Walter Skinner and Alex Krycek were in their local department store, walking through the isles at a leisurely pace. Although the shelves didn't contain anything more exotic than light bulbs, paper towels, or cleaning products, Alex felt absurdly happy shopping for toilet paper and batteries with Walter. They were nearing the electronics department when Alex stopped dead in his tracks, transfixed by the store's Easter display. Easter baskets in every shape and size, grass in an assortment of colors, plastic eggs, and a seemingly endless array of foil-wrapped confections covered both sides of the isle. Alex paid particular attention to the variety of chocolates for sale, Walter noted with amusement.
"Wow," Alex said.
"Yeah. Quite a selection, huh?"
"Yes, it is."
Walter picked up a hollow chocolate bunny.
"I remember once -- I must've been in first or second grade -- we had an Easter egg hunt at church, and I found the prize egg. I got a bunny like this. I didn't eat it for two or three days, I just looked at it. I was so amazed."
"I've never been on an Easter egg hunt," Alex said matter-of-factly. He took one last look at the chocolates, then, resisting temptation, nudged Walter with his shoulder. "Come on, let's find what we came for."
On Monday morning, as Walter drove Alex to work, they continued their on-going debate concerning Bruce and Zoe's future together.
"I still say they'll be married by Christmas," Alex said.
"I just can't picture Bruce married."
"You will," Alex replied, confident in his ability to read people.
"Well," Walter remarked, "he's always had a thing for beautiful women. And Zoe is that; she's smart, too. You know, she put herself through law school by modeling."
"You can't work with Bruce and not know that," Alex laughed. But it's nice to see him so happy, don't you think?"
"Yes," Walter agreed.
"I wish Jack could find someone."
"Matchmaking, Alex? You're happy and now you want everyone paired up?" Walter teased.
"Fuck you, Walter," Alex said good naturedly. "Jack deserves it. He hasn't had a drink in over a year, he goes to AA, and he's always helping people."
"Yes, you're right," Walter agreed.
Alex had just gotten to work and was checking his schedule for the day when Troy and Bruce walked in.
"I'm telling you, Bruce, he's not here yet," Troy was saying.
"You must've missed him. Jack's always on time."
"Trust me, Bruce. He rides in with Helen. She said he wasn't waiting like he usually is. She knocked, but couldn't get an answer."
Bruce caught sight of Alex. "Morning, Alex. Have you heard from Jack?"
"No, not today. I'm sure he's on his way in; he's never missed a day since he started here."
Just then, Jack rushed in, looking annoyed.
"Jack!" Bruce said. "Overslept, huh?"
"Something like that," Jack snapped, then disappeared into the back room to put away his jacket and grab a cup of coffee.
All through the week, Jack seemed preoccupied, almost uncommunicative. He was short-tempered with everyone at the office, and uncharacteristically impatient when things didn't go the way he thought they should.
By the end of the week, Alex was worried enough to voice his concerns to Walter. He mentioned it as they were getting ready for bed.
"Walter, Jack just isn't acting like himself."
"Are you worried that he's drinking again?"
"I just don't know. I haven't seen any evidence that he has, but I haven't been able to come up with an alternative explanation either."
"Could be a personal problem, Alex. Something he has to work out for himself. Give it a few more days. And come here. I'll take your mind off Jack for a while."
Alex smiled and moved into Walter's arms. Kissing deeply, Walter guided Alex to their bed, controlling their fall so that Alex landed between his spread thighs. Alex, moaned into the kiss as he felt Walter's strong hands cupping his buttocks, pulling their bodies closer.
Alex drew his head up and looked into Walter's deep brown eyes. Pleased with whatever he saw there, he smiled and lowered his lips to suck at the juncture of shoulder and neck, one of his lover's hot spots. Soon Walter was writhing, desperate for more intimate contact. Alex, in the same state himself, growled "Want you in me. Now," into the nearest ear and reached for the container of lube and a condom.
"Hard and fast or long and slow?" Walter asked, taking the condom from Alex and rolling it onto his cock.
"MMMmmmm," Alex continued in his sex baritone, "long and slow." Twisting his body until his right leg lay parallel with Walter's and their hips were perpendicular, he squirmed enticingly. "Come on, Lover, fuck me."
Walter needed no additional encouragement. He slicked up the condom, and rolled onto his side until the tip of his cock kissed Alex's quivering hole. "Ready?"
"Oh yes," Alex moaned and pushed down, meeting Walter's slow thrust. Walter's cock breached the tight passage in a slow easy glide, moving inexorably until it was buried deep in Alex's body. "Oh yes," Alex repeated. "Fuck me, Walter."
Walter did, giving Alex the slowest and most thorough fucking he could recall ever receiving. Lost in the enjoyment of being repeatedly filled with Walter's thick cock, of having it stroke against his prostate with every thrust, Alex stopped thinking entirely. He was lost in sensation, slowly climbing to an orgasm so powerful that his ears rang for minutes afterward. Walter was likewise overcome by the strength of his orgasm. He stripped off the condom and tossed it into the waste basket, then tugged Alex, encouraging him to move under the covers. After sharing a sleepy kiss, Alex dropped his head onto Walter's shoulder and quickly fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Over the next few days, Alex grew increasingly worried about his friend. Jack avoided as much interaction with his co-workers as he could, going so far as to skip lunch, alternately claiming not to be hungry and to being too busy to take any time away from his desk. Recalling something he'd heard somewhere, Alex did some research on the internet. When he thought he had it figured out, he brought it up with Walter, wanting his opinion.
"Walter, have you ever heard of a dry drunk?"
"I've heard the term, but I'm not sure that I know what it means," Walter admitted.
"It's something that sometimes happens to an alcoholic when he's in recovery, and can precede a relapse. They start to act like they did when they were drinking, even though they haven't had any alcohol."
"And you think this is what's wrong with Jack?"
"I think it might be. These are some of the signs, at least the ones I believe Jack is showing. Irritation and anger, impatience, tunnel vision -- "
"Yes, like the way Jack concentrates on work, the shelter, the job training center . . . he never takes time just for himself. The last time he was here was for Christmas dinner. He suggested we get together for dinner at his place, but he's never home. If he's not at Mosely Security, he's volunteering somewhere. Jack mentioned something when we were at the shelter together -- when he was drinking, he was alone, because he'd cut himself off from everyone. I think he's doing that again. Do you think it's plausible?"
Walter studied the research Alex had gathered.
"Yes, I think it might be. It's all here. You're sure he's still going to meetings?"
"And you're pretty sure he's not drinking again. Not yet, anyway. You may have figured this out, Alex."
"But what should I do?"
"Why don't you talk to Bruce? Another opinion can't hurt. And I'm sure he'd want to know. Don't you think he would want to help?"
"Yes, I do. Bruce is really good like that. He cares about the people who work for him. Polar opposite of my last boss."
Walter chuckled. "Thank God. Talk to Bruce."
When Alex got to work the next day, he went straight to Bruce's office.
"Bruce, could I talk to you? About Jack? It's important."
"Come on in, Alex. I want to talk about Jack, too. He won't be in today."
"He won't?" Alex asked with evident surprise. "Why not?"
"He didn't say. Alex, I'm worried he's drinking again. Dammit, I don't want that to be true."
"I don't think it is. At least, not yet. Let me tell you my theory." Alex summarized the information he'd found on the web and his conversation with Walter.
"How about that," Bruce said. "I've never heard of a dry drunk. You want me to try and talk to him?"
"Let me try first, okay?"
"Fine with me. I doubt it'll be easy, at first. If you need me, call. Go on over there now. We'll cover everything here."
"Hey, Alex, take my car."
Bruce threw Alex the keys.
Alex pounded on Jack's door.
"Jack, I need to talk to you."
"I don't want to talk. Go away, Alex."
"Jack, I can get in without your help if necessary. But I wish you'd just open the door."
The door opened a few inches.
"Okay, the door's open," Jack said sullenly.
"Jack, let me in."
With obvious reluctance, Jack stepped back and let Alex enter. Alex looked at the living room, which was in serious need of cleaning. The few times he'd been here, the place had been immaculate. Alex turned to Jack.
"Jack, please tell me what's wrong. We hate seeing you like this."
"It's none of your business," Jack said, looking away. Alex thought that he had never been this uncommunicative, even at the shelter.
"We're your friends. If you saw one of us needing help, you'd do everything in your power to see we got it. Hell, that's what you *have* done. You're always helping people. Let me help you."
"I don't need help. If everyone would just leave me alone . . ."
"Yeah, because you're doing great so far," Alex mocked.
"Fuck you, Alex," Jack said angrily.
"Hey, maybe we'd both be better off the way we were before. Not knowing when we'd eat again, sleeping on a cot . . . I could start whoring again, and you could start drinking . . ."
Alex's words were cut off as Jack attacked without warning, expressing his fury with a punch thrown at Alex's nose. Alex blocked the move without even trying, but made no move to retaliate.
The sudden violence seemed to drain the anger from Jack, who looked at Alex apologetically.
"Shit, Alex, I didn't mean to do that." Jack said as he slumped down onto the couch.
Alex sat down across from him.
"Jack, I never had that many friends. I still don't. But the ones I have, I want to keep. Now please tell me what's wrong."
"I called Andrea."
"Yes. I figured, I've got a job, a place to live, maybe she would let Michael and Annie come for a visit."
"She said no."
"More than that," Jack grimaced. "She said they didn't need me. That they had a father now, a good one, who doesn't let them down all the time. Or scare them with his drinking. And, some other stuff: Roger's a better man than I'll ever be, the kids would be better off if they never saw me again. She'll always hate me."
"Oh, Jack. I'm sorry. Have you considered petitioning for joint custody?"
"Well, I'm not sure I'd have a chance. Also, they've been through hell because of me, Andrea included. I don't want to do that to them. I just thought, Easter's coming up . . . the kids have time off from school and this would be a good time to see them." Jack's voice started to crack as he added "I miss them so much."
"Don't give up, Jack. You're a good man. Your kids deserve to see you."
"But do I deserve to see them?"
"Of course you do. Jack, my father was an alcoholic. He used to beat me and my mom. I hated him for it, and I was glad when he died. But maybe if there had been someone like you around, he could've gotten some help. You've already helped so many people, just in the short time I've known you. Why can't some of us return the favor?"
Jack sat there for a minute, thinking. "I really need to call my AA sponsor."
Alex smiled, relieved.
Over the next few weeks, Alex kept a close eye on Jack. Bruce did, too, as determined as Alex not to let Jack drift away from them again. Jack, working with his sponsor, did his part. He cut back on the hours he volunteered. It stayed one of his priorities, but he made the effort to keep it in perspective.
Alex, for his part, casually mentioned to Jack that it would be nice if he had someone to run with. Alex said he felt he could use some exercise, but Walter went to the gym, and didn't like to run. Jack admitted he needed more exercise, and Alex suggested they run together a few mornings a week. On one of these runs, Alex also told Jack how he wanted to take a cooking class, since he didn't know any of the more complicated dishes. Walter's department was involved in a difficult case, and as a result, he was unable to take the class with Alex.
"I don't really want to take a class, but I'll tell you what. I know some great Italian dishes. Why don't you let me teach you how to make them? You and Walter like Italian, right?"
Alex moaned dramatically in response.
"Okay then, come over, maybe one night a week, and I'll teach you. We can hang out."
"That would be great, Jack. Thanks."
Easter Sunday was warm and sunny. Walter and Alex had a late, leisurely breakfast together, then headed off to help prepare and serve Easter dinner at the homeless shelter. Walter and Alex, along with Jack, Bruce and Zoe, were volunteering at "their" shelter.
Jack was doing better. Still a little down, but getting there. Alex was surprised when he walked up, grinning broadly.
"Jack, what's up?"
"Alex, you'll never guess. Annie sent me an Easter card! Here, take a look." Jack pulled the card out from his day planner and handed it to Alex. Inside, written with big girlish loops with hearts dotting the i's, was the message "I miss you. Michael says he's still mad, but he misses you anyway. Love always, Annie."
Alex smiled as he read the message and handed the card back. "I'm glad you heard from her, Jack."
"Me, too. She doesn't remember as much as Michael. She was only eight when I left for good. Now she's twelve and Michael's fifteen." Jack continued telling Alex about his children as they worked together, setting up tables and chairs for the diners.
Meanwhile, Walter, Bruce and Zoe joined the kitchen crew, chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes, and laughing at the antics of the kitchen's resident comedian. Before long, all five were standing behind the buffet line, dishing up ham, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh peas, green beans, and broccoli with cheese sauce.
The time flew by and soon they were taking a break, sitting down to drink coffee and rest for a few minutes before starting clean up. Jack was seated facing the entrance, and suddenly Alex saw his eyes open wide. Alex turned to see a tall dark haired man come in with a young boy and girl. Jack stood up, his mouth falling open in surprise, and quickly made his way toward them. Alex could see that both children had Jack's soft brown eyes and honest, open face. The boy was obviously uncomfortable in his good clothes and clearly did not want to be there. The girl, however, was much more at ease, happy playing dress-up. She ran straight to Jack.
"Daddy," she squealed, "I missed you!"
"I missed you, too, baby." Jack said, holding her tightly. He turned to the boy. "Hello, Michael."
Michael merely extended his hand, clearly indicating the adolescent desire to avoid the public humiliation of parental hugs.
"Come on over and meet my friends. You too, Roger."
Jack led them to the table and made the introductions. Zoe asked the kids if they'd like a soda, and took them off to find some.
"Jack," Roger began, "Andrea wouldn't come in. I'm afraid she's holding tight to her grudge against you. I managed to convince her to put aside her feelings and let Michael and Annie see you today, and I'm glad I did. They needed this as much as you do."
"Thank you, Roger. I've missed them. And thanks for looking after them."
"Believe me, it's a pleasure. As long as it's not detrimental to Annie and Michael, I have no problem with them seeing you."
Zoe came back with the kids.
"Bruce, why don't you guys start on the cleanup? Alex and I will be along in a minute."
"All right, you guys come on. Roger, want to help?"
"Sure, why not."
Zoe and Alex sat there after they left. Zoe looked shrewdly at Alex.
"You talked to Roger, didn't you?"
"Why would you say that, Zoe?"
"You didn't seem all that surprised when they showed up. And I saw the looks between you while Jack was doing introductions. Call it women's intuition."
Alex laughed. "So what if I did?"
"So, it's good if you did. It's nice to know you'd do that for a friend."
Alex blushed and looked down, not knowing how to respond.
"Come on, Alex. Let's go clean up."
Alex got up and followed her.
It was late when everyone left, and later still when Walter and Alex arrived home.
"Alex, let's head up to bed. It's been a long day and I'm beat."
"Long, but good." Alex said, reaching for Walter's hand. "Let's go."
When they were in bed, Alex held securely in Walter's arms, Walter commented, "You know, all this stuff with Jack, especially today, has reminded me just how important family is. I'd forgotten, it's been so long since I had one. I feel so fortunate, being given a second chance at having a family. For us, forming our own family. Alex, I love you so much."
Alex lay there, wanting to say something to Walter. That he loved him more than he could say. That it had been a long time since he had a family, too. He didn't trust himself to speak; he wondered if Walter even realized what his statement meant to him.
"Damn! I forgot something. I'll be right back, Alex."
Alex lay there, waiting for Walter to return. Though curious, he was grateful to have a moment to compose himself. Then Walter was back, setting an Easter basket wrapped in clear cellophane, tied with a ribbon, down beside Alex. Walter looked expectantly at him.
"Go ahead. It's for you."
It was a simple white wicker basket, lined with blue cloth. And it held chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Good chocolate - Vahlrona - formed into eggs, chicks, and bunnies.
"Oh, Walter," Alex said, overcome once more. He gave Walter a quick kiss, then got up and reverently placed the Easter basket on the dresser. Returning to bed, he kissed Walter again, trying to put into the kiss the words he he couldn't say.
"I take it you approve," Walter said a smile.
Alex bit his lip. "I love it, but I never thought to get something for you."
"I don't need anything, Alex. Only you. Come here."
Alex went eagerly back into his lover's arms. Walter kissed him, then snuggled close. He was soon asleep.
Alex lay there thinking, thanking whatever twist of fate had brought them back together. He knew how lucky he was to have Walter in his life. Walter was everything he wasn't: a real hero, strong and generous in spirit. Alex knew he wasn't worthy; he never had been. And yet Walter loved him anyway. Reflecting on Walter's incredible love and forgiveness, Alex nestled as close as possible and fell asleep himself.