Title: "Viridian's Request"
Author: Nonie Rider
E-mail: nonie@avalon.net
Spoilers: "Tempus Fugit" and "Max," but only in note 2 below.
Rating: PG
Keywords: SA, h/c, implied slash, B/Max
Summary: Byers comes to Max Fenig's rescue.
Note: The following was written in response to a request from Viridian some time ago, and while it clearly needs a sequel, this seems to be what I've got for now.
Note 2: This is a minor AU, in that Max is still alive.


"Viridian's Request"
by Nonie Rider
nonie@avalon.net

Walking into that bar was the hardest thing John Byers had ever done. "Uh, I'm going in, guys," he said on the subvocal mike, but even so he hesitated outside the door for a long moment before he could make himself move. Only the curious stares of a couple leaving the place spurred him into movement.

"Okay, guys, I see him." Max Fenig was sitting at a back booth, straight-backed, contemplating the menu with downcast eyes. The dishevelled look was right, the long unruly redgold hair, the NICAP hat. But the head came up with a slow deliberation unlike anything the enthusiastic, uncoordinated man had ever shown, and when those black-swarmed eyes met his, Byers felt his spine tighten, his very testicles try to climb into the false safety of his body. "Uh, guys, that's confirmed. I repeat, confirmed."

The thing that had been Max gestured to the seat across. "Sit," and the voice was so like Max's that it hurt to hear. "Do you have it?"

"--Yes," said Byers. "But not here. And you don't get it until you release our friend."

It veiled its eyes with a slow blink, and Byers saw the black streaks shift and reform again. "That is acceptable."

"But if you try anything--" Byers felt as though he was threatening a Bengal tiger with nothing in his hand but a blade of grass.

"I do not lie. We agreed: you return the device that was stolen from me/us, and no harm will come to your friend or other fragiles like yourself. I will not give them light."

Remembering pictures he had seen of the burned ruins that had once been men, Byers could not help shivering. And the black-skeined eyes watched him, watched every move and breath and shift of muscle with no more regard than it showed for the table or the saltshaker.

"And you don't try to take me over--" Byers cursed himself as he heard his own voice shake, and knew the other had registered it.

"No. I/we do not break bargains, and you/they have made it clear that you are monitored, and that taking you would lose me what I seek."

Byers couldn't stand to meet those eyes any longer, seeing the obscenity that looked like their old friend. "Let's go, then," he said. And Max, the thing that was not Max, the alien horror that wore Max like an old t-shirt, followed him soundlessly out of the bar.

*****

A taxi swerved just beyond their bumper, and Byers braked so hard he was afraid of whiplash. //God, he shouldn't be on the road; this frightened, this upset, he had no concentration. And the part of his mind that was fascinated by the thing that sat beside him had no more attention to spare. Proof, not to show but just for his own knowing--it was real, the alien was real and here and even if it killed him he'd know--//

"Can I ask--"

The alien cut him off. "No." Those eyes turned towards him, the black rivers changing their course within his gaze. "No questions. The exchange only; no giving of knowledge."

"Of course," Byers said quickly, and found himself as embarrassed as if he'd asked Frohike about the state of his spleen. Of course, Frohike would probably have told him.

Thank God, here it was, the abandoned gas station hulking dark against the lit streets beyond. One way or another, it would be over soon. "Here we are."

"Here." The alien's voice was flat; was that a comment or a confirmation?

"Your--device, the cylinder--is just inside the door. My friends are monitoring this. If you try to harm me or the body you are now in, my friends will set off the explosive."

"And do you think that would stop me?"

"Probably not," said Byers with scrupulous honesty. "Which gives you a counter-threat, since you could incinerate Max and me at any time. But the bomb would certainly destroy the device."

He expected the alien to say something, to comment or confirm again that the bargain was accepted, or just to say some kind of goodbye. But with no further sign of interest in Byers, it opened the car door with Max's fine-boned hand and began to empty itself.

Max shuddered and coughed, spitting a long stream of black slime onto the pavement. And then his gaunt frame convulsed more deeply and the thing swarmed from his nose and ears and O God his eyes, heaving free, crawling out of him like worms from a dead man's skull.

Byers' own gorge rose as he watched, and the clogged gutteral sounds almost made him vomit. God, Max was too fragile for this, too much of his life burned for his causes, and this *thing* racked him and wrung him like a used dishcloth. Mulder and the others be damned; there were some truths not worth knowing, and he felt like some Lovecraftian scholar driven mad by what he'd seen.

Max sagged in his seatbelt now, the last unspeakable trickles spilling away to join the rest and leaving only a faint trail of blood behind. Byers reached across Max to slam the door and gunned the car away as fast as he could. Luckily, the oncoming pickup missed him by nearly a foot.

"Guys, it's done. Confirmed: done. Operation Dishwasher is a success." But it didn't feel like a success, hearing their old friend fighting desperately for breath beside him, seeing that thin body slumped bonelessly as if the departing alien had taken everything from him when it left. "Uh, guys, I think we're gonna need some help here."

*****

Langly's head was cocked at a birdlike angle as he checked his Marvin the Martian watch against Max's faint pulse. "Still with us," he said, as he let Max's arm fall back to the couch. "And if you pathetic little geeks mess with my fucking things again, I'm gonna wire the toilet to crush your mouseballs like a fucking beartrap."

Byers tried to laugh. "What, you want us to use 'Hickey's blankets? You don't know where they've been." But the joke sounded hollow against the desperate rasp of Max's tortured breathing.

Frohike looked up in mock outrage. "At least they aren't starched boards like John-John's. Probably gets them done by the same cleaner who glues his shirts."

Langly snorted and shrugged his lanky blond hair back over his shoulder. "Starch? The Narc's sheets're just sticky from his hiding under them with a flashlight reading Miss September's biography again. Catch those college plans, woo-hoo!"

"Chilling," said Frohike, and bent his head again to peer into Max's face. For the fifth time, the little troll thumbed back Max's reddened eyelid and looked in vain for any trace of remaining blackness. And Max, unconscious to anything but pain, turned his head towards Frohike's hand like a child seeking comfort.

Frohike snatched his hand back as if from fire. "Unbelievable," he said, and wiped his fingers down his other sleeve.

"Grotty," agreed Langly, dropping his patient's wrist. "Must be your animal magnetism."

Unanchored, Max slipped back fully into nightmare. Byers watched as the long, gaunt hands tightened as if to fight something off, breath tearing into ragged whimpers as he failed and relived his helplessness agony again. Then those hands rose to claw at his sunken eyes, and Byers could stand it no longer.

Despite himself, Byers reached out to draw those struggling hands away, and at his warm touch Max subsided immediately, trusting. "Guys," he said, "I think he needs, you know, a human touch."

"Rules out Frohike," Langly said immediately. "And I don't do babysitting. You wanna sit here and hold his widdle hands, I'm not gonna stop you."

"Use protection," Frohike added, leering from under his overhanging brow. "I don't think he's been practicing safe abduction."

They smirked at each other. But Byers found it hard to care about their endless competition for the last word, the coolest putdown. Max was in pain, and nobody's jokes reached deep enough to make Max smile.

***

It was a long night. The other two had long since retired to their rooms, leaving Byers alone with the unconscious man and his own duty. But it was hard for Byers to keep himself awake; he hadn't brought a book, and if he freed both hands for his laptop it left Max alone and the shaking began again.

Byers finally sat down beside the couch and slumped against it to rest for just a moment, one hand still holding Max's. Just for a moment; then he'd sit up and...

***

Jarred and disoriented, he thought for a moment he was being attacked, and then realized that he was curled up next to the couch, his hand long since fallen to his side, and that what he had mistaken for violence was Max's body in the throes of a full epileptic seizure. Massive uncontrollable spasms had shaken Max half off the couch, and his arm was battering Byers' head and shoulder by sheer chance of position.

Catching the flailing arm, appalled, Byers eased Max's body and its cocooning blankets down to the floor to prevent a further fall. Before the convulsing head could slam against the floor, Byers eased it into his lap and held on as best he could.

Max's spasms subsided almost immediately, and he turned his face blindly into Byers' protective hand, nestling his cheek into Byers' palm. Byers forced himself not to notice the warmth of flesh against flesh, the spill of redgold curls across his thigh, but he was glad the other two weren't there to see him blush.

No help for it. He was too tired to stay awake for this, but he didn't dare leave Max without support. So, trying not to think about it, he curled up next to Max, pulled a sofa cushion down to rest their heads on, and fell asleep with his arm around the other man.

***

His dreams were disjointed, full of liquid black terror and heat, coppergold curls and a deep and nameless ache. But every time he surfaced into consciousness, the breathing warmth in his arms gave him comfort even as it took comfort from him, and he relaxed back into sleep.

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The End (so far...)