Walter Skinner sat in a quiet corner of his favorite restaurant, waiting for his friend Bruce Mosely to arrive for their lunch date. Walter had gotten there early, and was thinking about Alex and the events since their visit to Bruce's hometown.
Watching Alex interact with Bruce's family had convinced him that Alex needed to reconnect with his own family. Alex had resisted Walter's idea of contacting his aunt Katya, but Walter had pushed, finally tracking her down himself. When Walter discovered she was living with her husband in Essex, Connecticut, he gave the address to Alex. After several days of deliberation, Alex decided he would try to reach out to what was left of his family.
When Alex returned from the trip, he hadn't provided many details, saying only that there would be no reconciliation. And Walter got a good look at what he'd come to think of as the old Alex. He was cold, indifferent, acting as though he had no feelings at all. Walter had silently cursed Alex's aunt for her indifference, and himself for not believing that Alex's return might be unwelcome. Even now, face to face with the old Alex, he found it difficult to believe she would not see Alex the way he did, as an extraordinary man who'd turned his life around, and who had an amazing capacity for love.
Knowing better than to question Alex about the visit, Walter had left him alone until it was time for bed. Then, when Walter tried to get Alex to talk about the snub he'd received, he brushed it off, saying it was what he'd expected.
"Alex, I'm sorry. I should never have pushed you into going to see her."
"It's no big deal. Now I know for sure. It's like I told you, Walter, I'll never have that whole family thing. And Aunt Katya doesn't even know about my past. If she did, she'd never have opened the door."
"Alex, that doesn't matter now. You've changed."
"Only in your eyes, Walter, and I don't know why you feel that way. To everyone else, I'm still the bad guy."
"Alex, no. Not to our friends. And never to me. You're the best thing in my life. I don't know what I'd do without you."
He could tell Alex didn't believe him, but when Alex began kissing and frantically undressing him, he allowed it -- Alex was hard to resist -- but he was at a loss as to how to convince Alex that what he said was true. He made love to Alex, trying to put his feelings for his lover into his actions. The next day Alex was a little less withdrawn, but it was obvious he was still suffering the after-effects of his aunt's rejection.
Surprisingly, it was Dana Scully who got Alex's spirits back up. Walter had been stuck late at the office, and needed a file he'd left at home. He asked Scully to run by and get it on her way back to the Hoover and then called to warn Alex. Later, when Alex told him about it, he sounded completely amazed by the encounter.
"Hi, Scully. Come in."
Alex, figuring it was best to get Scully in and out of the apartment as fast as possible, went to the coffee table for the file. As he handed it to her, Scully asked, "What smells so good?"
"It's beef stew," Alex explained. "I'm finally learning how to cook. I thought I could reheat it for Walter when he gets home tonight."
Scully smiled. "It smells delicious." She seemed to consider something, then said, "Listen, Krycek. I want you to know, I had my doubts about this relationship at first. But Skinner seems happier than he's been in some time. I'm inclined to think you have a lot to do with that. Try and keep him from working so hard, okay?"
Alex stood there, mouth open in surprise. Did *Scully* really say that to *him*?
"Scully . . . thanks. And it's difficult, but I'll try and make him take it easy." He hesitated. "Do . . . do you have time to eat?"
"No, I have to get back. But thank you."
"Maybe you could come over some time? Walter would enjoy having you here for dinner."
"Sure. I want to find out for myself whether your cooking tastes as good as it smells."
Alex walked her to the door. "I'll talk to Walter about inviting you."
Scully nodded, still smiling. "I'll look forward to it," she said, and pulled the door shut behind her.
Bruce Mosely had no difficulty spotting Walter's table in the restaurant and made it his way over to it. Walter appeared to be deep in thought, yet aware of his surroundings and Bruce's own approach.
Walter spoke as Bruce pulled out a chair and began to sit down. "Hello, Bruce. How did it go with Zoe's family?"
"You ever see the movie 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner'?"
"Walt, I have never felt so black or Southern in my life."
"Bruce!" Walter admonished.
"I'm serious. I felt like Sidney Poitier meeting Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Their house is just like what you'd expect rich folks to have. All the furniture was that dainty French shit. I was afraid if I sat down, I'd turn it into kindlin'."
"How did you get along with them?"
"Well, that was awkward from the start. I *know* Zoe told them I'm black, but they still managed to look surprised. Like maybe the only black folks they've ever talked to before have either been politicians or the paid help down at the country club."
Walter laughed. "I see you've got your work cut out for you."
Bruce nodded in agreement. "At least Zoe's brother Brian doesn't share their bias. He's a lot like me, isn't afraid to stand on his own. Rather than join his father at the bank, he started his own business. Their younger brother Chad is another story, though. He knuckled under. I get the impression Brian and Zoe almost got disowned for not following the family tradition."
"What kind of business does Brian have?"
"He's a computer networking consultant."
"So, are Zoe's parents going to be a problem?"
"Nah. Everyone has in-laws they don't care for. I think they love Zoe enough that they wouldn't be openly rude to me. But I really don't think they like the idea of Zoe marrying me. Which reminds me," Bruce said, pulling a jeweler's box from his pocket. "Tell me what you think."
Bruce opened the case, revealing a stunning engagement ring and its matching wedding band. The engagement ring had a large radiant-cut diamond flanked by alternating rows of round and baguette diamonds set between platinum channel-bars. The wedding ring was the plainer of the two, the large center stone having been replaced by a more sedate baguette.
Walter let out a low whistle.
"Is it too much?" Bruce asked.
"Relax, Bruce. It's perfect. She'll love it."
"Thanks. I just want to do this right. Zoe's the one, you know?"
"I know, Bruce," Walter told him.
"Alex is for you, huh?"
Walter smiled. "Yes. He is. As much as I loved Joey and Sharon, Alex is the love of my life. It hasn't been easy between us, but it's been worth it."
Bruce, smiling, picked up the menu. "So what do they got that's good?"
Alex was about to head home when Jack yelled at him.
"Alex! Phone for you. It's Zoe."
Alex picked up the phone. "Zoe? You okay?"
"I'm fine, but my car won't start. I already called a tow truck, but I can't get Bruce. Will you come and pick me up?"
"Sure. I was just heading out anyway. Give me directions and I'll be right there." Alex paused to listen to Zoe's directions. "Okay. I'll tell him. I'm on my way." He turned to Jack. "Jack, Zoe's having car trouble. If Bruce calls, tell him I went to pick her up."
The tow truck was just leaving when Alex arrived. He helped Zoe get her stuff together, and then they started home.
"Zoe, have you had dinner? Do you want me to stop somewhere?"
"No, I'll wait and eat at home with Bruce. But if you're hungry I'd be happy to keep you company while you have something."
"Nah, I got Walter to cut his hours back, so he'll be home soon. And I'm still making up for the way I've been acting the last few weeks."
Zoe looked at his quizzically.
"I went to visit my aunt. I hadn't seen her in over fifteen years. She didn't want anything to do with me. It hurt and I pulled back. Not just from her, but from everyone. Including Walter."
"Oh. Family stuff is rough."
"Oh yeah." Alex paused for a moment, then continued, "Speaking of families, how'd it go at your mom and dad's?"
"It was . . . awkward, actually. You know, Alex, I never noticed, but my parents are snobs. How did I miss that?"
Alex laughed. "When you're a kid, living at home, whatever you grow up with seems normal. You don't have the framework, the distance and perspective, to see your parents objectively."
"That would explain it," Zoe said thoughtfully. "As a child I didn't think they were, but being away and then coming back, seeing them through Bruce's eyes . . . they are. I had told them all about him, how special he is to me, and they acted so . . . superior. Like they're better than him. I don't think they approve."
"Is . . . well, is it a racial thing, because he's black?"
"No, they're not prejudiced. I think if Bruce acted more like they do, if he put on airs, they would've been fine. I think he didn't seem rich enough for them. But Brian was the bright spot. He and Bruce spent a lot of time together."
"You're closer to Brian than your other brother, aren't you?"
"Yes. Chad is more . . . like what my parents had in mind. Brian's always been there for me. He encouraged me to become a lawyer. All my friends except Fee were either marrying a rich boy from our set, or living at home. I wanted more. My parents assumed I'd marry this guy they approved of, but he was so . . . dull. There was just nothing there. Mom and Dad got *so* upset when I told them. Threatened to disown me. I told them to go right ahead; I didn't need their money. I went to New York and stayed with Fee until I got started as a model. And Brian helped me all he could."
"That's great, that you had them."
"Yes. Alex, is your aunt the only family you have?"
"Well, her and her kids. But I'm trying to learn to be thankful for what I have, instead of brooding about what I *don't*."
"That's a good attitude."
"It's a new one for me. Listen, Zoe, about your parents. Their approval. Does it matter? I mean, I know it would be better if they did, but can you live with it if they don't?"
Zoe thought about it, and then smiled. "Well, I hope they change their minds, but as long as I have Bruce, I'll be fine."
"Ready, Alex?" Walter asked. They were headed to Bruce's place, for Zoe's birthday party. The party was "formal, but comfortable," as Bruce had stated on the invitation. Walter was wearing a suit, but no tie. Alex came out, dressed much the same.
"Let me get Zoe's gift, and I'll be ready." Alex picked up the gift, an antique law book for Zoe's collection, and joined Walter at the door.
The party was in full swing when they arrived. After adding their gift to an already large pile, they stopped to admire the room, decorated with white and gold balloons and streamers. Buffet tables covered with ivory tablecloths held an array of finger foods.
Zoe, resplendent in a white sleeveless dress, spotted them and came over.
"Happy birthday, Zoe," Alex said, hugging her.
"You look lovely," Walter told her.
"Thank you both. Come and meet more friends."
Zoe led them to the buffet table, where a chubby strawberry blonde and a black woman with long curly hair were talking.
"Fee, Raine, come meet Walter and Alex."
Zoe introduced them to Fiona Quinn, the strawberry blonde, a friend of Zoe's since grade school, and Lorraine Voelker, another close friend and partner at Zoe's firm. They found Fiona to be quiet and sincere. Lorraine was more outspoken, but no less genuine. It was also revealed that Fiona owned her own catering business and had catered the party.
They also met two other people from Zoe's firm, Scott Parker and Noelle Raye. Scott was just out of law school, and was very enthusiastic. His short hair was heavily moussed, and he was wearing a suit. Noelle was in her late thirties, and had a slightly grating, very Southern accent. And she was a little drunk. Alex excused them as soon as could. He didn't care for the way Noelle kept clutching Walter's arm when she talked.
Walter held back a smile as he let Alex lead him away. "What's wrong, Alex?"
"I don't like the way she kept grabbing you."
"She was drunk. She probably didn't realize what she was doing."
Walter couldn't help it, he laughed. "Well, what about that guy, Scott? Reminds me of you when you first joined the FBI."
Alex looked at Walter, mouth open. Then they both laughed.
"Did I really use that much mousse?"
Walter nodded. "Yes, but let's get back to Noelle. Are you jealous?"
Alex snorted. "I am *not* jealous."
Before Walter could reply, Bruce and Jack walked up.
"Nice party, Bruce," Alex commented.
"Thanks. I wanted it to be nice, Zoe deserves it. And Fiona did a great job."
"So what's this I hear about you taking vacation?" Walter asked.
Bruce laughed. "News travels fast. Yeah, I'm actually taking a week off. Zoe loved Jamaica when I took her there for Valentine's Day and made me promise to bring her back someday."
Walter waited, knowing there was more to the story.
"I've always said that if I found the right woman, I'd propose on a moonlit tropical beach." Bruce's eyes twinkled as he added "And if she says no, I'm tossing her into the sea."
Walter shook his head in mock disapproval.
"I know, I know."
"Come on. Bruce," Alex said. "Let's get you a drink. I think you could use one."
When Alex returned, Noelle had found Walter again.
She was *still* holding on to him, getting too close, her cleavage threatening to spill over the bodice of her black mini dress. Zoe, who was circulating, speaking to her guests, walked up and smoothly moved Noelle away from Walter, making small talk, complimenting her dress and shoes.
Walter rejoined Alex, who was trying hard not to show how jealous he was. Walter wisely didn't joke about it, only asked if Alex wanted to get some food.
Presently, Fiona announced that it was time for cake and presents. They all gathered around as the cake was brought in, and Zoe blew out her candles and listened to everyone sing Happy Birthday.
After Zoe opened her presents, Walter suggested to Alex that they go out to the back garden and get some air. The patio and garden was lit by lanterns and was filled with beautiful plants and flowers. As the party wound down, Jack, Fiona and Zoe joined them, followed closely by Bruce.
"The party was wonderful, but I've had it," Zoe admitted, kicking off her shoes and settling in a wicker love seat next to Bruce.
"Me, too," Fiona said. "Zoe, honey, I love you, but trying to be a guest and see after everything was nerve-wracking."
"You did a great job, though," Jack told her. "It was beautiful."
"Well, thanks," Fee told them all.
Alex, relaxing in his seat, let his head fall backwards and looked up. The stars were out, twinkling brightly, and the moon was high in the night sky. Near by, a bright red light outshone them all. "Would you look at that," Alex commented.
Zoe looked up. "What's the red star?"
"Mars," Alex answered.
"So the red planet's really red?" Bruce queried.
"I guess so," Alex replied. "Walter and I were listening to 'Earth and Sky' on NPR the other morning, and they were talking about Mars' orbit. Soon it'll be closer to Earth than it's been in more than 50,000 years."
"Man," Bruce said.
"Sure is pretty," Fiona commented.
The group continued to look skyward, quietly enjoying the gently twinkling lights and watching the occasional aircraft pass overhead.
After several minutes, Zoe spoke softly to Fiona and Bruce. "I can't remember a party I've enjoyed more. The decorations, the food, the company, it's all been great. And now here I am, surrounded by my favorite people... Thanks."
Alex, listening, glowed in happiness at his inclusion. Walter, ever the stoic, simply tightened the arm he had slung around Alex's shoulder and pulled him closer.
They sat quietly for a few more minutes, then Walter nudged Alex with his knee. "Time for us to head home," he said, yawning.
Zoe walked Walter and Alex to the door, hugging them both and thanking them again for their gift.
"It was perfect. It means a lot that you gave me something like that. And please, let me apologize for Noelle. I had no idea she would get drunk and . . . Anyway, I'm sorry."
Alex shrugged it off, telling her it was no big deal.
As soon as they were in the car, though, Walter, who was driving, asked, "Can we talk about this, Alex? You weren't really jealous of Noelle, were you?"
Alex looked sheepishly at Walter. "Actually, I was, and honest to God, Walter, I can't say why."
"Is it just because she was flirting? Or is it because she's a woman?"
"I don't know. I saw her, in your personal space, touching you, and all I know is that I wanted her *gone*."
"I've never thought of you as the jealous type before. It's rather flattering."
Alex grinned ruefully. "I'm glad *you* enjoyed it. I've never been as close to anyone as I am to you, and the idea of you with someone else . . ."
"I love you, Alex. I don't want anyone else."
Alex moved his hand over to Walter's thigh. "So take me home and show me," he said, his voice low and sexy.
They started undressing as soon as they were in the door, kicking off shoes and struggling out of their clothes, all the while trying to maintain contact.
Walter tugged at Alex's hand. "Upstairs?"
Alex nodded and let Walter lead him to their bedroom. There they finished stripping each other and fell into bed, kissing and caressing each other. They lay facing each other, grinding their erections into each other.
"Not like this," Alex said breathlessly. "I need you inside me."
Walter grabbed lube and a condom while Alex moved onto his back. Walter pulled Alex's legs up onto his shoulders as he hurriedly prepared them. Soon he was poised to enter Alex, his cock so hard his teeth ached. Knowing Alex wanted it hard, he thrust quickly inside. Alex moaned in pleasure.
"Oh, yeah," he gasped. "So good. Fuck me hard."
Walter preceded to do just that, making for a short, intense fuck. They both lay there sweaty and panting when it was over. Just before they fell into an exhausted sleep, Walter murmured to Alex, "I'm yours, Alex, only yours."
Walter and Alex were relaxing on the couch, Alex with his feet in Walter's lap. Walter started to massage Alex's foot, only to nearly get kicked when he rubbed his thumb across Alex's instep.
"Alex," Walter said teasingly. "Is your foot ticklish?"
"No," Alex said, pulling his foot back.
"Oh, I think maybe you are," Walter said, reaching for his foot again.
"Walter," Alex warned. "I can't be held responsible for my actions if you keep that up."
Walter lightly brushed his finger over Alex's foot again, laughing delightedly as Alex stifled a giggle while pulling his foot back once more. Walter reached for the left foot this time. It took more effort to get a reaction this time.
"I think your right foot is more sensitive," Walter declared.
"Walter, you're playing with fire."
"That's okay. Sometimes I enjoy living dangerously."
The phone interrupted them. Walter answered, then paused, a strange look on his face. Alex sat up straighter, concern on his face. After a minute, Walter said "Hold on." He put his palm over the mouthpiece to block the sound and turned to Alex. "It's a woman -- Nancy Herndon nee Anderson -- asking if you can be reached at this number. Do you want me to take a message?"
Alex looked surprised, then held out his hand. "No, I'll talk to her."
"Nancy? This is Alex."
"You remember me?"
"Of course I do. How are you?"
"I'm fine. I understand you saw Mother. I can imagine how that must've been."
Alex wasn't sure how to respond to that.
"Yes, I saw her."
"Look, I don't get along with her either. The only reason I keep in touch is so that my kids will know both their grandmothers. But I know how she is. Alex, I'd really like to see you. Would you be willing to come here to Charlottesville for dinner?"
"How about this coming Saturday?"
"I'll have to check, but I'll let you know. Let me have your number."
After Nancy gave him her number and rang off, Alex gave the phone back to Walter to hang up. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "that was certainly a surprise."
"What was?" Walter asked.
"That was my cousin Nancy. She wants me to come Saturday for dinner."
"So call her back and tell her you will."
"Are you sure? You remember how well it went with my Aunt Katya." He waited a beat before adding, "Not."
Walter thought about the question carefully. He didn't want to see his Alex hurt again, but surely it was a good sign that it had been Nancy who had contacted him. Finally, he spoke. "No, I'm not sure. But I think it could be the worth the risk. What do you think?"
Alex pulled his knees up and wrapped his good arm around them. Bracing his chin on one knee, he said, "I need to think about it."
"Okay," said Walter. Sensing Alex wanted to be alone with this thoughts, he added, "There's some paperwork that needs my attention, but remember, I'm here if you need to talk."
Alex dropped his eyes, but otherwise made no reply.
An hour or so later, Walter heard Alex's voice and came out to investigate. Alex was on the phone, getting directions for the trip.
"Alex," Nancy said, embracing him. "It's so good to see you again. Come in."
She led him to the homey kitchen, which was decorated with a casual mixture of vintage kitchen utensils and blue gingham.
"Sit down. Would you like some ice tea or something to eat?"
"Some tea would be nice."
"Glen had to go out on a call. He's a veterinarian. I thought we could get caught up, get to know each other again, while we wait for him."
Nancy grinned at him and Alex was instantly reminded of the irrepressible little girl she'd been when he'd moved into his aunt's house and finally started to relax. He looked around her kitchen with interest before commenting, "You've grown up."
"Yeah, I was like, what, eight or nine the last time we saw each other?"
"Yes," Alex agreed with the start of a smile.
"You know, I missed you when you left, Alex. John was so much older. Susie, too, and the last thing they wanted to do was hang around their baby sister. You always took up time with me, answered all my questions."
"I . . . enjoyed my time there mainly because of you."
"Let me apologize again for Mother."
Alex waved her apology off. "She isn't your responsibility."
"I've wanted to get in touch with you for some time now."
"I missed you. And then, when we were first trying to have kids, I got interested in genealogy. There I was, finding out about relatives I'd never heard of and had never met, and I realized I had no idea how to find you. I'm sorry Mother was so mean when you went to see her, but I'm glad you went. If you hadn't, I'm afraid I'd have never have found you again."
"When you put it that way..." Alex said, smiling. "So tell me more about this genealogy stuff you've been doing."
"Well, like I said, I started when we were trying to begin our own family. It took my mind off the rounds of fertility drugs and the disappointment when they didn't work. Glen had just started his practice here and although I was working in his office, I still had a lot of free time. I used to play around on the internet, just for something to do, and then one day I found myself looking at 'Cyndi's List.'"
Seeing the look of incomprehension on Alex's face, Nancy explained that Cyndi's List is a web site that serves as an index to genealogical resources on the Internet.
"I started looking around, and the next thing I knew, I was reading how- to books and learning how to use census records. I began with Dad, and tracing his side of the family was no trouble. Then I realized I didn't know *anything* about Mother's side. She didn't want to help, kept saying I should look toward the future, not the past. John and Susie were no help either," Nancy said dismissively.
"But then I managed to find out mom's maiden name was Danilov, and I slowly started making progress. I started to learn about our Russian heritage and now I'm fascinated by it. Mother's always tried to hide our ancestry, but I want to know where we came from, and I want my kids to know too."
As if on cue, a small dark haired girl came in, trailed by a younger one.
Nancy held out a hand. "Come over here and say hello to our cousin Alex. Alex, these are my daughters, Anna Zophia," she said of the older one, "and Mia Zabava. Our baby boy is having his nap, you'll meet him later."
The girls stood shyly by their mother.
"Hello. It's nice to meet you both. You have very pretty names. And you look a lot like your mother did when she was younger."
Nancy laughed. "That's what John and Susie say."
"Mommy, will Daddy be back soon?" Anna asked.
"Yes, he called a few minutes ago to say the mare had successfully delivered her first colt."
Anna turned to Alex and confided, "Mommy and Daddy said I could have a horse for my next birthday."
"Really? That's great. How old will you be?"
"Six. Mia's only three. And Jamie's not even a year old yet. Did you have a horse when you were little?"
"No, but I always wanted one."
"We were city kids, honey," Nancy told her daughter. "The only pets I ever had were goldfish."
Just then the door opened and a tall, dark haired man swept in.
"Daddy!" The girls shrieked and ran to their father. He scooped them both up.
"How's the baby horse, Daddy?" Anna asked.
"Girls, you need to go get cleaned up before you eat." Nancy directed.
Their father kissed them both and let them down. "Hurry up, I'm starving." He turned to Alex. "You must be Alex. Glen Herndon, nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you."
Glen turned to give Nancy a kiss. "Is that chicken pie I smell?"
"It sure is," Nancy replied, punctuating her words with a quick kiss.
"In that case, I'll set the table."
Alex, who had risen to shake hands with Glen, remained standing as he watched Glen take plates out of the cupboard and start arranging them around the table. "Silverware's in there," Glen said, indicating a drawer, "if you'd like to help."
Soon the table was set and Glen began helping Nancy with the food while making conversation with Alex. "So, Alex, what do you do for a living?"
"I work for Mosely Security."
"That sounds interesting," Glen commented.
"I like the work. I bet being a veterinarian is great, though."
"It is. I wanted to grow up to be a vet ever since I was eight or nine years old.
Nancy smiled and told Alex, "Glen's sisters say he was always bringing home injured animals to doctor."
"So you grew up on a farm, Glen?"
"My . . . friend, Walter, did too."
"I loved it. That's why we moved here. I want the kids to have that experience, growing up around animals. Cats, dogs, horses, whatever they want."
Anna and Mia came back in, and they all sat down to a meal of traditional Russian dishes.
After dinner, they moved to the living room. Glen took the girls to the family room to start their "Beauty and the Beast" DVD.
"For the thousandth time," Nancy laughed.
Alex sat in a big, comfortable armchair. "You're a great cook, Nancy," he said, patting his stomach. "I haven't had food like that in ages."
"Come for another visit and you can have more," she teased. "Or, I could give you a copy of my recipe collection. Do you cook?"
"Well, in that case, if you come again, I'll make Chicken Paprikash *and*," she paused, "mjaso zapechennoe v teste -- did I say that right?"
Alex shook his head, smiling broadly. "No. It's 'myAsuh zapichyOnuyuh f tyestye.' But you deserve credit for trying."
"Seriously, Alex, I do hope you'll visit. I don't want us to lose touch again. You're one of the few relatives left on Mother's side of the family, and you'll always be special to me. I'd like for our kids to know you."
Glen came back in, chuckling. "They know that movie word for word."
"Glen, I was telling Alex we need to stay in touch."
"Absolutely," Glen agreed. "You're family, and Nancy's very fond of you. You're always welcome here."
"Thanks," Alex said. "But there's something you need to know before you say that." He took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm gay, and I'm living with someone."
Glen shared a speaking look with Nancy and then shrugged his shoulders. "It makes no difference. You're family."
Nancy agreed. "In fact, why not bring . . ."
"Walter," Alex supplied.
"Bring Walter with you next time."
Just then a cry came from the baby monitor. Nancy started to get up, but Glen told her to stay put, he'd get the baby.
"Now you get to meet the newest member of the family," Nancy told him.
Glen came downstairs holding his son and paused in front of Alex.
"Alex, this is our son, James Nikolai. Named after you and his paternal grandfather."
Alex sat there absorbing that as Glen asked, "Alex, would you like to hold him?"
"I . . . I've never held a baby," Alex said.
"It's easy. Just support his head." Glen placed the baby carefully into Alex's arms before he went to the kitchen for a bottle. Alex held the baby, still trying to absorb the fact that they had named the child after him. After a few minutes the baby started to cry.
"Oh-oh, dinner time," Nancy announced. She got up to take Jamie and move to the rocking chair as Glen came back with the bottle.
They chatted quietly for a while. Nancy informed Alex that they had a great aunt still living in Russia. Alex talked some more about his job, and Glen his. Alex wasn't in any hurry to leave, but he was anxious to get home and tell Walter about his day.
After Jamie was burped and put down for the night, Nancy walked Alex to the door while Glen went to usher their sleepy little girls upstairs.
"Alex, I hope you took me seriously about you and Walter visiting. We want to meet him, and we'd love to see more of you."
"Thanks. I'd like that."
"Good," Nancy said, hugging him tightly.
Walter was lying on the couch watching TV when Alex got home. He stood up and went to his lover, anxious to hear about the visit. He hugged Alex, noting the happy smile Alex wore.
"How did it go?" Walter asked, after they'd kissed.
Alex smile grew even bigger. "It was great. Nancy and her husband are good people."
"Come on, sit down and tell me about it."
Alex sat down and described the visit, telling Walter that Nancy was just as kind as he'd remembered, and that her husband also seemed very nice.
"Nancy's gotten interested in our Russian heritage. Would you believe she actually prepared a *zakuska* table?"
Walter tilted his head, which Alex correctly interpreted as a request for clarification, and then, while Walter's lips were near, gave him a quick kiss.
"In Russia, back before paved roads, travel times were difficult to predict. A host wouldn't serve dinner until all the guests were present, so if the weather was bad, or the roads were muddy, dinner could be delayed a long time. So zakuski -- hors d'oeuvres -- would be would be put out and guests would be able to help themselves as they grew hungry."
"So what did Nancy make?" Walter asked.
"Well, let's see. There was golubtsy, you know what that is, right?"
"Stuffed cabbage leaves," Walter said.
Alex nodded, "And buterbrody s rediskoi..."
"Radish sandwiches, if I recall correctly."
"Very good," Alex said, beaming with approval. "Gribnaya ikra?
"Don't know that one."
Walter looked skeptical.
"It's good, you'd like it," Alex reassured. "And I know you'd love the kurnik. That one's always been one my favorites."
"Kurnik? That's chicken pot pie, isn't it?"
"Bite your tongue! Kurnik is no 50-cent-in-the-frozen-food-section abomination -- some people think kurnik is the gustatory equivalent of *really* good sex."
"What do you think?"
"Well, to be honest" Alex grinned, "those people weren't having sex with you. But," he hastened to add, "kurnik *is* really good. And to go back to answering your question, we also had a number of different salads - cucumber, carrot, beet. And a couple of things made with lobio."
"Kidney beans. Oh, and we had piroshki, a bunch of different kinds. Meat, cheese, mushroom, sauerkraut, potato..."
"I guess I don't need to ask if you'll need a snack before bed," Walter laughed.
Alex's green eyes grew dark. "Depends on what you're offering."
Walter laughed and kissed Alex lightly. "Settle down you little lynx and tell me about the rest of your visit."
Alex snorted at the word play, and went on with his story. "Nancy really is a great cook. I haven't had food like that since my mom was alive. And Walter, I told them about us. They want us both to come for a visit."
Walter had merely been nodding, making acknowledging comments, letting Alex tell his story. But his estimation of Nancy and Glen grew the more he heard.
"They live on a farm, and have these three beautiful kids. Two little girls and a baby boy. And Walter, they named him after me. James Nikolai. Can you believe that?" Alex asked, still amazed by it.
Walter looked lovingly at Alex. "Oh, yes, I can believe that, Alex," he said softly, silently blessing Nancy, with as much fervor as he'd cursed her mother.
"So, would you like to visit them sometime, Walter?"
"I'd like that very much, Alex. They sound like good people. I can't wait to meet them." Walter pulled Alex to him, kissing him tenderly. "They seem to be really good judges of character, too."
Alex smiled, burrowing into Walter's arms. "This was a great day. The only thing missing was you, Love."
"Hmm. How about you show me how much you missed me?"
"Love to," Alex said as he pushed Walter's t-shirt up, licking a trail from the top of his jeans straight to his neck. He sucked gently at Walter's earlobe, then moved back to suck a purple mark on his lover's collarbone. "Let's get you undressed." Walter eagerly helped him pull the shirt all the way off, before he unbuttoned his jeans and slid them off, along with his underwear. Walter lay back on the couch.
"Take off yours now."
Alex grinned, and began to undress, kicking off his shoes and struggling out of his shirt, unbuckling his prosthetic arm and dropping all of it on the floor. He reached up, stroking his flat stomach before dipping down into his waistband. Walter watched his lover, delighting in Alex's uninhibited sexuality.
"Come here, let me do that," Walter said.
Alex walked over and Walter wasted no time unbuttoning Alex's jeans, pushing them and his underwear down to bare his already hard cock. Walter groaned and engulfed Alex's erection, then pulled back to teasingly lick at it. Alex looked down at Walter, his eyes a dark green, and whimpered.
"Don't want you to come yet," Walter said, his voice rough with desire. "Make love to me now, Alexei?"
Alex whimpered again, nodding.
"How do you want me?" Walter asked.
"Over the arm of the couch?"
Walter grinned. "You know, if we keep this up, we'll end up having to buy a new couch."
"Uh-uh. I'm sentimentally attached to this one," Alex said as he got lube and a condom from the end table drawer.
Walter draped himself over the end of the couch while Alex got the lube open and squirted some between Walter's cheeks, chuckling as the cool wet lube hit him and he gasped.
"Alex - - "
"I'll make up for it. I promise," Alex said, lubing Walter and relaxing the tight ring of muscle with sure strokes of his long, talented fingers.
When Walter began thrusting back, his body shamelessly begging for more, Alex rolled on a condom. Positioning himself, he slowly slid into the tight channel.
"Walter," Alex groaned. "You are *so* tight. And you look so sexy, your ass up in the air, your muscles flexing as you push back against me."
Walter answered with a low moan, tightening his ass muscles, milking Alex's thick cock and making his own cock bob as it sought its own source of friction.
Alex lightly slapped one firm buttock, and Walter's muscles clenched even tighter. Alex chuckled, "Like that, do you?"
"Mm humm," Walter agreed. "Feels good. Like having you in me."
"Like being in you," Alex replied, pushing forward until he bottomed out. Stilling for a moment, he bent all the way forward and kissed and nuzzled the back of Walter's neck. Pulling back a little, he let his head drop to Walter's left shoulder, and began swiping his tongue across the broad plane as he began a gentle stirring motion with his dick.
"Oh," Walter moaned, "that feels wonderful."
Grinning against the tan salty flesh, Alex continued bathing his lover as he made slow circles, teasing the slick passage with his shallow movements. Bringing his hand into play, Alex palmed Walter's right pectoral, the nipple already tightly erect. He squeezed the muscle, enjoying the vibration against his hand and chest as Walter groaned in approval. Capturing the hard bud between thumb and forefinger, Alex pinched and rolled the tender flesh as Walter's moans grew louder and he began tightening his anal muscles rhythmically.
Releasing the captive pap, Alex wrapped his arm tightly around Walter's chest, straining to reach the other sensitive tip. When it was caught between his fingers, he began to twist and tug, pulling lightly as he worked his hips, driving his cock in and out of Walter's body.
Moaning continuously now, Walter worked his ass, driving himself back against Alex, forcing Alex to take him deeper, faster, harder. His cock drooled on the leather beneath his knees, forming a slick puddle. With his arms stretched over the end of the couch, he was dependent on Alex for release. The smooth glide of Alex's shaft as it passed over his prostrate was almost enough to bring him to orgasm and he wondered how much more he could take before he broke down and begged Alex to touch his cock.
Seemingly reading his mind, Alex's hand slid downwards, grabbing his leaking cock and stroked it in counter-rhythm to his ferocious thrusting. The pitch of Walter's moaning deepened, driving Alex wild, and when the moans became words -- "Harder," and "Take me Alex, take me with you," Alex bit into Walter's shoulder, stifling a scream as his hips jerked erratically, his seed spurting wildly into the condom.
The added stimulation of Alex's bite pushed Walter over the edge. He painted the arm of the couch and the cushion with ejaculate, before collapsing in a sweaty heap, his lungs gasping for much needed oxygen. Alex dropped against his back, resting for a moment before pulling out of Walter's body.
When he caught his breath, all Alex could think to say was "Wow."
Walter chuckled, and the vibration somehow carried his meaning, for it filled Alex with a profound feeling of love and acceptance. He kissed the center of Walter's sweaty back, and then peeled himself off, slowly getting to his feet.
He wandered into the kitchen, where he disposed of the used condom and found a pair of clean towels. Having dampened one in the sink, he returned to the living room where he found Walter in the same position in which he'd left him. Alex smiled, knowing he'd worn out his lover, and tenderly cleaning the sweat off his back and the santorum from between his cheeks. When he was satisfied his lover was reasonably clean, he tapped Walter on his flank, indicating it was time to move.
"Sadist," Walter grumbled. "I'm too tired to move."
Alex chortled, but his laughter died when Walter turned his head and Alex saw the vivid bruise on his shoulder. "Shit, Walter, I'm sorry."
Feeling perfectly content, not to mention satiated, Walter had no clue what Alex was talking about. "About what?" he asked.
"I didn't mind."
"But I gave you a bruise," Alex protested.
"Will it be visible when I'm dressed for work?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Then what's the problem?"
"I didn't want to hurt you."
"Alex," Walter said patiently, "you didn't hurt me at all. What you did do was give me one of the most intense orgasms of my life."
Walter laughed. "About the orgasm or about not hurting me?" Alex scowled, causing Walter to laugh harder. "Alex, I'm fine. Stop worrying."
The next morning, Walter stood in front of the bathroom mirror, lightly fingering the bruise. Remembering the immense pleasure Alex had given him, he smiled as he reached for the can of shaving cream.
Labor Day turned out to be sunny and hot. When Walter and Alex arrived at Rock Creek Park, Bruce and Zoe were there, along with a few other people from work. Bruce was in charge of the grill, and Zoe was placing various side dishes on the picnic table. She saw them and came over to take the dish Walter was carrying.
"Hi, you guys. What is this, Walter?" Zoe asked, accepting the aluminum foil covered baking pan.
"Baked Beans. My grandmother's recipe."
"Walt, I could use a hand."
"Sure thing, Alex," Walter said, turning around to help his lover, who was struggling with a large ice chest. Walter grabbed a handle, and working together, they suspended the cooler between their bodies. Walking quickly, they carried the heavy chest to the picnic table and plunked it down.
"Thanks guys," Zoe said. "I've been dying for something cold!"
She grabbed two Cokes, taking one to Bruce. Moments later, Walter joined Bruce at the grill. A few minutes later, Helen and Jack came up.
"Where do you want this, Zoe?" Jack asked. "I've got cole slaw, and I think Helen has ice tea and potato chips."
"Just put it anywhere. I'm still organizing."
Helen came behind Jack, silently putting her stuff on the table. Helen was tall and big boned and a bit distant, but she and Jack got along well.
Zoe and Jack sat down at the table with Alex and Helen.
They all chatted, saying how even though summer was ending, it had just started to get really hot.
"Truthfully," Zoe said, "I'm ready for fall. I'm from up north and I'm still not used to hot summers. They don't bother Bruce."
Helen said she had grown up in New Orleans, and she was used to the hot weather there. Zoe asked her about New Orleans, saying she'd never been, but had always wanted to go. Helen talked a bit about it, revealing that she used to be on the police force there.
Jack wanted to know if the city was as wild as its reputation.
Helen laughed. "There's no other place on earth like it. One night I was on patrol - - "
Helen's story was interrupted as a couple of runners veered off the trail and ran to the picnic table. "Are we late?" the male runner asked.
"MJM!" Helen exclaimed, "I thought you were working out of the Atlanta office!"
"I am," MJM replied, "But my folks live here in DC and I thought I'd take a long weekend and spend some time with them."
"So what are you doing here?"
"Wanted to see you guys too. Although I don't see many familiar faces."
"Oh, that's right," Helen said, looking at the other people seated at the table, "you haven't met Jack or Alex. Jack, Alex, meet Michael J. Michalowski. MJM, Jack Rivers and Alex Krycek. I'd introduce you to the lovely lady, but I haven't had the pleasure."
MJM looked at the long-legged blond standing nervously by his side. "Everybody, meet my girlfriend, Carol Greenwood."
Zoe slid closer to Alex, patted the newly opened space, and smiled warmly at Carol. "Is this is your first visit to DC?"
Carol nodded, "MJM's been showing me around. That's why we're late," she said, taking the proffered seat. "He insisted that I had to see the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and take one of the boat rides."
"What'd you think of it?"
"I could have done without the people in historical costume, but I liked the mules and the old buildings. You've got some really beautiful places around here."
"We're lucky that way," Zoe agreed.
Seeing his girlfriend happily conversing with Zoe, MJM made his way to the grill to say hello to Bruce, and Helen resumed telling stories about New Orleans to Jack and Alex.
When Jack's stomach growled loudly, Zoe lightly put her hand on Alex's wrist and asked him the time.
Alex glanced down at his wrist, noticing Zoe's engagement ring as he did. He grinned, knowing he'd been set up, and showed her the time piece.
"Is that a new watch?" Zoe asked, feigning innocence rather convincingly.
"As a matter of fact, it is," Alex replied, playing along. "Walter gave it to me for my birthday. And is that a new ring I see on your finger?"
"It is," Zoe agreed. "Bruce gave it to me while we were in Jamaica. We're getting married this Christmas."
"Congratulations," Alex said, allowing his honest delight to show.
"That's wonderful," Jack said, speaking at the same time as Carol, who asked if she could see Zoe's ring.
Zoe held her hand up so Carol could take a closer look. When Carol finished admiring it, Zoe smiled her thanks.
"When was your birthday?" Helen asked Alex.
"A week ago last Wednesday."
"You do anything to celebrate?"
Alex shrugged. "I've never really understood why getting older is seen as something to celebrate."
Shaking her head exasperatedly, Zoe said, "Silly boy, it's because we're happy you're alive and a part of our lives."
Alex looked dubious, but he had to admit that Walter had said something quite similar when he'd given him the watch.
On his natal day, Alex Krycek woke up thinking about work. At Bruce's request, he'd spent the previous day exploring DC's newest convention center, looking for vulnerabilities. As he lay in bed, stretching, he thought about the layout of the building and the difficulty of securing the center's art collection as well as protecting the high-profile politicians and business leaders who regularly attended meetings there.
The day passed by a flurry of activity, beginning with a five mile run and ending with an impromptu meeting with Bruce regarding the weaknesses he'd found at the convention center. By the time Walter pulled into a parking space at Mosely Security, Bruce's Hummer was the only other vehicle in the lot.
Shortly after Walter rapped on the glass door, Alex's smiling face appeared. He unlocked the door, saying, "You have perfect timing, Bruce and I just finished up."
Walter followed Alex to one of the conference rooms where Bruce was rolling up a set of blueprints. Bruce looked up, saw Walter, and grinned. "You better be plannin' on feedin' this boy soon. His stomach's been talkin' for more'n an hour."
"I made a reservation for 8:00 at Bobby Van's"
"Then you better get goin'. And I better do the same if I want to see Zoe."
"Bobby Van's, huh?" Alex commented when they were underway.
Walter shrugged, "I was in the mood for steak." When Alex didn't respond, Walter asked "You don't have any objections, do you?"
Alex shook his head, "No, none at all."
The inside of the restaurant was exactly the way Alex remembered from visits during his employment as chauffeur to one of the Consortium elders. The dining rooms were paneled with wood, mimicking an old- fashioned men's club, an illusion furthered by the polished mahogany furnishings and sedate decoration. The staff was not as quite as unobtrusive as he recalled, but he had to admit that the distinction might be due to the fact that the Englishman always reserved one of the private rooms.
Walter recommended they share one of the aged Porterhouse steaks, and accompany it with Caesar salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach. Although Alex wasn't wild about creamed spinach, he agreed, knowing it was one of Walter's comfort foods.
In between courses, they chatted amicably about a variety of subjects, including the museum Alex visited the day before, Congressional Budget Office projections, the occupation of Franklin School by a group of homeless activists, and the GAO report on DC surveillance cameras.
Later, when the waiter asked if they'd care to order dessert, Walter ordered coffee himself and warm chocolate truffle cake with chocolate cigarettes for Alex.
"You're going to spoil me," Alex warned.
"I certainly hope so," Walter murmured, reaching into his pocket and removing a small velvet box tied with a red ribbon. "Happy Birthday," he said, handing over the box.
Alex couldn't have looked more surprised if Walter had materialized a singing chicken out of thin air. Not even if it were dressed in tuxedo, spats, and top hat and belted out a show-stopping rendition of 'Puttin' on the Ritz.'
Noting Alex's shocked expression, Walter encouraged Alex to open his gift and was rewarded when Alex began toying with the ribbon.
"I can't believe --"
"Believe, Alex," Walter interrupted.
Silently, Alex nodded and untied the ribbon. Lifting the lid of the box, he peered inside, only to snap the box shut and say "Walter, I can't accept this. You have to take it back."
"Of course you can. Besides, I can't take it back."
"Turn it over."
Alex did as requested, taking the obviously expensive watch out of its packaging and turning it over. He saw, engraved on the back, "All my love, Walter." Alex opened his mouth, but realizing he had no idea what to say, closed it again. When Alex repeated the action for the third time, the only thing that permitted Walter to keep the grin off his face was the decades of practice he'd had at keeping a straight face while dealing with fatuous members of the military-industrial complex.
Eventually, Alex found his voice. Looking deep into the brown eyes he loved so very much, he said, "Walter, it never even occurred to me to get you something for your birthday."
"That doesn't matter. This isn't quid pro pro -- I bought it for you because I wanted to, because I'm happy you're in my life, not because you got something for my birthday and I'm obligated to return the favor."
Alex slipped the watch onto his wrist, and looked at it with something akin to awe. "The last time I got a birthday present was when my mom gave me a bunch of Hot Wheels when I was four or five years old." Alex dropped his head, and spoke very softly, saying, "Thank you, Walter, for this and for everything."
"You're welcome, Alex. Now, let's have our dessert, then we'll go home and celebrate the remainder of your birthday a way I know you'll love."
Alex looked up, seeking his lover's eyes. They held warmth and humor and more love than he felt he deserved. Swearing to himself that Walter's next birthday would not go unmarked, Alex reached out, placing his hand on Walter's. "Love you," Alex said, using his velvety voice to caress Walter, promising a night of passion that Walter would never forget.
A canopy of trees protected the picnic area from the bright rays of sunlight beating down from clear blue sky as Bruce and Walter brought the platter of hot dogs and hamburgers to the table. Bruce announced that it was time to eat and found a seat next to Zoe in the dappled shade. Luke and Leah, who'd been conversing nearby came over, just as TJ and Duke arrived. Duke was carrying a bowl, which he set on the table, and took a bag from TJ, who was struggling with a silver vacuum bottle.
"Ah, TJ," Bruce said, "What is *that*?"
"I'm making ice cream." TJ announced.
Duke griped, "Yeah, he couldn't just go by Baskin-Robbins. He's got to make it with liquid nitrogen."
"Um, is that safe?" Zoe asked.
"If you know what you're doing," TJ told her, taking out cream and milk and placing it in the cooler.
"Are we expecting anyone else?" Alex asked.
"Troy's dropping by a little later," Bruce said. "He said not to wait on him. So, everybody dig in."
Duke uncovered the potato salad he'd brought, and everyone grabbed a plate.
Zoe sat back down between Bruce and Alex. Bruce put a burger on her plate and Zoe put her hand on top of Alex's wrist. "Would you please pass the ketchup?"
Alex looked down at Zoe's hand, once again noticing her engagement ring. He smiled happily, sharing in Zoe's joy and recalling the words inscribed on the back of his own wristwatch. He handed her the bottle.
Everyone dug in, commenting on how good everything tasted. As the meal was ending, Troy walked up, a large Golden Retriever ahead of him, a red bandana around its neck and a bright green Frisbee in its mouth.
"Have something to eat, Troy," Bruce called out, as Zoe and Walter approached the dog with the ferociously wagging tail.
"What a beautiful dog," Zoe said. "What's his name?"
"He's a handsome lad," Walter said. "Does he fetch?"
"Yeah, he sure does. And he'll love it if you play with him. He thrives on attention."
Zoe reached for the Frisbee and Geronimo obligingly dropped it into her hand. She threw the disc toward the north end of the park and the dog flew after it, catching it in mid-air. Walter also ran in that direction, passing the dog until the dog was positioned equidistant between them.
"Pickle?" Walter called to Zoe.
"Sounds good," she called back. "Geronimo, here boy."
Geronimo trotted up to Zoe, triumphantly holding the fluorescent disc.
Alex watched as they gave the dog an exhausting workout, trying to intercept the Frisbee as Walter and Zoe threw it back and forth between them.
Alex's attention was drawn back to the table when Helen stood up.
"Well, I have to head home," she said. "Jack, are you staying?"
"Well . . ."
"Stay, Jack," Alex said. "Walter and I can drop you off on the way home."
They wandered over to play Frisbee with the dog, who as Troy predicted, obviously loved the attention.
When TJ and Duke got ready to make ice cream, everyone drifted back up, eager to see just how it was done. TJ mixed the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, then Duke poured the liquid nitrogen in slowly. TJ stirred it with a wooden spoon, Duke taking over the last few minutes. Within ten minutes, it was ready. Leah helped dish it up.
Zoe looked doubtfully at it, but tried some. "This is actually very good," she said, surprised. "It's like soft serve."
"You doubted me?" TJ asked.
"Any sane person would," Duke said. "You do come up with some strange ideas."
"This was a good one," Walter said. "What do you think, Alex?"
"Well, chocolate would be better," he said as Walter grinned at the familiar refrain, "but this is pretty good."
After everyone had ice cream, Luke and Leah, who'd come together, announced they had to be going. Troy said he should, too, his girlfriend would be expecting him. TJ and Duke stayed a little longer, TJ answering questions about exactly where you could get liquid nitrogen, and the ingredients.
Soon only Walter, Alex, Bruce, Zoe and Jack were left. They sat around, no one in any hurry to pack up.
Bruce spoke up. "You know, I really hate to see this summer end. It's been a really good one."
Zoe, holding his hand, smiled. "Yes, it has."
"For me, too," Jack agreed.
"One of the best ever," Alex said, looking at Walter, thinking of his newfound family, and the one he'd formed with these people.
Walter caught Alex's hand in his. "Yeah, I feel the same way."
Authors' Note: Want to see a picture of Alex's new watch or Zoe's engagement ring? You can, at <http://www.cruelhaven.org/xfiles/tokens.html>