Title: Kismet
Author: Russianrat
Disclaimer: they belong to Chris Carter, Fox, 1013, etc. Archive: All Things Rat, The Basement, RatB or just ask!
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Krycek/Skinner

Summary: sequel to "Stranger In Paradise". Krycek and Skinner continue their relationship. Problems arise, both expected and startling.

Spoilers: takes place a few months after Paper Clip.

Big thanks: to Carol, for wonderful beta skills. Here's looking at you, kid!

Write me at russianrat1@hotmail.com or visit my website "Rat Tails" at members.tde.com/linval/home.html
*****

KISMET
by Russianrat, June 4, 2000

The nightmares still visited every once in awhile, and this one was especially terrifying. Alex Krycek sat straight up in bed, drenched in sweat. The dream images left a foul-tasting residue of terror in his mouth.

"Hey."

Alex's lover spoke gently, his dark brown eyes filled with concern.

"I'm okay."

Walter Skinner propped himself on one elbow.

"No, you're not. Come on, out with it."

"Yeah, all right." Alex took a steadying breath. "I can't remember much. Just being tied to that bed, and men standing around it in a circle...suddenly they were all naked, and one by one they climbed on top of me, until I thought I would suffocate...I felt like one giant orifice, with cocks in me everywhere, even places they couldn't possibly fit..."

He broke off, his whole body shaking. Walter touched his arm lightly.

"Okay. Okay. Enough. It's long over, Alex. They're dead, they can't hurt you anymore."

"Sometimes I wonder," murmured Alex. "Did the Englishman really get all of them?"

Walter put a couple of fingers beneath Alex's chin and brought his mouth up for a kiss.

"Even if he didn't," he declared gruffly, "they'll have to come through me."

"My hero." Alex smiled.

"Huh. Your hero is going to be late for work. Unlike some people, who have five days off."

"So the security business has great benefits," chuckled Alex. "You should try it."

"No thanks," Walter countered. "The FBI's good enough for me."

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and padded naked into the bathroom. Alex watched him with a tender mix of love and desire. He'd quickly discovered the Assistant Director's soft spots, and took shameless advantage of them. Walter knew this but didn't seem to care. When he came home from the office, he left the stern persona behind. He spoiled Alex at every turn, buying him clothes, bringing him whatever books or music he fancied, and cuddling him every night until they both fell asleep. Alex supposed it was Walter's way of making amends for past enmity and misunderstandings.

Alex shivered. The horror of the months he had spent in sexual bondage still affected him. He yearned to please them both, but there were some things he could no longer do without flinching.

Walter emerged from the bathroom, a towel around his waist.

"Have you thought any more about calling Dr. Herbert?" he asked as he dug in the dresser for underwear.

Alex started at the feeling he'd been 'read'.

"Not necessary."

"He's one of the best. He might be able to help with those nightmares."

"Walter, I'm fine." Alex couldn't keep the sharpness out of his voice. "I don't need a shrink."

"You know that seeing a psychiatrist doesn't mean you're crazy."

Alex shook his head.

"The dreams aren't so bad any more. I'll get through this my way."

"Stubborn bastard." Walter smiled as he said it. He kissed Alex again. "Now I'd really better go."

"Call me?"

"Of course."

His smile warmed Alex like the sun. Alex lay back on the pillows and watched Walter finish dressing. The big man walked over for one more kiss, which Alex returned with passion.

"Quit that," Walter admonished with mock ferocity.

Alex tracked Walter's passage with his eyes until the door shut. He sighed and turned his face towards the bedroom window. The sky outside was ripe with March clouds. Traffic sounds, muted by thick glass and seventeen storeys' distance, filtered up to his ears.

He got out of bed quickly, unwilling to linger in the vicinity of his nightmares for another minute. It was a sour beginning to his vacation.

Alex showered and donned the dark green silk robe that was a late Christmas present from Walter. He padded softly downstairs, favoring his left leg. Damp weather made it ache, and it was a constant reminder of his past imprisonment.

He made a detour to the kitchen and fixed himself some coffee. He caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the silver pot, his hair spiked up and eyes still at half-mast from sleep. Alex smiled, oddly cheered by this image of domesticity. Thoughts of the Consortium promptly fled. Alex was finally home, and all he had to do to lift his spirits was to look around him.

Coffee in hand, Alex wandered through the living room out onto the balcony. He leaned over the railing to watch the early commuters as he sipped from the mug, then closed his eyes and let the light breeze ruffle his hair.

A car horn startled him into opening his eyes again. Alex looked down at the sidewalk and the tiny people moving along it, and was seized by a wave of vertigo. He white-knuckled the railing as he tried to catch his breath.

//God, it would be so easy to end this fear forever//

The thought shocked Alex into motion. He stumbled away from the balcony into the living room. These moodswings were unpredictable and getting worse. Maybe he should call the doctor after all, he decided, picking up the phone with trembling fingers.

Just as Alex began to dial, the doorbell rang.

//Maybe Walter forgot his keys.//

He hurried to the door and opened it, for once not using the security viewer.

"Walter--?"

Alex stopped in mid-sentence. Fox Mulder stared back at him from the open doorway, mouth agape.

"Mulder," said Alex cautiously. "Walter's not here."

Mulder recovered quickly, pushing his way into the living room. He slammed the door behind him and glared at Alex.

"Walter? What gives *you* the right to call him Walter?"

"I--"

But Mulder was an unstoppable force. His gaze swept Alex contemptuously.

"How the hell did you get in here? God damn it. He's screwing you, isn't he? That's how you made him overlook everything you've done."

Alex pulled the robe closer to his neck, acutely aware of his disheveled appearance.

"Didn't Walter tell you about us?" Alex's voice rose with his increasing distress.

"Shut up, Krycek! I don't want to hear another word out of your lying mouth."

Mulder laid his palm on Alex's chest and pushed. Alex's leg gave way and he stumbled and fell, narrowly missing the sharp edge of the coffee table. He recovered and crawled out of Mulder's reach, using the table to hoist himself up again.

"How dare you barge in here like that!" Alex growled, fear giving way swiftly to anger. "You don't have the slightest basis for your accusations, Mulder."

"Oh really?" Mulder's voice oozed sarcasm. "I know you're a kidnaper, a liar, and a murderer. Isn't that enough?"

"I never murdered anybody. The smoker blackmailed me into helping when Scully was kidnapped. Ask Walter. He knows the truth!"

"You wouldn't recognize the truth if it bit you on the ass, Krycek."

Alex held his ground, clenching his fists as Mulder edged closer.

"Come on, then!" he yelled. "Let's see if you can beat me when I'm not giving you the advantage!"

Mulder's face purpled with rage. He swung at Alex, who caught his wrist neatly and turned the blow aside before delivering his own roundhouse punch to Mulder's midsection. Mulder fell back, gasping.

"There's more where that came from," Alex threatened.

Mulder bared his teeth. He was advancing once more when the phone rang. Mulder stared at it, then scowled at Krycek.

"Don't you dare move." He picked up the receiver. "Mulder."

Alex saw Mulder's frown deepen as he glanced in Alex's direction.

"Yes, sir...but, sir...what?...but he's...damn it!"

Mulder hung up abruptly. He turned a sour face on Alex.

"Skinner will be here in a few minutes," was all Mulder had to say.

Alex sank into a kitchen chair, keeping a wary eye on Mulder. The sound of footsteps hurrying towards the door made them both look up. Skinner flung open the door and took in the situation in a glance.

"Stay right there, Agent Mulder."

He strode towards Alex and bent over him slightly.

"Are you all right?" asked Walter in a low voice.

Alex nodded and stared down at his hands, which were trembling from delayed reaction to the fight.

"You got here quick."

"I called on my cell phone. Did he hurt you?"

"No." Alex turned accusing eyes on his lover. "You should have told him about us."

"God, Alex. I'm sorry. I--"

"Hey," Mulder interrupted. "Can somebody clue me in here?"

Skinner straightened up and glowered at Mulder.

"You had no right to come into my apartment and attack him without provocation."

Mulder's nostrils flared, but for once he remained sensibly silent.

"Go cool off, Mulder. I want to see you and Agent Scully in my office in one hour."

After Mulder had stalked out, Walter turned to Alex once more. He saw the flush on his young lover's cheeks.

"You need to lie down," Walter declared.

He took an unprotesting Alex by the elbow and guided him upstairs. Alex let Walter steady him until they reached the bedroom, where he sank gratefully onto the cool sheets. He suddenly didn't have the strength to move.

Walter sat beside him and took his hand.

"Alex, your skin is hot. Are you sure you're going to be okay while I'm gone?"

"I'm fine." He waved Walter away. "Go take care of business."

When Walter tried to kiss him, Alex turned his head. The look of pain on his lover's face made Alex regret his action almost immediately, but he was too stressed and worn out to take it back. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. The snick of the door was the last sound he heard before drifting off to sleep.

***

Skinner strode into his office to find Agents Mulder and Scully seated beneath Kim's scrutiny. Mulder's expression was grim. Scully had settled for a puzzled frown.

"What is this about Alex Krycek, Sir?" she asked as soon as the Assistant Director led them to the inner sanctum.

Instead of answering immediately, Skinner sat at his desk and clasped his hands together. He let a full minute pass before gesturing his visitors to their own seats, then he rested his gaze on his most troublesome Agent until Mulder began to fidget.

Scully was not so easily intimidated.

"Sir?" she insisted.

Skinner glanced at her before reaching for the briefcase he had laid on the floor. He opened it and laid out several documents and a videotape. He rose and passed copies to both Agents, then walked over to the television set in one corner of the office and popped the tape into the VCR.

"Sir?" said Mulder this time, impatience in his voice.

"Watch," Skinner growled.

Three pair of eyes followed the action onscreen. It was the tape the Englishman had given Skinner last year when the two of them had rescued Alex from the Smoking Man's clutches. It showed Alex and the smoker in a car, just after the shooting of Mulder's father.

Upon hearing the smoker's declaration that he himself had killed William Mulder due to Krycek's reluctance to betray his former partner, Mulder paled visibly. He stared at his hands, refusing to look up after Skinner removed the tape.

"Go on, read." Skinner settled back behind his desk, waiting.

Mulder and Scully scanned the documents proving Alex Krycek's basic innocence of any major wrongdoing. Scully was the first to speak.

"How do we know these are genuine, Sir?"

"You don't, Agent Scully. You only have my word and the Englishman's. And the fact that the Consortium was obliterated by fire shortly after I took Alex away."

Scully raised one delicate red eyebrow, but Skinner refused further comment.

"The two of you only knew Alex as Agent Krycek. I've come to know him as a man, and I believe every word of those papers."

Mulder spoke this time.

"I'm willing to admit I may have been mistaken in some areas, Sir. But Krycek is still accountable for his actions, whether or not he was coerced into them."

"Let me tell you a little about Alex's condition when the Englishman and I found him." Skinner stared hard at both his agents. "He was tied naked to a bed, face down in his own filth. The Englishman had come to me for help in the first place because he, of all the Consortium, had a conscience. True, the Englishman's main motive was freedom from the Syndicate for himself. But that conscience would not allow him to abandon an innocent man to his fate, nor would it let him stand by once he was aware of the facts.

"Alex spent three months on that bed, during which he was systematically tortured and raped." Skinner paused and lowered his voice. "If you truly believe he deserves further punishment, then I guess we'll have to discuss bringing him to trial."

Skinner sat back and quietly watched the shock cross his Agents' features. Mulder looked embarrassed. Skinner could see what it cost him to change his mind about Alex.

"It's possible I was mistaken about Krycek's motives," he said quietly. "What are you going to do with this information, Sir?"

"I'm investigating possibilities." Skinner closed the briefcase again. "That's all for now, Agents."

***

Alex tossed restlessly. The nightmares lingered on the edge of his awareness, preventing him from going into deep sleep. Unable to relax, he finally sat up in bed and started to stand.

A wave of dizziness made him clutch the bedside table. Alex waited until it passed. Shaken and weak, he limped into the bathroom. He leaned over the sink, studying himself in the mirror, less than pleased with his reflection. The scar on his right cheek still ached sometimes, and Alex mentally cursed the knife-crazy Luis Cardinale.

Alex used the john and washed his face before heading back to bed. He was only half way across the room when the dizziness returned, worse than the first time. He sank to his knees on the carpet and put his head down, afraid he might vomit.

A noise from the corner of the room startled him into looking up again. Alex caught a glimpse of a face in the shadows and uttered a strangled gasp. Impossible, he thought.

On hands and knees, he scrambled for the bedside telephone. Quickly, he punched in 911. He dropped the receiver before retrieving it with sweat-slick hands.

"911, what is your emergency?"

"Break-in," gasped Alex. "Somebody's in my apartment--"

He paused. The world spun around him.

"Sir?"

Alex tried to answer, but his mouth was too dry. He glanced up. One of the shadows detached itself from the wall. Alex saw the face again, and this time he recognized it.

"Sir," squawked the phone. "Stay right where you are. We're sending someone--"

Alex didn't hear the rest. He pitched forward and slipped into the dark.

***

Walter heard the sirens before he rounded the corner to his apartment building. As he realized they were coming from Viva Towers he walked faster. Then he saw the pale figure on the stretcher.

"Alex!"

He bullied his way past the EMTs and grabbed Alex by the hand.

"What happened?" he whispered desperately.

Alex blinked up at him from behind the oxygen mask without speaking. One of the ambulance attendants tried to pull Walter away. He flashed his badge.

"I'm riding with him."

Walter did not allow himself to be separated from Alex until they had arrived safely at the hospital. While Alex was being attended to, Walter paced the waiting room. He was about to strangle someone when a doctor finally walked up to him.

"Mr. Skinner?"

"Yes," growled Walter, barely containing his temper. "How is he?"

"He's stable. We've got him on strong antibiotics and they seem to have brought the fever down."

"What's wrong with Alex, Doctor? He was fine this morning."

The doctor cleared his throat.

"I want to do a CBC before I can answer that. I'll put a rush on it, Mr. Skinner," he added before Walter could jump on him.

"I'd like to see him now." Walter's tone brooked no argument.

"He's in Room 103, probably asleep--"

But Walter didn't wait for the doctor to finish his sentence. His powerful stride ate up the hospital corridor until he reached his goal.

Alex lay on his back, eyes closed. An IV dripped steadily into his left arm and the soft beeping of a monitor measured his heartbeat. The smell of disinfectant was nearly overwhelming. Walter ached see his lover so helpless. The sight reminded him too closely of how he had found Alex in that room at the Consortium's headquarters.

He bent close to Alex's face and kissed his cheek. To Walter's surprise, Alex's eyelids fluttered open. He stared at Walter but didn't try to speak. After a moment, his eyes closed again. Walter listened to his breathing become deep and regular before he took his cell phone from his pocket.

"Kim. I need to cancel my appointments for a day or two. I'm at the hospital...what? No, it's not me...yes, that's right. Thanks, Kim."

He hung up, his mood lightened by Kim's concern. Walter was glad he'd trusted her with his relationship with Alex. Kim could be as fierce as a mother lion when it came to protecting her boss or those close to him.

Walter took off his suit jacket and his wire-rim glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Then he sat down next to his lover to start his vigil.

"Sir?"

Walter started. He blinked at the sudden light, and realized he'd fallen asleep in his chair. A nurse, his expression concerned, leaned over him.

"You should go home. It's three in the morning."

Walter nodded wearily. He glanced at Alex, still sleeping peacefully, then picked up his jacket and went out.

***

The alarm woke him from strange and muddled dreams. He reached across the bed instinctively, only to be shocked into wakefulness when his hand came up empty. He slapped a hand down on the clock to silence it, before pulling himself wearily from the bed. A cold shower, a suit thrown on hurriedly, and Walter was on his way back to the hospital.

Alex was having blood drawn. He blinked, then smiled when Walter walked in. The nurse finished and left.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself."

Walter moved closer to the bed. He wanted so badly to take Alex in his arms.

"Later," promised Alex, then grinned weakly when Walter started. "It was written all over your face."

A noise at the door made them both turn around. The doctor who had spoken to Walter the day before stood there, clipboard in hand.

"I'm Dr. Davis. How do you feel today, Alex?" he said, turning to his patient.

"Better. Not quite so much like I'm going to fall over at any minute."

Davis smiled briefly and directed his next remark to Skinner.

"I need talk to Alex a moment."

"Please," responded Alex. "I'd like Walter to stay."

Davis glanced at Skinner, then nodded. He shut the door for privacy before walking back to the side of the bed. Walter, meanwhile, sat in a chair to listen.

"Everything said here will be in confidence. But I have to ask you a few difficult questions." He waited until Alex nodded his silent assent. "Are you involved in any intimate relationships?"

Walter could see Alex swallow.

"Only one."

Davis leaned forward and asked softly, "Do you always use protection with each other?"

Walter went pasty white. He swayed in the chair and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Davis was standing over him, holding a glass of water. Walter grabbed it and took a long drink.

A thin voice from the bed took the doctor away again.

"Dr. Davis, are you saying I have AIDS?"

Davis frowned thoughtfully and pursed his lips.

"No, Alex. There's no sign of the HIV virus in your blood."

"But--I don't understand. Why ask about protection?"

"Because," said Davis slowly, "you *do* have a virus. And I don't know how it's transmitted, but the viral structure is *similar* to HIV. So until I've had a chance to study this further, I'd suggest all reasonable precautions be taken."

Walter shook his head to clear it.

"You don't *know* what this virus is?"

Davis turned back to Walter.

"Not yet. Believe me, I've got people working on it right now."

"How long will Alex be in the hospital?"

"I'd like to keep him another twenty-four hours for observation. His fever is down, and he appears to be recovering nicely. But we don't know yet if this is contagious, although I don't believe it's airborne."

Walter shook his head. "I'm taking him home," he stated firmly.

Davis sighed. "You can do it AMA. But I'll be calling you, Alex. If you feel the least bit sick, I'll have to insist you be re-admitted."

"Fair enough," said Alex.

Davis wrote a prescription and handed it to his patient.

"Tylenol with codeine," he explained. "Without knowing exactly what we're dealing with, it's the best I can do."

Alex took the script silently. Davis left, and Walter got up and went over to the bed.

"Ready to go home?"

"Yeah."

Walter found Alex's clothes in a drawer and brought them over. Alex picked up the shirt and wrinkled his nose.

"We'll get you cleaned up later," said Walter. "Let's go."

***

Alex leaned gratefully on Walter's arm as they climbed the stairs to the bedroom.

"I hate this," he declared, sinking down on the edge of the bed. "Feeling dependent. Feeling sick. Being afraid. It's like being back--there."

Alex was silent for several minutes, gathering his thoughts, while Walter sat patiently beside him.

"After you left to talk to Mulder and Scully," he began haltingly, "I slept awhile. When I got up to use the bathroom, I got so dizzy I nearly fainted. Somehow I made it back to the phone and dialed 911, then I did pass out."

Walter nodded. "Understandable, considering you were running a high fever."

"There's more," said Alex in a whisper. "Before I lost consciousness I saw someone in the bedroom."

Walter frowned.

"Alex, are you sure?"

"Very sure. It gets worse." Alex closed his eyes until a sudden wave of nausea passed. "Walter...I recognized him. It was Kurt."

Walter's look of incomprehension prompted Alex to explain.

"Kurt was one of the smoker's bodyguards. He was there, at the Consortium's headquarters. But how could he have escaped the fire?"

"Maybe he was warned somehow. Your guess is as good as mine, Alex."

Alex stared off into the distance as he spoke.

"Kurt was one of the last--he forced me--oh God, Walter..."

"Shh." Walter pulled him close. "If he is anywhere nearby, we'll find him. I promise."

Alex shivered. He looked up at Walter's face from the safe nest of his arms.

"What's wrong with me, Walter? I know I'm sick. Am I going to die?"

"No!" protested Walter vehemently, then softer, "No. You've got some kind of unknown virus, Alex. But I won't let anything take you from me. Not now."

Alex managed a smile.

"Somehow I believe you."

Walter held Alex away from him gently.

"Will you do something for me? Will you let Scully run some bloodtests? I trust her more than the doctors to find out what's going on."

Alex nodded. "You've talked to them?"

"Yes. I think they understand now. Even Mulder."

"I guess." Alex sighed deeply. "I'm damn tired of being prodded by doctors, though."

Walter kissed him on the forehead.

"We'll start first thing tomorrow."

***

Alex felt well enough to come downstairs the next day, freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He let Walter fuss over him for about five minutes before telling him plainly that he could look after himself. Walter frowned at Alex's sharp response, but left him alone.

When the doorbell rang, Skinner walked over to admit Mulder and Scully. Mulder exchanged a curt nod with Alex then sat in an easy chair on the other side of the room and avoided his eyes.

Scully was all business. She set her medical bag on the coffee table, opened it and took out a needle and syringe, ignoring Alex's protests. She snapped a pair of latex gloves on her hands and a tube around Alex's upper arm, then slipped the needle into his vein.

"I'll take this to the lab right away," she said as the syringe filled with blood.

Alex refused to look directly at what Scully was doing. When she was finished, Scully put the sample in her bag and got up to walk into the kitchen. She returned a minute later with a glass of Seven-Up.

"This always helps settle my stomach," she said, handing it to a surprised Alex.

He drank a few sips gratefully, and could have sworn he saw the wisp of a smile on Scully's face.

When they were gone (Mulder still not having said more than a quick "goodbye"), Alex relaxed.

"Fun and games as usual," he commented sarcastically as Mulder closed the door.

"So what would you like to do today?" asked Walter when the silence threatened to stretch out over a minute.

Alex got up and grasped Walter's hand.

"Let's go for a walk. The fresh air will do us both good."

"Fresh air? It must be all of forty degrees out!"

"So we'll walk to the museum. It's been too long since my last dose of culture."

Alex made a face for Walter's benefit, but he really looked forward to time spent in this fashion. The outwardly gruff Assistant Director seldom shared his cultural leanings, and Alex felt privileged to be included. He'd learned more about painting and music in the past three months than in the rest of his life. He still grumbled about the enforced lessons, but secretly he was thrilled when Walter asked him questions about art and he knew the answers.

So he bundled up in a sweater and leather jacket and followed his lover out the door, thinking how sexy he looked in a pair of tight jeans. Alex grinned. Nothing like watching Walter Skinner's body to make him feel better.

"There's an Old Masters exhibit on display this week," Walter commented as they strolled side by side down the street. "Including some Van Gogh paintings borrowed from the Rijksmuseum."

"Ah," said Alex, remembering the copy of "Sunflowers" in Walter's cabin.

He listened contentedly to Walter's ongoing discourse about painting. Within minutes they arrived at the museum, and Alex was pleased to see that they had beaten the crowds. Walter paid for them both and picked out a couple of headsets for the tour, but Alex shook his head.

"I'd rather get the lecture from you."

"If only my agents felt the same way," quipped Walter.

Alex laughed lightly. He'd missed this feeling of normality more than he realized, of being able to mingle with people and not having to think about watching his back every second. He brushed his hand casually over Walter's arm and grinned when the other man shot him a stern look.

Walter kept up a running commentary as they strolled down the corridor. An hour passed quickly and pleasantly in this fashion before Alex began to tire. He closed his eyes as they stood before one of the paintings, and the next thing he knew, Walter was gripping his arm to support him.

"I'm fine," said Alex.

"No, you're not," replied Walter firmly, steering him back towards the entrance of the museum. "You look like you're about to faint."

The expression on his lover's face kept Alex from further useless protest. He let Walter lead him outside and back to Viva Towers. The fresh air revived him somewhat, but Alex realized Walter was right; he was still weak from his illness. He stood close to Walter as they waited for the elevator, borrowing his strength. The bell rang, the doors began to open. Alex glanced to his left and gasped at the sight of a familiar face at the other end of the corridor.

"Kurt." The name was a scant breath on Alex's lips.

Walter heard anyway. His head snapped up and he pulled Alex back from the elevator.

"Where?" Walter stared down the hall.

Alex frowned. The man he thought he'd recognized as Kurt turned to reveal quite different features.

"I--I'm not sure. I thought--" He rubbed a hand across his forehead wearily. "Sorry."

Walter touched Alex discreetly on the elbow. "Let's go up." When they reached the seventeenth floor apartment, Alex turned to Walter.

"It *was* Kurt. I know it." He sounded nearly desperate.

Walter sighed. "I believe you, Alex. You think you saw Kurt--"

"No. I did see Kurt. Then he was gone."

Wordlessly, Walter put a hand to Alex's forehead. Alex pulled away with an angry frown.

"You think I'm making this up."

"I think you have a fever, Alex. Regardless of who you saw downstairs. You've pushed yourself too hard today, and--"

"Fine," Alex snapped, pushing past Walter towards the bedroom. He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared out the window at the gray-white clouds drifting by. Maybe ten minutes had passed when he felt the weight of another body settle beside him.

Cool fingers rested lightly on the nape of his neck. Walter rubbed Alex's skin gently.

"I forget," murmured Walter, almost to himself. "I don't have to baby you."

"Hardly. I'm not Mulder."

That purring chuckle again. "No, thank God. What in the world did you see in him, Alex?"

"I'm beginning to wonder that myself." Alex grinned. "Don't get me wrong, he's brilliant and handsome--"

"--stubborn and opinionated--"

"--sexy--" Both men said simultaneously, then laughed.

Alex leaned against Walter's broad chest. "Still jealous?"

"Me? Never."

"Mmmm." Alex raised his head. He caught Walter's eye and saw need. He swallowed with an audible click. "Walter..."

Walter fastened one large hand on either side of Alex's chin, and drew his lover close. Alex's breathing shortened to hoarse little gasps as he pressed back against the comfort of Walter's massive self. Fear of the unknown vanished in the heat of the moment.

Lips met fiercely. Alex moaned as Walter's hands left his jaw and strayed up his back, kneading a pattern of desire across his muscles. His cock lengthened and pressed hard against the fabric of his jeans.

"Yesss..."

Walter was so *right* for him. Alex acknowledged this fact without words, by returning with fervor the kisses and caresses bestowed so lavishly on him. Walter ran his fingers lightly across Alex's cheek, and it was as if the whole world centered in the rasp of skin on skin.

Alex groaned. He tore at Walter's shirt. The ache in his groin was suddenly unbearable, and he pulled Walter's hand away from his face and down to his lap.

"Do it. Please."

His nearly anguished whisper brought an equally desperate moan from his lover. Walter pushed Alex down onto the sheets and began to undo his shirt, his own movements somehow measured, as if aware of Alex's remaining fragility. He lowered his mouth to spread a trail of light kisses from Alex's neck down to his chest. Alex pushed his body up to meet the tantalizing, feathery touch of Walter's mouth, his own hands scrabbling across the strong expanse of the large man's back.

Walter's hand slid down Alex's stomach. He undid the zipper on Alex's jeans and reached inside for his prize. Alex was so *hard*. Walter kissed him one more time before moving down on the bed.

Before Walter could get very far, Alex grabbed him by the waist and pulled his legs around so that they ended up in the classic position for sixty-nine. Alex loved the sense of control this gave him. He pulled the zipper open quickly and fished Walter's cock out just as he felt his lover's mouth engulf him.

Alex shivered with delight. He bent his head, stiffened his tongue and ran it slowly from root to crown. Walter's moan reverberated around Alex's cock, and the young man added his low sighs of pleasure to the wordless harmony of love.

It seemed mere moments before Alex felt the beginnings of orgasm stir. He took Walter deep in his mouth, trying to concentrate on what he was doing, but it was no use. Like hot fire, the semen pulsed out of him. His reward was Walter's answering groan and rush into Alex's own throat.

They fell back upon the sheets as one. Alex crawled around slowly until he was once again face to face with Walter. He leaned forward and licked Walter's lips clean.

Walter grinned lazily.

"Mmmm. I'm not sure where *that* came from...but I liked it."

"Me, too," whispered Alex. He cuddled his head against Walter's chest, and they lay like that for awhile in silence.

"Alex?" said Walter after awhile. "About Kurt? I do believe you."

But Alex didn't stir. He had fallen fast asleep, a tiny smile on his lips.

*********

They had two days of peace. No Kurt sightings, no interruptions from the office. Alex and Walter spent their time taking walks and watching The Three Stooges on the VCR. It was a joy to Walter to hear Alex laugh again. At night they made love slowly and carefully, due less to Alex's condition than to a desire to prolong and deepen the feelings between them.

Mid-morning of the third day, the phone rang. Walter picked it up.

"It's me, Sir," said Scully, before plunging directly into her reason for calling. "I've done several tests on Krycek's blood. The only real similarity to HIV is the quickness with which the virus mutates. But Sir--the mutations are *too* rapid."

"I'm not sure I understand," responded Skinner with a frown.

Scully sighed deeply. "Neither do I. Except that I have never seen a virus behave in this fashion." She hesitated a fraction of a second before plunging on. "It's almost as if it has intelligence, Sir."

"Explain, Scully."

"The virus grafts itself onto the body's DNA. Before an organism has time to realize that it has been invaded by a foreign substance, the virus has become so intertwined that to try to expel it would probably kill the host."

Skinner was stunned into silence. Across the room, Alex glanced up from his book and raised an eyebrow.

"How is he, Sir?"

Skinner turned his attention back to the phone.

"Actually, he seems to be much better, Agent Scully. Especially these last couple of days." He caught Alex's grin and blushed deeply.

"I'm glad to hear that." Scully sounded like she meant it.

Walter returned Alex's smile as he spoke once more into the phone.

"Do you have any suggestions?"

"I'd like to do some more tests," said Scully. "If he doesn't mind."

"Of course. I'll ask him right away."

Scully hesitated again, and Skinner could almost see her thin red eyebrows draw together.

"There's something familiar about this virus," she said softly. "As if I'd seen it before...I'll keep working on it, Sir."

She rang off abruptly. Walter put the phone away. He went over to Alex and sat down next to him on the couch. A rush of feeling made him put his arms around the young man and hug him close.

"Whoa." Alex grinned. "You trying to suffocate me?"

Walter laughed. Not just one of his rumbling chuckles, but a full out guffaw that had Alex looking at him as if he'd never *seen* the man before. Before Alex could bolt, Walter calmed and gave him a wide smile.

"It's all your fault, Alex." His eyes twinkled mischievously. "You've made me realize how much I've missed over the years."

Alex bit his lower lip. His expression softened.

"Me, too." He reached up to brush his fingertips lightly over Walter's cheek. "So, what did Scully want?"

"More tests. You know Scully, she's never satisfied with surface results."

"Okay. But what does she know *now*?"

"Just that the virus seems to mutate very quickly. Doesn't really tell us much."

Walter left out the postulation of "intelligence", not wanting to frighten his lover. He was scared enough for them both. He hugged Alex again, garnering another suspicious look.

"Great," Alex groused teasingly. "I've got an unknown virus, and somebody has traded my lover in for a clone."

"I hope there's only one of me." Walter grinned, then turned serious once more. "Alex. Have you thought about how you could have gotten sick?"

Alex flushed deeply and looked away.

"I assumed it was from the Consortium," he said in a low voice. "But if I don't have AIDS, then there must be some new disease going around, right?"

"That's what I'm hoping Scully will discover."

Alex just nodded half-heartedly. He leaned his head on Walter's shoulder and they sat quietly until the phone broke their shared reverie.

"Probably Scully," Walter muttered, gently extricating himself and reaching across the couch.

But the voice on the other end was decidedly masculine, with a pronounced upper-class English accent.

"Mr. Skinner. I trust I'm not interrupting you."

"No, Sir."

"Good. We need to discuss the continued health of our young friend."

The Englishman's knowledge of events across the Atlantic never ceased to amaze Walter. At the same time he was grateful not to have to reiterate the recent past.

"What can I do?" he simply asked.

"Our mutual acquaintance, Spender--you knew him as the man who smoked too many cigarettes--had a personal bodyguard named Kurt. None of the rest of the Consortium seemed to know exactly when Spender hired him, but it soon became evident that Kurt was thoughtless and cruel. Spender was very powerful, however, and no one wanted to go against his wishes.

"Are you aware of the original purpose of the group, Mr. Skinner?" The Englishman continued without waiting for a response. "We had come to believe in the existence of an extra-terrestrial race. A race bent on colonizing the Earth and forcing humankind into slavery. One by one we found each other, until we formed a small, yet cohesive unit of rebellion against such colonization. We had some success, but due in great part to Spender's influence, our focus was soon lost.

"Mr. Mulder is aware of much of our findings. I suggest you look to him for the rest of your answers. Good day, Mr. Skinner."

Walter stared at the dead receiver. He turned to see twin frownlines above puzzled green eyes.

"Our English friend," explained Walter, hanging up the phone. "Offering his usual enigmatic advice."

Alex's frown deepened as Walter placed his hand on the phone again.

"Now what?"

"I'm going to get some answers."

Walter drummed his fingers impatiently on the couch until a familiar voice answered the phone.

"Mulder. I need to see you and Scully over here as soon as possible...no, nothing's wrong. I just need to run some ideas by you both."

Walter hung up, then watched as Alex rose and paced. There was really nothing else to say until they had more facts. Luckily for both men's state of mind, a mere thirty minutes passed before the doorbell rang.

The ever-efficient Scully had her kit, and proceeded to draw more of Alex's blood. She put the vial away and smiled at him reassuringly. Mulder, on the other hand, still wary of Alex's presence, sat across the living room and focused all of his attention on his boss.

"I appreciate you both coming here so quickly," stated Skinner after the four of them were settled.

"You said you had some ideas, Sir." Scully pushed an errant lock of hair behind her ear.

Skinner stood and moved across the living room in much the same brusque manner he employed at the office when trying to make a point.

"Just before I called you, I received a call from the Englishman. He mentioned Alex's illness, and hinted that we were looking for answers in the wrong way. Or perhaps, in the wrong place."

He turned to Mulder.

"The Englishman seemed to think you might understand. He spoke of an alien invasion, and managed to juxtapose this information with mention of a particular bodyguard in the Consortium who...hurt Alex a great deal.

"I need to understand the connection, Agent Mulder." He paused, and softened his tone. "It's important to me."

Mulder sat a moment in thought.

"Tell me everything you know about this bodyguard," he said at last.

Walter caught Alex's shudder from the corner of his eye.

"It's okay," said Alex softly. He turned to Mulder. "Kurt was assigned by the smoker to guard me. I'm afraid I don't know much more than that about him myself, and Walter knows less. Kurt's a big man with square features and pockmarked skin. I'd never seen him before the smoker brought me back from my attempted escape from the Consortium."

"Is there anything else? Anything *unusual* about Kurt?" Mulder interjected.

"I don't think so. Except that he somehow escaped the fire that killed the rest of the group. Did the Englishman have any ideas on that?"

This last was directed to Walter, who shook his head in the negative.

Alex sighed.

"I've seen Kurt twice since--my release from the Consortium. Once here, and once just outside the building."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Mulder. "You say you saw him here? Meaning *inside*?"

"Yes," Alex responded firmly. "Upstairs."

"How did he get in? Or out again?"

Alex shrugged. "I have no idea. But it was him. Then he was downstairs, or at least I thought he was."

"What do you mean?" Mulder was caught up in the chase, and he leaned forward eagerly in his chair, his former enmity with Alex apparently forgotten.

"I saw him in the downstairs lobby, as Walter and I were waiting for the elevator. I said something to Walter, then looked back, and Kurt was gone." Alex frowned. "But there was something strange...Walter and I were the only other people around except for Kurt...and yet when Kurt vanished, there was suddenly someone *else* there near the elevators."

"The Other Mulder," Scully cut in.

The rest of them turned towards her with puzzled expressions.

"You were looking for your sister," said Scully to Mulder. Her face animated with memory. "You came to my room, only it wasn't you."

"The shapeshifter," Mulder exclaimed. "Tall, square-faced, bad skin. When he wasn't in someone else's skin, that is. Damn! I should have figured he was working for the smoker!"

"So you think Kurt is a, er, 'shapeshifter'?" said Alex, his wide green eyes fixed on Mulder.

"It makes sense. That would explain his ability to come and go as he pleases."

"What else can you tell us about Kurt?" Skinner cut in.

"Not much. Kurt took Scully hostage, then exchanged her for my sister, only it turned out this particular 'Samantha' was just a clone. Then I got contaminated by some of Kurt's blood, and--"

Alex froze. He stared at Mulder, visibly shaken.

"How--" He began then stopped, clearly unable to continue.

But Scully knew what Alex was trying to ask.

"Mulder's heart had stopped. I gave him an electrocardio treatment, and I've seen no lasting ill effects."

Alex turned slowly to look at Scully.

"Have you checked his blood since?" he asked in a low voice.

It was Scully's turn to stare.

"There's been no apparent need for that."

Mulder immediately shucked his jacket and began to roll up his sleeve.

"I want to know," he stated simply.

Scully retrieved her kit and went over to Mulder, repeating the blood drawing ritual quickly. She made sure each vial was marked with the proper name before returning to her chair.

"Now what?" Alex asked, nervousness in his tone.

"I'll compare the samples and get back to you with the results," said Scully. She paused thoughtfully. "Although I confess I'm not sure what I hope to find. Have you exhibited any more ill effects since being hospitalized, Alex?"

Alex noted the use of his first name and couldn't keep a pleased blush from his face.

"No," he responded slowly. "But it's only been a few days."

Scully nodded and turned to Skinner.

"I'd like to get right on this, Sir."

The agents said cursory good-byes and were gone. Alex slumped a little in his chair, and his lover was quick to notice.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." He held up a hand to stave off Walter's attentions. "I'm fine, really. This whole thing is just so damn frustrating. I thought I'd put it all behind me."

Walter got up and moved to Alex's side. He took Alex's face in both hands and bent to kiss him gently on the lips.

"I can only tell you again. We'll get through this together."

***

Alex insisted that Walter go back to work the next day. There was not much else they could do at that point, even once the results of comparative blood tests were in. Alex thought this last without voicing his doubts to Walter, simply stating that he felt much better and needed some time by himself.

Once alone, Alex donned a light jacket and went out. He paused in the lobby, destination uncertain. All he knew was that the walls were closing in on him, and he felt safer in the open.

He walked a few blocks at random. He monitored himself, and was exhilarated to discover all signs of fatigue had vanished. Another two blocks and he decided against pushing it, turning for home.

A billboard advertising a local travel agency caught his eye. Suddenly Alex had an idea that made him jog the rest of the distance. Though he neared the apartment with caution, he saw and heard nothing untoward. He went in, careful to lock the door behind him.

Alex sank onto the couch and reached for the phone. It rang before he could pick it up.

"Hi," said a familiar, deep voice on the other end.

Alex smiled.

"You're a mind-reader. I was just about to call you."

"Oh?" Walter chuckled. "Already tired of reading porn on the Internet?"

"There you go again, confusing me with Mulder. Though come to think of it..."

"You don't need that stuff with me around," growled Walter, sending a thrill through Alex, body and soul.

"How are you feeling?" his lover continued.

"I'm fine, Walter, really. Listen. There's something I need to do, and I'd like your help."

"Name it."

"I want to go back to Consortium headquarters."

Walter paused so long that Alex could hear him breathing. Finally, he spoke, with obvious reluctance.

"Why bring all that up again? What purpose would it serve?"

"Two," Alex replied promptly. "First, to find any clues we can about Kurt. Second...I need to face my demons."

Walter sighed. "I'll clear my desk and see you in an hour."

Alex had just finished packing an overnight bag when the front door opened. He ran to meet Walter and gave him a resounding kiss on the mouth.

"Mmmm. I should start taking more afternoons off."

Alex smiled and ducked his head, suddenly shy.

"I've got a room for us in New York. We'd better get going."

They took Walter's car, arriving in the city just before sunset. Alex was impatient, and right after checking into the hotel they set off across town. Half an hour by taxi brought them to the foot of the building where Alex had spent so much time as a prisoner.

Alex got out of the cab slowly and stared up at the darkened building. He could sense Walter behind him, but the lure of memory kept Alex frozen in place, eyes wide. His eyes traveled upwards to the floor that had housed a group of powerful men not so long ago. Men so powerful they could erase not just a person's life but his very existence.

"You don't have to do this right now." Walter spoke quietly, touching Alex's elbow.

Alex shivered, and was comforted by a light squeeze on his arm. He straightened, looking directly at Walter.

"Yes. I do. If I walk away from here, the nightmares will never end."

Walter nodded.

"What now?"

Going on instinct, Alex approached the side of the building. He removed a set of lockpicks from his jacket and set to work on the door set in the bricks. Within moments, he was swinging it open.

"I doubt they've bothered with an alarm," he muttered to Walter's anxious glance. "But we won't stay long."

They climbed the back stairs, the same way Walter had come some months ago at the urging of the Englishman. The closer they got to the former Consortium suites, the more agitated Alex seemed. Yet he persevered, steeling himself as he opened the door at the end of the long hallway. There were no sounds at all from the rest of the building.

A draft of cool air tinged with smoke greeted them. Burnt wallpaper added the smell of old paste to the lingering harsh sweetness of tobacco. Alex panned his flashlight over the scene before stepping forward cautiously. The floor itself seemed solid, and he edged into the room with Walter close behind. Alex was suddenly unsure of his mission. He scanned the rooms, their once lush furnishings in charred tatters, casting about for some memory, some clue that might lead him to the nemesis that still loomed behind his closed lids after dark.

Alex shook himself out of his fear and turned back towards the hall. Nearly forgotten, Walter trudged along behind him. At the other end of the hall stood a door both men remembered far too well. Alex reached for the knob with trembling hands and pushed it slowly open.

Miraculously, the fire had spared this room. The small chair still sat in one corner, next to its companion desk. The table lamp had fallen to the floor and lay there in dusty pieces. Near the door, a metal-framed bed held an unmade mattress, its ticking stained with dark blotches...

"Alex? Alex!"

Walter was shaking him. Alex didn't even realize he'd fallen back against the wall until he stared into fear-stricken brown eyes. He closed his own lids tight until the dizziness began to pass.

"I'm okay," he wheezed finally. "S-sorry."

Walter nodded and took Alex's arm in a firm grip.

"Let's go. We've seen enough."

Alex was inclined to agree. He let Walter lead him out of the room and back down the stairs. Once outside, Alex leaned against the brick and drew deep breaths to rid himself of the sickness in his gut.

"We shouldn't have done this," Walter murmured.

Alex shook his head.

"I needed to see it. To put it--" He paused, searching. "To put it *outside*. Something that happened to me, but that isn't me."

Walter gazed at him with a new depth of respect. He nodded, then put an encouraging arm around Alex, leading him away from the building. Another taxi returned them to their hotel, where an exhausted Alex collapsed onto the bed. He barely felt Walter's gentle hands cover him with a blanket before he was fast asleep.

***

The message light blinked steadily. Walter had ignored it in favor of a warm bath for himself and Alex as soon as they walked through the apartment door. But no sooner had they dried off than the phone began to ring, and Walter finally grabbed the receiver.

"Sir," said Mulder on the other end. "I've been trying to reach you. Scully confirmed the identical nature of the virus in my blood and in Krycek's. She also assured me that the virus appears to be dormant, or at least it's not causing me any major problems."

There was a long pause. Just before Walter lost his patience with Mulder, the agent spoke again.

"I don't know if this is relevant, Sir, but our solve ratio has gone up in a big way the last few months."

Walter snorted. "Sounds to me like it's only relevant if you're bucking for a raise, Mulder."

"So what did they find out?" asked Alex from the bathroom doorway as Walter hung up.

"Not much. Mulder has the virus, and it doesn't seem to have caused him any problems since the initial infection."

The sight of Alex wearing only a towel finally got through to Walter. He paused, hit by a sudden bolt of lust. Alex's growing smile--matched by the developing tightness of the cloth around his waist--told Walter all he needed to know. He walked slowly across the room, devouring Alex with his eyes.

"Mmmm. Like what you see, big boy?"

"You'd better believe it, schweetheart."

Alex laughed with delight and threw his arms around Walter's neck.

"You know I can't resist your Bogie," he purred.

Walter took Alex's face between his hands. With slow precision, he bent forward until their lips met and he was rewarded with a deep groan from his lover.

Alex's green eyes glistened.

"Take me to bed," he demanded softly.

It was Walter's turn to moan as Alex's words shot straight to his cock. He grabbed Alex by the hand and led them both into the bedroom. Behind closed doors, Alex performed a slow tease, dropping the corner of the towel then pulling away with a laugh when Walter tried to catch him. Walter finally snagged the towel itself, leaving Alex wearing nothing but a blush.

"Touché," said Alex with a broad grin.

Walter knelt quickly on the floor and hefted the shapely penis offered him. Too excited for finesse, he bent to take the head in his mouth. Above him, Alex gasped and jerked forward. Walter controlled the depth of Alex's thrusts with a hand around the base of his shaft.

Although he was obviously close, Alex pulled back.

"Bed," was all he could manage.

Walter grinned. He rose and undid the tie of his robe in one smooth motion before sliding a hand around Alex's waist and bending in for another long kiss. Alex finally pushed him gently down onto the bed and slithered across his prone form.

"I need you so much," Alex moaned.

He leaned over to whisper in Walter's ear, and his words sent more blood to his lover's already painful erection. Alex moved back, reaching across the bed to the small table where Walter kept the necessities. He drew out a packet of lube and applied a condom to Walter's flesh.

Eyes glistening, Alex positioned himself over Walter's torso and sank carefully onto the slick organ below him. Alex's heat was nearly too much. Walter closed his eyes and concentrated on holding back.

"Like that?" Alex whispered huskily as he took more of Walter inside him.

All Walter could manage was a groan of pleasure. It seemed to him that something was not quite right, but every time he tried to place it, Alex moved again and Walter's thoughts shattered. At last he gave up thinking altogether and let Alex's tightness send him up and over the edge.

***

Alex woke a few hours later to the sounds of Walter's snoring. He smiled lazily and rolled onto his side. The pain between his buttocks was a small price for recent pleasure. He shivered briefly, concentrated, and the hurt disappeared.

Unable to sleep any longer, Alex rose and padded silently out of the room. He showered again and got dressed in jeans, a teal cotton shirt, and running shoes. Walter slept on, oblivious.

Alex left the apartment and took the stairs to the ground floor. Since returning from New York--and despite the strangeness of revisiting his former prison--he'd felt surprisingly energetic. A quick walk before dinner would be just the ticket.

He strolled down towards the park, using the time to think about the changes in himself. The bout of illness had altered him in ways he couldn't begin to name. He only knew that something was different. With a shrug, he jogged faster, hardly even breaking a sweat.

Alex came to the end of the path and turned back. As he left the park and approached Viva Towers, a cloud passed over the sun, making him shiver. Suddenly Alex wanted to be with Walter so badly it was nearly a physical pain, and he hurried across the lobby and into the elevator.

When he emerged into the hall, the apartment door was just opening. Walter saw Alex and smiled.

"Thank goodness. I was getting worried."

"I'm fine." Alex threw caution to the winds and leaned over to kiss Walter's cheek.

"Mmmm. Why don't we take this back inside?"

Walter put a hand in the small of Alex's back, steering him through the door. Despite their recent lovemaking, Alex quivered with fresh anticipation. Walter smelled...*hot*. It was the only word Alex could apply that seemed to fit perfectly.

"Let me wash up."

Walter caught Alex by the arm and pulled him back towards the couch.

"No. I can't wait."

Alex raised an eyebrow, but followed his lover willingly. It seemed very dark in the room, and he noted the closed curtains.

"We could use some light."

"No!" Walter practically snarled. Then he softened his tone. "I need you now, Alex. Please."

Walter's face in the dimness was unreadable. Alex frowned slightly, not sure what to make of his mood swings. With a shrug, he moved into Walter's arms, lifting his mouth for a kiss.

//Help me!//

What the--? Alex drew back sharply to listen.

"Don't stop now, babe," Walter whispered huskily.

Alex stared at him. For just a moment, Walter's brown eyes had gleamed strangely blue...

Large hands pulled Alex in a strong embrace. He relaxed again, letting the passion rise slowly, feeling evidence of Walter's own arousal pulsing against his thigh.

//Help me, please! Alex, where are you?//

The arms holding him began to hurt. Alex struggled, confused. He managed to push away in time to see eyes that were definitely blue, the face they belonged to melting away into rougher planes and sneering features.

"Miss me?" Kurt's gravelly voice held promises of anguish for his captive.

Alex tried to back off, was held fast.

"What have you done with Skinner?" he stammered, fighting the terror that threatened to paralyze him.

"Don't worry about him. Why don't we finish what we started?"

Kurt bent slowly towards his victim, intent on a kiss.

"No!"

With a supreme effort, Alex tore away from the shapeshifter's arms. He stumbled against the coffee table behind him. Kurt didn't bother trying to catch him, as if he knew there was no escape.

"For old time's sake." Kurt put a hand on his own crotch and rubbed himself lasciviously.

Alex stared at him. He calculated the chances of making it to the door, wrote that idea off quickly. Saw Kurt reading his intentions and noted the arrogant smile that followed.

"Only one more time, Kurt?" Alex tried to make his voice as seductive as possible. He placed a hand on one hip and leaned forward.

Kurt grinned.

"Why don't you come over here and we'll find out?"

As Kurt reached for him, Alex put on his best smile. He moved closer still, until he could get his foot beneath the coffee table. Alex shoved the table upwards. Ignoring Kurt's startled grunt, Alex jumped away and dashed towards the bedroom.

The shapeshifter recovered and moved preternaturally fast. Alex had just reached the other side of the bed when Kurt was on him, slamming him face down across the bed. One hand held his neck and the other ripped at his jeans. Alex felt cool air on his buttocks. Deja vu immobilized him and he closed his eyes tightly against the inevitable.

//Alex, no! Fight!//

The words could not have been clearer if Walter had put his mouth to Alex's ear. Alex's eyes flew open again, and he turned his head towards the bathroom. The door was partway open. Even in the dim light, Alex could see the frightened gleam of eyes and the shuffling motions as Walter tried to free himself from his bonds.

Kurt spread Alex wide and began to penetrate him. A surge of anger cut through the pain. Alex yelled his hatred and twisted around suddenly, throwing Kurt off his back. The shapeshifter stumbled. Alex took advantage of Kurt's momentary imbalance, and placing both hands square on the other's chest, he pushed hard.

Kurt staggered back towards the window. He caught himself on the edge of a dresser and nearly regained his balance when Alex reached out and caught his foot. Kurt went down, shattering the glass and collapsing just inside the window.

Alex hurried into the bathroom. He untied Walter quickly and pulled him to his feet. Then, afraid that Kurt might yet escape, the two men walked slowly back past the bed.

The big shapeshifter lay on his back, eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. A piece of glass had gone through his neck. The blood pooling around him bubbled a strange shade of green.

"God," exclaimed Alex, feeling his stomach turn.

Walter took Alex by the shoulders and pulled him away from the gruesome sight. They moved as one into the living room, where Walter picked up the phone and began to dial.

***

Mulder sat on a chair at the apartment in Viva Towers, looking as if the end of the world had arrived. His long face didn't improve when Scully finally emerged from the bedroom.

"There's hardly enough left to autopsy," she commented. "Just a green stain on the carpet."

Mulder sighed. "So much for my chance to examine an alien up close."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "We don't know for a fact that he was an alien, Mulder. He could have been suffering from some kind of exotic disease."

Across the living room, Alex smiled. The exchange was comfortingly familiar.

"Mulder," he said, and was pleased to see the agent look him square in the eye. "Are you sure you didn't have any lasting effects from being infected by Kurt's blood?"

"Not really. Everything seems to check out fine."

Mulder shrugged, then gave Alex an odd sideways glance.

//Unless you count this.//

Had Alex not expected something of the kind, he would have been astounded at the clarity of Mulder's voice inside his own head. Instead, he gave his former partner a big grin.

//I'd say that counts for something.//

Mulder grinned back. For a moment they sat in amicable silence.

//You and Skinner belong together. Never thought I'd say that.//

Alex could have sworn he saw Mulder blush at his own admission. He nodded gently before turning his eyes back to Walter.

"It's late," said Scully with a meaningful glance at Mulder.

The agents said their good-byes, and Alex and Walter were alone once more.

"Alex." Walter's look could only be called stern. "What's going on between you and Mulder?"

"I don't know what you mean."

Walter's severe frown told Alex that he'd failed miserably in his attempt at innocence. He sighed.

"Something in Kurt's blood changed both of us. Mulder and I share a kind of telepathy now. I have no idea if it's temporary or permanent."

"So...does this mean you can read anyone's mind?"

Alex shook his head.

"I tried to read Scully and couldn't. My guess is it's brought on by strong emotions. When you were tied up, I could hear you calling me, for instance."

Walter nodded and slipped his arm around Alex, drawing him closer on the couch.

"I remember what I meant to ask you yesterday."

He hesitated, obviously unsure.

"No, you didn't hurt me," replied Alex softly. "Walter, if I'd waited until you thought I was ready for penetration again, I'd be an old man."

Walter chuckled. //Wonder if he's up to a repeat performance?//

"I am if you are."

Laughing, Alex pulled an astonished Walter up from the couch and smothered his questions with kisses.

THE END