The Apple Orchard
by Ursula

Apple blossoms were falling as prettily as if the little world of the apple orchard was enclosed in a glass globe. Inside the old two-story house, hell was being raised. Mulder peered over his reading glasses with a moue of mingled irritation and apprehension as Alex rearranged the bookshelves for the fifth time in a week.

"Come on, Alex. How old are these children? You have everything in the house four or five feet up. You would think that we were going to be housing infant Grays." Mulder remarked.

Darkly, Alex replied, "That would be too easy. You don't know these kids..."

Amused, Walter continued to thread popcorn and cranberries on a string. In the center of a barrier created by linked freestanding playpen walls stood a Christmas tree. Velveteen panels of fabric covered the metal links. A hodgepodge of ornaments decorated the blue spruce. It was June, the day before Alex's birthday, but they had declared it the Christmas they had never had together.

A few days after Mulder and Skinner brought out their treasures, UPS delivered a box marked: breakable, valuable, this side up repeated in large black stamps. The packing on the case said, Devonshire, England. Alex had carried it in himself and set it on the kitchen table. "My father's..." he explained, "Winthrop Mayfield Mannerly." He produced a dozen exquisite antique ornaments of types Walter had never seen outside of a museum. Alex laughed bitterly, remarking, "If things hadn't gone the way they did, I might have been Lord Mannerly. Imagine that..."

It hit Walter a moment later. Winthrop Mayfield Mannerly had been one of the Consortium leaders. He had not been the worst of men and he had died a hero, but still, he had been a Consortium leader. That wasn't the surprise. One of the things that had sickened him about the conspiracy was their willingness to cannibalize their own offspring. No, what surprised him was that Alex had been the child of someone high up in the leadership. What the hell had happened for him to become one of Spender's abused pawns? It took all of his will not to ask the question out loud and demand an answer.

Walter added a kernel, alternated with a bright red cranberry and then put the string aside. He walked over and squatted next to Alex. His large hand cupped the rounded babyish chin and tilted it up. It was so pleasant not to feel his lover flinch and to see instead the kittenish tongue swipe the lips, slicking them for a kiss. Irresistible...Walter gave the expected kiss, but did not take his hand away. In fact, he had to gently stroke Alex's clean-shaven cheeks with the other. Mulder looked over, smiled, and nodded faintly in approval.

"Sometimes I think about life without you, Alex," Walter said, "and I realize that it wouldn't be living."

Leading Alex to the comfortable couch, Walter sat down and pulled his lover into an embrace. Mulder abandoned his work to join them, supporting his share of Alex's body. His agile fingers unlaced Alex's boots and pulled off the clean white socks. As Walter rubbed Alex's shoulders, Mulder massaged each slender foot.

"Are you sure that you want to do this?" Mulder asked, "If it's just an obligation, Alex, you shouldn't do it."

Frowning, Alex turned his wide set eyes full force on Mulder, making his lover gasp with the thrill of it. "I want to do it. Frank and Jesse have never had a real Christmas either even if it is my birthday not Christmas. I love Father Kolchev. He's the closest thing I had to a father."

Alex winced and Walter felt the shoulders tighten beneath his hands. "What about Mannerly?" He asked, wanting Mulder to know that Krycek's father had given his life for him and Scully.

A soft sigh escaped Alex's lips. He explained, "We didn't even find out we were related until he ran some tests on me. My father compared my blood type with the genetic database. I remember when he got the results...I wasn't being too cooperative. I was scared shit-less that Mannerly would decide I was a better lab animal than a thug. He walked in and just stood there looking at me. Then he reached out and touched my face. I..."

Alex blushed deep red. "I thought he was coming on to me and I said I'd make it really good for him if he would stop the tests. He started to cry and left the room. Next day, he had me sent to his apartment. You can imagine what I was thinking...but as soon as I walked in he showed me pictures. I remembered my mother and sister right away. Funny, I remembered that I had a papa but no matter how often I saw Mannerly I didn't remember him."

"Shit!" Mulder exclaimed. "How could he live with that guilt? Did he know everything?"

Nodding, Alex repeated, "Everything...Spender loved to tell my father about his exploits. What he did to me. I guess he knew who my dad was. He even sent me to him before we knew. Fortunately, he didn't have a taste for captive flesh. You can say that about him."

Silence told Walter what both men must have been thinking. Mulder knew better than to ask Alex for details about his father and Alex never offered any. Alex leaned back to look up at him. "My mother was a good woman." There was wonder in his lover's voice as if he doubted how he could have had a parent who was untainted. "She really didn't know. Mannerly found her on a visit to the Russian Consortium. She was a lot younger than he was. He said she was so beautiful that conversations would stop when she walked into the room. Can you imagine that?"

Eyes twinkling, Walter looked at Mulder. He very well could imagine. How could Alex be fought over, sold for a fortune, and never realize how profoundly lovely he was? He saw the things that happened to him, the men and women who obsessed over him as being attracted to something impure in his nature. He still saw himself as the bad seed. Mulder smiled wryly back and said, "You know, Alex, I bet I could describe her without ever seeing her. She had green eyes, beautiful green eyes, and hair thick and shining, like a mink with a multitude of brown shades, she was tall and had delicate features."

Nodding, Alex said, "Exactly, Mulder, I guess those alien powers really didn't go away."

Neither of them laughed, but it took a lot of will power. In Mulder's case, the need to assuage endless curiosity outweighed his amusement.

Alex said, "I don't remember much. My sister and I were close even though she was eleven when I was five. One day she wasn't there. I heard my mamma screaming and screaming at my father. I remember he said that he didn't know and would get her back. I guess my mother didn't believe him. As soon as he left, she packed up a few clothes and some of my toys. We got in one of the cars and drove for a long time. I remember crying because I wanted Kolya and my papa. Maybe it made her irritable because we crashed. I wasn't badly hurt, but she wasn't wearing her seat belt. I think she was reaching down to get something for me."

"Oh, Alex, don't blame yourself." Mulder said, leaning down to kiss him. "God, you're as fucked up as I am."

"So how did you end up with Father Kolchev?" Walter asked, stroking the soft hair meditatively.

"She died." Alex said bleakly. "But before she did she swore she didn't know who my father was. I don't even know where she found the fake ID. I can't remember what last name she used, but I was always Alex. I remember that I lived in several places, but I cried a lot and I couldn't call any of the woman, mama. I had a mama. They didn't even take me to the funeral. She was buried as a pauper under a false name. I didn't believe she was dead, although they told me. Finally, I learned to adapt, not to cry anymore. These people came to the foster home where I was living. They wanted one particular little girl, but another family was chosen for her. I was like the runt of the litter. Someone had to take me, but I was never the one you'd pick."

His own family was big, argumentative, and loving. Walter cherished them even at times when he could have run screaming from the house if he had to spend one more hour with them. Mulder had fragments of a normal childhood and his mother had loved him even if she never understood him...and after all, who did understand him?

What had Alex had?

"It was a nice family. They meant well, but I wasn't the child they meant to adopt. I was supposed to bring them together, instead ...they got divorced." Alex almost whispered this confidence as if reciting one of his dire confessions. "Neither of them wanted me. I was almost eight, too old to adopt. A couple more foster homes and I decided to do what my foster mom said, shut up. I stopped talking entirely. That's why they put me in the boy's home. I kept it up for a few days there, but it didn't work much longer."

Readjusting Alex's feet on his lap, Mulder asked, "Did they get you a good therapist?"

"Nope, I was cured by pepper," Alex replied with a grin. He wiggled his toes, asking for more massage.

"I'll bite. How did pepper cure you?" Mulder asked.

"Father Kolchev had one of those big pepper grinders. He put me right next to him and would ask me if I wanted some. The first time I nodded yes. I mean, everyone thought it was neat to have pepper that didn't come out of a can. He asked me if I wanted more, but he wouldn't look at me for an answer. We had this little war going. I wouldn't talk and he wouldn't look at me when he asked me a question. I missed dessert, a ball game, and had too much pepper for three days until I finally had it. I yelled, 'No thank you!' He grabbed me up and did a Cossack dance all over the dining hall with me on his shoulders. I think I loved him from that night, not romantically, as a father, I mean." Alex said hastily. "I was really happy there."

"How did you? How did Spender get you?" Walter asked. "You said you were a teenager when he took you."

"Yes, I was fifteen. I still don't know if he knew where I was all along or when he found me, but anyway, this nice family saw me in a book about kids who could be adopted. My social worker brought them to meet me, very excited that someone my age might be adopted. I didn't want it, but Father Kolchev kept telling me that it was the chance he had hoped for. They had the money for good schools and a college. I was bright, a good student. I already spoke French and Russian. So I went. They legally adopted me and, at first, it was fine. They didn't seem like a real family, of course, but they were interested in my grades and made sure I had all the right experiences. They had me playing on the school teams, going to the dances, and even working on the school paper. Spender used to visit. He always seemed interested, but nothing bad happened until I was seventeen. I had... uh... spent the night with a friend, a male friend who was slightly older. I figured I would be on restriction. Instead, these thugs dragged me out the door and I spent the rest of the summer with Spender."

"He raped you?" Mulder asked despite Walter's forbidding frown.

"Yes, and he handed me around to anyone that wanted me. I got away once. I didn't know better and went straight to Kolchev just as I went to you. They followed and beat Kolchev hard enough to put him in the hospital. I ran away a few more times, but they always found me even though I didn't endanger anyone I knew from then on." Alex said. "Finally, just to survive, I cooperated and was rewarded by being left alone pretty much to finish college. I took criminal justice. I was going to go to Quantico. For some reason, I couldn't think further then that. As if they would have done all that work just to let me be an ordinary agent. The recruiter's snapped me up. I was set. When I met you, I really hadn't killed anyone, Mulder. I halfway believed Spender that all my suffering was for a noble cause. We were going to protect humanity from the monsters; only who was more monstrous than us?"

Silent now, Alex closed his eyes, shutting his lovers out as he reviewed his memories. Finally he gripped Walter's hand hard and said, "But Father Kolchev always believed in me. Even when he knew I was a whore."

Walter bit back the words he wanted to say, that Alex never was one really, but it would have been a lie and Alex was done with lying. Instead, he said, "You did what you had to do just as we all did, Alex. What's important is that we survived and we're together."

Scully arrived early the next morning, lugging her baby. She had chosen not to run the blood tests. It might have been Mulder's child. Might have been one of the experiments. It was a healthy boy with healthy lungs. Everyone helped her set up a playpen, a high chair, and hauled in enough diapers and baby luggage to supply a small orphanage.

Mulder said, "Nomadic mothers made do with a cloth sling and some soft leaves to line it."

"Thank God that I'm not one of those." Scully said irritably, blowing a lock of hair out of her eyes.

William had red hair and blue eyes. He also had a temper that matched the legendary Scully temperament. Right now, he was all toothless charm. No, Mulder had allowed the infant to mouth his finger and he shouted, "Ow. He bit me."

Two sharp white nubs protruded from his mouth. Alex said, "Oh, look, he has his front teeth."

"I know." Mulder said, witheringly. Or it would have withered if Alex was paying attention. Alex was busy however. Kolchev was right behind Scully so an array of more equipment poured inside along with two adorable toddlers.

Frank and Jesse had grown. Despite a couple of failed adoptions, they appeared happy and bold. Double the emphasis on the bold.

Jesse's hair had darkened. It was the color of Mulder's now. Frank's eyes had deepened in color until they were nearly green. They still seemed disinclined to part, doing everything together. Scully bent over them enchanted. "Oh, they're so cute!" She exclaimed.

His smile as broad as a barn, Father Kolchev had already made a conquest of William. He looked like a porcelain miniature in the crook of the priest's black-clad arm. He tromped in and stomped, snow flying off his bear like body. His beard flung wet droplets and his bulbous nose was quite red. "My boys are hungry," he roared.

"There goes the kitchen." Alex remarked. "He's a great cook, but he's a total slob."

Scully had continued to examine the boys. She said, "Mulder, Jesse looks a lot like those pictures of you that your mother showed me."

Squatting, Mulder examined the unformed features. Jesse stared right back until he reached out and grabbed a handful of nose. Mulder yelled and fell back causing the toddler to yelp.

"Bad." Frank mouthed. "Bad man." He apparently thought that Mulder had deliberately hurt his brother.

"Shit." Mulder said, "It's true. And Frank looks like you, Alex."

"That's what I needed to tell you," Father Kolchev said, "That project of matching the children and stored genetic material to their originators has been going well. We entered every known abductee and everyone who ever had any known connection to the Consortium. That included everyone in this house. These two are not normal products of artificial insemination. They are constructs, another alien experiment."

"No, I tested them. They're not hybrids. They are perfectly human." Alex said.

"You're right. They're human and they are related to you, Alex. They also share one-fourth genetic heritage with Mulder and Mr. Skinner, as well as with the charming Ms. Scully. It is as if each is the child of four parents. Melvin finally rescued some of the purged documents. Apparently, that evil old man thought so highly of the four of you that he intended to breed a race of highly adaptable and survival prone soldiers. These two were experimental models, but after Spender died; no one else thought much of the idea. They felt that the children were ungovernable even at the age they are now." Father Kolchev said.

"No!" Alex cried and ran out of the room.

Father Kolchev said, "Watch the boys. I'll go and talk to him. I think I know what's wrong."

Walter knelt to offer a cookie to the green-eyed child, Frank. The toddler turned to Jesse and made to break the treat in half. Pleased, Walter said, "No, Frank, Jesse will have his own."

The child waited until he saw that his brother had his treat before taking a messy bite. He ate like a humanoid chipmunk, stuffing his cheeks apparently fearful that the food would be taken away. Walter started to pour milk into a regular glass, but Scully stopped him and said, "No, Walter, plastic."

He searched and the only thing of that nature was a pair of drive-in souvenirs from the Pretender movie that Mulder had dragged them to see. Walter grimaced. The damn thing had given Alex nightmares. If he'd known it was about a child kidnapped and coerced to grow up as a weapon, he would have refused to attend and made Alex stay home too. Anyway, he poured milk into the cups and managed to get the toddlers to sit still long enough to drink it. They would need new furniture for the boys, he supposed.

Guiltily, Walter exchanged glances with Mulder and said, "Well, I can't see myself in them, Mulder. They're both pretty as you and Alex are."

Mulder rested his chin upon his folded arms on the table and studied the kids. He said softly, "Don't get attached, Walter. Alex feels violated all over again by this. He never wanted to have kids, although he likes them. He feels that something would happen such as what was done to him."

"It's over," Walter said, and casting a strangely longing look at the children, he added, "It's not their fault either that they were born."

For a moment, Father Kolchev thought he had stepped into the distant past. The bed was so huge that even Alex's tall, sturdy body seemed dwarfed by it. He could have been the skinny kid that Father Kolchev remembered so well. He was curled in a knot, knees drawn up and his arm wrapped around them.

Sitting on the bed, Father Kolchev looked around the room. It was a hodgepodge of décor; elements of all three men showing in the collection of books, everything from the complete Sherlock Holmes, to Russian poetry, and the works of Edgar Cayce. A quilt was folded at the foot of the bed, bright, homemade, and substantial. That must be Walter Skinner's contribution. The basketball probably was Mulder's.

Alex had talked one night for a long time about watching Mulder play basketball. He had described how graceful Mulder became on the court. How Mulder forgot his past and just lost himself in the game. How he gleamed with exercise and his skin glowed with healthy sweat. Kolchev didn't need to feel any attraction to the male sex to recognize the talk of a man in love. Other than the books, it was hard to guess what might be Alex's contribution. He'd never had the chance to decide who he was. Spender called all the shots.

Reaching out, Father Kolchev stroked Alex's hair. It was a soft as he remembered, so alive and silken, springing back against his palm. Frank had hair like that. That had been his first clue.

"They never have to go through what you did, Alex," Father Kolchev said.

"I'll make sure of that," Alex said, "I thought I could hide myself here and pretend it never happened, but I'm never going to feel safe until I have hunted them all down. Seeing those kids, I remember that. I have to make sure that I've found every project and rescued every victim who is still alive."

"Oh, Alex, perhaps that's not your job now. You've suffered so much,' Father Kolchev said.

The priest's huge bear-like arms opened and invited Alex inside. After a moment, his protégé took the invitation and allowed himself to be hugged. "Father, I thought I could just stay here and say it was over, but how can I? My sins..."

"You can start by forgiving yourself. You fought the good fight, Alex. It's time to rest. For me too, I am retiring from the home. I've found a bright young Irish priest to replace me. Would you mind if I looked for a place near by? I would like to spend my declining years near the favorite of all my children," Kolchev said.

"You don't have to look," Alex declared. "There's the cottage in back. It used to belong to the orchard manager, but Dana's family had it remodeled into a nice little house. It would be perfect for you."

The joy fled from Alex's eyes and he said, "God, what about the boys? Will they let you take them with you?"

"No, I am too old to adopt them. The worker for the state says that they will be separated. She says they are too wild to be placed as a pair and neither one of them will ever have a real family at this rate. With the Alien Repatriation Act, all four of you will have to sign relinquishments of your parental rights. The rule is that any genetic parent of the children created by the aliens will first be offered first refusal. That has given joy to many of the former victims who did not expect to have a child that was related to them," Kolchev said. He shook his massive head.

A crash sounded from downstairs and Father Kolchev scrambled to see what the hellions had done now. Alex followed and found it was only the kitchen. Frank had pulled down the pots and pans while Jesse had taken off all his clothing and was now dancing nude on top the breakfast nook table. Mulder, overtaken by a fit of laughter, collared the little exhibitionist and said, "My Mom said she could never keep my clothes on me. This kid is mine!"

The badly frightened Frank had found refuge in Walter's arms. He clung to the burly man, perhaps finding him similar enough to the priest to be a comfort. His chubby cheek was pressed to Walter's shirt and a grubby thumb inserted in the cupid's bow lips. Walter looked as if he was melting. He cast a begging look at Alex.

Taking a deep breath, Alex said, "I guess they are our responsibility. Unless Scully..."

The woman shook her head. She protectively held baby William tight to her breast and said, "I couldn't handle them. I'll help, but if what the Father states is true, then they are no more mine than they are yours. Alex, you're home most of the time and so is Mulder. You can raise them. Men can raise children, can't they, Father?"

Hands hit Scully's hips; she glared and said, "Alex Krycek, don't you think you should stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about these children? They don't want to be parted. They share one soul. It's obvious."

Staring at the children, naked Jesse twisting Mulder's ear in his chubby fingers and Frank starting to drowse and leaving a drool spot on Walter's shirt, Alex gave in. Why fight it? He would never stop worrying that someone like Spender would get these boys and destroy them the way he tried to ruin Alex.

Alex said, "Okay, if Walter and Mulder are willing? What would I need to do?"

"All four of you would need to sign the genetic donor statements and then Scully would need to agree to cede custody to you three. As the biological parents, you have rights to the boys. You probably should legally change their names. Right now they are Jesse Doe and Frank Doe."

"We'll give them all three names," Walter said, rocking his now slumbering child.

"No, Krycek isn't me," Alex said. "They could be Jesse Mannerly Skinner-Mulder and Frank Mannerly Skinner-Mulder unless Scully wants her name in there?"

"Not me. I have William Scully. Oh God, I am going to have to explain this to my Mom! She already is sure that I am hiding some inappropriate affair with Mulder. When I explain that these babies combine all four of our genes, she'll be picturing an orgy!" Scully complained.

"Gee, Scully, you wild thing!' Mulder teased.

"Shut up, Mulder," Scully snapped.

That night as Alex lay in bed between his lovers, he felt them holding him close, comforting him. "Are you sure you want to do this?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah, I guess. I'm just worried," Alex said.

"That it will change our lives?" Mulder asked. He moved closer, sighing contentedly as Alex's body molded warmly to his. Alex reached for Walter and lowered his face to rest in the crook of his lover's throat.

Slightly muffled, Alex said, "Well, it will, but Father Kolchev will be here all the time to help. No, I guess I'm worried that I'll do something bad with the kids. I mean, what do I know about a normal life. I can't understand why you two put up with me. You would be happier without me."

"Alex, waking up in the morning, the first thing I do is look to see if you are really there," said Mulder.

"I wake up with my hand resting on you, afraid that somehow Spender had come back from the grave to steal you," Walter said.

"Really?" Alex asked. "You don't think that I'll be a terrible parent?"

"You know, Alex, in all the time I've known you, you've done everything you have ever set your mind to do. You've done with your whole soul everything from loving us to fighting the aliens. Why would being a father be different?" Walter told him. He could feel Alex's hot breath on his neck, his hand crept between Mulder's body, and Alex's to stroke the satin flesh of his lover's ass.

Mulder grinned, nudging Walter's hand with his erection. "Let's make love,"

"What about the kids? Scully? Father Kolchev?" Alex protested.

"The guest bedrooms are all downstairs. They won't hear us," Mulder declared.

A kiss along the nape of Alex's neck caused him to shiver. Walter's large hands mapped the contours of Alex's body, the hollow tender valleys of his pelvis, the crisp curls at his groin, the steely muscles of his powerful thighs. Walter could feel Alex's heart beating. His own moved in harmony, faster, louder as Alex's lips met his.

Mulder's mouth traced Alex's spine, nipping gently, brushing his lips gently over silken flesh, and painting circles with his tongue. Walter felt Alex's moan against his lips and he moaned back as Alex's hand caressed him.

"I couldn't have planned and pleaded for a more perfect pair of lovers, my Alex, my Mulder," Walter said. His hand encased Alex in turn. He felt the toned body literally vibrating with passion, responding to them with tender, total abandon.

"Inside me," Alex moaned, "Mulder, please,"

"All in good time," Mulder teased before delving back to tongue Alex into speaking in tongues.

His lover was heat, fire and silk, an elemental creature, but he anchored himself to Walter's Earth. They lacked only the water element, because Mulder was air, winged creature of their souls.

"Slow him down. I want him to give us everything he has. I want him to be so on fire that he won't be able to worry. I want this to be as perfect as he is," Mulder said fiercely.

Obediently, Walter slowed the pace. Alex tossed his head, bared his teeth in a threatening white-toothed way. "Shh, there, just wait! This is going to be so good, Alex."

Eyes rolling back as Mulder slowly entered him, his large cock joining him to Alex. Alex moaned, brow furling, and nose crinkling when Mulder begin to rock then his throat vibrated with a sound between a groan and a purr. Walter had to kiss the long white neck and feel the sound ululating out.

"Like this, heaven can't be much better," Walter said. Alex's hand coaxed him nearer oblivion, sweet explosion of flesh and passion of heart. It was ceremony and joining beyond that of the sweating bodies that had fallen into rhythm with each other.

It didn't happen often. It was not always needed. But oh God, how wonderful when each of them hit the edge and over together. Together...most beautiful word in the world.

Ragged breaths. Bodies laid open to the aftershocks of passions. Three souls in harmony...lovers. Forever lovers beyond parting.

Alex liked to get up early, make the coffee, gaze out at the apple orchard and dream. After so many years of running, sitting at his own table and gazing at land he owned with the most beautiful men on earth was a wonder.

The kitchen....the kitchen looked as if some giant had poured pancake batter everywhere. It smelled great. Peach compote. Apple honey wheat pancakes. Ham sizzling in the pan.

Two small children finger- painted batter on the fridge. All the magnets formed a train on the lower half. One drooping diaper sagged on Jesse's bottom as he tried to reach higher than his brother; Frank turned and, recognizing his old friend, who had taken him from the awful box, grinned.

"Papa?" Frank's voice questioned.

It was a gift. Perhaps all men were papas to this confused child, but Alex took it as an omen. He gathered sticky and stinky child to his arms and said, "Yes, I'm your Papa!"

Jesse abandoned by his brother had climbed up on the counter. As Alex rose to greet Father Kolchev, Jesse managed to reach his goal, the three-layer chocolate-decadence cake on the counter. His hand captured a handful of frosting before the entire cake fell. Chocolate, candles, and frosting rained down on Alex, who sat back on his heels.

"Oops," said Jesse.

Naturally, his lovers walked into the kitchen and found Alex sitting, covered with cake, and both toddlers straddling his helplessly laughing body.

"Oops, indeed," Mulder said evilly. "I know what I'm going to have for breakfast."

Walter picked up Frank and handed the hellion to Mulder, cake, wet diaper, and all. He captured Jesse before the even more mischievous child could escape and gave him to father number three as well.

Reaching down, Walter grabbed his lover and brought him to his feet, sweeping him into his arms and kissing the chocolate smeared lips. "Happy birthday, Alex. Merry Christmas, and, lover, many, many more."

Mulder unhanded the toddlers to Kolchev who grinned at the totally unhinged household. He captured Alex from Walter and kissed him as fiercely as Walter had. "Mazltov, Alex, mazltov, who would ever think we would be here, alive, happy..."

Scully had arrived at the scene of happy disaster with William. She took in the scene with hardly an askance look...after all where Mulder and Krycek went, chaos followed.

Mulder continued after swiping a tiny taste of chocolate from the corner of Alex's eye, "in the middle of friends and family. I think, Alex, we have arrived at the time of our lives."

The self-doubt hit again. Why had Alex survived when so many had died? His father, his mother, his sister, Mulder's entire family and so many others?

Father Kolchev knew him well. He said, "Alex, there's only one answer to those who survive death and look around them, wondering why them?"

"What is it?" Alex asked.

"Live, love, be happy," Kolchev said.

Standing in the ocean of his lovers, the man most like a father to him, next to Scully, who was slowly becoming the sister he had always missed, Alex agreed. He would live and maybe, just maybe, it was all right to be happy.

The epilog to Hard Rain, promised to Lorelei and to several others who kept me going during the serious parts of the series.

The final lyric:

"But I'll know my song well before I start singin"

Alex's song is now done and he has found warm shelter from the hard rain. Happy birthday, my beautiful one.

END

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