Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Epilogue2.


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

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


Part 3

Auckland, New Zealand
December 2005
Four Months Later

I fidget around the hotel room, waiting for Lyosha to arrive. Walter's sitting on the sofa, reading the paper and occasionally shaking his head at me. We saw my brother yesterday, but that was different. Yesterday was social, today is business.

Lyosha thought we were out to lunch the first time we tried to talk to him about aliens more than a year ago. He laughed his ass off, then got really irritable about it. All this time of keeping secrets and then we come at him with a load of crap. We're here to convince him this time.

He arrives promptly at the designated hour, kisses us both, then heads to the bathroom. While he's gone, I mutter to Walt, "I think he's better looking than me."

A smile curls Walter's lips. "That's not possible. Not even theoretically."

I give him a quick kiss. "Good answer."

"God, don't you two ever get enough?" Lyosha asks without ire.

Walter gives him a bland look. "I hear you go through college girls like paper towels."

Lyosha's only response is an unrepentant grin.

We settle around the table in the suite. As agreed, Walter will do most of the talking about aliens. Last time I did it, but Lyosha seemed to think it was just his crazy brother talking. So good old reliable Walt is up this time.

He takes off his glasses, then begins, "Lyosha, last year when we spoke to you about why you've been in hiding all your life, you didn't believe most of what we had to say. So we're going to try again."

Lyosha rolls his eyes and drops his head in his hands. "Why? It's summer... there are so many fun things we could do. Sitting inside all day while you two yank my chain doesn't sound like much fun."

"I know this is difficult, but it's a serious matter. Alex and I have spent years trying to keep you safe. We wouldn't waste our time making up stories, Lyosha." His eyes lock onto Lyosha's. "Would you just listen with an open mind today? Consider carefully what we have to tell you and what we have to show you?"

This would be so much easier if we could invite Mr. Green to join us, but we can't take any chances with Lyosha. So we don't have real evidence to offer him.

Lyosha frowns. "This guy in my Calculus class believes in UFOs. He thinks extra-terrestrials might have already visited earth."

Walter nods. "Lyosha, you're a man now. And you have a right to make your own choices. But you need information to do that. That's the only reason we're having this conversation. And we're not throwing you any curves or telling you anything we don't know to be true."

He shrugs. "Okay, Walt. Tell me what you came to tell me."

So Walt tells a condensed version of the history of aliens on earth. With pictures. At first, Lyosha half ignores the photos, but after a while he starts looking at them more closely. I can tell that he's trying to believe us.

He starts to glaze over after a while, so we order lunch. Lyosha's quiet during the meal. Afterward, Walter suggests something physical, so we drive by Lyosha's residence hall and pick up his swim trunks. Then we hit the hotel pool.

After a hearty workout, we head upstairs to clean up. Lyosha takes the first turn in the shower. Then Walter and I clean up. When we emerge from the bathroom, Lyosha's paging through the photos we brought. Alien facilities. Oil. Emergent aliens. Microscopic photos of viruses.

I sit across from him, dragging his attention away from the pictures. "I want to tell you some things about me. Stuff I didn't tell you last time. Things only Walter knows." Walter and I didn't explicitly discuss this, but I told him I'd be as honest as was necessary to convince Lyosha. "Even if you don't believe me, even if you never believe a word we say, you can't ever repeat anything I'm about to tell you."

Lyosha starts to give me an exasperated look, but at the last minute his expression shifts. He knows I'm deadly serious. "Okaaay," he draws out slowly, "I'll never repeat anything you say."

"I know you think this is insane, but after this visit, you can't even talk to us about it. It's just something you have to know, but never talk about."

Now he looks confused, but he nods his acceptance of my terms.

Somewhat reluctantly, I tell him about my infection by the Piper Maru oil. He learns about the radiation exposure, later finding the ship fragments that turned 'on' whatever was alien inside me. My subsequent ability to detect aliens and the genetic memories of a species that randomly download into my brain. That I can communicate telepathically with aliens if I choose to. My recently discovered ability to control the oil.

He fluctuates between looking disbelieving and entranced, like he's watching some really interesting sci-fi flick. My skin is crawling, feeling totally creeped out by my own weirdness. I hate talking about this.

But I keep going, giving him the abridged story of the nanos, leaving out the human experiments. Telling him what they were intended to be used for, what we plan to do with them in the future. I explain that's why Walter and I look better now than we did five years ago.

Lyosha's disbelief kicks into overdrive and he starts to interrupt. It's clear I've lost him, so I decide to bring out the only proof I have... the only thing that might convince him, though I have no idea how to actually demonstrate it. "There's one more thing..." I hesitate, not knowing how to broach it.

I sense Walter shifting beside me, trying to figure out what else I could be planning to tell. I tap my fingers on my knee, trying to work up the nerve to finally say this out loud. "A while ago, Walter and I were on a mission and, uh, he got shot. Nearly died. Should have died." I stop abruptly and try to compose myself.

Walter leans forward, staring at me with a slight frown. Lyosha is seriously frowning.

Taking a deep breath, I continue. "He was hit in the femoral artery, and even with the nanos, he should have bled out. It took me a while to figure out why he didn't die." Another breath. Steady, Alex. Saying it out loud doesn't make it any more real than it was five minutes ago. "He didn't die because I healed him."

Walter couldn't be more astonished. His mouth hangs open for a moment. I was expecting anger or outrage, but he tamps it down.

"Huh?" Lyosha manages, clearly not expecting that.

Now my leg is bouncing up and down in a nervous twitch. I won't look directly at either of them. "I healed him. I don't know how much healing I can do, but I can at least do that much. It's one of the things I inherited." I wonder if Walter is going to kill me for not discussing this with him.

Lyosha's voice draws my attention. "You have got to be kidding me." He's scowling at me, his arms crossed over his chest. "You seriously expect me to believe this? Is this some kind of joke?" He looks devastated all of a sudden. "How can I ever believe anything you tell me?" Then his expression shifts again.

"Lyosha, I wouldn't lie to you about-" But he's gone... stomping off to the bathroom. So I take a deep breath and face Walter.

"So." He removes his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. He asks very slowly, "Were you thinking of mentioning this to me?"

"Um, no?"

He drums his fingers on the coffee table. "Well, it's pretty damned interesting. Might be something I'd want to know."

"Yeah," I concede hesitantly. "I just didn't know how to say it. 'Morning, Walt, I figured out that I'm weirder than we thought.' There just never seemed a right time." I'm not really convincing even myself. "Fuck. I thought if I didn't say it, it didn't have to be real."

Walter's eyes flick towards the bathroom. "Okay. Hmm. You sure it's true?"

"I wasn't completely sure until Singapore. All the tests we did with the oil gave me a clearer picture of things."

"Well... wow." He puts a hand on my thigh. "Do you-"

The bathroom door opens, drawing our attention, but Lyosha doesn't emerge. He calls out, "So you're some kind of great healer, huh, Alex?"

I get to my feet, not certain if I should go to him, or stay where I am. "I didn't say that. I *said* I have some ability to heal."

"Fine!" He storms out of the bathroom. "Then heal me! Prove you're not lying." My eyes widen as he thrusts his arm toward me, blood dripping. "Prove it!"

Walter leaps up and grabs Lyosha, turning his arm out and inspecting the cut.

I'm frozen to the spot, unable to comprehend what he did.

"Christ, Lyosha, what did you do?" Walter mutters. There's so much blood. Walter yanks off his T-shirt and wraps it around Lyosha's forearm, applying pressure, while guiding Lyosha to sit down.

"I didn't mean to do it so deep," Lyosha whispers, staring at the blood soaking through Walter's shirt. "I was just so pissed."

Snapping out of my fugue, I muscle my way between them and start unwinding the shirt. I need to get closer to the injury. Ignoring everything else, including Lyosha trying to pull away, I get my hand on the gouge on the inside of his forearm. My titanium hand holds Lyosha in place with a grip on his wrist. My fingers slide through his blood and all I can think is the bleeding has to stop. Suddenly there's heat.

Lyosha jerks. "Your hand is hot!"

I stare at my hand on his arm, covered in his blood unaware of how much time passes. Then Walter is prying at my fingers and saying something.

"Let go now, Alex. Come on... you have to let go."

I release my brother and fall back away from him, breathing hard like I've been running a marathon.

Lyosha is staring at his arm, scrubbing at the blood, wiping it away. "Oh god, oh god," he begins to chant, staring at his arm. "I *felt* it." He seems completely freaked.

I have to see if he's okay... I'm not even sure it worked. Getting closer, I find that under the smears of blood, there's smooth perfect skin where the gouge had been. I release my breath in a stuttering sigh.

Suddenly Lyosha stops chanting his astonishment, and looks up at me wide eyed. Next thing I know, he's launching himself at me. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry," he repeats over and over.

I keep my arms tight around him, stunned and relieved and a little pissed off. I can't believe he did that. But he's okay, and that's all that matters.

After a few minutes, I look to Walter for help, not sure how to move on from this. He's standing close, shaking his head, with a hint of a smile.

We all just stare at each other for a time, then Walter gets Lyosha untangled from me and helps him to the bathroom to get cleaned up.

While Lyosha is washing up, I find myself in Walter's arms. I'm still shaking. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner," I murmur against his neck.

"It's okay," he replies, squeezing me tightly. "I think I understand."

When Lyosha returns from the bathroom, he seems subdued. Walter and I take our turn changing and cleaning up. Back in the living room, we find Lyosha looking through the photos again, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

Eventually, Lyosha rises and goes to the window, turning his back to us. "If everything you told me is true, it's... terrible."

Walter goes to him and, with a hand on his shoulder, gets him to turn around. "Yeah, it is," he says softly.

We look at each other silently for a long time, then I offer, "Lyosha, we would have given anything to keep you out of this. To not make you a part of this nightmare. But reality is that, through no fault of your own, you *are* a part of it... since before you were born. I'm so damned sorry. More than you'll ever know."

The sickened expression on his face tells me he believes. When he speaks his voice is almost inaudible. "This just can't be real. This is not..." He doesn't finish, just looks at Walt bleakly.

Walter's expression is pained.

It's hard for me to relate to their pain. "It's been so long since I found out about this, it's hard for me to imagine what's going through your head. But it was more recent for Walt... maybe he can help you."

Walter gestures at the couch, and Lyosha numbly follows him there. I sit across from them. Walt encourages Lyosha to talk. He cycles through doubt, disbelief and dazed horror. Periodically I catch him rubbing the recently healed part of his forearm. Eventually, he says, "It's all true... and my whole life is wrong."

What? I look to Walter for clarification.

"No, Lyosha," he says confidently. "What your parents did was wrong. Your life--a real life, like a normal human being--has been very right. At least until today."

"And what now? I mean, what the hell am I doing? What matters anymore?"

I'm still looking to Walter. This conversation seems over my head.

He shifts in his seat so he can face Lyosha. "I can only tell you what has meaning to me. Just as I did when I learned this, you'll have to decide that for yourself. But not all at once." He reaches for a stray lock of Lyosha's hair, then pulls his fingers away abruptly. "What has meaning to me is keeping you safe, being with Alex and trying to stop the alien colonization. Alex and I make an effort to try to have a real life, too. To keep grounded in things that make us feel human, so we always remember why we're fighting this battle."

"So your priorities changed--your goals--when you found out?"

"Yeah, they did. Maybe if I'd felt there was nothing we could do, if our talents weren't useful to resist, I'd try to live the same. But both Alex and I were in a position to act. And, largely because of you, we wanted to."

Lyosha looks between us. "Because of me?"

Walter takes a breath. "I don't know if I can explain this adequately. But, to us, you having as normal a life as possible has given us hope. That's why it's-" He abruptly loses his voice, and clears his throat before continuing, "so painful to tell you this. To let it touch you any more than it already has." He glances at me, and I can see his sorrow.

Doing this is harder than I thought it would be. It feels as if we're taking something vital away from him.

Lyosha has some questions, but mostly seems to need to express the random thoughts and feelings this has created for him. After a lull in the discussion, he focuses intently on me. "Alex, why did our parents do this?"

Walter winces, but says nothing.

I wrestle with my own demons for a moment before replying, "In all of this craziness, that may be the thing I least understand. I wish I could answer, but I just don't know."

Lyosha shakes his head sadly.

After a short silence, Walter says, "I never knew your parents, Lyosha, but I have a theory about why they--and others--have done so many terrible things. The goal--to survive alien colonization--is so important that they lost sight of their humanity in their efforts to achieve it. But the problem is, without our humanity there's no reason to fight colonization."

Lyosha nods slowly, then asks, "I know they're dead, but what happened to them?" He looks at me. "Do you know?"

Walter and I exchange a glance, silently agreeing that it's okay to tell him.

"I hope this doesn't change the way you look at me, but I think you deserve the truth." I take a steadying breath before continuing, "I killed both of them. It was the only justice I could offer my, *our* brothers and sisters."

"Did they..." Lyosha's eyes fill with tears. "The fire... did they... were they-"

I interrupt, to keep Lyosha from having to say it. "Yeah. They did."

Lyosha cries silently. When his head drifts to Walter's shoulder, Walter wraps an arm around him and whispers, "I'm so sorry, Lyosha."

It's a long time before Lyosha recovers. When he does, he doesn't want to talk anymore. We order room service and Walter tries to tell him about our life in Tucson, but he doesn't appear to be listening. At the end of the meal, he asks if he can stay in the suite with us tonight.

We sit around mindlessly watching movies until he's ready to sleep. Walter fusses over him a bit, getting him extra pillows he doesn't need and a pitcher of water.

He's almost 23 years old, but he looks so young and so lost right now that it makes me hurt for him. I sit next to him. "I'm not saying this because I think you're a kid. I know how this can fuck with your head. Especially at night. If you can't sleep... for any reason, just come get me."

"I'm okay," he says in a small voice.

But twenty minutes later, as Walter's climbing into bed beside me, we hear the soft sounds of his sobs. Walter turns to me and pulls me close, but not before I can see his eyes are wet, too.

I hold onto him tightly. "Did we do the right thing?" I whisper.

"Yeah," he replies. "We did." But neither of us are happy about it.

After a minute, Walter rises and goes to Lyosha. He whispers something, then sits by Lyosha's bed for a long time.

**

I think Lyosha's finally getting to sleep.

Even believing that we did the right thing, I still may never forgive myself for taking away his innocence.

I keep telling myself over and over again that we didn't do this to Lyosha. Any more than we did it to Alex.

We're all... victims of this nightmare. When I'm working to stop it, it's all very rational. I have a job to do. A problem to solve. But seeing the terrible emotions on Lyosha's face makes it all too real.

Once the sound of his breathing assures me he's asleep, I return to our bed. Alex is sitting against the headboard on my side. He gives me just barely enough room to squeeze in next to him.


Three Days Later

It's been a rough few days for Lyosha. He went into denial again about the aliens. Not exactly disbelief, more like not wanting to deal with it. Taking Alex's approach of 'if I don't say it, it's not real.' Then he refused to see us for a couple of days. Now he's in the suite, pouring over the photos for the ninth time. He doesn't seem to want to talk, so we sit nearby and let him be.

I order room service. He and Alex pick at it. Somehow I manage to eat normally. After the meal, Lyosha starts asking questions about the Resistance.

For hours, we give him information about the organization and how we're trying to prevent the invasion. His questions are intelligent, but his affect is flat. Like he's asking questions for an exam. He finally works up the nerve to ask more about Alex's changes. Alex is reluctant--he's always reluctant to talk about his oddities--but he opens up as much as he can to help Lyosha through this.

At the end of a long night, Lyosha gestures toward the spare bed. "Can I?"

"Yeah."


The Next Day

When I wake, Alex isn't in bed. Neither is Lyosha. I find them sitting on the balcony, drinking orange juice.

Lyosha offers me a smile, then gestures at Alex with a piece of toast. "Alex, how did your life change after you found out the aliens were real?"

I lean against the door jamb, giving them a curt nod.

"It didn't." At Lyosha's surprised look, Alex adds, "Things were a little complicated then. I'd just lost Walter, just found out what our parents had done to us... it felt sort of inconsequential at the time."

"You lost Walter?" He glances at me.

"We were both stupid then," I offer, giving Alex a weak smile.

Alex gives me a look I can only describe as adoring, then, much to my surprise, gives Lyosha an edited version of his life, including our first relationship, him leaving me, who he worked for, and more about his infection by the alien entity.

Lyosha listens rapt, expression shifting from horror to fascination. He has the good sense not to interrupt with questions, since we both know Alex could clam up at any moment. I learn a few new things about my lover, too.

At one point, Lyosha blurts out, "How did you get out of the missile silo?"

Any time the silo has come up, Alex gets withdrawn and tense. But this time, there's a hint of humor in his expression. "Well, believe it or not, the ship took off. Once I was able to process what had happened, I realized the fucking roof was now open, so I climbed out."

"Wow! I can't imagine that. Then what?"

"I'd gotten burned a bit when the ship fired up, so I holed up with a friend for a while. Damien, actually. Then..." As Alex continues, I realize how much less painful his past is for him.

I think it's good for him to talk about this with his brother. Good to stop keeping so many secrets. Good to let others who love him accept what he's done. Where he's been.

When Alex is finished, he concludes with, "So, after all that--all my fuck-ups--he still took me back."

"Must be true love," I murmur from the sidelines.

Alex flashes me a sweet smile.

Lyosha asks, "How long have you two been together now?"

"Seven years in March," Alex replies.

"Seven years, Aleksandr," I affirm. The look Alex sends me causes Lyosha to blush and look away.

After Lyosha heads back to his dorm, Alex and I spend the day relaxing together, doing mindless things, even checking in with the office once.

At around 6:30, Lyosha turns up at the suite. Something in his expression and demeanor has shifted. "Sit down, I have some things to tell you."

I exchange a worried glance with Alex before we sit.

Lyosha takes a chair across from us. "You know I believe you now. About the aliens." He meets Alex's gaze. "And about your life. Thanks for telling me."

Alex nods. I feel myself tensing, certain that I don't like where this is leading, even having no idea where that is.

"So, I've made some decisions about my life."

Uh oh. "What kind of decisions?" I ask with trepidation.

Astutely, he scolds me with a look. "That's why you told me all of this. So I could make choices for myself."

Alex is stiff and silent.

"You're right," I concede. That *is* why we told him this. But the prospect of him actually making his own decisions causes me nothing but fear.

"I'm going back with you," he states without a trace of doubt.

I'm fighting the urge to shut him down, when Alex jumps to his feet. "Oh, no you're not!"

"What's the point in telling me if I can't do something to prevent it? You can't expect me to just go on with my life, living in a cocoon of ignorance."

Alex opens his mouth, but I hold up a hand. "Let's hear him out."

I've already thought about this possibility. I'm not particularly pleased with the conclusions I've come to. But I am sure that Lyosha needs to express himself.

Alex shakes his head. "No. No. NO!" He's actually trembling. "You are *not* coming with us." He turns on me, pointing his finger. "You make him understand!" Then he leaves the room, slamming the door behind him.

Well, that went well. I nod at Lyosha. "Tell me what you want, Lyosha."

Lyosha wants to fight. He can't imagine living any kind of normal life with this knowledge. His school work seems pointless. He doesn't want to have a family if the future is so uncertain. There's nothing for him to do but fight. And he doesn't understand why Alex is being so irrational about something so simple.

I hear him out, biting back my own opinions, just so he can say what he has to say. When he's finished, I take a deep breath and begin, "Since I'm the head of the organization, you have to meet my requirements in order to be accepted. Do you understand?"

He nods. "What are your requirements?"

"I am not willing to discuss it until you finish your degree program."

"But-"

"No. Degree first, then we can discuss this."

"That's blackmail."

"Probably. If you want to work for me, you'll have to get used to it." Alex is going to have my head on a platter. But I've come to the conclusion that, as much as it horrifies him, it's probably unavoidable.

"It's not like my master's degree in Rain Forest Ecology is going to be useful to the Resistance."

"You may be right," I say blandly. "You may want to change your major."

"That'll take--You're just trying to stall me! I'll never get out of school at that rate. That's... That's... You just don't have the balls to tell me no."

"Lyosha," I reply, giving him a hard stare, "I do have the balls. Trust me. Your only hope of ever having anything to do with the Resistance is to do it my way."

He gives a frustrated grunt and kicks the coffee table. "Then why the hell did you tell me about all this?"

"Because you're the only human being with natural immunity to the alien virus. And, with our help, you have to make choices about how much risk you're willing to take to help the Resistance."

He straightens his spine. "I'll do whatever it takes."

Fuck, he's just like his damned brother. Not afraid, even when he should be. "Dammit, do you understand the risks? You could end up like a lab rat being used by whatever party decides you're the winning chip."

He shakes his head. "You and Alex wouldn't let that happen."

It's my turn to want to kick things. "We're not omnipotent! Yes, we'd both die to protect you, but that might not be enough. This is a deadly game, Lyosha."

"Did you tell me all this hoping I'd stay out of it? Alex has always made these choices for me. Why tell me now if you don't want me involved?"

The kid's too damned perceptive. I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Maybe we did want that. I guess we're trying to have it both ways. For you to be an informed adult, but for us to have veto power over your choices." I stand and go to the window, looking out but not seeing anything. "It's not fair, I suppose, but Alex and I have to be able to live with your decisions. You can't ever know how much your wellbeing means to him, to us."

"What, you keep me safe, you keep him sane?"

I do an about-face and meet his gaze. "How'd you get so damned smart?"

He shakes his head. "I'm just me. I'm not a symbol of anything. Not anyone's last hope. Just me."

He's right. We've put so much pressure on him. But I don't know how to alleviate the pressure. Because, as much as he deserves to be treated like any other person, he is a powerful symbol for us. He's our reason for fighting this war. We can't just let go of that.

Lyosha sees it in my expression and sighs. "So I can't do anything about that, but I am involved. And we can't change that. You gave me this information so I can make the choice. I've made it."

He's talking to me like a man. I have to treat him like one. Forgive me, Alex. "You've got less than a year in school. Could you finish, as a favor to your brother?"

He nods. "And then I expect you to be straight with me about what I have to do to join the Resistance. But I promise I'll continue to do whatever you ask with regard to my safety."

"Agreed." Even as I say the word, resistance tugs at me. I want so much to put Lyosha in a nice safe box somewhere and never let him out. I want it so badly I think I might allow the human race to be destroyed, as long as he was still in a safe little niche somewhere. But that's just a fantasy.

He's chosen to face this thing. Just like Alex and I have. I can't deny him that.

These are the consequences of your own actions, Walt, you have to live with them. But can Alex?

After a long silence, Lyosha says, "Do you want me to go, so you can talk to Alex alone?"

I'm not eager to face Alex about this, but it's probably the best way. "Yeah. Come back tomorrow. If he hasn't flayed me alive, we'll consider it a victory."

Lyosha kisses my cheeks. "Thanks, Walt."

I sink into a chair and try to come up with something to say to Alex. After a few minutes, I pour myself a generous glass of Scotch and take a seat on the balcony.

When Alex reappears, he has a livid bruise forming on his face. He takes a seat next to me.

"You been in a brawl?"

"No. Later." He stares at his hands. "Tell me what happened."

"I made him promise to finish college."

He's silent for so long it's unnerving. Then he quietly, flatly says, "I have... requirements that have to be met."

I almost wish he'd get angry. "I'm sorry, Alex. Sorry I couldn't talk him out of it." I feel like I've let him down, broken his trust, failed to protect his little brother.

Alex stares out at the city. "He starts training now. Hand-to-hand combat first. I already found him an instructor." He absently rubs his jaw. "Then weapons training. Then survival training." He finally focuses on me and looks so defeated. "Before we came here, I knew it could go this way. But there's no way I could not give him the choice."

I'd do anything to take his sadness away.

I'm so sorry, Alex.

"I came," my voice cracks, "to the same conclusion. Just as you and I have made the choice to fight, he has the right to choose it, too."

A kid never thinks whose guts he's ripping out by making these choices.

Alex nods and reaches for my hand. "I can't promise not to keep fighting this."

"I'm having the same problem." I scoot my chair back and open my arms. Alex gets to his feet, then settles on my lap, wrapping his arm around me.

I hold him close for a long time, wondering who is comforting who.


The Next Day

I got Alex out of bed early and drove us both to Orewa Beach. I wanted to spend a day with him at the beach, at one of the places we call home. Neither of us had much to say on the drive up.

We walk on the beach, both of us lost in our own thoughts. The same thoughts. How to protect Lyosha.

The thing we've conveniently failed to consider is that Lyosha isn't 'safe' if the planet is colonized. He'd either be killed or enslaved. Keeping him out of this could be a bigger risk than letting him fight.

Dammit, I feel so helpless. I keep chewing on it in my head, hoping I'll come to some magical realization that will make the pieces land differently. So Alex can go to bed each night knowing his brother is safe.

I wrap an arm around Alex's waist. "We've let ourselves believe he could be kept safe in a bubble forever, but the bubble was only a fantasy."

"I know, Walt," he offers softly. "But I needed that fantasy."

You still need it, don't you? I'd do anything to give it back to you. "I'm sorry, Alex. So sorry." I stop on the sand to meet his gaze. "I never wanted this."

He looks down at his feet and wiggles his toes in the sand for a moment. "It's not your fault... I guess it's no one's fault." With a sigh, he looks up at me, eyes filled with sadness. "He's everything I'm not, you know? None of my deficiencies, none of my failings. I never wanted him to have my life... to get stuck in this."

"I love you, Alex, failings included." I put a foot over one of his, and brush the sand off the top of his toes.

He gives me the first real smile I've seen today. "I know you do, Walt. And it means so much to me. Sometimes I think I must be the hardest person in the world to love." He wraps his arms around me, pulling me close. "You, on the other hand, are really easy to love."

"You're easy, too. Must be, because I fell in love with you when I didn't want to. When it seemed like the most wrong thing I could possibly do." I kiss his forehead. "It turned out to be very, very right."

"Yeah," he murmurs, then chuckles. "So, we're both completely irresistible. How come no one else can figure that out?"

I tousle his hair, and we start walking again. We go further down the beach than we have before. After a couple hours, we turn around and head home.

On the way, I come up with an idea and Alex agrees. When we finally get back to our condo, he heads out in the car to get dinner, and I go upstairs to phone Dana.

**

Two Days Later

We met Dana in the Bahamas, then I subjected her to my security drills as we took a round-about return trip to New Zealand. She was baffled at first, but conceded she learned a little bit about how to travel covertly.

We still haven't told her exactly why we asked her to come, and thus far, she's been patient with the lack of information.

I've been numb most of the time since Lyosha announced his intention to join us. Walt has been the only thing keeping me sane as my entire world feels like it's been turned upside down. At night, lying with him in our bed, I let some of the barriers around my emotions down and we talk about how this is affecting me... him... us. It's truly not the end of the world. It just feels like it sometimes.

For security reasons, we don't take Dana to the condo, instead we head directly for our Auckland hotel, checking her into the suite adjoining ours.

An hour later, we meet in our rooms. We've barely gotten settled when there's the sound of a card key at our door. Lyosha's early. Walter and I exchange a glance, and he shrugs.

Dana's attention is riveted.

Lyosha enters, looking young and relaxed and happy. His happiness seems surreal. I wonder if he truly grasps what's happened to his life.

With an astonished expression, Dana slowly rises to her feet as she stares wide-eyed at Lyosha.

Too busy watching Dana's reaction, we neglect to introduce him. So he steps forward and extends a hand. "Hi, I'm Jon Michaels." His New Zealand alias.

After a beat, Dana takes his hand. Clearing her throat, she hesitantly offers, "Uh, hi. I'm Dana. Um, Dana Scully. It's nice to meet you."

Getting to my feet, I approach both of them. "Dana, this is my brother. You know him as Aleksei Krycek. When we're alone, we call him Lyosha."

Scully stares at me hard. She understands the gravity of this meeting. Then, she glances between the two of us. "I can't believe how much you two look alike. Was the family resemblance this strong with the rest..." trailing off, she gives me an uncertain look.

With a smile, Lyosha whips out his wallet and hands Dana a photo.

I give him a slightly horrified look. He carries that in his *wallet*?

Dana stares at the photo, then murmurs, "Quite strong, but not anything like the two of you." She passes the picture back to Lyosha, then flashes me a look. She seems... sad.

We sit around the living room table. I retrieve beverages from the mini bar.

Walter begins with, "Lyosha, Dana is a senior member of the Resistance." He offers both of them a smile. "She's also a doctor. I've asked her to come here, so she can discuss your, uh, genetic situation, and help you understand how it relates to the Resistance."

We talk about what Dana's learned about Lyosha's DNA. Lyosha questions her thoroughly on every fact she presents. Then it's time for dinner. Lyosha and Dana seem to get along very well. Which surprises me for some unknown reason. As dinner is winding down, I head out to the balcony for some air. Unexpectedly, Dana joins me a few minutes later.

She leans on the rail next to me and looks out at the city. "Lyosha's quite sharp."

I nod. He is a smart kid.

Tapping my arm, she adds, "He seems happy... well-adjusted. You've done a good job of protecting him."

All I can do is shrug. Today, it doesn't feel like I've protected him at all.

After a long silence, she says softly, "I'm sorry about your family, Alex."

I study the landscape for a long time. "We've all lost a lot, Dana." Turning my head, I meet her gaze. "I'm sorry about your family, too."

After a pause, she nods, then squeezes my hand before heading back inside.

When I rejoin the others, they're discussing what use Lyosha's immunity could be to the Resistance. Lyosha wants to know in detail what sort of beneficial research could be done on him.

I feel a little queasy over this topic.

"Why don't we meet here again tomorrow," suggests Dana. "I'll jot down some notes in the morning, then we can talk again after lunch."

Lyosha nods, opens his mouth to speak, then closes it.

"What is it, Lyosha?" Walter asks.

He looks directly at Walt and says, "I'd like to meet with Dana alone. Just me and her."

Walt glances at me. While I trust Dana a lot, I've seen her do an end-run around Walt too many times when she thinks she's doing the 'right' thing. And I don't care if it's right, wrong or sacrilegious, I don't want them making any decisions without talking to Walt and me first.

For the moment, I'm stymied. Not at all sure how to address this.

"I think it's a good idea." Walter takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. "But I want to be clear about one thing, Alex and I will participate in any decisions affecting Lyosha. Is that understood?"

Lyosha looks at Walter and nods. "Yes, sir."

There's not much for me to say. Dana already knows I'll take extreme action if Lyosha's safety or wellbeing are compromised.

I meet Lyosha's gaze. I'm trying to let you make your own choices, little brother. Please don't make me regret this.

He gives me a reassuring smile.

Dana glances around the room, then says, "Walter, you and Alex will always be in the loop. But I do think it's a good idea for Lyosha and me to spend some time together."

They make plans to meet in her suite tomorrow. He kisses me and Walt before heading back to his place.

Walt asks Dana to stick around a little while longer. He explains our recent extremely-reluctant-acceptance of Lyosha's desire to join the Resistance.

"Lyosha wanted to come back with us. To Nogales." His tone conveys our reluctance. "As you have seen for yourself, anyone who knows Alex will take one look at Lyosha and know he's the missing Krycek brother. We can't take him anywhere where he'll be seen without putting him at extreme risk. Just one look, and they'll know subject 10 is alive."

Dana's quiet for a moment, considering. "I concur... it's a huge security risk."

"If you saw him and Alex on the street, what would you say is their age difference?"

She glances at me and shakes her head. "You've aged too well, Alex. You look less than ten years apart."

"That's what I thought." Walter takes off his glasses and rubs his forehead. "We thought to pass him off as Alex's son, but I don't think there's any hope." He gives a disheartened shrug. "I don't know how we can keep him safe. If anyone figures it out, thirty bodyguards won't be enough."

Dana nods. "But, for now, he's safe. We'll figure this thing out. You two aren't going to accomplish anything by worrying yourselves to death. Cross that bridge when we come to it. Okay?"

I give Scully a doubting look. "Live in the present, Dana? That's a little trite."

Walt puts a hand on my thigh. "She's right, though. He's safe today. And he's agreed to finish school. We have a little time to figure this out."

She leans forward, meeting my gaze intently. "Alex, I know this is incredibly hard for you. And I also know how hard it is for you to extend this much trust to anyone other than Walter. I promise you, I don't want to see anything happen to Lyosha. I'll do everything I can to protect him. So, for now, I want to work on what we can deal with today. When the time comes, we will find a way to keep him safe. Okay?"

Reluctantly, I feel myself giving in. "Okay, Dana." But if anything goes wrong, I'm secretly relocating him to Greenland... the planet be damned.


The Next Day

Walter dragged me to the movies today to keep me from brooding. When we could no longer sit comfortably, he took me shopping. He feigned enthusiasm about a few purchases for our beach condo. After dinner, he made me accompany him to the hotel gym. When I got off the treadmill, he bullied me into the weight room and started handing me weights to lift. Two hours later, I could barely walk up the stairs.

We just finished a long, leisurely shower together, and I'm too fatigued to muster any enthusiasm for worrying about the future. I guess that was the point.

With Walter already in bed, I finish brushing my teeth, then climb in next to him. I fidget for a bit, before getting comfortable, half lying across his chest. "Do you think they're still going at it over there?"

"I think if you worry about it, they'll talk longer," he replies blandly.

I pinch his flesh near his armpit. "Confucius say, watched pot never boil."

There's a sound from the living area. A key in the lock. We both start to reach for our weapons, when Lyosha calls out, "Hey."

We relax. In the next instant, he's in the bedroom doorway. He sits at the foot of the bed. "You two are so damned cuddly."

Walter pulls up the sheet. "Is this a business call, Lyosha?"

He rolls his eyes. "No. I was hoping I could crash here." He smacks Walter's blanket-covered leg. "Dana's going to take some bone marrow samples tomorrow. Just wanted you both to know."

I groan and bury my face in Walter's armpit. Life sucks.

**

The Next Day

We spend the morning reviewing a series of procedures that Dana would like to perform on Lyosha. They're all pretty benign tests. She's obviously trying hard to ease Alex's mental strain. Still, it takes some coaxing and reassuring to help Alex deal with it all.

Dana encourages Lyosha to get us lunch, then turns to Alex. "Alex, you have to bear in mind that Lyosha doesn't have your experience with labs and doctors. This isn't going to be traumatic for him."

Alex's body is rigid, his expression blank. "I'm not projecting, Dana. He started his life as an experiment, he shouldn't have to be one ever again."

I take his hand. "We're all in agreement, Alex."

During lunch, Dana and Lyosha have an animated conversation about the medical procedures. Lyosha seems quite curious about the research, even excited. Alex and I watch the two of them with a mixture of horror and amazement.

Dana speaks to Lyosha as if she's mentoring him, and I can see him respond to her. She's treating him like more of an adult than Alex or I will ever be able to. No wonder he seems to like her so much.

There's even a moment of levity when she indicates that she would like to get gametes.

Lyosha nudges Alex in the ribs. "Aw, that'll be horrible. I'll have to have a wank. This research is really arduous, huh?"

I see a twitch of ire cross Alex's features.

Dana covers her mouth with her napkin.

After lunch, Dana informs me that she plans to stay in New Zealand for a few weeks to work with Lyosha. Alex and I have to get back to Nogales, so we're leaving tomorrow.

When Alex disappears into the bathroom, Dana gestures me toward the balcony. "Lyosha, Walter and I need to discuss some other business."

He nods and flips on the TV.

Outside, we lean against the railing and look at each other. My intestines clench at the expression on her face. "What is it?"

She taps her cheek with one finger. "There's another obvious avenue of immunity research that we've ignored for a long time." Her face tight, she meets my gaze. "I'm not trying to pressure you or Alex in any way, I just-"

"Just say it, Dana."

"After the mission in Colorado, Alex told me he can't be infected."

No. No way.

"It's another possible avenue," she says in a gentle tone. "If we could discover why he can't be infected..."

I'm not listening anymore. I will *never* allow Alex to become a test subject of any kind. No matter how humane the procedures. He's already given too much of himself and his family.

It is only my deep respect for Dana that keeps me standing there. I force myself to listen to her.

"... chance we can repeat the same steps that made him immune. We could do some simple, painless tests, with you present to reassure him." She pauses, looking a little surprised that she got as far as she did.

"No," I say simply and without ire. It's not going to happen.

She nods. It was the expected response. "May I speak to-"

"No." I don't want Alex to even have to think about it. "And, Scully, don't go around me on this." The tone of my voice is harsher than I intended.

After gazing thoughtfully at the view for a few moments, she replies, "I respect your choice." She touches my hand. "In your position, I might make the same one."

There's something nibbling at the back of my brain... Alex wasn't the only one infected on the Piper Maru. I mention this to Dana. We agree to have Mulder try to locate some of the others. We can try to convince a few of them to help her research. Alex has already more than paid his dues. It's time for someone else to take a turn.

As she heads inside, I notice Alex sitting on the couch next to Lyosha, giving me a curious look. Frowning, I turn away to look at the clouds.

It's not going to happen. Ever.

The human race be damned. I won't pay that price. I'd take his life myself first.

I try to reassure myself. There's nothing to be upset about. It's not going to happen. No one in the organization will go around me. This is why we have bodyguards. To keep Alex safe in case someone less trustworthy comes to the same conclusion Dana did.

I swear to you, Alex, I'll endure any torture, give my own life, I will *never* let anyone touch you.

I try to relax enough to let the breeze calm me. Nothing has changed just because Scully asked this. We're still living with the same risks.

It takes a long time to get my heart rate under control.

I'm not sure how much time passes before I hear the sliding glass door open, then feel Alex's arms slide around my waist.

"Scully and Lyosha went to buy some porn," he murmurs against the back of my neck. "Inspiration I guess. Then they're going to try to lease a small facility for their research."

"You okay?"

"With Lyosha spending the afternoon beating off? Sure." He hesitates. "I seem to be the only person still struggling with this. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry." I turn, wrapping my arms tightly around him. "There are two of us struggling... I just hide it better than you do."

He nuzzles his face into my neck. "I'm supposed to be the master of subterfuge."

My raucous laugh is half-fueled by pent-up emotion. "Oh, yeah. That's you."

Alex peers at me intently. "Are *you* okay?"

I take a deep breath. "Yeah." I will be.

Alex pulls back and smiles at me. Then he heads inside, yanking his T-shirt over his head as he walks toward the bedroom. "Come on... let's collect some of our own gamete samples."

**

Nogales, Mexico
March 2006
Three Months Later

I rub aggressively at my nose, knowing it's not going to help. I think the smell has leeched into my whole being, and no amount of rubbing or waving my hand or changing rooms is going to take the odor away. Once again, I wish for Walter's reassuring presence, but one of us has to deal with the Rebels, and I don't think I can handle this chaos *and* aliens tonight. Especially on top of this god-awful smell. So we split up... Walter's debriefing with Misters Green and Black while I'm mopping up the mess from tonight's mission-turned-disaster.

I rattle off orders automatically. Take care of the injured, security issues, data that needs to be encrypted, weapons stored. The list feels endless. Dozens of people buzz around. It looks like chaos, but this is really a well-oiled machine cleaning up after what could have been the end of our little band of merry resistance fighters. If the Rebels hadn't shown up unexpectedly and bailed us out, we'd have lost... everything.

"Sir?"

The voice brings me out of a temporary fugue. "Yes?" I glance up at one of our techno geeks who is holding out a laptop.

"The data is ready for your encryption key, Mr. Krycek."

I make a vague affirmative noise and take the laptop. With it awkwardly perched on my upraised knee, I type in my 30-digit key. It only takes me three tries to get it right. God, I'm tired.

The tech departs, and I intercept a couple security guards and give them some additional orders, then head back to the infirmary. Russ and Dana have things under control. Though neither specializes in emergency medicine, when our mission went south and we returned with so many injured, they both jumped in and took over. It gave me one less thing to think about as I dealt with the fallout.

There are fewer people in the room now, and it looks like triage is down to very minor injures. The stench is stronger here. The medical personnel have been very tactful about the strong odor of their patients.

My nose twitches. Smell of burned hair...

I catch Dana's eye and wave her over. She finishes wrapping a minor burn and heads my direction. On the way over, she stops by the gurney where Nate is resting with his arm thrown over his eyes to block out the intense fluorescent lighting. She passes a hand through his hair and gives him a quick kiss on the cheek, then seems to just watch him breathe for a while.

We wind up sitting side by side on an unoccupied gurney. "How bad?" I venture.

"Could be worse." She takes a deep breath, which is aborted abruptly and she subtly moves a little further away from me and coughs a little.

"Sorry," I mumble. I'm aware of how bad I smell.

Smell of charred human flesh...

She winces a bit and smiles at me apologetically. "Nothing to be sorry for. We got all the injured out of their clothes, even though they still smell a little. Uh, maybe you could..." she trails off.

I almost laugh. "Yeah... I'll change in a bit. So, give me the full report, Doc."

Scully sighs. "Two gunshot wounds we couldn't treat here, Witt and Nguyen. Had them airlifted to the hospital in Tucson. The rest are burns of varying severity and several minor gunshot wounds. One broken arm." She shrugs a bit. "Could have been worse."

*Should* have been worse, I mentally add. We lost one operative during the mission. "One death?" I confirm. His last name was Jenney, but for some reason I can't think of his first name.

"Yeah. The DOA you brought with you. Alex Jenney. No local family. Parents in Connecticut. We'll be in touch with them tomorrow."

"Be sure to send Walt their info. He'll want to call them."

Dana nods, and then we briefly discuss the condition of every other person we brought back. Eventually I ask, "How's Nate doing?"

She scowls a little. "He's okay. Both hands have second-degree burns, but otherwise he's fine. He's going to be a bear around the house when he realizes he can't do anything for a while." She taps her fingers on her knee and gives me a sideways glance. "He wouldn't tell me how he got burned, and I was so busy I didn't have time to pry it out of him."

Oh brother. I don't want to get in the middle of the Scullys' communication problems. "Is that a question?"

Dana frowns at me. "How'd he get burned, Alex? You know I'll get it out of him eventually, and you could save your best friend some pain and suffering if you'll just tell me what happened to him."

Well, fuck. Sorry, Nate. "Jenney was in a hand-to-hand situation with one of the colonists' henchmen, when the Rebels lit him up. Nate tried to separate them to save Jenney, but he was already..." I fight the need to rub my nose. I don't tell her I had to pull Nate off Jenney. Jenney was already a goner and Nate didn't seem like he was going to give up.

"Fuck," Scully whispers, staring at her hands.

I blink at her a few times. "Doctor Agent... language!" She's said that to me often enough.

Scully snorts a little. "Do we need to check you out?"

It takes me a moment to comprehend what she's talking about. "No. I'm fine."

She frowns at me, knowing there's likely some injury, but I'm not going to fess up. I can tell by her expression when she decides to let it go. "So, you waiting around for Walt?"

"Yeah. They're debriefing in the secure conference room. We'll head home as soon as he's finished. Though I don't know how long he'll be."

Her brows shoot up. "You're not going to stay here?" There are a few small rooms for sleeping at the facility, one dedicated to Walt and me.

"Nah. With all of the injured and extra personnel on for the next few days, I gave up our space. This was just about my last stop." I wave my hand vaguely indicating the infirmary. "Everything else is pretty much wrapped up."

"Already?" she manages after a look of surprise.

"Scully, I've been doing this para-military crap since I was 18. I know how to clean up after a botched op." I acknowledge to myself that if Walter is hurt, I'm pretty useless, but in general I know what I'm doing.

She gives me a half-hearted slap to the arm. "I know that, Alex. It's just usually both you and Walt doing this and I figured it would take a little longer with only one of you."

I find myself smiling. "I just have to be twice as bossy."

She responds with a half-hearted smile. "Mulder called. Repeatedly. Wanted to come down."

"Oh god. Please tell me you talked him out of it." I force myself to not rub at my nose, and run my hand through my gritty hair instead.

"Yeah. He was really annoyed he lost the coin toss."

I groan. "Only Mulder..." would be upset that he didn't get to go on this mission. But Scully has strict rules. Only one of Willy's three parents goes on a mission at a time.

"He said it figured that he'd be home babysitting when everyone got a ride in a friendly spaceship."

All I can do is shake my head in exasperation. Between the fight and the adrenaline and the injuries, I doubt most of the team even noticed how we got back.

We wrap up on a few more issues, then Scully gnaws on her lip a little. I wait patiently for about ten seconds. "Come on, Scully, spit it out."

"It's just that Nate would be more comfortable in the sleeping quarters, and I'm going to be here for a few more hours..." she trails off looking at me expectantly.

I shrug. Poor Scully: torn between her patients and her husband. I could get an orderly to do it, but I know she wants someone she's comfortable with. "Sure, Dana... I'll take him over there." The on-site housing is in a separate building. I hop off the gurney. "I'll be ready in about ten minutes. Wake him up or whatever you have to do."

Scully grabs my arm and I turn back. She offers me a smile that seems a little wobbly. "Thanks for bringing him back."

I'm not sure what to say to that, so I squeeze her hand and head off to make sure everything is done.

It's actually 20 minutes later before I'm pushing a groggy Nate in a wheelchair over to the housing building. The two security guys following us at a discreet distance makes this whole exercise seem rather silly. But if it makes Scully happy... Having my hands busy with the wheelchair keeps me from rubbing my nose. It's starting to feel a little raw.

There's extra security on the housing building since some of our injured are here. They're alert, and I give them a nod and a quick thanks.

When we get to the room, I leave my bodyguards in the hall while I help Nate into bed. He tries to help and winds up making it harder. I'm almost wrestling with him. For some reason it reminds me of our days at the Bureau. Too tired after an endless stakeout, and falling over each other in the parking garage. God, that seems so long ago.

I finally get Nate into bed, then fish the bottle of pain pills out of my pocket and set it on the table with a glass of water.

"You really stink, you know." I jump with surprise at Nate's voice. He was so quiet I thought he was completely out of it.

Turning, I find him watching me with bleary eyes. "Yeah, well, you don't exactly smell like roses."

"Smell better than you," he mutters.

I bring him a pill and the glass. "The boss of you said you have to take this." Which makes him frown at me. I process his lack of available hands faster than he does, and help him get propped up to take the pill. When he's comfortable again, I offer, "Scully will be back in a couple hours, but we have nurses checking everyone over here. They should be by every ten minutes or so if you need anything."

Nate gives a vague nod. I'm just about to leave when he asks, "How many'd we lose?"

"One."

He closes his eyes. He knows which one. I'm not sure if I need to say anything else. Eventually Nate looks at me again. "Why... d'you suppose they, uh, Rebels showed up? Bailed us out?" He's so tired he's laboring to get the words out.

"I'm not sure. I think Walt's finding out now."

"Glad they did. Big mess otherwise..." He seems to fall asleep in the middle of his sentence.

"Yeah, Nate," I whisper. Big fucking tragedy otherwise.

I'm all set to leave, but on impulse I lay my hand over Nate's bandaged ones and focus for a few seconds. Walt and I discussed never letting anyone know about my abilities. It leads to too many questions. But tonight, if I could have saved Jenney, I would have. But it was too late for him. Nate tried so hard to save him. Since I can't see his hands, I'm not sure I was completely successful, but he's resting easier.

Wow... that really wiped me out. I lean against the wall for a few seconds trying to get my bearings and resist the temptation to curl up on the floor and sleep. I've never tried doing that when I was this tired. Guess it takes some energy. Have to remember to tell Walt we have to explain this to Scully tomorrow.

Completely on autopilot, I manage to get back to the main building, grab a change of clothes and head to the locker room. I'd rather camp out near the conference room where Walter is, but I can't deal with the smell much longer. I run into a very angry-looking Bernice on the way. Who the fuck called her?

"Why didn't you call me?" she demands. She steps close to me, presumably to intimidate me with her diminutive frame, but suddenly leaps back with an aggrieved expression on her face. "You smell... worse than an alien autopsy!"

To cover my amusement, I frown at her.

She seems to get control of herself. "I'm taking over." My eyebrows take aim for my hairline, but she keeps on. "I heard you were planning to drive home. That's not going to happen. You are dead on your feet. I'd send you to bed right now, but you need a shower worse." She waves a hand in front of her face.

"Bernice, I gave up--"

"Yes, I heard. I've arranged for a queen-size double high airbed in your office. Lord knows you have plenty of room in there." She points toward the locker room. "Now you shower while I go get the boss out of that damn meeting and send those aliens back to their ship!"

Fuck it. I'm just too tired to argue with her.

She calls back, "I'm leaving a sandwich for you in your office. Eat it!"

God, she's bossy.

Miraculously, the locker room is vacant. I'm not up to even the most innocuous of conversations right now. In the shower, I keep my face under the spray, but I can still smell it. Burned hair and flesh and even burned aliens--which smell entirely different from burned humans. More acidic and slightly oily. I scrub soap over my face, hoping it will make a difference, but it doesn't.

**

This debrief is taking longer than I would like as Mr. Green, Mr. Black and two others take frequent breaks to 'confer' using their touch/telepathic method.

What was supposed to be a quick meeting is dragging on as we try to ascertain if we were set up or if we just had bad intel. We *thought* we were raiding a lab in central Nicaragua. A rather large lab, but just another lab. We encountered a huge underground facility with significantly more manpower than we were prepared for. Not to mention the presence of actual Colonists. If the Rebels hadn't made an unexpected appearance, our entire team would have been wiped out or captured.

Our rescue ride back to Nogales in the Rebels' spaceship is still sort of a surreal blur. I can't quite believe that happened. I wonder if this situation will call for additional payoffs to the local Federales.

We gradually develop a human/alien consensus that our intel was bad. While this is not good news, it's better than the alternative. An ambush would imply a highly placed mole or other nightmares I'd rather not have to deal with. Bad intel means we need to review our sources and the conclusions we made about their info. A much less terrifying prospect.

The rebels break off again to 'talk.' While they're communicating, I read the latest report that has come in on my Palm... Alex is wrapping things up at breakneck speed.

The burn on my arm briefly distracts me. I'm not even sure what burned me. So many things were on fire, I probably just brushed against something. The nanos can heal it in a couple of days, but it's quite painful at the moment.

Misters Black and company break hands.

"We very much appreciate you coming to our aid tonight," I offer, trying to bring the meeting to a close.

Mr. Black nods vaguely. "You are useful now."

I'm not sure what he means by that. "Now?"

"Yes," Black affirms. "Prior Resistance was not helpful."

"Leadership is apparently key," Mr. Green interjects. "We thought alliance had been a mistake. Humans were not as helpful as we'd hoped."

"But you are a useful ally," Mr. Black finishes. "So we will protect you."

No matter how much I deal with them, I continue to be struck by the eerie quality of their tag-team communications. "We're grateful for your intervention. I thank you for our lives."

Mr. Green offers an expression that could almost be a smile. "We planned to come for you and Mr. Krycek, but we remember your fondness for your humans.

"So we came for all of you," Black adds, looking sort of pleased, as much as his bland face will allow.

It occurs to me that they're trying to relate. I'm struck dumb as I consider how to relate back to them. Nothing comes to mind, so I just stammer, "You said, uh, we're useful. What is it we're doing that's useful? We could, um, try to do more of it..." I trail off vaguely, unsure if I've made any sense.

The door to the conference room opens. Only a couple people could get past the security guards. It's Bernice. She has a smile on her face that is so fake I almost start laughing. She's got a large bottle in each hand, filled with a pinkish-red liquid.

"Gentlemen," she addresses the Rebels, "your ship is *ready*."

She's really not afraid of *anyone*, is she?

The Rebels are eyeing the bottles, not picking up on the subtleties of their apparent dismissal.

"Oh yes." Bernice sets a bottle in front of both Mr. Green and Mr. Black. "Mayhaw juice, courtesy of Mr. Krycek."

I'm sure Alex arranged no such thing. The mayhaw-based products have been Bernice's pet project since we found out how much the Rebels love it. While it's rare, it's not impossible to find, but they seem unable to handle such simple matters, so they're always anxious for our 'gifts.' Alex wonders what the hell they do with it, since in their natural form, they have no mouth. And they always take it with them, never consuming it here.

Bernice stands by the door, holding it open for the aliens, who are still seated. "Mr. Krycek arranged for three cases to be sent to your ship in thanks for your assistance this evening." She smiles that plastic smile again, but the Rebels are in motion, clutching their bottles and departing with a curt nod in my direction.

When they're gone, before I can open my mouth, Bernice has my arm, right on the burn. I hiss a little in pain.

She quickly changes her grip, pulling me toward the door. "Can't believe you didn't go to the infirmary first, Boss." Bernice chews me out all the way there, in between updates on the general state of things, including her decision that Alex and I are staying the night in Alex's office. She's apparently sent Alex off to shower and informs me I need to do the same thing when I'm finished in medical.

Bernice ushers me to a gurney then informs me, "Alex is dead on his feet. He's not going to stop until you do, so finish up and go to bed." She turns away, then spins back to say, "And be sure you both eat your sandwiches!"

There are only a couple people left in here. I see Russ, but not Scully. One of the nurses approaches to check my burn, but Russ waves her away and begins poking at me instead.

"Dana has the unenviable duty of wound debridement. You'll have to reconcile yourself to my ministrations," he murmurs as he begins cleaning the wound. "This would benefit from some debriding, but with your nanocytes, I'm disinclined to agonize over it further." He wraps the clean wound with gauze and hands me some extra to wrap it with after I shower.

I find Alex alone in the locker room, half dressed, sitting on a bench, looking half asleep and rubbing his nose, which is looking a bit red.

Suddenly I notice how tired I am. A wave of guilt slams into me for leading our men into this fiasco. Relief at having lost only one. The chaos of the spaceship flight... trying to give first aid with few medical supplies recognizable as such. The horrible smell of blood and smoke and dying things.

Alex and I huddle together in silent fatigue, pain and relief. After a time, he urges me toward the shower.

When I get out of the shower, I dry off and dress in some old gym clothes from my locker. I notice Alex has stuffed our clothes in a biohazard bag. Other such bags are tied off and line one wall waiting for cleanup to remove all the unsalvageable clothing. That row of bags, a bunch of injured people, Jenney, the sickening smell... these are the primary results of our mission. I discover it's possible to feel the pain of loss and relief at the same time. Those could have been body bags.

I study Alex for a moment, to remind myself that he's okay. I hand him the gauze. "Want to wrap me?"

He offers a half-hearted smile, takes the gauze and tosses it in the vicinity of the trashcan. "Not really. If you'd told me earlier..." he trails off, then rests his hand on my arm and there's intense heat for a second. I register the lack of pain at the same time Alex gets a little wobbly and sits down hard.

He's healed my arm. I gape at it numbly. If I had room for any more amazement, I'd be amazed, but emotions aren't registering right now.

I slump down next to Alex. "You going to let me carry you back to your office?"

"I ca' walk," he mumbles, too tired to enunciate, and half-heartedly rubs his nose.

We stagger back to his office and collapse on Bernice's air bed. Too exhausted to undress, much less move, we still rehash the day's events, often repeating things as if we need to say them more than once in order to believe them. We review it all, nibbling on chunks of Valrhona Bernice left for us. The only thing unspoken is the terror of what might have been. My body could have become a Colonist incubator. Perhaps an even worse fate for Alex.

Gratitude for the Rebels is my last thought before losing awareness. That and the need to hide the sandwiches so Bernice doesn't know we didn't eat them.

**

In Air Over the Atlantic Ocean
July 2006
Four Months Later

We're on our way home to Scotland. Finally. I got Walt to agree to a whole month this time. Birthday presents to ourselves. The recent months since the botched mission have been hectic trying to ensure it never happens again. We worked ourselves stupid the last few weeks.

Walt dozed off about a half hour ago. I have a harder time sleeping on planes, so I continue going through some paperwork. When I tire of that, I reach into my bag for the stack of mail we neglected this week.

Flipping through the letters, I stop short. I hadn't noticed one of them was postmarked New Zealand.

I tear it open and set about decoding it. When I'm finished, I nudge Walt. "Wake up."

"What? Change planes already?"

"No. I was going through the mail... we have a letter from L-, uh, Jon."

Suddenly, he's awake. I hold the letter between us.

--
May 25, 2006

Dear Alex & Walt,

First off, Alex, I have to tell you I'm not taking any more of your damned self-defense classes. I can defend myself adequately, but weapons training is not my cup of tea. Besides, I have more important things that require my time.

Second, I've decided to change my major and go for a microbiology degree.

You might be wondering how I came to these two decisions. More on that later.

Walt, whether I've passed your requirements or not, I'm a member of your team. I think you need to learn to accept that. I've paid for admittance with flesh and blood and that's the end of it.

During the first five weeks I spent with Dana, and her subsequent visits, I came to realize a few things. I'm more committed than ever to fighting this thing. But I'm not like you two. I'm not going to raid facilities and engage in covert ops. It's just not me. I can best help by learning what's different about me and how that can help you. So, I'm going to pursue my microbiology degree, and work part time for Dana. From here in New Zealand

Because, what I don't want, is for anyone else to die or be hurt trying to keep me safe. And I know that's what would happen.

Alex, it's always been hard to appreciate your absence... why you had to stay away... why you were never there. But I finally understand that it was necessary. I realize my life could have been a lot different if you hadn't always been there--in your own way--looking out for me... keeping me safe. Well, this is what I can do to keep *you* safe. You've risked your life for me enough.

Walt, you take care of my brother and lead us out of this. Because that's the point, isn't it? To win this and have normal lives?

Oh yeah... we can negotiate my salary the next time you visit.

That's it. Just wanted you to know what I'd decided to do.

Love you both.

L
--

I let the letter drop to my lap and stare at Walter. I'm completely overwhelmed. "Well... fuck me."

Walter's eyes fall shut and he mouths, "Thank you." When he opens his eyes again, they're wet.

I realize I'm fighting tears myself.

He reaches for my hand. "He's... He's a great kid."

Needing more contact, I awkwardly lean over the armrest and hug him. "I don't know how he turned out this way. Hell, I'm still not that mature." I tamp down a near-hysterical laugh. The sudden release of tension that's been building for seven months leaves me feeling scattered and borderline insane.

The stewardess comes over, looking concerned, but Walter waves her away.

"He's a fucking great kid." His arms close tightly around me. "Have I told you how much I love your brother?"

I chuckle, squeezing him as if I'm afraid to let go. "Suddenly, I feel like we can get through this."

"We can, Alex." He pulls back and meets my gaze. "We could have without this... but this is *so* much better. Much easier to live with."

I nod. "The weight of our choices--his choices--was really dragging me down. I couldn't seem to help it." I take a deep breath. "I don't know what's been going on between him and Dana, but I think we should offer her our first-born child."

"Maybe all of them." He kisses my jaw, then looks at me intently. "I know how hard this has been on you. The worst is over, so now I want you to relax and try not to get so stressed out by everything. When it starts to build up, at least we can say that Lyosha is safe and we're together. Almost nothing else matters... if we happen to save the human race along the way, that'd be a nice bonus." He gives me a gentle smile. "What d'you say, AK?"

I stroke the side of his face. "Lyosha is safe and we're together. My life is perfect."

"And we're going home. Better than perfect."

While we're waiting for connecting flights, we take the time to encode a fawning letter to Lyosha. Yes, you've earned your place in the Resistance. You have our full support for your new career plan. We love you. And a quick note of thanks to Dana. We drop it in the slot at the airport, and catch the next flight.


Two Days Later

As we get out of the car in front of home, I take a deep breath. The air smells... right. That cool, moist forest scent. This is where we belong.

Walt takes my hand. As usual, we leave our bags in the car and walk toward the house. It's a single step to the front door. The step where we leave a few drops of our blood, every time we leave this place.

"We're home, Alex." Walter pulls me into his arms and gives me an ardent kiss. "As long as we're both breathing, we'll always come back here."

My throat feels tight as it always does when we do this. I hand him the key and he unlocks the door.

We step inside and I suddenly feel overwhelmingly exhausted. We're home. And everything is still okay. I lean against the wall and smile tiredly at the man I love more than life. "I'm kind of worn out, luybof' maya."

"I can see that," he says, before hefting me over his shoulder and heading up the stairs.

I give a squeak of protest, then hold on by grabbing his butt.

Just as we're going up the stairs, Abby appears, headed down. She's learned to give us a few minutes to have our ritual before invading our space.

"I can see you boys are frisky as ever. Welcome home."

From my upside down position, I give her a slight wave. "Hi, Abby."

She reaches into Walt's pocket and grabs the keys. I try to make a grab for them, but she evades me.

"Abby, I'll get the bags later." He pats me on the ass. "As soon as this one is tucked in."

She flashes us an innocent smile. "The keys will be by the door."

When we get to the bedroom, Walter deposits me on the bed and ends up on top of me. Despite my fatigue, his furious kissing and playful groping get me aroused faster than should be possible in my state. Our welcome home rituals are important to both of us. We don't let things get in the way.

Eventually, I pull my mouth away, gasping for air. My arms and legs are wrapped around him... our clothes evaporated somewhere along the way. "Come on, Muscle Man," I nip at his lower lip, "fuck me senseless."

"You're already senseless," he replies with a chuckle. Then he reaches for the lube. After getting me ready, he guides me onto all fours. He teases me mercilessly, then takes me hard and... slow. Damn him. He fucks me until I'm mindlessly begging him to finish. He kneels behind me, tugs me upright and pulls my body so I'm impaled on his cock, held up like an offering.

It reminds me of something...

The Valley Forge Inn. That sleazy motel room in North Carolina. The memories get me even more aroused. I rimmed him for the first time there. Also the first time I'd ever sucked cock while on my knees. I shudder. I love being on my knees in front of him, letting him use my mouth, my throat, for his pleasure.

Somehow, in this absurd and wonderful position, he still manages to slam into me. I moan helplessly in his embrace, as his fingers close around my cock.

He lets out a deep groan, rapidly losing his careful control, as he frantically strokes my cock. Just when I try to get the words out, to ask him for my orgasm, he growls a word that might be 'come' into my ear and begins to come himself.

The orgasm is fast and excruciating in its intensity. I slump bonelessly in his arms as he thrusts twice more, riding out his own climax. Then we're both struggling to breathe, and somehow we end up in a lump on our sides.

We both grope for the comforter at the same time, cocooning ourselves in the blanket.

I put all my energy into wiggling around to face him. "Home," I mutter inanely as I wrap myself around him like a limpet.

"Thank you for this," he says softly, shifting his body to make a better surface for a limpet.

**

The Next Day

"Ew."

I blink and see daylight. "Hmm?"

"We fell asleep. I didn't get up to brush my teeth, did you?"

I blow a waft of air at him.

"Guess not." Alex tries to scramble out of bed, but discovers that I'm holding on to his leg. He pulls against me, then settles down with a pout on his face. "And I wound up in the wet spot."

"Musta been two of 'em." I wrap my arms around his waist, needing the contact first. I glance at the clock, then stare at it for a moment. "We slept for *fourteen* hours?"

Alex obligingly wraps himself around me. "I know. Guess we were tired." After a few moments of mindless petting, Alex pinches lightly at my ass cheek. "I love you, but if I don't take a piss soon, we're going to explore some new kinks in our relationship."

I make a show of grumbling, but release him. This bed's already grungy enough. He darts into the bathroom, while I stand on shaky legs. I tug on my jeans and head out to get our suitcases. As soon as I open the bedroom door, I see them planted neatly next to it.

I make a mental note to ask Alex if there's any reason we can't pay Abby more than a Fortune 500 CEO.

I find Alex in the shower. After brushing my teeth, I join him. He grabs my razor and does his handiwork on my scalp, like he does nearly every day. I told him as long as he does the work, he can keep me as bald as he likes. It seems silly, but it makes him happy.

When he's done, Alex gives me a contented smile, then leans against the wall, pushing his hips forward, proudly displaying neat finger-mark bruises on his hips. I feel a pulse of lust. He looks happy and relaxed.

Thank you, Lyosha. Thank you for our lives.

Standing under the warm spray, I observe my lover's body. Those long, beautiful legs. Narrow waist. My initials tattooed on his hip. Muscular arm. Green superhero arm. My platinum chain around his neck. Pretty face in need of a shave. Silly little nose. Green eyes that destroy me.

This man... who makes me cry, makes me laugh, keeps my heart beating. Makes my groin ache.

It crosses my mind to shove Alex into the wall and give him a thorough fucking, but my back still hurts from last night. And he took the worst of it. So, instead, I soap him from head to toe in about 45 seconds. He takes a little longer to wash me. I don't object too much when he slides to his knees and takes my cock into his mouth.

I hardly protest at all when he runs his tongue around the rim. Nor do I complain when he swallows it all the way and hums. And by the time he lets me fuck his face, I'm incapable of dissent.

He licks up the last of my cum, then gives me a self-satisfied smile. He wraps his arm around my hips, then plants a few light kisses on my abdomen. Finally he just rests his head against me. He does this from time to time. Holds on to me like this after he sucks me off. I asked him once what's going through his mind. He said he was feeling overwhelmed.

Too fucking sweet.

I run my fingers through his hair.

"You hungry?" he asks in a lazy tone.

"Ravenous," I reply emphatically. "Your dick going to last until after breakfast?"

He gets to his feet. "It'll last until after dinner if you want." He winks at me. "But not much longer."

I grin imperiously. "It'll last all month, if I want..."

"Cocky bastard," he mutters as he climbs out of the shower, wiggling his butt at me, which has the imprint of my thumbs on it.

Too sexy.

We dress hastily and head downstairs to wolf down whatever Abby's left for us. After the meal, I suggest a bike ride. We head upstairs and change into our day-glow bike shorts.

Damn, he looks fucking hot. I remember the gorgeous young agent who visited me in my garage so long ago. He didn't look half this good.

The sun never comes out, but gray weather can't touch our day. It's one of those rare perfect days in our too-complicated lives.

Alex stops on a grassy hill and lies on his back, languishing as if it were sunny. When I join him, he climbs on top of me with a mischievous look in his eye, then goes after my ticklish spot. My armpits. We wind up wrestling around on the grass until I have him pinned. He seems to give in, then, with a few deft moves, pins both of my hands over my head with his robotic hand. And I can't budge them.

"Fuck, it's *strong*." I play at being helpless for a little while, then I shove up with my knees, knocking him over my head.

He lands with an, "Oof!"

My wrists are still held tightly in his metallic grip, so I end up half rolling over myself. In the process, I manage to get kicked in the head.

A concentrated twist of my wrists and I'm freed from superman's grip.

He turns his head to watch me. "You play dirty."

"Oh, and you don't?" I nudge his leg, so I can get out from under it.

"Of course I do. But it's part of my charm."

"It's not charming when I do it?" I shift onto my butt and sit up.

He grins at me and pats my knee. "You're always charming." Rolling over on his stomach, he props his chin in his hand. "After we've freed the planet, can we retire and live here?" He crawls forward a little and kisses my knuckles. "Become a couple of wrinkled old fags with hobbies and shit?"

"Okay, but you realize if you keep me here all the time, I'm going to consume all the wood in Scotland making things. You'll have to buy more land just to put the stuff on." I pluck a weed and tickle his thigh with it. "And we may not ever achieve the wrinkled part. I think most of mine are gone, and you hardly had any to begin with."

Alex absently bats at the weed tickling his leg. "So, we'll die old and smooth with a lot of... wood stuff. And tree planting will be my new hobby." He lies on his back, resting his head in my lap. "Sounds like a plan." He bats at the weed again. "Stop that!"

I dangle the weed over his face. "Only if you promise to hang out nude in my shop all day tomorrow."

"Deal!" He grabs at the weed. "I'll save this to tickle your dick with the next time I get you undressed."

"I can hardly wait." I nudge his shoulder. "C'mon, let's ride all the way to the ocean today."

"'Kay." He gets to his knees, gives me a thorough kiss, then jumps to his feet, heading for his bike.

I jump on mine, and in my enthusiasm, fail to notice a large ditch at the side of the road, and end up with the bike wrapped around my face. Alex appears at my side in an instant to provide immediate laughter. Eventually, he calms down enough to wipe the bike grease off my face. I've got two cuts with grease in them, but what's the good of having nanocytes if they don't take care of things for you.

Alex makes minor repairs to my bike, restores my energy with a hidden cache of Valrhona chocolate, then we head for the beach.

I slip behind him after a mile or two so I can watch him and try to send a telepathic message of love. It doesn't really matter if he receives it... he already knows.

We've survived so much. It's easy to feel invincible.

For today, I'll believe that we'll find a way to prevent the colonization and retire here to hammer nails into wood and fondle each other.

And if we don't succeed, we'll go down fighting. Together.

Nothing can take away the time we've spent together. And the pleasure that comes from knowing that this intense and beautiful man is mine. Always.

We arrive at the beach, out of breath and sweaty. Alex takes my hand as we walk to the water, standing in each other's arms, watching the waves come in.

Alex's fingers stroke the back of my neck. "It's been more than seven years, Walt." Cool water washes around our feet.

I pull back and smile at him. "We might have seventy more."

He gives a delighted laugh. "Okay."

** This Completes the Exigency Saga **

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