Climb the Highest Mountain
By Ursula

 

Disclaimers: All characters are based on those of Chris Carter only I care about what happens to them.

Notes: For K-2's birthday Kim, Krycek, and Skinner. This was written for K-2, Kristen, and is based on her stories of Walter Skinner, Alex Krycek, and Kim Cook. However, this is not part of her universe. Kristen, poor thing, has belatedly beta read her own birthday story as it was posted raw on the day.

Warnings: Heterosexual relationship warning if you're a slasher, Slash warning if you only read heterosexual relationships, and a big hug if you read both. Angst.

 

Time Frame: After Season eight, disregards Season nine

"I had a bad day at work today," Kim said to her husband. His silence was her companion. She was used to his quietude. He was a silent man by nature, stoic, kind, and strong.

"Kersh blamed me for his assistant's failure to send the memo to staff. I don't know how he gets off, saying it's my fault. It wasn't my job even though I usually end up covering for her. Poor Matilda is about ready to have a nervous breakdown. My nightmare after you left was that I would be assigned to him directly. I'd as soon work in a shark pool."

Sunlight danced across the room, lighting Walter's features with a healthy glow. Kim said, "I saw Mulder yesterday. He said to give you his best."

Kim stroked Walter's forehead. Without his glasses, he looked younger and innocent. His face was slack in sleep...

Tears finally flowed as Kim saw an eyelash flutter. Every time, Walter's eyes opened, she told herself that he was waking. It never happened. Sighing, she checked his charts to make sure that his limbs were being flexed and massaged. She still turned him in his trusses herself to be sure. She had fought his transfer to this long-term care facility for weeks, but she had lost the battle. It was the best nursing home that she could find. She had asked Scully to go undercover to make sure that none of the aides were even verbally abusive. If her husband could hear, she didn't want him to ever hear a staff member refer to him as a vegetable. He wasn't one. His brain waves remained active. His electroencephalogram read as if he was in a perpetual dream state.

Before leaving, Kim kissed Walter's sleeping face again and turned on the CD player she had placed in the room. Walter's beloved Credence Clearwater Revival played steadily. Kim stood in the doorway for long moments before her shoulders slumped with the burden of her care and she left to rejoin a world so much bleaker without her husband.

As she entered the house that seemed too big for her, the phone was ringing. She picked it up.

"It's me, Mulder," the voice said.

"Hi, Mulder," Kim said. "I just returned from seeing Walter."

"Yeah, well, I have some news that might mean you won't have many more of those visits to make," Mulder said.

"You found someone who knows how to cure Walter?" Kim asked.

"I think so," Mulder said, "I have a feeling Alex Krycek could."

"Alex is dead," Kim said flatly. "Walter killed him."

Mulder didn't cue into her response. He sounded excited and pleased with himself. He said, "A long time ago, I set up a 'missing person' search for Krycek. I wasn't satisfied with the bureau's methods. This service is private, discreet, and effective. Expensive as hell also. I didn't really expect them to come through and then I forgot about it after Krycek was killed. I just received a call from them. They spotted a man who they say may be Krycek."

Kim dropped the phone as her legs buckled. She caught herself on the wall and slid down it until she sat on the floor. Finally, she reached for the phone and was surprised that she could force out a sound. "Mulder, you can't be serious. It must be a mistake. It must be someone who just looks like Krycek."

"I can't be one hundred percent sure, but they e-mailed me a picture. It sure in hell looks like my late and unlamented partner," Mulder said. "There's one picture that shows him without his prosthesis. A doppelganger, I'd buy, but not one with the exact injury that Krycek had."

"How could this be?" Kim asked. She didn't want to think about the arm. Her mind shied away from imagining the handsome young man that she had known struggling with such a disability.

"Kim, didn't you ever look at my reports?" Mulder said.

'Just when I wanted to have a laugh with the other clerks,' Kim thought.

Out loud, she said, "Sometimes, Walter had me type them over."

Mulder's voice sounded strange. He said, "Yeah, well, I thought I found my sister a few times. It wasn't her. It was always a clone, not even human." Mulder's voice fell a note and became rough. He cleared his throat and continued, "One time however, Scully and I discovered exact genetic copies of a woman. Forget Dolly the sheep. These men were so far ahead of the mainstream scientists that they made them look like Stone Age shamans."

"This is so crazy," Kim said. "How can I believe something so incredible?"

"Sometimes when all the rational methods have failed, there's only hope. Odd as it may seem, I think I can get Alex to help Walter. He's the only one left that knows about the nanocytes. I'll bring him back here if that's him."

"No," Kim said, "Give me the information. He'll run from you. He won't run from me."

"I didn't know you knew him that well," Mulder said.

"I knew him," Kim said. "He won't hurt me."

There was a brief silence. Kim could almost hear the wheels turning in that magnificent mind of Mulder's.

"Kim, don't count on a previous relationship with Krycek as protection," Mulder said.

"He won't hurt me," Kim repeated. "Mulder, I can't trust you to get the information I need. You and Alex...well, there is so much history."

"Maybe," Mulder conceded. "You know? I don't think Walter would have ever pulled the trigger if he thought that that was really Alex in the garage. As many times as I threatened to kill Alex myself, there was always something stopping me. Walter felt the same. I know he never really gave up on Alex. I think we both hoped that he would eventually come down on the right side."

Kim doubted that Mulder was right about Walter sensing that the man he killed wasn't Alex. Mulder hadn't seen her husband afterward.

Taking a deep breath and a giant leap of faith, Kim said, "Give me the information and I'll contact him."

"Kim, at least let me get someone to go with you. Frohike, maybe," Mulder said.

"Okay," Kim agreed. "I'm going to resign, Mulder. I don't want anyone asking where I am when I'm gone."

OooOooO

As soon as Mulder hung up, Kim turned on her computer and typed her resignation letter, alluding to her husband's health and the need to be with him. She didn't bother to give the traditional two weeks notice. She had at least that much leave stored despite the time she had taken when Walter first collapsed. She would go in tomorrow and teach someone the essentials of her job. After that, they were on their own. After Walter announced their marriage and she had to transfer out of his section, the job no longer meant that much to her anyway.

Eyes brimming with tears that seemed to press forward relentlessly, Kim went to the huge bed. Curled on Walter's side of the bed, her mind was filled with visions of a few years back.

It wasn't Walter at first who woke her to the sensual side of her being.

How could she not notice the young agent who had the building buzzing? Kim often told the other clerical staff that people ought to pay for the privilege of working at the Hoover. She had never worked in a building with so many attractive men in her life.

When Agents Krycek and Mulder walked through the building eyes turned...when Walter stretched and his white dress shirt strained across that massive chest, eyes popped. Walter never seemed to notice how often a smiling woman dropped something when talking to him or the silent glances that admired his tight rear when he stooped to pick it up.

Kim had been above such behavior, but that didn't mean she didn't notice. However, he was her supervisor and she assumed that he would never chance so much as a cup of coffee in the cafeteria with her.

Alex, though...Alex was not her supervisor. His glances at her on the rare occasions that he visited AD Skinner's office seemed interested.

One noon, Kim had surprised herself by sitting down next to Alex. She had an excuse. The cafeteria was crowded and no one she knew had a free space at his or her table. She said, "Is this seat taken?"

"No, Mulder was supposed to eat lunch with me, but he seems to have forgotten," Agent Krycek said. "Kim, isn't it?"

Krycek had one hell of a sexy voice. You couldn't hear it without think of some big cat purring. Her name left his lips like a caress and Kim felt the blush rise on her fair skin.

"AD Skinner's office assistant," Alex said. "What's that like?"

"He's the best," Kim said. "He expects hard work and he's a perfectionist, but he knows how to say thank you. I like him."

"A lot of people say he scares the hell out of them, but even Mulder seems to respect him," Krycek said.

Taking a sip from his chocolate milk, Krycek looked up at her. She had thought he had brown eyes, but they were a mossy, changeable green. Framing those eyes were heavy lashes so black that Kim thought they looked as if he wore mascara. He was fascinating, feral, not what he seemed at all.

Kim was honest enough to admit that she was glad to be asked out. He was a great date, intensely focused on her. She knew he was interested, but he didn't paw her nor did he dissemble about being interested sexually. Kim wouldn't jump into bed with someone on the first date. She wasn't someone who jumped into anything.

Kim had worked hard to get her bachelor's degree and even if she had to quit before she could complete her MBA, she was proud of her achievement. Her sisters and brothers had all dropped out of high school. Her parents only had completed sixth grade. Kim had endured a lot of teasing about being the runt of the family, little bookish creature. It had taken her ages to even realize she was pretty. All of her sisters were beautiful girls and she looked plain beside them. Sometimes, Kim had thought her parents would confess they had found her on their doorstep.

In any event, as an adult, she felt that she had achieved something. She was proud of working for the FBI and proud of having become an executive assistant at her age. She was the youngest executive secretary in the Hoover just as AD Skinner was the youngest FBI assistant director. That wasn't a menial job. You had to be the best to achieve that as well as passing a national security clearance.

However, Alex made her feel something that she had only ever felt for her boss. She couldn't have Walter Skinner, she thought, but she could have Alex Krycek. She wanted him and he wanted her.

Both of them knew when it was the night. When they went to Kim's apartment after dinner, they devoured each other. Their hands mapped secret trails under each other's clothing. Their scent mingled wonderfully and Kim felt as if she had marked Alex as her own.

After Alex unzipped the back, Kim helped him lower her dress, feeling wonderfully wanton with her sexy new bra and underwear. She had never splurged on anything like the silken bra and matching panty. God knows what her mother would say. She had always equipped her girls with packages of plain white briefs from the Sears Surplus stores. The day the discount warehouse closed was like a funeral around Kim's home. You would have thought Mom's best friend had died.

Alex was breathing very quickly and his eyes were so intense that they seemed to glow. His hands paused. He looked upset.

Kim said, "Alex, what's wrong?"

The first thing that occurred to her was to glance at his left hand for the telltale line of white where a wedding ring belonged. There was none.

Still...

"You're not going to tell me that you're engaged or married, are you?" Kim asked.

Alex said, "Kim, I think I should tell you that I've been with men."

Talk about putting a damper on things...

"What do you mean, Alex?" Kim asked. "Are you gay? Then why are you with me?"

Fighting the urge to scream at him and throw him out, she calmed herself and asked, "Am I just protective coloring because you work for the bureau?" She felt horrible. All of her new found confidence was on the floor.

"No!" Alex said, his voice breaking in a rasp. "Hell, no, I love the way you make me feel. It's not as if I don't like women, I just...well, I'm attracted to men too. I've been that way since my first wet dream."

Eyes peering soulfully at her, Alex said, "I've been tested and I am very careful. I just didn't want to have you find out afterward. Oh, shit...Kim, this isn't how I wanted to tell you. I wanted tonight to just be about us, but...this is a part of who I am, and I want you to know that part of me, too. I don't want to keep secrets from you."

Kim believed him. As he stared at her as if waiting a sentence in court, her heart went out to him. It was easy to kiss him. Easier to be kissed back and it happened as perfectly as she hoped.

After Kim accustomed herself to the idea, she felt like some mysterious and sophisticated woman. She had never been knowingly with a man who so much as admitted experimenting. It was erotic in a way. Kim hadn't a lot of experience, but Alex seemed different to her, more playful about sex and open to foreplay. He was also the first lover she had who was also a friend. They even talked about men they both liked sexually.

Alex thought Mulder was sex on two legs. Kim thought he was a jackass. Mulder gave her Walter, as she liked to think of the AD, headaches.

However, Walter Skinner...

Alex had batted his eyelashes and said, "I bet we could have him."

Blushing fiercely at the mental image, Kim had said, "AD Skinner? Alex, he's not like that..."

"Takes one to know one. You watch him around me. He looks at my ass all the time," Alex said. "I was in the gym the other day and he checked me out in the shower."

Kim had playfully slapped Alex's bare butt and that had led to the fascinating discovery that Alex liked to be spanked. So they forgot about AD Skinner for that weekend.

But they didn't forget about him for long.

When Alex came home from a conference that he attended and at which AD Skinner was a speaker, he looked both guilty and pleased. He said, "Did you know that Walter is getting a divorce? His wife told him she was filing as he was packing for the conference. He drinks too much when he has serious woman problems. I had to rescue him from a fluttering pack of twinks at this gay bar."

"What's a twink? And, Alex, you said you said that you had buddies if you felt the need to sleep with...screw a man," Kim said, blushing. Alex had been trying to teach her to talk dirty to him, and it didn't feel natural yet.

More seriously, Kim added, imagining the worst, "What was with the bar? Were you going to pick someone up? That's not in the picture!"

"I was meeting an old friend and I wasn't going to sleep with him, Kim. We were out for a few drinks and that's all," Alex said. "Then I spotted Walter and shit, I couldn't let him be picked up by any of those powder puff boys!"

"I guess," Kim said reluctantly.

"So, I took him to my friend's house and I decided a shower would help sober him up. I was thinking about his reputation. The town was full of FBI agents," Alex said. His look of virtue made Kim laugh despite herself.

"And?" Kim said, running a finger from Alex's throat down his chest.

"And a gentleman wouldn't tell more," Alex said. "But I was right about him. He knew I was a guy. Kim, you know what I think?"

"I think you think with this," Kim said, patting the head in Alex's trousers.

"I think we should seduce him," Alex said, "Both of us. He wants to see me again. I want to if...I don't want to hurt you, but Kim, I really feel something for him."

It wasn't easy, but Kim accepted that Alex had needs she couldn't fill. He also had needs that Walter Skinner couldn't fill. Kim knew that was true. When Alex was with her, he was hers. If it had been someone else, someone other than Walter, she might have been jealous. Well, she was envious and if she weren't such a chicken shit, she admitted to herself that she would love to see if Alex was right about being able to seduce Walter Skinner as a team.

It did her heart good to see AD Skinner come to work happy and leave at a reasonable hour. Alex still spent most of the weekends with her. Sensing some trace of Walter on him made making love to Alex all the more exciting.

"I told him," Alex said one Saturday.

"About us?" Kim said. "Oh, Alex...I don't want to confuse him or hurt him. He's in love with you."

"I think he's curious. I said we would all talk and see if it would work," Alex said.

OooOooO

The first date was full of long silences and Alex had to keep making them look at each other and talk to each other instead of focusing on him. It would have been more difficult without Alex's charms. He could persuade Kim that it was right.

"Take what you want, just take it, Kim," Alex had said. "Look at her, Walter. Come on, I've seen the way you look at her in the office. You got to have seen her looking back. You want her, she wants you, and I want you both."

Oh, there were times when it made life difficult. She worried that her face would show too much when she looked at Walter or Alex in public.

Walter, dear man, felt so guilty that he sometimes talked about ending the affair, but he always changed his mind.

It seemed to Kim that something so beautiful had to be right. Alex said that rules were made to be broken. Walter said nothing, but the way he looked at them, the way he touched them, said everything.

It was the most wonderful and exciting thing to ever happen in Kim's life. It made her wonder if she was fundamentally different inside from other women that she could so enjoy watching two men, her lovers, make love.

So Alex said that everybody was fundamentally different inside from everyone else and fundamentally the same. If people just accepted that, they would all feel better.

Everyone said that Kim was glowing in those days. Maybe they noticed that her boss also seemed happy. Any conclusions weren't voiced. They would have been wrong by a third in any case.

Alex used to say that a triangle was one of the most solid forms in nature. He had words for everything, her Alex.

For everything except "I lied about who I am. I'm sorry and goodbye."

One day, Agent Mulder charged past her to talk to Walter. By the end of that day, her world was in shambles. Alex was gone; his apartment as clean as if he had never been there.

Kim had gone to Walter's and he had met her at his door with the words, "I can't. Kim, he's going to blackmail us."

No words left...no love left.

OooOooO

Alex had never used it against them. Sharon Skinner had reappeared in Walter's life and made her exit. Later, Kim, of course, heard about what happened with that...that...woman! Right, Walter was afraid to touch her, but some whore was acceptable.

Kim had been so worried and so angry with Walter. Although she had never liked the way Mulder brought so much worry and trouble into Walter's life, she liked that he had believed and supported him through those terrible days.

Afterward, Kim wanted to go to Walter. She needed to comfort him, but he seemed so distant. All she could do was make sure he ate, try to get to him to work less, and to go home.

Then came the day Kim found Walter asleep in his office. It was seven in the morning. She knew he had never gone home.

Waking him, Kim said, "You can't keep doing this. You can't punish yourself forever."

Looking at her with eyes red and weary, Walter had said, "You punish me then."

Kim had locked the door and said, "I will."

It hurt her hand more than it hurt Walter's ass. In fact, as she tried to get his belt open and his zipper down, the corner of his lip pulled up in the nearest thing to a smile that she had seen in ages on that handsome face.

Dutifully, Walter had tried to fit over her lap and even ventured an "ow" or two.

At five o'clock, Kim had showed Walter his clear calendar and said, "You need to go home."

There had been an expression on Walter's face that hurt Kim to see. So much pain. He had held out his hand. Her hand was so small it was buried in the slab of flesh and muscle.

"I don't want to be alone, Kim," Walter had said.

"You never had to be," Kim said. They had gone to her apartment. He didn't want the memories at his.

They had laughed together and cried together, never saying the name of the third part of them.

It had been easy enough to pretend that it had never been Walter, Alex, and Kim. Easy, even though both of them sometimes felt in the dark for Alex's long, lean body pressing close to them, trying to hold on tightly to them as if he always knew he wouldn't have them for long.

OooOooO

Sorrow became anger over the years as Kim heard what havoc her lover created. It could never be hate though. Sometimes, she thought that she knew what Walter was thinking when he would stand on the balcony, looking endlessly into the night. He said that he hated Alex and never wanted to hear his name, but sometimes he woke murmuring it in the most caressing tones.

The day after Alex died, Walter came to her and cried. And made her use his belt on him until she thought that she would never be able to look at one again.

Kim had wanted to bury Alex, but there was no way to have the body released to her. She couldn't stand the thought of him lying in some freezer like a side of beef. Walter did it somehow. Alex only had three mourners at his funeral: Kim, Walter, and to Kim's surprise, Mulder.

Dead and buried...

It was time to move on with her life, Kim knew. Walter proposed. He needed her so much and she loved him. They needed each other and, if there was a silent emptiness in their hearts that the most intensely alive person whom either had ever met had filled, well, that was never spoken.

Kim had transferred and they had courted openly. Let people talk about when the relationship might really have started. Kim didn't care. They couldn't prove a thing. She had her wedding and her honeymoon. Her mother cried and Walter's mother looked relieved. And they went on with their lives.

OooOooO

The thing that hurt was that Walter was fine. The nanocytes weren't causing him any problems physically. It was the idea that someone had the palm pilot, programmed to control the nanocytes and him, which caused him torment. He said it was living with a sword over his head.

Mulder brought back the cure like a conquering hero. Scully worked with the team that tested the biochemical components that would destroy the nanocytes.

It worked in the lab animals. It even worked for the pitiful human test subjects that Mulder found huddled in cages in a Consortium lab.

So why did Walter wake up from the procedure, clutch his head, and have a seizure? It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. They were supposed to live happily ever after. Some fairy tale! Now, Walter was her sleeping beauty...

OooOooO

"You sure that you don't want me to come with you?" Mulder said.

"No, Mulder, Alex would run from you," Kim said.

"You can't be sure of that," Mulder said, "We had our peculiar relationship."

"I can't take the chance. Alex is the only one who knows why a procedure that worked on everyone else failed Walter," Kim said.

"It was a stroke. Scully said that the medical evidence can't even explain why it didn't blow years ago," Mulder said.

"But it didn't," Kim said. She frowned, thinking. "Mulder, could the nanocytes have actually kept the stroke from happening? Because, if that's true, we did this to Walter by injecting him with that formula."

There was a look on Mulder's face, which indicated that idea had already crossed his mind. He said, "Whatever happened, Kim, we meant to do the right thing. Walter was the one who wanted to be rid of the nanocytes."

Mulder cupped her cheek in his hand and stroked Kim's face with his thumb. He said, "I hope you're right."

"What do you mean?" Kim asked.

"I hope Alex loves you and I hope he loves Walter enough to help him," Mulder said.

"Who told you?" Kim asked, thinking that perhaps Alex had said something at some desperate moment in his life to Mulder.

"You did, Kim, and perhaps, even Walter did," Mulder said. "I'm spooky Mulder, you know."

OooOooO

"What in hell is Krycek doing on K2?" Frohike said, as he trudged beside Kim. They had been training for a month just to be allowed to go to base camp.

"You're the one that told me that Alex was working as expedition planner," Kim replied.

"Yes, I know that," Frohike said, brushing at the high altitude mask covering his face with his gloved hand. "You ever notice your nose itches the worst when you can't scratch it?"

"Yes, Frohike, I've noticed," Kim said absently. She leaned her head back to view the awesome height of K2 in the distance.

"What I meant was what brought him to K2? What's he's doing isn't dangerous, but it's also not comfortable. I don't understand it," Frohike said. "The guy lived most of his life like a human cannonball. Why would he choose to camp out in some God forsaken place and crap in the cold? Excuse the language, Kim."

"Alex always said that he believed that God was more likely to hear you from the high places on Earth. He always said that if he ever had the freedom to do so that he would go on a spirit quest to a high peak and find his soul," Kim said.

They were still on the road to Askole, a tiny village where people often camped before starting the walk toward Paju. Onward from there, they would go to Baltoro Glacier where the climb started.

Alex was at the lower camp where sixteen expeditions were supporting climbs at various stages up the mountain. His job was to coordinate supplies and make sure that crucial materials were not blocked from the camp. Frohike said that people thought he was the best at his job that they had ever seen. Alex knew just the right combination of bribery and intimidation. He was effective and almost uncanny about anticipating what was needed by the expeditions.

Frohike said that most people assumed that the arm had been lost in a climbing accident. It gave Krycek a tragic mystique and fended off unwanted questions.

That gave Kim pause. She hadn't seen Alex since he left. In her mind, he was the same slightly coltish beauty that had disappeared from her life. It was hard to imagine her lover scarred and desecrated in such a way.

Reminding herself that this was about her husband and not the lover they once shared, Kim stared at the mountain and her heart uttered a silent prayer.

OooOooO

"Gawwwwd," Frohike said, swinging his arms widely. "I love the smell of testosterone in the morning."

Frohike's eyes raked over a tall blond woman who walked lithely by him. She caught his gaze and flipped him off as she humped her heavy pack up the trail. "Even the women reek of it," he added.

Kim stopped a short dark man and said, "Where is Reilly?"

"Big sky blue tent," the man said, his English thick with accent.

Making her way through the bustle of petitioners, Kim was unnoticed by her former lover. He looked happily intense. Alex dearly loved to be in the middle of things so this was a natural atmosphere for him. He had a headphone over his head, his left arm cradled a clipboard, and his right hand waved a pen as he gestured to a skinny gofer to bring him something.

Alex's instincts were dulled, Kim thought. She used to tease him about being so jumpy when they were together. Finally, it made sense when she realized that she had fallen in love with a man who never was. Alex had been a man who had to remain alert or die.

Kim was reaching to touch him before he sensed her presence and turned. His look of recognition was clear. She said, "Alex, he needs you."

"My name is Reilly, lady," Alex replied.

"I need you," Kim continued. The truth of that took them both by surprise. "I won't leave until you help me, Alex, so you may as well listen to what I have to say."

His mouth opened again as if to argue, but instead he took off the headphones, handed them to an Asian woman, and said, "Take over for me, Charlie."

The woman looked at Kim and scowled. "You okay, Walter?"

Shooting Kim a quick look to gauge her reaction to the first name that he had chosen, Alex stretched and then said, "Yeah, fine, Charlie. She's an old friend."

OooOooO

Going outside, Alex spotted Frohike lurking and sighed. He shook his head and a flicker of a smile crossed his face. He said, "Well, I don't have to ask how you found me. Damn, I thought I stayed in the background during that photo shoot."

Alex led her into a tent that was more like a small cabin. He shoved a folding chair toward her and said, "Okay, you're here. Tell me about it. You're supposed to be happy. I'm out of your life. You have Walter. Yeah, I heard he finally married you. About time, the bastard."

"Walter's dying," Kim said. She took a deep breath. She had promised herself that she wouldn't cry. "Mulder found the cure for the nanocytes and Scully used it on Walter."

"Fuck," Alex said, "That was so fucking stupid. They were harmless. I had the controls for them. Why can't Mulder ever leave anything alone?"

"Walter was the one spurring him on," Kim said. "He was always afraid that someday he would feel that agony again and his new master would step out of the shadows. After you died...Alex, how could you do that to him?"

"How could he do that to me?" Alex returned. "It was supposed to be Mulder." He stood up, agitated, and went to a thermal carafe. "You want some tea?" he asked.

"Yes," Kim replied, needing anything that would help her stop looking at him and remembering. The eyes were the same and the hair was still that vibrant brown. His face was different, harder, still beautiful, but the almost girlish prettiness was gone forever. His face was rounder and his body had filled out to more solid lines.

"It was nice of you to bury my clone," Alex said, unknowingly confirming Mulder's theory.

"Walter's the one that pulled strings to get the body released to us. How did you think he would feel, having to live with your death on his conscience?" Kim said.

"Relieved," Alex said, "I thought he would feel safe and stop worrying about the nanocytes. If he had left them alone, he would be fine. How bad of a stroke was it?"

Her suspicions confirmed, Kim put the cup of tea down on a crate table with shaking fingers. She said, "He had a seizure moments after the nanocytes were deactivated, went into a coma, and hasn't come out of it. Alex, you knew he was going to have a stroke?"

Alex grimaced at the news. "Yeah, when they were talking about candidates for the experiment, one of the doctors said Walter was at risk for a cerebral aneurysm. They said he could die if the nanocytes were used on him. I kept digging for more information; his medical records confirmed Walter could have a stroke at any time. Then I found out that the team who helped develop the nanocytes thought that they were developing a weapon against strokes and heart attacks. The nanocytes could be programmed to keep the aneurysm from happening. I knew Walter would never choose the nanocytes over death if he had a choice. I made it for him." He added under his breath, "Made it for both of you."

"If you had just told someone not to remove the nanocytes..." Kim said.

"Who would believe me?" Alex said. "Besides, I thought the rebels took care of that research facility. I didn't think the nanocytes could be deactivated without the palm pilot. Kim, do you know if any live samples might have been saved?"

"Yes, but when Scully injected them into Walter, nothing happened," Kim said.

"They have to be programmed specifically for him," Alex said. "Shit, I guess I have to go back with you. I could show Frohike, but the Lone Gunmen can't protect the palm pilot and neither can Mulder."

OooOooO

All the preparation in the world couldn't get you ready to climb even to the base camp at Gondogoro. Kim was sweating in her mountain climbing gear. She was surprised at how well Frohike did. He didn't look as if he was in shape, but he had a burro-like endurance and the agility of a goat. By the end of the first day, Kim had dubbed Frohike her Lancelot, her ill-made knight.

Alex wryly said, "Frohike may have the looks, but I have the history. Obviously, since you two insist upon going with me to fetch the palm pilot."

"Alex, it's not that I don't trust you," Kim said, "But I've come this far and I can't just passively wait. Besides, I want to see the place you found your soul."

His eyes were soft as the haze of green far below. Alex said, "You remember me saying that?"

"I never forgot anything you said," Kim replied.

Alex dropped his gaze and then almost shyly raised it again to meet hers. A quirk of a smile crossed his face. His hand moved toward her as if to touch her and then dropped to his side.

Looking into the distance, Alex said, "It's not far now."

Alex's long stride outdistanced Kim's, but she didn't worry. She didn't think he could run anymore. Not from her.

Catching up when Alex paused at the top of a draw, Frohike and Kim stood beside him, staring at a narrow opening in the mountainside.

"Why did you stash the control up here?" Frohike asked. "Why not keep it with you?"

"Even here at the end of the world, things can happen," Alex said. "I made more than my share of enemies in the world. Someday one of them will catch up to me for real. The place where I left the palm pilot is a shrine. No climber or guide would ever disturb anything left there."

OooOooO

It was a cathedral of ice, a marvel of nature that made flying buttress and Gothic arches pale in comparison. The impromptu altar was a welter of objects from Tibetan prayer rugs to pictures of lost climbers and rosary beads. Alex's offering was in the form of Russian nesting dolls. They must have been made just for this. The first was a reasonable likeness of Walter, within was a doll of Kim, and lastly Alex had his own wooden image, green eyes gazing from the bland face and tiny devil's horns curving over the forehead.

"Oh, Alex," Kim reproved, "You're not a devil."

"I call them as I see them," Alex said. He fitted the dolls back together after removing the waterproofed case for the palm pilot. He looked about him, at the rise of white, pure and fierce, that defined the eternal cave of ice. "I always wanted to go climbing with Walter."

"We can," Kim said.

"Right. When I wake him up, he's going to finish the job. I'm fresh out of clones, Kim," Alex replied.

"If you think there was nothing left, you should have seen him afterwards," Kim said.

The disbelief was plain on Alex's face. He shook his head and said, "Let's go. Whatever happens, happens."

OooOooO

The smoky smell of Lapsang Souchong tea still permeated their clothing on the plane along with a faint ozone odor as if they carried the pure thin atmosphere of the mountain with them.

Even Frohike was lost in thought. Kim had never seen the point in climbing a mountain. There were challenges enough in life without looking for them. She was sure of that point until she stood with Alex's arm around her shoulders, staring up at the snow clad peak of K2. As far as they were from the summit, they were near enough heaven to feel the brush of angel's wings. Kim had never felt so close to God and to the earth. Her only regret was that Walter wasn't there with them to see it.

Mulder met them at the airport. Alex flinched back from him, but Mulder smiled at him with the crooked expression that made most of the bureau women's hearts flutter.

"Truce?" Mulder asked. "You save Walter's ass and we're square. I mean it."

So maybe Mulder wasn't a jackass, Kim thought.

"Yeah," Alex said, "Fine, Mulder. Can we go now?"

Kim grew frantic as Mulder filled her in on Walter's deteriorating condition. He said, out of Alex's hearing range, that Walter had stopped breathing. Only Scully's adamant refusal to honor Walter's 'death with dignity' instructions forced the staff to resuscitate him. Even so, he needed to have mechanical support or his body forgot to breathe at intervals.

When Alex entered the room and saw Walter with the tubes violating him, strung from wires like a puppet, and mouth distorted by the apparatus that kept him breathing, his knees buckled. He would have fallen if Mulder hadn't caught him. Mulder said, "Keep your shit together, Alex. You have a job to do."

"Shut the fuck up, Mulder," Alex replied, but his expression was grateful as he glanced at Mulder briefly before taking out the palm pilot. He asked Scully, "Are the nanocytes active?"

"Yes, there seemed to be no point in taking them out," Scully said. "We didn't want to risk another stroke."

"Good," Alex said. He frowned as he sat down next to the bed to work. Whatever he was doing, it wasn't easy. His forehead beaded with sweat and he swore under his breath constantly.

It took four hours before Alex stood up and said, "That's it. It will either work or not. There's a lot of damage."

Stepping closer to the bed, Alex reached forward and stroked Walter's hand. "Old man, you better be in there. I'm going to whip your ass if you cuckold Kim with Lady Morte."

As Alex stepped away, he rubbed at his eyes and said, "I need to get some sleep. If I have to try again, I'm not up to it. I'm going to find a motel."

Shaking her head, Kim said, "No, you can go to our house. Frohike can drive you. Alex...thank you."

His eyes on the wracked figure of his former love, her husband, Alex said in a rough voice, "You should wait and see if there's anything for which to thank me."

She didn't give a damn who was watching. Kim pulled Alex's head down to her level and kissed him on the lips. His eyes fluttered closed and he waited, still as a deer caught in headlights. She couldn't resist kissing each eyelid and running her fingers through his shorn hair. If he stayed, she would make him grow it longer or Walter would. Walter liked to hold onto Alex's hair.

Wishes...fairy tales come to life.

Kim fiercely said, "Don't you dare try to leave here without telling him you're back and that you love him. Don't you dare try to leave without kissing him!"

Her glare at Mulder and Scully challenged them to object. Scully's eyes were aglow with interest. Mulder's eyes had a depth of compassion as strongly expressed as all of his other feelings.

Alex took a deep breath. He stepped over to the bed and moved aside some of the tubes to be able to kiss Walter as near his mouth as intubations would permit. His fingers softly stroked the cheek. Kim's eyes saw the monitor readings jump for a moment. Walter might have been responding to the programmed nanocytes. Might have been.

OooOooO

Somehow, Kim expected that her husband's recovery would be instant. Instead, it was twenty-four hours without any breathing problems. He was able to breathe on his own when they weaned him off the respirator. His eyes remained open a minute and actually focused on her later that day. By the second day, he was awake for an hour at a time. Walter smiled at Kim and squeezed her hand back in the afternoon.

On the third day, Walter motioned for her to come close and whispered, "Go home. Rest. Order."

Not that she intended to obey, but she nodded yes. When Walter woke again, he asked, "Is Krycek still here?"

"I think so," Kim said. Alex hadn't come back to the hospital, but Frohike and Mulder were taking turns keeping an eye on him, telling him that he had to stay in case the nanocytes stopped doing their job.

"Don't let him leave," Walter said. "Make him...come to see me."

"I will," Kim said. And there was nothing on heaven and earth that could stop her from keeping her promise, least of all the flawed diamond they both loved.

OooOooO

"How is he?" Alex asked as soon as she walked in the kitchen. "If you're home, he's stable. Right?"

"Yes, he's even talking now. They moved him out of critical care to a private room. They think it's a miracle," Kim said.

"The nanocytes might not be able to repair all of the damage," Alex warned.

Frohike had been on watch. He would have made someone one hell of a good wife. One of Kim's aprons was around his waist. He was stirring a pot of chicken stew, a bowl of dough for dumplings next to the stove.

"Byers said that there is no way in hell that the nanocytes should have been able to repair the damage as much as they have already," Frohike remarked.

"Then what do you think did it? Faith?" Alex said scornfully.

"I've been around enough strange stuff to accept that I'll never be able to explain it all," Frohike said.

Alex laughed harshly. He said, "Save it for Mulder. I don't believe that anything intervenes for us."

"Seems as if they have for Kim," Frohike observed.

Alex's eyes gathered Kim inside. He seemed to be saying something with his gaze, but Kim wasn't sure what.

"Walter wants to see you," Kim said. "I promised that I would take a nap and then we'll go back together."

"Sure," Alex said easily.

Too easily, Kim thought. She grabbed his arm and said, "You look tired too. Come on. We'll lie down together. I need someone to hold onto."

"Kim," Alex protested. "Haven't I hurt him enough?"

"Yes, Alex, you have," Kim said. "So stay. He wants you back. So do I."

Her force of will dragged Alex with her to the bedroom. His long body cupped hers with room to spare. His hand stroked her hair as her sobs shook her. She knew she was rubbing tears and snot on his shirt. Kim had never managed to cry like a movie heroine. Her eyes got red and her cheeks grew blotchy. Her nose ran until she looked as pathetic as she felt. Maybe that was why Walter and Alex tried so hard not to make her cry.

Alex felt the same as he had. His heartbeat was familiar. The only way she could feel safer than she did sleeping with the lion was if their Walter was with them.

OooOooO

She knew he was gone from the bed before she woke. Kim was cold and there was that empty feeling. Barely stopping to splash some water on her face and smooth her snarled hair with a quick hand, Kim went to the kitchen. "Where's Alex?"

Frohike said, "Huh? Krycek? He was with you. Oh, shit...the window!"

"How long was I asleep?" Kim asked. 'How far had he gotten', she might have added.

Grabbing her keys, she said, "I have to find him. I have to stop him."

Charging out the door, Kim almost slammed into Mulder, who had Alex snagged by his jacket collar. "Missing something?" Mulder inquired.

"Mulder, for God's sake, I was trying to do the fucking right thing for once," Alex said, struggling to free himself.

"You know, Alex, you should stick to things you do well," Mulder said. "You're one hell of a good double agent, give or take a few sides. You make a great cup of coffee and I always admired your ability with a computer. Doing the right thing, however, is way out of your league. I think you should ask Kim what the right thing is."

"Mulder," Alex whined, but he wasn't fighting very hard as Mulder hauled his ass through the door and straight to the bedroom. Mulder shoved Alex on the bed and said, "Kim, call me if you need me. I smell Frohike's famous chicken stew and I'm hungry."

As an after thought, Mulder tossed Kim Walter's belt. "He had this. If I may make a suggestion, use it."

The door shut and left Kim to confront her former lover. He sat on the bed, head hanging, lip jutting, and tear-spiked eyelashes lowered. "I thought you were an intelligent man," Kim said.

"I am," Alex replied. "You can't expect Walter to forgive me. How can you forgive me? Do you know what I did to him? Didn't he tell you how I gloated? I turned Walter inside out. He was fighting to survive and fighting to protect you. There was nothing I didn't use against him."

"Nothing? Really? Did they know that we were involved?" Kim asked, determined to make him see what she saw. "Those men you worked for? Did you tell them about us?"

"No," Alex admitted. His brow furrowed and he looked away, his right hand coming to cup the weight of his left.

"Would Walter have died if you hadn't infected him with the nanocytes?" she continued.

"I don't know. I thought so," Alex said. "I made my choices and I won't pretend that they were all for any kind of noble reasons. That's why I was on that mountain. I had to face myself in the naked light of reality. What better place than as close to the sun as you can get without flying? I don't like who I am, Kim. How can you?"

The belt was still in her hands. Kim held it to her cheek. It was as strong and flexible as its owner. She said, "I don't know how I can like you after all you have done, but Alex, I still love you. He still loves you. You can run and you can hide, but you can't hide from that truth. Because Alex, there are a few things in the world that are true."

"Yeah, you are truth," Alex said. "My crazy Kim, who charged across the world and half way up a mountain to save the man she loved."

"The men I love," Kim said. "Alex, you think that you are punishing yourself by leaving, but that's not true. You are hurting us again, Walter and myself. We lost you twice so far. Not again, Alex, please not again."

Alex wiped at his cheeks angrily and said, "You can't give me absolution, Kim."

"I can give you punishment if that's what you need," Kim said.

Alex inhaled sharply. His hand brushed back his hair as he tossed his head like a colt fighting the bridle.

Standing to come closer to her, Alex said, "I'm trusting you then, Kim." His right hand lifted to caress her cheek, the first time since she had found him that he initiated contact with her. "Mulder might be right. I've never been good at understanding the rules. You show me. You teach me. I haven't believed in much of anything, but I can believe in you."

He was naked before her. Totally naked in every sense of the word. His scarred body was presented without his glamour and without defense. His shoulders slumped with the burden that his life had become. Alex shed his armor of indifference and mockery and nothing was left but a beautiful, soul-weary man.

Kim had to kiss the small of his back before she marred the smooth marble of his skin. He was a gladiator fallen before her. His one remaining hand clutched a fold of blanket. His body was tense with anticipation of pain and release.

Kim prayed that she could give Alex what he needed. She never liked to inflict pain, but even as a small girl, her brothers knew that she was the one that could get the splinter out, wash their scrapes without hesitation, and who would never laugh at them if they cried.

Sometimes, you can't heal without more pain.

The belt came down and Kim saw the fiery line of red mark Alex's pale flesh. He quivered and gasped. She hadn't realized how strong she had become physically from lifting Walter's unconscious weight and from preparing to make the climb to base camp at K2. Biting at her lip to keep the sob inside, Kim said, "No more running, Alex. No more lies."

"Yes," Alex said raggedly as the belt fell again.

Her arm was getting sore as the belt fell four more times. Kim whispered, "I can't do this."

"Yes, you can," Alex said firmly. "I need this, Kim. You always were the strong one."

His flesh was raw and painful to behold. His body was covered with sweat as was hers. It was not beautiful. It was agony, baptism in flames. It took everything that Kim had and more to wring the sobs from Alex. He was as strong as scar tissue. His life had left him encased in a hard shell of misery. She was a Job's garment wearing away the detritus so he could heal.

When she finished, she lay down with him and wept. Kim said, "I don't want to be the strong one anymore, Alex. Walter is going to need a lot of help to recover. Please, Alex, he needs more than I have. Please stay."

"If he wants me..." Alex said.

Kim said, "I know he does."

She considered it progress when Alex didn't question whether she wanted him, too. He already knew in his heart the truth.

OooOooO

It took half an hour to pull themselves together. When they walked out, Mulder smirked at Alex and asked, "Do you feel better?"

Alex grasped Kim's hand firmly and said, "Like a new man."

Mulder grinned and said, "Better not be the same way you meant that the last time you said that. Sit down and eat, Kim. Grab a bowl, Alex."

Spooky Mulder didn't need to use too many extra senses to know that Alex wouldn't be interested in sitting down.

OooOooO

The room emptied when Alex and Kim arrived. Walter was awake, looking gray-faced and haggard from his long illness, but the light was back in his brown eyes.

"So you stayed, Alex," Walter said.

"I was persuaded to stay," Alex said. He kept his distance, his hands in plain sight as if he was afraid that Walter would relapse if he made a sudden move.

"We have a lot to talk about," Walter said.

"I know," Alex said.

"Come here," Walter commanded.

Alex straightened his shoulders and walked forward as if playing the lead about to face a firing squad in a film noir movie.

Walter's hand, still punctured with an IV tube, explored Alex's face thoroughly. "It's really you."

"I would think Mulder gave you the results of the blood test and retina scan," Alex said, "The man doesn't trust anyone anymore."

"Yeah, wonder why?" Walter said. His hand slid around Alex's neck and drew him closer. "There's one test I hope he didn't run."

"What?" Alex said, his voice ending in an undignified squeak.

"This," Walter said, his lips ravaging Alex's until the monitors flashed like lightening and a nurse rushed into the room so quickly that she nearly knocked Kim down.

Kim said, "It's okay, nurse. Walter's fine."

The nurse's mouth looked as if someone needed to snap it shut for her. Flustered, she said, "Tell him that he shouldn't over-stimulate himself."

"I will," Kim said, a giggle shaking her shoulders.

The nurse backed out of the room. Kim knew she would be telling this story for weeks at the nurse's station.

"You come here now," Walter said to Kim, pulling at Alex until he sat on the bed.

"So I hear you've been climbing mountains and fighting dragons for me?" Walter said, when Kim was as close to him and Alex on the narrow bed as she could get.

"I did what I had to, Walter," Kim said.

"I don't have a problem with it," Walter said, "I just wanted to know. Is this the part where we live happily ever after?"

Taking both of her lover's hands, Kim smiled at them and said, "I think so. If I have anything to say about it."

"Then it will happen," Alex said. "Because if I were a mountain, I'd get out of her way."

Her ill-made knight and her perfect king looked at Kim and she felt for once that she was the heroine of her own books. She liked the way that this one ended.

The End