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Alex Through the Looking Glass: Day Six


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.


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


Alex was lying in bed in his dorm room at Dartmouth. It had been a really rough game, and he ached all over. Even his face hurt. Must have been that stray fist that managed to pull his helmet up and crack him across the bridge of the nose. His quarterback, Tom, was sitting beside him on the bed, asking him quietly if he was all right. But it didn’t really quite sound like Tom, and anyway, what would Tom be doing in his dorm room in the morning? Alex groaned and tried to pull his throbbing face out of the pillow enough to mumble that, yes, he was all right, but he couldn’t manage more than a wordless whisper. A gentle, long-fingered hand stroked his neck and pressed him gently back down into the pillow; a low voice murmured, never mind, just rest.…

Not Tom. Not that low, throaty voice, or those long, delicate fingers. Not Tom, but someone familiar and beloved. Not a football player, though, and not here at Dartmouth.

Before he could truly worry at it, Alex had slipped quietly back to sleep.

* * *

It was Mulder sitting beside him, in the hotel in Montana, and with a contented smile he slid an arm around Mulder’s lap and pressed his bandaged face into Mulder’s hip. Pain lanced through the cuts in his face. He whimpered a little, and moved until he found a way to lie close to Mulder that wasn’t too painful. He felt the deep bruises in his buttocks, and on his back, and the burning whip cuts on his chest and thighs, and he clung tighter to his beloved. Finally, he’d confessed, and Mulder had punished him, and that was good. He belonged to Mulder now, and he was content. Mulder’s hand stroked his hair and played across his sore shoulders.

He should be serving Mulder, Alex thought. He should be in the floor, worshipping at Mulder’s feet, begging his forgiveness, offering his body for more punishment. He made one feeble attempt to push himself up, but managed only a brief tensing of weary muscles before collapsing back at Mulder’s side. Mulder shushed him, and held his shoulders, and told him to lie still, and he obeyed, knowing he could do no more in any case. But it was Mulder’s will, so he was content.

* * *

Krycek stood in the doorway. Silent as always; a cool, sleek, powerful presence. Alex didn’t have to hear him to know he was there, or even turn his head to look. His brother-self was there, watching him, thoughts turning in his head like a vast, elegant, intricate clockwork, alien and beautiful. Alex’s own head was a soggy muddle. He had nothing to give his master. He was striped, but not by Krycek, and he couldn’t even offer his pain for Krycek’s pleasure.

Krycek stood by the bed. Alex gripped the pillow with his hands, his mind darting like a small, trapped thing. Afraid. Angry. Lost. I can’t love you, was the wail in his mind. He didn’t understand it.

His brother’s fingertips brushed lightly along his cheek. “Shh. It’s all right. Go back to sleep.” And his brother’s will was strong and inexorable, and crushed him into nothingness, and he tumbled headlong into sleep.

* * *

It was late in the day. Mulder and Krycek had been up for hours. He should get up, too. He should go find Mulder, call him master and thank him for the beating, and humbly ask his will. But Krycek was his true master; his and Mulder’s both, so perhaps he should be submitting himself to Krycek. But Krycek didn’t want him—he kept telling him, you don’t belong to me, you don’t want to be mine. Even though he did own him. It was a cruel tease, but Alex had no choice but to go along with it. Perhaps Krycek wanted him to belong to Mulder? That was why he’d made Mulder angry, so he’d take it out on Alex, take Alex off his hands? Alex felt so confused. Why wouldn’t they just tell him what they wanted from him, instead of leaving him to flounder and make mistakes? Why did they even pretend he had any choice in the matter?

Tears pricked at Alex’s eyes, and his swollen sinuses throbbed. No good crying. No point, anyway. Mulder liked it, and Krycek didn’t care. He sighed, and dabbed his eyes with the pillowcase. God, he ached. His body felt heavy and boneless and soul-deep weary. Why should he get up? What was the point? If Krycek wanted him up, he could damn well come and order him to get up. He wasn’t going to twist himself up trying to figure out what Krycek wanted any more. He was just going to sleep.

Three tears leaked unnoticed into the pillow. But before they could gather up a storm, he’d faded once again into the warm escape of sleep.

* * *

The warm, rich smell of coffee accompanied Mulder’s presence this time. Alex blinked and turned his head, and watched Mulder set the steaming mug on the night table. Mulder smiled gently.

“You don’t have to drink it. But Krycek thought you might be ready to wake up a little.”

“What time is it?” Alex was almost surprised to hear real words emerge from his throat.

“Nearly one.” Mulder sat on the bed beside him, and rubbed his shoulder. “How are you feeling?”

Alex shrugged. “Tired. I can’t seem to wake up.”

“That’s okay. Sleep all day, if you want to. Do you want me to bring you anything?”

He slid close to Mulder, tucked his arm around Mulder’s thighs. “Just stay with me for a little while.”

“All right.”

* * *

When he next awoke, Alex was alone. He sighed and shifted, groaning at the stiffness in his neck and back. He reached out to the night table, and with a trembling hand gripped the mug of coffee. It was lukewarm now, but he pushed himself awkwardly upright and sipped it.

His head was pounding, and his hands shook while he drank the coffee. His whole body protested sitting up. Midway through the mug of coffee, he gave up. He put the mug back on the nighttable and lay back down. The sheets were tangled and rumpled, and the pillow twisted under his head, but he was too weary to straighten them. His heart thumped in his chest. Several of the deepest whip cuts burned, stretched and pulled by the exertion, and his buttocks ached deeply from the brief effort at sitting up. He tried to wrap himself up in the pain, to savor and enjoy it, to let it take him under, to the warm comfort and pleasure of submission. But his mind wouldn’t cooperate; he just hurt. He was lost, and couldn’t do it alone. He needed a master, someone to offer his pain to, someone to take care of him, someone to love.…

Mulder! his mind cried out. He was in hell. He was lost in hell, and this was his punishment for betraying the one he loved.

Alex lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. His body was a lance of pain. His mind burned. His heart twisted and shrunk and ached. But his eyes remained dry, his agony at last too harsh even for tears. Mulder! he screamed, silently, across the universes. He didn’t apologize, or explain, or beg for forgiveness. He just screamed the name, silently, but with all the pain and need and hopeless love in his being.

* * *

He didn’t know how long he lay there before he became aware of Krycek’s presence. He didn’t even know if he might have fallen asleep again. But Krycek was there, and his strong presence blotted out some of the screaming agony, and like a switch interrupting an electric current, stopped his silent wails.

He lay quietly, watching. He suddenly felt guilty. He’d been broadcasting pain like radiowaves, and Krycek had come to switch him off. Sorry. Now he couldn’t even suffer without Krycek’s permission. Learn to switch it off, like Krycek did. Time to give up being Alex, it was a total failure. Like father always said, you never do anything right. Time to give it up.

“Alex, are you all right?”

All right? The words didn’t mean anything. Alex shrugged. He stared dully at Krycek. Go on, get it over with. Switch me off.

Krycek observed him for a moment. Then, with great care and deliberation, he sat beside Alex, arranging himself with his back against the headboard and his legs stretched out on the bed. Gently, slowly, as if he were handling a rare and fragile treasure, he gathered Alex into his arms, carefully avoiding the worst of the bruises, pulling his collar aside so that the points wouldn’t touch Alex’s tender face, holding Alex’s naked body to him with firm delicacy.

Alex melted into Krycek’s embrace with a whimpering shudder. Desperately, he forced tears away. All right. All right. Time to pull himself together again. Time to start dealing with it again. His fingers dug into Krycek’s side, and he gasped for breath, and slowly felt himself relax.

“It’s not your fault,” Krycek murmured. “I know you think it is, but it’s not. They took Scully, and Scully never did anything but stand by Mulder. They took Duane Barry, and Barry was one of the best field agents the Bureau ever had. It doesn’t mean you’re an idiot, it doesn’t mean you did anything unforgivable.” It was a nursery voice, low and soothing, with a rocking lilt in it. “If they took you for anything you did, it was probably for learning to care about Mulder. Otherwise, there’d be no reason not to leave you in your own universe and go on using you. Or they might have taken you for the same reason they took Scully, because Mulder cared about you. Either way, it’s not your fault. You’re stuck with what’s happening to you because of what you did right, not what you did wrong.”

He heard his brother’s words, but they didn’t seem to matter now, he’d think about them later. Only the tone mattered, the tone and what he could hear behind it: no games for once, just concern, care, a desire to help. It was good, only it made him want to cry too, and dammit, he’d decided not to cry any more.… Krycek was still talking, using that same low, rocking tone. He took deep breaths, willing away the tightness in his chest and throat. Listen to the words, maybe there’d be some distraction there, something his exhausted mind could catch and ride, like a boat guided back to harbor on the tide.

“… of course, it’s one way to keep focused on the fact that there’s actually somebody with you,” Krycek was saying. “Otherwise, your mind can just wift off, and before you know it you’re in the middle of some internal argument about the narrative structure of Beowulf or something. Anyway, it’s sort of a family tradition; and you’re sort of family; so I suppose it’s appropriate.”

Some change in the set of Alex’s muscles must have communicated itself to Krycek, because he paused for just a moment. “The stream of chatter, I mean,” he told Alex. “Dad was probably the worst—I mean, my mother’s second husband, not our biological father. When Tori was a baby she had colic, she had to be picked up and walked around for something like two straight months; and we used to find Dad explaining particle physics to her while he did it. He always said if it put undergraduates to sleep, it ought to work with infants, who didn’t have anything like their attention span, let alone their indoctrination in the rudeness of falling asleep when someone was actually talking to you. But the rest of the family does it too. We don’t even require babies, we’re the same way with dogs and horses and automobiles and the stray post-surgical grownup. It’s one of those unwritten rules, I suppose. ‘All soothing nothings are to be in the form of complete sentences, grammatically correct, which sentences are to convey actual information whether the listener is interested in it or not. No excuses, no exceptions.’ ”

Alex tried to giggle, but it came out as a kind of hiccup. The motion hurt. Krycek’s hand moved carefully through his hair, ruffling it back against the growth, and stopped at his temple. Alex felt his fingers seek out a spot near the center of his temple and come to rest there, exerting just the barest hint of pressure. “I’m not going to nag you to take the codeine,” Krycek said. The rhythm of his voice was unchanged. “I wouldn’t want to take the stuff either. Maybe when you’re feeling a little less queasy we can get some aspirin down you, though. Be good for all the cuts and bruises, not just for the sinus pain. That, and a little more caffeine, in case some of the headache is caffeine withdrawal, which can cause pretty serious pain all by itself. Add some nice repellent flat ginger ale, you’ll be as good as new. The three basic drug groups: sugar, caffeine, aspirin. Cure anything.” The acupressure was actually working, or else it was the effect of Krycek’s voice or of his presence: Alex could feel his stomach beginning to settle. He would have nodded, but that would have dislodged Krycek’s hand, and anyway he remembered the experiment with the giggle. Better to lie still.

Krycek seemed to understand what he hadn’t said, though. “When you’re ready,” he told him. “—You know, families are the devil. Yours; Mulder’s. It would be interesting to see how alike they are. There’s Mulder, convinced in his bones that he’s a waste of space and resources if he doesn’t accomplish something truly remarkable with his life—a goal he can never meet, because his notions of what would be good enough get adjusted upward every time he’s close to accomplishing anything, no matter how impressive it is. And here you are, convinced that you’re weak and useless and pathetic in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. It’s not so different from what Mulder does to himself. Nobody gets to that point without a whole lot of help from their families, busily hiding the real facts from them. You’ve got all the same facts I’ve got, and look, you’re still convinced that you’re handling this situation badly, for example. Which is totally irrational: when you look at the situation fairly, it’s clear that you’re doing a remarkably good job of handling it. Evidence that you have nerves of steel, in fact, when you really think it through. You can debate the strategy, but you can’t argue about the strength.”

He wanted to protest—what evidence? Just look at him, he was so wrecked he couldn’t move. Or speak, which was why he didn’t protest. That, and the delicious comforting tones of Krycek’s voice, and the strong, warm feel of Krycek’s hands on him and Krycek’s body beneath him, which he didn’t want to disturb for anything. And the unmistakable ring of truth in Krycek’s voice—he believed what he was saying, he wasn’t just telling Alex nice things to make him feel better, he really, truly thought, in spite of everything.…

His throat tightened and the tears were back, hot and salty, along with the piercing throb in his sinuses. With an odd, squeaking gasp, he gripped Krycek’s arm and ribcage and fought them back again. It was a losing battle, of course—the shape he was in, he was going to cry, no way to stave it off forever, or even for the duration of this sweet interlude. Just let him have a little longer, let the pounding in his head and the churning in his stomach subside a little more so he didn’t end up retching in the floor from it.

Six deep breaths, while Krycek continued to press gently at his temple, and with the other hand held his shoulder firmly, and waited while Alex worked his way through it. Alex could feel the waves of strength his brother was sending him, helping him shore himself up, and it felt so wonderfully, incredibly good, it made him want to cry again, but finally he had enough control to relax in Krycek’s arms dry-eyed and calm.

And Krycek was going to have bruises, too, the way Alex’s fingers were digging into his side. Alex sighed a little and forced his grip to relax, rubbing the offended area with his fingers.

“Of course it’s true,” Krycek murmured. “You’re a victim of contemporary fashion, Little Brother, that’s all. You feel stupid about crying, because it’s the late 20th century and you’ve been brought up to think that real men aren’t supposed to show a lot of feeling, and most especially real men aren’t supposed to cry. But that’s just our cultural baggage. Strong men, heroes, cry in moments of stress through several thousand years of the Western canon, you know. The Iliad starts off with Achilles having a screaming fight with Agamemnon, and then going off and crying over it; and he goes right on crying through tens of thousands of lines of epic poetry, until he’s finally killed in battle. Arthur and the lords of his court cry. Jesus himself is said to have cried in public. Not weak men, any of them. It may be out of fashion, but it’s not a sign of weakness.

“It may even be a sign of unusual strength. In you, I think it is. —Sure, if you run into a guy who cries the way a child does, because he hasn’t learned to bear the ordinary discomforts of living, or to handle normal levels of frustration, that guy has a problem. But learning to deal realistically with the world, while still staying sufficiently open to your feelings to experience them fully, to be able to cry over them: that’s something different. We’re taught as men not to express this stuff, not to let ourselves get wrapped up in it, I think, because feelings are so powerful, and so hard to control; and it’s not always safe to act on them. Lots of men couldn’t integrate them if they tried; it’s safer for those men and for all the rest of us if they’re taught to sneer at feelings, to believe they don’t have any worth mentioning. Because to feel things fully, and still make a grownup’s choices, is too hard for most people.

“But you’re doing it. This situation would be easier on you if you could shut down a little, compartmentalize the different sets of emotional issues, send some of the fear and pain off to deal with another time. Easier; but I don’t think it would be healthier. And you’re not even looking for a crutch: you’re just facing the storm and walking straight through it. It’s genuinely remarkable, Alex. —Mulder couldn’t do it, I don’t think. And I wouldn’t even try.” Krycek stopped for a minute, and when he spoke again there was a slight change in his tone, a trace of his usual amusement. “Yes, I mean it. If I didn’t think you were strong as hell, I wouldn’t have trusted you to handle Mulder last night.”

* * *

It was the tone that Alex responded to first, and it was purely a physical response: he stiffened, then slowly went limp as the warm pleasure drained out of him. He’d known it wouldn’t last, of course—pure indulgence never did—but he had been hoping it would be just a little longer, he was still so sore and tired. He tucked his arms tighter around Krycek, wriggled himself even closer, shut his eyes and pressed his face into Krycek’s neck, ignoring the pain in his sinuses, trying vainly to recover the sweet, hazy comfort.

It was a testament to just how muzzy he still was that he had to play that last comment over and over in his mind to try to figure out just what was wrong with it. It was a compliment, wasn’t it? He was strong; he was trusted—so why did it make him feel like he’d been kicked in the gut?

Strong. He didn’t feel strong, he felt beaten and bloodied and broken. He hadn’t felt strong last night, and he certainly hadn’t felt like being handed yet another new set of problems to deal with. And trusted? To handle Mulder? It shouldn’t have been his problem. It wasn’t his problem—it was Krycek’s mess, and he resented being left to deal with it. Especially that particular problem, when he still thought it was wrong for Krycek to be doing it in the first place. Especially that particular night, when he’d just had an operation and he felt so bad and he’d already been through so damn much.

So you’re strong. So you have to go completely to pieces around here to get even a scant few minutes of kindness; otherwise we just dump more and more pain on you and trust you to handle it.

The tears were angry this time, and hurt, and he didn’t bother to try to stop them. One choking sob, and still he clung to Krycek as if he couldn’t bear to let him go. His head pounded and the bitter tears burned his eyes and he still couldn’t speak.

Krycek’s hand tightened around him for just an instant. “No, no, that’s not what I meant.” The irony was gone from his voice again. “Mulder wasn’t a problem last night, he didn’t need handling, not that way. If you’d left him to work through it by himself, he’d have been fine by the time I got home anyway. You showed him a different path, and it didn’t surprise me that you chose to do it, but it wasn’t your job to do it, I didn’t expect it of you like I was assigning chores. When I talk about handling him, I mean in good moods as well as bad. He’s a dangerous man, dangerous no matter how much he cares for whoever he’s with. It takes strength and intelligence and focus to make sure he’s not a danger to himself or to others, and that’s as true when you’re bottoming for him as when you’re topping him. Maybe with a lot of teaching and patience he’ll learn enough control for himself so that he can top for somebody who isn’t able to give him control and still monitor what he’s doing, keep him steady. But he’s not there now, and he wouldn’t be there now even in the best of his moods.

“That’s what I meant. I wouldn’t trust him to you if I didn’t know you could do it. I thought you might want him last night, and I thought you might want him as your top, to help change the pain for you. But I didn’t mean for you to have to help see him through a problem, that was never the idea.”

Krycek’s voice stopped again, and Alex felt his hand squeeze his shoulder. “Look,” he said. It wasn’t quite the soothing tone any more, but there was no laughter in it, either, and no distance. “I know this isn’t something that’s going to be fun for you to talk about now, and I’m not going to force the conversation on you. But I think there are a couple of things I should tell you now anyway. Just don’t think that because I’m saying them you have to do anything about them, or even answer me. I don’t want to push you.

“But Alex, I also don’t want to hurt you. I said you’re sort of family, and I meant it: I care about my family, and I do my best to take care of them. You’re hurting, and this situation has to hurt, and I can’t change that, but I don’t want to make it worse. You care about your universe’s Mulder; under the circumstances, you can’t help caring at least a little about my Mulder. If our positions were reversed, I’d be in the same kind of position. If I’d come to in your universe, and met you and your Mulder, and I saw somebody messing with him, I’d be uncomfortable with it, and I’d most likely try to interfere.

“So you need to know: I’m not glossing over anything when I tell you Mulder would have been fine last night once he’d had time to work his emotions through. What I do to Mulder is not done without thought. What Mulder gets from me isn’t just the cheerful rough treatment you’re used to: it’s real cruelty, and I know it as well as you do. Yes, I enjoy it, or I wouldn’t do it. But I do it to Mulder because it is what he wants and needs. It makes him feel safe and protected and loved. You don’t need to worry about what I do to him, Alex. What he’s getting, underneath it all, is pretty much what you want him to have.”

* * *

Alex tried vainly to wrap his muddled mind around Krycek’s words. There was so much going on—he felt as though his thoughts were hopping madly around and escaping, like thousands of tiny frogs leaping off every which way, flying through his fingers, popping off in all directions just as he was about to put his hand over them. He’d been tucking things away, or trying to, to think about later ever since Krycek had started talking to him—things that were important, that needed to be considered and mulled over and talked about, but he wasn’t sure any of it would be there when he finally decided to go look for it, and so much else was whizzing right by him, and couldn’t Krycek just stick to “there, there” or maybe even particle physics for five minutes while Alex tried to round up some of those little frogs?

And that absolutely required a giggle: a short, coughing giggle that interrupted a teary breath and very nearly turned right back into a sob of pain. He wondered if he might be ready for that aspirin yet, or at least the rest of his coffee? But that would mean moving, and one thing he wasn’t ready for was letting go of Krycek, not even a little bit, not for one second. But he could shift a little, enough to rest his cheek in the hollow of Krycek’s shoulder, and that eased the throbbing in his face enough to let him unclench his teeth and start breathing normally again.

One of those little frogs was definitely “you’re sort of family”—it was one of the things he’d tucked away the first time Krycek had said it, and here it was again, along with “I care about my family,” which meant he at least sort of cared about Alex. That was enough to bring back some of that nice warm feeling, and made him think that maybe talking about some of these things wouldn’t be absolute disaster, and might even help a little.

If he could manage to get a whole sentence out. He cleared his throat experimentally, and there was a strange wheezing note to it, and enough motion to hurt, but not so much that couldn’t handle it. So the physical apparatus seemed to work, anyway, although it was clear that Krycek was going to be doing most of the talking, but that didn’t seem to be a problem, and Krycek was clearly getting enough information from Alex’s mind or his physical reactions or both so that he didn’t really need Alex to say much.

So the next thing was to actually say something. Start with the simplest, most basic question, and see where they went from there.

But he still almost couldn’t get the words out. A shiver of fear ran through him—fear that he wasn’t ready, that Krycek would tell him things that would hurt, that they would reach a dead end and he would be lost and Krycek wouldn’t be able to help him. Firmly, he put the fear aside, and held Krycek tight, took a deep breath and asked,

“Do you love him?”

Krycek shifted a little, and the arm that had been wrapped around his shoulders came up to support some of his weight. “You’ve been reading A Fish Dinner in Memison,” he said slowly. “Or trying to: with the shape you’re in, it would be a wonder if you’ve gotten past the first page… it’ll be interesting to see what you make of it, if you’re here long enough to actually finish it. —No, I’m not changing the subject. Where Mulder is concerned, I find that I rather agree with the heroine of that book, as she appears in her black dress. That is, that it were best that he never know the answer to that question. For which excellent reason, I shall (with your leave) keep it a secret. Even from you, sweet brother.” Alex recognized the odd cadence: Krycek was right, he still hadn’t read two pages of the book, but that was enough for him to know the distinctive style. Artificial as the tone was, there was still no mockery in it: Krycek seemed to mean what he was saying. “I care about him enough to take good care of him. I know that wouldn’t be enough for you to know in his place, but that’s as much as Mulder should know. Too much for him, almost.”

Krycek stretched a little under him. His hand left Alex’s temple, reached, came back with the coffee. “If you want it,” Krycek told him. “I know it’s nasty cold, I always half-think I ought to be able to warm it up by looking at it or something, but somehow it never works.”

Alex took the coffee, even though it meant unwrapping his arm from Krycek’s side, and lifting his head just enough to get the mug to his mouth. “I don’t mind cold coffee,” he said, after two sips, which seemed to be all his stomach wanted for the moment. “We used to drink that godawful Bureau coffee. Late at night, after it had been sitting in the urns for hours. They’d be out of cream by then, and all that would be left was that fake powdered stuff. And we’d get talking and the coffee would sit and get cold and we’d drink it anyway, we hardly noticed.… I don’t mind cold coffee.”

No, it wasn’t the answer he’d been hoping for, or even the answer he was expecting, but he could hardly say it wasn’t a fair answer. It wasn’t his business, after all, and he had no right to expect Krycek to discuss his private feelings with him. Krycek could have turned it right around and asked Alex the same question about his own Mulder, and Alex would have found a way to decline to answer. Even though, in Alex’s case, it was patently obvious how he felt, and perhaps it was foolish and pointless of him to refuse to say it out loud.

And that, he supposed, was part of his answer. And the rest was this: Krycek considered what was best for Mulder, and framed his response from those concerns. If it was enough for Mulder, it would have to be enough for Alex.

And me? Do you love me? But he certainly wouldn’t ask that, and he sincerely hoped Krycek hadn’t heard that thought. “Sort of family” and “I care about my family”—that would be enough for Alex, at least for now. It would have to be enough, and hope to god he never needed more, because he wasn’t likely to get it.

Suddenly, he was ready to cry again. He swallowed hard, thrust the coffee mug back into Krycek’s hand, and tucked his arm once again around Krycek’s body. “I don’t want to fall in love with you.”

“Of course you don’t,” Krycek said at once. “That is why I am doing everything in my power to see that it doesn’t happen.” He put the coffee down. “It is why I keep reminding you that you don’t belong to me, so that we don’t both fall into roles that make it too easy for that to happen without our noticing it. The role-playing might be a comforting thing for you to be able to fall back on; and it would certainly give me nice clear guidelines about how to treat you: we’d understand each other better if we could do it that way, maybe. But it’s too risky.”

He was quiet a moment, and Alex could hear the wheels turning in his mind. “It has always seemed to me,” he said at last, “that there was a very clear distinction between romantic relationships and what you might call friendships that included sex. Both of them can be good, and I like to have both kinds of relationship in my life. When I can get them. As I said to Mulder a long time ago, sex is easy to come by in this world. But passion is rare.… Sometimes one thing can turn into the other. And there’s something between the two of us, something based on our identity, seems likely: even if we’re careful, we may be running more of a risk than most people would. But still, it seems to me that we’ve got a good chance of keeping this relationship safe for you. I’m not the perfect lover for you: you’re not going to fall because I conform too closely to a pattern in your mind.

“That’s why I treat you the way I do—as a colleague and a friend, even in bed. Especially in bed. And I’m as honest with you as I can be, like a stage magician making sure you see where his hands are so you know he’s not palming an ace in a private card game. It’s easy for me to give people what they seem to want from me—you know the tricks, it’s something we have in common. I’m trying to look out for you, though. Because what you want on a moment-to-moment basis isn’t what you really want. You’ve got enough to deal with right now, you shouldn’t have to worry about my giving you a set of responses that might make you fall in love with me, because your signals are mixed and I’m on autopilot.”

The pause was longer this time. Krycek’s hands were still, and his thoughts were impenetrable, like deep water. “We can think about it all again if it turns out that you’re trapped in this universe,” he said finally. “I don’t know why I’m so sure you’re not, I have no rational basis for it. But certainly, you don’t want emotional commitments here if you’re not staying. If it turns out you are—well, there’s a whole world out there. Mulder and I aren’t necessarily the only people in this universe for you, if it should come to that. We’d owe you a fair chance to see whether you really wanted us, either or both of us. What you think now shouldn’t be definitive: if there isn’t some component of Stockholm Syndrome in what you feel right now, you wouldn’t be strong, you’d be superhuman.”

* * *

Scrupulously fair. Scrupulously honest. Krycek would never take advantage of a misplaced attraction to get what he wanted. He would never whisper in your ear, I can’t be alone tonight. You understand, or Just give me one more night.… He wouldn’t set you on fire with his need. He wouldn’t need you at all, he’d just think it over and calculate the odds and options and if the answer didn’t fall within his definition of acceptable risk, he’d just shake his head and walk away from it. Very sensible. Very logical.

And not at all what Alex wanted in a lover. He wanted to be needed. He wanted to be loved. He wanted a passion that would light up the sky. Which, of course, was why Alex didn’t want to fall in love with Krycek, and why Krycek was completely right to want to prevent it. There wasn’t a word he’d said that Alex could find fault with. Nothing at all.

If Alex were logical. If he were inclined or even capable of making those kinds of intellectual decisions about whom he was and wasn’t going to fall in love with.

Alex took a deep breath, placed a slow, careful kiss at the base of Krycek’s throat, then lifted himself up and rolled over onto his back to lie at Krycek’s side. He ached.

“It seems so cold,” Alex said. He stared at the ceiling. Pretty fluffy white clouds. What had ever possessed Krycek to have his bedroom ceiling painted like a warm, fresh spring sky? Therapy for his tortured lovers, maybe. “You’re right. I know that. Stockholm Syndrome. Being scared and wanting to go under. But that thing between us.…” God, he wasn’t making any sense at all. Hard enough to talk about things like this, even when he wasn’t exhausted and scrambled. And did he really want to convince Krycek that the link between them inevitably obliterated any distance they tried to maintain? Krycek would decide that they’d just have to stop having sex altogether, and Alex couldn’t bear that, no matter what the risk. So forget it. Trust Krycek to know what was best.

Give him control. Let Krycek decide. But wasn’t that what Alex had been trying to do, and Krycek kept telling him no? God, it made his head ache. And maybe it had been a mistake to even try to think about this in his present condition. But the pain wouldn’t go away and wait for him to be ready to deal with it, damn it. It was here and it hurt and not dealing with it didn’t make it any better. And Krycek’s cool logic didn’t help, either, even though it was all true and well-meant, it just made him feel lonely and cold. And Krycek’s kindness made him want to fall in love, and that was no good either. There weren’t any answers, no matter what he did, there was only pain, and he couldn’t bear it, but there was nothing he could do, and nothing anyone could do.

“It hurts,” he said to the ceiling. He blinked and his eyelashes were wet. “It just hurts.” It didn’t explain anything, and it didn’t make any sense, but it was the only thing he could say.

“Of course it hurts,” Krycek said gently. “How could it not?”

Krycek leaned back against the headboard, looking up at the ceiling. It was a long silence, this time. Alex caught a stray image in it: a friend had painted this ceiling, a dark-haired woman. He could see her lying on her back above him, on some kind of improvised scaffolding, one long leg and one lock of hair spilling down toward him. She was saying something about the Doges’ Palace in Venice, and laughing.… Then the image was gone, fading like the remnants of a dream.

“ ‘Seems,’ ” Krycek said at last. He spoke softly, as though half to himself. “Nay, I know not ‘seems.’ ” He was quiet again, but Alex could feel his attention coming back in, focusing; and when he spoke again, his words were for Alex. “It doesn’t feel cold. Not from the inside. I wonder how different our thinking really is, underneath it all. You and I speak different languages, we analyze things in different symbol systems—you analyze primarily through emotion, I analyze primarily through intellect, and when we try to explain what we’ve come up with, you use the language of feeling and I use the language of ideas. But underneath it all—what’s really happening in our minds, I think, doesn’t happen in language. Whatever language we’re using, we’re translating, and something’s always lost in that translation, because no language is as subtle and complex as the mind itself.”

He stopped again, and seemed to shake himself. “I’m doing it again,” he said. “Any moment I’ll be going on about analogies and computers and brain architecture. My point was, maybe we’re having more translation problems than we’re having real disagreements. I think you can be close to someone without falling in love with them, and that not falling in love doesn’t have to mean being distant. Control can come from an absence of emotion, but that’s not the only place it comes from.” Krycek reached out to him then, ruffled his hair. His fingers felt cool and soft, like the wind on a summer morning. “You know that as well as I do, too. When you top, you need enough control for two people. And if you’re with somebody you care about, you need even more control, because you want to make it as good an experience as possible for them: you need to think with them, feel with them, and still be able to step outside and see what’s happening as a whole, and shape it as it goes forward. That doesn’t negate feeling, though.

“We’re in something of the same position, you and I. It’s not about running a cost/benefit analysis and coming up with a quantifiable answer. It’s about not making this situation any worse for you than it has to be because we’re both carried away by the heat of the moment. It’s like you were tied up and things were getting too heavy, and neither of us wanted to stop because it was feeling so good. It would still be my job to take us in some other direction, and not to leave you with facial scars or kidney damage or some damn thing just because it had seemed like fun in the heat of the moment. It’s dangerous for you to fall in love with me, just like it would be dangerous for me to hit you in the kidneys, and so caring for you has to mean doing my best not to let it happen. Does that make any more sense?”

Alex let out a ragged breath, and nodded, just a brief little nod to save his poor head from more pain. “Yeah,” he said softly, and something seemed to unknot inside him, releasing a stream of warm tears from the corners of his eyes, dripping down the sides of his face and into the hair at his temples. They were welcome tears, though, and didn’t hurt—even the pain in his sinuses remained a constant, bearable throb, no worse than it already was—so he let them flow, and through them watched the ceiling go unfocused, and turn to a streaky swatch of impressionist blue.

Maybe it was only the very attractive image of being tied up under Krycek that he was finding so soothing. Maybe he was just too exhausted to think about it any longer, and he was responding once again only to the gentle tone and not to the words. It didn’t matter. It felt good, and he was going to take it and not question it, at least not right now.

And now, at last, the pain in his body was starting to feel good to him again. He was suddenly aware of his nakedness, lying uncovered on his back in Krycek’s big bed, with Krycek next to him, fully clothed. It was a bottom’s pleasure, exposing his body to his master. And probably he shouldn’t be thinking about sex right now, but maybe a little sensual pleasure would be permissible.

He found Krycek’s hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing the knuckles and sucking on the ends of the fingers. With two of Krycek’s fingers deep in his mouth, it occurred to him that, if the flesh were willing, he would have liked to crawl down between Krycek’s legs and give him the best blow job he’d ever had. Remembering the sweet, silky taste of Krycek’s cock on his tongue brought a pleasant warmth to his groin. But not now. He was still far too tired and sick. And what was Krycek thinking of him, lying here crying, with Krycek’s hand in his mouth, and Mulder’s bruises on his body? Indulgence, was what he caught from Krycek’s mind. Amusement. Affection. And sympathy. It was nice, and maybe Krycek was right—they weren’t so different after all, they just expressed themselves in different ways.

Alex released Krycek’s hand and turned again to lie against Krycek’s body, arms encircling him and head pillowed on his shoulder. “Thanks,” he murmured, not really knowing what he was thanking him for. But again, it was a bottom’s pleasure to thank his master. Krycek didn’t own him, but maybe he would still let Alex have some of the pleasures of subservience. Maybe he would tie Alex up. Maybe he would punish him, as Mulder had done.

“Would you whip me sometime?”

“I might,” Krycek said. Alex could hear the teasing grin in his voice. But it was an affectionate tease, and it felt good. “But not until you’ve healed up a little. Right now, I don’t think you’ve got three square inches of skin where I could give you the ritual swat for being a demanding, insatiable little slut.” He leaned over a little and kissed the top of Alex’s head.

Then he was serious again. “One more thing,” he said. “This is just a suggestion, I don’t know whether it’ll help or not. But you know, I mean it about there being ways that we’re alike. I can see you going over and over what’s happened, what happened with your Mulder in your universe, what might happen when you get back there, what’s happening here, what the problems are likely to be if you find yourself here for good. I do the same thing with difficult problems: it’s like a program in your brain that won’t shut off, just keeps running through the situation and all the variables over and over and over. You’re doing it in terms of feelings, and that’s not the way I do it, but it’s still the same process. And I think it’s a useful process, it can show you things and give you answers that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

“But it’s also a painful process for you right now, because the problems are inherently emotionally difficult and you’re dealing with an overwhelming amount of material, two universes’ worth. But you don’t really have two universes’ worth of problems, when you think about it. Either you’re here for good, or you’re not: the two can’t both be true. Schrodinger’s fable of the cat was a joke, after all—there’s no such thing as half a cat living and half a cat dead.

“As long as we’re operating under the assumption that you might be going home, maybe you could think of your presence here as oh, say, a time-out in a football game. It makes sense to work through the issues that belong to your universe: you’re here, and you’ve got a relatively safe space and time in which to do it. If we have to change the assumptions later, then you can work through the set of problems that arises from being stuck here. But you don’t need answers to them both.”

His mouth brushed Alex’s head again. “Enough. You’re in no shape for endless theory-dumps. Do you think you’re ready for that aspirin?”

Alex nodded into Krycek’s shoulder. “Yeah. And maybe some of that flat ginger ale, too?”

“All right.” One more affectionate kiss to the top of his head, and Krycek was moving away, gently, stroking Alex’s arm as he slid off the bed. “I’ll be right back.”

There was a momentary urge to protest. Krycek shouldn’t be waiting on him. But it was just the stray impulse of a tired mind. He doesn’t own you, Alex reminded himself. You’re just two friends. No reason he can’t bring you aspirin when you’re sick. It hurt a little, but it felt good, too, in a scary sort of way, like running out into the middle of the field to face the biggest defensive line he’d ever seen.

He pushed himself carefully to a sitting position. Might as well take the opportunity for a bathroom break, if he could manage to get himself to his feet. He ached and throbbed and still felt a little queasy, but a few deep breaths cleared the worst of the cobwebs away, and he pushed himself up off the bed with only a momentary attack of dizziness.

In the bathroom, he carefully avoided looking at himself in the mirror. That was one horror he didn’t need. The bandage across his nose and sinuses was beginning to come loose again, he could feel the edges of the adhesive tape curling up, but he ignored it. Maybe Mulder would change it for him again later; he didn’t want to deal with it. He relieved himself and washed his hands and felt that that was quite enough of an accomplishment.

He did attempt to twist around to look at the bruises on his backside, but craning his neck made him dizzy and sent shooting pains through his head, so he gave up on that idea. He didn’t have to see it to know that he was black and blue, though—he’d had enough rough treatment, from football and whippings and other such games, to know what bruises felt like. Mulder had worked him over thoroughly—much more than he usually liked, in fact, but it had been a special case and he was content with it.

A whipping from Krycek, though—that would be something else. His bruises tingled at the thought. I might, Krycek had said, which meant he would—it was a tease, and that was part of the game. Krycek didn’t own him, but he’d play the game with him—and wasn’t that better? Wasn’t that what Alex liked, anyway? Krycek wasn’t just playing to please Alex, either—Alex had heard the enjoyment in his voice when he’d talked of giving Alex a swat. And called him a slut, and oh, that had been good. Alex could almost work himself horny thinking about it, which would be a waste, since he doubted he even had the energy to jerk himself off.

Alex made his way back into the bedroom with a happy smile on his face. Exhausted, he crawled back into bed. All right, he was still a wreck. And there were still problems, lots of them. Problems that would have him crying in a minute if he stopped to think about them. So he just wouldn’t think about them, not today. He’d managed to make a good start at working things out with Krycek, and reached a place where he felt good and comforted and cared for, and he was going to stop right here and go no further. For once, he was going to get through a whole day with no trauma. First, another hour or so of sleep. Then later, if he felt a little stronger, maybe he’d go out and sit with Krycek and Mulder. Cuddle with Mulder for a while, and reassure him that he’d enjoyed last night’s scene, and would be happy to bottom for him again. Get something to eat, if his stomach settled down enough. See if he could read a little of that book. And tomorrow, he’d start worrying about it all again.

Krycek was back, with a glass of pale liquid and a bottle of pills. Once again, he settled in beside Alex, propping him up against his shoulder so he could take a couple of aspirin, washed down with flat ginger ale. The bubbleless soda was sweet and soothing, as was the strength of Krycek’s arm at his back. He sighed.

“Feeling better?” Krycek said, in that quiet, intimate voice that spoke almost inside his own head.

“Yeah.” He drifted pleasantly, almost asleep again.

Krycek interrupted his drift toward sleep. “Would you like me to stay?”

The question was so unexpected that at first, Alex could make no sense of it. “Huh?” he said.

Krycek shrugged. “It’s no trouble. I can work in here as easily as I can work out there.” He smiled at Alex. “I don’t like company when I’m feeling rotten, so I didn’t think of it before. Stupid. You’d think I’d learn.”

Alex nodded. He would never have asked Krycek to stay with him, but of course it would be a comfort. Krycek would stay here, Alex would keep this warm, safe feeling, he would sleep and this time there would be no evil dreams.… “Yeah,” he said. “If you really don’t mind. That would be nice.”

“Okay,” Krycek said. “I need the computer, is all. Back in a second.”

But Mulder, Alex thought abruptly as the door closed behind Krycek. He forced the thought down. Krycek had made the offer, it had to be all right. Anyway, nothing would stop Mulder from joining them here, it wasn’t like Krycek was excluding him. And Krycek had said that he was working.… It was all too complicated, and if he let himself think about it he was going to fret himself awake again.

The door opened again, and Krycek was there, carrying his notebook computer. Alex pushed the tangle from his mind, and let sleep take him.

* * *

When he woke again, the light had shifted. Krycek was gone again—but no, he was at the door, and now he was carrying a plate. Alex pushed himself up to a sitting position, wincing at the new weight on his bruised ass. He waited for his head and stomach to protest the movement, but there was only a brief wave of dizziness.

“I thought you were waking up,” Krycek said. “Think you could try to eat something?”

To his surprise, there was no roll of protest from his stomach at the thought. “Maybe,” he said. It came out sounding thick and dusty, but it was no longer a dreadful effort to speak.

“Good,” Krycek said. He settled onto the bed next to Alex. “Dry toast, I’m afraid,” he said, sitting next to Alex and offering him the plate. “Goes with flat ginger ale. If it doesn’t make you feel worse, we can see about real food.”

Just looking at the plate made him want to start giggling again. It had to be hunger, he decided, going to his head and making him silly. But he might have known this would be Krycek’s notion of dry toast: fat chunks of the kind of bread you got at yuppie bakeries, that looked like they’d been roasted in an oven. No normal white bread for Big Brother, oh, no.… It smelled good, though, and the heavy chewy texture felt good in his mouth.

He had finished the third piece of bread before the thought really penetrated: Krycek must have put aside his work a few minutes before Alex had woken, gone to the kitchen and made him this toast and brought it back to him. That felt wrong, even with their new understanding that was wrong. “Uh, thanks,” he told Krycek. “You didn’t have to—I mean, I was thinking of trying to get up—” There was no good way of putting it. He stopped, feeling faintly ridiculous.

“It’s all right,” Krycek said. “My prerogative. If I want to feed you, I’ll feed you. Got it?”

It was a game voice, but a gentle one. Alex felt himself relax at it. “Got it,” he agreed. He leaned against the headboard, careful of his sore back. The soreness was a sudden sharp reminder of Mulder. Where was Mulder, anyway? Alex had half expected that he’d be here when he woke up again.

“Out doing his job,” Krycek said, just as if Alex had spoken aloud. “Tracing abductees, finding out about implants. Today’s Tuesday, after all, and neither of us are on vacation.” He paused. “And that’s another thing. He was going to try to convince Scully that she’d be able to accomplish more back in D.C. than hanging around here. But God only knows whether he’ll succeed: she gets suspicious when he looks too anxious to get her out of the way. And with good reason, when you consider their history. We can hope; but you should be warned. There’s a decent chance that she’ll walk in here with him. And since it’s almost five, that could happen any time now.”

Scully. He felt it like a kind of soft blow in his solar plexus, not painful, but enough to knock the breath out of him. For a moment he was perfectly still. Then the world settled in around him again. He was sitting up in Krycek’s bed, and his mouth was hanging half-open, and there was still a partially-chewed piece of bread in it. He felt himself flush a little and swallowed it hurriedly.

Scully. She and Mulder could walk in at any moment. Well, he should have expected that, shouldn’t he? There was no reason for him to assume that Krycek was going to be able to just bundle her back to Washington. There was no reason for Alex to even assume that he would want to. But he hadn’t wanted to think about Scully. Didn’t want to think about her now, either. “I don’t want to see her,” he told Krycek.

Krycek laughed. “Not half as much as Mulder doesn’t want you to see her,” he said. “Or her to see you, to be accurate about it. I’m sure he’s doing his best. But we may not have a lot of choice about it.”

“Mulder?” Alex said. He felt foggier than ever. Come on, Alex. Time to start thinking again. You knew this was too good to last, sooner or later ole Wile E. Coyote was going to walk in and hand you another bundle of dynamite sticks. So now he has. Nice big bundle, all neatly tied, with ACME EXPLOSIVES stencilled on each stick.… He risked a glance at Krycek. Wile E. Coyote, sitting there looking at him with an absurd expression of innocence and interest. “Why does Mulder—” he began, but the picture of Krycek was too much for him: his breath caught, and then he was giggling, bracing himself against the headboard and trying to hold his head still against the laughter.

Krycek was laughing with him. “Because of last night,” he managed, through the laughter. “He’s petrified. She’s a doctor, remember? And you just had surgery—minor surgery, but still surgery. If she’s here, she’s going to want to take a look at you, make sure you’re doing all right, check those incisions. Hell, I’d like her to do it, too, as a purely medical matter.

“But she’s also a forensic medicine specialist. If she gets a look at any of Mulder’s handiwork from last night, she’s going to know you didn’t get any of it falling down a flight of stairs last week. And poor Mulder won’t even be able to blame it on me, or leave it an open question, because she’s going to give him that look, and raise her eyebrows just a little the way she does, and he’s going to turn scarlet. It is a scene that he is extremely anxious to avoid. And I—well. I am inclined to indulge him.”

Alex continued to laugh for a moment. Then, as suddenly as the giggling started, it stopped again, choked off with a sob, and he was nearly in tears. He pressed his eyes shut and deep-breathed it away. God, he was a mess. He was one step away from hysterical; how was he going to deal with Scully? He’d say the wrong thing, and she’d figure out things she wasn’t supposed to know, and Krycek and Mulder would both hate him.

He opened his eyes and looked down at his chest. He ran his finger along the stripe, about four inches long, that crossed the side of his chest, just above his left nipple. It was his first from Mulder, and he liked it. He liked his bruises and his cuts; they were special to him. They were gifts from Mulder, on behalf of his own Mulder, scouring out his betrayal with finely crafted pain. They belonged to him, to him and Mulder, and nobody else. They were not Krycek’s and especially not Scully’s. They were his, and they gave him comfort and peace.

And now they were an embarrassment to Mulder. A silly sitcom device that had to be shoved in the closet or under the bed to keep the visiting innocent from seeing it.

“Can’t I just stay in here? And if she does come, tell her I want to be left alone? I don’t want to mess things up, but my head’s all scrambled, I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing.”

“Of course you can stay in here, if you want,” Krycek said. “And if she insists on seeing you anyway, you can pull the sheets up to your chin and refuse to have anything but your face examined. I’m not worried about what you’re going to say to her, though. I have every confidence that you’d be all right—you only let yourself turn into a wreck when it’s safe to do it, have you noticed that? No, it’s Mulder who’ll give it away, if anyone does.”

Krycek lay back and stretched out to his full length, cat-like. When he spoke again it was low and thoughtful, addressed to the ceiling as much as to Alex. “He’s still sorting out how to feel about what happened last night. I don’t need to tell you how much he liked it. But you’re not a trick he left in some hotel room, and he wasn’t really prepared for what kind of shape you were going to be in today. He needs to think it through, and understand it, and understand himself; and it’s not going to help if he can see his partner looking at him and wondering just what the hell he thought he was doing, to do this to a guy who just had surgery.” Krycek tipped his head back to look at Alex, and now he was grinning again. “He knows she knows all about his videos. He’s survived the embarrassment of having her find them in the office; I imagine he’d survive the embarrassment of knowing she’s getting a mental picture of him standing over you in nothing but leather chaps and a biker cap. But having her think he was genuinely abusing someone for the fun of it is something different.”

Alex nodded. “I should talk to him.” It was another problem he was in no shape to deal with. But he’d made the decision to have sex with these people—it was a way to help make the situation bearable, a way to handle his pain, but he had no right to use them without considering how it would affect them. “I should tell him it’s all right.” He looked at Krycek. “I know you can take care of him, but still, it was between him and me. It’s my responsibility.” He rubbed his chest again. “But I’ve been so tired. I couldn’t do it before and now it’s too late. At least, too late to do it before Scully gets here, if she comes back with him.”

He suddenly giggled. “Mulder in a biker cap? And chaps? And a harness—and mirror shades.” He giggled again, helplessly. “He’s too skinny for a drawing by Tom of Finland.” The image of the bulging-muscled, leather-clad pencil sketch version of Mulder, standing tall and grim with a bull whip in his hand, retreated, leaving him giddy. “How about a simple dog collar and leather jockstrap?”

The giggles faded. Alex groaned and shook his head. “God. Sudden mood changes are us.”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s just stress.” Krycek looked back to the ceiling for an instant, then grinned. “You’ll have to ask Mulder whether he’d rather be embarrassed at the thought of somebody picturing him in a leather jockstrap and collar than at the thought of somebody picturing him as a skinny Tom of Finland illustration. I’m not even going to guess.”

Krycek stretched again and sat up, and turned to look Alex in the eye. “I could take care of him,” he said. “And I would, if you didn’t feel ready to deal with it. But it was between you and him. It’s your right to deal with it, and it’ll probably be better that way anyway.”

Alex nodded. It was good to know that Krycek understood that, knew that what had happened last night was important to Alex, and was ready to respect it. But that was another thing he wasn’t ready to think about yet. He shifted his weight onto his arms and maneuvered himself carefully back down onto his back. “Thanks,” he told Krycek. “If it’s okay, I think maybe I’m ready to go back to sleep now.”

“Do that,” Krycek said. He was already swinging to his feet, collecting his computer. “I shall sit outside the room like Cerberus at the gates of Hell, and make ineffectual menacing noises at people who try to come in. Sleep well.” Then he was gone.

* * *

Alex rolled over, plumped the pillow, and settled again into the cool sheets. Linen? He’d have to remember about that, they felt wonderful. Probably couldn’t afford them, though. If he ever had a bed of his own to buy sheets for again.… Bad thought, Alex. For now, we go on the assumption that you will go home. Although your apartment will be re-rented by the time you get back, and your things will be in storage, or sold at auction. And Mulder will probably kill you on sight anyway, so that will be the end of it.… Bad again. You will get home. You will work it out with Mulder. You will have an apartment of your own again, and you will buy linen sheets if you want to. And paint the ceiling like a blue sky with clouds?

Alex giggled softly, deep in his throat. The day had been good, after all. It had been good to take a day off, to rest and sleep, to be soothed with gentleness and kindness, to finally talk with Krycek about some of his deepest fears and worries, and to be reassured that Krycek understood and would do his best to take care of him. A master like Krycek wouldn’t be so bad, if he ended up staying. Or Mulder. (Don’t fall in love.) Anyway, he was going home to his own Mulder. His Mulder would take care of him. In his own way, and without the external trappings of the S/M scene, perhaps, but that didn’t matter. He loved Mulder, and love meant belonging, and that was enough.

So damn much to think about. It would be nice to put off that thinking until tomorrow, but the mind wouldn’t stop. Like a program that just keeps running, Krycek had said. One of the first things Alex had seen that they had in common. So keep it focussed, and don’t let it stray into areas that cause pain.

Starting at the beginning: You’re sort of family. Just wrap himself up in that for a little while. Krycek had accepted Alex into his inner circle. He had identified him as someone to be protected and cared for. It didn’t mean there were no circumstances under which Krycek might feel obliged to kill him, but it did mean he would go to the greatest lengths to avoid such circumstances. It meant that Alex’s happiness was important to Krycek—perhaps as important as Krycek’s own. It meant that Krycek was an ally and a friend, someone to trust and not to fear.

Alex hugged the pillow and shed a few tears. They were tears of relief and ease from pain, and they felt good. Well, except for the pressure in his sinuses, so he’d better not indulge himself too much.

And Krycek had told him his tears were a sign of strength. It was the sort of thing he tried to tell himself in his more rational moments, and intellectually he understood it, but in his gut he couldn’t quite accept it. It was good to hear it from someone else. Someone who was unquestionably strong. Someone he knew was telling him what he believed to be the truth. Someone who was family, whose opinion was important to him.

Family. Krycek had talked of families. And—not our biological father, our mother’s second husband. That was another of the things Alex had tucked away to think about later. Maybe it was something better left alone, though, especially if he was to concentrate on going home, and not what was going on in Krycek’s universe. But—in this universe, the Colonel was divorced, or… worse (and Alex couldn’t even think the word in connection with his father), and his mother was happily remarried, to a college professor who walked the floor with a colicky baby (one of the sisters Alex had lost), and she worked in her garden and.…

This apartment. Something shifted, dizzily, and suddenly Alex saw his mother sweeping through this apartment, with swatches and drawings and pages ripped from magazines. And Alex found that he knew this apartment: it was no longer a strange and frightening place. It was his mother’s personality here, wrapped up with Krycek’s. Not the frightened, dispirited woman he knew in his universe, but his mother as she would have been, if she’d been nurtured with love and care.

And he’d better stop thinking about that right away, or he’d break his heart. So what else had he tucked away for later consideration?

Krycek cared about Mulder. Perhaps loved him, although not in the way Alex loved—no melodramatic, throw caution to the winds, flinging oneself at someone’s feet kind of love, but a more controlled, intellectual kind of affection. Yet it was no less fierce and passionate for all that. Alex had felt it, although Krycek wouldn’t say it. He’d heard the smoke in Krycek’s voice when he spoke of his sweet Mulder, and experienced the intense rush of pleasure Krycek felt in him. And he knew that Mulder loved Krycek, and trusted him, and was willing to give him everything. Krycek said that Mulder would have been fine last night, once he’d worked things through. Alex supposed that was true, although it still made him angry that he’d been dumped into the situation and expected to handle it. And he still didn’t like the Scully situation, not one bit, if only because it involved a third person who was being kept in the dark about the true nature of what her relationship with Krycek was doing to Mulder.

But he didn’t want to think about Scully. So forget that train of thought. Krycek and Mulder loved each other (well, Alex was going to call it love, even if Krycek didn’t), and their relationship was exactly what they both wanted. That ought to be able to help him to separate himself a little from it, and not let it hurt him so much. It wasn’t his business, anyway, and he knew if it were anyone else, he’d be able to shrug it off: it’s their relationship, not mine, let them deal with it. But it was Krycek and Mulder—it was himself and the man he loved—it was impossible for him not to feel it with them, the pain and the joy, and it tore him up inside—both because it struck some chord deep within him, some Krycek-chord, and made him ache to be part of it; and because it violated and hurt him and made him want it to stop. And he knew damn well he couldn’t join them and he couldn’t stop them. But maybe knowing that it came from love would help him to accept it.

* * *

There was a tap on the door, and he flinched a little, then pulled the sheet up over his shoulders and sighed. The bedroom door opened and Krycek stepped in.

“Alex, Scully is here. I think she should take a look at your surgery,” was what he said out loud. Cover yourself up, she’s coming in, was the subtext coming clearly through.

And if I screamed, loud enough for her to hear, that I don’t want to be looked at, just leave me alone, would she go away? But Alex sighed again, muttered “All right” in a voice too low for either of them to hear, and resigned himself to it.

He lay rigid, staring at the ceiling. He heard the door close, felt Krycek’s presence withdraw, and heard her speak gently, from beside the big bed.

“Alex, I won’t stay long, I know you’re tired. I just want to take a look at your incisions, and make sure they’re healing all right.”

He continued to stare at the ceiling.

“You’re upset with me, and you have every right to be. You came home last night from having an operation, and found me here insisting that you had to be a liar. It must have been very unpleasant for you. I’m sorry.”

“Do you still think I’m a liar?”

There was a slight pause. “I think that you believe that you are Alex Krycek.”

Clever. But what did he expect? Mulder believed because he wanted to, but even Krycek had been hard to convince. And he wasn’t really angry with her for not believing his story—for god’s sake, he wouldn’t believe it if he weren’t in the middle of it, living it. But he couldn’t tell her the real reason he was angry, so this was all he had.

“Alex, is there something else I’ve done to upset you?”

Finally, he forced himself to look at her. (Eyes wide with fear, gag around her mouth, peering from the trunk of her car with Duane Barry standing over her.) But that was another Scully. Well, it had happened to this one, too, but here she was safe and sound and please, his own Scully would be safe one day too.

“No,” he managed to answer. His voice was a faint croak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s just that—they told you, didn’t they? They abducted me the day after they took you. I mean, my Scully, not you. For me, it all just happened. It’s hard for me to look at you and remember.…”

“All right,” she interrupted softly. “It’s all right. I understand.”

He lay there staring at her: warm blue eyes gentle and friendly, lush mouth curved in a sympathetic smile. She had freckles. He’d never noticed them before—or perhaps his Scully didn’t have them. Was that possible, if they were genetically the same? Of course, this Scully just got more sun, or something. Anyway, here she was being kind to him, being Scully, not holding anything against him, apologizing to him for upsetting him, wanting only to help. And he did want the damned bandage changed, it was driving him crazy.

He nodded. “Okay.”

She smiled and nodded back, and reached out a hand to stroke the edges of the bandage. Her touch was sure and gentle. “A little less gauze and tape, I think. Who did this for you?”


“Well.” She bit her lip, trying not to smile. “His heart was in the right place.”

Alex giggled. As usual, it hurt his face, and turned into a wince.

“Sorry,” she murmured, as though she had actually hurt him. Then she sat on the bed beside him, and grew serious, and began to work the bandage free.

It had come partly loose already, and fortunately didn’t require much pulling to get it off. Then she leaned over him, inspecting his face, touching him lightly with her fingers. Her studious frown had a moue of concern in it. “It’s a bit swollen around here,” she said, touching the area to the side of his nose. “And feels hot. I don’t think it’s infected, but it shouldn’t be this tender, twenty-four hours after the surgery.”

He considered for a moment, then admitted, “I’ve been crying.”

She nodded calmly. “I see. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that isn’t good for your sinuses.”

“No. It hurts. Makes me want to cry.”

She smiled, then said, “I know it’s been hard for you. Is there anything I can help you with?”

Stop sleeping with Krycek, was what he wanted to say. But of course he couldn’t. “I don’t think so. Things are really much better now. But maybe—” He stopped. Just let her change the bandage and get her out of here—that would be the smart thing to do. There was no telling what traps he might walk into, if he let himself relax too much, and really started talking to her.

“What is it?”

On the other hand, there were things he could ask her that Krycek and Mulder wouldn’t know the answers to. Things that might help him get home, or at least help him understand what had happened a little better. “I—if you don’t mind talking about it.”

She knew what he meant. She nodded solemnly. “What would you like to know?”

He swallowed. It was no easier for him than it was for her. “Mulder said, you were gone three months.”


“And you didn’t remember anything about the time you were gone.”

There was the slightest hesitation. “No.”

So she did remember something. But she didn’t want to talk about it. That was fine with Alex, he wasn’t going to push. “When you came back, did you have any sense of how long you’d been gone? Did it feel like three months to you?”

She pressed her lips together for a moment, and stared thoughtfully across the room as she spoke. “You have to understand, when I came back I was in the hospital in a coma. I nearly died.”

Alex couldn’t stop the slight gasp of pain that escaped him when he heard that.

Scully looked at him, dismayed, and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I thought they’d told you.”

“It was hard, Mulder said. And you recovered fully. He didn’t say what from. I guess he thought I wouldn’t want to know.”

“Just because it happened to me, doesn’t mean it will happen to your Scully. She may be just fine when she gets back.”

Or she might not come back at all. But Alex didn’t say it, just nodded and attempted to go on with his question. “So. When you came back.…”

“When I came out of the coma, I had a sense of coming back from a long journey. When they told me I’d been gone three months, I found it easy to believe. But I don’t know whether that’s from the coma, or from… whatever happened while I was gone.”

He nodded. “Okay. Well, thanks for telling me about it, anyway.”

“Do you have any sense of how long you were gone?”

He shrugged. “I thought I did. At first, I thought it had all just happened. They snatched me, they dumped me here. We thought the time lines were different, that was why Duane Barry was two years ago here, and just last week for me. But now I’m not so sure. You were gone three months, and you don’t remember any of it. It could be three months for me too. Or six months or two years or ten. I have no way of knowing, not unless I can get back to my own world.”

She shook her head sympathetically. “It must be terrible for you.”

“I don’t mind so much for myself. I mean, I’m screwed in my own world anyway. My job is gone, I’ve already ruined things with Mulder. It’s Mulder I’m worried about. I don’t know what’s happening to him, it makes me crazy. The longer I’m gone, the harder it’s going to be to try to fix anything. Krycek told me about these files, Defense Department documents that you and Mulder found here, maybe I’d be able to get them for my Mulder when I get home, and avoid whatever other horrible things happened here over them, that Krycek wouldn’t tell me about. But if it’s already two years—maybe it’s already happened, maybe it’s too late, maybe there’s nothing I can do for him—”

It took him a few moments to realize that Scully’s face was twisted in pain, and her eyes had gone far away. He stopped. “Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry.”

She forced herself back, and gave him a sad smile. “No, it’s all right. Horrible things did happen, but they’re nothing to do with you. I think Krycek was right not to tell you.” She laid her hand on his shoulder, and squeezed it gently through the sheet. “I very much hope you do get home in time to help your Mulder find the files, and avoid all those horrible things. I hope that very much.” She gave herself a little shake, and forced her smile to brighten. “And now, let’s get your face bandaged and let you rest.”

She reached over to the night table, where she’d laid out the gauze and tape and clean cloths, while Alex had lain staring at the ceiling. First, she cleaned his face gently with a warm, wet cloth. That felt good, and cool, and eased the itching that had been driving him crazy. “I’m going to put some antibiotic cream on the incisions, to help prevent them from getting infected. Have you been taking anything for the pain?”

“I had a couple of aspirin earlier today. The doctor gave me codeine, but I don’t like it, it makes me sick.”

“That’s fine. Aspirin is better anyway, if your stomach can handle it. It will help bring the swelling down.” She dabbed some cream on the tiny cuts, and that felt good, too, cool and soothing. “I’d give you antibiotics, just as a precaution, but they’d just make you more tired. Rest will be better, I think. It was minor surgery, but it was still surgery, and you’ve been under a terrible strain. It was a good idea for you to stay in bed all day. And it wouldn’t hurt to stay in bed tomorrow, too, if you feel like it. Don’t feel that you have to get up. Give yourself all the time you need.”

Now she was cutting small squares of gauze. Her easy competence was reassuring, as she placed the squares on either side of his face and taped them down. It was a relief to have the big wad of gauze off his face (image: poor Mulder, staring at Alex’s battered face, guilty and worried, uncertain yet awkwardly gentle, suffering from the usual male misconception that if a little bandage was good, a big one was better). The smaller bandages were soft and comfortable. He closed his eyes and let himself relax into the feeling.

“I want you to avoid dairy products,” Scully was saying, and Alex smiled, eyes still closed.

“No ice cream?”

She laughed softly. “No ice cream. No very cold foods at all, in fact. Hot tea would be good. Bread. Soup. All the basic, boring foods. For a couple of days, at least, until the swelling comes down. And lots of rest.”

“Yes, doctor,” he agreed.

Her hand stroked his temple. “I’ll let you go now. Good night, Alex.”

“Good night, Scully.” He still didn’t open his eyes. He was floating, now, in a very pleasant place, and he just wanted to drift here for a while. He felt her get up from the bed, and moments later heard the door open and then click shut.

* * *

Alex let himself drift for a while, just enjoying the cool sheets, the soft mattress, the fresh bandages on his face. But he didn’t drift back to sleep. He’d had enough sleep, finally, and he’d be better off getting up for a couple of hours, or he wouldn’t sleep that night.

So he sat up, slowly, and pushed himself to his feet. Not bad. A slight dizziness; a throbbing pressure in his temples—not quite a headache, but no point letting it turn into one. The aspirin bottle was still on the night table, so he took a couple of pills and went into the bathroom to get a glass of water to swallow them with. He ventured a look at his face in the bathroom mirror. It was swollen, and there were purplish bruises under his eyes. He turned and peered over his shoulder at his back. The bruises were starting to discolor, purple and green and brown. They extended from his neck to the middle of his back, then resumed over his buttocks, and down his thighs halfway to his knees. He gave himself an experimental slap on the butt, and nearly jumped into the sink. No, not at all ready yet for that swat from Krycek. Maybe tomorrow. He’d still be sore, but sometimes a light spanking over a day-old whipping could be very nice. Not that he expected to get one—he doubted either Krycek or Mulder would let him have any more physical punishment until his bruises had faded away.

And that was probably a good thing. It would give him time to think about everything that had happened, and try to sort it out. He’d been so afraid and so desperate, he could hardly think about anything else. Now, finally, with some of the worst of his fears relieved, perhaps he could settle down enough to really think about his situation.

Tomorrow. Today was still his day off, and he wasn’t going to think about anything, except soft sheets and safety.

He wandered back out into the bedroom, wondering what he could find to amuse himself with for a few hours. If it had been just Mulder and Krycek in the other room, he would probably have put on a robe and gone out to sit with them, curling up with his head in any available lap, to lie quietly and just enjoy their presence. But with Scully there, he’d have to get dressed, he’d have to sit up, and he’d have to pretend to be following whatever conversation was going on. Most likely they were talking about him and his problem. Good for them, let them talk—he hoped they’d figure out a way to get him home while they were at it—but he didn’t have the energy to worry about it tonight.

He stopped for a moment, by the chair next to the bed, and stood with his eyes closed, seeking the connection with his brother. And there it was—almost frighteningly easy. It was just a feeling at first—the unmistakable feel of Krycek’s mind: detached, amused, yet intensely interested in what was going on; the impression of a vast clockwork, ticking away with inexorable rhythm. Alex felt a smile on his own lips, and he stood there, letting it wash over him. Gradually, other details slipped into his awareness: the easy chair in which Krycek sat, leaning back, legs crossed, one elbow on the arm of the chair while his hand emphasized a point. Then he saw Mulder and Scully sitting on the couch, Scully at the closer end, and Mulder half-turned towards her, leaning forward, his eyes glowing with the lure of the unknown. In a moment, he’d have their conversation, too, if he tried—but he didn’t want it. He blinked, and let the visual details fade, clinging only to the feel of Krycek’s presence, letting it settle comfortably around his mind. Then he continued his prowl around the room.

He’d never really had the opportunity to explore the huge bedroom. He paused by the chest of drawers. Would Krycek be angry if he nosed about? He pulled open the drawer from which Krycek had taken the shorts he’d given Alex—only a few days ago, but it seemed like ages. There he’d stood, horribly naked at the end of the bed, and learned a few lessons about telling the truth and asking for what he needed. Alex ran his fingers lightly over the piles of shorts and socks. Then, embarrassed, he closed the drawer and went back to the bed.

He still had a few chunks of bread and half a mug of coffee left, so he sat and finished them. He could have eaten more, but he didn’t feel like going out to the kitchen. He pulled open the drawer of the night table, to find the expected boxes of condoms and tubes of lubricant. Alex chuckled to notice that Krycek used the same brands he did. No other toys kept handy, not even a dildo. Alex closed the drawer, sighing. There was that case of toys in the closet—he still hadn’t really gone through it. But he didn’t feel quite adventurous enough to go into Krycek’s closet. If Mulder had put them away. He had, hadn’t he? Maybe while Alex was asleep, he couldn’t really remember.

And where were his implants? He put down a moment of panic. They were here somewhere—they had to be. Last he remembered, they’d been in his jacket pocket. And his jacket was… still in the small bedroom, probably, unless Mulder or Krycek had brought it in here. Or maybe Mulder had taken the implants with him this afternoon, when he’d gone out. They’d want to have them analyzed. Maybe the implants would have the answers.

Alex shivered a little, and touched the bandages on his face. Some questions there would never be answers for. Why had the aliens brought him here? What was he doing in this mirror world? Was there any purpose to it at all? Maybe the aliens had just dropped him off wherever they happened to be when they were through with him. Maybe Cancerman had told them to keep him out of the way, and this was their idea of keeping someone out of the way. (Did Cancerman know where he was? Did the top echelons of the Consortium go universe-hopping on their vacations?) How many others had been returned to the wrong universe? If the universes were a close match, and one didn’t run into one’s doppelganger, would you ever really know? Was this the same Scully, for example, that had been taken from this world? For all they knew, she could be his Scully. Maybe each universe’s abductees ended up one universe over. Maybe some other universe’s Krycek was with his Mulder right now.…

And that was the sort of speculation that could give a person a nervous breakdown.

But if it was true that every decision point resulted in another split and another universe, then there was at least one universe where he hadn’t been abducted. There was one where he’d screwed up his courage and told Mulder the truth, that last night in Montana. (And one where Mulder had forgiven him—and one where his anger had turned to hate and he’d kicked Alex right out the door.) One where he and Mulder had fought together to save Scully (and one where the three of them had died together). There was one where he’d find a way home (and one where he’d never get home). One where he’d be greeted by Mulder’s gun down his throat. One where he’d be cut down by Cancerman’s goons before he even reached Mulder. One where Mulder would tell him coldly, I forgive you. But I can never trust you again. I don’t want you in my life.

But there would be one—at least one—where Mulder would listen to him. Angry and heartbroken, but still torn by the remnants of the brief joy they’d had, Mulder would allow him to make his apologies and pleas for forgiveness. He’d let Alex give him the Defense Department documents, as proof of Alex’s love. And eventually his heart would melt, and he’d take Alex back into his arms and into his bed, and his tenderness would be Alex’s punishment, as it had always been.

At least one universe for them. And maybe hundreds, thousands, infinities of universes. Maybe, somehow, it wasn’t completely random, and certain time streams had stronger currents than others. Maybe the Mulders and Kryceks of the multiverses were meant to be together, despite the different twists and turns their lives took, and somehow they would all find their way to each other. Certainly, the Mulder and Krycek of this universe had taken quite a different path, and they were together.

Anyway, Alex would take his comfort from this: in some universe or other, he and his Mulder would be together again.

* * *

He took a long, hot bath, which helped ease the soreness out of his body. It was a bit awkward, but he managed to wash his hair and shave without disturbing the bandages. Afterwards, he lay sprawled on the bed, arms and legs outflung, enjoying the feel of the cool air on his still-damp naked body. The bath had softened his whip cuts and made them feel better, too. There were only three or four that had broken the skin to any degree, and they were healing nicely.

He checked his Krycek-connection and found that the conversation in the living room was still going strong. They’d be hours yet. He wanted something to read. His book—the one he’d been reading (or trying to)—was out in the living room. He supposed he could put on a robe and go out and get it, as long as he made sure his cuts and bruises were all covered up, but he didn’t really want to. There was a pile of magazines and books over by the small sofa and chairs, though. Maybe he could find something there.

Chaucer. He picked up the book and leafed through it, shaking his head. He couldn’t pronounce half of it, much less understand what it meant. Definitely not light reading. There was a stack of computer printouts and photocopies—articles about UFO sightings, abductions, quantum nonlocality theory.… He supposed he should be reading these—but that felt too much like work. He just wanted something to keep his mind occupied for a little while. There were magazines—a whole spectrum of political publications, mathematics journals, news magazines, science journals. He shook his head as he leafed through them. Then he smiled. It seemed he and Krycek had at least one reading taste in common. He picked up the copy of Scientific American and took it over to the bed.

* * *

Alex had read over half of the Scientific American when his Krycek-presence caught his attention. He lowered the magazine, head cocked. Scully had gone. Krycek was working. And Mulder?

There was a tap at the door, and Mulder peered in. “Alex? Do you feel like some company?”

“Yeah.” Alex held out his arms as Mulder came over to the bed, and pulled him into an embrace. There were things they needed to talk about, but he didn’t want Mulder to think he was at all displeased with him. And besides, he wanted a hug. Why make excuses?

He wanted a kiss, too. He leaned forward, smiling, and laid his mouth on Mulder’s. The aching familiarity of those full, bowed lips sent delicate little prickles of pain and arousal through him. Mulder’s mouth—would it hurt any more to take this pleasure than to deny himself? Alex was never one to back away from sensation. He pulled Mulder closer and opened his mouth, letting his tongue taste those adored lips, teasing past to Mulder’s teeth and tongue.

Mulder hesitated, but only for a moment, then his arms wrapped around Alex’s sore back and his tongue eagerly responded. I don’t kiss him without permission, Mulder had said—and how often did Krycek give him permission? Krycek was strict with Mulder; denial was a large part of his training—did he deny him this, too? Foolish if he did, Alex couldn’t help thinking. He’d be denying himself as well, and why deny himself this pleasure? Mulder’s mouth was made to be kissed. Well, this Alex Krycek wouldn’t deny him. Wouldn’t deny him anything.

Mulder’s arms tightened on Alex’s bruises. The pain was hard and good, and Alex wanted it, but he couldn’t help gasping a little when Mulder’s fist dug into the soft spot under his shoulder blade.

Mulder pulled away immediately, a look of dismay on his face. “Oh, Alex—” Then he took Alex by the shoulders and peered over his back to see the discolored bruises there. “God, Alex, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”

Alex smiled at him. “It’s okay, Mulder. You haven’t seen the full effect yet—wait, I’ll show you.” He pulled himself gently out of Mulder’s grasp, still smiling to show him that it was all right, then threw the covers off and lay on his stomach, elbows and legs slightly spread so that Mulder could inspect his handiwork.

“Oh, god.…” Mulder said, in a voice barely above a whisper. He touched Alex’s back and shoulders, gently stroked the sore buttocks and thighs. “I didn’t know… it would be like this.”

“I know.” Alex reached out to touch Mulder’s knee. “How could you know? You never whipped anybody before, did you? I was your first.”

“But it wasn’t like this when you whipped me.”

“No. But then I didn’t beat you as hard as I could for as long as my arm would hold out.”

Mulder flinched from that. Alex waited calmly for just a moment to let it sink in. No sugar-coating it; Mulder had beaten him. The point wasn’t to make Mulder think that the whipping was any less than it was, but to make him understand that Alex had wanted it, and that it was all right. “Mulder, look,” he went on, before Mulder had a chance to start apologizing again, “it’s like anything else—you don’t start out an expert, you learn as you go. Now you know what happens when you hit somebody that hard. And maybe I shouldn’t have pushed you to do it when you were that inexperienced. But it was what I wanted at the time. And I thought it was what you wanted, too. I asked you to do it, Mulder, you’ve got nothing to apologize for.”

“You didn’t ask me to beat you black and blue.” Mulder’s eyes were bright, his quick mind was at work, but he wasn’t ready to give up his guilt just yet.

“Mulder, I set up the scene. I knew you were angry and upset, and I offered you a way to turn that on me, and use it to punish me. I dared you to do your worst. ‘No limits and no mercy,’ I said. I knew what was likely to happen.”

“In other words, you were just using me for your own perverted desires, huh?” Mulder was grinning as he said it. “I guess that’s all right, then. You were using me, and I was using you, and we both got a fair deal.” The grin abruptly faded. “No, maybe not. I was using you, Alex. I don’t feel good about that.”

Alex sighed. He wasn’t getting through to Mulder at all, and he didn’t even understand what was wrong. How could Mulder think he was using Alex, when he was just giving Alex what he’d asked for? He thought about it while he pulled himself up to sit at Mulder’s side. But that made his butt hurt, and now the pain was a trouble, since Mulder wouldn’t enjoy it with him. Perhaps he was pushing, demanding too much—and perhaps that was part of the problem: Mulder had never been taught to say no—certainly not to Krycek, and not to an importunate bottom, either. And not to himself, when he thought he was going too far. He wasn’t used to serving his own pleasure, and perhaps being in control had frightened him.

Well, whatever the problem was, it was Alex’s job to help him figure it out and deal with it. He turned on his side and wriggled himself under Mulder’s arm, laying his head on Mulder’s shoulder. “I’m sorry it makes you feel bad, Mulder. It was a pretty heavy scene. Maybe it was too much for your first time topping somebody. But if it was, it was my fault—I set it up, and I’m the one who has experience with these kinds of scenes. I mean, you’re experienced, but only from the bottom, and only in Krycek’s game. I’ve played both roles, and I’m used to setting up scenes from both sides, between people who haven’t played together before.”

He paused a moment to gather his thoughts. (And thought, not for the first time, how nice it was to be with people who’d allow you a thoughtful pause, and didn’t jump in the moment you stopped talking and got you all confused and made you lose your train of thought. Once again, he thought it was probably Krycek’s training—his own Mulder would keep at you until your head was spinning, and you didn’t know what to say except Yes, Mulder, anything you say, Mulder.…) He slid his hand between the buttons of Mulder’s shirt, and stroked Mulder’s chest.

“I wanted you to top me. I was tired and miserable and my face hurt, and sometimes when I get like that I like it really rough. It helps me to let go, so I can just feel it all and get over it. I suppose I could have just told you that, and asked you to help me. But I thought it might be hard for you to figure out what to do. You’re like me, it’s more natural for you to be on the bottom, and you don’t have the experience to just switch it on and take over. I thought it would be easier for you if I gave you a story to use, let you feel like it was all right to be angry, to punish me in my Mulder’s place. And I deliberately didn’t tell you anything to do, or not to do, because I didn’t want you worrying about how to please me—I wanted you to please yourself. I knew it was a risk. But I thought—I thought you’d like it. It can be really incredible when you find your power—it’s like a switch turning on inside you, and it makes you feel strong and powerful and in control.” Alex chuckled softly. That was how Krycek felt all the time, he thought. Did he ever feel doubtful or insecure? Inadequate or unsure of himself?

Maybe not. But he didn’t feel the sweet, yielding joy of submission, either. Alex took a deep breath and brought himself back to Mulder. “But it can be really scary, too, to have that much power over someone else.” He smiled up at Mulder. “Especially when they go catatonic on you and spend the whole next day in bed.” He squeezed Mulder’s shoulder. “But I needed that, too. And it wasn’t just the whipping, Mulder, it was the operation and everything else, all the stress of everything that’s happened. I’m glad it happened. I got some good rest and I got to be babied for a while, and I had a good talk with Krycek and I feel a whole lot better now. But it must have been pretty freaky for you. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but I knew that the scene the way I set it up could be dangerous, for both of us. Maybe it was a mistake. But if it was, it was my mistake, not yours.”

Mulder squeezed his shoulder. “No, you were right,” he said. “I would have tried to help if you’d asked me, but I wouldn’t have gotten it right for you. For either of us. Maybe I don’t know a lot about whips, but I know you didn’t want me doing you a favor.”

Alex felt Mulder’s free hand on his chin, turning his head so that he looked Mulder in the eye: another gesture no doubt learned from Krycek. But there was no amusement or distance on Mulder’s face. “You wanted a master, not a servant,” said that rough silk voice. “If you’d told me what you wanted, you’d have gotten the servant. And you were right to think I’d like it. I did like it. You know how much. If it was really what you wanted, then that part is all right. I just have some things to learn if I’m ever going to do it again, so I know the consequences of what I’m doing before I do it, instead of the day after. You didn’t make a mistake, and I don’t feel bad about it happening.” He stopped for an instant and frowned a little. “I don’t feel bad about it like that, anyway. Not the way you mean.”

And there was Krycek’s training again, in that careful qualification. His own Mulder would have told him he didn’t feel bad about it, and brushed the whole matter aside—if he even let the conversation get that far. It was still terrifying to think about, this rigorous openness: how this Mulder found the strength to endure it was a mystery. But, Alex admitted to himself, it certainly made this sort of conversation easier. “Then how do you feel bad about it?” he asked.

Mulder shook his head. “In a way, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We both got what we wanted, maybe that should be enough. But—you were right, before. I was angry and upset, and I took it out on you. It wasn’t you I was angry at. That’s what I mean about using you. You’re mad at somebody you can’t hit, you don’t deal with it by beating the shit out of somebody who you can hit. It’s not—hell, you know.”

Alex nodded, and lay still for a moment, caressing Mulder’s collarbone, and then lifting his hand to let his fingertips play across Mulder’s throat. There was a little catch in Mulder’s breath, and he let his head fall back. This was something that Krycek liked to do with him, Alex realized. And how could they avoid getting themselves tangled up in the images of each other’s lovers? Maybe it was less of a danger for Mulder, but there were still dangers, subtle and insidious. “I understand,” he said slowly. “It’s a basic rule of the game, that you don’t play in anger. If you have a fight with your lover, you work it out some other way, not in S/M games.” It was a basic rule, but he hadn’t followed it, had he? It hadn’t even occurred to him that the scene as he’d set it up might be wrong. “I’m not sure why I thought in this case it would be all right. I’m going to have to think about that.”

“You don’t play in anger?”

“No. It’s supposed to be… the game is a ritual. You play a role, you use symbols to express things. It’s a way to deal with things that might be too heavy to deal with directly. You use symbols for anger, but not the real thing. I know that’s not how you and Krycek play. You go right for the real stuff, no cover at all. Most people need that protection. I do, anyway.” He paused a moment, fingers working at Mulder’s shoulder. Was he making any sense at all? He couldn’t tell. But Mulder was still listening. “Maybe I thought, this time I’d play it your way. I wanted your anger, Mulder. I wanted it for myself, to punish me for what I did to my Mulder. And I thought—you don’t play by those rules, you’re used to using real emotions with Krycek, so I didn’t think it would be a problem for you. And.…” The whole truth? Alex found that he was trembling again. No, he didn’t want to talk about this. But how could he give Mulder any less than the same brutal honesty Mulder was giving him?

“Mulder, I really, really don’t want to talk about this. But I guess I should tell you. This thing with Scully—I hate it. I know it’s not my business, I should just let it go, but damn it—” His fist was pounding, lightly but steadily into Mulder’s shoulder. He forced it to stop. “I thought—hell. I knew you weren’t going to take it out on him. I wanted you to take it out on me. I’m sorry. Look, I guess the way you feel now is one of the reasons using real anger in a scene is against the rules.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Mulder said. He spoke quietly, but his voice was rough with emotion. “If you knew that going in, and that was really what you wanted from me, then it really is all right. That makes all the difference in the world.” He smiled a little. “You shouldn’t be sorry anyway. It was my behavior that bothered me, and you didn’t make me do what I did, all you did was give me an opportunity. I’m responsible for having taken it.”

Mulder paused. There was something in the cadence, though, something Alex was beginning to recognize. Mulder had something more to say, something that would come out if he waited for it. So he let his hand continue in its lazy circles on Mulder’s shoulder, and waited. “And you shouldn’t be sorry about your feelings, either,” Mulder said finally. “You’re here, you’re involved with both of us, you’re affected by—what we do. You didn’t ask to be here, stuck in the middle. Maybe you’re not entitled to the deciding vote, maybe it’s more my business than yours, but we’re not the guys who live across the street. You’ve got a right to your feelings about it. If you wanted me to take out my anger on him, or on you if I wouldn’t do it with him, I think you had a right to want that, too. Whether I had a right to do it—well, you knew, and you consented, so I had the right that far. Even if I didn’t know it at the time. Whether I had it as far as Krycek was concerned was my risk to take.”

* * *

Alex gripped Mulder tightly and buried his face in Mulder’s neck—his sinuses pricked, but only with a reasonable and bearable amount of pain. His breath came in wavering gasps. Still shaky. Still right on the edge. It was only to be expected, though—only a few hours ago he’d weeping on Krycek’s shirt. Now it was Mulder’s turn. He wasn’t quite crying this time, although his eyes stung and his throat tightened. But he was close.

It was just such a huge, horrible relief to be able to talk to these people, and to know that it was all right. To be able to explain things, and have them understood—it was amazing, really. He barely believed it. And this was Mulder—could it possibly mean that, with enough time and care and effort (and always assuming he managed to get home in the first place), he might be able to explain to his own Mulder, and have him understand, and forgive?

“Okay,” he finally managed to say. “That’s okay then, isn’t it? We’re all right about last night?”

“Yes, we’re all right.” Mulder’s voice was soft and gentle, just the way his own Mulder’s voice—oh, god, no, don’t start that—it was nice, anyway, the way Mulder was stroking his hair and holding him.

“Good. That’s really good.” And now he wanted another kiss. Alex pulled himself up so that he could reach Mulder’s mouth, and indulged himself in a long, deep, wet kiss (which somehow managed to remind him that he was still hungry, although he didn’t feel inclined to do anything about it). “That’s good, Mulder. Thanks. I’m glad we’re talking about this. I was worried—” and then he had to pause for a giggle. “I was worried about you. Not that you can’t take care of yourself. But here I’ve been dumping all this stuff on you—things you aren’t used to and haven’t done before, and I’ve been too messed up to really talk to you about it. I know it’s been hard on you having me here, in some ways, and I don’t want to screw up your life, and I’m babbling, Mulder, why don’t you tell me to shut up?”

He pulled himself free and fell on his back at Mulder’s side, still pressed tightly against Mulder’s warmth, forearm resting against his head. “Amazing I can be such a wreck and still feel so damn much better than I did a couple of days ago.”

Mulder shifted against him, a movement that was half a stretch and half a wriggle, fitting their bodies more closely together. “I’m not amazed,” he said. “What would amaze me is if you felt a whole lot better, and you weren’t a wreck. In fact, I’d think you were lying about feeling better.”

That teasing note was back in Mulder’s voice. It made him smile, a smile that was almost a giggle. “Why would you think that?” he asked.

Mulder pulled away, and for an instant the fear was almost back. But no: Mulder was reaching for the buttons of his shirt, doing his best to pull it off without breaking his contact with Alex’s body. “I’m supposed to be a psychologist, remember?” Mulder said. “It’s pretty basic. You’ve been stressed right out to the edge, internal, emotional stresses and external danger. Take away the immediate external threat, provide a little emotional safety, and the first thing that’s going to happen, once your mind accepts the new situation, is that a whole lot of your defenses fall apart. You don’t have the resources to do everything, and you don’t need the shell any more, so you redirect what resources there are to the internal problems. And for a while, you cry or put a fist through something every time you stub your toe.” He tossed the shirt toward the foot of the bed and settled back down against Alex. “It’s a pattern I’d expect to see with a situation like yours. If there were any other situations like yours. If I didn’t see it, I’d be wondering what you were lying about. Feeling better, or the situation.”

Alex leaned over to stroke Mulder’s hard belly, and to place one delicate kiss on each of Mulder’s nipples. Then he brushed his cheek against the small patch of soft hair in the middle of Mulder’s chest. Mulder quivered a little under Alex’s touch, and his hand tightened on the back of Alex’s neck. Alex smiled to himself as he settled back along Mulder’s side. He loved Mulder’s chest—strong and well formed, classically beautiful. His own Mulder had always wanted to lie behind him—and that was good, too, feeling Mulder’s chest against his shoulder blades and Mulder’s lap cradling his bottom, and Mulder’s hands on his chest and crotch—but he would have liked to be able to lie like this with him, too, and worship his fine, elegant chest and belly. There just hadn’t been time—four days were all they’d had: four wonderful, terrible days—and he would need a lifetime, a hundred lifetimes, to praise and worship each aspect of Mulder’s body.

He took a deep breath, and sighed. “Yeah. I guess I knew that. But it was good to hear it, anyway.”

Mulder’s hand ruffled his hair. “So you were fishing.”

Alex grinned into the hollow of Mulder’s shoulder. “Yeah. Just smack me if I get too tedious. If you can find a spot.”

“Maybe the soles of your feet,” Mulder said, in a voice that was a soft, insinuating purr, at once teasing and gentle and hot. “But I can’t reach them from here, so I suppose I’ll just have to indulge you.”

Mm, that sounded very nice. Alex had to resist the urge to go find a whip (the riding crop, maybe, or a small scourge?) and offer his feet for Mulder’s pleasure. (Kneeling, bent over with his face to the floor or the mattress, so that his naked ass would jut exposed, just above the tender soles of his upturned feet.…) Bad boy, he admonished himself, smiling at his own private game. If it had been Krycek, perhaps he’d have made the offer, just for the pleasure of being refused (and called a demanding slut—he replayed the words in his mind, in Krycek’s voice, wanting to hear them again). But Mulder—did he know how to play this game? He knew how to take a refusal from Krycek, that was clear enough. But did he ever ask for more than he really wanted, outrageous things, just because it was fun to beg, and to be refused? Probably not. Krycek and Mulder liked it to be real, and serious, and honest. Krycek probably didn’t allow that kind of game. And if Mulder tried it, and Krycek agreed to whatever it was that Mulder asked, just to teach him a lesson, then Mulder would have to take it—because it was clear enough, as well, that Mulder wouldn’t say no to him.

That made Alex a little nervous, to be playing with someone who didn’t know how to say no. And it would be dangerous for Mulder, if he ever decided to go and explore the leather bars and sex clubs on his own. He had to know his limits, and be prepared to stick to them, or he would get into trouble. Alex stroked Mulder’s left nipple with his thumb—the little nub was soft and sensitive, and had obviously never been trained to clamps or clothespins. So many of the ordinary accessories of the leather world were outside of his experience. And the average top—even the most careful and caring of tops—wouldn’t know what Mulder’s experience was, would take him at his word if he said he wanted a heavy scene, that he had no limits, and Mulder could be in for far more than he’d bargained for.

And Alex wanted to know, for himself, that Mulder wouldn’t let him push him too far, or agree to everything just because Alex had asked for it. He wanted to know that if he set up a scene like last night’s, and Mulder felt uncomfortable with it, that he would refuse, and not go through with it just for Alex’s sake. It would be especially hard for Mulder to say no to him, since Alex was, after all, Krycek.

So the conversation wasn’t over, although they’d settled last night—there were still ground rules to be laid for the future, so these problems would be less likely to arise again.

“Mulder, there’s something else I’d like to talk to you about.”

“All right.” And Mulder shifted under him again, moving him gently to the side. “Just a minute. Let me get comfortable.” Mulder got up and finished undressing, laying his clothes over the easy chair near the bed. It wasn’t a show this time; no exaggerated movements, no little flourishes, just casual and friendly and let’s-be-naked-together. Alex lay on his side, cheek propped up on his elbow, and watched him, feeling warm and good inside. It was—and here he went again—more the way his own Mulder stripped: a simple, unselfconscious act, invested with no more significance than if he’d been home alone getting ready for bed, and all the more charged for that, with the easy acceptance of Alex’s presence.

He was half-erect—as Alex himself was—and slightly pink in the face as he climbed back into bed, taking Alex in his arms and pulling the sheet up to cover them both. “Okay,” he said. “What’s next on the agenda?”

Alex sighed a little, tucking his body tightly against Mulder’s, luxuriating in the skin-to-skin contact. It was tempting to just forget any further heavy conversation, to lie here for a while and make out, and see if he had enough strength for it to lead to anything else. But no—if he had the strength for fucking, he had the strength to talk about fucking, and Mulder deserved some time and attention to his needs, too.

“Okay. You told me you don’t say no to him, and I think you’re really lucky to have someone who knows you so well, and cares about making it a really good experience for you, and is good enough that he can figure out what your limits are and doesn’t push you past them, so you don’t ever have to say no to him. But not everybody is that good. Not everybody is going to be able to read you that well, and play you right on the edge, like he does. If you’re going to play with other people—like me, for instance—you need to be able to say no to them. I need to know that if I ask you for something you don’t feel comfortable with, you’ll be able to tell me no.”

Mulder’s voice was very quiet, and caressed the words as he spoke. “I don’t have limits. Not with him.”

Alex kissed Mulder’s collarbone. “It’s a pretty fantasy, Mulder, and I know it feels good to say it, but you do have limits.”

“No, I don’t. He could do anything, anything at all.…”

“Mulder. Sure you do. I suppose if he pissed in your mouth, and told you to swallow it, you’d do it?”

“Alex!” Mulder’s protest was half-amused, half-outraged; the sensual mood of his earlier comments dashed. “That’s… that’s.…”

“Watersports. Not that uncommon, especially with the heavier players.” Alex couldn’t help grinning at Mulder’s discomfiture, but he wondered after all if he should have brought it up. Krycek had clearly been keeping him isolated from the less tasteful aspects of the scene, and he’d been doing it for a reason. Perhaps he wouldn’t appreciate having his hothouse orchid exposed to the polluted outside air.

On the other hand, Mulder was a grown man, with a taste for porn and a long-standing interest in S/M—surely he knew about these things, even if he hadn’t been doing them. It wasn’t like he couldn’t pick up an issue of >em>Drummer or a copy of Mr. Benson any time he wanted to.

And now Mulder was curious. “Have you ever… ?”

“Yeah.” Alex grimaced a little. “It’s not really my thing, but when you’re deep in it, and you’ve got some guy’s cock down your throat, and he decides to use you for a toilet, sometimes you just go with it. —But that was a long time ago, in the old days. When I was first getting into the scene, and I was young and stupid and I thought taking it all was some kind of badge of honor.” He wriggled a little, and settled himself tighter against Mulder’s body. “It isn’t.”

“Point taken,” Mulder said. “When you’re a kid, you have no idea of where macho stops and stupidity starts. You grow up a little, you learn better. You hope. And you stop doing shit to prove something to yourself.” Mulder paused, and then the heat was back in his voice. “But it’s not a fantasy, not having limits with him. I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t even know what he could make me enjoy. You’re right, the idea of being his toilet does less than nothing for me, so it’s lucky for me I can’t imagine him wanting it. If he did, though—I don’t know.” Mulder reached for Alex’s hand, covered it with his own and pressed it hard into his chest. “I don’t know,” he repeated. “Yesterday, you could have used the Scully thing as an example, and I would have agreed that I couldn’t enjoy that. I don’t think you could have convinced me that I could be made to like it. I was wrong. I don’t know what else he could make me enjoy, if he wanted it.” He drew a long, shuddering breath. “I don’t know how much it matters, either. If I like what he does, or all of what he does. If I don’t like it: well. How real is his power, if he can only make me do things I like?”

Alex stroked Mulder’s chest, under the hand that was holding his. He could feel Mulder’s heart pounding, and the heat rising from his body. Mulder’s passion was so beautiful—Alex suddenly felt bad for wanting to spoil his belief in his perfect ownership. As long as he believed it, maybe it was real.

But he’d asked a question. Maybe it was rhetorical, but it deserved an answer, anyway. “How real does it have to be?” Alex spoke slowly, quietly. “Why are you here, Mulder? What hold does he have on you, except his ability to give you pleasure, and your joy in your submission? You weren’t sold on an auction block without your consent. There aren’t any chains around your neck. He’s not going to put a bullet in the back of your head if you try to walk away.” (You weren’t kidnapped by aliens and dropped in his lap and stripped and tied up and drugged and interrogated and.…) Suddenly, he was crying again. He tried to ignore the tears dripping into Mulder’s neck. “You’re here because you want to be. And you’re right, it doesn’t really matter. The point I was trying to make was—” and here he lifted his head and attempted a smile at Mulder—an attempt that he immediately regretted. Pain stabbed through his face, and the smile was a dismal failure anyway. “Shit, I’m getting Scully’s bandages all soggy. Hand me that towel, will you?” Mulder gave him the towel from the night table (Krycek giving him a towel to cry into while he finished untying him.…), and then he found that it was necessary to bury his face in it and sob for a few moments before he could go on. He cleared his throat and looked up at Mulder again, this time minus the smile. “The point I was trying to make was, there are a lot of guys out there who aren’t Krycek.” A small attempt at a smile—this time reasonably successful. “And even some of us who are can’t do what he does. And I’d feel a whole lot better if I knew that you weren’t going to let me make you do things you don’t like, just because you think you can be made to like anything.”

Mulder reached over and took the towel out of his hand. Then his arms were around Alex’s shoulders again, protective and warm. “Feel better, then,” Mulder said in his ear. “That’s not so hard, I can give you that.” He held Alex close for a long moment. “He’s the only one I can’t say no to. And you’re not him, even if you sound just like him sometimes. He’s always telling me it’s not real, too. Even uses the same damn arguments.”

“But you don’t listen to him, either.” He found he could smile again, and easily. He wasn’t spoiling anything, then: Mulder was used to hearing some of this, and Krycek wasn’t trying to protect him from it.

“Well,” Mulder said slowly. “I’m not convinced he’s completely right. All right, all that holds me is that I want to be here. But if I can’t bear to walk out, and walking out’s my only other option, how much difference does it make whether he could call the cops and have me brought back in chains if I tried it? Sure, there’s a balance. If I hated what was happening more than I wanted to be here, I’d leave. There are a few things, things that involve other people, that I’d have to say no to, no matter what it cost me. But there’s a lot I might not want that he could do to me, before I reached that point. So it’s real that far, anyway. Extorted consent isn’t really consent.” Mulder grinned. “They teach you that in the Academy, remember?”

“I wonder, though—is walking out really your only option? Have you ever really tried to say no to anything that he couldn’t talk you into wanting after all? Do you think he’d keep on with something, if he couldn’t teach you to enjoy it? You say you can’t bear to leave—but do you want to leave?” The whole thing was making Alex’s head spin. He wasn’t really sure of what he was trying to convince Mulder any more. “Of course he has to hurt you, and make you suffer. That’s why it’s called S/M. And sometimes it’s hard, and it takes a while to work yourself around to accepting it. It’s that acceptance that’s one of the great joys of what we do, as submissives, and the harder won it is the better it feels when you finally reach it. You say he makes you do it, and I say you make yourself do it. I’m not sure there’s really a difference.”

Alex remembered something Krycek had said to him earlier, about the difference being the language they were using to express themselves, and not the feelings beneath. Perhaps something like that was happening here. “When I’m just out for a weekend to get laid, I’ll negotiate a scene pretty closely. I just want my buttons pushed, I don’t particularly care if I never see the guy again—I’m not going to let him do any damn thing he wants. But if I’m with someone special, someone I really care about, I don’t want to say no to him any more than you do. I want to give him anything he wants, no matter what it is. If it’s hard, that’s all the better. I want to endure everything for him, to show him how I feel.” Mulder— Alex swallowed back another sob. I can’t say no to you, Mulder— “I don’t know if that’s so different from the way you feel. But I like knowing I’m doing it because I want to.” He managed a grin. “I like being submissive. Nobody has to coerce me into it.”

Mulder was frowning a little, the familiar frown Alex knew from all the late nights in the office, all those grueling working meals in Montana: the Mulder-thinking-it-out look. “It makes sense,” he said. “From that perspective. It’s a kind of gift to your lover, a deepening of intimacy.…” Mulder’s voice trailed off, and the frown deepened. “It’s different for me. It’s not about showing him how I feel. It’s about having what I want, or what I think I want, made irrelevant. Submission is only a way to express how you feel about someone if you’re with somebody you care about. So the caring has to come first, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s why it’s not the same for me. When everything started—what he was doing to me just felt good. It was all about getting my buttons pushed. I never meant to care about him.” His eyes closed for a long moment. “That was not supposed to happen.”

Alex shook his head, feeling more than a little helpless. The raw intensity in Mulder’s voice—that was passion, but there was pain in it too, and fear, and more than a trace of anger. But if Mulder was telling him the truth, maybe being frightened and angry sharpened his pleasure, was right and necessary for him. It was hard, though: he didn’t want to think of Mulder, any Mulder, needing this kind of pain. He sucked in a long breath. This time, damn it, he was going to answer Mulder without crying.

But Mulder’s body relaxed a little against his. “It’s academic, though,” Mulder said, and now he was teasing and friendly again, the dreadful intensity gone. “He’s him, and everybody else, as they used to say on Saturday Night Live, isn’t. I like coercion as a fantasy. I like coercion from him, and I like to think it’s real, even if you and he both insist on telling me it’s not. I don’t think I’d like it from anyone else, not in real life. Out in the real world, I think you’re right: it would be the same for me as it is for you. That is, if I even liked it out in the big bad world. I can’t know that: fantasies don’t tell you anything about real life.”

Alex melted with relief again: peace and comfort after trouble and pain. He’d been up and down until his head was swimming. It was enough to make him dizzy, but happy, too, that he was with someone special, and they were working it out. It was, in fact, late nights, too much coffee, too little sleep, and Mulder. Alex pressed his lips against Mulder’s skin, let his tongue come out and lap the faintly salty flesh, like a cat, tasting. Mulder shivered beneath him, and chuckled softly. Anger and pain and nonconsensual ownership: maybe Mulder needed these things. But the caress of a lover’s tongue, a kiss, fingertips filling the hollow at the base of the throat: he was capable of enjoying these things as well. Perhaps one day Krycek would teach him to need them, too.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Alex mused. “Do you give him everything because you care about him, or did you learn to care about him because you gave him everything?” The tone was light and dreamy, obviously not seeking an answer. He paused to nibble on Mulder’s collarbone. “I wonder—if all you wanted was to have your buttons pushed, why is it that he’s the only person in the world who could do it for you? In all this time, the only man you’ve ever been with is Alex Krycek. And Alex Krycek.” He giggled, and slid on top of Mulder, taking Mulder’s face in his hands and giving him a sloppy kiss. “I’m not trying to talk you into anything, Mulder, I’m just spinning tales. My Mulder used to say… ‘Stop thinking so hard, you’ll hurt yourself.’ ” He lay sprawled across Mulder’s body for a moment, thinking about the pleasant warmth in his groin, wondering if it could be kindled into heat. If it were his Mulder.… Another kiss, this time a serious one, and Mulder’s arms tightened on his shoulders, and the sickly-sweet pain of his bruises bloomed. And he was almost gone, almost under, to the floating dark, the oblivion of lust. Almost. Then he gripped Mulder’s shoulders and buried his face in Mulder’s neck.

“I want him back.” His fingers dug into Mulder’s flesh; his words were so hot they burned his throat. “He’s not perfect and he’s not my dream lover and he’s not the only man I’ve ever had. But he’s the only one I ever want. If I had the chance I’d give him my life, everything—you couldn’t beat me hard enough to make that pain go away.” His kiss this time was desperate and savage. Mulder moaned under him and held him, letting Alex take him.

Not my Mulder. Alex pulled his mouth free, and collapsed, gasping, letting himself slide again to Mulder’s side. Almost in reflex, he kissed Mulder’s shoulder. His voice was quiet and bleak. “I want him back.”

“I know you do,” Mulder said. “And if I hadn’t known it before, I would have after last night.” His arm tightened for an instant around Alex’s shoulders. “It has to be tough for you. Nobody can know the future. And as long as you’re stuck here, you don’t even have the comfort of being able to take some kind of action, to try to work it out. —Look, Alex, I’m not him, any more than you’re my Alex Krycek. As one version of a Mulder, though: I think you’ve got a good chance. Everything you let drop tells me that there was something between you guys, something that wasn’t just your feelings. If he’s like me at all, he won’t want to lose that, no matter how hurt and angry he might feel at first. He’d root all that caring out of himself if he had to, but he’ll be looking for an excuse not to have to. He’ll want to forgive you. The hardest part may be that he’ll know how badly he wants to, and have a hard time letting himself make the decision he wants to make. I think you should know that. If he makes speeches about being able to trust you, you may just have to give him time. Because it’s likely that he’s not really talking about trusting you. He’ll be talking about trusting himself.”

“He can take as long as he wants. He can make all the speeches he wants. As long as he’s talking, there’ll still be a chance.” Alex heaved a deep sigh. The brief storm was over—there just wasn’t enough strength left, even for this pain. “If I even get home to listen to his speeches. For all I know I’ll never see him again. God, Mulder, how am I ever going to get home? —Did you take my implants?”

Mulder stroked Alex’s temple. “Yes. Don’t worry, they’ll be safe. We need to study them—that bronze-colored one, especially. It may be the key to getting you home.”

“Yeah.” Alex took Mulder by the shoulders, pulling him over onto his side, so that they could lie face-to-face. He paused for a kiss, gentle and leisurely, his hand in Mulder’s hair. Through all the fear and pain, he was grateful for this—a Mulder to lie with. “Sometimes I wonder if I should really be trying to get home. I’ve made a wreck of my life there. I walked out on my job, and Mulder will probably never forgive me. Why should I try to go back there? Things have been crazy here, but at least nobody hates me. You’re not my Mulder, but you’re a pretty nice Mulder. And I’m not your Krycek, but maybe you’ve got enough feelings to let a little slip over on me. And Krycek—he’s scary enough, but I think he wants me to be okay. I like having a brother. Or whatever the hell it is you’d call him. Maybe it would be better to stay here.”

Mulder was thoughtful, fingers still moving gently through Alex’s hair. “Do you really think so?”

Alex shrugged. “No. I have to go home, if I can. I have to try to make things right. Even if my Mulder never wants to see me again, I have to do what I can to make up for all the mistakes I’ve made. It’s strange, though.” He slid his arms around Mulder and pulled him close, rubbing his bandaged cheek against Mulder’s. “If I do get home, then I’ll never see you or Krycek again. Unless we can figure out a way to go back and forth at will, which doesn’t seem very likely. Hell, none of this is very likely, so who knows? But—I wish I could have all three of you. You, and my Mulder, and Krycek. I wish you could meet him.”

“So do I. Do you think he’d like me?”

Alex giggled. “What’s not to like? You’re him. I think you’re more like him than I am like my Evil Twin. There are differences, of course. I think he’d like talking to you about it. He’s so curious, he wants to know everything. Of course, you do too. You’d probably wear your throats out on each other.”

“Among other things.…” Mulder grinned.

“Hmm. I don’t know if I’d let him fuck you. Maybe I’ll keep him all to myself.”

“That’s not very charitable. I shared.”

The tease was easy and comfortable, and Alex relaxed into it, hands on Mulder’s shoulders, fingers kneading softly. It was his Mulder; yet it wasn’t. It felt good, for a change, to enjoy his companion’s Mulder-ness, without pain. “I suppose you’re right. But you have to let me watch.” He leaned in to nibble on Mulder’s lower lip. “You should teach him to give head. He tries, but frankly, he’s not very good.”

Smiling, Mulder ran his tongue along Alex’s lips. “And I am?”

“Slut. You know you are.”

“Am I a slut?” Mulder took Alex by the shoulders, rolling him firmly onto his back, covering Alex’s mouth and face with soft, teasing kisses.

“Slut. Cocksucker. Bitch.” Alex let his voice go low and caressing, making endearments of the rough words. He felt the tremors in Mulder’s body at the insults.

Mulder’s chuckle was a little breathless. “Bet you don’t talk to him like that.” The kisses were lower now, feathering over Alex’s collarbone and upper chest.

Alex laughed back. “You know I don’t. This one’s just for you, Mulder.”

“Guess you’d better keep doing it, then. So I know I’m not letting you get confused about which Mulder I am.” He slid lower, rubbing his face over Alex’s chest.

“Not that it does anything for you,” Alex said. “Not just a slut, but a thoughtful slut.”

“I try,” Mulder said, between kisses. “And speaking of being thoughtful—” His tongue flicked lightly around Alex’s navel. “I can’t teach him to give head, not by myself. I’d need a model. Someone to demonstrate on. So I could show him something, and then he could try it, and I could be sure he was getting it right.” Mulder slid a little lower, and now his lips just grazed Alex’s cock, moving softly against the shaft as Mulder spoke. “You wouldn’t want Krycek to do it, and anyway, he wouldn’t have the patience. So it’ll have to be you, Alex.”

Each word sent a little hot puff of breath playing along his cock. His own breath was beginning to feel ragged. Yes, he was strong enough for this.… “It’s a hardship,” he told Mulder. “But if you need me to do it, I guess I’ll have to manage.”

“You’ll need to get some practice,” Mulder said, and now his voice was low and insinuating. “I don’t know how long it’ll take me, to really teach him anything.” His tongue ran slowly along the length of Alex’s cock. “If you’re going to be any use as a model, you’re going to have to be patient with us. Hold still and let us take our time.…” Mulder’s hot breath fell on the head of his cock, and then Alex felt his lips there, leaving one soft kiss. “You haven’t forgotten which Mulder I am yet, right?”

Silly question. The softness of Mulder’s lips deserved his full attention. “Shit,” he managed. It came out in a high squeak. “I’m beginning to forget who I am.”

“Can’t let that happen,” Mulder said. “You are Alex Krycek; and you are the only man whose dick I’ve ever sucked. I need you to concentrate.” The hot mouth slid down the length of his cock again. Then there were kisses, teasingly soft, against his scrotum; and then the soft lips parting, and one testicle suddenly engulfed in the satin mouth. Alex moaned at it. Somewhere at the edge of his attention, he felt his own left hand squeeze into a fist, and pound down into the mattress. His right hand was twined in Mulder’s hair. Mulder’s head moved a little; releasing one testicle, drawing the other into his mouth for a matching hard suck.

Then the sac was released, and Mulder’s mouth was pressed against his cock once more. His balls still throbbed. “You need to be able to give us directions,” Mulder said. Now Alex could feel his teeth, hard behind the soft moving lips. “I can show him what to do, but you’re the only one who can tell him whether he’s getting it right.” Mulder opened his mouth wide against Alex’s cock, so that his teeth just grazed the tender flesh. There was an instant of pressure, released almost at once, and another teasing stroke along the full length of his cock, root to head and back again. “That’s how he taught me,” Mulder added. “By making me do it over and over again, until I got it right, and hanging on through all the times when it wasn’t exactly the way he wanted it, and being conscious enough to tell me exactly what wasn’t good enough.” He chuckled suddenly, and Alex shuddered with the momentary friction. “I was such a naive idiot. I wanted him to just fuck me down my throat, the way everybody does in the videos. It never occurred to me that I might not be able to do it, or that sucking cock would take practice.”

“Mulder.…” A moan, fading to a breathy whisper, ended by a sharp little gasp. God, now he wanted to discuss deep throat techniques? In the middle of a blow job? Alex squirmed, pressing his aching hips into the mattress, trying to thrust, gasping for breath. “Mulder,” he managed to whisper, before Mulder’s tongue encircled the base of his cock, lapping briefly like a cat. “Mulder!” A desperate squeak. “Look, would you be… terribly offended if I told you to just shut up and do me?”

Mulder paused, looking up at him, beautiful lips wet and shiny, a slightly sheepish grin on his face. “No, but I’d sure know which Alex Krycek I was in bed with.”

“I just… I can’t.…” His cock burned. He wanted those lips wrapped around it. What little verbal ability he had left was fast fleeing. “I’m not him. I’m just not up for this.” He giggled helplessly. “Well, I’m up for it, obviously, I’m just not.…”

Mulder was giggling, too. His hands stroked Alex’s flanks, thumbs outlining the hipbones. “I get it.”

Alex managed to choke back the fit of giggles before they turned to sobs. A couple of deep breaths brought him back to earth. “Shit, Mulder. I don’t have to tell you. You know how to do it.” But did he? He’d only ever learned how Krycek liked it. Krycek, who never lost control. Who had the presence of mind to lead Mulder through it, step by careful step, right up until he came. Hell, he was probably still talking then, telling Mulder just how to swallow it.

Alex took Mulder’s face in his hands, pulling up his knees to hug Mulder’s sides with his legs. “Let me tell you how this Alex Krycek likes it. At least, this time.”

Mulder smiled attentively and waited. Alex smiled back, then let his head fall back into the pillow, sighing. “I just want it simple this time. Simple and hard and wet. Maybe a little teeth. Squeeze my balls. Stick your fingers up my ass, I like that.” Mulder’s mouth rested beneath Alex’s cock, his breath gently warming the shaft. Alex felt a tremor begin in his thigh. God, Mulder was going to kill him for sure.… “Don’t try to make it last all night. Okay? You’re incredible, Mulder, you could give me a heart attack. Just take it easy on me. Please.”

“Okay,” Mulder said. “I wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack, it would make me feel deeply inadequate.” Then he was finally, blissfully silent, his mouth wrapped at last around Alex’s cock, moving at just the pace Alex wanted. Wet, yes, and just a hint of those hard teeth, maybe Krycek did like it like this sometimes, Mulder certainly wasn’t missing a beat—

Mulder came up for air, gasping a little. “Dammit,” he said. “You’re enough like him—you’ve been tested, haven’t you? Do I really need the latex?”

“No, it’s okay,” Alex said; and perceptible even through the physical need of the moment, there was a surge of another kind of pleasure: Mulder was ready to trust his word on this. Mulder’s mouth plunged down over his cock again, wet and soft and firm, and he didn’t want the damned condom either, but he’d spoken too fast, hadn’t thought it out— “Mulder, wait,” he managed. “The aliens. I don’t know how long—the experiments—”

Mulder’s head came up again. His face was flushed, and he was breathing hard. “Ah, shit. Okay, you’re right.”

He started to move, but Alex twisted his hand in his hair, stopping him. “I can reach.” It was a stretch, but he managed it, fished around blind in the nighttable drawer until his fingers found the little foil package. The squirming had its own appeal, too; it wakened all his bruises, kindled them into a deep throbbing that was almost as good as the throbbing in his cock. He tossed the condom to Mulder, and Mulder caught it one-handed, tore it open with his teeth, his right hand never moving from its place at the base of Alex’s cock.

“Thanks,” Mulder told him, from between his teeth. “Okay. No more interruptions.”

Alex moaned and let his legs fall apart, opening himself for Mulder’s attentions. And realized that there was still one more thing to do before he could lie back and let Mulder have his way with him—at least, if he wanted Mulder to do everything Alex had said he’d like. Squirming again, while Mulder rolled the condom onto his cock, Alex reached into the drawer and found a tube of lubricant. His aim was not so accurate this time—the tube bounced off Mulder’s shoulder and landed on Alex’s belly. He flinched from the cold slap of the tube, giggling. “Sorry. Thought you might need that, too. Just in case, you know.…”

Mulder’s right hand tightened around his cock, fingers working beneath Alex’s scrotum like a cock ring, while the other hand slapped and tugged his balls. Alex gasped and his back arched, the giggles abruptly choked off. He crossed his arms over his head, and his heels dug into the mattress.

“Yeah,” Mulder growled, deep in his throat, “I know what you want. Behave yourself, and you might get it.”

“Bitch,” Alex gasped, hands scrabbling for a grip on the edge of the mattress.

“Slut,” Mulder shot back, as he finished rolling the condom in place. The hard grip of fingers on Alex’s cock was deliciously satisfying. He wriggled into it, pushing his hips hard into the mattress, sinking into the sensation, rough and simple and good.

Still gripping Alex’s balls, Mulder nipped at his cock, then took the head into his mouth, sucking it hard. Alex whimpered and thrust. Mulder held him firmly, and settled into his rhythm, giving it to him hard and fast and wet, just like he’d wanted it. Alex felt the little animal cries gathering in his throat.

Then Mulder switched hands, moving his left hand to the base of Alex’s cock, so he could reach for the tube of lubricant with his right, flipping the cap open with his thumb. Alex felt a dab of cold gel hit the inside of his thigh, and he gasped again, and his cock pulsed sharply. Then cool, slick fingers slid between his legs, and into his anus, and it was so good, so good, he could no longer think, he was gasping for breath, feline growls tearing from his lungs, his cock thrusting into the hot mouth, fingers working inside him, and it built and pounded and his orgasm rushed through him like a desert windstorm, hot and hard and overwhelming.

Mulder held him by the hips while he lay, his cock spasming, sucking in huge gulps of air. His limbs were helpless jelly. Alex felt his mind going black, and he fought it, not wanting to leave Mulder in the cold. But Mulder soothed him, and told him to sleep, so he let go, and sank into the dark, with Mulder’s head on his hip and Mulder’s hand cupping his cock. I love you, Mulder, he thought, as he drifted away to sleep. Even he didn’t know which Mulder he meant.

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