Notes and Disclaimers at end
Christmas I: Red
Alex Krycek moved soundlessly through the inky darkness like the meticulously trained operative he was. Not a single motion was wasted; sinew, muscle and bone all performed in perfect synchrony as he infiltrated the target zone. Not a single thought was allowed to enter his mind save one. The only one that mattered. Complete the mission and get out alive.
He stayed low to the floor as he moved like a silent, deadly cat, pausing occasionally, listening for any sound. His every sense was on full alert, his every nerve pulsed, thrummed, his breathing was carefully regulated. The lightweight black clothing he wore allowed him a full range of motion. It was made in Russia, in a building that did not appear on any city map. It was not available for sale anywhere in the world. Alex stopped and lifted his head. He reached up and removed his night-vision goggles, wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of one gloved hand and replaced them, his eyes expertly sweeping over the room and its strange collection of objects as he began to move again.
His heart rate increased as he began to near his goal and he forced himself to stop. He took several deep, calming breaths, mentally berating himself. Come on, Alexei, get it together! You're so close now!
Just as he began to move forward again, he heard a noise. He froze, becoming a black-clad statue, his muscles quivering with the effort of remaining absolutely still. He waited for several minutes, listening intently, his stomach doing an uneasy roll at the thought of being discovered. He swallowed hard. He didn't even want to think about what would happen if he were found out now. At last, he felt safe enough to proceed and he began to crawl again, his lithe, well-toned body slicing easily through the darkness.
He caught his breath as the target loomed in his sights. He lowered his shoulders toward the floor, supporting himself on his elbows as he gracefully maneuvered himself down onto his stomach. The target glowed in the unearthly blue light of the night-vision goggles. It was about four feet around, and square. He gingerly reached out and pressed a trembling hand against it. He swallowed, his dry throat making a tiny clicking noise. One wrong move now...
He reached around to the small pack he wore on his back and removed the portable X-ray scanner. He held it in his hands for a moment, and, jaded as he was, marveled at the technology. He pressed the button, activating the device and illuminating the small screen set into it. He carefully placed the scanner on the side of the target, chewing his lip as he concentrated on the task at hand. He began to move the scanner from left to right, rolling it centimeter by centimeter along the flat surface, his eyes riveted on the screen. A moment later, a faint image began to appear. His heart pounded as he leaned forward for a closer look. He squinted at it, almost forgetting to breathe. He could almost make it out... what was it...
He yelped in pain and surprise as strong fingers suddenly seized his left earlobe and hauled him to his feet. His eyes widened behind the night-vision goggles as he saw a large shape looming in front of him. The shape looked angry. The shape looked like Walter. Alex gulped. The fingers tugged insistently at his earlobe.
"Hand them over, Alex."
Reluctantly, Alex removed the goggles, squinting a little in the sudden brightness of the overhead light. Walter took the goggles. Alex had time to ruminate for a second on just how sexy Walter looked in his green and blue plaid bathrobe, the one Alex had given him last Christmas, when he was startled out of his brief reverie by another sharp yank to his earlobe.
"Ow," he whined again, "Walter..."
Alex twisted and turned, trying to loosen Walter's grip, but to no avail. Walter watched him as he wriggled fruitlessly, his delectable bottom lip already set in a pout, looking more like a little boy playing Ninja than a full-grown and very accomplished assassin.
"The X-ray machine, too, Alex," Walter continued.
His voice was low and calm. Reasonable, even. Alex's blood ran cold. He was going to get it. Oh boy, was he going to get it. He meekly handed over the machine. Walter released his ear. Alex rubbed it as he watched Walter take the equipment into the kitchen and drop it into the trash can.
"Oh, Walter," Alex pleaded, "not my Israeli night-vision goggles! Those cost four thousand dollars!"
"That's enough," Walter said as he returned to the living room. "You're in enough trouble as it is. Now, what other toys do you have on you?"
Alex shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly fascinated with the carpet. It really was more of a champagne than a beige, he thought. And the pile, really more of a medium than a shag. He poked at it with the toe of one soft-soled black boot. He hated shag carpet. Walter's hand grasped Alex's chin gently but firmly, halting that train of thought.
"Now, boy. All of them."
Alex swallowed hard. Walter only called him that when he was in serious trouble. Serious. He slowly removed his pack and handed it to his lover. Walter took it into the kitchen and began removing its contents, lining the items up on the counter.
"Let's see what we have here... frequency jammer, spy camera, wireless mike, chewy chocolate-chip granola bar..."
He glanced up, his eyebrows raised.
Alex shrugged a little, eyeing the carpet again.
"Even spies get hungry," he mumbled.
Alex winced as the rest of his obscenely expensive equipment went into the trash can and his chocolate-chip granola bar went into Walter's pocket. Walter returned to where Alex stood, eyes humbly downcast, next to the Christmas tree. Alex watched helplessly as Walter zeroed in on the target and hefted it, his brown eyes looking sternly at Alex over the huge red bow on the top of the box. Walter carried the beautifully gift-wrapped box into the mud room, set it down and closed the door. He crossed the living room and stood in front of his errant lover.
"You know what to do," he said simply.
One look at the firm set of Walter's jaw and Alex's pleas died on his lips. Walter set great store by Alex learning from his mistakes and accepting the consequences for them, and Alex knew from experience that arguing would only make it worse. He nodded and went to stand in the corner near the fireplace. There was a small spot on the wall there that was almost imperceptibly paler than the surrounding paint. Alex sighed and pressed his nose against it as he had so many times before, the friction caused by his slight movements displacing more microscopic amounts of pigment.
Alex made a rather pathetic figure as he pressed into the corner, his shoulders slumped. Walter looked at him, love swelling his heart even as his mind told him what needed to be done. Walter went over to the fireplace and leaned down to open the flue. He took the long tube of fireplace matches from its home on the mantelpiece and lit the pile of hardwood already stacked in the grate. Alex turned his head slightly to see what Walter was doing and was rewarded with two sharp swats to his vulnerable backside. He jumped and whimpered, but quickly put his nose back into the corner, resisting the urge to rub the sting away. Satisfied with the fires burning both in the fireplace and in his lover's bottom, Walter returned to the kitchen and the reason he had come downstairs at two in the morning in the first place - a tall glass of eggnog.
He drank it slowly, the silence between the two men growing heavy as one awaited punishment and the other considered it. Walter placed the glass in the sink and walked toward Alex, pausing beside the small loveseat near the fireplace.
"Come here, Alex."
Alex turned slowly, knowing he deserved what was coming but dreading it. He walked to the center of the living room and stood, hands clasped behind his back, head lowered. He couldn't see the softness in Walter's eyes as he gazed at his Rat, at the young man whose life he had been working so earnestly to turn around. Walter smiled a little, remembering those first, hard days. Remembered Alex, fearless in the face of the Consortium, but trembling in his embrace. Remembered Alex, frightened and mistrustful, ready to flee at the first sign of adversity. Ready to retreat to his dark and familiar former world, the thought of cold steel and cigarette smoke somehow less terrifying than intimacy, than being known, being understood, being loved. Walter sighed, wanting nothing more than to kiss the top of that dark head, breathe deep and savor the clean, faintly musky smell that could only be Alex. He steeled himself for the task ahead. They had gotten through those days just the way they would get through this night, with love, patience and perseverance.
"Alex," Walter said quietly as he moved to sit down on the loveseat. He patted the place beside him. "Come here."
His head still lowered, Alex went over to the loveseat and stood before Walter. He raised his eyes briefly, then dropped his gaze again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. It hurt Walter's heart to see the pain in those green eyes.
"I know, Rat," he replied, his voice full of emotion. "I know you are. But we have to talk about what you did. Take off those gloves and boots and sit down beside me."
Alex obeyed, stripping off his gloves and removing his boots. He curled up in the corner of the loveseat, tucking his feet, clad in their thick black socks, under him. He picked at the knee of his form-fitting pants, unable to look Walter in the eye. Walter placed his hand over Alex's.
"Look at me, Alex."
Alex looked up, his expression expectant and nervous. Walter continued to hold Alex's hand as he spoke, not wanting to spook the younger man. Despite all of his efforts, Alex still found discussing his wrongdoing and the reasons for punishment the most difficult. Walter knew Alex could have taken the harshest discipline without a whimper, but talking about his feelings, hearing that what he had done had affected those close to him, was still extremely hard for him. Walter gently rubbed his thumb against the back of Alex's hand, not wanting him to bolt as he had done at times in the past. Walter remembered many nights spent unpacking Alex's bags ten minutes after everything Alex owned had been thrown into them in a blind panic, nights spent soothing and reassuring the scared young man, talking until his voice was hoarse.
Now he looked into Alex's eyes, his stern expression marking the seriousness of the matter before them. He was tired, and "Just spank him and go to bed," sidled to the forefront of his thoughts, to be firmly shoved aside. No. He was going to handle this the right way. He had to make sure Alex understood why he was being punished, not just whack his ass and send him to bed.
Walter cleared his throat. His words were soft but it pained him to have to say them.
"I'm disappointed in the choices you made tonight, Alex."
Alex bit his lip and tears sprang to his eyes. He looked up at Walter, wounded.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "I'm sorry I tried to find out what my Christmas gift is." He looked down. "I knew it was wrong and I knew you wouldn't want me to snoop, but information has always been my life, my way of staying ahead, staying alive. I couldn't stand not knowing." He paused, ashamed, and gave a sad, short laugh. "Once a Rat, always a Rat, huh?"
Walter's fingers cupped his chin and tilted his face up.
"That's enough of that, boy," he growled. "You've come a long way, Alex, and I won't listen to you tear yourself down. Is that clear?"
Alex's eyes were bright. He swallowed past the growing lump in his throat.
"Yes, sir," he whispered. Walter released Alex's chin and rested his hand on his shoulder.
"This isn't about the Christmas present, Alex."
Alex looked up, confused.
Walter glanced toward the mud room door, behind which the big box sat, wrapped in its green and red paper.
"No, Alex, it isn't. It's about the way you used to live your life and the way you live it now. It's about the decisions you make, the decisions that affect not just you, but Fox and myself as well."
Alex sucked in his breath at the mention of the third member of their household. He glanced toward the stairs, his chest tightening at the mere sound of his name. Fox. The enigmatic and beautiful man he had loved and longed for, so many nights spent alone, dreaming of hazel eyes and chestnut hair. Sometimes Alex still couldn't quite believe that he was here, in their home. In his home. Our home, he thought, Walter's face suddenly shimmering before him as his eyes filled with tears and began to overflow. He roughly scrubbed the tears away with the back of his hand.
"Walter," he said, his voice shaking. "Please... please. Anything," he paused and moistened his dry lips. "I'll take anything, whatever you want to give me. Punish me, strap me with your belt. Tell me I'm bad and evil and worthless," he continued, his voice rising and becoming more uneven as he gathered momentum. "Tell me I'm a sorry son of a bitch, that I'm irredeemable, that I'm a liar and a murderer. Tell me anything, just don't..." a tear slid down his cheek as he fought to get the words out, "just don't tell me you're disappointed in me." These last words were spoken so softly that Walter had to lean forward to hear them.
Alex huddled there in the corner of the loveseat, shaking, wondering if this was it. One fuck-up too many. The end of the line. He didn't even see Walter move. One second he was sitting there, trying to blink away the tears, his arms wrapped around his knees, and the next he was being held against Walter's broad chest, those strong arms holding him tightly. He nestled his head into the hollow of Walter's neck and a sob escaped him. Walter rubbed Alex's back through the lightweight black material of his shirt.
"Alex, I want you to listen to me. Are you listening?" He felt Alex nod slightly.
"Good. I am not disappointed in you. I am disappointed in what you did, and there's a difference. I love you, Alex, and I believe in you. This is just another rough patch and we're going to get through it together. Okay?"
Alex sat up and nodded again. He swallowed hard.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I understand."
Relief surged inside him as he processed what Walter had said to him. Not disappointed in me. I fucked up, but he still believes in me. Still wants me.
"Do you really?" Walter asked. "Do you truly understand that I love you and I will never, ever give up on you? That I can be angry or sad or disappointed because of something you did, but never because of you?"
Alex nodded again.
"Good," Walter repeated. "Now."
His gaze became more stern and Alex gulped a little as Walter swung into full lecture mode, his serious eyes fastened on Alex's.
"I am not going to punish you for trying to find out what's in the box. I am going to punish you for being dishonest-"
"I wasn't!" Alex protested. "I admit what I did was wrong, but I didn't lie. I didn't deny doing it."
"What did I say to you this afternoon when I caught you sitting beside the tree, shaking boxes?"
Alex colored and looked down. He mumbled something.
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that."
"I said, you told me not to snoop and not to touch the presents until Christmas morning."
"And what did you say?"
Alex mumbled again.
Alex looked up quickly. Walter's expression brooked no argument.
"I said I promise not to snoop and not to touch the presents."
"And did you keep that promise?"
Alex's voice was a whisper.
"Promises are meant to be kept, Alex, not broken as soon as I go upstairs and go to sleep. Can you think of any other promises you broke tonight?"
Alex thought for a minute. He realized where Walter was going with this and he tensed. Oh, shit. He opened his mouth and closed it again. It really wasn't about the Christmas present. It was about much more than that. Walter watched him intently. He could see the internal struggle reflected in that beautiful, worried face, and he waited for the outcome, hope growing in his heart. Finally, Alex lifted his face and spoke, his voice tinged with shame and regret.
"I promised not to use the things I learned in the Consortium. I promised not to bring any of the tools I used as a spy or as an assassin into this house. I promised not to lie or to use subterfuge to get what I want. I promised... not to break my promises. I messed up, Walter. I'm sorry," he finished simply.
Fearfully, he looked up into Walter's face. The look he saw there told him everything. He had done the right thing.
"That's right, Alex," Walter said softly. "That's why I am going to punish you. Because I love you and I know how much you want this new life, how much you want to truly leave the old life behind. You promised not to lie, not to spy and not to use your Consortium skills, and you broke those promises."
Alex nodded sadly. Walter placed a hand on Alex's knee.
"Come on now, let's get this over with."
Alex stood and began removing the tight, black clothing. He began to place it on a nearby chair but, at a warning look from Walter, reluctantly carried it into the kitchen and dropped in into the wastebasket before returning to stand naked before his lover. Strong hands guided Alex face down over Walter's large thighs. He closed his eyes and waiting for the punishment to begin. Walter's soft voice above him seemed strangely soothing as he waited for the first swat.
"Just my hand, Alex. I think you'll get the point effectively enough."
Alex nodded just as Walter's broad hand cracked down across his bare butt. He winced and kicked a little as another blow landed on the same spot, a little harder this time.
Walter was nothing if not thorough and efficient when it came to spanking. He methodically turned both of Alex's pale buttcheeks bright red, his hard, flat hand coming down again and again. Alex tried not to tense but it was a losing battle as he barely had time to recover from one blazing swat before the next one followed. He tried not to wriggle and squirm, determined to take the punishment he had earned, but it proved nearly impossible to remain still as Walter blistered his ass with vigor and determination. Alex was grateful for Walter's hand positioned on the small of his back, keeping him firmly in place.
Walter's hand was beginning to hurt, but he had to make sure the lesson was learned and remembered. He landed two smart whacks to each of Alex's sit spots, noting the muffled sob that followed. Alex was close now. Walter spanked harder, leaning down toward the whimpering man over his lap.
"What is this punishment for, Alex?" he asked.
Alex was silent for a moment, then spoke, his voice cracking as he fought back tears.
"F-for breaking my promises! For... for... ow, Walter, please-"
"Almost over now, Alex. Tell me. Tell me why you're getting a spanking."
Alex gulped in air, clinging to the edge of the cushion as Walter walloped his bare butt.
"For not keeping my promises! F-for going back to my old ways, for spying! For the goggles and the X-ray machine and the frequency jammer and the clothes and-" he broke off, sobbing too hard to speak.
"What the hell is going on down there?"
Walter paused and looked up. Fox stood at the top of the stairs in his boxer shorts, his hair tousled and sticking out in every direction. Fox rubbed his eyes and looked down into the living room. He saw Alex, naked, over Walter's knee, the flames from the fireplace reflecting on the reddened skin in what he knew from experience was a very apt representation of the way Alex felt right now. Fox sighed and went into the upstairs bathroom, rummaged in the medicine cabinet for the bottle of aloe, and went into the bedroom to await his lovers.
Walter lay the last set of spanks across the tops of Alex's thighs, just under the curve of his buttocks. Alex yowled, all pretense at dignity gone. He sobbed loudly, barely aware that the spanking had now stopped. He felt himself being gathered up into Walter's arms and he wrapped his arms around Walter's neck, burying his face in his shoulder. He cried and cried, the fabric of Walter's robe quickly becoming saturated with tears. Walter rubbed Alex's back and spoke soothingly to him, using the few words of Russian that he knew, which always seemed to help calm his Rat.
Finally, Alex's sobs quieted, except for the occasional hitching breath. At length, he raised a tear-streaked face.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "I really am. I won't do it again."
Walter considered him gravely.
"Is that a promise?"
Alex paled, then lowered his lashes for a moment, thinking hard. He raised his eyes back up to Walter's, gazing into them intently.
Walter hugged Alex tightly, his hand gently touching the superheated skin of Alex's bottom. Walter hissed in sympathy.
"I don't think you'll be sitting comfortably for a couple of days, Rat," he said, wishing he hadn't had to punish Alex.
"I deserved it," Alex said quietly. "I know I did."
"Yes, you did," Walter agreed. "Come on, let's get upstairs and get some gel on that, and then let's get some sleep."
They stood, lingering for a moment by the fire, Alex keeping his butt well turned away from the hearth. There was already more than enough heat back there without any more help. Walter paused, drawing Alex close again. He kissed him lovingly, stroking Alex's cheek with his fingertips as he released him.
"I love you, Alex," he said softly. "We love you."
Alex's eyes were green light refracted through a prism of tears.
"I love you, too," he whispered. "I love you both."
"Let's get upstairs before Fox starts to pout."
He started for the stairs but stopped as Alex put a hand on his arm.
"Um, Walter?" Alex's voice was tentative.
"What is it, Rat?"
Alex glanced toward the door of the mud room, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.
"Um... my present..." he began, biting his lip a little. "You won't... I mean..."
"Will you still get it?"
Alex nodded and looked down.
"I understand if you take it back," he said, almost inaudibly.
Walter grinned again and startled Alex by sweeping him up off his feet and tossing him over his shoulder, careful to avoid contact with the smaller man's red, swollen backside.
"Take it back?" he said incredulously as he mounted the stairs. "After all the trouble we went through to get it? Not on your life!"
Alex raised his head, his eyes wide.
"You mean, it's-"
"Ah, ah," Walter said warningly. "No questions and no more snooping. If I catch you poking around the presents again you're going to wake up Christmas morning to a lump of coal. Understood?"
"Loud and clear," Alex said, clinging to the sash of Walter's robe as he bounced along the hallway over his lover's shoulder. He sighed as he was deposited gently on the big bed, his head pillowed on Fox's lap, Walter's fingers beginning to gently spread the cool aloe gel over his punished bottom. He raised his head and looked back at Walter, then up at Fox. Their eyes shone back at him, full of love, full of promise. Alex lay his head back down on Fox's lap and closed his eyes.
"Loud and clear," he repeated softly.
Notes and Disclaimers