Title: Happy Trails

Author: Amazon X

E-mail: yankeestarbuck@yahoo.com

Website: http://yankeestarbuck.tripod.com

Feedback: Why, yes, thank you!

Category: X-Files, Lyric Wheel Challenge

Rating: Adult, why yes, thank you

Summary: Walter goes home to help his injured brother and hires a ranch hand.

Archive: The Basement, Full House Slash, Gossamer, WWOMB,

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, I have no money.

Notes: Ursula made me do it, I swear, I didn't wanna!  I have like 4 stories people want me to write, I had no time for this.  And I could NOT help myself.  As soon as I saw the lyrics, I saw this all pop into my head.  Did a little talky-work with Erynn, of course, how else do I get anything written, seriously.  And she named the pet.  This was finished almost last minute, too.  Oh, and the blue-eyed kid really exists, hehehehe.  Thank you Kayla for quick and dirty beta, you rawk!


Walter Skinner led his quarter horse to the stall where he was usually housed and locked the stallion in.  "Hey, Ricky, can you get some feed for Tarzan?  Brush him down and settle him for the day."

"Sure, Uncle Walter, no problem."  The young boy, just beginning to get comfortable in his changing body still stumbled about, but unlike his father, Walter never called him Little Ricky.  The boy was just Ricky.  Walter continued on to the big ranch house where his brother, Rick and sister in law Emmie lived with Little Ricky and ran the family ranch.  Walter had long ago abandoned that life, choosing the Marines, then college and the bureau afterward.  No one blamed him, as he climbed the ladder of success, but he always felt that his brother resented him leaving for the "fast city life".

Walter bounded up the steps and went into the kitchen where Emmie was stirring a large pot.  "What's for dinner?" Walter asked.

As he leaned over to look in the pot, he was hit in the behind with a wooden spoon.  "That's for dinner!  And it's almost ready, so get out of those dirty clothes and wash up."  Walter didn't take it personal when Emmie turned her back on him and went about her business.  Women's work, as his father always called it, was always business with his sister in law.  And she did not play with her business.

Walter made his way through the large, sprawling, true-to-form ranch house.  It was all one level, and since the elder Skinners had passed on, Rick had added two extra bedrooms, a bathroom and a den onto the house.  Walter was disappointed that his childhood room had become Emmie's sewing room, and Rick's old room was Ricky's.  She had decorated it nicely, though, and used the room to make the amazing blankets and quilts that she gave as wedding gifts.

He stripped off his smelly work clothes and tossed them into the laundry basket Emmie insisted he use.  And it was always empty when he turned around.  The woman refused to let him do his own washing.  "I have a huge Maytag for a reason, Walter," she would say.

He stood in the bathroom and washed himself, thinking of the times when a day of hard work consisted of sitting.  Lots of sitting.  Sitting in meetings, sitting in debriefings, sitting reading reports.  How the hell did he endure it?  The sweat he was wiping from his chest was from mending fence posts damaged in the last wind storm.  He enjoyed being out in the sun and working hard, but he was not the boy he used to be.  By no means was he old.  Hell, he could still out work the strapping teenager that insisted on spending his days with "Uncle Walter."

It just wasn't as easy as it once was.  Skinner was realistic about his limitations.  After his adventures in pugilism, he took some of Dr. Plant's advice.  He'd need to talk to Rick about hiring a ranch hand.

After changing his clothes, and dressing in a fresh shirt and chinos, he slipped into his new favorite moccasins, hand made by Emmie’s sister, and started toward the living room where Rick sat all day, watching television and allowing his femur to knit, like the doctor ordered him to.  He'd much prefer a walking cast, but he was not allowed to apply pressure to the break.  "Hey, little brother, get your ass in your chair.  Dinner's on," he said, pulling the wheelchair out.

"I can walk, Walt!  Put the fuckin' thing away," Rick ground out.

"Watch your language, Husband!" came the singing chastisement from Emmie in the kitchen.

Rick shook his head and whispered, "She can hear a gnat fart in Dallas."

Walter laughed, but both were surprised when Emmie stood in the doorway and said, "No, but I can hear you not getting any tonight."  She turned abruptly, braids swinging, and left them.  Walter held the chair while Rick struggled into it, remembering how important it was when he was home from Vietnam to be independent and get in and out of the chair himself, until his knee had healed enough for him to walk.  He afforded his brother the same respect.

He preceded the chair into the dining room and sat on the right hand side, one chair from Rick, who sat at the head with Emmie on his left and Ricky on his right.  They said the blessing over the food and dug into the sumptuous beef stew, sopping the gravy up with hunks of fresh baked whole grain bread.  Walter preferred drinking water, and led the example as Rick wasn't allowed alcohol anyway.  Walter sipped at the tall glass and started with his concerns.

"Rick, I need to hire a hand to help with the repairs and the tending.  Me and Ricky can't do this alone.  I'm gonna need some help.  I'm fifty-one and I got only five years on you.  No wonder you snapped your leg when you got thrown.  And you shoulda known better getting on Desperado, anyway.  Tarzan's a damn fine animal."

"First off, big brother, you know shit-all about what needs doin' around here.  Second, I gotta break that bastard 'fore I can sell 'im.  Third, hire your fuckin' hand, you old..."

"Rick..." his wife warned.

"Emmie, please.  Hire a hand to help you, but don't think I'll need him after I'm back in gear, kay?"  Rick went back to his dinner.  Walter suffered the insults with aplomb knowing Rick was lashing out in frustration, fear and hurt, and not the true malice he thought he wanted to hit with.  Walter looked at Emmie who smiled back and nodded.

Walter had expected more of an argument, but he was akin to a Trojan and didn't look that gift horse in the mouth.  The next day, he went out to Boden, the closest town, and he went to Old Man Harlow's place.  Major Maxwell Harlow was retired career Marine, the man who made the biggest fuss when Walter joined the corps, and the way to get word around about things.  He left word that he needed a ranch hand for the next four to six months, and the guy would have to be prepared to sleep in the bunk house, and clean and fix it up.

Walter drove his father's old pick up truck back to the house, smiling at how third still stuck a little, and the old man was in every grind of the gears.  Back at the house, when they sat down to lunch, Walter gave everyone the local gossip passed onto him by Harlow.  Emmie sat demurely listening while Rick and Ricky laughed heartily about who was doing what to whom.  She was a modern woman in most ways, but some of the old Apache traditions, passed to her by her grandmother, still held fast in her heart, she'd told Walter.  She did not like gossip.

After three days of lonesome work on the fence, the two-way radio Walter always carried came to life.  "Brother, there's a man here about the job," Emmie said, and that was it.

Knowing they were done for the day, Walter mounted Tarzan and Ricky got on his own horse, a brown and white paint he called Spot, and they rode back.  A sleek black '67 Corvette convertible sat in the long driveway, and Emmie was serving lemonade to the man Walter surmised as the driver and Rick.

"Ricky, take the horses in.  And take your time."  Ricky nodded, knowing better than to argue with an elder.  Walter had to hand it to Emmie; she raised the boy respectful and never laid a hand on him to punish him.

Walter took his time mounting the stairs.  He knew who owned that car.  The man he'd helped hide three years earlier, so he could do his good works in private.  "Alex, you come here to work for me?  Again?"

"Couldn't get enough of you the first time.  So when I heard there was a paying job..." he said, smiling, eyelashes flickering a bit.  Walter watched his brother squint at Alex, then back to his older brother.

"Ya'll know each other?" Rick asked.

"Yes, we do.  Special Agent Alex Krycek, my brother Rick Skinner.  His wife, Emmie.  He worked for me a little while in the bureau, then had some other things he needed to do.  I can vouch for him.  When you wanna start?"

"Well, great, take over the whole fuckin' ranch, Walt," Rick ground out, then wheeled himself toward the door.  No one stood as he fought his way inside.

"Uh, is he OK with this?" Alex asked, allowing Emmie to take his glass and silently enter the house.

"My little brother, Frederick Dmitri Skinner.  He runs the ranch," Walter explained.

"All of you have Russian middle names?" Alex asked, leaning back in his chair.  Walter to the chair beside him on the wide, covered front porch.

"There's just the two of us.  Rick's son, Ricky, as I call him, works the place with him when he can.  Emmie, well, Emmiline Garcia Skinner, she home-schools him, since she hated the ignorants in Boden who kept calling him half-breed.  Like the entire population of Texas can't find some mixed blood in them somewhere."

"You both look alike," Alex noted quietly.

“Skinner men all have the same eyes, nose and hair.  Papa looked just like us.  And yes, Papa died bald.  Rick is fighting it valiantly.”

“Poor Ricky,” Alex mused.

“Emmie’s dad still has all his hair, but it's silver.  Two thick silver braids.”

"Why are we here?  I mean, on this ranch right now, not in the philosophical, existential meaning."  Alex smiled and Walter saw the little crinkle he'd always loved so much above his nose was still there.  Time hadn't destroyed everything.  Whereas, Walter had a little more gray hair, and felt his bones creak a little more, he knew he was still strong as an ox.  And he was still sexy as hell, since Emmie's sister kept making cow eyes at him when she came by to help out at the beginning.

"Rick got thrown and broke his leg.  Bastard of an animal, and Rick just wasn't prepared.  So I came out to help, retired and all, sold the condo.  Since the invasion's been thwarted and the Super Soldiers are crushed, thanks to you and that fake 'anthrax scare, come get the cure' you initiated, I thought my time in the bureau was at a close."

"I know.  I followed."  Alex's enigmatic smile warmed Skinner, despite the blazing May sun.

"Why are *you* here?  You have plenty of money, I know that much."

"You caught me," Alex said, guiltily.  "I just…I wanted to see you.  I can go.  This is your family and..."

"You're gonna need some help fixing up the bunkhouse,” Walter interrupted.  “I know you like being private.  It's got electricity and plumbing, but the roof has holes.  And there are a couple of broken windows.  Needs air conditioning.  I can help out."

Alex smiled and nodded.  "I can get started today."

"What the hell do you know about horses, anyway, Alex?" Walter asked, shaking the younger man's proffered hand and helping him to stand.

"You'd be surprised at the things I know.  Show me this bunkhouse."  Alex followed Walter around the house where they encountered Ricky, making his way toward them.

"Ricky, this is Alex.  He's gonna work with us for a while."

"Hi, Alex," the boy said and held his hand out to shake.  Walter smiled at the look of appreciation Alex gave Ricky of the handshake.  All Skinner men had firm but amiable grips.

Walter showed Alex the bunkhouse, and they walked through, noting the repairs that needed making and both started calculating in their heads the things they needed.  It didn't surprise Walter that Alex had all of his possessions in the trunk of his car, plus a bedroll that he’d use until he could get a new bed for his room.  The bunkhouse was once able to hold four hands, but as time went on, a few walls didn't make it, and three of the four small rooms had become one big one.  The kitchen and bathroom needed lots of cleanser and disinfectant, but the porcelain wasn't cracked and nothing was rusted too bad.

From then on, Walter and Alex started early each morning getting out to repair the fence on the southern pasture land and after lunch, they would do work on the bunkhouse.  Walter did his best every night to stay in his own bed, satisfied to jerk off, thinking of the lush body, delicious mouth and tight ass that waited for him in the bunkhouse.  His family did not know he dabbled in the Greek arts and he was not going to tell them by getting caught.  Especially since his he knew how his father and brother felt about "fags."

The afternoon, three weeks after Alex's arrival, he borrowed the Skinner pick up truck and took it out, needing to haul something, he said.  It turned out he was picking up his new bed.  He drove back, late in the afternoon and called Skinner out to see it.  It was huge, and the mattress and box spring looked like they would stand about three feet off the ground.  With Ricky's help, the men wrestled the Queen-sized mattress and box spring onto the frame and then Alex went about attaching the antique wrought iron head and footboards.  It was something to see, all right.  Even Emmie wheeled Rick into the place to see it.  Without being asked, or asking permission, she took the pile of sheets and mattress cover to the laundry room to wash them, and offered to give Alex one of her grandmother's quilts.

"No, ma'am, thank you.  I appreciate that, but it's hotter than hell here anyway, and I can just get some blankets."

"The heat is passing, and night can get cold here, even in the summer.  You will take Meema's quilt and you will be thankful."

Embarrassed, Alex nodded and kissed her hand.  He carried the linens as they walked to the house to the laundry room.  "Many thanks to you.  You've made me feel welcome here since the moment I stepped onto your porch.  It's helped."

"Don't take my husband's attitude as his opinion.  He is humiliated to be wheeled around as he is.  When I met him, he'd just wrestled a young bull to the ground and tied him up, after the critter had cornered me in a tree.  I fell hard for the strongest boy I'd ever met.  He had a way to go to live up to Walter's example, but Walter was never a jealous man, and many a time had conceded that his little brother was a better cowboy than he was.  And he left, to let Rick handle the ranch, and be the man their father knew was there."

"Walter went to the FBI?" Alex asked.  He handed the bottle of detergent to Emmie.

"No, he went to war.  Papa was not happy that Walter left for that, as he called it, 'damn fool war' but Walter wanted to be far away.  When he came home, injured and ill, Rick no longer cared about being better than his brother.  He was happy to have Walter home alive.  And they became as close as brothers could be.  Then Walter went to college and then the FBI.  And then, this.  My husband hates being hurt.  And you can see it."

"I can't wait to meet him when he's right as rain," Alex said.  Emmie patted his hand, understanding the metaphor.

After dinner and everyone had gone to their own rooms, Walter took his time showering and putting on his sleep shorts and a t-shirt over it.  He sat on the edge of his bed and weighed every pro and con he could think of.  And then tossed them all over his left shoulder like so much salt and made his silent way down the hall and out of the main house to the bunkhouse.  Alex was still awake, working on his laptop while lying across his new bed.  He looked up and smiled at Walter standing in the doorway.

"I was wondering when you'd get out here.  Made me wait long enough."

He removed the computer and lay back, showing off his hunter green boxer briefs, so snug they left nothing to the imagination.  His body was still beautiful, scarless and two-armed, thanks to Jeremiah Smith and his healing abilities.

Alex welcomed Walter with open arms onto the bed and that first kiss, their first kiss in more than two years, was all the sweeter for the time apart.  The hungry mouths devoured each other like ambrosia while hands searched bodies for familiar spots, some that cause giggles, some that caused moans.  Alex had been hopeful and hidden a bottle of lube under his pillow and eagerly pulled it out when it became clear that Walter wasn’t just rubbing against his ass to tickle him.

Alex handed him the bottle, then shimmied out of his shorts.  Walter hauled his shirt over his head, then slipped off his shorts as well.  He knelt to coat his angry, purple cock with lube.  It jutted straight out from his body ad Alex smiled at the slight upward curve that always tickled him in just the right places.  Alex just lay back, looking up at Walter and his heavy-lidded gaze spurred Walter on to lean forward on his hands and allow Alex to press his cock inside him.  As easily as he slipped in, Walter knew Alex had prepared himself earlier that night.  Both men let out deep, satisfied groans as Walter bottomed out to his balls.

He allowed Alex to guide his strokes with the two long limbs wrapped around his middle.  Their mouths remained locked together, panting to each other.  Alex gave Walter a little push and they rolled over, still connected, and Alex took control.  He moved evenly, squeezing, knowing exactly the way Walter liked to be loved, all the while stroking himself, making it a show for his lover.  They were so practiced, so good together that knowing when each other were at the edge to come at the same time, it was like coming home.

Afterward, they lay together, sticky and sweaty from their lovemaking, gently kissing and giggling.  “I’m so happy to see you smiling, Alex,” Walter said, sighing deeply.

“Same here.  Why did you wait so long to come to me?”

“I was waiting for the bed.  I don’t fancy fucking on a hardwood floor.”  They both laughed and settled to sleep.  Come morning, Walter slipped back into the house undetected and prepared to start his day.

For the next two weeks, every night Walter would go to Alex and they would spend the night together, playing, loving and just enjoying each other’s company.  They were discreet when in the company of others, not touching or looking at each other.  They just acted as they always had.  But when the night came, it was a different story.   They were very aware to keep their voices quiet.

One particularly hot afternoon, Walter and Alex were working in the barn and had taken their shirts off.  Ricky had been taking a test that morning with his mother, so they were more relaxed around each other, joking and being playful.  “You have the greatest nipples, Alex,” Walter said, rubbing a finger over one.

Alex pulled back and said, “Don’t go and get me started, now.  We can’t exactly climb into the hayloft and play, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.  I love the smooth skin of your body, though, all hairless,” Walter ran his hand over Alex’s chest, “Until your navel, then I follow the happy trail downward.”

Alex giggled as what Walter was doing tickled.  He looked up to admonish his tormentor, but saw the burning look in the brown eyes before him and answered by taking Walter’s slack mouth in a searing kiss.

“Ewwww!” came the shout from behind them.  Both Walter and Alex turned to see Ricky standing there, looking disgusted.  Before either could say anything, the boy had taken off for the house.  Walter was crestfallen.

“Shit.  He’s going to tell Rick.  Well, I suppose this was bound to happen.”  Walter looked over at Alex.

“I can leave if you want, Walter,” offered Alex, putting his hand on Walter’s shoulder.

“No, I need you here.  I really can’t run this ranch alone.  And with this development, Ricky is gonna stay in his room, or go stay with Emmie’s parents or something.”

“OK, I’ll stay.  But if you need me to go, for your family, I won’t hold that against you.  And I’ll find a place in Amarillo so I can be near you.”

Walter took Alex’s face in his hands and kissed him deeply.  “I’m going to talk to my brother.  Just stay out here and muck out the stalls and clean the tack.  I’ll give a holler on the radio if anything.”

“Will do, chief.”

Walter made his way to the main house and heard the door of Ricky’s room slam shut.  He went to the living room and saw his brother sitting by the window, looking out at the horses wandering around the corral.  “Why, Walt?”

“Why what?”

“You know what why.  Is that why he showed up here?  You called him?  Oh, you need a hand to help you out with the repairs and keep up.  Make my bunkhouse into your little love nest, you fuckin’ pervert!” he shouted.  “You ain’t gonna keep your butt buddy here on my land.  That’s for goddam sure!”

Walter sniffed indignantly at his brother’s insults.  “If I may remind you, little brother, Papa left this to both of us.  I have never asked for a dime of the money you make from this ranch, since I don’t work it.  But you sure do get the check for my half of the taxes every year, don’t you?  I own half of this ranch.  Don’t you ever forget it.”

“Well, what are we gonna do about it?  You ain’t doin’ that little bastard here in Papa’s house.  He’ll haunt us.”

Walter stomped over to stand before his brother’s chair and bent over until they were turned-up nose to turned-up nose.  “If you ever call him anything other than Alex or Mr. Krycek, I will hurt you myself.  So if you don’t want another cast on you somewhere, you’ll mind your tongue.  I will move my things into the bunkhouse and we will live there.  I’ll only need use of the laundry here, otherwise, Alex and I will stay clear of the house.  If Ricky doesn’t want to help us, I can leave notes on the back door for him of what he can do around the place no where near us.”

“That is unnecessary, Brother,” Emmie said from the doorway.  “My son has finished his schoolwork for the year.  He will continue to assist you and Alex on this ranch.  And you will continue to join us for meals.  My husband and I will be talking with our son the rest of the afternoon, and I would ask that you leave us to that.  Thank you, Walter.”

With that, Walter left the house for the barn.   Alex was finished mucking out one of the stalls and was just starting on the next.  "What did they say?"  The concern added a few more wrinkles to his eyes, but nothing that didn't make Walter think he wasn't the sexiest man on the planet.

"Well, me and Rick fought a right bit, but Emmie settled it.  Kicked me out to talk to her men."

Alex kissed Walter thoroughly and said, "You have an accent."

“This is the way I’ve always sounded.  I just hid it when I wasn’t home.  Come on, we got more work to do.  And then tonight, I’m moving my things out of the house into the bunkhouse with you.”

“They kicked you out?” Alex asked, stopping short.

“Come on, I’ll tell you while we work on the roof.  Rain’s coming in a few days, I can smell it.”

When dinner rolled around that night, Walter said to Alex, “How about we go into town for dinner?  I know Emmie told me we’d be joining them again, but I really don’t want the hassle from the boys.”

“My feelings exactly.  Let’s shower a little and go,” he purred, knowing that Alex meant to “conserve water” and shower together.  Walter did not deny this request and held Alex under the spray for a long while.  Another of Alex’s hidden talents was for plumbing.  He’d removed and recycled the old thirty-gallon water heater and replaced it with a hot water meter, one that would produce as much hot water as needed for as long as needed, based on an electrically fed heating coil.  “I got used to these is England,” he explained.

“What were you doing there?” Walter asked.

“Promise not to be mad?”

Walter rolled his eyes.  “I swear.”

“OK, he was a little blue-eyed number from Coventry.  I made him drive around in his little black convertible naked.”

Walter gave him a look it seemed he couldn’t translate.  Then the smile broke wide on the older man’s face.  “You’re a bad egg, Alex.”

“Yeah, and that’s why you love me!”

“Says who?  And maybe I’m not so happy that you spent time there...”

Alex held his hand up.  “Walter, he taught me all I know about horses.  He was an amazing equestrian.  I didn’t love him as I love you, though.  But I liked him.  God, those blue eyes...”

“OK, enough.”

The men finished their shower quickly and were toweling off when, unannounced, Emmie walked into their bedroom.  Walter quickly scrambled to cover himself, but Alex casually used the towel to dry his hair.  Emmie didn’t look away from their eyes.  “Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.  You are expected.”

She turned and left the room without another word.  Alex turned to Walter and asked, “Why is she so scary?”

“She’s all business.  Nothing personal.  “

“She hates me.”

“She loves you, Alex.  Trust me.”

They dressed and went to the main house, walking through to the dining room.  Walter sat in his customary spot across from Alex and next to Ricky.  The boy sat there and stared straight ahead until his mother served him.  She slapped his hand away before he started eating.

"The blessing, Ricky," she said.  She reached for Alex's hand, who reached for Walter's.  Ricky took his father's hand and they all looked at the boy who would not take his uncle's proffered hand.  "You've already lost your television, shall we go for the stereo?  Or the computer?  Your choice," she said.

The boy looked at his uncle, who looked down his nose at the boy, glasses perched like a teacher.  The boy grabbed his uncle's hand, and the look on his face was of pure revolt.  Emmie said the blessing and they started dinner.  The meal was virtually silent, and when Ricky shoveled in his last mouthful, he looked up and asked, "May I be excused, please?"

Emmie shook her head sadly.  "Yes, go and do your punishment."

The boy ran to his room and slammed his door.  Walter looked over at Emmie.  "Punishment?  For what?"

"He is to write a report for me on the Apache traditional belief of homosexuals.  He's still got his computer for that.  Imagine if he had to go and speak with my parents and our relatives."

"Emmie, you can't make him feel something he doesn't," Alex said.  "He won't understand if he doesn't want to.  I didn't come here to make a problem.  And I'll go if I am.  I love Walter more than I need to be right," he said, dropping his head before taking a deep breath.

"No, Alex, you can't leave.  I can't work this ranch alone.  Ricky isn't an option for me anymore.  I'm not a young man any more."  Walter's face began to color with anger.

"You're not old, Walter.  This isn't so bad, actually.  We've fixed the fence posts.  All you need to do is keep up the stalls and the tack and groom the animals.  Everything else will be fine."

"No, everything won't be fine.  I gotta prepare four mounts for sale.  I can't do that alone."

"All right!" Rick shouted, having barely eaten anything.  "That's enough.  Yes, Walt needs you here, Alex.  And yes, I...shit!  *I* need your help on the ranch.  But make one thing clear: you keep all that...stuff ya'll do in the bunkhouse, doors locked and shades down.  Ricky's just a kid.  And he don't gotta do nothin' that makes him...stuff that he don't like."

Alex snorted a laugh.  "Great, then, all the kid will be doing is playing computer games and jerking off."

Walter laughed with Alex, both men remembering what it was like to be thirteen.  Both men continued to snicker until Rick realized they were right and joined in.  The only person not laughing was Emmie.  She sat there, staring at her dinner plate, unamused.  "I'm glad you all find this so funny.  My son and husband are bigots and you're all laughing together.  How nice.  Shall I gas up the truck for you to go on a lynching tonight?"

Walter sat up, particularly stung.  Having been an officer of the law, he didn't take the accusation of having murderous tendencies, for himself, his brother and his lover equally.  "Emmie, this isn't quite the same thing..."

"Look, I've been called all the fuckin' names before, Emmie," Alex said,  "Faggot, queer, fairy, sissy-boy, fudge packer, doesn't matter to me.  What does matter to me is all this fighting.  So, if I'm making the problem here..."

"First sensible thing you've said," Rick mumbled.

Three heads snapped toward him.  Alex stood and said, "I'm going to my room.  Thank you for dinner, Emmie.  Rick."

Alex left the room and Walter followed behind him.  Behind the closed door of the bunkhouse, Alex sat heavily on the couch.  Walter turned up the air conditioner in the window as he set about getting them each a beer.  Alex surfed the channels until he found the Yankees beating the tar out of the Rangers.  Walter plopped down beside him and they settled in.  They didn’t talk, they didn't need to.  Walter already knew that when Rick was better, Alex would leave.  And he would follow.

After the seventh inning stretch, there came a knock on the door.  Walter went to the door and admitted Emmie, who was uncharacteristically red-eyed and hiccupping.  Alex moved immediately to get her water as Walter seated her in the rust-colored leather chair.  "Emmie, so help me, did he hit you?" Walter asked, prepared to raise hell.

"Oh, no, I just...I can't be with them.  My husband and my son.  They are bigots.  I can't live there.  Not when they turn their backs on family.  Maybe you can rationalize your brother, Walter, but not my son.  I didn't raise him like that.  Two-spirits are respected by my family and the people.  My tribe, anyway.  My grandmother raised me in tradition, even though I went to white schools.  And then Mother had to be baptized, us too.  I thought Meema would keel over."

"What are two-spirits?" Alex asked.

Emmie wiped her eyes on the tissues Walter held out.  "Two-spirits are the name we gave to those who love their own sex, in plain terms I guess.  I wish Meema was here.  She could tell you stories that I just can't remember right now.  They may have lived as another gender in a past life, and that sexual preference hangs on in this one.  Two-spirits are those who are deeply respected, as they are thought to know and understand the minds and hearts of both sexes.  I thought I had raised my son that way.  And...now I wonder is he going to hate more than just two-spirits?  Will he hate anyone else?  Will he hate himself?  Or will he hate his father and I for mixing his blood?  I mean..."

"Whoa, you're getting ahead of yourself, Emmie," Walter said, sitting on the couch.   "This is jarring for them.  I never gave anyone any indication that I was anything other than heterosexual.  Alex and I were together for a long time, and broken promises came one after the other.  And now....now we have a chance, and I'm not gonna blow it.  I'm too old to try and get over a damned broken heart."

"Walt," Alex said, leaning over and placing a kiss on Walter's neck, "you may be older than me, but you're just as sexy as you ever were."

"I said I was old, I didn't say I was dead."

The three laughed and Walter was pleased to see Emmie stop crying.  "May I stay the night here?" she asked.  "I don’t want to see that man nor his son.  Let Ricky help his father on and off the toilet.  They'll have new appreciation for me by tomorrow."

"Fine, then.  We took that last bedroom and threw a cot in there.  I can do that or the couch, whatever Alex wants."

"Huh?" Emmie asked.

"Oh, Walter's right.  If you sleep here, you can take our bed.  I wouldn't let a lady sleep on a couch or that nasty cot.  I’ll sleep in there.  Walter you take the couch."

A knock at the door surprised everyone.  Walter opened the door and stepped back to let Rick roll into the room.  "Emmie, I'm sorry.   Please, come back home.  I mean it.  I was wrong to yell at you, and I'm sorry.  I...we'll talk to the boy tomorrow.  Guys, please, let me take my wife home?"

"What did you think we were gonna do?  Turn het and double-team her?  Or turn her dyke?"  Walter felt Alex was a little too sarcastic, but he was miffed and hurt and he was allowed.

"I know you don't get it," Rick said.  "After you live with Walt a while, you'll know what it means to face down an empty bed.  Emmie, please, come on."

Emmie took a deep breath, then stood.  She kissed Alex's cheek, then Walter's, the pulled her husband from the bunkhouse and back toward the main house.  Walter and Alex sat back on the couch and turned to each other.

"Wanna fuck?"

"I'll lock up, you turn down the bed."

"OK, but get that bald-headed ass in gear, I'm horny."

Alex was out of the room before Walter could smack his ass.  "Bald-headed ass?"  He shook his head and joined his lover in their bedroom.

The next three weeks were difficult to say the least.  Walter would leave instructions for Ricky with Emmie to usually spend most of his days in the barn, while Walter and Alex would work with the horses in the morning and work on the bunkhouse in the afternoon.  They were fixing it to live a good long time there.  The extra bedroom was soon outfitted with a fresh bed and lacey curtains.  The rest of the place was revamped from the clapboard sides and plain furnishings.

The men spent long hours installing insulation and sheet rock, replacing roof tiles, changing out windows and installing air conditioners.  The Texas summer was proving to be brutal.  Ricky continued to avoid Walter and Alex, and the men didn’t really mind, although they did miss his company.  It was refreshing to listen to the unjaded and hopeful banter of youth.  They’d let the boy jabber on about girls, music, video games and anything he could think of.  He left a hole with his departure.

Alex had also convinced Walter to drive him into Amarillo to buy a truck.  Alex knew it irked Rick that they kept using the Skinner family pickup, so Alex went to buy a truck.  Walter loved driving the Corvette so he was happy to leave Alex alone in town and drive the truck back alone.  When the shiny silver Dodge Ram SRT-10 rolled into the driveway, with the V-10 engine strong enough to pull three full trailers, even Ricky came out to look.  Walter stood with arms crossed but nodding his head in agreement, looking the front of the machine over.

“Well, Alex Krycek is Ram tough, eh?” he said.

Alex jumped from the cab and was followed by a fluffy black and white mop with a wagging tail and a long pink tongue.  Walter gave him the questioning AD look.  “Hey, look, she followed me.  I didn’t buy her.  I walked to two different dealerships and she followed me.  She just sat outside patiently.  Can we keep her?”

Walter thought the look on Alex’s face was priceless.  With the sun backlighting him, his longish locks flying in the light, dusty breeze, he looked no older than Ricky.  “Yeah, I’m OK with it.  This ranch needs a good horse dog anyway.  She a border collie?”

“I think so.  AJ had one on his ranch in England.  His name was Jax.  What should we name her?”

“Tasha,” came the timid response from the open barn door a few yards away where the boy stood, watching.  Immediately, the dog looked up and trotted over to where Ricky waited.  She jumped up on him and wagged her tail harder.

Alex nodded in appreciation.  “OK, Tasha it is.  Why don’t you find her a bowl and get her some water.  We’ll see about calling the vet and bringing her in.”

It was small, almost miniscule, and a normal person would surely have missed it.  But Alex Krycek, a man who saw everything, saw the little smile he was graced with as the newest addition to the ranch followed the boy into the barn.

“You just bridged the gap, I think,” Walter said.  “Smart.”

“Walter, she really followed me.  I’m not lying.  I had no intention of getting a dog.  What do you think?  Divine intervention?”

“We’ll talk about it tonight.”

After being checked out at the vet, Tasha was given a clean bill of health.  She took to ranch life quickly.  And the horses took to her moderately well.  Mostly they tolerated her barking until Alex and Walter rode up to gather them in the grazing land.  Walter astride Tarzan, with his dark tan cowboy hat on, denim shirt tucked in his jeans and black boots made Alex hard no matter what he doing.

Looking at Alex, and who he was riding, both awed and impressed Walter.  And Ricky.  For some strange reason, Desperado, the all black, wall-eyed Arabian that caused them all to be in the predicament let Alex tame him to ride.  Oh he was a handful, no doubt, and Walter had always kept clear of the animal unless he was getting groomed.  Just the jangle of the tack spooked that horse to the point of danger.

One thing that AJ had taught Alex in England was music soothes the savage beast.  And to hear him singing the range of tunes, from Delta blues to the Beatles, “If I Fell” being a particular favorite, it made Walter wish he could be openly affectionate with the man.  He thought better of it, knowing that Alex was forging a precarious relationship with Ricky, and any step over the line of public displays would crumble the fragile bridge of respect and friendship.

It almost was an anti-climax the day Rick came home from the orthopedist without his huge fiberglass cast.  He wore an immobilizer, but he was allowed to use crutches and hobble a little on it.  He would need daily physical therapy, meaning, someone would have to drive him.

“Fuck that!” Rick shouted.  “I can drive myself, you know.”

Emmie took a deep breath and said, “You can barely wash your own ass!  No, one of us will take you.  There are three able-bodied adults here.  We can take turns.  And don’t tell me you don’t want to put your ass on that plush leather seat in Alex’s truck, you man, you!”

The men couldn’t hold their laughs well enough for Emmie not to hear and shout to them in the living room from the kitchen, “I can hear you!  I hope someone wants to cook dinner tonight.  I’m going to do my nails.”  That was her code for shutting herself up in her sewing room and communing with her grandmother.

Walter and Alex managed to grill steaks, bake potatoes and roast corn well enough for both father and son to thank them profusely.  As the sun set, and a cool breeze blew across the ranch, settling the animals for an easy night of sleep, Walter and Alex convinced Rick to let his son be a man and have his first beer.  So that night, four men sat on the back porch looking up at the moon and stars.  The beer worked it’s magic and loosened Ricky’s tongue.

“Alex, why are you gay?” the man-boy asked.

“Hey!” Walter shouted.

“Ricky!” Rick admonished.  “You don’t ask questions like that.”

“No, it’s OK.  I don’t know, kid.  I mean, there are people that say it’s a choice, there are scientists that have isolated a gene, some people would blame the uncle that used to rape me, whatever.  I don’t know. And wipe that ‘oh poor you’ look off your face.  Don’t pity me.  I’m a well rounded man.  And I’ve been places, seen lots of things, lots of people.”

“What made you come here?” Rick asked.

After a moment of contemplation, Alex answered.  “Your brother did something to me no one else ever did.  He loved me.  And he made me love him back.  And I can’t give that up.  It’s the best I ever felt in my life.  It’s why I came here, why I don’t care if you hate me, and I’ll live in Boden, Amarillo, or Abu Dhabi if I have to, so long as I know I’ll see him again.”

Ricky was sitting on the porch steps hugging Tasha, who’s taken to sleeping on his bed, and Rick was staring up at the sky.  Walter realized Alex had showed his hand, left his heart unguarded and probably felt like the two younger Skinner men didn’t care.  Alex finished his beer and tossed the bottle into the trash can.  “I should get to bed.”

He stood and Walter stood with him.  Rick smiled up at them.  “Night, guys.  Tomorrow, Emmie’s drivin’ me.  Ya’ll can do whatever here."  A beat went by before he said, "I think the three of us can get this to be a pretty powerful ranch, back the way it should be.”

Walter and Alex nodded and headed to their house.  When they were spent and exhausted from lovemaking, they lay together, letting sleep start to take them.  Before Morpheus had taken them both to Dream World, Alex asked one last question.  “What did he mean about us making the ranch great?”

Walter sighed deeply.  He sat up and turned the light on to look down at Alex.  “What did you want him to do?  Send you and engraved invitation?  Nail your shoes to the floor and bar the door?  He was asking you to stay.  I know my brother.  That comment he made about you and me noticing the other missing in a lonely bed.  He kinda gets it.  I know he doesn’t like it.  Papa was a bigot for gays, too.  And for most people.  It’s not a magic change of heart.  He’d still get all grossed out if he saw us kissing or something.  But he gets it.”

Walter turned out the light and the two men settled for the night.  And as he slipped into sleep, Alex finally felt like he got it, too.

The End

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