Shade And Knight
Walter watched the plane's progress from the terminal window. "I wasn't in love with him." Walter thought. "It was never love with either of us."
But it had been fun, a silly, but enjoyable middle-aged fling for Walter. As for Ricky, he was a young man who craved recognition, attention, and affection. Walter had been a sure source of the adoration Ricky had wanted and Ricky had given back as much as he had received. Walter regretted seeing the young agent go, but New York was a great posting. He couldn't hold his lover back from it for sentimental reasons.
Walter tried Mulder's phone number again. Just before leaving to drive Ricky to the airport, Walter had gone to Mulder's desk to leave a note. He noticed the case file and the plane ticket lying beside Mulder's in basket. When he tried calling Mulder, the man hadn't picked up either phone. He had left messages, telling Mulder to call him. He had also tried Scully's number, but she hadn't answered either. He had made numerous attempts since with no luck. At the time, he had hoped that Mulder would meet him at the airport. Now, he decided to try Mulder's apartment. He worried just a little that something had happened to his friend.
Walter maneuvered through the heavy airport traffic, trying to keep his temper. He observed that the planes flew faster, but it took longer and longer to get to and from them. He glanced at the case file next to him on the car seat. He thought of Mulder, ah, Agent Mulder, brilliant, persistent, and as scatter brained as a monkey at times.
There had been a time when Walter had desired Mulder almost obsessively. Now, Mulder and he were up to their ears in a conspiracy on their own. They were part of an odd alliance; three FBI agents, three paranoid hackers and Alex Krycek, a man who could only be expected to do the unexpected.
Some of the glamour had faded from Mulder with the constant contact. Walter realized that they had never consummated their sexual interest in each other for many reasons. One of the main ones was the subtle competition for leadership between them. Their small group centered on Mulder, but Walter had a better sense of group strategy. Sometimes, Mulder and he circled like rival stags.
As always, it was difficult to think about Mulder without considering Krycek. Alex wasn't a follower, but he didn't care for leadership either. He backed whoever made the most sense. Walter thought wryly about how much Mulder disliked it when Alex thought that Walter was right.
Alex still fascinated Walter. The more time that they spent together the more Walter yearned for another chance. He found himself dwelling on the one weekend he had spent with Alex so long ago before everything had changed. Alex had been so young then and Walter had been so... married. The occasion had been a training seminar on "Victims of Sexual Assault"
Mulder was supposed to room with Alex, but had called in sick immediately before the plane left. Skinner doubted that entirely, but there was nothing he could do. Upon arrival at the hotel, Skinner found he was to share a room with B.J. Harrison. Only B.J. Harrison was Bernice Jane and was not interested in a male roommate.
Krycek offered to share his room. Things, unintended, heated, wonderful things had happened that weekend. If Walter had not been married... if Krycek had not been a double agent, maybe it would have been more.
Soon afterwards, Mulder started coming to work with grins on his face. He no longer complained about his wide-eyed younger partner, not at all.
Ultimately, both Mulder and Walter had additional reasons for terror. Oddly, for everything else he had done, Alex never blackmailed them with the sexual affairs. His betrayal had been professional, not personal.
Walter remembered one additional night. That had been a truce and a benediction, a sweaty sweet passion of mutual forgiveness. Alex had given himself to Walter with the disinterested generosity of a man who put little value on his body. Afterwards, Walter had made the decision to help get Mulder and Krycek back together. He had pulled it off, mended hearts and lost a little bit of his own in the process. Sometimes doing the right thing was the worst thing for you personally. Walter resisted his own desires. He believed that Fox Mulder, his friend and ... Alex Krycek, comrade, object of desire, and sometime worst enemy, needed each other.
Walter knew that his vain longings would never come to anything; Alex and Mulder were together. Hell, Walter had helped them find each other again. That didn't mean he didn't have his thoughts.
Walter's car smoothly replaced an exiting taxi in a parking spot in front of Mulder's apartment. As he leaned down to pick up the file and ticket, the folder fell open to a ghastly crime scene photograph. Walter frowned as he thought about the case in hand. It wasn't about aliens or government conspiracies. It wasn't even about the paranormal. This was a perfectly ordinary case, involving a serial killer, probably only as inhuman as any of his ilk. Still, they needed Mulder's talents.
Walter followed a careless tenant through the so-called security door. The buzzer to Mulder's apartment only occasionally worked and he was in a hurry lest Mulder be late for his flight. Walter grumbled to himself as the elevator ratcheted to the fourth floor. Walter wondered why Mulder didn't move. He had inherited good money from his parents. There was no reason to live in this dangerous and questionably maintained building. As he reached apartment forty-two he heard Mulder's voice even through the closed door. That nasal voice, which spoke of his New England blue blood ancestry, was well suited to convey anger.
Before Walter could ring the doorbell, Alex Krycek opened the door. He was startled by Walter's appearance. Mulder rushed up behind his lover, face contorted with anger. He said, "If you go out that door, Alex, don't come back."
Alex shouted back, "You told me to leave. I'm leaving."
Mulder's face reddened as he noticed Walter. He said, "Skinner?"
Krycek pushed past Walter. He was carrying a suitcase, with his artificial limb tucked beneath his right arm. He looked pale and shaken... in no shape to be going anywhere. Walter asked, "Where are you going? Do you have a place to stay?"
Krycek shook his head slightly and Walter said brusquely, "Now, you do."
Mulder stood frowning, but Walter handed him his ticket and the brief, saying, "We'll talk about this later. I'll calm Alex down. Don't worry about it. Go catch your plane."
Walter found Alex waiting by the elevator. Alex staggered slightly as he left the support of the wall. Walter took the suitcase in one hand, offered an arm and guided him onto the elevator. Alex turned to the wall. Walter saw the tears and sighed. Alex said, "I hate him."
Walter said, "I know."
Alex shuddered and bit his lip, his face twisted in an effort not to sob. He said, "Because I love him so much."
Walter said, "I know that too. Come on."
In the car, Alex pressed his head to the cold glass. He was wearing his battered jacket and his black denim jeans. He looked no older than he had when Mulder hauled him into Walter's apartment and left him there, as tempting to Walter as a candy bowl was to a kid. Walter asked, "What was this one about?"
Alex sighed and made a small snuffling sound, very incongruous coming from a tough guy and a spy. He said, "About having sex with someone else."
Walter jerked on the steering wheel in surprise. He asked, "Did you? I know it's none of my business, but I had the impression that you were very happy with Mulder." He stuffed down his resentment that some other man had collected what he still desired.
Alex said, "The smoking bastard called and I had to go meet with him. Creep wanted to play with me and had two big thugs to help and share."
Walter processed this. He said, "Alex, are you saying you were raped?"
Alex said, "Don't get into drama."
Walter had to pull over. He found a spot, deftly parked, and folded his arms in his best A.D. lecture mode. He asked, "Did you tell Mulder?"
His voice quiet and husky, Alex said, "No, he knew when I came back that I'd had sex. He just started yelling at me. I didn't want to tell him what really happened. I thought he would think it was my fault. It wasn't my fault, not exactly. I was careless and they got the jump on me. If I had resisted, they would have really hurt me."
Walter said, "You need to go to a hospital. Uh, did they use protection?"
Alex said, "I am not going to any hospital to have them look at me the way they do. No police either. I don't want to have some cop laughing at the stupid faggot, who got what he deserves. I'm okay. Spender and his goons used condoms. They know that much. It just made me sick to have Spender touch me. I'm going to kill him no matter what Mulder says. I should have known that something was up. Why was I so stupid?"
Walter said, "I seem to remember you attending a sexual trauma workshop shortly after being assigned to my division. I remember it very, very well. Did you sleep through the lectures?"
For a moment, Alex reacted like the sincere young agent he had once seemed and said, "Oh, no, I paid attention. I knew it was important!"
Walter said, "Do you remember what they said about blaming the victim?"
Alex nodded, getting the point. His lip curled in a faint acknowledgement of defeat. He said, "Okay, I guess I know that."
Walter said, "Yes, I think that you do know it wasn't anything you did. I'm taking you home and I'm going to call Scully to examine you. Then, you are going to stay at my home for as long as you want. No obligations."
Alex looked at him and asked, "Why?"
Walter said, "Because I care." He saw the edged smile and knew Alex didn't believe him. Still, Alex was too dispirited to argue. Walter nodded; satisfied that he had won the first battle. He restarted the car and headed for his home.
Walter took Krycek's arm to help him from the car when they reached the house. Alex looked and said, "The garden looks good."
Walter nodded and surveyed the small yard. Ricky, raised in an old world family, didn't think much of grass. Instead, the whole space was divided into patches of vegetables, clumps of herbs, and borders of flowers. He might have to hire a gardener now; he would hate to see all the work go to waste. Walter grabbed Alex's suitcase, surprised again at how heavy it felt, and tucked his arm around Alex to bring him inside.
Alex didn't want to lie down. He said, "I want a bath."
Walter sighed and said, "Are you sure you don't want to prosecute?" He knew Alex understood the question. He knew about physical evidence in a rape case. The boy had been a good agent, which in part explained the fury that Walter felt when he found out that Alex was a plant.
Alex shook his head, bit his lip, and stared down at the floor. Walter set the suitcase and the arm on the coffee table. He announced, "I'm going to help you."
Walter walked Alex into the bathroom, his arm around the man's waist. Alex's eyes lit when he saw the bathroom. The previous owner had been a sybarite. The upper wall and most of the roof was a greenhouse like skylight. Large ferns in baskets hung from the ceiling and added to the impression of a woodland pond.
The tub was a sunken Jacuzzi, large enough for three. God, Ricky had loved that thing. He used to stay in until his skin was pink and wrinkled. Sometimes, Walter thought that the reason Ricky adored him was for that piece of luxury.
The toilet was in an alcove complete with a bidet. Alex looked around and said, "Skinner, this is great. I didn't think you had it in you!"
Walter explained, "This, the master bedroom, and the library sold me on the place. The man who owned it was dying. This was his pied-a�terre where he spent weekends with his lover until he died.
He wanted it to go to someone who would respect what he had created. I think he was mostly impressed by Ricky."
Alex said, "I'm not Ricky."
Walter helped Alex take the jacket off and replied, "He wasn't you."
Alex muttered, "Lucky for him."
Walter waited for the rest of the clothes. Alex shoved off his boots, his socks, and followed with his jeans. Walter exclaimed as he saw the bruises, the gouges of fingernails, and the stain of rust down one tender thigh. He moved forward and said, "Alex, let me see."
The man drew away; his face wore the hurt innocence of an abused child. Walter said, "Alex, I just want to help. Come on. Let me see if I should call Scully or take you to emergency."
Alex muttered, "You would have to take me kicking and screaming."
Walter said, "Don't think I couldn't do it. How do you think I've handled Mulder all these years? For all his drama, he hates doctors. Scully and I have to force him to go."
Alex said, "You're a bully. I knew that." He leaned against the wall, his head supported by his arm.
Walter took out his first aid kit and put on disposable gloves. Alex hissed even though Walter was as gentle as he could be. Walter saw a small amount of blood and found two small tears from the rough use. As far as he could tell there was no massive trauma to the flesh.
Walter was more worried about Alex's mind. How much more could the man endure? He said, "You'll be fine, but I want Scully to look you over anyway, run a few tests, and make you more comfortable."
Alex turned around and said, "Yeah, okay, if it'll make you feel better. I have to use the john. Will you run a bath for me?"
Walter said, "Yes, I'll do that and I'll call Scully." He followed Alex's progress, making sure that he didn't fall.
Walter started the bath and then went to call Dana. He knew this was asking a lot of her. Still, he trusted that Dana would understand why Alex couldn't or wouldn't go to a regular doctor.
Walter reflected that it was lucky Scully wasn't needed on Mulder's case. Los Angeles boasted of an outstanding pathologist, a curmudgeon by the name of Quincy. The man was nearly as quirky and effective as Agent Mulder. Skinner had worked with Quincy on a case just before he made AD. They still corresponded on occasion and he imagined he would hear some comments about Mulder.
Scully was home. Clearing his throat, Walter hesitantly said, "Dana, it's Krycek. He had some trouble and won't go to emergency. I think he'll be okay, but I'd feel better if you examined him."
A long drawn out sigh was his first answer. Dana hadn't adjusted easily to Krycek's intrusion in their lives. They all had their own reasons for not fully trusting Alex. She asked, "What kind of injury?"
Walter finally decided that the truth held the only motivator for Scully. He knew she made time in her busy life to volunteer at a sexual trauma center. He baldly stated, "Alex met with Spender to try to wheedle some information out of him. The bastard set him up for a gangbang. I don't think he's seriously hurt; but I want you to look at him."
Scully asked, "Does Mulder know?"
Walter said, "Alex didn't tell him. Apparently, Mulder sensed something and they had another of their famous arguments. Alex packed his bag and walked out. Mulder let him. Right now, Alex needs your help regardless of whose fault this quarrel was."
Scully said, "I'll be there. I take it that Krycek has no interest in prosecution?"
Walter said, "He's right. It wouldn't do any good."
Scully replied, "It will take a while to pick up some supplies. Keep him quiet and warm in the meantime. Watch for shock. If he seems overly pale, cold, and unresponsive, don't ask him. Take him to the emergency room."
Walter said, "I will. Thank you, Dana." He hung up the phone, thinking he was lucky that the tough, serious, and well-rounded woman was on his side.
Alex was in the tub, leaning back, his eyes closed. Walter thought he looked better just from the bath. Alex looked up warily. Walter said, "Scully will be here shortly."
Alex nodded and asked, "Would you wash my hair? My arm is sore."
Walter had noticed the finger shaped bruises on Alex's arm. He said, "Of course." He poured shampoo into his hand and started the handheld shower. Alex tensed at his first touch, but endured it. Someone had splattered or rubbed come in his hair. Walter gritted his teeth. He hated Spender and this was one more thing for which to hate him. Raping Alex was needless cruelty.
Walter went to get one of his robes as well as a large bath towel. Alex glared at him when Walter helped him out of the tub. Walter returned stare for stare and felt that he'd won the match.
When Alex was dry enough, Walter helped him into the robe. He had to roll up the one necessary sleeve so Alex could have the use of his hand. Alex looked buried in the white terry cloth. He caught sight of himself in the steamy mirror and laughed. He remarked, "I look like a kid playing in his daddy's clothes."
Walter took Alex to Ricky's old room... not that Ricky had ever slept there. When Ricky wasn't dating, he had slept with Walter.
Alex looked around as they entered; that was an understatement. When Krycek entered any space, he cased it. His eyes marked exits, possible hiding places. He probably even figured out where he would plant surveillance devices.
Walter said, "You're safe here." As soon as he heard his own words, he regretted them. He wished he could take back that long ago sarcasm when Mulder had walked in with Krycek in handcuffs. �He'll be safe here' indeed. The most Walter could say for himself was that he had not acted on that horrid thought that had flitted across his brain. He hadn't raped Krycek when he was vulnerable, but he had hit him and later beaten him. He had left him outside in weather that no reasonably kind person would have tolerated letting a stray dog endure. Walter said, "I mean that this time."
Alex said, "It's okay. We need to forget about the past if we're going to keep working together."
Alex lay down on the bed, adjusting the folds of the robe to cover most of his body and then pulling the blankets up tightly. He said, "I hope Scully brings pain pills." He looked around him and said, "I can tell this isn't your bedroom. I won't sleep well, you know. I got out of the alone habit."
Walter said, "You can sleep in my bed with me, Alex, and I won't touch you."
Alex narrowed his eyes and asked, "Why? You think I'm dirty now?"
Walter wondered if Mulder had faced this much resistance to any kindness. He said, "I mean, I understand how you feel about Mulder. You can trust me."
The bell rang and he said, "That should be Scully." He saw the dark look of dread and said, "I know, Alex, anyone would find this difficult. Still, let Dana and I help you."
Dana carried a heavy bag, which Walter took. She looked around, remarking, "It seems empty without Ricky."
Walter nodded and said, "Yes, to me too. Come on, Alex is in the guest room."
Alex lay with the covers pulled tightly to his chin. His knees were up and his body huddled, as plainly saying, �Don't touch me' as if he wore a sign. Scully nodded and said, "Hello, Alex. Walter says that you need my help."
Alex bunched his body tighter and replied, "Maybe."
Scully said, "I won't do anything until you're ready. You want to know what I'm going to do?"
Alex nodded. Scully opened the bag and said, "I want to take some blood, just make sure that there's no infection and I need a swab. I should have told Walter to have you wait anyway even if we can't tell the police. I just want to make sure that they didn't give you anything."
Alex said, "They wore condoms. They didn't come in my mouth and when... anyway, I know it didn't go in my eyes or any place that could be dangerous."
Alex sighed and said, "Besides, the consortium runs blood tests all the time. Spender wants to make sure his stooges aren't shooting anything that doesn't come out of a gun. Spender also worries about clones and shapeshifters. He has random blood tests done at least once a week. He'd know if they were sick. If someone had AIDS or any other serious disease, well, let's say the medical policy sucks."
Scully said, "I'll run a few tests anyway. You know I have to examine you."
Alex nodded. He said, looking at Walter, "Let's get it over with, Scully."
Dana rapidly took Alex's pulse, checked his eyes for uneven dilation, and took his temperature with an electronic thermometer. She said, "You must be feeling a little shaky, Alex, but everything is fairly normal. Now, I need to take a look at where you were hurt."
Walter sighed with relief and said, "I'll go make some coffee. Tea for you, Alex?"
Alex startled and said, "No, stay, please stay?"
Walter felt a rush of feeling, nearly dizzy with it. Alex wanted him there? He wanted whatever comfort his presence might bring? Walter nodded and said, "Of course" as if he hadn't had a revelation.
Alex asked, "How do you want me?" and then his face turned very red as if his mind made the same connection that Skinner's did. Walter had heard Alex ask that question once or twice under much happier circumstances.
Scully didn't notice or didn't comment. She said, "Lean over the bed so I can make sure that there's nothing that requires hospitalization. Walter, can you help support him?"
Walter sat on the bed as Alex struggled up to take the position. He substituted his knee for Alex's arm and laid a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. Alex shuddered as Scully carefully lifted the robe to examine him. She said, "If you need a minute or if I hurt you, tell me. Don't try to be tough."
Walter could see her face when she saw the marks. Dana met his eyes, her sympathy showing in her soft eyes. Then her professional mask slipped down. She snapped on her gloves.
Alex tensed and his hand dug into the bed. Dana said, "Alex, do you want a minute?"
Angrily, Alex snapped, "Get it over with."
Alex jerked as she examined him, a sharp intake of breath escaping him. Out of the corner of his eye, Walter saw the swabs and the instruments used and set aside in sterile bags. Walter was ready to ask Scully to stop a long time before Alex said anything. He was relieved when Alex said, "Scully, wait. Okay. Hey, could I have something for the pain?"
Scully said, "Of course, I should have done that first."
Alex sat up and Walter pulled the robe around him. Scully said, "I'm going to give you a couple shots. One is for the pain and the other is a good strong dose of antibiotics."
Dana's touch was deft. You would never guess her clients most frequently had no capacity to appreciate her skills. Alex leaned back against Walter's support and rested. He said, "I want to go to sleep."
Dana said, "I'll bet you do. Just a little more, I want to make sure those gouges are thoroughly clean. Fingernails are nasty things. Okay?"
Alex nodded and said, "Thank you, Scully. You're good at this."
Scully said, "Lots of experience. In fact, well, the place I volunteer has a small support group for male victims. You might think about it."
Alex shook his head and said, "No, it's not the first time, I can handle it. I always do."
Scully said, "No one's that tough. There's even a support group for family members and friends. Maybe Mulder will go once you tell him. I'll leave the card with Walter." Scully laid her hand on Alex's cheek. It was a brief gesture, but a mark of fellowship that perhaps was a step toward more than a forced alliance.
After he had put Alex to bed, in his bed, Walter walked Dana to the door. She said, "I want him off solid food for the next two days and make sure he takes those pills. I'll run the blood tests through the clinic. It won't be the first fake name on a file. Many victims refuse to have any records made. I wish I could tell them there was really no stigma, but I'd be lying. It's a tough hurdle even in a normal relationship and Mulder and Krycek don't even fit at the far end of the normal curve." She shook her head ruefully.
Glancing in the direction of the bedroom, Scully asked,
"What do you think Spender was up to? Do you think he knows Alex is working with us and this was his way of giving us a message?"
Walter shook his head and said, "I think not. That message would have been a corpse with a bullet between the eyes. No, this was about power. Krycek frustrates Spender just as I do by never letting him own him entirely. With me, it was the nanobytes. For Alex, a rape."
Scully nodded and then she said, "Walter, you're not going to try to take him from Mulder are you? Not that I've ever understood or approved, but even I know they seem to need each other."
Need, Walter tasted the word in his mouth; he had helped them get back together in a fit of generosity. He wondered now if it had been the right thing?
Walter had accepted sex from Alex, knowing at that time that he was second best. He sometimes thought that Alex had slept with him that last time as an obligation, an attempt to give restitution for the nanobytes.
On second thought, Walter didn't think that Alex had been acting his pleasure. Perhaps selfishly, he was convinced that he was better for Alex than Mulder. He had tasted the bitter fruit of compromise and partial surrenders. He had done it to protect his wife, family, Mulder, Scully, and his other agents. He suspected that Alex had some of the same motivations although they hadn't discussed the issue.
Mulder had never bent to Spender. Walter admired Mulder for his courage and will. Yet, Mulder wasn't the only one that paid the price for his stand. There was a trail of ghosts behind Mulder, marking every truth dearly won. Walter had never felt at ease with sacrificing other people. He was hard on himself, but protective, perhaps too protective of his family and friends. His ghosts were compromises meant to save them and sometimes succeeding.
Maybe Mulder was the better man and he would have made different choices in Walter's situation. Yet, Walter felt that he had always kept to the middle of some invisible line. He must have made some correct decisions. After all, they were all alive and able to fight on one side now.
Walter said, "Dana, I am very sure that Alex won't be ready for any kind of a relationship any time soon." He added, "I won't pretend that I don't have feelings for Alex, but that doesn't mean I would act on them. You know I care about Mulder. Still, it's up to Alex. Isn't it?"
Dana said, "I suppose. I just don't want trouble between the three of you."
Dana leaned up, her hands flat against his chest and said, "Take care, Walter. Don't get your heart broken." She looked up at him and said, "I know you'll do the right thing."
Walter felt that burden fall heavily on him. What was the right thing? He'd given up Mulder and Alex to each other once. What if that had been the wrong choice? Maybe they were better apart? Maybe Alex would be better off without Mulder?
Walter shook his head and sighed as Dana left. It had seemed so easy to offer Alex shelter. He thought his motives were altruistic. Now, the situation was convoluted and volatile enough to compromise their integrity as a team.
Walter went to check on Alex, finding him asleep. His brow was slightly furrowed as if even his slumber was troubled with pain and fear. Walter wanted to ruffle that crisp, dark brown hair and kiss the creases from the broad forehead and trifling nose. Instead, he adjusted the lights, remembering from missions that Alex hated the dark.
Walter returned to the bathroom and gathered up the mess of towels and the soiled clothing. He carried them to the small laundry room, which overlooked the backyard. The jeans were stiff with blood and dirt; the zipper was broken and the button had been ripped away. He threw them away in the outside garbage as if that would hide the ugly images from his mind.
After cleaning the bathroom and unpacking Alex's few clothes and many weapons into Ricky's vacant dresser, Walter prepared for bed. He preferred sleeping in the nude, but because of the situation wore boxer shorts and a tee shirt. He tried to be stealthy, but green eyes stared at him as he slipped under the covers. He said, "Not going to hurt you, Alex."
Alex's sleepy voice sounded mildly querulous as he said, "I know."
Walter was very pleased by that simple statement, even delivered in such ungracious tones. As he turned to lay on his side, he felt Alex move closer until they were back to back, not as sweet as a spoon, but much more than he expected.
Walter woke up shuddering. It took him a moment to realize that Alex was scrambling out of bed, his mouth agape in a rictus of terror. Walter remained still, but said calmly, "Alex, you're safe. Remember you said you knew I wasn't going to hurt you?"
The green of Alex's eyes was nearly consumed by the black of his pupils. He crouched in the corner, his one hand gripping the mutilation of his left arm. He panted with fear. His tee shirt was soaked with sweat. Alex said, "You just want to use me. Just like he did."
Walter moved to the end of the bed and swung his legs over the edge. Walter could see Alex's eyes calculating the distance to the drawer where his Glock was. It scared the hell out of Walter. He knew what the man was capable of doing.
Walter said, "Alex, I didn't hurt you this time. Let me help you."
Alex appeared to be fully awake now. He said, "I don't need your help. No one helps me. All I need is my Glock. I'm going to go find Spender and kill him."
Walter said, "Okay, if that's what you need to do, let me get my gun. We'll do it together."
"Really?" Alex asked
"Really," Walter answered. "Of course, we'll probably be killed, and then Mulder will do something stupid to avenge us, dragging poor Dana with him." Walter shrugged and said,
"It's okay. I'm sure Frohike, Langley, and Byers can handle saving the world on their own."
Alex frowned, but he no longer looked like a cobra about to strike. He said, "You're making fun of me."
Walter said, "No, I'm not. I would prefer to wait until we had a real plan, but if that's what you need to do to survive... "
Alex allowed Walter to approach him and squat in front of him. Alex sighed and said, "Someday, someday, I'll kill him."
Walter said, "And I hope I'm there to see it."
Alex shivered and said, "I'm cold."
Walter said, "I'll get you something to wear." He opened the drawer and took out the battered sweat suit he had noticed when he had put Alex's clothes in the drawer. He remembered seeing this on Mulder one day when he had picked him up from the park where he usually ran.
Alex put on the sweat suit, but put Walter's robe on top. He curled back into the bed, but his eyes were wide open.
Walter asked, "You want to talk about it?"
Alex said, "If I can't kill Spender, I wish I could forget what he's done to me. No, I don't want to talk about it."
Walter said, "It's your choice." He rolled back into bed. Alex said, "You still think I'm sexy? Even after having Ricky in your bed?"
Walter said, "Listen, Alex, I thought you were beautiful when I hated your guts. Now, I know you're beautiful."
Alex persisted, "As beautiful as Ricky?"
Walter said, "He may be your clone, but you're different people. I'll never forget my time with him. But he's young and needs to find his own way in life."
Alex said, "Yeah, I'm glad he's gone. Being here was dangerous for him. I want to keep him the way he is. Innocent, expecting to lay the world on its ears. Shit, a few years ago, I was that ambitious. I told someone that I was going to rule the world. Next thing I knew, I was chained and collared again. Now, all I want is to see it through."
Walter said, "I think you've grown a lot, Alex. There was a time when you never would have taken the chances you have lately."
Alex smiled and said, "I got tired of living with the rats." He yawned, covering his mouth. He said, "Do you have any coffee?"
Walter said, "You need to sleep. Would it make you feel safer if I stayed up and watched over you?"
Alex said, "Don't humor me, Walter."
Walter said, "I wasn't."
Alex moved closer and said, "I can sleep. Maybe I'll dream about killing the smoking bastard."
Walter watched until Alex was dragged back into sleep. He thought about getting up and hiding weapons. He decided just to hope if it happened again that he could calm Alex.
He knew that Alex wouldn't feel safe without his guns. Walter closed his eyes, exhausted from strong emotions and a very long day.
Walter woke, feeling pleasantly warm. He said, "Ricky," as he felt the long, sweet press of a hard body against his own. It took him a moment to realize that Ricky was gone.
It was Alex who had moved so close in his sleep. Walter could feel Alex's breath against his shoulder and the brush of his silken hair. Walter didn't want to wake Alex, but his bladder was full and it was going to be a disaster if he didn't get up soon. He tried to move away, but Alex muttered, "Mulder, don't."
Walter winced. Well, they hadn't done anything that warranted remembering who was really in bed with them. He said, "Go back to sleep, Alex. You're fine."
Alex frowned and then smiled faintly. He said, "Walter."
Walter grinned. That was something. That was really something. He left quietly, leaving the door open in case Alex needed help.
His houseguest padded into the kitchen as Walter ate oatmeal and read the paper. Walter had heard the shower running and Alex's hair was damp. For some reason, he had put the sweat suit back on and was still wearing the robe.
Alex moved slowly and stiffly. A bruise that Walter hadn't even noticed yesterday had ripened on Alex's cheek to a plum colored sunburst.
Walter said, "How do you feel?"
Alex said, "Like an idiot. Jesus, Walter, I know that we can't kill Spender. He's the one we know. We need him to trace the others. The new collaborators and the ones who were smart enough not to show up at that warehouse."
Walter nodded and stood up to get the fruit juice that he had made. Alex explored the kitchen methodically, probably not really noticing what he was doing. Finally, he gingerly sat down. He asked, "You were just humoring me last night, weren't you?"
Walter shrugged and said, "I guess we won't know that for sure. Killing Spender is more of temptation than ever now. Here, have some juice."
Alex grumbled, "I missed lunch and dinner yesterday. I like oatmeal."
Walter said, "I promise to get you anything you want when you're ready. For right now, Dana said stick to juice and broth. Later, I'll go shopping. Do you like Jell-o? That's on your menu too."
Alex shivered and said, "No, I hate the way it sits there and quivers like it might want to crawl down your throat."
Walter knew about the origin of that thought too. All right, so this was going to be almost as bad as nursing Mulder. Alex apparently read his dissatisfaction. He said, "I'm sorry. I'm not usually a whiner. I just had hoped that things would improve from here on."
Walter said, "I know. I can live with it. Go back to bed and rest while I go to the store. Don't eat anything. If Scully says liquids today and tomorrow, that's what she means. "
Alex said, "Yeah, okay. I know why."
Walter automatically went to the small shop that Ricky had preferred to the supermarket. Mr. Bianco owned this small store. He was a hale seventy and still had genuine black hair mingled in his gray. His eyes were big and brown, but seemed shrewd instead of soft as was suggested by their color and shape. His broad mouth held a genuine smile as he greeted Walter with a hearty hello and said, "Hey, Mr. Skinner. I'm glad to see that you don't just go back to the big store now that Ricky has gone to be a big shot."
Skinner smiled and decided he did like the store. He moved through the aisles, selecting a variety of juices and then as many kinds of clear soups as he could find. Mr. Bianco rang him up with the comment, "Someone must be sick."
Skinner nodded and said, "An old friend was injured and his doctor said that this is what he could have."
Bianco nodded. Walter thought the old man suspected the relationship between his young housemate and himself, but the man never seemed uncomfortable with them. He kept his prejudices to rail against people who tried to hurry him and shoplifters. Mr. Bianco added a rose to the top of the bag and said, "No charge, your friend probably needs cheering."
Walter returned, noticing a movement at the front window. He hoped Alex wasn't in a shoot first; recognize your host later mode. He unloaded his spoils into cupboards and the refrigerator. Alex came in stiffly and watched. Walter asked, "Are you ready to eat some soup?"
Alex nodded. He sat at the table, tracing a pattern on the cherry-wood table with a finger. Alex ventured, as Walter warmed broth, "There was a bird singing its heart out by the window. It sounded nice."
Walter said, "Yes, it's an Oriole. The man who used to live here raised it from a nestling. He set it loose, but it stays close. Ricky thought it was looking for the old man when it came to the window."
Alex nodded and said, "When I feel better, I'd like to sit out there and maybe that bird and I will have something in common, not tame and not quite wild, trapped in the no where in between."
Walter said, "Mulder didn't tame you. You found the truth and acted upon it."
Alex shrugged, wincing as the motion pulled on a sore spot. He said, "That's nice of you to say, Walter."
"It's the truth." Walter said.
Alex looked around and smiled. He said, "This is a great house. I wanted to move out of Mulder's apartment to someplace with more room, but he got mad when I suggested it. He said that I was welcome to get my own place. I looked and found one that I liked. Mulder was so upset. He said if I moved out it meant I didn't love him. Sometimes, I just can't do anything right for him." He added thoughtfully, " I wonder if Mulder would ever want to live someplace like this?"
Walter looked around at his immaculate kitchen; his efficient state of the art stove with the gleaming pots hung overhead and said, "Not in this life."
Alex laughed, sounding like a boy as always. Alex said, "I guess I better enjoy this while I have a chance then." He asked, "Do you mind if I use the Jacuzzi again?"
Walter said, "Anytime, Alex."
After a long soak, Alex prowled back out. He had changed but was still layered in clothes. What little skin that Walter could see looked scrubbed almost raw.
Alex spent the next two hours cleaning his guns. He seemed obsessed over the details and so nervous that Walter hoped the weapons would stay in pieces. However, Alex finished and roamed around the house, checking the alarms, making sure there were no bugs, and then making the same rounds again. Walter watched, making no comment until Alex sat down to take his Glock apart again. He asked, "Alex, do you play chess?"
Alex frowned, and repeated, "Chess?"
Walter said, "Yes, you know the game of kings, not to mention queens, rooks, knights, bishops, and pawns."
Alex said, "I play."
Walter said, "Ricky was a rotten chess player."
Alex said, "He might learn when he's older. Funny how different he is from me even though we're really the same."
Walter said, "Nurture versus nature, but I can see things you have in common, especially when I remember the way you were."
Alex walked over and sat down. He said, "I'll be the black pieces."
Walter spent as much time watching Alex as he did thinking about the game. Alex played chess with a passion, but then he was an intense man.
Walter had talked to Scully and looked up some information on the Internet to bolster his dimly remembered workshop. Now, he tried to compare the alert, wary comrade of recent missions to this current incarnation. Was Alex's startling at every sound new or had he always been this hyper-alert? Alex shoved the board aside and said, "I want a drink."
Walter said, "Not a good idea."
Alex remarked, "Alcohol is a liquid."
Walter asked, "Did you take your medication?"
Alex glared, but after a long staring contest; he looked away. He asked, "Did Mulder call yet? You should have sent Scully with him. What if he gets distracted or something?"
Walter said, "He'll be okay. He's a good agent."
Alex said, "What if Spender is after him too?"
Walter said, "I don't think so. He seems to hold some affection for Mulder." Walter saw the expression in Alex's eyes. He knew or surmised the reasons why Alex hated Spender. He suspected there were more reasons... perhaps almost unbearable ones that Alex never told him. Alex walked into the living room. Walter followed him, finding him wound in the patchwork quilt that his sister had sent for Christmas. Alex's body was bunched in a hostile, protective huddle.
Walter pulled up the hassock and sat. He said, "You should talk about it."
Alex cast a viper like look at Walter. It was hard not to jump back, remembering that face snarling at him over that deadly machine. How Walter had hated him then and feared him! Alex said flatly, "Why? It wasn't anything. Isn't that what people think? That I'm a heartless whore? Hell, I liked it, not Spender, of course, but the other two were buff, really good looking studs."
Walter said the words slowly, "Bullshit."
Alex snarled, "What do you know about it?"
Walter said, "I know that many years ago, on a special weekend a very beautiful young man allowed me to make love to him. When he betrayed us all, I waited for him to use the brief affair with me or the longer affair he had with Mulder as blackmail. He never did. Not that I excuse everything you did, Alex; I know you thought most of your actions were necessary and the rest were because you were afraid like I was." Walter stopped suddenly.
Walter frowned. Alex wasn't a coward and neither was he. He knew how he had been coerced. He wondered whom they held over Alex's head besides Mulder. Skinner didn't ask now; if Alex trusted him, some day he might tell him. He continued his previous line of thought and said, "And I know that whatever happened between us was personal. You're not a whore, Alex, and you're far from heartless."
Alex came out of his huddle and said, "I'm going to take a bath."
Walter let him brush by. He knew that Alex enjoyed the Jacuzzi, but he didn't think that was what this was about. He went to check his phone messages. Mulder had called, but had only said, "Tell Alex I want to talk to him when I get back."
Walter knew Scully was coming back to check on her patient. He went to make some coffee and ran some fruit through the juicer to make Alex at least feel as if he was getting something special.
Alex came into the room just as Walter was finishing. He had left the appliance off again, but was bundled in several layers of clothing. Walter handed him his pills and a glass of the juice. Alex sniffed and then nodded. He said, "You're fussing."
Walter said, "Sometimes a man likes someone to fuss over. Ricky would eat anything you know."
Alex managed a wry smile and said, "Yeah, I know."
Alex startled as a car pulled up in the driveway; the glass shaking to the point where Walter had to rescue it. He said, "It's Scully." But Alex was already sliding out of the room, automatically avoiding windows and oddly graceful despite the abruptness of his moves.
Walter sighed and shook his head. He followed and made sure that the gun in Alex's hand didn't quake hard enough to accidentally fire. Dana looked at the gun steadily as she entered. Alex put it away. He said, "I'm fine. You don't need to look at me."
Dana said, "What if I just take your temperature and things like that?"
Alex brooded on his answer then nodded. He complained, "I'm starving and all those liquids are making me camp in the can."
Dana said, "One more day then you can eat something solid." She opened her bag and studied Alex's heavy black sweater. Walter noticed that it was another one of his garments. There was another shirt showing at neck and under the partially rolled sleeves; Dana said, "I need to be able to get to you, Alex."
Alex had a long sleeved tee shirt under the buttoned shirt. Alex's eyes dared either of them to say anything. Alex asked, "Scully, did you talk to Mulder today?"
Dana said, "Yes, he asked about you."
Alex looked down as she took his pulse. He said, "After he comes back, you can tell him for me about what happened."
Dana said, "It might be better to tell him yourself."
Alex shook his head. He said, "No, he'll listen to you. I don't want to talk about it really. It's just another thing that happened. I'm alive. I survived. That's what I do."
Dana looked at Walter who simply rolled his eyes. One thing that Mulder and Krycek had in common, no one could tell either of them anything once they set their stubborn minds on a path. Dana finished with her examination and said, "I'll have the results of your tests tomorrow."
Alex said, "I told you I wasn't worried. I just want to forget it happened like I forgot all the rest." Alex looked away, his long lashes beating a semaphore signal of deception. He said, "You can give them to Walter though. He might want to see them. I'm going to bed."
Trailing his multi-layers of clothing, Alex walked off with his old strut in place. Walter said, "Give me the results when you get them. I think he does want to know for sure. He's too pig-headed to admit it. Scully, isn't there anything I can do? This is bothering him. Krycek has always been spooky, but he's on a hair trigger. This morning he was convinced that the diaper delivery truck was really a surveillance vehicle. I had to stop him from rushing out to assault the "Baby-Fresh and Clean" man."
Dana said, "We can't force him to face what happened. He'll have to deal with it in his own way."
Walter nodded and invited her into the kitchen for coffee. He enjoyed her company. Since they became their own little resistance, all of them experienced a deepening of trust. Walter had always felt a great deal of affection for Dana. Now, he felt that she was one of his closest friends.
Dana and Walter talked about Ricky, fixing his youthful exuberance and pride in their minds. He was going to be a star some day. Maybe Ricky would be able to work in an FBI free of consortium corruption. Walter could remember the hope and the pride that he had felt many years when he had been as young as Ricky. He'd like to retire, some day, not soon, with that same feeling.
After Dana left, Walter washed the cups and checked the alarm system. He dressed for bed in the bathroom. Alex's presence in his current state had changed Walter's habits considerably. He would seldom have been so modest with any other houseguest. At least, not with one with whom he had shared a bed. Walter heard the click of the Glock as he entered. He said, "Alex, it's just me. Can you put that away?"
Alex had chosen the right side of the bed for a reason. He reached over, a little unbalanced, and put the gun in the drawer. Walter slid into his side of the bed and shut off all the lights except the thirty watt one that illuminated a Degas he had inherited years ago from an art-collecting uncle.
Alex moved closer to him and reached under his tee shirt, caressing. He said, "You don't have to wear clothes to bed for me. Walter, you want me to make you happy?" A swipe of his pointed agile tongue illustrated his intentions.
Walter said, "Alex, no."
Alex sat up and said, "Why? You liked me before?"
Walter said, "And I still want you. But I will not accept what you're offering now." He firmly placed his hand on Alex's leg and felt the muscles bunch into a tight coil of rejection. He said, "Feel that, Alex. You tense at my touch. That's what you feel, Alex, so don't pretend with me. You don't have to have sex with me to be my friend."
Alex turned away. Walter assumed he was angry, but just as he was about to drift off to sleep, Alex rolled toward him again. Alex said, "Every time I close my eyes, I see them. I feel how it felt and I remember all the times... I want to make it go away. I want to claw the thoughts out of my head. I thought about eating my gun today, but I won't. I'm not going to let him kill me that way and I know I have obligations."
Walter thought about getting up and locking away the guns, but there were always methods to commit suicide. He said, "If you feel that way again, tell me. Talk to me. I'm here."
Alex said, "Yeah, you are. I never really knew you did I?"
Walter said, "We both have done things we deeply regret, but we're alive. We can build bridges."
Alex said, "Rock bridges. You're my rock, Walter, that's what you are."
Alex moved into his arms, lying enfolded in them. At first, every cell of Alex's body seemed to set up brittle walls against the contact, but then he relaxed. Walter didn't comment on the wet patch that grew on his tee shirt. Instead, he wondered who taught the man to cry in such great silence.
It was Monday morning. Walter didn't usually mind Mondays; he often only noticed because his quiet office was suddenly noisy. Today, he actually picked up the phone to cancel all his meetings. He was starting to tell Ms. Montoya when Alex entered and shook his head vigorously. He said into the phone, "Never mind, Ms. Montoya."
Walter said, "I can take a day off you know, Alex. The world won't stop."
Alex replied, "Don't make me feel more obligated."
Walter groaned and went to pour his new concoction. He thought it was the best yet. He had drained the pulpy part to taste it and to make sure that Alex's digestion would remain unchallenged. The ginger ale was a perfect touch, reminding Walter of his rare childhood illnesses. He remembered his mother's broad hand covering his forehead and the taste of the ginger ale spicy in his mouth. He handed Alex a glass and watched, as he tasted. Alex pronounced, "That's good."
Walter said, "Give me your word that if you need me, need to talk, you'll call on my mobile phone. I think you know that number all too well. " He caught the guilty quirk of a grin and felt satisfied that he had charmed that out of Alex. He said, "and you stick to liquids. For lunch, I'll stop at Enrique's and buy you some of their beef broth. Even without a sandwich to dip, it's good. Now, promise?"
Alex smirked, "You think my word is worth anything?"
Walter said, "Yes, I do."
Alex commented, "I thought you were smarter. Okay, you have it and I won't shoot anyone, not even that guy who weed-whacks at seven am on a Sunday."
Walter smiled and said, "I could make an exception for him. All right, see you at noon."
A kiss, it surprised him. It was the least sexual kiss that Alex had ever given him, but the soft brush of lips, the quick flutter of lashes as he momentarily rested his face against Walter's was heart-stopping. He said, "A man could get used to that."
Alex smiled and said, "You deserve to get used to someone sending you off like that, someone less screwed up than me."
Walter said, "If you knew how much I envied Mulder... "
Alex had no return to that, just a speculative look as if he was considering the weight of the words. Walter patted his cheek and said, "Get some rest, Alex."
Mr. Harkness was surprised when Skinner looked at his watch mid-way through a long diatribe about budgetary overruns. Walter said, "Send me a report when you've found ways to cut ten percent in your department. That way I'll use it as a good example before I present it to the field division."
Should have tried that a long time ago. The comical look on the frizzy haired accountant's face was a salable item. Walter wistfully imagined it surrounded by a bull's eye and rings.
Walter breezed out of the office and announced to his fierce and protective secretary, "Ms. Montoya, I'm taking a long lunch. Have Sally screen my calls. My mobile phone is on, but it better be another Waco if someone interrupts my lunch."
Ms. Montoya smiled and said, "Excellent, Mr. Skinner. I will advise her."
Walter was dimly aware of Mr. Harkness trying in vain to wrangle another appointment. He was satisfied that Connie Montoya would handle that exactly right. Harkness could have ten minutes, two weeks in the future.
Having called ahead to Enrique's, Walter found his sandwich and the large container of broth waiting. Enrique's normally didn't do takeouts, but Walter had known the owner since high school. He had patronized his friend's restaurants since the first hole-in-the-wall deli with Enrique's name on it.
Walter took his time coming up the drive, letting Alex absorb his presence and calm down. He saw the curtain move, but Alex was in the library when he entered his house. He saw that Alex was wearing one of his sweaters again and it continued to please him although he didn't know why.
Alex had the computer on. Walter saw that Alex had been checking some of the same sites he had book-marked for his own use. In fact, Alex had hacked into the name he used for non-business transactions on the web. Alex said, "My password stealer ate your random letters and numbers so easily that you may have as well stored it or published it. I called Frohike and he's going help me set you up for something better."
Walter considered blowing his top and then decided that this was Alex's misguided attempt at helping. Besides, Frohike and Alex were entertaining together. Maybe it would make Alex feel better to talk to someone who didn't know and have something to do. He said, "Fine. I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with. Let's eat before this gets cold."
Walter set out the broth, having eaten his sandwich on the way here, choosing not to tempt Alex. Truly, the broth was a mini-feast, robust and exploding with flavor, not an onion-clouded mess that many restaurants served. Alex spooned up a bowl and gladly took a second. He stirred this serving and said, "Mulder called."
Walter asked, "Did you tell him?'
Alex said, "He's working. I didn't think it was a good idea. He asked if I was having sex with you. I told him that wasn't what this was about. I don't know if he believed me. He hung up on me."
Walter said, "He'll feel guilty when he finds out."
Alex said, "I'm tired of that. I used to think, someday he'll understand. Someday, we'll be on one side again. I thought it could be the way it was when we were first in love. Both of us were so innocent in many ways back then. Now, we're not the same people. Now, we have wonderful days and we have miserable days, hardly ever just a normal place and time. It's passion and anger; hurting words and making love. I know it's not one sided, but I don't want it to always be yelling first, listening later."
Walter said, "Dana did suggest counseling."
Alex shot back an amused look. He said, "That would be good. Hey, doc, we want to have a better relationship and we have a few problems. Yeah, he betrayed his country and me; I beat him up every time I saw him and got his arm chopped off in a frozen wasteland. Oh, and I thought he killed my father, but I mostly believe he didn't now. Then, there are these aliens and these collaborators who keep trying to kill us and destroy the human race. Presto, heavy medication and a least restrictive placement hearing."
"Alex," Walter started before surrendering. He said, "Have it your way."
Alex nodded, apparently feeling that he had won that round. Walter had seldom met two men more resistive to normal mental health than Mulder and Krycek. If more people were like them, it would be an unbearably exciting and dangerous world.
Leaving Alex to wash the dishes, Walter returned to his day. He worked as hard as usual, but when the clock said Five Thirty PM, he cleaned his desk and secured his computer.
The security guard remarked, "Sir, you're leaving early. You never leave early."
Walter smiled and said, "Times change."
Walter hadn't changed his overtime habit for Ricky. The young agent was seldom home, either studying for his master degree in law enforcement or out exploring the city's social life. Now, Walter wanted to be home in the evening, enjoying the experience of being needed on a personal level, not for his job, but for himself.
Alex smiled at him as he came in the door. He was waiting,
Making no pretense of indifference. Walter said, "I missed you today. How do you feel?"
Alex said, "I'm fine. Hungry. I wanted to wait until you came home to eat. Company is good, isn't it?"
Walter said, "Very good."
After a light dinner for Walter and soup for Alex, they set up the chessboard. Alex won the first match. Although Walter had a feeling that one of his pawns had not quite been in that position until he left the room. They started another game and Alex won again. This time, there were no odd moves on the part of Walter's pawns. Alex said, "Again."
Walter dutifully reset the board. He had more of a feel for Alex's moves now; seeing that the seemingly random movements covered hidden attack plans. In another life, Alex would have been a brilliant general, an Alexander the Great. Walter let go of the book and routed Alex in a hard won game that took them to bedtime. Alex said, "I didn't think even once about Spender all that time."
The embrace and the kiss that followed were an odd mixture of gratitude and, for Walter, of excruciating temptation. Alex broke it off and stood, open mouthed, soft eyed, and cheeks pink. "I didn't know I felt that way about you." He said, before fleeing the room.
Walter went to bed alone, but woke hearing a cry. Shortly after, Alex returned and burrowed under the covers, pressing into his back until slowly Alex's body relaxed. Walter said nothing and pretended to sleep, but he lay awake even after Alex's breath took on deep slumberous tones.
Alex was still sleeping when Walter shut off the alarm clock, catching it before it rang. He hurried through his morning exercises and shower to have time to soft poach eggs, toast bread and prepare fresh ground coffee.
Alex came out, clad in a tee shirt and jeans, looking suddenly pounds thinner without the armor of layer clothing. Walter said, "Breakfast."
Alex grinned and said, "Thank you, lord! I was beginning to understand the concept of cannibalism."
Walter spent much of his own meal watching Alex eat. The good-bye kiss was almost expected and he was not disappointed.
Walter came home for lunch again, this time with chicken soup. Enrique's chefs made it from scratch. Even the noodles were fresh and rich in flavor. Alex said, "Just like mother never used to make."
Alex said, "Frohike is coming over. I told him that we were working on something. He knows about Mulder and me. He and his soul mates like to spy on Mulder as much as I used to like it."
Walter said, "All right. Do what ever makes sense."
Frohike was already gone when Walter arrived home. He noticed that his alarm system had been altered and that his CPU was suddenly larger. Alex said, "The alarm has three layers of backups now, two that aren't dependent on your home power. Uh, we couldn't get enough memory with your old unit, but everything will work just like before."
Walter said, "Alex... did you rearrange my underwear drawer too?"
Alex let a glint of mischief show through and he commented, "Byers will help me with that tomorrow." He looked askance and asked, "Are you really angry? I could change everything back. I'm not good at boundaries. I supposed you noticed that."
Walter sighed and said, "Just ask before you make any other major changes. I thought we'd cook something together to celebrate your return to solid food. What would you like?"
"What ever you want." Alex said.
They decided on chicken as the easiest meat to digest. Chicken Kiev was Alex's choice and it was interesting to watch him approach this task as if his life depended on the results. He had no problem with directing Walter, relegating him to the pounding and chopping chores while he took care of seasoning and the placement of the pats of butter as if this meal was a work of art.
Walter had always thought of Alex as catlike, but working with him in the kitchen changed his mind. His ex-wife had once taken in a stray cat. It had been so consistently under foot that Walter thought it might as well be six cats. In contrast, Alex always seemed to know where he was without looking.
Alex said, "This is fun. I like your kitchen."
Walter asked, "Where did you learn to cook?"
Alex replied, "Where I learned most of my skills. I was supposed to be something special before I screwed up with Mulder. I heard one of the old men say that I was like a finely calibrated instrument. I know enough about a lot of things to pass in any role for a few hours or a few days. I learned to wear masks, so many that that there were times that I didn't know if there was a real Alex anymore." Alex put the chicken in the oven. He stared at the floor for a long time. He said, "I never understood why Spender tried to kill me. The old men spent a lot of money on making me."
Skinner said, "I suspect they had an inkling that you were not going to be easy to control."
Alex nodded and said, "No kidding."
They enjoyed the dinner together and went to sit in the garden afterwards, as the evening was clear and warm. The Oriole sat on a low branch of the cherry tree, finally serenading them. Walter thought that it was sure that they were harmless like the human who raised it.
Alex said, "When everything is over, if I make it, I'd like a place like this, a place that was built with love." He looked off into the distance and said, "A kid would like this place."
Walter said, "I suppose. I haven't had my nieces or nephews over. I'm nervous about being around them in case... "
Alex said, "I know." There was a long silence and then Alex said in such a quiet voice that Walter had to think about it before he was sure of what was said, "I have a son, Walter."
Walter stared. It would never have occurred to him. He asked, "A wife?"
Alex said, "Not any more. Cancer got her, natural or not. He lives with my aunt. Mulder knows. I think he finally got it, when he met Nicky, that I was a real person, not just a boogieman who popped in and out of his life. Of course, that didn't stop him from pounding me on the head and throwing me in that truck."
Walter said, "Mulder never mentioned it."
Alex said, "I don't tell anyone. Mulder and you are the only ones that know. My family in Russia guards him well and I play the game with Spender so he doesn't seriously go after him. I don't want him to grow up like I did."
Walter said, "I understand that."
Alex shivered and said, "I'm going in."
Walter listened to Alex throwing up in the bathroom, but didn't say anything. He waited until the shower ran again and Alex went to bed.
It was early, but he went to bed as well. Alex moved into Walter's arms and said, "If something happens to me, you look after Nicky, help keep him safe. Mulder promised me that he would and I know he will, but it might need both of you."
Walter said, "Spender can take me apart a cell at a time before anything happens to your child, Alex." That was no light promise from a man who had experienced something very like that once upon a time.
Alex said, "You're my rock, Walter. Mulder's like my sun. He's like the light and heat to me, but sometimes, he burns me."
Walter said, "Alex, I... "
Alex silenced him before he could say it. He said, "Walter, please, don't make me more confused than I am."
Mulder returned the next day, late in the evening. Walter arrived home in time to overhear most of Mulder's telephone call. It was another argument. Walter tried not to hear, but could tell from Alex's side that it was about him. He also could tell that Alex hadn't told him what happened.
Walter took Dana out to lunch and formed a battle plan. He had finally decided that he needed to intervene again. Dana agreed with his thoughts. She said, "If we leave it to them, they'll argue until the aliens march us all away."
Mulder didn't answer the door so Dana used her key. He sprawled on his couch, looked like a wreck. He was unshaven and had raccoon rings around his bloodshot eyes.
Mulder eyed Walter and said, "Are you ganging up on me? Walter, you stepped right in the middle of a private argument. Alex would have come back if you hadn't been right there."
Walter said, "I saw that something was wrong."
Mulder retorted, "Yes, something was wrong. Alex goes to a meeting, not telling me what it's about. When he came home, he stank of someone else. How would you feel if that was your lover? I know, Alex and I used to play games with other people, but I thought we had moved beyond that. Did he tell you who he was with?" Looking directly at Walter, he said, "Or do you want him so badly that none of that matters?"
Walter said, "I won't lie to you, Mulder. You know that there was something before you ever got together and you know there was something before you found each other again. However, Alex isn't in any shape to even consider an affair now." He said, "Dana, do as Alex asked, I'll wait for you outside."
Mulder came to Walter's car with Dana. He asked, "May I get in? Can I talk to you?"
Walter nodded and Mulder slid in beside him in the front seat. He said, "He didn't tell me. It was all so crazy. We just started yelling at each other and he seemed so defensive. My God, I wouldn't even have left if I had known. Is he all right? Physically, I mean?"
Dana said, "The lab tests are all negative. I did a SUDS HIV-1 test, which was negative and I'm running an enzyme immunoassay as well. Walter says he appears to be healing all right. He has refused to be examined since the first night. Psychological damage is another issue, Mulder."
Mulder asked, "Will he talk to me?"
Dana said, "Why don't we talk a little more? You can call and see if Alex is ready to face you later."
The two got out of the car and started walking. Walter could see how agitated Mulder was and thought Dana had the right idea. Let Mulder start to deal with his own guilt and anger before he talked to Alex.
Walter picked up dinner from Enrique's. Over murmurs of contentment, the two men ate blissfully and engaging in no more conversation than �try this' or �pass that'. Walter washed the dishes when they finished and both sat in a pleasant torpor on the couch, pretending to watch a soccer game, but really just vegetating.
Alex leaned in after a time and Walter responded to the invitation by placing an arm around his shoulders. Alex sighed contentedly and seemed to drowse. He wiggled lower, putting his head in Walter's lap.
The phone rang and Walter picked it up reluctantly. Mulder's voice asked, "May I talk to him?"
Walter considered hanging up, but he looked at Alex and said, "Mulder wants to talk to you."
Alex took the phone, but said to Walter, "Stay."
Alex said, "Mulder." It was an oddly clipped version of the way he usually said his lover's name.
Alex listened for a while and answered, "You just started yelling like you always do. I didn't have a chance to tell you. By the time you were done, I didn't think you cared. I didn't like what you were saying... I'm listening. All right... yes."
Alex was silent for a long time as he let Mulder talk. He finally said, "Let me ask Walter."
Alex said, "He wants to talk to me face to face. I want it to be here. Maybe we won't just start yelling if we talk here. Is that all right with you?"
Walter nodded. He went to make more coffee and to collect his thoughts. He was beginning to feel like Saint Walter and he didn't like the role. Some selfish part of him clamored, "What about me?"
Mulder arrived twenty minutes later. He walked straight to Alex, knelt, and said, "Alex, I'm sorry. You don't know how I feel. If I had even a hint about what happened, I would never have yelled at you. Please forgive me."
Walter sighed. He thought, so much for his infinitesimal hope that Alex would remain with him. Mulder was crying. Alex touched Mulder's cheeks, enchanted by the tears. Walter was touched when the man bent his head to Alex's lap, weeping.
Walter decided to go for a walk, get a newspaper and clear his head. He was surprised at the nip in the air. He had forgotten his coat, but did not want to interrupt that reconciliation to get it. He resolved none of his own feelings, but it wasn't warm enough to walk further after he came back from the store.
Alex was packing when Walter returned to the house. Walter expected that. Mulder looked at him and said, "Can we talk about a few things?"
Walter nodded and said, "How about in the garden?" This time he knew to take his coat.
Mulder nodded and they went out. Mulder said, "Nice, but a lot of work. Ricky likes to garden. He'll miss that in New York."
Walter said, "I wouldn't put it past him to start a roof garden." He took in Mulder's haggard appearance and said, "That was a rough case."
Mulder nodded and said, "Yeah, it reminds me of why I left the profiling unit."
Mulder scuffed a hole in the dirt, concentrating as if he thought he could find one of his truths in the soil. His long silence surprised Walter. Mulder usually spoke first and regretted later. He said, "Alex and I talked. He said he liked it here with you."
Walter said, "Taking care of him made me feel good about myself and he's a good companion. We played chess, enjoyed some good food, and talked."
Mulder stood up, too restless to sit any longer. He walked around the garden for a while and then returned. Mulder leaned over him as he sat on the wrought iron bench. For a moment, Walter had the unpleasant thought that Mulder was going to start a fight with him, but he merely asked, "Are you in love with him?"
Walter never pretended to be a man who never lied, but lies rankled him. He said, "I could be."
Mulder asked, "What do you mean?"
Walter said, "If he was available. But he's not, unless you reject him."
Mulder said, "Thanks, Skinner." He held out his hand. Walter took it and pressed it between his own. Mulder leaned even closer and their lips suddenly met in a kiss.
It was surprisingly sweet.
Mulder straightened and said, "For what could have been, Walter."
Walter thought it was the first time that Mulder had ever called him by his first name. He stood and walked through the door. He remembered at the last moment the card and the pamphlets that Scully had given him. He handed them to Mulder.
Mulder looked at the items and asked, "Do you really think that's necessary? Alex has always survived everything that's thrown at him."
Walter shrugged and said, "Maybe he's reached his limit. Take care of him, Mulder."
Mulder nodded and they walked back into the house. Alex had his suitcase packed. He sat by the chess table, rolling a piece in his hand. He set the chessman down on the board. Walter noticed it was the white knight and smiled. Alex stood and said, "I'll have to come over and play. Have to keep you on your toes."
Walter said, "I'd like that. Anytime."
Alex surprised him with a good-bye kiss. Despite the circumstances, the kiss felt like a promise. Walter smiled as he whispered, "Anytime, you need a place to stay or a man to cheat at a chess, you remember the address."
Alex nodded. Mulder carried his suitcase and had his lover in arm. Alex looked back as Walter stood in the doorway. Walter watched until the car drove out of his sight and went back in to straighten the chess game. He wondered if he would ever have to check to see if his pawns had moved without him again.
Mulder called the next evening. He asked, "Is Alex there?"
Walter frowned and said, "I haven't talked to him since you two left yesterday."
Mulder said, "I was hoping that he was with you." He said, "Not that I expected to feel that way. He was very strange yesterday. At first, he seemed no different. Then he just couldn't seem to settle down. He was pacing, talking about moving to a security apartment. I said, sure, we'd look on the weekend. He hardly slept at all last night and this morning he wouldn't get out of bed. When I came home from work, he was gone. His stuff is here, but he didn't leave a note and he hasn't called."
Walter asked, "Did he tell you where he met Spender? I think he may have gone after him."
Mulder said, "No." Alex had never told Walter either. Frantic searching didn't do any good. Walter sat with Mulder at his apartment, watching the clock edge toward midnight. Mulder slumped on the couch, his hands dangling as if he were too weary to hold up even so much as their weight. Walter reached over to rub Mulder's neck. He said, "He'll be back."
Mulder said, "Why do I screw everything up? He was fine with you since it happened. I take him home and he's off trying to get himself killed the same day."
Walter said, "He thinks if he kills Spender that he'll kill the memory."
Mulder said, "If that was true, I'd devote night and day to the effort."
Mulder had dozed off for a few minutes when Walter heard the key turning in the lock. Alex walked in, ghostly pale. The remaining greenish yellow of the bruise on his cheek was the only color in his face. Mulder woke and rushed to his lover.
"Alex, where have you been? Do you have any idea how worried I've been?" Mulder asked. He hugged Alex then held him at arm's length to make sure he was uninjured.
Alex laughed, a hollow noise. He said, "I went to see Spender. Thought I'd make him number one with a bullet. I was good, Mulder. I got all the way through to him, but he just looked at me with that smug little smile on his lizard lips. He had new pictures of Nicky. If I kill him, he's paid to have Nicky taken just like I was."
Mulder enfolded his lover and said, "I'm sorry. I am so sorry. Come on. Let me put you to bed."
Alex said, "I want to go to Walter's house."
A flash of fury made Mulder's normally attractive face demonic. He controlled it, slamming on a blank mask. He gritted, "If that's what you want Alex."
Alex shook his head and forced his way back into Mulder's arms. He said, "No, you don't understand. With you! I want to go there with you because it's safer. He let Frohike and me put in good security. And he'd help keep us safe."
Walter said, "He's right. Humor us, Mulder. Pack a bag and let's go."
Walter wanted to surrender his bed, but Mulder refused. They slept in the guest bed although at one point in the night, Alex crept in and silently crawled into Walter's arms. Walter guiltily held him until they both slept. He was gone in the morning and Walter hoped Mulder hadn't noticed.
Walter made breakfast, omelets and orange slices. Mulder started by refusing anything but coffee and ended by eating at least half of Alex's omelet, the two of them sharing the plate and perched on the same chair like Siamese twins. Walter thought it was a pretty picture and it was tempting, very tempting to see if he could lure them into his bed. If he didn't have such a full schedule, he might have tried.
Alex said, "Stay with me today, Mulder. Help me put in a system at your apartment so I can sleep there."
Walter said, "Do it, Mulder. You have enough vacation time to take a year off."
Mulder surrendered. They were off to whatever clandestine supplier preferred by Alex and Frohike.
Not that you needed to know an underground supplier these days, the Internet could supply everything from a parabolic sound receiver to a near professional security system.
A week after Alex and Mulder spent the night; Walter was having an internal argument about an invitation from Ricky. Ricky had called and asked him if he wanted to spend the weekend with him in New York. It was tempting, but there was so much going on here and he wasn't sure how sincere Ricky was about missing him.
The doorbell surprised him as he went to call Ricky to decline. Alex stood there, looking more like his old self. He wore black leather, black jeans, and a black shirt. Walter said, "This is a pleasant surprise. Come in."
Alex said, "Mulder took Dana out to dinner. I thought they could use some time alone. I was restless and I started to think about playing chess with you. Promise I won't be, uh, creative."
Walter laughed at that and ushered Alex inside. "Have you had dinner?"
Alex said, "Had it is the word. Had it and lost it. Turned on the TV and there was some prison thing on the cable. OZ? When I looked at the guide, I thought it was Judy Garland, rainbows, whatever. Then there were these guys and this kid... "
Walter said, "Shit, well, you want to try again? Roast beef sandwich?"
Alex said, "Do you have horse radish?"
Walter said, "Plenty."
Alex nodded and went to set the board up. Walter came back with sandwiches and drinks. He had the white as usual and they settled down to play. Walter wondered if Alex was as content as he was to explore this familiar ritual. It was strange how chess and food had made them feel at ease for those few days.
Alex lost badly for once. He wasn't concentrating on the game. Walter put it aside and went to wash dishes. Alex followed him into the kitchen. Walter washed and Alex dried, a small ritual they had worked out over Alex's stay.
Sitting in the garden was another habit they had developed. Alex found a sprig of early mint and held it, nibbling on the tiny leaves. Walter didn't push anything. If Alex wanted to sit out here silently for hours, it was still good.
Alex, however, did have something he wanted to say. He said, "It's not going well with Mulder and I."
Walter asked, "What's wrong?"
A slant of mouth and a darkening of eye told more than the words. Alex said, "I don't know. He's trying to be nice, but we've always been pretty physical, one way or the other. I get things started and then it doesn't work. I told him just to go ahead, but he wouldn't do that."
Walter said, "I'm glad to hear he didn't listen to you."
Alex said, "But if we don't have sex, what do we do with each other?"
Walter said, "Things like we did tonight, play chess, have good meal, and a discussion."
Alex laughed at that. He said, "Play chess with Mulder?"
"Talk about books then, Mulder and you both are readers." Walter said. "Talk about UFO's."
Alex said, "Books, yes, UFO's no. I can't even read a science fiction book about aliens without having flashbacks." He said, "Mulder and I used to do things when we were partners. Now it seems we fight the aliens, the consortium, and each other between screwing."
Walter said, "I'm sure it will get better." Not that he was remotely sure, but it did seem like the right thing to say. He stood up and said, "Come on, let's go inside. It's getting cold."
Alex followed him. Walter started a fire and decided to make hot chocolate. Alex was still very thin and he could use the calories. Walter would pay his penance tomorrow at the gym. They sat on the couch, sipping, staring into the flames, which danced over the embossed bricks of the lovely hearth. Walter picked up the cups to wash them an indefinite time later. Alex was asleep on the couch when he came back. Walter covered him with the quilt, thinking that the man needed his rest.
Mulder stormed in the door just before eleven, startling Alex out of sleep into a quilt-tangled heap on the floor. Mulder glared at Walter and said, "You just can't leave him alone, can you?"
Alex was fully awake now. He put his gun away and freed his legs from the blanket. He said, "Mulder, I came over here uninvited. I saw something on the TV that bugged me and I didn't want to take away your time with Scully."
Mulder finally said, "I know, Alex. I know you had sex with Skinner and I know he wants more."
Alex said, "How did you know?"
"Spender told me a while back about you and Skinner at the club. It wasn't as discreet as we all seemed to think."
Alex groaned and said, "Shit, I think I know why he did it now besides general meanness."
Walter wanted to dig a hole and bury himself. How could he have been so careless? You would think he would have known better after that woman had been killed in his bed. He wondered if Spender had it all on tape. Walter thought guiltily about the look-alikes for Mulder and Krycek. Then there was the one night with Alex before he engineered the trick that gave the two lovers the chance to get back together.
Mulder seemed to have realized that he had no reason to be jealous tonight. He said, "Alex, Skinner, I'm sorry. Come on, Alex, let's go home."
Walter poured himself a drink after they left. Thinking better of it he poured it out and went to call Ricky. It was better to get some of this out of his system. Ricky didn't ask for a commitment nor did he offer one. They were friends who fucked each other, not lovers.
After his weekend in New York, things stood in better perspective. Alex and Mulder were as they used to be, he thought... although Mulder didn't like Alex visiting him alone. Walter tried to make Mulder feel more comfortable about it, letting him see that it was chess and conversation not passion that drew Alex to him.
Well, maybe there was more, but nothing overt. Like Jimmy Carter, there was lust in his heart, but not in his actions. Still Mulder stared at him with suspicion. Walter perhaps should have insisted on more distance, but who could resist Alex?
Alex met him for lunch mid-week. They went to Enrique's, enjoying a quiet table and VIP treatment from the staff. Among the things Walter admired about Enrique, the man knew how to train his staff. When he and Alex were talking to each other, there was no hovering waiter. The minute Alex touched the teapot; a waiter came to refill it.
Alex checked Walter's car before getting in it. B for bugs and bombs was always the letter of the day with Spender. The car was clear. Alex slid into the passenger seat. Walter had offered to drop him off at the main library. He probably didn't want to know what Alex was doing. He somehow doubted the moody expression meant a passion to read Resurrection in the original Russian.
Alex asked, "How's Mulder been at work?"
"The same, fewer pencils in the ceiling than usual. Why?" Skinner asked.
Alex shrugged and said, "Got all the way through it finally."
Walter knew what Alex had meant although he didn't like the implication that he had approached resuming his sex life as an ordeal.
Alex said, "Maybe if there wasn't so much to do. I want to go some place warm; some place entirely different." Alex rolled his eyes and said, "I sound like a whiny kid." He added, "One of my sources had a lead for us."
Walter said, "Just make sure that you don't meet with any of them where Spender has a chance to get to you. Keep to public places."
Alex said, "You don't have to tell me that."
Alex called in the evening to ask for a Saturday meeting. He and Frohike arrived early to do a better than average job of debugging. Walter could tell that Alex either was brooding about what happened to him or something else had happened. Alex blew up with Frohike over some minute technical issue and stomped out.
Frohike continued to work, but grumbled steadily. He said, "Shit, I always saw Alex as the cool head in that pair. Lately, he's been acting like he's losing it."
Walter said, "He has a lot on his mind."
Alex came back and said, "Tell Ricky I weeded the herb bed." He went in to wash up and Walter heard him quietly apologize to Frohike a little later.
Mulder had been running. He came in sweaty and delectable. Walter reminded himself that he was not interested in the man, no matter how glowing he looked like this. Alex stood for a brief kiss then went back to work. Mulder looked at him uncertainly, seemingly puzzled. He asked, "Okay, if I use your shower and change? I forgot the time. It felt so good to be moving in this beautiful weather."
Walter said, "Use away."
Scully arrived with sandwiches and took a safe seat where there was no chance that her worshipper, Frohike, could find a way to sit close to her. Byers and Langley also appeared, huddling with Frohike immediately as if one organism reunited.
Mulder took charge, energized and intense. He lined up some photographs. Walter leaned in close to Mulder. They peered at a blurry picture of rows of tanks. The objects were almost coffin like in shape and size.
Mulder followed these with what appeared to be pictures of a two armed and blank-faced Alex walking with Spender leading him. Mulder said, "Alex's contact gave him this. These pictures were taken in North Dakota, not too far from the silo where the alien ship was stored."
Walter looked at Alex and saw that he was hunched in his chair, his face as blank as the man in the picture. Mulder said, "This appears to be a fund raiser for Spender. The man in the picture is a clone, a hybrid, force-grown to rapid adulthood. Spender has some bids for these creatures."
Byers asked, "Why? What use would that be?"
Alex said bitterly, "They rapidly gain adult strength and can be taught any task readily. Yet, they aren't truly individuals. They don't need to be paid. Sex, food, drugs, or love won't distract them. They do as they are told. They would make perfect assassins or incorruptible guards."
Scully asked, "Why make clones of you, Alex?"
Alex replied, "Because, like Mulder's, my parents belonged to the project. My cells have been available since before my birth. You've met human clones of me - Rodney and Ricky. I'm sure that there are others. Besides, I'm Spender's favorite rat. He likes to play with his prey. This is another mind fuck." Alex looked at the picture of Spender and the clone. He looked abruptly and intensely ill before he ran out of the room.
Mulder growled, "Fuck" and went after his lover.
When the two men reappeared, Alex sat next to Walter on the couch. Mulder went back to his explanation. They agreed that Alex, Byres, Frohike, and Langley would leave to reconnoiter the project immediately. Meanwhile, Walter would find some excuse to get Mulder and Scully into the area.
Several days later, the scouting party returned. Frohike asked for a private meeting. Walter looked at the scrofulous looking character and had to keep reminding himself to take him seriously. He and his cohorts were amazingly effective despite having no organizational support. Walter thought about the last strategy meeting within the FBI that he had attended. Maybe they were effective because they were outside of any bureaucracy. Hell, if evolution had happened by committee, there would be amoebas oozing around as the highest form of life.
Frohike said directly, "What's with Krycek?"
Walter asked, "What do you mean?"
Frohike said, "He's spooked. He didn't screw anything up, but he spends so much time barfing; Langley said that Mulder must have knocked him up."
Walter said, "I bet he didn't say that to Krycek's face."
Frohike poked at the magazine in front of him on the coffee table and said, "You'd win. Look, I think you know what's wrong. I thought maybe Mulder and Krycek were arguing, but from what I have seen that is a constant. It's more than that. I'm not saying tell me what the problem is. Just fix it."
Easier said than done. Mulder seemed to believe that Alex had recovered. Maybe he just needed to believe that. Walter wished there was some way to approach this without using Krycek, but there really wasn't. Mulder's plan was to have Alex pass for one of the clones made for demonstration. He wanted Alex to get in, let the rest of them in, and blow the facility after the gunmen tapped the records.
It really was the only plan. Walter just hated it. The clones, a silo like the one where Alex had nearly died, and the risk of being caught by Spender made the whole project intense psychological torture. Mulder wasn't oblivious, but he was merciless to himself and to everyone else when it came to his quest. Hell, Alex had proved he was the same on many occasions, as had Skinner. That didn't make the knowledge of how much this hurt Alex easier to bear.
Walter found a case in North Dakota for Mulder and Scully. It was a follow up investigation to one that they had worked upon earlier. The local authorities had requested assistance because of another group of incidents involving cattle mutilations and missing teenagers. His own time he arranged by taking some of his accumulated vacation.
Walter rented a car at the small airport. He paid in cash, using a fake ID and a reference credit card provided by Alex. He drove to a mall and checked it for bugs, finding none. Walter followed instructions, meeting Alex in town after turning in the rental car.
Alex drove a jeep. The road was rough and Walter was glad that he no longer was in the rental car. The gunmen had arranged for a time-share at a recreational property. It was a big ranch style house with three regular bedrooms. It featured a replica of a bunkhouse. The lone gunmen had commandeered that as their roost.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully called, letting Walter know that they had wrapped up their case. The teenagers had simply made their way to a summer cabin to party. The cattle mutilations were the results of an angry rancher, looking for a way out of his bills.
Since Mulder was often followed, Dana and he would take a roundabout route to join the group. They had tickets on a commercial flight. They would walk onto the plane, but exit unobserved disguised as baggage handlers. A small private plane would bring them to the small field nearby.
Walter went to tell Alex that Mulder and Scully would arrive soon. Walter found him throwing rocks into the small pond. He sat on the grass and batted away the mosquitoes that seemed to be zeroing in on him rather than Alex. Walter asked, "What's bothering you?"
Alex said, "I'm pretty sure that Spender is screwing my clones. I saw him leading one around that wasn't wearing more then a thong."
Walter said, "They aren't you. They have less in common with you than Rodney and Ricky or even what ever his name was...the other clone that Mulder met."
Alex said, "Still... it gives me the creeps."
Walter nodded and said, "There are advantages to lack of beauty."
Alex smiled at that and said, "You aren't pretty, but I wouldn't mind finding you under my Christmas tree. There's beauty and then there's sexy. Even Mulder thinks you're sexy."
Walter found that intriguing. He asked, "How did that come up?"
"How else? We were fighting. He said if he'd wanted someone who was always giving him shit, he would have had an affair with you. He told me on the way to Tunguska that I was a lousy lay. He said that you and he were in having a good time while I froze on your balcony."
Walter said, "If that's so, I missed the experience. I might have done it if Mulder offered, even if you had been watching. He didn't offer."
Alex said, "I wondered. Hmm."
Walter said, "What does hmm mean?"
Alex said, "Nothing much. I'll tell you some other time."
Alex stood up, casually grabbing a hungry mosquito before it landed on Walter's arm. He said, "We better go in before you turn into a mass of welts."
Mulder and Alex went to have a last look at the facility. They came back showing every sign of having had a serious argument. It was lousy timing. They were all on edge, keyed up about the mission.
Mulder said, "He doesn't want to go in."
Alex shot back, "I told you I would go. Can you blame me for being nervous after what happened to me? I just said that I wished there was another way."
Mulder waved a dismissive hand and remarked, "You know there isn't. The plan requires that you disable the security from the inside."
Walter roared, "Enough. Now, Alex, can you do this or not?"
Alex said, "I'll go. After all, it's copies of me being sold as assassins and guards."
Mulder muttered under his breath, "Should have sold them for whores."
Walter stood and lifted his intransigent agent to his feet and shook him lightly, a sign of his great anger, that he needed to show such restraint. "Enough! What is your problem?"
Mulder jerked away angrily, pointed at Alex, and said, "He had sex with Spender. I mean, voluntarily."
Alex blushed, turning a rich scarlet hue. He exclaimed, "For God's sake, Mulder, that's not what I said. I said that Spender was doing to the clones what he did to me when I was young and powerless."
Mulder muttered, "Excuses."
Skinner said, "I said, enough. You leave this type of thing at home, Mulder. We have a mission."
Mulder asked, "Who put you in charge?"
Every other person in the room looked at Mulder and then to Skinner, which was certainly an answer although not the one that Mulder wanted. Walter sighed, knowing that everyone here loved Mulder, hell, even he did, but working with him was difficult.
Teamwork to Mulder meant everyone running after him, trying to keep up with his sometimes brilliant and sometimes foolish leaps in logic. Walter felt dull in comparison, but he plodded along, usually in the right direction, without the fits and starts of their resident genius.
After rehearsing their strategy, they went to their cars. Alex straddled a black Harley Davidson, looking like a dark knight waiting for his lover's token. He got no more then a surly glance from Mulder who was to go in with Scully.
Skinner rode with the lone gunmen whose on-going quibbling seemed almost soothing after Mulder's show of temper. Frohike had yielded the driver's seat of the armored van to Byers and he slouched next to Walter.
Frohike said, "That arguing has to stop. Krycek is good, but he lets Mulder get to him."
Walter smiled at that and said, "Tell me something new."
Frohike said, "It's getting worse."
Walter nodded, but said, "I bet Romeo and Juliet were no joy to be around either."
Frohike laughed, but then he frowned and said, "I may have been skimpy on my English literature credits, but even I know what happened to them. That's not a good omen, Skinner."
Skinner fought the urge to cross himself, a relic of a Catholic upbringing long forgotten. He stared out into the darkness, willing the plan to go smoothly.
The place was another silo or a cluster of them, linked by a substantial underground base. It had been built as a huge bomb shelter to house "Necessary people".
Skinner often wondered how politicians and the other elite who were to be protected in this thing could ever imagine that their skills were the ones that would be needed after the envisioned holocaust? Did they think that the harsh post-nuclear winter predicted would call for many speeches and parades of four-star generals?
As they waited for Alex to call, Walter dismissed his rambling thoughts. He checking to be sure that his explosive charges were in place and went through a physical and mental inventory. His beeper buzzed three times. The all clear signal from Alex.
The Gunmen's van was left out of sight concealed by the shadow of the silo they planned to use as an entrance. Alex had already disabled the security camera and there was no guard. Walter did not plan to ask what happened to the sentry that had been posted there.
The elevator ride was dark. It seemed like a descent into some cold land where sound and light never reached. Walter wondered how Alex was doing in this nightmarish place?
Langley's loud whisper sounded as they wound around the corner. "Just suppose we save one or two of them? They would be perfect and pretty. They'd have an arm and everything."
Byers answered before Skinner could. He said, "First of all, these are alien hybrids, not human no matter how they look. Real clones take as long to raise as normally conceived people. These things lay around in tanks until someone decants them. Second of all, how would you feel knowing someone was screwing a sex slave with the mind of a child and your face?"
Frohike snickered, "If it was Langley, who could tell the difference?"
Walter said, "Gentlemen, silence, we are in enemy territory."
Alex let them inside and gave them maps to this vast underground facility. He had uniforms ready as disguises. The team all wore Kevlar except Alex. He said that there was a chance he would be searched. They were all in teams. Skinner had Byers. Frohike and Langly were working together, attending to the computer banks.
Mulder and Scully were a given as a team. They were to check the laboratories and make sure the paper records were destroyed. This left Alex to attend to the main security room. His job was to disable the audio and video pickups so the teams had a chance to plant their bombs.
Skinner had given himself one of the worst jobs. He and Byers walked into a room, which hummed with sound. Rows of tanks lined the room. In each one of them floated copies of Alex. They were smooth of face, almost mannequin like in their features without the animation and intelligence of Ricky or Alex. Walter set his charges, almost screaming as one of the clones opened green eyes, long lustrous lashes fluttering.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Walter whispered as he set the charge. He prayed as he had not since he was a little boy, "Let them feel no pain, God, if you're out there, let them just never awaken."
Regrouping, the five men and one woman looked at each other with ashen faces. This was bad and Alex had said there were many more of these factories. Walter waited, looking at his watch. He glared at Mulder who was now staring back at the facility too. "Where the hell is Alex? You and Scully were supposed to meet with him and make sure he was out."
Mulder said, "I'll go back in. There's time. I just wanted to have a crack at the files. Some of the records were on paper and... Samantha, they might have told me what happened to her. Whether any fully human clones were made... "
Walter said, "We'll both go back in. We have ten minutes."
They didn't need the full amount of time. Gunfire announced Alex's whereabouts. Skinner hit the floor, pulling Mulder down with him. They crept forward as loud exchanges of automatic weapons firing made their ears ring. It felt like they were in a metal barrel with a round of firecrackers exploding around them. Walter winced every time he heard a scream announce that a target had been hit. He growled at himself, cursing the language he learned to distance from the enemy. They were not targets; they were men.
The dark figure that ran, spun, fired and crouched was unmistakable. "Mother fucking beautiful bastard!" Mulder whispered.
Skinner, more practical, aimed and hit a man who looked like he had a good shot. Alex grunted as a bullet still found its way into his flesh.
Walter pulled Alex to the relative shelter of the staple food filled barrels left over from the original purpose of the bomb shelter. Alex groaned, but managed to get his gun up high enough to shoot the boldest of his remaining pursuers. They crabbed backwards, working as an efficient team, covering for each other. Walter could feel Alex's blood running a warm, sticky trail down his side.
Mulder glanced and said, "Go, Walter. You can carry him. This is my fault. I'm the one that should pay."
Walter said, "Like hell, just keep moving. We're all going to get out."
As they slammed out the door, their backs were inundated with an incredibly bright light. Spotlights magically turned on, shining blindingly. The effect unfortunately disabled enemy and friend equally.
Frohike's voice said, "Groovy. Come on, boys, let's blow this joint." Walter couldn't see him, but his voice guided them.
Frohike led them out, Walter and Mulder bearing Alex between them. Alex was holding his own, a tough man in many ways as Walter had observed before.
Inside the van, Walter's eyes ached, but they were beginning to work again. He heard the sucking tornado of sound behind them. John Byers drove like a madman to escape the debris. Langley rode shotgun, working controls that hopefully would prevent them from being tracked.
Frohike threw aside the odd insect-like mask he wore to block the blinding floodlights. He moved at Scully's bark to help cut the clothes off her patient. Alex laid on the floor, looking pale, face rigid with pain. Mulder scrambled down to try to hold Alex's hand, but Alex made a pushing gesture and asked, "Where were you? I was looking for you because you were not at the meeting place."
Mulder drew back and said, "I was distracted. The records... "
Alex nodded, "The records were worth more to you than my life. How did I guess? No more, I've humbled myself. I've crawled for you. I've overlooked things that would have made me kill anyone else. Mulder, from now on, you don't back me on anything. You go in and you do whatever the fuck pleases you, just don't expect me to get shot again, thinking that you would be where you were supposed to be."
The words were broken in a sob, as Mulder backed as far away as he could get from his angry lover. Alex looked up and said, "Walter, I think I want to go back to your house. May I?"
Walter tried not to smile. He wasn't sure if he believed this, but he'd be damned if he'd say no.
Two days later, Walter helped a still shaky Alex up the stairs and into the house. He brought him straight to his bed. Alex sighed and said, "Now get in with me. Hold me. Tell me I did the right thing."
"You did the right thing." Walter assured. "When Mulder grows up, if Mulder grows up, then you go back. Even Scully said that it's the right decision."
Alex sighed and looked at Walter. He said, "I want you to make love to me now, Walter."
Walter said, "Are you sure, Alex? You don't owe me anything."
Alex looked at him and Walter saw in his face all the incarnations of this lusted after, hated, and now loved man. Alex closed his eyes and opened them. He caught his breath and asked, "Does that mean we're even?"
Walter smiled and said, "We're even, boy."
Alex moved into his arms and said, "Then kiss me, because I need you, Walter."
Walter obeyed and he was shaken by the first touch of Alex's lips. This was not about anything they had shared in the past. This was like a first kiss, like a step toward something very real.
Walter knew that Mulder and Alex weren't finished with each other, but this was his time. To hell with worry about the future. Alex was in his arms tonight and that was enough for Walter.
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