A Garden Of Earthly Delights
By Ursula


Fingers forming a steeple on his chest, Walter leaned back in his chair. The pile of work, that usually kept him from everything but a hurried trip to the bathroom, had inexplicably vanished. His next appointment was... Walter punched up his schedule and groaned. Oh shit, the last thing he needed after last night was Ricky Caruso, Mr. Pink Cheeks, that adorable Alex look-a-like.

He had felt like a starving man invited to a feast and forced to watch others eat. He'd met with Mulder and Krycek to discuss what they referred to as the game. Every unconscious gesture between the two proclaimed how successfully Walter had played cupid. It killed him.

Walter knew it was wrong to be torturing himself with might-have-beens when he should only have been thinking about the deadly serious game they were playing. The covert operations they were running against the aliens, the consortium, and even to some extent, the alien rebels were the real war. Most of what Skinner handled every day on this job was bullshit, unmitigated bureaucratic bullshit. If he didn't have to stay in position to tap official resources, he might have flushed the whole thing.

Ricky wasn't part of the covert operations. Alex had a sentimental streak toward his young clone. He seemed to regard Ricky as a younger brother. He wanted Ricky to keep his innocence, the innocence that had been ripped from Alex when he was just a kid. Walter and Mulder agreed.

Ricky wasn't even in Skinner's department. He was an intern in a domestic terrorism. For some reason, the director wanted Ricky on a political hot potato of a case that had just been assigned to Mulder.

Ricky bounded in. Walter thought he resembled a Golden Retriever, not that he was a blond, oh no. His sister, Beatrice, had a Golden Retriever that seemed to believe it was one of her energetic kids. When Walter visited, the dog always started with a play bow, put a paw on his knee and gazed at him sincerely as if about to propose marriage. If Walter encouraged the dog even slightly, it would crawl up on the couch and present its silky belly for a rub.

Walter momentarily had a vision of Ricky offering his naked belly for the same treatment. Shit! 'Naughty Walter, you need to get laid." Walter chided his straying mind. He'd have to make an appointment at the club. He was too busy for a real romance, male or female and honesty compelled him to admit, if only to himself, that he was not really interested.

Peel away the hate he had layered over his previous passion for Alex and what was left was just the thwarted desire to pick up the threads again. Walter pictured the way Mulder and Krycek had been looking at each other and thought... 'not in this life-time'.

Ricky offered his hand, somehow overbalancing the file he held with the other. Papers spun lazily to the floor. Ricky blushed and said, "Oops, just a minute, sir."

Walter spotted a picture that slid under his desk and reached for it. Ricky reached at the same time and their hands met. Ricky blushed again and said, "Ah, yeah, that's the one I wanted Mulder to see..."

Almost on cue, Mulder's laconic voice remarked, "Hmm, I think I recognize those shoes. Agent Caruso? Sir, did you want me to come back later?"

Walter managed to extricate himself despite Ricky's effort to tangle him in a set of long, long legs. Flustered, Walter sat back behind his desk. Ricky brushed back a straying lock of hair and muttered to himself as he tried to put his file back in order.

Mulder looked very amused and settled in the other chair as if getting ready to watch a comedy. Walter snapped, "Agent Mulder? Am I entertaining you?"

Mulder at least had the courtesy to pretend to be intimidated. He sat a little straighter and said, "No, sir."

Walter glanced at the black and white crime scene photo and winced. The two men in the picture had been tortured. They had been left to die of their injuries in a little traveled part of a state park not far from where they had lived. Walter swallowed a lump in his throat. Even in death, the two men clung together. The older, much older lover, draped over his young sweetheart protectively, probably trying to keep him warm.

Mulder said, "It's not an X-file. I guess the Senator must have heard something good about me and suggested that I take the case. The younger man was his son."

Walter nodded although it surprised him that they were willing to use Mulder. His reputation was more often the subject of amusement than praise. He turned to Ricky and asked, "What's the domestic terrorism angle?"

Ricky blushed and said, "There isn't one. My boss gave the file to me because the director seems to think I could go undercover on the case."

Mulder looked from Walter to Ricky and said, "The director had a good idea. I can see it. I'd be willing, but the age difference is really better between Skinner and you, Caruso."

Walter checked the pictures again and said, "No."

Mulder said, "I'm sorry, sir, but the director wants you on the case if I'm on it. He doesn't want any screw-ups and I guess he doesn't trust Scully to keep me in line. He's the one that suggested you play December in the affair. I think he initially had me in mind for the May, but Ricky was a better thought. This way Scully and I can skulk around on the outside, someone to watch over you two..."

Walter could have said, 'No'. He went to meet with the director intending to say, 'No".

Correction, he could have said, 'no' and the political backwash would have lasted for years. He heard the director say, "Solve this case and I don't think we have to worry about Ways and Means for the next four years."

That said without saying, that if they didn't make every effort to bring the killer to justice, Mulder's X-Files would be the first to go. The current administration had enough to worry about without the cool, clear light of science shining into Mulder's spooky basement of horrors.

Walter went home, mind racing. It was late and his bedroom was dark. He was down to his briefs when the darkness spoke with Alex's voice. "I know someone who can help with the case."

Alex knew someone? Of course, Alex knew someone. Didn't he always? Walter didn't turn on the lights. He loved Alex at midnight; sleek, nocturnal animal that he was...moonlight became him. Walter struggled to just hear the words, but the voice beguiled, so invitingly rough yet enticing. Something like fine whiskey...smoky, burning, yet with an underlying smoothness that burned its way into your veins and made your blood rush.

Alex said, "I have an old friend. He's looking for someone to lease his cottage, but he could put it off for a while so you and Ricky can use it as a front. It's five houses down from the home of the murdered men. The killings are all in that community so it's perfect."

Walter nodded. That was all that really had to be said, but he wasn't really ready to have Alex leave. He seldom saw the man without Mulder.

Walter thought of those clandestine meetings and secret missions; it was the stuff of Russian novels. Mulder sprawled, legs wide open, hair like sage honey, lips parted, sleepy eyes and silken slur of voice discussing life, the universe, and everything. And Alex...antithesis of his lover, dark, yes, but at those moments, his shades were all deep velvet...seductive, enticing, and plush. Walter closed his eyes for a moment, seeing in his mind's eye: Alex prowling across the floor, incandescent with his dark fire. He was like a never-ending night, a timeless space spent in some pillow-like bed, secrets exchanged in lover's voices, pleasures that would whisper forever in your mind. Walter between the two was helpless with lust, sternly maintaining a façade while he pretended to be the strong one, the logical one. Just once, damn it, just once, Walter wanted to be whom he used to be, passionate and fierce, a warrior, a soldier, a lover.

Alex reached out to touch him, his fingers brushing the top of Walter's hand. He said, "Take care of Ricky, please. He's a tough kid, but not as tough as he thinks."

Walter replied, "I will. It wasn't my idea to use him, you know."

Alex said, "I know. Hey, he's ambitious. I know he leaped at the chance. And he's pretty comfortable with the role." Alex turned so his profile was cameo-like against the full moon's caress. Walter wished he could trace those lines, the elegant carving of that face.

Walter asked, "Alex, who the hell is he? Your brother?"

Alex said, "In a way, another clone...but I don't know. I feel differently about him. When I look at him, I see myself. As if part of me got away before the smoking bastard stole my life away."

Walter understood. He moved closer to Alex, approaching him as if to some wounded creature, wild, feral, yet demanding his help. He touched Alex's cheek, tipped up that delicate chin. He wanted to kiss him and sensing that would be allowed Walter leaned closer. A sweet, intoxicating kiss more inebriating than any wine.

Alex moved back. He said, "Mulder wouldn't like it."

Walter nodded. Alex said, "Ricky likes you. He likes you a lot. What ever we had...don't let it stop you if it goes there. Just don't hurt him, okay?"

Walter understood what was left unspoken, 'don't hurt Ricky as you hurt me..."

Alex said, "And you be careful, Walter. Mulder and I need you."

When Alex left, Walter felt as if some cold void had sucked all life from the room. He sat on the bed, bowed his head, knotted his fists together and stared at their dim outline. His mouth tasted bitter as if the sweet wine of that kiss was now poisoning his soul. He might have sat there until morning, but the phone rang. It was the director confirming that Ricky and he should go undercover promptly. Walter explained Alex's idea, describing the cottage as belonging to friends of a friend.



Walter sat in a flower-upholstered chair and looked around at the cottage. It was bright, warm, and tastefully decorated. The wallpaper was art deco, handsome velvety shades in a frame of expensive wood. The furniture was comfortable and fit Walter's large frame very well. No surprise, the younger of this pair looked as if he had been a big man before cancer ate him from within. Right now, he sat with an oxygen tank close at hand, an occasional grimace crossing his face. His older companion held his hand, brown eyes misted as watched his lover suffer. Mr. Huntington gestured at their surroundings. He said, "Since David and I need to be away, I felt it proper to offer this residence for your operation. I'm a friend of Senator Fielding and I knew his son. I was the first person he told when he decided to come out. David and I helped Lee and Paul plan their commitment ceremony. I knew two of the other four victims. This is one little thing that I can do to stop the monster that is preying on my community."

Mr. Huntington gazed at Ricky, who was perched on the edge of his chair, big green eyes blazing in his serious face. The seamed old lips parted in a sigh. He said, "Beautiful."

Walter flinched. He agreed with the old man. The director had no idea how hard it was going to be to have to share a bed with Ricky Caruso. The man looked the image of Alex Krycek when he'd been an agent under Walter's command. He looked like Walter's sweet young lover whom he had rejected to chase the will-o- the-wisp that his reconciliation with Sharon had turned out to be. Posing as May-December lovers in this mostly gay artist's colony was going to hurt like hell...every moment reminding Walter of what had once been his and what he longed to taste again.

Ricky bounced up, wandering around a little. He was coltish; you wanted to move breakables out of his way. He moved to the window, staring out at the garden. "Pretty." He said. "I used to help my mom in her garden. Do you have someone in or do you want me to take care of it?"

Huntington asked, "Do you really want to work on it?"

Ricky smiled and nodded. He stretched, his suit threatened by the swell of his muscles. Enviously he said, "Man, I'd love to have a place like this. I'm so tired of apartments!"

Huntington said, "Well, we are thinking of leasing it...perhaps selling it. Only to the right person, of course."

Ricky sighed, his heart shaped lips parting softly with the puff of air. His velvet lashes slowly lowered and as slowly rose. Ricky said, "Yeah, I'd love it, but I'm lucky to afford the place I have now."

In that moment, Walter wanted to buy him the house, offer him the moon, anything. The words were out of his lips before he had a second thought. "I might be interested in buying. I'm tired of my apartment."

The handsome, haggard Mr. Huntingdon said, "That's very good. And there's plenty of room for two. Here, let me show you around."

Leaning down, Huntingdon kissed the silver hair, brushing aside a reckless strand. "I'll be right back, Tony. Ring the buzzer if you need me sooner."

Walter sighed as he saw for one moment the beauty behind the papyrus skin and pain-filled green eyes. Huntington said, "Tony and I have been together since a few years after World War Two. Almost sixty years, not many couples can claim that."

Walter nodded, wistful thoughts passing through his head. Huntington said, " I remember the first time I saw him, those shoulders bunching beneath his tight tee shirt... It was at a minor league baseball game. He hit a home run and ran like a deer. I fell in love right there. However, I courted him for two years before he realized that I wanted more than just his friendship; another year after that, before he realized that he wasn't afraid to try what I offered. I have no regrets. He's worth every moment."

Walter saw Ricky's face, curious, unashamedly wanting. He brushed the young agent's elbow and said, "Agent Caruso? Excuse me."

Ricky realized he was blocking the doorway and moved on. They entered a hallway and from there moved into a room with a vaulted ceiling. It was a large bedroom. An alcove with a window seat created a private space out of ornately framed stained glass windows. Beyond that, a sliding glass door led out into a courtyard. The king sized bed was massive. Walter thought it was big enough for three men; briefly flashing on whom he would want the other two to be.

Ricky said, "Wow, damn, that's an incredible bed."

Huntington said, "Custom made. Haven't been sleeping here lately. Tony needs a medical bed and I can't bear to sleep apart from him. We've been using the other bedroom. Come through here and see my masterpiece."

Walter thought it was decadent...delicious and frivolous and wonderful. It was a bathroom fit for a Roman orgy or the seduction of a vestal virgin. A whirlpool bath stood surrounded by curving walls. A large skylight above nourished an abundance of plants. Stairs surrounded it so a man could sit there, dabble and play with someone in the tub. Not that there wasn't plenty of room for two to bathe in the Jacuzzi. Walter had never seen such a large spa.

The more prosaic features were slightly separate, but they all matched the jade marble finish of the spa. Walter said, "This is incredible."

Huntington said, "I like to indulge myself and Tony. It hasn't always been easy for us."

Walter nodded. Caruso was kneeling on the stairs, peering into the tub. He said, "You really won't mind us using this tub?"

Huntington laughed quietly and said, "I only regret not seeing you, young man. If I was sixty years younger and if I wasn't still as madly in love with Tony as I was from the first time that I saw him..."

The rest of the cottage consisted of a cheerful kitchen, a sunroom converted into a dining room, and the smaller bedroom, currently furnished with a large hospital bed. Huntington said, "I'll have that moved out later. Tony and I...won't be coming back after this cruise. If you do decide to buy it, I'd appreciate it if you kept the other furniture. Most of it was made for this house or collected to suit our tastes."

Walter said, "I won't change a thing if I can afford it."

Huntington smiled and said, "Really, Mr. Skinner, you'd be surprised. It was all paid for long ago when the dollar could buy more. Your young man would look as beautiful as my Tony in this setting. I would be honored to think that this cottage would again hold such beauty."

Somehow Walter couldn't explain that Ricky and he weren't a real couple...it seemed to give Huntingdon such pleasure to think they were. As he took down the contact information, he saw Ricky wheeling Tony Edwards-Huntington in the garden. They seemed lost in conversation. Caruso was easy to talk to. Much as Alex had been when he first played his rookie role in those bygone days.

Two days later, Walter met Ricky at his apartment, a place hardly worthy of the name. It was a little larger than a housekeeping room, but not much. The rug smelled of pesticide and old urine; the hallway reeked of greasy cooking. Ricky looked embarrassed and said, "Well, I'm out of here regardless. I decided not to renew again. I'll stay with ...a friend if I can't find some place better."

Walter found himself saying, "You could rent that spare room. I've pretty much decided to buy the cottage. Huntington is all but giving it away."

Ricky said, "I know. Um, this cruise, I don't think that they're coming back."

Walter said, "I know. I assume that Huntington will want a place near the hospital."

Ricky shrugged and said, "I don't think so. The way Tony was talking...they just sail on and one day, well, they take their boat out and ...you know."

Walter stared and said, "He told you that?"

Ricky said, "Not exactly, but hey, if it was me...if I loved someone like that."

Walter shook his head. Ricky had some of Alex's situational morals... but perhaps he was right. If the two men didn't want to part, then he wouldn't stand in the way of their lover's pact. He grabbed a box of assorted sports equipment and walked out to the car.

Ricky's boxes provided a natural activity to catch a watchers interest. Neighbors dropped by at intervals; a lovely pair of women, Audra and Natalie Moore strolled by with a delightful curly haired toddler in tow. The little boy took to Ricky instantly, chubby, grubby hands further mussing the young man's chestnut hair. Both women were in their mid-thirties and elegant, one light and the other dark. Natalie had a mass of honey colored curls of her own. She was winsomely plumb and very vivacious. Audra was black haired, slender and tall, with an old fashioned elegant carriage that made her seem older than her smooth olive complexion suggested.

Audra warned them about the serial killer adding that, so far, the killer had chosen couples that were further apart in age.

Walter gravely listened to Audra while Ricky played with the little boy and chattered with Natalie. They could compare notes later. Audra was an interior designer while Natalie was a photographer. Walter wasn't surprised to hear from Ricky that Natalie wanted to use him as a subject. Both Alex and Ricky photographed well. The women walked on after inviting Walter and Ricky to a neighborhood watch meeting with the police the day after tomorrow.

Everything settled in place; Ricky and Walter moved back outside. Ricky had on shorts. Cutoffs. His legs sprawled across a length of garden as he relaxed on the bench in the courtyard. He had lemonade in hand and ran the frosted rim of the glass over his pink and sensuous mouth. "Mmm, this is the life!" Ricky remarked.

Walter's eyes followed a drop of condensation down the pillar of throat, curving off at the Adam's apple, slithering as if it lusted for the flesh it explored. Ricky reached up, a finger dabbing up the drop. His legs sprawled further apart, revealing that one of the frayed ends was ripping yet higher. Walter's eye traced the tear until his eyes hit the pale glistening hint of Ricky's inner thighs. Ricky spread his legs languidly, one hand curved gracefully over his roundly muscled leg.

Sourly, Walter grimaced and remarked, "Don't get too used to it, Ricky." More civilly, Walter added, " I'm going to make dinner."

Ricky asked, "Want help? I could manage a salad or something."

Walter said, "No, stay out. I can take care of it."

Ricky ate as if it was his last meal. No one had worked on his manners and he ate with a robust carelessness very different from the polish that someone had drilled into Alex. The Beef Wellington might as well have been a hamburger on a bun for all the time it took for the young man to devour it. However, Ricky made appreciative noises and said, "Sir, if it was allowed in this country, I'd propose marriage on the spot. Wow, I used to think I was doing well if I got the gourmet kind of frozen dinners. Of course, Alex can cook. He ever cook for you?"

So Ricky didn't want to play a game and pretend the other was not well acquainted with Mulder and Alex Krycek. Walter said, "A time or two."

Ricky said, "He's a good cook. Good at most things, I guess. Not that I'd trade lives with him even if it meant..." Ricky smirked and said, "'Having all the good men' to misquote Conner MacLeod."

Walter sighed. Not Ricky too. Mulder and Krycek were always laughing over the television series and making jokes about taking each other's heads. Walter couldn't understand it himself. He didn't mind a little swashbuckling, but he preferred a classic Errol Flynn or the Three Musketeers.

Ricky stood up and said, "I'll do the dishes. You cooked."

Walter stepped outside for a while. He knew Mulder was watching out there and he suspected that Alex was as well. Hopefully, their arrival was noted by whoever was killing happy couples in this formerly Elysian community. They matched the profile as if it was designed for them. Older men, powerful men with an air of authority and well exercised bodies. Younger, beautiful men as lovers...

The killer, he decided, was not just homophobic. He was picking and choosing his victims with care. He drugged them first. Each had been gone for more than a day before they were found dead. The couples were dumped alive although none had lived long enough to tell anything about their killer. Despite the torture, the killer left the faces untouched and the genitals intact. The men were always arranged tenderly. Some obviously had been clinging to each other in the final moments, but others must have been placed in the loving positions in which they were found, hands joined, younger man's head cradled against older man's chest. It reminded Walter of something, but the subtext eluded him.

About to go in, Walter was surprised to feel warm arms embrace him. Ricky pressed his freshly shaven cheek against Walter's rough one and said, "You should kiss me out here."

Walter stood suddenly, having to catch Ricky when he threw him off balance. "What?" Walter demanded, sounding like a nervous virgin.

Ricky said, "You know, if he's watching and he's looking for a loving pair, you had better show some tenderness, sir."

Walter knew that was the truth. Hesitantly, he touched Ricky's hair. Ricky embraced him, leaning closer, nuzzling Walter's throat. Ricky looked up and his voice sounded like Alex's, sounded like it was fresh from some heated bed, rough from moans of pleasure and screams of delight. The contented sigh Ricky made when Walter's arms drew him close was exactly the same sound Alex made when they kissed after closing some door behind them.

There were differences. Ricky was not as yielding. His kiss was questing, demanding from the first. Walter finally struggled away from the pleasure and looked at Ricky's kiss reddened mouth, the shine of arousal in his eyes.

Ricky laughed shakily and said, "Well, that ought to fool them."

Walter couldn't laugh. He was fighting back the urge to drag Ricky into the house. To peel those shreds of denim from his lithe body and plunder his treasures with greedy abandon.

Ricky held out his hand and said, "If we were lovers, you'd take my hand and we'd walk toward the door..."

Walter found himself obeying. Ricky paused in the open doorway. The play of light and shade suited his features...Da Vinci would have loved to paint him. Ricky looked at him; malachite eyes in an ivory face. Ricky said, "We would kiss here."

Walter leaned on the doorway and kissed Ricky; he loved to frame that face with his hands, feeling huge and crude, a beast to his beauty. No, that was Alex. He needed to remember that, what ever happened. He brushed back the dark chestnut hair, traced the winged brows. Ricky turned to kiss his hand.

Ricky said, "I want you."

Walter knew one thousand reasons why he should not do this and he knew that he would eventually give into Ricky's beauty. Still fighting temptation, Walter said, "It's not going to happen."

Ricky asked, "Why not?"

Walter said, "Because you are a rookie agent and I'm an AD."

Ricky said, "That's not a good reason." He stomped away. Walter locked up and noted Ricky scowling and sprawled on the couch. He was watching some show involving squealing tires and gunshots. Walter picked up a book, "Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous"

Walter was pages into the book before he finally realized that he was reading about a passionate love affair between a youth and the Emperor Hadrian. Great. Wonderful choice. He kept reading though; he hadn't seen this before and he enjoyed history. Hmm, well, maybe Ricky wasn't all that young after all. Antinous was beautiful. Walter wondered if the youth had been murdered? The writer didn't think so, saying he had no enemies. The investigator in Walter snorted at that. That's what people said in a hell of a lot of murder cases. Show him a person who had no enemies and Walter was sure he'd be at his or her funeral.

Ricky came strolling in. Nude. Wet. Not even a towel. Walter was wearing sweat pants worn comfortable and thin with time. He was bare-chested. He never could stand to sleep with anything on his chest...unless it was a lover's head pillowed there.

Walter said steadily, "If you forgot pajamas, I could loan you something."

Ricky posed at the window. He was pale, of course. Fair skinned like Alex. His white skin looked as marble-like as the statue of the beautiful Antinous. The night sky was the perfect backdrop. Ricky said, "I don't wear anything to sleep. Pajamas make me itchy."

Walter wished there was still a bed in the other room. The couch was comfortable, but if anyone was watching they might notice that the lovers slept apart. Walter could see the stubborn set in Ricky's chin and the glint in his eyes. All right. He could ignore it. Walter set aside his reading glasses atop the book. He switched off the Tiffany lamp on the antique bed stand and rolled over facing away from Ricky.

Ricky muttered something scatological and got into the opposite side. He turned off his matching lamp and said, "You can at least say good night."

Walter smiled, feeling that he had won this round. He said, "Good Night, Ricky."

Ricky seemed to have forgotten his peevishness in the morning. He downed a bowl of oatmeal with apparent enjoyment and finished unpacking his boxes. Walter regretted his offer of a room. What had he been thinking? The only way he could get out of it was to not buy the cottage. And really, he hardly wanted to do that. The price Huntington had quoted may have been what he had paid, but on today's market, it wouldn't buy a condo in a tenement.

Ricky said, "Sir, look. About last night..."

Walter said, "Forget it."

Ricky said, "Not what I intended at all. I just meant to say that I haven't changed my mind."

Ricky was wearing even scantier cutoffs than yesterday. He stood, sans shirt and in those obscenely tight denim scraps. He said, "No strings, Walter. Where would I hide them? Come on. Relax. It doesn't have to be complicated."

Walter wasn't a saint or monk. He examined his conscience and shrugged it away. He said, "Maybe. Just maybe. But it can't get in the way of our work, Ricky."

Ricky held out his hand and said, "Deal."

When Walter took the hand, Ricky pulled him close and wrapped around him. Walter took control of the kiss. Tempting to just drag the young beauty back to the playing field of that vast and comfortable bed. Walter grabbed for a shred of discipline, swatted Ricky on the ass, and said, "Tonight. We have work to do. Being seen. Right?"

So they made rounds of the suburb. Went and enrolled at the gym. They were given the tour and then left to enjoy the well-equipped gym. Ricky went to the free weights. Walter observed briefly then corrected his grip and stance. Ricky grunted, reminding Walter that this wasn't Alex. Even before Alex lost his baby soft looks, running from everyone and everything, he had always been extremely fit. Ricky was lithe and, of course, active but he needed to develop a little more to fill in the gawky places.

After the gym, they had an invitation to lunch with the Moore women. Not at their house. The women had laudable caution. They met at a sidewalk café that served excellent hearty soups and salads, hunks of freshly baked breads, steaming on the side. Walter let Ricky handle the social chatter. He was watching, looking for the patterns and flows of the community. The murderer was someone who had many chances to observe his victims. Walter looked for someone who might have access to the victim's home. Someone who no one would be surprised to see in all sorts of place.

Audra mentioned one possibility. She had been discussing the murders, an amateur sleuth of sorts. She pointed at a grocery delivery truck and said, "See, he could be one of those delivery men. That store delivers to half the people in this community. He could case the houses, gain the victim's trust and..."

Her partner looked amused. She said, "Audra is a mystery buff, you know. We met at one of those events where you enact a murder mystery. I was with a friend who was mad about the things. Of course, she was the first victim and had to spend the rest of the weekend over at a different bed and breakfast. Natalie laughed and said, "Audra came back and questioned me four times before asking me to dinner. Someone else solved the mystery, but we were the ones that really won the prize."

The women clasped hands; affectionate looks exchanged across the table. Walter smiled at them. Natalie asked, "And how did you two meet?"

Ricky said, "Oh, we work together. Haven't come out there yet; it's not that kind of place. No personal lives allowed. But one advantage is that no one socializes out of work very much so we thought that we could have a home where we could relax and fit in."

Audrey said, "Well, as soon as this killer is caught, you'll be able to relax." She smiled and said, "We have to pick Matthew up from Montessori school. Now, don't forget about that meeting tomorrow."

The rest of the day was spent in mock indolence. They chatted, sat and read newspapers, listening to undercurrents. Drank espresso until their bladders threatened to give out. Of course, everyone was talking about the murders, but Walter didn't hear any real hints that anyone knew who was doing it.

When they finally went back to the house, both men ended up in that lovely garden again. Ricky was befriending a feathered resident, an Oriole Tony Edwards had raised from a naked foundling. The bird was interested in the crumbs of bread with which Ricky enticed it. It was just a little nervous, bright black eyes jittering from cocked head.

Ricky threw the rest of the bread and then sprawled again. Walter took his qualms and shoved them into a locked drawer of his subconscious. He put an arm around Ricky and felt the warm supple body mold into his.

Walter asked, "Are you certain that this is what you want? You're very young, Ricky."

Ricky guided Walter's hand to his tightly clad crotch. Walter felt the heat and the straining even against the harsh boundary of the cutoffs. "Yeah, I may be young, but I'm not that innocent."

Ricky stood up and held out his hand again. This time Walter pulled him close and set out to kiss the ambient temperature to Sahara gradients.

Ricky shut the door behind him and locked it carefully. He smiled again and said, "I hope that madman doesn't plan on making a try for us tonight."

Walter said, "I'll protect you." And laughed harshly at his words. He hadn't been able to protect them before. Couldn't help Alex. Couldn't stop them from taking Scully. He couldn't stop Spender from playing cat to Mulder's mouse. But he tried and he always hoped he would succeed some day. Put the right sword in his hand and he would be the knight to stand fast before the darkness.

Ricky walked to the bedroom and turned again. He said, "Not much to take off me, but do you want to undress me?"

Walter nodded. He gently undid the button, brushed the little indentation between navel and groin. Alex liked it when he kissed him there. Ricky shuddered and said, "Yeah, that's nice."

Ricky wasn't wearing underwear, no room under those skin-tight shorts. Walter eased them down. Ricky kicked off his battered running shoes and he was naked, perfect, strong chest, smooth pectorals, slim waist, and legs that made Walter want to kiss every inch of them. Walter groaned as Ricky returned the favor, removing Walter's more substantial clothing, jeans and an old white shirt.

Ricky ran his hands over Walter's chest, tangling his hands in the thick fur. He kneaded Walter's muscles in admiration and said, "Damn, you do work out."

Walter said, "I have a lot of frustrations I take out in the gym."

Ricky said, "I might be able to help you with those." Ricky reddened a little and said, "Um, I haven't done a lot with guys. Only let one guy inside me. Only trusted one enough."

Walter said, "That's all right; I don't need that." Walter hesitated and then asked, "Mulder?"

Ricky reddened more and said, "Alex. I trusted him."

Walter nodded. There was an awkward moment as they lay down and turned to each other. Finally, Ricky broke the impasse, scooting forward into Walter's arms. He said, "I like to be kissed all over. How about you? Anything you don't like?"

Walter said, "Lot's of things, Ricky, but none that you probably know about. I like kissing too."

Ricky was apple pie; Walter decided. Spicy, sweet and wholesome. He wasn't Alex, but he was dear and delicious. He certainly did enjoy kissing and he was even more oral than Alex. He had the recovery of a twenty year old, which was a good thing. Walter had just been stroking him while they kissed. The substantial cock had shuddered and Ricky gasped as he came over Walter's hand and his stomach. Ricky said, "Whoops."

Walter said, "I'm glad that I excite you so much."

Ricky said, "Oh, yeah, you do. It feels different. I mean, Alex and Mulder...we're all, you know, like peas in a pod. Well, I know that sounds stupid, but even Mulder seems like part of Alex when we do it. You definitely aren't part of me. You are big, solid, strong, and fucking beautiful."

Walter was amused. He said, "You and Alex must have the same odd gene. He was always saying that too. I don't see it."

Ricky said, "Mmm, like one of those big horses the knights used to ride."

Ricky slithered down Walter's chest, a kiss, a lick, a nibble, tracing his way. He nuzzled Walter's cock before taking the head in his mouth. Walter groaned at the touch, moving up to lie back against the pillow. He always liked to watch his partner do this. Walter could feel the silken hair brushing his thighs; Ricky's face was dazzled with lust; eyes heavy lidded and face a pretty rose color with the heat of his actions. Ricky teased his slit before running his tongue under the heavy head to play with the shaft. He said, "Mmmm. Mmmm." Walter loved that, the buzz on his sensitive flesh making him harder yet.

Ricky took him in his mouth, moving faster. Walter restrained him self, giving all the control to his lover. He dug his hands into the bedding as Ricky allowed him deep. His heart was racing. It felt like liquid fire running through him, overwhelming him, blotting out the world. Walter heard his voice gasp, "Ricky, ah, Ricky." Before the scarlet rush took him away for a few minutes.

Walter opened his eyes, finding Ricky's face inches from his face, cat-curious. Ricky leaned down and kissed him as soon as Walter stopped gasping. Ricky said, sounding pleased with himself, "Not bad for amateur night."

Walter said, "Very, very good, Ricky."

It took a little leverage to flip Ricky over to ravage his lips, mark his neck savagely, and then tease each nipple into crimson peaks. Walter took Ricky all the way in and worked him until the hips thrust hard at him.

Walter stood up; he had brought lube and condoms so maybe he always planned this. Either that or he hoped the fuck fairy was late coming for his wisdom teeth.

Ricky looked at the things and his eyelashes veiled his green eyes. The lips parted, but he didn't say, 'No'

Walter said, "I don't do this for everyone either. Just a few times. Even for Alex, just two times, but I'm good at it. Or so I'm told."

Ricky understood. He took the supplies and laid them aside. Walter wanted to see Ricky; wanted to watch that beautiful face wild with passion. He said, "Do you need help? Know what to do?"

Ricky nodded and said, "Mulder likes it as much as Alex does."

Walter winced at that. Jealous. He had no wonder that the two let Ricky inside while they kept him out. Mulder wouldn't be able to resist this beauty that looked like his lost love. As for Alex, well, maybe this other self intrigued him.

Ricky whispered, "Maybe they just didn't think I was enough to threaten their relationship as you would?"

Had Walter said anything aloud? He didn't think so. Ricky just had that same preternatural awareness that Alex had. Walter said, "It doesn't matter."

Ricky bent over him, teasing him back from his satiated collapse before settling Walter's legs over his shoulders. Walter felt the slide of a finger inside him. His entire body heated, quickened with anticipation. He willed Alex away. This was Ricky and Walter wanted to show him that he wasn't just a taker. As much as he would like to get inside Ricky, he could wait and in the meantime, this was bliss. There was just a whisper of pain as Ricky stretched him. Walter was surprised to find himself hot, hard, sweating with anticipation. Ricky groaned deeply as he pushed slowly into Walter.

Ricky was bowed over him; his fingers white on Walter's sides. His mouth was open, panting as he thrust. Walter felt that first implosion of feeling. It was not only the sensation of Ricky's cock finding that spot within him. It was the connection...feeling as if they had merged into one achingly yearning creature, hurling in all this fiery flesh closer and closer to some penultimate goal. Walter heard his own voice, barely recognizable as he pleaded madly for Ricky to move faster, to surge deeper with him. They grasped at each other, needing so desperately to connect, to find one being out of their incomplete souls. The sound that rang from their throats as first one burst over the edge and then the other was not only pleasure; it rang hollow...one being separating into two.

Walter found himself holding Ricky, sweat damp, breathing like a marathon runner, hair plastered to his face and eyes like green fire, burning even from beneath the half closed eyes. He swept the wild locks of hair aside from the heated forehead. He nuzzled his way down and found the lips he loved to kiss. Sighing, they lay together, errant caresses lazily defining territory of each other's flesh.

The bath finally drew them from the post coital indolence. A quick shower in the over sized stall sluiced away the effluvia of their sexual play before they entered the mammoth bath. Walter sprawled back, feeling as if he was dissolving in the caressing currents of the spa. One of Ricky's long legs invaded his space; a toe stroked the inside of his thigh. Walter caught the foot and said, "No use nudging...it's dead."

Ricky said, "I believe in resurrection, Walter."

Walter laughed and rubbed the foot, pressed a kiss on the sole. He played with the toes before tickling the foot until Ricky pulled it back. Ricky sighed and said, "That was good. Next time, you can do that to me."

Walter said, "It's not tit for tat, Ricky. I wanted you that way."

Ricky said, "Well, me too...I just needed to know if I could trust you. I don't want to spoil that for myself. Alex says that if the other guy does it wrong that it hurts. I don't like pain. Alex does, at least a little, I think. But not me. I'm not a complicated guy."

Walter said, "You don't have to be. You know I shouldn't be doing this."

Ricky said, "Fuck "should" I wasn't getting anywhere with all my should do and shouldn't have done. This was good. I promise you I won't fall in love with you or cause you any problems. I like you. I like your big strong body. I like the way you make love to me."

Walter nodded in agreement and sighed. If he didn't get out of this warm, comforting bath, he was going to fall asleep. He got up, drowsily remade the ravished bed and lay down. Ricky snuggled close; face pressed between his shoulder and neck, a claiming arm around his body and soon subsided into deep untroubled breaths. Walter lay awake, his eyes open to the darkness. So close, so beautiful and never enough....someone else...a man who lived edged in darkness, but he was no demon for all he had done.

Walter overslept, a crime of which he was seldom guilty. The bed was cool beside him. After a shower and a badly needed shave, Walter made his way to the kitchen to find Ricky laying bacon strips next to sunny side up eggs. Ricky looked up with a smile. He said, "Hey, want to make some toast? I want to try out the juicer."

Walter shrugged. What the hell...may as well abandon all the strictures in which he bound his life...he'd do his penance later.

Walter and Ricky spent the day much as they did the day before. The tennis court, a local café, several small shops...Walter's well-trained eyes looked for any unusual interest, but spotted none. That was no surprise. Many serial killers masqueraded so well that even wives and lovers didn't realize what kind of beast they slept with every night. It could be anyone...the over-eager sales clerk at the pottery store or the scowling muscle man posing at the park...less likely given that most serial killers were white males, but still it could have been the agile woman who trounced Ricky so thoroughly on the court that he returned to Walter's side, muttering about being tired from the night before.

As Ricky relaxed, Walter was amused to find out that the seemingly diffident agent had a smart mouth when pressed. He was clever, brash, and very naïve in his way. Ricky was Alex with none of the baggage and twice the energy. He was still coltish, long legs and long arms not quite so smoothly developed, but the ass must have been nature's gift because Walter was not the only person male or female who had a constant eye on it.

Ricky had inveigled a game of basketball. Walter stretched for a while and did some shadow boxing before contenting himself with being a spectator. Ricky was good, very competitive and ruthless in his play. Walter didn't get up from his shady knoll when Ricky had won. He watched as a moderately good looking man with a bland face and thinning dishwater blond hair circled Ricky like a lion seeking prey. Walter snorted. That trim body was developed at a gym. If he stopped, no doubt it would soften quickly. Walter shrugged feeling the heavy roll of his considerable muscle. He was proud of his body; nature had provided the template and will had completed the picture with brawn that came from his varied labors and sports. It would have taken deliberate indulgence and abuse to ruin his alpha male physique.

Walter waited to see how Ricky would deal with the heavy-handed pick up techniques of the cruising blond. Ricky's lips curved in a smile as he listened to the man drop car, club, job, and other brags. Ricky said, "Excuse me. I'm with someone."

Ricky bounded over and threw his sweaty, testosterone rich body down next to Walter. The blond followed and said with an incredulous sneer, "That old man? You can do better."

Ricky smirked and said, "Not from where I'm lying." Ricky reached out and patted Walter's groin. "If I'm with a man, I want him to be a real man." The blond huffed off. Ricky waited until even Superman would have had to strain to hear him. "Hmm, think that could be him?"

Walter couldn't resist a swat on the teasing ass that wiggled beside him. He said, "Could be, but I doubt it. The one that we want has intense feelings about the older man, younger man pairing. Although he's killing the couples, he also is enshrining them. That guy just saw the age difference."

Ricky said, "Ha, he should have seen you last night."

Walter smiled, but only replied, "You need a shower, Ricky. The meeting Audra and Natalie spoke to us about is two hours from now. And we'll want dinner before we go."

The meeting room at the library was full. Walter and Ricky ended up standing. That suited Walter anyway. He bet the killer was among the people here. Serial killers often played cat and mouse games with the police. They saw themselves as supernatural figures, above being caught by mere mortals. He looked carefully at expressions and knew Ricky was doing the same. He assumed that Mulder and Alex were also watching from some hidden place. Ricky's hand crept into his as Audra Moore stood up to speak.

Walter diverted a little attention to hear his neighbor speak. Her questions were to the point and her demands for increased police attention were reasonable. Of course, she didn't know about the FBI investigation. The room applauded as Audra sat down. A few other people spoke.

The police spokesman was nervous. He kept pulling at his collar and fidgeting with the microphone. He was definitely not at ease with the issues here. Of course, the question of hate crimes was raised. Walter dismissed that. No, these crimes were more than hate. It was an elaborate and twisted play for the person who perpetuated the murders. For all Walter knew, the murderer could also be gay.

Walter and Ricky stayed to the end, covering their vigilance by helping to fold up the extra chairs in the meeting room. The Moore family also lingered. Audra seemed quite the community organizer. Walter complimented her on her questions and said, "Have you thought about running for the city council?"

Audra nodded and said, "I've just started putting together a campaign. Much as I abhor the vacuous discharge of politicians, this community should be represented. For example, couldn't they have sent someone more confident over to speak?"

Chatting led to dinner and then to a nightclub. The place was tasteful. Lots of couples of either and any gender. No obvious groping although no one blinked at kisses exchanged between the same sex pairs. Ricky wanted to dance and pulled Walter onto the floor. He moved well; hints of future grace in his choreography. It had been years since Walter had taken a chance like this, dancing with a man in public. Of course this was in the line of duty...

After saying good night to the women, Walter and Ricky drove home. Ricky stayed behind the wheel and said, "I have to get some snacks. Do you want anything?"

Walter said, "No, but be careful, Ricky. We really don't know how the couples were taken. It could well have been separately."

Ricky shrugged and said blithely, "I can take care of myself, Walter. Don't worry."

Walter moved out into the garden, feeling adrift and unsatisfied. He rubbed his temples; it had been a long day and tense with the watching. He sat on the bench, drowsy until he heard a noise.

Walter thought it was Ricky at first, thought that Ricky had forgotten something. Ricky was a little on the absent minded side in everyday things. But no, Ricky didn't wear the darkness like a velvet cloak. Ricky did not glide like a panther out of the shadows. It was Alex.

Alex tilted his chin at the door and said, "Better go in."

Alex wore his dangerous face. The one that Walter still saw in nightmares. Walter checked the man's hand. He was relieved to see neither gun nor a reemergence of the palm pilot that controlled the nanocytes. Although Alex had assured him that they were gone and that he had destroyed the science that developed them, Walter still felt some fear that it was all a trick.

Alex moved to the shadows in the comfortable room. Walter followed. He said, "You shouldn't be here."

Alex said, "I've been watching. I was watching last night."

Walter blushed. The heat ran through him no matter how foolish it was. He knew that Alex had no cause to be jealous. He had Mulder and why would he need someone like Walter, who knew he was not beautiful like his extremely difficult and attractive agent? Walter said, "You know that Ricky and I are playing a role here."

Alex hissed, so dangerous, so feral, so incredibly fascinating, "Playing it to the hilt, are you?" And that green venomous gaze turned its fire and ice focus right at Walter's groin.

Walter said, "I won't hurt him." He left unspoken the words, 'As we did each other.'

Alex turned away; his profile was cool and sharp, distantly lovely, a cameo cut against the dark skyline. Alex said softly, "He's not me. If you care about him, remember that..."

Irresistible, Walter stepped forward, was drawn closer and closer, a bird fascinated by a serpent, a moth to the flame. He stretched his fingers toward this icon of his desire. Touched flesh, which was neither fire nor ice. Just a man. Alex allowed the touch, turned toward Walter with his old expression, longing, fear, the expectation of pain.

Walter helplessly drew Alex into his arms. He always wanted to shelter him there when they were lovers. Somehow he always knew that something was wrong, terribly wrong in his young agent's life, with his beautiful darling.

Walter tilted up the chin. Sharp little chin...delicately he traced the line of the jaw until he stroked a finger underside the full under-lip. He thought of Mulder, hard to think of one without the other. Mulder's lip was plump and heavy, like fruit hanging ripe on the vine. Alex's lips were like cherry blossoms, ephemeral and lovely, sweeter for all the transitory nature.

And thinking of cherry blossoms, Walter had to ravish that lip, to crush its delicate beauty beneath his profaning mouth.

Alex pressed against him, his body speaking a language Walter could hardly forget. Walter said, "There's never a day that I don't think about you, you know. Sometimes I wake up and I can taste you. I feel you like...like something missing; a phantom part of my soul."

Alex withdrew a little. He looked at Walter with a hard expression, apparently thinking that Walter was mocking him. Walter hung his head, 'Good going, Walter, learned that in all those human resource classes, did you?'

Walter said, "I wasn't thinking, Alex. I'm sorry, but it is how I feel."

Alex's lip twisted in that blade of a smile, an expression that went sharp and deep into Walter's heart. He said, "And when did you discover I was your missing soul, Walter? When I had to run from you and Mulder? When the two of you bought Spender's cute little trick with the cigarettes? When I played a cowardly goon, pounding on your helpless body in that stairwell? When you beat me in your apartment? Or maybe when I held your life in my hands, huh? You a masochist, Walter?"

Just to shut him up, to stem the flow of the acidic words, Walter surrounded that face in his strong hands, captured his lips all over again. He felt Alex's hand on the back of his neck, holding on to him desperately for a long moment.

Alex pushed him away. Walter felt the hard thrust of Alex's desecrated arm. Alex's lips were open and glistened, shiny with the effects of their lust. His eyes were wild, showing their whites, pupils huge. His face was flushed, burning. Alex said, "I can't, Walter. God damn it. I can murder, cheat, spy, and it hardly hurts at all anymore, but I can't betray Mulder again. It's too late for us, Walter. I'm sorry. Just be good to Ricky. I had no right to be jealous."

Alex was gone so swiftly that it seemed he was a demon in the night. Walter sat alone in the dark for a very long time. Finally, he made his way to bed. Ricky wasn't back yet. It worried him, but then again, Ricky was young. He might have found a million distractions on his way back here.

Walter lay in the bed and, despite his weariness; sleep wouldn't be coaxed to ease him away. He checked the clock. It was near midnight. Not too late, but Ricky should have called. They were working and despite Ricky's playfulness, he took his FBI position seriously.

Ricky still hadn't come home or called by morning. Walter sat by the phone waiting. When it rang, it was midmorning. Walter picked it up, thumbing the button that alerted the wiretap team at the same time. It was probably a futile gesture, but Walter was hardly a careless man. The voice that whispered in his ear was distorted. He assumed that the man was using some type of voice distortion. "He's beautiful, really hot and sweet. I'm so tempted, but then, he's not for me. Do you love him?"

Walter said, "Who the hell is this?"

The voice answered, "I'm your avatar. Your chance to prove your love...Haven't you wondered what you would do for him? What he would do for you? But I'm forgetting something. Listen..."

It had a tinny sound as if it was recorded, but it was Ricky's voice. It sounded thick, drugged, and very, very pissed. Ricky's voice said, "Get your god-dammed hands off me, you bastard. Get the hell away from me." There was more, ending with a gasp and a groan.

Walter said, "What have you done with him?"

"No questions. It's time to see if you are worthy. If you love him, meet me at the lion's gate. Take the taxi that you see there." The distorted voice ordered.

Walter hung up, chilled to the bone suddenly. He used his mobile phone to call the wiretap team. "Did you get anything?"

The familiar voice of Sparky Morton answered. He said, "Nada. We got nothing. He's running it though a computer program, bouncing the signals all over the map. We'll see if we can do a trace anyway through a back door program. I don't have a lot of hope. Guy's a geek."

Walter called Mulder next. Mulder said, "Yeah, I heard. Shit, Scully was on Ricky, but she couldn't follow him into the men's room at the gas station. I don't know how he got Ricky out the window, but he sure and hell didn't walk through the wall with him."

Walter said, "All right, stay out of sight. I don't want to inspire any drastic actions."

The Lion's Gate was simply an imitation of a Greek ruin. The arch had bas relief works of men hunting lions from chariots, which explained the name. Walter saw a Gray Liner taxi and got into its' musty smelling interior. He looked at the driver. Was this the killer?

The man said, "Man said to bring you to the corner of Antioch Street. He'll meet you in the alley."

Shortly Walter was standing in an alley waiting. No one met him. He didn't want to leave, thinking that this was part of the test that the man mentioned. After an hour, he decided to check his voice mail. A different distorted voice said, "Bad man. Very bad man. Listen..."

Ricky's voice cursing and then groaning in pain emerged from the phone. The killer's voice said, "He's suffering for your sins. You're supposed to be his shield, Walter. How could you let me hurt him? I saw the man following you. Lose him. Lose him or lose your beautiful boy."

Walter stood there numb. He couldn't tell Mulder. Mulder wouldn't listen. But lose him; Walter could do that. The problem was that Alex was watching as well. Losing Alex was a talent that Walter didn't think he could develop any time soon. An almost smile crossed Walter's face. He realized it wasn't a problem. He might not be able to lose Alex, but he doubted that Alex would be seen either.

Walter said, "Where do you want me to meet you?"

The man laughed and said, "Do you think I'm a fool? I'll meet you when and where I choose."

Walter said, "Don't hurt Ricky any more...please."

No answer. Walter walked out of the alley. He ducked into traffic; climbed onto a waiting bus, rode a block before doing his best to blend with the large group of people also disembarking. He moved into the warren of arts and crafts stores. The place was having a show, which explained the large number of people who took this stop. Walter moved in and out of the crowd. He spotted Mulder in a mirror displayed among myriad others, all etched with trivial designs. Walter was amused as he saw the man blocked by a trio of chubby ladies with strollers and bags. He ducked into another small shop and was gratified to see a back door. He barreled through it, as the proprietor was busy showing a customer a tray of beads.

Walter noted that he was in a narrow hallway, which linked the stores from behind. He faced a restroom and another door marked, janitor. Walter followed the maze like passage out and found himself in another alley. He caught a cab by dint of extreme rudeness, shoving aside a harried man before he reached the door. The driver protested until Walter dropped a twenty on the seat. Walter spent the next two hours, moving from place to place. He was tired. Hadn't slept more than a hour last night. Walter drifted to the park, back to the basketball court. He stood for a moment thinking about Ricky playing basketball, sweaty, color high, a happy healthy young animal in his exuberance.

A voice came from near by. "I was watching. I watched that man try to pick him up. He looked so lovely. Don't turn around, dear Walter and don't try anything. If I don't get back to your beautiful boy, he will not be happy. He will be very unhappy."

Walter walked ahead of the man, following his directions. He walked to a battered white van. He felt a sudden sharp pain. Dizzy, he collapsed forward. The still unseen man said, "Walter, Walter, I told you not to drink so much. Here let me help you."

Rough strong hands helped him into the van. Walter blinked as his fading vision caught sight of the man. Handsome, handsome and blond, hair cut short, features like a Macedonian coin. Walter fought the drug for a moment and then, feeling ill and numb, he lost his battle. He tumbled into the well of darkness.

Walter woke shivering; cold air circulated around him. He looked up into a mirrored ceiling. Fuck, he was naked and tightly bound to a medical examination table. He looked to the side. Ricky occupied another table. Walter winced at the burns now marking Ricky's nipples and his groin. He said, "Ricky?"

"Yeah." The agent said, "I'm here. I know this has to be some kind of plan because we aren't stupid enough to both end up caught like this."

The man entered. He wore a white tunic and Grecian sandals, leather bound up his strong legs. "Awake already. You're strong. The strongest yet, I think. The strongest and the most beautiful. It's perfect."

Walter growled, "Now what?"

The man rubbed his hands together and said, "Now, you get the chance to die gloriously or perhaps live. I really wanted to have a chance for you to fight...you do know how to use a Theban short sword don't you? But if one goes about hiring thugs, word gets out, don't you think? Now, I think you are ready. The rules are simple. No cowardice and you must have perfect faith in each other. The others did well enough, most of them, but not quite perfect enough, never good enough. Better than him though. He betrayed me. Wanted a younger one when I lost my ephebes."

Walter said, "If you're angry with him...why not take it out on him?"

The man said, "Because he's gone. He and his new lover. They weren't perfect. Not willing to lay down their lives for each other. No single shield..."

The man shook out a case and withdrew a syringe. "A little sleep and then the opportunity of a lifetime."

Walter grunted as the needle bit into his skin. He watched as the man did the same to Ricky.

"So beautiful..." the man said, tracing the lines of Ricky's face. "Be in me as the eternal moods of the bleak wind and not as transient things are; gaiety of flowers. Have me in the strong loneliness of sunless cliffs and of gray waters. Let the gods speak softly of us in the day's hereafter. Shadowy flowers of Orcus, remember thee." The man said, "It's better to die when you're so beautiful, so young. I won't touch your face. Trust me."

The man's finger strayed too near Ricky's mouth. Walter heard the yell as the man drew back half bitten through fingers. Walter thought as the drug subdued him, 'Good teeth, Ricky and Alex both have good strong teeth...'

Walter woke up untied. He was lying on a cold floor. It was dark. He heard a soft moan. The man had dressed them as they slept, but it was damp in here and the moisture had seeped through to his shivering skin. He said, "Ricky?"

"Yeah." Warmth scooted nearer.

His head clearing, Walter realized that there was something on his eyes. He reached up and explored, finding patches. They wouldn't come off. He'd used some sort of surgical glue. Walter kept trying, but he only succeeded in hurting himself.

Ricky said, "Your eyes and my hands. I'm cuffed behind my back."

Walter said, "What's his game?"

Ricky said, "He kept talking about lab rats and mazes. I guess we're the rats. Alex has us bugged, but the guy knows that. He couldn't find get the transmitter. He said it must be inside us, but he did jam it."

Walter said, "Mulder and Alex will find us. We just have to stay alive until they do."

Ricky whispered, "He wants to make us suffer. See if he can break us. Get one to abandon the other. So that's why each of us has a handicap."

Walter said, "We could sit right here and not entertain the bastard."

The sound of laughter came wet and repulsive. It made Walter feel filthy just to hear it. The man said, "You need some encouragement."

At first, it was just alternating jets of water. It wasn't pleasant, but Walter had showered in water just as cold and stinging. He and Ricky stood, turning to the wall to shield their faces. Walter felt the first tingle of electricity with an instant knowledge that it would get worse. And it did. Painful shocks moved them further into the room. Walter clung to Ricky as he moved through obstacles set in the room.

It took a few moments to establish a rhythm...for Walter to remember to let Ricky lead him. Even so, he stumbled into some of the barriers. Sometimes it was no more than furniture. Other things gave out a painful shock. A few were edged jagged with something fine and sharp.

Ricky guided him through another narrow opening. Walter was frankly terrified. He felt so helpless without his vision. He was panting, his wet clothing stuck to him and he shook with cold and tension. Ricky was in no better shape. Walter put his arms around his lover for a moment. Ricky leaned into him, shivering just as hard as Walter was. Ricky said, "Alex will beat the jamming. I know he will."

The jet of water alerted them to move on. Ricky said, "These rooms are big, but not as big as they must feel to you with all the turns we have made. He has them cluttered with stuff, plywood walls in some places, in others, barbwire, and old furniture embedded with broken glass and razors."

At one point, they had to squeeze through a tunnel. Each time, Walter brushed a wall the shock was agonizing. At the last, Ricky had to drag him the last few inches. They collapsed on the floor, clinging to each other.

Their torturer gave them ten minutes to rest before his oily voice said, "Not that you don't look sweet together, but it's time to move on."

Cut, bruised, nerves trembling from shocks, cold, and exhaustion, Walter might have given up were it not for Ricky. He knew that Ricky felt the same. He knew that Ricky was drawing strength from his embrace and he gave it willingly.

Finally, they were in a larger space. Walter's skin, hypersensitive from pain and fear, could feel the difference. They were holding each other upright, welded together as if they were one being.

Walter felt a brush of warmth. Him! Walter could smell him. Could feel the difference in the air. Berserker strength arrived from some unknown Nordic ancestor. He bellowed like a silverback gorilla and blindly charged. He heard a scream gone high with surprise. They hit the floor together, Walter's weight slamming the man breathless. Walter's hands found a soft throat and despite the panicked resistance, he squeezed, thumping the hated head again and again against the floor.

Walter was dimly aware of the man going limp in his hands. He couldn't stop. Over and over still screaming in rage, he smashed the man against the hard floor.

Walter half heard Ricky saying, "Walter, he's dead. It's over. It's all over." Still, his world narrowed to the pulpy sounds that resulted as he exerted his mad strength on his dead enemy. Finally, Alex's voice called him out of it. Even in his madness, he knew who that was.

Alex said, "Walter, time to stop. Here, let me see your eyes. Come on, I can help."

Walter slumped back on his heels. He would have fallen except Alex was there to catch him. Walter yelled, "Ricky!"

His young lover folded free hands around him. Ricky let loose a sobbing sigh and then caught it back. Ricky wearily said, "Okay, now. We made it and I am so glad, so very glad that he's dead."

Although they wanted to admit them both, neither Ricky nor Walter wanted to stay at the hospital. Walter's eyes still stung from both the lingering results of the adhesive used to bond the eye patches to his skin and from the dissolving agent that the doctor in emergency had applied. He wore a pound or two of bandages on the outer parts of his body and he was sore from head to foot. Ricky was in no better shape. In one accord, they moved to the bedroom the instant they were back at the cottage. They gingerly crept in the big bed, moved to the center, and wrapped each other tightly despite the aches.

Alex sat on the bed, kissed each forehead and gently patted each face. "Don't worry. Mulder and I will be right outside. We'll watch over you."

Thus assured, Walter snuggled Ricky even closer and let himself sink deep into the healing arms of sleep.

The following day, back at headquarters, Walter was disconcerted to learn that they had lost an entire day and night in the maze. It didn't surprise him in the least, however, that it was not the ant's nest of police and official resources that belatedly found them. It was the combined efforts of Alex, Mulder and the Lone Gunmen, who finally found a way to chart their location by calculating the effects of the jamming device's distortion on the transmitters that Alex had thoughtfully implanted in their bodies.

Still limping and feeling like he had gone ten rounds bare handed with a dragon, Walter lowered himself into the offered seat. The Senator looked pale and drawn. He said, "I hear that you were the one who killed that monster. I want to thank you."

The Senator's hand trembled as he brushed under his eyes. He looked old and frail, a face he never showed on the campaign trail. He said, "I loved my son. We argued about his life style. Hardly spoke after he moved in with that man. Now, if I could take it back..." A quiet sob interrupted his words. The Senator stood, moving for the door. At the last moment, he turned back and asked, "Do you think in the end he was not afraid because he was with someone who loved him?"

Walter said, "I know he was comforted by his lover, sir. And I'm sure that he knew that you still loved him."

The Senator said, "I hope he did. By God, I'm going to do something. He wanted to marry his lover. I probably will lose the election for supporting that bill for same sex marriages, but I'm going to do it. I'm really going to do it."

No one had anything to say as the stricken man left. Walter's eyes moved around the familiar room. Same portrait of the president...always the same frame through four presidents so far. The oak desk so immense that it seemed the room was built around it. The director's hands were clasped in the middle of a snowy white scratch pad. Walter noted they were trembling.

Walter said, "I'm going to take a few more days off. I'm moving, buying that house. Agent Caruso is going to...bunk down with me for a while. We became very close during that ordeal. I know it's against regulations, but frankly, sir, I don't give a damn."

The director sucked in his already cavernous cheeks. He said, "I don't have a problem with it. Election doesn't come up for another two years for the Senator. For right now, we have a staunch ally and after that, well, I'm retiring in a few years anyway." A smile, fleeting, but sincere, crossed the lined face. He said, "Walter, you're one of the good ones. What ever makes you happy...."



They knelt on the warm earth together, gently pulling the weeds from around the tender pea plants. Their hands met as both reached for the same blade of grass. Walter stopped, drew Ricky's face close and kissed him. The oriole sang in the trees. A zephyr touched Ricky's richly colored hair and displaced an errant lock. Walter brushed it back, held the face cupped in his hands. Just for now, a cherry blossom caught in a perfect moment...

The two men walked inside, leaving the door open behind them. And the garden sang with love shortly after.




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