Healing Touch
by Ursula

 

Notes: For Eileen, Very belatedly for her birthday

 

Warnings: Schmoop, slash, and dog obsessed.

Time Frame: AU, I suppose, with strong canon elements

Snow blanketed the ground, glittering like fragments of glass on this bright winter day. Belun's big paw prints paralleled Alex's in the otherwise virgin snow. I watched in amusement as Spooky snorted at the snow, snuffling into his nose, springing in the air, and landing with his butt high and his front low, tail, a golden flag held high. It was hard to believe that this was the same puppy that had nearly died of parvo. My mother had always told everyone how sickly I had been. She made it sound as if my childhood had been martyrdom for her. I had always felt guilty. Maybe nursing a puppy through parvovirus wasn't the same, but I hadn't bitched about it. I had camped out on Karen's floor, telling the tiny puppy what it was going to miss if he checked out so soon.

I squatted as Spooky ran back to me. "Yeah, snow, pretty wonderful stuff, isn't it?"

Spooky danced and wriggled with delight. He was a pretty dog, although Gina had pointed out all the flaws that told her that the dog's parents weren't breeding quality. Spooky's temperament wasn't a fault. He loved everyone with the warm honey sweetness that a Golden Retriever was expected to have. His good nature had Scully suggesting pointedly that William cried for Spooky after he visited and it would be nice if he had a dog. I had turned that question over to Gina who was still trying to pick one that suited three disparate people. Doggett wanted a red bone hound, Reyes felt that they should go to dog shelters until a dog recognized them as people to whom it had a karmic connection, and Scully didn't understand why I wouldn't give them Spooky...after all my lovers and myself had three other dogs.

Spooky was mine. I had been the one to walk into the rusted wire enclosure with the mound of still puppies. I thought I had seen one of them move. Sure enough the largest puppy had survived. He didn't look all that sick until the next morning. Karen had called and said that several of the puppies rescued from the mill had parvo. Out of the ten puppies that fell sick, only Spooky lived. Karen called it a miracle. I knew that if I had left him alone one night that he would have gone. Pain and illness are hard to bear alone. I knew all about that.

Speaking of pain, Walter and I welcomed Alex home last night. Our lover had gone to South America to investigate a remote village that harbored a still functioning Consortium lab. It turned out to be a breeding project for hybrid children. Again, I knew how lucky it had been that I survived what I was. Most of the children in that project would have been better off dead. Alex had resettled them in one of his orphanages.

For every family that welcomed a lost child or a child conceived of stolen genetic material from one of them, there was another family that wanted nothing to do with these children of tragedy.

When I saw Alex's expression when he walked in the door, I wished he had waited for Walter or I to go with him. He had left when we had been visiting Scully. Walter invited himself along when I said I was going to see William. He goes weak at the knees for my son. I never knew he liked children that much. Who would have guessed? Alex had been invited, but he said he would rather stay home with the dogs. He was doing better with Scully these days, but I knew there would always be an edge to their relations.

A hasty call had been all the warning we had that Alex was going. He left the dogs at Gina's. I had Spooky with me, of course, but Walter left Pluto and Mars to take care of Alex and of course, Belun and Alex were inseparable. That mutt adored my lover.

What could we say? Alex had his work. Usually, he allowed us to help, but this time, he told us that the children would be exterminated if he didn't move instantly. Word had just reached the laboratory that the rest of the project was gone. Luckily, one of the attendants had a heart. He had gone to the consulate and asked for help. The diplomat in charge had been Marita Covarrubias. She contacted Alex and they had gone in to investigate together.

I wish Alex had told her 'no'.

Last night, when we reached for him to make love, his eyes remained dark. He was compliant...just what you want your lover to be...right?

I saw Walter's reaction. It wasn't pretty. I guess Sharon used sex as a bludgeon in their relationship. He gets pissy if he feels rejected. Of course, Alex wasn't rejecting him. He was offering himself like a pretty toy. He's pretty irresistible like that. God knows I had taken him up on that myself back when.

Walter knew that Alex didn't want to have sex. He was going along with it as if he thought it was an obligation. I met Walter's eyes and told him to keep cool as best as I could without the words. He calmed himself or stuffed it all inside him. Alex didn't even want comfort. He lay in our bed as alone as he had been in the silo; his one arm was wrapped around himself even as I yearned to give him the comfort of my two. My brief touch made him stiffen so I realized that this was not something he could be loved out of it.

When I woke, Alex was already out of bed. Pluto had taken advantage of his absence to take his place, his entire body plastered to Walter's side. I had to pause to enjoy the picture Walter made. I like him in glasses. Those wire rims suit him perfectly, but I love him like this, face smooth in sleep, his mouth slightly slack and the lines of worry relaxed. I wanted to kiss him, but I knew he had not been sleeping well. I left him undisturbed wondering if the slight smile that crossed his lips was the result of the caress of my gaze.

I was relieved to find Belun wasn't in the house. Alex would never do something stupid with his dog accompanying him. Spooky demanded my attention so I grabbed a coat and my boots to go out. So here we were.

It was cold enough that the snow had formed a thin crust that crunched beneath my feet. Birds scattered from beneath the walnut tree in the yard. I saw that a squirrel had raided the bird feeder again. Walter spent hours trying to devise a truly squirrel proof feeder. He was never successful, but I think selective breeding was already producing Mensa squirrels around our place. Perhaps the future of our planet was evolving in our trees. Sapient squirrels...

Personally, I like the squirrels. Walter grumbled that they were nothing more than rats with a cute tails, but I was fond of rats with pretty tails.

It looked as if Alex had headed for the woods. That delighted Spooky as we set out to follow. I keyed in the alarm code to open the gate. Of course, Alex had set it even if he thought that he would be right back. He had oiled the latch too. He and Walter had that in common. If I wanted to go for a walk in the woods, I'd just go. The last thing that would come to mind was W2-40 for a sticking latch. My lovers, though, seemed to approach every task with a step-by-step, efficiency tested plan in mind. Of course, that paid off in bed. I didn't say either of them lacked imagination, especially not Alex.

Very little of the snow had penetrated the mixture of evergreen and broad leaf trees. I could see steam rising from the mounds of decaying leaves. An alarm sounded from one of the blue jays that lived in the woods. I frowned at it as it followed me from tree to tree. Walter said they reminded him of me, always obsessive in their investigations of new phenomena.

I wasn't surprised when Alex's tracks led out of the woods to the pond. That was one of his favorite places. Walter had built the sturdy log furniture that stood a distance from the bank. Alex sat on bench, Belun standing at sentinel at his side until he turned to bark a short greeting.

 

Spooky acted as if he hadn't seen his favorite canine companion in days. He barked, leaped, and ran circles, stopping in butt wagging play bow at the apex of each circuit. Belun was young and goofy enough to quickly join the play. Dog footprints indented all the formerly unmarked snow.

A glint of light came into Alex's eyes as he watched the dogs play. He turned toward me, eyebrows pulling together in a frown. He always looked so childish when he scowled like that. I sometimes forgot how ruthless Alex could be when I saw him without his defensive posturing.

"I'm fine," Alex said, unwittingly echoing Scully's favorite deflection of my concern for her.

"Alex, don't lie to me," I said. "You may not want to talk about it, but I know that was a rough mission."

"I thought it was over," Alex said with a shudder. "But there it was, Consortium creeps going on with their business as if Spender might walk in the door to inspect at any minute. Those kids...there was a time when I would have just put them out of their misery and I'm not sure if that wouldn't have been the kinder thing."

A flash of anger stirred at his words, but this was the kinder, gentler me to quote an ex-president. I pushed the spark away and took a deep breath. Alex and I had talked a lot when we were on the run together. Yeah, at first, it was a flip of a coin, which of us would get pissed first. In the beginning, the word "lovemaking" wouldn't have remotely described what we did together. It was sublimated combat, biting, scratching, and holding each other down in a strange cross between fucking and wrestling. Alex thinks that the turning point was when I found out he was sick. He was wrong.

I think I was looking for a way to turn the safety valve of violent sex into something different long before I walked in on Alex shooting painkillers into his leg. It was hard to make the leap, to admit that our resented collaboration had become a partnership as rich in its way as my long, soul-deep friendship with Scully. When I found out he was sick, it made me face my feelings. Even when I left him in the care of a nurse so I could find an alien healer to save his life, I couldn't tell him that I loved him, not yet. No wonder he crawled off to die. I suppose he thought I had run away because I couldn't handle watching him, much less take care of him. He should have known better. I was never able to let go of the people I loved. Look at my lifelong quest to get my sister back. Look at how far I would go to save Scully.

Anyway, Alex and I finally ripped open the wounds of the past. I remember the rough broken edges of his voice as he talked about his one-man battle against his former employers. He told me that he had saved some of the survivors he found but, all too often, they weren't in shape to get out. He had given them deliverance in the only way possible. God, we fought that one out!

Alex kept asking me what I would have done. I never answered. I couldn't. I was just glad that I hadn't been put to the test.

"Did you make arrangements to have them moved to the hospital here?" I asked.

"Yeah," Alex said. "Jeff will be meeting the plane next week. Some of the kids have to be stabilized first."

"Bad?" I asked.

"Terrible," Alex said. "I don't know what the institute will do for them except try to make them comfortable."

"There but for the grace of God," I remarked. I wondered why what had failed in every other case had worked in me? There were days I looked in the mirror, trying to see the alien genetic material that comprised me as much as the human chromosomes.

After all this time, I have to admit the man I knew as my father may have found death a blessing. I wasn't like him. Bill Mulder had been as ruthless as Spender had been in his day. Later he regretted. If anyone was like Bill, it was Alex. Alex understood my legal father. He too had bought the lie. He had done terrible things in the quest to save some proportion of humanity from what was seen as an implacable foe. Eventually, Bill Mulder had to face the fact that he had been a soldier for a cause that was inherently wrong. His regret killed him. I wished just once I could have asked Bill what he thought of me. Did he hate me because I was a daily reminder of what he had betrayed for his cause? Did he fear me as he tried to pretend that I was his son? Did he look each day for me to suddenly reveal the loathsome secret of my heritage?

If there is an afterlife, I suppose I will finally have that last confrontation with my father, but I'd rather spend eternity with my lovers in a paradise that looked like this remote farm in Virginia.

Alex's hand closed on my arm firmly. I smiled at him and said, "I'm fine too, Alex. I'm here if you want to talk about it."

Alex's eyes drifted off across the pond. The great blue heron that nests on the pond appeared to have slept in. He stood on one leg, his feathers puffed and appearing somewhat disreputable. Ornithologists love our pond. They are always asking for permission to observe the fowl that made home on our land. This great blue was a star attraction. He was beautiful when he flew, but out on the water he looked ungainly. Patches of thin ice were melting as the sun grabbed for a foothold on this beautiful winter day.

"I know, Mulder," Alex said. "It's not that I don't trust you. I can't talk about it right now. Let it go."

There was no use probing. I told myself that Alex was always moody on those rare occasions when he had to go into the field. Give him a few days and he'd adjust. That's what I told myself anyway.

OooOooO

I woke screaming. For some people waking up with hot, hairy beasts swarming over you would have been the nightmare. For me, it meant comfort. Belun's panting breath blew in my face, an underlying whine demonstrating his concern. Pluto and Mars were howling and Spooky jumped from the floor to the bed and back, whimpering.

I grabbed Belun and hugged him tightly. Once I stopped wailing, the two bloodhounds trailed off their melodic sympathetic chorus. The two big dogs also piled on the bed.

It hadn't been the silo this time or the forest in Tunguska. My dream was of that sterile complex in Brazil. Only this time, I walked from bed to bed, shooting a bullet into each child. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I remembered gasping as the apparently endless bullets streamed from my Glock.

It hadn't happened. I went into that place with the help of Marita Covarrubias and one of my trained teams of investigators. Marita had maneuvered to give us carte blanche on our operation. Brazil didn't want a thing to do with closing down the operation. Rather than sweep it under the carpet, they were willing to have us clean it up.

I hadn't talked to Marita more than a handful of times since we won the war. She had resumed her diplomatic life and had been promoted to a top spot. She looked good, silk and linen suit, hair style that was model perfect, any trace of the sick waif she had become after her experience with the black oil totally vanished.

Marita said I looked good too. We were stiff and formal with each other, neither one of us comfortable with the memory of our disastrous sexual encounter. When we accomplished what we set out to do however, Marita lost her cool. When she saw the kids, her face blanched. She ended up throwing up in a wastebasket.

There were fifteen of them left. The autopsy bay held three bodies and the laboratory held the usual preserved specimens of stillborn or aborted fetuses. The survivors ranged from three children who looked healthy and normal to five children with huge heads, spindly limbs, gray skin, and no hair. In between those extremes, there were several children who had features that looked melted. One child had limbs fused to his body. Another seemed to be a shape-changer although he had no control of it. He was constantly and painfully shifting shape.

There was a little girl with red curls who looked a lot like Scully. I hope to hell it wasn't true but the blood test would tell if this was another one of Scully's stolen ova. She looked normal, a pretty little girl with freckles, but she cried when any of the other children were hurt. One of the older kids said that the little girl could heal you sometimes. I think they had been trying to develop specific types of alien and human crosses in that place. That little girl was one of the successes. Whatever she could do, I knew it wasn't worth doing what had been done to the other children.

No one had been taking much care of the kids. My task force had to clean up the ones that were too sick to get out of bed. I tackled some of the children with the worst deformities. I had a strong stomach and I couldn't turn away from their pain. I had been an errand boy for the people that ordered this. I had a debt to pay. I have my honor. I pay my debts.

Marita arranged for a private nursing home to take the kids until she could clear them to be flown to the United States.

Mulder's brother, Jeff Spender, runs my orphanage. Some of the children who aren't ready to be adopted or who need around the clock care live there. Jeff had found his peace in taking care of the children that his father, Mulder's father, and the other old men had created for their distorted dreams of power. His ruined features don't frighten the kids. They've seen worse and they look beyond his scarred features to see his gentle eyes.

It pleases me that Mulder has come to love his brother. There was a lot that Jeff never understood until the day his so called father put a bullet in his head. Even before that, Jeff showed that he was more of a man than his father could ever have hoped to be.

After I found him in one of his father's experimental laboratories and got him out, Jeff just sat in one of my hideouts and wished he were dead until I gave him a verbal tongue-lashing. I invited him to fight his father and the project. He stood up then and he hasn't faltered since.

Jeff completed a degree in psychology in between jobs for me. When it was over, I hired him to work with the children of the project. He put his heart into that work and he had a good one. When I hired Jeff, Mulder was bitchy about it. He might work with Jeff when we were still fighting for our lives and, oh yeah, for the fate of humanity, but recognizing Jeff as a decent human being that deserved a fresh start, was something that came hard.

I shrugged and said that Mulder didn't have to like my decisions but I wasn't changing this one.

I wasn't around the day that Mulder realized that he still had a sibling even if he never was going to have Samantha back. I don't know if it was a dramatic thing or if it was just a slow process of gaining trust on both sides. Anyway, one day Jeff showed up for dinner and after that, he and Mulder seemed to be spending a fair amount of time together. It was a good thing.

Mulder was off bonding with Jeff today. Walter was renewing his disaster training. I could have gone with him. I'd have to take it in a few weeks anyway, but I wanted the house to myself. I wanted to be free of pretense. I was trying not to dump my shit on my lovers. For a guy who survived for a long time without any help, I had been racking up my share of it from my lovers. I know they said they loved to take care of me, but it was hard seeing myself as needing them as much as I did. When I came back from Brazil, I wanted to hide what I felt, but I couldn't without shutting down. When I walled them out, they knew something was wrong.

I didn't mean to piss Walter off or hurt his feelings. I thought letting him make love to me even when I didn't feel like it was being a good lover. Instead he sensed I wasn't turned on and he hated that I let him start. It's fucking complicated being in love.

The dogs wanted out. I got out of bed. I had on Walter's thermal undershirt and Mulder's sweatpants. I pretended I had forgotten to do my wash and had nothing warm to wear but, really, I just wanted to feel this clothing shaped to their bodies around me. It was cold enough that I stopped to put on boots before I went any further.

The dogs charged out into the yard, Pluto at the head of the pack. After letting the raccoons and the birds know who was boss, the dogs settled down to relieving themselves and then to playing. I shoved some more clothing on so I could go outside and do the inevitable cleanup.

I put the dogs in a down. Spooky got it this time although the puppy was quivering with the need to 'help' as I shoveled up the shit. As soon as I finished, I called all the dogs, gave them treats from the plastic bag in my jacket and decided to walk down to the pond. I turned on the security for the house and set out for the woods.

This place was peaceful, beautiful. When Walter found the ad, I couldn't believe there wasn't some hidden flaw. It was perfect for our needs. Well, maybe the house was bigger than we needed, but that way we could live together and still have space. The barn had been falling down. It was beyond salvation, but the timber was great. People pay good money for weathered wood like that. They call it architectural antiques. We used part of it to refurbish a den for Walter and sold the rest for a pretty price.

We had replaced the barn with a three-car garage that included a big shop. On Gina's recommendation, we had built a dog grooming station into one corner of the shop. After I brought Belun into the family and Mulder adopted Spooky, the wisdom of this was more apparent than ever. Pluto and Mars might need minimal grooming, but dogs with long hair needed a bench for comfortable grooming and a walk-in bathtub to preserve Walter's back.

There was a pasture near the house. So far we haven't used it, although Walter and Mulder go look at horses every so often. The dogs like to run in it and so does Mulder. We've made love there more than once.

An alarmed fence surrounds a good chunk of the property. The outer area is fenced too and the gates have cameras monitoring them. Walter and I inspect the fence almost every day to make sure the perimeter is secure. Mulder laughs at us. He says we have a lot of nerve calling him paranoid.

My favorite walk is to wind through the woods to the pond. The dogs love the route, noses joyfully snuffling up smells.

I let the peace sink into my skin. Mist lazily curled off the pond. The cry of a bird shivers across the stillness. The dogs are silent, lined up next to me, eight pairs of ears lifted to concentrate on the sound. I felt like a junkie, getting my fix of the calming effects of this place.

When I walked back to the house, Gina's van was in the driveway. She had the code for our security system in case something prevented us from caring for our dogs. Shit, I knew without any other clue that my lovers hadn't been fooled by my apparent turnaround.

Gina could have waited in the house, but she had stayed in her van. She didn't have a dog with her so I knew this was serious.

I said, "Well, well, well, should I be surprised?"

Ignoring me, Gina greeted the mass of wriggling dogs. Her knowing hands reduced them to ecstatic pools of fur. Finally, when they had calmed to the point of only occasional bouts of tumultuous joy, we went into the house.

Gina liked the kitchen. The floor was a warm golden Italian marble. It must have cost a mint even when it was installed. I don't think that even the richest would use it now in a heavy wear area like the kitchen. Gina sat in the breakfast nook, dogs piled at her feet as I made coffee. There were jam tarts in the pantry. I pulled some out and piled them on a plate to set between us. The slow thud of tails marked the silence.

Half of Gina's coffee was gone before she said a word. Picking apart a second jam tart, Gina said, "I've been thinking about Belun."

Hmm? That wasn't what I expected. I covered my startled expression with a drink of coffee. Gina smirked at me.

"I hear that Belun chewed up Mulder's running shoes last week," Gina remarked.

"Well, yeah, but it was a mercy killing," I said. "Those shoes were rank and Mulder just had to leave them lying around our living room."

"I think he's bored," Gina said, "Like a lot of bright, active dogs, he has to have a challenge. So I have an idea. Belun really loves kids."

"I'm not giving him to a family with kids," I said, "They had their chance to adopt him."

"Duh," Gina snapped back.

"I've been going to the training exercises and we've been out on a search in the last month," I said.

"But Belun needs more than that," Gina said. "I was thinking of what a fine therapy dog he would be."

Of course, I knew what she was talking about now. There are several dogs certified as both search and rescue dogs and therapy dogs in our local SAR unit. Therapy dogs usually visit nursing homes, hospitals, and children's centers. They are dogs with good sound temperaments and excellent training that provided welcome stimulation and comfort to the sick, the old, and others in deep emotional distress. I knew Belun could do that. Could I? Did I want to do it?

"Belun is a very intelligent dog. His story is inspiring and the more people who are aware of the potential in shelter dogs, the better," Gina said.

It's a good thing that Spender never got his paws on Gina. Talk about a ruthless manipulator.

"Just try it," Gina said.

I shrugged. It wouldn't hurt to give it a try. I'm sure Belun would enjoy it and it would be something that Walter hadn't done with Pluto and Mars. I loved Walter, but I like to get the competitive edge on him sometimes. I guess it's a guy thing.

"So what do I do?" I asked.

Gina thumped down a brochure. I reached for it and saw the test requirements. Belun already met most of the requirements. The rest was just a matter of some paperwork and taking the therapy dog international test. I knew Belun could ace it.

OooOooO

The therapy dog paperwork was the last thing on my mind for the next week. The children from the Brazilian lab had arrived. For now, they were in the admissions ward. After we sorted them out, they would either be placed in foster homes I had screened myself or would live in one of the cottages. All of them would have to be tested and gene mapped. I didn't look forward to telling Dana if the red-haired girl turned out to be from her ovum.

Jeff said, "These kids don't even have names. God, even lab chimps usually have a name. Marita just picked most of the names at random."

As we walked into the ward, I saw the kid's eyes narrow with fear. The girl with red hair walked up to Jeff and took his hand. Her face was anxious, but she seemed to remember me.

"Hi, Missy, do you remember Alex?" Jeff asked.

"Missy?" I asked, feeling the sting of fear.

"For Melissa," the girl said. "I like my name. I picked it myself out of a book."

For a moment, I thought Marita had given the girl her name out of some cruel vagary.

"In the book, the girl named Missy had a nice Mom and a baby brother. She even had a dog. It wasn't a mean dog like they had at the home," Missy said. "It was a nice dog and she entered it in a dog show. It won by dancing in a circle. I'd like to see that."

Missy said, "Jeff says that you have dogs."

"I do," I said, "My dog's name is Belun. I adopted him from a dog shelter."

"Jeff said that you save dogs. You must be the best man in the whole world," Melissa said. "For saving all the dogs, and saving us. Jeff says you even saved him."

Ah, the tears stung unshed. I wanted so badly to be the person I saw reflected in that little girl's eyes. I said, "The dogs saved me really."

Missy pulled on my arm until I followed her to a pair of chairs set well away from the rest of the ward. It was a place for an adult to sit and hold a child in the throes of nightmare. I remembered when Jeff suggested this little alcove. I saw how well he knew of what he spoke. I thought it was bad to be Spender's flunky. Infinitely worse to be the evil old man's son...

Missy had blue eyes, clear ice blue... If she held the scales of justice in her hands, I couldn't have felt more like my soul was being weighed.

Missy said, "Do I have a mother?"

"Everyone has a mother," I said.

Shoving a book at me, Missy said, "A mother like this."

I sighed. Couldn't they have given her something more realistic? Perhaps some Roald Dahl. He didn't serve children up homilies on how warm and loving parents were. Who read "The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew"? My mother did, of course, but my mother never had any survival skills. As much as I loved her when I was small, my mother was a sentimental fool. I'd have to talk to Jeff about what he put in the library here.

"It's just a book," I said. "Real mothers aren't like that."

"When I was at that other place, I used to pretend that my mother was looking for me. I dreamed that she had red hair just like me and she was very fierce and strong to the bad men there, but very good to me. She would come and take me to live with her and find homes for all the other children," Missy said.

There was a lump growing in my throat. I'd never seen either of my parents as strong enough to fight Spender or the rest, but before things went irrevocably bad with my lovers, I used to dream about them rescuing me. Even in the silo, I had heard Mulder's voice shouting and cried out to him. Stumbling through the agony after my arm was amputated, I had whimpered to Walter and Mulder as if they could fix the horror of what happened to me.

I wouldn't let myself go into one of those black moods here. Shit, these kids had it worse than I ever did. My family wasn't perfect, but at least I had one. You can say a lot about me, but I'm not a whiner most of the time. Not unless my lovers decided to tease me until I had no choice but to beg them to let me come.

"You'll have a Mom," I promised.

"My real Mom?" Missy asked.

"Maybe, but even if she isn't your mother by blood, she'll love you," I told Missy. I didn't doubt that. Hell, I barely knew this little girl with red curls and I was falling for her. If this was what Scully was like at the same age, no wonder she was her father's favorite. Yeah, this kid was Scully's. I knew it in my guts.

OooOooO

At home, I found myself twitching, restless. The dogs sensed my nervousness and responded in their own ways. Belun waited by me tensely, thinking that we going to work. Pluto seriously stared at me, his large body blocking off the den while Mars leaned heavily against me, trying to comfort me. I had asked to be left alone to work, but the dogs weren't open to that kind of reasoning.

Finally, I picked up the phone and called Scully. Doggett answered. I could hear the distrust in his voice. I like John. He was protective of Walter and Mulder didn't worry about Scully and William with that stubborn bulldog in residence. John will never believe that I love Walter. I think my lover shocked him when he told him about the relationship.

When Scully took the phone, she sounded anxious. We don't exactly call to exchange cookie recipes.

"What's up, Krycek?" Scully asked.

"You know that latest mission to South America?" I started.

"Yes, Mulder mentioned it. He was worried about you," Scully said.

"The subjects were clones, experimental subjects," I told her. "Some of the children are horribly deformed and others are very different."

"Do you need my help with medical research?" Scully asked, voice softening.

"No, but one of the children, one of those that appears physiologically normal appears to be descended from you," I said rapidly, wanting to get it over. Belun leaned into me; between Mars and him, my legs were going to be numb.

There was a long silence. Scully sighed raggedly after a moment. She said, "Are you sure?"

"Not totally," I admitted. "I'll have the results soon. I thought you would be pissed at me if I didn't tell you now."

"You thought right, Alex. You're learning," Scully said.

Scully actually sounded amused by my fumbling attempt to do the right thing by her. I could imagine that eyebrow quirking as she thought it through. I waited for her to tell me what to do.

"It will take me a day or two to clear my schedule," Scully told me. "William has a Christmas pageant."

I knew that. Mulder was going to fly up for it. I wish Scully would move nearer. I could live with my jealousy to avoid Mulder's frequent absences to be a good daddy.

"Maybe you and Mulder can fly back together," I said, pushing away my adolescent reluctance to allow my lover and his partner to spend more time alone than necessary.

"Yes," Scully said. There was another silence. She asked, "What is she like?"

"They transplanted genes from one of the alien healers into the human ovum," I replied. "She already is developing powers, but she's red blooded, a perfect hybrid. She's bright, very caring, and serious. I like her very much."

I mustn't have hid my nervousness well. Scully said, "Alex, I'm not going to bite your head off for finding another of...those children. You may have played your part in my abduction, which led to these hybrids being created, but I know you didn't have much choice. You're making up for it now."

Wow, that was the nicest thing that Dana Katherine Scully had ever said to me. Maybe I should let my emotions show more often.

"You're not obligated," I said. "When the children are ready to leave, I can find homes for any of them that can't be matched to biological relatives or whose families can't take them."

My voice dropped. I knew the child with the fused limbs was unlikely to be claimed. Jeff was making noises about adopting him. Neither would the five children who looked all too alien or the poor child who was caught in a constantly changing body.

"Is something wrong with this little girl that you're not saying?" Scully asked.

I had almost forgotten she was on the line. I said, "No, she's fine. It's the other kids. Several are in bad shape."

"Alex," Scully said. She paused as if she was fighting an inner censor. Finally, her voice gently admonished, "Don't let this all build up inside you. Don't wall your lovers out. Mulder and Walter deserve better."

So now I'm Alex and Scully is giving me relationship advice? It's a pretty strange world.

I said, "Thanks, Scully."

"You know, Mulder is the only one who calls me that anymore," Scully said. The snap was back in her voice, reassuring me that aliens hadn't replaced the real thing.

"You want me to call you, Dana?" I asked.

"I suppose," Scully said. "Look, get some pictures of this girl and send them. I want to see her. What's her name?"

Oh shit.

"I didn't pick her name and neither did Marita or Jeff," I said. "She got it from a book."

"That's informative," Scully said. "What is it?"

"Missy," I said. I winced. "Look, Scully, she picked it from a book. Maybe, I can get her to change it."

This time the silence went on so long that I thought I missed the click of Scully hanging up.

When Scully finally spoke, the quaver in her voice killed me. She said, "No, if she chose it herself, there must be a reason."

"Okay," I said, unwilling to dwell on this subject.

"William is crying, Alex. I'd better go see what he's into now," Scully said. "Thanks for warning me. I'll see the girl, see Missy when I get to you. I'll talk to you later."

"Sure," I said, "Don't worry about the girl. We're taking good care of her. Bye."

Doggett, Reyes, and Scully were all staying over for Christmas. I had a feeling that big house was going to seem a lot smaller over the visit. I tried to be glad for Mulder. It was his first chance to have a good Christmas with his son. However, if I didn't know that I'd ruin Walter and Mulder's Christmas, I'd find some important business far from home. Being in a relationship is complex. I remember when I thought having them love me would solve all my problems. Of course, that was when I thought it would never happen. Now I had what I wanted. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't give it up for anything, but I found out that love doesn't make it all go smoothly. The fact is my life used to be a lot simpler when it was a daily fight to stay alive.

OooOooO

There wasn't much to the test that Belun couldn't ace. He loved everyone and he was immune to loud noises and odd appearing people. His uneven ears would prick up with curiosity, but his tail never stopped wagging. Sometimes I think the weirder things get, the more Belun liked it. Must be Mulder's influence.

Even when the tester hobbled over clanging a metal walker and talking loudly to herself, Belun never even took a step back. As soon as she touched him, he wiggled happily. When she pulled on his fur, Belun looked at me as if to ask what to do, but didn't growl. My oddball mutt made the two golden retrievers taking the test look like sociopaths.

I was surprised to see Ellen waiting her turn. She had a dog I recognized as the Australian Shepherd I had rescued from the puppy mill. He looked different, his mass of fur brushed until his white chest gleamed and the colors sharply contrasting in his merle coat. Ellen grinned and said, "Yeah, MissPriss and her puppies...the ones that made it were placed. I decided to keep Hurricane. His first placement didn't work out and I thought he had been through enough."

"He looks great," I said. The dog wagged his butt happily when he saw me. I swear he remembered me from the mill. I shook his hand and rubbed behind his ears as Belun made goo goo eyes at Ellen.

"So that's the famous Belun?" Ellen asked. "How did he do on the test?"

"Aced it," I said, "I'm going to be visiting the children's home that my organization runs, with him."

"Oh, put us on the list too," Ellen said, "Hurricane and I have time on our hands."

"Sure," I agreed. The kids could use all the people in their corner that they could get.

"Gina told about you and your lovers. What wonderful work you do! And to think you took the time to help me and the dogs!" Ellen gushed.

There was nothing to say to that. I knew why I had done it, but why let all that ugliness into this innocent's life? Sometimes, Mulder, the truth isn't so important.

"Knock 'em dead, Hurricane," I said to the Australian Shepherd. He grinned at me as if he knew he could. I was in his corner. I'd been in hell, too, before I had this taste of heaven that I live.

OooOooO

Belun greeted Jeff like a long lost brother. Jeff leaned down and avoided a kiss, no doubt worried about his facial prosthetics. I remember when we briefly worked together for Daddy Undearest that he was always nervous and solicitous about my arm even after he saw me perform my Picador trick on the alien he had been sent to kill. Who was to know that Jeff would end with his own plastic Ken doll parts?

Every time I looked at Jeff, I bit back my rage at his father. His only legitimate son, child of a woman that he claimed to love, and he did this to him. It took Walter's most reasonable yet forceful insistence to get me to finally confirm that I was no relation to Spender. I had wondered about that in the past, although it didn't keep me from fucking Mulder. It wasn't as if we were going to make little inbred horrors like his Peacock family.

Missy came running to greet me with a shriek of delight, flinging her arms around Belun. He dropped all interest in Jeff, whining in delight as the little girl embraced him. He looked as if he was auditioning for a modern version of Lassie Come Home. You would have thought that Missy was his owner not me.

I followed along. You're supposed to stay close to your therapy dog and Gina is tougher than Walter Skinner ever was about following the rules. Somehow or other, Missy and Belun ended up with Tommy, the child with the fused limbs. I frowned over Tommy's wiggling attempts to prop himself on the pillows. Picking up the child's charts, I paged through it. I saw that the orthopedic surgeon that I asked to see Tommy thought there was a bare chance that there was enough bone structure to construct legs and arms that were at least partially functional, but the process meant painful surgery after painful surgery. My stump ached in sympathy. Still, I would have put up with surgery without anesthesia to get my arm back. I thought Tommy would make the same choice.

Tommy rubbed his face against Belun. Jeff said, "I've been reading up about service dogs. We might want to train one for Tommy. It could be his hands until we build some for him. "

That was a good idea. I patted Jeffrey's back and said, "That's a great idea. You think he's up to a trip to the shelter to pick out a dog?"

People think of German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Labradors when they think about service dogs. In reality, service dogs came in all shapes. Scrappy little terrier mixes made great hearing assistance dogs. Big mutts like my Belun could steady an owner with cerebral palsy or warn someone with epilepsy about a seizure. Yeah, I know, too much information.

Mulder laughs at me. He says that I'm more obsessed than he is. I guess so. When I used to work for Spender and the rest of those old vultures, any job I was assigned meant total immersion. Nothing less than perfection was expected. That's why I knew Spender would kill me when Mulder found out about me. It was just a matter of time. Failure was a fatal disease.

So when the dogs became part of my life, I found out everything I could about working with them. I learned a lot from Gina. You ask a dog person about dogs and the problem is not getting them to talk. It's getting them to stop. I remember the first time I asked her how I could learn more about the dogs. I was still sick at that time and getting bored even with all of the attention. Gina brought me a stack of books and I spent my time reading through everything from The Monks of New Skete to the History of the Bloodhound. When I had finished Gina's considerable library of non-fiction, she started me on fiction. Albert Payson Terhune, Susan Conant, Virginia Lanier, anyone who wrote about dogs. I might have objected to the kid's books except there were rocky days that made them about the level of literature that I could understand.

Later, when I was well and hadn't started my current project, I learned to put my book knowledge into action. Between working under Gina's strict tutorage and assisting with novice pet training classes, I found out that there's a lot more variation to dogs than is written in books. Slowly, I started to become human again, shedding a lot of the scaly armor I had put on my heart and soul. Working with dogs relaxed me enough to get to know people again. It's not that I couldn't handle people before, but this was different. I used to look at most people the way a shark looks at its fellow fish. All I wanted to know was whether I was big and mean enough to eat them or visa versa. Now, I had to be polite even when they were idiots. It wasn't easy.

I had a relationship with the local shelter now. They smiled when they saw me coming, knowing that I could help them make a dog easier to place or that I was coming to spring a promising dog for the latest mark...um, acquaintance I had sold on the virtue of a rescued dog. A lot of times people called Gina, thinking they wanted a bloodhound puppy. They were lucky if she approved them. A few were held worthy enough of a rescued bloodhound. Some were dismissed as low life varmints who should stick to a stuffed dog. The ones who ended up talking to me were the ones who could do a good job with the right dog, just not a big stubborn dog like a bloodhound.

As cute as Pluto and Mars were, they weren't ideal house pets. They were big. Bloodhound males like our dogs stand about twenty-five inches tall and weigh in at around ninety pounds. Pluto was twenty- eight and a half inches tall and was a hundred and seventeen pounds. Gina culled him from her breeding program because he was oversized. She might not always agree with the AKC but she wouldn't breed a line of outsized dogs. She said that her ideal is form and function. Bloodhounds also aren't for the tidy of house. They have jowls and they drool. It wasn't unusual for Walter and I to walk around with patches of dog spit on our jeans. It never seemed to happen to Mulder. The point of all of this being that some of the people Gina rejected but thought could make good dog people were willing to look at a shelter dog.

With a certificate for a beginning pet obedience class from me, an already neutered dog, and free shots, a shelter dog was a great bargain for the lucky ones that Gina passed to me. I even went to the shelter with the people to evaluate the dogs.

This time however, I was on my own. I told them what I needed and Jane, my favorite shelter worker led me directly to a Doberman mix. The shelters were somewhat fanciful in the appellations with which they described the mixed breeds. If it had a shorthaired spotted coat, it was a Dalmatian. Longhaired and blotched; it was an Australian Shepherd. Small and shaggy was a poodle mix. This Doberman mix though looked like one. It was smooth coated, alert, probably a year old. Intelligent eyes looked at me from a lean long face. I checked the other dogs as I went, making a mental note of a border collie. One of the regulars at agility training was looking for another dog, as her Border collie mix was getting a bit old for the pace. I'd tell her to put a hold on the stray.

The Doberman looked healthy. It was easily responsive, active, and focused. It was on its third stay at the shelter. The family who had raised Zeke meant well, but they didn't want a large dog in the house. Bored and restless, Zeke invented his own entertainments, digging, barking, and becoming a consummate escape artist.

Now his owners said they weren't going to waste more money on redeeming such a terrible dog. So why did Jane think this reprobate would suit my needs? Well, a good service dog was often an active and intelligent dog. Even if the person they assisted wasn't capable of much activity, they often realized they had a job and were content to stay near and serve.

When I had tested Zeke with a brief training session, I knew Jane was right. Even as I shoved Zeke off my shoulders, I smiled. Zeke would do.

I filled out papers and paid for Zeke's release even though the shelter would have donated him. The money might help one of the other dogs. The ones I tried not to look at as I went by. You can't save them all.

OooOooO

Zeke seemed to know that he had been saved from death row. He kissed my face with enthusiasm. Even Walter couldn't have matched the forceful fervor, although Walter had a lot more technique, thank God. I put Zeke in the crate. The reason I drove this big jeep was it was easy to fit a crate or two in the back. Two crates fit in the Saturn also, but there wasn't room to leave one installed. I can get a crate in and out of a vehicle, but it wasn't easy.

My first stop was at Karen's. Her tired face lit up when she saw me. I asked, "How's it going?"

"Alex, I'd rather be in surgery all night rather than spend an hour closing out the year's books with my accountant,' Karen announced.

"I understand," I said. Karen is good at accounting, but that doesn't mean she enjoys it. I know one of the things she would be doing is turning the deadbeat clients over to collection agencies. The one time I had helped Karen with her books, I saw she had a lot of accounts where folks were paying one or two dollars per pay period on bills. She had a heart a yard wide. However, what burned her were the ones who could afford to pay and didn't. She'd go after them like a fury. They'd pay or their precious credit rating was going to take a downward turn.

Smirking, I said, "You have anyone who needs a visit from a one armed Russian rat?"

"Don't tempt me," Karen said. She crouched to have a look at Zeke before lifting him onto the table. He looked a little uncertain about this, but his stub of a tail continued to wag. My throat closed up. He was the kind of dog that would have wagged his tail for the euthanization tech. Damn, sometimes people made me sick. All the things I ever did wrong; not one of them was because I was too lazy, cheap, or self indulgent to do the right thing. I always thought I was either doing the wrong thing for the right reason or that I was doing what it took to survive.

Karen must have read my thoughts. She said, "One at time, Alex. One at a time."

Yeah. I knew.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"He looks good. Hips are good. I'll want him back to X-Ray," Karen said, as she manipulated Zeke's hindquarters.

"Yeah, he looked good to me and the vet at the shelter," I said. "One way or another, Zeke is going to work out. Gina will let me keep him at her kennel until Jeff's house is finished."

"Jeff's house?" Karen said, as she continued to examine Zeke. "I didn't know he was moving."

"Yeah, Jeff's going to adopt some of the kids," I said. "Including Tommy, the one for whom I'm training Zeke. Tommy doesn't have hands. He has no limbs at all right now, but with surgery, he's going to have somewhat usable legs and arms. Zeke will give him something to look forward to. He loves Belun."

A kid with no hands might have foiled a less affectionate dog, but Belun managed. He would get in Tommy's bed and the kid would rub his face all over Belun. I have to admit if Jeff wasn't set on adopting Tommy; I'd have been hinting to Walter and Mulder. It wasn't pity, or at least pity wasn't the only emotion involved. As soon we had adapted a wheel chair to Tommy's unique problem, nothing could keep the boy down. His shoulder movements directed the chair. A plastic stick held in his mouth allowed him to push buttons. No one figured that he would work an elevator with these two aids, but he did.

After we found Tommy cruising around outside, Jeff, the staff, and myself had to sit down and breathe a collective sigh of relief. Personally, I suspected there was Mulder in Tommy's genome. The little bugger was as curious as my lover and just as stubborn.

Karen finished her exam and gave Zeke a couple of extra shots. She grinned as she fingered one of his ears. "I think Zeke is a Vulcan Doberman mix by the size and shape of these ears."

Despite the fact that whatever idiot had bred Zeke had docked his tail as if he was purebred Doberman, Zeke's ears had not been set. He had natural ears, which meant floppy ears with a little curve to them. In Zeke's case, both ears were very long and had tried to stand on their own. The end result did somewhat resemble Vulcan ears. I rubbed Zeke's ears and said, "Live long and prosper, Zeke."

Zeke wiggled all over with the joy of hearing his name. Of course, Tommy might not like the name, Zeke. We'd have to see.

Zeke wasn't sure about riding in a crate, he mumbled about it in the 'talking tones' that Gina said you could expect from a Doberman. Zeke had the grin too. A lot of Dobermans have a human-like grin to go with the growling imitation of human speech.

Gina came out to see my new project. Her knowing hands ran over Zeke's body before she said, "You did good, Alex."

I smiled at her as Zeke wiggled ecstatically. Gina knelt to pet him, crooning, "Hey, there, Zeke, are you a smart boy? Do you want to be a good boy?"

The dog moaned in a fervent agreement. Gina smiled and said, "I bet Tommy will love this boy."

Zeke would be housed in the quarantine kennel until Gina was sure that he wasn't going to spread something nasty through her kennel. I'd be spending plenty of time with Zeke and Gina would be training him as well. As soon as I was sure that Zeke would make a good service dog, I'd be introducing him to Tommy. I couldn't wait.

OooOooO

The next day when I came back home after a long session with Zeke, Scully was sitting in the living room. Mulder was sprawled on the floor with Spooky and William, all piled in a group hug.

Scully looked at me with her clear blue eyes and said, "I want to meet Missy."

"The results aren't back yet," I said, "It's not for sure."

"Mulder and Walter said that you have good instincts. I don't think you would have called me if you didn't think that she was my daughter," Scully said.

Scully and Reyes had been sharing the same chair. I was a little surprised. I thought of it as Doggett having two wives, not really thinking that Scully and Reyes might also be involved. I stared for a long second then cranked my jaw to make sure that I looked like an idiot.

Reyes laughed at me.

At least, Doggett and Walter had gone for a walk with the bloodhounds. My traitorous Belun was hanging out with Monica. She did have a touch with animals. Not that it mattered. Belun was a slut for affection.

Scully stood up and said, "I want to see her."

I was tired and I had been looking forward to spending some quality time with my lovers. I sighed and said, "Okay."

Mulder asked, "You want me to go with you instead, Scully?"

"No," Scully said, "Stay with William. And don't feed him sunflower seeds. He's too young."

I spent a moment of time with my arm around Belun. I was a little surprised to get to my feet and find Mulder waiting to hug me. He never seemed to touch me in front of Scully. This time he not only embraced me but he kissed me and looked in my eyes with that sparkling gaze that I loved. He grazed his knuckles down my face and said, "Hurry back."

Scully wasn't even paying attention. She was throwing on her coat and getting ready to leave. I hadn't even taken the time to take mine off so I just grabbed my keys and followed her out the door.

Her feet didn't reach the floor in my big Jeep. She kicked them in time to her inner thoughts. I didn't intrude on her and she said nothing until we arrived at the orphanage. She let me take her coat for her and hang it. Jeff had been relaxing for the night. His face was down to it's unaltered self. If you knew Jeff well and could stand to look at him the way he was now, you could pick out the man he had been in what was left of his face.

I could tell Jeff was thinking about running back to his apartment to put on the appliances that gave his face the mask of humanity. I was proud of him when he stayed instead, drawing his shoulders up in defiance.

"The staff is getting the children ready for bed," Jeff said.

"I just want to see her," Scully replied.

Jeff sighed, but nodded. He led the way into the cottage where my South American children now resided. They were healthy enough now to be moved from the hospital, all except the shape-changing boy. He was still in the hospital ward and always would be unless one of my researchers could find a cure for his condition.

In order to keep my orphanage as far from an institution as possible, I hired couples to serve as house parents. This cottage adjoined Jeff's apartment, but Cindy and Rick Herman were the actual house parents. Most of the kids were watching TV with Rick in the living room, but Missy was off in the study, reading about snakes. I saw Scully's face when she saw the little girl and I knew that Missy was going to have her real Mom just she hoped.

Missy came to greet me with a smile although she looked a little disappointed. She said, "Where's Belun?"

"I thought I would leave him at home tonight," I said. "This a very good friend of Mulder's, Dana Scully."

"You have red hair like me," Missy said.

I could see the wheels spinning. I just hoped Scully didn't disappoint Missy. Not that I would let Scully say anything until she was sure, but Missy was intelligent. I could already see her comparing Scully and herself.

Scully said, "We certainly do have the same color hair. Alex has talked about you so much that I just had to meet you. He said you want to be a doctor like me."

"Yes, I do. Jeff says I have the healing touch," Missy said.

"That would be a very good thing for a doctor to have," Scully agreed. She glanced at me and said, "Don't look so worried, Alex. I know what to say and what not to say. Go visit with Jeff."

The stubborn set of her jaw persuaded me that Scully wasn't going to take no for an answer. Jeff tugged on my arm. I nodded to Scully and let Jeff guide me toward the cottage's kitchen. I put my arm around Jeff for a moment, giving him a hug. He returned the gesture and said, "I'm fine. How's that dog for Tommy coming?"

"He'll work out," I said. As the shelter evaluator thought, Zeke was an intelligent dog. Intelligence can be a curse. Hell, look at Mulder. If he weren't as bright as he was, he would have suffered less. Of course the earth as we know it might be gone, but he would have offended a fewer people with his relentlessly questing mind. In a dog, high intelligence meant a strong need to have a job. If you don't give them a challenge, they'll make one. Hmm, that's my Mulder too.

Jeff and I were talking about the shape-changing child. He had a lead on a treatment that might help. It was something he had asked researchers to develop for him, a way to replace the alien genes with human, an advanced form of gene therapy. I wasn't pleased to hear that he had been considering volunteering as a subject. Jeff's appearance is terrible, but he's alive. I wasn't sure if I trusted any of the technology left over from the Consortium's reign of terror. I said, "Jeff, if you were planning on telling me after you started this so called treatment, we are going to have words, boy."

Grinning at me with his nearly fleshless lips, Jeff said, "Nothing much scares me anymore, Alex, least of all you. Still, I wouldn't have tried it without discussing it with you. Some of the research looks promising and given Jacob's quality of life, I can't imagine that it could make his life any worse."

"It could kill him," I said, still thinking more about my friendship with Jeff than about Jacob.

Jeff's eyes were still that soft deer like brown that they had always been. He met my eyes with a direct gaze and said, "I know that."

There was nothing else to say. I was the one who taught him that there were worse things than dying.

Feeling myself defeated, I lowered my eyes. "All right, but no surprises, Jeff."

"Agreed," Jeff said.

Scully returned with Missy clutching her hand. "I think we are going to be friends," Scully said. She added, "I asked Missy if she would like to meet William. I'd like to have her visit tomorrow."

No much choice there either. I said, "That would be fine. I've been meaning to invite her. "

On the way back, I expected either silence or recrimination. Instead Scully said, "I feel in my heart that she's my daughter, Alex. Even if she's not mine genetically, I want her."

"That's wonderful, Scully," I said.

"Alex," Scully continued. She seemed to be looking for words and I tensed in anticipation of pain. Scully said, "What you and Jeff are doing for those children is a truly noble thing. When I found out that you and Mulder were together, I was furious. I was always sure that Mulder and I were meant to be. I thought, if he only tried, that we could have it all, romantic love, our friendship, and sexual passion."

"A person can't help the way they feel," I remarked. "Scully, I'm sorry."

Scully's hand on my knee surprised the hell out of me. I think I flinched.

Her laugh was incredibly sexy. I don't think I ever heard her laugh like that.

"It's not a come on," Scully said. "I have John and Monica. I'm not insatiable." She smiled at me wryly.

You would think someone who had done what I had did in my life wouldn't have a blush left in him. I proved that wrong.

"I'm sorry," I repeated, this time for my reaction.

"Don't be," Scully said. "I can be as self deluded as the next person, but I can see that you are becoming the kind of man even I can't deny is worthy of them."

It was a back-handed compliment, but I'll take what I can get.

OooOooO

Well, I was relieved to see both my lover and my beloved best friend get out of Alex's car alive. Not that I had any doubts...not many, at least.

Something told me that they had actually talked to each other. As well as I knew Scully and Alex, I could tell the instant I saw them. I could read it in their expressions and body language. Putting William down, I went to give Scully a hug and Alex a kiss. Walter and John were off in the library playing Risk. Both bloodhounds had followed to give advice. Monica was trying out her animal communication skills on Spooky. So far he had conveyed to her that he thought her makeup tasted good. I said, "I made hot chocolate, Alex."

"Great," Alex said, returning my kiss. I held out my hand to Scully. She took it and I felt the slight tremble. Scully said, "Alex, be a dear and take William into the kitchen for some of that chocolate."

Alex nodded. William and Belun followed Alex off with equal attention.

Scully and I were left in possession of the living room. We sat down across from each other in the armchairs that framed the fireplace. Scully said, "I think she is my daughter. She's the living image of me at the same age."

I had met Missy after Alex described her. Maggie Scully had shown me pictures of both Missy and Scully. Well, of all of her children, but Charlie was forgettable and Bill had all the charm of Pugsley Addams as a child, not that he had gained any poise and style since. One of the things I liked about Alex is that there were no in-laws with which to cope. I said, "Missy is so like you. Not only in appearance, but also in her personality. I'm not sure if Alex mentioned it, but she is very attached to the other children. I think she was like a little mother to them and even though they have people to take care of them, it would be hard for her to leave them."

"I realize that," Scully said. "The three of us, Monica, John, and myself, were thinking about moving closer. There's an opening in Richmond that would be a promotion for John. Monica is thinking about going back to college and pursuing a career in psychology. I'm considering returning to the FBI. Not in a field position, but there are other openings."

"That would be wonderful; I'd like to spend more time with William," I replied.

"And it would be nice for Walter and John. They really clicked when..." Scully's mouth twisted wryly.

"While I was gone," I said. Yes, I noticed that. Not that there was reason for jealousy or moral high ground. When I left Scully to cope alone, feeling she and William were safer on their own, Alex had almost immediately contacted me. I was fucking him within days of agreeing to let him help me. Definitely no reason to be jealous of either Scully or Walter. Maybe it had never been a sexual jealousy. When I came back, it seemed to me that Doggett had taken over my life. He had Scully as a partner, Walter's respect, and my job. Yeah, I had reason to resent him.

Of course, I had Alex...all of Alex after we came up with that scheme to get him away from the Consortium's eye. I was surprised that Walter went along, but he played the role to the hilt. I know even Doggett believed he had killed Alex. Whatever joy Walter took from acting out his basest desire, he hurt for it later. He still had nightmares where he believed he had done it. Alex had worked his way through bad dreams too, stemming from the 'sting' we had pulled on his former employers. I remember lying awake listening to Alex gasp in the grip of his nightmares and wishing I could make the first move to comfort him. It wasn't until I found out he was dying that I could let down my barriers enough to let myself care. I'm an intelligent man, but sometimes I'm not very smart.

"We can help you look. When do you think you will make the move?" I asked, greedily thinking of being able to spend time with William every week.

"Well, John has an interview right after New Years," Scully said. "We'll know for sure after that. It's for a position right under the office chief," Scully said.

"A desk job?" I asked. Well, I suppose you couldn't be a field agent forever and I knew John was ambitious. I forgot sometimes that was what normal people did...have careers.

"He'll get it," I said confidently.

"You think that Walter and Alex will be all right with this?" Scully asked.

At this point, William and Belun ran into the room with Alex after. William had a chocolate smear around his mouth, punctuated with cookie crumbs. Belun looked slightly insane...normal for that X File of a dog. William just looked messy and happy.

Alex's expression showed that he had overheard Scully's question. He looked as if he had an answer.

I said, "Alex, Scully is worried that you and Walter might not be comfortable with having her living nearby."

It wasn't very diplomatic, but I wasn't known for walking on rice paper with people's feelings.

Alex gave me a scowl that let me know I was going to hear about this later, but he answered readily enough, "I think moving near by is a good decision. William and Mulder should spend more time together. Not only that, but if there was trouble, we could fight it together."

I knew that Alex was still concerned about what had happened a few months back. Luis Cardinal's relatives had gone after us and after Scully's household. We had all survived, although Pluto was lost for several days. Alex still brooded about it. He had enough Russian in him to be convinced he was doomed anyway.

To my surprise, Alex kept talking. He usually stuck to as few words as possible when Scully was around. I know he felt profoundly mixed emotions, guilt, and jealousy, as well as grudging respect for my former partner. The painful confusion kept him shy and silent around Scully. Walter remains protective of Scully and I will always love her. Alex knows that and respects that. I'm not sure if he will ever understand that I chose him. What Alex and I accomplished together overcame any lingering regrets. I finally admitted to myself and to Scully that I wasn't the right man for her. With Walter and Alex, I had love, friendship, camaraderie, and sex. We belonged together and that would never be something I would deny.

"There's a property for sale near Gina. One of her friends had a look, but it was out of her price range. I went with Gina to have a look. It's a five bedroom with an office, recreation room, living room, and playroom. It's in great shape and it would be very defensible," Alex said.

Scully laughed at the last comment. She said, "Well, John, Monica, and I will have to have look. I'm sure if you consider it defensible that it's a potential fortress. Of course, it depends on whether John does get the position he wants. Then I have to see about the laboratory administration opening."

Scully made a face. I think my X Files spoiled her for the run of FBI forensic science.

Responding to Scully's distaste, Alex said, "There's more to life than the FBI. I could use help with the children. It wouldn't be as if you were working for me. And it would be for the kids."

Now Scully looked intrigued. She said, "I would be interested, Alex. We need to learn to work together. We have something in common."

Scully's tender look at me made me happy. When I'd left again, I didn't think she would ever forgive me even when I brought William back to her. When she realized I had finally made my choice and that it wasn't her, it should have ended our friendship, but in the end, what we established as comrades survived the fiasco I made of our love affair.

Her tone somewhat darker, Scully said, "Although I do want Alex to look at security once we're set up." She managed a faint smile and added, "You always seemed able to penetrate some pretty inaccessible places."

I laughed and Scully scowled, her eyebrow on the rise in disapproval. "Mulder," she scolded.

Alex distracted her by rescuing William from Belun's tongue bath. He said, "Come on, partner. Let's clean up that face before your Mom puts me in the corner."

When Alex went off with my son, Scully's eyes followed him. She said, "I never thought I'd trust him with our child, Mulder."

"He'd give his life for him," I replied. "We all would. I'm very happy you are moving here."

"I think we will be too," Scully said. "I can't wait to tell Walter if John hasn't already spilled the beans."

By the look on Walter's face, John had told him.

That Christmas was the best one I can remember, even better than the first one Walter, Alex and I spent as lovers.

OooOooO

I kept waiting for the calm to shatter, but things continued to go well. John got the job, probably would have been hired even without my strong recommendation to my old friend, Hancock. The three of them liked the house that Alex had found. All of us spent a fair amount of time either watching William or working on the house. I have to admit gazing at Reyes and Scully in tight thin tee shirts and bandanas on their heads as they painted the boy's room a cheery blue made me almost wish I were John. However, watching my lovers climb up and down ladders reminded me of their delights. Two best butts in creation...

It was good to work with my hands, surrounded by my lovers and friends. It was cold, but still. I was working on sweeping out the gutters at our friend's house. No one had done much maintenance on the house. I cursed as a cold clump of moss hit my head. Come summer, the house was going to need to be shingled again. The place was structurally sound. It was the little details that had been neglected, like the moss growing thick on the roof and the leaf jammed gutters.

"Hold the ladder still," I admonished Alex as I felt it shake with his laughter. I didn't really begrudge his chuckles. Alex didn't laugh enough. Sometimes I suspected he knew that pensive was his best look, but I liked it when laugh-wrinkles crinkled around his lovely eyes and his strong white teeth showed. As I wiped the clump of moss from my bare head, I let it drop onto Alex's. He ducked in time. Amazing reflexes the man had.

I finished as much as I could reach and started down the ladder, claiming a kiss when I reached the bottom rung. Alex's mouth tasted of chocolate. I was happy to find no trace of tobacco. I caught him bumming a drag from Monica. Of course, Scully wouldn't let her smoke inside. He said it was just a taste, but I hated to the hint of tobacco on his breath. I hated cigarettes. They remind me of that cold-hearted bastard who used to jerk me around and make me his puppet by holding those I cared about over me.

"Uncle Alex, Uncle Walter," a clear voice rang.

Ah, Missy Scully...

"Grandma wants you to come in for dinner," Missy said.

Maggie Scully had arrived without warning yesterday. She's curious about her new grandchild. I saw her wince at first every time she heard the child's name, but today she was doing well, being the grandmother that Missy wanted.

The child is odd. Yes, I know, I should get used to the bizarre, but I can still find myself pondering the wonders to which I had closed my mind. Although she is learning to laugh and play, Missy is a very serious child. She is also extremely bright. She was Scully's genetic child, but her gene pool was a hodgepodge of Mulder, assorted human donors, along with a strong mix of alien genomes. One of Gina's bitches gave birth to a litter with a runt. She rejected it. I'm sure that Gina would have let nature take its way, but Alex had been visiting with Missy in tow. Missy insisted on holding the puppy and would not be put off. The way Alex had described it the moribund puppy was soon wiggling and trying to suckle on Missy's fingers. The bitch accepted the puppy back and it was soon nursing with its siblings. I guess I know what kind of dog Dana, Monica, and John will be raising. Missy insisted that the puppy needed her and William joined the outcry.

Somehow I expected that William would have a difficult time adjusting to having a sister after being an only child all of his young life. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. I saw a lot of Mulder in William, the impulsivity, the temper, but also the great intelligence and the inner sweetness that always mitigated Mulder's worse qualities. In any event, William and Missy had become allies. She contributed good sense and he taught her about being a kid.

Missy's hand slipped into mine after I hoisted William on my shoulder. I wished that Sharon and I had...

Well, regrets have no place in my life. I had a lot more than I ever expected to have.

"Where's Jeff?" I asked. For that matter, where was Alex?

"He's lying down. One of his headaches," Mulder said. "Alex is sitting with him until he falls asleep."

My momentary jealousy faded. I don't even know which way Jeff goes. I just know Alex cares about him. Poor Jeff was his father's penultimate victim. The treatment he was trying to remove the alien genetic matter that made him ill was not going well. I nodded and said, "That's good of Alex."

"Yeah, he's a faithful friend to Jeff," Mulder agreed.

We had a good dinner. Alex joined us midway through it. He had shadows in his eyes. I wished I could take him in my arms and love the darkness away. I shook my head at the thought. Alex's pain was part of him. His darkness was part of him. When I embraced him, I had to embrace all of him, from the horror of his past to his present struggle to balance his internal scales of justice. Instead, I moved my chair a bit closer until we touched. I told him with the silent warmth of my skin connected to his how much I loved him.

That night when we went to bed, Alex wanted to make love. It wasn't like he had been when he came home from saving those children. He genuinely wanted to have sex. It took me a while to realize he wanted to top me. It wasn't something he wanted often. At first, I thought it was guilt that made him so often the one who was penetrated. It was Mulder who told me very plainly not to worry about. It was just a preference. Tonight was different. He told me with the focus of his kisses, with the soft insistent press of his fingers inside me as he blew me what his desire was.

I was more than willing. It was somehow flattering to be seduced, to have Alex tease with tender total fascination until I could imagine nothing more desirable than to have my lover inside me. He was wound so tight that he quivered by the time he slowly entered me. He took a deep quavering breath, nearly a sob, and held still for a long moment. My hand went around to hold him against me. He moaned at my touch and finally moved within me. It felt as if he was sinking into me, losing himself in my body. Mulder kissed me as Alex thrust deep. My grunt of pain, passion, and lust was lost in Mulder's kiss. Mulder's hand stroked me. My erection had flagged, but now it rose proudly in response to Mulder's touch and the friction of Alex's movement inside me. I was on fire. The pressure building with each second. Coming was mindless, perfect pleasure. I barely felt Alex thrust to his own completion.

Exhausted, I lay watching Alex, who had suddenly become the ever- fucking bunny, deep-throating Mulder. Although I had never been much of voyeur, I did love to watch my lovers. If I hadn't been fucked into a puddle of satiated flesh, I might have come from the sight of them together. They were gorgeous. Mulder was incredibly turned on from watching us so he was on a hair trigger. It didn't seem to matter how little it took to finish him. He came with a roar. The three of us kissed...we had become good at that, three way kisses, exchanging places as one drew breath.

Alex fell asleep in his favorite middle position, one ankle hooked around Mulder's and his hand wrapped around my waist. Despite being fuck drunk, I lay awake for a while, my arm over his, my face turned toward my lover's as I watched him sleep.

I felt as if this was wrong, that if I dared close my eyes that I could wake and find myself the man I had been, always alone, unhappy, trapped in a job that no longer held hope of promotion and which had shattered the dreams of honor and glory to which I once had aspired.

That was why when I woke in the winter darkness, feeling warmth on each side of me, I lay back and smiled. At some point during the night, Alex must have briefly risen from bed. He had snuggled into my left side instead of trying to get back into the middle. I knew why. Mulder would have automatically moved toward my warmth. I couldn't believe I had slept through that. I must have been more tired than I realized.

When I moved, Alex grunted like a puppy in his sleep. He turned toward me, his little nose rooting into my neck, his breath warm and wet on my neck. I maneuvered my arm free and stroked Alex's hair. I was sure he was still asleep, but he seemed to purr under my touch. After a long while, I could feel his nose wrinkle against my neck. He snuffled a little and then slowly lifted his head. Sleep dazed eyes cleared almost instantly and he smiled at me.

"Morning, beautiful," Alex said.

"I think we better take you in to have your eyes checked," I replied, but I could see in his eyes that he meant it.

Leaning down, Alex gave me butterfly kisses with his lashes before... almost as softly, he trailed down my face until my hands captured his head to guide his lips to mine. Morning breath and all, his kisses were intoxicating. I pulled him from beneath the covers to sprawl on top of me. He wasn't a lightweight man. He was strong, sturdy, and dense in muscle. My hands explored his back, finding a scar here and there until I kneaded the rounds of his ass. Even when he was thin from the cancer eating him alive, his ass had remained full.

We rolled over on our sides and Mulder woke to embrace Alex from behind. We kissed over our lover's shoulders. Mulder seemed to have caught the same happy bug as we had.

Tickling segued into lovemaking. I think we would have spent the entire day in bed except that Scully called as I was making breakfast. I hadn't even bothered to shower, just let the dogs out, and shoved on the sweatpants I used as pajamas when I wore any.

I heard Mulder's voice sounding alarmed and then he and Alex were rushing from the house. Mulder yelled, "Something has happened with Jeff and Missy. Get dressed. We'll warm up the car."

Well, at least, they didn't ditch me. I shoved on jeans, flannel shirt, and warm socks. They barely allowed me time to shut the door before Alex gunned his jeep into motion.

"What the hell happened?" I asked.

"Jeff was very sick last night," Alex said. "Missy wasn't supposed to go in the guest room where he was going to stay the night. Scully noticed she wasn't in her bed and went looking for her. She found Missy and Jeff both unconscious. They're at the institute now."

"What did he do?" I growled.

"My brother didn't do anything," Mulder snapped, emphasizing the relationship.

Clamping my jaws against a retort, I turned to Alex for an explanation. Alex said, "I told you that the genes used in making Missy were those of an alien healer. I've seen her heal small injuries and she seemed to be gaining in her ability. She must have tried to heal Jeff. Fuck."

Fire in his eyes, Alex added, "Jeff was the last person to allow her to try. He would have stopped her if he were able. If you're going to judge him, Walter, then judge me twice as hard. Jeff was manipulated the same way I was; through misplaced ambition."

Grimacing, I remembered all those classes in employee management. I think I should have paid more attention. I wondered if they gave them for managing a three-way relationship?

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," I said. I winced, knowing there wasn't much leeway to interpret my question. "I was worried about Missy and I know how the fear of pain can..."

Ah shit...

Could I shove my foot further into my mouth?

Surprisingly, I saw the laugh lines crinkle at Alex's eyes. He said, "You want a shovel so you can dig deeper into that hole?"

It was the first time that Alex hadn't fallen all over himself in guilt at the mention of anything that reminded us of the way he controlled me.

"I think Alex means 'quit while the quitting is good'," Mulder said.

As if Mulder ever listened to advice like that! However, I wasn't stubborn enough to disregard good advice from an unreliable source. I clamped my mouth shut and worried silently.

Scully and Mulder flew together like magnet to iron. She reached to him for strength as he had so many times turned to her, as they would always turn to each other. I'd accepted that long ago, as did Alex, John, and Monica. They were like two halves that attracted and repelled in equal parts.

"It's not going to be like it was with Emily," Mulder promised.

"I can't lose another child," Scully cried. "I will not let them do that to me."

Alex went past them to speak to his research staff. I followed. Alex went to Jeff first. Spender's son was pale and still, tubes and monitors all over him. I grunted with surprise. The horrific scars on Jeff's face were peeling as if scabbing off. Alex took a swab and swiped it over Jeff's skin after putting on gloves. The flesh beneath was smooth and shiny.

"He should be better," I said. I frowned over the dials and lights. After so many times visiting my wounded agents....all too often Mulder or Scully, I had some idea what they all meant. Jeff's readings weren't good.

"He's dying," Alex said.

"No, he isn't," I promised. My lover shuddered. I put my arms around him, wishing I could make everything all right. All I wanted to do was to keep Alex and Mulder safe, to make the world stop hurting them. Alex's arm went around my neck and he held on for dear life.

Mulder came bounding into the room. He said, "Missy just woke. She's all right. Your doctors say she had an electrolyte imbalance. They're not sure why. They want her to stay while they run some tests."

The flinch from both of my lovers at Mulder's choice of words reminded me of what they had in common that I had been spared. "Alex has a great staff. They are very caring and ethical."

"I know," Mulder said. My arms had been around Alex, but I made room for Mulder. He set aside his pride to accept the embrace.

Alex went to see Missy. I stayed with Mulder, rubbing his shoulders as he pulled a chair next to Jeff's bed. Mulder took Jeff's hand and held it. His head bowed. He may have been weeping but if so he cried silently.

My hand stayed where it was, gently telling Mulder not to wall me out as he worried about his brother. Mulder looked around at me and said, "Go pull up the other chair. You look tired."

Mulder was right. I closed my eyes to rest them and I must have fallen asleep. I woke when Alex came back in the room. My lover's husky voice said, "Mulder? What are you doing?"

Mulder's muscles went tight beneath my hand. His voice, wondering and hopeful said, "I don't know. I had to do something. I wanted to help him."

"Jeff?" Mulder said.

I saw Jeff's eyes open and Mulder straightened. His voice shook as he gasped out his brother's name again.

The readings had improved. Jeff took a deep breath and his head moved. When Mulder let go of his brother's hand, Jeff blinked and tried to sit up. His face seemed strange, the skin shiny and tight where the scars had been. He reached up and rubbed. Long shreds of skin peeled away. Beneath the transparent rags of old flesh, I could see pink, healthy flesh.

Restraining Jeff's hands, Mulder kept him immobile and hit the call button.

A nurse showed up promptly. She briefly took a look at Jeff and called a doctor. We were all driven from the room, even Alex. I suppose being the boss didn't hold much sway with a very independent medical staff. In any event, Alex seemed too stunned to attempt to dispute the decision. Mulder grabbed his hand and dragged him into an embrace. I herded them to where I had left Scully and her spouses.

Since we had gone out the door without breakfast, I collected everyone, marched all of them to the small cafeteria and ordered them all to eat. They obeyed too. It was a red -letter day for me; I was amazed to see Mulder, Scully, Alex, John, and Monica all following orders. We lined up at one of the tables in the cheerfully decorated cafeteria. Alex wanted to have a place where family members could feel comfortable. He had hired a decorator who combined durability with a sense of style.

Our table was partially shielded by a divider, which was thick with cheery plants. The food was more than decent. Alex had a scone, a cluster of grapes, a blushing apple, and some cheese. A pot of real tea sat near him. No styrofoam cups for him. I remember seeing young Agent Krycek carrying his personal mug to the cafeteria when he wanted tea. He said that he could taste the styrofoam in the cups. I reached over to pour him a cup. He wrinkled his nose at me as if resenting my courtesy, but I felt his foot touch mine under the table. Mulder had settled next to me with Scully and Monica beside him. John ended up next to Alex and looked uncomfortable about it.

"Missy's doing fine. They are going to let her go home," Scully announced.

"I'm happy for you," I said.

"Jeff is going to pull through as well, " Mulder said. "Although..."

Alex interrupted by saying, "He's not becoming a super soldier. I had him checked."

"The way his skin was peeling looked a bit like what we believed happened with Billy Miles," Mulder said.

Of course, Mulder knew what Billy had looked like because Scully had filled him in on all the details. I might have withheld them. Did Mulder really need to know what narrowly could have been his fate? Mulder stopped leaning on me long enough to glare at me. Damn, I think his mind reading trick was back.

I glanced across at Alex, who bestowed a curious look at our lover. He said, "Jeff's case is unique. Who knows how long his father experimented on him? Although, supposedly, Cassandra was the family member held hostage for his loyalty, Spender believed in the project and he didn't spare any of his kids."

Mulder paled at that. He still had a hard time dealing with his biological parentage. Oh, not the alien genetics...it was Spender's contribution that bothered him. I think Mulder would have been happier with a pure alien parent than to know he was Spender's offspring.

"It doesn't matter, Mulder," Scully assured.

It couldn't change our love, but I know how much it mattered to Mulder. Rage burned in his eyes, changing his face to something I remembered from the past.

"I'd dig him up and resurrect him just for the pleasure of killing him in person," Mulder said.

Mulder meant that.

"You have a gift, Mulder," Alex said.

I had always known in my guts that it wasn't the alien serum that brought Alex back. I knew dead. Alex had been so near death that no medicine could have pulled him back. It had been Mulder. Somewhere in the mystery of his scrambled genetic makeup, he had been given an incredible power.

"You think I cured Jeff?" Mulder said. He stared at his hands.

"And Alex," I said. "I always knew."

Mulder's lips trembled and he said, "I have to figure it out, get it under control."

I didn't really want him to master his healing touch. I wanted him beside Alex and I.

"Maybe it only works for people you care about?" Scully said. "Alex, Jeff."

"You think so?" Mulder asked, a child asking to be spared a job too difficult for his young age.

"That's what I think," Scully said.

"I know I can't heal myself," Mulder said. "When I broke my foot a while back, I was so bored. If I could have speeded my healing, I'm sure I would have done it then."

Poor Mulder, he always felt as if he had to take on every windmill, fight every dragon. Personally, I was content with this life. I felt as if I had escaped some ghastly fate even if it was nothing more than the one I had been living before Alex Krycek walked back into my life. I closed my hands over each of my lover's and I prayed that we would remain together, happy as we were.

OooOooO

Summer had come in. Jeff's house was finished. I still wasn't used to seeing my brother-in-law without the scar tissue distorted his face. He came through the sliding doors with Tommy propped on his shoulders. The surgery had gone better than expected. Tommy had four limbs now. His hands were club-like and his legs were not up to long walks, but for a child who once had spent every moment in a bed, this was freedom. Zeke split off from the pack of dogs running on the broad lawn at the sight of the center of his life.

Quivering with anxious joy, Zeke repeatedly nudged the harness that denoted him an assistance dog. Orange side packs held anything Tommy might need.

I watched Alex's face as Jeff fitted the harness to Zeke. The dog hardly looked at Jeff. All of his attention was for his young master. Tommy grinned and said, "Old Zeke, you could have played longer. You don't really want to start working again so soon?"

The dog ducked his head and forced it into the harness for an answer.

The boy's scarred hand petted the dog's sleek fur. They gazed at each other, a working team.

Alex's face was proud. I saw him gaze past the dog and Jeff to the institute. He had made all of this. I don't know if Alex would ever banish the ghosts of his past. When I found out what his life had been like, I forgave him for all the weak times along the way. I realized, in fact, that I had no right to judge him. He was harder on himself that I could ever have been. However, I sensed in my love the gradual warming of spring in the winter of his once loveless world. He was determined to bring as much good to the world as he had once inflicted harm.

Mulder and Alex...

Two peas in a pod.

Both of them so busy trying to save the world that sometimes they couldn't help nearly dancing right off the proverbial cliff.

That's all right. That's my job. I catch them. I won't let them fall, not either of them.

Missy Scully shrieked with laughter as she ran across the field. She wore blue jeans and her red hair was in pigtails. Her serious mien was gone, I hope for good. She was just a pretty little girl with red hair and a daddy named John, whom she had bent around her finger. I hadn't seen that coming and it made me grin at the very thought.

I always wondered what would reconcile Doggett to Alex. I found out. Missy was a gift that meant the world to my friend. Sometimes I thought that Missy was so much like the best of each of them that she was the child they would have had were it possible to combine their genes.

Tommy's wheelchair was a Landeez. It had broad tires like a dune buggy. I had never seen them before, but Jeff had ordered them for all the children that required wheelchairs. He also wanted me to help Alex train additional service dogs. Zeke was such a success that Jeff saw them as essential for all the children. He wanted them to have as much joy and freedom in their lives as possible.

I had never really met Cassandra Spender, but I had heard that she had been loving and kind. Hard to imagine Spender with a woman like that, but I could see that in Jeff now.

Strange to think that I thought him nothing but an obnoxious prick when he worked in the basement.

Patting my stomach, I said, "I think I'll go for a walk down by the stream. Take a nap in the grass. Keep the capuchins away from there."

I didn't have to invite my lovers. They fell in at my side. Of course, our dogs spit off from the pack; even Spooky, who was becoming a very handsome golden retriever despite his puppy mill roots. The four dogs circled us, bloodhound noses to the grounds, the golden retriever bouncing in the air as if he had wings, and Belun ever watchful for Alex. I had to think that it was appropriate that Alex had a dog with as tenuous a past and as glorious a record of service as he had.

We didn't make love or rather we didn't have sex. I put the thick blanket down on the lush grass. For once the midges weren't swirling around to picnic on us. I patted the blanket on either side of me and said, "Come on, let's sleep off that lunch."

"Getting old," Mulder said.

"Say that like it's the blessing it is," Alex replied as he gracefully sank down. "I never expected to grow old."

"I wasn't complaining," Mulder said.

We had mastered the three-way kiss, each of us rapidly trading lips for skin, skin for lips. I could taste the sweetness on their lips. I could taste the wine they had drunk, but they were more intoxicating than any fruit of the vine.

Despite being the one who wanted the nap, I couldn't sleep. I was at peace though.

Mulder and Alex were curled around me, both on their sides, relaxed, heads inclined toward me, legs drawn slightly up. They reminded me of the yin and yang that were popular symbols when I was young. The way the symbol was always drawn was black and white in stark contrast. I think, however, that where the shades met in the middle, there must have been some line where they mingled and met. That's me. I'm the middle between my two lovers, partaking of both of their essences. It's a good place to be. As I closed my eyes, I was aware of deep contentment. Whoever said you couldn't have it all didn't know me.

Life was pretty damn good.

 

The end

 

 

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