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Golden Earrings

by Donna McIntosh

 

Alex Krycek held the gold earring tightly in his hand and wondered what the day would bring. His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, and a glance showed it was the old man calling. He cursed before secreting the earring back in the hollow compartment in the heel of his boot before answering the call.

"Yes?"

"Ten a.m. Be here."

The slimy voice of C.G.B. Spender turned his stomach, but this was his job and he would do it. At least, for one more year and then he'd be free. He'd been undercover for nine years now. Cassidy had promised him ten years would give him early retirement with full benefits. He'd be free to go on his way; do what he wanted - whatever that was. He wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to do yet, but he was sure of one thing. He wanted out of the Bureau, out of the business, and out of the city. How he had grown to hate this work, and everything and everyone involved in it!

It had seemed like a great idea at the time. He was a natural they had all said. He had this great foresight they had called it. He knew when people were lying. He could always tell. Never once, to anyone, did he mention the earrings he'd been given by his grandfather as a teenager, or how they helped him.

He thought one day he might get his ears pierced and wear them. It wasn't totally out of the question to see a man wearing earrings now a days. He smiled at the thought. He might just do that. He might get a tattoo also. He had thought about getting one for years, but Cassidy had warned him against it. In one year he might just do that. Something special - maybe a dragon, or a star constellation. He hadn't decided yet. It would be something beautiful; not a stupid slogan like 'Semper Fi' like Walter had. He gave a little huff of a laugh as he thought about Skinner.

"What a shame." Alex thought as he climbed into the shower and soaped himself up. "He would make such a good gypsy. But not old, by-the-book, ex-Marine, A.D. Walter Skinner. No sir. He'd rather sit behind that desk and read his reports." Alex soaped himself hard as he usually did when thinking about Walter Skinner. "I'd like to turn him around and fuck a little of that stiffness out of him."

He closed his eyes and let his memory slip back to the time he'd seen A.D. Skinner in the showers at the Hoover all soaped up. The reality was that a very young Alex had taken off like a frightened rabbit. Over the years he had imagined that scene a thousand times; and he never ran away again. His favorite fantasy was coming up behind Skinner, slipping a soapy hand into his crack and opening him up. He could even imagine a grateful moan as he entered him.

Alex groaned as he came, and cursed himself as soon as he'd gotten his senses back again.

"Why does it have to be Walter Skinner who turns me on?" he asked his image in the mirror later as he brushed his teeth.

"You always want what you know you cannot have." He could hear his grandfather's voice chiding him.

"But what should I do, grandfather?" He would ask.

"Go out and get it!" His grandfather would boom with laughter. "After all, you are gypsy - they are not - they are gadzie. If you want something, you do whatever is necessary to get it. It is very simple, boy."

How he missed his grandfather, and the stories he would tell of the clan in the Black Forest. His clan. His people. Alex pulled his jeans on as the thought entered his head.

"Maybe I'll go to Germany and see if any of them are still around." He sat on the side of the bed and pulled socks and boots on. "They're probably long gone by now. Even if there were any left, they would think of me as gadzie since I've lived among them all my life."

He sighed as he finished dressing and made his way out into the cold November morning.

"One more year." He promised himself as he waited for his car engine to warm up. "One more year and I'm out of here. Whether the Consortium and the old man have been taken down or not."

****

Walter Skinner worked throughout the Thanksgiving holiday. It didn't matter to him. One day was pretty much like the other. He'd taken the next Monday and Tuesday off. He had a few things to do. He needed a hair cut, and he needed to get some shopping done. New shoes, socks, and underwear were on his mind as he parked his car and walked towards the department store.

It was overcast and the gray sky held snow clouds that would open up soon. He pulled his coat a little tighter around himself, buttoning the top button and chastising himself for forgetting his scarf which he had taken out of the closet to wear and then left home without. The street was slippery as he dashed across; avoiding the slush from yesterday's snowfall. He hoped he could hurry up with his purchases and get back to his condo before the weather got any worse.

His mind filled with the items he needed, he didn't noticed the man slumped against the wall in the alley. He would have missed the man completely if the man hadn't said something as he passed, and fallen to his knees.

Walter stopped; turned towards the noise, and thought it was rather early in the day for someone to be that drunk. He was about to pass on by when the man said the word again, "Gadzie" before he passed out. Something stirred in Walter's memory. He had heard the word 'Gadzie' before, but couldn't remember where.

He stepped into the alley stooping to check the man's vitals. He was still alive but just barely. The first thing he noticed was the smell of the man. Unclean, for sure, but there was no smell of alcohol. If Walter walked on by, the man would surely die. He pulled out his phone and called for an ambulance.

He paced the small area between buildings while he waited the ten minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive.

As they loaded him on the gurney, the old man called out, reaching a feeble hand towards Walter. "Gadzie..." and mumbled some other un-intelligible words before passing out again.

Walter grasped the old man's hand, and the memory came back to him in a flash. His grandmother used to call him her little 'Gadzie'. She had said that he looked like a 'Gadzie' when he got dirty, and called him in to get cleaned up before his parents arrived to take him home. A slow smile spread across his face as he thought of the gentle old woman who used to care for him when he was too young for school and both his parents were working.

"What hospital are you taking him to?" Walter asked.

"County," the EMT said as he closed the doors and climbed in up front.

Walter finished his shopping quickly and before he realized it, he was pulling into the parking area of the County Hospital. Inside, the nurses told him where the old man was, and Walter headed to the ICU area where the old man had been taken after his initial visit to Emergency.

"You can see him now if you like." The nurse smiled sweetly at him. "He's been asking about you. You must be his son, Gadzie; aren't you?"

"No... yes... I've been trying to tell everyone, I have no idea who this man is. I just happened to be walking by when he passed out. I'm the one who called for an ambulance." He was going to add that he was not the old man's son, but the nurse spoke before he could continue.

"Well, it doesn't matter. He's been asking for you. He's in the room at the end of the hall on the left."

"How is he? What's wrong with him? Can you tell me that much?" Walter asked.

"They're running some tests on him right now to find that out." She smiled and gestured towards the end of the hall.

Walter hadn't planned on seeing the old man again. His only intention was to check on him, make sure he was being taken care of. He couldn't imagine why the old man was asking to see him.

The room was large and filled with many curtained off cubicles. He followed the nurse to the old man's bedside and stood staring at him as the old man's eyes fluttered and opened.

"Ahhh, Gadzie... you came. I knew you would," the old man said and reached out a hand to Walter.

"Sir... I'm not this 'Gadzie' you're looking for. Could you tell me your name so we can call someone for you?" Walter stepped closer to the bed and took the old man's hand.

"Sit, Gadzie; sit." The old man pulled on his hand until Walter sat on the side of the bed. "I knew I would find you, my little Gadzie." The old man sighed and closed his eyes.

"No; wait." Walter jostled his shoulder a little bit. "Don't go to sleep yet. Please - can you tell me your name?"

"I am Zoltan, Gadzie. Your father." The old man said before passing out.

"He's your father?" The nurse said, jotting something down on the chart as she joined them. "Thank goodness. He wouldn't tell us anything, but to bring him his Gadzie. What is that; Russian?"

"No, it's not Russian. It's Gypsy. Romanian, Polish, German; I don't know; and he's not my father," Walter said as he stood up quickly; releasing the old man's hand.

The nurse gave him a look, looked at the old man and shook her head; barely containing her contempt. "There's no need to be ashamed, Mr... Skinner." She said after looking at the chart again. "We get all kinds in here. We don't judge people. We know that the elderly can sometimes be trying; especially the foreign elderly. We're just glad you brought him in, although it would have been much better if you had brought him in before he got this bad." She gave him a condescending little smile and left the area.

Walter swore silently, rubbed the back of his neck and debated waiting for the doctor or just leaving. He walked back over to the bed and took a closer look at the old man. There was no wedding ring. He wondered if the old man had any relatives in the area. His son must live nearby somewhere for the old man to have mistaken Walter for him. He took a seat in the one chair in the area and took out his phone and hunted for a number for a Zoltan, but found nothing even after trying several different spellings. He hadn't really expected to find anything. He decided to call the police and ask if they had any missing persons reported. There were none. He was drumming his fingers on the chair arm when the old man woke up again.

"Gadzie; come sit with me." The old man's voice was weak and raspy.

"Sir... Zoltan... I am not your son," he explained as gently as he could.

"I know you don't remember me, Gadzie. It was so long ago that your mother took you from our camp and went back to her people. But I would know you anywhere, my son."

It was pointless arguing with the old man. "Is Zoltan your first name or your last name?" Walter asked.

"It is what it is," the old man said. "It is not important. What is important are these." He reached to his ears and gasped when he found the earrings missing. "They're gone! Someone stole them!" He became extremely upset.

"What is it? What are you looking for?" Walter asked.

"My earrings. My golden earrings! They're gone!" The old man gasped.

"I'm sure they're with your clothes wherever they've taken them," Walter explained. "Probably in a locker somewhere."

"Oh, good. Good." The old man calmed down a bit. "You must find them, Gadzie. They are yours now. You must keep them safe. They will guide you." The old man was fading again.

"I can't take them," Walter insisted. "They belong to you - your family. Isn't there someone I can call for you?"

"No, I came for you, my son, and I found you, my Gadzie," the old man said with a contented sigh. "They are yours now."

The doctor and nurse came back in then and administered a shot. "So you're the son. I'm Doctor Harriet Watts," the doctor said and extended her hand for a shake. "He's pretty far gone. The most we can do at this point is keep him comfortable. If there are any other relatives who might want to say goodbye, you should call them."

"I've told everyone here, again and again, I'm not his son. He's obviously confused. I just found him on the street and had him brought in," Walter tried to explain again.

The doctor scribbled something on the chart and left with the nurse trailing along behind. Walter made his way back to the nurses station about to leave, when one of the aides stopped him and handed him a large plastic bag.

"What's this?" He asked.

"Your father's clothes," the aide said before turning and hurrying off.

With a sigh, he made his way back to the curtained off area of the old man. "Zoltan." He wasn't aware that he'd said the name out loud.

"I am still here, son," the old man's voice had grown weaker.

"Are you feeling better?" Walter asked, ignoring the 'son'.

"I am. Come sit closer." The old man struggled to see him better. "My eyes are not so good any more."

Walter pressed the lever and raised the head of the bed up a bit and the old man smiled his gratitude.

"Such a handsome boy," the old man said as he patted the bed for Walter to sit closer to him.

Walter sat on the side of the bed, reluctantly, and let the old man take his hand, turn it over and gaze into his palm.

"Good. Good. You will have a long happy life."

Walter gave a little grunt but said nothing.

"You do not believe I can see this?"

"I believe you see what you want to see," Walter said wanting to be kind but honest.

"No, no, no. Did your mother not explain my gift?" Zoltan asked.

"Gift?" Walter asked wondering what this old man could possibly have ever had that was worth much of anything.

"She did not speak of it," the old man said with his thick accent. "She did not want you raised the gypsy way."

Walter didn't know what to say so he sat silently as the old man studied him.

"She did good with you though. You have turned out well. You are a good man," Zoltan said.

"You don't even know me," Walter said.

"I see it in your hand. You have it too. She should have told you. If I was stronger I would find her and beat her for not telling you." He coughed and sputtered a bit.

Walter handed him a cup of water and held the straw for him to take a few sips.

"My son - my Gadzie." The old man smiled at him. "You are kind like your mother, but you are strong like me."

"What does that word mean -Gadzie?" Walter asked.

"Gadzie? A gadzie is anyone who is not gypsy. You are gadzie like your mother, but you are gypsy like me." The old man thumped his chest proudly. "I see it in your hand. You have it too. You see things. You know things."

"My grandmother used to call me that sometimes." Walter smiled at the memory. "But as to seeing things; knowing things?"

"You have the sight, as I do, my son. You are seventh born of a seventh born. It is written in your hand." The old man wheezed and coughed again, growing weaker with every moment.

"I... a... was an only child," Walter said quietly, not wanting to disturb the old man by arguing with him.

"You were the only child for your mother, but you were my seventh son. That's why I came here. I had to find you. I had to give you the earrings." He coughed again and closed his eyes for a time.

The nurse came in and checked his vitals. She looked at Walter and shook her head. "It won't be long now," she whispered before leaving.

Walter sighed. The last thing he had expected to be doing on his day off was sitting in the county hospital watching a deluded old man die.

"I'm still here." The old man smiled up at him after a short time.

"Good. Are you feeling better after your little nap?" Walter asked.

"I am feeling better because I found you, my son. I have done what I came to America to do."

"How long have you been ill?" Walter asked no knowing what else to say.

"A long time, Son." The old man coughed again, struggled with the oxygen tubing in his nose and asked, "You have the earrings?"

Walter picked up the paper sack and fished through it, finding the earrings in an envelope at the bottom.

"Here they are," he said as he tore the envelope open and dumped them out into the palm of his hand.

"You should wear them," Zoltan said his voice now barely above a whisper.

"I can't," Walter replied. "They're pierced, and I don't wear earrings."

"Keep them with you always. They will help you focus your sight. They will teach you." The raspy voice wavered.

"What is this sight you are talking about?" Walter asked as he fingered the earrings.

"Truth. You can see what others cannot." The old man closed his watery eyes and took several breaths before going on. "It was a gift from the gods to my father's father. It can pass only from father to son, but a seventh son to seventh son, brings even more strength, more power. You have it my son. My little Gadzie... Gadzie..."

One more little sigh and he was gone.

Walter spent another hour reading and signing paperwork, writing out in detail once again that the old man was no relation to him, just a derelict that he found on the street. He headed home; tired to the bone.

It wasn't until he undressed for his shower after dinner that he realized he still had the earrings in his pocket. He held them in his hands for a long time. There was something about them that he found intriguing and he couldn't think what it was that held his attention. They were just small plain gold hoops. No decoration, no inscription. Yet they seemed warm in his hand. He didn't want to put them down. He scoffed at his foolishness, tossed them on his dresser, and got ready for bed. He was exhausted, and he didn't really know why. He hadn't done much of anything all day. There was just something about the experience with the old man that unnerved him.

****

The next day Walter sat in the barbershop waiting his turn when his cell phone rang. He reached for it and realized the earrings were there. He thought about it for a minute, but didn't remember putting them in his pocket.

"Skinner." He stepped into the hallway and answered the phone. It was Mulder explaining why he wasn't going to be in the office tomorrow - a long convoluted story. Walter grinned as he heard the lie and couldn't resist ending the conversation with, "Tell Scully 'Hi' for me." What did he care if Mulder wanted to skip work for a day and spend it with Scully. He'd skip work himself if he had someone to spend the time off with. He gave a lonely little sigh as he returned to his seat.

"Real gold?" The guy next to him asked.

"Huh?" Walter said, not realizing he was fingering the earrings.

"They look like real gold. Are they your girlfriends?" The stranger asked.

"Ahh... yeah." Walter said, and was spared further conversation as his turn was up, and the barber just called, "Next".

The barber spun the chair around so Walter could see himself in the mirror. "Are you sure you don't want me to add a little color? We can have you in and out in an hour. It would make you look ten years younger."

Walter looked at the man in the mirror, and was shocked to see what looked like a small reddish cloud around the barber's head. He looked quickly at the barber standing next to him and it was still there. He blinked his eyes and it was gone. He figured it must have something to do with his contacts. He'd have to see about getting some new ones.

"No thanks," Walter said as he paid his bill and left.

Later on at home he sat on his couch fingering the earrings, and wondered about the old man; Zoltan or whatever his name was. Apparently he had fathered a son with an American woman who had grown tired of the gypsy life, and returned home with her son. And now the old man thought that he, Walter, was that son. He wondered if he should spend some time trying to find them. He really should turn the earrings over to them.

He reached for the remote, turned the TV on looking for some news on the weather. A commercial came on, and a man and a woman were standing there talking about bank loans. Both had the reddish cloud around their heads; almost obscuring their faces. They were lying! Walter knew it without a doubt, and it frightened him just a bit. He went upstairs to the bathroom, removed his contacts and put them into the solution to soak. He got his glasses out of his nightstand drawer, put them on, and went back down stairs.

He sat on his couch again watching the newsman read the news. Everything was fine until it showed an attorney and his client coming out of the courthouse and speaking to reporters. The cloud around the attorney's head was bright red. He was lying through his teeth. Walter jumped up, turned the TV off and tossed his glasses on the desk. He didn't know what was going on but he knew that lawyer was lying. Just like he knew those people doing the commercial were lying, and the barber before him.

He paced the floor and thoughts of the old man flooded his mind. "Truth. You can see what others cannot," The old man had said, but things like that were impossible. They just didn't happen. There was no way in hell he could be the old man's son. He remembered his father very well. Everyone had said that he resembled him and he looked nothing like that old man Zoltan.

"Gadzi," he said the name out loud. "Why did Grandmother call me that?" He wondered about her and knew that she had come from Russia as a young woman. Could she have known about Gypsies and the terms they used for non-gypsies? He wished there was some relative around who remembered her.

He sat down at his desk and turned his computer on. Maybe he could find a relative that might know something. He got into the genealogy and ran his parents' names. All the usual information was there. He sifted through record after record looking for any living relatives but found none. Going over all the information, something was niggling at the back of his mind, and he didn't know what it was. It had happened to him enough before for him to know he needed to go back and re-read everything.

He found it. There was a mistake in the dates. The date they had for his parents wedding was wrong. It was off five years. But how could that be? These were official records. There must be some mistake. He went to the church records where his parents got married. There was nothing under the date he knew to be his parents anniversary. He checked the date from the genealogy records. There it was.

But that was impossible! There had to be a mistake. That would mean his parents weren't married until five years after he was born. Impossible! He stood up and began pacing the floor again. How could that be? How could any of this be? He knew his mother was just nineteen when he was born. Could she have taken a trip abroad and gotten involved with a gypsy? Zoltan?

"No! Definitely not possible," Walter concluded as he left his desk slumping once again on the couch. Besides, how could Zoltan have found him after all these years? No; it had to be a case of mistaken identity.

****

Alex waited until the old man's plane had taken off before breathing easier. He took out his phone and punched in Cassidy's number. "He's gone. What is it you need me for, and how long is it going to take?" He made his way through the airport, and out to his car in the parking lot as he listened to his new assignment.

"Skinner again! Why can't you leave that poor guy alone?" He unlocked his car, got in, and started it; tabbing the heater up on full.

"All right; all right. I'll do it." He closed and pocketed the phone. "I'll do your dirty work for eleven and a half more months, bitch! Then I'm out of here!" He backed his car out of his parking space driving off and wondering how he could get away with screwing up Cassidy's plans for good. He didn't want to get her fired - her replacement might not honor her deal for early retirement with him. He wouldn't risk that. He'd figure out something to do - some way to mess up her plans to make Skinner the scape goat for all her failings.

He sat on Walter's couch and waited for him to come home from work. He chuckled at his idea to just come out and tell Walter that Cassidy was gunning for him. He doubted that Walter would believe him, but maybe it would make him watch his back a little more carefully. He sat up a little straighter when he heard the key in the lock.

****

"What the hell! What do you want, Krycek?" Skinner asked angrily as he entered.

"Just a few minutes of your time," Krycek answered as he got to his feet.

"Couldn't you just use the phone? Email? Carrier pigeon?" Skinner said as he hung his coat up and sat his briefcase on his desk.

"No. This is too important," Krycek said taking a few steps closer. "Information that I just found out a few hours ago. If you had come home from work at a normal hour, like a normal person, I could have knocked at the door."

"So what is this information that's so important and what is it going to cost me?" Walter sighed.

"You're going to Chicago tomorrow..." Krycek started out.

"No, I'm not. I have no plans to go to Chicago tomorrow or any other day," Skinner interrupted him. The thought of Chicago in November sent an involuntary chill down his spine.

"Trust me on this, Skinner. You're going to be asked to go to Chicago for a meeting with the locals. They have you set up to stay over night at the Radisson. The room is already booked in your name."

"So?" Skinner thought about it for a minute, and recalled overhearing Cassidy and Kersh discussing important staff meetings going on in Chicago, but nothing had been said about him going.

"Go to the meeting. Do your thing. Just don't, I repeat, don't stay at the Radisson. Don't tell anyone... just find another hotel to stay in and you'll be all right," Krycek said.

Skinner stood eying him, and for some reason he believed him. He was not in the habit of believing anything that Alex Krycek said, but this time it was different. He wasn't quite sure why, but he found himself with his hand in his pocket fingering the earrings.

"I don't suppose you can tell me what this is all about?" He didn't expect an answer, but thought it was worth asking.

"Yes, I can. That's why I'm here. If I told you this over the phone, you wouldn't believe me. I wanted you to see my face and know that I'm telling the truth."

"Okay," Skinner said. "What is this truth that you're dying to tell me?"

"Something is going down tomorrow night at the Radisson, and you're being set up to take the fall."

"But why? Who?" Skinner sputtered. "How do you know? What's your involvement, and why are you telling me all this?"

"I can't name names right now, but I can tell you that someone at the Bureau has it in for you. And I know about it because I've been called on to plant the evidence in your room," Krycek said.

"And you're telling me all this because?" Skinner had to break eye contact. It was unnerving him for some reason.

"Because?" Krycek questioned the question. "Because it's some serious shit going down here, Skinner. I'm not talking drug possession or wayward prostitutes. This is something that could get you thrown in prison for the rest of your life; maybe even executed."

Before Skinner could ask any more questions his cell rang. He pulled it out of his pocket to answer it and hadn't noticed that one of the earrings came with it and fell to the floor. He stepped away from Krycek and spoke for a few moments before turning back to see Krycek standing with the earring in the palm of his hand, staring at it like it was the most startling thing he had ever seen.

"Where did you get this?" Krycek demanded. "I have to know! Who gave you this? It's not yours... is it?"

"I... a... That was Cassidy. She wants me to go to Chicago tomorrow. It's all set. There's a room reserved for me at the Radisson." Skinner was chilled to the bone. Could any of this possibly be happening? Was this real or some kind of nightmare?

"The earring!" Krycek insisted. "Where did you get it? I need to know, Skinner!"

"Some old man gave it to me." He didn't know why he was telling Krycek, but it seemed like the thing to do. He still had the other earring in his pocket, and he fingered it while they talked.

"Some old man? Who is he? Where is he? I have to talk with him."

"It was just some crazy, sick old man. I found him in an alley. He was so far gone, he thought I was his son," Skinner explained.

"What was his name? Where can I find him?"

"He died. I tried to get a name out of him, but all he said was that he was called Zoltan," Skinner explained.

"Zoltan?!" Krycek exclaimed, his eyes wide as saucers, as he clenched the earring in his hand and paced back and forth. "Zoltan was here? In D.C.? Were there others with him? Why was he here? What else did he say?"

"Now wait a minute here, Krycek," Walter interrupted the flow of questions. "You knew this man?"

"I... I don't know." Krycek flustered. "I might have known something about him. What else did he say?"

"First tell me about the earring," Skinner insisted. "You recognized it. How?"

Krycek stared at him for a moment then sat back down on the couch, and removed his earring from it's hiding place in his boot heel. He tossed it to Skinner.

"It's exactly the same," Skinner said after examining it. "What does it mean? And why do you have one?"

"Look on the inside, by the post." Krycek said. "See the two little marks that look like commas?"

Skinner looked and saw some vague markings. He went to his desk, sat down, and pulled his magnifying glass out of the drawer. Sure enough, there were two little marks that did look like commas.

"What does it mean?" he asked.

Krycek tossed him the earring that he had dropped. "Now look at yours."

Skinner looked and found the same two tiny marks. "Explain!" he demanded. "What the hell is this all about?"

"First, tell me... is there any possibility, any at all, that Zoltan was your father?" He reached his hand out, and Skinner returned his earring to him.

"No! Absolutely not!" Skinner said; but then thought about it for a minute and added, "I don't... I'm not sure."

"You're not sure?" Krycek returned the earring to his boot and stood up again, coming up in front of Skinner's desk. "How can you not be sure who your father was?"

"There are a few things... that are rather cloudy," Skinner explained lamely.

"What do you mean, cloudy?" Krycek insisted.

Skinner stood up and started pacing again. "There are a few things I'm not quite sure about."

"What things?" Krycek demanded.

Skinner didn't know why but he felt compelled to answer. "The old man, this Zoltan; he seemed like he recognized me, kept calling me... some pet name."

"What? What did he call you?"

"Gadzie, and it reminded me that my grandmother used to call me that when I was little."

"Gadzie? That just means someone who isn't gypsy," Krycek said. "Was there something else?"

"He rambled a lot," Skinner said. "He was in bad shape."

"What else did he say?"

"He talked about the earrings. He said he came to America to find me and to give them to me," Skinner said and then added quickly, "But he was talking about his son. He wanted his son to have them."

"And you're positive he wasn't your father?"

"I don't know." Skinner shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose it is within the realm of possibility."

"What do you mean?"

"I did a little checking. According to the census reports, my parents weren't married until I was five years old."

"You didn't know that before?" Krycek asked. "So you don't know who your real father was?"

"I don't know what the hell is going on. Who was this Zoltan, what do you know about him, and what's up with the earrings?" Skinner was becoming more and more exasperated by the minute.

"Jesus, Skinner!" Krycek slumped back down on the couch, massaging his forehead. "If it's true, if Zoltan was your father..."

"What? What does it mean?" Skinner insisted.

"If Zoltan was your father, that means we were from the same clan."

"The same clan?" Skinner had no idea what Krycek was talking about. "You mean... we're related?"

"No, not blood related. My father was Scherone. He and Zoltan were rivals in the clan."

"You're gypsy?" Skinner gasped.

"Apparently, so are you." Krycek stared off at nothing as he gathered his thoughts.

"Me? But I'm not..." He stopped mid sentence as the two of them stared at each other. "I'm from Pennsylvania. I'm not a gypsy." Skinner finally managed to finish his sentence.

"Why did your grandmother call you 'gadzi'? That's a gypsy word. Was she gypsy?"

"No! And neither were my parents," Skinner insisted.

"Obviously your mother wasn't. We're not too sure about your father though - your biological father." Krycek stared off into space again wondering where this new revelation would take them. Was this why he was so drawn to Walter? Was it possible that they could have come from the same clan?

"So what does any of it matter?" Skinner began his pacing again. "What if this Zoltan was my father? What does any of that have to do with the earrings, and what do they mean... just that we're from the same clan?"

"From what I was told, generations ago my great grandfather, and your great grandfather were... shall we say... a couple. They lived together, traveled together. They often went off together, away from the clan, for some alone time. And it was during one of these little trips that they found a young man who was injured. They took him in and cared for him until he was better. When his parents came for him and found out what they had done, they rewarded our grandfathers each with a pair of golden earrings. These earrings are said to hold special powers; the power of foresight, the power of truth." Krycek stopped with his tale when he saw the look on Skinner's face and asked, "You know about the earrings, and what they can do?"

"That's pretty much what the old man, Zoltan, said," Skinner stammered.

"You're holding yours in your hand right now, and you know that I'm telling the truth!" Krycek said.

"How would I know if you're telling the truth or not?" Skinner asked, turning away, not quite willing to believe any of this just yet.

"If I wasn't telling the truth, you would see a reddish glow around my head. At least that's what I see when someone is lying," Krycek explained.

Skinner whirled on him; shocked that he would know this, and blurted out, "It works that way for you too?"

"You've seen it?" Krycek asked. "You know how it works then."

"I... I don't know anything." Skinner still refused to believe any of this could be true.

Krycek laughed out loud. "Red is not your color, Skinner."

He was busted and he knew it. "Stuff like this isn't really possible. Is it?" Skinner asked as he fingered his earring.

"It is, Skinner. It is," Krycek assured him.

Skinner watched him closely hoping for a red glow. There was none.

"So, if all this is true, where do we go from here?" Skinner asked after mulling over where this would lead them.

"You've just learned about all this so it's all new to you. Would you mind if I made a suggestion?"

"Please do." Skinner welcomed any help he could get.

"I have found that one earring works as well as two, so I keep one with me at all times and have the other one stashed somewhere safe. I suggest you do the same. You don't want to take the chance of losing them."

"If someone else found them, would they work the same way for them?" Skinner asked.

"No. They work only for us, and mine will not work for you, and yours will not work for me."

"How is that possible?" Skinner asked.

"I don't know. You'd have to ask whoever made them."

"You knew about me? I mean, that there was someone else who had a pair like yours?" Skinner asked.

"I knew there was another pair out there somewhere, but I didn't know where. The last time I saw my grandfather, I was fourteen. That's when he gave me the earrings, and told me the story. He told me that Zoltan also had a pair and would give them to one of his sons when the time was right."

"Is there anyone else... from the clan... that we can talk to?" Skinner asked.

"No," Krycek answered with a shake of his head. "At least none that I know of. I made a half-hearted attempt a few years ago to see if any of them were still around, but couldn't find anyone."

"I want to go there; I want to see if there's any of the clan left," Skinner said.

"I'd love to go too, but I can't. Not yet," Krycek said.

"Why? Why can't you go?"

"In eleven more months I can," Krycek said with a little grin.

"What happens in eleven months?" Skinner asked.

"I get to retire. In eleven months, I'm out of all this," Krycek said.

"All right," Skinner said and took a seat on the corner of his desk. "Since we're talking here and we can both tell when the other is telling the truth or not; why don't you explain a few things."

"What do you want to know?"

"I want to know why you left the Bureau and went to work for Spender?" Skinner asked the question that had been on his mind for years.

"I can't believe you haven't figured that out yet." Krycek shook his head.

"Explain it to me," Skinner insisted.

"I work for Cassidy. Directly. She wanted someone inside the Consortium. She knew I was most likely going to be recruited by the old man. I was."

"You... you've been working for Cassidy all this time?" Skinner couldn't believe his ears.

"I have." Krycek could see Skinner fingering the gold earrings. "You see any red, or any other color anywhere near me?"

"No," Skinner had to admit. "I don't."

"Next November, I'll have ten years undercover. That translates to twenty years time on the job. Time enough to retire with full benefits," Krycek explained.

Skinner rubbed the earrings furiously. They were warm but there were no colors showing around Krycek. He was telling the truth, and Skinner now had his answer. "I've never heard of anyone being undercover for that length of time."

"I doubt if anyone ever has. I really don't care. Next November I'm out of it," Krycek said.

Skinner thought about things for a few minutes before asking, "Do you know anything else about this Chicago thing?"

"Nothing more that I can tell you without risking blowing my cover. Just make up some excuse why you don't want to stay at the Radisson. Stay somewhere else, make sure you save your receipt, eat your meals in the hotel, be seen around, talk to people there. Make your presence known. It would be best if you could find a hotel on the far side of town. Your meeting will be held at the Radisson. Just make sure you leave immediately afterwards. Tell them you have a date or something. Don't stick around for drinks, in fact, I wouldn't eat or drink anything that's served while you're at the Radisson. If you think you'll need to drink something, buy some bottled water and carry it with you. Don't set it down where anyone might be able to get to it. Just make the meeting, get yourself to the other side of town, and establish your alibi."

"For how long?"

"At least until midnight," Krycek answered. "I'm not sure the exact time this is all going down, but it's some time right after your meeting. So if you can make yourself seen somewhere, from the time the meeting is over until about midnight, that should do it. Don't rent a car, use a cab. Be sure and get a receipt and talk to the driver; make an impression on him. When you eat dinner, leave a big tip big enough so that your server will remember you."

"All right, all right. I get it. Can you tell me anything else like what I'm going to be accused of?"

"Espionage," Krycek said grimly.

"Shit!" Skinner grumbled. "I don't suppose there is any way we can stop this?"

"No. Not without putting my neck in a noose. When the word gets out that you didn't register at the Radisson; they'll have to make other plans. So watch your back. Not just in Chicago, but after you're back as well. If I find out anything more about what they are up to, I'll let you know," Krycek said as he headed for the door.

Skinner followed him and they stopped at the door. "And you can't tell me who's behind all this?"

"There are only two people above you at the Bureau. Take your pick," Krycek said as he opened the door a bit and looked up and down the hall to make sure it was clear.

"Which one? Neither of them like me," Skinner mused. "Why would either of them want me out of the way?"

"Kersh got a job he's not very good at. Cassidy wanted you in that spot. Every time they knock heads, she reminds him of that fact. She thought you were someone she could manipulate. She thought wrong. They both have their reasons... other allegiances," Krycek answered. "Politics. She owes favors to important people and so does he," Krycek said as he stepped out into the hall.

"By telling me all this, who are you double-crossing? Kersh, Cassidy, or Spender?" Skinner asked.

"Probably all three of them. And there is a certain satisfaction in that." Krycek grinned. "I'm out of here. Remember about Chicago; and I'll be in touch if I find out anything else about the other thing." Krycek hurried down the hallway, around the corner and he was gone.

Skinner closed the door, chained it, and leaned back against it with a sigh. What a nightmare! Could any of this be true? Were Cassidy and/or Kersh out to get him? And the other thing - could he and Krycek actually be, how had he put it, from the same clan?

****

Skinner fixed himself a drink but didn't drink it. He stared at the amber liquid and it became crystal clear that the drinking was just something he had substituted for smoking when he quit years ago, and he really wished he had a cigarette at that moment. "Nonsense!" He scoffed, sat the glass back down, headed for his desk, and flipped his computer on. He'd get to the bottom of this one way or another.

Four hours later he made his way upstairs to bed, his mind a maze of trails that led nowhere but to one conclusion. He had found that his mother had made a trip to Germany, two years before he was born and there was no record of her returning until five years later - with a three year old son listed as W.S. Kehr. Kehr he recognized as his mother's maiden name.

It turned out he hadn't been born in Pennsylvania as he had always thought. His birth certificate says Pennsylvania, with Herbert Jonathan Skinner listed as his father, but it says the information for that certificate was submitted by his mother, the same year she married the man he thought was his father.

Even if Herb Skinner wasn't his father that didn't necessarily mean that Zoltan was. He tried to reason it all out. How could this Zoltan possibly have found him? And if it had been possible, why had he waited until just before he died to do it? None of it made any sense. None of it.

****

CHAPTER TWO

Skinner followed Krycek's suggestions to the letter the next day, took a cab where he chatted with the driver all the way asking about the cabbie's family, and talking about his on the long drive across town to a smaller, out of the way, hotel. He made arrangements to be picked up in a few hours to be driven over to the Radisson for his meeting. He tipped the man good, got out, and chatted another minute to make sure the cabbie got a good look at his face before entering the hotel. He did the same thing at the desk; flirting with the plump, forty-something, receptionist, as he checked in.

He came right back down to the coffee shop where he ordered an early dinner and made a big fuss over some couple's twin toddlers. Even holding one while the mother fussed over the other. He ended up paying for their meal before heading to the bar across the hall. He sat at the bar, nursing one bottle of beer, and chatted with the bartender until it was time to leave.

The cabbie picked him up right on time and promised to be back to pick him up after the meeting, two hours later. The meeting went off as he had expected, and he refused all offers to socialize afterwards saying that he had a date waiting for him across town. Once in his own hotel, he went immediately to the bar, where he again sat talking with the bartender until one am.

Back at his desk in D.C. the next morning, things went on as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary happened until he arrived home and found a note had been slipped under his door. He dumped his coat and briefcase and opened it. It said simply, "You did good! All three are royally pissed!"

Skinner grinned and headed upstairs for a shower before dinner. He ate re-heated leftovers and enjoyed every bite. The thought of angering Kersh, Cassidy and Spender, all at the same time, gave him such satisfaction he was filled with glee. He sat down at his desk after dinner and checked out his email. Most of it he deleted until he came across one from "Gadzie". He opened it quickly.

"Hey, did you get my note? Game went very well. Our team won."

Skinner hit 'reply' and wrote, "Any fouls?" and hit 'send' and waited. A few minutes later his answer came back.

"No. Your triple won the game. Well done!" Krycek wrote back.

"What about the other game? Any news about it yet?" Skinner wrote back.

"Might be seats available shortly. Can you get away?" Krycek wrote.

"Absolutely! When?" Skinner typed back and hit 'send'.

"Nothing definite yet. Will let you know."

****

There was no further communication of any kind for the next few weeks until his phone rang one evening.

"Skinner." Skinner answered his phone.

"It's me. I just got the next two weeks off. You want to go exploring the Black Forest?" Krycek asked.

"Yes!" Skinner stood up, nearly over-turning his chair. "When can we leave?"

"I've got two tickets for Stuttgart in my pocket. Plane leaves in two hours from Dulles," Krycek said.

"I'll be there," Skinner said and headed upstairs to pack. He parked in the long-term lot, got out and was immediately joined by Krycek.

"How did you manage two weeks?" Skinner asked as they headed in.

"Spender is sick. He's going to need at least that length of time in the hospital." Then with a grin he added, "It'll take at least that long for the drugs I gave him to get out of his system."

Skinner grinned back, "You didn't!"

"I did," Krycek insisted. "I needed the time; and the doctor needed the money I offered him."

"What about Cassidy? She agreed also?" Skinner asked.

"Yes. I haven't taken any time off in a couple of years. When I told her Spender was sick, and out of play for the next couple of weeks, and that I felt like I was coming down with something as well, she agreed to it. So I'm free as a bird for the next fourteen days," Krycek answered, and then asked as they checked in at the gate, "You didn't have any trouble getting away?"

"No," Skinner answered with a shrug. "I took emergency leave."

"Our tickets are under the names of Walter Carrington, and Alex Grant. So I think we should start using our first names so no one gets the idea that we are anything but tourists," Krycek whispered under his breath as they took seats in the waiting area.

"Okay. I think I can handle that... Alex." He gave a little grin, but was feeling anything but amused.

As they sat and waited to board, Walter wondered what the heck he was doing. Here he was, getting ready to board a plane to Germany with Alex Krycek! He heaved a sigh and wiped a hand down over his face.

"You okay?" Alex asked.

"Yeah. I'm just having a little trouble wrapping my mind around this whole thing," Walter said as the seats around them began to fill up with fellow passengers checking in.

"I couldn't believe it myself, but I did some checking on your mother. She was in Germany the year you were born."

"I know. I checked on it as well, and found the same thing."

"So unless someone has managed to doctor up the United States Census reports, there's a good possibility that it's all true," Alex said.

"Even if it is all true, how could Zoltan have found me? How did he know I'd be passing that alley at just that time? That's the part that makes no sense to me," Walter asked, keeping his voice as low as possible.

"I have no idea," Alex said with the shake of his head. "Maybe it has to do with this foresight thing. I do remember a few things about my grandfather, and one of them was that he always seemed to know things about me, and other people as well. Things he had no way of knowing. How he did it, I have no idea. But sometimes..."

"Sometimes... what?" Walter prodded.

"Sometimes... it feels like I... just sort of know things," Alex tried to explain.

Boarding for the flight started then, and nothing more was discussed until they were in the air and on their way.

"We didn't get the chance to discuss it, but if we're going to be searching for gypsies, we need to be out in the forest so I reserved a motor home for us; or as they call it, a caravan. I figured we'd just head out and see what we can find. Do you have any ideas on how or where we might find them?" Alex asked.

"I was thinking about that. If there are any of them still around, and they are like we've always heard about gypsies, out best bet would be to ask the local authorities," Walter suggested. " And I like your idea about the motor home. That way we're not tied down to any one location."

"Good. I'm going to sleep now. We can talk more when we change planes in London," Alex said as he leaned his seat back and proceeded to doze off.

Walter spent some time wondering where all this was going to lead them, then gave up and dozed off himself. Once in London, they converted their cash into Euros and Alex stunned him by buying a dozen cartons of cigarettes. When he questioned him on it later, after boarding the plane for Stuttgart, he was told, "I remember my grandfather loved cigarettes above all else. If we find these people, our clan, these might just be thought of as a nice gift."

"You really think we'll find them? That there are any left? Every inquiry I made came back with the information that they had scattered during the war, and none have been around since then," Walter asked.

"I'm sure that's the way it is... officially." Alex agreed. "But unofficially, it may be another story altogether. I think they are out there, and I feel like we're going to find them. I feel it. Don't you?"

Walter didn't answer for a minute and then said, "I don't have one single logical reason why, but I do feel like we'll find them. At least some of them. Someone's got to know something about this Zoltan."

"And maybe information about the earrings as well," Alex added and Walter nodded in agreement.

The rest of the short flight was spent in silence, and when they deplaned in Stuttgart it was a cold and dismal gray winter morning. They ate breakfast in the airport coffee shop while they waited for their 'caravan' to be brought around. Their first stop: the local police station.

"I had no idea you speak German, Kry... Alex," Walter said. "This is going to help out a lot. I thought we were going to have to hire an interpreter."

"Languages are one of my many specialties, Walter," Alex assured him as they waited for someone to come speak with them.

Walter had Alex introduce him, he showed his F.B.I. credentials, and began asking questions after they were shown into a side room for privacy.

"Ask him if he knows of any gypsies in the area."

Alex did and got a long answer that he told Walter was they same one they had already heard - that the gypsy clans had all dispersed during the war and hadn't been heard of since.

"Surely they couldn't have all just disappeared," Walter said. "Some of them must have returned after the war. Ask him if there are any that he knows of, maybe in an old folks home; or maybe some surviving descendants."

Alex asked the question and the policeman got up and left, returning a few minutes later with a white-haired officer who sat down and began talking with him. He told Walter that this officer had been a young boy during the war, and spent some time in gypsy camps where his mother had taken him to hide out.

"Great! Ask him if he knows where any of them are now?" Walter said, getting a little more excited.

Alex and the old man talked a bit before he translated. "Apparently, the clans did all break up, during the war. He said there are a few around but they live in the cities now, and travel no more."

"Did you ask him about Zoltan?" Walter asked and he was startled when the old man's eyes lit up, and he started babbling to Alex.

"He says he knew Zoltan but hasn't seen him in years. He said he was a good man. A king among men," Alex translated and then spoke to the man in German again before translating more. "I asked him about Zoltan's children, but he said he didn't know if any of them survived. He said he knew for sure that two of them died in the camps. He doesn't know about the others except that it was said that the youngest one lived in America."

Walter sat in stunned silence for a time while Alex continued to talk with the old man. A few minutes later, the old man got up, shook their hands and said goodbye to them. Back in the caravan Alex drove for a while without speaking. Finally Walter spoke up, "Where are we going?"

"The forest. He said if there were any of the old timers around, that's where they'd be," Alex explained as he stopped at a grocery store so they could stock up on supplies.

Within a couple of hours they were at the edge of the forest and stopped for lunch. "I still can't believe any of this." Walter shook his head as he ate his soup and sandwich.

Alex sat across from him in the little dinette in the caravan, eating his lunch as well. "I can't believe that first day we found someone who actually knew your father."

"We don't know for sure that he was my father," Walter corrected him quickly between bites.

"You still have doubts?" Alex asked. "Do you have your earrings with you?"

"I do. One of them. I did as you suggested and put the other one in my safety deposit box," Walter said.

"Good. Then you'll be able to know if the people we meet are telling the truth or not," Alex said as he got up and started clearing off their little table.

Walter joined him in the clean up and brought his dishes over to the sink to be rinsed off. "I didn't notice anything about that officer we were talking with; did you?"

"No," Alex answered as he dried his dish. "He was telling the truth. He did know your fa... Zoltan."

"I agree that he knew him... Zoltan. I'm still not convinced that he was my father." Walter's stubbornness brought a scowl to Alex' face.

"I think we're going to find out one way or another pretty soon." He gave Walter an indulgent look and made his way up front to the driver's seat.

Walter was content to ride shot-gun, and watched with interest as they left the pavement and entered the dirt road leading into the forest. The next four days brought nothing but frustration as they criss-crossed the area looking for anyone at all.

"This is ridiculous," Walter said on their fifth morning there. "There's no one out here. It's too damn cold. If there are any gypsies around, they're probably settled in nice warm houses somewhere for the winter."

"No; it's not too cold for gypsies," Alex said as he drove slowly along the winding roads that twisted and turned in different directions. "We will need to go back to town tomorrow for more gas though. The tank is nearly empty again."

At that exact moment, as they turned a corner, a young child of about ten, ran out in front of them and disappeared into the trees. Alex slammed on the breaks and turned the engine off. "We found them!"

"Off in that direction," Walter pointed to where the boy had run.

Alex grabbed up his back-pack full of cigarettes, and off they went into the trees. It took nearly an hour before they came upon a clearing that held several vehicles of all shapes and sizes. They all had one thing in common, they were old, patched up, had the windows covered and were deserted. No one was in sight.

"Where do you think they all went?" Walter asked as they wandered around the campsite.

Alex fiddled with the coals in the open fire pit. "Still warm. They left when they heard us coming. My guess is they're hiding out in the woods, waiting for us to leave."

"Well then we'd better make ourselves at home," Walter said as he threw a few sticks into the fire pit and lit them. A few minutes later he added a log from the small stack nearby, and before long the fire was blazing. They found seats, made themselves comfortable, and waited.

The first to appear was an old woman who hobbled past them as if they didn't exist and entered her trailer; slamming the door behind her. Walter and Alex looked at each other and grinned but stayed where they were. Next a young woman came out of the trees. She gave them each a suspicious look and entered the trailer with the old woman. One by one, the people returned. The women and children ignored them and five men cautiously moved up around them on all sides.

When they were close enough, Alex reached into his back pack and pulled out a carton of cigarettes and tossed it to the closest man. "Smokes?" He said in German. The man took the offered gift and asked in German, "What do you and your friend want here?"

"We are searching for relatives," Alex answered in German. "So many were lost during the war and our hearts bleed for their passing. We are hoping and praying that the gods have spared some of them." He then translated for Walter.

"My friend and I were of the same clan. My father was Scherone and his father was Zoltan."

Walter perked up as the men, after hearing the names mentioned, whispered excitedly to one another. In moments they were all talking at once.

Alex held his hands up with a grin and asked them to speak one at a time. He handed them each a carton of cigarettes, and turned to Walter a few minutes later translating, "They have all heard of Zoltan. One called him their king, another said he heard Zoltan was a prince. I'm not sure of his actual designation, but they all seem to know him."

"Ask if any of them are his sons," Walter suggested as he eyed each of them looking for any resemblance to himself.

Alex did and came back with the answer. "No. They said all his sons are gone except for the youngest. And they don't know anything about him because he's gadzie... lives in America."

"What about Scherone, your grandfather?" Walter asked.

Alex asked his question and repeated the answer to Walter. "They have heard of the name, but don't know of any living relatives."

"Ask about the old woman. She might have been around long enough to know something. Ask if we can talk to her," Walter suggested.

Alex did and they waited while the men discussed it and one left the group and went to the trailer. Alex translated. "They are going to talk with her and see if she'll accept us as visitors."

A few minutes later the man came out of the trailer and told them that she had agreed to a visit but they must come to her as she was too old to spend any more time out in the cold.

They stepped into the warmth of the trailer and waited for the old woman to come out from behind a curtained off area with her young companion.

"Her name is Lydia. She will speak with you only a few moments. She is very old and does not like strangers." They were told as the old woman took her seat in an old green rocker.

"She wants us to come closer so she can see our faces," Alex said, and he and Walter took a seat, side by side, on a large foot stool the younger woman had pushed up in front of the old woman's rocking chair.

She stared at them for several minutes before leaning closer, almost nose to nose with Walter. "Who are you?" She demanded angrily. "What right have you to walk around with Zoltan's face?"

Alex quickly translated and Walter gave a little grin before answering.

"My name is Walter." Alex translated for her. "I'm from America. I was told that Zoltan was my father. I came here to find out if that was true."

Alex translated the message and the woman gasped, placed a hand over her mouth, and began to cry.

"Do something, Alex," Walter said, but Alex was busy trying to get all the old woman was babbling about. "What's she saying?" Walter asked.

"I have no idea. Whatever dialect she is speaking is different. It sounds familiar; but it's not German," Alex explained.

"Tell her to speak in German," Walter instructed.

Alex spoke to her as calmly as he could and she shook her head yes, as she caught her breath and settled down; accepting the cup of tea her companion pressed into her hands.

Alex asked her to tell them about Zoltan and his sons.

She sipped her tea for a few moments, never taking her eyes off Walter, and slowly began talking. Alex translated as she spoke.

"Zoltan was my man, my heart. But he longed for another even though I bore him five beautiful children. Better than first wife who gave him only four before she die. Then the gadzie woman came from America. She had no right to be here, but he brought her here and gave her a son. Five winters she stayed with us before she ripped his heart from his chest, took the boy, and left." The old woman spit on the floor beside her chair.
 
"Ask her if any of the other children survived," Walter said.

Alex did and was told that none of Zoltan's children survived. None except the gadzie boy in America, if he was still alive.

She stared at Walter, reached out her frail, bony hand, touched his face, and asked, "You are gadzie boy from America?"

"I don't know," Walter said honestly.

"You have his face, his eyes. But you do not have his lovely thick hair," Alex translated.

Walter smiled at her as she petted his bald head. "Ask her about the earrings."

The old woman said something to her companion who handed her a cigarette and lit it for her. She drew deeply on it and blew the smoke out towards the ceiling of the old trailer before uttering one short sentence.

"She says they are magic," Alex said.

"Ask her if she knows where they came from," Walter suggested.

Alex did and came back with, "She said they were a gift from the gods to Zoltan's grandfather and that a second pair was given to his lover." He asked another question without waiting for Walter's input and sat speechless for a few minutes until Walter elbowed him.

"What did you ask? What did she say?" Walter asked.

"I asked for the name of this lover. She said Yanosh. That's my great-grandfather's name." He said something to Lydia in a nearly reverent whisper and she again clapped her hands to her mouth with a gasp, dropping her cigarette.

Walter grabbed the lit cigarette up from the floor and held on to it until she regained her composure once again, and reached for it as she babbled on. He heard Alex talking and mentioning his grandfather Scherone. He waited patiently until they stopped talking and Alex began to translate.

"She remembers Scherone very well. She also said she knew his son, Arno, my father, and that he was very handsome but died young. He had only one son. A son with green eyes." Alex began to tremble and Walter put an hand on his arm to steady him.

Alex was at a loss for words but reached into his pocket where he had moved the earring since entering the forest, brought it out, and showed it to her. Walter did the same and she looked from one to the other and the earrings in their hands, and let out a wail that startled them all. The men came running in from outside, but found Lydia in tears babbling as she hugged and kissed the strangers sitting at her knees.

Everyone was talking at once as Walter and Alex were carried out of the trailer, placed on shoulders and paraded around, as everyone danced and sang. Wine was passed around and before long a fine stew of chicken and vegetables was served and they talked long into the night.

****

Walter and Alex lay in their bunks in the caravan a few feet apart but neither of them could sleep.

"I can't believe it," Walter said.

"I heard the stories from the time I was a small child, but I never quite believed them," Alex said.

"It's all true," Walter said in the darkness. "None of these people were lying."

"I know," Alex agreed.

"And our great-grandfathers were lovers," Walter said still a little in awe of the thought.

"Now that part, I can easily understand," Alex said.

Walter was quiet for several moments before commenting, "I guess I can too."

No more was said before sleep finally claimed them.

*****

CHAPTER THREE

They stayed in the forest for three more days before word came that a storm was headed their way and the entire camp decided to move on. They begged Walter and Alex to go with them, but they decided it was time to head back home to their own reality. A celebration dinner was held and a goat was roasted. They didn't ask where it had come from. Neither of them wanted to know. The food and wine was delicious and many tears were shed as good-byes were said the next morning.

Walter and Alex headed back to Stuttgart and made arrangements to fly home the next day. They took a hotel room for the night.

"I hate to leave," Walter said as he sat on the side of his bed in his pajamas.

"Me too," Alex agreed as he slipped his pajamas on after his shower. "I'm coming back after I retire."

"Maybe I will too." Walter smiled as he slipped into his bed and pulled the covers up over him. "I think I'll come in the summer next time though."

"Gadzie." Alex chuckled as he crawled into his bed across the room from Walter's.

"Only half gadzie," Walter said. "I can't deny it any longer."

"I wonder where they will be by then?" Alex wondered aloud as he turned the light out.

"I don't know, but it'll probably be somewhere close by. It seemed like they had some place in mind where they go to stay out of the worst of winter," Walter said.

"Yeah. But you're right about the weather," Alex said. "Maybe I can get off earlier than November. I'll bet the forest is beautiful in the summer."

"I'll bet it is," Walter agreed. "Maybe I'll come with you."

Alex was silent for a minute before commenting. "Lydia thinks we're lovers."

"She does?" Walter asked. "What gave her that idea?"

"I don't know," Alex answered and was relieved when Walter didn't explode. "She just assumed it because we were traveling together I guess, and neither of us are married or have children."

Walter said nothing more and soon both of them were sleeping.

****

The short flight the next morning to London followed by the long flight to D.C. found them both quiet about their experience. Very little conversation passed between them but the silence was not an uncomfortable one. They each had a lot to digest. Their good-bye in the Dulles parking lot was short and to the point, and before long Walter was back at home.

Life returned to normal, but it was anything but normal for Walter. He was growing used to seeing the red haze around people's heads and was surprised to find he could see it even when people weren't talking to him. He could see it across a room or across the street when two people were talking to each other. He enjoyed his secret knowledge, especially when it came to his agents and their reports when he questioned them.

The most startling change was in how he now saw himself as he struggled through the metamorphosis of going from what he had always thought of himself - to what he realized he was. He read everything he could find about gypsies; the more he read, the more fascinated he became. The more fascinated he became, the more excited he became. THIS appealed to him. The life of a vagabond! Traveling around from place to place whenever and wherever the mood suited him. No 'duties', no responsibilities, no one telling him what to do; no reports to read, no meetings to make. Heaven!

The idea of retirement came slowly to him. It wasn't a great flash of a decision; it kind of crept up on him. First it was the expensive tie he couldn't get to look right. After re-doing it several times, he yanked it from around his neck, tossed it in his waste basket and got another one out which didn't satisfy him either. Another day it was the white shirt the laundry had starched. He hated starch. Then it was the young agent getting himself nearly killed. Smart as a whip, and braver than most, but with not a drop of common sense. Back from seeing the young man at the hospital one evening, it started to sink in. He hated his life. He didn't want any of it any more.

He had read all the informative books he could find about gypsies, and then started on the novels. It wasn't that he had been overtaken by the desire to take to the woods and live off the land; it was more that he wanted to be free. Free of everything that kept him bound and rooted in a life that no longer suited him.

On New Year's Eve, he sat at his desk at home and opened his mail. Two things struck him. First was a notice from the Home Owners Association for Viva Towers. They raised their dues again and he would now be paying in dues what most people paid for mortgages on fine homes. He gave a disgusted grunt and decided it was about time to start looking for another place to live. What did he need a two-bed room place for? And why did he need the seventeenth floor with a view that he seldom ever took the time to enjoy?

The second thing that captured his mind was a greeting card. Most of the cards he received got a cursory glance before being tossed into his waste basket. This one was special. It had no return address, no glitzy holiday stickers; just a nice holiday sentiment on the front of the card and when he opened it, he found the following note neatly printed on the inside. "Gadzie, May the coming year be the first of your new life." It was signed simply "A".

He read it again and again wondering what Alex had meant. He wondered where Alex was and what he was doing, and if he was with anyone. It all felt very strange to him. For years, he had thought of Alex as an enemy. Now everything was different. He still found it hard to believe that Cassidy would take a young green agent and put him undercover with one of the worst organizations the Bureau had ever come up against; but then again, Cassidy would have risked her own mother's life if it helped further her career. Walter grinned at that thought.

"What a piece of work she turned out to be!" he said aloud in disgust.

His thoughts drifted back to Alex again and he wished he had some way to contact him. It would be nice to be able to thank him for the card, or just to talk with him about their mutual ancestors. He gave a little grin, and thought that Alex was the only one who knew what he was going through, who knew the same thrill of sitting by that campfire and having all those people - their distant relatives - singing and dancing and celebrating their visit. It had been like something out of a movie, yet it felt strangely right for some reason.

A knock at his door brought him out of that pleasant memory of the camaraderie, the smoky clearing, and the unending bottles of wine that had been consumed. He still had the card in his hand when he opened the door to find Alex standing there.

Walter stared blankly for a minute wondering how a memory could suddenly come to life before his eyes. He got a hold of himself, and opened the door wider, inviting Alex in with a nod.

"I just read the card you sent," he said lamely. "And wished there was some way to thank you."

Alex came in and handed him a brown paper bag containing two bottles of wine. "It's not the same brand as we had in the forest, but I doubt that wine had a recognizable name." He grinned.

"I'm sure you're right about that," Walter said as he took the bottles out of the sack.

"I should have called, but I figured you'd either be spending the evening alone or working. I went to the Hoover first and you weren't there."

"I went in for a little while," Walter said and gave a wave towards his desk. "I brought some work home but I got to thinking about... our trip."

"The first one or the next one?" Alex grinned.

"Both. Sit down." Walter returned the grin. "Can I get you anything? A drink?"

"No thanks. Maybe some of that wine after it's cooled a bit," Alex replied as he took a seat on the couch.

"Good idea," Walter said as he took the wine into the kitchen and put it in the refrigerator. "Are you planning another trip soon?" He asked as he came back and joined Alex.

"Not as soon as I'd like," Alex said. "What about you? Are you getting a little more used to all this?"

"Oh yes. You could certainly say that." Walter shook his head, thinking about all the reading he had been doing. He couldn't help but notice that Alex, while still wearing his black jeans and leather jacket, but had on a beige sweater which gave him a different look altogether. He wondered if it was the sweater that made him look different, or if he was just looking at Alex differently. Either way, he liked what he saw. "I'm sorry - I didn't even take your jacket," he said and shook his head, a little surprised by his own distraction at Alex's appearance at his door.

Alex removed his jacket and handed it to him with a grin. "That's all right. Neither of us are much on formalities."

"You've got that right," Walter said as he hung the leather jacket on the coat rack, and wished he had put on something other than sweats when he got home from work. "So how are things going for you?" he asked as he came back and sat in the chair facing the couch.

"About the same," Alex said, getting a little more comfortable, leaning back with one arm stretched out on the back of the couch. "The old man's in pretty bad health and this time I had nothing to do with it." He grinned.

"What's wrong with him?" Walter asked, hoping it was something fatal.

"The doctors all agree," Alex explained. "It's only a matter of time. All his organs seem to be deteriorating. Personally, I think it has something to do with the alien treatments he had a few years ago. I never heard exactly what was wrong with him then, but I knew they were giving him treatments of some kind. Then when they left a year or so ago, he started getting sick again. He has his good days and his bad days. At first it was mostly good days, and just a few bad days. Now it's mostly bad days."

"Then maybe we can hope for some good news in that department?" Walter said.

"I've been hoping for something like that for years. But now, I'm just hoping he'll last long enough for me to retire. If he was to die right now, Cassidy would probably bring me in, and that would be the end of my retirement plans."

"I hadn't thought of that, but you're probably right." Walter thought about it for a few minutes before adding. "You know, you probably don't have to wait until November to retire. Have you been taking your thirty days off every year?"

"Thirty days? No, never. Why?" Alex asked.

"Because you're assured of at least thirty days off every year and those days are accumulative. If you don't take them, you can use them for an early out when it comes to retirement. I remember that's what A.D. Jefferson did last year when he retired."

"I hadn't thought of that. Oh my god! That could get me out a lot earlier!"

"It's something you should definitely look into," Walter said and the smile on Alex's face pleased him more than he would have believed possible. Most of all it struck him how much a smile could change a face, and how he had never before noticed how handsome Alex was. Something stirred inside of him and he tamped it down quickly.

Alex pretended not to notice and said, "I wish I'd told you everything... sooner."

"I wish you had too. I might have been able to help you in some way," Walter said, glad to have something else to concentrate on. "Why didn't you? You must have known you could trust me."

"I did know that. But I don't think you would have believed me." He gave a sad little shake to his head.

"You're probably right about that," Walter agreed. "I wouldn't have."

"I guess things work out the way they're supposed to. In their own good time," Alex said.

"Have you made plans yet for when you retire? I mean, besides a trip to the forest?" Walter asked.

"I've been giving it serious thought," Alex said. "At first, I thought I'd move to the forest and stay there."

"Permanently?" Walter jarred at the thought.

"That's what I was thinking. I've decided against that though. As much as I enjoyed our visit, and as much as I do want to go back, I don't think I want to stay there permanently. Maybe yearly visits."

"That sounds good." The news filled Walter with relief, and he wasn't quite sure why. Or maybe it was that he refused to accept the growing relationship between them was anything more than... kinship?

"I'm really anxious to go back," Alex said. "Especially now that I might be able to go earlier; in the summer maybe."

"The trip will be a lot more pleasant in the summer," Walter agreed.

"And you're going with me?" Alex asked hopefully.

"I am," Walter answered firmly, and thoughts of the two of them traveling together again in a little caravan thrilled him. "As soon as you find out when you're going, let me know, and I'll reserve the time off."

"Great, great. I can hardly wait." Alex grinned. "I told them we'd be back. I was hoping that you'd go back with me."

"Absolutely," Walter assured him. "Maybe we could even go in the spring? Of course, it will all depend on how early you can get away."

"You really think Cassidy will let me go early?" Alex asked.

"Not willingly. But if you read up on the Bureau's retirement policy, and put it in as a formal request, I doubt she'll have any say in the matter," Walter said before suggesting. "Don't wait until the last minute and don't let her know your plans. Get all your paperwork in order and turn it in officially before you tell her about it. Otherwise, she'll probably try and find a way to keep you on. Does she have any idea how sick Spender is?"

"No, I don't think so. She knows he's sick a lot; I tell her that much."

"And he hasn't been up to much lately? Much... you're involved with?" Walter asked.

"No," Alex said and couldn't deny the pleasant thought that Walter sounded worried about him. "He's been trying for months to get something going with foreign interests, but now that he no longer has alien access, no one seems much interested in him."

"And the alien thing... it's... they're gone?" Walter didn't quite know how to phrase the question and was pleased when Alex seemed to know what he was trying to ask.

"From what I have been able to discern, the race that had plans to colonize and settle here, are gone. They decided that, as much as they liked Earth, it was more trouble than it was worth. They supposedly found another similar planet that was much more suited to their needs. I read that as, much easier for them to take over."

"That's a relief," Walter said. "But you said, 'that race', like there are others here... other aliens?"

"There are, Walter, and always have been 'others' among us. That particular race was the only one who had planned on our destruction," Alex explained.

"What do the others want?" Walter asked with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

"Some are here to study us, some are here for simple business reasons, and some are here because they like it."

"These business reasons - dangerous?" Walter asked.

"No. Their purposes are strictly peaceful," Alex said. "Some are here for minerals that are unavailable to them on their home worlds; others come for herbs which they use for medicinal purposes. They are all working fairly with the humans they interact with. None of the other races here are of danger to us in any way."

"It sounds like there are a lot of them. Are you sure of their intentions?" Walter asked as worry chased away his happier mood.

"I am. I've checked several of them out myself. Some of them are holy men - priests and monks. Others are doctors, scientists, educators," Alex assured him.

"And Spender knows about them and is involved with them?"

"He knows about them, but doesn't work with them. They want nothing to do with him or men like him." Alex grinned.

"And Cassidy?"

"She knows about them," Alex assured him.

Walter was aghast that such a significant thing was being kept secret, but on second thought, figured it was best kept quiet. The average person on the street couldn't handle the fact that there were aliens living among them. "You ready for some of that wine? It should be cool by now," he said as he got up and headed for the kitchen.

"That sounds great," Alex said and followed him into the kitchen.

They drank their first glass standing in the kitchen talking. They finished the second bottle sitting side by side on the couch laughing and talking like old friends. A little before midnight, Walter turned the TV on and they watched the ball drop together before stepping out on the balcony for some fresh air and watching fireworks going off all over the city. It was nearly one a.m. when Alex said good night and left after promising to keep in touch.

Two am. New Year's Day found Walter climbing into bed and wondering what the New Year would bring. He knew it would bring freedom for Alex, and that pleased him. He wondered what it would bring for himself.

****

CHAPTER FOUR

"Skinner," Walter answered his phone at home and wondered who'd be calling him on a Sunday.

"Walter it's me." Alex' voice sounded breathless.

"Alex! What's up? Do you have some news?" Walter leaned back in his chair, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

"How would you feel about a drive in the countryside? It's beautiful out! The sky is beautiful, the snow is beautiful, even the slush in the streets is beautiful. The whole world is beautiful!"

"You do have news and it's good!" Walter said as he sat upright in his chair again.

"I do; and if you want to hear it, you've got to come for a ride with me." Alex's voice was filled with glee.

"Right now? I can do that! Where can I meet you?" Walter agreed eagerly as he jumped up from his desk, grabbed his coat, shouldering into it while he juggled the phone from ear to ear.

"I'm out front waiting for you," Alex said.

"I'll be right down," Walter said as he pocketed the phone and headed for the elevator.

Out in front of Viva Towers the Sunday traffic was nearly as bad as during the work week. Walter scanned the vehicles looking for Alex; wondering what kind of car he was driving, and a little disgusted with himself for not asking. He couldn't see much past a huge motor home that was parked at the curb with cars honking at it to move on.

His phone rang as he stood there. "Yes?" he answered, determined to get rid of whoever it was as quickly as possible.

"You can't find me?" Alex asked.

"What kind of car are you in? I can't see much past a massive motor-home some asshole parked at the curb." Walter craned his neck to see around it.

Alex laughed into the phone, "Well maybe that asshole should get up off his ass and open the door for you."

The door to the motor-home opened, and Alex stuck his head out. "Let's go before one of these angry drivers calls the cops."

Walter's mouth fell opened, and he made a dash for the door. "Are you crazy?" he asked as he climbed inside. "Where in the hell did you get this thing?" He looked around at the luxurious fittings as Alex scrambled back to the drivers seat.

"Don't worry, I didn't steal it, I rented it," Alex said as he pulled out into traffic, and Walter took a seat up front.

"This thing is magnificent!" Walter exclaimed as he looked back through the vehicle as they drove.

"I had this great idea," Alex started, as he pulled up onto the highway. "I don't really know yet where I want to live, and I don't think it's a very good idea to get settled into one place for a while; at least not until I'm sure no one is looking for me," he said as he maneuvered into the left lane, up onto the highway, and set the cruise control at the speed limit.

"I'm thinking of living in it for a year or two; staying on the move. What do you think?" He grinned at Walter's reaction of awe.

"I think it's a good idea for you stay on the move for a time. No telling if you'll be able to just walk away from the old man without any consequences if he's still alive, and no telling if Cassidy will let go easily either. And this bus is... incredible!"

"Wait till you see it all. It's got everything I could possibly need. There's a king sized bed in the back, a huge closet, and back behind you there is a computer desk. There is storage overhead all along on both sides. The kitchen is small but there's a microwave as well as the usual, stove, refrigerator etc." Alex went on. "The bathroom is tiny but elegant, and the previous owner had extra gas and water tanks added on below. It drives like a dream, and comes fully loaded with linens and kitchen stuff."

"I've thought about getting one of these for years," Walter said. "But knew it would sit in storage most of the time, and figured it'd be a waste of money. And these things aren't cheap."

"No they certainly aren't," Alex agreed. "But at this point, I can afford it. I've been drawing salary from the old man - double what I was making at the Bureau - plus Cassidy has been depositing my Bureau pay in a special Cayman account I set up. Money isn't a problem for me and never will be. Right now, I just want to make sure of my safety once I retire, and being on the move is my best bet. And I figured, as long as I have to be on the move - I may as well do it in style."

"Well this should certainly fill the bill," Walter said with an appreciative grin. "Can this thing be taken off-road?"

"I doubt it. I wouldn't even try. It's got a hitch on the back though. I'll get something that can go off-road to tow."

"Good idea," Walter agreed and couldn't help but admire the way Alex had it all planned out. "Where are we headed?"

"There's a nice rest stop out this way," Alex said. "Besides the usual facilities, it has hiking trails, picnic tables, food dispensers. I thought we'd stop there for a while and talk."

"Sounds good to me," Walter agreed. "I haven't been out this way in years. Unfortunately, most of my driving has been confined to the city."

"You really should remedy that," Alex said as he pointed to a sign up ahead announcing the rest area. He was happy to see it was deserted as he pulled in and cut the motor. "Come on. Let me show you this bus."

Walter followed him, and was amazed when Alex flipped a switch, and both sides of the bus moved outwards expanding the area almost twice in size. "That's amazing!"

"Look at this." Alex flipped another switch and all the blinds closed, darkening everything momentarily. Then the lights came on gradually; little lights all along the ceiling, and stuck all around, giving the interior a warm glow. "Check this out," he said, and another switch lowered a huge TV screen down in front of the cab area.

"The owner is a big sports fan, and he had a special antenna installed on top that automatically raises when the TV is turned on, so he could get his games where ever he camped," Alex added as they walked on through he showed Walter the kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom. "What do you think?" he asked when they returned to sit, side by side, on the plush beige leather couch.

"It's magnificent, Alex. Perfect in every way. You haven't had any trouble handling it?" Walter asked.

"No trouble at all. Except when I parked where I shouldn't have." He grinned.

Walter chuckled. "You said you rented it. Are you planning on buying it?"

"I'm giving serious thought to it," Alex answered. "I think it would be a great life for a time; going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted."

"Why does it sound like there's a 'but' there?" Walter asked.

"Because there is," Alex answered and kept his eyes glued to the carpet in front of him. "The bus is perfect, but it doesn't have everything I need. I'd be even more alone than ever."

"There is that," Walter agreed, and with the quick glance he gave Alex, he saw the uncertainty.

A moment later Alex brightened. "You want to hear the good news?"

"You already decided to buy it?" Walter asked, glad that the awkward moment had passed.

"Pretty much, but that's not it," Alex said as he turned sideways on the couch to face Walter.

"What is it?" Walter asked; curiosity now getting the better of him.

"I have my retirement date - June 6th." Alex was grinning from ear to ear.

"June 6th? That's only... a little over three months from now. That's wonderful!" Walter relished the relief that flooded Alex' face. "It's for sure? A done deal?"

"According to Bureau policy... all I have to do is fill out the paper work and submit it. I've got it all ready, but I'm not turning it in just yet. I don't want Cassidy to get wind of it."

"That's wise," Walter agreed.

"I'm supposed to file the request thirty days in advance, which I'll do in May. I'll take it directly to Administration. Hopefully, Cassidy isn't monitoring such things, and it'll slip by her. In any event, she'll have those thirty days to try and stop it if she wants to."

"What about the old man? Is it going to be difficult getting away from him?" Walter asked.

"Not really. In fact..." Alex put his head down but couldn't hide his grin before looking back up and finishing. "I've been, shall we say, letting a few people go, the last few months."

"Letting them go?" Walter asked.

"Uh huh. Employees, more or less, out on the fringes of the group at first. Just informing them that their services would no longer be needed, and advising them to change all contact information. Then, this last month, I've let some more go. Advising them that the old man's condition was terminal, and it would be in their best interests if they were to disappear."

Walter grinned his approval.

"Spender doesn't know it yet, but he's down to about a dozen employees. When I'm ready to leave; I'll do the same with each of them."

"And they were all willing to walk away that easily?" Walter asked.

"Well..." Alex grinned again. "I made it worth their while. I have access to all Consortium funds. I've sort of been spreading it around."

"Ohhhh." Walter shook his head. "Are you sure that's wise? I mean at this point? Is there any way he can find out?"

"No. I'm still his closest employee. I make out all the reports he receives. Everything money related comes through me," Alex explained.

"What would he do if he found out?" Walter asked, worry straining his features.

"He'd have me killed... if he could find anyone left to do it; anyone who could actually accomplish it."

"That doesn't worry you?" Walter asked.

"Not really. Not now that I'm this close to being out of all of it. There is one person left who might be able to do the job, but he's in Hong Kong. On an assignment that's expected to take quite some time." Alex grinned again.

"You arranged that?"

"I suggested it to Spender, and he bought it. There's no way the job could possibly be done for at least another sixty days."

"So all you need to do is keep a low profile for the next few months," Walter said. "What about after you leave? Is there any chance Spender might send this guy after you?"

"That's the one wild-card I need to look out for. He's mean as a snake, and he and I have never been on especially good terms."

"Any chance you could buy him off?" Walter asked.

"Possibly," Alex said. "But I wouldn't put it past him to accept the money, and fulfill the contract anyway."

"You'll need to watch your back then," Walter warned.

"I always do," Alex assured him.

They talked on and on, and the conversation stopped when Walter's stomach let out a loud growl.

"How long has it been since you've eaten?" Alex asked with a laugh.

"Ahh... I missed lunch," Walter admitted and was shocked when he looked at is watch to see it was nearly 8 p.m.

"We can go find a restaurant somewhere," Alex offered.

"No; that's not a good idea. You can't take the chance of being seen with me," Walter said as he stood. "Let's take a look and see what those machines have to offer."

It was March and the long winter had passed, but evenings were still quite cool. They both let out a "brrrrr" when they stepped outside into the night air. The dozen or so machines held a variety of snacks.

"There's coffee," Alex said pointing to one machine.

"Here's one with sandwiches," Walter said. "I wonder how old they are?"

"I've eaten here before, and the food's not half bad. It's a pretty popular area, so it must get a lot of business," Alex said as he pulled out his wallet.

They got an assortment of sandwiches, coffee, and bottled water before hurrying back into the warmth of the motor-home. They spread their take on the small dinette table, and ate hungrily.

"This is pretty good," Walter said as he devoured his roast beef sandwich. "Coffee's not bad either."

"It's better than you'd expect; I know. The first time I ate here was out of desperation, and I was shocked at how good it was," Alex said as he took a peek out the window at the rain that was beginning to fall. "It's getting nasty out there."

"Not a problem," Walter assured him. "We can wait until the rain stops."

"It could last all night," Alex warned.

"That wouldn't bother me one bit," Walter said with a little bit of a grin. "We've got lots of things to discuss."

"And you wouldn't mind spending the night in the bus?" Alex asked, not quite sure what he should make of that idea. "Don't you have to go into work tomorrow?"

"I do," Walter said as they cleared away the debris from their dinner and seated themselves on the couch. "I could always go in late... if, in fact, I'm actually late for work in the morning."

"I'll bet you haven't been late in the twenty-three years you've been with the Bureau; have you?" Alex teased.

"You're right. I haven't," Walter agreed. "So I guess it's about time I did." A short silence between them passed quickly as talk about their combined experiences with the earrings became the topic of conversation.

"I guess we should stay put until morning," Alex offered just past midnight when they both felt the need to stretch and walk around a bit. Both were shocked at the late hour and only a little dismayed that the rain had turned to sleet. "I'm sorry about this. I had no idea the weather was going to turn, and I've never driven this thing on icy roads."

"Seriously, it's not a problem," Walter assured him again. "The temperature in here is comfortable and I'm sure the storm will wear itself out soon."

"We should try and get some sleep. I know you like to go in early, and I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow too," Alex suggested. "You take the bed. I've slept on it and it's a good one. I'll take the couch out here."

"No, no," Walter insisted. "The bed is yours. I'll take the couch."

"All right, all right. You're the guest. You should get to choose where you sleep," Alex conceded as he pulled a blanket and pillow down from the storage compartment above the couch. "I've slept on the couch too and it's every bit as comfortable as the bed."

A few hours later...

Walter lay on the couch and tried to sleep but all he could think of was Alex in the big king sized bed in the back. He could hear him moving around; obviously unable to sleep as well. He thought to get up and stretch his legs a bit, but before he knew it, he was standing in the hallway, staring at Alex in the semi-darkness.

"Can't sleep?" Alex asked.

"Uh uh," Walter said as he leaned against the doorway. "You either?"

Alex leaned up on one elbow and turned the bedside lamp on. "No," he admitted. The two of them stared at one another for a few seconds before Alex flipped the covers back and waited - an obvious invitation for Walter to join him.

Walter gulped at the gesture; stunned at how desperately he wanted to jump in that bed with Alex. "Are you sure that's what you want?"

Alex smiled at him, before opening the nightstand drawer and pulling out the condom and lube he had stashed there earlier. He dropped them on the nightstand, shoved the drawer closed, and waited. He didn't have long to wait.

Walter pulled his tee-shirt up over his head, tossed it, and in less than a second, he joined Alex in bed.

Next morning...

"Oh my God! I had no idea it was that late!" Walter said as they scrambled to find their clothes and dress.

"So you go in a little late," Alex soothed him as he zipped up his jeans, and headed for the driver's seat. "You can always tell them you had an early appointment somewhere. Did you have any appointments set for this morning?"

"No," Walter said as he pulled his sweat shirt on over his head and carried his shoes and socks up front and put them on as Alex pulled the motor home out onto the highway, and headed back to town. "I've never gone in late before; Arlene's not going to know what to do." He pulled his phone out and thumbed in his secretary's number. "Arlene? Sorry, I forgot to tell you that I had an early appointment this morning. I'll be in within the next couple of hours - depending on traffic."

Alex grinned, as Walter finished up his conversation, and pocketed his phone. "There are times when the red suits you," he teased.

Walter chuckled. "I don't like to lie. I'm not used to it."

"It really wasn't much of a lie, Walter. You were... busy this morning; and you will be in as soon as traffic allows."

"Busy?" Walter asked with a grin, remembering how he had just woken up, naked and wrapped around Alex. "I guess you could call it busy," he agreed as he watched Alex concentrating on the early morning traffic with just a bit of a smile softening his face.

"Jeez, I can't believe this traffic!" Alex swore. "There must be a wreck up ahead."

"Just take your time. There's no hurry now that I've got work covered," Walter assured him.

****

It took nearly three hours for Walter to make it into work on the icy roads. He walked into a hornets nest of people out in the hallway. Everyone arguing about vacation time and wanting to take the same weeks off. He entered his office, closed the door behind all the noise, went to the window and stood staring out. It couldn't have taken more than five minutes before he made his decision. Grinning like the Cheshire cat, he made his way to Cassidy's office.

"Do you have an appointment, A.D. Skinner? You know she can't see you without an appointment," Cassidy's secretary was saying, just as someone came out of Cassidy's office.

"No, I don't have an appointment, but this will only take one minute; I promise you." He gave a light rap on the door, opened it, and stuck his head in. "May I have one moment of your time?"

"Come on in," Cassidy said looking at him over the top of her glasses perched on the end of her nose. "I have a few minutes before my next appointment."

"Thank you. This won't take but a minute of your time," Walter said as he entered her office, and closed the door behind him. She gestured for him to sit in front of her desk, but he elected to stand. "I just wanted to give you a head's up that I've decided to retire. Effective immediately." He added.

She stared at him in stunned silence - anger and betrayal twisting her features. "Why? Why now; at this particular moment?"

Walter thought about it only for a second or two before saying, "Because I want to now; that's why." He turned and headed for the door.

"Wait a minute. You can't come in here and drop a bombshell like that on me, and just walk out!" She stood and advanced on him angrily.

Walter smiled at her, enjoying the spot he knew he was putting her in, and said, "Yes I can. And I just did."

He turned and walked out. He could hear her voice behind him, but he kept on walking. He went back to his office, called his secretary into his office, and told her his decision. She left all teary-eyed, but agreed to get the paperwork out for him. He sat down at his desk and began sorting out the cases he'd been working on.

The excitement began to build inside him until he thought he'd burst with happiness. He had to get up and move around. He paced the floor, and thought about Alex, and the night before. In his en suite restroom he noticed his reflection in the mirror as he washed his hands. A sappy grin stared back at him.

"So this is what happiness looks like," he said as he stared.

He returned to his chair, leaning back as far as it would go, and thought about Alex. "Who would have thought?" He asked himself. "Alex Krycek. Me and Alex Krycek!" He shook his head and grinned. "He may not know it yet, but he won't be traveling alone in that motor-home." He imagined the two of them traveling across the U.S. with every night being just like last night. With a sigh, he got back to business when his secretary announced that the first A.D. he had requested a visit from had arrived.

****

"You heard the rumors too?" Scully asked as she sidled up beside Mulder in the elevator. "You think it's true?"

"I don't know," Mulder answered, and waited until the other person on the elevator got off before adding, "But I'm going to find out."

"You can't just barge into his office," Scully scolded.

"I can and I will. He's not taking any phone calls," Mulder answered as he made his way into Skinner's outer office to find Arlene at her desk, dabbing at her teary eyes, and two other A.D.s waiting until she handed them some files.

"We need to see him," Mulder said as he marched passed them, and into Skinner's office. He was met with another A.D. coming out who, with a backward glance to Skinner was saying, "I wish I had your guts."

"We need a few minutes of your time," Mulder announced as he and Scully entered the room, and closed the door behind them.

"I've got all the time in the world," Skinner greeted them with a smile.

Mulder and Scully exchanged questioning glances at their smiling A.D., and the mess on his desk.

"You'll have to excuse the mess. It seems it takes as long to get disorganized as it does to get organized," Skinner said as he took a seat at his desk, and waved them to the two empty chairs in front.

"Sir, is it true? You're retiring?" Scully couldn't wait a moment longer to hear the truth.

"It certainly is. It's about time, don't you think?" Skinner leaned back in his chair.

"Why?" Mulder studied the man in front of him carefully. "Why now?"

"Why?" Skinner gave a chuckle. "Because I want to. Why now? - because I decided over the weekend that now was the perfect time. Things are going well here at the bureau; there are no major crises going on. It's the perfect time to make my exit."

"What are you going to do?" Scully asked. "I assume you have something else lined up?"

"I do as a matter of fact." Skinner gave a mysterious grin.

"I know you've been approached over the years by other organizations," Mulder said. "I didn't think that any of them appealed to you."

"I'm not going to work for any organization, Mulder. The key word here is 'retirement'," Skinner answered, and enjoyed watching the two of them trying in vain to figure him out.

"What are you going to do then? Take up golf? Join the AARP? Take up square dancing?" Mulder asked.

"Ha ha ha ha." Skinner laughed out loud. "I've always enjoyed your sense of humor, Mulder. I'm going to miss that."

"You're going away?" Scully asked quickly.

"I am." Skinner leaned forward, both elbows on the desk, with hands folded together, and chin resting on top. "I've decided to become a bum; a hobo." He chuckled at the expressions on their faces. "I'm going to just take off; go where ever the road takes me. It's something that I've always wanted to do, and I decided now is the time to do it." He paused and watched as they digested the information.

"Did something happen to bring you to this... incredibly unexpected decision?" Scully asked.

"Something happened over the weekend; didn't it?" Mulder nailed him with his penetrating stare. "Something that you're not going to tell us about."

"As a matter of fact, you're right on the nose, both of you. Something did happen over the weekend that helped me decide that now is the time, Scully; and no, Mulder, I'm not going to tell you about it."

"Is there anything that we can do or say to change your mind?" Scully asked, but before Skinner could answer his secretary, Arlene came in.

"Sir? It's Director Cassidy on the phone again. She's demanding to speak with you."

Skinner leaned back in his chair again, hands laced together in back of his head, and with a smile to his weepy secretary said, "Tell her I'm in a meeting."

Arlene fled the room in tears.

"So that's it?" Mulder asked after they sat silent for a few minutes. "You're just going to leave?"

"That's it," Skinner assured him and then added a little more. "I'm going to sleep as long as I want to in the morning, and not have to wake up to the sound of an alarm clock. I'm not going to sit in any more meetings. I'm going to find out what it's like to read a novel instead of a stack of reports. I'm going to wear jeans and sweat shirts instead of suits and ties. I'm going to go for walks, and admire the scenery, or take an afternoon drive in the countryside. I'm going to do all the things normal people do, and I'm going to enjoy every single minute of it."

"And you're going to do all this with..." Mulder asked but knew in his heart he wouldn't get a straight answer.

"I'm going to do all this with... someone I care very much for," Skinner answered, surprised at giving out that much information.

"You're in love," Mulder concluded, a bit stunned by Skinner's jovial attitude.

"As a matter of fact; you may just be right again, Mulder," Skinner grinned broadly, but lost it when his door burst open and Director Cassidy stormed in.

"Out! Out!" She demanded of Mulder and Scully. Then to Skinner she snapped angrily, "I said I needed to speak with you!"

Mulder and Scully got up and headed for the door, giving Skinner a sympathetic look, and were both stunned when he looked passed Cassidy, and waved them goodbye with a smile.

"What do you make of all that?" Scully whispered as they entered the hall.

"I've suspected he's been seeing someone for a couple of months now," Mulder said as they headed for the elevator. "Work... our work... isn't important to him any more. He's too easy going. I can't remember the last time he's yelled at me."

"Maybe you've been behaving for a change?" Scully gave him a poke in the ribs.

"Nah; that's not it," Mulder said with a shake of the head.

"What made you jump to the conclusion that he's in love?" Scully asked.

"His whole attitude has changed," Mulder said as they entered the elevator. "And the hickey on the side of his neck kind of gave it away."

Scully's jaw dropped, "Well, if he's in love..." She reasoned with a sappy grin as the elevator door opened, and they entered the busy hallway.

"Whether he is or he isn't - he thinks he is. And whoever this person is... has changed him... made him happy," Mulder finished as he turned, and headed off down the hall leaving Scully looking after him longingly.

****

Back in Skinner's office...

"I don't know what it is that's gotten into you, Walter; but I have to say that I'm extremely disappointed by this attitude you've suddenly developed." Director Cassidy stood in the middle of Skinner's office and scolded him.

"Your approval of me or my attitude is no longer of any importance to me... Jana," Skinner said, emphasizing her name. "I'll be out of here in a matter of hours, and you'll never have to concern yourself with me and my attitude again," Skinner said as he sat and watched her pace angrily.

"I want to know why?" She demanded. "Whatever happened - we can talk about it. We can reach some sort of agreement. There's no need to make this any more than it is."

"What it is, is that I'm retiring," Skinner stated firmly. "I've got more than enough time in, I've put my request in, and I've given notice. I'm making arrangements for the other A.D.s to take over my cases, and then I'll be on my way."

"You're not even willing to discuss what ever it is that set you off?" Cassidy asked. "You cited 'personal reasons' on your request. I think there's more to it than that, and I want to know what it is."

"My 'personal reasons' are just that... personal; and I have no intention of going into them with you," Skinner insisted.

"Whatever they are, I'll find out sooner or later. We may as well discuss them now. Maybe we can make this all go away. What is it you want more time off? A raise? A bigger office?"

Skinner grinned, got up, and went over to his door and opened it. "The only thing going away is me. So if you'll please excuse me..."

"You cannot dismiss me like I'm one of your kiss-ass agents!" She said angrily, but her tirade was cut short when two other A.D.s showed up at the door.

"You asked to speak with us?" A.D. Benedict said as he looked back and forth from Skinner to Cassidy.

"Yes, Benny, Frankie." Skinner greeted fellow A.D.s Benedict and Sullivan with a handshake, and motioned for them to come in. "Come on in. Would you like some coffee?" He asked, turning his back on Cassidy as she stormed out.

"Ah... no, thanks," they both said and took seats.

****

Exactly two hours later Skinner exited his office carrying his empty briefcase and depositing a letter of recommendation on his secretary's desk before walking calmly out into the hall, ignoring all the whispers and glances. He smiled, nodded at everyone as he passed, and hummed a little bit of 'Happy Days Are Here Again' as he got on the elevator.

Three weeks passed before the phone call he was waiting for came.

"Skinner," Walter answered as he was going through his closet deciding which clothing to keep and which was going to Goodwill.

"Hey, I heard a rumor." The familiar voice sent a thrill through him. "Is it true? You retired?"

"It's true," Walter said, "And I need to see you. As soon as possible."

"That would be nice but it's not wise," Alex answered.

"Who cares? I don't have to be wise any more. I can be exactly what I am," Walter said as he leaned back against his dresser.

"And what is that?" Alex asked.

"A happy man," Walter answered without hesitation. "Please don't say no. We can meet any where you want."

"Your offer is definitely intriguing, but I'm at the airport right now. My plane leaves in less than an hour."

"Damn!" Walter's frustration was obvious. "You headed to Germany?"

"I wish!" Alex answered. "No; just a quick trip to Athens. I have to deliver something, and then turn around and come right back."

"Are you sure that's all there is to it?" Walter worried.

"Positive," Alex assured him. "Believe me, this guy I'm seeing is nothing to worry about. I'm just delivering a disk with some information on it... incorrect information."

"Something you altered?" Walter asked; just a bit relieved.

"Uh huh. I added a few little things, and removed a few others; just enough so that the guy is going to turn down the old man's offer."

"That sounds dangerous." Walter scowled. "You've covered your tracks?"

"I have. Don't worry," Alex assured him.

"When do you get back? I want to see you." Walter relaxed again.

"Couple of days. What's up?" Alex asked.

"I am," Walter grinned at his joke. "I want another ride in that motor-home of yours. Is that a possibility?"

"It's a definite possibility," Alex answered, grinning ear to ear, and looking down quickly so that no one saw him.

"Good. I don't suppose you can give me a number where I can call you?" Walter asked.

"We'd better not risk it," Alex said; regret etched in every syllable.

"Okay. Will you call me then when you get back?" Walter asked.

"Count on it," Alex promised him.

"I will. We have things we need to discuss," Walter said.

"Any hints as to what these things might be?" Alex asked.

"Your motor home. You did buy it; didn't you?" Walter grinned.

"I did. The very next morning," Alex assured him.

"Good. Good," Walter said, and couldn't stop grinning at the happy memory that one night in it brought to him. "I want a longer ride in it this time."

"I've got to go. They're boarding my plane now," Alex said with regret before asking, "How long a ride are you thinking about?"

"At least a couple of years," Walter answered, but his voice was drowned out by the announcing at the airport.

"What? I couldn't hear you?" Alex asked as he got in line at the gate.

"We'll discuss it when I see you again. Watch your back!" Walter said.

"Sir; you'll have to turn your phone off before boarding," the flight attendant told Alex.

"Gotta go. I'll call you when I get back," Alex said before pocketing his phone.

****

CHAPTER FIVE

"I'm sorry Sir, but the open house ended at 6 pm. You'll have to come back tomorrow," the real estate lady said, and tried to close the door, but Walter caught a glimpse of Alex standing there.

"Wait, wait! This is a friend of mine." He reached out, and opened the door letting Alex enter.

"Well all right then. I'll see you tomorrow at 2 o'clock," she said as she gathered her briefcase, and headed for the door.

"Right." Walter escorted her to the door, thanked her, and locked the door behind her before seizing Alex and kissing him passionately.

"Are you sure you weren't followed? I could have met you somewhere?" Walter asked before kissing him again.

"I was very careful," Alex assured him, catching his breath after the latest kiss. "You're selling your place?"

"Uh huh," Walter said as he peeled Alex's jacket off his shoulders while nibbling down the side of his neck as he led him over to the couch. "No! No!" Walter stopped himself, and pulled back as he sat beside him. "I've got to let go of you." He worked hard at controlling himself. "Talk to me. Are you okay? Is everything okay? Are you still on schedule to retire in June?"

Alex smiled at him lovingly. "Yes. Everything is on schedule." He reached out and took Walter's hand. "Everything went well in Greece. The old man is in talks with some guy in Rio, but I know the guy. His mistress is about ready to deliver his first son, and he's not about to leave Rio to get involved with Spender again."

"Will you have to spend time down there?" Walter asked, worried about another longer absence.

"Doubtful." Alex grinned his answer happily. "There's also another guy in Rome, and one in Istanbul that he's talking with. It took him six months to work out the details for the offer to the guy in Athens. I'll be long gone before he gets another offer ready."

"So Spender's health is pretty good right now?" Walter asked.

"It is... or so the doctor informs me," Alex said with a grin. "He also said that can change whenever I want it to."

Walter grinned a little. It was nice having the old man's doctor on their side. Not that he trusted him. He turned his mind to another thought. "I'm going to be looking for a place to stay once this place sells," he said. "Any suggestions?"

"You think it will sell that fast?" Alex asked.

"We had a couple different people who seemed serious about it," Walter answered as an idea began to form in his mind. "I could be out of here in thirty days. I'll be looking for something smaller; a lot smaller."

"That would be mid-May," Alex mused. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"If you're thinking the motor home, then, yes," Walter answered, excited now that Alex and he were thinking alike. "What do you think?"

"Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Alex smiled at Walter's eagerness.

"Absolutely positive!" Walter assured him.

"It's pretty small; compared to what you're used to," Alex warned.

"I don't need all this room. Why I ever got a place this size, is beyond me. I sure don't need it."

"But a motor home?" Alex asked again needing to hear more.

"It's what I want, Alex; and I'm hoping it's what you want too," Walter said as he took Alex into his arms. "You and me together, following up on this earring/gypsy thing. I can't think of a better way to spend the rest of my life than doing that with you by my side, and in my bed every night."

"Oh, it's most definitely what I want," Alex assured him as he nuzzled kisses down the side of Walter's neck. "More than I ever dreamed of. More than I ever thought possible."

"A new life for both of us then. You, me, and our golden earrings; and wherever they might lead us," Walter whispered as he held Alex close.

"With you by my side, I don't care where that may be in this, or any other world." Alex sighed and thought to himself, "So this is what happiness feels like!"

THE END

 

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