D
iamonds in the Rough

by Amazon X

 

This story is dedicated to Remy, who went before his time, and will be remembered fondly by us all. This story is also dedicated to his mommy, Laura, who without her love and support, I might never have come back to writing. Thank you, Laura.
 

SHAMOKIN, PA
EARLY AUTUMN, PRESENT TIME

W

alter Skinner walked into his mud porch off the kitchen to pull off his boots and hang his coat. October was always nice in Pennsylvania. It was one time he wished his property didn't have so many trees. Raking the leaves, no matter how pretty, was a chore he'd rather not deal with. There was one good thing about raking leaves: finishing.

He sat on the deacon's bench and rubbed his toes, still smarting from when he dropped said bench on them the week before. He loved his garage workshop, but sometimes he wished he still had someone around to help out. Moving the bench wasn't a problem until the cat got in his way and he dropped it. It streaked past him out of nowhere and startled him something awful. What was worse, it was a black cat.

"Dropped the friggin' thing on my damn foot for a damn cat," Walter said, shaking his head. He was answered with a rolling meow. Walter jumped almost off the bench, until he looked over and saw the golden eyes slowly blinking at him.

"You little shit!" he shouted, grabbing at his chest. "Don't scare me like that. Christ almighty."

Walter took a deep breath and stood, walked over to his slippers and slid his feet into them. "I'm starting dinner. If you're staying, come on in." Walter understood his insanity, talking to a cat. Lots of people talked to their pets. But this wasn't a pet. This was a stray. He didn't even know the sex of the cat.

However, he was not surprised when the cat followed him into the house. It was chilly at night. He was happy to give her a place. He'd also stocked up on the expensive cat food that the pet store recommended. Walter refused to admit he wanted to keep the cat as a pet. It was a stray. It would never stay with him. It reminded him of another stray that left him a long time ago.

Walter picked up the empty bowl and refilled it with the dry kitty kibble and put it on the floor. The cat immediately went to it. Walter sat at the kitchen table he had made and watched the cat crunch on the little bits of food. The cat ate its fill and then walked over to sit before Walter. He looked down at the sparkling gold eyes and heard something he'd never heard from a cat before. It didn't open its mouth, but Walter distinctly heard a purry sound come from the animal sitting before him.

"Are you trying to talk to me?" he asked. Walter reached down and lifted the cat into his arms. A dark, wet nose poked up to his and he heard the purr again. Walter took his chance while he could and turned her onto her back in his lap. "Well, little miss, it's nice to finally know. I'm Walter, and what's your name?"

He let the cat stand on her own on his lap and she butted her head under his chin. "I do love this little patch of white on your head. I guess...I should call you Diamond, eh? For the shape, huh?"

He was answered by a loud purring as he rubbed her ears and scratched her neck. She even went as far as to sniff at his chin and then, just as suddenly as she was cuddly, she squirmed until she jumped out of his arms and Diamond made her way out of the kitchen to explore the rest of the house. When he'd dispensed with dinner, his lone steak and baked potato with a green salad, he found Diamond curled up and asleep in his favorite chair by the fireplace. It wasn't lit, still being early October and the baseboard heating in the house was doing the job nicely in the evenings. But soon enough, it would be time to get the wood from the back into the stack by the hearth to keep the fire lit.

He smiled at her and left her where she was. He could easily see the television from the couch. He sat and flipped through the channels, unaware that he had a guest creeping toward him. Looking over quickly, Walter almost jumped off the couch in fright.

"Diamond! Don't do that!" he shouted. She reared back, ears back and tail still. Walter immediately felt bad for scaring her. "I'm sorry sweetheart," he said, holding his hand out to her. Quick to forgive, the cat walked to him and got in his lap. Immediately, Walter went to work on her with both hands, petting her thoroughly.

Together, they watched the Monday night football game, Walter groaning at the close score where the Carolina Panthers squeaked past the Green Bay Packers. It was just heartbreaking, but he was thankful he hadn't put any money on it down at the local roadhouse where he usually went on Monday nights, and now Thursday nights, and sometimes all day on Sunday, to watch the games. It was just too much to sit home alone all the time. He'd been in the house only two years, but in all that time, since he'd moved back to his hometown, he'd only had one visitor and that was a young woman who's grandmother had been a friend of Walter's mother. She only called on him to welcome him to the neighborhood. She didn't tell him she and her family were moving out and to Pittsburgh where the work for her husband was better.

He tried to make friends, but the men who sat in the groups at the bar had lived in the town for generations. It didn't matter that Walter's parents had both been born in town, and so had he. He'd left. He moved "to the big city" as they called it. And it annoyed him to no end.

Shamokin, Pennsylvania was not a rural, one-horse, hick town. It was small, suburban to the extreme, but in no way was he to be told that he was a "city slicker". It galled him to be considered different when he had at one time been the star quarterback of the high school football team, and dated the head cheerleader, who left her virginity in the back of his old Buick. That was all forgotten for the twenty or so years he chose to serve his country, both as a Marine and as an FBI agent. It infuriated him, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. They may have let him sit in the bar and talk a little during the games, but he was still on the outside.

When Walter had his fill of television, after the late news, he started up the stairs to his bedroom, which was once his parents' room. He wasn't surprised to see a dark shadow follow his feet closely. He was never in the habit of sleeping with pets when he was a kid, since Shadow, the family dog, preferred sleeping by the fireplace. But Walter felt no displeasure as Diamond jumped onto the bed and settled on the comforter. At least she wasn't getting onto his sheets. And to his surprise, he slept soundly all night long.

He slept soundly until the screaming started. It was as if someone were strangling a baby. Walter jumped out of the bed and began running out of the room, down the stairs, no glasses on and still barefoot. He entered the kitchen and reached out for the light, turning it on and looking around. Even though he was nearsighted, Walter could make out the contents of the kitchen. Nothing seemed amiss, no furniture overturned, no blood, no signs of an intruder. He looked at the door to the mud porch and saw against the white-painted wood was a small black blob.

"Diamond, did you wake me up just to go out?" he asked. He took the low purry chirp as a yes. He went to both doors, unlocked them and opened them so the cat could make her nocturnal visits. "I guess in the morning, I'm finding plans for a cat door."

And in the morning, over coffee and a bagel, Walter sat at his computer looking for plans to adjust his door, with Diamond sitting not too far away on a freshly cleared off spot on the desk. She flicked her tail as he talked out the things he'd need to do, taking down the doors, sawing holes in them and putting the flaps on. And luckily, the Home Depot had kits for just what he was looking for.

"Looks like Daddy is going to the Home Depot, sweetie. I'll get going and come back in a little while, how's that sound?" One more chirp and he smiled, stroking down her glossy furry back.

He left the house with her snoozing on his chair again, and he'd turned the heat up a degree or two on the first floor. He'd read that cats like the warmth. It wouldn't make a difference to him, but it was probably all the difference to her.

At the store, the young lady was so sweet and helpful to him, making sure he had all the tools and accoutrements for the project. She was surprised, as he thought she'd be, when he told her he needed to adjust two doors. But she made a suggestion that he hadn't even considered.

"If you have a well-secured mud porch, just leave the door to the kitchen open and secure the one door. You're not in Washington anymore. You don't need to lock the doors the way you used to."

He smiled. "Thank you for that," Walter said, quietly. "Since I moved back, I haven't felt at all like this was ever my home."

"Stop going to that old man's bar and come over to Edgewood, on West Holly, you'll find the place. It's much nicer. Mind you, it may not be your specific crowd, but they're welcoming, respectful, and the football is just as much fun!" She smiled widely at him and Walter felt as if she was hitting on him. Oh dear, how should he handle this?

"Well, thank you. I'll consider it. But right now, I have to build a door in my door."

She laughed and helped him to the check out, and went back to her department. Walter was thankful, as the young lady, with the tag that read Rachel, had left. She was adorable, but about thirty years too young for him. And the wrong sex.

Walter admitted to himself, after Sharon's death, that his desires lay somewhere else, and with someone else. That time was long ago and far away. He thought about it infrequently, quick fumbling fucks in the back of the BuCar he had borrowed for just such an occasion. He didn't want fluids getting on the upholstery of the car in which he drove his wife.

That was long ago, when Alex Krycek was a rookie, a green agent, someone who still looked up to Skinner, so he thought. He never quite explained why he went the route he did, whether he was part of it before he joined the bureau or did he just go bad one day.

Walt didn't want to contemplate the thoughts any longer. He just wanted to go home, take down his back door and make sure Diamond could come and go as she pleased. He was thankful to make it home just after all his neighbors left for school and work. It was a very residential area, lots of families, lots of people with nice smiles and not too nosy. This was the best part. He wasn't used to nosy neighbors. Back in Washington, he was one of three tenants on his floor at the Viva Tower and he didn't recall ever seeing any of them in the six years he lived there.

His current neighbors waved, or said a brief hi, but no one visited. He wondered if one day he died in the house, how long would it take someone to notice he wasn't about? Or would they notice the smell first? These are the thoughts that forced him to get right to work with his door. At least, if he died, he wouldn't die alone.

Walter worked most of the day measuring, sawing, sanding, painting and affixing the pre-made swinging cat door in place. He was so thankful he took the time to read all of the instructions, of course while petting Diamond. Then, he set to work, and it was barely into the afternoon when he was putting the door back up. Mrs. Rossetti next door was just coming back from picking up the kids from school as he carried the door from his garage, where he kept him workbench and tools.

"Mr. Skinner!" she called out. "Whacha doing?"

"Hi, Mrs. Rossetti. I put a cat door in my back door. Diamond was screaming a fit last night to get out." He set the door on the grass and smiled at the woman. Her four kids, three boys and a girl, all screamed and ran around the yard, as if just let out of prison.

"Is that what that was? Woke me out of a sound sleep."

"Sorry about that. Woke me too. But no more. She'll come and go as she pleases."

"Diamond? Is that the black stray with the white spot? Oh, that one gets in the garbage and makes an awful mess, doesn't it?"

Walter tried to keep his smile serene, but she was trying his patience. "Won't happen again. She'll have in and out of the house all night to eat if she wants. No more garbage escapades for her, OK?"

"Thanks, Mr. Skinner," she said.

Walter continued into the back yard with the door, astonished by his interaction with Mrs. Rossetti. It was the most they'd said to each other in the two years he lived there. Maybe things were beginning to change for him.

When Diamond discovered the door, she began to go in and out as if it were an amusement park ride. Walter sat at the kitchen table, having his dinner, watching the little door swing back and forth, seeing the little black and white head emerge from under the edge and slink in, then turn right around, and he watched the tip of a black tail disappear again. She seemed to be having a ball.

Maybe she's bored, Walter began to think. It was just going on six-thirty, and he knew the mall out on Route 61 would still have most of its stores open. He decided to get in his truck and drive out to get more things for Diamond. When he arrived at the pet supermarket, he couldn't believe the selection of things. Back when he was a kid, the family dog was too busy playing with Walter and his three brothers. Then Walter thought about it. Shadow did have a rubber bone at one time. So, Walter felt, that made it OK to buy some toys for Diamond.

An hour and a hundred dollars later, Walter entered the house with far too many things. He had just intended to get a jingle ball or a catnip mouse. He ended up with brushes and bowls and food and supplements and a litter box and toys...and stuff he knew Diamond would never care about. But he took the time to set everything up. And at ten-thirty that night, Walter sat in the living room, small fire driving away the cool night, and Diamond on the chair, basking in the warmth. Walter smiled and went back to reading the encyclopedia of cats.

Walter was surprised that his little visitor continued to visit him. As a matter of fact, she'd happily moved in. She would nestle next to him, warming his belly and sometimes his feet. He could see her gain a pound or two with the regular meals he was feeding her. She also loved to play with the jingle balls that littered the floor of the living room. Walter was finally finding some peace in his life.

Until Diamond stopped eating. And stopped using her litter box. He thought that she was just going and eating outside. But when on the third day she just lay limp and listless on the floor by the fire, well into November, he was worried. Walter went straight to the computer and looked up the closest veterinarian. Luckily, there was a large clinic in Ranshaw. It was about a fifteen minute drive. He called and asked for an emergency appointment, which they were happy to give him. He scooped up Diamond, put her in a large box swaddled in a fleece throw blanket and off he drove to the Ranshaw Animal Hospital.

Upon arriving, he carried the box in and was met by a very nice animal nurse named Betty. She took Diamond and they walked to the back where the exam rooms were situated. He sat and put the box on the metal exam table, then waited. Betty came back with a clipboard and papers for Walter to fill out while he waited for the doctor to finish with the scheduled appointment to come and see Diamond.

As he filled out the forms, he realized there was a lot of information he didn't know about Diamond, like her breed, her age and whether or not she'd been spayed, or even if she'd been owned by someone. He realized he should have checked with the animal shelter before claiming her. There wasn't anything he could do about it, as she didn't wear a collar and she'd taken to him.

The doctor walked in and he was not what Walter expected. He was young, handsome, with milky white skin and dark blonde hair. His bright blue eyes twinkled when he smiled down at Diamond. "Mr. Skinner, my name is Kevin Ryan and I'm here to see what's wrong with Diamond. What's seems to be the problem?"

Walter gave Kevin all the information about the cat, how he found her, how she adopted him and then onto when she stopped eating, drinking and using the litter.

Kevin began examining her. "Well, have you touched her belly, Mr. Skinner?" he asked.

"No, I haven't. She doesn't like to be carried around."

"She's pregnant," Kevin said, smiling. He held the cat up and showed Walter her swollen nipples. "I'm sure her tastes in food and litter have just changed, as is a perspective mother's prerogative. I'll do some blood work, get her a full check up and have a look at her teeth. You should also look into having her chipped if you plan on keeping her."

"Chipped?" Walter asked. "I don't think I like the sound of that." Thoughts of Scully and her cancer flew through his mind. Walter did not want to put Diamond through the same kind of nonsense.

"It's harmless, actually. It's a subcutaneous chip that has her ownership information on it in case she gets lost or caught by an animal control unit."

This intrigued Walter. He watched as Betty held Diamond and Kevin withdrew two vials of blood. She whined and cried a little, but was soothed with petting and ate several of the soft treats that Kevin held out to her. "She likes Pounce."

"What's that?" Walter asked.

"Cat treats. You may want to think about that. And about the chip." Kevin held up a gray paddle with a key pad and small digital screen on one side. "I wave this over the kitty, and if she has a chip it beeps," and the paddle beeped.

"What does that mean?" Walter asked, panic starting to flood his belly, spreading like nausea.

"I think she has an owner. Why don't you let us make a couple of phone calls and see what this leads to."

Betty took the paddle and Walter sat on the chair with Diamond in his lap, petting her back and scratching her head. Kevin walked back in and had made up a folder for Diamond. "Well, our little tuxedo domestic shorthair female is indeed pregnant. I thought I felt about five kittens. I'm pretty sure she's got about three weeks to go. Now, the second problem, she is an owned cat."

Walter's heart fell into his shoes. He would have to give his little girl back. All that work, all that money, and he was going to give her away. His heart was already breaking.

"Who does she belong to?" Walter asked.

"I can't reveal that. I have to take the cat into my custody until the owner picks her up. He said it would be a little while, since he doesn't have a car right now. But we'll keep her safe."

Walter took a deep breath. "If she's pregnant, why can't I just take her home today, then tomorrow, I'll take her to her family. It's the least I can do. Please, call the family and tell them."

"Him. She's owned by a man named," Kevin began, then consulted his folder, "Val Arntzen. He lives..."

"I know where he lives," Walter said, all the blood leaving his face. He knew he must be shocking the vet with the look on his face...but he couldn't help himself. Of all the lost cats in the world he could have found, he had to find his former lover's lost cat. Looking at her, it made sense why he would keep her. She was sleek and beautiful, just like he was, before he became twisted by the Consortium, then the stint with the Rebels, then...the ultimate need to hide, and Walter shooting him in the head, with blanks.

Walter was one of the few people in the world that knew the alias Val Arntzen belonged to Alex Krycek. The entire history between them flashed across his eyelids, dark veined visions of nanocytes, bright lights when he helped Krycek set the fire at El Rico Air Base. He wasn't proud of it, but he knew it was something he needed to do.

"You know this man?" Kevin asked, head cocked to the side.

"Yes, we...worked together in the FBI. Many years ago. I can bring Diamond home to him. You can trust me, Dr. Ryan."

Kevin smiled gently. "I think I can, Mr. Skinner." Kevin handed Walter a note with Alex Krycek's address and phone number on it. The area code was for a local cellular number. He was still running. He took Diamond and put her back in the box. "Oh, Mr. Skinner, one more thing," Kevin called out as Walter negotiated the door open.

"Yes, what?" He didn't intend to sound so curt and surly, but the thought of giving up his only friend began to weigh in his chest.

"Two things, actually. Firstly, you should get her a carrier so she won't get hurt in your car on your way to New York City. Secondly, and I know this will hurt you, but she's having kittens. Maybe Mr. Arntzen will give you one."

Walter smiled wanly and nodded. "I'll get the carrier and ask about the kittens. Thank you, doctor."

He walked to the front desk where he handed the receptionist his American Express card and signed the bill. He was in a daze as he went to the pet store again and got the nicest carrier for Diamond, put her blanket in and then her. She settled and went to sleep. He also got several different kinds of cat treats, a new type of food for expectant mothers and different litter.

He took her home and changed the box and put the new food out. Everything was as if it had never changed. Diamond scarfed down her food like it was going to be taken soon. Then, she went to her box and used it. Walter kept it on the mud porch, so he didn't have to deal with it but to change it. It was easy with a covered box.

He sat with her in his lap that night, waiting to take her back to Alex Krycek the next day. He figured it would take about three hours to drive there. He was living in Brooklyn, a neighborhood they called the Flatlands. Walter knew it. He was a field officer for two years in New York, primarily assigned to assisting ATF officers that were overseeing gang activity in Brooklyn and Queens. At the time, he was thankful to be reassigned to the Washington office.

Walter lay in bed and silently cried for his friend who he would soon be giving away. He missed her already, but he could hear her in the litter box downstairs and knew she would soon be up sitting with him, grooming and keeping him awake. He didn't care. He would keep her things, get a new cat. Or a dog. Or some fish. Maybe a parrot.

In the morning, he went about his morning routine as usual. He fed Diamond, made breakfast, but he did drip extra coffee. He would prepare his thermos for the road and take off as soon as he could coax Diamond into the carrier. She stepped in, regal as ever, and he closed her in. She let out one chirp and settled into the blanket.

He loaded her into the truck, strapped the carrier in and then settled in the driver's seat. He stared out at the driveway for quite a while before he finally started the truck and drove away from the house. He knew the route by heart, having studied it all last evening on the computer screen. It wasn't long before he was driving slowly through Staten Island to traverse the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. Traffic in New York City was a given, even the outer boroughs. Especially on a weekday.

He traveled several more miles before signs began to direct him to where he was going. Avenue L and New York Avenue, a small three-floor walk up. It probably had been a nice house about thirty years ago. Walter stood before the dilapidated structure, on a block where most of the houses were condemned or completely burnt out. The third floor in the front, all shades pulled completely down. One thing he noticed, the windows were sparkling clean in the midday November sunshine. Something didn't sit right.

Walter pulled Diamond out of the truck in her carrier and slung it over his shoulder. He pushed her behind him, and locked the truck. The alarm was engaged, which also engaged the "Lock Tite" system, which helped in the case of theft, or if someone wanted to strip the car. Electromagnetic fields kept all the bolts from being turned. Walter thought it was ingenious, and congratulated the Gunmen on such a great invention.

Walter entered the building and was hit immediately by the stench of urine. He wasn't sure if it was human or animal, and he didn't care. He would get up the stairs to the third floor as quickly as possible. Hopefully, the smell would not follow him. When he reached the landing, he saw only one apartment door. The other apartment had no door. Walter assumed no one lived there. But the hallway was clean, swept and mopped, unlike the other floors. Krycek was meticulous.

Walter stood before the faded green door. It had old paint on it, but not in bad repair, like the others. Krycek cared, even though the place itself was a hovel. Walter raised his hand and knocked three times, solidly. He took a step back and waited. There was no sound from inside. Not movement or a gun click, nothing. Walter was beginning to get nervous.

He checked his watch and exhaled loudly. "Well, Diamond, I think your daddy is actually at work. I don't hear anyone inside."

Just then, there was a clatter from inside and Walter felt Diamond jump in her carrier. "Who's there?" came a husky voice from inside. Walter hadn't been out of the FBI so long that he missed the nasal sound of a stuffed nose. Must have stayed home from work that day.

"It's...Alex, it's Walter. I have the cat."

There was silence for a moment. Walter heard shuffling to the door, then saw a flicker at the peep hole. There was another pause, this one shorter. Then the door was unlocked, Walter counted three locks, and it carefully swung open. The sight he saw was not what he expected.

The Alex Krycek he knew was a robust man, muscular and handsome. His face always looked tanned, which led Walter to believe he did most of his work in warmer climates. This man was thinner, peaked-looking, and he seemed to need a haircut very badly. His clothes were rumpled as if he was sleeping in them.

"Where is she? How did you find her? Give her to me!" Alex demanded. Walter swung the bag around and handed the carrier to Alex, who snatched it away and began crooning while bringing the bag into his apartment. He placed it gently on a round table in the middle of the main room. He pulled the purring ball of black fur out and hugged her tight. Walter walked in, watching the touching scene. He tried to close the door quietly, but it wasn't quietly enough. Alex turned and stared him down.

"How did you find her?" he asked, with an accusatory tone creeping in.

"She came to me. I thought she was a stray who'd adopted me. I took her to the vet when she wasn't feeling well and they found her chip."

Alex turned on Walter with wrath in his eyes. "She's not well? What did you do to her?!" he shouted, petting the cat. "My poor Alrosa, did the mean man hurt you?"

Walter exhaled. This is an Alex he knew well, Queenie. Mostly, the man was hard as nails and cold as ice. But when he relaxed, especially after he admitted his feelings for Walter, he became the flaming prissy queen that stood before Walter there.

"Alex, she's pregnant. She's got about three weeks to go. She's just fine."

Alex turned to Walter and quickly schooled his expression to reflect the granite of his assassin persona. "You let her get pregnant?" Alex rasped. If Walter wasn't so angry at his reception, he knew the voice would be sending shivers down his spine.

"I didn't let her do anything, Alex," Walter ground out, trying to keep his temper in check. "She was a stray as far as I knew. The one night I tried to keep her inside all night, she shrieked until I let her out. I built a damned cat door for her."

Alex's face softened a bit. "You built a door for her?" he asked. The little boy that Walter knew was under the hard exterior of leather and gun oil began to show through.

"Alex, what have you been doing?" There was a loud bang from down the stairs and shouting in Spanish. Alex went to the door and engaged all the locks and a silent sliding deadbolt that could only be locked from the inside.

"I don't need them busting in." He turned back to Walter, still stroking the cat who was happily purring while cuddled in Alex's arms. "I...thank you for bringing her back. I..."

Walter held his hand up and smiled. "It's no bother. She made me very happy while she lived with me. I owed it to her to bring her home."

Walter looked around the small, dingy apartment. It wasn't the biggest place in the world, only two rooms really. But it was clean. Very clean. Obsessively clean. This didn't surprise Walter one bit. Alex had always been fastidious when they were together, and it was nice to know things hadn't changed.

"Walter, I...thank you for bringing her back to me. Goodbye."

Alex turned away and put the cat down. Then, he sneezed. And he coughed. And sneezed again.

"Alex, do you have a cold?" Walter asked. Alex had been as concerned about his health as he had about his apartment, clothing and his work. He loved working out and he loved looking at the fruits of his labor in the mirror. Walter enjoyed his lover, the complete opposite of the rough and ready assassin he portrayed for the Consortium.

"I'm fine," he said, but the voice was a bit shaky. Walter knew that shake. He had the chills and his diaphragm was shivering.

"No, you're not. You probably have a fever. Come here let me..." Walter reached out to touch Alex's forehead, and didn't see it coming.

Walter's hand was grabbed and twisted behind him so fast, Alex actually got him off balance. They fell with a hard thud to the threadbare carpet, Alex trying to cover Walter's body with his. Alex was top of his class in the academy, and his hand-to-hand combat was a force to reckon with. Luckily, Alex trained with Walter, and Walter knew all of Alex's moves, and how to counter them. They rolled on the floor, and Walter was shocked at how thin Alex had gotten. All the muscle he'd built up through the years had wasted away in five.

Walter, still maintaining his workout routine in his basement gym, got the upper hand and rolled Alex onto his back, straddling the slender hips. Alex struggled a moment, then Walter felt all the fight drain out of him. Walter held Alex's wrists down and shouted, "Just stop it, Alex. Relax, it's me!"

Walter was prepared to get up off Alex's body, until he felt the bite on his leg tear through his jeans. Walter screamed, pulling away from Alex and scrambling back until he sat against the wall, trying to find where the cat had gone. She stood beside Alex, hissing and growling at Walter, a spot of blood on her mouth. Lifting the leg of his jeans, Walter saw the four small puncture wounds left by teeny kitty fangs. There was very little bleeding, but the pain by far made up for it. He smoothed down his pants and waited until the cat calmed down. Alex called to her and whispered in Russian until she calmed down. Walter crept closer, testing his leg. It hurt, but he'd live.

Standing above Alex, Walter held his hand out to Alex to help him into the bedroom. "You need to rest, Alex. You have a fever." Alex relented and allowed himself to be levered off the floor and helped to the bed. He lay back on the rumpled sheets and slipped back under the covers. Walter noticed for the first time the heavy sweatshirt and sweatpants that Alex wore. He'd never dressed this way before.

"When did you start to feel sick?" Walter asked, pulling the covers up.

"Dunno, guess when I got home from work this morning."

"You work nights?"

"Yeah, Brooklyn College, janitorial staff."

This was puzzling. Alex had graduated from the academy at the top of his class. He had graduated from Princeton with a double major of computer science and criminal justice. He was one of the most intelligent men Walter knew, and if he had an eidetic memory and an eerie ability to put facts together with no real thread, he knew Alex would give Mulder a run for his money any day.

"Why are you working there? Alex, you are much..." Walter was interrupted by a familiar chirp by the cat. He didn't know what to call her since Alex had named her something totally different. She walked right past Walter to curl up beside Alex, flicking her tail angrily. The honeymoon was certainly over for them.

"Walter, if you haven't noticed, people are trying to kill me. The best thing for me to do is stay hidden."

A crash sounded in his head. Walter wanted to weep for his former lover. "Alex, it's over. No one is alive to want to kill you. It's all over, baby," Walter said, reaching out to stroke Alex's cheek. There was a low growl from the cat, but Alex shushed her in Russian.

"Walter, don't play with me." He coughed and it wracked his whole body. The scratches from Alex's throat made Walter cringe.

"I'm not, Alex. That's why I came here. When I heard the name she was registered to, I knew that was you. And I knew why you were hiding. I just...I didn't know..."

"That I live in a shit hole? That I'm reduced to hiding in Brooklyn and working nights, with my only friend a cat? Go away, Walter," Alex spat, which threw him into another coughing fit. Walter eased him back.

"I'm going to brew some tea for you. And make some soup. Then, we're finding a doctor for you." Walter rose and felt a twinge of pain in his calf. "And for me."

"I'm sorry Alrosa bit you. She was protecting me."

"Yeah, I know. I just wish she'd have trusted me by now."

Walter went to the pitifully small kitchen and looked around. The stove and refrigerator looked at least thirty years old. The paint was chipped a bit, there was a little rust, but as Walter expected, the kitchen was immaculately clean. Alex was obsessive. He opened the refrigerator and was saddened to see that it was pretty much empty but for some mustard, ketchup and milk. There was a gallon of milk. He was sure it was for the cat. It had to be bad. But when Walter checked, it was fresh and unopened. Alex kept milk in the hopes the cat would come back.

He started looking through the cabinets and came up with a big zero again. No soup, no tea, nothing. And again, there were dozens of cans of very expensive cat food, and dry kibble for the cat. Walter took a deep breath, trying to force the fear and fury from his brain. Was he insane? Had he gone over the edge, fearing for his life and that no one cared for him that all of his emotion and resources went to sustain his pet?

Shaking his head, Walter reached into the pocket of his jacket, which he still wore, and dialed his cell to information. He asked for a clinic in the Flatlands area and was transferred to a walk in urgent care facility. The receptionist was understanding.

"My friend is ill, has a fever, nasal congestion and a cough and I'm sure he has a sore throat. He doesn't have insurance but I have plastic. Can I bring him in now?" he asked.

"Of course, Mr. Skinner. Please just come by. We have two doctors who can see him and hopefully help him. We'll be waiting for you."

Walter smiled as he hung up. He went back to the bedroom where he thought Alex was asleep. When he saw the hand slide gently down the cat's back, he exhaled silently. Alex was just resting. He sat back on the bed, getting a baleful look from the cat before she trotted off the bed.

"Alex, I called the local infirm clinic. They're expecting us."

"What? Why? I don't need..."

"Alex," Walter interrupted and put his hand on Alex's cheek. "Baby, if you had a thermometer, you'd mark your temperature at well over one hundred. We need to get you some medicine and some food. Then, we're packing you and the cat..."

"Alrosa, Walter. Her name is Alrosa."

The smile reached from Walter's face to his heart. "Only you would name a cat after a diamond mining company. Well, I suppose my name for her isn't as far off. I called her Diamond. She's gonna make pretty kittens, Alex." Walter stroked the warm cheek, and frowned. "OK, Baby, lets get you dressed and ready to go to the doctor."

Rolling onto his back, Alex grumbled a bit. "I hate the doctor," he whined. Music to Walter's ears, he pulled a pair of jeans from a drawer of the beat-up wooden dresser. The weather wasn't bad for Walter, but he wasn't sick, either. And if Alex had gotten so bad that he was shivering with a fever, he was really sick.

"I know, Baby. But I'll be there with you. Don't you worry about a thing." Walter stroked Alex's cheek, and was surprised by the hand that grasped his, holding fast to it.

"Where were you, Walter?" Alex asked. The hand pulled harder, pulling Walter down close to Alex's face. "I missed you...where were you? I needed you."

"I know, Alex. I'm sorry. I didn't know where you were. I thought...I thought you were really dead. Why..." Walter swallowed the lump in his throat. "Why did you change your name? How could I find you if you weren't who you are?"

A sad smile crossed Alex's face. "How did you find me now?"

There was a chirp from the end of the bed and both men turned to look at the cat. Walter smiled. "She led me to you. If I hadn't found her, I would never have found you."

Patting his thigh, Walter helped Alex stand and they began changing Alex's clothes. They stunk of illness. Walter vowed that when he got Alex to his home in Pennsylvania, he'd make Alex buy all new clothes. Alex had always liked to dress well. He probably had scaled down his wardrobe to blend in better. Unfortunately, Alex was never meant to blend.

Walter made sure he'd left a fresh bowl of water and some food out for Alrosa before he left. "You watch the house, little lady. We'll be back soon. Then, I'm taking you and Alex home with me."

A dark head jerked up at those last words. "I can't leave! I have a job, I have...I mean..." A fit of coughing took Alex's words away. Walter rushed over, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket to cover Alex's mouth.

"Alex, you have nothing here. When the doctor clears you for anything dangerous, we're going to fill your prescriptions, pack the things you really want, and then we're putting Alrosa back in her carrier, and we're going to my house. And I won't hear any more arguments. I lost you once, I won't lose you again."

Two deep green eyes swimming with tears swung upward to meet Walter's rich brown eyes. "You didn't lose me. I hid. Well, I'm done hiding." To punctuate his words, Alex grabbed Walter about the neck and kissed him deeply. Walter was in heaven. Alex tasted like sweet cream and cinnamon. Cinnamon rolls were his secret sweet craving.

Walter finally got Alex into the truck and they set off for the clinic. While he drove, Walter noticed the throb in his leg getting worse. Maybe he could get a little emergency care himself. They entered the reception area and Walter plunked Alex down in a chair. He went straight to the reception desk, limping the whole way. "Hi, I called earlier about getting emergency care for my friend. He's got a high fever and he's coughing."

The nurse handed Walter a clipboard and asked him to fill out the preliminary paperwork. "By the time you're done with that, there will be a room ready for Mr. Krycek."

Nodding, Walter took the clipboard and sat with Alex to fill it out. Most of the items Walter filled with his own information, address, phone number and ability to pay. He would put the expense on his platinum card and deal with it later.

The doctor took his time with Alex. He even took the time to patch up Walter's leg and update his tetanus shot. He was a kindly older man, non-judgmental, even though he guessed off that Walter and Alex were involved more than just friends. "I don't much care about your sex life. And you young men look like you're old enough to know to use condoms, get tested regularly and be safe."

"Yes, sir," Walter answered for them both. He was a bit tickled to be called a young man.

"You just get this filled," the doctor continued as he wrote out a prescription, "make sure he takes them all until they're finished, then, just make him rest. He's underweight. If you just feed him well, he'll be alright soon."

With a firm handshake to both men, Walter took Alex with him and they made their way to a pharmacy to drop off the prescription. Walter quickly drove back to the apartment and helped Alex pack a few things. Alex was happy to leave the clothing. "I hate wearing this nasty rough-tough shit. It cleans easy and wears well, but it's so ugly."

"Don't you worry," Walter said, zipping up Alex's duffle bag. "When I get you home, we're going shopping and I'll buy you a whole new wardrobe."

Alex reached out and took Walter's hand. "Are we going to live in one of those tiny, rural towns?" The sad look in Alex's eyes were priceless.

"No, sweetie. It's actually three small towns in close proximity. You need rest. And you need lots of good food. I want to try out those Alton Brown recipes on you."

Those smiles always did warm Walter's heart. Alex's teeth were always white and even, glistening between full, plump lips. The wrinkle above his nose took on a softer quality, not it's usual tightness when he was angry. "I can't wait for you to feed me."

They picked up Alex's prescription and hit the road without looking back. "Just think, Alex. Thanksgiving is coming up."
 

THANKSGIVING
WALTER'S AND ALEX'S HOUSE

A

lex lay on the floor watching the kittens nurse from their mother. Walter had just finished with the dishes from their Thanksgiving feast and the dishwasher hummed in the kitchen. Alex had grown to love his new home. The town was smallish, but the next one over had a gay bar and he was happy as any queen in the spotlight. Alex was the new black, and he loved it. He learned how they kept a somewhat cosmopolitan gay culture in the middle of Pennsylvania.

What Alex most loved about his new home was sleeping next to his lover again. When Alex had been on the run, he never had a good night's sleep. After losing his arm, he thought his world would come to an end. He was forgiven and healed by the Rebels and was so pleased they allowed him to assist in eradicating the earth of the Colonists. What they didn't prepare him for was living a life without a cause. He was sure there were warrants out for his arrest and he did what he did best, hid like a rat in a hole. He didn't like the hole very much.

One thing he noticed, the culture of New York City had changed since he'd been visiting with the Consortium. At that time, the city was open and loving and fun. But when he came back, he found a city that was trying to fit the pieces back together, and he was one piece that just did not fit. He wasn't going to give anyone, living, dead or alien, the satisfaction of giving in to suicide. No, Alex would live for spite.

Alex was entirely too happy that he could access his Swiss bank accounts. He'd been too terrified to access them before Walter saved him from that horrible life. Updating his wardrobe and shoe selection was just the beginning. They bought an apartment in New York City for when they wanted to visit there. Alex had just talked Walter into purchasing a "winter home" in Mexico, a cozy villa so they could warm their bones and tan their butts in style, and privacy.

"You know, Alex, buying the villa looks like a good investment. While everyone's going down to Florida, we'll be alone and happy in Cozumel." Walter wanted to move and stay down south. When they'd found the villa, far enough from the tourist resorts to have privacy, but near enough to have the comforts of a modern town, Walter thought they'd found heaven. Alex, however, still craved the cosmopolitan air of New York, and the celebrity-like status of their small town.

Alex ran his hand down Alrosa's back, and giggled at the chirp he got back. "Walter, can we keep the kittens?" Alex asked for the fifth time that night and probably the hundredth time that week.

"No, Alex, we can't. We'll keep them until they're fully weaned, and Alrosa won't miss them."

"You're no fun. At least you let me name them."

"Nice names. I approve." Alex didn't name by the sex, he just named the kittens as they were presented to him: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Pearl and Jade. They were the spit and image of their mother except Ruby, who was a ginger-colored long-haired cat. That was the one Alex wanted to keep. She was the sweetest little one, and when Alex would hold her, she purred and mewled for him.

As Christmas headed towards them, and the snow began to fall, Alex reflected on the life he had begun to lead the moment the door opened and he saw his lover come for him. The feelings inside him churned at that moment, whether to welcome Walter back or to send him away. Walter was always a weakness to him. It almost ruined his cover with the Consortium. Who knew that the Director of the FBI would ask him to go undercover for so long?

It had started with the academy. When he was asked to the meeting, he thought he was getting tossed. It didn't even occur to him that the Director of the FBI wasn't involved with the recruits.

"It has come to my attention that you are an exceptional student and recruit. Your college career looks like something from television, 4.0 average, double major in computer science and criminology. I also hear you're fluent in Russian, spoken as well as written."

"Um, yes sir. I was born here, but my parents were Cold War immigrants. They became Americans, sir, I swear it. Please don't dismiss me from the academy!" Alex's mind raced with thoughts of how to talk his way out of it. For a moment, he thought they had found out he was gay and sucked off two of his classmates. He never imagined that he would be needed for one of the most important cases the country had ever cracked. A world-wide conspiracy to sell the human race out to the aliens.

It had been a long time ago. So much had happened, so many betrayals, so many injuries, and who knew that a black cat with a white diamond on her head could bring the men back together. When Alex first saw the house, he wasn't impressed. Then again, he was exhausted from the drive from New York. He went into the unremarkable bedroom and immediately fell asleep on the firm yet plush mattress. Walter had to wake him to give him medicine. And after two days of mostly sleeping, sipping at chicken broth, and more sleeping, Alex was feeling better. Alrosa kept by him most of that time, as well.

When he did finally get out of bed, he ate like he'd never eaten before. And he became the old Alex, the one who wasn't hiding behind a facade, a persona, an undercover agent who lost a limb, his family and his lover to a Consortium that he couldn't figure out how to topple. Without the help of the Rebels, it would have been all lost. Alex was so happy to finally just be the man he wanted to be: gay, out and happy.

The first time he and Walter made love since they had parted, when Alex had been forced to infect Walter with the nanobots, it was like coming home. Walter allowed Alex to take the initiative, which suited Alex just fine. To kiss Walter's strong mouth again, taste that wonderful flavor musk and spice and what was just Walter. Alex had some lovers in his time, but Walter had been the best by far.

There was something to be said about making love to an older man, one who knew how to find the spots on Alex's neck that when licked and nibbled would curl his toes. Walter could kiss Alex silly. Walter's strong lips were gentle, tentative, he nibbled at first with a quietly questing tongue that inched its way in and around Alex's mouth. He tested Alex, tasted Alex and then devoured Alex.

When Alex had pulled Walter down on top of him, ran his hands down Walter's strong flanks, still rippling with muscles, he knew Walter had been waiting for him. Alex had two handfuls of Walter's ass when Walter pulled back. "No so fast, Alex. I missed you dearly. I'm going to worship every inch of you."

And worship he did. He mapped his way down Alex's neck, grazing teeth over the delicate, white skin over collarbones. Alex giggled, bucking up against Walter's body. This only caused Walter to be more thorough in his investigations. Alex had always had very sensitive nipples, something Walter took great advantage of, kissing first, then gently sucking them to rigid peaks only to torture them with his teeth, tenderly and relentlessly.

Alex thrust his hips at Walter's belly, hoping to distract Walter long enough to get a little friction, but Walter was too smart. He moved to the side, throwing a leg over Alex's to keep them still. He tortured Alex only a few more minutes before moving further down, nuzzling Alex's belly, which was still hollow from illness and lack of nutrition. Walter ignored it, kissing around Alex's navel, feeling the muscles flutter beneath. Alex was ashamed he was still as ticklish as he was when he was a boy. He jerked again, fruitlessly, when Walter gnawed on his hipbones, soothing afterward with a loving tongue.

Walter teased him just a little longer, nuzzling the base of his cock, kissing his nest of pubic hair while his large, soft hand massaged his balls. Walter ran his tongue up one side and down the other, tickling just under the head at the back, driving Alex mad. Walter didn't tease Alex too long when he took the head into his mouth and slid his wet lips down the shaft. Alex's body went from rigidly coiled to slack and limp, as if his bones had melted to jelly.

Slow, long, languid licks were all Walter would bestow upon Alex, a slow torture. Taking his time, nibbling at the crown, tickling the slit. Alex writhed in sheer pleasure. He'd had a few lovers after he left, but no one like Walter. No one made him feel this cherished, this desired, or this tortured!

"God, Walt, please, I can't...please..."

Walter pulled back and smiled. He crawled up Alex's body with mock stealth, and while stealing another kiss, he reached to the bedside table and opened the drawer. He pulled out lube and a condom, which made Alex smile.

"When did you get those?" Alex asked.

"When I went shopping yesterday. I knew you'd be feeling better after sleeping for two days. So, I figured, I'd cover the bases."

Alex smiled. That was his Walter, always thinking of Alex first, with his cock. Alex began to roll over, but Walter held his shoulder. "No, I want to see you. I missed your face."

Walter stole another kiss and while he distracted Alex, he snuck lube onto his fingers to prepare Alex.

"Walter, it's been a while for me. Be gentle." Alex knew Walter wouldn't hurt him, but he needed to say that he hadn't been slutting around while they were apart. There were a few men, but not many, and not for years, while he was hiding.

Walter's fingers were very gentle, as promised, just teasing the tight ring of muscle. Alex opened to him, as he traced the outside, and slowly, just using the tip, he tested dipping inside. Alex felt the electricity shoot through him, from his ass through the top of his head, spreading heat across his cheeks and down to his chest. Walter could always read Alex's mind, and slid his finger in further, sneaking in a second. With deft movements, Walter opened Alex, relaxed him, sneaking gentle brushes against his prostate to make Alex writhe. Walter quickly rolled his condom on and with a last kiss, he slid home.

To Alex, Walter was home inside his body. Both men wanted to draw it out as long as possible, punctuating each thrust with a kiss. Alex wanted it to go on all night long, but it wasn't too long before he felt the pressure in his belly, that clutch of passion, and knew he didn't have long.

"Oh, Walt, I'm close," he moaned between kisses. He clutched at Walter's shoulders to keep their mouths together, so Walter would stay in deep. Thrusts quickened, flesh pounded together, hips bruising each other, Walter pushed Alex to his climax. Alex wrapped his legs around Walter's waist, pulling the big body close and he let loose his orgasm, feeling the slickness growing between their bodies. As if they had never been apart, as if no time had passed, Walter came right after Alex, one orgasm triggering the other.

Out of breath, Walter collapsed on Alex's body, completely spent. Alex squeezed Walter's body tighter, eliciting a groan. Walter moved to get up, but Alex held on. "Stay, just a few more minutes. I missed this."

"We'll be glued together with come."

"I don't care. We can shower later. I just missed you so. Kiss me again."

Coming home, just like both men had always dreamed of. Alex knew he was home, and never wanted the magic to end.
 

CHRISTMAS MORNING
WALTER AND ALEX'S HOUSE

A

lex led Walter down to the tree to open the many gifts laid underneath. The month since Thanksgiving had done wonders for the young man. He'd filled in the hollows of his cheeks, lost the wan look of a half dead man, lightened the circles under his eyes. Walter was amazed at the transformation. As Alex tracked down his bank accounts, he improved his wardrobe, bought a sports car and redecorated Walter's house.

He also insisted on putting up a grand Christmas tree and decorating it. He also insisted they spoil each other for Christmas. Walter knew that Alex wanted jewelry, bracelets, an earring, chains for his neck. The special ring was hidden in Alex's stocking over the fireplace. Walter wanted to make the promise to Alex. It was sad that America didn't allow them to get legally married, but they could make the promise and commitment.

"Walter, what's this?" Alex asked, pulling the black velvet box from the stocking. Alex opened it and Walter smiled at the surprise on his face. "Walter! These are...wedding rings? You..."

Walter took the ring he'd chosen for Alex, three thick bands in white, yellow and rose gold, engraved with stars whose center were small diamonds, a perfect Russian wedding ring, and slid it onto Alex's right hand. "Alex, please, will you marry me?"

Tears leaked from Alex's eyes. He was not prepared for that. He waited just a moment, to compose himself when he heard the chirp from the floor. Alrosa had come over, brushing Walter's legs. It was the first contact she'd made with him since reuniting with Alex. Alex bent down and hoisted her into his arms. "Should I say yes, girl? Should we marry him?"

Walter smiled at the inclusion of the cat. "Please? And we'll keep Ruby if you want. My engagement gift to you."

Alex laughed, more tears spilling out and almost dropped Alrosa. She jumped over to Walter, who caught her, cuddling her tight. "I'll take good care of him, Alrosa. And you and your babies. I promise."

Sealing it with a kiss, which also included Alrosa sniffing at Walter's cheek which they considered a kiss, Alex announced, "I would be happy to marry you, Walter. Now, put your ring on your right hand and lets open the rest of the gifts so the kittens can play with the paper."

Both men laughed and set about having a very merry Christmas and a very happy new year.

THE END
Merry Krimbal!!
Or whatever the Beatles used to say...
 

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