Standing on the Ocean
by Ursula

Penal colony, Forj Sidi Toui, Tunisia


"I am diminished." Alex thought, lifting his face to the rusted showerhead and letting the blood colored water trail down his dusty flesh. "He flayed me and dropped ashes in my wounds. He cauterized me with the acid of hatred and I was made a weapon in that crucible." A smile crossed his lips. "But a weapon can be turned on its maker."

In that cell, that wall of sweltering human flesh, Alex had dreamed of cool, clean water, of things cold: transparent glistening ice, the white snow of Russia, and of Marita's pale beauty like an icicle in female form. Now, she was here. Alex felt the hot rage in him, but not at Marita. She was only the envoy. Spender had put him in this prison to punish him and to break him again. Instead, Alex had grown stronger. Every day of suffering was one more day to forge a sword of his hatred, to plot, and to scheme.

Alex was fury. He was agony. He was nemesis. He burned for revenge. It was sweeter to him than life.

The hotel was close to what passed for first class in Tunisia. Marita had expensive tastes; she had reserved the presidential suite. Alex had dressed in the clothing she brought for him, but his skin still itched from body lice. His short hair ran with minute life. It surprised him that she didn't mock him. Instead she led him to the big clean bathroom and had him sit on the toilet seat while she deloused him. The denim shirt and pants went into a plastic sack for disposal. The noxious fumes made him gag, but that was a minor problem. Someone had taken his food while he was defending it from another more obvious marauder. His stomach was shrunken, empty as his soul felt to him.

When he was clean, Marita dressed him in silk and linen. She bathed him with her cool, slender hands, and as she bandaged the wounds she whispered o him. Told him what had happened to Mulder, to Skinner, to Scully. Her impassive face considered him, cupped his genitals in her hand. He shook his head. He had no desire left - at least not for Marita; her cool lips grazed his forehead in a sort of weird benediction.

Aboard the plane, Alex sat silently beside Marita. He had nearly forgotten speech in that hellhole. He had fought every day - fought like an animal for a scrap of food, a drink of water, a place to sleep. He'd sold himself to a vicious bandit for a jagged homemade knife and when the man demanded he serve once too often, he had gutted him. The guards didn't care as long as they didn't see it. In the morning, trustees dragged away the stripped bodies. Alex lost count of the men he killed. All he cared about was that they feared him. The other prisoners named him Iblis... the devil.

When they brought the meal, Alex fell on it and ate with fierce concentration. He stuffed his mouth and guarded his plate with the artificial arm Marita had brought to him. Finished, he looked up to see her eyes gazing at him.

"Don't laugh at me. Don't pity me," he snarled.

Marita reached over and exchanged her plate for his. She said, "I wouldn't do either. Your will to survive surprises me." Her pale face was beautiful again - as pure as a saint's in her passion. She said, "I want him dead too." Considering him with her glacial eyes she asked, "Are you strong enough for that?"

"Yes," Alex answered.

Alex watched at the window, watched his face flicker against the dark

background of the night sky. He remembered. Betrayer. Betrayed. Running

back to his lovers...

Alex couldn't forget. He'd been weak and vulnerable. His lovers had offered him up as a sacrifice. He remembered crawling away in terror. He had wanted to touch his stomach, assure himself of the salvation signaling in his belly. Hands on him stripping him. Inside of him. Fingers shoved up his anus, a parody of lovemaking. Filthy fingers sweeping his mouth and then with a sudden thrust down his throat. Spender offered his presumptuous, arrogant smile and sank his fist into Alex's stomach. On his knees, retching, vomiting the tracer, spewing his last chance of freedom onto the ground.

Pain, dark twisting agony and loneliness were like a sculptor's blade...

Spender had carved him away. Molded him. Changed him. Made of him a weapon to fit to the Smoking Man's hand.

Alex remembered... a demon cathedral of fragments, of images in hell-spawned color. Melissa Scully's hair, a dark crimson spill. Her white face like an albino poppy, the small line of pain across her smooth pale forehead. Alex knew it wasn't Scully. He could have accepted Scully's death. They had said they loved him, but gave him up to get Scully back. It was Cardinal's shot. Alex had hesitated. Some fatal weakness not yet excised from him.

What had Spender said? "I'll suck your soul out, Alex. You will be what I made you. Or you will cease to be an annoyance."

His mind flashed stills from the snapshots that were his life; Mulder's father dead on the floor. The yellow jaundice that cirrhosis had painted his skin; the gray of his hair; the pale blue of his eyes; after the flare of the shot, maroon finger painting on the white tiles of the floor.

Alex did it. He was there, but was he guilty?

Sitting in that car... waiting to be told what to do next, Alex had registered the softness in Cardinal's voice. His body had screamed in warning. Luis only sounded like that when he was twisting the blade, tightening the rack. Alex's eyes fell on the blinking light. Running. Running. Wiser this time, Alex had stood outside of Mulder's apartment and watched the lights go on and off. He waited in the darkness until Walter left work, let him pass without seeing him, and fixed the image deep in his soul to carry back to hell with him.

His body, still beautiful, armored now in indifference, served him. Hong Kong was always to him merely a vision of bright lights reflected in the gutter. His body bent and knelt like a marionette. His face was a mask. He was a simulacrum, turning this way and that, without shame, without feeling, empty, empty, empty.

Oh yes, he had not been empty for long. Blackness filled him and cold. It was like Novocain, his whole body numb, like looking through a foggy window. The creature hadn't bothered to kill him. Perhaps the Oilien and Spender shared the same sense of humor. They said he was a creature of darkness, but Alex loathed the dark.

Waking, Alex looked up into the sewed-shut face of an alien rebel. Thoughts impaled his brain. Serve or die? He chose serve. He couldn't die like this, wanting the sky overhead, clean air for his last breath. Freedom... that's what they wanted - freedom from the Oiliens who bound them with slavery more hellish than even existed on earth. Alex understood. He finally knew the meaning of that expression, a fate worse than death. He had been raped soul-deep. He had been ridden and discarded. His every thought had writhed as if under a microscope, and now he burned for justice; craved revenge, as he had once desired Mulder and Skinner's love.

Yet it really hadn't changed much. Alex still didn't know half of what he was doing. He seemed doomed to be a pretty pawn in this hellish game of kings.

Alex's mouth quirked in a smile that may as well have been a grimace of pain. He remembered, seeing Mulder and later, Walter. He wore their bruises on his flesh, deeper wounds in his soul. Mulder had dragged him like a dog, using him in cold hatred. His body had been abased agonizingly beneath Mulder's in a St. Petersburg hotel room. Mulder's sweat falling on him had burned like acid. He had thought he'd lost the ability to cry, but tears ran down his face as he felt that touch upon him. He had never thought he would hate the feel of being taken by his lover...

Oh, he had learned his lesson; the final one under the cold, clear sky of Tunguska, lying there begging the night for help. Mother, Walter, Mulder... no one came... not even death, and Alex had finally prayed to be relieved, to be taken as he lay, his back freezing on the cold, hard ground while his arm burned, burned with an agony that would not be assuaged.

So he screaming rose from the earth, staggered a few steps, and fell. Staggered and fell until he came to the camp of his enemy where he traded the last mote of his self-respect for a shining, sacred needle with the blessed heroin.

Marita tugged him through the airport. He was dazed, part of his brain still dulled from the long imprisonment. He stared at the people whirling by, so clean, so busy, and so unaware. He wanted to make a sign. He wanted to stand there like a mad man, yelling that they weren't coming; they were here. He wanted to grab their faces and tell them to fight, to live, to stop running for one minute and just breathe. Just breathe and realize what they had.

Marita ushered him into her car, a sleek black thing, polished and primed.

Alex said, "Nice car. He pays you well."

"That cheap bastard? Hardly. I have my own resources," Marita said.

As Alex slumped back into the seat, his mind drifted back to the prison. It had happened to fast and he was still confused, sluggish with shock. Marita stared at him for a moment then added, "Alex, pull yourself together or he'll eat you alive."

Alex laid his head back against the smooth upholstery. It was red inside.

Red as blood.

Marita drove aggressively. Alex wondered about her. What did she want now? Did she want to be Spender? Alex felt like laughing. All he really wanted was for the last four years of his life never to have happened.

Spender was still in the same place he had been the last time that Alex had seen him. The place held memories, all bad ones. The stairs might as well be to a scaffold. He remembered crawling up them with Spender's laughter goading him and those stained fingers caressing his face mockingly.

"You're an animal, Alex. My animal. You do as I please or I'll make you beg for death."

Alex shivered as he reached the faded carpet in the hallway. Marita knocked on the door firmly. A blonde woman answered. Spender had a taste for blondes. She said, "He's anxious to see you."

Alex stared through her. She was nothing. She didn't matter. Marita followed him into the room. Spender was pallid, unnatural, an albino spider in his web. His lips seemed black as though he had been drinking blood. He smelled of death. He always smelled of death, but this time, it was different. This time it was his own death that was heavy in the air. Spender's throat bore a stoma. His voice, which had always had an oily whispering sound, now sounded foul and ghostly.

"I was worried about you, Alex."

Alex struggled with repulsion. It had to be a trick. This man who had kept Alex twisting on a rope for his entire adult life could not be dying. He shook off his fear and said, "Cut the crap, old man."

Spender smiled and said, "I heard about your incarceration."

Alex's hands knotted into fists. A serpent can poison after death. He didn't want to touch Spender. He replied, "You had me thrown in that hellhole."

"For trying to sell something that was mine, was it not? I hope we can all move forward... Put the past behind us. We have a singular opportunity now." How fluidly the words flowed out. Alex's eyes searched, looking for electric eyes, concealed doors. He was sure that the old devil must have some trick. He wouldn't dare be this defenseless no matter how sure he was that he had broken Alex.

Alex listened to him. Slowly his blood cooled. He would obey. Perhaps this alien ship would be useful. His mind shuddered away from the thought of contact with them again, but he had a purpose that must be served. If this latest accident harbored anything helpful, then he needed to find it. His mouth went dry for a moment. Would Mulder be on the trail?

This was who he was now... fierce, hell bent on survival. The taste for revenge had become like an addictive craving. In his dreams, Alex killed Spender a thousand ways, still finding it not enough.

Right now the question was what game was Spender playing? Alex followed Mulder and Scully for a while. He snarled to himself as he saw their closeness; saw the bitch with her hand on Mulder's arm. It was all he could do to keep from bursting in and throwing her out of that bed. How dare she claim the warmth of his body, the touch of his hands? Alex had been the sacrifice for her. He'd gone without a fight to Spender to save Scully's life, and now she was trespassing... taking what was his.

The ship eluded him. Alex could smell it, feel it nearby and when he watched Mulder he saw that his lover felt the same chill. Mulder also must feel the hair rising in alarm, the urge to flee... the whole town smelled of black death, of the alien's foul intrusion. Spender was playing with them as usual. Even dying, the old man still spun his web.

Experiencing Spender's warped humor again and seeing his smile curving around an oxygen tube. Alex eyed the thing, hoping the man would forget and light up with the tank in the room. He'd have danced around the flames in savage delight.

"I'm sure you'll find a way to get Agent Mulder back there. You have often surprised me with your initiative, Alex." Spender said.

'What the hell?' Alex thought. 'What did the devil want now?'

Walking, prowling in a park, knowing what he would have to do...Alex fought it. He felt the shape shifter rather than saw him. The aliens all made the skin over his spine itch. "Your arm." The man said. His stalwart jaw and blue eyes faced Alex with the usual indifference. Alex saw the hypodermic in the hybrid's hand. "Wh... what?", the slight stutter reappearing despite the efforts of Spender's voice coaches.

"A weapon." The pseudo-man said.

Sitting on a park bench, Alex bared his arm, winced at the bite of the needle. The stuff burned. His voice sounded rougher than ever as he leaned back, eyes closed to ride out the discomfort. "What does this do?" Alex asked. It hadn't been trust that made him accept the injection. Trust had died at the end of Spender's leash. It was fear and that was his constant companion. A living, screaming presence inside him, boon companion for the hatred he bore Spender.

The hybrid said, "An antibody. I will explain at a later point."

Alex watched the huge figure move off. He still felt dizzy and overly warm. He opened the woolen coat he wore, a fawn colored soft thing that reminded him of Mulder. Someone approached out of the darkness. Alex looked at a heavyset man who was sweating slightly despite the chill. "I've been watching you," the man said in a syrupy voice. "A man such as you shouldn't be alone on a night like this. Why don't we go some place warm for a few drinks?"

Some place warm...Alex's lip twitched in a bitter twist of a smile. That reminded him. He stood up without responding to the would-be john and set out to look for a taxi.

"All in good time," Alex had hissed.

Walter's hand traced the cut on the balcony, never repaired, a wound in the wood as surely as Krycek was a wound on his soul. He picked up his drink, tasting it. It was bitter, sour with his despair. Time weighed on him, pressed on him like stones, moment by moment like the slow drip of water torture. No wonder that an ache clawed from inside, threatening to burst like a scream from his throat.

And once a moan emerged, if he should release a whimper, he would be undone. They would cart him away with a keening madness in his voice, an inner hell spewing from his eyes.

Walter heard a sound and whirled around. His muscles bunched, a raw primal sensation as if his splendid body knew the answers. Like hell! here he stood as if conjured by Walter's masochistic trip down memory lane. He wore an expensive business suit. Even the elegant cut could not conceal that he was thin; Alex burned now with an inner fire that seemed to have seared every ounce of softness from his body. Diamond hard eyes shone like a wild thing's green glowing orbs, a mysterious glint caught in the darkness before vanishing, beyond identifying.

Walter swallowed the dryness; his throat felt as if he had consumed powdered glass. Still, his head rose. His voice when he found it was as strong although with the timbre of a hero facing the firing squad. He said, "This time, Krycek, I think I would rather die."

Alex sneered. Hard to believe Walter had found that mouth sweet. That his blunt fingers used to trace those lips hoping to see one of Alex's tender smiles. Alex came over and ran his hand over the cut in the rail. "You never complimented me on my cleverness and nerve, Walter. Seems like you and Mulder agree. A man with a gun encounters another, someone that was chained by one hand, a man to whom no one bothered to give so much as a drink of water for more than twenty four hours, a man half frozen by a night spent shivering on his former lover's balcony. The man with the gun stalks the other. And the man chained out like an unwanted dog defends himself. Did you think he wouldn't have killed me? But I survived. I took a risk and lured him to my one chance of survival. Please forgive me, Walter, for living."

Walter threw his glass down and retorted, "Don't try guilt on me, Alex. I don't owe you any sympathy. You made all the choices."

Alex considered the shards at his feet, bent and scooped up the fragments. "Seems symbolic, doesn't it? Here I am picking up the pieces again."

Wordlessly, Alex walked in and threw the broken glass away. Walter followed. He poured another drink, hesitated, and made another for his unwelcome guest. Alex accepted it, but set it aside. He took off his suit jacket; put his shoulder-holstered gun beside it. He carried a small-of-the-back spare, and another strapped to his ankle. Finally, Alex tossed Walter a small innocuous seeming palm pilot. "This is it. Believe me or not. I don't care. I'm the only one who ever knew the frequency. This is the only one that can activate or deactivate the nanocytes."

"Now, what's your game?" Walter asked, fingers reflexively closing on the device.

Alex's long lashes veiled his eyes. He said, "This is the final hour of the ball, where we unmask and find what mysteries have been played and to what end. I'm tired, Walter, sick and tired."

His glance seemed naked, ravaged, laid open, and bleeding. Walter stepped forward. Lies, all lies, his mind told him but one hand stretched out and touched Alex's cheek. "You damned near killed me," he reproached.

"And I would do it again." Alex said. "Once, I was flawed, weak, easily manipulated by fear, by love, by guilt, and rage, but never again. I needed you immobilized. I needed to imperil you so the king would be exposed, leaving the opponent to rush in so I could pick the pieces off one at a time. It worked, and that is all the justice there is."

Walter stroked Alex's cheek, touched his mouth, thrilled to the half forgotten pleasure of touching his deep-colored hair. His body shook with need. God, when had he last touched another with pleasure? Even the club offered no surcease to the emptiness in his heart.

Hooking a finger in Alex's tie, Walter drew it down, looking into his eyes to see if he would be refused... and punished. Alex's face was still, seemingly gentle.

Walter used both hands then and removed the tie. He unfastened the first buttons of the linen and silk shirt. He flinched as he discovered the arm. Mulder had told him about it, but he had not quite believed. Alex's eyes held amusement and challenge. His voice softly sibilant, Alex said, "You can stop now. It wouldn't surprise me, not one bit. I'm not a pretty boy anymore, Walter. Not someone to seduce. Not someone to hire and to serve up to Mulder like a fancy dessert. Not someone who can easily be persuaded to be traded for someone you deem more worthy."

Walter winced as he heard that last. Armored in denial, what did Mulder call it? Transference and substitution. If Alex was always evil then what they did was perfectly acceptable. There were no words, and no pretty lacquer to varnish over any of the sins that had been committed for love, for loyalty, for honor.

Walter unbuttoned Alex's cuffs and eased the shirt back, leaving it tangled and binding on two wrists, one which throbbed with a fast beating pulse and the other, still, bloodless, lifeless.

Alex leaned back against the wall, eyes half closed. Walter moved forward to kiss the hollow of his throat. Oh the taste of the sweet cell-deep recognition of an alcoholic's first thirsty drink of wine after abstinence, and the feeling in Walter's chest, achingly yearning. Alex was like the breath of oxygen in the lungs of a man saved from drowning.

Walter's kisses, his ravaging, addicted kisses, flew downward. His tongue explored the upright nipples, dabbled lower, finding a half forgotten trail between the pectorals. Alex wore something; he was bitter and sweet to Walter's taste. Alex's stomach heaved as he kissed it. Walter laid his cheek against the smooth flesh. Alex's hand slowly left the wall. It rested atop his head, caressed once, twice, before being withdrawn to once again support the trembling body.

Moaning softly now, Walter unbuckled the leather of the belt. His hands parted the ends and then swiftly lowered the zipper. Black silk briefs with an embroidered fly. Someone must be dressing Alex these days. He had never bothered with such details in the past.

To kneel at Alex's feet and bury his face in his lover's groin, worshipping him, breathing him in...fingers clasped, kneading the tender buttocks. Shuddering Walter stayed like that until Alex's hips nudged him further. He said, "Give me your foot."

Boots and socks flung across the floor. Suit pants draped across his desk, covering his PC, knocking papers to the floor. Now, to stand for a moment and just look. Alex arched and offering. His cock erect in the nest of his raven black bush. His lean body quivering with nervous energy. Oh God, oh God, nothing else mattered, but to have him.

As he freed Alex's arms, Walter did not hesitate over the cold feel of the prosthesis. Alex smiled sphinx-like. His hand reached to brush Walter's chest then asked, "Where's the bedroom?"

Walter couldn't speak. He merely stumbled toward the door. Alex followed and stood looking about. Walter could see Alex's sharp feral gaze exploring the window, checking for exits, and casing the place until he knew every possible obstacle or escape. Now Alex tested the quilt covered bed and said, "Nice, I like a firm mattress, but then you know that, don't you?"

Bold as a magpie, Alex opened the drawer of the bedside table. He looked up surprised and said, "Where the hell do you keep it?"

Walter had to pull himself together to answer. He said, "Medicine cabinet. The issue hardly comes up enough to be ready all the time."

Laughing softly, Alex said, "Mulder's in his second virgin-hood?"

Walter bluntly stated, "You think after what happened that we could stand to look each other in the eye?"

Alex let his laugher roll out like a consuming flow of lava. "Don't have to look each other in the eye to do that. If you really let each other go, you were even more foolish than I remember. I won't let anything that dumb get in the way of my desire. I want you, Walter. I want you so badly..."

A groan shook Walter's chest. He had to catch a stagger before moving to bring the lubrication and condoms from the bathroom. Alex lay on the bed. He had propped himself up on the pillows. His legs were crossed, but loosely so his cock begged from between the cleft of them. Alex said, "I want to watch you, Walter. Take off your clothes for me, lover. Let me see you."

Walter's fingers felt as if they were frozen. He kept losing his grip on his buttons, tangling in his clothing. He had a notion that Alex would laugh at him when he had stripped, mock his weakness, and get up to leave, or torture him, one the same as the other.

Eyes narrowing, Alex lifted his face, tilting it as an offering. His tongue flickered over his lips. He lifted his arm, reaching for Walter as he knelt on the bed. Alex's skin was hot in the cool of the room. His face tasted of salt from Walter's tears.

"I'm here." Alex said, "How do you want me?"

The room felt sweltering. The bed was cool beneath his knees. Walter worshipped. Kissing Alex's throat as it arched for him, he couldn't stop exploring everywhere. He stopped for a moment, saying, "You taste the same. Sweet and salty like chocolate, rich as honey."

The right hand, Alex's only hand, caressed Walter's head, the back of his neck, before kneading Walter's back like a kitten's paw. It almost broke him down, remembering the missing pressure from the left side. Yet a wounded and incomplete Alex was a finer thing than any perfect, but lesser beauty.

His nipples were as pink as Walter remembered. Mulder's were longer and more pointed, but Alex's furled like buds and bloomed, as he tasted each one. Walter nibbled the lines of collarbones, so pure and truly as graceful as wings. He laid his cheek against Alex's breast, feeling the almost sharp center. Alex's heartbeat was fast. He could keep his face impassive, but even he couldn't fool his own heated blood. Alex's ribs stood in relief on his pale torso. His stomach was concave. What had Spender done with him to leave him so emaciated? Walter paused in his kisses and said, "Alex, I am sorry. It was wrong what we did. Every fucking thing has been wrong since we did that."

"Love me," was Alex's response and he winced at his own words, perhaps he had meant to say 'fuck me' instead. He stirred, and pressed Walter's head lower.

His lover was no Greek statue, no soft question mark of cock, an afterthought among sculptured curls. Alex's cock was perfectly shaped, centered, and proportioned. It quivered as he licked the blood-heated skin. He ran his lips up and down over the shaft. His hand caressed the balls gently, the way that Alex liked. Alex arched his hips. He handed Walter the lube and said, "Touch me inside."

The husky voice was textured. It always sounded as if he had just been fucked. Walter's cock leapt at the words, and he ignored his own arousal. Alex's surrender was what he craved. He wanted to see the white teeth nipping at the ruddy lips and the eyes open, wet with lust. The way Alex's whole body offered itself to desire. To feel Alex's powerful legs pushing upward and see his chest heaving, slick skin anointed with his sweat.

Walter nearly came as he teased himself with the image of his beloved's pleasure. Carefully, as if opening a virgin, Walter slid one of his thick fingers inside Alex's heat.

"Yes." Alex hissed. "Fast. Hard. Please."

Enveloping the eager cock, Walter took him deep, surrounded him as his finger mimed a cock, coaxing Alex closer and closer to the edge.

Alex moaned and then screamed. His body lunged, abandoned, hips thrusting hard. Walter felt the jet of come into his mouth and accepted it, cherished it. Alex's legs trembled in after shock. He turned on his side, hiding his face. Walter slid in behind him, curving around the trembling body. He rolled Alex into his embrace, his hand stroking the quivering back again and again until his lover stopped shaking.

Walter planted another kiss on the hollow at the base of Alex's throat. He said, an offering, "I love you."

The hand that came to fit around his yearning cock was familiar. It knew all the touches that would arouse him. They spoke a secret language here in bed, one that only three had known, a trinity of desire and love. Walter could only close his eyes and thrust into the hand, gripping the hard surface of Alex's left arm like an anchor to the earth while his mind launched into an oblivion of pleasure.

Sleep must have befallen him immediately after. Alex must have gotten out of bed at some point to clean them. Now, Walter's cock nestled in the valley between soft- skinned, round buttocks; that had aroused him even in his slumber. Walter moved back, not wanting Alex to think he was trying to take advantage. Alex uttered a soft puppy grunt of annoyance and pressed back. Walter's right hand was asleep, trapped beneath Alex's head. Alex's hair felt like silk beneath the benediction of Walter's kiss.

Drowsily, Alex murmured, "Make love to me. I've been starved for you."

Walter couldn't find the lube and the condoms for a moment. He had to leave his snug resting place to find them. His fingers slid back into Alex's entrance, moving to find his prostate. Alex's hips jerked in rhythm. He opened easily - too easily for him to have been celibate for long. As if in answer to Walter's thoughts, Alex explained, "I'm not ashamed anymore about what I have to do to survive."

Wanting to ask, but knowing better, Walter said, "You never had any reason to be ashamed, Alex."

Sliding the condom onto his eager cock, Walter's hand trembled. He loved to be inside of Alex, loved feeling the connection and possession as much as the act itself. He slicked his latex clad length and entered gently, feeling Alex relax around him as they both sighed at the familiar sensations.

Despite the passion, there was no roughness about this act. This was an act of absolution for both of them. They were safe harbors for each other. Home is the sailor; home from the sea...Alex was where he belonged at last. As they moved, Mulder was a ghostly presence for both of them, but it still felt complete.

Silence afterwards. Lying thigh against thigh, drifting in thought yet still half connected in body and all the more one in their warrior spirits. Walter wanted to drift off again; never wanted to leave this bed; never wanted to lose Alex again, but Alex rolled away and sat up. He reached down to kiss Walter's forehead and said, "We have things to do, lover. I'm going to ask for you to trust me as I once trusted you."

It was like a sudden blow. Walter said, "But I betrayed you. Mulder and I turned you back over to Spender. We didn't mean to do it. The sensor failed."

Alex replied, "He found it. Yeah, I know you didn't exactly mean to do it but you loved Scully more."

"We were soldiers." Walter stated bluntly. "She was our comrade. We thought we could get you both back. Still, what else could we have done, Alex? Let her die?"

Moving across the room toward the bathroom, Alex looked lean and lethal, hardly the defenseless youngster his nudity should have made him. He looked over his shoulder and replied, 'Just remember that sometimes the choices become very difficult, Walter."

Not wanting to analyze what that meant, Walter nodded and followed Alex into the shower.

His beloved basketball bouncing repeatedly in the air was almost as comforting as the medication hidden in the skin magazine in his desk.

Mulder contemplated the spinning ball, a thin surface surrounding empty air...a simile for his life.

"Agent Mulder?"

So formal now. That was Walter, always correct in the office. Most people couldn't see behind the starch and bleach-white shirts. Mulder knew his weaknesses. He knew what Skinner looked like purple-faced on the verge of coming, or groaning and panting as Mulder fucked him. It had been a long time...

Looking defiantly toward his boss and former lover, Mulder asked, "What's our punishment this time? Thumbscrews or forty lashes? Come on in, Walter. Sit a spell. This could be the last time you take a trip down to these offices."

Mulder sat the ball on his desk and eyed Walter, waiting. "You went to Oregon." Walter stated. It was flat sounding; not surprised. But nothing much that Mulder did could shock Walter now.

With more compassion than he usually showed or felt during these jousts with Walter, Mulder replied, "Guilty as charged. And if they're coming down on you for that, then I'm sorry. I truly am."

Walter nodded faintly, acknowledgment of things unsaid. He replied, Fortunately, they think that I make a contribution to the Bureau."

"Oh well yeah, stick to a budget, they say you're making a contribution, but push the limits of your profession, and they say you're out of control." Mulder retorted.

Walter towered over Mulder in the chair. He wasn't really taller, but his parade-ground posture and macho attitude added imaginary mass. Mulder's boss's voice was gentle as he said, "You could bring home a flying saucer and have an alien shake hands with the President... what it comes down to, Agent Mulder, is... they don't like you."

"Well, we didn't bring home a flying saucer... or an alien." Mulder admitted. It was a time of last chances for him. Or so he'd been told. Soon he'd be no more than a moral lesson. Icarus, empty-handed, plummets to earth and death...

"Yeah... so I've been told." Walter's voice was nearly tender. He seemed surprisingly calm. No lecture. No reproach. Mulder looked at him, wanting to tell him everything or possibly just to savor some comfort. Walter stepped back and gestured at unseen people.

Mulder's depression disappeared as Krycek appeared in the doorway and entered the room. There was joy in this. In forgetting the concerns over the waste of his life. He leapt for Krycek, a simian defense of his territory against this hated rival. The grip was implacable. Mulder wanted to scream in rage and tear Krycek limb from limb. Roll in his blood...and then die, weeping.

Walter shook him in his strong grip, blocking him from getting at his nemesis. " Agent Mulder! I think you should listen to him."

Krycek looked different again; he was thin, tired, and elegantly clad. His voice was the same, husky and intimate, filled with intimidation of his passion, "You've got every reason to want to see me dead."

'Damn right' Mulder thought. His fingers were itching to crush that swan-like throat, to gouge out the verdantly green eyes. He lunged, trying to break Skinner's grip.

"But you've got to listen to me now. You have the singular opportunity." Krycek continued.

"Here, or you want to step outside?" Mulder retorted, sounding childish even to his own ears.

Covarrubias sidled closer. She was cold grace, chill beauty, the icy demon-queen to Alex's fiery devil. She said, "Agent Mulder. Cancerman is dying."

Walter let him go and walked away although still hovering protectively near their lover, their enemy. Marita said, "His last wish is to rebuild his Project, to have us revive the Conspiracy. It all begins in Oregon."

And now the pavane sounded. Dance me closer, Mulder thought, closer and loser to death and still fettered with lies...

Krycek said, "The ship that collided with that Navy plane. It's in those woods."

If Mulder closed his eyes, he could imagine the young agent that Krycek had pretended to be, holding out his file as a bribe to be included.

"There's no ship in those woods." Mulder replied.

"Yeah, it's there."

Krycek met his eyes. Mulder found no mystery there for once. He looked as sincere as he always had. He was rail thin. Was he ill too?

Krycek said, "Cloaked in an energy field. While he...mops up the evidence."

Hooked again and knowing it, Mulder could almost have smiled. He asked, "Who?"

Eyes lowered. Alex explained, "The Alien Bounty Hunter. Billy Miles. Teresa Hoese, her husband. He's eliminating proof of all the tests. We're asking ourselves, we're asking ourselves, "Where are they?" They're right there. They're right under our noses." Krycek met Mulder's eyes and said, "I'm giving you the chance to change that, to hold the proof."

Tired, wishing it could be the truth... The damned whole truth for once instead of a trail of crumbs leading to a gingerbread house of deceit and danger, Mulder asked, "Why me, and why now?"

"I want to damn the soul of that Cigarette Smoking Son-of-a-Bitch." Alex said viciously.

And Mulder knew that was true if nothing else was.

"Mulder?" Scully said, her voice conveying her shock as she took in the intruders.

Mulder sighed. Time to play the same old game...go down fighting - or just lie down and die.

Wanting the Lone Gunmen in on this, Mulder was willing to wait. Covarrubias was left in Skinner's conference room. Krycek followed Skinner into the private area of his office. Mulder remembered Walter's illness, suspected that might have something to do with Walter's acceptance. At least, he wanted to believe that. The alternative was too painful.

Mulder filled Scully in, expected doubt as well as her support and wasn't disappointed on either count. Scully brushed by him to confront Skinner. Krycek came out of the office, walking in the direction of the restroom. Mulder followed him into the restroom, watching with what seemed to him a sick desire as Krycek urinated and washed his hand. The man continued to ignore him until he approached the door.

It was madness to grab him and lunacy to force a kiss on him. Alex's mouth yielded with the sweetness of forbidden fruit before the man shoved him away and knocked him on his ass with a well-timed punch.

"I'm not your fuck toy anymore. If you want me, you will ask, Mulder," growled Krycek

Stunned, Mulder got to his feet. He asked, "What did you do to persuade Skinner? Torture him again or merely fuck him?"

Shaking his head, Krycek answered, "I used reason with him, Mulder, a tactic I know you wouldn't understand. The past..."

Mulder expected him to say that it no longer mattered. Instead, Krycek smiled and his eyes softened, "isn't over yet. I remember. Can you? Or do you just want to believe it was entirely my fault?"

"I don't know." Mulder replied, yearning suddenly to see him the way he used to be, not this scarred and wary creature, holding himself so stiffly out of reach. Fingers outstretched, Mulder almost caressed his former lover's face before dropping his hand and turning away. He listened to the door shut before he leaned on the wall, not weeping, but weak with grief and lost chances.

It was almost funny for the group of them to be around one table. Scully was the most uncomfortable. She stood as far away from Krycek as possible, her arms crossed protectively over her body. Their shoulders brushing at times, Krycek and he looked like the partners that they had once been, Mulder thought.

The scent of him...some combination of shaving lotion and perhaps perfume interacted with his naturally enticing pheromones to evoke memories and lust.

Mulder tried hard to listen to Frohike instead of imagining Alex nakedly sprawled across that table, his legs over Mulder's shoulders and yielding to him with that eagerness he had shown in the past.

"What's amazing is that even the military satellites don't see it." Frohike remarked, excited.

"But J.P.L.'S Topex Poseidon shows it only as waveform data." Langly countered.

Byers' long elegant finger pointed to a printout and said, "And here it appears simply as a micro burst of transmission error on the European Space Agency's ERS-2."

Walter had been standing aloof after briefly stating their goals in this think-tank. Now, leaning on the table, he asserted some control and redirection. "In other words?"

"In other words, you'd never know it's a UFO." Frohike shot back.

Like an identical twin or long time lover, Byers seemed to add his words as if in seamless continuity with his partner's. "If you didn't know what you were looking at or looking for."

"No wonder we couldn't see them." Langly added.

As impatient as ever, Krycek commented, "Listen, it is not going to be there forever."

'Who was Marita to Krycek?' Mulder wondered jealously.

Last time he had seen her, he had thought she was his ally. It stunned him to see her with Krycek and bothered him that they seemed well acquainted. She seemed in some distant way as possessive of Alex as Scully was of Mulder. She said, "As we all stand here talking it's rebuilding itself."

Scully's expression was that of a cat in a dog pack. She seemed as out of place as Walter and not as able to remain neutral about any subject. She walked out of the room and after a second, Mulder followed her, shutting the rest of them out of the conversation he knew that he needed to have. Scully turned back toward him after pacing down the hall and said, "Mulder, if any of this is true..."

"If it is, or if it isn't, I want you to forget about it, Scully." Mulder answered. He thought that he and Krycek would go as they had to Russia.

Scully gave him 'Are you nuts" expression number three. "Forget about it?" She exclaimed, voice approaching shrill. "You're not going back out there. I'm not going to let you go back out there."

Mulder replied. "What are you talking about?" Scully asked. Suspicion and concern both registered on her face. The frown line appeared on her forehead.

"It has to end sometime. That time is now." And Mulder realized he could be speaking of so many things.

Scully sighed and crossed her arms again, "Mulder..." that tone of affection and frustration he'd heard so often...

The memories of her abduction all rushed back. Mulder said, "Scully, you have to understand that they're taking abductees. You're an abductee. I'm not going to risk..." He struggled to keep his voice firm, but it shook a little despite his attempt to keep the emotions under control, "losing you."

"I won't let you go alone,"Scully said, as they embraced, holding tightly together, mates of a sort, not as he had been with Alex, but a relationship based on a warm steady emotion, built of mutual goals and weathered like an old married couple's tried and true affection.

Mulder said, "I won't."

But it wasn't Alex that went with him after all.

After the meeting, Walter went down to his car. Alex ghosted behind him and got inside. He slumped back and said, "You could tell me to get the hell out and I'd obey you."

Walter replied, "I'd be a fool to do that. Wouldn't I?"

Alex covered his hand briefly. "It was hard seeing him, harder than I thought. Every time, I remember him hitting me. The other things he did, using me, mocking me, and what happened in Russia... I must be pretty stupid, Walter. I can't seem to learn how not to love him."

Starting the car, Walter drove back to his apartment. Alex put his arms about him in the elevator and pressed his face into his back. Silently, they entered his apartment, undressed, and slid naked under the covers and into each other's arms. They didn't make love for a long time. They just held each other, found comfort in the touch and in being held.

After a long while, Walter said, "I'm going with him to Oregon. Are you sure that it's not a trap?"

The eyes remained open and clear, but the crease formed above Alex's nose. He shook his head. "It might be. I don't know. We won't ever know unless we take the bait."

"It's that important?" Walter said, "the end of the world?"

"Not the end of the world. But for us... for everything human? Well, I imagine the dinosaurs wouldn't find too much comfort even if they knew that they were being replaced by a more efficient model," he said with a sardonic smile. The one hand reached up to draw him near. Walter surrendered. He'd gone too long with only hate and fear as companions. He'd take this banquet even if he devoured his death.

Walter rolled over with Alex atop him. They wrestled briefly until the play grew too arousing. Walter said, "Now, make love to me, Alex."

"You trust me that much after all I did?" Alex questioned, his words sounding shocked.

"I want to believe." Walter quoted. "Make me believe in something, Alex. That we can have it back. That we can forgive. And that eventually, we'll take him down..."

No need to explain who that was. Spender had ruined and crippled them both in his way. Alex's lost limb and Walter's lost innocence, the faith in his government that had carried him through Vietnam, into the FBI, until the day the smoking bastard walked into his life and blighted it.

"I'll make you believe that I never stopped loving you." Alex whispered fiercely. "Because it's true. God, even when I wanted to hate you both."

Their mouths joined. One breath. One soul. There was no artistry in their lovemaking, just yearning for completion in each other. When Alex entered him, it was as if they could not bear not to be one with the other, connected physically as well as in soul, deep and indestructible passion.

Walter groaned and gasped. He hadn't let anyone fuck him since that time in Tacoma with Alex. He had not even let Mulder do it before they set up their separate camps, citadels of loneliness and denial. Lost in each other, their world narrowed to each other's eyes, the heat of Alex sheathed in him. The fire of their love speaking the words that Walter didn't want to say again yet which tore from him as he came. "I love you, Alex. Never stopped either."

Mulder raised his hand to knock and then on some impulse he felt in his pocket for the talisman he's carried with him all this time. He smiled wryly at the key and tried it in the lock. Damn, it fit. Now that was the story of his life: pounding on the gates and searching for a way to find shelter when he was never locked out anyway.

The apartment was dim, a fact which surprised Mulder. For some reason, it had entered his head that there never had been a good enough reason to stop taking what comfort there was in each other. The shame of their betrayal flayed them, but why had it driven them apart so totally?

If there had been any sound, Mulder wouldn't have gone inside the door. He planned to just go in and undress as if the years between had never happened. He didn't think about the possibility that there would be someone else. That Alex might be there.

Alex didn't see him. He lay sprawled across Walter on the bed. Walter's hand splayed across his ass in that claiming way that he had.

"Damn you both!"

Jerking Alex from the bed, Mulder threw him to the floor, grabbed his hair, and held a gun to his head. "I'm going to kill you."

"Do it. Just pull the trigger." Alex whispered corrosively.

Mulder sneered and replied; "You think you're safe because I fucked you."

Walter stood by. That was his crime and he condemned himself for every time he had done so. He murmured, "Please. Mulder, Alex, don't do this."

Mulder's arm extended, a straight deadly line pointing to his former lover. Alex didn't bow his head. That surprised Walter more than this lingering moment of madness. Finally, he knelt down behind Alex, embracing him. Mulder's hand shook.

"You want it to end this way? End it, Mulder, or stop the drama." Walter said.

Slowly the gun lowered. Mulder said, "This isn't fair, Walter. It's supposed to be us. All of us..."

Alex growled, "Like I said, you have to ask. And, Mulder, not like it was in Russia. I told you that. I've got things to do, Mulder. Things that don't involve being your punching bag."

The look in Mulder's eyes was painful to behold, but it was about time that the man understood the world didn't quite revolve around him. Walter said, "Now, Mulder, I'll talk to you tomorrow unless you intend to join us?"

Mulder shook his head. He shambled out, slump shouldered as if defeated. Walter hated to let him go, but damned if he would beg him for it. As if that would do any good anyway. After Mulder shut the door, Walter turned to Alex and said, "I should have done something before it went that far."

Shrugging, Alex said, "I'm used to it. Maybe it's my fault. I should have said no to him in the first place."

Looking like a lost child, Alex said, "But I wanted him so even before I loved you." Alex gazed at him with melting eyes.

Laughing softly at the guilt-filled expression, Walter held his arms open and said, "Don't you think I knew that? But I wanted you too."

As Alex folded into his arms, Walter added, "I had you first. I cherish that, Alex. I always have. You took the pain away at a time when my life was very difficult."

"Gave it back though." Alex chided himself.

Walter shrugged and said, "You warned me. When we gave you back to Spender, you warned me. Come back to my bed. Stay the night." He wanted to say stay forever, but that was tempting fate. Alex followed him and they made love again. Falling asleep in the sweet shelter of each other's arms.

The airport terminal seemed to swirl around Mulder. No one asked him to move although he stood in the middle of what should have been the passenger check in line. Mulder looked as if he hadn't slept at all. He remarked, "You're glowing. He's still that good?"

Walter mildly answered, "You'd know if you had stayed."

"As if you two really wanted me to," Mulder said, his eyes sadly saying some thing different altogether.

"We have a job to do, Agent Mulder." Walter reminded. Best to separate the parts of his life as he always did.

"We do, don't we?" Mulder agreed. He shouldered his small carry-on and dragged the cart with the equipment.

They didn't say more than a few words on the plane, but Mulder fell asleep, head inclined, not quite touching Walter's shoulder. Walter looked around. No one appeared to be watching. He briefly touched the dark hair.

Mulder smiled in his sleep, but murmured, "Alex..."

Walter smiled wryly. It figured. He leaned his chair back and tried to stretch out his cramped legs. Ought to be special seating for tall men...

It wasn't police work. More like reconnaissance as he had done in Vietnam. The Oregon rain forest was as dim and dark nearly as the jungles of his nightmares. Walter took the lead at times until the device that Krycek and the Gunmen had built homed in on the ship. Mulder pushed by him, eagerly beginning to plant the pattern of small lights.

Walter kept pace, oddly reminded of a summer in his teens when one of his uncles invited him to stay on his ranch. He'd spent most of the summer, shoveling muck and laying fence line. This felt like both.

"How does this work?" Walter asked as he and Mulder met in the middle.

Looking up and seeming like the teasing young man that he had been, Mulder said, "I don't know, but budgetarily, I'd say we're looking pretty good."

Frowning, Walter looked around, wishing Alex hadn't pulled a disappearing act. He had said, perhaps joking, perhaps not, 'I've places to go. People to kill."

Concentrating on his task, Walter barely noticed Mulder walking away. When he looked up, the agent was nowhere in sight. He called out, "Agent Mulder? Mulder?"

Feeling like Orpheus in hell, blindly stumbling through impenetrable darkness in his search for Eurydice, Walter crashed through the woods, losing his bearings and almost losing his mind as he called for his lost one. Then the light shot through the sky. It was unnatural, and he understood the way pilots who had seen UFOs spoke of the things now. The hair on his neck rose.

The search parties, the dogs found nothing. Walter finally had no choice but to return home. Scully had collapsed and was in the hospital. He knew she'd never forgive him for what he had to say. He couldn't even forgive himself.

Voice breaking, he said, "I lost him. I don't know what else I can say. I lost him. I'll be asked... what I saw. And what I saw, I can't deny. I won't." Walter's vision painted on the inside of his eyelids, repeated endlessly. He'd never believed either of his lovers, who dark and light, weak and strong, both told the same strange stories about an alien invasion. Well, now he believed. He would not deny what he'd seen with his own eyes.

The hospital room seemed to narrow, collapsing inward to crush him. Scully said something. He barely heard her. Finally listening, he gaped. Pregnant? It made no sense. He remembered how many times Mulder had said they, the aliens, had taken her ovaries. She seemed to cling to this biological impossibility and he didn't want to take that from her. He took her hand, squeezed it in comfort as she lay with a hand protecting her belly.

'Was it Mulder's?' he wondered, 'or did she harbor some nightmarish creature, the kind of thing that made Alex scream in his sleep and kept Mulder dark-eyed and drawn?'

Alex didn't need to go to Oregon to hear immediately what happened. Rage filled him. He wasn't sure who had tricked him, but the alien rebels were out of reach. Spender wasn't...

Marita had found him sitting in Mulder's apartment. She held her coat away from Mulder's furniture primly and said, "Alex, do you intend to sit here sulking and moaning or do you want to get him? Do you want out from under him forever? It's time. It's finally time."

Her voice drew him from his mourning. Alex looked at her elegantly gloved hand and stood. He bowed, kissed the white leather and said, "Lead on, my beautiful dame sans merci."

Tossing her blond hair, she said, "Don't play the fool, Alex. I could do this myself, but I want to share it with you."

Marita had grown tougher and colder than he was. Alex drew strength from her certainty.

The room smelled of cigarette smoke, of medicine, urine and of death. What he really deserved was to die like this, a bit at a time. But even dying, this spider still poisoned and killed.

"We've failed, then. Perhaps you never meant to succeed. Anyway... the hour is at hand, I presume." Spender said. He looked at Alex as if he still had all of the control. The old man always blamed his messes on someone else.

Spender was too loathsome to touch. Instead Alex grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it toward the door. That would be good enough for him. Just throw him down and hope he kept on falling back to where he belonged.

The nurse stepped forward, asking, "What are you doing?" Marita blocked her, her cold eyes setting barriers even Alex would have thought twice to cross.

"Sending the Devil back to Hell." Alex replied as he pushed his old enemy to the top of a flight of stairs. Spender was afraid. Alex sensed that although the old man remained determined to show him nothing.

"As you do to Mulder and to me... you do to all of mankind, Alex."

'What did it mean?' Alex didn't know. Was Spender just playing with his head or maybe Spender hadn't meant to have Mulder abducted?

Hesitating, Alex tried to decide whether Spender could tell him anything.

No, even if he knew, he'd never tell Alex. He'd hold it out like a scrap to torment a starving man just as he dangled secrets in front of Mulder, leading him endlessly on. The wheels rested on the push. And he did it. The shock of it made his knees weak for a moment.

There was no puff of demonic escape. He was an old man crumpled at the bottom of the stairs. Marita came to his side. She viewed the same sight and started moving. With her, Alex walked down the stairs and stepped over the threshold. The nurse was Consortium. She'd know better than to stay around. In fact, she'd probably call a cleaning crew. Alex stepped over Spender's body. To freedom?

'Where the hell was Mulder? Where the hell was Krycek?' Walter felt numb, all the questions and no answers. He was under attack. The director had called him to his office. 'What was an AD doing on a field unauthorized field mission?'

Walter had explained that he was 'fact finding' and it hadn't cost the bureau a thing. Now he was back in his office, feeling trapped. No one had found Mulder, or even one trace of him in Oregon. Walter had gone to his agent's apartment; not much had changed since he'd been there. It was still dark. The blind was closed as always. The books were stacked a little higher. The printouts spewed out of their basket and odd toys littering the desktop. He wasn't there and Walter hadn't even felt closer to him. So he went back to his office to look for UFO sightings and try to trace down the dregs of the consortium.

It had been another wild goose chase. Walter was exhausted and there were too many players in the game, confusing him. Doggett was a royal pain. The man was 'by the book', a fellow marine. Walter remembered a time when supervising such a man would have been a pleasure. Now, he was corrupted by Mulder's insolent attitude toward any rules, Scully's firm belief in her own infallibility, and his own transforming experience with the UFO that had gobbled Mulder.

Thoughts interrupted by Scully's entrance. She looked like a maenad.

Walter had seen her angry before and grief stricken. He'd been the target of her ire himself on several occasions. Agent Scully was a straight shooter. You knew where you stood with her. Walter thought it was good to be whole-heartedly on the right side for once. He felt free because although he hadn't seen Alex; he had a message from him. "The devil is dead."

The newspaper and crime reports were mum on the subject, but that didn't surprise Walter. Nor did he blame Alex. Well, unless for not including him in the party...

Right now, the problem at hand was being caused by the idiots tearing apart Mulder's office. Spender might be dead, but Walter knew parts of the conspiracy lived on. Kersch...what was his story? Was he a piece of shit that had floated to the top or something infinitely more corrupt?

Being treated like Mulder gave Walter new insight into his lover's frustration with the FBI. Kersch's comment was enough to make Walter consider resignation...

"One more thing. Anything leaves this building about aliens or alien abductions or any other nonsense that might cast the Bureau in a ridiculous light-- hey, you can forget about looking for Agent Mulder. You'll both be looking for new jobs."

Parting ways with Marita had been the easiest thing he had done recently. She was as glad to see his back as he was happy to depart. Who knew what was going on behind the model's face and the expressionless blue eyes? His 'inheritance,' so to speak, was considerable. Marita and he had divided the consortium's accounts between them. Both of them had copies of the various databases, and Alex had plans to use them. His bugs and spies in the Hoover building stood him well and he was seething at Walter's treatment. His lover was worth a thousand of Kersh, a man long in Spender's pocket, just too stupid to realize it.

'I have a dream' Alex thought. It might not seem as noble as equality, but it would level the playing field. He started the process of calling in markers and letting the consortium puppets know they had a new master...

Bursting into yet another consortium lab behind the mercenaries he'd hired, Alex selected the section head of this project. He was so ordinary. He might have been plucked out of some over the counter drug advertisement. He had that ageless, placeless, not quite military haircut, metal- rimmed glasses, a square jawed, broad face with a broad forehead and blue-gray eyes. He was trim and tall. His neat white lab jacket bore not a single stain. His hands were pale and the skin under his nails was clean. The man should have been dripping ichor and blood.

"Clarke? Knapp Clarke?" Alex said, grabbing a handful of lab coat.

"You're Krycek. You're supposed to be in prison," the man said.

"Just as I was supposed to be dead. Spender caught a case of that instead." Alex purred. He placed his left hand on the slightly plump neck and exerted a small amount of pressure. "Now, I'm in charge." Sparing a glance at his well-paid men, Alex said, "Just like the other place, clean it up. Data files in boxes for removal. Destroy the equipment."

Back to Clarke who was shaking now, Alex asked, "What's the purpose of this facility?"

"Human genome preservation." Clarke answered. "We prepare for the future, keeping pure specimens of mankind for a future free of the aliens."

Vats lined the next room. Misshapen forms bobbed lifelessly in giant versions of specimen jars.

"Pure?" Alex questioned.

Primly, Clarke answered, "We have to explore error before we approach perfection."

Hearing a whimper from a covered cage, Alex uncovered it. Two small children clung to each other in a cage. "What are these?"

The scientist said, "Those are examples. We randomly sample the sperm and ova to make sure that the cryogenic storage is working properly. These are nothing important."

Alex couldn't help it. His hand closed on the bastard's throat. He shoved the choking man away in the direction of one of the mercenaries, bidding, "Put this scumbag with the others."

Kneeling in front of the cage, Alex reached in his pocket for a small tin of candy that he'd shoved in it earlier. He opened the cage door and the children made terrified sounds. They were both boys. No older than one or two.

Alex smiled at them and said, "Not going to hurt you. Look. Something good."

Avoiding attempts to bite and kick him, Alex tried to extract one child. They both dragged out as if one entity. No one had bothered to diaper them. The cage was lined with litter as if these were small apes not children. Alex popped a candy in one mouth quickly. A smile bloomed on the cherubic face. Alex treated the other child in like fashion.

One child was honey blond and the other had black hair. They both had hazel eyes, wide spaced and innocent. Alex couldn't resist running a finger across the downy brows. He embraced them, burying his face in the tangled ringlets. "I'm so sorry, babies," he said.

MacDonald approached him and said, "Found another kid on an autopsy table. Pretty gross even for me. What you gonna do with those two?"

Standing, Alex was surprised to find the children clinging to his legs. He said, "Find them a mommy and daddy. Someone who wants both. The little things look as if they've only had each other to love. They shouldn't be separated."

The night after the raid was hellish. Spender hadn't thought of the ultimate torture...a night spent with two eighteen month olds. It amazed Alex that they could get into so many things between eating and pooping. The playpen he'd had delivered hardly held them. He'd decided to call them Frank and Jessie for now. With their aptitude for escape and propensity for grabbing other people's things, the little monsters might have some of his genes or be lineal descendants of the James brothers.

Two hours later than he was supposed to arrive, Father Kolchev arrived. His massive hairy body filled the doorway to the point that he had to bow to enter. His beard was a splendid Old Testament flourish down his tremendous chest. Brown slanted eyes twinkled from deep hollows; smile lines radiated in every direction. Each eyebrow might have been a toupee for a lesser man. He was homely in that distinctive Russian way that was almost as oddly charming as a medieval gargoyle carving.

Alex growled, "Sure that you couldn't have been later?"

Father Kolchev and he had met again over one of his other acts of penance, the care of Dmitri, the Russian boy he'd infected with the black oil. He'd found the teenager huddled in the woods with a few other survivors after the attack on the bridge that nearly killed Scully. Not knowing what else to do, Alex had brought the child to the boy's home where Spender had found him. It wasn't their fault that the good foster home had proven to be a consortium front.

Kolchev had been kind and he spoke Russian... had taught Alex enough to give a foundation to college classes. Alex knew it would reassure Dmitri whose mind was shattered by his experiences and that Kolchev would see that the teenager was either repatriated if he had any relatives or would care for the boy at the home. Kolchev knelt to examine the boys, both of whom now huddled behind Alex's legs, nearly knocking him off balance. "Well, well, handsome lads...and they have taken to you."

Alex resisted the urge to kick the one that was drooling so profusely down his leg. He said, "Yeah, but I have things to do. Listen, as usual, don't ask questions. These kids are test-tube babies. No parents and they need some. As far as I can tell, they're normal kids... unless the ability to poop and pee several times in one night is abnormal. Can you find them a home? Together? I'll send legal papers showing them as foundlings."

The priest knelt and produced bright stuffed toys. He played with them for some time before Jesse, the blond and bolder of the two, grabbed for one of the purple and pink striped elephants. Frank darted forward and took the one Jesse had captured. A brief tug of war and then Jesse, somewhat tearfully, accepted the other toy from Father Kolchev. Fifteen minutes later, the children drooled in a double stroller, ready to start on their new life.

Alex felt a lump in his throat and said, "Be very careful, won't you? Let me check out the family you pick my way?"

Father Kolchev reached for him, crushing him in his bear-like grip. "I will. I never want to make the same mistake I made with you. Alexi? Is it any better?"

"Yeah, the old man died." Alex replied. "And I've got someone waiting for me."

"A male someone?" the Father asked.

Shrugging, Alex said, "Yes, I'm sorry I can't be what you want me to be."

Kissing his cheek, Father Kolchev said, "Yes, you can. Be happy. As long as it's someone who cares for you and respects you, Alexi."

"He does." Alex said, "See you later. I'll want to check on these little guys."

There was pleasure in his Shiva trail through the remaining consortium laboratories, subsidiaries, and offices. But taking out the roaches didn't help find Mulder. Alex was damn sure that none of the people that he had interrogated held back anything. There was a time when he wouldn't have used the methods that he did, but he was ruthless now, or at least against these men who truly were the enemies of humanity.

Finally, Alex had traced the last scurrying quisling to his or her lair. Revenge had lost its sweetness for lack of answers. The last lackey had only said something about Gibson Praise...the aliens and everyone else were after the other hybrid, but that asshole, Skinner, and that bitch, Scully, had gotten in the way. "Hope the bald prick stays blind" were the last words the man said.

Alex headed home. The word had a meaning now. Home was where Walter was.

The place that someday Mulder also hopefully would find... a better place than the stars or the grave he always seemed to be seeking. Alex looked once up at the remorseless skies. They seemed dark and cold...a trap as deep and devastating as the bottom of that silo.

Seeing nothing, his company for the moment, only the ceaseless burning in his eyes, Walter reviewed in his mind the steps that had led to this. The decision to ignore Kersch and use Mulder's resources to track the UFOs. Realizing that Gibson Praise, the long missing chess protégée and alleged mutant, was the next target. The confusing events that followed included the appearance of a shape shifter, another barrier shattered as Walter realized that every crazy idea he had denied after reading them in Mulder's uncensored reports was true.

He'd saved the boy. Walter could hug that to himself. Scully was all right too. He'd seen her once since he'd been here, wheeled in from her own hospital room. She hadn't had the brunt of the exposure to the fumes that emerged from a wounded shape-shifter. Some thing unknown had intervened and protected her. His eyes, if he did not regain his sight, were perhaps the price he had to pay for doing it right. Yet Walter felt so alone.

Even more alone than he had felt while waiting to be shipped stateside after being severely wounded in 'nam. Walter forced his hand away from the bandages. It itched under there when it did not burn. They said that the corneas weren't injured. It was all surface damage and there was hope for him. Walter smiled wryly as he recalled the confused efforts to identify the corrosive substance that had maimed him.

"What on Earth is that?" One doctor had asked.

Feeling like Mulder, Walter kept quiet. He had no desire to experience from the inside the locked ward in which he'd visited Mulder. His thoughts were with his lovers, both of them. This time he refused to doubt Alex. His prodigal would be back...

Walter rang the call bell. He hated to ask for pain medication, but if he didn't have some relief from this, he'd be tearing the bandages off soon and clawing at his eyes.

"I'll have to ask the doctor." The voice said. It was a new one. The idiot could just check his chart to find out that he had skipped his last dosage, wanting a clear head if Scully came to visit or Agent Doggett showed up with more abysmal questions. The nurse came back and said, "You should have told me that you were two hours late from your last medication."

Right. God give me the patience, Walter thought, at least, while she had control of the bedpan...

The nurse left, but some one new entered in the room. Walter sensed who it was. There was a familiar combination of movements and the air seemed to heat and light with excitement. He reached out his hands. "Alex."

"Hurts to see you like this." The husky voice answered.

Walter laughed and said, "Hurts more to be like this. Come here."

Alex's weight settled on the bed. Walter reached up, indulging his touch with the sharp planes of Alex's face. Alex briefly turned his palm upward and kissed it before settling it back on his face. Walter found the crease of Alex's nose. He traced it then went downward to finger paint the curve of the lips. "Kiss me."

Mouth yielding, possessing at the same time. The taste of him...the brush of shaven cheeks and silken skin. "God, I missed you. Where have you been?"

"I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a grave yard." A soft laugh punctuated his comment. "Just about anyway. I screwed up, Walter. I shouldn't have killed Spender. I can't fucking find Mulder. What remains of the consortium has gone deep under or is so isolated that no one knows what the hell the plan is now. I've had to place all my hope in the alien rebels, but..." A few years ago the harshness in Alex's voice would have turned to tears. Now, he wouldn't let himself grieve.

Alex's hand crept under the blanket. It lay imploring over Walter's heart.

"Get in here with me for a moment," Walter bade.

It felt warm for the first time since they had been together last. Alex laid his head against Walter's chest. Walter's hand brushed his hair...almost nothingness it was so soft. Again and again until Alex's breathing deepened. Walter meant to stay awake. Had no intention of leaving them both vulnerable but he was tired. His lungs were still recovering from the injury dealt from trying to stop the bounty hunter.

Commotion signaled disaster. Walter flailed as he heard a crisp voice order, "Move away from him."

Instinct made him restrain Alex, saving them from each other. Blind, caught between Mulder's two truths, Walter still commanded. "Put down the gun, Agent Scully. You obviously don't understand." He hardly needed to hear the click of the gun to know that she was armed. Scully no longer went anywhere unarmed. Her bullets were exploding shots, well able to blast a hole the size of her small fist in a shape-changer's neck.

Dana's voice threaded high with disbelief. She asked, "What is there to understand? He betrayed Mulder. If I didn't think he could lead us to him, I'd have shot him where he lay. He's probably planning to kill you, Skinner."

"He was in my arms," replied Walter. "in my bed, and next to my heart. Does that strike you as an efficient means of assassination?"

There was a long silence. Walter's hand held Alex's. Scully had missed the weapon drawn beneath the covers. Scully's breathing gradually grew more erratic. Walter heard the gun slide into a holster. She said, "Walter, make him tell you where Mulder is."

Alex replied, "I don't know, Scully. Don't you think that I've looked?"

"You're on the inside." Scully argued. She was coming closer. "You have to know."

"It's all gone", Alex said, "Shattered into fragments, pathetic little pawns scared to death now that they don't have the old men to do their thinking for them."

An uplift of one winged eyebrow challenged Scully.

"What about the aliens? Mulder thought you worked for some group of them."

Scully stood near enough for Walter to smell the perfume in her hair and hospital antiseptic on her hands.

Weight redistributed as Walter felt Alex sheath his gun and decided he could breath again. Alex said, "Yeah, that's true. But they get a hold of me, not the other way around."

"What do we do then?" Scully asked.

"We wait. And I'm going to take care of Walter until his eyes get better," Alex replied.

Walter found Alex's hand and held onto it. Scully's expelled a hiss of air. She said, "Wait? Do you have any idea of what he might be going through?"

Laughter met that question. Alex responded, "I think I know. Not much they didn't do to me. I was a naughty boy as a teenager, Scully. They took discipline seriously in the consortium. Spender loaned me for tests when I was young and ran away. I was relieved when he came to take me back. Anything seemed better than those places."

Somehow, they'd never got around to discussing exactly how and why Alex came into Spender's grip. Walter had imagined it was the same way he had been trapped, extortion for a moment of weakness. It sounded as if he had been wrong. Alex had been taken as a child or perhaps raised deliberately for use. Walter squeezed his hand a little harder.

"Spring me from this place, Scully. They said that I could go home if I had someone to take care of me." Walter said.

"Him?" Scully said.

Walter didn't need to see her face to know she was frowning. He said, "Yes."

"It's that easy for you? Just forget everything he did? He's fooled you before and went right back to Spender." Scully said.

Alex coldly responded, "I didn't go back. I was traded, Scully. They asked me to turn myself over to him so the old man would give you back. I was stupid enough to do it because I was so damned afraid of losing their love that I didn't know to save my own skin."

"No." Scully said, "Walter and Mulder wouldn't have done that. It didn't happen."

Grateful for the bandages that hid most of his face, Walter said, "We did it. He had a sensor in his belly, but it didn't help. We sold him out for you, Scully. He was Spender's little joke. Programmed and brain washed. Spender even sent me the tapes of it. Thought they would amuse me after I was infected."

"Oh"...Alex exclaimed softly. "That's why..."

"I forgave you? Maybe." Walter admitted. "I might just have been tired of pretending I didn't need you."

Scully hadn't said anything. Her silence wasn't like her. She was as quick as Mulder about expressing her opinion.

Walter said, "I'll show you the tape if that's what it'll take to persuade you. Spender had a great time telling Alex over and over how we betrayed him. "

Her voice sounded completely dead, her self-confidence crushed. Scully said, "I can't believe you did that. I'm ashamed. To send even an enemy back if you know it's to be tortured...but your lover. You traded him when you said that you both loved him."

The sound of her footsteps announced that the conversation was ended. The door slammed. Alex observed, "I didn't expect you to tell her."

"Part of my penance." Walter replied. "Get me out of here."

One was a lousy patient, but that was okay because the other was a poor nurse.

Patience had never been Alex's strength. It wasn't that he didn't like to help Walter as much as the man would let him. His lover enjoyed help in the shower, but if you let him alone for a moment, he was trying to do things that he hadn't the eyesight or the strength to complete such as making soup. Walter didn't even think about using the microwave; he had to try the stove, turning the dial high and then wandering off until the smoke alarms announced the near disaster. He'd set a potholder down and turned the wrong burner on. So Alex yelled. Walter shouted back and both sulked until they found common ground in bed. Walter didn't need his eyesight for that. His touch was the more exquisite for the dark.

Lying still in the darkness of the designated safe zone of the big bed, Alex lay sprawled as Walter's mouth mapped his topography, found each scar and brushed his lips across it and if that couldn't heal the flesh, it did wonders for Alex's soul. Walter found the sensitive places that made it hard to endure without begging for more. Finally, Walter's mouth rested on the pulse at the base of Alex's throat. Hot breath warmed the soft flesh.

"God. God." Walter said. "I want you."

Laughing, Alex huskily replied, "I think you pretty well had me."

Alex's hand stroked the smooth flesh over Walter's head. Usually his lover would have stopped that. His bald spot didn't precisely embarrass him, but he preferred that his lovers ignore it. Arching up, Alex kissed the naked flesh. He stroked his cheek down, shivered at the rough feel of the bandage. It still frightened him although he knew that Walter's eyes would heal. He'd seen enough tests to know that.

This wasn't exactly the way he imagined it although it was good. Alex snuggled his face into the crook of Walter's neck. It seemed wrong to be alone in this. Mulder's face should parallel his so they could argue whether his nose was encroaching on Alex's side of their lover. Mulder would never concede, of course, so Alex used to nibble on Mulder's nose, a silly, sweet perversion that always sent Mulder helpless with laughter.

The rumbling of Walter's stomach woke Alex some time later. He'd have to get up and make dinner. Alex gradually extricated himself from under Walter's arm and made his way into the bathroom for a quick shower. He wasn't much of a cook, but Walter wasn't fussy. A small steak, a green salad, and a baked potato would be a treat for his lover. Alex smiled to himself. Spender would have laughed himself sick at the sight of a domestic Krycek, but hell, it seemed good to him. Throw in Mulder and Alex would have been glad to play househusband.

Well, maybe not, he'd never had thought much past the point where they would be back together. He had clung to his faith that somehow that would happen. He had Walter back and he'd fight heaven or hell to get Mulder as well.

A week passed. Bandages came off. Walter still was barred from work, but that left more time to spend with the Gunmen, hearing reports of UFOs, bee attacks, and unexplained happenings, processing them through his trained mind to look for an elusive pattern. It might be thin hope, but it was still better than despair. Scully spent less time at work than she did at the Lone Gunman's headquarters. She was uncomfortable around Alex, but at least, they hadn't argued outright since the hospital.

It was like trying to introduce a new cat into a household, something Sharon had once tried. Weeks of feline glares and tails least, Scully and Alex had resisted pissing in corners to demonstrate their territory so far.

Driving back, Scully was grim faced. She didn't seem in the mood for conversation so Walter sat in the back seat with Alex. He'd noticed Alex rubbing his arm. For the most part, his lover refused to discuss the amputation, acted as if nothing was wrong. Walter guessed that it hurt sometimes though. He'd notice that Alex removed the prosthesis as soon as they arrived home and on occasions, his lover belted down a whiskey as if it was medication not recreation.

Walter said, "Alex, you look tired. Why don't you lean on me? Rest."

Proving that she wasn't oblivious, Scully said, "I have a friend who uses biofeedback. You might find that useful, Alex. It won't take the edge off as a medication would."

His eyes shutting, Alex took a deep breath. He said, "Yeah, that might be good."

"I'll give her a call." Scully said. A few minutes later, Alex was half asleep as Walter massaged his shoulder, neck, and back.

"What did he tell you about my pregnancy?" Scully asked, disturbing Walter's drowsy lover.

"Spender?" Alex asked. At least, he wasn't in the mood for any of his former games or possibly that behavior had everything to do with the personality that Spender had constructed for Alex after breaking him and nothing to do with the core personality. Alex said, "When I searched his office, I found certain gaps. He'd always kept some files off the computer. I saw them sometimes when I was being disciplined. He'd keep me with him, naked, collared, prostrate on the floor. I wasn't supposed to look up, but I did anyway. I saw files with your name on them, Scully. There were also some with Mulder's name and mine."

Scully pulled over suddenly at a gas station. She made a run for the bathroom.

Alex asked, "Walter, you want to go after her?"

Walter had made that mistake once. Scully was not in the mood for comfort with this "morning sickness". She'd reamed him royally on the one occasion he'd tried it. Alex went in for soda pops, filled the tank, and washed the windows. She showed up as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Scully briefly looked at him and said "Move over. I'm driving."

Opening his mouth to argue, Alex studied Scully's face and obeyed without a word. She said, "Did you find anything?"

Alex replied, "He'd been burning things. I asked the nurse. She said that he'd destroyed a lot of things. He told her it was his personal records."

"What do you think, Krycek?" Scully asked.

Surprisingly, Alex reached across his own body to pat her arm. "I don't know. I'm sorry. Spender was obsessed with you and Mulder as much as he was with me and to a lesser degree with Walter. He could have had something to do with it, but maybe not. And even if he did cause this to happen, maybe it was a gift. He liked you as much as he liked anyone."

Scully said, "That's small comfort."

"You want me to lie to you?" Alex asked.

"No." Scully answered.

A few days later, Walter returned to work. Coming home, Alex was gone. He had left a note. "Looking for information. I've been contacted..."

Alex was gone several weeks. Walter worried. He had never felt so alone. Scully was driven. Pursuing X Files with a vengeance and scrabbling for clues that never seemed to lead anyplace. Doggett seemed determined to be helpful. He was in his way...a draft horse trying to run in a thoroughbred's silks. Of course, his opinion remained that Mulder was hiding. His disbelief reminded Walter of his own refusal to accept what Mulder presented to him. Well, it was more peaceful that way. The man could have his peaceful state of denial for as long as the aliens let him...

Looking up at the night sky, Alex asked, "Did I find you beautiful at one time? Now, all I see is the threat of what you bring."

It was cold. The night air held pinpoints of freezing that bit into his face. Alex found himself on the outside looking in at Walter's apartment again as he had so many years ago. He wondered if anything would have changed if he had resisted the temptation to see them? He'd been weak. As much a child in some ways as the fifteen-year-old boy that Spender had directed one of his lackey families to take from the boy's home. Now, he was stronger. And he had to be stronger yet.

The bag in his hand held a treasure, a perfected vaccine. He was eager to inject some into Walter before turning the rest over to Scully. He had a pharmaceutical factory set up to make it and distribute it as a flu vaccine. There would be hold-outs, but it was a start. If he weren't feeling so sick from the rest of the alien rebel's gifts, he would have sung from pure joy. This was it, the reason for half his suffering and misdeeds...the thing for which he had traded his left arm and years of his life.

Staggering a little from the fever, Alex used his key card to access the security entrance. Imagine that, a key and everything. Leaning against the wall, Alex punched the button for Walter's floor. The elevator motion made him ill. He groaned and held back just barely from throwing up. He couldn't find the other key, fumbling madly at his pockets until Walter suddenly opened the door.

Safe harbor, Alex grinned stupidly and said, "The rat came back the very next day because it couldn't stay away. I do love you, Walter Skinner..."

At which point it all went black...

As unexpectedly as he had left, Alex came back, returning burning with fever and raving. Keeping his lover out of the hospital seemed less important than saving his life. They didn't know what was wrong. All that technology...the science that could clone and transplant and they couldn't even bring down his fever. Walter didn't remember calling Scully but suddenly she was there, holding his hand in a tight knuckled grip.

Feeling like a dumb, suffering animal, Walter sat on the vinyl-covered couch and crushed Alex's jacket in his hands. He stared at his battle-scarred knuckles, at his polished shoes planted on the pale blue tile...he felt as if he didn't fit in his skin. His grief seemed to strain outward, a swelling slow agony of fear and loss.

Hearing Alex scream, a harsh sound ripping from the treatment room, he couldn't stand it anymore. Walter rose, with Scully clinging to him like a persistent terrier, and made his way toward his suffering lover.

Alex still looked beautiful. Sweat anointed him, setting his hair into a velvet nap. Fevered eyes were bright beacons. Walter knelt at his lover's bedside, holding Alex's hand. "You stay with me."

Eyes opened, but apparently did not see him. "Hot." Alex said in a dreary voice. "Please, no more." He groaned. "I said you could do it. Not your friends. Don't make me...kill you. I'll kill you."

"Take me home." Alex begged, grabbing Walter's hand.

"I will soon. When you're better." Walter promised, ignoring the doctor who tried to usher him out.

"You're not real." Alex accused. "Fucking hallucinations. Walter hates me. He hates me."

"No, I love you." Walter assured, never minding the look on the doctor's face. "I'm going to take care of you, but first you have to get well."

There was a spark of comprehension in Alex's eyes. His eyes drew Walter's. It felt like falling, but fearlessly, knowing that their love gave them wings. "Walter?"

"I'm here. What did they do to you?" Walter demanded.

"Antibodies. I'm going fix them. Fix them good. Just have to live long enough." Alex stirred, arching with fever. His eyelids fluttered and he jerked from head to foot, his body supported only from those points as the rest hung, suspended in an agonized snap of muscle and bone.

Staff moved Walter out of the treatment room as he froze in shock. Scully said, "Let them work, Walter. They can reduce the symptoms while they look for a cause."

"Will you work on it? Get the lab on it? Perhaps it's something you ran into before on the X Files." Walter asked. His place was here. He wouldn't leave the lover that remained.

A sunny bedroom greeted Alex when he woke. It wasn't Walter's. Finally, he remembered. Yes, this was the house by the apple orchard. The room smelled like sunshine and lemons. The coverlet was white eyelet lace covered. Plump pillows propped his head. His body felt clean. After a few moments of wakefulness, Alex remembered leaving the hospital. All he had to do was walk to the car. Scully, his unlikely angel of mercy, was at his side again. She held a bag of prescriptions and bore a resigned expression. Walter lifted him out of the chair and slid him into the back seat before climbing in beside him. Strong arms embraced him. Alex had lowered his head to his lover's shoulder. Soon, motion, and the comforting, familiar feel and scents lulled him to sleep.

All he had to do was stir and Walter was there. Alex blinked up at his lover and smiled. Wordlessly, he drew the man down until Walter opened the covers to snuggle him close. Feeling weak and drowsy, but infinitely better than he had, Alex closed his eyes. For as long as the rebels would let him, he would rest and enjoy the treasured moments of care.

The mound of printouts all hit the floor. Scully said, "What ever caused that fever, it had odd characteristics. Some of the chemical signatures resemble the Black Oil."

"He said he was infected by it." Walter answered. He was downstairs because Alex had asked to be left alone. He had tried not to have hurt feelings about that. They had seldom been apart for more than five minutes since coming here. He supposed it was natural for Alex to want some solitude.

A desultory motion of Scully's foot stirred the papers. "Mulder thought so. He mentioned it after that mess in Hong Kong. He was sure that Krycek was in an abandoned silo in North Dakota. He wanted to go back, but Spender had us removed."

It made Walter shudder to think of Alex trapped in his own body with some alien creature and later to be buried alive. He wondered if it was love or hate that fueled Alex's fight for survival?

"All this information and it's useless." Scully complained. "He still has something in his blood. Like a virus but not one we can detect even with the best microscopes in our possession. The only way we can tell something is there is by the chemical changes in his blood. Walter, I hope that you are being very careful when you..." She winced as she failed to complete her sentence.

"Make love to him?" Walter asked. He chuckled softly and said, "I'm not going to pretend that I'm sleeping with him because one of us misplaced his teddy bear, Dana. But I'm careful."

"You shouldn't be kissing him." Scully chided.

"If I get sick, I get sick. If Alex was your lover, would you be able to resist kissing that mouth?" Walter commented.

Standing up, Scully scooped up the fallen papers. The brief act of untidy rebellion had yielded to her precise nature. She said, "I'm not going to answer that..."

"On the grounds that it may incriminate you?" Walter teased.

Dana shot him a wry smile before exiting toward the stairs and her bedroom.

Walter stayed down a bit longer, staring into the murmuring fireplace. It was good to be here, to find as much peace as any of them could find with Mulder missing. Finally, he banked the fire and took the stairs two at a time. With Alex waiting for him, he felt like a young buck in the spring. Sleep vanishing from Alex's eyes, the green orbs lit with moonlight. He uncovered himself, posing as seductively as some cup-bearing Ganymede in a Pompeii bathhouse scene.

"Make love to me?" Alex invited.

"Damn right!" Walter growled. He stood in the circle of moonlight to remove his battered-to-comfort sweatshirt and pants. The frayed rope that was supposed to hold the bottoms up was lost in the tunnel of fabric. The material curled over exposing his flat belly with its salt and pepper fur. Alex was watching, eyes intent on the revealing flesh. Walter would have said that nothing in the world could have persuaded him that he was a handsome man, but when he saw himself reflected through Alex's eyes, he felt almost beautiful.

Sitting on the bed, Walter started with one slim, but far from tiny foot. He stroked the high instep, admired the mother of pearl nails, set in toes more elegant than someone else's fingers. He traced a path up the trim ankle to the knob of knee and then to the masterwork of Alex's thighs. He laid his palms on either side of the inside of the strong legs, parting them further. Alex's head fell back as Walter reached reluctantly for a condom.

Teasing Alex's solid, perfectly shaped cock into plump, heated readiness, Walter eased the condom onto the flesh of it. To bow in worship over his lover was passion, completion, and joy. He had relearned all the ways to touch Alex, to torment him to the point where his need crashed down all the boundaries. Walter didn't need to fuck Alex to know what it felt like to have him completely. Here, in this act, they were equals and any remaining secrets were unimportant. Here, their communication was ideal and glorious.

Walter wet his fingers to slip them inside his lover. The thrust of them stroked incandescent heat from Alex. He had him speaking in tongues, a tower of Babel in one angelic body. The orgasm, when it happened, was bone jarring. In a moment, Walter moved over Alex, guided the remaining hand to his own need and took his love's mouth as if it were his oxygen. He fancied himself like a daring pirate taking a treasure ship. Alex was all he needed. All he wanted. These moments with Alex made the rest of his life pale in comparison. All the houris in paradise could not have given him more than his lover's hand on him and the union of their mouths.

There was peace afterwards and warmth as they pressed together, connecting from their toes to their mouths, perfectly fitted to one another. Walter only staggered up to attend to a perfunctory clean-up before their bodies curved together in a familiar spoon. For one moment, Walter's hand reached farther than Alex's back, seeking fine, soft hair and a mouth made to smile and tease. Empty, it fell back. Not so complete after all. Not until Mulder was returned.

Waking, he knew something was wrong before he even opened his eyes. It was not only that Alex had left the bed, but also every hair on Walter's arm stood up in atavistic horror. Alex was not in the bathroom. Walter pulled on the same threadbare sweats and hurried downstairs. He heard voices coming from the porch.

The creatures were almost Halloween laughable. Large pale faced men with eyes, lips, nose sealed to puckered scarred lines. How the hell did they eat and breathe? Or perhaps they didn't need either food or air. Alex seemed to be communicating with the one member of the group that maintained a human visage. He was a strongly built man with a massive jaw, a broad forehead and blue-gray eyes. His blond hair wore a crewcut, emphasizing the thick rounded skull.

Fully dressed, Alex looked ready to leave. A pouch that Walter didn't recognize was slung across his shoulder. He was clad in black leather, a long sleeved tee shirt and jeans, looking sleek and predatory, the protective coloration of his suits abandoned now.

"They found Mulder." Alex announced. "They'll take me to him."

"Just a minute. Let me wake Scully and we'll go with you." Walter replied.

"No." Alex said, "Just me. There's nothing the two of you can do. Mulder and I have one last job to do and we're the only ones capable of doing it."

"I can't let you do this." Walter cried.

A Mona Lisa smile crossed Alex's face, his expression settling to its enigmatic best. "You can't stop me. I don't belong to you, Walter. No one's ever going to own me again or tell me what to do. The aliens want me for the same reason they wanted Mulder. Because I've been exposed. We're fucking antibodies; Mulder and I. We're the Englishman's last laugh on them all. The first drop of blood that Mulder sheds, once it's combined with mine, is the beginning of the end. The joke is that they snatched him up just like they'll grab me when they sense all the changes going on inside of me. Can't let such good juicy bait get away, can they? Yeah, Walter, I did set Mulder up. I didn't know it at the time, but if they'd told me, I'd have done it anyway. No worse than what happened to me, and for a greater cause."

Walter wanted to force the issue, but he saw it in Alex's eyes. His lover wasn't his boy anymore. He said, "Then let me come with you. Let me help."

Those beautiful black lashes fell, covering the green eyes. "You can't. Stay out of it, Walter. If you love me, stay safe."

Letting Alex take his silence as agreement. Walter stepped forward, cupped Alex's face in his hands and brushed those beloved lips softly. It was not enough. His lover was so beautiful and never more beautiful as he prepared to sacrifice himself for the humanity that had tossed him into the trash, tortured him, labeled him a traitor.

Walter took a deeper kiss and whispered, "If you don't make it out of there alive, I swear I'll follow you to hell and bring you back."

Alex drew back. He patted Walter's cheek. "Been there. I'll get back. Remember what they say about rats and cockroaches. Hard to kill."

The ground held Walter's gaze. He stared at the winter earth, so hard and cold. He couldn't bear to see Alex walk away again.

The last mile needed to be walked alone. The rebels left him near the site. A cluster of abduction victims had settled in the North Dakota badlands. The aliens could not leave them as living evidence. Alex walked in and warned them, giving them more choice than he had. Some left. Others had the courage to volunteer, willing to be bait along side Alex. A wash of everybody else, Alex had seen "Close Encounters".

This wasn't much of a light show. Just weary and scarred humans responding to a hypnotic compulsion, stepping into a beam as prosaic by now as any human elevator.

The small ship held them like a truck full of cattle for the slaughter. Alex made no promises. He held himself aloof and apart, preparing himself to see Mulder, to release the plague, and hopefully to live through the experience.

The base was in North Dakota this time. The bleak prairie was a kind of hard frozen desert. The military bases would have been a drawback if the military had not been informed that the unusual readings were classified experiments. The aliens uploaded them with impersonal brutality. Scanned and decoded, they were herded through corridors of gleaming and pulsating lights.

It was terror to be here where once an alien rode inside of him; now one had swallowed him. The dank air stank of alien fluids. Strange gurgles and hollow echoing sounds erupted at intervals. As they were marched deeper, Alex heard screams, groans, and, finally as doors slithered open to reveal identical openings like gashes in the tissues of the ship, Mulder's voice.

The light dimmed as the door shut. Alex uttered a cry of terror and clutched his wounded arm with the good one. He wanted to huddle in a corner, curled in a fetal knot of rejection. A voice cut through his maddening fear. "Alex, did I hear you? Krycek?"

"Yeah, it's me, Mulder." Alex answered, going to the small window in one wall. The rest of it was featureless as the other walls.

"Did they take you too or are you here to gloat?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah, right. I'd risk coming aboard this fucking ship just to torture you. Have I told you lately that you're an asshole?" Alex said. He reached toward the mass of scar tissue on his arm, finding the smooth cold patch amid the rougher heat of the stump. Wincing, he dragged the tag of material back, fumbling for the instrument concealed beneath it.

After a moment, Mulder's voice sounding wistful remarked, "You used to like my ass hole."

"Still think it's cute." Alex grunted as he found the trinket that the rebel claimed would get him out of the cell. "But not when you do your thinking with it."

Damn, the thing worked. Alex stood back as the opening reappeared. This time he thought the sound was more like the paper-like rustling of cockroaches moving in the dark.

"Mulder?" Alex asked as he ran the pulsating prism like instrument along the wall beneath the windows. The prisoners spilled out behind him. For the first time a rat was the one leading the pipers.

And Mulder.

"You look like shit, Mulder." Alex remarked, perusing the pale face, taking in the hair that stuck in clumps for all the world like a mouse's fur after you'd saved it from a cat. Mulder's naked skin seemed to hang over a lattice of bones with no meat to pad between.

"And you look like an angel." Mulder said, struggling to get to his feet.

Kneeling, Alex raised his former lover. Mulder put his arms around Alex's neck and his dry lips met Alex's. "I haven't touched anyone for months. I've been alone with no one but them." The kiss deepened. Mulder moved his hands to brace Alex's face, his mouth desperately connecting. Alex could feel hot tears running down Mulder's face.

He never could resist Mulder's tears. Alex held him with his one arm, rocking his former lover as they stood. They were naked and human. To the aliens, they were nothing more than specimens, but to each other, the world.

"You didn't come here just to die with me?" Mulder asked.

"No," Alex said. "Came to get you out. Scully and Skinner miss you. Got to keep the peanut gallery happy."

Alex turned the shining crystal until he saw the sharp edge. "Mulder, there's something else. I've been working for some people, not the Smoker. That was just the cover. These...people are not exactly human."

Mulder's breath was warm against his shoulder. His chin dug into the tender flesh of between Alex's collarbone and neck. Alex shivered as Mulder's tongue flicked out to taste him. "Yeah? Not human, but not like these creatures?"

"Exactly. They are old hosts, people who lost their world to the Oiliens and the Grays a long time ago. They've been slaves for a thousand years. All that time they've waited and hoped, looking for a world that would support their form of life. When they were brought to earth, they knew it was time to rebel." Alex explained.

"Not too successfully." Mulder remarked.

That was true. Alex tried not to resent Mulder saying it. "Yeah, but they have a weapon now. A biological weapon."

Nuzzling him, Mulder said, "Unless you have it up your ass, you don't have it on you. You want me to look?"

"Knock it off, Mulder. I do have the weapon. It's not on me. It's in me and in you. It's like a joke. I cut you. You cut me. And we bleed their death right out of our veins." Alex said.

"Right." Mulder said, his voice holding that sardonic edge it always had when he wasn't yelling at Alex or sweet voiced with love for him. "Believe me, Alex. I've bled. It didn't do anything to them."

The eerie light fluctuated again. Alex knew it was time to stop playing. "We're deadly only in combination, just the right formula of different exposures and vaccines. They swallowed us both up like candy coated roach pellets."

Holding up the razor like edge of the tool, Alex let it drop into Mulder's hand. "Trust me this one time?"

Mulder looked deep into Alex's eyes. "What do I have to lose?"

"Cut me deep as you always do." Alex said, extending his hand palm upward.

Mulder kissed the palm that Alex held out before incising the beloved flesh. Quickly, he did the same to his own before pressing his bleeding flesh to Alex's.

Fire sprang between them as their blood touched the crystal. It became a blinding light, a Glory Hand to lead them out of this place. As they walked, leading the other survivors, the ship moaned beneath them. It pitched and quivered beneath their feet, dying, poisoned by their blood. At first, the fearsome light kept the aliens back. They were unable to enter the circle of white cast from the joined hands. Those nearest them flailed their arms and screamed, a high resonating sound more like the cry of malfunctioning machines than anything made of flesh. Yet as more and more of the aliens crowded the corridor, the ones in front died but could not fall, so tightly packed were the creatures. Step by step, Alex and Mulder were forced back away from the door of the ship.

Alex said, "Not going to make it, Mulder. Suits you. I know you always wanted to be a martyr. Me, I just wanted to be free, to have a safe place and for someone to love me."

Turning to him tenderly, Mulder kissed Alex and said, "You have someone who loves you."

The banshee dissonance increased. Magically, the lemming drive forward slowed then stopped. Alex could see flashes of light behind the massed aliens. He could smell sizzling odd horrid odor as if an oil spill had ignited in the ocean. Seeing an opening in the packed aliens, Alex gasped, "Everyone stay tight. Something's happening and I think I see a way through them."

An alien in flames staggered through his mobbed brethren. Two more careened forward and through this gap in the mass, Alex saw two armored figures wielding the flame thrower like devices he'd seen used by the rebels, but he had never seen them use any type of protection for themselves.

The smaller Yoda like figure uttered a shrill cry as she whirled to kill a predatory gray alien. Alex recognized the voice at the same time as Mulder did.

"Scully? Scully!" Mulder yelled joyously.

Alex held tight to his lover's hand. He said, "Later, Mulder. Don't break our arc now."

Sparing him a smile, Mulder said, "I have you. Don't worry."

The larger figure threw back his helmet visor to reveal Walter's sweating, battle furious face.

"How the hell did you get here?" Alex gasped out.

Holding up both of his lovers as they made their way from the dying ship, Walter didn't take the time to answer. The ship was rumbling, preparing to leave its womb of soil. Scully covered their flight with steady blasts from the weapon that the rebels had provided. The spongy, faintly damp footing heaved constantly. Walter caught a glimpse of figures in front of them. He let go of Mulder and Alex to fire at them and then recognized his allies. The sewn shut faces still seemed welcoming, as they stood surrounded by the bodies of Gray Aliens, Oiliens, and hybrid forms.

Moving with swift unnatural grace, the rebels grabbed Mulder and Alex to hurry them off the ship. Two of the rebels moved forward to take defense, allowing Scully and Walter to escape with the other former captives. Mulder gasped as the light of the sun hit his face. 'Oh, God, I was afraid I would never see it again!"

Not giving Mulder long to marvel, the rebels literally threw them in a covered truck...not the ordinary military transport that it seemed. It moved like a rocket, jetting them across a wildly reeling terrain. Miles away, the truck stopped.

Despite his emaciated and ill appearance, Mulder insisted on getting out of the vehicle. The four of them watched the mother ship rise. It gleamed in the air with a deadly beauty like a shark in the ocean, a killing machine yet innocent of human motivations. It rose higher, at first, taking the particular bobbing, darting flight pattern that was so often described in UFO literature. It was a shock when it plummeted down. Walter didn't need to see schematics to know that this wasn't a functioning craft. He saw smaller lights whirl away and couldn't understand why Alex was laughing.

Mulder also seemed confused. He said, "They're getting away."

"Infected..." Alex said. "Where ever they go, they'll be like Typhoid Mary. By the time the rest of them figure it out, it will be too late. No more guts and glory... funny thing is that one of the virus components is a mutated form of the AIDS virus. Hell, maybe someday, that stuff will be the cure for the real thing."

The leader of the aliens stepped forward. He said, "I have learned the concept of a fair trade, Alex Krycek. I have the energy to restore your arm or to destroy the mutated tissue that is killing Mulder."

There was no hesitation. Alex shoved Mulder forward and said, "Do it."

It was just a touch. The alien healer held Mulder firmly for a few moments before the man arched back, passing out.

Scully and Alex each caught him by an arm before he hit the ground. "Wish bone?" Alex asked, eyebrows lifting in a teasing expression.

Scully astounded them all by kissing Alex right on the crease that gave a sweet imperfection to his very diminutive nose. She said, "How about we share, Alex?"

"I can do that." Alex replied.

Turning to Walter, Alex said, "I thought I told you to stay out of it?"

"You think Scully and I want to be the only ones that obey orders?" Walter answered. He picked Mulder up with some token help from Scully and handed him to the waiting hands of the refuge abductees from the ship.

"How'd you follow us?" Alex persisted, never one to accept anything without questioning.

"I persuaded your allies that I would expose them, their enemies, their allies, and the fate of the man in the moon if they didn't let us act as a recovery team. Scully coming along wasn't my idea, but she's hard to stop when Mulder's skin is involved." Walter explained.

Alex looked weary. He said, "I guess I'll forgive you since you saved our collective ass."

Amused, Walter said, "Get in the truck, Alex. Nothing to do now, but wait for the cover-up. This should be a good one."

"Meteorite Landing" landing in North Dakota" the headline proclaimed.

Mulder balled up the front page and managed a basket with the crumpled paper.

"Assholes." He commented. "I can't believe the media bought that."

Walter eyed the paper. He'd picked up a New York Times as well when he left the bed to get some coffee. It crowned a pile of jeans and sweatshirts mounded on the floor next to several large Wal-Mart bags. His reaction was nearly the same as Mulder's.

Sleepy eyed still, Alex took advantage of his middle position in the bed to use both of his lovers as pillows, sprawled like a puppy between them. "They'll buy anything." Alex commented. "I don't care. What's important is that our plan worked."

"What now?" Walter asked.

"A little more business as usual. Clean up what's left of the conspiracy. Make sure that the aliens all die." Alex said with a casual wave of his hand. "There are a few wizened old bastards whose heads I want to see on poles."

"Whatever you want." Mulder replied. "It's your turn to lead, I guess."

An impatient jerk of the head punctuated Mulder's comment. "Christ, Mulder, it's not about who leads and follows. All I want is to go home."

"But I thought you would be staying with us? Scully said that she'd sell us the house by the orchard." Mulder whined.

Shaking his head, Alex fell back and said, "Yeah, exactly. Home. No more aliens or mysteries for me after this is wound up. Don't know what I want to do. Maybe I'll write computer programs. I have some good ideas for games."

"You want to write computer games?" Mulder asked, choking back a chuckle.

"What's wrong with that?" Alex asked indignantly. "I'm as good a hacker as the Lone Gunmen. I can write programs and handle graphics. Maybe I'll do one based on you and Scully. She'd make a kick-ass heroine. What do you think of her in an Emma Peel leather cat suit? Scully can rescue Mulder from mazes and vampire bat women. I think it would sell."

Mulder had left an apple on the table. Walter took the opportunity to stuff it in his lover's opening mouth. Indignant hazel eyes glared at him then twinkled.

"Breakfast is in order, and then a rental car, as our allies appear to have had enough of us. Then, we invent another cover-up. A kidnapping. That shouldn't surprise anyone. Mulder is always being grabbed. Of course, I'll have to look like a fool for being taken in by the pyrotechnics of a crazed religious group, but it won't be the first time."

Walter contemplated the idea briefly. He patted Alex's knee and asked, "Unless you have a better idea?"

"I'll have a talk with Kersch." Alex said. "Don't worry. He'll survive it. I just don't want him raising your blood pressure, Walter. There's only one place where I like it raised very, very high."

Mulder tugged down the blanket, revealing Walter in his glory. "Don't mind me. It's breakfast time."

Walter flipped Mulder on his back. "Not my turn."

Pouncing like a powerful cat, Walter captured and teased Mulder's cock with kisses as Alex slid into place behind their restored lover. Moving Mulder to his side, Alex's mouth trailed down the thin spine, parted the pale marble of the ass and delved inside. Mulder arched between them, gasping, clutching the bedding with white knuckled hands. He moaned in blissful surrender to them both. Each of them connected to the other, their bodies meshed until there was nothing but one being, a trinity of love and passion. Walter's hand helped to open Mulder, to ease Alex inside. Mulder's mouth found Walter's and buried its begging pleas in his kisses. His leg hooked across Walter's thighs, his pelvis thrusting in reflection of Alex's movements behind him.

As each spun deliciously back to earth, the three of them collapsed toward each other - one flesh. Alex's fingers brushed Walter's chest. He kissed Mulder's neck as a hand came back to clutch him near.

"I'm home. "Alex said. "Just where I want to be. And I'm never leaving again."

Walter drew both his lovers close. The three of them, sheltering each other from the hard rain. Home at last.


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