Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Protect1.


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

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


Part 2


Crystal City, VA
Saturday, 27 May 2000
5:52 A.M.


I leave Walter's in search of a payphone. Last night, I warned Morgan to expect my first call at 6 A.M.

I haven't had much sleep, because it's weird being at home without Walter. Weirder still trying to sleep without him. When did it get so hard to sleep alone? I've been doing it my entire life.

Morgan answers on the second ring. "Morgan."

"Any news from the desert?"

There's an unexpected hesitation. "Yeah. Apparently there was some conflict at a hospital and the party you're interested in was injured. I don't know his condition, just that he was admitted."

I feel like the world just fell out from underneath me. It takes me a minute to get myself together.

"Alex?"

"Yeah." I can hear the lifeless tone of my voice. "Call your man back to D.C., Morgan. I'm headed down there now."

"Alex, that's probably not wi-"

"Morgan, I'm going to Arizona. I'll extend your contract to include chartering a plane for me."

"This is a really bad-"

My limited patience snaps. "Help or shut up."

He sighs. "Baltimore Airport. One hour."

"Thanks." As an afterthought, "You have my ID info. Bring one with the last name of Skinner."

"Wha-"

I hang up.


Phoenix, AZ
9:15 A.M.


As planned, a helicopter meets my plane to take me to the MacLaren Medical Center. Morgan's man met me at the airport with additional information. Walter suffered severe burns around the eyes and is having respiratory difficulties. It's easy to guess what happened. A tussle with a bounty hunter. I have to force myself not to focus on how rare it is to survive this type of attack.

Fucking hell.

Walter, you'd better hold on.

For the first time, I glance at the ID Morgan prepared for me. Harold Skinner. Harold? Jesus, Morgan.

He said Walter was in intensive care. They won't let me in unless I'm family, so, for now, I'm your brother, Walt.

I wonder about running into FBI, but don't particularly care. I know they transferred Scully to a D.C. hospital and most of the team has already left Arizona. Hope none of the stragglers recognize me.

I stare out the window of the helicopter, contemplating the bleak landscape. Why doesn't this thing go faster?

10:02 A.M.

The helicopter lands on the roof of the medical center. It only takes me a few minutes to find intensive care. As expected, a nurse tries to prevent me from entering the unit. I flash her my ID and explain that I'm Walter Skinner's brother. She lets me pass.

I step into his room. His eyes are bandaged and he's on oxygen. I cannot breathe. I should have tried harder to stop him from coming down here. Finding Mulder isn't worth his life.

Please be okay, love.

I shake off the overwhelming feelings and try to focus. I pull the control pad out of my jacket pocket and turn on his nanos.

The toxin cannot kill you now, Walter. You're going to be okay. I know it's true, but part of me still feels panicked.

I want to touch him, but the damned windows... the nurses' station is right across from his room. I pull the drape around his bed, then lean over him, lightly brushing my fingers down the side of his face.

Walter stirs, then moans faintly into the oxygen mask. Then his body goes rigid. "Who's there?" His hands reach for his face.

I gently wrap my hand around his wrist. "It's Alex."

He peels away the oxygen mask and starts going for the bandages. "Get me... out... of this." His breathing is incredibly labored.

I make another grab for his hand, ineffectually trying to keep them both away from his eyes. "Your eyes were injured. But you're going to be okay. You're safe."

"My eyes..." he wheezes. He uses his free hand to touch the bandages, but no longer seems to be trying to remove them. "The little girl who turned into me."

Really? That must have been weird. God damned bounty hunter. I wish I'd been there. "They bleed a toxin that burns the eyes and lungs." I sit on the bed and hold his hand.

Walter turns toward me. "Alex, need..." he gasps for air. "... see you." He tries to sit up.

It hurts to see him like this. I place my hand on his chest. "I... Walt, you may not be able to see yet. Just relax. Everything is fine now."

His fingers close around my forearm. "How... know... really you?" He's very agitated, and no longer breathing deeply.

Fucking hell. I know he's not an alien, but he's right to question me. There are a dozen things I could tell him that only he and I know... "I gave you fake ID's for a birthday gift. The other gift appears to be in the custody of the hospital."

Even as I say it, he's reaching for his left wrist. He rubs his wrist where the watch should be. And keeps rubbing it. The alarm on one of the machines goes off. It's his O2 saturation... it's dropped too low. I quickly silence it, so the nurse won't interrupt us yet.

I'm trying to get his oxygen mask back on when he suddenly grabs my hand again and feels up my arm to my shoulder. Making his way to my face, he runs his fingers along my jaw, then my cheekbones and up my nose. He's clearly upset, breathing in pathetic little gasps. I'd do anything to reassure him, so I sit still and wait for him to finish verifying that it's me.

When his fingers reach the top of my nose, he shakes his head. "Frown, Alex."

I do it instinctively, as I reply, "What?"

"It's you." He holds his fingers across the bridge of my nose and gives me a weary smile as he finally takes a deep breath.

I don't know what that's about, but I relax a little. "Yeah, it's me, lo-"

The drape is suddenly yanked open. I touch Walter's chest again, "It's the nurse, Walt."

He takes another deep breath and nods.

The nurse steps close and gives me a hard stare. "Your brother needs his rest, Mr. Skinner."

Walter's lips quirk into a barely concealed grin.

Not in the mood to be tactful, I give the nurse a mild glare. "Yes, he does need his rest, which he probably won't get here since you'll be waking him every 20 minutes. Regardless, I am not leaving." I quickly glance at Walter and notice his face has become tense.

She gives me a haughty look. "The doctor will be in shortly. Then you will have to leave."

There's no point in arguing, I am not going anywhere.

Glaring at me occasionally, she asks Walter various questions, to which he gives bland replies. She checks blood pressure, temperature and pulse, then departs.

Hag. I rise to pull the drape again.

"Alex, get out of here."

I sit on the bed again. "Not a chance."

Despite the bandages, he manages an extremely effective don't-argue-with-me look. "People will come... interview me." He pauses to catch his breath. "Recognize you."

I don't give a shit. Until I realize he's at risk, too. "Walt... I... not yet, okay? Most of the team is back in D.C. I need to be here now."

His unconcealed hesitation tells me he wants me here. After a long pause, he says, "Find Scully. Help keep... others away."

Oh, lord. "Scully was... injured protecting Gibson. Mostly contusions, but they transferred her to a D.C. hospital for some tests."

He doesn't say a word, but his expression is awful, and he completely stops breathing for a moment. Finally, he asks, "Gibson okay?"

"Yeah. He's fine. Scully got the bounty hunter."

"She killed it?"

"Yeah, she did. You were the most seriously injured... everyone else is doing okay."

He pats at me until he finds my hand. "Found Mulder?"

This is never going to end until Mulder is found. Even with everything that happened to Walter and Scully, they're going to keep looking. I close my eyes and give a quiet sigh. I cannot accept Walter risking his life to find Mulder... I just can't. "No. He wasn't found."

Walter nods, as if it was the expected answer.

I extract my hand and brace it next to his head, then lean down to brush his lips with mine. Despite his protest, I insist on putting his oxygen mask back on. I feel as if I'm finally able to breathe when his oxygen saturation starts to rise.

Five minutes later, I reluctantly leave as a herd of doctors descend on Walter's room. They've got ten minutes, then I'm coming back in.

I find a hospital payphone and dial a number I really didn't expect to have to use.

Sharon answers on the third ring. "Hello?"

"This is a friend of Walter's... do you know who I am?"

"Is this A-" She cuts herself off. "You were missing. He thought you were dead."

"Yes. I was gone for a long time. You asked me to call you if he ever needed anything."

"Is he all right?"

"He's been injured and is in a hospital in Northern Arizona. I... I can't stay, but I don't want him to be here alone. Can you come down here? Today?"

"What happened? Is he going to make it?"

"Yes, he's going to be fine. He's temporarily lost his eyesight, but he should recover. As to what happened... it's a little hard to explain. He was exposed to a caustic chemical while working a case down here."

"I'll catch the first flight I can."

"I'll be here until you arrive, then I have to leave." I give her instructions on how to get to the medical center, and advise her that I'm using a different name and posing as Walter's brother.

As soon as I hang up, I realize how relieved I feel. I can't bear the idea of him being stuck here alone. And I hate the idea of leaving for Switzerland in the middle of this. The only consolation is that Walter should be well within a few days.

I return to the Walter's room, ignoring the protests of the nurse and shouldering past a doctor so I can sit next to his bed. I clasp his hand. "I'm back, Walt."

His face turns toward the sound of my voice. He looks sleepy. I'll bet they gave him something. I give the doctor a hard look. "He needs to rest. Go. Away."

Walter opens his mouth, fogging up the oxygen mask, but nothing comes out. After a hesitation, he whispers, "Hey, bro... my watch?"

I rub his hand, then leave the room to find a nurse. When I return to the room, he's asleep, but I put the watch on his wrist.

7:52 P.M.

Walter slept most of the day. As expected, they woke him up every hour for blood pressure checks, tests or some other bullshit, then he immediately went back to sleep. Except for the time the Bureau boys stopped in. I wound up hiding in the bathroom for 40 minutes while they asked the same questions six different ways. I was close to shooting them and ending everyone's misery.

He put them off, telling them about the girl who came to Gibson's room and that he couldn't remember anything after that. I wouldn't have told them that much.

Now, he's asleep again, and I'm keeping watch next to his bed. His body is better able to process oxygen now than when I arrived. I know the nanos are helping, because the normal condition would be a steady decline in breathing function. My relief is nearly overwhelming.

I hear a familiar voice in the hall, then the drape is pulled back revealing a nurse and Sharon. The nurse informs us that someone has to leave. Sharon takes the woman by the arm and guides her out to the hall. I hear a few choice words about brother and wife and the nurse wanders off.

Sharon returns and stands on the other side of Walter's bed, looking concerned. Her hands twitch as if she wants to find something to do. Then she walks around to my side and takes my hand. "Thank you-" She almost says my name, but stops herself. Instead she kisses me on the cheek.

Not quite sure how to respond, I squeeze her hand and hope she'll let go of me. I am relieved she's here. It's obvious how much she cares about Walter, and I need her to be with him if I cannot be. He should have someone with him right now.

She finds another chair and we sit whispering, discussing his condition. I leave out the part about the aliens. Walter has been improving all day and the doctors have been quite surprised. His color is close to normal and he needs less oxygen. I wonder if he can see yet.

Sharon leaves for a few minutes and brings back some food. I stare at her in surprise. She makes me eat it, too. Then she gives me a shoulder rub and tells me about her artist boyfriend, Antonio. I'm a little tense at first, not accustomed to having people touch me, but this has all been so weird, I might as well just go with it. I didn't even realize how tense I was.

Our patient stirs and we simultaneously move closer to the bed. I touch his hand to let him know I'm here. "How do you feel?" It sounds like he's breathing better.

Walter pulls his oxygen mask down. "A little better, I think." He squeezes my hand. "Are we alone?"

"Not quite. I brought in a relief pitcher."

"It's Sharon, Walt." Sharon steps up to the other side of the bed and takes his other hand. "A desk man like you ought to be able to stay out of trouble."

He turns his face toward her. "What are you doing here?"

"Your brother called me."

Walter laces his fingers with hers. "As you well know, I don't have a brother."

She flashes me a smile.

The twist of his mouth tells me I'm in trouble for bringing her here. "Not that I'm not happy to see you," he shakes his head in dismay, "or... whatever. But you didn't have to come. Either of you."

Sharon mouths 'He's feeling better,' to me.

I just shrug and reply, "We want to be here." I need to be here.

"Hush, Walter. I'm here now and I'm going to take care of you, whether you like it or not. Life's hard."

I like Sharon more every time I see her.

"Okay. You win, Shar." He squeezes both our hands, then releases them. "Now, Alex, you see I'm in good hands. You can get the hell out of here."

Sharon frowns, then looks like she's thinking it over. She knows there are things she doesn't understand.

I knew it was coming, but I hate to leave him here. I close my eyes for a sec, wishing it didn't have to be this way, then look at Sharon. "Would you pull the drape, so the hospital staff doesn't think something incestuous is going on in here?"

She nods and pulls the drape, leaving Walter and I alone.

I sit on the bed again, and Walter's hand finds its way to my thigh. "Please let Sharon help you. Don't be stubborn." I should tell him I won't be there when he gets home. But I can't. Because he'd never let me go and I cannot not do it. I'm sorry, Walter.

"I aspire to be half as stubborn as you are."

I lean over and kiss him lightly. "My stubbornness is part of my charm."

The grip on my leg tightens. He looks unhappy. I'm sorry, Walter. I want to be with you, but I have to go. And I can't tell you what I'm going to do.

He controls his expression. "I'll see you in a few days."

I stroke the side of his face. This situation really fucking sucks. I should tell him I love him... just in case. But the words won't come. I kiss him again, more thoroughly this time, tasting him. His hand closes around the back of my neck, holding me firmly to him as his tongue takes possession of my mouth. I moan softly as he breaks the kiss. I'm breathing a little heavier at the possessiveness of his kiss.

He pulls his hand away from my neck. "Now get out of here and stay out of trouble dammit."

"Okay." I touch his face one more time, hoping I'll be able to do as he asked.

I find Sharon waiting outside the room. "Thanks for coming, Sharon."

She pulls me into a hug and kisses my cheek. "Thank you for calling me."

I return the hug, still not quite comfortable with this method of greeting. When I pull back, I say, "Try to spring him from this place tomorrow. He'll be well enough by then. The doctors might tell you otherwise, but it's because they want to study what happened to him, not because they need him here." I look around the hospital ward. "It's impossible to get well in a hospital."

Sharon gives me an odd look, but she doesn't ask any questions. A few minutes later, I leave.

**

Sunday, 28 May 2000
1:53 P.M.


When the bandages come off, the light is a brutal assault. But when I finally adjust to it, I can see Sharon. She's a bit of a blurry blob, but she's never looked more beautiful. I groan my relief.

I wish Alex were here. I was so afraid I'd never see him again. He's such a beautiful man. I know I could love him without seeing him, but I'd really miss the view.

Now that I can see again, there's nothing worth looking at in the banal hospital room. I can't make out fine detail yet, so reading is out of the question. Instead, Sharon reads me magazines.

The oxygen mask is gone. My lungs feel normal to me and the respiratory therapist tells me my oxygen saturation is above average for my age. Whatever the hell that means. Sharon and I convinced the doctors to release me tomorrow, after a final vision exam.

I phoned Scully. The doctors told her she and the baby are fine. Gibson's staying with a witness protection family. Kersh has assigned Doggett to the X-Files to be Scully's new partner. Scully was not enthusiastic, but I encouraged her to give him a chance.

I'm still finding it hard to accept what happened to me. I was attacked by an alien shape shifter in the guise of a little girl. A 'little girl' who threw me across the room. Then turned into me. And bled toxic green liquid from a stab wound.

Going over and over the situation in my head, I can't think what I might have done differently. Shooting the little girl the instant she walked in the room wasn't an option. I had to be certain. Imagine me explaining to Crane why I shot an unarmed child, while Kersh offers an uncharacteristic smile at my imminent dismissal for excessive force, pending criminal charges. Even if I'd kept my fingers on the gun, I might not have gotten off a good shot.

I'm grateful Scully got him. In spite of how fucked up the situation was, she and I shared a good laugh at Doggett's expense. Seems his shoes disintegrated on his feet from walking through the green goo remains of the bounty hunter.

**

New York, NY
Sunday, 28 May 2000
10:05 P.M.


I hate leaving Walter without telling him I have to leave the country. But it would just increase his stress, which is already high. With his quest to find Mulder, I don't need to add this to his problems. He needs to get well and I need to take care of this. If they're going to do more tests, I'll just have to wait until I'm recovered to come back. If he doesn't know, he won't be upset.

If he knew they were calling me back in, would he let me go? Would I still leave if he said not to? Have I so lost my presence of mind that I would even consider letting him make that decision?

Yes, I have.

I am so fucked.

Walter, falling in love with you has complicated my life immensely.

On the plane, my thoughts turn again to Walter. When I returned from Tunisia a few days ago, I thought he would risk the wrath of the Resistance to keep me from being sent on a mission again. But things have changed. Walter's life has been turned upside down. Mulder is gone and Walter feels personally responsible for finding him. And I don't fit into that. Because Mulder is not, nor will he ever be, my quest.

I hope Mulder's found soon... so I can have my love back.

It dawns on me how the tenor of my thoughts has changed. I put my head in my hand and groan. Has life ever been simple?


Geneva, Switzerland
Monday, 29 May 2000
12:02 P.M.


I face Arntzen across the desk in his office. He's fiddling with a letter opener. "The results of your quest to find and recover the ship were... disappointing.

I wonder how many times we're going to go over this. I shrug. "We found it. It just took off before we could do anything about it."

He taps on the surface of his desk. "Why was Mr. Skinner's control unit activated?"

Shit. I knew I was going to have to explain that. I shrug, trying for nonchalant. "His life was at risk. My original orders from Henderson were to heal any targets should an incapacity interfere with their ability to carry our objectives. I temporarily activated his nanos to clean up the toxins in his system. Time will take care of the rest."

"You should have reported to me before taking action."

I give him a hard look. "I wasn't aware I needed to check in before carrying out standing orders. It could seriously hamper my effectiveness."

Arntzen looks like he's about to blow a gasket. He visibly calms down, then changes tactics. "Losing Agent Mulder to the colonists was not part of our plan." Oh, now he's peeved about Mulder's abduction. He was so blasé about it before... the rebels must have had something to say about it.

"I didn't think it was. Mulder is intrepid and shows little regard for his safety in these matters. It was unfortunate." As an afterthought, I add, "In any case, it wasn't my idea to get the Bureau involved."

Arntzen looks annoyed at having that pointed out to him. The rebels are obviously on his back about what happened and he's trying to pass the blame to me. His expression shifts to neutral and he nods. "Touché. Please report to the medical wing."

"What!" I'm on my feet. "This is what you called me in for? More tests? I assumed you at least had some legitimate business. This is just... just... some sort of fucking punishment!"

He slowly stands. "It's not punishment, Alex." His tone is cold. "We have more tests we need to run. You know that's part of your function in our organization." It's clear to me now that he hated having lost control of me so many years ago, but I have no idea what's turned him into this thing that he's become.

I've never been able to just lie down and let them experiment on me. Normally I make it to the doors of the lab before they have to wrestle me the ground and force me onto the table. But not today.

I head for the door only to be brought up short by one of the big security guards. He's on the ground grasping at his throat before I am even aware of my intention to take him down.

The next few minutes are a blur of struggling... I'm not going to let this happen. I cannot do this anymore.

Eventually--inevitably--I lose. I feel the familiar prick of a needle in my arm and the world begins to get fuzzy.

Arntzen's face looms into view. "You're going to have to temper this hostility, Alex or I'll be forced to cancel your field assignments and keep you here."

My mind screams a denial. No! Please don't keep me here! But my lips cannot form the words and the room begins to go black.

I wake in intense pain. It's sharper, more acute than anything I've experienced before. I realize I'm screaming.

Time becomes a blur. I think I passed out, but I'm not sure. I lost my voice some time ago. The pain is less intense now. They have to be testing a new kind of nano. I don't remember anything like this before... like being torn apart from the inside.

I vaguely remember the doctor remarking on my tattoo. It makes me cringe. The doctor is clueless, but if he mentions to Arntzen... well, Arntzen could figure it out.

They increased my restraints after I dislocated my knee while fighting the pain. The pain of the knee popping out was almost a relief compared to whatever experiment they're running. But now I have so many restraints I can't move. Can't fight.

There's a strap across my throat and if I struggle, I can't breathe. It seems like a good idea. I press against the strap.

Except...

My thoughts turn to Walter. It's okay to think of him now. I can't speak, so I won't slip up and say his name.

I cannot die here. Not now. I cannot leave him to wonder what happened to me again. I have to get out of here to see him... at least one more time.

In this moment, everything looks different.

I'm sorry, Walt. I'm not sure I can do this again... even to be with you.

There's a new jolt of intense pain and I cannot help but fight, resulting in nearly choking myself. I try to retreat in my mind. I go to the day on the beach. Have I ever been that happy? Yes. Many times since that day... all with Walter.

I wish you were here. I know you would make them stop. And even if you couldn't, your touch would give me a reason to get through this. A reminder of what I have waiting for me.

The discussion of the researchers pulls me from my hiding place. They're talking about vital signs. That's important... I think. It's so hard to focus. The pain is so intense.

The assistant sounds concerned about something. But the doctor sounds calm... cold.

"Doctor, there's no cardiac rhythm."

Did someone die?

**

Crystal City, VA
Monday, 29 May 2000
8:26 P.M.


Sharon insisted on seeing me home, in spite of my protests. I can see just fine now. In fact, now that the blurriness is gone, the world seems clearer than ever. I feel a hundred percent.

I unlock the door to my apartment and step inside. Sharon follows me. Stowing my SIG, I notice that Alex's keys aren't on the table. But there's a note:

--
Had some work to do. Back in a few days. - A
--

"Fuck."

Sharon asks, "What is it?"

I pass her the note and gesture with a finger across my lips.

She gives me strange look, but nods. Then she takes a seat in the living room while I scan the apartment.

No bugs. Nothing out of the ordinary, except in the kitchen, where I find the silverware drawer ajar with a dish towel stuffed in it. That's nothing sinister... just Alex left alone in the kitchen.

I pour myself a glass of Scotch and take Sharon a bottle of apple juice.

"You think your home is bugged?"

"Not today."

She shakes her head. "Walter, whatever kind of life you and Alex are leading, it's... precarious."

"I can't argue that."

Passing the note to me, she says, "You're worried about him."

"Yeah." I crumple the note.

"I don't suppose you can put him in a nice safe cell somewhere."

"Don't think it hasn't occurred to me." I manage a smile.

We sit silently for a long time. It's a comfortable silence, unlike some of the final years of our marriage. She seems to know that I need to talk, but I can't decide if I can do it or not.

Sipping the last of the Scotch, I place the glass on the table. "Sharon, do you remember when I had that experience... the vision of the old woman?"

Leaning forward with a curious expression on her face, she replies, "Yes."

"And you believed me, didn't you? That I'd actually had some sort of vision."

"Of course I did."

Then I realize I can't tell her. Because she will believe me. And it could only upset her. I'd be willing to pay that price if there were something she could do. But she manages an art gallery. What the hell is she going to do to prevent an alien invasion?

And if she can't do anything, it would just create a lot of pointless anxiety.

"What is it, Walter?"

I give her a weak smile. "I just wasn't sure if I ever thanked you for that. Your support always means a great deal to me."

Her eyes narrow. She knows I just decided not to confide in her.

I take her hand. "I love you, Shar."

She shakes her head and kisses me on the forehead.

I love you, too, Alex. Wherever the hell you are, come home safe to me.

**

Wednesday, 31 May 2000
12:42 P.M.


I wake to find I'm still in the lab, but not tied down. My body feels like it's burning up and my throat feels raw, but I'm not in agonizing pain. I manage to glance around. I'm alone. I guess the tests are over.

It takes forever, but I eventually get to an upright position. I have clothes on again. Pajamas. The last time I was awake, I was naked. I notice a file on a table a few feet away. Maybe I can rescue any notes he made about my tattoo. And Lavagetto might find them useful.

Unsteadily, I slip off the table and try to walk there. It feels like miles, and I nearly collapse. I've barely opened the file when I hear voices down the hall. Shit. I rip off the top page and quickly fold it, tucking it into the strange anti-skid sock they put on me.

I try to get back to the table, but collapse just before I get there. The lab door opens and the two research assistants enter.

One of them mutters that they didn't expect me to wake up so quickly while the other helps me back onto the table with an admonishment not to try to move on my own. It's apparent they think I fell off the table, because neither of them bothers to check the file.

They take my temperature and check my vitals, mumbling about low blood pressure and a low fever. I could care less... just as long as the tests are done.

A few minutes later, they maneuver me into a wheelchair. I'm too weak to do anything, so I have to let them move me around. They take me to my room. I'm relieved to find that they're taking me to my quarters, not a cell in the medical wing.

As soon as I'm in my room, I call down for a car to take me away from here. I don't think I can get far in my condition, but I have to get out of this place.

I'm not surprised when Arntzen appears at my door ten minutes later. In those ten minutes all I managed to do was hide the page I had in my sock. I haven't even struggled out of my top yet.

Arntzen looks at me, shaking his head. "Where are you planning to go, Alex?"

I have to remind myself to placate him. I cannot afford to have him try to keep me here. "This is nothing new, I always leave immediately after an experiment." My voice is a raspy whisper and Arntzen has to step closer to hear.

"Yes, I know. Henderson had a note to that effect. But what I don't know is why."

Calm, Alex. I'm feeling so tired. And hot. "Because I need sleep. A lot of sleep. And I have a hard time sleeping here." God, it's hard to talk. And painful. Please just let me out of here.

He chuckles.

I'd like to choke him to death.

"Feeling insecure, Alex? It seems wise for you to recuperate here. You are clearly in bad shape and you have some rather livid marks on your body. Especially around your neck."

Gee, I wonder how that happened. Remember, don't antagonize him. "Truthfully, yes, I feel uncomfortable here. You perform these tests that I keep willingly coming back for. Is it too much to ask to have some privacy while I recover?"

Arntzen shrugs. I can tell he doesn't really care. He just wants to control me. Wants me to ask. "So, what, you'll catch a flight back to the States?"

Not that I'd tell you if I were planning to do that. "I was thinking about a..." My voice gives out and it takes me a moment to recover. "A ride to a hotel."

"I suppose that can be arranged. The doctor tells me you are going to be very ill for the next few days. I guess you won't be going anywhere. I expect you to resume your daily call-ins within a week." He sounds so... magnanimous. Fucking prick. "I'll send someone for your bag."

Somehow I manage to get clothes on and get to the car. Then into the hotel room. But once my door is closed and locked, I give up and just fall to the floor. I'm so fucking tired. And I feel... weird. I check my hand, it looks like I'll have a nano episode soon, but I've never felt like this before. What the hell is going on?

There's one thing I have to do before I can rest. Just one more thing.

I struggle across the floor to the phone and dial a travel agency in London. One of the many I use. I force myself to speak with some volume even though every word feels like it's burned out of my throat. I have them charter a private jet to take me back to D.C. I want to leave now, but I can't fight the need to rest any longer, so I tell them to make the flight for tomorrow.

I've never gone to such an extreme before, but I have to get away from here. The real question is, can I ever come back?

**

Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 1 June 2000
9:11 A.M.


Returning to my office after a kidnapping case status meeting, I find Scully conferring with Kimberly. She's got a dark bruise on her jaw and the remnants of a black eye. The laceration is healing nicely.

She gives me a quick once-over, then frowns in confusion. "I was surprised to hear you were back at work."

Shrugging, I reply, "I'm fine."

Kimberly gives me a perturbed look. They're ganging up on me. But as they can both plainly see, I am fine.

Scully tries again. "You may think you're fine, but you should be under the care of a doctor and resting."

What is it with women wanting to keep you in bed for days after you recover? "There's nothing wrong with me. And I heard you weren't supposed to return until next week."

Kimberly says, "Maybe you should both go home and go back to bed."

I'm not saying a word. Let's see how Scully gets out of this.

Scully looks a little flustered. "I have work to do and I'm feeling fi-" She cuts herself off. "I'll be in my office."

I put my hand on her arm. "Let's go for a little walk... if you're up to it."

She glares at me, then gestures toward the door.

When we're a hundred feet from the building, I say, "I wish Mulder were here to hear this, but... I've been a fool regarding your work. Aliens are very real. Either that or I was thrown across the room by an 70 pound child." We stop at a shady spot halfway to the fishpond. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you. And I'm sorry for the times when I made it harder for you two to do your work."

Scully glances away for a moment. "I saw that thing dissolve. First it looked like you, then it shifted to something else, then it... melted. I'm not sure I believed--truly believed--until that moment." She looks at me thoughtfully. "I think we both owe Mulder the same apology."

Leaning against a tree, I nod briefly. "I've come to believe in the conspiracy. I mean, I always knew Spender was up to no good, but I didn't grasp the extent of it. I have to tell you some things about the Bureau that I'm not certain are true, but my suspicions are strong and you need to know what I know for your own safety."

She nods for me to continue.

"The Director is stonewalling me on finding Mulder. I asked him what he was hiding and the next thing I know we're working for Kersh. So, for now, I'm going to assume we can't trust the Director." I don't like saying these things about my own chain of command.

Scully sighs, looking troubled, but not surprised. "Do you think Spender is the one influencing the Director?"

She doesn't know he's dead. I shouldn't tell her. But it could be important. "From the beginning, the Director was the one who put Spender in my face. Told me to give him carte-blanche."

"So he's had his hand in our work--corrupted the chain of command--from the very beginning?" She looks disgusted.

"Yes."

"Does Spender have the same level of influence now?"

She needs to know, but I can't put Alex at risk. "Scully, I have a piece of information, but I can't tell you how I know it. If I tell you, will you agree not to inquire further?"

Her eyes narrow, then she slowly, and not very happily, nods.

Fuck, she has to know how I know this. And who's responsible. I can trust her with my life... but Alex's? But other lives may be at risk if she's not fully informed. "Spender is dead." And if she goes after Alex for this, I'll stop her myself.

Scully is clearly startled, then a look of comprehension sweeps over her features. After a moment, she replies, "I'm sorry, sir, but that sounds like a rumor to me."

I offer her a grim smile. Thanks, Dana. "I think I know how Doggett followed us to Arizona."

"Kersh?"

"I can't prove it, but I think he bugged your apartment, then sent Doggett. I think he's setting up Doggett as a fall guy. Based on Kersh's actions, I can only assume he's working against us."

She doesn't look surprised. "I'll sign out a scanner and do a thorough bug sweep." She rubs her forehead, then continues, "Do you think Doggett knew?"

"I'm not ready to bet anyone's life on it, but I think Doggett is clean. He's... well, what he appears to be. He's a damned good agent. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he saw two Scullys in Arizona. He's a skeptic, but I think he's honest."

Nodding, she looks away. "No matter how much the Director or Kersh... or even Doggett try to hamper me, I won't give up looking for him."

"I won't either." I meet her eyes. "I understand, Scully. Two weeks ago, I was still making phone calls overseas looking for Alex, even though I had good reason to believe him dead."

She gives me a faint smile. "We will find him."

I hope she's right. "Dana, since I now believe the aliens are real, I have to consider all of Mulder's past reports in a new light, which raises some questions. Do you believe they've come to colonize the planet?"

She shrugs. "I'm not sure. I know that's what Mulder believed but... it's just so hard to accept. But I'm afraid not to believe it. I didn't believe in aliens and look where that's led."

"Alex believes it, and I believe he's in a position to know."

Scully groans. "What exactly does he do that he has access to this much information?"

"You already know I won't answer that. But think about what you and Mulder learned. Alex was involved with Spender at one time. Isn't that enough to justify what he knows?"

"I think it justifies not believing a word he says." She sighs. "Colonization... if it's true, it's such a huge threat. I'm not sure I can accept it."

You may have to. "If it's true, it means that the rest of our work at the Bureau is of almost no importance whatsoever. And finding Mulder, understanding what happened to him and what these aliens have planned, is everything."

"It's everything even if there is no colonization." She looks like she's hit her limit. "I am going to do my best to continue our work until he comes home."

I rest a hand on her shoulder. "I'm with you, Dana. All the way. And since you know more about all of this than I do, I'm going to be relying on you. I want you to know you can rely on me, too."

"Thank you... Walter. I needed to hear that there was someone on my side."

After squeezing her shoulder, I release it. "For now, we've got you, Doggett and me. And, I guess, behind me, we've got Alex." Assuming Alex doesn't disappear again. I sincerely hope it won't be the four of us trying to hold off an alien assault. "And the Gunmen," I add, as an afterthought, but that's not especially reassuring.

"I'm not sure about Doggett or Krycek yet, but between you, me and, uh, the Gunmen, it's a start."

"There's one more thing. I think, because of your pregnancy, that you're going to have to serve primarily as an advisor, and let me and Doggett do the heavy work."

She glares at me, but I was expecting that. "I won't do anything to jeopardize this pregnancy, but I will not be confined to a desk."

"Dana, I know you don't want to hear this, but you already have put your pregnancy at risk. In Arizona. We didn't know what was going to happen, but things got out of control. I don't want to see you lose your baby."

She shakes her head, looking implacable.

I was afraid of this. "Look, even if you'd already had the baby, the stakes-"

She cuts me off with, "No. I can take care of myself. I appreciate your concern but I'm not going to roll over and play dead."

I can think of more arguments, but she's not in a listening mood. I wish I knew if she had someone else to help her, at least. "It's your choice, Dana. I'm not trying to take it away from you, but will you at least let Doggett and I take the biggest risks?"

After a long staring match, she repeats, "I won't do anything to jeopardize my pregnancy."

This argument isn't over, but she looks very fatigued, as well she must be, so I drop it. "I'm on your side, Dana. No matter what happens, you can count on me."

She nods, her expression softening. "I know."

**

Geneva, Switzerland
10:07 A.M.


The hotel driver is waiting to take me to the airport. I'm barely functional and so exhausted it's hard to move. I feel like I'm suffocating under a blanket of heat.

I make it into the car, the driver and hotel staff looking at me as if I have some disease. I managed to look in the mirror this morning. My skin is the color of paste and the livid bruise across the front of my neck is... shocking.

Five minutes into the trip, I have the driver pull over at a payphone.

I have to admit that I cannot get home without assistance. Someone has to meet me at the airport. I want to call Walter, but I dial another number instead. Walter has enough on his mind right now. I hope he's better... recovered from what that damned alien did to him.

**

1:37 P. M.

I stop by the X-Files office. Doggett's sitting at the desk, while Scully works at her table. "Agent Doggett?"

"How are you feeling, sir?"

"I'm fine." I nod to Scully. "Which one of you is going to be seeing Gibson?"

"I'm going to talk to him next week." She gives me a curious look. "To find out if he knows anything that can help us find Mulder."

"I don't want to know where he is or any of the protective details, but does he have access to a PC?"

Scully replies, "Yes"

"Good." I place a paper bag on her desk. "Would you give this to him?"

She unfolds the bag and peers inside.

"What is it?" asks Doggett.

"It's Tomb Raider and Diablo II." Scully smiles at me.

Doggett gives me an astonished look.

"Thank you, Dana."

**

2:37 P.M.

I can barely move. The single flight attendant on the private jet arranged to have me met by a wheelchair and expedited through customs. I hate every minute of this, but it cannot last for much longer. Just get me to a place where I can sleep, then everything will be okay.

I have the skycap take me to the curb outside baggage claim. There's a car service driver holding a placard with one of my aliases on it. Between the skycap and the driver, they get me into the car. Per my instructions, Vlad is waiting for me in the backseat. He was told to rent a car with dark windows and pick me up at the airport.

As soon as he gets a good look at me, his eyes widen with shock, then horror. He brushes my cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Sasha, what's happened to you?"

Fighting fatigue caused by a blanket of heat, I manage to mutter, "Not now, Vlad. Let's just get out of here." My voice is still incredibly hoarse, but I think it's a little better.

Once we're in motion, I direct the driver all over town, while I make sure we're not followed. It takes every ounce of energy I have to check for a tail. There's nothing... no one. I'm not surprised. The Resistance has never shown an interest in my activities after a round of testing. It's about the only time they leave me alone.

My voice finally gives out and I have to whisper instructions to Vlad to have the driver take us to one of my banks. I give Vlad a piece of paper with detailed instructions on how to access my safe-deposit box. He seems to want to argue with me about what he perceives an unnecessary errand, but a glare shuts him up. His eyes keep drifting to the bruise on my neck, but he doesn't ask again.

At the bank, he gets everything I ask for from the box. With a lot of help from Vlad, we make a switch to a taxi, then I direct him to take me to a nondescript hotel. I'm fading. Fast. Will is the only thing keeping me going. And I don't have much of that left. And I feel another nano episode looming on the horizon.

The taxi driver finds a place that meets my criteria. Reasonably clean. Anonymous looking.

I can't walk on my own, so Vlad has to help me up the stairs.

Once we're in the room, and I'm seated on the bed, I rasp, "I don't have much time, Vlad. I needed you to come to D.C. anyway, so I could give you this." I gesture to the large envelope he retrieved for me. "It's your new identities, tickets to New Zealand and instructions about how to settle into your life there. Take it and go home. Take Tatiana and Lyosha away. The tickets are for a week from tomorrow."

He shakes his head. "I'm not leaving you right now."

God, I don't have the energy for this. "Vlad, you have to. It's a risk for me to have you here. And more importantly, it's a risk for you. Now that those identities are out, you need to get them home and keep them safe. Walk a few blocks to a very public location and take a shuttle to New York... or go to Baltimore if you want. Just go. Don't leave from D.C. and don't look back."

He sits next to me and touches my face. His hand is cool and dry. When did I start sweating? "Sasha, you need a doctor."

I grab his wrist. "No! Vlad, you have to do what I say. There are people who want me dead. You can't tell anyone about this. Besides, the doctors can't help me anyway. Promise me you'll go home and forget about it."

He doesn't respond

"Promise me!"

"Let me call Walter."

"No! Please... just go. I'll be well in a few days. Walter is trying to solve a bigger problem and he doesn't need this. Tell me you'll go home. I'll call you when I'm better." My voice is giving out again. I cannot keep arguing with him.

Reluctantly, he replies, "Okay, I'll leave."

Giving him a little push, I say, "Go."

After he's gone, I collapse on the bed wondering how long this will last. I feel like I'm agonizingly on fire. This has never happened before. I should be feeling better by now... not worse.

Hating to do it, I grope in my bag for the small bottle of painkillers. I despise taking morphine, but I don't think I can bear any more of this pain and heat. It seems like a Herculean effort, but I manage to get out of my clothes, unable to tolerate anything that might make me any warmer than I already am.

The medication starts to wipe away my awareness of the fire in my body. I hope I'll be able to sleep this off.

**

4:08 P.M.

Kimberly buzzes me. "Sir, a confidential letter was just delivered for you."

I'm in a meeting with agents on serial killer case, but I tell her to bring it in anyway. The plain white envelope simply says, 'Confidential: For Walter Skinner.' Inside is a short note.

--
Can you meet me at the restaurant across E Street? Soon. It's about David Brown.
--

Fuck. David Brown is an Alex alias. One I gave him. I'd better check it out. Patting my coat pocket to remind myself I've got my SIG, I leave the agents to meet without me.

I walk quickly out the main entrance to E Street. The restaurant must be the Hard Rock Café. When I get there, I immediately see Vlad seated at the bar. He looks terrified. I quickly go to him. "You sent the note?"

He nods.

I hand it to him. "This note?"

He glances at it. "Yes."

I take him by the arm and lead him to the back of the restaurant. He's clutching a large white envelope to his chest.

In the back, I find an employees' entrance and we step outside. There's no one around, but I take us twenty feet from the building to an empty part of the parking lot. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. But Sasha isn't. He asked me not to come here, but I didn't know what else to do."

A wave of tension sweeps through my body. "Where is he?" At least he's alive.

"In a hotel about fifteen minutes from here. He gave me our new identities and told me get out of town immediately-"

"Vlad, what's wrong with Alex?"

His eyes fill with tears. "I don't know. He can't walk... his voice is gone. He asked me to meet his plane and they brought him out in a wheelchair. And he looks terrible. When he made me leave, he was feverish... impossibly hot. Even though he told me not to, I went back to check on him and he was unconscious and unresponsive... veins-"

Whipping out my cell phone, I hold up a hand encouraging him to stop. I call Scully and ask her to pick us up in front of the Hard Rock Café. Immediately. And bring her medical bag.

When I finish the call, I realize Vlad looks like he's about to curl up in a ball on the ground. I put a hand on his shoulder. "It'll be all right, Vlad." I certainly hope so. "Tell me about the veins." I'm worried about having Scully meet Vlad, but trying to prevent it will only delay getting to Alex. I'll take the chance.

"It looked like his veins were popping out. I'm sorry for interrupting your work. Sasha said you were working on something important and I couldn't call you."

"He was wrong." Dammit, Alex! What were you thinking? "You did the right thing, Vlad."

I make Vlad tell me everything he knows, which isn't much, then we walk around to the side of the building where I can watch for Scully. "Vlad, a doctor friend is picking us up. Unless absolutely necessary, I don't want you to talk when she's around. So we won't have to explain who you are. Understand?"

"I understand." His upset lessens at the news that a doctor is coming. He hands me the key to the hotel room and gives me the address.

She's prompt. As we get into the car, I see her glance at Vlad. "Dana, I'll explain later." I give her directions. I'd ask her to put the emergency light on the car, but it would draw too much attention.

Scully drives fast like a pro--fast but not attention-drawing. When we're close, I turn to the back seat. "Please follow Dr. Scully to his room, okay?"

He nods, still clutching the envelope.

When we get to the hotel, I jump out of the car and run. Two flights of stairs seem like two hundred. I tap on the door, then immediately open it.

Inside, I see a form sprawled on the bed. When I get close enough to see, I know immediately that he's dying.

I drop to my knees beside him.

The sheets are soaked with sweat and I can feel the heat from his body without touching him. His breathing is erratic and his skin is grayish except for livid restraint marks--a lot of restraint marks--including one across his throat.

Homicidal is an inadequate word for the rage I feel.

I'm going to lose him again.

I gently place a hand on his shoulder. "Alex, it's Walt. Can you hear me?" Any evidence of a nano episode is gone.

There's no response.

I raise my voice. "Alex!" Nothing. I find his hand and press against the inside of his wrist to take his pulse. It's very rapid. I estimate 130.

Dammit, Alex. Don't leave me.

There's nothing I can do. If I believed in god, I'd offer anything to not have to face losing him again.

I press my face against Alex's. He doesn't smell right.

I'm fighting panic when Scully and Vlad come through the door. Rapidly, I jump to my feet. "Pulse 130. Non-responsive."

Scully moves to the bed while I check to see that the door is closed and locked. She's looking at Alex's eyes as she says, "He needs to go to a hospital. Now."

I go to her and meet her gaze. "Can you do whatever it is he needs here? We can pay for anything."

She gives me an astonished look. "I don't even know what's wrong with him. His temp has to be at least 104. He might wind up with brain damage. He needs to be in a hospital."

This decision has to be made immediately. "Do you know somewhere we can take him where his admission can be concealed?"

I can see her brain spinning. "Is this more of those damned tests?"

"Yes."

"Damned monsters." She sighs. "It's possible to conceal the admission, but his bloodwork will raise questions. Instantly. The reason to take him to the hospital now is to get his temperature down. We can try to do that here, but may not be able to handle anything else that goes wrong. I need Russ. He understands this technology better than I do." She glances back at Alex. "And we'll need to bring in a crash cart and respirator in case he gets worse. It would be better to have him in a medical facility."

I reach for bedside phone and dial Russ' cell. I never intended to call Lavagetto from anything this unsecure, but it can't be helped. When he answers, I say, "Russ, I need you in D.C. as fast as you can get here. Tom in crisis."

"I'll leave now. How will I locate you?"

"Phone my cell from the airport, name the airport and airline, then hang up. I'll have someone pick you up. They'll use a password--the city we met in to exchange the device."

"Very well. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Not putting my hand over the phone, I say, "Scully, do you need to talk to Russ now?"

She's absorbed in examining Alex. "No."

"Russ, haul ass."

When I hang up, Scully looks up at me. "His temp is 105. We need to get him into the tub. Now."

Nodding, I bend over the bed as she pulls back the sheet. I scoop him up and carry him to the bathroom. Scully runs a tepid bath and directs me to place him in the tub. He doesn't react to the cool water.

I allow myself a moment to touch his face. Come back to me, Alex. Please.

I glance at Dana. "Do you need ice or something?"

She uses a washcloth to wet his face. "Not now, but as a precaution, we should get some. I also need more sheets and towels."

Vlad is hovering in the room, looking lost. I hand him the ice bucket. "Find ice." He hastens toward the door.

Reaching for the phone, I dial housekeeping. "Can I get a dozen towels and four sets of sheets? I'll give you a credit card."

The surprised clerk agrees. I hastily read my card number, and promise her a $20 tip if she can deliver in five minutes.

Vlad returns with ice.

"Put that in the bathroom sink and get more."

Following Vlad to the bathroom, I call out, "Is he doing any better?"

Scully glances at me. Her expression isn't encouraging. "His temperature isn't going down. He's just heating up the water."

"Tell me what to do so you can get on the phone and order the equipment we need."

Rising to her feet, she replies, "Drain the water and fill the tub again. Keep saturating his hair and wetting his face. If nothing else, we need to keep the temperature in his brain down."

"Will do." I pass her my wallet. "Use the American Express."

I lift the drain, dampen a towel in the sink and start wiping his face.

Scully is back in under a minute. "I found a bottle of morphine by the bed. Does he have an abuse problem?"

"No." Fuck. He had to be in excruciating pain to take that. I refill the tub.

Scully nods. "Keep a close eye on his breathing." Then she moves back into the room.

His breathing is labored, but at least he's still breathing. His face feels so incredibly hot. Shifting his legs forward, I manage to lower the back of his head into the water.

Come on, Alex. Stay with me.

He looks so fragile. I'd do anything to make him better. But I'm afraid there's not much I can do but hope.

Vlad appears with more ice and I have him add it to the contents of the sink.

In addition to the five-point restraints, Alex has restraint marks on his upper thighs, hips, chest and neck. Whatever they did to him was gruesome. I cut myself off--can't afford to think about that now.

There's a tap at the room door. Fuck. "Scully," I call out, "give them a twenty, but don't let them see into the room."

I hear the door open and close. A moment later, Vlad tentatively asks, "Walter... what's wrong with him?"

Suddenly my eyes are stinging. At first I think to put him off, but then realize it might be good if he knew some of it. "Someone used him as a lab rat in terrible experiments. This is what he's protecting your son from."

Vlad pales and stares at me wide-eyed. "Who would do that?"

Someone or something I'd happily beat to death. "I'm sorry I can't explain that. But do you understand now why he severed contact with you?"

Vlad nods, looking a little queasy.

Scully steps up behind Vlad and taps him on the shoulder. "Would you change the sheets on the bed?"

He looks relieved at having something to do.

Scully kneels next to me to check on Alex. "The friend of mine who did your spinal taps is bringing the equipment. It could be an hour or more. Let's get his head out of the water so I can take his temperature again."

I lift Alex and place him in a seated position. Scully uses an ear thermometer. "105.5. It's gone up."

Fuck. "Ice?"

"Yeah. It's usually not good to shock the system that way, but I don't see an alternative. Let's run more cold water first." She pulls the plug.

I yell, "More ice!"

Vlad hurries into the bathroom to get the bucket. "I straightened up the room and found a piece of paper in his boot. Do you want it?"

Just as I'm about to wave him off I see that it looks like notes of some kind. I grab the paper. It's clearly medical information. "Scully?"

She takes the page and begins to read. I fill the tub, then use a towel to transfer the ice.

I heard once that hearing is the last sense to go, so I try to keep talking to him. "Alex, it's Walt. I want you to be okay."

When all the ice is in the tub, I start wiping his face again.

Scully's reading the document with a horrified expression. Eventually, she gestures for us to switch places, saying, "It's hard to imagine that people still do these things to human beings."

I step aside and peruse the document. There's mention of a test 'subject' and comments about the type of nano machines. This must be a test record on Alex. Some notes about injections, medications, then a line about a third of the way down the paper catches my attention.

'Pain response greater than expected. Subject dislocated knee while convulsing. Five-point restrains no longer sufficient.'

I stop reading, close my eyes and try to breathe. They've tortured him to death. I don't care what else happens, if he survives this, he's never going back to them. I don't care if other lives are forfeit. He is not going back.

When I think I can read it without screaming, I take another look at the paper. There's a note about adding two additional torso restraints, restraints on the neck, upper arm, hips and thighs.

Several more remarks about various settings and the subjects 'pain response' that are appalling. Notes about heart rate and blood pressure being dangerously high.

Then, at the bottom of the page:

6:38 P.M. No cardiac rhythm detected.
6:43 P.M. No brain function detected.
6:47 P.M. Subject resuscitated. Note: Vital to our experiment to determine how long subjects can remain dead and still be resuscitated without brain damage.

They killed him. On purpose. Oh, Christ, am I sick for wanting to do these experiments to the men who did them to Alex? And it still wouldn't be enough.

I'm about to sink into my anger when I glance over at Alex. He's dying and he needs me.

Get angry later, Walt.

I force myself to the look at the paper again. The last item is an experiment summary.

Summary: Nano-machines 4.2.3 were largely unsuccessful due to some instability when carbonizing material in the mitral valve. Caused cardiac irregularities in the test subjects and could cause an uncontrolled myocardial infarction. They will be deactivated in this test subject. It will take several days for the deactivation to complete. After recovery, recommend bringing this subject back in for tests to determine type 2.1.1. efficacy at resuscitation after brain death. Suggest a starting point of ten minutes after brain death as a baseline for the next experiment.

That's the end of the page.

There won't be any more experiments. He's not going back. And if it's the only way I can prevent further tests on him, I'll kill him myself.

Squatting at the side of the tub, I touch his hand. "Alex, you're not going back to them. EVER. I promise."

Please come back to me.

Scully passes me the towel and I start wiping his face. He seems to move on his own, but Scully is swearing and climbing into the tub. Alex begins to convulse. "Hold him!"

I slide a supporting arm under his neck and press down on his shoulder to keep him from thrashing against the hard sides of the tub.

If this weren't my lover I'd probably admit he's a goner.

But this is Alex. I want to spend my life with him. And I was counting on more than the next three minutes. So he has to make it.

When the seizure is over, Scully climbs out of the tub. "Normally, we don't restrain seizure patients, but in a tub, he could seriously injure himself." She wipes sweat from her brow. "I need some first aid supplies. Can your friend out there go? I'd send you, but if he convulses again, you are the only one capable of holding him."

"If you can tell him exactly what to get and where to get it." Fuck. Vlad may not even have a driver's license. "Do you know how to drive?" I yell.

Vlad appears. "I have not driven here," he offers tentatively.

"Dana, you better go."

She nods and leaves the room.

I do not want her to go. What if something else happens? I won't be able to do anything. Won't know what to do.

Oh, Christ.

"Alex, come back to me. I'd be so lonely without you."

Vlad appears at the doorway, looking devastated. I turn away from him, not wanting the reminder of what I'm feeling.

He kneels next to me. "Are those your initials?"

"Yeah." I brush over the tattoo with my fingers.

"It is insignificant in comparison, but did these people have something to do with..." he gestures vaguely toward Alex. "... his foreskin being gone?"

"Yeah. A long time ago."

Vlad sighs. "And his arm?"

Sort of. "Yeah."

"How much more will they do to him before it stops?"

"It's over. I won't ever let them touch him again." The harsh tone in my voice draws my attention. It will be justifiable homicide to kill the slime that did this to him. I only hope I have the pleasure.

"He gave me our new identities and the information about our new home. Then told me to leave immediately. I do not want to leave now, but fear I must."

"Vlad, you have to go. It's dangerous here and we can't-"

Alex's body jerks and I realize he's having another seizure. "Vlad, watch his legs, make sure he doesn't hit the porcelain." I support his head again and apply pressure to his shoulder.

Vlad has to keep Alex's ankles from hitting the walls of the tub. Tears are pouring from his eyes.

Don't leave me, Alex. Please.

The seizure is longer than the last and, after what seems like an hour, his body goes limp again. I lean close to make sure he's still breathing.

I'm deliriously grateful to discover that he is.

Vlad is shaking.

"Vlad, why don't you say goodbye to Alex?"

Kneeling, Vlad brushes Alex's hair back and murmurs to him in Russian. I make out a few words, 'love, Tatiana, thank you and goodbye.' His tears fall on Alex's face.

I bite my lip to stop myself from crying, too.

When Vlad is done, he looks back at me. "You will call me when this is finished?"

"Yeah." If Alex doesn't make it, I'll be their contact. "Vlad, I need you to look at the instructions Alex left you and leave me enough information that I can find you. If anything... happens to him," I pause to breathe, "I'll make sure you have everything you need." There are duplicate instructions in our joint safe deposit box, but I can't afford to take a chance.

Nodding, he rises and moves back to the room. A couple minutes later, he returns with a note. I scan it to make sure it has what I need, then cram it into my pocket. "Thank you for calling me, Vlad."

I can't bear to think that Alex might have died alone in this hotel room.

He nods, his expression clearly saying he doesn't expect Alex to make it. "I'm glad he has you, Walter." He pauses, then adds, "Because he would want me to, I will check in when I get home tonight."

Biting my lip again, and for the same reason, I nod.

Vlad squats to kiss my cheeks, then he's gone.

I bend forward and press my lips to Alex's forehead. "You have people who care about you. Who want to see you again."

I don't think the bath is helping, but there's nothing else I can do. So I drain out the water and refill the tub.

His head moves and I think he's going to convulse again, but instead, he gives a faint moan.

"Alex, it's Walt. Can you hear me?"

His hand twitches. It's something.

"We're taking care of you, Alex." I stroke his forehead. "Stay with me." Raising his hand to my lips, I kiss it.

There's no further response. I change the water again and keep hoping.

Scully returns, immediately coming into the bathroom. "Convulsions?"

"One. And he moaned a little."

She checks his temp again. "Damn. It's higher... 106. Let's get him out of the water. This isn't helping."

Squatting next to the tub, I manage to get my arms under him. Then I lift him and carry him to the bed. She gets more ice and makes an ice-pack out of a towel, which she places under his head. Handing me a bottle of alcohol, she tells me to rub him down with it.

I pour the alcohol into my palm and wipe his chest and upper body. He doesn't stir again. Rubbing him with the cool liquid, just touching him, feels good.

After several quiet minutes, Scully says, "Walter," she sounds hesitant, "if he makes it, he will have brain damage."

My eyes fall shut. I can't think about Alex that way. I just can't. If I believed in God, I'd pray. But I don't. So I open my eyes again and ask the only person I can. "Stay with me, Alex." I continue the alcohol rub. "You mean so much to me."

Scully walks toward the door and I belatedly realize there was a knock. It's the doctor from the spinal taps. She admits him and he wheels in equipment.

As soon as he takes in the situation, he demands, "Why isn't this man in a hospital?"

Scully deflects him and looks back at me. "I'm going to help him bring in the rest of the equipment and I'll explain."

"Thank you," I mutter.

After they're gone, I kick off my shoes and sit on the bed Indian style. I get as close as I can and keep applying the alcohol.

"Remember the day at the beach? I keep thinking about how sexy you looked in your tight, tight bike shorts. Feeling the warm, fresh air on my skin when we fucked. I remember that day when things get-" Suddenly, I can't speak any more.

I lie down on the bed next to him and put my hand around his waist. If I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend he's just sleeping.

When I hear the door open again, I sit up and return to the alcohol. I don't think it's helping, but it feels good to keep touching him.

They bring in the rest of the equipment, then Scully's friend leaves. She begins setting things up. I barely pay attention. I don't think I'm aware of anything but the smooth feel of Alex's skin under my fingers.

A minute later, she has me stop while she attaches electrodes to his chest. She puts something on his finger, then decides to put him on oxygen. She's prepping his arm for an IV, when I realize Alex wouldn't want that. He doesn't like needles in his arm. I direct her to use his stump instead.

When she's finished with the IV, she gestures for me to continue the rub down while she checks his temperature again.

So I apply more alcohol. And try not to think. There are many, many things I don't want to think about right now. I just want my lover back.

Alex has two more seizures. His temperature doesn't go down. The look on Scully's face tells me everything I need to know.

When Scully tells me she's given up on the alcohol helping, I phone Morgan.

"Morgan," he answers.

"You took some photos of us."

He chuckles. "Yeah. Too bad I didn't keep any for my scrapbook."

"I need your help... we need your help." There's no way to keep the desperate edge out of my voice.

"What's the problem?" His tone is all business now.

I don't want to tell him any more than I have to. "The kid is... ill. Someone's flying in to help, but I don't want to leave him. Can you make a pick up for me at the airport?"

"When and where?"

"I don't have the information yet, but I'll call you as soon as I do... probably a few hours."

"Where should I deliver the package?"

"I'll give you part of it now, the rest when I call you again." I give him the street name and room number.

"I assume you want me to take care of this personally?"

"Yes. I won't let anyone else near him."

"Okay. I'll wait for your call."

Scully's sitting in a chair by the bed, watching Alex.

I search the room, checking it out from a security perspective. Not too bad. It's an end unit, so there are neighbors only on one side. I haul ice for ice packs. I keep trying to find things to do. I search Alex's duffle bag looking for... I don't know what the hell I'm looking for, but I don't find anything interesting. I also don't find the knife I gave him. He's carrying something else now. A casualty of his time in the Tunisian prison? Considering the chaos that has besieged our lives recently, it's a trivial thing, but I know it must have bothered Alex. I'll replace it when I can.

So I sit next to Alex and hold his hand. "You know, Scully's going to be pissed if she goes to all this trouble and you don't make it. So, uh, you have to. Okay?"

She's watching the monitor intently. "Could you step across the room for a second?"

She's the doc. I'll do anything she says. So I rise and walk to the window. After a minute, she gestures for me to come back. I return to the side of the bed. "What?"

Briefly glancing away, she replies, "Hold his hand or something. And talk to him again."

Sitting on the bed, I take his hand and squeeze it. "I miss you when you're gone. My life is pretty dull without you. So, I guess this means I need you."

Scully leans back in her chair and looks at me intently. "His heart rate slows down about 20 beats per minute when you're close."

Maybe she's just being kind, but it's something. I brush his damp hair back. "You think you could do something about that fever, Alex? It's really got me worried."

Dana is silent for a few minutes. "You really care about him."

"Yeah." I keep touching him, tracing my fingers across his chest. "He's not what he appears to be. He's funny and clever and sweet. I like having him around."

"It's hard to imagine." She shakes her head in bemusement. "But he clearly responds to you. And... that tattoo was a surprise. Seems risky in his line of work."

"It was a surprise to me, too. And I worry about the risk. But I think I understand why he had to do it." It's so strange to be talking about Alex like this with Scully.

"Should I even ask or is it something you can't tell me?"

"No, I..." I'm at a loss. "When we were apart, I think he did it to hold on to me. To keep me close. I did the same thing myself in another way." She's not challenging me. And, for the first time, it occurs to me that she can really see my feelings for Alex. I've been demonstrating them all afternoon. She already knows about us, so I can't think why it's a problem. It's just... odd.

She looks at me curiously. "Is it the watch?"

"How did you guess?"

She shrugs. "It was a hunch, but you touch it a lot. Especially when you were so unhappy. It clearly means a lot to you so I just wondered if that was it."

"He gave it to me. Almost a year ago."

Scully gives me a half smile. "He's got good taste."

"Yeah." I glance down at the watch. I press my palms against his abdomen and hold them there.

Tentatively, she queries, "I never really asked, but where did he go for so long? I know I should probably leave it alone, but you were so unhappy, I just couldn't understand..." She trails off and gives a slight shrug.

My immediate reaction is to tell her I can't offer that information. But I've already entrusted her with more sensitive data than Alex's whereabouts. "Spender arranged to have him imprisoned in Tunisia."

Her brows draw together in consternation. "But, we checked there." Her tone doesn't convey disbelief in my answer, but rather disbelief that we didn't find him.

"He was with the Tunisian nationals."

Scully contemplates her hands for a long moment. "That must have been... awful," she murmurs.

There's nothing I can say to that.

After a pause, she asks, "What makes a man like him?"

I take a deep breath, considering whether I want to have this conversation or not, then surprise myself by deciding that I do. "You and I both studied criminal behavior at Quantico, but Alex is different, I think. He, well, he doesn't really get morality. So it didn't seem important to him. When Spender was handling him, he took his moral guidance from Spender. He just didn't know to do otherwise."

She frowns a little. "He never understood morality? Even as a child?"

"I don't think so. A lot of angry teenagers don't care about morality, but most of them could explain it if they had to. He can't." I cup Alex's jaw in my hand. "I'm not trying to lay it all on Spender, but he was the last person anyone should take moral guidance from. And Alex's other contacts weren't any better. It doesn't excuse Alex, but maybe it explains."

"How long was Spender 'guiding' him?"

There's a lot about Alex I don't want to tell her. So I choose my words carefully. "It began when Alex was 17."

Dana grimaces. "What were his parents thinking?"

"In some ways, they were worse than Spender."

Her expression is pained.

Stroking Alex's chest, I add, "He listens to me now, not Spender or any of his ilk." I doubt she will believe me, but I wanted to say it.

"Does he have any other family?"

"No." The lie is instantaneous. If she's paying attention, she knows it's a lie.

She watches me closely. "Who was that man who has now disappeared?"

"I'd like to tell you, Dana. But I can't." I comb through Alex's hair with my fingers. "I know you heard his accent, but I'm going to ask you to forget you ever saw him. And I'll tell you why. I'm protecting someone else who might be subjected to tests like Alex."

Scully nods. "Well, it was clear--very clear--that he cares about Alex, too."

"Yeah." I slide the sheet around and start stroking Alex's thighs. "Can I ask you something? As a friend."

"Yes."

"Who is the father of your child?"

She's quiet for a long time, and I'm starting to regret asking. Finally, she replies, "I hope it's Mulder's child."

I can't conceal a frown. What the hell does that mean? I assume it does not mean she's had sex with so many men she doesn't know.

At my apparent confusion, she says, "Mulder had agreed to donate some sperm so I could try in vitro fertilization. We hadn't thought it was successful. In fact, every attempt failed. There hasn't been anyone else recently, so I hope it's Mulder's."

I'm still a bit baffled. "I thought the... uh, when you were abducted..." Shit, why did I even start down this path?

"You're correct," she replies to my fumbled question. "I don't have any ova, however, some were, uh, located, and it was my only chance to have a child."

I'm glad to hear it's something she wanted. Even if, at the moment, it seems like a terrible idea. I try to think of something reassuring to say. "You'll make a good mother." After all those years of taking care of Mulder, she should be ready.

Dana smiles at me. "Thank you."

"Sharon and I never wanted children." I run my fingers through Alex's hair. "And Alex and I aren't planning on having any either."

Scully's lips twitch, then she bites her lip, fighting the laugh. Finally, she starts giggling. By this point, I'm laughing, too. Trying to imagine Alex pregnant. Scully's bent over and gasping, "It's really not this funny."

"I know," I manage to sputter, but I can't stop laughing. It feels like I haven't laughed in centuries. I lay my face down over Alex's stomach and laugh on him.

But when I look up, I see that Dana's crying. Then I realize tears are falling down my own cheeks, too. Reaching across Alex's body, I offer her my hand.

She takes my hand, as her tears continue to fall. For her, for a moment, I wish for Mulder's return, as much as I wish for Alex's.

Eventually, we calm down and sit in silence. The minutes tick by.

Alex stirs, then stills again. His heart rate climbs. A moment later, he croaks, "Walter."

I peel off the oxygen mask. "Alex, I'm here." I take his hand and squeeze.

"Walter." It sounds like a plea.

"I'm right here, Alex. What do you need?"

"I lost it." His voice is trashed. I refuse to consider the obvious reason.

"What did you lose?"

"Please help me find it." He sounds so fearful and confused. How can I help him?

I glance at Scully, but she has no idea either. "Of course I'll help you. What do you want me to find?"

"They took my arm. Please help me fix it."

Oh, god. He's reliving the amputation.

His eyes open and he focuses past me. "I can't find you. Please come back."

"I'm right here, Alex. I'm going to keep you safe." I lie on my side and wrap an arm around his waist. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here with you."

He's still very hot. It's no surprise that he's delirious. But it hurts to see him scared when I can't reassure him.

His fingers clutch weakly at my shirt. "I can't find my arm. Please help me."

"I will help you, Alex. As soon as you're feeling better." I pull my body closer to his. "You're sick now and you need to rest, but I'll be right here with you."

Alex rolls toward me and begins to shake. "It's so cold out here."

I wrap both arms around him and hold him tight, glancing over his shoulder to Scully.

She finds a light blanket and throws it over us. "Chills are expected, but we don't want to use too many blankets." She sticks the thermometer in his ear. "Still 106. It's incredible that he's this lucid at that temperature."

"Yelena?" he rasps out.

Shit. Dana is learning way too much about Alex. "She's not here, Alex. Just me, Walter, and," I don't want to scare him, "a doctor."

"Heard her," he mumbles.

"That was the doctor, Alex. Yelena isn't here." I keep rubbing his back, hoping to soothe him.

"Please let me go home."

I hold him as tightly as I can without cutting off his circulation. "As soon as you're better, I'll take you home. Okay, Alex?"

"I want to be with my brothers and sisters."

Oh, god. I close my eyes to think. I don't want to lie to him, but... "Alex, you're here with me, Walt."

"Walter." He says my name as if tasting it. "Don't want to leave you."

"Shhh. I'm right here. No one is leaving."

His body goes lax in my arms. I release him quickly so I can look at him. He's still breathing. I glance at Scully for advice.

There's a look of surprise on her face, but she immediately puts his oxygen mask back on. "That could keep happening. Can you handle it?"

"Yes." I hesitate, then ask, "This is a good sign, isn't it?"

"Possibly. I wouldn't expect him to be conscious at all, so it's somewhat encouraging. It shows some basic brain functions are still intact. Speech. Memory. At least, I assume those were memories." She gives me a questioning look.

"Yeah."

I'm starting to sweat next to his superheated body and under a blanket, but I don't really care. I wrap my arms around him again and whisper in his ear, "Come back to me, Alex. I'll be right here waiting."

Hesitantly, Scully asks, "Was he conscious when his arm was... removed?"

I brush Alex's hair off his forehead. "Yeah."

She closes her eyes and shakes her head, as if she can will the knowledge away, then makes a point of busying herself with medical tasks.

A couple hours later, my cell phone rings. Scully hands it to me.

"Yeah?"

"Baltimore. American Airlines." Lavagetto hangs up.

I dial Morgan. "Baltimore. American. He's about 5'6", blonde hair, 140 pounds, first name Russ, password Miami."

"Got it."

"Would you bring food... for four?"

"Will do."

I give him the street number of the hotel.

An hour and a half later, there's a tap at the door. I kiss Alex on the head and rise to answer it. The petite Russ is standing in front of Morgan and, to his credit, only looks a little intimidated.

When they enter the room, I pull Morgan aside so Lavagetto and Scully can confer. "Morgan, it's bad. We could lose him."

Morgan sets down a couple bags and steps to the opposite side of the bed from where Lavagetto and Scully are whispering medicalese. He looks at Alex for a long time, then back at me, his expression extremely flat. His fingers touch the front of his neck. "What's this?"

I gesture for him to come away from the bed. I'm not going to tell him much, but I don't want to involve the doctors in this conversation. "Someone restrained and tortured him."

Without missing a beat, he replies, "If you'll give me a name, I'll take care of it."

"Get in line."

He shakes his head. "He's not gonna make it?"

I look away for a moment. "I don't know. The man you brought is an expert in... his condition. We're doing everything we can."

Slowly, he nods. "Twenty-four hours a day... anything you need." He glances at the bed, then back at me. "If he makes it through this, any chance you can keep him out of trouble?"

"That's a tall order, but this is the end of the line for his current employment. I'm going to keep him close to me."

Morgan turns toward the bed and watches Lavagetto finish drawing blood from Alex's stump. Then he nudges Scully and Lavagetto out of the way so he can sit next to Alex.

I move a little closer. "Morgan, talk to him. I think it helps."

"You're such a pain in the ass, kid. And you're too fucking stubborn to give up this easily. You'd better wake up soon and keep me from going after your man." Morgan glances back and winks at me. I roll my eyes.

After a few minutes, he rises and stares down at Lavagetto and Scully. "You'd better take good care of him."

Scully crosses her arms. "And who might you be?"

"Someone who's tired of Alex's near-death experiences."

They square off. I'm tempted to bet on Scully. Eventually, Morgan shakes his head and offers a weak smile. Then he claps Lavagetto on the shoulder. "Nice to meet you, Russ. Hope to see you again sometime."

Lavagetto looks only slightly queasy.

Morgan heads for the door. I slap his back and thank him.

He nods. "You'll let me know? Either way?"

"Yeah. Goes without saying." It occurs to me to ask him for one more thing. "Have you got someone you trust who can keep an eye on the hotel?"

Morgan smiles. "As soon as I had the address, I put my three best on your door. If you need help, look for a guy in the blue pickup truck. You can tell Alex I'll charge him double if he doesn't make it." I make him carefully describe each of his men so none of us panic when we find someone watching.

After Morgan departs, I find Lavagetto looking into a microscope. He moves away and turns it over to Scully, then crosses to me. "One factor we've yet to comprehend about the nano machines is why they don't trigger the immune system. Well, whatever they infected him with on this occasion is not a mystery. His immune system is besieged and straining to purge them. It's treating this consignment of nanos analogously to hostile viruses or bacteria."

"Is there anything you can do for him?"

"Possibly. We could endeavor to suppress his immune system, but it won't address the central problem. His body still must divest itself of the nanos it already has. Immunosuppression will only decelerate the process, but it might ameliorate his symptoms in the short-term."

It's easy for me to come to a conclusion. "Well, then, I think you have to do it because otherwise he may only have a short-term."

Lavagetto nods. "Agreed."

There's muttering from the bed. Alex is conscious again.

"Dammit!" Scully's wrestling with his hand, fending off a blow. The oxygen mask is lying next to him.

I'm on the bed in an instant. "Alex, it's okay." Keeping a little distance, I take his hand, but he's still fighting. "Dana, back off."

As she steps aside, I sit next to him, mostly out of reach of his arm. I don't want to restrain him because it will only agitate him further. He's too weak to hurt me anyway. "Alex, it's me, Walt." I just gave Lavagetto our real names, but I don't care.

Alex curls up away from me near the head of the bed, murmuring in Russian. His eyes are open, but whatever he's seeing isn't really in the room. Hurt and fear are clearly visible on his face.

I place a hand on his back and move it slowly. "It's okay. You're safe here."

Unmoving, Alex's breathing is rapid and strained.

"Shh. I won't let anyone hurt you." I scoot a little closer and keep rubbing his back.

He whispers more Russian. I make out 'please,' and 'no.'

It tears at me. How can I let him know he's safe? "Sasha, ty bezapasny." You're safe. I keep repeating it until he stops murmuring and begins to relax.

I pull him into my arms, rocking him slowly. And see Lavagetto watching us with a pained expression.

Alex clings to me until he passes out again. I keep holding him a few minutes longer. After I release him, Scully checks the IV and puts his oxygen mask back on.

"You didn't tell me he was your lover, Walt," Lavagetto says lightly.

It occurs to me to remind him not to tell anyone my name, but he already knows. I give him a grim smile and reply only, "Yeah."

I cross to the small table and unload the bags Morgan brought. "You two need to eat."

Scully appears next to me and touches my arm. "You need to eat as well."

From the bed, Lavagetto murmurs, "I'm going to give him an injection first." He's prepping a large syringe.

I take two steps toward him. "Let's talk first."

He finishes with the needle and rests it on a tray, then looks up at me.

"From our earlier conversation, I got the feeling that I made Alex's treatment decision. I want to be sure both of you agree on what will give Alex the best chance of survival and recovery."

Lavagetto nods. "I recommend a high dose of glucocorticoids, coupled with mycophenolate mofetil to stem his immuno response. I also deem the breathing difficulty and some of the fever to be caused by something approximating an allergic reaction. His immune system treating the new nano machines as an antigen. Almost a mild anaphylactic shock, if you will, for which I'd administer a dose of epinephrine."

It's all doctor-speak.

"I concur," interjects Scully.

"Would someone answer my question?" I remind myself not to snap at them. "Is this glucocorti-thing and myco-whatever the best possible treatment for him?"

Scully replies, "The glucocorticoids and mycophenolate mofetil will suppress his immune system. But, as Russ mentioned earlier, his body still has to take care of what it perceives to be a threat. By slowing down his immune response, we substantially delay the recovery time, but it should make his symptoms less life-threatening. The fever is our major concern because of its imminent link to brain damage. Once we get that down, we can assess how long it will take his body to rid itself of these new nanocytes. As for the epinephrine... the allergic response is a guess. We don't have the ability to check his IGE levels to determine if an atopic allergy is at work. The biggest risk with the epinephrine, is that it will elevate his heart-rate which is already high. But we can monitor that closely and take action if need be."

I hate doctors. I think that was a vote in favor of the treatment. "Dr. Lavagetto?"

"I concur with Dana's assessment. And because of these exigent circumstances, I'll administer a more substantial dose than we would ordinarily use. We need to arrest this problem now."

"Do it." It has to help. Because otherwise he's going to die. I have to wonder why he hasn't died already. Is it the nanos? A desire to live? What's keeping him here?

Stay with me, Alex.

If my will alone were enough, I know he'd make it.

Lavagetto gives him the injection through his IV. Then Scully passes cartons of Chinese food. I eat a little to keep her off my back. Lavagetto reads the experiment summary, then tosses it aside with a grave expression on his face.

While they're still eating, I lie down next to Alex and whisper in his ear, "You're going to make it, Alex." He's sweating again. I draw circles on his hot wet chest with my palm. "Because you belong to me and I'm not letting you go."

A few tense hours later, Alex is sweating profusely. We've got towels around his body and under him. Scully adjusts the IV to give him more fluid, and I feed him tiny ice chips. After another hour, she announces that his temp is down to 103.6.

I kiss his forehead and murmur words of encouragement. Scully wants to change the sheets, so I lift him and put him on the other bed until she's ready again.

When I return him to the bed, I realize his eyes are open and he's looking at me. "Walt?" he rasps.

"Hey, beautiful." I give him a big smile.

Alex blinks tiredly. "What's..." He sees the equipment and instantly looks panicked.

I brush the side of his face with my fingertips. "It's okay. You've been sick. Scully and Lavagetto are here to take care of you."

He clasps my other hand, tugging weakly. "Why sick? Should be better by now."

I'm going to interpret his words as meaning he remembers being tested and knows about the new nanocytes. "Your immune system reacted to the new nanos. So Russ gave you something to slow down your immune system."

I don't see any evidence of brain damage. He speaks fine. It looks like he sees me just fine. Hears me. Remembering how scared he was in the hospital when we were first together, I hope to try to prevent that this time.

Lavagetto and Scully are hovering. Probably want to poke and prod.

Alex tugs my hand. They can wait.

I lie down on my side next to him and wrap my arms around him. "I'll be right here with you for as long as you need me."

He rolls toward me, pressing his face to my neck. "I'm sorry, Walt... can't do this again."

"Shh. Don't apologize." I rub his back. "You're never going back. It's over."

After a long hesitation, he nods. A few minutes later, he's asleep, making soft raspy sleep sounds. His normal sleep is an incredible relief after hours of delirium and unconsciousness.

I allow myself to relax a bit. He's going to make it. When he next wakes I get him to drink. He's clearly in pain, so Scully gives him a shot of Demerol.

Alex's temp is 103.2.

Lavagetto draws blood. I send Scully home to get some sleep. She offers to pick up a few things for me, so I give her my key and instructions where to find my overnight kit and clothes.

Sitting in a chair by the bed, I take Alex's hand and zone out.

Standing next to me, Lavagetto checks the monitor, then leans against the wall and looks at me thoughtfully. "He should have died from that fever."

"Yeah." I shake my head. "Keep your voice down." I don't want Alex to hear what I'm going to say next. "I didn't see any evidence of brain damage. Am I missing something?"

"Brain damage can manifest itself in myriad ways," he whispers. "When his condition has improved, I'll perform a full neurological exam. However, his demonstrated speech and motor skills are extraordinary under the circumstances."

I squeeze Alex's hand.

"We've been operating as if every detail in Tom, uh, Alex's document was factual, but even with evidence of the nanocytes it was still difficult to accept that people would commit such atrocities." His eyes flick to the mark on Alex's throat. "They showed no regard for his life in restraining him that way."

I can't argue that, so I just nod.

"Can't the authorities intervene to stop them?"

Would that it were that simple. Make a bust. Put the fuckers behind bars. That would be so incredibly satisfying.

If I could destroy the men who did this to Alex, would it be the right choice? The human species may need the Resistance as allies against the colonists. Nevertheless, I know, if it's within my power, someone's head will roll for what they've done to Alex.

So what to say to Lavagetto? I need to prepare him for a conversation we're going to have soon. I look him hard in the eyes. "We'll do everything in our power to prevent this from happening to anyone else, just as soon as we're free from their coercion." That's your job, Russ. I'm counting on you. Now more than ever.

He doesn't shrink from my stare, and the intelligence in his eyes tells me he got my message. His project is the key to ending all this. After a moment, he asks, "How long have you and Alex been lovers?"

I suppose there's no harm in discussing it. "Off and on since 1994."

Russ looks surprised. "You seem very close for an off and on relationship."

"It was off for several years. But now it's on."

Glancing at Alex, he adds, "He acts very differently with you. Almost... docile."

"Yeah. He's mine and he knows it." Smiling, I muss Alex's sweat-sticky hair.

Lavagetto looks taken aback. "I'm not accustomed to that degree of possessiveness, but it appears to be... effective."

I kiss Alex's forehead, musing that a lot of people have seen us together in the past 12 hours. The openness is strange, since we have so much to hide.

At my silence, Lavagetto says, "I'd like to draw another blood sample." He takes the new sample to his microscope and begins making notes in a pad.

The adrenalin in my system is starting to dissipate, and I'm becoming aware of how tired I am. Eventually, I lie down beside Alex and drift off.

"Walt?"

Huh? It's not Alex's voice. I open my eyes and find Russ looking down at me, a serious expression on his face.

I glance at Alex. He's having a nano episode, veins distended, hand twitching. I squeeze his arm. "It's okay, Alex. I'm here."

Alex begins to moan softly.

"The one nano episode I've seen, we simply observed," Lavagetto explains, "but I don't see why we cannot intervene and stop the pain."

I nod, then he injects something into Alex's IV line. A few minutes later, Alex settles down. I stay close, with an arm draped lightly over his waist.

When the sun rises, Alex wakes for a bit and I make him drink. Lavagetto puts out the Do Not Disturb sign. I phone Kimberly and tell her I've relapsed and will be staying home. Scully arrives with coffee, food and a change of clothes. I down a large cup of coffee, then head into the bathroom to get cleaned up.

In jeans and a T-shirt, I join them later. I may be clean, but I don't feel refreshed. I'm damned tired, so I start on another cup of coffee.

Alex's latest temperature is 102.7.

When he wakes again, he submits placidly to Lavagetto's neurological exam. That worries me. But he passes every test. It's fantastic news--better than I allowed myself to hope for. The two doctors recommend a CT scan in the near future, just to be sure.

At our smiling faces, Alex mumbles, "Nanos fix brain damage," before falling asleep.

Lavagetto looks at me askance. "Apparently so."

When things calm down, and Lavagetto returns to the microscope with another blood sample, Scully pulls me aside. "The man from last night--Morgan--his men are on the ball."

"Good. Anything I need to know about?"

She shakes her head. "They're unobtrusive but extremely alert. Obviously well trained. Who the hell was he?"

Even if I decided to tell her everything, I don't really have an answer. "A friend of Alex's."

Scully gives me a faint smile. "There's certainly quite a contrast in his friends."

Morgan and Vlad. Yeah. Couldn't be more different.

She glances at Alex, then cautiously remarks, "He's very, uh, cuddly with you."

"Not what you expected?" I give her a wry glance.

"Definitely not. It's difficult to reconcile the two very disparate versions of the man."

"As you might imagine, I had the same problem myself."

"To a much larger degree, I would think. How did you manage it?"

Good question since I hadn't even noticed when it ceased to be a problem. "I knew the affectionate Alex first, and then came to understand the other side of him didn't come from any core need to act out violently."

She nods. Then looks puzzled. Then understanding. "So you were involved before last March? When he was with the Bureau?"

Shit. I didn't realize I was revealing that. Might as well tell her. "I had an extramarital affair with him in 1994." I'm not especially proud of that, but Dana is already painfully aware that I'm not perfect.

Scully mulls it over for a long time. "I can understand why you didn't tell me, but knowing that you knew him before he went bad does explain things a little better."

I don't intend to reply, but the words just come out of my mouth. "I love him, Dana." He loves me, too.

She pats my arm and smiles. "I know you do, Walter." The words of a friend, not a disapproving colleague. It means the world to me.

Now that I believe Alex is going to survive, I'm determined to do everything in my power to assure his future survival. "Dana, I've come to value your friendship a great deal. I hope you know that."

"Thank you. It's the same for me."

I squeeze her shoulder. "If I still keep secrets from you, it's because the information is dangerous to someone. I'm sorry if that makes you feel I don't trust you."

She frowns a little. "I think I understand."

"I do trust you. With my life. Even with Alex's life." I stare at her, hating that we have to have these conversations. "You've proven over and over again that you're worthy of that trust."

Looking perplexed, she replies, "Thank you. I'll try to never break that trust."

Nodding, I take a deep breath. "I have to have a difficult conversation with Russ. About options for getting Alex and I free of the nanocytes. We may consider alternatives that I don't want you involved in... because of your medical license. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Dana shakes her head. "I understood this to be the case from the beginning. I signed on with that knowledge, so I don't perceive a problem."

Sorry, Dana. This is not your decision. "I value your medical opinion, as does Lavagetto." I glance at the floor for a moment, before meeting her eyes again. "But I'm not asking you to choose. I'm telling you that Russ and I are going to have a private conversation."

"So after all this you're going to shut me out?" she protests sharply.

"I'm sorry, Dana. It's not something I want to do. But I can't afford to get you in trouble if we're going to find Mulder." I touch her shoulder lightly. "And I need to know that I'm not endangering your child's future."

Closing her eyes, she replies, "You could trust me to make those decisions for myself."

She's right. But I can't. Not this time. "If this were your mess, or even Mulder's, I could. But you've already taken a lot of chances for me and, I'm sorry, but I'm just doing what I think is right."

Dana glares at me, her eyes flashing, then moves away. She taps Russ on the shoulder. "Walter wants to speak with you." Her voice is stilted.

Taking in Dana's expression, he regards me critically. Then he rises to his feet and crosses to me. "What do you need?"

"We're going to talk in private. Let's use the bathroom, so Dana can keep an eye on Alex."

Dana gives me a curt nod. She's pissed, but it can't be helped.

Russ measures the tension in the room, but doesn't say anything.

**

I wake, my limbs feeling heavy and painful. And I feel hot. Too hot. I manage to push away the light blanket. "Walt?"

Scully appears next to the bed, pulling a sheet over me. "He's talking with Lavagetto."

"He left?" I sound really pathetic. And I just don't care.

She looks a little annoyed. "No. They're in the bathroom."

That seems odd. But I have a hard time focusing on it.

Scully brings me a glass of water and tries to make me drink. I want to resist--to tell her to go away. But it feels like too much effort, so I drink the damned water. She asks me if I'm in pain and I mutter a 'yes.'

As the pain medication begins to work, I hear raised voices. One of them is clearly Walter. What's going on? I struggle to focus. I hear my name occasionally, interspersed with 'not' and 'no.' Then the sound of water running, effectively muting any sound.

I try to push myself up. Scully's hand appears on my chest. "What are you doing?"

"Want to know why they're fighting." I collapse back on the pillows. I could scream in frustration at the knowledge that I'm too weak to sit up on my own.

Even with pain medication, I feel worse than I did the last time I woke up. Scully's observes me with a concerned expression and tries to take my temperature. I bat her hand away, still straining to hear what's going on in the bathroom.

She sits on my hand and sticks the gadget in my ear. I hear the door open. Scully's device beeps and she gets her ass off my hand.

Lavagetto looks depressed. Walter looks determined. No question who won that argument. Walter will have to tell me about it later, because I'm not sure I have the energy to ask now.

Walt sits on the edge of the bed as Scully says, "His temperature is going up again."

How is that possible? I already feel like I'm in an oven.

Walter lifts my hand to his lips and kisses it. "We're going to get you through this, Alex. I promise."

"I believe you." Something penetrates my brain. An important detail. I tug at his hand until he's close enough for me to touch his face. "You're better." There's no evidence of the burns from the bounty hunter.

He kisses my cheek. "Yeah, I'm fine."

I smile at him.

**

Alex is asleep again and Lavagetto takes another blood sample.

After several minutes, he says, "The benefits of the medications didn't last as long as I would have liked." He looks directly at me. "Based on what I observed last night, in all probability it would have taken his body two more days to divest itself of the nano machines without the medications. Of course, the fever would have killed him by then. With the data we have from the last 12 hours, by suppressing his immune system, I estimate that we slowed the progression to seven to ten days."

I cross the room to stand in front of him and Scully. "Thank you both for his life." And I'm counting on you one more time, Lavagetto. He glares at me before administering another dose of the medication.

Among the things Scully brought me from my apartment is the satellite phone. I use it to call Morgan. After informing him Alex is doing better, I let him know I may need his help guarding Alex over the next few days. Next I phone Vlad and tell him that I'm cautiously optimistic about Alex's condition. He's surprised, but also incredibly relieved.

I need to talk to Dana again, but I hear Alex's voice. "Walter?"

Returning to the bed, I give him a smile. "I'm right here."

He smiles faintly, then plucks at the sweat-damp sheet. "Shower."

"Only if we can get the docs to agree." Glancing up, I ask Lavagetto, "Can I give him a shower?"

Scully and Lavagetto look at each other and simultaneously reply, "Bath."

I nudge Alex's hip. "That's your best offer. Take it or leave it."

"I hate baths." He frowns in distaste. "Take it."

Scully disconnects the IV, then uses some waterproof tape to cover the tube still in his arm.

Alex tries to push himself up and fails.

"Sorry, pal. There's only one way you're going there." I scoop him into my arms. When he doesn't throw any punches, I kiss him on the forehead.

It's a good thing I have a strong back. He's no lightweight.

He wraps his arm around my shoulder, muttering, "This is... embarrassing."

I chuckle as we enter the bathroom. I have to support him while he takes a piss. Then he demands a toothbrush. I lower him into the tub and go find his stuff. When I return, he's slumped against the tile. I hand him his kit and turn on the water.

Watching him brush his teeth, I get an odd feeling. I realize it's... satisfaction. Seeing him do a trivial thing to care for himself.

When he's finished with the toothbrush, I grab a hand cloth and a bar of hotel soap. After wetting the towel and soaping it up, I pass it to him. It's no fun having someone else bathe you when doing it yourself is an achievement.

Alex gets about half his body clean before he's too tired to finish. I take over and he asks, "Vlad found you?"

"Yeah."

"Did he get back safely?"

"Yes. I called him an hour ago to tell him you were doing better."

After a moment, he asks, "Anything new on Mulder?"

"No." That's a subject that's been nagging at me. I made promises to Scully and I'm worried I won't be able to keep them. "I'm sorry, Alex. Sorry that," it hurts to say this, "...that you went back to them."

He closes his hand over mine, stilling the washcloth, and looks at me intently. "You have nothing to apologize for. I... It's been worth it. But I-"

"Alex, nothing is worth what they did to you. NOTHING." After taking a deep breath to push away my anger, I kiss the side of his face. "Thank you for living through it, so you could come back to me."

"In 17 years I've only been happy when I'm with you. Where else would I go?"

I love you, too, Alex.

"It was worth it. To me," he insists. "Until this trip, I would have paid any price to be with you." His voice breaks and he takes a long breath. "But I cannot do it again. In some ways, I hope I'm wrong and I can go back because I don't want it to end this way." He sounds incredibly sad. "I'm not ready to leave you yet."

I'm not ready for you to die either, Alex.

I want to reassure him that I will never leave him, but I don't know what Lavagetto will find for us. And I don't want to lie to Alex. Not unless I have to.

I want to tell him I love him. But if something happens to me, doesn't that make it worse for him?

"Alex, you're going to survive this. And I would never let you go back to them." I sit on the floor next to him. "I spoke to Lavagetto. We're going to take you to Tucson and find a solution. I promised him we'd stay there for at least two weeks."

He nods. "Okay." Reaching out, his wet fingers touch the side of my face. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was going."

"There are a lot of small things I could get pissed at you about, but I'm just grateful you're still alive." I trap his hand and kiss his palm. "Promise me you'll never go back to them for any reason."

Alex is quiet for a long time and I can see that this is hard for him. It worries me. How could a promise not to endure more tests be anything but a relief? Eventually, he replies, "I promise." He's looking at the bottom of the tub.

I touch his cheek to get him to look at me. "Why was that so difficult?"

His eyes are filled with sadness. "I feel like I'm giving up on us."

"I'm not giving up on you. Ever."

**

Walter sounds so... certain. His calmness helps me feel grounded, helps dull the overwhelming feeling of loss. I don't know what to say to him. I don't have the will for his optimism.

It takes all my energy to reach up and touch his face again. "I know you wouldn't." I'm not even sure where the words came from, but I do know it. "Thank you... for everything."

It feels like I could never go back to the Resistance, but making the promise... it's giving up my life. Refusing to follow their orders is a death sentence, but I would do that for him. Because I've learned that my life without him has no meaning.

He nods, then finds an ice bucket to wash my hair. It's different... having him touch me to care for me, but I need to feel him no matter what the reason. I desperately want everything to get back to normal... just for a little while.

By the end of the hair washing, I can barely keep myself awake. I need to ask him a couple things before I sleep again. "Did you find the test notes I stole for Russ?"

"Yes." I cannot read his tight expression.

"Walt... what's wrong?"

"I'm just..." He stops for a moment, then continues in a gentler voice, "I'm just angry and upset about what's been done to you. We don't have to talk about it."

I didn't read the test notes because I couldn't muster the interest. "You can talk to me."

He shakes his head. "Not about this."

I didn't want to come back until I was recovered, because I didn't want to hurt him like this. Why did everything have to go so badly? I'm not ready for things to change. Haven't we had enough changes in the last few weeks?

Walter uses a towel to dry my hair, then lets the water out of the tub. He lifts me and helps me stand, supporting me with one arm while he dries me off. "Vlad asked about the tattoo, and your lack of a foreskin."

Oh yeah. "I guess both would be a surprise to him." I hold on a little more firmly, trying to stay on my feet. "You get stuck answering all his difficult questions."

Walter shrugs, both his arms around me. He pulls me close and it feels so good. "Vlad was easy. Scully on the other hand..."

I groan faintly. "I hope this didn't create any problems for you." I'm doing very little to hold myself up, but I know Walter won't let me fall.

"No. She's trying to understand about us." He scoops me up. "Although, I never expected to find myself in bed with you naked and Scully watching."

I'm unable to stop a snort of laughter.

He kisses my forehead and carries me back into the room. Someone remade the bed. After settling me in a comfortable position, he starts to back off.

I keep hold of his hand. "No."

"Okay, Alex." He sits on the bed, then moves over me so Scully can reattach the IV line.

I'm so tired, but I tug on his shirt. "I need to sleep."

He brushes his lips across mine. "Sleep, then. I'll be right here."

I want more than that tease of a kiss. "Kiss me first."

Walter's eyes flick across the room to the doctors, then he shrugs and leans over me for a real kiss. The taste of him is reassuring... something I needed more than I realized. I whimper when he breaks the kiss and puts on the oxygen mask.

"Wanna go home," I mumble as I feel the sleepiness overtake me.

**

I lay with Alex for a little while.

It's over, Alex. No one will do what they did to you again. One way or another, it's over.

Rising, I join the medical staff at the table. "Sorry about the show." They've certainly seen more of me and Alex than I ever anticipated.

Lavagetto shrugs. "I'm copasetic."

Scully replies, "It's... interesting."

I don't know what to make of that. Maybe it's none of my business.

Picking up her car keys, she says, "I'm going for food and supplies. Do you need anything?"

"Dana, I'd like to talk to you. Could you give your car and directions to Russ?" He could probably use some time outside this damned room.

She nods, then glances at Lavagetto for confirmation. They exchange information while I stretch the kinks out of my back. Usually my right knee hurts when I carry heavy things. But not today.

When Russ is gone, Scully takes a seat. "Even after you confirmed that you and Alex were in a relationship, I thought he was using you... manipulating you. It seemed clear to me that he had to be in control. I, uh, I have reversed my opinion. It's obvious the dynamic of your relationship is very different than I had thought."

That's a big admission from her. She has every reason to hate Alex and to be unable to see him the way I do. "As I said, he's not what he appears to be."

"I'm not sure what he is, but he's very... tame around you. It's quite astonishing."

"It's a good thing he's not awake to hear that." I glance over at the bed. "I don't know which he'd like less... that you said it or that it made me smile." The moment of levity is good. I'm afraid it may be the last for Scully and I, because she's going to be angry with me again when this conversation is over.

"Careful... you've given me something to hold over your head." She flashes me a half smile. "So what did you need to discuss with me?"

"Russ and I are going to take Alex to Tucson for a few weeks. To try to get him free of the nanocytes."

She nods slowly, and I can see her trying to weave this information into the conversation we had earlier. "That seems like a wise course of action. It's unlikely he would survive another round of tests."

"It's only a matter of time before his handlers know he's gone non-compliant. He doesn't have much time."

"Until yesterday, I hadn't really understood the level of risk for him. I can understand that you want to spend whatever time he's got left with him."

She thinks he's dying. Because she knows Lavagetto hasn't got an easy solution. But I haven't given up. "Dana, there's something else you need to understand. When the shit hits the fan with his handlers, they might decide I'm no longer useful to them." Especially likely, now that Mulder's gone.

She considers that for a moment. "Which means you're at risk, too. So his decision not to go in for more tests could cost both of your lives?"

"Yes." But it wasn't Alex's decision. "When I was infected, the purpose was to get control of the X-Files and other Bureau activities. But now Mulder is missing, and the future of the X-Files is in doubt. Plus Kersh is working against us and maybe the handlers, too." I hesitate, not wanting to tell her the rest but I have to. "Dana, you may also be at risk. It's less likely, but if they lose interest in the X-Files, they may decide that you're also a liability."

"Thank you for the warning, but it's not really the issue at hand. What I hear is that if he doesn't comply with his employers, then you both have to go into hiding because they may kill you arbitrarily."

For some reason the words 'go into hiding' grate against my picture of what's happening to us. Is that what we're doing? Hiding? "I have to decide to what extent I'm going to... hide," I don't even like saying the word. "But unfortunately, right now I have a conflict between the two things that are most important to me. Alex and Mulder. I need to tell you that if I have to choose, I'm going to choose Alex."

Scully starts to speak, but I hold up my hand.

"Let me finish, Dana. I know that choosing Alex over Mulder is morally indefensible, but I wanted to be clear with you about where I stand. I'll still do everything in my power to help find Mulder." I wait hoping that she can accept, but knowing she and I may part ways over this. Whatever her relationship with Mulder, she loves him. And I promised her I'd find him. This is a betrayal of that promise. But I can't change it.

She looks at me for a long time before saying anything. "The concept of choosing Krycek over Mulder is... something I cannot even contemplate seriously. But you can't let him go back for more tests, so I don't think there's a conflict. I could not, in good conscience, send anyone to be tortured like that... for any reason. Certainly not to keep you here looking for spaceships."

That sounds like some sort of acceptance. It's more than I expected. "Dana, if we manage to free Alex from the nanocytes, he could help you find Mulder. He's got access to some... unusual information. Do you think you could put aside the past and really work with him to find Mulder? I might not always be there to referee."

Without hesitation, she replies, "Yes. If he can help me find Mulder, I will find a way for us to get along."

"Good. I'll talk to him about it." I pinch the bridge of my nose. "I'm going to fill out a medical leave request. Would you be willing to write the medical justification?"

She nods. "I'm sure you should have taken a few more weeks to recuperate."

"I'm going to put Baker in charge of the division. I'll brief him on Kersh and tell him to give you anything you need while I'm gone."

"Thanks. Baker's a good choice. We've always gotten along well and he's qualified."

"I'm also going to get you two agents, who will be, on the books, working some other case. So if you have leads they can follow, you can give them orders. But remember Kersh is watching, so you and John have to make appearances that you're working X-Files."

Scully frowns a little at Doggett's name. "I'll be careful and we'll try to stay off Kersh's radar."

"Baker will help with that. Don't be afraid to ask him. I'll tell him to give you carte blanche."

"I appreciate the support. But whenever you're around, I'm still going to be taking advantage of your time."

"And I'll give you anything I can whether I'm here or in Tucson." For as long as I can. I wish it were more. "But we both know I'm not much use to you. A couple of sharp agents should do just as well."

She shakes her head. "Sometimes you need someone who believes. I wish I'd been there for Mulder when he needed a believer on his side."

I tap her hand lightly. "You were always there for Mulder. Just like you've always been there for me, Dana. No one could have given either of us any greater support."

Dana contemplates the shadows in the room, sorting it out for herself, I suppose.

When Lavagetto returns, Scully departs for the Bureau to handle my medical leave. I phone Baker and ask him to find a safe line, then call me back. I have two basic messages for him. Kersh can't be trusted. Scully's requests are to be met immediately and without question. Even if she says something that sounds crazy.

Baker chuckles and mutters something about 'those X-Files agents,' but he understands my directive. And I can count on him to follow it. I'm damned lucky to be surrounded by good people I can trust. I make a point of telling Baker not to worry about budget. I can hide anything after the fact. Just do what she says.

Baker suggests a pair of agents for my covert Scully-support, but I nix his choices, telling him I want Gjersee and Mallory. They're two of the best we've got, I can trust them, and Gjersee's into the new age stuff, so he'll probably believe in aliens faster than anyone else. I speak to them each individually, informing them that Scully's the boss and that she needs their unquestioning cooperation. Even if things get spooky.

Alex wakes as I'm dialing Doggett. I hang up and return to the bed.

He tugs weakly on my arm, so I lie down with him and he curls up into me. His body is still over-warm, but nothing like the meltdown fever of last night.

After a long time, he murmurs, "Please take me home."

The pleading tone in his voice makes me want that very badly. But it won't be safe for him if the doctors are coming and going. "Alex, I want to take you home, but not until I know you don't need the doctors anymore. Can you wait a little while longer?"

He nods and holds on to me until he falls asleep again. Dammit. We need to start feeding him, but it's not easy to do when he only wakes for five minutes.

When I'm sure he's resting peacefully, I rise and call Doggett. I encourage him to give Scully all the support he can. And if he's doubting what she tells him, to remember he saw two Scullys in Arizona.

He tells me he's not sure what he saw. I push back. We both saw the same thing. I know he'll try to support her, but his doubt may take him down paths that don't help. However, it's the best I can do to get him on her side.

My last call is to Kimberly. I tell her to go easy on Baker and to roll out the red carpet for Scully. And, in subtle terms, that I know Kimberly understands, I warn her about Kersh. She needs to know not to give him any information. She wishes me the best and offers to come by with groceries or anything else I need during my 'recovery.' I thank her and inform her I don't want any visitors.

When Dana returns, Lavagetto reviews the results of Alex's recent blood test, then they confer quietly for a long time. In medicalese, which I don't try to follow. When they're finished, they ask me to join them.

Lavagetto begins with, "I need to remain on-hand to monitor Alex through tomorrow. In part to ensure things are progressing as we anticipate, and to verify that his immune system is ridding itself, albeit slowly, of the nanos." He glances at Scully and she nods her agreement. "After that, Dana and I have concurred on what we believe the optimal course of treatment for Alex over the next few days. Dana will advise you on the medication regimen. She will also examine him at least once daily. In addition, you should contact her stat if his temperature again rises above 103."

"I understand."

Scully interjects, "Russ will stay here until tomorrow morning. I'm going home, but will return before Russ leaves."

"Thank you." I try to smile. "Thank you both, for everything."

Russ nods curtly and turns away to conceal a scowl. Still a bit pissed at me, I presume.

Alex wakes around dinnertime, and I manage to get him to drink some juice. He and Lavagetto chat about the woman Alex picked up for him when he visited Tucson. Apparently, Russ and Vanessa are still dating.

Alex resists the idea of being helped to the bathroom, even though he obviously cannot walk. Lavagetto blandly suggests a catheter, which instantly overcomes Alex's objections to my assistance.

His temperature goes down to 102, so Russ decides to get some sleep. He strips to his shorts and takes the other bed. Once he's snoring, I do the same and slide under the sheet next to Alex. I fall asleep telling myself over and over that Russ is going to find something. Something that will help us.

Waking every hour or two, I keep checking on Alex. One time I observe that Alex's bottle of water has less in it. Good. In the wee hours of the morning, a warm body cuddles into me. I scoot closer and drape my arm around him.


Saturday, 3 June 2000
6:23 A.M.


Daylight wakes me for good, but I stay with Alex. There's not much else I can do.

Alex stirs and rolls toward me. Eventually, he opens his eyes, then moves a little closer. "Morning."

"Hi." I kiss his cheek.

He nuzzles my neck. "What day is it?"

It takes me a minute. "Saturday."

Kissing the front of my throat, he murmurs, "Happy Birthday."

Frowning, I bring my watch to my face. "Uh, yeah." I wrap my arms around him. "Are you my present?"

"Always. But I got you a gift, too."

"Well, I'm pretty pleased with this gift." I squeeze him tightly. "I've received presents in better condition, but never one that meant so much."

He pulls his head away from my neck and meets my gaze. Placing his hand on my cheek, he rests his forehead against mine. "You mean everything to me," he whispers, rubbing his thumb across my cheekbone.

I feel a pang of anxiety, which I try to push away. We have to get through this. I glance at Lavagetto's sleeping form. We're counting on you.

Mussing Alex's hair, I reply, "When is your birthday?"

He kisses my chin. "June 9."

"Really? How old will you be?"

"June 9, 1966. I'll be 34."

He's so young. And has a whole life ahead of him. A life with me, I hope. The darkness of the problems in our lives threatens to take me down. I hold him tighter. It feels like he's the only comfort I've ever known and I can't bear to lose him.

Alex's fingers trace the line of my jaw. "You okay?"

"Yeah. But now that I'm a year older, I'm worried about keeping up with you." He probably knows it's a lie, but I think he'll let me get away with it.

He snuggles close, draping his arm over my back. "You always say that, but I'm always the one in need of extra stamina." A few minutes later, he's asleep again.

I carefully extricate myself from his grasp and rise to face the day.

When I emerge from the bathroom, Lavagetto is awake, but Alex is still asleep. Russ checks on him, then heads into the bathroom.

About 15 minutes later, looking refreshed, he sits with me at the table and we pick at some of the snacks Scully brought yesterday. Lavagetto advises me that as Alex begins to feel better, the medications might make him irritable, he might have problems sleeping, his skin may be flushed the first few hours after taking a dose, and he will likely suffer from general listlessness and fatigue. I've already seen the flushed skin and fatigue, but no sign of the other symptoms.

When Alex wakes, after some complaining, he lets me help him to the bathroom. He's able to stand on his own to brush his teeth.

After I help Alex back to bed, Lavagetto moves close to the bed to continue his care instructions. "His immune system will be overtaxed until the new nano machines are eliminated." Lavagetto suddenly realizes Alex is present and paying attention. "You may have additional nano episodes, but it's crucial that you not be injured in any way, as to not put additional strain on your immune system." He gives Alex a stern look. "So, no more picking fights in bars."

Alex flashes the doctor an annoyed look, which is ignored. Lavagetto prepares the next dose of Alex's medication, then removes his IV.

I phone Morgan and make arrangements for him to secure the area around my apartment. When Scully arrives, I ask her to pull her car around to the service entrance. I dial Morgan again and ask him to have the men at the hotel clear our escape route. Scully and Lavagetto go ahead with Alex's duffle bag. Then I carry Alex down to the car. Scully leaves the key at the front desk so her friend can pick up the medical equipment.

We reach my apartment without incident. Alex seems happy with the change of venue, although slightly agitated by the long elevator ride. I caution the doctors not to speak inside the apartment until I give the all-clear.

Once inside, I get Alex settled in our bed, then scan the apartment. No bugs. When I call Morgan, he reports that no one took any unexpected interest in our movements on either end.

Happy, but clearly fatigued, Alex encourages me to go get my mail while the doctors poke and prod. On my way out, I notice my answering machine has four messages.

Downstairs, aside from the usual bills and junk, I find an envelope with Alex's handwriting, and a box. On the outside of the envelope is a note.

--
Don't open until you receive the box
--

Inside the envelope is a card. It simply says:

--
I noticed one CD was always moving. Thought you might enjoy this. Happy Birthday. -A.
--

I carry the box back to my apartment. Upstairs, I set it on the bed.

Scully and Lavagetto are conferring in the corner, but glance our way when Alex says, "Open it."

Using my pocketknife to cut through the heavy packing tape, I open the carton and find a lot of Styrofoam peanuts. Sifting through them, I pull out a large, flat, paper-wrapped object. I tear off the paper. It's an album in a plastic sleeve. My favorite Doors album. It takes me a few beats to realize it's signed by Jim Morrison.

Smiling at Alex, I examine it closely. It's in pristine condition. "Thank you, Alex." After kissing him, I show him the album. "I think I'll ask Sharon to frame it." I can hang it in the living room.

Alex murmurs, "Happy Birthday, Walt."

I notice Dana and Russ are watching us. Dana looks bemused. Yeah, Dana. It's difficult to keep thinking of him as a criminal, isn't it?

** End Part 2 **

The end is near.

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

In Part 3...
Alex gets cranky. Sharon bakes a cake. Morgan gets cranky. Walter worries.

Next part in series


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