Walter Skinner dropped the sheaf of papers onto the desktop and removed his glasses. The collection of field notes were nearly illegible and the intense concentration required to read them had given him eye strain — which he'd ignored long enough for it to develop into a ferocious headache. When pinching the bridge of his nose didn't alleviate the pain, Walter closed his eyes and rubbed his eyelids, hard. Replacing his glasses, he once again tried to focus on the faint scrawl. The words blurred together.
Abandoning the papers, Walter stretched his neck, rolling his head in a slow clockwise circle. The crunch and grind of his vertebrae made an unpleasant reminder that he wasn't getting any younger and he wondered if Alex would still want him when he was just another old man.
TJ stood in the parking lot at Mosely Security, looking from Walter's sedan to Alex and then back again. "This is your ride?"
"No, it's Walter's. I'm still car shopping."
"Ah, that explains it," TJ said. He looked at the silver Crown Vic with evident distaste. "No way I'm riding with you," he said. "You want to follow or hitch a ride with me?"
Alex looked at his watch. It was already getting late and he'd probably want to go straight home after dinner. "I'll follow."
Twenty minutes later, Alex pulled into a parking space on the far side of the lot. TJ, with his typical luck, had nabbed a spot opposite the front door and now stood in the entryway, waiting for Alex to catch up.
The interior of the restaurant was thick with cigarette smoke and voices speaking a variety of languages, none of which were English. Alex surveyed the room, taking note of the salient features and looking for familiar faces among the staff and dinner guests. Not spotting anyone he knew, Alex turned his attention back to TJ. "Tell me again how you found this place."
"When I was at Rensselaer, we used to stay up all night hacking and when we'd get hungry we'd order out. When we got sick of pizza, we'd get Chinese. Yun used to complain about the food, saying it wasn't anything like what he ate at home in China. Told me that if I ever found myself in DC, I should eat at his brother-in-law's place. Everything they serve is authentic to the Guangdong Province. They don't alter the recipes for American tastes and, as you can see," TJ indicated the room, "not many Caucasians eat here."
As he completed another series of neck rolls, Walter wished Alex were standing behind him, sure the skilled touch of his lover would provide more relief than a team of physiotherapists.
Missing Alex more than ever, Walter pulled out his cell phone and checked it for new messages. The display showed the symbol for one new message, but when he replayed it, the message was from Mulder. Walter hit the speed dial button for his home telephone number.
The phone rang and rang, and finally, the machine picked up. Thinking Alex was screening calls, or not near the phone, he said, "Alex, it's me. Pick up if you're there." He waited, but Alex didn't answer.
Concluding that Alex must be in the bathroom and would need a few minutes to reach the phone, Walter kept talking, saying the first things that came into his head. "I'm in my office here at the Dallas Field Office. You should see the space they've given me, you'd think they don't want me to return to DC. And this building, it's really something. And the hotel they've set me up in, it's a lot nicer than the usual places they stash agents. Even the weather here has been great — not too hot during the day and wonderfully cool at night."
Running out of things to say, Walter wrapped up his message. "Looks like you haven't come home yet. I'll call back in an hour or two."
After filling his cup with Wulong tea, Alex held the teapot aloft. TJ, who had been talking nonstop for the past quarter hour, caught his meaning and nodded. Meanwhile, his verbal description of the devices he had designed continued without so much as a pause for breath.
Having filled TJ's cup, Alex picked up his own and took a sip of the hot liquid. The tea was mellow, without the bitter and astringent taste that is typical of the tea served in American restaurants. Alex smiled in appreciation and took another mouthful. TJ kept talking.
Alex's main contributions to the conversation were the occasional "Mhmmm," "Uh huh," and the much rarer "I see." To an observer, Alex would appear to to be only half-listening to his dinner companion, however the impression was completely false. Alex was paying rapt attention, and learnt more about Mosely Security's history and its employees over the course of dinner than he had during the entire time he had been employed there. And although TJ loved to talk about past investigations and the specialized equipment he had created, his descriptions were every bit as entertaining as they were informative.
When it occurred to him to take a look at his wrist watch, Alex was shocked to discover it was well past midnight. Concerned that he had missed his nightly call with Walter, he excused himself from the table and made his way to the pay phone.
The telephone was off a long hallway in the rear of the building, situated near a small private dining room which was populated by a drunken crowd who laughed and applauded boisterously as one of their member sang a horrible rendition of Livin' La Vida Loca. Punching in the numbers for his calling card and Walter's cell phone, Alex covered his free ear with his false hand and hoped that he'd be able to hear Walter above the noise.
He felt a confused mixture of disappointment and relief when a recorded voice came on, stating that the cell phone he was calling was in use and inviting him to leave a message.
"Walter, I'm out with one of the guys from work. I should be home within the hour if you want to call me there."
He returned to the table and a smiling TJ.
"You ready for desert? The mango ice cream is incredible and it goes great with the almond cookies the waitress will bring out with the bill."
"I said I'll look at it in the morning, Agent!" Walter hit the end button and snapped his cell phone shut. Damn Mulder and damn the entire misbegotten investigation. When he was in Washington, agents withheld critical information. Now that he was in the field, they appeared determined to bury the investigation under reams of paper filled with incidental and irrelevant findings.
Walter felt the muscles in his neck and jaw seizing. The stern expression he usually wore became darker, tinged with anger and resentment. He needed to lighten up, to relax, to sleep. But all of these things were impossible in his current state. Having long ago discovered that a few stiff drinks would take the edge off and allow him to get a few hours of sleep, Walter took the stairs down toward the hotel bar.
Locking the apartment door behind him, Alex stopped in front of the hall closet and stripped off his leather jacket. Noticing how strongly it reeked of cigarette smoke, he decided against hanging it in the closet with the other garments. Looking around for a good place to let it air out, he hit upon the balcony, draping it over the back of a chair. Although he wasn't outside for very long, a brisk wind blew and Alex was chilled when he came in.
Aware that he smelled as strongly of cigarettes as did his jacket, and knowing how much he hated smelling smoke on the pillows and sheets, Alex climbed the stairs to the master bath, peeling off his clothes as he went. He pushed them into the laundry hamper and now feeling downright cold, hurried into the shower. The hot water felt great and he took his time, enjoying the flow of water over his skin as he washed his hair, and then lathered and rinsed his body.
It was nearly 2:00 a.m. as Alex toweled himself dry. His hair was damp and he knew it would be rat's nest in the morning, but he was too tired to care. He crawled under the covers, pushed Walter's pillow down until he felt it against his back and then, contented by the illusion that Walter was home in bed, fell asleep.
Walter sat at the hotel bar. The inhospitable aura emanating from him guaranteed that the seats to either side remained empty and that the only person who dared approach was the garrulous bartender who, recognizing danger, wisely saved his words for the other patrons.
Slowly sipping his third scotch, Walter felt his muscles beginning to relax. His anger likewise began to dissipate and his mood lightened. Heartened by the idea that he would sleep well and awaken refreshed, ready once again to do battle, he looked around the room curiously. He noticed a group of young men gathering around a pool table and watched as two of their number competed against one another, each determined to control the action on the table and win the game.
Absorbed in the by-play, Walter did not immediately notice the three men entering the bar, and only when they slid onto the empty seats directly in front of the bartender's station did they come to his attention. All three were big, bearded men with graying hair. Two of the three wore long-sleeved denim shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots. The third wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with a map of Vietnam and the slogan "I'm going to go to Heaven because I've already served my time in Hell," black jeans, and combat boots. One of the men wearing the denim shirts, the one with his hair pulled into a pony-tail, slapped the counter with his open hand. "Yo, barkeep!"
The bartender abandoned the businessman whom he had been discussing baseball and hurried over. "What can I ge—," he said, stopping mid-word. His mouth fell open and his eyes boggled with astonishment. "Teddy, you old dog!" he cried. "I don't believe it, what are you doing here?"
The man called Teddy merely grinned.
"Nothing to say to us, Greenbean?" asked the man in the t-shirt.
The bartender looked from one man to the next, then smiled widely, "Stoner!" he said, smiling widely at the man in the t-shirt. He looked carefully at so-far unidentified man. "Professor?" he ventured.
Professor nodded. "Yep, it's me all right. How ya doin', Greenbean?"
"I'm doing great, how'd you guys find me?"
"Darlene tol' us where you work," Teddy drawled.
Skinner took another sip of his scotch and redirected his attention to the contest of wills taking place by the billiards table. He watched one of the players line up shot that knocked his ball into the pocket without taking the eight ball with it.
Skinner's attention was abruptly yanked back when the words "Field Hospital" and "Da Nang" broke through his consciousness.
Professor continued, "I didn't think he'd make it, not after having his guts bounce out, but I saw him two years ago at the wall. He was doing good, working for the Friend of the Court down in Atlanta."
"I wrote an' asked him if he's goin' to the Wall this year. Said he would, if he could get the time off. How about you, you goin', Greenbean?"
The bartender shook his head. "No, Darlene's niece is getting married over Memorial Day weekend and she'd never forgive me if I didn't go with her."
"Women," Professor said, dismissively.
"Worse than bosses," agreed Stoner.
The bartender changed the topic, asking, "Any of you heard from Genet?"
"Genet?" Stoner laughed. "I haven't thought of him in years. Remember when that reporter came to the fire base to talk about racism and Genet said," he dropped his voice in imitation, "'Man, we all be niggers out here.'"
Teddy chuckled. "Man was right, we were."
Skinner lurched to his feet, wanting to escape from both the bar and his own memories of Vietnam. He pulled a twenty from his wallet, quickly downed the remainder of his scotch and placed the now empty glass on top of the bill. Leaving the hotel bar, Walter strode to the stairwell, jerked open the heavy fire door, and took the stairs two at a time.
The effort of climbing the several flights of stairs did nothing to prevent Walter's thoughts from circling around the memories of Vietnam he kept suppressed. By the time he reached his room, Walter's emotions were tangled as as the black raspberry vines that grew wild on his grandfather's farm. He wanted to talk to Alex, yet at the same time he felt resentful, feeling that he was the one putting forth all the effort in their relationship. After all, Alex hadn't ever tried to call him, had he? And where was he? Out having fun while he was stuck in Dallas working this god-forsaken case? Walter felt trapped, as pinned down as he had ever been while under enemy fire. He wanted to go home; yet at the same time he needed to mete out justice, to make certain that those who died investigating Stuyvesant's drug empire had not died in vain. Walter cursed the politics behind the investigation, the competing law enforcement agencies and, more specifically, the political glory-hounds who willingly trampled evidence as they jockeyed for press coverage and the opportunity to present their own organization in a good light.
Tired and slightly drunk, Walter took off his glasses and lay down on top of the bed. First he would sort out his thoughts, then he would call Alex.
Alex had been asleep for a little under three and a half hours when the alarm clock sounded. Feeling like he had a bad case of jet lag, he hit the off switch, then reset the alarm to give himself another two and a half hours of much needed sleep.
When the alarm went off the second time, Alex turned off the alarm and forced himself out of bed. He used the toilet, washed his hands and face, and then selected the clothes he would wear at work later in the day. Pulling on his running clothes, he ran down the stairs to the main floor and stepped out on to the balcony to retrieve his leather jacket. When he came back inside, it occurred to him that he had been in such a hurry to get into the shower that he had never checked the answering machine. Playing back the message he found there now, Alex heard Walter enthuse about Dallas and wondered whether it was a sign that Walter wanted to make a fresh start, leaving himself, Washington, and all the things they represented behind.
The pounding in Walter's head thrummed in time to the pounding on his hotel door. "Just a minute," he called out in a loud voice, and immediately wished he hadn't. His head felt like it was about to cleave into two.
A moment later, when he yanked open the door, he was greeted by Mulder's impatient "Sir! There's been—," and nothing else as Mulder gaped at him with open-mouthed astonishment.
The disheveled man standing in front of Mulder bore only a passing resemblance to the impeccably dressed Assistant Director he had expected to see. Skinner wore yesterday's clothes which looked as though he had been sleeping in them, he was unshaven, smelled faintly of alcohol, and looked a little green.
"Are you all right, sir?" Mulder asked.
"No, Mulder," Skinner said tiredly, "I'm not."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Yes, tell me why you're knocking at my door at this ungodly hour."
Feeling unjustly accused, Mulder blurted, "It's a quarter past ten!"
Nonplused, Skinner blinked owlishly, confirmed Mulder's statement with a glance to his wrist watch, and said, "You'd better come in."
Alex was in the employee's break room making himself a cup of tea when Jack came in and dropped into one of the chairs. He watched as Jack stretched out his legs and and massaged the long thigh muscles, pressing into them with the palms of his hands.
"Man," Jack said, "my legs are killing me."
Alex nodded. His own legs ached from their morning run but the pain was slight in comparison to the tightness in his chest. He couldn't stop thinking about the message Walter had left on their answering machine. Even while running uphill along Burdette Road, the burning sensation in his quadriceps was nothing compared to the grief he felt knowing that he was unworthy of a relationship with Walter Skinner and that Skinner himself was beginning to realize the truth of the situation.
Expressing faith in Mulder's intuition, Skinner called the Field Office to request copies of every document relevant to the Stuyvesant case and the half dozen others Mulder specified. All of which he wanted delivered to his desk within four hours.
"You'll see," Mulder said when Skinner hung up the phone. "I'm sure I'm right."
"It's a theory worth a closer look," Skinner agreed. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get cleaned up."
Mulder nodded and prepared to leave the room.
"Mulder," Skinner said, calling him back.
"If you're right, this will be hard to prove."
"I know," Mulder said, turning the door knob, "but we'll find a way." He slipped out the still opening door and then silently closed it behind him.
Watching an elderly woman practice an Aikido hold on Alex, Bruce Mosely contemplated the contradictions inherent in the man. He knew the sort of work Alex had done while employed by the Consortium and yet here he was, gently encouraging the woman, allowing her to practice what Bruce knew to be a very painful hold on his own body.
When Alex was satisfied that the woman had demonstrated mastery over the new skill, he thanked her for her patience and promised more individualized attention during her next class.
Bruce watched in amusement as the grandmotherly woman spoke to Alex, telling him he was a good boy, not at all like the hoodlums who loitered on the street corner near her apartment, before bidding him a good afternoon and leaving the practice room.
When the woman was safely out of earshot, Bruce came into the room, grinning. "Got her snowed, I see."
"Come on, Alex, lighten up. That was a joke."
"Sorry Bruce, guess I'm just not in the mood right now."
Bruce took a closer look at Alex and didn't like what he saw. His employee was losing weight and looked like he hadn't had a good meal or a full night's sleep in weeks. "Anything I can help you with?," Bruce asked.
Alex shook his head. "I expect things to change when Walter comes back," replied. A little voice in the back of Alex's head amended the statement, whispering, "If Walter comes back, you mean."
Bruce said, "It's Friday night and I thought you might want some company. Zoe and I are going to dinner and then out to see a movie. Would you like to come with us?"
Alex forced himself to smile. "Thanks Bruce, but no. I've been thinking about what Walter said about getting a second car and planned to go car shopping after work. In fact, if you don't mind, I'd like to cut out of here an hour early and go then."
"As long as you aren't cutting your own classes," Bruce replied, chuckling.
Walter Skinner, on the telephone with the sheriff, glanced up as an unexpected motion caught his eye. He watched as one of the field agents traded her signature on an electronic clipboard for an overnight package. When the agent stepped back toward her desk, Skinner managed a quick glimpse of the delivery man, and for a a fleeting moment thought he recognized him as fellow patient from the hospital in Saigon.
The sheriff, as if sensing the lapse in Walter's attention, asked "You getting all this?"
"Yes," Walter said, and read back the list of times and locations. When he looked up, the courier was gone.
It was late in the afternoon by the time Alex pulled into one of the parking spaces at the Dodge dealership. A bright red Viper was visible through the building's large front windows, as were a minivan and pickup truck. Since his arrival had gone unnoticed by the sales staff, Alex took a moment to admire the sleek lines of the powerful sports car before stepping away from the window and walking to the area of the sales lot where jeeps were located. He didn't spare more than a glance toward the models with hard tops, focusing his attention on the selection of Wranglers parked there.
Alex was reading the window sticker when, in the reflection on the windshield, he noticed a man approaching. Recognizing the man for what he was, Alex waited until the blond was closer before turning around to face him.
"Can I help you?" the salesman asked, extending his hand. "I'm Steve Levine, the sales floor manager."
"Alex Krycek," Alex said, shaking the man's hand. "I'd like to take one of these for a road test."
"We can do that. Which one would you like to try?"
Alex indicated a forest green Jeep Renegade.
"It's a great machine," the man said, smiling ingratiatingly. "We just need to make a photocopy of your driver's license. Why don't you come inside and get the copy made while I locate the keys?"
Alex reached into his back pocket for his wallet. "Lead the way."
Having taken care of the paperwork, Steve reappeared with the ignition key. "Do you mind if I tag along?"
"I don't mind," Alex replied.
Smiling with approval, the salesman handed the key to Alex. "Let's go for a ride." He led the way back to the jeep Alex indicated, opened the passenger side door and climbed in.
Having fastened his seat belt, the salesman watched Alex study the dashboard, familiarizing himself with the controls. "Would you like me to describe the features?"
"Not at the moment," Alex replied. Turning the key in the ignition, he added, "I'll have questions about four-wheel drive later; right now I just want to see how it handles in the city."
He surprised the salesman by shifting into reverse and backing up to the nearest exit at a high rate of speed. When traffic cleared, Alex shifted into first and pulled into the street. Smoothly shifting gears, he increased speed. The vehicle was peppy and Alex wasn't at all timid about testing the machine's capabilities and handling characteristics.
Satisfied that the jeep was comfortable enough for everyday driving, Alex pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. Picking the space furthest from the stores and other vehicles, he brought the jeep to a complete stop. "Can I switch to 4-wheel drive while I'm in motion?"
"You can switch to high range 4-wheel drive at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. You need to be stopped to switch into low range, but that's for when you're stuck in mud up to your axles."
Alex nodded. "Show me what to do."
Following Steve's instructions, Alex exited the parking lot and experimented with shifting in and out of high range 4-wheel drive. Impressed with the vehicle's performance, Alex made his way back to the dealership. "I want one of these," he said. "So what's the next step?"
"You tell me what features want included and I fill out the paperwork."
"That sounds easy enough," Alex commented. But when they entered the dealership, a woman holding a stack of papers motioned to Steve. He nodded, saying to Alex, "It looks like I'm needed in the boss' office. If you'll wait for me at my desk, I promise to be as quick as I can."
Alex had only a few minutes to cool his heels before Steve returned, wearing a puzzled expression on his face.
"Something wrong?" Alex inquired.
Steve shook his head. "Not exactly. Shelly tried running you credit while we were on the test drive, but she couldn't find you in any of the databases. You aren't in a witness protection program, are you?" Steve joked.
Alex shook his head, wishing his life were that simple. "No, that isn't it." After a moment, he added, "I've never bought anything on credit before."
"Nothing?" Steve asked incredulously. "You mean to tell me that you don't have a single credit card?"
Before this new life with Walter, all of his credit cards had been either provided to him by the Consortium, issued in the name of a non-existent person, or stolen. He'd destroyed the cards when he left his old life behind, not that they'd be of any help now. "I'm used to living on a cash basis," Alex replied, hiding his discomfort with the question behind a smile. "Will that be a problem?"
"Probably not," Steve answered after a moment's reflection. "But it does mean more paperwork." Steve rummaged in his desk drawer, and, finding what he was looking for, triumphantly presented Alex with a loan application.
Skimming the form, Alex realized that even the questions regarding his residence would be problematic. Although he had visited the Department of Motor Vehicles to update his driver's license, providing Walter's address as his own, he had never made rent or mortgage payments. The job history section presented another dilemma. Alex couldn't truthfully say that he'd been employed by Mosely Security for the length of time that would preclude questions about previous employers, yet what good would it to do truthfully state he worked for an organization that did not exist in any government or commercial database? Or that before moving in with Walter he had willingly traded the use of his body for food and a place to stay?
Alex folded up the application and slid it into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. "I'll have to bring this back."
Steve looked somewhat skeptical, but thinking of his commission, bit back the sarcastic remarks he could have made and nodded agreeably. "Sure, that'll be fine." Sliding a business card from the holder on his desk, he handed it to Alex. "Give me a call when you're ready."
Walter Skinner frowned at the stacks of reports covering the surface of his borrowed desk. He'd been reviewing the contents for hours, taking notes and outlining possible avenues of investigation. But now he leaned back, still frowning, and capped his fountain pen. If he were home in Washington, he'd call it a day and go home and go home to Alex. "Alex," he thought with a silent sigh. He missed his lover and thought about calling, but knew it wasn't wise to do so from within the field office. He could, of course, use his cell phone, but considering how easily such calls can be picked up by scanners, he decided against doing so. With an audible sigh, he uncapped the pen and tried to focus on the task before him.
Alex sat at Walter's kitchen table, the credit application spread out before him. The sections for which he could provide honest answers were filled in with his distinctive block print, but the remaining sections taunted Alex, sneering that no matter how hard he tried, he would never live up to Walter's ideal, someone who didn't need to conceal his past. Resisting the urge to wad the paper into a ball and hurl it into the trash, Alex stood up and walked to the balcony. Standing on the balcony, he looked down, contemplating the city streets far below. He rarely thought of the night Walter had chained him to the railing, but he thought of it now, wondering if Walter had been right, if he was incapable of living a life that didn't involve breaking the law.
Deep in contemplation, Alex did not immediately hear the ringing telephone. When it permeated his consciousness, he stepped inside, where he heard Walter leaving him a message on the answering machine. He hurried, intending to pick up the phone before Walter could hang up, but when he listened to the words Walter was saying, his pace slowed.
"...thought you'd want to know that, once again, Mulder's wild theories are bearing fruit. We've found enough evidence to convince me that we're on the right track, but putting it all together will take time. I don't know how long I'll be out here; until then," Walter tried to joke, "you'll have sole custody of the apartment and my car. Enjoy them while you can."
Alex, who had stopped moving when he heard Walter utter the second "we," stared at the phone in disbelief. Did Walter honestly believe he was enjoying their separation? And what was that line about custody was supposed to indicate - that Mulder had convinced Walter to toss Alex out of the apartment but Skinner was too polite to break up with him over the phone? Shocked into motion, and fully intending to demand answers, Alex strode to the telephone. But when he held the receiver to his ear, all he could hear was dial tone. He punched in the code for automated callback, but whatever number Walter had called from didn't support the feature. Alex stubbornly resisted the urge to smash the telephone into little pieces.
Saturday found Walter Skinner surrounded by agents clamoring for his attention. The day rushed by with a flurry of activity, and by the time he found his bed, early Sunday morning, Skinner was certain that they were on the right track. The next day he would meet the handful of agents he was certain could be trusted with the big picture. He would assign each a particular thread and together they would begin to unravel the web of lies that had confounded earlier inquiries.
Alex's experience was far different. Time seemed to know no bounds, stretching forever into the distance. Other than a trip to the grocery store, there was nothing he need do. No where to go, no one to see, nothing to do.
When the evening finally rolled around, Alex was beyond bored and feeling extremely restless. He thought about calling Jack, but decided that he wasn't the sort of company he wanted. The last time Alex had been inside a gay bar — or in the company of other gay men — was before he'd moved in with Walter. He missed the easy camaraderie and, since he wasn't exactly living with Walter now, he might was well see what was happening down in the Circle.
An hour and a half later, Alex found himself paying the cover charge at the club where he used to cruise back when he was tricking. The drag queen who let him in gave him an appreciative once over, and Alex smiled, one of his real, dazzling, heart-breaker smiles.
She fanned herself dramatically. "Whoo baby," she said in a southern drawl, "you are so fine!"
Alex laughed, already enjoying himself. He hadn't realized how much he had missed gay life. Maybe he'd be able to talk Walter into going out with him once in a while, even if they had to travel to another city for anonymity's sake.
The crowd hadn't changed much in the months he'd been absent — mostly gay white men ranging in age from mid-twenty to forty, although he spotted a few people of color, as well as a handful of straight women. The only lesbian couple in residence was on the dance floor, so wrapped up in each other that he doubted they were aware of anyone else.
When Alex approached the bar, he was hailed by one of the bartenders as if he were a long-lost friend. Alex grinned, recognizing the man. "Tony, how's it going?"
"Just fine," Tony said. "Haven't seen you here for a while. You get hooked up with someone? You're lookin' good."
"Yeah, I did. He's out of town and you know us mice."
Tony nodded. "Shoulda took you with him. Hey, you want your regular?"
"Yeah," Alex replied, wishing Walter had asked him to go. Not that he would have gone. He had courses to teach, and having him tag along would have been awkward for Walter. Not even straight agents took their spouses with them when the were in the field.
Tony handed Alex a tumbler filled with a clear bubbling liquid and a slice of lime. "Here you go man."
Alex laid a couple of singles down on the counter. "Still having drag contests?"
"Sure do. 11:30 tonight."
"Thanks, Tony," Alex said, and drifted into the shadows of the room.
Long ago, Alex had discovered the perfect spot from which to people watch. It wasn't so close to any of the loud speakers that he risked damaging his hearing, nor so far away from the dance floor that he couldn't see anything. He grabbed a table and sat down, watching the activity taking place around him. Guys cruising each other, drag queens vying for the most attention, and the men on the dance floor moving their well-toned bodies to the hard beat the DJ laid down.
"Green eyes!" a voice called over the music. "I haven't seen you here in ages!"
"Hey, Will," Alex called back, recognizing the voice. "How's it going?"
Will, a tall thin man with short black hair and a goatee, materialized from the crowd and pulled out a chair. Sitting down, he winked. "You know me, where there's a will, there's a way."
"Things are good, man. And you're looking..." Will hesitated. "I was going to say good, but you look better than that. Looks to me like you've discovered the joy of regular meals."
"You could say that," Alex agreed.
"I haven't seen you around, you fall in love or something?"
"You going to introduce me?"
"He's not here. He's out of town."
Alex nodded again. "If he were here, I'd probably be at home. Walter's not into the bar scene."
"Do you miss it?"
Alex looked inside himself. "Honestly, I'm not sure. When he's home I never give it a thought. But when he's away, well, then it's different."
A passing blonde caught Will's eye. "Hey, there goes Chris. You want me to introduce you? He's a good dancer and you're his type."
"Why not," Alex agreed.
Several hours later, a hot and sweaty Alex made his way toward the exit. He'd been propositioned several times, and even groped in the men's room when he'd gone in to take a leak, but he didn't want to go home with any of them. Sex would have been fun, but he knew it wouldn't nourish his soul the way having sex with Walter did.
Alex breached the door and was enjoying the cool night air, when someone called, "Alex? Alex Krycek?"
Alex knew he should recognize the man's voice, but couldn't place the name or face. He turned around, ready for anything, and saw a big bear of a man wearing motorcycle leathers walking toward him. Alex smiled, recognizing him immediately. "Peter! How are you? And where's Marcus?" Peter and Marcus, in Alex's experience, were almost impossible to separate.
"Howard University Hospital. He's been in for two weeks this time."
"Shit, I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too. He was doing so good, then the doctor changed his meds and he came down with some secondary infection. I didn't think he'd be able to pull out of it this time, but he's one tough son of a bitch."
Alex smiled warmly, remembering the times Peter and Marcus had taken him home with them. "Tough as steel, and a heart of gold."
Peter sniffed, trying hard not to cry. "That's my Marcus."
"So why aren't you at the hospital?" Alex inquired gently.
"The damn nurse said it was past visiting hours and kicked me out. When I tried to sneak back in, the battle-ax on duty caught me at it. Then she sat me down, fed me a cup of tea, and said that the best thing I could do for Marcus was to let him rest. Said that he was so busy worrying about me that he had barely any energy to spare for himself. That I needed to stop obsessing and do something positive for myself."
"Easier said than done," Alex commented.
"Yeah. And the worst thing is that I know she's right. My stressing out doesn't help Marcus one bit."
"Is there anything I can do?"
Peter thought it over, then asked, "You mean it?"
Alex shrugged. "Sure."
"Come with me to the hospital tomorrow. I know he'd love to see you. And you can make sure I leave before I wear him out. Afterwards, if you want, we can go see The Kinsey Sicks."
"You have tickets?"
Peter bobbed his head in agreement. "We bought 'em the second they went on sale. And you know how much I hate doing things alone. If you don't go, I'll probably get busted trying to sneak into Marcus' room again."
"Oh, sure," Alex laughed, "guilt me into going with you."
"Whatever works," Peter said, laughing himself. "You want me to pick you up, pick me up, or meet at the hospital?"
"You still living at the same place?"
"Seventeen years and counting," Peter said, smiling.
"Then I'll come get you. Say around three o'clock? Visit Marcus, then grab some dinner before the show?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Alex allowed himself to sleep in Sunday morning. In spite of all the exercise he got working for Mosely Security and running with Jack, all the dancing he had done made him realize he wasn't as limber as he once was. The extra sleep did him good, and the long, very hot shower he took later helped even more.
He was feeling much like his normal self when he stopped at Peter and Marcus' place. Peter, eager to get to the hospital and visit Marcus, was impatiently waiting outside when Alex pulled into the parking space in front of their home. Peter looked up, but not recognizing the car, bent down and pulled another weed from their well-tended garden. Alex had to roll down the window and call to him.
On the drive to the hospital, Peter expressed surprise at Alex's taste in automobiles. Once again, Alex found himself explaining that this wasn't his car, it was Walter's.
"Walter, huh? That your boyfriend?"
"We're living together," Alex said, thinking that Walter would not appreciate being called anyone's "boyfriend." Boyfriend was too - Alex wasn't sure what - to describe him. Too casual? Too undignified? He was still trying to figure out what was wrong with the term when he recognized the expectant look on Peter's face.
"I'm sorry, Peter, did you say something?"
"I said, this Walter of yours must be quite a man."
"He is," Alex agreed.
When they reached the hospital, Marcus expressed delight at seeing Alex, and then continued the interrogation into Alex's personal life.
"It's that I already know all of Peter's stories," Marcus tried to explain. "I love being with him, but you, my friend, you have stories I've never heard."
Alex, mindful of Walter's position within the FBI, briefly explained that his lover held a government position and that he was a bit of a closet case — and, with "Don't ask, Don't tell" still the law, that was as it should be.
"What a stupid law," muttered Peter.
"It's the way it is," said Marcus. "And that being the case, what can you tell us about the delectable Walter?"
Alex laughed. "You two are hopeless, you know that?" But nevertheless, he began telling them about Walter, describing him as a strong, self-sufficient man with a generous heart. He talked about the help Walter had given him after he'd been stabbed, how Walter had not only taken him in, but helped him find a job he loved.
When he finished, Marcus turned to Peter and smiled. "Sounds a lot like someone else I know."
Alex noticed when Marcus began to feel fatigued, and, as promised, talked Peter into leaving the hospital to get some dinner. Marcus, obviously tired, smiled his thanks and asked Peter to give him a full report of the concert when he returned the next day.
Alex insisted that Peter pick the restaurant, and, being familiar with that part of town, gave him directions to a small restaurant with a flair for French country fare.
During dinner, conversation turned to the upcoming concert. Peter asked Alex if he'd ever been to a Kinsey Sicks performance, and expressed surprise when Alex said he had not. I'm sure you've heard their songs in the clubs a time or two, do you remember the drag act Lady Luck and her sister Miss Fortune used to do to 'Gay Será Será'?"
A look of sudden recognition flashed across Alex's face.
"I see you do," laughed Peter. That's one of theirs. It's all dragcappella — barber-shop quartet merged with Doo Wop and some seriously funny songs. Peter let his eyes drop down to Alex's butt and looked at it appraisingly. "I hope your Walter's a bottom, 'cause you're going to laugh your ass off."
Alex shook his head, but Peter was right. The satirical lyrics nearly had him rolling in the isles. Alex's stomach muscles were pleasantly sore by the time the concert ended. He commented on them as he drove Peter home, and Peter agreed. "That's the Sicks, laugh until you cry, and then laugh some more. It's not a bad way to go through life."
When they reached his home, Peter invited Alex inside. Although the hour was getting late, Alex had been invigorated by the concert, and knew he was hours away from sleep.
Alex, following Peter to his front door, was ushered inside. The place looked almost exactly like Alex remembered, full of comfortable, over-stuffed furniture and fine art. Marcus, before he retired, had been a noted historian, with unrivaled expertise on art forgery and the manufacture of bogus antiquities.
Peter guided Alex to a couch near the fireplace. He felt a twinge of apprehension, fearing that Peter wanted to make out with him; his previous visits, while ending cordially enough, had inevitably begun as sexual adventures. Peter, as if reading Alex's mind, shook his head. "I can't. It'd be cheating. The agreement was we played together or not at all."
Alex tried to hide his relief, fearing that Peter would misunderstand. But Peter smiled kindly, saying, "You want your Walter, not a substitute."
Alex smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid so."
"It's okay, I feel the same way about Marcus. I miss him a lot." Peter's voice broke, "And I know that one of these days I'm going to lose him. And," Peter was openly sobbing now, "I'll have to survive on my own."
Alex, not knowing what to say, nodded.
Peter cried for a few minutes, then grabbed a tissue from the box on the table next to his chair. He dabbed his eyes and blew his nose. "Thanks for putting up with me," he said.
Alex chuckled, "It's not a problem. I wouldn't do any better if I were in your shoes."
"No?" Peter queried, curious. "I always thought of you as the strong, stoic type."
Alex shrugged. "Depends on the circumstances, I guess. I screamed myself hoarse when my arm got cut off."
"Well who wouldn't?"
"A strong stoic type?" Alex postulated.
Peter laughed. "It's good to see you haven't changed."
Alex smiled and bid his friend a good night, but Peter's parting words rang in his ears the entire drive home.
Monday morning, during their run, Jack noticed that Alex was quieter than usual. Jack being Jack, he decided to broach the subject head-on. "Is something on your mind, Alex?," he asked.
Alex didn't immediately answer, but after they'd rounded a corner, he said "I've been thinking about life." Alex glanced at Jack in time to see him nod. When he didn't seem inclined to comment, Alex continued, "Wondering if anyone really changes, if it's even worth the bother of trying."
"Hard questions," Jack said. "And ones I've thought about myself. Am I the same person now that I was when I was drinking? Or the person I was before I started to drink? Have I been the same person all along? Did I change, or it is strictly the presence or absence of alcohol that changed? I've never been able to decide."
It was Alex's turn to nod. The remainder of their run was silent, both men lost in their own thoughts.
When Alex returned from work that evening, he found the credit application where he'd left it, spread out on the kitchen table. Damn it, he wanted a jeep, and he wanted to buy one, not steal it. And if he was right, that Walter was going to kick him out once he returned, he'd need his own car. He might as well admit the truth, he hadn't changed a bit. If getting the jeep required falsifying the credit application, well then, that's what he'd do.
He read the questions once more and realized that the application went back only seven years. An idea began to form.
A half hour later, Alex stood in front of a nondescript steel door in DC's warehouse section. He grinned up at the camera disguised as an empty light socket and then beat a furious tattoo on the door with his fist.
Melvin Frohike, startled by the pounding as it echoed through the nearly empty building, glanced at the security monitor showing the warehouse's front door and cursed.
Surfacing from the 3-D computer game he was testing, Ringo looked disoriented. He peered at Frohike and asked "What's going on?"
"Krycek. That's who's pounding on our door."
Krycek's voice came over the speaker system. "Come on guys, I know you're in there. Open up."
"Think he'll go away if we ignore him?" Frohike asked.
"Krycek? Get real. He'd probably just shoot the hinges off the door."
Muttering imprecations, Frohike made his way to the door and began throwing open the assortment of locks. Hearing the locks turn, Alex was considerate enough to stop pounding.
When the door swung open, Frohike stood barring the entrance. "What do you want?" he asked coldly.
"A favor," Alex grinned.
"And just why should we grant you a favor," Ringo inquired, appearing behind Frohike.
"Why don't you invite me in where we can discuss it like gentlemen?"
"Gentle men?" Frohike sneered. "I don't think so."
"Now, now," John Byers interrupted, "that's no way to treat a guest. Invited or not."
Alex smiled his most unthreatening smile at John, who smiled back.
Byers looked from Langley to Frohike. "You know as well as I do that he isn't going to give up; if we're going to talk, it may as well be inside where we can be comfortable."
Frohike shot Byers a dark look, but stepped aside and allowed Alex to follow Byers to a part of the warehouse that contained three obviously second-hand couches and a bedraggled lazy-boy. Byers pointed at the least beat-up couch and said, "Have a seat."
"Thanks," Alex replied. He sat.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
Alex forestalled any protests by politely declining.
"What can we do for you?" Byers asked.
"I'd like to ask your help," Alex said.
"Our help?" Langley repeated.
Alex nodded. "I need someone with enough skill to hack into Experian's database."
Langley grinned, forgetting the animosity between them as he began to formulate possible avenues of attack. Frohike and Byers, however, frowned.
"Why?" Byers asked. "And why us?" Frohike added.
"Because no one is more skilled at system intrusion than you three."
Feeling slightly mollified, Frohike nodded. "So whose credit score do you want us to trash?"
Krycek blinked in surprise. "Trashed? No one's." He looked from man to man, carefully noting the expression on each face. He addressed himself to Byers, "You've always played fair with me, and whether or not you believe it, I've helped you guys from behind the scenes whenever I was able. Haven't you ever wondered how you survived that encounter with the professor at the biohazard conference?"
"How do you know about that?" Frohike challenged.
"How do you think?" Alex responded mildly. "Someone let something slip."
The men seemed to think this over, exchanged glances and head shakes with one another, and then nodded once, in unison. "So you're saying we owe you," Byers concluded.
"No, I didn't say that. What I said was that I wanted to ask a favor. Or, if you're uncomfortable with that, we can barter."
The men exchanged more glances. When consensus had been reached, Byers said, "Barter."
"Fair enough," Alex replied. And made his opening offer.
Alex was still high from his successful negotiations with the Lone Gunmen when he returned home. In exchange for a hands-on demonstration of Mosely Security's electronic surveillance solutions, the Gunmen would enter the credit bureau's computer system and create a record that indicated Alex Krycek had behaved much like the average consumer until his employer transfered him to its Eastern European Market Division. At that point, his file went dormant. And, as Russia lacks a system to accumulate credit-related information, nothing further could be learned of Alex's activities until he returned to DC and moved into Walter's apartment.
Having filled in the credit application with the information provided by the Lone Gunemen, Alex was happily folding up the form when the phone rang. He was feeling too ebullient to wait for the answering machine and picked up the call himself. "Skinner Residence."
"Alex!" Walter said. "I didn't think I'd catch you at home."
Where else would I be, Alex wondered. But Alex was in far too good a mood to risk a confrontation, and simply replied "I'm here."
Walter caught the happiness in Alex's voice and was more convinced than ever that Alex delighted in having the apartment to himself. "So things are good, are they?" Walter asked.
"Everything here's fine," Alex said. "How's the investigation?"
Walter couldn't prevent the sigh from escaping before he answered, "Convoluted. This thing has more layers than an onion. Every time I think I've gotten the whole thing uncovered, it turns out there's another layer to explore."
"It is," Walter agreed.
"Anything I can do for you?" Alex asked.
"Not that I can think of," Walter said, although answer "Fly out here and be with me," had immediately presented itself. Best not to ask for the impossible, he told himself.
"So, see you when I see you?"
"'Fraid so," Walter agreed.
When Maggie O'Neill arrived for class, Alex took her aside. "Lunch?" he asked.
"So you've thought about it?"
She nodded back. "In that case, lunch is on me."
Wearing one of TJ's electronic jammers underneath his jacket, Alex met Maggie O'Neill at the restaurant.
"You'll help?" Maggie asked.
"I haven't decided yet," Alex replied truthfully. "There are still too many unanswered questions for my liking." He paused, giving Maggie a chance to respond.
When Alex remained silent a little too long for her taste, Maggie prompted, "Such as?"
"How'd they fall into your hands?"
"I inherited them from my dad. What can I say? He may have been born here, but he supported the IRA as fervently as any native-born Irishman."
"But why did he keep them? Didn't that defeat the purpose?"
"Dad was still working out the logistics when the the IRA began decommissioning its weapons. At first dad wasn't concerned; he was certain that the disarmament was a ruse. Then his his intermediary with the smugglers had a heart attack and died. And the disarmament proved real. So there's dad, stuck with a storage locker of merchandise he no longer wanted. The only good news was that no one else knew what he had."
"So why not sell them? I'm sure finding private buyers wouldn't have been difficult."
"This may not make sense, but dad didn't want them to fall into the wrong hands. Dad wasn't a terrorist, or at least he didn't see himself as one. He believed in Ireland, but he didn't trust anyone else to live up to his ideals. That being the case, he would have wanted them restored to their original owners. Which is what I'm trying to do."
"Fair enough. So where are they now?"
"Locker JJ-26. I can show you, or I can give you a map."
"How about both? Map first."
Maggie reached into her purse and pulled out a small hand-drawn map, showing the storage complex and the location of her locker within it.
Alex glanced it over. "I'll want to go there with you, to make sure it contains what you think it does."
"Do you want to go there now?" Maggie asked.
"No, not today. Here, why don't you write your home number on the back," Alex said, handing Maggie her map. "I'll give you a call when I'm ready."
After work, Alex drove to the dealership where, having entered the main building, he asked the receptionist to page Steve Levine, the salesman who had helped him last time he was there. Alex's request was overheard by the floor sales manager, who, with a predatory smile, interrupted. "Steve has the day off," he said, "but I'd be happy to help you."
Alex, smiling just as insincerely, said, "Thanks, but no. I can't stick around, I just wanted to drop this off."
"I'll be sure Steve gets it," the manager assured Alex, taking the application from his hand.
"See that you do," Alex said. His voice sounded perfectly friendly, but his stare was ice cold.
The manager reacted to glittering green, pulling back fractionally. The threat was so subtle as to be almost subliminal. Confused by his own reaction, the manager looked at Alex, trying to determine if he'd suddenly gone off rocker. The small voice in the back of his head continued to scream "Danger!" but all he saw was a well-groomed man smiling at him, saying that he'd wait for Steve's call, and wishing him a good day.
When Alex was out of the showroom, the manager retreated to his desk, where he removed his bottle of Scotch from its hiding place and, with shaking hands, poured himself a stiff drink. "I've got to find a new job," he mumbled to himself, "before working here drives me completely around the bend."
Alex, meanwhile, was cheerfully driving toward the storage complex indicated on Maggie's map. He turned a block early, and went around the facility, keeping a city block between himself and the complex at all times. Nothing looked out of place or unusual. And the scanners he had borrowed from TJ remained perfectly silent.
Alex moved over one block, so that he passed directly by the complex. Street access was from one direction only, through an iron gate directly in front of the main building. Alex could see an electronic keypad; Alex surmised that during office hours the gate would be manned by a guard, but during off hours, access was limited to those who knew the electronic lock sequence. And that access to the facility was probably recorded; the identity of visitors being tracked by the specific code they used to enter.
Alex shook his head at the naiveté of the system designer. Such a system might thwart a simple-minded thief, but it was child's play considering the systems he'd gone up against in the past.
When he reached home, Alex checked the answering machine, but there were no new messages. He picked up the phone, intending to call Walter, but changed his mind. What could he say after all? He was sure Walter wouldn't approve of his falsifying credit applications, his going home with another man (even if sex wasn't involved, and would Walter believe him even though that was the truth?), or that he was considering helping an acquaintance — not even a friend, an acquaintance — cover-up any number of federal crimes? No, it was better to let Walter maintain his illusions. He was under enough stress from the Stuyvesant case as it was, he didn't need Alex's failings adding to the load.
The remainder of the week flew by. Skinner, as the Assistant Director in charge of Criminal Investigation was, officially, in charge of almost all of the agents stationed in Dallas. And, before the week was out, every single agent under his purview was working on the Stuyvesant case to the exclusion of all else. It was a surprising to everyone except Agent Mulder that nearly two-thirds of the previously active cases had ties to that investigation.
Skinner, although still angry with the Director for sending him to Dallas, acknowledged that he was in the cat-bird seat — exactly where he needed to be to bring the investigation to a successful conclusion.
The director, during his daily demands for updates and results, hinted that the rapid conclusion of the case would not only be a feather in Skinner's cap, but would increase the likelihood that he would have a place on the top floor. Skinner didn't care. As far as he was concerned, the best reward for successfully closing the case would be his speedy return to DC and, more importantly, home to Alex. Not that he'd had time to talk to him the past few days. The evidence was coming in so quickly, it was a struggle to keep up. And, he had to be ever-vigilant, as a case this complex would unravel quickly if word got out as to what was really going on.
On the surface, Alex's week seemed no different than those of the previous month. For the most part, he kept to his usual schedule, running with Jack, teaching self-defense and gun safety classes at Mosely, making the occasional sales call with Bruce. But after the work day concluded, Alex's day was far from over.
Alex began spending more time with his coworkers, buying them dinner and sounding them out on their willingness to help him with an illegal project. One that, ironically, was for the public good.
TJ, as Alex expected, was delighted to help. He would provide headsets to each team member, monitor the operation from inside his van, provide an electronic lock-pick for the gate, and warn the team if his scanners picked up any sign of law enforcement activity near-by.
Helen Fontenot also responded favorably, going so far as to introduce him to her friend, Susan Milford, who as it turned out, was actually in need of a storage locker in that part of town. Susan rented one in the complex, and Alex, accompanying her on a later visit, helped move a minivan's worth of packing crates into Susan's unit. Then, surreptitiously, he installed a a variety of cameras around Locker JJ-26. For good measure, he also used a few old-fashioned tricks, such as gluing a hair to the door in such a way that if the door was opened, the hair would snap in two.
Bruce, when asked if he wanted to go to dinner, laughed. Dinner, he said, was unnecessary; he was already in. He suggested Alex invite Duke instead. Alex took the advice.
Duke, as Alex expected, was his usual taciturn self during dinner. When Alex began describing the Maggie's situation, however, Duke interrupted, asking Alex if he'd considered the disposal side of the equation. Alex admitted he was still working on it. Duke nodded, slowly. "What we need," he said, "are secure drop-off site and a tame Fibbie."
Alex, thinking Duke was referring to Walter, began to bristle.
Duke, watching Alex's reaction, almost grinned. "No, not Walter," he said dryly. "Someone who won't ask too many questions."
Duke watched Alex settle down before adding, "Who won't let anything wander off, and who won't try a double-cross."
Alex nodded. "You have some one in mind?"
Duke nodded, looking thoughtful. "I think I know just the man."
Title: Memorial Day: Soldiers Once and Forever - Part 3
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: May 31, 2004
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