Author: Josan, aided and abetted by Virgule Vaughan
Betas: Skif and her virtual blue pencil. Karen-Leigh, who is to "blame" for these sequels by sending me all those Nick Lea tapes. I claim any inaccuracies...none of them are anyone else's fault.
Date: November, 2000
Summary: If you've read the first story and then you read the title of this one, you know what it's about.
Comments: email@example.com OR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER: Skinner and the original Krycek are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but the others belong to me.
DEDICATION: With thanks, to the people who voted for my stories in the WIRERIMS Awards.
* * * * *
"Sebastian! Over here!"
Sebastian looked over the heads of people waiting for the new arrivals and spotted Alex's hand, waving in the air. He dropped one of his bags, waved back. Eyes on the spot, he worked his way through the crowd around the luggage carousel and finally broke free.
Alex was waiting by the wall, grinning at him.
Sebastian came up to him, dropped both pieces of luggage, opened up his arms and pulled Alex into them. After only the merest hint of stiffening, Alex relaxed, put his arms around Sebastian, returned the hug and then pulled back.
"No. Please, Alex. Give me a moment more."
And Alex allowed Sebastian to hold him close, his arms around his brother until Sebastian released him. He looked Alex over, from head to foot and back up again. "You look like yourself."
Alex laughed. "Come on. Walter's at home, preparing supper." He bent to grab hold of one of the luggage handles but Sebastian got there first. "Sebastian," he groaned, "let me have one of those."
Sebastian thought about refusing but something in Alex's eyes made him hand one over, the lighter of the two. Alex knew what he was doing, sighed, but said nothing more about it. They chatted about the flight over, the movie, the horrible child who had spent the entire commute from New York to Boston screaming that he didn't want to go home.
They stowed the luggage in the back of the black Explorer, set out for the house Walter and Alex were renting in Boston for the year that Walter had accepted to teach at Tufts.
They were at a red light when Alex became aware of the sappy grin on Sebastian's face as he watched him drive. "What?"
Sebastian just shook his head. But at the next red light, he leaned over, grabbed Alex by the back of the head, hauled him over and planted a loud, wet kiss on his cheek.
"Shit, Sebastian," Alex wiped his face with the back of his hand, ignoring the honk that informed him that the light had changed colour. "You've been spending too much time with Mass."
"Don't you ever scare us like that again, understand?" Sebastian gave Alex's shoulder a punch that made his steering wobble for a second.
"Yeah," Alex grinned at his brother, enjoying the twinge of ache in his arm. The cars behind him had finally decided to pass him rather than wait for him to move.
He took the time to really look Sebastian over. "So how are you doing?"
Sebastian moved so that he could rest his head against the cold window. December in Boston was nothing like December in Leeds. He'd never been in the States at this time of year before. "Fine. I'm doing fine."
Alex gave him a scrutinizing look.
"No, Alex, really. I've learnt the hard way that a man my age should avoid young, ambitious female students. That I, like too many other solitary men, is susceptible to flattery. And infatuation. And that, after the initial shock, I realized I had not really been in love." He cocked an eyebrow at his brother. "That in fact, it was probably your fault."
"*My* fault? How the hell is it my fault that you got hot and bothered over a twenty year old co-ed who only wanted to have an affair with some professor? Not even one in her field."
"Well," conceded Sebastian, "yours and Walter's. If I hadn't had the example of a happy, loving couple to make me realize just how lonely I was..."
Alex chuckled. "Walter's going to love hearing that." He looked over, noticing a certain aura of happiness around his brother. "So, what's new? Or should I say, who?"
Sebastian grinned. He couldn't hide secrets from Alex: they were too connected. "Remember Malcolm Crawford? I introduced him to you the last time you visited, at the Dean's luncheon."
Alex thought a moment. "The geeky Medievalist? The one who was mooning over you while you only had eyes for the hussy?"
Sebastian sat properly in his seat, crossed his arms over his chest. Huffed, "Malcolm is not geeky."
Alex just smiled. "How old is he? He's got to be close to our age."
"He's ten years younger. It's the grey hair that makes people think he's older. And don't you dare lecture me about the age difference: you and Walter are twelve years apart."
"So why isn't he here with you?" Alex turned down a quiet street near the University.
"His grandmother isn't well. Besides, he thought there would be enough tension with the purpose of this visit without throwing another unknown into the equation."
Because, though it was nearing Christmas, though Mass would be joining them in a day or so, the purpose of this visit was more than nerve-racking.
The fourth of them had been located.
And he really didn't want to meet with them, or have anything to do with them.
He'd been very insistent on that.
* * * * *
"Sebastian, welcome. How was the flight?" Walter took their coats, hung them up in the closet. The glare he sent Alex was very effective: Alex set down the piece of luggage and shrugged. "I'll show Sebastian up to his room, Alex. Why don't you check on the potatoes?"
"Yeah, sure," Alex groused.
Walter ignored Alex, picked up the piece Alex had brought in. He was expecting something heavier, quirked an eyebrow at Sebastian. "He wanted to carry something. It's not heavy because I didn't pack much into it. Going home, I expect it to be filled with books."
They tossed the cases on the bed and Walter pointed out the small ensuite bath.
"He's looking his old self again."
Walter sighed. "Yes, he is. He still tires too easily for me, but the doctor says as long as he doesn't get ill this winter, by next summer he should be a hundred percent."
"And he's chaffing at the bit. I know I would, if I were he. Come to think of it, I am he, aren't I? Walter, he's going to be all right. He's learnt, as we all have, not to ignore a flu."
"If I had been there..."
"Walter! For God's sake!" Sebastian shook his head. "Think about what you're saying. If you had been the one to get ill, you're not going to tell me that you would have tucked yourself into bed any more than Alex did. I mean, I understand your being upset, but it's not as though he died."
Because Alex had nearly died that spring.
Had picked up some stupid flu bug and, being a man, had ignored the symptoms until almost too late.
It was the final trip to Tufts that semester for Walter and Alex was joining him for an a week in town. He arrived, feverish, tired, complaining of a headache. He hadn't been feeling well for the last few days, he finally admitted to Walter. Later he also admitted that he hadn't had much experience with illness in his life. He had his share with getting beaten up, shot, knifed, being hung over. But he couldn't remember really being ill apart from the time he'd lost his arm.
Walter sent him to bed with some tylenol, slept on the couch so that Alex would get a good night's sleep. Except that in the morning, he wasn't able to wake Alex up. An Alex who was burning with a fever of 104.
Dana Scully was the one who contacted Sebastian. It was the first time he had spoken to her. By the time he broke off the connection, he was dragging out the telephone directory, looking up travel agents.
He arrived in Boston 14 hours later, going directly to the hospital. He found Walter in Intensive Care, unshaven, haggard-looking, sitting on a chair by Alex's hospital bed, hands gripping the fingers of an arm laden with tubing.
The flu was not a flu, but pneumonia, the virulent Legionnaire's Disease.
By then Walter had been up over thirty-six hours. Sebastian managed to get him to sleep by ordering a cot to be set up in the room. Something about an English accent worked wonders. He settled Walter, took over the chair by the bed. Holding Alex's hand in one of his, he put in a call to Mass, who had been waiting by the telephone with the other de Gamas.
The next twenty-four hours had been difficult. Mass wasn't able to join them because Prozia Maria-Louisa had had a stroke and was not expected to live. If need be, he would fly over on Sebastian's say-so. Sebastian promised Mass he would be contacted every two hours, if not by himself, then by Walter.
The box arrived first. Fed-exed directly from Italy. Sebastian shrugged, opened it and read the note written in Mass's distinctive hand. And laughed. He handed the piece of paper torn out of a sketching pad over to Walter who actually managed a smile. He read it aloud to Alex who was unconscious, struggling for breath.
"These boxes of chocolates are not for you. Open them up, leave them in plain sight. Offer to the nurses who come in. Word will get around and you will never have to ring for a nurse. More where those come from if needed.
The family asked me to tell you that they are praying for you, fratellino mio."
Sebastian was not sure what worked. Whether it was the prayers or Walter's tight grip on Alex's hand. By that afternoon the fever began to drop. By evening, Alex had managed to open his eyes, look at them and then fall into a healing sleep.
Sebastian handed Walter some tissues then wiped his own face.
The next day, when the flowers arrived, Alex was alert enough to smile at the bouquet.
"What on earth? Birds of Paradise and bulrushes? Only Mass." But something in Alex's face made Sebastian look at the vase again. There was a message there, one that Mass knew only Alex would be able to read. And appreciate.
That afternoon, he placed a call to Mass who was dealing with the funeral arrangements for Prozia Maria- Louisa. "Yes, they arrived this morning. Did ours get there? They did. Good. Mass...we...yes, he's awake. I think he wants to say something to you. Hang on."
Sebastian placed the phone by Alex's head while Walter lifted his oxygen mask enough so that he could say, in a barely audible voice, "Mass. Love...you...too." And while Mass was still speaking to him, slipped back into sleep.
Alex had spent nearly three weeks in hospital. Sebastian had stayed for two of those then he'd had to return to Leeds. One positive consequence of Alex's illness was the new rapport among the brothers. Sebastian and Mass had gotten along pretty well from the beginning, but things had been difficult between Mass and Alex. Now all three called each other every few weeks just to talk, stayed in weekly contact by e- mail.
In the two years since they'd met, Alex and Sebastian had exchanged visits, each going to stay with the other once. This was to be Mass's first visit and before Alex had gotten ill, it would have been a time of worry for Walter, worry about how Mass's visit would affect Alex. There was none of that now.
Now, all he worried about was how their final brother's refusal to meet with them was going to affect them.
* * * * *
Mass's arrival was louder, more attention getting than Sebastian's had been.
This time Walter and the brothers were waiting for Mass at the International Terminal. There was Customs to go through before Mass was finally released to greet his other family with large cries of pleasure, exuberant hugs for everyone. Dramatic groans at being asked about the trip -- though it couldn't have been all that difficult as Mass took time to say a personal good-bye to each of the stewardesses as they walked by.
The fact that there were three of them wearing the same face added to the attraction. There were more than a few double-takes as people walked by them.
Walter kept one eye on Alex who was smiling though looking just a bit stunned by all the luggage Mass had brought with him.
"Well, it's Christmas," Mass informed them when Walter couldn't resist commenting after they loaded six large pieces, three smaller ones and an oversized portfolio. "One of those is gifts for you from me, another gifts from the family. There's one that's for your Scully and the girls. You said we will be spending some time there."
"You can buy toys in America, Mass," Sebastian pointed out.
"Toys? You told me they were eight years old." Mass glared at Walter.
"Yes, they are. Nearly nine."
"Then they are too old for toys. They are just the right age for beautiful things. Italian things. You can't develop taste too early."
"Of course," agreed Alex, nodding his head in serious support of this brother. Mass just stared at him for a moment and then laughed.
The rest of them were, they discovered as they helped him unpack in another of the spare rooms, what Mass considered to be essentials: enough food for a banquet -- courtesy of the family, a case of paints, another of sketching supplies. And the usual clothes.
Mass wasted no time in making himself at home. As in his living quarters and the studio, pages of sketches began cropping up all over the house. The next day while Alex and Sebastian were out running some errands, Walter found Mass in Alex's office.
Charlie Fables, who had been responsible for getting Walter involved with Tufts in the first place, had found Alex some work that he could do at home. One of the university professors, who had written a book on the history of Russia during its Industrial Revolution, needed someone to read his proofs for him. To see if the work needed revision from a reader's point of view. His eyes were not that good and he tired easily due to his age: he was 85. He and Alex got along well.
Mass was sitting at Alex's desk, just staring in front of him, sketch pad open on the desk. Walter wondered at the intensity of his concentration until he looked over Mass's shoulder to see what he was drawing. On the top of the filing cabinet which Alex could see anytime he cared to look up was a vase with an arrangement of the dried bulrushes that had come with Mass's flowers. They were standing in a vase that was decorated with birds of paradise.
Mass finally realized that Walter was there, He looked up, smiling like someone who had been given a rare gift. Walter had been told the story behind the flowers and the bulrushes. Returning the smile, he bent and planted a Mass-like kiss on the side of Mass's head. Then he left him alone.
* * * * *
Father Abbot sat behind his desk, elbows resting on the arms of his chair, chin on his steepled fingers. "I'm sorry," he said to the four men staring at him with various expressions from the other side of the desk. "Though we are a cloistered order, we do allow family visitations under certain circumstances. We are not the ones denying you access to Brother Morton. Brother Morton is very insistent that he does not want to meet with any of you.
"Our representatives did explain that to your representative," he gestured with a long, thin hand to the only one of them who looked different, "and to your lawyers.
"We understand that you would like to meet with your brother at least once," he meet the glare, the cold look, the obvious distrust of the three who bore some resemblance to Brother Morton straight on, momentarily thankful that he had God on his side, "but that is not his wish.
"Again, I'm sorry that you came for nothing. I will not force one of my brethren to meet with people he does not wish to see. There is nothing I can do."
"Did he at least tell you *why* he wouldn't meet with us?"
Father Abbot dragged his eyes away from the one with the cold stare to the one with the glasses. Though upset, this man looked more reasonable than the other two. Father Abbot sighed. "He really didn't explain. All I know is that he has said something about all of you...I assume he's including himself as he did use the pronoun 'we'... being a slap to the face of God. Beyond that, Brother Morton won't speak."
The one who looked more dramatic than the other two made some comment in Italian under his breath that Father Abbot pretended he didn't understand.
Their representative took over before any of them could do or say anything more. "Alex, Sebastian, Mass."
The three men switched their attentions to the man who addressed them. Father Abbot also turned to the speaker. That tone was not one to ignore.
"Go to the car and wait for me. Please."
The Italian looked as though he was going to argue but caught himself as the one addressed as Alex stood up. He gave Father Abbot a sharp nod, turned and without saying a word -- not that he had even spoken one during this interview -- and left the room.
The rational one stood, offered his hand to Father Abbot who also stood to shake it and followed his brother out.
The Italian, shaking his head, also stood, came to stand in front of Father Abbot. In perfect Latin, he bowed his head, asked for the traditional parting blessing. Father Abbot was surprised to find himself giving it as the man blessed himself. Before leaving, he took the Father's hand, kissed his ring of authority.
Someone, thought Father Abbot, had brought that one up in the old traditions.
He turned to the fourth man who was sitting firmly in his chair. This one was not going anywhere. Father Abbot sighed, took his seat. And waited.
"Perhaps," said Walter Skinner, "I should start by explaining how we tracked down Brother Morton."
"I assume it has something to do with his illness and the time he spent in the hospital."
His visitor nodded. "Ironically, it's because Alex too was ill and spent some time in the same hospital. I won't explain how, because frankly, Father, I don't think you really want to know how, but while checking for blood types in the hospital database, we came across Brother Morton. From there, it wasn't hard to get a DNA test."
Father Abbot shook his head. "The only time since he joined us that Brother Morton goes out of our care."
Walter Skinner smiled. Father Abbot felt the man's sympathy in that smile.
"You were lucky that someone in the research department of the hospital had just returned from South America and had actually some experience with that kind of blood infection. I understand it comes from the sap of a certain plant entering the bloodstream through something as small as a scratch?"
"Yes. An everyday occurrence for a botanist. Especially one like Brother Morton who is forever in his garden, working on his plants when not in actual prayer."
"Pity that he grew so ill that your own infirmary couldn't handle it."
Father Abbot was not abbot for nothing. He knew where this was going.
"While Brother Morton was in the hospital, certain 'discrepancies' were noted. I was not aware that whipping was part of the Trappists' convention."
Father Abbot wanted badly to glare this man out of his office. Instead he closed his eyes, offered a quick prayer to God. "No," he said, eyes still closed, "you are quite right. Mortification of the flesh is accepted. We fast. We live plainly. But..."
"So we're talking self-flagellation."
Father Abbot opened his eyes, stood to go look out of the window that overlooked the gardens of the monastery. He was thankful that Walter Skinner allowed him his silence. He had a decision to make and he hoped it was going to be the right one.
"Brother Morton," he spoke to the reflection of the man he could see in the pane of glass, "arrived here some twenty-six years ago. We found him in the back gardens, a young man, barely clothed, badly beaten. He was addicted to alcohol, to drugs. He carried no identification on him, but he begged us not to inform the authorities. That his life was at stake.
"Father Abbot at that time was a man who had come to us from the Military. He was used to making quick assessments of people and he made one in this case. The young man was placed in the isolation room of the infirmary. Father Abbot stayed with him through his detoxification. And Brother Morton stayed with us."
He looked over his shoulder. "This is not to mean that Father Abbot did not check to see if he was wanted by the Law, if someone was searching for him. There are notes in the file on Brother Morton that show that Father Abbot contacted several outside sources and that nothing ever turned up."
He came to take his seat again. "Father Abbot placed him under the guidance of Brother Gregory, who was the gardener of the time. Brother Morton has a natural talent with plants that has greatly benefited us. He is a devote follower of our Rules."
"But he is fragile. And he has these periods when he...feels...he has to atone for some sin and that only the abuse of his flesh will satisfy this need for atonement."
He looked at the man watching him. "We do not approve of this behaviour, Mr. Skinner. Fortunately, there are warning signs, but now and then, something happens and there is no warning."
"And may I venture that our attempts to contact him have meant a return of this behaviour?"
"Yes," said Father Abbot, sadly. "We see to it that he is not left alone, but there are times he manages to slip away. He is the most accommodating of men, most of the time, but sometimes..."
"He's stubborn and single-minded. I understand, Father Abbot. Believe me, those are traits he shares with his brothers."
Father Abbot did believe him. The two of them shared a moment of empathy.
"Father, I fully accept that Brother Morton wishes to have no contact with his brothers. Frankly, from what you tell me, he is far better off in your world than he would be in theirs. But if I told you I think I may have a solution to this behaviour problem, that I might be able to show you a way to put an end to it, would you allow me to see him? Here, in your presence?"
Father Abbot thought a moment. "I would have to use my authority to make him come. He will not want to see you any more than he wants to see his brothers."
"Yes, I know. I know that I am asking you to take me on trust. But I can almost guarantee that his brothers will accept his decision. They won't like it, but they will accept it. After today, Brother Morton will never again have to deal with the world outside these walls. But surely, if there is a chance that his mortification be within acceptable limits..."
Father Abbot cleared his mind, and waited. Walter Skinner watched him, not pushing any further.
Father Abbot reached for the old black rotary phone on his desk, dialled three numbers. "Brother Thomas, would you tell Brother Morton that I would like to see him immediately."
* * * * *
The man who lay prostrate on the floor before Father Abbot's desk would have been hard to recognize as Alex's clone, thought Walter.
The man was painfully thin, almost emaciated. His face, for someone who spent so much time outdoors, had no colour. Walter assumed that he always wore a hat of some kind when he worked in the gardens.
And he was clean shaven. Head completely bare of any hair.
If it had not been for the green eyes, sunk in the skeletal face, he would never have guessed who this man was.
It was obvious that Brother Morton's prostration was not the accepted norm for behaviour in Father Abbot's presence. Walter had caught the exasperated sigh the abbot had not been able to prevent.
"This man," Walter was surprised by the Father's authoritative voice, "has my permission to speak with you. You will listen to him. You will answer him."
From the way Father Abbot resumed his original position, chin on steepled fingers, Walter understood that the field was his.
Slowly he stood, went to crouch by the man, face down, arms spread out as if in crucifixion. "How old are you, Brother Morton?"
The question took the two men by surprise. Brother Morton raised his head slightly so that his mouth was no longer against the floor. "I don't know."
"You're 44 years old, Brother Morton. You were born..."
Brother Morton flinched as though he had been hit. Walter sighed.
"You were born in 1964. One of a set of quadruplets who were soon split up and placed in different homes."
Brother Morton shook his head, moaned softly, his face back on the floor.
"Pay attention to me," snapped Walter, in his best Marine tone. Brother Morton trembled.
"Someone, sometime in your life told you you were not human. That you were a clone. Is this right?"
Father Abbot sat very still in his chair, focused his attention on the man speaking.
Brother Morton's reaction was more violent. It was almost as though he were having a fit.
Walter grabbed him by the shoulders, pulled him up so that they were face to face.
"Is this right, Brother Morton?" Every word was clipped out through gritted teeth.
The tone worked magic on Brother Morton. He didn't meet his interrogator's eyes, but his body quietened. He gave a very small nod.
"I want you to use the brains God gave you, Brother Morton. I want you to think about that. How old were you when some idiot told you that fool's story?"
"I don't know!" Brother Morton's anguish was difficult to miss. "I told you that I didn't know how old I was!"
"Think! Were you an infant? A child? A teenager?"
It took a few moments but finally some words made their way out over Brother Morton's quivering lips. "I think I would have been about nine. Maybe ten."
"Good. That would have made it in the early seventies. Tell me, Brother Morton. You're a scientist. I know that you're cloistered here, but surely you are not denied scientific journals."
"No." Father Abbot interjected. "Brother Morton is very up to date on the latest developments in his field. It is a necessity for the betterment of the monastery."
"So," Walter softened his voice, "you know about cloning experiments. Tell me, Brother Morton, when were the first successful experiments in cloning done?"
There was no answer. Brother Morton's eyes seemed to fill his face.
"In the sixties? The seventies? Weren't the first successful ones done in the nineties, Brother Morton? With sheep? And wasn't that only possible then because of the advancements in the science of genetics *after* the work done on DNA?"
Brother Morton still didn't react, but Walter somehow thought that the brain he shared with his brothers was working behind the stunned eyes.
"Sheep, Brother Morton. Not humans. You and your brothers are the product of a multiple birth. These things existed, if you remember, long before invitro fertilization. Rare. Not common. But it happened. In the way your God would have approved. A man and a woman getting together, having sex, procreating. Your mother unfortunately died soon after you were born. Your father sadly had no interest in his sons. You were farmed out to other families. I can only assume that, like Alex, the one you were given to should never have been given a child. I'm sorry for that."
Walter watched as the story he spun brought if not solace, that at least thread that could be woven into some.
"Brother Morton, who told you that you were a clone?"
Slowly, Brother Morton pulled his legs under him so that he knelt, Walter's hands still holding onto his shoulders. "A man came to the house. He was there because the people who had custody of me had told him I was unstable. He looked like me. Told me that he was my creator." Brother Morton's anxious eyes met Walter's. "Only God is the Creator."
"Only God," agreed Walter.
His calm tone seemed to soothe something in Brother Morton. The man sighed deeply, several times, as if ridding his body of some poison air.
"He said things...things..."
"That upset you. I understand."
"He called me 'Clone Two' all the time he was there. While he made me do all sorts of tests. While he ... examined me."
"Brother," Walter kept his voice as even as he could, "did he rape you?" And saw the answer in the panic that rose in the man's eyes. "Shhh, it's okay." He pulled him into his arms, offering him the same comfort he offered Alex when he had nightmares. Without thinking, he began the rhyme that eased Alex and Lissa, even Sebastian.
It was several minutes before Brother Morton calmed.
While Father Abbot prayed.
"Brother Morton, I want you to listen to me. The man who hurt you is dead. He was Evil. He lied to you. I will swear it on any Bible you choose. You are not a clone. Not you. Not any of your brothers. You are not a slap to the face of your God. You have nothing to atone to your God for, other than the usual sins humans commit."
He carefully raised the tear-streaked face. Even Father Abbot could see the beginning of hope on that face.
"If you feel you must atone, well, atone for your brothers. Unlike you, they are sinful men. And they need your prayers. One of them is a profligate. One was trained to kill. I don't know what your personal beliefs are on the matter, but two of them are in homosexual relationships. They need your prayers, Brother Morton. But," and here Walter's voice grew very stern, "*only* prayers. Do you understand?
"Your God is a very forgiving one, but I doubt that He would be pleased with your behaviour when you now know there is no basis for it."
Father Abbot waited until the door closed to look at the man who suddenly deflated in the chair he had taken. "I forget," he said slowly, "how much Evil there truly is in this world."
His visitor rubbed his face, as though trying to wake himself up. "And how much damage it does."
"I may be judging too early," said Father Abbot, "but I think that some of that has been repaired today. Thank you."
Walter Skinner looked at him wearily. "You will take care of him?"
"He is one of ours. Muchly loved. We will see to him. And now that you have given me a key, I think he will be happier as well."
Walter Skinner man stood up, took out a small leather case and from it, a card. "This is the legal firm that handles my affairs. Should he need anything, I expect you to contact them. They know how to get in touch with any of us. And, if you deem it acceptable, maybe once in a while, just a note to tell us how he is doing?"
Father Abbot took the embossed card. They both knew that the only time this firm would be contacted would be at Brother Morton's death.
* * * * *
Walter stepped out into the winter light and looked at the three brothers who were waiting for him at the car. Mass, of course, had a sketch pad in hand, hand busily drawing the architecture, the surroundings of the monastery that housed the fourth of them. Ironically, in the same State, so close to Alex and Walter.
Alex was slouched, back against the side of the hood, feet crossed at ankles, eyes checking out the landscape all the while talking to Sebastian who was seated in the car, long legs visible under the open door, leaning head out the rolled down window.
Alex saw him first. His coming to his feet alerted Sebastian who slowly joined him. Mass put the pad down on the roof of the car, shoved his charcoal into his pocket.
Walter shrugged as he approached them. "Sorry. I couldn't get him to change his mind. He says he'll pray for all of you."
"He's all right?" asked Mass.
"You saw him?" Sebastian jumped in.
Alex said nothing.
"Yes," answered Walter.
Alex casually put his arm around Walter's waist, silently offering support and comfort. Whatever had happened hadn't been easy. He wondered if Walter would ever tell him. Wondered if he wanted to know.
"He's all right." Walter leaned into Alex's warmth. "He's found his place, like you've all found yours. He's requested that there be no further contact and I've agreed to that in all your names. Father Abbot has promised to get in touch should he ever need anything."
There was silence while the brothers thought about that.
Alex gave Walter a small squeeze, giving him his approval.
Sebastian was the first to speak. "Well, we can only respect his wishes. At least we know where he is. That he's alive. Well?"
"And well cared for?"
Again Walter nodded.
"But a monk!" Mass shook his head in disgust.
"He's promised to especially pray for you, Mass. That you find peace in life." Walter could produce a small smile at Mass's grunt of disgust.
"Yes, well, that's a priest for you. They want to take all the joy out of life."
And, like that, Brother Morton's decision was accepted.
* * * * *