Thanks go to LeFey for beta reading and helping me to wrestle it into some semblance of coherency.
Merci, ma cherie. Any remaining incoherencies are mine.
In Illo Tempore
He heard a harsh rasp, the sound grating against his ears in inconsistent rhythms. He felt it ripping through him, pushing against his head, his gut. He closed his eyes, willing the sound to stop; then realized it was his own breath. At least he was still breathing.
Coming into consciousness, he let awareness of himself and his surroundings creep slowly over him. It was a slow, sluggish process. The images around him didn't mean anything, he couldn't filter them through his brain. He felt the dull ache of pain; it seemed an eternity before his eyes focused on its source. His right palm was bruised, scraped raw in places. Then he became aware of other pains: the cramp in his leg, the sharp pang in his lower back. He stretched out his legs, realizing at the same time that he had been hunched over in a ball, his legs drawn up beneath him, face burrowed in the small comfort of his arms.
He put a hand to his face, feeling slickness. He panicked for a heartbeat; the pale glow from the little stars of light around him couldn't illuminate the substance, now on his fingers. Was it blood? He rubbed it between his fingertips. It wasn't sticky, just smooth, like oil.
A flash of memory: pounding on a door, calling for help with a throat worn raw. He looked up, craning his neck around. There was the door, the square window of pale light gazing silently back at him. Moaning, he closed in on himself, falling sideways with his knees drawn up to his chest, arms clutched tightly around them, his fingers tightening on the material of his jeans.
They had left him here. Left him to rot here, his person forgotten, sealed up. A necessary casualty.
There was no one else. No one else was going to come.
He opened his eyes, unblinking. The stars of light flickered in and out, wavering on the periphery of his vision: a cold, pale light that ignored him. Their focus and their reason was on the softly glowing thing below, the misshapen hump that took up the center of the large space. He was nothing to them, just a bug on the wall, a discarded shell.
He could feel the presence there. Not malevolent, just indifferent. Focused. Impossibly other.
Another flash of memory: a pain that was absolute. It burned out everything else, made him its own. He was emptied, as if his guts were being wrenched out of his eyes, his nose, his mouth. The memory of the pain was enough to make him close his eyes and clutch himself closer. Focus on breathing. Slow, steady. There.
Slowly he unclenched himself, spreading out on his side. Images were coming back together, forcing sense into his brain. The silo. He was buried here, deep in the earth. He sat up and pressed his hands against the floor as if to dig through it, his right hand protesting in pain as he ground the open wounds into the cold floor.
Then the lights went out.
He blinked, waiting. Listening to the ticking of an imaginary clock inside his head in rhythm with his heartbeat. But there was only darkness.
He could hear the screaming, the hoarse gasp and shriek of his own voice. But he was already outside it with a sudden shift in his gut, the cutting loose of some crucial link to his mind, his reason. He floated there, watching the mindless writhing of the body below him--impossible with no light, but he could see it, could hear the panicked screams.
He closed his eyes peacefully, letting the darkness take him in.
Waterfalls from the shower are running over my forehead, through my hair, pooling in my slightly open mouth. I try to clear my mind, my thoughts, but images and half-formed notions flit endlessly: Scully with her hands raised to her head, elbows jutting out as they take her gun, take mine; the little girl from the plane who reminded me of Samantha, only of course she didn't look like her at all, it is only my predictable response to all-too frequent frustration; the sudden craving for a frozen burrito that quickly passes as my stomach burns and tightens at the thought. I stand there until the water begins to turn lukewarm, my shoulders slightly slumped: in exhaustion or defeat? The thought comes to me and I close my eyes against it. I turn the water off.
The video is an old and familiar one, so I am not really paying attention. Images creep over the screen and engage the surface of my mind, giving me welcome relief; until I am aware that my brain has been thinking and musing behind my back and is just now reaching my conscious mind. Rage, pain, death. Just a cycle of impulses, closely intertwined; neither cause nor effect. I've known all of them, but so has everyone, right? So often I have to remind myself of my own ordinariness even in the midst of extraordinary experiences--just a drop in the bucket of the craziness of life. It's a wonder we don't all drown.
I sigh, turn my head away from the screen. The X glares at me from my window: innocuous strips of masking tape positioned in half-hearted disproportionality. I study it reluctantly. I think about removing the tape, stripping it from the window, rolling it up into a little ball and depositing it in the trashcan next to the desk. The thought holds my interest for a minute, but I don't move from the couch. Sleep eludes me, of course--I am too exhausted, too drained. But the exhaustion dulls my thoughts, and I crave this far more than sleep. In sleep there are dreams, and I don't want to dream.
When he returned to himself, he was lying with his back against a wall. He could feel the roughened texture of it even through his jeans, through the leather of his jacket. His breathing was slow, even. He was still in darkness. He closed his eyes, opened them. Nothing changed.
Had it been hours? Days? He was trapped here on the threshold. Timeless, without purchase.
He became aware of an angry thirst in the back of his throat, in his mouth. His tongue was dry, like sandpaper. Licking his lips, he winced at the painful touch of it against the rough surface of his skin. The oil had dried on his face, sticking there like scales, tightening over his face, his skin. He coughed--a dry, hacking effort.
He lay there, imagining the strength seeping slowly from his body. Excruciatingly slow; it would take a while. His heart beat, blood moved sluggishly through his veins. The machine of his body continued on, mindless. Eating him from within.
Looking into the darkness, he thought he could see shapes: shadowed blobs and pricks of light. But he knew it was only his inner senses trying to compensate for this deprivation. He closed his eyes. He could see better that way, staring into his head.
The imprint of tiny stars winked soothingly at him.
My source has contacted me: he is predictably resentful, angry, and unwilling to help. But I know that he will do what I ask, because he didn't immediately hang up on me. There must be some shred of human decency behind the cold exterior, because that man doesn't do anything that he doesn't really want to do, despite his usual protestations to the contrary.
I click off the cell phone, stare at the clock. Three twenty-three. I think I may have been asleep when the phone rang, I can't remember. I stretch, rub my face. I have brought the gun in from the bedroom; it sits on the table in front of the couch, illuminated by surreal pulses of blue light from the muted television.
The gun reminds me but the memory is already there, lingering in my head like a dirty secret. Hong Kong: another gun--another's--since disposed of in the FBI's endless halls of evidence. Pressed up against his bared gut, my own mind screaming to pull the trigger. I wonder if this memory has prompted my strange actions tonight and immediately grimace at the trite indulgence of the thought. Of course it has. Rage, pain, death: where does the circle begin? Where had it begun? He must have seen it in my eyes, something in my expression--there was real fear there in his own eyes, despite his attempt at bravado.
But I deserved this, didn't I? They have taken so much from me: my sister, my father, any semblance of a normal childhood. Didn't I deserve just this one life? I wanted the tape, but even more I wanted to kill him; the desire itself was so pure, so natural, so fitting that I was held transfixed by its allure, poised on the brink. And he accepted the inevitability of his death there in the airport, by my hand--I could see it there behind the fear.
So I broke the cycle, released him. But I cannot release myself. In Hong Kong, I gave up any right to his life that I once believed was owed me; now, it seems, I can't be free of him.
He heard sounds, a hollowed clanking all around. He shivered and burrowed deeper in his jacket. Was this what it was like to go insane? Did the material of the world suddenly change form, become something else? Perhaps it was the darkness itself, coalescing into points of sound, vibrations through the air.
Then he was blinded--truly blinded, not by darkness but by light. The beam of whiteness cut through his brain, searing his eyes. He was screaming for it to shut off, turn off. But it was a whispered scream, a rasping in his throat. Hands wrenched at him, pushed and pulled at his body. He flailed out blindly, his eyes clenched shut against the remembered pain of light that wouldn't leave his head. His eyelids couldn't shut it out. In his struggles, he could feel his own weakness, the pitifulness of his attempts to protect himself.
He was nothing now, just a discarded shell.
He felt the chill pain of a needle enter his suddenly bared arm, and he couldn't resist. But it was okay, the darkness was coming back. The light was easing, fading into the background. He knew it was his death creeping in on him through his veins.
He welcomed it, sinking back into it, wrapping its cool sheets around him, burrowing himself in its soft, down pillows. He sighed, a whisper of sound and vibration that spread through his body, soothing it. It was okay now. It was over.
Scully calls me--I look at the clock. Seven forty-one. Skinner is still in the hospital, but is recovering well from the gun-shot wound and surgery. I wonder if she went there straight from the airport.
We don't linger on the phone, there is nothing really to say. So much between us is revealed without words, so much concealed by the words themselves. I don't tell her what I have just done. There are things I will never tell her, things that she will never confront me with even if she reads beyond the silence. I wonder if she will be able to see in me some sign of this, if she will know with that often frighteningly-accurate Scully radar. And I wonder how I will keep it from her.
I flip through my mental calendar--Saturday. Damn. I think about trying to sleep some more, quickly dismiss the thought. Sighing, I head for the bathroom. Another day, another weekend. Nothing's really changed; or so I tell myself.
Alex watched the man hovering at the edge of Freedom Plaza, the face obscured from view by the shadow of a dim street lamp against the dark form of a tree. He studied him carefully, waited for signs of a trace. The man was shifting restlessly from foot to foot in what looked like irritation. When he thought the man was about to leave, he finally stepped away from the recesses of his own shadowy cave and walked toward him.
He was noticed immediately; the man grew still, following Alex's approach with his eyes.
"Alex," he said in greeting, his voice flat. "They said you were dead."
Well, Jack had never been one for small talk. "Yeah, well, I'd like to keep them thinking that."
Jack just nodded. "So what do you want?"
Alex raised an eyebrow, ignoring the snort of contempt at the affected gesture. "What were you able to get?"
Jack narrowed his eyes, pursed his lips. "Not much."
"Are they tightening up security?" Alex asked with some curiosity, detachedly.
"Things have been a little crazy." He gave Alex a pointed look. "As you should know."
Alex just grinned. "What have you got for me?" he asked again, a reminder.
Jack pulled out a manila folder from the inside of his suit jacket and handed it to him; Alex took it somewhat gingerly. "Our mutual friend has been funding a new project outside of the official network. This was all I could get my hands on."
No friend of mine, Alex thought bitterly, feeling a familiar flash of anger. He struggled to keep his expression bland as he tucked the folder away in his jacket. Jack studied him curiously.
"You're walking pretty close to the edge here, Alex. Most men wouldn't be holding out their hand again to the dog that just bit them...what is it, twice now?"
Alex forced his lips into a cheeky smile. "Just trying to stay in the game, Jack."
"Whatever," Jack grunted, shaking his head in disbelief. He turned to leave, then looked back over his shoulder at Alex. "You will owe me for this, you know." His voice was deadly serious, but he was already walking away--a stiff, nondescript man in a grey suit and dark overcoat. Just one of the many government drones of the city.
"Yeah, I know," Alex muttered to the retreating form. Just keep up your end of the bargain, Jackie-boy. And don't choke on me.
He lingered in the park, watching the man meld back into the shadows and disappear into the streets of D.C. Just trying to stay in the game. He and Jack had been mild acquaintances before being recruited from the academy. The other man had been pulled from Quantico when they wanted him put to other uses. Just bodies and skills, to them.
Slowly he made his way along the edge of the park, instinctively keeping to the shadows. A flash of movement to his right made him startle away; he silently cursed his own skittishness. It was just a squirrel, making a break for it across a revealing pool of light from the street lamp.
What the hell was he doing back in D.C.? He could have gone anywhere. Four weeks ago he had awakened in a hotel room in North Dakota without any awareness of how he had come to be there. And at first he hadn't wanted to know. It was better now, but it had come to the point where he thought he would never know the trail was too cold, the memories too vague. His time in the silo was more a confusing cacophany of sensation and image than memory, but that was okay. It wasn't something he really wanted to remember. And beyond that there was only a blank. More than a blank--an absence of time.
He reached the corner of the park and left its relative safety, heading up the two blocks to Metro Center. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the shadow of his reflection in the window front of an office building abandoned for the night. He paused unwillingly and turned his face toward the image in the glass. It stared back at him, unreadable.
He had lost weight these last few weeks. His face was more drawn, more gaunt. The play of shadows over his cheeks made them seem all angles and planes, and he almost reached up to touch the side of his face as if to reassure himself that it was his. The reflection of his eyes were black, blurry holes from the impurities in the glass; he felt an involuntary shiver of memory.
Was this what the alien had left him with?
He ducked his head and turned away from his reflected form, slipping his hands inside the pockets of his jacket as he continued walking. He could feel the bulge of the folder Jack had given him in his jacket, and he traced the edge of it with his index finger as if to confirm its existence. The past was the past--there was no point in lingering. He had just been dealt his cards, and it was time to build up the stakes.
Once back in the dingy apartment he was currently calling home, he tore open the envelope and scanned its contents--some copies of memos, a few pictures, a list of names. Frowning, he tried to sort out the scraps of information in front of him. Terrorist militia groups? What the hell was that smoking bastard up to? He looked closer at one of the photos, the furrow in his brow deepening as the blurred profile of a vaguely familiar face kept catching his eye. He paused, remembering. Flashbacks to another time, another identity. A year in Russia, supposedly studying while most of his time was spent renewing his father's old contacts, very much against the old man's will.
Yeah, it was Todorov.
He laughed--a delighted, surprised, near-gleeful chuckle. Oh, this was too rich. It looked like Mr. Smoky was in for a surprise. He was almost tempted to sit back and let events run their course--watch safely from the sidelines as the aged Cold War giants schemed and squirmed, eventually destroying anything they might have accomplished together.
But he had never been one to sit on the bench. This was going to be too much fun.
Two weeks later, his high spirits were considerably dampened. His initial surveillance of the militia base in western Maryland hadn't turned up much of interest so far. If it could even be called a base--more like a ratty old homestead sporting a few rusty heaps that had once been cars in the front yard and a burned-out clearing in the back. They had unloaded some interesting materials, but nothing that could cause any real damage. And Todorov hadn't shown up at all. On the road back to D.C., it was looking more and more like a waste of his time.
Shifting a bag of newly-acquired groceries to his left hip, he opened the door of his apartment. And stopped immediately, frowning at the slip of paper lying innocently on the floor a foot or so beyond the door. He let the grocery bag slip silently to the floor and pulled out his gun.
There was only silence to greet him. Moving quietly, he checked out all of the rooms to be sure they were empty before reluctantly picking up the paper. He scanned the words scrawled there, grimaced. So Jack wanted to meet again.
Shit, how did the man know where he lived? He had been fairly alert to the possibility of being followed in his outside excursions. Not alert enough, apparently.
He wasn't liking this at all. He hated surprises, particularly ones that came attached to members of a certain organization. But he knew he would meet with him--it was the only way to find out what was going on. He checked his watch; he was going to have to hurry to make it on time. Swearing under his breath, he put away the groceries and checked his gun over thoroughly. It never hurt to be on the safe side.
From the shadows of the alley, he watched Jack's dark form on the pavement outside of the National Theater, feeling a peculiar sense of deja-vu. We've got to stop meeting like this, Jack, he thought with a coquettish dip of his eyelashes. Still, he hesitated before slipping out of the darkness and into the other man's line of sight.
Jack was looking a little nervous--not a good sign. Feeling contrary, Alex grinned sunnily at him as he came within speaking distance. "Gee, Jack, have you been cooped up behind a desk too long? Nostalgic for the good old days in the field?"
The other man just twitched his lip in irritation at Alex's tone. "Not here," he hissed. He moved toward the cover of the alley Alex had just vacated. Bemused and still suspicious, Alex followed him until they were both enfolded in the alley's depths, nearly invisible to the outside world.
"What is this about, Jack?" he asked, letting a little of his suspicion filter through the words.
The other man just stared at him. Alex thought he caught a slight hesitation, a hint of regret in his eyes.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
He pulled his gun out as he saw the flash of Jack's pulled across the man's body.
Shit. He really didn't want to do this.
But he didn't let himself think, just aimed and fired.
Jack went down in a crumple as, instantaneously, Alex heard the echo of a second crack and felt the burn on his upper left arm.
God damn it.
He ignored the pulsing pain in his arm, looked down at Jack's body. God damn that cancerous bastard. God damn these people. It was too much. He was shaking uncontrollably, his vision blurring.
Get it together, Alex.
He left Jack there in the alley, the body's outstretched hand holding the other gun loosely. The mental image of his inert, boneless form burned into his head, mocking him with the stupid senselessness of it. Closing his eyes against the sight, he let his automatic pilot take over.
He wasn't sure where he went: jumbled images of concrete and chrome, orange from the street lamps; smoke-filled interiors, startled glances. All he knew was that he couldn't go back to his apartment. Jack had known where he lived. He repeated the thought to himself over and over again, just to keep his mind thinking about something.
Rough arms manhandled him and he screamed against the pressure on his newly-wounded arm. Then someone was nudging him into a dark, dusty room. He choked on the darkness, flailing out ineffectively against his surely well-meaning captors. But his vision was already blurring from loss of blood.
Shit, they were going to call the cops; or worse, for an ambulance.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. He had to get to the door, get out of here before they found him.
He was idly aware of the thought as his knees buckled beneath him and the darkness closed in.
I am sitting in a chair in my bedroom, strange enough in itself, staring at the man in my bed. For what seems the hundredth time tonight, I wonder what the hell I am doing. He looks peaceful there covered by the white sheets, the lines of his face smoothed out, dark eyelashes resting delicately on his cheeks. It's hard to believe who he really is, what lies behind that innocent face. But I do know--I should believe. But still, he's here.
A dead man, blood, an alley. The props and scenery of my life. A mystery--always. Then the inevitable process of reconstruction: tedious, fallible, often fruitless. But not today, it would seem.
Prints had been run on the dead man in the alley, revealing some interesting facts. Fact one: he had attended the academy for a brief time. Fact two: he was there at the same time as one Alex Krycek. No one else would have thought to make the connection, but somehow I had known. Perhaps he imprinted something of himself on his victims, an imprint only I could see. I've certainly had plenty of opportunities.
And I don't know why he's here, why I felt compelled to bring him here after some quick calls to local hospitals turned up an unidentified man matching his description in an emergency room. I flashed my badge around, abused my authority shamelessly, and they had released him to me once the arm had been stitched up. I wanted something from him an answer? Why he was back in D.C? Why he had killed the man in the alley? Why he did anything at all? But any answer he gave would inevitably be distorted, a carefully-constructed lie.
I gave up listening to the constant questioning of my sanity by others long ago, but even by my own considerably more lax standards, this is going a little far.
He stirs, interrupting my entangled musings. He shifts restlessly under the sheet, head rocking to the side, lips twisted in a slumbering grimace. I resist my initial impulse to go over to the bed and soothe away the nightmare. The urge to nurture, to offer comfort, comes to me seldom and at odd times in my life; strange that it would raise its head now, would direct its focus toward a man like Alex Krycek.
Then I realize that he's awake and staring at me, his eyes black from the shadows of the room. But he's not really conscious, it's just a momentary lapse of fevered unconsciousness. I stare back at him, having nothing to say.
I notice that he's shaking, a residue from whatever nightmare he's awakened from. I don't want to know, but I do. I find myself getting up from the chair, sitting down on the edge of the bed. He looks up at me, expressionless. His eyes are no longer black, just a clouded, soft green, like olives.
He shifts his eyes away, refocusing their gaze to the wall behind me. I reach over, touch his near shoulder. He flinches but doesn't speak. He's still shaking: a near-invisible twitch and shudder that courses through his body. I can see that he's trying to control it, but can't.
It's strange. I would have thought that by saving his life from the silo he would feel some peculiar connection to me, some sense of obligation...however reluctant. But if he did, he was able to let it go. In the end, it seems that it was I who forged the connection, who even now feels somehow tied to him. His presence here in my bed makes the feeling more insistent, more unbearable.
So I lay down on the bed beside him, knowing that he is still too feverish to be consciously aware of me. I pull him toward me, careful of the bandaged arm, and reach out to curl my hand behind his neck, stroking softly but not intrusively. He lies there stiffly for a moment but then lets his head roll forward into the crook of my neck, letting out a wracking sigh that might have been a sob if he were crying. But he isn't. My hand drifts down to his back, soothing away the tremors of his body, feeling an odd satisfaction when the trembling ceases. I stare out over the dark head nestled there, and my hand moves up to brush over his hair, startled by its softness. He's fallen back into sleep without ever really being awake.
I wish I could sleep. I wish I could understand this. But in truth, I don't know that I want to.
I'm in the kitchen, washing dishes of all things. I don't have much opportunity or desire to use them, but I've let them pile up, and now it's something to do while I wait and try to stop thinking about the man still sleeping in my bed. He's been here almost a day, in and out of consciousness.
"What are you doing, Mulder?"
I jump with a muffled curse, yanking the water faucet handle down and grabbing a towel before turning around. I use the towel to dry my suddenly shaking hands and try to meet his eyes, not succeeding very well. They lock with his for only a brief instant then slide away to study the doorframe he is leaning against. He's wearing his jeans and has appropriated one of my shirts, the light blue t-shirt with the ripped hole in the left sleeve. He has a strange, sad expression on his face that I can see out of the corner of my eye.
"Where are my shoes? I need to get out of here."
"What makes you think I'll allow you to leave?" To my relief, my voice is steady, mocking, slightly challenging.
He pauses, tilts his head. "Are you holding me here, Mulder?" he asks softly. "Am I under arrest?"
I jerk my head to the side, irritated by the question. I rub my forehead with my right hand, the one not holding the towel. "I .I don't know."
He laughs in surprised disbelief. "Mulder, what kind of game are you playing?" I finally meet his eyes, but he's no longer looking at me, just staring abstractedly at a point just beyond my head, his face closed in thought. "How did you even know where to find me?"
Clearing my throat self-consciously, I avoid his question. "We found the body in the alley---" He stiffens visibly, halting my narrative. His eyes flicker to mine, closed and wary.
"You found Jack?"
"Then what the hell are you doing?" he asks, his face drawn sharp with incredulity. "C'mon, Mulder, this is your job. Aren't you the FBI agent? The protector of law and order, all that jazz?"
"Don't pretend to me that you have any understanding of what that really means, Krycek," I retort angrily. Even now, he still has that infuriating ability to bring out the worst in me. With some effort, I suppress the anger and consider my next words. "Yeah, I could take you in. I should take you in. But I'm beginning to wonder what exactly that would accomplish."
He tilts his head in mock thoughtfulness, his voice hard and tight, deliberately hurtful. "I'm sure you could find some evidence to link me to Jack's death, besides the obvious fact that I'm not denying it and presumably you have my gun. You might even be able to connect me to your father's murder, although to be honest, I was pretty careful with that one and I doubt you'll find any evidence to support it. So you might accomplish something."
I refuse to be provoked, though his words sting--they bring up thoughts and images and emotions that can't be brought into this, not now, not at this time. So I laugh, hardening myself against him. "Is that what you want, Krycek? You want me to arrest you?"
He shakes his head irritably. "Of course not, Mulder. I'd last about two days in prison before going absolutely fucking insane, if not killed off long before then. I just want to know what you're up to--what's going on in that obviously fucked-up head of yours."
I sigh and toss the dishtowel on the counter, realizing that I have been twisting and clenching it in my hands for the last few minutes. "Maybe I think we want the same things."
His eyes narrow, vaguely contemplative. "You mean the smoking man." I nod, then frown darkly as he shakes his head. "I can't help you with that, Mulder."
My hands tighten into fists at my sides. "Come on, Krycek. After what he did to you? I can't believe you don't want his ass in a sling."
"Yeah, I do, Mulder. And it'll happen, believe me." And I did--I believed him. "But it can't happen with you around. Maybe we want the same things, but I don't think we want them for the same reasons. And we sure as hell aren't going to agree on the methods."
I start to speak, then stop. I hate it, but he's right. I already know that there is a line that I will never cross, am unable to cross. And I know that the man in front of me feels no such compunctions.
With a sigh that reaches only the far stretches of my hearing, he shifts his body from its perch against the doorframe and leaves the room. I stare at the empty space he has left behind for several minutes, feeling an irrational anger at the man's almost flip attitude. Okay, I understand that he doesn't want to work with me in bringing down the cancer man. I don't think I was even completely serious when I suggested it; I already knew it was an absurd notion. But I feel like I've just been dismissed, here in my own apartment where I am supposedly in charge. He'll just move on to the next job, the next mark. And I hate being ignored--it happens to me too damned often.
I leave the kitchen as Alex, who has apparently found his shoes, is opening the apartment door. I grab his near shoulder and twist him around, pushing him back against the door with my hand to his chest, the door slamming shut loudly from the force of his weight against it.
"Listen, you son of a bitch---" I pause, my face barely inches from his own. Alex, looking a little startled and pissed-off by my force and sudden anger, is about to speak. I don't want to hear what he has to say--I think I will start hitting him if he speaks.
So I lean forward and kiss him.
It is a strange kiss--shy, stiff, awkward. I think we are both too surprised to do other than let automatic, natural reactions take over. There is brief moment of rightness, a melding of lips in a way so exquisitely sublime that my fingertips tingle with it then we both break away. I release my hold on the front of Alex's--my--shirt and back off a few steps, breathing hard. He is still pressed up against the door, his own breathing harsh, looking at me with wide eyes stunned into translucence.
"So what are you going to do, Alex, just walk out the door?" I manage to look at him steadily, my voice bright, challenging. The shock that I actually just kissed him is still colored with a healthy dose of my earlier anger. "Just walk back out to them? You know they're waiting for you--are you insane?"
Alex swallows and wets his lips reflexively. I try not to stare at them, at the moisture and redness that I have made there. He keeps his gaze steady as well. "Just because you brought me here, Mulder," he replies softly, lingering over my name in warning, "doesn't give you the right to tell me how to live my life."
I raise my hands to my face, rubbing my eyelids in frustration. "I know. But despite your many actions to the contrary, I would like to think that somewhere behind that 'I don't give a shit' exterior you have just one ounce of common sense."
To my surprise, Alex laughs. It is a reluctant, rather high-pitched and nervous kind of laugh, but it defuses some of the tension between us.
I let my hands drop to my sides. "Just just sit down for a minute." Turning, I go back into the kitchen, wanting to look back to see if he will stay but knowing that what I really need is for him to go.
When I return carrying two open bottles of beer, he is sitting on the couch. I try to suppress my quick sigh of relief. Alex looks at the bottles pointedly. "Is that your plan, Mulder?" he asks, his tone deliberately light and teasing. "Get me drunk and then 'ravish' me?"
I stop in my tracks, feeling the flush and burn of embarrassment spread slowly over my cheeks. "I'm sorry about that," I say in a low voice, not meeting Alex's eyes. I hand him one of the beer bottles; he hesitates, then takes it. I sit down in the chair beside my desk.
"It's okay," Alex replies.
I can't tell if he's lying; I look at him sharply but don't ask him to elaborate.
He tilts the bottle of beer to his lips, grimacing slightly at the bitter taste. Then he puts it down on the table, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Why did you do it?" he asks quietly.
For a moment, I am unsure of what he is asking. Why did I kiss him? Why did I bring him here from the hospital? Why did I rescue him from the silo? I choose the easiest one to answer. "It was a morally abhorrent thing to do, Krycek," I mutter, not looking at him. "I knew you were in there--that smoking bastard was right there, did you know that? He was right there and he left you in there." I stop, taking a sip of beer although I don't really want it.
"What are you talking about?"
That makes me glance up. He is looking at me in confusion, his brow furrowed in a tight frown.
"The silo," I remind him a little impatiently.
His frown disappears, morphing into something akin to shock. "You got me out of the silo?"
"You didn't know?" I ask stupidly, then immediately curse my own thick-headedness. Of course he wouldn't know--why would my source have informed him? He probably thought he was protecting me from my own insanity, not realizing the impossibility of that task.
Alex opens his mouth to speak then closes it abruptly, shaking his head slowly. "Why would you do that?" he asks in a near-whisper.
"I just told you," I reply rather defensively, hoping that the explanation I already gave will be enough for him.
It isn't, and he's beginning to look angry. "You haven't told me anything. Since when are you the fucking conscience of humanity? So your sense of morality was outraged--how do you live in this world and not experience that every day? I'm not quite desperate enough for your pity, Mulder."
"Oh, I don't know, Krycek," I hiss back at him coldly. "It seems to me that without my pity you'd be dead right now--and not a very pretty death, either. How did it feel to be locked up like that? Knowing that you were going to rot there, hidden away like an embarassing secret? I'll bet you were pretty damned desperate then."
"Fuck you, Mulder." He starts to get up from the couch and I surge up from my seat abruptly, shoving him back down with a hand to his chest. His eyes are glittering at me furiously as he moves to get up again.
"Sit down. I don't know why I did it. No one deserves to die like that." The sentences follow each other in rapid, disconnected spurts of sound. I take a deep breath, stand there above him with fists clenched at my sides. Despite our positions, I know that he's gained the upper hand here.
There is a strained silence, then my anger begins to drain away, leaving me oddly empty. The tension in the room has shifted into something less tangible than anger. He licks his lips. "Not even me?" he asks softly, mockingly.
Stepping away from him, I slump back into the chair. I refuse to answer that question. He knows the answer already--I can see it in his face. It has grown suddenly pensive, bemused, and I wince inwardly.
"Mulder," Alex says finally. He clears his throat. "I do have to leave." He is about to speak again when a yawn overtakes him--it reminds me with a minor shock of his own vulnerability, the humanness of his existence.
"You can stay here," I say without thinking, and then cringe at how absurd that is. So I try to cover up the absurdity, to convince him--and thus myself--otherwise. "Look, it will be safe enough for you to stay here tonight. You can leave tomorrow."
He looks at me suspiciously around another yawn, but finally nods--and I realize that he probably has no place else to go. He stands up and heads for the bedroom, not bothering to ask where I will sleep. I watch his back as it retreats from me.
Then there's a pause in his step and he's turning around. "Mulder," he calls out; he sounds reluctant. I raise my eyebrow in question. "Um, thanks." I just nod as he disappears into the bedroom. It sounds so forced from him, as if he hates the situation that prompts him to voice his thanks. I can understand that, his gratitude makes me uncomfortable as well.
I didn't do this for you, I want to call after him. But I don't say it, because I don't know why I'm doing it at all.
I am lying on the couch, my usual bed of choice, a blanket pulled up haphazardly over my bare legs. The muted television is projecting blue and white lightning throughout the darkened room, the images themselves flashing on the screen in front of me. My eyes are glued to it, but only out of habit.
Instead I'm listening to the silence from the other room. What are you doing, Mulder? His question echoes in my head with mocking insistence. Harboring a known fugitive isn't exactly in the FBI guidebook, but the bureau has often been just a tool for me, a convenient and sometimes useful place to start looking for my own answers. I really can't summon up much guilt for this blatant disregard for their rules and policies simply because they're there.
But that isn't what's really bothering me. Flashbacks to fumbled gropings in the experiments of adolescence; but never like this. A desire that hasn't touched me in so long is reappearing in force, payback for my conscious suppression of it, my proclivity for taking care of my sexual needs myself. But it's cheaper, more efficient, and often times much more enjoyable, I argue to myself, a familiar litany. No one to perform for, no one else to have to take care of. And I haven't been looking for much more than simple release, lately.
And now I'm lying on my couch, hard for Alex Krycek. What a joke. I take it as further proof of the lack of a reigning deity. Could anyone, much less a supposedly all-powerful being, have such a sick sense of humor?
I hear a muffled groan from the other room and my body stiffens on the couch. But I let it pass. He'll be gone tomorrow, and I can forget any of this ever happened. It's easier that way. I let my eyelids drop, willing myself to drift off. But my muscles won't relax, my face is still furrowed in a tense frown.
Another sound and I am startled upright. It's weird, unearthly, like the high-pitched whine of an animal or a ghost. I wonder if it's even he who's making it, if any human could make that sound. I'm on my feet before I'm really aware of it and heading for the bedroom. He's lying there on the bed, sheet wrapped around his waist, clutched in the death-hold of his fists. His breathing is harsh, erratic, his open eyes reflecting small glints of brightness from the pale light seeping in from the living room. He sees me there.
"Turn on the light, Mulder," he says, but in a voice I've never heard before.
"What?" my startled response.
"Turn--on--the light." He says it like a mantra, spoken in a tight, hoarse growl.
So I walk over to the bed and flip on the reading lamp on the nightstand. He closes his eyes briefly and his breathing almost immediately begins to slow, to steady. His clenched face smooths out in relief. I watch the transformation, enthralled.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
His voice is still tight and low. "Yeah."
I sit down on the side of the bed, and he doesn't move away. "Is this from the silo?"
He looks at me sharply, and I suppress the wry smile that threatens to erupt--I do have a psych degree. He nods once in acknowledgment.
I sigh, scrubbing my face with my hands. "How often does it happen?"
Grimacing, he turns away from me. "Please, Mulder. Please don't do your therapy routine, now." I am mildly offended, but there is an element of true pleading in his voice.
"All right," I concede.
He turns his head back to me, eyes dark and strained. "Come here."
"What?" I ask, an involuntary, nervous laugh escaping from my lips.
He reaches out to my shirt and tugs me down so that I am lying next to him, until we're facing one another. I should resist--he isn't unconscious this time, but fully awake and aware--but I don't. He sighs and reaches out a hand to my face, his fingertips tracing the outline of my nose, pressing lightly against my lips. I can't control the startled twitch that jerks my face away from his touch. He smiles wistfully at my response, but just moves his hand to my chest, still clothed in a faded grey T-shirt. He picks at the cloth with his fingers, pulling it away from my body, letting it spring back.
"What are you doing, Mulder?" he asks. I think it's his favorite question for me lately. But he doesn't say it like he wants an answer; it's like he's asking himself and already knows the answer, but is loathe to let it settle there in his head. He leans forward and I watch him, until I can't focus on him anymore because his forehead is resting against my own, our noses touching gently. He rubs my nose with his own.
"Are you giving me Eskimo kisses?" I ask in breathless, wary amusement. He chuckles, and the wind from his breath tickles my lips.
"Yeah," he murmurs, then he shifts the angle of his head and touches his lips gently to mine.
My throat tightens at the agony of the caress, its excruciating touch. But it isn't desire that flows between us, or rather it's a suppressed desire, allowed to curl up sleeping for the moment. He's kissing me as if searching for a lifeline with which to connect. I am oddly touched by the gesture, the need that emanates from him and has focused itself on me.
Arousal begins to build again, a warmth that spreads through my legs, my arms, tightens painfully in my gut. I return his light kisses because it has become impossible to do otherwise. Then he leaves my lips and works his way down the line of my jaw, pressing lightly against the pulse below my ear that immediately jumps in response. I shiver, a light frisson that closes in against my lungs and presses out the gasp of breath that has been hovering at the edge of my lips.
But then he's leaving, rolling onto his back. I want to cry out like a sulky child.
"I'm hungry," he says, gaze locked on the ceiling. His voice is strangely detached, tasting the words curiously; the inanity of his statement lingers between us.
"Jesus, Alex," I say. When I am able to start thinking again, I realize that I'm pretty pissed-off.
He rolls back to me, smiling gently. "I know," he says quietly. "I'm sorry. But I'm really hungry."
As if to validate his claim, there is a light growling from his stomach like the sly uncurling of a tiny beast inside of him. It reassures me--a little--that this isn't part of some new game of his, an exploitation of the weakness I have revealed to him against any common sense I might still have left, the betrayal of jealously-guarded suspicions.
"Okay." I manage to sit up in the bed, swinging my legs over the side. I stand up unsteadily. He starts to rise and I hold a hand out to stop him. "It's okay, I'll bring you something."
He just looks at me with a wry twist of his lips and gets up from the bed.
I feel his presence behind me as I walk to the kitchen, but I don't turn around. My legs are still slightly trembling, my breathing less than rhythmic. He sits at the table while I reach blindly into the refrigerator, looking for something to feed him. There's some leftover pizza wrapped in foil; I plunk it down in front of him.
"You really are a bastard," I say conversationally.
He smiles, takes a bite of cold pizza, chews, swallows. "I know." He says it like he really does know, but there's neither triumph nor regret there. "I need to build up my strength," he adds cryptically.
I snort. "Yeah, you had better." I stare at him with eyes like points of flame in my head, challenging, leaving him no way to misunderstand my meaning.
He raises an eyebrow, smiles around the pizza. His own eyes have darkened in immediate response, and I wonder if he feels this same almost uncontrollable desire that has taken hold of my being. But he must. And suddenly I can't stand it anymore; I knock the slice of pizza out of his hand and lean over him, capturing his lips in a way very different from our feather-light kisses from before. His mouth is tangy now, sweeter.
He responds with a muttered growl against my lips, pulls me in tighter with a hand cupping the back of my head, letting me invade his mouth for a few moments then subtly taking control with his own tongue and lips, until I realize that he's standing and I'm pressed back, the counter digging into my hip. His lips are demanding, insistent, his hands grasping the counter on either side of me, trapping me, holding me there; I revel in the feel of him like this. Alex Krycek revealed, I think to myself. But no, my caution says. Don't ever think you know him.
He breaks off the kiss and moves his head to my shoulder, breathing in the skin of my neck, placing tiny kisses, nipping bites along the curve of my throat. I bring my hands up to his bare chest, pausing briefly at the exquisite feel of tiny chest hairs, silky and rough against my fingers. Then I push, gently at first, then harder as he ignores me. He finally steps back, his pupils dilated so far they've swallowed up his eyes, opened the abyss. I try to catch my breath, find my voice.
"The bedroom," I manage to gasp.
He nods and takes my hand proprietarily, enclosing it in his own and using it to tug me back down the hallway. I let him lead me; he looks back at me once, but I can't read his expression. When we reach the bedroom, I reclaim my hand and use it to push him back onto the bed. He falls with a muffled thump and splash of the sheets and lets his limbs sprawl out where they lay, mouth stretching into a grin.
My hands yank the t-shirt over my head, almost tearing it in the haste and frantic awkwardness of the movement. Then I'm free, and I curl my body over him, groaning at the touch of our bare chests, the friction of his skin and hairs against my nipples. I take his mouth, exploring thoroughly and with some force as he folds his arms against my back, pressing me in closer. Our bodies shift and I gasp reflexively, steal his breath with my indrawn one. I can feel him through the cruel, thin material of my boxers and the thought comes forth in agonizing clarity: this man is your death. It's come knocking and you've pulled out the red carpet, waving it in with a smile.
I suppress the dark thought fiercely as if in a childish tantrum, and instead release myself from his hold and work my way down his chest, biting a nipple, closing my eyes against the groan that rolls like a thick tendril of vine from his throat. It turns into a sharp cry, bitten off swiftly, as I move down his chest, the flat of his stomach; I press my face against the bulge in his boxers, breathing in the scent of him--it travels up the passage of my nostrils and sends a surging spark of electricity through my body that leaves me shuddering at the impact.
Then I look up at him. He's lying back, his eyes closed and throat bared, his hands clutching convulsively in the air as if he wants to close them around me but can't find the way. My heart clenches painfully at the sight. I want him so badly that I can't even imagine a time that I didn't want it. And then the horrific enormity of what I am doing finally seeps through the lust-induced haze of my brain.
He's a killer for hire. And he's here, looking like that. You've made him look like that.
He murdered your father, shot him down cold and you've made him look like that.
He's killed---. But so have you, Mulder. But it's not the same; it can't be the same.
He opens his eyes and looks back at me. Seeing my expression, he holds his face impossibly still; then his eyes soften into wistful understanding, or at least acceptance.
"It's okay," he says softly. I close my eyes against the sound of his voice, his understanding; I don't want either. With a groan I roll off of him and cover my eyes with the back of my arm.
He doesn't move, doesn't attempt to touch me. The seconds stretch into minutes, and finally he moves.
"What are you doing?" I ask, as he gets up from the bed.
He looks at me as he would a small child, then reaches over to the chair to pick up his jeans. He pulls them up over his legs, up to his waist.
"Don't go," I say automatically. "I don't want you to go."
He sighs; his back is turned to me so I can't see his expression. "What do you want, Mulder?" His voice is low, tired, but free of reproach. He should reproach me, though.
"Why did you kill that man--the one in the alley?" I ask suddenly, unaware until that moment that the question has been hovering in the forefront of my mind all night.
Alex turns his head to me until I can see his profile. It looks strange in the pale light of the lamp--all curves and shadows. "Don't, Mulder."
"Don't what?" I can't help but push.
"Don't do this redemption bullshit."
"What do you mean?" But I know what he means. His words make me angry, but only because he has known something of myself that has been a mystery to me until he voiced it.
He shakes his head, turns his body around to face me fully. His jeans are pulled up around his waist but remain unfastened. I can't help but think how sexy he looks like this; it revives my arousal with a sudden surge of heat.
"Mulder, I want you to fuck me," he says. His bluntness startles me, but the words resonate with me in a way I never would have imagined, manifesting as a light shiver that ripples through my body. But he is continuing, " no strings attached. Quit trying to make me into something other than I am. You think you can chase away the demons, cure the childhood traumas." He pauses, releases a peculiar, almost wry chuckle. "Mulder, there are no demons. I was never beaten as a child, no sexually-twisted uncle ever tried to molest me, or whatever scenarios you shrinks you come up with to explain away every human motivation." He stops again, licks his lips in an unconscious gesture. "I want you, Mulder, you have no idea. But not if you can't let this be."
Breath leaves my lungs slowly, and I become aware that I have been holding it almost the entire time he has been speaking. I know what he's asking, and at that moment I am caught in time, suspended at the brink of a decision that I know will tear me apart no matter what I decide.
"Okay," I whisper. He looks at me, uncertain of what the word signifies. So I lean forward and catch his arm, pulling him toward me until he stumbles at the edge of the bed and falls forward next to me. Our eyes meet, lock. I expect to see some kind of triumph, there, a gloating satisfaction that I am so consumed by lust for him that I can't refuse his offer. But there is only a kind of quiet wonderment, a hint of gratitude. Like he's thanking me for something, for allowing him this. I can't resist it, and I pull his head closer as if I could taste it on his lips.
It's like he's given me something, too. A time outside of time, a hollowed space to curl up in, a way to shuck off the accumulated weight of my years, my experiences the hanging noose of my obligations. For the first time in my life, I think, I feel free.
He had been dreaming. He couldn't remember the dream, but he woke with an odd feeling of sadness, maybe. But that was too inadequate a word. It was like the air was overlaid with a strange, still heaviness, a cessation of time.
He came more fully into wakefulness, opening his eyes to the chill light of encroaching dawn. It filtered in through the bedroom window, illuminating the room like the deep recesses of the sea, a wash of blue light. Alex lay there, absorbing it into his skin. He felt a peculiar, unfamiliar sensation through every sinew and bone: his limbs were heavy, his heart light.
He turned to look at the man curled up next to him in a fetal position, the tips of his knees gently touching Alex's thigh, his head nestled inches from Alex's own. He reached over and brushed away the tendril of hair that had flopped forward over the other man's forehead. The gentleness of his own gesture startled him, made him draw his hand away.
Strange that he should find this kind of peace here. It wasn't something that he ever consciously sought. He knew it would always only be temporary, that there were other things that would inevitably draw him back out. Mulder was a different beast altogether, he mused. He always seemed to be looking for peace, even if he did search for it in the strangest places sometimes. Funny that such a sharply-honed moral blade should be housed in a man often cruelly indifferent to the bite of his own wit, oblivious to the little hurts and pains of others. He might have suspended that moral judgment for now, for this, but he knew that it would inevitably haunt the man. Maybe not soon, but eventually.
But for now, Alex was content with this.
He leaned over and brushed his lips along the curve of Mulder's cheekbone, feeling the light tickle of eyelashes against his upper lip. Mulder stirred, made a little sound in the back of his throat. Then he opened his eyes and Alex could see that for a split second he was ready to jerk back in wary startlement, a habitual reaction. Then the moment passed and Mulder smiled: a slow, sleepy smile. Alex gazed back at him, then leaned in to kiss the man's throat, tracing the line of his jugular with his tongue.
"Good morning," he murmured into Mulder's skin.
"Hmmm " Mulder tried to reply, his mouth still clogged with sleep.
Alex laughed lightly, pulled his head back to study the other man. Everything about him was so disproportionate. The lanky frame, over-balanced nose, swollen lower lip, the slight slouch of the shoulders. But it all fit together so neatly, as if he couldn't have been constructed in any other way. He wondered idly why he had never tried to jump him when they were partners. But he knew why, really; it would have interfered with the job--his job. And Alex knew just where lust and attraction was positioned on his list of priorities: not insignificant, but not at the top, either.
But for now he let himself drink in the sight of his former partner, who was threatening to drift back into sleep. Alex bit his shoulder warningly.
"Ow. What." Mulder was still half-asleep, sounding a little annoyed by the interruption.
"Wake up, Mulder," Alex sang softly, kissing his way down his chest, teasing a nipple with his teeth, soothing the resulting redness with his lips.
Mulder pulled away with a little frown. "I'm still sore," he complained sleepily.
Alex pulled himself up to Mulder's ear, flicking the lobe with his tongue. "I'm not," he whispered in as sexy a voice as he could manage this early in the morning.
Mulder's eyes opened, and Alex almost laughed at the gleam that was beginning to form there. "Hmmm " Mulder murmured thoughtfully. Then Alex found himself flat on his back, the other man's weight pressing him down. He hadn't even seen Mulder move. Astonished, he looked up at the smirking face above him.
"Jesus, Mulder. You sure woke up quickly."
Mulder's smile curled up at the corners like a cat as he contemplated the prone form beneath him. "I was inspired," he replied, definitely more awake now.
Alex grinned, submitting to the other man's exploring tongue and mouth. Mulder was taking his time, investigating each curve and crevice as if he wanted to memorize them. Snapshots for later, Alex thought, a little ruefully. But he pushed the thought away. Thinking was beginning to be a little more difficult, anyway, with what Mulder was doing with his tongue .
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Mulder's chin was nestled in the hollow of his hip, and he was licking and nipping with absorption at a spot somewhere between his hip bone and the curve of his ass.
"Mmmpfh," Mulder replied.
Alex grabbed a chunk of the dark hair, pulling him away none too gently. Mulder frowned at him and shook his head from Alex's grasp. "You have a little mole, there. It was kind of interesting," he explained, looking a little put out.
Alex laughed. "Aren't you cute," he murmured indulgently.
Mulder's frown deepened. "Fuck you, Krycek," he replied calmly, and grabbed Alex's hardening cock in a quick, fluid movement, squeezing the base of it cruelly.
"Ow Mulder, okay." Alex was laughing and gasping. Mulder's hand released its tight grip, started to stroke the shaft with more forgiving fingers; slowly, firmly. Alex pushed his hips into the other man's hand, every thought that was still left in his head focused on that slow, painful burn of flesh on flesh.
"So .Mulder," he gasped out. "I thought you were going to fuck me."
"Just taking my time," came the silky reply.
"Yeah no shit." Then he strangled a cry as Mulder's lips touched the tip of his cock, his tongue snaking out to circle the head in long, smooth, lazy movements. Alex thought he was going to scream at the man's patient exploration. Then the tip was held in moist, hot softness, squeezed steadily with insistent lips.
"Mulder--shit ." Alex grabbed the man by his hair, forced his head up. "I really need you to fuck me now, Mulder," he said in a deceptively steady voice, liberally laced with warning.
Mulder rocked back on his heels, studying Alex's impatiently writhing form. His own organ jutted out from his body, stiff and suffused with blood. "Krycek. Alex," he amended after a brief pause for thought. "I will fuck you when I am god-damned good and ready." He smiled.
Surprising how much that low, smoky voice turned him on, made his already painfully-hard cock throb in response, grow even harder. Well no, not so surprising. Alex laughed: low, seductive. "Okay, Mulder," he acquiesced gracefully, the underlying tone of the words belying the submission. He pushed himself up with his elbows and grabbed Mulder's hip in the tight grip of his fingers, pulling him off balance. Mulder swore as he tilted forward and caught his downward tumble with outstretched arms. Alex curled beneath the arched form, his mouth honing in on the source that drew him.
"Christ, Alex ." Mulder gasped as he was engulfed, sucked with long, insistent pulls of suction. More pressure, the light graze of teeth. It went on, unbearably long. Mulder closed his eyes, willed himself not to scream in frustration. Then Alex pulled away and kissed the tip of it almost sweetly.
"Just tell me when you're ready, Mulder," Alex said in perfect innocence.
Mulder just growled and pushed himself up, using Alex's shoulders for leverage. He reached over to the nightstand as Alex uncurled himself back onto the sheets, his arms folding lazily behind his head. He watched with hooded eyes as Mulder shakily opened the lube.
"Spread your legs," Mulder demanded with admirable calm. Alex complied, arching up gracefully as Mulder's slicked fingers pressed against him, opening him up slowly, increasing the pressure. He was gasping now as Mulder reached back with his thumb to lightly rub his balls. Such long, thin fingers, Alex thought with that tiny corner of his brain that was still capable of rational thought. One of those fingers brushed over his prostate, and in the wake of that blinding flash of white-hot pleasure, Alex thought that it was going to be over, right then and there.
"Now, Mulder," he growled hoarsely, pulling away from the man's teasing fingers. Mulder nodded, as if to himself, and tore open the condom packet. Rolling it on swiftly and easily, he bent Alex's legs back, pushed against the opening, both of them gasping at the contact.
"Fuck, Mulder, just do it."
Mulder thrust harder, and Alex felt the slow, sweet burn spread out painfully from the source. He pushed into the pain, relishing it.
"Shit!" Mulder was in, gasping for breath. They steadied, were still a moment. For Alex, it was a perfect moment--he was stretched so tight, so thin, he almost cracked from the pain; the feel of Mulder filling him so absolutely was excruciating, impossibly perfect. He bucked up against it, and Mulder swore, placing a restraining hand on his hip.
"Not your show, buddy," he muttered hoarsely.
Alex chuckled breathlessly, reaching down to stroke himself. "C'mon, Mulder," he chanted. He was close to the edge, his knowing hands circling himself, increasing the friction.
"Fuck." The word was uttered with breathless focus. Mulder twisted part of the way out and drove back in a mindless rhythm. Alex arched up into his own hand, pushing himself up against Mulder, the burn of pain fading into exquisiteness.
"Damn it, Mulder, harder," he gasped, breathing harshly. He looked up at the other man: Mulder's eyes were closed, his face tight, focused intensely on some inward trip of his own. Suddenly annoyed, he reached up as Mulder drove in again--had to pause, hiss at the sensation--and tapped the side of Mulder's cheek lightly with his fingertips. Mulder opened his eyes, his pupils wide and dark; they locked with his. And Alex could see that he was very much there, that Mulder hadn't retreated into his own mind as he had thought.
Mulder leaned forward and took Alex's mouth viciously and desperately; Alex could feel the waves of unarticulated need that pulsed from him, flowed between them. Then the wrack and split of orgasm took him, and he was transported beyond to that crack and flash of lightning, freezing time, stringing him up with a silver thread piercing his heart his gut his cock, and Mulder was crying out, too, his head bowed and shaking, dark hair floating trembling at the edge of his forehead.
Long, slow minutes afterwards, Alex touched the strand of hair, pushing it back from the glimmer of sweat and skin. He leaned forward, catching the hairs in the roughness of his lips. The other man smiled at him, indulgent.
Yeah, he was content. For now.
Alex stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel to rub away the droplets trickling relentlessly down his skin. Wrapping it around his waist, he looked into the slightly-fogged mirror, watched himself run his hand through the spikes of dark hair that jutted out haphazardly from his head. For a moment it was a stranger looking back at him from the mirror, and he blinked his eyes rapidly to rid himself of the peculiar sensation.
Mulder was in the living room, dressed in suit and tie and cradling a mug of presumably coffee in his hands like it was the holy grail. Alex hesitated; the sight of him back in his FBI persona was a little jarring.
"What day is this?" he asked curiously.
Mulder craned his head around from the couch, nodded briefly in greeting. "Monday." His attention returned to the paper spread out on the table in front of him. Alex headed into the kitchen, grabbing a mug and pouring in some of the coffee still left in the pot. Mug in hand, he went back into the living room, snagged a section of the paper from under Mulder's nose and sat down at the other end of the couch, hitching the towel up with one hand before it slipped down. The other man just gave him an unreadable look and returned to his own perusal.
Mulder finished his coffee in a last, draining gulp and stood up. "I have to go to work," he said almost absently, not looking at Alex. He went over to the coat rack, plucked his overcoat from one of its claws. He looked back over to the couch as he was shrugging it on.
"Okay," Alex replied. "I'll take off once I get dressed."
"You don't have to go." Mulder's response came immediately. But he kept his expression carefully neutral.
At the words, Alex snorted with what might have been contempt, but his smile was wry. "You know that I will."
Mulder paused, a conflict of emotions warring briefly over his face. "Okay," he said at last. "Do you need any money?" he asked hesitantly.
Alex shook his head.
"Okay, then." Mulder was still standing there, his hand catching at the edge of his overcoat, playing with it absently.
"I'll be in touch soon, Mulder." The words were pulled reluctantly from his mouth.
The other man's face relaxed in a minute shift of the facial muscles around his lips. It was a look of relief, or maybe that's just what he wanted to read there. Actually, he wasn't sure what he wanted Mulder to be feeling right now.
"Bye," Mulder said quietly, turning to the door.
"Mm-mh," Alex replied to the retreating figure. He watched the man leave, the door closing softly behind him.
He rubbed his eyes against the fading light of approaching dusk, then brought the binoculars back up to his face. His little militia men had been holed up in their 'workshop'--a battered shed in the back of the house--for the last hour. It was cold out in the woods and a little damp, and Alex was just about fed up with the whole situation. But he had caught a glimpse of Todorov earlier, and the sight of his former associate had renewed his interest somewhat. So here he was, crouched behind a fallen tree and staring out at an unoccupied yard and closed shed door--in other words, at nothing--musing on the very unglamorous aspects of plotting and intrigue.
But he was reluctant to leave. Not because he thought anything interesting was likely to happen in the next few hours--and even if it did, he wouldn't be able to see it in the growing darkness--but because of where he wanted to go instead. Where he had wanted to go for the last week. So far he had been able to resist the impulse with an iron control that he usually prided himself on; now he both blessed and cursed it, depending on his mood.
He wondered what Mulder would do in this situation. Well, first of all, he wouldn't be out in these woods, spying on some idiot group of thirty-something, trigger-happy pseudo-psychopaths still popping zits. Not that Mulder was above this kind of clandestine surveillance, not at all. But no way would he have had the patience to sit out here this long. He would have stormed the place hours ago with some crocked-up excuse, waving his gun around, looking for EBEs. Trust Mulder to assume that everyone was hiding aliens in their back shed.
Alex pinched himself brutally, a physical reminder to himself to steer away from certain thoughts and images. Mulder had been popping in and out of his head constantly in the last few days, rendering him absent, slow, and unfocused at awkward times. When some Consortium lackey finally caught up with him to put a bullet in his head, he was sure his last words would be 'oh God, those lips!' That might even save him from the bullet; they would simply assume he'd cracked up at last, no longer a threat.
With a sigh, he moved from his crouching post, wincing at the burn in his thighs and ache in his knees. He worked his way stiffly out of sight from the house then allowed himself a more upright position, walking quietly to the back road where he had left the car, almost a mile through these woods. The darkening sky made the path a little treacherous, but he kept a wary eye out for the occasional fallen branch, the mud-slicked hole. The darkness out here didn't seem to bother him, but perhaps it was because there were no walls closing him in, because he could feel the cool breath of chill air on his face, sense the openness around him despite the trees.
Driving back into the city, Alex tapped his fingers lightly against the wheel in accompanied rhythm to the softly playing radio, though he didn't recognize the song. No time to keep up with current music, he supposed. He reached the beltway before he was ready for it, hesitated at the decision, then let the car drift right to pick up 495 to northern Virginia. Thinking with your dick again, Alex. But no--he didn't usually. The impulse was far less familiar. He just didn't feel like being alone, tonight.
He let himself into Mulder's apartment, taking in the strange comfort of the shapes and shadows that greeted him. It was empty of human presence, but he had expected that. He headed for the kitchen first, studying the contents of Mulder's refrigerator with a bemused smile. The man must exist on pure relentlessness alone. Resigning himself to hunger, he returned to the living room, finding the remote and flipping on the t.v. He settled himself back on the couch to wait.
He was beginning to wonder if Mulder was going to be coming home at all when he saw the soft shadow pass under the door. It remained there for several seconds. Probably hears the television, Alex thought. But he left it on.
Finally the door creaked open and the shadow slid in, accompanied by the soft gleam of a gun. Alex smiled breezily as Mulder finally caught sight of him on the couch. Silent, Mulder returned the gun to his holster and closed the door behind him, flipping on the lights. Alex blinked at the sudden glare and tried to catch Mulder's eyes. But the man had turned away from him and was hanging his coat on that bizarre rack of his. Then he turned to face Alex, not moving into the room any further.
"Hi, honey, I'm home." The statement was thick with Mulder's special brand of self-mocking irony, but the curious gentleness in his eyes softened the effect.
Alex raised an eyebrow and smiled. "What, with the kids and the laundry, there was just no time to make dinner," he responded, his voice easy and light.
Mulder snorted. "Not even you can make something of nothing." His lips twitched--it might have been a sneer or the beginnings of a smile. "Especially you."
Alex ignored the jibe. "Yeah, you really need to visit your friendly neighborhood grocery store."
"Yeah, well, we can order in," Mulder replied almost absently; then his face grew still as if he'd just realized what he'd said. Alex could see the running flash of emotions over the other man's face: doubt, guilt, sadness, regret. Silent, Alex stood up from the couch and approached the man slowly as if he were a frightened--or vicious--animal trapped in a cage.
"Do you want to bail?" he asked softly. "I can leave."
Mulder studied him thoughtfully, and Alex was glad to see that he was taking the question seriously. "No," he said at last. "I don't think that I do."
"Good." His voice was low, tinged with relief and a growing desire. He took the extra steps separating the two until only a few inches remained between them. He reached out with his hand, rubbed his thumb lightly against Mulder's lower lip, his arousal growing more insistent as the other man closed his eyes briefly--in desire or in prayer--then opened them to meet his own. Alex caught his breath involuntarily--he felt consumed by those eyes. He broke the contact abruptly, stepping away.
"But first you have to feed me," he said lightly, turning away and heading back to the couch.
Mulder cleared his throat behind him. "I don't suppose we're going to be able to agree on take-out preferences."
Alex grinned at him. "Probably not, but I'm feeling gracious tonight. Just get whatever you want." He let himself sprawl back onto the couch.
Mulder just snorted and went over to the phone, dialing from memory. Pizza ordered, he headed for the bedroom. Alex wondered if this was his cue to follow; but no, the man returned a few minutes later dressed in jeans and a faded, obviously well-worn t-shirt. Alex looked at it with disgust as Mulder pulled his unresisting, outstretched legs down from the couch and settled himself in the spot they had just occupied. "Don't they pay you enough in the bureau these days?" he asked.
"Nope," Mulder responded seriously. Then his eyes gleamed--Alex could see the corners of them even though they remained fixed on the still-flashing screen. "It's my lucky shirt."
"Hmmm. Feeling lucky tonight?"
Alex shifted on the couch, drew his arm up to rest on the back of it, his fingers stretched out to touch the other man's hair, trace the whorl of his ear. "Think we have time for a quickie before the pizza gets here?" he asked in a deliberately lewd, husky whisper.
Mulder turned his head and looked at him with speculative eyes. "Why are you still talking?" He leaned over the space separating them, pushing Alex back against the opposite arm with a splayed hand to his chest. He curled his knees up on the couch and rested on his heels, as if studying the picture Alex made in front of him. Alex stretched out unself-consciously on his back, one knee drawn up bent against the back of the couch, his other leg sprawled to the side. He drummed his fingertips on his ribs beneath the t-shirt he wore. God, he loved Mulder like this. No longer the arrogant, paranoid asshole he had been when they were partners, he was another creature completely, released from the stranglehold of his brain.
Mulder leaned down, hands pressed to either side of Alex. "You know, I didn't think you were going to make good on your promise to come back after the last time," he said in a low, soft voice. Alex caught his gaze, almost flinched from the intensity burning there. He tried to look away, but found himself trapped by the desire that lay beneath the surface of the eyes. But it was more than that--there was something there he couldn't quite read, something that reached down into his gut and twisted it as if by some force the other man was reaching into him and drawing something out slowly, painfully, insistently.
Then the eyes shifted away, and Alex could breathe again. "I don't know, Mulder, did I make a promise?" he asked lightly, a gentle reminder.
Mulder just smiled, a secret smile of inner knowing that raised goosebumps on Alex's skin. Mulder's hand touched the fabric of his shirt stretched over his chest, drifted lower, pulling the shirt out of his jeans, tracing the line of flesh above his waistband with one fingertip. The finger paused, touched the button clasp of his jeans; more fingers joined it and the button was released, the zipper pulled down slowly, carefully, over the very telling bulge beneath it.
"Mulder---" But Mulder cut him off.
"I thought perhaps they had caught up with you. That you were lying dead in some alley like that man you shot." The voice was husky but steady. The hand reached in, traced the hard outline in his boxers. Alex felt light, dizzy with sensation. Out of control--he tried desperately to regain it.
"How did that make you feel, Mulder?" His voice was hoarse.
The hand paused in its stroking, then resumed. Mulder's head was bowed, the soft fringe of hair on his forehead dipping down into the air, bobbing slightly. Alex stared at the top of his head, suddenly relieved that he couldn't see Mulder's eyes.
"I don't know," the whispered response. "I'm sorry. I don't know."
He wasn't prepared for the sudden wrench in his gut, his heart, at the words. But what did he expect? And why should he care? Mulder had hated him (still hated him?) with a passion that was easily a disguise for other impulses, as this desire was perhaps a disguise for something else. Which was real? Skeins of emotion, endlessly entangled, knotted and cut short.
Oblivious to Alex's suddenly still and stricken form, Mulder leaned closer, touched the dampened boxers with his lips, pressing against him through the cloth. Alex gasped at the contact--a hollowed, drawn-out sound that shattered against the still and quiet air; it had only a little to do with desire. Mulder's head rose up quickly and abruptly, a certain astonishment in his eyes. Alex's own eyes were closed, screwed tight. Mulder tried to speak, caught his breath; words jumbled against his tongue in rapid succession, stumbling over themselves.
"Wha---Alex?" he finally managed, staring at the form in front of him. Alex was gasping, choking on the air, his shoulders twitching convulsively. His arm came up, hit Mulder solidly in the chest.
"Get off," he growled hoarsely, pushing the other man back against the cushions. Alex struggled from the couch, twisting away from Mulder's confused, outstretched hand. He turned his back on him, walked toward the bedroom.
Mulder watched him leave, a dumb-struck expression on his face. Suddenly angry at this strange turn of events, he followed the man into the bedroom, grabbed his wrist to stop him. Immediately, Alex turned on him, delivering a harsh backslap across his cheek.
Mulder reeled a bit, then steadied. He held a hand up to his face. "You son of a bitch," he hissed hoarsely, then tackled the other man to the ground.
He was outmatched, he knew--Alex was heavier than he, a little more skilled. But they were both angry, fighting with the ineffectuality of blind, pulsing rage. Alex pushed him up on the bed, slamming him against the back wall. Mulder managed to twist him off when Alex attacked again, pushed him back onto the mattress, reached blindly for the nightstand drawer.
Suddenly, the man beneath him ceased his frantic movements. Breathing heavily, Mulder stared down at him, wondered in that small part of his head not subsumed by the red haze of anger why Alex's eyes had gone so still, why he was looking at him so strangely. Seconds ticked by. Then he realized that the spare gun from the nightstand was clenched tightly in his hand, pointed at the other man's head.
"Oh my God," he whispered. He lowered the gun, shoved himself off of the prone form, stumbling on the floor as he fought to regain balance. The gun was still in his hand; he leaned down to put it on the floor in an absent, unfocused movement. He backed off until his back hit the closet door, staring aghast at the man who was now sitting up slowly on the bed.
There was a knock on the door, and Mulder jumped, his hands clutching at the air in tiny, grasping movements. Alex released a spate of vicious swearing, stood up from the bed and left the room.
The pizza man was lucky to get out of there alive--or at least he looked like he felt that way. Alex tossed the box in the direction of the coffee table then paused, listening. He could hear the hum of the shower. He went back into the bedroom, sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed, hating his own uncertainty and impotence in the face of this.
The gun was still lying on the floor. A seemingly innocent lump of sleek metal; it whispered to him seductively, mockingly. Nothing's really changed.
But that was too easy. This was too different.
Don't kid yourself, Alex. This is all there is.
He wrenched his head away, lowering it to the cup of his hands. He refused to believe that. He didn't know what this was between them, but it wasn't that. Not anymore.
He willed himself to believe it.
The hiss of water still sounded from the bathroom, and he finally rose from the bed, opened the bathroom door. He expected steam, but the room was clear of it--Mulder stood under the icy spray, hair flattened to his head, throat stretched and bared. Alex watched him for a few moments--the other man didn't even seem aware of his presence--then slowly approached the stall. He reached behind Mulder, hissing slightly at the chill of cold water on his arm, and turned the water off. Mulder still stood there, staring at the tiles on the back of the shower.
Alex sighed and grabbed his arm, urging him out of the shower. He pulled a towel from the rack, began manhandling Mulder into dryness.
Mulder's voice made him jump a little. "You know, the hardest demons to shake are the ones that come in the prettiest packages." Mulder said it in a hoarse, shivery whisper, gazing blindly at the space behind Alex's head.
His breath caught in his throat; he stared at the other man. "Is that what I am to you?"
Mulder looked at him in surprise, as if just remembering his presence. He took the towel from Alex's unresisting fingers. "No, that isn't what I meant at all." He moved past Alex into the bedroom, grabbed his clothes from where they had been discarded from the floor. Dressed, he turned back to Alex, who was now leaning up against the bathroom doorframe.
"Alex " he began.
Alex cut him off. "Don't say it, Mulder. Let it go."
Mulder gazed at him somberly. "I don't think that I can."
"I don't know that we have much choice." The words were even and controlled, but there was touch of bitterness there, as well.
Then Mulder was walking toward him, and he had to restrain the sudden urge to back away. He bit his lip, hating the sudden tightening in his throat that threatened to choke him as he followed Mulder's approach with wary eyes.
But Mulder didn't touch him, just leaned his head against the doorframe of the bathroom, inches away from Alex's shoulder. Alex could feel the light tickling of Mulder's breath against the skin of his neck; he shivered.
"It's okay, Mulder," he found himself saying out of a peculiar need to reassure him. "It doesn't matter."
Mulder laughed, a little hiccup of laughter. "Yeah, nothing matters here. Nothing happens here." The words were spoken thinly, as if from a great distance.
Alex raised his hand to the curve of Mulder's neck, pulled his head down to rest on his shoulder. "None of this is happening," he agreed. Mulder shivered once, then was still.
Alex looked out over the dark head, to the black glare of the window beside the dresser, the disheveled sheets of the bed. The shadowed form of the gun on the floor; silent now.
He struggled out of sleep, startled to feel smooth, warm flesh against the inside of his arms. Mulder was curled up against him, his back molded to his chest. Alex could feel the faint beat of his heart, the vibration of his breath, as if the two had locked in rhythm with his own. Slowly, reluctant to wake the other man, Alex disentangled himself. He moved away from the source of heat even as his body protested its absence. He lay back against the pillows, staring at the ceiling as Mulder stirred faintly, shifted his arms, then was still again.
The darkness of the room was for the first time a source of comfort. Alex let himself merge with it, felt it wrap around him soothingly. His eyelids lowered--he was drifting off into sleep again. With an irritated shake of his head, he drove off the drowsiness, blinking his eyes rapidly to clear them.
His mind shifted idly to thoughts of the militia. He had already picked his mark if he decided to make a move: a puppy, youngest and newest of the lot. Malleable enough to convince to take him to the ringleader of the group, and too green to just tell Alex to fuck off. He would follow the man home, check out his haunts. If he decided to play, that is. For some reason he was having a hard time sustaining interest.
This is what you do, he reminded himself harshly. Available options had been closing steadily for the last couple of years, ever since Mulder had sniffed him out after Scully's abduction. Stupid bastard, he thought, but he wasn't thinking of Mulder. His world had been made, there was no way he could see to break out of it, even if he wanted to. And he didn't want to, not really. Walking the cliff's edge, jumping without a net. It was too much of a rush to give up now; he was well and truly addicted.
He left the bed as quietly as possible, as not to wake Mulder. He didn't want the other man aware now, he was already creating complications. This thing with Mulder was like a stone thrown into a pool: too many ripples and waves, shifting currents, clashing patterns. A mathematical equation gone out of control.
He made his way around in the dark, found his jeans and shirt, sat down on the edge of the bed lightly to put on his shoes and socks. Then he stood up from the bed. He couldn't help but hesitate, turn to the man still sleeping. Mulder was curled up around himself, his head nestled in his arms, crushed against the pillow. He could see the stark contrast of dark hair against white sheets even in the shadowed room, and he had a sudden impulse to reach out, smooth the hair away, touch his lips to the exposed forehead. But he stood still.
He wasn't sure how long he stood there, studying the form in front of him. When he was aware of time again, he realized that Mulder was awake and looking silently back at him. Alex met the dark eyes steadily, revealing nothing. But something was exchanged between them, though he couldn't put a name to it. It lay outside his realm of experience. He blinked his eyes, broke the gaze, then turned and walked out of the bedroom.
He sat in the car, studying the near-decrepit diner in front of him. Lou and Joe's, the sign stated in red fluorescent tubes, unlit, against its peeling white-paint wooden background. The mark had entered ten minutes ago, and here he was still sitting in the car, trying to wrangle his meandering thoughts into some semblance of focus.
He ran a hand through his hair, frowned irritably at himself. Fuck, Alex. Get your act together. Decisions were his life; he made them brutally, often at the split-second, sometimes--often--wrongly. But decisions were important; they were the chain reactions of life. And you had to keep moving, because it was all going to catch up with you some day. Just preferably not today.
He got out of the car, shutting the door a little harder than necessary. Hunching into his jacket, he jogged up the steps to the diner. Once inside the door, purpose began to reassert itself; he felt his features and his mind realign themselves into his chosen persona, his face smoothed into a chilling blankness as doubts were shed like molting skin.
The man--not much more than a kid, really--was in a booth near the kitchen. He sat nervously, tapping the table with none-too-clean fingernails, head twitching at imaginary sounds. Probably hears voices in his head, Alex thought. Bomb the bastards. Kill them all. He resisted the urge to laugh.
Instead, he made his way to the booth, sliding in across from the man who jumped at his sudden presence and made a fleeting attempt toward the inside of his jacket before Alex's steely voice cut him off. "Don't even think about it," he warned, accentuating the words with a cold grace. "Mine is aimed right at your gut." It wasn't, but he wasn't above making the situation a little more challenging.
The man slowly lowered his hand, placed it carefully on the counter. "Who the fuck are you?" he rasped, his voice breaking nervously despite his obvious effort to look in control of the situation.
Alex smiled. "Just a friend." A shadow fell across the table: the waitress. Alex didn't take his gaze from the man across from him. "Coffee, black," he said in what he thought passed for a friendly tone. The waitress disappeared.
"I've been watching you and your buddies," Alex said conversationally, noting the immediate, inadequately-suppressed strike of fear on the man's face. The mark sat up straighter, cleared his throat.
"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about," he muttered.
Alex laughed lightly, ignoring the man's protestation of ignorance. "You're packing some pretty serious shit out there in the back shed. Planning a little friendly anti-gov work? Flip the birdie to the good ol' U. S. of A.?"
"What are you, a fucking cop?"
Alex almost lost it, the statement was so amusing. He wished suddenly that he still had his FBI badge, but decided that he really couldn't take the stench of the other man's urine in such close quarters. "No, just someone interested in some action," he replied.
The man snorted, tried to regain control by slumping back against the seat. "I don't think so, fucker."
Alex was beginning to wonder if the man knew any other words besides variations of 'fuck,' but decided that he really wasn't one to judge. "I don't think you have a choice. One pissed-off move of my trigger finger ." His smile was thin.
The guy looked at him blankly for a second, then swallowed. "What the fuck do you want from me?"
Okay, now they were getting somewhere. "You're going to be my introduction. A kind of buffer, if you will." Alex gestured for him to get up. "We'll take my car. Get out of the booth--slowly, hands in sight. I'll be right behind you." He watched the man get up and move past him. He caught sight of the waitress, who just shrugged and sensibly retreated to the kitchen with the coffee. He got up from the booth, moving in close behind the other man, his gun still lodged in the waistband of his jeans.
This was too easy. The guy just followed his instructions--took the car keys and drove out of the parking lot with Alex next to him in the passenger seat. He still hadn't drawn his gun. Too fucking easy. But he kept his senses alive and alert during the trip to the militia 'base.'
They pulled up in the drive, which was really just flattened grass and patches of dirt. There was no one outside--amateurs, Alex thought with a sneer. The kid in front of him was almost shaking now. Jesus, what a pansy. But he didn't feel sorry for him, not one fucking bit. He followed him into the house, transferring his gun to the pocket of his jacket and keeping his hand clenched around it.
They walked into what passed for a living room. Four guys were sitting slouched on threadbare, probably flea-infested furniture. Alex grimaced at the sight. One of the them looked up.
"McKie? What the---" The man broke off when he saw Alex. He jumped up from the couch, the others mimicking the movement. Suddenly, Alex had four weapons raised and aimed at him, as well as an unwelcome cold presence on the side of his head. A hand reached into his jacket to wrench the gun from his fingers. Must have been someone in the kitchen, he thought idly. An automatic surge of pure adrenaline and near-lust coursed through his body at the feel of the gun at his head--how Freudian. Guess the sick little head-shrinker hadn't been wrong about everything.
But this was okay--he had expected this scenario. Slowly, he raised his hands, palms out. The ringleader ignored them, walked up to him with jerking, angry steps. He spared a look of pure disgust at poor McKie, who seemed ready to release a string of apologies and explanations, cut off sharply by the other man's warning glance. The leader--Mayhew, Alex's memory provided, thinking back to the list of names he'd been given--turned back at Alex.
"Who the fuck are you?" he asked. Ah, Alex thought. They must all be related.
"I have some information you might be interested in," he replied, never breaking the other man's gaze, ignoring the gleam of firepower still centered on him.
The leader snorted, grimaced. "What kind of information? And why the fuck should I listen to you?"
"My name's Arntzen," Alex began, and then there was a sudden sound behind the wall separating the hall from the living room. Another man came into view; he walked with sleek, dangerous strides: a greyhound among wolves. Alex looked at him and nodded in recognition, but didn't smile.
"Arntzen," the new man said, his voice a silk sheath enclosing the dagger within, the light Russian accent only accentuating the effect. "We meet in strange places."
"Todorov." Alex regarded him coolly. He hadn't expected the man to actually be present, but it served his purposes well. "Looks like we've got similar interests, these days."
"Perhaps," the man replied, returning Alex's gaze. Mayhew leaned back into himself, his authority supplanted; he looked thrown and slightly irritated by the new turn of events. "I wonder, though, whose interests you are serving 'these days'?"
Alex smiled, shrugged. "Only my own."
The other man smiled back, but it was a sly smile, disbelieving. "I think you're a spy," he said smoothly. "But for who?" He looked genuinely curious.
"Still as trusting as always," Alex observed wryly. "I've had various employers. Didn't work out that well. So now I'm just working for myself."
Todorov still studied him, mouth twitching in what could have been the suppression of a smile. "You're causing a situation here, Arntzen. I think perhaps you'd better leave."
Alex raised an eyebrow, didn't move. "You've got a penny-ante operation going on here," he said bluntly, ignoring the surge of hostility from the men around him. "You know you're going to need skills like mine sooner or later."
"Skills " Todorov said flatly, drawing out the word. Then he let the latent smile reach the surface of his face. "Run along now. We'll be in touch," he added, after a brief pause. The supposed ringleader was still looking extremely pissed off by the man's appropriation of authority, but didn't say anything.
Alex glanced sideways at the arm holding the gun to his head. A grunt, a scowl at the leader's confirmation; the gun was removed. At the movement, the other guns around him were lowered reluctantly. "Okay," Alex agreed softly. "I'll be at the diner--" he grinned and nodded at the kid still standing nearby, "McKie knows where. Tomorrow, nine o'clock. If you're there, we'll talk. If not then maybe I'll have to take my skills elsewhere."
Todorov nodded. "Agreed." He didn't look terribly worried at Alex's implied threat, but the man never revealed anything, as Alex knew well from memory. He couldn't quite repress a shiver as he walked out the door--he hated turning his back on armed lunatics. You just never knew what was going to set them off.
Back in the car, back on the road to D.C., he lost himself in thought. He had taken the step, made some form of commitment, he knew. He could always fail to show up tomorrow--and even now, he wasn't quite sure if he would be there. Open options were appealing; closing them was a dangerous game.
He checked the clock on the dashboard, it was still early in the evening. His recent encounter had left him pretty damn hard. He could almost taste the residue of the firepower in that room metal, power, sweat, want they surged around in his head like battling school kids, overpowered by need.
And for once, he had someplace to take it.
The apartment was unlit except for the flickering blue of the television emitting soft snatches of noise, bits of conversation: an inane accompaniment to the man stalking him slowly and purposefully. Mulder watched as the shadow entered the apartment, crept over to the couch. It caught his breath. Alex looked feral; graceful in hunt.
The face of the shadow leaned down to his, breath whispered against his cheek. "Hello," it murmured softly before taking his lips with the deceptive gentleness of subdued savagery. Mulder shivered at the tightly-controlled force behind the movements of the other's lips. Was this what it was like to be him? Drugged by the fumes of desire and straining want seeping out of the other's skin, sliding along the surface of his lips, channeled through the stroking tongue.
He moaned, reached up to pull the head closer, deepening the kiss until he felt swallowed by it. Alex leaned over him and pushed him back with the same controlled motion of his lips. Mulder felt himself sink into the cushions of the couch, as soft and malleable as they do you what you want, Alex, he thought to himself. I'll do anything you want.
"What do you want, Mulder?" the man above him murmured, breaking the kiss gently to nuzzle at his neck, delivering quick bites to the skin, quickly soothed. Alex let his teeth graze along the line of the jugular. He moved lower, hissed in frustration at the feel of Mulder's wrinkled white cotton shirt against his lips; he yanked it open, locked onto an erect nipple sucking, biting, reveling in the feel of hot blood rushing to just beneath the surface.
"I " Mulder gasped, his need choking the sound from him. "Please, Alex " he whispered. He had never felt so overwhelmed by desire; he was at intervals unbearably hot then shaking, suffused with an undeniable surge of power and life yet oddly submissive. He allowed the scent and presence of the other man to subdue his limbs, drain away his will. Then Alex was moving lower, unfastening his slacks with calm precision, sliding the material down against skin that burned too hot--Mulder choked off a cry at the friction.
"I want to taste you " Alex whispered, his own need crushing the sound against the back of his throat. Mulder closed his eyes and groaned softly, his hips lifting reflexively, almost jerking off the couch. Alex restrained him with a gentle, stroking hand. He teased the tip of him lightly, breathing him in through flared nostrils. Mulder still smelled of the bureau metallic shards of testosterone-laden air, a heady fragrance of power and futility ensconced in the leaden dullness of government props. Alex reached out for the scent with his tongue, tasting it with some nostalgia but little regret. His need was too great--he swallowed Mulder with hungry lips and mouth, holding him there, calming the other man's sudden twist and cry of keening want.
Mulder shifted and sighed, keeping Alex's head in place with grasping, clenching fingers. Alex ignored the directives, set his own pace: a relentless sucking and swallowing, trying to draw out Mulder's core, his essence. Whispered cries at the onslaught of lips and tongue and throat: "Oh God Alex oh God please " and Alex felt like he was floating, timeless, trapped between his mastery of Mulder's body and his own crushing pleasure at the man's exquisite cries and helpless movements. He pulled at the base ruthlessly with clenched lips, then Mulder was coming with the high pitched keen of a repressed scream. He drank him in; tasting, swallowing, was replenished.
Mulder sighed, a slow trickling of breath from his body as the soft tingle of blood-rush held up his limbs with tiny pin-pricks on overwhelmed nerves. The weight of a body pressed down on him and he opened his eyes to see Alex nuzzling the flat of his stomach, the curve of his ribs. "Alex " he whispered, almost choking on the words. "I want I need let me ."
Alex nodded and unfolded himself, stood up. Mulder sat up slowly, feeling the rush of blood from his head that darkened his vision for a brief, groundless moment. His pants were tangled around his legs; he kicked them off as Alex unbuttoned his jeans, pushed them down. Then he was being pulled off the couch, onto his knees on the floor. "Yes " he murmured almost gratefully before taking in the hard shaft in front of him, giving in to his own need to devour, to tame. Fingers tangled in his hair--a light grasping movement, pulling here, smoothing there, curling around the base of his neck to force him in closer as he tried not to choke on this welcome invasion of his body. He could hear the harsh, uneven rasping of Alex's breath, could feel the automatic clenching of the other's gut that sent a vibration through the cock in his mouth, sending shock-waves against the inside of Mulder's cheeks, down the passage of his throat. Alex was rocking, thrusting fiercely against him; fingers clenched painfully in his hair as he was held there with ruthless precision. Then the almost startled cry, a gasp tinged with a kind of unearthly wonderment--"Mulder ."--and he was shooting into his mouth, the cord of semen so much like Alex himself: raw, piercing, beyond any purpose but the pulse of life, offered up to another. To him.
Alex sank down to the floor beside him, pulled him in close, nuzzling his lips and jaw with slow, dazed touches as if leaving invisible marks of territory. His shoulders were shaking, a quick twitch and flutter of the aftershocks of his orgasm. Mulder drew him in closer and covered the shaking with the warmth of his arms until it ceased. Alex lowered his head to Mulder's shoulder, rocking it back and forth on the axis of his forehead with little, mindless movements; it was steadied gently by the hand curving up around the back of his head.
"Alex," Mulder said softly, but he was just tasting the word on his lips. He looked out past the line of the other's shoulders to the dim, orange glow of streetlights filtering in through the window. The remnants of tape in the outline of an X clung stubbornly to the pane of glass--it seemed a lifetime ago. It was a lifetime ago. The threshold between his life and what he was now living; time stolen from the air itself.
It was a request, softly spoken in the air of post-coitus; it broke ruthlessly into the fragile world of negation they had built around them. Alex listened to the strained silence that followed Mulder's quiet statement as the two of them lay entangled on the couch; it was as if he could hear the echo of vocalized sound still lingering in the air. But the word itself eluded him, slithered away from the tendril-tips of his mind as it tried to grasp it, search for meaning, decipher the motivations and emotions that lay at the root.
"Don't what?" he asked in feigned ignorance. Mulder shifted restlessly.
"Don't do whatever it is that you're doing whatever it is that they're having you do."
"I'm not doing anything," he lied. The other man sighed in irritation and disbelief. Alex could feel the building tension in the air surrounding their prone forms--it tingled against his skin.
"Mulder " he said at last, but it wasn't a response, just a stall for more time. Not to use to think about the other's request, but in the hope that Mulder would reconsider and take it back.
Mulder heard the hesitation but refused to relent. "Please just think about what I'm asking."
"What are you asking?" Alex responded--another avoidance, because he knew, really, what Mulder was asking. And his own uncertainty frightened him like nothing in himself had ever done. He could deal with the near-brutality, the ruthlessness: they were necessary aspects of life, the oil that kept the gears turning. It was a peculiar kind of freedom from the guilt and built-in mental constraints that crippled those around them. Uncertainty was his life, yes, but it was the uncertainty of events around him, not of his own self. Even his uncanny gift to slip from identity to identity had always been hinged on the deep, absolute knowledge of who he was, who he was meant to be.
"Okay," he said finally, knowing the lie even as he spoke it. "I'll think about it."
It was nine o'clock and he was there, outside of the diner. The light of early summer had faded from the sky an hour ago; he had watched its descent from the inside of his car on the road from D.C. Every movement now held a certain weight to it: some invisible hand was taking notes, pen poised above the paper; waiting to script his next move or perhaps simply to record it. He got out of the car and entered the diner.
Todorov was alone, which surprised him. He touched his weapon in the pocket of his jacket reflexively before sitting down across from the other man. Dark eyes met his own: weighing, judging, testing. Alex looked back at him steadily.
"What are you playing at, Arntzen?"
An expected question; Alex just smiled. "I could be asking you the same thing."
"Are you?" Todorov raised a cultured eyebrow.
Alex broke the gaze, looked disparagingly around him. "This just doesn't seem like your scene, Todorov."
The man shrugged, tilted his head gracefully. "We all make concessions, as you are obviously in a position to understand."
Alex met his eyes, changed the subject. "So how is Mother Russia?"
Todorov smiled slowly, confidently. "Do you want back in?"
Alex shook his head, tried to keep the shake from being too vigorous. "Not at present. But I find it hard to believe you're flying solo, here."
"We know who's funding this 'militia,' Arntzen." Todorov sighed. "Are you still working for him?"
"No." Alex studied him speculatively. "Although he's the reason I'm here. The guy got a little overzealous in a so-called clean-up operation. Either that or he's simply getting vengeful in his old age. I'd just like to keep tabs on his pet projects for a while."
Todorov leaned back in the booth, folding his arms. "Well, then. I suppose that's what I'm doing here, too just keeping tabs."
Alex laughed, a short bark devoid of amusement. Though there was a certain irony here. "Fair enough."
"So, Arntzen. Do you want in?"
Alex sat still, listening to the slow creep of time; the moment stretched, unbearable.
"Yeah," he said at last. "I want in."
Cool sheets against his skin like the kiss of purity, countered by the warmth of Mulder's arm sprawled limp across his chest. Alex lay in the trap willingly, this silver-gilt cage constructed by his own desires. Want need they were familiar impulses to him, but not like this. Now he simply wanted to give in to them; like the silo. He remembered his own death, there; or at least the knowledge and acceptance of death--but wasn't it the same? Full circle now, but he couldn't escape it, couldn't break out of the confining curves and paths that had been set forth.
Mulder stirred against him but didn't waken. Alex studied the arm that held him, let his eyes move up the limb to the curve of shoulder, the teasing glimpse of muscles stretched over the back. He shouldn't have come back here. It was a useless indulgence; he had made his choices. The recent one, yes, but most of them were made long ago.
He moved out from underneath the arm, careful not to wake the other man. Awake, Mulder was a danger to him; asleep, he could be filed away as an illusion, a bittersweet dream from which he was now awakening. He slid down the bed, grabbed his clothes.
He glanced back--he could not help but do so. Mulder was sprawled face down on the bed, hugging one of the pillows to his chest. The sheet had slipped down, revealing the bumps of his spine, the stretch and crease of skin, the crooked line of his neck. It was an inelegant picture, but Alex found himself enthralled by it.
He's not going to forgive you, said the voice in his head. And it was true--he knew it. Mulder never did things by halves.
Silent as a cat, he left the room, left the apartment. Walked out into the empty street. The gears of life kept grinding on with inevitable force, oblivious to doubt, or want, or need. He felt the pull of it, and let it take him with its own particular allure. The apartment window stared down at him with a knowing eye, but he didn't look back.