Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Epilogue1.


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

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


Part 2

Nogales, Mexico
October 2001
6:30 A.M.
Five Months Later

I stare at the stack of information I have to go through to determine security classification. It should be easy... just a couple hours work. But I can't focus on it. I feel edgier than usual today. I woke up at 3:00. Watched Walter sleep until 4:00, then slipped out to make the drive from Tucson to Nogales, hoping work would settle my brain down. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get into it today. Dammit.

I exit my temporary office. As usual, the two bodyguards waiting in chairs in the outer office follow me. I head for the opposite side of the facility, toward the locker room. It's still early and very few people are around. I need to ride. Need to wear myself out so I can think clearly. I wish I could lose the two spooks, but they freak out if they lose me and turn it into a horrible crisis.

After changing, I find both of the bodyguards in a car parked near my bike. Trying to ignore them, I hop on the bike and head out.

The familiar rhythm lets me zone out, so there's nothing but muscles working and deep breaths. I ride until I feel calm, then turn around. It's a long ride back to the facility.

I chain my bike and head into the locker room. The clock tells me I've been gone more than two hours. Missed my first meeting today. Grabbing a towel, I head for the shower and decide to miss a second meeting.

When I step out of the shower, I nearly trip over Mulder entering the shower area. He's sweaty. Probably been on a run.

He stops short at the sight of me. "Wondered when I'd get to see the entire arm."

I step around him and into the locker room. "I guess if you keep hanging around the locker room, you'll get to see everything."

Scowling at me, he leans against the wall. "Are you always in such a foul mood, or do I bring out the best in you?"

"There's nothing wrong with my mood, Mulder." I towel off and reach for my jeans. "Why don't you go away."

He makes a disgusted sound. "Incidentally, Scully's looking for-"

I glance up at Mulder's abrupt halt in speech. He's looking at my hip. Frowning, I button up my jeans and yank on my T-shirt. He's still staring at me.

"What!?"

"You have his *initials* tattooed on your body?" He sounds incredulous.

I'm not in the mood for this. "Get over it, Mulder." I grab my boots and head toward the door.

He calls after me. "I don't suppose Skin-man has a matching decoration?"

I grit my teeth, then call back, "You'll have to ask him yourself." I literally bump into one of my bodyguards outside of the locker room. I feel the tension coming back. So much for the therapeutic affects of my ride.

I stop in the hall to put on my boots. I have one on before I hear Scully's voice. "Krycek, I thought we'd see you at the planning session this morning."

Glancing up at her, I carefully reply, "I was busy." I start tying the second boot.

When I get to my feet, I find her frowning at me. "We need you there. Walter's put you in charge-"

I make a stay motion. "I'm aware of my job. Leave it alone."

She offers me a placating gesture. "Look, Alex, it's not just this. Can we talk for a minute?"

I close my eyes for a second. I'm not going to easily get out of this. "Walk and talk." We begin down the hallway. "What is it, Scully?"

"Listen... I'm not sure how to say this..."

I quietly sigh, then prompt, "Just spit it out."

With a hand on my arm, she stops me. The bodyguards halt a discreet distance away. "A lot of people are, well, a little intimidated by you. We're trying to build a team here and it's in our best interest if we get along with everyone."

I turn and start back down the hall. "It's not my job to be liked."

Scully catches up to me. "Maybe it isn't, but some of the people I have to work with are *afraid* to talk to you. This has to stop, Alex."

I stop dead and glare at her. "And if it doesn't? Is there some threat buried in there you'd like to share with me?"

She looks taken aback. "What? Of course not. But, look, if you don't think you can handle the responsibility you've been given, you should talk to Walter and-"

"I'm not surprised to find that you don't want to work with me, but I'm afraid you'll have to live with it. At least for now. Because as you very well know, I have information that this effort needs to succeed. But, don't worry. I'm sure you'll eventually find a way to get me out of the game." I turn on my heel and stalk away, ignoring her shocked expression.

"Alex! That's not what-"

Hearing the click of her heels in pursuit, I gesture to one of the bodyguards, indicating I want to be left alone. I hear Scully arguing with him behind me, but tune it out as I proceed toward my office.

I lock myself inside and try to get my calm back. Fortunately, Scully still thinks my information comes from my involvement in the Consortium. She doesn't know about the alien memories. Only Walter knows about that.

**

Alex left home in the middle of the night last night. And was AWOL for a couple of meetings this morning. His guards reported in, so I knew he was safe, but I wish I could get him to talk to me about what's bothering him.

It's got something to do with the alien DNA and the work we're doing. Last month we spent two weeks at home in Scotland. He seems fine when I get him home, but he's been moody since we came to Nogales.

I'm going to talk to him again tonight. Maybe I can at least get him to agree to wake me if he's not sleeping. There has to be something I can do.

I reply to a status email about our new training facility in Annemasse, Switzerland. The site will be ready for inspection in three weeks. I advise them that Alex and I will visit soon.

Bernice buzzes me. "Mr. Skinner, Ms. Scully is here to see you. She's not on your schedule."

"Thanks, Bernice. Send her in." Dana and Alex are the only people she'd offer to admit without an appointment.

Dana takes a seat across from me, her expression serious. "We've had a problem develop in regard to my team, but I think it's secondary to another issue." She pauses, then asks, "What's wrong with Alex?"

Shit. "Uh, why do you ask?"

"Half my team is afraid of him, so I decided to talk to him about it." She shifts in her chair, leaning forward slightly. "He became very defensive. And basically accused me of trying to find a way to get rid of him. I, uh, he's never struck me as particularly paranoid, so..." she trails off, shrugging helplessly.

My protective instincts are aroused. "I'm not completely sure what's bothering him. It's difficult to get him to talk. Did you get any other clues?"

She looks a little uncomfortable. "Not in what he said, but Mulder came to me shortly after I talked to Alex and, um, he had some interesting things to say."

Why am I afraid to ask? "Go on."

"I... look, don't get upset at Mulder, this is just the way he is, but he's been slowly putting together some information about Alex."

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. After attempting to unloosen my jaw, I reply, "Mulder cannot research Alex. If he does, lives may be lost. What do I have to do to make that clear?"

Dana gives a placating gesture. "I'm reining him in. I can't stop him from observing Alex's behavior in the present, but I told him to stop looking into Alex's past. He agreed, but I'll still keep an eye on him. Regardless, he's managed to put together an amazingly detailed profile." She watches me cautiously.

I want to kick something. Or some*one*, but maybe I also need the information. Scully seems to think it's relevant. I remove my glasses and fold them. "Okay, tell me."

Talking about him behind his back grates on my nerves.

It's your own damned fault, Alex. If you won't talk to me, what am I supposed to do?

"I don't know what information Mulder is basing his conclusions on, and I didn't ask, but his theory is that Alex doesn't know how to function in a 'normal' life, without imminent danger." She shrugs. "He mentioned post-traumatic stress. Said Alex would be sleeping poorly, nightmares, agitated." She looks at me intently. "I'm not trying to cause problems for Alex. I'm concerned, and I think Mulder may have some valid points."

The assessment of Alex is far too accurate to dismiss.

Elbows on my desk, I scrub my face with my fingers. Nothing is more important to me than Alex's welfare, but I don't know what to do. It's not like I can pack him off to a psychologist.

I glance up at Dana. "Any suggestions?"

"I've noticed his tension increases with the number of people he's around. I thought maybe changing his responsibilities so he's not forced to interact with so many people, but he reacted really poorly to that suggestion." She shrugs. "Maybe he just needs more time to adjust?"

It's really up to me to find a way to help him. He's not going to do it himself. He's handling it by bike riding himself to exhaustion every day and barely eating.

"Anything else I should know?"

"I... no. Mulder had a lot to say, but I think you have to be aware of most of it. You know Alex better than anyone."

"Yeah." But playing psychologist is not in my bag of tricks. With a sigh, I add, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Dana."

She nods. "Walter, I confess I had some difficulty adjusting to the idea of working with Alex, but I'm past that. I truly am not looking for a way to get rid of him."

I shake my head. "I know that, Dana. He knows it, too. He's just... I don't know. I'll talk to him."

"I'm not faulting Alex. All things considered, I think he's doing... rather well." She gets to her feet. "Thanks for being willing to talk about this."

I give her an acknowledging nod.

After she's gone, I dial Alex's cell phone.

He answers the phone, but is talking to someone else. "This isn't what I asked for." There's a rustle of papers. "Try it again." His voice is rigidly controlled. After a pause, he says, "Yeah?"

"Alex, would you come to my office?"

"On my way."

Alex appears a few minutes later, looking unusually tired. He's the only person who can enter my office without an announcement from Bernice.

Closing my briefcase, I say, "We're leaving."

He blinks at me. "Uh, okay."

He follows me out and waits patiently while I give instructions to Bernice to handle a conference call with Geneva. Then we exit the building. I drive us back to the Tucson fourplex Alex bought the last time we were here. Alex and I and our security people use two of the units, Bernice is in the third, and Nate Gjersee is temporarily occupying the fourth until he finds a permanent home.

Alex is quiet for a long time, then asks, "Did you just get tired of working today?"

"No, something came up that's more important," I reply cryptically.

"Okay." He resumes his examination of the landscape.

I don't offer to explain.

When we get back to the house, I pour myself a skimpy shot of Scotch and offer Alex a bottle of tea.

Taking the bottle, he looks at me expectantly. "Are we meeting someone here?"

"No." I sit on the sofa and encourage him to do the same. "We're going to talk. Or rather, *you're* going to talk. About what's been bothering you. I'm not leaving the house until I get some answers."

Instead of getting defensive and pushing back, which is his norm of late, he simply slumps in his seat. "Nothing is bothering me."

I shake my head. I'm not buying it, pal.

"You're moody, defensive, not eating, having nightmares, sleeping badly and riding your bike until you can barely walk. And, if there's still any doubt in your mind, in the last week you've shown no interest in sex. So cut the crap, and start talking."

He opens and closes his mouth a few times, then drops his head in his hand. "I say nothing's bothering me, because I can't put a finger on anything. It just all feels... wrong, but I can't even say why."

Now we're getting somewhere. "Okay. Let's talk about people. You seem uptight when you're around anyone besides me. What's that about?"

When he looks up at me, he appears so exhausted, I briefly consider not doing this now. But I know from experience, this is the best time to get answers from him. He doesn't have the resources to resist.

He considers it for a moment. "I don't know. I'm not used to being around people like this. Or, rather, working with people. I... I pretty much have always worked alone. Well, not alone precisely, but never *really* working with others." He looks confused by his own words. "And, we're putting trust in so many of them. It's hard to..." he makes an abortive gesture with his hand, "manage."

"The people we work with, at least here in Nogales, they trust you, Alex. Even Mulder does a little. He listens to the information you have to offer. They're trying to work with you-"

Alex's expression darkens. "Would they if they knew the truth? If they knew where the information came from?"

"You mean the alien memories?"

He nods. "If they knew, wouldn't they want me mounted on a slab so they could poke and prod and figure out what makes me tick?"

Shit. No wonder he's scared.

"Alex, these are good people. Every one of them hand chosen by me or Dana." I take his hand. "No, they wouldn't want to turn you into a lab rat. They'd have curiosity about the alien DNA, but I think they'd just respect you all the more, if they knew. Respect you for having the courage to deal with it."

His expression is more vulnerable than I've seen it in a long time. "I hate having this inside me." His fingers tighten almost painfully on my hand. "I'm a genetic freak, and if the rebels knew, they'd take me away," his voice breaks, "from you."

"If the rebels could find out on their own, they'd already know. And they've shown no interest in taking you away. We've hired people to keep anyone from getting their hands on you." I put an arm around his shoulders and pull him closer. "You're staying right here with me." I kiss his temple. "You're not a freak, you're a smart, sexy and lovable man."

Alex leans forward and drags his hand through his hair in a gesture that's pure frustration. "My parents would be so proud," he whispers.

"What the fuck?!"

"Their oldest son turned into an alien-human hybrid and their youngest is probably a super human. What a success they were."

I pull him back against me. "Alex, you're still you. Still human... the other stuff isn't important."

His body relaxes into mine and his breath escapes on a ragged sigh.

"You've been fighting against something all your life. And now things are calmer. *I'm* thriving. I'm with the man I love. I've got meaningful work and good people around me. You're not doing so well. I want you to shake off some of the anxiety that you've had to live with for so long. Let's find a way to make this life livable for both of us, okay?"

He gives me a weak smile. "I haven't been able to find a handbook on living a 'normal' life."

I draw him out, getting him to talk about what feels weird, until it's clear that Alex has no concept of how to operate in a life where there's not a constant crisis. I try to offer reassurance and he seems to respond. He agrees to wake me when he has bad dreams. A few small changes in his job responsibilities will take some pressure off of him. I make some suggestions about human relations. We have a lengthy discussion about how people have earned my trust and what I do when I'm not sure I can trust someone. I don't have any genius to offer, just a lifetime of failures and successes.

The longer we talk, the calmer Alex becomes. Apparently, letting him get away with not talking is the wrong approach. Over a light dinner, I mention his eating habits, and he promises to try... and to stop riding so much. Between the two, he should put some weight back on.

We talk late into the evening until Alex can barely keep his eyes open. I put him to bed and wrap my arms around him and hold on tight.


The Next Day

Alex and I drive to Nogales together. After he disappears to find Dana, I chase down Mulder in the office he shares with Gjersee.

I tell him in no uncertain terms that he is not to research my lover. In case he can't grasp the importance of it, I make an analogy, asking him to consider how much he'd want his background investigated if his sister's life hung in the balance. For once, he seems to be listening. I think he understands more than we want him to but, fortunately, his opinion of Alex seems to be slowly improving with time.

During the conversation, I catch him glancing at my crotch. I can't imagine what has inspired that bizarre behavior. Just when I'm about to tell him to fuck off, he abruptly starts looking at my face again, apparently having come to some satisfactory conclusion. About something. I don't think I want to know.

"Sir, can I ask you a question?"

"No." I head for the door. "And another thing, Mulder. I don't want you profiling my lover either. Understand?"

"No." His response brings me up short. "It's not an attack, Skinner. It's just what I do."

"Yeah, well, don't." I shake my head. "It's... invasive."

"Actually, he's a pretty interesting guy."

An enthusiastic glare is my only response.

When I get back to my office, Bernice tells me to call Doggett. He's at the Bureau, so we have a very coded conversation.

"I want to thank you for the early Christmas present, Walter."

We've been exchanging information about replicants. A month ago, one of our scientists in Geneva found a way to identify them. He built two prototype handheld optical devices. I sent one of them to John.

"Have you found it useful?"

"Too damned useful." He made a grim chuckle. "I was in a meeting with the Director yesterday and got two 'text messages.'"

"Did you handle the 'messages?'"

"Yeah, but it's risky for me, when they're so close to home."

"Agreed. Next time, we'll do it for you, John."

"Thanks. I appreciate that."

After the call, I review our intel about the replicants. Even with our new detectors going into production, the replicants are a huge problem. We don't yet fully understand what they're trying to accomplish. What side they're on, however, is crystal clear: not ours.

Alex appears a short while later. He flops into a chair. "Dana said she 'forgives me.'"

Fighting a smile, I try to gauge Alex's reaction.

He scowls but seems relaxed. "She also said she'd like to talk to us tonight." He flashes me a pleading look. "She's bringing the baby."

"And what did you say to that?"

"I tried to talk her into leaving the kid with Mulder, but she said he was busy."

Eventually, he gets to the guts of it and tells me everything in his conversation with Dana that made him uncomfortable. From showing her trust, to actually being trusted and so on. It's nothing earth-shattering. He really needs more time to get accustomed to living a less desperate life. And, apparently, he needs to talk about what he's feeling.

Talking about our feelings... Shit, wouldn't Sharon be proud?

**

As I'm finishing up for the day, there's a tap at the door. I have no idea who it is. Walter enters from the side door and no one else has been willing to talk to me lately. "Come in."

Bernice steps inside. I blink at her, wondering if she's confused about which office she's in. She crosses to me and hands me a few sheets of paper. It looks like a pared down version of my calendar. "What's this?"

"Your meetings. You don't need to do everything yourself. You should delegate more."

I feel myself bristling. "I don't need to be managed, Bernice. Go boss Walter around."

She offers me a benign smile. "Yes, you damned well do. If you didn't try to do everything all alone, you wouldn't be so cranky."

I appraise her suspiciously. "Did Walter sic you on me?"

"No. He asked me to move some of your meetings to his calendar. That won't do. While assessing your schedule, I discovered just how much you do that you don't need to. Mr. Skinner has enough on his plate, and I thought we could work this out between us, with a little time management."

Staring at her fixedly, I remind myself that she's just looking out for Walter's best interests. "Time management?" I manage to croak.

Before I know what hit me, she has changed my entire work schedule and removed half the folders sitting on my desk.

When Walter enters a few minutes later, I'm staring blankly at the spot where my work used to be. I glance up at the man I live for. "Be careful, it's a war zone in here."

He glances around the room. "Looks pretty calm to me."

"The Tiny Terror is teaching me time management."

After gaping at me for a moment, he dissolves into a hearty laugh.

I try to get him to understand the seriousness of my predicament, but it just makes him laugh harder. I attempt to manhandle him into controlling his mirth and we wind up wrestling around a little.

Just as he's kissing me senseless, I hear the door open. "Mr. Kr-" There's a terse, "Ahem," while she waits for Walter and me to get it together and face her.

He breaks the kiss, but the hand on my crotch is merely shifted to my thigh. I release my hold on Walter's ass and look over at Bernice. "Yes?"

She waves a folder. "You asked for these."

I did? I don't remember asking for anything this afternoon.

Bernice shakes her head, tossing the file on my desk. "Testosterone only allows one head to be functioning at a time, boys." Then she turns and exits.

I blink at Walter, then capture his ass again, rubbing against him. "I think she's blowing hot air. What do you think?"

He fondles my dick through my pants. "Hmm? What?"

"Nevermind." My mouth finds his.

Later, at our place, there's a knock at the door. I open it to admit Scully holding her own tiny terror. She immediately offers him to me. I decline.

Smiling, she heads for the kitchen and successfully manages to foist the wriggling infant on Walter. He holds the baby like it's an improvised explosive device.

Dana shakes her head at us. "You two are hopeless."

Walter looks at little William. "Uh, Dana. What do I do with him?" The baby makes a cooing sound.

She adjusts Walter's position until he's cradling the baby. "Just hold him." She takes over in the kitchen, getting dinner together, idly chatting about things at the facility. Walter looks like he wants to say what I'm thinking... why didn't you hold the baby and let me finish dinner?

As we're sitting down to the meal, Walter gratefully relieved of his lap-guest, Dana casually asks, "Everything secure tonight?"

Walter and I simultaneously tense. This is something serious. "Yes," Walter replies. "Everything was scanned when we got home."

Scully glances around. "And the security boys?"

"You saw the two out front. The others are next door."

"Good." She settles the baby into a portable resting-thing, then takes her seat. For once, I'm not the only one disinterested in food.

Neither Walter nor I are eating as we wait to hear what she has to say. "What's going on, Dana?" Walter asks.

She looks at me intently. "I have an update on the Russian genetic research project you asked me to look into."

My tension level jacks up instantly. I'm not aware of grabbing Walter's chair with my robotic hand until I hear the wood snap.

Walter jumps to his feet, glances at me with concern, then grabs another chair. Scully rises briefly, taking in the broken chair, wide-eyed, then sits down again.

Seated again, Walt says, "Tell us what you learned from the research notes."

Taking a deep breath, she replies, "Based on what we know of the genetic interaction between the alien virus and our own bodies, that test subject, Subject 10, was likely to be resistant to infection by the oil. And also incompatible as a host for their reproduction."

Oh, fuck. It's true. He's special. Not safe. Ever again.

I stare at the table, trying to get my tumultuous thoughts back in order. I glance at Walter. What does this mean?

Walt asks, "So, 10 is the real deal? He'd survive colonization?"

Scully nods. "He wouldn't be infected. Of course, he's as susceptible to death by normal means as you or I are."

Walter gazes at me assessingly for a long moment, then squeezes my hand. "What's your assessment of what this means for the Resistance?"

"I..." Her eyes flick to me. She takes a deep breath before continuing. "It would be a potentially huge gain in our research to figure out how this was accomplished. We need to have more than one plan for preventing colonization. Logically, preventing them from infecting us should be one of the contingencies."

I force myself to stay calm, but I have to leave this to Walter. I can't trust myself to be rational when it comes to Lyosha.

He pushes his dinner plate away. "Is it possible that research on this DNA manipulation could lead to a powerful vaccine, or something else that could help the people alive today? I don't think we have time to reproduce another generation."

Dana nods emphatically. "I agree. It's only beneficial if we can use the research to benefit the current population. And... and I think it's likely." She places both palms on the table. "But, I'm not the best person to be giving you these answers. Scientists with more experience in this field need to look at the research."

Walter's jaw is tight, the muscles prominent. "What would be needed from subject 10 to get the work started? Could anything useful be done with a blood sample? Or something else that would be minimally invasive?"

I hold onto Walter's hand like he's my only tie to reality.

Scully slowly replies, "Blood, tissue, spinal fluid, cheek cells. The usual, to start. It might be necessary to eventually look at specific tissues... and that could be more invasive."

Suddenly, I'm on my feet, taking my full plate of food into the kitchen. I set it in an open drawer and lean against the counter, just trying to breathe normally. He's not going to become an experiment. Again. I won't let it happen.

Walter appears and wraps his arms around me. "Shh, we're just talking about it. It's just words. We're not going to hurt Lyosha. I promise."

I hold him tightly, pressing my face against his neck. "It has to be his choice, but... I didn't want to have to tell him about this."

"We don't have to explain all of it. He already knows he's special. It'll be his choice if he wants to provide samples or not. And we'll fight like hell to keep from having to go any further."

"You have to tell me what to do, Walt. Because I just want to keep it all away from him. I'm not sure I can be open-minded on this subject. I'm counting on you."

"I know." He kisses my forehead. "I have an idea. Let's go back and talk to Dana. Okay?"

I nod and we return to the dining room. I attempt a facade of neutrality as I take my seat.

Dana gives me a concerned look. "I'm sorry, Alex. I know this is... a nightmare for you. I wish we didn't have to have this conversation."

"Yeah," I reply absently.

Walter clears his throat. "I'm going to make a proposal. Alex, let me know if you have any objections."

Nodding, I clutch his hand.

"Dana, I want you to find the right scientists for this research. And," he pauses for emphasis, "since subject 10 is deceased, they'll have to work from the research documents left behind by the Kryceks."

"Okay," Dana offers.

"I will find out if it's possible to get any of the samples that you want. And, if they are obtained, you're going to have to find a way to make use of them with the smallest possible number of people aware of what they are."

Releasing my hold on Walter, I reach across the table to rest my hand on Dana's forearm. "I'd send the world to hell in a handcart to protect him. And I wouldn't think twice about killing anyone who endangered him." She meets my gaze directly, though she flinches a bit. I can't be any more straight than this, Dana. "Please choose carefully."

"I understand," she says in a flat tone. I release her arm.

"Dana," interjects Walt, drawing her attention away from me. "Just to be completely clear... Both Alex and I would give our lives to protect him. And, if it comes to a choice between him and the human race, I am not sacrificing this kid." His expression makes Dana draw back a bit.

By the numbers, I can't defend this choice. But I know it's the right thing. One of the few moral things I'm certain of. I take Walter's hand again, and meet his eyes. I expected it... knew he'd support me, but his devotion still nearly overwhelms me. Thank you for this, lyubof' maya.

Dana gives Walter a hard look. She's not happy about what she's hearing. She looks at him for an uncomfortably long time. Then she glances over at her sleeping child. "Perhaps, in similar circumstances, I might feel the same way." She shakes her head. "I'll do everything I can to keep you from having to make that choice."

Walter gives a slight nod. "Alex, is this proposal acceptable to you?"

I flash Dana a look of thanks, grateful I've gotten to know her well enough to not be scared to death by this much trust. "Yes. I can agree to this."

"Then it's agreed." Walter slips off his glasses and closes his eyes for a moment. I can imagine he's thinking about Lyosha. And our shared hope that this never touches him.

Dinner is cold, but we all pick at it anyway, halfheartedly trying to discuss more trivial issues. In the back of my mind I work out how I'm going to get a blood sample from Lyosha that can't possibly be traced back to him. Should be able to get it here in a couple of days.

I don't relax until Dana is gone and I'm slipping into bed with Walter. Our bodies intertwine without thought. My fingers trace idle patterns on his chest. "Love you, Walt," I whisper.

"I won't stop trying to protect him. I promise."

"I know you won't." I used to think I couldn't possibly trust anyone else with Lyosha's care, now it's hard to imagine doing it without Walt. "I can only do this with you... so it's a damned good thing you're here."

"Always."


One Week Later

"Eat!"

I wave away the proffered sandwich. "Bernice, go away."

"Not until you eat something."

"You're the one who weighs 80 pounds."

"Right at the midpoint for my height." I believe her. Hell, she'd probably go on a special diet if her weight deviated from perfection by half a percent. "Eat."

Closing my eyes, I count to two. "I. Am. Not. Hungry."

"I. Don't. Care."

I meet her determined gaze. "Please go away! I'll eat later."

"I told Walter I'd remind you to get lunch."

"So, consider me reminded, and go away." I'm going to strangle Walt for siccing her on me. At least Walt doesn't bully me into eating.

"Oh, no. You're going to eat, or I'm not going to leave." She makes some sort of 'harumph' sound, then removes the rest of the food from the tray, placing each item on top of the papers I'm working on. Sandwich, apple, chips and milk. Yuck.

"I don't even eat half of this stuff."

"Well, when you get off your ass and go down to the café and get your own lunch, you can have whatever you like."

I knew it. "You deliberately get stuff I don't like."

She raises a brow and taps her foot.

"Fine!" I take a bite of the sandwich. "I'll eat. Now, go away! I have stuff to do."

Bernice spins on her heel, calling back, "I'm coming back in 20 minutes, and you'd better have eaten everything..."

I am *not* drinking milk, so I water my plant with it, then absently eat the apple while reading email.

Halfway through my email, I realize that despite the annoyance of Bernice hounding me, I'm more relaxed than I've been a long time.

So this is a normal life? I find myself smiling at nothing, then send Walt a suggestive email. And that gives me the strangest idea. Pulling out my cell, I punch in Scully's number. "Dana... Could you swing by when you have a chance? I'd like your advice on something..."


**

Two Weeks Later

Alex and I are taking it easy today. It's Saturday. And we've been working our asses off. So, even though it's mid afternoon, we're lying around the apartment wearing only our jeans. He's reading some book one of the security guys loaned him.

I just got off the phone with my sister. She shared all the family news: kids' grades and a new fence. My dad's hearing is declining, so he's starting to shout at everyone. How are Alex and I? I give her the same vague answers she's used to.

Alex has been slowly getting better the last couple weeks. At least, with regard to interacting with people and adjusting to his new life. Cutting back on the number of people he has to interact with every day helped, and keeping him talking is probably beneficial. He still gets agitated about the alien part of himself, but I'm not sure there's much I can do to reassure him about that.

One of the security guards enters the room and clears his throat. "I just signed for a package for Mr. Krycek. And I have the rest of the mail for you."

Alex takes in the size of the package and there's a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"Oh no. Did someone let you near the Internet again?"

He smiles, passing me the rest of the mail. "Nope. I paid for this in person." He heads toward the bedroom. "No peeking!"

I glance at Alex's book. What's going on in my own bedroom is a lot more interesting. I try to occupy myself with the mail, but it's just a bill and a sales pitch for aluminum siding. I put the bill on the desk for Alex to worry about and throw away the rest.

Alex returns a few minutes later, sitting in the chair across from me. He has several large, thick envelopes in his lap. He drums his fingers on them absentmindedly. "Did I mention that I received a message from Damien?"

"No. What does that have to do with the mysterious package and those envelopes you're fondling?"

He shrugs. "Nothing. Just wondered if you knew."

I glower at him. "So what did Damien have to say?"

"Hmm. And I thought you'd rather know what's in the envelopes. Well, Damien said he's met someone. And this someone is moving in. Noreen apparently only mildly dislikes the new guy, but Damien's convinced she'll get over it."

"So Damien's got a wife and a boyfriend, huh? Maybe I should start a little harem, too."

"I'm sorry to report, but your harem is limited to a total of one. Me. That's all you get, buddy."

I fake a look of disappointment. "Well, I suppose if I only get one, I'm glad it's you." I lean forward to give him a kiss. When he's sufficiently distracted, I grab the envelopes.

"You play dirty," he growls at me. "Open the largest envelope first. You mentioned something about wanting this for your wallet?"

Huh? I tear open the envelope. A handful of 8x10 and 10x14 glossy photos fall out. All of them featuring Alex. Very naked.

My attention is riveted. One is of him kneeling on a bed in a black jock, looking back at me over his shoulder. The next is of him lying on his back, sprawled on a green rug, both arms above his head. I think the photos were taken in our bedroom here in Tucson, but with some decorative additions. The next, and very captivating shot, is of his ass, one hand on each cheek.

"Hey, who took these photos, AK?"

He blinks at me innocently. "Scully."

"I don't think so... C'mon, give. Who's the photographer?"

Alex smiles. "Scully helped me find a photographer in Tucson. She seemed a little, oh, embarrassed, I guess. But she even had some creative input." He reaches out and taps the bottom picture. "That was her blushing suggestion."

I pull the picture forward. Alex half lying down, propped on his elbows, soft cock resting on his stomach. The angle of the picture makes his tattoo the focal point.

"Dana's got a good eye." I flip through the pictures, enjoying Alex's playful sexy poses. "Because you belong only to me, should we kill the photographer, since he has been witness to your beauty?"

Alex chuckles. "Well, if you want to. Although, I think he's rather hopelessly heterosexual."

"Good," I mutter, going through the photos a second time. "No life-size reprints for the wall?"

He raises an eyebrow. "There are a couple of larger ones, but you've already got the model. Who needs a life-sized photo?"

"So true," I say, setting the photos on the table, and moving closer to Alex. "So what's next?"

He settles next to me and taps my stomach with a slightly smaller, much thinner envelope. "I can't tell you why, but Dana thought you might be resistant to carrying some of the others in your wallet. She insisted on these."

Inside the envelope are three different portraits of Alex. I have a suspicion that Scully was more actively involved in these, as each shot seems to capture a different mood. In one, his expression is neutral, but I can see he's happy. In the next, he's smiling. In the last, his expression is intense, as if I'd just said, 'you belong to me, Alex.'

Alex taps the photos. "I don't think they have as much entertainment value, but Dana said you'd like them better."

"I wouldn't say *better*. You can be my pinup boy any day." I lay the three photos out on the table. "These are great, Alex. I remember a time when I dared not have your photo. Now, I want to wallpaper the apartment with them. Maybe my office, too."

He kisses my jaw. "I was thinking about what you said... about trying to accept that life is truly different now." He shrugs. "I guess it's kind of a symbolic gesture."

"Thanks." I've already made the changes necessary to be with Alex, but he's just beginning to adjust to life with me. "As far as symbolic gestures go," I look him over, "you're pretty good."

The third envelope is much heavier and made of a much more solid material. "Um, this one isn't for you, but I thought you'd want to see them."

I pull out two frames wrapped in tissue paper. The first is one of the photos Morgan took of Alex and me on the balcony. The photo of us kissing.

Alex fingers the edge of the frame. "That's for me."

Smiling, I remark, "That seems like a long, long time ago."

"Yeah... it does." He props his chin on my shoulder. "We weren't safe then, but we are now. I... I kind of like the contrast."

It's good to hear him say that.

I'll always try to keep you safe, Alex. I promise.

I unwrap the next frame. One of the companion photos from that same night. One of me standing behind Alex, my arms around his waist.

Alex looks a little flustered. "When I pulled the photos out to decide which ones to get frames for, uh, Scully asked for a copy of that one." He shrugs. "I still don't know why."

"Dana asked for a copy of this photo?"

He nods, looking as confused as I feel. "She said she wanted something of the two of us together."

That's unexpected, but I guess we're both part of her extended family.

I tug Alex into my lap and give him a long, thorough kiss. When we come up for air, I ask, "So, did you make an appointment for me?"

He gives me a quizzical look. "For what?"

"With your photographer. I can think of a few shots you might enjoy."

Alex's lids get heavy. "Oh yeah, Muscle Man... I can visualize that entirely too well. Let's do it tomorrow."

I slip my arms around Alex and kiss the side of his neck. He turns in my arms, flashing me a smile. "Let's go to bed, Aleksandr," I murmur gently.

Alex's expression shifts to one I only see when I call him by his given name. It's a mix of arousal and vulnerability. His lips brush softly against mine. "Say it again," he whispers.

"Aleksandr."


One Week Later

"Walt." Alex's voice penetrates my sleep-heavy brain. His hand closes over my shoulder and he gives me a little shake.

I reach automatically for the bedside table. "What is it?"

When I focus on his face, I stop trying to get my gun. He looks pale and the shadows of something horrible are in his expression.

Nightmare.

"You said to wake you up the next time..." He trails off, looking at me blankly.

Yeah, but I didn't consider for a moment that he'd actually do it. I sit up and pull him into my arms. His skin is clammy. "Wanna tell me about it?"

Alex nuzzles closer, hiding his face in my armpit. Both arms come around me, the titanium one still warm from the bed.

He's quiet for a long time, then tentatively offers, "I've had this one before... I'm stuck in the silo. Trying to find a way out. Beating on the walls. It's so dark. Then a burning body falls from nowhere. Then another. I run around dodging the falling bodies." His tone is eerily flat. "Then these small charred forms get to their feet--some still burning--and start walking toward me. Suddenly, I'm in Kazakhstan, and there's a field full of burned bodies. I kneel next to this tiny, ashy figure. Then it starts speaking to me... in my head. It says-" He breaks off abruptly, and a takes a breath. "It says... why did you abandon us?"

I steel myself with a deep breath. Miya?

I stroke his hair lightly. "You never abandoned any of your siblings. Your parents did. Not you."

"I-I know. It's just... sometimes... I think I should have been there. To die with them."

It cuts me deeply to hear him say it. "I'm glad you didn't." It's not enough, but I don't know what else to say to him. What would help? "I need you here with me."

He holds me a little tighter. "And this is where I need to be." He sighs quietly. "I think of them... dying in that fire and I feel like they were all alone and scared. But I guess, I mean, I think-" He stumbles to a stop, then continues, "I think it must have been me."

Yeah. It was you. Alone and scared in Tunguska. Being used for hard labor... and worse. If your parents were still alive, no punishment would be enough.

"You're not alone anymore, Alex."

"I know, Walt." His hand slides up to touch the side of my face. "I'm stuck with you forever." I can hear the smile in his voice.

"Yeah." As we hold each other in the dark, I feel his body slowly begin to relax. The warmth of touching each other eventually becomes more real than the dream.

There are no magic words I can say to make it all better. He and I being together is the most powerful weapon we have against his past.

I have my own fears and holding him keeps me sane, too.

No magic. Just touch. And the sound of his voice. The knowledge that the two of us are here for each other. That no battle has to be fought alone. It's a lot.

The hard-won love between us is irrevocable. Everything has changed, but this stable force will get us both through nights like this one.

When we're almost asleep, Alex murmurs, "You sure you want me to keep waking you up for these?"

"Yeah. I'm sure."

We'll do this together.

**

Guanajuato, Mexico
November 2002
One Year Later

I pace around outside security at the Aeropuerto Internacional de Guanajuato, waiting none-too-patiently for Baker to clear customs. One of my security detail is waiting in the idling car, the other is trying, and failing, to be unobtrusive near the exit.

A couple minutes later, I find myself rooted to the spot, frozen in horror. It's not that Baker is finally emerging from customs, it's what trails behind him like lost puppies. The entire geek squad. Mulder's geeks. Kill me now.

As Baker and the geeks get closer, I notice that Baker looks about ten years older than the last time I saw him. He looks tired and worn in ways he shouldn't. He stops in front of me, dropping his duffle to the ground. Unexpectedly, he grabs me in a hug. "It's good to see you, Alex."

My arms flail briefly before I pat him on the back in a way I hope is reassuring. "Good to see you, uh, too."

When Baker releases me, the geeks look like they're going to try to hug me, too. I quickly turn and flag my bodyguard down, then call back over my shoulder, "Got to take care of getting another vehicle. Just wait here..."

Twenty minutes later, I've secured a sedan for the geeks--The Gunmen, or whatever they call themselves--which is driven by one bodyguard. Baker and I are in the backseat of the SUV driven by the other bodyguard.

As we hit the highway headed toward Guanajuato proper, Baker finally speaks again. "How is everyone?"

That's a loaded question. I can only offer a non-committal nod and a vague shrug.

"Mulder?" he queries.

I think Mulder is doing better than just about anyone else. "Okay. Think he'll be happy to see the nerds."

"Walter?"

That's thorny. "He's all right. Sort of. Kind of feeling..." I trail off, not certain how to express what I see Walter struggling with.

"Responsible?" Baker supplies.

Is that it? "I guess. He kind of takes it all on himself."

Baker nods as if he understands too well, and contemplates the passing scenery for long moments. "How's Dana?"

"Coping."

After a long pause, he finally asks, "Nate?"

I sigh. "Not coping."

He nods again, as if it's all expected.

After a long silence, I quietly offer, "Walter wants you to reconsider leaving the Bureau."

Baker sighs. "I can't. We all have to do our part, Alex. This is my part. I'm staying."

It's not my job to talk him in or out of it, so I don't argue.

Ten minutes later, we arrive at the colonial-era hotel on the main square Guanajuato. The bellman takes everyone's bags, and I ask him to tell the desk to arrange for accommodations for the geeks.

I lead everyone to the ballroom we rented for the occasion. Walter is propping up a wall near the door, waiting for us. He and Baker shake hands. "Good to see you, Robert." How come Walter didn't have to get hugged?

Baker nods. "Good to see you, too, Walter. Wish it were under different..." he trails off, as if not sure what to say.

"Yeah," Walter offers.

Despite the somewhat stilted beginning, I sense they need to have a chat, so I briefly touch Walter's shoulder, then round up the geeks, directing them inside the ballroom, shooing the bodyguards down the hall, leaving Walt and Baker alone.

Inside, the mood is somber, but the colonial décor is bright and lively. Scully's been 'in-charge' since we got the news, and I see her hand in the calm, tasteful arrangements in the normally festive room.

There are only a dozen people in the large room, so it's easy for the geeks to zero in on Mulder. Ignoring their subdued, but happy reunion, I try to find Scully and eventually spot her apparently trying to talk Nate out of the corner. She's standing close, a hand on his shoulder, looking up at him. His face is downturned and he looks miserably unhappy.

I position myself close to them, but far enough away to not hear what they're saying. Scully seems to sense my presence and steps away from Gjersee. She stops next to me and glances around, a half smile appears when she sees the Gunmen and Mulder chatting around one of the tables.

"Where's Baker?"

"In the hallway talking to Walter." I scuff my shoe against the carpet, feeling uncomfortable and unsettled.

She nods and look towards, the door. "I'm going to retrieve them. They can talk more later. We should get started." She hesitates, glancing back at Gjersee. "Will you talk to him?"

"Me?"

"Yeah, you, Alex. You're friends."

"Uh, what do I say?"

Scully shrugs a little. "Just talk."

She disappears and I hesitate, then cross to lean against the wall next to Nate. The hall is oddly quiet as I watch Scully make her way across the room, stopping to talk to people, say hi to Mulder's friends.

"It's not fair," Gjersee whispers out of the blue.

"No," I agree.

"Everyone thinks they're alive... thinks they're still going to work every day, following their weird leads, filing strange reports..." he trails off.

It's true. All of it. That's sort of the point. No one knows the difference. "*We* know," I offer, not sure what else to say.

"Yeah. We know." He sighs, and looks up finally, glancing around the room. "We know the truth, and we'll remember." He fidgets for a few seconds. "Doggett and I used to fight all the time."

I wonder what he needs me to say? "Yeah, well, he was pretty easy to fight with."

Gjersee makes a sound suspiciously like a snort. "He was at that. But I wish I could tell him how much I admired him, besides finding him really annoying." He's quiet for a few minutes and I let the silence be. Eventually, he softly says, "I'm really going to miss Mallory. He was... the best. You know?"

"Mmhmm." Mallory was a good guy.

"It's hard that there's someone... some*thing* running around wearing his-his... face," Gjersee ends on a whisper.

Going on instinct, I wrap an arm around his shoulders and pull him away from the wall, guiding him toward the tables. "Come on, Nate. Let's do what we came here to do and remember them. Say goodbye..."

**

"Walter, I..." Baker rubs his eyes. "You're right. Blaming myself isn't doing any good. Are you following your own advice?"

"Not really," I reply grimly. I try to think of something comforting to say, but so many lives have been lost, over so many years. And the lives already lost are a small number compared to those currently at risk in this battle we fight. Sometimes, it just numbs me out and I go through the motions.

He nods. "The hardest part for me is acting like I don't know. I see these guys every day. Mallory's replicant is more withdrawn, but the one doing Doggett tries to emulate his sense of humor. It just nauseates me."

"I don't see how you can stand it." I shake my head. "You need to get out Baker, for you own wellbeing. With two replicants in it, we're done cooperating with the X-Files, anyway."

"It sounds good, Walter. I appreciate the offer." He looks at his feet for a moment. "I'm the only one left in the Bureau you can trust. If these guys are there, there's a reason. You need a mole, and I'm the only one who can do it."

"Don't sacrifice yourself, Robert."

"I'm not. It's what I'm used to. I feel like I belong there." His eyes go moist again. "If I didn't have to look at those two things, it would be easy for me."

"If there's anything I can do to help..."

"Thanks, Walter."

Dana sticks her head out and summons us in for our private memorial service.

**

September 2003
One Year Later

After slipping on my tux, I come up behind Walter, who's fiddling with his tie in front of the mirror. He looks really good. Too good. I'd forgotten how hot he looks in a tux. Grabbing his ass with both hands, I offer, "How about we skip this thing and I just undress you?"

His hand reaches back to touch my hip. "It's a good plan, but Scully would have our balls."

Regrettably, that's probably true.

Walter steps to the side, wrapping an arm around my waist. "You remembering what I'm remembering?"

My cock thickens at his sensual tone of voice. "Yeah... too bad there's no golf course." I glance around the antechamber. "But I think this would do."

"Got a couple butter pats in your pocket?" Through the mirror, he gives me a broad grin.

I dig into my pocket for the trial pack of lube. Waving it at him, I return, "I've progressed beyond dairy products."

Walter's got a faraway look on his face. "I'll never forget that night. I was so... jealous. There I was cheating on my wife and suddenly I wanted to rip the hand off some woman who touched you. I... I was lost." He makes an unnecessary adjustment to my hair. "I felt it for the first time that night... that I wanted you to be mine. It seemed so unreasonable, so impossible." His expression shifts to a subtle smile. "But here we are, AK, and you are mine."

"Mmm," I affirm. We both know it, but the reminder always gives me a warm feeling. I watch his expression in the mirror for a moment. "I wondered, that night, if you were jealous, and immediately dismissed the idea. I couldn't imagine that you'd be jealous over me." I turn my back to the mirror, so I can wrap my arms around him. "The next morning, when I saw the bite mark on my neck... I was so fucking turned on. Because I knew it was a possessive thing." I shake my head at the memory. "I thought I had lost my mind."

"Me, too. I was appalled to discover how possessive I am, but now..." He kisses me lightly on the forehead. "Now, it's just me. And it works between us."

I pull him close for a real kiss. His hand finds the back of my neck and he plunders my mouth, claiming me the way he did that night. I yield instantly, my body trembling at the display of his ownership.

When he pulls away, I'm a mess: breathing erratic, body shaking with not-to-be-satisfied lust. I cling to him until I can get my senses under control.

Walter swallows hard and tries to regulate his rough breathing.

Damn this wedding! I grab the loose end of my tie and wave it at Walter. "If you're not going to take advantage of me, then tie this stupid thing." I refuse to waste cycles figuring out how to make the robotic hand tie a bow tie.

He gives me an indulgent look, which means he knows I can tie my own tie, but he doesn't mind doing it for me. Standing behind me, he neatly loops the bow tie, fussing with it for a few seconds, before releasing it and kissing the back of my head. "Hey, beautiful, aren't you supposed to be feeding whiskey to the groom or something?"

"Really? No one will give me the straight scoop on this best-man thing. Every time I ask, people think I'm joking. And I thought that damned bachelor party would be the end of this misery." I fidget with my shirt, feeling out of place and uncomfortable. "I still don't know why the hell he asked me."

Walt wraps his hands around my waist. "Because you look spectacularly gorgeous in a tux."

I really don't think my looks had anything to do with it, but I'm willing to play along with him. "If looking good in a tux is criteria for being in the wedding party, I know why you're giving the bride away."

He rewards me with a rare slightly flustered look. "I'm glad you approve."

A tuxedoed Mulder bursts into the room. He looks rapidly at each of us, then elbows Walter. "You tied his and yours, didn't you?" Without waiting for a reply, he pushes a wad of black satin into Walter's hands. "You gotta help me out here."

"Take it easy, Mulder. We've still got a few minutes."

Didn't Walt say something about whiskey? Maybe we can sedate Mulder until this is over. Grudgingly, I move out of the way so Walt can take care of Mulder's tie. I notice he does it neatly and efficiently, but the look he gives Mulder's mirror image is amused tolerance. Nothing like the love and affection he shows me. And it's a damned good thing.

"Thank you, sir," he offers, even though Walt has asked him not to call him that. He forgets when he's excited. "I told Scully to get the pre-fab ones, but she wanted everything to have that traditional look." He pulls up his pant legs. "Do you think my socks are going to be a problem?"

One is a black and green paisley, the other navy blue and gold stripes.

Walt and I both blink at Mulder's exposed ankles and simultaneously mutter, "No, Mulder. They're fine."

Dana knew he was going to act out today. If it's just his socks, she should be happy.

Mulder releases his pant legs, then leans down to pick something up. It's the lube packet. Oops. Must have dropped it. He looks at us both with a shocked expression. "You guys were..." He looks around. "In *here*? It's a Catholic church." Shaking his head, he wanders out of the room, murmuring, "... if sodomy is grounds for excommunication..."

Ten minutes later, the bridal coordinator calls us to take our positions. Walter disappears toward the bride's dressing room. The coordinator hands me the rings and gives Mulder a bouquet.

On the way into the yard, Byers calls out, "Hey, there's the madman of honor."

Mulder tosses him a cheesy grin and tries to hold his bouquet with a modicum of dignity. I never thought I'd even consider this, but... he makes a rather charming bride's maid.


Boulder, CO
June 2005
Eighteen Months Later

Penetrating the research complex was easier than it should have been, considering what our sources say is going on here. A staging point for alien invasion.

So far we've killed everyone we've encountered. A policy that Walter does not like, but we both know it's our only hope of getting out alive. In the wee hours of the morning, there aren't many people here.

We have a team of six sweeping the offices, looking for information. If anyone finds data, they confiscate or download it. If they find anything else of interest, they signal Walter and me. We're not entirely sure what we can expect to find here, so we're making it up as we go along.

We're almost done with the data search, and it's time to check the labs. I signal the team, and we head down one flight of stairs.

There's something here. Something alien. I can feel it. I should tell Walt, but he'd abort the mission.

As we move into the last lab, I know it's here. More than one.

"There's something here." I wave the team back, but feel inexorably drawn further into the room.

"Alex!" Walter hisses.

I open a pressure-sealed container, finding the black oil inside. Without conscious thought, I rest my hand on the surface of the oil, then let it slide into the black fluid, feeling the oil crawl around my hand and wiggle up my arm. One part of my mind screams in horror, but the rest of me feels the most astonishing sense of kinship... of rightness.

Before I can process anything else, Walter's yanking me away. "What the fuck are you doing?!"

"It's okay. I can't be infected." I wasn't sure until just before I stuck my hand in that thing. God, why did I do that?

A little remaining oil slips off my hand onto the floor, some of it working its way toward the team by the door, some winding toward Walter. I feel like I'm coming out of a trance. "No!" Before Walter can stop me, I bend toward the floor. Surprisingly, I'm able to gather the oil up in my hand and deposit it back in the container before sealing it. "We should take this with us."

The instant the container is sealed, Walter is in my face, his hands clamped on my shoulders. "Stop this, Alex!"

I stare at him in confusion.

He gestures at two team members and gives a harsh command, "Get him out of here."

"No!" Walter's not expecting me to wrench away from him. There's something else here. I dart to a window, flipping a switch on the wall.

The room beyond the glass is illuminated. The alien is huge--hands clawed in a defensive action. Inside I recoil, but another part of me takes over. It's just a baby. I place my hand on the glass. It moves forward slowly, then touches the glass on the other side of my hand. Every instinct tells me to protect this creature.

It's okay, baby. You're going to be fine.

Walter's arms are around me. With no small force, he drags me backward, away from the creature. "Alex! We're leaving!"

"No!" As I get further away, I realize what I just did. What I just *thought*.

Oh, Christ. I am so fucked.

I feel myself start to shake. "Walt... it has to be killed, but I can't... I can't do it." I feel queasy. The alien baby makes a screechy sound I interpret as a plea. I slap my hands over my ears, managing to knock myself in the head with my titanium hand. It screeches again. "It's calling me..."

I can no longer see the creature, because Walter has dragged me into the hall outside the lab. He pins me, so my back is against the wall. "It's okay, Alex. We'll take care of it." Somewhat frantically, he scans my face, then takes a deep breath and orders someone to burn the alien.

Another of our men is out in the hallway, guarding the canister. I lean my head against the wall, trying to get hold of reality. "It's an infant." Of course, for it to be so young, a human had to die very recently for it to be born. I know we can't let these things live... they'll kill us. But when I hear its death screech, I feel as if I'm being ripped apart.

"It's a dead infant," Walter says coldly.

"Get the container away from me. I can't think... send it ahead."

He brutally grips my forearm and starts walking. "We've leaving. NOW."

Blindly, I follow Walter's lead, feeling like I'm slowly coming out of it. With his free hand, Walter gets on the radio. "Sergei to Forrest. Come in."

"Sergei, this is Forrest."

"Sasha and I are coming out Exit Alpha. Get a car there fast. Exit Alpha."

"Roger, Sergei. Exit Alpha. ETA 5 minutes."

"Faster, Forrest! Sergei out."

By the time we're outside, I'm horrified by what just happened. I tug at Walter. "I'm okay."

"Good," he replies absently, scanning the front of the building, but he doesn't let go of me.

Everything comes in on me at once, and I'm hyper-alert. We shouldn't be at this exit. I get my gun out. I need to get us back on plan. "Walt-"

Suddenly, there's yelling and gunfire. Fuck. It takes me a beat to figure out where the shots are coming from. About 50 yards away--probably a roving security detail. I'm firing on gut instinct and hear Walter's weapon, too, as we run for cover.

Both of us automatically stay close, tighter than I would stay with anyone else. It's the only way to keep track of each other and still shoot. I'm peripherally aware of the heat of his body. Know that he's safe beside me.

But, in the next instant, Walter's down. Christ. I squat down and focus on taking out our assailants. I hear the screech of tires, then more shots from afar. Another loud shot from Walter's gun. The simple sound of his weapon firing is incredibly reassuring. As soon as it looks like our guys have control of the threat, I turn my attention to my lover.

He's crouched on his side, eyes darting around, breathing hard, trigger finger still twitching.

There's a profuse amount of blood coming from the wound in his thigh. I rip at my T-shirt, pressing the wad of fabric over the bullet hole. I hear someone close to our position. I bring Walter's free hand to the wound.

He nods, acknowledging that I have to deal with this. At the same time, he aims his AR-15 at the noise.

After a tactical reload, I hunker down and move a little away from Walter. Another shot is fired about twenty feet away. Then silence. I can't hear anything except nature sounds.

Then a very faint whistle. That could be our man. Or not. I creep a little further away from Walter to draw anyone away from his position. I hear some faint crunching sounds coming my way. Good. I get behind a bush, waiting to ID the man before I shoot him.

He gives the whistle again. It sounds like one of our guys, but I hold my breath until I see a man-shaped shadow cross in front of me. Man. With Uzi. One of our guys. I whistle a return signal to catch his attention. He spins around.

I approach him quickly. "Situation?"

"Still scouting. Clear, I think."

"Sergei's down. Ten yards, near that fat bush. Get the Jeep." Without waiting for an acknowledgement, I return to Walter's position.

Our man follows me, takes a glance at Walter, then pushes the transmit button of his radio twice, before whispering into it, "Jeep, hang right after the T. Look for the fat bush at northeast corner."

Walter's still alert, gun ready, but he's looking pale. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I press on the torn T-shirt, applying more pressure to his leg wound.

"I'm okay," he whispers, clutching at me. "If I pass out, promise me you're not going back into that building."

This is my fucking fault. I squeeze his hand. "I'm not leaving your side."

"Good," he replies, visibly relaxing, giving himself to my care.

There's so much blood. I have to force myself to focus on getting us out of here, deal with the wound later.

Suddenly, there's a noise behind us and another shot in the distance. The operative with the machine gun leans down to whisper, "Jeep headlights. 30 seconds."

I nod, then focus on Walter.

"Love you, AK," he manages, then his eyes fall shut.

"No, Walt. Stay with me..." I touch his face, smearing blood. Fuck, he's out. Please don't let me lose him now. I hear the crunch of tires in the distance, but it's not fast enough. I have to do something now. Have to fix him. My hand is suddenly directly on his wound. Then the Jeep is there. Driven by one of ours. And several pairs of hands are pulling Walt up and hauling him into the Jeep.

I climb in the back with him, half sitting on him and checking the pressure on the injury. "Get us back to town. NOW!" I yell at the driver. To the guy riding shotgun, I order, "Shoot *anything* that gets in our way."

"Yes, sir," he replies, raising his Uzi into position. A few jerky shifts of gears and the Jeep is going faster than I thought one could. I realize I'm not the only one on this team who'll do whatever it takes to save Walt.

I should check on the rest of the team, but I can only think about Walt. I lean down close to him, whispering, "Please don't leave me, Walt. I need you too much." My hand is back directly on his wound again, and there's suddenly a lot of heat.

A moment later, his eyes pop open and he mumbles, "It's warm." Then he's out again. I remind my heart to beat, then check the injury again. The bleeding has slowed considerably. I rest my head on his chest, praying to nameless forces in the universe that he'll be okay. Then I force myself to deal with this royally fucked up mission.

I grope for my radio. "Base, Sasha. Have our boys reported in?"

"Affirmative, Sasha. They're en route."

"Do they have the package?"

"Affirmative."

"We're taking a detour. Hold your positions pending orders from the Doctor."

"Roger."

"Sasha out." As soon as I get Walter to the hospital, I have to call Scully, aka the Doctor, and tell her to get up here and take over this mess.

I keep a constant eye on Walt. He doesn't appear to be any worse, which is somewhat comforting. I shrug out of my jacket and shuck my mission-related gear, so I don't look like a mercenary, then do the same to Walter. I also use some special wipes to remove gun powder residue from our hands, arms and faces.

The guys in the front seat keep casting anxious glances in our direction. Everyone likes and respects Walt. I can tell by their expressions that they want some kind of reassurance, but I just can't deal with it right now.

As soon as we get to the edge of town, the men make the weapons disappear under the seats. As part of the pre-mission plan, the driver already knows how to get to the hospital. The guy in the passenger seat tosses me his T-shirt.

"Thanks," I mutter.

When we get to the hospital, one of them jumps out to incite the medical staff. They'll disappear as soon as Walter's out of the car.

A bored-looking nurse stubs out her cigarette and recruits a gurney. In the subsequent flurry of activity, no one notices the Jeep disappearing. I steadfastly refuse to leave the trauma room until the police arrive. When I step out into the hall to talk to them, I notice two of our men inconspicuously waiting in the corridor, watching Walter's room. Good.

I turn my attention to the police, spinning an absurd tale of Walter and me making out in the woods and being the victims of a drive-by shooting. We were picked up by a couple of good Samaritans, who subsequently disappeared. The older of the two cops has a doubting expression on his face, but the story arouses their homophobic instincts to the point that they don't question it too much. Fortunately, they probably won't investigate much either.

They insist on taking a statement from Walter when he's awake. Fine. Whatever. I take one of their cards and leave them to do whatever it is that they do. Then I muscle my way back into the trauma room. I notice immediately that they've started transfusing blood.

Walter stirs and whispers plaintively, "Alex?"

I shoulder the doctor out of my way and dart to Walter's side, taking his hand. "I'm right here, Walt."

He looks up at me blearily. They must have given him pain medication. "Are you..." he trails off looking lost.

I give him a reassuring squeeze. "Everything is going to be fine." I glance at the doctor for confirmation. He nods. I feel the first threads of relief wind through me. I hate doing this now, but I have to. Leaning down, I whisper our cover story to Walt. He may not remember it, but I have to give it a shot.

He appears to listen, then he says, "But we-" He can't seem to get the words out.

I lean close again, and murmur, "If you get confused, just pretend to pass out."

Walt shakes his head. "Confused. Yeah."

I have no idea what Walter's trying to tell me, but I keep talking to him soothingly.

The doctors are ignoring me now, while they discuss Walter's injury. A clink of metal in a cup must be the bullet.

One of the doctors is shaking his head in amazement, which catches my attention. "What?"

The doctors talk to each other, ignoring me. "With this volume of blood loss," he gestures to Walt's soaked trousers, "I expect an arterial bleed, but the femoral must be intact because the bleeding has already stopped."

"The round was fairly close to the surface..."

"But how do you account for the blood loss?"

I interrupt their speculations. "Is he going to be okay?"

They both blink at me and manage to simultaneously reply, "We need an x-ray to check for fragments or..." he shrugs vaguely seeming a little mystified. "He stabilizing with the transfusion, so hypovolemic shock is-"

Some of the medical babble goes over my head, but it sounds like Walter is out of danger, even though it confuses the doctors.

Walter is zonked. After a few minutes, an entire team of doctors are poking at Walter's leg, muttering medicalese incantations. I rest my head on his shoulder. Please be okay. Please, please, Walt.

...Alex...

I lift my head and glance around tiredly. I'm losing it.

...Alex...

Oh, fuck. ...What?...

...What's wrong?...

...Walter's injured. How did you know?...

...You've been giving off enough psychic energy to alert every alien in the country...

"Alex?"

Oh, god. ...Would they know it's me, Jeremiah?... "Yes, Walter?"

"Pass out?"

...No, Alex. I know what your thoughts feel like, so I knew it was you...

"You want to pass out, Walt?" The doctors all stare at me.

...Jeremiah, am I about to bring an alien horde down on our heads?...

...No. Do you need me to come to you?...

"Later..." Walter trails off in an unintelligible mumble.

My eyes are crossed. I glance at the doctors. It's clear from the cessation of frantic activity that Walt is going to recover. They all seem more curious than concerned.

...Jeremiah, we'll be okay. Thanks....

"No..." Unintelligible. "...confused"

...Contact me later, Alex....

...Yeah, yeah...

The connection dies. Thank god. I focus solely on Walter, and whisper, "Love, when you talk to the police, if you feel confused, pretend to pass out."

"Pretend?"

I stroke the side of his face. "Yeah."

"Police," he murmurs, looking pleased that we're finally communicating.

"Yeah."

"'Kay."

I laugh, feeling incredibly grateful for his life. I give him a quick kiss. "Love you."

"AK." Now that we're communicating he seems to relax.

"I'm going to call Dana and let her yell at me." I kiss the back of his hand and get to my feet. One of the nurses is watching us with a smile on her face. And another with a frown.

"'Kay. I sleep."

The smiley nurse winks at me and whispers, "My brother is gay."

I think I'm numb. I muster a smile I hope will pass for an appropriate response and reach for the wall phone. Frowny nurse tries to stop me, but I ignore her. Mr. Scully answers the phone and I tell him to put Dana on. She answers, abruptly sounding awake. "What's going on, Alex?"

"We had some problems. Walt was shot tonight." I glance around to make sure no one is paying attention. "I need you to take over at base."

"Is he all right?"

"Yeah. Hit in the femoral artery, but the wound has closed."

"Put the doctor on the line. Tell him I'm Walter's personal physician."

I collar the doctor and shove the phone at him. He and Dana talk for an interminable length of time, then he passes the phone back.

Walter groans mildly and murmurs, "AK."

I smile and try to listen to Dana. "I'm on my way. Should be there in a couple of hours."

"There's a package that needs to be taken care of ASAP. I should handle it myself, but I don't want to leave Walt." And it led somewhere nasty the last time.

"Got it. I'll check in now."

"Thanks, Dana."

I hang up and move back to Walter, who's mumbling something unintelligible. Sitting next to him, I gratefully listen to him babble.

An hour later, he's stitched up, x-rayed, and they've transferred him upstairs. His two shadows are lurking in the hallway. Sitting next to his bed, I watch him sleep for a long time.

I fucked up tonight, Walt. I'm so damned sorry. I would never do anything to endanger you. I love you so fucking much.

**

The Next Day

My head hurts.

Alex is draped over me, I pull him closer and settle back into sleep.

"Good morning, Mr. Jones," a too-loud voice calls out. "I need you to wake up now."

Who's Jones? What is she doing in our room?

I open my eyes and see a too-bright room... a white room. Fuck, I'm in the hospital. Something happened to me, but I'm not sure what.

My head hurts.

Why? Then I remember Alex and the baby alien thing. Oh, fuck.

The intruder--apparently a nurse--takes my blood pressure and makes me drink. Then I realize I've got a tube in my dick.

Well, okay. I'm not dead and Alex is here and seems to be alive.

One of our security guys steps into the room. "Everything okay, sir?"

"Yeah." I remember our hasty departure and getting shot in the leg. Things are starting to make some sense.

The nurse makes some notes on my chart, says something cheerful and departs.

It's a large private room. With a decent window.

I wonder how much sleep he's had. Probably not much.

I pet his hair and let him sleep.

My head hurts worse than my leg.

A short while later, Dana arrives. I usually manage to keep her away from these missions--she has a child to raise after all--but I'm not surprised when she turns up at the first sign of trouble.

She stands next to the bed and visually assesses both of us. "I hoped to get here earlier, but things were a little complicated." She presses the back of her hand to my forehead. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay. Headache. Leg hurts." I shrug. "What's going on that I don't know about?"

She raises a finger. "Just a sec... I'm waiting for our guy to come back." A minute later, one of the security men enters and scans the room. He gives Scully the all-clear, exits and closes the door.

"We finished up. The data has been sent back to Arizona for review and dissemination. Normally, I'd like to take our little canister back as well, but I..." she glances at Alex, "I'm a little fuzzy on what went wrong last night."

Oh, that. I try to think of what I can say to her that won't make her ask too many questions about Alex.

A subtle shift in the tension of Alex's body tells me he's awake, though he's playing possum.

Thanks for your support, Alex.

At my hesitation, she says, "According to the team, Alex 'got weird,' led you guys right to a canister of oil *and* an alien, zoned out, started *playing* with the oil, then proceeded to bond with the alien, which was, in all likelihood, an infant."

"Well, yeah, Dana. That's pretty much what happened."

She scolds me with a look. "Walt, this is pretty... unusual. Even for him."

Alex stirs, looking up at me. He looks like he hasn't slept in a month. "I'd rather play dead for this discussion, but I needed to see you too badly." He strokes my face. "You still with me, Muscle Man?"

"Yep," I toss off, kissing him on the head. "Morning, beautiful."

Dana patiently endures our sweet talk, but I know she'll get back to business soon.

"I was so fucking scared last night." He squeezes my hand. "I'm so sorry. This was totally my fault."

"No, Alex. It wasn't." I bring his fingers to my lips. "It happened. I survived."

Dana taps Alex on the shoulder to get his attention. "Why do you think this was your fault?"

Alex glances at her. "Because my problem caused Walt to diverge from our plan, putting us in an exposed position, and he wound up getting shot. I wasn't even fully alert when we exited the building."

She gapes at him, then at me. "You haven't been in contact with base, have you?"

"Why?" I ask, sensing by her tone that I'm not going to like her answer.

Her expression darkens. "You two got out the easy way, through the front. The back route was heavily defended. Lewis and Vincente didn't make it. Alvarez lost part of his ear."

"Shit." Vincente had a family. I close my arms around Alex. Grateful that we both made it. And feeling the familiar pangs of survivor's guilt.

Alex is quiet and completely absorbed with whatever's going on in his head. Eventually, he asks, "Was anyone killed because we pulled one of the backup teams to the front entrance?"

Scully shakes her head. "No. They were ambushed before they could get close to the vehicles. When they heard the shots, the backup teams moved in, but Vincente and Lewis were already dead."

Alex sighs and rests his head on my chest. "What a fucking mess." His fingers tighten on my shoulder. In his own way, he takes losing our men as hard as I do.

After a long silence, I ask, "Did someone notify Vincente's wife?"

She nods.

I make a mental note to visit her when I get back to Tucson.

Scully lets us off for a few moments, then asks, "You were about to tell me about last night?"

Alex sits up straight and focuses on her. "Dana, I'd like to discuss it with Walt first. I'll... I'll tell you what I can later, but I need some time to think about it first. Can you accept that?"

Her expression softens. "All right, but is there anything I need to know about the oil in the canister the guys brought back?"

Alex tiredly mutters, "It's a group consciousness. The same type of oil Mulder was infected with in Russia if you want to do any DNA comparisons. It's not a breeder."

She blinks at him. "And you know this, how?"

I intercede so Alex doesn't have to explain. "Dana, let's leave it at that for now. But there's something I need you to do for me. Keep that sample as far away from Alex as possible. Can you send it to that doctor in Singapore who's working on the vaccines?"

Dana looks at me, then Alex. "Just when I think I know all your secrets, Alex, you come up with new ones."

"And we appreciate how well you've kept all our secrets, Dana." I give her a half smile.

She puts a hand on Alex's shoulder. "Your life is a lot more interesting than it ought to be."

Alex gives a weak chuckle. "Thanks, Dana."

Scully insists on inspecting my wound before she departs. Alex cringes at the sight of it, but Scully pronounces that the nanos are doing an incredible job of healing me and I should try to get out of the hospital before the medical staff tries to keep me forever.

As soon as Scully leaves, the nurse returns. "That man outside your door wouldn't let me in," she says in a huff.

I shrug, not wanting to mention that he's a bodyguard, because it will lead to questions.

She offers me a shot of morphine, but I talk her down to Percocet. She seems skeptical of my apparent macho, but she doesn't know that I'm healing ten times faster than normal.

After giving me the pills, she disappears again.

I nudge Alex. "Let's get out of here. We can spend the day at our hotel room, and head back to Arizona tomorrow."

"You talked me into it." He gives me a concerned look. "You sure you're okay? Jeremiah offered to come if you need him."

"I'm fine, but it's good to know our alien friend will come in a crisis."

Alex gives me a wan smile. "He said I was blasting my presence to the alien community at large last night." He squeezes my hand. "I was so fucking worried about you. I think I'll have to take bullets off the menu."

"Shit. Are you in danger? Do we need to get out of here? Are aliens going to find you?"

"He said he only knew it was me because he recognized my thoughts... or some such thing. Said there wasn't any danger. No one's coming after me directly, but it might be interesting to see if the satellites show any increase in alien activity in this area over the next few days."

"If there's even a possibility, let's get on the road. We can find a hotel on the way back. I don't want any more alien encounters-"

The sound of loud arguing men comes from outside the room. Alex goes to the door, with his hand subtly over his gun. Once he sees what it is, he visibly relaxes. "The local police."

"I'm Jones, right?"

"Yeah. We were making out in the woods outside of town, and you were hit in a drive-by. We didn't see anything and you passed out immediately."

"Really? Okay, bring 'em on."

We embellish the story with enough salacious details to make the cops eager to end the interview. It seems pretty pro forma, like they have a report to fill out, not like they want to arrest anyone. The only dicey part is when they start asking us if we'd been anywhere near the facility where the shooting actually took place. I act confused about which side of town we were on, like a dumb tourist, and they wander off to type up their report.

When I recall all the years I spent in law enforcement, wishing people would be more cooperative, I feel sorry for lying to the local cops.

After they depart, I'm eager to get out of the hospital, so we send someone to clear out our hotel room.

We use the hit-em-hard-and-fast approach with the medical staff. Stick me in a wheelchair and wheel up to the desk saying we're signing me out against doctor's orders. They blink a few times, but when I start rolling the chair to the front door, the papers appear quickly for me to sign.

Trying not to think about everything that happened yesterday, I nap while Alex drives us out of town.

A few hours later, he checks us into a hotel, fussing over me until I'm propped up in bed. Sitting next to me, he asks, "Feeling tired?"

"A little," I reply absently. "You ready to talk about what happened last night?"

He winces a bit, then sighs. "I'd rather forget it ever happened, but since that's not likely, I guess we should talk about it."

It looks like he needs a little help getting started. "Were both of the aliens--the oil and the creature--communicating with you?"

"I guess. Sort of. I knew things about the oil once I touched it. The alien... it had thoughts, rationale. Its thoughts were immature, but I understood them. But I was drawn to both." He looks a little queasy at the recollection.

"You wanted to... what? Save them? Be with them?"

He frowns in concentration. "I don't know. I just felt like I had to get to them. Then, once I touched the oil, some part of me instantly felt at home. And when I saw the baby... I felt like I was supposed to protect it. It was weird... I felt like I was at war with myself."

Alex is going to have a hard time accepting this. I have to make sure I don't make it more difficult for him. "So the alien DNA in you feels an affinity for these aliens. It's natural, I suppose. It does make me want to keep you away from them, however."

Alex stares at his hands for a minute. "I... yeah. That's probably a good idea."

His giving in so easily on this is chilling. It's proof of his terror.

We both know this narrows the sort of missions we can do. And most of the 'sensitive' ones are the ones that may have aliens.

I suppress a shudder at the memory of that thing capturing Alex's attention and concern. But I can't let myself freak out about this, because it will make him more anxious.

God, I do *not* like these hideous creatures communicating with my lover.

I take a long, slow deep breath. Okay, Walt. Set your feelings aside. It's Alex's that matter here.

"So, you can communicate with these things," I try to say in a matter of fact tone. "You feeling okay about that?"

He's quiet for a long time, then softly replies, "No. I'm not."

I can feel his fear.

You may be scared, Alex, but you're not alone.

"It's not something we can change, Alex. At best, it's a weapon we can use against them." I move down the headboard, encouraging Alex to sit next to me. "It doesn't change you... you're still the same to me."

Alex offers a mirthless laugh. "Am I?" Sighing, he rubs his forehead. "I hate this thing. Whatever it is, whatever it's doing to me... I hate it. And I couldn't fault you if you hated it too."

I wrap an arm around his shoulders. "I hate what it makes you feel. But I'm not going to let it touch us. As long as we're intact, it doesn't seem so important."

Nodding, he squeezes my good leg. "As long as it doesn't change how you feel about me, I can learn to live with it."

"*Nothing* is going to change how I feel about you, AK," I reply with all the confidence in the world. I meet his gaze to see if I can inspire a little confidence in him, too.

Alex encourages me to get some rest. He doesn't look relaxed enough to sleep, but he lies down with me. I manage to maneuver into a position where I can hold onto him.


Eight Hours Later

Alex? I've got to find him.

I dash down the hall and open the door to the lab. The room is filled with those canisters. Canisters of the black oil. For a moment, I'm afraid that he's in one of them. And I'll have to open all of them to find him.

I'll do it if I have to.

Because he needs me.

Then a light goes on, revealing a glassed-in room. Alex is behind the glass.

'Walt, it has to be killed but I can't do it.'

No!

There's a table, with a torch. What we use to kill them.

No!

The blood is rushing in my veins. The room doesn't have a door. I can't see any way to get him out of there. And the glass is too thick to shatter.

'It has to be killed...'

No!

I press my hand to the glass and a semi-human hand presses on the other side.

'Help me.'

I will.

Concentrating on my hand, and his on the other side of the glass, I will our hands to touch. For my flesh to reach through the glass and feel the cool titanium of his fingers closing around it.

I close my eyes. And know that both of us are thinking the same thing. Willing the touch. Willing the glass away.

Alex, I won't let it hurt you.

Then my fingers suddenly close around his. But his hand isn't cool. It's warm. The heat of our contact makes the glass melt away.

Then I'm awake. In our hotel room.

As panic slowly recedes, I watch him sleep. Then I brush the hair off his forehead.

He stirs and moves closer. A slight pout on his face makes me smile.


The Next Morning

When I wake, Alex isn't in bed. I sit up to find him sitting cross-legged on the floor. His eyes are open, but unfocused. I know that look, though I've only seen it a few times. He's communicating with Jeremiah.

It looks like he's meditating.

I feel a slight twinge of anxiety that something's wrong, but he looks relaxed.

A few minutes pass, then he blinks a few times, shakes his head, and focuses on me. "Morning. How do you feel?"

I shrug. "Like I'm a week away from a gun shot, not a day and a half."

He crawls up on the bed and gives me a good morning kiss. "Jeremiah sends his regards."

"Okay. Anything else?"

Alex fidgets with the sheet for a moment. "He wants me to come spend another week or two with him. Soon. He thinks he can help me shield myself from alien influence a little better."

I extricate the sheet from his fingers and bring his hand to my lips. "That sounds like a good idea." I hate to be away from him though. Even more since what happened in that lab. "Can we both go?" I've got a few projects I can take along that I'll never get around to in Nogales.

He grins at me. "I don't see why not. I think you could use some R&R, Muscle Man."

"Sure," I reply noncommittally.


Tucson, AZ
The Next Day

When we get to Dana's ranch, she insists on re-examining and cleaning my thigh. I don't think she accomplished much, except making it hurt again, but telling her no wasn't really an option. Even with the nanos, it feels better than I expected. Alex hangs in the background, frowning at Dana every time she makes me wince.

Through the window, I can see Mulder and Gjersee shooting hoops, and taking turns trying to keep Willy from running amok. To do a thorough job of that would require the full attention of both of them.

Once my leg is re-bandaged and propped on the sofa on top of a pillow, Russ, Dana and I have the thirtieth in a long line of conversations about healing nanocytes and medical ethics. Alex sits next to me with his arm around my waist, looking bored with the whole discussion.

The ethics question is bigger than all of us. Who gets the healing nanos is the simplest question, which I'm still unable to answer in a way that feels right. The more difficult questions, such as how long will people live with these nanos and how will that affect our species are big unknowns. Of the three of us, Dana feels the most comfortable with these issues. Russ and I mostly defer to her judgment.

Alex tires of the discussion and leaves the room to find the others. The first time we talked about this he said we should remove the DNA encoding, infect the entire planet's water supplies, and let the chips fall where they may. At some of Russ and Dana's objections, he stated we should have better population control anyway and we need to allow people to 'self-terminate.' I'm not far from agreeing with his view, but we can't just execute it on a lark. So we discuss. Endlessly.

As for now, ethics are still theoretical. The Geneva documents suggest that they never made the nanocytes themselves, or even knew how to make them. Russ is working with a few scientists on the manufacturing technology but, so far, he believes they're a decade or more away from mastering it.

A few minutes later, Alex returns with 4-year-old William clinging to his leg. Stopping at Dana's seat, he pries the kid off his leg and plops him in his mother's lap. Willy always manages to find Alex and attach himself. Alex then immediately dumps him on one of his parents. Alex still hasn't clued in to Willy thinking it's a game.

Squirming in Dana's arms, the kid calls out, "Unky Alex! Green arm! Green arm!"

As usual, Alex replies, "I'm not your uncle."

With his typical determined expression, William retorts, "Are too."

Alex must be more relaxed than I thought, because he rolls up his sleeve and squeezes his fingers while rotating his wrist 360 degrees.

The kid squeals and reaches for his hand. Alex extends two metal fingers for Willy to play with, and gives me a forlorn look.

Willy plays with Alex's hand for the entire 45 seconds of his attention span, then drops out of his mother's embrace to approach me with more reserve. This is a business call, not a social visit. "Unky Wally. Presents?"

He's a funny-looking kid, with his mother's red hair and his biological father's nose.

I reach for the duffle on the floor and pull out a junior carpenter tool set. Once he's got his hands on it, I no longer exist.

Russ approaches the couch and runs a hand over my bald head. He glances at Alex and mutters, "I still cannot resolve this anomaly."

Alex plucks Russ' hand off my head. "I like him without hair, so don't try to fix it."

I suppress a grin. Alex and I agreed not to tell Russ our little secret.

"Scalp hair grows at an average rate of 1/2 inch per month," Willy intones, as he saws my ankle with a tiny rubber hand-saw.

Russ gives the child a serious look. "Right now, Willy, 85% of your head hair is growing. The other 15% is resting."

"Why does it need to rest?"

"Good question." Russ shrugs and turns to Alex. "I'm indifferent to whether your cherished lover is hirsute or glabrous, Alex. I'm just intrigued by the enigma. The follicles should have recuperated."

I toss off, "Maybe my follicles know what Alex prefers."

Alex kisses the back of my head. "Good answer. Scientific, too."

After a few moments, Willy's attention is captivated by my bandaged leg. Coming up to me, he pokes at it gently. "Daddy Mulder said Unky Alex got you shot."

Mulder, you prick.

"No, Willy. He lied," I reply, taking off my glasses and applying pressure to the bridge of my nose.

Dana calls William over. "You remember I told you that Daddy Mulder likes to tease Uncle Alex. It's just a joke." She flashes Alex a concerned look.

Alex's expression is thunderous. This is a real sore spot for him. "Not this time, Dana. His balls are going in the blender."

Willy blinks. "How come when people are angry, they say things they don't mean?"

Everyone is briefly stymied, until Alex replies, "What makes you think I don't mean it?"

Dana gives Alex a pleading look. "Alex..."

"Forget it, Dana. We'll settle it my way this time. So keep your peace-maker nose out of it."

Here we go again. The Alex and Mulder show. It's like a western. There always has to be a shoot-out. It's different than before, though. The enmity between them has faded. They're just still going through the motions.

Alex heads outside.

I call out, "Alex?"

At the door, he turns back to glance at me.

"When the blender's done with his balls, would you bring the guys in?"

He gives me a tense nod and exits. Gjersee enters right away, picking up Willy as he heads for a chair. "You okay, Walt?" asks Gjersee.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

Nate's eyes go to Dana for verification. Her nod tells him that she concurs with my assessment.

A few minutes later, Alex and Mulder enter. Both look relaxed, but Mulder absently rubs his abdomen. Good. Alex didn't go for a face shot this time. Dana gets really annoyed when they mess up each other's faces. I only get annoyed when Alex's face gets messed up.

Mulder peels off a sweaty T-shirt and tosses it on the radiator, earning a mild visual reprimand from Dana. "I heard Alex tried to adopt an alien baby."

Considering the presence of a child, I censor myself. "I'm fine, Mulder. Thank you for your concern."

Alex gives Mulder a warning look. Mulder holds up his hands in a mock surrender gesture. With an aggravated shake of his head, Alex settles on the floor next to me.

I notice a red patch along Alex's jaw line. Before I can stop myself, I'm ruffling his hair. I feel like I ought to chide him, but it seems pointless. Mulder brings out his inner four-year-old.

Willy wiggles free from Nate, to jump on Mulder. Nate asks, "So, fill us in on your mission."

Glossing over what happened to Alex, I recap the type of data we found and the presence of the alien oil and a live alien infant. Scully adds details about the preliminary analysis of the oil. Which, of course, matches what Alex told her about it.

Alex is fairly subdued as we discuss it, leaving it to Dana and me.

Mulder flashes him a curious look, then interjects, "I think we'd all like to know what went wrong in that lab."

I'm not surprised he didn't let that one go. He picks and prods for a while, trying to ferret out information that we don't want to share. He will never accept partial disclosure, but I think he knows what we're holding back is personal to Alex. And, if he's honest with himself, he has a certain respect for our position. If it didn't involve keeping him in the dark, he'd probably go along with it.

After a short discussion, he lets the matter drop, accepting that Alex and I won't bend on this one. At least for tonight.

We move on to upcoming missions. We have a mission in New York next week. We've outsourced this one to Marita. She'll be running point with the support of Morgan and his men.

Pairing the two of them seemed doomed to failure at first, but has turned out very well. For some inexplicable reason, Morgan obeys Marita as if she were god. It stymies the hell out of Alex and me, but it's hard to argue with what works.

Morgan has regained some of my trust over time. In spite of what I thought, he has no compelling need to see Alex return to a life of crime. Once he realized that Alex wasn't planning to stay home and tend house, he cooled off and accepted Alex's choices. Including me. However, I still have to forcibly remind him from time to time that my hands belong on Alex's body and his don't.

Alex announces some changes in the schedule for the next few weeks, as he and I will be unavailable. We cannot disclose where we're going, but the team is used to that. We'll spend a couple weeks with Smith, before returning to Tucson.

One of our ex-Secret Service guys steps into the room to announce Bernice, bringing the briefing to a close. She strides forcefully into the room, scrutinizing me from head to foot, shaking her head. "No more missions for you, boss."

I shrug.

It's one of the few things she fights me on that she can't win. And she knows it.

She puts her hand on my forehead to make sure I'm not running a fever, then gives up the cause. Alex wouldn't have let me out of the house today if I'd had a fever. Of course, he takes my temperature by putting his mouth on my dick.

Reaching inside her satchel, she pulls out a handful of envelopes, which she hands to Alex.

"Thanks, Bernice." He rises to his feet.

Mulder eases over to the sofa. "Paychecks? Great, I can buy a six-pack."

He holds out a hand, which Alex ignores, reading from the top of the stack. "Dana." He offers her an envelope.

Mulder makes a face.

"Mr. Scully."

Gjersee releases Willy, with a murmured, "Go grab Daddy's check."

Willy runs over to Alex and imperiously demands, "Daddy Nate's check, Unky Alex."

Alex produces the check, handing it to Willy, who delivers it to Nate.

"Mulder."

There's one envelope left. Alex glances around the room, in apparent confusion. "It says, William Scully." He looks at me. "Do we employ a William Scully?"

The child in question darts across the room and grabs Alex's thigh. "Gimme!"

Alex gives Willy a suspicious look. "Do you have any ID?"

Willy makes a face that looks alarmingly like the pout Mulder made a minute ago.

Smiling, Dana offers, "Willy, your library card, in your room."

Releasing Alex, the child vanishes, returning in a flash with a small white plastic card, which he presents to Unky Alex.

Alex makes a show of thoroughly inspecting the card, then ceremoniously turns over the envelope. Dana flashes me a pleased look. She's been trying for a long time to get Alex to lower some of his reserve about interacting with William. He's slowly coming around. Although Willy deserves most of the credit. He's got an infectious enthusiasm.

Willy tears open the envelope, hastily producing a $20 bill, tossing the paper aside. "Look, Mama! You can buy me night-vision goggles!"

A crease of concern crosses Scully's forehead.

Mulder picks up the discarded envelope and pulls out a check, which he reads before passing it to Dana.

"You paid him a thousand dollars? For... 'clerical work'?!" Dana shakes her head, baffled. "You put that through payroll?"

She knows why we did it. Because she hasn't accepted a raise in several years. She found out what everyone else is making, so she cut us off. So we created a college fund for Willy.

Alex shrugs. "Well, he did help Bernice with all that filing."

Bernice shudders at the memory.

Mulder nudges Alex. "What? No check for you?"

Alex gives him an arch look. "I get paid in sexual services."

Mulder scowls.

Alex jibes, "Don't pout, Mulder. We all know you're jealous."

Willy pipes in, "Jealous of what, Dad?"

Mulder's face reveals a bit-back retort--probably X-rated--then he says, "Walter's, uh, kisses." He runs his fingers through Willy's hair.

I wrap an arm around Alex's waist and pull him back onto the sofa next to me, giving him a loud kiss on the neck.

Willy looks unimpressed. "Money's better than kisses."

Alex mutters, "You're deranged," then turns on the sofa, so he can get a real kiss. I enfold him in my arms and make it a good one.

I hear Mulder groan. "They're at it again. I could deal with the whole daddy-assassin thing if they'd just stop petting each other all the time."

Russ interjects, "You *are* jealous, Mulder. You must call one of those numbers I gave you. Cherlene or Rachel have just what you need."

"That's what I'm afraid of," he grumbles.

Willy pokes Mulder in the leg. "Will you get ape-men-feel-ya too, Daddy?"

Everyone stares at Mulder in confusion, whose proud but devious grin gives me concern. "That's apotemnophilia, Willy. And, no, only unky Wally has that."

Several pairs of eyes shift to Russ, our resident vocabularian, but he looks puzzled, too.

Alex goes rigid and mutters, "You are such an asshole, Mulder."

"Language," Scully objects half-heartedly but looks as confused as everyone else.

I give Alex a nudge. "What the hell is he talking about?"

Glaring at Mulder, Alex replies, "He just said you have an amputation fetish."

Dana smacks Mulder's upper arm.

"Ow!"

It takes me a moment to think. No, I don't have an amputation fetish. I have an Alex fetish.

One of the security guys brings in the catered meal, while Russ and Mulder quibble about 'just what he needs.'

Alex blandly offers, "I don't know Russ, you might be looking at the wrong candidates when it comes to Mulder."

Russ looks at Alex curiously. "Why?"

"Well, he may be into guys."

Mulder groans. "Not everyone is gay, Krycek."

"Obviously not, but don't think I didn't notice you checking out Walt's ass."

Mulder makes like a fish, mouth opening and closing. "I did n-, well... maybe I did, but it doesn't mean anything."

I feel my body shrinking into the sofa. Something tells me I'm going to be wearing baggy pants for a while.

Scully gapes at everyone. "When was this?"

"A few weeks ago," Mulder says in a disgruntled tone. "In the locker room."

Alex glares at Mulder. "I was thinking of August, 1994. But leave it to you to get yourself in more trouble than you're already in."

1994? Jeez, my lover takes his jealousy very seriously.

"Guys check each other out," Mulder retorts. "It's a fact of life, Krycek. Get over it. I'll bet you've done worse in the locker rooms of America."

That's the truth. Speaking of 1994...

Alex gives me a heated look. "Mulder's jealous of our adventurous sex life, dear."

I give a mild grunt, pulling him closer and murmuring, "Behave."

During the meal, Willy asks me about the bullet wound. He has about a thousand questions trying to ferret out every detail. I've never seen him stay on any topic this long. He's tenacious. He wants to know all about the bad guys and when we're going to arrest them.

Too fucking bad it's not that simple.

The room goes quiet as everyone listens to me dress up the action and tone down the danger to make the story exciting for the boy.

Dana gives me a thoughtful look and I know what she's thinking. What kind of world will we have for Willy when he grows up? I wish I knew.

Bernice and Alex wind up in whispered conversation for a little while. Probably reviewing stuff from the office. Alex is the only one blind to how Bernice treats him. Over the last few years, she's developed a very maternal attitude with regard to my lover. He gripes about it, but doesn't seem to recognize it as mothering. Or realize how much he enjoys it.

When they're done with their little tete-a-tete, Alex gets everyone's attention. "I know you guys are so immersed in strategy you think of little else, but we have some good news from the business side of this venture. Using a little alien technology, we've invented the world's smallest, long-life batteries. We just got the patents filed and our royalties on the production rights will keep us fully funded for at least five years. Of course, if we're lucky, we'll have worked ourselves out of business by then."

I give a wolf-whistle to rouse the audience. Alex's efforts keep us all in business, but he doesn't get much recognition for it. And no one but me will ever know that he's been funding us from his personal investments for the last six months while they ironed the kinks out of this new technology. The Resistance's ventures continue to provide some of our funding, but many of the projects were morally unjustifiable, so Alex created a new subsidiary to develop more wholesome products. As the manufacturing will be done south of the border, he's single-handedly rejuvenating the economy of Northern Mexico.

There are a few questions, then Mulder says, "You know, Krycek, you make me almost miss the good-old days at the Bureau, where I had to make a PowerPoint presentation to request a box of staples for the X-Files."

Dana frowns at him. "I've sheltered you, Mulder." She throws a crumpled-up napkin at him. "You've never had to sit in one of Alex's budget meetings."

I've seen the staff limping out of those meetings. Fortunately, I seem to have a unique ability to have my way with the money man, so my requests don't get turned down very often.

Mulder gives an unrepentant grin. "Lucky me."

"In any case, Mulder," Alex adds, "we think you make enough of a contribution to warrant buying you a new cell phone every five days."

Mulder blinks at Alex in astonishment. I'm not sure Alex has ever said anything that nice to him before.

There's a sound of metal crashing from the kitchen. We all glance around and discover that Willy is missing.

Dana rises to her feet, but Gjersee heads her off. "I'll handle it, sweetie." Kissing her quickly, he heads into the kitchen to face one curious four-year-old. Hope he's well armed.

An hour later, the business conversation has given way to Mulder and Nate arguing the merits of '90s rock vs. '70s rock. Though it's way past his bedtime, Willy is lying on the floor watching Pooh and Tigger on tape, with the sound off. Dana laments that her night owl child won't go to sleep without watching something first.

Shaking my head, I remark, "God, Dana, isn't there some ethical thing... Reproducing Mulder's personality? What were you thinking?"

Sighing, she looks at her child. "Ditching your partner, watching TV and a firm belief in things not human, should not be genetically transferable traits." She looks at Mulder mournfully. "I blame you."

"Yeah, isn't he great?" Mulder offers a coy smile. "I told him about the monsters under the bed. The only place safe to sleep is in the living room."

Willy glances up at us. "Daddy Nate says that's not true. He says the monsters only hurt me if they get out. So I keep my door closed."

Nate nudges Mulder in the ribs. "Say what you like now, Mulder, but you're paying for therapy when he hits puberty."

Mulder gives him a patient look. "I *am* a psychologist."

With the exception of Mulder and his act-alike son, everyone in the room blanches. Dana is speechless.

Unexpectedly, Russ blandly offers, "You know, Mulder, aliens and all, that's the scariest thing I've heard in a long time."

While Russ and Mulder banter over Mulder's psychoanalytical prowess, Willy climbs into Nate's lap so he has a comfy spot when he's ready to go to sleep. Somehow Alex has ended up in much the same position on my lap.

However, the instant I show a hint of fatigue, Alex is on his feet, announcing that he has to get me home to bed. He helps me to my feet, and Russ passes me my crutches.

With Alex hovering, I navigate the living room. Dana and Nate stop us halfway to say goodnight. Dana kisses me on the cheek, then Alex, before Nate ensnares her with an arm around her shoulders.

Looking up at the mantel, I see her photos. In the center a picture of her and Nate with a slightly blurred Willy draped in Nate's arms. To the right of that photo is one of Mulder giving Willy a piggyback ride. To the left is Alex and me on the balcony.

Good friends. That means a lot during times like these.

**

Opelika, Alabama
One Week Later

It's hotter than fucking hell here, making it incredibly hard to focus. I've dealt with worse heat, but the humidity feels like it's boiling my brain.

...Focus, Alex...

I let the link die and glare at Jeremiah in frustration. "I am!"

Jeremiah sighs. "Okay. Let's take a short rest."

Ugh. I get to my feet and go in search of Walter. I find him sitting under a tree, trying to get some work done. I'll lay odds that he's not really succeeding. We're in the fifth circle of hell.

I plop on the ground next to him and rest my chin on his leg. "Remind me why we wanted to do this."

He runs his fingers through my hair, finds it wet with sweat, then retracts them, wiping them on his pants. "To experience your boundless patience."

I flop over on my back. Yes, I'm crankier than hell. It's even too hot here to fuck.

...You're broadcasting again, Alex...

...Fuck off, Jeremiah...

I can sense his chuckle.

...Take a long break, Alex. Send Walter to see me...

Rolling my eyes, I focus on not broadcasting. "Hey, Muscle Man, Jeremiah wants to see you."

"Oh, yeah," he replies, as if he knows why already. He kisses me on the forehead. "Tell him I'm on my way."

Great. I concentrate on establishing a link.

...He's on his way. I feel like a god-damned secretary...

Walter lopes off toward Jeremiah's house. I languish in the heat trying to think.

Nearly an hour later, my non-thoughts are interrupted.

...Alex!...

I sit up abruptly. That was not Jeremiah. It felt like...

...Walt?...

...He can't communicate like we can, Alex...

That was Jeremiah.

...How did he say my name?...

...All humans have a very weak telepathic ability. With some instruction they can get a simple message across to a true telepath...

...Alex!...

Jeremiah, can he hear me at all?

...Not really. Maybe enough to know you heard him...

...Alex!...

I focus intently on sending him something. Not so much words as a sense of my presence.

...He's not certain about your response. That may come with time...

Getting to my feet, I head off in search of them. It's such a small thing, but for some reason, it gives me motivation to continue the long afternoon of drills.

I give Walter a big kiss when I see him. "I heard you call me."

"Yeah, I guess you're not the only one with superpowers." He winks at me.

Jeremiah catches my attention. "Okay, Alex. Let's start with the first exercise. Try to block out your ability to sense my presence as an alien."


Atlanta, GA
Ten Days Later

In our blessedly cool hotel room, I curl up next to Walter in bed. It's the first time we've been able to get this close in a while. We left Jeremiah's camp this morning and are heading back to Tucson tomorrow. The trip was well worth it though.

I drum my fingers on Walter's chest. "So, Jeremiah says if I go through these mental exercises every day, I should be able to keep from being overwhelmed by alien input. I guess it's a good thing we did this."

He nods, watching me carefully.

"I... It feels easier to deal with if I have some control over it." I'm dancing around the core issue here. "I think we should expose me to some oil... see how it goes, then evaluate my ability to continue with our missions."

Walt meets my gaze, then looks away, thinking for a long time before responding. I can feel the weight of his concerns. Finally, he says, "All right. We can visit the facility in Singapore."

I'd like to offer him more reassurance, but I don't know what to say. After the disaster in Colorado, I wouldn't have gone on another mission unless I knew there wouldn't be a repeat. But the idea of being chained to a desk at headquarters was... too horrible to contemplate. "Walt, I promise you if I ever doubt my ability to handle what's going on, I'll pull myself out."

"You damned well better," he retorts.

I know this is difficult for him. He has an overwhelming need to protect me, but he seems to concur that we both need to fight this thing with more than just spreadsheets.

I offer him a half smile. "Thanks for coming with me this time."

Nodding, he smiles back at me. "You need me."

"Yeah." I drape myself over his chest, feeling sleep pulling at me.

Tendrils of something elusive and erotic tease my brain as consciousness slowly claims me.

Only half alert, I open my eyes. The room is dark, Walter's body is pressed against my back, his arm around my waist. I thought the sheer happiness of being with him would fade. But it only gets more intense. I wiggle a little closer and let sleep pull me back under.

The eroticism tugs at me again. Not quite a dream, but I can feel it... making my body tingle. I try to put images to sensation and dream of Walter's lips on the back of my neck, his fingers teasing my inner thigh... trailing down my spine and along the crack of my ass.

Sighing, I try to get deeper into the dream.

I feel moist fingers stroking my anus and sliding inside me. I imagine I'm clutching at my pillow, pushing back, trying to get more of his fingers inside my body.

Tingling pleasure floods through me and the sensation of being stretched is too acute, too real. I feel the dream slip away and moan, hating the advent of wakefulness.

I blink, taking in the early morning light filtering in through the blinds, as Walter positions his cock head at my asshole.

"Oh fuck, yes..." I gasp, as my fingers clench into his encircling arm.

"Morning, Beautiful," Walt whispers in my ear as he begins to fill me.

**

As I slide my cock inside his warm, pliant body, he sighs with contentment.

I need you so much, Alex. Need to know you always belong to me.

His green hand reaches for my hip, urging me as I slowly begin to fuck him.

"Perfect," he whispers, squeezing his ass around my cock.

Yeah. Fucking on our sides. Perfect. I push his knee closer to his chest, then wrap my arm tightly around his waist. "Couldn't wait..." My face presses into the warmth of his neck, lips nipping gently.

The feel of him, his breathless moans, his acceptance of being taken this way... It turns me on too much to go slowly. Crushing his body in my embrace, I relax my restraint and put some force behind my hips.

Alex groans and his body seems to become even more yielding. "Always... whatever you want," he gasps. The certainty of his surrender in my arms is what keeps me sane when everything else is so crazy.

My fingers trace a path down his belly, teasing at his pubic hair, before encircling the base of his cock. He strains against my hand. "Please..."

"Please what?" I whisper into his ear, before sinking my teeth into his neck.

Alex jerks. "That..." His breathing is labored. "Whatever..." He pushes his hips back, taking more of my cock, then thrusts forward, seeking my hand. "Touch me."

My hand explores the satiny skin of his cock. I try to stroke him slowly, but can only match the rhythm of my fucking.

The fit between our needs and desires as perfect today as it was, unexpectedly, the day I first fucked him in my garage. Perhaps we, this, were inevitable from that day.

As I press down harder with my teeth, Alex trembles and whimpers, "More." He lets himself be so out of control with me... so frantic. Inspiring my own loss of control and the full-force fucking I'm giving him.

I know exactly how hard I can bite without breaking the skin. Alex wants it. My teeth even seem to want it. Desperately. But just thinking about the taste of his blood drives me to a sudden climax.

Mindlessly, I clutch his cock as I ride out my orgasm. With a strangled groan, he begins to come, his ass spasming around my cock.

I'm lost in throbbing pleasure, breathing sounds, sweat and the vague awareness that I have an important part of his body between my teeth.

As the intense sensations recede, and my body begins to relax, I release his cock and hold him tightly. Kissing the back of his neck, I murmur, "Love you."

"I know you do." He tries to wiggle a little closer. "That's why I'm still putting up with you and your," he rubs his butt against my groin, "strange morning rituals."

I chuckle in his ear and give his cock a quick squeeze. "Yeah, I could tell that was a real hardship for you."

Pulling my face back a little, I glance at his neck. It's going to make a nice purple bruise. It's odd that we have our initials on each other's bodies. A watch. A chain. But I can never mark him enough.

Mine.

Alex moves his head experimentally, then sighs appreciatively. "I love it when you mark me. Makes me feel..." he turns his head to look at me. "Like my world is right."

"Yeah." I roll him onto his back and sprawl across his body. "More sleep."

What I once thought was terribly wrong is incredibly right.

**

Singapore
Three Weeks Later

"Alex, are you sure about this?"

Turning away from the viewing window in the lab, I meet Walter's concerned gaze. I wish I could reassure him more. "We have to know. *I* have to know."

The lab has a viewing window and control panel where Walter will stay. Various pressure doors lead into the containment room. Once the doors are closed, and the secured unit unlocked, they cannot be opened again until all the oil is contained. The risk is just too high. And since we need this to be kept private, the technicians with the tools and the training to handle the oil have been dismissed. Which means, if I'm overwhelmed by the oil, I'm fucked. Because Walter is staying outside. That was my condition. He has to stay away from the oil.

I give Walter a quick kiss, then step into the containment room before I can change my mind. The ominous sound of the door sealing behind me fades as I become aware of an alien presence. I struggle against this awareness for several seconds, running through the mental exercises Jeremiah gave me.

"Alex?" Walter's voice sounds tinny and hollow over the lab speaker system.

Glancing toward the viewing window, I meet his worried gaze and try to offer a reassuring smile. Judging by his expression, I'm failing in the reassurance department.

I stay close to the door until I can completely block out any knowledge of the alien presence. When I feel like my mind is my own, I murmur, "Doing okay. Going to get closer... try the next part."

Walter looks like he wants to object, but he's looked like that since we got here. I step fully into the lab and up to the containment unit, which looks like a huge metal cabinet. Being this close, I'm aware of exactly how many specimens are inside, which means I'm not shielding as well as I was on the other side of the room.

I focus for a few seconds until the awareness is lower. I give Walter a thumbs-up sign over my shoulder, then focus on how much I can 'jiggle' the awareness level.

"Alex! What the hell are you doing?"

I jump and look back over my shoulder. Walter's still behind the glass but he looks somewhere between worried and really pissed off. I realize I've been concentrating for several minutes. Oops. Guess I should tell him what I'm up to.

"I was focusing. Playing with raising and lowering my awareness levels. Not fully open to them, but more aware of what and where, and then still being able to shut it off."

Walter looks like he's going to have a coronary. "You're supposed to be testing your ability to block them out."

Offering a sheepish smile, I try to get things back under control. "Sorry. It occurs to me that this could be a tactical advantage if I can turn it on and off."

"How about you stick to blocking."

"Gotcha." I nod emphatically to show I got the point, then quickly tap out the code to open the containment unit. Now we're committed. Inside I find nine pressure-sealed containers, which is exactly what I was expecting. I'm tempted to lower my mental shields again to see what types of alien are here, but I think Walter might kill me.

Pulling out one of the containers, I take it over to the table. Blocks are all in place; I have no awareness of what type of oilean is inside. So I open the container and contemplate the black liquid. After a few seconds, I let my hand hover over the surface. The oil arches up and then back into the container.

"Alex..."

"It's okay," I interrupt. "Shields are still good. But I can feel it pushing at my mind." The oil arches up again and touches my hand. The mental blocks I'm keeping in place feel like they're being battered. "Stop that!" The oil recoils and settles again, and the pressure on my brain abates. Interesting.

I stick my hand inside and gather up a handful.

"Alex!"

"Still blocking," I mutter. The pressure on my mental blocks surges again and is enormous.

"No, you're touching!"

"No," I yell at the oil and the pressure recedes again. Very interesting.

"Alex..." Walter sounds like he's being strangled.

"Still blocking."

Is that the sound of Walter's teeth grinding?

I drop the oil in a puddle on the table. I try to mentally 'direct' it and it responds sluggishly. So I try another approach. "Get back in there," I whisper. It slinks across the table and back into the canister. I close up the container, contemplating everything that's just happened.

"Put that thing back in the containment unit!" Walter barks, and I jump. Is he trying to give me a heart attack? I start to reply but he does not look happy. Quickly, I tap out the security code for returning a canister to the containment unit.

As soon as everything is locked back up I hear the pressure doors opening and a few seconds later, Walter is there and has a hold of me. "Are you out of your-"

"Walter!" I interrupt. "It did what I told it to."

He looks at me blankly.

"I told it to stop trying to touch me, and it did. I told it to quit pushing at my mind, and it did." I flap my hand in the general direction of the table. "I told it to get back in its container and it *did*." The tactical advantages on missions are incredible if I can maintain control. I don't have to be relegated to office work.

It takes a while, but I manage to convince Walter we need to try a few more things while we're here. After we come up with a plan, he goes in with me. He stands with his arms around me in case I get overwhelmed and I completely lower the blocks so I can identify the different types of oilean. I'm able to get the blocks back up without too much trouble. It's getting easier the more I practice.

Though somewhat reluctant, Walter leaves me alone in the lab again, and locks the doors so I can try various things with the three different types of oil represented here.

At the end of the day, we know which type is easier or harder for me to block, and that I'm able to 'direct' all of them.

I had been completely dreading this, but for the first time, my 'oddness' doesn't feel like a huge weight on my shoulders.

**

I've never been happier to leave a place. After two hours in the facility, watching Alex playing with the fucking oileans, the bright sun is an assault. I'm twitchy and exhausted.

Ironically, on the drive to the airport, Alex is more relaxed than he has been in weeks. His newfound ability to direct the oileans gives him a sense of control that he's lacked. Now the alien infection isn't just something that was done to him. He can act to protect himself--and others--from the oil.

This tactical advantage for our side of the war helps balance the fear and estrangement he's felt about his alien experiences. This is a huge relief to me, as I'd already discovered that nothing I said could make him feel better about this.

** End Part 2 **

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

In Part 3...
A mission goes horribly wrong.

Next part in series


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