Welcome To The Harem
Joy, Watchfulness, Wishing by Vanzetti Part 2 of 2
Summary: Deslea's rec: "I'm not generally a fan of crossovers. Meshing two fictional universes authentically is a difficult thing to do. But in this XF/Highlander crossover, Vanzetti maintains a strong balance between the two, with well-chosen POVs and a coherent explanation for Existence."
Alex came to see them in February. He found Diana in the laboratory, where he paced back and forth as she told him how her work was progressing. Joe sat to one side and watched.
When she was done, Alex leaned against one of the tables. "Mulder's alive," he said.
"Alive," she repeated. She covered her mouth with one hand.
"For the moment. He's infected with a new strain."
"Oh my God."
"His immunity should protect him," Alex continued, "but I'd like to give him a little extra."
She was very pale. "Of course," she said. "I'll get you a vial of the vaccine."
Alex shifted his weight slightly, his jacket creaking in the silence after she left. "They used to be partners," he said.
"They were married," Joe corrected him, if only to let the other man know that Diana wasn't keeping secrets.
Alex nodded. "The thing about Mulder, when you're with him you really want to be special to him. How was she supposed to know he was like that with all his partners?" He glanced at Joe as if about to say something else, then looked up. Diana stood in the doorway, holding a suitcase and her coat. "Where the hell do you think you're going?" he said sharply.
"I have to see him. I'll give him the booster."
"The hell you will!"
"Damn it, Alex, he was my husband! We loved each other. You know what it was like when I thought he was dead. You may not have cared about him but I want to see him and make sure he's all right."
"You want to blow your cover sky high, is that it? And not just yours--Jeffrey and Marita and Gibson and me too! What kind of an idiot are you?"
"He's sick and I want to go to him! Just because you've never loved another person in your whole unnatural life?"
"Diana," he growled, cutting her off. She was silent. "You can't see him, anyway. He's still in his grave."
"In? his grave? What do you mean? You said he was alive." Joe hadn't thought she could get any paler than she already was; he got himself ready to get up and catch her before she fainted. "Oh my God, Alex. He's buried alive. You let them bury him alive."
"I didn't have anything to do with this," Alex said.
"Nothing to do with this?" Her voice rose, and with it color began to return to her face. "You sent him to his death. You wanted him dead!"
For the first time, Alex raised his voice. "That's enough, Diana." She fell silent again. He continued, his voice low and hard. "If I wanted Mulder dead, he would not be alive now. Do you understand me?" She nodded. Joe felt frozen to his seat. "You are going to stay here. You will not attempt to contact Mulder. Nothing is going to jeopardize our work. Nothing. Do you understand me?" She nodded again. "Diana?"
"I understand you, Alex," she muttered.
"Give me the vial." She took it from her purse and handed it over. "Joe, you stay with her. Diana, I'll be in touch."
When the door closed behind him Diana began to shake. Joe was out of his chair as quickly as he could and had his arms around her to hold her up. She took two deep, shuddering breaths, then buried her head in his shoulder and began to cry.
After a while, the tears gave way to sniffles, and she raised her head. "God," she said. "I'm sorry, Joe."
He shook his head. "Don't be."
"I don't know what came over me. I wasn't this upset when I heard he was dead. But the thought of him lying in his grave, still alive somehow?"
"Alex shouldn't have spoken to you like that. You were right to be upset."
"No," she said, "he was right. I can't go see Fox. It would be insane." Joe held his tongue. He had a list of questions about Alex building in his mind, but this wasn't the moment to ask them. Diana sighed then, and shifted slightly in his arms. "I guess I should get back to work."
It took Diana three more weeks to prepare a sufficient amount of the pathogen. They were both aware of the feeling that time was running out; the frequent emails from Alex and Jeffrey only added to the tension.
"How are you going to get that into the US?" Joe asked as she laid out the row of metal cylinders. To his eye they looked unmistakably like some kind of hazardous material. Airport security was almost certain to want to take a close look at them.
Diana began to blush. "I was hoping you could help me with that."
"Sure," he said.
She laughed, but her color didn't subside. "Wait until you know what I have in mind."
"How bad can it be?"
"Have you ever heard the expression, 'a hollow leg'?"
He stared at her. "Diana. Tell me you aren't serious."
Without speaking, she led him over to one of the laboratory cabinets. She unlocked it and pulled out a pair of prosthetic legs. "They're very good quality," she began. "You won't suffer any loss of mobility, and they won't be too heavy. Actually, they were pretty easy. I've done this for Alex, too, but it's really hard to fit the storage space in among all the electronics in his arm." She must have realized that she was babbling. "It won't be dangerous, Joe. Marita will travel with you."
"Not you?" he asked automatically. He couldn't stop staring at the legs on the counter. They looked just like the pair he used. He wondered if laughter would be an appropriate response or a sign of hysteria.
"I can't go back to the US," she said. "You know that."
"Whose idea was this? Yours? Adam's?"
"Alex's. He used to courier materials like this all the time." Alex, Joe thought. He should have guessed. The only question was whether he was resentful enough to refuse to help. It was tempting, but Joe knew he wasn't that irresponsible. He would do it, and he might as well go ahead and give in with good grace. "What will I use when I get there?" he asked. He winced at the whiney tone.
The smile she gave him almost made it worthwhile, though. "You can still use these," she said. "Or I can have a pair identical to your regular pair waiting for you."
They must have been counting on him. Marita turned up the next day. She and Diana fussed over the packing of the vials and gave him another day to get used to the new prostheses. Joe grumbled, but waited until they were in line at the check-in to ask his question.
"What would you have done if I had refused?"
Marita gave him a cool look. "I would have carried them myself, of course." He noted with some resentment that she was looking very well. Her eyes were clear and her skin was healthy. She still needed sunglasses, but they just added to the allure. Every man in the airport glanced after her as she walked past.
It was the worst flight of his life. The more he grumbled, the more sympathetically the flight attendants treated Marita, who was traveling as his niece. He spent the whole time in anxious exhaustion, afraid to move and unhappy with everything around him.
The final blow came when they got off the plane. Marita had arranged a wheelchair for him. He lost his temper and shouted at her for five minutes, calling her an ungrateful bitch and telling her that he'd walk out of the airport under his own steam or not at all. Marita blushed and mumbled an apology in front of the equally embarrassed flight crew, then followed him out into the airport. She took his arm in the corridor. "That was perfect," she said.
"The scene you made. No one will ever suspect us of anything illegal."
He stopped and stared at her. "You did that on purpose to piss me off," he accused her.
She smiled. "Come on. Adam will meet us once we get through Customs."
Methos drove them away from Dulles to a safe house in Virginia; they hurried Joe inside before he had a chance to get much more than an impression of tall trees and Georgian architecture. At least they left him alone in a bathroom to deal with the legs on his own. He unpacked the vials, taking his time with them, and stomped out to the living room. Marita was sitting on a chintz-covered chair holding a glass of white wine, and Methos, predictably enough, was doing his best to lounge on the matching sofa, a beer in one hand. It was Jeffrey who stood up to meet Joe in the middle of the room and take the vials from him. He was already wearing an overcoat.
Jeffrey stared at the metal cylinders. "I thought they'd be bigger. Is this really going to work?"
"It's going to work, Jeffrey," Marita said. "It has to."
"Right." Jeffrey was standing very straight. "I'll see you all when it's over."
"What's?" Joe began. After that flight, damn it, he deserved answers.
Methos cut him off. "The current version of the Alien Threat"--Joe could hear the capital letters-- "is controlled from a spaceship. Jeffrey and Alex are about to go be brave little idiots and destroy that spaceship. And no, before you ask, you aren't the only one wondering when your life started to resemble a bad science fiction movie."
"Adam." Marita's voice was gentle. She went over to Jeffrey and kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck." The two of them stood there in the doorway staring at Methos. The immortal stared back, then gave a dramatic sigh.
"Come on, Jeffrey," he said. "I'll walk you to the door."
Marita brought Joe a glass of wine. "Now what?"
"Now we wait," she said. "Alex smuggled Gibson into the FBI building earlier today. He wants them to take Scully somewhere isolated for the birth, in case there's a fight of some kind. So once Gibson finds out where they're sending her, Alex will meet up with Jeffrey and Cory will take over for him." She took a sip of wine. "Have you ever met Cory?" Her cheeks were slightly pink.
Joe shook his head. "But I've heard about him."
She was running her finger around the rim of the wine-glass. "We're all waiting for news on Scully. Wherever they take her, that's ground zero. But you might as well get comfortable while we wait."
When the news came, everything seemed to move very quickly. Methos and Marita piled into the SUV with Joe in the back and took off, heading for Georgia. They were in North Carolina when Methos' phone rang. He answered it with a "Hello?' then handed it over to Joe, who held it gingerly to his ear.
Amanda's voice came bubbling through the connection. "It went like a dream, Joe. It was amazing. Agent Mulder and AD Skinner were both there. Cory took three bullets, the last to the head, and died very dramatically, and--hey! Put that down!" She started to giggle; there was the sound of another voice. "Cory wants to know if we can keep the plastic hand?"
The plastic hand? Christ. "Is it up to me?" Joe asked.
He addressed the car at large. "Can Cory keep the plastic hand?" He turned to stare in amazement as Marita snorted, and then began to laugh. "I think that's a yes."
"Ask them where Gibson is," Methos directed.
"I head that," Amanda said. "We just dropped Gibson off for his flight to Los Angeles. We waited until he got onto the airplane and everything." Joe could just imagine the scene: the reluctant teenager and the two doting, and possibly blood-splattered, parent-like types seeing him off. "What was that, sweetie? Oh, yeah. They didn't even bother to check the body. The whole scene was pretty weird, actually. Are you sure these people hated Alex?"
"I'm not sure of anything about this, Amanda," Joe said. "Where are you meeting up with us?"
"I don't think we are, Joe," Amanda said. "Cory and I are planning a nice long vacation." She paused to listen to something Cory was saying then laughed again. "Plus, the Prince of Bahrain has some jewelry I've always wanted to look at. We'll come visit in a couple of years." She hung up.
"They're going to rob the Prince of Bahrain," Joe told Methos and Marita.
"That's all right," Methos said. "It'll keep them out of trouble."
As they approached their destination, Joe couldn't help noticing the bright light in the sky. "What the hell's that thing up there?"
Methos glanced up at it and began to sing off key, "We three kings of Orient are..."
Marita glared at him, her earlier laughter long gone. "That's our target. If Jeffrey and Alex can infect that ship with the pathogen, we'll win. It'll spread from that one to all of them. And it will disable the replicants active on the ground as well."
"But how are they going to get anywhere near it?"
"Ah," said Methos, in what Joe privately called his professor voice. "Here's where we return to the plot of the really bad science fiction movie. It seems that at some point in his misspent youth, our Alex discovered a small alien spacecraft. He and Jeffrey have moved it from its original resting place in North Dakota and even as we speak are flying it towards that shining point of light. At least, they are if Alex can fly the spacecraft."
"Isn't that something they would want to know beforehand?" Joe asked.
"You might think that, Joe," Methos said blandly. "I couldn't possibly comment."
"Be quiet, Adam," Marita said. She directed them to a hill above the town and got out of the SUV only to stand by it, scanning the night sky.
"More waiting around?" Joe commented.
"There's a lot of that in this 'saving the world' business," Methos replied.
Joe settled down in the back of the SUV; he was dozing when he hear the sound of a gun being fired. As always, that sound left him wide awake. He got out of the car. "What the hell's going on down there?" he demanded.
Methos came loping back to the car, Marita running after him. "There's something going on down in the town, but we can't see from up here," he said. "I'm going to go down and check it out."
Joe opened his mouth to object. There was a blinding flash; after that he just stood there with his mouth open until Marita started tugging at his arm. "Come on," she said. "The ship is moving!"
She shoved him into the car and jumped into the front next to Methos. The ship was getting brighter, maybe moving lower, or toward them. Methos began to drive after it, bouncing around on the hillside and yelling at Marita for directions: she was halfway out the window like a dog, tracking its movements and shouting, "Left thirty degrees!" and "Watch out for those trees!" Joe held on for dear life in the back. The light kept getting brighter, and he could actually see a kind of oval shape to it. Shit, he thought suddenly, I'm chasing a UFO.
It was getting lower or they were catching up to it, maybe both. It was brighter than a full moon now, casting shadows from the rocks and trees they were driving past. It was just one ridge away when Marita shouted, "Look!" He never learned what she'd seen. There was another blinding flash and then the ship was gone.
"What happened?" he asked. "Where did it go?" They all piled out of the car and stood staring across to the place they ship had been. Joe heard noises coming from the town they'd left behind. Engines, and above that a helicopter. He turned back to see if he could figure out what was going on.
Methos touched his shoulder. "Watch," he said. He was squinting up at the stars. "There's something dark out there, falling."
Joe concentrated: he could track the shape as the stars behind it winked out and then reappeared. Something about the motion seemed so familiar to him? "A parachute," he said abruptly. "No, two parachutes. We can't see them because the material is dark."
No one responded as they all climbed back into the SUV. Methos hit the gas at once and the force of the acceleration threw Joe backwards against his seat. They rolled and bounced down the hill. At the bottom, Methos slowed the car so that the three of them could watch the hillside for movement. They all saw the spurting light of the flare at the same time; Methos changed gear and took them up into the trees.
They found the flare in the center of a large clearing, propped upright in a pile of rocks. Otherwise, the clearing was empty.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Methos muttered as he got out of the SUV. "He's worse than I am. Alex?" he called. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
A minute or so later there was a small motion in the trees to their left and the man who had been standing there watching them stepped out, hiding his gun in his jacket.
"Get into the car, Alex," Methos said. "I don't know about you, but I've had a long few months."
"And an old man like you needs his beauty sleep?" Alex asked.
"I hate Georgia," Methos declared.
Alex laughed and crossed over to the SUV. "You hate everyplace. Jeffrey should be just over the ridge. Let's go find him." He climbed in next to Joe.
As the car rolled off, Joe asked the question. "Did it work?"
A flash of teeth gave him his answer. "Am I dead?"
"You were shot three times, the last time in the head."
"Then all we need to do is collect Jeffrey and get the hell out of Georgia."
They heard Jeffrey before they saw him. When they found him, it seemed very important that they all get out of the car and stare up at the man hanging in the tree.
"Hey!" Jeffrey said. "Get me down from here, damn it!" He had one hand wrapped around a branch and was half-hanging from the harness, the parachute itself tangled with most of the rope in the upper branches of the tree.
"Try swinging over to get the other hand onto that branch," Marita suggested. "Then you can release the harness and climb down."
"My foot hurts," the younger man said. "I think I hit it on something on the way down. I think it's broken."
"Jeff," Alex said. They could all hear how hard he was trying to keep from laughing. "When you told me you'd done this kind of thing before, how honest were you?"
"Not very," Jeffrey admitted. "Ow! Damn it, stop laughing at me!"
"Jeffrey," Marita began, raising her voice to make herself heard over Alex's laughter.
"OK! Fine! I was trying to impress you. I only agreed to help save the world because I wanted you all to like me!"
Through the tears of laughter streaming down his own face, Joe heard Methos muttering what sounded like curses in what sounded like six or seven different languages. The Immortal took off his coat and placed it on the ground; despite his care, it clanked when he moved it.
"What are you doing?" Jeffrey called down.
"I'm going to climb up there and get you loose," Methos said.
"It's only about twenty feet," Alex offered. "Try not to land on the foot you broke."
From his position on one of the lower branches, Methos said, "Swing towards me, Jeff. That's right. Kick out to get some momentum and catch that branch. Now, stay there." He began to climb further up the tree until he was directly opposite Jeffrey. "Can you hold on with one hand and release the harness?" Jeffrey shook his head. Methos sighed, and began to inch out along the branch.
The branch creaked. The three people on the ground gasped. "Adam," Marita warned.
He ignored her. The branch creaked again as he moved forward. When he reached Jeffrey, he reached out quickly to release the harness. The branch gave a third creak, then a cracking noise as it split, tossing the two men to the ground and falling on top of them.
Joe jumped back to avoid it, stumbled, and fell to the ground. He could hear Jeffrey saying "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."
He sat up, and then Alex grabbed his arm and helped him get to his feet. "I knew I wasn't going to get through this without some kind of injury," the other man said. "I just didn't expect it to come from a tree." Joe snorted.
Marita was busy pulling broken bits of tree off of the two fallen men. Methos climbed to his feet, brushing leaves off his sweater. He blinked, then said a little too brightly, "Well, that was certainly an adventure."
Joe was excused from the cleanup for the operation. He flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles, where he met Gibson and flew the rest of the way home with him. By the time he reached the front steps of his bar Joe was ready to sleep for a week. Instead, he installed Gibson in Methos' old room, where he could keep an eye on the boy, and set to work. While Joe had been gone the cook had quit, three suppliers had renegotiated their contracts and profits were so far down that Joe was certain the manager he'd hired was stealing something. He was busy with the charm offensive against his old cook when Marita returned and took Gibson back to the house with her. He had finally caught the manager at his scam and fired him the day he looked up from the blender and saw Alex sitting at the corner of the bar. Two daiquiris and a Campari later Joe came to rest in front of him.
"It's on the house," Joe said.
"You don't know what I was going to ask for," Alex said. The elation of that night in Georgia seemed to have passed; he looked thoughtful.
"Didn't you come here for a drink?"
"Just a beer." Joe poured him a glass of Kronenbourg. "French beer?" Alex asked.
"It's all I've got until I get a new distributor." Alex took a sip, and sat there, staring at Joe. "Isn't it a little late for this?" Joe asked irritably.
"This--the interview, the test, whatever."
For a moment, Alex's face was blank. Then he smiled. "You're right," he agreed. "It is a little late for that. You're stuck with us now. This is just a beer. A beer you offered me."
"Just a beer," Joe repeated.
"A French beer, but still a beer." Joe didn't smile back at Alex. "Look," Alex said, "I don't know what they've told you about me--"
"No one has much to say about you at all," Joe interrupted.
"But we obviously got off on the wrong foot..." He trailed off, his mouth open. "To be fair, I think you ought to start the next sentence, 'On the other hand.'"
"On the other hand," Joe began dutifully. "On the other hand, I've had plenty of chances to watch you in action and reach my own conclusions." The man in front of him was a killer: that was clear not just from Joes own observations but from the little Diana, Jeffrey and Marita had said about him. He was ruthless and determined. Diana thought he was heartless. But then, Gibson seemed to like the man. Methos treated him with the kind of annoyed respect which he used, in Joe's experience, to conceal real fondness.
What do you do with the killers you didn't need anymore, once the war was over? Joe didn't know the answer to that one. But he couldn't help being a little amused by the other man, who was clearly trying hard not to look intimidating: staring at the wood of the bar, telling stupid jokes with his shoulders hunched over. Waiting to find out if Joe would accept him or not.
Damn, he thought. It made so much sense he was amazed he hadn't seen it at once. He'd been right the first time. This was one of those tests. But it wasn't Alex testing Joe; instead, Joe was being offered the opportunity to interrogate Alex Krycek. Because just as much as the last few months had drawn Joe into the other man's world, Alex was now trying to enter Joe's.
That didn't alter the situation. "The problem," Joe said, "isn't what you've been or done in the past. It's that even you have no idea what you might do next."
The other man stared at the wood of the bar. "First of all, I'm going to finish this beer. Then I think I'll have another one. After that I may go back to the house and have a nap. When I wake up I might go find Marita and see if she wants company. That will have to do, Joe. That's further than I've been able to plan my own life in about ten years."
"Not too bad," Joe said, "for a man with no people skills."
Alex gave him a sharp glance. "I have people skills," he protested. "They just aren't the kind you use on..."
"I was going to say, on people you aren't trying to hurt."
"That's a good start."
A customer caught his attention, and he left Alex to his beer. By the time he got back to him, the glass was almost empty. "Want another?"
Alex nodded. "Tell me something, Joe. Is this really the only beer you're going to have in when Adam gets back."
"I believe so," Joe said.
"You're going to need all the friends you can get."
Methos fixed Joe's problem with the beer distributor the morning after he returned to the island. He then went back to bed and slept for eighteen hours.
None of them were what Joe would call familiar with normal life, but everyone seemed to be doing a good imitation of it. Methos moved into the compound when Diana started spending every night at Joe's; she took the hint--and Joe's open invitation--and moved all her things into the apartment over the bar. Joe assumed that everyone else was as happy as he was.
Then he came downstairs at dawn one morning to find Methos already camped out at the bar. "You've got to take me in, Joe," he said. "I can't live in that house another day."
"You have no idea," he said. "Imagine four well- practiced manipulators, all living in the same house, with no one else to practice on."
"Imagine," Joe said sourly, "if they all had as much practice as you. What happened?"
"It's a little complicated. Do you have any idea what we've been doing for the last few months?"
Doing, Joe thought. Clearly he hadn't been paying enough attention. He was spared the need to admit his ignorance as Diana came down the stairs, still wrapped in a cotton robe.
She took in the scene in a glance. "Where's Gibson?" she asked.
It wasn't the question Joe expected. "Gibson said he would never get such a good introduction to the varieties of human sexual behavior and refused to leave."
"Gibson said what?" Joe said.
Diana spared him a pitying look. "Joe thinks we've all been living happily ever after," she explained to Methos.
Methos snorted. "You two may have been. The rest of us are just trying to escape our creditors."
It was time for Joe to regain some kind of control over this conversation. "Two words, Adam. Bar tab."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Diana asked. "Aside from taking you in, and finding someone to build you all that really big bed the group of you are going to end up in."
"Very funny," Methos grumbled.
"If you can keep Jeffrey from getting jealous," she continued blithely.
"And keep Alex and Marita from playing 'remember when'," Methos said.
"Or at least hide the weapons when they do."
Joe cleared his throat. "Do I really want to know any more about this?"
They turned as one to stare at him. "Probably not," Methos said. "I suppose I'm old enough to manage this sort of thing without your help."
If Methos expected Joe to swallow the bait and ask more questions, he was going to be disappointed. If Methos had found other people to keep him amused for the next few years, Joe could think of plenty of things to do with his new-found leisure. Now would be a good time to start trying them out.
The End. And of course they did all live happily ever after.
The Stoics say that there are three good emotions: joy, watchfulness, wishing. Joy, they say, is the opposite of pleasure, consisting in well-reasoned elation; and watchfulness is the opposite of fear, consisting in well-reasoned shrinking. For the wise man will not be afraid at all, but he will be watchful. They say that wishing is the opposite of appetite, consisting in well-reasoned desire. Just as certain passions fall under the primary ones, so too with the primary good emotions. Under wishing: kindness, generosity, warmth, affection. Under watchfulness: respect, purity. Under joy: delight, sociability, cheerfulness. (Diogenes Laertius 7.116, SVF 3.431)
feedback to Vanzetti heartily welcomed