Alex parked Walter's car in the apartment's garage, and took the elevator up to the 17th floor. Taking Walter's advice, he tried to relax and started to get ready for bed. It was odd, he thought, how the apartment didn't feel this empty on nights Walter worked late. Maybe knowing Walter would soon be on his way home was what made the difference.
He moved around the big bed, trying to get comfortable. It didn't feel right, sleeping without Walter. Eventually he found himself stretched out on his stomach with his face buried in Walter's pillow. He was glad they hadn't had time to change the sheets that morning; at least Walter's scent would be with him while they were apart. Feeling like a complete dork, Alex kissed the pillow and said aloud, "Good night, Walter. I love you where ever you are."
He'd forgotten to turn off the alarm, so Alex woke up when the alarm went off at 5:30 Saturday morning. He thought about going back to sleep but the more he thought about it, the more awake he became. Alex got up and used the toilet, then wandered out to the kitchen. He looked in the refrigerator and was reminded of how low he and Walter had run on supplies during the previous few weeks. Well, he had Walter's car, he could make a trip to the grocery store. Alex moved around the kitchen, looking into the cupboards and trying to remember what sorts of things Walter liked to keep on hand. He put some water on to boil and started writing out a shopping list.
The trip to the grocery store was uneventful, albeit expensive. And Alex cheered himself up by buying some frozen foods he thought he'd enjoy having while Walter was out of town. Walter had a low opinion of frozen and pre-packaged foods.
Discovering that re-stocking the cupboards had made him feel better, Alex decided to continue with this streak of domesticity. Excepting Walter's pillow, he stripped off the sheets and remade the bed. He put the sheets in the washing machine, added soap and turned it on, then went off in search of more things to wash. He gathered up the dirty towels from the master bath, the half bath on the first floor, and the kitchen, and tossed them on the floor in front of the washing machine. That would be his next load. He went back upstairs and brought the entire hamper down, sorting the dry cleaning from the wash. While the washer completed its cycle, he bundled Walter's suits together and drove to the dry-cleaners to drop them off. Returning to the apartment, he put the now clean sheets into the dryer and started his next load of laundry. He ran the vacuum around the apartment and, for want of something better to do, dusted the shelves in the living room. Returning to the kitchen, he noticed the counters and stove top could stand a good cleaning and gave them a thorough scrubbing.
Before the afternoon was over, the apartment was sparkling clean and Alex was exhausted. Although he was in great physical shape between the workouts he received teaching self-defense classes and the running he did with Jack, cleaning had used muscles that didn't normally receive much exercise. Alex twisted his shoulders, back, and neck until the muscles loosened, then lay down on the carpeted floor and repeated the motions. As the muscles lost their tension, Alex too relaxed and he fell into a deep sleep.
When the telephone awakened him, hours later, Alex was unaccustomedly disoriented. He had been blessed with the type of mind that, instantaneous with waking, knew the answer to three important questions: his identity, his location, and the situation he would find himself in. During his entire life, only twice before had it failed to inform him of these things immediately upon regaining consciousness. Once was during his ill-fated trip to Tunguska, and the other was while he'd been working for the Consortium, hopping from one city to the next so quickly that he'd lost track of where he was. It took him a moment to remember that he was laying on the living room floor and that the cause of his stiff and sore muscles was nothing more ominous than housework.
The answering machine's outgoing message was still playing as he as he struggled to pull his thoughts together. He stood and approached the answering machine. Only if the caller were Walter (or Jack, Bruce, or Zoe) would he pick up the phone.
Walter's voice came through the speaker loud and clear. "Alex, you there?"
Snatching up the receiver, Alex responded, "I'm here."
"Good, I wanted to give you my room number and the number of the hotel. If something urgent comes up, you can leave a message with the desk clerk. I've got my cell phone here too, but the area we're working suffers frequent signal loss."
Alex wrote down the information Walter provided. He tried to think of something to say, but he really hadn't done anything all day other than clean. And he didn't want to mention that for fear that he'd sound like he was fishing for praise or, worse, like a lonely housewife. He settled on, "I hope the case goes well and that you'll be home soon."
Walter, no more willing to admit the intensity with which he missed his lover, said, "I'll try to call you at least once a day to let you know how it's going. You take care, okay?"
"You too, Walter," Alex replied and ended the call.
The constant ache of missing Walter grew more painful as a long and empty Sunday stretched in front of Alex. With Alex volunteering at the homeless shelter on alternating Saturdays, and Walter often needing additional time to catch up on the reports he was unable to write, read, or review during the work week, Sunday had become sacrosanct as the day they set everything else aside and spent time together.
Alex paced around the apartment. Had his life become so entwined with Walter's that he couldn't think of anything to do on his own? Nothing he could think of sounded fun without Walter there to share it with.
Alex, vilifying himself as weak and needy, cursed the emptiness of the apartment and then began to worry how he'd be able to survive when Walter came to his senses and asked him to leave. He wondered which would hurt less, moving out now or waiting for Walter to ask him to go. Do it now and the pain would end sooner. If it ended at all, Alex amended bitterly.
Realizing his thoughts were getting him nowhere, Alex set them aside. He needed something to do that would take him outside his own head. Getting into a fight would certainly accomplish that task, but he didn't want to cause trouble for an innocent, or even not-so-innocent, bystander. Nor did he want to risk arrest. It wasn't that he feared prison; after everything he'd endured working for the Consortium, even worst the prison system could throw at him would be a walk in the park. Alex knew that falling into old self-destructive patterns wouldn't do him any good. The type of life he wanted to lead with Walter required new methods of coping.
He thought about the few friends he'd made since he stopped living in the shadows. Of everyone he knew, Jack had to come the closest to being able to truly understand the precariousness of Alex's new life. Jack had been there himself, having to leave old habits and behaviors behind, to find a new way of living. Alex picked up the phone.
When Alex explained he was at loose ends, Jack invited him over, saying that he was in the mood to use his grandmother's recipes and would need help eating the resulting food. Jack's grandmother was famous within the family for making enough to feed an army whenever she cooked dinner, so Jack wasn't entirely kidding.
"This one of her secret recipes?" Alex asked. "Or one you can teach to me?"
"I don't think she'd mind my teaching it to you," Jack said. "Come on over and we'll see if you can be taught."
Alex, delighted by the challenge, laughed. "I'm on my way."
"I can't believe I ate so much," Alex remarked, looking at the dishes still littering the table.
"I know what you mean," Jack agreed, patting his stomach. "It's a good thing you talked me into running with you, or I'd be as big as a house. But my sainted grandmother, she sure could cook, couldn't she?"
"She sure could." Alex leaned back in his chair and surveyed the dishes on the table and the pans and serving plates that lay on the stove and counter-tops. They'd spent the afternoon baking and cooking "Just the way Jack's Italian grandmother had learned to cook as a child growing up in the old country," or so Jack claimed. They'd made everything from their own bread, a delicious Rosemary Foccacia, to dishes that Alex had previously only had in four star restaurants or as inferior imitations garnered from the frozen foods section of the grocery store. The stuffed manicotti had been more work than Alex expected, but in retrospect was well worth the effort. And the Chicken Cacciatore, that had turned out better far better than any he'd ever eaten anywhere, top restaurants included. Even the artichoke and fennel salad was good, and Alex didn't even like fennel.
"You want to take some of this home with you?" Jack asked.
"How about we take it to work with us tomorrow and have it for lunch? We'll make the Wendy's brigade green with envy."
"You're evil," Jack accused. But the big grin on his face said otherwise.
Alex placed his leather jacket on its wooden hangar and hung the assemblage in the hall closet. Walking over to the answering machine, he checked for new messages. There weren't any. He looked at his watch and subtracted the hour time difference — it was only 9:30 in Dallas. Knowing Walter, he'd been up to his eyeballs in reports all day and was only now getting around to ordering dinner.
As he went about locking up the apartment and getting ready for bed, Alex thought about the dinner he had, and Walter's weakness for Italian food. He would enjoy showing Walter that he wasn't the only one in their relationship capable of creating magnificent multi-course meals. Even barring the competitive aspects, Alex thought, he wanted to be able to treat Walter to the sort of meal Walter so often prepared for him. Trading the hard work that went into Walter's gourmet meals for simple fare Alex normally prepared simply didn't equal a fair exchange of labor. And, Alex reminded himself, his days of exploiting people were over.
But still, he could hardly wait to see the look on Walter's face when he sat him down to feast on the dishes he'd learned to prepare tonight.
Alex had just begun to fall asleep when the phone rang. Sure it was Walter, he picked it up after the second ring. "Hello," Alex yawed into the phone.
"Did I wake you?" Walter asked.
"No," Alex prevaricated. "I was getting ready for bed when the phone rang."
"You have a good day?"
"Yeah, I did," Alex answered, realizing the truth of the statement. Except for missing Walter, he'd had a great day. "How about you? How's it going?"
"I'm glad I'm here," Walter said. "Now that I'm down here, I've got a much better feel for the players. It won't be easy, but I think we'll be able to hand the prosecution everything it needs."
"That's great," Alex said, keeping the hurt out of his voice. What did Walter mean, he was glad to be in Dallas? Didn't the man miss him?
"Yeah, it is," Walter enthused, thinking that the sooner they had the evidence, the sooner he could fly home. "Anything there I should know about?"
"Nothing I can think of. No mail today, so nothing interesting there. Everything seems to be in fine working order."
"Okay then, I'll let you get some sleep," Walter said, wondering if he should take the line about "fine working order" personally. Alex wouldn't be out looking for a new lover so soon, would he? He'd only been gone two days. Well there was the episode... Uncomfortable with the memory, Walter stopped the thought abruptly. He barely heard Alex's voice saying, "You get some sleep too, Walter," and completely missed the love and concern in the words.
"Good night, Alex," Walter said and reached to hang up the telephone. He never heard the final word of Alex's response.
"Good night, Love."
Monday morning came as bright and early as Monday mornings are wont to do. Alex had slept fitfully, still not adjusted to sleeping alone and troubled by the conversation he'd had with Walter the night before. He put on his running clothes, gathered his wallet, work clothes, leather jacket, and the keys to Walter's car, and drove to Jack's apartment to pick him up.
A strong breeze blew cold air down from the north and the skies began to threaten rain, but after parking Walter's car in Mosely Security's parking lot, Alex and Jack began their morning run. The cold wind was unpleasant, but determined not to break training for the upcoming race, Jack pressed on. Although he too was not appreciative of the weather, Alex had survived much worse and didn't let it bother him. The men made poor time during the first half of the run — running into the strong wind slowed them down considerably — but with the wind at their backs, they made the return trip at record speed and returned from the run exhilarated.
Walter paged through the contents of the file folder the sheriff had given him one more time. He knew he was missing something, but whatever clue was buried in the paperwork continued to elude him.
He tried to focus on the investigation but thoughts of Alex began to intrude. He glanced at his watch, and saw that it was getting late. If he were home in DC, he'd be finishing up his work day and looking forward to picking up Alex. They'd go home and have dinner, and afterwards, they might not do anything more than sit on the couch, but whatever they did, doing it together made the experience infinitely more enjoyable.
Marshalling his thoughts, Walter picked up the stack of file folders and began sorting them by originating agency. If there was ever a case in which the investigators needed a scorecard to keep track of the players, this was it.
After work, Alex returned home to the apartment. He checked the answering machine and, finding no new messages, walked into the kitchen. He put a frozen pizza into the oven and set the timer, then found his book and settled down to do some light reading. Other than the title, _Dangerous Men_, he wasn't sure what had attracted him to the book when he'd spotted it on the bookshelf. He wasn't much of a movie buff, and knew hardly anything about old movies. But it was interesting, reading about Hollywood in the pre-Code years and the sort of movies that were made then. It seemed to Alex that underlying themes portrayed in movies during the pre-Code years bore some resemblance to his own life. Alex knew he was no hero, but he could identify with an outsider's understanding of life. And he, like the pre-Code heroes discussed, acknowledged that the world was jungle and did the best he could.
Alex set his book aside and let his thoughts wander.
Falling into melancholia, Walter's call when it came did nothing to improve Alex's mood. The witnesses were still missing, an agent had been shot, and Walter had no idea when he'd be able to return to Washington.
Talking with Alex brought Walter's longing for his lover into sharp relief. He missed Alex so much it hurt. He'd lived a solitary life for so long, he had thought a couple of weeks away wouldn't be a big deal. He had been wrong. It was a damn big deal.
Locking down his emotions, Walter transmuted his longing for Alex into renewed determination to crack the case. He resolved to use the all of the resources available to him to their fullest extent. He would push the investigators until they gave the case everything they had to give, and he would push himself the hardest of all.
Spender visited Alex in his dreams that night, taunting him with hateful words and plumes of cigarette smoke. Alex woke up in a cold sweat, still hearing echoes of the smoking man's derisive laughter when Alex protested that Walter was away on FBI business, not because he wanted to be.
Having no appetite, Alex skipped breakfast. He would have skipped lunch too, but one of his students said she needed to talk and asked if he'd join her for lunch. He wondered if he was being set up, or if she was coming on to him. But, intrigued and in need of a distraction from his own thoughts, Alex agreed to meet with her at the restaurant down the street.
Over lunch, his student, Maggie O'Neill, revealed that she had recently inherited a gun collection that she wanted to dispose of without opening a legal can of worms. Could Alex help?
Alex took a bite of his turkey sandwich and mulled over the situation. Assuming that this wasn't a set up of some sort, and Alex wasn't convinced it wasn't, what did Ms. O'Neill hope to gain? An estimate of the collection's worth? The name of a reputable gun dealer? Did she expect him to offer to buy the collection himself?
Further conversation revealed that she was concerned her father had obtained the guns illegally. Although there were pistols in the collection, the majority of the pieces appeared to be military in nature. If they had been stolen from the government, she wanted them returned anonymously. But how to do that?
Alex promised to give the matter some thought and arranged to meet with her again in a week's time.
Consistent with his determination to use every resource at his disposal, Walter called Fox Mulder to Dallas. Supervising Mulder had always been challenging, but the man's willingness to follow Walter's orders had decreased since he learned that Alex had begun living with him. And each of Mulder's attempts to "save" him from Alex has worsened the the tension between them. Still, Mulder was the FBI's best profiler and Walter knew that without his help, the investigation would continue to flounder.
After teaching his afternoon classes, Alex drove home to Viva Tower. Rush hour traffic seemed worse than usual and Alex wondered why that was. He was glad that he and Walter didn't live way out in the suburbs, he couldn't imagine adjusting to the long commute times some of his students reported having.
Upon arriving home, Alex checked the answering machine. There were no messages. He tried calling Walter's cell phone but the network was overloaded, probably from all those drivers stuck in rush hour telling their spouses they'd be home late for dinner, Alex thought sardonically. He'd try calling again later.
Alex looked around the apartment for something to do. It was still spotless from the weekend cleaning and he wasn't in the mood to read or to listen to music. He felt restless, missing Walter and yet feeling penned in by the man's absence. If this were his old life, he'd go out and either cause trouble or get laid. Maybe, he thought as a wolfish grin lit his features, both — if he were lucky. Picking the phone back up, he tried Walter's number once more. Still no signal. None too gently, he dropped the phone back into its cradle.
Alex thought about going out, but the view from the balcony convinced him that the roads were still a mess. He flipped on the television, aimlessly switching from channel to channel. Nothing held his attention for more than a few seconds and after making the circuit several times, Alex flipped the switch, once more throwing the apartment into silence.
He glanced at the telephone, willing it to ring. It didn't. He thought about trying to call Walter again, but envisioned the call failing and himself hurling the phone from the balcony in a fit of temper.
Considering his agitated state, Alex reached the conclusion that the only thing that permit him to settle down was physical exertion. Running came to mind, but Alex ruled that out as he and Jack would run in the morning. Alex recalled Walter mentioning that Viva Tower maintained a fitness center for the building's residents and that he'd said something about it being on the same floor as the other public facilities, such as the laundry room. As they had their own washer and dryer, and as Walter had no interest in the health club, preferring to box as his own club, Alex had never felt the need to investigate that part of the building. It was time for that to change. Alex changed into shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed his keys, and went exploring.
When Alex returned to the apartment a couple of hours later, he was feeling much calmer. Checking the answering machine, he found a brief message from Walter stating that he was personally overseeing a stake-out and would be incommunicado for the next twelve to twenty-four hours.
Wednesday morning, Alex picked up Jack and they drove to the Georgetown Waterfront. There, they ran the Glover Archbold Trail through a mostly wild stream valley. Afterwards, on the ride to Mosely Security, Jack couldn't stop talking about how much he enjoyed running in the deep green woods. Alex felt much the same way and began to envision future runs. Having his own car would allow them to explore more of the trails surrounding DC and its suburbs. And he was sure Walter would appreciate no longer having to worry about stranding Alex when he was caught in a meeting or otherwise delayed by FBI business.
Walter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He expected Mulder soon, and he needed to fortify himself for the meeting. Even at the best of times, his agent tried his patience. And Walter was exhausted, physically and emotionally. He'd gotten so used to Alex greeting him with a kiss when he got home. He loved being able share a line from a book he was reading, or laughing at something on TV, and having Alex to cuddle up to on the couch. And their bed . . . Walter decided this was not the direction his thoughts should take. He picked up the telephone and called the hospital to request an update on the medical status of the agent who had been shot.
Reviewing the case notes Mulder had prepared, Walter was again impressed with just how good Mulder was at what he did. Without a doubt, Mulder was best profiler the FBI had ever had. If only he would learn to concentrate his energy on his work rather than interfere with Walter's personal life...
That night, Alex stopped at the Jeep dealership on his way home. He was still going over the brochures and other product literature he'd picked up when Walter called.
Alex sounded cheerful when he picked up the phone and greeted his lover with a delighted "Walter!"
"You're in a good mood," Walter observed.
"I am," Alex agreed. "I've been thinking about your suggestion that we buy a second car and I stopped at the dealership after work."
Before leaving for Dallas, Walter would have been elated to learn Alex was considering the idea. But now, it gave him pause. Hadn't Alex claimed to enjoy spending time with him, even when it was just a few minutes on the way to or from work? And now, while he's away and Alex is driving his car, now he decides to go car shopping? Was this a sign Alex was pulling away? Would he go from wanting his own car to wanting a place of his own? Walter was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he missed Alex's question when it came.
"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
"I asked how the case was going." Actually, he'd asked if Walter had any idea when he was coming home, but he'd be damned before he repeated that question. He hated sounding weak and needy, almost as much as he hated feeling that way.
"It's going better," Walter confided. "I had Mulder flown in this morning. His insights and theories are proving to be everything I hoped."
The casually stated words caused alarm bells to ring in Alex's mind. Walter had not only brought in Mulder, but he'd implied that Mulder's insights and theories were trustworthy. Should Alex assume that Mulder was would make his usual disparaging remarks concerning their relationship? And that this time Walter would not only hear but believe them?
Alex didn't know how to respond. He struggled to think of something to say, but his mind had gone completely blank. He was saved from the problem by the sound of loud pounding followed by a deep baritone voice.
"AD Skinner. I have information..."
"Just a minute, Sheriff," Alex heard Walter say, then "I'm sorry, I've got to go."
Alex nodded, realized Walter couldn't see him and choked out, "I'm sorry too. Take care, Walter." And hung up the phone.
Four long and exhausting hours later, Walter returned to his hotel room. He had just started to undress when Mulder knocked at the door.
"Sir, I thought of something about the case that we need to discuss. Could I come in?"
That was actually the last thing Walter wanted, but he didn't anticipate getting much sleep anyway. He buttoned his shirt back up and let Mulder in.
Walter listened to Mulder's idea and they discussed it for a while. As Mulder got up to go, he said, "You know, I think this separation has been good for you, Sir."
"What's that, Mulder?"
"Being here, away from Krycek. It seems to have reawakened the character traits that lead you to making AD. Your tenacity, your ability to focus...
Walter felt his blood pressure soar. "You," he spluttered. "Mulder, you don't know shit about what makes me tick. And if you know what's good for you, you won't mention Alex again. Is that clear? Now get out!"
"Sir, I only - - "
"Out, Mulder." Walter jerked the door open and Mulder walked reluctantly out. Walter resisted the urge to slam it.
The alarm clock sounded its warning for several minutes before Alex woke up enough to realize that Walter wasn't home. Alex knew that he had to turn the alarm clock off before it gave him a super-sized headache, but it was tempting to lay in bed a little while longer. He was warm and comfortable, which in itself was memorable after nights spent tossing and turning. He'd dreamt that Walter was laying asleep next to him, his warm body spooned against his own after a long night of love-making. He could still feel the warmth and pressure of Walter's body, the illusion furthered by the bedcovers which during the earlier part of the night had become untucked and now lay wadded up behind him.
Freeing himself from the tangle of sheets, Alex hit the off button on the clock and sat on the edge of the bed. He briefly considered going back to bed but knew the two likeliest outcomes were negative. Either he'd fall asleep and be late for work, or, more likely, he'd toss and turn and miss Walter all the more. Yawning, Alex forced himself to his feet and shuffled toward the shower. Looking in the mirror as he shaved, he noticed that he was starting to look as bad as he felt. He hoped the change wasn't as apparent to his students and coworkers as it was to himself.
Walter was consulting with one of his agents when he saw a familiar red head approaching. Dana Scully came up as Walter dismissed the other agent. She held up a folder.
"Here's the results Mulder wanted."
"Scully, what are doing here?"
"Sir?" she asked, confused. "Mulder - - I . . . "
"I think I understand. Mulder asked you to come. He no longer feels the need to seek my approval once he's made up his mind that he knows what's best."
"It's all right, Scully. I'm sure your input will help."
Scully looked at him critically. "I was about to go get a little lunch. Would you like to join me?"
Walter nearly refused, but he had to admit that missing yet another meal would not help solve the case any faster. "Why not?" he said, answering her question with one of his own.
They found a quiet restaurant near their hotel. When they were seated and their waitress had taken their drink order, Scully said, "Sir, I've been meaning to speak to you about Mulder. He's very concerned with this Krycek situation."
"That's a bit of an understatement, Agent Scully. He's obsessed. And it's not a 'situation'."
"I didn't mean it that way. Mulder's spoken to me about it. I told him that I saw no evidence indicating Krycek is exploiting you."
"I appreciate that, Scully."
"As long as you're sure this is what you want. There's no love lost between Krycek and myself, but I won't cause trouble or involve myself in a vendetta. I've tried to counsel Mulder to do the same, but you know how he is."
The waiter arrived with Scully's water and Walter's iced tea, and took their food order.
"Scully, I know only too well how he is. I've always respected Mulder. He's a good agent. He's always been dedicated to his quests, and I was fine with that until he crossed the line. My patience is nearing its end."
"I understand, Sir. Should I try and talk to him again?"
"No, Scully, this is my problem. But thank you."
They moved on to other topics until the food arrived, then abandoned conversation and concentrated on their meal. Scully dug into her salad, but she noticed Walter ate little of his sandwich.
"Sir, aren't you hungry? You look tired and a little pale. Are you coming down with something?"
Walter thought of the many times recently that Alex had asked him that very thing. He smiled weakly. "I am tired. I just don't have much appetite. I'll be fine after this case is over and things get back to normal."
"Just take care of yourself."
"Thank you for your concern, Scully."
They both declined dessert and headed back to the investigation's temporary headquarters.
"Get your eye and ear protection on and, keep the barrel pointed down range!" Alex ordered. His students, lined up in the shooting booths, rapidly obeyed. "Fire one round on each sound of the whistle, ready on the firing line - fire!" he continued, and blew his whistle. Alex walked behind his students, making certain that they obeyed the rules of the range, correcting grips and firing positions, and offering advice or encouragement as needed.
When the lesson ended, Alex stood by the door collecting equipment from the students who had borrowed rather than brought their own. He was inspecting one of the borrowed handguns, deciding whether or not it was overdue for a cleaning, when Bruce Mosely tapped him on the shoulder.
"Come have lunch," Bruce said without preamble.
Alex wasn't particularly hungry but he nodded agreeably. "Let me get these into the weapons locker first."
Bruce was waiting by the front door when Alex came out of the storage room. "Come on, man, I'm hungry," Bruce said, opening the glass door and moving quickly toward his vehicle.
Alex fell into step beside him. "Where are we going?"
"Austin Grill," Bruce said. "I'm in the mood for TexMex."
Alex laughed, "Reminds me of when a friend came in for a visit after he'd been living in Tucson. We went to our old stomping grounds to have dinner, only to find that all of the places we remembered had been replaced by Thai restaurants. Now I like Thai, but he refused to eat any of that 'foreign' food, said the only thing he wanted was 'good American food — burgers or Mexican.'"
Bruce grinned appreciatively. "Man after my own heart."
"I know you better than that," Alex contradicted. "I don't think you've ever met a food you didn't like. 'Specially Southern cooking."
"I do love grits 'n gravy and everything else my mama and grandmammy used to make, that's for sure. But when I got back from 'nam, it was a long time before I'd touch anything with rice. You know what we called what the natives ate while we were over there?"
"What?" Alex asked, though he had a good guess as to the answer.
"Rice and undefinables. And the smell of that stuff..." Bruce shook his head, as if trying to dislodge the memory.
Alex grinned, "It does have a rather unique odor."
By the time they reached the restaurant, Bruce had almost reduced Alex to a state of helpless laughter with a withering comparison of military and hospital cuisine.
As they waited for a table to open up, Bruce asked Alex if he knew when Walter would return to DC. When told there was no telling, Bruce swore under his breath. "Damn. I was hoping to talk him into going with us on Memorial Day."
"Even if Walter's home by then, I don't think you'll talk him into going." Bruce gave him an inquiring look and in response, Alex said, "Let's just say the last time the subject came up, Walter was adamant that he isn't going."
"You are though, right?"
Alex gave an abbreviated nod. "I'll be there."
"You ever been before?"
"I've walked by, sure. But I've never gone on Memorial Day or for any sort of official event."
"Memorial Day's a trip. Wouldn't surprise me if that's the busiest day of the year at the Wall. Paul Revere & The Raiders are doing their annual 'Ride To The Wall'..."
Interrupting, Alex asked, "Paul Revere and the Raiders, didn't they play at Woodstock?"
"You weren't even born then, were you?"
Alex looked sheepish and admitted he hadn't been.
"I believe you're thinking of Country Joe and Fish."
"Oh, that's right," Alex said, thinking of the movie. "I remember now."
"What about Rolling Thunder?"
"Wasn't that the name of a bombing campaign? Vietnam, March 1965 to October 1968, if I remember history class. What about it?"
"You ever see bikers with POW/MIA emblems on the back of their leathers?"
"Sure, I've seen groups of them. Usually riding on the highway or stopped at rest areas. I've never talked to any of them though."
"That's the other Rolling Thunder — they publicize the POW/MIA issue and are working to make sure that no one else ever gets left behind. Last year some 300,000 of them came to DC for Memorial Day."
"So what will we be doing?" Alex asked.
Bruce's reply was pre-emptied by the hostess, who guided the men to a table near the back of the restaurant. Once seated, they both looked around, re-acquainting themselves with the layout of the building and forming an impression of the other diners. Not feeling a threat from any quarter, they relaxed and resumed their conversation.
"You know how the Wall's arranged, right?" Bruce asked.
"By date, then alphabetically."
Bruce smiled in approval at the answer. "I figure we'll hang out near the dates when I was in-country. If any the men from my old unit show up, that's where they'll head. Families of the men I served with who died over there too."
"Do I need to bring anything?"
"Just yourself. Zoe and I'll bring a picnic lunch for the four of us, and folding chairs too. Can't think of anything else we'll need."
A few moments later, a young Hispanic man wearing blue jeans and a tee-shirt bearing the restaurant logo approached their table. He introduced himself as Ramon, their server, and handed each man a menu before asking if they would like to order drinks. Both Bruce and Alex stated that water would be fine and began examining the menu. The waiter excused himself, saying he would return in a few minutes for their order.
Alex hadn't been hungry when he'd agreed to accompany Bruce, but the food smelled delicious and he had developed quite an appetite during their wait for an open table. He read through the menu eagerly and had trouble deciding what sounded best. Eventually he settled on the Austin Special, two enchiladas, one cheese and one chicken, each striped with green chile, ancho, and white sulza sauce.
Bruce, meanwhile, zeroed in on his favorite, the Carne Combo. Accurately described as a meat lover's dream, it included a grilled steak taco, a beef barbacoa enchilada with ancho sauce, and barbecue carne asada.
The waiter returned to take their orders and Alex ordered his lunch using perfectly accented Spanish, earning a blinding smile and a flood of Spanish from the wiry young man. Alex responded in kind and the man laughed as a slight blush burnished his dark skin. Without another word he left to turn in their order.
Bruce looked at Alex with some surprise. "Just how many languages do you speak?"
"Fluently?" Bruce nodded and Alex continued, "Four: English, Russian, French, and Cantonese. I can also speak enough Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch to get myself in — or out — of trouble."
"How'd you learn?"
Alex shrugged. "I grew up speaking Russian at home and English in school. My high school had a language requirement but Russian wasn't one of the choices, so I took French."
"What about Cantonese and Mandarin?"
"Oh, I spent some time in Hong Kong. Cantonese is the native tongue there, but Mandarin Chinese is also spoken. That's where I learned."
"Spent some time in the deserts in the Southwest, not to mention New York. It's surprising just how many languages are spoken there."
Bruce nodded, satisfied. "That brings up one of the reasons I asked you to have lunch with me today. I'm beginning to think you're under-utilized. Are you still enjoying teaching?"
"Yes, I am," Alex said. "But I wouldn't be adverse to hearing what you're thinking."
Bruce laughed. "I think Walter's wearing off on you. That was a very politic answer."
Alex gave him an obvious fake scowl in response, but he wondered how much truth there was to the words. He had changed during the time he and Walter had been living together.
Looking at the expression on Alex's face made Bruce laugh even harder. When he regained control over his laughter, he reached for his water glass and took a sip. "As I was saying," he said, and looked up just in time for Ramon to slide a platter in front of him.
Ramon gave Alex a flirtatious grin, then placed his platter in front of him with a flourish.
"Gracias," Alex said in response, and he meant it sincerely. The food looked and smelled wonderful. And Ramon's attention wasn't unwelcome; he was a very handsome man, sinewy and lean.
"De nada," Ramon murmured, and left to tend to another of his tables.
Bruce observed Alex flirting with the waiter, but said nothing. He himself had always appreciated lovely ladies and now that Zoe was in his life that hadn't changed. He still loved to look. The difference was, he was no longer interested in touching. Bruce thought there was a good chance Alex felt the same way about Walter. And if Alex's listlessness and general lack of appetite were any indication, he was powerfully missing the man.
Alex noticed Bruce looking at him. "What?" he asked.
"Just thinking about business," Bruce replied. He paused just long enough to make Alex wonder if that were the whole truth. "We've had some inquiries from museums interested in renting their facilities for business meetings, luncheons hosted by special interest groups, fund-raising dinners, that sort of thing. Naturally, they don't want to put their collections into jeopardy. And in some cases, the safety of the guests is also an issue, since the speakers may be controversial or have enemies. I've been approached to prepare a white paper outlining the risks and possible ways to overcome them. Some of the solutions entail hardware — anti-theft devices, alarms, motion sensors, cameras — but others will rely on more old-fashioned methods, namely observation and intervention. I was wondering if that would be of interest to you. To work more closely with me, finding weaknesses in existing security systems and developing new methodologies."
Alex looked intrigued. "Would I be doing that full time, or in addition to teaching?"
"In addition, at least at first." Bruce paused to take a bite out of his taco. When he finished swallowing he continued, "I've heard good things about your teaching. I'm also aware that several of the newer students signed up for our courses based on the knowledge that you would be the one teaching them."
The unadorned praise surprised Alex at the same time it warmed his soul. In general, Alex considered other people's emotions irrelevant. He had never given his student's feelings concerning himself or his teaching methods any consideration; when he had a job to do, his attention was on doing the job as accurately and efficiently as possible. In his own training, both punishment and negative conditioning had been utilized, but Alex found that positive reinforcement worked wonders with his students and he used it almost exclusively.
Not knowing how to respond, Alex speared a portion of enchilada with his fork and began to eat.
"So, you interested?" Bruce asked.
Alex nodded and when he'd swallowed his mouthful, said, "Yes. Very."
Satisfied, Bruce turned his attention to his lunch.
They ate quietly, each absorbed in the pleasure afforded by good food, until their stomachs began to protest that they had eaten more than enough. Alex gave up first, pushing the red rice that accompanied his enchiladas around the plate with his fork. He thought about what Bruce had said and the idea that he had somehow turned into a popular teacher. The thought was a little disquieting; he had hoped to maintain a low profile now that he was free of the consortium. Thinking about his students reminded him of Maggie O'Neill's request.
"I had an interesting conversation with one of my students," he began.
Bruce looked up from his plate and signaled him to continue.
"Maggie O'Neill. She asked me to lunch, told me that she'd inherited a gun collection and that she wants my advice about what to do with it."
"How to store it? Or finding a buyer?"
"Maybe," Alex said. He looked troubled and was obviously searching for the words that would explain the problem, so Bruce refrained from asking more questions. "It's just that I've got a weird feeling about it. I can't decide if it's a set-up, a trap of some sort, or if she's legit and she really did inherit her father's collection. She hinted that all of the pieces may not be legal and if that's the case, she wants them returned to their rightful owner."
"That'd be difficult if they were privately owned."
Alex nodded sagely. She's adamant that her name not be linked to the discovery. I assume that's to avoid legal entanglements, but it may go deeper than that. Reading between the lines, I think she's concerned that they'll fall into the wrong hands. But that assumes she's on the up-and-up and that the pieces are of questionable origin."
"You going to look at the collection?"
Alex nodded. "If everything checks out, yes. I started to run a background check; so far nothing seems out of whack. I'm also going to check out the storage place, make sure it isn't under surveillance."
"If you're concerned about electronics or counter-measures, talk to TJ. He's always looking for an excuse to field test his new toys."
"Thanks," Alex said. "I will."
As AD Skinner had not countermanded Mulder's instructions, once he'd been informed of them, Dana Scully found herself working with the Dallas Field Office's Evidence Response Team. Readily accepted by her colleagues as fellow scientist, she was soon processing evidence side by side with them in their well-equipped laboratory. Concentrating on the evidence underneath the lens of her microscope, Scully did not at first hear the question directed toward her.
Dana looked up to see who was calling her name. She saw a beautiful black woman looking at her inquisitively. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"
The woman smiled shyly, saying, "I asked if you'd worked with AD Skinner before."
"Yes, ever since I was assigned to work with Agent Mulder."
"Is the AD always this demanding? I mean," she said, her skin darkening as she blushed, "I've heard agents call him 'Old Stoneface' before, but the man is simply terrifying. He had Agent Blondell over there," she indicated a slight man working by the centrifuge, "so nervous he started to hyperventilate."
"He expects his agents to give their all to the job."
Looking at Scully with a thoughtful expression on her face, the other agent said, "There's doing the job, and then there's doing nothing but the job."
Scully thought of all times she'd witnessed Skinner burning the midnight oil. And realized there had been far fewer of them since Krycek had re-entered his life. With a fleeting smile she said, "Then let's find the evidence that will send him back to DC."
After teaching his last class of the day, Alex stopped by Jack's desk. Jack, holding the phone against his ear with his shoulder, was jotting notes onto a telephone message pad. Alex heard a series of "Mhmmms," followed by "Got it," and "I'll let him know."
Hanging up the phone, Jack asked, "Anything I can do for you, Alex?"
"Do you know if TJ checked out?"
"He's still here. Have you tried looking in the gym? Duke's been razzing him again."
Amused, Alex said, "Again? Still is more like it."
Jack laughed, the phone rang, and Alex went off in search of TJ.
As predicted, Alex found Duke and TJ in the gym.
"Hang it up, Geek Boy. There's no way you can do ten reps."
"Can... too," TJ grunted, "you... muscle... bound... freak."
Alex stood back, enjoying the show. The two continued to exchange insults until TJ, with Duke spotting, finished the final repetition and lifted the bar back to the top of the weight bench.
Alex clapped, "Well done."
Duke turned, giving Alex a dead-eyed stare. "You want something?"
Alex nodded at Duke, but spoke to TJ. "Bruce said I should talk to you if I had questions about electronic surveillance."
Duke snorted. "Man, you ask him one tiny question about that and he'll talk your ear off."
TJ laughed. "Back off, Duke. What do you want to know?"
"One of my students asked for my advice regarding some weaponry she inherited. She wants my help determining whether the goods were stolen. There's a possibility that if they were, the collection is under surveillance. If it is, I want to steer clear. That's what I want to know, is there a way to determine whether or not the site is being electronically monitored? I've already done a drive-by and didn't see any sign of a surveillance unit."
"Would you know what to look for?" Duke asked.
"Meet me in my lab in a half hour," TJ said, "and I'll show you what I've got and what it can do."
"You've got a deal," Alex replied.
Shaking his head, Duke predicted, "You'll be sorry." He turned to face TJ. "You better skip the last exercise and get into the shower."
"You saying it'll take me more than 30 minutes to do three sets of fore arm curls?" TJ asked, incredulous.
"Three sets and shower," Duke amended.
"I can do it."
"I'll show you," TJ insisted. And began adjusting the weight on the bar.
TJ's hair was still wet when he joined Alex in the electronics lab exactly thirty minutes later.
"You build all this yourself?" Alex asked in lieu of a greeting.
"Some, not all," TJ replied, and launched into a detailed description of the gear Alex had been examining and it's capabilities. True to Duke's warning, once started TJ was difficult to interrupt. But contrary to Duke's expectation, Alex had no trouble following along and was interested in both the equipment and TJ's explanations regarding the modifications he had made to what was once stock equipment.
Two hours later, Duke stepped through the lab door. "You guys still at it?"
"Yeah," TJ replied. "We're thinking of going out to get some dinner. You want to come along?"
"And listen to you jabber about electronics all night? No thanks!"
TJ grinned his unrepentant grin. "Suit yourself!"
Duke nodded, flashing a grin to TJ as he did. "See you tomorrow." His eyes once again serious, he nodded at Alex and was gone.
Go to Part 3
Title: Memorial Day: Soldiers Once and Forever - Part 2
Author: Maddie and Haven.
E-mail: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Websites: Maddie's Fanfiction and Haven's Slash Archive
Feedback: Yes, please!
Warnings: This story contains m/m sexual relationship.
Spoilers: Assume everything through S.R. 819.
Archive: Permission granted to Full House, RatB, DitB, WWOMB. Other archives on request.
Disclaimer: All X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made. Jack Rivers, Bruce Mosely, etc., belong to Maddie.
Summary: An unexpected death leads Walter to share painful secrets with Alex.
First Published: June 9, 2003
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If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Maddie and Haven.