who says blithely, "You'll grant the authority or Mr. Green will. It's your choice, Albers." He disconnects the line.

We make our way through the grim but efficient building to the torture chambers. At the central nurses station, we find a red-haired woman griping in French on the phone. "Je ne comprende pas!" She sees us and shakes her head in dismay. "Mais oui, Monsieur, seulement-" She slams down the phone.

At the same moment, a pair of security guards appear on our right. I step between them and Walter. From the looks on their faces, they're similarly displeased with their orders.

Walter steps around me so he can address them. "Do you know who I am?"

"Walter Skinner?" one replies in a hesitant tone.

"Yes. What are your orders?" Walt demands.

The guard blinks at him for a moment, then says, "Observe and, uh, do not interfere."

"You do that and there will be no trouble. Understood?"

The two nod in unison, looking as though they might be intimidated enough to actually do it. The redhead has joined the party, silent except for a loud glare.

Walter turns to her. "You prepared to take directions on the nanocytes?"

She nods, her anger oozing out in her silence.

I step behind the nurses' station and flip through notes and charts. "Fuck!" It's our worst-case scenario. "There's a test happening now." I glance at Walter. He looks furious, but gives a faint signal for me to follow the plan. I jog down the hall, pulling out my Glock. I can feel Walter's presence at my back. Only one lab is lit. I push through the doors, the muzzle of the gun leading the way. There are three people in the room. Unceremoniously, I shoot the doctor, one to the head, then his lab assistant, two to the head. I quickly signal to Walt that everything is okay, then approach the man on the table, who's writhing in pain. Tapping out commands on the control pad as fast as I can, I stop the testing sequence and engage the man's healing nanos to deal with any injuries he might have.

I hear yelling in the hall that I quickly determine to be Walter instructing the orderlies not to enter. Staying alert to anything happening outside, I find the morphine that's always around, but never used, and inject it into the man's IV line. He almost immediately lapses into a state of near unconsciousness, but not before I see a look of comprehension and gratitude in his eyes.

After taking a minute to breathe—because I feel sick—I review the test notes. It makes me see red. The fucking bastards. Trying to squeeze in some last minute work before their project was shut down.

I double-check to make sure the man will be okay for a few minutes, then exit the lab and return to Walter. "They were testing an enhancement to the nerve module that creates the sensation of burns over your entire body."

Walter doesn't give himself time to react, though I sense his revulsion. He's giving orders to everyone within 20 feet, faster than they can obey them. He hands me a stack of files.

I begin flipping through the charts of the other four test subjects being held in this wing. "They were testing the vascular crisis on this woman until this afternoon. This man, uh," I force my emotions down, "has been growing back his skin for the last couple days. And more nerve module testing for patients three and four... also up until today. Looks like all of them have healing nanos engaged, likely in an attempt to cover up what's been going on."

Walter and I exchange a look, silently agreeing that taking care of the test subjects takes precedence over anything else. We will eventually close this lab completely, but the timing isn't right. We want Albers lulled into a false sense of security, so we're going to get the test subjects out of here first, deal with putting this place out of business later.

The doors to this 'research' wing are suddenly opened by two security guards, who are followed by Albers trying to look like he's in control of the situation. Bringing up the rear is Henderson.

Walter grabs Albers by the collar and slams him into a wall. "You have a death wish, Albers?"

I can see the thought of intervening on Albers' behalf flicker across Henderson's face, but he looks at me, then rapidly and prudently decides against it. The security guards exchange a glance, mystified, but they stand down.

Stunned, Albers blinks a few times, then starts to sputter, "I didn't have time-"

"I don't want to hear it," Walter barks. He releases Albers, who nearly sags to the floor. "Henderson, get twelve security guards and two duty nurses from the Advanced Weapons Division over here IMMEDIATELY." One of my suggestions. Advanced weapons personnel have never been allowed in the medical wing. "Albers, you're going to stand by so everyone knows who's in charge here."

"You can't just..." Albers objects. "We need to talk before-"

Walter pulls out his satellite phone and presses a couple buttons. After a few moments, he says, "Mr. Green, how much lead time would you need to execute plan B? ... Yes. Good. Please stand by." He glances at Albers.

The old man takes a deep breath and his body seems to shrink. He turns to Henderson and says quietly, trying to mask the pain of capitulation, "Do what he said."

"Thank you, Mr. Green. I'll be in touch." Walt closes the call.

While we wait for the reinforcements from Advanced Weapons, Walter glances in each of the observation windows. He's trying to hang on to his all-business demeanor, but there's a knot of muscle at his jaw and his eyes look like they belong on a tiger. I'm awed by the pain he feels for each of these total strangers.

I have the redheaded nurse open the safe containing the control pads. In addition to the devices, I find a reference sheet with codes to access all functions of the nanos. For each patient, I make sure there are no modules active other than the healing function.

I peruse the charts more thoroughly, noting some medical care a couple of them need for the duty nurses to handle. I point one out to Walter. The guy recently had the majority of his bones broken. He's already using the healing nanos, but they aren't providing him any pain medication. Walter personally administers the morphine.

When he returns from the man's room, he whispers to me that he's not certain the man's even sane anymore. Maybe it's just the pain he's in. He might be better by tomorrow. I place all the control pads in a locking case to take with us.

The security and nursing personnel arrive. Walter addresses them respectfully, "My name is Walter Skinner. Do you know Mr. Albers?" He gestures at the man, who appears to be trying to wish himself into another life.

A few nods from the security team.

"Good. Albers, tell them who's in charge of this facility."

Albers manages a nod in Walter's general direction.

Walter continues forcefully, "There's been a change of command here. I'm taking over for Albers. Is anyone here uncomfortable taking orders from me instead of him?"

There are a lot of wide eyes, but no one looks like they want to challenge him.

"Good. If anyone changes your mind about that, you'll want to speak with me first. Understood?" I never asked if Walt had been a drill sergeant in the Marines. Now I don't need to.

A few brave souls muster, "Yes, sir."

"Here are your orders. There are five people being held here against their will for medical experiments and torture."

Most of those assembled have the decency to look appalled, if not surprised. That bodes well.

"You will be assigned in pairs to protect these people for the next 24 hours. You will see to it that each is provided the medical care we've ordered, moved out of these cells and into an apartment upstairs, given food and clothes and anything else they request. If any of your charges have been harmed in any way when I return tomorrow, you will all be held responsible. If, however, my orders are followed to the letter, I will see that you are appropriately rewarded."

He pauses for effect. "You will care for these people like they are your own children. Do you understand?"

A few more rally for the chorus of, "Yes, sir."

Walter reads off the number of his satellite phone. "You will not permit any interference or deviation from these orders by any other member of this organization. If someone else attempts to give you conflicting instructions, you will call me immediately and before taking any action incompatible with my orders. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!" It's almost unanimous. You can see desperate curiosity in their eyes, but there's something else. It looks like... relief. It's as if they're hungry for leadership. Not having much exposure to the rest of the organization, I can only speculate based on the medical wing, but the idiots in charge there never inspired much confidence in anyone.

He assigns pairs to each of the patients and answers a few questions. We observe until we've seen enough to create some confidence that everything is going according to plan. Two guards are still unassigned. Walter tells them to stand by. He instructs Albers to prepare a briefing for the next morning, to supply the requested data and begin to answer our questions. Albers appears to be listening, but you can almost see his mind still plotting to find a way out of the trap he's in.

Though we have one more task to perform, Walter informs Albers that we're leaving. Albers offers to have a suite upstairs prepared for Walter and some accommodation for his 'assistant.' I feel a moment's anxiety because I don't want to stay here and there's no way to communicate that to Walter. But Walter just flashes him a disdainful look followed by a softly murmured, "No."

Finally, Walter addresses the two remaining security officers. He shakes their hands and gets their names, then he orders them to stay with Albers and use lethal force if he makes any attempt to do anything besides use the phone to plan a meeting for tomorrow morning. One of the guards, a muscular woman in her 30s, smirks at the old man, rests her hand on the firearm at her hip, then winks at her partner.


11:30 A.M.

As we return to the facility, Walter and I ride in silence behind our driver. There isn't much to say. Our sleepless night said it all. We're on a path from which there is now no turning back. We've upset the forces at play in this great war... and it may be years before we know if our efforts are compatible with our goals.

The car coming to a stop shakes me out of my reverie. I notice Albers and Henderson standing at the top of the steps waiting for us, flanked by the two guards. Just in case something has changed since last night, I get out first and survey the area before standing aside so Walter can emerge. He ignores Albers' proffered hand, a sure sign that Albers is, yet again, trying to get control of the game, or at least turn it into one he can win.

Albers clears his throat. "My staff is ready to begin the briefing."

"We'll start as soon as I have checked on my guests." Walter heads into the building, not giving Albers a chance to respond.

Albers tries to catch up, but I don't let him get very close to Walter. Which earns me a glare I'm sure he thinks is causing me to shake in my boots. Finally, he calls out. "I assure you that they are all well."

Walter ignores him. When we reach the upstairs wing, we find all the security guards near their respective protectee's door. And two tired-looking nurses at a makeshift desk in the hallway. Walter turns back to Albers. "We'll find the meeting room when we're ready." At Albers blank expression, he adds, "Go away."

Albers looks like a man who feels everything he thought he had slipping away. With an expression that's half resigned and half angry, Albers walks away with Henderson following like the faithful dog.

Walter moves to stand in front of the nurses' desk. "How are they?" he asks simply.

The elder one offers him a half smile. "Okay." The smile fades. "In truth, they're better than I expected them to be, but they're far from okay." Walter talks to her for a few minutes. It's clear the woman knew nothing about the nanos... good or bad. So the tests, injuries and the rapid healing rate are all a shock to her. While Walter talks to the woman for a few minutes, I pass out checks to the security guards for ten thousand each. With a promise for 20 more when their assignment is complete.

I return to Walter's side in time to hear him ask, "Do you think they're able to make some decisions?"

The nurse flips through her notes. "I, uh, well, I'd ask what kind of decisions, but it doesn't really matter. No. One or two of them... maybe. But they all need so much pain medication they're not really coherent. Some of them also need sedatives. Especially this one man... he, uh-"

"I know." Walter interjects. I'm not exactly sure what it is that he knows, but I'm sure he'll explain it later.

Walter glances at me for the next answer. "How much longer?"

I think to censor my reply in the case of listening ears, but then realize it doesn't matter. "Most of the healing will be finished in the next 18 hours. But the nerve endings take quite a bit longer. Still they shouldn't need high doses of pain meds for more than 16 to 20 hours."

"How do you know?" the nurse fires at me. Surprised, I meet her very hostile expression.

"What?"

"Did you help do this to them?"

"No!" I shout without thinking.

Walter gets her attention. "Your... concern is understandable. The weapon used on them was also used on us. We just want to make sure they're taken care of."

"Oh," she flashes me an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, I had no-"

Putting a hand on her arm, Walter cuts her off again. "It's okay. We'll arrange to get someone up here to relieve you so you can get some rest. Can you come back tonight?"

"No. I'd just as soon stay with them." At Walter's doubting expression, she adds. "I really want to see this through. I can catnap at the desk." She seems quite determined.

"Okay." Walter glances at her nametag. "Thank you, Helen."

After we check on each one individually—with one exception they're all completely out of it—we return to the main level. Henderson is outside the meeting room, disappearing when he sees us, then quickly returning with Albers and his two guardians. Walter directs the female officer to call for replacements, then wait outside the room.

Albers gives me a disdainful look. "Perhaps your... bodyguard can wait out here."

"No." Walter steps into the room and I follow.

There are a dozen people in the room. One of them is Arntzen, who looks at me with an expression of profound shock. Another is the head of nano research, Dr. Carmon. Bastard. Too bad he wasn't the one performing last night's test. He'd be dead by now.

Before Albers can say a word, Walter stands at the head of the table. "Mr. Albers, is there anyone else who needs to be here?" I stand behind and to the right of Walter's chair.

"No, everyone is here."

"Good." Walter gestures to Henderson. "Close the door."

Henderson obeys without haste.

Walter approaches Albers who was about to sit down. "Albers, you and your team are going to give me full disclosure today. No lies, no deception, no holding back, no tricks, no funny business." The tone in his voice makes Albers shrink back. "I will not hesitate to give the order that will destroy every man in this facility." He's bluffing, but I don't think they can see what I can.

Walter looms over the old man. "So you need to make yourself useful. And make your associates here understand that they're going to answer my questions to the best of their ability without deception."

Albers reluctantly nods, then takes the seat to Walter's right. Avoiding the eyes of those assembled, he addresses the table. "We will cooperate fully with Mr. Skinner."

There's a stunned silence in the room, as the attendees glance at each other. They know who Skinner is and probably think of him as just some pawn in the Resistance's game. Not any more.

Walter sits slowly, then says, "You may begin."

Henderson takes the seat at Walter's left and begins to give a high-level overview of their operation and plans. Next each department head gives a more in-depth summary. A few of them occasionally glance at Albers, as if expecting him to stop them from continuing. But he says nothing, just sits there looking tired.

As Walter and I discussed, I'll move the hand of the prosthesis when I hear something I know isn't true. Walter glances at Albers from time-to-time, allowing him a better view of my position.

From my somewhat limited knowledge of Resistance activities, most of what we hear is accurate. When the head of nano-research gives his report, he states that there are five infected targets. I know that's a lie. There are at least ten that I'm aware of. Well, I suppose they could have killed five of them. I still give Walter the signal.

When Arntzen's turn comes, I have a hard time remembering that my job is to be alert and let Walter run this. I want to kill the man. He introduces himself as being in charge of the Resistance's field operatives. When Walter hears the name, the muscles in his jaw bunch up and his hand does a little stretching motion I suspect is Walter trying not to make a fist.

The second to the last person is Ms. Saenz, the woman responsible for researching the colonists. She expounds in great detail on their search to find a weakness, a way to defeat them, a way to prevent infection. Most of what she says is a lie. I know, because her facts about the colonists are just wrong. I spend most of her presentation giving Walter the signal. People are going to think my prosthetic has gone twitchy. Albers' face gives no clues regarding the deceptions.

Once everyone has given a report, Walter asks for a notebook PC, and one of the presenters is dispatched to get one. When he returns, he sets up the computer and puts it in front of Walter. Walter opens a file and makes a few notes. Then he turns to Albers and says in a firm but calm voice, "I think it's obvious to all of us that some of your staff had a problem with your directive about full cooperation. Mr. Albers, you will remove from the room the individuals who offered deceptive reports."

Albers blinks at Walter as if he's gone mad. Walter stares him down, until he turns away and quietly says, "Mr. Troupe, Dr. Carmon and Ms. Saenz, would you please step outside."

Funny. I thought Troupe was telling the truth.

As Saenz exits, I overhear a snippet of grumbling. "...the fuck is he and why is Albers..." Mr. Troupe puts a hand over her mouth as they exit.

Walter waits for the door to close, then says, "Are there people in this room who can give accurate report on these subjects, or do you need to call in someone else?"

Albers gives two of the reports himself and calls out for another of the medical staff to give Dr. Carmon's report. Walter has a lot of questions about the colonists, so Albers brings in another man to help with the more detailed issues. Most of what I'm hearing now fits with what I know. Some of the discrepancies could be simple mistakes.

The briefing lasts well past the normal dinner hour, with most of the participants fidgeting and fighting fatigue, but Walter doesn't lose his energy or his focus. He asks all the questions I suggested and quite a few good ones I hadn't thought of.

When it seems that we're approaching the end of the briefing, Albers says, "Mr. Skinner, there's one other thing we've been working on that we need to discuss, but I'll need to dismiss the majority of my staff and recall Dr. Carmon."

"All right," Walter concedes impassively.

Albers dismisses everyone except Arntzen, Henderson and one other man. A man who didn't present earlier. Presumably, we're going to discuss whatever he's working on.

A moment later, Dr. Carmon reenters.

Walter gestures toward the remaining occupants. "Very well, Albers, proceed."

Albers gestures to the unnamed man, who's wearing a black suit. "This is Jacques Pierponte. He's been working on another effort to resist colonization. An effort to make humans genetically resistant to the alien oil."

I feel myself go rigid.

Albers' gaze flicks to me, then he looks back at Walter. "About 35 years ago, the Consortium decided to try to create a new human who could not be inhabited by the oil. The project was cancelled before it even got started, because of low probability of success and the length of time required between experiments."

That was my family, you fucker, not experiments! I force the rage down, because I can't do anything about it right now.

Blithely, Albers goes on. "Two of the scientists refused to abandon the work and went into hiding. When it was discovered that they had continued the research, in fact were one experiment from the end of the test..."

So I had another brother or sister on the way.

"They were ordered to stop the research and destroy any evidence of it."

I can barely breathe. I desperately want to know who gave that order. A subtle shift in Walter's posture suggests he knows where this is leading.

"Your man Alex Krycek, was part of that experiment. His parents were the scientists."

This just went from bad to worse. Walter turns to glance at me, his eyes seem to ask if I want to continue. I give a very slight nod.

Albers glances at Pierponte, who supplies, "We obtained the records of the experiment a few years ago and, as a matter of course, checked their findings. At first, it seemed as if the experiment had been a waste, but then, our scientists discovered that some of their conclusions about the data were inaccurate. Regrettably, all the evidence had been destroyed. Your associate, was the control subject and therefore of no use to our research. But, then a tiny, but significant, detail was made known to us. The body of the last experiment was never recovered. We have reason to believe he might still be-"

Arntzen, who has been glaring at me, interrupts with, "Alex, we know your brother is alive."

I blink at him. "What?" I glance around the room. "Where?"

He looks momentarily stymied, then replies, "You're a terrible liar."

"Oh, now, that's not true. I'm a magnificent liar."

Walter says quietly, but firmly, "Arntzen, shut up."

Arntzen glares at Albers, who gives him a hard look. Arntzen subsides back into his chair, still trying to figure out exactly what's going on here.

Walter rises to his feet and faces me in what others must have found to be a menacing posture. "Krycek, I want the truth, is your brother alive?"

"No."

He narrows his eyes at me, feigning distrust, then shakes his head and sits down again. I compress my lips into a line and try not to laugh. I'm fairly sure it comes off as fuming.

"Albers, what's your point?" he asks impatiently. "So Krycek had a brother? Who cares?"

Pierpont answers, "Aleksei Krycek was not a failed experiment. They didn't know what to look for. We do. Our evaluation of the research indicates that he should be genetically resistant to the Alien virus. Not a hybrid, a superior human. If he's alive, we need to find him."

Oh, fuck me.

**

I saw that coming. But I couldn't warn Alex. And there's nothing I can do right now to comfort him.

Focus, Walt. Remember what you aren't supposed to know. I point a thumb at Alex. "Alex Krycek is genetically resistant to the alien virus?"

Pierponte frowns. "That's Aleksandr Krycek. His youngest brother's name was—is Aleksei Krycek."

I struggle to come up with a slightly puzzled look. "So you either know how to create more humans who are resistant to the virus or you don't. Which is it?"

I came to this place feeling a lot like an assistant director of the FBI. But there is no form of what I think of as law enforcement or justice that is going to do right here. This is something else entirely. And has been for a long time, I'm forced to concede.

"The records are incomplete. We can't replicate the work without the original test subject. We need to see his DNA, take blood samples, tissue samples. We're stymied. Part of the missing data is how they modified his DNA. We have nowhere to begin without subject 10."

Well, there are two men in this room willing to die to prevent you from getting that data.

My heart bleeds for Lyosha. If he could be found, he'd be in a worse position than Alex. Every party to this conflict would want him. What these fuckers have done—and want to do—just gets uglier and uglier. I'm ashamed of my species.

Alex, stay calm. We won't let them find him.

Heads are going to have to roll here. I'm going to have to be judge, jury and executioner. And still keep from turning into the kind of men who've built this monstrous organization.

After taking a deep breath, I give Albers a bland look. "What happened to the scientists who did the work?"

"They were killed by..." Albers briefly glances at Alex. "They were killed."

"And who gave the order to terminate the research?" I didn't forget, Alex.

Albers glances at Arntzen, who shakes his head faintly. Shrugging helplessly, Albers looks back at me. "A high-ranking member of the Russian Organization. A member collaborating with one of the leaders in the American Consortium."

I glare at Arntzen. "Give me a name."

"Konstantin Nemov."

"And where is he now?"

"The Organization killed him for treason about three years ago."

Too bad. He could die more painfully at Alex's hand, I'm sure. "And where did you get the research records?"

"After the scientists were killed, the Organization confiscated some records found in their apartment. They stored them until they formed an alliance with us, at which time, they turned them over. The majority of the records—including the notes on how the experiments were conducted—were destroyed in a fire."

"Fine. Get me an electronic copy of the records." I glance at Albers. "Anything else?"

Albers blusters for a moment. "Contrary to what Mr. Krycek has to say, we know Aleksei Krycek is still alive. We just cannot find him. If your man knows anything, we need to know."

"Fine. I'll look into it," I reply in a conversation-over tone.

I could remind Albers that human testing is over and Dr. Carmon is a walking corpse, but it's not the right moment.

Arntzen fidgets in his chair. There's a faint gasp from Alex, and I sense a sudden surge of tension. Trying for nonchalant, I glance at him. He's staring in the vicinity of Arntzen's waist, then forcibly pulls his gaze away and fixates on the wall.

From where I'm sitting I can't see what caught his attention, but I trust him to interrupt and inform me, if necessary.

Apparently oblivious to Alex's brief distress, Arntzen leans forward and asserts, "Alex, we weren't planning to leave you with nothing. For some time, we've planned a new experiment... something to reward you for your service to our organization."

Alex tears his gaze from the wall and spits, "You are so full of shit."

"It's true, Alex. We planned to give you the one thing you really wanted. Of course, it is an experiment, but we have high hopes of success."

"Arntzen," I say tersely, as if the man's name is a curse, which it is to me, "If you have something to say, get to the point."

Still looking at Alex, Arntzen asks, "What if we could give you back your arm?" There's a note of ownership in the way Arntzen addresses Alex. It's pissing me off.

"You're lying," Alex says through gritted teeth.

"No. It's true. We believe the nanos can bond a limb to your stump if we reopen the wound to create two clean ends."

Alex shakes his head. "That's not possible. The nanos can only work on one type of DNA. The type they are encoded for. You couldn't just graft any limb onto my body."

Alarms are going off in my head. I'm sure Alex would love to have a real arm on his body, but neither of us is letting any of these people touch him. Ever again. For any reason.

Dr. Carmon addresses Alex. "We have matching DNA, Mr. Krycek."

Confusion joins the hostility in Alex's expression. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Dr. Carmon rises from the table and exits a side door, returning quickly with a plexiglass cylinder on a wheeled cart. Inside is an arm floating in some kind of greenish solution.

Alex stumbles backward. "Fucking hell."

Oh, Christ.

I want to kill Carmon. Now. I glance at Alex. He's staring at the arm in horror, his skin tone about the same as the skin on the arm floating in the jar. He whispers, "That's my arm."

A wave of nausea hits me.

The face that I've been so carefully controlling for the past few days slips out of my control.

Breathe, Walt.

With a slightly shaky hand, I move a chair in Alex's direction, thinking he might need it.

Fuck, what am I supposed to do here?

I give Alex a mildly supportive look. You okay?

Alex looks at me, his expression distressingly vulnerable, then it changes so fast I don't have time to react. An incredible rage sweeps over his features and he's in motion. In an instant, Dr. Carmon is on the floor, screaming and clutching at his balls. Alex knocks the plexiglass container off the cart. The lid comes off and the limb and fluid spill onto the floor. A kick connects with Carmon's jaw, then Alex is heading for Arntzen, as two security guards rush into the room. Presumably the relief officers?

"Stand down, officers!"

Eyes glued to the action, the pair stand motionless at the door, glancing at Albers for confirmation.

I rise to my feet. "Call off the guards," I bark at Albers.

He looks at me in total astonishment.

"Do it!"

He nods vaguely at the two men.

I step over Dr. Carmon and reach Alex's side in time to knock a pistol out of Arntzen's hands, and send it to the other side of the room. Alex must have seen it.

I retrieve the weapon before someone else can, tucking into my waistband.

Alex throws himself onto Arntzen.

Arntzen isn't exactly untrained, but Alex pounds him relentlessly. It occurs to me that Alex isn't even aware of what's going on. Which makes me think I should stop him.

"Krycek!"

Arntzen will die, I promise you. But not with you like this.

"Alex!" I put a hand on his shoulder blade. "Alex, stop."

His arm stops mid-swing and he whips his head around to look at me. His eyes are completely unfocused. Arntzen, half bent over the table, jerks away and straightens his clothes, glaring murderously at Alex. Slowly Alex comes back to reality. He briefly looks pained, then shuts it down.

I wish he didn't have to shut it down. But, for now, he does.

"Everything is going to be okay," I offer in a steady voice that I hope will soothe, keeping an eye on Arntzen, in case he tries to leave the room or make an attack.

Alex nods tersely and steps away from me. He stops where his arm is lying on the floor.

I step forward and put a hand on his shoulder, hoping it will pass as a man comforting a subordinate. "Shall we remove it? Burn it? Tell me what you want."

To my surprise, he leans down and picks it up, slapping it on the table. "It's not leaving my sight until it's burned."

Fine. Christ, the fucked up lives we lead!

Dr. Carmon is sitting on the floor, trying to catch his breath, still clutching at his balls. This Dr. Frankenstein is the human species we're trying to save? I feel sick to my stomach.

Abruptly, Alex steps up behind him and, in a blink, has broken the doctor's neck. He glances at me. "Sorry for the interruption, sir," he says coolly, "Shall we continue the meeting?"

Arntzen looks a bit green himself now. Probably just figuring out that I saved his life. Not for long, you low-life.

Henderson rushes out of the room, most likely to throw up. Somewhere in the commotion, Pierponte vanished. Presumably protecting his own skin.

Turning to Albers, who's looking a bit shell-shocked, I enunciate carefully, "I think we've addressed the matter of arm reattachment." Albers, you fucker. After the unspeakable things you do to men, it still shocks you when one of your own... You're a miserable excuse for humanity.

When he says nothing, I add, "We'll adjourn the meeting, so you and your staff can gather the data we will be taking with us. This PC has a CD drive, so why don't you transfer it all to CDs." Fuck, it will probably take thousands of them, but that's not my problem.

Albers rises slowly. "Yerph, uh, yes. I think I'll do that." Looking only stunned, he drifts away.

Arntzen makes a move to follow, but Alex and I move into his path. "Krycek, step aside. I want to speak with Mr. Arntzen."

There's only a brief hesitation before Alex steps back.

I wait for the guards to depart, gesturing for them to shut the door on their way out. When it clicks shut, I stare hard at Arntzen.

He maintains his composure, but there's a bit of perspiration on his forehead. "What is it that you want, Skinner?"

I shift down the table, so that Alex and I are triangulating Arntzen. He'll have to vault over the table faster than light to get past us. Alex is watching me out of the corner of his eye, so he knows what I'm doing. A subtle shift in Arntzen's posture suggests he knows it, too.

"You present me with an ethical dilemma, Mr. Arntzen."

A look of annoyance crosses his features. "What dilemma would that be, Mr. Skinner?"

You fool. Too sure of yourself, even with Dr. Carmon's body decaying ten feet from you. "Well, you see, it's like this. You sold Mr. Krycek to these people, after he saved your ass, and they've done unspeakable things to him. That in turn led to my infection with the nanocytes."

Arntzen continues to appear confident. "Turning Alex over to the Resistance was the only way to keep him alive. He was a loose-"

I step closer and keep my voice calm. "That really pisses me off, Mr. Arntzen. You trying to justify your violence as a favor to those you inflicted it on. I'm not usually a violent man, and I don't believe in killing for revenge, but in your case," I pause for effect, "I've decided to make an exception."

Arntzen's eyes narrow and he edges slightly toward me, away from Alex, who hasn't moved, but his body language tells me he's ready to spring into action.

I don't let Arntzen intimidate me. There's no question I can take him in a fight. "Which leads me to the ethical dilemma. Do I let him kill you for the torture you've made him endure? Or do I get to do it for what you've done to my," I mouth the word, "lover?"

Arntzen's been dividing his attention between Alex and me, only half focusing on what I'm saying, but suddenly, his attention is solely on me. His eyes are wide with astonishment, then crystallizing into comprehension. "You fucking bastards. It suddenly all makes sense." His eyes spit fire at Alex. "The last time you had that arm in your hand, you were asking for him, weren't you?" When Alex doesn't reply, Arntzen looks back at me. "But what the fuck makes you think I'm going to let either of you do anything to me?"

It's a good bluff, but he knows he can't win the fight or he'd have jumped one of us already.

I gesture to Alex, unable to say his first name in a room that's probably bugged and unwilling in this context to call him Krycek. "It's your call."

Arntzen switches his attention to Alex. "I did what I had to, Alex. Inside, you know that! I treated you like my own son... trained you... protected you!"

Alex's expression is cold. He's not buying it. "Protection? This," he gestures vaguely at the facility, "hell was protection?"

"You wouldn't follow orders... you disappeared... you kept secrets! I did what I had to do to keep you alive. Fuck! All you had to do was confide in me... you didn't even tell me about your brother! I would have taken care of both of you."

Something shifts in Alex's eyes. Arntzen thinks he's made a hit, but he couldn't know Alex any less. "Really? You'd have taken care of him?" Alex's voice is politely conversational. "Protected him, too? In a lab?!" He yells the last, his anger bleeding through. Then his expression closes again. "Too bad you won't be able to prove it. 'Cause he's dead. And so are you."

Suddenly, Arntzen makes a move, lunging at me. I feint a punch to his chest, then drive my elbow into his face, with a satisfying crunch of bone. Alex moves closer, but I put Arntzen on the ground with a kick to his knee. "It's your call," I repeat, pressing my foot across Arntzen's throat.

"Kill him," he says with no emotion.

The easiest way is to crush his throat. But I think blood is called for. "Your knife?"

Arntzen kicks toward Alex as he struggles with my foot. He manages to gurgle a few sounds and mumble, "Can't... kill..."

I don't know what he's trying to say and I don't care.

Unexpectedly, Alex leans down and rips something away from Arntzen's waist. He hands it to me. "Here's my knife." I realize it's the knife I gave him. The knife lost in Tunisia. If Arntzen has the knife, he probably went there... and left Alex to die.

Removing my foot from Arntzen's throat, I crush his shoulder, so he won't try too hard to get up, then drop to a squat over him.

"You betrayed the wrong man, Arntzen." In a moment, it's over. The blood oozing from his neck seems oddly red. Because I've never killed anyone like this before.

For a brief moment I feel a stab of regret for what I'm becoming... for what I feel I have to do. But I don't have time for that either.

I wipe the blade on Arntzen's pants, then stand to face Alex.

He stares at Arntzen's body for a moment longer, then meets my eyes. He's calmer than I've seen him since we arrived. "Thank you," he whispers so softly it's a strain to hear him.

I give him a weak smile and a nod.

I feel very little. I don't want to be a judge and executioner. But this man had to be put down or we'd regret it for the rest of our probably too short lives. It's a price I had to pay for everything that's happened. To both of us.

**

I glance at Arntzen's body again. It feels... right. I should be surprised at Walter killing someone, but I'm not. I belong to him... his to protect.

I shake off the ruminations. We still have to get out of here alive and I need to focus. I retrieve my knife from Walter. I close my eyes for a second. It feels right in my hand. I take the knife currently in the sheath at my waist, and toss it on the table, replacing it with Walt's knife. Back where it belongs.

One last look at Arntzen's body... you bastards are never taking Walt away from me again. And you have no chance of getting your hands on my brother.

Simultaneously, Walter and I turn toward the door as Henderson appears and looks around. "Did Mr. Arntzen go home?"

His corpse is obscured by the conference table.

Walter gives him a bland look. "Oh, yeah. He went all the way home." He picks up my arm without any obvious reaction to touching the pickled limb. "Henderson, why don't you show us to the nearest incinerator? And have the janitor take care of the room."

We follow Henderson downstairs, to an area of the facility I've never been to. There are biohazard signs as we enter the maintenance room. Walter dismisses Henderson and closes the door. Reluctantly, I take the arm from Walter and we approach the hot incinerator door.

This is something I have to do.

Walt puts an arm around my waist.

"It might work," I murmur, mostly to myself, "but I'm not going to be an experiment ever again. Not even for this."

I stop breathing as I throw my arm in. The fire burns brighter for a brief moment. My breath comes back in a ragged gasp and I'm incredibly grateful that Walter is here. My legs feel insubstantial, like they're about to dissolve. "Someday I'll have the arm you selected for me, and that's enough." I lean against him for a moment. He wraps his arm around my shoulders, his hand gently squeezing the stump of my arm.

I want to lose myself in his embrace, but not now... not yet. And not here. "Let's," I have to clear my throat, "Let's get out of here." I glance at my hand. "After we wash up."

Releasing me, Walter presses his lips to my forehead. Then we step outside to find Henderson waiting. On the way to the men's room, Walter explains that we'll be back in the morning. Henderson is to inform Albers. Walter instructs that we'll be taking a full tour of the medical labs after he speaks with the test subjects.

After a quick dinner, we find another hotel and settle in. Following my usual procedure, I scan the room even though surveillance equipment is extremely unlikely. When I pronounce the room clean, Walter tugs me into his arms and holds me tightly. "You okay?"

Suddenly, I can barely breathe as the events of the day overwhelm me. "Y-No." My hand fists in his shirt. "There's something wrong with these people." My voice sounds a little shaky.

"Yeah." He moves me toward the bed, and peels off my shirt. I slump into a sitting position and he sits behind me rubbing my shoulders. "Talk to me."

"They had my arm," I whisper, reliving that truly horrible moment. I'm afraid to believe what I saw. "Why would he keep it all these years? It's... appalling."

"Yeah," Walter replies with uncharacteristic coldness in his voice. "I thought I'd already met every sort of diseased mind... These men are very sick fucks."

The real horror of the day finally hits me and it feels like someone is choking me. I reach back for Walter's hand. "I can't... I don't care if it will save the planet, Walt, I cannot give them Lyosha."

"Agreed. It's a secret we'll keep together. No one touches him." He kneads the taut muscles of my back.

I close my eyes as the relief hits me. I wasn't entirely sure where Walter would stand on this, although, I felt certain he wouldn't let the Resistance get ahold of my brother.

"If the only way to save this planet is to torture children, I won't do it." The calm certainty in his voice reassures me. No matter what, Lyosha will be safe. I realize how vital to my sanity his safety has been. I couldn't protect the others, but I can protect him. And I refuse to allow any of the choices our parents made to hurt him any more than they already have.

It takes a long time before the day begins to feel distant. I lean back against Walter, preventing him from continuing the massage. I reach back, trying to hold onto him in some fashion. "You were really good today, Walt. They never doubted your position or your determination."

He kisses the back of my head. "Well, our actual position is so weak—I mean it's really just the two of us standing up against all of them plus the rebels—that I couldn't afford to give an inch today."

"Still... you were incredible. You're a natural." His legs are around me and I reach down to stroke his thigh. "Tomorrow we take care of the labs, then we're out of here?"

"If all goes well, yeah." He squeezes me tighter in the embrace of his limbs. "I figure Albers is panicking tonight. He'll commit suicide tomorrow, I think, using you as the weapon. No great loss. Do we have to worry about Henderson? He's already acting the part of a good lackey."

"He seems really benign, but I keep remembering him sending me to the lab the first time. And all his threats to you over the phone." I scratch my chin, contemplating.

"We'll get rid of him if that's what you want."

I know he needs to die, but I also know how hard executions must be for Walter, so I put it off. "We can figure it out tomorrow." I slide my hand up and down his leg in a nearly hypnotic fashion. "I wonder who'll step in and take over?"

"I have an idea about that, but we'll see tomorrow." With a sigh, he scoots away from me. "I'd better call Mr. Green."

Walter uses the satellite phone to contact Mr. Green. While absently stroking the chain around my neck, I listen to Walter's side of the conversation. "We spent the day at the facility and they appear to be complying with our demands. ... Yes, you made that quite clear already, Mr. Green. We are moving as rapidly as we are able." Something changes in Walter's expression during a very long pause. "Yes, I can see that would simplify things for you." His face becomes... more relaxed. "All right, I accept. ... I am already doing just that. ... Your presence is required immediately, and on an ongoing basis. ... Very well, I'll arrange it. ... Yes, that would be expedient."

Under all the fatigue, there's the barest hint of smug grin as he clicks off the phone.

My curiosity is more than piqued. "What did he say?"

"They don't want to interface with two feuding sets of humans, so they want me to run the Resistance."

Walter couldn't have meant that the way it sounded. I gape at him. "What?"

He shrugs. "Well, it's not as if I trust them doing their own thing. Someone has to make sure the labs get closed down and try to do something useful with the less heinous branches of the organization. That observatory in the Netherlands, for example. Some of what they're doing actually sounds beneficial."

I'm still struggling with shock, but mumble, "Very." Shaking my head, I add, "You want to do this?"

"Not exactly, but I want to win. And they've got resources we don't." He gives me an assessing gaze. "I'll find a way to make this work for us. It seems like a better plan than letting them decide their own fate. The organization has got to be rife with people like Arntzen and Carmon. I'm the only one I trust to get rid of them."

I nod slowly. "Well, then, I guess you're stuck with me as your bodyguard." The ramifications have not even begun to settle in, but I blurt out the first absurd thing that comes to mind. "Most of the senior staff live at HQ. I don't want to."

"Me neither." He takes my hand. "Are you okay with this?"

"I think so. It feels kind of surreal right now." I squeeze his hand in return. "I guess I'll find us a place to live." Something occurs to me. "Tomorrow, I think we have to find out how this organization is funded."

"You may need to be my bodyguard and my accountant." He kisses me on the forehead. "And chief consort."

I give him a mock glare. "Oh, really? You think I'll just climb into your bed whenever you snap your fingers?"

"Well, if you don't, one of my other consorts will." He grins mischievously.

I climb onto his lap. "I believe my job as bodyguard includes keeping any other consorts far away from you."

He ruffles my hair. "You look pretty wilted. How about a hot shower? Then I'll crawl in bed with you and show you how I want my consorts to conduct themselves."

Part of what I love about Walter is his insanity. I scoot off the bed. "Shower sounds perfect... so does crawling into bed with you. But I have no interest in the behavior of your imaginary consorts."

On the way to the shower, I discover who's really tired. Walt looks like he hasn't slept in a month. I take over and quickly wash him from head to toe. He stands under the spray and rinses the suds while I scrub down. I manhandle my sleepy lover through the rest of the shower 'cause he looks like he's about to collapse. At nearly the exact moment he crawls into bed and wraps his arms around me, his breath lapses into gentle snores.

I hold on to him for a little while, letting the day fade away until all that's left is his breath, his body. Goodnight, my love.

** End Part 3 **

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

In Part 4...
Some things end. Others begin.

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