Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Protect4.


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

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


Part 5

**

I struggle to get my eyes open. The light is painful and it takes me a moment to focus. There's someone in the room but I can't tell who it is. I try to speak, but cannot. I feel the medication pulling me under again. This doesn't feel like anesthesia.

Sounds in the room draw me back to consciousness. One of the voices is familiar, but I cannot concentrate on it. I pry my eyes open. A familiar face is leaning over me... I see his lips moving, but cannot make out the words. Why am I so tired?

When I wake again, it's a little easier to get my eyes to focus. Someone's sitting by the bed, reading. I should know his name, but it doesn't seem important right now. A few minutes pass and I expect the drowsiness to return, but instead, I feel like I'm starting to wake up. I make a noise and the man is hovering over me, saying something, then calling out for someone. There's something important I need to remember, but I cannot hold on to it. I don't feel like I have to go back to sleep... but I want to.

The next time I open my eyes, I feel more like myself. I glance around. The room is a little dimmer and there's a familiar figure beside the bed. "Whe-" My first thought is to ask about Walt, but Damien's presence in the room makes me wonder if I'm even conscious. Am I dreaming?

The impossible figure scoots closer and brushes the hair off my forehead. "Hey Alex," he says softly. "How are you feeling?"

I blink at him. What? I... this can't be a dream. "Damien? What... why... I don't..." I trail off, unable to get any coherent thoughts together.

"Yeah... it's me." Something in his gentle smile seems forced.

This is real. The procedure is over. Damien is here. But more importantly, Walter isn't.

I clear my throat. "Where's..." I swallow, my mouth dry. "Where's Walt?"

His expression is shuttered, but he still smiles. "Why don't you try to sit up and drink some juice?"

What? Why is he babbling about juice? "No. Walter. Now." I try to push myself up.

Damien gently pushes me back against the pillow. "You shouldn't be up yet. The sedative is still wearing off."

Sedative? What fucking sedative? I don't know why he's here, but he obviously doesn't have a fucking clue what's going on. I push him away from me. "Leave me alone. I want to see Walter." I manage to get to a seated position, but the room spins and I have to close my eyes.

I'm aware that Damien is talking to someone in the hall. A nurse enters and tries to forcibly make me lie down. Struggling with her makes me feel more alert. Finally, my patience snaps and I shove her away, nearly knocking her over. "Look, don't fucking touch me. I want to see Walter."

Damien helps the nurse up and gives me a pleading look. "Alex, just wait for the doctor."

Something is very wrong. "Help me take this damned IV out and I'll go find the doctor." After I find Walter.

"I'm afraid I can't allow him to do that," the nurse announces, glancing at Damien. "I'll be right back." Then she's out the door.

I'm not waiting for you, bitch. I'm more certain than ever that something is wrong. I get to my feet, holding on to the bedside table. Damien tries to help me. Or hinder me. I'm not sure. I push him away, but feel so dizzy I have to grab at the wall for support. When I can focus, I stumble to the rolling tray and nearly fall over when it moves away from me. Damien hovers in the periphery, looking frantically toward the door. Suddenly, his gaze settles on the table I'm bracing myself on and he makes a lunge for an envelope I hadn't previously noticed.

No way, buddy. I manage to get it first. Damien has the good sense to give a placating gesture and step back. I stare at the envelope. It has my name on it... in Walter's handwriting.

I suddenly know I'm going to fall, and manage to collapse in a chair, tangled up in my IV tubing. While tearing open the envelope, I notice the nurse standing in the doorway, wringing her hands and repeatedly glancing down the hallway. Damien is glancing from her to me, with a bit of panic in his expression. I ignore them and pull out a few sheets of paper... stationery from the hotel. Why the fuck would Walter leave me a note?
--
Dear Alex,

I hope the procedure went well and that, as planned, you can no longer be controlled by the Resistance. I've wanted this for you for so long. As Russ puts me to sleep, I'll be imagining you free and making a good life for yourself.

I need to tell you about something I've done. Something I'm not proud of. I hope you'll forgive me when you've had some time to think about it.

I lied to you, Alex. After telling you never to lie to me, I told you a very big lie.

Russ and I ran out of options, and you were running out of time, so I bullied him into doing this procedure, even though he told me that only one of us could survive it.
--

I stop reading, frozen in denial. No. This isn't happening. I get to my feet, surprised by the impediment of IV tubing. It's a simple matter to pull the IV from my shoulder.

Damien jumps forward to help me. "Christ, Alex, you're bleed--"

I growl at him and he backs off. I'm almost at the door when Russ enters, looking alarmed. "Alex, I'm sorry. I'm so sor-"

I blink at him. "I'm going to see Walter. Move."

Russ looks like he wants to touch me. Damien puts a hand on my shoulder.

I twitch away. "Stop! I don't want to hurt you."

"Alex," Russ says in a too-gentle tone. "Walter didn't survive the procedure."

Uncomprehending, I stare at him, then make another move for the door. But he won't move. "You are not going to stop me." Despite everything going wrong with me right now, I know I sound homicidal.

They wisely back off. I stagger down the corridor, refusing to accept any truth other than Walter is okay.

Feeling as if I'm in a dream, I step into the lab. The table has been moved to the corner of the room. There's a body on it... covered in a sheet. I know it's Walter's body. I glance around. Everyone is staring at me, waiting for something. What are they waiting for? And why did they cover Walter's face?

I cross to the table, thinking to uncover him. I reach for the corner of the sheet, but I can't move it. My hand starts to shake. It finally sinks in. Walter's dead.

I can't breathe. Feeling as if my heart is going to explode in my chest, I pull back the sheet. He doesn't look like him. He... he died in a full vascular crisis.

"No," I whisper. My hand touches his face. It still feels warm, but the texture of his skin is wrong... he doesn't feel right. "No... Walter, please..." I lean over his body, my hand grabbing at his shoulder. "Please don't be gone." Moisture drips on his neck. It's coming from me. My face is wet. "P-please don't do this... I need you with me." I begin to shake him. "I cannot do this alone!" I rest my head on his chest, feeling complete despair as the sobs are ripped out of me. "Walt... please don't leave me."

I'm lost.

Lost in my suddenly shattered world... without Walter. The grief pours out of me. I can't face life without him.

All the pain and struggle we both went through, to be together. It's all gone. He's gone.

I can barely breathe. I grab at his body... the flesh that now feels so wrong. "Walt..." I choke on his name. I'm clinging to him, because... how can I possibly let go?

My sobs abate, leaving me more desolate and alone than I've ever been. What was the point of any of this if we couldn't be together?

I can't do it without you. Didn't you know that?

Something gets through the fog of pain.

Movement.

His chest feels like it's moving. Then I hear a sound. A quiet, steady thumping. Awareness washes over me and I jerk back to look at him. "He's breathing." My voice is barely a whisper.

I turn around and yell, "HE'S BREATHING!" Nothing else matters.

Dr. Lavagetto appears in an instant, giving me a patronizing shake of the head. "Al- Fuck!" His eyes open impossibly wide, then he rapidly jumps into action, barking out, "EKG! Oxygen! Stat!" They wheel the table back to the middle of the room and the entire team crowds around. I back up until I bump into a wall, then watch as they work on him.

Someone's touching my arm, but I feel like I'm frozen, pinned against the wall while I wait to find out if he's going to live. Disturbing thoughts are pulling at me. I force them down. They're not important right now. Something screams at me that they are.

Not. Now.

Immeasurable time passes, then Lavagetto turns to look at me. What looks like about 10 years of tension dissolves from his features. He nods a reassurance.

Then it all washes over me. Walter did this on purpose. He lied to me.

Oh, fuck. He was saying goodbye to me last night. He knew this was happening and he left me a letter.

The letter. I need to see it.

"... believe it, Alex."

I try to leave the lab, but bump in to Damien, nearly falling as I try to get around him. I realize he's the one talking, but ignore it and push past him to get out of the lab. The letter is on the floor in the hallway. I wind up on my knees, trying to get the pages in order.

--
Dear Alex,

I hope the procedure went well and that, as planned, you can no longer be controlled by the Resistance. I've wanted this for you for so long. As Russ puts me to sleep, I'll be imagining you free and making a good life for yourself.

I need to tell you about something I've done. Something I'm not proud of. I hope you'll forgive me when you've had some time to think about it.

I lied to you, Alex. After telling you never to lie to me, I told you a very big lie.

Russ and I ran out of options, and you were running out of time, so I bullied him into doing this procedure, even though he told me that only one of us could survive it. I strong-armed Russ into executing the treatment to save your life in favor of mine.

By the time you read this, I will most likely be dead or dying.
--

I have to stop for a moment. The reality is still too fresh. Taking a deep breath, I continue.

--
I know this is a cruel thing to do to you--to make this decision without your knowledge. And to leave you like this. I'm so sorry. I thought it through very carefully and decided that this was the only way it could happen. I would never have accepted anything else. And I couldn't tell you the truth, because you wouldn't have gone along with it.
--

No shit. I never would have agreed to something like this. Never. I could not let him sacrifice his life for mine. It's just... wrong.

--
I've known about this procedure since February, but, of course, I didn't want either of us to die. However, when you came back from the latest round of tests, it was obvious that you would not survive further experimentation. If I chose to wait for a better treatment option, it would be too late for you. When I learned that they could kill us anywhere, the only remaining option was to keep you in the lab, but you couldn't stand to be there after only two weeks. I couldn't torture you like that.
--

My chest feels tight and my eyes are burning again. I'm suddenly filled with self-recrimination... regretting every time I complained about being in the lab. I would rather have lived there than lose him.

God damn you, Walter. You should have told me. Given me the choice. I would have gone through anything to be with you.

--
I have no wish to die myself. When I was first infected with the nanocytes, I was resigned to death. I didn't want to die, but I was willing. Something happened to make me truly want to live. That something was you, Alex. I love you so much.
--

The tears spill over. "Walter... you fucking bastard." Why didn't you think I deserved to hear that?

Angrily, I wipe at my face. Seventeen years ago, I promised I'd never cry again. I feel a surge of rage, but suppress the feeling, trying to focus on the letter.

A nervous Damien hovers nearby. "Walter's really going to be all right," he whispers in amazement.

Ignoring the background noise, I return to the letter.

--
I never wanted to hurt you, but I wasn't willing to watch you die. So I made a very selfish choice.

Because I know you, I have painful knowledge... the knowledge that you need me. I would do anything to save your life and stay by your side, but I could not find a way.
--

I close my eyes for a second. If you knew I needed you, how could you think the solution was to take yourself away? I don't want to do this, this... life without you.

--
You're probably extremely angry at me. And rightfully so. I know you would never want this decision to have been made without you. I can only apologize for betraying your trust. I hope you'll forgive me for making the only choice I felt I could.

Please find a way to get on with your life. And make it a good life... away from the Resistance, the aliens, all of it. Go to Vlad and Tatiana. They love you. I know from experience that your love is worth the risk they'd have to take. Damien loves you, too. Find someone to keep you grounded. Leave the criminal life and find a safe place for yourself.
--

It suddenly hurts so badly I can't breathe. Buried in there is his knowledge that I loved him. And he still did this.

--
This is my last wish. I'm dying for your life and I want it to be a damned good one.

I left my attorney's card in the safe deposit box. Please contact her using your David Brown alias if you need anything related to my estate. She understands that your identity has to be kept secret. I know you don't need any of my money, but take anything you want from the condo.
--

The only thing I wanted was you, you fucking son of a bitch.

--
If you could find a safe way to help Scully find Mulder, it would mean a lot to me. But I don't want you putting yourself at risk.
--

Fuck Scully and Mulder.

--
Alex, you made me feel very alive and brought me a great deal of happiness. I'm grateful for our time together. For too short a time, you belonged to me. And I will die still belonging to you.

Nothing has ever hurt as much as leaving you this way, but I'm grateful that you will be free.

All my love,
Walt
--

I wad up the pages and throw them away from me, the pain ripping me apart. He's alive... and he betrayed me. I get to my feet and slam back into the lab. I yank Lavagetto away from the table.

"You went along with this?" My voice is barely a hiss.

"Yes, Alex. I know it was a terrible thing..." He grimaces, then clasps and unclasps his hands awkwardly. "He's a stubborn man, but I believed he meant what he said--that if I didn't do this, both of you would die."

It's all blather... irrelevant information. He helped Walter die. I should kill him for it, but I won't and I refuse to think about why. "Are we cured now? Is he cured?"

"We just performed the same procedure on him. It went exactly as we expected, but we won't know for certain until tomorrow."

I want to kill someone and Lavagetto is too easy a target. I shove him away from me and leave the treatment room.

I get my clothes on, fending off Damien's attempts to help and growling at the nurse when she tries to talk to me. I have to get away from here. I need to think. Need to drown out this ripping pain in my chest.

As I'm walking toward the door, I see the wadded up ball of paper. Walter's letter. I stare at it for a moment, then lean down to pick it up.

As I'm getting into the car, I hear Damien's voice from far behind me.

Fuck you, Damien. Fuck all of you.

**

Christ, I'm tired. I reach out with my hand to find Alex, but bump into something hard.

Fuck.

I open my eyes, but the room is too bright. What the hell? It's a hospital or something. A woman peers down at me. "I think he's awake, doctor."

Then a face I recognize. "Hi, doc. What's ha-" Mexico... the procedure. I should be dead. "Did you do the fucking procedure?!" I scream hoarsely at him.

"Settle down, you autocratic son of a bitch."

"Is Alex...?" I struggle to sit up.

"Yes, I performed the fucking procedure like you fucking demanded." He shoves down on my shoulder so hard my back slams into the gurney. "As far as Alex is concerned, except for homicidal and suicidal ideation, he's quite well."

Oh. Good. Or bad. "I'm-"

"Alex already gave me a double ration of shit, so don't you start on me!"

The doctor seems angry. "I'm, uh, just surprised to be alive."

"Me, too. I thought Alex was going to relocate my liver when he discovered what you'd manipulated me into doing."

Oh shit. "Where is he?"

Lavagetto shrugs. "Unknown. He departed."

"I guess he's pissed at me."

"Good guess." He gives me a withering glare.

I can't fault Alex for that.

Russ shakes his head at me. "You expected you'd be dead, so you wouldn't have to contend with this debacle." He gives me a bitter smile. "Well, you're not dead, Walt."

Things are definitely screwed up, but I'm alive. That's a relief. I think. Or maybe it depends on how Alex feels about it. "So why am I alive?"

"The healing module."

"Alex's?"

"No. Yours."

"What? I don't have the healing module."

"That's what I thought, too. But you do possess it. And it saved your life."

"But I..." I'm filled with disbelief. How could I have it and not know?

Wait a minute... My unexpected recovery from the alien biotoxin. My knee isn't bothering me any more. My stamina at the gym... "Maybe Alex did it."

"Did what?"

"Gave me the healing module."

"But wouldn't he inform you?"

"Well, he should have."

The doc makes a face. "You don't exactly measure up as the gold standard for open communications yourself." He smacks me lightly on the arm. "You two don't communicate at all, do you?"

Fuck. I don't know. Ask me later when I can think. He's right, this would have been a lot easier if I were dead. What the hell am I thinking? "Uh, Russ?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think he's coming back?"

"I can't begin to speculate, Walt. But you deserve whatever he does to you, so I'm not going to hold your hand while you moan about it."

"Fine. Thanks," I reply curtly. I'm acting like an eight year old. The man saved my life and Alex's, too. But everything seems so impossible right now.

"Oh, by the way. You have a visitor with numerous questions. I'll escort him in, so you can illuminate the situation for him."

Who?

Damien comes in looking a bit lightheaded. Shit.

I asked him to be here for Alex... to help nurse him back to health, or so I said. I really just wanted someone to be here who cares about him.

Unable to explain what really happened without being disbelieved and putting Lavagetto's team at risk, I make up something about not wanting Alex to know I was ill, so I wrote him a letter.

Damien ultimately accepts my hastily constructed story, largely because he seems to want to believe it. I finally convince him to go to the hotel to wait for Alex.

Assuming Alex comes back.

I try not to think of him reading that letter. I didn't allow myself to consider his reaction, because if I had, I couldn't have done what I did. And I never told him how much I loved him because I didn't want to say it then leave him alone. Didn't want to hear him tell me the same thing. But he said it just when he was going under and it ripped me apart. Because I thought I was leaving him. Forever.

Oh, Christ. I love you, Alex.

Is it too much to hope you'll forgive me for this?

**

Guaymas, Mexico
8:07 P.M.


I sit on the beach, watching the sun go down. I'm barefoot and have Walter's letter loosely clasped in my hand.

I keep re-reading one line.

--
For too short a time, you belonged to me. And I will die still belonging to you.
--

Placing the letter on the sand, I drop my head to my knees and let the sadness wash over me.

I should be happy. It's likely that I'm finally free. Free of the nanos. Free of anyone's control. I can go anywhere and do anything I want.

Except... for how I feel. I cannot escape my feelings. No matter what's happened, I don't want a life without Walter in it.

But I keep replaying what happened. Yesterday--that wonderful day--Walter was saying goodbye. It feels so cruel.

Something whispers that I did the same thing to him... six years ago.

Oh god, Walter. Is this how you felt? Did you feel this despair and this sadness? I'm sorry. So very sor... No. I cannot go there. It's hard enough to focus on the present without reliving the past.

What am I going to do? Go back? Stay away? Head off to start the new life he wanted for me?

There's only one answer. And I know it. I've still got his chain around my neck. His initials on my hip. His mark on my body. I reach up to touch the back of my neck. I still belong to him. And no amount of sadness or anger or distance or even death is going to change that.

My reality is that I'm only complete when I'm with him. I cannot go back to the life I lived before Walter. It's a sad, pale imitation of real living.

Why did you do this to me, Walter?

I feel torn apart. I've been fighting fucking tears all day. I hate this. Hate being brought back to this place of feeling everything. How can I hate it and, at the same time, be grateful. Grateful that I finally can feel something... for someone.

I want to rage at you, Walter. Hurt you for bringing me here. And at the same time, I need the comfort of your touch.

Part of me wants to never be this vulnerable again. Wants to run and never look back. And the other part knows what it feels like to love him and, while I'm alive, I have to be with him.

I stroke the chain around my neck, trying to figure out what to do next.

**

Tucson, AZ
11:17 P.M.


Russ pulls up to the hotel. "Here's your stop, Walter."

I haven't said a word to him since we left the facility in Nogales. He had nothing to say to me either. Not that I blame him.

I don't get out of the car. "Russ, I..."

He cuts off the engine, then turns to look at me.

"I didn't mean to take things out on you back there. I'm sorry, Russ." I tap my fingers on the car seat. "You were right, I did this and I have to live with it. I apologize."

The doc gives me a look of grudging sympathy. "Apology accepted."

"Thank you." I pinch the bridge of my nose. "You think Alex will be so generous?"

"Don't push your luck."

Yeah. I've been given one hell of a piece of good luck today. And I didn't do anything to deserve it.

Turning back to Russ, I continue, "You did everything I asked you to, and more, under impossible circumstances and still managed to save my sorry ass. I owe you everything. I don't know how to thank you."

"Walter, I hated you back there." Frowning, he leans toward me. "When I saw you lying dead on that table and I knew I'd done it. I hated you for what you'd done to him, and to me."

"That's fair," I concede. "I don't believe the end justifies the means, so I think I can understand that."

He says nothing.

"I thank you for my life. And his."

"He loves you as much as you love him. If he comes back to you, you'd better treat him right."

If? I'm not going to think about that. Can't. "Whatever you say, doc."

"I need you in the lab tomorrow, so I can run some tests."

Huh? "What for?"

"To verify that your nanos can no longer be activated."

"What?!"

"Did you forget the point of the whole procedure?"

"To save Alex."

"I performed it on you, too."

"You mean you think my nanocytes are deactivated?"

"If you didn't know, why didn't you ask?"

"It never crossed my mind. I just thought..." Oh, Christ. If this works, I'm free, too. "Jesus, doc." I take him by the shoulders and plant a kiss on his forehead. I suddenly adore the little man.

A healthy red flush breaks out on his face. "Keep your damned mouth away from me, Walt. I saw what you did to his neck."

I'm tempted to ruffle his hair, but I decide I want to keep my hand. I give him a tired grin and get out of the car.

Damien accosts me in the lobby. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you still be in the clinic?"

What can I say? "There's a lot I can't explain--I'm sorry, Damien. I was ill, but I'm fine now."

He raises an eyebrow.

"Ok, I'm tired."

He's not buying.

I rub my forehead. "Really, fucking exhausted."

Damien looks at me doubtfully, but lets it go. "He didn't come back. Did he call you?"

"No." I don't know what else to say.

"I'm sorry, Walter. You must be very upset."

"I'm fine." Another lie. It's becoming a bad habit. "Don't worry. He'll come back."

I just want to go to my room, but Damien isn't quite through with me yet. "He, uh, didn't take your death very well."

"Yeah. I know." I'm feeling more tired by the minute.

Damien watches me very closely, though I'm not sure what he's looking for. "I've never seen him like that. So... out of control." He stops abruptly. "He loves you, Walter. I wonder if you even comprehend how much."

I meet Damien's gaze, accepting his words. I guess I didn't let myself see how much Alex loved me, because I couldn't deal with all the consequences.

His expression shifts to something between sad and sympathetic. "Go to bed, Walter. And don't worry... he'll be back."

I nod, wanting to feel some hope.

After verifying that he got the room key I left for him, I try to break away. He lets me go with a promise to contact him right away if I hear from Alex.

Upstairs in the room, I can't hold back my own worrying. I may never see Alex again. I'm a fucking idiot. Why did I ever choose to do something this awful to the man I love?

Then I remember I was trying to save his life. God, I hope the procedure worked. Or we're right back where we started. No, we're not. Alex probably hates me.

Fuck. Even in the privacy of my own thoughts, I am not going to feel sorry for myself.

Please come back to me, Alex. I need you, too.

I haven't slept in two days, and I don't think I can sleep now, but I get ready for bed anyway. Then I sit on the sofa and smoke the remaining half of my last joint.

The past few weeks crash down on me; my body has discovered a whole new degree of exhaustion. All the pain. All the fear of losing him. The times I hurt him because I had to keep my distance. Fuck, and that was after watching him nearly die in the hotel room in Washington. After I lost Mulder. Which wasn't too long after nine months of depression thinking Alex was dead.

I think a need a vacation. A long vacation.

But I feel about 900 years old right now. Getting up off this couch seems insurmountable. I'm alive. Only to die of thirst sitting here, smoking the butt-end of a joint.

You're losing your mind, Walt.

Long gone. I'm way past insanity.

Alex is my happiness. And my personal demon. He turned my life upside down. I should complain, but there's nothing I want more than for him to walk through that door.

As mad as he's got to be, I'll be lucky if I see him in a week. Or a month. Fuck, a year. As long as I know he's safe, I can deal with it.

I turn on the TV and find the oldies music channel. The pot gives me the bliss of oblivion. Good thing I bought the good stuff.

There's a noise in the room. I ought to get my gun or something, but then Alex is standing over me. A huge smile forms on my face. He's back.

I enjoy a moment of intense happiness until I see the hurt look on his face. "Alex, I-"

Closing his eyes, he shakes his head.

I shut my mouth. Whatever happens next has to be on his terms. It hurts me so much to have hurt him like this. But I don't know if there's anything I can do to make him feel better.

He opens his eyes and stares at me for a long time, his eyes traveling up and down my body. I wish I knew what he was thinking... feeling. After several minutes of just looking at me, he extends his hand. I take the hand. For a moment, I'm acutely grateful that I'm alive to touch him. He helps me stand. I want to pull him into my arms, but I'm not sure that's what he wants.

Alex walks into the bedroom, and I follow. Staring vacantly into space, he begins to remove his clothes. I stand awkwardly at the doorway.

I love you so much. Please be okay, Alex. Hate me if you have to, but don't let it hurt you like this.

When he's naked, he climbs into my side of the bed, scooting toward the middle. He holds the covers back as he watches me, clearly waiting for me to join him.

I move to the bed and slide under the covers. I know exactly how to reassure him with my touch, but he needs to let me know that's what he wants. So I get as close as I can without touching him.

Alex moves closer, until our bodies are touching, then wraps himself around me, burying his face in my neck. My arms close around him instantly, holding him tightly enough to hurt.

A shard of the pain breaks loose. I never thought I'd hold him again. But he's here with me. Badly wounded... at my hands... but he's here. And that's a start. "Thank you," I murmur, feeling as if I've just discovered the essential nature of gratitude. Thank you for coming back to me.

He's still for a long time, just silently holding onto me. Then his body begins to shake. A moment later, I feel wetness on my neck and I realize he's crying.

As my own eyes fill, I rub a soothing motion on his back and rock him gently. I'll do anything to take the hurt away.

You're one sorry son of a bitch, Walt. You did this to him.

I just keep holding him and moving gently. "So sorry," I whisper, repeating the words more to reassure myself. "So sorry."

Sorry I hurt you. Sorry I lied to you. Sorry you ever endured those tests for me. Sorry I left you. Sorry I never made you stay when we were first lovers. Sorry I wasn't there to hold you when they killed your family.

God, I love you, Alex. If sheer will can make the hurt go away, you're going to be fine. Because I will never give up on us.

His body eventually stills, and I think he's gone to sleep, when he whispers, "Tell me... I need to hear it."

"I love you." I kiss the top of his head. "I've loved you for so long." It feels so damned good to just say it. No hesitation. No fear. Just three fucking words I should have said a long time ago. I am such a fucked up bastard. I'm damned lucky to have ever had his love.

"I love you, too." I feel his words murmured against my skin. His fingers clench on my back. "Promise me... promise me you'll never leave me again."

"I promise." My voice cracks on the words. "I told you I'd die belonging to you. And I meant it." I stroke the side of his face. "My beautiful Alex... thank you..." I have to clear my throat. "... for giving me your heart."

Alex tips his head back to look at me. Even in the dim light I can see that his eyes are red and swollen. His face is wet. He looks exquisite to me. He rubs his thumb over my cheekbone, then traces his fingers along my jaw. "I... I forgive you."

I needed to hear that. Desperately. But I'm afraid of him giving it to me too easily. "You can still change your mind tomorrow." I shake my head. "It was unforgivable what I did."

He gives me a sad half smile. "I'm not going to change my mind. To be with you, for myself, I have to forgive you. And I need to be with you more than I need to breathe."

Exhausted, relieved, sad and singed by the intensity of the moment, I can barely form a thought. "We're together now. I'll breathe if you will."

Nodding, he moves closer. A few minutes later, I know he's asleep.

I listen to the soft sounds of his breathing.

Today I was granted two incredible gifts. It's up to me to live well and be worthy of them.

"I love you, Alex," I whisper, crossing my wrists around him, so he can't escape while I'm sleeping.

**

Wednesday, 28 June 2000
9:06 A.M.


When I wake, my head feels like it's packed in cotton and my eyes feel dry and sticky. But I'm aware of Walter's presence in the bed and that's all that matters. I roll over so I can see him. He's still asleep.

I watch him for a while. Last night, I wasn't focusing on how he looked, but in the morning light, I can see that he's beyond tired. His body worn out from what he went through yesterday.

The reality of what's happened hits me again, and I feel out of breath. I almost lost him yesterday. I meant what I said to him last night... I do forgive him for what he did. I cannot be with him and not forgive him. I guess in that regard, he and I are wired a little differently.

Even though I forgive him, every time I think about him lying on that table or about that letter, I feel a new wash of pain. Now that I know what it's like to lose him, I know I cannot let it happen again.

But something else is bothering me and I cannot quite figure out what it is. A niggling sense of unease... of something not being right.

As I watch Walter sleep, I push the feeling away. All that matters is that we're both alive and possibly free of the nanos.

Eventually, I get out of bed, careful not to wake him, and move to the bathroom. As soon as I look in the mirror, I notice my eyes are red and swollen. I won't think about the reason why. My fingers find the back of my neck, touching the still-tender tissue. I so desperately wanted this mark, but now it feels as if it's a symbol of what's happened... of Walter saying goodbye.

I splash some cold water on my face, then get into the shower. After rinsing the soap out of my hair, I realize Walter's in the bathroom, leaning against the counter, watching me.

He gives me a hesitant smile.

I turn off the taps and climb out. "Hi."

"Hi." He enfolds me in a towel and begins drying me off. When he's finished, he tosses the towel aside and kisses each of my eyelids.

Wrapping my arm around his waist, I hold onto him for a moment. I have so many questions--questions about what happened yesterday--but I don't really know what to say.

"Do you want to talk?" he asks gently.

I consider the question carefully. "Yes, but later. Right now, I'd like to do something... normal." I wish we were back in D.C. at his condo. I need something that feels like us... feels like our relationship. I want to sit at the table watching Walter drink his slime beverage and read the paper.

"Anything you want. Breakfast? Go for a drive?" Walter leans against the counter and pulls me into his arms and between his legs.

Resting my head on his shoulder, I lean against him for a long time. "How about I order breakfast while you shower?"

Walter nods, then gives me a kiss. My hand slides up to his neck, holding him to me. I tease his lips with my tongue, which he nips at playfully. After a few moments of teasing, I part my lips, encouraging his tongue inside. The kiss becomes more passionate as his tongue takes possession of my mouth. We groan at the same moment, our bodies pressing closer together.

We kiss for a long time... until my lips begin to feel bruised. I break away, trying to get oxygen to my lungs. We're both turned on but, for some unknown reason, I don't want to go there.

Pulling away, I attempt to get my brain to handle the simple task of speech. "Shower..." I sound breathless. "Breakfast."

"I have to call Damien," says Walter. "To let him know you're okay."

"I saw him last night... he was asleep on a sofa in the lobby. I told him we'd get in touch with him later today."

"Thanks."

Damien's presence has lent a touch of surrealism to this whole situation. I wasn't sure what to make of him being here to begin with, much less finding him sleeping in the lobby last night. We have to talk about it, but definitely not right now. I leave Walter to his shower.

After we eat, I find a book and we settle on the sofa. I lie with my head in his lap and read some Sci-Fi novel, while he peruses the paper. Things don't exactly feel normal, but the illusion is nice. And necessary.

Walter seems content to let us just lie around the suite, doing nothing. But I know I need to talk to him.

After we order lunch, I sit cross-legged on the sofa, facing him. "I'd, uh, like to talk now."

"Okay, Alex." He folds up the paper and gives me his full attention.

I try to think of where to begin. A lot of my questions are technical... like, what did they do? But, I decide to save them for Lavagetto. "When... when did you decide to do this?"

"Russ and I discussed it in your hotel room in D.C. It was the only thing he knew of that might save you, but of course, he wasn't proposing it." Walter frowns. "That's when we decided to bring you here, to see if we could find something better."

"And if you didn't find anything better, you had his agreement to perform this... procedure?"

"Russ initially refused to consider it, but I strong-armed him to get him to agree."

"And you and Lavagetto agreed to go ahead with the really bad idea... when?"

"Sunday night." Walter's forthright answers to my questions make getting the information easier than I expected.

I consider that for a second. "After I freaked out at the lab." It's not a question.

Walter shakes his head, his expression carefully neutral. "It wasn't because you freaked out. I knew you couldn't live in that lab. Even before Sunday night, I knew where we were headed."

"So, you put me in a situation where my behavior was being evaluated, and didn't think I should know?" I ask the question without ire because I cannot quite believe he did it.

He contemplates my words for a moment, then admits, "Yeah, I guess I did." His eyes close briefly before he continues. "From the time I watched you almost die in D.C., it was the only way I knew how to save you. I kept hoping Lavagetto would find something else. But I knew if he didn't that I'd have to play this card, and the only way to play it was to deceive you. I'm not proud of that. I think you know I violated my own moral code," his voice shifts to an entreaty, "but I would have lied to anyone to save you, Alex."

I have to look away for a moment. In a way, he's telling me how much he loves me. Violating everything he believes in for me. And that leads directly to the part I don't get. Looking back, I watch him for a moment. "Don't you realize I would have lived in that lab to keep you safe and alive? That there's nothing more important to me?"

His expression dissolves into abject pain. "Alex, you went back to them for more tests because of me. I couldn't face that anymore. Couldn't face seeing your suffering and knowing I was the reason."

I blink at him in surprise. "So the solution was to kill yourself so you didn't have to face my suffering over that?"

"I'm sorry, Alex. I realize it was a selfish choice. Until last night, I didn't allow myself to see how much it would hurt you."

I feel the hurt all over again and have to pause to breathe. "Walt... pulling back that sheet and realizing you were dead..." I have to stop for a moment because it's still so painful. "I knew what I had lost and it was devastating."

"I never meant to hurt you." His eyes fall closed for a moment, then he meets my gaze. "I didn't," his voice falters, "want to lose you again."

There's not much more I can say without repeating myself. It's patently clear to both of us that by killing himself he was losing me again. But there are still a few things I need to understand. "So your withdrawal over the last couple weeks was because you were planning this?"

"I hated you having to go to the lab. I held out hope for a solution for both of us for as long as I could, then I saw our options slipping away." I can see that this has hurt him, but it's not the same deep hurt as when I was in prison. Because he had some control in this situation? "I didn't want to leave you, Alex, and I couldn't talk about it, so I did whatever I could to shut myself off."

In some twisted way it's reassuring. It may have been about me, but it wasn't because of me. "I guess I understand what you did and why. And I meant what I said last night... I do forgive you. But I'm worried about the next time."

"What next time?"

"The next time you perceive a threat to my life."

Walter pinches the bridge of his nose. "It's an unavoidable fact that I would trade my life for yours. That's not something I can change, nor do I even want to. But I can no longer lie to myself about the effect on you." He takes my hand and brings it to his lips. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

Brushing my thumb across his lower lip, I reply, "I have a hard time with your willingness to sacrifice your life for mine."

"And what would you have done in the same circumstances?"

I contemplate that for a long time. I'd like to say I would have done something different. With a resigned sigh, I say, "I wouldn't hesitate to give up my life to protect you." I give him a mild glare. "But that's not the point."

"Then help me see the point. Because all I see is that I hurt you terribly," he grimaces, "and gave you good reason not to trust me."

I jump onto his lap and shake his shoulder. "The point is don't do it again!"

"Yeah, okay. I got that part, too." He kisses my forehead. "The two of us will fight to the death to defend this relationship. I think that's a good thing."

"And I still trust you, too." Except when it comes to your own wellbeing. I move onto the next question. "Why is Damien here?"

"I didn't want you to be alone after..."

I have to close my eyes for a second and just breathe. The thing is, there was no good way to handle that particular 'after.'

It's hard to avoid thinking about what almost happened... It's a shared pain; I can see it in his eyes, too.

"You have people besides me who love you, Alex."

I don't know what to do with that. I shake my head faintly, but not really in denial. I don't want to think about it. I'm used to my decisions and actions affecting only me. I don't feel prepared for--or capable of handling--these changes.

Something occurs to me. "Incidentally, couldn't you have phrased that letter a little differently?" Just thinking about it makes me ache. "Something a little less definite? Like 'there's a remote possibility I might die.'"

"It wasn't a remote possibility, Alex. I did die. Russ told me he thinks the healing nanos brought me back. But for the healing module, which we didn't know about, I would be dead." He gives me a pointed look. "Is there something you need to tell me, Alex?"

Oh. That. In which case, I'm very glad I turned them on. "Um, Walter, I prepped the nanos for the healing function over a year ago, then activated them so your conflict with the alien bounty hunter didn't kill you."

His expression is a mild reproach. "I'd like to give you hell about not informing me, and Russ, of this little detail, but it'll be a long while before I can lecture you about honesty."

I give him an affronted look. "I never lied to you. You said it was okay to leave things out." At his horrified expression, I insist, "You did!"

After a long exhale, he counters, "I guess we both need to make a deeper commitment to honesty. Do you need me to explain why leaving out important information is a problem?"

With a sigh, I shake my head and wrap my arm around his shoulders. "No. I learn well by example, and I think I've had an adequate object lesson."

Walter lets his head rest against my chest. "I think we've both had the most miserable fucking object lessons in the past 24 hours." His arms encircle my waist. "I love you, Alex."

I wonder if Walter saying that will always make me feel this good. "I love you, too." I kiss him briefly. I decide to ask the question that's been right under the surface for a long time. "You meant what you said last night? That you're not leaving again?"

"Yeah, I meant it," he replies with complete confidence. "If you'll have me, I'd like to spend the rest of my life with you." He gives me a hesitant smile.

I remind myself to breathe as the last bit of uncertainty about our relationship slips away. "Okay." Kissing the side of his face, I add, "I'm never going anywhere. You're stuck with me for life. And it had better be a long one."

"Well, I'm an old guy, but I'm pretty fit. As long as the sex doesn't wear me out, I ought to last a few years." He squeezes me in his arms.

"Sex is invigorating. Not aging." I breathe in the scent of him, trying to accept that this is real. "So what's next for us?"

His arms loosen a bit. "I promised Russ I'd go to the lab today..."

I groan and drop my head on his shoulder, whimpering a complaint. A reminder that there's still one obstacle left.

"... so we can find out if the procedure worked. But I didn't make any commitments for you. You don't have to come, and if you do, we don't have to test you."

Lifting my head, I meet his gaze. "I'll go, and I'll let him run his tests. Besides, I have some questions for the good doctor."

"I'll bet you do." He kisses my chin, then looks at his watch. "I'd better call Russ. I was supposed to be there an hour ago."

"You should get some more sleep first."

"Sleep later. I want to know if we're free of those damned things." He taps my thigh, encouraging me to stand. "And Alex?"

I roll off him and get to my feet. "Hmm?"

"Don't blame Russ or any of his team for what I did. I dragged him along kicking and screaming. It's not his fault. If you need to vent your anger, come after me. Okay?"

"I... I'll try." It's a difficult promise because I'm pretty pissed at the little man.

"Thank you."

When we finally get to the lab, Russ is drinking a cup of coffee. He looks like he hasn't slept in weeks. Probably hasn't. Considering his complicity in Walter's death, I can't bring myself to care.

Rising, he glances assessingly at each of us in turn, before asking, "You ready to go, Walter?"

I answer, "No. I'd like for you to explain this procedure to me."

Walter nods, then takes a seat at the table.

Russ follows suit and starts with, "One of our early discoveries about the differences between your nanos and Walter's is that outside the body, in a Petri dish, they responded differently to control signals. Walter's didn't respond at all, but yours did.

"We determined that this was because your nanos, Alex, were fully engaged--to repair the continuous damage being done by your type 1 nanos.

"When we engaged Walter's fully last week, during a trial vascular crisis, we observed that his exhibited the same ability to respond in a Petri dish. Our most promising hypothesis was that fully engaged nanos are programmable outside the body.

"We developed a software module that would deactivate the communication capability of the nanos inside an infected person's body. Unfortunately, we hadn't ascertained the programming frequency. Since the nanos can only be activated inside a body but programmed outside, in order to identify the frequency, we had to engage them fully, then filter them out of the blood and randomly try signals. We estimated that by the time we pinpointed the signal the test subject would already be dead from the vascular crisis. So we discarded it as a viable option."

I interject, "I'm not clear on one point. If they only have to be fully engaged, why couldn't you do it with my nanos since they are already fully activated?"

Lavagetto shakes his head. "We tried it on you during the testing over the last two weeks. It didn't work. Without your control pad, we were unable to control your nanos... only activate them randomly. We had to use what we had a control panel for: Walter's vascular crisis."

Groaning, I rub my hand over my face. This is going to bite me in the ass. "Of course, if either of you had mentioned this to me, I could have gotten a control panel for Walter with the healing module. In fact, there's one sitting in one of my safe deposit boxes in D.C."

Walter frowns, but says nothing.

Lavagetto glares at me. "And if you'd informed us you had activated Walter's nanos' healing function and had a control pad to activate it, I might have made it through my entire career without having had to deliberately kill a patient."

There's really nothing I can say to that, so I flip him off. But I begin to understand that this was hard for him, too. "So, you believe you proved your theory?"

He nods and continues, "Affirmative. We determined that we'd hit the correct frequency when the nanos no longer deactivated and dispersed. The programming frequency was a better scientific gain that we might have expected. It's the only state in which we can preserve a nano machine for study. But, per my predictions, by the time we found the proper frequency, Walter was already dead."

I cringe, but force myself to keep asking questions. "So, what did you have to do to cure us?"

Lavagetto makes a cautionary gesture. "We've not yet established its efficacy. That's why you're here today, but all we did was take a few of Walter's nanos and give them new instructions. Then injected them into your body. Once we knew Walter was still alive, thanks to the healing function, we repeated the process using Walter's own nanos. In fact, if it works, we can repeat it on anyone."

I frown at him. "So, why the anesthesia?"

Lavagetto glances at Walter, who sighs before replying, "To keep you from interfering with the procedure." The doctor looks at his hands.

There's that niggling unease again. Suddenly everything clicks. "When I woke up... that didn't feel like anesthesia. You were keeping me sedated."

Russ nods. "And you came out of it a lot sooner than we expected."

I get to my feet and head for the door, mumbling, "I need some air." Once I'm outside, I take a deep breath. With everything that's happened, why does this bother me so much?

Because it feels entirely too much like what the Resistance has done... treating my body as something that needs to be kept drugged or tied down. Treating me like an object without any choice.

Some part of me feels compelled to remind me that I gave Walter the choice. I chew on my lower lip, trying to figure out why this feels so wrong, why it makes me so angry. Walter tried to protect me. Isn't that a good thing? Right now, it doesn't feel good. Maybe it would feel right if Walter hadn't lied to me... but why does it matter if he lied? I've never cared about anyone's honesty before.

I rub my hand over my forehead, trying to drive away an ache that has nothing to do with pain. In some way, I'm angry at Walter for putting me in this situation. This backward, bizarre situation where I have to figure out right and wrong. He's supposed to be doing that.

I kick around outside for a while, trying to suppress so many feelings--some I don't even know how to identify--and focus on the task at hand. Finding out if we're cured. Taking a deep breath, I head back inside.

But as soon as I step into the lab, the feelings overwhelm me again. I face Walter and Lavagetto. "I am not an object that you have unlimited license to test on." I turn on Lavagetto. "No more anything unless you explain what the fuck you're doing and get my okay. And no goddamned drugs unless I ask for them."

"And you..." I round on Walter. "I love you, and give myself to you without reservation. But to let someone else drug me?!" My anger comes to a head, because I would allow him to let someone else drug me, and that makes me even angrier. "I'm fucking tired of people shooting me up with drugs when I won't cooperate! I never expected that from the two of you." And there it is. I feel massively betrayed by two people I trusted. One I trusted with everything, and the other I trusted to at least try to help me.

Walter winces, then looks me straight in the eye. "You're right. What I did was an unconscionable violation. You are not a test subject, you are my beloved." He rises, pacing the room before turning to face me again. "I give you my word that I will never lie to you again about any medical procedure, nor will I give anyone consent to do any procedure to you if I don't know it's your wish."

I guess I just needed him to accept how this made me feel, because my anger instantly dissipates. I cross to Walter and wrap my arm around his waist. "Thank you."

Walter shakes his head in dismay. "I don't want to keep apologizing, but I was so frantic to save your life that I didn't consider what we were putting you through. I couldn't be more sorry for the pain I've caused you."

I press us close together. "I... okay, Walter. I didn't mean to go berserk-"

"Alex, I do not want to hear you apologize for getting angry. Your anger is entirely justified."

I think to argue with him, but it seems like it would take too much energy. "I want this to be over with... so we can get on with our lives."

"I know." He rubs my back. "Shall we proceed with the test on me, Russ?"

Russ rises to his feet and approaches us. He smacks Walter's upper arm and looks at me. "I won't comply with any further directives from him pertaining to your treatment. Additionally, I guarantee you full disclosure about any future course of therapy. If you're amenable, Alex, I'd like to execute some tests on your pushy lover. If you like, I can make sure it hurts." He winks at me.

I give him a half smile. Okay, Russ, you're forgiven, too. I tug at Walter's arm. "Come on, Muscle Man, let's see if we're cured." Something occurs to me. "Russ, if this worked, does that mean our nanos are now completely deactivated?"

Lavagetto shakes his head. "No. Our reprogramming wasn't that sophisticated. It means they don't respond to signals. They'll remain in their last state. We had already turned off the vascular crisis, so the last state for both of you is with the healing function engaged." He looks at each of us in turn. "A good place to be, I'd say."

Walter blinks at me. "You mean, if I cut myself shaving, the nanos are going to heal it?"

Russ nods. "Yes. And from what I can tell, they should diminish the signs of aging. Don't get me wrong, I think you'll both die someday, but the nanos should prevent any cellular deterioration... for as long as they keep working."

"Shit." Walter looks stunned, then he grins at me. "Good thinking getting me the healing module, Alex. I may be able to survive all the sex after all."

I return his smile. "Then there'll be no more complaining about my rampant horniness."

Lavagetto makes a timeout gesture. "I've put up with a lot from you two, but keep your damned sex life out of the lab." He steps toward the exam table. "Get your butt on the table, Walt."

Unable to resist teasing Russ--and touching Walter--I make a show of grabbing Walter's ass as he moves toward the table.

As the doctor inserts the catheter into Walter's arm, he mutters, "I don't know which is more odious. The 'I love you' shit, or the 'rampant horniness.'"

I give Walter a conspiratorial look. "Aw, come on, Doc. I seem to remember some rampant horniness when you were on Vanessa's lap in that bar."

"At least she's a girl." He draws the first blood sample. "I'm up to my ears in love-struck faggots. And Muscle Man here kissed me last night-"

"What?!" I glance at Walter for some sort of explanation.

He smiles at me unrepentantly. "It was on the forehead and he wiped it furiously with his hand afterward. I think his heterosexuality is firmly intact."

Clearly Russ has no taste. "Incidentally, Russ, you'd need at least three faggots to be up to your ears." I nudge Walter in the ribs. "So, why'd you kiss him?"

He looks like he's going to tease me again, but then he says, "He told me he'd performed the procedure on me, too. It was the first time I realized we both might be cured."

"Well, Doc, if you have cured us, I'll kiss you, too."

"I can hardly wait," he grumbles, turning his back to us as he hovers at the microscope.

I'm oddly nervous about what's happening over at the lab bench. "Are you and Vanessa still going at it?" I'm trying to distract myself more than Russ.

"Mm hmm."

"Are you, well, you know, serious about each other?"

Still nose down in his microscope, he replies, "Oh, that. I was apprehensive that you would inquire if she canes me with a birch rod."

"Not that I'm not curious, but try to stay on topic, Russ."

Walter puts out a restraining arm. "Does anyone besides me want to know if we beat these things? Could we get on with it?" I do want to know, but another part of me is terrified that this might have all been for nothing.

Russ suddenly turns around with a cocky grin on his face. He walks toward us with the control pad and holds it out. The vascular crisis is at 60 percent.

Walter asks, "Uh, Alex, does that mean what I think it means?"

I stare at the control pad in astonishment. I was afraid to let myself really believe. I turn my gaze to Walter and murmur, "We're cured." It can't be real.

Walt remains placid, but the too familiar tension in his expression begins to evaporate. "Give me that." He takes the box from Russ and passes it to me. "Kick it up to 100 percent."

I turn it up gradually, watching him for any sign of distress. When it's at 100 percent, I smile at him inanely. "It's all the way up."

"Run every program you know."

I fiddle with the thing for half an hour before my skeptical lover is convinced. I turn to Russ. "I want you to try the frequency that we accidentally discovered--the one that activated the nerve attack in me." I'm not even going to suggest the decalcification module, though I'm sure Russ will hit it.

He nods and Walter gets up off the table, the catheter still in his arm. Russ puts a new catheter in my shoulder and takes a sample. He examines it under the microscope for a few moments, before activating the signal. Walter is watching every twitch I make, looking a bit nervous.

I feel nothing.

Slowly a smile breaks out on Walter's face. "Damn. The little fucker did it."

Russ tries to glare at Walter, but he's too busy smiling.

I remove the catheter myself, then jump into Walter's arms. "It worked." I cannot remember the last time I felt this happy.

He pulls me into a bear hug and lifts me off the floor. "There are a few things I have to do, but then may I take you on a nice vacation?"

"Yes!" I give him a firm kiss, then look over at Russ. "I'll set up a million dollar grant to get you started on the rest of your research... if you're still interested."

"Unequivocally. I'll match your million with one of my own."

Walter puts me back on the ground. "And I've got a senator who's going to find you the rest of your funding in exchange for the cure."

I blink at Walter, knowing exactly who he's talking about. "You're not serious."

"I spoke to him before we left D.C. He's going to do us a few other favors as well."

"Don't trust him too much... he's really slimy." I'm too happy to bother asking any more questions.

"Yeah, I know. He's a politician," Walter says as if it explains everything.

I glance at Russ, remembering something my brain was working on earlier. "If Russ and Vanessa don't work out, I was thinking we should fix him up with Marita."

Russ gives me a disconcerted look.

Walter concludes, "So I guess we're keeping you in a steady supply of tall blondes, too."

Lavagetto steps closer to us and starts to say something. Walter and I exchange a quick glance, then both grab him and kiss him on his cheeks.

"Ew, yuck!"

**

After telling Russ to take a wad of cash from the budget and treat his team to the biggest party of their lives, Alex and I head back to the hotel, thinking about our lives together. For two people who make each other happy, we've sure spent a lot of time miserable. No matter what else our future holds, that has to end. Now that we have some control over our own lives, I feel hope that it can.

We make a detour to a nearly-deserted gay bar to meet with Damien. I spot him at the bar, and when we get closer, it's apparent he and the handsome bartender are engaged in some sort of flirtation. Alex catches Damien's eye, then we move to a secluded corner, find a couple of comfy chairs and wait for Damien to finish.

Alex's hand rests on my forearm, his fingertips absently stroking the inside of my wrist. He's staring off into space, a soft smile curving his lips. I want to ask what he's thinking about, but Damien appears.

"Wow." Damien stares between the two of us. "I can't believe the change in you two. You look so... happy. And healthy! I'd ask why, but I'm sure you won't be able to tell me." He flashes us both a tolerant smile.

Yeah, he's got the drill. "I want to thank you for coming, Damien. I know it was last minute, but..."

Before I can finish, he waves my comment away. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad you called. And I'm happy you two are working it out. Whatever the hell 'it' is."

Alex asks, "When are you heading back home?"

"In a couple of days... Bartender Rick," he dips his head toward the man in question, "is going to show me around Tucson. I could use a little vacation."

"Damien, just tell me when you want to leave," I interject. "I'll book your flight and, of course, your room is taken care of for as long as you want to stay."

"No such luck, Walter. I appreciate the gesture, but the expense is no problem. Right after our little visitor left, a quarter of a million dollars found its way into my account. I left Alex a voicemail asking about it, but he never answered." He gives Alex an arch look, and Alex just shrugs as if he has no idea. "So, I figure I can use some of that anonymous money to pay for an impromptu holiday."

Before either of us can respond, Damien asks to speak to Alex alone. Alex glances at me briefly, then steps away with him. They stand close together, talking for several minutes, Alex occasionally nodding or shaking his head. I notice the bartender watching them with interest.

A quarter of a million. Not a bad fee for a few months of babysitting. Not that they had to be paid. Lyosha turned his charm on Damien and Noreen, who were both in tears when he had to leave.

When Alex and Damien return, I look up at the two of them. Damien is smiling but Alex looks tense, drumming his fingers against his thigh. They're up to something.

I'm completely unprepared when Damien leans down, wraps his arms around me and kisses me.
It's a serious kiss... that results in no small amount of arousal on my part. He's soft and sweet and it's hard to resist letting it escalate.

When he finally let's go of me, he looks from my astonished expression to Alex's angrily flashing eyes and laughs. With an apparent lack of regard for his own safety, he hugs Alex and kisses him on the cheek. "I begin to see your point."

Alex gives him a mild glare. "No shit." He sits on the arm of my chair and drapes his arm around my shoulders.

Damien winks at me, then turns to leave. Pausing, he looks over his shoulder at us. "Take care of each other. Because neither of you are going to be happy without the other." Then he's gone.

I glance at Alex who's looking almost copasetic.

"What the hell was that all about?"

"We were talking, I thanked him... whatever. Then he said he really envied you." Alex pauses for a moment. "I told him it's me he should envy. Then out of the blue, he said he was going to kiss you and there was nothing I could do about it. So, he kissed you. And he agrees with me."

"Did you teach him to kiss like that?"

Alex finally smiles. "I taught him everything."

"Good work."

Back at the hotel, at Alex's insistence, I take a nap. He falls asleep before I do, but I sleep soundly for almost three hours. When I wake, Alex is sitting up in bed, watching me with an expression of contentment.

I'm hungry. Really hungry. After briefly considering room service, I ask Alex, "Is there any good reason why we can't just go out and find a good restaurant and eat there like normal people?"

Smiling contentedly, he scoots down the bed and thoroughly kisses me. When we come up for air, he replies, "Not a reason I can think of."

The mere idea of being able to go wherever I want with my lover seems unreal but, at the same time, totally exciting. For some odd reason, my twisted imagination conjures up the image of taking Alex to meet the Director so I can introduce him as my lover.

Chuckling, I give Alex another kiss, then ask, "What kind of food would you like? Or shall we just drive around?"

"Let's just drive around." He gives me a thoughtful look. "Any reason we shouldn't fly home together?"

"Not as far as I'm concerned. I don't give a damn about running into anyone from the Bureau." With those few words, many years of secrecy and pain are wiped away.

Alex grins at me, then hops out of bed to pull on a shirt.

Half an hour later, we're eating burgers at a booth in an old-fashioned diner. They're playing rock and roll from my era. The burgers are just the right amount of greasy, and I'm feeding Alex fries across the table. He kisses my fingers after one bite.

Wiping a bit of ketchup off his lip, I observe, "You know, it's great just to do stuff. The entire time I've known you we've had to hide our relationship for one reason or another. It really sucked."

Alex grins at me. He looks very young... and happy.

Okay, Walt. Don't fuck up again. This is so much better than last night.

"Here," he slides his shake across the table and puts the straw between my lips. "This is really good."

It is good. I haven't had a chocolate shake in... centuries. "So you don't mind everyone knowing that I'm your lover?"

Alex looks mildly affronted. "Hell, no. As long as they keep their hands off."

"Yeah, well, we start going places and I'm probably going to have to fight to keep the men off you. Hell, probably the women, too." I take another drink of the shake, then give him a big smile. "Gotta defend my territory..."

"There's no competition... I don't even see anyone else." He gives me a look that's half amused, half thoughtful. "I know you like to minimize your attractiveness, but you really are incredibly sexy."

I'm about to blow him off on that remark, when a gray head in the booth behind Alex turns around. It's an elderly lady. Smiling, she gives me the once over and nods her agreement.

Shit. That's fucking embarrassing.

Alex catches the direction of my gaze and turns around. He and the old lady exchange a smile, then he turns back and sticks his tongue out. Then looks surprised by his own behavior.

I shrug. "Okay, Alex. You win this round. Keep your eyes on all women over 60." Taking a spoonful of the shake, I pass it across the table. "But just don't hit any of them, okay?"

Provocatively, he licks the spoon clean, then replies in a sultry tone, "Whatever you want."

I groan as my cock expands. Now fed, my mind is taking an interest in other appetites. Tossing some cash on the table, I whisper, "Let's get out of here."

He's out of the booth in an instant. When we get to the car, I head for the park we went to our first day in Tucson. At this hour, there's no one there. I find a somewhat secluded place to park the car. As soon as I stop the engine, Alex reaches for my thigh. "Uh-uh," I whisper. "Back seat."

He flashes me an intrigued look, then climbs over the seat, wiggling his butt at me, as he flops into the back.

I rapidly conclude that if I do the same, I'm going to kick him in the face or get my butt stuck on the overhead light. So I open my door. When I get into the backseat, he's already got his shirt and shoes off. He leans over to kiss me, but I hold out my hand to stop him. "Uh-uh. Naked first."

With almost surprising speed, he's out of his jeans and tugging at my fly. I push him back onto the seat and, scrunching my body awkwardly, manage to lie down on top of him. He squirms appreciatively. "Now you're all naked and I'm all dressed," I say smugly. Then I start chewing on his neck.

Moaning, he arches his body and wiggles one leg out to wrap around me.

I slip a hand between us and find his abdomen, then his hard-on. "Mmm. This is very nice. I think I'll play with it. D'you mind?"

"Not," he gasps, "in the slightest."

"Good." I squeeze his cock, then stroke it. Suddenly it seems as if we'll be spending the rest of our lives like this. And that's a very, very good idea. The best I've had in ages.

Alex slides his hand down my back to knead my ass. "This would be much more fun if I could get to some skin."

"Well, it's worth considering." I jerk his cock a few times, before releasing it. "Put your leg down, so I can turn around."

Only bumping my head twice, I manage to reverse my position, so I'm facing his crotch and his face is between my legs. Predictably his fingers go for my zipper, but I manage to destroy his manual dexterity by taking the tip of his cock into my mouth.

His hips jerk as he groans. He continues to fumble with my fly, eventually sliding his hand into my briefs to stroke my cock.

Moaning on his dick, I tongue it aggressively before pulling off. "You taste good. Why'd we bother with dinner?"

Alex struggles for breath, then mumbles, "I have no idea." He pulls out my erection. In the next instant, he's taken me all the way down his throat.

For a moment, I lose control of anything except my hips, which set up a rhythm fucking his face. It just feels... perfect. Alex's mouth on my cock in the backseat of a car. It's just the way it was meant to be.

I contemplate his hard-on. I'm pretty sure I can do this without biting off his dick. Hope he can do the same. I lower my mouth over the head, then slowly push down until his cock is in my throat. I can't really breathe, but it doesn't seem important.

His hips arch up and he groans around my cock. Grabbing my ass, he encourages me to fuck him faster and harder.

It takes a lot of dexterity to fuck his face and suck his cock at the same time, but I seem to be getting the hang of it. The hot wet confines of his mouth and throat are rapidly driving to me to the brink. The harder I concentrate on working his cock, the more the intense sensations on my own spread to the rest of my body. Fuck, this is what I'm doing to him, with less finesse, no doubt, but still I'm taking him to the same madness... at the same time.

I loosen the reins on my hips and fuck his face vigorously. The tremor that passes through him tells me how much he enjoys it. Just when I think I should hold off my climax, it's too late. Struggling to stay focused on his cock in my mouth, I pump my hips and feel my body disintegrate into the pleasure.

Somehow I manage to keep sucking him. A moment later, when my brain's just staring to work again, Alex's foot bangs into the door and a shudder races through his body as he begins to come. As I swallow his cum, I find myself laughing onto his cock. It sounds like I have the hiccups. I remember he once commented, "My blowjobs don't usually inspire mirth." And I just can't stop laughing, though breathing is nearly impossible until his cock starts to shrink.

He slowly releases my dick, giving a final suck and lick at the head. Nudging me with his knee, he asks, "What is so amusing down there?"

Releasing his cock, I reply, "It's just," I'm still laughing, "I think that was the worst blowjob I've ever given. And somehow you still managed to come."

Chuckling, he licks at the tip of my dick again. "I didn't notice any problem." His lips touch my hip. "It's been a fucking good day."

I mutter, "I guess there's a lot of room for error." Shaking my head, I lap at his shrinking shaft. He trembles in response. "I like to concentrate when I do that."

He begins to wiggle, somehow managing to get turned around on the seat while only kicking me twice. When he's settled underneath me, he leans up to give me a thorough kiss, his tongue exploring my mouth like he's never kissed me before. When he breaks away, he says, "Sometimes you just need to fuck... not think."

"That's what I have to look forward to? More fucking and less thinking? Sign me up." I kiss his jaw.

"You were already signed up, Muscle Man." His lips play teasingly with my ear. "Can we go home soon?"

"Yeah. We probably should talk about things, but not tonight."

Alex nods, then hugs me.

As we're leaving, a park ranger waves us over, so I pull to the side of the road. His gaze is assessing. Hmm... I roll down my window and, as he's opening his mouth, I present my badge and take charge of the interaction. "Is there a problem, officer?"

He blinks at the badge. "Uh, well, a camper said two guys were having sex in their car." His eyes dart to the backseat. Sorry, officer, we swallowed the evidence.

"Oh, yeah. A couple of college kids in a green '87 Toyota pickup, on the right hand side back where the road ends. But they're young and in love, I don't think they meant any harm."

Alex is staring out the passenger window, drumming his fingers on his knee.

"Isn't that right, Agent Lewis?"

Alex looks over at us, his expression blank. "Yes, sir."

I give the officer a good-old-boy look. "I'm sure you had your fun, too, when you were a kid. They're harmless, why don't you cut them some slack?"

The perplexed look he's giving me suggests that I'm only halfway successful at conning him.

I toss him a smile. "'Night, officer."

"Yeah, uh, yeah," he replies vacantly. I put the car in gear and drive off.

Alex dissolves into laughter. "Yes, sir." He salutes me. "I think we should cut those kids some slack."


Thursday, 29 June 2000
1:03 P.M.


We slept until noon. Well, not exactly. We didn't get out of bed until noon.

I made flight reservations to return to D.C., phoned Sharon, then Alex and I changed into our swim trunks and went for a swim. Without bribing the pool attendant. After some mindless horsing around, the attendant politely asked us to take our party elsewhere because of the presence of small children.

We packed our few belongings and headed for the airport, nearly missing the flight, although I thought I was watching the time.

In the air, Alex tries to induce me to fuck in the lavatory, but it's right at the front of the first class cabin. Everyone would know two of us were in there. Besides I've still got a sore neck from the car sex last night. Besides I can't imagine that Alex really wants to get fucked right now. Not after the shower, and in bed, and that especially vigorous session on the living room floor. Plus, I've had enough of fucking in confined spaces for a while. I think he can manage to go all the way to D.C. without getting laid.

When we get back to the condo, Alex does a quick bug sweep while I take the bags upstairs. He finds three downstairs and two upstairs. Oddly, I almost feel sorry for our handlers. We're not playing anymore and they don't even know it. When the apartment is again bug free, I ask, "Weren't you supposed to call in yesterday?"

Alex smiles at me. "Yep. I didn't even think about it."

I put a hand on his shoulder. "Think you should call to tell them, 'oops, I forgot?'"

"Nah. It's probably more advantageous if they think I've gone AWOL and try to activate my nanos. Otherwise, they'll send someone gunning for me."

That's why I'm not leaving you alone, Alex. You think I'm stuck with you... you got it backwards. But keeping you out of trouble may be a full-time job. "Uh, Alex. I was thinking I should resign from the Bureau."

His expression is carefully neutral. "Why?"

"Because you need me, and because I've permanently lost my taste for their bullshit. My superiors are bad. Baker can run my division. I can help Scully find Mulder better on the outside. What's the point in going back?"

Alex's flat expression dissolves, replaced by one of relief. "There's no point to it."

"What were you so worried about?"

"I didn't want you to feel like I would pressure you to leave, but I really didn't want you there."

"Why?"

"Because the conspiracy goes so high. And I worry that you could be in more danger by fighting it from within."

"I'm eligible for modest retirement benefits, plus I didn't spend all my money on the research--thanks to you. I could sell the condo or keep it." I'm rambling, so I come to the point. "Where do we want to live, Alex?"

"We have to always keep one secret place, but otherwise we can live anywhere."

I give him an expectant smile. "After I'm finished with things in D.C., are you going to show me your house?"

"Our house. And yes."

"Our house? Does that mean I can build a shop and start fixing things?"

Alex chuckles. "You can do whatever you want. But if you start fixing things I think our housekeeper will fall in love with you."

"As long as she can keep her hands off your sexy lover, things should be fine."

"Yeah. And don't you forget it."

Upstairs, in the office, I phone Kimberly at home. She's sad to hear of my plans to retire, but seems to appreciate that it's a good idea for me personally. When I ask her about the paperwork, she volunteers to pick up the necessary forms and bring them by the condo first thing in the morning. After hanging up the phone, I discover that I'm sad, too. Kimberly has been with me through so much. I get out my checkbook and make out a check to a charity she volunteers for, the D.C. Coalition Against Rape.

We get ready for bed early. It's damned good to be in our own bed. Lying on our sides, facing the mirror, I look at us together, and imagine us in twenty years, lying like this in a bed somewhere we call our own.

I pull him closer in my arms. "Where would you like to live?"

"Anywhere besides Switzerland, Tunisia or Russia." His lips turn up in a mellow smile. "Seriously, the Mediterranean is nice. I also like Italy. Were you thinking of something in the States?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I like southern California, or Arizona." I kiss the vivid remains of the bitemark on his neck and he sighs appreciatively. "How about New Zealand?"

Alex stares at me in the mirror. He opens his mouth a few times to speak, then closes it. Finally, he manages, "I... I guess that would be okay. Uh, it would have to be a place no one knew about. We could never tell anyone."

That was not the answer I expected. "I'm surprised you'd even consider it."

"Why?"

"Because of Lyosha." I tighten the arm around his waist. "Not that I want to put him at risk either, but I do feel it's worth some risk for him to be able to see you now and then."

His fingers idly stroke the back of my hand. "I'm trying to make decisions with the knowledge that my life is different. But it still doesn't quite feel real to me. My instincts are to stay as far away from them as possible, but I may not be as much of a threat to them anymore."

I hadn't had time to contemplate the changes in his life, but I can tell he's a bit off balance. "There's no rush to visit them. I'll try not to pressure you about it. We've got plenty of time to get used to our new life."

Time. Alex and I have time. I can't quite believe it's true. It feels like someone might walk through our door at any moment and take it away. I shift my body closer to his and promise myself I'll try not to get paranoid.

After a brief silence, Alex asks, "You really think I should see him again? Get to know him?" He seems very unsure of himself in regard to his brother.

"Yes, Alex, I do. He's the only part of your family that they didn't take away from you. And you're his."

I see a flash of sadness and old pain, then he looks like he's in the present again. Slowly, he nods. He'll at least consider what I've said.

We lie quietly, just being close. Eventually, he says, "So, if we have a house in New Zealand, we couldn't be there all the time. So where do we really want to live?"

"Canada is nice, but cold, although a Russian boy like you is probably used to it."

He smiles at me. "As long as I can get hot water for my showers, I can handle the cold."

"Doesn't matter where we live, I'll keep you warm."

Alex turns in my arms so he's facing me, then wraps his body around mine. "You always do."

** End Protect **

Only one more book of Exigency remains!

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