Gift of the Third Magi

by Ursula


Title: The Gift of the Third Magi

Author/Pseudonym: Ursula

Fandom: X-Files

Pairing: Sk/K

Rating: NC-17

Status: Finished

Date Posted: 10-07-03

Archive: FHSA, FONLX, DIB, WWOMB, Gossamer, RAT B, and Lorelei's birthday page

E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com

Classification: Slash Romance

Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series: Sequel to Tunisian Myrrh

Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/ursula/ Main FHSA Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/ Mirror Site: fhsarchive.popullus.org/

Disclaimers: The X Files belongs to Chris Carter, 1013 and whoever has current rights.

Notes: For Lorelei on her birthday. Thanks to Peach, Laura, and Bertie for emergency beta reading.

Warnings: Spoilers up to series end

Time Frame: After the series ended

Sweating, Doggett lugged a heavy box out of the truck. Scully came out of the house, her hair bound in a kerchief. She wore denim and a plaid shirt like John, but it looked better on her. She climbed into the truck for another load.

Walter said, "Dana, I thought you would just clean."

"Walter, don't you think that's a bit of a stereotype?" Dana remarked.

Mulder and Doggett met in the doorway. Walter tensed, still nervous about the two coming to odds over Scully. Mulder fleetingly smiled at John and said, "Hot work."

Doggett seemed relieved and agreed, "Unseasonably hot."

As Scully hopped down the ramp, a small package was jogged from the top of the box she carried. It fell at Walter's feet. He picked it up without thinking and moaned as he saw the ornate pattern of the container.

"Sorry, Walter," Scully said. She took the box from Walter's hand to return it to the container from which it came. Sniffing the air, she said, "What a lovely scent...was this Sharon's?"

Wincing, Walter took the lacquer box back and carefully opened the lid. The smell wafted out, overwhelming his senses. He closed his eyes, remembering Alex naked, the scent wrapping around him as his only garment.

"Walter, are you all right?" Mulder asked gently.

"Yes," Walter said, closing the box. He said, "I'm going to take a vacation when we're finished here. I'm going to Tunisia."

"Tunisia?" Scully asked. "Why?"

"That's where you get Tunisian Myrrh," Walter said.

"Well, it's nice," Scully said, sniffing again, "But can't you just order it on the Internet?"

"It wouldn't be the same," Walter replied.

"You met someone special there," John said, with a grin. "I recognize that look. Someone grabbed a big chunk of your heart."

"Don't go there, John," Walter chided. He walked inside with the box and put it in the drawer of his nightstand. He knew he was being a fool. Alex was not in Tunisia. Alex was lost forever, held captive by a force more powerful and final than that hot, dreary fortress in which Spender had thrown him.

"All right, Walter," John said, "Sorry."

Turning to his fiancee, John said, "Hey, Dana, we may as well go finish unloading.

After the pair left, Walter stood, his gaze on the box and his thoughts far away. He thought he was alone in the room until Mulder said, "Walter, it was Alex, wasn't it?"

How in the hell did he know?

Turning, Walter frowned at Mulder.

"Spender said something to me at one point. That he had bribed you with Alex's body and that I shouldn't trust a man who would take a bribe," Mulder said.

"He was mine before he was Spender's," Walter said. "Spender took him from me because he could."

"My father was a total bastard," Mulder said. "I'm very sorry."

"You didn't do anything to me," Walter said.

"You shot him to save me," Mulder replied.

"He wouldn't have wanted to live like that," Walter said. "Whatever Spender did to break him completely...it must have been terrible."

"Why go back to Tunisia? Why let the memories hurt you like that?" Mulder asked.

"You believe in ghosts, Mulder," Walter answered. "I have to settle mine. I have to exorcise him or I will never be able to live out the rest of my life. That was the last place we were really together. I'll go there and I'll find a way to forget him."

"I'll go with you," Mulder said.

Walter sighed and shook his head.

Mulder said, "Don't make me follow you. You know I'll get into some kind of trouble and you'll just have to bail me out."

Mulder's smile was almost tender. He said, "Come on, Walter. Whatever waits for you in Tunisia, you shouldn't have to face alone."

And there was nothing more to be said.

OooOooO

Leaving the cottage he had just purchased, Walter stepped toward the car. Doggett and Scully had insisted on driving them to the airport. Mulder was quiet. Walter appreciated that.

It was a night flight. Walter could see nothing. It was dark as the womb, but cold, so cold. He shivered. An attendant, one of two who had been hovering over them, brought him a blanket without being asked.

"Can I get you anything?" the flight attendant asked for the fifth time.

"No, I'm fine," Walter said. He frowned into the darkness.

OooOooO

The desert heat grabbed them and shook them as soon as they left the airport. The ancient taxi, which may have been the same one that conveyed Walter to the hotel years ago, seemed to give a death rattle with each bump. The road had more potholes than pavement and Walter's spine ached with the jolts. Mulder stared out the window like a fascinated child.

The hotel looked as if it had weathered a trouble or two. The sign teetered from one support. There were several newer windows and the doorman was heavily armed. The taxi was not allowed to directly approach the door so Walter grabbed one of Mulder's bags as well as all of his own. Mulder nodded his thanks, paying the driver and tipping him well.

The mosaic in the entryway hadn't faded, but it was marble. It would take more than a few years to wear it down. Walter wished that humans were as enduring.

"It's very beautiful," Mulder remarked.

"Yes, it is," Walter said.

"An interesting place to pick for a vacation," Mulder said. "Why did you choose Tunisia?"

"I didn't pick it," Walter said as the bellboys carried up their bags.

Mulder was next door to him. Walter had rented the same room in which he had made love to Alex and lost him again. If he took a deep breath, it seemed as if he could still smell Tunisian myrrh in the room.

Clothing put away, Walter didn't know what to do next. He didn't know why he let himself come here. He sat near the window, his hands hanging helplessly between his legs. He stared morosely at them, so large and strong, but there was nothing to punch, nothing they could grasp to fight. If death gave him the chance, he would have wrestled the grim reaper to gain his Alex back, but even with Mulder in the vicinity, the fourth horsemen did not appear.

A tap on the door was followed by Mulder's ragged voice. "May I come in, Walter?"

"Yeah," Walter said.

Mulder had changed to loose linen pants and a light- weight shirt. He looked very golden and elegant, his good health taking years from his age. Walter admired his beauty without desiring it. He always feared that if he allowed himself to feel more than friendship, Mulder would burn him.

"You gonna tell me?" Mulder said, flopping onto the couch.

Walter looked out the window. He should go to the marketplace. He should buy gifts. He had promised perfume to Dana and her mother.

"My father send you here?" Mulder asked.

It still disturbed Walter to hear Mulder acknowledge Spender's paternity.

"Yes," Walter replied. "I didn't know what he had in mind. I just knew or thought it was something I would not like. Once I was here, Spender said I was here to discipline a prisoner."

"Alex..." Mulder said. "Marita told me that he was held captive here."

"Marita needs lessons in keeping silent if she expects to be the next Mata Hari," Walter said.

Mulder laughed. His face looked childishly curious. He said, "What happened here, Walter?"

That old jealousy surfaced. "I'll trade you. I'll tell you what happened if you tell me what was between Alex and you."

The slow grin that crossed Mulder's face was teasing. He shook his head and said, "Ah, come on now, Walter. Gentlemen don't tell."

Rolling his eyes, Walter said, "You want answers? So do I!"

"Nothing ever happened that should worry you," Mulder said. "Alex said there was someone else. I had no idea it was you."

"Thank you," Walter said. It was shallow of him to feel as he did. There were other betrayals that should have concerned him more, but he felt an intense relief.

"You were interested though," Walter pointed out.

"Who wouldn't be?" Mulder responded.

There was nothing more to be said to that.

Walter could see the scenes, which took place in this room. He could feel the emotions. His voice shook as he said, "I didn't know what Spender had in mind until I checked into the room. They brought me medical reports, which concerned a prisoner. I was to administer vitamin shots and discipline. By the nature of the reports, I assumed Spender meant me to enforce his will with sexual brutality. I was outraged and had no intention of complying."

"You want a drink, Walter?" Mulder asked.

Although he probably should have said 'no', the idea was tempting. To hell with it, Walter nodded and watched Mulder sashay across the floor to the courtesy bar.

The Scotch was only faintly chilled, but it was surprisingly good, a faint heather smoke flavor tantalizing Walter's tongue. He loosened his shirt buttons and leaned back, unabashedly watching Mulder's ass as the man restlessly moved around the room.

Mulder finally settled on the ottoman, not a comfortable seat, but suiting Mulder's mood. "So Spender wanted you to rape Krycek? What made you think that?"

"The bastard had Krycek tested for sexual diseases repeatedly while he had him in that cage," Walter explained. "The results were right on top of an envelope that was delivered to me here. And Spender had made it clear that I could do anything I wanted to the man he wanted me to discipline."

"Fuck," Mulder breathed. "My father didn't know you very well. I know you would never do that, not even to someone you hated."

Hearing that warmed the cold to the bone feeling that Walter felt. Taking a deep breath, Walter said, "There was a moment when I almost lived down to his expectations. I hated him for what he had done to all of us, to himself."

His hand tightened on the Scotch glass. Without tasting it or sparing himself the bite of the liquor, Walter tossed the rest down, his grip tightening on the glass until Mulder came over, squatted before him, and unfolded his fingers from around it.

"I wasn't going to break it," Walter said.

"Something was going to give," Mulder said. He didn't move, his hazel eyes gazing at Walter.

Allowing himself a brief touch, Walter fingered Mulder's soft spikes of hair. Then he withdrew his hand and said, "He's gone yet he calls me here. I'm still in love with him. Can you understand that?"

"Yeah," Mulder said, "But Walter... There's something I never told you."

It was enough for Walter to find a kernel of humor in his bleak soul. He said, "Mulder, the list of things you never told me would fill more than one book."

Acknowledging the truth of that with a wry grin, Mulder said, "You know when you came to see me when they were holding me before my trial? You thought I was talking to myself, but I wasn't. Krycek was with me."

"With you? A vision?" Walter asked.

"I don't know. He came and went, but he seemed like he used to be, just not afraid anymore. He helped me through the torture, the beatings, and the trial. Then he was gone," Mulder said.

"Then you think he was a ghost?" Walter said. He closed his eyes, jealous again that Alex had appeared to Mulder not him.

"An astral projection," Mulder said. "That's what I believe. A spiritual representation of a living person."

"Thanks, Mulder," Walter said. "But I don't know if I can bring myself to believe that."

"I was right before and everyone doubted me," Mulder pointed out. "Walter, I feel that I am right. I feel that for some reason both of us were drawn here to find him."

Walter stood carefully, reaching down a hand to pull Mulder to his feet after him. "Help me find him then," Walter said. "Show me that I am more than a deluded fool, chasing a shadow from my past."

"We'll find him, Walter," Mulder said.

OooOooO

They began their search at the prison. The warden was willing to accept their money after an initial exchange of compliments, idle talk, and pretense of sharing a common bond of law enforcement.

"He was a difficult prisoner," the warden said. "He escaped twice and we would never have caught him on our own. His patron captured him and sent him back. We kept him until the payments stopped coming. I waited for some time to see if the money would resume. It did not come. That was two years ago."

"Two years ago? Wait," Walter said, "Was there a period of time when the one armed prisoner was removed and returned?"

"As I said, he escaped once for three days and once for two days," the warden replied.

"I'm talking about an occasion where a beautiful blond woman came to get him," Walter prompted.

"Ah, yes, I remember, the blond woman came. The man's patron borrowed part of the prison for a small fee. They were here and gone, but the prisoner was left. He didn't leave with the blond woman," the warden said.

Walter's knees went weak. He had to grip Mulder's arm for support. Mulder guided him to a chair and helped him sit. He stood by Walter, a hand gripping his shoulder.

"What happened to the man after the money stopped coming?" Mulder asked.

The warden remained silent until Mulder took out a fat wallet and begin to count out bills. The man's tongue loosened at five hundred.

The warden said, "There was a substantial amount owed for his keep. The man had injured one of my guards and several of the local prisoners. We are a very poor country. I had to recoup the cost of his care."

"What did you do with him?" Mulder asked.

"There was wealthy man who had expressed interest. He was willing to assume the man's guardianship and pay for the privilege. The man needed care and thus all were satisfied," the warden said.

Mulder's hand held Walter back from his instinctive rush. He said, "Give me the address and the name. I'll make it worth your time. Half now, half later."

OooOooO

The address led to a unoccupied house. Walter growled, "the bastard cheated us."

Mulder said, "I think we should look inside anyway."

Walter should have objected, but his need outweighed his sense of caution. Mulder grumbled over the lock on the gate until there was a creak of rusting hinges and the gate swung inward.

Looking around, Walter hesitated a moment before following Mulder inside. There was a fountain. It was dry as was the vegetation surrounding it. A couple of windows were boarded shut. Mulder went to the front door and begin working the lock, cursing quietly as it resisted his efforts. Finally succeeding, Mulder pushed the door open.

In for a penny, in for a pound...

Walter followed his former agent, thinking he was getting a first person point of view on Mulder's modus operandi back in the good old days.

The interior of the house held odd bits of furniture, draped like ghosts in white plastic shrouds. The two men wandered about, not sure what they were looking for, but sensing that there might be a clue here.

There was a room with multiple locks and a secondary door made of wrought iron bars. The room also had barred windows and an outside door that led to an enclosed courtyard.

"It's a harem," Mulder said.

Walter saw a small package on a closet shelf. Reaching up, he brought it down and looked at it. It was a black leather case, which held supplies for a guitar. There were a couple of extra strings, a peg winder, a fret, a set of picks, and a tuner. They were all in brands that Alex preferred.

"This was Alex's," Walter said. "He was fussy about his supplies. This kit has things that would have had to be imported from three countries."

"I didn't even know that Alex played the guitar," Mulder said, tucking the kit into an evidence bag. "Or that it took all this junk just to make a little music."

Opening his mouth to explain, Walter shut it, knowing that Mulder wasn't all that interested. He said, "Alex was here. Where did they go?"

"I don't know," Mulder said. "Let's check with the neighbors."

OooOooO

At first, no one would admit to speaking any European language. A liberal show of yet more bribe money finally liberated a few tongues.

The inhabitant of the house was English. He was infrequently home when the house had been occupied. Increasing tensions in the Middle East had caused him to close the house up.

The neighbors had heard there were beautiful younger men in the home, but had never seen them. The servants said the master kept lovely men in the harem.

Trembling with rage, Walter held in his anger. It wasn't Alex's fault. He could accept that now. Just as Alex had to have protectors in prison, he would have had to accept his captivity here. Walter could only hope that the man had treated Alex like the precious thing that he was. For the man's sake, it better be true.

Finally, a young delivery boy in one of the shops that had served the mansion acknowledged that he still delivered to the Englishman. He didn't remember the address, but thought he could lead them to the place.

OooOooO

The new location was not far from the city. It snuggled against a hill and was surrounded by olive trees. The house was well guarded; Walter could see security alarms as well as armed men. Mulder was eager for action and came up with a dozen plans in five minutes. Walter shot them all down as improbable and unsafe.

"Wait," Walter said. "Let's get the lay of the land and see if we can figure out if they have Alex here."

OooOooO

Taking Mulder's arm, Walter led him across the street to a cafe. Another bribe gained them access to the roof, which had a clear view of the targeted house below.

Walter settled down into the infinite patience of a predator, a watchful waiting as natural to him as breathing. He had first learned these skills as a young boy, hunting and fishing with his father and uncles. It had stood in good stead in Vietnam and later when he was a field agent. Now despite the yearning desperation he felt, it was a discipline he could call upon with ease.

Hours passed with only desultory traffic from the gates of the palatial house. Servants and occasional tradesmen came and went. Finally, a limousine pulled up and a distinguished appearing older man with silver hair emerged into the harsh sunlight. He blinked and looked about as he watched the gates shut behind the limousine.

Mulder tensed at Walter's side and said, "He was supposed to be dead."

"You know that man?" Walter asked.

"He's one of the elders of the project, the one that helped and was supposedly blown up by a car bomb," Mulder replied.

"He knew Alex?" Walter said.

"Probably," Mulder said, "I never saw them together, but I think that Alex was fairly well known in the Project."

"Seems like a flashing arrow leading to our quarry," Walter said. "What shall we do? Try a stealth entry or beard the lion in his den?"

"I think we can deal with this man," Mulder said. "He always seemed to be one of the more reasonable of the old men."

"All right, we reason," Walter said, "But I'm not leaving him alive if I have any reason to believe he sexually or physically abused Alex."

"I'll hold the body bag," Mulder responded.

OooOooO

The servants and guards were hard to persuade, but the shouting brought the Brit to see who was disturbing his peace. The man sighed and waved his elegant hand. "Let them in," the man said.

In was a library. The floor was mosaic tile and the walls were native Tunisian wood, but the books and furnishings were traditional English Men's Club in style.

The Brit sat enthroned in a leather library chair. He was dressed in a well-tailored white suit. Excellent air conditioning saved him from perspiration. He created a steeple from his thin, blue-veined hands, displaying his wedding band.

Glaring at the ring, Walter scowled at the apparent hypocrisy. He pointed at it and said, "Does your wife know about your little habit of keeping beautiful young men against their will?"

Glancing at his ring, the man laughed softly and said, "My wife knew about what the project did with my genes soon after I found out myself. I prided myself on not yielding my flesh and blood to the aliens. I abhorred it when Mr. Spender gloatingly told me that I had against my will contributed."

"You're saying that the man you were keeping in town is your son?" Mulder said.

"It's Alex Krycek," Walter bluntly said.

The Englishman tapped his water glass on his chair arm and thoughtfully observed the two men who stood in front of him.

"And you, Mr. Skinner," the man said, "What reason do you have to be concerned with my son?"

"You must know. He must have said something about us," Walter said.

A slight grimace crossed the man's face. "His affairs may not have showed good judgment. I'm not prejudiced against his lifestyle, but I prefer he would have kept to our own class." The man's gaze flickered to Mulder. "What college did you attend, Mr. Skinner?"

"It wasn't Oxford," Walter said, "My family didn't have money, but they were honest. I love Alex. I want him back."

"The evidence, Sir, is that you wanted him dead," the Brit said.

Without being invited, Walter sat. His legs felt weak. What could he say?

Mulder spoke for him. "He was trying to save my life. Alex or the creature we thought was him was threatening to kill me."

"Still not the gesture of a loving man," the Brit said.

"You should leave it up to Alex," Walter said. "Let me go to him. Let me ask him if he will go with me."

"You wish to presume upon his sentiment?" the Englishman asked.

"I know he loves me," Walter said. His eyes traveled to the guards, evaluating the possibility of getting through them to find Alex.

"The boy has had enough pain," the Brit said. "The Lord knows that I have been part of that."

"What's your name?" Mulder asked.

"How is that relevant?" the Brit asked.

"Alex is going to need another name," Mulder said. "I have friends who can make the arrangements." He grinned and said, "More of the undead."

"Hmm, I suppose the boy should have a name," the Brit said. "I favor Alexander. Spender knew that. It amused him to give him the name of my first-born legitimate son. I lost him in Korea. Bloody useless little war..."

"My name is Neville, Neville Mannerly," the Brit said. "He wasn't given a proper middle name unless you count the numeral One as a name. You may have your friends document him as Alexander Neville Mannerly."

"So, Alex was an illegitimate son?" Mulder inquired.

"Very much so," Mannerly replied. "He was created from the interminable samples of blood and sperm, which my colleagues were so vastly fond of collecting. His mother was a Russian scientist. A beautiful woman, I am told. She was thought to be blindly loyal, but she fell prey to human sentiment, trying to keep the children the project gave to her. She died for that."

Mannerly stood and walked toward the door. He apparently expected them to follow. They had no choice. They followed.

Walter found it hard to breath, fearing that he was wrong, fearing that the creature he killed was the one who had loved him albeit in a twisted and desperate fashion. Even if the man he loved yet lived, how would he explain what he had done? Only his addiction drove him the next few steps.

"I used the technology from our erstwhile allies to undo the ravages of war," Mannerly explained. "You will find him changed."

OooOooO

There were two doors. Walter considered the classic tale of the lady and the tiger. In his case, his love held more the savage beauty of the beast.

Mannerly did not give them a choice of the two doors. Walter was almost disappointed.

The room held comfortable furniture, a well-appointed computer, a telescope aimed at the stars. It also held Alex. An Alex that was transformed. The mild gaze, which took Walter and Mulder into its placid view, shone from a face free of tension and virtually unmarked by life. A soft smile overtook the face.

"Walter, Mulder," Alex greeted. He stood, long, long legs unfolding from his comfortable sprawl across his bed. He had been reading and the book tumbled to the floor. He stepped forward extending both hands.

Walter took both hands in his own, felt the faint tremble as he looked into the beautiful innocent eyes.

Tears ripped from Walter's eyes, fighting their way past his guard.

"Alex, Alex, oh my God, Alex..." Walter moaned.

Mannerly sternly said, "Son, you need to tell me. Do you want to go with Walter?"

The beautiful creature smiled and said, "Of course I do."

"He wanted to harm you," Mannerly said.

"I came halfway across the world to find you even when I was sure you were lost forever," Walter said. He looked down, examining both hands. They were equally unmarked. He caressed the fingers, noting that they did resemble Mannerly's hands. The right hand, the one that had not been restored, was as silken as the lengths that awaited them in the marketplace.

"I want..." began Alex.

But Walter dropped the hands very gently. He said, "Who are you really?"

"Your Alex..." the flawless man said.

"No, you are not," Walter said. "Is my Alex gone? Did I...Was he the one I killed?"

He had lived with it. It had been a dull pain Walter had worked side by side with his old friends and enemies to bring down the Project and destroy the aliens. After it was over, the pain had become acute. It burned inside him. It took up more and more of him. At first, it was nightmares. Then it preyed on him, robbing him of sleep, making all food and drink as dust to his parched soul. He was sure it could not have hurt him on any deeper level or any more acutely. He was wrong. Now, it seared him heart and soul. It was a mortal wound to see him and to think he was restored then to realize he was lost after all.

Walter turned to Mannerly and asked him, "Why are you doing this? Tell me the truth! Is he alive? If he doesn't want to see me, I can understand that. I can live with it. It's not knowing that is unbearable. Please..."

The door opened quietly and a slightly older, slightly more worn Alex stood there. His eyes were those that Walter remembered. Still beautiful, but watchful, wary, the eyes of the hunter and of the hunted.

"Alex," Walter said. "My Alex." He fell to his knees, not out of choice, but because all of the strength had left his body. He gazed up at Alex as if before the being that would judge his soul.

Moments passed as Alex gazed down on him, his expression unchanging.

His heart so heavy he could not rise, Walter's gaze left the impassive face. His eyes sank to the floor level his hands hung helplessly by his side as his proud back and Marine straight shoulders sank under the weight of his loss.

A hand came to rest on his shoulder. At first, Walter thought it was Mulder, but when he looked it was a right hand. The fingers held calluses, the marks of a man who often held a weapon and sometimes played a guitar without using the picks he chose so carefully. The hand closed softly about Walter's shoulders as Alex sank gracefully to his knees.

"Here I am," Alex said. "Forgive me for testing you, Walter. I needed to know if you loved me, not just the pretty image of the boy you once fucked."

"I love you, Alex, only you," Walter said. "To the bitter end and to the beginning, however you will allow me to be with you, I'm here. I came at your bidding."

"Like a reverse exorcism," Alex said. "We're both unquiet spirits, Walter."

"You've always haunted me, beloved," Walter replied.

"There's only one thing we can do about this, Walter," Alex said, leaning closer.

"Kill me? Put me out of my misery?" Walter asked softly.

"How about we just give into it? Stop fighting it? Let's be in love. Let's be together. We couldn't botch it up much worse than we have by being apart," Alex said.

If Walter had a reply, it was lost in Alex's kiss. Alex's hand, his calloused, strong right slipped around Walter's well-muscled neck. His left hand, newer, soft of skin, caressed under Walter's shirt.

Alex smelled of myrrh, his hair, his skin, his very being was infused with it. His breath was sweet; his lips were full and yielding against Walter's mouth. His body pressed close, offering, trusting, and inviting.

Still weeping, Walter embraced his love, his once and future love, not understanding, not needing to understand why and how Alex had survived.

A sniff interrupted their tryst.

Mr. Mannerly said, "I think that is enough public display, son. Alex, I see you have made your choice. It's not one with which I can agree, but I have finished with making decisions for people. I had enough of that for a lifetime."

Rising, hand in hand, the two stood, a bit stiff as neither of them were young enough to enjoy a long stay on their knees.

Frowning at Mulder and the younger version of Alex, Mannerly said, "I suppose I'm going to lose Sasha too by the looks of it. I may as well return to England unless the four of you wish to remain here with me?"

"Father, thank you, but no," Alex said. "I have had enough of Tunisia for a lifetime."

Another impatient look and Mannerly accepted that Mulder and the sweetly beautiful Sasha were too enraptured with each other to respond.

"We'll be at tea in the library," Mannerly said to the second pair before giving it up as a lost cause.

OooOooO
After the polite ritual of tea, the four men were ready to talk. Walter waited, hoping to understand how Alex survived and to learn who the man was that he killed.

"I had a choice," Alex said. "I could stay here in prison or concede to Spender, prove my loyalty the only way he would accept, with your life. I chose the cell."

"I had my minions even in Spender's den," Mannerly said. "I learned as I prepared to avenge my son's death that Alex remained here. It took me time. I was determined to leave no child of mine in the project's hands. Sasha was the only one besides Alex that had survived, mentally and physically. There were others too damaged to live outside of a doctor's care. They will live their lives in comfort if not in freedom. There was nothing I could do for the one you sacrificed. He was little more than a robot, still human in his body, but Spender's perfect obedient soldier. After I buried that pathetic creature, I forced the truth out of Spender's people and I came here, finding my one remaining son besides my lovely Sasha."

"It took me a long time to recover," Alex said. "When I found out what you had done to my brother, I lost the will to live for a long while. My father nursed me back to life. He cared for me with his own hands. No one had did that for me before."

"Nothing more than a man of honor would do," Mannerly said. "I protect and shelter my own."

"Yes, father," Alex said, with wry affection.

"And now I suppose I shall have to look after Walter Skinner as well," Mannerly said.

"And Mulder," Alex added as Mulder and Sasha entered the room, hand in hand.

"And Mulder," Mannerly agreed. He looked at his sons and sighed. "If I were a wise man, I would have just left you, Alex."

"I think you were very wise," Walter said. "And I will try for the rest of my life to be worthy of this gift. I shouldn't have let Alex leave in the first place. I should have fought for him."

"I agree," Mannerly said, somewhat coldly.

"Walter and I have a lot to talk about," Alex said, standing and carefully setting his teacup on the silver platter. "If you will excuse me, father."

"Of course," Mannerly said, his gaze now moving to Sasha and Mulder, the both of them looking so deeply into each other's eyes that they did not notice him at all.

OooOooO

Alex's room was plainer than Sasha's, but his guitar was there and his books. A chess game, half played, was set up before the window, which looked down into a fragrant garden.

Expecting that Alex would have much to say, Walter waited for bitter accusations, for the recriminations that would flay his soul.

None came.

His Alex stood centered in the room, slowly removing his clothing. Walter waited, wanting to be sure of his invitation.

Alex looked up and said, "Wait, I want to undress you too. Just look at me the way you used to do."

As if it would have been possible to do otherwise.

His body was lean, not as lean as when Walter had made love to him in that room of paradise. There were new scars. There was a ring of white just above Alex's elbow, but his left arm moved well, no hint of the desecration of his flesh. His cock rose proudly under Walter's gaze. Alex caught his breath as the heat rose in Walter's eyes.

Naked, as scarred and indomitable as Walter, Alex was warrior-beautiful, no hint of softness except in the lovely lips, the unique color of his eyes, the plump temptation of his ass.

Walter shut his eyes as Alex came to him. He shivered, holding back from reaching for him only by the discipline with which he tried to harness the passion of his nature.

Alex's fingers made short work of Walter's shirt. He hesitated over Walter's trousers, careful of the hard flesh, thrusting hard beneath the linen.

Freed, Walter's cock surged upward toward his belly. Alex chuckled at that. His laugh was sexy. Walter had always loved that laugh.

They didn't tumble into bed.

They lay down together like a sacrament.

Nor did they yield immediately to the need that drove them.

Eyes fastened on each other, Walter and Alex silently spoke what was in their hearts.

Walter moved first. His hand traveled to Alex's face, smoothing over the faint frown lines, whisper-soft as his fingers traced Alex's mouth.

And Alex turned to kiss Walter's palm before he moved, one leg mounting over Walter's hip to press close to him. Their lips met again and there was fire between them.

Their moans undulated together, half drowned in the kiss, which sustained them when they were giddy from lack of oxygen.

With each touch, they remembered each other.

With each touch, they claimed each other.

This was passion. This was love.

And when they moved together, Alex's body surrendering to the primordial conflict, yielding all to Walter's thrusts, it was not the culmination of their actions. It was part of a whole; it was part of them.

When they stilled, they held each other. And they knew that this time, no one would part them. They would lie together and they would stand together.

And each to the other was perfection, was love and life, and reason to breathe, each to the other, a gift.

The bitter was washed away by the sweet.

The End
 

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