Notes and Disclaimers at end
Rainy Days and Mondays
Walter stood at the kitchen counter, savoring the last sips of his morning coffee. He smiled as Fox padded into the kitchen, all sleepy hazel eyes and tousled hair.
"Good morning," Walter said, placing his coffee cup in the sink.
"Morning," murmured Fox, wrapping his arms around Walter's waist and resting his head against his back. "Don't go in, the weather's awful. Call in sick, they'll understand."
Walter turned and put his arms around his mischievously grinning lover.
"Oh, they will, will they?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh yes," said Fox, his eyes wide and innocent. "Your boss isn't nearly as tough and mean as mine is."
He gave a yelp and tried to run for it but Walter hauled him back by the sash of his robe and aimed a healthy swat at his backside.
"Tough, huh?" Walter demanded with a grin. "Mean, huh?"
Fox laughed and tried to break free, only to find himself pulled close and nestled against a broad chest. Walter leaned down for a kiss.
"Well, your tough, mean boss has a tough, mean budget meeting at nine and he's got to go."
"Awww, Walter," Fox whined, hanging on tight. "It's only 7:30. You've got plenty of time."
Walter paused and cupped Fox's face, gazing lovingly into his eyes before stealing another sweet kiss.
"I need to get there early to go over my notes," he said gently. "You go back to bed." He glanced at the kitchen window and the cold rain beating against it. "It's a good day for it."
Fox followed Walter into the foyer. Walter stood obediently as Fox straightened his tie, the smaller man finally standing back with a little murmur of approval and a proud smile. Fox loved Walter in full AD regalia. Impeccably pressed pants that hugged those long, strong legs just so, crisp, starched white shirts that showed off that broad chest, the spotless jacket and tie completing the ensemble. Fox couldn't resist licking his lips. His lover was one fine, fine looking man.
Walter smiled at Fox, knowing exactly what he was thinking. He reached into the closet for his coat and umbrella.
"Hold that thought," he said, leaning down for one more kiss before heading out into the downpour.
Fox moaned with arousal, his lips parting under Walter's. He pouted as Walter shrugged into his coat.
"I wish we could both be on vacation this week," he said. "It's not fair."
"Next time, Fox, I promise," Walter said, picking up his briefcase. "You know I couldn't take this week off with Kersh out with gallstones."
He ruffled Fox's hair affectionately.
"I promise, we'll all take a week together this summer. We'll go down to Cancun or somewhere, the three of us."
He paused, glancing toward the staircase.
"Where is Alex, anyway?"
"He was up and out of here early, said he had to meet someone."
"Hmmm," Walter frowned.
The wind picked up outside, howling above the pouring rain. Walter looked at his beautiful lover and thought longingly of the big empty bed upstairs. He turned toward the front door with a sigh.
It sure was Monday.
"I'll be home on time, Fox," Walter said as he reached for the doorknob. "If you talk to Alex, see if he wants to go to Melito's for dinner tonight. He loves their crab cakes."
Walter opened the door and gasped in shock as a drenched Alex Krycek fell into his arms.
"Walter! Fox!" he gasped, grabbing onto Walter's coat.
"Alex! For God's sake, what's wrong? Where have you been?"
Walter hauled his drowned Rat inside, kicking the door shut behind him.
Alex gasped and sputtered, rain dripping from his hair and clothes to pool on the hardwood floor. He shivered and tried to talk through chattering teeth.
"V-virus, have to w-warn you..."
He protested as Walter began stripping him of his waterlogged clothing.
"N-no, there's no time!" Alex's voice was desperate. "Please listen to me!"
Walter grasped Alex's shoulders firmly and leaned down, demanding eye contact. He was in full AD mode and it wasn't just the clothes talking.
"Alex, look at me."
Shivering still, Alex obeyed. His panicked green eyes looked frantically at Walter.
"Take a deep breath."
The command in Walter's voice was unmistakable.
Alex drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and then another.
"That's better," Walter said softly, his big hands beginning to rub Alex's bare shoulders, massaging away the goosebumps that had formed on the wet skin.
"I know you're upset. It's obvious that something is wrong. But whatever it is, a few more minutes won't make a difference."
Alex shook his head and began to protest.
"No, Walter! You don't under-"
Walter swatted Alex's backside sharply through his sodden jeans.
Alex knew that tone of voice. He also knew the sudden stinging in his butt would increase exponentially the longer he argued. He closed his mouth and looked down.
"Yes, sir," he murmured. He fidgeted and chewed his lip, his whole body radiating tension.
Walter glanced at Fox.
"Fox, call the office and tell them we have a family emergency and that I won't be in. And tell Kim to reschedule the meeting for the end of the week."
Fox went for the phone. Walter finished undressing his anxious young lover, dropping the wet clothes in a squishy heap on the floor. At last, Alex stood naked and shivering in the middle of the living room. Walter disappeared into the downstairs bathroom and returned with a fluffy bath sheet, wrapping Alex in it and toweling him down.
"Walter?" Alex asked urgently. "Now? Please?"
"Not yet," Walter said firmly.
He guided Alex over to the wing chair near the fireplace. He sat Alex down and then stooped to light the fire. The hardwood caught quickly and soon the flames roared, bathing the room in their warm glow. Walter knelt beside Alex's chair and kissed him gently. He was a little surprised to feel Alex's arms suddenly around him as the younger man clung to him tightly. Walter could feel the tremors running through Alex's body as he pressed close, instinctively seeking safety and security.
"Walter," Alex's tone was urgent. "Please, there isn't much time, please let me..."
"All right, all right, Rat," Walter whispered soothingly. "Da, moy lyubov, moy Krysa, shhh..."
Walter felt Alex relax slightly, and he began to rub circles on his back through the bath sheet. Fox came into the room with a thick bathrobe and a pair of socks.
"Come on, Alex," Fox said softly, "let's get you into these and then you can tell us what's wrong."
Alex allowed Fox to take away the bath sheet and wrap him in the robe. He smiled a little. Fox had brought his own robe, knowing how much Alex loved to wear it. Alex blinked back sudden tears at the thought of ever losing Fox and Walter, of ever having to live without the loves of his life. Walter took each of Alex's cold bare feet in his big hands and slid the thick socks on. Alex was grateful, so grateful for these small kindnesses. God knew he had been cold and wet many times before, and no one there to dry him, to warm him by the fire, to care if he got walking pneumonia and it hurt to breathe for weeks. But he was also frustrated. He began to shiver again. It seemed he couldn't get warm. He bit his lip again, his anxiety mounting. Why wouldn't they listen to him? There wasn't much time left. They had to let him tell them.
Walter and Fox sat close by, Walter on the loveseat and Fox on the floor, his long legs tucked under him, his fingers intertwined with Alex's.
"All right, Alex," Fox said quietly, feeling his lover trembling. He tried to keep his voice level, trying not to show his own fear. Alex was scared. If Alex was scared then that meant there was definitely something worth being scared of.
"Tell us, Alex. Tell us where you've been. Tell us what's got you so upset."
Alex took a deep breath and looked from Fox to Walter. His lovers' worried eyes were fixed on him. He felt Fox's hand tighten on his and he began to speak, his voice rough and scared.
"Th-there's a virus, I can't explain it all, there's no time. I got information from one of my contacts, an e-mail-"
"One of your contacts? From before?" Walter looked upset.
"I... yes, I'm sorry, Walter," Alex said, looking down, ashamed. "He... this man has my private e-mail address. It's not like what you're thinking. He just... tells me things, sometimes," Alex finished lamely.
Walter's face had that We're-Going-to-Discuss-This-Later look.
Alex gulped. Right now, a scorched butt was the least of his concerns. If he wasn't able to convince Fox and Walter that there was real danger, there might not be a later.
"Go on, Alex," Fox murmured encouragingly, casting a warning look at Walter. "Let's not worry about where the information came from, okay? Just tell us what it is."
The story spilled out in an agonized flood. The Consortium was planning to release a virus into the air over D.C. It was colorless, odorless and undetectable. Once infected, victims would become deaf, blind and paralyzed, unable to speak as their own body turned against them. Within 72 hours, they would die. The virus was extremely contagious and once it began to spread, it would tear through the city like wildfire. There was no preventative, no cure.
Walter leaned forward, his whole body tensed for action.
"How long, Alex?" he said worriedly. "When are they going to release it?"
Alex clung to Fox's hand, the shaking growing worse.
"A-about eight hours, Walter, that's all we've got."
He looked at the older man, his eyes desperate. "Please, Walter, you and Fox go, let me deal with it. Your safety is all that matters to me. I came to warn you, to tell you to get out of D.C."
Alex stood and began to pace, unaware that he was wringing his hands.
"Please," he repeated, "you have to go, you have to get out, now!"
Walter noticed Alex's hands and got up, going over to his young lover and grasping them firmly. He looked into Alex's worried eyes.
"We're not going anywhere without you."
Alex broke free with a growl of frustration.
"No!" he cried, his voice agonized. "Please, don't you understand? You have to get away, you have to go!"
He rushed back to Walter and grabbed onto his shirt.
"Please! I have to know you're safe. Please take Fox and go, get out of the city, please, just go."
Fox had come to stand behind Alex.
"We're in this together, the three of us."
Alex turned an imploring face to Fox.
"Please, Fox," he whispered. "Let me try to call in some favors, find out what people know. There might be something I can do. But I can't bear the thought of anything happening to you, to Walter. I can't, please."
Alex took a deep, calming breath and turned back to Walter.
"Please, Walter," he begged. "Please take Fox and go to your sister's in Charleston. Please."
Walter's tone brooked no argument. He quickly gathered Alex into his arms and pressed his cheek against the top of his damp head.
"No," he repeated softly. "All of us together, Alex. All together."
"Now," Walter said firmly, looking into Alex's eyes. "Are you sure about this? Are you sure the threat is real?"
"Absolutely," Alex said quickly. "I wish it weren't. But my source is reliable. No way is he wrong."
"All right," Walter said. "We need a plan. Everyone get dressed and meet back here in ten minutes."
Fox and Alex ran to get dressed while Walter commandeered the phone. A call to the Director started the ball rolling. Walter stood by the phone, pinching the bridge of his nose and glancing at his watch. In the last nineteen minutes he had talked to the Mayor of Washington, D.C., the head of the Centers for Disease Control and the C.O. of the local National Guard unit.
Things progressed quickly after that. The news hit the airwaves within an hour. The highways leading out of Washington were jammed with families fleeing the coming plague. News reporters tried in vain to snag man-on-the-street interviews with frantic, harried citizens searching for the nearest shelter. By the time the virus was scheduled to be released, Washington, D.C. was a ghost town. The streets were deserted, patrolled by National Guardsmen with automatic weapons and isolation suits. Shops were closed, the government buildings emptied, the federal workers sequestered in underground bunkers. It was rumored that the President and his family as well as all of the executive branch of government had been moved to the underground facility in West Virginia.
All along the East Coast, they waited. Huddled in shelters, packed onto westbound buses, sitting on relatives' living room floors in Boston and New York and Philadelphia, Raleigh and Atlanta and Miami, they waited. In the spacious, airy living room of a pale yellow house on Water Street in Charleston, South Carolina, Walter, Fox and Alex sat on the sofa. They bit their lips and held one another's hands, barely aware of Walter's sister Miranda as she fussed over her unexpected company, the massive platter of praline cookies untouched before them. They stared at the television, barely hearing the awed whisper of the correspondent as he breathlessly informed them that the virus was undoubtedly drifting down into the neighborhoods of Washington right this very minute. Fox trembled and felt Walter's arm slide around his shoulders, giving him a reassuring squeeze. All three men waited and wondered the same thing. Would there be anything left to go home to?
The news was inconclusive when they went to bed in Miranda's guest room, the ceiling fan whispering quietly above them as they spent a restless night in one another's arms.
The next morning, they awoke to astonishing news. They sat on the sofa in their bathrobes and gaped at CNN at shot after shot of bleary-eyed and agitated citizens streaming from the shelters. The President was said to be flying back from West Virginia, distinctly unhappy. The National Guard was pulling out. Miranda handed them the morning paper, smiling almost apologetically as she discreetly disappeared into the kitchen to check on the grits. Walter unfolded the paper and the headline told the story in bold, 20-point print:
D.C. VIRUS A HOAX! FALSE WARNING EVACUATES CAPITAL CITY
They gasped. Alex went pale. Walter grabbed the remote and turned up the sound.
"... sources have confirmed that the so-called "D.C. Virus" was nothing more than a hoax. The Centers for Disease Control have concluded that the virus does not exist and there is no threat to citizens. D.C. residents are being encouraged to return to their homes and businesses."
Two sets of shocked eyes turned to Alex.
Alex sat stunned, one hand gripping the edge of the sofa cushion. He turned to his lovers, seeing the creases between their brows that meant their surprise was quickly turning to annoyance.
Alex was at a complete loss for words. He shook his head as if to clear it. His source had been wrong? The man had never given him bad information before. Had Spender sniffed the man out, used him to set Alex up? He swallowed hard. He wondered if Walter was going to spank him when they got home. He bit his lip and fidgeted a little, chiding himself. Gee, Alex, let's see. The capital city of the United States of America was evacuated, citizens packed into shelters, the President and top officials were sent to a hole in the ground in West Virginia, the National Guard was called in, all because of information you provided, and you're wondering if he's going to spank you? You'll be lucky if you're able to sit down again before you're forty.
Walter stood, his jaw clenched in that familiar way that suggested someone's butt was going to be very red, very soon.
"Let's eat breakfast and get packed," was all he said.
Breakfast was excruciating. Alex could barely eat a bite. Miranda made several attempts at lighthearted conversation, but one attempt after another flared and died. After breakfast, Walter pecked her apologetically on the cheek and thanked her for the hospitality, accepting the carefully packed box of praline cookies for the ride home.
Walter picked up the suitcases, so hastily packed the day before, and carried them out to the car. Fox was waiting in the passenger seat, hands twisting nervously in his lap. Walter climbed in behind the wheel and they waited for Alex. Walter stared straight ahead, the vein in his temple pulsing in that familiar way that was always a danger sign. Fox winced. Boy, was Alex in for it when they got home. Walter checked his watch and tapped the horn. He glanced toward the house.
"What's taking him so long? If I have to go in there and get him..."
"I'll go, Walter," Fox said hastily, opening the car door. "He's probably just saying goodbye to your sister."
Walter waited, gazing down Water Street. His eyes passed over the gracefully curving street and beautiful old homes without truly seeing them. He was preoccupied with thoughts of Alex. Walter knew he was going to have to punish him when they got home. He dreaded doing it but it had to be done. Fox came back out to the car a few minutes later, a puzzled expression on his face.
"Walter?" Fox got back into the car. "He's not in there."
"What?" Walter's eyes widened with surprise. "Are you sure?"
"I found this."
He handed Walter a small, neatly folded slip of paper. Walter opened it and read it, his heart plummeting to his stomach. The note was short, but Alex's pain was all too evident in the few lines.
Walter and Fox-
I tried to contact my informant and he's disappeared. I should have tried to verify the information through other sources but I thought it was reliable. I know this is going to cause trouble for you back home, Walter. I'm so sorry. I always fuck everything up. I love you. I'm sorry.
"Yes, he's just gone. His bag, too. Miranda said he said goodbye to her and went outside while we were still upstairs getting our things. She thought he was going to wait in the car."
Fox's hazel eyes were bright.
"He's gone, Walter. He's run off."
"Dammit!" Walter yelled, pounding the steering wheel.
He rested his head in his hands.
"What are we going to do, Fox? Where would he go?"
Fox shook his head sadly.
"You know Alex," he said softly. "If he doesn't want to be found, he won't be."
Walter picked up his cellphone and dialed Alex's number. A mechanized voice informed him that the person whose number he was dialing had turned the unit off or had traveled outside the calling range.
Walter turned the key and started the car.
"Wait!" Fox cried. "He's got to be around here somewhere. How far could he have gotten? He's still in Charleston, Walter. We can't leave!"
Walter placed a hand on Fox's thigh.
"I know, Fox," he said gently. "I'm worried about him too. But as you said, if he doesn't want to be found, he won't be found. The best thing to do is to go back to Washington and wait for him, keep trying to contact him."
Walter took a deep breath and looked down at the note Alex had written.
"He's just scared right now, Fox. He got scared and he bolted. But he'll come back to us. He has to. All right?"
Fox blinked back tears and nodded, placing his hand over Walter's.
It was a long, silent, mournful drive home. Fox tried again and again to reach Alex on his cellphone, but to no avail. After the second desperate voice mail, he withdrew into himself, curling up on the passenger seat and staring out the window.
The telephone was ringing as they walked into the house. Walter snatched it up.
His face fell as he listened to the caller. Fox looked down, disappointed. Walter's voice indicated the caller was both powerful and supremely unhappy.
"Yes, sir. No, sir. No, I didn't, sir. There appeared to be a clear and present danger according to the information we were provided with, sir. Yes, I'm aware of that, sir."
There were several more calls in rapid succession. Fox was brewing a pot of coffee, watching Walter with worried eyes, when the Director called.
"Yes, sir," Walter said for what seemed to be the hundredth time that evening. "Yes sir, nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
He hung up the phone with a sigh. Fox moved behind him, massaging his shoulders.
"Will... will it be all right, Walter?"
Walter turned and embraced Fox, resting his cheek on Fox's soft brown hair.
"Yes," he sighed. "I think I'm in for a mighty unpleasant week, but it'll pass. With some fancy footwork, I should be able to keep the focus where it belongs, on that mystery informant of Alex's, and keep his and my fat out of the fire. The Director will ream me a new one, but that's nothing new."
Fox looked down, knowing how true that statement was and how many times he himself had caused Walter to bear the brunt of the Director's wrath.
Walter cupped Fox's chin and raised his face for a kiss.
"Any sign... ?"
Fox shook his head sadly.
"No. I looked while you were on the phone. He hasn't been here."
Walter held Fox tightly, each man wordlessly yearning for the one who was not there.
The next week passed with cruel slowness. Fox leapt for the phone every time it rang, quickened his step every time he glimpsed a black leather jacket on the street. Walter threw himself into damage control, meeting all day every day with angry officials looking to string someone up by the balls. Walter worked tirelessly to ensure that his and Alex's balls remained unscathed. He took the rare free moment to leave another voice mail on Alex's cellphone.
"Call us, Alex," he pleaded. "Please, Rat," he added softly, "just call us."
That Friday night, Fox and Walter had just gone to bed when the telephone rang. Walter picked it up.
There was a long pause. He could hear noise in the background, what sounded like flight announcements in a foreign language. French, maybe.
Walter sat bolt upright.
Fox sat up too, his eyes wide.
"Is it him? Is he all right?"
Walter gestured at Fox to wait a moment. He listened intently to the background noise, trying to figure out where Alex was. He tried to keep his voice calm, not wanting to spook Alex into running again.
"It's me, Walter," Alex said softly. "I'm okay."
"Where are you?" Walter said. "We've been so worried, Alex. Please come home."
A long silence. Walter began to worry that Alex had put the phone down.
Alex sounded exhausted. His voice was weary and sad.
"Alex? Where are you?"
Alex swallowed. Walter could hear his throat clicking over the phone.
"S-somewhere else. Another country."
"Can't you tell me?"
Walter's face was creased with concern. Fox clung to his arm, gazing at him with worry.
Alex paused again.
"I love you both," he whispered, his voice cracking. "I called to tell you I'm sorry. Did they... did they fire you?"
"What? No," Walter said, trying to sound lighthearted.
Neither Alex nor Fox would ever know just how close to reality that scenario had been, but a week's worth of skillful talk and ass-kissing had smoothed things over considerably.
"I still have a job, Alex. Everything is all right. You don't have to do this, Rat. Come back."
Alex sounded as though he were fighting back tears.
"I... I can't," he whispered brokenly.
"Yes, you can," Walter said, fierce love in his heart, in his voice. Tears formed in his own eyes, fighting for release.
"Come back, little Rat. Please, baby. Come home."
Alex was unable to stifle a sob. Walter heard a creaking noise, as though Alex were gripping the telephone so tightly it was about to shatter in his hand.
"I miss you," Alex whispered, his voice trembling. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me, Walter. I messed up so bad. I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad, Alex. I just want you back here, safe in our arms. That's all."
"Is Fox mad?"
"No, Rat. Fox isn't mad. He misses you and he's worried about you."
Fox leaned close, anxiously.
"Where is he? Is he all right? Can we go get him?"
Walter comforted Fox, pulling him close.
"Alex? Hang on a second, Fox wants to talk to you. Don't hang up. Alex?"
"I won't hang up."
Fox took the phone with a shaking hand.
At the sound of Alex's voice, Fox broke down. His shoulders shook as he sobbed into the phone.
"Please, please, Alex," he begged. "Come home. Please come home. We can work this out. Please."
Fox listened for a moment, wiping away tears, then handed the phone back to Walter.
"He wants to talk to you."
"Alex? It's me."
"Walter? I... I don't know what to do. I thought it was real. I'm so sorry, I made a mess of it all. I'm sorry."
His voice was muffled, as though he were hiding his face.
Walter knew he had to take charge of the situation now, before he lost the chance to get Alex back. He didn't want to take the risk of his skittish young lover bolting again.
"Yes, I'm here," Alex answered, his voice full of despair.
Walter straightened his shoulders and let a good deal of AD creep into his voice.
"Where are you?" he said again.
Alex hesitated. "L-Luxembourg," he answered quietly.
"Luxembourg," Walter mouthed to Fox, whose eyes widened.
"How long before the next flight to D.C.?" Walter asked, his tone demanding an answer.
He was beginning to sweat a little. It was important to be stern, but not too stern. He knew Alex responded to the commanding tone, but he needed to make sure that, above all else, what Alex heard in his voice was love.
Another pause and a faint rustling as Alex apparently turned to scan the flight departures board. Finally he spoke again.
Walter gripped the phone tightly. He had to convince Alex to get on that plane.
"Alex?" he said, in his AD voice. "I want you on that plane. We love you and we need you here, with us. I want you to buy a ticket and get on that plane. And while you're waiting, I want you to think about us, about how much we love you. How much we miss you. You're going to get on that plane and come home to us, Alex."
"I miss you so much," Alex said mournfully, his voice cracking.
"Yes, Alex, I know. I know, Rat," Walter soothed, his tone a little softer now. He hardened it again, just slightly. "Are you going to do what I told you, Alex? Are you going to buy a ticket and get on that plane?"
An endless pause. Walter closed his eyes and gripped Fox's hand tightly.
At last, Alex spoke, his voice almost too soft to be heard.
Walter held Fox's hand against his chest.
"Fox and I are going to pick you up at Dulles. The flight's coming into Dulles, right, Alex?"
"And you'll be on that flight. You will be, won't you, Alex?"
"Yes, sir," Alex said, his voice trembling with emotion. "I will."
"Promise me, Alex," Walter said firmly, his knuckles white. "Promise me you'll be on that flight."
The longest pause yet. Walter's heart kept a frantic count of the seconds.
"Yes, sir," came the soft reply. "I promise."
A moment later, the phone rested again in its cradle and Walter was holding a sobbing Fox.
"He's coming back, right? Right, Walter?" Fox whispered into Walter's chest.
Walter rubbed circles on Fox's bare back.
"Yes, Fox," he said quietly. "Yes, he is."
Alex had been home three days.
Fox and Walter waited anxiously for him to get off the plane, their hearts pounding, their eyes searching the disembarking passengers frantically. Walter replayed the conversation over and over in his mind. Had he been stern enough? Had he been too stern? Had Alex lost his nerve and not gotten on the plane?
At last they caught sight of him, a pale face in the crowd. He looked tired to the bone, his battered bag slung over his shoulder. He walked hesitantly toward them, his green eyes filled with anxiety and pain. He closed them as he was enveloped in his lovers' arms, as kisses rained on his cheeks and throat and lips, as they murmured their love, their thanks that he was home.
Welcome home, they said. You're home.
Alex dissolved then, burying his face in Fox's shoulder, feeling Walter's hands rubbing his back.
They had taken him home and put him to bed, neither of them wanting to leave his side. His story came out in bits and pieces. When he had realized that the virus was a hoax, when he had seen the look on Walter's face, he had panicked, thinking he had finally done the truly unforgivable. He had swiftly made his way to the airport and grabbed the first flight out. He had stayed in a series of cheap, anonymous motels, eating little, sleeping less, longing for home. The frantic voice mails had convinced him to try, just once, to call home. To see if it was too late.
For three days, he allowed Fox and Walter to pamper him, guiltily basking in their love and attention. They barely allowed him to leave the bed, even bringing his meals upstairs, kissing him, massaging him, spending as much time as they could just touching him, just feeling his flesh against theirs. Looking at him as though they were trying to commit him to memory, as though he might vanish like a mirage should they look away even for a moment. Alex's relief was overwhelming. He had spent every moment away from them sick with worry, torturing himself with the fear that he might never spend another moment with his lovers in their big bed, being held and kissed and loved.
Alex looked up as Fox came into the room with his dinner on the good silver tray.
"It's okay, Fox, I can come down to dinner." He pushed back the covers and began to rise.
"Oh, no you don't," Fox said with a smile, pointing sternly at the bed. "You stay put. We're having dinner in bed with you. Walter's on his way up with the rest of the food." Fox put the tray on the bed and lay down beside Alex.
Alex's eyes widened appreciatively at the cut glass bowl full of ripe strawberries, dusted delicately with powdered sugar. He smiled as Walter entered the room, balancing two more trays laden with food, a bottle of white wine tucked under one arm.
"I hope you're hungry," he said with a grin. "I made your favorite." He placed the two trays down on the bed and raised the covers from the plates with a flourish. "Chicken Kiev."
Alex smiled as Walter draped the linen napkin across his lap.
"Thank you, Walter," he whispered. "It looks wonderful."
Walter made himself comfortable on the bed, resting his arm across Fox's back. Walter pointed at Alex's plate.
"You can thank me by finishing every bite," he said with his best AD growl. "A few hot meals aren't nearly enough to make up for a week of hard living and motel food. That goes for you, too, Fox," he added, gesturing toward Fox's plate. "You've been walking on air since Alex came back. I think you'd forget to eat altogether if I didn't put it in front of you."
Fox grinned and leered at Walter, reaching out to stroke Alex's thigh through the quilt.
"Maybe I'm hungry for something else..." he purred, licking his lips.
Walter gave Fox a playful swat on his upturned butt.
"Hold that thought, brat. Dinner first, fun later." Walter paused and grinned at Alex. "We'll need our strength, after all."
Alex's eyes shone, surrounded as he was by his two relaxed and attentive lovers and plate after plate of delicious food. He closed his eyes reverently and opened his mouth for the plump strawberry that Fox held to his lips. Alex bit deeply with a heartfelt groan of pleasure.
"Fox," Walter admonished, with a mock-stern look, "those are for dessert. You're going to spoil his dinner."
Fox leaned up on his elbow and kissed Alex. It was a long, slow, deep kiss that tasted of strawberries and sugar, of Alex home again. He grinned mischievously.
"It's him I'm trying to spoil," he said, looking at Alex with tenderness in his eyes. "I'm going to spoil him for the rest of his life."
Alex colored and looked down, smiling, his heart seeming to swell to the bursting at those words. He knew he would remember those words until the day he died. He looked back up at his lovers.
"I... I don't deserve-" he broke off, biting his lip. Deserve, Alex? Alex winced at the nagging little voice in the back of his mind. You know what you deserve and sure as hell isn't strawberries. Alex swallowed. Fox and Walter were looking at him expectantly. He sighed and picked up his fork, taking a bite of chicken, deeply moved by their devotion to him, after all he had done. They watched him eat, their faces alight with happiness, so glad that he was home. Alex smiled, his eyes full of tears of gratitude, even as his heart ached with the knowledge of how he had hurt Walter and Fox. He wanted to relax and enjoy the pampering, but that little voice wouldn't let him. It had been so easy, before, to silence that little voice, on the rare occasions that it had been moved to speak.
He would have sneered at the idea of a conscience in those dark and empty days when responsibility was for fools, when consequences were something that happened only to people who got too old and slow to stay in the game. Alex smiled a little, thinking that he never really noticed that little voice before his life had taken such a sudden and surprising turn. Before his heart, and frequently, his butt was warmed by Walter's strong and steadfast love. He chuckled a little, drawing two amused gazes. Amazing how clear and strident that little voice became when he was over Walter's knee, studying the carpet, waiting for the first swat. He knew he couldn't avoid hearing that voice now, even if he wanted to.
Alex stood outside Walter's study, his hand on the doorknob. He remembered another time, long ago, it seemed, when he had stood outside this door, trying to work up the courage to go inside and ask for what he knew he needed. Alex took a deep breath and, as he had that first time, knocked tentatively and opened the door.
Walter was at his desk, scribbling notes on a legal pad. A stack of manila folders lay beside him.
"Walter?" Alex said nervously.
Walter looked up and smiled.
"How are you feeling?"
"Okay," Alex said, smiling a little. "I think I've slept more in the last three days than I have my whole life."
He sat down in one of the chairs that faced Walter's desk.
"You needed the rest," Walter said. "You wore yourself out."
Alex nodded, looking down. He looked up and their eyes met in unspoken understanding.
"It's time, isn't it?" Alex said softly. "Time for you to punish me."
Walter nodded, his hands clasped on the desk in front of him.
"You needed time, Alex. I knew that you would know when you were ready."
Alex looked down again, his voice almost too soft to be heard.
"Fox should be here."
Walter nodded in agreement. He stood and left the room, pausing on the way to give Alex's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. He returned a moment later with Fox.
Fox sat in the other chair, perching on the edge of the seat, bouncing one leg nervously.
"I... I don't have to be here, Alex," he said quietly. "I don't need to see this. I mean, I'll stay if you want, but... I respect your privacy."
Alex looked into Fox's eyes with love and trust.
"I want you here, Fox. It's only right. Remember what you said to me at Christmas? It's part of the life we share, the three of us. What I did affected you, too. It's right that you're here. Please stay."
Fox nodded, steeling his resolve. He hated seeing Alex punished. Alex's cries seemed to cut him to the quick. But if Alex wanted him there, he would be there.
Alex paled as Walter opened his desk drawer. He'd expected the paddle. He knew he deserved it. But that didn't make the anticipation any easier. Walter placed the small, leather-covered paddle in the center of the desk and nodded at Alex.
Alex stood and removed his clothes, folding them and placing them on the seat of the chair. He walked around the desk and stood before Walter, his head bowed.
"I think we'll save the corner time for later," Walter said reaching out to hold Alex's hand. "We need closure. Best to get this over with."
He paused and looked into Alex's eyes.
"I'm very proud of you for coming to me, Alex. For accepting responsibility for your actions. You've come a long way."
Alex's eyes shone and he blushed with pleasure at the compliment.
Alex nodded. Walter pushed back from the desk to make room and guided Alex down over his knees. He raised his right leg slightly to raise Alex's bare bottom higher for the punishment he was about to administer. Walter stroked Alex's dark hair, felt him settle a little. Alex clung to Walter's leg and closed his eyes, almost willing the first swat. He felt awful about what happened. He had made a terrible mistake and then compounded it by disappearing and making his lovers worry. Alex shook his head. Why couldn't he ever get it right? Walter looked down with concern.
"Are you okay, Alex?"
"I'm... I'm okay."
Walter rubbed Alex's back. He looked at the paddle lying on the desk, looked down at his lover's beautiful ass. He sighed, hating what he had to do. But he knew he would do Alex a disservice to deny him the closure he needed, to withhold the discipline the younger man felt he so rightly deserved.
"All right, Alex," Walter began. Fox shifted nervously in his chair and Walter smiled at him reassuringly. Fox gave a nod and settled.
"Why are you being punished?"
Alex was silent for a long moment. Walter rubbed higher, between his shoulderblades.
Alex spoke, his voice low and ashamed.
"I... I gave you bad information. I trusted my source and I didn't check it out first."
"Could you have?" Walter asked. "Was there a way that you could have verified it?"
Alex thought for a minute.
"Yes," he admitted. "I could have made some calls. But I thought it was legitimate. He never steered me wrong before. I believed him," he finished softly.
"Let's talk about this informant," Walter said. "This is obviously someone from your former life, from your time with the Consortium."
"Yes, sir," Alex whispered.
"And he had your private e-mail address?"
"Is this the private e-mail account you just opened in the Fall? The hotmail account?"
"Yes, sir," Alex said, wincing. His buttocks clenched at the thought of the blistering to come.
"So it's safe to say then that you've been in contact with him recently. That you gave him your new e-mail address because you wanted to stay in touch with him. To get information from him. Even though you know you are forbidden to have contact with anyone connected with your former life."
Alex's eyes filled with guilty tears.
"Why, Alex? Surely you knew it was wrong? You knew what I would think?"
Alex gulped. "Yes, sir. I-I did know. And I'm sorry. But I wanted to make sure I still had a source, still had a conduit for information. In case there was ever any danger. I thought maybe he could alert me in time to make sure you and Fox were protected."
Walter considered this. He looked down at his Rat and stroked his hair again.
"I believe you, Alex, that your heart was in the right place, just as it was when you warned us about the virus. I believe you did what you did because you were worried about protecting Fox and myself. But I forbade you to have any contact with anyone from your old life for a reason. Do you understand that you broke the rules we agreed on? That what you did was wrong?"
Alex blinked back the tears that were already threatening to flow. "Yes, sir," he said, his voice shaking. "I'm sorry. I really am. I won't ever do it again. Please believe me."
"I do, Rat, I do believe you. But you still have to be punished."
Alex nodded. "I know," he said softly.
"All right, Alex," Walter said, his tone grave. "Now let's talk about the most serious offense. Do you know what that was? Was it passing on inaccurate information that caused a great deal of trouble? Getting the entire city of Washington evacuated?"
Alex hesitated. Walter laid one arm across his back, wanting to maintain physical contact with Alex at all times, to keep him anchored and secure.
"You believed the virus warning was real and you acted accordingly. You could have verified it but you didn't. It did cause a great deal of trouble and you will be punished for that. But was that the worst thing you did?"
Alex bit his lip.
He took a deep, trembling breath.
"I ran away, I left you!" Alex began to cry. "I got scared and I ran, and I didn't tell you where I was, and I was just so scared you were mad at me and that you'd never forgive me."
He paused, his eyes shut tightly in a futile effort to staunch the flow of tears that now streamed down his cheeks. He tried to concentrate on the feeling of Walter's hand resting on his back, keeping him centered, keeping him close.
"I left you," he cried. "I left you, and I could've been hurt or killed and you wouldn't have known what happened to me, that I loved you, that I missed you, and I know it was wrong, I let my fear get the better of me and I should have come to you but I ran instead," the words tumbled out of him in one long, agonized stream. "I left you," he repeated, sobbing almost too hard to speak. "I left you, my loves, I left you and I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
Alex dropped his head down and bawled. Fox was instantly at his side, cradling his head in his hands, kissing away his tears. Fox's heart ached at the naked pain on Alex's face. Alex never cried like this. Fox whispered softly to Alex, knowing his lover needed this rare release. He looked up at Walter pleadingly. Walter pulled Alex up into a sitting position and held him, let him cry.
After a time, Alex quieted. He looked up at Walter with reddened eyes.
"Okay," he said quietly.
Walter looked at him with concern. Fox's eyes had begged Walter not to punish Alex and Walter had been struggling with the decision as Alex cried, his tears soaking Walter's shirt. He knew Alex needed the punishment, needed to feel forgiven, needed to truly understand that running away from his problems only made things worse. But Walter had been moved to tears himself by Alex's sobs and wondered if he would be able to do what needed to be done. Alex looked up and gently stroked Walter's cheek, his green eyes shining with understanding.
Alex turned and looked at the leather-covered paddle with loathing. God, but that thing hurt. He swallowed hard and turned back to Walter.
"Okay," he said again, standing and then bending once more over Walter's lap. "I'm ready."
Surprised, Walter helped Alex get into position.
"Are you sure, Alex?" he asked. He knew if Alex said no he would grant him a reprieve. Alex had been through enough.
Alex raised his head and looked at Fox, back in his chair, watching anxiously.
"Yes," Alex said quietly. "I deserve it. I know I do. Go ahead, Walter, please, before I lose my nerve. I earned a paddling, I know I did. Please just get it over with so we can put this behind us."
Walter nodded and picked up the paddle.
"All right, Alex. Having contact with the informant after I forbade you to have anything to do with people from your former life, that's very serious. You know how I feel about that. I'm giving you ten for that. And as soon as we're done here you will close that e-mail account. In three months, we'll discuss whether you'll be allowed to open a new one."
"Yes, sir," Alex whispered.
"As for passing on the virus warning and creating general pandemonium... I bear some responsibility for that myself. I took your informant at his word, just as you did, and it was my actions that resulted in the involvement of my superiors and the evacuation of the city. Therefore, I'm only giving you five swats for this offense. Your intentions were good and you honestly believed the threat was real. But," he added sternly, "from now on, you'll get your information from legitimate sources only, just like everyone else. Is that clear?"
Alex smiled and nodded.
"And," Walter continued, "you will write an essay of at least five thousand words on famous hoaxes throughout history and their effect on society."
Alex swallowed hard. Walter knew he hated writing assignments more than anything. He would gladly take a spanking any day of the week rather than spend a boring afternoon in the study under Walter's watchful eye, glumly contemplating the vast expanse of blank white paper before him.
"Y-yes, sir," he said reluctantly.
"All right," Walter said, rubbing Alex's back. "I think we all agree that the last offense is the most serious. You left, Alex. You panicked and you ran without a word to either of us. We were worried sick about you. We didn't know where you were or if you were all right. I don't think Fox and I got more than twelve hours of sleep that entire week." Walter raised the paddle. "Twenty-five for that, Alex. For running away instead of coming to us and talking about it. For robbing us of you. For taking our lover away for one agonizing week."
Alex nodded, close to tears again. Hearing how his disappearance had affected his lovers, hearing the hurt in Walter's voice, this was the hardest for him.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he cried. "I won't do it again, never, I swear."
"I'm going to see to it, Rat," Walter said, not unkindly. "If I have to paddle this beautiful butt of yours every night for the rest of your life."
Walter brought the paddle down with a resounding crack. Alex jumped and kicked a little but tried not to cry out. Walter raised the paddle again with the knowledge that his arm was about to get very, very sore.
Alex lost his battle to stay silent around the fifth swat. He yelled and bucked helplessly as the paddle smacked down with unerring accuracy, his bottom quickly becoming hot, red and swollen.
Fox gripped the arms of the chair, cringing with every swat, his heart aching and stomach wrenching as each deep sob broke out of Alex.
Walter spanked Alex with a steady rhythm, covering first one cheek and then the other with smart whacks, blazing a trial of fire across Alex's naked backside.
Alex clung to Walter's leg, his eyes shut tight, tears squeezing past the barrier of his thick lashes. He felt as though his bottom would simply explode under the constant, implacable rise and fall of the paddle.
"Oww!" he cried, twisting and writhing under Walter's immovable arm. "Ow, Walter, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I won't do it again! I swear I won't!"
"No more shady informants, Alex? No more unsubstantiated virus warnings? No more running off and leaving us, the ones who love you more than anything in the world, instead of facing your problems?"
Walter hated to be so hard on Alex but he needed to know. He needed to know the lesson was being learned, that it was sinking in.
"Yes! I swear! Never again, Walter, I'll learn, I swear I will! Please..."
Alex hung his head and cried, praying for it to be over.
"Only ten more, Alex," Walter said softly, rubbing between his shoulderblades.
"Oh, no, please," Alex cried, "I... I don't think I can, please, Walter..."
Fox raised his head.
"He's had enough, Walter, you heard him."
Walter looked at Alex.
"Are you sure, Rat? You've got ten left. You decide."
Alex thought for a minute, trying to think clearly despite the burning agony that engulfed his backside.
"The... the last ten," he sniffled, "those are for running away?"
"Yes," Walter answered. "Part of the last twenty-five. You've had fifteen of them. If you don't think you can take another ten, we'll wait and do them another time."
"No," Alex choked. "Now, please. Please let's get it over with. I... I earned them, Walter, Fox, I earned every one. I left you. I panicked and ran away and... I-I hurt you, and I know I deserve it."
He gripped Walter's leg more tightly.
"Okay," he whispered.
Walter raised the paddle again and brought it down ten times in rapid succession, the sound of the crisp smacks filling the room. Alex yowled and cried, his sobs growing louder with each swat.
"I'm sorry!" he yelled, kicking fruitlessly. "I'm sorry, I love you, I love you! I'll never leave you again, I swear!"
At last it was over. Alex felt himself gathered into Walter's arms and held. He began sobbing his apologies again but was immediately shushed.
"It's all right, Alex," Walter whispered, rocking him gently. "I love you and Fox loves you. We both love you more than life."
Alex clung to him tightly, feeling those strong arms close around him.
"Love you too," he said softly, and rested his head on Walter's shoulder. Fox knelt beside the chair and rested his head on Walter's other shoulder, his long, slender fingers stroking Alex's dark hair.
They stayed like that for a time, silent but for the occasional whispered words of devotion. Walter helped Alex to stand and led him toward the stairs. Fox followed, tears drying on his cheeks. He got the bottle of aloe from the bathroom and followed his lovers into the bedroom.
Walter lay Alex gently on the bed. Fox sat beside him, the bottle of aloe in his hand. Alex continued to cry quietly.
"That's it, Alex," Walter said softly. "Cry it out. It's over now, you're forgiven. You're loved and you're safe."
Walter's eyes met Fox's. They smiled at one another with understanding as Fox squeezed a generous amount of the aloe into Walter's outstretched hand. Fox began smoothing the cooling gel into one red cheek and Walter began doing the same to the other. Alex raised his head and looked at his lovers, smiling through his tears.
"Just lie down, Rat," said Walter gently. "Let us take care of you."
Each man focused intently on one side of Alex's red, swollen bottom. Fox and Walter lovingly smoothed the gel over the heated flesh, massaging it in gently. Alex buried his face in the pillow and sighed.
Soon, Fox and Walter lay beside him, one on each side. Fox stroked Alex's hair while Walter massaged his neck and shoulders.
"Please don't ever leave us again, baby," Fox whispered.
"I won't," Alex answered softly, his voice rough from his cries. "I'll come to you, both of you, and talk when I get scared."
"Promise us, Rat," Walter whispered, kissing his back. Alex arched and moaned. Walter knew that secret spot on his back was one of Alex's favorite places to be kissed.
"I promise," Alex whispered. "Never again. I'll never leave you again."
And felt his lovers draw even closer.
Notes and Disclaimers