That's what friends are for

by Laurel

Notes: Every time I sit down to write and the muse is sitting on my shoulder to guide me, it's just as exciting as the taste of chocolate or getting a new toy.

Spoilers: It's helpful to read the first two stories in the series, a Christmas wish and a new love.
Also brief ones for episodes Squeeze, Tooms, the Host and Unusual Suspects.

Archive: Just ask first.

The sound of a plate crashing into the wall startled Alex. He pressed an ear against the cheap wood of the door and stood uncertainly in the hallway. The cry of a child followed. He'd heard those kinds of sounds too often and his stomach clenched in response. He looked at the door puzzled, and frowned. Unconsciously his hand went to the furrow at the top of his nose. If Fox were here he'd smooth the little indentation away with a long, slender finger.

"Mom it'll be okay. I know it will. It always is."

That was David's voice, plaintive and on the edge of tears.

He shook his head. Lisa would never in a million years raise a hand to her son. He knocked gently.

Lisa opened it after a few moments. He knew she would carefully look out the peephole first before she did. It wasn't the best neighborhood.

"What's up?" he asked.

Lisa looked relieved to see him. She hung her head before she answered, "I lost my job today."

Alex nodded in understanding. "Can I come in?"

She held the door open wider and he stepped inside.

"Hey kiddo." He passed his hand over David's fine gold hair. The boy looked up at him with tears glittering in his eyes. "Why don't you find a broom and dustpan for this mess?" he suggested.


He knew how to comfort himself after years of living in terror from one source or another. He could deal with his own tears of pity or fear or pain but not someone else's. He touched Lisa's arm in a sympathetic but awkward gesture.

She wiped away tears from her eyes angrily and began to massage her temples in a futile effort to stave off a headache. "I thought I had the perfect position. I've been doing Mr. Fanelli's accounting for three years and out of the blue he lets me go."

"He must have had a reason."

"Yeah," she huffed. "His hot shot nephew came along with the newest software and the old man gets dazzled by all the bells and whistles, which means I get to meet the pavement."

David began to sweep the pieces of the broken dish.

Lisa grabbed it quickly and shooed him away. "Let me do that baby. I don't want you to cut yourself."

"Look what I got." Alex reached into his coat pocket. It was a change for him not to wear the worn leather he was so used to. His wool coat was necessary for the frigid January temperature and he was glad that Walter had pushed him to wear it. He hadn't had anyone to look after him for years and though he grumbled and bitched he still was grateful that someone thought of his well being. Walter had also wrapped a long scarf around his throat but the feel of it was suffocating so he wore it only when outside.

"Fox found this in a box of cereal this morning." Alex pulled a face at the thought of what kinds of food went into his lover's mouth. He should have been in a diabetic coma by now. "I had to fight him to get it." He held up a miniature glow in the dark yo-yo.


David snatched it up and immediately began to play with it.

"Thought you'd like it."

"Thanks, Alex."

"You're welcome. Why don't you go to your room while I talk to your mom?"

David vanished in an instant, already enamored of his new toy.

"Did you really fight with your new boyfriend over a toy?"

"He sulked a little but when I told him I was giving it to David he handed it over right away. It's hard for him sometimes. He lost so much so early in his childhood that I think he likes to play like a kid again. Don't worry about it though. I'll stop by the toy store on the way home and get him something."

She gave him a wan smile. "I just wish I could be in a bad mood without David picking up on it."

"He's a good boy and he's not dumb."

"Don't I know it? He kept after me knowing something was wrong and what do I do? I yell at him and break dishes."

"We'll find you a new job. If you need to borrow some rent money or anything just ask me."

She held up her hand and gave a bitter laugh. "I've learned long ago not to depend on anyone but myself. Not like some friends I know that need a man around to take care of them."

"Hey you're not living off of me. I'm in a relationship with not one but three guys. Besides we're friends and that's what friends are for."

She gave him a hug and brightened at his offer. "You're not going to start singing now are you?"

"Not a chance. I only do show tunes."

She laughed for the first time that day.

"Come on grab the kid and we'll hit the diner. I hear chocolate cures all ills."

They crammed into a window booth and all three ordered the diner's specialty, a thick creamy chocolate milkshake. It was so thick that you couldn't suck it up a straw without getting a headache. On top of the dark mass of semi-solid liquid was a generous dollop of real whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles layered over the white froth.

"Is this your remedy for everything?"

"Pretty much. This and a bullet to the back of the head."

Lisa gave him a dark look and a warning shake of her head.

"Joking! Sort of," he mumbled.

"It's excellent," David replied before leaning his head over the table for another spoonful.

"What do you say to Alex?"

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now here, look at the ads." He passed out the want ad section he'd skimmed from several days worth of newspapers. The restaurant offered its diners the papers to read along with the free weekly papers, newsletters and fliers that cluttered its mailbox.

Silently all three thumbed through the papers. Most were for clerical or restaurant help. A great many were advertising for help in medical or dental offices and there was a wide assortment offering jobs ranging from the dreaded telemarketer and at home babysitter to strippers.

"You have a nice figure. Pay's good," Alex pointed out an ad for the Pussycat club.

Lisa kicked him in the shin.

"Ow. Hey you have computer skills right?"

She shrugged. "Some."

"There's lots of jobs for medical secretaries. The pay looks decent. Why not apply? You probably don't even need a whole closet full of clothes. A lot of those people wear scrubs or regular clothes with lab coats over them."

"I don't know the software they're looking for."

Alex looked crestfallen.

"Waitressing? Tips are usually good."

"I'm a klutz."

"Mom look, it says you can make money at home with no experience necessary. Look how much it pays!"

Lisa and Alex shook their heads. "Those are scams kiddo. Or else telemarketing."

David made a face. "How can they do that? Make people think they're getting a good easy job and then rip them off?"

"They're greedy. A lot of these ads are pyramid schemes."

"What's that?"

"I'll explain it to you some time."

They folded the papers back up. Lisa found a couple of prospects and neatly sliced those addresses out.

He walked Lisa and David back to their building. All three were silent. The only sound was the zing noise made by David's new yo-yo as it slid down its string then leapt back into his hand. It gave Alex time to think and he hit on the perfect idea.

The sun was bright and fierce but the wind still bit into their exposed skin and their breaths puffed out in little clouds then dispersed, like smoke trailing from a train. He made sure to wind his navy scarf around his neck to please Walter.

He parked the jeep on the street. The loud red jeep was the total opposite of the black sedans with darkened windows he was used to driving or riding in. He turned down the state of the art stereo system before driving up the road to the house but kept singing with the Beastie Boys' rap even with the volume down to just above a whisper.

The house was quiet except for the soft instrumental jazz that Walter favored and the rustle of paper.

All three of his lovers were home. They hadn't heard him enter and he studied them as they sat in the den, each in their favorite chair or sofa and read.

Walter had the paper spread out with half the sections on his lap and the rest tucked beside his hip.

Fox was perusing his old files. Alex rolled his eyes. Fox's eidetic memory meant that he knew every single word of every report from the x-files. He didn't need to research them for his book. Alex figured he was rifling through them for nostalgia. How anybody could miss chasing monsters that ate people's livers or lurked in sewers was beyond his understanding.

John was reading a typewritten report. He liked to bring work home on occasion. Since he and Walter had retired along with Fox they had been at loose ends and had decided to open a detective agency. It meant regular hours and less danger plus it kept them out of trouble.

He enjoyed the sight for a moment, totally unnoticed. The Christmas decorations and lights had been taken down just a couple of weeks ago so the house looked oddly empty, but the space on the wall that was slowly beginning to fill with family photos had became a little more crowded. Alex had put up a couple of his own photos as well as some cherished paintings that had been in storage for years.

They looked up in unison when they realized someone else was in the room and they were being watched. He was greeted with warm smiles and pulled down onto the sofa. Walter kissed him thoroughly. The man must have been bored. Yep, he was right. He'd been reading the business section. All those rows of stock and bond prices had probably left him feeling ready for distraction.

Alex purred as the man pulled him into his lap and nuzzled and kissed him. John seemed to take exception, threw his report down and joined in and not to be left out, Fox discarded the file about Sasquatch, otherwise known as Yeti, Bigfoot and a whole slew of other identities, knelt at their feet and pulling up Alex's sweater, nuzzled into his warm belly.

Alex giggled at all the attention. "I was only gone for a couple of hours fellas. You missed me that much?"

"What do you think?" Walter asked.

Alex only knew that he loved the attention he was getting but he had to put a stop to it before the idea in his mind was completely forgotten.

"Fox, I need you to contact the gunmen."

Fox stopped kissing Alex's nearly flat abdomen long enough to ask "What for?"

"Lisa needs some computer skills to get a new job."

"What happened to her old one?"

He told them what had happened.

"I can give you the number," Fox said.

"You better call them first. They're scared of me."

Fox chuckled. "You're right. I'll do it after dinner. Now let's go upstairs and properly greet Alex."

Alex dashed up first but the three men were in quick pursuit and he let them capture him and wrestle him playfully into bed. It was the one wonderful pastime for a dreary January afternoon he enjoyed.

Alex drove Lisa and David to the lone gunmen's place. He smiled at the paranoia they still harbored, evident in the security system surrounding their warehouse loft.

Fox had phoned Frohike ahead of time to inform him of Alex's plan. He was still nervous about letting the man inside their domain and Alex didn't help any.

Fox admonished him to stop scaring them with his icy glare and get rid of the flak jacket, desert boots and especially the gun complete with laser. The red dot that followed the three men around the house when they visited as Alex pretended to practice tactical maneuvers had really freaked them out. It cracked him up every time as the three grown men jumped like nervous dogs every time he shouted 'bang' at an imaginary target.

He promised to be on his best behavior and he politely greeted them as Frohike opened the door. He introduced Lisa and David to the three men and even thanked them in advance for their help.

"I'm so grateful for any help you can give me about learning new software but I'm afraid I won't be able to pay much."

"Think nothing of it. It's our good deed for the day," Frohike replied.

He pulled himself up to his full height and smiled effusively at her.

"Thank you so much. Alex said that you guys were the best."

"He did?" Langly asked.

"Yes. He went on and on about your hacking skills and your incredible detective work."

"That's real nice of you Alex," Frohike replied. He couldn't keep the awe-struck quality out of his voice.

"Well, it's true," Alex admitted grudgingly.

Frohike turned his attention to David. "Hey there sailor man."

"Hello. I'm not a sailor, though."

Byers stood silently. Lisa Gordon was the prettiest lady he'd ever seen outside of Susanne Modeski and Dana Scully. She was petite with a trim figure and golden hair that cascaded in waves down her shoulders like an old movie star. The light reflected on the curls like gold, lighting her up like an angel. Even her eyes glowed with an inner light when she smiled. He hadn't been able to mutter more than a stuttered greeting when he'd been introduced.

"No? What are you in college now? You've gotta decide soon."

David giggled. "I'm just a little kid. I'm nine."

"Really? You had me fooled. See, I'm a little guy but I'm way past college age."

"Way past," Alex agreed.

"So appearances are deceiving."

"You want to be a rock and roll rebel?" Langly asked.

David shrugged. "I don't know. I like N'Sync. Are they rebels?"

Langly staggered backward and held his chest as if shot. "You're killing me kid." He straightened and tossed back his long blond hair. "How about a social anarchist? There's no money in it but pursuing it has its own rewards."

David scrunched up his nose in total incomprehension. "That sounds hard."

"Believe me it is."

"Byers? Any career suggestions?" Alex asked.

"Computers. The future is programming," he said softly with barely a stammer.

"The future is here," Langly corrected.

"Fight the future," Alex replied.

"Good one," Langly said with a grin.

"They're okay too, I guess. We have them at school. But I think I'd like to be a policeman. Then I can have a gun like Alex and put bad guys in jail."

All three stared in horror at the future spy.

"It wouldn't be so bad to have another guy like me around, would it boys? You can never have too much security." He put his arms around the trio and then turned to Lisa. "I leave you in good hands. I'll keep an eye on David while you study."

They led her to a computer terminal to begin the training. Byers stared at her like an amorous puppy, Langly peppered her with questions on her musical taste and Frohike played nice while still able to convey an undertone of complete lechery.

David did his homework, occasionally asking for Alex's help while Alex settled in with a novel to laze away the long afternoon.

Alex crawled gratefully into bed that night and curled up around Walter. They had a routine set up now for bedtime. Out of the four of them Alex and Fox were the most restless and Alex the most prone to nightmares so they usually slept on the outer edge of the bed, Alex on the right and Fox on the left. If they were feeling insecure or vulnerable or had awakened from a nightmare they would snuggle into the middle and be surrounded on both sides by their lovers. Alex found the most comfort with Walter's big, warm body so he was on either side of him most of the time.

Fox put away the slinky and pack of naked men playing cards that Alex had picked up respectively at a toy store and sex shop. He looked wistfully at the king of hearts. The bald Adonis looked remarkably like Walter.

Fox firmly snuggled up to John on the left. John slept on his back, content to have Fox wrapped around him. Walter hugged Alex closer to him.

"Did you have fun?" Fox asked.

"I read my book and helped David a bit with his homework. We had a dinner break and then we played checkers until Lisa was done. She learned a lot in just one day. She's going back next week and in the meantime she's putting in her applications."

"That's great," John said sleepily.

"I hope she gets something good," Walter said.

"Yeah, me too. Thanks again for calling the gunmen, Fox."

"Hey, that's what friends are for."

Walter shut off the light and they all pressed closer together and snuggled under the warmth of blankets and bodies to ward off the cold winter's night.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Laurel