Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Protect2.


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 3


11:15 A.M.

Scully leaves me pills for Alex, and repeats the instructions. After advising me that she will stop by tonight to check on him again, she takes Lavagetto to the airport.

While Alex is sleeping, I head downstairs to check my answering machine. As soon as I reach the lower level, I find myself worrying about him already. I'm not yet comfortable being out of visual range.

Sharon called, several times, to invite me to her place for a birthday dinner. I return to the bedroom to phone her, explaining that Alex is ill. She offers to come over, and I accept, recruiting her to pick up some groceries for us.

Sharon stays most of the day, chatting with Alex when he's awake. He seems to enjoy her company. I'm trying to hover over him less, though he still needs my help to get up. She insists on a little impromptu birthday celebration for me, which we have in the bedroom during one of Alex's awake moments. It basically consists of us sharing a bar of Valrhona. Sharon pronounces that she's in love with it after the first bite.

Alex finds the ritual entertaining, but he's already only half conscious, head resting on my shoulder. Once he's asleep, I disengage from him carefully and we sneak out of the room. Contrary to the doctors' predictions, he seems to be sleeping just fine and his mood is upbeat. The color in his cheeks has improved. Sharon doesn't even realize that he was near death. When I make a move to put the remaining chocolate away, Sharon confiscates it and stashes it in her purse.

She's surprised at the coincidence of Alex's birthday being just six days after mine. With a teasing grin, she suggests that we both celebrate on the 6th in the future and save her some trouble. The implication is that she expects us to be together in the future. That's a sobering thought... one that raises darker concerns I'd largely set aside in the joy of Alex's recovery.

While preparing our dinner, she broaches the subject of Alex's illness and asks me about the marks around his neck and wrist. I start to make up something, then just tell her the truth. "Someone used him as a lab rat."

Her expression shifts from disbelieving to shocked. "Oh, god. Someone-"

I cut her off. "Did something terrible to him. It's over now. I won't let it happen again." It's obviously me that I'm trying to reassure.

Wrapping her arms around me, she gives me a hug. "I'm so sorry, Walter."

After a moment, I pull away. "Don't say anything to him or treat him any differently. It will only annoy him."

She nods, obviously very unhappy about the situation.

Yeah, me, too.

After a moment, she says, "He seems so... happy."

"He's just glad to be home." I don't even want to think about the emotional aspects of his trauma, because I don't have any good way to deal with them. Plus he's been living like this since he was 17. The thought that he's used to it makes me ill.

Sharon inquires about arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. I brush her off with a 'we're doing everything we can.' And we are, Alex and I. I hope.


Sunday, 4 June 2000
3:56 A.M.


Something in my ear wakes me. It's Alex's fingers. "Hey, aren't you s'posed to be asleep?"

"Can't sleep. Bored."

Capturing the hand, I kiss it. "So you decided to use me as your plaything?"

His lips graze my cheek. "Aren't you?"

After a yawn, I shrug. "Sure."

He kisses every single patch of skin on my face and head. It's sweet, but I'm half asleep. When he starts working on my chest, I sit up. "How about I get you something to read?"

"I'd rather play with you, but I'll settle for a book."

I bring him the poetry book that was in his duffle bag and a couple of selections from my bookshelf.

Curling in next to him, I whisper, "You can still play with me if you like, as long as you don't mind my sleeping."

He chuckles. "Okay."

When I next wake, it's morning. Alex is staring at the ceiling and fidgeting with the edge of one of the books. The others are lying open on the bed.

"Hi." I kiss the top of his head. "Get any sleep?"

"No." Nose crinkling in a vexed pout, he throws one of the books at the wall. "I've been waiting hours to do that. Stupid book."

"Can I get you anything?"

Alex scowls. "I'm tired, I'm hungry and I need to take a piss." He struggles to sit up, grunting in frustration. "You can help me get to the goddamned bathroom."

Well, doc, he's cranky now.

I guide him to the bathroom. He can sort of walk, but needs me to make sure he doesn't suddenly collapse. Then I sit him on the toilet seat and pass him his toothbrush.

When I go downstairs, I pour him a glass of juice, which I fortify with some very light protein powder. I don't think he'll recognize it as having anything to do with the slime beverage. He makes a face, but drinks it anyway.

"Alex, I need to talk to you about the Resistance."

He frowns. "What do you need to know?"

I sit on the edge of the bed next to him. "When do you have to check in again?"

"Wednesday."

I don't want to tell him what to do, so I choose my words carefully. "I have some ideas about how you might handle that."

Looking more curious than cranky, he nods for me to continue.

"Check in with them on Wednesday, but stall. Tell them you almost died and can still barely move. Exaggerate your condition, so they won't try to give you any assignments for a while. The more time we have before they realize you've gone AWOL the better."

He contemplates it for a moment. "Okay. I'll try to buy as much time as I can."

Good. Because I need to give Lavagetto time. It's the only thing that might save him.

I spend most of the day in the bedroom reading while he fidgets and tries to read. At lunch, he manages to chew some of Sharon's leftovers.

Scully stops by after dinner. She tries not to smile too much at Alex's obvious testiness. After several days of quietly accepting Scully's presence, he suddenly seems to dislike her. She pronounces that everything is progressing as expected, then leaves me with a bottle of sleeping pills for Alex.

Just before bedtime, I catch him walking himself to the bathroom. He's doing okay, so I don't say anything. When he returns, he watches me suspiciously for a minute before returning to his reading.

His improvement continues over the next couple days, but he never admits it. It seems that every bit of progress is met with increasing frustration over his remaining symptoms. He has two nano episodes, but they don't seem to hinder his recovery.


Wednesday, 7 June 2000
6:42 A.M.


I wake to the feel of Alex's mouth on my nipple and his fingers teasing my cock. Instantly, my hand is around his wrist. "Sorry, Alex. Not yet."

Even in the dark I can feel his glare. Rolling onto my side, I face him and brush the hair off his forehead. "Soon, Alex. I promise." I don't know why I'm trying to encourage him to be reasonable about this. He wouldn't be reasonable about sex even if he weren't in a medication-induced funk.

Alex twitches away from me and begins the slow process of getting out of bed. "I don't know why you think my dick becomes defective every time I have a physical problem." He gets to his feet and looks back at me. "I'm not prepared to just lie still and wait for you to tell me you're in the mood to fuck." He heads toward the bathroom. "I'm taking a shower and I don't want any fucking help."

One look at his groin tells me I don't have to worry about him jacking off in the shower. If he tries, he won't get very far.

I'd feel better if I could keep an eye on him but, in his current state, it would just make him pissier if I hovered. So I let him shower alone.

Heading downstairs, I use the guest bath, then make another fruit drink for him, and slime for me. Back in the bedroom, I put his beverage on the bedside table, then sit in the chair and drink mine.

When he emerges from the bathroom, he flashes me an apologetic look and curls up on my lap. "I'm sorry. I feel like I'm coming out of my skin."

Encircling his waist with my arms, I kiss his forehead. "It's just the medication, Alex. And the boredom of lying in bed all day and night."

He gives a faint nod of acceptance. "Let's go downstairs. I can always lie on the sofa."

Once we get downstairs, he's tired and cranky again. However, I manage to get him to eat real food, and he only snaps at me two or three times.

After lunch, I bring him the satellite phone. He dials a number and waits, his tension building as he sits there. He's holding his body as if someone's going to strike a blow at him.

Fuck. I want to kill whoever is on the other end of the line. And anyone else who did this to him.

"Doesn't anyone else call you on this number? ... Well, aren't I lucky? ... I wasn't under orders to report my movements. ... I'm back in the States. ... I'm not ready for it yet. The lab boys nearly killed me this time. ... What do you mean?" He flashes me an annoyed look. "Well, I didn't take it." He scowls at the receiver. "No, I had problems afterward. I couldn't even fucking walk. I can still barely walk. ... You really want the details of my personal hygiene? ... I'm not-"

Suddenly, Alex blanches. He visibly suppresses anger and a glimmer of fear before saying, "Not yet. I can't make it back that quickly."

Oh, Christ. My jaw clamps down so hard I can barely swallow.

"... You cannot be serious? Give me a month to get back to normal, then I'll- ... No. ... Not that quickly, I can't do it. ... Have I ever used my health as a reason not to come in? ... How exactly am I going to be useful if I can barely walk?"

Rising, I pace the living room floor. He is not going back. I don't care what they're telling him. It doesn't matter.

Whoever is on the end of that line... you better hope I don't live through this. Because I will put you down.

" ... No, I'm saying you should take what I'm saying at- ... Too soon. Three weeks. ... Because I fucking need to rest. ... Fine. I'll see you in three weeks. ... Yeah. Same time, same channel."

Alex switches the phone off, then throws it on the floor. "You fucking back-stabbing son of a bitch!"

I manage to unhinge my jaw enough to ask, "Who were you talking to?"

"Arntzen... the damned prick. My original handler's name was Henderson. It was just business for him. But with Arntzen, it's personal."

I stand at the balcony door facing out. "Yeah, to me, too," I mutter.

So we have three weeks. That's just barely enough time for him to recover and us to spend two weeks in Tucson. It can't possibly be enough time. It has to be.

Our days are numbered. We're counting on you, Russ.


Thursday, 8 June 2000

Morgan agrees to Alex-sit, so I can run a few errands. My attorney is efficient, so it doesn't take much time to revise my will and handle a few other matters. If anything happens to me, I'm leaving $50,000 to Scully for her child. A college fund or whatever.

Next stop is Senator Matheson's office. A brief note scrawled on slip of paper ejects two foreign diplomats from his office in a hurry. He agrees to take a walk with me. When we're halfway down the street, I start the conversation bluntly. "I don't appreciate that you weren't willing to work with us. Nevertheless, if our team produces any results that may help you, I wish to share the information. No one should have to live with this."

He nods, appreciating the gesture, but his astute political mind has already figured out that there's a price.

"My first condition is that you use your contacts at NASA to get a friend of mine accepted as a candidate for their robotic arm program."

Matheson's face crinkles into confusion. "You have a one-armed-" He halts, a look of horror on his face. "You don't mean Al-"

I cut him off, meeting his eyes with a hard expression. "His name is David Brown. And you're going to get him into the program. End of discussion."

Shaking his head at me, he replies, "I'm not sure if they will listen t-"

"Make them listen, Matheson."

He swallows hard, but nods.

"That's prepayment for a possible solution from my research team. The second item is support for the X-Files. You're going to do everything in your power to keep the X-Files alive and give Dana Scully anything she asks for. And no weaseling, Senator. Got that?"

"Yeah." The senator suddenly sounds tired.

"Good." I make a mental reminder to tell Scully that Matheson is on her side now. "My last request is dangerous for you, so I'm not going to demand it until we have a cure. But then, you're going to document everything you know about the aliens, the conspiracy and the players..."

His eyes open wide.

"... and turn the information over to Scully."

"Skinner, be reasonable. You know I can't-"

"Yes, you can. Others have risked their lives to stop this. You will, too." I'll bet if he knew Spender was dead it wouldn't scare him so much.

"I don't know, Skinner. I can do the first two, but it would be a death sentence to document what I know. Even if I kept my name from the information, it would be too easy for them to figure out where it came from."

I shrug. "It's your choice. If we find a cure, and you want it, you'll document it." I let him stew on that for a minute. "In the meantime, I want the NASA arm for my friend." Passing him my attorney's business card, I add, "Contact my attorney when you have it worked out."

He takes the card. "You think you actually have a cure?"

"Maybe. I'll know more in a few weeks." It's far more optimism than I actually have, but this conversation couldn't wait.

After leaving Matheson, I go shopping.

I've been so wrapped up in keeping Alex safe for the last week that I haven't even thought much about the alien colonists. It doesn't seem real to me now. Christ, I hope it isn't real. But I have to assume it is. I wonder if the Resistance is the only group trying to prevent it. I hate to think the fate of our species is resting upon people, or whatever, who have so little moral sense that torturing and killing Alex is just science to them.

After years working for the American government, I can too easily imagine a bunch of special interest groups advocating for their own needs and concerns. While no one stands up and represents the human race. Except Mulder. And now he's gone. Someone has to continue the work. Somehow.

I wish I could do more. But right now, I can only afford to worry about taking care of my lover and giving Scully what little support I can.

When I get back to the apartment, I hear raised voices from the bedroom. After stowing my SIG, I jog up the stairs to see if Morgan needs protecting.

"I wasn't asking for your goddamned approval!" Uncharacteristically, Alex is yelling.

Morgan is seated on Alex's side of the bed while Alex is reclining on my side, the bedspread crushed in his clenched fist.

"Would you calm down, ki-"

"No! I've been taking care of myself for a long time, Morgan. I don't need remedial lessons from you. I agree that I don't trust easily, so that should tell you something... that my judgment probably isn't suspect."

I walk into the center of the room, gesturing at both of them. "Need a referee, boys?"

Morgan opens his mouth to reply, but Alex interjects, "No. Morgan's just been telling me everything that's wrong with my life. And now he's leaving."

Suppressing a smile, I turn to Morgan, who says, "He took everything the wrong way." He rises to his feet. "What the hell is he taking?"

"I'm right here! You can ask me." Alex glares at his guest. "And I don't need to take medication to be pissed off when you talk to me like I'm a deranged employee in a bad marriage."

He's not pulling his punches. Glad I'm not in Morgan's shoes. Hope I'm not the bad marriage.

To me, Morgan says, "You need anything else?"

I did want to speak to him briefly, but not in front of Alex. "Uh, no. Thanks, Morgan."

He heads toward the door, glancing at me. "You can show me out." He calls back over his shoulder, "You're cute when you're cranky, kid."

Alex eyes widen and he looks like he's going to explode.

"He's just being Morgan." I rest a hand on Alex's shoulder. "I'll be right back."

I make it to the living room to find Morgan sitting in my chair. "Let me try again," he asks blandly. "Do you need anything else?"

"There was something I wanted to ask you, but the timing could be better."

"What's wrong with the timing?"

I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Tomorrow is Alex's birthday. A friend of mine is making a cake. I wondered if you wanted to stop by and sing happy birthday."

Morgan looks surprised. "The kid has a birthday? I thought he was hatched." He grins at me. "Sure, I'll stop by. What time?"

"Eight." Alex has loyal friends. "Maybe as a birthday present to Alex you can stop calling him 'kid?'"

He nods and gets to his feet. "I think I can handle that." At the door, he adds, "For a day."

Loyal, stubborn friend.

When I go back upstairs, Alex has cooled off, but doesn't particularly want to talk about whatever happened. He's content to lie in bed reading--though he isn't turning any pages--until Scully arrives to check on him.

After examining him and checking his blood, she announces that the nano count is lower than they expected and Alex should be feeling close to normal in a few days. I'm tempted to inquire how long it will take his personality to return to normal, but manage to hold my tongue.

Scully gives me new instructions for tapering down Alex's medication.

For the rest of the evening, Alex is subdued and just wants me to stay close.

**

Friday, 9 June 2000
7:03 A.M.


I wake feeling substantially better than yesterday. Turning onto my side, I watch Walter sleeping. I've felt so annoyed the last few days. I know Russ said to expect that, but it makes me feel out of control. And the more out of control I feel, the more irritated I become.

Reaching out my hand, I think to touch my lover, but I know he needs more rest. So, I settle for letting my fingers hover a fraction of an inch above his skin.

Sighing quietly, I carefully rise, find that I'm steadier than yesterday, and head for the bathroom. I manage to fumble into a pair of jeans, then head downstairs, holding tightly to the rail. I hate what's going on with my body. I need things to get back to normal, but I wonder if that's even possible. Am I looking at my last few weeks with Walter?

The thought is so depressing, I can't even face it.

Over a glass of juice, I muse about my argument with Morgan. I probably overreacted, but I worry about the amount of time Walter and I have left, and the last thing I want to think about is Morgan's theory that I'm putting too much trust in Walter.

He mentioned how differently I act with Walter. I didn't see it last night, but I realize now that Morgan views my change in behavior as a bad thing. I guess that's fair because I always have, too. But not anymore. Because how I act with Walter is... what is it exactly? Me, I guess.

I ponder it for several minutes. Why do I act differently? Until Morgan's diatribe last night, I was not even aware of how much I've changed. With Walter I feel... safe. Is this what my life might have been like if I'd ever been comfortable in it?

For a long time, I viewed my comfort with him--my lack of defenses--as a threat to my survival. But now I know that it's at least part of the reason why we've been able to get this close. And if I'm going to die before the end of the month, I'm glad I've had this. Because I only recently realized how much I need it--how much I need him. If we'd never reconciled and they'd killed me, there would only have been a memory of what I thought was false happiness.

Staring at my empty glass, I become aware of a throbbing headache. I hate introspection. I grab another book and move to the living room to read. I've thought enough for one day.

About an hour later, I hear sounds from upstairs. I feel a flutter of excitement. God, sometimes I act like a teenager in love.

A few minutes later, Walter comes downstairs, looking sleepy and wearing only a smile. "Morning." He sits on the sofa, wrapping himself around me. "Happy Birthday, Alex."

Enthused by this new development, I toss the book over the back of the sofa, slide my arm around his back and tease his ear with my lips. "Morning. Do I get you naked every birthday?"

There's a flash of something serious... something unhappy before Walter pushes it away. "Hmm... okay." He carefully pulls me onto his lap and gives me a proper good-morning kiss.

I groan, parting my lips. Our tongues tangle in my mouth and my body responds instantly... It's so nice to know that it still works. An eternity later, he breaks the kiss and I'm gasping for air.

He nuzzles the side of my face. "Do you think you're up to getting fucked?"

I nod... enthusiastically. "Oh yeah."

"I want you to be careful, okay?"

Careful? Whatever. "Mm hm."

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that he's watching me climb the stairs, making sure I'm in shape for sex. Near the top, I take the stairs two at a time, and hear his chuckle behind me.

My jeans in a puddle on the floor, we rapidly end up in bed on our sides, kissing with intensity for the first time in two weeks. Walter's fingers glide down my back, teasing the skin at the base of my spine. He murmurs in my ear, "God, I've missed touching you... like this."

I wiggle against him, rubbing our skin together. "I've missed you, too." I wrap a leg around him, moving my hips to rub my erection against his.

Rolling me over onto my back, he follows. The feel of his weight on top of me is incredibly reassuring... making me feel grounded. I'm where I belong. I wrap both legs around him. "Fuck me like this. I want to see your face when your cock's inside me." I lean up to kiss his throat. "And I want you to see me."

Walter smiles down at me, and his eyes seem to darken. Braced on one arm, he brushes his fingertips down the side of my face. "All right." He moves the hand to my shoulder, then down my flank until he's stroking my thigh. "And since it's your birthday, I won't even tease." He squeezes my thigh. "Much."

I tighten my legs around him and arch against his body. "Then kiss me while you're teasing so I forget to be cranky."

His mouth closes over mine and he kisses me like he owns me. Which he does. Completely. Body rapidly dissolving into the bed, I offer my mouth to him. And the rest of me, too. For whatever he wants.

Walter pulls away, breathing heavily and gazing intently into my eyes. Then he shifts onto his side and kisses a path from my forehead to my neck. "Mmm. You taste good." His hand slides down my abdomen and ruffles my pubic hair.

I press my hips toward his hand, wanting his touch a little lower... wanting to feel his hand on my cock. I turn my head to give him easier access to my neck. My breath comes in gasps. He can always get me worked up in a snap of his fingers, but I feel so frantic today. There's been so much standing between us lately, and I don't know what the future holds for us.

Groaning, Walt gets a good grip on my cock, jacking it slowly, as his teeth sink into my neck. My breath escapes in a hiss. The incredibly erotic feel of his teeth pressing into my flesh numbs me to anything but pleasure. I moan, my hand grasping at his body... needing something to hold on to.

Suddenly, I realize how close to orgasm I am. Please, not yet. "Too close," I grit out.

Walter doesn't stop immediately, but when he does, I realize that he no longer needs to be warned. He knows exactly how close I am and when to back off. His hand cradles my cock as his teeth loosen their grip on my neck. He kisses the side of my face. I turn my head and capture his lips.

For a moment, he pulls away to get the lube. I feel a tremor of anticipation. He sits next to me and glances in the mirror. I'm still underweight and pale, but he seems to like what he sees. The look in his eyes is reassuring. I hadn't before realized how much I need to see him. How much I crave the passionate looks he gives me. His eyes and his touch tell me how he feels in a way that gets past any defenses.

When Walter slides his fingers between my legs, I let them fall open, waiting with little patience for his touch. He squeezes my balls gently, then sits between my thighs. Lifting my legs and pressing them toward my chest, he brushes a finger down my crack. He bends forward and his tongue finds my anus.

We both groan at the same time. As he draws his wet tongue across my tissue, I remember him telling me he'd never done this before... years ago. I can tell how much he likes it now. There's no doubt I like it, too. A lot.

The rough surface of his unshaved face brushes against the skin of my ass cheeks. My legs tremble as the tingling sensation spreads through my body. He pulls away and flashes me a very wicked smile. Then he lowers his head again and I feel the smooth wet surface of his tongue press inside me.

"Fuck... Walter..." My groan is choked off in my throat. I struggle to breathe, feeling like I'm drowning in the intense sensation. As he fucks me with his tongue, my hips can only follow--begging for his touch. My fingers clench into the back of my thigh.

As he languidly works my insides with his deft tongue, one of his hands finds my cock. He strokes it a few times until I'm whimpering. Releasing my cock, he sits up and reaches for the lube. "Still with me?" he asks with a grin.

I tease his thigh with my toes. "Oh yeah."

The sensual way he rubs in lube on his fingers--fingers that will soon be in my ass--turns me on even more. He massages my anus with the moist fingers, then slides one inside me, rapidly followed by another. My eyelids become heavy as the feeling of being stretched floods through me.

While scissoring his fingers to open me up, he bends over and laps at the head of my cock. I gasp, my hips straining toward his mouth. "Thought you weren't, guh, going to tease."

When he looks up at me, his eyes are filled with laughter. "I forgot." He chuckles, then fucks me harder. "It's really too much fun. I love turning you into a puddle." At the desperate movement of my hips, he adds, "A frantic puddle."

I groan, feeling a faint flush of embarrassment. "I love it, too." My body continues to follow the movement of his hand. "And all you have to do is touch me."

Shifting his body awkwardly over mine, he gets close enough to kiss. I wrap my hand around his neck and kiss him feverishly. As our tongues wrestle, my cock is rubbing against his skin. I'm so close to the edge that I'm shaking.

When he breaks the kiss, I'm immediately disappointed, until he shifts back and lifts my legs over his shoulders. The head of his cock breaches my ass and he pushes all the way inside me.

The moment is so perfect I cannot breathe. I stare at him, lost in the sensation of my body stretching to accommodate him. I reach up to touch the side of his face, then I can breathe again.

I love you, Walter.

I tighten my ass around his cock. "Fuck me."

Mumbling something completely incoherent, he bends over my body and begins to thrust. My knees are almost in my face but it's never felt so good to be bent in half. Lifting my head, I capture his lower lip in my teeth, tugging him closer so I can suck it into my mouth.

I can tell by the fast pace of the fucking and the frenzied look on his face that he's extremely worked up. Then he's kissing me again. I don't know how either of us is breathing, but it doesn't seem important.

His hand curls around my cock. Stroking me a couple times, he breaks the kiss and gasps out, "Wait... for me..." But that damned hand of his keeps moving on my cock.

Kissing me again, he fucks me harder. It's a struggle to maintain control of my body. The impassioned nonsense sounds that escape my throat are lost in his mouth.

Then he pries his lips away as he fights for air. His face tightens into a grimace and he cries out as his hips pound into me.

As he begins to come in my ass, I let go and sink into the orgasm he's giving me. It seizes me, my body now out of control, my thrashing movements restrained by the weight of him.

The flood of endorphins makes me feel at once both insubstantial and yet completely real. I slide my hand around his neck and whisper, "Ya za vas vladyet', Walter."

**

Ya za vas vladnet?

My dim post-orgasmic brain tries to solve the riddle. I for you? What's 'vladnet?'

Easing my body off his, which must be hurting, I think to ask. But he's asleep. Chuckling silently, I find a towel and wipe us both off. Then I get back in bed. There's no other place I need to be this morning, so I want to be with him.

He looks dead to the world.

I'm glad I decided to fuck him. We both needed it. It's elemental... the way our bodies fit together so perfectly. The way what turns me on is the same thing that turns him on. I don't believe in fate but if I did, I would say that we were meant to be together.

For now, I'm staying close by his side. And I'm hoping against hope that it's not just for a few more weeks.

After almost an hour, Alex stirs and rests his head on my chest. Five minutes later, he kisses my chest and murmurs, "Thank you."

I tousle his hair. "My pleasure." I do feel quite contented. Considering what we've lived through in the past several weeks, it's odd. Ludicrous actually. But being with him, and our sexual connection make my body seem to hum.

Alex wiggles against me sensually. "I feel much..." He kisses my chest again. "...better."

"Yeah, me, too." Gently rubbing his back, I ask, "What's 'vladnet'? You called me that before you passed out."

Alex is quiet for a moment, then softly replies, "Vladyet'. Loosely translated, I said, 'I belong to you.'"

I close my eyes for a moment, lost in the indescribable feelings his words stir in me. I belong to you, too, Alex.

But I'm too afraid to say it. Afraid that I'll give that much, then watch him die. Afraid he'll watch me die. Afraid we've only got a few weeks left together. And that I want him more than anything, and don't care what happens to me if he's not going to make it.

When I can breathe again, I whisper, "And it's not even my birthday."

His lips graze my jaw. "Belonging to you is a present to myself."

Isn't it though? The two of us seem so perfect. So perfect that for a moment I can believe we'll be together for a long, long time. It's enough for today. "Vas za minya vladyet'." You belong to me. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I add, "I'm proud to have you."

Alex tips his head back to look at me, as if to see if I'm serious. "Really?" he asks softly.

"Really." I meet his gaze, unflinching, so he can see what's in my face. The words I cannot say to him are there. Maybe this is the only way I can ever say them.

His expression softens. "I..." he trails off, then his mouth closes over mine. He kisses me slowly, thoroughly exploring my mouth, as if he's never tasted me before. After a long time, he breaks the kiss and wraps himself around me.

I pet his hair and enjoy holding his healthy, normal temperature, albeit a bit boneless, body.

There's a slight increase in his tension as he tentatively says, "My knife... it's gone."

"I know. You okay with it?"

"Not really, but at the time all I cared about was getting back to you. And since then, it seems relatively minor compared to what's been happening." Isn't that the truth. "It just crosses my mind sometimes. Wish... I still had it."

"We'll replace it."

Alex's lips brush my shoulder. "It's okay. I just realized I'd always had it with me for, what? Nearly six years? I liked having something you gave me..."

With a slight tug on his hair, I tip his head back and claim his mouth. We lie together, simply touching and kissing until there's a knock on the door.

I glance at Alex. What the fuck?

He shrugs. "I'm not expecting anyone."

"Stay here," I reply, rising from the bed. I pull on a pair of jeans and head downstairs. There's another knock. I peer through the peephole. It's UPS.

Well, maybe I don't need my gun.

I open the door and sign for a box. It's about the same size as the one my birthday present came in, but much heavier.

It occurs to me that it's a letter bomb, but then I find myself laughing. Hard. No one has to send a letter bomb to kill us. Alex appears on the stairs, still naked, with a puzzled expression at my apparent humor.

"Did you order something else?" If it's more garden accessories, I'm going to have to cancel his credit cards.

"I thought it would have already arrived. Is it from cooking.com?"

I give him a look. A petulant, oh-fuck-what-now look. Glancing at the box, I see that it is indeed from cooking.com. What could Alex have possibly thought to get from cooking.com? "When did you have time to shop the Internet? I thought I've been keeping an eye on you."

He chuckles. "I ordered it while you were in Arizona. It should have arrived a long time ago, but don't worry, it's nothing ominous."

Retrieving a knife from the kitchen, I open the box and pull out my new deluxe blender.

Alex peers over my shoulder. "You said to buy you a new one."

"But this..." I gape at him a bit mindlessly. "... is useful."

He frowns. "The garden hose is useful. If you have a lawn."

I consider pointing out that I don't have a lawn, but I think he knows that already. I wonder if Dr. Lavagetto could explain Alex's odd shopping addiction to me. "Well, thanks for the blender. Should I make us drinks?" Then I look at the clock. It's lunchtime.

"Slime beverage?" He wrinkles up his nose. "No. Uh, thank you anyway. But I'll have some of that fruit juice you've been sneaking your powder into."

I prepare his fruit juice in the new blender, then we both take showers. Thirty minutes later, we're sprawled on the sofa, munching on finger food and reading.

Alex interrupts my perusal of the paper to read aloud a collection of worst analogies written by college students. He's in stitches by the time he gets to, 'He hit the pavement and exploded like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.'

After too many days living with the Alex-monster, it's good to see him getting silly again.

A short while later, Alex scoots to the floor next to me. He rests his head near my hip and strokes his hand across my abdomen. A couple minutes pass, then he taps the back of my paper to get my attention.

"Yeah?"

"I was curious about something... you once said I could fuck you if I wanted. And I wondered what you wanted."

Oh, that. "As you know, I've never particularly enjoyed being fucked, but I thought I might if you were the one doing the fucking." I squeeze his shoulder. "So it's something I'd like to try again sometime, if you would enjoy it."

His lips twitch into a smile. "I know I would enjoy it." He captures my hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing the inside of my wrist. "Before we started fucking, I used to fantasize about fucking you. Of course, that was because I couldn't conceive of being fucked myself." He smiles again at the memory. "But now... I think you'd like it, and I want to give you that pleasure."

"Okay. We can try it when you're feeling better."

His fingers glide across my stomach again. "I'm not in a rush... whenever you want to. I just wanted to know if you were serious about what you said."

I nod, trying to imagine Alex fucking me and not coming up with much of a mental picture. I guess I'll have to experience it to know what it's like.

**

I resume my reading, pondering our latest conversation. Since Walter fucked me the first time, I haven't thought about those early fantasies of fucking him, but lately it's something I've wanted to try. Largely because I think it's unfortunate--and very strange--that he's never enjoyed it. What's not to like?

After he mentioned it the first time, I tossed positions around in my head and had a difficult time putting together the image of me fucking him. I used to imagine him bent over my dining room table, his taut muscular thighs spread for me. Now, the idea just makes me feel a twinge of embarrassed amusement.

I try to focus on my book, but my mind turns to our conversation in bed. He said he was proud to have me. I still can't quite believe it. I was afraid to ask him, but does that mean he's finally accepted what I am? That he doesn't have to see me as separate people anymore? It's almost too much to hope for, because I know, without acceptance, our future is murky. Eventually, my past would start to bother him.

But now, it's almost a cruel tease. Because even if he does accept me, our future is uncertain. And likely to be short-lived.

This is morbidly depressing.

I push the thoughts away. I've been struggling to keep my irritability at bay, but thinking like this will bring it back to the forefront.

Tossing my book aside, I get to my feet and nudge Walter to make room for me, so I can lie with him on the sofa. It's a tight fit. Perfect.

We laze around the house most of the day. Walter doesn't even go to the gym. I'm oddly touched that he's giving up his ritual to be home with me today, but I don't know how to express that to him. Maybe he knows. He's usually pretty astute about that kind of thing.

While he's making dinner, I hang around the kitchen watching and groping. After chopping vegetables, Walter turns to me and says, "After dinner, we're having guests."

It's such a surprise it takes me a moment to come up with a reply. "Should I be concerned?"

He shakes his head and smiles. "Sharon and Morgan are coming... because it's your birthday."

I gape at him. "You're not serious."

"Yeah, I'm serious." He takes a package of meat out of the refrigerator.

I try to visualize Sharon and Morgan in the same room. And fail. I cannot imagine why they would want to come here for my birthday. I drum my fingers on the countertop, trying to decide what to say. "It's hard to imagine Morgan and Sharon here... together."

"I haven't quite figured out how that's going to work either. We'll all be surprised."

"So, I'm still a little fuzzy on why they're coming over."

Walter tilts his head at me and patiently explains, "It's a gesture of friendship. They're coming because they like you."

I nod as if I understand, then shake my head. "I still don't get it."

He looks baffled. "Why did you buy me a birthday present?"

"Because I l-like doing things for you." Fuck. I almost said it was because I loved him. "I don't know... it was just something I wanted to do."

He washes his hands, then stands next to where I'm sitting and rubs my shoulders. "Well, maybe it will make sense to you after tonight."

I let my head fall back to rest on his stomach. "Okay." I let my mind drift as my muscles begin to relax. "Did you know Lyosha's birthday is Valentine's Day?"

"No. That's sweet." Walter's strong hands start working on my neck. "He's a good kid. I really like him."

Is he a good kid? I wonder how you gauge that sort of thing. "Do you think they'll be happy? In their new home... new lives?" I do want them to be happy. And safe.

"I think Lyosha is highly capable of adapting to a new environment. And Tatiana and Vlad have each other, so they'll probably be happy if Lyosha is happy."

Walter gives me a thorough neck rub while I contemplate Lyosha. And his future life in New Zealand. It's become painfully clear that I need to make complete provisions for his life and safety should something happen to me in the very near future.

About a half hour after dinner, Sharon arrives. She's carrying a large box, which Walter relieves her of, and a bag over her shoulder. She kisses me on the cheek and says, "Happy Birthday, Alex."

It takes me a beat to come up with the appropriate response. "Thanks." That worked. What do I do now? "Um, do you want something to drink?"

Walter takes the box to the kitchen and returns with a bottle of wine. "Does this meet with your approval?" He shows her the bottle.

Sharon approves. Walter's opening the bottle when the doorbell rings. I peer out the peephole. It's Morgan. Why do I feel like this could be a disaster?

I admit him and, as soon as he's inside, he drops a package on the floor, then picks me up and hugs me. "Happy Birthday, Alex."

My arm is trapped, so I kick him in the shin. "Put me down or I'll shoot you." Then I realize he didn't call me 'kid.' I'm distracted from the thought when he sets me on my feet, leaving a big wet kiss on my forehead. "Yuck." I wipe at my forehead. "What the fuck was that for?"

"It's your birthday. I'm looking forward to the spanking." He takes a swing at my ass, and I jump out of the way.

Sharon, sipping her wine, is watching with a bemused smile.

I step close to Walter and whisper, "You spank each other?"

Walter shakes his head and replies, "Sorry, Morgan. I've got an exclusive on his ass." He extends an arm toward Sharon. "Sharon, this is Alex's friend Morgan. Morgan, this is Sharon."

Sharon steps forward and takes Morgan's proffered hand. His hand swallows hers. "I can see that you and Alex are very good friends."

I wouldn't have put it that way.

Morgan nods. "Yeah. He's a pain in the ass, but I like him."

Still holding Morgan's hand, she escorts him to the dining room and offers him wine. Walter and I exchange a glance. This is surreal.

Morgan accepts a glass. I don't think I've ever seen him drink anything other than bourbon.

The two of them chat and I whisper in Walter's ear, "What now?"

"We sit and talk. Think you can manage that?"

I nod, but it sounds like it's beyond me.

Walter offers me wine, which I decline in favor of tea--I think I'll stay sober for this oddity. A few minutes later, we adjourn to the living room. Sharon and Morgan take the couch. I guide Walter to his chair, then sit on his lap.

Morgan turns toward Sharon. "They're so damned cuddly. It kind of puts you off your dinner."

She squeezes his forearm and winks at me. "Not at all. They're very sweet together."

Walter shakes his head at her, looking mildly astonished. "Did you hear that? Sweet. Think we should let them say things like that in our own home?"

Sweet and cuddly in under a minute. I feel nauseated. Then I realize what Walter said. Our home? I turn my torso, so I can capture his mouth. I kiss him thoroughly. When I pull away, I murmur, "You do taste pretty good."

Sharon, who has obviously gotten over Walter--though I don't understand that at all--gives us a smile, then whispers something to Morgan. His eyebrows shoot up, and when he whispers back, she laughs out loud, then replies, "So why didn't the two of you ever get together?"

Oh, no.

Morgan gives me a smug glance. "I thought it wouldn't have worked out because Alex always pretended that he wasn't a bottom."

I feel frozen. It's a good thing I came to this function unarmed. I would deny it, but it seems rather... pointless. I settle for glaring at Morgan, though I'm not sure why I bother. It never seems to have any effect.

Walter chuckles into my hair.

But Sharon looks... perplexed. "A bottom? What does that mean?"

Walter squeezes my thigh and mutters under his breath, "You wanna answer that?"

I elbow him in the ribs.

Morgan leans closer to Sharon. "In life, some men are destined to fuck and others are destined to be fucked." I can't believe he's saying this to Sharon. "Our friend Alex over there put up a good front of being the former, when in reality, he's clearly the latter."

Sharon's eyes open wide. It's the first time I've ever seen her shocked. Even pulling a gun on her didn't have this effect. She glances at Walter and I thoughtfully. Then in a moment, she nods her head.

Fucking lovely. I hop off Walter's lap. "I need more tea." I retreat to the kitchen. I don't bother to offer anyone a refill... let them all die of dehydration.

Walter gives me a minute before he follows. "I guess I should have warned you that harassing the birthday boy is part of the drill." He wraps an arm around my waist. "At least he's not calling you 'kid.'"

I let my body mold to his. "My self-image was just challenged a bit." I kiss the side of his neck. "But, all that aside, I'm your slutty bottom... and proud of it."

Walt gives me a beautiful, sweet smile, and grabs my ass, pulling me closer. "And a beautiful, slutty bottom you are." He grinds against me. "I'm glad you're mine and not his." He gestures toward the living room with a toss of his head.

I chuckle. "It wasn't even a choice. If I'm not yours, I'm not anyone's."

There's a flicker of sadness in his eyes for a moment, then he squeezes me tightly in his arms. "Mine."

I kiss the side of his face. "Yours."

A few moments later, we rejoin our guests. I glare at Morgan as I pass, but give Sharon a quick wink.

She rises and takes Walter's arm. "Can I see you in the kitchen, Walter?"

"Okay." He glances at Morgan. "Do you think you can behave yourself for 60 seconds?"

"I think I'll manage." Morgan looks at me. "Besides, he looks like he might skin me."

Walter kisses me on the cheek. "If he gives you any shit, I think you should shoot him." Then he allows Sharon to escort him to the kitchen.

I sit in Walter's chair.

Before I can say anything, Morgan comments, "You seem to be feeling much better today."

I nod. "Yes, the good doctor is rather surprised at my progress."

"The redhead or the cute blonde I picked up at the airport?"

Immediately, my mind throws up an image of Russ and Morgan together. What a thought. I begin to laugh. It takes me a moment to reply, "The redhead."

Then someone turns off the lights in the living room. I'm out of my chair instantly, moving toward the stairs to get my gun, when I see Walter carrying a large object that seems to be on fire. And then everyone is singing. I blink at them in turn, feeling confused. They're singing that repetitive birthday song.

Walter mouths to me, "Sit."

I take a seat on the chair and he puts the burning cake on the table in front of me. Sharon says, "Make a wish, Alex."

Why?

Walt sits on the arm of the chair and puts a hand on my shoulder. "You make a wish and then blow out the candles."

I notice Morgan and Sharon exchanging a puzzled glance. That's okay, I'm puzzled, too.

The wish is easy. I hope we both survive.

Blow out the candles. Okay. There are a lot of them, but I get them all out in one breath. Walter leans down and kisses me, then murmurs, "Happy Birthday."

Sharon turns on the lights. The cake reads, 'Happy Birthday Alex.'

I glance up at Walter. "Where did this come from?"

"Sharon made it."

"Really?" I glance at her. "Thank you, Sharon." It seems very... nice. I've never had food with my name on it.

She kisses me on the top of the head, then starts cutting the cake. She gives us each a plate of cake. Morgan specifies a plate-sized piece.

It's pretty good. A little sweet. A little like bread.

We eat cake and chat--thankfully staying away from my sexual preferences. Walter rises briefly and returns with three wrapped packages. "Time to open your presents." He moves the cake and sets them on the table in front of me.

I glance up at him. "Who are these from?"

He picks up a brightly wrapped box and hands it to me. "This is from Sharon."

Feeling surprised, I glance at Sharon. She smiles and says, "It's silly, but I got one for Walter, too. So, you'll have to make him wear it."

Well, that's mysterious. I turn my attention to the package and begin tearing the paper off. I'm getting used to this wrapping thing. Inside the box I find two pair of board shorts with bright blue body and vivid yellow legs. One pair in my size and one in Walter's.

I glance up at him. "You're going to look awfully... sweet."

He gives Sharon a slightly embarrassed look. "We'll look especially sweet and cuddly wearing these at the same time."

I find myself laughing. What an absurd idea. I'll have to be sure we do it. "Thanks, Sharon. It's... entertaining."

Morgan rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "You're like an old married couple."

I ball up some of the wrapping and throw it at him.

Sharon nudges Morgan with her elbow. "Didn't I tell you to go easy on him?"

He gives her a sheepish look. "Yes, ma'am."

Have aliens taken over Morgan's body? I glance at Walter and can tell he's thinking the same thing.

Shrugging, he hands me another box. The largest and heaviest. "This is from Morgan."

Morgan nods. "I got something for both of you, too."

Oh, lord. I'm not sure I want to open this. I take a deep breath and tear off the paper. It's a wooden box. Inside the velvet-lined box is a matching set of semiautomatics--.44 Magnum Desert Eagle, Mark XIX, with a 6-inch barrel in brushed chrome with two spare clips and silencers.

I glance up at Walter. "Look, dear, something for our weekends at the country club shooting skeet."

Sharon looks slightly appalled. "What an unexpected gift." She frowns at Morgan, who recoils slightly.

Seeing Morgan respond this way to someone is the highlight of my evening.

I close the case and set it on the table. "Thanks, Morgan. They're... very nice."

Morgan replies, "I promise you they're completely untraceable."

Sharon taps him on the shoulder. "Just what exactly do you do for a living, Morgan?"

Even I realize this is a bad idea. "So, what's my third present?"

"I own a bar." Morgan looks amused by the whole situation.

Well, that's actually true.

Walter hands me a small box. "This one's from me."

I look up and meet his gaze. I know his body language and tone of voice well enough to know that the gift has meaning for him. His feelings are the real gift. I stare at him for so long, I realize I forgot to open the actual present.

Glancing down, I remove the red paper and find a small white box. I flash on a moment from nearly six years ago. The knife Walter gave me. It too was packaged in a white box with red paper. The memory is bittersweet for so many reasons. But I push away the past and open the box. Inside is a jewelry box that contains a platinum chain. It's a medium-weight chain with solid links. It's very masculine and... beautiful. I've never worn jewelry, but I like the idea of wearing Walter's chain. And oddly enough, it seems like a good replacement for my knife. Though I'm not sure why... they're nothing alike.

I glance up and meet his eyes again. He's waiting for my reaction, and he also looks... content. I give him a smile and try to let him see that I love his gift. Love him.

I pull the chain out of the box and hand it to Walter, then tip my head down so he can put it on. With a finger at my chin, he catches my attention. The link next to the fastener is engraved. Three tiny symbols. W&A. It could easily be mistaken for the manufacturers mark.

For a moment, I feel a little sad, wondering if a tiny etching is the most we'll ever be able to publicly acknowledge our relationship. I push the inappropriately morbid thought away and stroke his leg. I whisper to him, "Thank you, Walt. I... I may never take it off." I already know it's not a matter of 'may.' It will always be around my neck.

Using only his right hand, he demonstrates the clip, then drapes the chain over the back of my neck and fastens it. He rotates it so the clip is at the back, then meets my gaze, obviously very pleased. He takes my hand and kisses it.

I catch sight of Sharon giving Morgan a stern look. I can easily imagine the look he had on his face. I decide to ignore it, and wrap my hand around the back of Walter's neck, pulling him down for a real kiss.

When we come up for air, I glance at our guests. Sharon looks relaxed and contented, but she's clearly keeping an eye on Morgan, who looks bored.

We begin idly chatting again. Eventually, Walter winds up back in the chair with me on his lap.

At one point, I notice Morgan's been quiet for a long time. When there's a lull in the conversation, he asks, "So, is this personality transplant permanent, or is the old Alex ever coming back?"

"Morgan, you are such a prick," Walter says without ire, as he rubs my back. "There's only one Alex and this is him. Get over it."

One Alex? Walter really isn't seeing me as separate people anymore. It's enough to erase my irritation at Morgan. I look at Walter for a moment, then turn my attention to Morgan.

"You don't want me to be happy, Morgan?"

Morgan tips his head to the side. "Are you implying you weren't happy," he gestures toward Walter, "before him?"

"I'm not implying anything. I just asked a question. Do you have a problem with me being happy?" Walter encloses me in his arms and gives me a reassuring squeeze.

Something subtle shifts in Morgan's face, as if the rules of engagement have changed. "No, Alex, I don't. But I wasn't aware that you've been unhappy."

Sharon gives me a concerned glance, but says nothing.

I don't know how to respond to Morgan. It's clear to me that I've never really known what it's like to be happy, until Walter. I'm sure I was happy sometimes as a child, but I choose to block out the good along with the bad because they're both painful. "Morgan, you know what my life was like... who I was working for."

Abruptly, Sharon rises and takes the cake into the kitchen.

He nods. "Exactly. I know how your life has always been. Do you really expect me to believe you have been doing things that made you unhappy for the past six years? And now, you hook back up with him, and you're suddenly monogamous? You're retiring. I mean, what the fuck is going on, Alex? You're turning your life inside out and I can't figure out why."

I feel tension in Walter's body behind me. I know him well enough to realize he's poised to intercede if he feels I'm being threatened.

It takes me a minute to sift through the bullshit and realize what's really bothering Morgan. "It bugs you that much that I'm retiring? Yesterday, you tried to make out that I was just in a bad mood, but you were really pissed. Why?"

"Because you're fucking selling out. You remind me of some chick waiting for a man to come along so she can quit working and stay at home with the kids."

I feel a flash of real anger. "Fuck you, Morgan. I know you were there last week... when I was sick. My employers did that. What exactly am I losing by selling out? Do you-"

"So quit. But don't retire. I don't understand, Alex. You're not doing this for you... you're doing it for him. Because he doesn't approve of you..."

Walter snaps. "Morgan, I'm not going to listen to this crap..."

"...of what you are!"

I can feel Walter vibrating with anger. "My approval, or not, is between Alex and me. And if you don't back off, I'll throw you out on your ass."

Morgan looks disbelieving and annoyed.

I try to regroup. Morgan couldn't have known, but he hit on the most difficult part of our relationship... acceptance. I don't believe what he said. At least, not anymore, but it still stings. I don't know if it's because I'm tired, or because of the medication, or whatever else could be wrong, but I don't feel up to dealing with Morgan's tirade. I just want it to go away.

Walter rubs my shoulder, then awkwardly rises to his feet from under me. "Morgan," he says, his voice now sounding more resigned than angry, "I think you should go."

Shaking his head, Morgan rises to his feet and heads for the door, speaking over his shoulder, "Look at you, Alex. You can't even take care of yourself anymore."

Could that be true? Am I now too dependent on Walter? Has feeling safe with him fucked up my instincts? I pull my feet up onto the chair and wrap my arm around my calves. I have a headache.

Sharon appears from the dining room, keeping her distance from Morgan. She gazes at him through narrowed eyes. "There's a nice man underneath all that bluster. You should let him out more often."

He glances at her for a moment, then slams the door on his way out.

Walter crosses the room to Sharon. "I'm sorry, Shar."

She shrugs and moves into the living room. "You okay?" she asks me.

I nod. "Yeah. Fine."

She shakes her head. "Walter, you need to walk me to my car, then come back and be with Alex."

Nodding, he turns to me and kisses the top of my head. "I'll be right back."

"Thanks for coming tonight, Sharon. I... really enjoyed it." Up until the last 5 minutes.

She comes to me and sits on the chair to give me a hug. "Happy Birthday, Alex. I'm glad you're happy."

Nothing Morgan said matters. I'm glad I'm happy, too. I give her a half smile, then she and Walter leave.

Morgan's temper can be unpredictable. He reacted badly to my announcement yesterday that I'm out of the business. For good. I'll have to give him a few days to cool off before I tell him to stop being a shithead. Even though I'm going to ignore everything he said, I feel drained.

My fingers find the chain around my neck. Thank you, Walter.

**

Sharon unlocks her car door, then leans against it. "Alex's criminal friend doesn't like that he's trying to go straight. Morgan's like a drug pusher losing a client."

I nod. "Alex made his choice. Morgan has to live with it."

"Morgan could be bad for Alex."

"I know." I lean against her car. "After tonight, I'd be happy to never see the man again."

"He really does care for Alex." She takes my hand. "He talks about acceptance, but I think he's the one who can't accept."

She's right. "I'm sorry about tonight, Shar."

"I enjoyed being included in your little party. Thank you." After a brief hesitation, she asks, "Um, has Alex ever had a birthday party before?"

I give a faint shake of my head. "I doubt it."

Sharon gives me a faint smile I don't know how to interpret. "You're good for him, Walter." With that, she kisses my cheek, gets in the car and drives away.

In the elevator, I turn my thoughts back to the evening's events. Morgan, you fucker.

I liked him when I saw how much he cared for Alex... seeing Morgan go to the wall for him. But Morgan's losing Alex and doesn't seem to be able to handle it. As long as he's acting out like this, I can't trust him.

I hope Alex will talk. Morgan said some things tonight that we have to discuss.

When I get back to the apartment, the lights are off downstairs. I lock up the house and head upstairs. Alex is in the bed, absentmindedly stroking the chain I gave him.

I sit on the bed next to him. "You too tired to talk?"

"No." He seems worn out, though. I don't want to make this worse for him.

"I apologize for my choice of birthday guests."

Alex's fingers graze my thigh. "Don't apologize. Mostly, I enjoyed myself. I just didn't realize how upset Morgan was about my announcement that I'm leaving the business."

I don't want to fuck this up, so I consider my words carefully. "Alex, I do accept... what you did." I don't say 'what you were' because I don't think of Alex's core identity as being a criminal. It's what he did, not who he was or is. "You know I don't approve, but I do accept. It wasn't easy at first, but it is now. I don't even think about it very often. It's just facts about your life." It seems like there's more that I need to say, but I'm not sure what he needs to hear. I clasp my fingers around his hand.

Alex's expression softens and he squeezes my hand. "I know you accept me, Walter. And you may never know how much it means to me." He glances away for a second, then takes a breath and focuses on me. "From the beginning of our relationship--back in '94--I worried about how comfortable I was with you. About how much I let down my defenses. And it's increased, dramatically since we got back together. I realized it's because I feel safe with you... I trust you. But even though I know that now, he managed to... I don't know... get under my skin. Despite that, nothing he said matters to me."

I lean toward him, resting my head against his. "Sharon says that Morgan's the one having trouble accepting you. I think she's right."

"I have a feeling Sharon's usually right."

"Yeah. It was a damned annoyance when I was married to her."

Alex chuckles. "Morgan will get over it. I was in such a bad mood yesterday I didn't realize how upset he was about my decision to retire. I just wish he hadn't decided to finish his rant in front of Sharon."

"Based on what I saw tonight, I can no longer trust Morgan. He'd do almost anything to get you back into the fray." I'm not going to say it, but we both know Alex's life was shit, even before the nanocytes. It's something it's easy to be clear about... that life was killing him.

He wraps his arm around my back. "Morgan's as trustworthy as he ever was--which always merits a certain amount of caution. But there's nothing he can do. I have no reason to go back to my former life, and every reason not to."

Shifting so I can face him, I brush his hair back off his forehead. "You know Morgan better than I do, and I trust your judgment, but he's going to have to earn my trust again."

Alex gives me a half smile. "Good. He deserves to suffer."

I'm still worried about this new development but, in the scheme of our other problems, I guess it's pretty minor. "Let's get ready for bed. I'll give you a massage."

After brushing our teeth, we stumble back to bed. He's awake for about sixty seconds of the massage. I pull the sheet over him and crawl in beside him.

This lovely little cocoon we've been living in is only temporary. Talking about him fucking me. Birthday cakes. Not telling him I love him because I'm lying to myself that there will be time later for that. The fact is the real world is still out there and it wants him dead. And the only way to keep him alive may be to never see him again.

Just the suggestion of that loss is killing me.


Saturday, 10 June 2000
6:02 A.M.


I wake early, and lie next to Alex contemplating yesterday's events. It was only a brief respite from the inescapable problems we have to deal with, but a much needed one.

Glancing at my sleeping lover, who's an awkward lump in the middle of the bed, I feel a rush of conflicting feelings.

I wish I could give you more than a day, Alex. So much more, but staying alive now requires our full attention.

Closing my eyes, I imagine the future I'd like to see. A year from now. The two of us at the beach again--wearing Sharon's silly swim trunks. Alex with a flush of red on his cheeks... No nanocytes. No Resistance. Just two ordinary guys acting like teenagers.

It's such a beautiful picture. And the odds seem very low that it could happen that way. Still, I try to hold on to the picture, because it's the only way I can cope with what has to happen next, but I don't really allow myself to believe in it.

Rising from bed, I wash up and head downstairs.

After finishing my slime beverage, I phone Lavagetto to tell him we're coming tomorrow. Then I make flight plans, on separate flights, which I hate because I don't want to let Alex out of my sight. But we can't afford to be seen together. If the Resistance finds out what we're up to, it's all over for both of us.

I've been running the possibilities in my head for days. If this scenario happens, they'll kill Alex. If that scenario happens, they'll kill both of us. The only happy ending is for Lavagetto to find a cure. But, other than our exigent need, there's no special reason why he'd discover this cure in the next week rather than next month, next year or the year after.

Standing on the balcony, I look down at the city. I've lived here for almost four years. But when I get on that plane tomorrow, I might never be coming back.

The world will get along just fine without you, Walt. If it has to.

I try to laugh at my own pompousness, but I'm unable to find any humor in the situation.

In an odd way, I feel relieved. One way or another, this thing will soon be resolved. I wish the long odds weren't on our survival.

We haven't talked about it much. What's there to say? We'll try everything we can, and if that fails, we'll do the unthinkable.

Alex mentioned that he's made complicated legal plans to untraceably give Lyosha the bulk of his estate, should Alex drop out of site for more than 30 days.

I start thinking about my family. I haven't seen Dad and Anna in over a year. Anna was upset that I didn't come for my usual Christmas visit, but I just wasn't in the mood. I'd lost all hope of finding Alex by then.

If Alex doesn't mind, I think I'll drive up today and see them.

**

8:15 A.M.

I'm so attuned to Walter's presence that, as soon as I wake, I know he's not in the room.

Considering how horrible I felt a week ago, I feel astonishingly good today. After a quick shower, I pull on some jeans and head downstairs to find Walt.

He's on the balcony, staring out at the city. I watch him for a moment, then move into the kitchen for a glass of juice. When I return to the living room, he's seated in his chair. "I made flight plans for us for tomorrow."

Reality. Fuck.

I set my glass on the coffee table, then give him a quick kiss before kneeling between his legs. Wrapping my arm around him, I rest my head on his chest. "So, who's going where?"

"My flight goes to El Paso, and yours to Phoenix." He brushes my hair back and rests a hand on my shoulder. "Do you think you can stay out of trouble on the flight?" He seems subdued.

"Probably not." I might as well accept my fate. "Too bad we're not flying together... we could get in some serious trouble in the airplane lavatory."

He fingers the chain around my neck and murmurs, "I like the way it looks on you."

"That's good... because you're going to have to look at it every day." I don't say that I hope we have many years of 'every day.' I tip my head back to look at him. "It means a lot to me, Walter. I really love it." Love you.

"I'm glad." His gaze is fixed across the room, at nothing. He looks... very serious. I can tell something's bothering him. "I was thinking about visiting my father today. You could come with me, or stay here. Whichever you prefer."

That he's willing to let me meet his family is surprisingly touching, and yet completely uncomfortable. "Until the Resistance is off our backs, it's probably not safe for me to meet them." Carelessly, I rub his abdomen. "But thanks for offering... I would like to meet them someday."

Walter nods absently. "If you need anything, call Scully. I'll give you her cell phone number."

I blink at him. Call Scully? The circumstances would have to be pretty dire for me to dial that number. But I nod an agreement, again wondering what's bothering him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah." He stands up, gently extricating himself from my grasp. "Is there anything I can do for you before I go?"

I shake my head. "No. I'll be fine." Maybe he doesn't like visiting his family?

Rising to my feet, I flop on the sofa, trying not to worry about him. He'd tell me if there was a problem. Right? A few minutes later, he comes back down and phones his father. After a brief conversation, he pulls me up into his arms and holds me tightly. "I'll be back late... maybe 2 A.M." Then he's gone.

I stare at the door for a few moments, feeling like I'm missing something. I shake it off and head upstairs to change the sheets. I love the challenge of getting the bottom sheet on and Walt's not here to tell me to take it easy.

**

Woodlyn, PA
12:30 P.M.


I find my father in the library, pouring over a mass of documents I take to be our genealogical records. "Hi, dad."

The old man smiles up at me. "Walter," he says simply and happily, as if my visit is a pleasant surprise. "Did you know your mother's grandmother was related to the Romanovs?"

Taking a chair next to him, I glance at the Cyrillic documents. Each document is in a preserving bag, with an English translation neatly taped to the front. "Does that mean I'm the heir to the Russian throne?"

"Well..." he offers a cagey grin, "There are a few hundred other claimants."

"Good. Things didn't turn out so well for the last Russian royals." Suddenly, I remember that my life's not looking much rosier, and it doesn't seem so funny any more.

Dad takes in my shifting expression. "Why have you come, son?"

"I just wanted to see how you're doing."

He knows I'm lying. Dad can always tell. At least this time, I won't have to endure a scolding that would do any drill sergeant proud, and assignment to some odious chore, like scrubbing all the concrete surfaces of the basement with a small hand brush. We had the cleanest basement in the state. I wonder if the old man still remembers that... and 13-year-old Walt 'borrowing' his truck. He only had to replace two of the side panels. I paid for that out of my allowance, plus mowing a lot of lawns, for the next two years. $942.17. It seemed like a fortune at the time.

My sage dad decides to let the lie pass. For now. He takes me on a tour of the house, showing off a few improvements he made. I don't see any major repairs that need doing. Mom's been gone for over 20 years, but he still keeps her office the way it was. Not a speck of dust on her diplomas either. He probably commands the housekeeper like the Marine he once was.

I decline his offer to join him on his daily walk downtown. I'm not in the mood to run into old acquaintances. Ten minutes after he's gone, I return to the library and pull out his accounting books. I'm surprised to find no entries for the past two years. Then it dawns on me. With a twist of the mouse, I bring his PC back to life. It's all there... and it's much easier to snoop this way. He's got more than I thought. Mom's life insurance is still untouched and he's barely tapped the trust she set up for him. Fuck, most of my college fund is still there--unneeded because of the GI Bill. It's quite a sum, after almost 30 years of interest.

My sister, Anna, is a banker and her husband teaches third grade. They have two kids, a 12-year-old boy who has no interest in family anything and a nine-year-old girl who dotes on her grandpa. They live three houses down. They'll take care of dad if I can't.

We spend the afternoon at Anna's house, playing games with the kids. I get a feeling about my nephew. He might be gay. I try not to worry. If it's true, it'll be easier for him than it was for me.

After dinner, I have a couple cups of coffee to keep me alert and wait for dad to get tired. Happy to have the family all together again, he struggles to conceal his fatigue, but eventually, he succumbs. I take Anna aside and tell her I want to talk later.

I walk dad back to the house. As soon as he's settled in the library, I make my way back to Anna's. She's in the living room, a sleeping cat on her lap. She eyes me curiously. "What's up, Zorro?"

"Catwoman," I reply in a flat tone, because the memory aches. Anna and I as kids playing in the back yard. A simple life. A good life. How the fuck did I get here from that?

"You okay?"

Pushing back the feelings, I say, "Yeah. I, uh, Anna." Fuck, this is hard to say. To tell the lie. "I'm working on something... Something very dangerous. I can't tell you much about it, but I..." Oh, fuck. Just say it. "It's very dangerous. And I wanted to see you in case something happens to me."

Anna groans. "Your job?"

"Yeah." Another lie.

"I thought you were a bigwig, chained to a desk." She shakes her head. "Can't they give the SWAT stuff to the high-testosterone 20-somethings? Aren't you a little old for this kind of shit?"

Oddly, I feel ready-to-drop weary of my problems, but I don't feel old.

"It doesn't matter, Anna," I reply firmly.

She's silent for a long time before she asks, "So you're here to make sure dad's going to be taken care of?"

"Yeah. It looks like he's in great shape financially. Right?"

"Oh, yeah. He hardly spends anything. Mom left him quite a wad. Don't worry, Walt. If anything happens, I'll take care of him."

"Thank you."

"Walt, you seem... kinda depressed. I know this gonzo stuff doesn't usually get you down. Want to talk about it?"

"No, thanks."

"Ok," she replies reluctantly. "Just don't go on this mission thinking like that, Walt." She nudges me. "You know what Mom always said about keeping a positive attitude."

"Yes, ma'am," I toss off, giving her the official 'mom salute,' before I change the subject. "What's going on with Jeremy?"

Anna shakes her head. "I dunno. He's becoming anti-social. I'm not sure what it means."

"I think he might be gay."

Her eyes open wide. Surprised that her son might be gay? Or that I'm having this kind of conversation with her? "He's only 12, Walt."

"Need I remind you that you were boy crazy at 12?"

"Shit."

"Maybe I'm wrong. But if I'm not, make sure the whole family stands behind him. Don't let Matt or dad or anyone give him any shit. He's got a right to be whoever he is."

Anna gazes at me as if seeing me for the very first time. "You've changed, Walt."

"Yeah, I have." Alex did that. "Just keep loving your son, no matter what. He'll turn out all right."

Her mouth opens, but she hesitates before the words come out. "Is there someone in your life?"

"Yeah."

"I'm glad." She leans over and kisses me on the cheek.

I blink at her dumbly. We're not a touchy family.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No. Thanks." Just one more thing. "Um, just so you know, my estate... Well, there isn't much, but I'm leaving it to, Sharon, another friend and, um, the person I'm seeing. I hope that's-"

"It's fine, Walt. You know we don't need it. If Matt and I get into trouble--and we won't--dad will put the kids through college. Nothing to worry about. You just take care of yourself and your... your special someone, okay?"

"Yeah."

"And, call me now and then. Can you do that?" Her indulgent smile tells me she'll always forgive me, even if I never call.

"I'll try." If I'm alive. If Alex is alive. If. If. If!

They can kill us any time they choose. I can't let doubts keep me from moving forward as well as I can.

I can't deal with anything but trying to get Alex and I out of this alive.

Anna wishes me the best when I hug her goodbye. I don't have to tell her not to tell dad about my "dangerous mission." I know she won't. Unless something happens.

Dad's ready for bed when I get back to the house. When I tell him I'm leaving, he walks me to the car. "You coming back for Christmas this year?"

"Yeah." And I will, if I can.

He slaps me on the back.

Before I can stop myself, I reach for him and pull him into my arms. "Bye, dad."

When the stunned man pulls away, he eyes me warily. "You sick or something, son?"

"No, dad. I'm fine." I hope he'll forgive the lie.

On the drive back to Washington, I think about Alex and our situation. I don't want to live without him.

He's not my reason for living. He's my reason for happiness. I don't know yet why I'm alive--why I didn't end it when I was first infected, or when he was missing, but I suspect there is a reason that will be revealed if I listen well enough.

If Alex dies, I guess I would keep going... like I did when he was in the Tunisian prison. Maybe I could try to stop of some of the terrible things that are happening on planet earth.

But what if I don't make it? What if Alex had to live on after my death?

I don't think he'd want to. He's not dependent on me, but he leans on me. I bring him back to earth when he's lost. Like... an anchor. When we were fighting to save Alex's life last week, Russ concluded that Alex has been going back for the tests to stay with me. And he's right. I just hadn't wanted to see it.

If I died, he'd never go back. And they'd kill him. The only way for Alex to survive is free of the nanocytes.

We're counting on you, Russ. So I don't pray to a god I can't believe in. I pray to a petite and brilliant doctor with a fondness for domineering blondes.

Something finally makes me laugh.

**

Sunday, 11 June 2000
1:48 A.M.


I wake suddenly at the sound of Walter's key in the lock, annoyed at myself for having fallen asleep. Rising from the sofa, I greet him at the door.

Walter pulls me into his arms and crushes me against his body. I can feel a release of tension, and sense his deep emotions. After a very lengthy hug, he releases me. "How are you feeling?"

He worries too much, but it just makes me smile. "I'm fine." Grabbing his hand, I pull him toward the stairs. "I want to stop taking this damned medication."

In the bathroom, I lean against the counter while he's brushing his teeth. "Did you enjoy your visit with your family?"

He shrugs and mumbles, "I gueth," around his toothbrush.

I wonder how he'd feel about me pinning him to the bathroom floor until he tells me what's bothering him. I drum my fingers on the countertop. "Are we meeting somewhere in Tucson or at the lab?"

Walter rinses his mouth, then replies, "Let's meet at the lab, unless you can think of some reason not to."

"Nothing that comes to mind." I sit on the counter and scoot in front of him, wrapping my legs around him. "But, it's too bad we're coming from different directions. If we'd driven together, I could have groped you in the car."

Lurking underneath Walter's fatigue is a weak grin. "Well, you've got five minutes to grope me now, before I start snoring."

Using my legs, I give him a squeeze, then release him. I tug his shirt over his head, then grab his ass. "All right, Muscle Man... let's go to bed."

9:16 A.M.

I'm half-dressed and eating breakfast when Walter appears with his suitcase. His flight leaves an hour before mine from Dulles. I'm leaving from Baltimore.

He sits next to me and gives me a kiss. I wiggle around until I'm straddling his lap. "Be careful."

His expression is a near miss of a smile. "I was just going to tell you the same thing. You know... don't talk to any strange aliens on the plane..."

My lips twitch into a grin. "Okay. I'll be sure to only talk to normal aliens." I pause for a second while playing with his earlobe. "Scully knows we're leaving?"

"Yeah." He brushes two fingers down the side of my face. "And don't forget to take your medication. You can gripe to Russ about it when we get there."

I need to let him go, but I hate this feeling that there's something wrong. Maybe he doesn't think there's any hope for us. That this trip will be a waste. I guess he'll talk to me when he's ready.

I kiss him again... exploring his mouth and memorizing his taste. When Walter breaks away, his expression has changed. He looks distressed. "I really don't want to let you out of my sight. I know it's stupid," his voice drops very low, almost inaudible, "but I'm afraid I'll never see you again."

I know the fear isn't about not seeing me later today, it's the same fear I have... worrying that the end is close. I trace the line of his jaw with my fingertips. "I know. I felt the same way every time I had to leave to do the bidding of the Resistance. It's taken too much to get here and you're stuck with me now."

The apprehension in his face melts away and is replaced by the all-business Walter. "Of course. I should be there by 7."

I give him another quick, hard kiss so he doesn't forget that I'm not one of his agents. "I'll see you tonight." I climb off his lap. A few minutes later, he's gone.


Baltimore, MD
11:48 A.M.


I'm pleasantly surprised to find that Walter booked first class tickets. Which is a good thing, because the flight is oversold.

I thought the decreased dose of medication was making me less irritable, but apparently that's only with Walter. Right now, I feel ready to kill everyone in my path. Including the big-haired flight attendant trying to shove a glass of mimosa at me.

I try to tune out the noise of a minor league baseball team in coach, and think about what's coming. I have two and a half weeks before I'm supposed to report in. And I won't be there. Then they'll be trying to kill me.

If Walter and I lived somewhere remote, would they still be able to kill me? Possibly. Would he be willing to go away with me? Of course, one wrong move and I'd be dead before we had time to do anything about it. I can't bring myself to believe this is our last two weeks together, but how much time will we have after that? Days? Weeks? Months seems like too much to hope for.

Looking mindlessly out the window, I watch the baggage being loaded onto the plane. Russ has to find a solution for us, because I'm not ready to give up on the only happiness in my life.

** End Part 3 **

Only one more book of Exigency left.

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

In Part 4...
The Resistance gives Alex a deadline. Walter struggles with the most difficult decision of his life.

Next part in series


Back to LZL Home Back to Exigency Page