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Agony: piercing, shattering, blinding pain. My eyes open to the dim gray light of a rainy dawn and throbbing pain lancing through me, so severe that I want to scream - not even just from the pain, but from the knowledge of what it means.
But I don't have much time - soon, the agony will drive me back into unconsciousness, and who knows how much longer my luck will hold out? Sooner or later, someone will find me lying helpless in this alley, and one way or another that will mean my death ... unless I can find the goddamn cellphone that fell out of my goddamn pocket, and hopefully it won't be broken, and hopefully I'll be able to use it ...
I try to stand, but can't. All I can do is hitch myself along the wet concrete, searching - I've long since grown inured to the chill of my cold, wet clothes, but the rough ground abrades my skin, and every move is agony, and I'm not going to live long enough for the Consortium to kill me. I'm helpless, and there is no hope ...
... wait. Is that - could that be - it is. It is.
I press my chin into the Power button, and when the phone lights up in response I feel tears spring, burning, to my eyes: for the first time, it looks as if I might live through this. The blackness is sweeping back over me, dragging me back down to oblivion, but somehow I manage to jab my tongue against the two buttons that might bring me salvation.
The phone rings. One ring. A click. "Yeah," in a flat voice. I almost start sobbing in relief.
"Help me," I say instead, forcing the words out in a harsh whisper. "Please ..."
Brief silence. Then: "Where are you? What's happened?" in a businesslike tone that helps steady me.
"Fifth and Wilson. An alley behind the warehouse." It takes all my strength to force out the words, and the next are even harder - saying them makes me face the reality of what's been done to me. "Th-they broke my arm."
Another brief silence, while I fight back tears.
"I'll be right there," she says, in that no-nonsense voice. Then, more gently, "Hang on, boss. It'll be all right."
It's then that the pain drags me down, sucking me under the surface until I drown in darkness ...
I come back to awareness with a jolt, into screaming agony, feeling myself being dragged across the concrete - instinctively I try to struggle, but my arm is raw agony.
"Boss. Easy. Easy." Through a haze of pain-tears I blink until the face above me comes clear: long straight light-brown hair pinned back from her pert pretty little face, youthful facade spoiled by the worry in her eyes. It's Caroline, come to scrape me up off the pavement, to rescue me. I'm safe.
I close my eyes, and as the tears spill down my cheeks, I tell myself it's the searing pain radiating from my broken arm.
"You gotta stand up, boss." Her voice comes to me from a great distance. "I can't carry you. You gotta stand ... Lean on me. I'm right here. C'mon, get up ... I'm here ..."
I don't know how I manage to get my feet under me, but I do. For a moment. The world spins recklessly, and I feel myself fall ... hands guide my stumbling descent. The ground rises up to meet me, but it's not concrete, it's woven cloth, and the cold metal of a seatbelt buckle digging into my side ...
The car door slams. I'm safe.
I blink fuzzily up at Caroline, kneeling on the driver's seat and reaching over into the back for me. She's holding something. It's a needle. She's injecting me with ... "What?" I protest weakly.
"From your 'toolbox', boss. You're gonna have a nice little sleep, and no pain." Yes indeed, I can feel it creeping over me already, the agony dulling and growing more distant - but now I'm more helpless than ever.
"Caroline." My lips are oddly reluctant to shape the words. They feel heavy, fuzzy, nearly numb.
"Yes, boss?" Her face is becoming fuzzy, too. Alarming - but the pain is nearly gone.
"My nose itches." Yeah. My nose itches, and I'm powerless to do anything about it. Welcome to hell ...
She leans forward and scrapes one fingernail delicately across my nose, following my cues until she finds the right spot. "Better?"
"Yeah," I murmur. I'm almost gone, now, along with the pain.
Maybe it's just my imagination run wild, but as I drift away I feel her hand smooth across my cheek, over my forehead. "Rest," I hear her say, as the world fades away ...
As I awaken, I realize that everything has changed.
My last recollection was of being cold and wet and in horrific pain in a lonely alley, as Caroline coaxed and dragged me into the car. But now I'm warm and dry, and all around me softness, and the remembered agony is just a dull, distant ache.
I open my eyes.
I'm in my own bed, propped up with pillows. The electric blanket surrounds me in a cocoon of warmth. Beneath the covers, I'm nearly naked - the way I prefer to sleep - only a pair of boxers between me and the world. On my left side: the prosthetic device has been removed, leaving only the stump. On my right side: the wreckage of my right arm has been attended to, and encased in solid plaster.
At the foot of my bed: Caroline, curled up and snoring lightly.
I can't help smiling. I'm safe now, as secure and as comfortable as I can be, considering the circumstances, and it feels so good to feel so good ...
... except that I have to go to the bathroom, and I'm not even sure that I can stand, and how the hell am I going to deal with my underwear and my aim?
In my struggles to rise, I accidentally kick Caroline in the head. She wakes up the way I usually do, all at once and right away, and I watch her as she fights and suppresses the instinct to attack whoever hurt her. "Boss," she says, from within a yawn. "You need a hand."
I almost tell her that I'm fine, just out of habit, before I realize what a ridiculous statement that would be.
The next fifteen minutes are a foreshadowing for me of what my life will be like until I heal: the humiliation of not being able to perform the simplest, most intimate tasks. Realization brings me to the edge of panic - what would I do if I were alone? - and drives home the knowledge that I need Caroline more than ever.
"Hey," I say, after we've completed the ordeal and I'm back in bed again. "Listen ..."
Caroline is about to head for the little kitchenette, but instead she turns and looks at me.
"Listen, I'll, uh, I'll pay you double." My voice sounds weak and shaky to my own ears. "Triple. We'll call it, um, hazard pay. Okay? I mean, if you just, uh, stick around ..." and I hate myself for how pathetic I sound.
For a moment, she gazes at me quizzically, as if she has no idea what the hell I'm talking about. Then suddenly her face is all wide-eyed comprehension - for just a moment. In the next instant, she's wearing the cool, professional mask I know best. "Boss," she says, emphasizing the word just a little extra bit. "Don't worry about it, okay? We're cool," and pats my knee through the blankets.
Her matter-of-fact statement makes me want to cry. But it would never do to cry in front of Caroline.
"Breakfast?" she asks me, and I nod, because I don't think my voice will work properly just now. I watch her from my place on the bed, as she goes about making food for the two of us.
My apartment is a studio: one room, with adjoining bathroom and a tiny kitchenette built into one wall. It's barely big enough for one person, let alone two. But here is my bed, and over there - beyond the flimsy partition that serves as a makeshift wall - is the couch where Caroline has been sleeping for the past year-and- something. Longer than I've ever lived with any other person in my adult life. There's no real privacy for either of us in this cramped little space: I've seen her in various stages of undress too often to count, and getting me dressed and undressed when I'm drunk or otherwise incapacitated is part of her job. Yet we have never had sex, never even come near that kind of intimacy. Of course, with what I know of Caroline's history, sex will never be an option. But it's funny how it only now occurs to me how strange that really is, that the person closer to me than any other is someone who's never been my lover, and never will.
As I ponder this, it occurs to me as well that although I have learned the lesson of Trust No One the hard way, I trust Caroline with my life. She's repaid that trust, in the past year-and- something, over and over again ...
Caroline brings me huevos rancheros, just the way I like 'em, and feeds me slow forkfuls and sips of coffee before bothering to eat her own meal.
Triple pay, hell, I owe her so much more than that.
There's a knock on the door.
Nobody knows this place; nobody, nobody, knows where I live, and in the entire year-and-something I've been here, nobody has ever knocked on the door.
Caroline snatches up her gun, holding it at the ready but just out of sight, and slowly opens the door. "Yes?" she says, in her sweetest, most innocent voice.
There is a pause. "Maybe I have the wrong apartment," says a voice so achingly familiar that in an instant I'm sitting bolt upright, wishing desperately that I had a gun and a working hand to operate it with - or just the wherewithal to run away, as far and as fast as possible.
"I'm looking for someone," says the voice, uncertainly. "Alex Krycek?" and chills run up and down my spine at the sound of that voice saying my name.
Caroline is swift on the uptake. "I don't know any Alex," she says, sounding genuinely confused. "I bet the super would know, though. Why don't you come in, and we can call him?" and steps aside, leaving room for the visitor to enter.
The layout of the apartment is such that I have a moment to study him before he can quite see me: unusually casual in jeans and a sweatshirt, holding a paper grocery bag in both arms - good, it'll slow him down - and looking perplexed and very, very nervous.
My heart starts thudding in my chest at the sight of him. But then, it always has.
And just as he's turning in my direction, Caroline has the door closed tight and her gun shoved up hard against his back. "Don't move," she says softly, "don't make a sound."
"Don't kill him," I tell her hastily, knowing how well I've trained her, how hair-trigger her reflexes can be.
The man seems hardly to have heard. He's staring at me - and I feel horribly exposed, lying helpless amidst my nest of pillows. I'm used to Caroline, I don't mind her seeing ... but no one else has ever seen what used to be my left arm, let alone the person responsible. "Krycek," he murmurs, and for the first time since our partnership, it doesn't sound like a swear-word. In fact, it almost sounds sympathetic. Pitying.
I can't even move to cover my shortcomings with the blankets, not without a great deal of futile awkwardness that would only let him know exactly how vulnerable I am to his scrutiny.
Caroline digs the gun muzzle a little more deeply into his back. "What do you want?" she says, in a menacing growl that she picked up from me, and despite my humiliation I can't help but feel proud of my protege.
His eyes never waver from my injuries. Apparently no one ever taught him that it's rude to stare. "I heard about what happened," he says quietly. "That they broke his arm. I knew ... that it would be a problem, and I thought maybe I could help."
I stare back at him in utter disbelief - and hear myself begin to laugh. "Help," I repeat. "You thought you could help." There's something genuinely amusing about his offer - or maybe it's just ludicrous. "Mulder," I say, "I hate to break this to you, but right now I don't need anyone to beat me up, or shove a gun in my gut, or strand me in the middle of a forest ..." and suddenly my voice is shaking, it's too goddamn close, the memories of that time and how much it damaged me in so many ways.
Now Caroline is staring at me too. "This is him?" she says, her voice incredulous, and I see her finger begin to tighten on the trigger. "Tell me again why I shouldn't kill him?"
She's a good girl, but it may have been a miscalculation to tell her as much as I have about Tunguska, and what happened to me there, and about Mulder and what he's done to me, what he's meant to me. "Because I said so," I tell her, my voice as icy cold as I can make it.
... She's a good girl, and she knows when to follow orders even if she disapproves. Her eyes narrow a message at me, but she backs off just enough that I relax.
And still Mulder doesn't seem to notice, to even have heard our discussion, or realize that his life hung in the balance. He's still staring at me, and now his study is less embarrassing than annoying. "What?" I snap at him.
Mulder blinks, meets my eyes for the first time. It's been so long since I've seen anything but loathing on his face that I have trouble interpreting his expression. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm sorry."
Sorry. He's sorry. Yeah. The famed Mulder compassion at work. A fat lot of good it does, when I know perfectly well that it means nothing. He's seeing a crippled man and feeling guilty. He's not seeing me: the man who used to spend hours kissing and licking him all over before falling asleep in his arms. There's no genuine caring for me in his apology, just the kind of general, nonspecific guilt he's always been so good at ...
"Get out," I tell him, unable to bear one more moment of his compassion. "Get the hell out of here."
"Boss!" Caroline's voice, astonished and urgent. Her eyes meet mine, flashing a sharp message. Since my more rational thought processes have been well and truly scrambled by Mulder's surprise appearance in my secret hideaway, it takes a moment before I understand what she's trying to tell me.
Common sense, damn it, and one of the first lessons I taught her. Never let anyone find out where you go to ground. But now Mulder knows where I live ...
... which means he can't be allowed to leave. Not alive, anyway. Not until we leave for a new, safe sanctuary.
I curse in Russian under my breath; and Caroline, who understands the context if not the language, flashes me a look of grim understanding.
"On second thought," I tell Mulder grudgingly, "you might as well make yourself comfortable, 'cause you're going to be here for awhile."
Mulder doesn't seem surprised. Or upset. As he seats himself in one of the chairs at the table, I have the same feeling I did back in the alley, fighting unconsciousness - like I'm being sucked under, drowning, in something too big to withstand.
Taking no chances, Caroline handcuffs Mulder while I watch with smug satisfaction. Mulder doesn't struggle, which diminishes the pleasure somewhat. He allows himself to be cuffed and tied to the chair, sits there placidly while Caroline investigates the contents of the paper bag he brought.
Bandages. A splint. Tabs of codeine. Cans of the variety of soup I like best. Bread, milk, a jar of mayonnaise, a packet of bologna. A bag of potato chips. A bottle of my favorite whiskey. "I thought I could help," he says quietly, at Caroline's quizzical look, "didn't realize that the situation was already under control," and it's got to be wishful thinking, the trace of jealousy I hear in his voice.
Caroline ignores this. "Who knows you're here?" she interrogates him. "Who gave you this address? Who else did you tell?" The answers to these questions are irrelevant; we'll be moving in any case. Once secrecy has been compromised, there's nothing to do but leave without looking back.
Damn it, I'd gotten used to this lousy place. And what a hell of a time to have to relocate, when I'm utterly helpless ... In that moment, I could kill Mulder for the inconvenience he's caused me.
The answer to the second question is made evident when Caroline pulls my forgotten cellphone out of Mulder's bag. My cellphone, and its preprogrammed speed-dial to the apartment phone. Yeah, it's all registered under false identities, even down to the apartment lease - but the phone company had to have the apartment's address in order to install the phone: trace the speed-dial number, and all the subterfuge falls apart like a house of cards. Damn.
"I had some friends of mine hack me into the phone company database," Mulder offers. "They don't know what number I was looking up, or what information I found. And no one knows I'm here - not even Scully." His lips twitch. "After all, what could I have told her? That I was going to provide assistance to the man who killed my father? I'm not sure I believe it myself."
"I didn't kill your father," I say tiredly. Reflex, like the old cliched hammer-tap on the knee. "And you're not the only one who doesn't believe that story."
"Not by a long shot," Caroline seconds.
Mulder sighs. "Whatever," he mutters. "So how long are you going to keep me here?"
Caroline glances at me. "Until we're safely away from here," she says.
She knows me pretty well, Caroline does. I wonder if she knows me well enough to know that I'm halfway to believing Mulder, despite my words to the contrary. From the look in her eyes, I'd say she has at least some idea how goddamn susceptible I am to this man. I suppose I should be grateful that she's here to look after me, to protect me from myself.
Again, Mulder sighs. "If I had come here to apprehend Krycek," he says, tilting his head back to look at her - apparently finally having figured out that she's the one he has to convince, not me - "I wouldn't have come alone. I would have brought my partner, and backup, to be sure he didn't escape."
"And if you came here to kill him," Caroline counters smoothly, "you wouldn't want any witnesses."
"If I came here to kill him," Mulder answers, "where's my weapon?"
It's a good response, because Caroline hasn't been able to find anything on him despite a rigorous search - and believe me, she knows how. A bold move, coming here unarmed, and a gutsy one. Maybe he is being sincere, maybe he did come here to help me ...
... no, no, no, don't even think it. Don't even let the possibility cross your mind. The last time you let yourself believe he cared - don't think about that either: just don't.
But then he looks at me again, and it's the same look I remember from oh so long ago in our past, when I was his partner and his lover as well. It's the same look I remember from the night I shot Cole - the first time I had killed. The bleak empathy in his eyes as he rubbed my shoulders, my back, held me as I leaned into him, as I brushed my lips against his ...
I feel myself shudder as I break the eye contact, knowing how close I am to losing all judgement.
"You don't need a gun to have a weapon," Caroline says. The words break through my daze. Yes, it's true, and Mulder can tear me apart without ever lifting a finger. I have to remember that.
Caroline will help me remember, thank god.
But then my eyes flicker back to Mulder's - he's still looking at me, that look - and I wonder if Caroline's protection will be enough.
It's been a long, long day.
Mulder has spent most of it chained to the inactive radiator by the window. The only exceptions were two escorted-at-gunpoint trips to the bathroom which, I'm sure, disturbed Mulder far more than Caroline. Aside from that, he's spent his entire day sitting on the floor next to my bed. Watching me.
Watching as Caroline fed me, watching as she cleansed the more innocuous areas of my body with a damp washcloth, as she scratched my nose and my back for me. Watching me watch TV, watching me try to rest. After a few hours of this, I was tempted to tell Caroline to blindfold him, but that would have let him know that it bothered me.
But now it's night, and time to sleep.
Caroline is sleeping on her sofa, just beyond the flimsy partition, with the door left open to facilitate quick and easy communication. "If you need anything, let me know," was the last thing she said, with a meaningful look at Mulder, "just call, you know I'm a light sleeper." She's asleep now - I can tell by the snoring.
I'm lying here, pillows supporting my head and back and arm, blankets tucked securely around me, trying not to think about things like itching in case thinking about it makes it happen, trying to will myself to be fatigued when lying in bed all day has only made me restless.
And Mulder is sitting on the floor beneath the window, leaning back against the radiator he's handcuffed to, watching me.
Even with my eyes closed, I can feel it - and finally I open my eyes, turn my head to look, and yes he is. Still. Like he has been all day long. I can feel my patience fray and snap. "All right," I say, "what the hell is your problem?"
He doesn't reply, not at once. Moonlight through the window casts shadows on his face. "I wish you'd let me help you," he says at last.
"Why? So you can cleanse yourself of guilt?" I snap at him. Too fast, too harsh, might as well come right out and tell him he's getting to me.
"Yeah," Mulder admits, taking me totally by surprise. He doesn't notice my reaction though, just goes on talking. "Yeah, I guess that's part of it. I know I've been responsible for - probably as many bad things in your life as you've caused in mine." A ghost of a laugh interrupts him. "Though I try not to be that honest with myself where you're concerned."
Well well, and what a confession that is. "That makes two of us," I say without thinking, mentally cursing myself a moment later when I realize how much I've given away with that answer. Quickly, I try to cover with an accusation. "So when do you think you're going to be honest enough with yourself to stop hating me?"
That seems to have hit a chord, because Mulder looks away. For the first time all day, he's not watching me, and I close my eyes and prepare to sleep.
The silence is inviting, conducive to slumber. But quite a while later, as I'm finally drifting off, a small voice breaks the stillness.
"I loved you."
But I couldn't have possibly heard that. I open my eyes and look at him, expecting to find him asleep. He isn't. He's looking at me again, and it might be a trick of the light, but it seems like there are tears trickling down his face.
"I loved you," he repeats, just in case I didn't hear it the first time.
Now it's me who can't stop staring. Loved me? He never said so. Not once in all the months we slept together, and if it were true, and not a mind-game, surely he would have said it then. To say it now, well, he's just screwing with my head. That's got to be it. That's got to be.
I fix in my head the memory of his blank face, his cold voice, his leg coming up to kick me. That's all he'll ever have for me. Not concern. Not love. I'm not going to let myself fall for it again.
"I didn't want to," he says thoughtfully, more to himself than to me. "I didn't want you around, didn't want you as a partner, didn't want you in my life. But then you were there, and ... and I started to trust you. I let myself believe."
Oh, I don't want to hear this. I don't need to know this.
"Then you were gone," he continues. "You betrayed me. You left me. What could I do besides try to hate you? How else could I live with myself?" Not a trick of the light. That's definitely tears on his face.
And he's getting me. I can feel myself falling for it: his sentiment, his tears. But Mulder can play let's-pretend as well as I can, I learned that the first time I met him when he lied to my face, and from the surveillance tapes I know that he cries more easily than any man I've ever met. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he can cry on cue. If it were a trick I could pick up, I'd use it too.
"I've been trying to hate you ever since," he whispers, voice shaking with his tears. "I think I'm finally starting to accept that I just ... can't."
No no no no no it's not real, it's not true, it's not. I know it's not. He's lying, he's joking, I'm asleep and dreaming or else I'm hallucinating, but this isn't actually happening to me. It can't be.
"Maybe," his voice is shaking so badly now that I can hardly make out the words, "maybe I'm here to see if there's any chance we can make things right between us. If maybe I can do something besides try to hate you when all I really want is ... is ..." and he falls abruptly silent.
"To have me suck you off so you can kick me in the balls again?" I say sharply, summoning the memory to ward off his hypnotic spell.
Mulder flinches, face twisting. "That was unpardonably cruel," he says, husky-voiced. "I was trying to ... trying not to ... oh hell. It doesn't matter what I was feeling. I was so wrong, Alex, and I'm so sorry."
Alex. Alex. He hasn't called me Alex in years, not since that last time he asked for my car keys. He used to call me Alex when we were in bed together, and I still remember how it sounded ...
"Look," he says, in a different voice, trying hard to pull himself together. "I owe you. For Tunguska, if nothing else. At least let me ... let me pay that debt. Let me help you now."
"Caroline can help me," I tell him, wanting to add, and I don't need you, except that he might just see through those words to the truth.
His eyes flicker with something that might be jealousy for a moment, then the look is gone. "I can help her help you," he says placidly. "If you'll let me."
For just a moment, I let myself think about what it would be like to feel his hands on me again, doing something besides hitting me. The imagery is compelling, seductive. Almost enough for me to contemplate taking him at his word ...
"Mulder, you are so full of shit," I say, in an equally calm voice. Time to put this issue to rest and restore the status quo.
Mulder turns his head away. "I guess that's all I could expect you to say," he responds, and behind his deadpan voice is hurt.
"You want hearts and flowers, after all this time?" Damn it, he's still getting to me. I keep trying to shut him out, and he keeps getting in through the cracks ... "You want me to fall into your arms like a long-lost lover? Or maybe you want to fall into mine; well, if that's the case, you are way too late," and now it's my turn to turn away, before he can notice the look I can feel on my face.
His voice is a whisper, but it reaches me as loud and clear as if it were a bullhorn, blaring. "Maybe I just want to try, one last time ..."
It's a farce, it's a ruse, it's a mind-fuck, he's hurt me that way before. But if I could stand and move without dizziness and pain, I would be falling into his arms.
I close my eyes tightly, blocking him out. "Maybe you're shit out of luck," I spit back at him, as harshly and as venomously as I can.
I can't decide whether to be relieved or disappointed when Mulder doesn't reply.
In any case, the ordeal is finally over. Silence descends.
But it takes me a very long time to fall asleep.
We're all out of painkillers and I ache. All that's left is the codeine Mulder brought, and even if I were inclined to trust it, codeine and I don't get along worth a damn. Caroline goes out to get some more of the stuff that works for me. I dread being left alone with Mulder, but there's no way around it. Despite my misgivings, though, Mulder seems perfectly content to watch TV in silence, and for the first half hour everything is fine.
Around the middle of the second boring sitcom, I realize that I shouldn't have had Caroline feed me that second soda before she left.
The closing credits are rolling when Mulder finally asks me the inevitable question. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I snap at him. Which is a pretty pathetic defense considering I've been trying not to squirm for the past quarter hour.
"I could help," he offers.
"Yeah, and how would you propose to do that?" I retort.
Mulder shrugs slightly. Moves his wrist slightly - and the handcuff fastened to it falls aside, the lock having been picked some time before.
I stare at it, at him, for a moment totally forgetting my former priority. "You - you could do that," I say, after a long moment, "and instead you spent the last day sitting on the floor ..."
Again, Mulder shrugs. "I didn't want to piss you off," he says quietly.
Speaking of piss, there will be time to contemplate Mulder's behavior later, but not much time in which to save the mattress. "Okay, fine," I say hurriedly, "you can help me," trying to make it sound like I'm doing him a favor instead of the other way round, and Mulder nods and gets up and comes over to the bed.
He's been watching Caroline deal with my imperfect balance, and follows her example precisely, wrapping his arms around my ribs and pulling me carefully upright. Physical discomfort notwithstanding, there's no way I can pretend to remain aloof when his arms close around me and I'm enveloped in his strength and his scent. Years it's been, and nothing's changed: it's exactly as I remember it. Suddenly I am very glad that my bladder is about to explode, because otherwise getting out of bed would be the very last thing on my mind.
The trip to the bathroom ought to be a humiliating ordeal, but it's not. The trip back to bed, on the other hand, is another kind of ordeal. Freed of other distractions, my body is waking up to the reality of Mulder's closeness, and it's all I can do to concentrate on not getting hard. All he needs to do is see that, and I will have lost any and all strategic advantage. He'll know once and for all how susceptible I am to him.
Finally he lowers me back into bed, and again I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
I'm struck by the similarity to Caroline, as Mulder fusses with pillows and blankets to ensure my comfort. But Caroline's closeness doesn't evoke this kind of reaction in me. Her touch doesn't make me tremble with suppressed desire. Her scent doesn't go straight to my groin and jolt my gonads into high gear. Being this close to Mulder is torturous, and it's all I can do to make myself remember the spreading ache radiating outward from my crotch, and my hot silent tears ... I take long slow deep breaths, counting the seconds until Mulder is finished and I can try to regain my barriers and my sanity.
But Mulder doesn't retreat, instead sits on the edge of my bed. "Was that really so bad?" he asks me, his voice almost pitifully eager for my approval.
He kicked me in the balls without batting an eyelash, yet I can't bring myself to show the same cruelty. "I've lived through worse," I mutter, not willing to grant him outright praise, either.
Mulder's lips twitch in something less than a smile. "I meant what I said, about coming here to help," he tells me. "I don't expect you to believe that - I wouldn't believe it myself, if I were you. It's true, though. I'm tired of us hurting each other. If we can't reclaim the past, maybe we can at least try not to waste the future."
Such wonderful words, and he has to be lying, there's just no other explanation. But my skin still tingles where his arms wrapped around me, my cock is one step shy of visible erection, and my resistance to him is at a new all-time low.
And my back itches, just below my left shoulderblade.
I try to surreptitiously rub my back against the pillow I'm leaning on, and of course Mulder notices. "Let me help," he offers, moving close. For the second time in far too short a period, his arms slip around me, pulling me close. There's absolutely no way for me to maintain balance in this position without resting against his chest. Or so I tell myself. His fingernails glide across my back, providing a delicious roughness. "Tell me when I've found the spot," he murmurs, his voice low and seductive, as his lips hover inches from mine. As his eyes gaze deeply into mine. As he scratches my back slowly and thoroughly, finally settling on just ... the right ... place ...
My body goes limp against his. I tell myself it's the relief of having the itch scratched. My head comes to rest against his shoulder. I tell myself it's fatigue from a night's restless sleep. My cock twitches and begins to stiffen in earnest. I tell myself it's a perfectly normal reflex, and otherwise meaningless.
Mulder's arms close around me as he nuzzles my cheek. "Alex," he whispers into my ear, and as my heart melts into a puddle of goo, I finally admit to myself that everything I've been telling myself has been complete and utter bullshit.
"It's all right," he murmurs. "You won't regret this. You won't," and I nearly laugh, because I regret it already. But it's so damn good to be held by him that I just don't care. If he pulls out a gun or a knife and kills me, it will be worth it, just to have felt him hold me like this again. As if we were lovers again, as if I were still the Alex who he used to cuddle like a teddy bear when he fell asleep ...
His hand cradles my chin and tilts my head, and his lips brush against mine, testing. Then again, more definite. Then Mulder is kissing me, sweetly tender at first, then a little more demanding, and the past just melts away. I'm Alex again, Alex green-around-the- edges Krycek, Fibbie fresh from the Academy, revolving around Mulder like a worshipful moon. It was never entirely a pose, and now I'm there again, oblivious to everything except his embrace, helpless to his kisses.
Mulder's hands roam over me, exploring gently, being very careful of the arm - stroking, tantalizing my chest and back and neck. "Alex," he murmurs between kisses, and I can't do anything more coherent than moan.
Then the door is opening, and I can feel Caroline going for her gun. "Hold it right there!" she barks at Mulder, as reason and reality return with a jarring thud.
Caroline kicks the door closed without looking at it, her attention riveted on Mulder, her weapon aimed at his head. "Move away from him," she says sharply. "Off the bed. Now."
Mulder blinks at her - then looks at me.
I gaze helplessly at him - then, just as helplessly, at Caroline.
Caroline glances from me to Mulder, then back at me - studies me for a moment, and sighs.
"Boss," she says in a gentler tone, though her gun never wavers, "you can't be serious."
Suddenly I can't meet her eyes; instead, I study the lint balls on my blanket.
"You taught me about justified paranoia," Caroline continues, "and you told me all about this guy ..."
"I know," I murmur, feeling my face flush hot red. "I know."
"And now you're going to jeopardize our safety this way?" She shakes her head. "This goes against everything you ever taught me, boss - how can you take this kind of chance?"
How indeed. But the answer is in front of me, plain as day. "I don't have a choice, Caroline," I tell her. "I can't not take this chance." One glance at Mulder confirms the choice for me. "It means too much to me," and the words come out in a harsh whisper.
Caroline looks at Mulder too; her face reflects disapproval or dismay, I can't tell which.
I know what I have to do. The only fair thing to do. "Look," I say, "you know ... you know where I keep the cash. Take as much as you need, as much as you want. There's ... there's no reason you should have to take this chance with me. Go on, find someplace safe ..."
She interrupts me with a grim laugh. "Oh, yeah, right," she says, "like that's going to happen." But the sarcasm in her voice doesn't reach her eyes - her eyes, when she looks at me, are affectionate.
Then Caroline turns her attention from me, toward the subject of our dispute. She takes a step closer, places the muzzle of her gun against his forehead, and stares a message into his eyes. You don't have to be telepathic to decipher that kind of message, and the vehemence of it startles and warms me. Mulder, by contrast, doesn't seem the least bit surprised. He gazes steadily back at her with a message of his own, one that I can't read at all.
Caroline, however, seems content with his answer. Slowly, she holsters her gun. "You cook?" she challenges.
"Some," Mulder answers, and I wince, knowing that this is a vast exaggeration.
Her chin lifts stubbornly. "You'll make dinner," she directs him.
"All right," Mulder responds quietly.
His arm tightens around me briefly, then withdraws as he gets up and heads for the kitchenette to begin his assigned task, and Caroline takes his place on the edge of the bed so that she can administer the injection that will keep me free of pain for another twelve hours.
Not liking the sight of my own blood, I look away as she shoves the needle home, wondering if life can possibly get any weirder for me, and what will happen tonight.
Dinner was almost palatable, possibly due to the fact that most of our food was dried or canned or frozen, and all Mulder had to do was heat things. The two of them sat on my bed with me, taking turns feeding me. We made small talk, and the entire experience was oddly amiable.
There was dinner, there was a little television watching, and now the lights have been turned out, and Caroline has retreated to her own tiny corner of the apartment, and Mulder and I are here alone.
I'm almost completely naked, alone in bed with Mulder, and I don't quite know whether to be aroused or scared. It occurs to me that in my current condition, he could strangle me, and I could choke to death before Caroline is aware of anything amiss ...
But Mulder doesn't seem intent on my murder. He tucks the pillows and blankets around me to ensure my comfort, not meeting my eyes. "Is that all right?" he asks me finally, almost shyly.
"I'm fine," I tell him, and wait to see what he's going to do next.
After a moment, Mulder stretches out carefully on my left side - which I would protest, if it weren't for the fact that having him on my right side, and the prospect of having the broken arm jarred or bumped, is far more unnerving. But now his face is mere inches away from my least favorite part of my body, a fact made worse when he leans forward and brushes his lips against one of the ugliest scars.
Involuntarily, my arm - what's left of my arm - jerks back. "Don't," I warn him.
Mulder pulls back. "I'm sorry," he murmurs, though it's not quite clear what he's feeling sorry about.
Hesitantly, his hand moves forward, settles on my chest near my shoulder, and I exert a fair amount of effort to keep from reacting visibly. "May I?" he asks me softly.
"Sure." I try to be nonchalant about it - but the end of the word dissolves into a little whimpering sound, damn it, and I fight to recover before he can realize that I've lost ground.
Then I look at his face in the moonlight and realize that he isn't thinking about winning or losing - his expression, somewhere between passion and fear and awe, hides nothing: and his hand is shaking as he reaches out for me.
Slowly, his palm slides across my chest, exerting pressure just firm enough to keep from tickling. His fingertips brush over my right nipple, and I shiver. Maybe Mulder is remembering how much I used to like that, a thousand years ago when we were lovers, because his fingers pause and linger there, teasing and caressing. A second or two of this, and I can feel it going straight to my groin, and I can't stop the soft little cry that rises out of my throat.
What startles me is how sharply Mulder reacts to the sound - his body stiffens, and he shudders. Maybe I used to sound like that years ago when we made love. Maybe he's been just as haunted by the past as I've been. There've been times when I've thought - fantasized, almost - that this might be true. Now, though, I have cause to wonder ... and suddenly it hits home, what's happening to me.
I'm in bed with Mulder, and he's willingly touching me, trying to give me pleasure, studying me intently to gauge the effects of his caresses, and the entire situation is completely unbelievable. Come to think of it, am I really sure that Caroline rescued me from the alley? I could be hallucinating in a charity hospital somewhere. I could be - that's the most likely explanation for this scenario ...
Mulder sits up beside me, facing me. He draws back the blanket, exposing me to the waist. I shiver again, and not because the room is cold. The way he's looking at me ... I've gotten used to seeing his eyes filled with loathing. I've gotten used to the disbelieving sneer, the contemptuous smirk. But this is a look I haven't seen on his face in years, a look I thought for sure I'd never see again: the look that says he wants to crush me against him and cover me with kisses, the look that begs me to hold on to him and never let go. Oh, Mulder, I would if I could, in more ways than one.
He reaches down for me and smooths his hands over my chest, from my waist up to my shoulders and back down again. On his second trip, he makes sure to stop and graze my nipples. I can't ... I can't pretend anymore that he isn't affecting me, if in fact I ever managed to pull that off. I want to watch him, the rapt intent look on his face as he strives to please me, but the feel of his hands on me makes my eyes shut tight as my body arches and I moan ...
Caroline is a light sleeper, I remember distantly. But she's somehow managed to never hear me jerk off, despite the thin wall, no matter how loud I may have been, and she will selectively not-hear this now.
"Alex," I hear Mulder say, a low husky growl, and I've never heard my name sound so good. He begins his light teasing strokes again, and I reach out to pull him close - and realize my mistake as pain shoots through my broken arm into my shoulder and forward to the rest of me.
The agony is so blinding that I lose awareness of everything around me. When the world starts to return, the first thing I hear is Mulder's voice. "Alex," in a totally different tone, concerned instead of passionate - and I realize that I'm sitting up, huddled into myself around the plaster cast, and Mulder is holding me close. "Easy, baby, it's all right," he's murmuring to me, his voice soft and soothing. I flash back to the first night, after I killed Cole, and how he crooned the same words to me, in the same voice, just before desire overwhelmed caution and I tilted my head upward to kiss him ...
I tilt my head upward. Mulder's eyes are huge and dark and filled with longing. "Alex," he whispers.
I may regret this for the rest of my life, but I'll be damned if I'll pass up a second chance at him now.
We kiss, and the world fades away.
One of Mulder's hands settles at the back of my neck, the other at the small of my back, holding me in place - but I'm not going anywhere. Not now, maybe not ever. This is a dream come true. This is Mulder kissing me.
When oxygen deprivation hits, I pull away reluctantly to breathe, and Mulder's palm settles along my cheek. His skin is flushed and his eyes are bright, and he's breathing as hard as I am. "Alex," he murmurs, and I am sure this is a dream. Nothing so good could be real.
It occurs to me suddenly that this would be an excellent time for him to haul off and punch me, and involuntarily I flinch.
Mulder catches the small movement, looks distressed. "No," he says softly, "no, not anymore," good ol' Spooky Mulder living up to his name, and draws me in for another kiss. Gentle and loving, nibbling and sucking on my lower lip before capturing my whole mouth and exploring with his tongue, and by the time he's finished my cock is steel and the rest of me is jello.
He pulls back and lowers me down to the bed and begins to kiss and nip and suck his way down from my neck. Arousing, tantalizing: I need my arm now, to grab him and pull him down. But being immobile has its own rewards. Something unbearably hot about being helpless to do more than moan and shiver as he makes love to me.
He's making love to me. Not just sex, not just a quick apologetic blowjob, this is making love. This is Mulder, making love to me.
I may never be the same again.
By the time he's worked his way down past my waist, I'm not thinking about the agonies of the past or the uncertainties of the future. I just want him. I want his mouth where I need it most, and when his tongue drifts delicately across the head of my cock, I almost scream. It's been so long since I've had anything but my hand, it's been forever since I've had him, and I'm still not going to believe this is really happening until it does ...
"Alex," he murmurs, and sucks me down deep, and suddenly everything is perfectly, painfully clear. What I lost, and what I've found, and that I'd do anything, give anything, to keep from losing it again. But the words don't form in my head until later. All I know at first is heat and friction and incredible pleasure shooting through me as sharply electric as the agony was, bringing me in seconds to a point beyond ecstasy, and I cry out as I come into his mouth.
For a few moments afterwards, everything is still and silent, and I can lose myself in the last remnants of my climax and forget everything else. Then Mulder raises his head, gazes at me sadly and says, "You can kick me now, if you want."
No, he'd said, not anymore, and despite myself I believe him. That the past is over and done, the bitterness gone, that we can set aside the rest of reality and make a fresh new beginning for the two of us. Never mind how impossible it might be. Forget all of that, forget everything but what it feels like to be with him again.
Mulder's still gazing at me sadly, and all I can do is shake my head and reach for him - I can't reach for him. "Come here, damn it," I say instead, and he brightens as if reprieved, wriggles up and closer until he's stretched out beside me like before.
He's still wearing the same blue jeans that he showed up wearing nearly two days ago. Tomorrow we'll have to see which of my clothes will fit him. But right now I can feel his hard-on straining against the snug pants, pressing against me. "What about you?" I murmur.
"I'm fine," he says. But when I move my leg against his crotch, he shivers and groans. "I'm fine," he insists anyway, moving his hips back and away from me. "I came here for you, Alex. That's all that counts."
I should insist. It's only polite, after all. But I'm so tired, that wonderful post-sex fatigue that ensures a deep sleep, and Mulder is snuggled up against me, and I'm slipping, down down deeper ...
... to wake up to sunlight streaming through the window and coffee brewing, and Mulder still snuggled up against me, and even though the shot is wearing off and my arm is aching again, I haven't felt so good in years.
Realization makes me laugh, because I'm lying here with one arm gone and the other one broken thinking about how great life is, which is really the most ridiculous thing I've ever thought. Caroline is coming over to the side of the bed, and I smile at her, hoping she'll understand well enough to share my mood.
She doesn't smile back. Instead, her eyes are grim as she approaches, raises a hypodermic needle and injects Mulder's shoulder with the contents.
At that, I wake up fast. "What the hell are you doing?" I ask her, more confused than angry.
"Making sure he sleeps for a while. Boss," Caroline says soberly, "we have problems."
She plays for me the phone message from this morning, as if afraid I won't believe her without that evidence, and suddenly I realize that I've been so caught up in my disability, and in Mulder, that I've neglected the most obvious concerns. It was a Consortium operative who broke my arm - and the message makes it clear that this wasn't an accident. They're gunning for me. We have to get away from here, now.
My eyes flicker away from Caroline's anxious face, down to Mulder's peacefully sleeping one. "I didn't even get to say goodbye ..."
Caroline winces. "I'm sorry," she says. "But if I'd left him awake, what would have happened then?"
She's right. She's absolutely right. Mulder would never have let us go without argument, without my leaving him a means of contact that could so easily fall into the wrong hands. Drugging Mulder has eliminated at least one major concern. Safety first, we need to get away clean, without a trace ...
But I didn't even get to say goodbye.
So much for happiness. Should've known it was too good to be true.
And it's a gray and misty morning as Caroline packs up the most vital of our belongings and stuffs them into the back of a rented van, one trip after another up and down multiple flights of stairs, while I sit on the bed and watch Mulder breathe. He won't know where we went, or why, and I can't afford to leave him a note. The next time I see him, he'll probably be furious at me all over again, for betraying him all over again ...
Caroline picks up my leather jacket for me. "Time to go, boss," she says softly.
I look at the jacket she's holding. "Leave it," I tell her.
"Boss?" She's surprised, and rightly so. I love that jacket, and in the past have gone to great lengths to keep it in good condition, in one piece, and in my possession.
I glance down at Mulder, then back at my jacket with only mild regret. "Leave it," I repeat.
Caroline hesitates, then nods. Carefully, she drapes the jacket over Mulder's sleeping form, covering him from shoulder to waist, just as I would have if I could. "Okay?" she asks me.
He looks so peaceful, and so handsome, and I can feel my heart breaking. Slowly, so as not to lose my balance and topple over, I lean over until I can brush my lips against his cheek in a poor substitute for a proper goodbye.
"Okay," I say finally, fighting to keep my voice steady. Not that I'm fooling Caroline, or myself. "Okay, let's go."
She sighs. "Boss, I'm sorry ..."
"Let's just get out of here." Let's leave, while I still can.
Caroline helps me to my feet, steadies me as we walk to the door, waits while I indulge in one last lingering gaze ... it's just like last time, walking away from him and knowing it's the end, and how many more times must I lose him before life has finished inflicting this cruelty on me?
A small slim arm tightens around my waist. "Come on, boss," Caroline murmurs.
And I turn my back on my heart's desire and head out with my partner, into a gray and misty morning that holds no light, no life, no hope for the future.
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