Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Protect3.

Exigency: Protect
noun: urgent requirements, exacting want or pressing needs.

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

Part 4

Tucson, AZ
6:14 P.M.

I'm halfway to the front door of the lab when Russ steps outside. He looks me over from head to toe, an astonished expression on his face. "You look quite recovered."

I try not to glare at him. "I want off this fucking medication."

Russ cracks a smile and escorts me into the building. "Okay."

Once we get past the reception area, I see that his entire staff is milling around with an air of anticipation. Scientists anxious to experiment on me.

I realize I've stopped walking. Russ is giving me a quizzical look. The need to flee is overpowering, but I force my feet into motion.

Russ shows me some changes in the facility since my last visit and introduces me to everyone again, still using my pseudonym 'Tom.' At my lack of response, he gives me a concerned glance, then takes me to see the lab.

Taking a deep breath, I step inside, then freeze. The room seems to morph into something different... the Resistance lab. I try to focus, but can't see what's really in front of me. I see an exam table with straps... lots of straps. I hear voices... saying strange things. 'Doctor, there's no cardiac rhythm.' It's too recent. No. I just... I cannot do this.

"Tom, are you all right?" Russ's voice comes from far away. I feel a touch on my elbow and jerk away.

I have to get out of here. I'm almost at my car before I'm aware of moving.

Russ is close behind. "Tom? Where are you going?"

"Tea," I mumble. "Have to get tea." I twist the key in the lock and climb into the car.

I drive mindlessly, trying to forget what happened today... or rather, what happened two weeks ago. The road before me blurs into a corridor in the medical wing. I blink a few times, as if that will remove the images from my mind. Ruthlessly, I shove it all down... A skill I thought I'd perfected, but seems to be somewhat elusive of late.

When there's no thought, just the feel of the steering wheel in my hands, and no vision but that of the blacktop highway winding through the desert, I bring my focus back to the present.

Fuck. I don't even know where I am. I pull off the road to get directions, then become aware of the time.

Walter's going to get the lab before I get back... and he'll be worried. That jars me back to reality more than anything else. I am not going to make Walter's life more difficult.

I get directions and a bottle of tea, then turn the car around. I'll figure out a way to do this. I have to. It's our only chance.


Lavagetto meets me just inside the front door of the lab. He looks concerned.

Skipping pleasantries, I ask, "Where's Alex?"

"He arrived, and then quickly departed." Russ shakes his head. "While in the lab, he froze--became agitated. Asserted he had to acquire tea, then bolted out of here."


"He'll be back," I reply with a confidence I don't entirely feel.

I should have arranged to get here first. But he'd been here before without any problems, so I... got careless.

I'm sorry, Alex. Just come back safe.

The doctor gives me a tour of the lab. He installed a partition, behind which is a small living area, with a double bed, a table and two chairs. It's comfortable, though Spartan. I desperately hope Alex won't ever be confined here. Since it's still two and a half weeks until he's expected to be available for duty, I made a hotel reservation for us.

After informing Russ that we won't be available for tests until the morning, I exit to the parking lot to wait for Alex. Sitting in my rental car, I find an oldies station and listen to music. A few of the songs remind me of Vietnam. How much has changed since then. And yet... I'm still fighting a near-impossible battle and hoping against hope to come out of it alive.

Alex appears after almost an hour. I step out of my vehicle and meet him at his. "You okay?"

He climbs out of his car and nods. But I know that look. Alex isn't entirely present. "I hadn't quite psyched myself up for the lab." He sounds like he's relaying the temperature. "I didn't mean to be gone for so long."

I pull him into my arms. "It's okay, Alex. I told Russ we'll start in the morning. And I'll be here with you."

Some of his tension breaks away and I hear his ragged indrawn breath as his arm tightens around me. "Please tell me we're staying together."

"Yeah. I got a suite at the Hilton. If you stay out of the lobby, we should be okay." I knew we needed to be together. And as long as I can keep Alex from living in the lab, I want him to be somewhere nice. With me.

"Thanks." His voice is a murmur. "I feel like an idiot, but I don't think I can do this without you here."

"I'm not letting you out of my sight." At my words, another measure of his tension slips away.

The facility door opens and Russ appears. He gives me a questioning look. When he sees my nod, he walks over to us, giving Alex an assessing gaze. "We're ready to begin whenever the two of you are ready."

"We're going to head over to the hotel, but we'll back in the morning." I glance at Alex, who says nothing, but I can see he retreated emotionally as soon as Russ arrived.

Russ puts a hand on Alex's shoulder, and he visibly tenses. "I'm going to do everything I can to make this as easy as possible for you. I promise."

Alex meets Russ' gaze, his expression stiff. After a hesitation he gives a faint nod.

"Thank you, Dr. Lavagetto." I open Alex's car and pop the trunk latch to get his suitcase. "We'll see you in the morning."

It's less than a mile to the hotel. I drop Alex at the side entrance, then walk around to the front to check in. Ten minutes later, I return to the side door to give him his key.

It's a big beautiful suite, with a view of downtown Tucson. There's a king size bed, a half kitchen, sitting room and a bathroom the size of my living room and dining room combined. Alex numbly puts his tea in the refrigerator. I take him by the hand to the couch. Planting him there, I give him a shoulder rub.

It takes awhile, but he begins to relax. A few minutes later, he grasps one of my hands and looks up at me. "Let's take a shower."

I reach for his hand and guide him to the bathroom.

Monday, 12 June 2000
8:17 A.M.

I order room service, but Alex just picks at the food. I try to find the magic words to reassure him, but there really aren't any. Not after what he's been through.

When we get to the facility, he pretends to be fine and marches into the building under his own power. Lavagetto meets us and suggests that we sit in the lobby to discuss plans for the day. He has tea for Alex and a fruit juice for me.

After outlining the procedures to be performed, Dr. Lavagetto says to Alex, "We'll take this one step at a time. Do you think you're ready for the physical exam?"

Alex nods. "Yeah. Let's do it." His stilted voice belies the confidence of his words.

Rising, we walk hand-in-hand to the lab. I notice a shocked expression on the faces of two of the staff. Good to know Lavagetto can keep a secret.

I remind Alex to breathe, then we enter the lab. He's frozen in the doorway for a moment, then takes another deep breath and begins looking around. I'm not sure he's aware of keeping a hold of my hand as he wanders around.

Looking at the room through Alex's eyes, I realize that, since yesterday, Russ has concealed most of the serious medical gear. Even the microscopes are tucked away in a closet-like room. There is a pair of homey overstuffed chairs. A television. A bowl of fruit. Lavagetto's trying to make it seem less... intimidating. I could kiss him.

When Alex finds the small living area, his expression remains neutral, but there's a slight increase in his body tension.

When he's done looking around, Russ asks him to remove his shirt, so they can do a quick exam and draw some blood. Alex releases my hand long enough to pull off his shirt and remove the prosthesis, then clamps onto it again.

Lavagetto speaks to him in a soothing tone. His people skills are a lot better than he led us to believe. I think he genuinely likes Alex. Plus I suspect it's hard not to be empathetic when you've read Alex's file and that hideous report he brought back.

No matter what happens, they're never going to get their hands on you again. It's good consolation.

Around lunchtime, Alex is about to hop off the table, when Russ says, "Alex, your type 1 nano levels are down again. Which confirms our hypothesis that they were re-infecting you."

Lavagetto isn't looking directly at Alex, so he misses Alex's glare and furtive glance at me.

"They've been re-infecting you?" I don't know why this upsets me. It's not worse than anything else they've done.

Russ suddenly focuses on me, then flashes an apology at Alex. "I was incognizant this would precipitate perturbation."

"Why didn't you-" I cut myself off, implications beginning to sink in.

Alex meets my gaze and offers, "Russ and I figured they'd been re-infecting me with type 1 nanos so I'd be dependent upon them to keep my healing nanos activated."

I notice Alex didn't answer my question, but I suddenly know why. "The day at the beach..."

Alex isn't looking at me anymore. "Yeah."

That day I asked Alex to save himself by running and hiding. His argument was that he needed the Resistance so he'd have his healing nanos to protect him from the type 1s.

"When did you discover this?" I demand.

Eventually he meets my gaze. "The first time I came here..."

After the day at the beach.

"I didn't lie to you..." Alex softly murmurs. "I just didn't tell you."

Frowning, I assemble the pieces. So he might have thought he was still dependent on the Resistance. And that might have been a good reason not to go into hiding. But he knew later and didn't say so. He could have saved himself.

"I didn't want you to send me away." His softly murmured explanation is both statement and plea. He glances at Russ. "I asked Russ not to tell you."

Shaking my head, I bolt into the hall. I'm the critical factor in this equation. Alex has endured all of this to stay with me. I want to throw a tantrum. To scream that I don't want to be the reason for his terrible suffering. To shake him until he swears to me he won't choose us over himself again. I just want him to live free of these things. Whatever it takes.

Whatever it goddamned mother-fucking takes!

Getting through today is part of what it takes, Walt.

So I cram it all down into a dark corner of myself and reenter the lab. Alex is sitting limply while Russ disconnects him from all the equipment.

"Just how long does it take the type 1 nanos to completely self destruct?" I query the doctor.

"I would estimate within two to three months."

"So if we don't succeed here, Alex can go into hiding to avoid these things?"

Lavagetto regards Alex, then me, before he finally shrugs.

Alex doesn't move, but his gaze is now directly focused on me. And he looks defeated. While I have real hope for the first time in two weeks.

It's my turn to avoid his eyes. If there's no cure here, you're going Alex. One way or another. I am not watching you die... because of me. Or for any reason.

Somehow both Alex and I survive the morning. Russ recommends take-out and a park, so the three of us pick up Indian food and find a shady bench to eat on. Alex is moody but the fresh air seems to bring back his color. After the meal, we stay for a while so he can unwind.

None of us have anything to say about the research, nanocytes or much of anything else. Russ tries to lighten the mood by telling us amusing stories about growing up wealthy.

I want to be happy, but it's difficult. Alex allowed some of this... because of me. It cuts me to the core and only makes me more resolute in my determination to end it.

When we're back at the lab, Russ wants to spend some time trying to isolate the control signal for Alex's nanos. Because they deactivate so quickly, they need to continually draw the blood out through one arm and pump it back into the other. Alex adamantly refuses to allow them to put an IV in his good arm. So, we sit in the comfy chairs, while Lavagetto gets a line into Alex's foot.

We sit for hours while they cycle Alex's blood. The process makes him extremely cold, so he winds up huddled under a blanket, with only his arm sticking out, so he can touch me or hold my hand.

In an odd way, the cold seems to distract him from his fear.

Russ and his assistants eventually give up. They have one signal that gets a response from the nanos, but it doesn't appear to be the control signal. Or, their prototype control panel simply cannot process the signals correctly.

They remove the IV's from Alex, who is shivering under the blanket. I invite him to sit on my lap, so blanket and all, he curls up and tries to get warm.

Nonplussed, Lavagetto takes a seat across from us and discusses where the research needs more data.

The doctor explains, "One of the large gaps in our knowledge is how the nanocytes reproduce. Of necessity, they must utilize material from the host body, but they're also not entirely organic."

Around his blanket, Alex mutters, "The alien DNA knows how to manipulate human genes to take different forms, which can assimilate trace elements as building blocks." Alex appears surprised by his own words. He looks at me and mumbles, "Fucking alien memories."

The good doctor stares at Alex. "What alien DNA? You have your DNA and the nanocytes. There's no foreign DNA that I'm cognizant of."

Fuck. This situation is difficult enough. I do not want to be talking to Lavagetto about aliens. But I have no idea what to say to head this off.

Alex replies, "DNA is a little inaccurate... on a sub-microscopic level, each nanocyte has a map of the human genome that tells-"

Lavagetto interjects, "That's not possible. The genome is just now being finalized. When you were initially infected, no one had the data to propagate to the nanocytes. To say nothing of the ability to store that much data on a micro machine."

"It is possible. The human genome was mapped a long time ago." Alex turns his head and whispers to me, "Centuries ago."

Lavagetto is unconvinced. "The computational requirements to map the genome did not exist five years ago." He shakes his head. "I recognize that this nano technology far exceeds what anyone I know can manufacture, but I understand what's required to deliver the genome and no one could have achieved it until the last several years."

"Russ, I cannot explain how I know this, and you don't even have to accept it," Alex insists, "but a private, uh, group was mapping the human genome quite a long time before the scientific community. In any case, the architecture of the nanocytes allows them to function as... well, almost as cells, capable of removing trace minerals from the body to create replicas of themselves." As he's relaying this information, he has that astonished expression again.

Lavagetto's expression, however, remains skeptical. "If this is so, why didn't you supply us with this information before now?"

Alex glances at me, then shrugs. "I just remembered."

Before Lavagetto can open his mouth, I head him off with a gesture. "Just a sec." I give Alex's arm a reassuring squeeze. "Dr. Lavagetto, did you believe the nanotechnology that you've now seen was possible before you met me?"

"No, but-"

"So you've had to accept that someone, somehow has managed to develop technology that's quite a few years ahead of where you thought the world's scientists were, right?"

Lavagetto nods reluctantly.

"And, as you know, Alex's and my lives are at stake. We can't afford to give you misinformation, about any of this. So if we don't have a very good reason to believe something is true, we're not going to offer it to you as fact."

"That doesn't mean it is true."

"Correct. But Alex has access to some... unusual information, and he may remember more over time. He is willing to bet his life on that information."

The doctor glances at Alex, who offers, "I'm not going to mislead you, Russ. And you don't even have to believe me... until it becomes relevant to the research. Then I'll be paying you to take my word for it."

I let Lavagetto digest that for a moment, before adding, "We're asking you to assume this information is correct, unless you have empirical data that contradicts it. Can you do that, Russ?"

"You persistently require me to do the impossible, Walter." He gives me a grim smile. "I will consider what Alex contributes from his, uh, memories, and shall endeavor to keep an open mind. That's the best I can commit to."

We'll take it. What the hell other choice do we have?

Alex rubs his forehead as if he has a bad headache.

Just as I'm going to take over the head rub, Russ jumps up and comes at Alex with a penlight. Alex bats him away and asks to speak to me outside.

We step out into the parking lot and lean against the building. "What is it, Alex?"

He closes his eyes, looking like he's concentrating. "The nanocytes are colonist technology. It was used to control the Mvethrain when they were slaves--what we now know as the rebel aliens. They had to have found a way to get free of the nanocytes and are now trying to refine the technology to use on humans." He looks at me. "Which makes me very suspicious of their intentions."

"So if the colonists win, they use the human race? And if the Resistance wins, they use the human race?" We're fucked coming and going. But at the moment, I don't really care. "Does any of this help us get you free of those things?"

"I don't know. Once I get the memories, I can usually sift through them. Although, frequently very little makes sense to me. I got massive, well, downloads of memories when I was exposed to the ship fragments, but I get them randomly now. I have no idea what else is going to come up."

Maybe we can improve on 'randomly.' "Do you think you might be able to, I don't know... meditate or something to encourage the memories? Maybe there's a way to release information that's relevant to the problem at hand?"

"I could try." He hesitates, then smiles at me for the first time today. "We could always try Tantric sex and see what happens."

Glad to see his gloom lifting, I ruffle his hair. It's a lovely concept... fucking our way to freedom. "Whatever it takes, Alex."

He has no idea how truly committed to that I am.

Back in the lab, we discuss memory retrieval with Lavagetto. He gives Alex some exercises to try. Sort of self-hypnosis. He also informs us that Dale, the micro-robotics engineer, meditates, and suggests that Alex might try working with her.

I can see from Alex's dubious expression that he's not eager to let someone into his head.

After reviewing tomorrow's plans, Alex and I escape to the hotel. After eating more room service, I manage to convince Alex to join me in the giant sunken bathtub. I give him a thorough massage, bringing his tension down to a more manageable level. Afterward he kneels in front of me and runs the washcloth over my arms and chest. Then he moves closer, pressing his body to mine, so he can reach behind to wash my back.

I love the way he lavishes attention on me, but I will not allow myself to get lost in the sensual pleasure. I can't afford to right now.

I encourage him to try some of the meditation techniques tonight. Absorbed in running the washcloth over my neck and shoulders, he absently murmurs an affirmative. I keep his efforts at seduction from turning into anything serious, and he's clearly not happy about it.

Once we're out of the tub, Alex sits naked on the bed and applies himself to the rather silly process of talking himself into a stupor. He starts babbling out loud about his kitchen aliens, even mentioning that he used to be able to cook--something he never would admit normally. Then he talks about learning to do things with one arm--something about someone named Abby taking his button-flys. From button-flys he migrates to the feel of the skin on my feet... a topic worth maybe two or three words, to which he employs at least a hundred.

While he's prattling on about German grammar, I step into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I doubt he'll notice my absence. Upon my return, he's speaking in Spanish. The cadence of the words suggests he's reciting poetry.

I get into bed and fall asleep to the drone of his words.

Tuesday, 13 June 2000
7:09 A.M.

I'm eating breakfast when I see Alex sit up in bed.

"Morning." I rise and sit next to him.

He leans against me and sleepily replies, "Mrnin."

I kiss his forehead. "Remember anything last night?"

"No." He talks into my chest. "But I 'member what I said. Not so sure I wanna do that again."

That makes two of us. "No one has ever described my feet in such loving detail. But the part about conjugating irregular French verbs was a little tedious."

He groans and gives me a mock punch in the arm. A moment later, he stumbles out of bed and into the shower. When he emerges, he looks much more alert.

Tuesday at the lab is more of the same. Alex isn't happy to be there, but he makes it in the door. In the afternoon I get a few minutes alone with Lavagetto. We don't have much to say to each other. I don't dare ask how it's going because I'm desperately afraid of the answer.


Wednesday, 14 June 2000
1:44 P.M.

Today, Walter wore a blue tank top and the swim trunks Sharon gave us. The shorts are a little silly, but they look good on him. His bare arms and legs are a pleasant distraction during the day of tests. And a frustrating distraction. We haven't fucked since the morning of my birthday. Walter's so focused on what we're doing, he seems distant. I've been so tired from the days in the lab, I haven't pressed the issue. But I'm not prepared to wait much longer. Especially if Walter is going to try to send me away. I'm not going to let him, but I don't want to fight about it, so I carefully avoid the topic at all costs.

They're trying more things with their prototype control pad, taking blood and whatever else they can think of. Tomorrow they want to activate Walter's nanos at a low setting. I protested, but Walter overruled my objection.

I haven't had any new, useful memories. Unless the calculus of thermodynamics is somehow the key to curing us. I suppose we could use the equations to build a spaceship and relocate to another planet, but it seems a bit impractical given the time constraints of our situation.

I'm supposed to meet with Dale this afternoon for a guided meditation. I can hardly wait.

I tell Walter that I'm going to step outside, then use the satellite phone to check in with the Resistance. I make it through my conversation with Arntzen with gritted teeth. I play up how badly I feel and tell him I'll see him in two weeks.

Back in the lab, I whisper to Walter that everything's okay.

I guess Dale is on her meds today, because right on time, she shows up to take me off for an afternoon of chanting or some such bullshit.

There are a couple of small sleeping rooms used for team members who work overnight. She's commandeered one of them. There are mats on the floor, candles burning and the smell of incense in the air. I was skeptical before I came in here... now I'm just amused.

She points to one of the mats. "That's your zabuton."

I reluctantly get on the floor, my ass propped on some round pillow and my knees on the 'zabuton.'

Dale instructs me to close my eyes and breathe deeply.

After ten minutes of deep breathing, I'm bored out of my mind and not remembering a damned thing. Then she begins to talk.

She has me visualize tension in my body as having colors, then says to release the tension into a white light of relaxation. I bite my lip to keep from laughing. When she sets the scene of a country meadow with a babbling brook, I can no longer keep the laughter at bay. I roll off the cushion, gasping for air. When I can compose myself a little, I realize she's glaring at me.

I get to my feet. "I'm sorry... this isn't working for me. I'll, uh, I'll just leave you to finish your afternoon stroll in the country." I'm out the door before she can act on all that healthy indignation on her face.

I wander back to the lab and find Walter and Russ seated in the stuffed chairs talking. I plop on Walter's lap. "My tension is purple and brown."

Walt gives me his bemused my-lover-is-insane look.

I start laughing again. "I didn't remember a damned thing, but I found out that my tension is brown and purple."

Russ gives me a half smile. "I'll bet Dale is fuming."

"No doubt. I think she'd like to beat me to death with one of her 'zabutons'." I sniff my shirt. "God, my clothes are going to smell like sandalwood for a week."

Rising to his feet, Russ heads for the door, muttering, "I'd better have someone keep an eye on her."

Once he's out of the room, Walter whispers in my ear, "For a man who believes in aliens you're remarkably intolerant."

I kiss the side of his neck. "You believe in aliens, too and I don't see you in there, kneeling on a funny mat, with a little round pillow under your butt, sniffing sandalwood and trying to 'visualize your tension.' Followed by a stroll through an imaginary meadow to the sound of a hallucinated babbling brook."

"Well, I would if I thought it would help."

I tip my head back to look at him. He's serious. He's been there every time I need him this week, but otherwise, he has been all business. I'm not used to this Walter. "I'll keep trying."

"I know you will," he says softly.

Thursday, 15 June 2000
7:40 A.M.

Russ wants me to work with the software engineer, but I'm not going anywhere until they're finished with Walter. They have him lie on a table and hook him up to several machines.

I grab one of the rolling stools and sit near his head, resting my hand on his shoulder. He seems very relaxed. They lock the lab doors so no one can accidentally go in or out while they have the control pad on.

Lavagetto runs through several tests with their prototype before switching to the real one. The tests take hours. In the early afternoon, Lavagetto asks permission to administer pain medication and turn the setting up a little. I want to protest, tell him no, but Walter tells Russ to get the medication ready, but to wait until he asks for it, which he never does.

Finally, Russ turns the setting down and continues to monitor Walter. Then he shuts the control pad off. Walter looks tired.

I whisper in his ear, "We're leaving."

"No, I'm fine."

I manage to grit out, "I. Want. To. Leave."

He blinks at me, then says, "Okay. Russ, that's it. I'll call you in an hour if we're not coming back."

I guess Walter is going to be making that call.

Lavagetto glances at me, then Walter, and nods.

I snag the keys, and we walk out to the car. Walter doesn't object to me driving and doesn't say anything when I take us back to the hotel. We split up and head to the room.

Once we're in the room, I turn down the bed. "You need to get some rest."

"Okay, Alex." He sits on the bed. I bend down to take off his shoes. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

I toss one shoe toward the closet, then the other. "You need time to rest. And you should have some juice, or something. I'll call room service."

"Fine. Now tell me what upset you."

I look up at him and feel the tension of the day flood through me. "I wanted to kill Lavagetto back there." I get to my feet. "I am not going to let him turn you into the next nano lab rat. You're paying him to cure you, not turn you into an experiment. He's got his goddamned finger on the button that controls your life. And I won't let him do it." I realize I'm ranting... and not making a hell of a lot of sense.

Walter watches me carefully, but he doesn't look like he's going to say anything.

I pace around. "He hasn't got a fucking clue... what it's like to have these things in your body. But we've given him control over our lives. Over your life. I can't... I can't let this happen to you. Even if it's... I can't let him torture you. Even on a low setting."

Even while I was sitting there watching, I didn't realize how much this bothered me. Lying on the table, hooked up to machines, I could too easily see Walter in my place. And I don't want him to go through anything like that. Or anything that hurts him.

I stop pacing because I don't know what else to say. "And he isn't considering that you need to rest after these fucking tests. Replication of the nanos takes a lot of the body's energy reserves." I focus on Walter. "So you need to take a nap... or whatever."

Walt stares at me in silence for a long time before he speaks. "I know today was hard for you. I'm sorry. But it was not difficult for me. The pain wasn't extreme. It's not the same as what you endured. Not even close."

"That's not the point. You shouldn't be in a position to have to cope with what you deem to be an acceptable amount of pain." I sit heavily on the foot of the bed. "This mess is my fault and I hate that you are suffering the consequences."

"It's not your fault, Alex." He shakes his head. "And neither of us should have to deal with any of this crap. Not me. Not you either." He pinches the bridge of his nose, then looks at me intently. "Yes, we've put our lives in Lavagetto's hands. But only so we get our lives out of the hands of the Resistance."

"I know." I know it all. And it makes sense. We made the best choices we could, but it doesn't change the way I feel.

Walter rises and walks to the foot of the bed to sit next to me. "Alex, you're not going to want to hear this, but I have to say it." The harsh and determined expression on his face causes a twinge of dread. "I want you free. I want us free. And there is no experiment I won't agree to, if it helps accomplish that."

There's a bluish spot on his neck from Lavagetto. I reach out and stroke my fingers over it. "It hurts to see them performing tests on you. I hate it." And what choice do we have. "But I'll try..." I meet his gaze. "I'll try."

"I know it's terrible for you, and I'm sorry. If you think it would be better, you don't have to be there when it's happening."

"No," I reply emphatically. "I'll be there for you. No matter what happens."

He curls an arm around my waist. "I know you will. Thank you."

"Come on." I nod toward the head of the bed. "I'll lie down with you. And if you really want to go back to the lab tonight, I'll try to behave."

We settle on the bed, facing each other, my arm around his shoulders, his arm around my waist. I drape my leg over his hips. Within a few minutes, he's asleep.

I watch him sleep and think about what's next. There's no way I won't be in that room if they're experimenting on him. But I don't know how to passively let them do it. Knowing Walter was alive and safe has kept me sane so many times. And even though I know it's not true, I feel like the lab is a threat to him. So, how do I allow this to happen?

I guess it comes down to us. I trust Walter, and I trust his judgment. If this is the choice he's making, there's nothing for me to do but back him up. And I'll continue to back him up right until he tries to make me leave.

But I'm never going to like it.

Moving a little closer, and trying not to wake him with my restlessness, I let my lips graze his forehead. Sleep well, lyubof' maya.

Saturday, 17 June 2000
6:27 A.M.

It's Saturday but we're still going to the lab. The days have become longer. We get back to the hotel after 10 and leave before 7. The hardest part for me remains the times Walt has to be tested. Aside from occasionally excusing myself to take a breather, I haven't said anything about the number of tests or the long hours.

I hear the water in the bathroom shut off. A few minutes later the door opens. Wordlessly, Walter and I exchange places. He's always in the shower by the time I wake up.

Stepping under the hot spray, my thoughts turn to his physical distance since we arrived. He's avoided showering with me, which tells me he's avoiding sex. He still touches me a lot, but I don't feel like we're connecting. Unless I'm the one being tested. At those times, I know he's really with me. He holds my hand and talks to me... distracting me from what's going on and helping me stay calm. I think Russ would be in a body cast by now if Walter weren't there.

But it's not just Walter. I realized yesterday how differently I've been acting. The long days in a place I hate have affected my mood. By the end of the day, I'm jumpy and not inclined to talk. Add to that my silent concern about Walter's future plans for us and it's almost unbearable.

Walt will occasionally rest in the little living area inside the lab, but I avoid it... try not to think about it. Because, it's where I might wind up living. Only the promise of being with Walter would make living like that a possibility. But what would happen to our relationship? Look what's happening now.

I'm not ready to accept that my only choices are living in the lab or leaving Walt. Russ has to find another way.

When I get out of the shower, I hear music. Loud. After I towel off, I find Walter in the living room staring out the window. The television is on one of those song-playing channels. I don't listen to much music, but the TV displays the band and title of the song: Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. The song is very moody. He's so lost in the music that he isn't even aware of my presence.

It's strange to see him in this unguarded moment.

I can see the clenched muscles in his jaw, and he's wincing. The fingers of his right hand are pressed rigidly against the glass as if he wants to crush it. The tension of his posture tells me the raw power of his muscular body is held tightly in check... against the desire to take some violent action.

I want to wrap my arm around him... beg him to tell me what's wrong. But he won't talk to me about this. I've tried. So, I quietly walk back to the bedroom.

Please don't give up on us, Walter.

On the way to the lab, I use the satellite phone to check my voicemail. Vlad left a simple message, "Thank you for our beautiful new home."

I hang up. "They've arrived in New Zealand."

"That's great," he replies with a small amount of genuine enthusiasm.

I stare out the window. I wonder when I'll have to call Lyosha to say goodbye.

Monday, 19 June 2000
9:12 A.M.

Lavagetto wants to try to avert a vascular crisis. To do that he has to start one. Walter has no objections. In fact, he seems almost eager.

I shake my head. "No." I've tried to accept everything they want to do, but not this.

Walter looks at Lavagetto and tips his head toward the door. Frowning, Russ rises and departs. Walter gives me a bland look.

I reiterate my stand on this. "No."

"I know it's not going to be pleasant, for either of us. But if Russ can stop the vascular crisis, that will go a long way to getting us free of this. It's worth a shot."

I suddenly feel like there's a great chasm between us... like we're not really communicating anymore. I think to object again, but something in his expression gives me pause. "You're going to do this no matter what I say." I shake my head, feeling as if I don't understand what's really going on.

Walter nods slowly. "I'm sorry, Alex. I know how hard this is for you. I wish there was another way." A bit of genuine concern leaks through his determination.

"What about how hard it is for you? I... I cannot believe you'd let them do this to you."

He extends his hand and waits for me to take it. When I do, he squeezes my fingers and says, "The only thing that matters to me is keeping the two of us alive and together."

I get the feeling he'd lock me out of the lab if I didn't agree. What can I do but say yes, then sit by and hold his hand while they torture him? I release my grip on his fingers, then briefly stroke the side of his face. "I'm going to get some air. Russ will regret it if he starts before I get back."

Walter presses his lips to the side of my face. "Take as much time as you need."

I meet his eyes for a long moment, then leave the lab. When I return, they're ready to start.

Walter does well with the vascular crisis at the lower levels. I'm starting to think he doesn't feel pain at all, but when Russ goes to 80 percent, Walter rapidly falls apart. His grip on my hand is becoming painful. He's sweating, moaning softly and moving restlessly.

I pry my fingers loose and grab Lavagetto. He gives a wince of pain at my grip on his arm. "Morphine. Now!"

Russ looks at Walter who nods.

I try to take Walter's hand again, but he reaches for my leg instead, fingers clenching on my thigh. "Won't hurt you."

I stroke his ear, the only part of his body without veins popping out. "I know you won't, Walt." I watch Russ closely as he administers the morphine through Walter's IV line.

Lavagetto resumes his tests while one of the lab assistants sets up a patient-controlled analgesia unit for the morphine. She tries to place the control in Walter's hand, but I take it from her.

I notice it's set to allow a dose every 20 minutes. "Change it to ten."

Her eyes shift to Lavagetto.

My patience snaps. "Do it!"

Lavagetto changes the setting himself, then whispers something to her and she leaves the lab.

The morphine has taken effect. Walter's looking a little fuzzy, but his jaw is no longer clenched and his body tension has lessened.

I keep him well drugged during the rest of the procedure. It's fucking obvious that Lavagetto's attempts to stop the vascular crisis fail. Walter's not very lucid. He mumbles a lot. At one point I hear him say, "Peachbutt." It almost makes me smile.

When the procedure is over, I have Russ and a couple of his people help me move Walter to the bed. I lie down next to him, watching as his body slowly returns to normal.

They cannot do this to him again. It was agony watching them nearly kill him. And it was pointless. We got nothing out of it. I stay close to him, fighting feelings of despair. There has to be a better way.

Walter sleeps for a couple hours. When he wakes he looks at me in a peculiar manner and says, "Hi, beau'ifal."

I smile at him. "Hi. You're stoned." I stroke my fingers down the side of his face. "How do you feel?"

"Great," he replies with a weak, but inane smile. Wrapping his arms around me, he holds me tightly, as if he thinks I'm trying to escape. "You know, you're awfl, awfrul, awful-ly cute."

"That's me... cute and cuddly." I kiss his cheek. "So why don't you cuddle up and get some more rest."

"Smell good, too," he murmurs into my neck. Then he puts his tongue in my ear. "Smell like Alex."

Trying not to laugh, I reply, "Good thing... wouldn't want to smell like someone else. You smell pretty damned good yourself."

"Mphm." He grabs the back of my jeans and rolls us over, so he's on his back and I'm sprawled on top of him. "Thas better." His fingers slip under my jeans and he cups my ass. "Feel good, too," he mumbles as he drifts back to sleep.

Wednesday, 21 June 2000
1:48 P.M.

I tell Walt and Russ I need to get some air. Walter's forehead wrinkles. He knows I'm checking in with the Resistance.

Arntzen answers, and immediately says, "I'd like you to try to get back this weekend."

Keep calm, Alex. "I've already made travel arrangements for next Thursday."

"Change them." His tone is dismissive.

"I'm still not on my game yet. I need a few more days. Whatever they did the last time really fucked me up."

He's silent for a long time. "Fine. Thursday, but no later."

"What's the big fucking rush?"

"We have an assignment for you in Japan. A new target. Then the lab boys say they need to complete some tests that could not be finished the last time you were in."

I take a moment to breathe, reminding myself that I'm not really going in for those tests.

Before I can respond, he asks, "Where are you calling from?"

"New York. Why?"

"Because, we're not able to get a trace on you," he snaps.

Well, that's good news. "You trace my calls?"

He growls into the phone. "Are you keeping up with your assignments?"

"No. I've been resting."

"Any idea where Mr. Skinner is?"

I tense. "No. I told you, I've been lying low while I recuperate. Is he missing?"

"Yeah. Out on medical leave, but it's very suspicious."

"Then I assume he's at home."

Arntzen sighs. "We sent someone to toss his apartment and plant recording devices. He hasn't been there."

"He was in a run-in with a bounty hunter. He's lucky to have survived at all. He's probably staying with a friend or something."

"Mr. Skinner should not be taking any unauthorized vacations."

"Why? Do you need him for something right now?"

"Not at the moment."

"Well, then, it's not my problem." An idea presents itself. "So if he's gone AWOL, how close do I have to be to get his attention with my control pad?"

"I thought you already knew. There's a satellite communications module. So you can get him anywhere in the world." He pauses for effect. "Anyone else who's infected can be gotten to the same way."

I'm stunned silent for a moment. Walter won't be able to send me away. That shouldn't be the point, but for some reason it's all I can think about. I make myself focus on the information. "Is that module on Skinner's control pad?"

"Yes. But you need a passcode to access it."

"Care to share?"

"We'll discuss it when you come in. But you may not harm Mr. Skinner without our go-ahead. Understand?"

"Yeah, I get it." As an afterthought, I remember that I need to keep up pretenses. "You take all the fun out of my job."

I take a moment to get control of myself. This is actually really bad news, but part of me finally lets go of the gnawing anxiety of the last few days that Walter would get rid of me in some misguided attempt to save my life.

When I get back to the lab, Walter and Russ are conferring quietly in the corner. Their conversation stops as soon as they see me.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Between the phone call and their secret tête-à-têtes, my patience evaporates. "What the fuck is going on?"

Walter pinches the bridge of his nose. "We're just reviewing the various treatment options, Alex."

Lavagetto gives Walter an uneasy glance. Rising, he adds, "There's nothing new to report." He heads for the door.

"Sit down, Russ."

He blinks at me, then looks at Walter.

I grit my teeth.

Having received Walter's non-verbal approval, Lavagetto sits again.

My annoyance level is unbelievably high and I could give a shit about breaking bad news gently. "There's a secret module on the control pad that requires a passcode. It allows the signals to be sent via satellite, so they can get to us anywhere in the world." I glance at Walter. "By the way, they want to know where you are and want me to report in to 'complete the unfinished tests.'" I turn toward the door. "I'm getting lunch."

Walter gives me a look of dismay, starts to say something, then stops himself.

I walk out the door and head for my rental car. Something in Walter's expression before I left clicks with me. He was a little suspicious. I rest my forehead on the steering wheel. I wouldn't lie to you, Walter.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!

When I return from lunch, any hint of his suspicion is gone. I guess he came to some conclusion on his own about what I said. If I were to judge by his demeanor, he's gotten more determined.

Russ wants to try to communicate with my nanos. And I find that nothing has changed in mine and Walt's ritual. He sits by my chair, hour after hour, while Russ and Dale try different input signals, but my nanos do not respond.

Just when we're about to call it quits for the night, my skin suddenly feels like it's burning off. Gasping, I stumble out of the chair, trying to get away from anything touching me.

Walter's on his feet in an instant, standing close but not touching. "Russ, I think you found something!"

Lavagetto looks up from his microscope. He and the engineer gape at me for a moment.

I yank at my shirt, getting it half off before I rip the fabric. My skin is turning a vivid shade of red. I tear off my prosthetic and toss it away from me.

Russ approaches me cautiously. "I need to take some blood."

No, no, no. "Don't touch me!" I'm frantic. The pain is excruciating.

Walter says, "Alex, please let him take the blood, then they'll turn it off immediately."

I try to focus--to step out of the pain and deal with the situation. My jeans feel like steel wool. I nod, the movement feeling jerky. "Do it."

Lavagetto, already gloved and ready, barely touches my stump with an alcohol wipe, but it burns like acid. I grit my teeth and try not to hyperventilate.

As Russ comes at me with the needle, I hear Walter giving orders to the engineer, "... the second he has the blood, got it?"

The needle feels like a hot poker being stabbed into my shoulder, but the doctor is so quick that just as I'm ready to kick him away from me, he's finished taking the sample.

Walter barks out, "Now!"

There's a sudden lessening of the burning, leaving a sharp tingling sensation in its wake. I drop to my knees, gasping for air. I always hated tests on the nerve centers.

Walter squats beside me, his hand rests very gently on my back. "It's over, now." He presses a light kiss on my shoulder. "You did great."

Ignoring the discomfort of touch, I move closer to him. "No more today."

He nods. "No more."

A few minutes later, he helps me to my feet, then to a chair. Just as he's about to sit down next to me, I hear the one of the lab assistants muttering to Russ and the engineer, "Next time we should just have him strapped to the table, so you don't have to-"

Walter flies across the room and pins the assistant to the wall by his collar. "If you ever say anything like that again, I'm going to break your neck." His voice is eerily calm. "Got that?"

Lavagetto tugs at Walter's arm, but is ignored.

"Got that?"

"Yes, sir," the terrified man replies meekly.

"Good. Remember it." Walter releases him, takes a deep breath and says to the entire room. "No one will restrain Alex under any circumstances. Not if they value their continued good health."

Russ takes a step closer to Walt, but still out of striking range. "You have my word on it, Walter."

Walt glances at him briefly, then returns to the table and sits next to me, his breathing still accelerated. I'm not sure I've ever felt truly protected in my life until the last couple of minutes. It suddenly seems real that I'm not going to ever have to be strapped down to an exam table again. I'm strangely certain that Walter won't let it happen. It's all so foreign that it feels oddly uncomfortable. Yet, at the same time, it feels so incredibly perfect. And that perfection makes my stomach feel tied in knots. Because I may only have a couple of weeks left, and it seems unusually cruel to touch this as I'm nearing the end of my life.

The draining effect of the nano attack and my unchecked emotions make me completely exhausted. And knowing that he's close and nothing else is going to happen, I find myself falling asleep.

When I wake, I'm alone in the lab. I don't think this has ever happened before.

My eyes are drawn to the half partition, behind which is the bed and living area. I loathe this part of the room, but find myself standing at the foot of the bed.

You can do this, Alex. You can live here if you have to.

I'm not convinced.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, I glance around and try to imagine that this space is my entire world.

My throat feels tight with panic.

"I can do this," I whisper. "I can live here if I have to." I sound almost as panicked as I feel and I'm unable to breathe. "I can't do this!" I drop my head in my hand. What a twisted fate the universe has prepared for me. A lab that's also a prison.

But if it's the only way to be with Walter... I find that I can breathe again. "I can do this... to be with Walter." Finally, I sound convinced. But a nearby gasp distracts me. I glance up and find Walter a few feet away, watching me with the coldest expression of pain I've ever seen.


I meet his gaze and open my mouth to say... I have no idea. I didn't want him to know how much this bothered me. I close my mouth and get to my feet. Skirting around Walter, I head for the parking lot. Of late, the only successful strategy I have is retreat.

I allow myself a couple minutes to put the troubling thoughts behind me before heading back inside.

I find Walter in the lobby whispering to the biophysicist. It seems like a private conversation, so I stay back. I'm surprised to see Walt passing him what looks like a wad of cash. Then a few more words are exchanged and Walter gets up and heads for the hallway. But, when he sees me, he says, "Let's get out of here."

"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah." He gives me a cursory kiss. "Let's grab some food on the way back."

After dinner, Walter heads down to the hotel gym. When he returns almost two hours later, he's dripping with sweat. I've never seen him--or anyone--that wet.

Stepping close, I wrap my arm around him, feeling my clothes get damp. "Did you go swimming?"

"Uh, no. I just, uh, worked out hard."

I sigh. Are we even the same people anymore? Where did this problem come from? "Walter... what's bothering you?"

He glances away for a moment, but then meets my eyes again. "Today at the lab was... difficult. And I'm worried about... about the future."

Well, I'm in agreement with him on both of those points. He seems unhappier now that sending me away won't do any good. I don't understand it. Or maybe I don't want to understand it. Maybe I just want him to be happy that he doesn't have to kick me out of his life. "Not that you don't smell fantastic, but do you want to join me for a shower?"

Walter steps out of my embrace. "You go ahead. I'm going to do a few stretches first."

Why am I not surprised? Just because my emotions are in some bizarre free-fall, making me need to feel connected to him, doesn't mean he's similarly afflicted. Trying to keep my expression blank, I move into the bathroom and force myself not to slam the door.

Friday, 23 July 2000
7:01 A.M.

As soon as we arrive, the biophysicist approaches Walter with a small paper bag. Walter takes the bag and says, "Thanks. I appreciate it."

When the biophysicist scurries back to an office at the back of the building, Walter steps back out to his car and returns without the bag.

Tired of whispered conversations, secrets, tests and the complete lack of fucking, I shake my head and walk to the lab. I flop into one of the chairs.

Lavagetto approaches me. "You ready to get started?"

"Do whatever the fuck you want." I make a vague hand gesture. "Don't bother explaining... I don't give a shit."

Walter sits in the chair next to mine. "Okay, doc. Explain it to me, then."

I prowl around the room while Russ gives Walter a summary of today's plans. At one point, I hear them discussing Wednesday night's test. Their success in communicating with the nerve module seemed like a step forward, but, in reality, didn't do us a damned bit of good. So now we can make my skin hurt. Wonderful. Maybe we could try that three or four more times.

Since my nanos deactivate quickly, Russ needs samples every hour or so. Avoiding the frequency from last night, they continue to try to find another one that's usable.

Eventually, I feel an unfortunately familiar sensation spread through my body. It's not painful. At least not yet. I close my eyes for a second, because I don't like the memories this sensation evokes. "Russ?" My voice doesn't seem to have much behind it.

"Yes?" Good hearing.

"Take a sample, then change frequencies and don't ever hit this one again." Maybe if I keep my eyes shut and focus on something pleasant, these memories will fade. I can't seem to muster up anything pleasant.

Walter's hand is on my arm. "What's going on, Alex?" He sounds concerned.

I decide I don't want to answer. "Russ, take the fucking sample now!" I will have the final say about my own body, god dammit!

The cool wet touch of the alcohol wipe brushes over my shoulder--like I need to worry about germs--then I feel the prick of a needle. It's withdrawn quickly.

"Alex, I need to know what we've encountered," Russ prompts.

Since a barrage of happy images don't seem possible, I open my eyes and meet Russ's concerned gaze. "That would be the de-calcification frequency. It's not painful at this stage, but I remember the early sensations quite well. A couple of hours at that frequency and my bones will start to shatter. I'd-"

"Shut it off!" Walter screams.

"...prefer we just stay away from it forever." I realize I sound like I'm giving a bland commentary on the weather.

Russ, surprisingly looking a bit queasy, hastens to follow Walter's command.

"Alex, are you okay?" Walter asks gently.

I roll my eyes. "Oh, I'm perfect." I don't want to think about this, but I also can't muster the energy to really care. Resting my head on the back of the chair, I stare at the ceiling and toss off, "Come on, Doc, let's get going. Do your worst."

Walter turns away for a moment, a now-familiar behavior, which means he's concealing his emotions. I desperately wish he'd just talk to me.

In the mid afternoon, Russ asks, "Are you doing okay, Alex?"

Staring at the ceiling, I mutter, "Oh, yeah. I'm fucking marvelous. I'm sure if I sat here long enough you could find a frequency that would turn my entire body into a gelatinous blob."

"I'm sorry," Walter says quietly. "I know how difficult this is."

Do you? Are we suddenly on the same page, Walt? Are you ready to talk to me about how difficult it is for you? I know the answer so well, why bother asking?

Abruptly, I rise to my feet. "Turn your damned machines off. I'm taking a break."

It's a very minor victory when Russ does it without checking with Walter first.

I pace around outside the building, relieved to be out of that fucking room. I feel tense... like I could snap at any moment. Walter's keeping his distance today, always nearby but not too close. Even keeping the objective in the forefront of my thoughts, I'm not sure how many more times I can placidly submit to being poked, prodded and stuck.

It would be easier if my relationship with Walter felt anything close to normal. But even when we're not in the lab, it feels like we're still there. I feel confined in our hotel room. More by Walter's distance than by the size of the room.

After about fifteen minutes, Walter joins me in the parking lot. "You want to talk?"

"No." But I blurt out, "Why aren't we fucking?"

He frowns, then replies, "Because I'm too worried to even think about it."

It was the same thing when Mulder disappeared. Then I got sick. Now this. But if they manage to kill me next week, or the week after, or whenever they catch up with me, I don't want my last days to be like this... confined to a lab, not touching the man I love. I don't want our best times together to be something in the past. I want it to be right now.

But I rarely get what I want, so I suppose I should be used to it by now. I turn on my heel, muttering, "I'm going to let Russ finish his fucking plans for today." When I enter the building, the door bounces off the wall with a loud bang. Someone murmurs a greeting in the hallway. "Shut the fuck up!"

Walter appears in the lab a minute later. He sits on a stool next to the medical table, takes my hand and whispers in my ear, "Can you hang in there for just a few more days? Then we'll take a day off. I promise."

I suddenly feel the weight of this entire situation. And I feel tired. Unbearably, impossibly tired. I close my eyes and visualize what we're fighting for... Walter drinking his slime beverage, trying to persuade me to have some. Giving me a long kiss before he leaves for work. Getting tired of me groping him while he's preparing dinner and wrestling me to the kitchen floor.

Instead of it giving me incentive, it unaccountably makes me feel depressed. Opening my eyes, I flatly reply, "Of course. I'll do whatever you want."

The expression on his face is achingly sad. He strokes my hair and says softly, "Just a few more days..." He looks like it's going to kill him before it kills me.

I nod, not having the will to do anything but go along with it.

After a couple hours of tests, Lavagetto heads to a meeting room to consult with his team. I slump into one of the overstuffed chairs. Walter slips out of the lab.

When Russ returns almost an hour later, he gets my grudging go-ahead to continue the tests. He asks me if I'll find Walter while he sets up the equipment.

Rolling my eyes, I exit the lab. Walter doesn't seem to be in the building, so I try the parking lot. Hearing music I walk toward his car. He's inside, eyes closed, with the engine idling and the radio turned way up.

I tap on the window to get his attention, then mimic a needle being stuck in my stump and point toward the building. I start to head back inside.

I hear the car door open behind me, then a familiar scent assails my nostrils. When I turn around, I see Walter taking a hit off a joint. He gives me a bland half-smile and offers it to me.

I'm surprised, but don't say anything. Instead, I lean against the car, accept it and take a hit. It's been years since I've smoked dope. Probably more years for Walter. I pass it back to him.

The pressure we've been under since... forever, has caused horrible tension for both of us. For the first time in days, I feel some of it unwind. I glance at Walt out of the corner of my eye. Maybe that was the point.

We finish the joint together, then head back inside.


Sunday, 25 June 2000
8:27 A.M.

Alex had a nightmare last night. He didn't want to discuss it, so I don't know what it was about. Considering what's happened in my life in the past month I'm rather surprised I haven't had nightmares, too.

Perversely, I feel really good physically. I tried to drive myself into the ground in the gym a couple times, but my stamina stayed super high. I wasn't even sore the next day. It's incredibly bizarre, considering what's happening.

Alex snapped at me this morning when I avoiding showering with him. I hate pushing him away, when I know he needs the sex. It grounds him. Me, too, actually. But I just can't face it right now. I guess it's because of the walls I've constructed between us.

It's not fair to be cruel to him like this, but I just can't manage all of our problems at once. I'm dealing with the big one as best as I can and everything else is turning to crap.

I love him so much. And he needs me so badly. I've given up hope for a happy ending. It hurts to even look at him because we're running out of time.

I'm so sorry, Alex.

Now I have another lost cause: hoping he'll forgive me for what I'm putting him through.

At the lab, Alex is unusually twitchy today. He jumps every time someone touches him, and I can tell he's forcing himself not to bolt.

Inside me a voice I've battered into a corner is screaming at me to make them stop testing him. In my desperate desire to stop the Resistance's experiments, I've become them... ordering him to endure more. I ask for a break, for myself. Making excuses of an errand, I drive off alone in the car to smoke another joint.

3:07 P.M.

Alex rubs his forehead in a gesture I realize means he's getting some more of the alien's memories. I signal to Russ to stop the lab assistant from drawing blood. But the assistant is already dabbing Alex's arm with an alcohol wipe. Alex jerks and kicks out, knocking the unsuspecting man down, but the needle gets lodged in Alex's arm, tearing his flesh as the man falls.

"Alex, it's okay." I squeeze his shoulder.

He jumps away, his breathing accelerated, and heads for the door. I follow, but as soon as he clears the lab, he's at a dead run. Chasing after him across the parking lot, I follow him to his car. I don't want him driving like this, so I block the driver's door with my body. "Alex, let me drive if you have to go somewhere."

He's nearly hyperventilating as he paces agitatedly, staring at the car. The wound has already stopped bleeding, but there are streaks of blood on his stump and flank.

"Talk to me." I reach out cautiously to touch his shoulder blade. I'm losing my ability to help him. He doesn't respond to me the way he did a week or two ago.

For a moment I think this is all a huge mistake. That I've led us down some path that is nothing but torment for him, but I can't think what other choice I might have made. Based on what he learned recently, we can't run from them.

I feel it all falling apart around me. I'm going to lose him. I'd do anything to prevent it. Anything. But there may be nothing left I can do to keep from losing him. One way or another.

Alex is still for a long time, his body tense under my hand, the rasp of his breathing the only sound. Then he presses against me, whispering, "I cannot go back in there right now. Just for a little while... I need to get away. Please."

I pull him close and hold on for just a moment. Because I need to touch him. I want to tell him how desperately I love him. Want to share all my feelings, hopes and fears. But that's not what he needs.

Reluctantly, I pull away and hold out my hand. He drops the car keys in my hand and, still shirtless and armless, gets into the car.

I drive to get us away from the city as quickly as possible, taking the highway out across the desert. Alex huddles in his seat, looking out the window. I don't try to make conversation.

Not knowing what set him off, I don't understand what's happening to him. But I know all I need to know. He can't keep going back to Lavagetto's lab. Which means we're in the end game... and I've only got one more move I can think to make.

The thought is oddly calming. As if my worries have all gone away. They haven't, but running out of choices makes things simpler.

Reaching across the car, I put my hand on his thigh. Not wanting to pressure him to talk, I say nothing.

His thumb caresses the backs of my fingers. "I'm sorry about what happened." His tone is eerily calm. "We can go back now."

"Don't apologize. You're entitled to get upset about this." Christ knows, I have. "I'm sorry I put you through all this. All of it." The Resistance labs, too. It's over now. He can't do this.

"It's not your fault... I made this choice, too."

"Okay, but that doesn't make it more bearable." He'll keep going back, too. I know he will. As long as I ask him to. But I can't keep doing this to him. I've reached my limits, too.

"I'll be fine. Let's go back." His voice and expression are flat.

Now we're both lying to each other. 'I'll be fine.' That sounds like the sort of crap I've been telling him for the past two weeks. I'm fine.

But I'm not fucking fine. And I may never be fine again. But there may not be much left of my miserable life to be unfine.

It's all going to hell. And the only thing I want is to protect the man I love. I'd give up everything for that.

As we near the city again, I suggest, "Why don't I take you back to the hotel? So you can get some time away from the damned lab. I'll go back and talk to Russ. Find out if there's anything left to do that's really worth the pain of doing it."

Alex shakes his head. "If they're going to do anything to you, I have to be there."

"Just talking tonight, I promise. Okay?"

Suddenly, he looks very tired, and I realize how much of a front he's been putting up for me. "Okay."

When I get back to the lab, I realize I can't stand to be there either. So I kidnap Russ and we go grab something to eat. After a quick meal, we go for a walk down the highway.

It's two hours later when we get back to the restaurant. My decision has been made. I'm sorry, Alex.


9:53 P.M.

Not finding anything else worth watching, I flip back to the Discovery Channel's special on Australian desert lizards. I took a shower right after Walter dropped me off. Normally, I would have waited for him, but I know it's pointless. I don't even have the interest in asking anymore... because I'm tired of him brushing me off.

One of the little lizards just bit the commentator on the nose when Walter walks in carrying my arm. He looks tired, but seems more relaxed than I've seen him since we arrived. Almost as if he's not as worried anymore. The only times I've seen him show any enthusiasm were when Russ suggested testing on him. Suspiciously, I give him a thorough once over, but don't see any signs of abuse.

He sits on the sofa next to me. "Russ's assistant has a minor fracture in his left arm, but he's going to live."

Sighing, I flip off the TV. "I'm sorry... it wasn't my intention to hurt anyone."

"He understands. No one is faulting you for what happened."

Well, they should. I keep coming back to the fact that this whole situation is my fault.

Walter kisses the side of my face. "We're taking a day off tomorrow. Russ admitted that he's spinning his wheels, so I talked him in to trying something on Tuesday." He takes a deep breath before continuing, "It's a bit risky, but I think it's our best shot."

I blink at him dumbly. "Are you saying he's found a solution?" How can that be?

He stands up and goes to the refrigerator, returning with a bottle of tea for me and a Coke for himself. "He has this idea that he can do a procedure on both of us at the same time, so that he attempts to reprogram my nanocytes, instructing them to reprogram yours. Then repeats the process in reverse."

I consider that carefully. "So that control frequency they found when they activated my nerve module was actually helpful."

Walter shrugs and looks uncomfortable. "He explained it to me in great detail, but I'm not a scientist. The part that I understood was getting my nanocytes to talk to yours, then yours to talk to mine."

I don't understand, but it doesn't seem important. All that matters is that we may have a way out of this. "Does Russ really think this will work? Or is this just another experiment?"

Walter grimaces. "He thinks it could really work, but," he shakes his head, "he, well, you know, he's a perfectionist and he really wants six or eight months to experiment before he tries anything."

All the blood leaves my head and settles in my feet. I feel dizzy.

"I told him to do it on Tuesday. I'm almost as..." He stops to breathe... hiding his feelings again. "...I'm almost as fed up with that lab as you are, so, if you're willing, let's ask him to take his best shot."

I wish I'd been paying more attention to Russ' technical discussions. "Is this going to be a painful experiment?"

He shakes his head. "It's like minor surgery. He's going to use a general anesthetic, so there won't be any pain."

General anesthesia? I frown. "I... I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. Wouldn't pain medication serve just as well?"

"We talked about it for a long time and Russ isn't comfortable doing the procedure on you that way unless you're restrained."

I will not be restrained. I turn on the sofa to face him directly. "Is this because I kicked his assistant?"

"No. The same rule applies to me. I said okay."

"And you think this is the best course of action, and we can trust Russ?"

"I definitely trust Russ. And I believe this is the fastest way to get us out of that damned lab."

I scoot a little closer and rest my hand on his thigh. "Okay. If you think this is what we should do."

He pulls me closer, pressing my face into the crook of his neck. "Tuesday, then," he murmurs.

I relax against him, feeling like the barriers between us are starting to come down. Or maybe I'm just hoping that they are.

His arms close around me. "I just want you to be safe. I don't want you to have to be an experiment ever again." His voice betrays his grief.

I hold on to him tightly. I don't want either of us to ever be under someone else's control again.

When we go to bed, Walter won't let go of me. He holds me close and strokes my hair until I fall asleep.

Monday, 26 June 2000
6:22 A.M.

I wake to find Walter watching me. "Go back to sleep," he whispers. "It's our day off."

A smile tugs at my lips. Turning toward him, I wrap myself around him and drift off.

8:37 A.M.

When I wake again, he's still watching me. There's a hint of a smile on his face. For a moment, things feel normal.


"Morning." Walt kisses me, taking possession of my mouth as he hasn't in weeks. My body responds instantly, molding itself to his.

He groans into our kiss, then nips at my lower lip. His hand closes around the back of my neck as he feeds on my mouth.

My sounds of pleasure are trapped in my throat. I wrap a leg around his hips, feeling his erection press against my stomach. I arch into him, my body begging for more.

With great difficulty, he tears himself away from my mouth, gasping for air. "Shower," he says weakly.

Oh, no.

Then I realize he means for us to shower together. Maybe I'm still asleep, having a really nice dream. But as I'm adjusting the spray, he steps in next to me. Not a dream... better than a dream. When I reach for the soap he takes it, and washes me with his hands. His strong soapy fingers rub my back, my chest, my thighs.

When his hands find my ass, I turn to face him, pulling him close. "I know you've been here, but... I've missed you so much." I'm half afraid things will go back to the way they've been... afraid of the being in the same room with him, but feeling alone.

He fights away a grimace. "I'm sorry, Alex. I know I've been... difficult." He kisses the side of my face. "But I'm here with you today. All day. I promise."

I bring my arm up to wrap around his shoulders. "That wasn't a recrimination. I know this has been difficult for you, too... I'm just glad to have you back." My lips trail up the side of his neck.

Walter pulls back a little so he can look me in the eye. "This... being with you, touching you, is more important to me than anything else. Even if I've been... distant, I always wanted this with you."

"I..." love you, too. I realize he feels as much for me as I do for him. But I still don't know how to say it. "I believe you." I always believe you, Walt. "You mean everything to me." I brush my lips across his.

His body trembles slightly, then he kisses me languidly. After days of distance the connection between us is still so strong it's all-consuming. In this moment, in his arms, I believe everything is going to be okay. We'll get through this and have the rest of our lives together.

Walt breaks away, then kisses my nose. He carelessly washes some of the places on my body he missed the first time, while I squirm in his arms, looking for any opportunity to rub against him. When everything's at least semi-clean, I make a grab for the soap.

He shakes his head and holds it out of my reach. "Uh-uh." He tosses the soap at the sink and misses. Leaning against the glass shower wall, he smiles at me and says, "On your knees."

Before I'm aware of moving, I'm sliding to my knees. Walt looks down at me and strokes the side of my face. He cups the back of my neck in his hand and brings his hard-on to my lips. "Suck me, Alex."

A new wave of arousal washes over me. I part my lips, bringing the head into my mouth and caressing it with my tongue. Walter emits a faint moan and his fingers twitch reflexively, squeezing the skin of my neck. I tease the slit, then slowly suck his erection further into my mouth. I hadn't realized how much I missed this until my senses are consumed with the smell and taste of him.

I take my time working his cock into my throat, savoring the feel of his smooth, hot skin... the hard flesh. Then I draw my mouth on and off his erection. He lets me do it all until he reaches some critical point of arousal. Then, with a deep groan, he begins to fuck my face. I slide my hand around to his ass, holding him for balance and the sheer pleasure of feeling the muscles clenching under my fingers.

His hand in my hair is gentle, but the rhythm of his thrusts is forceful. I can only surrender to him, keeping my throat relaxed for him to take.

"Fuck, Alex..." he mutters breathlessly. "Your mouth..." He gasps as his hips suddenly move faster. I groan around his cock. His ass tightens and I'm unable to breathe as he comes in my throat. He releases me quickly, but I'm not ready to let go. Keeping his cock in my mouth, I suck gently.

His moan is half whimper. I feel the tension slip away from him. He withdraws his shrinking cock and gazes down at me. "No one does that like you do." He bends down to kiss my forehead. "And even if they did, I'd still want it from you." He lifts my chin and meets my gaze. "Only you."

A tremor passes through me and my throat feels tight. I think he's telling me there's no one else... and there will never be anyone else. Capturing his hand, I kiss his palm. "Only you," I whisper back. Is this as close as I can get to saying I love him? Why is it so fucking difficult?

He squats on the floor of the shower next to me and brushes his fingertips across the tattoo. He doesn't say anything, but gives me a soft smile, tinged with passion and possessiveness.

I brush my fingers over his. "Always."

A hint of the darkness of the past few weeks passes across his face. I want to ask, but I don't want to damage the mood.

Rising, Walt extends a hand and helps me to my feet.

Nuzzling his neck, I murmur, "I have to retrieve the soap, or you aren't getting clean."

"Not yet." He comes at me, pinning me against the shower wall. Then he just looks at me. I can so clearly see how much he loves to look at me. He takes my hand and presses it against the wall above my head as he takes another kiss. Whimpering, I tease the underside of his tongue as my body arches into him, one leg sliding up to wrap around his hips.

He rubs his body across mine, deliberately brushing against my hard-on. Nipping lightly at my upper lip, he kisses a path down my jaw to my neck. I stop breathing and tip my head, giving him full access to my throat. He makes little stinging bites from under one ear across my throat to the other ear. Gasping for air, I writhe against him, my body on fire from the feel of his teeth on my flesh.

Releasing me from the wall, he takes my hand and leads me out of the shower. Standing on a thick rug in front of a mirrored wall, he pulls me into his arms, so we're both facing the mirror. I track his eyes in the mirror. He's looking at me... that intense way he does that makes me feel like I'm as beautiful as he believes me to be.

Holding me firmly around the waist, he traces a path down my chest with his fingertips. I flash on the first time we did this. In my apartment back when I was with the Bureau. It was the first time he'd been to my place. It was so intense it scared me. But that's a shadowy remnant of this experience because it's real this time... there are no lies between us anymore.

He slowly pinches my nipple. "Tell me when you want me to stop." Gradually, he increases the pressure. My nipple is hot. Then hotter. It begins to bite. His eyes are locked on mine through the mirror. I'm beginning to pant, but stay focused on him. My entire chest feels warm as the bite becomes painful. Still watching me, he shifts his fingers so my nipple is squeezed between his fingernails. I groan and begin to shake, in part from the pain and from the sudden surge of sensation to my cock.

At an almost imperceptible rate he tightens his fingers. I hold on, drowning in the sensation. Then suddenly, it's too much. "Walt..." I whimper. He's withdrawn the fingers before I even get his name out. He holds two fingers to my mouth and I suck them. He brushes the moist fingers gently across my swollen nipple. I gasp, my tender flesh stinging under the soothing touch.

Moving away from the nipple, he squeezes my pecs, then moves his hand down my abdomen and to my thigh. He rubs my inner thigh, encouraging me to open my legs, which I do instantly. After stroking both my inner thighs, he cups my balls and rubs them with his thumb.

I moan, my knees turning to jelly. "Walter... please."

"I love touching your body..." He smiles and continues to play with my balls. "... and watching you react to my touch." His deep voice is so soothing, but I'm frantic with the need for him to touch my cock.

With one fingertip he traces a slow line from the base of my cock to the head. Barely breathing, I tremble with anticipation. When he opens his mouth I'm certain that he's just going to make me beg for it or worse, but he says simply, "All right, Alex." Then his fingers close around my cock.

I have to focus on a parade of unpleasant images to keep from coming instantly. Pressing my cock to my belly, he fondles it gently. I groan, feeling both frustrated and exhilarated--this moment has been building for weeks, I alternately want it now and want it to last.

Walter runs the heel of his hand up my shaft, then begins to jack me off with a smooth motion. His eyes never leave my face. My muscles tremble, but I know the arm around my waist will keep me upright. I could come at any moment, but I submitted to him the moment he told me to get on my knees and I'll wait until he tells me to come.

The satisfied smile on his face tells me he knows. Still jacking me off, he rubs his thumb across the head of my dick. And again. And then I know I can't wait, so I jerk in his arms trying to get away from his touch.

The arm around my middle tightens. And again he rubs his thumb across my cock head. I groan a pleasure-laden protest, meeting his eyes in the mirror. He chuckles silently and mouths the word, "come."

Every muscle in my body spasms from the force of my climax. I'm acutely aware of the overwhelming pleasure turning my body to liquid as Walter holds me tighter. My head falls back on his shoulder as tiny post-orgasmic tremors race through me.

He holds me like that until my brain is ready to function again. Then he lifts his hand from my cock and provocatively licks the cum on his fingers. I moan in response, feeling an unexpected flare of arousal as I watch him. I'm not even aware that my mouth is open, until he moves his hand to my face. I suck his fingers, tasting my semen and the saltiness of his skin.

When his fingers are clean, he turns me in his arms and kisses me again. I can't get enough of his kisses. If he kissed me all day, it wouldn't feel like enough. He pulls back to look at me. The expression on his face is completely contented.

I touch his face, then his ear, finally stroking my fingers down his neck. "Is it really our day off?"

"Uh-huh." He runs his fingers through my hair. "And tonight I'm going to give you the serious fucking you deserve."

My lips twitch into a smile even as I begin to look forward to tonight. "Well, I'll see if I can get in the mood for that."

"Trust me, it's well within your abilities." Walt steps away and reaches for the soap. "I have every confidence in you." He opens the shower door. "In the meantime, would you like to get clean?"

I take the soap from him. "You first."

In an hour, after eating a hearty room-service breakfast, Walter tells me to put on my swim trunks and meet him at the pool in ten minutes. He slips away to bribe the hotel staff into 'closing' the pool for an hour, so we can swim. Mostly we just fondle each other and play in the water. Walter tries to dive, but it doesn't turn out well and leaves us both giggling at the side of the pool. In the water I discover that, even one handed, I can pick him up. He patiently allows me to carry him around the pool. When we tire of that game, he swims under the water, gets his head between my legs and stands up, so I'm riding on his shoulders. We clown around for a while until we both get pruney.

In the afternoon, he buys a bottle of coconut oil in the gift shop and gives me a head-to-toe massage. I'm so relaxed it's difficult to move for a long time. When I can finally muster up some energy, I try to reciprocate, but get distracted by his feet. I give him a thorough foot massage... mostly with my tongue. Walter squirms a bit and makes funny sounds, but I think he really likes it.

He brings chilled drinks to the bed and we laze around enjoying the sunlight from the open windows.

Walter muses, "I remember when I first realized you were flirting with me... at the Bureau. Do you remember?"

I think about it for a moment. "In the break room?"

"I might have known before then, but I remember seeing you a day or two after that. And I thought 'why not?'" He taps me on the thigh. "That was before I remembered I had a wife. I really loved your eyes. The color is beautiful, but there seemed to be so much behind them... going on in your head. That's what attracted me to you first." Something in his expression and the softness of his voice makes me think he's a bit sad. But he has a soft smile. Maybe I just don't understand. Though it's amazing that, even from the beginning, Walter's been able to see past my reserve. He's always seen me for what I was. And wanted me anyway. Could I possibly love him any more?

"I'm still not sure why I was immediately so attracted to you," I recall, "though I'm very glad I was. I saw you the first time in that ops room and instantly had an erection. I spent the entire afternoon trying to talk myself out of being attracted to you."

Walter shakes his head and ruffles my hair.

I scoot closer to him. "Every time you came around, I felt it. Sometimes I imagined the air vibrated when you were in the room. And then..." My mind caresses the past... a rare experience for me. "I wanted to know you. When we talked, I wanted to be able to communicate better because I wanted to connect with you." The past suddenly bites. "I so desperately wanted to be what you believed I was."

Walt regards me thoughtfully. "But it was you that I wanted. The details of your cover identity had nothing to do with my attraction."

I think about that for a long time, feeling that my perception of our shared past is now irrevocably altered. I rub my hand over his stomach. "For whatever reason, you were the first person since childhood I felt comfortable with. I always wanted to be alone... until I met you. And that scared the shit out of me. But now... I can't imagine anything else."

Walter looks away for a long moment. "Since... uh... We've been through so much, and so much of it awful. I..." He trails off looking a little lost. "I just want you to know that, although I regret many things that have happened to both of us, I could never regret meeting you. It's something I wanted for my life... to connect the way we have. I hoped to find it with Sharon, but what you and I have is more than that. You've given me so much..." His eyes seem to darken and I realize that he can't finish what he was trying to say.

I twist my body so I can curl up around him, my fingers gently stroking the side of his face. Maybe we've finally got time on our side... time to figure out how to say everything.

We sit silently for a while, just touching, both lost in our thoughts. Then Walter excuses himself to get a map from the car. He's gone for a lot longer than it takes to go to the car. My assumption about what he was up to is confirmed by the smell of marijuana on his clothes. I smile into my book. So this is how Walter handles stress.

Around dinnertime, he tells me he's got a surprise for me. We get in the car and he drives to a little Tex-Mex diner on a dead-end street near the old part of town. We park in the rear and walk to the back door. An old Mexican woman greets us. "Chou are Doctor Russ' fren? Don' worry, I weell take care of everyt'ing."

She escorts us to a tiny room on the far side of the kitchen, which has been decorated with very homey touches. A handmade tablecloth with a bright pattern. Fresh daisies in a vase. A small box with ice in it has three bottles of tea and a carafe of fresh orange juice.

As soon as the old lady is gone, I grab Walter and give him a kiss. "Thanks." I'm surprised at how much I like being able to eat out with him. Maybe in the future we'll be able to just be together. No more hiding. Is that too much to ask?

The food is the best Mexican I've tasted, though our mouths get seared by the New Mexico chile sauce. Walter has a beer. The old woman keeps bringing more food--we must have small servings of everything on the menu. Finally, Walter convinces her to stop feeding us. She seems disappointed, but returns with a tray of desserts and fruit.

Ten minutes later, the elderly woman pops back in and catches us kissing. She points her finger at us menacingly. "Now, don'chou worry. Mi grandson likes muchachos, too, so I say as long as chou love each other, ees good enough for god." She kisses me on the cheek and does the same to Walter before departing with a satisfied expression on her face.

Walter and I share a moment of amusement tinged with embarrassment.

Instead of going back to the hotel, we drive to a water garden near downtown and walk around. There's one fountain you can walk down into the middle of and see the water cascading from above you over rocks and steps, crashing near your feet. It's slightly disorienting and I love every minute of it.

As we're returning to the hotel, my cock begins to get hard at the prospect of what's ahead. I glance at Walter. He looks... tired. So, maybe we won't fuck until tomorrow. And that's okay. More than anything else, I needed to know we were still us.

Walter's quiet as we get ready for bed, and I wonder what he's thinking about. After we both brush our teeth, I wrap my arm around him from behind. "Thanks for today."

"Thank you for today... and for everything."

I'm not sure what he's thanking me for. He made it happen. But I just kiss the back of his neck, then turn away to take off my clothes and get into bed.

Walt joins me under the covers and pulls me into his arms. When he kisses me, far from seeming tired, he's unexpectedly passionate. As he explores my mouth with his tongue, I get such a clear sense of all his troubled feelings from the past several weeks. Every moment since he found me near death in that hotel room has been a struggle for him. I don't precisely understand the nature of his worries, but I ache for him.

With his mouth still locked onto mine, he rolls over so he's on top of me. Holding onto him tightly, I bring both legs up and encircle his waist. "God, Alex. You feel so good." Bracing himself on one arm, he strokes my face. "I wish we could hide forever in this bubble we lived in today."

I caress the back of his leg with my foot. "Then we'll have to make it happen." I slide my hand up and down his back.

Walter pries himself free of my legs and rolls me onto my side. He settles in behind me. I remember not liking this position the first time... not liking the feeling of being held and fucked at the same time. But now, it feels... perfect.

He kisses the back of my neck. "Being here with you... it feels like anything is possible." His hand slides around me and caresses my abdomen.

I didn't used to believe in hope. You had what was real, and anything else was just a fantasy. But with Walter--because of Walter--I hope for so much. My hand rests on his and I twist my neck so I can kiss him.

His fingers lace with mine as he pulls his mouth away. His lips trail down across my face and down my neck. He whispers, "There's a bottle of lube under your pillow."

I quickly find and produce the bottle. He holds out his hand while I flip the top and pour the lube onto his fingers. He warms it in his hand, before pulling it out of view. Then I feel his moist fingers easing into my crack. I pull my leg closer to my chest, my body anticipating his touch.

Walter gives a low groan. "You have no idea how sexy you look like this. Your ass..." His fingers begin to massage my anus. "... completely fuckable..." One finger slips inside me. "I can't think of anything but getting my cock into you." I can feel the caress of his warm breath on the back of my neck.

Moaning, I shiver at the sensations coursing through my body. I push back against his finger. "Love feeling you... inside me..." I gasp, as all my available energy goes to remembering to breathe. "...desperate to feel your..." I move my hips, trying to fuck myself on the one finger. "...cock stretching me open, so..." I groan when his finger rubs over my prostate. "...so you can fuck me."

Making a low growl, Walter takes away the finger, but quickly pushes two into me. My eyelids feel heavy and I whimper my pleasure.

"The feel of your body beneath mine..." He fucks me vigorously on his fingers. "... the way you push your ass back at me, begging for more, harder," his voice drops low, "whatever I'll give you." Teasing my prostate, he continues, "... knowing that you'll give me..." His fingers open up inside me, opening me up. As he speaks, his lips tickle my neck. "...whatever I demand."

I make a strange animalistic noise as I feel my ass stretch. "Always... whatever you want." I writhe, almost fighting the intense pleasure. I cannot push back anymore, only accept whatever he's giving me. "Need you... so badly. Please..." My voice quavers. "Please fuck me."

There's a hitch in his breathing and then he's breathing rapidly, as if he's about to come. His fingers are hastily withdrawn, and I feel his cock brush across my ass cheek. Then he shoves into me in one smooth, forceful motion.

My fingers clench in the sheets, everything drowned out by the overwhelming sense of rightness.

Walter adjusts his position, then begins to fuck me. He fucks me hard and fast, right from the start. "You're mine," he hisses into my ear.

At his words, a tremor of intense lust makes me gasp. "Yours." I grunt as his cock hits my prostate. "Always."

"Always," he rasps, his voice sounding tortured. Then his teeth close on the skin of my neck.

My body jerks in his arms at the feel of his teeth. I tip my head forward, offering myself to him.

He bites harder and fucks me faster. The pain from the bite causes my body to shudder with pleasure. I want more. "Do it." I want to feel it... need to feel the reminder of who I belong to. I push backward, my ass meeting his thrusts as I press my neck into his bite.


Holding his flesh between my teeth--knowing that it hurts and that he allows it--no, wants it, needs it... he craves my ownership. This moment is so good, but my teeth want more. And I want to give it to him. And to me.

Releasing his hip, I shift my hand to his cock, stroking him roughly.

As I allow my eager teeth to penetrate his skin, the words form in my mind... his heart beats only for me.

Alex screams as his body convulses and his ass spasms around my cock. He thrashes in my arms, even as he accepts the bite.

Oh, god. The taste.

The metallic tang of sweet, hot, lust... Alex.

The rush of blood to my head... his blood and mine...

My own climax tears me apart... into shattered pieces of heart-stopping pleasure. The little death of orgasm is all too real, and at the same time perfect.

I hold on to him with all my strength. Need to keep him close to me. Grab each moment before it slips away. Don't want to let him go.

And as the frantic beating of my heart slows, I'm half surprised to find us both alive, still in an ordinary hotel room together.

Awed by the beauty of the man in my arms and the exquisite pleasure he's given me. The brutal sweet taste of his blood is still in my mouth.

Somehow my teeth are no longer in his neck. At first glance his neck looks... wounded. But it's beautiful, too. I kiss it gently and he whimpers.


My body feels insubstantial. I'm lost in the feel of cool air moving over my neck. I try to focus, to get back to reality. I cannot remember another orgasm that intense. A drop of blood winds down my skin, then I feel Walter's tongue and I'm lost again, and yet, completely at home.

I manage to grasp the arm around my waist, holding onto him. There's not even air between us, but I try to get closer. I twist my head to look at him, feeling a burning pain in my neck. Walter looks far away, too. There's a smear of my blood on his lips. I feel mildly shocked at the reality of what happened. Then, perversely, the tingle of arousal. I lean up to capture his mouth, licking the blood from his lip.

I love you so much, Walter.

I cannot think of anything to say. His words--and his mark--tell me I belong to him completely.

After a few minutes, he pulls his cock out of me, but stays close, holding me so tightly it's almost painful. The back of my neck throbs in sharp counterpoint to the languid pleasure in my body. I've wanted this mark from him for so long. But now that it's real, it's not about what I wanted. It's what he wants. It's more significant than the tattoo... I put his mark on my body, trying to keep him with me. Now he's put his mark on my body. He's claimed me, removing any barriers I had left. My life is his now.

The thought is calming in a way nothing else could ever be, and I relax even further into Walter's embrace, certain I'm where I belong.

Just about when I think I'm going to fall asleep, he rises abruptly, mumbling, "Just a sec..." He disappears into the bathroom. His sudden absence is a little disorienting and I find myself blinking at the bathroom door. When he returns a few minutes later he looks... oddly serious. "Sorry... something in my eye."

Something seems off, but I'm not sure what. I don't particularly want to hold onto the thought. Walter goes to the minibar, then returns to the bed with a pair of tiny bottles: vodka and Scotch, plus a couple of towels. He gestures toward my neck. "I think this is going to hurt more than the bite."

My eyes widen. "Oh, fuck." Taking a breath, I roll onto my stomach, burying my face in the pillows.

As carefully as possible, he cleans the wound. It doesn't exactly hurt more than the bite, but it's certainly much less enjoyable. When he's satisfied that I'm thoroughly disinfected, he puts a bandage on it.

We curl up on the other side of the bed, while Walter downs the Scotch. That registers as odd... Walt only drinks when he's upset. But how can that be? He must be worried about tomorrow.

My eyelids feel so heavy. I'm clinging to him as sleep begins to pull at me. Please let Russ's plan work.

Tuesday, 27 June 2000
3:27 A.M.

Walter's not in bed, but there's a light on in the living room. I wrap a blanket around myself and go looking for him. He's at the table writing something. "Why aren't you sleeping?"

He looks up at me. "I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd write a note to Sharon."

"Come back to bed?"

Nodding, he rises and escorts me back to bed. He settles on his back and I drape myself over him.

6:49 A.M.

A bitter smell pulls me out of sleep. The bed next to me is empty again. I find Walter in the living room, already dressed, smoking a joint. "Don't you sleep anymore?"

He shrugs. "I kept waking up."

Crossing to him, I extract the joint from his fingers and take a hit, passing it back to him. I wonder if smoking pot is going to become a fixture in our lives. Seems like an odd direction for our relationship to take. "You okay? Worried about the experiment... or whatever Russ calls it?"

Walter nods and takes my hand. I desperately want him to assure me that this is safe for him before we go any further down this path, but he's made up his mind. In the last couple weeks I've discovered how much of brick wall that is.

Squeezing his fingers tightly, I ask, "So, when do we have to be at the lab?"

"I asked Russ to set up a small facility in Mexico, so he can do the procedure without risking his medical license."

Mexico? "We're driving there?"

"Just to Nogales. It shouldn't take much more than an hour. I told him we'd, ah," he yawns, "uh, be there by 10:00."

I wrap my arm around him and kiss the side of his neck, right under his ear. "I think I'll be driving."

"Good plan." Walt squeezes my shoulder. "How's your neck?"

Just the thought causes a flush of arousal. "It's fine. A little stiff, but I think the nanos have been hard at work."

He pulls me closer and rests his head on my shoulder.

I hold him tightly, once again feeling as if something is wrong. My hand rubs in circles on his back. At least he's not staying away from me.

After a long time, I head for the bathroom to shower. Before getting in, I pull off the bandage and twist around in front of the mirror trying to get a look at the bite. Using the hotel's small hand mirror, I'm able to get a good look. I was correct... all the wounds have closed up, but the bite is clearly visible, surrounded by a livid bruise. Remembering the feel of Walter's teeth sinking into my flesh makes me feel lightheaded and overly warm.

I think I need a cold shower.

Nogales, Mexico
9:21 A.M.

We arrive at the facility earlier than expected. Walter was quiet during the entire drive, only speaking to give directions. I wish he'd gotten a little more sleep.

The building is small, but in good condition, unlike most of the city. There are a car and a van parked outside. Inside, Russ looks almost as tired as Walter. He quickly takes us on a brief tour of the facility, highlighting the RF shielding they've installed. There's one room with a lot of equipment, similar to a lab, with three people setting things up. Another room with just a bed, a chair and a small amount of medical equipment.

Lavagetto's mood is... off. He's efficient. Almost too efficient. When he speaks, his tone is flat. I wonder if he's pissed about me kicking his assistant. He announces that I'm going to be in the small room with the bed.

I blink at him for a moment. "You're separating us?"

Walter answers for Russ. "I'll be with you when they put you under."

That wasn't exactly an answer. If they're treating both of us, why wouldn't they need me in the lab?

Walt brushes my hair with his fingers. "We wanted you to get started in a room that's less hospital-like."

I don't like the idea, but I know Walter's trying to take care of me. I give him a half smile to let him know I'll go along with whatever he's set up.

Russ gets my attention. "Alex, if you'll strip down to your shorts," he gestures to a pair of boxers on the bed, "we'll get started in a few minutes." I'm a little taken aback by the brusqueness of his tone.

Walter takes my hand and leads me to the bed.

Everything feels off all of a sudden. I don't understand enough of what's going on. I never had an opportunity to test the shielding on this lab. I have a dozen questions, but it seems a little late in the game to get cold feet. And I don't want Walter to think I don't trust his judgment.

Like an automaton, I remove my clothes and put on the shorts Russ provided.

I sit on the bed and fidget. Walter sits behind me and rubs my shoulders, carefully avoiding the tender bite area. I relax a little and lean back against him, telling myself that everything is going to be okay. After today, we can go anywhere we want and forget about this whole mess. Hopefully.

A few minutes later, Russ enters with one of the lab techs. The doctor preps an IV line to put in my shoulder, then has me turn so he can take my blood pressure. When he's behind me, he suddenly exclaims, "What the fuck!?"

Walter gives him a hard look, followed by a weak shrug.

I glance between the two. What was that interchange all about? Lavagetto doesn't usually have an opinion about our sex life. And why does Walter care what he thinks?

Russ asks me to lie down and I feel a tremor of apprehension. Walter stands by the bed, holding my hand. Our eyes meet for a long moment, and I try to convey that I love him... that he's given me hope for the future. I still sense the dark conflict that he's struggled with for weeks. But, in his eyes, I see a promise--of what, I'm not certain.

Lavagetto says gently, "I'm going to give you something to help you relax." A moment later, I feel fuzzy-headed and my vision is blurry.

"You're in good hands." Walter squeezes my fingers and manages a smile. "Alex, I... More than anything else, I want you to be free." He kisses my forehead.

Walter, more than anything else, I want to be with you. But, I can't say it because suddenly my limbs feel like dead weight and I know they've administered the anesthesia. Barely holding onto Walter's hand, I somehow manage, "Love you." Then I can't keep my eyes open anymore.


I can't let go of his hand. "I love you, Alex. I've loved you for a very long time." Unlike last night, I no longer care who sees my tears.

Lavagetto stands by silently for a long time, then he touches my shoulder. "Are we going through with this?"

Show time, Walt. After squeezing Alex's hand for the last time, I release him. "Yeah."

But I can't walk out of the room without kneeling by the bed and wrapping my arms around him. How did this unusual man come to mean everything to me? To lead me--us--to this irrevocable action. I brush two fingers across his cheek... his skin is still warm.

My eyes have dried up. A coldness settles in over my grief.

Rising to my feet, I follow Russ into the hall.

"God, Walter. Are you sure? If you have the slightest dou-"

"I'm sure." I turn on my heel and return to Alex's bedside. I have to face this, because it's my responsibility.

Lavagetto stands next to me, slowly shaking his head. "Damn you, Walter Skinner," he says without malice. Then he takes my hand and squeezes.

A moment later, he injects one last medication into Alex's IV line.

Yeah. Damn me to hell. I love you, Alex.

** End Part 4 **

Only one more part of Protect!

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

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