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Alex Through the Looking Glass: Day Five

ADULTS ONLY

Contains explicit male/male sex, BDSM, and disturbing themes.

Pairing: Mulder/Krycek/Krycek

Summary: Alex Krycek finds himself face-to-face with another version of himself in an alternate universe—a very dangerous and seductive Alex Krycek. Alex quickly realizes he may not live to see the morning, much less ever return to his own world.

1999

Disclaimer: The X-Files belong to Chris Carter and Ten-Thirteen Productions. No infringement is intended.

DAY FIVE

Alex was allowed to sleep in the next morning, even after Mulder and Krycek got up—Mulder, to return to D.C., and Krycek to work in the living room. It was an unaccustomed luxury to be allowed to stay in bed alone, and one he meant to take full advantage of, still feeling wrung out and weak as a kitten. So he remained in bed for an hour or so, even after he’d come fully awake, lying in the cool linen sheets, gazing at the ceiling, and watching the plays of shadow and light on the curtains, and thinking determinedly of nothing at all. He took his time about getting up, and then about showering and getting dressed, checking himself over for bruises and sore spots, as he always did after a wild weekend in the city, both as a check on whether he might have let things get out of hand and need to be more careful in the future, and as a pleasant reminder of activities enjoyed. There weren’t any—and he shouldn’t have been surprised; he’d been spanked but not whipped, the bondage had been fairly limited, the penetration nothing extreme. Still, somehow, it seemed strange that he should be physically unmarked after everything they’d done. He felt quite thoroughly debauched.

At last, he wandered out to the living room. Krycek was on the couch, notebook computer in his lap, intent on his work. Even sitting quietly, his presence filled the room, almost like the tang of ozone that lingers in the air after a lightning strike. It was enough to make Alex’s breath quicken, though he noted his rising desire with something like dismay. He was worn out, in no shape for another round of Krycek’s lessons. He needed to rest. Yet it seemed impossible to be so close and not to touch him. What would be the chances of getting something simple and nice for a change? Alex debated with himself for a moment, then thought, What the hell, the worst he’ll do is tell me to get off him, and sat next to Krycek, laid his head on his shoulder and slipped an arm around his waist.

Krycek responded by putting his arm around him and pulling him closer. Alex snuggled happily against him. All right, this was encouraging. Maybe it was possible after all. And while he was at it.…

“Krycek?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you ever just… fuck? You know, plain vanilla, no mind games, no pain, just fuck?”

Krycek closed the computer and set it aside, then looked at Alex thoughtfully for a moment. “I’ve been known to do that.”

“Would you do it with me? Now?”

Still thoughtful. His hand reached up to toy with Alex’s hair. “What do you want me to do?”

“Just fuck me. You know. Some kissing, some stroking, and a nice hard fuck. Nothing fancy.”

“Like your Mulder did it?”

Alex frowned. “No mind games, I said. Jesus, you can’t stop for a minute, can you?”

“I’m just asking,” he replied mildly. “I want to know how you want it. Gentle and tender?”

“That would be nice.”

Krycek turned to face him. His eyes were intense. “Think about it, Alex. Is that really what you want? Is it going to make you happy afterwards?”

He thought about it. Krycek had done it to him like Mulder, that first day. So sweet and gentle. Creepy how he’d known just how Mulder had fucked him, right down to the nonsense whispered in his ear, and the tender kisses blotting the shamed, misunderstood tears from his cheeks. The slow, slow entrance and the easy strokes—yes, Mulder had treated him like he was made of glass, like he was something precious and innocent, when truly it was Mulder who was the innocent, and Alex was a treacherous, lying whore. It had broken his heart then, when Mulder did it, and it had broken his heart doubly when Krycek did it—held up his treachery in front of him and made him face it. Punished him for it, but never enough.…

He sighed. “No, I guess not.”

Krycek smiled, like a teacher whose wayward pupil had finally gotten the answer right. “So what do you want?”

“Maybe just a buddy fuck.” God, did he have to make everything a test? If damn Krycek thought he knew so well what Alex wanted, why didn’t he just give it to him?

“No kissing and hugging, then.” Krycek’s smile teased. “Just bend over and take it.”

“No, I want kissing.”

“You don’t know what you want. How am I supposed to do what you want if you don’t know what it is?”

Alex grinned at him. “Well, I know I want to be fucked.”

Krycek grinned with him. “You do like that, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Alex didn’t have the slightest shyness about liking being on the receiving end of anal sex. It felt so damned good, he didn’t understand why everybody didn’t do it. “You’d like it too, if you gave it a chance. Same body, after all. Same nerve endings.”

“But not the same preferences.”

“Hell, you can top and get fucked at the same time. Haven’t you ever tried it?” It felt strange to be sitting here, cuddling with Krycek, talking about sex like a couple of old friends. Strange, but good.

Krycek lifted an eyebrow, skeptical but teasing, encouraging Alex to go on.

Alex was good at talking sex. If he hadn’t been in the FBI, he could have been a great phone sex operator. It was a talent he hadn’t shown Krycek yet. “First, you make him rim you. It’s not the same since latex, but it still feels pretty good. You tell him just how you want him to do it—when to lick, when to suck. He’s got a great mouth, you’ve trained him really well, he could be so good at it. Bet he’d love worshiping your ass. Mm, think about those beautiful lips kissing you there, that soft, wet tongue working its way up your ass.…”

Krycek’s eyes had gone half-closed. A faintly amused smile still lingered on his face. Noncommittal, but willing to be entertained by the talk.

After checking Krycek’s reaction, Alex looked away to concentrate and continued. “You can go on like that for hours, if you want to. It feels so good, but it doesn’t take you over the edge. When you feel like you’ve had enough, you tell him to stop. Then you make him lay on his back. His cock is hard and he’s really needing it. You make him lay still, and you straddle him. You can lube yourself, or you can make him do it. Hell, I’m sure you can think of a humiliating way to make him lube you. Then you sit on his cock. You can move around to get the angle just right, take it in you as slow or as fast as you want. He wants to thrust, but he doesn’t dare, because you’ve ordered him to be still. It’ll drive him crazy, just lying there, unable to move, while you slide up and down on his cock. You can tell him to give you a hand job, or you can do it yourself. When you come, you’ll shoot all over him.” He smiled at Krycek. “See? You haven’t let up on him for a second, and you still get yourself fucked.”

Krycek smiled back. “Maybe I’ll let you do him that way the next time he’s here.”

Alex shook his head. “No, it’s not my thing. On my face with my ass in the air, that’s how I like it. Then I can just lie there and take it, and the other guy has to do all the work.”

“So you want me to do all the work?”

“Yeah, but you like it that way.”

“You tell a good story.” Krycek’s expression changed again. He was still smiling, but there was that cold little light that meant he’d thought of something fun to do. Fun for him, which did not necessarily mean fun for anyone else. Alex tried to keep his smile steady and waited. “I’ll tell you what. You tell me a story about exactly what you want me to do with you now. Make it detailed and make it good. And if you make it good enough, and don’t include anything I don’t want to do, I’ll take you then, just that way.”

It was like making a deal with the devil. You never got precisely what you thought you were getting, but you could never figure out just what you were missing until it was too late. Oh well. He was beginning to learn that Krycek never took you anywhere you didn’t really want to go, even if he had to take you kicking and screaming. “You’re going to get me with this, I just know it.”

“How, if I just do everything you ask me to?”

“I don’t know, but you will.”

“Up to you.” He shrugged. No, Krycek never begged for anything, but somehow he still always got exactly what he wanted.

Never mind. Telling the story was part of the fun, he could always enjoy just doing that. But not sitting here like this, with Krycek looking at him like he was seeing right through him. It was too unnerving to watch the face while he talked. He wanted the reaction from the cock and the belly. And he knew the best way to get that.

He gave Krycek his cocky grin, then stretched out on the couch across Krycek’s lap, squirming his groin into Krycek’s, folding his arms under his chin. Better if they were naked, and they could rub their cocks together, and Krycek could slide his fingers in him while he talked—then Krycek rested the palm of his hand on Alex’s bottom, stroking in that cool, detached way of his, and Alex thought he’d explode right then. All right, leave the clothes on for now. Some other time, maybe.

He closed his eyes and let his imagination tell him what to say. “I want to be kissed. Deep and hard and long, with complete concentration. I want my mouth stretched wide, my head tipped back, my throat exposed and vulnerable. I want the kind of kisses you start wars for, unrelenting and uncompromising. I want to be kissed like my mouth is the only part of me that exists, like it exists only to be kissed.”

Yes, that was working. He could feel Krycek’s cock moving beneath him, growing, crawling up his pants. He smiled to himself and put his mind into his fantasy. “I want to be kissed until I’m nothing, until I barely exist. Then slowly, gradually, I want to have my body brought back by careful, precise touches. First my neck and face, my ears and collarbone. Press your fingers into my throat, remind me that my life is there, under your hands. I’m naked and exposed, completely open to you. Touch me all over my body, wherever it pleases you, use it like it’s your own body, nothing withheld.”

This was getting dangerous now—he was too damned close to saying, Own me, take possession, I give myself to you—once said, even in the heat of passion, even in fantasy, the words would be irrevocable and he would be lost. He would belong, body and soul, to this man, this doppelganger, this other self. He would be instructed and disciplined, complete obedience demanded, utterly enslaved. And part of him wanted it desperately—to give up control, to put his life in the other’s hands, to allow his psyche to be opened up and torn apart, the most dread smoldering secrets taken out and fanned into flame, to be put out by cleansing, perfect pain.

If he were of this universe, perhaps he would. Certainly he would; why pretend otherwise? But he didn’t belong here. He had a Mulder of his own somewhere, a Mulder who was suffering and alone. The relationship between the Mulder and Krycek of this universe gave him some hope that someday he might be able to win his own Mulder’s forgiveness and love. So he’d better hang onto himself, not get lost in this seductive submission, not forget that he had a responsibility somewhere else that he couldn’t give up.

Of course, he could let himself be borrowed now and then.…

“I’m lying on my back while you do this, following your instructions, moving or not moving as it pleases you. Your touch is making me gasp and moan—I can hardly bear it, it’s so good. You touch my nipples, my cock, the inside of my thighs, wherever your hands want to go. My whole body is alive to you, I quiver and gasp at the slightest touch—to the inside of my wrist, my knee, my belly. Your touch is firm, commanding, not needing permission to go where it wants. You can slap or pinch if you like, be teasing or rough, or just stroke. Whatever you do sets me on fire.”

Krycek’s hand was gripping his buttock hard. His other hand slid onto Alex’s shoulder and held tightly there.

“When you’re ready, you turn me onto my stomach and begin to open me up. You use lots of lube, get me all wet and slippery. I don’t need much preparation, but I like fingers in me, so you take your time and work me hard with your hand. I go soft inside for you, I’m throbbing and hot and tight on your fingers. I’m just about out of my mind with it by the time you stop to put on the condom and guide your cock into me.”

He could hear Krycek’s quickened breathing now, and the cock under his was pulsing with need. Yeah, he was going to get it, just the way he wanted it. The manipulator manipulated—finally, one to Alex.

“You slide into me like butter. You don’t have to start out slow or careful, you just slam into me, fucking me hard, giving me what I deserve. I need it so bad, I’m almost screaming. I’m crazy for the feel of your cock up my ass, I’m moving, squirming, thrusting my hips back, trying to get you deeper into me, wanting to feel your cock right up to my throat. When I come, it’s all for you, all for you, because.…”

He’d been about to say, you own me. He just barely managed to stop in time. He lay across Krycek’s lap, gasping, almost as if he really had just come. Too serious. Too dangerous. There were always traps, weren’t there? Always ways to lose, even when you won. He couldn’t stop shaking.

He pushed himself over onto his back, his butt now in Krycek’s lap, knees drawn up, and managed a shaky smile. “Then there are explosions and building demolitions and volcanoes erupting and stuff like that.”

Krycek laughed. “Pretty good.” His own voice was slightly hoarse. There were glints of triumph in his eyes.

Then, finally, Alex saw his mistake. He was ready now, he just wanted to be fucked—but Krycek was going to take him through it, step by agonizing step, from start to finish, just as he’d described it. It would be slow torture; he’d go mad long before they ever got to the fucking. He groaned. “Be careful what you wish for.…”

“Because you might get it,” Krycek finished the quote. “And you will get it.”

Yes, he would. One to Krycek. Well, maybe they could call this one a draw.

* * *

He held his arms over his head, gripping his own arm by the wrist, biting his lip, naked and trying very hard not to move while Krycek traced slow, lazy circles around his left testicle with one finger. Already it seemed like Krycek had been doing it for hours. Alex wished to hell he’d just tie him up if he wanted him still, instead of demanding this impossible obedience. Well, almost impossible—he’d done it, hadn’t he? He was even a little bit proud of the way he’d endured, even though his cock was burning and he’d nearly bitten his lip through and his breath was coming in hot, tortured gasps. He’d been very, very good—maybe Krycek would give him a lollipop when it was all over, if he managed to keep his control all the way through. Funny, he was learning self-control from this man. Learning to think about what he did before he did it. Learning not to be quite so impulsive. And getting the life fucked out of him at the same time. Not a bad deal.

Krycek patted him on the hip. “Okay, turn over. And you can move now. Wouldn’t want you to burst a blood vessel.”

He nearly cried with relief. “Oh, god, thank you.…” He rolled over, squirming against the sheet. Until a slap on the butt got his attention.

“I don’t remember saying anything about talking.”

Alex gritted his teeth and pressed his face into the mattress. Damn. He was doing so well. He was surprised by the sharpness of his disappointment in himself. It was just a game, wasn’t it? But maybe not. He’d apologize, but that would be talking, and he wouldn’t make that mistake again. So he just lay quietly and waited for Krycek to tell him what to do.

Krycek stroked his shoulder gently. “You’re learning.”

Why the hell did he always end up crying whenever Krycek fucked him? Never mind, they were good tears. Krycek soothed him for a while, then continued touching his body, acting out the story. Short of total breakdown, nothing was going to stop him from following it through to the end. Alex sighed. Surely Krycek must be burning up with it, too? Where did the man get his iron control? But it was a little easier now that he was on his stomach and Krycek’s caresses were drawing closer and closer to the center. He’d make it, and he wouldn’t disobey his instructions again.

* * *

Krycek was pounding into him now, finally, and it felt so good Alex thought he’d die. He couldn’t believe he could take this much stimulation and still not come. Krycek had held him off several times, squeezing his balls just hard enough to let the imminent pressure subside. Alex was up on his knees now so that his cock didn’t touch the mattress while Krycek fucked him. He’d come when Krycek let him, and not a minute before. It was torture, but it was the torture he’d asked for, the torture he’d spelled out in graphic terms for himself. And he was willing to accept it—he wanted to accept it—he was finally beginning to understand the joy in being honed to sharp steel by Krycek’s necessary discipline.

The feeling began to build again, and he knew that nothing short of killing him was going to stop it this time. It didn’t happen often, but he was capable of coming just from anal stimulation. This would surely be one of those times. But no, Krycek was not going to require that from him. He was close himself; it seemed he wanted Alex to come with him, for he reached beneath and gripped Alex’s cock in his hand.

The pressure of the hand on his cock was all he needed—Alex was coming so hard there were stars behind his eyes. Krycek thrust into him hard and cried out. Alex’s mind sang I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours.… He didn’t say it out loud, wouldn’t say it, even if he were allowed to speak. Those words would stay inside, only to be spoken to one person ever.

But his body screamed it.

* * *

It was some time before either of them stirred. Krycek had rolled off onto his back, one arm flung over Alex, who remained face down, sprawled across the bed.

“God,” Alex grunted. “I thought my heart would stop.”

Krycek chuckled. “You tell a good story, Alex.”

“Huh. I think you improvised a little.”

Krycek rolled over onto his side, grinning, and stroked Alex’s back. “A good story always leaves room for interpretation.”

Alex lifted his head. “If I could move, I’d come over there and wipe that smug grin off your face.” He wasn’t sure how Krycek would react to this insubordination, but apparently his instructor was satisfied with the student’s progress today, and would indulge a little impertinence.

Krycek smiled at him. “So, did you get what you wanted?”

Alex sighed. “Yeah. I got exactly what I wanted.”

* * *

They dozed for a little while longer. Krycek’s hand was on his back, warm and reassuring, although there was no other contact between them. He could feel Krycek’s creamy satisfaction, though, as palpable as a physical touch. Krycek was pleased with him; and that was worth a hundred hugs.

He smiled into the pillow. The sweat was cooling on his back and legs; it would reach the point of discomfort soon. Sometimes he played a game with himself, to see how long he could force himself to lie still, ignoring the chill of cool air on his skin, the twitches in limbs left sprawled in whatever awkward position they’d been in when he’d collapsed, the sheet wadded under him or around a leg. If he managed long enough, sometimes he could worry himself horny again, although it wasn’t likely this time—he’d been too thoroughly reamed to be ready again any time soon. But it was pleasant, testing himself this way. Pretending Krycek had ordered it, and he was enduring it for Krycek’s pleasure.

Krycek’s hand slid down his back and patted his bottom. Alex turned his head to smile hazily at his lover.

“How are you doing?” Krycek asked.

“Fine,” Alex breathed happily. Then he saw the intent look in Krycek’s cold green eyes. And realized that this was not just after-sex small talk. “Oh. You mean… how am I doing.…” He couldn’t quite suppress the snake of fear that crept through his gut and twitched in his cock.

Alex gave himself a little shake. This was foolish, the man only asked how he was doing. But he really wants to know. And he wants the truth.

“I’m doing better, I think.” His voice had gone weak. He took a deep breath and forced himself calm. “I’m trying.”

“I know you are.” Krycek’s hand came up to rest on Alex’s shoulder. Still maintaining contact, providing reassurance—but friendly now, allowing Alex a little space to gather himself up.

He managed a small laugh. “Well, this is definitely better than the way we woke up two days ago.” Krycek shared the smile. Alex felt his stomach begin to unknot. “Yesterday was nice. —Thank you for the jacket. It’s gorgeous. And I loved being fucked in it. Thanks.”

Krycek nodded. His smile encouraged Alex to continue. “I talked to Mulder about… stuff. After you worked him over last night. We went to the jacuzzi and told each other dirty stories. But I suppose he told you about that.”

“He told me a little. I’d still like to hear what you have to say about it.”

“Well.” His nervousness was fading, a little. Perhaps it had worked after all, to tell it to Mulder first. “I told him about my Mulder. About our first time, and a little about Montana. I think I told you about that.” He remembered lying in Krycek’s arms, frightened and disoriented, as much from the situation as from the drugs, long, disjointed sentences spilling out of him between sobs, quiet questions guiding him through it again and again.… He still didn’t remember everything he’d said to Krycek that first night, but he remembered Montana somewhere in that sobbing confession—Montana, pain and shame.

“You told me some of it. How did Mulder react?”

“He was nice. He kept telling me I didn’t have to tell him—he could see how much it was upsetting me. But I knew he really wanted to hear it. He’s curious about my Mulder and me. He’s trying to figure it all out.” Curious, questioning, eager to know everything—that was one thing the Mulders had in common. Never willing to accept that there were some things he was better off not knowing. And then along came Alex, with his leather moves and game talk. He was like a bull in a china shop with this Mulder.

“Look, I know my being here has been hard on your Mulder. He doesn’t know what to make of me, and I keep making the wrong assumptions, and he thinks too much, just like my Mulder. But I haven’t meant to hurt him, or make him unhappy. I’m sorry if I have.”

Krycek nodded. “Don’t worry, I can take care of Mulder.” There was a trace of amusement in Krycek’s eyes. Amused—at Alex’s neverending stream of apologies? At the dynamic between two bottoms, endlessly angling to get under each other? Or perhaps he was enjoying mining the nuggets of confusion and pain that Alex was sowing in Mulder.

“He’s incredible.” Alex sighed. Talented as a born courtesan, yet sensitive and delicate as a virgin, with a fine, intelligent imagination. “You’ve done an amazing job with him. I wish.…”

Krycek’s fingers brushed lightly along his jawline, making him shiver. “You wish what?”

Alex felt himself go red. “I wish somebody would train me like that.” Somebody? They both knew perfectly well who that somebody was.

“Alex.…”

“I know. It’s not for me.”

“Do you know why it’s not for you?”

“Because I’m not Mulder.” Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not good enough.

But that wasn’t what Krycek wanted to hear. And it wasn’t the truth, not really. At least it wasn’t as far as Krycek was concerned. “Because I don’t belong here. I don’t belong to you. I belong to my Mulder.”

“And it’s up to your Mulder to train you the way he wants you.”

His own Mulder. Holding him, guiding him, punishing him. Whispering instructions in that low, delicious voice. Turning him over his knee, warming his bottom, telling him, It’s all right. You need this. Let me take care of you. Alex’s breath caught in his throat, as the poignant rush of aching desire filled him, tingling in his balls and his ass, making his cock burn.

His own Mulder, lost and alone and out of Alex’s reach. Hating him.

“Hell,” Alex hissed, a lot more roughly than he’d meant, “First, get me back in the same damn universe with him. And then, if he doesn’t shoot me on sight, and if I manage somehow to convince him to forgive me, and if he hasn’t lost whatever attraction he might have ever had for me in the first place, and if he decides he can risk carrying on an affair with me—then maybe I’ll worry about how he wants me trained. It’s not like I haven’t already got a lot of bad habits he’ll need to work out of me.”

“Alex.” The terrible gentleness. The cold smile. Alex was caught in it, frozen like a deer in headlights, fear making his skin go acid. “Are you ready to give up? Because if you give yourself to me, I’m not letting you go. I don’t play games. If you’re mine, you’re mine.”

And it was all Alex could do to keep himself from crawling down the bed to worship at Krycek’s feet. His voice was very small. “I’m already yours. You know that.”

“Yes.” Krycek’s expression changed, and Alex let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “But you haven’t given your consent to it, and neither have I. We can choose not to act on it.” He stroked Alex’s arm gently. “I know it’s hard. It’s hard for me, too.” Now he took Alex’s chin in his hand, and smiled—one of the warm, friendly smiles this time. “You don’t know how tempting it is for me to just forget what’s best and take you. But that isn’t what you need right now. It isn’t what either of us needs.”

It was reassuring, somehow, to know that Krycek was struggling with it, too. It should be frightening. He knew he couldn’t trust himself; he had to depend on Krycek to keep them both from making mistakes. And yet—they were just two men, after all, thrust into an unimaginable situation and doing the best they could to cope with it. And maybe mistakes didn’t have to be fatal.

“So what do we need?”

Now there was the suggestion of a tease in the smile. “Well, here’s where you’re going to have to help me, Alex. You have to tell me what you need.”

Alex rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling. It was painted like a lazy summer sky, pale blue with fluffy white clouds, and gently waving tall grasses peeking up at the edges. No, not summer—the blue was a little too pale for that. Late spring. Happy afternoons out in the back yard, feeling that first kiss of warm sun after the long winter. He wanted to just lie there and stare at it, imagining himself far away, lying in the grass, letting his mind drift in the clouds.

But Krycek was waiting for an answer. “You already know.”

“You’re an old-fashioned leather boy.” He could feel Krycek’s breath on his ear, warm and intimate. “But even leather boys have different styles, and different tastes. What does Alex need? What color handkerchief do you carry?”

Alex felt his face grow hot. And why was he embarrassed? Damn it, he could walk into any leather bar or sex club in town, in full regalia, or stripped to his jockstrap, colors flying proudly, and tell total strangers what he wanted in graphic terms without blinking an eye, like the brazen slut he was.

But that was game. And this was real. He took a deep breath. “Navy blue.” He ventured one defiant glance at Krycek. “Right pocket, of course.”

“Of course. Never gray? Or fuschia?”

The colors for bondage and spanking. Alex supposed his face must be fuschia just then. “No. Light blue, sometimes, for a change of pace. Otherwise, just navy blue. The other stuff you can always add in, if things develop right. But by the time you get to setting up a whole scene like that, you’re generally past the point of needing handkerchiefs.”

“So what’s a whole scene like?”

“Jeez.” Just pretend he’s a trick, and you’re planning a one-nighter.… What were the chances Krycek would let him get away with that? “Well, you saw what I did with Mulder.” He stopped to take a breath. “That’s basically what I like. Being tied up. Whipped, or spanked. I like… dildoes and butt plugs. And being fisted.”

Silence. He steeled himself to look over at Krycek. Who was lying on his side, chin propped up on one elbow, gazing at Alex with a look that was open and non-threatening, and which nevertheless managed to convey that this response was completely unacceptable. “Alex. You’re not telling me anything.”

He stared at the ceiling. Did Krycek ever lie here and imagine himself far away? “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Krycek reached across him to take his shoulder and pull him onto his side, facing him. “If it makes you uncomfortable to talk about it, just say so. Don’t lie to me.”

But it didn’t even feel like lying, it was just a reflex, like jumping when you burned your hand. And he’d screwed up again, without even knowing it. “I’m sorry.”

Krycek nodded, accepting the apology, looking at him thoughtfully. “All right. Look, the equipment isn’t important, or the mechanics. I need to know what’s going on inside of you when all this happens. I need to know where it takes you.”

Alex pulled away, without meaning to. It was too close, damn it, he couldn’t deal with this—Krycek lying so close to him, asking his terrible questions in his cool, quiet voice, expecting the truth, allowing Alex none of his defenses. It scared him, and it hurt, and damn it, he hated feeling this way—helpless and weak and stupid. If it was sex, it would be all right. If Krycek would get rough with him, slap him, order him to talk—then he’d tell him anything, in the sweet aching haze of lust, nothing would matter but his master’s hands and his master’s orders. Or if Krycek would back off just a little, let him have just a little protection, so he wouldn’t have to feel quite so helpless—then maybe he could talk about it. But not like this.

Frustrated, Alex pushed himself up and out of bed. “Excuse me,” he mumbled, and practically fled into the bathroom.

* * *

Alex leaned onto the sink and stared at his face in the mirror. Stupid, he told himself. Hopeless, pathetic idiot. He splashed more cold water onto his face, and scrubbed it roughly with the towel, as if he could wash the self-loathing from his eyes. But the same lost, frightened man looked back at him.

All Krycek wanted was for him to tell him what he liked in bed. That was all. And he jumped up and ran like a scared rabbit.

I’m scared, he told the face in the mirror. The same face as on the man waiting in the bedroom for him. The same face, but not the same expression. I’m still scared. How long could a man go on, living in fear? It sapped his energy, destroyed whatever self-confidence he had, made him want to hide in groveling, submissive sex. Somehow, he had to find a way to stop being afraid. He had to be able to talk honestly to Krycek as an equal, not a slave. And that meant he had to find a way to separate the game from the reality of the situation.

So this conversation was important. He had to talk to Krycek so he could stop being scared, and he had to stop being scared so he could talk to Krycek. Damn. What were the chances of just staying here in the bathroom for the duration? Get Krycek to toss in a pillow and blanket and the occasional pizza, and he’d just sleep in the tub and jerk off until.…

Until what? Until he died of old age? Until the aliens came back for him? Until Krycek got sick of him and put a bullet in his head?

Or until he pulled himself together, one more time, stopped talking to himself and went out there and talked—to himself.

He stretched, rubbing his shoulder, which was sore again. God, he was a wreck. He wished he could go to a gym. He needed a good workout—with weights, not with sex toys.

So, supposing he just went out to Krycek and said, I can’t deal with this now. I’m too scared. Let me go, please. No doubt Krycek would back off and he could avoid it for a little longer.

But it would still be there. And the fear wasn’t going to go away until he talked to Krycek about it.

If it went away even then. He wasn’t at all sure of Krycek’s ability to reassure him. Oh, he knew what Krycek would do—calmly explain that he didn’t want to hurt Alex. That Alex was himself. Alex was safe, as long as his being there didn’t threaten Krycek. And Alex would believe him, and it wouldn’t help. He didn’t need to be reassured with logic—hell, he could figure all that out for himself, and he could even make himself believe it—in his head, anyway. But not in his nerves, and in his gut. He needed to be emotionally reassured. He needed to be held and stroked and told that everything was going to be all right, even if it wasn’t. He needed to be made to feel that he meant something to Krycek, beyond an interesting puzzle and an enthusiastic, if occasionally troublesome, sex partner.

But Krycek wouldn’t do that. Oh, he would if Alex asked him to. He could throw another fit like he’d done two days ago, and Krycek would settle him down again. Or he could just calmly explain that his nervous system didn’t always listen to his head, and some soothing nonsense would be greatly appreciated. But Alex wasn’t going to do that. He’d made enough of a goddamn fool of himself already, damn it, and he wasn’t going to make himself look even worse. And hiding in the bathroom wasn’t going to solve anything, either.

He took a deep breath and gave himself a stern look. “All right, get out there and talk to him. He’s just you, damn it. And you’ve never had a problem with talking to yourself.”

Then he turned and went back into the bedroom.

* * *

Krycek had gotten up and put on a robe, and was sitting upright on the bed, back against a pillow, a glass in his hand. There was a pitcher of cold water on the nightstand next to the brandy decanter, and another tall glass. Alex’s robe—the robe he’d used—was lying conveniently at hand across the foot of the bed. Alex shrugged into the robe and poured himself a glass of water, then joined Krycek on the bed.

It was a bit unnerving the way Krycek did that: instantly adjusting, pulling back, or offering comfort, always giving Alex just what he needed, and no more. Gentle and comforting, quietly intimate, matter of fact and businesslike, stern and demanding—whatever the situation called for—and no way of knowing if there were any real caring underneath all the carefully calculated responses. And if he was so good at this, why was he still so insistent on having Alex explain his sexual needs in all their Technicolor detail? Surely he could apply that calculation to their sexual encounters just as easily—why did Alex have to tell him anything? Was it just part of the domination, knowing how difficult it was for Alex to talk about it, to force him to squirm this way? But if it was a sexual thrill for him, why didn’t he just give Alex a slap or an order and make him do it?

But that would make it easier for Alex, and perhaps he didn’t want to make it easier. Perhaps he wanted it to be as difficult as possible. He wasn’t some crude leather master, who enjoyed having a slave in chains, crawling abjectly at his feet. His torments were cerebral and sensual, delicate and precise. Perhaps it was his pleasure to keep Alex balanced ever-so-carefully just on the edge of his control, watching him struggle desperately to maintain whatever little shreds of dignity Krycek allowed him to keep, knowing that a single, finely crafted push could send him over into sobbing hysteria. It would be the most subtle and cruelly elegant kind of foreplay, and he could keep it up indefinitely, even through the pleasure of experiences like this morning, or yesterday morning. Good as those times had been, there was still that frightening, humiliating awareness looming over it all: Krycek was playing Alex’s game, keeping it light, holding back. How long would he be content with holding back? When would he decide that the foreplay had gone on long enough, and it was time for Alex to feel the full force of his desires?

Or was he truly just trying to know Alex better? Holding back because he was unnerved himself by his Little Brother’s desperate and unpredictable responses? Hoping to discover a way to give Alex what he wanted without resorting to rote moves that had no resonance for him?

There was no way for Alex to know. And why should it make so much difference to him, anyway? Perhaps it would be better if Krycek really were just tormenting Alex for his pleasure. At least then he would know that his pain was there for a reason; that his inability to pull himself together was engineered by Krycek’s desire, and not his own failure.

He sipped his water and sighed. How could they be so alike, and so different? “Do you ever think about how we got to be who we are? Why you’re you and I’m me?”

Krycek’s head tilted as he regarded Alex thoughtfully. “Yes, of course. If the theory we’ve been working with is correct, there must have been a time when our universes were the same. You and I might really have been the same person at some point, until whatever happened to split the universes apart.”

“Do you think so? But it must have happened early. Our childhoods were different, weren’t they? I mean, you’ve got sisters and I haven’t.…”

Krycek was looking at him very strangely. “How did you know I have sisters? I never told you that.”

“Yes, you did. Yesterday, remember, right after you came home—” He stopped, suddenly, a shivering pit of fear forming in his stomach. Krycek’s eyes had gone wide and cold. No, Krycek hadn’t told him out loud—but he’d told him just the same. And was Krycek ever going to believe that? Or would he believe that Alex had finally slipped and made his mistake, revealing knowledge he couldn’t have unless he was a phony, and he was a liar after all, a soon to be very dead one… ?

“You… you were thinking it,” he managed to choke out. “Something about incest and me and your sisters.…” Fear had driven the memory clean out of him, and he’d better get it back or he was dead, Come on, Alex, think. “Was it incest to be sleeping with me? But no, you figured incest would be sleeping with your sisters. With me it was different. —Until just now, I thought you’d said it out loud. But you didn’t, did you? You were just thinking it.…” And that was frightening enough in itself. Knowing where Krycek was, all right, needing to be near him—that was enough to deal with. But to have the man’s own thoughts in his head—they were cold and frightening thoughts and he didn’t want them, and damn it, why did there always have to be some new horror? Hadn’t he had enough?

He could already be dead. Krycek would never let on, he’d just sit there talking calmly, while his mind raced, deciding how best to do it. There wouldn’t be the slightest indication that he’d turned, until that moment came when Alex had let his guard down and turned his back, just for a moment, and then the hand would grab, the blade would slide across the throat, it might be so fast Alex would never know what hit him.… He drew a sobbing breath, and sipped his water, and forced a trembling smile at Krycek, who continued to regard him with that cool, contemplative gaze.

“Are you going to kill me now?”

Krycek shook his head, smiling faintly, and Alex’s heart thudded with relief. “I’ve had flashes of your thoughts, too. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“You believe me, then.” The words tumbled out of him.

“I believe you. But it’s not so much a matter of believing you as simple facts. If you were an imposter, you might know about my sisters when you weren’t supposed to, yes. But I don’t know how anyone could have known what was I was thinking yesterday morning unless he could read my mind. It’s further proof that you are me, rather than the other way around.” He didn’t like it though, you didn’t have to read his mind to see that. God, who would like knowing someone else could tell what he was thinking? This was trouble, and it could be more trouble for them down the line.

And god, Alex didn’t want to think about that. Suddenly, talking about sex seemed trivial. “Okay, you know I like the leather scene.” Another deep breath. And was Krycek going to go for this evasion, even if it was the question he’d originally asked?

Yes, it seemed he was. He nodded, smiled encouragement, and settled back in his pillows.

“Okay,” Alex said again. He rubbed at his chest, as if he could calm his racing heart from the outside. “Well, I think one reason I like the scene is that it is hard for me to talk about what I like. And there I don’t really have to. Everything is ritualized and coded so it can all happen without a lot of discussion. Or if you do, it’s all game talk and roles anyway, so it’s easier. And I like knowing what the rules are, knowing what’s expected of me, so I won’t make any mistakes. Unless they’re game mistakes, and then I get punished, but then it’s all part of the game and I like that.”

Krycek would still say he wasn’t telling him anything. God, he was no good at this. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. It just feels good. You know how it is when—or maybe you don’t. When you’re tied up and helpless and getting whipped and fucked and it all starts to feel overwhelming but there’s nothing at all you can do except lie there and take it.… After a while, the sensation all bleeds together and it’s all the same, pain and pleasure, physical and emotional, and your mind just floats away and you stop thinking, all there is is feeling, and it’s warm and dark and beautiful. I don’t even know sometimes—if I come, it’s all part of the same wonderful feeling. It’s like… a meditation. An altered state. I love going there. And the leather scene—the ritual—that’s what takes me there.”

He glanced over at Krycek from under lowered eyes. His doppelganger was gazing at him thoughtfully, nodding slightly. “Okay,” Krycek said. “Tell me about the person who takes you there.”

Alex shrugged. “Somebody strong. Somebody who knows what he’s doing, who’s in control, who can make me feel… completely helpless, like I have no will of my own, but safe… taken care of. Like I can just hand myself over to him and he’ll take me where I want to go.”

“You want to feel safe and protected. You don’t like being scared.”

“Well, scared is okay. Scared can be a fun part of the foreplay. But not so scared that you don’t trust the guy to do you. And when you get to the serious action, you have to be able to give yourself up to it, and let it happen. Too much being scared gets in the way of that.”

“And you’ve got all the being scared you need right now.”

Alex laughed a little. “Yeah. Way more than I need.”

Krycek nodded. “Okay. I’m with you. Tell me about the ritual. How does it work, to take you where you want to go?”

“The Forever Place. That’s what we call it. The ritual… I don’t know, it’s like.…” Alex sipped his water, struggling for the words. “Did you ever play football? Or any sports?”

“A little. Team sports aren’t really my thing.”

Alex frowned. “Well, okay, say you’re playing football. You practice a play over and over. At first you’re thinking all the time—first I cut left, then I run downfield—watch out for the defense, get ready to make the catch, glance over your shoulder at just the right moment. After a while you don’t have to think so much, it starts to feel natural. Then one day you reach a point where you don’t have to think about it at all, it’s in your muscles now and your nerves and you’re just feeling it. That’s when it really starts to work—you can sense where your coverage is, you know just when to turn for the catch, you can almost feel the ball coming at you. It’s like the Forever Place, that pure feeling. And you get there by repeating the action over and over, like a ritual. The familiarity is part of how it works. It releases your mind to go where it has to go.” He sighed. “Does this make any sense?”

“I think so. I’m going to have to think about it for a while.” Krycek mused on it for a moment, then gave a short nod. “Now, where’s the other guy when you’re in the Forever Place?”

This was an important question, Alex knew. Krycek wanted to be right there with you when he was working you over, feeling what you were feeling—it was a mental pleasure with him, as much as a physical one. He didn’t know how to stop thinking. But you didn’t go to the Forever Place alone. He needed to tell Krycek that.

“He’s there with me. I’m aware of him, and what he’s doing to me. It’s like… well, the football analogy again. There were times when we’d get so in sync that, even when my quarterback was halfway down the field and I was running the other way and had three or four defensive backs on my tail, I could still feel him, I knew just when he was going to throw the pass, exactly where the ball was going to come down. It was almost like I was part of him, an extension of his body, like we were the same person.” He managed a weak smile. “That’s how it is in the Forever Place. I’m with him. Okay?”

“Okay.” Krycek smiled, and brushed his fingertips against Alex’s arm. “I want to talk more about this, but I think we’ve gone far enough for now.” Then his smiled widened. “Turnabout’s fair play. Is there anything you want to ask me?”

Alex’s throat went dry. He could only manage to shake his head.

Krycek patted his shoulder. “Okay, look. Let’s forget about sex for a little while. Is there anything else you need? Anything that would make you more comfortable here? I know it’s not easy for you to have to ask me for everything, but if I can, I’ll get you whatever you want. And if I can’t, I won’t be angry with you for asking.”

His first impulse, of course, was just to say no. I’m fine, don’t worry about me, whatever you want. But he really could use a good physical workout. It would help him to work some of the tension away, and help him to deal with what was going on. Krycek obviously worked out—his body was all hard muscle. Maybe he had some weights here. He took a deep breath and plunged. “Well. I don’t know. I don’t suppose you’d let me go out to a gym, but do you have any weights around here I could use?”

“I have weights and a stair climber, and you’re welcome to use them. But if you’d like to go to a gym, I think that could be arranged. I use the facilities at the office, so they don’t know me at any of the neighborhood gyms. It should be safe for you to go to one of them.”

“Really?” Alex couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face. But then it faded. “But as long as you’ve got the equipment here, I suppose.… I mean, you’d have to pay for it if I went out to a gym. And I’d need some kind of ID, wouldn’t I? And gym clothes and everything, and you’ve already bought me all kinds of clothes—”

Krycek was shaking his head in amused exasperation. “I told you it was all right. The money is no problem. And I’m sure I’ve got a phony driver’s license around here somewhere you could use.”

The grin tightened on his face. “It would be nice to get out a little. And to use all the machines and sauna and stuff.”

“Fine. You can go this afternoon if you’d like. If there’s time.”

“Time?” Fear spiked through him again.

“We want to get those implants out as soon as possible. Mulder was going to try to arrange the surgery for today.”

“Oh.” Alex laughed weakly. “Great. I’d actually managed to forget about the implants.” He rubbed his nose. “Surgery. That will be great.”

“How are you feeling about it? Have you had any more of those nosebleeds?”

“No. I’m fine, really, it just took me by surprise for a minute there.”

“All right. Anything else?

Well, of course there were a hundred things, starting with, Please get me home, all the way down to, Just hold me and tell me everything’s going to be all right. But what could he truly ask for that would actually make a difference? He had to get his fear under control, that was the main thing, stop feeling like the slightest mistake was going to get him killed. But he couldn’t ask Krycek not to kill him—he knew perfectly well that as much as Krycek might not want to kill him, there could be circumstances under which he thought it was necessary. And Krycek wasn’t going to lie to him, and he wasn’t going to ask him to lie, so there was no point even bringing it up.

Except—maybe there was one thing he could ask that would help him to feel slightly less helpless. Something that would make him feel that he had some control, however small, over his fate. But did he dare ask Krycek? Perhaps it would be better just to let the matter be. He’d probably just get himself overwrought and Krycek wouldn’t agree to it anyway. He absolutely did not want to have another breakdown. Only if he felt steady. Only if he felt he could get through it without tears or weakness. Only if he could ask Krycek calmly, man to man, and accept whatever answer Krycek gave. Could he do that?

Even just to do that would be a victory. So maybe it was worth the risk.

* * *

“Okay. I want to ask you a favor.” His voice was controlled and matter-of-fact. Like Krycek’s voice. He marvelled, himself, over the evenness of his tone.

Krycek nodded, patient and receptive, as always.

“I know there’s not really that much chance that I’m ever going to get home. We’ll do what we can, and we can always hope, but there’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to start going on the assumption that I’ll be here indefinitely.”

Krycek nodded again. “Yes. I’ve been thinking about that, too.”

“I know. But that’s not what I’m asking about. Oh, I know, I’d have to have a new identity. Set up some sort of phony background, maybe change my appearance. It’s not something I want to do, but well, after all, it’s your universe. I can’t very well expect you to give up being Alex Krycek.” He was babbling again. But it was calm babbling, so never mind, if it was helping him to get through it. “But no matter what we do, we’re not going to be able to change the fact that our minds are tangled up together, and we have the same DNA.” Assuming that they did—and he was still afraid that, somehow, that test would turn out negative for a match, and then Krycek would kill him.… “I’m going to be a danger to you, just by existing here. We’ll both do our best to minimize the danger, but it exists, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” He paused for a moment, and took a deep breath. Krycek just waited, watching him silently. His face might appear expressionless, but Alex could feel the intensity between them, like an electric current.

“And some day there might come a time when that danger becomes too great, and you feel you have no choice but to kill me.”

Krycek’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he said nothing. With a slight movement of his chin, he gestured for Alex to continue.

“I know you don’t want that to happen any more than I do, and we’ll both do our best to see that it doesn’t. But if it does.…” Finally, his resolve faltered, just for a moment. He had to touch Krycek’s arm, as if to reassure himself that this man was only flesh and blood, like himself. Exactly like himself. “I want you to tell me before you do it. Don’t just sneak up on me and shoot me, or poison me, or whatever.” His hand tightened on Krycek’s arm. “I could tell you I won’t fight you or try to run away, and you might even believe me, but I know if it comes down to it, you won’t want to take the chance. So knock me out, tie me to the bed, do whatever you have to do to keep yourself safe.” He managed a smile, and it was even a genuine one. “Fuck me first, if you want. I’d like that. Just tell me first, that’s all I ask. You might think it would be better if I didn’t know it was coming. But that’s not how I want it. I want to know.”

Krycek’s liquid green eyes stared. Heavy thoughts turned behind them. Alex’s stomach churned. What had ever possessed him to think he could talk to Krycek about this? Krycek was going to tell him he was a fool and an idiot and he would worry more than ever about what Krycek was going to do to him.

Then Krycek’s expression changed. There was something gentle and sympathetic in it. Something that, more than anything else, made Alex want to cry. “Yes. You’ve got a right to that, if it’s what you really want. If the situation permits it, I’ll tell you first.”

Relief turned Alex to jelly. Tears started in his eyes, which he determinedly forced back. It was all right. Now, at least he didn’t have to worry that Krycek would sneak up on him and put him down like a mad dog. And he had made it through the request without falling apart.

And he was still calm. Amazing, really, he didn’t feel upset at all. He felt fine, except it seemed that now he was cold, because he was shivering like crazy. He didn’t really feel cold at all, but his whole body was shaking. He pulled his robe tighter around himself and clenched his teeth to stop them from chattering.

Krycek slipped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. Gladly, Alex settled himself at Krycek’s side and held him tightly.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” Krycek said softly. A sobbing gasp tore itself from Alex’s throat.

Krycek stroked his back and kissed his hair. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

* * *

Afterward, Alex lay sprawled across Krycek’s chest, luxuriating in the feeling of safety. It might be temporary, but it was an extraordinary pleasure, as abrupt and physical as release from pain. Krycek was propped up a little against the headboard, and his fingers played idly over Alex’s shoulders and back, stroking and gentling as he might a cat.

‘Nell’ordine ch’io dico sono acclime’—do you know Dante?” Krycek said.

“No,” Alex answered. The word was muffled against Krycek’s chest, and that was comfortable too.

Krycek was silent a moment. “ ‘In the order that I speak of all natures have their bent according to their different lots, nearer to their source and further from it.’ ” He was choosing his words carefully, obviously translating as he went. “ ‘They move, therefore, to different ports over the great sea of being, each with an instinct given it to bear it on: this bears fire towards the moon; this is the motive force in mortal creatures; this binds the earth together and makes it one. And not only the creatures that are without intelligence does this bow shoot, but those also that have intelligence and love.’ —You’re worrying too much about Mulder, I think.”

That was a mildly irritating conclusion, but he still felt too good to move. “What the hell does that have to do with Dante?” he asked.

“Different natures,” Krycek said. “You really should not be comparing yourself to my sweet Fox.” His voice had gone low and caressing, as though he were tasting the remnants of the previous night’s pleasures in the words.

Alex winced, but after all it was only what he already knew. “Yeah. I know.”

“No, you don’t.” Now the voice was amused and indulgent. The hands on his shoulders were still gentle. “That is, you’re wrong about why. If you were mine, I still wouldn’t train you the way I trained him. And you’re right about why: it’s because you’re not him. But that doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it just means you’re a different person.”

Different. Well, that was one way of putting it. And it reminded him of a mother telling a geeky 14-year-old that her looks didn’t matter, boys would want her for her personality.

Krycek chuckled, as though he’d heard Alex’s thought. Which of course was a possibility. “Okay, fair enough,” Krycek said. “You’re wrong, though. Look, let’s try it another way. It’s true that you’d make a completely inadequate Mulder; but then, he’d make just as inadequate an Alex. —Does your mother garden?”

Alex stiffened. Suddenly, the years fell away. The summer he was four: a small square of bare earth in the front yard, where two perfect rose bushes grew, one bearing white roses, and the other red. His mother spent hours tending them, while four-year-old Alex played in the dirt alongside her, delighting in the soft petals and sweet scent, laughing even when he pricked his fingers on the thorns. (And was this his first introduction to the pleasures of the right kind of pain?)

Then came the inevitable day his father came home and announced that they were moving. The rose bushes would have to be left behind.

His mother sat in the yard and wept. She’d miscarried the second time that summer (Alex’s unborn sisters—and in this universe they’d survived and grown up and Krycek mused about what it would be like to have sex with them…), and buried her grief in her roses. Of course, four-year-old Alex didn’t understand that. He only knew that his mother was crying as though the world were coming to an end, and he clung to her and cried with her, a child’s grief, not knowing that there were any other roses in the world.

Until his father came out into the yard with an axe and chopped both of the rose bushes into tiny pieces. His mother went still and her tears dried up, and then she got up silently and went into the house to begin to pack. Alex sat in the yard playing with the crushed petals, trying vainly to turn them back into blooms.

There had never been another rose bush, or another carefully tended garden. Years later, there had been other flowers—annuals only, bright pansies and poppies and zinnias, their seed scattered carelessly wherever there was bare ground, and left to grow or not of their own accord. But no, his mother didn’t garden.

But he didn’t want to tell Krycek all that. Although, if Krycek was reading his mind, he supposed he already had. He gave himself a little shake, and Krycek a squeeze. “No. There wasn’t much point, when we had to move all the time.”

Without missing a beat, Krycek continued. “Mine does. You have to train plants, did you know that?” It was clearly a rhetorical question. Krycek’s voice had fallen into a storyteller’s rhythms, and his pitch was low and intimate. Alex shook his head as best he could against Krycek’s chest. “Well, you do. And skill makes a lot of difference to how they grow. But there are limits. Think of lilac and wisteria. They’re alike in a lot of ways: they bloom at the same time, they both give you big purple flower clusters; they’re both heavily perfumed. You can train wisteria to cover an arbor, or to climb a trellis, and if you take your time and do it right, in the end you’ll have something magnificent. You can’t get lilac to do that, though: you can spend your whole life trying, you can have the best lilacs in the world, and it still isn’t going to happen. Lilac just does not make adequate wisteria. What you can do with your lilac is train it into a hedge. If you do that right, you’ll have something beautiful, too. But try it with wisteria, and you’re setting yourself up for major disappointment—wisteria’s no better at being lilac than lilac is at being wisteria.

“My mother’s got both of them in the garden. And I think that’s the right answer: one isn’t better than the other, and one isn’t a substitute for the other. Ideally, you want to have them both. And you train them, or you try, to be the most perfect possible versions of themselves.” His hand stilled for a moment, then one finger tapped Alex’s shoulder in a little parody of a slap. “I trust the point is, if anything, too clear.” The mocking distance was back, but it was still tempered with an undercurrent of unmistakable affection.

“Clear as a two-by-four in the nose,” Alex agreed. So now he was a lilac bush. That didn’t mean he was any better at being a lilac bush than he was at being a wisteria. But he didn’t want to talk about it any more. Time to change the subject. “Okay,” he said. “How would you train me?”

“I don’t know yet,” Krycek told him. “Remember, I’d known Mulder a long time before I first touched him. I need to know you, before I can tell what your destination should be.”

“ ‘Across the great sea of being,’ ” Alex finished softly. The phrase resonated in his mind like a peal of bells, it was no wonder Krycek liked it. “Wait,” he said. “I thought you said you were a math major.”

“I did. I was.” Alex felt him prop himself up a little higher. “I have revised my opinion, by the way. You were a poli sci major; you played football; you’re not the nerd. I am the nerd. Mathematicians are officially licensed to study all kinds of dweeb-like things like medieval poetry on the side, everybody knows we’re aliens anyway.” Krycek laughed softly. “Some of it’s remarkably apropos, too. ‘O Lord, now youres is/My spirit which that oughte youres be./You thanke I, Lord, that hath me brought to this.’ ” That hot delight was back in his voice. Alex had a sudden, disorienting flash of memory: Mulder on his back underneath him, clinging fiercely to his upper arms. The long eyes were closed, and his temples were wet with tears, but his lips were parted, begging to be kissed—not his memory: Krycek’s.

Beautiful, exquisite, glorious Mulder. Krycek couldn’t stop thinking about him for ten minutes, even lying in bed with Alex, trying to convince Alex that he was thinking too much about Mulder.

Never mind. He rubbed his cheek against Krycek’s chest, and kissed it wetly, tasting the salt sweat still on his body from the previous hour’s pleasures. This was good, so never mind.

They lay in silence for a few minutes. “That’s another thing,” Krycek said at last. “I think it may actually be a good thing for Mulder that you’re here. Yes, it’s hard on him, in the sense that he isn’t getting a hundred percent of my attention; and it’s kicked a few issues into focus for him. But those issues were all things he was going to have to face soon anyway: they were just a matter of timing. And you know, I think it may be time he learned something about being a top.”

Alex started. That was hardly an unwelcome picture, but still— “What for? You don’t want to switch off with him.”

“No. You’d like it, though.”

In a weird kind of way, it was nice of Krycek, Alex thought. It was probably his notion of being a good host, of making Alex a little more comfortable. And yes, he had been thinking wistfully about how much he wished this Mulder were a top. But it wasn’t something he wanted at Mulder’s expense. “That’s okay,” he said. “I mean, thanks. But I don’t want him to have to do anything he’s not comfortable with, just for me.”

“That’s not it,” Krycek said. “You’d be doing me a favor.” He stretched under Alex and turned, guiding Alex over to lie at his side, and propped himself up on one elbow to look Alex in the eye. Another little maneuvered shift in mood: now they were co-conspirators, almost equals. “You have to understand about Mulder. It may be hard for you. I don’t know your Mulder, but from what you’ve said, I have the impression that there are a lot of ways he’s less damaged than the man I know. Kinder, and more balanced, and probably stronger. We’ve got evidence for that—your Mulder was strong enough to recognize his attraction to you, and he knew how to deal with it.

“I don’t mean that my Mulder is weak: he isn’t. But the damage is worse than people see. He’s not just an obsessed yuppie with a smart mouth; he’s a violent man who’s built a whole lot of walls between himself and almost everybody else, and there’s a real streak of cruelty in him. He has principles, and they matter to him, but he lives his life in places where the lines smudge too easily. And for him, even more than for most people, there are times when principle is a hard cold thing next to emotion. He’s managed the cruelty and the violence fairly well so far by turning them on himself; and sure, that’s always going to be his favorite way to deal with it. But it shouldn’t be the only one he’s got. He’ll be better off if he learns to understand it and control it, preferably before he does something that he regrets too much. And you know: you learn control as a top. You get catharsis on the bottom, but you never learn control—after all, not having to be in control is part of the point.”

Krycek paused, as though waiting for an objection. Alex tried to gather his thoughts. “I think I see what you’re saying,” he told Krycek. “Look—I need to think it through, is that okay?”

“Of course it’s okay,” Krycek said. He gave Alex one of his comfortable grins. “Dammit, I do not want you to feel pressured about this. If the opportunity comes up and you feel like it, I just want you to know that I’d be happy for you to see what you can teach him. And besides, I don’t want him bullying you into letting him be on the bottom all the time, just because you feel unreasonably guilty about being here. Okay?”

Alex found himself giggling. “Okay,” he said, and curled up comfortably again at Krycek’s side.

* * *

Early in the afternoon, Mulder returned to take Alex away to get the implants removed. The operation was quick and easy—relatively speaking, taking only a few hours at the doctor’s office, done under a local anaesthetic that left Alex’s face feeling heavy and numb, like a dentist’s Novocaine. They made him wait there another hour or so afterwards, to make sure he didn’t react badly to the anaesthetic, and that the pain was under control. Now, he sat in the back seat of a taxi, staring at the two tiny metallic implants lying innocently at the bottom of a small glass specimen bottle. Smaller than Duane Barry’s; larger than Scully’s, according to Mulder, who sat beside him in the taxi as they returned to Krycek’s apartment. The implants were each narrow strips of metal about a centimeter long. One was silvery, with a small spade-like extension at one end. The other was dark bronze and thinner, with pointed ends. Mulder said he’d never seen one that color.

He wanted them, Alex knew that. Mulder’s hands tapped against his thighs, and he glanced over at the bottle in Alex’s hands repeatedly. Alien implants, evidence for his quest. It was hard for him to sit there and let Alex have them. Alex supposed there was no reason he shouldn’t let Mulder hold them. He’d have to take them, anyway, to have them analyzed. Possibly he’d be able to find out something that would help Alex to get home.

But Alex couldn’t quite bring himself to give them to Mulder, not yet. They’d been inside him, in his own face, up until a few hours ago. Put there by aliens. In another operation he didn’t even remember. He continued to turn the small bottle in his hand, staring at the tiny pieces of metal, as if in staring at them long enough he could force himself to understand—why had they come for him, why was he here? Why were all these horrible things happening to him?

He lifted his hand to his face and stroked the edges of the bandage that was taped across his nose, under his eyes, covering his throbbing sinuses. The incisions were tiny, Mulder had said, and would heal quickly. But meanwhile, his face ached and throbbed. He felt like he’d been beaten.

It wasn’t the worst pain he’d ever felt. That honor would probably have to go to the time he’d dislocated his shoulder during a football game. The pain had been so bad he’d screamed all the way to the hospital. This wasn’t screaming pain; it wasn’t even worth dulling his brain with painkillers. He had the pills in his pocket, just in case, but he hadn’t taken any. But it hurt. It made him tired and depressed. It made him want to go home and curl up in bed and pull the covers over his head.

The cab pulled up in front of Krycek’s apartment building. Mulder paid, of course—Alex’s pockets were still empty. He had an expensive leather jacket and three hundred dollar boots, and not a penny to his name. He was a kept boy. With a rich sugar daddy. And a guardian. A very pretty guardian, with sensuous full lips and big sad hazel eyes. And he’d been in the hospital—for what? Attacked by one of his sugar daddy’s rivals? A bit of plastic surgery to mold him a little more closely to daddy’s tastes? Or maybe daddy had a bad temper, and occasionally punished his boy a little too roughly. He’d have to try to behave himself a little better in the future. But not too well, because daddy liked him to be bad sometimes.…

Alex leaned back in the elevator, sighing. From FBI agent to alien abductee to rich man’s plaything. Except he wasn’t really anybody’s plaything, he was just playing games with himself. Pretty pathetic when the real situation was so bad that a beat-up kept boy with a bad-tempered sugar daddy seemed preferable.

At least he was home now. Home. As much as anyplace in this entire universe could be called home. Anyway, it was where Krycek was, and that was home to him, for as long as he stayed here, and as long as Krycek would have him.

He fingered the tiny bottle in his pocket, and followed Mulder off the elevator. The beginnings of a yawn were interrupted by a sharp, stabbing pain in his sinuses. He threw his hand across his bandaged face and stepped into the apartment.

Krycek was not alone. He was sitting on the couch, facing his guest, talking earnestly. He leaned forward, elbow resting on the back of the couch, establishing an easy intimacy between him and the woman who sat at his side. A small woman, with shoulder-length auburn hair and a generous mouth.

Scully.

Alex froze. A strange little noise escaped his throat. A similar strangled groan came from Mulder at his side. Then Mulder strode into the room, to stand in front of Scully, looking stiff and unhappy. Scully glanced up at him, offering a tentative smile. Then she stared at Alex, openly curious. And unbelieving.

Krycek got up smoothly, and went to greet Alex, smiling. He took Alex’s arm. “How are you feeling? Did everything go okay?”

Alex nodded numbly, and pulled the bottle from his pocket. “There were two of them.” The last he’d seen of Scully was the photograph enlarged from the police video—Scully tied up in Duane Barry’s trunk. That photo had been a source of desperate hope for Mulder—Scully was still alive. He could have helped him get her back at that point. He hadn’t irrevocably betrayed Mulder yet. He could have told the Cancerman to go to hell, and helped Mulder get to the top of the mountain in time. But he hadn’t. He’d knocked out the tram operator and stopped the tram, like a good little lackey. He’d taken the poison they gave him and slipped it into Duane Barry’s water. He’d stood there and watched while Mulder suffered, and Scully was taken. In this world, she’d been returned, to sit here now and stare at him with distrustful, skeptical eyes. In his own world she might well be dead, and Mulder would never, ever forgive him if Scully was dead.

Krycek held up the bottle, giving it a little shake to get a good look at the implants. He turned to Scully. “These are bigger than yours was, aren’t they, Dane? What do you think, have you seen any like these before?”

Mulder stepped forward to answer. “The dark bronze-colored one is unusual. But the other is like the ones Duane Barry had, except smaller.”

A look passed between Krycek and Mulder. Still staring at Mulder, Krycek handed the implants to Scully, who turned them over in her fingers, frowning.

Then Krycek broke the contact, and stepped away, smiling easily at Alex again. “It hardly seems like introductions are necessary, but you haven’t formally met. Alex, this universe’s Dana Scully. Dana, my doppelganger and visitor from another dimension. We’ve been calling him Alex. I hope it doesn’t get too confusing.”

Scully stood, handing the implants back to Krycek, and stared grimly at Alex. Her very stare hurt him. He wanted to cover his face and cringe, and had to force himself to return her gaze. He’d only met his own universe’s Scully a few times, but this one was definitely a different model. She was thinner, older, more steely, less naive. Of course, the abduction experience would have a lot to do with that. His own Scully would no doubt be different once she came back, if indeed she did. Everyone was harder in this universe, it seemed. Her stare seemed to accuse him: You made me this way. You let them take me. Which was ridiculous, of course. He hadn’t done a thing to this Scully. It was Krycek who’d helped abduct her in this universe, and she didn’t show any hostility towards him at all. It was only his own guilt making him feel this way.

“And you believe this man’s story, Mulder?” she asked, still staring at him with her cold blue eyes.

“It fits the facts better than anything else we’ve been able to come up with,” Mulder answered mildly.

“And now we have another set of facts—the DNA tests.” Krycek nodded to Alex, with a slight conspiratorial grin. “That’s what Scully came to bring me, the results of the DNA analysis. It’s a match, surprise, surprise. We have identical DNA.”

It should have been a relief. But all Alex could think was that Scully the Skeptic wouldn’t believe it. And she would find some way to convince them that he was a fake. She’d see that he was punished, finally, for everything he’d done.…

Stop it. He was tired, that was all, aching and sore and just wanted to rest. Not to be faced with yet another vengeful ghost from his painful past. “Well.” He struggled for something intelligent to say, and failed miserably. “That’s good, I guess. It’s what we expected.”

“Yes.” Krycek continued to smile smoothly, as though this were all perfectly normal. As if Alex weren’t standing here with his heart pounding and his face throbbing, wishing the floor would open up and swallow him. As if Scully weren’t standing grimly with her arms crossed and her lips pressed tightly together, disbelief and distrust written all over her face. As if Mulder weren’t still looking as if someone had punched him in the stomach, stiff and shocked and somehow deflated.

But was there just a hint of tension in the set of Krycek’s mouth? The calculation just a little too bright in his cold blue-green eyes? There were too many variables all of a sudden, Alex realized. Krycek could control any one of them separately—being gentle with Alex, rough with Mulder—and with Scully? What was the trick with Scully? Alex pictured them as they had been on the couch when he and Mulder had come in: Krycek leaning forward, smiling, head lowered, voice low and intimate. It was the way Alex had been with his Mulder—charming and friendly, no hint of the darkness beneath. With Scully it was charm.

Was she aware that that darkness existed? Did she know that her partner spent his nights groveling at Krycek’s feet? Did she worship at that cold altar herself? No, Alex decided. Her attitude was too casual, too matter of fact. There was no adoration in her blue eyes. And that would be part of the problem—Scully was not an initiate into Krycek’s dark circle, and she must not be thrust into it unwilling. But she also must not be excluded, or made to feel like an outsider. It was a delicate balance, and a tightrope Krycek probably enjoyed walking when it was only Scully and Mulder to deal with—tormenting Mulder with little teases and hints that he must not respond to, while maintaining his mask of pleasantness for Scully. But with Alex thrown into the mix—unhappy, unpredictable Alex, with his crude leather attitude—he wouldn’t be able to be sure of the balance. Alex could go into one of his tantrums, and say something that would make the delicate, pretty framework come crashing down.

Alex sighed tiredly. He caught Krycek’s eye and shook his head slightly. I’ll be good, he thought at his other self. And if he didn’t catch the words directly, he’d still understand the look and the gesture, Alex hoped. Don’t worry about me. Worry about Mulder—he looks like he’s going to explode.

Krycek nodded. Something in his smile changed, ever-so-slightly.

Scully watched this exchange with an exasperated frown. “Alex, you don’t really believe this… person could possibly be an alternate universe version of yourself? He doesn’t even look like you.”

“He just had his face operated on,” Krycek said, grinning, leading Alex to an easy chair and pushing him down into it. It was the chair Alex most often ended up in—and Krycek’s own favorite, Alex suddenly realized. Weakly, he returned Krycek’s smile. “It’s hardly a fair comparison.”

Krycek returned to the couch, where he and Scully sat as they had before. Reluctantly, Mulder finally found a chair of his own, and flung himself unhappily into it. Krycek continued, “Of course his body language is going to be different. Slight differences in weight and build. He’s lived a different life from me. But the genetics are identical—you did the DNA tests yourself. You tell me who else he could be.”

“A close relative. A brother, a twin. A clone.”

“I don’t have a twin. Or a brother. And he wouldn’t have identical DNA anyway, would he?”

“We can’t really test the entire genetic structure, Alex. There are millions of genes, we can’t compare every single one. We test selected strings of DNA, and yes, every one we tested was identical. But still.…”

“Still,” Krycek said, the suggestion of a tease in his voice. “If you were testifying in court, would you say that the two samples were from the same person?”

She made an exasperated little noise. “Yes. But you’re not the same person, Alex, so there must be some other explanation. How sure are you of the samples?”

“I took them myself.” (Alex squirmed a little at that—he’d been unconscious at the time, another invasion of his body that he couldn’t remember.)

“How sure are you that the samples you took are the ones that reached me?”

Krycek’s eyes narrowed. “I used a secure courier.”

“Alex, if he’s a fake, if he was sent in for whatever purpose, then the people who sent him would be watching, expecting you to do something like this, ready to intercept a courier and replace your samples with their own.”

He could almost see the wheels turning in Krycek’s head. Alex felt ill. She was getting to him, in a way that Mulder, who wanted to believe, could not. She was going to convince him, somehow. She was going to get him killed.

Krycek glanced over at him. “Alex, you must be exhausted. Why don’t you go and lie down for a while?”

Alex laughed shortly. “While you sit here and decide whether or not I’m lying? No thanks.”

Krycek just nodded calmly and returned his attention to Scully. “Okay, it’s possible. But it’s extremely unlikely, for a lot of reasons. First, I used a Shop courier, and they’re assigned at random. So you wouldn’t be able to suborn the courier in advance, because you wouldn’t know who would wind up with the job. Unless you were the Shop, in which case you could have taken me out and replaced me with your clone any time you felt like it—and in which case you’d be watching me a lot more closely right now than I am in fact being watched.” Krycek was half smiling now, and staring dreamily out into the middle distance. Of course: this sort of thing was his work, and he loved it.

“So say it’s not the Shop. Anybody else would have had to guess who my courier was, and which one of them was carrying DNA samples, and then somehow get to him or her in the few hours of travel time between New York and D.C., and without throwing the travel schedule off enough to raise suspicion. It almost has to be bribery, because the courier’s going to report it if somebody hits him over the head en route; and if he doesn’t come back looking like the same person we sent out, we’re going to notice it. Ditto if he doesn’t come back at all. You can never be sure a single person is bribery-proof, so maybe you’re lucky and the guy with the DNA samples is receptive. But then, to be sure of him, you also had to have somebody approach, say, the courier one of my colleagues sent to D.C. the next day, and the two I sent to, say, San Francisco and Boston the same day. Some one of those four people, at the very least, is going to report the contact, and there’ll be an internal investigation, and everybody will hear about it because we’ll have to know there’s a potential risk with the courier service. And so on, and on.”

Scully was still frowning. “Unless you get to the person who assigns the couriers. Nobody’s internal security is perfect, Alex, not even yours.”

Krycek laughed. “Hey. We’re supposed to be arrogant, it’s part of our corporate culture.” He sobered. “You’re right, of course. But that just brings us to another set of improbabilities. You might be able to do that; but as you pointed out, you’d only do it if you expected me to be sending DNA samples out. That is, you’d have to be very sure of my responses to the situation. And in fact, my responses have been more than a little quirky. You could predict I’d want a DNA match done, but would you predict I wouldn’t want it done by my own people? It’s not entirely a rational decision to keep this matter private. But if you can’t be sure I’ll send the sample out, you also have to provide for the contingency where I get our people to run the tests. So now, again, you have to suborn two people, at a minimum; and once again, you’re increasing the already high risk that at least one of them’s going to report the contact. —Although I could test that one easily enough: I can send our own people a couple of nonmatching samples tomorrow, and see whether they call a match for me anyway.

“And of course we could do another test, just to be sure. You could take the samples yourself, and carry them back to the lab personally. Then there wouldn’t be any doubt. If you think it’s worth doing.”

There was something new in his attitude, and Alex strained to catch it. Something about the way he thought about the possibility of Alex being a fake. It was still a vitally important question. Still required careful thought and study. Still was not finally, absolutely decided.

But it was no longer a life-and-death matter. No longer, If he’s a fake get rid of him at once. Now, it was more like, If he’s a fake, is he still sure of his old allegiances? how can I use him?

God. Was he really reading this, or was he just so desperate to feel it that he was fooling himself into thinking it was there? Had Krycek’s careful manipulation finally worked, destroyed his ability to see how he was being used, made him a helpless pawn? Lulled him into a false sense of security, so he could easily be led to slaughter?

No. Krycek had promised him he wouldn’t do that. And Krycek was an honorable man. Alex could be wrong about what he was sensing from Krycek, but he wasn’t wrong about this: Krycek had promised not to kill him out of hand, without talking to him about it first. And it was an astonishing source of comfort to him now.

He pulled in a deep breath and looked over at Mulder, who had been strangely silent up till now. And why would that be? Mulder loved talking about things like this, and it certainly wasn’t any concern for Alex’s sensibilities that was making him hesitate. And this was his precious Scully here, his partner, his favorite foil for discussions about lies and conspiracies and extreme possibilities. So why was Mulder sitting back in his chair, breathing slowly, face carefully blank and controlled, offering nothing to the conversation? You’d think he didn’t want Scully here. Didn’t want her watching him in the presence of his master.

But no, that couldn’t be it. Mulder liked being teased in front of people—his Skinner story was proof of that. And anyway, Krycek wasn’t teasing him now. He wasn’t even paying any attention to Mulder, his concentration was all on Scully and the problem at hand.

Ah, then, so was that it? Krycek’s attention was all on Scully, and Scully was liking it just fine. Was Mulder jealous? Did Krycek sleep with Scully? Did she know about him and Mulder? God, what a mess. It was some cosmically improbable sitcom. Or a soap opera. No, it was too damned melodramatic even for soap opera—this was real opera, minus the singing—completely outlandish plots, high tragedy verging on camp, desperate doomed love.…

Alex felt a strange, humorless laugh bubbling out of him. Three heads instantly turned to stare, which somehow only made him laugh more. There was more than a little hysteria in it, and it hurt his face, and it would turn to tears in mere moments, but he couldn’t seem to stop.

“Alex?” Krycek was still outwardly calm, but Alex could feel the tiny prickles of tension in him.

“It’s all right,” Alex said weakly. “I was just trying to figure out whether it was Gotterdammerung, or The Lucy Show.”

Krycek laughed. Still wary, but relaxing slightly.

“Neither. It’s The Patty Duke Show.” Mulder, finally joining the fray, muttered darkly.

Alex’s giggle had a funny little squeak on the end. Softly, he began to sing, “ ‘But they’re cousins, identical cousins, and you’ll find.…’ ”

Then Mulder joined in. “ ‘They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike—you could lose your mind, when cousins are two of a kind.…’ ”

Krycek’s laugh was genuine now. But at the same time, he was shaking his head, turning to Scully. “Well, I can see we’re not going to get any sense out of you two tonight. Dana Katherine, you will forgive me for not offering to put you up in this madhouse, won’t you? Because really, I think you’ll have a much better time if you stay at the Royalton, where you can hang out in the lobby bar and flirt with rock stars.”

Scully looked around and sighed. “I trust your judgment on that one. Anyway, there’s not exactly room at the inn here, is there?”

“Oh, sure there is,” Krycek said. “We can always contrive. Let’s see: Alex and Mulder could both sleep with me, and you could have the guest bedroom; we could give you my bedroom, I could sleep on the couch, and Mulder could sleep in the jacuzzi, which he’s inclined to do half the time anyway; we could give you my bedroom and Mulder could sleep on the couch in there—”

“I hope you’re not waiting for me to suggest that Mulder and I could both sleep in your room with you,” Scully said. “You’re right, Krycek, I’ll be happier in a hotel.” She looked him up and down and then shook her head, as if amused at something. “Alex. It’s not going to do me any good to point out to you that the Bureau per diem is not going to cover the Royalton, is it?”

“No,” Krycek said cheerfully. “It’s my per diem, not yours. Don’t even try to argue: if you try to insist on staying in the kind of slum the Bureau’s per diem would cover, I’m going to insist that you stay here tonight after all.”

“I’m convinced.”

“Thought you would be.” Then he was getting up, offering a hand to Scully. “Come on, Dana Katherine, I’ll take you out to dinner and get you uptown.” He looked across at Mulder, and the hard stare softened a little. “Look, Mulder, I’d toss you for it; but you two get to see each other all the time.”

It sounded perfectly normal: even the tone was exactly right. Just two people deciding who deserved the chance at quality time with a mutual friend. “Yeah,” Mulder said. “That’s fine.” His voice was light, but Alex could read the tension underneath it: the normalcy was costing him something.

“Good,” Krycek told him. “I’ll see you later. Try to make sure Alex gets some rest.”

And then he was hustling Scully out the door, perfectly natural and cheerful, and Scully was laughing with him and agreeing that yes, regardless of who the poor guy was, he’d just had surgery and ought to be given a little peace. There was a brief moment of panic when Alex remembered that Krycek still had his implants, but Krycek just handed them back to him without a qualm (and why Alex wanted them so badly he had no idea), and even paused to put an affectionate hand around Alex’s neck and say, “Good night, Cousin.”

Then he paused once more to exchange one long look with a very anxious Mulder. “Fox.” His voice was low and velvety, and Mulder tensed as though an electric shock had just passed through him. “Be good.”

Then he and Scully were gone, leaving a pair of very bereft lovers behind.

* * *

Some day, Alex thought, I’m actually going to read a page of this book. But it wasn’t going to be tonight. He glanced over at Mulder, who seemed not to have moved since the last time Alex had looked. He was still curled up in his chair, staring dully at the huge picture window. His lips were pressed so tight, a white line had formed around his mouth. He was furious, and that fury had not abated one iota in the half hour since Krycek and Scully had left.

He’s not mad at me, Alex reminded himself yet again. I haven’t done anything. He’s mad at Krycek. Or Scully. Or himself, or the situation, or something, but it’s not my fault. Whatever the hell it was. Damn it, he didn’t even know what the hell was going on—how was he supposed to walk this mine field when he didn’t even know what sort of bombs he might trip over?

Mulder turned to glare at him. With a great effort, he softened his expression. “Do you want some dinner?” His voice was carefully controlled, flat and toneless.

“No. Thanks. I’m not hungry.” His stomach was still churning, in fact, and the thought of food made him ill. Probably aftereffects of the anaesthetic, as well as the stress of coming home to whatever the hell it was he’d come home to.

“You should go and lie down, then. He said you should get some rest.”

“He said try to make sure I got some rest. It wasn’t an order. He just… ”—didn’t want us sitting here sniping at each other all night—“didn’t want us waiting up for him.”

“Oh, so you’re an expert in what he wants, now. Two nights ago you were complaining about how complicated it all was.”

“Well, a guy’s got to learn fast around here, doesn’t he? Sink or swim. Scully’s out there right now trying to convince him I’m a phony. I could be dead by morning.” This wasn’t fair, and he didn’t mean to play Mulder’s anger back at him, but damn it, his face hurt and he was just too tired to control his tongue.

That scored. Mulder flinched, and his voice was a little shaky as he replied, “He won’t kill you.” He sounded much less sure of it than Alex was.

“I know.” Stop it, Alex. He’s hurting just like you are. “Look, Mulder. I know this is none of my business, and you probably don’t want to talk about it, but I’m kind of stuck in the middle here. I don’t want to make mistakes. If Scully’s going to be around, I think I need to know what the situation with her is.”

Mulder’s face was soft with pain. It wasn’t pain he was enjoying, either, although Krycek might teach him how to enjoy it later. Right now, it was just raw, exposed hurt. “He sleeps with her.”

Well, he’d expected that. But it was hard to see how much it hurt Mulder to say it. “But he doesn’t top her.”

Mulder flinched again. Alex ached for him, but damn it, he needed this information, and there was no guarantee he’d be able to get it from Krycek before he was faced with Scully again. And maybe he’d be able to help Mulder, although he didn’t know how. But sitting here watching him suffer certainly wasn’t going to improve the situation any. “He won’t talk about it. But if were like that between them, I think he would.”

“Yeah. Does she know about you and him?”

“She knows we have sex. Not about… the other.”

“Does she know how you feel about him?”

“Shit. I didn’t even know, until.…” Mulder hunched up in his chair, face drawn and white.

Until. Until Alex showed up. You’ve kicked a few issues into focus for him, Krycek had said. Calmly. The bastard. Alex felt his own fists clench. So Mulder had finally confronted the depths of his feelings towards Krycek, and Krycek responded by leaving him home to suffer while he spent a night on the town with Scully. All right, it looked like Scully had just shown up out of the blue, and he hadn’t had a lot of options. Hustling Scully out of there before the nature of their little menage became obvious had been his number one priority. Alex could appreciate that, and certainly Mulder could too. But Jesus, surely there had been other ways he could have handled it. Damn it, he could have sent Mulder to take her out and get her settled, and stayed home with Alex himself.

And thinking of that, Alex felt inclined to get a little pissed at Krycek on his own behalf. He’d just had surgery. He was tired and miserable and sore and damn it, after every other damn thing he’d been through, didn’t he deserve a little consideration? A little coddling? Wouldn’t it have been nice to come home to Big Brother in his gentle, caring mode, get himself tucked in and petted and poor-babied a little, instead of having Scully thrown in his face, and then left alone with a tortured, pissed-off Mulder?

No. That was not a road he wanted to go down. He was going to start feeling sorry for himself and work himself up to crying about it, which would be hell on his sinuses, for one thing, and force Mulder to take care of him, which he was obviously in no mood to do, and he’d just end up resenting Alex too, and that would do no one any good.

“Maybe you should tell her. She’d stop sleeping with him, wouldn’t she, if she knew how important he was to you?”

Mulder shrugged, shrinking into himself. “I can’t tell her.”

“But Mulder.…” Alex sighed. No, of course he couldn’t tell her. He had to have his feelings beaten out of him, scourged with pain, bright and real. He couldn’t just sit down with a friend and say, Look, this means a lot to me. Please, for my sake, don’t do it. And of course he couldn’t ask Krycek not to sleep with her. Or he could, but Krycek would do as he pleased regardless. And helpless Mulder, who wanted it to be real and daren’t stand up to Krycek about anything, would just bow his head and let Krycek do it.

Damn the both of them—Krycek, for fucking his lover’s partner, and Mulder, for accepting it. Damn them both for taking their stupid game beyond any sane limits into this vicious emotional torture.

And damn them for getting him caught in the middle. God, his sinuses hurt. He held his face in his hands, pressing the edges of the bandages. He should just take a couple of the painkillers the doctor had given him, and go to bed. But he hated drugs. He didn’t even like to take aspirin. There were other, better ways to deal with pain.

Like right now: a spanking would be very nice. The comforting warmth of lying across someone’s lap. The sharp, hot blows inflaming his bottom. The sweet pain would draw his focus back, away from his face, into his buttocks, where it was good to be hit, where the pain slid easily into sexual heat, growing and intensifying until even the throbbing in his sinuses would be a burning pleasure.

He could ask Mulder to do it, he supposed. And Mulder might even oblige him, just to be accommodating. And wouldn’t that be humiliating—a pity spanking. Not the right kind of humiliation, either.

But maybe Mulder would get into it. He was angry enough right now to want to punish someone. Although it was Krycek he really wanted to punish. Would he accept Alex as a stand in?

Probably not. Alex wasn’t Krycek—he would never be able to hold the role convincingly. And even if he could, the dynamic wouldn’t work. Mulder would crumble the moment Alex spoke his name in that low, velvety, supercharged voice. And Alex would end up on top, and damn it, he didn’t want to be on top tonight.

So forget it. Maybe he could just talk to Mulder. Get his mind off what Krycek and Scully might or might not be doing.

He pulled the bottle with the implants in it from his pocket and turned it idly before him. “Hey Mulder. You said the silver one was like Duane Barry’s?”

Mulder pulled himself up and cleared his throat. “Yes. Only his was about a half a centimeter longer.”

A centimeter and a half of metal up his sinuses. Alex suppressed the urge to cringe. “He only had one?”

“One in his sinuses. There were also implants in his gums and abdomen, but those weren’t removed. You remember this, don’t you? I mean, it happened in your world, too.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. I remember that they pulled some metal out of him. And that Scully was carrying it when she.…” Well, that wasn’t going to get his mind off Scully.

But Mulder just sighed. “It’s all right, Alex. It was a long time ago.”

“For you it was.” And that was something else that had been bothering him. And as long as Mulder seemed willing to talk about it.… “How long was she gone?”

“Three months.” He spoke grimly. But didn’t seem angry about it.

“Does she remember what happened?”

“No. Nothing after the mountain top, until she woke up in the hospital.”

“Because I was wondering. We’ve just been assuming I was only gone for a day or so, and that it’s later here because the time lines are different. But I don’t remember any of it. It could have been longer. It could have been months. Or years. The time lines might be the same after all, and I’ve just been… wherever the hell it is they keep people all this time, and I don’t remember it.”

“I suppose.”

“I mean, it’s what, a year and a half? two years? out of my life.” And god knows what’s happened to my Mulder in the mean time.

“But there’s nothing we can do about it. And no way to even know, until you get back to your own world.” Mulder stared distractedly at the window as he spoke.

“Well, I know, Mulder, it’s pretty boring next to torturing yourself by imagining your lover boffing your partner, but it’s kind of important to me.” The hot words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and he cursed them even as he spoke.

Mulder’s dark eyes flashed, but he visibly controlled himself, biting back whatever retort had been on his lips. “I’m sorry. But I don’t know what to say.”

Alex shook his head wearily. “No, Mulder, I’m sorry. I’m just in a really bad mood. And so are you. Let’s just forget it.”

Mulder nodded, and returned to staring out the window.

* * *

Another half-hour passed in silence. Alex had a feeling he might really enjoy this book, if he could ever concentrate enough to actually read any of it. It wasn’t his usual reading matter, by any means. (That was another thing he should have asked Krycek for this morning—a couple of dime store thrillers, something light and undemanding that his scattered brain could follow.) But he kind of liked the flow of the words, the elegant sentences with their sonorous rhythms—they were enjoyable in their own right, even if he lost the sense of it long before he reached the period. Maybe if he searched this vast library, he could find some books of that poetry Krycek had quoted to him that morning. That had been luxuriously good—lying in Krycek’s arms, listening to the cool, soothing tones of his voice as he recited the lines—across the great sea of being—god, what an exquisite pleasure! Who would have ever imagined that he would have a lover who would make his points with on-the-spot translations of classic literature, and medieval poetry? Or who tended his lovers like flowers in a garden?

But his flowers were wilting rather badly at the moment. (No way Mulder was a wisteria. Or a lilac bush. An orchid, undoubtedly. An extremely rare and beautiful one.) Mulder hadn’t even bothered with the pretense of a book, or a television program. He just sat in his chair and stared off into space, steeping in his pain. Damn Krycek!

They should be trying to help each other, not ignoring each other, suffering alone. But what could he do to help Mulder? Talking wasn’t going to help, they’d just end up irritating each other. Anyway, it was Mulder’s own damn fault for letting them treat him this way, Krycek and Scully both. He could do something about it if he wanted to, but obviously he didn’t really want to. He was getting off on it on some level, despite the very real pain he was in. Or because of it. He could confront Mulder about that—but why should he? That was Krycek’s method. And the result would be Krycek’s result: Mulder soft and submissive and on the bottom.

Which was fine for Krycek, but not for Alex. The way Alex felt right now, he couldn’t top a mouse. He was feeling tired and grumpy and beat up and neglected, and in this mood he was only fit for being beaten into submission. He wanted it rough and mean and nasty. He wanted to be called names and slapped around. He’d tried to get his own Mulder to be rough with him once, but he wouldn’t do it. Would this Mulder? Krycek said he had a violent streak. He wanted Alex to teach him to top, if he could. Right now, he wanted to very badly. But he needed to find the right way to do it.

He’d already dismissed the idea of getting Mulder to directly vent his anger at Krycek. He wanted Mulder to use that anger, but he’d have to channel it somehow so that he wasn’t seeing Krycek while he did it. He could go for the straightforward approach—just explain to Mulder how he wanted to be taken and ask him politely to do it. That would work if Mulder was a natural top, but he wasn’t. He might try to oblige, but he’d be doing it from the bottom, just trying to please Alex, and that wasn’t what Alex wanted. Mulder had to be encouraged to express his own desires, to search out his own need to punish and hurt, to turn it into sexual dominance. He needed some sort of hook to hang it on. A role to play, at least to get him started, until he got his bearings and found his power. But it had to be something real enough that he could believe in it. Something that had happened—not between him and his Krycek, but perhaps between his doppelganger and Alex?

Oh god. Alex froze, his own fear and pain streaking through him, turning his nerves to spikes of acid. Encourage Mulder to punish him for what he’d done to his Mulder. It was close enough for Mulder to really feel it—after all, most of what Alex had done, Krycek had also done. Yet different enough for him to feel safe from Krycek’s retribution. It would work. And Alex would feel it, too. God, it would hurt. Alex almost couldn’t breathe, the anticipated pain was so intense. Yet he knew he would do it. It felt perfect. He deserved this pain. He needed it. Even if it destroyed him. Yes, let them see if Mulder could control his cruelty and violence well enough to take Alex on this journey, and bring him back again.

* * *

Alex took a deep breath, then stood, laying his book carefully on the chair, and walked over to Mulder. His knees felt rubbery and he had to control his breathing closely to prevent himself from gasping. Mulder stared at him, eyes wide, recognizing that Alex was bringing him something important, but not yet knowing what it was. Alex sank to his knees at Mulder’s feet. It would have to be done carefully. If he were too abject, Mulder would just feel sorry for him. Too forceful and Mulder would go under. He had to appeal to Mulder’s strength, convince him that it was right and proper for him to use it.

“Mulder. I know you’re angry with me.” He tried to keep his voice even. Let a trace of cockiness slip in. “I’ve done terrible things. They needed to be done, but I know you don’t believe that.” He found his cocky grin, turned it full on Mulder, looking him right in the eye, for one long, heart-wrenching moment, then let his face go open and earnest again. “I’ll tell you a secret, Mulder. I loved letting you fuck me.”

Mulder was dumbstruck—confused, a little frightened, angry and resentful—but there was also a spark of hot delight in his eyes, the beginnings of a flush high on his cheeks. No overt response yet, but no pulling away.

“I might admit I’ve made mistakes. I might apologize, and beg your forgiveness. But you’d have to take me down. You’d have to force me to do it. I’d respect you if you could do that.”

Mulder’s lips parted, gradually, spreading into a slow, hazy smile. His face hardened, and the smile turned cold.

“I wouldn’t expect you to pull any punches. I wouldn’t want you to. I want you to show me everything you’ve got, no limits, no mercy. If it’s good enough, I’ll give you anything you want. If it isn’t, I’ll laugh in your face. Are you man enough, Mulder? I hope you are.”

He closed his eyes and waited. Had he gone too far? Part of him almost hoped he had, that Mulder would smile gently and say, sorry, I don’t want to play this game. Almost. He tried to relax his control, to let his expression and his posture show what he was feeling: all the fear, and pain, and need. On his knees with his eyes closed, offering but not begging. Tried to show Mulder that he was here for the taking, for Mulder’s pleasure only, not his own. Waited.

Finally, he felt Mulder take his hands and pull him to his feet. He opened his eyes, and what he saw on Mulder’s face nearly made him whimper. The hazel eyes were bright and sharp with cruel delight. Mulder took his lower lip in his teeth, then let it slide free, wet and shiny. He slid one hand around Alex’s neck and drew him close, and then his mouth was on Alex’s, hot and devouring.

Alex gasped and sank into the kiss. Let his mouth fall open and welcomed Mulder’s tongue, Mulder’s full lips crushing into his. Mulder’s face pressed against his bandage, and pain lanced through his cheeks. (Alien metal.…) He pressed back, sending his tongue against Mulder’s, drinking in the punishing pleasure.

Then Mulder brought his other hand up to Alex’s throat and gripped it hard, thumb pressing into Alex’s windpipe. Suddenly barely able to breathe, Alex fought down panic, forced himself not to pull away. He brought his hands up to Mulder’s upper arms, holding on tight, allowing Mulder to choke him. The kiss went on, and Alex sucked eagerly at Mulder’s mouth, even as his vision went red, and the pain screamed in his ears, and his head and his cock both throbbed.

Suddenly, Mulder released him, and he fell back, gasping. Dizzy, he clung to Mulder’s arms to keep from reeling. God. Mulder didn’t mess around. (Although vaguely he remembered that this was how Krycek had initiated Mulder, and wasn’t it sweet that Mulder was using the same tricks on him?)

But he couldn’t hand Mulder his victory this easily. A few more deep breaths and he was steady again. Then he leaned forward to take another kiss.

Mulder pushed him back, finger raised in warning. That would have been a slap if his face hadn’t been injured, he realized, and it was too bad his surgery was going to prevent him from receiving this particular bit of discipline. Mulder was going to have to find another way to enforce his rules, then, Alex thought, and with a grin leaned forward again.

The response was a cuff across his temple—a gentle blow, really, a friendly tap—if he hadn’t just had his face cut open. Pain exploded in his sinuses. He sucked in air, and pressed his eyes shut against tears.

Mulder didn’t mean it to be that bad, he thought. But then, considering that Mulder’s eyes were glowing as if he’d just discovered what anger was, perhaps he did. And what had Alex expected, anyway? He’d created this situation. He was going to get exactly what he deserved, and that was only right.

Mulder gripped his shoulders, holding him at arm’s length. “No. You don’t take.”

“You started this, Mulder.” His own anger was bubbling up through the pain. “You wanted it.”

“You lied to me. Do you think I would have fucked you if I’d known?” He punctuated each harsh sentence with a shake of Alex’s shoulders. And each shake sent new spikes of pain through his throbbing head. “I thought you were my friend. I thought I could trust you.”

“I tried to say no. You wouldn’t listen to me.”

“I would have listened if you’d told me the truth!”

“I couldn’t tell you! I wanted to.” That last night in Montana, he’d been ready to tell Mulder everything. He’d begged Mulder to let him tell him. But Mulder was too wrapped up in his own little fantasy to allow the cold truth in. “You wouldn’t let me.”

“I wouldn’t let you? I put a gun to your head and ordered you to keep pretending? I covered my ears and refused to listen?”

And that was true, Alex knew. If he’d tried hard enough, if he’d insisted, if he’d really been willing to accept the consequences, he could have made Mulder listen. Told him the truth, watched his face grow cold and hard, the teasing affection turn to hate, the strained, impossible happiness shatter and shred his heart into a million tiny, aching pieces.

“How could I tell you, Mulder?” His voice had gone ragged, and the pain that burned inside him now was deep and familiar. “You would have hated me. I’d have lost you, and for what? They wouldn’t have stopped watching you, or working against you. It just would have been someone else.”

“ ‘If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have,’ ” Mulder mocked. “It’s a tired old excuse, Krycek. Right up there with ‘I was only following orders.’ ”

Krycek. Oh, that was good. He should have been expecting it. But it hit him like another blow. Alex tried desperately to think, to pull himself together. He’d slipped into the role so deeply now that he was no longer thinking in terms of the scene he’d set up—this was his Mulder accusing him, and somehow he must make him understand.

“Mulder, I… I know I should never have let you touch me. That was wrong, and I knew it. I just should have said no to you, before it ever got started.”

A light sparked in Mulder’s eyes, and a faint smile curled his mouth. “All right then. Say no to me now, like you should have then. Show me what you should have done.”

And before Alex could question it, Mulder had seized his face in his hands and pulled him close for another punishing kiss.

And how was he going to say no? Pull away, when the force of it made him dizzy? Say no, when any whimper of protest was swallowed up by Mulder’s demanding hunger? Helplessly, Alex pushed at Mulder’s shoulders with his fists, knowing his attempts were pitiful and weak. It was a cruel game, and one he was bound to lose.

Then Mulder was pressing up against him, one hand twining in Alex’s hair, one arm encircling his back. The kiss turned tender, turned to a rain of gentle kisses on his face and ears. Alex almost wept from the sweetness of it. His body pressed against Mulder’s without conscious thought or decision. He felt Mulder’s hardness on his thigh, and felt his own erection seeking the warmth of Mulder’s body. Why did it all have to be so wrong? Why couldn’t they just enjoy the simple pleasure of touching each other?

But he knew why. He’d made the choice to work both sides of the fence. From the moment he’d accepted the assignment, Mulder was the mark, and no pleasure was simple between them, no emotion honest, no connection real. It was all a betrayal.

Mulder’s lips teased at his ear. “I don’t hear you saying no. Didn’t you say this was wrong?”

Alex gasped. “I.…” Then Mulder’s mouth was over his again, stopping any explanation he might have tried to give. Which was just as well, as he had nothing sensible to say. This was to be part of his punishment, then: to show him how easily he’d been seduced, how ineffectual were his puny attempts to do what was right.

But I loved you, his mind protested. By the time I knew it, it was too late. I didn’t know what to do. The part of him that remembered this was not his Mulder, that this was just a game, refused to say the words aloud. It would do no good, anyway. He knew what Mulder would say: This is how you show love? With lies and betrayals? So much the worse for you, then, if this is really how you feel. All the more reason you should have told me the truth.

Finally, Mulder pushed him away again, roughly. “I’m not impressed with the way you say no.”

A tear dripped from Alex’s eye, to soak into the bandage across his face. Hot pain pricked in his swollen sinuses. He shouldn’t be crying; it would be hell on his surgery. But it seemed only fitting that he should suffer this pain. “I can’t say no to you, Mulder. God, I tried. I just couldn’t do it.”

“You can’t say no to me?” Mulder smiled with smooth satisfaction, as if Alex had fallen right into Mulder’s trap. “I might believe that. Let’s just see what you’ll do. Let’s see if you say no.”

Alex squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and drew a ragged breath. Of course this was right—he could deny Mulder nothing, so why bother to pretend? Let Mulder finally give him the punishment he deserved.

“All right.” He could barely speak. He had to clear his throat before he could continue. “I’ll do what you want. I won’t say no.”

Mulder brought one hand to Alex’s face. Alex flinched; but the fingers that stroked his cheek were gentle. Mulder’s smile, though, was hard and terrible. “All right. Tell me what you did that was wrong. Everything.”

More tears leaked from Alex’s eyes. His sinuses throbbed. Mulder continued to stroke his face, fingers trailing down the edges of the bandage. The tenderness was another punishment. “I went to work for your enemies.”

“And that was wrong?” Mulder’s voice was low, caressing his ear, holding him immobile with its quiet strength. He’d learned this from Krycek, Alex knew, and he appreciated the devastating precision of it even as his gut twisted in pain.

“I don’t know. I didn’t think it was when I started. He… they told me you were dangerous. That you had friends in high places, you were a troublemaker. They needed somebody to keep an eye on you. I believed them.”

“Was that what you believed when you slept with me?” There was anger in his face now, but the fingers on Alex’s face were still painfully gentle.

“No. No, I figured out long before then that you weren’t the monster they said you were. But I didn’t know what to do.”

“What did you do that was wrong?” Mulder prompted, his voice soft and easy again.

“I kept on working for them, even though I knew it was wrong. I should have quit. Or told you the truth then, let you decide what to do.”

“And then?”

“I let you sleep with me.”

“And then?”

Alex’s heart was pounding so hard he could barely hear himself think. “I helped them take Scully.”

“Yes,” Mulder said softly, a mere letting out of breath. His eyes drifted away, lit from deep inside, hot with pleasure. One more time his hand slid tenderly down Alex’s cheek, pausing for a moment at his chin, stroking Alex’s lower lip with his thumb. Then he released Alex, and took half a step back, his smile widening.

And he drove his fist hard into Alex’s stomach.

Before Alex could even double over in pain, Mulder had slammed his body up against Alex’s, gripping him by the throat, pushing him back until he was jammed up against the wall. Then he grabbed Alex by the waistband of his jeans, and the collar of his tee shirt, and thrust his face close to Alex’s, teeth bared, his cool, Krycek-like control gone.

“You helped them take her!” Mulder hissed. “Three months she was gone. Do you know what they did to her?”

“No, I—”

The hand at Alex’s throat shook him, battering his head against the wall. “I thought you weren’t going to say no to me.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder, I don’t know what they did. He wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Would you like to find out?”

“I—Mulder, please—”

Another sharp shake. Another stab of pain through his head. “Would you?”

There was only one answer he could give. “Yes.”

“Good. I’ll show you what they did. What they might have done to her.”

What they might have done to Scully. And what had they done to Alex? Three months, six months, a year—how long had he really been gone? How many invasions? What experiments had been performed? Cold alien metal in his face. Alex’s stomach churned. Whatever you want. I won’t say no. Would he break his promise to this Mulder now? Add another betrayal to all the others?

No. “What do you want me to do?”

“Go to the small bedroom and take your clothes off. Wait for me.”

The small bedroom: where the chains were. Alex couldn’t speak. He managed to nod, once, and turned to go, blindly.

* * *

Alex folded his clothes neatly and piled them on the chair beside the bed. The chair where Krycek had been sitting, watching him, when he woke bound to this bed. Despite the confusion and fear, the drugs and inrush of horrifying memories, that first time with Krycek had been oddly sweet.

There was going to be nothing sweet about this time with Mulder.

He sat on the bed, hands folded in his lap, the perfect picture of an obedient boy, waiting for his master. Tears still dripped down his face, soaking into his bandage. It was going to get wet, he thought idly, and come off. His doctor wouldn’t be very pleased. He hoped his sinuses wouldn’t be damaged by all the crying. Where the hell was Mulder? He was new at this. Perhaps he wasn’t sure himself what he was going to do. The thought was a little frightening. Had Krycek ever taught him about physical punishment? Where it was safe to hit, and how hard? How to test whether bonds were too tight? How to safely insert objects into orifices? Even without anger driving the scene, a novice top could make mistakes, in ignorance and the heat of the moment.

No help for it. No limits and no mercy. He’d just have to trust Mulder.

And maybe, somehow, this pain would be able to make a tiny dent, for just a little while, in the real pain that lived within him, constant and deep and unbearable.

* * *

Mulder stood in the doorway. He was still dressed, and carrying the black leather suitcase from Krycek’s closet. Still wearing that expression of cold joy, that said finally, finally he was going to get the chance to punish someone for all the pain and horror he’d been through. Not just Alex’s betrayals of his own Mulder—how much unrelieved rage did Mulder have stored up? Cancerman’s casual interference in Mulder’s life. Skinner’s stern attempts to keep Mulder in line. His father’s complicity in the tragedies that shaped Mulder’s life. His own Krycek’s finely honed cruelty—no matter that Mulder’s sexual pathology demanded it—the pain was real, the smoldering resentment a constant rasp inside him. And Scully—was he angry with her, too, for not having the simple common decency to avoid sleeping with her best friend’s lover? Not that Mulder would ever admit it, even to himself. But that pain would be there, too, eager to find an outlet with this willingly offered sacrificial lamb. Alex’s palms began to sweat.

Mulder brought the case into the room and laid it on the chair, on top of Alex’s clothes. He opened it with a flourish, showing none of the trembling reverence he’d had when he brought the case to Krycek the previous morning. Now he was madly cheerful—a travelling salesman from hell. He reached into the case, handling the objects, smiling to himself. Wondering how many he could try out in one session? Attempting to calculate the pain that could be measured out with each implement?

Then he turned from the case to stand before Alex. His posture was casual, arms folded loosely across his chest, one hip tipped forward. He was wearing a faded blue linen shirt and blue jeans, looking like a magazine ad for weekend elegance. He was so beautiful Alex wanted to cry. Alex felt suddenly terribly ashamed of his own naked body. He felt like a small, vile, pale slug, not even worth crushing under one’s boots. He wanted to throw himself at Mulder’s feet and apologize for being such a pathetic target for Mulder’s wrath.

“Well,” Mulder said. “All those long nights at the office, I’m sure I must have told you the stories.” He was trying to be calm, to emulate Krycek’s cool, studied tones, but his voice was rough with emotion. He shouldn’t be trying to be Krycek, Alex thought, it wasn’t his style at all. Mulder’s beauty and strength were in his passion, and absurdly, Alex wanted to tell him so.

“I remember.” Alex closed his eyes for a moment, to bring those nights back, that he’d been so desperately trying not to think about since he’d come here. He drew a ragged breath. “I remember. You had a desk in Urban Fraud, where you’d been doing the wiretap work. The side of it was pushed up against some filing cabinets. There were pictures of Samantha taped to them. I’d sit on the other side of the desk, sideways to it, with my back against the filing cabinets.” He opened his eyes. Mulder’s lip was beginning to tremble—he remembered those days, too. The desk, away from his precious basement office and his precious Scully; the eternal photos of his sister Samantha. Alex continued, “I’d bring you coffee. Candy bars from the vending machines. Sometimes we’d order pizza. And we’d sit there and talk, for hours and hours.

“You talked about the abductions. People you’d talked to, things you’d read, cases you’d worked on. God, you knew so much—you’d spent your whole life finding out everything you could about it. You’d get so intense when you talked about it—your eyes would glow, and your voice would get heavy, and you were so beautiful, I’d just sit there staring at you, mesmerized, adoring you, while you told me the stories.”

“Then you know what they do.” Mulder’s voice was a soft hiss now, and Alex could see the rise and fall of his chest beneath the blue linen as he spoke. Much better.

“I know.” He let his eyes fall closed again, and his memory slide forward to another day: standing in his bedroom, digging frantically through drawers, tossing things randomly toward the suitcase on the bed, tears streaming down his face. Your assignment is over. (And so is your career, you little fool, didn’t you ever think about what was likely to happen if you took this path?) I want you out of D.C. by tonight. Use the documents we provided you, and disappear. Take a vacation. (Yes, I’m having a lovely vacation, you son of a bitch. Did you plan this too? Send them after me, to get me out of the way, after you gave them Scully?)

Then there had been a sudden bright light. (Nuclear flash had been his first panicked thought. D.C. a great big hole in the ground. He supposed he should be glad that this, at least, had been wrong.) A huge rushing noise, so vast it hurt his ears, and his head throbbed with the pressure. Time dilation so extreme, it seemed to take years to fall to the floor. But he felt nothing, he had only the evidence of his eyes to tell him that he was lying on his back next to his bed, scattered clothing tangled around him. His chest felt crushed, and his lungs refused to take in air. His mouth opened to scream, but his paralyzed lungs produced no sound.

Then, for just an instant before everything went black, he saw them: small and thin and gray, with round, pear-shaped heads and huge black eyes. Long, leathery gray fingers reaching out for him, amazingly strong for all their appearance of fragility. Gentle, chittering voices like laughter bubbling behind the rushing noise, now just the sound of the ocean in seashells. And he felt his body grow light, rising up out of the drifts of pain, and slowly begin to drift away.…

* * *

Panic gripped him. One hand went involuntarily to his face, to touch the bandage, to reassure himself the implants were gone now, and he was free of their presence. A strangled, whimpering noise escaped his throat. He forced himself to stay still, forced himself to look up at Mulder, who was watching him squirm with righteous satisfaction, one corner of his mouth twisted into a grim smile.

“Good.” Mulder was curt, giving up the pretense of cool control. He took Alex by the shoulders, and pushed him back onto the bed. “Then tell me—what’s the first thing they do with their abductees?”

“Tie them down.” It was what Mulder wanted, anyway—Alex bound and helpless, completely at Mulder’s mercy. That was why they were here in this room, with the chains attached to the legs of the bed. And ordinarily, Alex liked being tied up—but now, with the memories bright and clear in his mind of lying immobile on his back in his D.C. apartment with the small gray men touching his body, it frightened him almost out of his reason. It was hard, so hard, to let Mulder spread his arms and legs out wide from his body, and buckle the cuffs securely around his wrists and ankles. It was hard to lie here on his back, painfully exposed and vulnerable, and not struggle or plead with Mulder to let him go. It was hard to feel his rigid cock lying against his belly in the cool air of the bedroom, his nipples hardened to little nubs on his heaving chest, droplets of sweat trickling down his ribcage making him shiver as they cooled, all his body’s responses announcing to Mulder that he was eager to be abducted, experimented on, used. No wonder the aliens kept him so long. They must have been terribly amused.

As if hearing his thought, Mulder chuckled. He stood by the bed, observing his handiwork, his eyes raking up and down Alex’s trembling body, taking in every twitch and drop of sweat, every sign of shameful need. “I wonder if they even know what sexual response is?” Mulder mused. “They don’t appear to have genitals. Probably they reproduce some other way. I suppose they must find it fascinating.…” Here he reached out to trail his fingers along Alex’s cock, smiling as it twitched and jumped under his delicate touch. Alex bit his lip and desperately forced his body to remain still. “What makes it get hard? What makes it release its stream of fluid?” He cupped Alex’s balls in his hand, rolling them gently. “Why do some of the abductees respond to easy strokes,” his hand demonstrated with long, slow motions, “and some to rougher treatment?” He released Alex’s cock, and slapped it sharply. Alex couldn’t stop the thrust of his hips, or the desperate cry that escaped his throat. His hands twisted in their cuffs, and his body writhed in its bonds.

Mulder chuckled again, and stepped back. His own face was flushed, and his breathing had quickened. “Of course, they’ll study other things, too.” He went to the suitcase, and picked through the contents. “They’ll want to know the body’s responses to other stimuli.” He withdrew the riding crop from the case.

Alex whimpered. Of course, he should have known. That riding crop would have you bleeding, he’d told Mulder. It was the most painful of the whips in Krycek’s case, and Mulder was going right for the top.

Mulder turned to Alex, holding the riding crop before him, stroking the stiff lash in the palm of his hand. “They’ll observe the look on the abductee’s face when he sees the implement. The way the eyes widen and the mouth opens to protest. The gasps for breath. And what does the abductee do?” He slapped the crop against his open palm. His eyes darkened and grew dreamy as the crack lingered in the air.

Mulder wanted him to beg. “Please.” Alex’s voice was a breathy sob. “Please don’t hurt me.”

Mulder nodded. He seemed pleased. “The abductees struggle and plead. But the aliens don’t care. It’s just more data to them. They make a note of it, and continue.”

He ran the tip of the riding crop over Alex’s body: around his collarbone, down to circle each nipple, across his belly to his navel. He lifted Alex’s cock with it, while Alex whimpered and moaned. He tickled Alex between the legs, with the knotted tip of the whip. He moved down to tap the soles of Alex’s feet. Alex gave up trying to control his response, let his body twist and jerk and struggle. His cock burned like fire.

Then Mulder came back to the head of the bed. He smiled at Alex, and ran his tongue along his lips. His eyes were hazy and unfocused. He lifted the riding crop, watching Alex’s face, giving him several long seconds to anticipate the blow. Then he struck.

The blow landed across Alex’s chest, two inches above his left nipple. Alex’s whole body flinched, hard, from the burning pain. A wailing cry tore from his throat. Tears streamed from his eyes. At the back of his mind was the vague thought that at least, lying on his back, his tears flowed down his temples, rather than into his already-soggy bandage. Salty sweat and tears had already seeped into his incisions, making them sting and burn. The whip was relief from that pain, anyway.

Another blow, lower down, and across the right side of his chest. Again, he flinched and cried out. His body arched and twisted, helplessly seeking escape. He was glad, now, that he had no more control. It was good to offer his utter surrender to Mulder, to let him enjoy Alex’s pain and futile struggles. It was good to be whipped and punished. The next blow was across his left thigh, and his cry was nearly a scream. Mulder was taking his time between each lash of the riding crop, watching the red welts grow, letting Alex’s struggles quiet before unleashing the next round, carefully planning the placement of each new stripe. He was an artist, Alex thought, decorating his human canvas with blood and suffering—

Another stab of searing memory: helpless women suspended naked on a rack, bound by their wrists and ankles, screaming in pain, while the killer stood over them with his razor, slicing with careful, precise cuts, making gruesome art of their dying bodies.…

The Montana case. The Kafka Killer. Alex screamed and sobbed. Blood dripping down, soaking into the ground, a charnel house of debased and destroyed innocence.… He wept and let the memories come. No more hiding—let it all have him, let the pain wash through him, let it do its worst. Without realizing it, he found that his body had begun to strain into the blows, to seek them out. And this was good, too. He almost protested when Mulder stepped back and set the riding crop aside.

Mulder was breathing nearly as hard as Alex, and his face was shiny with sweat. He’d never whipped anyone before, Alex thought hazily. It had been an intense experience for him. He was good at it, though. Careful and thoughtful, sensitive to his partner’s reactions, even deep in the passion of it. Alex should have known—Krycek’s months of training wouldn’t evaporate so easily. He lay back panting, feeling the welts crisscrossing his body. He was going to remember this one for a long time. (And had the aliens performed experiments like this? Were they surprised when the blows made his cock rise?) He swallowed and sniffed, wishing vaguely that he could blow his nose.

“I almost forgot,” Mulder said softly, his voice a ragged whisper. “The aliens don’t wear clothes, do they?” Slowly, he began to undress. It was an elegant and beautiful display, but with a mocking edge—it said, This body is not for you. You may look, but you may not touch. You may only be touched, and only as I will. Alex watched, burning with helpless longing. Then Mulder sat on the bed beside him, tantalizingly close yet out of reach.

“While you were in with Duane Barry, killing him, I was in the hall, thinking about Scully.” His face grew closed and hard, and he stared off into space, remembering. “I thought about what they might have been doing to her. I pictured her strapped to their table, strange alien instruments attached to her body.” He looked down at Alex, and his face was dark with hate. “I never wanted to have to think about her that way. Never wanted to have to know that someone else I cared about was forced to suffer that. No matter what happens, for the rest of my life, I’ll always have to know that there was a time when they had her, and that they did terrible things to her. Things she’ll always have to wonder about. Things that almost killed her.” He reached out and touched Alex’s face, stroking the bandage over the incisions. “How does it make you feel, Krycek, to know that you helped do that to her?”

Alex’s eyes and throat burned. “I’m sorry, Mulder. I didn’t know what they were going to do. I’d never have gone through with it—”

Mulder’s hand tightened, pressing harder into Alex’s face. Alex gasped in pain. The hand lifted, paused, and Alex froze in fear. His sinuses, god, please Mulder no—

Then Mulder was up, face twisted in rage, working savagely at the cuffs, unbuckling them and jerking Alex’s wrists and ankles free. Alex lay still, afraid to move, even as Mulder unbound him. As the last cuff came off, Mulder ordered harshly, “Turn over.” Alex obeyed quickly, arranging himself on his stomach, stretching out his arms and legs to be replaced in the restraints. But Mulder couldn’t wait, he was already digging in the case for whatever he planned to use on Alex next.

He brought out the loose-lashed flogger, the one that Alex had used on him. Alex swallowed hard, thanking whatever sense Mulder had left that made him choose the least harmful of the whips to unleash his fury on Alex. Because Alex knew that Mulder’s delicate control was gone. There would be no artistry to this whipping; Mulder was just plain going to beat him. Alex’s fingers dug into the mattress.

“Hold still,” Mulder ordered. “You can’t move. They do something to you so you can’t move.” The whip came down across his buttocks, so hard that it drove his hips into the mattress. Behind his own gasp of pain, Alex heard Mulder’s echoing gasp of dark pleasure. “Are you happy about what you did?” Across his shoulders, the whip struck. Again on his back, and again. “Do you still think it was necessary?” A succession of savage blows on his buttocks. Alex heard himself sobbing, a keening wail rising from his throat. “Do you think there was nothing else you could have done?”

Alex tried to find the voice to answer, to grovel and beg, to apologize with all his heart for what he’d done. He couldn’t force the words past the wailing sobs. Mulder continued to flog him, the blows falling rapidly, on his back, his thighs, his buttocks. Mulder was putting his whole body into it, hitting with all his strength, until he was gasping for breath. It was fatigue that finally slowed his arm, and made him drop the whip, although he managed enough energy to add three sharp, open-handed slaps to Alex’s throbbing butt before standing back to catch his breath.

Alex continued to sob helplessly, face buried in the pillow. The pain in his tortured sinuses seemed pitiful and irrelevant now, compared to the burning, aching, searing pain etching his skin over almost his entire body. It was pure and perfect and electric.

Then Mulder was on the bed between Alex’s legs, pushing his tender thighs apart with his knees, one hand reaching between his buttocks with cool, slippery fingers; the other hand twisting in his hair. “You haven’t answered me,” Mulder said softly into his ear. One finger slid into Alex’s anus, moving gently inside him. “Tell me, Krycek, how does it feel? Do you like what I’m doing?” He found Alex’s prostate and stroked it.

Alex started to squirm, then forced his body still. “It’s good, Mulder. I like it. I like it all.”

“Are you sorry for what you did?”

“Yes.” A second finger slid in beside the first. His thighs trembled as he struggled not to thrust against Mulder’s hand. “God, Mulder, yes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” The sobs began to rise again.

“Good. Remember that. Keep saying it, while I fuck you. I want you screaming it when you come.”

“Yes, Mulder.” Three fingers. “Anh—I’m sorry, Mulder. I’m sorry.”

The fingers worked him, and he sobbed while his cock burned beneath him. His hands found the chains of the wrist cuffs, and gripped them tightly. His hips twitched, jabbing his cock into the mattress, despite his best efforts to be still. “I’m sorry,” he wept, while Mulder lay atop him, hard cock pressing into the back of his thigh, thrusting into him with his fingers. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.…”

“Good,” Mulder whispered. “Keep saying it.” Then he pulled his fingers free, and shifted between Alex’s legs, and Alex felt Mulder’s cock pressing into his anus. Alex gasped. Desperately, he gripped the chains and cried. Mulder should have tied him back up, he was never going to make it. Or perhaps that was the point—he was intended to fail Mulder’s orders, so Mulder could punish him again.

All right, then. Let Mulder punish him. “I’m sorry, Mulder,” he moaned, and thrust back against Mulder’s cock.

Mulder moved back with him, not letting Alex have any more than he was willing to give him. “Little fool.” He twisted his hand in Alex’s hair, pulling it tight. “I want you squirming under me. Go ahead.”

Alex whimpered and thrust back again, and this time Mulder held still and let him impale himself. God, it was good, having Mulder’s cock inside him. His tortured body burned. He writhed and moaned and sobbed. “I’m sorry,” he repeated again and again, while Mulder fucked him, hard and deep and punishingly good. “Please forgive me,” he gasped between thrusts, aching between the pain of the whippings and the searing pleasure of the cock in his ass. The Forever Place beckoned, and he wept to have to push it away, but he could not allow himself to slip away to that precious place—he must stay here with Mulder and tell him over and over and over again how sorry he was. “I’m sorry,” he screamed as he came, and “I’m sorry,” he groaned when Mulder followed. Then, after Mulder had gathered him up into his arms, and held him like a child, he clung to Mulder with all his strength and continued to sob, “I’m sorry, Mulder, I’m so sorry, Mulder I’m sorry.…” until he had no more breath to speak.

* * *

Mulder was exquisitely tender with him afterwards, holding him and rocking him gently, stroking the damp hair from his face, whispering soothing nonsense into his ear. “I forgive you,” he said softly. “And if I’m any judge of Mulders, your Mulder will too. You can tell him from me, if he doesn’t, I’ll have him kicked out of the Society of Alternate Universe Mulders.”

Alex was forced to giggle, and this, strangely, caused a jab of pain in his sinuses that all the hysterical sobbing hadn’t.

“Your poor face,” Mulder murmured. “I’ll get you some ice. Stay here a minute.” Then Mulder worked his way out from under Alex and slipped over him and out of the room.

It was lonely without him, and all of Alex’s various physical pains made themselves felt. He inspected his chest, running his fingers along the welts. What was Krycek going to think? Mulder used the whips—did he have permission from Krycek to use the toys? Well, he must have, or he never would have dared to touch them. Alex sighed. Nothing was ever simple around here. But he’d gotten what he wanted, and Krycek had better not punish Mulder for it. (Not that he knew what he’d do about it if Krycek did.)

It was a blessed relief when Mulder came back, with a whole armload of supplies—a pitcher of water, and glasses, and a couple of towels, along with the promised ice pack. He gave Alex a glass of water, which he drank gratefully, while Mulder toweled him down. Then Mulder lay back down at his side, and very carefully pulled the soggy bandage from his face. He winced a little at what he saw underneath. It must be a mess, Alex thought, swollen and bruised and ugly. Alex tried to smile at him, but even this was becoming an irritation to his battered body.

Mulder kissed him, ever-so-gently, on either side of his face. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“It’s all right. I wanted it. I’m glad you did it, Mulder. All of it.”

Mulder smiled crookedly at him, then reached across to gather up a small towel. Wrapped up in it was a tube of antibacterial cream. Gently, he applied the cool cream to Alex’s incisions. Then he covered Alex’s face with the towel, folding it so that it took the place of the bandage, and gave him the ice packs to put on his throbbing sinuses. “Thanks, Mulder,” he muttered drowsily. He was coming down with a vengeance; he’d be asleep in moments.

Mulder propped himself up on some pillows, then pulled Alex into his arms, letting Alex’s back rest against his chest. He threw the large towel over them, and then brought up one hand to help Alex hold the ice in place against his sinuses. “Rest now,” he said softly. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

Twice in one day, Alex thought, as he drifted off to sleep. Not such a bad day after all.

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